US ally in Syria says pullout will aid IS, Putin disagrees
By ZEINA KARAM and SARAH EL DEEB
Thursday, December 20
BEIRUT (AP) — The United States’ main ally in Syria on Thursday categorically rejected President Donald Trump’s claim that Islamic State militants have been defeated, but Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Trump’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria, saying he agreed a U.S. military presence is no longer needed.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said in a strongly worded statement laced with bitterness that a premature U.S. pullout before IS is defeated would have dangerous repercussions including a resurgence of the extremist group and a destabilizing effect on the entire region.
“The war against terrorism has not ended and (the Islamic State group) has not been defeated,” the statement said, adding that the fight against IS was at a “decisive” stage that requires even more support from the U.S.-led coalition. It was the first official comment by the group on Trump’s surprise announcement.
Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria has rattled Washington’s Kurdish allies, who are its most reliable partner in the country and among the most effective ground forces battling IS. With U.S. air support, the Kurds drove IS from much of northern and eastern Syria in a costly four-year campaign.
The announcement of a pullout is widely seen as an abandonment of a loyal ally.
“The decision to pull out under these circumstances will lead to a state of instability and create a political and military void in the region and leave its people between the claws of enemy forces,” the SDF statement said.
Kurdish officials and commanders met into the night, discussing their responses to the decision, local residents said Thursday. A war monitor said among the options seriously discussed was releasing thousands of Islamic State militants and their families from various nationalities who are being detained in SDF-run prisons and camps. It was not clear whether any decision was immediately made, and SDF commanders were not immediately available for comment.
Arin Sheikhmos, a Kurdish journalist and commentator, said “we have every right to be afraid.”
“If the Americans pull out and leave us to the Turks or the (Syrian) regime our destiny will be like the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1991 — million of refugees, there will be massacres. Neither the regime, not Iran nor Turkey, will accept our presence here,” he told the AP.
The U.S. announcement came at a particularly tense moment in northern Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened to launch a new offensive against the Kurds but in recent days had stepped up the rhetoric, threatening an assault could begin “at any moment.”
Turkey views the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, the main component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a terrorist group and an extension of the insurgency within its borders. U.S. support for the group has strained ties between the two NATO allies.
In northeastern Syria, Kurdish fighters have been digging trenches and defensive tunnels, preparing for the threatened offensive. Turkish tanks and armored vehicles are deployed on the border, with thousands of allied Arab Syrian fighters mobilized to join in the attack.
The threat from Turkey could drive the Kurds into the arms of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and by extension Iran and Russia.
In new tweets, Trump on Thursday defended his decision, saying it should be “no surprise.” He claimed that Russia, Iran and Syria “are not happy about the U.S. leaving, despite what the Fake News says, because now they will have to fight ISIS and others, who they hate, without us.”
The contention contradicts predictions that the Syrian government and its allies would attempt to fill the void created by the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Shortly before Trump began tweeting, Russia’s Putin welcomed the decision to withdraw forces from Syria, saying he agreed with Trump that the defeat of the Islamic State group removes the need for the U.S. military presence. Russia has long held that the U.S. presence in Syria is illegitimate because it hasn’t been vetted by the U.N. Security Council or approved by the Syrian government.
Russia is a key ally of Assad, and its military intervention, beginning in 2015, turned the tide of the war in his favor.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu weighed in, saying Israel will “intensify” its activity in Syria to prevent Iranian entrenchment following the withdrawal of American forces.
A Syrian member of parliament, Peter Marjana, said Thursday that a U.S. pullout would be a “recognition that Syria has won.” He spoke in comments published by the Syrian daily Al-Watan.
“This is expected,” Ebrahim Ebrahim, a Syrian Kurd based in Europe, said of the pullout. “But it is not just treason to the Kurds or the people of Syria but to democracy, to morals, if this is true. Yes, true, we fought for ourselves, but we also fought for democracies all over the world,” he added.
Trump’s contention that IS has been defeated contradicted his own experts’ assessments and shocked his party’s lawmakers, who called his decision rash and dangerous.
Earlier this month, Kurdish fighters entered Hajin, the last IS enclave in Syria, but battles continues. Government forces and allied Iranian militiamen are present on the other side of the Euphrates River.
The U.S. began airstrikes against IS in Syria in 2014 and later sent in ground troops to aid Kurdish forces. Trump abruptly declared their mission accomplished in a tweet Wednesday.
It started with Nazis: Concerns over foreign agents not just a Trump-era phenomenon
December 20, 2018
Bradley W. Hart
Assistant Professor of Media, Communications and Journalism, California State University, Fresno
Bradley W. Hart does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
A U.S. law used to fight Nazi propaganda that many experts saw as a historical relic has come back to life.
Businessmen Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin, once associates of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, were indicted on several counts of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, commonly called FARA, in mid-December.
The act requires “agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure” of that relationship. Activities taken as a result of it must also be disclosed.
Kian and Alptekin are only the latest targets in a series of indictments and guilty pleas related to FARA. Their case is part of a return to the headlines for a law that had fallen into disuse.
From 1966 to 2015, the Department of Justice pursued just seven FARA cases in court.
FARA spent the second half of the 20th century ignored and unused, and its initial purpose long forgotten: the prosecution of Nazis for interfering with American democracy.
Using the media tools of the time, the Nazis were able to integrate their messages into America’s politics. The law aimed at fighting that disinformation has startling relevance to our lives today.
Old law, new targets
FARA’s diminished status changed with the recent indictments related to Robert Mueller’s investigations, and with good reason.
The law was designed precisely to combat the type of election interference and lobbying activities the special prosecutor’s team is currently examining.
As my recent book, “Hitler’s American Friends: The Third Reich’s Supporters in the United States,” points out, the Foreign Agents Registration Act was introduced in Congress in summer 1937 with a specific threat in mind: Nazi subversion of the American democratic system.
From 1933 to the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, Nazi agents across the United States had operated with virtual impunity. They spread anti-Semitic propaganda, attacked President Franklin D. Roosevelt and tried to convince Americans that they should pressure the Roosevelt administration to stay out of any future European war.
More dangerously, George Sylvester Viereck was a Nazi agent, paid by the German Embassy and ensconced on Capitol Hill itself.
Viereck nominally worked as a journalist and publicist for the Reich. In reality, Viereck was running a bold campaign to insert Nazi propaganda into the Congressional Record with the help of sympathetic senators and representatives. They included Minnesota Sen. Ernest Lundeen of the Farmer-Labor Party, West Virginia Sen. Rush D. Holt, a Democrat, and New York Republican Rep. Hamilton Fish III.
Viereck had a great distribution plan: He convinced his congressional allies to deliver speeches he had written for them, or simply insert them by unanimous consent into the legislative record.
He would then use money provided by the German embassy to order large numbers of reprints of those speeches. He mailed those copies to Americans on the mailing lists of isolationist pressure groups using legislators’ franked, pre-stamped envelopes. Postage was paid by the taxpayers.
From 1936 to 1940, Viereck’s pro-German, anti-British and anti-Roosevelt propaganda reached millions of Americans thanks to a combination of Nazi cash and the cooperation of American politicians.
Viereck was so successful that he even purchased a small publishing company called Flanders Hall and used German money to begin pumping out cheap monographs for mass distribution.
This plan was brazen, and, before FARA, probably legal. Though the extent of Viereck’s operation was not known when FARA was passed, he had already been investigated during World War I for similar pro-German propaganda activities.
His later appearance on Capitol Hill aroused suspicion, and in 1938 he became one of the first witnesses subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, chaired by Representative Martin Dies Jr. of Texas.
Yet, even if Viereck could be shown to have been taking German money, there was effectively no statute he could easily be prosecuted under since his activities fell far short of espionage.
Fighting foreign influence
This Nazi agent was precisely the type of foreign agent FARA was designed to unmask and prosecute. The statements of its creators make this clear.
In 1937, Rep. John W. McCormack of Massachusetts – who was later elected speaker – introduced FARA in the House of Representatives.
McCormack told his colleagues that the bill was needed because the German government had undertaken a concerted effort to disseminate propaganda in the U.S.
Nazi agents, he said, were trying to convince American young people to “disbelieve in our form of Government.” The Nazis wanted to convert them to “political doctrines and philosophy which are utterly contrary to the doctrines and principles upon which our American Government is based.”
McCormack’s solution was to expose “their nefarious ideas,” he said. FARA, he added, “will expose them (the propagandists) to the pitiless light of publicity. The passage of this bill will label such propaganda just as the law requires us to label poison.”
In its original form, FARA required agents working for a “foreign principal” including governments, political parties and foreign-based corporations to reveal their activities and the details of their contracts to the government. Journalists and accredited diplomats were specifically exempted from registration.
Agents who failed to register their activities or made knowingly false statements could face fines or even imprisonment.
Law catches the agents
President Roosevelt signed FARA into law in 1938. More than a dozen suspected Nazi agents, including Viereck, were subsequently investigated and indicted, though Viereck’s conviction eventually was overturned on a technicality.
Some Nazi agents spent the entire war in prison as a result, limiting the damage they might have been able to inflict on the U.S. military effort.
Over subsequent decades, FARA made an occasional return to the headlines.
Despite these successes, subsequent amendments changed FARA’s scope. A 1995 provision allows some who would have fallen under its remit to register under the less stringent Lobbying Disclosure Act.
As a result, FARA fell into virtual obscurity by the early 21st century.
Foreign agents were still required to register their activities and the Department of Justice nominally pursued those who failed to do so. But by the department’s own admission, enforcement was mostly limited to sending suspected violators a threatening letter.
All this has changed with special prosecutor Mueller’s recent actions. Most prominently, former Donald J. Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to charges that included deliberate violations of FARA.
Even in cases where Mueller has not directly used FARA to bring an indictment, it has still provided legal grounds on which to open an investigation and pursue more serious charges, or secure witness cooperation.
The original intent of FARA was to inform the American people about the sources of the information they were receiving about the critical issues of the day. It was designed to carefully protect the First Amendment rights of those producing messages, while requiring that the source of the money used to distribute them be revealed.
Congress could consider revisions to FARA that will make it more relevant to the 21st century.
For example, the term “lobbyist” was not in widespread use in 1937 and does not appear in the original statue.
Instead, the original version of FARA lists those required to register as those working as “public-relations counsel, publicity agent, or as agent, servant, representative, or attorney for a foreign principal.”
The most antiquated of these terms, “publicity agent,” was defined as “any person who engages directly or indirectly in the publication or dissemination of oral, visual, graphic, written, or pictorial information … including publication by means of advertising, books, periodicals, newspapers, lectures, broadcasts, motion pictures, or otherwise.”
Congress might well consider this definition’s relevance to the technology-saturated world of the 21st century, and the intent behind its original inclusion.
As Rep. McCormack put it in 1937, the United States is now undertaking an effort to label propaganda just as it labels poison. FARA may well provide a perfect tool to do so.
Tony Criswell: When I went into the Army in February 1966, we were given a list what I remember as dozens of organizations that were on the US list of “subversive” organizations. We had to swear that we were not now nor nor had we ever been (remember Joe McCarthy?) a member of any of them. In retrospect, that might have been a good way to avoid service. Not all of us were able to dodge military service like “president” trump.
Trump Foundation reaches deal to dissolve amid lawsuit
By MICHAEL R. SISAK
Tuesday, December 18
NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation reached a deal Tuesday to go out of business, even as Trump continues to fight allegations he misused its assets to resolve business disputes and boost his run for the White House.
New York’s attorney general and lawyers for the Trump Foundation agreed on a court-supervised process for shutting down the charity and distributing about $1.7 million in remaining funds to other nonprofit groups.
The agreement resolved one part of the legal drama surrounding Trump, whose campaign, transition, inauguration and real estate empire are all under investigation.
Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s lawsuit alleging Trump and his family illegally operated the foundation as an extension of his businesses and his presidential campaign will continue.
The lawsuit, filed last spring, seeks $2.8 million in restitution and a 10-year ban on Trump and his three eldest children — Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka — from running any charities in New York.
In a statement Tuesday, Underwood cited “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.”
The foundation operated as “little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests,” she said.
Lawyers for the foundation have said any infractions were minor.
Trump pledged to dissolve the three-decade-old foundation and donate its funds to charity after his 2016 election, but that was only after it found itself under investigation in New York state. The attorney general’s office said it would have been “unacceptable” to let the foundation fold without close supervision from a judge.
Trump Foundation lawyer Alan Futerfas said the nonprofit has distributed approximately $19 million over the past decade, including $8.25 million of the president’s own money, to hundreds of charitable organizations.
The agreement was reached after a New York judge last month rejected arguments from the foundation’s lawyers that the lawsuit was politically motivated and should be thrown out.
Once the judge approves the deal to dissolve the charity, the two sides will have 30 days to provide her with a list of nonprofit organizations that should get the remaining funds. Each charity will get the same amount, and the attorney general’s office will have the right to reject ones it deems unfit to receive funds.
In her lawsuit, Underwood alleged that Trump used the foundation to help bolster his campaign by giving out big grants of other’s people money to veterans organizations during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, the first presidential nominating contest of 2016.
Trump was also accused of directing that $100,000 in foundation money be used to settle legal claims over an 80-foot flagpole he had built at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, instead of paying the expense out of his own pocket.
In addition, the foundation paid $158,000 to resolve a lawsuit over a prize for a hole-in-one contest at a Trump-owned golf course; $10,000 to buy a 6-foot (1.8-meter) portrait of Trump at a charity auction; and $5,000 for ads promoting Trump’s hotels in the programs for charitable events.
Underwood sued the Trump Foundation after taking over for fellow Democrat Eric Schneiderman, who resigned in May amid allegations he abused women. Schneiderman started investigating the foundation in 2016 and ordered it to stop fundraising in New York after The Washington Post reported that some of its spending personally benefited the presidential candidate.
Underwood has referred her office’s findings to the IRS and the Federal Election Commission. Those agencies have not commented on the matter.
Follow Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak
More DREAMs come true in California: How tuition waivers opened doors for undocumented students
December 20, 2018
Federick J. Ngo
Assistant Professor of Higher Education, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Federick J. Ngo has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund for other research.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
California decided to crack open the door to higher education a little more for undocumented students through the California DREAM Act.
In a new study of the impact of this 2013 policy, education researcher Samantha Astudillo and I discovered that it helped put undocumented students on equal footing with students who are U.S. citizens in terms of how many credits they take each semester.
The policy – which takes its name from students known as “Dreamers” – offers the students state grant aid and community college fee waivers. This financial aid is valued at US $550 a semester for community college students. Once California made the aid available to low-income undocumented students attending community college, those students completed about two more college credits in the first semester of enrollment than prior groups. That meant undocumented students completed an average of 7.5 credits, on par with U.S. citizen students who receive aid.
Our findings carry important implications for the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools each year. They also are relevant to states and advocates who are interested in expanding educational opportunity for members of this particular group, who often find themselves in legal limbo and with limited options.
Why the findings matter
The significance of our findings might vary, of course, based on one’s political views or vantage point.
For instance, this finding could be important from an economic standpoint if you think it’s a good investment for undocumented students to go to college to get the kinds of credentials that enable them to earn a living and contribute to the workforce. For those who see immigrants as undesirables, our study offers a counter-narrative – that many are just aspiring college students.
It should be noted that in-state resident tuition benefits for undocumented students have already lowered the cost of college for undocumented students in 17 states. These states include California and Texas, which have the largest undocumented populations. Still, paying in-state tuition remains difficult for undocumented students from lower-income families. That is why the tuition and fee waivers may be needed to further expand opportunity.
A closer look
Our study examined the transcripts of more than 26,000 students entering a set of California community colleges between 2011 and 2014. We could identify students who were likely undocumented because the colleges we studied collected resident status information to determine financial aid awards. About 10 percent of the students in the data fell into this category. We base this on the fact that the students checked the “other visa” box instead of other options, such as U.S. citizen, permanent resident or international student visa, to indicate their status. Also, these students appeared in the local high school data.
We determined the impact of the California DREAM Act by comparing the outcomes of undocumented students to the outcomes of U.S. citizen students before and after the policy. Citizen students served as a “control” group since the policy change didn’t affect them.
Before the California DREAM Act, some undocumented students with higher GPAs than U.S. citizen students were not enrolling in college. The promise of aid made these high-achieving undocumented students more likely to enroll.
The promise of aid also apparently led undocumented high school students to improve their GPAs between 11th and 12th grade. For instance, Hispanic U.S. citizen students increased their GPA by 0.11 points between 11th to 12th grades. This figure held steady before and after the policy. But for undocumented Hispanic students, the average change grew from 0.08 before the policy to 0.11 points afterwards. This suggests that undocumented students might have started to see college as more of a possibility and worked hard in class as a result.
The college try
I believe our findings suggest that states with in-state resident tuition policies should replicate the California DREAM Act.
If such a proposed policy draws opposition from critics who think state resources should not be given to undocumented immigrants, then perhaps free community college programs, or “promise” programs,“ for local high school graduates may be a way to support all low-income students, provided they are accessible to undocumented students.
At the very least, the results of this study show that undocumented students have dreams of completing college. Decreasing college costs through targeted financial aid policy such as the California DREAM Act can help to make more of those dreams a reality.