Frank Bruni on Trump’s Visit to the Centers of Three Western Religions – “Clutch the Rosary Beads!”

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist Frank Bruni comments on Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican. Given the mess he is in, it is fitting that the President is turning to God.  Here is an excerpt:

He has fled the country — not a moment too soon! — for his first foreign excursion since taking office, and it’s less a conventional presidential trip than a roving seminar in world religions: Islam (Saudi Arabia is the first stop), Judaism (Israel is second) and Roman Catholicism (the Vatican is the capper).

I’m especially eager for his communion with Pope Francis, an entry in the annals of odd couples that ranks somewhere just above Oscar and Felix, and below Mork and Mindy.

One of them is splenetic. The other is ascetic. One sins. The other redeems. Cue the metaphors and clutch your rosary beads.

They’ve a history, these two, and it’s not pretty. During the campaign, Francis denounced the notion of a wall along the Mexican border, and Trump didn’t exactly turn the other cheek. “Disgraceful!” he shot back, confirming his willingness to make an adversary of anyone, no matter how tall the miter.

But they can skip over that and look to future matters like the reportedly imminent nomination of Callista Gingrich as America’s next ambassador to the Vatican. She’s Newt’s third wife, who was sleeping with him when he was still married to his second. Time and, it seems, annulments have washed the couple clean.

The president intended his pilgrimage as a statement that the diverse peoples of the world can and should get along — and that he, Trump, had the stature and sway to point them toward peace. This was to be a moment of bold leadership.

But on the heels of the worst two weeks of a ceaselessly beleaguered presidency, it looks more like a hasty retreat. Plus, there’s the continued wonder — the comedy, really — of watching a man so unabashedly profane pay such ostentatious heed to the sacred… 

…Facts are turning out to be as important as attitudes. Every hour brings some fresh mortification for his administration. A special counsel is commencing work. Words like “Watergate” and “obstruction of justice” whip through the air. If I were Trump, I’d probably get out of town, too.

And I’d definitely pray.”

Bruni has captured this presidential moment!



Notre Dame Students Plan Walkout over Commencement Speaker Mike Pence!

Dear Commons Community,

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to be the main speaker at Notre Dame University’s commencement exercises.  A Notre Dame student group is planning to walk out in protest.  As reported by MIC:

“Student activist group We Stand For is organizing a protest against Pence during Sunday’s commencement exercises, in which participants will walk out of the ceremony when Pence begins speaking to stand in solidarity with those affected by his damaging policies.

“For us, there’s nothing that could be more in the spirit of the university and the university mission than to stand up for human dignity and the most vulnerable among us,” We Stand For organizer Luis Miranda said in an interview.

In addition to students, a Facebook event for the protest encourages all attendees, including faculty and students’ families, to participate in the protest.

“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a vice president, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and fought against sanctuary cities,” We Stand For said in a statement, as quoted by ThinkProgress. “All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.”

As part of the commencement ceremony, Pence will also be conferred with an honorary degree, the Notre Dame website notes. He will be the first vice president to deliver the commencement address at the university, which is located in Pence’s home state of Indiana.”

This will create a quandary for the Notre Dame administration.


Trump to Explore Obscure Ethics Rule to Undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller!

Dear Commons Community,

Reuters is reporting that the Trump administration is exploring whether it can use an obscure ethics rule to undermine the special counsel investigation into ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russia.  As reported:

“Trump has said that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s hiring of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation “hurts our country terribly.”

Within hours of Mueller’s appointment on Wednesday, the White House began reviewing the Code of Federal Regulations, which restricts newly hired government lawyers from investigating their prior law firm’s clients for one year after their hiring, the sources said.

An executive order signed by Trump in January extended that period to two years.

Mueller’s former law firm, Wilmer-Hale, represents Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who met with a Russian bank executive in December, and the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who is a subject of a federal investigation.

Legal experts said the ethics rule can be waived by the Justice Department, which appointed Mueller. He did not represent Kushner or Manafort directly at his former law firm.

If the department did not grant a waiver, Mueller would be barred from investigating Kushner or Manafort, and this could greatly diminish the scope of the probe, experts said.

The Justice Department is already reviewing Mueller’s background as well as any potential conflicts of interest, said department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores.

Even if the Justice Department granted a waiver, the White House would consider using the ethics rule to create doubt about Mueller’s ability to do his job fairly, the sources said. Administration legal advisers have been asked to determine if there is a basis for this.

Under this strategy, the sources said the administration would raise the issue in press conferences and public statements.

Moreover, the White House has not ruled out the possibility of using the rule to challenge Mueller’s findings in court, should the investigation lead to prosecution.”



CNN’s Van Jones:  Donald Trump Has Become “President Snowflake”!

Dear Commons Community,

CNN’s Van Jones said that President Donald Trump is nothing like the tough-talking candidate he was on the campaign trail last year. 

“When he ran he was this tough guy,” Jones said last night on “Anderson Cooper 360.”

“This guy who’s going to get things done, this great negotiator.”

He was Trumpzilla. He was going to make Washington bow down. He was going to drain the swamp. Now he’s President Snowflake. Everything he says, ‘Oh, they’re mean to me, and they don’t like me, and I just don’t understand it and it’s not fair.’”

Jones said that kind of talk might appeal to Trump’s base, but to everyone else, “he looks increasingly bizarre.”

“It turns out you don’t have Trumpzilla,” he concluded. “You’ve got President Snowflake.” 

It does seem that Trump is doing a lot of whining lately. 



Robert Mueller Appointed Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Influence in U.S. Presidential Election!

Dear Commons Community,

The major news headline today is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.   As reported by Reuters and other news media.

“The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

The move followed a week in which the White House was thrown into an uproar amid rising demands by Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans for an independent probe of whether Russia tried to sway the outcome of November’s presidential election in favor of Trump and against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The White House reportedly found out about the appointment with less than an hour’s notice.  In a statement after the Justice Department announcement, Trump said he looked forward to a quick resolution of the matter.

“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” he said.

Mueller, in a statement tweeted by CBS News said: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”

Trump has long bristled at the notion that Russia played any role in his November election victory, but the Russia issue has clouded his early months in office. Moscow has denied U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion it meddled in the campaign.

But pressure on the White House intensified after Trump’s firing last week of Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey, who had been leading a federal probe into the matter, and allegations that Trump had asked Comey to end the FBI investigation.

The issue spilled over onto Wall Street on Wednesday where the S&P 500 and the Dow had their biggest one-day declines since September as investor hopes for tax cuts and other pro-business policies faded amid the political tumult.

“My decision (to appoint a special counsel) is not the finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement announcing the special counsel.

“I determined that a special counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome,” he said.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill welcomed the Justice Department action, but House and Senate Republican leaders said they would go on with their own investigations of the Russia matter.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Mueller was the right choice for the job

“A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing,” Schumer said in a statement.

Republican House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said he was confident Mueller “will conduct a thorough and fair investigation.”

Mueller, 72, was decorated as a Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War. A former federal prosecutor, he is known for his tough, no-nonsense managerial style. Appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, he became FBI director one week before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In 2011, he was asked by Democratic President Barack Obama for two more years. He was replaced by Comey in 2013.”

This investigation will dominate our news for months to come.  Shades of Watergate for those of us who remember the early 1970s.



Amazon’s New Office Complex in Seattle to Include Homeless Shelter!

Dear Commons Community,

The online retail giant, Amazon, announced yesterday that it will dedicate more than 47,000 square feet of its new downtown Seattle headquarters into a permanent home for Mary’s Place, a nonprofit that operates several homeless shelters for women and families. The Amazon-sponsored Mary’s Place shelter will include 65 rooms, offering more than 200 homeless individuals a place to sleep every night.

The donated shelter space was announced as the city of Seattle is ramping up its own response to its growing homeless population, which caused the city to declare a state of emergency in 2015. 

“Mary’s Place does incredible, life-saving work every day for women, children, and families experiencing homelessness in the Seattle community,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a press release. “We are lucky to count them as neighbors and thrilled to offer them a permanent home within our downtown Seattle headquarters ― Amazon employees and Mary’s Place residents will move in together in early 2020.”

Last year, Amazon invited Mary’s Place to settle into a former Travelodge hotel located on a lot the company acquired in 2014 as it awaited construction of the new campus, according to The Seattle Times.

Construction of the new Amazon campus and the shelter begins in the fall. In the meantime, Amazon will relocate the shelter from the former Travelodge to another former hotel in the Seattle area.

Once the campus and shelter are complete, Amazon employees will be able to volunteer at the shelter. In fact, many already do, according to the company.

“Amazon employees are frequent visitors and volunteers at the existing shelter – bringing meals, organizing arts and crafts projects, throwing parties for the families, and more,” the Amazon’s press release said.

Critics have blamed Seattle’s tech giants, including Microsoft and Amazon, for creating a tech boom driving an affordable-housing crisis. As NPR pointed out, census data from September shows Seattle median incomes jumped $10,000 in one year.

But tech companies and people associated with them are giving back to the community. In April, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen committed $30 million to Seattle’s homeless crisis. And in January, companies including Microsoft, Starbucks, Alaska Airlines and Expedia helped to raise $4.5 million to open family shelters during the annual “No Child Sleeps Outside” campaign.

Congratulations to Amazon and these other companies for supporting their communities in such a tangible way.



Charter School Advocates Win Los Angeles School Board Election!

Dear Commons Community,

In perhaps the most closely watched school board election in modern times, two charter school advocates were the victors.  Less than two hours after polls closed yesterday, the president of the school board, Steve Zimmer, conceded the race. Addressing a crowd of supporters, Zimmer called his loss to candidate Nick Melvoin “devastating” and vowed never to run for office again. In a sign of how deeply polarizing this election has been, and how difficult it will be to forge consensus in the weeks and months to come, Zimmer said he would not call Melvoin.

From the moment the candidates filed to run for the Los Angeles Board of Education, the election has been a proxy war between wealthy charter school advocates and public employee unions. Charter supporters seemed poised early Wednesday morning to secure their first-ever majority on the seven-member Los Angeles Board of Education.

Early returns showed charter-backed Kelly Gonez, 28, leading against her union-supported opponent, Imelda Padilla, 29, in the race to fill a vacant seat in District 6.

Just after midnight, Gonez declared victory.

With a clear majority of advocates on the school board, Los Angeles will become a center for the charter school movement in the coming years.



David Leonhardt on What the Democratic Party Needs to Do to Win Back the Working Class

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, David Leonhardt, examines what the Democratic Party needs to do to win back working class voters.  Here is an excerpt:

“Americans without a college degree are today’s swing voters. White non- graduates shifted sharply to Donald Trump last year, relative to 2012, and black non-graduates affected the result by staying home in larger numbers. Both decisions — voting for Trump or not voting at all — stemmed in part from alienation.

In an alternate universe, Trump would devote his presidency to a conservative agenda that improved the lives of the people who elected him. Remember when he proclaimed, “I love the poorly educated”? In this universe, he sure has a funny way of showing his love. He is trying to take health insurance away from millions of Americans, while lavishing tax cuts on the affluent.

Democrats have to find a way to win more working-class votes. (I’m using “working class” as a rough synonym for the two-thirds of adults without bachelor’s degrees.) It’s not just Trump. Republicans control the House, the Senate, 33 governor’s offices and the legislature in 32 states.

Democrats need a comeback strategy, and the American working class needs an ally. The solution to both problems can be the same: a muscular agenda to lift up people without four-year college degrees.

It would have two main pillars. The first would be improving the lives of those who will never have those degrees — ensuring they can find meaningful, well-paying work and afford health care, child care and retirement. A stable middle-class life should be possible without a bachelor’s degree.

The second would be helping more people earn degrees and enjoy their benefits. There is something about college — the actual learning, as well as the required discipline and initiative — that seems to prepare people for adult success. Although two-year degrees bring benefits too, four-year degrees bring much larger ones.

On Tuesday, the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal group, is taking a first step toward creating a working-class agenda. It’s calling for a “Marshall Plan for America,” echoing the program that rebuilt postwar Europe. “Progressives have not done enough about job conditions and the dignity of work for people who don’t go to college,” says Neera Tanden, the center’s president, who previously worked for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

The effort is in only its conceptual stages. But it’s worth attention, both because of the center’s history of influence on Democrats (including on much of the Obama agenda) and because this particular idea gets a few big things right.

It avoids some elitist strains in today’s liberal politics. One of those strains dismisses the white working class as irredeemably racist. In truth, many of these voters backed progressive ideas before and are open to doing so again. Anyway, Democrats don’t have much of a choice. “You can’t construct a solid majority coalition for Democrats unless you reach more of those voters,” the political scientist Ruy Teixeira says.

…This new plan is unabashedly left-leaning in its call for the government to help create millions of good-paying jobs. It uses the phrase “jobs guarantee” and would meet the guarantee by taking on many problems the private sector isn’t solving: Crumbling roads and public transit. Patchy digital infrastructure. A shortage of good schools, child care, home health care workers and E.M.T.s. All of this would cost billions — but also far less than Trump’s reverse Robin Hood agenda.

The fact is, the electorate has shown some surprising support lately for an activist, populist government. Minimum-wage increases keep passing, in blue states and red ones, and Trump won the Republican nomination while spouting big-government promises (which he’s now violating).

Americans of all races who have been left behind in today’s globalized, high-technology, high-inequality economy are angry, and they have reason to be. They deserve better. They want tangible solutions. Finding those solutions is the right thing to do, and it’s the path back to power for Democrats.”

I like what Leonhardt is saying but I am not sure that the Democrats can pull this off.  I found it curious that at no time did he mention labor unions, long the bastions of mostly high school graduates. They  also were not overly enthusiastic about Hillary Clinton in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.  I think they have to be part of the plan.


Purdue Faculty Ask President to Rescind Offer to Acquire Kaplan University!

Dear Commons Community,

In what is becoming a conflict at Purdue University, the University Senate passed a resolution calling for President Mitch Daniel to rescind the University’s agreement to acquire the for-profit Kaplan University.  As reported by Inside Education:

“Faculty members at Purdue University took a strong stance Thursday against last week’s unorthodox acquisition of Kaplan University, passing a University Senate resolution calling the deal a violation of common-sense educational practice and respect for Purdue faculty.

The resolution calls on Purdue President Mitch Daniels and the university’s Board of Trustees to rescind any decisions possible about the online-heavy university Purdue is acquiring from Kaplan. It also calls on Purdue leaders to include faculty members in all decisions made going forward about the soon-to-be-acquired university.

That wording could catch the attention of Purdue’s accreditor, the Higher Learning Commission. HLC has to sign off on the acquisition before it can close, as do state and federal regulators. Accreditors generally expect a prominent faculty role in academic-related decisions.

“It’s not final until it’s got all the approvals it needs to receive,” David Sanders, an associate professor in Purdue’s department of biological sciences who is the chair of the University Senate, said in an interview after the Senate met Thursday. “There could be components to the agreement that could be changed.”

Sanders did not write the resolution. But he made several colorful comments about the Kaplan acquisition during Thursday’s meeting, joking at the beginning that Kaplan has a highly ranked online football program and suggesting at the end that the university Purdue is acquiring from Kaplan be renamed Daniels U.

The University Senate resolution’s passage represents a sharp rebuke of an unprecedented acquisition that stunned higher education circles when it was announced last week. Purdue is acquiring almost all of the credential-issuing operations of the for-profit Kaplan’s higher education business. The public research university in Indiana plans to take seven schools and colleges from Kaplan University and fold them into a new legal entity, a nonprofit university that has yet to be named but will carry the Purdue brand. It will add an estimated 32,000 students and 3,000 employees in the process.

Faculty members have said they were not informed that the deal was taking place until an hour before it was announced. Being left out of such a major decision involving academic programs was the key point in the resolution the University Senate took up Thursday, which said the Kaplan acquisition violates the central tenets of faculty governance and control over curriculum.

No faculty input was sought before the acquisition decision was made, and no assessment of its impact on Purdue’s academic quality was completed, according to the resolution. The resolution proceeded to fault a lack of transparency and a lack of an impact study on how the acquisition will affect faculty, curriculum, students and staff at Purdue. The resolution also wondered what will happen to faculty governance and academic freedom at Purdue’s newly acquired university. And it said previously Purdue’s administration has gone through University Senate structures — which include faculty input — when pursuing program restructuring or creation.

Daniels, the Republican former governor of Indiana, is known as an unorthodox thinker in higher ed circles. When he was governor, he brought Western Governors University into the state to boost online education. At Purdue, he has pushed for income-sharing agreements and competency-based education.

He has said that the negotiations to acquire the university from Kaplan required confidentiality. But a presentation he gave to Purdue’s University Senate Thursday did not please all faculty members.”

The Purdue acquisition of Kaplan is becoming the higher education story of the year.  It will be closely watched.



Great Charter School War of 2017: Los Angeles School Board Election Tomorrow!

Dear Commons Community,

In perhaps the most-watched school board election of the year, Los Angeles tomorrow will be electing two new board members.  At stake will be whether the teachers union or charter school advocates will win these seats.   As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

“The four people vying for two pivotal seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education agree on at least two things: The campaign has been brutal, and there’s a lot at stake.

The nastiness leading up to the May 16 runoff election has been generated by independent campaigns set up on behalf of the candidates because of the election’s importance.

Charter school partisans and unions had spent about $13 million combined through Friday. The candidates themselves had spent another $1.5 million.

If the charter-backed candidates prevail, charter advocates will win their first governing majority on the seven-member body. If the election goes entirely the other way, unions will strengthen their influence on a board that leans pro-labor. In that scenario, the board would be more likely to limit the growth of charters in the nation’s second-largest school system, which has more charters and more charter students than any other school district.

 “Think of this as the great Charter War of 2017,” said Dan Schnur, former director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “The stakes are unusually high, substantively but even more symbolically. The outcome of these races will determine control of the largest school district in the western United States.”

Union-backed school board President Steve Zimmer and charter supporter Nick Melvoin are vying for the seat in District 4, which stretches from the Westside to the west San Fernando Valley. Kelly Gonez, with charter support, and Imelda Padilla, with union backing, are competing in District 6, in the East Valley.

Zimmer, the lone incumbent, has borne the brunt of the pummeling. And although holding him responsible for the state of the school system is fair game after eight years in office, most of the attacks in a flood of mailers are exaggerated or false.

So too with Zimmer’s opponent, Melvoin. Though negative mailers have correctly noted that both Melvoin and the Trump administration support the rapid expansion of charter schools, Melvoin is neither a Republican nor a Trump supporter….

At a recent candidate forum in Sylmar, Kelly Gonez and Imelda Padilla agreed that some charter schools are great and some are not. Both pledged to support strong charters and teachers. They both said that L.A. Unified needs to bolster parent involvement and decried the influence of “outside interests.”

It’s difficult to say whether, if elected, they would prove as independent as they claim or fall back on the positions of their financial backers.

Gonez, 28, has about five years of teaching experience, most of it prior to a two-year stint in Washington, first as an assistant and then as a policy adviser to an assistant education secretary in the Obama administration. Last fall, she began teaching middle school science at a charter.

Gonez attended Catholic schools before graduating from UC Berkeley and talks about nearly dropping out from the stress of working three jobs while in college. She often speaks of her classroom experiences and her family background.

“Growing up in this community, I saw the struggles my mom went through because she was an immigrant, because English wasn’t her first language, because of her skin color,” Gonez said of her Peruvian mother at a recent forum. “That’s what motivates me; it’s the experience of my family.”

Padilla at the same forum responded to questions almost entirely in Spanish. She said later her goal was to address Spanish-language attack ads against her.

Padilla, 29, who also went to UC Berkeley, noted that she went to public schools in her district throughout her childhood, during which she overcame rickets — with surgery to straighten her legs — and gang influences. (Her brother, she said, was not so fortunate and is currently in prison.)

She said her passion is “keeping youth out of jail.”

She has been an organizer for Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, which promotes economic equality and strong communities, and a coordinator for Pacoima Beautiful, which focuses on neighborhood improvement.”

Important race that will be closely watched!