Removing Assad’s capacity to bomb his own people

 

Reuters reports: In her first interview since her stunning presidential election defeat by Republican rival Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton on Thursday called for the United States to bomb Syrian air fields.

Clinton, in an interview at the Women in the World Summit in New York, also called Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election a theft more damaging than Watergate.

Asked whether she now believes that failing to take a tougher stand against Syria was her worst foreign policy mistake as secretary of state under President Barack Obama, Clinton said she favored more aggressive action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“I think we should have been more willing to confront Assad,” Clinton said in the interview, conducted by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

“I really believe we should have and still should take out his air fields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.”

Clinton noted that she had advocated for a no-fly zone in Syria after leaving government, something that Obama opposed. [Continue reading…]

Following the U.S. missile strikes on a single airfield in Syria, Code Pink, voicing what is no doubt widely-held anti-war sentiment, tweeted: “We need to end the war in #Syria, not escalate it. US intervention will not end this horror. We need a ceasefire and a political solution!”

Bashar al-Assad, on the other hand, this week asserted he sees no “option except victory” in the war.

Assad’s pursuit of victory precludes the possibility of a political solution to the conflict. His ability to pursue that goal has been sustained, with Russia and Iran’s support, by his ability to control the skies over Syria and from there rain down terror (mostly in the form of barrel bombs) on a population that is essentially defenseless from aerial assault.

The demolition of Syria’s airfields — most of them, not just one — far from representing a reckless escalation of the war, should on the contrary be seen as a kind of embargo on the transportation and dropping of bombs.

But don’t innocent people always get killed whenever military action takes place?

Consider last night’s cruise missile strikes: Reuters reports that the Syrian army said the attack killed six people at its air base near the city of Homs.

However, the Pentagon said: “Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield.”

So why were there any casualties?

The most likely reason is because Syrian commanders wanted to parade a few bodies of their own soldiers as victims of American aggression.

If American restraint actually had the effect of hastening a political solution in Syria, the war would already be over — whatever else can be said about President Obama’s approach to Syria, no one can plausibly argue that it was lacking in restraint.

The question now revolves around the mercurial intentions of his successor who just days ago was offering Assad a free pass to remain in power.

Does Trump fire cruise missiles more carefully than tweets?

I’m willing to assume so, not because I think he’s discovered a new sense of responsibility but mostly because they can’t be launched from his phone.

At this moment at least, Trump is largely following directions and a script — from his national security advisor, Gen. H.R. McMaster and Defense Secretary Mattis.

Now more than ever, however, it should be clear what a massive liability is imposed both on America and the rest of the world when the voice of an American president has such little credibility.

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Donald Trump’s strange relationship with Jared Kushner (updated)

Hardly a day goes by without Jared Kushner being anointed with a new role in the Trump administration. Is Kushner, Trump’s Kissinger? A man of such genius that he inspires in this president so much confidence that whenever Trump asks himself, who’s the most gifted individual in whose hands I can place this awesome challenge? the answer is always Kushner?


My hunch — nothing more than that — is that the reason Kushner keeps on getting new roles has nothing to do with his abilities and everything to do with Trump’s relationship with his own daughter Ivanka.

In spite of Trump’s repeated indications of being sexually attracted to Ivanka, the man who has lived his whole life with the expectation that he can grab whatever he wants, was in this instance forced to rein in his own desires. (I am willing to assume he has successfully done that primarily because I see no indications that Ivanka feels the need to maintain a safe distance from her father.)

At the same time, given Trump’s grandiosity, it’s hard to believe that he truly believes that Kushner or any other man would really be good enough for his daughter.

So perhaps the reason Trump keeps on giving Kushner new roles is because he wants Kushner to fail.

Does Kushner look like a man brimming with such immeasurable confidence that he can conquer anything?

Not really.

More like a timid young man who’s afraid of saying “no” to his tyrannical father-in-law.

Footnote (update): However Trump views Kushner, it is, let’s say strange, that the White House would tell the world (and that includes ISIS) that the Senior Advisor to the President and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are on board an aircraft that’s shortly going to land in Iraq.

The Washington Post reports:

Colin Kahl, a senior administration official under former president Barack Obama, called the Trump administration’s move to release information about the trip ahead of Dunford and Kushner arriving in Iraq very unusual.

“Given how dangerous Iraq is, and the likelihood that senior U.S. officials could be targeted, the Obama administration always waited to announce any high-level visit until the official was on the ground,” Kahl said. “Political imperatives may incline some to advertise these trips — but in life-and-death situations, safety of our officials comes first.”

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Why Wikileaks? Why now?

Fred Kaplan writes: Tuesday’s WikiLeaks release exposing thousands of detailed documents on CIA hacking tools is an unbridled attack on U.S. intelligence operations with little or no public benefit. It makes no claim or pretense that the CIA has used these tools to engage in domestic surveillance or any other illegal activity. Most whistleblowers who leak national security secrets take care to avoid revealing where the secrets come from — the “sources and methods” of the intelligence. These documents are about nothing but sources and methods. [Continue reading…]

Reuters reports: A longtime intelligence contractor with expertise in U.S. hacking tools told Reuters the documents included correct “cover” terms describing active cyber programs.

“People on both sides of the river are furious,” he said, referring to the CIA and the eavesdropping National Security Agency based in Fort Meade, Maryland. “This is not a Snowden-type situation. This was taken over a long term and handed over to WikiLeaks.” [Continue reading…]

In a press release, Wikileaks said: Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized “zero day” exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation. This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.

In a statement to WikiLeaks the source details policy questions that they say urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the CIA’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency. The source wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.

Names, email addresses and external IP addresses have been redacted in the released pages (70,875 redactions in total) until further analysis is complete. [Continue reading…]

The Atlantic reports: WikiLeaks appears to be shifting its strategy with its latest document dump. In the past, it has let the public loose on its leaked documents with little more than a few paragraphs of introduction, occasionally building search functions to let users sift through the largest dumps. The CIA leak, on the other hand, came with a detailed press release and analysis of the some key findings from the documents, written in a journalistic style.

Uncharacteristically, WikiLeaks appears to have gone out of its way to redact sensitive information and withhold malicious code from the CIA documents it made public. That’s a slight departure from previous leaks, which were wholly unfiltered. [Continue reading…]

Given that it has become increasingly difficult to differentiate between Wikileaks the organization and Julian Assange the individual, I have my doubts that the massive number of redactions and carefully crafted press release should necessarily be attributed to a shift in strategy on the part of Wikileaks/Assange. This may in fact be the way the leaks were delivered: pre-packaged.

In other words, the leaker(s) were just as concerned about how this information got out as they were with its contents — and that begs the question (as posed by @pwnallthethings): why use Wikileaks?

If, as the source is alleged to claim, the goal here is to generate public debate, why use such a flawed messenger — a messenger widely viewed as operating in the service of the Russian intelligence.

The source’s choice of going through Wikileaks suggests they were opting for a suitably malleable conduit and wanted to reach a target audience that thinks little or cares less about Julian Assange’s agenda.

Journalists are hamstrung (or to put it less kindly, incredibly easy to manipulate) in this situation. The key questions are about the source of leaks and the agenda being pursued, yet these are at this time matters of pure conjecture. The alternative to speculation is to focus on the content and get distracted by smart TV vulnerabilities etc.

Yet the source/Wikileaks is in large part teeing this up for political debate and casting the CIA as a rogue intelligence agency — a narrative that surely plays well inside the White House.

As is often the case, Donald Trump’s current silence is much more telling than his tweets.

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Greenwald, Limbaugh, Hannity, Drudge, Assange all use same ‘deep state’ formula to push back against Russia story

The first step in dismissing someone’s concerns is to brand them as hysterical.

Trump’s ties to Russia, the hacking of the DNC, Trump administration officials lying about their communications with Russians, a global disinformation campaign that is undermining democracy and empowering right-wing authoritarian leaders and parties across the West — the attention being directed at all of this, is, some observers claim, all part of an “anti-Russia frenzy” that is being stoked in order to topple the Trump presidency.

The new coalition of left and right that has brought together Trump supporters and nominal Trump opponents, seem to be agreed on this: the best way of addressing the story of Russian interference in American democracy is to ignore Russia.

After all, if for decades you have been obsessed about the enemy in Washington, how can all this Kremlin talk be seen as anything other than another sinister plot spawned by the American masters of the Deep State?

Apparently the term Deep State is new to some on the right, but it’s popularization by Glenn Greenwald is serving the Trump camp well.

 

For those who are eager to counteract the effects of the unremitting flow of Russia-related stories involving team Trump, the latest piece of ammunition has been provided by Michael Tracey whose supposed deconstruction of the story cycle is being hailed as a “must read.”


I don’t think Greenwald gets directions from Moscow, but if he did, they would be very concise: keep doing what you’re already doing.

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Sessions is flagrantly lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador

The New York Times reports: Democrats escalated their demands late Wednesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuse himself from overseeing an investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government after a disclosure that Mr. Sessions himself spoke with the Russian ambassador last year, seemingly contradicting his testimony at his confirmation hearing.

And some Democrats went further, suggesting that Mr. Sessions had perjured himself and demanding that he resign.

“Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader. “There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians.”

But the Trump administration rejected the accusations as partisan attacks, and Mr. Sessions said in a statement issued shortly before midnight that he had not addressed election matters with the ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak.

“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” Mr. Sessions said. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.” [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports, “Officials said Sessions did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak.”

This is the definition of obfuscation.

Sessions claims to have a clear recollection of what was not spoken about yet doesn’t recall the actual content of the conversations.

Moreover, his denial of discussing “issues of the campaign” is narrowly circumscribed.

When he says, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he appears to be referring to the prearranged purpose of such meetings since it’s reasonable to assume that such officials would not show up unannounced.

Once face to face, however, whether the conversation in parts then pertained to the campaign, that’s a possibility Sessions leaves open and also conveniently obscures with his blanket failure of recollection.

This morning, he continued attempting to weasel his way out of the corner he’s in, mindful perhaps that even inside the Trump administration — but outside the Oval Office — publicly exposed liars can be forced to resign.

NBC News reports:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied meeting with any Russian officials during the course of the presidential election to talk about politics, he told NBC News in exclusive remarks early Thursday.

“I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign,” he said, “and those remarks are unbelievable to me and are false. And I don’t have anything else to say about that.”

When asked about the calls by Democrats to recuse himself from investigating any alleged ties between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, Sessions added: “I have said whenever it’s appropriate, I will recuse myself. There’s no doubt about that.”

Since Sessions and his staff claim they’re having trouble piecing together the details about these conversations, perhaps the FBI can help them out through the findings of its counterintelligence investigation on contacts between Russian officials and Sessions.

At the end of the day, what may prove more consequential than the conversations themselves was that then-Senator Sessions, testifying under oath, purposefully misled his fellow Senators.

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Xenophobes can’t protect America; they just turn friends into foes

The Australian children’s author, Mem Fox, describes her treatment by immigration officials in Los Angeles International Airport. She writes: The way I was interviewed was monstrous. If only they had been able to look into my suitcase and see my books. The irony! I had a copy of my new book I’m Australian, Too – it’s about immigration and welcoming people to live in a happy country. I am all about inclusivity, humanity and the oneness of the humans of the world; it’s the theme of my life. I also had a copy of my book Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. I told him I had all these inclusive books of mine in my bag, and he yelled at me: “I can read!”

He was less than half my age – I don’t look 70 but I don’t look 60 either, I’m an older woman – and I was standing the whole time. The belligerence and violence of it was really terrifying. I had to hold the heel of my right hand to my heart to stop it beating so hard.

They were not apologetic at any point. When they discovered that one of Australia’s official gifts to Prince George was Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, he held out his hand and said: “It’s been a pleasure to meet you, Ms Fox.” I was close to collapse, very close to fainting, and this nearly broke me – it was the creepiest thing of all.

I had been upright, dignified, cool and polite, and this was so cruelly unexpected, so appalling, that he should say it was a pleasure. It couldn’t have been a pleasure for him to treat me like that, unless he was a psychopath.

In that moment I loathed America. I loathed the entire country. And it was my 117th visit to the country so I know that most people are very generous and warm-hearted. They have been wonderful to me over the years. I got over that hatred within a day or two. But this is not the way to win friends, to do this to someone who is Australian when we have supported them in every damn war. It’s absolutely outrageous. [Continue reading…]

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) promotes itself as a military friendly employer and actively recruits veterans.

The numerous reports of zealous officials mistreating people who are viewed with suspicion primarily because they are not American, makes me wonder what proportion of these officials have traveled overseas for any other purpose than to engage in war.

If your only experience of the wider world has been the daily fear of getting blown up by an IED in Iraq or Afghanistan, then to be placed on “America’s frontline” is an invitation to turn the war-fighter’s fears into a permanent way of life.

 

While Trumpsters think they’re making America safer, the much more predictable effect of the climate of paranoia and xenophobia the White House is fueling is to turn the United States into one of the least desirable tourist destinations in the world.

The Guardian reports: Interest in travel to the US has “fallen off a cliff” since Donald Trump’s election, according to travel companies who have reported a significant drop in flight searches and bookings since his inauguration and controversial travel ban.

Data released this week by travel search engine Kayak reported a 58% decline in searches for flights to Tampa and Orlando from the UK, and a 52% decline in searches for Miami. Searches for San Diego were also down 43%, Las Vegas by 36% and Los Angeles 32%.

Though flight prices are holding firm (they usually take weeks rather than days to adjust to consumer trends), Kayak has identified a knock-on effect on average hotel prices. It found prices in Las Vegas are down by 39% and New York City by 32%.

It is the latest in a string of reports from the travel industry that suggests a “Trump slump”, with the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) estimating that since being elected President Trump has cost the US travel industry $185m in lost revenue. [Continue reading…]

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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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