Trump Refuses to Protect U.S. Against Future Russian Hacking of Our Elections

A blockbuster report in the Washington Post says that Trump adamantly refuses to acknowledge Russian hacking into our elections and will not discuss ways to protect against recurrences. Meanwhile, the Kremlin is laughing about what they accomplished with an expenditure of only $500,000.

There are many reasons to worry about Trump’s presidency. This may be the biggest. He is violating the oath he took to protect our country.

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The story begins:

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, “So what?” Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said, adding that “we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

As hedged as those words were, Trump regretted them almost immediately. “It’s not me,” he said to aides afterward. “It wasn’t right.”

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized — the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely.

Trump has never convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it, administration officials said. Although the issue has been discussed at lower levels at the National Security Council, one former high-ranking Trump administration official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSC that to raise the matter is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.

Trump’s stance on the election is part of a broader entanglement with Moscow that has defined the first year of his presidency. He continues to pursue an elusive bond with Putin, which he sees as critical to dealing with North Korea, Iran and other issues. “Having Russia in a friendly posture,” he said last month, “is an asset to the world and an asset to our country.”

His position has alienated close American allies and often undercut members of his Cabinet — all against the backdrop of a criminal probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

This account of the Trump administration’s reaction to Russia’s interference and policies toward Moscow is based on interviews with more than 50 current and former U.S. officials, many of whom had senior roles in the Trump campaign and transition team or have been in high-level positions at the White House or at national security agencies. Most agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

Trump administration officials defended the approach with Russia, insisting that their policies and actions have been tougher than those pursued by Obama but without unnecessarily combative language or posture. “Our approach is that we don’t irritate Russia, we deter Russia,” a senior administration official said. “The last administration had it exactly backwards.”

Others questioned how such an effort could succeed when the rationale for that objective is routinely rejected by the president. Michael V. Hayden, who served as CIA director under President George W. Bush, has described the Russian interference as the political equivalent of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, an event that exposed a previously unimagined vulnerability and required a unified American response.

“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again,’ ” Hayden said in an interview. Trump “has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”

‘More than worth the effort’

The feeble American response has registered with the Kremlin.

U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 “active measures” campaign — as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations — as a resounding, if incomplete, success.

Moscow has not achieved some its most narrow and immediate goals. The annexation of Crimea from Ukraine has not been recognized. Sanctions imposed for Russian intervention in Ukraine remain in place. Additional penalties have been mandated by Congress. And a wave of diplomatic retaliation has cost Russia access to additional diplomatic facilities, including its San Francisco consulate.

But overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives — destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.

The bottom line for Putin, said one U.S. official briefed on the stream of post-election intelligence, is that the operation was “more than worth the effort.”

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Former Facebook Executive Apolgizes for Damage Facebook Has Done to Society

A former Facebook executive has taken the extraordinary step of apologizing for the damage the social media giant has done to society.

A former Facebook executive is making waves after he spoke out about his “tremendous guilt” over growing the social network, which he feels has eroded “the core foundations of how people behave by and between each other.”

Chamath Palihapitiya began working for Facebook in 2007 and left in 2011 as its vice president for user growth. When he started, he said, there was not much thought given to the long-term negative consequences of developing such a platform.

“I think in the back, deep, deep recesses of our minds, we kind of knew something bad could happen,” said Palihapitiya, 41. “But I think the way we defined it was not like this.”

That changed as Facebook’s popularity exploded, he said. To date, the social network has more than 2 billion monthly users around the world and continues to grow.

But the ability to connect and share information so quickly — as well as the instant gratification people give and receive over their posts — has resulted in some negative consequences, according to Palihapitiya.

“It literally is a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. That is truly where we are,” he said. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works: no civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem. This is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem.”

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Rebecca Klein: When Parents Must Fight to Have Their Child Included in Regular Classrooms

Rebecca Klein, education editor of Huffington Post, writes here about parents who must struggle to persuade school districts to let their children with disabilities remain with their peers—or move to another district that will include them.

“Just a few decades ago, students with disabilities faced high rates of institutionalization and were rarely included in typical classroom settings. In 1975, the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act ― originally called the Education for All Handicapped Children’s Act ― enshrined into law these students’ right to an appropriate public education.

“Part of IDEA’s framework requires parents to advocate hard to get what they see as their children’s needs met. Often, school districts have different ideas about what would best serve a child. Decades later, this is still the case.

“Sometimes teachers lack the best training for dealing with a student’s specific disability. Other times, administrators have low expectations for what these students can achieve.

“While IDEA says students with disabilities should learn in the least restrictive environment ― meaning with non-disabled peers ― parents still often find themselves fighting hard, expensive battles for their child to be included.”

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Jake Jacobs: Leaked Campaign Policy Book Shows that Wealthy Donors Pushed Clinton to Support Charter Schools

Jake Jacobs, writing in Alternet, reports on a Clinton campaign briefing book on education that shows the powerful influence of wealthy charter advocates.

A rare peek into the evolution of Hillary Clinton’s education platform is afforded through an overlooked Wikileaks-published document. Entitled “Policy Book— FINAL,” the PDF file was attached to a 2014 email sent to John Podesta, Clinton’s future campaign chair. The education portion of the document runs 66 pages, mostly concentrated on K-12 policy, and captures specific input from billionaire donors looking to overhaul and privatize public education.

Today, Donald Trump seeks a rapid expansion of charter schools and private school vouchers, while his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, touts “school choice” and market competition for public school at every stop. But in private, Hillary Clinton’s donors, dubbed “experts,” also sought rapid charter expansion and market-based options to replace public schools.

One of the most connected “thought leaders” discussed is Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, and the head of the Emerson Collective, a prominent education reform advocacy group. Powell Jobs who has been close with the Clintons since the late ’90s, also sat with Betsy DeVos on the board of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. She set up billionaire “roundtables” with Clinton’s campaign advisors through 2015 while donating millions to Priorities USA, Clinton’s main PAC.

Powell Jobs and Bruce Reed of the Broad Foundation also set their sights on remaking the teaching profession and teacher education. The briefing book, written in 2014, shows Reed boasting about the great accomplishments of the New Orleans charter district, “accomplishments” that have since been exposed as a fraud.

Jacobs writes:

Tying campaign donations to a singular issue like expanding charter schools might in days past been seen as a prohibited quid-pro-quo. But in this cycle, Podesta, O’Leary and Tanden all busily raised campaign money from the same billionaire education reformers with whom they were also talking policy specifics.

But they did more than talk. On June 20, 2015, O’Leary sent Podesta an email revealing the campaign adopted two of Powell Jobs’ suggestions, including “infusing best ideas from charter schools into our traditional public schools.” When Clinton announced this policy in a speech to teachers, however, it was the one line that drew boos.

Clinton needed big money to run. But she also solicited and got the support of the two big teachers’ unions, the NEA and the AFT. Torn between her super-wealthy donors and the leaders of the unions, Clinton eventually fell silent on education issues, to avoid alienating either side.

A personal footnote: Carol Burris and I met twice with Hillary’s top education policy advisor, Ann O’Leary. We tried to persuade her that Hillary should not support charter schools, but we sensed it was futile. She did eventually assure us that Hillary would take a strong stand against for-profit charters, a small victory.

It is no surprise that the faux Democrats in DFER, the Broad Foundation, and Powell Jobs were pushing her to endorse privatization. Perhaps it was a small victory that Clinton realized this was a non-starter with the millions of teachers whose support she needed.

I am certainly not surprised that the big donors wanted to buy her support for privatization. I am not surprised that she wanted their money. We could have fought that out after the election. Even if she followed in Obama’s footsteps on education, she would not have sold out civil rights, the environment, our national parks, our foreign policy, the Supreme Court, and every other function of the federal government.

Having read the briefing book, as much as I disagree with the reformers, I would still pick Clinton over Trump, with enthusiasm. And fight the battles later, without fearing to lose the essential values of our society and our democracy, as well as world peace, which now hang in the balance.

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The Conservative War on Higher Education, Abetted by the Tax Plans of Republicans

Conservatives have long had a beef with higher education. William Buckley first warned that the universities were rife with Marxists and leftists in his book “God and Man at Yale.” Since then, it has been open warfare on universities, which are the generators of ideas and discoveries in science, technology, history, literature, and other frontiers of knowledge.

The battle is briefly described in this article in The Atlantic by Jason Blakeley, who sees the battle as part of the long history of anti-intellectualism and preference for the practical over the theoretical.

What is undeniable, wherever you start the story, is that the Republican tax bills target universities and their students.

Instead of increasing access to higher education, which benefits students and society, the Republican tax plans will narrow access and narrow opportunity. The unprecedented tax on university endowments will reduce funds available for scholarships to the nation’s top universities and colleges.

He writes:

The Republican-controlled Congress is now poised to pass one of the most dramatic changes to the tax code in more than a generation—one with significant benefits for the wealthiest sector of society. Yet an aspect of this legislation receiving little attention is how it marks the culmination of a decades-long renouncement of higher education by portions of the American conservative movement.

The GOP and the American right consistently position themselves against the universities. This is a commonplace of the culture war. But why? America’s universities regularly rank among the most prestigious worldwide, making undeniable contributions to medicine, science, technology, economy, the arts, athletics, and the humanities. America’s universities also attract some of the world’s brightest minds, spurring innovation and dominating globally by countless measures. Conservatives might be proud of the universities as particularly stunning examples of American pluck and ingenuity. Instead, the tax bill appears to be symptomatic of the GOP’s growing disillusionment with higher education. This is, at least, how a number of college presidents and leaders have interpreted it.

For one, the legislation would for the first time ever require universities to pay taxes on their endowment income. Universities have traditionally received tax exemptions on those assets in part because they are viewed as contributing to the public good. In addition, the House bill includes provisions to end graduate-student tax breaks, leading professors and graduate students at top universities to worry that studying for a Ph.D. will become unaffordable for all but the wealthy. (The Senate bill doesn’t include the latter provision; the two pieces of legislation head to conference committee shortly.) With tax analysts identifying corporations as the Republican plan’s biggest winners, a politics of factionalism seems implicit in the bill: Private corporations deserve even greater assets, while America’s universities merit higher levels of taxation.

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Center for Responsible Lending: PROSPER Act is a Hoax Against Low-Income Students and a Boon to For-Profit Frauds

The Center for Responsible Lending issued this press release about the first stage in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The House Education and the Workforce Committee is chaired by Rep. Virginia Foxx, a far-right extremist from North Carolina.


PROSPER Act Shortchanges Students, Undermines Higher Ed Safeguards

Bill to dismantle higher education opportunity passes committee after late night vote and without bipartisan support

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, shortly after midnight, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed the PROSPER Act, a bill to eliminate important programs and safeguards that make higher education accessible and affordable for low-income students. The bill was approved without bipartisan support after a daylong debate and markup procedure where Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) and other sponsors of the legislation summarily denied nearly all 40 amendments submitted by her Democratic colleagues.

The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) has called on members of the committee and Members of Congress to reject this bill which would: rollback borrower defense and gainful employment rules; eliminate state authority to regulate student loan servicers; use taxpayer dollars to prioritize for-profit colleges over public and non-profit colleges and universities; cut funding for minority-serving institutions, like historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs); and dismantle all student loan forgiveness programs.

CRL counsel Ashley Harrington released the following statement in response to last night’s vote:

“This bill does only one thing—it widens the wealth divide by ensuring that the gap between those who can afford to attend college and those who can’t becomes more difficult to bridge than ever. It increases the ability of predatory for-profit college institutions to access taxpayer dollars and dismisses the call of students who want assistance with the crushing burden of student loan debt.

“In 2008, we saw firsthand what happens when we support industry and businesses at the public’s expense. The student loan debt crisis is on track to decimate our economy and our communities in much the same way the mortgage crisis did. Should this bill become law as written, it will only accelerate that process.

“There are numerous ways to address higher education costs and access—we can create a system that’s more fair and equitable, including increasing our investment in college and career readiness, opening more pathways to loan forgiveness, and working to stem the exponentially rising cost of college. Unfortunately, this bill does nothing to address these concerns. Instead, the PROSPER Act is a war on students and pushes higher education further out of reach for many Americans than ever before.”

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For more information, or to arrange an interview with a CRL spokesperson on this issue, please contact ricardo.quinto@responsiblelending.org.

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Robert Kuttner: Democracy Won in Alabama, A Narrow Margin, But a Win Nonetheless

Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect sums up the Alabama election: Democracy held.

DECEMBER 13, 2017

Kuttner on TAP

The election of Doug Jones portends several hopeful things. First, it shows that under the right circumstances, 30 percent of white Alabamians will vote for a Democrat, even a pro-choice Democrat; and that black anger can be turned into black voter mobilization. We may have a biracial progressive coalition yet.

Second, it deepens the schisms in the Trump-era Republican Party. The defeat of Roy Moore made a fool of Steve Bannon, and forced Trump into one of his bizarre dances with the truth: He was against Moore before he was for him. Most obviously, the win gives Democrats one more crucial Senate seat.

But let’s not kid ourselves. This victory was a one-off, and everything had to break right for Jones. It took a GOP candidate not only as fringe as Moore, but one who is also an accused child molester; combined with Alabama’s other Republican senator, Richard Shelby, denouncing Moore almost on election eve and refusing to support him; and Mitch McConnell signaling that he’d refuse to seat Moore. And with all of that, Jones won by just 1.5 points—barely more than the margin of theft.

Even so, coming in the wake of the Democrats’ stunning blue wave on Election Day, this win continues the momentum, and the narrative of Democrats on the march and Republicans in disarray. As Trump becomes increasingly unhinged by a resurgence of sexual complaints against himself, combined with Special Counsel Robert Mueller closing in on Trump’s own obstruction of justice, it’s not a great time to be a Republican.

Most importantly, in a state that is one of the worst offenders when it comes to voter suppression, with a long history of denying voting rights to blacks, democracy held. Given all the threats of the Trump era, that is the best news of all. ~

ROBERT KUTTNER

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Economist: How the Tax Bill Will Hurt the Poorest Schools (LINK FIXED)

Nora Gordon, an economist at Georgetown University who studies school finance, explains how the GOP tax plan will hurt the nation’s poorest schools. Schools will suffer while corporations and wealthy individuals will enjoy big tax cuts.

She writes:

It’s common to hear people say that the quality of students’ education shouldn’t depend on their ZIP code. But the Republican House and Senate tax bills would make ZIP codes matter more than ever. They would create an incentive to hoard opportunity by raising funds that remain close to home.

Why does our education system have so much at stake? A vast majority of funding for public schools, about 90 percent, comes from the money raised by state and local governments. Currently, taxpayers can deduct their state and local taxes, and that deduction makes them more likely to support higher spending on programs funded by those taxes, including public schools.

With its bills, Congress would significantly cut the deduction of state and local taxes, slicing into that incentive. This is why education advocates are fighting to keep the deductions, and why those who believe state and local governments are too big want to get rid of them.

After a consideration of eliminating all state and local deductions, current proposals have been marketed as a political compromise: Both bills take away taxpayers’ ability to deduct income taxes but allow a property tax deduction of up to $10,000 per year. The problem is that states depend more heavily on income taxes, and local governments on property taxes, so the compromise favors raising funds at the local level. Structuring it this way will only add to inequality in the school system.

As an economist who has studied education funding and policy, to me the historical record is clear: State-level school spending is critical. Economic segregation across school districts means some areas need an infusion of resources to have a chance at serving their students well, and states are the primary source of that infusion. Research shows that when states send more resources to their neediest districts, achievement levels in those districts rise.

But states are already in a tough spot: The most recent data show they are still recovering from the recession, with over half of them spending less on K-12 now, in inflation-adjusted terms, than they did in 2008.

It’s worth noting that more is at stake for states than just education funding. Federal spending cuts are sure to come to pay for this tax bill. There will most likely be calls for cuts in programs that provide food, health care and income assistance to poor families. Just as people will look to the states to fill these new holes in the safety net, it will be harder than ever for states to raise the funds to do so.

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