Trump uses London attacks to promote his Muslim ban

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

Khan made this statement today:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebooktwittermail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instead, it’s like this:

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

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

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

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

Facebooktwittermail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebooktwittermail

McMaster has no problem with Trump sharing any information with anyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebooktwittermail

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebooktwittermail

The Trump Tapes


The Washington Post described this tweet as “an apparent attempt to threaten Comey,” while NBC News calls it “a stern warning.”

Trump’s intended insinuation would seem to be that the revelations from such “tapes” would show that Comey was lying.

But just a minute: this purported “threat” is coming from a man who has repeatedly insisted that he was a victim of wiretapping and who was publicly humiliated by Comey saying categorically that Trump’s belief was baseless.

In Trump World, if his conversations with Comey got taped, they got taped by Comey.

If he learned nothing else from Nixon, Trump surely learned that it’s never a good idea to gather evidence of ones misdeeds by keeping secret recordings of private conversations.

Moreover, Trump can hardly have forgotten that unwittingly being taped very nearly cost him the presidential election.

Trump’s early morning tweet might have been delivered in the form of a threat but what it really represents is a projection of his fears.

“James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Translation:

“Donald Trump now hopes the FBI didn’t tape his conversations with Comey, because if they were leaked, they would expose how Trump just lied on NBC.”

CNN now reports that as far as Comey is concerned, “if there is a tape, there’s nothing he is worried about,” — which is to say, nothing that Comey is worried about.

And that’s probably got Trump even more worried: Comey just left open the possibility that such a tape exists!

And maybe it does — and surely this is the stuff of Trump’s nightmares.

Facebooktwittermail

Whoever replaces Comey needs to satisfy Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

This is just my opinion, but the widely expressed view that Trump fired Comey in order to shut down the Russia investigation seems to overstate Comey’s role in an investigation that in his absence still proceeds.

The reports of Trump screaming at television coverage of the investigation, do not suggest that he is in the midst of a carefully crafted cover-up.

Most importantly, having publicly deferred to the judgement of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — as did Attorney General Jeff Sessions — Trump has effectively handed a veto to Rosenstein when it comes to the choice of Comey’s replacement.

By all appearances, Rosenstein’s allegiances are strictly constitutional and institutional. If Trump’s choice for a new FBI director appears tainted in any way and if this is not an individual of unquestionable independence and integrity, it seems reasonable to expect that Rosenstein will be shooting off another memo.

Who knows? If he objects to Trump’s choice, maybe Rosenstein would even have the guts to do something virtually unheard of in this era: resign on a matter of principle.

Facebooktwittermail

The clever timing of the Macron data dump

An election whose outcome is widely perceived as a foregone conclusion, is an election sure to be met with widespread voter apathy. Combine that with the fact that many French voters have almost equal distaste for both candidates in Sunday’s election and the assumption that its outcome is certain becomes much more questionable.

Wikileaks/Julian Assange, posturing as an impartial observer, was quick to promote the #MacronLeaks hashtag and to focus on the timing of the “leak.”


The Wikileaks/Russian narrative is clear: don’t be misled by reports that reveal Russian involvement in this “massive leak.” It’s timing makes it clear that this is the handiwork of naive hackers who “don’t get timing.”

A stronger argument can be made, however, that the timing of this data dump, far from being curious or naive, was strategically chosen to be of maximum effect and that its intended effect, more than anything else, was to taint the election outcome. This has less to do with determining who becomes France’s next president than it has with poisoning the democratic process.

Think about it: A leak worthy of that label is by its nature revelatory. It brings to light information that was up until that moment, guarded in secrecy. That secrecy had been maintained purposefully to prevent the damaging effects of revelation.

The Macron data dump, however, was identified by its size rather than its content. The shorter the interval between its release and election day, the less time there would be to highlight its vacuity.

Moreover, in terms of political effect, the act and event of digital leaking has in this cynical era generally taken on more significance as a form of political theater than as an instrument of truth telling.

The leak makes the target look vulnerable and poorly equipped to handle the levers of state in a age that requires data security.

The hacker, like the terrorist, “wins” for no other reason than the fact that he couldn’t be stopped.

The cleverness of timing this attack on the French election minutes before political campaigning was legally required to end, was that #MacronLeaks would then be able to play out most freely in social media while France’s mainstream media would remain largely silent.

The overarching strategy here is one we’ve seen before: it’s about fabricating something out of nothing in order to foment and sustain a visceral mistrust that is immune to reason.

This hacking will have worked, like many before and many more to come, not because it raised awareness but because it can serve as an instrument for steering popular sentiment.

This is hacking as a form of advertising and thus its purpose is less to change the way people think than the way they feel.

In order to achieve its maximum effect, as Dominic Cummings, who ran Britain’s Vote Leave campaign, has noted, the crucial element in advertising is timing:

One of the few reliable things we know about advertising amid the all-pervasive charlatanry is that, unsurprisingly, adverts are more effective the closer to the decision moment they hit the brain.

In France, as has happened elsewhere, the war against democracy will continue to progress with or without spectacular victories, as citizens lose faith and lose interest in actively sustaining freedoms they have long taken for granted. #MacronLeaks advances that process.

Facebooktwittermail

Is Julian Assange an idiot who has outlived his usefulness?

Michael Weiss writes: There is no one more zealous than a convert.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo previously welcomed WikiLeaks’ disclosures about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee when these proved helpful to the Republican nominee. Now he has experienced a road-to-Damascus moment.

“WikiLeaks,” Pompeo said at a think tank event last week, “walks like a hostile intelligence service and talks like a hostile intelligence service.” Pompeo also regards Julian Assange, the publisher of WikiLeaks and the lonely maintainer of its hyper-active Twitter account, as a “fraud.”

In a rather folksy fly-over metaphor, the former Kansas representative likened the albinoid antipodean anarchist to the Wizard of Oz, perhaps forgetting that the man behind the curtain turned out to be an all-right guy in the end rather than a helpmeet of European dictatorship and a purveyor of conspiracy theories about the Rothschilds.

Pompeo isn’t the only one who’s changed his mind about the man holed up for five long years at the Ecuador embassy in London. The U.S. Justice Department, headed by Jeff Sessions—a man who conveniently forgot while testifying before Congress that he twice met with the Russian ambassador to the United States—now considers arresting Assange a “priority.” [Continue reading…]

Arresting Assange is a “priority” of an undisclosed magnitude — I’m doubtful that it can be particularly high.

No doubt at a time when this administration is going out of its way to create the appearance that it has no ties to Russia, a tough-on-Wikileaks stance might seem desirable.

But let’s not forget that Assange himself has repeatedly claimed that he is willing to accept extradition to the United States.

So is it just a matter of time before the cable news networks will be able to feast on 24/7 coverage of the trial of the century?

Probably not.

Ignoring the question of whether the Justice Department can actually construct a legal case against Assange, I seriously doubt that the White House would welcome seeing him testifying in court. Indeed he might not even make it to his own trial if he sought and received immunity as an FBI witness.

The message that the U.S. wants to get its hands on Assange may have had less to do with challenging his ability to remain in refuge than it has with making sure he remains where he is. Likewise, he will probably remain a problem Moscow doesn’t need to solve so long as he stays put.

The irony is that if Assange had complied with Sweden’s request to question him in 2010, whatever the outcome of that interrogation, it is quite likely that by now he would be a free man. Instead he endures a self-imposed prison sentence for which there is no end in sight.

Facebooktwittermail

The March for Science is a march against greed and ignorance

The organizers of tomorrow’s March for Science declare: “We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.”

I understand the desire to present this in nonpartisan, inclusive terms, and yet the urgent need to defend science comes from the fact that it now faces a concerted attack from the leaders of multiple government agencies including the occupant of the White House.

Moreover, this attack does not represent a counter-scientific body of opinion. On the contrary, what it represents is a body of interests that see in science a threat to their investments.

The strategy being pursued by those who see science as a threat to their wealth is to promote ignorance and erect barricades that are designed to obscure inconvenient truths.

This isn’t a debate in which a lack of appreciation for the value of science can be countered by the promotion of its virtues.

It is not a struggle of ideas through which a new paradigm replaces an outmoded system of belief.

It is a struggle of values standing up against those who prize their possessions more than truth or life itself.

Facebooktwittermail

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.

Facebooktwittermail

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.”

Facebooktwittermail

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.

Facebooktwittermail

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.

Facebooktwittermail

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.

Facebooktwittermail

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…]

Facebooktwittermail

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.

Facebooktwittermail

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.

Facebooktwittermail