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My Surgery Was Successfull!

Dear Commons Community,

My knee replacement surgery was successful.  I hope to leave the hospital later today.  Above is a photo of the hospital tags attached to my wrist.  The “Fall Risk” is in reference to the nature of my surgery.

Thanks to all of you who sent me good wishes.

Tony

Going for Knee Replacement Surgery Today!

Dear Commons Community,

In a couple of hours I leave for Northern Westchester Hospital to have knee replacement surgery.  My friends and colleagues see that I have been walking lately with more of a gimp and the time has come for me to replace my left knee.  My stay in the hospital will be for 2-3 days and during that time I will not be posting on my blog.  I have a fine orthopedic surgeon in Dr. Jeffery Yormack and am confident that all will go well.

Tony

Top Evangelical Magazine (Christianity Today) Calls For Trump’s Removal From Office for “Gross Immorality and Ethical Incompetence.”

Dear Commons Community,

 Christianity Today, published an editorial yesterday telling its readers that the impeachment hearings “illuminated the president’s moral deficiencies for all to see.” Christianity Today, which was founded by Billy Graham in 1956, claims a readership of over 5 million.  The editorial states:

“The facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents.  That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.”  The editorial goes on to say that none of Trump’s positives can balance his “grossly immoral character..

..Trump’s evangelical supporters justify their loyalty to the president by pointing to his Supreme Court nominees, defense of religious liberty, stewardship of the economy, and other achievements… But none of the political wins Trump has achieved for evangelicals can justify the “moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character…

..His Twitter feed alone — with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders — is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused..”

The editorial concludes:

“We have reserved judgment on Mr. Trump for years now. Some have criticized us for our reserve. But when it comes to condemning the behavior of another, patient charity must come first. So we have done our best to give evangelical Trump supporters their due, to try to understand their point of view, to see the prudential nature of so many political decisions they have made regarding Mr. Trump. To use an old cliché, it’s time to call a spade a spade, to say that no matter how many hands we win in this political poker game, we are playing with a stacked deck of gross immorality and ethical incompetence. And just when we think it’s time to push all our chips to the center of the table, that’s when the whole game will come crashing down. It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel. And it will come crashing down on a nation of men and women whose welfare is also our concern.”

Amen!

Tony

Associated Press – News Photos of the Year!

 The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, on June 24, 2019, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Martinez' wife, Tania told Mexican authorities she watched her husband and child disappear in the strong current. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc)

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter Valeria lie on the bank of the Rio Grande in Matamoros, Mexico, on June 24, 2019, after they drowned trying to cross the river to Brownsville, Texas. Martinez’ wife, Tania told Mexican authorities she watched her husband and child disappear in the strong current. (AP Photo/Julia Le Duc)

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press has just launched its News Photographs of the Year website.  It has a plethora of images presented in chronological order that reflect many of the most important stories and events in 2019.  Below is a sample  If you like news photographs, it is definitely worth a visit.

Tony

 Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral in Paris as firefighters tackle the blaze on April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Flames and smoke rise from Notre Dame cathedral in Paris as firefighters tackle the blaze on April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

 

 United States' Megan Rapinoe, right, celebrates with Alex Morgan after Rapinoe scored the opening goal from the penalty spot during the Women's World Cup final soccer match between the U.S. and The Netherlands at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France, on July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

United States’ Megan Rapinoe, right, celebrates with Alex Morgan after Rapinoe scored the opening goal from the penalty spot during the Women’s World Cup final soccer match between the U.S. and The Netherlands at the Stade de Lyon in Decines, outside Lyon, France, on July 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

 

 A bleeding man is taken away by policemen after he was attacked by protesters outside Kwai Chung police station in Hong Kong on July 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

A bleeding man is taken away by policemen after he was attacked by protesters outside Kwai Chung police station in Hong Kong on July 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

 

 A large Iceberg floats away as the sun sets near Kulusuk, Greenland, on Aug. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

A large Iceberg floats away as the sun sets near Kulusuk, Greenland, on Aug. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

 

 Firefighters battle the Marsh Fire near the town of Brentwood, Calif., in Contra Costa County, on Aug. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Firefighters battle the Marsh Fire near the town of Brentwood, Calif., in Contra Costa County, on Aug. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

 

 Relatives of crash victims mourn at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, south-east of Addis Ababa, on March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

Relatives of crash victims mourn at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board, near Bishoftu, Ethiopia, south-east of Addis Ababa, on March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene)

 

 Simone Biles of the United States performs on the uneven bars during a warmup for the women's all-around final at the Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, on Oct. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Simone Biles of the United States performs on the uneven bars during a warmup for the women’s all-around final at the Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, on Oct. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

 

The Chronicle of Higher Education Analyzes George Mason University’s Relationship with Charles Koch!

Image result for george mason university

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a featured article this morning reviewing and analyzing the relationship of Charles Koch to George Mason University.  Entitled, How George Mason Became Koch’s Academic Darling, the article tries to take a balanced view of Koch’s influence on the university by virtue of his gifts that have been close to $50 million.  It is a good analysis that concludes that while there is little question that George Mason owes a great deal to Mr. Koch’s generosity, there is considerable disagreement over whether the philanthropist’s donations lend him “undue influence over the direction of the university or merely serve to enhance a few discrete academic programs that have long attracted scholars with a free-market orientation.”

It is a difficult issue given the size of the gifts and whether the boundary of undue influence has been breached.

The entire article is below.

Tony

 —————————————————————————–

How George Mason Became Koch’s Academic Darling

By Jack Stripling May 13, 2016

In the annals of George Mason University’s history, few outsiders have claim to a role as prominent as Charles G. Koch.

Indeed, one can scarcely separate the story of George Mason from that of Mr. Koch, a libertarian billionaire who, along with his brother, David H. Koch, has used his fortune to try to swing elections and to emancipate markets from regulation.

The Koch brothers’ war of ideas expands far across academe, where programs aligned with their political interests curry philanthropic favor, but no institution has benefited as consistently from the Koch largess as has George Mason. And, arguably, no university has suffered as much criticism as a result.

The Charles Koch Foundation pumped nearly $50 million into George Mason from 2011 to 2014, according to an analysis of tax forms conducted by the Associated Press. Much of that money was steered toward the Mercatus Center, a libertarian-style economic think tank that Charles Koch helped to establish.

Naming Controversy

While there is little question that George Mason owes a great deal to Mr. Koch’s generosity, there is considerable disagreement over whether the philanthropist’s donations lend him undue influence over the direction of the university or merely serve to enhance a few discrete academic programs that have long attracted scholars with a free-market orientation.

This long-festering dispute reached a tipping point earlier this spring, when George Mason announced that it would name its law school for Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court justice, in recognition of a $10-million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation and a $20-million donation from an anonymous benefactor.

In naming the school for Justice Scalia, a hero to conservatives and a villain to many progressives, George Mason saw its uneasy relationship with one of the nation’s most-influential political families come under closer review. It also pitted professors against one another in an ethically charged dialogue about donor influence on teaching and research.

‘Market-Oriented Ideas’

The seeds of Mr. Koch’s relationship with George Mason were planted in 1980, when the Mercatus Center set up shop on the university’s campus. The center, which bills itself as “the world’s premier university source for market-oriented ideas,” helped George Mason to lure some of the biggest names in economics. They include James M. Buchanan Jr. and Vernon L. Smith, both of whom won Nobel Prizes.

Mercatus was founded by Richard Fink, a George Mason professor who would help to forge formal links between the university and Mr. Koch’s vast financial and political enterprises. As Mr. Fink ascended in Koch Industries Inc., becoming an executive vice president and member of the company’s Board of Directors, the economist’s influence grew at George Mason, where Mr. Fink served for eight years as a member of the Board of Visitors.

He remains a member of the Mercatus Center’s board, along with Charles Koch and Brian Hooks, executive director of the Koch Foundation.

George Mason’s emergence as a hot spot for free-market thinking soon extended to the university’s Law & Economics Center, a unit of the law school, which attracted legal minds of an often libertarian persuasion. Whether Charles Koch shaped George Mason’s trajectory or simply supported it, there are few institutions that have become so strongly identified with a particular school of economic thought across multiple disciplines.

Walter E. Williams, George Mason’s John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics, had a ringside seat for the university’s evolution. On a recent morning at his office, Mr. Williams, who joined the faculty in 1980, sounded unsurprised by the latest controversy concerning Mr. Koch, whom Mr. Williams considers a personal friend.

Most of George Mason’s faculty members, the professor said, “have utter contempt for the Constitution.”

“So a constitutional person like Scalia would be very offensive to them,” he said,

This is the sort of red meat Mr. Williams offers up to listeners of the Rush Limbaugh radio broadcast, where the professor occasionally fills in as guest host. Over the course of an hourlong interview, Mr. Williams lambasted “nasty liberals” at the University of Massachusetts, compared most forms of taxation to slavery, and watched a video of Mr. Koch toasting the professor at a dinner several years ago. During the toast, Mr. Koch seemed to relish an anecdote about Mr. Williams, who is black, once claiming that if any Black Panther Party members messed with him, he could “kick their butts.”

At 6 feet 4 inches, perhaps that is true.

Mr. Williams’s politics are no secret. On his bookshelves rest a bust of Adam Smith, the patron saint of unimpeded capitalism, and a copy of The Libertarian Reader. But Mr. Williams said that he is careful not to bring his opinions, hardened as they are, into the classroom. He scoffed at any suggestion that George Mason’s economics department indoctrinates students with antiregulatory, free-market messages. He does, however, hope his pupils will come to see the world just as he does.

“I would like students to share my subjective opinions,” Mr. Williams said. “If they become hard-minded thinkers, they will adopt many of my opinions.”

‘Obscure the True Agenda’

Few people seem to dispute that George Mason, at least in the disciplines of law and economics, is a more conservative campus than many other public institutions. The harder question is whether Koch money perpetuates that reality, and in so doing ensures that the university’s scholarship and teaching will serve the foundation’s political interests.

To answer that question, skeptics naturally look toward Mercatus. The center is a private, nonprofit research organization that operates independently of the university and without state or federal money, but it has considerable cross-pollination with George Mason’s economics department, some of whose professors rely on Mercatus to supplement their income. This year about two dozen George Mason faculty members received a total of $432,000 from the center, Mercatus officials said. The center has also provided financial support to 64 graduate students, nearly all of them in economics.

Mercatus has come under increased scrutiny over the past year, and much of that attention is due to Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (Doubleday, 2016).

Ms. Mayer’s book recounts the political maneuverings of Charles and David Koch, as characterized in a confidential study written by Clayton A. Coppin, a management consultant at Koch Industries who taught history at George Mason.

In the study, Mr. Coppin described Mercatus as “a lobbying group disguised as a disinterested academic program.” By donating money to the center, Mr. Coppin wrote, Charles Koch received a tax deduction for financing what amounted to an advocacy arm for his “corporate interest.”

Establishing centers and institutes, Mr. Coppin said, was preferable to giving money to universities outright because it gave Mr. Koch more leverage.

“It would be necessary to use ambiguous and misleading names, obscure the true agenda, and conceal the means of control,” Mr. Coppin wrote. “This is the method that Charles Koch would soon practice in his charitable giving, and later in his political actions.”

 

Through his foundation, Charles G. Koch has given millions to George Mason U. An official with his foundation said Mr. Koch supports scholarship “about the relationship between freedom and prosperity. … It’s unfortunate that some folks have used political tactics to silence or attack scholars they don’t agree with instead of dealing with the ideas themselves.”

Tyler Cowen, general director of Mercatus, declined an interview request and referred all questions to Bob Ewing, the center’s director of media relations. Mr. Ewing said he had not read Dark Money and could not comment on Mr. Coppin’s characterization of the center. He stressed that the Koch Foundation is just one of more than 3,000 foundations, individuals, and corporations that provide Mercatus with financial support.

John C. Hardin, director of university relations for the Charles Koch Foundation, said the foundation is “interested in pursuing questions about the relationship between freedom and prosperity.”

“That’s what Charles is excited about supporting,” Mr. Hardin said. “It’s unfortunate that some folks have used political tactics to silence or attack scholars they don’t agree with instead of dealing with the ideas themselves.”

The Mercatus Center’s conflict-of-interest statement speaks directly to concerns of donor meddling, labeling any such interference as unacceptable.

“Mercatus financial supporters have absolutely no influence or control over the research design, methodology, analysis, or findings of Mercatus research projects, nor do they have influence or control over the content of educational programs,” the statement reads. “Offers of financial support predicated on such expectations are not accepted.”

The center’s strong language provides a bulwark against overt and egregious forms of donor influence, which academics of all political stripes would presumably find inappropriate. Subtler donor influences on the culture of George Mason University, however, are more difficult to detect and harder to quantify.

Carrie A. Meyer, an associate professor of economics at George Mason, joined the faculty in 1988, after finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A former Peace Corps volunteer, Ms. Meyer describes herself as a political moderate who leans left of her colleagues. Looking back on her career, Ms. Meyer said, she has held back in her scholarship at George Mason, gravitating toward vanilla topics, such as a book based on the diaries of her family’s farm. She did not want to rock the boat.

“I carefully chose my research so it wouldn’t be objectionable to them,” she said.

Ms. Meyer described her colleagues as smart economists but said they collectively provide graduate students with a narrow view of the discipline.

“I would tell people that it’s better to go to a place where they would get a broader education,” she said.

Other George Mason professors push back against that critique. Peter J. Boettke, a professor of economics and philosophy, said the university values rigorous intellectual debate, not the parroting of some political orthodoxy.

“We have a variety of people with different views here,” said Mr. Boettke, director of a Mercatus program and an authority on the Austrian school of economics, which looks askance at government spending as an economic stimulus. “Let’s say we have a graduate student who wanted to write a thesis on the Affordable Care Act. Would they be discouraged from doing it because of Mercatus? I would hope not. I hope they would see this is an environment of open discourse and the best arguments win out.”

Whatever questions the Mercatus Center has invited, administrators have consistently concluded that it helps bring superstars into the university. Peter N. Stearns, a former provost of the university, said that the center’s association with politically motivated donors raised “yellow flags, but not red ones.”

“We didn’t know as much about the Kochs then as we do now,” said Mr. Stearns, who served as the university’s chief academic officer from 2000 to 2015. “I was aware of it and not entirely comfortable with it. But the program was providing us with objectively high-quality faculty. The reputation was high, even if they were aligned with a libertarian or a free-market stance.”

Polarizing Justice

What once passed for mild suspicion of the Kochs’ perceived influence has boiled over into outright disdain among some professors at George Mason. The Mercatus Center and the Institute for Humane Studies, another Koch-funded nonprofit on the university’s property, have been seen by critics as troubling satellite operations on the fringe of the university proper. But the gift to the law school brought those concerns closer to the core of the institution, and the Scalia naming tracks as a middle finger to liberal-minded students and professors.

Justice Scalia’s record on gay rights and racial preferences in college admissions are particularly troubling to some faculty members, who see his opinions as counter to the inclusive mission of the university. During oral arguments over affirmative action last year, Justice Scalia raised the specter of “mismatch theory,” questioning whether black students might do better at a “slower-track school.”

“I don’t know how we can call ourselves a public university and associate ourselves with someone who doesn’t believe that African-Americans belong at a school like Mason.”

“I don’t know how we can call ourselves a public university and associate ourselves with someone who doesn’t believe that African-Americans belong at a school like Mason,” said Craig Willse, an assistant professor of cultural studies.

Henry N. Butler, dean of the law school, said the idea of naming the school for Justice Scalia had come from the anonymous donor, who pledged $20 million to go along with the Koch Foundation’s $10-million contribution. The naming, Mr. Butler said, was by no means an endorsement of the totality of Justice Scalia’s views. Indeed, the dean said, he would just as happily have named the law school for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court’s reliably liberal justice, had that been the donor’s wish.

“I would have that $30-million smile on my face,” Mr. Butler said.

George Mason’s Faculty Senate passed a resolution last week calling on the university to put the renaming on hold until the gift agreements could be further reviewed. The discussion before the vote revealed an intensifying rift between law professors, who say the gift will advance the school’s national profile, and faculty members in other disciplines, who say the contribution gives the Koch Foundation undue leverage over university affairs.

Lloyd R. Cohen, a law professor, stood before a packed room of his colleagues and described the resolution as “hate-filled.”

“Consider the barely concealed contempt for the law-school faculty and administration, that we would voluntarily sell out our right to faculty governance and academic freedom for a donor,” Mr. Cohen said.

The anonymous donor’s gift agreement, which provides for scholarship money that will in turn generate tuition revenue to help pay for 12 new professorships, gives the donor broad discretion to terminate the deal if the school “is no longer principally focused” on its “mission.” It also stipulates that Mr. Butler, specifically, “is a critical part of advancing the school’s mission” and that the donor should be notified “immediately” if he is removed or resigns.

None of those stipulations, Mr. Butler said, infringe on the president and provost’s authority to fire the dean or the school’s authority to appoint the professors it sees fit. To suggest that the school would agree to anything less, Mr. Butler said, is offensive.

“They challenge our academic integrity, and they act like a bunch of purists,” he said of his critics. “It’s all political. I don’t throw hand grenades at other people in the university, and they are taking cheap shots.”

What Mr. Butler cannot deny, however, is that George Mason is taking a gamble. The business plan, such as it is, relies on the precept that the law school, which has seen staggering enrollment drops and a corresponding rankings decline, will rebound with help of the donors’ largess. The school expects to exhaust the $30 million in about 10 years, Mr. Butler said, after which the university will be relying on sustained enrollment increases to continue to pay for the dozen new professors.

Count David L. Kuebrich as a skeptic. Mr. Kuebrich, an associate professor of English, has spent years researching donor influence at George Mason, often finding that the university foundation’s agreements are confidential and not subject to public-records laws. The new agreements, which were made public because they required the president’s signature for the Scalia naming, ensure that the university will be indefinitely on the hook to pay for new faculty positions, whether the plan works or the donors deliver, Mr. Kuebrich said.

“The Kochs always cut hard deals,” he said. “They get a lot for their money, and it’s coming ultimately from Virginia taxpayers.”

‘No Brainwashing’

Like the economics department, George Mason’s law school has a solid reputation as a bedrock of libertarian thought. Its blending of law and economics draws upon the traditions of the University of Chicago, a number of whose leading scholars have a history of praising the power of unfettered markets.

The Scalia naming has rekindled concerns about the Law & Economics Center’s Mason Judicial Education Program. The program, which receives money from the Charles Koch Foundation and other right-leaning groups, provides seminars that aim to give judges an “understanding of critical economic disciplines” to inform their decision making, according to its website.

But critics on George Mason’s faculty have questioned whether the seminars are designed to ideologically influence judges.

  1. Bruce Johnsen (left), director of a judicial-education program at George Mason’s Law & Economics Center, scoffs at the idea that the program seeks to influence judges ideologically. “To suggest that anyone could get a bunch of judges together and brainwash them is just nonsense,” he says.

“There is no brainwashing going on here,” D. Bruce Johnsen, the program’s director, told professors at last week’s Faculty Senate meeting. “To suggest that anyone could get a bunch of judges together and brainwash them is just nonsense. These people, as their profession, listen to smart advocates constantly, and sift through what they say and they make up their own mind. So, again, I think this is just a thinly veiled attempt to tell a lie and repeat it over and over again.”

The law school’s reputation as a libertarian stronghold, however, may give some job candidates pause. When David N. Schleicher interviewed for a faculty position with the school, in 2008, he asked Daniel D. Polsby, who was then dean, whether it was a problem that the candidate leaned left politically.

“He said, ‘Of course not. Are you crazy?’” recalled Mr. Schleicher, who earned tenure at George Mason and is now an associate professor at Yale Law School.

To the extent that George Mason’s law school has hired conservative scholars, Mr. Schleicher said, it is at least in part because those professors are not thought to be as highly sought after by the more-liberal programs that dominate academe.

“The school has developed a bit of an ideology around hiring, the belief that you can hire better people because of biases elsewhere,” Mr. Schleicher said. “But it is certainly not exclusive in their hiring, as evidenced by them hiring me.”

Battle of Ideas

Thrust into the center of this debate is Ángel Cabrera, who took over as George Mason’s president nearly four years ago. Mr. Cabrera, a native of Spain, previously served as president of the Thunderbird School of Global Management, a financially struggling institution that, in 2014, was taken over by Arizona State University.

Before he assumed his duties at George Mason, Mr. Cabrera was briefed on all of the university’s key donors and prospects, including Mr. Koch. He later met with Mr. Koch at an Arlington, Va., hotel, the president said, where Mr. Cabrera was disabused of some of the legends about Mr. Koch as a dark and mysterious ideologue. The two did not talk politics but rather business-management theory, a shared passion.

“I’ve been around enough to know that everybody is a lot more nuanced and complicated and interesting than they are portrayed to be,” Mr. Cabrera said. “It is human nature to simplify people’s characters and positions.”

To Mr. Cabrera, Mr. Koch is no different than a passionate climate-change activist who invests in a university well known for its research on global warming. The president said he is not concerned about the foundation’s establishing a “beachhead” of political action at the university, as some critics have suggested, because George Mason applies the same standards of tenure, promotion, and peer review throughout the university.

“Call it a beachhead. I don’t know. Call it anything you want,” Mr. Cabrera said. “All I see as a university president is a generous philanthropist who believes in one of the many things we do, and he’s willing to invest there. And I say thank you; keep it coming.”

 

Trump Impeached: Now We Wait for the Republican-Controlled Senate to Do Its Part – Not Likely!

Dear Commons Community,

As expected, Donald Trump was impeached last night by the House of Representatives on an almost strictly party-line vote.  Impeachment will now move to the U.S. Senate where it is likely Trump will be acquitted also on a party-line vote. Unfortunately it is unclear what all of this will mean for our country.  The New York Times editorial this morning speculates on this and squarely puts the onus on the Republican Party leaders and elected officials to determine how far they will let this President continue the divisiveness and vitriol that have come to characterize American politics. The editorial board’s conclusion is:

“The bottom line is that impeachment in the House is unlikely to protect the country from Mr. Trump’s abuse of power, because his fellow party leaders prize their power more than the principles they say they stand for. The only way to protect American democracy is for those who value it to put it to work, and vote these people out.”

The entire editorial is below.

Tony

——————————————————————————————————–

New York Times

Editorial

December 19, 2019

Trump Has Been Impeached. Republicans Are Following Him Down.

Ignoring facts and trashing the impeachment process is no way to protect democracy.

On Wednesday evening, the House of Representatives impeached the president of the United States. A magnificent and terrible machine engineered by the founders, still and silent through almost all of American history, has for only the third time in 231 years shifted into motion, to consider whether Congress must call a president to account for abuse of power.

So why does it all seem so banal? The outcome so foreordained?

Most people say they know what’s going to happen, and who are we to say they’re wrong? The House voted to impeach Donald Trump by a party-line vote, with the exception of three Democrats representing Trump-friendly districts who voted against at least one article of impeachment. In the next month or two, the Senate will almost surely acquit him, also on a party-line vote.

It isn’t supposed to be this way. There’s plenty of blame to go around for the intense — really, infantilizing — degree of polarization that has overwhelmed American politics across the past 40 years. But the nihilism of this moment — the trashing of constitutional safeguards, the scorn for facts, the embrace of corruption, the indifference to historical precedent and to foreign interference in American politics — is due principally to cowardice and opportunism on the part of Republican leaders who have chosen to reject their party’s past standards and positions and instead follow Donald Trump, all the way down.

It’s a lot to ask of Republicans to insist on holding their own leader accountable, just as that was a lot to expect of Democrats during the Clinton impeachment inquiry. But while many Democrats then criticized President Bill Clinton and some voted to impeach him, Republican lawmakers would not breathe a word against Mr. Trump on Wednesday.

Instead, they competed with one another to invoke the most outlandish metaphor of evil — from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — and suggest that Mr. Trump is enduring even worse.

Senate Republicans are preparing to follow the example of their House colleagues, though many know better. Not so very long ago, several of them — including Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, even the majority leader, Mitch McConnell — warned that Donald Trump was wrong for the country. Lindsey Graham memorably called Mr. Trump “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” who was “unfit for office.” Now these senators seem eager to endorse the very sort of behavior they feared.

It is not too much to wonder how much of this cynicism and betrayal of principle any democracy can handle.

Every president from George Washington onward has been accused of misconduct of one kind or another, and many have faced calls for their impeachment. But Congress has resorted to the ultimate remedy so rarely because of the unspoken agreement that it should be reserved for only the most egregious and inexcusable offenses against the national interest.

Mr. Trump himself drew this distinction in 2008, arguing that President George W. Bush should have been impeached for lying about the reasons for the Iraq war, while at the same time rejecting the Republicans’ impeachment of Mr. Clinton for lying about sex as “nonsense,” done for something “totally unimportant.”

By any reasonable measure, Mr. Trump’s own conduct in office clears the bar for impeachment set by the founders. The case against him is that he solicited foreign interference to help in his 2020 re-election campaign, that he used hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to do it, that his administration tried to hide the evidence and that he then blocked Congress from performing its constitutionally mandated role of checking the executive branch. Multiple government officials, some appointed by the president himself, have confirmed all of these facts.

There may be no better illustration of what the Constitution’s framers considered to be impeachable conduct. And that’s leaving to the side strong evidence that Mr. Trump has committed other impeachable offenses, including taking foreign money at his personal businesses, obstructing justice and violating campaign-finance laws — the latter two of which are also federal crimes.

Through it all, Mr. Trump has had the opportunity to rebut the charges. By his account, he could have extinguished both articles of impeachment by allowing top administration officials to testify under oath. If he really did nothing wrong, the testimony of these officials would exonerate him of the charge of abusing his power, and simply their appearance under oath would dissolve the charge of obstructing Congress.

And yet when given the opportunity to defend himself, the president has refused to participate, defying all of the House’s subpoenas for witnesses and documents, effectively declaring himself unaccountable.

His defense has consisted of sending all-caps tweets accusing the Democrats of perpetrating a “hoax” and trying to overturn an election. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump delivered an unhinged, error-ridden six-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in which he called the impeachment inquiry “an illegal, partisan attempted coup” and claimed that the Salem witch trials provided more due process. Tell that to the women and men who were hanged in Massachusetts.

The president’s letter demonstrated again his complete failure to offer a substantive defense. His refusal to admit he did the slightest thing wrong, or to offer witnesses who could affirm his innocence, left the House with no choice but to impeach him. By the sworn testimony about his actions, and by his own public statements calling on China and Ukraine to investigate the Bidens, he has shown not only that he tried to cheat to win the 2020 election, but that he is continuing to do so.

The case now moves to the Senate for a trial, which will be presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts. The chief justice will have the power to rule on any disputes that arise, but his rulings can be overturned by a majority of senators. Though he may be reluctant to be dragged into what might seem political disputes, Chief Justice Roberts has the authority and the duty to make this process more than a partisan farce.

Ideally, many of those disputes would be hammered out by Senate leaders before the trial begins, and would include rules that allow for compelling the production of documents that the White House has withheld, as well as requiring the testimony of witnesses whom Mr. Trump blocked from appearing before the House, including John Bolton, the former national security adviser; Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff; and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Unfortunately, the Senate is led by Mr. McConnell.

Mr. McConnell, who like all senators will swear an oath to “do impartial justice” at the start of the trial, has already vowed to violate that oath. “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” Mr. McConnell said on Tuesday. “The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate.” He has also vowed to coordinate directly with the White House on all aspects of the trial.

No one is suggesting that House Democrats are above playing politics, but at least they held hearings, considered evidence and did their best to get at the truth. Mr. McConnell won’t even promise that much.

The bottom line is that impeachment in the House is unlikely to protect the country from Mr. Trump’s abuse of power, because his fellow party leaders prize their power more than the principles they say they stand for. The only way to protect American democracy is for those who value it to put it to work, and vote these people out.

 

Impeachment Day:  Trump Asks for a Prayer after Sending Nutty Letter to Nancy Pelosi!

Dear Commons Community,

President Trump woke up this morning proclaiming his innocence and lashing out at Democrats again as his certain impeachment looms.

In a twist, he asked Americans for their ultimate support: “Say a PRAYER!” he wrote on Twitter.  In the tweet he says: “Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG! A terrible Thing. Read the Transcripts. This should never happen to another President again. Say a PRAYER!”

Trump appeared all but resigned to being impeached later today.  A majority of lawmakers in the House of Representatives have already said they will vote to impeach him along a party line vote.

Yesterday Trump sent  a scathing, ranting, incoherent, insult-filled letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in which he hit on some of the same themes of injustice and persecution that he feels as he is poised to become the third president to be impeached.  Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Pelosi said she hadn’t fully read Trump’s letter, but called what she did read “really sick.”

Trump is accused of abusing his presidential power and obstructing the congressional impeachment probe. Democrats say he sought to use American aid as leverage to bully Ukraine into launching damaging political investigations into his political rivals.

Tony

Rick Gates, Ex-Trump Aide and Key Witness for Mueller, Is Sentenced to 45 Days in Jail!

Image result for rick gates

Rick Gates

Dear Commons Community,

Rick Gates, the former Trump campaign aide who helped bring down two former advisers to President Trump, was sentenced yesterday to 45 days in jail and a $20,000 fine for his part in a criminal financial scheme and for lying to federal investigators.  Mr. Gates was hoping to be spared prison because he testified against Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.  In supporting his plea, prosecutors said he resisted a good deal of pressure not to cooperate.  As reported in the New York Times:

“Despite his extraordinary cooperation with the government, Mr. Gates’s crimes were simply too serious to grant his request for probation, said Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She said he can serve his time behind bars intermittently, including on weekends, during a three-year term of probation.

The judge, who has overseen the bulk of criminal cases that arose from the special counsel’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, said that she struggled with her decision because Mr. Gates had done much to merit leniency.

He provided evidence against powerful people, including Mr. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend and former campaign adviser. Mr. Gates withstood pressure from Mr. Manafort not to cooperate with prosecutors, including offers of financial assistance. He also endured what Judge Jackson called “humiliating” cross-examination during three separate criminal trials.”

While the judge in this case understands the law much better than I could ever pretend to know,  I think Gates did the country a service.  His punishment is not that severe. It would be a genuine show of patriotism for some of Trump’s other cronies especially those in the White House today to do what Gates did.

Tony

 

Lincoln Project:  Prominent Republicans Who Want Trump Defeated!

Dear Commons Community,

Four prominent Republicans, George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson, announced the creation of the Lincoln Project, in an effort to protect conservative values and to defeat Donald Trump’s re-election.  In an op-ed announcing the formation the Project, they state that “the president and his enablers have replaced conservatism with an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.”  The four republicans are: George T. Conway III, an attorney in New York, Steve Schmidt; a political strategist who worked for President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; John Weaver, a Republican strategist who worked for President George H.W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Gov. John Kasich; and  Rick Wilson, a Republican media consultant and author of “Everything Trump Touches Dies” and the forthcoming “Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America From Trump and Democrats From Themselves.”  

The strong language in the op-ed calls on all Americans regardless of political ideology but especially conservatives to reject Donald Trump and what he stands for.  To quote:

“This effort transcends partisanship and is dedicated to nothing less than preservation of the principles that so many have fought for, on battlefields far from home and within their own communities.

This effort asks all Americans of all places, creeds and ways of life to join in the seminal task of our generation: restoring to this nation leadership and governance that respects the rule of law, recognizes the dignity of all people and defends the Constitution and American values at home and abroad.

Over these next 11 months, our efforts will be dedicated to defeating President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to elect those patriots who will hold the line. We do not undertake this task lightly, nor from ideological preference. We have been, and remain, broadly conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and outlooks. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort.”

Below is the entire announcement as it appears in today’s New York Times.

We wish them luck!

Tony

———————————————————————————————————

New York Times

We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated

By George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson

Dec. 17, 2019

Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics. As Americans, we must stem the damage he and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character.

That’s why we are announcing the Lincoln Project, an effort to highlight our country’s story and values, and its people’s sacrifices and obligations. This effort transcends partisanship and is dedicated to nothing less than preservation of the principles that so many have fought for, on battlefields far from home and within their own communities.

This effort asks all Americans of all places, creeds and ways of life to join in the seminal task of our generation: restoring to this nation leadership and governance that respects the rule of law, recognizes the dignity of all people and defends the Constitution and American values at home and abroad.

Over these next 11 months, our efforts will be dedicated to defeating President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to elect those patriots who will hold the line. We do not undertake this task lightly, nor from ideological preference. We have been, and remain, broadly conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and outlooks. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort.

The 2020 general election, by every indication, will be about persuasion, with turnout expected to be at record highs. Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution, even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.

The American presidency transcends the individuals who occupy the Oval Office. Their personality becomes part of our national character. Their actions become our actions, for which we all share responsibility. Their willingness to act in accordance with the law and our tradition dictate how current and future leaders will act. Their commitment to order, civility and decency are reflected in American society.

Mr. Trump fails to meet the bar for this commitment. He has neither the moral compass nor the temperament to serve. His vision is limited to what immediately faces him — the problems and risks he chronically brings upon himself and for which others, from countless contractors and companies to the American people, ultimately bear the heaviest burden.

But this president’s actions are possible only with the craven acquiescence of congressional Republicans. They have done no less than abdicate their Article I responsibilities.

Indeed, national Republicans have done far worse than simply march along to Mr. Trump’s beat. Their defense of him is imbued with an ugliness, a meanness and a willingness to attack and slander those who have shed blood for our country, who have dedicated their lives and careers to its defense and its security, and whose job is to preserve the nation’s status as a beacon of hope.

Congressional Republicans have embraced and copied Mr. Trump’s cruelty and defended and even adopted his corruption. Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced it with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet. In a recent survey, a majority of Republican voters reported that they consider Mr. Trump a better president than Lincoln.

Mr. Trump and his fellow travelers daily undermine the proposition we as a people have a responsibility and an obligation to continually bend the arc of history toward justice. They mock our belief in America as something more meaningful than lines on a map.

Our peril far outstrips any past differences: It has arrived at our collective doorstep, and we believe there is no other choice. We sincerely hope, but are not optimistic, that some of those Republicans charged with sitting as jurors in a likely Senate impeachment trial will do likewise.

American men and women stand ready around the globe to defend us and our way of life. We must do right by them and ensure that the country for which they daily don their uniform deserves their protection and their sacrifice.

We are reminded of Dan Sickles, an incompetent 19th-century New York politician. On July 2, 1863, his blundering nearly ended the United States.

(Sickles’s greatest previous achievement had been fatally shooting his wife’s lover across the street from the White House and getting himself elected to Congress. Even his most fervent admirers could not have imagined that one day, far in the future, another incompetent New York politician, a president, would lay claim to that legacy by saying he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.)

On that day in Pennsylvania, Sickles was a major general commanding the Union Army’s III Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg, and his incompetence wrought chaos and danger. The Confederate Army took advantage, and turned the Union line. Had the rebel soldiers broken through, the continent might have been divided: free and slave, democratic and authoritarian.

Another Union general, Winfield Scott Hancock, had only minutes to reinforce the line. America, the nation, the ideal, hung in the balance. Amid the fury of battle, he found the First Minnesota Volunteers.

They charged, and many of them fell, suffering a staggeringly high casualty rate. They held the line. They saved the Union. Four months later, Lincoln stood on that field of slaughter and said, “It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

We look to Lincoln as our guide and inspiration. He understood the necessity of not just saving the Union, but also of knitting the nation back together spiritually as well as politically. But those wounds can be bound up only once the threat has been defeated. So, too, will our country have to knit itself back together after the scourge of Trumpism has been overcome.

University of Oklahoma Being Sued $800 Million Over Bad Student Housing Deal!

 

Cross Village Housing Complex

Dear Commons Community,

A lawsuit was filed yesterday by Provident Oklahoma Education Resources against the Oklahoma University Board of Regents and the State of Oklahoma because of breach of contract in the financing of a $250 million Cross Village student housing complex.  The University entered into a “public-private partnership” agreement (3Ps) that have become an increasingly popular way for colleges to finance large new initiatives especially capital projects.   Only about a third of the residences at the U. of Oklahoma’s Cross Village housing complex were rented this fall, and the adjoining retail space is sitting empty.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“The University of Oklahoma has been accused of making “empty promises” to a company that financed the construction of a $250-million student-housing complex on its campus. Now the university may be headed to court.

A lawsuit filed on Monday by Provident Oklahoma Education Resources says that the university’s Board of Regents and the State of Oklahoma breached their agreements with the firm, a subsidiary of Provident Resources Group, a nonprofit investment company that works with colleges.

P3s have become an increasingly popular way for colleges to improve their campuses without raising money or incurring debt. Oklahoma’s soured deal has been seen as a cautionary tale.

The suit, which seeks nearly $800 million in damages, also accuses the university of unjustly enriching itself, among other allegations. The university called the claims “baseless.”

The furor arose around Cross Village, a 1,200-bed complex with 40,000 square feet of retail-and-dining space and a 1,000-space parking garage, financed through a public-private partnership. The arrangement, known as a “P3,” has become an increasingly popular way for colleges to build or improve their campuses without raising money or incurring debt; the deal-gone-bad has been seen as a cautionary tale.

Under David L. Boren, who was president at the time, the university signed an agreement in 2017 to build the complex on university-owned land, with Provident borrowing about $250 million to pay for it. Provident was to lease the land and own the building for 50 years and collect all the student-housing fees. The university was to rent the retail-and-dining space and parking spaces from Provident. In an unusual wrinkle, the university asked for $20 million upfront instead of receiving annual ground-lease payments of about $1 million.

To make up for the upfront expense, Provident charged the university nearly triple local market rental rates for similar retail and dining space. The university paid nearly $7 million to Provident to rent out the ground-floor space and parking spaces during the first year of the deal. Oklahoma collected only about $40,000 in rent from the retail space, which now sits empty.

Boren retired under a cloud in 2018, and his successor, James L. Gallogly, a former oil-company executive, considered the deal financially unsustainable for the university. Due to state law, the language of the ground lease for the site held that the leases for the retail and parking spaces should be renewed annually, and Gallogly did not renew them this summer. Between the loss of the university’s rent payments and a lower-than-expected occupancy rate at Cross Village, Provident faces the possibility of defaulting on its debt payments. Gallogly resigned in May.

The suit argues that the university reneged on repeated promises to continue to lease the ground-floor spaces and the parking for the life of the deal. It also contends that the university overestimated the demand for housing on campus, and that it asked that the units be built without in-room kitchens in order to encourage residents to patronize the eateries in the ground-floor space, despite the fact that the housing was designated for upperclassmen, who often prefer having a kitchen. This fall, only about a third of the residences had been rented.

The suit also states that the university deceived Provident by saying it had all the necessary approvals for the project. The minutes of a Board of Regents meeting in October 2018 note that the leases for the retail and parking spaces had not been properly approved by the board, although it subsequently voted to continue the leases for the remainder of their yearlong terms.

If Provident defaults on its debt, the ground lease would be invalidated, and the university would take possession of the building.

The suit asks for nearly $800 million for breach of the ground lease and of the university’s promises to the firm, and for the return of the $20 million. “The University should not be permitted to benefit from its wrongful conduct,” it reads.

The university issued a statement Monday afternoon that said Provident’s suit “parrots the same baseless claims it has previously put forth,” and that it will respond appropriately. “OU’s obligation remains to its students and the taxpayers of Oklahoma, not to Provident or its debt.”

This is a cautionary tale for all colleges and universities considering 3Ps and outsourcing arrangements.  They can be an attractive alternative to self-financing but consider carefully the contract’s details and financial responsibilities.

Tony