Regent Mattis tries to contain King Trump’s madness

The New York Times reports: Inside the Pentagon, civilian and military officials appear to be relishing the fact that, so far, Mr. Mattis has protected them from many of the ups and downs coming out of the White House.

During a recent talk with policy officials at the Defense Department, Mr. Mattis told people to stay strong and keep going in the right direction — in many cases, largely the direction that they had already been going, according to a former senior military official who speaks frequently to his former colleagues. The former official said Mr. Mattis appeared to be pushing for greater expertise in the Pentagon and had asked officials not to change jobs so frequently that they are not able to become true experts.

An avid reader, Mr. Mattis also says he wants the Defense Department’s regional desks to be able to think the way people in their respective countries would think, officials said. He wants military officials to have read the literature of the country in which they specialize and to really understand the countries, not just the issues that affect bilateral relations with the United States. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: As commander of an armored cavalry troop, H. R. McMaster fought in the largest tank battle of the Persian Gulf war, earning a Silver Star in the process. Afterward, the young captain reflected on how different his experience had been from the accounts he had read about Vietnam.

So when he arrived at the University of North Carolina for graduate studies in fall 1992, questions swirled through his head: How had Vietnam become an American war? Why did American troops die without a clear idea of their mission? “I began to seek answers to those questions,” he later wrote.

The result was a dissertation that turned into a book that would become, for a whole generation of military officers, a must-read autopsy of a war gone wrong. Now, as a three-star general and President Trump’s national security adviser, General McMaster will have the opportunity to put the lessons of that book to the test inside the White House as he serves a mercurial commander in chief with neither political nor military experience.

The book, “Dereliction of Duty,” published in 1997, highlighted the consequences of the military not giving candid advice to a president. General McMaster concluded that during Vietnam, officers on the Joint Chiefs of Staff “failed to confront the president with their objections” to a strategy they thought would fail. Twenty years later, the book serves as a guidepost to how he views his role as the coordinator of the president’s foreign policy team.

“It’s a history, but he obviously draws conclusions about the need for what you might term brutally forthright assessments by military and indeed also by civilian leaders,” David H. Petraeus, the retired Army general and a patron of General McMaster, said in an interview. “That’s a hugely important takeaway. He has a record of being quite forthright.” [Continue reading…]

Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin write: The new point man for the Trump administration’s counter-jihadist team is Sebastian Gorka, an itinerant instructor in the doctrine of irregular warfare and former national security editor at Breitbart. Stephen K. Bannon and Stephen Miller, the chief commissars of the Trump White House, have framed Islam as an enemy ideology and predicted a historic clash of civilizations. Mr. Gorka, who has been appointed deputy assistant to the president, is the expert they have empowered to translate their prediction into national strategy.

Mr. Gorka was born and raised in Britain, the son of Hungarian émigrés. As a political consultant in post-Communist Hungary, he acquired a doctorate and involved himself with ultranationalist politics. He later moved to the United States and became a citizen five years ago, while building a career moderating military seminars and establishing a reputation as an ill-informed Islamophobe. (He has responded to such claims by stating that he has read the Quran in translation.)

In 2015, he caught Donald Trump’s eye, perhaps appealing to someone who had no government experience by declaring everything done by the government to be idiotic. Most notably, Mr. Gorka derides the notion that Islamic militancy might reflect worldly grievances, like poor governance, repression, poverty and war. “This is the famous approach that says it is all so nuanced and complicated,” Mr. Gorka recently told The Washington Post. “This is what I completely jettison.” [Continue reading…]

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The world is ignoring an ‘unprecedented’ starvation crisis

Ishaan Tharoor writes: The world is in the grip of an astonishing and acute crisis: More than 20 million people in South Sudan, Somalia, northern Nigeria and Yemen face starvation in the next six months, according to the United Nations. Nearly 1.4 million children are at “imminent risk” of death. The scale of the hunger epidemic was described last month by U.S.-based researchers as “unprecedented in recent decades.”

The crises are in large part man-made, stoked by ruinous conflicts, collapsing governance and international indifference. Only in one country, Somalia, which is recovering from years of war, is drought the main cause of the current food shortages.

“The situation is dire,” warned U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres earlier this week, in a desperate appeal for funds. “We need $4.4 billion by the end of March to avert a catastrophe.” So far, his organization has raised only $90 million, a drop in the bucket. At a time when the Trump administration has already threatened funding cuts to the U.N., the prospects for global relief look dim. [Continue reading…]

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Whenever the press reports on Trump’s ties to Russia, Trump attacks the press

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Robert Mercer: The big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media

Carole Cadwalladr writes: Mercer started backing Ted Cruz, but when he fell out of the presidential race he threw his money – $13.5m of it – behind the Trump campaign.

It’s money he’s made as a result of his career as a brilliant but reclusive computer scientist. He started his career at IBM, where he made what the Association for Computational Linguistics called “revolutionary” breakthroughs in language processing – a science that went on to be key in developing today’s AI – and later became joint CEO of Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund that makes its money by using algorithms to model and trade on the financial markets.

One of its funds, Medallion, which manages only its employees’ money, is the most successful in the world – generating $55bn so far. And since 2010, Mercer has donated $45m to different political campaigns – all Republican – and another $50m to non-profits – all rightwing, ultra-conservative. This is a billionaire who is, as billionaires are wont, trying to reshape the world according to his personal beliefs.

Robert Mercer very rarely speaks in public and never to journalists, so to gauge his beliefs you have to look at where he channels his money: a series of yachts, all called Sea Owl; a $2.9m model train set; climate change denial (he funds a climate change denial thinktank, the Heartland Institute); and what is maybe the ultimate rich man’s plaything – the disruption of the mainstream media. In this he is helped by his close associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager and now chief strategist. The money he gives to the Media Research Center, with its mission of correcting “liberal bias” is just one of his media plays. There are other bigger, and even more deliberate strategies, and shining brightly, the star at the centre of the Mercer media galaxy, is Breitbart.

It was $10m of Mercer’s money that enabled Bannon to fund Breitbart – a rightwing news site, set up with the express intention of being a Huffington Post for the right. It has launched the careers of Milo Yiannopoulos and his like, regularly hosts antisemitic and Islamophobic views, and is currently being boycotted by more than 1,000 brands after an activist campaign. It has been phenomenally successful: the 29th most popular site in America with 2bn page views a year. It’s bigger than its inspiration, the Huffington Post, bigger, even, than PornHub. It’s the biggest political site on Facebook. The biggest on Twitter.

Prominent rightwing journalist Andrew Breitbart, who founded the site but died in 2012, told Bannon that they had “to take back the culture”. And, arguably, they have, though American culture is only the start of it. In 2014, Bannon launched Breitbart London, telling the New York Times it was specifically timed ahead of the UK’s forthcoming election. It was, he said, the latest front “in our current cultural and political war”. France and Germany are next. [Continue reading…]

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No, Sweden isn’t hiding an immigrant crime problem. This is the real story

Kristine Eck and Christopher J. Fariss write: Last weekend at a Florida campaign rally, the president of the United States made vague claims intimating that Sweden has an immigrant violence problem. Research we have conducted shows that this is not true. In fact, criticism of Sweden is based on common misconceptions and mishandled information.

The president’s comments were originally inspired by a Fox News report on a video propaganda piece released by Ami Horowitz, which alleges that Sweden faces a spate of Muslim immigrant violence and that Swedish authorities are covering this up. The video misuses quotes from Swedish police to suggest that official crime statistics in Sweden are being purposely withheld. After President Trump’s comments, several right-wing media outlets doubled down on these claims. This is a feedback loop based on what are now called “alternative facts.”

Official crime statistics from Sweden actually show that the crime rate has remained steady since 2005. What’s more, the Swedish police do not collect information on the ethnicity, religion, or race of perpetrators or victims of crime, which means there’s no evidence for claims that Muslim immigrants are committing crimes in record numbers. Nor is there any evidence to support the claim that Swedish authorities are manipulating the statistics, as the producer of the video alleges.

Actually, compared to the U.S., the government of Sweden is a model in making data accessible and actions transparent. Its official statistics are some of the most complete and readily accessible in the world. Since 1766, Swedish law on freedom of the press has included a principle of public access (Offentlighetsprincipen), which grants public access to all government documents upon request unless they fall under secrecy restrictions. This law is the oldest piece of freedom of information legislation in the world. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s ties to organized crime — past and present

The Daily Beast reports: In 2013, Sater’s connection to Trump, who was still two years shy of running for national office, caused the mogul one of his many moments of pique with a member of the international press. Trump stormed out of a BBC Panorama interview when asked by John Sweeney, “Shouldn’t you have said, Felix Sater, you’re connected with the Mafia and you’re fired.” Trump replied by suggesting Sweeney might be “thick” and that he could not break a contract with Bayrock even if Sater’s mob ties were established to his satisfaction.

Sater’s tenure at Bayrock wasn’t just confined to leveraging the Trump brand. He was accused of threatening gruesome acts of violence against erstwhile business associates who were in a position to disclose his shady history. In 2007, the manager of one Trump hotel-condo in Phoenix, Arizona, sued Sater after he allegedly threatened to get a cousin to electrocute the manager’s testicles, dismember him and leave him “dead in the trunk of his car.” Sater reportedly settled that case out of court, but denied the charges.

By 2010, Sater was out at Bayrock — but in at the Trump Organization. He reportedly brandished a business card naming him as a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.” He also had a valid email address at the organization, a phone number that had previously belonged to one of Trump’s general counsels, and his own office in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

Sater’s role as an employee of the Trump Organization also came to light when he was accused of shaking down one of his former colleagues at Bayrock.

Jody Kriss, the former finance director of Bayrock, alleged that he was entitled to a share of the $227 million profits in the Trump SoHo project. As reported by The Daily Beast in August 2016, Kriss claimed, in a court case filed in Delaware, that he was owed $7 million for his work on the project but offered a settlement of only half a million dollars. His principal antagonist in recouping his investment, he said, was Felix Sater.

In sworn testimony, Kriss stated that his money had become entangled with an Icelandic financial company known as FL Group, which seemed to draw Russian investors “in favor” with Vladimir Putin. (Bayrock founder Tevfik Arif was also part of this deal.) According to Kriss:

“Felix Satter [sic] told me that the deal with FL prohibited me from getting the rest in that I could either take the money and shut up or risk being killed if I made trouble. I knew at that time Satter had served a prison sentence for first degree assault (stabbing someone in the face with a wine glass stem) and with learning what would soon become common knowledge, that Satter had had a decades-long involvement with the New York and Russian mafia and had just in 2007 been sued in a civil action in Phoenix.”

The Delaware case ultimately was dismissed because of jurisdiction; but the judge stated on the record that Kriss’s accusations appeared to be legitimate. Sater’s defense team denied allegations.

In a separate and still-pending suit to which Kriss is a plaintiff, this one filed in New York’s Southern District, he has alleged that “tax evasion and money-laundering are the core of Bayrock’s business model.”

The defendants have argued that the suit amounts to a shakedown, but the judge has ruled that Kriss has enough of a case to warrant moving forward.

As for Sater, he had coffee the other day with the president’s personal lawyer and discussed a peace plan for Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

 

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Trump’s Cabinet has to work as a cleanup crew

The Washington Post reports: After President Trump said that deporting undocumented immigrants was “a military operation,” Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, speaking in Mexico, clarified that there would be “no use of military force in immigration operations.”

After Trump, standing next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, upended decades of U.S. policy by saying he was open to a one-state solution to the conflict in the Middle East, U.N. envoy Nikki Haley asserted that the United States “absolutely” supports a two-state solution.

And after Trump alarmed European allies by declaring NATO obsolete, Vice President Pence flew to Munich and Brussels, where he reassured a worried continent that the president remains “fully devoted to our transatlantic union.”

One of the unofficial duties of Trump’s Cabinet, it seems, is cleaning up the statements of the man they serve. Five weeks into Trump’s tenure in office, his deputies have found themselves softening, explaining and sometimes outright contradicting the president. [Continue reading…]

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I cover hate. I didn’t expect it at my family’s Jewish cemetery

By Ariana Tobin, ProPublica, February 23, 2017

When it comes to death, my family honors all of the Ashkenazi Jewish traditions: We name our children after dead relatives, we sit shiva for a week, we gather around trays of fruit and lox and cream cheese, we cover the mirrors, we say the Kaddish prayer, we each toss three shovelfuls of dirt into the grave, and we wait a year to put a stone on top of it. When I got my driver’s license at 16, my mom asked me not to sign the organ donor card because Jews are supposed to be laid to rest in one piece. When I turned 18 and signed it anyway, I couldn’t stop imagining her face when she found out after I’d died in a car accident.

But traditions don’t protect you from death, or the life of anxiety in preparation for it. When I told my grandmother — her mother called her Malka, her sisters called her Mollie — that I had an opportunity to teach English abroad, I knew what to expect in response: “That’s nice, baby, but why don’t you find a teaching job around here where it’s safe?” That, and a $20 bill she couldn’t necessarily afford to give.

But when I added, “I’m going to a place in Belarus called Minsk; it’s a big city,” her reply took me by surprise. “Minsk!” she exclaimed. “That’s where my mother was from! I guess you could go. Maybe you’ll see where they lived?”

I did go. I didn’t see where they lived because that place does not exist anymore, thanks to World War II and the Soviets. To identify the symbols of Judaism left in a city that was about 37 percent Jewish in 1941, you have to squint at the stone facades of buildings and say, “Yes, I think that might be a Hebrew character.” You have to stare hard, and wonder, “Hmm, is that Yiddish?”

There are statues and plaques here and there. But look as one might, there are few relics of Jewish death. When you visit Khatyn, a memorial to the victims of “the Great War,” you learn about the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, but little to nothing about what religion they practiced. Nor are there signs marking entire villages of Belarussians, Jews and non-Jews, that became unmarked mass graves. When I would ask my students and co-workers and friends, “What happened to the Jews here?” all most of them would say was, “They left.”

[Read more…]

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Who is Nils Bildt? Swedish ‘national security advisor’ interviewed by Fox News is a mystery to Swedes

The Washington Post reports: In a segment on Fox News’s “The O’Reilly Factor” that aired Thursday, host Bill O’Reilly spoke with two Swedish nationals about allegations that Sweden had become a more dangerous place in recent years because of immigration.

One guest, Swedish journalist Anne-Sofie Naslund of the Expressen newspaper, pushed back against O’Reilly’s comments, suggesting that her country was far safer than it was being presented.

Nils Bildt, billed as a “Swedish defense and national security advisor” by Fox News, told O’Reilly that Naslund was “rather incorrect” and that there had been big problems with integrating immigrants into Swedish society. “These things are not being openly and honestly discussed,” Bildt said.

It was only a brief segment, but it quickly caused controversy back in Sweden, where reporters and experts suggested that Bildt was unknown within the Swedish national security world.

The Dagens Nyheter newspaper reported Friday that neither the Swedish armed forces nor the Foreign Ministry had heard of Bildt. Johan Wiktorin, a fellow at the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, took to Twitter to suggest he had not heard of Bildt either. [Continue reading…]

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For Syrian refugees, there is no going home

The New York Times reports: In the makeshift tent settlements that dot fields and villages in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, Syrian refugees are digging in, pouring concrete floors, installing underground sewerage and electric wires, and starting businesses and families.

What they are not doing is packing up en masse to leave, despite exhortations from Syrian and Lebanese officials, who have declared that safety and security are on the march in neighboring Syria and that it is time for refugees to go home.

But as a new round of peace talks convened Thursday in Geneva, Syrians interviewed at a randomly selected camp in the Bekaa Valley this week offered a unanimous reality check. Their old homes are either destroyed or unsafe, they fear arrest by security forces and they know that despite recent victories by pro-government forces, the fighting and bombing are far from over. They are not going anywhere.

About 1.5 million Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, making up about a quarter of the population, according to officials and relief groups, and there is a widely held belief in Lebanon that refugees are a burden on the country’s economy and social structure.

Nearly six years into a war that began with a security crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad, countries once eager to see him ousted are now more focused on containing the migrant crisis and defeating the Islamic State, and are willing to consider a settlement that allows Mr. Assad to remain in power.

That leaves many governments invested in vague hopes that such a settlement, however rickety or superficial, will somehow stop the metastasis of the Syrian crisis and ease fears of Islamic State terrorism — often conflated with concerns about ordinary Syrian refugees — that have fueled the rise of right-wing politicians.

And it gives many countries a strong stake in declaring Syria safe for return, even without resolving the political issues that started the conflict, including human rights abuses by the Syrian government.

Mr. Assad, Syrian officials and their allies in Lebanon are reading that mood. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has called for the return of migrants, and Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, has called on global powers to facilitate it.

But in a tent settlement in the village of Souairi, Syrians made clear that neither a fig-leaf deal nor an outright government victory would send many of them home.

Every family interviewed had at least one member who had disappeared after being arrested or forcibly drafted by the government. The refugees said they cared less about whether Mr. Assad stayed or went than about reforms of the security system. Without an end to torture, disappearances and arbitrary arrests, they said, they would remain wary of going back.

Virtually all said that they dreamed of going back, but that it was increasingly a dream for the next generation. [Continue reading…]

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When does contact between the FBI and the White House cross the line?

Adam Serwer writes: The White House’s admission that it asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to publicly dispute stories in the New York Times describing contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials raises serious ethical questions, according to former Justice Department officials.

“It’s quite inappropriate for anyone from the White House to have a contact with the FBI about a pending criminal investigation, that has been an established rule of the road, probably since Watergate,” said Michael Bromwich, a former Department of Justice inspector general and director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management under Obama. “When I was in the Department in the ‘90s, that was well understood to be an inviolable rule.”

CNN reported on Thursday that the FBI had rejected a request from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to “publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign.” That communication would appear to violate ethical guidelines in place in one form or another since the Watergate Scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon over his role in the coverup of the burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters by Nixon operatives. Nixon had sought to block the FBI’s investigation into the break-in. [Continue reading…]

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Trump thinks he is the government

Fred Kaplan writes: Each day brings more signs that President Trump has no regard for democratic norms, no understanding of how government works, and no interest in repairing these deficiencies.

The latest signs flashed Thursday night, when CNN reported two acts of stunning malfeasance. In the first, a senior White House official — later identified as chief of staff Reince Priebus — asked the deputy director of the FBI to tell reporters that news stories about connections between Trump and Russia were overblown. (The FBI official, who is in the middle of investigating these connections, declined.)

In the second, Trump ordered the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to help make a case for his travel ban on people from seven countries, specifically by providing evidence that once they cross our borders these people commit crimes and engage in terrorism. Officials in those departments, who haven’t found such evidence, viewed the order as an attempt to distort or falsify intelligence for political purposes.

Priebus’ chat with the FBI violates long-established rules barring political officials from contacting the bureau in any way about ongoing investigations. Trump’s prodding of the Justice and Homeland Security departments is reminiscent of the early Bush years, when Vice President Dick Cheney pressured the CIA to find evidence of a link between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, in order to justify the impending invasion of Iraq. No link was found; the invasion plowed forth anyway.

What these incidents have in common with many others in the five weeks since Trump took office is not just an impulse to spin reality so it suits his interests and desires (many presidents have been guilty of that, to some degree) but, more, a compulsion to blot out all interests and desires that are not his own. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Trump proclaimed, “I am your voice.” Having won the election, a fact that he touts in every public setting as if it legitimizes all of his actions, he now seems to be declaring, “I am the state.” [Continue reading…]

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How to know when a Trump story becomes a scandal

Jack Shafer writes: What are the chances the larva of the Russia scandal now growing on the Trump presidency will mature into pupa form and ultimately emerge, wings flapping, as a spitting, snarling adult scandal?

The elements of a rip-roaring scandal already exist. The president has cultivated — there is no other word for it — a screwy relationship with Russia’s maximum leader, Vladimir Putin. His former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, exposed the administration to scrutiny in a phone discussion with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration and, according to news reports, talked about the sanctions President Obama had leveled on Russia in retaliation for its political hacking. Then Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence — why would he do that? And why did Trump, who knew about the call, leave Pence out of the loop, and let him go on TV without the facts?

Then there’s the sensational Steele dossier that portrayed Trump as sordidly compromised by the Russians, parts of which have been corroborated by U.S. officials. Want more? Paul Manafort, former Trump’s campaign chairman, and other members of his team reportedly had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials at the same time Russians were engaged in the now infamous political hacking. Did Team Trump collude with the Russian meddlers? Then there’s the suspicious sale of Russian oil giant Rosneft, which some have reported benefited individuals in the Trump circle. This week, Politico reported that Manafort might have been blackmailed by Russia-friendly forces, further entangling Trump.

Swirling like a murmuration of starlings, the Russia-Trump stories have captured the attention of journalists, politicians, FBI investigators and members of the public. To reach true scandal status, however, it must do more than excite the few. As it turns out, the press isn’t the most important moving part in making a scandal grow. In his 2009 paper, “A Generalized Stage Model of International Political Scandals,” sociologist Stan C. Weeber plots the steps a story must complete before rising to full-on scandal status. [Continue reading…]

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UK byelection results amplify doubts about Corbyn’s capacity to lead Labour party

Rafael Behr writes: Jeremy Corbyn is running out of excuses. Losing a seat that has been held by Labour in every election since 1935 certainly signifies a break from the old politics, but not the one that was advertised to Labour members.

The explicit promise of Corbyn’s leadership campaigns was reconnection with the party’s founding spirit and values, leading to a recovery of votes in places that had drifted away from Labour under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband. But Miliband’s Labour party held Copeland.

Byelections are unreliable guides to future general election outcomes but effective for capturing moments of electoral volatility. Traditionally they give voters an opportunity to lash out at an incumbent government to the benefit of the opposition. It is rare for that dynamic to be reversed. Under the conventional rules of politics, Labour would be shovelling votes on to an increased majority in a seat like Copeland.

The threat of closure hanging over a local hospital maternity unit furnished just the kind of local issue to propel a lively mid-term swing against a government. When Labour can’t even mobilise its core supporters – or rather, those voters who once constituted its core – in defence of the NHS (and that was the focus of the party’s campaign on the ground) something has gone very wrong.

Or someone. Campaigners for all parties report that Corbyn’s name was coming up on the doorstep. His well-known aversion to nuclear energy did not go down well in a seat where Sellafield employs 10,000 people. The Tories were not shy of reminding people that the Labour leader was ideologically hostile to the engine of their local economy. But MPs who canvassed the constituency report a deeper frustration with Corbyn – a sense that he simply isn’t up to the job; that he has been miscast in a role to which he isn’t suited; that the party is insulting its longest-serving supporters by telling them that this man should be their prime minister when they can see that he wouldn’t be able to do the job and might not even really want it. [Continue reading…]

Charlie Cooper writes: At the Conservative conference in October last year, a new political order emerged. Theresa May cast herself as the champion of the 52 percent who voted to leave the European Union and — stealing Labour’s clothes — pledged to represent people who felt left behind by globalization and the march of the metropolitan elites.

Set aside for a moment the fact that, behind the rhetoric, her government remains wedded to economic austerity, and that she faces a profoundly difficult EU exit negotiation, victory in Copeland was a resounding vindication of that strategy. On current trends, it’s an approach that looks like it could propel May into a position of dominance not seen in British politics since the heyday of Tony Blair. [Continue reading…]

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Trump is an embarrassment to a majority of Americans

Philip Bump writes: For those interested in seeking adulation and acclaim, it’s easy to see why running for president might hold appeal. For a year, two years, you get to be one of the most-talked about people in the most powerful country in the world; on the off-chance that your bid is successful, you then get to extend that attention streak for four more years. That’s six years, minimum, that the country — if not the world — is holding you at the forefront of its attention and consideration.

But there is a downside: The country may not like what it sees.

Two polls released this week offer that downside to President Trump. New surveys from Quinnipiac University and McClatchy-Marist reveal that Trump — never terribly popular nationally — continues to be seen as dishonest, a poor leader and unstable.

What’s more, the U.S. is embarrassed by him. [Continue reading…]

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The Trump administration’s Islamophobic holy grail

Lawrence Pintak writes: It is the holy grail of the anti-Islam lobby: the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “foreign terrorist organization” (FTO) by the U.S. government.

The move could mean open season on American Muslims, cripple U.S. policy in the Muslim world and have implications for American domestic politics. Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration are currently debating issuing an executive order to implement the designation, while proponents on Capitol Hill are pushing legislation with the same objective.

“It will absolutely fuel the line in the Middle East that we are inherently anti-Muslim,” argues Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador in four Arab countries, as well as Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Because while Trump and his nearest and dearest may not have any clue of how the Brothers are organized and how much autonomy each country’s organization has, this will just send a broad-brush message: All you need to be is Muslim to be blacklisted.”

Domestically, the proposed designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group “is viewed by some as a silver bullet, but actually, it’s more like a cluster bomb that’s going to cause damage everywhere,” says James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute.

The move threatens to introduce an Islamophobic parlor game into American culture, fueling speculation on the degrees of separation between any Muslim and proponents of jihad. That’s because the Muslim Brotherhood is the granddaddy of most Islamist political movements around the world — both peaceful and violent. Many politically active Muslims who emigrated to the United States and helped to found Muslim civic associations here were either members of the Brotherhood, or had friends who were. As with the Kevin Bacon parlor game, look hard enough at almost any Muslim organization in the United States, and you are likely to find some glancing connection to the Brotherhood.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslims in Congress and a candidate for chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), knows about being smeared by association. A network of anti-Muslim websites regularly accuses Ellison, without evidence, of being a Muslim Brotherhood operative, a campaign that took on new vigor when he announced his candidacy to chair the DNC, including accusations he is “a Muslim Brotherhood shill.”

“You sound paranoid when you say there is a well-financed, organized movement to promote anti-Muslim hate,” Ellison told me in an interview last year. “But the fact is, it’s true and well documented.” [Continue reading…]

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