America’s uncritical admiration for its generals

Suzanne Garment writes: Trump came to office promising a return to American strength after years of what he calls failed foreign policy by an effete establishment. But Trump isn’t exactly an embodiment of American toughness: He’s an overweight and out of shape 71-year-old man who escaped military service by claiming bone spurs and has said he fought his personal Vietnam on the battlefield of sexually transmitted diseases.

You can see why he’d want alpha males around — not so much to wage war as because he seeks personal proximity to masculine winners. The generals lend Trump masculinity by association.

Yet Trump’s delight in proximate alpha males presents him with a dilemma because he also clearly enjoys dominating others and has a keen — critics might say pathological — sense of threats to his dominance. This makes him intolerant of alpha male behavior.

Mattis succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”

When former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon made the cover of Time Magazine, Trump reportedly complained to staffers, according to The New York Times. Several months later, the advisor was gone. Bannon’s return to Breitbart allowed Trump to make him a confidant again, without admitting that Bannon might be pulling the strings of power. But Breitbart’s current critique of Trump’s strategy in the Russia probe shows the unreliability of such a relationship.

Herein lies the beauty of generals. Despite their alpha male-ness, generals obey the code governing the American military: They are explicitly constrained by the Constitution’s provisions that civilians control the military. Even after serving, generals respect these constraints. As The Washington Post recently observed about Mattis, he succeeds by speaking to Trump “candidly but respectfully” and “plays down disagreements in public.”

This combination of masculinity and deference isn’t an oxymoron but an amalgam that perfectly suits Trump’s needs.

If you’re Trump, it’s a treasure you don’t easily discard. No wonder Trump keeps calling them “my generals” in the same proprietary way he’s called his wife, Melania, “my supermodel.”

But will this formula allow the generals to be the “adults in the room,” restraining a president who lacks impulse control?

Don’t count on it. We’re not talking Dwight D. Eisenhower or George C. Marshall here, let alone Colin Powell or Alexander Haig — just your basic war heroes. When generals have to perform beyond their political competence, they’re as fallible as anybody else. [Continue reading…]

As every marketing executive knows, Americans are suckers for attractive packaging and strong branding.

A sharply cut uniform and a few gleaming stars, present or past, is all it takes to mask the frail content of men who clearly don’t fully embody the qualities they are meant to represent.

Supposedly, the uniform is the ultimate representation of patriotism — the willingness to die for ones country — yet who in all seriousness can pretend that serving as a pillar, or to be more precise as a crutch, in this administration is an act of patriotism?

These generals, just like all their non-military cohorts were to some degree enticed by the allure of power and the hook of their own vanity around which no doubt they each embellished some noble narrative to rationalize their prostitution to the ultimate pimp.

Service with honor is one thing and obedience to Donald Trump is another, but there is no way to marry the two.

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How many Israeli soldiers does it take to arrest a Palestinian teenager?

Israel prides itself on having the most powerful military in the Middle East. It certainly isn’t lacking in its possession of top-of-the-line technology, largely courtesy of American taxpayers who subsidize the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge.

But seriously, is the image below a representation of strength or weakness?

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God bless the United Sights?

When the President of the United States has difficulty articulating the words “United States,” it’s time to summon the doctors and insist Trump receives a thorough neurological examination.

Has he had a stroke? Is this another sign of advancing dementia? Is he already heavily medicated?

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Pence pleads ignorance as Russia probe deepens

Politico reports: As the White House contends with questions about who knew about former national security adviser Michael Flynn lying to the FBI, people close to Vice President Mike Pence are trying to make clear that President Donald Trump’s No. 2 knew nothing at all.

He was at a homeless shelter in Indiana, clad in an apron and doling out hot meals, the day last December when Egypt submitted a U.N. resolution that drew Flynn and Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner into international back-channel dealing.

He was celebrating his son’s wedding a week later when President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on Russia over its election meddling, setting off a chain of events that would culminate with Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.

Pence’s aides have maintained for months that their man was out of the loop, blissfully ignorant of contacts between the Trump campaign and various foreign actors, from the Russian ambassador to WikiLeaks. [Continue reading…]

Are we to assume that Mike Pence’s sole means of communication is word of mouth within a hearing range of a few feet?

It’s hardly likely that Mueller’s team will accept at face-value all these assertions that Pence knew nothing. At some point, hopefully, they will subpoena his cell phone records and interrogate him.

If there’s anyone close to Trump who looks most likely to crumple under pressure after a few feeble gestures of defiance, it’s Pence.

Of course right now, the man with the pardon-power is Pence’s insurance policy, but if Trump looks like he’s going down then it will be time for the Et tu, Mike? moment.

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Have we been lied to about the Kate Steinle case?

The xenophobic, racist, bigot, defiling the Oval Office, tweeted:


Not having followed this case beyond being aware of the anti-immigrant hysteria that Kate Steinle’s death is being used to fuel, it was with interest that I read the coverage in the conservative outlet, RedState (which I’ve never read before) under the headline shown above.

It turns out, honest reporting is indeed possible, irrespective of the political leanings of the publication, when the journalists and editors have the integrity to respect the facts:

The illegal immigrant who killed Kate Steinle in 2015 was found not guilty of her murder by a San Francisco jury today. Outrageous, right?

Before the killing, Garcia Zarate had been released from a San Francisco jail despite a standing federal deportation order. He had been deported five times before. This made him a very effective villain for Trump’s border security campaign messages — proof that sanctuary city policies kill! — and it’s natural to be sympathetic about Steinle, who died in her father’s arms at the far too young age of 32.

The trouble with a politically-charged case like this is that there are many who seek to benefit from twisting, if not outright lying, about what really happened. And the facts here are far more complicated than any campaign slogans would lead you to believe.

These two facts are undisputed by the prosecution and defense:

  1. On July 1, 2015, Kate Steinle was fatally struck in the back by a single bullet as she walked on Pier 14 with her father to view the San Francisco Bay.
  2. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, a Mexican citizen illegally in the United States, fired the gun that killed Steinle.

The complicated part is pretty much everything else. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump is a merchant of hatred who stews in his own toxicity

Brendan Cox, whose wife Jo was murdered by a supporter of Britain First, writes: If you’re like me, you check the news each morning with the worry that Donald Trump might have tweeted his way to the third world war. So in some ways, the fact that “all” he did this morning was to retweet the world-view of a far-right extremist from the organisation Britain First is something of a relief. At least we’re not waking to gifs of mushroom clouds over Korea. But that is to take false comfort. That shouldn’t be where we set the bar for the president of our closest ally.

It is fair to say that all of us who spend too much time on social media have probably retweeted people we might not be aware of, or who have dubious views on other issues. If this were a one-off, I might give President Trump the benefit of the doubt. But it’s not. Trump, from the beginning, throughout his campaign and since the election, has used hatred and bigotry to mobilise support.

He’s done so from calling Mexicans rapists to pledging a ban on all Muslims entering the country, to failing to disavow the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. On Twitter he’s retweeted far-right activists following Charlottesville, shared antisemitic memes against Hillary Clinton and shared content from @WhiteGenocideTM – an account featuring dozens of racist memes.

In short, what his track record shows is that this isn’t a mistake, it’s a strategy. The impact of this strategy is to legitimise those driven by hatred. It makes them think that their views are mainstream, when in fact they are not – and makes those already driven by hatred more likely to act on it. [Continue reading…]

Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain First tweeted:

THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DONALD TRUMP, HAS RETWEETED THREE OF DEPUTY LEADER JAYDA FRANSEN’S TWITTER VIDEOS! DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke tweeted:

This is why WE LOVE TRUMP and WHY the FAKE NEWS MEDIA HATES TRUMP. He brings to light what the lying, Fake News Media Won't. The truth is the media covers up horrific numbers of racist hate crimes against White people!

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, tweeted:

Britain First is a vile, hate-fuelled organisation whose views should be condemned, not amplified. https://t.co/Qf8plF4wOx

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted:

I join the urgent call for President @realDonaldTrump to remove his Britain First retweets and make clear his opposition to racism and hatred.

These are the neo-fascist Islamophobes that Trump is promoting:

 

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Trump once said the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape was real. Now he’s not sure

The New York Times reports: Shortly after his victory last year, Donald J. Trump began revisiting one of his deepest public humiliations: the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of him making vulgar comments about women.

Despite his public acknowledgment of the recording’s authenticity in the final days of the presidential campaign — and his hasty videotaped apology under pressure from his advisers — Mr. Trump as president-elect began raising the prospect with allies that it may not have been him on the tape after all.

Most of Mr. Trump’s aides ignored his changing story. But in January, shortly before his inauguration, Mr. Trump told a Republican senator that he wanted to investigate the recording that had him boasting about grabbing women’s genitals.

“We don’t think that was my voice,” Mr. Trump told the senator, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Since then, Mr. Trump has continued to suggest that the tape that nearly upended his campaign was not actually him, according to three people close to the president.

As the issue of sexual harassment has swept through the news media, politics and entertainment industries, Mr. Trump has persisted in denying allegations that he, too, made unwanted advances on multiple women in past years. In recent days, he has continued to seed doubt about his appearance on the “Access Hollywood” tape, stunning his advisers. [Continue reading…]

Let’s just play along with this absurd claim — “We don’t think that was my voice,” says Trump, who apparently needs the assistance of others in identifying his own voice.

If the tape was a fake, then it was good enough to fool Trump. Yet that also implies that the success of the deception hinged on the sound of the voice rather than what was being said.

Trump was quick to own the words in the tape: “I said it, I was wrong and I apologize.”

So what now? Is he going to retract his apology? Is he going to say he got fooled by a fake tape?

Is this further evidence that the president “is unraveling“?

A report in the Washington Post indicates that Trump is now totally delusional.

President Trump has expressed certainty that the special-counsel probe into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia will be finished by the end of the year, complete with an exoneration from Robert S. Mueller III, according to several friends who have spoken with him in recent days.

Trump has dismissed his historically low approval ratings as “fake” and boasted about what he calls the unprecedented achievements of his presidency, even while chatting behind the scenes, saying no president since Harry Truman has accomplished as much at this point.

Time to invoke the 25th Amendment!

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Donald Trump is still pretending to be a person that he’s not

Following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood video tape in which he bragged, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful [women] — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything,” Donald Trump issued a statement in which he said:

I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am. I said it, I was wrong and I apologize.

In the rest of his statement, Trump struck a note of defiance. His apology was really a non-apology in which he might as well have actually said: “Come on guys. What do you want? Do you want me to apologize for being who I am?” In other words, he turned this ostensible act of contrition on its head and came back with his usual counterpunch, signaling to his supporters that they already knew who they were backing and that media attention on the tape was just a distraction.

With some help from James Comey, Trump’s gamble paid off.

That Trump would have chosen to begin his apology by making a claim that was demonstrably false — that he has never pretended to be someone he is not — now looks like a hint that he might also have anticipated that he would later retract his apology and claim his actions had been misrepresented.

The New York Times now reports on Trump’s loyalty to Roy Moore:

[Trump] sees the calls for Mr. Moore to step aside as a version of the response to the now-famous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which he boasted about grabbing women’s genitalia, and the flood of groping accusations against him that followed soon after. He suggested to a senator earlier this year that it was not authentic, and repeated that claim to an adviser more recently.

It took three journalists to fudge their own reporting with “it was not authentic,” leaving it somewhat unclear what “it” was.

Careful parsing would indicate that “it” refers to “the response” to the tape, not the tape itself — although several reports have jumped to the conclusion that Trump is now questioning the authenticity of the tape.

What Trump has indisputably created is a Laingian knot which goes something like this:

I lied about sexually assaulting women.

My lies were then misrepresented as truths by more than a dozen women who were themselves lying.

The media then failed to expose these lies.

None of this would have happened had the press been honest enough to accurately report on my lying.

And this brings us back to Trump’s claim that he has never pretended to be someone he is not.

He said this immediately prior to claiming that when he was bragging about assaulting women, he was actually pretending to be someone he is not — it was just “locker room talk.”

Now if Trump actually wanted to come clean and clear away the confusion he’s already created, he should probably start out by saying: “You know what, guys? I’m full of shit — but you already knew that.”

But therein lies America’s enduring Trump problem: this is a president who enjoys the support of millions of Americans who don’t care about his lying.

He can lie about lying and then get praised for his honesty. He can make false statement after false statement until no one can keep count — the flow of his deceptions is so unremitting, the more often he lies, the less chance (or so it seems) he will ever be held accountable.

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Terrorism flourishes where totalitarianism prevails


Statement from the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt: …. (Oh, Donald Trump has yet to appoint an ambassador.)

Statement from the White House: The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s horrific terrorist attack at a mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai province. We offer our condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with the people and government of Egypt against terrorism. There can be no tolerance for barbaric groups that claim to act in the name of a faith but attack houses of worship and murder the innocent and defenseless while at prayer. The international community must continue to strengthen its efforts to defeat terrorist groups that threaten the United States and our partners and we must collectively discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence.


The United States can either stand with the victims of global terrorism or it can build a wall and ban ordinary people from visiting the U.S. on the basis of their national origin.

The United States either acknowledges that it belongs to an international community or it shuts itself away from the rest of the world.

As the U.S. approaches the end of a second decade of trying to destroy terrorism by military means and given that ISIS has just lost its territorial grip on Iraq and Syria, Donald Trump (were he not a moron) would recognize that continuing terrorist attacks are not the consequence of an inadequate military response. On the contrary, they demonstrate the fact that terrorism cannot actually be eradicated by military means. Moreover, it has been fueled by the very people who profess their desire to destroy it.

The butcher in Cairo didn’t make Egypt safe, just as the butcher in Damascus didn’t make Syria safe. Likewise, the butcher-friendly buffoon in Washington can’t make America safe.

Strongmen of all stripes exploit violence to justify the violence they use to hold onto power.

Shortly before the latest atrocity, CNBC reported:

Islamic State (ISIS) is looking a shadow of its former self, having lost almost all trace of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

But experts are predicting that the militant organization will regroup and return should the political and physical reconstruction of those two countries be unsuccessful.

Fearful of a resurgence of ISIS and its aims of setting up a religious state, analysts have warned an “Islamic State 2.0” or “al-Qaeda 3.0” could emerge.

“The Islamic State is almost defeated, but a radical Islamist insurgency will remain in both Iraq and Syria as the fighters turn to traditional terrorism,” Ayham Kamel, practice head of Middle East and North Africa at Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Thursday.

“However, losing the pillars of its state, ISIS no longer represents a strategic threat to the integrity of either Iraq or Syria. There’s even a possibility of alliances with al-Qaeda in Syria (the Nusra Front) as these configurations are usually fluid,” he said.

“The danger here is that (with) absent reconstruction aid, terrorism will remain a key challenge. The core challenge is that the world continues to focus on military tools to defeat a problem that transcends an armed challenge.”

On Thursday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, speaking at the Westminster Counterterrorism Conference, organized by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), made the following observations:

“Although the Middle East was once a region of peace and coexistence, it has unfortunately been transformed into a region of turbulence and totalitarianism where extremism flourishes.

“We need to learn from history and build on perspective and experience to discover how to end the spread of extremism. So, who is the enemy and what is the root cause of terrorism? Tyranny, totalitarianism, aggression and the absence of justice. [My emphasis.]

“Regional conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa are threatening the lives of 24 million children, most of whom live in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Recent examples of the catastrophes created by evil ideologies can be found across my region. Children who have lived through the mass atrocities of the Syrian regime, ISIS in Iraq and Syria or the war in Yemen are now young adults with little hope for better future.

“It is time for the international community to say enough is enough. We have to work together to end the discourse and begin rehabilitating these children. If we don’t act quickly, those desperate children will fall prey to the distorted ideologies of extremism.”

Terrorism has never been more prevalent than during the era in which presidents, governments, and military leaders across the world have so volubly expressed their commitment to ending terrorism.

As a president who has never met an authoritarian ruler he didn’t like (I guess it’s the camaraderie of bullies), Trump is incapable of digesting this fundamental truth: violence cannot be destroyed through the systematic use of violence.

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Putin’s stature being inflated by U.S. fixation on Russia’s election interference, say his domestic critics

The New York Times reports: For months, President Vladimir V. Putin has predictably denied accusations of Russian interference in last year’s American election, denouncing them as fake news fueled by Russophobic hysteria.

More surprising, some of Mr. Putin’s biggest foes in Russia, notably pro-Western liberals who look to the United States as an exemplar of democratic values and journalistic excellence, are now joining a chorus of protest over America’s fixation with Moscow’s meddling in its political affairs.

“Enough already!” Leonid M. Volkov, chief of staff for the anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, wrote in a recent anguished post on Facebook. “What is happening with ‘the investigation into Russian interference,’ is not just a disgrace but a collective eclipse of the mind.”

What most disturbs Mr. Putin’s critics about what they see as America’s Russia fever is that it reinforces a narrative put forth tirelessly by the state-controlled Russian news media. On television, in newspapers and on websites, Mr. Putin is portrayed as an ever-victorious master strategist who has led Russia — an economic, military and demographic weakling compared with the United States — from triumph to triumph on the world stage.

“The Kremlin is of course very proud of this whole Russian interference story. It shows they are not just a group of old K.G.B. guys with no understanding of digital but an almighty force from a James Bond saga,” Mr. Volkov said in a telephone interview. “This image is very bad for us. Putin is not a master geopolitical genius.”

Mr. Volkov and others say they have no doubt that Russia did interfere, at least on the margins, in last year’s presidential election campaign. But they complain that the United States consistently inflates Mr. Putin’s impact and portrays his government as far more unified and effective than it really is, cementing his legacy and making him harder to challenge at home.

Ultimately, they say, Americans are using Russia as a scapegoat to explain the deep political discord in the United States. That has left many westward-leaning Russians, who have long looked to America for their ideals, in bitter disappointment that the United States seems to be mimicking some of their own country’s least appealing traits. [Continue reading…]

As necessary as it is to understand the full extent of Russia’s involvement in Donald Trump’s election, it’s true that we shouldn’t lose sight of the reason he’s now president: millions of Americans found his xenophobic nationalism appealing.

They either supported or were willing to ignore his racism.

Russia exploited opportunities weren’t simply the result of Facebook’s algorithms; they tapped into the deep veins of bigotry that trace all the way back to the foundations of a nation built on slavery and white supremacism.

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The stunted human development of the high priests of Silicon Valley

John Naughton writes: One of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit A is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, whose political education I recently chronicled. But he’s not alone. In fact I’d say he is quite representative of many of the biggest movers and shakers in the tech world. We have a burgeoning genre of “OMG, what have we done?” angst coming from former Facebook and Google employees who have begun to realise that the cool stuff they worked on might have had, well, antisocial consequences.

Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users’ personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves.

The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies.

It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? The cynical answer is they knew about the potential dark side all along and didn’t care, because to acknowledge it might have undermined the aforementioned licences to print money. Which is another way of saying that most tech leaders are sociopaths. Personally I think that’s unlikely, although among their number are some very peculiar characters: one thinks, for example, of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel – Trump’s favourite techie; and Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber. [Continue reading…]

The technology boom of the 1990s was driven as much by investment as business success. The winners became billionaires and in a nation that equates wealth with success, the Zuckerbergs and Brins could count themselves as supremely successful. Yet anyone who worked in Silicon Valley during this period can attest to the fact that technology companies were (and still are) culturally dysfunctional by virtue of being mostly boys clubs — and I use that phrase in the most literal sense.

The fact that Mark Zuckerberg, now in his 30s, still looks like a 15-year-old is not a function of his ignorance about history and society or his genes — it is very clearly an expression of his emotional and human development.

Teenagers who struggled socially because of their lack of interpersonal skills found that as code warriors they could skip many of the challenges of entering adulthood. Having attained positions of great power in the tech industry, their deficits in the department of human maturity went unchallenged.

To put it most bluntly, the tech leaders don’t just need to have more rounded educations — they need to grow up.

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The Trump sons’ delight in slaughtering wild animals


If Donald Trump agrees with Piers Morgan that trophy-hunting is repellent, should he not therefore find the behavior of his own sons repellent?

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Top general says he would resist ‘illegal’ nuke order from Trump

CBS News reports: The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would push back against President Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be “illegal,” saying he would hope to find another solution.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday that he has given a lot of thought to what he would say if a president ordered a strike he considered unlawful.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

Hyten explained the process that would follow such a command. As head of STRATCOM, Hyten is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” Hyten added. “And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.” [Continue reading…]

The question, as to whether a presidential order to launch a nuclear strike would be legal, is a red herring. The real question Hyten should have addressed is what he will do if he receives an order that is legal but nevertheless unconscionable.

Does he accept that there might be circumstances in which his moral responsibility might be to refuse to follow a legal order?

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Gillibrand says Bill Clinton should have resigned over Lewinsky affair. What might have happened?

The New York Times reports: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, who holds Hillary Clinton’s former seat, said on Thursday that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency after his inappropriate relationship with an intern came to light nearly 20 years ago.

Asked directly if she believed Mr. Clinton should have stepped down at the time, Ms. Gillibrand took a long pause and said, “Yes, I think that is the appropriate response.”

But she also appeared to signal that what is currently considered a fireable offense may have been more often overlooked during the Clinton era.

“Things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “And I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump, and a very different conversation about allegations against him.” [Continue reading…]

As Democrats gain a semblance of retrospective moral clarity on the Clinton presidency, this isn’t going to carry much weight among Republicans. That is, it won’t — unless this resuscitation of conscience also includes the Clintons themselves.

How likely is that to happen?

Probably as likely as Donald Trump spontaneously declaring he’s realized he’s not fit for the presidency.

Nevertheless, it’s worth considering the likely consequences had Clinton resigned, not simply because of the current context but also because of the likely results of Al Gore having become president in 1998.

In the 2000 presidential election, there’s a reasonable chance that, as the incumbent, Gore would have comfortably defeated George W Bush.

We can assume that this wouldn’t have changed al Qaeda’s calculus and likewise that the U.S. intelligence agencies would have remained as ineffective in thwarting 9/11.

But what would have followed would have been vastly different: no war in Iraq; no fanciful promises to eradicate evil; no war on terrorism.

President Gore would surely have been capable of mustering the required gravitas demonstrating America’s capacity to demonstrate strength and restraint.

In other words, he could have responded to 9/11 with a sense of proportion, thereby ensuring that the aftermath was not more calamitous than the event.

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Inspired by ISIS: Trump administration will reward hunters who collect severed heads as ‘trophies’

If there’s any remaining doubt that the U.S. government is now led by a cabal of twisted misfits, read this:

Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, writes: With barely contained enthusiasm, Safari Club International (SCI) announced on its own initiative today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has reversed critical elephant protections established during the Obama administration, allowing imports of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. For decades, Zimbabwe has been run by a dictator who has targeted and killed his political opponents, and operated the country’s wildlife management program as something of a live auction. Remember, it was Zimbabwe where Walter Palmer shot Cecil, one of the most beloved and well-studied African lions, who was lured out of a national park for the killing. Palmer paid a big fee even though it did irreparable damage to the nation’s reputation.

The United States has listed African elephants under the federal Endangered Species Act, and hunting trophies can only be imported if the federal government finds that killing them positively enhances the survival of the species. Under the prior administration, FWS made the eminently reasonable decision that Zimbabwe – one of the most corrupt countries on earth – was not managing its elephant population in a sustainable manner. Government officials allegedly have been involved in both poaching of elephants and illegal export of ivory tusks. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe even celebrated his birthday last year by feasting on an elephant.

Zimbabwe’s elephant population has declined six percent since 2001 and evidence shows that poaching has increased in areas where trophy hunting is permitted (such as in the Chirisa and Chete safari areas). A number of problems with Zimbabwe’s elephant management remain unresolved to date: the lack of an elephant management plan; lack of sufficient data on population numbers and trends; anemic enforcement of wildlife laws; lack of information about how money derived from trophy hunting by U.S. hunters is distributed within Zimbabwe; and lack of a national mechanism, such as government support, to sustain elephant conservation efforts in the country.

This jarring announcement comes on the same day that global news sources report that Mr. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s aging dictator, is under house arrest following a military coup. This fact in and of itself highlights the absurdity and illegal nature of the FWS decision to find that Zimbabwe is capable of ensuring that elephant conservation and trophy hunting are properly managed. [Continue reading…]

Given its passion for violence and destruction, ISIS has often been described as a nihilistic movement. Likewise, men who confuse the destructive power of weapons with a measure of their own strength are also unleashing a life-denying nihilistic force. This might get cloaked in some childish mythology about the return to a natural state in which man fights for his own survival, but if any hunter truly wanted to understand what that might actually mean, they should find out what it’s like to live for a while among one of the few remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers. Most likely, the big game hunters who want to proudly display an elephant or lion’s head above their mantelpiece, wouldn’t have enough stamina to trek for hours on end through savannah or jungle, let alone have the skill to participate in a kill.

Walter Palmer later said: “If I had known this lion had a name and was important to the country or a study, obviously I wouldn’t have taken it. Nobody in our hunting party knew before or after the name of this lion.”

Presumably, in his way of thinking, the creatures of particular value get names while the rest are expendable — a perspective that no doubt applies not just among hunters but among employers and across many sectors of human society.

If the protection of endangered species requires that surviving individuals all get named, we will soon end up in a situation where these animals can only be found in zoos and viable gene pools will have been decimated along with the habitats that sustain species diversity.

Those who believe they can pick and choose between lives, designating a few as precious and many others as worthless, really need to ask themselves whether they value life at all.

At the root of this assumption of a god-like power over life, there is an expression of alienation from life itself.

Those who destroy or neglect the lives of others, far from ensuring their own survival, have on the contrary lost touch with the vibrant experience of what it means to be alive. Life is not something we can possess but something by which we are possessed.

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Trump, the oldest American to ever become president, objects to being called ‘old’ but still hopes to become Kim Jong-un’s friend


I imagine there’s a name for this kind of insult — the insult that comes couched as a non-insult, coming from a president I would NEVER call an “asshole.”

Be that as it may, this tweet raises a perennial question: If/when Trump’s Twitter account gets hijacked, how long will it take officials, media, and/or foreign governments to figure out that a weird/provocative/insane tweet didn’t come from Trump? And during that interval, what magnitude of international crisis have already ensued?

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After terrorist attack on church in Texas, will Trump press for extreme vetting of U.S. military recruits?

Needless to say, that’s a rhetorical question.

The Pentagon (and Trump) will no doubt be satisfied that a malcontent like Devin Patrick Kelley was kicked out of the Air Force, rather than questioning how he joined.

Trump has already indicated that he views the Texas shooting as not even related to guns — let alone terrorism:

Donald Trump has blamed Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at a Baptist church in Texas on the mental health of the perpetrator and claimed that gun ownership was not a factor.

Asked during a press conference in Tokyo what policies he would support to tackle mass shootings in the US, the president said: “I think that mental health is a problem here. Based on preliminary reports, this was a very deranged individual with a lot of problems over a very long period of time.

“We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, as do other countries, but this isn’t a guns situation … we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon to go into it. Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.

“This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very sad event … these are great people at a very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it.”

Is it a mental health problem, a gun problem, or a terrorism problem?

Unlike many observers, I hesitate to slap the label “terrorism” on every mass shooting in America. Why? Because terrorism, for as long as it remains a meaningful term (and that itself is a debatable issue), needs an ideological component. For the perpetrator to appropriately be called a terrorist, he (and it’s invariably he, rather than she) must be driven by some kind of belief system.

Since Devin Patrick Kelley is already dead, we may never be certain of his motives for murdering 26 churchgoers, but the testimony of former classmates strongly suggests he was a militant atheist and thus his hostility to religion may have been the determining factor in how he selected his target. So, at face value this shooting has a more obvious ideological component than does, for instance, the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.

A terrorism problem? Yes.

A gun issue? “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise it wouldn’t have been as bad as it was, it would have been much worse.”

Indeed. Likewise, if no one had a gun — if Kelley and all the churchgoers had been armed with knives — there would have been no shooting, and probably no deaths.

The argument in favor of self-defense cannot be separated from the issue of the availability of deadly weapons.

So let’s get real: of course this is a gun issue.

A mental health problem?

Nowadays a lot of people balk at this explanation because it seems like a double standard is at play when Muslims get collectively blamed for terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, and yet the violence of white men is invariably viewed as something that has no connection with any wider trends in a white-dominated society.

Social trends, however, can hardly be discounted as irrelevant. While gun violence is a major problem in black America, the perpetrators of mass shootings are rarely black. The typical shooter is usually a white guy whose misanthropic rage swelled in isolation.

The obvious is worth stating: however Kelley might have described his own motives, we can be certain he was unhappy.

Unhappiness can metastasize and in the extreme turn into murderous violence and yet we vastly underestimate the problem of unhappiness itself if we reduce our concerns about mental health to the problem of mass shootings.

The sorry state of America’s collective mental health, is not just implicated in an epidemic of mass shootings; it has also resulted in the choice of a president who so often seethes with rage and foments hostility at home and abroad.

Trump’s anger is his own mental health problem, but given his unique position he has an unparalleled capacity to foster a contagion of discontent across this nation, manifesting in meanness, bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and potentially acts of mass violence.

While Trump should not be viewed as the root of all America’s problems, the harm he has already done, renders him incapable of healing national divisions he so persistently strives to widen.

Fear can bring people together, but this isn’t the foundation of real unity. What unifies us is the recognition that our common interests matter more than the things that make us stand apart.

Predictably, Trump is using the Texas tragedy to rally American national pride, yet what America dearly needs has far less to do with its national virtues than with a basic sense of humanity.

Love and kindness are resources on which every society depends, while fear and hatred shatter our human bonds.

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Bots stoke racial strife in Virginia governor’s race

Politico reports: Twitter bots are swarming into the Virginia governor’s race and promoting chatter about a racially charged Democratic ad days before Election Day, according to a report commissioned by allies of Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign.

The activity centers on an ad from Latino Victory Fund, depicting a child’s nightmare in which a supporter of Republican Ed Gillespie chases immigrant children in a pickup truck bearing a Confederate flag. Gillespie’s campaign reacted furiously to the ad, which barely ran on TV but got major attention online, and has made backlash to the Democratic ad a major part of its closing message.

That backlash erupted quickly, and Latino Victory Fund later retracted the ad. But the reaction has been amplified on Twitter by automated accounts. Out of the 15 accounts tweeting most frequently about the Latino Victory Fund ad, 13 belong to fully or partially automated bots, according to an analysis from Discourse Intelligence. (The other two accounts are Republican political operatives.)

“Highly scripted, highly robotic accounts are being used to boost this message into the Twitter conversation,” said Tim Chambers, the report’s author and the U.S. practice lead for digital at the Dewey Square Group. The firm was retained by the National Education Association, whose Virginia affiliate has endorsed Northam.

Of the 15 accounts most frequently sending out messages about the ad from Latino Victory Fund, just two accounts belonging to GOP operatives were human, while 13 belonged to either fully or partially automated bots, according to the report from Discourse Intelligence. The National Education Association, whose Virginia affiliate backs Northam, paid for the report.

The 15 accounts highlighted in the report have the potential to reach 651,000 people, the report says. It notes these accounts just make up less than 1 percent of the nearly 3,000 accounts with tweets including both “Latino victory” and either “Gillespie” or “Northam.”

A spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat who is helping lead the congressional investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, said the incident mirrors past bot attempts to “manipulate” social media conversations. Warner and other senators, including Republicans like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, have also warned during their investigation about attempts to interfere in future American elections as well. [Continue reading…]

While this report may be used to highlight the ever-present threat of foreign interference in U.S. elections, what it really underlines is the corrosive effect on democracy presented by the existence of social media.

Twitter and Facebook weren’t created to damage democracy, so this isn’t an issue of malevolent intent. But given that social media has already become — globally — the preeminent instrument for manipulating public opinion, at some point attention needs to turn away from Russia’s opportunistic use of social media and the internet to further its national interest, and focus more intently on the broad political repercussions of the digital age and the extent to which connectivity, far from creating a global village, has become the most effective means for promoting division. This doesn’t simply result in online spats — it can lead to ethnic cleansing and a refugee crisis.

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