Archives for October 2017

For ‘low level volunteer,’ Papadopoulos sought high profile as Trump adviser

The Washington Post reports: President Trump on Tuesday belittled former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty this week to lying to federal agents investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, tweeting that “few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.”

But interviews and documents show that Papadopoulos was in regular contact with the Trump campaign’s most senior officials and held himself out as a Trump surrogate as he traveled the world to meet with foreign officials and reporters.

Papadopoulos sat at the elbow of one of Trump’s top campaign advisers, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, during a dinner for campaign advisers weeks before the Republican National Convention, according to an individual who attended the meeting.

He met in London in September 2016 with a mid-level representative of the British Foreign Office, where he said he had contacts at the senior level of the Russian government.

And he conferred at one point with the foreign minister of Greece at a meeting in New York. [Continue reading…]


Clovis said to be ‘cooperative witness’ in Senate Russia probe

Politico reports: Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s controversial nominee to be the Agriculture Department’s chief scientist, has been “a fully cooperative witness” in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts told POLITICO.

Clovis, a former co-chair and policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, knew that another campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, was talking to Russians, according to documents released Monday as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and campaign and administration officials.

Papadopoulos was arrested in late July and pleaded guilty to a charge that he made false statements to the FBI about his contact with a professor who has ties to the Kremlin and promised thousands of pages of emails related to Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, NBC News reported Tuesday that Clovis has been questioned by Mueller’s team and has testified before Mueller’s grand jury. [Continue reading…]


The Republican Party is gearing up for war on the rule of law

Jonathan Chait writes: The Republican Party has sent mixed signals for months about how it plans to respond to Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Russia scandal — President Trump’s ragetweets have been alternating with silence, and his Congressional allies have mostly urged patience. But in the days leading up to the first arrests, beginning today with former campaign manager Paul Manafort, the signals have changed, and the dashboard is now flashing red. The party apparatus is gearing up for a frontal attack on Mueller in particular, and the idea that a president can be held legally accountable in general.

The Republican Congress is using its investigative apparatus not to discover the extent of Russian interference in the election, but instead to lash out at Trump’s political opponents. The Republicans have developed a bizarre theory of alt-collusion, which holds that the real interference was Russia feeding false allegations against Donald Trump to private investigator Christopher Steele. Since the FBI investigated Steele’s charges, the FBI is the agency that colluded. And since Robert Mueller is close with the FBI, Mueller, too, is tainted.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has been serving as a barely filtered outlet for this line of attack from Republicans in Congress. The page has called for Mueller to resign, and other Republican media outlets spent the weekend amplifying this message. [Continue reading…]


John Kelly’s account of the Civil War reflects a widely shared misrepresentation of the conflict

Adam Serwer writes: When White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told the Fox News host Laura Ingraham that the Civil War was caused by the “lack of an ability to compromise,” that the war was fought by “men and women of good faith on both sides,” and that Confederate General Robert E. Lee “was an honorable man,” he was invoking a rosy view of the Confederacy echoing that of his boss.

Kelly was also reflecting a popular perception of the war that has persisted for decades, largely on the strength and influence of an organized pro-Confederate propaganda campaign that has been conducted for a century. While the scholarly consensus is that the Civil War was about slavery, popular opinion has not entirely caught up. The Lost Cause campaign was so successful that perhaps the most widely seen piece of popular history related to the Civil War, Ken Burns’s 1990 PBS documentary of the same name, retains elements of its narrative.

“Basically, it was a failure on our part to find a way not to fight that war. It was because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise,” the historian Shelby Foote says in Burns’s miniseries. “Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising. But our true genius is for compromise. Our whole government’s founded on it. And it failed.” Burns’s documentary similarly describes Lee as a reluctant rebel who “never owned a slave himself,” a “courtly, unknowable aristocrat, who disapproved of secession and slavery, yet went on to defend them both at the head of one of the greatest armies of all time.” In truth, Lee opposed neither, and owned slaves that he inherited from his father-in-law, whom he only freed under court order. [Continue reading…]


Washington’s legions of lobbyists see danger in special counsel’s indictment of Manafort

BuzzFeed reports: The threat of serving hard time for failing to disclose foreign lobbying work is rattling Washington’s multi-billion dollar influence industry following Monday’s 12-count indictment against Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates.

And although the charges have largely been seen as a blow to the White House, Monday’s actions by special prosecutor Robert Mueller also sent shivers down the spines of Washington’s lobbyists, both Democrats and Repulicans.

“It’s a swampy place, and the swampy stink knows no partisan allegiance,” said one senior Democratic congressional aide.

Manafort and Gates, who allegedly failed to disclose the full extent of their work on behalf of the pro-Russian Ukrainian Party of Regions, are now being charged under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a 1930s era law aimed at curbing the influence of pro-German propaganda ahead of World War II.

In the last half century, the Justice Department has brought only a handful of enforcement actions against lobbyists for violations of FARA. That lack of prosecution resulted in a proliferation of under-the-radar lobbying. Now Washington’s cottage industry of consultants and public affairs specialists are nervously wondering if that era is coming to an end. [Continue reading…]


A proposal in New Zealand could trigger the era of ‘climate change refugees’

Rick Noack writes: New Zealand could become the world’s first country to essentially recognize climate change as an official reason to seek asylum, a government minister indicated in an interview on Tuesday. If implemented, up to 100 refugees per year could be admitted to the island nation on a newly created visa category, according to an initial campaign promise the proposal is based on.

This may appear relatively insignificant, given that the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center predicts 150 to 300 million people to be forced out of their homes due to climate change by 2050. Yet the announcement has still stunned environmental activists who have long demanded such resettlement programs, but have been blocked by governments and courts — including New Zealand’s own Supreme Court.

Although New Zealand’s approach does not bind other host countries, the experiment could be used as a role model, both in national courts and in the public debate. If implemented, the New Zealand proposal would likely be used by activists in European nations like Sweden or Germany to pressure their own governments into creating similar schemes. [Continue reading…]


A basic income for everyone? Yes, Finland shows it really can work

Aditya Chakrabortty writes: In a speck of a village deep in the Finnish countryside, a man gets money for free. Each month, almost €560 (£500) is dropped into his bank account, with no strings attached. The cash is his to use as he wants. Who is his benefactor? The Helsinki government. The prelude to a thriller, perhaps, or some reality TV. But Juha Järvinen’s story is ultimately more exciting. He is a human lab rat in an experiment that could help to shape the future of the west.

Last Christmas, Järvinen was selected by the state as one of 2,000 unemployed people for a trial of universal basic income. You may have heard of UBI, or the policy of literally giving people money for nothing. It’s an idea that lights up the brains of both radical leftists – John McDonnell and Bernie Sanders – and Silicon Valley plutocrats such as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. And in the long slump that has followed the banking crash, it is one of the few alternatives put forward that doesn’t taste like a reheat.

Yet hardly anyone knows what it might actually look like. For all the fuss, Finland is the first European country to launch a major dry run. It is not the purists’ UBI – which would give everyone, even billionaires, a monthly sum. Nor will Finland publish any results until the two-year pilot is over at the end of 2018. In the meantime, we rely on the testimony of participants such as Järvinen. Which is why I have to fly to Helsinki, then drive the five hours to meet him. [Continue reading…]


Western philosophy is racist

Bryan W Van Norden writes: Mainstream philosophy in the so-called West is narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic. I know I am levelling a serious charge. But how else can we explain the fact that the rich philosophical traditions of China, India, Africa, and the Indigenous peoples of the Americas are completely ignored by almost all philosophy departments in both Europe and the English-speaking world?

Western philosophy used to be more open-minded and cosmopolitan. The first major translation into a European language of the Analects, the saying of Confucius (551-479 BCE), was done by Jesuits, who had extensive exposure to the Aristotelian tradition as part of their rigorous training. They titled their translation Confucius Sinarum Philosophus, or Confucius, the Chinese Philosopher (1687).

One of the major Western philosophers who read with fascination Jesuit accounts of Chinese philosophy was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). He was stunned by the apparent correspondence between binary arithmetic (which he invented, and which became the mathematical basis for all computers) and the I Ching, or Book of Changes, the Chinese classic that symbolically represents the structure of the Universe via sets of broken and unbroken lines, essentially 0s and 1s. (In the 20th century, the psychoanalyst Carl Jung was so impressed with the I Ching that he wrote a philosophical foreword to a translation of it.) Leibniz also said that, while the West has the advantage of having received Christian revelation, and is superior to China in the natural sciences, ‘certainly they surpass us (though it is almost shameful to confess this) in practical philosophy, that is, in the precepts of ethics and politics adapted to the present life and the use of mortals’.

The German philosopher Christian Wolff echoed Leibniz in the title of his public lecture Oratio de Sinarum Philosophia Practica, or Discourse on the Practical Philosophy of the Chinese (1721). Wolff argued that Confucius showed that it was possible to have a system of morality without basing it on either divine revelation or natural religion. Because it proposed that ethics can be completely separated from belief in God, the lecture caused a scandal among conservative Christians, who had Wolff relieved of his duties and exiled from Prussia. However, his lecture made him a hero of the German Enlightenment, and he immediately obtained a prestigious position elsewhere. In 1730, he delivered a second public lecture, De Rege Philosophante et Philosopho Regnante, or On the Philosopher King and the Ruling Philosopher, which praised the Chinese for consulting ‘philosophers’ such as Confucius and his later follower Mengzi (fourth century BCE) about important matters of state.

Chinese philosophy was also taken very seriously in France. One of the leading reformers at the court of Louis XV was François Quesnay (1694-1774). He praised Chinese governmental institutions and philosophy so lavishly in his work Despotisme de la China (1767) that he became known as ‘the Confucius of Europe’. Quesnay was one of the originators of the concept of laissez-faire economics, and he saw a model for this in the sage-king Shun, who was known for governing by wúwéi (non-interference in natural processes). The connection between the ideology of laissez-faire economics and wúwéi continues to the present day. In his State of the Union address in 1988, the US president Ronald Reagan quoted a line describing wúwéi from the Daodejing, which he interpreted as a warning against government regulation of business. (Well, I didn’t say that every Chinese philosophical idea was a good idea.)

Leibniz, Wolff and Quesnay are illustrations of what was once a common view in European philosophy. In fact, as Peter K J Park notes in Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy: Racism in the Formation of the Philosophical Canon (2014), the only options taken seriously by most scholars in the 18th century were that philosophy began in India, that philosophy began in Africa, or that both India and Africa gave philosophy to Greece.

So why did things change? As Park convincingly argues, Africa and Asia were excluded from the philosophical canon by the confluence of two interrelated factors. On the one hand, defenders of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) consciously rewrote the history of philosophy to make it appear that his critical idealism was the culmination toward which all earlier philosophy was groping, more or less successfully.

On the other hand, European intellectuals increasingly accepted and systematised views of white racial superiority that entailed that no non-Caucasian group could develop philosophy. [Continue reading…]


Music: Weather Report — ‘Cannon Ball’



Top campaign officials knew of Trump adviser’s outreach to Russia

The Washington Post reports: Several weeks after Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination, his national campaign co-chairman urged a foreign policy adviser to meet with Russian officials to foster ties with that country’s government.

“Make the trip, if it is feasible,” Sam Clovis wrote in an August email to George Papadopoulos.

The email, included in court papers unsealed Monday, shows how an otherwise low-profile adviser has become a focus of the federal probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Papadopoulos was in contact with several senior Trump campaign aides about his efforts to broker a relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the court papers show. In addition to Clovis, who now serves as senior White House adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Papadopoulos wrote to campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the newly released documents show. [Continue reading…]


Trump campaign got early word Russia had Democrats’ emails

The New York Times reports: The guilty plea of a 30-year-old campaign aide — so green that he listed Model United Nations in his qualifications — shifted the narrative on Monday of the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia: Court documents revealed that Russian officials alerted the campaign, through an intermediary in April 2016, that they possessed thousands of Democratic emails and other “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

That was two months before the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee was publicly revealed and the stolen emails began to appear online. The new court filings provided the first clear evidence that Trump campaign aides had early knowledge that Russia had stolen confidential documents on Mrs. Clinton and the committee, a tempting trove in a close presidential contest.

By the time of a crucial meeting in June of last year, when Donald Trump Jr. and other senior Trump campaign officials met with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Mrs. Clinton, some may have known for weeks that Russia had material likely obtained by illegal hacking, the new documents suggested. The disclosures added to the evidence pointing to attempts at collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, but they appeared to fall short of proof that they conspired in the hacking or other illegal acts. [Continue reading…]


The party of ‘law and order’ has a disregard for law and order

Eli Lake writes: the Washington Post reported last week that a Clinton campaign lawyer, Marc Elias, paid the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. Some of that information came from Russian officials speaking to a former British spy, Christopher Steele.

So, Trump supporters would seem justified in asking, why is it permissible for Russians to help Democrats and not permissible for Russians to help Republicans?

There are two answers here. The first is obvious. The Russians tried to sow chaos in the election by trolling both the left and the right on social media with fake news. But when Russian hackers distributed stolen emails on the internet, they came from only one party: the Democrats. If Mueller finds evidence that this was coordinated with Trump or his associates, it would be like finding out G. Gordon Liddy subcontracted the Watergate burglary to the KGB.

The other answer is more subtle. Adav Noti, who served as a Federal Election Commission lawyer between 2007 and 2017, told me that all of this goes back to the ban on contributions and donations from foreign governments or foreign nationals in federal elections. The law has been on the books since the 1970s, and he said it applies to promises of deleted emails and other kinds of opposition research.

“There is a real meaningful distinction,” said Noti, who is now senior director of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan group that monitors election law. “The Clinton campaign, based on what has been reported, paid for opposition research, which included paying people to dig up dirt in foreign countries.” Unsavory? Perhaps. But not illegal.

Compare that to what we know about George Papadopoulos, a low-level Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser, who has pled guilty to lying to the FBI. The plea agreement, released Monday by Mueller, says Papadopoulos emailed a Russian professor and another Russian contact who promised to turn over Clinton’s emails free of charge.

Or consider the meeting in the summer of 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian nationals who reportedly offered to hand over dirt on Clinton. Noti said that if the Trump officials solicited the information, “the act itself was unlawful.”

Noti cannot be dismissed as a partisan. Last week, his law center filed a formal complaint with the FEC against the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee for filing misleading federal reports that hid the contract with Fusion GPS. [Continue reading…]


Podesta Group, Mercury said to be companies ‘A’ and ‘B’ in indictment

NBC News reports: The lobbying firms the Podesta Group and Mercury Public Affairs are the unnamed companies in the grand jury indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, according to three sources with knowledge of the investigation.

The indictment, unsealed Monday, refers to “Company A” and “Company B” as the firms Manafort and Gates solicited in 2012 to lobby on behalf of the Ukranian government. Company A is Mercury Public Affairs and Company B is the Podesta Group, the sources said.

The revelation of the companies’ identities points to more details about the players involved in the high-stakes venture run by Manafort and Gates to push the interest of a pro-Russia Ukranian political party inside the United States. It also provides a glimpse into the material special counsel Robert Mueller has corroborated on both companies and the potential legal repercussions both groups could face. [Continue reading…]


Kurdish revolutionaries defeated ISIS in Raqqa. Will the U.S. soon abandon them?

Luke Mogelson reports: In August, in the living room of an abandoned house on the western outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, I met with Rojda Felat, one of four Kurdish commanders overseeing the campaign to wrest the city from the Islamic State, or isis. Wearing fatigues, a beaded head scarf, and turquoise socks, Felat sat cross-legged on the floor, eating a homemade meal that her mother had sent in a plastic container from Qamishli, four hours away, in the northeast of the country. In the kitchen, two young female fighters washed dishes and glanced surreptitiously at Felat with bright-eyed adoration. At forty years old, she affects a passive, stoic expression that transforms startlingly into one of unguarded felicity when she is amused—something that, while we spoke, happened often. She had reason to be in good spirits. Her forces had recently completed an encirclement of Raqqa, and victory appeared to be imminent.

The Raqqa offensive, which concluded in mid-October, marks the culmination of a dramatic rise both for Felat and for the Kurdish political movement to which she belongs. For decades, the Syrian state—officially, the Syrian Arab Republic—was hostile to Kurds. Tens of thousands were stripped of citizenship or dispossessed of land; cultural and political gatherings were banned; schools were forbidden to teach the Kurdish language.

Qamishli, Felat’s home town, has long been a center of Kurdish political activity. In 2004, during a soccer match, Arab fans of a visiting team threw stones at Kurds, causing a stampede; a riot ensued, during which Kurds toppled a statue of Hafez al-Assad, the father and predecessor of Syria’s current President, Bashar. Government security forces subsequently killed more than thirty Kurds. Amid the crackdown, a new Kurdish opposition group, the Democratic Union Party, organized and recruited clandestinely.

In 2011, when anti-government protests began spreading throughout Syria, Felat was studying Arabic literature at Hasakah University. The daughter of a poor farmer, she’d begun her studies late, “for economic reasons,” she told me. Along with several dozen other students, Felat left the university and returned to Qamishli. Within a week, Felat, who’d harbored ambitions of attending Syria’s national military academy and becoming an Army officer, had joined the Democratic Union Party’s militia, the Y.P.G. After a day of training, she was issued a Kalashnikov.

Felat expected to fight the regime. But, as the anti-government demonstrations evolved into an armed rebellion and insurrections broke out in major cities, Assad withdrew nearly all the troops he had stationed in the predominantly Kurdish north. The Democratic Union Party allowed the regime to maintain control of an airport and of administrative offices in downtown Qamishli. Arab opposition groups decried the arrangement as part of a tacit alliance between Assad and the Kurds. Islamist rebels began launching attacks in northern Syria, and the Y.P.G. went to war against them. “Many Kurdish families brought their daughters to join,” Felat told me. “Many women signed up.” She described her female compatriots as “women who had joined to protect other women” from extremists and their sexist ideologies. [Continue reading…]


Mueller’s moves send message to other potential targets: Beware, I’m coming

The Washington Post reports: With a guilty plea and a 31-page indictment, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III spoke volumes more than months of heated public debate about the Russia probe. Without saying a word, Mueller’s message was clear, according to veteran lawyers: he isn’t bluffing, and witnesses are talking.

The double-barreled court filings ratchet up the pressure on everyone under scrutiny in the special counsel’s probe, lawyers said, in part because they show that a former Trump campaign adviser began cooperating with the FBI three months ago.

“This is the way you kick off a big case,’’ said Patrick Cotter, a white-collar defense lawyer in Chicago who once worked as a federal prosecutor in New York alongside Andrew Weissmann, who is spearheading the prosecution of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates.

On the same day an indictment was unsealed against President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, prosecutors also announced a guilty plea from former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos about his interactions with people linked to the Russian government. Papadopoulos has admitted to lying to FBI agents who questioned him about those contacts, according to court records.

“Oh, man, they couldn’t have sent a message any clearer if they’d rented a revolving neon sign in Times Square,’’ Cotter said. “And the message isn’t just about Manafort. It’s a message to the next five guys they talk to. And the message is: ‘We are coming, and we are not playing, and we are not bluffing.’ ’’ [Continue reading…]


George who? As Papadopoulos pleads guilty, Trump’s team seeks distance from ‘this individual’

Callum Borchers writes: When Donald Trump visited The Washington Post in March 2016 to be interviewed by the newspaper’s editorial board, publisher Fred Ryan opened the session by asking whether the candidate could reveal any members of his foreign policy team, which he had not yet unveiled.

George Papadopoulos was the third person Trump highlighted.

“He’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy,” Trump said of Papadopoulos.

Now that Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to making a false statement to FBI investigators, however, Trump’s team is casting him not as “excellent” but as practically nonexistent. [Continue reading…]


Inside the White House, ‘the walls are closing in,’ Trump fumes, and ‘everyone is freaking out’ over Russia indictments

The Washington Post reports: Trump’s anger Monday was visible to those who interacted with him, and the mood in the corridors of the White House was one of weariness and fear of the unknown. As the president groused upstairs, many staffers — some of whom have hired lawyers to help them navigate Mueller’s investigation — privately speculated about where the special counsel might turn next.

“The walls are closing in,” said one senior Republican in close contact with top staffers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly. “Everyone is freaking out.”

Trump is also increasingly agitated by the expansion of Mueller’s probe into financial issues beyond the 2016 campaign and about the potential to him and his family. [Continue reading…]


Steve Bannon thinks Trump’s legal team is ‘asleep at the wheel’ – and he’s looking for ways to kneecap Mueller

The Daily Beast reports: Robert Mueller is finally bringing down the hammer, and Steve Bannon is nervous.

The former White House chief strategist is increasingly concerned that President Donald Trump’s legal team is falling down on the job. And he’s worried that they’ve left the president vulnerable as former campaign aides are being handed indictments.

“In terms of Steve’s thinking of how the president is handling this, yeah, he thinks the legal team was not prepared for what happened today—they’re not serving the president well,” a source close to Bannon said.

Added another confidant: Bannon believes Ty Cobb and John Dowd, the top two attorneys on the president’s legal team, “are asleep at the wheel.”

Cobb and Dowd have publicly feuded over White House legal strategy after joining the president’s team, arguing in particular over the degree to which that team should cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. They’ve been overheard doing so at a steakhouse in D.C., while Cobb has been fooled by an email prankster and has angrily lashed out at reporters.

Dowd and Cobb did not respond to a request for comment on Bannon’s complaints.

Worried about these missteps, Bannon has increasingly contemplated taking matters into his own hand—all in an attempt, he believes, to spare Trump from having to fire the man investigating his campaign and family’s finances.

Multiple sources close to Bannon told The Daily Beast on Monday that he is “advocating a much more aggressive legal approach short of firing Mueller,” as one source put it, and has been mulling options that would effectively curtail the special counsel’s investigation into 2016 Russian election-meddling and alleged Trump campaign connections to it.

He’s being tight-lipped about the strategy so far—and it is unclear how robust an effort he’ll actually try to mount—but options are available to him. [Continue reading…]