Trump’s assassination dog whistle was an act of stochastic terrorism

David S. Cohen writes: One day after his widely discussed “reboot” in which he did nothing more than read basic Republican economic talking points from a teleprompter, Donald Trump uttered perhaps his most outrageous – and dangerous – ad-lib yet. And that’s saying something for a campaign in which he’s criticized John McCain for being a prisoner of war, characterized Mexicans as rapists, called for banning Muslims from coming into the country, picked a fight with a Gold Star family and urged Russia to hack his political opponent.

Speaking to a crowd in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tuesday, Trump expressed concern about Hillary Clinton possibly picking Supreme Court justices and other judges. He then said, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”

Let that soak in for a second. One of the two major-party nominees for president just called for “Second Amendment people” to “do” something about his political opponent’s judges. According to the Trump campaign’s rapid response team, he was talking about those “Second Amendment people” coming together politically – “unification,” as they called it. The Clinton campaign, and pretty much the entire Internet, saw it differently: as a clear suggestion of violence against a political opponent.

It’s hard not to side with the Clinton campaign here. What Trump said was that a particular group – those who are defined by rallying around guns – should do something about Clinton and her judicial nominees. What can people who rally around guns do that’s different than others? Use those guns.

But it’s really irrelevant what Trump actually meant, because enough people will hear Trump’s comments and think he’s calling for people to take up arms against Clinton, her judges or both. Though most of the people hearing that call may claim he was joking, given what we know about people taking up arms in this country, there will undoubtedly be some people who think he was serious and consider the possibility.

In other words, what Trump just did is engage in so-called stochastic terrorism. This is an obscure and non-legal term that has been occasionally discussed in the academic world for the past decade and a half, and it applies with precision here. Stochastic terrorism, as described by a blogger who summarized the concept several years back, means using language and other forms of communication “to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.”

Let’s break that down in the context of what Trump said. Predicting any one particular individual following his call to use violence against Clinton or her judges is statistically impossible. But we can predict that there could be a presently unknown lone wolf who hears his call and takes action in the future.

Stated differently: Trump puts out the dog whistle knowing that some dog will hear it, even though he doesn’t know which dog. [Continue reading…]

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Assange promotes conspiracy theory about Wikileaks’ source of DNC emails

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Putin, Obama and the battle for Aleppo

By Layla Saleh, Qatar University

The battle for Aleppo has the Arab world, Middle East observers and Western policymakers on edge.

In what is likely a turning point in the long Syrian civil war, a coalition of opposition fighters is attempting to break Bashar al-Assad regime’s siege of the country’s commercial capital. Meanwhile, the Syrian government – with Russian support – is bombing rebel strongholds in the city which is still home to 250,000 people, according to the BBC.

Thanks to recent U.S. diplomatic overtures to deepen cooperation with Russia against the Islamic State, or IS, and al-Qaida affiliate Al-Nusra Front, the U.S. could be considered a partner in those airstrikes. The U.S. overtures have been criticized as strategically inconsistent and Putin-pleasing.

As a student of American policy in the Middle East, I’d argue that American efforts are key to the tumultuous trajectory of Syria’s uprising-turned-war. What’s less clear to me is how much U.S. President Barack Obama’s approach prioritizes either the immediate needs of Syrians suffering from war and terrorism or their aspirations for self-liberation from authoritarian rule.

[Read more…]

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One-in-five U.S. Republicans want Trump to drop out

Reuters reports: Nearly one-fifth of registered Republicans want Donald Trump to drop out of the race for the White House, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday, reflecting the turmoil his candidacy has sown within his party.

Some 19 percent think the New York real estate magnate should drop out, 70 percent think he should stay in and 10 percent say they “don’t know,” according to the Aug. 5-8 poll of 396 registered Republicans. The poll has a confidence interval of six percentage points.

Among all registered voters, some 44 percent want Trump to drop out. That is based on a survey of 1,162 registered voters, with a confidence interval of 3 percentage points. That is 9 points higher than his support for the presidency in the latest Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll registered on Monday. [Continue reading…]

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Trump crowds are angry about the demise of America’s white Christian majority

Robert P. Jones writes: On the surface, the answer to why the campaign rallies of Donald Trump have been frequently marked by vitriolic and racist outbursts, harsh rhetoric and even violence is simple: the candidate has encouraged it. But the raw materials Trump has at his disposal have been mined and refined for nearly half a century. Trump is not the source but an igniting spark.

The apocalyptic rhetoric that regularly escapes the bounds of civil discourse at Trump events is fueled by the particular energies that are unleashed when a long-dominant group senses the looming end of its era. Certainly, the boarded up shop fronts of small towns that testify to the disappearance of reliable working class jobs are a critical part of this sense of loss and distress. But the watershed moment that many analysts have missed, and that Trump’s most ardent supporters feel in their bones, is this: During Barack Obama’s tenure as president, the United States has crossed the threshold from being a majority white Christian country (54 percent in 2008) to a minority white Christian country (45 percent in 2015). The passing of a coherent cultural world — where working class jobs made ends meet and white conservative Christian values held sway — has produced this powerful politics of white Christian resentment. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t celebrate ISIS setbacks too soon

William McCants writes: There’s a broad consensus in the analytical community that the Islamic State’s legitimacy would be damaged if it lost its government — the only debate is over how much. A state without a state would be a laughingstock, the argument goes, which I agree with in the main. But if the group’s previous incarnation is any indication, the laughter will be a long time coming — perhaps as long as a generation.

The Islamic State suffered ridicule for its outsized ambitions early on. When the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq dissolved the organization and proclaimed the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006, jihadis scoffed. How could a rebel group that controlled little territory possibly convince anyone that it was an actual state? The Islamic State’s rejoinder that it was a state because it was trying to behave like a state fell flat.

You might anticipate that the Islamic State’s credibility in jihadi circles would have suffered irreparably when the group was defeated as an insurgency in 2008. But strangely, its popularity soared. The group kept itself in the news by launching spectacular terrorist attacks in Iraq so its fans wouldn’t lose heart. It promised to “endure” against all odds. And as I document in my book, other al-Qaida affiliates took up its flag and its state-building ambitions, which kept hope alive. By the time the Islamic State got a second bite at the state-building apple with the civil war in Syria and the drawdown of American troops in Iraq, the Islamic State’s cause was wildly popular in jihadi circles and thousands left their homes to fight under its banner.

Faced with the loss of its so-called caliphate today, the Islamic State has not adopted the absurd know-nothing analysis of “Baghdad Bob” during the American invasion of Iraq. Rather, its spokesman has frankly acknowledged that the Islamic State may lose all its land. But he promises it will return. Given the group’s recent history, it’s not an empty promise. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. Special Operations troops aiding Libyan forces in major battle against ISIS

The Washington Post reports: U.S. Special Operations forces are providing direct, on-the-ground support for the first time to fighters battling the Islamic State in Libya, U.S. and Libyan officials said, coordinating American airstrikes and providing intelligence information in an effort to oust the group from a militant stronghold.

The positioning of a small number of elite U.S. personnel, operating alongside British troops, in the coastal city of Sirte deepens the involvement of Western nations against the Islamic State’s most powerful affiliate.

U.S. officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a mission that has not been announced publicly, said the American troops were operating out of a joint operations center on the city’s outskirts and that their role was limited to supporting forces loyal to the country’s fragile unity government. [Continue reading…]

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Norway may block UK return to European Free Trade Association

The Guardian reports: Norway could block any UK attempt to rejoin the European Free Trade Association, the small club of nations that has access to the European single market without being part of the EU.

Senior Norwegian government members are to hold talks with David Davis, the Brexit minister, in the next few weeks.

Some Brexit supporters have suggested that Efta would be one way of retaining access to the single market while honouring the referendum mandate to leave the EU.

Norway is not a member of the EU, but it has access to the single market from its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), which groups all EU members and three of the four Efta members: Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, but not Switzerland.

Norway’s European affairs minister, Elisabeth Vik Aspaker, reflecting a growing debate in the country following the Brexit vote in the UK, told the Aftenposten newspaper: “It’s not certain that it would be a good idea to let a big country into this organisation. It would shift the balance, which is not necessarily in Norway’s interests.”

She also confirmed that the UK could only join if there were unanimous agreement, thereby providing Norway with a veto. Aspaker said she did not know the UK’s plans.

EEA membership requires the four EU freedoms: free movement of persons, services, goods and capital. Norway, in need of extra labour, does not oppose free movement, though the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is controversial.

An EU special summit in Bratislava in September and the Conservative party conference in October may provide greater clarity on the British government’s thinking, Aspaker said.

One concern is that Norway, through Efta, has signed trade agreements with 38 countries, including Mexico, Canada, Colombia, Morocco, Kuwait and Qatar. If the UK joined, those trade agreements might have to be renegotiated and future trade deals would become more complex. [Continue reading…]

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50 GOP national security officials warn Trump ‘would be the most reckless president in American history’

The New York Times reports: Fifty of the nation’s most senior Republican national security officials, many of them former top aides or cabinet members for President George W. Bush, have signed a letter declaring that Donald J. Trump “lacks the character, values and experience” to be president and “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.”

Mr. Trump, the officials warn, “would be the most reckless president in American history.”

The letter says Mr. Trump would weaken the United States’ moral authority and questions his knowledge of and belief in the Constitution. It says he has “demonstrated repeatedly that he has little understanding” of the nation’s “vital national interests, its complex diplomatic challenges, its indispensable alliances and the democratic values” on which American policy should be based. And it laments that “Mr. Trump has shown no interest in educating himself.”

“None of us will vote for Donald Trump,” the letter states, though it notes later that many Americans “have doubts about Hillary Clinton, as do many of us.”

Among the most prominent signatories are Michael V. Hayden, a former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency; John D. Negroponte, who served as the first director of national intelligence and then deputy secretary of state; and Robert B. Zoellick, another former deputy secretary of state, United States trade representive and, until 2012, president of the World Bank. Two former secretaries of homeland security, Tom Ridge and Michael Chertoff, also signed, as did Eric S. Edelman, who served as Vice President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and as a top aide to Robert M. Gates when he was secretary of defense. [Continue reading…]

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Former ISIS members open up to German investigators

Der Spiegel reports: Prior to his field trip into the realm of the murderous IS band, Nils D. had been a good-for-nothing. He would sleep until mid-day, then surf the Internet and meet up with his buddies in a café, where they took drugs, drank booze and played cards. They didn’t have any hobbies and they lacked any enthusiasm. The company that had provided him with vocational training fired him because he wasn’t attending the vocational school courses that were part of the program. Afterward, the most he found were temporary jobs. “I was a pothead,” Nils D. says. “I didn’t feel like doing anything.”

This continued for years. Then D. discovered Islam through his cousin Philip B. and became a Salafist. He was still serving a sentence for grand theft when his cousin and the other guys went to Syria to fight. Then, during the autumn of 2013, D. also traveled to the “caliphate.”

During his trial in the dock of the Higher Regional Court in Düsseldorf, Nils D. said “he wanted to see things for himself.” He then quickly became part of the murderous system. In Manbij, he joined a special IS unit. The force’s task was to capture suspected traitors, spies or deserters. D. is believed to have taken part in up to 15 missions.

He also knew what happened to the men he had helped to capture. The former pothead from Dinslaken knew about the wooden crates they would be placed in. There were large ones in which they could stand, sandwiched. And there were small ones in which the prisoners could only crouch — sometimes for days at a time.

Nils D. sported a typical Islamist beard. Whenever he went out, it was always dressed in black and with his face covered. He attended five executions as a spectator. “I had goosebumps all over,” D. would later tell investigators with the State Office of Criminal Investigation in Düsseldorf. “But after a while it bounces off you.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military intelligence contractors being hired to operate in Syria

The Daily Beast reports: Every day at 5 p.m., the Pentagon releases a list of that day’s contracts worth more than $7 million. On July 27, buried in the daily email was an eye-catching detail: Military contractors would be working inside Syria alongside the roughly 300 U.S. troops already deployed there.

This appears to be the first time the Pentagon has publicly acknowledged that private contractors are also playing a role in the fight against the so-called Islamic State inside Syria, and it’s one more signal that the U.S. military is deepening its involvement in the fate of the country.

The contract announcement said Six3 Intelligence Solutions — a private intelligence company recently acquired by CACI International — won a $10 million no-bid Army contract to provide “intelligence analysis services.” According to the Pentagon, the work will be completed over the next year in Germany, Italy and, most notably, Syria. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump wins, what happens to U.S. relations with its traditional allies?

Politico reports: It was a strange day for Estonia when the tiny Baltic nation became the focus of intense debate in the U.S. presidential campaign.

At issue: Would the United States honor its NATO obligation to defend Estonia in the event of an attack by Russia? Donald Trump, who has repeatedly criticized small NATO members for “taking advantage” of the United States, hedged his answer. “Have they fulfilled their obligations to us?” he told the New York Times. “If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.”

Hours later, Trump backer Newt Gingrich doubled down on the Republican candidate’s skepticism toward NATO duties, saying: “Estonia is in the suburbs of [the Russian city of] St. Petersburg … I’m not sure I would risk nuclear war over the suburbs of St. Petersburg.”

For Estonians, and all other NATO members in the region, that was a chilling message. “All of a sudden the issue closest to our skin — the defense of Estonia, of all things — becomes an issue in this campaign,” Jüri Luik, former Estonian ambassador to Russia, said. “It’s a totally unexpected development, and a gloomy situation for all of Eastern Europe.”

“NATO’s deterrent power depends in large part on the U.S. president’s position. If he is unsure … that weakens the deterrent immensely.”

Beyond regional security, the Estonian episode raised a bigger, more troubling question for Europeans watching the U.S. presidential campaign: If Trump wins, will he feel any obligation to uphold his country’s historical role as defender and guarantor of the West? [Continue reading…]

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