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Under fire, U of Nebraska cancels speech by William Ayers

As much of the media obsessed this weekend about Barack Obama's large numbers -- crowds and dollars -- William Ayers, the controversial '60s radical who helped launch the Democrat's political career in his Chicago South Side living room, popped back up in the news in the Midwest.

It seems the cofounder of the violent Weather Underground that bombed public buildings during the Vietnam War was invited as a keynote speaker by the University of Nebraska in Lincoln right after the presidential election next month.

The invitation apparently went out last winter. But news of it broke last week and has been causing considerable buzz and protest online.

Late last week politicians of both parties in Nebraska roundly condemned the Nov. 15 invitation.

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson urged university officers to reconsider the invitation. "His (Ayers') past involvement in a violent protest group and incendiary comments are not consistent with the agenda of unity that we need in America today," Nelson said.

Gov. Ben Dave Heineman, a Republican, said, "Bill Ayers is a well-known radical who should never have been invited to the University of Nebraska." He added, "our citizens are clearly outraged and want action."

The Omaha World-Herald reported that one prominent group -- the Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Foundation, a....

...multimillion-dollar university donor in past years -- threatened to halt all of its donations to the university over the invite, and numerous other donors promised such action if the event proceeded.

Some university teachers warned the Omaha paper that canceling the Ayers speech would hurt the school's academic reputation as an appearance of censorship and make future faculty recruiting more difficult.

Saturday, however, a university spokeswoman announced that the invitation to Ayers, now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an Obama neighbor, had been rescinded for the College of Education and Human Sciences centennial celebration for "safety reasons."

She would not elaborate.

Ayers' association with Obama, which included work together on two city education projects in the 1990s, first emerged during the Democratic Party's primary season, when the freshman Illinois Democrat described the unrepentant Ayers merely as an acquaintance whose "despicable" acts occurred during Obama's childhood. He has since said Ayers would play no role in his administration.

(UPDATE: In February, Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, described the Obama-Ayers relationship to as "certainly friendly." And in August, Mayor Richard M. Daley, one of Obama's most important local backers, told the Chicago Tribune, "They're friends. So what?")

The Republican presidential campaign of John McCain has sought to make their relationship a continuing question of Obama's judgment along with his association with others such as Tony Rezko, recently convicted on federal fraud charges.

Despite the cancellation, the Nebraska state auditor, Mike Foley, sent the university a request for detailed information on the proposed event's funding. While the state attorney general, Jon Bruning, called the cancellation decision "good news for the university."

"I don't think there was any good way for the university to disassociate itself with his past," Bruning said.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Bill Ayers and his compatriots brought an end to the interminable Vietnam conflict and forced Nixon and the oligarchs to their knees. Sadly, like Malcolm-X's tactics, this is the only method to bring government to represent the people's will.

Mr. Ayers should not be considered a flag-stomping ugly American. Instead he should be feted for his successful campaign to stop a seemingly unstoppable war.

Serving on a board of a Republican funded organization with Republicans and Ayers, does not make Ayers a friend. If McCain felt so strongly about Ayers he should denounce the Republicans that hired Ayers served on the board with him. He should also return the money these Republicans donated to his campaign.

This McCain campaign is going to set us back 60 years. Why not burn books that talk such filth as this radical. What about history? Put in context, Americans had every right to not just challenge our own government, but fight back. The difference between then and now is that we have become accustomed to the abuses of our Constitutional Rights. Back then, we didn't know where it was going and some people attempted to fight back. After the CIA and FBI closed the JFK files until everyone would have died that was involved,- a blatant statement that they didn't care to share facts with the American people, then RFK and Martin Luther King died. Then the police had permission to beat, jail and kil many protesters, many of whom were students who were against the war, Kent State, Chicago riots, Seattle Seven and Weather Underground pulled together and fought back. Michael Lerner now a famous Rabbi was part of both radical groups. There was a revolution going on in our Country, that everyone seems to want to forget - even people who lived through it. Bill Ayers has clearly turned his life around. What is the point really?

Nebraska, still scared after 40 years in the backwaters of the USA.

Is it fair to call Ayers a "friend" of Obama's? Looks like Republican talking points are slipping into your headlines.

(Just using Mayor Daley's phrase from Aug. 20. "They're just friends." And David Axelrod from Feb.: "They're certainly friendly.")

Guess you couldn't find a photo of Professor Ayers where he wasn't standing on the American flag.

I am ashamed as a Nebraskan that this debacle happened. It just makes Nebraska look like a bunch of rubes unable to tolerate anything but right-wing talks. This cancellation is a clear violation of free speech and the need for students to hear about education in urban settings. CarolT

Under fire, U of Nebraska cancels speech by Obama friend William Ayers? Friend? Now Ayers is an Obama friend?

Ayers helped launch Obama's political career? By holding one meet and greet?

Editorializing, even on a blog, is lousy journalism.

looks like in this part of patriotic america, they have fear in great abundance. fear the plumber, people.

Sometimes I pine for the days of yore when I could look my friends and colleagues in the eyes and say with confidence: "The LA Times is one of the finest papers in the nation, there's really no need to read anything else." When I read this sloppy and unprofessional piece by Mr. Malcom, it helped explain why I can no longer do so with a straight face. "Obama friend..."? "...helped launch the Democrat's political career in his Chicago South Side living room..."? Both statements either presuppose facts not in evidence or grossly distort well established truths. To do so 10 days after your fact-checking had been done for you (see, e.g., and in a blog piece that has little relevance to any purported relationship between Obama and Ayers... well it's just kinda sad. It also distracts unnecessarily from the important issue of intellectual autonomy at public universities - an issue that I presume served as the pretext for writing this piece. At least someone managed to run spell-check... kudos for that.

From all we know about the relationship between Obama and Ayers, "friend" is a completely inappropriate descriptor. He was less a "friend" to Obama than he was to wealthy Republican and former ambassador Walter Annenberg, his wife, and the staff they hired for their foundation.

As to helping launch Obama's campaign, if Ayers hadn't existed in Chicago in 1992, Obama's political launch and trajectory would have been absolutely unchanged. Being taken to a neighborhood coffee klatch by an elected official, one of many a new state legislative candidate would attend, hardly counts having your campaign launched there.

In this political environment, using "friend" in the head and "helped launched" in the body is a cheap political hatchet job and hack reporting.

first off, i'm no fan of mr. ayers. secondly, what evidence does the times have that obama is a "friend" of mr. ayers? is the times into "yellow" journalism, guilt by association! third, to publish the photo used in the blog with ayers standing on the american flag is not exactly objective now is it? how long did you guys save that picture to in my opinion "excite" you readers, at least your "wingnut" readers. come on now, i thought the times was a little better then that. try to do a better job boys and girls!

What a democracy we have here in the US in 2008. But take us back to when the Weather Underground was active. In many ways it is worse now, but regardingn people expressing opposition to the Vietnam War back then, most today may have forgotten that anti-war protesters were surveilled by the FBI, and placed on lists of people involved in subversion. Richard Nixon placed many who opposed his policies on a "hate list". And sure, some whose self identity painted themselves as grandiose versions of patriots, based on inflated nationalism and self glorification, supported this. In that context of profound and unfounded pseudo patriotism, Ayers and The Weather Underground reacted in like kind, certainly going to the extreme, but motivated by their view that to assert the necessary change needed, their actions could be rationalized. Their actions were mirrors of the actions and attitudes of those who similarly supported US policy. Both sides were wrong.

But now we are in 2008, and the evidence of the claims of those anti-war activists is now obvious to all but the most intellectually deaf. Mr. Ayers was and is not our enemy, but a proponent of the goals of freedom that our country has long since discarded, discarded on the false notion that the US is the leader of freedom loving people, and worse, that the US is the prime example of freedom. It, unfortunately, is not.

when did the times ask senator obama if william ayres was his friend.

Since we are electing his buddy Obama, and he has inspired Obama, why mute his voice? If it is okay to have a terrorist lover in the White House, why not hear the person that inspired our next president?

Interesting how Chicago makes him citizen of the year.

And Nebraska thinks he is not the right kind of message we need in America.

Didn't you hear Obamas comments on his socialst tax plan "John McCain thinks that giving these Americans a break is socialism. Well, I call it opportunity, and there is nothing more American than that,"

Yep, opportunity...Chicago Style.

Obama was like 7 years old when Ayers was a radical. He couldn't have been "palling around" with him then. Ayers is now a professor. I don't think he still is running the Weather Underground or whatever their name was. People, get real. I don't think Obama's mother or his grandparents would have let him hang around "weathermen" at such a young age. Let's be realistic with the allegations.

"Safety reasons" ?! What a joke. Why can't the university just admit they made a huge mistake in inviting this guy to begin with and that they're disinviting him because he's a unrepentent domestic terrorist. Unless, of course, the safety reasons they are citing for the canceled speech are fears that Ayers will decide to take back up his old habits and plant a bomb on campus somewhere...the only people who need to be concered for their safety in this situation are the people who cross Ayers.

Oh, and to Nebraska alums and donors like the above-mentioned Hitchcock Foundation, here's an idea: Instead of just threatening to withhold donations when the university does something you don't like, cut off all donations first, until they do something that you do like! Stop feeding these idiots money until they start behaving like responsible adults! Who thinks it's a good idea to invite a terrorist to speak at your school?!

Why can't people just leave this man alone. Do you forget he wasn't convicted of anything? Many people in the Vietnam era were dissatisfied with politics at that time. What does innocent until proven guilty mean in this country. In my opinion it means nothing!!! From what I have seen a mere accusation confirms guilt. If I were Ayers and 'Joe the plumber' I would seek legal charges against the McCain campaign for disrupting their lives.

I am amazed that a unrepentant terrorist is now teaching the next generation.

CNN exposes Obama/Ayers
Notice the $100+million Obama funneled to Ayers, Ayers' wife and Rev. Wright

Thank God there is some sense held within the people of Nebraska....should we be rewarding terrorists who have bombed our structures and who have recently stated they wish they could do more, with tens of thousands of dollars to lecture to our college students?

Obama thinks so...thank God the people have stood up and stopped the insanity.

Nebraska's Hitchcock Foundation, a tax-exempt foundation calling for censorship of free speech, and threatening economic extortion if it doesn't get it's way-- was started by a liberal US Senator in 1934- andhas been taken over by a bunch of right-wing white collar crooks--Enron insiders, fraudlulent boardmenmbers, crooked lawyers and judges play acting as philanthropists, all actually Nebraska Republican party "insiders":banksters and lobbyists , and self-dealers, who now are actively using the foundation's assets in overtly political ways to bully the University of Nebraska. The Nebraska AG Jon Bruening, who was freindly to the Hitchcock takeover group--it ALWAYS helps to have a Goverenment official who won't ever enforce laws against you on your side---think the Wall St.Collapse 2008-- is involved in this action too. AGJon Bruening turned a blind eye to all of the self-dealing, fraud, forgery involved by the Hitchcock foundation and now he uses his political office to lash out with the foundation against the university. No doubt the AG will run for governor, or Senator, with the supposed "tax-exempt foundation' filling his coffers. The Hitchcock Foundation should lose it's tax-exempt status for this, and be audited by the IRS, and it's board should be ousted for what amounts to political action and an assault on free speech.

So now tax-exempt foundations can engage in bullying universites with their money?And still enjoy tax-exempt status? Look at the Gilbert M. and Martha H.Hitchcock Foundation on the web-it's address is the same as The South Texas Land Limited Partnership, is it the non-profit arm of the partnership?Does it fund the partnership? The general partner of the partnership, Neely Kountze, is listed as president of the Foundation. There are reports all over the web on how he engaged in self-dealing, tried to destroy family members when he brought a hostile lawsuit to make himself president of the foundation, and put his cronies on the board of the foundation. Dirty work. No wonder Warren Buffet left his billions for Bill Gates to manage in seattle--nebraska is a dangerous place to have a foundation, unless your a right-wing nut.

Was Bill Ayers in hiding or something for the past few decades? Why people only reacting to this guy now. What took so long? Isn't he a prof teaching at a Uni?

The Ministry of Truth is on top of this blog.

The Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Foundation's President Neely Kountze has his first cousin Omaha District Court Judge W. Russell Bowie on the board of the tax-exempt Foundation that is engaged in overt political lobbying against the free speech rights of anyone interested in hearing this or any controversial speech. Note howGovenor Dave Heinemann(R-Neb) got his name in this story-he appointed Judge W.Russell Bowie a Judge in March 2006(while the same Judge was involved as a defendant in the Hitchcock Foundation lawsuits, well reported on in the New York Times and Counterpunch) and AG Jon Bruening(R-Neb)who declined to intervene in the Hitchcock Foundation suits which involved self-dealing and tax fraud. Bruening's family put in for a contribution to the Hitchcock Foundation, it appears, in the early 2000's. It appears that this Hitchcock foundation has been taken over by the Republican politicians of Nebraska.

As a taxpaying US citizen I demand that the EO division and Criminal division of the IRS seize and audit the Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Foundation's files , audit each boardmember fiduciarily and personally back 10 years For violating IRS CODE by campaiging against Obama and see if any other state or federal laws are being broken or illegal activity engaged in or covered up by the board, or IRS code violations are being comitted by the Hitchcock Foundation boardmembers or employees. Audit the Hitchcock foundation lawyers and their employees, accountants and employees the board has paid back 10 years and assess the severity and potential fines and sanctions to the Gilbert M. and Martha's board president Neely Kountze's for politically campaigning against President Obama and using the foundation's tax-exempt funds to break IRS code. Apparently this Hitchcock Foundation's president and the foundation board holds itself above the law of the USA, and willingly and blatantly violates the IRS code. We should all be so lucky to never pay taxes such as this foundation!!!

This Hitchcock Foundation sounds like a front and should be investigated by the Feds, there are enough stories in the media about this foundation in past 5 years to write a book. Just like the Holy Land Foundation the Hitchcock Foundation should come clean with it's finances in a grand jury setting.Don't let these "Tax-Free" corporations become fronts for either terrorism or money laundering or financial fraud as that would destroy the good works that so many good foundations here in Los Angeles do. Stop these foundations from becoming lobbying arms of corrupt corporations. It is against the law for a tax-exempt organization to engage in political campaigning, and that's exactly what this group did. Make it pay for breaking the law.

William Ayres right to freedom of speech is protected by the constitution, is it not? I'd like to see the text of the NU chancellor's press conference, along with what the Nebraska attorney general and Nebraska governor and the judge on that Hitchcock foundation all said as they attacked a citizen's constitutional right to free speech, and how much each goverenment employee charged the taxpayer of the state for abusing their offices in attacking a constitutional right of a citizen.

Omaha's Hitchcock Foundation is the Bernard Madoff of Non Profits.

Omaha's Judge James T. Gleason Hitchcock Foundation ruling allowed Judge W.Russell Bowie to take avails of Gleason's ruling, and the FBI should investigate both Omaha Judges for Public Corruption.

Get some sleep. And get over it. I say that because it sounds to me like you seem to know a little too much about this case. So that tells me you're probably involved directly in the case. And that makes me think you're just spewing propaganda.

Please tell it to your psychiatrist.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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