New York and Los Angeles have unleashed the false prophets

Michael Weiss writes: It was Philip Larkin, of all people, who once described the United States as two coasts separated by “vast deserts of bigotry” – not that the scabrous poet had ever bothered to visit and find out for himself.

Much has been written and said in the past week about metropolitan journalists espousing much the same wrinkled-nostril view of America and therefore failing to prepare the republic, and themselves, for the rise of a genital-grabbing demagogue to national prominence.

Liberal insularity and condescension towards “flyover country” and the white working class have given us the dreaded reality of President-elect Donald Trump.

Yet this argument, I think, misses a trick. Against all expectations, New York and Los Angeles have unleashed the false prophets upon the vast deserts. The bigots now come from the coasts.

Mr Trump has just hired, as his incoming White House strategist, his former campaign manager Steve Bannon, a man who in the 20th century might have been another object of the hatred and derision by the mob he incites and leads. [Continue reading…]

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McCain warns Trump on torture, waterboarding

Politico reports: Republican Sen. John McCain issued a fiery warning to President-elect Donald Trump on the subject of torture Saturday.

“I don’t give a damn what the president of the United States wants to do. We will not waterboard,” McCain told an audience at the annual Halifax International Security Forum. “We will not torture people … It doesn’t work.”

Trump has repeatedly said that he would use much harsher measures against suspected terrorists. “We have to fight fire with fire,” he said at a June campaign rally, adding that the U.S. would have to “fight so viciously and violently” against the Islamic State.

“What do you think about waterboarding?” Trump asked the crowd, which cheered his answer: “I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough.” [Continue reading…]

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Jeff Sessions as attorney general: An insult to justice

In an editorial, the New York Times says: In 1986, President Ronald Reagan nominated Jeff Sessions, then a United States attorney from Alabama, to be a federal judge. The Republican-controlled Senate rejected Mr. Sessions out of concern, based on devastating testimony by former colleagues, that he was a racist.

Three decades later, Mr. Sessions, now a veteran Alabama senator, is on the verge of becoming the nation’s top law-enforcement official, after President-elect Donald Trump tapped him on Friday to be attorney general.

It would be nice to report that Mr. Sessions, who is now 69, has conscientiously worked to dispel the shadows that cost him the judgeship. Instead, the years since his last confirmation hearing reveal a pattern of dogged animus to civil rights and the progress of black Americans and immigrants.

Based on his record, we can form a fairly clear picture of what his Justice Department would look like:

For starters, forget about aggressive protection of civil rights, and of voting rights in particular. Mr. Sessions has called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 a “piece of intrusive legislation.” Under him, the department would most likely focus less on prosecutions of minority voter suppression and more on rooting out voter fraud, that hallowed conservative myth. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Sessions brought voter-fraud charges against three civil rights workers trying to register black voters in rural Alabama. The prosecution turned up 14 allegedly doctored ballots out of 1.7 million cast, and the jury voted to acquit. [Continue reading…]

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‘Mad dog’ Mattis front runner for Secretary of Defense

The Daily Beast reports: The retired 4-star Marine Corps general who memorably said “it’s fun to shoot some people” is a leading candidate to become Team Trump’s Secretary of Defense.

Teams of lawyers on Capitol Hill wrestled on Friday with how to allow retired 4-star Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, 66, to take up the post, ahead of his scheduled meeting with President Elect Donald Trump in New York on Saturday. Mattis would add to a cabinet of national security super-hawks and signal a return to a more aggressive defense of U.S. interests abroad.

“I’m a great admirer of Gen. Mattis,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain with a grin, refusing to confirm that the blunt-speaking general is in the running, but warmly endorsing the idea.

“I think one of the reasons why it would be good to have him is that he has recent combat experience in both theaters (Iraq and Afghanistan). So he really understands complex situations on the ground,” McCain told The Daily Beast, on the sidelines of the Halifax International Security Forum. McCain’s committee must confirm roughly 50+ defense-related posts for the new administration, chief among them the defense secretary. [Continue reading…]

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Pentagon and intelligence community chiefs have urged Obama to remove the head of the NSA

The Washington Post reports: The heads of the Pentagon and the nation’s intelligence community have recommended to President Obama that the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael S. Rogers, be removed.

The recommendation, delivered to the White House last month, was made by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., according to several U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Action has been delayed, some administration officials said, because relieving Rogers of his duties is tied to another controversial recommendation: to create separate chains of command at the NSA and the military’s cyberwarfare unit, a recommendation by Clapper and Carter that has been stalled because of other issues.

The news comes as Rogers is being considered by President-elect Donald Trump to be his nominee for director of national intelligence to replace Clapper as the official who oversees all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies. In a move apparently unprecedented for a military officer, Rogers, without notifying superiors, traveled to New York to meet with Trump on Thursday at Trump Tower. That caused consternation at senior levels of the administration, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal personnel matters. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s Islamophobic national security team

The New York Times reports: President-elect Donald J. Trump’s remarkable appointments on Friday served notice that he not only intends to reverse eight years of liberal domestic policies but also overturn decades of bipartisan consensus on the United States’ proper role in world affairs.

Mr. Trump moved unapologetically to realize his campaign’s vision of a nation that relentlessly enforces immigration laws; views Muslims with deep suspicion; aggressively enforces drug laws; second-guesses post-World War II alliances; and sends suspected terrorists to Guantánamo Bay or C.I.A. prisons to be interrogated with methods that have been banned as torture.

At a time when American cities have been inflamed by racial tensions, police shootings and fears over homegrown terrorism, Mr. Trump made no conciliatory gestures toward Muslims, Mexicans and African-American neighborhoods, all of which he disparaged during his campaign.

The appointments so far — Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama as attorney general, Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas as C.I.A. director and Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser — sent an unmistakable signal that he did not intend to use his personnel choices to build bridges to Democrats or moderate Republicans who opposed his campaign’s nationalist overtones. [Continue reading…]

Former CIA analyst, Patrick Eddington, writes: Sessions’ claims about the terrorism risk posed by immigrants are unhinged from reality.

In September 2016, my Cato colleague and immigration specialist Alex Nowrasteh published a comprehensive report analyzing this very question. His key findings:

Including those murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here is 1 in 3.6 million per year. The hazard posed by foreigners who entered on different visa categories varies considerably. For instance, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year…The annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist. (emphasis added)

Without question, if you lose a loved one or friend to a terrorist attack, it will seem like the greatest threat America faces. The reality is that you, a family member, or coworker are far more likely to be a victim of traditional crime than a victim of an ISIS-inspired plot.

Trump, Bannon, Sessions, Pompeo, former DIA Director (and Trump National Security Adviser designee) Mike Flynn, and Trump transition team adviser and long-time Islamophobe Frank Gaffney are poised to further derange our counterterrorism policy. By increasing the demonization and stigmatization of Arab or Muslim immigrants, they will legitimize the ISIS narrative that America is at war with Islam as a whole—giving public relations oxygen to Salafist-oriented terrorist organizations from Africa to Southeast Asia, facilitating their recruitment efforts globally. [Continue reading…]

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Steve Bannon: ‘we’ll govern for 50 years’

Michael Wolff writes: “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” Bannon tells THR media columnist Michael Wolff as the controversial Breitbart News chief turned White House advisor unleashes on Hillary Clinton, Fox News and his critics.

In late summer when I went up to see Steve Bannon, then recently named CEO of the Donald Trump presidential campaign, in his office at Trump Tower in New York, he outlined a preposterous-sounding scenario. Trump, he said, would do surprisingly well among women, Hispanics and African-Americans, in addition to working men, and hence take Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan — and therefore the election. On Nov. 15, when I went back to Trump Tower, Bannon, promoted by the president-elect to chief strategist for the incoming administration, and by the media as the official symbol of all things hateful and virulent about the coming Trump presidency, said, as matter-of-factly as when he first sketched it out for me, “I told you so.”

The liberal firewall against Trump was, most of all, the belief that the Republican contender was too disorganized, outlandish, outré and lacking in nuance to run a proper political campaign. That view was only confirmed when Bannon, editor of the outlandish and outré Breitbart News Network, took over the campaign in August. Now Bannon is arguably the most powerful person on the new White House team, embodying more than anyone the liberals’ awful existential pain and fury: How did someone so wrong — not just wrong, but inappropriate, unfit and “loathsome,” according to The New York Times — get it so spot-on right?

In these dark days for Democrats, Bannon has become the blackest hole.

“Darkness is good,” says Bannon, who amid the suits surrounding him at Trump Tower, looks like a graduate student in his T-shirt, open button-down and tatty blue blazer — albeit a 62-year-old graduate student. “Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they” — I believe by “they” he means liberals and the media, already promoting calls for his ouster — “get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”

On that precise point, The New York Times, in a widely circulated article, will describe this day at Trump Tower as a scene of “disarray” for the transition team. In fact, it’s all hands on: Mike Pence, the vice president-elect and transition chief, and Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, shuttling between full conference rooms; Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and by many accounts his closest advisor, conferring in the halls; Sen. Jeff Sessions in and out of meetings on the transition team floor; Rudy Giuliani upstairs with Trump (overheard: “Is the boss meeting-meeting with Rudy or just shooting the shit?”), and Bannon with a long line of men and women outside his corner office. If this is disarray, it’s a peculiarly focused and organized kind. [Continue reading…]

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For Syria rebels, Trump win adds to uncertain fate

Reuters reports: On the eve of Donald Trump’s election victory, members of a Western-backed Syrian rebel group met U.S. officials to ask about the outlook for arms shipments they have received to fight President Bashar al-Assad.

They were told the programme would continue until the end of the year, but anything more would depend on the next U.S. administration, a rebel official at the meeting said. When Trump takes office in January, it may stop altogether.

The president-elect has signalled opposition to U.S. support for the rebels, and an overhaul of policy on Syria.

The military aid programme overseen by the Central Intelligence Agency has given arms and training to moderate rebels in coordination with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and others.

It helped to support these rebels, fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner, as jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda emerged as a major force in a war approaching its sixth anniversary.

U.S. officials declined to comment on any meetings with rebel groups, and previously have not commented on the CIA programme given its covert nature.

But Trump has indicated he could abandon the rebels to focus on fighting Islamic State which control territory in eastern and central Syria. He might even cooperate against IS with Russia, Assad’s most powerful ally, which has been bombing the rebels for over a year in western Syria.

Assad, in an interview published on Tuesday, said Trump would be a “natural ally” if he decides to “fight the terrorists”.

The rebels are looking on the bright side. They say support via the U.S.-backed programme has been inadequate and Washington has stopped Saudi Arabia from giving them more powerful weapons.

So the rebels hope a more isolationist United States will give regional states a free hand, allowing Saudi Arabia to provide the anti-aircraft missiles President Barack Obama has vetoed. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s security picks deepen Muslim worries about an anti-Islamic White House

The Washington Post reports: News of President-elect Donald Trump’s national security picks set off fresh tremors across the Islamic world on Friday as Middle Eastern allies and Muslim American groups prepared to face advisers and potential Cabinet members noted for harshly anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The naming of Trump’s picks for attorney general, CIA director and national security adviser drew public condemnations from Muslim civil rights groups as well as private expressions of concern from several Arab states that ­cooperate closely with the United States in the fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Some current and former government officials worried that the appointments could reinforce perceptions among the world’s Muslims that the United States is at war against Islam itself.

American civil rights organizations and faith leaders said Friday they were disturbed by Trump’s appointment of retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn to be his top national security adviser. Flynn, a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has repeatedly referred to Islam as “a cancer,” claimed that a “fear of Muslims is rational” and warned — despite a lack of evidence — that Sharia or Islamic law is spreading throughout the United States. [Continue reading…]

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Anti-Defamation League director pledges to register as Muslim if Trump creates national database

Haaretz reports: Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, pledged to register as a Muslim on the national database that President-elect Donald Trump vowed to create during his campaign.

Greenblatt made the vow in his opening remarks at the ADL’s Never Is Now conference on anti-Semitism, held Thursday and Friday in midtown Manhattan. It came the day after a spokesman for a pro-Trump PAC cited World War II-era Japanese internment camps in an appearance on Fox News.

Greenblatt said, “In the past we were not able to live, work or learn anywhere we wanted to. Anti-Semitism was acceptable in society. Those were days that were much darker in this country. At that most difficult moment the founders of the ADL said that we American Jews, a group that lacked power and had no real standing, whose future was shaky and uncertain, would use our power for good.”

“We need to speak out wherever we see anti-Semitism and bigotry, whether it’s a publicly traded company or high ranking official. No one has an excuse for excusing intolerance,” he said. “We must stand with our fellow Americans who may be singled out for how they look, where they’re from, who they love or how they pray.” [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: A former spokesman for a major super PAC backing Donald Trump said Wednesday that the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a “precedent” for the president-elect’s plans to create a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries.

During an appearance on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News show, Carl Higbie said a registry proposal being discussed by Trump’s immigration advisers would be legal and would “hold constitutional muster.”

“We’ve done it with Iran back awhile ago. We did it during World War II with the Japanese,” said Higbie, a former Navy SEAL and until Nov. 9, the spokesman for the pro-Trump Great America PAC. [Continue reading…]

 

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Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for CIA director, could take the agency back to its darkest days

Vox reports: President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas to head the Central Intelligence Agency, putting a hawkish lawmaker who favors brutally interrogating detainees and expanding the American prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in charge of America’s premier spy agency.

Pompeo may be an unfamiliar name to many Americans, but he is well-known — and apparently generally well-respected — among intelligence professionals and well-liked by his colleagues on Capitol Hill.

The 52-year-old third-term Congress member serves on the House Intelligence Committee and played a prominent role the House Select Committee on Benghazi, which investigated Hillary Clinton for her role in the deaths of four Americans at the hands of Islamist terrorists in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

Pompeo was particularly harsh on Clinton during the hearings, and in a report afterward accused her of having “put politics ahead of people” and “focusing more on spin and media narrative before an election than securing American lives under attack by terrorists.”

As a member of Congress with experience working closely with — and at times strongly defending — the intelligence community, Pompeo’s nomination as CIA chief could bode well for the future relationship between the CIA and Congress, which has deteriorated in recent years over the CIA’s detainee program and feuds with its nominal overseers on Capitol Hill.

But Pompeo’s extremely hawkish views on critical national security issues, such as his support for keeping open the US prison at Guantanamo Bay; his defense of brutal CIA interrogation practices like waterboarding and “rectal feeding”; and his overwhelming focus on the dire threat of “radical Islamic terrorism” — all positions closely aligned with those of President-elect Trump and his new national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — suggest he is not likely to be a particularly sobering or restraining force on the president-elect, particularly when it comes to controversial policies like torture and drone strikes.

Pompeo’s hawkish stance toward Russia, on the other hand, could be a major source of tension between him and the president-elect, who, along Flynn, seeks to develop closer ties with Russia, particularly in the fight against ISIS in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Obama reckons with a Trump presidency

David Remnick writes: The morning after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, Barack Obama summoned staff members to the Oval Office. Some were fairly junior and had never been in the room before. They were sombre, hollowed out, some fighting tears, humiliated by the defeat, fearful of autocracy’s moving vans pulling up to the door. Although Obama and his people admit that the election results caught them completely by surprise — “We had no plan for this,” one told me — the President sought to be reassuring.

“This is not the apocalypse,” Obama said. History does not move in straight lines; sometimes it goes sideways, sometimes it goes backward. A couple of days later, when I asked the President about that consolation, he offered this: “I don’t believe in apocalyptic — until the apocalypse comes. I think nothing is the end of the world until the end of the world.”

Obama’s insistence on hope felt more willed than audacious. It spoke to the civic duty he felt to prevent despair not only among the young people in the West Wing but also among countless Americans across the country. At the White House, as elsewhere, dread and dejection were compounded by shock. Administration officials recalled the collective sense of confidence about the election that had persisted for many months, the sense of balloons and confetti waiting to be released. Last January, on the eve of his final State of the Union address, Obama submitted to a breezy walk-and-talk interview in the White House with the “Today” show. Wry and self-possessed, he told Matt Lauer that no matter what happened in the election he was sure that “the overwhelming majority” of Americans would never submit to Donald Trump’s appeals to their fears, that they would see through his “simplistic solutions and scapegoating.” [Continue reading…]

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