Marching towards nowhere?

 

Ivan Krastev writes: What strikes any observer of the new wave of revolutionary politics is that it is a revolution without an ideology or a project. Protesting itself seems to be the strategic goal of many of the protests. Failing to offer political alternatives, they are an explosion of moral indignation. In most of the protests, citizens on the street treat politics not so much as a set of issues but as a public performance or a way of being in the world. Many protesters are openly anti-institutional and mistrustful toward both the market and the state. They preach participation without representation. The protest movements bypass established political parties, distrust the mainstream media, refuse to recognize any specific leadership, and reject all formal organizations, relying instead on the Internet and local assemblies for collective debate and decision making.

In a way the new protest movements are inspired by mistrust in the elites, empowered by mistrust in leadership, constrained by mistrust of organizations, and defeated by the protesters’ inability to trust even each other: “This is an obvious but unspoken cultural difference between modern youth protest movements and those of the past. […] Anybody who sounds like a career politician, anybody who attempts to use rhetoric, or espouses an ideology, is greeted with visceral distaste.”

Mistrusting institutions as a rule, the protesters are plainly uninterested in taking power. The government is simply “them,” regardless of who is in charge. The protesters combine a genuine longing for community with a relentless individualism. They describe their own political activism almost in religious terms, stressing how the experience of acting out on the street has inspired a revolution of the soul and a regime change of the mind. Perhaps for the first time since 1848 — the last of the pre-Marxist revolutions — the revolt is not against the government but against being governed. It is the spirit of libertarianism that brings together Egypt’s anti-authoritarian uprising and Occupy Wall Street’s anti-capitalist insurrection.

For the protesters, it is no longer important who wins elections or who runs the government, not simply because they do not want to be the government, but also because any time people perceive that their interests are endangered, they plan on returning to the streets. The “silent man” in Taksim Square, Istanbul, who stood without moving or speaking for eight hours, is a symbol of the new age of protests: He stands there to make sure that things will not stay as they are. His message to those in power is that he will never go home.

While it is popular for Europeans to compare the current global protest wave with the revolutions of 1848, today’s protests are the negation of the political agenda of 1848. Those revolutions fought for universal suffrage and political representation. They marked the rise of the citizen-voter. The current protests are a revolt against representative democracy. They mark the disillusionment of the citizen-voter. The current protests function as an alternative to elections, testifying that the people are furious; the angry citizen heads to the streets not with the hope of putting a better government in power but merely to establish the borders that no government should cross. [Continue reading…]

Anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-globalization, anti-interventionism — the problem with centering any movement around opposition is that almost in obedience with the laws of physics, the end result will be inertia.

The logical conclusion of insistently saying no is that we end up going nowhere.

The successful movements of the last century have instead always been centered on positive goals — women’s rights; civil rights; marriage equality, and so forth.

Likewise, the most effective forms of resistance against the socially corrosive agenda of the Trump presidency are not simply anti-Trump; they are affirmations — for immigrants, for Muslims, and for women.

To build a better world, we have to unite around the things we support and not simply the things we oppose.

What Trump is counting on is that his opponents remain locked in an oppositional posture in which we will eventually tire and thereafter fall into torpor and silence.

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Art of the deal: Flynn lied about talking to Russians about sanctions before Trump took office

The Washington Post reports: National security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.

Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: Federal officials who have read the transcript of the call were surprised by Mr. Flynn’s comments, since he would have known that American eavesdroppers closely monitor such calls. They were even more surprised that Mr. Trump’s team publicly denied that the topics of conversation included sanctions.

The call is the latest example of how Mr. Trump’s advisers have come under scrutiny from American counterintelligence officials. The F.B.I. is also investigating Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign; and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative. [Continue reading…]

It would seem that the primary skill Trump requires in those around him is that, like him, they be well-practiced liars.

And note the timing of these revelations about Flynn based on information the FBI has possessed for weeks — the story comes out right after Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as Attorney General and the Justice Department can therefore be expected to let Flynn off the hook.

Trump’s philosophy in life and the guidance he offers in one way or another to those around him is this: stand by me and I’ll show you how you can get away with anything.

In the case of Flynn what we are now witnessing might be described as a cover-up disguised as a revelation. The FBI wants to be seen as doing its job while at the same time it waves onlookers to pass on by.

“Several officials emphasized that while sanctions were discussed, they did not see evidence that Flynn had an intent to convey an explicit promise to take action after the inauguration,” the Washington Post reported.

That’s what I would call an intentionally misleading statement and I’ll ascribe the intention to the officials rather than the reporters who allow themselves to be shepherded in this way.

If Flynn had made an explicit promise there would be no need to analyze his intentions — the recorded contents of the conversations would convey all we need to know. Moreover, unless he suffers from some kind of speech impediment, there’s no reason to imagine that he could have the intention to make an explicit promise short of actually making such a promise.

Instead, what is key here is whether Flynn’s statements, based on their content and timing, would be interpreted by the Russian ambassador as an implicit promise. In other words, was Flynn telegraphing a nod and a wink from Trump to Putin that Russia had no reason to be concerned about Obama’s last-minute sanctions.

*

During the presidential campaign, Trump proposed as a kind of working theory that he would be able to get away with murder.

In office, I surmise, he now wants to demonstrate through a series of incremental steps that he and his administration can get away with anything. Along the way, officials may be required to engage in ritual admonishments (like Kellyanne Conway getting “counseled” for ethics violations) whose purpose is not to serve as correctives but instead to highlight the Trumpsters’ collective sense of impunity.

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Trump wants more media coverage of terrorism

USA Today:

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” Trump told military leaders and troops during his first visit as president to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla.

“And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that.”

The White House then followed up with “evidence” to prove Trump’s point — a list of terrorist attacks that the media deliberately failed to adequately report.

The list includes Amedy Coulibaly’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris (Wall Street Journal, USA Today, CNN, Huffington Post, New York Daily News, New York Times, Fox News etc).

In fairness to Trump, media coverage of the supermarket attack was indeed overshadowed by coverage of the Charlie Hebdo shooting (with which it was connected) that happened two days earlier.

It’s possible Trump feels like that attack, in which three times as many people were killed, got too much coverage since the victims were mostly journalists. Does Trump mourn the deaths of people who he despises and denigrates every day? Surely not.

Moving down the list we come to another attack in Paris — this one occurred in November 2015 resulting in 129 deaths and 400 wounded.

When Trump says “you’ve seen what happened in Paris,” this is the attack he’s referring to… the one we’ve “seen”… on media reports… lots of them — but apparently not enough for Trump.

It’s hard not to wonder whether, more than two weeks into his presidency, Trump is disappointed that there has yet to be a major act of terrorism in the United States.

The only attack that has taken place is one that has indeed received inadequate attention both from the U.S. media and Trump himself: the Quebec City mosque massacre carried out by Trump/Le Pen supporter, Alexandre Bissonnette.

In spite of the criticism Trump has faced as a result of the chaotic nature of his first days in office, he and those around him have remained resolute and focused on promoting terrorism.

It is surely just a matter of time before Trump declares to those gathered in excitement around him: “this is what we’ve been waiting for.”

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Donald Trump defends murder

How can the so-called president best be characterized?

Demented?


A slayer of liberty?


Destroyer of global order?


Or as Trump chose to portray himself at the defining moment of his inauguration, with raised fist?

The fist is a multipurpose symbol — a favorite of revolutionary leaders. But Trump’s calls out for comparison with that of another thug who until recently was very adept at grabbing headlines (until he got overshadowed by America’s chief thug): the fist of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte.

When Hillary Clinton and many other leaders of the political establishment, both Democrats and Republicans, pronounced that Trump was “unfit for office,” many critics of the establishment viewed this charge with cynicism. It was dismissed as an expression of the establishment’s sense of entitlement — a way of saying that Trump could not be allowed to become president simply because he wasn’t an accepted member of the ruling class. It was as though Trump was being damned on the basis of nothing more than his lack of refinement.

What should be clear now, however, is that most of those who spoke out and declared Trump unfit — irrespective of whether those claims came from inside or outside the establishment — really meant what they were saying. This wasn’t just campaign rhetoric.

And yet even now, there are Trump loyalists, sympathizers, and reactionaries of a variety of political complexions who say: give Trump a chance. There are those who downplay the resistance to Trump as shrill.

But I would say this: Anyone at this juncture who remains unwilling to judge Trump as unfit for office is already placing him above the possibility of criticism; they are in effect offering him license to do anything.

When Bill O’Reilly invited Trump to condemn Vladimir Putin by saying, “he’s a killer,” Trump brushed off the charge by effectively saying, so what? — “We’ve got a lot of killers.”


Trump is saying that if Putin helps him kill members of ISIS, he doesn’t care if the Russian president has a habit of killing his own critics, political opponents, journalists, or anyone who threatens his grip on power. And Trump respects Putin not in spite of the measures he’s willing to take to secure his power, but on the contrary because of his success in consolidating his position of domination.

In other words, Trump respects Putin because he respects ruthlessness.

But Trump’s new on the job, he’s still learning, he needs time to polish his rough edges.

Really? Trump at 70 is still maturing? I don’t think so.

On the contrary, after two weeks we have every reason to expect more of the same and much worse.

Already, millions of people have had their lives disrupted, families have been broken apart, and murders have taken place directly or indirectly as a result of Trump moving into the White House.

Those who spent the last six months warning that a Trump presidency would be disastrous, were neither being alarmist nor particularly prescient. They were, on the contrary, simply judging Trump on the basis of the evidence he presents every single day of being a man whose recklessness, belligerence, ignorance, volatility, reactivity, immaturity, incompetence, and fundamental lack of respect for democracy and the rule of law, render him unfit for office.

When the American people speak loudly enough and when the Republicans in Congress conclude that Trump poses an existential threat to their own narrow interests, he will be impeached.

We don’t have to endure this spectacle for a full four years.

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Trump’s power grabbing handshake yank

What defines Donald Trump?

If you were to ask Mike Pence or Neil Gorsuch I suspect that each would remember a defining moment in their relationships with Trump — the moment when a handshake veered towards a shoulder dislocation.

 

When I first saw this I wondered whether Trump had some kind of involuntary muscular spasm as he yanked on Gorsuch’s arm. But then I saw this:

 

On both occasions, it’s as though Trump thought he was leash-training his new puppy with a yank to show who’s the boss.

Yet to be on the receiving end of that yank must have been at least unnerving and perhaps even haunting.

A mafia boss knows that loyalty can only be sustained with fear — that the possibility of disobedience needs to be seen as posing an existential threat to anyone who steps out line.

I assume Trump’s never threatened to kill anyone, but if he has, that would hardly seem surprising.

And even if no one in Trump’s orbit fears getting their feet set in concrete and then getting thrown into the Potomac, Trump seems to go out of his way to make himself appear menacing in a variety of ways.

Trump’s handshake/yank could signify many things — “I’ve got you now,” “don’t stray from me,” “I’m in control.”

What it certainly fails to convey is a shred of respect for the person on the receiving end.

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Did Trump just appoint John Miller as his new White House spokesman?

Donald Trump has a history of posing as a fictitious spokesman for the Trump Organization who would variously call himself “John Miller,” John Barron,” and “John Baron,” while showering “his” boss with praise.

Since Trump has never explained why he has posed as his own publicist, his motives remain a matter of speculation. In a court hearing he did admit to using the name John Miller, so this suggests he may not have been driven by a need to later cover his tracks by disowning his own statements.

On the contrary, a more plausible explanation might be that Trump trusts no one to speak on his behalf and thus sometimes on occasions where he feels obliged to create the appearance of a some distance between himself and what is supposedly being said about him, he resolves his own fear of misrepresentation by playing the role of his own spokesman.

The problem Trump has consistently had in pulling off this stunt is that he’s a lousy actor. Trump playing the role of John Miller sounds indistinguishable from Trump. Trump is always Trump.

Last night the “Office of the Press Secretary” at the White House released a statement explaining why Trump had just fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. It refers to Trump in the third person: “Tonight, President Trump relieved Ms. Yates of her duties…” and yet the language and tone of the statement is from beginning to end, pure Trump — from his histrionic declaration that he has been “betrayed” to his signature put down, “weak” on this and “very weak” on that. In Trump’s impoverished lexicon his critics invariably get cast down as “weak” the purpose being, presumably, that they can then be seen in contrast to Mighty Trump — the undefeated heavy champion of the world.

Does it really matter whether the words come directly from Trump or from the office of his press secretary? One way or another this is the voice of the president.

Well actually, it really does matter that we know without doubt whether these are Trump’s words.

Why?

Because deciphering the political machinations going on inside the White House has increasingly become a question of trying to determine the extent to which the guiding hand behind what are ostensibly presidential actions belongs not to Trump but to Steve Bannon.

Knowing when Trump is or is not speaking may be critical when assessing how much power is now being wielded by the man who was dubbed as “the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America” long before he entered the White House and swiftly claimed a permanent seat on the National Security Council.

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Donald Trump’s role in the Quebec City massacre

Donald Trump has consistently identified Muslims as perpetrators of terrorism rather than victims of terrorism — despite the fact that by vast numbers the victims of terrorism are indeed overwhelmingly Muslims.

Trump has relentlessly fueled Islamophobia and insisted that the key to combating terrorism is to label it Islamic.

Trump chose as his closest national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has described Islam as a cancer.

Trump just signed an executive order that singles out 200,000 Muslims as a potential threat to America.

Shortly after Trump signed this order, Alexandre Bissonnette, a vocal Trump supporter, known for his online attacks on refugees, went to a Quebec City mosque and carried out a mass shooting, killing six people and injuring 19 others.

As The Globe and Mail reports:

The suspect in the deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque was known in the city’s activist circles as an online troll who was inspired by extreme right-wing French nationalists, stood up for U.S. President Donald Trump and was against immigration to Quebec – especially by Muslims.

To fail to draw a connection between Trump’s campaign rhetoric, his choice of advisers, his executive order targeting Muslims and Bissonnette’s murderous rampage would be absurd.

In the hostile climate Trump has helped cultivate, there have been anti-mosque incidents in at least 41 states.

Within hours of Trump signing the executive order a mosque in Texas went up in flames.

The massacre in Canada could just as easily have happened in the United States. Indeed, the risk of a similar attack is so great that it seems less a case of if than when.

Donald Trump has promised to make America safe and yet through his words and actions has already done enough to suggest that the stable of Trump brands will sooner or later acquire one that he will vociferously disavow as a slur on his name: Trump terrorism.

That is not to suggest that Trump actually wants anyone to engage in acts of terrorism.

At the same time and for the same reasons as Alex Massie spelled out after Jo Cox’s murder in Britain last June, those who fuel anger cannot absolves themselves of responsibility for what follows:

When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’

When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.

Trump’s biggest lie is to promote the myth that the greatest threats to American lives reside outside this country’s borders.

Right now the very opposite is true as the most incendiary catalyst of violence sits in the Oval Office.

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Donald Trump’s demoralizing message to the children of America

This is a dark day for parents, teachers, and children across America.

As one president and his family, worthy of emulation, exit the White House, a man enters office about whom the best we can hope is that through his example he exerts as little influence as possible.

Of this much we can be reasonably sure: anyone who cites Donald Trump as the justification for their behavior most likely just did something that common decency could not otherwise justify.

In a recent interview Trump was asked whether he had any heroes and he responded by saying, “I don’t like the concept of heroes, the concept of heroes is never great,” and it makes sense that this would be the view of a man who never tires of telling everyone about his own greatness.

How could Trump express admiration for another person without implicitly calling into question his own capacities? How could he admit he looked up to anyone without placing himself in a position of inferiority?

Although on the question of heroes, Trump initially directs a nod of respect towards his father — “I’ve learnt a lot from my father … I learnt a lot about negotiation” — he immediately goes on to cast doubt on the foundation of learning.

What makes someone a great negotiator, or great salesman, or great politician is their “natural ability.” This, according to Trump, is “much more important” than experience.

No doubt this explains why Trump claims he advises himself and has little patience for intelligence briefings.

Now apply this philosophy to an education system. Schools would less be places of learning than warehouses for scouting talent. Pick out the few with natural ability and discard the rest.

Apply this to a country and the job of government becomes to brush away all unnecessary obstacles to success (regulations) so that those with natural ability are given free rein to shape our world as they see fit.

And in order to disguise the worst form of elitism as somehow serving the common good, repeatedly and loudly declare that all is done in the service of the nation.

The fact that Donald Trump is being sworn in as a president with lower approval ratings than any other in modern history might seem to indicate that even though he can now claim that title, “most powerful man in the world,” he does not in fact represent America — that he has arrived in Washington as an impostor. Indeed, the roles played by Russia and the FBI make it clear that Trump didn’t win the election by virtue of his natural ability.

Yet Trump’s candidacy was not a fabrication — it was a product of his own ambition and unrestrained grandiosity. And much as many Americans may now wish to disavow this president, he does in fact represent America by representing this country and its culture of confused values at its worst — through its celebration of celebrity; through its admiration of wealth; through its devaluation of decency; and through its lack of appreciation for the virtue of learning and the cultivation of wisdom.

 

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Did the Trump transition team conspire with Russia to undermine U.S. sanctions?

As the primary beneficiary of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election, it stands to reason that Donald Trump would not want to punish his benefactor, Vladimir Putin. For that reason, we might expect that when President Obama imposed the most recent round of sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the attack on American democracy, Trump would want to reassure his patron that sanctions relief is close at hand. Moreover, for this reassurance to have the greatest value it would need to be conveyed before Russia gave the standard tit-for-tat response to having dozens of diplomats expelled.

That’s probably why David Ignatius raised these questions on Thursday:

According to a senior U.S. government official, [Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T.] Flynn [Trump’s choice for national security adviser] phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act (though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated?

The Associated Press now reports: President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. have been in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for election-related hacking, a senior U.S. official says.

After initially denying that Michael Flynn and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak spoke Dec. 29, a Trump official said late Friday that the transition team was aware of one call on the day President Barack Obama imposed sanctions.

It’s not unusual for incoming administrations to have discussions with foreign governments before taking office. But repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Trump’s team discussed — or even helped shape — Russia’s response.

Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the U.S. for the move, a decision Trump quickly praised.

More broadly, Flynn’s contact with the Russian ambassador suggests the incoming administration has already begun to lay the groundwork for its promised closer relationship with Moscow. That effort appears to be moving ahead, even as many in Washington, including Republicans, have expressed outrage over intelligence officials’ assessment that Putin launched a hacking operation aimed at meddling in the U.S. election to benefit Trump.

In an interview published Friday evening by The Wall Street Journal, Trump said he might do away with Obama’s sanctions if Russia works with the U.S. on battling terrorists and achieving other goals.

“If Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions?” he asked. [Continue reading…]

Putin helps Trump and Trump helps Putin — but no one should be in any doubt about who is the dominant partner in this bromance: it’s the one who’s rather proud of showing off his body; not the one who lives in fear of the day he might show up naked on the nightly news.

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How fake news turns 87 U.S. tanks into 2,000 tanks threatening Russia

I’m not really a fan of this expression “fake news.” For one thing, like any other pejorative it can too easily get hijacked by practitioners of the Trump school of political rhetoric.

So, when it comes to a website like Michel Chossudovsky’s Global Research, while it can reasonably be described as a chronic purveyor of fake news, I think it can just as accurately be described as a piece of crap.

Consider, for instance, this piece of “reporting” based itself on a “report” from actor Janus Putkonen’s, “Donbass International News Agency.”

Global Research reposts the article which begins:

The NATO war preparation against Russia, ‘Operation Atlantic Resolve’, is in full swing. 2,000 US tanks will be sent in coming days from Germany to Eastern Europe, and 1,600 US tanks is deployed to storage facilities in the Netherlands. At the same time, NATO countries are sending thousands of soldiers in to Russian borders.

Following Russian intervention in Ukraine, “Operation Atlantic Resolve” began in 2014 and was designed to “reassure NATO allies and partners of America’s dedication to enduring peace and stability in the region,” according to the Pentagon.

So what about these 2,000 tanks?

It seems like the Putkonen system of military analysis works like this: find a report that includes “2,000” and “tanks” in the same sentence and, voila! You end up with 2,000 tanks.

On January 6, Stars and Stripes reported:

The U.S. Army began unloading tanks and other weaponry in the German port of Bremerhaven Friday, marking the arrival of the first wave of gear that will support the rotation of an armored brigade in Europe.

Over the next several days, the equipment will be offloaded and moved by rail, commercial lines and convoy into staging sites in Poland.

The arrival of the military hardware and troops from the Fort Carson-based 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division marks the start of the first full-time presence of a tank brigade in Europe since the last armored units on the Continent were inactivated several years ago.

In all, the Fort Carson brigade will bring 87 tanks, 18 Paladins; 419 multi-purpose and 144 Bradley Fighting Vehicles; as well as some 2,000 additional vehicles and trailers.

Call me a stickler for accuracy, but I’d say there’s a big difference between 87 tanks and 2,000 tanks, but then again, who’s to say what the U.S. Army might be hiding inside its vehicle-borne portajohns.

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Obama vs Trump — academic journals vs Twitter

The Associated Press reports: President Barack Obama cast the adoption of clean energy in the U.S. as “irreversible,” putting pressure Monday on President-elect Donald Trump not to back away from a core strategy to fight climate change.

Obama, penning an opinion article in the journal Science, sought to frame the argument in a way that might appeal to the president-elect: in economic terms. He said the fact that the cost and polluting power of energy have dropped at the same time proves that fighting climate change and spurring economic growth aren’t mutually exclusive.

“Despite the policy uncertainty that we face, I remain convinced that no country is better suited to confront the climate challenge and reap the economic benefits of a low-carbon future than the United States,” Obama wrote.

He peppered his article with subtle references to Trump, noting that the debate about future climate policy was “very much on display during the current presidential transition.”

As he prepares to transfer power to Trump, Obama has turned to an unusual format to make his case to Trump to preserve his policies: academic journals. In the last week, Obama also published articles under his name in the Harvard Law Review about his efforts on criminal justice reform and in the New England Journal of Medicine defending his health care law, which Republicans are poised to repeal.

The articles reflect an effort by Obama to pre-empt the arguments Trump or Republicans are likely to employ as they work to roll back Obama’s key accomplishments in the coming years. Yet it’s unclear whether Trump or the GOP could be swayed by scholarly arguments in relatively obscure publications. [Continue reading…]

At tomorrow’s press conference, Donald Trump is sure to be asked for clarification on questions raised by his recent tweets.

On the other hand, “Did you read any of President Obama’s recent articles in Science, the Harvard Law Review, or the New England Journal of Medicine, Mr Trump?” is an unlikely question.

But on the off-chance something along those lines does come up, Trump is likely to wave it off with something like this: “I’m happy for President Obama to write for academics while I work for the American people.”

It would be understandable if Obama feels like he’s served his time and is now entitled to a quiet life, but I hope he does the opposite — that he doesn’t withdraw to an ivory tower but instead lends his voice (more than his pen) to active and engaged opposition to what promises to be the worst presidency in American history. Writing for academic journals, however, is preaching to the choir.

Scientific challenges against an anti-science president and an anti-science political party are going to get parried by the same expression of mock humility — “I’m not a scientist, but…” — a line that resonates well in a scientifically illiterate nation.

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Putin’s man in the White House

Yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted:


Contrary to Trump’s claim that the DNC “would not allow the FBI to study or see its computer info,” Eric Walker, the DNC’s deputy communications director, told BuzzFeed News via email prior to Trump’s tweets: “the FBI never requested access to the DNC’s computer servers” [Walker’s italics].

Following an intelligence briefing today, Trump released a statement in which he said:

While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.

That conclusion — “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election” — is Trump’s and not the conclusion of the intelligence agencies.

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported on testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Brushing aside Donald Trump’s dismissiveness, the nation’s intelligence chief insisted Thursday that U.S. agencies are more confident than ever that Russia interfered in America’s recent presidential election. And he called the former Cold War foe an “existential threat” to the nation.

Did Russian hacking sway the results? There’s no way for U.S. agencies to know, said James Clapper, the director of national intelligence.

Asked about the possible effect of the disclosure of private information stolen by hackers, Clapper said, “The intelligence community can’t gauge the impact it had on the choices the electorate made.”

Where Trump and the intelligence community are in agreement is that, as Clapper said, Russian hacking “did not change any vote tallies.”

After having become a lonely holdout in sustaining his skepticism about whether any Russian hacking had even occurred, Trump now claims absolute certainty about the hacking’s effect — which is to say, that it had no effect.

The overarching message Trump wants to promote is that Russia had no role in his election.

Until it became an unsustainable viewpoint, Trump insisted that he simply didn’t believe there had been any Russian involvement.

Now that he can’t push that line any further, he’s changed his tack slightly by abandoning his hard denial and instead says Russia’s interference was of no consequence.

What is clear, is that Trump is convinced that if he gives any real ground on this issue, he is going to end up being viewed — or as many of us would say, recognized — as Putin’s man in the White House.

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Julian Assange’s non-denial denial on Russian interference in the U.S. election

On Saturday, Donald Trump said he knew “things that other people don’t know” about the hacking, and that the information would be revealed “on Tuesday or Wednesday.”

It’s widely believed that the “revelation” Trump was alluding to would come from Julian Assange in an interview the Wikileaks founder did with Sean Hannity that aired on Fox News last night.

During that interview, Hannity pressed Assange on the question of Russian involvement in the hacking:

Assange: There is one person in the world and I think it’s actually only one, who knows exactly what is going on with our publications and that’s me.

Hannity: Can you say to the American people, unequivocally, that you did not get this information about the DNC, John Podesta’s emails — can you tell the American people 1,000% you did not get it from Russia [Assange interjects “yes”] or anybody associated with Russia?

Assange: We can say, have said repeatedly over the last two months that our source is not the Russian government and it is not [a] state party.

Assange chooses his words very carefully and for him to provide an unequivocal denial of Russian involvement he had no need to rephrase Hannity’s question. He could have simply responded that his source neither is nor was associated with Russia.

It has always been reasonable to assume that Russia would provide Wikileaks with plausible deniability by using an intermediary who was not overtly a state party or having easily identifiable ties to the Russian government and yet Assange declined to say that his source is/was not associated with Russia. The source might not be a “state party” (however Assange defines that expression) and yet, even now, Assange has not ruled out a Russian association.

Some day Assange may find himself on trial and be pressed on questions about what he did or did not know about his sources. As categorical as he might want statements he makes now to sound, he also most likely wants to leave himself wiggle room so that in the future he can still claim, “I didn’t know.” His concern then (and now) being to avoid being accused of knowingly trying to subvert an election by serving as an agent of a foreign power.

As for his professed dedication to truth-telling, it’s noteworthy that in the course of the interview, Assange repeatedly distorts the hacking narrative provided by the U.S. government by saying the Russia has been accused of hacking voting machines — an accusation that on the few occasions it has been made has swiftly been denied by government officials. In this, as he has often done so in the past, Assange shows that prizes the value not only of information but also disinformation.

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Nothing happened. It happens all the time

It’s a strange line of argument but surprisingly commonplace: to first vigorously deny something has happened, but to then say that if it did happen it’s perfectly normal.

When it comes to the issue of Russian interference in American democracy — an issue that should be of real concern to every American citizen — the deniers are mostly in the same position as people who deny climate change.

Assuming a stance of assiduous skepticism they plead that insufficient evidence has been presented to prove the case. As often applies to climate deniers, this professed skepticism seems intended to obscure the fact that the skeptic has a deep investment in one side of the argument.

At the conclusion of his latest diatribe against the mainstream media, Glenn Greenwald writes:

Since it is so often distorted, permit me once again to underscore my own view on the broader Russia issue: Of course it is possible that Russia is responsible for these hacks, as this is perfectly consistent with (and far more mild than) what both Russia and the U.S. have done repeatedly for decades.

But given the stakes involved, along with the incentives for error and/or deceit, no rational person should be willing to embrace these accusations as Truth unless and until convincing evidence has been publicly presented for review, which most certainly has not yet happened.

“[W]hat both Russia and the U.S. have done repeatedly for decades” has a vagueness worthy of Donald Trump, but Greenwald’s drift is clear: if the DNC hackings were carried out by Russia, it’s par for the course — nothing unusual, so let’s just move on.

Yet he concedes there are “stakes involved.” Indeed there are, not only because interference by a foreign power played a role in Donald Trump becoming the next U.S. president, but because this puts Greenwald and his close associate and Moscow resident, Edward Snowden, in a very awkward position. Increasingly they look less like independent dissidents speaking truth to power, and more like de facto sympathizers with a hostile power.

During the Bush era, critics of the war in Iraq and of the neoconservative agenda broadly accepted the view that America’s destructive involvement in the Middle East could ultimately be reduced to a single issue: control of the global oil supply.

Strangely, many of those same critics while now witnessing the power of oil flexing its muscles more strongly than ever seen before, would rather focus their attention on the perennial bugaboos of Washington, the mainstream media, the intelligence agencies, and American power.

The DNC was hacked, Wikileaks fed the media with a steady stream of unstartling emails, Trump wildly distorted their contents, and now the most Russia-friendly president ever is about to take office, leading an administration loaded with individuals tied to the oil industry.

Russia, the world’s number-one oil producer, eagerly awaits improved relations with the U.S. not only in the form of sanctions relief but also as Washington predictably tries to slam the brakes on the transition to renewable energy.

Vladimir Putin, who nowadays sees himself as the most powerful man in the world, has reason to be smiling with glee, while the hacking skeptics apparently think he’s merely the beneficiary of a string of good luck and that broadly speaking this is all just business as usual.

You’ve got to be kidding!

The oil industry, Washington, and Moscow will soon be marching in lockstep, while Greenwald directs his audience to the occasional piece of sloppy journalism.

Those who once warned about their dangers are now themselves wielding the weapons of mass distraction.

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Lowlife murders driver, steals truck and mows down crowd of innocent people

In and of itself, the horrendous attack in Berlin was a meaningless act of violence carried out by a callous criminal. He left identification papers at the scene of the crime, possibly a ruse to throw investigators off the trail, but just as likely evidence that he’s an idiot.

Was this an event of such significance and such magnitude that it should alter the destiny of a nation? That’s for Germans to decide. Hopefully they will retain the best marker of sanity: a sense of proportion.

If only the same could be said of the media and politicians. Most likely they will continue to demonstrate their willingness to be manipulated by extremism, all the more so because extremists are already gaining a foothold inside the political system.

Whenever an act of terrorism takes place, there is a real need to make sense of what just happened. Understandably, there is an urgent desire to prevent such events recurring, along with a sense of frustration that literally ending terrorism is an unachievable goal.

A poorly conceived effort to make sense of terrorism more than terrorism itself is what has had an enduring impact on societies and reshaped the world over the last two decades.

During that period, Islamophobia in the West has grown relentlessly and over the last two years that fear has increasingly focused on refugees.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, acutely aware that her political opponents would have no hesitation in blaming the Berlin attack on her immigration and security policies, addressed the issue of refugees in a statement she made about the attack yesterday:

It would, she said, be “particularly difficult for all of us to tolerate” a situation in which the perpetrator had come to Germany as a refugee.” It would be, she continued, “particularly repulsive with respect to the many, many Germans who are engaged daily in providing assistance to refugees and with respect to the many people who really need our protection and who are doing their best to integrate.”

At that time, a suspect was under arrest who was indeed a refugee.

It turned out that the fact of this arrest was not evidence of a rapidly progressing investigation but more likely an indication of the fact that increasingly in Germany and elsewhere, refugees are viewed with suspicion.

The irony, of course, is that a large proportion of these refugees have come to the West in order to escape violence perpetrated by groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram.

As Donald Trump enters office, he and leading members of his administration have insisted that they won’t be afraid of using the phrase Islamic terrorism. His answer to what he views as Barack Obama’s anemic security policies is to try and make Americans focus more strongly on Islam when they react to terrorism.

But what the attacks in Europe over the last year or so have revealed much more clearly is an alignment not between Islam and terrorism but between criminality and jihadism.

In the latest issue of the journal, Perspectives on Terrorism, Rajan Basra & Peter R. Neumann write:

On the morning of Wednesday, 31 August 2016, two plain-clothed police officers approached a suspected drug dealer in Christiana, an alternative life-style district in Copenhagen, Denmark. Without warning, the man opened fire at the police with a pistol and ran away. He was eventually tracked down and died from wounds that he received during a police shootout. His name was Mesa Hodzic, a 25-year old Danish-Bosnian, who was known to the police as a drug dealer. Two days later, the jihadist group Islamic State (IS aka ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) claimed responsibility for Hodzic’s actions, proclaiming him a ‘soldier’ of the Caliphate. It turned out that Hodzic was not just a prolific drug dealer, but also a member of a Salafist group who had expressed sympathies for the Islamic State and appeared in its propaganda videos. At first, this appeared like a flagrant contradiction. Were jihadists not meant to be religious, and refrain from drug peddling and ‘ordinary’ crime? Yet his case demonstrates how blurred the lines between crime and extremism have become. Was he a criminal, a terrorist, or both?

Mesa Hodzic was not a unique case. German Federal Police stated that of the 669 German foreign fighters about whom they had sufficient information, two-thirds had police records prior to travelling to Syria, and one-third had criminal convictions. The Belgian Federal Prosecutor said that approximately half of his country’s jihadists had criminal records prior to leaving for Syria. A United Nations report suggests a similar pattern amongst French foreign fighters. Officials from Norway and the Netherlands told us that ‘at least 60 per cent’ of their countries’ jihadists had previously been involved in crime. It is for this reason that Alain Grignard, the head of Brussels Federal Police, described Islamic State as ‘a sort of super-gang’.

Instead of drumming up fear of refugees and an Islamic threat, the evidence is already clear of a discernible path leading from petty crime to spectacular violence.

The worst we can do now is reward those who try and glorify their miserable lives and drench themselves in the blood of other, by ascribing to their actions some religious significance.

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