Clinton’s perceived statistical error in characterizing Trump supporters

Ta-Nehisis Coates writes: [On Friday], Hillary Clinton claimed that roughly “half of Trump’s supporters” could be characterized as either “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.” Clinton hedged by saying she was being “grossly generalistic” but given that no one appreciates being labeled a bigot, that statement still feels harsh –– or if you prefer, “politically incorrect.”

Clinton later said that she was “wrong” to say “half,” but reiterated that “it’s deplorable that Donald Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia.”

One way of reporting on Clinton’s statement is to weigh its political cost, ask what it means for her campaign, or attempt to predict how it might affect her performance among certain groups. This path is in line with the current imperatives of political reporting and, at least for the moment, seems to be the direction of coverage. But there is another line of reporting that could be pursued — Was Hillary Clinton being truthful or not? [Continue reading…]

Clinton added, “Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.” Her implication seems to be that however irredeemable a proportion of Trump supporters might be, they are insufficient in number or influence to affect how we define America.

America can supposedly accommodate an indeterminate number of people who are racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or Islamaphobic, and somehow retain its exalted character.

American elections and the way the media covers them, focus so much on the individual personalities of would-be political representatives, that it’s easy to avoid seeing in these democratic processes an opportunity for assessing the condition of American culture.

While Donald Trump can be criticized for having empowered one of the dark sides of America, there’s little reason to believe that the ugly face he has revealed has grown in size due to his candidacy. It has certainly grown in strength because Trump has created a permissive environment for expressions of bigotry. And that environment is certainly dangerous in terms of what it already has unleashed. But had he not run and had an alternative Republican nominee not tapped into the same currents, the fact that they might now not be so visible would be no reason to treat them as less representative of America.

Although Trump supporters like him because they regard his lack of political correctness as a form of candor, one of the many ironies of this election is that he and they are generally just as obedient as anyone else in compliance with many forms of political correctness.

Hillary Clinton’s offense in labeling half of Trump’s supporters as racists of one kind or another derives from the fact that virtually no one disputes that these are derogatory terms. Racism in America is almost universally disavowed. But the fact that nowadays so few people will tolerate being called racist seems to have not as much diminished racism than it has driven it underground. Even overt white supremacists practice their own form of political correctness by characterizing their cause as involving the conservation of what they regard as their endangered “heritage.”

An argument about how a political constituency is getting labeled serves mostly as a distraction from the core issue here: is American society capable of becoming more inclusive? Or is this a society already fractured by so many embattled and conflicting identities that its capacity to come together is severely impaired by a lack of durable social glue?

What does it mean to be an American? should not be a question asked so that politicians can compete in making cliched declarations about America’s greatness. Instead, it should be treated as the first step in arriving at a sound diagnosis of this nation both in terms of its actual strengths and weaknesses.

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Aleppo, Syria, and the U.S. presidential election

“What would you do — if elected — about Aleppo?” asked Mike Barnicle, when questioning Libertarian presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, on Morning Joe yesterday.

“What is Aleppo?” Johnson responded. He later explained that he thought he was being asked about an acronym with which he was unfamiliar.

Johnson has been mocked for his guileless response — what’s that? — but what’s much worse than not knowing something one should know is to feign knowledge so as to conceal ones ignorance. Politicians do it all the time and most people do it more often than they’re likely to admit.

When called on to comment on Johnson’s gaffe, Christopher Hill, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq who is currently Dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, thought it was “mind-blowing” that Johnson would have drawn a blank on the Aleppo question. Hill’s authority on the subject instantly evaporated, however, when he referred to the Syrian city as the ISIS capital. Likewise, the New York Times, reporting on Johnson, made the same mistake as Hill and compounded it by also referring to Aleppo as Syria’s capital city.

A presidential candidate, or a president, who can ask honest questions is much more desirable than one who concocts fake answers.

At the same time, the task of asking politicians questions generally falls on journalists who typically take on this responsibility with insufficient imagination, determination, or courage.

What would you do about Aleppo? is a case in point.

To circumscribe the war in Syria by giving it an epicenter (Aleppo) reinforces a narrative in which an administration that claims to be doing as much as it can — pushing diplomatic initiatives that have mostly gone nowhere — is contrasted with a yet-to-be formed administration that might do something — though as yet, no one’s really clear about what that something might be. The fact is, no one actually knows what the situation in Aleppo and more widely in Syria will be four months from now, when the next U.S. president takes office. The one thing that appears close to a certainty is that President Obama is committed to watching the clock on this issue until he leaves the White House.

Barnicle’s question could be construed as reasonable and appropriate if treated less literally as an effort to tease out a credible prescription for the immediate crisis in Aleppo, but instead viewed as a method for gauging the strategic sensibilities of the candidate.

Political discourse on Syria has been hamstrung for five years by a false debate between interventionism and anti-interventionism. The conventional wisdom drawn from the experience of the war in Iraq is that nothing is more important than avoiding another such war.

The rationale for fighting that war (after the WMD rationale evaporated) was that we need to fight them over there so we don’t end up fighting them herethem being the terrorists.

Ironically, even though the proponents of that argument mostly knew at the time that they were engaging in cynical fearmongering, it turned out that there was a kernel of truth to the interconnected world they were describing.

What Syria has demonstrated, not through predictions but by demonstrable, quantifiable facts, is that what happens in Syria doesn’t stay in Syria.

The Obama administration has treated the war in Syria as an exercise in containment. Its early nominal demands that Assad must go were never actually part of a policy of regime change. They were merely the expression of hopes and expectations that the U.S. could, in advance, place itself on the right side of history.

Ultimately, Obama’s approach to Syria has been shaped primarily by a domestic political calculus: that Americans are more concerned about ISIS than Syria.

Obama’s cynical choice has been to seek the short-term higher political dividends from battlefield successes against ISIS, than to become more deeply involved in a war that would risk becoming seen as his biggest foreign affairs legacy and failure.

But as Obama leaves office he will not actually leave Syria behind. Indeed, whoever becomes the next U.S. president will be inheriting a foreign policy headache shaped in large part by American inaction.

The war in Syria is the epicenter of regional conflict, widening instability, and a refugee crisis leading to the corrosion of democracy across the West, thus setting the course of the twenty-first century.

Like climate change, the situation in Syria has mostly grown worse because so many people thought it could safely be ignored.

An American president who imagines that what happens in the Middle East matters as little as the average American thinks it does, merely suffers from the same pathology that has always diseased the American mind: an outlook in which this nation and the world somehow magically stand apart.

Call me a globalist — I don’t mind — but there is only one world and through a lack of collective ownership over its affairs we are letting it fall apart.

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Trump makes the headlines with media help

Politico reports: After doubling down on his assertion that President Barack Obama is the “founder” of the Islamic State, Donald Trump on Friday suggested he was being sarcastic.

“Ratings challenged @CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama (and Clinton) ‘the founder’ of ISIS, & MVP,” Trump tweeted Friday morning. “THEY DON’T GET SARCASM?” [Continue reading…]

It’s worth remembering at this time the real, demonstrable, non-hyperbolic role Trump has played in helping ISIS and Al Qaeda recruit new members:

 

 

In Trump’s tweet today, he alludes to the fact that even as he pours contempt on the press, he and they are indeed partners in a ratings-driven tango.

The conservative talk show host, Hugh Hewitt, had this exchange with Trump on the claim that Obama was the “founder” of ISIS:

Hugh Hewitt: I think I would say they created, they lost the peace. They created the Libyan vacuum, they created the vacuum into which ISIS came, but they didn’t create ISIS. That’s what I would say.

Donald Trump: Well, I disagree.

HH: All right, that’s okay.

DT: I mean, with his bad policies, that’s why ISIS came about.

HH: That’s…

DT: If he would have done things properly, you wouldn’t have had ISIS.

HH: That’s true.

DT: Therefore, he was the founder of ISIS.

HH: And that’s, I’d just use different language to communicate it…

DT: But they wouldn’t talk about your language, and they do talk about my language, right?

HH: Well, good point. Good point.

Trump lays the bait and the media bites, but the way it bites is what keeps the story alive for 24 hours instead of two.

Instead of feigning shock in response to each new Trumpism, a serious interviewer would drill into Trump’s wild claims — something like this:

Trump: Obama was the founder of ISIS.

Interviewer: Really? That’s an interesting claim you’re making. You know most experts say that ISIS was founded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi back in 1999. Are you saying that back when Barack Obama was a state senator in Illinois, he was also a secret jihadist?

Trump: No, I’m just saying he founded ISIS.

Interviewer: Yes, I got that — I just want to flesh out more of the details. When did he do this?

Trump: You’d need to talk to the intelligence agencies.

Interviewer: OK. But just to be clear: You’re saying that although Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is generally viewed as the leader of ISIS, Obama has a more pivotal role. Did he appoint Baghdadi?

Trump: As I said, you’d need to talk to the intelligence agencies.

Interviewer: But, here’s my problem: I’m sure that if I talked to anyone at any level in the CIA or the NSA or any other agency, no one would say Obama founded ISIS. You’re the person making this claim and either you back it up with some substance, or concede that it’s just a line designed to grab a headline — otherwise you’re just going to be seen as a guy who fools around and is willing to say anything to get attention.

Trump: I really don’t see what you’re driving at, but I will repeat what I told Hugh Hewitt yesterday, ISIS came about because of Obama’s bad policies.

Interviewer: Ah, so “founder” — that’s just you messing with the media…

Trump: That’s what I do. They seem to like it.

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Assange promotes conspiracy theory about Wikileaks’ source of DNC emails

 

Wikileaks’ first gambit in promoting the idea that DNC staffer, Seth Rich, was murdered for political reasons was to announce that it is offering a reward for information that could lead to the conviction of the killer:


In the interview above, Julian Assange is now insinuating that Rich might have been Wikileaks’ source for the “leaked” DNC documents.

Clearly, this is nonsense — but it’s a claim that Assange shamelessly makes because he knows that idiots like Alex Jones will gladly run with it.

Wikileaks has a solid commitment to protect its sources and would have honored that commitment to Rich — had he been a source — when he was alive.

But there’s nothing that Wikileaks can do to protect him now. Indeed, if a Wikileaks source was murdered by those who feared the possibility of him speaking out, Wikileaks would then have a responsibility to speak out in the name of their source.

If Rich was indeed Wikileaks’ source, Assange would not at this time be shiftily alluding to some such possibility — he would instead be publishing evidence that proves this fact.

In that event, Wikileaks would have a solid foundation for demanding that the criminal investigation into Rich’s death include the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Likewise, in a single blow, Wikileaks would have destroyed the credibility of all those now claiming that Russian intelligence was directly or indirectly Wikileaks’ source.

By publishing evidence that Seth Rich — not the Russians — was Wikileaks’ source, Assange would instantly be able to elevate himself from his current role as a fugitive, attention-seeking conspiracy theorist, to a heroic, fearless truth-teller who had unequivocally struck hard at the heart of the American political establishment.

Who knows? He might even then get rewarded by Russia, secretly extracted from London and provided refuge in Moscow.

What seems more likely, however, is that sooner or later he’s going to get bumped unceremoniously onto the streets of London and thereafter land in a U.S. federal court facing charges for something. I’m sure he’ll get an excellent defense, but if convicted, let’s hope that this leads a future president to then show Chelsea Manning the mercy she deserves.

Assange, on the other hand, is increasingly displaying the recklessness of a man who senses his chickens are coming home to roost.

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Trump’s uncontrollable reactivity: He ‘literally can’t help himself’ says former adviser

trump-trance

Politico reports: Amid reports suggesting that he and other staffers are beginning to “phone it in,” [Trump campaign manager, Paul] Manafort subtly shifted blame to his candidate. He admitted that Trump’s comments in response to Khizr and Ghazala Khan were “not smart.” And he made it clear that it’s Trump, not any adviser or ally bending his ear, who is responsible.

“Well, first of all, the candidate is in control of his campaign. That’s No. 1,” Manafort said in a TV interview. “And I’m in control of doing the things that he wants me to do in the campaign.”

He attempted to dismiss the “turmoil” as “another Clinton narrative that’s being put out there.” But sources close to the campaign tell a different story of dysfunction and dismay inside Trump Tower.

“There’s just not much communication going on. It’s really sad, to be honest with you. They really just aren’t working as a team. Everyone’s just doing their own little thing,” said one former Trump adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I just wish he’d stop answering the questions. People don’t want a politician and they got someone who’s not a politician, so he’s going to make these kind of mistakes.”

This adviser said Trump “literally can’t help himself” in responding to perceived slights or taunts — and that his team and closest allies are demoralized and frustrated, especially over the apparent disconnect between Trump and the RNC.

The adviser said Trump had easily bounced back from other controversies, but this latest round borders on a point of no return. “It feels like we’re close to it.” The only silver lining? “Republicans’ intense hatred for Clinton. You remind yourself who the opposition is.”

Clinton, however, has largely skated past her own unforced errors — she wrongly asserted in an interview Sunday that FBI director James Comey had praised her truthfulness during the investigation into her use of a private email server — because Trump’s behavior since the Democratic National Convention has been all-consuming.

All week, in fact, the GOP nominee has been stomping on what might have been another opportune news cycle. The Democratic National Committee is going through a public purge as its CEO, communications director and chief financial officer all left on Tuesday, days after Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned under pressure. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported on a “secretly organized” airlift of $400 million to Iran that coincided with the release of four Americans in January.

In the past 48 hours, however, Republicans criticizing Trump and, in some cases, leaving the party altogether and declaring their support for Clinton, have dominated the news cycle. Following reports that Sally Bradshaw and Maria Comella — former staffers to Jeb Bush and Chris Christie, respectively — were backing Clinton, former GOP California gubernatorial candidate and Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman announced Tuesday that she was not only following suit but planning to make a significant financial contribution to the Democrat’s campaign.

Christie and Gingrich, two of Trump’s closest allies and runners-up to serve as his running mate, have also blasted the nominee’s response to a Muslim family whose son was killed in Iraq, while also criticizing Trump’s especially undisciplined, unfocused performance over the past week. [Continue reading…]

Of late, expressions such as “unfit for high office” or “unfit to serve” have frequently been applied to Trump.

The problem with a vague concept like unfit is that it can too easily be reconstructed and taken to mean, “does not meet the approval of the establishment.”

To Trump’s supporters, this is likely to sound like Trump is yet again being condemned for the very reason they like him.

The issue is not simply that Trump is unfit to become president, but more specifically, the aspects of his personality that render him unfit.

The perennial question posed to every presidential candidate is, how will she or he handle a national security crisis?

Trump is famously unpredictable. He might see that as an asset — that it gives him an advantage over adversaries who can’t get one step ahead of him. Moreover, the fact that he’s unpredictable doesn’t explain why he’s unpredictable.

What is blindingly evident right now, however, is that Donald Trump is a man who is unpredictable because he possesses no self-control.

Faced with a crisis, no one knows — including the candidate himself — what Trump would do. This is what makes him unfit for office.

To elect Trump would be to turn the presidency into a game of Russian roulette.

Given that danger, to characterize this election as yet another contest to determine who is the lesser of two evils is to apply a crude equivalence between the candidates as though they differ merely in the degree to which each is objectionable.

But each American voter has a greater responsibility than to simply give voice to their personal likes and dislikes.

At this juncture in history, in spite of America’s ebbing power, the U.S. presidency is still the most powerful political office in the world. This isn’t a game show.

The fact that Trump has become the Republican nominee is an indication of a deep malaise in American politics and American culture in which serious issues perpetually become trivialized.

As voters, however, we aren’t mere spectators who can sit back and observe how this show plays out. We determine the outcome.

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Trump: Hillary Clinton is ‘the devil … it’s true’

 

In spite of Donald Trump’s proclivity for making statements that aren’t meant to be taken literally — be that through sarcasm, hyperbole, or outright lying — it seems reasonable that in the Trump lexicon the phrase “it’s true” shouldn’t require much interpretation. That is to say, in Trump talk, “it’s true” should at least mean that Trump thinks it’s true — whether it’s actually true is a completely different question.

So, when Trump calls Hillary Clinton “the devil” and adds “it’s true,” as he did yesterday in Pennsylvania, this might prompt a number of questions:

Does Trump believe in the literal existence of the devil and see Clinton as a human incarnation of Satan?

Or, is Trump using “the devil” as a metaphor — the most provocative way of saying Hillary would make a really, really bad president?

Or, was Trump just grabbing the nastiest expression that came to mind at that moment?

What’s actually more telling than the phrase “the devil,” however, is the phrase “it’s true.”

Trump is using a stock phrase from stand-up comedy and late-night talk shows — the bit that comes with a straight face after the punch line.

The sad truth that Trump employs to some effect is that we live in a world where people are more receptive to words coming from the mouths of comedians than they are to those coming from candidates for high office. Trump is a showman posing as a politician acting like a comic, with considerable success.

But here’s the thing — and the media knows it and should stop feigning shock with each new utterance: Trump’s a garbage truck. Each time he opens his mouth, out comes a new pile of garbage.

Is there a compelling reason to sift through the putrid items each time he dumps — oh, Trump just coughed up a dead cat; is that horse shit or cow shit that’s now dripping from his lips?

No. Trump’s a trash-talker and each new piece of trash doesn’t need to fill the airwaves — it should go straight to the landfill.

Trump craves endless and free media attention and he has long operated as the media’s ringmaster as he hangs out one piece of bait after another. Every single time, the media obediently bites.

By so doing, the media is evading it’s real responsibility which is to seriously vet a man who could become president and to do this without him dictating the terms of that vetting process.

Given that no one actually knows what Trump believes or whether he believes anything at all, it’s time to focus much less on what comes out his mouth — the gap between his words and thoughts is inherently unbridgeable.

Instead of fruitlessly attempting to attend to what Trump thinks, we should focus more on how he thinks.

To observe how Trump thinks, no one needs access to Trump’s mind — the train of Trump’s thought is physically manifest.

By the account of those who have spent time with him and through the evidence of his rambling style of speech-making and in his responses to interview questions, we know that the train of Trump’s thought is extremely short and subject to frequently getting derailed.

Tony Schwartz, who as Trump’s ghostwriter was the author of The Art of the Deal, tells Jane Mayer that one of the real estate developer’s most essential characteristics is that, “he has no attention span.”

At the time the author embarked on research for the book that through its phenomenal success would expand Trump’s renown far beyond his home town:

Schwartz recalls, Trump was generally affable with reporters, offering short, amusingly immodest quotes on demand. Trump had been forthcoming with him during the New York interview, but it hadn’t required much time or deep reflection. For the book, though, Trump needed to provide him with sustained, thoughtful recollections. He asked Trump to describe his childhood in detail. After sitting for only a few minutes in his suit and tie, Trump became impatient and irritable. He looked fidgety, Schwartz recalls, “like a kindergartner who can’t sit still in a classroom.” Even when Schwartz pressed him, Trump seemed to remember almost nothing of his youth, and made it clear that he was bored. Far more quickly than Schwartz had expected, Trump ended the meeting.

Week after week, the pattern repeated itself. Schwartz tried to limit the sessions to smaller increments of time, but Trump’s contributions remained oddly truncated and superficial.

“Trump has been written about a thousand ways from Sunday, but this fundamental aspect of who he is doesn’t seem to be fully understood,” Schwartz told me. “It’s implicit in a lot of what people write, but it’s never explicit — or, at least, I haven’t seen it. And that is that it’s impossible to keep him focussed on any topic, other than his own self-aggrandizement, for more than a few minutes, and even then . . . ” Schwartz trailed off, shaking his head in amazement. He regards Trump’s inability to concentrate as alarming in a Presidential candidate. “If he had to be briefed on a crisis in the Situation Room, it’s impossible to imagine him paying attention over a long period of time,” he said.

In a recent phone interview, Trump told me that, to the contrary, he has the skill that matters most in a crisis: the ability to forge compromises. The reason he touted “The Art of the Deal” in his announcement [as a presidential candidate], he explained, was that he believes that recent Presidents have lacked his toughness and finesse: “Look at the trade deficit with China. Look at the Iran deal. I’ve made a fortune by making deals. I do that. I do that well. That’s what I do.”

But Schwartz believes that Trump’s short attention span has left him with “a stunning level of superficial knowledge and plain ignorance.” He said, “That’s why he so prefers TV as his first news source — information comes in easily digestible sound bites.” He added, “I seriously doubt that Trump has ever read a book straight through in his adult life.”

Maybe that’s true. But be that as it may, Trump’s ability to fulfill the responsibilities of a president doesn’t hinge as much on how well read he may or may not be, as it does simply on his capacity to digest information.

An American president is much less the king of deal-making than he or she is one of the world’s preeminent decision-makers.

Decision-making that is of national and often global consequence is not a responsibility that should be handed to an impulsive, egotistical, narcissistic, vindictive, bullying, xenophobic, misogynistic man who on top of that is a complete scatterbrain.

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Khan on Trump: ‘A person void of empathy for the people he wishes to lead cannot be trusted with that leadership’

Khizr Khan’s Democratic convention speech paying tribute to his son, Humayun Khan, a 27-year-old Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004, has reframed the presidential race through an expression of moral authority.

In December, Donald Trump pandered to the fears and prejudices of many Americans by calling for a “total ban” on Muslims entering the United States.

The Khan family, in the testimony of the father and the military service and lost life of the son, have irrefutably destroyed any semblance of legitimacy to Trump’s proposal.

There is no counter-argument Trump can effectively make and thus as a man “totally void of any decency” (as Khan observes), Trump has resorted to insulting his critics.

He has insulted both father and mother and their marriage and by extension all Muslims by suggesting that Ghazala Khan was not “allowed” to speak at the convention — Trump’s insinuation being that all Muslim women live under enforced silence.

In one respect, Trump’s response is completely true to form — he always denigrates his critics — but what is most revealing in this case is his willingness to trample on an American family who in the eyes of most Democrats and Republicans embody a widely accepted definition of patriotic citizens.

Trump wants voters to believe that as president, he would put America first, but what he has demonstrated again and again is that his vision extends no further than himself — that he is psychologically incapable of doing anything other than put Trump first.

Trump brags about his enormous success, his great wealth, and his huge popularity, but underneath all this self-aggrandizing swagger is a hollow core.

This is a man whose self-worth depends on him seeing his name emblazoned in giant letters because he is too afraid to look inside and take an honest account of how he measures as a human being.

Buried underneath Trump’s profusion of self-praise is the terror of a man in flight from his own sense of worthlessness.

This is a man who always hungers for more as he struggles to mask his own spiritual poverty.

The ugliness without, mirrors the ugliness within.

The Washington Post reports:

In response to Trump’s attack on his wife, Khan said the Republican nominee’s words were “typical of a person without a soul.”

Khan said his wife didn’t speak because she breaks down when she sees her son’s photograph — a huge one of which was projected onto a screen behind the stage at the convention.

“Emotionally and physically — she just couldn’t even stand there, and when we left, as soon as we got off camera, she just broke down. And the people inside, the staff, were holding her, consoling her. She was just totally emotionally spent. Only those parents that have lost their son or daughter could imagine the pain that such a memory causes. Especially when a tribute is being paid. I was holding myself together, because one of us had to be strong. Normally, she is the stronger one. But in the matter of Humayun, she just breaks down any time anyone mentions it.”

Khan said he asked his wife whether she wanted to address the convention.

“I asked her, ‘Do you want to say something? Thank you? We are glad?’” Khan said. “She said, ‘You know what will happen. I will sob.’ Would any mother be able to utter a word under those circumstances?”

Khan also said that he is now turning his attention to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), appealing to them to repudiate what he considers to be Trump’s divisive rhetoric. He said the matter of Trump’s candidacy has become a moral issue beyond policy or political disagreement.

“I am saying to them that this is your moral duty — and history will judge you . . . This will be a burden on their conscience for the rest of their lives,” Khan said near midnight Saturday.

Speaking of Trump’s proposed suspension of Muslim immigration, Khan said that the candidate is simply “pandering for votes.”

“This is my country too,” he said, adding that Trump “lacks understanding,” that most Muslims are victims of terrorism, not perpetrators — and they condemn it. “He lacks awareness of these issues. He doesn’t realize there are patriotic Muslim Americans in this country willing to lay their lives for this country. We are a testament to that.”

On Friday, Khizr and Ghazala Khan spoke to Lawrence O’Donnell. (In the videos below, their conversation is preceded by a short review of the highlights of other speeches delivered at the Convention.)

Khizr Khan spoke directly to Republican leaders, Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell and Speaker Paul Ryan, saying: “If your candidate wins and he governs the way he has campaigned, my country, this country will have [a] constitutional crisis that has never [occurred] before in this history of this country.” Appealing to both men, Khan said: “There comes a time in the history of a nation, where an ethical, moral stance has to be taken regardless of the political cost.”

 

 

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Wikileaks’ hidden agenda

The Atlantic reports: Considerable evidence shows that the Wikileaks dump was an orchestrated act by the Russian government, working through proxies, to undermine Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“This has all the hallmarks of tradecraft. The only rationale to release such data from the Russian bulletproof host was to empower one candidate against another. The Cold War is alive and well,” Tom Kellermann, the CEO of Strategic Cyber Ventures said.

Here’s the timeline: On June 14, the cybersecurity company CrowdStrike, under contract with the DNC, announced in a blog post that two separate Russian intelligence groups had gained access to the DNC network. One group, FANCY BEAR or APT 28, gained access in April. The other, COZY BEAR, (also called Cozy Duke and APT 29) first breached the network in the summer of 2015.

The cybersecurity company FireEye first discovered APT 29 in 2014 and was quick to point out a clear Kremlin connection. “We suspect the Russian government sponsors the group because of the organizations it targets and the data it steals. Additionally, APT29 appeared to cease operations on Russian holidays, and their work hours seem to align with the UTC +3 time zone, which contains cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg,” they wrote in their report on the group. Other U.S. officials have said that the group looks like it has sponsorship from the Russian government due in large part to the level of sophistication behind the group’s attacks.

It’s the same group that hit the State Department, the White House, and the civilian email of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The group’s modus operandi (a spear-phishing attack that uploads a distinctive remote access tool on the target’s computer) is well known to cybersecurity researchers.

In his blog post on the DNC breaches, CrowdStrike’s CTO Dmitri Alperovitch wrote: “We’ve had lots of experience with both of these actors attempting to target our customers in the past and know them well. In fact, our team considers them some of the best adversaries out of all the numerous nation-state, criminal and hacktivist/terrorist groups we encounter on a daily basis. Their tradecraft is superb, operational security second to none and the extensive usage of ‘living-off-the-land’ techniques enables them to easily bypass many security solutions they encounter.”

The next day, an individual calling himself Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be the culprit behind the breach and released key documents to back up the claim, writing: “Shame on CrowdStrike.”

Crowdstrike stood by its original analysis, writing: “these claims do nothing to lessen our findings relating to the Russian government’s involvement, portions of which we have documented for the public and the greater security community.”

Other security firms offered independent analysis and reached the same conclusion. The group Fidelis undertook its own investigation and found Crowdstrike to be correct.

A Twitter user named @PwnAlltheThings looked at the metadata on the docs that Guccifer 2.0 provided in his blog post and found literal Russian signatures.


His findings were backed up by Dan Goodin at Ars Technica. “Given the evidence combined with everything else, I think it’s a strong attribution to one of the Russian intelligence agencies,” @PwnAllTheThings remarked to Motherboard.

Motherboard reporter Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai actually conversed with Guccifer 2.0 over Twitter. The hacker, who claimed to be Romanian, answered questions in short sentences that “were filled with mistakes according to several Romanian native speakers,” Bicchieri found.

A large body of evidence suggests that Guccifer 2.0 is a smokescreen that the actual culprits employed to hide their involvement in the breach.

That would be consistent with Russian information and influence operations. “Russian propagandists have been caught hiring actors to portray victims of manufactured atrocities or crimes for news reports (as was the case when Viktoria Schmidt pretended to have been attacked by Syrian refugees in Germany for Russia’s Zvezda TV network), or faking on-scene news reporting (as shown in a leaked video in which ‘reporter’ Maria Katasonova is revealed to be in a darkened room with explosion sounds playing in the background rather than on a battlefield in Donetsk when a light is switched on during the recording),” notes a RAND report from earlier in July.

The use of Wikileaks as the publishing platform served to legitimize the information dump, which also contains a large amount of personal information related to democratic donors such as social security and credit card numbers. This suggests that Wikileaks didn’t perform a thorough analysis of the documents before they released them, or simply didn’t care. [Continue reading…]

Wikileaks describes itself as a “source-protection organization” — without a reliable commitment to that goal, it’s unlikely they would have any material to publish. So, this layer of secrecy is a necessity.

But what exactly is Wikileaks’ mission? The closest they come to offering a mission statement is this:

WikiLeaks is a multi-national media organization and associated library. It was founded by its publisher Julian Assange in 2006.

WikiLeaks specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption. It has so far published more than 10 million documents and associated analyses.

“WikiLeaks is a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents. We give asylum to these documents, we analyze them, we promote them and we obtain more.” – Julian Assange

This is a description of what Wikileaks does, but it doesn’t explain why.

One might assume that anyone involved in the “liberation” of censored information would be a firm believer in transparency.

Wikileaks doesn’t just leak secrets; it’s trying to undermine and challenge deeply entrenched cultures of secrecy — or so we have been led to believe.

Yet if this is indeed Wikileaks’ mission, shouldn’t we expect the organization to demonstrate greater transparency in its own workings?

Sure, they need to protect their sources, but if the only explanation they have about their own decision-making processes is that they are guided by public interest, then Wikileaks turns out to be no less secretive than the governments and organizations it exposes.

Wikileaks can say they released their trove of DNC emails in the public interest, but that doesn’t explain the timing.

A datadump right before the Democratic National Convention was sure to garner the maximum amount of publicity and have the maximum disruptive effect. As a PR decision, it’s easy to understand.

But given the political consequences of Wikileaks actions, it’s worth asking what political agenda they are supporting and who is driving that agenda.

Since the DNC emails Wikileaks has just published cover a period that ended on May 25, 2016, it’s reasonable to assume that Wikileaks received the emails shortly after that time. Indeed, in an interview in early June, Julian Assange said: “We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton.” It sounds like he must have been referring to the DNC emails — although if that was the case, he misled the interviewer by failing to correct the interviewer’s presupposition that Assange was referring to emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server. This interview took place before the DNC hacking had become public knowledge.

At that time, Bernie Sanders had not conceded defeat to Hillary Clinton and Wikileaks, had it been so inclined, could have tossed a spanner into the primary process and given the Sanders camp some greater political leverage in its negotiations with the Clinton campaign. (At the same time, let’s not forget about that irksome detail from the outcome of the primaries that gets ignored by some Sanders supporters: At the end of the process Clinton had received 16,847,075 votes to Sander’s 13,168,214 and she had won in 34 states while he won 23.)

Given that Wikileaks made the DNC email release at a time of its choosing and it chose July 22, the evidence strongly suggests that its interest was in harming Clinton without helping Sanders. The only immediate beneficiary of the leak was Donald Trump.

The reasons Vladamir Putin would like to see Trump become president have already been presented at length. The reasons why Wikileaks would back Trump are far from clear.

Is Wikileaks being manipulated by powers it doesn’t recognize, or does it receive encouragement, guidance, or directions from sources it is compelled to keep secret, not in the name of source-protection but for the sake of self-protection?

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Trump camp inciting murderous hatred of Hillary Clinton

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If an assassination attempt is made on Hillary Clinton, will Donald Trump come under investigation for inciting murder?

Al Baldasaro, a New Hampshire state representative who advises Donald Trump on veterans’ issues, says that Clinton is “a piece of garbage,” and says that she should be “put in the firing line and shot for treason.”

The Guardian reports: “Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Trump and his campaign did not agree with Baldasaro’s remarks.”

There’s a difference between disavowing such a statement and not agreeing with it. Maybe the disagreement is on the method of execution. Perhaps like West Virginia Republican lawmaker, Mike Folk, Trump prefers public hangings to firing squads.

Although Baldasaro’s statement grabbed headlines and has caught the attention of the Secret Service, the sentiment he expressed is far from being out of line with the unmeasured hostility towards Clinton that is constantly being fueled by the Trump campaign.

The comments, coming from a chief adviser for a signature issue of Trump’s campaign, are far from the only incendiary remarks directed at the former secretary of state during the Republican national convention, where Clinton has loomed large. On Superior Avenue in downtown Cleveland, men hawking T-shirts reading “Trump This Bitch!” and “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica” have done brisk business.

The anti-Clinton fervor has often dominated the primetime stage of the convention itself. During a highly charged speech on Tuesday night, New Jersey governor Chris Christie presided over arena-wide chants of “Guilty!” and “Lock her up!” as the former federal prosecutor argued in a mock trial “the case now, on the facts, against Hillary Clinton”.

Later that evening, the former presidential candidate Ben Carson departed from his prepared remarks to imply that Clinton admired Satan.

Whenever Trump and the tone of his campaign inspire individuals to engage in acts of violence, the Republican presidential campaign can always claim he had no intention of having this effect.

The more relevant question, however, is what if anything he has done to discourage violence and the growth of hatred. In that regard, the evidence seems clear that he has done little to nothing.

This gets to the heart of incitement: It’s not simply about outsourcing criminal behavior, but it’s about doing this in such a way that a false separation is constructed between the direct and indirect perpetrators of the crime.

Trump may never face prosecution, but that does nothing to absolve him from responsibility for spreading lethal rage across this country.

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Erdogan sees attempted coup as ‘gift from God’

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I don’t have much patience for conspiracy theories, but the one incontrovertible fact about all coups is that, by definition, coups involve conspiracies.

A conspiracy of some kind has been unfolding in Turkey over the last 24 hours. What is unclear is who was involved, what exactly they had planned, and what was the basis of their expectations.

President Tayyip Erdogan now says: “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army.”

Indeed. Turkey’s president comes out of this event the big winner. He can present himself as a man of the people strong enough to withstand any domestic challengers.

The Telegraph reports:

When he arrived in Istanbul in the early hours of the morning, Mr Erdogan, grave and ashen-faced, warned that his foes would “pay a heavy price” for their “treason and rebellion”.

The deputy leader of his AK party demanded the return of the death penalty so that putschists could be “executed”. Meanwhile, the deputy prime minister promised to rid the government of all enemies. “Even if they went into the tiniest veins of the state, they will be purged,” he declared.

Whatever steps he now takes to consolidate and expand his power, he can do so in the name of defending peace and stability — Erdogan, the guardian of democracy, dedicated to preventing Turkey ever again coming under military rule.

As soon as news broke about the coup attempt, the first question everyone had was about the president’s whereabouts. In any coup, typically one of the first steps is to kill or capture the head of state. In this case, Erdogan was away on vacation in the resort town of Marmaris, but he claims to have eluded several assassination attempts last night.

When Erdogan made his first television appearance via Facetime, it would be hard to say he looked presidential, but then again, he didn’t have a gun pointed at his head.


Meanwhile, shutting down some bridges and sending some tanks into the streets is an effective way of creating news footage for television and social media, but it would have taken a much larger show of force to convince the residents of any of Turkey’s major cities that the military had really taken control. There’s a big difference between ordering a curfew and having the ability to impose one.

If the plan devised for carrying out this coup seems to have been poorly conceived and poorly executed, the plan for handling the outcome seems stunningly detailed and is being implemented faster than the coup itself.

2,839 soldiers, including high-ranking officers, have been arrested and 2,745 judges have also been dismissed today.

The investigative procedures in Turkey are either extraordinarily efficient, or, more likely, a lot of decisions about how to deal with this coup were made well before the coup itself took place.

The purge of Ergodan’s enemies hasn’t just begun, but it will now move forward with a dramatic advance in pace.

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Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, ISIS, and the empathy gap

“Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background and if they believe in Sharia they should be deported,” Newt Gingrich told Fox News’ Sean Hannity after the Nice attack.

This is idiotic and yet there’s no doubt millions of Americans support this kind of ostensibly tough approach to “the Muslim threat.”

But as Jeffrey Goldberg correctly notes: “ISIS seeks to convince devout Muslims that there is no place for them in the West. Suggestions like Gingrich’s reinforce this core ISIS message.”

Goldberg goes on to observe:

There is much to critique in Gingrich’s approach, but I was struck in particular by his statement that “Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization.” One of the Middle East countries that officially endorses sharia as a legal system is one of Gingrich’s most favored countries, Israel, which is, by his lights — and mine — a crucial component of Western civilization. Israel’s sharia courts, which are supervised by the Ministry of Justice, allow the more than 15 percent of Israel’s population that is Muslim to seek religious recourse for their personal dilemmas. These courts have been in operation since Israel’s founding, and yet the country does not seem to have been fatally undermined by their existence.

Americans are famously naive, but anyone who’s been through the immigration process will be aware that the system for establishing who is entitled to become a resident or citizen includes a series of bizarre questions.

For instance, the U.S. government asks each prospective permanent resident whether they intend to engage in espionage. Seriously — everyone gets asked that! Did anyone ever answer “yes”?

Setting aside this baseless notion that belief in Sharia can serve as a litmus test for extremism, why is it that Gingrich imagines that the people he wants to exclude from this country are going to offer an honest account of themselves?

The effect of Gingrich’s comments and those being made by Donald Trump is not to improve security; they merely amplify the Islamophobic hysteria that runs rampant in many parts of America.

The more that fear of Muslims gets ramped up, the more this empowers ISIS and other extremists who assert that the West is at war with Islam.

When Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was questioned yesterday by French police before he went on his deadly rampage, I’m sure they didn’t ask him whether he believed in Sharia — or whether he was planning to carry out an act of terrorism. They wanted to know what he was doing with his truck and he said he was delivering ice cream. He was a resident of Nice and clearly, nothing about his behavior or appearance made him seem out of place.

It turns out to be tragic that the police didn’t ask to see the contents of his truck where they would have found weapons, yet they should not be faulted for failing to apply some kind of cockeyed terrorist screening process.

This is what we now know about the man described by his own cousin as an “unlikely jihadist“:

The 31-year-old – who wreaked terror on the Nice seafront as he turned an evening celebrating Bastille Day into a night of terror in which he murdered 84 innocent people – drank alcohol, ate pork and took drugs.

He never prayed or attended a mosque, and hit his wife – with whom he had three children – and was in the process of getting a divorce.

Bouhlel, who had been known to the French police since January, had been on the radar for six months for petty criminality.

It is understood he lost his job as a delivery driver when he fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into four cars.

Just as the Trump camp is helping boost terrorism with its intemperate rhetoric, each time there is a mass killing in the West that gets tied to Muslims, Donald Trump’s chances of reaching the White House improve.

After the Nice attack, Trump asked: “When will we learn?

This is a fake rhetorical question — his insinuation is that the way forward will be clear once we’re living under the leadership of President Trump.

George Monbiot asks a more relevant question:


Each time there is a ghastly headline-grabbing act of violence, there is a genuine need to understand what happened and most importantly, to understand the mindset of the killer(s).

What we can surmise already is that Bouhlel lacked a shred of empathy for the people whose lives he tore apart.

This was an act of brutality that required even more callousness than that shown by a suicide bomber whose own demise is simultaneous with that of his victims. The Nice killer was both the perpetrator of and witness to his own murderous instincts as he destroyed life after life.

Did the windshield of his truck construct some kind of psychological separation as though he was witnessing a parade of death displayed on a screen? Did this enable some macabre blending of fiction and reality?

In his inhumanity we see evidence of someone who, for reasons we may never clearly know, had lost the capacity to value the humanity of others. There is an arc of dehumanization that ties the killer to his victims.

When politicians are quick to make declarations of war in the wake of each new atrocity, rather than showing genuine empathy for the victims, they are more like vultures swooping down to grasp some political advantage.

The bluntest display of this came on 9/11 when Benjamin Netanyahu said the attacks were a “good thing.”

These days the grim celebrations are more circumspect, always preceded by some perfunctory expressions of sympathy.

The actual human loses, however, are permanent. The war cries bring back no lives. They provide no real consolation.

Terrorism as hideous as it is, is just the most extreme form of an affliction that really does span the whole world.

In the terrorist we see the death of empathy, but elsewhere and to much greater ill effect we see an empathy deficit.

Healing the world requires closing that deficit — not an endless war that counterproductively widens the empathy gap.

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Srebrenica: Why every life matters

In the West, the top three watershed geopolitical events of the modern era are commonly seen as the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the al Qaeda attacks in the U.S. in 2001, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The 1995 Srebrenica Genocide, has largely been forgotten and outside the Muslim world its significance never widely grasped.

Yet as Brendan Simms noted in Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present:

In the Muslim world, the slaughter of their co-religionists in Bosnia contributed substantially to the emergence of a common consciousness on foreign policy. According to this global discourse, Muslims were now on the defensive across the world: in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere. A large number of Arab, Turkish, Caucasian, central Asian and other Mujahedin – in search of a new jihad after Afghanistan – went to Bosnia to fight. It was among European Muslims, however, that the Bosnian experience resonated most forcefully. ‘It doesn’t really matter whether we perish or survive,’ the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina [Dr. Mustafa Cerić] remarked in May 1994, ‘the lesson will always be there. And it is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue.’ This ‘Zionist’ message echoed across the immigrant communities in western Europe, especially Britain. ‘Bosnia Today – Brick Lane tomorrow’ warned the banners in one East London demonstration. Some of the most prominent subsequent British jihadists such as Omar Sheikh, who masterminded the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, and the Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg – were radicalized by Bosnia. In other words, the new Muslim geopolitics of the mid-1990s was a reaction not to western meddling but to nonintervention in the face of genocide and ethnic cleansing [my emphasis].

A decade later, when Nadeem Azam interviewed Cerić (who in 2003 in recognition of his contributions to inter-faith dialogue, tolerance and peace, was awarded UNESCO’s Félix Houphouët-Boigny peace prize) he reiterated his message on the necessity of Muslim self-reliance.

What are your feelings about the future of Islam in Europe?

Not very good. The rise of fascism combined with an officially-sanctioned tendency to be unreasonable when it comes to discussion about Islam are bad omens. I am not a soothsayer but I can see the reality of a day when the treatment of a Muslim in Europe will be worse than that of serial killer: we are, I am afraid, on the verge of seeing a situation develops whereby it would be a crime to be a Muslim in Europe. The events of 11 September, 2001, have made things worse. May Allah protect us.

But having such feelings does not depress me. It actually should motivate us and make us even more resolute in our efforts. More importantly it should make us think of planning and organising. If the day comes – like it did in Bosnia – you might be unable to control events around you but you should at least be ready to do what is needed to be done by a Muslim at such an hour.
[…]
The message of the four year-long war we fought is a simple one: that the Muslim community must always be vigilant and must always take their destiny in their own hands. They must never rely on anyone or anybody to solve their problems or come to their rescue; they must always rely on God and the faith, goodness and compassion within their communities. This is very important. Our strength will always be reflective of the strength of our communities.

Today, Cerić’s fears are clearly all the more well-founded as across Europe xenophobia and Islamophobia relentlessly grow and in the United States a presidential candidate gains the strongest boost to his campaign by promising a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims.

The lesson that Srebrenica taught many Muslims in the West was that even when they are in no sense foreign or culturally set apart, they are still at risk of exclusion and elimination.

Last month after the EU referendum in the UK, a resident of Barnsley, South Yorkshire (five miles from where I grew up), when asked to explain why he had voted for Brexit said: “It’s to stop the Muslims coming into this country. Simple as that.”

Among opponents of the war in Iraq, a widely accepted narrative has long been that the antidote to the unintended consequences of so much ill-conceived Western meddling in the Greater Middle East over the last 15 years is to simply step back and disengage. This sentiment, in large part, is what got Barack Obama elected in 2008. Let the region sort out its own problems or let closer neighbors such as the Russians intervene, so the thinking goes. The U.S. has much more capacity to harm than to help.

Yet as the killing fields of Syria have grown larger year after year, the message from Srebrenica merely seems to have been underlined: the magnitude of the death toll in any conflict will be of little concern across most of the West so long as the victims are Muslim.

After Donald Trump called for Muslims to be shut out of America, Michael Moore declared: We are all Muslim. And he promoted the hashtag #WeAreAllMuslim.

Expressions of solidarity through social media are easy to promote and of debatable value, yet the isolation of Muslims in this instance, rather than being overcome, merely seemed to get reinforced. #WeAreAllMuslim was mostly deployed as a sarcastic slur shared by Islamophobes.

The global trends are strong and clear, pointing to a future marked by more and more social fragmentation as people withdraw into their respective enclaves where they believe they can “take care of their own.”

We live in a world in which we are getting thrown closer together while simultaneously trying to stand further apart. It can’t work.

At some point we either embrace the fact that we are all human and have the capacity to advance our mutual interests, or we will continue down the current path of self-destruction.

* * *

Last year, Myriam François-Cerrah, a British journalist who is also a Muslim, took a group of young people from the UK — all of whom were born in the year of the genocide — to Srebrenica where they learned lessons that arguably have more relevance now than they have had at any time since 1995.

 

The events immediately leading up to the genocide are recounted in this segment from the BBC documentary, The Death of Yugoslavia:

 

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