Michelle Goldberg on The Right-Wing Takeover of New College of Florida!

New College President Patricia Okker, left, chokes back tears in the moments of her termination while New College current board chair Mary Ruiz listens, at right.

New College President Patricia Okker, left, chokes back tears in the moments of her termination while New College current board chair Mary Ruiz listens, at right. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Dear Commons Community,

Columnist Michelle Goldberg has a piece today entitled, “This Is What the Right-Wing Takeover of a Progressive College Looks Like.” She reviews recent events at the New College of Florida including the appointment of right-wing conservatives to the board of trustees, the firing of the president, and the denial of tenure to five faculty members. She also comments on the resignation of Matthew Lepinski, the faculty representative on the board of trustees who resigned from the board and quit the college. Her entire column is below.

What a sad state of affairs for education in Florida!



The New York Times

This Is What the Right-Wing Takeover of a Progressive College Looks Like

April 29, 2023

By Michelle Goldberg

Opinion Columnist

SARASOTA, Fla. — When I first met Matthew Lepinski, the faculty chair of New College of Florida, he was willing to give the right-wingers sent to remake his embattled progressive public school a chance.

This was in January, a few weeks after Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida appointed six activist conservatives, including the culture war strategist Chris Rufo, to New College’s board of trustees. Rufo, the ideological entrepreneur who made critical race theory a Republican boogeyman, was open about his ambition to turn the quirky, L.G.B.T.Q.-friendly liberal arts school into a public version of Hillsdale, a conservative Christian college in Michigan with close ties to both DeSantis and Donald Trump. He hoped the transformation would be proof of concept for his dream: a conservative takeover of higher education across the country.

So when Rufo and another new trustee, Eddie Speir, the co-founder of a private Christian school called Inspiration Academy, arrived at New College for meetings with students and faculty, they were received with skepticism and hostility. But Lepinski, a computer science professor and the faculty representative on the board of trustees, was hopeful that they might figure out a way to work together, and he urged the school community to hear them out.

In the ensuing months, there was concern among Lepinski’s colleagues that he wasn’t doing enough to stand up to their new overlords. “Some of us had been a little frustrated with his willingness to try and play nice,” Amy Reid, a French professor and the head of New College’s gender studies program, told me. But Lepinski believed in dialogue and compromise. “I thought maybe there was a path forward with this board where we could focus on the things that unite us instead of the things that divide us,” he said.

That’s why it was so striking when, at the end of a combative three-hour meeting on Wednesday in which the trustees rejected five tenure applications, Lepinski quit. He’s not just leaving the board, but New College altogether. “I can no longer see a way that I can be effective here, given the current board of trustees,” he said at an impromptu news conference afterward.

Matthew Lepinski leaving the board of trustees meeting after resigning from the board and quitting the college.

Matthew Lepinski leaving the board of trustees meeting after resigning from the board and quitting the college. Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times.


When I spoke to Rufo in early January, he said that New College would look very different in the following 120 days. Nearly four months later, that hasn’t entirely come to pass, but it’s clear where things are headed.

The new trustees fired the school’s president, replacing her with Richard Corcoran, the Republican former speaker of the Florida House. They fired its chief diversity officer and dismantled the diversity, equity and inclusion office. As I was writing this on Friday, several people sent me photographs of gender-neutral signage scraped off school bathrooms.

But day-to-day, students, parents, and professors told me, life at New College has been pretty much the same. Faculty have mostly been left alone to do their jobs. Corcoran, several professors said, was rarely on campus. Sam Sharf, who chose New College in part because she feels safe there as a trans woman, said that classroom discussions in her Politics of the African Diaspora and Alternatives to Capitalism classes haven’t changed, though she’s constantly aware that such subjects might soon be taboo, and is planning to transfer.

Whatever New College’s administration does, this will likely be the last year classes like the ones Sharf is taking are offered, because a bill making its way through the Florida Legislature requires the review of curriculums “based on theories that systemic racism, sexism, oppression, and privilege are inherent in the institutions of the United States.” The sense of dread on campus, however, goes beyond what’s happening in Tallahassee.

Eliana Salzhauer, whose 17-year-old son is a New College economics student, compared the seemingly inexorable transformation of the school to Twitter under Elon Musk: It looked the same at first, even as it gradually degraded into a completely different experience. “They are turning a top-rated academic institution into a third-rate athletic facility,” she said.

Salzhauer was referring, in part, to the hiring of Mariano Jimenez, who previously worked at Speir’s Inspiration Academy, as athletic director and head baseball coach, even though there’s no baseball diamond on campus. In the past, New College hasn’t had traditional sports teams, but the administration is now recruiting student athletes, and Corcoran has said he wants to establish fraternities and sororities, likely creating a culture clash with New College’s artsy queer kids, activists and autodidacts. Before Wednesday’s board meeting, about 75 people held a protest outside. “We’re Nerds & Geeks, not Jocks & Greeks,” said one sign.

For many, the board of trustees meeting was the clearest sign yet that this is the last semester of New College as they know it. The pivot point was the trustees’ decision to override the typical tenure process. New College hired a large number of new faculty five years ago, and this year was the first that any of them could apply for tenure. Seven did, each going through the requisite hurdles, including getting a sign-off from New College’s former president. In the past, trustee approval had been a ceremonial matter, and tenure candidates would bring family and friends to celebrate.

Corcoran, however, had asked all the professors up for tenure this year to withdraw their applications because of the tumult at the school. Two of the seven agreed. The rest — three of them professors in the hard sciences — held out for the board’s vote. This was widely seen as a referendum not just on the individual candidates, but on faculty independence.

Fifty-four people registered to speak at the meeting. All but one of them either implored the trustees to grant the professors tenure or lambasted them for their designs on the school. Parents were particularly impassioned; many of them had been profoundly relieved to find an affordable school where their eccentric kids could thrive. Some tried to speak the language of conservatism: “You’re violating my parental rights regarding our school choice,” said Pam Pare, the mother of a biology major. One student, a second-year wrapped in a pink and blue trans flag, was escorted out of the meeting after cursing at Corcoran, but most tried to earnestly and calmly convey how much the professors up for tenure had taught them.

It was all futile. A majority of the trustees voted down each of the candidates in turn as the crowd chanted, “Shame on you!” That’s when Lepinski quit, walking out of the room to cheers.

The trustees framed their objections in terms of timing; the professors were applying after five years at New College instead of the more customary six, and would have the opportunity to reapply the next year. But, given Rufo’s plans, this explanation seemed like a pretext for an administration that wants to bring in its own, ideologically aligned faculty. And once denied tenure, it wasn’t clear how many of the professors were going to stick around to try again.

“Some faculty members have started to leave already, and obviously some students are thinking about what their future looks like,” Lepinski said right after quitting. A few days later, we spoke again. “There’s a grieving process for the New College that was, which is passing away,” he said. “I really loved the New College that was, but I am at peace that it’s gone now.”

Rufo couldn’t attend Wednesday’s meeting in person, because he’d been delayed coming home from Hungary, where he had a fellowship at a right-wing think tank closely tied to Viktor Orban’s government. (This seemed fitting, since Orban’s Hungary created the template for Rufo and Desantis’s educational crusade.) Instead, he Zoomed in, his face projected on a movie screen behind the other trustees.

After Lepinski quit, Rufo tweeted that “any faculty that prefer the old system of unfettered left-wing activism and a rubber-stamp board are free to self-select out.” Turnover, he added, “is to be expected — even welcomed. But we are making rapid, significant progress.” He and his allies haven’t built anything new at New College yet. They are succeeding, however, in tearing something down.


The Funniest Moments from President Joe Biden’s 2023 White House Correspondents’ Dinner Speech!

5 standout moments from Biden's first White House Correspondents' Dinner -  The Boston Globe

Dear Commons Community,

President Joe Biden didn’t hold back at the White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner last night, roasting everyone from Don Lemon, Tucker Carlson and Elon Musk to politicians like Kevin McCarthy, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Ron DeSantis.

There were plenty of self-deprecating jokes by Biden, too — mainly about his age. “I believe in the First Amendment. Not just because my good friend Jimmy Madison wrote it,” he started.

“Look, I get that age is a completely reasonable issue,” he said, before joking about The New York Times‘ digs about his age. “You might think I don’t like Rupert Murdoch. That’s simply not true. How can I dislike a guy who makes me look like Harry Styles?”

“Call me ‘old?’ I call it being seasoned. You say ‘I’m ancient,’ I say I’m wise,” Biden continued. “You say ‘I’m over the hill,’ Don Lemon would say that’s a man in his prime!”

The president also made digs about his first two years in office, explaining the evening would be just like it. “I’ll talk for 10 minutes, take zero questions and cheerfully walk away,” he teased.  Here is a recap of other humorous moments courtesy of People Magazine.

There were jokes about Biden’s just-announced reelection campaign, with the president teasing that most people expected he’d “just blurt it out” accidentally. “Like I’ve been saying, don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative,” said Biden. “We added 12 million jobs, that’s just counting the lawyers that defended Donald Trump!”

“This dinner is one of the two great traditions in Washington. The other one is underestimating me and Kamala,” he joked, referencing Vice President Harris. “But the truth is, we really have a record to be proud of. Vaccinated the nation, transformed the economy, urged historic victories and mid-term results. But the job isn’t finished. I mean… it is finished for Tucker Carlson.”

He went on to joke about the controversy surrounding Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. “I love NPR, because they whisper into the mic like I do. But not everybody loves NPR,” said Biden. “Elon Musk tweeted that it should be defunded. Well, the best way to make NPR go away is for Elon Musk to buy it. And that’s more true that you think…”

The Lemon, Carlson and Musk jabs were just a few directed toward the media. There were also three direct hits toward Fox News after their recently settled lawsuit. “It’s great that cable news networks are here tonight: MSNBC owned by NBC Universal, Fox News owned by Dominion Voting Systems,” said Biden.

“Last year, your favorite Fox News reporters were able to attend because they were fully vaccinated and boosted,” he added. “This year, with that $780 million settlement, they’re here because they couldn’t say no to a free meal.”

Joked Biden: “And hell, I’d call Fox ‘honest, fair and truthful.’ But then I’d be sued for defamation!”

And then there were the teases about Biden’s fellow politicians.

“I want everybody to have fun tonight, but please be safe. If you find yourself disoriented or confused, either you’re drunk or Marjorie Taylor Greene,” he began.

Of McCarthy, Biden said, “Y’all keep reporting my approval rating as 42%, but I think you don’t know this: Kevin McCarthy called me and asked me, ‘Joe, what the hell’s your secret?’ I’m not even kidding about that one!”

And when it came to DeSantis, Biden said he had “a lot of Ron DeSantis jokes ready, but Mickey Mouse beat the hell out of me and got there first.”

“Can’t be too hard on the guy,” joked Biden. “After his reelection as governor, he was asked if had a mandate. He said, ‘Hell no, I’m straight! I’m straight!’

This is the second White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in two years. The 2020 and 2021 WHCA events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to that, during the first three years of his term, Trump snubbed the gathering, telling reporters in 2019 that it was “too negative.” His White House staffers also began avoiding the event after Michelle Wolf’s turn as emcee in 2018.

The annual correspondents’ dinner traces back to 1921 and has historically been attended by members of the association as well as high-ranking government officials, including the president and first lady.

In March, the White House confirmed that Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff would all attend the dinner — making it the first time each of the four key figures in an administration have been present at the event since 2016, when the Obamas and Bidens both attended. (Prior to that, the president, vice president and their spouses were all in attendance in 2006 and 2009.)

Last year’s event was attended by both Dr. Biden and President Biden, who noted that his appearance marked “the first time a president has attended this dinner in six years.”

He then took a swipe at his predecessor by joking: “It’s understandable. We had a horrible plague, followed by two years of COVID.”

This year’s dinner was hosted by Daily Show correspondent and podcast host Roy Wood Jr.

The annual evening is held in support of the White House press corps, scholarships for the next generation of aspiring journalists and awards that highlight significant work in political journalism.

Humor is good!



New York Governor Kathy Hochul Announces Budget Agreement!

Gov. Kathy Hochul, wearing an all-burgundy suit, speaks from behind a podium.

Dear Commons Community,

On Thursday evening, with many New York State lawmakers already heading home to their districts, Governor Kathy Hochul announced that she and legislative leaders had reached a  $229 billion budget agreement. As reported by The New York Times.

Hochul convened a news conference in the Capitol’s ornate Red Room to announce the handshake agreement, but there were no hands to shake. Neither the leader of the Assembly nor the Senate was present, leaving the Governor to make a solitary victory lap on the new budget that, if passed by the Legislature next week, will be one month late.

But the governor had no grand policy program to trumpet. She backed off from her pledge to construct 800,000 new homes, a potential centerpiece of her first term. She abandoned her push to ban menthol and other flavored cigarettes.

The resulting agreement burnished the governor’s reputation as a centrist Democrat, with some of her key priorities — tough-on-crime changes to the state’s bail law, money set aside into reserves, and no new taxes or higher levies on the superrich — in line with more conservative themes.

The deal also reflects Ms. Hochul’s willingness to seek a series of compromises with the liberal Legislature.

The state will grant 22 new charter schools statewide (14 in New York City), rather than the 100-odd ones in her initial proposal. New York’s minimum wage will rise, though not as far as some in the Legislature had hoped for. And a version of the progressive-backed Build Public Renewables Act will become law, but seemingly without some of the requirements that proponents said gave the measure its teeth.

While Ms. Hochul on Thursday described her relationship with the Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and the Assembly speaker, Carl E. Heastie, as “stronger than you could possibly believe,” she also nodded to the friction in the process — perhaps unavoidable, given that many of the Democratic lawmakers are to the governor’s political left.

“I will never shy away from a fight. You’re not always going to win,” she told reporters. “This state requires a leader who is not afraid to get knocked down once in a while. Because I always get back up.”

Even so, the protracted conflict leaves Ms. Hochul in a somewhat tenuous position with lawmakers, just a year after pledging to forge a new, more collaborative Albany.

Below are highlights of the budget as provided by Governor Hochul’s Office



Highlights of the budget include:   

  • Improving public safety by providing judges greater discretion to set bail for serious crimes; investing $347 million in evidence-based gun violence prevention initiatives; $170 million to support the implementation of discovery reform for prosecutors and defenders, including $50 million in capital for discovery technology improvements in New York City; $92 million in aid for prosecution and defense funding across the state; and more than $66 million to increase the number of State Police academy classes and number of troopers dedicated to addressing serious crime
  • Investing $1 billion in mental health – the largest investment in comprehensive mental health care in a generation – and transforming the continuum of care by increasing inpatient psychiatric treatment capacity, dramatically expanding outpatient services, and boosting insurance coverage
  • Creating a stronger health care system for the future through an additional $1 billion in health care capital funding and expanded Medicaid coverage for more than 7.8 million low-income New Yorkers
  • Protecting reproductive health care by investing $100.7 million to fund abortion providers, expanding access to abortion care for SUNY and CUNY students, providing access to over-the-counter contraception at pharmacies, enacting additional data protections for patients seeking reproductive health care, and increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rate for abortion care
  • Record funding for P-12 schools and higher education, including the largest annual School Aid amount of $34.5 billion, full funding of Foundation Aid for the first time in history, reauthorizing 22 charters, including 14 in New York City, and $2.4 billion for new capital projects for SUNY and CUNY
  • Implementing new comprehensive programs to ensure high-quality, affordable child care, including $500 million towards a Workforce Retention Grant Program and $25 million to support the Employer Child Care Tax Credit, and an expansion of the Child Tax Credit to include children under four years old
  • Increasing the minimum wage for three years, after which the State’s minimum wage would increase at a rate determined by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), giving hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who earn minimum wage a pay increase to keep with rising costs of living
  • Supporting tenants, including residents of public and subsidized housing with rental arrears through a major investment in rental assistance for New York City Housing Authority and other public housing residents, as well as Section 8 voucher recipients and other subsidized housing residents through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)
  • Saving the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) from the “fiscal cliff” and securing long-term stability through adjusting the Payroll Mobility Tax for the largest businesses within New York City to 0.6 percent, generating approx. $1.1 billion; $300 million in one-time State aid; requiring New York City to contribute $165 million for paratransit services funding; $65 million to reduce the proposed fare increase on the MTA; expanding service frequencies on the subway and launching a pilot program providing five free bus routes in New York City to enhance the customer experience
  • Combating climate change and investing in energy affordability by implementing first-in-the-nation zero-emission requirements for new building construction, and expanding the New York Power Authority’s ability to support New York’s climate goals
  • Making New York a more competitive place to grow jobs and drive economic growth by expanding and enhancing the New York Film Tax Credit – one of the most stable film production incentive programs in the nation – which will provide a boost to New York’s film industry, one of the largest union employers in the state
  • Building infrastructure and capital projects across the State, including $1.7 billion for a new Department of Health research laboratory, $2.4 billion for transformation, maintenance and preservation projects at SUNY and CUNY campuses across the state, $446 million for Phase Three of the Hunts Point Interstate Access Improvement Project, $105 million to upgrade the State Emergency Operations Center, $51 million for Hudson Valley Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacements, and much more
  • Supporting New Yorkers with disabilities by expanding the Medicaid Buy-In Program for working people with disabilities, funding and reinvigorating the Interagency Coordinating Council for Services to Persons who are Deaf, Deaf-Blind and Hard of Hearing and increasing the number of Civil Service Section 55-B positions to grow the representation of those with disabilities in the State workforce
  • Expanding access and boosting demand for New York food and products while supporting farmers by increasing food manufacturing capabilities in the state; $10 million to support the establishment of farm markets, supermarkets and food cooperatives in underserved communities; and $50 million over five years to local school districts to support New York State farm products in meals for K-12 school children
  • Expanding the enforcement powers of the Office of Cannabis Management and Department of Taxation and Finance to further grow the legal marketplace for cannabis, including levying fines on illegal retail operations and closing those shops down
  • Supporting New York Seniors by funding programs statewide to support aging in place and to fight financial exploitation, elder abuse, and isolation of the aging, and increasing funding for the Master Plan for Aging (MPA), a comprehensive, interagency vision for seniors living in New York State



Why did Jack Teixeira, Guardsman Accused of Leaking Classified Documents, Receive Security Clearance?

Jack Teixeira: Suspect in Pentagon leaks case to appear in court for  detention hearing | CNN Politics

Jack Teixeira

Dear Commons Community,

Jack Teixeira, the Massachusetts Air National guardsman accused of leaking highly classified military documents, kept an arsenal of guns and said on social media that he would like to kill a “ton of people,” prosecutors said in arguments that the 21-year-old should remain in jail for his trial.

The court filings raise new questions about why Teixeira had such a high security clearance and access to some of the nation’s most classified secrets. They said he may still have material that hasn’t been released, which could be of “tremendous value to hostile nation states that could offer him safe harbor and attempt to facilitate his escape from the United States.”

In Teixeira’s detention hearing,  the Associated Press reported that Magistrate Judge David Hennessy expressed skepticism of defense arguments that the government hasn’t alleged Teixeira intended leaked information to be widely disseminated.

“Somebody under the age of 30 has no idea that when they put something on the internet that it could end up anywhere in this world?” the judge asked. “Seriously?”

Teixeira entered his hearing in Worcester in orange prison garb, smiling at his father in the front row. His handcuffs were removed before he sat down and put back on when he was taken out.

The judge could order Teixeira to be confined at his father’s home or conditionally released while awaiting trial, if not held in jail.

“You have a young man before you who didn’t flee, has nowhere to flee,” said Brendan Kelley, the defendant’s lawyer. “He will answer the charges, he will be judged by his fellow citizens.”

But Nadine Pellegrini from the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office told the judge the information prosecutors submitted to the court about the defendant’s threatening words and behavior “is not speculation, it is not hyperbole, nor is it the creation of a caricature. It is … directly based upon the words and actions of this defendant.”

The defense asserted Teixeira no longer has access to any top-secret information and had accused prosecutors of providing “little more than speculation that a foreign adversary will seduce Mr. Teixeira and orchestrate his clandestine escape from the United States.”

The prosecution’s filing reviews what it says are Teixeira social media posts, stating in November that he would “kill a (expletive) ton of people” if he had his way, because it would be “culling the weak minded.”

Court papers urging a federal judge to keep Teixeira in custody detailed a troubling history going back to high school, where he was suspended when a classmate overheard him discussing Molotov cocktails and other weapons as well as racial threats. More recently, prosecutors said, he used his government computer to research past mass shootings and standoffs with federal agents.

He remains a grave threat to national security and a flight risk, prosecutors wrote. Investigators are still trying to determine whether he kept any physical or digital copies of classified information that hasn’t surfaced yet.

“There simply is no condition or combination of conditions that can ensure the Defendant will not further disclose additional information still in his knowledge or possession,” prosecutors wrote. “The damage the Defendant has already caused to the U.S. national security is immense. The damage the Defendant is still capable of causing is extraordinary.”

On Thursday, the Air Force suspended two commanding officers linked with Jack Teixeira, a member of the same military unit who is accused of posting a trove of classified government documents online.

The commander of the 102nd Intelligence Support Squadron and a detachment commander — who oversees administrative support — were suspended “pending further investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek told NBC News.

Teixeira has been in jail since his arrest this month on charges stemming from the most consequential intelligence leak in years.

Teixeira has been charged under the Espionage Act with unauthorized retention and transmission of classified national defense information. He has not yet entered a plea.



Robots run the show as Swiss radio station goes all-AI voices for a day!

EU proposes new copyright rules for generative AI

Dear Commons Community,

The voices sound like well-known personalities, the music features trendy dance beats and hip-hop syncopations, and the jokes and laughter are contagious. But listeners of a Swiss public radio station repeatedly got the message yesterday: Today’s programming is brought to you by Artificial Intelligence.  As reported by the Associated Press.

Three months in the making, the French-language station Couleur 3 (Color 3) is touting a one-day experiment using cloned voices of five real, human presenters — in what managers claim is a world first — and never-aired-before music composed almost entirely by computers, not people. From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., the station said, AI controlled its airwaves. Every 20 minutes, listeners got a reminder.

With an eerie, Sci-Fi movie-like track whirring in the background, a soothing, raspy female voice said: “AI is taking your favorite radio by storm.”

“For 13 hours, our digital alter egos have taken the reins, broadcasting their voices and their messages across the airwaves, without mercy or respite,” the voice said, at times almost taunting listeners. “The boundaries between human and machine have been blurred, and it’s up to you to unravel what’s real and what’s fake.”

“Our voice clones and AI are here to unsettle, surprise and shake you. And for that matter, this text was also written by a robot.”

The explosive emergence of ChatGPT last autumn and other “Generative AI” tools have caused a stir — and often fear, confusion, fascination, laughter, or worry — about the long-term economic, cultural, social and even political consequences. Some musicians have complained that AI has ripped off their styles.

In the face of such recalcitrance, the Swiss station, which falls under the umbrella of public broadcaster Radio Television Switzerland, notes the concerns about AI — and embraces and seeks to de-mystify it.

Antoine Multone, the station’s chief, said Couleur 3 could get away with the experiment because it’s already known as “provocative.”

While some might fear the project could be a first step toward the obsolescence of people on the air — and firings of personnel too — or could weaken journalism, he defended the project as a lesson on how to live with AI.

“I think if we become ostriches … we put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Mon Dieu, there’s a new technology! We’re all going to die!’ then yeah, we’re going to die because it (AI) is coming, whether we like it or not,” Multone said by phone. “We want to master the technology so we can then put limits on it.”

Some have gone even further, like Seven Hills, Ohio-based media company Futuri, which has rolled out RadioGPT that relies on AI.

At Couleur 3, the voices of the presenters were cloned with the help of software company Respeecher, which has worked with Hollywood studios and whose website says its team is mostly based in Ukraine.

Station managers say it took three months to train the AI to understand the needs of the station and adopt its quirky, offbeat vibe. The tracks aired during the day were at least partially composed by AI and some were entirely, “and that’s also a first,” Multone said. AI was behind the voices that sang songs broadcast in the morning, and it played DJ in the afternoon — selecting copyrighted music.

To avoid any possible confusion with today’s real news, the synthetic voices — indistinguishable from a real person’s — served up top-of-the-hour news flashes that were way too futuristic to be believable: A temporary ban on spaceship flights over Geneva airspace due to noise complaints; the opening of the first underwater restaurant in Lake Zurich; extraterrestrial tourists who mistook swans on Swiss lake for inflatable toys.

The AI had been instructed to come up with news that might be read in the year 2070.

Multone acknowledged a lot of discussion among staffers about whether to go through with it, and “I was ready to pull the plug on the project if I had seen that my team wasn’t 100% motivated to try it.”

Hundreds of messages poured into the station in the morning shortly after the programming began, Swiss public radio said in a statement. One complained of boring jokes. Another listener, stupefied, admitted to being stumped. One critic called the project a waste of time for a station that gets public funding.

“The main feedback we get, in 90% of the messages, is: ‘It’s cool, but there’s a human element missing. You can sense these are robots, and there are fewer surprises, less personality,’” Multone said, noting an on-air discussion of the experiment was planned Friday — by real people.

“Many messages just said: ‘Give us back our humans!’” he said. “I think that’s great.”


Fox Ratings Tumble in Tucker Carlson Slot after His Firing!

TCarlson Fans Respond to Replacement Host: 'Nope'

Brian Kilmeade and Tucker Carlson

Dear Commons Community,

Hundreds of thousands of Fox News viewers are reacting to Tucker Carlson’s firing by abandoning the network in his old time slot.

Fox drew 1.33 million viewers for substitute host Brian Kilmeade in the 8 p.m. Eastern hour on Wednesday night, putting the network second to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes in a competition Carlson used to dominate, the Nielsen company said.  As reported by the Associated Press.

That’s down 56% from the 3.05 million viewers Carlson reached last Wednesday, Nielsen said. For all of 2022, Carlson averaged 3.03 million viewers, second only to Fox’s “The Five” as the most popular program on cable television.

Carlson offered his own alternative to Kilmeade on Wednesday, posting a two-minute monologue on Twitter at 8 p.m. By Thursday afternoon, that video had been viewed 62.7 million times, according to Twitter.

Kilmeade had 1.7 million viewers on Tuesday and 2.59 million on Monday, when he told people who hadn’t already heard the news that Carlson would no longer be there.

Carlson had 2.65 million viewers on Friday for what he didn’t know at the time would be his last show on Fox. He was fired on Monday with no explanation given publicly, although there are no shortage of theories — including a former employee’s lawsuit that cited a toxic work atmosphere at his show, offensive statements by Carlson that came out as part of the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit against Fox and his embrace of political conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The ratings slump echoes what happened at Fox following the 2020 election, when many viewers angered by the network’s crucial election night declaration that Joe Biden had won Arizona followed then-President Donald Trump’s advice to seek alternatives. That caused tremendous angst behind the scenes at Fox, which was illustrated in documents released as part of the Dominion case.

Asked for comment, Fox responded with a statement noting that Fox has been cable news’ most-watched network for 21 years with its team “trusted more by viewers than any other news source.”

In the wake of Carlson’s firing, viewing at the conservative network Newsmax has shot up for Eric Bolling, who hosts a show in the same 8 p.m. Eastern slot.

For example, Bolling had 510,000 viewers Wednesday night, compared to 168,000 on Wednesday a week ago, Nielsen said. On Tuesday, Bolling had 562,000 viewers, up from 122,000 the same day a week earlier.

The challenge for Newsmax will be making it last. Fox surged again following Biden’s inauguration as president, and Newsmax couldn’t keep up the momentum.

It will be interesting to see if the ratings in the Carlson time-slot continue to tank after a permanent replacement for him is found.



Is China’s Xi Jinping trying to mediate a settlement in Russia’s war with Ukraine?

Russia-Ukraine war: Why did Xi Jinping call Volodymyr Zelensky now?

Xi Jinping and Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Dear Commons Community,

Chinese leader Xi Jinping said yesterday that Beijing will send an envoy to Ukraine to discuss a possible “political settlement” to Russia’s war with the country.

Beijing has previously avoided involvement in conflicts between other countries but appears to be trying to assert itself as a global diplomatic force after arranging talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March that led them to restore diplomatic relations after a seven-year break.  As reported by the Associated Press.

Xi told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call that a Chinese envoy, a former Chinese ambassador to Russia, would visit Ukraine and “other countries” to discuss a possible political settlement, according to a government statement.

It made no mention of Russia or last year’s invasion of Ukraine and didn’t indicate whether the Chinese envoy might visit Moscow.

The Xi-Zelenskyy phone call was long anticipated after Beijing said it wanted to serve as a mediator in the war.

China is the only major government that has friendly relations with Moscow as well as economic leverage as the biggest buyer of Russian oil and gas after the United States and its allies cut off most purchases.

Beijing, which sees Moscow as a diplomatic partner in opposing U.S. domination of global affairs, has refused to criticize the invasion and used its status as one of five permanent U.N. Security Council members to deflect diplomatic attacks on Russia.

Zelenskyy earlier said he welcomed a Chinese offer to mediate.

Xi’s government has pursued a bigger role in global diplomacy as part of a campaign to restore China to what the ruling Communist Party sees as its rightful status as a political and economic leader and to build an international order that favors Beijing’s interests.

That is a sharp reversal after decades of avoiding involvement in other countries’ conflicts and most international affairs while it focused on economic development at home.

In March, Saudi Arabia and Iran issued a surprise announcement, following talks in Beijing, that they would reopen embassies in each other’s capitals following a seven-year break. China has good relations with both as a big oil buyer.

Last week, Foreign Minister Qin Gang told his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts that his country is ready to help facilitate peace talks.

Yesterday’s statement warned against the dangers of nuclear war, suggesting Beijing might also have been motivated by what it sees as the growing danger of a more destructive conflict.

Mediating between Ukraine and Russia would increase China’s presence in Eastern Europe, where Beijing has tried to build ties with other governments.

If China can help stop the bloodshed in Ukraine – so be it!


Peter Thiel, Republican megadonor, won’t fund any candidates in 2024!

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel

Dear Commons Community,

Peter Thiel, billionaire, Republican megadonor  and major backer of former President Donald Trump, has told associates he is not planning to donate to any political candidates in 2024.  As reported by Reuters.

Thiel is unhappy with the Republican Party’s focus on hot-button U.S. cultural issues, said one of two sources, a business associate, citing abortion and restrictions on which bathrooms transgender students can use in schools as two examples.

Thiel came to this conclusion by late 2022, the sources said. He believes Republicans are making a mistake in focusing on cultural flashpoints and should be more concerned with spurring U.S. innovation – a major issue for him – and competing with China, the business associate said.

Thiel’s plans for the Republican primary and general election have not been previously reported. Online news site Puck previously reported Thiel was most likely either to support Trump or sit out the primary. Thiel declined a Reuters request for an interview.

When Thiel spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention, he had more hope that the party would concentrate on economic issues, his business associate said.

“I am proud to be gay,” Thiel said on stage. “But most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform, but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.”

Four political sources also told Reuters that Thiel is taking a step back from U.S. politics. Thiel, who diverged from his Silicon Valley peers with his embrace of conservative causes, identifies as a supporter of libertarianism, a political philosophy that stresses the importance of individual freedoms.

The German-born entrepreneur has a fortune estimated at around $4.2 billion after co-founding PayPal and Palantir and investing early in Facebook. He has contributed around $50 million to state and federal political candidates and campaigns since 2000, and he was the 10th largest individual donor to either party in the 2022 midterm congressional elections, according to the non-profit OpenSecrets.

Thiel’s decision underlines how the Republican Party’s swing to the right on social issues is alienating some prominent, business-minded donors.

Several top donors have said they are hesitant to support Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a run for the White House soon, after he signed a bill into law that bans most abortions after six weeks in Florida. None said they intended to sit out the entire 2024 election cycle as a consequence.

In 2012, Thiel backed libertarian lawmaker Ron Paul, and in 2016 he donated some $1.25 million to the campaign efforts of Trump, who is the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination.

In 2020, Thiel did not financially back Trump’s re-election efforts, according to OpenSecrets. Thiel liked some of Trump’s policies while in office but disapproved of the chaos surrounding the former reality TV star’s presidency, said one of the sources, who is close to Thiel personally.

In the 2022 election cycle, however, Thiel emerged as a potential Republican kingmaker, contributing more than $35 million to 16 federal-level Republican candidates, according to OpenSecrets. Twelve of those candidates won.

To be sure, Thiel could yet change his mind on political contributions for the 2024 cycle, although both sources familiar with his donation plans said they had heard Thiel declare on multiple recent occasions that he had withdrawn from U.S. politics.

The source who knows Thiel personally said he had cautioned that he could still support candidates who have worked for him, as he did in 2022, when the bulk of his $35 million in donations went to two former colleagues running for the Senate as Republicans: J.D. Vance, who won, and Blake Masters, who lost a race pundits considered winnable even though he received some $20 million from Thiel.

Thiel is married to businessman Matt Danzeisen, with whom he has two toddlers. Concerns about his family’s safety have weighed in Thiel’s decision to step back as well, the source who knows him personally told Reuters.

Good news for the Democrats assuming Thiel does not change his mind!


Chief Justice Roberts Declines Senate Request to Testify on Judicial Ethics Involving Clarence Thomas!

'Positively disgraceful' John Roberts buried by ethics expert for refusal to talk about Clarence ThomasClarence Thomas and John Roberts

Dear Commons Community,

Chief Justice John Roberts declined to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee following a series of  reports on fellow Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas that have raised concerns about judicial ethics.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the committee’s chairman, told reporters on yesterday that Roberts had declined to appear on May 2 for a hearing on ethics reform in the judiciary. Durbin invited Roberts or another justice to appear last week, saying the latest revelations on Thomas had “contributed to a crisis of public confidence” in the nation’s highest bench.  As reported by The Huffington Post.

“I must respectfully decline your invitation,” Roberts wrote in a letter. “Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of the separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence.”

Durbin has previously said the panel will not try to subpoena Roberts, noting the request was voluntary. A similar hearing took place in 2011.

Democrats have called for hearings after ProPublica reported that Thomas had accepted luxury trips from a billionaire friend for more than two decades, including forays aboard a luxury yacht, flights on a private jet and stays at an exclusive resort. The website later published details of a real estate transaction between the magnate, Harlan Crow, and Thomas’ family. Crow purchased three properties in 2014 from the justice and his relatives, including Thomas’ ancestral home where his mother still lives rent-free.

Thomas did not list the trips or the real estate sale on his financial disclosure forms as is required by law. He said earlier this month he believed he wasn’t required to note the lavish trips on his documents.

“[I] was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the court, was not reportable,” the justice said at the time.

Complaints about Thomas’ behavior have been referred to a federal panel that oversees the nation’s financial disclosure laws. It’s unclear what action, if any, the body could take.

Not surprising that Roberts would not comply!



U of Arkansas System Trustees Say ‘No’ to Partnership With U. of Phoenix!

Report: U of Arkansas system may buy University of Phoenix

Dear Commons Community,

The University of Arkansas System’s Board of Trustees vote, 5-4, on Monday to reject a resolution supporting a future affiliation with the University of Phoenix.

In question was whether trustees would endorse Arkansas’s 70,000-student system entering into a formal agreement with Transformative Education Services, Inc. — a nonprofit looking to acquire the for-profit University of Phoenix and transition it to nonprofit status — for the purpose of sharing expertise, research, and technology. With roughly 65,000 full-time students and 140,000 students taking courses annually, Phoenix serves mostly online, adult learners, and is one of the largest for-profit colleges in the U.S.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The board’s stamp of approval was not required, as the UA system itself would not be purchasing Phoenix. Still, the UA system president, Donald R. Bobbitt, had wanted the board’s weigh-in — and, optimally, its blessing — for a decision of this magnitude.

While Monday’s vote isn’t a death knell for a future partnership, “Dr. Bobbitt has previously said it would be difficult to move forward without support from the Board for this project. That statement remains true,” Nate Hinkel, director of communications for the UA system, wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “He is certainly disappointed in the outcome of the meeting.”

Interesting decision!  I thought the Arkansas system would definitely move to enter the partnership given the support of the UA System President Bobbitt.