Key Takeaways From Trump’s Released Tax Returns!

Trump tax returns show he paid lower rate than most filers - Los Angeles  Times

Image courtesy of Jim Cooke / Los Angeles Times.

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, the House Ways and Means Committee released Donald Trump’s tax returns which contained thousands of pages of documents.  The New York Times has done an initial review and below is their analysis of key takeaways.

One item that The New York Times does not mention  is the finding that Trump had significant investments in foreign countries including China, Azerbaijan, India, Indonesia, Panama, the Philippines, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

These raise the issue of potential conflicts of interest for the commander-in-chief of the United States and are one reason presidents normally release their tax returns.

I am sure that Trump’s tax returns will be the subject of a good deal of news analysis over the next several weeks.



The New York Times

Key Takeaways From Trump’s Tax Returns

By Jim Tankersley, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner

Dec. 30, 2022

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee have followed through with their vow to make public six years of former President Donald J. Trump’s tax returns, giving the American public new insight into his business dealings and drawing threats of retaliation from congressional Republicans.

The release on Friday morning contained thousands of pages of tax documents, including individual returns for Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, as well as business returns for several of the hundreds of companies that make up the real estate mogul’s sprawling business organization.

The committee had this month released top-line details from the returns, which showed that Mr. Trump paid $1.1 million in federal income taxes during the first three years of his presidency, including just $750 in federal income tax in 2017, his first year in office. He paid no tax in 2020 as his income dwindled and his business losses mounted.

The documents contain new details not revealed in those earlier releases. New York Times reporters are combing the pages for key takeaways. Here is a running list.

Trump made no charitable contributions in 2020.

As a presidential candidate in 2015, Mr. Trump said he would not take “even one dollar” of the $400,000 salary that comes with the job. “I am totally giving up my salary if I become president,” he said.

In his first three years in office, Mr. Trump said he donated his salary quarterly. But in 2020, his last full year in office, the documents show that Mr. Trump reported $0 in charitable giving.

Also in 2020, as the pandemic recession swiftly descended, Mr. Trump reported heavy business losses and no federal tax liability.

In the earlier years, White House officials made a point of highlighting which government agencies were receiving the money, starting with the National Park Service in 2017. The tax documents released Friday show that Mr. Trump reported charitable donations totaling nearly $1.9 million in 2017 and just over $500,000 in both 2018 and 2019.

In a bad year for business, Trump didn’t take a full refund.

Mr. Trump reported nearly $16 million in business losses in 2020, which swamped his other income and left him with no federal income tax liability. But the tax documents show that he made nearly $14 million in tax payments to the federal government over the course of the year.

Those payments left him with the potential for a large income tax refund from the government — like the ones many taxpayers find when they go to file their taxes every spring. In Mr. Trump’s case, he chose not to immediately take the full refund available to him. He claimed a refund of just under $5.5 million, then directed the Internal Revenue Service to apply another $8 million to his estimated taxes for 2021.

His own tax law may have cost him.

The tax law Mr. Trump signed in late 2017, which took effect the next year, contained some provisions that most likely gave him an advantage at tax time — including the scaling back of the alternative minimum tax on high earners.

But one provision in particular drastically reduced the income tax deductions Mr. Trump could claim in 2018 and beyond: limits that Republicans placed on deductions for state and local taxes paid.

The so-called SALT deduction disproportionately hit higher earners, including Mr. Trump, in high-tax cities and states like New York. In 2019, he reported paying $8.4 million in state and local taxes. Because of the SALT limits included in his tax law, he was able to deduct only $10,000 of those taxes paid on his federal income tax return.

Those losses could have been mitigated at least in part by other sections of the law that were favorable to wealthier taxpayers like Mr. Trump.

Fred Trump is a silent actor in the returns.

Fred Trump, Mr. Trump’s long-deceased father, has continued to have an effect on his son’s finances.

In 2018, after a decade in which the former president declared no taxable income, he reported taxable income of more than $24 million and paid $1 million in federal taxes, nearly the entire total he paid as president.

That income, as previously detailed by The Times, appeared to be the result of more than $14 million in gains from the sale of an investment his father made in the 1970s, a Brooklyn housing complex named Starrett City, which became part of Mr. Trump’s inheritance.

But the new documents show that the effect of his inheritance in 2018 was far greater: Mr. Trump reported $25.7 million in gains from the sale of business properties that he and his siblings inherited or took through trusts, including the sale of Starrett City.

The sales of business properties Mr. Trump created himself came at a loss, however, dragging down his net proceeds and somewhat reducing his tax liability, the tax itemization shows.

That included a total of $1 million in property sold at a loss by 40 Wall Street, his office building in Lower Manhattan, and DJT Holdings LLC. He recorded another $1 million loss bailing his son Donald Trump Jr. out of a failed business to build prefabricated homes.

Mr. Trump also received tens of thousands of dollars in dividends while he was in the White House from trusts that were established for him when he was young, his tax returns show.

A new tax firm got involved in 2020.

For years, Mr. Trump used the accounting firm Mazars USA to prepare his taxes and those of his businesses. Donald Bender, Mr. Trump’s longtime accountant at Mazars, had long been listed on the former president’s taxes as his accountant.

The firm formally cut ties with Mr. Trump and his businesses this year, saying it could no longer stand behind a decade of annual financial statements it prepared for the Trump Organization.

But it turns out Mazars and Mr. Trump had begun distancing themselves from each other as early as 2020. That year, BKM Sowan Horan, a Texas-based accounting firm, prepared Mr. Trump’s taxes, his returns show.

Republicans are threatening retaliation.

The release of the documents on Friday set off a new round of attacks between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, including threats of escalating — and politically motivated — future releases of private tax information.

Democrats cast the move as necessary oversight on a president who broke decades of precedent in declining to release his returns.

“Trump acted as though he had something to hide, a pattern consistent with the recent conviction of his family business for criminal tax fraud,” Representative Don Beyer, Democrat of Virginia and a Ways and Means Committee member, said in a news release. “As the public will now be able to see, Trump used questionable or poorly substantiated deductions and a number of other tax avoidance schemes as justification to pay little or no federal income tax in several of the years examined.”

But Republicans — who won control of the House in November — warned Democrats that they had started down a dangerous road, and that public pressure could push the incoming majority to release returns from President Biden’s family or a wide range of other private individuals.

“Going forward, all future chairs of both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee will have nearly unlimited power to target and make public the tax returns of private citizens, political enemies, business and labor leaders, or even the Supreme Court justices themselves,” Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement on Friday.

Mr. Trump weighed in late Friday morning with an email statement that also raised the threat of retaliation.

“The Democrats should have never done it, the Supreme Court should have never approved it, and it’s going to lead to horrible things for so many people,” he said. “The great USA divide will now grow far worse. The Radical Left Democrats have weaponized everything, but remember, that is a dangerous two-way street!”


Ex-Trump Aide Alyssa Farah Griffin Gives Brutal Review of Kayleigh McEnany in Jan. 6 Panel Testimony!

Ex-Trump Aide Gives Brutal Review Of Kayleigh McEnany In Jan. 6 Panel Interview

Alyssa Farah Griffin and Kayleigh McEnany

Dear Commons Community,

Former White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah Griffin gave a scathing assessment of her Trump administration colleague Kayleigh McEnany during her interview with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“Kayleigh is a liar and an opportunist,” Griffin said in her April interview with the panel, according to a transcript released Thursday. “She’s a smart woman. She’s a Harvard law grad. She knew we lost the election, but she made a calculation that she wanted to have a certain life post-Trump that required staying in his good graces. And that was more important to her than telling the truth to the American public.”

McEnany served as Donald Trump’s White House press secretary and perpetuated his “stolen election” narrative, even after those lies inspired the violent insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Griffin resigned a few weeks after Trump lost the 2020 election.

Griffin told Jan. 6 committee that she believed McEnany knew Trump’s claims about the 2020 election were false but peddled them to the public for personal gain.

“I think she saw that as a moment to kind of, like, if I do this one last public-facing stand for Trump, I’m going to be set,” she said. “And I mean, it did. She got her Fox News gig. It worked out precisely how she’d always planned it to, but she knew better.”

Griffin now sits on ABC’s “The View” panel while McEnany co-hosts “Outnumbered” at Fox News. Griffin has been critical of the Trump administration since her departure; McEnany has continued to be a staunch supporter of the former president.

Trump sleaze breeds sleaze! McEnany is where she belongs on Fox!



Arizona recount shows Democrat Kris Mayes beat Republican Abe Hamadeh for State Attorney General!


PHOTO: Kris Mayes, a Democratic candidate for Arizona attorney general, smiles before a debate against Republican Abraham Hamadeh, Sept. 28, 2022. (Ross D. Franklin/AP, FILE)

Democrat Kris Mayes.  Source: AP File, Ross D. Franklin

Dear Commons Community,

Democrat Kris Mayes is the winner of Arizona’s attorney general race, a state judge announced yesterday.

Mayes defeated Republican Abe Hamadeh by 280 votes after a mandatory recount was triggered due to how close they were separated after the initial tally in November, when Mayes led by roughly 500 votes out of 2.5 million cast.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy Thomason unveiled the results of the recount in a hearing yesterday. As reported by ABC News.

Mayes’ lead from November was nearly halved in the recount. The results showed she had 1,254,809 votes to Hamadeh’s 1,254,529 votes.

Mayes’ victory is another win for Democrats this midterm cycle against candidates who endorsed former President Donald Trump’s election denialism. In Arizona, a traditionally red state, Democrats defeated GOP election deniers in races for Senate, governor, secretary of state and now attorney general.

“I will say once again that I’m thankful to everyone who took their time to vote, and democracy is truly a team sport,” Mayes said after the results were announced. “I’m thankful for my campaign, transition and legal teams. I’m excited to get to work as your next Attorney General and vow to be your Lawyer for the People. Onward…”

Hamadeh, who was backed by Trump, denied the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

In late November, he sued Mayes and a range of state officials alleging there were procedural and tabulation errors that, if corrected, would make him victorious in the attorney general election.

The lawsuit was thrown out last week by Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen, who said Hamadeh failed to prove the errors he claimed happened. Hamadeh’s attorney also acknowledged he hadn’t gained enough votes during the litigation to change the outcome of the contest.

After the lawsuit was tossed, Hamadeh said he would wait for the results of the recount before deciding “next steps” but continued to maintain the election was mishandled.

Following the announcement of the recount results Thursday, Hamadeh again claimed discrepancies and questioned the outcome of the race. He wrote on Twitter, “We MUST get to the bottom of this election. Transparent elections are fundamental to a democracy.”

Mayes had celebrated the dismissal of Hamadeh’s suit last week and said she believed the results of the mandatory recount would still show her ahead of Hamadeh.

“The will of Arizona voters will not be undermined,” she said at the time.

Mayes, a former member of the Arizona Corporation Commission and a former Republican, campaigned heavily on reproductive rights and voting rights. She’s vowed not to prosecute abortion ban violations and to pursue threats to election workers.

Judge Thomason on Thursday also announced the recount results of two other tight races for state superintendent and for a state legislative seat. Republican Tom Horne won the race for superintendent of public instruction and Republican Liz Harris won the state legislative seat for the 13th District.

Congratulations Ms. Mayes!


The Southwest Airlines Debacle!

May be an image of airplane

Dear Commons Community,

For the past week we have been reading about the Southwest Airlines debacle that has resulting in tens of thousands of frustrated holiday travelers stranded in airports.  The news media have been following this story closely with few good reasons why other airlines have been able within days to overcome the horrific winter weather that started massive flight cancellations but Southwest has not.  Below is a Southwest pilot’s opinion of what happened.  It was sent to me by my colleague, Patsy Moskal, at the University of Central Florida.



A source inside Southwest Airlines recently passed this on and gave me permission to share. This is worth reading:
“What happened to Southwest Airlines?
I’ve been a pilot for Southwest Airlines for over 35 years. I’ve given my heart and soul to Southwest Airlines during those years. And quite honestly Southwest Airlines has given its heart and soul to me and my family.
Many of you have asked what caused this epic meltdown. Unfortunately, the frontline employees have been watching this meltdown coming like a slow motion train wreck for sometime. And we’ve been begging our leadership to make much needed changes in order to avoid it. What happened yesterday started two decades ago.
Herb Kelleher was the brilliant CEO of SWA until 2004. He was a very operationally oriented leader. Herb spent lots of time on the front line. He always had his pulse on the day to day operation and the people who ran it. That philosophy flowed down through the ranks of leadership to the front line managers. We were a tight operation from top to bottom. We had tools, leadership and employee buy in. Everything that was needed to run a first class operation. When Herb retired in 2004 Gary Kelly became the new CEO.
Gary was an accountant by education and his style leading Southwest Airlines became more focused on finances and less on operations. He did not spend much time on the front lines. He didn’t engage front line employees much. When the CEO doesn’t get out in the trenches the neither do the lower levels of leadership.
Gary named another accountant to be Chief Operating Officer (the person responsible for day to day operations). The new COO had little or no operational background. This trickled down through the lower levels of leadership, as well.
They all disengaged the operation, disengaged the employees and focused more on Return on Investment, stock buybacks and Wall Street. This approach worked for Gary’s first 8 years because we were still riding the strong wave that Herb had built.
But as time went on the operation began to deteriorate. There was little investment in upgrading technology (after all, how do you measure the return on investing in infrastructure?) or the tools we needed to operate efficiently and consistently. As the frontline employees began to see the deterioration in our operation we began to warn our leadership. We educated them, we informed them and we made suggestions to them. But to no avail. The focus was on finances not operations. As we saw more and more deterioration in our operation our asks turned to pleas. Our pleas turned to dire warnings. But they went unheeded. After all, the stock price was up so what could be wrong?
We were a motivated, willing and proud employee group wanting to serve our customers and uphold the tradition of our beloved airline, the airline we built and the airline that the traveling public grew to cheer for and luv. But we were watching in frustration and disbelief as our once amazing airline was becoming a house of cards.
A half dozen small scale meltdowns occurred during the mid to late 2010’s. With each mini meltdown Leadership continued to ignore the pleas and warnings of the employees in the trenches. We were still operating with 1990’s technology. We didn’t have the tools we needed on the line to operate the sophisticated and large airline we had become. We could see that the wheels were about ready to fall off the bus. But no one in leadership would heed our pleas.
When COVID happened SWA scaled back considerably (as did all of the airlines) for about two years. This helped conceal the serious problems in technology, infrastructure and staffing that were occurring and being ignored. But as we ramped back up the lack of attention to the operation was waiting to show its ugly head.
Gary Kelly retired as CEO in early 2022. Bob Jordan was named CEO. He was a more operationally oriented leader. He replaced our Chief Operating Officer with a very smart man and they announced their priority would be to upgrade our airline’s technology and provide the frontline employees the operational tools we needed to care for our customers and employees. Finally, someone acknowledged the elephant in the room.
But two decades of neglect takes several years to overcome. And, unfortunately to our horror, our house of cards came tumbling down this week as a routine winter storm broke our 1990’s operating system.
The frontline employees were ready and on station. We were properly staffed. We were at the airports. Hell, we were ON the airplanes. But our antiquated software systems failed coupled with a decades old system of having to manage 20,000 frontline employees by phone calls. No automation had been developed to run this sophisticated machine.
We had a routine winter storm across the Midwest last Thursday. A larger than normal number flights were cancelled as a result. But what should have been one minor inconvenient day of travel turned into this nightmare. After all, American, United, Delta and the other airlines operated with only minor flight disruptions.
The two decades of neglect by SWA leadership caused the airline to lose track of all its crews. ALL of us. We were there. With our customers. At the jet. Ready to go. But there was no way to assign us. To confirm us. To release us to fly the flight. And we watched as our customers got stranded without their luggage missing their Christmas holiday.
I believe that our new CEO Bob Jordan inherited a MESS. This meltdown was not his failure but the failure of those before him. I believe he has the right priorities. But it will take time to right this ship. A few years at a minimum. Old leaders need to be replaced. Operationally oriented managers need to be brought in. I hope and pray Bob can execute on his promises to fix our once proud airline. Time will tell.
It’s been a punch in the gut for us frontline employees. We care for the traveling public. We have spent our entire careers serving you. Safely. Efficiently. With luv and pride. We are horrified. We are sorry. We are sorry for the chaos, inconvenience and frustration our airline caused you. We are angry. We are embarrassed. We are sad. Like you, the traveling public, we have been let down by our own leaders.
Herb once said the the biggest threat to Southwest Airlines will come from within. Not from other airlines. What a visionary he was. I miss Herb now more than ever.
Original Source: Tom Demerly posting at:

Elaine and I in Newport, Rhode Island!

Dear Commons Community,

Elaine and I are spending a few days between Christmas and the New Year in Newport, Rhode Island.  We last visited here about twenty-five years ago.  While chilly, Newport lights itself up to celebrate the holidays. Last night we visited and toured The Breakers (Vanderbilt Mansion) which goes all out to display traditional holiday lights and cheer.

A fun evening!


Prosecutors in New York open investigation into Representative-Elect George Santos!

The Hill - covering Congress, Politics, Political Campaigns and Capitol Hill

Image supplied by The Hill.

Dear Commons Community,

Prosecutors have launched an investigation into U.S. Representative-elect George Santos of New York, after revelations surfaced that the now-embattled Republican lied about his heritage, education and professional pedigree as he campaigned for office.

But despite intensifying doubt about his fitness to hold federal office, Santos has thus far shown no signs of stepping aside — even as he has publicly admitted to a long list of lies.  As reported by the Associated Press.

“The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning,” said Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly, a Republican.

“The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress,” she said. “No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.”

Santos’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

He was scheduled to be sworn in next Tuesday, when the U.S. House reconvenes. If he assumes office, he could have face investigations by the House Committee on Ethics and the Justice Department.

The New York attorney general’s office has already said it is looking into some of the issues that have come to light.

The Republican has admitted to lying about having Jewish ancestry, a Wall Street pedigree and a college degree, but he has yet to address other lingering questions — including the source of what appears to be a quickly amassed fortune despite recent financial problems, including evictions and owing thousands in back rent.

Some fellow Republicans had called for Congress and law enforcement to launch inquiries.

Fellow Long Island Republican, Rep.-elect Nick Lalota said he was troubled by the revelations.

“I believe a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee and, if necessary, law enforcement, is required,” Lalota said Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the Nassau County DA’s office, Brendan Brosh, said Wednesday: “We are looking into the matter.” The scope of the investigation was not immediately clear.

Other Republicans castigated Santos for his dishonesty but stopped short of asking him to step aside.

“Congressman-Elect George Santos has broken the public trust by making serious misstatements regarding his background, experience and education, among other issues,” said Joseph G. Cairo, chair of the Nassau County Republican Committee, which lies within the 3rd Congressional District.

Cairo said he “expected more than just a blanket apology,” adding that “the damage that his lies have caused to many people, especially those who have been impacted by the Holocaust, are profound.”

Fellow Long Island Republican, Rep.-elect Nick Lalota said he was troubled by the revelations.

“I believe a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee and, if necessary, law enforcement, is required,” Lalota said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Nassau County DA’s office, Brendan Brosh, said: “We are looking into the matter.”

Questions intensified after The New York Times examined the narrative Santos, 34, presented to voters during his successful campaign for a congressional district that straddles the north shore suburbs of Long Island and a sliver of Queens.

The Times uncovered records in Brazil that show Santos was the subject of a criminal investigation there in 2008 over allegations that he used stolen checks to buy items at an clothing shop in the city of Niteroi. At the time, Santos would have been 19. The Times quoted local prosecutors as saying the case was dormant because Santos had never appeared in court.

Santos continued to deny that he was being sought by authorities in South America.

Democrats pounced, calling Santos a serial fabulist and demanded he voluntarily not take office.

In an interview with the New York Post earlier this week, Santos apologized for his fabrications but downplayed them as “sins” over embellishing his resume, adding that “we do stupid things in life.”

He admitted to lying about working for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, as well as having earned a degree in finance and economics from Baruch College in New York.

Beyond his resume, Santos invented a life story that has also come under question, including claims that his grandparents “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII.”

During his campaign, he referred to himself as “a proud American Jew.”

He backtracked on that claim, saying he never intended to claim Jewish heritage, which would have likely raised his appeal among his district’s significant ranks of Jewish voters.

“I am Catholic,” he told the Post. “Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”

In a statement Tuesday, the Republican Jewish Coalition repudiated Santos.

“He deceived us and misrepresented his heritage. In public comments and to us personally he previously claimed to be Jewish,” the coalition said. “He will not be welcome at any future RJC event.”

Santos lost his first race for Congress in 2020 but successfully ran again this year.

In its opposition research on Santos, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised several red flags about the Republican’s record — but also accepted some of his assertions, including his educational record, as fact. The 87-page dossier sought to tie him to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and his support for baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The report also sought to depict him as a far-right candidate. But buried within its report, the DCCC had raised issues about his shaky financial standing and multiple evictions that left him thousands of dollars in debt.

Federal campaign records show that he loaned his campaign more than $700,000, but the source of that money has yet to be explained.

“George Santos is delusional if he thinks voters will trust him after he’s been exposed for lie after lie and continues to withhold key information,” DCCC spokesperson Nebeyatt Betre said.

While his Democratic opponent, Robert Zimmerman, also tried to raise Santos’ misrepresentations during his losing campaign, it did not gain much traction.

Zimmerman had said that Santos was unfit for office and has called for him to step aside so a special election can be held.

Santos’ legal troubles will be the focus of major investigations here in New York especially if he takes a seat in the new Congress.  He and the people he is to represent would be much better off if he stepped aside.


How to Use ChatGPT and Still Be a Good Person – Brian Chen Asks Basic Questions About A.I.

OpenAI upgrades GPT-3, stunning with rhyming poetry and lyrics | Ars Technica

An AI-generated image inspired by Leonardo da Vinci.  Photo supplied by Ars TECHNICA.

Dear Commons Community,

Brian X. Chen, technology writer for The New York Times, has a column this morning asking basic questions about artificial intelligence.  He focuses specifically on ChatGPT and Lensa AI.  His basic premise for writing this column is that we are at a  turning point for artificial intelligence, and we need to take advantage of these tools without causing harm to ourselves or others. Here is his piece.

“The past few weeks have felt like a honeymoon phase for our relationship with tools powered by artificial intelligence. Many of us have prodded ChatGPT, a chatbot that can generate responses with startlingly natural language, with tasks like writing stories about our pets, composing business proposals and coding software programs.

At the same time, many have uploaded selfies to Lensa AI, an app that uses algorithms to transform ordinary photos into artistic renderings. Both debuted a few weeks ago.

Like smartphones and social networks when they first emerged, A.I. feels fun and exciting. Yet (and I’m sorry to be a buzzkill), as is always the case with new technology, there will be drawbacks, painful lessons and unintended consequences.

People experimenting with ChatGPT were quick to realize that they could use the tool to win coding contests. Teachers have already caught their students using the bot to plagiarize essays. And some women who uploaded their photos to Lensa received back renderings that felt sexualized and made them look skinnier, younger or even nude.

We have reached a turning point with artificial intelligence, and now is a good time to pause and assess: How can we use these tools ethically and safely?

For years, virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa, which also use A.I., were the butt of jokes because they weren’t particularly helpful. But modern A.I. is just good enough now that many people are seriously contemplating how to fit the tools into their daily lives and occupations.

The Rise of the Company OpenAI

The San Francisco company is one of the world’s most ambitious artificial intelligence labs. Here’s a look at some recent developments.

“We’re at the beginning of a broader societal transformation,” said Brian Christian, a computer scientist and the author of “The Alignment Problem,” a book about the ethical concerns surrounding A.I. systems. “There’s going to be a bigger question here for businesses, but in the immediate term, for the education system, what is the future of homework?”

With careful thought and consideration, we can take advantage of the smarts of these tools without causing harm to ourselves or others.

Understand the limits (and consequences).

First, it’s important to understand how the technology works to know what exactly you’re doing with it.

ChatGPT is essentially a more powerful, fancier version of the predictive text system on our phones, which suggests words to complete a sentence when we are typing by using what it has learned from vast amounts of data scraped off the web.

It also can’t check if what it’s saying is true.

If you use a chatbot to code a program, it looks at how the code was compiled in the past. Because code is constantly updated to address security vulnerabilities, the code written with a chatbot could be buggy or insecure, Mr. Christian said.

Likewise, if you’re using ChatGPT to write an essay about a classic book, chances are that the bot will construct seemingly plausible arguments. But if others published a faulty analysis of the book on the web, that may also show up in your essay. If your essay was then posted online, you would be contributing to the spread of misinformation.

“They can fool us into thinking that they understand more than they do, and that can cause problems,” said Melanie Mitchell, an A.I. researcher at the Santa Fe Institute.

In other words, the bot doesn’t think independently. It can’t even count.

A case in point: I was stunned when I asked ChatGPT to compose a haiku poem about the cold weather in San Francisco. It spat out lines with the incorrect number of syllables:

Fog blankets the city,

Brisk winds chill to the bone,

Winter in San Fran.

OpenAI, the company behind ChatGPT, declined to comment for this column.

Similarly, A.I.-powered image-editing tools like Lensa train their algorithms with existing images on the web. Therefore, if women are presented in more sexualized contexts, the machines will recreate that bias, Ms. Mitchell said.

Prisma Labs, the developer of Lensa, said it was not consciously applying biases — it was just using what was out there. “Essentially, A.I. is holding a mirror to our society,” said Anna Green, a Prisma spokeswoman.

A New Direction for Tech Fix

Our tech problems have become more complex, so Brian X. Chen has rebooted his column to focus on the societal implications of the tech we use.

A related concern is that if you use the tool to generate a cartoon avatar, it will base the image on the styles of artists’ published work without compensating them or giving them credit.

Know what you’re giving up.

A lesson that we’ve learned again and again is that when we use an online tool, we have to give up some data, and A.I. tools are no exception.

When asked whether it was safe to share sensitive texts with ChatGPT, the chatbot responded that it did not store your information but that it would probably be wise to exercise caution.

Prisma Labs said that it solely used photos uploaded to Lensa for creating avatars, and that it deleted images from its servers after 24 hours. Still, photos that you want to keep private should probably not be uploaded to Lensa.

“You’re helping the robots by giving them exactly what they need in order to create better models,” said Evan Greer, a director for Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy group. “You should assume it can be accessed by the company.”

Use them to improve, not do, your work.

With that in mind, A.I. can be helpful if we’re looking for a light assist. A person could ask a chatbot to rewrite a paragraph in an active voice. A nonnative English speaker could ask ChatGPT to remove grammatical errors from an email before sending it. A student could ask the bot for suggestions on how to make an essay more persuasive.

But in any situation like those, don’t blindly trust the bot.

“You need a human in the loop to make sure that they’re saying what you want them to say and that they’re true things instead of false things,” Ms. Mitchell said.

And if you do decide to use a tool like ChatGPT or Lensa to produce a piece of work, consider disclosing that it was used, she added. That would be similar to giving credit to other authors for their work.”

We need a human in the loop for now but what about down the road.  I don’t think so!



6,000 children have been killed or injured in the United States by gunfire in 2022 – Most Ever!

Dear Commons Community,

More than 6,000 children have been killed or injured in the United States by gunfire in 2022, the most ever recorded in the nine-year history of a nonprofit that tracks shooting incidents.

With five days to go in the year, the Gun Violence Archive found that 6,023 U.S. children 17 years old or younger have been killed or hurt in gunfire this year, surpassing the 5,708 killed or hurt 2021.

The Gun Violence Archive said it was the most children to die or be injured by gunfire in a single year since it started keeping track in 2014.

At least 306 children 11 years old or younger have been killed by gunfire in 2022, according to the website. Another 1,323 children between the ages of 12 and 17 died in shootings, according to the website.

In the first year the Gun Violence Archive began to track shootings in 2014, it recorded 2,859 children 17 years old or younger killed or injured by gunfire.

The grim statistics come after a 3-year-old girl in Kansas City, Missouri, was killed on Christmas Eve in what police suspect was an accidental shooting, Kansas City ABC affiliate KMBC reported.

The child shooting deaths in 2022 also include 19 students, all 11 years old or younger, killed in a mass shooting on May 24 at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

One of the youngest victims killed by gunfire this year was 5-month-old Cecilia Thomas, who was shot in the head while sitting in a car in Chicago during a June 24 drive-by shooting.

Here in New York City, about one in every 10 New Yorkers struck by a bullet was a child. At least 16 died, according to the Police Department.

There have been 149 shooting victims under 18 this year, as of Dec. 18, according to Police Department data. That’s notably higher than the number in 2021, when 138 children were shot. In 2017, when gun violence hit historic lows, just 75 shooting victims were children.

The number of people under 18 charged in shootings is also rising: 105 were reported through the end of September, compared with 102 in all of 2021, according to the most recent data provided by the Police Department.

“The increase amongst the youth is incredibly tragic, scary,” said Michael-Sean Spence, senior director for community safety initiatives at Everytown for Gun Safety. “The increase has been the highest over the last five years amongst those under the age of 18.”

Experts name several reasons:  the proliferation of guns; the pandemic’s upheaval in school and home lives; and the economic devastation of low-income communities over the past three years. Community leaders have said that scant resources for academic support, after-school programs and mental health services have left children aimless and caught in cycles of violence and retaliation.

Our country has turned its head on the gun violence that takes away our most precious resource.

Thank you NRA and the politicians who support it by their inaction!


PHOTO: Medical professionals listen as Dr. Roy Guerrero, a physician from Uvalde, Texas, speaks at a press conference on gun control on Capitol Hill, Dec. 7, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Medical professionals listen as Dr. Roy Guerrero, a physician from Uvalde, Texas, speaks at a press conference on gun control on Capitol Hill, Dec. 7, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Four electricity substations sabotaged in Washington state – leaving thousands without power!

Crews work to restore power at an electricity substation in Pierce County, Washington, on Monday. (KING)

Crews work to restore power at an electricity substation in Pierce County, Washington, on Monday. (KING)

Dear Commons Community,

Four electricity substations in the Tacoma, Washington, area were attacked Sunday, affecting thousands of customers, authorities said.

The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department described the early morning attacks on two Tacoma Public Utilities substations and a Puget Sound Energy facility as acts of vandalism, with those responsible unidentified.

“It is unknown if there are any motives or if this was a coordinated attack on the power systems,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement.

The agency estimated that the number of affected homes and businesses was 14,000 at one point Sunday, when three substations were affected.

The sheriff’s department described a fourth incident Sunday about 7:21 p.m. at another Puget Sound Energy substation.  As reported by NBC News.

“The suspect(s) gained access to the fenced area and vandalized the equipment which caused the fire,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “There are no suspects in custody at this time.”

The fourth incident at a utility substation in South Pierce County on Christmas Day prompted stepped-up security.

“All law enforcement agencies in the county have been notified of the incidents and will be monitoring power substations in their area,” the statement said.

Power was restored to most of the affected homes, the sheriff’s department said.

Puget Sound Energy confirmed in a statement Monday that two of its substations were attacked.

“We are coordinating with authorities on suspected acts of vandalism at two of our substations. Both incidents are under investigation and no further details are available. PSE has extensive measures to monitor, protect and minimize the risk to our equipment and infrastructure,” the statement said.

Puget Sound Energy said on its website Sunday that more than 1,200 customers were without power — with the vast majority having been reconnected — but it wasn’t clear whether that was connected to the attack.

Tacoma Public Utilities said that more than 7,000 of its customers in the communities of Graham and Elk Plain were without power Sunday and that it continued to work on restoration.

It appears that electricity for many of those TPU customers has been restored — the national blackout tracker reported late Sunday afternoon that fewer than 5,000 customers remained in the dark across the state.

In a statement, TPU said, “Two of our substations were deliberately targeted by physical attacks.”

The sheriff’s department said a person or people broke into facilities and vandalized equipment in each of those attacks, the first of which was reported at 2:39 a.m.

TPU said federal law enforcement alerted it this month to the possibility of attacks and recommended a security assessment. It wouldn’t say what measures, if any, it took.

At the same time, Oregon Public Broadcasting and KUOW public radio of Seattle reported that separate attacks on six substations operated by Portland General Electric, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Cowlitz County Public Utility District and Puget Sound Energy in Washington and Oregon had taken place mid-November. The incidents are alleged to have included breaches of utility properties, the outlets said.

On Dec. 3, vandals attacked two Duke Energy substations in Moore County, North Carolina, leaving 45,000 customers in the dark for more than three days, officials said. People with guns opened fire and, in one case, breached a facility, they said, and they remained outstanding nearly a month later.

As electricity was restored to the last of the North Carolina customers Dec. 7, someone opened fire near a Duke Energy hydro facility in Ridgeway, South Carolina, about 130 miles south of Moore County. Federal investigators were comparing ballistics evidence in both attacks to determine whether they were connected.

Investigators probing the North Carolina attacks were looking at online conspiracy theories to determine whether any played a role, two senior law enforcement officials briefed on the matter said this month.

A prevailing theory was that the outages were intended to shut down a drag performance, “Downtown Divas,” at Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Anti-LGBTQ demonstrators targeted the location in the days leading up to the Saturday night event, which continued in the dark before it ended early.

Power infrastructure has long been on the attack wish list of white supremacists and other right-wing extremists who seek American “destabilization,” Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said in February.

Earlier this year, three men pleaded guilty in Ohio in connection with a plot to disrupt the electricity grid, sow civil unrest and economic uncertainty, and ultimately trigger a race war, federal prosecutors said at the time.

There’s no indication the Washington, Oregon and Carolinas attacks shared similar motives. Sunday’s Tacoma-area attacks remained under investigation.

Something else to worry about as we enter 2023!


Representative-Elect George Santos Admits to Lying on His Résumé!

George Santos, Congressman-elect of New York, Fabricated His Biography

George Santos Unmasked.. Esquire Photo

Dear Commons Community,

Representative-elect George Santos admitted yesterday to a list of lies about his professional background, educational history and property ownership. But he said he was determined to take the oath of office on Jan. 3 and join the House majority.

Mr. Santos, a New York Republican who was elected in November to represent parts of northern Long Island and northeast Queens, confirmed some of the key findings of a New York Times investigation into his background, but sought to minimize the misrepresentations.

“My sins here are embellishing my résumé,” Mr. Santos told The New York Post in one of several interviews he gave on Monday.

Mr. Santos admitted to lying about graduating from college and making misleading claims that he worked for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs. He once said he had a family-owned real estate portfolio of 13 properties; on Monday, he admitted he was not a landlord.

Mr. Santos, the first openly gay Republican to win a House seat as a non-incumbent, also acknowledged owing thousands in unpaid rent and a years-long marriage he had never disclosed.

“I dated women in the past. I married a woman. It’s personal stuff,” he said to The Post, adding that he was “OK with my sexuality. People change.”

The admissions by Mr. Santos added a new wrinkle to one of the more astonishing examples of an incoming congressman falsifying key biographical elements of his background — with Mr. Santos maintaining the falsehoods through two consecutive bids for Congress, the first of which he lost.

Mr. Santos acknowledged that a string of financial difficulties had left him owing thousands to landlords and creditors. But he failed to fully explain in the interviews how his fortunes reversed so significantly that, by 2022, he was able to lend $700,000 to his congressional campaign.

Mr. Santos also firmly denied committing a crime anywhere in the world, even though The Times had uncovered Brazilian court records showing that Mr. Santos had been charged with fraud as a young man after he was caught writing checks with a stolen checkbook

“I am not a criminal here — not here or in Brazil or any jurisdiction in the world,” he told The Post. “Absolutely not. That didn’t happen.”

In the court file, Mr. Santos is identified by his full name and date of birth, as well as by the names of his mother and father. The documents show that Mr. Santos confessed to the crime and was charged, but that the case remains unresolved because authorities were later unable to locate him.

In both interviews on Monday, Mr. Santos also denounced reporting by both CNN and The Forward, a Jewish publication, that he may have misled voters about his account of his Jewish ancestry, including that his maternal grandparents were born in Europe and emigrated to Brazil during the Holocaust.

“I never claimed to be Jewish,” Mr. Santos told The Post. “I am Catholic. Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background I said I was ‘Jew-ish.’”

Mr. Santos, who has repeatedly said he was religiously Catholic but has also identified as a nonobservant Jew, told The Post his grandmother had recounted how she converted from Judaism to Catholicism.

Mr. Santos, through representatives, has declined multiple requests to speak with The Times.

Over the course of his campaigns, Mr. Santos claimed to have graduated from Baruch College in 2010 before working at Citigroup and, eventually, Goldman Sachs. A biography on the National Republican Congressional Committee website said he had attended both Baruch and New York University and received degrees in finance and economics.

But the colleges and companies could not locate records to verify his claims when contacted by The Times.

In Monday’s interview, Mr. Santos admitted to The Post that he had not graduated from Baruch College or any college.

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“I didn’t graduate from any institution of higher learning. I’m embarrassed and sorry for having embellished my résumé,” he said, later adding: “We do stupid things in life.”

He also admitted that he never worked directly for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, blaming a “poor choice of words” for creating the impression that he had.

Past statements of Mr. Santos are relatively clear however: An archived version of Mr. Santos’s former campaign website preserved by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine says he “began working at Citigroup as an associate and quickly advanced to become an associate asset manager in the real asset division of the firm.”

Instead, he told The Post on Monday, he dealt with both firms through his work at another company, LinkBridge Investors, which connects investors with potential clients. LinkBridge, he said, had “limited partnerships” with the two Wall Street firms.

The Times was able to confirm Mr. Santos’s employment at LinkBridge. But in a version of his campaign biography posted as recently as April, Mr. Santos suggested that he had started his career on Wall Street at Citigroup and that he was at Goldman Sachs briefly before his time at LinkBridge.

A spokeswoman for Citigroup declined to comment. Representatives for Goldman Sachs and LinkBridge did not immediately respond to a request for more information.

Mr. Santos has not fully accounted for his employment during the years that he had claimed that he was advancing on Wall Street. In a separate interview with WABC radio, he confirmed reporting by The Times that he had worked at a call center in Queens in late 2011 and early 2012.

Yet even as Mr. Santos, whose victory helped Republicans secure a narrow majority in the next House of Representatives, admitted to some fabrication, his actions will likely not prevent him from being seated in Congress.

Democrats — including the outgoing House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the next House Democratic minority leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York — have suggested Mr. Santos is unfit to serve in Congress. Top House Republican leaders, including Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, have largely remained silent.

The House can only prevent candidates from taking office if they violate the Constitution’s age, citizenship and state residency requirements. Once he has been seated, however, Mr. Santos could face ethics investigations, legal experts have said.

What a repulsive person to be in the U.S. Congress!