Former CIA Head John Brennan Skewers Trump as a “Disgraced Demagogue in the Dustbin of History”!

Dear Commons Community,

John O. Brennan, former head of the CIA in the Barak Obama administration,  skewered President Donald Trump yesterday.  In a tweet, Brennan blasted Trump for celebrating the dismissal of former FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe.  Brennan tweeted that Trump would take his “rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history” once “the full extent” of his “venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known.”

“You may scapegoat Andy McCabe,” he added. “But you will not destroy America… America will triumph over you.”

Brennan’s tweet was in direct response to an earlier post from Trump, in which the president described McCabe’s firing by Attorney General Jeff Sessions as “a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI” and “a great day for Democracy.”

This latest episode in the Trump presidency shows as much as anything else what an inhumane, low-life individual he is who enjoys playing people, even those closest to him, against one another.



Cooper Union to Restore Free Tuition Policy!

Dear Commons Community,

Cooper Union, one of New York City’s venerable institutions of higher learning, announced on Thursday that it planned to restore its free tuition policy.  After adopting a bitterly contested plan a few years ago to charge students tuition for the first time in a century, Cooper Union announced Thursday that it hoped to make the college tuition-free again for all undergraduates in 10 years.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Under a plan approved by the board of trustees late Wednesday, Cooper Union would begin increasing tuition scholarships in two years, and aim to provide full tuition in 10. The additional outlay would be offset by unspecified cuts in expenses, more fund-raising and “other revenue increases necessary,” the college said in a statement.

“If we exceed the financial targets in any given year, we may be able to accelerate the plan; if we don’t meet the targets for any number of reasons, such as an economic downturn, we have built-in guardrails that allow us to slow the plan if necessary,” said Laura Sparks, Cooper Union’s president, who took office in January 2017.

The decision comes at a time when affordability has become an increasingly urgent issue in higher education, for both private and public institutions. The Excelsior Scholarship, rolled out by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year, offers free tuition to middle-class students at the State University of New York and the City University of New York.

At Cooper Union, the decision promises to punctuate a brief, but tumultuous, experiment in the history of the prestigious private college, which opened in 1859. The industrialist Peter Cooper endowed the school to educate working-class New Yorkers at no cost to them. Early in the school’s history, some students who could afford to pay did so, but no undergraduates paid tuition for a century. That distinction made Cooper Union stand out, alongside the military academies, as one of only about a dozen colleges in the United States not to charge tuition.

But after years of questionable financial and management decisions, such as failing to diversify its endowment, taking on too much debt and failing to cultivate potential donors, the school, based in the East Village, announced in 2013 that it would begin to charge tuition on a sliding scale, up to 50 percent of the annual bill. That prompted protests from students, faculty and alumni, as well as a lawsuit by a coalition called The Committee to Save Cooper Union.

After the New York State attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, intervened, the two parties settled the lawsuit. Among the provisions was the departure of the president at the time, Jamshed Bharucha, and the appointing of a financial monitor.

Since the settlement, applications to Cooper Union have dipped. But with the school continuing to focus on its reputation for high-quality instruction, the number of enrolled students has held steady. “We’ve seen the admissions profile of our students stay the same, if not improve,” Ms. Sparks said.

Cooper Union has 853 undergraduate students, and admits 13 percent of applicants. Tuition was $43,250 this academic year.”

This is a great move by a fine institution!


Sad Day – Toys “R” Us to Close 730 Stores and Lay Off 30,000 Workers!

Dear Commons Community,

Toys “R” Us announced yesterday that it will likely have to close all of its 730 stores and lay off more than 30,000 workers.  My wife and I have been a big fan of this company for decades.  For the past twelve years, we have especially enjoyed taking our grandkids to its stores either here in New York or where my daughter lives in Seattle.  Toys “R” Us has found that it is no longer  able to survive because of debt and private equity issues.  Here is an analysis courtesy of the New York Times: 

“The mood in the courtroom was hopeful when Toys “R” Us filed for bankruptcy last September. The company’s lawyer, in the first hearing, played a clip of the retailer’s famous jingle “I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us Kid” and vowed to restore the company’s place in the hearts of millions of American families.

The reality is that Toys “R” Us, which announced on Thursday that it would shutter or sell all of its stores in the United States, never had much chance at a turnaround.

For over a decade, Toys “R” Us had been drowning in $5 billion of debt, which its private equity backers had saddled it with. With debt payments siphoning off cash every year, Toys “R” Us could not properly invest in its worn-out suburban stores or outdated website. Sales plummeted, as Amazon captured more children’s desires — and their parents’ wallets — for Star Wars Legos and Paw Patrol recycling trucks.

Toys “R” Us is the latest failure of financial engineering, albeit one that could portend a potentially more ominous outlook for private equity in the digital era.

Most buyouts tend to work the same way. A private equity firm takes over a troubled company with the goal of sprucing up the strategy, cutting costs and overhauling the business over three or five years. But they often load up a company with debt to pay for the deal, which can prove problematic if the profits do not perk up.

In the age of Amazon, that formula can be dangerous. Consumer demands are changing so quickly that heavily indebted companies have trouble reordering their business to adapt and compete with better-funded rivals.

A wave of buyouts has collapsed in recent weeks, felled by digital competition.

Struggling in the streaming music age, iHeartMedia, the large radio company saddled with debt since its 2008 buyout, filed for bankruptcy this week. The regional New York grocery chain Tops filed for bankruptcy last month, citing competition from Amazon and the debt burden that its former private equity backers had heaped on it.

Other buyouts are looking shaky. The television company Univision, which recently scrapped plans for a public offering, is shaking up its leadership. The parent company of the Winn-Dixie supermarket chain said this week it was seeking to restructure its debt, as it planned to close stores.

Not all troubled private equity deals end with a company winding down, as in the case of Toys “R” Us. Retailers like Gymboree and Payless ShoeSource have found second lives after emerging from bankruptcy, often with investments from new private equity or hedge fund owners willing to give the business another try.

But the deterioration of Toys “R” Us from a potential turnaround strategy to the end of an iconic brand — in a matter of months — shows just how difficult it can be for private equity to compete in a rapidly evolving industry. In retailing, Amazon is reordering everything on the store shelf. And children’s changing interest in games and toys, which now encompasses high-end electronics, adds to the complexity.

The company said on Thursday that it had no other option than to begin winding down about 730 stores around the United States. Toys “R” Us was still looking at the possibility of keeping 200 stores open and combining them with its Canadian operations. But no deal had been struck yet.

“This is a profoundly sad day for us,” the Toys “R” Us chief executive, David Brandon, said in a statement, “as well as for the millions of kids and families who we have served for the past 70 years.”

A “profoundly sad day” indeed.  There are lessons to be learned here.




Democrats Would Do Well to Follow Conor Lamb’s Campaign Strategies in the 2018 Mid-Term Elections!

Dear Commons Community,

As well-reported in the past two days, Conor Lamb’s victory in Tuesday’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District was an incredible victory for the Democrats. The 18th was considered a safe “red’ district that Donald Trump won by a 20 point margin in 2016.  Lamb’s strategy was not to tow the national Democratic Party line but to run a very independent campaign that appealed to local constituents.  He did not bash Trump.  He had a modified stance on abortion.  He was not a fan of Nancy Pelosi. In sum, he did not say anything that would rile up Republicans to come out and vote against him. To the contrary, some Republicans who voted for Trump, voted for him.  In this very red district, it worked well.  The strategy of localizing a campaign to appeal to local residents is a good one.  What works in New York City  or San Francisco does not necessarily work in the smaller towns and rural areas in Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado and other presently “red” Congressional districts.

Democrats take heed!


Photos from Yesterday’s Walkout Commemorating the 17 Victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School!


Dear Commons Community,

Thousands of school students yesterday walked out of class for 17 minutes at 10 a.m.  commemorating the 17 victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and protesting for greater gun control.  Here are some photos from around country compliments of Axios.



Venice, California


Washington, D.C.

Students at Clarkstown South High School in West Nyack

Clarkstown, New York

Conor Lamb Wins Pennsylvania Special Election!

Dear Commons Community,

As a follow-up to my posting yesterday when the contest was too close to call,  it has been determined that Conor Lamb won  the special election that was held to fill a vacated seat in the 18th Congressional District in Pennsylvania by a narrow margin.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Conor Lamb, a Democrat and former Marine, scored a razor-thin but extraordinary upset in a special House election in southwestern Pennsylvania after a few thousand absentee ballots cemented a Democratic victory in the heart of President Trump’s Rust Belt base.

The Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, may still contest the outcome. But Mr. Lamb’s 627-vote lead Wednesday afternoon appeared insurmountable, given that the four counties in Pennsylvania’s 18th district have about 500 provisional, military and other absentee ballots left to count, election officials said.

That slim margin — out of almost 230,000 ballots cast in a district that Mr. Trump carried by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016 — nonetheless upended the political landscape ahead of November’s midterm elections. It also emboldened Democrats to run maverick campaigns even in deep-red areas where Republicans remain bedeviled by Mr. Trump’s unpopularity.

Republican officials in Washington said they were likely to demand a recount through litigation, and the National Republican Congressional Committee put out a call for voters to report any irregularities in the balloting. Matt Gorman, a spokesman for the committee, said the party was “not conceding anything.”

The battle for a district in suburban and rural areas around Pittsburgh underscored the degree to which Mr. Trump’s appeal has receded across the country. And it exposed the ways in which both parties are weighed down by divisive leaders: Democrats by Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader; Republicans by Mr. Trump and Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House.”

Congratulations to Mr. Lamb who has brought a fresh, independent approach to campaigning for office.


CUNY and Public Schools to Participate in National School Walkout Today For Stronger Gun Control!

Dear Commons Community,

See PSC President Barbara Bowen’s email below calling on us to participate in today’s school walkout for 17 minutes to call attention for the need for stronger gun control. 



Dear Members,

Students at CUNY and public schools throughout the city will participate in the #Enough National School Walkout tomorrow, Wednesday, March 14. The peaceful walkout will take place at 10 AM and will last for 17 minutes, in remembrance of the 17 students killed during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The student-led walkout is in protest against Congress’s continued inaction on gun control. For details of the national event and its demands, read more here.

Students have historically been at the forefront of many powerful movements for justice. The PSC joins the organizers of the walkout in commemorating the Parkland students and calling on Congress to act. We urge faculty who have classes during the 10:00 hour to provide an opportunity for students who participate in the walkout to make up the missed class time and to notify students that they will not be penalized for participating for the 17 minutes. (See the NYC Department of Education notice permitting K-12 students to participate.) We call on faculty who are not teaching at 10:00 to join the students in support, and on professional staff who can arrange for those 17 minutes to be taken as part of their lunch hour to do the same.

Students are also leading the nationwide March for Our Lives on Saturday, March 24, to demand legislation that will protect children, students and others from mass murder and gun violence. Student survivors of the mass murder in Parkland have changed the national conversation on gun control. They have organized a march in Washington, and now similar marches are being organized throughout the country. Many PSC members and CUNY students are expected to attend the Washington march, and the PSC will organize a contingent for the march in New York City. Email PSC Organizing Director Deirdre Brill if you plan to attend. For the NYC march, we will meet at W. 74th St. and Central Park West at 10 AM on Saturday, March 24.

In solidarity,

Barbara Bowen

President, PSC


Physicist Stephen Hawking Dead at Age 76!

Dear Commons Community,

Stephen Hawking, one of the preeminent physicists of our time, died yesterday at the age of 76 at his home in Cambridge, England.  As reported by Reuters:

“Stephen Hawking, who sought to explain some of the most complicated questions of life while working under the shadow of a likely premature death, has died at 76.

He died peacefully at his home in the British university city of Cambridge in the early hours of Wednesday.

“We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today,” his children Lucy, Robert and Tim said in a statement.

Hawking’s formidable mind probed the very limits of human understanding both in the vastness of space and in the bizarre sub-molecular world of quantum theory, which he said could predict what happens at the beginning and end of time.

His work ranged from the origins of the universe, through the tantalizing prospect of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes. 

“He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years,” his family said. “His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world.”

The power of his intellect contrasted cruelly with the weakness of his body, ravaged by the wasting motor neuron disease he developed at the age of 21.

Hawking was confined for most of his life to a wheelchair. As his condition worsened, he had to resort to speaking through a voice synthesizer and communicating by moving his eyebrows.

The disease spurred him to work harder but also contributed to the collapse of his two marriages, he wrote in a 2013 memoir “My Brief History.”

In the book he related how he was first diagnosed: “I felt it was very unfair – why should this happen to me,” he wrote.

“At the time, I thought my life was over and that I would never realize the potential I felt I had. But now, 50 years later, I can be quietly satisfied with my life.”

Hawking shot to international fame after the 1988 publication of ““A Brief History of Time”, one of the most complex books ever to achieve mass appeal, which stayed on the Sunday Times best-sellers list for no fewer than 237 weeks.

He said he wrote the book to convey his own excitement over recent discoveries about the universe.

“”My original aim was to write a book that would sell on airport bookstalls,” he told reporters at the time. ““In order to make sure it was understandable I tried the book out on my nurses. I think they understood most of it.”

He was particularly proud that the book contains only one mathematical equation – relativity’s famous E=MC squared.

“We have lost a colossal mind and a wonderful spirit,” said Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. “Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking.”

Hawking’s popular recognition became such that he appeared as himself on the television show “Star Trek: Next Generation” and his cartoon caricature appeared on “The Simpsons”.

A 2014 film, The Theory of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne playing Hawking, charted the onset of his illness and his early life as the brilliant student grappling with black holes and the concept of time.

Since 1974 he worked extensively on marrying the two cornerstones of modern physics – Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which concerns gravity and large-scale phenomena, and quantum theory, which covers subatomic particles.

As a result of that research, Hawking proposed a model of the universe based on two concepts of time: “”real time”, or time as human beings experience it, and “quantum theory’s “imaginary time”, on which the world may really run.

“Imaginary time may sound like science fiction … but it is a genuine scientific concept,” he wrote in a lecture paper.

Real time could be perceived as a horizontal line, he said.

“On the left, one has the past, and on the right, the future. But there’s another kind of time in the vertical direction. This is called imaginary time, because it is not the kind of time we normally experience – but in a sense, it is just as real as what we call real time.”

In July 2002, Hawking said in a lecture that although his quest was to explain everything, a theory of determinism that would predict the universe in the past and forever in the future probably could not be achieved.

He caused some controversy among biologists when he said he saw computer viruses as a life form, and thus the human race’s first act of creation.

“”I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive,” he told a computer forum in Boston. ““We’ve created life in our own image.”

He also predicted the development of a “race of self-designing human beings, who will use genetic engineering to improve their make-up.

Another major area of his research was into black holes, the regions of space-time where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape.

When asked whether God had a place in his work, Hawking once said: ““In a way, if we understand the universe, we are in the position of God.”

His health, and accidents involving his wheelchair, including one where he broke his hip after crashing into a wall in December 2001 – “the wall won,” he observed – led to his appearing in the news for reasons other than his work.

In 2004 he was admitted to hospital in Cambridge suffering from pneumonia and was later transferred to a specialist heart and lung hospital.

He was twice married and divorced.

He married undergraduate Jane Wilde in July 1965 and the couple had three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy. But Hawking tells in his 2013 memoir how Wilde became more and more depressed as her husband’s condition worsened.

“She was worried I was going to die soon and wanted someone who would give her and the children support and marry her when I was gone,” he wrote.

Wilde took up with a local musician and gave him a room in the family apartment, Hawking said.

“I would have objected but I too was expecting an early death …,” he said. 

He went on: “I became more and more unhappy about the increasingly close relationship between (them). In the end I could stand the situation no longer and in 1990 I moved out to a flat with one of my nurses, Elaine Mason.”

He divorced Wilde in 1990 and in 1995 married Mason, whose ex-husband David had designed the electronic voice synthesizer that allowed him to communicate.

“My marriage to Elaine was passionate and tempestuous,” he wrote in the memoir.

“We had our ups and downs but Elaine’s being a nurse saved my life on several occasions.”

It also took its emotional toll on her, he noted, and the pair divorced in 2007.

Stephen William Hawking was born on Jan. 8, 1942, to Dr Frank Hawking, a research biologist in tropical medicine, and his wife Isobel. He grew up in and around London.

After studying physics at Oxford University, he was in his first year of research work at Cambridge when he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease.

“The realization that I had an incurable disease that was likely to kill me in a few years was a bit of a shock,” he wrote in his memoir.

But after seeing a boy die of leukemia in a hospital ward, he observed some people were a lot worse off than him and at least the condition didn’t make him feel sick.

In fact there were even advantages to being confined to a wheelchair and having to speak through a voice synthesizer.

“I haven’t had to lecture or teach undergraduates and I haven’t had to sit on tedious and time-consuming committees. So I have been able to devote myself completely to research,” he wrote in his memoir.

“I became possibly the best-known scientist in the world. This is partly because scientists, apart from Einstein, are not widely known rock stars, and partly because I fit the stereotype of a disabled genius.”

Hawking was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University from 1979 to 2009 – a post held by Sir Issac Newton over 300 years earlier – wrote countless scientific papers and books, received 12 honorary degrees and was made a Companion of Honour by Queen Elizabeth in June 1989.

To celebrate turning 60, he satisfied a life-long ambition and traveled in a specially created hot air balloon.

He narrated a major segment of the opening ceremony of the London Paralympic Games in August 2012, the year he turned 70.

“I have had a full and satisfying life,” he said in his memoir. “I believe that disabled people should concentrate on things that their handicap doesn’t prevent them from doing and not regret those they can’t do.”

He added: “It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics. I’m happy if I have added something to our understanding of the universe.”

He added something indeed!


Pennsylvania Special Election Too Close To Call!

Dear Commons Community,

All the news media last night were focused on the special election being held to fill a vacated seat in the 18th Congressional District.  The previous eight-term incumbent Republican Tim Murphy resigned under pressure in October.   As reported by the New York Times:

“The Democrat and Republican in a special House election in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Trump country were divided by a few hundred votes in a race that was too close to call early Wednesday — an ominous sign for Republicans in a district that Donald J. Trump won by nearly 20 percentage points.

With 100 percent of votes counted, Conor Lamb, a Democrat, was clinging to a 579-vote lead over Rick Saccone, a Republican. But a few thousand absentee ballots had not yet been counted, suggesting that no winner would be declared until later today, at the earliest. And it was possible that a legal battle could ensue.

Taking the stage to applause at 12:45 a.m., Mr. Lamb was introduced as “Congressman-elect” and exulted, “It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it!”

House Democrats also did not wait for a final count to claim victory, and House Republicans were already talking about a legal challenge. Under Pennsylvania law, there is no automatic recount in such a race, no matter how close.

But no matter the final outcome, Mr. Lamb’s strong showing demonstrated that the Trump-inspired energy propelling Democrats across the country is not confined to liberal-leaning regions. Republicans were left with the prospect of defending a far broader range of districts this fall than they had hoped.”

Republicans will be scratching their heads today trying to figure out how they will keep the U.S. House of Representatives in this fall’s midterm elections.


Trump Replaces Secretary of State Tillerson!

Dear Commons Community,

Reuters is reporting that President Trump has replaced U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo, and has asked Gina Haspel to lead the CIA.  As reported:

“The resignation represents the biggest shakeup of the Trump Cabinet so far and had been expected since last October when reports surfaced about a falling out between Trump and Tillerson, 65, who left his position as chief executive of Exxon Mobil to join the administration.

Trump publicly undercut Tillerson’s diplomatic initiatives numerous times, including on Monday when the former secretary of state’s comments about Russia appeared to be at odds with those of the White House.

Tillerson also appeared out of the loop last week when Trump announced he would meet with North Korea’s leader and become the first sitting U.S. president to do so.

“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen.

Congratulations to all!” Trump said on Twitter. “

In my mind, Tillerson was one of the saner and more competent secretaries in the Trump cabinet.