Archives for February 2017

Why Americans don’t win wars anymore

Mark Perry writes: President Trump bemoans the fact that when it comes to wars, America’s best days are behind her. “We never win, and we don’t fight to win,” he said on the same day that he declared his new budget would include a 10-percent increase for military spending. But there is an example of American victory — and in the Middle East , no less — that the new commander-in-chief would do well to study because it provides a lesson wholly at odds with Trump’s muscle and menace style.

The lesson comes from an actual war hero who was — somewhat amazingly — branded a wimp when he landed in the Oval Office.

On September 2, 1944, Lt. j.g. George H.W. Bush’s TBM Avenger was shot down on a bombing run over Chichi Jima, a Japanese held island. As his aircraft spun seaward, Bush ordered his gunner and bombardier out of the plane, then climbed onto the wing and parachuted into the sea. Afloat on a life raft, Bush admits he feared the Japanese would find him and deliver him to Chichi Jima’s commander who, after the war, was executed for murdering captured American pilots and eating their livers. Bush later joked that he would have made a modest meal, as he was “a skinny wretch.”

It takes a lot of sand to fly into the teeth of enemy fire, but Bush’s reputation for courage didn’t stick. Forty years later, in October of 1987, he was labeled a “wimp” by Newsweek, which questioned whether he was “tough enough” to succeed Ronald Reagan as president. Even British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had doubts. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 1, 1990 and Bush seemed to waver, Thatcher bucked him up: “Don’t go all wobbly on me, George,” she said. In fact, Bush wasn’t about to.

In the weeks following Saddam’s aggression, Bush recruited an international coalition of countries to oppose him, gained the approval of the U.N. to condemn his invasion, deployed hundreds of thousands of U.S. and coalition of troops to defend Saudi Arabia, then fought a 100- hour ground war (preceded by a 900-hour air war), dubbed Operation Desert Storm, that expelled Saddam’s army from Kuwait. “We set the goal, formed the coalition, did the diplomacy, gave peace a chance, had the fight, defined the mission of the battle, fought and won,” as Bush succinctly put it. The “mother of all battles” (as Saddam bragged) was “the mother of all victories” — the last clear and decisive military triumph in American history. [Continue reading…]

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Passing the buck, Trump blames SEAL’s death on military: ‘They lost Ryan’

Huffington Post reports: President Donald Trump on Tuesday dodged responsibility for a botched mission he ordered in Yemen last month, placing the onus on the military and Barack Obama’s administration instead.

Bill Owens, the father of Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, the Navy SEAL who died in the operation, demanded an investigation into his son’s death over the weekend. Owens further revealed he couldn’t bear to meet Trump at the airport as Ryan’s casket was carried off the military plane last month.

Asked about the matter during an interview with Fox News’ “Fox ‘n’ Friends,” Trump repeatedly said “they” were responsible for the outcome of the mission, in reference to the military.

“This was a mission that was started before I got here. This was something they wanted to do,” he said. “They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals ― who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.

“I can understand people saying that. I’d feel ― ‘What’s worse?’ There’s nothing worse,” he added. “This was something that they were looking at for a long time doing, and according to [Defense Secretary Jim] Mattis it was a very successful mission. They got tremendous amounts of information.”


The raid yielded no significant intelligence, U.S. officials told NBC News on Monday. Earlier this month, however, Pentagon officials said it produced “actionable intelligence.” So, too, did White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who initially called the raid “highly successful.” [Continue reading…]

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FBI had an agreement to compensate former British spy whose investigations resulted in the Trump dossier

The Washington Post reports: The former British spy who authored a controversial dossier on behalf of Donald Trump’s political opponents alleging ties between Trump and Russia reached an agreement with the FBI a few weeks before the election for the bureau to pay him to continue his work, according to several people familiar with the arrangement.

The agreement to compensate former MI6 agent Christopher Steele came as U.S. intelligence agencies reached a consensus that the Russians had interfered in the presidential election by orchestrating hacks of Democratic Party email accounts.

While Trump has derided the dossier as “fake news” compiled by his political opponents, the FBI’s arrangement with Steele shows that bureau investigators considered him credible and found his line of inquiry to be worthy of pursuit.

Ultimately, the FBI did not pay Steele. Communications between the bureau and the former spy were interrupted as Steele’s now-famous dossier became the subject of news stories, congressional inquiries and presidential denials, according to the people familiar with the arrangement, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter. [Continue reading…]

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New evidence links the Kremlin to efforts to destabilize Montenegro and slow its path to NATO

John R. Schindler writes: For Vladimir Putin, NATO expansion is a major bugbear and any chance Russia gets to thwart further expansion of the Atlantic Alliance is an opportunity not to be missed. Not to mention that the breakup of Yugoslavia — which the Russian leader has repeatedly held up as an example of what Western governments do to smaller Slavic states — is viewed with shame in the Kremlin. Here, too, Putin wants payback.

Just how serious Moscow is about Montenegro was revealed in a sinister plot that was unmasked last fall, shortly before its execution. In mid-October, Montenegrin authorities arrested some 20 people, most of them citizens of neighboring Serbia, for conspiring to overthrow the government in Podgorica and assassinate Prime Minister Milo Djukanović, the wily politician who ruled Montenegro from 1991 until 2016. Soon it emerged that the plot ringleaders were two Russian nationalists. While Montenegrin officials were careful not to point fingers directly at the Kremlin, questions lingered about what really happened.

The two Russians were quickly expelled from the country. That several of the Serbs and Montenegrins who were arrested for their role in the plot had served with Russian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine — where Moscow’s proxy war has included the use of foreign mercenaries, including Slavic nationalists from Eastern Europe — appeared to be more than a coincidence. Security services in the Balkans and beyond suspected that Russian intelligence was the hidden hand behind the plot, which seemed plausible given the large amounts of cash and the late-model communications gear found in the possession of the coup plotters.

That said, hard evidence of Moscow’s role didn’t appear immediately. While the Kremlin unquestionably wanted to dissuade Montenegro from joining NATO, assaulting the parliament in Podgorica and assassinating the prime minister to install a pro-Russian government seemed like outrageous behavior, even for Putin’s Kremlin — which is hardly squeamish about employing what Russian spies term wetwork against their enemies abroad.

Now, however, there is solid evidence that the Kremlin was directly behind the plot against Montenegro. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is flirting with the idea that anti-Semitic incidents are false flags — again

Aaron Blake writes: President Trump seemed to suggest Tuesday that the recent bomb threats and vandalism at Jewish community centers and cemeteries across the country might be false flags, according to a Democratic attorney general who met with him. And Trump’s comments came the same day that one of his top advisers suggested the culprits could be Democrats.

It wouldn’t be the first time Trump went down this road.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) told reporters Tuesday that Trump expressed horror at the situation but also appeared to suggest it might not be anti-Semitism and that it could be “the reverse,” according to reports from the BillyPenn and BuzzFeed. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s ambition to poison America and destroy the planet

The New York Times reports: President Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Tuesday aimed at rolling back one of former President Barack Obama’s major environmental regulations to protect American waterways, but it will have almost no immediate legal effect, according to two people familiar with the White House plans.

The order will essentially give Mr. Trump a megaphone to direct his new Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, to begin the complicated legal process of rewriting the sweeping 2015 rule known as Waters of the United States. But that effort could take longer than a single presidential term, legal experts said.

An advance copy of the order was viewed by The New York Times on Monday. It is the first of two announcements expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin dismantling the major pillars of Mr. Obama’s environmental legacy.

In the coming week, Mr. Trump is also expected to sign a similar order instructing Mr. Pruitt to begin the process of withdrawing and revising Mr. Obama’s signature 2015 climate-change regulation, aimed at curbing emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants.

Because both of those rules were finalized under existing laws long before Mr. Obama left office, they cannot be simply undone with a stroke of the president’s pen, legal experts in both the Obama and Trump White Houses have said.

“The executive order has no legal significance at all,” said Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University. “It’s like the president calling Scott Pruitt and telling him to start the legal proceedings. It does the same thing as a phone call or a tweet. It just signals that the president wants it to happen.” [Continue reading…]

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The green movement is talking about racism? It’s about time

Brentin Mock writes: Facing a new White House administration led by Donald Trump, environmental leaders recently signed an accord pledging their allegiance to civil rights and social justice. Among the signatories are several leaders of the Sierra Club, including its executive director, Michael Brune, who in recent years has steered the organization toward rather bold stances on a range of issues that aren’t traditionally recognized as “green.” In 2013, its board of directors voted that the organization should advocate for immigrant rights. The following year, the Sierra Club endorsed and defended the Black Lives Matter movement. Since President Trump came into office, the organization’s resolve has only strengthened, as Brune indicated in a November 18 blog post: “I’m proud of how the Sierra Club has begun to address the intersection of climate with inequality, race, class, and gender, and I guarantee that we’ll go even deeper.”

This shift toward racial justice matters has not been universally accepted among the Sierra Club’s ranks and may even have cost it a few members. Those who disapprove have often expressed sentiments amounting to “racism is not the environmental movement’s responsibility.” But Brune says the organization won’t be backing off anytime soon, a position he forcefully defended on the group’s blog. He will assure his members, he tells me, “that we are continuing to protect wildlife and wild places, and this is how we can best do that in the 21st century.”

What Brune is acknowledging is the darker legacy of the green movement. Some may believe that environmentalism has little to do with social justice issues, but the mission of the Sierra Club, and many conservation groups like it throughout the late-19th century and most of the 20th century, was anything but race neutral. In many ways, racial exclusivity actually shaped the environmental mission, which is what makes the Sierra Club’s leap toward civil rights advocacy such a radical move. It’s important not because a network like Black Lives Matter needs environmentalists, but because environmentalists need black lives. Given the history of conservationists elevating endangered plant life over endangered people of color, it is environmentalism’s soul that most needs saving. [Continue reading…]

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‘Shell knew’: Oil giant’s 1991 film warned of climate change danger

The Guardian reports: The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered.

However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly.

Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990”, the film noted.

“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.” [Continue reading…]

 

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Trump is just as much Stephen Miller’s mouthpiece as vice versa

Bloomberg reports: Stephen Miller’s corner office in the West Wing of the White House is utterly barren — no pictures on the walls, no books on the shelves, no indication even of who inhabited the space a month earlier, before the Obama administration cleared out. “Couldn’t tell you,” Trump’s intense and polarizing 31-year-old senior policy adviser says with a shrug. Miller isn’t being unfriendly. Rather, his spartan surroundings and indifference to small talk are byproducts of a life pared of every detail that doesn’t advance the singular glory of Donald J. Trump. Concerned that Trump wasn’t accruing the praise Miller felt was merited, he wanted to set the record straight. “Donald Trump has fundamentally realigned American politics,” he says, stabbing a finger on his desk. “It’s time the media acknowledge this and give him the credit he deserves.”

That’s not, to put it mildly, the story preoccupying the media right now. Over the last few weeks, Trump’s White House has exploded in chaos and infighting — a situation Miller exacerbated by helping to mastermind the sudden and much-criticized rollout of Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, which federal judges swiftly blocked. In fact, it was no accident that the order was sprung without warning on a Friday afternoon. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon arranged the timing in the expectation that opponents, freed from work on the weekend, would stage huge protests — drawing maximum attention and galvanizing Trump supporters as the president followed through on a controversial campaign promise, says a senior administration official.

The order did indeed spark nationwide demonstrations, but things veered off script from there, as the White House struggled to explain to law enforcement officials, federal agencies, and foreign governments what the hastily drafted document did and didn’t say. Miller in particular became the target of withering attacks by everyone from Republican elected officials to Stephen Colbert, host of The Late Show, which did a skit featuring Miller’s severed — but still talking — head on a spike. Joe Scarborough, the co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, with whom Trump has a complicated psychological fascination, spent days deriding Miller, whom he dubbed “Little Napoleon.” Yet not only has Miller survived the uproar and calls for his firing but he appears to be ascendant at a time when other West Wing staffers are diving for cover. [Continue reading…]

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Democrats invite immigrants and refugees to Trump’s first speech to Congress

McClatchy reports: It took Sil Ganzo a moment to grasp what Rep. Alma Adams was saying.

Ganzo, founder and executive director of ourBRIDGE for kids, thought that Adams’ telephone call was an inquiry to learn more about the organization that provides an after-school program a welcoming environment to immigrant and refugee children from around the globe.

But it was about her background and history.

“I am what it means to be an immigrant,” she said. “I was born and raised in Argentina and I came here with nothing more than a dream. There were people who encouraged me to go for it. I improved my English and, here I am, doing what I always wanted to do. And now I feel it’s my responsibility to do that for others.”

Adams, D-N.C., invited Ganzo to be her guest inside the House of Representatives chamber Tuesday night for President Donald Trump’s first address to Congress.

Adams joins other congressional Democrats in bringing immigrants, refugees or advocates to Trump’s speech to protest his actions on immigration. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth, Texas, has invited two Syrian refugees in a show of defiance against Trump’s temporary ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

And freshman Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California has invited Yuriana Aguilar – a Mexican-born University of California, Merced, alumnus, who was brought to the U.S. when she was a child – to be her guest for Trump’s prime-time speech. Aguilar is now an instructor in the department of physiology and biophysics at Rush Medical College in Chicago. Her research focuses on the human heart. [Continue reading…]

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Trump predicts ‘millions’ would rally in his support. Dozens show up

Raw Story reports: President Donald Trump last week called on his supporters to hold massive rallies on his behalf, and on Monday some of them did their best to meet his demands.


However, although Trump predicted that pro-Trump rallies would be the “biggest of them all,” photos from around the country show sparsely attended events that at most show a couple hundred people in a given location.

Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale posted some photos that he’s seen around Twitter that show tiny crowds at assorted Trump rallies. Dale notes that pro-Trump news website Breitbart predicted the events would be “massive.” [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: President Trump has been dismissing the protests against his presidency and demonstrations at congressional town hall meetings across the country as concocted by his political enemies. But now he has an alleged culprit: Barack Obama.

In an interview Monday with Fox News Channel, Trump said that he believes his predecessor is helping to organize the protests.

“I think that President Obama is behind it because his people certainly are behind it,” Trump said. “In terms of him being behind things, that’s politics. It will probably continue.” [Continue reading…]

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Muslims give money to Jewish institutions that are attacked

The New York Times reports: Two attacks on Jewish cemeteries in the last week have resulted in an outpouring of more than $136,000 in donations from thousands of Muslims and others, who have also pledged to financially support Jewish institutions if there are further attacks.

Jewish organizations have reported a sharp increase in harassment. The JCC Association of North America, which represents Jewish community centers, said 21 Jewish institutions, including eight day schools, had received bomb threats on Monday.

Two Muslim activists, Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi, asked Muslims to donate $20,000 in a crowdfunding effort to repair hundreds of Jewish headstones that were toppled near St. Louis last week. That goal was reached in three hours.

Though the activists do not have cost estimates yet, Mr. El-Messidi said on Monday that the money raised would most likely be enough to repair the graves near St. Louis and in Philadelphia, where about 100 headstones were toppled on Sunday.

Any extra money will be held in a fund to help after attacks on Jewish institutions in the future, he said. That could mean removing a spray-painted swastika or repairing the kind of widespread damage seen in the graveyards. [Continue reading…]

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He’s a local pillar in a Trump town. Now he could be deported

The New York Times reports: Ask residents of this coal-mining crossroads about President Trump’s decision to crack down on undocumented immigrants and most offer no protest. Mr. Trump, who easily won this mostly white southern Illinois county, is doing what he promised, they say. As Terry Chambers, a barber on Main Street, put it, the president simply wants “to get rid of the bad eggs.”

But then they took Carlos.

Juan Carlos Hernandez Pacheco — just Carlos to the people of West Frankfort — has been the manager of La Fiesta, a Mexican restaurant in this city of 8,000, for a decade. Yes, he always greeted people warmly at the cheerfully decorated restaurant, known for its beef and chicken fajitas. And, yes, he knew their children by name. But people here tick off more things they know Carlos for.

How one night last fall, when the Fire Department was battling a two-alarm blaze, Mr. Hernandez suddenly appeared with meals for the firefighters. How he hosted a Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at the restaurant last summer as police officers were facing criticism around the country. How he took part in just about every community committee or charity effort — the Rotary Club, cancer fund-raisers, cleanup days, even scholarships for the Redbirds, the high school sports teams, which are the pride of this city.

“I think people need to do things the right way, follow the rules and obey the laws, and I firmly believe in that,” said Lori Barron, the owner of Lori’s Hair A’Fairs, a beauty salon. “But in the case of Carlos, I think he may have done more for the people here than this place has ever given him. I think it’s absolutely terrible that he could be taken away.” [Continue reading…]

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These Iowans voted for Trump. Many of them are already disappointed

The Washington Post reports: Tom Godat, a union electrician who has always voted for Democrats, cast his ballot for Donald Trump last year as “the lesser of two evils” compared to Hillary Clinton.

He’s already a little embarrassed about it.

There’s a lot that Godat likes about President Trump, especially his pledge to make the country great again by ignoring lobbyists, challenging both political parties and increasing the number of good-paying jobs.

But Godat was surprised by the utter chaos that came with the president’s first month. He said it often felt like Trump and his staff were impulsively firing off executive orders instead of really thinking things through.

“I didn’t think he would come in blazing like he has,” said Godat, 39, who has three kids and works at the same aluminum rolling plant where his father worked. “It seems almost like a dictatorship at times. He’s got a lot of controversial stuff going on and rather than thinking it through, I’m afraid that he’s jumping into the frying pan with both feet.” [Continue reading…]

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Bush weighs in on Trump presidency, calling press ‘indispensable to democracy’

NPR reports: It started out a simple, human interest story featuring a former president and his post-White House hobby — painting watercolors of world leaders, and now, portraits of American soldiers, wounded during military service.

But before it was over, that president, George W. Bush, made real news by doing something he had never before done in a public forum since leaving office: discussing at length the current occupant of the Oval Office.

All through the Obama years, Bush avoided questions about the policies of his successor. Even as Obama reversed Bush’s executive orders. Even when Obama likened his predecessor’s policies to driving the car “into the ditch.” Bush avoided such debate, once telling CNN, “It’s a hard job. It’s difficult. … A former president doesn’t need to make it any harder.” In a speech in Canada just weeks into the Obama presidency, Bush told his audience he wouldn’t spend his time criticizing Obama, “and if he wants my help, he can pick up the phone and call me.”

Which brings us to NBC’s Today on Monday morning. [Continue reading…]

 

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Amazon deforestation, once tamed, comes roaring back

The New York Times reports: A few months ago, a representative from Cargill traveled to this remote colony in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands in the southernmost reaches of the vast Amazon River basin with an enticing offer.

The American agricultural giant wanted to buy soybeans from the Mennonite residents, descendants of European peasants who had been carving settlements out of the thick forest for more than 40 years. The company would finance a local warehouse and weighing station so farmers could sell their produce directly to Cargill on-site, the man said, according to local residents.

One of those farmers, Heinrich Janzen, was clearing woodland from a 37-acre plot he bought late last year, hustling to get soy in the ground in time for a May harvest. “Cargill wants to buy from us,” said Mr. Janzen, 38, as bluish smoke drifted from heaps of smoldering vegetation.

His soy is in demand. Cargill is one of several agricultural traders vying to buy from soy farmers in the region, he said.

Cargill confirmed the accounts of colony residents, and said the company was still assessing whether it would source from the community. That decision would depend on a study of the area’s productivity and land titles, said Hugo Krajnc, Cargill’s corporate affairs leader for the Southern Cone, based in Argentina. “But if a farmer has burned down its forest we’ll not source from that grower,” he said.

A decade after the “Save the Rainforest” movement forced changes that dramatically slowed deforestation across the Amazon basin, activity is roaring back in some of the biggest expanses of forests in the world. That resurgence, driven by the world’s growing appetite for soy and other agricultural crops, is raising the specter of a backward slide in efforts to preserve biodiversity and fight climate change. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. detains and nearly deports French Holocaust historian

The Washington Post reports: Henry Rousso is one of France’s most preeminent scholars and public intellectuals. Last week, as the historian attempted to enter the United States to attend an academic symposium, he was detained for more than 10 hours — for no clear reason.

On Wednesday, Rousso arrived at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport after an 11-hour flight from Paris, en route to Texas A&M University in College Station. There, he was to speak Friday afternoon at the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study.

But things did not go according to plan: Rousso — an Egyptian-born French citizen — was “mistakenly detained” by U.S. immigration authorities, according to Richard Golsan, director of the Glasscock Center for Humanities Research at Texas A&M.

“When he called me with this news two nights ago, he was waiting for customs officials to send him back to Paris as an illegal alien on the first flight out,” Golsan said Friday at the symposium, according to the Eagle, a newspaper that covers the College Station area. [Continue reading…]

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Geert Wilders, reclusive provocateur, rises before Dutch vote

The New York Times reports: He wants to end immigration from Muslim countries, tax head scarves and ban the Quran. He is partly of Indonesian heritage, and dyes his hair bright blond. He is omnipresent on social media but lives as a political phantom under police protection, rarely campaigning in person and reportedly sleeping in a different location every night.

He has structured his party so that he is the only official, giving him the liberty to remain, above all things, in complete control, and a provocateur and an uncompromising verbal bomb thrower.

Geert Wilders, far-right icon, is one of Europe’s unusual politicians, not least because he comes from the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most socially liberal countries, with a centuries-long tradition of promoting religious tolerance and welcoming immigrants.

How he and his party fare in the March 15 elections could well signal how the far right will do in pivotal elections in France, Germany and possibly Italy later this year, and ultimately determine the future of the European Union. Mr. Wilders (pronounced VIL-ders) has promised to demand a “Nexit” referendum on whether the Netherlands should follow Britain’s example and leave the union. [Continue reading…]

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