Trump, Russia, and the news story that wasn’t

Liz Spayd, Public Editor for the New York Times, writes: Late fall was a frantic period for New York Times reporters covering the country’s secretive national security apparatus. Working sources at the F.B.I., the C.I.A., Capitol Hill and various intelligence agencies, the team chased several bizarre but provocative leads that, if true, could upend the presidential race. The most serious question raised by the material was this: Did a covert connection exist between Donald Trump and Russian officials trying to influence an American election?

One vein of reporting centered on a possible channel of communication between a Trump organization computer server and a Russian bank with ties to Vladimir Putin. Another source was offering The Times salacious material describing an odd cross-continental dance between Trump and Moscow. The most damning claim was that Trump was aware of Russia’s efforts to hack Democratic computers, an allegation with implications of treason. Reporters Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers led the effort, aided by others.

Conversations over what to publish were prolonged and lively, involving Washington and New York, and often including the executive editor, Dean Baquet. If the allegations were true, it was a huge story. If false, they could damage The Times’s reputation. With doubts about the material and with the F.B.I. discouraging publication, editors decided to hold their fire.

But was that the right decision? Was there a way to write about some of these allegations using sound journalistic principles but still surfacing the investigation and important leads? Eventually, The Times did just that, but only after other news outlets had gone first.

I have spoken privately with several journalists involved in the reporting last fall, and I believe a strong case can be made that The Times was too timid in its decisions not to publish the material it had. [Continue reading…]

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China’s winding down coal use continues — the country just canceled 104 new coal plants

Vox reports: Because China is such a behemoth, its energy decisions absolutely dwarf anything any other country is doing right now. Case in point: Over the weekend, the Chinese government ordered 13 provinces to cancel 104 coal-fired projects in development, amounting to a whopping 120 gigawatts of capacity in all.

To put that in perspective, the United States has about 305 gigawatts of coal capacity total. The projects that China just ordered halted are equal in size to one-third of the US coal fleet. If the provinces follow through, it’s a very, very big deal for efforts to fight climate change.

This move also shouldn’t come as a big surprise. In recent years, China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has been making major efforts to restrain its coal use and shift to cleaner sources of energy. When Donald Trump and other conservatives in the United States complain that China isn’t doing anything about climate change, they simply haven’t been paying attention. [Continue reading…]

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Why Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, is unlikely to last

 

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Donald Trump and the New World Order

Der Spiegel reports: A weak, perhaps disintegrating Europe wedged in between the two great powers U.S.A. and Russia, whose presidents get along better than most of their predecessors: For Europe, such a scenario would be the largest foreign and security policy challenge since World War II. For the last 70 years, Europe could depend on having America at its side. Now, this is no longer a certainty.

The power vacuum that America’s withdrawal is creating is particularly welcome to two countries: China and Russia. For the leadership in Beijing, the collapse of the old world order is akin to an act of God: America, China’s last rival on its path to becoming a superpower, is pulling back. Never before have the prospects been as good for the realization of the “Chinese Dream,” which Xi Jinping has made the slogan of his presidency.

Xi spoke of his global vision this week in Davos, at the annual gathering of the world’s economic and financial elite. The rules of international cooperation, he said, must be changed. Beijing isn’t happy with Western dominance of global organizations such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. China, with its population of 1.3 billion and significant economic strength, sees itself as an alternative. Beijing, Xi said, is prepared to take on more responsibility: “History is created by the brave.”

Are we headed for a world in which China — an authoritarian state in which the Communist Party leadership has a firm grip over the economy, controls the media and censors the internet — dominates the new global order? Will the 21st century see the realization of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” or George Orwell’s “1984,” the most dystopian visions of the 20th century?

For the moment, that seems farfetched. But from Moscow’s perspective, new commonalities with the U.S. are emerging. Even before his inauguration, Donald Trump presented the Russian leadership with a significant gift: He branded NATO obsolete and called into question the alliance’s principle of collective defense. Things could hardly be going better for Moscow. Maintaining control over Russia’s immediate vicinity is one of the country’s core interests while NATO’s eastward expansion is seen as a traumatic infringement of that claim. Putin has finally found an ally, in Washington of all places, in his battle against a world order that he has long attacked as being unipolar and unjust. Like Trump, Putin would like a world free of the West’s constant moralizing, a world in which might makes right. [Continue reading…]

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Soros says markets to slump with Trump, EU faces disintegration

 

Bloomberg reports: It’s tough to be gloomier than billionaire George Soros right now.

America has elected a would-be dictator as president, the European Union is disintegrating, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May won’t last long as her nation prepares to secede from the EU, and China is poised to become an even more repressive society, the investor told Bloomberg Television’s Francine Lacqua from the World Economic Forum in Davos.

“It is unlikely that Prime Minister May is actually going to remain in power,” Soros said. She has a divided cabinet and base and Britons are in denial about the economic impact of Brexit, he said. [Continue reading…]

Watch the complete interview here.

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Trump promised to resign from his companies — but there’s no record he’s done so

By Derek Kravitz and Al Shaw, ProPublica, January 20, 2017

At a news conference last week, now-President Donald Trump said he and his daughter, Ivanka, had signed paperwork relinquishing control of all Trump-branded companies. Next to him were stacks of papers in manila envelopes — documents he said transferred “complete and total control” of his businesses to his two sons and another longtime employee.

Sheri Dillon, the Trump attorney who presented the plan, said that Trump “has relinquished leadership and management of the Trump Organization.” Everything would be placed in a family trust by Jan. 20, she said.

That hasn’t happened.

To transfer ownership of his biggest companies, Trump has to file a long list of documents in Florida, Delaware and New York. We asked officials in each of those states whether they have received the paperwork. As of 3:15 p.m. today, the officials said they have not.

Trump and his associates “are not doing what they said they would do,” said Richard Painter, the chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush. “And even that was completely inadequate.”

ProPublica’s questions to the transition team were referred to an outside public relations firm, Hiltzik Strategies, which declined to comment. The president’s team did not allow reporters to view documents, which they said were legal records separating Trump from his eponymous business empire. Dillon’s law firm, Morgan Lewis, has not released the records and they declined further comment, saying it doesn’t comment on client issues.

ProPublica looked at more than a dozen of Trump’s largest companies, which are registered or incorporated in three states. Officials in New York and Delaware said documents are logged as soon as they are received. In Florida, officials told us there is typically a day or two before documents are logged into the system.

Here is what we found:

  • Business filings for Trump Organization LLC, Trump’s primary holding company, had not been changed, according to New York’s Department of State. Wollman Rink Operations LLC, which runs the Wollman Rink in Central Park through an agreement with New York City, hasn’t been updated either. Trump is listed as the sole authorized representative of the company. 

  • Ivanka Trump is still listed as the authorized officer on records for two entities related to the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., which the Trump family bought and turned into a hotel. No changes have been filed for either of the companies, which are registered in Delaware.

  • Documents on The Donald J. Trump Foundation, which Trump has said he would dissolve, haven’t been updated. The charitable foundation has been in a swirl of controversy over its collection and disbursement of funds and an active investigation by New York’s attorney general. (The foundation cannot legally dissolve until the investigation is complete, but the New York Attorney General’s office told ProPublica that Trump can resign as an officer at any time.)

  • In Delaware, where the majority of Trump’s businesses are registered, state officials told ProPublica that no amendments have been filed for four businesses tied to the Old Post Office and that the most recent filings for two businesses related to the Trump National Golf Club in Washington, D.C., were made more than a year ago.

  • In Florida, no changes have been made for years to three key Trump businesses operating there: the Trump International Golf Club in Palm Beach, the Mar-A-Lago Club, and DJT Holdings, which has controlling interest in most of Trump’s golf courses in the U.S. and abroad, according to the state’s Division of Corporations.

Even if Trump hands over his companies to a new trust, the plan fails to solve many of his bigger business conflicts, experts say. Terms of the trust that would insulate the president from the Trump Organization haven’t been made public. Trump’s decision not to divest his assets has also been heavily criticized by several former White House attorneys and ethics chiefs.

“What are the terms of the trust? Who is going to be the ethics monitor and what standards will he or she abide by?” said Norman Eisen, who served as the White House chief ethics lawyer under President Obama. “There are 1,000 unanswered questions.”

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An inaugural celebration that rings hollow

David Frum writes: Every presidency is different, but inaugural coverage is always the same. Commentators congratulate Americans on the peaceful transition of power and intone solemn sentences about democratic renewal.

There is something unnerving about these reassurances, something overstated, even hysterical. When a British prime minister loses the confidence of the House of Commons and must suddenly trundle out of 10 Downing Street (as some six dozen of them have done since the job was invented in the 1740s; a few more than once), nobody marvels on television how wonderful it is that he or she doesn’t try to retain power by force of arms. Nobody in Denmark thinks it extraordinary when one party relinquishes power to another. Ditto New Zealand or Switzerland—all of them treat peaceful transfers of power as the developed world norm, like reliable electricity or potable water.

Americans so insistently celebrate the peaceful transfer of power precisely because they nervously recognize the susceptibility of their polity to violence. The presidential election of 1860 triggered one of the bloodiest civil wars in human history. The presidential election of 1876 very nearly reignited that war. Since 1900, two presidents have been murdered; six more — Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan — were either wounded by a would-be assassin or else escaped by inches. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s dark promise to return to a mythical past

Anne Applebaum writes: A green lawn, a white picket fence, a shining sun. Small children walk home from school; their mother, clad in an apron, waves to greet them. Father comes home in the evening from his well-paid job, the same one he has had all of his life. He greets the neighbors cheerfully — they are all men and women who look and talk like he does — and sits down to watch the 6 o’clock news while his wife makes dinner. The sun sets. Everyone sleeps well, knowing that the next day will bring no surprises.

In the back of their minds, all Americans know this picture. We’ve seen this halcyon vision in movies, we’ve heard it evoked in speeches and songs. We also know, at some level, what it conceals. There are no black people in the picture — they didn’t live in those kinds of neighborhoods in the 1940s or 1950s — and the Mexican migrants who picked the tomatoes for the family dinner are invisible, too. We don’t see the wife popping Valium in the powder room. We don’t see the post-war devastation in Europe and Asia that made U.S. industry so dominant, and U.S. power so central. We don’t see that half the world is dominated by totalitarian regimes. We don’t see the technological changes that are about to arrive and transform the picture.

We also know, at some level, that this vision of a simpler America — before civil rights, feminism, the rise of other nations, the Internet, globalization, free trade — can never be recovered, not least because it never really existed. But even if we know this, that doesn’t mean that the vision has no power. [Continue reading…]

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A Trump attack on the arts would be more than just symbolic

Philip Kennicott writes: For months now, the debate in the arts world has been: Will he really do it? Will Donald Trump be the president who finally gives the right wing what it has so vehemently craved for decades, the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts? A report in The Hill suggests that pessimists, who assumed the worst once it became clear that Trump’s election would likely empower organizations like the conservative Heritage Foundation, were right. He may indeed try to kill it.

And the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as cutting the federal appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The animus against these organizations has been so powerful for so long that defending them feels almost pro forma, a reflexive rhetorical blast into the headwinds of an anti-arts bias so deep that there’s little hope of changing anyone’s mind (“The NEA is welfare for cultural elitists,” declares the Heritage Foundation, sententiously).

Never mind the old arguments, still valid and cogent, but somehow threadbare from long use in what many people have long and fatalistically assumed is a losing battle. Despite the culture war clashes about art that some considered obscene more than a generation ago, the NEA has evolved into an organization that operates and has impact in every state, that has served returning veterans, bolstered state arts agencies and worked with all manner of groups and state and federal partners to build stronger and more resilient communities across the country. Never mind the role the NEH has played in the creation of documentaries and the education and enrichment of teachers who might not otherwise have a chance to escape the grinding cycle of teaching to the tests, which never stop coming. Never mind that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting creates the best and most enriching programming for children that is widely available without cost to the poor and the isolated.

No one knows what Trump will do until he actually does it, so perhaps someone will get his ear and deflect support for these cuts–so minimal in real dollar terms, so significant in symbolic impact. But let’s assume they’re coming. What do they tell us? [Continue reading…]

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Russian internet users say Trump gave a wonderful Soviet-era inauguration speech

Moscow Times reports: Donald Trump is now the president of the United States of America. At the time of this writing, Trump hasn’t even tweeted yet from his official “POTUS” account, though he already has millions of subscribers anxiously awaiting his next steps in the campaign to rescue the American hellscape he described in his inauguration speech on Friday.

Trump’s big day was headline news in Russia, of course, where you’ll find one of the few countries on Earth that overwhelmingly supported the Republican’s candidacy even when it was in its infancy.

Russian jokesters on Twitter certainly had their eye on President Trump’s inauguration speech, which more than a few Internet users compared to Communist rhetoric popular during the Soviet era. Trump’s focus on revitalizing American industry — particularly his vision for boosting industry and infrastructure by means of the state — struck many as the fervor of the New Soviet Man, the archetype of an industrious and devoted citizen in the U.S.S.R. [Continue reading…]

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Emoluments: Trump’s coming ethics trouble

Richard W. Painter, Laurence H. Tribe, Norman L. Eisen, and Joshua Matz write: Last week, President-elect Donald Trump’s lawyers issued a brief, largely unnoticed memo defending Trump’s plan to “separate” himself from his businesses. We believe that memo arbitrarily limits itself to a small portion of the conflicts it purports to address, and even there, presents claims that depart from precedent and common sense. Trump can convince a lot of people of a lot of things—but neither he nor his lawyers can explain away the ethics train wreck that will soon crash into the Oval Office.

It’s been widely acknowledged that, when Trump swears the Oath of Office, he will stand in violation of the Constitution’s foreign-emoluments clause. The emoluments clause forbids any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting any “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” (unless Congress explicitly consents).

By “emolument,” this provision means any benefit derived from dealing with a foreign government. It is well-settled that receipt of such emoluments is strictly prohibited for persons holding positions of trust with the U.S. government. A U.S. official need not also have an “office” with a foreign government in order to receive an emolument from it.

The Framers included this provision in the Constitution to guarantee that private entanglements with foreign states would not blur the loyalties of federal officials, above all the president. Yet that lesson seems lost on Trump, whose continued significant ownership stake in the Trump Organization forges an unbreakable bond between Trump and a global empire that will benefit or suffer in innumerable ways from its dealings with foreign governments. Trump’s actions in office will thus be haunted by the specter (and perhaps reality) of divided interests.

As we have argued, the only adequate solution to this and other conflicts of interest, taken by presidents of both parties for the past four decades, is divestiture into a truly blind trust or the equivalent. [Continue reading…]

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Are you not alarmed?

Charles Blow writes: I continue to be astonished that not enough Americans are sufficiently alarmed and abashed by the dangerous idiocies that continue to usher forth from the mouth of the man who will on Friday be inaugurated as president of the United States.

Toss ideology out of the window. This is about democracy and fascism, war and peace, life and death. I wish that I could write those words with the callous commercialism with which some will no doubt read them, as overheated rhetoric simply designed to stir agitation, provoke controversy and garner clicks. But alas, they are not. These words are the sincere dispatches of an observer, writer and citizen who continues to see worrisome signs of a slide toward the exceedingly unimaginable by a man who is utterly unprepared.

In a series of interviews and testimonies Donald Trump and his cronies have granted in the last several days, they have demonstrated repeatedly how destabilizing, unpredictable and indeed unhinged the incoming administration may be. Their comments underscore the degree to which this administration may not simply alter our democracy beyond recognition, but also potentially push us into armed conflict. [Continue reading…]

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