Monday, April 6, 2020

Last Call For Our Little Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

For the first time, the Trump State Department is designating a white supremacist group as terrorists, and of course the group is Russian in origin.

The Trump administration is expected to announce on Monday that it is designating an ultranationalist group based in Russia as a terrorist organization, according to officials. It is the first time the government will apply the label to a white supremacist group.
While the label of specially designated global terrorist has been frequently used for Islamist extremists, there have been growing concerns among U.S. officials about violent white supremacists with transnational links over the past five years. In 2018, the White House added that threat to the government’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism.

“These designations are unprecedented,” said Ambassador Nathan A. Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator. “This is the first time the United States has ever designated white supremacists as terrorists, and this illustrates how seriously this administration takes the white supremacist terrorist threat. We are doing things no previous administration has done to counter this threat.”

The State Department’s designation for the organization, the Russian Imperial Movement, sets up the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to block any American property or assets belonging to the group. It will also bar Americans from financial dealings with the organization and make it easier to ban its members from traveling to the United States.

The United States is also designating three of the group’s leaders — Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov — as individual terrorists who will face similar sanctions, the officials said.

The authority for either the Treasury Department or the State Department to deem a group or an individual a specially designated global terrorist traces back to an executive order issued by President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. President Trump in September signed an executive order expanding that authority to cover groups that provide training for terrorists even if the groups are not directly linked to any attack.

The system parallels in some ways but is different from when the government designates a group as a foreign terrorist organization, which has separate criteria and applies only to groups rather than individuals.

The move could cut against criticism that the Trump administration has played down the threat of white nationalist violence for political reasons, based on the so-called alt-right’s support for Mr. Trump and his statement in 2017 that there were “very fine people on both sides” of a deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

The Russian Imperial Movement is not considered to be sponsored by the Russian government, officials said, although President Vladimir V. Putin has tolerated its activities and it has helped advance the Russian government’s external goals by recruiting Russian fighters to aid pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.

On one side, yeah, this is Trump saying "See, we're not racists, and we are tough on Russia!"  On the other hand, it's even easier to imagine that Putin has told Trump that RIM's political usefulness has come to an end, and that Putin wants help in pressuring them.  Besides, it's win-win for both of them.

Concerns have been escalating for several years that there is a growing transnational white supremacist or alt-right movement, as illustrated by the 2019 mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by an Australian man who streamed the killings of 51 people on Facebook Live.

Against that backdrop, national security officials are said to have been searching for a neo-Nazi-style group that the U.S. government could designate as a foreign terrorist organization.

One challenge to finding an appropriate candidate was that designating a group with significant American ties would also raise major First Amendment issues, officials said. Although a Russian Imperial Movement member has visited the United States, the organization does not appear to have domestic members. It is not clear if the group has provided training to U.S.-based neo-Nazis.

So domestic white supremacist terrorists can carry on as normal, and Trump can say he's doing something about foreign white supremacist terrorists.


Plugged In, Dropped Out

Forcing thousands of school districts into online learning for the rest of the school year is turning into a complete disaster, especially for the students without broadband access, and it's one that will almost certainly cost an entire generation of post-Millennials a year of education or more.

Chronic absenteeism is a problem in American education during the best of times, but now, with the vast majority of the nation’s school buildings closed and lessons being conducted remotely, more students than ever are missing class — not logging on, not checking in or not completing assignments.

The absence rate appears particularly high in schools with many low-income students, whose access to home computers and internet connections can be spotty. Some teachers report that less than half their students are regularly participating.

The trend is leading to widespread concern among educators, with talk of a potential need for summer sessions, an early start in the fall, or perhaps having some or even all students repeat a grade once Americans are able to return to classrooms.

Students are struggling to connect in districts large and small. Los Angeles said last week that about a third of its high school students were not logging in for classes. And there are daunting challenges for rural communities like Minford, Ohio, where many students live in remote wooded areas unserved by internet providers.

Educators say that a subset of students and their parents have dropped out of touch with schools completely — unavailable by phone, email or any other form of communication — as families struggle with the broader economic and health effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

Even before the outbreak, chronic absenteeism was a problem in many schools, especially those with a lot of low-income students. Many obstacles can prevent children who live in poverty from making it to class: a parent’s broken-down car or a teenager’s need to babysit siblings, for example. But online learning presents new obstacles, particularly with uneven levels of technology and adult supervision.

Titilayo Aluko, 18, a junior at Landmark High School in Manhattan, is one of the students trying hard to keep up with her classes who has been thwarted by her lack of access to technology. She has a district-issued laptop, but no home Wi-Fi network any more. The cable company removed the router from her family’s Bronx apartment after they had trouble paying the monthly bill.

For classes like statistics and neuroscience, Ms. Aluko has tried to complete assignments and participate in video conferences using her cellphone, but that is sometimes impossible.

“I actually need my teachers, who know me and understand me, to help me, and I don’t have that,” she said. “I just keep thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I might not pass.’ I’m just really scared for the future.”

Cratering attendance in some districts contrasts with reports from several selective or affluent schools where close to 100 percent of students are participating in online learning. The dramatic split promises to further deepen the typical academic achievement gaps between poor, middle-class and wealthy students.

The gap is essentially going to be permanent.  Imagine trying to graduate in this catastrophe, let alone dealing with not knowing if your family can get power, water, food, or the money to pay for it right now.  Then imagine trying to apply for colleges on top of that.  Now try to imagine competing for admission slots with students who can easily transition to online learning without skipping a beat.

We're going to see dropout rates through the roof in a lot of districts this year and next.  We will have failed a generation of kids.

Retribution Execution, Con't

As I mentioned last week, Donald Trump has fired Inspector General for the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson, saying he "no longer has confidence" in Atkinson to do his job.  Leave it to Trump to do it while the world is paying attention to COVID-19, but there's no doubt that Atkinson was fired because of his role in the Ukraine whistleblower scandal that led to Trump's impeachment.

The intelligence community watchdog removed abruptly late Friday by President Donald Trump says he believes Trump ousted him because of his evenhanded handling of a whistleblower complaint that ultimately led to the president's impeachment. 
"It is hard not to think that the President’s loss of confidence in me derives from my having faithfully discharged my legal obligations as an independent and impartial Inspector General," Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general said in a statement Sunday, "and from my commitment to continue to do so."

Atkinson was the federal official who revealed to Congress in September the existence of a whistleblower complaint against Trump, which indicated that the president improperly pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. When Atkinson sought to share that complaint with Congress under a federal whistleblower law, the White House and Justice Department intervened and blocked the transmission of the complaint for days.

Ultimately, amid withering pressure, Trump provided the whistleblower complaint to Congress, as well as a transcript of a July 2019 call with Ukraine's president, two pieces of evidence that became crucial factors in the House's decision to impeach Trump for abuse of power. The Senate later acquitted him on a nearly party-line vote. 
"As an Inspector General, I was legally obligated to ensure that whistleblowers had an effective and authorized means to disclose urgent matters involving classified information to the congressional intelligence committees, and that when they did blow the whistle in an authorized manner, their identities would be protected as a guard against reprisals," Atkinson said in his statement. "Inspectors General are able to fulfill their critical watchdog functions because, by law, they are supposed to be independent of both the Executive agencies they oversee and of Congress." 
Trump informed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees late Friday that he would be removing Atkinson after a required 30-day wait. But Atkinson was immediately placed on administrative leave, according to congressional sources, effectively circumventing the one-month delay. The move has prompted some Senate Republicans to demand more details about Atkinson's removal.

Sadly, Trump now has the perfect political cover to make sure his retribution against Atkinson goes unpunished.  Congress is going to have a much bigger problem on its hands in April than a fired Inspector General.  It's worth noting that under nearly any other scenario, Trump would be getting fried right now by the press over this, but Congress is in recess, and frankly nobody has time right now with a deadly pandemic killing thousands of Americans daily.

Just another day in the Trump regime, I suppose.


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