Fox News: The long-running cold war between the network’s journalists and right-wing, prime-time hosts has turned hot!

Donald Trump and Lachlan Murdoch

Dear Commons Community,

Over the weekend, Vanity Fair had a featured article describing the infighting going on at Fox News between the legitimate news journalists such as Shepard Smith and the evening right-wing, Donald Trump lackeys such as Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro.  Here is an excerpt:

“The [Fox News] network has never been more powerful—and at the same time so vulnerable. Fox programs influence Trump daily, but that has opened the network up to charges that it is State TV. Inside Fox, a long-running cold war between the network’s journalists and right-wing, prime-time hosts has turned hot. Fox journalists, bristling at being branded an arm of the Trump White House, are lobbying Fox News C.E.O. Suzanne Scott and president Jay Wallace to rein in Fox & Friends, Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro. “Reporters are telling management that we’re being defined by the worst people on our air,” a frustrated senior Fox staffer told me last month. News staffers are feeling emboldened to go after Trump in increasingly visible ways. Fox’s opinion hosts, meanwhile, have made the case that the prime-time lineup not only reflects the audience’s worldview but is responsible for the majority of the network’s advertising revenue and fees paid by cable companies that carry Fox. “We make the money,” an anchor close to Hannity told me. According to a source, prime-time staff complained to Fox management in March when a Muslim producer on Bret Baier’s staff tweeted criticism of Jeanine Pirro. “You can’t have a producer attacking talent. [Roger] Ailes would never have allowed that,” a prime-time staffer said. While Fox’s prime-time shows generate the lion’s share of the network’s ratings and ad revenues, there have been increasing issues with lost advertising. Many blue-chip companies don’t want to buy time on those shows because of the divisive pro-Trump content. “Executives are very worried Fox & Friends will be next. If advertisers start bailing on them, they’re screwed,” an insider said. Marianne Gambelli, Fox’s president of ad sales, responded: “Advertisers know the value of our loyal and engaged audience and we expect no change in our business going forward.”

The entire article is worth a read and provides insight into the machinations and conflicts between the legitimate journalists and the Trumpers at Fox News.  It also gives credence to accusations that much of what goes on at Fox is directed by Trump.



The Collapse of the Humanities!

 Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article this morning entitled, “A Moral Stain on the Profession:  As the Humanities Collapse, It’s Time to Name and Shame the Culprits.” It is written by Daniel Bessner, an assistant professor in American foreign policy at the University of Washington, and  Michael Brenes, a lecturer in global affairs and a senior archivist at Yale University.  It describes the dismal job market for PhDs in the humanities especially for historians.  They blame professional societies such as The American Historical Association, and the tenured professoriate that mostly composes it, for doing  frustratingly little to ameliorate this situation.  Here is an excerpt:

“Regardless of whether they study ancient Byzantium, colonial Latin America, or the modern United States, most historians can agree on one thing: The academic job market is abysmal. To even call it a “market” is an exaggeration; it’s more like a slaughterhouse. Since the Great Recession of 2008, there have been far, far more historians than jobs. 2016-17 was the worst academic year for history positions in 30 years, and though there was a slight uptick in 2017-18, this improvement, as the recent jobs report released by the American Historical Association notes, did “not indicate any sustained progress recovering from the 2008-9 recession.” To be a historian today is, for most people, to be jobless, suffused with anxiety that one has wasted years of one’s life training for a position that will never materialize.

The American Historical Association, and the tenured professoriate that mostly composes it, has done frustratingly little to ameliorate this situation. Though the AHA is the major professional organization in the discipline, it has displayed a marked unwillingness — or, perhaps, inability — to rally historians against an unjust labor system. Instead, the organization has responded to what must be seen as a social, psychological, and economic crisis with solutions that would offend even Candide’s Dr. Pangloss, who famously affirmed that “all is for the best” in “the best of all possible worlds.” For instance, in the above-mentioned jobs report, the AHA proclaims that the poor job market, while lamentable, has nonetheless “forced a recognition of the tremendous range of careers historians have long pursued” outside the academy. In essence, the group has responded to the collapse of the historical profession by telling people that the best — really, only — solution to the crisis is to find non-university jobs. This is not so much a solution as a surrender.

The jobs crisis is not natural; it is a crisis caused by corporate, governmental, and, yes, academic elites.

For decades, members of the historical profession have acquiesced in the neoliberalization of the university system, which has encouraged false — and self-serving — notions of “meritocracy” to dominate thinking about those who “succeeded” and those who “failed” on the academic job market. Indeed, the majority of AHA leaders are themselves tenured academics, often from elite universities, who have been spared the market’s many indignities. If the leadership more genuinely reflected the historical profession, perhaps we would have long ago abandoned the quiescent path that endangers the fate of academic history writing in the United States — a genre that might very well disappear.

Given the magnitude of the discipline’s collapse, the AHA must address head-on the profession’s systemic inequality. Thus far it has failed. In its misguided emphasis on “alt-ac,” the AHA reinforces a stratified and unequal system of academic labor and obfuscates the structural problems inherent in the job market. Many professional historians, especially those of the younger generation, are not on the tenure track (part-time positions account for 47 percent of university faculty overall); the organization and its mission must change to reflect this disturbing fact.

What makes the AHA’s inaction all the more inexcusable is that the employment crisis is not new. As far back as 1972, The New York Times reported that the AHA was “facing open discontent in its ranks as a result of the recession, academic budget trimming and an oversupply of trained historians,” which engendered a “job crisis” that showed little sign of abating. Nevertheless, for nearly a half-century, historians have failed to organize to halt the disappearance of positions. This must now change. In short, the AHA must become an organization that serves the needs of the many and not the few. It must try to reverse the damage caused by decades of unnecessary neoliberal austerity, corporatization, and adjunctification; it must transform itself into an advocate of contingent labor, of those academics presently lost to a capricious and inequitable system; and it must recruit non-tenure-track scholars into its leadership class.”

The article goes on to propose possible courses of action but the fact remains that there are too many humanities PhDs, college students are enrolling in majors that lead to jobs, and the colleges and universities particularly the publicly-funded and private, tuition driven non-profit sectors are in serious financial straits.  The authors also strongly comment that “gestures to alt-ac careers (positions outside full-time university teaching) are a form of boot-strappism and market-Darwinism that provide no consolation or concrete assistance to an embattled labor force.”


Maureen Dowd: Interview with the Long-Time French Ambassador, Gérard Araud – He Offers Blunt Assessments of Donald Trump!


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Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd interviewed Gérard Araud, who has been the French ambassador to the United States since Ronald Reagan.  He offers a bouquet of blunt assessments as he retires from his position and moves to New York City.  Here is an excerpt:

“In his exit interview, the departing French ambassador blithely blasted Donald Trump as a whimsical, unpredictable, uninformed Sun King. He also blasted politicians and the media for hyperventilating about Trump.

“You have a city that feels frightened and personally attacked by Trump,” he told me. “At every dinner, you have anecdotes about Donald Trump. And you leave Washington, D.C., and you can spend two days in Seattle and Chicago and nobody says the word ‘Trump.’”

I had several long talks with the charming and bracingly blunt Araud as he packed his belongings… At 66, he is starting fresh in Manhattan. He’s writing a memoir and may be joining Attias, a communications firm.

The diplomat, whose career spanned Reagan to Trump, played de Tocqueville for me, analyzing our Trump hysteria: “I’m using the Chinese saying, ‘When the finger is showing the moon, the fool is looking at the finger and the wise man at the moon.’ In a sense, Trump is the finger. I do think Washington, D.C., is much too obsessed by the finger and should look at the crisis” revealed by the 2016 election.

He said that he pointed out to Democrats in the whiny wake of that election that their own statistics should have shown them that many Americans felt economically shaky.

“I do think the genius — and I’m using the word genius — of Donald Trump is to have felt the crisis,” he said.

Araud noted that Republicans are now “Trumpified.”

“You had a Republican Party that was really free trade, interventionist in foreign policy, connected to budgetary restraint,” he said. “And suddenly you have a Republican Party that is shifting to protectionism, nationalism, defense of the identity. Exactly the same thing is happening to conservative parties across the Western democracies. Social democracy is in a coma in Europe, so I do think the elections in 2020 will be totally fascinating in America because the Democratic Party will be obliged to answer the question, ‘What does it mean to be on the left in America?’”

Like Democrats in 2016, Emmanuel Macron underestimated the resentment bubbling under the surface, he said: “He has been largely elected by the included against the excluded. And he has not been able to widen his appeal beyond basically the people who feel comfortable in a global world.”

He sees similarities between Macron and Barack Obama. “I think they are hyper-rational and it can be seen as patronizing by a lot of people,” he said. “In a sense, even, they despise passions.” Smiling, he said both men are “too slim” and “too elegant” to relate to the man on the street.”

Interesting insights!


One Dead, Three Wounded in Synagogue Shooting Near San Diego!

Dear Commons Community,

On the last day of Passover, a gunman opened fire inside a synagogue in Poway, Calif., killing one person and wounding three others. Authorities said a suspect, John Ernest, was taken into custody in connection with the shooting.   As reported by the New York Times:

“The gunman entered the synagogue on Saturday yelling anti-Semitic slurs, and opened fire with an A.R. 15-style gun. He paused when the rabbi of the congregation tried to talk with him. But he fired again, shooting the rabbi in the hand.

His attack left a 60-year-old woman dead, the rabbi wounded and a 34-year-old man and a girl with shrapnel wounds.

It was the Sabbath and the last day of Passover, a holiday that celebrates Jewish freedom.

The shooting, at Chabad of Poway, about 25 miles north of San Diego, is the most recent in a series of deadly attacks at houses of worship, including the mass shooting at mosques in New Zealand last month and the church bombings in Sri Lanka this past week. It came exactly six months after one of the worst acts of violence against the American Jewish community in decades left 11 dead in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Local officials called the shooting in Poway, Calif., a hate crime. The gunman, whom officials identified as John Earnest, a 19-year-old resident of San Diego, screamed that Jews were ruining the world as he stormed the synagogue, according to a government official with knowledge of the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly.

The gunman then fled the building, perhaps because his gun stopped working, the authorities said. An off-duty Border Patrol agent at the synagogue shot at the suspect’s vehicle as he tried to escape. The bullets punctured the suspect’s car but did not injure him.

The synagogue did not have a guard at the time, the official said, and there were about 40 to 60 people there at the time of the shooting. Some had come to services especially to say Yizkor, a memorial prayer for the dead that is said on Jewish holidays.

The rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, and three of his congregants were taken to Palomar Medical Center.

The San Diego police chief, David Nisleit, said that after the shooting, the gunman called the California Highway Patrol to report his location on Interstate 15 in Rancho Bernardo. He then surrendered to a police officer who was responding to the attack, jumping out of his vehicle with his hands up.

The police said they were investigating whether the gunman had posted a manifesto before the shooting on the online message board 8chan.

The document, an anti-Semitic screed filled with racist slurs and white nationalist conspiracy theories, echoes the manifesto that was posted to 8chan by the gunman in last month’s mosque slayings in Christchurch, New Zealand. The document’s author, who identified himself as John Earnest, claimed to have been inspired by the Christchurch massacre, as well as the shooting in Pittsburgh, and motivated by the same white nationalist cause.”

Another senseless hate crime that targeted innocents worshiping in a house of peace.


NRA In Chaos As Wayne LaPierre Is Reportedly Asked To Resign!

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Wayne LaPierre and Oliver North

Dear Commons Community,

The National Rifle Association is in turmoil amid allegations that Oliver North, recently installed as the gun lobbying organization’s president, threatened to release damaging information about longtime CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre unless he agreed to resign.  As reported by various news media:

“In a letter to the NRA board of executives on Thursday, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, LaPierre accused North of extorting him and pressuring him to resign over alleged financial improprieties.

“The extortion was simple: resign or there will be destructive allegations made against me and the NRA,” LaPierre wrote. “Alarmed and disgusted, I refused the offer.”

LaPierre alleged that the NRA’s longtime advertising firm, Ackerman McQueen Inc., had drafted a letter with damaging information about him and would send it to the board if he refused to resign.

North, who hosts a documentary show on NRATV that’s produced by Ackerman McQueen, reportedly relayed this information to LaPierre’s staff on Wednesday, claiming the letter would be “bad” for LaPierre.

The letter would be “a devastating account of our financial status, sexual harassment charges against a staff member, accusations of wardrobe expenses and excessive staff travel expenses,” according to La Pierre. 

North also said Ackerman McQueen wouldn’t send the letter if LaPierre agreed to resign, LaPierre wrote to the board.

“And, if I supported Col. North’s continued tenure as President, he stated that he could ‘negotiate’ an ‘excellent retirement’ for me,” LaPierre wrote.

LaPierre also said he had been pressured to withdraw the NRA’s lawsuit against Ackerman McQueen, filed over concerns that it over-billed the organization and had resisted providing financial records.

Ackerman McQueen did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.

In his own letter to the board later on Thursday, North said he would create a special committee to investigate allegations of financial impropriety, including “allegations of financial misconduct related to Mr. LaPierre,” according to The New York Times.

“I did this because I am deeply concerned that these allegations of financial improprieties could threaten our nonprofit status,” North wrote.

The confrontation between LaPierre, who has led the NRA for nearly 30 years, and North, a former Marine Corps officer and a central figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, falls during the gun rights group’s annual meeting, which is being held in Indianapolis. President Donald Trump spoke at the convention on Friday.

The NRA’s 76-member board is scheduled to meet on Monday.

LaPierre has been one of the most prominent faces of the NRA in recent years, often speaking out after mass shootings to deflect the blame from the powerful gun lobby and wide availability of guns in the U.S.

He called for an increase in “effective, trained armed security” at schools after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

“To stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said a week after the shooting at the Conservative Political Action Conference, using his oft-repeated ― and debated ― catchphrase.

LaPierre also blamed school shootings on “elites” and “socialists” in the U.S. who support gun control measures.”

LaPierre and North should consider a duel with pistols at sunrise to settle their dispute.  May they both win!


Big Money Enters Debate Over Race and Admissions at New York City’s Specialized High Schools!

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Richard Parsons, former Time Warner chief executive and Citigroup chairman who sits on the board of Estée Lauder Companies.

Dear Commons Community,

The debate over the admissions test for New York City’s specialized high schools such as Stuyvesant and the Bronx High School of Science was ratcheted up this week when Ronald Lauder announced that he was financing a multimillion-dollar lobbying, public relations and advertising effort called the Education Equity Campaign, whose immediate goal was to ensure that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the entrance exam does not pass the New York State Legislature.  Mr. Lauder, who is the president of the World Jewish Congress, is being joined by  Richard Parsons, the former Time Warner chief executive and Citigroup chairman who sits on the board of Estée Lauder Companies, in this effort.  Essentially Lauder and Parsons want to keep the existing test for New York City’s elite schools, and propose other ways to increase the number of black and Hispanic students. The diversity issue flared last month when the city disclosed that only seven black students received offers to Stuyvesant out of 895 spots.

Though black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of New York’s public school students, they represent only 10 percent of the elite schools’ population. Asian-American students, who make up 15 percent of the system as a whole, hold about two-thirds of those schools’ seats. Many come from low-income and immigrant families.

The admissions test, which tens of thousands of eighth graders take every year, has become a focus of the debate, with opponents calling it discriminatory.

Below is an excerpt from an article covering this story that appeared in today’s New York Times:

“Ronald S. Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir, and Richard D. Parsons, the former chairman of Citigroup, have for decades had their hands in New York City affairs. Mr. Lauder ran a failed bid for mayor and successfully led a campaign for term limits for local elected officials. Mr. Parsons has been a prominent adviser to two mayors.

Now, they are teaming up to try to influence one of the city’s most intractable and divisive debates: how to address the lack of black and Hispanic students at Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and the other elite public high schools that use a test to determine admission.

Mr. Lauder this week announced that he was financing a multimillion-dollar lobbying, public relations and advertising effort called the Education Equity Campaign, whose immediate goal is to ensure that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to eliminate the entrance exam does not pass the State Legislature, people involved in the effort said.

More broadly, the two men are trying to make their mark on the future of the system, the nation’s largest, with 1.1 million students.

Their effort amounts to a new challenge to Mr. de Blasio’s education agenda from people whose ideas are more reminiscent of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s vision. They are seeking to forge connections to leaders in Albany who are skeptical of the mayor’s philosophy.

They are championing a range of educational ideas that include more gifted and talented programs, more test preparation, better middle schools and more elite high schools. Mr. de Blasio’s administration, on the other hand, is skeptical of high-stakes testing and academic tracking in the school system.

Mr. de Blasio is seeking to replace the test for the eight so-called specialized schools with an approach where top performers from each middle school would be offered spots.

Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons — who is making a sizable donation to the effort — have hired several lobbyists and political strategists to sway opinion in Albany and, ultimately, to achieve a broader aim of overhauling a long-struggling school system. They include a protégé of the Rev. Al Sharpton and a firm with ties to Mr. Bloomberg.

In a fight that is already reaching a boiling point, “the fact that it’s very rich people who are at the helm of it makes it distinctive,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Mr. Lauder is not merely a deep-pocketed outsider wading into a fraught local issue. Heir to the Estée Lauder fortune, he graduated in 1961 from Bronx Science. He is a relative rarity: Not many wealthy students have historically attended the elite schools, which have long been seen as an engine that propels low-income children to the middle-class.

Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons declined to be interviewed but released statements explaining their support for the Education Equity Campaign.

“The education I received at Bronx Sci shaped the person I am today,” Mr. Lauder said. “I want more New Yorkers, from every borough, to have access to a world-class public education.”

Mr. Parsons, who is considered one of the nation’s foremost black business leaders, attended a public high school in Queens, but not a specialized school.

“Greater diversity in our schools is an imperative, but the battle cannot be won simply by lowering standards,” Mr. Parsons said. “I’m backing this effort because I believe we must do the hard work of improving our public education system so that all children have the opportunity to realize their full academic potential.”

Mr. de Blasio lashed out at the spending by Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons, portraying it as a misguided attempt by wealthy donors to meddle in public schools.

“The billionaire class is going all out to keep the status quo, and deprive black and Hispanic kids of their shot at the city’s specialized high schools,” he said. “It’s a disgusting misuse of money and power, and we’re going to fight it.”

The diversity issue flared last month when the city disclosed that only seven black students received offers to Stuyvesant out of 895 spots.

Though black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of New York’s public school students, they represent only 10 percent of the elite schools’ population. Asian-American students, who make up 15 percent of the system as a whole, hold about two-thirds of those schools’ seats. Many come from low-income and immigrant families.

The admissions test, which tens of thousands of eighth graders take every year, has become a focus of the debate, with opponents calling it discriminatory.

As a result, proponents of the current system are facing pressure to find ways of diversifying the schools while keeping the test. Projections show that under Mr. de Blasio’s plan, the schools would enroll many more black and Hispanic students, but Asian-Americans would lose about half their seats.

The equity campaign’s ideas in some ways recall education policies embraced by Mr. Bloomberg, whose sweeping education agenda has been largely eliminated by Mr. de Blasio.

Tusk Strategies, a political strategy firm with close ties to Mr. Bloomberg, said it was orchestrating the effort for a fee of between $50,000 and $150,000 a month.

Also on the payroll are Albany lobbying firms, including Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates and Bolton St.-Johns, known for their connections to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration and the State Legislature, respectively.

The group’s board of advisers, who are also being compensated, includes education experts who have supported Mr. Bloomberg’s accountability-driven brand of education reform.

The public face of the campaign, the Rev. Kirsten John Foy, whose civil rights organization is receiving a contribution for its involvement, is a prominent minister and a Sharpton ally. The campaign is planning to spend at least $1 million on advertisements alone. Neither the website nor the ads bear any mention of Mr. Lauder or Mr. Parsons.

Mr. Foy said the low black and Hispanic enrollment in the specialized schools should be a wake-up call about problems in the city’s 1,800 schools. He dismissed Mr. de Blasio’s plan, saying, “Do not miss this opportunity by taking the path of least resistance.”

The group is hoping that Albany lawmakers adopt their platform, elements of which Mr. Bloomberg embraced as ways to make an impact on the specialized schools and to advance a grander theory of change.

The equity campaign’s least-defined component is a call to lift the quality of hundreds of city middle schools.

Mr. de Blasio’s $773 million school improvement plan, Renewal, was canceled after it failed to achieve its promised results. Mr. Bloomberg’s initiative to create more small schools showed positive outcomes.

The group’s paid board of advisers includes Michael Lach, an academic at the University of Chicago who previously worked for Teach for America and for former education secretary Arne Duncan. (Mr. Parsons sits on Teach for America’s board.)

“I want to be a part of something that’s advocating for the long slog, unsexy work of slowly making schools better,” Mr. Lach said.

But some education experts noted that the equity campaign’s suggestions, including additional specialized high schools, expanded test prep and an option for students to take the exam in school, rather than on the weekend, have been tried before in pilot form with largely disappointing results. And they argue that expanded free prep will simply encourage more private prep.

Though Mr. Bloomberg added five new specialized schools, they too have generally enrolled shrinking numbers of black and Hispanic students.

Mr. Foy said previous attempts had been insufficient. “If you look at the scale of our system, the sheer numbers, those pilots have not been adequate.”

Still, critics have questioned why the billionaire and the businessman’s focus on improving city schools is based on maintaining the test.

Richard Buery, the head of policy at the charter school network KIPP and a black Stuyvesant alumnus, said he found it odd that benefactors “would look at the state of education in New York City and decide that keeping the specialized high school exam is where their education philanthropy should go.”

This is an important development in terms of the politics of public schooling in New York City.  While the initial focus may be on admissions to specialized high schools, it will carry over into other controversial issues related to charter schools, standardized testing and other accountability measures.



After Eighteen Years of Reforms – School Segregation Is Not Getting Better in San Francisco!

Dear Commons Community,

Many large American cities have been struggling with school segregation.  Eighteen years ago, San Francisco moved forward with an ambitious plan to tackle its school segregation issues.  The result is that it might have made segregation worse.  A featured article in the New York Times reported:

“San Francisco allows parents to apply to any elementary school in the district, having done away with traditional school zoning 18 years ago in an effort to desegregate its classrooms. Give parents more choices, the thinking was, and low-income and working-class students of color would fill more seats at the city’s most coveted schools.

….But last month, Cinthya’s parents, who are Hispanic, found out she had been admitted to their second-to-last choice, a school where less than a third of students met standards on state reading and math tests last year. Only 3 percent were white.

Results like these have soured many on the city’s school enrollment plan, which is known here as “the lottery” and was once considered a national model.

“Our current system is broken,” said Stevon Cook, president of the Board of Education, which, late last year, passed a resolution to overhaul the process. “We’ve inadvertently made the schools more segregated.”

For decades, the education mantra from presidential campaign trails to local school board elections has been the same: Your ZIP code should not determine the quality of your school. Few cities have gone further in trying to make that ideal a reality than San Francisco.

But as education leaders from New York to Dallas to San Antonio vow to integrate schools, and as presidential candidates like Joseph R. Biden are being asked to answer for their records on school segregation, San Francisco’s ambitious plan offers a cautionary tale.

Parental choice has not been the leveler of educational opportunity it was made out to be. Affluent parents are able to take advantage of the system in ways low-income parents cannot, or they opt out of public schools altogether. What happened in San Francisco suggests that without remedies like wide-scale busing, or school zones drawn deliberately to integrate, school desegregation will remain out of reach.”

The entire article is worth a read!


Fox News’ Legal Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano Called Trump’s Obstruction “Immoral, Criminal, Defenseless, and Condemnable”

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Judge Andrew Napolitano

Dear Commons Community,

Someone must have gotten the script wrong at Fox News yesterday because Judge Andrew Napolitano came out with a scathing attack on President Trump and calling his obstruction of justice “immoral, criminal,  defenseless, and condemnable.”  Fox News even put a video of the Judge’s attack up on its website.  As reported by Slate:

“Amidst the barrage of support for President Trump on Fox News’ airwaves comes an extraordinary takedown of the president from small, still functioning truth-telling cortex of the Fox News brain. This bit by senior legal analyst Andrew Napolitano is stashed away online, in a digital video segment called “Judge Napolitano’s Chambers,” but in it the Fox News regular lays out a pretty compelling and straightforward case for why Trump not only acted criminally but immorally in obstructing justice on multiple occasions revealed in the Mueller report.

A written piece accompanies the video, and it’s fine, but we’ve all read a lot recently about everything that’s wrong with Trump and the obviousness of why. When said out loud though, given the platform and the intended audience, Napolitano’s quickie sermon is somehow more powerful and even more welcome as a reminder that certain principles and laws and facts remain true even if Fox News’ primetime lineup refuses to acknowledge them.

“[W]hen the president asked his former [Deputy National Security] Adviser K.T. McFarland to write an untruthful letter to the file knowing the government would subpoena it—that’s obstruction of justice,” Napolitano says. “When the president asked Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, to get Mueller fired—that’s obstruction of justice. When the president asked his then White House counsel to get Mueller fired and then lie about—that’s obstruction of justice. When he asked Don McGahn to go back to the special counsel and change his testimony—that’s obstruction of justice. When he dangled a pardon in front of Michael Cohen in order to keep Cohen from testifying against him—that’s obstruction of justice.”

“So why not charge him?,” he asks. “Because the attorney general of the United States would have blocked such a charge. Because the attorney general of the United States is of the view that obstruction of justice can only occur if you’re interfering with a criminal investigation of yourself. But that’s not what the obstruction statute says. And that’s not what law enforcement believes and that’s not what prosecutors do. Prosecutors prosecute people who interfere with government functions. And that’s what the president did by obstruction.”

“If [President Trump] had ordered his aides to violate federal law to save a human life or to preserve human freedom, he would at least have a moral defense to his behavior,” Napolitano concludes. “But ordering them to break federal law to save him from the consequences of his own behavior that is immoral, that is criminal, that is defenseless, and that is condemnable.

That’s really quite something.”

Congratulations Judge for moving Fox News a smidgeon towards respectability.




Scientists Create Speech From Brain Signals – Hear Example!


Dear Commons Community,

A breakthrough in man-machine interfacing was announced that deciphers the brain’s motor commands guiding vocal movement during speech — the tap of the tongue, the narrowing of the lips — and generates intelligible sentences that approximate a speaker’s natural cadence (see sample video above).

Scientists are reporting that they have developed a virtual prosthetic voice, a system that decodes the brain’s vocal intentions and translates them into mostly understandable speech, with no need to move a muscle, even those in the mouth. (The physicist and author Stephen Hawking used a muscle in his cheek to type keyboard characters, which a computer synthesized into speech.)  As reported:

…the new work represented a “proof of principle,” a preview of what may be possible after further experimentation and refinement. The system was tested on people who speak normally; it has not been tested in people whose neurological conditions or injuries, such as common strokes, could make the decoding difficult or impossible.

For the new trial, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, and U.C. Berkeley recruited five people who were in the hospital being evaluated for epilepsy surgery.

The ECoG Electrode Array is made up of intracranial electrodes that record brain activity.

Many people with epilepsy do poorly on medication and opt to undergo brain surgery. Before operating, doctors must first locate the “hot spot” in each person’s brain where the seizures originate; this is done with electrodes that are placed in the brain, or on its surface, and listen for telltale electrical storms.

Pinpointing this location can take weeks. In the interim, patients go through their days with electrodes implanted in or near brain regions that are involved in movement and auditory signaling. These patients often consent to additional experiments that piggyback on those implants.

Five such patients at U.C.S.F. agreed to test the virtual voice generator. Each had been implanted with one or two electrode arrays (see photograph above): stamp-size pads, containing hundreds of tiny electrodes, that were placed on the surface of the brain.

As each participant recited hundreds of sentences, the electrodes recorded the firing patterns of neurons in the motor cortex. The researchers associated those patterns with the subtle movements of the patient’s lips, tongue, larynx and jaw that occur during natural speech. The team then translated those movements into spoken sentences.

Native English speakers were asked to listen to the sentences to test the fluency of the virtual voices. As much as 70 percent of what was spoken by the virtual system was intelligible, the study found.

“We showed, by decoding the brain activity guiding articulation, we could simulate speech that is more accurate and natural sounding than synthesized speech based on extracting sound representations from the brain,” said Dr. Edward Chang, a professor of neurosurgery at U.C.S.F. and an author of the new study. His colleagues were Gopala K. Anumanchipalli, also of U.C.S.F., and Josh Chartier, who is affiliated with both U.C.S.F. and Berkeley.

Previous implant-based communication systems have produced about eight words a minute. The new program generates about 150 a minute, the pace of natural speech.

The researchers also found that a synthesized voice system based on one person’s brain activity could be used, and adapted, by someone else — an indication that off-the-shelf virtual systems could be available one day.

The team is planning to move to clinical trials to further test the system. The biggest clinical challenge may be finding suitable patients: strokes that disable a person’s speech often also damage or wipe out the areas of the brain that support speech articulation.

Still, the field of brain-machine interface technology, as it is known, is advancing rapidly, with teams around the world adding refinements that might be tailored to specific injuries.

“With continued progress,” wrote Chethan Pandarinath and Yahia H. Ali, biomedical engineers at Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology, in an accompanying commentary, “we can hope that individuals with speech impairments will regain the ability to freely speak their minds and reconnect with the world around them.”

Congratulations to all those involved with the development of this prosthetic.  We will see a good deal more of this type of man-machine and bio-sensing  technology in the next decade for many other bodily functions.



New Book: “The Chief: The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts” by Joan Biskupic!


Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading Joan Biskupic’s new book on Chief Justice John Roberts entitled,  The Chief:  The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts.   I found it interesting but not riveting.  Insights into his personal life – growing up, education, his present family – were all well-done.  The lengthy descriptions of the judicial deliberations get deep into the weeds.  Regardless I found it worth the time to read its 349 pages excluding notes.

In picking it up, I had hoped to get clues as to whether Roberts  might emerge as a moderate on the Court in the coming years and take the place of Anthony Kennedy, who retired last year, as a swing vote.  There was hope when the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts provided the critical fifth vote, enraging conservatives and delighting liberals.  And last year he chided President Trump by declaring “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges, or Clinton judges.” 

However, we also learn from this biography that Roberts clerked with William Rehnquist, worked closely with Ken Starr during his career, and was heavily involved in George W. Bush’s 2000 Florida election recount.  These associations lead me to conclude he is a staunch conservative.

I agree with one reviewer (see excerpt below):

“Biskupic all but throws up her hands toward the end of her narrative, calling Roberts an “enigma,” but she suggests that he is pulled by two often-conflicting instincts. One is ideological: a desire to move the court rightward on race, religion and other issues. The other is institutional: an interest in the court being respected and seen as nonpolitical.

That dichotomy is true as far as it goes, but there is another defining theme running through Roberts’s jurisprudence. Barack Obama, who taught constitutional law and is a keen judge of character, identified it when, as a senator, he was one of the 22 Democrats who voted against confirming Roberts. “When I examined Judge Roberts’s record and history of public service,” Obama said, “it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak.”

If you are interested in the Supreme Court and where it might be heading, this book is a worthwhile read.



New York Times Book Review

The ‘Enigma’ Who Is the Chief Justice of the United States

The Chief:
The Life and Turbulent Times of Chief Justice John Roberts
By Joan Biskupic

In “The Chief,” her assiduously reported and briskly written biography, Joan Biskupic, a CNN analyst who has long covered the court, offers new behind-the-scenes details. Roberts was, she says, initially inclined to strike down a key part of the law, the individual mandate, which required people to have insurance or pay a penalty. But during the opinion-drafting process he joined the liberals in affirming it.

While Biskupic sheds light on when and how Roberts made that decision, she is less illuminating on why. She ticks off leading theories: He was wary of overturning the elected branches of government on such an important issue, or reluctant to throw the national health care system into chaos, or worried about the court’s reputation. It is not clear, however, which of these, if any, explains why he came out as he did.

The difficulty of understanding that historic vote is emblematic of something larger: just how hard it is to figure out who Roberts really is. With his square-jawed, no-hair-out-of-place looks and icy smile, he often resembles an animatronic version of a chief justice, with the dial set firmly to the right. Who Roberts is and what he stands for are more important than ever since Anthony Kennedy retired last year and Brett Kavanaugh, who is more conservative, took his seat. Roberts is now both chief justice and the court’s swing justice — which means that, increasingly, the law is likely to be what he says it is.

Born in 1955, Roberts grew up in a conservative world, in the affluent, heavily white town of Long Beach, Ind., the son of a Bethlehem Steel manager. He was, from an early age, intelligent, religious and something of a grind. He was known at Harvard College for attending Catholic Mass every Sunday, and for his studious intensity — one roommate recalled him often having indigestion and always having a bottle of Pepto Bismol on hand. After college, he went on to Harvard Law School and a clerkship with Justice William Rehnquist before Rehnquist became chief justice.

Roberts joined Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department when it was on a campaign to drive American law to the right. In his mid-20s he fought to narrow the reach of the Voting Rights Act, one of the civil rights movement’s crowning achievements. He also tried to persuade the administration to support Texas’ fight for the right to deny a free public school education to undocumented immigrant children.

When he joined President George H. W. Bush’s Office of the Solicitor General, which represents the federal government before the court, Roberts argued against a program that promoted minority ownership of broadcast licenses, which the Supreme Court upheld. He also argued, successfully, for a decision that made it easier for states to end court orders requiring school districts to desegregate.

In 1996, Roberts, who was by now working at a private law firm, married Jane Sullivan, a lawyer who shared his conservative political views. Jane, whose mother was an Irish immigrant, had grown up in the Bronx and attended Holy Cross and Georgetown Law School. Like Roberts, she was an observant Catholic, and she served on the board of the anti-abortion organization Feminists for Life. After a few years, the Robertses, who were both in their 40s when they married, adopted a girl and a boy.

After the 2000 election, Roberts served on the legal team for George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore, the case that handed Bush the presidency. Like many lawyers on the team, Roberts was richly rewarded. Within months of the inauguration, he was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

When Sandra Day O’Connor announced her retirement in 2005, Bush nominated Roberts to take her place. Before he was confirmed, however, Chief Justice Rehnquist died, and Roberts, in an upgrade, was named to succeed him.

At his confirmation hearing, Roberts played down his highly ideological Justice Department work and famously insisted that he saw his role as judge to be like an umpire. “Umpires don’t make the rules,” he told the Senate, “they apply them.”

Representative John Lewis of Georgia, who was beaten in 1965 while protesting for voting rights in Alabama, spoke for many in the civil rights community when he declared that Roberts was “on the wrong side of history” and urged senators to oppose him. Roberts was confirmed, however, by a 78-to-22 vote.

Roberts has, with few exceptions, been the sort of hard-line ideological chief justice his conservative backers hoped he would be. He has presided over a court that has swept away campaign finance regulations, most notoriously in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which invalidated a well-established ban on corporations spending money to elect candidates. After one particularly sharp ruling against desegregation plans that school districts adopted voluntarily, Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, declared that Roberts had “made the court an arm of the Republican Party.”

Roberts also continued the war on voting rights that he had begun as a young lawyer, writing an opinion in a 2013 case that critics called “a dagger to the heart of the Voting Rights Act.” Roberts has been particularly meanspirited in gay rights cases. When the court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark ruling recognizing a constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples, Roberts wrote a dissent comparing it to the infamous Dred Scott decision, which rejected an enslaved man’s suit for freedom. Even Richard Posner, a court of appeals judge nominated by Reagan, called Roberts’s dissent “heartless.”

Biskupic all but throws up her hands toward the end of her narrative, calling Roberts an “enigma,” but she suggests that he is pulled by two often-conflicting instincts. One is ideological: a desire to move the court rightward on race, religion and other issues. The other is institutional: an interest in the court being respected and seen as nonpolitical.

That dichotomy is true as far as it goes, but there is another defining theme running through Roberts’s jurisprudence. Barack Obama, who taught constitutional law and is a keen judge of character, identified it when, as a senator, he was one of the 22 Democrats who voted against confirming Roberts. “When I examined Judge Roberts’s record and history of public service,” Obama said, “it is my personal estimation that he has far more often used his formidable skills on behalf of the strong in opposition to the weak.”

Roberts, in fact, regularly opposes the rights of blacks, gay people, the poor and other relatively powerless groups. His bias against the weak was on display even in the Obamacare decision, which is often considered his great blow for the common man. While he voted to uphold most of the act, he wrote an opinion striking down, on the flimsiest of constitutional grounds, the Medicaid expansion provision that required states to offer Medicaid to more poor Americans. With that holding, Roberts helped take away health care from millions of the nation’s poorest people.

Given the court’s current composition, anyone who does not want the law to lurch to the right in civil rights, gay rights, abortion and other areas has to hope Roberts will hold it close to its current course — either based on actual beliefs, or to protect the Supreme Court as an institution. Roberts could become the court’s new moderate center. But Obama’s insight about Roberts’s deep-seated bias against the weak, which rings powerfully true, suggests that may not be the way to bet.