108 arrested at pro-Palestinian protest at Columbia University!

A Pro-Israel protest and a Pro-Palestinian counter protest took place at Columbia University yesterday. (Kelsea Petersen / NBC News)

Dear Commons Community,

One day after Columbia University President Nemat “Minouche” Shafik testified before the U.S. Congress, over 100 people were arrested and issued summonses for trespass after protesters set up an encampment at the University in support of Gaza, police said.

The demonstrators occupied the space on the university’s South Lawn for 30 hours, Mayor Eric Adams said after the arrests yesterday. Columbia asked the NYPD for help and said the students had been suspended and were refusing to leave, police said.  As reported by NBC News.

“Columbia University’s students have a proud history of protests and raising their voices,” Adams said, but he said that they don’t have the right to violate university policies.

“We will not be a city of lawlessness,” Adams said.

One of the protesters, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s daughter Isra Hirsi, 21, who attends neighboring Barnard College in Manhattan, said on social media platform X that she was suspended for “standing in solidarity with Palestinians facing a genocide,” along with at least two other students.

Hirsi, an organizer with a student group that advocates for Palestinians, said this was her first time being punished as a student activist in her three years at the New York City school.

“Those of us in Gaza Solidarity Encampment will not be intimidated,” she wrote.

More than 108 were arrested and given summonses for trespass, including Hirsi, police said. Two of those people were also charged with obstruction of governmental administration, according to authorities.

The students that were arrested were peaceful, did not resist “and saying what they wanted to say in a peaceful manner,” NYPD Commissioner Edward Caban said.

But around 500 other students left class and surrounded the quad “and were telling us that we’re the KKK,” among other insults, Caban said. Video from the scene obtained by NBC News shows crowds chanting “shame on you!” but does not capture the entire incident.

Columbia University’s president, Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, said in a memo to police earlier yesterday that more than 100 people were occupying the area.

“I have determined that the encampment and related disruptions pose a clear and present danger to the substantial functioning of the University,” the memo said.

Shafik said the demonstrators were trespassing, refusing to disperse and damaging campus property, among other violations.

In a statement Thursday, Shafik said she authorized police to clear the encampment “out of an abundance of concern” for safety on campus.

By late Thursday afternoon, police had disassembled the original tent encampment, but protesters were beginning to build a new one on an adjacent lawn.

“Columbia is committed to allowing members of our community to engage in political expression — within established rules and with respect for the safety of all,” the memo said.

Barnard said its staff identified its students who were at the encampment and told them to leave or face sanctions. Those still there Thursday morning were placed on interim suspension, the university said. The camp was set up during the early morning hours of Wednesday, it said.

Barnard did not say how many students were suspended or confirm that Hirsi was among them. It did not say how long the suspension would last but said it would continue to suspend students who stay.

“Now and always, we prioritize our students’ learning and living in an inclusive environment free from harassment,” the school said in a memo about the suspensions.

Hirsi could not be immediately reached for comment.

Omar did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Democrat, who represents Minnesota, is a Somali refugee who made history as one of the first two Muslim American women elected to Congress.

On Wednesday, Omar questioned Shafik about protests on campus during a congressional hearing in which Shafik strongly denounced antisemitism.

Omar told Shafik she was “appalled” to learn that Columbia suspended six students this month for their involvement in a pro-Palestinian panel event on campus.

“There has been a recent attack on the democratic rights of students across the country,” Omar said.

At a news conference by Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine held outside Columbia University President Minouche Shafik’s residence, student Layla Saliba condemned the clearing of the camp.

“What happened today at Columbia University was an act of violence towards Arab, Muslim, Palestinian students, Jewish students and just anybody who supports Palestinian liberation,” she said.

Saliba, in the school of social work, and others criticized Shafik, including for her testimony before Congress Wednesday. The arrests are part of an effort on campus to attack those with pro-Palestinian views, she said.

A difficult issue being faced by a number of college presidents!

Tony

New York Governor Kathy Hochul Announces Funding for New Consortium – Empire AI

Dear Commons Community,

In announcing the new NYS Budget yesterday, Governor Kathy Hochul indicated that the State would be making good  on its January 2024 proposal to fund a new consortium of colleges and universities entitled, Empire AI, whose main function would be to put the State at the forefront of AI development.  Empire AI will include seven founding institutions—Columbia, Cornell University, New York University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY), and the Simons Foundation. A tentative plan would be to house an AI center at the SUNY University Center at Buffalo.

Below is a more detailed description of the Empire AI initiative.

Good move on the part of Governor Hochul and the State of New York!

Tony

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Governor Kathy Hochul today announced the creation of a consortium to secure New York’s place at the forefront of the artificial intelligence transformation. The consortium, named Empire AI, will create and launch a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence computing center in Upstate New York to be used by New York’s leading institutions to promote responsible research and development, create jobs, and unlock AI opportunities focused on public good. Governor Hochul also released a new policy to ensure agencies within state government understand how to responsibly harness the opportunity of AI technology to better serve New Yorkers.

“Since the days of the Erie Canal, New York has always led the nation on technology and innovation,” Governor Hochul said. “The Empire AI consortium will be transformative: Bringing jobs and opportunity to New York and making us a global leader in this groundbreaking sector. Together with our partners in academia and the private sector, we’ll harness the power of artificial intelligence and ensure this technology is being used for the public interest.”

Access to the computing resources that power AI systems is prohibitively expensive and difficult to obtain. These resources are increasingly concentrated in the hands of large technology companies, who maintain outsized control of the AI development ecosystem. As a result, researchers, public interest organizations, and small companies are being left behind, which has enormous implications for AI safety and society at large. Empire AI will bridge this gap and accelerate the development of AI centered in public interest for New York State. Enabling this pioneering AI research and development will also help educational institutions incubate the AI-focused technology startups of the future, driving job growth.

Empire AI will be a consortium that includes seven founding institutions—Columbia, Cornell University, New York University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY), and the Simons Foundation. By increasing collaboration between New York State’s world-class research institutions, Empire AI will allow for efficiencies of scale not able to be achieved by any single university, empower and attract top notch faculty and expand educational opportunity, and give rise to a wave of responsible innovation that will significantly strengthen our state’s economy and our national security. The University of Buffalo is under consideration as a potential site.

Bringing together AI researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and others, the initiative will be funded by over $400 million in public and private investment. This includes up to $275 million from the State in grant and other funding, and more than $125 million from the founding institutions and other private partners including the Simons Foundation and Tom Secunda. The Simon Foundation’s Flatiron Institute is a community of scientists working to advance research through computational methods, including data analysis, theory, modeling and simulation. Tom Secunda is co-founder of Bloomberg LP and the Secunda Family Foundation, which provides millions of dollars a year in grants to conservation, healthcare, scientific advancement and other causes.

The Governor has also directed the Office of Information Technology Services to issue a first-of-its-kind AI Policy, which can be found here. The Policy establishes the principles and parameters by which state agencies can evaluate and adopt AI systems to better serve New Yorkers, including for example, helping to match people with jobs, more efficiently delivering benefits, exploring accessibility tools, and identifying and mitigating cyber threats. The Policy will also ensure agencies remain vigilant about evaluating any risks of using AI systems and protecting against unwanted outcomes.

Today’s announcements build on Governor Hochul’s commitment to making New York a leader in cutting-edge technology development, bringing companies like Micron and TTM Technologies to the state and investing in advanced semiconductor research and manufacturing in Albany. Governor Hochul has also advanced projects to get technology into New York’s schools. In December, the Governor broke ground on the Syracuse Science, Technology, Arts and Math High School — Central New York’s first regional technical high school. In July, Governor Hochul announced New York State Pathways in Technology had been awarded $31.5 million dollars in funding to prepare New York students for high-skill jobs in technology.

New York State Office of Information Technology Services Chief Information Officer and Director Dru Rai said, “The establishment of the first-ever statewide policy governing AI will serve as a roadmap to leverage this rapidly emerging technology to find maximum benefit while mitigating risk, and complement the extraordinary work our employees are already doing to benefit the people of New York. Under the leadership of Governor Hochul, we are proud to play an important role in the state’s next phase of AI, and these guidelines will ensure we do so fairly, responsibly and transparently.”

SUNY Chancellor John B. King, Jr. said, “Governor Hochul’s EmpireAI initiative will put crucial resources in the hands of SUNY’s extraordinary researchers and educators. These cutting-edge scientific tools will be utilized to both spur innovation, and establish best practices for the ethical use of AI’s transformative power. SUNY is proud to lead the charge in this emerging field, and to be part of Governor Hochul’s nation-leading consortium.”

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said, “New York’s higher education institutions, including CUNY, have long been leaders in research and scholarship and this new initiative and computational facility will allow us to collectively advance and utilize AI technology and create a national model for this work. I’m grateful to Governor Hochul for her leadership and to partners like the Simons Foundation whose investment in Empire AI will allow CUNY to participate in this effort and continue elevating the transformative power of research for the public good.”

Columbia University President Minouche Shafik said, “The vision for Empire AI is to provide the academic research community in New York with a state-of-the-art computational facility that supports cutting-edge research. We are grateful to Governor Hochul for her bold vision to ensure that academic institutions in New York State can remain competitive and forward-looking as this fast-moving technology continues to transform our lives. Columbia is thrilled to be part of this initiative.”

Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack said, “I am excited to see the development of this shared computing facility, which will fast-track cutting-edge research and responsible AI tools to the benefit of all New Yorkers. As artificial intelligence promises to transform our economy, accelerate medical breakthroughs, and offer unprecedented tools for research, it is imperative that academic research institutions like Cornell partner to optimize AI technology in service of the public good. I especially want to thank Governor Hochul for a groundbreaking approach that will unlock pioneering AI research by and with Cornell faculty, and put New York at the forefront of artificial intelligence innovation.”

New York University President Linda G. Mills said, “Scientific discovery and innovation across various fields is the product of hard work and collaboration, and is increasingly fueled by access to ever greater computing power. NYU is excited to join our fellow academic partners across the city and state to ensure Empire AI helps New York remain one of the world’s leading tech capitals and at the forefront of AI technology. We also thank Governor Kathy Hochul for her leadership and commitment to this kind of long-term investment, which enables great universities to conduct important research and, in turn, to contribute to New York’s prosperity, create new jobs and new economic sectors, and secure New York State’s tech leadership position well into the future.”

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Martin A. Schmidt said, “Since our founding 200 years ago, our mission at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has been to advance technological discovery for the benefit of all. Now, in the century to come and as an inaugural member of Empire AI, we will continue that mission by further exploring how artificial intelligence can improve everyone’s lives. We applaud Governor Hochul’s vision to bring together the state’s foremost research institutions to realize tangible applications of AI that are pioneering, powerful and safe.”

Simons Foundation President David Spergel said, “The Simons Foundation is excited to be a partner in building this new AI facility that will enable researchers at CUNY, the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute and other NY State partners to have access to cutting edge facilities.”

Bloomberg LP Co-Founder and Vice Chairman Tom Secunda said, “Empire AI is an incredible step forward to ensure our state and nation can harness, understand, and thoughtfully put to work the latest in artificial intelligence and computation to explore new frontiers and serve all New Yorkers. I am grateful for the Governor’s leadership and the State’s partnership to bring this to reality. It will dutifully serve a generation of researchers and bring hope and opportunity to all.”

Tech:NYC President & CEO Julie Samuels said, “Empire AI is exciting because it firmly places our state at the epicenter of AI development. By bringing together some of the country’s leading research institutions, along with private sector partners, we’re ensuring that access to world-class computing power is shared across global companies, non-profit institutions, and academic experts in New York. AI technologies are poised to transform the ways we live and work, and these partnerships are key to generating the flywheel effect of groundbreaking innovation and entrepreneurship across the state. With Empire AI, we’re pioneering safe, equitable, and accessible AI innovations that will benefit every corner of New York’s economy.”

 

The Gutting of the Liberal Arts – SUNY Potsdam Retrenches Seven Tenured Faculty!

Courtesy of The Chronicle of Higher Education; Istock.

Dear Commons Community,

David C.K. Curry, a professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Potsdam, has a featured article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, in which ” he reviews how colleges including his own are retrenching faculty and “gutting” the liberal arts.  Here is an excerpt:

“The State University of New York at Potsdam, where I teach, recently fired seven tenured faculty members, at least one of whom had worked there for more than 35 years. The precise number of contract nonrenewals on top of this is a closely guarded secret. Eighteen programs have been discontinued, and more have been so depleted as not to have any full-time faculty members at all. This, it was recently announced, is just the first round of cuts.

Without warning, the soon-to-be-retrenched were summoned to a mandatory meeting and told they would be let go in a year. A “realignment” plan announced in February 2022 was the writing on the wall. In my own department, philosophy, the realignment plan seemed to confirm what we had suspected: that we were victims of a multiyear effort to kill off our program, first revealed by the refusal to replace two of our department’s four full-time faculty colleagues when they retired, in 2018 and 2020.”

He goes to comment how what happened at Potsdam is playing itself out in other colleges and universities.

“This is a tale that is already old from the retelling. The steep cuts at West Virginia University brought the story into national focus, but similar “realignments,” “transformations,” and “restructurings” have been unfolding for the last three years. At Emporia State University, in Kansas, 30 faculty members were laid off in September 2022 because of “extreme financial pressure.” SUNY-Fredonia and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro have recently announced planned program and personnel cuts that follow the template to a tee. Marquette, Valparaiso, Wright State — the list is constantly growing.”

This is a sad and difficult time for the liberal arts and for much of higher education.  Curry’s piece is important reading.

Tony

 

Ezra Klein: Happy 20th Anniversary, Gmail. I’m Sorry I’m Leaving You!

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Ezra Klein, had an interesting piece last week entitled,Happy 20th Anniversary, Gmail. I’m Sorry I’m Leaving You,” in which he comments on why after being a twenty-year user of Gmail,  he decided “to euthanize” his account.  He reviews the history of Gmail and its impressive “technological triumphs”  but then laments “What they (Gmail)  thought was a priority and what I thought was a priority diverged.”  His main concern was that he received too much email that was irrelevant because Gmail was “monetizing”  user accounts.  I started having the same feelings as Klein years ago.  I did not “euthanized” my account but I do not use it very often and never give out my Gmail address to anyone needing to email me.

Below is Klein’s entire column.

Tony

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The New York Times

Happy 20th Anniversary, Gmail. I’m Sorry I’m Leaving You.

April 7, 2024

By Ezra Klein

Opinion Columnist

There is no end of theories for why the internet feels so crummy these days. The New Yorker blames the shift to algorithmic feeds. Wired blames a cycle in which companies cease serving their users and begin monetizing them. The M.I.T. Technology Review blames ad-based business models. The Verge blames search engines. I agree with all these arguments. But here’s another: Our digital lives have become one shame closet after another.

A shame closet is that spot in your home where you cram the stuff that has nowhere else to go. It doesn’t have to be a closet. It can be a garage or a room or a chest of drawers or all of them at once. Whatever the space, it is defined by the absence of choices about what goes into it. There are things you need in there. There are things you will never need in there. But as the shame closet grows, the task of excavation or organization becomes too daunting to contemplate.

The shame closet era of the internet had a beginning. It was 20 years ago that Google unveiled Gmail. If you were not an internet user back then, it is hard to describe the astonishment that greeted Google’s announcement. Inboxes routinely topped out at 15 megabytes. Google was offering a free gigabyte, dozens and dozens of times more. Everyone wanted in. But you had to be invited. I remember jockeying for one of those early invites. I remember the thrill of finding one. I felt lucky. I felt chosen.

A few months ago, I euthanized that Gmail account. I have more than a million unread messages in my inbox. Most of what’s there is junk. But not all of it. I was missing too much that I needed to see. Search could not save me. I didn’t know what I was looking for. Google’s algorithms had begun failing me. What they thought was a priority and what I thought was a priority diverged. I set up an auto-responder telling anyone and everyone who emailed me that the address was dead.

Behind Gmail was an astonishing technological triumph. The cost of storage was collapsing. In 1985, a gigabyte of hard drive memory cost around $75,000. By 1995, it was around $750. Come 2004 — the year Gmail began — it was a few dollars. Today, it’s less than a penny. Now Gmail offers 15 gigabytes free. What a marvel. What a mess.

Gmail’s promise — vast storage mediated by powerful search tools — became the promise of virtually everything online. According to iCloud, I have more than 23,000 photos and almost 2,000 videos resting somewhere on Apple’s servers. I have tens of thousands of songs liked somewhere in Spotify. How much is jotted down in my Notes app? How many conversations do I have stored in Messages, in WhatsApp, in Signal, in Twitter and Instagram and Facebook DMs? There is so much I loved in those archives. There is so much I would delight in rediscovering. But I can’t find what matters in the morass. I’ve given up on trying.

What began with our files soon came for our friends and family. The social networks made it easy for anyone we’ve ever met, and plenty of people we never met, to friend and follow us. We could communicate with them all at once without communing with them individually at all. Or so we were told. The idea that we could have so much community with so little effort was an illusion. We are digitally connected to more people than ever and terribly lonely nevertheless. Closeness requires time, and time has not fallen in cost or risen in quantity.

The digital giants profit off my passivity. I now pay Apple and Google a monthly fee for more storage. It would take too long to delete everything necessary to remain beneath their limits. Various algorithms attempt to do for me what I no longer do for myself. They present me with pictures from my past and offer to sell me books of my own memories. They serve me up songs that are like the ones I’ve loved before but lost long ago. My feed is stuffed with recommended content from influencers and advertisers who mean nothing to me.

A few months ago, I vowed to take back control of my digital life. I began with my email. I subscribed to Hey, an email service that takes a very different view of how email should work. Gmail and virtually all of its competitors assume anyone should be able to email you and then you should store and sort and search and categorize those messages. Hey assumes that only the people you want email from should be able to email you.

The first time anyone sends you a message, it goes into what’s called the Screener, and you have to whitelist or blackball the sender. If you blackball the sender, that’s it. You never see email from that address again. It also has another feature I love: a clean screen for replying to emails, so you can think and compose without the visual clutter common to so many other services.

Hey forces me to make choices rather than encourage me to avoid them. I constantly have to ask whether I want email from this or that sender, and if so, where it should go. Which is not to say Hey is perfect or even that it fully solves the problems I’m describing. Its search is far inferior to Google’s. It’s too hard to rediscover mail that I’ve viewed but took no action on. There’s no way of sorting different kinds of mail that come from the same address. It has trouble threading long conversations with many, many participants. I miss the easy integration with all the other Google products I need to use.

But for me, for now, the friction is what I’m looking for. I am grateful — genuinely — for what Google and Apple and others did to make digital life easy over the past two decades. But too much ease carries a cost. I was lulled into the belief that I didn’t have to make decisions. Now my digital life is a series of monuments to the cost of combining maximal storage with minimal intention.

I have thousands of photos of my children but few that I’ve set aside to revisit. I have records of virtually every text I’ve sent since I was in college but no idea how to find the ones that meant something. I spent years blasting my thoughts to millions of people on X and Facebook even as I fell behind on correspondence with dear friends. I have stored everything and saved nothing.

I do not blame anyone but myself for this. This is not something the corporations did to me. This is something I did to myself. But I am looking now for software that insists I make choices rather than whispers that none are needed. I don’t want my digital life to be one shame closet after another. A new metaphor has taken hold for me: I want it to be a garden I tend, snipping back the weeds and nourishing the plants.

 

House Speaker Mike Johnson declares he will stay on in face of threats from right-wing Republicans over national security aid package!

Courtesy of Tom Williams Credit: CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Dear Commons Community,

Defiant and determined, House Speaker Mike Johnson pushed back yesterday against mounting Republican anger over his proposed U.S. aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other allies, and rejected a call to step aside or risk a vote to oust him from office.  As reported by The Associated Press.

“I am not resigning,” Johnson said after a testy morning meeting of fellow House Republicans at the Capitol.

Johnson referred to himself as a “wartime speaker” of the House and indicated in his strongest self-defense yet he would press forward with a U.S. national security aid package, a situation that would force him to rely on Democrats to help pass it, over objections from his weakened majority.

“We are simply here trying to do our jobs,” Johnson said, calling the motion to oust him “absurd … not helpful.”

But as night fell, the speaker’s resolve collided with Republican opposition to his plan.

For hours, Johnson holed up at the Capitol with lawmakers sorting through their alternative strategies, particularly ways to attach U.S.-Mexico border security measures to the package. No bill text was released, putting passage of any aid this week in serious doubt.

“We’ll see,” Johnson said about the legislation, ducking into a meeting that dragged toward midnight.

Yesterday had initially brought a definitive shift in tone from both the House Republicans and the speaker himself at a pivotal moment as the embattled leader tries, against the wishes of his majority, to marshal the votes needed to send the stalled national security aid for Israel, Ukraine and other overseas allies to passage.

Johnson spoke over the weekend with President Joe Biden as well as other congressional leaders about the emerging U.S. aid package, which the speaker plans to move in separate votes for each section — with bills for Ukraine, Israel, the Indo-Pacific region. He spoke to Biden about it again late Monday.

After Johnson briefed the president, White House officials said they were taking a wait-and-see approach until the text of the speaker’s plan is released and the procedural pathway becomes more clear.

“It does appear at first blush, that the speaker’s proposal will, in fact, help us get aid to Ukraine, aid to Israel and needed resources to the Indo-Pacific for a wide range of contingencies there,” John Kirby, the White House’s national security spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday.

The speaker is considering a complicated approach that would break apart the Senate’s $95 billion aid package for separate votes, and then either stitch it back together or send the components to the Senate for final passage, and potentially onto the White House for the president’s signature.

All told, it would require the speaker to cobble together bipartisan majorities with different factions of House Republicans and Democrats on each measure.

Additionally, Johnson is preparing a fourth measure that would include various Republican-preferred national security priorities, such as a plan to seize some Russian assets in U.S. banks to help fund Ukraine and another to turn the economic aid for Ukraine into loans. It could also include provisions to sanction Iran over its weekend attack on Israel, among others.

The speaker’s emerging plan is not an automatic deal-breaker for Democrats in the House and Senate, but the more Republicans try to pile on their priorities the further they push Democrats away from any compromise.

During their own closed-door meeting, Leader Hakeem Jeffries said House Democrats would not accept a “penny less” than the $9 billion in humanitarian aid that senators had included in their package with money for Gaza, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss it.

Johnson will need Democratic votes to pass aspects of his package, but Democratic support for Israel is slipping in both the House and Senate amid the Netanyahu government’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza that has left 30,000 people dead. A previous House GOP bill for Israel gutted the assistance for Gaza.

House Republicans, meanwhile, were livid that Johnson would be leaving their top priority — efforts to impose more security at the U.S.-Mexico border — on the sidelines. Some predicted Johnson will not be able to push ahead with voting on the package this week, as planned.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., called the morning meeting an “argument fest.”

When the speaker said the House GOP’s priority border security bill H.R. 2 would not be considered germane to the package, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a chief sponsor, said it’s for the House to determine which provisions and amendments are relevant.

“Things are very unresolved,” Roy said.

The speaker faces a threat of ouster from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., the top Trump ally who has filed a motion to vacate the speaker from office in a snap vote — much the way Republicans ousted their former speaker, Kevin McCarthy, last fall..

While Greene has not said if or when she will force the issue, and has not found much support for her plan after last year’s turmoil over McCarthy’s exit, she drew at least one key backer Tuesday.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., rose in the meeting and suggested Johnson should step aside, pointing to the example of John Boehner, an even earlier House speaker who announced an early resignation in 2015 rather than risk a vote to oust him, according to Republicans in the room.

“Speaker Johnson must announce a resignation date and allow Republicans to elect a new Speaker to put America First and pass a Republican agenda,” Greene wrote on social media, thanking Massie for his support for her motion to vacate.

Johnson did not respond, but told the lawmakers they have a “binary choice” before them.

The speaker explained they either try to pass the package as he is proposing or risk facing a discharge petition from Democrats that would force a vote on their preferred package — the Senate approved measure. But that would leave behind the extra Republican priorities.

Later Johnson drew prominent support from six Republican committee chairmen in a unified show of force.

“There is nothing our adversaries would love more than if Congress were to fail to pass critical national security aid,” said Reps. Tom Cole of Appropriations, Ken Calvert of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, Mario Diaz-Balart of the State and Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee, Mike Rogers of the Armed Services Committee, Michael McCaul of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Mike Turner of the Intelligence committee in a joint statement.

“We don’t have time to spare,” the chairman said. “We need to pass this aid package this week.”

As the House debates, Ukraine faces increasing difficulty fighting Russia’s invasion.

Lawmakers have stepped up their efforts to explain to Americans that the overseas aid to Ukraine largely flows to U.S. defense manufacturers to bolster production of missiles, munitions and other military provisions then sent abroad.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this week on social media the U.S. and others’ response to Iran’s attack on Israel shows the potential of what can be done with “allied action.”

Johnson is in a most difficult position with the looney right-wing Republican representatives in the House!

Tony

Smartmatic settles voter fraud defamation suit against right-wing network OAN

Courtesy of Raw News.

Dear Commons Community,

Voting machine equipment company Smartmatic has settled its lawsuit against San Diego-based right-wing network One America News Network, which it accused of airing false allegations of voter fraud during coverage of the 2020 presidential election.

No details of the settlement were disclosed. Smartmatic lawyers yesterday  filed for a dismissal of the case, which was in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  As reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Smartmatic has filed several lawsuits against conservative outlets that aired former President Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and assertions that President Biden’s victory in 2020 was rigged.

The suits alleged that Smartmatic’s business was damaged by the statements made on the channels in the months following the election.

The company has a $2.7 billion defamation suit pending against Fox News. Another case against Newsmax is moving forward and could go to trial later this year. Fox News has a counterclaim filed against Smartmatic, saying the suit is an attempt to suppress its 1st Amendment rights.

Smartmatic was repeatedly named by Trump lawyers and allies who spread the false election fraud claims in their appearances on the conservative networks. Among the allegations made was one that said the company is controlled by corrupt dictators out of Venezuela.

The voting machine company accused the networks of purposely promoting the lies to keep their disappointed Trump-supporting viewers from tuning out.

Smartmatic’s technology and services were used only in Los Angeles County during the 2020 election and not in any of the swing states that decided the outcome of the presidential contest.

Dominion Voting Systems filed a similar defamation lawsuit against Fox News, which was settled a year ago for $787 million. Dominion also has suits pending against OAN and Newsmax.

Can a Fox News settlement for Smartmatic be far behind?

Tony

Trump’s Truth Social Stock Plummets — Again!

Dear Commons Community,

Shares of Trump Media & Technology Group, the parent company of Donald Trump’s Truth Social platform, plummeted yesterday after the struggling business filed to potentially increase the number of shares for sale.  As reported by The Huffington Post and CNN.

The company’s stock tanked 18%, decreasing its value by hundreds of millions of dollars, after it filed a preliminary prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission detailing plans to offer more than 20 million additional shares. The move appeared to spook investors, worrying them that a massive influx of new shares could deplete the stock price.

Trump Media’s stock has been in a downward spiral since the company went public last month following a merger with a shell company. It debuted on the market at $70.90 a share and dropped to $27 on Monday. As a result, its market value has declined from around $8 billion on its first day of trading to $3.7 billion on Monday.

Trump’s company revealed in an SEC filing two weeks ago that it lost more than $58 million and generated only $4.1 million in revenue last year. As part of the filing, an auditor warned those figures raise “a substantial doubt” about whether Trump Media can “continue as a going concern.” In other words, Truth Social may have to follow in the footsteps of Parler ― another ill-fated conservative social network ― and go out of business. Shares dropped more than 15% that day.

It’s hard to overstate how troubled Truth Social’s financial situation is. For context, Twitter (now known as X) generated more than $660 million in revenue in the year before it went public and $5 billion in the year before it went private under the new ownership of Elon Musk.

Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee for president, launched the company in 2022 after Twitter and Facebook both banned him. Though his suspension on those websites has been lifted, Trump nearly exclusively posts on Truth Social.

His presence on the platform has not proven to be a big draw. It only had about 494,000 monthly active users in February, according to data obtained by CNN. Twitter’s active user base is about 150 times bigger.

Is there a pattern here with Trump having a problem selling gold sneakers, bibles, and now social media platforms!

Tony

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Claims Trump Asked Him To Be His Veep — And He Declined!

Getty Images.

Dear Commons Community,

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. aroused skepticism from both the left and the right yesterday by claiming Donald Trump wanted him to be his vice president.

Kennedy made the dubious claim on X, formerly Twitter, a few days after the former president posted on his Truth Social platform that Kennedy was a “much better” option for Democrats than President Joe Biden ― though he also called Kennedy the “most radical left candidate in the race.”

In Monday’s post, Kennedy responded to the accusation that he’s an “ultra-left radical” by saying that he’s “soooo liberal that [Trump’s] emissaries asked me to be his VP.”

Kennedy claimed he “respectfully declined the offer,” and added: ”I am against President Trump, and President Biden can’t win.”

“Judging by his new website, it looks like President Trump knows who actually can beat him,” Kennedy wrote.

HuffPost reached out to the Trump campaign regarding Kennedy’s claim, but no one immediately responded.

However, Trump campaign adviser Chris LaCivita dismissed the post, saying: “Your a leftie loonie that would never be approached to be on the ticket..sorry!”

Considering that Kennedy, like Trump, has what you might call only a casual relationship with the truth, the post attracted a lot of skeptical comments from both Republicans and Democrats.

Neither can stand the truth!

Tony

 

Los Angeles County’s 101 Freeway to undergo weeks of closures to build wildlife crossing!

P-89, a subadult male mountain lion, was found dead along the shoulder of the 101 Freeway between the DeSoto and Winnetka exits in Woodland Hills on Monday.  (National Park Service)

Dear Commons Community,

My colleagues, Patsy Moskal, sent this story to me.

CNN reported that construction on “the world’s largest wildlife crossing” will close a portion of the Los Angeles County’s 101 Freeway overnight on weekdays for several weeks..

The crossing will span 10 lanes of highway and aim to provide safe passage for wildlife – especially mountain lions – from the Santa Monica Mountains into the Simi Hills of the Santa Susana mountain range.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) began constructing the crossing in April 2022, CNN previously reported. As the project nears completion in 2025, the bridge will be covered in soil and native plants to blend in with the natural surroundings.

Officials say major highways are barriers to wildlife, affecting animals’ movement and gene pools.

Caltrans says the crossing will be the largest of its type in the US, while the project’s official website says it will be the largest in the world and “will serve as a global model for urban wildlife conservation.”

Starting Monday, all southbound lanes of the highway in the Agoura Hills area will be closed from Cheseboro Road to Liberty Canyon Road for about five hours beginning at 11:59 p.m. PT on weekdays, according to Caltrans.

Closures will shift to northbound lanes as work on the crossing progresses, the department said.

“These closures are for the safety of the public while crews place girders over the freeway to construct the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, a vegetated bridge across Highway 101 to reconnect wildlife habitat,” Caltrans said.

The schedule is subject to change because of weather conditions or operational reasons, and detours on local streets will be provided.

Courtesy of NBC News.

More than 5,000 individual contributions were made for building the crossing, Caltrans said when the project began. It is named for the president and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation, a family foundation that supports non-profits.

“We can coexist side by side with all kinds of wild instead of paving it over and choking it off,” said Wallis Annenberg at the groundbreaking ceremony. “It is about bringing more attention to an ingenious solution so urban wildlife and ecosystems like this one cannot only survive, but thrive.”

The crossing will provide habitat access to coyotes, bobcats, deer, snakes, lizards, toads and even ants, but cougars will be among its chief beneficiaries, the National Parks Service has said.

Mountain lions typically have a territory of 150-200 miles but in Los Angeles, they have been restricted to a freeway-ringed “urban island,” causing inbreeding, according to the NPS.

“Genetic analyses indicate that lions in the Santa Monica Mountains have among the lowest genetic diversity of any mountain lion population ever documented,” the NPS said.

The project’s website notes the crossing will “provide the connectivity needed to fix this genetic collapse by allowing for the cats living north of the Santa Monica Mountains to travel into the range and for animals living south of the freeway to disperse out of the area.”

Famed mountain lion P-22 was born in the Santa Monica Mountains and had crossed two busy Southern California highways, only to become isolated and roam Los Angeles’ sprawling Griffith Park.

The beloved cougar was euthanized in late 2022 after suffering severe injuries consistent with being struck by a vehicle and chronic conditions that impaired his ability to function in the wild, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A very worthwhile project.

Save the mountain lions!

Tony

 

Librarians fear new penalties, even prison, as activists challenge books!

The Associated Press.

Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press has a featured article entitled, “Librarians fear new penalties, even prison, as activists challenge books” that highlights issues faced by librarians in states that have imposed restrictions and book bans in school libraries. It reviews well the state of censorship that has rocked the librarian profession which for centuries has been our country’s beacon for freedom of speech and expression. Below is the entire article.

Please read!

Tony

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The Associated Press

Librarians fear new penalties, even prison, as activists challenge books

By HILLEL ITALIE and KIMBERLEE KRUESI

April 9, 2024

When an illustrated edition of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was released in 2019, educators in Clayton, Missouri needed little debate before deciding to keep copies in high school libraries. The book is widely regarded as a classic work of dystopian literature about the oppression of women, and a graphic novel would help it reach teens who struggle with words alone.

But after Missouri legislators passed a law in 2022 subjecting librarians to fines and possible imprisonment for allowing sexually explicit materials on bookshelves, the suburban St. Louis district reconsidered the new Atwood edition, and withdrew it.

“There’s a depiction of a rape scene, a handmaid being forced into a sexual act,” says Tom Bober, Clayton district’s library coordinator and president of the Missouri Association of School Librarians. “It’s literally one panel of the graphic novel, but we felt it was in violation of the law in Missouri.”

Across the country, book challenges and bans have soared to the highest levels in decades. Public and school-based libraries have been inundated with complaints from community members and conservative organizations such as as Moms for Liberty. Increasingly, lawmakers are considering new punishments — crippling lawsuits, hefty fines, and even imprisonment — for distributing books some regard as inappropriate.

The trend comes as officials seek to define terms such as “obscene” and “harmful.” Many of the conflicts involve materials featuring racial and/or LGBTQ+ themes, such as Toni Morrison’s novel, “The Bluest Eye,” and Maia Kobabe’s memoir, “Gender Queer.” And while no librarian or educator has been jailed, the threat alone has led to more self-censorship.

Already this year, lawmakers in more than 15 states have introduced bills to impose harsh penalties on libraries or librarians.

Utah enacted legislation in March that empowers the state’s Attorney General to enforce a new system of challenging and removing “sensitive” books from school settings. The law also creates a panel to monitor compliance and violations.

Awaiting Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s signature is a bill that empowers local prosecutors to bring charges against public and school libraries if they don’t move “harmful” materials away from children.

“The laws are designed to limit or remove legal protections that libraries have had for decades,” says Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Since the early 1960s, institutions including schools, libraries and museums — as well as educators, librarians and other staffers who distribute materials to children — have largely been exempt from expensive lawsuits or potential criminal charges.

These protections began showing up in states as America grappled with standards surrounding obscenity, which was defined by the Supreme Court in 1973.

Ruling 5-4 in Miller v. California, the justices said obscene materials are not automatically protected by the First Amendment, and offered three criteria that must be met for being labeled obscene: whether the work, taken as a whole, appeals to “prurient interest,” whether “the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law,” and whether the work lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Eventually, almost every state adopted protections for educators, librarians and museum officials, among others who provide information to minors.

“Until recently, police and prosecutors were unable to pursue charges against public libraries over materials that make certain individuals uncomfortable. These exemptions have prevented spurious prosecutions of teachers over health and sexuality curriculum, art, theater, and difficult subjects in English classes,” stated a 2023 report from EveryLibrary, a national political action committee that opposes censorship.

Arkansas and Indiana targeted educators and librarians with criminalization laws last year. Tennessee criminalized publishers that provide “obscene” materials to public schools.

Some Republicans are seeking penalties and restrictions that would apply nationwide. Referring to “pornography” in the foreword to Project 2025, the Heritage Foundation’s blueprint for a possible second Donald Trump administration, the right-wing group’s president, Kevin Roberts, wrote that the “people who produce and distribute it should be imprisoned. Educators and public librarians who purvey it should be classed as registered sex offenders.”

Arkansas’ version was temporarily blocked by a federal judge after a coalition of librarians and publishers challenged the legality of subjecting librarians and booksellers to criminal charges if they provide “harmful” materials to minors.

Indiana lawmakers stripped away “educational purposes” as a defense for school librarians and educators charged with giving minors “obscene” or “harmful” material — felonies punishable by up to 2½ years in jail and $10,000 in fines. The law also requires public catalogs of what’s in each school library and systems for responding to complaints.

Indiana’s law took effect January 1. It’s likely a matter of when — not if — a lawsuit is filed, and the anxiety has created a chilling effect.

“It’s putting fear into some people. It’s very scary,” said Diane Rogers, a school librarian who serves as president of the Indiana Library Federation. “If you’re a licensed teacher just being charged with a felony potentially gets rid of your license even if you’re found innocent. That’s a very serious thing.”

Rogers said she’s confident Indiana’s school libraries don’t offer obscene materials, but she’s seen reports that some districts have moved certain titles to higher age groups or required parental approval to check them out.

A PEN America list shows 300 titles were removed from school libraries across 11 Missouri districts after lawmakers in 2022 banned “sexually explicit” material, punishable by up to a year in jail or a $2,000 fine. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri and library groups challenged the law last year, but it remains in effect pending a motion for the state to intervene.

“Gender Queer” is another title no longer available to high schoolers in Clayton, where district officials recently turned their attention to Mike Curato’s graphic novel, “Flamer,” about a teenager who struggles with his sexual identity and how to fit in at Boy Scout camp. The American Library Association included “Flamer” on its list of 2023’s most challenged and/or banned books.

“We had a lot of conversations about how to interpret the law and not be in violation,” Bober said. “But we also didn’t want to overreach and overcensor our collections. With ‘Flamer,’ we did not feel we were in violation of the law.”