Vice President Mike Pence Distances Himself from the Donald Trump Jr. Debacle!

Dear Commons Community,

As the Donald Trump Jr. Russian connection gets more sordid, Vice President Mike Pence yesterday offered a statement that can only be interpreted as trying to distance himself from the issue.  As reported in The Huffington Post:

“The carefully worded response from Pence’s press secretary Marc Lotter attempts to absolve the vice president of any responsibility and involvement. It makes a point of mentioning that Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting ― which was also attended by Trump’s then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner ― took place before Pence joined the presidential ticket.

“The vice president is working every day to advance the president’s agenda,” the statement from Pence’s office says. “He was not aware of the meeting. He is also not focused on stories about the campaign ― especially those pertaining to the time before he joined the campaign.”

Ron Klain, who served as chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, said that Pence’s statement was particularly unusual.

In an interview in January, Pence denied that there were any ties between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials.

“Well, of course not,” Pence told CBS’ John Dickerson. “And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”

This sounds like the White House ship has sprung another leak and a member of the crew is lining up to make sure he has a seat on a lifeboat.


Trumps and a Culture of Dishonesty!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times editorial this morning characterizes the Trump family and their advisers as perpetrating a culture of dishonesty in light of Donald Trump Jr.’s recent meeting with Russian attorney,  Natalia Veselnitskaya.  Below is the complete editorial.

Other media people including Charles Krauthammer (Syndicated Columnist) are saying the same thing.  On Fox News last night, Krauthammer said:

“that people in President Trump’s orbit have an “epidemic of amnesia having to do with the Russians.”

Krauthammer said that of the three people in the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya – Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner – no one remembered anything until now.

Krauthammer said Trump Jr. is similar to Bill Clinton, in that he has an “approximate approach to the truth.”

“As if, saying it is a last resort,” Krauthammer said, adding that the president’s son gave three explanations for the meeting.”



New York Times

Editorial Staff

July 11, 2017


At a critical juncture in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last year, his son Donald Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised to share political dirt on Hillary Clinton. Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, and Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a key strategist, also attended.

The June 9, 2016, meeting is of obvious interest to Robert Mueller III, the Justice Department special counsel investigating the Trump team’s potential involvement in Russia’s effort to influence the presidential election. In two clumsy statements over the weekend, the younger Mr. Trump on Saturday said the meeting was related to Russia’s freezing of an adoption program popular with Americans. When confronted a day later with a Times story citing authoritative sources that Ms. Veselnitskaya had promised damaging material on Mrs. Clinton, he said that the information she supplied was essentially meaningless and merely a “pretext” for discussing the adoption issue.

On the face of it, this seemed a clear though perhaps unintended admission by Donald Trump Jr. that he had gone into the meeting expecting damaging information, and the episode is clearly grist for Mr. Mueller’s mill. As is a report Monday night by The Times that the president’s son had received an email saying Ms. Veselnitskaya’s information came from Moscow. But his shifty statements are also further evidence of how freely his father and the people around the president contort the truth. Only six months in, President Trump has compiled a record of dishonesty — ranging from casual misstatements to flat-out lies — without precedent in the modern presidency. Equally disheartening is his team’s willingness to share in his mendacity.

On Sunday, before Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged that there was a Clinton-related aspect to the meeting, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, was on Fox News suggesting that the Veselnitskaya episode was “a big nothingburger” for the Trump campaign.

If a culture of dishonesty takes root in an administration, how can Americans believe anything its officials say? Take, for instance, the matter of whether President Vladimir Putin of Russia personally directed Moscow’s hacking of the 2016 presidential election. In statements dating from his first days in office until the eve of his meeting with Mr. Putin in Germany last week, when he said “nobody really knows,” Mr. Trump has deflected and sought to discredit his own intelligence agencies’ finding that Moscow, at Mr. Putin’s direction, tried to disrupt the election to help him win. Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, said after the American and Russian presidents met in Hamburg that they “had a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject” and that Mr. Trump had “pressed” Mr. Putin on the issue. Later, Mr. Trump made much the same claim on Twitter. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, had quite a different version of the facts, suggesting that Mr. Trump had characterized the hacking controversy as a “campaign” against Russia in which “not a single fact has been produced.” So whom should Americans believe? In a more credible administration, who would ever ask?

On Monday, Donald Trump Jr. hired a lawyer, while maintaining on Twitter that he’d been forthright in answering questions about the meeting last year. Meanwhile, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy press secretary, blew more smoke: The “only thing I see inappropriate” about the meeting, she said, is that it was leaked to the media.


U of Missouri Enrollments Plummet as a Result of “Backlash” from 2015!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has a featured article today reporting that as a result of a  “backlash” of racist events in 2015, the University of Missouri is being shunned by both black and white students.  Enrollments along with revenue are plummeting resulting in cuts of more 400 positions.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

“In the fall of 2015, a grassy quadrangle at the center of the University of Missouri became known nationwide as the command center of an escalating protest.

Students complaining of official inaction in the face of racial bigotry joined forces with a graduate student on a hunger strike. Within weeks, with the aid of the football team, they had forced the university system president and the campus chancellor to resign.

It was a moment of triumph for the protesting students. But it has been a disaster for the university.

Freshman enrollment at the Columbia campus, the system’s flagship, has fallen by more than 35 percent in the two years since.

The university administration acknowledges that the main reason is a backlash from the events of 2015, as the campus has been shunned by students and families put off by, depending on their viewpoint, a culture of racism or one where protesters run amok.

Before the protests, the university, fondly known as Mizzou, was experiencing steady growth and building new dormitories. Now, with budget cuts due to lost tuition and a decline in state funding, the university is temporarily closing seven dormitories and cutting more than 400 positions, including those of some non-tenured faculty members, through layoffs and by leaving open jobs unfilled.

Few areas have been spared: The library is even begging for books.

“The general consensus was that it was because of the aftermath of what happened in November 2015,” said Mun Choi, the new system president, referring to the climax of the demonstrations.

“There were students from both in state and out of state that just did not apply, or those who did apply but decided not to attend.”

The protests inspired movements at other colleges. Since then fights over overt and subconscious racial slights, as well as battles over free speech, have broken out at Middlebury College in Vermont, the University of California, Berkeley, and The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. Missouri’s experience shows how a conflict, if not deftly handled, can stain a college’s reputation long after the conflict has died down.

Students of all races have shunned Missouri, but the drop in freshman enrollment last fall was strikingly higher among blacks, at 42 percent, than among whites, at 21 percent.”

A sad situation that will take years to rectify.


Three Senate Republicans Lambast Trump’s Cyber Security Partnership with Russia!

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday, President Donald Trump tweeted his support for a new partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin to craft an “impenetrable cyber security unit” that would work to prevent election hacking.

Some 12 hours later, those plans were dramatically scaled back as the president said even though he discussed them, they “can’t” happen.

The abrupt about-face came after a slew of lawmakers lambasted Trump’s proposal to guard against “election hacking and many other negative things.”

On Meet The Press  Sunday morning, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called the plan “not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.” Graham slammed the president for “forgiving and forgetting” Russian tampering in last year’s election, and said the move only increased suspicion of the Trump administration.

“The more he talks about this in terms of not being sure, the more he throws our intelligence communities under the bus, the more he’s willing to forgive and forget Putin, the more suspicion,” Graham continued. “And I think it’s going to dog his presidency until he breaks this cycle.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) doubled down on those assertions on Face the Nation, saying Sunday he was sure Putin could surely help tackle the issue of cybersecurity “since he’s doing the hacking.”

Trump said he “strongly pressed” Putin during their meeting at the G-20 summit in Germany about Russian meddling in the U.S. election, but his counterpart “vehemently denied” any such efforts. Trump has mostly rejected any evidence of interference by Moscow, despite U.S. intelligence agencies saying Putin personally ordered an “influence campaign” to help him defeat rival Hillary Clinton.

Marco Rubio is not on board either with President Trump’s plan to partner with Russian President Vladimir Putin to form a Cyber Security Unit. Rubio expressed his concern in a series of tweets.

He wrote, “While reality & pragmatism requires that we engage Vladimir Putin, he will never be a trusted ally or a reliable constructive partner.”

Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit,” Rubio continued.

We might finally be seeing some crack in Republican support for Trump.


Maureen Dowd:  Putin Playing Trump for a “Sucker”?

Dear Commons Community,

New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, comments this morning on President Doanld Trump’s visit to the G-20 meeting and especially about his meeting with Vladmir Putin.  Dowd meanders a bit but finally gets down to her barbs about Trump and Putin.  She comments:

“In his attenuated first meeting with his side bae [boyfriend], Trump staged a Kabuki show of confronting the former K.G.B. agent.

Their conversation boiled down to this:

Trump: “Did you do it [attempt to influence our election]?”

Putin: “Nyet.”

Trump: “Whew! Glad that’s out of the way. So let’s do a joint cybersecurity program and share our passwords.”

Putin: “Da.”

He should have had a showdown to rival the one Adlai Stevenson had at the U.N. with the Soviet ambassador on the Cuban missile crisis. “I am prepared to wait for an answer until hell freezes over,” Stevenson snapped.

Trump should have slapped down the evidence and doled out the punishment. Instead, he and Putin commiserated about bumptious journalists.

“Polonium [poison[ works well,” Putin was probably saying.

“Spasibo [Thank you]” Trump probably replied.

In the end, Trump and fellow bumbling neophyte Rex Tillerson opened the portal wider for Putin to sneak through in coming elections.

I don’t know how much information the tyro pol in the Oval has absorbed — or even wants to absorb — in his dumbed-down briefings. But, brainwashed by his father’s exhortation that the world belongs to “killers,” Trump clearly doesn’t recognize the danger before him.

This is a simple fact he might want to let sink in: The Russians do not have our best interests at heart. They are conjuring Trump’s worst “1984” fear: playing him for a sucker.”

This sucker is the President of the United States with all its resources at his disposal.


DeVos’ USDOE Intrudes on Local Control of Education: What?

Dear Commons Community,

Betsy DeVos made a career of promoting local control of education, now as U.S. Department of Education Secretary, she is signaling a surprisingly hard-line approach to carrying out a federal education law, issuing critical feedback that has irked state school chiefs and conservative education experts alike.  The New York Times has a featured article on DeVos’s apparent change of position.  Here is an excerpt:

“President Barack Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 as the less intrusive successor to the No Child Left Behind law, which was maligned by many in both political parties as punitive and prescriptive. But in the Education Department’s feedback to states about their plans to put the new law into effect, it applied strict interpretations of statutes, required extensive detail and even deemed some state education goals lackluster.

In one case, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, Jason Botel, wrote to the State of Delaware that its long-term goals for student achievement were not “ambitious.”

“It is mind-boggling that the department could decide that it’s going to challenge them on what’s ambitious,” said Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the conservative-leaning Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who worked in the Education Department under President George W. Bush. He called the letter “directly in opposition to the rhetoric and the promises of DeVos.”

After more than a decade of strict federal education standards and standardized testing regimes, the Every Student Succeeds Act was to return latitude to the states to come up with plans to improve student achievement and hold schools accountable for student performance.

It sought to relieve states from the federal pressures of its predecessor, which required that 100 percent of the students of every school reach proficiency on state tests or the school would face harsh penalties and aggressive interventions. Unlike No Child Left Behind, the new law does not set numerical achievement targets, nor does it mandate how a state should intervene if a school fails to reach them. The law does require that states set such benchmarks on their own.

Proponents, especially congressional Republicans and conservative education advocates, believed that a new era of local control would flourish under Ms. DeVos, who pointed to the new law as illustrative of the state-level empowerment she champions.

But her department’s feedback reflects a tension between ideology and legal responsibility: While she has said she would like to see her office’s role in running the nation’s public schools diminished, she has also said she will uphold the law…

Mr. Botel defended the department’s feedback, saying it was measuring state plans against federal statutes — including a requirement that plans be ambitious.

“Because the statute does not define the word ‘ambitious,’ the secretary has the responsibility of determining whether a state’s long-term goals are ambitious,” Mr. Botel said.

In the department’s letter to Delaware — which incited the most outrage from conservative observers — Mr. Botel took aim at the state’s plan to halve the number of students not meeting proficiency rates in the next decade. Such a goal would have resulted in only one-half to two thirds of some groups of students achieving proficiency, he noted.

The department deemed those long-term goals, as well as those for English-language learners, not ambitious, and directed the state to revise its plans to make them more so.

So far, 16 states and the District of Columbia have submitted plans, and more states will present plans in the fall. Delaware, New Mexico and Nevada were the first three to be reviewed by Education Department staff and a panel of peer reviewers.”

It will be interesting to see how this evolves.  I predict DeVos will look to intrude on state and local education rather than take a hands-off approach.


Frank Bruni Compares Donald Trump and Chris Christie and Sees Same Hubris!

Dear Commons Community,

Frank Bruni in his New York Times column yesterday sees similarities in the hubris displayed by Donald Trump and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Here is an excerpt”

“The stories of the disgraced New Jersey governor and the disgraceful American president overlap. Christie was “Trump before Trump,” Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, told The Washington Post’s Robert Costa in an article published late Monday. “He does what he wants to do, and his success can be traced to that. But there are consequences, of course, when you work that way.”

Steele could as easily have been talking about Trump, and when Costa referred to the “defiance that has both lifted and hobbled Christie’s political career,” he brought to mind Trump’s temperament and trajectory, whether he meant to or not.

The twins of tantrum, Christie and Trump had almost identical political appeals. They mocked propriety. They broke rules. They assertively peddled the impression that as happy as they were to make friends, they were even happier to make enemies, because that meant that they were fully in the fight.

In an era of resentment and anger, many voters thrilled to the spectacle. The problem with other politicians, these voters legitimately reasoned, was too much indulgence of vested interests and too cowardly an obeisance to convention. If you didn’t slaughter the sacred cows, you’d never get to the tastiest filet.””

But Christie and Trump proved to be butchers of a more indiscriminate and self-serving sort, and both demonstrated that there’s a short leap from headstrong to hardheaded and from defiant to delusional. Bold nonconformity can be the self-indulgent egotist’s drag.”

Bruni concludes:

“Trump and Christie somehow decided that you have to govern by middle finger if you want to avoid governing by pinkie finger. But there’s a digit in between: a middle ground. It’s where real leadership and true effectiveness lie.

Christie’s disrepute and dashed ambitions confirm as much. So does the ongoing insult of Trump’s presidency. They show that if you embrace a politician who talks too frequently and proudly about not caring what anyone thinks, you’ll wind up in the clutch of a politician whose last refuge is not caring what anyone thinks. That’s a dangerous place to be.”

A dangerous place indeed and one that we may be living in for seven more years.



College Libraries Retooling for the 21st Century!  

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a featured article on how college libraries are struggling to retool themselves in the 21st Century to the Internet and its easily-accessible treasure trove of information.  In addition to spending less on print materials and more on electronic resources, libraries increasingly are providing spaces for students to collaborate on research projects and for providing tutoring services especially as related to information literacy.  

The article refers to a survey published in April by Ithaka S+R, a research-and-consulting service, which found that library directors feel less valued by senior academic leadership and less involved with decisions on their campuses. Only one-fifth of respondents said their institution’s budget demonstrated a recognition of the library’s value. And while librarians reported being deeply committed to student success, they struggled to articulate what exactly their contributions are.

The article also provides several examples of what college librarians are doing to make changes to their facilities.  For instance, the article describes how the DePaul University library “will  soon feature a ‘Maker Hub’ on the second floor, stocked with 3-D printers and a 3-D scanner, which, the library’s website notes, can scan people. Booths with audio and video equipment, as well as a green screen, will line the walls outside. A classroom and office space will be added for a group on campus focused on faculty development and interdisciplinary academic work.”

The Internet surely has impacted on much of what we do in education.  Like many other instructional and student services, libraries will have to adjust accordingly.


Silicon Valley Executives Push Coding in All Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

A New York Times article this morning reported that “At a White House gathering of tech titans last week, Timothy D. Cook, the chief executive of Apple, delivered a blunt message to President Trump on how public schools could better serve the nation’s needs. To help solve a “huge deficit in the skills that we need today,” Mr. Cook said, the government should do its part to make sure students learn computer programming.

“Coding,” Mr. Cook told the president, “should be a requirement in every public school.”

The Apple chief’s education mandate was just the latest tech company push for coding courses in schools. But even without Mr. Trump’s support, Silicon Valley is already advancing that agenda — thanks largely to the marketing prowess of, an industry-backed nonprofit group.”

The article goes on to question the motives of the tech company executives as one to make sure they have a ready supply of computer scientists  especially since they have become heavily reliant on foreign engineers.    

I would be cautious about requiring coding in every public school, however, I do think it has a place in our K-12 curriculum.  Just as our colleges over the past forty years have made computer science more available to students either in the form of majors, minors, or integrated into other disciplines, computer science or coding has educational value.  In addition to preparation for our increasingly high-tech world, computer coding at the K-12 level can be designed as a valuable critical thinking and problem-solving activity. It involves logic, organization, and persistence to achieve success in writing a program while adding to an understanding of how a computer functions.  These are desirable skills that schools need to do a better job of developing in young people.

In sum, I think more exposure to computer coding is desirable, however, it does not have to be a requirement in every school.