Understanding the role of Russian propaganda in the U.S. election

Ben Nimmo writes: It may seem strange, but the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is not backing US Presidential Republican Candidate Donald Trump. It has a bigger goal: Discrediting democracy in the United States.

The Kremlin’s main propaganda outlets in the US are the television station RT — formerly Russia Today — and the radio and online outlet Sputnik. Both are headed by Kremlin loyalists and closely mirror Russia’s foreign policy. While their effect on the presidential race is likely to be minimal, their reporting is useful for the insight it provides into the Kremlin’s intentions.

That reporting focuses on specifically attacking US Presidential Democratic Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the general nature of US democracy. As such, it appears that the Kremlin is less interested in promoting Trump than promoting discontent.

Coverage of Trump by RT and Sputnik is uncharacteristically balanced. Some recent reports have presented the Republican candidate favorably, such as when he endorsed a number of his critics for re-election “in an attempt to ease party tensions”, or accused Clinton of founding ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).

Other coverage, however, was unfavorable. Some have quoted a neo-Nazi leader as backing Trump’s candidacy, and accused him of hypocrisy. One report even asked: “Is Trump an embarrassment to the [Republican Party] because he’s an incompetent, uninformed, pathological menace, or because he’s just saying out loud what most Republicans now believe?”

No such balance is apparent in the two outlets’ coverage of the other candidates.

Clinton is the most obvious target. In August of 2016 alone, RT reports covered accusations of corruption, lying, and ill health against her; accused her of launching a McCarthy-style “witch hunt” against Trump; and linked her to the use of nuclear weapons in 1945. Sputnik’s reporting called her and her team “war hawks”, accused her of wanting to “make more families suffer” the deaths of soldiers, and named her the “Queen of War”. [Continue reading…]

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Racism and talk of religious war: Trump staff’s online posts

The Associated Press reports: Donald Trump’s paid campaign staffers have declared on their personal social media accounts that Muslims are unfit to be U.S. citizens, ridiculed Mexican accents, called for Secretary of State John Kerry to be hanged and stated their readiness for a possible civil war, according to a review by The Associated Press of their postings.

The AP examined the social media feeds of more than 50 current and former campaign employees who helped propel Trump through the primary elections. The campaign has employed a mix of veteran political operatives and outsiders. Most come across as dedicated, enthusiastic partisans, but at least seven expressed views that were overtly racially charged, supportive of violent actions or broadly hostile to Muslims.

A graphic designer for Trump’s advance team approvingly posted video of a black man eating fried chicken and criticizing fellow blacks for ignorance, irresponsibility and having too many children. A Trump field organizer in Virginia declared that Muslims were seeking to impose Sharia law in America and that “those who understand Islam for what it is are gearing up for the fight.”

The AP’s findings come at a time when Trump is showing new interest in appealing to minority voters, insisting he will be fair in dealing with the 11 million people in the U.S. illegally and explicitly pitching himself to African-Americans, saying “what do you have to lose?” [Continue reading…]

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Why we’re wrong to blame immigrants for our sputtering economies

By Kevin Shih, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Immigrants have become a major scapegoat in recent years for sputtering Western economies.

From the U.K.’s jarring “Brexit” from the European Union to Donald Trump’s infamous wall and more recent proposal to apply “extreme vetting” to those wishing to enter the U.S., many politicians have found success by casting immigrants as a threat to the physical, social and economic welfare of natives.

In short, Americans (and our European brethren) are unhappy, and many are convinced immigration brings harm. A recent poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans think immigration, including the legal kind, “jeopardizes the United States.”

While it has become a popular notion in the West that immigrants jeopardize the job prospects of natives, over 30 years of economic research (including my own) gives strong reason to believe otherwise.

And in fact, the opposite may be more likely: There’s evidence immigrants actually promote more economic growth.

[Read more…]

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Todd Miller: The great Mexican wall deception

These days, we’re in what seems like an election campaign of one. It’s Trump vs. Trump. Does Hillary even exist? There’s conflicting evidence on that. If Trump loses, I suspect we’ll all be able to say that never has a candidate trounced himself quite so efficiently. All his opponent evidently has to do is not give press conferences, stay out of the spotlight, and wait for Trump to tromp Trump.

At the moment, his polling figures are looking increasingly dismal and he’s shaken up his campaign team (yet again!) — the Ukrainians having lost out to Breitbart News and American “nationalism.”  Still, The Donald rumbles on.  He’s a figure the usual journalistic crew is essentially incapable of covering.  For that, you need a coterie of cartoonists and, of course, New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz.

Only recently, for instance, The Donald gave a speech in which he suggested that a new Cold-War-style “ideological screening test” for immigrants be developed to keep… well, you know whom out.  He’s referred to the process he imagines putting in place as “extreme vetting.”  The goal, he says, is to ban those “who support bigotry and hatred” (of whom he perhaps feels we already have our fill without the aid of immigrants) and, above all, those “who believe that Sharia law should supplant American law.”  He hasn’t yet suggested just what that screening test might be like, but TomDispatch has a few obvious suggestions.

The first question for any prospective immigrant would surely have to be: “Do you belong to ISIS?”  The answer to that one will obviously eliminate many of the most dangerous potential infiltrators.  You’d then follow up with the surefire extreme-vetting question: “Do you believe that Sharia law should be imposed on the United States?”  And if that doesn’t eliminate the rest of the potential Islamic terrorists, you’d finish off the process with a trick question.  Best suggestion at present: “Death to America: Yea or Nay?”

Those who pass will obviously be ready to receive their visas and, as The Donald so movingly puts it, “embrace a tolerant American society.”

Let me just add that Trump supporters shouldn’t feel complete despair if, in the course of this election campaign, The Donald goes down in electoral flames.  As TomDispatch regular Todd Miller suggests in his latest report from the U.S.-Mexican border, when Hillary Clinton emerges from the shadows to take the oath of office, she will find herself presiding over far more Trumpian American borderlands than many of us might assume.  And for that we’ll have to offer thanks not only to the inspiration of Trump but to the actions of two other figures on the American political landscape: Bill and Hillary Clinton. Tom Engelhardt

No need to build The Donald’s wall, it’s built
Trump’s America already exists on the border
By Todd Miller

At the federal courthouse, Ignacio Sarabia asks the magistrate judge, Jacqueline Rateau, if he can explain why he crossed the international boundary between the two countries without authorization. He has already pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor commonly known as “illegal entry” and is about to receive a prison sentence. On either side of him are eight men in the same predicament, all still sunburned, all in the same ripped, soiled clothes they were wearing when arrested in the Arizona desert by agents of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Once again, the zero tolerance border enforcement program known as Operation Streamline has unfolded just as it always does here in Tucson, Arizona. Close to 60 people have already approached the judge in groups of seven or eight, their heads bowed submissively, their bodies weighed down by shackles and chains around wrists, waists, and ankles. The judge has handed out the requisite prison sentences in quick succession — 180 days, 60 days, 90 days, 30 days.

On and on it goes, day-in, day-out. Like so many meals served in fast-food restaurants, 750,000 prison sentences of this sort have been handed down since Operation Streamline was launched in 2005. This mass prosecution of undocumented border crossers has become so much the norm that one report concluded it is now a “driving force in mass incarceration” in the United States. Yet it is but a single program among many overseen by the massive U.S. border enforcement and incarceration regime that has developed during the last two decades, particularly in the post-9/11 era.

Sarabia takes a half-step forward. “My infant is four months old,” he tells the judge in Spanish. The baby was, he assures her, born with a heart condition and is a U.S. citizen. They have no option but to operate. This is the reason, he says, that “I’m here before you.” He pauses.

[Read more…]

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Trump is already helping Putin consolidate control of Ukraine

Anna Nemtsova writes: In living rooms and kitchens across Russia and Ukraine, the U.S. presidential election is as riveting to TV viewers as “Game of Thrones” is to their American counterparts. Every time Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump speak of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Crimea, Russian hackers or the Donbas (the disputed region of eastern Ukraine) — and it’s rebroadcast here, which it usually is — people in both countries sit up as if some crazy American reality show has just come on. Almost every day, television channels in both countries highlight America’s new scandals and intrigues involving Trump’s connections with post-Soviet oligarchs, or leaked DNC emails, or the endless hurling of insults and the constant debate over America’s supposedly disappearing greatness.

But the main reason the U.S. election has become must-see TV is not because it’s a great reality show, or because Putin and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine come up as issues in the campaign as often as Mexican immigrants, ISIS and Benghazi. It’s because the political rhetoric across the Atlantic is actually starting to change facts on the ground in Russia and Ukraine. In both countries, coverage of the political chaos in the United States — the north star of politics for both anti-American and pro-American figures in this part of the world — is stirring public discontent and doubt about the future in Ukraine, and a sense of confidence, even arrogance, in Russia.

In short, the rhetoric in the U.S. election campaign — especially Trump’s — is already altering policy in the region, hardening Moscow’s attitude toward Ukraine and at the same time frustrating and confusing the Ukrainians who want to stand up to Putin. [Continue reading…]

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Finland says it is nearing security deal with U.S. amid concerns over Russia

The Guardian reports: Finland says it is close to concluding a defence cooperation agreement with the US, the latest in a series of steps the formally neutral Nordic country has taken to bolster its security in the face of heightened Russian military activity.

The country’s defence minister, Jussi Niinistö, said he hoped the deal – incorporating joint military training, information sharing and research – would be signed before the US presidential election in November.

“It’s one of the reasons to have it done this autumn. But I’m certain we will continue to work together with either one of main candidates winning,” Niinisto told Reuters news agency. There was no immediate response from the Pentagon on a potential agreement.

The deal would provide a framework for increased cooperation between the armed forces of the two nations but would not involve any binding commitment for either country to come to the defence of the other. Finland signed a similar agreement with the UK in July.

Sweden, the other Nordic country to have remained outside Nato, signed a defence cooperation agreement with the US in June. Leaders from both Sweden and Finland also took part in a Nato summit last month in Warsaw, and their armed forces have taken part in Nato military exercises in the region as nervousness has grown around the Baltic over an increasing number of Russian military drills in the air and sea following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Both Nordic states have already signed agreements that would make it easier for them to host Nato troops in a crisis, and they contributed troops to the Nato mission in Afghanistan. [Continue reading…]

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How corruption paved the way for the rise of ISIS and the failure of Iraq

Ken Silverstein writes: It is hard to overstate the devastating role that corruption has played in the failure of Iraq and the rise of ISIS. According to a report last March by the Iraqi parliament’s auditing committee, the country’s defense ministry has spent $150 billion on weapons during the past decade — but acquired only $20 billion worth of arms. Much of the equipment it did obtain was useless, 1970s-era matériel from former Soviet bloc states that was invoiced at up to four times its actual value. Late last year, well-placed sources tell me, the Pentagon delivered a shipment of new weapons to the Iraqi government, including .50-caliber sniper rifles, which were supposed to be sent to Sunni fighters in Anbar Province. Instead, corrupt officials in the Iraqi ministries of interior and defense sold the arms to ISIS, which is using them to kill Kurdish peshmerga fighters.

“The Kurds are still using equipment we gave them in 2003,” says a former CIA official who spends a good deal of time in Iraq. “They’re forced to buy ammo and weapons that the U.S. government gives to Baghdad from corrupt Iraqi government officials.”

Weapons aren’t the only target for corruption. When it comes to the vast sums of money that have flowed into Iraq for reconstruction and economic development, officials at every level of government have been more focused on lining their own pockets than rebuilding their ruined country. [Continue reading…]

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UN relief official calls crisis in Aleppo the ‘apex of horror’

The New York Times reports: The top aid official at the United Nations gave a gloomy assessment of the Syria relief effort on Monday, saying no convoy deliveries had been made to besieged areas this month and that the suffering in Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial epicenter, was the “apex of horror.”

In a briefing to the Security Council, the official, Stephen O’Brien, the under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said that while he welcomed Russia’s support last week for a 48-hour cease-fire in Aleppo — as he had proposed earlier in the month — there had been no assurances from other combatants.

“This cannot be a one-sided offer,” Mr. O’Brien said. “Plans are in place, but we need the agreement of all parties to let us do our job.”

United Nations officials have said that the fighting in Aleppo — pitting Syrian government forces and their Russian backers against an array of insurgents, including Islamist militants — has left 275,000 people in rebel-held eastern Aleppo completely cut off from food, water and medicine, and has severely limited aid deliveries to 1.5 million people in government-held western Aleppo. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey’s migrant deal with Europe may collapse under post-coup attempt crackdown

The Washington Post reports: The landmark agreement that halted a torrent of migrants flowing from Turkey into Europe is nearing collapse in the wake of the failed Turkish coup and the subsequent nationwide crackdown.

Turkish and European leaders are threatening to abandon the deal — the Europeans because they say they are worried about widespread human rights abuses, the Turks because of European reluctance to fulfill a promise to drop visa restrictions for Turkish nationals.

Now, even as it detains tens of thousands of people in response to the coup attempt, Turkey has given the European Union an October deadline over the visa pledge — or it will walk away from its commitment to stem the flow.

An end to the agreement, which came after more than a million migrants and refugees entered in Europe in 2015, would mark another blow to the contentious relationship between the E.U. and Turkey, which is petitioning to join the bloc. It could also result in a fresh surge of asylum seekers traveling from Turkey, which would confront E.U. leaders with a new humanitarian and political dilemma after a relatively quiet spring and summer. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS, losing fighters and territory, increasingly turns to child bombers

The Washington Post reports: The boy burst into tears as police apprehended him after he was spotted nervously pacing up and down a street in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk. When they cut open the Barcelona soccer shirt he was wearing, they found a suicide belt.

He was just 15, according to local officials.

Footage broadcast Monday on Kurdish television stations showed the dramatic moments as security forces gingerly stripped him of his explosives-laden belt. Tragedy was averted Sunday evening, but numerous young bombers have carried out attacks in recent months, as the Islamic State militant group has enlisted children in suicide missions.

The same evening that police foiled the Kirkuk attack, a suicide bomber of about the same age struck outside a Shiite mosque in the city, killing six people, security forces said.

The devastating bombing at a wedding in southeastern Turkey that killed at least 50 people late Saturday was also initially thought to have been carried out by a child. [Continue reading…]

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The fatwa hotline: ‘We have heard everything’

Hamida Ghafour writes: Sheikha Naeema lifts her glass to take a sip of water, but the large grey telephone on her desk blinks again, red and insistent. It is only 9am and she has already spoken to 11 callers. The woman on the other end of the line is in distress.

“Peace be upon you, blessings be upon you,” Sheikha Naeema says in a soothing tone. The woman tells her she has given birth twice and that both babies were stillborn. Now she is pregnant again. Her doctor has said the foetus is showing signs of severe complications and will probably die. The woman wants to know if Islam will permit her to have an abortion. After clarifying a few other details, Sheikha Naeema issues a fatwa. “If the foetus is severely ill and will not survive, you may have an abortion,” she tells the woman. “You must take advice from your physician, he will guide you. Religion does not conflict with medicine.”

She explains that abortion is allowed under certain circumstances: within 120 days, or 17 weeks after conception if doctors believe the baby has life-threatening defects. The fatwa – a non-binding religious ruling – is justified on the basis of a hadith, a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, which states that at 120 days a baby is given a soul, or spirit. When Sheikha Naeema finishes the call, she swivels in the office chair and makes a note. “Normally it’s quiet on Thursday mornings,” she says.

We are in the small, cramped office of the fatwa hotline on the eighth floor of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in Abu Dhabi, better known by its Arabic acronym, the Awqaf. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Quentin Dujardin — ‘Kalaban Coura’

 

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