Thursday, September 19, 2019

Last Call For Separation Of Church And State Department

Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, like many large universities, get grants from the federal government to develop skills employers want, in this case, language skills necessary to help the State Department and intel community's insatiable need for countries and cultures of the Middle East.  No surprise here, this has been going on since 9/11.

What's new is that the Trump regime has decided that these NC schools aren't sufficiently portraying Islam as a threat to white Christian America enough, and that teaching people about Farsi or Arabic that also actually includes sufficient cultural context of Islam in the Islamic world is a problem, so much so to the racist, Islamophobic Trump regime that they are demanding this thorough and objective portrayal of 2 billion people as "not savages" be stopped immediately or all federal funding will be cut.

The Trump administration is threatening to cut funding for a Middle East studies program run by the University of North Carolina and Duke University, arguing that it’s misusing a federal grant to advance “ideological priorities” and unfairly promote “the positive aspects of Islam” but not Christianity or Judaism. 
An Aug. 29 letter from the U.S. Education Department orders the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies to revise its offerings by Sept. 22 or risk losing future funding from a federal grant that’s awarded to dozens of universities to support foreign language instruction. The consortium received $235,000 from the grant last year, according to Education Department data. 
A statement from the UNC-Chapel Hill says the consortium “deeply values its partnership with the Department of Education” and is “committed to working with the department to provide more information about its programs.” Officials at Duke declined to comment. The Education Department declined to say if it’s examining similar programs at other schools. 
Academic freedom advocates say the government could be setting a dangerous precedent if it injects politics into funding decisions. Some said they had never heard of the Education Department asserting control over such minute details of a program’s offerings. 
“Is the government now going to judge funding programs based on the opinions of instructors or the approach of each course?” said Henry Reichman, chairman of a committee on academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors. “The odor of right wing political correctness that comes through this definitely could have a chilling effect.” 
More than a dozen universities receive National Resource Center grants for their Middle East programs, including Columbia, Georgetown, Yale and the University of Texas. The Duke-UNC consortium was founded in 2005 and first received the grant nearly a decade ago. 
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered an investigation into the program in June after North Carolina Rep. George Holding, a Republican, complained that it hosted a taxpayer-funded conference with “severe anti-Israeli bias and anti-Semitic rhetoric.” The conference, titled “Conflict Over Gaza: People, Politics and Possibilities,” included a rapper who performed a “brazenly anti-Semitic song,” Holding said in an April 15 letter.
In a response , DeVos said she was “troubled” by Holding’s letter and would take a closer look at the consortium.
The inquiry joins a broader Education Department effort to root out anti-Semitism at U.S. universities. Speaking at a summit on the topic in July, DeVos attacked a movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, calling it a “pernicious threat” on college campuses.

Betsy DeVos deciding that insufficient Islamophobia equals anti-Semitic teachings should concern everybody, regardless of religion.  But it's very interesting that Antisemitism here is described solely as "being critical of Israel". 

As I keep saying, we live in dark times.

Tidal Wave Of Trickery

With Donald Trump once again tweeting a red bullseye on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar's head with his latest vile lie, Greg Sargent asks if Dems are ready for the coming flood of fecal foolery that will be the 2020 Trump campaign.

On Wednesday, President Trump used his Twitter feed to share a video that falsely depicted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) partying on the anniversary of 9/11. Yes, the president of the United States cheerfully trafficked in disinformation. 
This fact didn’t concern Trump in the slightest, since it afforded him the opportunity to thrill his followers with a disgusting display of anti-Muslim bigotry — or so he seemed to believe, anyway, which doesn’t speak too highly of Trump’s view of his supporters. 
You can find the whole backstory here. Trump retweeted a tweet from one of his favorite conspiracy theorists — one whose work he has amplified before — that had pirated a video of Omar dancing on another occasion from another tweet. Trump declared: “The new face of the Democrat Party!” 
Which raises a question: Are Democrats prepared for the tsunami of shamelessly propagandistic media manipulation and rank disinformation tactics that Trump and his network will unleash during the coming election?

One, Trump's stochastic terrorism is absolutely going to get at least one Democratic politician hurt or killed before the end of the 2020 campaign, that's a near-guarantee.   I truly hope Capitol Police are taking steps to protect Rep. Omar from, well, Donald Trump.

Two, the Democrats are completely unprepared for the ballistic barrage of bullshit coming.

One way to combat this problem that Democrats have discussed concerns adopting a kind of official party doctrine about the scourge of disinformation. Politico recently reported that Democratic state chairs are urging the Democratic National Committee to adopt a pledge in which the party and its committees and all leading candidates would forswear the use of such tactics, as well as vow not to utilize information obtained through hacks and other illicit means. 
The basic idea here is that the party should stand for the principle that all this amounts to an extremely serious state of affairs for liberal democracy. It’s a component of a much larger international trend in rising illiberal authoritarianism, and the broader goal is to undermine confidence in shared facts, information gathered in good faith and institutional sources of empirical inquiry as the basis for democratic deliberation.
Joe Biden has spoken about the problem in these sorts of terms. Yet it’s not clear the DNC is willing to adopt a pledge like this. 
Another approach has been to pressure social media companies. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign recently took this tack after a conspiracy theory falsely connected O’Rourke to the gunman who carried out recent mass murders in Texas. 
The claim was amplified by a couple of shadowy but prominent allies of Trump — which makes this a preview of what we’re likely to see directed at the Democratic nominee. 
In response, the O’Rourke campaign sent letters to top executives at Twitter, Facebook and Google, pointing out that these platforms are “being used every day to proliferate misinformation,” and “if they don’t do better in 2020, we may lose our democracy forever.” 
One move here might be to continue raising a big fuss in demanding more action by tech companies, though it’s not clear how much it will help. 
Still another idea, suggested by Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg, is for many elements of the party to try to come together to forge a grand strategy for proactively combating disinformation. 
This might involve multiple party committees investing real money in people and technology designed to track and “out” disinformation, officials from party committees and leading campaigns agreeing to work together against the problem, and possibly even enlisting armies of outside supporters to swarm social media to snuff out disinformation before it gains traction. 
And, of course, another question is whether the news media is prepared for all of these possibilities.

A combination of all three responses would be most effective, as they address three different areas of the same problem, stopping Democrats from using misinformation, stopping the spread through social media, and proactively countering it are all needed.

But it's that lst observation, whether the media is ready, that's actually more important.

They're not.  Trump will string them along like puppets.  We've already seen them dance to his lies and repeat them constantly and uncritically.  Cutting Trump off from his supply of media glory would hurt him the most, but that will never happen.  Our media would never dare.

And so they will be part of the problem more than the solution.

Spies Like Us, Con't

Again, ever since the Barr Justice Department made it clear they were seeking a grand jury indictment against forme FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the leaks from the intel community against the Trump regime have stepped up considerably.

As part of that fight, last week House Intelligence Committee chair Rep. Adam Schiff issued a subpoena to the office Director of National Intelligence over a formal whistleblower complaint that Schiff says was never acted upon.  The DNI's office refused to give the complaint to Schiff and things are getting very tense.  Greg Sargent:

The latest development: The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has informed Schiff, the California Democrat and chairman of the Intelligence Committee, that he will not forward a whistleblower’s complaint to the committee, as required by law.
Yet the legal rationale for refusing to do this appears specious — and raises further questions as to why this is happening at all.

This all started when Schiff announced that the Inspector General at the ODNI had alerted him to a whistleblower’s complaint that had been submitted to him. Schiff noted that the IG assessed the complaint as “credible.”

But as Schiff noted, the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has not forwarded the complaint to the Intelligence Committee.

There is a process for whistleblowers in such situations, one that has been established by federal law. A whistleblower must first submit a complaint to the IG, who determines whether it’s an “urgent concern” and “credible.” If so, the DNI “shall” forward the complaint to the congressional intelligence committees.
The idea here is that this process allows a member of the intelligence community to raise concerns about potential lawbreaking or other abuses with Congress, so it can exercise oversight over those abuses, while ensuring that classified information remains protected. This is done via the independent inspector general at first, insulating the whistleblower against agency-head retaliation, which is also provided for in the statute.

In this case, Schiff announced, the inspector general notified the committee that this whistleblower’s complaint did constitute an urgent concern and is credible — yet Maguire still hadn’t forwarded the complaint and relevant associated materials to the committee.

So Schiff called on the DNI to forward the materials, and if he failed to do that, to appear before Congress on Thursday.

Now Maguire has sent a new letter to Schiff once again refusing to forward the complaint

But late last night the stakes on the mysterious complaint became huge.

The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader
, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter. 
Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed. It raises new questions about the president’s handling of sensitive information and may further strain his relationship with U.S. spy agencies. One former official said the communication was a phone call.

And now things become clear.  The DNI's office was almost certainly instructed by Bill Barr to ignore the law on the complaint because it directly involved Donald Trump doing something wildly inappropriate and quite possibly illegal to boot.

So the question is, who is the foreign leader, and what promise was made?  Off the top of my head, I can think of five leaders who would fit the bill of getting a wild Trump promise:
  • Russia's Vladimir Putin
  • Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan
  • Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky
  • UK's Boris Johnson
  • Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu
There's also our strongman in Venezuela, Juan Guaido as a possibility, but he's not leader of the country.  Not yet, anyway, and not without, say, a promise of US military intervention.  Still, a long shot.

At this level of the game, the whistleblower would definitely earn every bit of Trump's seething vengeance against those he sees as disloyal to him.  It's also somebody who would have had access to Trump's conversations with foreign leaders, which means they have serious clearance and responsibilities.  Finally, it's somebody who came forward to burn Trump on this, the promise being so outlandish that the person felt the need to essentially end their career and to risk facing almost certain Justice Department harassment and possible prosecution.

It's a mystery to be sure, but I bet we're going to get answers, and soon.  Bonus exit question: is this the reason why former DNI Dan Coats resigned, because he was told by Barr to spike this whistleblower request, knowing full well what it was?

Leaks can be deadly, you know.  Trump pissed off the wrong people.


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