Authoritarianism is making a comeback. Here’s the time-tested way to defeat it

Maria J Stephan and Timothy Snyder write: After the spread of democracy at the end of the 20th century, authoritarianism is now rolling back democracy around the globe. In the US, supporters of democracy disarmed themselves by imagining an “end of history” in which nothing but their own ideas were possible. Authoritarians, meanwhile, keep practicing their old tactics and devising new ones.

It is time for those who support democracy to remember what activists from around the world have paid a price to learn: how to win.

Modern authoritarians rely on repression, intimidation, corruption and co-optation to consolidate their power. The dictator’s handbook mastered by Orban in Hungary, Erdogan in Turkey, Maduro in Venezuela, Zuma in South Africa, Duterte in the Philippines and Trump here provides the traditional tactics: attack journalists, blame dissent on foreigners and “paid protestors,” scapegoat minorities and vulnerable groups, weaken checks on power, reward loyalists, use paramilitaries, and generally try to reduce politics to a question of friends and enemies, us and them.

Yet tyrants’ tactics require the consent of large numbers of people. The first lesson, then, is not to obey in advance. If individuals make the basic effort to consider their own sense of values and patriotism rather than subconsciously adjusting to the new reality, aspiring authoritarians have a major problem. Good citizens will then ask: but what should we do? History provides an answer: civil resistance.

Unarmed civilians using petitions, boycotts, strikes, and other nonviolent methods have been able to slow, disrupt and even halt authoritarianism. Civil resistance has been twice as effective as armed struggle. [Continue reading…]

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Bloomberg’s next anti-Washington move: $200 million program for mayors

The New York Times reports: Michael R. Bloomberg will throw his financial might into helping beleaguered American mayors, creating a $200 million philanthropic program aimed at backing inventive policies at the city level and giving mayors a stronger hand in national politics.

Mr. Bloomberg intends to announce the initiative on Monday in a speech to the United States Conference of Mayors in Miami Beach, where he will castigate federal officials and state governments around the country for undermining cities. He plans to describe the program, called the American Cities Initiative, as a method of shoring up the global influence of the United States despite turmoil in Washington.

A wealthy former mayor of New York who seriously explored running for president in 2016 as an independent, Mr. Bloomberg, 75, has embraced a public role since the election as a kind of elite-level organizer against certain policies of the Trump administration.

In an interview, Mr. Bloomberg said his city-focused initiative would serve in part as an extension of his advocacy for national policies that address climate change, gun violence, public health and immigration. That largely liberal agenda is aligned with the growing aspirations of big-city mayors, who are mainly Democrats and who have vowed to check conservative mandates emerging from Washington by using their power at the local level. [Continue reading…]

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Trump wants to spend more on military affairs and less on humanitarian aid for Africa

The New York Times reports from the MUA mission in Malawi: If ever there was an example of American and African military bonhomie, it was at a recent summit meeting here over glasses of South African Pinotage and expectations of Pentagon largess.

Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, vice chief of staff of the United States Army, gave the African generals advice from his days in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Maj. Gen. Joseph P. Harrington, the head of United States Army Africa, gave a shout-out to the West African military leaders who helped prod the former Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, out of office after he lost his bid for re-election last year. Lt. Gen. Robert Kariuki Kibochi, the commander of the Kenyan Army, got understanding nods from the Americans when he made clear how much blood African peacekeepers put on the line.

But even here, among men who have been given every reason to expect that they will be receiving more money from the Trump administration, there is unease that the additional American heft may come at a steep price. Pentagon officials are themselves concerned that shifting to a military-heavy presence in Africa will hurt American interests in the long term by failing to stimulate development. An absence of schools and jobs, they say, creates more openings for militant groups.

“We have statements out of Washington about significant reductions in foreign aid,” Gen. Griffin Phiri, the commander of the Malawi Defense Forces, said in an interview during the African Land Forces Summit, a conference of 126 American Army officers and service members and their counterparts from 40 African nations. “What I can tell you is that experience has shown us that diplomacy and security must come together.” He bemoaned “mixed messages” coming out of Washington.

Actually, the message is not so mixed, foreign policy experts say. If Congress passes Mr. Trump’s proposed Pentagon budget for the 2018 fiscal year — it calls for an additional $52 billion on top of the current $575 billion base budget — the United States will spend more money on military affairs in Africa but reduce humanitarian and development assistance across the continent. The Trump budget proposes cutting aid to Africa to $5.2 billion in the 2018 fiscal year from $8 billion now, a stark drop. Even some of the money still in the Trump proposal would shift to security areas from humanitarian and development, foreign policy experts say. [Continue reading…]

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These are the civilian victims of the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS

Mike Giglio reports from Mosul: Residents of this quiet street in eastern Mosul sometimes see their former neighbor return to his rubbled home. He cuts a lonely figure as he climbs through the crushed concrete and twisted iron, stooping to dig for mementos — a photo, a scrap of clothes. Then he sits and cries.

Hassan Ali Hassan, 45, is a Jordanian who has lived for three decades in Mosul, where he married a local woman and raised a family. In June 2014, after ISIS captured the city, he tried to escape with his wife and three daughters to Amman, but the militants seized their passports and ordered them to stay.

Hassan and his family were still trapped in the city on Dec. 14, 2016, as Iraqi forces pressed their US-backed offensive to retake Mosul from ISIS. The fighting had not yet reached their neighborhood, and the family shared a late breakfast before Hassan stepped out to get gas for their generator. Barely a minute had passed when a massive explosion erupted behind him. He ran back to find his home demolished and engulfed in flames, pulverized by an airstrike carried out by the US-led coalition fighting ISIS. Body parts of his wife and daughters littered the street.

“We found some on the other houses here,” recalled a neighbor, Yasir Mohamed, on a recent afternoon, as some semblance of life returned to their neighborhood, called Hay al-Sukar, which was freed from ISIS in January. Reached later by phone, Hassan still seemed to be in shock. “Just everything was in pieces,” he said. “Everyone was dead.”

“Everything happened before my eyes,” he kept repeating.

Homes like Hassan’s riddle Mosul’s streets as Iraqi forces push into the last ISIS-held districts of the city. The US-led air campaign has taken a devastating toll on civilians — and there has yet to be an accounting of its extent. In any neighborhood, residents can quickly point the way to the wrecked houses nearby, detailing which ones held ISIS militants and which ones held only civilians. In late May, a reporter and photographer from BuzzFeed News visited seven sites where witnesses alleged that civilians were killed by airstrikes from the coalition. US warplanes lead the air campaign, but allies such as Britain, Australia, Canada, and France also participate.

The battle has seen some of the deadliest urban combat since World War II — and it has been defined by airstrikes. As of June 3, the coalition had launched some 24,464 munitions into Mosul since the offensive began in October 2016, according to US Department of Defense statistics, and the intensity of the strikes has increased under the Trump administration. In the two years prior to the offensive the US-led coalition launched roughly 13,000 strikes in Iraq. But it’s not just airstrikes that have been raining down on Mosul, endangering civilian lives. The US army has deployed advanced HIMARS rocket launchers, capable of firing six guided missiles from a range of more than 40 miles away. Both sides have used mortar bombs and other artillery. Iraqi jets have carried out airstrikes too. [Continue reading…]

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Trump allies push White House to consider regime change in Tehran

Politico reports: As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key Trump allies are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran’s militant clerical government.

Supporters of dislodging Iran’s iron-fisted clerical leadership say it’s the only way to halt Tehran’s dangerous behavior, from its pursuit of nuclear weapons to its sponsorship of terrorism. Critics say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hardliners.

That’s why President Barack Obama assured Iranians, in a 2013 speech at the United Nations, that “we are not seeking regime change.”

But influential Iran hawks want to change that under Trump.

“The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who speaks regularly with White House officials about foreign policy. “I don’t see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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Why CIA vets say Putin hates America — and why Trump shouldn’t trust him

The Daily Beast reports: The Russian intelligence officers picked up the American spies from Moscow’s Metropole Hotel and drove them a few short blocks to an ornate, lushly appointed guest house. It used to be the home of a wealthy Jewish dentist before being turned into a meeting place for Russia’s intelligence services.

The 17th-century mansion served as backdrop of a 2007 summit of CIA officers, FBI agents, and their Russian counterparts, as the Bush administration tried to build a cooperative relationship with Moscow on counterterrorism.

Over glasses of cognac and the occasional shot of chilled vodka, the Russian and American agents sat across from each other at a long conference table, in what turned into an interrogation instead of the hoped-for bridge-building exercise. The Russians probed the Americans to find out where their sources were, how big their networks were and any potential weaknesses to exploit them later.

“It was worse than a polygraph,” one former senior intelligence officer told The Daily Beast. “They used different people to ask us the same questions over and over, each time phrased in slightly different ways, as if to see whether we were lying,” and to trick information out of them.

That interaction is emblematic of 20 years of U.S. attempts to reach out to Moscow, with the initially Pollyannish new American administration seeking cooperation, and the Russians using each opportunity to gather intelligence on their enemy to advance their own interests.

“We, the United States, are the ‘main enemy’ to them,” said former CIA officer John Sipher. “In their mind, they are at war with us. Anything that’s hurtful to the United States is positive for Russia.” That goes doubly for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who once led Russia’s FSB, the successor to the infamous Soviet-era KGB. [Continue reading…]

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Evidence is mounting that Russia took four clear paths to meddle in the U.S. election

Business Insider reports: It was September 2015 when the FBI first noticed that Russian hackers had infiltrated a computer system belonging to the Democratic National Committee.

It was the first sign that Moscow was attempting to meddle in the presidential election.

Nearly a year later, further reporting and testimony from current and former intelligence officials have painted a portrait of Russia’s election interference as a multifaceted, well-planned, and coordinated campaign aimed at undermining the backbone of American democracy: free and fair elections.

Now, as FBI special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional intelligence committees continue to investigate Russia’s election interference, evidence is emerging that the hacking and disinformation campaign waged at the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin took at least four separate but related paths.

The first involved establishing personal contact with Americans perceived as sympathetic to Moscow — such as former Defense Intelligence Agency chief Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and early Trump foreign-policy adviser Carter Page — and using them as a means to further Russia’s foreign-policy goals.

The second involved hacking the Democratic National Committee email servers and then giving the material to WikiLeaks, which leaked the emails in batches throughout the second half of 2016.

The third was to amplify the propaganda value of the leaked emails with a disinformation campaign waged predominantly on Facebook and Twitter, in an effort to use automated bots to spread fake news and pro-Trump agitprop.

And the fourth was to breach US voting systems in as many as 39 states leading up to the election, in an effort to steal registration data that officials say could be used to target and manipulate voters in future elections. [Continue reading…]

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Trump White House has taken little action to stop next election hack

NBC News reports: The Trump administration has taken little meaningful action to prevent Russian hacking, leaking and disruption in the next national election in 2018, despite warnings from intelligence officials that it will happen again, officials and experts told NBC News.

“This attack is really the political equivalent of 9/11 — it is deadly, deadly serious,” said Michael Vickers, a career intelligence official who was the Pentagon’s top intelligence official in the Obama administration. “The Russians will definitely be back, given the success they had…I don’t see much evidence of a response.”

According to recent Congressional testimony, Trump has shown no interest in the question of how to prevent future election interference by Russia or another foreign power. Former FBI Director James Comey told senators that Trump never asked him about how to stop a future Russian election cyber attack, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who sits on the National Security Council, testified that he has not received a classified briefing on Russian election interference.

Dozens of state officials told NBC News they have received little direction from Washington about election security. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s Twitter feed is a gold mine for foreign spies

Nada Bakos writes: Every time President Trump tweets, journalists and Twitter followers attempt to analyze what he means. Intelligence agencies around the world do, too: They’re trying to determine what vulnerabilities the president of the United States may have. And he’s giving them a lot to work with.

Trump’s Twitter feed is a gold mine for every foreign intelligence agency. Usually, intelligence officers’ efforts to collect information on world leaders are methodical, painstaking and often covert. CIA operatives have risked their lives to learn about foreign leaders so the United States could devise strategies to counter our adversaries. With Trump, though, secret operations are not necessary to understand what’s on his mind: The president’s unfiltered thoughts are available night and day, broadcast to his 32.7 million Twitter followers immediately and without much obvious mediation by diplomats, strategists or handlers.

Intelligence agencies try to answer these main questions when looking at a rival head of state: Who is he as a person? What type of leader is he? How does that compare to what he strives to be or presents himself as? What can we expect from him? And how can we use this insight to our advantage?

At the CIA, I tracked and analyzed terrorists and other U.S. enemies, including North Korea. But we never had such a rich source of raw intelligence about a world leader, and we certainly never had the opportunity that our adversaries (and our allies) have now — to get a real-time glimpse of a major world leader’s preoccupations, personality quirks and habits of mind. If we had, it would have given us significant advantages in our dealings with them. [Continue reading…]

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Trump just ended a long tradition of celebrating Ramadan at the White House

The Washington Post reports: In the early days of December 1805, a handful of prominent politicians received formal invitations to join President Thomas Jefferson for a White House dinner.

Such entreaties were not uncommon: Jefferson frequently hosted lawmakers for political working dinners at the White House, almost always commencing them about 3:30 in the afternoon, shortly after the House or Senate had adjourned for the day.

But this gathering, scheduled for Dec. 9, would be slightly different.

dinner will be on the table precisely at sun-set — ” the invitations read. “The favour of an answer is asked.”

The occasion was the presence of a Tunisian envoy to the United States, Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, who had arrived in the country just the week before, in the midst of America’s ongoing conflict with what were then known as the Barbary States.

And the reason for the dinner’s later-than-usual start was Mellimelli’s observance of Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims in which observers fast between dawn and dusk. Only after sunset do Muslims break their fast with a meal, referred to as an iftar.

Jefferson’s decision to change the time of the meal to accommodate Mellimelli’s observance of Ramadan has been seized on by both sides in the 21st-century debate over Islam more than 200 years later. Historians have cited the meal as the first time an iftar took place in the White House — and it has been referenced in recent White House celebrations of Ramadan as an embodiment of the Founding Father’s respect for religious freedom. Meanwhile, critics on the far right have taken issue with the characterization of Jefferson’s Dec. 9, 1805, dinner as an iftar.

Whatever Jefferson could have foreseen for the young country’s future, it appears the modern-day White House tradition of marking Ramadan with an iftar dinner or Eid celebration has come to an end. [Continue reading…]

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Trump slanders Comey in Fox & Friends interview

The New York Times reports: President Trump appeared to acknowledge on Friday in an interview that his tweet hinting of taped conversations with James B. Comey was intended to influence the fired F.B.I. director’s testimony before Congress, and he emphasized that he committed “no obstruction” of the inquiries into whether his campaign colluded with Russia.

The interview, with “Fox & Friends,” was shown one day after the president tweeted what most people in Washington had already come to believe: that he had not made recordings of his conversations with Mr. Comey.

Instead, the president explained in the television interview, his tweets were referring to the possibility that anyone could have taped those discussions.

“I’ve been reading about it for the last couple of months about the seriousness of the horribleness of the situation with surveillance all over the place,” the president said in the interview. “So you never know what’s out there, but I didn’t tape, and I don’t have any tape and I didn’t tape.”

When the Fox interviewer suggested that the possible existence of recordings might make sure Mr. Comey “stayed honest in those hearings,” Mr. Trump paused before responding, “Well, it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that.”

Referring to Mr. Comey, the president said that “when he found out that I, you know, that there may be tapes out there whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else and who knows, I think his story may have changed.” [Continue reading…]

“When he found out that I…” — at this point Trump’s brain catches up with his mouth. He can’t say that Comey “found out” that Trump recorded their conversations, having finally confirmed what everyone already assumed — that he didn’t record them.

Comey’s revelation, Trump would have us believe, was that thanks to a tweet, Comey firstly was alerted to the possibility that their conversations could have been recorded by parties unknown, and secondly on that basis he had second thoughts about lying about the content of those conversations.

Put simply, Trump is saying that had he not alerted Comey to the possibility of having been recorded, the former director of the FBI would have lied.

What Trump has yet to grasp is that each time he questions Comey’s integrity, he’s also implicitly questioning the integrity of the FBI officials and Mueller’s team who are currently investigating him.

Trump persistently acts as a man who sees himself as the target of an investigation he wants to thwart, undermine, and swiftly curtail. He has zero interest in assisting the investigation or supporting its conclusions.

He thereby provides compelling reason for the investigators to be tireless, tenacious and resolute in their pursuit of the truth.

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What happens when a presidency loses its legitimacy?

David Frum writes: Day by day, revelation after revelation, the legitimacy of the Trump presidency is seeping away. The question of what to do about this loss is becoming ever more urgent and frightening.

The already thick cloud of discredit over the Trump presidency thickened deeper Friday, June 23. The Washington Post reported that the CIA told President Obama last year that Vladimir Putin had personally and specifically instructed his intelligence agencies to intervene in the U.S. presidential election to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump.

Whether the Trump campaign knowingly coordinated its activities with the Russians remains uncertain. The Trump campaign may have been a wholly passive and unwitting beneficiary. Yes, it’s curious that the Russians allegedly directed their resources to the Rust Belt states also targeted by the Trump campaign. But it’s conceivable they were all just reading the same polls on FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics.

Trump himself passionately denounces the whole thing as a monstrous hoax, a “made-up story.” He has not yet lost all his true believers. But those believers do not include very many of the leading Republicans in Congress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agrees it happened. So does House Speaker Paul Ryan. The House number two, Kevin McCarthy, has even joked that Russia pays Trump.

It’s not seriously disputed by anyone in a position of authority in the U.S. government—apart from the president himself—that Donald Trump holds his high office in considerable part because a foreign spy agency helped place him there. So now what? [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s habitual lying documented

The New York Times reports: Many Americans have become accustomed to President Trump’s lies. But as regular as they have become, the country should not allow itself to become numb to them. So we have catalogued nearly every outright lie he has told publicly since taking the oath of office. [Continue reading…]

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FBI investigating deals involving Paul Manafort and son-in-law

The New York Times reports: Federal investigators are examining financial transactions involving Paul Manafort and his son-in-law, who embarked on a series of real estate deals in recent years fueled by millions of dollars from Mr. Manafort, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The transactions involve the financing of apartments and luxury homes in New York and California using money from Mr. Manafort, as well as from other investors solicited by the son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, including the actor Dustin Hoffman and his son. F.B.I. agents have reviewed financial records related to Mr. Yohai, who has been accused in a lawsuit of defrauding investors, the sources said.

It was not clear if the F.B.I.’s interest was part of the broader investigation that has ensnared Mr. Manafort, who was President Trump’s campaign chairman until he resigned last August amid reports that he had received millions of dollars in off-the-book payments for his consulting work in Ukraine. Mr. Manafort has been the focus of several inquiries looking into his business activities, failure to file foreign lobbying disclosures and possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia. [Continue reading…]

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Obama’s secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin’s election assault

The Washington Post reports: Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks. [Continue reading…]

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Trump now receives anger-management counseling each morning from his advisers and lawyers

The Washington Post reports: President Trump has a new morning ritual. Around 6:30 a.m. on many days — before all the network news shows have come on the air — he gets on the phone with a member of his outside legal team to chew over all things Russia.

The calls — detailed by three senior White House officials — are part strategy consultation and part presidential venting session, during which Trump’s lawyers and public-relations gurus take turns reviewing the latest headlines with him. They also devise their plan for battling his avowed enemies: the special counsel leading the Russia investigation; the “fake news” media chronicling it; and, in some instances, the president’s own Justice Department overseeing the probe.

His advisers have encouraged the calls — which the early-to-rise Trump takes from his private quarters in the White House residence — in hopes that he can compartmentalize the widening Russia investigation. By the time the president arrives for work in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, he will no longer be consumed by the Russia probe that he complains hangs over his presidency like a darkening cloud. [Continue reading…]

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