As Republicans consider banning ‘bump stocks’ used in massacre, sales of the devices boom

The New York Times reports: Top congressional Republicans, who have for decades resisted any legislative limits on guns, signaled on Wednesday that they would be open to banning the firearm accessory that the Las Vegas gunman used to transform his rifles to mimic automatic weapon fire.

For a generation, Republicans in Congress — often joined by conservative Democrats — have bottled up gun legislation, even as the carnage of mass shootings grew ever more gruesome and the weaponry ever more deadly. A decade ago, they blocked efforts to limit the size of magazines after the massacre at Virginia Tech. Five years later, Republican leaders thwarted bipartisan legislation to expand background checks of gun purchasers after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Last year, in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre, they blocked legislation to stop gun sales to buyers on terrorism watch lists.

But in this week’s massacre in Las Vegas, lawmakers in both parties may have found the part of the weapons trade that few could countenance: previously obscure gun conversion kits, called “bump stocks,” that turn semiautomatic weapons into weapons capable of firing in long, deadly bursts. [Continue reading…]

The Trace reports: Bump-fire stocks remain legal, but it is getting increasingly harder to find one to buy. Scores of online retailers have sold out of the devices, which enable a semiautomatic weapon to mimic the functionality of a machine gun.

Police found at least a dozen rifles equipped with bump-fire stocks in the hotel room from which a gunman killed 59 people in Las Vegas on Sunday night. In the wake of the shooting, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a bill that would ban the devices.

Bump-fire stocks are typically widely available for purchase on the Internet. WalMart and Cabela’s, two of the nation’s largest gun sellers, appear to have halted online sales of the devices early Wednesday. For retailers that have continued to sell them, business is booming. The webpages of several online retailers state that the devices are sold out.

“Due to extreme high demands, we are currently out of stock. Please check back with us shortly,” reads a notice on the website of Slide Fire Solutions, the manufacturer of a popular bump-fire device. [Continue reading…]

If it doesn’t exist already on the Dark Web, “Buy it before it gets banned,” would be a lucrative business geared towards the large market of buyers in America whose drive to acquire products seems driven by a fear of lost opportunities.

What exactly is running through the mind of the typical bump-stock buyer right now? Securing the opportunity for carrying out mass murder might not be on their agenda, but perhaps it’s a question of “just in case…”

Just in case what?

Since, as far as I’m aware, bump stocks have not been used in any of the recent mass shootings prior to Las Vegas, for Congress to now ban them would certainly be a purely symbolic form of gun control of no more significance than their obligatory rituals of solemn silence that signify nothing.

As much as the following proposition will cut against the American libertarian grain, there is another way of addressing gun violence that would involve banning nothing and yet impose massive and useful regulation.

If the ability to legally drive a car requires that I have a driver licence, insurance, and the car has registration and receives annual inspection, why shouldn’t the same level of regulation apply to gun ownership?

And if that was the case, why couldn’t the accumulation of stockpiles of weaponry and ammunition automatically trigger legal scrutiny?

Cars aren’t designed for killing people but their use poses risks to life and property such that the state recognizes the freedom to drive needs to be constrained by enforced forms of personal responsibility.

Guns are designed for killing people and that’s probably why the phrase “well regulated” was included in the Second Amendment.

The fact that a minority of people break the rules by being unlicensed, uninsured, or driving stolen vehicles, doesn’t make the regulatory system collapse. It merely requires that there is also a system of law enforcement.

Overall, yet imperfectly, the system works.

From what is already known about Stephen Paddock, he appears to have been law-abiding — until just recently.

Perhaps his response to being the son of a bank robber was to be better than his father in this respect: that instead of finding a dumb and illegal way to take other people’s money he would refine his skill in legally accumulating money that other people were dumb enough to throw away.

Had Paddock not been provided with the means to legally stockpile weapons and ammunition, there’s no reason to assume that he would have sought an illegal pathway to the same end.

He would have remained a miserable gambler who never made news.

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How Trump turned the Las Vegas massacre into an America First moment — updated

Even though Stephen Miller looks like a ventriloquist’s dummy, it’s often clear that it’s Trump who is the dummy whose lips are getting animated by Miller — no more so than when the president robotically read from his script in an unlikely performance yesterday as America’s impromptu prayer leader:

In times such as these, I know we are searching for some kind of meaning in the chaos, some kind of light in the darkness. The answers do not come easy. But we can take solace knowing that even the darkest space can be brightened by a single light, and even the most terrible despair can be illuminated by a single ray of hope.

Melania and I are praying for every American who has been hurt, wounded or lost the ones they love so dearly in this terrible, terrible attack.

We pray for the entire nation to find unity and peace. And we pray for the day when evil is banished, and the innocent are safe from hatred and from fear.

For some cable news anchors this might have sounded “pitch perfect” and yet that perception required overlooking not only the glaringly obvious fact that none of these were Trump’s own words, but most importantly that his speechwriter should choose to single out the American victims of Sunday’s violence.

Even though country music is a quintessentially white American cultural phenomenon, Las Vegas is an international tourist destination and believe it or not there are actually millions of non-American lovers of this musical genre.

It might turn out that every single one among the hundreds of victims and their thousands of relatives and friends are or were indeed all Americans, but that’s actually very unlikely.

So, at a moment that calls out for human sympathy, why declare we are “praying for every American”? The lives of the non-American victims are surely just as precious and just as deserving of prayer.

And yet, at a time when America could engage in some kind of moral reckoning through facing the culpability that extends through gun dealers, gun manufacturers, the NRA, the GOP, Congress, the president, and all those who value the Second Amendment more than the lives of those around them, what better way of ducking the issue than turning this into a nationalistic America First moment.

Update — CBC News reports: Four Canadians are among the 59 dead in Sunday’s mass shooting in Las Vegas.

On Tuesday it was confirmed that Calla Medig and Tara Roe Smith, 34, both from Alberta, died in the attack.

Medig, who was in her 20s, was from Jasper, Alta. Roe, 34, was from Okotoks, just south of Calgary. She had been reported missing since Sunday.

Jordan McIldoon, 23, of Maple Ridge, B.C., and Jessica Klymchuk, 34, of Valleyview, Alta., were also killed when a gunman opened fire on a large crowd near the end of the outdoor festival on the Vegas Strip. Their deaths were confirmed by their families on Monday. [Continue reading…]

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The irredeemable Sean Spicer?

Commenting on Sean Spicer’s cameo appearance at the Emmy’s on Sunday night at Stephen Colbert’s invitation, Brian Stelter writes: Journalists, activists and celebrities said they didn’t think it was funny to treat Spicer’s mendacious behavior like a throwaway laugh line.

The actor Zach Braff tweeted: “I’m not ready to laugh ‘with’ Sean Spicer. I think he is an evil, opportunistic liar that hurt our country.”

The MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell commented that the Emmys “helped Spicer pump up his ‘lecture’ fees, which is all that matters to him now.”

While many of the objections came from liberals, some conservatives also made arguments against the skit.

“I know people who were offered opportunities to lie for Donald Trump and quietly declined. Harvard & The Emmys calling the wrong folks,” former Jeb Bush spokesman Tim Miller tweeted.

Among the counter-arguments: It was just a joke. And besides, wasn’t Spicer actually admitting to his and Trump’s dishonesty through comedy?

Colbert is an outspoken opponent of President Trump, and he doesn’t fret about the perception that he’s “normalizing” Spicer. “Donald Trump normalized Spicer,” a source involved in the production said. [Continue reading…]

Some will argue that anyone who has been a committed and vocal member of Team Trump must first humbly atone for their sins before they can hope for redemption, but frankly it would be hard to believe anyone who claimed they didn’t fully grasp the nature of the enterprise in which they had freely participated.

For that reason, I don’t think there should be any kind of litmus test to determine whether such individuals show signs of a newly awakened conscience. What is more important is that a signal be sent to those who remain in Trump’s grasp that there is the possibility of life after Trump.

The alternative — one that Trump himself would dearly like those around him to believe — is that if/when he goes down, they will all inevitably go down with him.

The message Sean Spicer is sending, either by his intention or that of those who are now “normalizing” him, is that association with Donald Trump does not have to result in eternal damnation.

As for anyone in the mainstream media who wants to get sanctimonious about Spicer cashing in on his White House tenure, let’s not forget that a ratings-driven media loves Trump just as much as it professes to hate him.

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Are conservatives more worried about the streetlights going out in Peoria than the destruction of Los Angeles?

Following the latest threats from Pyongyang, Jeffrey Lewis wrote:

The North Koreans also went out of their way to taunt us about electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects, I suppose because they think we’re worried about them. I think its laughable to imagine that North Korea would waste a nuclear weapon hoping to knock down parts of the power grid. For my part, I would much prefer the North Koreans waste nuclear weapons trying to achieve an uncertain EMP effect than incinerating cities with real people pushing strollers with real babies. KCNA is really stepping up its trolling game.

This trolling game is, however, clearly working: “Millions of American lives could be at stake as North Korea threatens to attack power grid,” warns Fox News.

The Sun reports: “Homeleand security expert Peter Pry has warned Pyongyang could put a nuclear weapon on a satellite that could be detonated on command over the States.”

What’s strange about these warnings about the dangers of an EMP attack is that they are coming just as North Korea has tested a weapon almost ten times as powerful as the atom bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — in other words, a weapon whose devastating effects should hardly be a matter of conjecture.

Frank Gafney may provide the answer as to why the EMP fears are getting amplified to such a degree:

The imperative of protecting the nation’s bulk-power distribution system, better known as “the grid,” must now take precedence over other improvements. The U.S. military has known for decades how to “harden” electrical and electronic gear from EMP. These techniques must now be applied on an emergency basis to ensure that the civilian grid – upon which both our armed forces and our population and economy critically depend – is made as invulnerable as possible to enemy action.

Translation for Trumpsters: Not only do we need a border wall; we now also need a space wall — and thus a massive increase in defense spending.

All warnings about EMP refer back to a 1962 nuclear test that involved a bomb ten times as powerful as the one just tested:

When the U.S. tested a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific in 1962, it resulted in lights burning out in Honolulu, nearly 1,000 miles from the test site. Naturally occurring electromagnetic events on the sun can also disrupt power systems. A 1989 blackout in Quebec came days after powerful explosions on the sun expelled a cloud of charged particles that struck earth’s magnetic field.

Skeptics generally acknowledge that an EMP attack would be possible in theory, but they say the danger is exaggerated because it would be difficult for an enemy such as North Korea to calibrate the attack to deliver maximum damage to the U.S. electrical grid. If a North Korean bomb exploded away from its target location, it might knock out only a few devices or parts of the grid.

The 1962 U.S. nuclear test, which involved a bomb with a force of 1.4 megatons, didn’t disrupt telephone or radio service in Hawaii, although those who stress the threat say today’s electronic devices are much more vulnerable. North Korea said its hydrogen bomb had explosive power of tens of kilotons to hundreds of kilotons.

Others say that even if North Korea had the technical capability to deliver a damaging electromagnetic pulse, it wouldn’t make strategic sense to use it because Pyongyang could wreak more destruction with a traditional nuclear attack directed at a large city.

A rogue state would prefer a “spectacular and direct ground burst in preference to a unreliable and uncertain EMP strike. A weapon of mass destruction is preferable to a weapon of mass disruption,” wrote physicist Yousaf M. Butt in a 2010 analysis.

Just to be clear again: those experts who downplay the EMP threat are in no sense understating the nuclear threat.

“It is beyond me why we think an enemy would waste a perfectly good nuclear weapon to experiment with a hypothetical EMP when they could destroy an actual city,” arms control expert Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, told The National Interest.

“EMP is a loony idea. Once an enemy uses a nuclear weapon—for any reason—it crosses the nuclear threshold and invites a nuclear response. U.S. military commanders would not say ‘Well, it was only an airburst. We should just respond in kind.’ They would answer with an overwhelming, devastating nuclear counter attack. And our nuclear weapons and command and control are designed to operate in a nuclear war environment, not just some puny EMP blast.”

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Donald Trump is a racist — there is no mystery

Yesterday, CNN reported:

A coalition of major civil rights and faith groups on Sunday called on President Donald Trump to “directly disavow the white supremacists” who participated in violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend — a reference to Trump’s remarks condemning the deadly clashes on Saturday.

“It represents a failure of leadership from the nation’s chief executive,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group, said in a statement. “It is long past time for Trump to personally and unequivocally denounce white supremacy, violent extremism, and hate in all its forms.”

The group also called for the ouster of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, who have drawn criticism from civil rights organizations for their associations with the alt-right, a hodgepodge of far-right, white nationalist groups that drafted off the President’s 2016 campaign to rise to national prominence.

For Trump to disavow white supremacists — to claim he has no connection with their current rise even while selecting the likes of Bannon, Gorka, and Stephen Miller as close advisers — would be dishonest. For him to denounce them after having persistently courted their support would be disingenuous.

What civil rights leaders are calling on Trump to do is something he cannot with credibility claim: that he is not a racist.

The unpalatable truth is that when Donald Trump was elected president, he won the support of voters who either welcomed his racism or at the very least were willing to turn a blind eye to it.

Just over a year ago, during the presidential campaign when Donald Trump repeatedly attacked Gonzalo Curiel (the Indiana-born judge presiding over a case against Trump University) who Trump believed couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican ancestry, House Speaker Paul Ryan had no difficulty in describing Trump’s remarks as the “textbook definition” of racism.

Long before then and up to the present day, Trump’s racism has been no harder to detect than the odor of a man with insufferable foul breath.

And yet, in spite of this and in spite of a mountain of evidence that no one can dispute, Trump’s racism is still treated by many politicians, journalists and pundits like one of those ultimately unanswerable questions — like whether a dog has a soul.

This issue is sustained as a question on the basis that we lack enough knowledge about Trump’s interior life, which is to say that in order to know whether he is a racist we would supposedly have to be able to gain insight into what animates his very being. Only God knows whether Trump is a racist, so the implicit argument seems to turn.

This is nonsense.

Why?

To determine whether someone is a racist is a determination, first and foremost, about behavior.

To doubt, for instance, whether the birther campaign that Trump led was anything less in substance, appearance, and intent, than a racist attack on Barack Obama is a form of denialism — a refusal to accept the implications of evidence that very few people ever had any difficulty in interpreting.

Even though racism is defined in terms of beliefs, it is clear that in practice we only attach significance to such beliefs if they result in some kind of tangible expression.

If somewhere there are racists who racism leaves no discernible trace in the world, such a subtle form of racism would hardly be worthy of the name.

Since Trump on countless occasions has acted like a racist, we don’t actually have to know anything about what he thinks in order to say unequivocally that he is indeed a racist.

Under pressure or political guidance, any statements that he might make now to distance himself from the hatred he has with such determination fomented, will be utterly hollow words.

The real question is for the Republican party itself: whether it chooses to remain America’s white party, or whether it’s ready break away from the many currents of bigotry it has harbored for so long.

If it chooses the latter, it’s time for the Republicans to dump Trump.

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Trump thinks Russia’s intelligence capabilities are far superior to those of the U.S.

ThinkProgress reports: Anthony Scaramucci has been on the job for less than 72 hours, and on Sunday he made his first appearance on the news talk shows as White House communications director. It did not go well.

On CNN’s State of the Union, host Jake Tapper pressed Scaramucci about Donald Trump’s continued insistence that the ever-growing Russia scandal was “fake news.” After questioning whether Trump was planning to sign a bipartisan bill imposing fresh sanctions against Russia for meddling in the November presidential election, Scaramucci instead sought to again cast doubt on the legitimacy of the U.S. intelligence community, and initially used an anonymous source to do it.

“There’s a lot of disinformation out there,” said Scaramucci. “Somebody said to me yesterday—I won’t tell you who—that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it, you would have never had any evidence of them.”

An incredulous Tapper cut him off, pointing out that this anonymous source was breaking from every single intelligence agency in asserting that Russia’s involvement was in dispute. That’s all it took for Scaramucci to throw his boss under the bus.

“How ‘bout it was the president, Jake,” said Scaramucci of his anonymous source. “I talked to him yesterday, he called me from Air Force One, and he basically said to me ‘hey you know, maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it.’” [Continue reading…]

So this is Trump’s reasoning:

The Russians have so much mastery in their intelligence operations that if they hacked the U.S. election, they would have done so without leaving a trace of evidence. It follows, therefore, that whatever evidence the U.S. intelligence community claims it has of Russian interference has either been misinterpreted or is false and is purposefully being used to mislead the American public.

Trump (like many Americans, post-Iraq) apparently has little confidence in U.S. surveillance and analytical capabilities. Russia’s intelligence services are, however (Trump apparently believes) of a caliber that surpasses all others.

And yet, rather than own the logical conclusion of what he is saying (that this president doubts the competence and/or integrity of the intelligence services who report to him), he then backtracks and portrays the issue as an unresolved mystery — a mystery whose actual resolution he has never expressed an interest in seeing.

Of course, even the “maybe they did it, maybe they didn’t do it” narrative isn’t one that Trump pushes with any force. This afternoon it was back to his favorite story as the victim of a witch hunt:


Note the phrase: taking hold.

The charade of phenomenal success is falling away as Trump concedes he’s losing ground.

 

As for whether Trump will sign the new Russian sanctions bill, it depends on who you ask.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says: “The original piece of legislation was poorly written, but we were able to work with the House and Senate, and the administration is happy with the ability to do that and make those changes that were necessary, and we support where the legislation is now.”

In his interview on CNN, Scaramucci said of Trump: “He hasn’t made the decision yet to sign that bill one way or the other.”

The only point of consistency here is that now, as always, the White House is struggling to get its message straight.

Garbage in, garbage out.

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Trump in Paris — biggest celebration ever?

1944 liberation from Nazi occupation saw the biggest celebrations in Paris — prior to Donald Trump’s arrival


On MSNBC this morning, the New York Times’ Michael Schmidt described Trump as often being “hard to follow” during their White House interview on Wednesday.

As a reporter, Schmidt might feel obliged to maintain a facade of neutrality — as though he has no opinion about the state of this president’s mental health.

And yet, an insistent unwillingness to make judgments can mask a fear of making meaningful observations. In everyday life, as we read other people — through their words, demeanor, body language, and other indications — we use our powers of discernment to discriminate between delusion and deception.

A journalist doesn’t have to claim the capacity to read Trump’s mind in order to convey his or her sense of whether Trump actually believes the ridiculous things he so often says.

Trump is hard to follow because he’s hard to swallow.

The occasional probing interjection might provide some clarity during his otherwise meandering stream of consciousness. For instance, pointing out that the history of the Eiffel Tower stretches back to the Nineteenth Century would suggest that it had been the location of bigger celebrations than the one Trump claims he recently witnessed — leaving aside the fact that the throngs in question may have simply been the swell of tourists typically found in central Paris on a midsummer evening.

Does Trump generally assume that any crowd in his vicinity is most likely a crowd of admirers?

TRUMP: We had dinner at the Eiffel Tower, and the bottom of the Eiffel Tower looked like they could have never had a bigger celebration ever in the history of the Eiffel Tower. I mean, there were thousands and thousands of people, ’cause they heard we were having dinner.

[crosstalk/garbled]

HABERMAN: You must have been so tired at, by that point.

TRUMP: Yeah. It was beautiful. We toured the museum, we went to Napoleon’s tomb …

[crosstalk]

TRUMP: Well, Napoleon finished a little bit bad. But I asked that. So I asked the president, so what about Napoleon? He said: “No, no, no. What he did was incredible. He designed Paris.” [garbled] The street grid, the way they work, you know, the spokes. He did so many things even beyond. And his one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death. How many times has Russia been saved by the weather? [garbled]

[crosstalk/unintelligible]

TRUMP: Same thing happened to Hitler. Not for that reason, though. Hitler wanted to consolidate. He was all set to walk in. But he wanted to consolidate, and it went and dropped to 35 degrees below zero, and that was the end of that army.

[crosstalk]

But the Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. [crosstalk] It’s pretty amazing.

So, we’re having a good time. The economy is doing great.

And this snippet of Wednesday’s interview leads to another question about Trump’s second conversation with Putin at the G-20 — the one that Trump recounted as having amounted to little more than an exchange of pleasantries.

If the New York Times reporters found Trump hard to follow, how clear was he to the Russian president and his translator?

The fact that Trump initiated the contact — evident in hand gestures and a nod that were videoed — appear to show he knew what he wanted to say. An indication, perhaps, that Trump’s appearance of confusion may have less to do with his garbled thinking than with his desire to sow confusion.

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Assad will ‘pay a heavy price’ if he launches another chemical attack, says White House. More ‘after-dinner entertainment’ for Trump’s guests?

The Washington Post reports: The White House issued an ominous warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday night, pledging that his regime would pay a “heavy price” if it carried out another chemical attack this year.

In a statement, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the United States had detected evidence of preparations for a chemical attack, similar to the preparations that occurred before an attack in April.

“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children,” Spicer said in the statement. “The activities are similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.

“As we have previously stated, the United States is in Syria to eliminate the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” he continued. “If, however, Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons, he and his military will pay a heavy price. [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Several military officials were caught off guard by the statement from President Trump’s press secretary, but it was unclear how closely held the intelligence regarding a potential chemical attack was. [Continue reading…]

The Associated Press reports: Several State Department officials typically involved in coordinating such announcements said they were caught completely off guard by the warning, which didn’t appear to have been discussed in advance with other national security agencies. Typically, the State Department, the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence agencies would all be consulted before the White House issued a declaration sure to ricochet across foreign capitals.

A non-governmental source with close ties to the White House said the administration had received intelligence that the Syrians were mixing precursor chemicals for a possible sarin gas attack in either the east or south of the country, where government troops and allied forces have faced recent setbacks.

The U.S. attack on a Syrian air base came after years of heated debate and deliberation in Washington over intervention in the bloody civil war. Chemical weapons have killed hundreds of people since the start of the conflict.

The U.S. is providing air support and arms to Kurdish-led Syrian forces who are fighting to drive the Islamic State group from Raqqa, the extremists’ self-styled capital.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that Washington would continue to provide weapons after the Raqqa battle is over. His comments were likely to anger Turkey, which views the Kurdish fighters as an extension of the insurgency raging in its southeast.

On Monday, Trump had dinner with Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and other top officials as he hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the White House. [Continue reading…]

The connection could be simply coincidental, but I find it curious that Trump’s first cruise missile strike on Syria and now this latest threat both occurred while he was acting as dinner host to the leaders of the world’s two largest states, China and India.

After the April attack, Variety reported:

Speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference on Monday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recalled the scene at Mar-a-Lago on April 6, when the summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping was interrupted by the strike on Syria.

“Just as dessert was being served, the president explained to Mr. Xi he had something he wanted to tell him, which was the launching of 59 missiles into Syria,” Ross said. “It was in lieu of after-dinner entertainment.”

Whether Trump, yesterday evening, murmured to India’s PM Modi something to the effect that he might soon need to give Assad another lesson on the application of American power, I have no idea.

Even so, when it comes to Assad’s use of chemical weapons, there’s little reason to believe that their impact on innocent children is uppermost among Trump’s concerns.

Back in 2013, Trump insisted that the U.S. had nothing to gain by getting involved in Syria and that Obama shouldn’t launch strikes without Congressional approval. He also tweeted, “I would not go into Syria, but if I did it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools.”

Nowadays it would seem he’s less concerned about maintaining the element of surprise as the White House blurts out its warning.

Given that Trump’s red lines seem to get daubed in such a haphazard way across Syria, his actions are perhaps better interpreted as serving as a form of self-expression and an instrument through which on a world stage, seated along side world leaders, he gets to assert his position as the alpha male.

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Has Stephen Hawking lost his marbles?

“I am convinced that humans need to leave Earth,” says Stephen Hawking.

Perhaps. It depends on who leaves and where they go — or get sent.

Sending a man to Mars might be a good idea — so long as it’s the right man.

BBC News reports: Prof Stephen Hawking has called for leading nations to send astronauts to the Moon by 2020.

They should also aim to build a lunar base in 30 years’ time and send people to Mars by 2025.

Prof Hawking said that the goal would re-ignite the space programme, forge new alliances and give humanity a sense of purpose. [Continue reading…]

One of the unfortunate effects of fame when attached to those individuals deemed to have the Great Minds of their generation is that whatever they say tends to be taken seriously — as though equal weight should be attached to all their opinions and as though each and every one of their ideas must be laden with merit.

Whatever Stephen Hawking believes, who could have the audacity to question such a luminary?

I think the best way of sidestepping this tendency to be timid about questioning the great ideas from the great minds is simply to ignore the person, engage their ideas, and imagine how much attention they would garner if they came from someone of much less renown.

Let’s set aside the question of whether world leaders or the world’s leading scientists should take it upon themselves to give humanity a sense of purpose and let’s just consider the proposition of colonizing Mars.

And let’s assume that the technical obstacles to inhabiting Mars and transporting people there in large numbers could be surmounted in the next few decades, highly implausible as that notion might seem.

Here’s the core flaw in this proposition: if humans figured out how to live on Mars and during this period of preparing for our exodus either continued causing catastrophic damage to Earth’s biosphere, or found ways to mitigate or reverse the harm we’ve already done here, wouldn’t this planet in either scenario still be a better place to live than anywhere else conceivably within reach?

Simply put, isn’t Earth however badly we damage it always going to be much more hospitable than Mars or the Moon?

Given that likelihood, if we talk about colonizing these alternative worlds, aren’t these “colonies” more likely to be prison camps constructed to house that portion of humanity deemed excess to Earth’s carrying capacity?

More realistically, isn’t learning how to make Mars inhabitable most likely to morph into a blueprint for a dystopian future on Earth — one in which a small segment of the population is provided with secure havens that insulate them from the effects of climate change and environmental destruction?

In other words, won’t a mission to inhabit other worlds almost certainly turn out to be a false promise that does less to give humanity a sense of purpose than it does to promote baseless hope followed by rapid despair?

It’s sad, but perhaps not surprising, that a man who has spent most of his life tied to machines, sees no limits to human inventiveness. Hawking doesn’t seem to recognize that the only real hope for humanity has to be grounded in a deep recognition that human life is inseparable from life on Earth.

Our destructive behavior springs in large part from our multifaceted convictions in immortality — the notion that somehow we might survive even as every other creature expires.

Instead of indulging in science fiction fantasies about colonizing other planets, we need to come to grips with the fragility of life and our own inescapable mortality.

If we ruin our future here, we have no business trying to construct a future anywhere else.

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Trump’s interest in disassociating himself from the Russia story

Philip Bump writes: Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) made a comment during the Senate Intelligence Committee’s questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions that has an obvious exception.

“I don’t think there’s any American,” Risch said, “who would disagree with the fact that we need to drill down to this” — that is, Russian meddling in the 2016 election — “know what happened, get it out in front of the American people and do what we can to stop it again.”

There is one American, at least, who seems generally uninterested in that need: Sessions’s boss, President Trump.

In his testimony, Sessions told Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that he “did not recall” any meeting during which Trump expressed concern or curiosity about what Russia had been doing during the 2016 election. Sessions also testified that he himself, as the country’s and Trump’s lead law enforcement official, was never briefed on Russian interference. [Continue reading…]

This has become a common narrative — that Trump and those around him lack interest in getting to the bottom of the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election — but even while superficially there might appear to be a lack of interest, there can’t be any doubt that this is a facade designed to conceal terror.

Trump is terrified that as soon as he acknowledges the reality and scope of the Russian influence campaign, he opens Pandora’s box, leading to the inescapable conclusion that his presidency lacks legitimacy. That conclusion will not necessarily hinge on proof of collusion.

But the question of legitimacy runs even deeper.

Trump’s line of attack against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was to claim that each lacked legitimacy and while this might look like conventional smear tactics in dirty politics, in the case of Trump it seems more indicative of his own insatiable craving to be legitimized.

Legitimacy, and more specifically Trump’s own sense that he lacks this, is his core issue. Trump regards legitimacy as a finite resource that he can only claim if he succeeds in stealing it from others. He believes the only way to rise up is by pushing others down.

Trump’s fear of the Russia story is not necessarily an indication of collusion at risk of being exposed. More likely, it is based on the fear that eventually he will be exposed as a political fraud — incapable as he is of recognizing that in the eyes of most of the world, that is already how he is perceived.

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Whatever we call Trump, he stinks just as bad

Shakespeare, a master of insults who could have prolifically composed tweets and might have described Donald Trump as an “unwash’d maggot-pie,” or a “goatish bat-fowling moldwarp,” an “idol of idiot-worshippers,” whose “name blisters our tongues,” and who is not “clean enough to spit upon,” would have run into trouble if he worked for CNN or the New York Times.

The Times reports that the presenter of CNN’s weekly show “Believer,” Reza Aslan, got fired for writing tweets in which “he described the president as ‘an embarrassment to humankind’ and compared him, using profanity, to a piece of excrement.”

In point of fact, this reporting is inaccurate. Aslan didn’t compare Trump to a piece of shit — he said he is one. Aslan was using a metaphor, not a simile. He wrote:

This piece of shit is not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He’s an embarrassment to humankind

A succinct, objective, fair assessment that in global terms cannot be seen in any sense as controversial — except for this: including the word “shit.”

But in reference to Trump, how on earth can the word “shit” be described as profane? I know he has lots of supporters, but he’s not exactly a figure of reverence. Indeed, many of those supporters regard his crudeness as one of his principle virtues.

Donald Trump is the embodiment and arguably purest distillation of vulgarity and yet the prissy gatekeepers of American mainstream-media civility have a problem when vulgar language is used to describe a vulgar man.

What other kind of language is in any sense appropriate?

Some will argue we shouldn’t stoop to Trump’s level, yet this kind of self-imposed restraint plays straight into the orange man’s little hands.

He shameless exploits the respect offered to his office, while using this as a shield behind which he can constantly lob provocations with relative impunity.

In other words, if people like CNN’s Jeff Zucker get their way, Trump can carry on being a piece of shit while anyone in the media who wants to keep their job must be afraid of calling him the way he calls to be named.

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The Intercept follows White House protocol — no further comment during an ongoing investigation

Following its publication of a top-secret document apparently sent by Reality Leigh Winner who was arrested on Saturday, The Intercept doesn’t want to respond to allegations that its handling of that document led to Winner’s arrest.

The Intercept issued a statement — though apparently doesn’t want to encourage readers of the original report to read that statement since there are no links connecting the two pages.

The Intercept warns that the FBI’s allegations against Winner “contain unproven assertions and speculation designed to serve the government’s agenda and as such warrant skepticism.” Which sounds like Glenn Greenwald whispering, “Deep State, Deep State….”

But the claims that The Intercept mishandled this document aren’t coming from the government — they’re coming from security analysts such as Rob Graham who explains exactly how the document could be traced back to Winner once The Intercept had provided authorities with a copy.

Maybe when The Intercept says, “because of the continued investigation, we will make no further comment on it at this time,” its promised silence will be in Winner’s best legal interests, but they are certainly creating the appearance that their primary interest at this juncture is in ducking for cover.

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How The Intercept inadvertently gave the FBI evidence leading to an NSA-leaker’s swift arrest

A post shared by Reezle Winner (@reezlie) on


It’s unusual for a major intelligence leak to be reported at almost the same time as the leaker gets arrested — but that’s what happened to NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner after she leaked a top-secret document to The Intercept.

Whenever a whistleblower gets arrested, this is bound to have a chilling effect on the prospects for future leaks.

In its handling of this NSA document, reporters for The Intercept might have naively thought they were not putting their source in jeopardy because they didn’t know their source’s identity. What they apparently didn’t realize was that by sharing the document in the form in which they had received it, they were revealing information that helped investigators quickly identify and arrest Winner.

Anyone who decides to leak classified information needs to fully understand the risks they are taking and it is the individual who is ultimately responsible for protecting their own security.

At the same time, journalists who handle leaked information need to have adequate knowledge about data security — knowledge that the staff at The Intercept appear to be lacking.

The Washington Post reports: Winner was arrested Saturday. When FBI agents questioned her at her home, she admitted “removing the classified intelligence reporting from her office space, retaining it, and mailing it from Augusta, Georgia, to the news outlet,” court documents read. She remains in jail pending a detention hearing. Her lawyer declined to comment on the charges.

After the charges were announced Monday, some cybersecurity experts remarked on the apparent ease with which investigators were able to trace the leak back to Winner. Some went so far as to say the Intercept had “outed” her by posting copies of the document online. The Intercept said the materials were submitted anonymously.

According to Rob Graham, who writes for the blog Errata Security, the Intercept’s scanned images of the intelligence report contained tracking dots — small, barely visible yellow dots that show “exactly when and where documents, any document, is printed.” Nearly all modern color printers feature such tracking markers, which are used to identify a printer’s serial number and the date and time a page was printed. [Continue reading…]

So far, The Intercept has not acknowledged its role in Winner’s arrest.

Just to be clear, since Winner was arrested before The Intercept published the document, the lead the FBI used came as a result of the document being shared beforehand. “It started on May 30, when the news outlet showed authorities the printed materials and asked them to comment, according to the affidavit,” the Washington Post reported.

Given Winner’s field of expertise, it’s not surprising she didn’t understand well enough how to cover her tracks.

CNN reports: — Winner was a linguist in the US Air Force in Maryland who speaks Pashto, Farsi and Dari, her mother, Billie Winner said.

— She was raised in Kingsville, Texas, and served in the Air Force in Columbia, Maryland. Her mother confirmed she was a federal contractor in Augusta but did not know the nature of her work, or if she had contracted for the NSA.

— Winner is an athlete who loves animals, her mother said, through tears.

— She also said her daughter wasn’t especially political and hadn’t ever praised past leakers like Edward Snowden to her.

— “She’s never ever given me any kind of indication that she was in favor of that at all,” her mother said. “I don’t know how to explain it.”

— Winner spent six years in the military, said Titus Nichols, her court-appointed attorney. [Continue reading…]

Hopefully a jury will recognize that at this time there are many ways in which Americans believe they are called to serve their country — there seems little doubt that this is exactly what Winner felt she was doing.

The Intercept can’t correct the mistakes they already made, but at the very least I think Pierre Omidyar should establish and generously contribute towards a legal defense fund for Winner.

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World leaders should give Trump the cold shoulder

Bloomberg reports: Prime Minister Theresa May said she thought Donald Trump was “wrong” to attack London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the wake of Saturday’s terror attack in London.

After avoiding several attempts by reporters to get her to condemn the U.S. president for openly criticizing Khan in a series of tweets hours after the attack at London Bridge that killed seven people and left dozens injured, May was asked what it would take for her to criticize Trump. She reiterated her disappointment over his decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, before being eventually forced to defend the capital’s mayor.


“Sadiq Khan is doing a good job,” she told a press conference in central London, when asked if Trump was wrong to attack the mayor’s call for calm in the wake of the attacks. “It’s wrong to say anything else.”


May has been attacked by both the opposition Labour Party and the media for her reluctance to publicly criticize Trump. As well as mocking Khan, Trump sought to turn the London attacks to domestic political advantage by renewing his call to ban travel from some Muslim-majority countries. May’s criticism Monday follows her openly complaining last month about U.S. security agencies leaking details of the Manchester Arena suicide bombing, which British police said hurt their investigation.

While she used her disapproval of Trump pulling out of the Paris accord to illustrate that she was “not afraid to say when President Trump gets things wrong,” her name was notably absent from a joint statement last week by her European counterparts condemning the withdrawal. [Continue reading…]

An editorial in The Guardian says: Unlike other world leaders, Mrs May has made an art of avoiding public confrontation with the US president. But – in the words of her initial response to the London Bridge attack – enough is enough. She should make clear to Mr Trump how offensive and unhelpful his extraordinary intervention was, and rescind the invitation that has been extended to him for a state visit later this year. [Continue reading…]

Political leaders who persist in exercising diplomatic restraint when commenting on Trump’s behavior, are, through their timidity, becoming his enablers, reinforcing his sense that he can get away with anything.

At some point it’s going to take something much stronger than a mild rebuff to demonstrate to Trump that his words have consequences.

So far he has been treated like an obstreperous brat who has to be tolerated out of respect for his office and in spite of his inexcusable behavior.

The treatment Trump deserves, however, is the cold shoulder.

Every head of state who represents a democracy should refuse direct communication with Trump.

During his first months in office, he has amply demonstrated that he has neither the capacity nor the willingness to engage in foreign affairs in a manner that befits his position.

This isn’t just a matter of decorum; it speaks to his basic competence.

Freezing out Trump doesn’t require any form of public diplomacy. It simply means that if or when the White House places a call to a foreign leader, said leader simply declines to make themselves available. “The Prime Minister is out right now. Would President Trump like to leave a message?”

Trump is the one who has chosen a path of isolation. Let him have it.

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Trump uses London attacks to promote his Muslim ban

The Independent reports: Donald Trump has been criticised for tweeting out unconfirmed information about the London Bridge terrorist attack and using the incident to argue in favour of his so-called Muslim travel ban.

The President re-tweeted a headline about the deadly incident at London Bridge and Borough Market from the Drudge Report, a right-wing outlet.

“Fears of new terror attack after van ‘mows down 20 people’ on London Bridge…” the headline read, which he re-tweeted on his personal Twitter account.

NBC responded with its own tweet, warning its audience not to rely on the President’s social media. [Continue reading…]


The morning after the attacks, America’s troll-in-chief is back on twitter:


“Our people” — there’s the dog whistle to Trump’s racist supporters!

And it’s swiftly followed by an attack on London’s Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan:


As a pathological liar, it’s hardly surprising that Trump would twist Khan’s words. What London’s mayor actually said was this:

Londoners will see an increased police presence today and over the course of the next few days. There’s no reason to be alarmed.

Khan made this statement today:


Donald Trump should study Sadiq Khan’s statement carefully — he might learn a thing or two about how political leaders need to respond responsibly to acts of terrorism.

Even so, the notion that Trump has the capacity to learn anything is probably fanciful.

Rather than ask how or if Trump might rise to the occasion in a time of crisis, it’s time for the GOP establishment to face reality.

Come the day that instead of turning to Twitter to find out what Trump thinks, we are instead turning on the TV to watch an unscheduled presidential statement, just imagine what will come after this:

After the horrific attacks we have witnessed, I have directed…

At which point we then get to see exactly how dangerous it was for a man this ill-prepared and uninformed, lacking in sound judgement, discernment, intelligence, and intellect, to assume the responsibilities of commander-in-chief.

How much longer America must suffer Trump’s presence in the White House is impossible to predict, but Britain can at least save itself the indignity of having him ride through London in a golden carriage. Buckingham Palace merely needs to relay the message that the Queen will remain “indisposed” for the foreseeable future.

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Trump believes money comes first — he doesn’t care about climate change

The press is currently engaged in an investigation of kinds about what Donald Trump currently believes about climate change.

Does he, as he has previously claimed, believe it is “a total, and very expensive, hoax!”? Or has he modified his earlier views?

On Friday, White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, claimed, “I have not had an opportunity to have that discussion.”

Inside the White House in recent days, aside from the ever present issue of what everyone needs to do to avoid getting thrown in jail, the issue of Trump’s statement on Paris must have been the center of many discussions during which Spicer was present. He might be afraid of asking questions, but he hasn’t lacked the opportunity to learn what Trump and his closest advisers think.

At the same time, we can confidently assume that during the period leading up to Trump’s “decision,” he was not engaged in an intense analysis of climate science and strategies for mitigating the global rise in greenhouse gases. That would have gone beyond Trump’s severely limited intellectual capacities and far beyond his level of interest in the issue.

What we do know is what Trump said on Thursday afternoon:

… the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord … but begin negotiations to reenter either the Paris Accord or a really entirely new transaction on terms that are fair to the United States, its businesses, its workers, its people, its taxpayers. So we’re getting out. But we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair. And if we can, that’s great. And if we can’t, that’s fine.

What’s clear from this statement is that the heart of the issue for Trump is the cost. It’s all about money.

While Trump’s ignorance is perhaps unfathomable, we do know this much about how he views transactions: they involve an exchange of money. You pay something; you get something. And if you’re great at making deals, you get something that’s worth more than you paid for it.

If Trump believes that climate change is a hoax, then negotiating to reenter the Paris accord would be like negotiating how much you’re willing to pay for a building that doesn’t exist. The only fair deal would be no deal — there would be nothing to negotiate.

Needless to say, Trump’s proposition that the U.S. might renegotiate the accord is itself a hoax — he and the rest of the world knows this isn’t going to happen.

The issue here does not actually revolve around beliefs. It’s not a question of who is convinced or remains skeptical about the established conclusions of climate science.

Instead, it’s like this:

A chain-smoker talks to his doctor and his doctor tells him: “You need to stop smoking. These cigarettes are killing you.”

In response, the smoker has little interest in whether he was given sound medical advice. He simply knows that he enjoys smoking and has no intention of quitting.

For Trump and other addicts of the fossil-fuel lifestyle, the question of whether they are killing the planet is for them of little interest. All they care about is their attachment to their own lifestyle — to hell with humanity and the fabric of life on Earth.

The idea of exchanging a Suburban for a Prius is so offensive to their sense of material entitlement, it is for them immaterial what kind of rationale or what indisputable facts might justify this kind of lifestyle change.

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Donald Trump plays at being president. He doesn’t even pretend to be a world leader

At this stage in his performance — this act in The Trump Show which masquerades as a presidency — it should be clear to the audience that the motives of the man-child acting out in front of the world are much more emotive than ideological.

Trump has far more interest in antagonizing his critics than pleasing his base.

No doubt Trump came back from Europe believing that after suffering insults, he would get the last laugh. A senior White House official (sounding like Steve Bannon) described European disappointment about Trump’s decision on Paris as “a secondary benefit,” implying perhaps that the primary benefit would be the demolition of one of the key successes of his nemesis, Barack Obama.

Thus far, The Trump Show has largely been ritual designed to symbolically purge America of Obama’s influence.

To that end, Trump’s announcement on the Paris climate accord was turned into a Rose Garden event with live jazz. Had the “guests” been served with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres as they awaited the showman’s arrival, this would have been perfectly in keeping with the light, celebratory tone the White House wanted to set.

This wasn’t the articulation of a policy shift; it was a victory dance.

Before the star of the show came to the podium, his sycophantic, spineless sidekick, Mike Pence, gave Trump a predictably syrupy and fanciful introduction to applause and cheers from the goons (White House staffers?) whose role, whenever required, is to conjure the appearance of Trump’s popularity.

At the heart of this show is a man poisoned by the sense that he has always been deprived of the admiration he deserves. He postures as the golden glowing embodiment of success in his relentless effort to avoid being confronted with the reality of his pitiful worthlessness.

Right now, there is no one else on this planet who is despised as much as Donald Trump and there is no show, no executive order, and no tweet, that can undo this fact.

There is, however, a silver-lining to the disaster named Trump.

In the growing recognition that the United States currently effectively has no president, there are others capable and willing to step into the power vacuum. This is happening both outside and inside the U.S..

The Trumpsters might believe they are steering a course towards splendid American isolation, but much more likely they are deftly and unintentionally engineering their own marginalization.

Their grasp on power is tenuous; every loyalist is just a back-stabber in waiting.

Daniel Baer, Daniel Benjamin, Hal Brands, Reuben Brigety, Sharon E. Burke, Derek Chollet, Sheba Crocker, Dan Feldman, Jon Finer, Nina Hachigian, Colin H. Kahl, Kelly Magsamen, Jeffrey Prescott, Ely Ratner, Vikram Singh, Julie Smith, Jake Sullivan, and Jim Townsend write at Foreign Policy: Ever the showman, President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday about his soon-to-be-announced decision on whether or not to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement with the air of a 1950s Las Vegas emcee building up his audience’s anticipation for an upcoming act. But the decision to remove the United States from the long-negotiated, hard-fought, international agreement is no sideshow. This is about what’s in the best interests of American prosperity and security.

As promised, Trump stepped to the podium in the Rose Garden on Thursday afternoon, announcing that the United States would leave the Paris accord. The decision will have serious, irreversible repercussions for the United States and the world.

The president’s justifications for leaving the agreement are also just plain wrong.

First, contrary to the president’s assertions, America’s hands are not tied and its sovereignty is not compromised by the Paris climate pact. The Paris agreement is an accord, not a treaty, which means it’s voluntary. The genius (and reality) of the Paris agreement is that it requires no particular policies at all — nor are the emissions targets that countries committed to legally binding. Trump admitted as much in the Rose Garden, referring to the accord’s “nonbinding” nature. If the president genuinely thinks America’s targets are too onerous, he can simply adjust them (although we believe it would be shortsighted for the administration to do so). There is no need to exit the Paris accord in search of a “better deal.” Given the voluntary nature of the agreement, pulling out of the Paris deal in a fit of pique is an empty gesture, unless that gesture is meant to be a slap in the face to every single U.S. ally and partner in the world.

The second big lie is that the Paris agreement will be a job killer. In fact, it will help the United States capture more 21st-century jobs. That is why dozens of U.S. corporate leaders, including many on the president’s own advisory council, urged him not to quit the agreement. As a letter sent to the White House by ExxonMobil put it, the agreement represents an “effective framework for addressing the risk of climate change,” and the United States is “well positioned to compete” under the terms of the deal.

Action on climate and economic growth go hand in hand, and are mutually reinforcing. That is why twice as much money was invested worldwide in renewables last year as in fossil fuels, and why China is pouring in billions to try to win this market of the future. A bipartisan group of retired admirals and generals on the CNA Military Advisory Board is about to release a report that will also spell out the importance of competitiveness in advanced energy technologies — not just to the economy, but also to the country’s standing in the world. Pulling out of climate will result in a loss of U.S. jobs and knock the United States off its perch as a global leader in innovation in a quickly changing global economic climate.

The rationale for ditching America’s commitment to the Paris accord just doesn’t hold up. Moreover, Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement comes with several serious and lasting consequences for the United States and the world:

The Trump administration is hastening catastrophic effects of climate change. Scientists and economists now state with confidence that the failure to act to arrest and mitigate global climate change will have devastating global consequences, including for young Americans alive today and for their children and grandchildren. Donald Trump himself may well live to see more climate-related catastrophes hit the homeland. His children and grandchildren certainly will.

Americans all over this country are already seeing the changes — storms are more severe, big floods come more often, and in the most extreme case, Arctic waters are melting and opening up sea lanes for the first time in recorded history. Trump saw the damage from Hurricane Sandy firsthand, a preview of what climate change has in store for his children and grandchildren. Scientists and economists now state with confidence that the failure to act now to arrest and mitigate global climate change will have devastating global consequences,

Heading off the worst effects of climate change requires global action: Action by one country alone, no matter how powerful, cannot address the threat. But our country, one of the world’s two largest carbon emitters, does have significant power to improve not just our own climate, but the world’s — and Trump’s decision takes us in the wrong direction. That’s especially tragic in light of the signature achievement of the Paris Agreement, which was to get every country on board; now China and India have made the same commitments the United States and other highly developed countries have. It binds us all together through a political agreement — but the strength of that agreement depends on all of us meeting our nationally determined responsibilities.

Put simply, the U.S. decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement will have impacts on the global climate that a future U.S. administration will not be able to undo. It will undermine the most significant and comprehensive coordinating mechanism for global action to combat climate change that we have. It will weaken an existing asset to defend present and future generations of Americans against a significant threat; it will undermine our security. Indeed, leading military experts, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, have warned that the impact of climate change will lead to more refugee flows, more famine, more conflict, and more terrorism. As Mattis said, “Climate change is impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today.” By withdrawing from this agreement, Trump would be ignoring an issue his own secretary of defense has said is a national security threat. [Continue reading…]

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McMaster has no problem with Trump sharing any information with anyone

The Washington Post reports: H.R. McMaster, the president’s top security adviser, repeatedly described the president’s actions in a press briefing just a day after a Washington Post story revealed that Trump had shared deeply sensitive information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last week.

“In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” McMaster said. “It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did.”

McMaster refused to confirm whether the information the president shared with the Russians was highly classified. However, because the president has broad authority to declassify information, it is unlikely that his disclosures to the Russians were illegal — as they would have been had just about anyone else in government shared the same secrets. But the classified information he shared with a geopolitical foe was nonetheless explosive, having been provided by a critical U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so delicate that some details were withheld even from top allies and other government officials.

McMaster added that Trump made a spur-of-the-moment decision to share the information in the context of the conversation he was having with the Russian officials. He said that “the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from” and had not been briefed on the source. [Continue reading…]

One might imagine that the position of national security adviser presupposes that any U.S. president needs sound national security advice.

H.R. McMaster seems to have relinquished that role by judging Trump capable of making any national security judgement on the fly as he sees fit.

McMaster’s circular logic appears to be that whatever Trump does is appropriate for no other reason than that it’s Trump’s choice.

For McMaster, if Trump thinks he’s advancing the security of the American people, then that’s good enough — irrespective of whether that is objectively the case.

Either out of blind loyalty or craven self-interest, McMaster has decided to portray Trump as more like a sovereign than president — Trump’s authority is apparently now above being questioned.

Most strangely and almost as an afterthought, McMaster seems to be suggesting that since Trump was ignorant about the source of the intelligence he spontaneously shared with the Russians, then Trump’s lack of awareness somehow mitigates the harm he just did.

What should by now be painfully obvious is that the notion of Trump being under adult supervision by the likes of McMaster, Tillerson, and Mattis, has and never had any real credibility.

No one with integrity would be willing to work for Trump.

It thus follows that anyone who has accepted such a position lacks integrity.

It further follows that anyone qualified to become director of the FBI should refuse the position, and anyone willing to accept it cannot be qualified.

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Trump may have just increased the risk of a terrorist attack on the U.S.

In response to the latest political firestorm Donald Trump has created, he has done what he usually does: jumped onto Twitter.


In other words, Trump divulged highly classified information with Russia because when it comes to fighting terrorism we’re all on the same side.

That’s the way it might look to an ignorant president and his equally ignorant supporters, but in reality the situation is much more complicated.

Just days ago, Alan Dershowitz criticized the hyperbolic tone of political discourse these days by tweeting:


Dershowitz’s reaction to the latest turn of events, however, showed that he is no less susceptible to extreme reactions — or that in this case he is correctly assessing the gravity of what just happened.


Dershowitz speculates that Israel may have been the source of intelligence that Trump revealed to the Russians:

“Let’s take the following hypothetical: What if it was Israel who provided this intelligence?” he said on an interview on MSNBC.

He warned that if Israeli intelligence was shared with Russia, then Russia could send it to Iran and Hezbollah, two of Israel’s foes.

The issue here may or may not be the content of the intelligence if it was gathered by Israel. Just as important would be the implied cooperation of any states in the region being seen to facilitate Israeli operations.

If, for instance, Israel, with Saudi Arabia’s consent, is gathering intelligence in Yemen, there can be little doubt that Russia and Iran could use this information to apply political pressure on the Saudis both in Yemen and Syria.

If as a result these intelligence gathering operations are curtailed this will then help ISIS and al Qaeda.

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