The “Venerable” New York Daily News Sold!

Dear Commons Community,

It was announced yesterday that the New York Daily  News was acquired  by Tronc, the publisher of The Los Angeles Times and The Chicago Tribune.  The Daily News has been one of the mainstays of New York City with its gossip, sports and city coverage for ninety-eight years.  It was the newspaper that you were most likely to see people reading in the subways during rush hours.  As reported:

“The deal represents the end of an era for The News, which was long a voice for New York’s working class. It may also signal the end of the political influence of its owner, the real estate magnate Mortimer B. Zuckerman, who often used the paper’s bold, front-page headline — known as “the wood” — for commentary about candidates and politicians, locally and nationally.

The News once boasted A-list columnists including Liz Smith, Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill, but it has been worn down by a grinding tabloid war with the Rupert Murdoch-controlled New York Post. And like the rest of the newspaper industry, The News has been battered and bruised by the Internet Age, when the equivalent of pithy headlines — a staple of The News — come a mile a minute on Twitter.

Sweeping layoffs have reduced its staff. The paper’s circulation, which exceeded two million a day in the 1940s, is now in the low hundred thousands. And The Chicago Tribune reported on Monday that Tronc purchased The News for just $1, plus the assumption of liabilities.

But while The News wields less influence than it once did, it still has the power to resonate in the city and beyond. This year, the paper and ProPublica shared the Pulitzer Prize for public service for a series on the New York Police Department’s widespread abuse of eviction rules. And its pointed headlines, particularly about President Trump — a longtime real estate rival of Mr. Zuckerman — still attract attention, particularly on social media.

 “The New York Daily News is a venerable New York City institution,” Eric Gertler, the co-publisher of The News, said in a statement. “We believe that under Tronc’s leadership, The New York Daily News will maintain its tradition of excellence in journalism and continue to be a critical voice for millions of print and online readers.”



Letter from AFT President Randi Weingarten on this Labor Day!


Dear Commons Community,


As we get ready to enjoy our Labor Day holiday, below is a letter from AFT President Randi Weingarten reminding us what this day is about.





Dear Members,


Labor Day isn’t just about cookouts and mattress sales, it’s about American workers—like you, your colleagues and me—who serve our communities every day, who make up the middle class, and who just want a chance at the American dream.

We’re living in a time of great anxiety. Just last month, the violence in Charlottesville, Va., raised real concerns about our commitment to fighting hatred and bigotry, while the response to Hurricane Harvey’s devastation—the work of the first responders and volunteers working around the clock to keep people safe—has shown the true character of America.

And in the last few years, as Wall Street has soared, so have health costs, while wages and bargaining power have plummeted. We’re constantly fighting for resources for our public schools, our colleges, our hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and the public services we deliver, against corporations, politicians and wealthy interests who, for decades, have rigged our economy and our politics against working people.

Amid these challenges, the AFT has grown steadily, adding more than a quarter-million members over the past decade. Nurses and healthcare professionals, adjunct faculty, charter school teachers, thousands of teachers in Puerto Rico and many others have responded to the AFT’s guiding values. I’m proud to say that, this summer, the AFT surpassed the 1.7 million-members milestone. Help us celebrate!

When working people have the freedom to come together as a union, and they use that freedom in greater numbers, it gives us the power to negotiate a fair return on our work. We raise wages, support students, make improvements on the job, and win the services our communities need to be safe and to prosper.

Unions use our collective voice to fight for policies that benefit all working people, lifting workers out of poverty and creating a stable middle class, affordable healthcare and great public schools.

These are the things to celebrate on Labor Day.

Belonging to a union helps working people gain the freedom to prosper. This freedom comes not only from making a good living, but also from work-life balance, the ability to take a loved one to the doctor or attend a parent-teacher conference without fear of losing your job, and the ability—after a lifetime of work—to retire with dignity.

That is why unions are gaining in popularity. A new Gallup poll released last week has Americans supporting unions and a strong labor movement at 61 percent—the highest it’s been in more than two decades. American people want good jobs, good benefits, a secure retirement, and a voice and respect in the workplace.

Even so, the fight is as fierce today as ever. Dishonestly named “right-to-work” laws are in place in 28 states, tilting the power balance toward employers and weakening workers’ freedom to join together to secure better wages, working conditions and benefits.

For years, wealthy interests have sought to make such legislation the law of the land. And this fall, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to agree to hear the case of Janus v. AFSCME, which seeks to overrule decades of precedent that says if a union represents a person, that person should pay a fair share for that representation. The goal is to cripple labor unions, weaken workers’ rights, and further exacerbate the imbalance of power in our economic, political and social systems.

We’re not going to let that happen.

The AFT’s growth is a testament to the fact that working people yearn to achieve better lives for ourselves, our families and our communities, and we view unions as the vehicle to do so.

And while we fight for a fair economy, great public schools, and affordable college and healthcare, we will also take on hate and bigotry. President Trump’s refusal to unequivocally condemn white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups was dead wrong, but the response from Americans was inspiring. Across the country, peaceful demonstrations condemning bigotry and hate sent a powerful message to our fellow Americans of every color and creed.

And last week, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Americans showed our best side. Throughout our union, our hearts have been with Texas. Our leaders and members stepped up to help, and none helped more than our leaders and members in Texas.

We have spoken to thousands of our members individually to see how they are and what they need. Between the AFT disaster relief fund and the Texas AFT disaster relief fund, we raised almost $100,000 in a matter of days, all of which will be devoted to alleviating hardship caused by the hurricane. That is what we do for each other. And, with First Book, we have made thousands of dollars available through the First Book marketplace so educators have access to books and classroom resources they and their students will need when they are able to return to their schools. You can still donate to the AFT disaster relief fund, our members would greatly appreciate it. 

So, I hope you enjoy some time with family and friends this Labor Day, but let’s be sure we don’t become complacent about the fights ahead.

Since January, Americans have been resisting the attacks on our rights and our democracy, and reclaiming our future—the potential and promise of America. Our union is the vehicle for gaining voice and for achieving economic fairness. It’s the vehicle for helping resist hate and for reclaiming the promise of public education and a fair and just democracy. These fights are far from over, and we’re going to need your help.

Are you ready to resist and reclaim with us? Add your name now.

In unity,
Randi Weingarten
AFT President 

Yale’s Calhoun College Will Be Grace Hopper College!


Dear Commons Community,

After much soul-searching and pressure from students and faculty, Yale will officially change the name of its Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College.  As reported in the New York Times:

“In a dining hall at Yale University, the portrait of an avid proponent of slavery has been replaced with a shield depicting a heraldic dolphin.

On Tuesday, beneath the dolphin’s fearsome eye, Yale’s president and the Navy’s chief of operations will make speeches, a chaplain will offer a blessing, and a secret ceremonial object will be unveiled.

With that, Yale’s Calhoun College, named for John C. Calhoun — a vice president, senator from South Carolina, and founding forefather of the Civil War — will recede further into the New Haven university’s past. The gothic stone building, one of the 14 residential colleges where undergraduates live and eat, will be dedicated as Hopper College, after Rear Adm. Grace Murray Hopper, a boundary-smashing computer pioneer and naval officer. The dolphin on the Hopper College shield is a nod to her maritime career.

The ceremony caps a bitter, exhausting fight that included years of student protests, a smashed stained-glass window depicting slaves, a decision by Yale to keep Calhoun’s name and then, in a reversal, to drop it.

And it comes at the end of a summer of unrest across much of the nation over how to remember and whether to honor those on the wrong moral side of the nation’s greatest conflict.

For Calhoun College students who fought for the name change, returning to campus to see signs for “Grace Hopper College” was energizing. “I think for a lot of people this summer has shown that it’s sort of beyond this ivory tower intellectual debate,” Maya Jenkins, a Hopper senior, said on Friday.

Admiral Hopper helped build the nation’s first electromechanical computer, developed the first compiler, proposed the idea of writing computer programs in words rather than symbols, and retired from the Navy at age 79.”

A good move by Yale.  And Grace Hopper surely deserves to have a college named for her.


Astronaut Peggy Whitson Finishes a Career-Total 665 days in Space!

Dear Commons Community,

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson left the International Space Station yesterday wrapping up a career-total 665 days in orbit, a U.S. record. Whitson, 57, ended her most recent stay of more than nine months aboard the station, that flies about 250 miles (400 km) above Earth. As reported by Reuters:

“I feel great,” the biochemist said during an inflight interview on Monday. “I love working up here. It’s one of the most gratifying jobs I’ve ever had.”

During her third mission aboard the station Whitson spent much of her time on experiments, including studies of cancerous lung tissue and bone cells. She also completed four spacewalks, adding to her six previous outings, to set a record for the most time spent spacewalking by a woman.

Two crewmates who launched with Whitson in November returned to Earth three months ago. She stayed aboard to fill a vacancy after Russia scaled down its station staff from three to two cosmonauts.

Whitson returns to Earth with Jack Fischer, also with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, who arrived in June. The crew’s Russian Soyuz capsule was expected to make a parachute touchdown in Kazakhstan at 9:22 p.m. EDT Saturday (0122 GMT Sunday).

“I’m looking forward to seeing friends and family,” Whitson said during another interview. “But the thing I’ve been thinking about the most, kind of been fantasizing about a little bit, are foods that I want to make, vegetables that I want to sauté, things that I’ve missed up here.”

In April, Whitson broke the 534-day U.S. record for cumulative time in space. Only seven Russian men have logged more time, including Gennady Padalka, the world record-holder with 878 days in orbit.

Whitson, who grew up on a farm in Iowa, said she was inspired by the U.S. Apollo program that landed men on the moon and she was selected as an astronaut in 1996. She was the first woman to command the space station and also the first woman and first non-pilot to serve as chief of the NASA Astronaut Corps.

“I am working on paying forward some of the advice and mentoring that I received on my journey, in hopes that one day those young people will do the same and look back on a life in which they leapt at the opportunities and broke their own records,” she said.”

Quite an achievement!




Oren Etzioni: How to Regulate Artificial Intelligence?

Dear Commons Community,

Oren Etzioni, the chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times, that establishes three rules for regulating artificial intelligence as follows.

“First, an A.I. system must be subject to the full gamut of laws that apply to its human operator. This rule would cover private, corporate and government systems. We don’t want A.I. to engage in cyberbullying, stock manipulation or terrorist threats; we don’t want the F.B.I. to release A.I. systems that entrap people into committing crimes. We don’t want autonomous vehicles that drive through red lights, or worse, A.I. weapons that violate international treaties.
Our common law should be amended so that we can’t claim that our A.I. system did something that we couldn’t understand or anticipate. Simply put, “My A.I. did it” should not excuse illegal behavior.

My second rule is that an A.I. system must clearly disclose that it is not human. As we have seen in the case of bots — computer programs that can engage in increasingly sophisticated dialogue with real people — society needs assurances that A.I. systems are clearly labeled as such. In 2016, a bot known as Jill Watson, which served as a teaching assistant for an online course at Georgia Tech, fooled students into thinking it was human. A more serious example is the widespread use of pro-Trump political bots on social media in the days leading up to the 2016 elections, according to researchers at Oxford.

My rule would ensure that people know when a bot is impersonating someone. We have already seen, for example, @DeepDrumpf — a bot that humorously impersonated Donald Trump on Twitter. A.I. systems don’t just produce fake tweets; they also produce fake news videos. Researchers at the University of Washington recently released a fake video of former President Barack Obama in which he convincingly appeared to be speaking words that had been grafted onto video of him talking about something entirely different.

My third rule is that an A.I. system cannot retain or disclose confidential information without explicit approval from the source of that information. Because of their exceptional ability to automatically elicit, record and analyze information, A.I. systems are in a prime position to acquire confidential information. Think of all the conversations that Amazon Echo — a “smart speaker” present in an increasing number of homes — is privy to, or the information that your child may inadvertently divulge to a toy such as an A.I. Barbie. Even seemingly innocuous housecleaning robots create maps of your home. That is information you want to make sure you control.

My three A.I. rules are, I believe, sound but far from complete. I introduce them here as a starting point for discussion. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Musk’s view about A.I.’s rate of progress and its ultimate impact on humanity (I don’t), it is clear that A.I. is coming. Society needs to get ready.”

I agree with Etzioni’s recommendations, however, they need to be expanded to address the employment issues. It is very likely that in the not too distant future say fifteen years, we will see widespread displacement of workers because of A.I. applications. This displacement will be beyond assembly line robotics that have already taken over many blue-collar jobs.  How do we regulate the transformation of labor especially in the white-collar and professional sectors.  What careers/positions do we retrain these workers for?




John McCain in Op-Ed:  We [the Congress] Are Not Trump’s Subordinates”

Dear Commons Community,

In an op-ed for the Washington Post published on Thursday, John McCain, the Arizona Republican senator called on Americans to focus on “shared values” rather than differences. McCain denounced the “repugnant spectacle of white supremacists marching in Charlottesville” and lauded Heather Heyer, the counter protester killed by a white supremacist at the rally.

But McCain also criticized the partisanship in Congress.

“We seem convinced that majorities exist to impose their will with few concessions and that minorities exist to prevent the party in power from doing anything important,” McCain wrote of recent congressional deadlock.

“Congress must govern with a president who has no experience of public office, is often poorly informed and can be impulsive in his speech and conduct,” McCain wrote. “We must respect his authority and constitutional responsibilities. We must, where we can, cooperate with him. But we are not his subordinates. We don’t answer to him. We answer to the American people.”  

McCain’s fellow Repbulicans should hear and follow McCain’s call to “answer to the American people” and not to Trump and to partisan interests.



Artist Robert Longo to Display “American Bridge Project” on Hunter College’s Sky Bridges!

Dear Commons Community,

Faculty and students at Hunter College have been wondering what is going on with a display of the American flag on its sky bridges above Lexington Avenue.  It was just announced that the artist Robert Longo will open his “American Bridge Project,” which consists of vinyl renderings of the original First Amendment document and the American flag,  starting today and remaining until Dec. 1.  As reported by the New York Times:

“Mr. Longo, whose art is often politically charged, hopes to provide a daily reminder of the importance of unity and free speech.

To create this site-specific work, which was curated by Jill Brienza, Mr. Longo enlarged portions of two of his charcoal drawings, often visiting 68th Street to examine the possibilities of scope and color.

“It was really difficult to figure out what would work from a distance,” Mr. Longo said in an interview. “It’s like these slivers of images; they slice the sky. And bridges are metaphorically something we need politically more than ever.”

The lower piece, on the third-floor bridge, is based on his 2017 work “Untitled (First Amendment, September 25, 1789),” in which he drew the First Amendment by hand in an effort to convey its very human origins.

 “People address the Constitution as if it was the Bible,” Mr. Longo said. “I was quite touched when I actually looked at it and realized it was written by someone with penmanship, by hand.”

The seventh-floor installation is based on Mr. Longo’s 2012 charcoal drawing “Untitled (Berlin Flag).”  

Creative use of Hunter College’s sky bridges!




Special Counsel Robert Mueller Teaming Up with NYS Attorney General on Paul Manafort Investigation!

Dear Commons Community,

Politico, MSNBC, and CNN are reporting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions.  As reported by Politico:

“The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.

The two teams have shared evidence and talked frequently in recent weeks about a potential case, these people said. One of the people familiar with progress on the case said both Mueller’s and Schneiderman’s teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including potential money laundering.

No decision has been made on where or whether to file charges. “Nothing is imminent,” said one of the people familiar with the case.

Manafort has not been accused of any wrongdoing and has previously denied it. A spokesman for Manafort didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.

A representative for Mueller’s office declined to comment, as did the New York attorney general’s office.

People close to Manafort say the team has pressured him by approaching family members and former business partners. A number of other firms and people who have worked with him have received subpoenas.

State and federal prosecutors believe the prospect of a presidential pardon could affect whether Manafort decides to cooperate with investigators in the federal Trump investigation, said one of the people familiar with the matter.

While Trump has not signaled any public intention to pardon Manafort or anyone else involved in the Russia investigations, the president has privately discussed his pardon powers with his advisers.

Mueller’s team has been looking into Manafort’s lobbying work and financial transactions, including real estate deals in New York.

Schneiderman has a contentious history with Trump. The president has mocked him relentlessly on social media and TV, denouncing him as a “hack” and “lightweight.”

The attorney general won a $25 million settlement last November after a lengthy investigation into allegedly fraudulent practices at Trump University. The president said he settled just to have the matter behind him, though his previous mantra was to never settle cases.”

This is an interesting development and as the article indicates could give Mueller leverage in getting Manafort’s cooperation maybe even getting him “to flip.”



USDOE Has Hired former DeVry University Dean to Investigate Fraud!

Dear Commons Community,

Politico, Buzzfeed, and The Chronicle of Higher Education are reporting that the United States Education Department has hired Julian Schmoke, a former dean at the for-profit DeVry University, to a position that investigates fraud by colleges.  As reported by The Chronicle:

“Schmoke’s appointment has raised anxiety among some at the Education Department who work on fraud inquiries.  BuzzFeed reports that Devry paid more than $100 million to settle accusations of false advertising and other misleading practices.

As a dean, Mr. Schmoke wasn’t close to DeVry’s corporate work and wasn’t involved in the various settlements the company reached with the Federal Trade Commission, the Education Department, and the New York attorney general over allegations that it  misled students about graduates’ employment opportunities. Still, some in the Education Department remain concerned that Mr. Schmoke won’t be tough enough on for-profit colleges. ”  

A Buzzfeed article comments that:

“Schmoke will oversee the unit that is actively looking into DeVry’s operations, according to two people with knowledge of the enforcement unit’s work. And he will help determine the fate of more than 1,875 former DeVry students who filed claims saying they were defrauded by the university. Those students filed so-called “borrower defense” claims, saying that they were defrauded by DeVry and are entitled to have their student loans forgiven.”

Schmoke and the Education Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Democrats were immediately outraged by DeVos’s decision. “This is a joke, right?” tweeted Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy. “Basically akin to nominating influenza to be the Surgeon General.”




Ted Cruz v. Chris Christie and Funding for Harvey v. Sandy!

Dear Commons Community,

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been making the talk show rounds pointing out that during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Senator Ted Cruz and others in the Texas delegation voted against a federal aid package.  Ted Cruz has been saying that he voted against the measure because it contained a lot of items unrelated to the storm and has attacked Christie personally. According to the Veuer news feed:  

“Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday slammed what New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had to say about the 2012 Hurricane Sandy aid package on FOX News’ Fox and Friends.

“I’m sorry that there are politicians who seem really desperate to get their names in the news and are saying whatever they need to do that,” the Texas lawmaker said.

Cruz was responding to Christie telling MSNBC earlier this week that Cruz and fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn were “playing politics” by voting against the aid package for New York and New Jersey after Sandy.

Cruz had said the bill included wasteful spending that wasn’t related to storm recovery.

A Washington Post fact check found that the Sandy bill was not packed with funds unrelated to the storm, as Cruz had said, and rated the senator’s comment three “Pinocchios” out of a possible four.

“They were all getting ready to do what they wanted to do for 2016. And make themselves seem like the most conservative person,” said the New Jersey governor.

Christie and Cruz’s old beef over Sandy aid is back after Hurricane Harvey hit Cruz’s home state of Texas and has caused damage expected to require massive federal aid.

President Donald Trump claimed Tuesday that Harvey will be the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

It appears that Cruz and company were playing politics during Hurricane Sandy and should be called out on it, however, there are too many people suffering in Texas right now and the federal government should do all it can to provide aid and relief as quickly as possible.