PROJO: Betsy DeVos sworn in as education secretary

PROJO: Betsy DeVos sworn in as education secretary

By Maria Danilova | The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Charter school advocate Betsy DeVos won confirmation as education secretary Tuesday by the slimmest of margins, pushed to approval only by the historic tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence.

Two Republicans, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, joined Democrats in a marathon effort to derail the nomination of the wealthy Republican donor. The Senate historian said Pence’s vote was the first by a vice president to break a 50-50 tie on a Cabinet nomination.
Despite the win, DeVos emerged bruised from the highly divisive nomination fight. Opposed by half the Senate, she faced criticism, even ridicule for lack of experience and confusion during her confirmation hearing. At one point, she said some schools should have guns because of the threat of grizzly bears.

And there has been scathing opposition from teachers unions and civil rights activists over her support of charter schools and her conservative religious ideology.

President Donald Trump accused Democrats of seeking to torpedo education progress. In a tweet before the vote, he wrote, “Betsy DeVos is a reformer, and she is going to be a great Education Sec. for our kids!”

DeVos was sworn in hours after the Senate vote by Pence, who told the new Cabinet member: “I wasn’t just voting for you. Having seen your devotion to improving the quality of education for some of our most vulnerable children across the nation for so many years, I was also casting a vote for America’s children.”

“I can tell you, my vote for Betsy DeVos was the easiest vote I ever cast,” Pence said.

She now takes the helm of a department charged with implementing laws affecting the nation’s public schools with no direct experience with traditional public schools. Her opponents noted that she has no experience running public schools, nor has she attended one or sent her children to one

She also will have to address several hot-button issues in higher education, such as rising tuition costs, growing student debt and the troubled for-profit colleges, many of which have closed down, leaving students with huge loans and without a good education or job prospects.
Close attention also will be paid to how DeVos deals with sexual assault and freedom of speech on campuses.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, emotions ran high as constituents jammed senators’ phone lines. Protesters gathered outside the Capitol, including one person in a grizzly bear costume to ridicule DeVos.

Democrats and labor unions vigorously fought the nomination, suggesting that DeVos would defund traditional public schools by diverting taxpayers’ money to charter and private institutions. They cited her financial interest in organizations pushing for charter schools, though she has said she will divest those interests.

Collins and Murkowski said they feared her focus on charter schools will undermine remote public schools in their states.

DeVos supporters, however, saw her confirmation as an occasion to breathe new life into a troubled American school system and a chance to shift power from Washington to the local level.

“She has been a leader in the movement for public charter schools — the most successful reform of public education during the last 30 years,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Education Committee. “And she has worked tirelessly to help low-income children have more choices of better schools.”

DeVos has her work cut out.
“She will have to make it a priority to reach out to educators and education policy makers to reassure them that she is committed to working to improve education for all students including the vast majority who attend and will continue to attend traditional public schools,” said Martin West, associate professor of education at Harvard University. “My view is that she is committed to doing that.”

Members of Rhode Island’s all-Democrat congressional delegation have been uniformly critical of DeVos.

“Vice President Pence’s trip down Pennsylvania Avenue today shows just how hard Republicans have had to work to stack and jam President Trump’s underqualified and conflicted nominees through the Senate,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

“Mrs. DeVos had every opportunity to make a convincing case to be Secretary of Education. But, over the course of her confirmation process, she demonstrated a startling lack of understanding of fundamental education issues and laws, including those about students with disabilities, school safety, protecting civil rights, and how to measure success in education As far as I can tell, she has very few ideas at all for improving American higher education.”

“The confirmation hearing of Betsy DeVos as the potential Secretary of Education painted an alarming picture,” added Rep. James Langevin. “She is, quite simply, unqualified for the job, with no real education experience and very little understanding of the complex and critical issues facing the department she hopes to lead. While I do not have a role in the confirmation process, I have received many phone calls, emails and social media feedback from constituents who are overwhelmingly opposed to Mrs. DeVos, and I share their concerns. I applaud Senators Reed and Whitehouse for their strong opposition to Betsy DeVos, and I implore Senate Republicans to heed the outcry from educators and the American people.”

Sen. Jack Reed, speaking at 6 a.m. Tuesday from the Senate floor described his father, a janitor in Rhode Island, who would spend Sundays after a snowstorm shoveling out his school.”I lived with that kind of commitment,” Reed said. “It’s what has driven millions of Americans to reject this nomination.”

Reed said he has received over 12,500 phone calls from Rhode Islanders asking him to oppose her nomination.
“A free, public education has always been a hallmark of this country,” he said. “Without a good public education, how can we be equal? Our constituents want a champion committed to public education. Betsy DeVos is not that person. She is the wrong choice to lead the Department of Education.”

Representative David N. Cicilline, speaking after the vote today added, “It’s disappointing that only two Republicans found the courage to vote against President Trump’s nomination today.”

“As all of us saw during her confirmation hearing, Betsy DeVos is the most unqualified person in history to serve as Secretary of Education. She is the first secretary who has no experience or training in public education. She never worked in a public school. In fact, she never even attended a public school.”

“What Betsy DeVos has done is devote her life to defunding public schools in order to undermine their effectiveness. She is a billionaire lobbyist and Republican donor who has called public schools a ‘dead end’ and argued that ‘we don’t fire teachers enough.’ And since 2000, she and her husband have given millions of dollars to undermine public education and expand unregulated, for-profit charter schools.”

“Republicans should have joined with Democrats to defeat this nomination today. But that would have required real courage. So instead, they once again fell in line behind President Trump and his pro-Wall Street, anti-worker agenda.”

— With reporting by Providence Journal Staff writer Linda Borg

Northside Neighbor: Lewis makes friendly Super Bowl bet with fellow Congressmen

Northside Neighbor: Lewis makes friendly Super Bowl bet with fellow Congressmen

By Neighbor Staff

District 5 U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta, who represents Brookhaven and part of Buckhead, has made a friendly bet with two fellow members of Congress – District 2 Rep. Jim Langevin, D-Rhode Island, and District 6 U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts – regarding Super Bowl LI between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots.

“Two of my colleagues reached out to me to take a chance on the Super Bowl,” Lewis said in a news release. “I warned them it wasn’t wise to bet against Atlanta, but they insisted. They think experience will win over the rising star. I reminded them that a rising star can be blinding. They told me to check their team’s record, consult the history. That’s when I knew we had it in the bag. I’d match Atlanta’s history against the best any day. Only time will tell, but it may be time for America’s team to move south for the winter. Rise up, Falcons!”

Said Langevin, “With four Super Bowl titles under our belt and an impressive 14-2 season this year, I have no doubts: the Patriots are going to bring another Vince Lombardi Trophy back to New England. I look forward to another year of bragging rights over Congressman Lewis and all of my colleagues who aren’t fortunate enough to be a part of Pats Nation,. Go Pats!”

Langevin bet Lewis a New England lobster dinner, and Lewis bet a signed copy of a historic Life magazine featuring Atlanta’s civil rights history.

When the Patriots and Falcons go head to head Feb. 5, Moulton said, “I’m confident that the Patriots will do their job. So I’m very excited to welcome Congressman Lewis to Massachusetts for a day of service.”

Moulton bet Lewis a service day in each other’s district. If the Falcons win, Moulton will help out somewhere in Atlanta’s 5th District, and if the Pats win, Lewis will travel to Massachusetts to lend a hand.

May the best team win!

HPN: US-Israeli cybersecurity cooperation bill advances the House

HPN: US-Israeli cybersecurity cooperation bill advances the House

By HPN News Desk

The United States-Israel Cybersecurity Cooperation Enhancement Act, which aims to create a cybersecurity grant program for joint research and development initiatives between American and Israeli organizations, advanced the U.S House of Representatives earlier this week.

The bill was introduced by U.S. Reps. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) and Jim Langevin (D-RI).

“Israel is America’s strongest and most strategic ally in the Middle East, and I’m glad the House just passed our bill to further fortify this strategic partnership through enhanced joint cybersecurity efforts,” Ratcliffe said.

Under provisions included in the legislation, the cybersecurity grant program will determine research requirements with help form an advisory board made up of members from the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the United States-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation.

“The United States and Israel have an opportunity here to work together to develop innovative solutions to the threats we face in cyberspace,” Langevin said. “We have a mutual interest in strengthening our cyber defenses, and I believe this legislation will fortify our productive partnership in tackling the cyber threats of today and the future.”

Similar legislation, the United States-Israel Advanced Research Partnership Act of 2016, was also authored by Ratcliffe and Langevin and was signed into law during the 114th Congress.

The Hill: Democrats plot protest for Trump’s speech to Congress

The Hill: Democrats plot protest for Trump’s speech to Congress

By Mike Lillis and Rafael Bernal

House Democrats are rallying behind a plan to make President Trump’s first speech to Congress as uncomfortable as possible by inviting guests they say will suffer under new White House policies. 

The strategy means Trump will likely face a crowd including ethnic minorities, LGBT people, undocumented immigrants, the disabled and others when he addresses a joint session on Feb. 28.

It’s a shift in tactics for Democrats, some of whom skipped Trump’s inauguration last month in protest.Democrats say there are no plans to stage a similar boycott of Trump’s speech, but they want to put him face-to-face with people who feel alienated and targeted by his controversial executive orders.

In a letter circulating on Capitol Hill, a group of liberals is urging fellow Democrats to bring guests who have made “a positive impact” on the community “despite discrimination or marginalization.”

“It is our hope that their presence in the House Gallery will remind President Trump that he is not the arbiter of patriotism,” reads the letter. “This country belongs to all of us, and his rhetoric of intolerance will not stand.”

The authors of the letter are as diverse as the crowd they’re seeking to assemble.

They include Reps. Jim Langevin (R.I.), who was shot accidentally as a teen and became the first quadriplegic to serve in Congress; Michelle Lujan Grisham (N.M.), head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Cedric Richmond (La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Judy Chu (Calif.), head of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus; and David Cicilline (R.I.) and Jared Polis (Colo.), the co-chairman of the LGBT Equality Caucus.

“We want to send a strong message to the [president] that he cannot push these communities aside, and he cannot change the fabric of this country,” they wrote.

Some liberals are also eyeing another form of protest during the speech: When Trump walks down the center aisle of the House chamber on the way to the dais, they’re hoping no Democrats scramble to get in the picture for the traditional handshake.

“We have to have a higher standard,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said.

“For sure I will not be nearby,” Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas) echoed.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric was combative from the very start, and he’s brought that approach with him to the White House.

Most recently, he temporarily banned all refugees from entering the U.S. — and Syrian refugees idefinitely — as well as immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. The move sparked an outcry from Democrats and human rights groups, and drew thousands of protestors to airports and streets across the country.

It’s that spirit of protest the Democrats are hoping to sustain as Trump prepares for his speech to Congress.

“Instead of celebrating the very diversity that makes our country a beacon of inclusion and equality, he has chosen to vilify, bully and alienate women, immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, and people of differing faiths,” the Democrats wrote in their letter.

“His rhetoric emboldens those who seek a scapegoat for the challenges this country faces.”

Influencers: US should hit Russia harder for political hacks

Influencers: US should hit Russia harder for political hacks

By Jack Detsch

Earlier this month, the US intelligence community released a report that blamed President Vladimir Putin for ordering a campaign of cyberattacks, propaganda, and fake news to undermine public confidence in the democratic process and discredit Hillary Clinton’s campaign. 

In light of this, Passcode’s group of digital security and privacy experts said President Trump should roundly condemn the hacks – and impose serious consequences.

“If the Russians had physically sent agents into the offices of the Democratic National Committee to steal files or into polling stations to stuff ballot boxes, they would have done so certain of consequences if those agents were caught: they’d be imprisoned and probably tried,” said Nate Fick, chief executive officer of Endgame, a cybersecurity company. “Until the US government makes explicitly clear that the full weight of American power is available to respond to hostile cyber adventurism, we can expect the assaults on our institutions to continue.”

The Obama administration’s response included economic sanctions, the expulsion of 35 diplomats, the designation of voting systems as critical infrastructure, and strong hints of covert retaliation. Yet some members of Congress criticized Mr. Obama’s response to the hacks – coming six months after suspected Russian breaches into the Democratic National Committee were detected – as too slow.

It’s not yet clear how Mr. Trump plans to deal with the issue.

The new commander-in-chief has said he agrees with the intelligence community’s united assessment that Moscow was behind the suspected digital attacks and leaking of confidential emails to the antisecrecy site WikiLeaks, but has so far declined to publicly condemn Russia for its actions. Some Trump advisers have suggested the post-hack sanctions may even have gone too far – though some of Trump’s cabinet choices, such as CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary James Mattis, have taken a harder line.

Some Influencers are worried that Trump might not act – and are calling on Congress to step in. “Congress should pass bipartisan sanctions against Russia to inflict additional costs and prevent those costs from being easily reversed by the Trump administration,” said Chris Finan, chief executive officer of Manifold Technology.

Peter Singer, a senior fellow at New America think tank, sees the next phase as a test for the Republican-controlled government. “The Obama administration’s recent moves to sanction Russia for targeting US democracy were a good start, albeit too little and too late — criticism that the Republican congressional leadership was quick, and right, to make,” Mr. Singer says. “A test of its sincerity will be whether Congress backs its words with action, by turning the sanctions into law and strengthening them further.”
For his part, Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus cochair Rep. Jim Langevin (D) of Rhode Island says he supported the Obama administration’s actions – but will advocate in the legislative branch for more action. “I do believe that the actions made public to date are not commensurate with the enormity of the attack on the fundamental underpinnings of our democracy,” Mr. Langevin said. “I will continue to support efforts by the Congress and the new Administration to ensure that Russia does not again threaten our electoral systems.”

The US has a variety of tools besides sanctions at its disposal. One Influencer is calling for a “tit-for-tat” response. “There should be a price for their actions, and it should involve doxing powerful Russians connected to the Kremlin so they get the point,” said the expert, calling for a kind of cyberattack ultimately aimed at exposing sensitive information. (Passcode’s Influencers can choose to keep their responses anonymous to preserve their candor.)

A lack of a strong public response will only encourage “bolder behavior” from Russia, added Eric Burger, a computer science professor and director of the Center for Secure Communications at Georgetown University. The US arsenal ranges “from hacking back and exposing Botox use all the way through kinetic warfare, with things like sanctions, public shaming, and the like in between,” he adds.

The probe into suspected Russian digital interference into US elections isn’t over yet: The House and Senate Intelligence committees are investigating the hack.

Even so, Passcode’s experts largely believe that by taking a strong stand now, the US can play an important role in creating rules of the road for cyberspace – or internationally accepted norms of behavior. That process has moved slowly in international bodies such as the United Nations, but experts say a public response to the high-profile hacks could spur some momentum.

“Let’s call it what it is: a digital attack on one a foundational element of societal confidence,” said Steve Weber, a professor at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley of this summer’s cyberattacks against the DNC and other Democratic political organizations.

“Now is the time to set some norms about how states use the internet to create corrosion in the social contract of other states. We shouldn’t wait for norms to ‘evolve’ – we should state clearly what we consider out-of-bounds behaviors, not engage in them ourselves, and punish those who do with serious costs and pain.”

However, some experts insist it’s too early to begin talking about further penalties for the suspected Russian digital attacks. A small but vocal 24 percent minority of Influencers said it wasn’t the right time to respond, given a lack of what they said was compelling evidence.

“Until we actually see the evidence of Russian political hacking, this entire episode remains unverified.” says Sascha Meinrath, who heads up X-Lab, a Washington-based venture focused on technology policy and innovation. “Anyone promoting retaliation is doing so in ignorance.” While the intelligence community’s declassified report on Russian hacks featured some technical indicators, such as internet protocol addresses, the public evidence did little to satisfy some security researchers.

Some of Passcode’s experts think that by retaliating more strongly – or mounting a digital counterattack against Russia – the US could make itself vulnerable by exposing its own digital espionage operations to potential criticism.
“Offensive operations are a critical part of nation-state intelligence,” says Nick Selby, from US cybersecurity firm Secure Ideas. “Feigning outrage at operations results in embarrassing propaganda campaigns in which we must ‘demonstrate’ how awful it all is.”

The US intelligence community in its report found that Russian digital interference in global politics could be the “new normal.” With suspected Russian cyberattack campaigns potentially targeting elections in Germany, France, and the Netherlands this year, some Influencers say it’s time to buckle in for the long haul – and focus on defense.

“It was inevitable that traditional espionage would evolve to utilize the Internet,” says Scott Montgomery, vice president and chief technical strategist at Intel Security. “The energy spent on ‘retaliation’ would be better served improving defensive posture and training personnel.”

Cranston Herald: Trump travel ban gets mixed reviews

Cranston Herald: Trump travel ban gets mixed reviews

By Jacob Marrocco and John Howell
Mayor Allan Fung expressed his “concern” about President Donald Trump’s latest executive order on Sunday night, releasing a statement that said the ban could have “unintended consequences.”
Meanwhile, differing points of view on the executive order have come from a cross section of the community with some religious as well as political leaders defending the president.
President Trump signed into effect on Saturday a ban that barred the entry of people from seven countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – for at least the next 90 days. No one from those seven countries has committed a deadly terrorist attack in the United States since 9/11, according to Politifact.
The order immediately drew the ire of thousands across the country, ranging from Dallas to Boston to Boise, as they took to the airports to protest those being held by border patrol.
Despite Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s assertion that only 109 people were stopped for “additional screening,” the Washington Post offered otherwise. Only a few hundred have been detained, but the Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote Monday that more than 90,000 people overall were affected by the ban.
“It appears as though this executive order was rolled out quickly, far too quickly in opinion, and did not go through the proper vetting,” Fung said in his statement. “While I wholeheartedly support sensible reforms, and think we need to strengthen our borders greatly, immigration and national security are complex problems that should not be rushed.”
That sentiment is felt to a much stronger degree by some protestors around the city. Nancy Rafi, organizer for the Rhode Island branch of the Women’s March on Washington, was struck nearly speechless when asked Monday night about the ban.
“I can’t even go there,” said Rafi, who was protesting against Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions outside of Sen. Jack Reed’s office in Cranston, said. “The thing is, I think people are shocked. You have choices when you’re shocked: You either sit at home and stare out into the abyss and say I have no idea what to do, or you get your feet on the ground and you go out and join others to get their voices heard. Now is the time to act.”
Father Robert Marciano, pastor of St. Kevin Church in Warwick and not surprisingly former Warwick Representative Joseph Trillo, who headed the Rhode Island Trump campaign, offered differing views.
Father Marciano, who as a National Guard chaplain, responded to the Pentagon immediately following the 9-11 attacks where he saw the carnage and assisted with the recovery of bodies, said, “They’re making such a big deal over this and I read they only detained 100 people.”
“He [Trump] means business about protecting Americans first,” said Father Marciano. Father Marciano said the American way of open doors and unrestricted freedoms changed with 9/11.
“There are those who do not agree with our way of life,” he said. Father Marciano defends our freedoms, but observed they also make the country “vulnerable.”
While Father Marciano is surprised by reports that President Trump did not consult with some of his key advisors prior to his executive order, he does not see it coming as a surprise.
“He said he was going to do this.”
Trillo offers the same reasoning. He sees the order as a message to the world, and especially to ISIS that this country is not going to tolerate terrorists. He called it a “shock wave” that makes the American position clear.
As for the dismissal of acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who questioned the legality of Trump’s refugee and immigration ban, Trillo said, “Trump had no choice.”
“You always have to look between the lines in politics,” said Trillo. In this case, Trillo reasons, Yates knew she would not be staying with the administration.
“It was her way of making a statement on her way out the door.”
In a statement, Congressman James Langevin applauded Yates for “upholding the ‘solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right.”
“I am vehemently opposed to this Executive Order, and especially so because once again President Trump has taken unilateral action without seeking input from the experienced, expert advisers he now has at his disposal,” Langevin said.
Mayor Scott Avedisian, a Republican who did not support Trump in the party primary took issue with the President’s use of an executive order.
“I have never favored using executive orders as a way to legislate issues.  I have used them for general housekeeping issues, lowering flags, imposing states of emergency, etc.  But more substantive issues should be dealt with through legislation,” he said.
Trillo thinks it important people recognize that President Trump uses hyperbole to make his point and that they often fail to understand where he is coming from.
“If you take him literally,” he said, “he’s going to really mess with your head. There’s a meaning with everything he says.”
Trillo likewise observed that about 100 people were detained under the executive order.
Referring to Trump’s brief tenure in office, Trillo said, “I’m very impressed by what he’s been able to do…the game of Washington, D.C. politics is over.”
“Give him a chance. No one gives him a chance, especially the left hand liberals.”
Rev. Chris Abhulime, pastor of the King’s Tabernacle in Johnston said he recognizes the president has powers to restrict entry into the country, adding, “But I also feel that it should be done in a manner that respects religious values, that is not targeting religion instead of people.”
“We want to keep people safe, we want to keep the country safe and we want to do it in an orderly fashion where it doesn’t create chaos,” he said.
However, Pastor Abhulime has concerns with what is being seen as a ban on Muslims.
“There’s a perception that the Muslim community is targeted with this immigration rollout. For me, because I’ve experienced it, and I feel so terrible that our Muslim brothers and sisters have to go through the type of pain that we had to go through. Nobody should ever have to go through that, even the perception of it. I think the government should understand that they are not just the government for some of the people, they’re government for all of the people regardless of nationality, creed, religion or where you’re from or how you look like. We should be treated equal.”
In an email Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea asked her supporters to stay engaged.
“All our voices need to be heard,” she wrote. She ended the email by saying Republicans were gearing up to challenge her re-election next year and asked for donations to “help me fight for our values and prepare for the challenge ahead.”
Governor Gina Raimondo, who has been consistently trying to convey that Rhode Island is inclusive.
In comments made Sunday at a protest rally at the State House she said, “President Trump, we’re not going to back down. President Trump, we will not be quiet. And President Trump, the people of Rhode Island stand strong against your religious test and against your Muslim ban.”
“We will unite against this because it is wrong, and we will stand for human rights, together. People of Rhode Island, we are counting on one another. Dig deep, and know that I’m standing with you.”
(With reports from Tim Forsberg and Tessa Roy)