Video: From Sydney to San Francisco, Millions Strike for Global Climate Action!

Dear Commons Community,

Millions of young people around the world stepped out yesterday to support dramatic climate action.  The day of protest precedes the United Nations summit next week on how to rein in the worst effects of climate change.

The global climate strike began in Australia and countries across Asia and the Pacific, and continued in Europe and Africa.

By midmorning in the U.S., people had gathered for approximately 800 protests planned across the country, according to the group 350 Action.

In Washington, marchers went to the U.S. Capitol building.

In San Francisco, thousands of protestors started off their strike in front of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.

Alison McCormack, a 17-year-old senior at Alameda High School, said she and about 60 of her classmates decided to strike even though her school said it would penalize them with an unexcused absence.

“I decided, hey, school for one day or something that is going to affect our entire life,” she told HuffPost, as she marched past the city’s famous Cable Car Turnaround. It was her first time participating in a protest of this size and scope. 

Yesterday’s event was the second mass climate protest this year. In March, more than 1.4 million young people around the world were inspired in large part by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who staged a solo protest in her native Sweden. Yesterday, she join the front lines of the protest in New York alongside many other young leaders of the environmental movement.

Thunberg has become one of the most well-known faces of the youth climate movement, and in recent weeks has appeared in front of Congress, spoken with former President Barack Obama and has plans to speak before the United Nations next week. 


U.S. DOE Orders Duke and U.N.C. to Recast Tone in Mideast Studies!

Dear Commons Community,

The United States Department of Education has ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake the Middle East studies program run jointly by the two schools after concluding that it was offering students a biased curriculum that, among other complaints, did not present enough “positive” imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region.  As reported in The New York Times.

“In a rare instance of federal intervention in college course content, the USDOE asserted that the universities’ Middle East program violated the standards of a federal program that awards funding to international studies and foreign language programs. The inquiry was part of a far-reaching investigation into the program by the department, which under Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, has become increasingly aggressive in going after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education.

That focus appears to reflect the views of an agency leadership that includes a civil rights chief, Kenneth L. Marcus, who has made a career of pro-Israel advocacy and has waged a years-long campaign to delegitimize and defund Middle East studies programs that he has criticized as rife with anti-Israel bias.

In this case, the department homed in on what officials saw as a program that focused on the region’s Muslim population at the expense of its religious minorities. In the North Carolina program’s outreach to elementary and secondary school students, the department said, there was “a considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East.”

Too few of the Duke-U.N.C. programs focused on “the historic discrimination faced by, and current circumstances of, religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yazidis, Kurds, Druze and others,” the department said.

With its actions, the department entered the debate over Israel and Palestinians that has roiled campuses around the country.

The department’s action “should be a wake-up call,” said Miriam Elman, an associate professor at Syracuse University and the executive director of the Academic Engagement Network, which opposes the boycott-Israel movement that has animated campus activism across the country. She added, “What they’re saying is, ‘If you want to be biased and show an unbalanced view of the Middle East, you can do that, but you’re not going to get federal and taxpayer money.’”

Palestinian rights groups accused the Education Department of intimidation and infringing on academic freedom.

“They really want to send the message that if you want to criticize Israel, then the federal government is going to look very closely at your entire program and micromanage it to death,” said Zoha Khalili, a staff lawyer at Palestine Legal, one such group. The department’s intervention, she added, “sends a message to Middle Eastern studies programs that their continued existence depends on their willingness to toe the government line on Israel.”

In a letter to university officials, the assistant secretary for postsecondary education, Robert King, wrote that programs run by the Duke-U.N.C. Consortium for Middle East Studies appeared to be misaligned with the federal grant they had received. Title VI of the Higher Education Act awards funding to colleges “establishing, strengthening and operating a diverse network of undergraduate foreign language and area or international studies centers and programs.”

The Education Department “believes” the Middle Eastern studies consortium “has failed to carefully distinguish between activities lawfully funded under Title VI and other activities” that are “plainly unqualified for taxpayer support,” Mr. King wrote.

The letter, published this week in the Federal Register, said that the consortium’s records on the number of students it had enrolled in foreign language studies — a cornerstone of the federal grant program — were unclear, and that “it seems clear foreign language instruction and area studies advancing the security and economic stability of the United States have taken ‘a back seat’ to other priorities.”

Mr. King wrote that the department believed other offerings, like a conference focused on “love and desire in modern Iran” and another focused on Middle East film criticism, “have little or no relevance to Title VI.” The department wrote the consortium’s programming also “appears to lack balance.”

The department also criticized the consortium’s teacher training programs for focusing on issues like “unconscious bias, serving L.G.B.T.I.Q. youth in schools, culture and the media, diverse books for the classroom and more.” They said that it had a “startling lack of focus on geography, geopolitical issues, history and language.”

The administration ordered the consortium to submit a revised schedule of events it planned to support and a full list of the courses it offers and the professors working in its Middle East studies program. The department also directed the consortium to demonstrate that it had “effective institutional controls” to stay compliant with the administration’s interpretation of the Higher Education Act. The universities were given until Sept. 22, only days before the department is scheduled to approve funding on Sept. 30.

A spokesman for Duke declined to comment, referring questions to the University of North Carolina. A spokeswoman for the U.N.C. acknowledged receipt of the letter.

“The consortium deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education and has always been strongly committed to complying with the purposes and requirements of the Title VI program,” the university said in a statement. “In keeping with the spirit of this partnership, the consortium is committed to working with the department to provide more information about its programs.”

To advocacy groups enmeshed in academic battles over Israel, the new investigation was not surprising.

Last year, the department reopened a case into anti-Jewish bias at Rutgers University that the Obama administration had closed with no finding of wrongdoing. In reconsidering the case, Mr. Marcus said the Education Department would be using a State Department definition of anti-Semitism that, among other things, labels “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” anti-Jewish bigotry, suggesting that it had been adopted by his office. The Education Department has not adopted that definition.

In June, Ms. DeVos said she had ordered an investigation into whether the Duke-U.N.C. consortium had misused any of the $235,000 it received in Title VI grants, including to sponsor an event in March called “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities.” Representative George Holding, Republican of North Carolina, had requested that Ms. DeVos investigate whether federal funding was used to host the conference, which constituents had said was rife with “radical anti-Israel bias.”

Mr. Holding said the conference featured active members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — known as B.D.S. — and featured panelists who “distorted facts and misrepresented the complex situation in Gaza.” He said a video shown at the conference featured a performer who sang a “brazenly anti-Semitic song.”

But some groups came to the defense of the Middle East studies consortium. Tallie Ben Daniel, the research and education manager at Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal group that advocates Palestinian rights, said the investigation was the latest attempt by the Trump administration “to enforce a neoconservative agenda onto spaces of academic inquiry and exploration.” She called the consortium’s curriculum “rich and diverse.”

To critics like Ms. Daniel, the targeting of the U.N.C.-Duke program appeared to be a continuation of efforts that predated the Trump administration. A group founded by Mr. Marcus, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, has pressed Education Department and Congress for years to crack down on Middle East studies programs that the center claimed promoted an anti-Israel bias.”

Academic freedom, anyone!



Whistle-Blower Complaint Involving Trump Gets Complicated – Might Involve the Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, the national news media were desperately trying to make sense out of a whistle-blower complaint that claims that Donald Trump had made troubling “promises” during communication with a foreign leader.  The Washington Post first reported on the intelligence official’s complaint on Wednesday, writing that the official approached Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson with the claims about Trump.  The incident supposedly involves the Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani, sources familiar with the matter each told The Washington Post and The New York Times on Thursday.

Trump’s relationship with the Ukraine has made headlines in recent weeks. Earlier this month, three House committees launched an investigation into whether Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani tried to manipulate the Ukrainian government into helping Trump’s bid for reelection.

“A growing public record indicates that, for nearly two years, the President and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing two politically-motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity,” a group of committee chairmen wrote. 

Part of their investigation is looking into whether Trump and Giuliani asked Ukraine officials to target Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden, whose past dealings in the country have recently come under scrutiny. Among the claims they are probing is that Trump threatened to withhold $250 million in aid to Ukraine over these requests, though he reinstated it several days after the House probes were announced.

Trump has denied making any missteps alleged by the reported whistle-blower.

“[I]s anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call,” he tweeted. “I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!”

Below is an article  in today’s New York Times that provides further details on this story. If they are true, it is a pretty ugly situation!


New York  Times

Whistle-Blower Complaint Sets Off a Battle Involving Trump

September 20, 2019

The complaint, from a member of the intelligence community, remained opaque but involved at least one of the president’s communications with a foreign leader.

A potentially explosive complaint by a whistle-blower in the intelligence community said to involve President Trump emerged on Thursday as the latest front in a continuing oversight dispute between administration officials and House Democrats.

While the allegation remains shrouded in mystery, it involves at least one instance of Mr. Trump making an unspecified commitment to a foreign leader and includes other actions, according to interviews. At least part of the allegation deals with Ukraine, two people familiar with it said.

The complaint, submitted by a member of the intelligence community to its inspector general, renewed questions about how the president handles delicate matters. Mr. Trump defended his actions, and allies described his style with foreign leaders as more freewheeling than typical high-level diplomacy. “I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter.

Though it is not clear how Ukraine fits into the allegation, questions have already emerged about Mr. Trump’s dealings with its government. In late July, he told the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, that Ukraine could improve its reputation and its “interaction” with the United States by investigating corruption, according to a Ukrainian government summary of the call. Some of Mr. Trump’s close allies were also urging the Ukrainian government to investigate matters that could hurt the president’s political rivals, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family.

The controversy first erupted a week ago, when Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, revealed the existence of the complaint and disclosed that the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, had blocked the inspector general from sharing it with Congress, as generally required by law. The inspector general deemed the complaint legitimate and opened an inquiry.

Mr. Maguire’s intervention touched off the latest in a series of clashes between congressional Democrats seeking to conduct oversight and administration officials who they say are stonewalling their requests for information. Democrats accused Mr. Maguire of ignoring the law, possibly to protect Mr. Trump or another high-level official, though intelligence officials insisted that they blocked lawmakers’ access to the complaint in accordance with the law, not politics.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Maguire declined to comment. Andrew P. Bakaj, a former C.I.A. and Pentagon official whose legal practice specializes in whistle-blower and security clearance issues, confirmed that he was representing the official who filed the complaint. Mr. Bakaj declined to identify his client and said he would not disclose details of the complaint.

For nearly a week, the controversy remained opaque.

Then on Wednesday evening, The Washington Post reported that the whistle-blower’s allegations centered on at least one conversation involving Mr. Trump, setting off another frenzy in Trump-era Washington. The inspector general, Michael Atkinson, appeared on Capitol Hill in a closed-door session on Thursday but divulged no specifics beyond saying that the complaint involved multiple actions, according to two officials familiar with his briefing.

He would not say whether the complaint involved the president, according to committee members. But separately, a person familiar with the whistle-blower’s complaint said it involved in part a commitment that Mr. Trump made in a communication with another world leader. No single communication was at the root of the complaint, another person familiar with it said.

The intelligence official filed the formal whistle-blower complaint on Aug. 12. Such a complaint is lodged through a formal process intended to protect a whistle-blower from retaliation.

Questions about Mr. Trump’s discussions with the Ukrainians involve his allies, including his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who hoped to persuade Kiev to investigate matters that could help Mr. Trump politically.

According to government officials who handle foreign policy in the United States and Ukraine, Mr. Giuliani’s efforts created the impression that the Trump administration’s willingness to back Mr. Zelensky was linked to his government’s readiness to in turn pursue the investigations sought by Mr. Trump’s allies.

Mr. Giuliani said he did not know whether Mr. Trump discussed those matters with Mr. Zelensky, but argued it would not be inappropriate.

The president has the right to tell another country’s leader to investigate corruption, particularly if it “bleeds over” into the United States, Mr. Giuliani said on Thursday. “If I were president, I would say that,” he added.

Around the same time, a separate issue was brewing. Congressional aides and administration officials who work on Ukraine issues had become concerned that the White House was slow-walking a military assistance package for Kiev, according to people involved in an effort to free up the assistance.

Last week, the two issues merged when Mr. Schiff and two other Democratic House committee chairmen requested the transcript of Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky from the State Department and the White House as part of an investigation into whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani were misappropriating the American foreign policy apparatus for political gain.

The Democrats indicated they planned to examine whether the delay in the assistance “is part of President Trump’s effort to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing politically motivated investigations.”

The next day, Mr. Schiff wrote to Mr. Maguire seeking information about the whistle-blower complaint.

And the following day, the White House released the military assistance to Ukraine, with little explanation.

The unusual disagreement between Mr. Maguire and Mr. Atkinson centers on who is best suited to investigate the whistle-blower’s accusations.

In a letter to the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Atkinson wrote that the complaint falls within the jurisdiction of the director of national intelligence and “relates to one of the most significant and important of the D.N.I.’s responsibilities to the American people.”

Mr. Maguire has not disputed the seriousness of the allegation but determined in consultation with the Justice Department that it was outside the scope of the law requiring whistle-blower complaints be forwarded to Congress. Any accusation that triggers the requirement must involve the funding, administration or operations of an intelligence agency.

Administration officials have shared at least some details of the accusations with the White House, to allow officials to weigh whether to assert executive privilege, an official said.

Some current and former officials defended Mr. Maguire’s decision to consult with the Justice Department and the White House. Any question of whether a presidential communication was subject to executive privilege would be a White House decision, and the Justice Department is supposed to offer legal advice.

“But given the recent history of Justice Department leadership engaging in public messaging that comes across as scripted by the White House, it is not unreasonable to have concerns about the consultation with the department in this instance,” said David H. Laufman, who served as chief of the counterintelligence section in the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Mr. Schiff said he would explore potential recourse with the House’s general counsel to try to force the release of the complaint, including potentially suing for it in court.

The law is “very clear” that the whistle-blower complaint must be handed over to Congress, said Senator Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

“The inspector general determines what level of concern it is,” Mr. King, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in an interview. “Once the determination is made,” he added, the director of national intelligence “has a ministerial responsibility to share that with Congress — it is not discretionary.”

[Read a pair of letters from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence about the complaint.]

Democrats emerged from Mr. Atkinson’s briefing and renewed their accusation that the Trump administration was orchestrating a cover-up of an urgent and legitimate whistle-blower complaint that could affect national security.

Mr. Schiff told reporters after the briefing that he still did not know the contents of the complaint and had been unable to get an answer to whether the White House was involved in suppressing it.

“I don’t think this is a problem of the law,” he said. “I think the law is written very clearly. I think the law is just fine. The problem lies elsewhere. And we’re determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is, to make sure that the national security is protected and to make sure that this whistle-blower is protected.”

Officials with Mr. Maguire’s office were scrambling to find a compromise with Congress ahead of Mr. Maguire’s scheduled testimony on Sept. 26, according to a senior intelligence official.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, said on Thursday that he and the committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, also expected both the inspector general and acting director to brief them early next week and “clear this issue up.”

Some legal experts said it was not obvious how an exchange between Mr. Trump and a foreign leader could meet the legal standards for a whistle-blower complaint that the inspector general would deem an “urgent concern.”

Under the law, the complaint has to concern the existence of an intelligence activity that violates the law, rules or regulations, or otherwise amounts to mismanagement, waste, abuse or a danger to public safety. But a conversation between two foreign leaders is not itself an intelligence activity.

And while Mr. Trump may have discussed intelligence activities with the foreign leader, he enjoys broad power as president to declassify intelligence secrets, order the intelligence community to act and otherwise direct the conduct of foreign policy as he sees fit, legal experts said.

Mr. Trump regularly speaks with foreign leaders and is often unfettered. Some current and former officials said that what an intelligence official took to be a troubling commitment could have been an innocuous comment.

Mr. Trump’s calls with other leaders are unlike anything his predecessors engaged in, one European diplomat said. The president eschews the kind of structured calls of his predecessors and instead quickly moves from the stated topic of the call to others. He will disclose his ideas for forthcoming summit meetings and test ideas and policies in a seemingly casual way, the diplomat said.

But the whistle-blower complaint renewed questions about whether some of his freelance proposals were inappropriate. The accusation, even with few details, quickly gained traction in part because of longstanding concerns among some intelligence officials that the information they share with the president is being politicized.


Video: Fox’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders Suggestion to Fix the News – Remove Opinion – WHAT!


Dear Commons Community,

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in her new role as a contributor to the Fox network, said media organizations should remove opinion from the news.

“I think all of the media really needs to take a good hard look at how they put the news out,” Huckabee Sanders said on yesterday’s  broadcast of Fox Business’ “Varney & Co.” during a discussion centered on the criticism leveled at The New York Times over its report on a new sexual misconduct allegation against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“It’s gotten so much where there’s no process, there’s no accountability, no check and balance,” added the former Trump aide, whose tenure in the White House was characterized by her lying on behalf of the president.

“I think that we have to start taking so much of the opinion out of the news,” said Huckabee Sanders. “It’s a good news story if you can read it and you have no idea which side the journalist is on and it’s very hard to find that. There’s a big difference between commentators and news and we have blended those so that there is no difference anymore and we’ve got to go back where those are separate.” Huckabee Sanders then admitted that her current focus is on helping Trump win reelection in 2020.

Let’s not forget Huckabee Sanders own flaky relationship with the truth. Also that there would be no Fox News,  especially with prime time hosts such as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson who are toadies for the Trump administration and who regularly have their own versions of the truth.



Gail Mellow: Three Wishes for Higher Education!

Image result for Gail mellow

Gail Mellow

Dear Commons Community,

Goldie Blumenstyk (The Chronicle of Higher Education) passed along this interview with Gail Mellow, who recently retired as president of LaGuardia Community College.

With over thirty years of experience in the field, Mellow lists her top 3 wishes for higher education.

“Gail Mellow is retiring as president at LaGuardia Community College, but I hope that doesn’t mean she’s leaving the higher education scene altogether.  Anyone who cares a whit about good teaching—or needy students getting their shot—should hope the same.

The institution she led serves some 50,000 students, many of them low-income, immigrants, or first-generation college students—or, in some cases, all three. So it’s not surprising that Mellow has emerged as a national advocate for increasing access to higher education. But what I’ve always admired is the way she fights to make sure her students are put in close contact with tech companies and other desirable employers that might otherwise overlook a community college.1 That, and her frequent public reminders that even students in the most practical of two-year programs benefit from ideas drawn from liberal-arts curricula. . . .

I’ve never been bored when talking to Mellow. But usually she’s answering my questions. So when I caught up with her, I gave her the platform, by asking her to list her three wishes for higher education. In order, they are:

  1. That we in higher education are able to effectively destroy the false narrative that college is not a good investment.

Mellow says that narrative “has been perniciously advocated to the particular disadvantage of low-income students.” She’s not arguing that college works out for every single student. But she distrusts the anti-college tropes increasingly sounded by “too many voices in the media and other places,” particularly in the past eight years. When you look at the data on how higher education produces wage changes and life changes for college graduates, she notes, “it’s very hard to say it’s not worth it.”

  1. That colleges begin to take teaching seriously. Teaching is an art, but improving teaching is a science.

This is one of her passions. She’s co-written a book on the subject2 and speaks often about the need to adapt teaching techniques in light of changes in technology and the American college population. (At a conference I attended not long ago, Mellow was making that case: Higher education could no longer assume, she said, that “even if you were a godawful professor, it didn’t matter.”) Taking teaching more seriously, she tells me, would require different incentives. It’s easier to reward professors for their research than for their teaching, she says, because good research is easier to measure.

  1. That higher education in America would understand that it’s a system and start acting like one.

Honestly, this one threw me for a minute. I know that American higher education isn’t a system. But most students don’t. That was her point.

Sure, there are still plenty of students who enroll in college at 18 and graduate from the same institution four years later. But that hasn’t been the experience for many students for many years. They start at a community college, stop out for a while, and then maybe try another college a few years later. Or they cobble together credits from a bunch of online classes or maybe even through prior-learning credits; they try to enroll in a two-year or four-year institution to complete their degree, but are required to repeat courses or take extra credits in the process. There’s a name for this phenomenon, and it isn’t even new: “student swirl.”

It’s time college leaders “think about college the way students do,” Mellow says. Doing so could also help small colleges meet the enrollment and diversity challenges many are now facing. “Because we never acted as a system, these small liberal-arts colleges have never made a concerted effort to be partners with community colleges,” she says. If they did, they’d “immediately diversify the population” they enroll.

OK, I can already predict the response from small-college leaders on that diversity shot. But now you know why it’s fun to talk to Mellow. She retired in August. She isn’t sure what’s next, besides more reading for pleasure, but she says she will certainly continue her advocacy.”


Reprinted from The Edge Newsletter.

Israeli Election Is Too Close to Call – Netanyahu’s Tenure as Prime Minister in Jeopardy!

Benny Gatnz and Benjamin Netanyahu

Dear Commons Community,

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fell short of securing a parliamentary majority with his religious and nationalist allies in national elections yesterday, initial exit polls showed, setting the stage for a period of coalition negotiations that could threaten his political future.  

Initial results posted by Israel’s three major television stations showed challenger Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party tied or with a slight lead over Netanyahu’s Likud. While the results do not guarantee that Gantz will be the next prime minister, they signaled that Netanyahu, who has led the country for over 10 years, could have trouble holding on to the job.

Addressing his supporters early today, Netanyahu refused to concede defeat and vowed to work to form a new government that excludes Arab parties. His campaign focused heavily on attacking and questioning the loyalty of the country’s Arab minority — a strategy that drew accusations of racism and incitement from Arab leaders.  As reported by the Associated Press:

“In the coming days we will convene negotiations to assemble a strong Zionist government and to prevent a dangerous anti-Zionist government,” he said. He claimed that Arab parties “negate the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” and “glorify bloodthirsty murderers.”

Israeli exit polls are often imprecise, and final results, expected Wednesday, could still swing in Netanyahu’s favor. But all three stations predicted a similar outcome.

According to those polls, neither Likud nor Blue and White, with their smaller respective allies, could control a majority in the 120-seat parliament without the support of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu party. That put Lieberman, a former protege of Netanyahu’s who has become one of the prime minister’s fiercest rivals, in the position of kingmaker.

Arab parties, which have never before sat in an Israeli government, also finished strong, and exit polls predicted they would form the third largest party in parliament.

Addressing his supporters late Tuesday, a jubilant Lieberman said he saw only “one option:” a broad, secular coalition with both Blue and White and Likud.

“We’ve always said that a unity government is only possible in emergency situations. And I tell you and I tell every citizen today watching us on television: the situation, both security-wise and economically, are emergency situations,” he said. “The country, therefore, requires a broad government.”

Early Wednesday, Gantz told a cheering rally of supporters that while it was too soon to declare victory, he had begun speaking to potential partners and hoped to form a unity government.

“Starting tonight we will work to form a broad unity government that will express the will of the people,” he said.

Attention will now focus on Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, who is to choose the candidate he believes has the best chance of forming a stable coalition. Rivlin is to consult with all parties in the coming days before making his decision.

After that, the prime minister designate would have up to six weeks to form a coalition. If that fails, Rivlin could give another candidate for prime minister 28 days to form a coalition. And if that doesn’t work, new elections would be triggered yet again. Rivlin has said he will do everything possible to avoid such a scenario.

Lieberman called for an immediate start to negotiations and predicted it could be wrapped up quickly. But such a deal promises to be complicated.

Gantz, a former military chief who has presented himself as a unifying figure in a divided nation, has ruled out a partnership with Likud if Netanyahu remains at the helm at a time when he is expected to be indicted on criminal charges.

But in his speech, he made no such conditions. “I intend to speak with everyone,” he said, without mentioning Netanyahu.

Lieberman, who leads a nationalist but secular party, is unlikely to sit with Arab parties on the left or ultra-Orthodox religious parties on the right.

That could limit both Gantz’s and Netanyahu’s ability to maneuver and could potentially put pressure on the longtime leader, who has ruled for over a decade, to step aside.

Likud members said they remained behind their leader.

“We have the basic principal of standing by the party leader who was elected in the party primary, which is why we won’t take action against Netanyahu,” said lawmaker Micky Zohar, a Netanyahu loyalist.

Netanyahu had sought an outright majority with his allies in hopes of passing legislation to give him immunity from the expected indictment.

Israel’s attorney general has recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three scandals, pending a hearing scheduled next month. A formal indictment would increase the pressure on Netanyahu to step aside if he does not have immunity.

Netanyahu tried to portray himself as a seasoned statesman uniquely qualified to lead the country through challenging times during an alarmist campaign marked by mudslinging and slogans that were condemned as racist. Gantz tried to paint Netanyahu as divisive and scandal-plagued, offering himself as a calming influence and honest alternative.

Netanyahu’s campaign promoted images of him jetting off to world capitals and boasting of warm relations with powerful leaders, most notably President Donald Trump.

At the same time, he issued repeated doomsday warnings that his opponents were scheming with politicians from the country’s Arab minority to “steal” the election.

He tried, and failed, to pass legislation that would allow cameras in polling stations, a step he said was needed to crack down on alleged fraud in Arab towns. Facebook suspended his account for 24 hours last week after it published a post saying that “Arabs want to annihilate all of us.”

Netanyahu also sought to appeal to his hardline base with a number of election promises, including plans to annex all of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

His proposal, which could extinguish any remaining hopes for a Palestinian state, were condemned by much of the world, including important Arab countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia. But the U.S. remained muted, suggesting he had coordinated with Washington ahead of time.

Netanyahu’s frenetic warnings about Arabs appeared to backfire, turning off some Jewish voters and driving heavy turnout in the Arab sector.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the main Arab faction in parliament, said Netanyahu’s repeated attacks had boosted turnout and hurt Netanyahu in the end.

“There’s a heavy price to pay for incitement,” he told Channel 13 TV.

The election was Israel’s second of the year.

In April’s vote, Netanyahu appeared to have the upper hand, with his traditional allies of nationalist and ultra-religious Jewish parties controlling a parliamentary majority.

But Lieberman, his mercurial ally-turned-rival, refused to join the new coalition, citing excessive influence it granted the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. Without a parliamentary majority, Netanyahu dissolved parliament and called a new election.

Lieberman’s gamble paid off Tuesday, and exit polls suggested his party had nearly doubled in strength, to as many as 10 seats.

Israel’s election commission said 69.4% of all eligible voters cast ballots by the time polls closed on Tuesday evening, a slightly larger number than took part in April’s vote. Turnout in April’s elections was 68.5%.”

It ain’t over until it is over!


New Mexico to Announce Plan for Free College for State Residents!

Image result for new mexico state university las cruces

Dear Commons Community,

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico is expected to announce today that tuition to all state colleges would be free for students regardless of family income.  The new program would apply to all 29 of the state’s two- and four-year public institutions. Long one of the poorest states in the country, New Mexico plans to use climbing revenues from oil production to pay for much of the costs.  As reported by the New York Times.

“The move comes as many American families grapple with the rising cost of higher education and as discussions about free public college gain momentum in state legislatures and on the presidential debate stage. Nearly half of the states, including New York, Oregon and Tennessee, have guaranteed free two- or four-year public college to some students. But the New Mexico proposal goes further, promising four years of tuition even to students whose families can afford to pay the sticker price. The program would apply to all 29 of the state’s two- and four-year public institutions. Long one of the poorest states in the country, New Mexico plans to use climbing revenues from oil production to pay for much of the costs. The proposal still requires legislative approval which is expected since Democrats controlled both houses…

… The free-tuition plan points to the shifting political landscape in New Mexico, traditionally a swing state that was up for grabs by both major parties. It is now emerging as a bastion of Democratic power in the West, standing in contrast to other large oil-producing states controlled by Republicans. At the same time, an oil boom in the Permian Basin shared by New Mexico and Texas is lifting the state’s revenues.

In some ways, the burst of interest in free public college is a return to the nation’s educational past. As recently as the 1970s, some public university systems remained largely tuition-free.

As a bigger and more diverse group of undergraduates entered college in recent decades, costs rose, and policymakers began to promote the idea of a degree as less of a public benefit than a private asset akin to a mortgage, according to Professor Zaloom, of N.Y.U. Many states raised tuition, and students became more reliant on grants and loans.

“We should be looking at the examples from our own history,” Professor Zaloom said. Free college educations from the University of California, the City University of New York and other public systems, she added, have been “some of the most successful engines of mobility in this country.”


Congratulations to New Mexico and its political leaders for pushing this forward.


1.1 Million Students in N.Y.C. Can Skip School for Climate Protest on Friday!

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Dear Commons Community,

New York City will not penalize students who attend global youth climate strikes on Friday. As reported by the New York Times.

“When New York City announced that public school students could skip classes without penalties to join the youth climate strikes planned around the world on Friday, you could almost hear a sigh of relief.

Before the announcement, the protests, to be held three days ahead of the United Nations Climate Action Summit here, had thrown a new complication into the usual back-to-school chaos: With the protests framed as a cry to protect their futures from climate disaster, should students heed the call?

Parents had wondered how to word emails to principals requesting excused absences. Teachers had been wondering how to react. Some students had been vowing to protest no matter what, but others had worried about possible repercussions.

Most of all, the decision last week by the nation’s largest school district buoyed national protest organizers, who are hoping that the demonstrations will be the largest on climate in the country’s history, with at least 800 planned across the 50 states. They expressed hope that other districts around the country would follow suit.

“Holy smokes, this thing could get HUGE,” Jamie Henn, a founder of the climate action organization, said on Twitter after the decision was announced by New York City’s Department of Education.

But many critics — ranging from climate-change deniers to people who argue for a less radical approach to fighting climate change — said Mayor Bill de Blasio was using school attendance policy to promote a political aim. The New York Post’s editorial board called the decision “out-and-out government sponsorship of a particular point of view.”

There is also always the risk that a few students could take advantage of the opportunity to skip school for fun.

As of yesterday afternoon, many other large districts in the country were debating what position to take. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Unified School District said officials were “still finalizing our plans.” In the smaller Cambridge, Mass., City Council members on Tuesday will discuss a motion to excuse students.

By itself, the turnout for the protest in New York — including the city’s 1.1 million public school students — is a test of the movement’s ability to make itself felt by disrupting everyday life and getting noticed by the political leaders who are gathering in New York for the climate summit and the General Assembly meeting that follows it.

Demonstrators as young as 9 had already turned up to greet the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg when she arrived last month by an emissions-free yacht in New York Harbor. Greta has inspired Friday student protests in at least 100 countries.

“This completely changes things, and it’s our doing,” said Xiye Bastida, 17, a senior at Beacon High School in Manhattan, where individual teachers were planning to accompany some students to the strike even before the city gave official permission. Xiye, who lives in Morningside Heights, said she worked with other youth organizers to get 15 City Council members to request the excused absences from the Education Department.

“We’re not against the school system,” she said. “We need the schools to work with us because our larger goal is to stop the fossil fuel industry.”

At Manhattan’s Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, news of the excused absences “changed the dynamic,” persuading many students on the fence to plan on joining, said Olivia Wohlgemuth, a senior from Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Last year, New York allowed absences for students who protested for gun control in solidarity with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 14 students and three staff members.

Olivia suggested that the parallel to those protests implied climate change was as urgent, tangible and possible to address through legislation as gun violence is.

Students will need consent from their parents or guardians to be excused on Friday, education officials said.

But the excused absences do not by themselves solve every puzzle. Some teachers said they felt torn between attending the strikes and staying in class to teach on the subject to students without permission to leave. And while young children are increasingly showing interest in joining demonstrations, elementary school students, as on ordinary school days, are not allowed to leave school without a caretaker, which will limit the number who can take part.

Some teachers have quietly groused that it would be more effective to teach students in school about climate; and critics of the decision argued that Mr. de Blasio risked politicizing education by granting excused absences for particular causes. The mayor has made climate action a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.

The Education Department will send guidelines to schools on Tuesday, encouraging them to hold discussions “about the impact of climate change and the importance of civic engagement,” said a spokesman, Will Mantell.

Teachers will also receive age-appropriate resources on climate change that are part of a curriculum already adopted by many schools, as well as materials on historical student protests and information on the impact of environmental issues.

Some 600 medical professionals across the country have also signed a virtual “doctor’s note” encouraging teachers to excuse students on the grounds that climate change is dangerous to their and others’ health.”

Save our Earth!  It is the only one we have!



New York City’s District Attorney Subpoenas Trump’s Tax Returns!

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New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

Dear Commons Community,

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office recently sent a subpoena to Donald Trump’s accounting firm seeking the last eight years of state and federal tax returns for Trump and his company, the Trump Organization.  According to the Associated Press and the New York Times:

Vance, a Democrat, subpoenaed the Trump Organization last month for records related to payments former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen helped arrange to the porn actress Stormy Daniels after she claimed she had an affair with Trump.

Vance’s office declined to comment yesterday on the tax return subpoenas, the news of which was first reported by the New York Times.

The accounting firm, Mazars USA, said in a statement that it “will respect the legal process and fully comply with its legal obligations.”

The firm said it believes strongly in ethical and professional rules and regulations governing the accounting industry and does not comment on work it does for clients.

A lawyer for the Trump Organization, Marc Mukasey, said he is “evaluating the situation and will respond as appropriate.”

Federal prosecutors in New York and Washington spent months probing payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Trump, including Daniels and model Karen McDougal.

Cohen, who made one of the payments himself and arranged for American Media Inc., the parent company of the National Enquirer, to pay the other, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, tax evasion and other crimes and is serving a three-year sentence.

A lawyer for Cohen declined to comment.

Trump, who denies any sexual relationship with either woman, has said any payments were a personal matter, not a campaign expense.

The U.S. attorney’s office in New York informed a court last month that it was finished investigating the payments. No one besides Cohen was charged, though prosecutors said in public court filings that Trump himself was aware of and directed the payments.

The Trump Organization also reimbursed Cohen for money he paid to Daniels. Cohen has argued that organization officials disguised the true nature of the payments and that it is unfair he is the only one prosecuted.

The federal inquiry looked at whether campaign finance laws were broken.

The New York Times reported, citing “people briefed on the matter,” that Vance’s inquiry involves an examination of whether anyone at the Trump Organization falsified business records by falsely listing the reimbursements to Cohen as a legal expense.

Falsifying business records can be a crime under state law.

It will be interesting to see how President and his company can stymie this request.  It has nothing to do with his time as President so executive privilege cannot be invoked. 


United Automobile Workers Go on Strike Against General Motors!

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Dear Commons Community,

For the first time in twelve years, the United Automobile Workers union went on strike against General Motors, sending nearly 50,000 members at factories across the Midwest and South to picket lines this morning.  With the two sides far apart in the talks, U.A.W. regional leaders in Detroit voted unanimously yesterday to authorize the strike, the union’s first such walkout since 2007. It began at midnight, after the union’s current bargaining agreement expired on Saturday.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Today, we stand strong and say with one voice, we are standing up for our members and for the fundamental rights of working-class people in this nation,” Terry Dittes, a union vice president, said after the meeting.

The U.A.W. is pushing G.M. to improve wages, reopen idled plants, add jobs at others and close or narrow the difference between pay rates for new hires and veteran workers. G.M. wants employees to pay a greater portion of their health care costs, and to increase work-force productivity and flexibility in factories.

Although the company has been earning substantial profits in North America — and it made $8.1 billion globally last year — it has idled three plants in the United States as car sales slide and overall demand for vehicles weakens.

The strike is unfolding as President Trump’s trade war with China wears on manufacturers and has stirred fears of a slowdown.

It could disrupt local economies in factory towns in several swing states like Michigan and Ohio, where President Trump has promised to increase manufacturing jobs. But any impact on the broader economy will depend on how long it lasts.

The auto industry, even if it is far from its employment heights in the 1970s, remains crucial to the economy, counting some 220,000 people who work to manufacture cars. According to the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, the broader vehicle industry supports 9.9 million jobs and historically accounts for about 3 percent of gross domestic product.

Even as the unionized share of the nation’s work force continues to fall, down from a peak of one-third in the 1950s, labor has become more assertive in recent years.

The number of people who participated in work stoppages involving over 1,000 workers rose last year to its highest level since the 1980s, buoyed by teacher walkouts and a multi-city hotel workers strike.

Polling data shows that the public has become increasingly supportive of organized labor. A Gallup poll in late August found that 64 percent of Americans approve of unions, up from below 50 percent a decade ago.”

This might be a long strike given the gap in the negotiating positions between the U.A.W. and General Motors.