Tim Berners-Lee Op-Ed: I Invented the World Wide Web. Here’s How We Can Fix It.

Photo Credit…Wren McDonald

Dear Commons Community,

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web and a co-founder of the World Wide Web Foundation, has a plea in today’s New York Times, stating that it is not too late to save the Web.  He comments “Communities are being ripped apart as prejudice, hate and disinformation are peddled online. Scammers use the web to steal identities, stalkers use it to harass and intimidate their victims, and bad actors subvert democracy using clever digital tactics. The use of targeted political ads in the United States’ 2020 presidential campaign and in elections elsewhere threatens once again to undermine voters’ understanding and choices.  We’re at a tipping point. How we respond to this abuse will determine whether the web lives up to its potential as a global force for good or leads us into a digital dystopia.”  He then lays out a global plan – the Contract for the Web.

I hope I am wrong but I think this may be too little too late.  His entire op-ed is below.

Tony

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I Invented the World Wide Web. Here’s How We Can Fix It.

By Tim Berners-Lee

Nov. 24, 2019

My parents were mathematicians. My mother helped code one of the first stored-program computers — the Manchester Mark 1. They taught me that when you program a computer, what you can do is limited only by your imagination. That excitement for experimentation and change helped me build the World Wide Web.

I had hoped that 30 years from its creation, we would be using the web foremost for the purpose of serving humanity. Projects like Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap and the world of open source software are the kinds of constructive tools that I hoped would flow from the web.

However, the reality is much more complex. Communities are being ripped apart as prejudice, hate and disinformation are peddled online. Scammers use the web to steal identities, stalkers use it to harass and intimidate their victims, and bad actors subvert democracy using clever digital tactics. The use of targeted political ads in the United States’ 2020 presidential campaign and in elections elsewhere threatens once again to undermine voters’ understanding and choices.

We’re at a tipping point. How we respond to this abuse will determine whether the web lives up to its potential as a global force for good or leads us into a digital dystopia.

The web needs radical intervention from all those who have power over its future: governments that can legislate and regulate; companies that design products; civil society groups and activists who hold the powerful to account; and every single web user who interacts with others online.

We have to overcome the stalemate that has characterized previous attempts to solve the problems facing the web. Governments must stop blaming platforms for inaction, and companies must become more constructive in shaping future regulation — not just opposing it.

I’m introducing a new approach to overcome that stalemate — the Contract for the Web.

The Contract for the Web is a global plan of action created over the past year by activists, academics, companies, governments and citizens from across the world to make sure our online world is safe, empowering and genuinely for everyone.

The contract outlines steps to prevent the deliberate misuse of the web and our information. For example, it calls on governments to publish public data registries, so that they are no longer able to conceal from their own citizens how their data is being used. If governments are sharing our data with private companies — or buying data broker lists from them — we have a right to know and take action.

The contract sets out ways to improve system design to eradicate incentives that reward clickbait or the spread of disinformation. Targeted political advertising is giving political parties the ability to subvert the debate. We need platforms to open their black boxes and clearly explain how they’re minimizing or eliminating risks their products pose to society. In my view, governments should impose an immediate ban on targeted political advertising to restore trust in our public discourse.

Crucially, the contract also contains concrete actions to tackle the negative — even if unintended — consequences of platform design. For example, why on an exercise app should women have to worry that their precise jogging routes are shared by default with other users? Perhaps because they were designed by people not thinking about the safety needs of women. We need a tremendously more diverse work force in our technology industries to make sure their products serve all groups. And companies should release reports that meaningfully demonstrate their progress toward those diversity goals.

To make the online world a place worth being in, we must all use the Contract for the Web to fight now for the web we want.

Governments must support their citizens online and ensure that their rights are protected through effective regulation and enforcement. Companies must look beyond next-quarter results and understand that long-term success means building products that are good for society and that people can trust them.

There’s already a powerful coalition backing the contract. The governments of nations such as France, Germany and Ghana have signed on to its principles. The tech giants Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Reddit sit alongside other specialists such as the search engine DuckDuckGo in committing to action. Many civil society organizations, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Reporters Without Borders and AccessNow, have joined the growing movement, as well as individuals such as Representative Ro Khanna of California.

In endorsing the contract, governments and companies commit to taking concrete action across several issues. Some changes may take a long time: We are not expecting overnight transformation. But we will track their efforts, and if they fail to make progress, they will lose their status as a backer of the contract.

The contract is already being used to inform policy decisions, as a best-practice guide for government and company officials, and as a tool to help civil society advocate change, measure progress and hold governments and companies accountable.

But that alone is not enough. Our World Wide Web Foundation, together with its global partners, will work to mobilize people around the world. As elections approach, raise these issues with your political representatives and candidates. The best way to change the priorities and actions of those in power is to speak up.

Join our foundation, our partners and people around the world in the fight for the web.

Maureen Dowd: Trump as Captain Ahab (and He is His Own White Whale)!

Dear Commons Community,

Maureen Dowd in her column this morning likens President Trump to Captain Ahab who is obsessed with killing a great white whale namely himself.  Here is an excerpt:

“Trump believes that paranoia can be useful. He sees the world as vicious and life as a battle for survival.

As we draw closer to Trump getting a lump of coal in his Christmas stocking, with Nancy Pelosi implacably heading toward a holiday impeachment, his proditomania is revving up.

Even Steve Doocy looked a little bemused during Trump’s shambolic 54-minute call into “Fox & Friends” on Friday.

No matter how many experts — including the gloriously bracing Fiona Hill — explain that it is Russia that interfered with our elections and that Russia has been scheming to deflect blame to Ukraine, Trump keeps rambling about that D.N.C. server.

“The F.B.I. went in, and they told them, ‘Get out of here, we’re not giving it to you,’” he said on Fox. “They gave the server to CrowdStrike, or whatever it is called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian. I still want to see that server.”

Trying to justify why he had ousted and smeared the ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, he claimed that she was “an Obama person” who had refused to hang his picture in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. (A lawyer for Yovanovitch said the portrait had been hung immediately.)

“This was not an angel, this woman, O.K.?” Trump sneered, adding that when he complained that the dignified and well-respected former ambassador was being treated too gently, he was told: “Well, sir, she’s a woman. We have to be nice.”

It was peak Trump pique.

After climbing up in politics by putting down Barack Obama as an illegitimate president, Trump is so terrified of being seen as an illegitimate president that he acts out in ways that cause more people to see him as an illegitimate president.

His presidency began with him obsessing on his inauguration crowd size and carrying around his 2016 electoral map.

He can’t get past it and it’s intensifying, playing out on the world stage with national security implications. It’s debilitating to his presidency, and the rest of us are hostages to his insecurities.

As Hill succinctly noted about the inability in the Trump era to separate fictional narratives from objective realities: “Our nation is being torn apart. Truth is questioned.”

Vladimir Putin hit the jackpot with Trump. He makes a perfect sucker for the former K.G.B. spy.

“Thank God nobody is accusing us anymore of interfering in the U.S. elections,” Putin gloated Wednesday at an economic forum in Moscow. “Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”

The president seems like even more of a crackpot, given the New York Times story on Friday revealing that, even as Republican lawmakers vociferously defended the president, they received a briefing “that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election.”

Julian E. Barnes and Matthew Rosenberg reported that the Kremlin succeeded in spreading discord among its adversaries and sluicing false claims about Ukrainian meddling into Republican talking points. A lot of Republicans have dirtied themselves defending Trump, and their party will not easily recover from perverting its values.

Trump is blustering about impeachment and wanting a Senate trial and calling Pelosi — who has his presidency in a vise grip — “totally incompetent” and “crazy as a bedbug.”

But those who know him believe that he’s genuinely unnerved and even hurt at the prospect of impeachment.

One of his tweets Thursday, as he headed toward being the third president to be impeached, seemed to reflect a rare hint of vulnerability. “I never in my wildest dreams thought my name would in any way be associated with the ugly word, Impeachment!” he wrote.

It recalls a prescient moment from September when the president’s former homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and warned that Trump had to let go of his conspiracy theory linking CrowdStrike, Ukraine and the D.N.C. server.

“If he continues to focus on that white whale,” Bossert said, “it’s going to bring him down.”

But, like Ahab, Trump can’t ever let go. He’s hellbent on harpooning himself, chasing that which will sink him.”

May the harpooning come soon!

Tony

Juul Says Its Focus Was Smokers, but It Targeted Young Nonsmokers!

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Dear Commons Community,

Juul Labs planted the seeds of a public health crisis by marketing to a generation with low smoking rates, and it ignored evidence that teenagers were using its products.  As reported by The New York Times.

“In the face of mounting investigations, subpoenas and lawsuits, Juul Labs now insists that it never marketed or knowingly sold its trendy e-cigarettes and flavored nicotine pods to teenagers.

As youth vaping soared and “juuling” became a high school craze, the company’s top executives have stood firm in their assertion that Juul’s mission has always been to give adult smokers a safer alternative to cigarettes, which play a role in the deaths of 480,000 people in the United States each year.

“We never wanted any non-nicotine user and certainly nobody underage to ever use Juul products,” James Monsees, a co-founder of the company, testified at a congressional hearing in July.

But in reality, the company was never just about helping adult smokers, according to interviews with former executives, employees and investors, along with reviews of legal filings and social media archives.

Juul’s remarkable rise to resurrect and dominate the e-cigarette business came after it began targeting consumers in their 20s and early 30s, a generation with historically low smoking rates, in a furious effort to reward investors and capture market share before the government tightened regulations on vaping.

As recently as 2017, as evidence grew that high school students were flocking to its sleek devices and flavored nicotine pods, the company refused to sign a pledge not to market to teenagers as part of a lawsuit settlement. It wasn’t until the summer of 2018, when the Food and Drug Administration required it to do so, that the company put a nicotine warning label on its packaging.

Though some former employees recalled Mr. Monsees wearing a T-shirt at the office that used an expletive to refer to Big Tobacco, the start-up’s early pitches to potential investors listed selling the business to a big tobacco company as one of the potential ways to cash out. (Last December, the tobacco giant Altria paid $12.8 billion for a 35 percent stake in the company.)

These and other previously unreported decisions would plant the seeds for a public health crisis in which a new generation is becoming hooked on nicotine and that has raised questions about the future of e-cigarettes in the United States and Juul’s ability to stay in business.”

The executives of Juul should be subject to criminal prosecution.  They are worse than the heads of Mexican drug cartels.

Tony

 

Robert De Niro Discusses His New Movie, Donald Trump and Rupert Murdoch in Interview!

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Robert De Niro

Dear Commons Community,

Actor Robert De Niro discusses his new movie, The Irishman, President Trump, Rupert Murdoch and others  in a recent interview in The Daily Beast.  He praises Martin Scorcese,  Joe Pesce, and several Democratic  presidential nominees and saves his daggers for Donald Trump and media giant Rupert Murdoch.

De Niro especially questioned the contributions that Australian-born Murdoch, who obtained U.S. citizenship in 1985, has made to the country via his widely watched Fox News network ― whose primetime hosts routinely stump for Trump and promote white nationalist conspiracy theories and talking points.

“He’s an immigrant who became a citizen, and look what he contributed?” De Niro said of Murdoch in the interview.

“Look what this guy did? It’s disgraceful — beyond disgraceful, beyond cynical,” he continued. “Fox News, it’s all about money and power. At what cost? And you’re not even an American; you’re someone who wanted to be an American, and this is what you gave us?” he added, echoing similar rhetoric that Donald Trump has used toward immigrants.

Elsewhere in the interview, De Niro described Trump (whom he has previously angered with his fierce and frequent criticism) as “a piece of s*** who never should have been there in the first place.” 

The actor also revealed his support for Democratic presidential candidates including Pete Buttigieg, claiming he could be “the best for what we need now.” Former Vice President Joe Biden “could get us into calmer waters” and is a guy “who would do the right thing, make the right decision,” he added, while speculating whether the policies of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would be “too extreme.”

De Niro told it like it is!

Tony

Just when you thought it couldn’t get more sordid:  Rudy Giuliani crony, Lev Parnas, is willing to testify that Congressman Devin Nunes met with ex-Ukraine official to get dirt on Joe Biden!

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Devin Nunez

Dear Commons Community,

For the past two weeks, Devin Nunez,  the Ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has been hammering away at the Democrats over the impeachment process without ever having  much to say about the substance of the accusations against President Trump in the Ukraine affair.

Yesterday, CNN reported that Rudy Giuliani’s indicted associate, Lev Parnas, is prepared to tell Congress that Rep. Nunes  met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor who was ousted over corruption concerns in a bid to get dirt on Joe Biden.  As reported.

“The attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, represents Lev Parnas, who worked with Giuliani to push claims of Democratic corruption in Ukraine. Bondy said that Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes.

“Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December,” said Bondy.  Shokin was ousted from his position in 2016 after pressure from Western leaders, including then-vice president Biden, over concerns that Shokin was not pursuing corruption cases.

Nunes is one of President Donald Trump’s key allies in Congress and has emerged as a staunch defender of the President during the impeachment inquiry, which he has frequently labeled as a “circus.” Nunes declined repeated requests for comment.

Bondy tells CNN that his client and Nunes began communicating around the time of the Vienna trip. Parnas says he worked to put Nunes in touch with Ukrainians who could help Nunes dig up dirt on Biden and Democrats in Ukraine, according to Bondy.

That information would likely be of great interest to House Democrats given its overlap with the current impeachment inquiry into President Trump, and could put Nunes in a difficult spot.

Bondy tells CNN his client is willing to comply with a Congressional subpoena for documents and testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry in a manner that would allow him to protect his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Bondy suggested in a tweet on Friday that he was already speaking to House Intel though the committee declined to comment.

Giuliani has told CNN previously about his conversations with Shokin and  Parnas, saying that this was part of his legal work for his client, President Trump. Parnas’ claims about Nunes’ alleged involvement offers a new wrinkle and for the first time suggests the efforts to dig up dirt on the Bidens involved a member of Congress.

Parnas’ claims that Nunes met with Shokin, which has not been previously reported, add further context to a Daily Beast report that Parnas helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Nunes last year, citing another Parnas’ lawyer, Ed McMahon.

Those revelations came to a head on Thursday when Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell raised the Daily Beast story publicly during the impeachment hearing.

Parnas, who was indicted on federal campaign finance charges last month, worked with Shokin and Giuliani to push a pair of unfounded claims: that Ukrainians interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Democrats, and that Biden was acting corruptly in Ukraine on behalf of his son Hunter, who sat on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings.

According to Bondy, Parnas claims Nunes worked to push similar allegations of Democratic corruption.

“Nunes had told Shokin of the urgent need to launch investigations into Burisma, Joe and Hunter Biden, and any purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election,” Bondy told CNN.

There is no evidence that the Bidens acted inappropriately. Nor is there evidence to support the conspiracy theory that Ukraine worked with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 election.

Yet these claims have been a key part of the public defense of the President put forth by Nunes and other Republicans during the impeachment hearings this month.

Parnas is currently under house arrest in Florida and has pleaded not guilty to charges of federal campaign finance fraud.

Over the past two weeks, CNN approached Nunes on two occasions and reached out to his communications staff to get comment for this story.

In the Capitol on Nov. 14, as CNN began to ask a question about the trip to Vienna, Nunes interjected and said, “I don’t talk to you in this lifetime or the next lifetime.”

“At any time,” Nunes added. “On any question.”

Asked again on Thursday about his travel to Vienna and his interactions with Shokin and Parnas, Nunes gave a similar response.

“To be perfectly clear, I don’t acknowledge any questions from you in this lifetime or the next lifetime,” Nunes said while leaving the impeachment hearing. “I don’t acknowledge any question from you ever.”

CNN was unable to reach Shokin for comment.

Congressional travel records show that Nunes and three aides traveled to Europe from November 30 to December 3, 2018. The records do not specify that Nunes and his staff went to Vienna or Austria, and Nunes was not required to disclose the exact details of the trip.

Nunes’ entourage included retired colonel Derek Harvey, who had previously worked for Trump on the National Security Council, and now works for Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee. Harvey declined to comment.

Bondy told CNN that Nunes planned the trip to Vienna after Republicans lost control of the House in the mid-term elections on Nov. 6, 2018.

“Mr. Parnas learned through Nunes’ investigator, Derek Harvey, that the Congressman had sequenced this trip to occur after the mid-term elections yet before Congress’ return to session, so that Nunes would not have to disclose the trip details to his Democrat colleagues in Congress,” said Bondy.

At the time of the trip, Nunes was chairman of the Intelligence Committee. In January, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff took over as chairman of the powerful committee, which is now conducting the impeachment inquiry.  

Bondy says that according to his client, following a brief in-person meeting in late 2018, Parnas and Nunes had at least two more phone conversations, and that Nunes instructed Parnas to work with Harvey on the Ukraine matters.

Parnas says that shortly after the Vienna trip, he and Harvey met at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, where they discussed claims about the Bidens as well as allegations of Ukrainian election interference, according to Bondy.  

Following this, Bondy says that in a phone conversation Nunes told Parnas that he was conducting his own investigation into the Bidens and asked Parnas for help validating information he’d gathered from conversations with various current and former Ukrainian officials, including Shokin. 

Parnas says that Nunes told him he’d been partly working off of information from the journalist John Solomon, who had written a number of articles on the Biden conspiracy theory for the Hill, according to Bondy.  

CNN reached out to Harvey on multiple occasions for comment. Reached by phone on Friday morning, Harvey refused to comment and directed CNN to contact the communications director for Nunes. That person, Jack Langer, did not respond to numerous requests for comment from CNN. A spokesman for Schiff declined to comment for this story.

Bondy tells CNN that Parnas is also willing to tell Congress about a series of regular meetings he says he took part in at the Trump International Hotel in Washington that concerned Ukraine. According to Bondy, Parnas became part of what he described as a “team” that met several times a week in a private room at the BLT restaurant on the second floor of the Trump Hotel. In addition to giving the group access to key people in Ukraine who could help their cause, Parnas translated their conversations, Bondy said.

The group, according to Bondy,  included Giuliani, Parnas, the journalist Solomon, and the married attorneys Joe diGenova and Victoria Toensing. Parnas said that Harvey would occasionally be present as well, and that it was Parnas’ understanding that Harvey was Nunes’ proxy, Bondy said. 

Solomon confirmed the meetings to CNN but said that calling the group a team was a bit of a mischaracterization. Solomon said that connectivity happened more organically, and that his role was only as a journalist reporting a story. 

Solomon also said that Di Genova and Toensing, his lawyers, introduced him to Parnas as a facilitator and interpreter in early March. ”Parnas was very helpful to me in getting Ukraine officials on the record,” Solomon told CNN. “I only gradually realized Lev was working for other people, including Rudy Giuliani.”

Solomon insists he was only reporting on a story as it unfolded, “Any suggestion that I was involved in any campaign to pressure Ukraine or the United States government to take any actions is categorically false,” Solomon said.

Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment. DiGenova and Toensing declined to comment through a spokesperson.

Solomon no longer works at the Hill. After Solomon’s reporting came under intense scrutiny during the impeachment inquiry, the paper announced it is reviewing his work.

In the weeks since his arrest, Parnas has become disenchanted with Trump and Giuliani, according to Bondy as well as other sources who spoke to CNN. Parnas, these sources say, was particularly upset when Trump denied knowing him the day after Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman were arrested in October.

Last week, CNN reported that Parnas had claimed to have had a private meeting with Trump in which the President tasked him with a “secret mission” to uncover dirt on Democrats in Ukraine.

“He believes he has put himself out there for the President and now he’s been completely hung out to dry,” a person close to Parnas told CNN. Last week, the White House did not respond to repeated requests for comment to a series of questions regarding the meeting and Trump’s relationship with Parnas.

On Thursday, Bondy promoted the hashtag #LetLevSpeak on Twitter in response to a number of questions about whether Parnas would testify in front of Congress.

Bondy tweeted directly at Republican California Rep. Kevin McCarthy Thursday night after McCarthy accused Schiff of blocking important witnesses from testifying, saying “I don’t agree with your premise, but please, if you mean what you say, call my client, Lev Parnas. #LetLevSpeak.”

What has happened to the Republican Party that its leaders are so willing to compromise our country’s values!

Tony

 

Last Day at OLC’s ACCELERATE Conference!

Dear Commons Community,

I am returning home today after having spent the week in Orlando at OLC’s ACCELERATE Conference.  Yesterday I was on a panel that discussed a recent report from the United States Department of Education on a meta-analysis of studies on instructional technology in postsecondary education. As one of the authors of the report I presented its findings and colleagues Eric Fredricksen, Mary Niemiec and Peter Shea critique them. 

In the evening, I had dinner with friends Eric, Peter, Alexandra Pickett and Bob Ubell.

I travel home today and look forward to getting  back to New York.

It has been a great conference.

Tony

 

Fifty-Six Years Ago Today – President John F. Kennedy Was Assassinated!

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Dear Commons Community,

We remember that on Nov. 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade in Dallas.

Crowds of excited people lined the streets and waved to the Kennedys. The car turned off Main Street at Dealey Plaza around 12:30 p.m. As it was passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunfire suddenly reverberated in the plaza.

Bullets struck the president’s neck and head and he slumped over toward Mrs. Kennedy. The governor was also hit in the chest. 

The car sped off to Parkland Memorial Hospital just a few minutes away. But little could be done for the President. A Catholic priest was summoned to administer the last rites, and at 1:00 p.m. John F. Kennedy was pronounced dead. Though seriously wounded, Governor Connally would recover.

The president’s body was brought to Love Field and placed on Air Force One. Before the plane took off, a grim-faced Lyndon B. Johnson stood in the tight, crowded compartment and took the oath of office, administered by US District Court Judge Sarah Hughes. The brief ceremony took place at 2:38 p.m.

The United States was never the same.

Tony

Michelle Goldberg:  Republicans tried to throw Gordon Sondland under the bus. He took Trump with him!

Dear Commons Community,

In her New  York Times column this morning, Mchelle Goldberg analyzes Gordon Sondland’s testimony yesterday at the Congressional impeachment hearing.  Her bottom line is that “the Republicans tried to throw Gordon Sondland under the bus. [but] He took Trump with him.”   Surely, Sonderland had bombs to throw at Trump over the Ukraine affair.  However, did his testimony change hardcore Republican opinion about impeachment?  I think not.

Below is Goldberg’s entire column.

Tony

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Donald Trump’s Gordon Problem

By Michelle Goldberg

Opinion Columnist

Nov. 20, 2019

Over the first three days of testimony in the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump, Republicans have tried out a number of defenses. After the Wednesday testimony of Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, almost all of them have been incinerated.

Throughout the proceedings, Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, has glowered, sneered and repeated some of the same conspiracy theories that Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, wanted Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to substantiate.

Representative Jim Jordan, the Republican recently added to the Intelligence Committee because he’s seen as an effective advocate for Trump, has argued that Trump was genuinely concerned about corruption in Ukraine, and was induced to release frozen aid after Ukraine’s Parliament passed reform measures.

Others have repeated the refrain of “no quid pro quo.” Some have tried to dismiss the claims against Trump as mere hearsay. A few have suggested that Sondland and Giuliani were working on their own.

 

Nunes’s already phantasmagorical case was further undermined on Tuesday, when Republicans called Kurt Volker, Trump’s former special envoy for Ukraine, to testify. Volker called allegations that, as vice president, Joe Biden pressured Ukraine for personal reasons “self-serving and not credible” and accused Giuliani of spreading a “conspiracy theory.”

 

Most other defenses of Trump were demolished by Sondland’s explosive testimony on Wednesday. In recent days, there have been signs that Sondland was being set up as a fall guy in the Ukraine scandal. Testifying Tuesday, another Republican witness, Tim Morrison, until recently the top Russia expert on the National Security Council, referred to the “Gordon problem,” suggesting he was an oft-ignored nuisance. But Sondland seems to have decided that he would not go easily under the proverbial bus.

In his opening statement, Sondland described how Giuliani wanted the Ukrainians to investigate an imagined Ukrainian role in hacking the Democratic National Committee in 2016, and Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company on whose board Biden’s son served. “Mr. Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” he said. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing investigations of the 2016 election/D.N.C. server and Burisma. Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president.” With that, Sondland confirmed the heart of the Democrats’ case for impeachment.

Sondland said he communicated to a leading Ukrainian official that “the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine took some kind of action on the public statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.” He testified that he told Vice President Mike Pence that he believed the aid was being held up pending investigations, and Pence just nodded. (Pence’s chief of staff denied this.) Sondland didn’t substantially dispute the closed-door testimony of David Holmes, a senior U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine, who said he overheard a call to Trump that Sondland made on his cellphone. According to Holmes, on the call, made the day after the July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Zelensky for a “favor,” Trump asked Sondland if the Ukrainians were in fact going to pursue investigations. Sondland replied that they’d do whatever the president wanted.

After the call, Holmes testified, Sondland told him that Trump “did not give a [expletive] about Ukraine,” and cared only about what Sondland called “big stuff” that benefits the president. About that call, Sondland testified, “I would have been more surprised if President Trump had not mentioned investigations, particularly given what we were hearing from Mr. Giuliani.”

Further, Sondland testified that Trump didn’t necessarily care about investigations per se, only the public announcement of investigations. Zelensky “had to announce the investigations, he didn’t actually have to do them,” he said. The public announcement, of course, would be sufficient to give Trump material to defame Biden and muddy the waters about Russia’s help in getting Trump elected in the first place.

Speaking of Russia’s role in 2016: A few Republicans have tried to massage Trump’s claims of Ukrainian election interference to make them sound marginally less insane. At Wednesday’s hearing, Nunes accused Ukraine of meddling in America’s election largely through public statements by Ukrainian officials. Among these statements was a 2016 op-ed essay by Valeriy Chaly, then the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, objecting to Trump’s statement that as president he’d consider recognizing Russian-occupied Crimea as Russian, rather than Ukrainian, territory.

Leave aside that there is nothing illicit about public officials expressing their opinions about matters of urgent concern to their own countries. Sondland’s testimony made it plain that such public comments are not what Trump had in mind in calling for investigations into what Ukraine did in 2016. Trump wanted an inquiry into the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the D.N.C., which is why Sondland repeatedly spoke about proposed investigations involving the “D.N.C. server.” He wanted Ukraine’s help exonerating Russia for its attack on America.

Sondland is not a wholly reliable witness; his insistence that he was ignorant of the connection between Burisma and the Bidens when he pressed Ukraine for investigations is hardly credible. (Volker made the same preposterous claim on Tuesday — both men were likely trying to distance themselves from one of the ugliest aspects of Trump’s shakedown.) Republicans will likely cling to the fact that Sondland said he never heard directly from Trump about a linkage between security aid to Ukraine and investigations; Sondland said he put it together because, as he repeated several times, “two plus two equals four.”

Unfortunately for Republicans, Mick Mulvaney, who was reportedly directed by Trump to put the hold on Ukraine aid, has already said, on television, that the aid was frozen as part of a quid pro quo for investigations. (Mulvaney, the White House’s acting chief of staff and head of the Office of Management and Budget, later denied that he said this, despite the clear public record.) Much of the Republican case, going forward, is likely to depend on pretending that this confession doesn’t exist.

“This obviously has been one of those bombshell days,” Ken Starr, the former special prosecutor who investigated Bill Clinton, said on Fox News after Sondland’s morning testimony. I suspect that by the time anyone reads this, Republicans will have cooked up talking points pretending that nothing Sondland said actually matters.

But at this point, all they can do is obfuscate. About the push for investigations, Sondland said, “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.” This administration is rotten to the core and fundamentally disloyal to the country it purports to serve. So is every politician who still tries to explain its corruption away.

 

Enjoying OLC’s ACCELERATE: Come By My Session Today – An Analysis and Critique of the United States Department of Education/Institute of Education Sciences New Report on Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Learning!

Dear Commons Community,

I am enjoying OLC’s ACCELERATE Conference.  Yesterday I was part of a panel that discussed the future of higher education and online education. It was well attended with about eighty in-person attendees and another seventy virtual.  I also attended a rousing keynote presentation given by  Dr. Talithia Williams, Associate Professor of Mathematics from Harvey Mudd College.

In the evening, I had dinner with friends Mary Niemic and her husband Terry, Tanya Joosten, Kaye Shelton, Patsy Moskal, and Julia Parra.

I will be doing a session today entitled,  An Analysis and Critique of the United States Department of Education/Institute of Education Sciences New Report on Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Learning: Insights, Suggestions, and Methods. The panel and I will be critiquing the findings of this report. Below is the abstract, time and place. 

Please stop by if you are at the conference.

Tony

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An Analysis and Critique of the United States Department of Education/Institute of Education Sciences New Report on Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Learning: Insights, Suggestions, and Methods

Date: Thursday, November 21st
Time: 11:15 AM to 12:00 PM
Streamed session
Lead Presenter: Anthony Picciano (CUNY – Hunter College and Graduate Center)
Co-presenters: Eric Fredericksen (University of Rochester), Mary Niemiec (University of Nebraska ), Peter Shea (SUNY – University at Albany)
Track: Research
Location: Asia 4


Abstract:  The United States Department of Education/Institute of Education Sciences(IES)
released a new report on May 8, 2019, entitled,  Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Student Learning.  The 104-page report  is based on a meta-analysis of the research on online learning in colleges and universities. The authors of the report were a panel of scholars and practitioners in higher education and staff from Abt Associates of Bethesda, Maryland. Here is a blurb from the announcement.

This practice guide, developed by the What Works Clearinghouse™ (WWC) in conjunction with an expert panel, focuses on promising uses of technologies associated with improving postsecondary student learning outcomes. It provides higher education instructors, instructional designers, administrators, and other staff with specific recommendations for supporting learning through the effective use of technology.

This practice guide makes five evidence-based recommendations (see below) around how to use technology to support postsecondary learning. Each recommendation includes examples of technologies and how to implement them, advice on how to overcome potential obstacles, and a summary of the research evidence that supports the recommendation.

Practice Recommendations:

  • Use communication and collaboration tools to increase interaction among students and between students and instructors.
  • Use varied, personalized, and readily available digital resources to design and deliver instructional content.
  • Incorporate technology that models and fosters self-regulated learning strategies.
  • Use technology to provide timely and targeted feedback on student performance.
  • Use simulation technologies that help students engage in complex problem-solving.

During this session, the lead panelist who was one of the authors of the report will present its findings and subject them to an analysis and critique by three experienced administrators and faculty.

 

 

Racist and Anti-Semitic Incidents at  Syracuse University:  Governor Cuomo Calls for Outside Monitor!

 

CBS Footage of Student Sit In at Syracuse University

Dear Commons Community,

Syracuse University has seen a wave of racist and anti-Semitic incidents over the past two weeks, leading many students to fear for their safety, prompting some professors to cancel class, and touching off investigations by several law-enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  The incidents have also put Kent D. Syverud, the university’s chancellor, under fire. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, issued a statement yesterday saying Syverud’s response to the incidents had been inadequate: “Despite his efforts, I do not believe Chancellor Syverud has handled this matter in a way that instills confidence.” Governor Cuomo called on Syracuse’s Board of Trustees to bring in an “experienced monitor with the relevant expertise to effectively investigate these incidents.”  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“Starting November 7, campus police officers received several reports of racist graffiti and hate speech targeting members of the Asian, African American, and Jewish communities. They were followed by a racist slur, allegedly yelled at a black student by a group of people that included fraternity members.

And then came a white-supremacist manifesto, which law-enforcement officials say appears to be the one written by the shooter charged with killing 51 people at two New Zealand mosques in March. The document was posted in an online discussion forum and allegedly sent via AirDrop to several Syracuse students’ cellphones in a campus library, according to the university’s public-safety department.

Four agencies are working together on the investigations: the campus police, local police, and state police; and the F.B.I. Law-enforcement officials said during a news conference on Tuesday that they were investigating “between eight to 10 incidents,” at Syracuse, though some students have counted at least 11 of them.

Kenton Buckner, chief of Syracuse’s local police department, said he first learned that the white-supremacist manifesto had been shared online just before midnight on Monday. Students have reported that the document was sent via AirDrop to several students in the library at around 1 a.m. on Tuesday.

The hate speech doesn’t appear to be abating. A professor told The Chronicle that she received an anonymous email at her syracuse.edu address on Tuesday that targeted her religious background.

Syverud, Syracuse’s chancellor since 2014, has sent several messages to the campus over the past few days. In one, he promised to overhaul the university’s procedures for handling bias incidents and ensuring that affected students are supported.

In another, he said the university had canceled all Greek-life events for the rest of the semester after learning that fraternity members had been involved in allegedly shouting the racist slur at the black student. He also said he’d suspended the fraternity in question.

But student activists say Syverud’s responses have been delayed, and his tone hasn’t been compassionate enough.

From their perspective, it’s not the first time the chancellor has failed to lead. Students staged a week-long protest in 2014 over Syverud’s decision to close a campus advocacy center and to cut funding for a scholarship program for underprivileged students, among other things. And when a racist video surfaced involving the university’s Theta Tau fraternity chapter, some students weren’t happy with his response. (Syverud eventually expelled Theta Tau from campus permanently.)

About 1,600 people have signed an online petition calling for Syverud’s resignation.

Governor Cuomo echoed students’ concerns in his statement on Tuesday: “As we have learned repeatedly, these increasing exhibitions of hate and bigotry must be handled strongly, swiftly, and justly. That must be both the reality and the perception. Syracuse University and its leadership have failed to do that.”

Some faculty members have also expressed solidarity with the students: “As faculty of color who have some shared understanding of the students’ experiences, we feel that the university’s response has been inadequate.”

Jenn M. Jackson, an assistant professor of political science, said she’d like to see top administrators talk about the recent racism as a systemic cultural problem, “rather than in the language of events and incidents,” she said. The larger issue, she said, is that students from marginalized groups have long experienced hate at Syracuse, as well as at other predominantly white institutions.

Dozens of students have been holding a sit-in in the Barnes Center, a campus recreation complex, for the past week, demanding that university leaders expel any students involved with the racist incidents, among other things. They have also organized a social-media campaign, #NotAgainSU.

On Tuesday, university leaders issued a response to students’ demands, promising to make changes in the student code of conduct by August 2020 that would “make even more clear the serious consequences for hate speech.” Administrators also agreed to make changes in a newly required diversity-and-inclusion course, based on how it’s gone, and to issue statements about future racist incidents within 48 hours.

Syverud visited the students’ sit-in on Tuesday and delivered brief remarks. He said he was eager to continue to work with them. “I think we’re in a key moment at this university,” he said. He added: “I appreciate what I think has been extraordinarily constructive work by this group and also patient and peaceful work under circumstances of great stress.”

Syverud acknowledged in his first campus email, on November 12, that his office hadn’t communicated with students quickly enough when the first racist graffiti appeared this month.

But law-enforcement officials said on Tuesday that they didn’t agree with the criticism of Syverud. “I think it’s unfair to put this on the chancellor’s shoulders,” said Buckner, the local police chief. Bobby Maldonado, chief of the campus public-safety department, agreed: “I couldn’t say enough about the chancellor’s leadership. He has been working feverishly and tirelessly for the last 13 days.”

Maldonado said he understood why students felt frustrated that there wasn’t more information available about who committed the acts. As the investigations continue, he said, officials will keep students and others on the campus informed.

Law-enforcement officials emphasized numerous times on Tuesday that, for the time being, there was no known direct threat to the Syracuse campus. “Our students are safe,” Maldonado said. “We believe our campus is safe.” Those statements haven’t calmed many students’ anxieties.

Syracuse didn’t officially cancel classes after the white-supremacist manifesto appeared and shook the campus on Tuesday, but many professors chose to do so on their own. Jackson, the political-science professor, was among them.

Jackson told The Chronicle that she emailed her students first thing on Tuesday, once she saw the news about the manifesto, and said she would hold a Blackboard discussion instead of an in-person session. Several of her colleagues in the political-science department also canceled class. Jackson knows of other professors who planned to hold class as usual but wouldn’t penalize students who didn’t attend.

Syracuse will close next week for Thanksgiving, Jackson said, so canceling class this week gives students an opportunity to head home early.

Moreover, she said, it’s “inconsiderate” for professors to expect students to come to campus, given that people from specific racial, ethnic, and religious groups have been targeted in the incidents. By canceling class, Syracuse’s faculty members are showing that they genuinely care for students’ health and well-being, Jackson said.

Genevieve García de Müeller, an assistant professor of writing and rhetoric and director of Writing Across the Curriculum, also canceled class early on Tuesday. Not long after that, she received this anonymous email.

García de Müeller, who is Mexican and Jewish, immediately called the campus and local police. They took her statement, she said, and said they would fold her report into their broader investigation of hate incidents. They also told her that others on campus have received similar hateful emails.

She doesn’t have an obvious Jewish name. Yet the person knew her identity. “I do feel like it was a very personal and targeted attack against me,” she said. “Somebody knew me and sought me out and sent me that email.”

García de Müeller said her department has been supportive. But she doesn’t feel that university leaders are doing enough to ensure her safety, as well as the safety of her students. No one from the administration has reached out to her since she received the email, she said.

“There’s this narrative that the administration is pushing that these attacks are not specifically targeting people,” she said. Her experience shows that’s not true. “I really do think that the administration needs to admit that these are direct attacks.”

She added that she’d continue to hold her classes online. “I’m not going to go to campus for the rest of the week,” she said, “until I know for sure that it’s safe for me to go.”

This is not going well for Chancellor Syverud and the University!

Tony

 

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