The genesis of a new Iranian nationalism

Narges Bajoghli writes: It was a cold winter day in February 2011. Nineteen months had passed since the emergence of the Green Movement amid the disputed 2009 presidential election, and the leaders of the Islamic Republic’s media centers had gathered for a meeting. One prominent producer in the room, a captain in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), bluntly said to his colleagues, “The youngest generation in our country doesn’t understand our religious language anymore. We’re wasting our time with the things we make. They don’t care about it. That’s why so many of them were in the streets protesting against our system.”

The Green Movement, the largest mass demonstrations in Iran since the 1979 Revolution, shook the political and military elite in the Islamic Republic to its core. Over my decade of fieldwork in Iran with the regime’s cultural producers (2005-2015), commanders in the IRGC continuously debated how they would close the fissures the Green Movement exposed among Iranians — and between the state and society. Gradually, they chose nationalism as a unifying force to define the Islamic Republic and to rebrand the Guards following their suppression of the Green Movement.

In that meeting, the IRGC’s media producers began to discuss how they had been observing an increasing trend in displays of nationalism in the general population. From the apparent spike in pre-Islamic Persian names for babies, to the large flags along highways and bridges that became a mainstay of the 2005-13 presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the ever-present farvahar — a symbol of Zoroastrianism, which predates Islam — the IRGC sensed an opportunity. Although nationalistic sentiments were evident in cultural production in the Islamic Republic in the 1980s and 1990s, what is now evident is an effort in many sectors of the regime to promote “Iranian-ness” above and beyond mere “Islamic-ness.” [Continue reading…]

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Karl Polanyi’s analysis of the destructive influence of organized capital

Robert Kuttner writes: What a splendid era this was going to be, with one remaining superpower spreading capitalism and liberal democracy around the world. Instead, democracy and capitalism seem increasingly incompatible. Global capitalism has escaped the bounds of the postwar mixed economy that had reconciled dynamism with security through the regulation of finance, the empowerment of labor, a welfare state, and elements of public ownership. Wealth has crowded out citizenship, producing greater concentration of both income and influence, as well as loss of faith in democracy. The result is an economy of extreme inequality and instability, organized less for the many than for the few.

Not surprisingly, the many have reacted. To the chagrin of those who look to the democratic left to restrain markets, the reaction is mostly right-wing populist. And “populist” understates the nature of this reaction, whose nationalist rhetoric, principles, and practices border on neofascism. An increased flow of migrants, another feature of globalism, has compounded the anger of economically stressed locals who want to Make America (France, Norway, Hungary, Finland…) Great Again. This is occurring not just in weakly democratic nations such as Poland and Turkey, but in the established democracies—Britain, America, France, even social-democratic Scandinavia.

We have been here before. During the period between the two world wars, free-market liberals governing Britain, France, and the US tried to restore the pre–World War I laissez-faire system. They resurrected the gold standard and put war debts and reparations ahead of economic recovery. It was an era of free trade and rampant speculation, with no controls on private capital. The result was a decade of economic insecurity ending in depression, a weakening of parliamentary democracy, and fascist backlash. Right up until the German election of July 1932, when the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag, the pre-Hitler governing coalition was practicing the economic austerity commended by Germany’s creditors.

The great prophet of how market forces taken to an extreme destroy both democracy and a functioning economy was not Karl Marx but Karl Polanyi. Marx expected the crisis of capitalism to end in universal worker revolt and communism. Polanyi, with nearly a century more history to draw on, appreciated that the greater likelihood was fascism. [Continue reading…]

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The Pentagon’s secret search for UFOs

Politico reports: The Pentagon, at the direction of Congress, a decade ago quietly set up a multi-million dollar program to investigate what are popularly known as unidentified flying objects—UFOs.

The “unidentified aerial phenomena” claimed to have been seen by pilots and other military personnel appeared vastly more advanced than those in American or foreign arsenals. In some cases they maneuvered so unusually and so fast that they seemed to defy the laws of physics, according to multiple sources directly involved in or briefed on the effort and a review of unclassified Defense Department and congressional documents.

The Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program, whose existence was not classified but operated with the knowledge of an extremely limited number of officials, was the brainchild of then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), who first secured the appropriation to begin the program in 2009 with the support of the late Senators Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Republican Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), two World War II veterans who were similarly concerned about the potential national security implications, the sources involved in the effort said. The origins of the program, the existence of which the Pentagon confirmed on Friday, are being revealed publicly for the first time by POLITICO and the New York Times in nearly simultaneous reports on Saturday.

One possible theory behind the unexplained incidents, according to a former congressional staffer who described the motivations behind the program, was that a foreign power—perhaps the Chinese or the Russians—had developed next-generation technologies that could threaten the United States.

“Was this China or Russia trying to do something or has some propulsion system we are not familiar with?” said a former staffer who spoke with POLITICO on condition of anonymity.

The revelation of the program could give a credibility boost to UFO theorists, who have long pointed to public accounts by military pilots and others describing phenomena that defy obvious explanation, and could fuel demands for increased transparency about the scope and findings of the Pentagon effort, which focused some of its inquiries into sci-fi sounding concepts like “wormholes” and “warp drives.” The program also drafted a series of what the office referred to as “queried unverified event under evaluation,” QUEU reports, in which pilots and other personnel who had reported encounters were interviewed about their experiences. [Continue reading…]

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A journey through a land of extreme poverty: Welcome to America

Ed Pilkington reports: We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.

The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.

Heaven.

Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.

Alston turns right.

So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington.

His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.

Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s nominee for U.S. District Court Judge can’t answer basic questions of law

CNN reports: A Trump judicial nominee struggled to answer basic legal questions posed to him by a Republican senator on Wednesday, including his lack of experience on trial work, the amount of depositions he’d worked on and more.

During his testimony, Matthew Spencer Petersen, who currently serves as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, was asked a string of questions by GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana about his experience on trials, including how many depositions Petersen had worked on–the answer was less than five — and the last time he had read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure — he said he couldn’t remember.

Petersen is up for a seat on the US District Court for the District of Columbia. [Continue reading…]

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Why 41 percent of white millennials voted for Trump

Matthew Fowler, Vladimir E. Medenica and Cathy J. Cohen write: In the year since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, many have continued to debate what motivated those who voted for him. We wanted to understand Trump voters among millennials, the generation that will make up the largest share of the voting-eligible population in the upcoming 2018 midterms. Most millennials voted for Clinton, as predicted.

But when we disaggregate the millennial vote by race and ethnicity we find some interesting things — including, notably, that 41 percent of white millennials voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

Why?

Two popular explanations have emerged post-election: 1) economic anxiety, and 2) racial resentment. Many commentators have argued that a sense of economic loss drove many white working-class voters toward Trump. Meanwhile, here at the Monkey Cage, Michael Tesler has explained that support for Trump was especially linked to racial resentment.

Examining our data from the GenForward Survey, we find a hybrid explanation. First, white millennial Trump voters were likely to believe in something we call “white vulnerability” — the perception that whites, through no fault of their own, are losing ground to other groups. Second, racial resentment was the primary driver of white vulnerability — even when accounting for income, education level or employment. [Continue reading…]

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The Russia facts are hiding in plain sight

David Ignatius writes: President Trump’s recent denunciations of the Russia investigation recall the famous legal advice: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

Trump shouted out his defense earlier this month: “What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion!” he told reporters over the whir of his helicopter on the White House lawn. Since then, Trump’s supporters have been waging a bitter counterattack against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, alleging bias and demanding: “Investigate the investigators.”

But what do the facts show? There is a growing, mostly undisputed body of evidence describing contacts between Trump associates and Russia-linked operatives. Trump partisans have claimed that Mueller’s investigation is biased because some members of his staff supported Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton. But Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein disagreed Wednesday, arguing that Mueller “is running his office appropriately.”

As Republicans seek to discredit the investigation, it’s useful to remember just what we’ve learned so far about how the Trump campaign sought harmful information about Clinton from sources that, according to U.S. intelligence, were linked to Moscow. This isn’t a fuzzy narrative where the truth is obscured; in the Trump team’s obsessive pursuit of damaging Clinton emails and other negative information, the facts are hiding in plain sight. [Continue reading…]

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Sheriffs-gone-wild in Trump’s America

The New York Times reports from Decatur, Alabama: One evening last fall, an informant for the Morgan County sheriff entered the office of a small construction business near this old river town and, he said, secretly installed spyware on a company computer. He had no warrant.

The sheriff, Ana Franklin, wanted to know who was leaking information about her to a blogger known as the Morgan County Whistleblower.

The blogger had been zeroing in on the sheriff’s finances, specifically $150,000 that by law should have gone toward feeding inmates in the county jail. Instead it had been invested in a now-bankrupt used-car dealership run by a convicted bank swindler.

Now the sheriff has become ensnared, along with others, in a wide-ranging government investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking at her stewardship of taxpayer money, as well as the dealership and its financial links to prominent people in town, including several state law enforcement agents, according to more than a half-dozen people who say they have spoken to the F.B.I. Government divers recently searched the bottom of a creek for evidence.

What, if anything, investigators have uncovered is not known. But The New York Times found that since taking office in 2011, Sheriff Franklin has failed to comply with court orders, has threatened critics with legal action and has not publicly accounted for tens of thousands of dollars raised through charity events.

Her activities point to questions about the broad powers afforded America’s county sheriffs, newly emboldened in the era of President Trump. Unlike appointed municipal police chiefs, sheriffs answer only to voters, giving them often-unfettered dominion not just over county law enforcement but over the jail and the lucrative service contracts that go with it. [Continue reading…]

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Britain grows increasingly hostile to EU citizens

Der Spiegel reports: Whenever Agnieszka Pasieczna opens the curtains of her children’s bedroom, she finds herself facing four electronic eyes staring at her. The cameras, each around the size of a fist, are mounted on a gray wall around eight meters away, like silent witnesses for the prosecution. “I see you, I see everything,” her English neighbor once shouted over at her. Since then Agnieszka has kept her curtains closed even during the day.

The 39-year-old Polish woman lives with her husband and five children in Great Yarmouth, a town on England’s eastern periphery. It has 40,000 residents and a gaudy strip of amusement park rides along the beach front, referred to with no small degree of hyperbole as “The Golden Mile.” A character in the Charles Dickens classic “David Copperfield” once described the town as “the finest place in the universe.” But that was over 150 years ago.

The Pasieczna family moved to Great Yarmouth 12 years ago from their hometown of Wroclaw. There were jobs here, with the rural hinterlands dotted with farms, feed lots and meat processing plants. The Polish newcomers felt welcome and settled in quickly. They painted their living room mint green, hung deer antlers on the wall and bought two Yorkshire terriers. When Agnieszka gave birth to a daughter, she named her Diana, “like the princess.” Life was good – until the summer of 2016.

It started with little things. “This is England, speak English,” said one woman to Agnieszka as she was speaking Polish with her children. “Go back to your own country,” Diana was told in school. Then, this spring, her neighbor mounted the first of the cameras on the wall and said: “I’m going to take care of this damn Polish problem!” After several instances of intimidation, Agnzieszka called the police. She was told: “If you don’t like the cameras, maybe you should move away.”

It’s been like this for the past 18 months – and not just for the Pasiecznas, and not just in Great Yarmouth, where almost three out of four voters backed Brexit in June 2016, almost the highest result in the country. Since the Brexit referendum, there has been a significant rise in reports of abuse, threats and harassment against EU citizens. Some of them have been bizarre, some shocking. And others simply ridiculous. [Continue reading…]

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In ten months, Trump has lied six times as often as his predecessor lied in eight years

The New York Times reports: After we published a list of President Trump’s lies this summer, we heard a common response from his supporters. They said, in effect: Yes, but if you made a similar list for previous presidents, it would be just as bad.

We’ve set out to make that list. Here, you will find our attempt at a comprehensive catalog of the falsehoods that Barack Obama told while he was president. (We also discuss George W. Bush below, although the lack of real-time fact-checking during his presidency made a comprehensive list impossible.)

We applied the same conservative standard to Obama and Trump, counting only demonstrably and substantially false statements. The result: Trump is unlike any other modern president. He seems virtually indifferent to reality, often saying whatever helps him make the case he’s trying to make.

In his first 10 months in office, he has told 103 separate untruths, many of them repeatedly. Obama told 18 over his entire eight-year tenure. That’s an average of about two a year for Obama and about 124 a year for Trump. [Continue reading…]

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Record number of journalists jailed as Turkey, China, Egypt pay scant price for repression

Elana Beiser reports: The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide hit another new record in 2017, and for the second consecutive year more than half of those jailed for their work are behind bars in Turkey, China, and Egypt. The pattern reflects a dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press.

Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric, fixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, rose to a record 21.

In its annual prison census, CPJ found 262 journalists behind bars around the world in relation to their work, a new record after a historical high of 259 last year. The worst three jailers are responsible for jailing 134–or 51 percent–of the total. CPJ has been conducting an annual survey of journalists in jail since the early 1990s. [Continue reading…]

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Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked

The Washington Post reports: In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, “So what?” Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said, adding that “we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

As hedged as those words were, Trump regretted them almost immediately. “It’s not me,” he said to aides afterward. “It wasn’t right.”

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government. [Continue reading…]

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Autocrats and dictators follow Trump’s lead by attacking ‘fake news’

The New York Times reports: President Trump routinely invokes the phrase “fake news” as a rhetorical tool to undermine opponents, rally his political base and try to discredit a mainstream American media that is aggressively investigating his presidency.

But he isn’t the only leader enamored with the phrase. Following Mr. Trump’s example, many of the world’s autocrats and dictators are taking a shine to it, too.

When Amnesty International released a report about prison deaths in Syria, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, retorted that “we are living in a fake-news era.” President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who is steadily rolling back democracy in his country, blamed the global media for “lots of false versions, lots of lies,” saying “this is what we call ‘fake news’ today.”

In Myanmar, where international observers accuse the military of conducting a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslims, a security official told The New York Times that “there is no such thing as Rohingya,” adding: “It is fake news.” In Russia, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told a CNN reporter to “stop spreading lies and fake news.” Her ministry now uses a big red stamp, “FAKE,” on its website to label news stories it dislikes.

Around the world, authoritarians, populists and other political leaders have seized on the phrase “fake news” — and the legitimacy conferred upon it by an American president — as a tool for attacking their critics and, in some cases, deliberately undermining the institutions of democracy. In countries where press freedom is restricted or under considerable threat — including Russia, China, Turkey, Libya, Poland, Hungary, Thailand, Somalia and others — political leaders have invoked “fake news” as justification for beating back media scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

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Harvey Weinstein is my monster too

Salma Hayek writes: In the 14 years that I stumbled from schoolgirl to Mexican soap star to an extra in a few American films to catching a couple of lucky breaks in “Desperado” and “Fools Rush In,” Harvey Weinstein had become the wizard of a new wave of cinema that took original content into the mainstream. At the same time, it was unimaginable for a Mexican actress to aspire to a place in Hollywood. And even though I had proven them wrong, I was still a nobody.

One of the forces that gave me the determination to pursue my career was the story of Frida Kahlo, who in the golden age of the Mexican muralists would do small intimate paintings that everybody looked down on. She had the courage to express herself while disregarding skepticism. My greatest ambition was to tell her story. It became my mission to portray the life of this extraordinary artist and to show my native Mexico in a way that combated stereotypes.

The Weinstein empire, which was then Miramax, had become synonymous with quality, sophistication and risk taking — a haven for artists who were complex and defiant. It was everything that Frida was to me and everything I aspired to be.

I had started a journey to produce the film with a different company, but I fought to get it back to take it to Harvey.

I knew him a little bit through my relationship with the director Robert Rodriguez and the producer Elizabeth Avellan, who was then his wife, with whom I had done several films and who had taken me under their wing. All I knew of Harvey at the time was that he had a remarkable intellect, he was a loyal friend and a family man.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it wasn’t my friendship with them — and Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney — that saved me from being raped. [Continue reading…]

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Following the developing Iranian cyberthreat

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The Iranian Cyber Army has taken over many websites.
Zone-H, CC BY-NC-ND

By Dorothy Denning, Naval Postgraduate School

Iran is one of the leading cyberspace adversaries of the United States. It emerged as a cyberthreat a few years later than Russia and China and has so far demonstrated less skill. Nevertheless, it has conducted several highly damaging cyberattacks and become a major threat that will only get worse.

Like Russia and China, the history of Iran’s cyberspace operations begins with its hackers. But unlike these other countries, Iran openly encourages its hackers to launch cyberattacks against its enemies. The government not only recruits hackers into its cyberforces but supports their independent operations.

[Read more…]

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Think our governments can no longer control capitalism? You’ve been duped

Larry Elliott writes: Blue Planet 2 demonstrated the terrifyingly fragile state of nature’s ecosystem. One of the key messages from the BBC series was that a delicate balance exists in the oceans between predators and prey. If there are too many predators, the stocks of prey fall. The predators go hungry and their numbers dwindle, allowing the prey to recover. Balance is restored.

Humans have their equivalent of this predator-prey model. It is best demonstrated by the workings of the labour market, where there is a constant struggle between employers and employees over the proceeds of growth. Unlike the world of nature, though, there is no self-righting mechanism. One side can carry on devouring its prey until the system breaks down. Over the past 40 years, employers have been the predators, workers the prey.

Consider the facts. By almost any measure, the past decade has been a disaster for living standards. Unemployment has fallen from its post financial-crisis peaks across the developed world but workers have found it hard to make ends meet. Earnings growth has halved in the UK even though the latest set of unemployment figures show that the jobless rate is the lowest since 1975.

The reason is not hard to find. Unions are far less powerful; collective bargaining in most of the private sector is a thing of the past; part-time working has boomed; and people who were once employed by a company are now part of the gig economy. [Continue reading…]

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Trump suffers ‘big black eye’ in Alabama

Politico reports: Doug Jones didn’t just defeat Roy Moore in Alabama’s Senate race on Tuesday night — he administered the most crushing and embarrassing political blow of President Donald Trump’s young presidency.

Jones’ win meant that Trump, who had endorsed Luther Strange in the Republican primary before backing Moore in the general election, threw his weight behind the losing candidate not once, but twice, in the Alabama race.

It was an extraordinary outcome in a state that Trump carried by 28 points in last year’s presidential election. Jones’ victory, the first by a Democrat in Alabama in 25 years, exposed the limits of the president’s power in a party that is now frequently referred to as “the party of Trump.” Indeed, though rank-and-file Republicans have resisted, fought, and feared Trump’s influence over GOP voters, Tuesday’s election results suggested that, whatever the president’s power, he is incapable of boosting other anti-establishment candidates to office.

In addition to supporting both losing candidates in the Alabama race, Trump also endorsed Ed Gillespie, who lost the Virginia governor’s race last month. [Continue reading…]

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Alabama election result seen as ‘miracle’ in a Europe horrified by Trump

The Washington Post reports: Roy Moore’s defeat on Tuesday evening may have come as a relief to liberal Americans, but in Europe it was taken as a sign that the United States has not totally lost its moral compass.

Last year’s election victory of President Trump, who is deeply unpopular across Western Europe, appears to have severely damaged the United States’ status as a role model in Europe. The defeat of Moore was interpreted by many as a reversal for Trump and a sign that all is not lost across the Atlantic.

Relief over the Alabama election result in Europe was far from being limited to liberal media outlets, and was widely seen as a “notable setback for President Donald Trump,” as France’s liberal Liberation newspaper wrote. Its center-left competitor Le Monde declared the Tuesday result a “referendum about Trump’s political agenda” and Britain’s Financial Times agreed that that it was “a big blow for Mr Trump.

That sentiment was perhaps most pronounced in Germany, where confidence in Trump has been even lower than in neighboring France and Britain. Center-left German weekly Die Zeit framed the defeat as “the miracle of Alabama.” [Continue reading…]

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