A nation of immigrants enters dark chapter

 

Raul A. Reyes writes: The deportation force is here. According to new Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memos, the Trump administration plans to vastly expand the pool of undocumented immigrants in the United States who will be targeted for removal.

Virtually everyone who is in the country without documentation is now eligible for deportation, and some in an expedited fashion. These memos, signed by DHS Secretary John Kelly, were rolled out on Tuesday.

There are two memos at issue here; one dealing with interior immigration enforcement, and the other with border security. They provide a scary picture of what life will soon look like for the estimated 11 million undocumented men, women, and children who live among us. But President Donald Trump’s deportations won’t necessarily make us safer, let alone “great again.” Instead they are a mixture of harsh new policies and questionable ideas from the past.

The most important thing to know about Trump’s deportation force is that they will be going after everyone they can. [Continue reading…]

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New Trump deportation rules allow far more expulsions

The New York Times reports: President Trump has directed his administration to more aggressively enforce the nation’s immigration laws, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.

Documents released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by immigrants; enlist local police officers as enforcers; strip immigrants of privacy rights; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.

The new enforcement policies put into practice the fearful speech that Mr. Trump offered on the campaign trail, vastly expanding the definition of “criminal aliens” and warning that such unauthorized immigrants “routinely victimize Americans,” disregard the “rule of law and pose a threat” to people in communities across the United States.

Despite Mr. Trump’s talk, research shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans. [Continue reading…]

A report published by Pew Research Center in 2013 states: The crime rate among first-generation immigrants—those who came to this country from somewhere else—is significantly lower than the overall crime rate and that of the second generation. It’s even lower for those in their teens and early 20s, the age range when criminal involvement peaks. [Continue reading…]

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Draft of first Trump budget would cut legal aid for millions of low-income Americans

The Guardian reports: Cuts in Donald Trump’s first draft budget to funding for legal aid for millions of Americans could strip much-needed protections from victims of domestic violence, people with disabilities, families facing foreclosure and veterans in need, justice equality advocates warned Tuesday.

A Trump draft budget circulated over the weekend called for the elimination of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which has a $375m annual budget and provides free legal assistance to low-income people and others in need of help, with cases involving disability benefits, disaster relief, elder abuse, fair pay, wheelchair access, low-income tax credits, unlawful eviction, child support, consumer scams, school lunch, predatory lending and much more.

The legal aid program, which represents a miniscule portion of the government’s projected $4tn budget, is one of many small but mighty programs flagged for elimination in Trump’s draft budget. Others include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Americorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Critics of the cuts point out that they won’t budge the deficit but would erode quality of life and threaten the most vulnerable.

The possible legal aid cuts would come at a time when potentially softer enforcement by the Trump administration of laws to punish domestic violence, protect Americans with disabilities and combat discriminatory housing practices could create a spike in demand, said Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, a fellow at the Center for American Progress who has written on the issue. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump: The world’s least anti-Semitic person?

 

Steven Goldstein, Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, released a statement today on President Trump’s acknowledgment of antisemitism. He wrote: The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own Administration. His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record. Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration. The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial. And it was only yesterday, President’s Day, that Jewish Community Centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the President said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to Antisemitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment.

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Trump’s Jekyll and Hyde administration has Europe spooked

Christopher Dickey writes: European politicians and policy makers have begun to feel they’re watching a horror movie: the tale of an American administration with a split personality as sinister as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — the first perfectly reasonable and sociable, the other monstrous, unable, and unwilling to control its impulses. And all this as the very existence of the European Union and the credibility of NATO hang in the balance with far-right populists like Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France potentially set to gain enormous power through upcoming elections.

The respected French daily Le Monde describes this administration as one where there’s “a civil war at the top” between “the rationals” and “the radicals.” And over the last few days “the rationals” — Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense Gen. John Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Homeland Security Gen. John Kelly — have been in Europe trying to find ways to say that the president does not really mean what he has said again, and again, and again, and keeps on saying. No, the rationals insisted, NATO is not “obsolete.” Yes, the United States supports the European Union.

And the rationals might have succeeded in convincing their closest European friends that the U.S. commitment was as serious as it sounded—until Europe saw video of President Donald Trump soaking up adoration at a staged rally in Florida on Saturday, as if slobbering fans could vindicate his trademark incoherence. [Continue reading…]

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What McMaster could teach Trump: Don’t lie, don’t blame the media, don’t rely on an inner circle

Politico reports: Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the president’s new national security adviser, knows a thing or two about standing up to the commander in chief and his political confidantes — and the potentially disastrous consequences when you don’t.

He literally wrote the book on it.

The military’s leading warrior-intellectual drew key lessons about the workings of the National Security Council from his exhaustive history of White House deliberations during the Vietnam War.

They could come in handy as he takes the reins following the ignominious departure of President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and joins a White House similarly grappling with deep divisions in the country, public protests and open partisan warfare over Trump’s most controversial policies, from immigration to Russia.

The debacle that was Vietnam inflicted “one of the greatest political traumas” on the United States since the American Civil War, McMaster wrote in “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam,” which was published in 1997 after he earned his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“It led Americans to question the integrity of their government.”

Even a quarter century after it ended, in his view, the shadow of the war — the 58,000 American lives lost , the billions of dollars spent, the social upheaval it caused — hung over American foreign and military policy and the nation itself. [Continue reading…]

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Trump talk of terror listing for Muslim Brotherhood alarms some Arab allies

The New York Times reports: In Morocco, it would tip a delicate political balance. In Jordan, it could prevent American diplomats from meeting with opposition leaders. In Tunisia, it could make criminals of a political party seen as a model of democracy after the Arab Spring.

Of all the initiatives of the Trump administration that have set the Arab world on edge, none has as much potential to disrupt the internal politics of American partners in the region as the proposal to criminalize the Muslim Brotherhood, the pre-eminent Islamist movement with millions of followers.

“The impact would be great,” said Issandr El Amrani, an analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Morocco, where a Brotherhood-linked party won the last election in October. “It could destabilize countries where anti-Islamist forces would be encouraged to double down. It would increase polarization.”

At issue is a proposal floated by Trump aides that the 89-year-old Brotherhood be designated as a foreign terrorist entity. The scope of any designation remains unclear, but its potential reach is vast: Founded in Egypt, the Brotherhood has evolved into a loose network that spans about two dozen countries. It has officially forsworn violence. [Continue reading…]

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Jim Mattis to Baghdad: ‘We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil’

The New York Times reports: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, on the first visit by a senior Trump administration official to Iraq, worked on Monday to repair breaches of trust with Iraq’s leaders caused by his boss just as the two sides began a major offensive to oust the Islamic State from its last stronghold in the country.

Mr. Mattis found himself in nearly the same position he was in during his just-finished trip to Europe, where much of his time was spent reassuring wary allies that the United States was still committed to NATO after statements and actions by President Trump seemed to call old alliances into question.

Before arriving in Baghdad, Mr. Mattis was asked by reporters about Mr. Trump’s remarks during a visit to C.I.A. headquarters last month that the United States should have “kept” Iraq’s oil after the American-led invasion, and might still have a chance to do so.

“We’re not in Iraq to seize anybody’s oil,” Mr. Mattis said during a stop in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Mattis also found himself allaying concerns that the administration would exclude from the United States Iraqis who have worked and fought side by side with American troops. [Continue reading…]

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Low-status chimps revealed as trendsetters

Science News reports: Chimps with little social status influence their comrades’ behavior to a surprising extent, a new study suggests.

In groups of captive chimps, a method for snagging food from a box spread among many individuals who saw a low-ranking female peer demonstrate the technique, say primatologist Stuart Watson of the University of St. Andrews in Fife, Scotland, and colleagues. But in other groups where an alpha male introduced the same box-opening technique, relatively few chimps copied the behavior, the researchers report online February 7 in the American Journal of Primatology.

“I suspect that even wild chimpanzees are motivated to copy obviously rewarding behaviors of low-ranking individuals, but the limited spread of rewarding behaviors demonstrated by alpha males was quite surprising,” Watson says. Previous research has found that chimps in captivity more often copy rewarding behaviors of dominant versus lower-ranking group mates. The researchers don’t understand why in this case the high-ranking individuals weren’t copied as much. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Eivind Aarset & Jan Bang — ‘Surrender’

 

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Deputy assistant to Trump, Sebastian Gorka, says ‘the alpha males are back’

The Washington Post reports: On the night of President Trump’s inauguration, Sebastian Gorka attended the celebratory balls in a high-necked, black Hungarian jacket. Pinned on his chest was a Hungarian coat of arms, a tribute to his father who had been tortured by the communists, and a civilian commendation from the U.S. military.

For years, Gorka had labored on the fringes of Washington and the far edge of acceptable debate as defined by the city’s Republican and Democratic foreign policy elite. Today, the former national security editor for the conservative Breitbart News outlet occupies a senior job in the White House and his controversial ideas — especially about Islam — drive Trump’s populist approach to counterterrorism and national security.

Amid the cheering, music and confetti that night, Gorka talked about Trump’s opening shot in a high-stakes civilizational war, still in its early days.

“Everything’s changed,” Gorka said.

He homed in on three words from Trump’s dystopian inaugural address that day: “Radical Islamic terrorism.”

“When he used those three words today — radical Islamic terrorism — he put the marker down for the whole national security establishment,” Gorka told an interviewer from Fox News.

For Gorka and his allies, the words are more than just a description of the enemy. They signal a radical break with the approach that Republicans and Democrats have taken over the past 16 years to counterterrorism and the Muslim world.

Only days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President George W. Bush insisted the terror strikes had “violated the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

“Islam is peace,” he told a nation still reeling from grief.

President Barack Obama sounded the same theme routinely during two terms in office.

Gorka has relentlessly championed the opposite view.

For him, the terrorism problem has nothing to do with repression, alienation, torture, tribalism, poverty, or America’s foreign policy blunders and a messy and complex Middle East. [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Several experts interviewed by POLITICO puzzled over the gap between the numerous military academic credentials listed by Gorka — a political science Ph.D. who unfailingly uses the title “Dr.” — and their unfamiliarity with his work and views.

“When I first encountered his name during the transition, I did a triple-take. I’ve been in counterterrorism since 1998, and I thought I knew everyone. But I’d never heard his name and couldn’t recall anything he’d written or said,” said Daniel Benjamin, who served as counterterrorism coordinator under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Retired Col. Peter Mansoor, a former top aide to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq who helped rewrite the Army’s counterinsurgency manual, also said he’s never crossed paths with Gorka. “What I’ve heard has not been complimentary,” added Mansoor, who now teaches at Ohio State University and remains active in military circles. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: has appeared in a number of television and radio interviews as a representative of the Trump administration and a member of a White House team called the Strategic Initiatives Group. The Daily Beast called it a think tank within the White House that was set up by Mr. Bannon and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

The group’s formation raised red flags, said Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of strategy and statecraft at the Center for a New American Security.

The National Security Council has traditionally played a decisive role in foreign policy decisions, she said. “Now we have the Strategic Initiatives Group and the National Security Council both working on issues of national security and strategy. So my question on Sebastian, ultimately, is: Who is he reporting to? Is he reporting to the National Security Council? Or is this a direct line to Bannon?” [The Washington Post article cited above says he reports to Bannon.] [Continue reading…]

Like most self-described “experts” on jihad, Gorka has never spoken to a jihadist:

 

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More bomb threats close Jewish Community Centers across the U.S.

Huffington Post reports: Jewish Community Centers were shaken by another wave of bomb threats, forcing evacuations in 10 states Monday.

Eleven Jewish Community Centers received threatening calls Monday, said Marla Cohen, communications manager for JCCA, the Jewish Community Center Association.

Incidents were reported at Jewish Community Centers in St. Paul, Minnesota; Buffalo and Amherst, New York; Birmingham, Alabama; Houston; Cleveland, Ohio; Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin; Nashville; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Tampa, Florida; and Chicago.

Law enforcement officials were investigating the threats and, as of late Monday, centers were being reopened after explosive devices were not found.

For some of these organizations, it was not the first threat made in recent weeks. There have now been at least 67 incidents at 56 Jewish Community Centers in 27 states and one Canadian province since the start of 2017, Cohen told The Huffington Post.

Monday’s incidents are part a sharp rise in threats made against JCCs around the nation since Donald Trump began his presidential campaign, which was frequently criticized for winking at white nationalists and not forcefully condemning hate speech and extremism. [Continue reading…]

 

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I didn’t think I’d ever leave the CIA. But because of Trump, I quit

Edward Price worked at the CIA from 2006 until this month, most recently as the spokesman for the National Security Council. He writes: Nearly 15 years ago, I informed my skeptical father that I was pursuing a job with the Central Intelligence Agency. Among his many concerns was that others would never believe I had resigned from the agency when I sought my next job. “Once CIA, always CIA,” he said. But that didn’t give me pause. This wouldn’t be just my first real job, I thought then; it would be my career.

That changed when I formally resigned last week. Despite working proudly for Republican and Democratic presidents, I reluctantly concluded that I cannot in good faith serve this administration as an intelligence professional.

This was not a decision I made lightly. I sought out the CIA as a college student, convinced that it was the ideal place to serve my country and put an otherwise abstract international-relations degree to use. I wasn’t disappointed. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May’s myopic gamble with Trump

Judy Dempsey writes: How Theresa May must be regretting the day she proposed inviting U.S. President Donald Trump on a state visit to the UK sometime in 2017. The British prime minister extended the invitation on behalf of the queen during her official visit to Washington on January 26–27. This was May’s way of proving that Britain could manage quite well without the European Union, thank you very much. London and Washington would have an even closer and even more special relationship than before now that the EU is soon going to be out of the way.

Just think of the trade deals the United States and Britain could forge, May argued, forgetting that as long as Britain remains a member of the EU, trade deals are the prerogative of Brussels, not of national governments. No matter. It was as if membership of the EU were hindering Britain’s foreign policy and its economic ties with third countries. Britain would now be free to go its own way.

No sooner had May returned home from the United States than a petition was launched to stop the visit “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.” The queen is not easily embarrassed. She has had no qualms in sharing the royal horse-drawn carriage with dictators including Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu, Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, or Indonesia’s Haji Muhammad Suharto. Those visits were about political and ideological interests. [Continue reading…]

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Trump gets an upgrade at National Security Advisor

The New York Times reports: President Trump picked Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a widely respected military strategist, as his new national security adviser on Monday, calling him “a man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.”

Mr. Trump made the announcement at his Mar-a-Lago getaway in Palm Beach, Fla., where he has been interviewing candidates to replace Michael T. Flynn, who was forced out after withholding information from Vice President Mike Pence about a call with Russia’s ambassador.

The choice continued Mr. Trump’s reliance on high-ranking military officers to advise him on national security. Mr. Flynn was a retired three-star general and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is a retired four-star general. His first choice to replace Mr. Flynn, who turned the job down, and two other finalists were current or former senior officers as well. [Continue reading…]

CNN reports: McMaster, currently serving as the director of the Army’s Capabilities Integration Center, is the first active-duty military officer to take the post since Gen. Colin Powell served in the role during the final years of the Reagan administration. As an active-duty service member, McMaster would likely have had difficulty turning down a job the commander in chief had asked him to fill. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: McMaster, 54, is a West Point graduate known as “H.R.,” with a PhD in U.S. history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2014, partly because of his willingness to buck the system.

A combat veteran, he gained renown in the first Gulf War – and was awarded a Silver Star – after he commanded a small troop of the U.S. 2nd Army Cavalry Regiment that destroyed a much larger Iraqi Republican Guard force in 1991 in a place called 73 Easting, for its map coordinates, in what many consider the biggest tank battle since World War Two.

As one fellow officer put it, referring to Trump’s inner circle of aides and speaking on condition of anonymity, the Trump White House “has its own Republican Guard, which may be harder for him to deal with than the Iraqis were.” The Iraqi Republican Guard was the elite military force of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

McMaster’s fame grew after his 1997 book “Dereliction of Duty” criticized the country’s military and political leadership for poor leadership during the Vietnam War. [Continue reading…]

Andrew Exum writes: One thing that stands out in the book is the way in which McMaster criticized the poorly disciplined national security decision-making process in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and especially the way in which the Kennedy administration made national-security decisions by a small group of confidants without a robust process to serve the president.

Like Ben Bernanke, a student of the Great Depression brought in to lead the Federal Reserve immediately prior to the Great Recession, McMaster comes to his job having carefully studied and criticized the national-security decision-making process for which he will now be responsible.

I have known McMaster for over a decade and cannot imagine a more decent man in his position today. This job is going to drive him crazy, because he does not suffer fools gladly. Unless he has been given some assurances about both staffing and process, he will struggle in a competition to influence the president—to be the last man in the room when the president makes a key decision.

But as Nick Schmidle observed in his very smart profile of Mike Flynn in The New Yorker this week, Flynn went into his job wanting to reduce the influence of the national-security staff but soon discovered that the staff and its processes gave him enormous leverage within the U.S. government. McMaster already understands that, and he will use it to his advantage.

The biggest challenge for any advisor to this president, however, is not other advisors but the president himself. [Continue reading…]

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A journey through Assad’s Syria

Fritz Schaap writes: On an icy January evening in eastern Aleppo, a grotesque scene of destruction, five men are standing around a fire in a battered oil drum in a butcher’s shop.

Their trousers are dirty and their faces are covered with soot. There has been no running water for a long time. Every evening, the men come here to warm up, burning table legs and chairs from the ruins. In what is left of their apartments, there are no heating stoves.

The fear, though, is finally gone, says shop owner Ahmed Tubal. For over four years, various rebel groups had controlled their neighborhood of al-Shaar, but Syrian and Russian jets recently transformed half of the city into rubble to wipe them out.

The rebels and their supporters have left the city and following the regime’s victory, only those who support Syrian President Bashar Assad have remained. “The bombing was necessary to drive out the Islamists,” says Tubal, a short man with tired eyes. “Otherwise they would never have left.” The other men voice their approval. “We were so exhausted. We just wanted it to stop. And if that meant that everything had to be destroyed even further, then that was just the price we had to pay.”

A visit to Assad’s Syria, a rump state around the large cities in the west, over which the dictator has regained control thanks to Russian and Iranian support, is like entering an apocalyptic world. Large Mercedes tractor-trailers drive water tanks through Aleppo’s ruins while the streets are patrolled by armored vehicles manned by Russian soldiers. Assad can frequently be seen on television while fear can be seen in the eyes of many residents.

Our journey leads us to the three largest cities in northern and western Syria: Aleppo, Latakia and Homs. Aleppo has become symbolic of the brutal bombing campaign. Latakia, the regime stronghold on the Mediterranean, was largely untouched by the war and is still a popular vacation spot in the summer. And Homs, once the center of the uprising, was destroyed and is now slated to become a model of reconstruction. [Continue reading…]

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