Happy Halloween and The Met!

Dear Commons Community,

Happy Halloween!

My wife, Elaine, and I will be spending Halloween night at the Metropolitan Opera seeing Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera!

We will leave a basket of candy on our front walkway for the trick or treaters.

Enjoy the day and evening everyone!


As the Chinese economy falters, more migrants are coming to US seeking asylum!

Dear Commons Community,

A major influx of Chinese migrants are making a perilous journey to the United States through Panama’s Darién Gap jungle to the California desert.  As a result, Chinese people have become the fourth-highest nationality, after Venezuelans, Ecuadorians and Haitians, crossing the Darién Gap during the first nine months of this year, according to Panamanian immigration authorities.

Chinese asylum-seekers who spoke to The Associated Press, as well as observers, say they are seeking to escape an increasingly repressive political climate and bleak economic prospects.

They also reflect a broader presence of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border — Asians, South Americans and Africans — who made September the second-highest month of illegal crossings and the U.S. government’s 2023 budget year the second-highest on record.

The pandemic and China’s COVID-19 policies, which included tight border controls, temporarily stemmed the exodus that rose dramatically in 2018 when President Xi Jinping amended the constitution to scrap the presidential term limit. Now emigration has resumed, with China’s economy struggling to rebound and youth unemployment high. The United Nations has projected China will lose 310,000 people through emigration this year, compared with 120,000 in 2012.

It has become known as “runxue,” or the study of running away. The term started as a way to get around censorship, using a Chinese character whose pronunciation spells like the English word “run” but means “moistening.” Now it’s an internet meme.

“This wave of emigration reflects despair toward China,” Cai Xia, editor-in-chief of the online commentary site of Yibao and a former professor at the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing.

“They’ve lost hope for the future of the country,” said Cai, who now lives in the U.S. “You see among them the educated and the uneducated, white-collar workers, as well as small business owners, and those from well-off families.”

Those who can’t get a visa are finding other ways to flee the world’s most populous nation. Many are showing up at the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. The Border Patrol made 22,187 arrests of Chinese for crossing the border illegally from Mexico from January through September, nearly 13 times the same period in 2022. Arrests peaked at 4,010 in September, up 70% from August. The vast majority were single adults.

The popular route to the U.S. is through Ecuador, which has no visa requirements for Chinese nationals. Migrants from China join Latin Americans there to trek north through the once-impenetrable Darién and across several Central American countries before reaching the U.S. border. The journey is well-known enough it has its own name in Chinese: walk the line, or “zouxian.”

The monthly number of Chinese migrants crossing the Darién has been rising gradually, from 913 in January to 2,588 in September. For the first nine months of this year, Panamanian immigration authorities registered 15,567 Chinese citizens crossing the Darién. By comparison, 2,005 Chinese people trekked through the rainforest in 2022, and just 376 in total from 2010 to 2021.

Short video platforms and messaging apps provide not only on-the-ground video clips but also step-by-step guides from China to the U.S., including tips on what to pack, where to find guides, how to survive the jungle, which hotels to stay at, how much to bribe police in different countries and what to do when encountering U.S. immigration officers.

Translation apps allow migrants to navigate through Central America on their own, even if they don’t speak Spanish or English. The journey can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, paid for with family savings or even online loans.

For example, Xi Yan, 46, and her daughter Song Siming, 24, didn’t trek the Ecuador-Mexico route, but instead flew into Mexico via Europe. With help from a local guide, the two women crossed the border at Mexicali into the U.S. in April.

“The unemployment rate is very high. People cannot find work,” said Xi Yan, a Chinese writer. “For small business owners, they cannot sustain their businesses.”

Xi Yan said she decided to leave China in March, when she traveled to the southern city of Foshan to see her mother but had to leave the next day when state security agents and police officers harassed her brother and told him that his sister was not allowed in the city. She realized she was still on the state blacklist, six years after being detained for gathering at a seaside spot to remember Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel peace laureate who died in a Chinese prison. In 2015, she was locked up for 25 days over an online post remembering the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.

Her daughter, Song, agreed to leave with her. A college graduate, the daughter struggled to find work in China and became depressed, the mother said.

Despite the challenges to survive in the U.S., Xi Yan said it was worth it.

“We have freedom,” she said. “I used to get nervous whenever there was a police car. Now, I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

Migrants hoping to enter the U.S. at San Diego wait for agents to pick them up in an area between two border walls or in remote mountains east of the city covered with shrubs and large boulders.

Many migrants are released with court dates in cities nearest their final destination in a bottlenecked system that takes years to decide cases. Chinese migrants had an asylum grant rate of 33% in the 2022 budget year, compared with 46% for all nationalities, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Catholic Charities of San Diego uses hotels to provide shelters for migrants, including 1,223 from China in September. The average shelter stay is a day and a half among all nationalities. For Chinese visitors, it’s less than a day.

“They get dropped off in the morning. By afternoon they are looking to reunite with their families. They’re going to New York, they’re going to Chicago, they’re going to all kinds of places,” said Vino Pajanor, the group’s chief executive. “They don’t want to be in a shelter.”

In September, 98% of U.S. border arrests of Chinese people occurred in the San Diego area. At the transit stop, migrants charge phones, snack, browse piles of free clothing and get travel advice.

Signs at portable bathrooms and information booths and a volunteer’s loudspeaker announcements about free airport shuttles are translated to multiple languages, including Mandarin. Taxi drivers offer rides to Los Angeles.

Many migrants who spoke to the AP did not give their full names out of fear of drawing attention to their cases. Some said they came for economic reasons and paid 300,000 to 400,000 yuan ($41,000 to $56,000 for the trip).

In recent weeks, Chinese migrants have filled makeshift encampments in the California desert as they wait to turn themselves in to U.S. authorities to make asylum claims.

Near the small town of Jacumba, hundreds huddled in the shadow of a section of border wall and under crude tarps. Others tried to sleep on large boulders or under the few trees there. Small campfires keep them warm overnight. Without food or running water, the migrants rely on volunteers who distribute bottled water, hot oatmeal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Chen Yixiao said he endured a hard journey to come to the U.S. He said life had become difficult back home, with some migrants experiencing issues with the government and others failing in business.

“I’m very happy to be in the U.S. now. This is my dream country,” said Chen, who planned to join his relatives in New York and find work there.

Good luck to these individuals.  I hope they find what they are looking for in our country.


Teaching Online – Higher Education’s Future!

Dear Commons Community,

Beth McMurtrie had an article last week commenting upon the increasing acceptance of online learning in higher education. It continued an earlier story she wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Here is an excerpt.

“Are you ready for another evolution in teaching? No, not AI. This one has to do with the shift toward online teaching. If you haven’t already seen the data, a number of surveys have come out in recent months showing that faculty members are more open to teaching in online and hybrid formats. Students have been headed in that direction for a while, with many seeking a mix of online and in-person courses.

So what needs to happen to support an effective blend of in-person, online, and hybrid teaching?

On the one hand, the pandemic pushed nearly all professors to teach online, even those who never expected to. And doing so opened their eyes to the possibilities that online tools can provide, including increased flexibility and access for their students — and themselves. And, the fact is, many courses that meet in person include online elements such as discussion boards and short video lectures.

On the other hand, many professors didn’t like emergency online teaching. And if they are to redesign some of their courses, they will need time and support to do it in a way that feels pedagogically solid and engaging for their students.

In reporting this story, I talked to a number of faculty members who have been adapting their teaching. An Auburn University professor flipped his architecture course. A SUNY-Stony Brook professor offers an introductory physiology course in multiple modes: in person, hybrid, and fully online asynchronous. In these and other cases, the professors are often on the cutting edge, hoping to convince colleagues that they should offer more courses in a hybrid format.

One campus I looked at, though, has leaned into online learning: MiraCosta College, a two-year institution in California. Jim Julius, faculty director of online education, told me the college added 18 Hyflex classrooms this summer, where professors teach courses in-person and online simultaneously. (Technically, Hyflex should include an asynchronous option but MiraCosta chose not to offer that.) In Hyflex, students decide how they want to attend, and that can change class to class.

Two faculty members I spoke to, Sean Davis and Tricia Hoste, have taught in Hyflex. Davis teaches sociology and Hoste teaches English as a Second Language. Both said they have found it to be rewarding. Students who otherwise might not have been able to attend — such as a parent with no child care — now have an opportunity to enroll. “Some of our programs gained a new community of students who would never have been able to come to class before,” Hoste told me.

And the dual format allows students to attend in a mode that feels comfortable to them. Someone who prefers the community of a physical classroom can attend in person, for example, but has the option of going remote when their schedule gets complicated.

Is it trickier to teach in this format? Yes, but it doesn’t require a total overhaul, says Davis. “The only thing I really changed was I had to have a constant awareness of: Am I making sure the folks attending via Zoom are included? Students really did step up and help me find ways to do that.”

It is also important, both said, that the classrooms are outfitted with high-quality tech, so students online can clearly hear those in person and vice versa. And the classes are not large, so everyone can get attention. Most of the HyFlex rooms can fit about 20 to 40 students.”

Online and blended learning are becoming the new normal in higher education.




Hundreds Storm Russian Airport in Antisemitic Riot after Plane Arrives from Tel Aviv!

Anti-Israel protesters storm airport in Makhachkala, Russia. The Australian.

Dear Commons Community,

What culminated  a weekend of protests throughout the world, hundreds of people stormed into the main airport in Russia’s Dagestan region and onto the landing field Sunday, chanting antisemitic slogans and seeking passengers arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv, Israel.  As reported by The Associated Press and The Australian.

Russian news media said the crowd surrounded the airliner, which belonged to Russian carrier Red Wings.

Authorities closed the airport in Makhachkala, the capital of the predominantly Muslim region, and police converged on the facility. Dagestan’s Ministry of Health said more than 20 people were injured, with two in critical condition. It said the injured included police officers and civilians.

Video on social media showed some in the crowd waving Palestinian flags and others trying to overturn a police car. Antisemitic slogans can be heard being shouted and some in the crowd examined the passports of arriving passengers, apparently in an attempt to identify those who were Israeli.

In a statement Sunday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israel “expects the Russian law enforcement authorities to protect the safety of all Israeli citizens and Jews wherever they may be and to act resolutely against the rioters and against the wild incitement directed against Jews and Israelis.”

Netanyahu’s office added that the Israeli ambassador to Russia was working with Russia to keep Israelis and Jews safe.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs for Russia’s North Caucasian Federal District, where Dagestan is located, said that CCTV footage would be used to establish the identities of those who stormed the airport and that those involved would be brought to justice.

While voicing support for Palestinians in Gaza, the regional Dagestani government appealed to citizens to remain calm and not take part in such protests.

“We urge residents of the republic to treat the current situation in the world with understanding. Federal authorities and international organizations are making every effort to bring about a ceasefire against Gaza civilians … we urge residents of the republic not to succumb to the provocations of destructive groups and not to create panic in society,” the Dagestani government wrote on Telegram.

The Supreme Mufti of Dagestan, Sheikh Akhmad Afandi, called on residents to stop the unrest at the airport.

“You are mistaken. This issue cannot be resolved in this way. We understand and perceive your indignation very painfully. … We will solve this issue differently. Not with rallies, but appropriately. Maximum patience and calm for you,” he said in a video published to Telegram.

Dagestan Gov. Sergei Melikov promised consequences for anyone who took part in the violence.

“The actions of those who gathered at the Makhachkala airport today are a gross violation of the law! … (W)hat happened at our airport is outrageous and should receive an appropriate assessment from law enforcement agencies! And this will definitely be done!” he wrote on Telegram.

He called the protests a “knife in the backs of those who gave their lives for the security of the Motherland,” referring to the 1999 war in Dagestan and troops currently fighting in Ukraine.

Russia’s civilian aviation agency, Rosaviatsia, later reported that the airfield had been cleared, but that the airport would remain closed.



Andrew Cuomo Blames “Cancel Culture” and “Leticia James Wanting His Job” for Downfall!

Andrew Cuomo and Bill Maher

Dear Commons Community,

Andrew Cuomo is still attempting to brush off the many sexual harassment allegations against him.

The former New York governor decried “cancel culture” in an interview Friday on “Real Time With Bill Maher,” two years after he resigned following an independent investigation that cited 11 women’s claims of misconduct.

“This is the cancel culture on steroids at the highest level — with a justice department,” he said. “Eleven cases trigger the cancel culture. Everyone has to be first before they get accused by a women’s group of not moving fast enough.”

He also addressed President Joe Biden’s call for him to step down.

“The president of the United States within hours says: ‘You have to resign, but I didn’t read the report. But doesn’t matter. You have to resign,’” Cuomo said. “And now it’s dominoes among the Democrats.”

At a 2021 press conference about the investigation, New York Attorney General Letitia James said that Cuomo “sexually harassed multiple women and in doing so violated federal and state law.” The report concluded that Cuomo kissed, touched and made sexual comments to staffers.

Cuomo said on “Real Time” that five different district attorneys refused to bring a case against him. When host Bill Maher asked why the New York State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee had cited “overwhelming evidence” of alleged crimes in 2021, he suggested that it merely wanted to affirm James’ report.

“She wanted my job, which was part of the motivation here,” Cuomo replied. “She put out a report, she said 11. That was the brilliant manipulation of this, because you and everyone else said … ’11 cases is so many. I don’t even have to bother reading the report.’”

James noted in her 2021 press conference that investigators reviewed “more than 74,000 pieces of evidence, including documents, emails, texts, audio files and pictures.” James said the evidence painted a “deeply disturbing yet clear picture.”

Cuomo appeared on the show alongside former chief of staff Melissa DeRosa, who chronicled her tenure in a new book titled “What’s Left Unsaid.” She suggested one outlet in particular unfairly targeted Cuomo.

“I think that The New York Times, which was sort of the driver of this manufactured scandal in my opinion, has been leading the Me Too movement, has been out front on everything and constantly redefining what it is to have an executable offense,” DeRosa said.

She pointed to a front-page article in the Times about one woman’s encounter with Cuomo at a wedding, which DeRosa characterized as a playful request to kiss the woman on the cheek. But the woman told the Times that she had removed Cuomo’s hand from her bare lower back and that she had pulled away after he brought his hands up to her cheeks.

You can see the full interview on Youtube here:  https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=cuomo+interview+maher


Mike Pence Drops Out of Presidential Race!

Dear Commons Community,

Former Vice President Mike Pence on Saturday dropped his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, ending his campaign for the White House after struggling to raise money and gain traction in the polls. As reported by the Associated Press and other news media.

“It’s become clear to me: This is not my time,” Pence said at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual gathering in Las Vegas. “So after much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to suspend my campaign for president effective today.”

“We always knew this would be an uphill battle, but I have no regrets,” Pence went on to tell the friendly audience, which reacted with audible surprise to the announcement and gave him multiple standing ovations.

Pence is the first major candidate to leave a race that has been dominated by his former boss-turned-rival, Donald Trump, and his struggles underscore just how much Trump has transformed the party. A former vice president would typically be seen as a formidable challenger in any primary, but Pence has struggled to find a base of support.

Pence did not immediately endorse any of his rivals, but continued to echo language he has used to criticize Trump.

“I urge all my fellow Republicans here, give our country a Republican standard-bearer that will, as Lincoln said, appeal to the better angels of our nature,” he said, “and not only lead us to victory, but lead our nation with civility.”

Pence’s decision, more than two months before the Iowa caucuses that he had staked his campaign on, saves him from accumulating additional debt, as well as the embarrassment of potentially failing to qualify for the third Republican primary debate, on Nov. 8 in Miami.

But his withdrawal is a huge blow for a politician who spent years biding his time as Trump’s most loyal lieutenant, only to be scapegoated during their final days in office when Trump became convinced that Pence somehow had the power to overturn the results of the 2020 election and keep both men in office — a power Pence did not possess.

While Pence averted a constitutional crisis by rejecting the scheme, he drew Trump’s fury, as well as the wrath of many of Trump’s supporters, who still believed his lies about the election and see Pence as a traitor.

Among Trump critics, meanwhile, Pence was seen as an enabler who defended the former president at every turn and refused to criticize even Trump’s most indefensible actions time and again.

As a result, an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research from August found that the majority of U.S. adults, 57%, viewed Pence negatively, with only 28% having a positive view.

Throughout his campaign, the former Indiana governor and congressman had insisted that while he was well-known by voters, he was not “known well” and set out to change that with an aggressive schedule that included numerous stops at diners and Pizza Ranch restaurants.

Pence had been betting on Iowa, a state with a large white Evangelical population that has a long history of elevating religious and socially conservative candidates such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Rick Santorum. Pence often campaigned with his wife, Karen, a Christian school teacher, and emphasized his hard-line views on issues such as abortion, which he opposes even in cases when a pregnancy is unviable. He repeatedly called on his fellow candidates to support a minimum 15-week national ban and he pushed to ban drugs used as alternatives to surgical procedures.

He tried to confront head-on his actions on Jan. 6, 2021 , explaining to voters over and over that he had done his constitutional duty that day, knowing full well the political consequences. It was a strategy that aides believed would help defuse the issue and earn Pence the respect of a majority of Republicans, whom they were were convinced did not agree with Trump’s actions.

But even in Iowa, Pence struggled to gain traction.

He had an equally uphill climb raising money, despite yearslong relationships with donors. Pence ended September with just $1.18 million in the bank and $621,000 in debt, according to his most recent campaign filing. That debt had grown in the weeks since and adding to it would have taken Pence, who is not independently wealthy, years pay off.

The Associated Press first reported earlier this month that people close to Pence had begun to feel that remaining a candidate risked diminishing his long-term standing in the party, given Trump’s dominating lead in the race for the 2024 nomination. While they said Pence could stick it out until the Jan. 15 Iowa caucuses if he wanted — campaigning on a shoestring budget and accumulating debt — he would have to consider how that might affect his ability to remain a leading voice in the conservative movement, as he hopes.

Some said that Hamas’ attack on Israel in October, which pushed foreign policy to the forefront of the campaign, had given Pence a renewed sense of purpose given his warnings throughout the campaign against the growing tide of isolationism in the Republican Party. Pence had argued that he was the race’s most experienced candidate and decried “voices of appeasement” among Republican, arguing they had emboldened groups such as Hamas.

But ultimately, Pence concluded that he could continue to speak out on the issue without continuing the campaign. He chose the Las Vegas event to announce his decision, in part, so he could address the topic one last time before formally leaving the race.

On stage at the event, several of Pence’s rivals, including Trump, did not acknowledge Pence’s announcement that had some only a short time earlier.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who spoke immediately after Pence, made no mention of Pence in his speech, but later praised him on social media as a “principled man of faith who has worked tirelessly to advance the conservative cause.” Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, in contrast, began her speech by praising Pence, saying he had fought for American and for Israel and that “we all owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Pence is expected to remain engaged, in part through Advancing American Freedom, the conservative think tank he founded after leaving the vice presidency and that he envisions it as an alternative to the The Heritage Foundation. He also has a book coming out next month that offers advice on balancing work and family.

Pence’s group is expected to continued to advocate for policies that he supported in his run, including pushing for more U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense against the Russian invasion and proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare to rein in the debt. Such ideas were once the bread-and-butter of Republican establishment orthodoxy but have fallen out of a favor as the party has embraced Trump’s isolationist and populist views.

Good move on Pence’s part.  Other Republican nominees should make the same decision.





Video: Why Democrat Dean Philips is running against Joe Biden for presidential nomination!

Dear Commons Community,

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), who is challenging Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination, told NBC News’ Kristen Welker that he’s not running against the president before the Meet the Press” host checked him on the assertion yesterday (see video below for full interview).

“I’m not running against Joe Biden. I’m not running against President Biden. I’m running for the future. Yes, we have some policy differences, but I’m a proud Democrat,” said Phillips after Welker asked if he has “any major policy critiques” for the Biden administration due to how he seemingly always votes with the president.

Phillips, a distillery heir and one of Congress’ wealthiest members who launched his 2024 presidential bid Thursday, went on to criticize the cost of living in the U.S. before Welker reminded him who he’s running against.

“Congressman, respectfully, you are literally running against President Biden. So, can you tell voters, what is your major point of difference with President Biden?” asked Welker before Phillips reiterated his “running” remark.

“I’m not running against President Biden. I’m running for the majority of Americans, who want somebody different. I woke up the morning after the 2016 –,” he said before Welker interjected.

“But you just announced you’re running for president, aren’t you? That means you’re running against President Biden. That’s literally the definition of what that means,” Welker noted before the congressman said he’s running “because America deserves to have someone listen to them.”

Phillips, who has expressed concerns about Biden’s age ahead of his campaign announcement this week, has sparked criticism among Democrats who fear the run serves as a means to promote himself.

The congressman, who has promised to rally behind the eventual Democratic nominee, told Welker that lawmakers “aren’t listening” to Americans who “want change.”

″So when I hear people in Washington say that this is a mistake or this is nuts, that is exactly the evidence that everybody needs watching right now that something is terribly wrong,” he said.

“We are the exhausted majority of this nonsense. People who are so much more focused on preserving and protecting their power than they are protecting American people.”

I believe that Philips makes some good comments.  However, assuming Biden does not abort his decision to seek the nomination, Philips has little chance of winning.



Robert Card, Gunman in Maine mass shooting, found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wound!

Robert Card

Dear Commons Community,

Robert Card, the 40-year-old firearms instructor suspected of killing 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, was found dead yesterday, officials said.

Card’s body was found near the Androscoggin River in Lisbon Falls at 7:45 p.m., Maine Department of Public Safety Commissioner Mike Sauschuck said. As reported by NBC News and other media.

He had “an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Sauschuck said at a late-night news conference officially announcing his death.

It’s unclear when he died, he said, and officials did not provide an exact location.

The shooter’s body was found near a former place of employment, three law enforcement sources told NBC News. Card worked at a recycling plant, according to two sources.

Leo Madden, a former executive at Maine Recycling in Lisbon Falls, said Card had worked at the facility, but couldn’t say whether he’d been recently fired or left on his own.

Eighteen people were killed in the shootings, when Card, 40, allegedly opened fire at Schemengees Bar and Grille and the Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley Wednesday evening in Lewiston, a city of around 37,000.

Close relatives and loved ones of the victims and the shooter were informed of the news before the news conference, officials said.

“I just don’t want to forget the families that are grieving and will continue to grieve,” Lewiston Police Chief David St. Pierre said.

The development comes after a massive manhunt described earlier by Sauschuck as a “full court press.” More than 350 law enforcement personnel were involved in the search, state police have said.

Residents of Lewiston, as well as several surrounding towns, were told to shelter in place after the shootings. The order was lifted Friday evening. Lewiston, the state’s second-largest city, resembled a ghost town with many businesses closed.

A planned prohibition on hunting for four towns where the suspect might have been — Lewiston, Lisbon, Bowdoin and Monmouth — was withdrawn before it could go into effect at midnight. Saturday, billed as by state wildlife officials as Maine Resident Only Day, is traditionally the state’s most popular day for the sport.

An arrest warrant had been issued for Card for eight counts of murder, Maine State Police said Thursday morning. The eight counts were based on the initial identification of eight of the 18 dead, and the number of counts will probably go up, state police Col. William Ross.

All 18 of the dead have been identified.

A motive in the killings was unknown.

A member of Card’s family said his mental health had deteriorated quickly, and that he began to hear voices.

Card was a longtime Army reservist. His unit commanders sent him to receive psychiatric treatment this summer, and he spent about two weeks undergoing inpatient psychiatric treatment, two senior law enforcement officials said.

After the shootings Wednesday, Card’s Subaru was sought by police and was found later that night by a boat launch along the Androscoggin River in Lisbon, a town around 7 miles southeast of Lewiston, officials have said.

On Thursday, police executed search warrants in Bowdoin, the small town around 12 miles east of Lewiston where Card lived.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement late Friday, “Tonight, Mainers can breathe a collective sigh of relief thanks to the brave first responders who worked night and day to find this killer.”

The mass shooting — the deadliest in Maine history — shocked the state and people across the nation.

President Joe Biden earlier said the United States was mourning “yet another senseless and tragic mass shooting” and Collins called it a “heinous attack.”

Late yesterday, the president marked the last few days as dark ones in the nation’s history.

“Americans should not have to live like this,” he said in a statement that renewed his call for stricter gun laws. “I will continue to do everything in my power to end this gun violence epidemic. The Lewiston community — and all Americans — deserve nothing less.”

Lewiston and the adjacent city of Auburn, just across the Androscoggin River, has a population of around 65,000 people.

Speaking at the news conference, Maine Gov. Janet T. Mills said, “Now is a time to heal.”

Mills described Lewiston as “a great place” with “a history of hard work, of persistence, of faith, of opening its big heart to people everywhere.”

She concluded, “Robert Card is dead.”



Clarence Thomas Never Paid Back a Quarter-Million Dollar RV Loan – Raising Ethics Questions!

Stock photo of a Prevost RV.

Dear Commons Community,

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas never paid back the full amount of a quarter-million-plus loan that financed his high-end RV, according to an investigation by Senate Democrats.  As reported by The Huffington Post and The New York Times.

A report that Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee released on Wednesday found that the Supreme Court justice, who has been the subject of multiple ethics questions this year relating to gifts from wealthy friends and associates, “never repaid” a friend’s $267,230 loan in full after using the money to purchase a high-end Prevost Marathon Le Mirage XL RV in 1999.

The New York Times first reported in August that Thomas’ friend Anthony Welters, a health care executive, provided the loan on terms that were very favorable: For five years, Thomas only had to pay off the interest, or around $20,000 annually. That time frame was later extended to 10 years.

However, the committee said, Thomas did not appear to have paid any of the principal of the loan. Documents provided to the committee suggested that the justice had never paid the loan in full, though the committee noted that it was possible other documents related to the loan existed. (The Times first reported the committee’s findings.)

Among the documents the committee reviewed were handwritten promissory notes for the loan, at an interest rate of 7.5%, and a bank check showing a single payment of $20,042.23 — the annual interest payment — on Dec. 21, 2000. Also included was a November 2008 note handwritten by Welters that indicated Thomas had only been paying interest on the loan and that Welters was not seeking further payments because he believed that the interest payments had exceeded the total purchase price of the RV.

However, if Thomas had paid the annual interest of $20,042 for nine years, he would have paid off approximately $180,000 — or $87,000 short of the total loan amount.

If the principal of the $267,000-plus loan was forgiven, that would have significant tax and ethics implications for the Supreme Court justice. The forgiven loan balance would count as taxable income for Thomas, who would then be required to report it on tax documents. The report also notes that Thomas did not disclose the discharged debt on his 2008 financial disclosure report.

“Justice Thomas should inform the committee exactly how much debt was forgiven and whether he properly reported the loan forgiveness on his tax returns and paid all taxes owed,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the Finance Committee chair, said in a statement. “I have also directed the committee to share our findings with the Judiciary Committee to evaluate the ethics implications of this disclosure.”

A Supreme Court spokesperson did not immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment from Thomas.

In a statement to the Times, Welters said: “While I understand the attention given who this involves, the difference between what you’re comparing to and what happened here is that a friend lent another friend money. As anyone who has borrowed from or lent to family or friends knows, it’s simply not the same as a bank.”

Thomas’ relationships with wealthy, gift-giving benefactors have come under close scrutiny in recent months. In April, ProPublica reported on Thomas’ close relationship with billionaire and Republican donor Harlan Crow, finding that Crow had hosted the justice for extravagant trips and luxury vacations, all unreported on Thomas’ ethics disclosures. Since then, a number of other financial gifts have been revealed, including flights on private jets, Crow’s funding of private school tuition for Thomas’ nephew, and his purchase of a house where Thomas’ mother lived.

Thomas has said in response that the trips and flights were personal invitations from a friend and that he did not believe they had to be disclosed.

The revelations have intensified public calls to formalize an ethics code for the Supreme Court, an idea that legislators and even some members of the court have backed. While justices are required to disclose their financial interests and sources of income, there’s little transparency or oversight and few consequences if the rules are not followed.

Thomas’ RV is considered a luxury model with many customizable features, although Thomas reportedly purchased it secondhand. It also features heavily in the justice’s image of himself, with Thomas describing his usual summer vacation as driving on a cross-country road trip, parking at Walmart overnight.

“We get insulated from the rest of the world, if not isolated. And I kind of like that world. I like the part we fly over,” he said in a courtroom talk in 2019.

God save our judicial system  from the likes of Clarence Thomas!


New Book:  “The Coming Wave” by Mustafa Suleyman

Dear Commons Community,

During my presentation on Wednesday at the OLC Accelerate Conference in Washington, D.C., I cited Mustafa Suleyman’s new book, The Coming Wave: Technology, Power, and the 21st Century’s Greatest Dilemma. As a co-founder of DeepMind, which was taken over by Google, he knows the topic and the issues surrounding artificial intelligence quite well. He warns that the world might not be able to contain what AI will bring (both the good and the bad).  I tend to agree that the problem of “containment” will be difficult mainly because of profit-motives as well as the number of companies (over 50,000) that are developing AI applications throughout the world. No one nation has domain over AI development so wide-scale international agreements would have to be enacted that will be difficult to achieve let alone enforce.  If you are interested in the topic, Suleyman’s book is an important read.

Below is a review that appeared in The Guardian.


The Guardian

The Coming Wave by Mustafa Suleyman review – a tech tsunami

The co-founder of DeepMind issues a terrifying warning about AI and synthetic biology – but how seriously should we take it?

Scott Shapiro

Fri 8 Sep 2023 04.00 EDTLast modified on Wed 13 Sep 2023 09.38 EDT

On 22 February 1946, George Kennan, an American diplomat stationed in Moscow, dictated a 5,000-word cable to Washington. In this famous telegram, Kennan warned that the Soviet Union’s commitment to communism meant that it was inherently expansionist, and urged the US government to resist any attempts by the Soviets to increase their influence. This strategy quickly became known as “containment” – and defined American foreign policy for the next 40 years.

The Coming Wave is Suleyman’s book-length warning about technological expansionism: in close to 300 pages, he sets out to persuade readers that artificial intelligence (AI) and synthetic biology (SB) threaten our very existence and we only have a narrow window within which to contain them before it’s too late. Unlike communism during the cold war, however, AI and SB are not being forced on us. We willingly adopt them because they not only promise unprecedented wealth, but solutions to our most intractable problems – climate change, cancer, possibly even mortality. Suleyman sees the appeal, of course, claiming that these technologies will “usher in a new dawn for humanity”.

An entrepreneur and AI researcher who co-founded DeepMind in 2010, before it was acquired by Google in 2014, Suleyman is at his most compelling when illustrating the promises and perils of this new world. In breezy and sometimes breathless prose, he describes how human beings have finally managed to exert power over intelligence and life itself.

Take the AI revolution. Language models such as ChatGPT are just the beginning. Soon, Suleyman predicts, AI will discover miracle drugs, diagnose rare diseases, run warehouses, optimise traffic, and design sustainable cities. We will be able to tell a computer program to “make a $1 million on Amazon in a few months” and it will carry out our instructions.

The problem is that the same technologies that allow us to cure a disease could be used to cause one – which brings us to the truly terrifying parts of the book. Suleyman notes that the price of genetic sequencing has plummeted, while the ability to edit DNA with technologies such as Crispr has vastly improved. Soon, anyone will be able to set up a genetics lab in their garage. The temptation to manipulate the human genome, he predicts, will be immense.

The problem, however, is that the same technologies that allow us how to cure a disease could be used to cause one

Human mutants, however, are not the only horrors awaiting us. Suleyman envisions AI and SB joining forces to enable malicious actors to concoct novel pathogens. With a 4% transmissibility rate (lower than chickenpox) and 50% case fatality rate (about the same as Ebola), an AI-designed and SB-engineered virus could “cause more than a billion deaths in a matter of months”.

Despite these risks, Suleyman doubts any nation will make the effort to contain these technologies. States are too dependent on their economic benefits. This is the basic dilemma: we cannot afford not to build the very technology that might cause our extinction. Sound familiar?

The Coming Wave is not about the existential threat posed by superintelligent AIs. Suleyman thinks that merely smart AIs will wreak havoc precisely because they will vastly increase human agency in a very short period. Whether via AI-generated cyber-attacks, homebrewed pathogens, the loss of jobs due to technological change, or misinformation aggravating political instability, our institutions are not ready for this tsunami of tech.

He repeatedly tells us that the “wave is coming”, “the coming wave is coming”, even “the coming wave really is coming”. I suppose living through the past 15 years of AI research, and becoming a multimillionaire in the process, would turn anyone into a believer. But if the past is anything to go by, AI is also known for its winters, when initial promise stalled and funding dried up for long periods. Suleyman disregards the real possibility that this will happen again, thereby giving us more time to adapt to and even stem the tide of social change.

But even if progress continues its frenetic pace, it is unlikely that societies will tolerate the ethical abuses Suleyman fears most. When a Chinese scientist revealed in 2018 that he had edited the genes of twin girls, he was sentenced to three years in prison, universally condemned, and there have been no similar reports since. The EU is set to prohibit certain forms of AI – such as facial recognition in public spaces – in its forthcoming AI Act. Normal legal and cultural pushback will probably slow the proliferation of the most disruptive and disturbing practices.

Despite claiming that the containment problem is the “defining challenge of our era”, Suleyman does not support a tech moratorium (he did just start a new AI company). Instead he sets out a series of proposals at the end of the book. They are unfortunately not reassuring.

For example, Suleyman suggests that AI companies spend 20% of R&D funds on safety research, but does not say why companies would divert capital away from rushing their new products to market. He advocates banning AI in political ads, but doing so would violate the first amendment to the US constitution. He proposes an international anti-proliferation treaty, but does not give us any indication of how it might be enforced. At one point, Suleyman hints that the US may need to coerce other countries to comply. “Some measure of anti-proliferation is necessary. And, yes, let’s not shy away from the facts; that means real censorship, possibly beyond national borders.” I don’t know exactly what he means here, but I don’t like the way it sounds.

Suleyman pushes these costly proposals despite conceding that his catastrophic scenarios are tail risks. Yes, the probability of doomsday is low, but the consequences would be so catastrophic that we must treat the possibility as a clear and present danger. One very large elephant in the room is climate change. Unlike the AI apocalypse that may happen in the future, a climate emergency is happening right now. This July was the hottest on record. Containing carbon, not AI, is the defining challenge of our era. Yet here, Suleyman is strikingly and conveniently optimistic. He believes that AI will solve the climate emergency. That is a happy thought – but if AI will solve the climate problem, why can’t it solve the containment problem too?

If the book’s predictions about AI are accurate, we can safely ignore its proposals. Wait a few years and we can just ask ChatGPT-5, -6, or -7 how to handle the coming wave.

Scott Shapiro is professor of law and philosophy at Yale University.