Thursday, April 18, 2019

Link to text of Mueller report

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/18/us/politics/mueller-report-document.html#g-page-1

Saturday, April 13, 2019

If there was any spying in 2016, it was by Russians on American voters

A version of this was published on line in the Sky Hi News, April 17, 2019
https://www.skyhinews.com/opinion/opinion-muftic-russians-spying-on-the-american-voters/

Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr tossed a plum to the Trump media this past week, first charging Trump enemies with “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016 and then, within the same Congressional hearing redefined spying as “unauthorized surveillance “.  If there was any spying in 2016, it was Russians on American voters to help elect Donald Trump. It was not the FBI spying on President Trump. We do not have to wait for the delivery to Congress Thursday of the Mueller report, redacted or not, to learn of  Russia's activities. It has been spelled out in indictments of Russian active measures conducted by the Russian military and others from and in  Russia. However, the Mueller report we see might reveal more than was in the text of the indictments. 

 Barr admitted he had no evidence that either unauthorized surveillance or spying had occurred.  Later Barr tried to claim that unauthorized surveillance and spying were the same things.  They are not. My first reaction to Barr’s use of the term” spying ” is  that the word refers to acts committed by some foreign hostile power.  Dictionary.com confirms the foreign power element defining “spying” as” a person employed by a government to obtain secret information or intelligence about another, usually hostile, country, especially regarding military or naval affairs “ 
Barr’s conflating the two terms ignited a semantics war that is dangerous because it feeds the paranoid fantasies and conspiracy theories promoted by the right wing that the “deep state” was out to get Donald Trump by spying on him and Trump at once opined  that he was indeed spied
 upon. He reiterated his claim again and again that the Mueller investigation was illegal and a witch hunt.  The Mueller Special Counsel investigation was authorized by Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein per federal statutes 28 U.S.C. §§ 509, 510, and 515, and the parameters were established in the appointing document.

Those conspiracies promoted by Donald Trump and his followers have an ironic twist.   The same” deep state” actors, the FBI specifically, were also the same outfit that most likely got Donald Trump elected with their disclosure ten days before the election that the FBI had reopened a criminal case against Hillary Clinton.   At the same time, the FBI kept it a secret that a counterintelligence investigation had been opened into Donald Trump and his campaign. The effect was that the FBI was protecting Trump while hurting the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. If the FBI was a deep state out to prove Trump did something illegal, it was at least bi-partisan.   Last week, a Democrat, Greg Craig, former Obama White House counsel, was indicted for lying about his lobbying efforts on behalf of Russian/Ukrainian interests. He has pleaded not guilty.  This is a case stemming from the Mueller investigation. It related to Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, a former political advisor to Russian/Ukrainian interests, who has begun a 47-month prison sentence for financial crimes he committed before joining the Trump campaign.

 The Russian hacks and thefts of  Democratic National Committee emails, receiving confidential polling data to help them target voters to swing the election to Trump, and having their spies on the US ground, are most definitely examples of spying on the United States.  The arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in England week once again reminded us of how the Russian espionage to uncover the DNC hacked findings, were relayed and released to the public through Wikileaks to impact the 2016 election. 

 Russians did more than just collect information, per Mueller indictment. They also employed their intelligence gathering results to control the political outcome of the US with their use of social media and advertising, including using Wikileaks as a vehicle. We were played by Russian operatives. The shocker is that the GOP  and Trump are quite alright with that,  impugning the integrity of Mueller who they once praised,  calling the entire investigation as illegal, and demanding Congress investigate the investigators attributing the findings to ulterior motives. It is not alright with me since I think who leads this country should be decided by US voters without being manipulated by some foreign power to further their national interests and using social media as the weapon of their attack.

Is there anything called authorized surveillance? Think back to when the GOP controlled Congress got into the weeds with the FISA court issue. The FISA court is a revolving panel of judges (currently all Republicans) who approve surveillance of US persons, and the FBI must provide evidence to the FISA court that surveillance is justified. The FISA court approved and renewed surveillance several times in the course of the FBI and counterintelligence investigation into Russian election activities.  The House Intelligence Committee then chaired by Republican Devin Nunes attempted to show the FBI had relied on a dossier prepared by UK former spy chief to show justification for the wiretap and did not disclose that to the FISA judges. Indeed the Steele dossier was referenced in the FBI’s filing in footnotes with the comment the dossier was unverified. The burden on AG Barr is now to show how surveillance was conducted on US persons, including the President, that took place without FISA authorization.


https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/politics/russians-indicted-mueller-election-interference.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special_Counsel_investigation_(2017%E2%80%932019)


https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/07/politics/paul-manafort-sentencing-virginia-case-russia-investigation/index.html

https://www.vox.com/2018/7/13/17568806/mueller-russia-intelligence-indictment-full-text

https://www.vox.com/2018/7/13/17568806/mueller-russia-intelligence-indictment-full-text

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Democratic_National_Committee_email_leak





Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Betsy de Vos and her not so hidden agenda

Updated and revised: April 6, 2019

A version of this was published online in the Sky-Hi Daily News April 11, 2019
https://www.skyhinews.com/opinion/opinion-muftic-betsy-devos-and-her-not-so-hidden-agenda/


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's proposed budget that would reduce the Department of Education by over $7 billion,  is cruel and possibly racist-tinged. Her budget eliminated all federal funding for Special Olympics while putting in her budget $5billion in tax credits for those funding vouchers for students to attend private schools. Public outcry caused Donald Trump to order her to reverse course on Special Olympics.

 Other cuts in federal funds remaining in her budget are harmful to programs which have helped low income and minorities, including, a program that operates after-school programs for low-income kids. Cuts also targeted programs that provide professional development for teachers and provide mental health services. The cuts in assistance to mental health services in the light of recent horrific school shootings are particularly disturbing. She also cut millions to literacy programs. https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2019/04/10/betsy-devos-education-literacy-cuts/3425172002/



 This was only a budget proposal and the Democratic-controlled House would have stopped it, but it is an indication of where she sees her priorities: find a way to fund private education by reducing support of programs for the most vulnerable, those with disabilities, and those from low-income families. 

DeVos has a long established history of advocating taxpayer support of religious-based schools, private education, and charter schools. That may be music to Donald Trump's Evangelical base and school choice advocates, but it strikes a sour note with supporters of public education and civil libertarians.   In Michigan where her influence in shaping her favored education policy implementation has been extensive,  test scores dropped in math and reading. While her banner is school choice, in Michigan that choice has been of poorer educational opportunities.

DeVos has clearly stated that she intends to interpret laws to suit her religious agenda.  Her agenda has always been to get federal funding for religious-based education. The separation of church and state has always been a fundamental provision of the Constitution that forbids the government from establishing a state religion. Those opposed to public funding of religious-based schools cite this as a reason. DeVos' way around this is to give vouchers to parents to use wherever they wish. In 2002, the US Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 split ruled in favor of a voucher program in Ohio if it went to parents, not to schools, had a secular purpose,  and did not fund religious education.   

In recent Congressional testimony, DeVos also was charged with racism since she is reviewing department guidance that protected minorities from unequal disciplinary treatment in public education. Rates of disciplinary action against African Americans are much higher for the same infractions as White students. DeVoss has cited a source that concluded that certain racial groups had more behavior problems, so they needed more frequent discipline.   The question was not only would she permit treatment of  African American students differently, but she cut the budget for enforcement of civil rights by $1million.  Critics of private education note that private schools can pick and choose who they admit and are exempted from federal anti-discrimination laws so long as they do not receive federal money.  There are limits and permissions, however,  that vary from state to state,  particularly regarding religious preferences and sexual orientation.

 Charter schools have a great deal of bi-partisan political support.  While charter schools are publicly financed and are bound by anti-discrimination rules and law, in practice some have found a way around that standard by making the admissions application process difficult for minority families. Minority students also have a record of more frequent expulsions. Charter schools have also been found to discriminate against admitting  "hard" to educate kids with behavior problems, low achievement scores, and special needs by ignoring inquiries from their parents seeking admission.   Often charter schools are administered by for-profit enterprises.


________________________________________________________________________

In my blog posting 11/27/16, there was a more thorough discussion of vouchers for religious-based school based on an attempt to set up a program in Douglas County, Colorado. Below are some excerpts.
"
So what is wrong about those who support using taxpayer money vouchers in support of "religious education".  What is at issue is the separation of church and state in the Constitution and if funding religious schools violates that. provision.
There was an attempt in a Denver suburb, Douglas County, to allow vouchers to be used for religious based schools. The effort failed in a federal court.


On the other hand, the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 split ruled in favor of a voucher program in Ohio if it went to parents, not to schools, had a secular purpose,  and did not fund religious education.  

https://www.daytondailynews.com/news/private-school-voucher-program-nearly-double-some-suburbs-affected/c3PjW84qCy6rjmryeICx8I/

______________________________________________________________________




The Private Choice Test developed by the Court, for a voucher program to be constitutional was that  it must meet all of the following criteria:
  • the program must have a valid secular purpose
  • aid must go to parents and not to the schools
  • a broad class of beneficiaries must be covered
  • the program must be neutral with respect to religion
  • there must be adequate nonreligious options
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zelman_v._Simmons-Harris
However, the results have had mixed performance on student tests. From a public policy viewpoint, it has not been a great success.
." http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/charterschoice/2016/07/ohio_vouchers_have_mixed_impact_on_student_performance_study_finds.html


From the public policy perspective, will students' education benefit?  We do have some experience with vouchers and the results are contrary to expectations of many. advocates of vouchers.  From the public policy perspective, Students using vouchers to attend private schools in Ohio performed significantly worse on state tests than their peers who remained in public schools, according to a new study. In Wisconsin, a study finds little or no indication that pupils in those Milwaukee public schools that have more school choice possibilities nearby made significantly greater year-to-year gains in primary school tests than pupils in other Milwaukee public schools. (http://www.epi.org/publication/book_vouchers/)

The conclusion from these experiences is that vouchers do not benefit the students so much as it satisfies ideological and political beliefs that choice that includes private schools is the most important criteria or that anything private is better than that which is government funded."

Posted on Facebook in the comment section of the posting of this was a very well expressed comment: by Maggie Orth.

"The problem with vouchers is that they create a baseline cost for education. Those who can only afford the vouchers will get crap. Those who can supplement will get more. Moreover, vouchers assume that working parents have the resources and time to weed through a complex marketplace-- just as Medicare vouchers do with seniors. I shudder to think of my poor parents who are struggling with my father's Alzheimer's trying to sort through "market-based Medicare options." The only thing education vouchers guarantee is a parent's right to indoctrinate their children and deny them access to ideas the parents don't like. There are facts in the world- like geology and science. If people think the US can be a world-class stable democracy and economy when people can teach their children whatever facts they want, they are very wrong."


https://www.futurity.org/charter-schools-students-1937902/
The private elementary school average is $8,522 per year and the private high school average is $12,953

https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/05/16/betsy-devos-knows-little-about-public-education-and-she-doesnt-want-to-learn/?utm_term=.1bf2031f89ae.

https://www.apnews.com/0fdc0d971120465f881d50b947935ddf

https://www.prwatch.org/news/2017/01/13206/devos-math-reading-scores-tanking-michigan

https://www.prwatch.org/news/2017/01/13206/devos-math-reading-scores-tanking-michigan

https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2019-03-28/the-controversial-race-research-devos-used-to-revoke-school-discipline-guidance

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/02/16/how-charter-schools-choos


https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/us/politics/betsy-devos-religious-restrictions-education.html

https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/26/politics/betsy-devos-budget-cuts-special-olympics/index.html





































































Tuesday, March 26, 2019

End of the Mueller probe: opportunity and danger for Democrats


A version of this was published in the Sky Hi News on line 3 26 19

https://www.skyhinews.com/news/opinion-muftic-end-of-the-mueller-probe-an-opportunity-and-danger-for-democrats/
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Attorney General  Bill  Barr took the wind out of the sails of Democrats this weekend when he released a summary of Mueller's findings.  Impeachment  because  of  Donald Trump's  collusion/conspiracy with the Russian government was taken  off the table  The  slogan that the "deep state  was out to get Trump" was laid to rest since Mueller's findings got Trump mostly off the hook, though it has been made clear throughout this ordeal that a sitting president would  not be indicted  due to Department of Justice rules.
Given the long number of indictments of Russians interfering in the 2016 election and the indictments and guilty pleas by close campaign and administration associates, even Trump's constant drumbeat that the Mueller probe was just a witch hunt is now an empty slogan.  The Mueller probe caught plenty of witches in their net, but the top witch escaped.  What is left is for the release of the full report so that the American public and Congress can see how Barr came to his conclusions, particularly regarding the obstruction of justice judgment call. Barr was already on the record for supporting a controversial legal theory that presidents could not be prosecuted for obstruction of justice.  He was in no way an impartial arbiter of Mueller's findings.  Unlike similar prior special counsel reports in the Nixon and Clinton cases, Barr made his own call instead of letting Congress do it first, giving Trump a propaganda advantage and an immediate reason for an "I am not a crook" victory tour.

The end of the Mueller probe presents both a danger and an opportunity for Democrats.  It can free Democrats to switch focus from impeachment to pocketbook issues, in particular, health care and unfair distribution of tax cut benefits.   The reason that Democrats flipped the House in 2018 was not so much about the Mueller probe but it was about disgust with Trump's character flaws,  health care and other public policy concerns that impacted middle-class pocketbooks, particularly those of suburban women.

Trump has just set his own trap by announcing support of a court case that would kill Obamacare.  He has stacked the Supreme Court making this total repeal likely to succeed. If the suit is successful it would completely repeal  Obamacare's protection of coverage of 50 million people with pre-existing conditions and eliminate the insurance exchanges for subsidized coverage for 12 million and roll back. expansion of Medicaid for millions more. If the Democrats make a big deal of pursuing the issue of obstruction of justice and impeachment, they may overshadow their best platform plank,  expansion of affordable health care coverage for all, whether it is Medicare for All or some version of making it a public option or allowing consumers to buy into the system.

Trump's strongest pitch for his reelection is the booming economy.  He may regale in the strong economy, but most in the middle class felt no benefits, discovering as they get ready for tax day that over half never felt a significant increase in their take-home pay, got a lower refund than last year, and found that deductions they had counted one were no longer permitted.  Trump, the promiser in chief, conned them.

There are still some unsolved mysteries and concern for the integrity of future election persists, even if they are not on top voter concern lists.  Voters should be more concerned since the future of democracy and our national security are at stake. What we do know  from multiple indictments and guilty pleas coming from the Mueller probe  is that the Russians offered and carried out active measures to help Trump get elected and that Donald Trump's foreign policy supports Russia's designs to expand their control and influence at the expense of the national security interests of the US and our allies. Perhaps sometime in the future, the question will be answered why Trump kissed up to Putin and still supports Putin's foreign policy, but the Barr version of the Mueller report summary shed little light.  In the meantime, we will be puzzled why so many in Trump's near orbit lied about Russian contacts.  We are left to assume Trump's motivation for his pro-Putin policies and attitude were based on sheer self-interest with hopes never dying he would sometime build that Trump tower in Moscow and his loyalty to Putin would be rewarded.


https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/25/trump-obamacare-justice-department-1236116

https://www.yahoo.com/news/apos-loyalty-apos-apos-orders-101130334.html


https://news.yahoo.com/few-americans-see-savings-trumps-tax-reform-reuters-100851302--business.html?ncid=facebook_yahoonewsf_akfmevaatca

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/trump-administration-pre-existing-conditions-court_n_5c999b91e4b0d42ce360169c