World

Failed Terrorist Attempt In Manhattan Port Authority

  • Police were called to a reported explosion at 7:20 a.m. ET in a below-ground walkway that connects two subway lines at 42nd Street.
  • Responding units found an injured 27-year-old male, identified him as Akayed Ullah. He had burns and wounds to his body.
  • Ullah was from Bangladesh & was doing it “in the name of ISIS”
  • Preliminary investigation at the scene indicates that this male was wearing an improvised low-tech explosive deviceattached to his body. He intentionally detonated that device.
  • There were three other people in the immediate area who also sustained minor injuries.
  • Video (unconfirmed):

Trump Recognizes Jerusalem As Capital Of Israel

Trump’s speech in a nutshell:

“Today we finally acknowledge the obvious: That Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Trump said. “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.”

This is the actual presidential proclamation on Jerusalem.

PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP’S PROCLAMATION ON JERUSALEM AS THE CAPITAL OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL

“My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” – President Donald J. Trump

RECOGNIZING JERUSALEM: President Donald J. Trump is following through on his promise to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel and has instructed the State Department to begin to relocate the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

  • Today, December 6, 2017, President Trump recognized Jerusalem, the ancient capital of the Jewish people, as the capital of the State of Israel.
    • In taking this action, President Trump fulfilled a major campaign promise of his and many previous Presidential candidates.
  • The Trump Administration is fully coordinated in supporting this historic action by the President, and has engaged broadly with both our Congressional and international partners on this issue.
    • President Trump’s action enjoys broad, bipartisan support in Congress, including as expressed in the Jerusalem Recognition Act of 1995.  This Act was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate only six months ago.
  • President Trump has instructed the State Department to develop a plan to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
  • Departments and Agencies have implemented a robust security plan to ensure the safety of our citizens and assets in the region.

STATUS OF JERUSALEM: President Trump recognizes that specific boundaries of sovereignty in Jerusalem is highly sensitive and subject to final status negotiations.

  • President Trump recognizes that the status of Jerusalem is a highly-sensitive issue, but he does not think the peace process is aided by ignoring the simple truth that Jerusalem is home to Israel’s legislature, supreme court, President, and Prime Minister.
  • President Trump recognizes that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.
  • President Trump reaffirms United States support for the status quo at the Temple Mount, also known as Haram al Sharif.

COMMITTED TO THE PEACE PROCESS: President Trump is committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

  • President Trump remains committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians, and he is optimistic that peace can be achieved.
  • Delaying the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has not helped achieve peace over the past two decades.
  • President Trump is prepared to support a two-state solution to the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians, if agreed to by the parties.

It’s hard to find anyone outside of the far right and Benjamin Netanyahu who thinks this will being peace to the Middle East. It’s throwing fuel on a dumpster fire. Secretary of Defense Mattis is against it. Secretary of State Tillerson is against it. The Pope, NATO and the EU are all against it. So are many of our Middle East allies, like Saudi Arabia.

The move hurts the administration’s stated goal of brokering a Middle East peace agreement with “an open and honest dialogue with both sides.” It also creates new international tension, and increases the risk of violent protests. Indeed, a day before Trump even made the announcement, there were already signs that the move was straining diplomatic relations and the world was bracing for unrest.

But… this was a campaign promise. Fortunately, the embassy isn’t actually moving anytime soon. Trump will still sign a waiver allowing the embassy to remain in Tel Aviv, which has come up every six months since Congress passed a law in 1995 saying the embassy should be in Jerusalem. Finding a site for the embassy and working out all the logistical and security details is expected to take three to four years.

Repercussions have started already:

It should be noted that to Trump’s evangelical base, religious strife in the Middle East is a feature, not a bug. Theologian Diana Butler Bass has written an informative twitter thread on this topic.

For decades, conservative evangelicals have been longing for this recognition. They believe it is necessary in order to regain control of the Temple mount. That is important because rebuilding the Temple is the event that will spark the events of the Book of Revelation and the End Times…They’ve been waiting for this, praying for this. They want war in the Middle East. The Battle of Armageddon, at which time Jesus Christ will return to the Earth and vanquish all God’s enemies. For certain evangelicals, this is the climax of history. And Trump is taking them there. To the promised judgment, to their sure victory. The righteous will be ushered to heaven; the reprobate will be banished to hellfire.

This is why warnings from the rational world about Trump’s move raising tensions in the Middle East have the opposite effect on these people.

Breaking: Terrorist Attack In Lower Manhattan?

Unclear. There is one report saying a box truck plowed into some pedestrians and bicyclists in Tribeca area.

Then there’s this…

That would place it near the World Trade Center memorial

UPDATE 3:43 pm —

NYPD Twitter says one person in custody.

UPDATE 3:56 pm —

Mainstream media starting to pick up the story. Still vague. Some reports suggest driver of truck may have been ramming AND shooting.

UPDATE 4:02 pm — New York Post:

At least two people were fatally shot in Lower Manhattan Tuesday afternoon by a gunman firing from his truck, police sources said.

The gunman, who is in police custody, shot at least six people at West Street and Chambers Street, which is near Stuyvesant High School, at 3:15 p.m.

“What happened was there was a car crash… he came out of one of the cars. He had two guns. He was running around Chambers and somebody started to chase him,” said a 14-year-old Stuyvesant student. “I heard four to six gunshots – everybody starts running.”

Video of the scene shows at least two people lying limp in the street. Photos show a smashed up Home Depot rental truck.

That is the Home Depot rental. AP is reporting that it drove down the bike path, hitting riders and pedestrians, then crashed.

Other reports:

UPDATE — 4:20 pm —

Some reports say six dead. However, only two are confirmed dead.

Another report suggests this might have been a road rage incident, rather than terrorism.

UPDATE: 4:30 pm —

Being Fox News, I take that with a grain of salt.

UPDATE: 4:43 pm —

Official death toll at 6 now.

FBI is taking over the case, so that would suggest this is being treated as a terrorist incident for now.

UPDATE: 5:35pm —

Driver entered bike path at 3:10 PM.

Suspect is 29 years old. This is being treated as a terrorist attack. At least eight are confirmed dead. The suspect had a paintball gun and a pellet gun.

Incredibly, the New York Halloween Parade, which is only blocks away from the incident, and starting at 7:30pm, is going to go forward on what many will see as an act of defiance. There will, of course, be heavily police presence and sand trucks.

Suspect is Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, from Tampa Florida, who came to the US in 2010 from Uzbeckistan. It is thought he had the fake guns because he wanted the police to shoot him and kill him (this getting martyrdom).

LATE UPDATE —

Final toll is 8 dead, 11 injured. Five of the dead were tourists from Argentina celebrating a 30th high school reunion.

Another of the dead was a mother of two children from Belgium. She was on a city trip with her two sisters and her mother, who were unharmed.

Saipov appears to be an “ISIS-inspired” lone wolf.

Trump, ever the coward, politicizes it the following morning, by blaming prominent Democrat:

Trump, of course, didn’t know what he was talking about in asking for getting rid of the Diversity Visa Lottery Program. Republican Jeff Flake responded:

We Know Now Why We Were In Niger

CNN:

The US Army team that was ambushed in Niger was gathering intelligence on a terrorist leader operating in the area when it was attacked, two military officials told CNN on Tuesday.

The officials said the unit was not under orders to conduct a kill or capture mission on the leader, since such missions are typically reserved for other elite special operations forces teams.

The new details come a day after Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford told reporters that the troops were on their way back to their operating base when they were ambushed by 50 ISIS fighters.

Four US and five Nigerien soldiers were killed and two Americans were wounded in the attack that occurred on October 4, but details of what happened remain murky more than two weeks after the incident as investigators work to determine precisely what happened, a US official has told CNN.

CNN also learned Tuesday that the Green Beret team was on one of their first patrols in the country after arriving just weeks earlier, according to two US defense officials.

That answers one question. Still it sounds like a SNAFU operation. Where was the support? The back-up? Why was Johnson’s body not air-lifted with the others? Why was his body found one mile away?

What Happened In Niger

The controversy has been Trump’s call to a bereaved family, which by all accounts bolluxed up.

But how did it come about? It came about because it took Trump twelves days to talk to this family, and a reporter asked about the delay. From there, Trump proceeded to bash Obama, saying (falsely) that Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers.  Then, when Trump DID call the family of Sgt. La Dave Johnson, he said “he knew what he was signing up for”, thus adding to a family’s pain.

But let’s go back even further.  Why did Johnson and three other soldiers die? Why were they even in Niger?

Here’s what we do know:

What were U.S. troops doing in Niger?

Niger, a landlocked country bordered by Libya, Nigeria and Algeria, is key to the fight against Islamic terrorists. Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have both established transit routes that allow them to move money and people between the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. (Both groups have a training camp in Mali.)

U.S. troops arrived in 2013 to help the French military, which was running an operation against al-Qaeda in Mali. President Obama sent 150 service members to Niger’s capital, Niamey, to set up a surveillance drone operation over Mali. Today, there are about 800 soldiers assisting in the fight against al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and Boko Haram, the Nigerian extremist militant group. Many have been tasked with setting up a drone base in the country’s northern desert or running surveillance missions out of Niamey. According to ABC News, less than 100 Green Berets are in Niger to help build the capacity of its military. Those troops can instruct their counterparts on skills from basic marksmanship to small-team maneuvering and calling in close air support. But clearly, the mission can turn dangerous and resemble something like combat.

What happened the day of  the attack?

It’s unclear, but we know that a group of eight to 12 U.S. soldiers were accompanying 30 to 40 Nigerien troops on some kind of mission near Tongo Tongo. (Other accounts suggest that only eight to 12 Nigerien and American soldiers actually entered the village and that the other Nigerien troops were stationed nearby.) The group met with leaders and collected supplies. As they were heading home, they were ambushed by about 50 militants.

There was a firefight. Witnesses said the assailants blew up their vehicles. The soldiers ran for cover and began returning fire. Apparently, a French military aircraft was on the scene within 30 minutes, but it didn’t fire on the attackers. (There are different accounts as to why. Reuters reported that the fighting was happening at close quarters, so the French aircraft couldn’t intervene. Others have said that Niger forbids air strikes on its soil.)

According to a CNN report based on military interviews with the survivors shared with the network by a U.S. defense official, some of the soldiers said it seemed like the local leaders were delaying the soldiers’ departure, which caused them “to suspect that the villagers may have been complicit in the ambush.”

But by the end of the fight, four Americans were dead. The remains of three — Staff Sgts. Bryan Black and Jeremiah Johnson, and Dustin Wright — were retrieved.  It took 48 hours to recover the body of Sgt. La David Johnson, who had been separated from the rest of the group.

There was also some initial disagreement about who flew the medevac helicopter to rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead. The Washington Post confirmed that contractor Berry Aviation conducted the casualty evacuation and transport.

Did the Army do enough to protect its soldiers?

According to the Pentagon, the answer is yes. Defense Department officials said that soldiers had carried out 29 similar operations in the last six months with no problems. By this time, they were considered routine.

But critics wonder if enough precautions were taken. The troops were armed only with rifles and traveled in unarmored pickup trucks. There was no U.S. drone flying overhead to track the soldiers. French officials told Reuters they felt the U.S. military acted without enough intelligence or contingency planning.

Who were the militants?

The Defense Intelligence Agency has said they believe the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara was behind the attack. The group has been around at least since 2015, when its leader split from al-Qaeda. According to U.S. officials, this isn’t an “officially recognized” branch of the Islamic State — one American official called it a “wannabe.” In the past, the group has attacked French counterterrorism forces, but they’ve never before launched an attack on U.S. forces. (A rival group, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, kidnapped an American aid worker, Jeffery Woodkey, from his home in Abalak, Niger, in 2016. Woodkey is still being held with five other hostages.)

The men were carrying small arms, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The Pentagon said they were “well-equipped and trained.”

How has the U.S. government handled the fallout from the attack? 

Investigations are underway. The Department of Defense is conducting a review of what went wrong, and the Pentagon’s Africa Command has sent a team of investigators to Niger. (“We need to collect some basic facts,” a Defense Department official told NBC News.) The French military is also looking into it. The Senate Armed Services Committee has called on the Trump administration to lay out a  fuller explanation of what went wrong.

“I think the administration has to be more clear about our role in Niger and our role in other areas in Africa and other parts of the globe,” Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) told New York magazine. “They have to connect it to a strategy. They should do that. I think that the inattention to this issue is not acceptable.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been more blunt. When asked by a reporter whether he thought the Trump administration was being up front about what happened in Niger, he replied, simply: “No.”

What about Chad?

Here’s where things get even more interesting.

As we know, Trump has a list of countries that he wants to ban travel from. In his latest iteration, Chad was added to that list.

US officials say an office supply issue was a major reason the African country of Chad was hit with travel restrictions by the United States.

It turns out a seemingly pedestrian issue was to blame: Chad ran out of passport paper.

All countries had been given 50 days to take several steps that included providing a recent passport sample. Chad couldn’t comply, and its offer to provide a pre-existing sample wasn’t sufficient.

So they were added to the list.

In response, Chad then began to withdraw their troops from the fight against Boko Haram in Niger. In fact, Chad’s troops were gone a week after Trump added Chad to the ban list. According to Reuters, once the soldiers left, Boko Haram moved back in and people began to flee for their lives again.

And so…. shortly after the “battle-hardened” Chad fighters left, four American soldiers were attacked and killed in an ambush by ISIS extremists in Niger.

Trump’s Benghazi?

Neera Tanden, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, tweeted hyperbolically on Wednesday: “We had about 4000 Benghazi hearings. Why isn’t there a single one on the deaths of soldiers in Niger?”

Sounds like we should find out what happened.

Decertification Of Iran?

These tweets are two hours apart.

I guess (?????) it’s going to happen. Maybe?

The problem is that Iran is complying. He has no basis to withdraw other than the fact that it is (in his view) “a bad deal”. And that creates a huge problem in the long term. How can any country enter ANY kind of deal with the United States if some president comes along in four years and breaks the deal FOR NO REASON?

France, Germany and the UK respond:

Trump’s decision to decertify the deal by mid-October will start a 60-day clock for lawmakers to decide whether to reimpose U.S. sanctions on Iran. Tillerson said that Trump would decertify it on the grounds that he does not believe the sanctions relief that Iran is getting is proportional to benefits that come from Iran’s efforts to curb its nuclear program.

In other words, Trump makes a mess (again) and then puts it on Congress to fix it.

UPDATE:  Joe Biden on Facebook writes:

Two years ago, the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China reached an historic agreement with Iran to block its pathways to a nuclear weapon. That agreement is working. It is making the United States and our allies, including Israel, more secure.

And the truth of the matter is, Iran is holding up its end of the deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency has said so. Our allies in Europe have said so. Even the Trump administration has twice certified Iran’s compliance.

So President Trump’s decision today to decertify the nuclear deal goes aganst reason and evidence. It constitutes an unfounded and unnecessary threat to America’s national security—one that inflicts lasting damage to American global leadership.

Unilaterally putting the deal at risk does not isolate Iran. It isolates us.

Just last week, Secretary of Defense Mattis testified to Congress that it is in the national security interests of the United States to remain in the deal. In announcing his decision, President Trump did not present a credible case to contradict that assessment—because he can’t. Instead, he is playing politics at the expense of the safety of every single American citizen.

The Iran deal does one thing: remove the immediate threat that a nuclear-armed Iran would present to the region, Israel, and the United States. It was never meant to be a catchall solution. Nor does it prevent us from taking steps to address Iran’s continued provocations and destabilizing actions in the region. Only now, President Trump has worsened our negotiating position. This decision will cost us leverage. It will weaken our unity with our allies. It will damage our credibility.

The detrimental effects of this step today will also ripple outward and cripple our ability to resolve other challenges. After today, what incentive would the leadership in North Korea have to sit down with the United States, China, and other partners to negotiate a diplomatic resolution to the escalating nuclear crisis? After today, why would the rest of the world join us in pushing for a diplomatic solution we might not uphold? After today, what is America’s word worth in the world?

Now, responsibility for America’s leadership and reputation rests with Congress. It is my hope that rational heads will prevail—that members will listen to the testimony of experts and our own national security establishment; that they will recognize the damage reimposing sanctions on Iran, in violation of our own obligations under the deal, will cause. And I hope Congress will do something the president is unwilling to do: ensure our actions contribute to the international consensus on how best to address the challenge posed by Iran instead of putting that consensus in jeopardy.

The United States has earned our position of respect in the world through generations of sacrifice and selfless leadership—we must not abandon that so casually.

Trump’s UN Speech

Let’s be clear about Trump’s speech to the United Nations yesterday — it was an example of what he was elected for. Bombastic and in-your-face. That’s what people who voted for Trump wanted, and that’s what he displayed.

It was “bad” in the sense that it was Trumpian.

It was also “bad” in the sense that it projected a horrible Republican philosophy — nationalism.

And it was “bad” in the sense that it was often incoherent and contradictory.

So let’s try to break it down. In short, the speech was a 40-minute mixture of bombast, insults, threats, praise for the ideals of the UN, and a declaration of his belief that America’s pursuit of its own interests was in America’s best interests and the world’s.

Making headlines was Trump’s most explicit warning to date to North Korea about its continuing efforts to develop nuclear weapons that could reach the U.S. The president warned that America would “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to “defend itself or its allies.” Though that declaration elicited gasps from the diplomats and criticism from the media, it was a more explicit version of his earlier threat that Pyongyang would be met with “fire and fury” if it continued threatening America and its allies with its nuclear and missile tests. In vintage Trumpian (childish) form, he mocked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as a “rocket man” on a “suicide mission.” Demanding the “denuclearization” of the peninsula, Trump did not call for a resumption of negotiations to achieve that goal.

One has to ask: “Does Trump actually think that if he issues a few more bellicose threats then North Korea will agree to give up its nuclear weapons?” I can’t imagine any reasonable person would. It would not be unreasonable for Kim to believe that his nuclear weapons are the only thing keeping the United States from launching a war against him.

In fact, when Trump criticized the “deal” with Iran as an “embarrassment”, it clearly sent a message the North Korea that the ONLY way Trump was going to deal with it — if he had to deal with it — is through complete destruction of North Korea, meaning millions of men, women and children.

Trump did not come across as someone that our potential enemies were willing to work with.  If anything, he made it clear: this is an administration that does not do deals.  Which is odd for a president who touted his deal-making abilities.

Of course, Trump’s North Korea bluster may be posturing, and it will be seen as posturing.  In other words, Trump is making a line in the sand which he cannot keep.  And if he can and intends to, woe to the United States.

And therein lies a serious flaw with Trumpism — it is words, not policy. With North Korea, Iran, and other “rogue nations”, Trump offered no specific proposals for countering the threat he claims they pose.

The president’s speech elicited some applause from the assembled diplomats, but mostly uncomfortable silence. His shrill tone and bombast was reminiscent of his campaign rallies. But his base undoubtedly welcomed his assertion that the rogue states menacing America’s and world stability were “going to hell,” and that America was being “taken advantage of” in paying 22 percent of the UN’s expenses.

But all of his belligerent and confrontational rhetoric just raises tensions in several different parts of the world, and it appears to commit the U.S. to more meddling around the world and potentially risks getting the U.S. into more avoidable wars. None of that has anything to do with putting American interests first. Much of Trump’s speech was an assertion of a desire to dictate terms to other states, and as such it is likely to be poorly received by most of the governments of the world.

As some have pointed out, Trump’s speech contained literally dozens of uses of the word ” sovereign” or “sovereignty”.  It was an odd theme: emphasizing — in an increasingly interconnected and globalizing world — the need for greater sovereignty. “The nation-state remains the best vehicle for elevating the human condition,” he said. The subtext was that walls, along every nation’s borders, were the keys to prosperity and international security.

The line baffled veteran American diplomats. “The President kept talking about sovereignty as if it were imperiled,” Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the head of the State Department’s policy-planning staff under the George H. W. Bush Administration, told me. “The last I checked, we still have a veto at the U.N. We set our own limits in the Paris climate pact. No one is forcing us to adhere to trade agreements. It seemed to me it was something of a red herring. U.S. sovereignty is not imperiled. It’s an odd emphasis at the U.N., where our goal is to generate collective effort against common problems. It seemed to me inherently contradictory.”

9/11 Plus 16 — What If Trump Was President?

Each year as 9/11 comes and goes, there is less added to the perspective. An entire generation is now politically aware, who cannot remember that horrible day.  Bizarre, to me.

We forget that Bush, like Trump, was in the infancy of his presidency. I remember thinking that he was over his head — partly because it was unprecedented, and partly because it was, frankly, Bush.

But at least he was surrounded (mostly) by smart people (mostly) and the crisis was handled deftly in the immediate days… until it became a war against Iraq (who did not attack us).

One wonders if the Trump Administration is prepared for something on that level. I suspect not, and I say that knowing that he has the benefit of a 9/11/ type attack no longer being “unprecedented”.  But consider this:

  • The White House is in constant disarray as key personnel are hired and fired at an unprecedented rate. One cost is that most basic measure of experience: days on the job. Another is an inability to forge sustained working relationships as colleagues are summarily dispatched in the manner of a reality-TV show. And how can those who remain do their best work when the boss at the top exhibits a management style that is as volatile and erratic as it is petty? Many dignified people have simply refused to consider working for him.
  • Huge numbers of important State Department positions are still unfilled, including key undersecretary positions; and the ability of the United States to conduct diplomacy or to draw on country-specific expertise seems to have atrophied.
  • The United States is crazy divided. And according to a recent Fox News poll, it isn’t just that a majority of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing—56 percent say that he is “tearing the country apart.”
  • The Trump Organization’s murky asset portfolio, with heavy investments in numerous foreign countries, and the Trump family’s refusal to divest from it, makes it impossible for congressional overseers or the public to adequately discern when the Trump family’s business interests diverge from America’s interests.

And none of this gets to Trump’s incompetency.

One HOPES that there is enough institutional competency such that a terrorist attack would not flummox us. After all, at this very moment, Texas is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma just trampled Florida.  And FEMA seems to be doing fine (Trump’s role seems to be limited to tweeting).

So maybe we can get by without Trump’s leadership, even in a 9/11-type event.

I just would prefer not to test that theory.

Locked And Loaded? Really?

“Locked and loaded”?  This macho shit is insane. I don’t even know what that means.

LATE UPDATE FROM AN AFTERNOON PRESS CONFERENCE:

Look, giving Trump credit which he doesn’t deserve, he COULD be acting that madman. Nixon and Kissinger did that with Vietnam — Kissinger would go to the North Vietnamese and say “Hey, you better back down because I can’t control the President and how knows what the fuck he’ll do” or words to that effect.  So some have speculated that Trump is playing that game.

The problem is… we don’t have a Kissinger.  In fact, we don’t have that much of a diplomatic corps at all. Trump has gutted it, or plans to.

Also, Trump, whether he intends it or not, is drawing a red line in the sand. And he might have to back up his words with action someday — a situation he is not accustomed to.

Past presidents have sent warnings to Kim Jong Un, just not through Twitter. Between them and the UN (which just passed huge sanctions), that has avoided war. I’m not sure Trump is interested in avoiding war.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defense accused the United States of stirring regional conflict and suggested that such operations bolstered China’s case for building military facilities across the sea to defend its claimed territory. Vietnam, the Philippines and other governments also claim islands and adjacent waters in the sea.

“We strongly urge the United States to immediately mend its ways and end illegal provocations in the name of so-called freedom of navigation,” Senior Col. Wu Qian, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defense, said on its website on Friday. “The American military provocation will only induce the Chinese military to further build up various defensive capacities.”

But in an editorial, The Global Times said China should make it clear to both sides: “when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand.”

“China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral,” it added. “If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”

And Homeland Security in Guam sent out this disturbing bulletin to civilians. The advice includes tips such as: “Do not look at the flash or fireball – It can blind you” and “Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.”

Yikes.

Is there anyone DE-escalating this thing?  Apparently so….

WASHINGTON (AP) — Beyond the bluster, the Trump administration has been quietly engaged in back channel diplomacy with North Korea for several months, addressing Americans imprisoned in the communist country and deteriorating relations between the long-time foes, The Associated Press has learned.

It had been known the two sides had discussions to secure the June release of an American university student. But it wasn’t known until now that the contacts have continued, or that they have broached matters other than U.S. detainees.

People familiar with the contacts say the interactions have done nothing thus far to quell tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile advances, which are now fueling fears of military confrontation. But they say the behind-the-scenes discussions could still be a foundation for more serious negotiation, including on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, should President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un put aside the bellicose rhetoric of recent days and endorse a dialogue.

… but I wish I had more confidence on who they are and where they are getting their marching orders from.

 

Don’t Let Trump Read This

It’s now becoming routine — Trump’s advisers have to walk back his off-the-cuff statements… this time to avert war.

From Jon Chait:

The New York Times has much more detail. Trump improvised his threat without advance consultation with his advisers, none of whom support it. The paper he was holding when he made the statement was about the opioid crisis. Trump “was in a bellicose mood” when he made the statement, due to a Washington Post report that morning about North Korea having miniaturized a nuclear warhead.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have issued more normal-sounding statements intended to supersede the president’s improvised one. (Mattis’s statement redraws the red line, threatening reprisal in return for North Korean actions, rather than threats.) The message of this cleanup is that Trump’s statements do not necessarily represent the position of the U.S. government – a reality most American political elites in both parties already recognize, but which needs to be made clear to other countries that are unaccustomed to treating their head of state like a random Twitter troll.

It is humiliating for the world’s greatest superpower to disregard its president as a weird old man who wanders in front of microphones spouting off unpredictably and without consequence. But at this point, respect for Trump’s capabilities is a horse that’s already fled the barn. New chief of staff John Kelly has supposedly instilled military-style order and message discipline into the administration, but Trump is unteachable. Minimizing the havoc means getting everybody to pretend Trump isn’t really president.

Emphasis mine.

 

Fire and Fury

North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said they will be met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Trump was reading from a statement when he said this, and nobody is quite sure who wrote it. Probably Trump himself since he sans advisers at his Bedminster Golf Course. Bannon is a non-interventionist, and his wiser military advisers would definitely have urged Trump use softer (and non-public) language and perhaps try to DE-escalate the situation.

UPDATE —

Instead, what we have is one narcissistic lunatic facing off against another, each one making grand pronouncements from which it is difficult to back down.

North Korea returns rhetoric:

The president’s comments came as North Korea earlier in the day escalated its criticism of the United States, as well as its neighboring allies, by warning that it will mobilize all its resources to take “physical action” in retaliation against the latest round of United Nations sanctions.

The statement, carried by the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency, was the strongest indication yet that the country could conduct another nuclear or missile test, as it had often done in response to past United Nations sanctions. Until now, the North’s response to the latest sanctions had been limited to strident yet vague warnings, such as threatening retaliation “thousands of times over.”

“Packs of wolves are coming in attack to strangle a nation,” the North Korean statement said. “They should be mindful that the D.P.R.K.’s strategic steps accompanied by physical action will be taken mercilessly with the mobilization of all its national strength.”

“Fire and fury” versus “pack of wolves”.  How long before “winter is coming”?

North Korea followed up with a threat against Guam, which has two US military bases:

North Korea said on Wednesday it is “carefully examining” a plan to strike the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with missiles…
A spokesman for the Korean People’s Army, in a statement carried by the North’s state-run KCNA news agency, said the strike plan will be “put into practice in a multi-current and consecutive way any moment” once leader Kim Jong Un makes a decision.

In another statement citing a different military spokesman, North Korea also said it could carry out a pre-emptive operation if the United States showed signs of provocation.

Earlier Pyongyang said it was ready to give Washington a “severe lesson” with its strategic nuclear force in response to any U.S. military action.

Resolution 2371 was a proper response, and a rare Trump victory.  It was unanimously supported in a vote by the UN Security Council several days ago. As a result of its passage, “the regime of Kim Jong Un will be banned from exporting any goods or services. The BBC estimates that the sanctions will reduce North Korean exports from $3 billion to $2 billion annually. That $2 billion will be retained by continued illicit trading with nations such as China”. The sanctions also “ban[s] member countries from importing coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood from North Korea. They also prohibit member nations from hosting any additional workers from the North above their current levels.”

How serious is this? Well, we are (once again, with Trump) in unknown waters. He is determined to have something in the “win” column, and he is determined to do things different than his predecessors. That does not bode well.

Nor does he seem to understand that consequences of using nuclear weapons, even in a preventative way. The United States, if it acts nuclearly and preventatively, will be a pariah for history, ceding its world leadership position to Russia and China. Which is what Russia and China, and maybe even Bannon, want.  Trump seems rather ho-hum about proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries (“I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us“) and has not ruled using nukes against ISIS. That does not bode well.

Of course, it might be rhetoric used to intimidate our enemies, but in many ways, it becomes a red line that he will be forced to cross or not cross. Keep in mind, North Korea knows that Trump lies — i.e., says things he does not mean. He has a credibility problem. So now Trump’s unfaithfulness to truth is more than just an annoyance to voters; it now plays a factor in a potential nuclear standoff.  THAT does not bode well.

Trump would be better off speaking softly and carrying a big stick.  John McCain believes the situation is serious, but he warns that the president’s rhetoric is not helpful.

McCain is right, the situation is serious, but it’s not Cuban Missile Crisis serious.  First of all, only one intelligence agency thinks that North Korea has miniature nuclear weapon capabilities. Secondly, we really CAN wipe out North Korea if it strikes at all, and Kim Jung Un knows that. I HOPE.  Rex Tillerson tells everyone to take a chill pill. Via AP:

Only hours before Trump’s tweets, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged calm and said Americans should have “no concerns” despite the exchange of threats between the president and North Korea. Aboard his plane as he flew home from Asia, Tillerson insisted the developments didn’t suggest the U.S. was moving closer to a military option to dealing with the crisis.

“Americans should sleep well at night,” Tillerson said. He added: “Nothing that I have seen and nothing that I know of would indicate that the situation has dramatically changed in the last 24 hours.”

In more tranquil terms than Trump, Tillerson sought to explain the thinking behind Trump’s warning. He said the president was trying to send a strong and clear message to North Korea’s leader so that there wouldn’t be “any miscalculation.”

“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the U.S. unquestionable ability to defend itself.” He said the U.S. “will defend itself and its allies.”

I’m not sure that is calming.  This is not going away tomorrow, or two months from now.  We have severe sanctions and a good shot at getting China on our side more. Let’s go with that policy and not blow it up (literally) with over-the-top touch talk from a luxury resort.

UPDATE:  Here’s a sobering reminder…

As former Secretary of Defense William Perry told the podcast Radiolab, “the system is set up so only the president has the authority to order a nuclear war. Nobody has the right to countermand that decision.”

Nobody. Not the Defense Secretary. Not the vice president. Not the generals. Not the individual officers tasked with launching the missiles. Donald Trump alone decides whether to set off a nuclear holocaust.

The reason for this is that our nuclear protocols were designed for a very different era, when the threat of an external enemy loomed much larger than the threat of a madman president.

On the other hand, you always gotta laugh…

Will The Attorney General’s Investigation Into Leaks Snare Trump And Fox News?

Here is a tweet from Fox News this morning at 5:30 a.m.:

By the way, that’s some serious shit, but let’s set aside the content and just note that Fox & Friends linked to a Fox News site talking about information that came from “sources”.

And Donald Trump retweeted it:

There’s one problem. The information from Fox News was actually confidential information from intel sources, i.e., the kind of leak that Trump and Sessions said they would go after.

Look at the awkwardness a few hours later when Fox & Friends interview UN Representative Nikki Haley about the North Korea issue, and she tells them it is confidential.

Ah yes…. and now a flashback:

5.8 Earthquake off North Korea Coast

Normally, I wouldn’t care, but I have to wonder if this is an earthquake.  Info coming in….

 

  • The quake was very deep – 348.2 miles (560km) below the seabed off the coast
  • Its epicenter was 125 miles (201 km) southeast of North Korean city of Chongjin
  • Early speculation indicated quake was man-made, as has been the case in past

Yeah… the problem is that it is 348.2 miles under the sea.  You can’t put a nuke there.

 

 

Breaking: Otto Warmbier Has Died

From ABC News yesterday:

Over and over, Otto Warmbier apologized and begged — at first calmly, then choking up and finally in tears — to be reunited with his family.

North Korean officials seated at long tables watched impassively, with cameras rolling and journalists taking notes, as the adventuresome, accomplished 21-year-old college student from suburban Cincinnati talked animatedly about the “severe crime” that had put him there: trying to take a propaganda banner for someone back home, supposedly in return for a used car and to impress a semi-secret society he wanted to join, and all under the supposed direction of the U.S. government.

“I have made the worst mistake of my life!” he exclaimed as his formally staged Feb. 29, 2016, “confession” to anti-state activities ended in Pyongang.

More than 15 months later, he has finally been reunited with his parents and two younger siblings.

Whether he is even aware of that is uncertain.

“His neurological condition can be best described as a state of unresponsive wakefulness,” said Dr. Daniel Kanter, director of neurocritical care for the University of Cincinnati Health system. Doctors say he has suffered “severe neurological injury,” with extensive loss of brain tissue and “profound weakness and contraction” of his muscles, arms and legs. His eyes will open and blink, but without signs of understanding verbal commands or his surroundings.

Warmbier, now 22, remains hospitalized at the UC Medical Center immediately after his arrival late Tuesday aboard a medevac flight following North Korea’s decision to release him for what it called humanitarian reasons — and under strong pressure after the Trump administration learned of his condition in a special U.S. envoy’s June 6 meeting in New York with North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations.

His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, were told he had been in a coma since shortly after being sentenced March 16, 2016, to 15 years of prison with hard labor.

If life had gone to plan, he today would be in his first month as a new graduate of the University of Virginia.

So basically, the DPRK tortured and murdered a US Citizen for allegedly taking a propaganda poster off a wall.  Will this become an international incident?

Another Terrorist Attack In London

Last night, a van with three people drove into a crowd of worshipers in Finsbury Park, a district in North London. One person was killed, ten were injured.

It was a terrorist attack, but not a typical one that garnishes worldwide press attention. Because this time, the terrorists were white and the targets were Muslim.

Here’s what is known so far:

— The driver of the van, a 48-year-old white man, was wrestled to the ground by people at the scene and held until police arrived. He has been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, according to police.
— Muslim Welfare House CEO Toufik Kacimi said the attacker shouted “I did my bit, you deserve it.”
— Imam Mohammed Mahmoud of the Muslim Welfare House stopped an angry crowd from turning on the van driver, telling the furious mob: “Do not touch him.”  This will, and should, get much notice. The imam followed Islam and protected the man from the furious mob.
— Police have not named the man arrested, but the van bears the logo and phone number for Pontyclun Van Hire in south Wales.
— UK Security Minister Ben Wallace, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s World At One, said, “This individual, so far as we know at the moment, was not known to us.”
— All of the victims were from the Muslim community, police said.
— One man was found dead at the scene, according to police, but it’s not clear if he was killed during the attack. Police said he was already receiving first aid when the attack unfolded.
— Two people were treated at the scene, May said, and eight others have been taken to three hospitals. Two of them are seriously injured.
— Islington’s Seven Sisters Road, where the attack took place, is home to at least four mosques, and would have likely been filled with worshipers leaving late-night taraweeh prayers.
— The Islington borough of north London, of which Finsbury Park is a part, is home to a large Muslim community. Around 10% of the borough’s population is Muslim.
— It’s been nearly 24 hours and Trump and the White House have not talked about it.

Then there is this:

The death of a Virginia teenager who police say was assaulted and then disappeared after leaving a mosque in the Sterling area isn’t being investigated as a hate crime, authorities said Monday.

On Sunday, police found the girl’s remains and a 22-year-old man has been charged with murder in connection with the case.

The mosque, the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) in Sterling, and relatives identified the girl as 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen of Reston.

Fairfax County police identified the man charged with murder in her death as Darwin Martinez Torres of Sterling. On Monday, they did not release any explanation as to why they weren’t investigating the murder as a hate crime.

Relatives identified the slain teen as Nabra Hassanen, 17, right, of Reston, seen in a social media post with a filter. (All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center)

According to accounts from police and a mosque official, a group of four or five teens were walking back from breakfast at IHOP early Sunday when they were confronted by a motorist. All but one of the teens ran to the mosque, where the group reported that the girl had been left behind, according to Deputy Aleksandra Kowalski, a spokeswoman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.

“Immediately thereafter, the ADAMS’ personnel notified both Loudoun County and Fairfax County authorities who immediately began an extensive search to locate the missing girl,” the mosque said in a statement.

Loudoun and Fairfax police jointly conducted an hours-long search around Dranesville Road and Woodson Drive in Herndon, which is in Fairfax. Remains thought to be the girl’s were found about 3 p.m. Sunday in a pond in the 21500 block of Ridgetop Circle in Sterling. During the search, an officer spotted a motorist driving suspiciously in the area and arrested Torres, police said.

Police said they collected several articles of evidence but declined to provide further details.

The girl’s mother said detectives told her that Nabra was struck with a metal bat.

The ISIS-type terrorists want to start a holy war. It looks like some stupid whiteys are willing to play into that.

UPDATE:   Aaaaand this is happening in France

This was a car loaded with explosives which rammed into a police van on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. The driver of the car was killed. No explosion. No other injuries, but it appears to be a botched terrorist attack.

How Britain Voted

It’s a hung parliament folks. PM Theresa May thought she had more conservative support, called for a snap election, and was unable to find a conservative majority, thanks largely to large amounts of young voters going Labour, and the decline of smaller parties.

What is going to happen? With the blessing of the Queen, it looks like the Conservative Party will try to form a minority government with help from a party in Northern Ireland.  We’ll see.  Either way, Britain is dazed and confused as it enters Brexit negotiations with the EU.

Trump’s Tweets Today Are The Most Unhinged And SELF-Destructive (And It’s Only 10:00 AM)

God knows why they just don’t take his phone away. Or give him a fake phone with a fake Twitter account.

This is how bad it has gotten: Trump’s own advisers have gone on television and stated that Trump’s tweets are not his policy.  Well, who knows? How can we tell? Would Trump agree with that?

Even this morning, Kellyanne Conway said that the media is obsessed with Trump’s tweets, implying that people should not place emphasis on them.  But that is in contradiction from what others in the White House – and Trump himself — have said:

“This obsession with covering everything he says on Twitter and very little what he does as president …” Conway said during that interview.

“That’s his preferred method of communication with the American people,” said Craig Melvin, the show’s co-host.

“That’s not true,” Conway interjected.

“Well, he hasn’t given an interview in three weeks, so lately it has been his preferred method,” Melvin replied.

Even setting aside that three-week modification, Melvin is correct that the administration has touted Twitter as being more important than media coverage. After Trump won the presidency in November, he and his team were asked if he would stop tweeting so much as president. The answer? No — because the media can’t be trusted.

Shortly after the election, Trump spoke with CBS’s Leslie Stahl, telling her how he planned to moderate his Twitter use once he was sworn in.

“I’m going to do very restrained, if I use it at all, I’m going to do very restrained,” he said. “I find it tremendous. It’s a modern form of communication. There should be nothing you should be ashamed of. It’s — it’s where it’s at.”

By January, his description of his Twitter habit was a bit less enthusiastic.

“Look, I don’t like tweeting. I have other things I could be doing. But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press. And it’s my only way that I can counteract,” Trump told Reuters in January. That’s the theme: The media is the enemy, so Trump will tweet to the people directly.

On ABC’s “This Week” in January, incoming press secretary Sean Spicer made that same case.

And more to the point, even if his tweets are not policy, they sometimes contradict policy.  And that makes for headaches for Trump’s team.

Today being a prime example. Let’s start with his first four tweets of the day (which apparently were made while watching Morning Joe on MSNBC):

Let’s start with the first tweet at the bottom, where he calls “it” a “travel ban” and a “watered down, politically correct” version of his original executive order which banned all travel from 7 mostly-Muslim nations. Arguably, Trump is showing his intent to disfavor Muslims by the executive order, a point that has doomed the executive orders in court so far. In court briefs, DOJ lawyers have said the orders are “religion-neutral” in operation, drawing “distinctions among countries based on national-security risks identified by Congress and the Executive Branch, not religion, and applies evenhandedly in the six designated countries.”

There is also a glaring problem: the revised travel ban was authored by Trump’s administration and signed by Trump himself — the Justice Department’s role is merely defending its legality.  Why is he taking umbrage with the Justice Department?

In any event, his tweets this morning on the subject of the travel ban hurt his already weak case.

Next up on this morning’s hit parade, this:

Again, he was watching Fox & Friends and they were apparently talking about vacancies.  Odd that he would blame the Democrats, since they do not control the Senate (who has to improve Ambassadors and other certain posts).

Almost two months ago, Politico did a story on why this is taking so long, and it has nothing to do with the Democrats:

Hundreds of key jobs across the federal government remain vacant as a result of an overworked White House personnel office that is frustrating Cabinet secretaries and hampering President Donald Trump’s ability to carry out his ambitious legislative agenda.

The process is bogged down as a result of micromanaging by the president and senior staff, turf wars between the West Wing and Cabinet secretaries and a largely inexperienced and overworked staff, say more than a dozen sources including administration insiders, lobbyists, lawyers and Republican strategists.

Trump personally oversees the hiring process for agency staff by insisting on combing through a binder full of names each week and likes to sign off on each one, according to two people with knowledge of the administration’s hiring process. Also weighing in on the names — and not always agreeing on final picks — are leaders of sometimes warring factions, including chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior strategist Steve Bannon, Cabinet secretaries and, sometimes, the White House’s top lawyer, Don McGahn.

“It’s like a medieval court,” said one person advising potential nominees through the confirmation process. “The White House meets once a week to go over personnel in some attempt to create uniformity, but in this White House, you just have to smile at that. … It’s hard to impose uniformity among the White House’s different coalitions.”

The only uniformity is that potential hires must show fealty to the president. One person close to the White House said a sense of “paranoia” has taken over amid fears that disloyal hires might undercut Trump’s agenda or leak to the press.

Another reason they are having a hard time getting positions filled? People don’t want to serve under Trump. especially with a special counsel investigation and FBI probe hanging over the White House.

Even if it were true that Dems were somehow slowing up the confirmation process, that doesn’t explain the vacancies. From the LA Times:

What’s the effect? Just eight of 120 State Department posts, including ambassadorships, that require Senate confirmation have been filled, according to the Partnership for Public Service. As a result, foreign officials and diplomats struggle to find someone to discuss trade and security issues with.

We have officially entered hurricane season with no head of NOAA and no head of FEMA.

And in the Pentagon, Trump has filled only five of the 53 top jobs – the slowest pace for nominations and confirmations in over half a century. No Army Secretary. No Navy Secretary.

The hold-up, insiders say, is Trump’s insistence on absolute loyalty… to him.

The Washington Post has a wonderful database tracker page to keep up with Trump’s lack of progress on filling key positions.

And finally, Trump’s final tweet of the morning (we hope):

This is Trump engaging in an attack against London mayor Sadiq Khan (a Muslim) when Khan said that is “no reason to be alarmed”. Trump attacked that quote, complaining that London had just had a terrorist attack, and they should be freaking out (I guess).

What happened here? Trump watched Fox News, which had truncated the quote and changed its meaning:

But Mr Trump’s criticism is based on a quotation entirely removed from its context. He appears to be confused about what happened in part because Fox News repeated the same short quote but without the full remarks from the mayor of London.

What Mr Khan actually said was that there is no reason to be alarmed about the increased police presence on the streets after the attack.

“My message to Londoners and visitors to our great city is to be calm and vigilant today,” Mr Khan said. “You will see an increased police presence today, including armed officers and uniformed officers.

“There is no reason to be alarmed by this. We are the safest global city in the world. You saw last night as a consequence of our planning, our preparation, the rehearsals that take place, the swift response from the emergency services tackling the terrorists and also helping the injured.”

There is no reason to be alarmed by this… with “this” referring to the increased police presence.

Rather than admit he was misquoting Khan, Trump doubled down… on the mayor of a city just attacked by terrorists.

Could it be because this particular mayor is Muslim?

Today could have been a good day for Trump — he intended to announce an infrastructure bill (which Dems could get behind). But he squandered it with these Tweets.  With Comey testifying in a few days, Trump does not have many more chances to have “good days”.

Day 116. Jeopardized.

1/ Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian diplomats during their Oval Office meeting last week, which has jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. Trump’s decision to disclose information risks cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. A US official said Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.” Trump’s disclosures are not illegal as he has the power to declassify almost anything. But sharing the information without the express permission of the ally who provided it represents a major breach of espionage etiquette, and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship. (Washington Post / New York Times)

2/ Trump is considering a “huge reboot” that could take out everyone from Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, to counsel Don McGahn and Sean Spicer. Trump is irritated with several Cabinet members and “frustrated, and angry at everyone.” (Axios)

3/ Senate Republicans are looking at steep cuts to Medicaid that could drop millions of people from coverage and reduce programs for the poor. Under pressure to balance the budget, Republicans are considering slashing more than $400 billion in spending on food stamps, welfare, and even veterans’ benefits through a process to evade Democratic filibusters in the Senate. If the Medicaid cutbacks get passed by both chambers, it could significantly scale back the federal-state insurance program that covers 73 million low-income or disabled Americans and shift significant costs onto hospitals and states. (Politico / Wall Street Journal)

4/ James Clapper said that US institutions are under assault from Trump and warned that federal checks and balances are eroding. Former Director of National Intelligence called on the other branches of the federal government to step up in their roles as a check on the executive. (CNN / Associated Press)

  • Republicans and Democrats agree that if Trump has tapes, he’ll need to turn them over to Congress. Lawmakers from both parties said any White House recordings must be preserved for congressional review and that “it’s probably inevitable” that they would be subpoenaed. (Washington Post)

5/ North Korea successfully test-fired a new type of ballistic missile, signaling an advance in their development of an intercontinental ballistic missile program. North Korea said the new “medium long-range” missile is capable of carrying a large nuclear warhead, warning that the United States’ military bases in the Pacific were within its range. (New York Times / Wall Street Journal / Reuters / Associated Press)

  • Putin warns against “intimidating” North Korea after its latest missile launch. Putin called for a peaceful solution to the ongoing tensions on the Korean peninsula and said that Russia is “categorically against the expansion of the club of nuclear states.” (CNN)

6/ The 9th Circuit Court will hear the travel ban appeal, again. A three-judge panel will hear a challenge to a Hawaii judge’s decision to halt travel ban 2.0. Lawyers at the Justice Department must convince at least two of the judges to ignore Trump’s record of campaign calls to ban Muslims from entering the US. (CNN)

7/ Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will brief the full Senate on Thursday about the firing of James Comey. The briefing is classified and will take place in the regular secure room in the Capitol Visitors Center. (CNN / Washington Post)

8/ The Supreme Court rejected an appeal to reinstate North Carolina’s voter identification law, which a lower court said targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. issued a statement noting that there was a dispute about who represented the state in the case and that nothing should be read into the court’s decision to decline to hear it. (Associated Press / Politico / New York Times)

9/ The Dakota Access pipeline has its first leak. The $3.8bn oil pipeline is not yet fully operational, but managed to spill 84 gallons of crude oil. (The Guardian)

10/ White Nationalist Richard Spencer led a torch-bearing group protesting the sale of a statue of Robert E. Lee in Virginia. The group chanted “You will not replace us.” Spencer added: “What brings us together is that we are white, we are a people, we will not be replaced.” (NPR / Washington Post)

11/ Trump thinks that exercising too much uses up the body’s “finite” energy. Trump mostly gave up athletics after college because he “believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted.” (Washington Post)

12/ Comey said he’d be willing to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but wants it to be in public. Comey originally declined an invitation from the committee to be interviewed in a closed-door hearing. (New York Times)

13/ Syria is using a crematorium to hide executions, the State Department said. The US believes Syria’s “building of a crematorium is an effort to cover up the extent of mass murders taking place in Saydnaya prison.” A State Department official said the regime could be killing as many as 50 detainees a day. (CNN / BuzzFeed News / Washington Post)

14/ Senate Republicans are breaking away from Trump as they try to forge a more traditional Republican agenda and protect their political fortunes. Republican senators are drafting a health care bill with little White House input and pushing back on Trump’s impending budget request. Many high-ranking Republicans have said they will not support any move by Trump to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. (New York Times)

poll/ 29% approve of Trump’s firing of James Comey. Trump’s job-approval rating stands at 39%. (NBC News)

Day 117. Wow.

1/ Trump asked James Comey to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation in a February memo he wrote shortly after meeting with Trump. “I hope you can let this go,” Trump told Comey. The request is the clearest evidence that he tried to directly influence the Justice Department and FBI investigations. Comey kept detailed notes of his meetings with Trump, documenting what he perceived as improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An FBI agent’s notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations. (New York Times)

2/ Trump defended his decision to share ISIS intelligence with Russia, tweeting that he had an “absolute right” to do so in the interest of fighting terrorism. Trump’s tweets undercut his administration’s effort to contain the report, where Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster, and the deputy national security adviser for strategy all called the report that Trump revealed highly classified information to Russia false. The information was considered so sensitive that US officials had not shared it widely within the government or among allies. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal)

UPDATE:

Three administration officials conceded that Trump simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods that would do harm to United States allies. (New York Times)

  • Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian diplomats during their Oval Office meeting last week, which has jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State. (WTF Just Happened Today)
  • “This is really the nightmare scenario for the intelligence community,” a former CIA officer said, and as a result Trump could have hampered the US response to ISIS. (Politico)
  • Initial thoughts on the Washington Post’s game-changing story: It matters who we have running the most powerful institution in the world. (Lawfare)

3/ McMaster backs Trump’s sharing of sensitive intelligence with Russians: “It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary.” He added that Trump “wasn’t even aware where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source or method of the information either.” McMaster refused to confirm whether the information the president shared with the Russians was highly classified. (ABC News / Washington Post / Politico)

4/ Israel was the source of ISIS-related intelligence that Trump shared with Russia last week. Two Israeli officials said that the intelligence shared by Trump “syncs up” with intelligence that shared with its US counterparts. The revelation is Israel’s “worst fears confirmed” as it raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia’s close ally and Israel’s main threat in the Middle East. (New York Times / BuzzFeed News / NBC News / Wall Street Journal)

5/ CIA Director Mike Pompeo will brief the members of the House intelligence committee today on what Trump discussed with Russian officials last week, following claims that Trump apparently revealed classified information. (CNN)

6/ Republican and Democratic lawmakers to Trump: hand over the transcript of the meeting with the Russians. Members of Congress have spent several days demanding that Trump turn over tapes of White House meetings after he suggested that he records his conversations. Those calls intensified after Trump acknowledged on Twitter that he had shared sensitive information during his meeting with the Russians. White House aides have neither confirmed nor denied the possibility that Trump records his conversations at the White House. (Washington Post)

  • Lawmakers express shock and concern about Trump disclosure of classified information. “They are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening,” the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said of the Trump administration. “The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment.” (Washington Post)

7/ Mitch McConnell called for “less drama” from Trump. “I think it would be helpful if the president spent more time on things we’re trying to accomplish and less time on other things,” McConnell said. (Bloomberg)

8/ Trump will disclose some of his personal finances this year, which will likely indicate his personal income, assets, and liabilities. They won’t contain details like his tax rate or any charitable donations. (Associated Press)

9/ Paul Manafort took out a $3.5 million mortgage and never paid taxes on it. The former Trump campaign manager took out the mortgage through a shell company just after leaving the campaign and never paid the $36,000 in taxes that would be due on the loan. (NBC News)

10/ Trump to meet with Turkey’s president amid differences over the Trump administration’s plan to directly arm Kurdish rebels in Syria for the fight against ISIS. Turkey considers the group a terrorist organization, because it maintains ties with a Kurdish revolutionary group inside Turkey. (ABC News)

11/ Gingrich urged Trump to shut down White House press room in order to send a message to the country “that the media is a corrupt institution and [Trump] is tired of being harassed by people whose only interest is making him look bad.” (Politico)

poll/ 48% of voters support impeaching Trump compared to 41% that are opposed to the idea. 43% of voters think Trump is actually going to end up serving his full term, while 45% think he won’t. 12% aren’t sure one way or the other. (Public Policy Polling)

War With Syria?

Well, I guess it’s good to know that Trump finally recognizes the seriousness of the Syrian situation. And I hope he makes a connection between the horrible Sarin gas attacks and his terrible refugee policy making it harder for Syrians to flee.

But what is happening now?  Is this saber-rattling for real, or is it posturing?  An “America First” Donald Trump would not go to war with Syria, but as I have written about recently, Trump it seems is becoming more globalist and less isolationist.

I don’t know the answer regarding Syria.  Neither did Obama. Neither did the Congress under Obama when they would not grant his request for war.  Which, by the way, I hope Trump will do.

Er, let me put that another way.

Trump MUST get approval from Congress.  Doing otherwise would violate the Constitution.

Or maybe he’ll just do a surgical strike or two.

Hmmmm.  Seems there is a downside to Trump being a globalist too.  He’ll be a neo-con.  Great.

The Bannon Downgrade Isn’t Just About Palace Infighting; It Means Globalists Are Beating The Nationalists

“America First” might still be the motto of the Trump White House, but what that means might be something than it originally meant.  Bannon’s removal from the National Security Council could mean that Trump is starting to see America’s interest as inextricably linked to global events, rather than as something separable.  The New Yorker gets it:

For students of White House infighting, dynastic regimes, and Trump’s mental makeup, there is enough material in those two paragraphs to support several interpretations of what’s happening. One is that the Crown Prince, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, has had enough of Bannon’s right-wing-revolutionary shtick; while Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs, never had much sympathy for it to begin with. And Papa Don has never have gotten over the February 13th cover of Time magazine, which featured a close-up shot of Bannon and the headline “The Great Manipulator.”

Other readings could be offered, of course, and some of them may be more accurate. But the real import of Bannon’s departure from the N.S.C. goes beyond personalities and palace intrigue. It confirms a trend we’ve seen developing for weeks now: the Trump Administration’s globalists, such as Kushner and Cohn, are growing in influence, while the nationalists—led by Bannon—are on the defensive.

To most members of the Washington foreign-policy establishment, regardless of party affiliation, that will come as an immense relief. It suggests that business as usual—Atlanticism, free trade, American economic and military engagement across the globe—will ultimately prevail. Bannon has embraced an alternative vision, which he calls “economic nationalism.” Many of his critics have identified it as a desire to upend the international order that was established after the Second World War, and to replace it with a protectionist, ethnocentric model—one in which the United States, Russia, and nationalist-led European countries join together to fight Islam and confront a rising China. During the campaign, and even during the transition, Trump sometimes seemed to be leaning in Bannon’s direction. But since he has taken office, the actions of his Administration have indicated otherwise.

The first indication of what was to come occurred in February, when Trump backed off the threatening signals he’d been sending to the Chinese, which had included accepting a phone call from the President of Taiwan, a country that Beijing regards as an integral part of the Middle Kingdom. In a telephone conversation with President Xi on February 9th, Trump said he would honor the “One China” policy that the U.S. government has recognized since Richard Nixon went to Beijing, in 1972.

Kushner, whose daughter Arabella is learning Mandarin, appears to have played an important role here. According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s Ambassador to Washington, Cui Tiankai, courted Kushner assiduously—and, apparently, successfully. “Trump’s son-in-law is key,” Wu Xinbo, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, in Shanghai, told the Journal. “First, he’s our ambassador’s main point of contact with Trump. Second, he’s the main figure for passing ideas and suggestions on China policy.”

Trump has also retreated from his jarring rhetoric about nato. In January, the President-elect told a German newspaper that the military alliance was “obsolete,” raising fears all over Europe that his Administration might revive American isolationism. But in early March, Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, wrote to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority leader, and asked Congress to ratify Montenegro’s membership in nato—a clear expression of support for its continued expansion. A couple of weeks later, the White House confirmed that Trump will attend a nato summit in May, alongside Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and other European leaders

Trump’s approach to Syria may also be changing. In the dystopian “Clash of Civilizations” scenario that Bannon and his supporters subscribe to, Syria represents an important staging ground in the U.S.-led crusade against radical Islam, and an example of what future U.S.-Russian coöperation could look like. But the photographs of children being asphyxiated by Assad’s chemical weapons appear to have given Trump pause about being associated with the Assad-Putin axis. At a press conference on Wednesday, he said, “My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”

The biggest turnaround has come in the area of trade. During the campaign, Trump threatened to slap import duties of forty-five per cent on China and thirty-five per cent on Mexico. He said that on his first day in office, he would designate China as a currency manipulator. These things didn’t happen. Recently, the White House has let it be known that, far from starting a trade war with Mexico, it is seeking only modest changes to nafta—the very nafta that Trump has described as “a disaster” and the worst trade agreement in history.

“According to an administration draft proposal being circulated in Congress by the U.S. trade representative’s office,” the Journalreported last week, “the U.S. would keep some of Nafta’s most controversial provisions, including an arbitration panel that lets investors in the three nations circumvent local courts to resolve civil claims. Critics of these panels said they impinge on national sovereignty.” The story went on: “The U.S. also wouldn’t use the Nafta negotiations to deal with disputes over foreign-currency policies or to hit numerical targets for bilateral trade deficits, as some trade hawks have been urging.”

It would hardly be surprising if the Administration’s evolving trade policy is one of the sources of tension between Bannon and Cohn, who is head of the National Economic Council. Although the nafta proposal was circulated by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer, it also appeared to reflect the thinking of Cohn and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, both of whom are former Goldman Sachs executives (and Democratic Party contributors).

***

The one puzzle—and potential hiccup—in all of this is Trump. From the get-go, there has been a glaring contradiction in his approach to the world. While his rhetoric has, at times, embraced nativism, isolationism, and protectionism, he is himself a consummate globalist. As a television celebrity and developer, his business is largely based on selling his name around the world and attracting foreign money, some of it of dubious origin, to his U.S. real-estate ventures.

The question has always been, Which Trump will win out: the nationalist rabble-rouser or the avatar of global capitalism? It is still too early to say for sure. But the evidence is pointing in one direction, and the outcome of the meeting with President Xi may well confirm it.

Breaking: Apparent Terrorist Attack At Parliament/Westminster Bridge

BBC report:

Matt Haikin, 44, from London, said he was in shock after seeing the aftermath of the crash on the bridge.

He said: “I just saw a car that had clearly driven off the road into the fence outside Parliament.

“As I went past I noticed there was a body next to it and quite a lot of blood and people standing around.

“Fairly shortly after I heard some shots, at which point it was clear it wasn’t just an accident, something else was going on.”

He then moved to look through the Palace of Westminster gates and saw “a lot of people, people in uniform, I think I saw a couple of bodies on the ground, I couldn’t tell you if they’d been asked to lie down or if they were injured”.

It is worth noting that this come at the one year anniversary of the Brussels attack.  ISIS loves anniversaries.

UPDATE: Officials saying several causalities but won’t give numbers.  Still on lockdown.  Asking for videos and picture from public.

UPDATE #2:  Three officers attacked upon entry to Parliament. Sky News is reporting that one of them has died from stabbing injuries.

Photo of an attacker, who was shot:

UPDATE #3: 4 dead including one policeman and the terrorist. At least 20 injured.

This too:

Lot Of Hypocrisy About Leaks

The Pentagon Papers was a leak from Daniel Ellsberg. It helped de-legitimize the Vietnam War.

Deep Throat was Mark Felt, a top FBI official. He gave Woodward and Bernstein the deep background on the Watergate scandal.

Edward Snowden leaked information about US government surveillance programs.

Chelsea Manning leaked documents and video relating to Iraqi air strikes, diplomatic cables, and Gitmo, most of which did not put the US in good light.

Vice President Cheney outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative in order to exact revenge on her husband, a critic of the Bush Iraq War policy.

To most people, one of more of these people are heroes — one of the “good guys”.  But they were all leakers.

Everybody constructs reasons for leaks they like and leaks they don’t like. But it is hard to come up with a non-hypocritical reason for distinguishing “good leaks” from “bad leaks”.

We’re at a remarkable point in history where the president accuses his own intelligence community of working against him, as exhibited by his tweetstorm this morning:

What sounds hollow about all this is that Trump was totally fine — in fact he PRAISED — Wikileaks when it printed the John Podesta emails.

I know, I know. The Podesta emails weren’t technically leaks.  They were hacks by the Russians.  But doesn’t that make it WORSE?  Think about it.  The President is fine with Russian intelligence stealing secured information and making it public — in fact he encouraged it! — but he’s upset about “illegal” leaks from American intelligence sources?

It really does beg the question — whose side is the President on?  At best, it cements the notion that he is in the pocket of Russia.

Things Fall Apart

Look, things in war don’t always go as planned.  I will be the first to say that. No mission is every 100% fool-proof.  But there are many aspects about the Yemeni mission, and Trump’s involvement in it, that are worrisome.

In case you haven’t followed this story, in the first week of his presidency, Donald Trump approved a raid on an Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) compound in Yemen, and pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong. The team encountered strong resistance, Owens was killed, an Osprey aircraft was disabled in a “hard landing” and had to be destroyed so it wouldn’t fall into AQAP’s hands, and according to the Yemeni government, 15 civilians, including at least one child, were killed.

Then, making things worse, the Pentagon released a training video it had seized as evidence of the high-level intelligence the raid produced. But it turned out that the footage was ten years old and had been distributed on the internet some time ago. According to some reports, the true target of the raid was AQAP leader Qasim al-Rimi, who is now gleefully mocking the United States.

The failure has also compromised our ability to conduct further anti-terrorism missions in Yemen. Today the New York Times reported:

Yemen has withdrawn permission for the United States to run Special Operations ground missions against suspected terrorist groups in the country, according to American officials.

In response to the publication of that article, the Yemeni foreign minister said that Yemen had not banned future missions but had asked for a “reassessment” of the raid on the 29th. Either way, it would seem that we’ll have a harder time getting Yemen to approve such missions in the future.

It’s too simplistic to just say, “This was Donald Trump’s fault.” The plan was devised and executed by the military, of course, and every military mission involves risk. But the ultimate decision is the President’s, and it’s his job to factor in all the relevant variables: What are the chances for the mission to succeed? What are the ramifications if it doesn’t? How do I weigh the different strands of information I’m receiving? What are the implications for American foreign policy?

A look at the way this decision was made is not encouraging. While the plan had been circulating within the Pentagon for a few months (there’s some dispute about whether it actually reached the Obama White House), it was approved by President Trump at a dinner that included not only the relevant national security personnel but also his senior adviser Steve Bannon and his son-in-law Jared Kushner. And check out this nugget from a report by NBC News:

After two months of military preparation increasingly focused on the opportunity to capture al-Rimi, Trump was told by Defense Secretary James Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that his capture would be a “game changer,” according to a senior White House official with direct knowledge of the discussions.

In making their case, they told Trump that they doubted that the Obama administration would have been bold enough to try it, this official said.

Now those are some fellows who knew their audience. This is where it gets troubling. Simply put, we’ve never seen a president who combined complete ignorance with rampaging overconfidence quite the way Trump does. Despite having no experience in military affairs or foreign policy, he claimed during the campaign that “I know more about ISIS than the generals do, believe me,” and when asked whom he consulted on foreign policy, said, “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lotta things.”

Trump also claimed to have personally devised a secret plan to defeat ISIS that he couldn’t reveal lest the terrorists learn what they were in for, though this was a transparent lie. When the subject came up he would say the most bellicose and simple-minded thing possible, often to the point of literally advocating war crimes: “I would bomb the s–t out of them,” or “I’d bring back waterboarding, and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” or “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families.”

No evidence has emerged since then that Trump has anything other than an infantile conception of what being “strong” means. He continues to express his amazement that General Mattis, despite being an obvious tough guy, is opposed to the use of torture.

So anyone who wants Trump to approve a military mission understands that they need only describe it as tough or strong or bold, and there’s a good chance Trump will be won over. His general cluelessness is also something that the rest of his staff is learning to use for their own ends. Earlier this week the New York Times reported that Trump was angry “that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council.” So Trump apparently signed an order making Steve Bannon a member of the “principals committee” of the NSC — an unprecedented move — without having any idea what he was doing.

All this means trouble for the our country’s foreign policy.

And one would hope that Trump MIGHT — I say “might” — have learned a lesson from this mission failure.  But no.  He and Sean Spicer are spinning it as a success.  Which means, no lesson learned.

The Kinda Crazy, Somewhat Uplifting, Complete Unprecedented Weekend Of Trump

On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order that bans some refugees and immigrants from entering the US.

It hits ‘pause’ on Syrian refugees coming into the US. And also temporarily shuts the door on citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Initially, the ban even applied to people with valid visas or green cards. Over the weekend, at least 100 travelers were detained at airports across the country. Including an Iraqi man who once worked as an interpreter for the US gov. So the ACLU sued the White House. And a federal judge blocked anyone who was being held at US airports from being deported. Thousands of people protested across the country, especially at airports.

That the ban may be unconstitutional because it could violate religious freedoms. See: prioritizing letting in Christian refugees coming from places like Syria. Plus, some experts say the order won’t help protect the US, since people from these banned countries aren’t the ones who have carried out deadly attacks in America in recent years. And some people — including GOP lawmakers — say Trump’s move might end up helping terrorist groups recruit more members in the future.

The ban still stands. But the White House has backtracked juussst a little bit. Yesterday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said that green card holders aren’t affected by the ban. Meanwhile, more than a dozen Attorneys General are saying ‘see you in court, Mr. President.’

America is a country built by immigrants and religious freedom is a constitutional right. Even though Trump said yesterday that the US has always been the “land of the free,” his moves have some people worried that the founding principles of the US could be at risk.

The ban is arbitrary, which is a nice way of saying it has no basis in reality.  Nationals of the seven countries singled out by Trump have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015.

Zero.

Six Iranians, six Sudanese, two Somalis, two Iraqis, and one Yemeni have been convicted of attempting or executing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil during that time period — so we HAVE been catching them.

And more than that, it actually CREATES a security risk…

Oh, but that wasn’t all.

(1) Reince Priebus issued a statement that the omission of Jews from the statement for Holocaust Remembrance Day was deliberate and is not regretted.

(2) Rudy Giuliani told Fox News that the intent of yesterday’s order was very much a ban on Muslims, described in those words, and he was among the people Trump asked how they could find a way to do this legally.

(3) CNN has a detailed story (heavily sourced) about the process by which this ban was created and announced. Notable in this is that the DHS’ lawyers objected to the order, specifically its exclusion of green card holders, as illegal, and also pressed for there to be a grace period so that people currently out of the country wouldn’t be stranded — and they were personally overruled by Bannon and Stephen Miller. Also notable is that career DHS staff, up to and including the head of Customs & Border Patrol, were kept entirely out of the loop until the order was signed.

(4) The Guardian is reporting (heavily sourced) that the “mass resignations”of nearly all senior staff at the State Department on Thursday were not, in fact, resignations, but a purge ordered by the White House. As the diagram below (by Emily Roslin v Praze) shows, this leaves almost nobody in the entire senior staff of the State Department at this point.

The seniormost staff of the Department of State. Blue X’s are unfilled positions; red X’s are positions which were purged. Note that the “filled” positions are not actually confirmed yet.

As the Guardian points out, this has an important and likely not accidental effect: it leaves the State Department entirely unstaffed during these critical first weeks, when orders like the Muslim ban (which they would normally resist) are coming down.

The article points out another point worth highlighting: “In the past, the state department has been asked to set up early foreign contacts for an incoming administration. This time however it has been bypassed, and Trump’s immediate circle of Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Reince Priebus are making their own calls.”

(5) Yesterday witnessed a reorganization of the National Security Council: Bannon and Priebus now have permanent seats on the Principals’ Committee; the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have both been demoted to only attending meetings where they are told that their expertise is relevant; the Secretary of Energy and the US representative to the UN were kicked off the committee altogether (in defiance of the authorizing statute, incidentally).

All of this is objectively horrific, but there are some silver linings, most notably, the public protests.  They sprang quickly, they sprang fast, and they were huge!  it felt almost like Arab Spring.  And it makes the Trump White House very out of touch, as well as corrupt.

You do have to wonder how Steve Bannon is expected to continue to shine in Trump’s eyes.  He has not delivered the adoring masses to Trump, as shown by the inauguration size, as well as the size of the protests.  Photo ops about great executive orders turn into catastrophe.  It’s a constant state of damage control over there.  Trump’s vanity and idiocy are sufficient that it may take him some time to realize this. But once he does, it’s bedtime for Bannon, who will be defenestrated without ceremony.

Well, actually, the machinations of Bannon may have brought ONE person out: Six people were killed last night in a terrorist attack on a Quebec City mosque.

Right wing blogs and media instantly jumped to the conclusion that Islamists were responsible for the shootings, as they always do. But today we’re learning more about the sole suspect in this terrible attack: he’s a far right anti-immigration fan of Donald Trump and French fascist leader Marine Le Pen.  This guy:

The Bombshell Report That Russia Can Blackmail Trump, Explained

There’s an enormous amount we don’t yet know about CNN’s bombshell report that US intelligence agencies believe Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” on President-elect Donald Trump and that his campaign was in direct contact with with Russian intermediaries before the election.

We don’t know who CNN’s sources are or if those people’s information is accurate. We don’t know which Trump aides were allegedly dealing with the Russians or whether those Russians worked for Vladimir Putin’s government. And we don’t know the answer to the biggest question of them all: just what does Russia have on Trump?

“So while people are being delicate about discussing wholly unproven allegations, the document is at the front of everyone’s minds as they ponder the question: Why is Trump so insistent about vindicating Russia from the hacking charges that everyone else seems to accept?” Benjamin Wittes, Susan Hennessey, and Quina Jurecic wrote in a post for the Lawfare blog.

There is one thing, though, that we can say with absolute certainty. If the allegations are true, they will spark criminal investigations and the types of Congressional probes that could end Trump’s presidency before it fully begins. If the allegations are false, Trump will accurately be able to say that he’d been slandered by a politicized intelligence community looking for ways of undermining his legitimacy.

Trump’s weeks-long war with the CIA means that this kind of moment may have been inevitable: after weeks of quiet sniping, sources inside the agency or familiar with its work have responded by leaking something truly and genuinely explosive.

This is “news” NOT because of the actual allegation in the memos, but because Trump and Obama were briefed on them last week after US intelligence looked into it, suggesting some credibility.  Furthermore, the Guardian is reporting that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The Fisa court turned down the application asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation. But again, the news is that at least the FBI thought there was enough credibility in the memos to go to the FISA court in the first place.

A lot of people have joked about whether Russia had something on Trump. Turns out that it might

Here’s what we know. Late on Tuesday afternoon, CNN reported that the heads of America’s top intelligence agencies had showed Trump evidence that the Russians had compromising information on him. The allegations came from unsubstantiated memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative that had been in circulation since last summer but that US spy agencies had only recently deemed “credible.”

According to CNN, Sen. John McCain passed a full set of the memos to FBI Director Jim Comey last month. The New York Times reported that top intelligence officials have also briefed President Obama, the top leaders of the House and Senate, and the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the information from the memos even though none of it has been proven true:

The decision of top intelligence officials to give the president, the president-elect and the so-called Gang of Eight — Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress and the intelligence committees — what they know to be unverified, defamatory material was extremely unusual.

After the CNN report, Buzzfeed published the actual dossier, which includes the allegation that Russia’s FSB, the successor to the KGB, believed it had “compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.” More specifically, the dossier alleges that Russia had information that Trump engaged in “perverted sexual acts which have been arranged/monitored by the FSB” and had been recorded having sex with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

Zack Beauchamp at Vox notes that there are three other less salacious but potentially more damaging explanations of what Russia may have on Trump, and of why the president-elect would have have been so worried about its release. First, proof that Trump isn’t as rich as he claims. Second, evidence that Trump’s campaign directly coordinated with a Russian government hell-bent on ensuring his election. And third, that Trump’s business dealings with Russia — and the amount he may owe Russian investors in his company — is far, far greater than we think.

Trump took to Twitter Tuesday night to flatly deny the CNN report (and later take a shot at BuzzFeed):

It may be a while until we know if Trump is right or if the CNN report is accurate. In the meantime, the president-elect has a different problem entirely: He’s taken so many jarringly pro-Kremlin positions that something that would seem too ludicrous for Hollywood — Russian spies preparing to potentially blackmail an American president — seems like a semi-plausible explanation.

Astute readers will note that nobody has suggested what the “compromising information” actually is.  That is because only Buzzfeed published the actual dossier.  Other news outlets are not doing so, saying (correctly) that the allegations are unverified (I don’t recall them being so queasy when it came to leaked John Podesta emails, but that’s another commentary).

Since *I* am not a journalist, I am happy to include the dossier with this post, and let the reader read all the salacious “compromising information” that Russia has on Trump, allegedly.  I say again, ALLEGEDLY.  Those who have read it focus on the “golden showers” aspect of it, because kink.  But there are far more serious allegations in there, including one in which Trump and members of his campaign staff colluded with Russia on the hacking and Wikileaks in exchange for a non-interventionist policy on Russia and the Ukraine invasion.  That’s treason.

Anyway, dossier is below the fold.  Back to the issue at hand.

Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin — and war on the CIA — starts to make sense if you believe he was worried about being blackmailed by Russia

One of the enduring mysteries of the 2016 election is how Republican voters who have for decades venerated Ronald Reagan for defeating the Soviet Union got so strongly behind a pro-Russian candidate like Trump.

During the campaign, the president-elect praised Putin’s strength as a leader, brushed aside concerns about Putin’s abysmal human rights record, hinted that he might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and talked about leaving NATO entirely or opting to ignore America’s legal obligation to defend any NATO member who comes under Russian attack.

Trump’s pro-Russian positioning goes all the way back to the Republican convention, when his campaign softened the party platform’s language on Ukraine to remove all reference about providing weapons to Kiev so it could protect itself from Russia. A short time later, Trump hinted to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he was fine with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump said.

One of Trump’s former campaign managers, meanwhile, had been a paid consultant for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine like its former president, Viktor Yanukovych. The campaign manager, Paul Manafort, later resigned as part of an internal campaign shakeup.

Trump himself has spent months praising Putin. “I will tell you that, in terms of leadership, he’s getting an ‘A’ and our president is not doing so well,” Trump said during an NBC forum in September.

He has also effusively praised Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria: “What’s wrong with Russia bombing the hell out of ISIS and these other crazies so we don’t have to spend a million dollars a bomb?” Never mind that Russian bombs have targeted the relatively moderate opposition more than ISIS, and that the point has been to prop up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. With Russian help, Assad’s forces just finished reconquering the rebel stronghold of Aleppo.

Trump’s rhetoric about Russia has been even more startling since November 8. He has spent weeks mocking the CIA’s conclusion that Putin tried to interfere in the election to help him win the White House by pointing to the spy agency’s faulty intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War. When US spies personally briefed Trump on their findings about Russia, he issued a remarkable statement that barely mentioned Russia. Instead, Trump lumped it in with China and other unnamed countries and outside groups as potential perpetrators.

Trump’s complete refusal to admit that Russia interfered in the election has baffled and infuriated many Republican lawmakers, who have called for Congressional investigations into Moscow’s activities during the campaign and condemned Putin as a quasi-dictator. Just this week, five Republican senators said they’d back a Democratic bill that would make it harder for Trump to lift the punishing US sanctions on Russia.

It would make a bit more sense if Russia did in fact have something on Trump that was so big and so embarrassing that he would do Putin’s bidding to ensure it never became public. Given that Trump has survived the release of an audio recording of him bragging about sexual assault, it would presumably have to be something huge.

It’s hard to predict exactly what will come next. Congressional Republicans say they want to probe Russia’s interference in the election, but it’s not clear if this will be enough to make them stop consistently rejecting Democratic calls to create bipartisan investigative panels modeled on the 9/11 commission. Regardless of whether the CNN story holds up, the leak is sure to further fuel Trump’s war with the nation’s intelligence agencies. Given the array of threats facing the US, that may be one of the most dangerous outcomes of all.

UPDATE:  NBC is reporting that Trump never got the briefing and did NOT receive the two-page summary:

A senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the preparation for the meeting with Trump told NBC News that the president-elect was not briefed on the so-called two-page addendum to the dossier originally generated as part of anti-Trump Republican opposition research.

Multiple officials say that the summary was included in the material prepared for the briefers, but the senior official told NBC News that the briefing was oral and no actual documents were handed to the Trump team.

“Intel and law enforcement officials agree that none of the investigations have found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government period,” the senior official said.

According to the official, the two-page summary about the unsubstantiated material made available to the briefers was to provide context, should they need it, to draw the distinction for Trump between analyzed intelligence and unvetted “disinformation.”

The briefers also had available to them unvetted “disinformation” about the Clinton Foundation, although that was not shared with Trump.

Obama (Belatedly) Takes Action Against Russian Hackers

Moments ago, the Obama administration struck back at Russia, imposing sanctions against its intelligence apparatus and expelling 35 diplomats in retaliation for the alleged orchestration of hacking attacks designed to interfere in the presidential election.

The sweeping actions outlined by the White House three weeks before the new administration takes office include:

  • Shutting down two compounds, one in in Maryland and one in New York, “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes.”
  • Sanctions against the Russian intelligence services GRU and FSB, and four high-ranking officers of the GRU. The sanctions are also aimed at two suspected hackers, including one wanted by the FBI in two other cases, and three companies that allegedly provided support to the GRU’s cyber operations.
  • Releasing technical information about Russian cyber activity, “to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.”

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” President Obama said in a statement.

In his statement, Obama said the U.S. had declared 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” persona non grata. The State Department said the 35 are diplomats “who were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic or consular status” and accused Russia of harassing U.S. diplomats overseas.

As of noon on Friday, the U.S. also will bar Russian access to two Moscow-owned “recreational compounds,” the White House said. No further detail was provided, but since 1972, the Russians have owned a historic estate overlooking the Chester River in eastern Maryland. They also own a recreation facility in Glen Cove, Long Island.

The White House said the actions will go beyond those announced Thursday.

“We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said in his statement.  Meaning, covert stuff.

Here’s a poster:

And here’s the FBI White Paper on the issue:

Paul Ryan throws in muted support saying, “While today’s action by the administration is overdue, it is an appropriate way to end eight years of failed policy with Russia. And it serves as a prime example of this administration’s ineffective foreign policy that has left America weaker in the eyes of the world.”

Moscow was quick to respond:

And whose side will President-elect Trump take? Obama’s?  Unlikely.  Ryan’s (“About time you terrible Obama person!”)?  Or Russia’s (“Nyet!!”)?

Anyone want to guess?

He’s quiet now but I doubt that’ll last.

UPDATE: 

Possible Terrorist Attack In Berlin

In a day that has already seen a diplomatic assassination, it looks like we might have a terrorist attack on our hands.

A truck ran into a Christmas market an hour or so ago in a major public square in Berlin. There are reports of several dead, 50 injured. The incident happened in Breitscheidplatz in western Berlin.

Because of the similarity between this and the Nice terrorist attack in July, many are making the assumption that this was intentional.  Berlin media said police at the scene had said initial indications pointed to an attack, which is just a soft allegation at best.

According to one witness, the truck veered off Budapester Strasse across the pavement and stopped just before the Christmas tree on the square. The street has been cordoned off and a meeting point for relatives has been set up. The Christmas market has been cleared and a police spokesman said there are concerns the crash may have caused a gas leak.

UPDATE:   Berlin police say nine dead.

And now word of a lockdown in Brussels as terror police swoop in.

UPDATE #2:  Driver of the truck was arrested.  No shootout as in Nice.  So apparently, we will know motive soon.  CNN is reporting that Berlin police are investigating the incident as an act of terrorism.

Republicans Will Like Anything As Long As It Helps Republicans

This graph says it all:

Republican opinion on Putin seems to have moved not because Trump is pro-Russia or because there’s suddenly an opportunity for better relations with Moscow. It moved because Russia interfered in the election to the Democrats’ detriment, whether that was the core motive or not. That’s the point we’ve reached in partisan polarization, apparently. Want better relations with the U.S.? Then do what you can, legal or not, to make the eventual winning party’s path to electoral victory easier.

To put that another way, the surge in favorability among Republicans for a Russian fascist and kleptocrat who’s used anti-American propaganda relentlessly to consolidate power at home may be a more or less straightforward byproduct of partisan politics.

If widespread murder helped Republicans win political offices,.Republican voters would start favoring widespread murder.

Photo Op

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Hey!  Look!  It’s President-Elect Donald Trump!  And who is with him?  Why, that’s Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.  This was yesterday as they were meeting at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster NJ.

I wonder what that was all about. Kris Kobach is a central figure in the nativist movement and the architect of Arizona’s notorious “papers please” law.

Oh wait.  What’s our boy Kris holding?

Can we zoom in on that?

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Closer?  Turn 90 degrees clock– uh, can you sharpen that up a ,little?

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Huh.

Looks like some kind of plan…..

The document is arranged in a numbered format. The first point reads, “Bar the Entry of Potential Terrorists.”

The document calls for updating and reintroducing the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. The program was implemented in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but largely suspended in 2011.

“All aliens from high-risk areas are tracked,” the document reads.

The document then calls for “extreme vetting questions” for “high-risk aliens”; echoing Trump’s campaign rhetoric. High-risk aliens would be questioned about support for Sharia law (Islamic religious law), jihad, the equality of men and women and the U.S. Constitution.

The document also asks for reducing the intake of Syrian refugees to zero.

The rest of the page is either partially or totally obscured by Kobach’s hand and arm. When the photograph was taken, Kobach was standing outside with Trump – it is highly unlikely Kobach wasn’t aware he was being photographed.

The document contains obscured references to the arrest and removal of illegal aliens, “386 miles of existing actual wall,” the post-9/11 PATRIOT Act, and voter rolls. “Draft amendments to National Voter —” can also be seen, perhaps a reference to the National Voter Registration Act.

Good to know.

Does Korematsu Provide Precedent For A Muslim Registry?

No.

No, it doesn’t.  Not even a close call.

Let’s just all get on the same page.

This is happening:

And the obvious question is…. would it be constitutional for the government to require citizens to register based on their religion?

The OBVIOUS answer should be NO, and the reason most people instinctively know it would be unconstitutional is to do a thought experiment: substitute “Christian” for “Muslim” and see how that flies.

I’m going to set aside the obvious invidiousness of the proposed registry, as well as the obvious difficulties in enforcing registration.  Instead, I’m just going to focus on Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944), the case that Trump surrogates are citing as “precedent”.

Korematsu was the case involving Japanese-American internment during World War II.  Roosevelt ordered that George Takei and his family and other Japanese-Americans leave their jobs, friends, businesses, etc. and report to “camps” for the duration of the war.  These were American citizens, living on the West Coast, of Japanese descent.  It came about as the result of a presidential executive order — Executive Order No. 9066 to be exact.

Fred Korematsu was born in Oakland, California, in 1919, the third of four sons to Japanese parents Kotsui Aoki and Kakusaburo Korematsu who immigrated to the United States in 1905.  When the internment order came down, he refused to comply and went into hiding in the Oakland area. He was arrested on a street corner in San Leandro on May 30, 1942, after being recognized as a “Jap”.  He was tried and convicted of violation of a military order – specifically, the military order for internment given under the authority of Executive Order 9066.

That military and executive orders were challenged and the US Supreme Court upheld the internment of Japanese-Americans, with three dissents.

Korematsu is still good law, so I revisited it. Why did the Supreme Court find such an order to be constitutionally valid?

One reason was precedent.  One year earlier, in a case called Hirabayashi v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld a curfew which applied only to the Japanese.

But addressing the race issue, the majority wrote only this:

It is said that we are dealing here with the case of imprisonment of a citizen in a concentration camp solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States. Our task would be simple, our duty clear, were this a case involving the imprisonment of a loyal citizen in a concentration camp because of racial prejudice. Regardless of the true nature of the assembly and relocation centers — and we deem it unjustifiable to call them concentration camps, with all the ugly connotations that term implies — we are dealing specifically with nothing but an exclusion order. To cast this case into outlines of racial prejudice, without reference to the real military dangers which were presented, merely confuses the issue. Korematsu was not excluded from the Military Area because of hostility to him or his race. He was excluded because we are at war with the Japanese Empire, because the properly constituted military authorities feared an invasion of our West Coast and felt constrained to take proper security measures, because they decided that the military urgency of the situation demanded that all citizens of Japanese ancestry be segregated from the West Coast temporarily, and, finally, because Congress, reposing its confidence in this time of war in our military leaders — as inevitably it must — determined that they should have the power to do just this. There was evidence of disloyalty on the part of some, the military authorities considered that the need for action was great, and time was short. We cannot — by availing ourselves of the calm perspective of hindsight — now say that, at that time, these actions were unjustified.

Basically, they are saying — “we’re at war”.

The dissent by Justice Roberts was having none of it:

This is not a case of keeping people off the streets at night, as was Hirabayashi v. United States,320 U. S. 81, nor a case of temporary exclusion of a citizen from an area for his own safety or that of the community, nor a case of offering him an opportunity to go temporarily out of an area where his presence might cause danger to himself or to his fellows. On the contrary, it is the case of convicting a citizen as a punishment for not submitting to imprisonment in a concentration camp, based on his ancestry, and solely because of his ancestry, without evidence or inquiry concerning his loyalty and good disposition towards the United States. If this be a correct statement of the facts disclosed by this record, and facts of which we take judicial notice, I need hardly labor the conclusion that Constitutional rights have been violated.

And that is essentially the difference.  We’re not at war with the Muslims — there has been no declaration of Congress to that effect.  Furthermore, there is no “military urgency” now like there was following the bombing of Pearl Harbor (it is more than 15 years after 9/11).  Two good reasons right there.

Then you have something that you didn’t have in Korematsu, which was a case about heritage.  The proposed Muslim ban isn’t about heritage; it is about religion.  “Muslim”, after all, simply means an adherent to the religion of Islam.  Islam knows no national origin or skin color.  Cassius Clay, a black American, didn’t come from another country.  Yet he was a Muslim (which he became Muhammad Ali).

So if this is registry of religious beliefs, — welcome First Amendment.

There’s simply on way in hell this Supreme Court would be cool with registering Muslims.  It would be unanimously shot down, even without overturning Korematsu.

In fact, that would be a nice way to start the Trump presidency.  With a 8-0 loss in the Supreme Court.

Apologizing For America

We’re watching the downfall of the Trump candidacy in real time, as women are coming from everywhere to contradict Trump’s claim at the last debate that he never ACTUALLY groped women — he only BRAGGED that he groped women.

Only seven have come out so far to say “Nope he ACTUALLY groped me”, and I expect there to be more.

But something caught my eye in Newsweek which I thought I would share:

U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump has issued an apology for his country’s decision to bomb Serbia during Bill Clinton’s tenure at the White House.

U.S. and NATO allies launched aerial campaigns against the faltering Yugoslav regime, targeting ethnic Serb troops in 1995 and 1999. The first attack was carried out in support of groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina, seeking independence from Belgrade, while the second was in support of similar forces in Kosovo.

“The bombing of Serbs, who were our allies in both world wars, was a big mistake,” Trump told Serbian weekly magazine Nedeljnik. “Serbians are very good people. Unfortunately, the Clinton administration caused them a lot of harm, but also throughout the Balkans, which they made a mess out of.”

Bill Clinton, husband and supporter of Trump’s rival in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton, was president of the U.S. throughout the violent collapse of Yugoslavia, which saw ethnic Serb militias engage in ethnic cleansing against predominantly Muslim groups in the former Yugoslavia. The bombings caused hundreds of civilian casualties but also stopped the advance of Serb troops.

Trump did not specify how he would have handled the situation differently, but vowed to have “a new policy with the Balkans if (he) won” the election.

The NATO bombings are still a controversial issue in Serbia, which has been transformed since the collapse of the Communist Yugoslav Federation, into an EU candidate country.

Eric Gordy, professor in Southeast European Politics at University College London told Newsweek Trump’s words echo the tactic used by the Russian government to cultivate support among Serbs.

“The most obvious interpretation of his statement is that it is another sign of alignment with Russia,” he says. “To be honest, this kind of statement is usually more a symbolic attempt for Russian politicians to drum up resentment towards the U.S.,” Gordy explains.

“I expect this is probably just rhetoric by Trump as U.S. policy in the Balkans has been pretty consistently supportive of Serbia since they waged the aerial campaign in the 1990s,” Gordy adds. “Otherwise it is hard to imagine that the U.S. could be more pro-Serbia at the moment.”

First of all — it was the Republicans including Trump who chastised Obama for going around the world on an “apology tour”. Of course, this has been debunked over and over – Obama never did any such thing.

Secondly, I seriously doubt that Trump can speak intelligently to the Bosnia-Serbia Crisis of the 1990s.  He didn’t even know that Russia invaded the Crimea recently. This supposed “interview” with a Serbian weekly newsmagazine is, I expect, an email exchange where the magazine sends in questions, and someone on Trump’s staff — likely someone with Russian connections — responds.

But however it occurred, it is just another troubling link between Trump and Putin.

UPDATE: While I am loathe to believe the Trump camp, they did put out the following statement denying the interview took place, and that seems to be the only thing that makes sense:

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Trumpravda

The topic of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia is a recurring theme in this campaign.

Trump has spoken well of Putin.  He seems ignorant that Russia invaded the Ukraine.  When criticized for being soft on Russia, Trump responds with the simplistic, “Wouldn’t it be nice if the US got along with Russia?”

All of the above, I could dismiss as ignorance or naivete from a man who has no business running foreign policy.  But what troubles me is this:

On Monday, portions of the latest Wikileaks discharge were published by the Russian news service Sputnik, including what seemed to be a particularly damning sequence in an email from long-time adviser Sidney Blumenthal.

The email was amazing—it linked Boogie Man Blumenthal, Podesta and the topic of conservative political fevered dreams, Benghazi. This, it seemed, was the smoking gun finally proving Clinton bore total responsibility for the terrorist attack on the American outpost in Libya in 2012.

Here’s how that email was reported in Sputnik.

In an email titled "The Truth" from Hillary's top confidante Sidney Blumenthal, the adviser writing to undisclosed recipients said that "one important point that has been universally acknowledged by nine previous reports about Benghazi: The attack was almost certainly preventable" in what may turn out to be the big October surprise from the WikiLeaks released of emails hacked from the account of Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta.

And by evening, what had started the day with Russian intelligence had gone from them, to Wikileaks, to Sputnik, to Donald Trump.

At a rally in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, Trump spoke while holding a document in his hand. He told the assembled crowd that it was an email from Blumenthal, whom he called “sleazy Sidney.”

The whole thing was a lie, composed by carefully clipping the email to find the damning phrase. But Donald Trump did his job. He spread the message from Russian intelligence to his followers, where it can fester and do the most damage to America.

And this:

ON FRIDAY, while much of the country was preoccupied with the latest revelations about Donald Trump, the U.S. intelligence community made an alarming and unprecedented announcement: Russia was seeking “to interfere with the U.S. election process” through the hacking of political organizations and individuals, including the Democratic National Committee. The statement rightly alarmed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who said in Sunday night’s debate that “we have never in the history of our country been in a situation where an adversary, a foreign power, is working so hard to influence the outcome of the election.”

And Mr. Trump? Once again, the GOP nominee played the part of Vladi­mir Putin’s lawyer. “She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking,” he said of Ms. Clinton. “Maybe there is no hacking.” Mr. Trump is receiving classified intelligence briefings, so he is certainly aware of the evidence that hackers backed by Moscow have stolen email and other records from the DNC and tried to penetrate state electoral systems. So why does he deny it? Mr. Trump’s advocacy on behalf of an aggressive U.S. rival, and the opaqueness of his motivation, is one of the most troubling aspects of his thoroughly toxic campaign.

And this:

Is Trump a “willful idiot” (in Lenin’s words) of Putin?  If so, this adds another level of danger to a Trump presidency.

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The Terrorist Capture — Funny Story, Actually

I know, I know.  Very little blogging this past week.  I just have a lot going on… what can I say?  Hopefully my embedded twitter feed let everyone know I was paying attention to events.

The big news today was, of course, the arrest of suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami, the bomber of a Chelsea neighborhood in NYC this past weekend, as well as the guy who planted a pressure cooked bomb on 37th street, plus various bombs in New Jersey over the weekend.  He is a U.S. citizen, a nationalized immigrant who came to America as a child.

Uh,,,, by being a child without radicalized views.  Idiot.

I don’t want to understate the incredible police work of the FBI and NYPD and other government agencies.  It was an amazingly quick investigation and capture.  Less than 48 hours.  Look, this is a triumph for the war on terrorism, although Trump will spin it otherwise.

However, there’s a little humor to the whole thing.

(1)  Had it not been for thieves, the police might not have found out about some of the bombs.  Really, how much more New York can this story be?  This Rahami guy placed the pressure cooked in a suitcase, and placed the suitcase on the sidewalk on 27th street.  What happened next?  What do you THINK happened in NY?  A couple of guys apparently saw the suitcase, opened it, saw the pressure cooker thing and, not knowing what it was, they left it behind — and exposed — while they stole the suitcase.  The same thing happened in New Jersey at the Elizabeth subway station.  Some guys found a knapsack, stole it, carried it away, opened it, and saw what appeared to be a pipe bomb.  To their credit, they called the police.

With the discovery of these devices, the police were able to get surveillance tapes, two of which showed the bomber.

(2)  This Rahami guy was not what you call an expert bombmaker.  Let’s set aside the fact that most of his devices failed to explode, and focus on another aspect of his bomb-building.  He used cell phones as detonating devices. But he appears to have used his actual cell phones – not burner phones purchased for this specific purpose but ones he’d used in the past, calling friends and associates, storing personal information. In at least one case, that phone was part of a bomb that didn’t detonate. So NYPD and FBI investigators were able to secure the phone and download lots of personal information, call records etc.  This may have been the key thing in first identifying him.

(3)  Nor was he much of a hider.  On the radio as I came to work this morning, the pundits were talking about how this bomber (assuming it was one, which it apparently is) was now definitely underground.  A reasonable assumption, but… nope. Initial reports say Rahami was found sleeping in the doorway of a local bar in Linden, New Jersey, about four miles away from his home. It’s not clear whether he just decided this place was a good place to sleep or whether he maybe got drunk in the bar. But he was apparently in plain view, asleep in the doorway, when a Linden police officer recognized him from the wanted poster and approached.

I know Trump and others like to hype terrorism, but sometimes these aren’t the brightest bulbs.

9/11 – 15 Years Later

It is kind of cool to have a blog for this long — I can go back and look at past reflections of past events.

I write about my 9/11 experience here.  I had left New York by the time 9/11/2001 happened, but, like everyone else in the country, I experienced that day.  For me, I came to lump it in with 2/26/1993, the date of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

It is remarkable how things have changed.  I deal everyday with people who were children when 9/11 happened.  The World Trade Center site is a beautiful memorial, museum, and tourist site.  I don’t bemoan that — using that public space as a space of education and commemoration is perfectly fitting.  And it is all in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, representing, if nothing else, that the beat of NYC goes on despite what happened on that terrible day.

Trump’s South Of The Border Gambit

All eyes on Trump today.

It’s a day when he is set to give his big immigration speech, which should help to clarify his muddled position.  He used to be for the wall and mass deportation, but in the past few days, he’s hinted at NOT mass deporting 11 million “illegals” (as he calls them) — which is impossible anyway.  He has suggested touchback provisions (they leave and then come right back, except we leave the “bad ones” out) or something else… everything has been suggested except what the majority of Americans are in favor of… a path to citizenship (or amnesty).  His on-TV surrogates insist — with no credibility — that Trump is not changing from his hardline position, even as he indicates that he is indeed softening.  The whole thing is an exercise in ambiguity, just enough to satisfy his base but also appear to appease people with Trumpian doubts.

That speech is tonight.

But the BIG news — one that his advisers are saying is a potential “gamechanger” — is Trump’s visit to Mexico today.  This was prepared within the last 24 hours.  President Peña Nieto of Mexico had invited both campaigns to visit.  Trump took up the offer.

I, along with many others, consider this to be high risk, high reward.  And to be honest, I’m not sure what is going on.  Trump and Nieto will meet privately and talk.  Both will say something about their meeting…. and…. that’s it?

What do is a “win” here for Trump?  Unless he comes back with a check for $200 billion earmarked for “the wall”, I don’t see what he has to gain.  Maybe some in the Trump campaign thinks it raises his stature, particularly on a day when he is giving a speech on immigration.  I don’t see how though.  Trump has been bashing Mexico for over a year. I mean, here’s the statement that literally launched Trump’s campaign — 218 words into his first speech:

“When Mexico sends their people …  They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump later added:

“What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

So, it seems, visiting Mexico would lower his stature if you believe in Trump.

Maybe the Trump campaign thinks it is like a “Nixon goes to China” thing.  Except Trump isn’t Nixon and Mexico is (unlike China in the 1970s) an ally and trade partner.  And Trump’s advisers are certainly no Kissingers.  But Trump DOES think Mexico is the enemy.

It’s just hard to see what Trump gets out of this.

More importantly, you have to wonder about Nieto’s motives.  He probably didn’t think it would work out this way.  He invited both candidates; he expected only Clinton would respond (if anybody).  That plan backfired — that’s my guess.

Still, is is happening. Nieto is very unpopular in Mexico.  Polling at 23% favorability, he is in the midst of a plagiarism and corruption scandal.  Meeting with Trump, who is also hated by Mexicans for obvious reasons, seems to be a stupid move, UNLESS Nieto has something up his sleeve.  Peña Nieto has every reason to play the tough guy and earn Trump’s wrath. Everyone in Mexico hates Trump, so standing up to him, or even embarrassing him, would be a political win.

But the same might be true of Trump. His base would certainly go wild at the prospect of Trump having a beef with the president of Mexico. The last thing they want is a cordial get together that suggests some kind of future rapprochement. And if Trump plays it right, a meeting that could be spun as an insult to America might even help him with swing voters.

Then again, maybe Trump desperately wants Peña Nieto’s respect, and wants this meeting to demonstrate that he’s not just a bomb thrower who can’t be trusted with international relations.

Because the whole endeavor is fraught with unpredictability, Josh Marshall has what seems like the most sensible take — “Can Trump Be This Stupid? Not A Trick Question”:

It’s a general rule of politics not to enter into unpredictable situations or cede control of an event or happening to someone who wants to hurt you. President Nieto definitely does not want Donald Trump to become President. He probably assumes he won’t become president, simply by reading the polls. President Nieto is himself quite unpopular at the moment. But no one is more unpopular than Donald Trump. Trump is reviled. Toadying to Trump would be extremely bad politics; standing up to him, good politics…

Remember that the central force of Trump’s political brand is dominance politics. Trump commands, people obey. Trump strikes, victims suffer. It will be extremely difficult for him to manage anything like this in the Mexican capital. He comes with a weak hand, no leverage and the look of a loser. All Peña Nieto needs to say is no.

Again, when you’re in a campaign under constant scrutiny you do your best to control every situation, reduce the risk of unpredictable, embarrassing or damaging events. You try not to cede control to others. You especially try not to cede near total control to someone who has every interest in the world in harming you. The maximal version of that ‘big thing you’re not supposed to do’ is precisely what it looks like Trump is doing.

Trump’s Razor helps here. It’s tempting to assume that there’s some angle Trump has here, some plan or understanding with Peña Nieto to make this not as silly a decision as it appears to be. I’m tempted because how could they think this was a good idea? Trump’s Razor tells us to resist this temptation. “The stupidest scenario possible that can be reconciled with the available facts.” I think that’s what we have here. It’s as stupid as it looks. Who knows? Maybe Trump will handle this deftly and it’ll be a huge success. But Trump’s Razor has yet to fail me. So I’m going to stick with it.

It is hard to know what Trump’s thinking is, or if there is any thinking at all. [UPDATE: He is apparently not bringing along his press corps, which is both unprecedented and unusual for a presidential candidate going abroad. Makes the whole trip even stranger]

If I were Peña Nieto, I would meet Trump at the airport, and with the Mexican press pool there, hand Trump one of his Mexico-made Trump shirts, shake his hand, and walk away.

In the meantime, we need to build that wall to keep Trump down there.

Anyway, you look at it — Trump wins this news cycle… perhaps he will wish otherwise.

UPDATE:  Conservative fan fiction

Tweet from former Mexican ambassador to China:

UPDATE #2:  Viewing the outrage in Mexico about this meeting, Josh Marshall is having additional thoughts.

It would be one thing if Pena Nieto had some grand and tightly organized plan to humiliate Trump. But the evidence of the last 24 hours suggests he’s winging it perhaps every bit as much as Trump himself. Having two clumsy political actors together on the same literal and figurative stage in a highly volatile situation is not one geared to good outcomes. It seems to me like you have a good chance that neither player has much of any idea what he’s doing, and Pena Nieto is already under the gun because of the furious reaction to the news that started last night.

This confrontation of panic, confusion and poor planning is magnified by a less noted factor. Organizing a foreign trip for a President or would-be president is a highly complicated affair, especially when you figure in security needs. It never gets done on a day’s notice. We’re now hearing that the US Embassy in Mexico City strongly counseled against the idea. Those folks tend to be quite apolitical and logistics focused. We can’t rule out the possibility that Trump’s entourage shows up at the wrong palace or isn’t able to make it back to Arizona in time for the speech.

Also, Trump is not bringing the press along.

I think, at the end of the day, the actual visit might just turn out to be a big nothingburger.  We won’t know what happened or what was said, allowing both Peña Nieto and Trump to spin what happened today (and its purpose) to each’s political advantage: messages that will be crushed in the next news cycle.

Two Little Bits of Non-Election Good News

What with Gene Wilder’s death bumming everybody out, and the constant harangue of a senseless election, here’s a couple of political things to brighten your day:

(1)  Governor LePage of Maine is considering resigning

Gov. Paul LePage raised the possibility Tuesday that he may not finish his second term, amid mounting pressure from Democrats and members of his own party to amend for his recent actions.

“I’m looking at all options,” the Republican governor said while appearing on WVOM, a Bangor talk radio station. “I think some things I’ve been asked to do are beyond my ability. I’m not going to say that I’m not going to finish it. I’m not saying that I am going to finish it.”

He later said, “If I’ve lost my ability to help Maine people, maybe it’s time to move on.”

LePage also apologized repeatedly to Rep. Drew Gattine and his family for leaving a threatening voicemail last week.

He said he plans to invite the Westbrook representative to a face-to-face meeting to talk further.

“When I was called a racist I just lost it, and there’s no excuse,” the governor said. “It’s unacceptable. It’s totally my fault.”

Don’t let the door hit you… etc etc.

UPDATE…. a tweet today:

(2)  ISIS is floundering in red tape

What appear to be internal documents from the administration of the so-called Islamic State, obtained exclusively by The Daily Beast, show the terrorist organization under strain from financial misappropriation, embezzlement, alleged infiltration by anti-ISIS spies, and bureaucratic infighting.

These documents, originally captured by a Syrian rebel group near Damascus, are stamped by official ISIS “ministries.” They show the dollar salaries ISIS paid to its jihadist fighters, at least as of a year ago, in addition to other income earmarked for those fighters’ dependents.

The information contained in the documents confirms what various ISIS defectors and deserters have disclosed previously to The Daily Beast about the inner workings of the organization.

They also yield more proof of the extraordinary amount of red tape (and somewhat comedic human frustration) involved as ISIS leaders try to regulate everything from the requisition of weapons and ammunition to the allowance of vacation time.

The entire file was shared by Maher al-Hamdan, a media spokesman for the Ahmad Abdo Brigade. This  Syrian rebel group receives ammunition and financial support from the Military Operations Command in Amman, Jordan, meaning it is backed by the United States and other Western and Arab countries party to the “Friends of Syria” coalition.

Some examples:

Consider how the unsigned letter ends: “Note: the security brothers have grievances as regards salaries during their work in the area.”

Another confiscated document in the Ahmad Abdo tranche reveals just what kind of remuneration the “brothers” were used to receiving, as of last summer when the caliphate’s economy was more bullish than it is now.

On Aug. 25, 2015, a salary table for a “mujahid” (holy warrior) salary is produced with relevant fields filled in. This particular jihadist is called Abu Muslim al-Muhajir and he belongs to the Fath Qaryatain Battalion of ISIS, in the Damascus province. His salary is listed as $50 per month, and he receives another $50 as subsidy for his one wife. This appears the extent of al-Muhajir’s dependents, but the fields left empty show that the ISIS “Islamic welfare state,” as one defector The Daily Beast put it, also encompasses one’s parents and sabaya—that is, sex slaves—as well as their children, should they have any. “Soldiers’ bonuses,” “Eid recompense,” “Fighter’s petty cash,” and “Other petty expenses” are also clearly justifiable forms of disbursement for the average mujahid.

A similarly named Abu Sulaiman al-Muhajir, a fighter in Damascus, seeks a weeklong holiday from ISIS to be spent in the eastern provinces of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa. He is granted permission, although the form takes care to observe: “All brothers should be precise about dates, otherwise, they will be questioned according the sharia law.”

And:

Finally, we see evidence that all is not well in the realm of takfirijurisprudence. Overlapping or intersecting fiefs of ISIS law enforcement appear to have led to frequent and annoying communications cock-ups and attendant complaints among the jihadist civil service.

Dr. Abu Sham, a judge’s clerk, finds himself forced to write to Abu al-Abbas al-Jazrawi, the vice emir of ISIS’s Department of Justice, to explain why there are so many prisoners in one ISIS-run jail in the Damascus province.

“Well, three-fourths of these prisoners were detained only for a few hours,” Dr. Sham states, a bit defensively. “Last month, [nobody] was detained for a period of one week except the last 3 persons mentioned at the end of the list. By the time of writing this letter to you, there is no one in the prison.”

As in with many administrators of overburdened state agencies, Dr. Sham seems to be the put-upon victim of a clerical oversight: “The main problem about the paper that was sent from the Diwan [department] is that it didn’t mention the release dates. As from next time we will add the release dates so this confusion won’t be repeated again.”

The idea of ISIS being buried in paperwork is pretty amusing to me.

What Syrian Refugees Are About

CNN’s Kate Bolduan is a reporter who asks tough questions and is often expressive and emphatic when she does it. Today, however, she was expressive in a very different way. While sharing a video of a five-year-old Syrian named Omran Daqneesh sitting in the back of an ambulance with blood and soot all over him, Bolduan was tasked with explaining that he and his family were pulled from the rubble that was once their house. She said that there had been an air strike — which is common, as the country has been embroiled in a violent civil war for years — but had to stop and compose herself a few times.

There is little point in describing her visceral reaction when you can watch it right here for yourself:

High Level CIA Guy Endorses Clinton In Devastating NYT Op-Ed

Michael J. Morell, long-time CIA professional who was acting director and deputy director of the agency from 2010 to 2013, wrote a NYT op-ed endorsing Clinton. He has served under 3 Republican and 3 Democratic administrations and has voted for both parties. He praises Clinton….

I never saw her bring politics into the Situation Room. In fact, I saw the opposite. When some wanted to delay the Bin Laden raid by one day because the White House Correspondents Dinner might be disrupted, she said, “Screw the White House Correspondents Dinner.”

…. and then really sticks it to Trump:

In sharp contrast to Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump has no experience on national security. Even more important, the character traits he has exhibited during the primary season suggest he would be a poor, even dangerous, commander in chief.

These traits include his obvious need for self-aggrandizement, his overreaction to perceived slights, his tendency to make decisions based on intuition, his refusal to change his views based on new information, his routine carelessness with the facts, his unwillingness to listen to others and his lack of respect for the rule of law.

The dangers that flow from Mr. Trump’s character are not just risks that would emerge if he became president. It is already damaging our national security.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was a career intelligence officer, trained to identify vulnerabilities in an individual and to exploit them. That is exactly what he did early in the primaries. Mr. Putin played upon Mr. Trump’s vulnerabilities by complimenting him. He responded just as Mr. Putin had calculated.

Mr. Putin is a great leader, Mr. Trump says, ignoring that he has killed and jailed journalists and political opponents, has invaded two of his neighbors and is driving his economy to ruin. Mr. Trump has also taken policy positions consistent with Russian, not American, interests — endorsing Russian espionage against the United States, supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and giving a green light to a possible Russian invasion of the Baltic States.

In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.

Calling Trump an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation isn’t hyperbole.

Clinton is seizing on this:

Trump Tries To Bluff His Way Through Foreign Policy

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that aired Sunday, Trump asserted that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not going to invade Ukraine, where pro-Russian rebels — and some Russian special forces — have been operating for several years despite Putin’s reluctance to acknowledge any role.

“He’s not going into Ukraine, just so you understand. He’s not going to go to Ukraine,” Trump said.

“Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos replied.

Trump responded by simultaneously criticizing the US’s decision not to intervene to stop the annexation of Crimea, a former Ukrainian territory seized by Russia in 2014, and noting that many citizens of Crimea were allegedly supportive of Russia’s decision to invade.

“Well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there. You have Obama there,” Trump said. “And frankly that part of the world is mess, under Obama. With all the strength that you’re talking about, and with all the power of NATO, and all of this, in the mean time, [Putin] takes Crimea.”

He added: “You know the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were, and you have to look at that also.”

Earlier in the interview, the real-estate magnate shrugged off his campaign’s influence in removing a provision of the Republican Party platform that would’ve advocated providing arms to Ukraine to defend itself from Russian aggression.

“I was not involved in that. I’d have to take a look at it, but I was not involved in that,” Trump said of the decision to alter the platform.

Trump tries to clarify things this morning, but still didn’t get it.

The United States considers Crimea to be a region of the Ukraine.  It’s not a separate thing!

Nnnnnoo. That’s not what you said. It’s on video.

Of course, the bigger news of all this may not be Trump’s ignorance about Ukraine/Crimea, but the odd fact the somebody in the Trump campaign caused the GOP to change its party platform with respect to Russia/Ukraine.  Trump denies it; his campaign manager Paul Manfort denies it.  But GOP delegates insist it was the Trump campaign.  And Manafort’s connections to the Ukraine are, as they say, yuge.

The Case For Trump’s Kremlin Connection

Yeah. It sounds like something out of a movie.  Very Manchurian Candidate-ish.  But over at Kos, they’ve compiled the facts:

[W]ith apparently clear evidence that Russia hacked the DNC and released information designed to harm the Clinton campaign, there’s a question that has to be asked: Why? 

Why would Russia hack into the emails of one American political party and push out selected information on the brink of that party’s convention? Just why would Russia want to harm the chances of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton?

Increasingly, the answer seems clear: Because the Kremlin wants Trump.

The theory that Moscow orchestrated the leaks to help Trump—who has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and practically called for the end of NATO—is fast gaining currency within the Obama administration because of the timing of the leaks and Trump’s own connections to the Russian government, the sources said on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing and developing quickly.

The connections between Trump and Putin go beyond a mutual admiration society and dip deeply into Trump’s hidden finances. And it certainly looks like the Russians are getting a good return on their Trump investment.

Trump deliberately rewrote sections of the Republican Party platform to make the Republican position on the Ukraine more Russia-friendly.

… the Trump campaign, which generally took no interest in the Republican Party’s official platform, took special care to add language about U.S. policy towards Ukraine – a new position that contradicts GOP foreign-policy orthodoxy – that brings the platform in line with the policies of the Russian government. 

Trump has repeatedly attacked the NATO alliance, hinting that he would refuse to come to the aid of states he found less than worthy.

… asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are among the more recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Trump has frequently made statements about Putin, going beyond even the bizarre levels of Republican admiration for an anti-democratic dictator and into defending Putin for invading other countries and murdering journalists.

SCARBOROUGH: … and invades countries, obviously that would be a concern, would it not?

TRUMP: He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: But, again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.

TRUMP: Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.

Meanwhile, Putin also had good things to say about Trump.

Officials also noted Trump’s own connections to the Russian government. Putin has publicly praised the nominee, who said he was “honored” by the compliment. 

On the Ukraine issue, the connection between Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin is very clear.

Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a consultant for Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine who was ousted for his pro-Moscow orientation (and now lives in Russia). 

The financial links between Trump and Moscow are more than just a beauty pageant.

1. All the other discussions of Trump’s finances aside, his debt load has grown dramatically over the last year, from $350 million to $630 million. This is in just one year while his liquid assets have also decreased. Trump has been blackballed by all major US banks.

2. Post-bankruptcy Trump has been highly reliant on money from Russia, most of which has over the years become increasingly concentrated among oligarchs and sub-garchs close to Vladimir Putin. 

Trump is in deep to Russian oligarchs under the thumb of Putin. How deep? We don’t know. Because Trump won’t release his financial information.

Meanwhile, while speaking to the Russian press service, Tass, Putin’s spokesman cited Donald Trump Jr.

“They (democrats) spoke about hackers (who allegedly have ties to Russia),” Peskov said. “Mr. Trump Jr. has already strongly responded to them denying all this.”

At the very least, Trump and Putin have demonstrated a twisted relationship based around a mutual disdain for human rights, free speech, and international law. At the same time, Russian forces are already directly intervening in an American election in an attempt to alter the outcome. That’s perhaps the most extraordinary and disturbing aspect of an election season already marked by deep threats to the continuation of democracy. Pile on top of that Trump’s financial dependence on Russian oligarchs to prop up his crumbling empire.

Vladimir Putin is clearly in Donald Trump’s corner and working for his election. Donald Trump is clearly an admirer of Putin … and quite possibly more than just an admirer.

The Daily Beast is reporting:

The FBI suspects that Russian government hackers breached the networks of the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were posted to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks on Friday. It’s an operation that several U.S. officials now suspect was a deliberate attempt to influence the presidential election in favor of Donald Trump, according to five individuals familiar with the investigation of the breach.

Trump’s Non-Convention Fire: His Foreign Policy Interview

Well, we know why Trump doesn’t discuss policy much.  Because when he DOES, oooooh my.  The New York Times has yet another interview with Donald Trump, foreign policy genius. Let’s listen in:

He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back.

For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

Vladimir Putin will be delighted to hear this.

And so much for pledges, right?  We have kept this one to our NATO allies for 75 years.  Trump wants to throw it away or squeeze more out of them.

Trump’s ridiculous comments have already had international repercussions:

So… well done there, Candidate Trump.  No wonder Putin loves you.  Even John Bolton thinks Trump has gone off the rails.

“When an American leader says ‘I’ll look at what the situation is after the Russians attack,’ that is an open invitation to Vladimir Putin,” Bolton said.

“When he (Putin) reads this kind of statement, it’s an encouragement to him. We’re not deterring him, we’re in effect giving him a free hand. So I hope that whoever advised Mr. Trump on this rethinks it,” Bolton said.

UPDATE:  Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager says that the Times got it wrong.  But nope.  The transcript is clear.

Also from the New York Times interview:

Reiterating his threat to pull back United States troops deployed around the world, he said, “We are spending a fortune on military in order to lose $800 billion,” citing what he called America’s trade losses. “That doesn’t sound very smart to me.”

Mr. Trump repeatedly defined American global interests almost purely in economic terms. Its roles as a peacekeeper, as a provider of a nuclear deterrent against adversaries like North Korea, as an advocate of human rights and as a guarantor of allies’ borders were each quickly reduced to questions of economic benefit to the United States.

Lots of politicians say American can no longer be policeman of the world. Trump actually believes it. Next:

Mr. Trump said he was convinced that he could persuade Mr. Erdogan to put more effort into fighting the Islamic State. But the Obama administration has run up, daily, against the reality that the Kurds — among the most effective forces the United States is supporting against the Islamic State — are being attacked by Turkey, which fears they will create a breakaway nation.

Asked how he would solve that problem, Mr. Trump paused, then said: “Meetings.”

Not everything is a business deal, jerkface.

Nice Terror Attack: At Least 84 Killed, Including 10 Children, As Truck Slams Into Bastille Day Crowd

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He drove more than a mile through the crowd, swerving at times to make sure he hit people.

The videos of the carnage are devastating.

The driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was shot and killed.

The victims include two Americans: Texas residents Sean Copeland, 51, and his son Brodie, 11, who were on vacation with their family in Nice.

Here’s what we know about the terrorist, and it shows a familiar pattern:

Lahouaiej Bouhlel was a 31-year-old French-Tunisian delivery driver known to police who is reported to have driven a 19-tonne white Renault lorry into crowds gathered for Bastille Day celebrations in the French Riviera city of Nice, killing 84 people. His identity as the driver has not been confirmed by the French police.

The perpetrator of Nice’s worst ever terror attack was reportedly a married father of three who neighbours described as a “loner” with a George Clooney haircut.

According to several French reports, Bouhel was born in Tunisia in 1985 and had a French residency permit. Police raided his flat, where he reportedly lived alone, in the Abattoirs area of the city on Friday morning.

According to Tunisian security sources, Lahouaiej Bouhlel hailed from the Tunisian town of Msaken, which is close to the seaside city of Sousse, where 38 people, including 30 Britons, were gunned down by terrorists in June 2015.

French television station BFM TV reported that he was a divorced father of three who had become depressed following the breakdown of his marriage.

Neighbours told the channel he was not particularly interested in religion, adding that he preferred girls and salsa.

They said that he had been unhappy since he divorce, and that he suffered from financial problems.

Neighbors described him as “depressed and unstable, even aggressive” of late. They put this down to his “marital and financial problems”.

One told BFM TV he was “more into women than religion”.

“He (didn’t) pray and like(d) girls and Salsa,” according to BFM’s crime correspondent.

Jasmine, 40 said: “He was rude and bit weird.

“We would hold the door open for him and he would just blank him. He kept himself to himself but would always rant about his wife. He had martial problems and would tell people in the local cafe. He scared my children though.”

She added: “He was very smart with the same haircut as George Clooney.”

Sébastien, a neighbour, said he “didn’t have the apparence of a religious person and was often in shorts, sometimes wearing ‘security’ shoes”. Another neighbour, Anan, said that she found him shifty and described him as “a good-looking man who eyed up my two girls too much”.

One resident told the Telegraph: “He was quiet and moody. I did not know whether he was a Muslim. I think he had a motorbike.”

A woman living in the same block said: “I hardly knew him, but from what I could see he seemed very weird. He lived alone. He said very little to anyone and wasn’t very polite. He wouldn’t hold the door open for you.”

He was known to the police for assault with a weapon, domestic violence, threats and robbery but had no previous convictions for terrorism.

Investigating sources said his last appearance in a criminal court was as recently as March and had previous convictions for armed theft, conjugal violence and threatening behaviour. Despite this, he had no known links with terrorism and was not under surveillance.

According to BFMTV he had also recently caused an accident after falling asleep at the wheel while working as a delivery driver, and was taken into custody following the incident.

The operative phrase: “more into women than religion”.  Like the Orlando shooter, this guy seems to have latched on to committing a terrorist act, not because of some ideology, but because his life was falling apart.  And some psychological problems.

And note — not a refugee.

Enter Donald Trump. Without knowing details about the attack, Trump wants to declare war. On whom, he doesn’t say. On what basis, he doesn’t know. A NATO country has been attacked, sure (by a lone individual as far as we know now). But Trump thinks NATO is obsolete and the U.S. pays too much for it. Others should pay. So with that for background, when Bill O’Reilly asked Trump if he would send in air and ground forces (somewhere) Trump said:

“I would, I would” when asked if he would seek a formal declaration of military action from the US Congress. “This is war,” Trump continued. “If you look at it, this is war. Coming from all different parts. And frankly it’s war, and we’re dealing with people without uniforms. In the old days, we would have uniforms. You would know who you’re fighting.”

But since Trump doesn’t know who that is and can’t force whoever it is to wear uniforms, what this situation absolutely requires is a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part. And Trump is just the guy to do it. Count on him to try to make somebody else pay for it. In the end, that someone would be us.

Trump is, of course, stoking fear.  Just like a terrorist would.

He probably needs to be reminded that ISIS has lost at least 50 percent of the territory occupied since its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the establishment of their “caliphate” in 2013.  They’ve been run from places like Haditha, Fallujah, and in due course Mosul.

Not that Trump would dare give Obama credit.

Gingrich added to the stupidity, saying:

Western civilization is in a war. We should frankly test every person here who is of a Muslim background, and if they believe in Sharia, they should be deported. Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization. Modern Muslims who have given up Sharia, glad to have them as citizens. Perfectly happy to have them next door. But we need to be fairly relentless about defining who our enemies are.

Aside from being unconstitutional, it is unclear if that tactic would have stopped this guy (had he been an American) or the Orlando shooter.  Neither was particularly religious.

Also — not for nothing, Newt — but since we’re going to deport people for their dangerous beliefs, I know plenty of Christians who hold incompatible values.

Hail The New PM

Theresa May just became the 76th prime minister of the United Kingdom.

May was first elected as a Conservative member of parliament in 1997. She earned a reputation as a modernizer, calling in 2002 for a more inclusive party and warning that many voters saw the Conservatives as the “nasty party.” She briefly served as party chair before assuming her current role of home secretary in 2010.
May has a reputation as a serious-minded workaholic and has been dubbed a “safe pair of hands” by supporters. They maintain that she can be trusted to steer the country as the U.K. begins the fraught process of divorcing the European Union as called for under the Brexit referendum held last month.
A male Conservative party grandee who served under Thatcher and supports May was last week caught in a “hot mic” moment describing her as a “bloody difficult woman.” The unguarded comment likely endeared May to grassroots party members who fondly recall Thatcher’s headstrong and stubborn approach to leadership.
Image: Theresa May

More and More, It Looks Like The Dallas Cop Killer Was A Nut

Dallas police now believe that Micah Johnson, who shot and killed 5 Dallas police following a Black Lives Matter march, was actually planning some sort of mass attack, but advanced his plans to take advantage of the BLM march. His house was full of bomb making equipment, far too much to have put together in recent days.  He had received “defensive” combat training in Dallas two years earlier.

And most troubling, writing on his wall in blood.

This man was a time bomb. It’s almost like he didn’t need a reason to go off.

Tony Blair Lied Britain Into The Iraq War (P.S. Bush Did, Too)

Across the pond, rather than running bullshit investigations like our Benghazi hearings, the parliamentarian body did something useful and tried to discern how they got involved in a huge quagmire.

Sir John Chilcot delivered a devastating critique of Tony Blair’s decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, concluding that Britain chose to join the US invasion before “peaceful options for disarmament” had been exhausted. His report, which amounts to arguably the most scathing official verdict given on any modern British prime minister, concludes:

  • Tony Blair exaggerated the case for war in Iraq
  • There was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein
  • Britain’s intelligence agencies produced “flawed information”
  • George Bush largely ignored UK advice on postwar planning
  • The UK military were ill-equipped for the task
  • UK-US relations would not have been harmed had the UK stayed out of the war

For his part, Blair disavowed the conclusions of the report, but apologized anyway:

He began by describing the choice to join the US in military action as the “hardest, most momentous, most agonising decision” of his life.

Blair said he had wanted to set the Iraqi people free and secure them from the “evil” of Saddam Hussein, but instead they had become victims of sectarian violence.

“For all of this, I express more sorrow, regret and apology than you can ever know or believe,” he said, in a speech in which his voice cracked with emotion.

Live Chilcot report live: George Bush says ‘world is better off’ without Saddam as Tony Blair mounts Iraq war defence
Live coverage as Sir John Chilcot unveils his report into the Iraq war. Plus all the day’s other political news as Tory leadership runners go down to three
Read more
The Labour politician went on to repeat that he apologised for the failures in planning the war and its aftermath, but was clear that he still believes the decision to remove Saddam was correct. Iraq could be in a worse state than Syria is now if the regime had not been stopped, he suggested.

“I did it because I thought it was right,” Blair said.

Pressed on what he was apologising for, the former prime minister named three areas where he would have done things differently: presenting the cabinet with an “option paper”; pressing the US to have better planning in place for the aftermath; and sharing the advice of the attorney general to senior colleagues.

Benghaziiiiiiiiiiii! Report!!

The New York Times headline says it all:

benghazclint

But you wouldn’t know that reading the right wing blogs.

Sure the report condemns many things, but not Hillary Clinton.  Of course, wingnuts will try to blur the lines.

Here’s what the New York Times says:

Ending one of the longest, costliest and most bitterly partisan congressional investigations in history, the House Select Committee on Benghazi issued its final report on Tuesday, finding no new evidence of culpability or wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the 2012 attacks in Libya that left four Americans dead.

The 800-page report, however, included some new details about the night of the attacks, and the context in which it occurred, and it delivered a broad rebuke of government agencies like the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department — and the officials who led them — for failing to grasp the acute security risks in Benghazi, and especially for maintaining outposts in there that they could not protect.

And that seems to be an accurate assessment.  Watch how the right wing plays it though.

For example, the report says “Despite President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s clear orders to deploy military assets, nothing was sent to Benghazi, and nothing was en route to Libya at the time the last two Americans were killed almost 8 hours after the attacks began. [pg. 141]”  [http://benghazi.house.gov/NewInfo]

How is that spun on right wing sites like Hot Air?  “Americans died because the Obama/Clinton team failed to deploy military assets” 

Suddenly, Hillary Clinton was in charge of deploying military assets as Secretary of State.  Did you know that?  And let’s ignore the fact that Obama actually ordered military assets to be deployed.

But let’s pin it on Obama and Clinton anyway.

In truth, the House Benghazi report — while condemning the security in Benghazi, including the State Department’s own investigation — says essentially nothing new that hasn’t been found by prior investigations and congressional hearings.  They fleshed out a detail or two.  And that cost taxpayers $7 million dollars.

Cue sad trombone and sad elephant.

Meanwhile, Trump has not tweeted anything (nor has he tweeted anything about yesterday’s pro-choice Supreme Court decision)

More Brexit Fallout

The Dow dropped another 250 points today, as it (and other world markets) assessed the fallout from the UK’s decision to leave the EU.  At one point, it dipped to well below 300 points off.

In addition, Standard & Poor’s announced that it had lowered the United Kingdom’s sovereign credit rating from “AAA” to “AA,” citing last week’s referendum. Fitch, meanwhile, moved its rating from “AA+” to “AA.”

But others are beginning to see even more fallout.  For example. London’s position as one of the world’s premiere financial centers is bound to change in the wake of a vote to leave the European Union.  In coming years, it’s highly possible that major companies in London will no longer have unfettered access to the EU — and many firms have voiced a need to move employees elsewhere.

That’s where Dublin comes in.

“A lot of businesses in the U.K., in order to stay part of the EU, will expand operating subsidiaries or even redomicile to Ireland,” said Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management. “Having Dublin become more of a financial center could be part of the longer-term trajectory here.”

Dublin has a number of things going for it: First and foremost, as the capital of the Republic of Ireland, it’s still in the EU and will continue to enjoy freedom of trade and movement with Europe. It also has close proximity to London and Continental Europe, universal English language fluency, an existing banking presence, and a low tax policy.

 

The World Turned Upside Down

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The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU last night, and even though negotiations to leave will take years, the impact is felt now.  The pound sterling has dropped in value about 10 percent.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who proposed the referendum as a way to remain in office (even though he was against leaving), is quitting.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – overwhelmingly in absolute terms and evenly spread across Scotland. The roots of that are a deeper European identity, reflexive contrariness to England, a deeper attachment to social democracy and many other things. Just two years ago Scotland came just short of voting to leave the UK. One of the small ‘no’ arguments was whether the EU would allow the Scots, at least any time soon, to enter as an independent country. I have zero expertise on Scottish nationalism, but looking at the big picture – the span not of months but of years – it’s hard to see how Scotland doesn’t leave the UK now.

You can count on London losing several major international banks and thousands of jobs to Ireland, Scotland, and/or the continent, something that Farage and Johnson can explain to the sheeple who probably didn’t even know what the hell they were really voting for.

And the US stock market, which opened 35 minutes ago (as I write this) is down 384 points, not as bad as the 508 drop at the opening bell. [UPDATE at 4:10pm – Dow closed down 611, losing all gains made this year in one day] Now, to be sure, the initial markets today and Monday are going to be volatile, but they are also going to be meaningless.  The market needs to be watched, but how it looks two weeks, two months, and even two years from now is more important than how it looks today.  This is not the end of Brexit.  This is the beginning of it.  Years of negotiation about the terms of Brexit are to come.

Here, I think is the most important graph of the day:

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Yes indeed.  As it says, those who must live with the result of the EU referendum the longest want to remain.

What is the market reacting to?  Well, uncertainty.  Uncertainty about the terms of the UK exodus.  Uncertainty as to whether Scotland will leave the UK (Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain).  Uncertainty as to whether France and Germany might follow the UK.

The parallels between the Brexit vote and the US elections are not lost on anybody.  On one side, you have a populist, nationalist, anti-elite, anti-immigration movement — the equivalent of Trumpism here in the States.  On the other side, everybody else– from conservative to liberal — the so-called “elite” (which is actually a compliment).

Ignoring the advice of educated businessmen and politicians, the people of the United Kingdom have spoken, acting more on a sense of nationalism (yes, white nationalism) than reason.

Which is why — already — the United Kingdom is plummeting financially and the pound is worth far less than it was 24 hours ago.  It make trade more difficult for the UK.  It will make travel and foreign training and cultural exchange more expensive.

And some of the things that UK “leave” voters thought would be true simply won’t happen.  Check out this video, where Nigel Farage of the “once-fringe United Kingdom Independence Party” basically owns up to creating a sham “Leave” reason:

Writing for the Guardian, Diane Abbott summed up the Brexit results as a false promise:

For many Brexit voters the prime minister just confirmed to them how little the winners of globalisation like him cared about them, the losers.

If only the false promise that Britain’s malaise of disenfranchisement, voicelessness and an economic system that rewards the rich at the expense of the poor could be fixed by leaving the EU. The idea that migrants or politicians in Brussels are the problem with modern, unequal Britain was the canard at the core the referendum debate.

Britain’s problems come from a place much closer to home. They come from successive government policies that have promoted the financialisation of our economies and public services, thereby valuing profit over people. They come from a Tory government slashing public services and widening inequality under the dubious banner of austerity. And they come from a prime minister who was passionate about nothing but his own political survival.

These problems are so systemic today that fixing them will take a radical change to the structure of both our economy and political class. More of the past will not do to resolve the very real and interconnected global issues of our time: vast and rising wealth inequality, climate change and a foreign policy trapped in a cycle of destruction.

That feels about right.  And the pro-Brexit pundits and politicians are a lot like the dog who finally caught the car.  NOW WHAT?

And those sentiments exist here among those who feel like they are globalization’s losers and the political class’ victims. And who do they listen to?  TRUMP.  Got Mexicans? No problemo. TRUMP stops unwanted immigrants in their tracks. Pesky establishment? TRUMP politically incorrects for that. Lost your job? TRUMP again. Whites not white enough? TRUMP will make them bolder if not brighter.

Trump — located ironically in Scotland today to cut ribbons on his golf course (for the elites) — is, of course, praising this.

For the rest of us, this is a cautionary tale.

And how about this for a plot twist: The Brexit may not happen at all. There have already been murmurs that Thursday’s vote will lead the EU to offer new, more generous terms to convince Britain to stay, prompting a second referendum. An online petition calling for a re-do drew so much traffic that it crashed the U.K. government’s website Friday morning. This is, to be clear, a very unlikely scenario — the referendum results were close, but not that close, and none of Britain’s leaders is backing the idea of a new vote so far. But in theory, it is still possible that we could do all of this again.

Sidenote

Vocativ reports:

After residents of the UK voted today to leave the European Union, the movement for an independent Texas may be gaining serious momentum, with thousands online calling for a “Texit.”

The largest group agitating for secession is the Texas Nationalist Movement, which has been promoting its own version of Brexit, called Texit, over the past several weeks. The group has taken inspiration from the pro-exit campaign in Britain, noting that the two movements share many of the same principles.

Brexit

As the polls close in Britain, I thought I would weigh in on the historical vote to see if England will leave the European Union.

And I say, without a whole lot of knowledge, that is seems like a bad idea to me, and sentiments to get out of the EU seem to be based on nothing more than nationalism, rather than any sort of strong evidence that England will do better outside the EU.  Put another way, brexiting seems like Trumpism, England-style.  It appears to be riding on a wave of anti-immigration and even xenophobia.

I hope, for their sake mostly, that it doesn’t pass.

Turnout is a key decider in the referendum. A high turnout should benefit the pro-EU, because that would suggest younger people, who often support continued membership but are less likely to vote, did actually show up at the ballot box.

Reports of bad weather — rain and flooding — are coming in — this is going to have a negative impact on turnout.

When will we know who wins?

  • Voting starts at 7 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m. (2 a.m.-5 p.m. ET), but there won’t be any exit polls by the major broadcasters because of concerns over accuracy. Some smaller research companies and financial firms, worried about what the outcome could mean for their customers, markets and currency volatility, have commissioned private exit polls but: They probably won’t share them and only the truly brave would rely on these to call the race given that they may be a little untested in surveys of this kind or even vested in the result.
  • It is illegal in Britain to publish the results of any exit poll before voting finishes at 10 p.m. local time.
  • The Electoral Commission says it expects to have a result around “breakfast time” Friday in the U.K. When it says a result, it means it expects to have counted all 382 wards voting. There are small and large areas, so they each have a different weight in determining the overall result. The first of the announcements are due around 11:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. ET). By 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. (10 p.m.-11 p.m.), half should be counted. By 5 a.m. (midnight ET), 80% should be counted, it says. But it’s important to remember that while the Electoral Commission will release the counts on individual wards through the night, it won’t formally release a verdict until everything’s counted.

RNC Deletes LGBT Reference In Its Orlando Statement

In its original statement following the Orlando shootings, the Republican National Committee made an attempt to acknowledge that the attack specifically targeted LGBT Americans—a sad attempt, but an attempt nonetheless. But meh, who really cares about that aspect anyway? So they finally just edited gays out altogether. Rebecca Ruiz reports on the line that was just too dangerous to include:

“Violence against any group of people simply for their lifestyle or orientation has no place in America or anywhere else,” it said.

The RNC’s reference to gender identity and sexual orientation was vague and awkwardly worded. Still, the sentence stood out in a statement that otherwise declined to clearly identify Pulse nightclub as a gay destination or describe the victims as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.

But by Monday, the statement had been updated. It was missing that key sentence and contained no explanation for the revision.

RNC spokesperson Lindsay Walters later explained the change:

Walters said the revision was meant to be more inclusive because it invoked a common humanity and referenced all Americans instead of singling out LGBT people.

Right! Including LGBT folks by explicitly excluding them. Note to GOP: even straight people have a lifestyle and orientation, if you think about it.

Trump Comes Right Out And Says It

The Washington Post had a headline which said that Trump was suggesting that Obama was somehow in league with terrorists.

Trump was incensed and banned Washington Post from Trump events.

Then, this morning, Trump outright suggests that Obama is somehow in league with terrorists.

Can this man get any more insane?  He’s citing Breitbart, for crying out loud, and even Breitbart — not know for being factually correct — is hedging on the veracity of that claim.

Contrary to Trump’s insinuation, the memo does not outline Obama’s plan to declare himself the caliph of the Islamic State West. Rather, the 2012 document merely notes that Al Qaeda in Iraq, one of the groups that evolved into ISIS, was a member of the Syrian opposition that “the West, Gulf countries and Turkey” were supporting at the time. The memo does not celebrate this (widely known) fact; it merely states it. The document offers no evidence to support the suggestion that Obama has “something else in mind” with regards to ISIS. On the contrary, it suggests that the administration’s reluctance to intervene more dramatically in Syria was informed by concerns about the ideological orientation of the opposition forces.

Regardless, it’s hard to interpret Trump’s tweet as anything other than a confession that the darkest interpretation of his initial comments was correct — that he really did suggest Obama “supports” the Islamic State.

Americans Reaction To Orlando Shootings

Here are the major take-aways, as I see it

  1. Most Americans see Orlando massacre as an act of terrorism and a hate crime
  2. Americans are divided on whether the massacre could have been prevented
  3. Most Americans approve of Obama’s response to the massacre
  4. Americans are split on Hillary’s response to the massacre
  5. Most Americans, including Republicans, disapprove  of Trump’s response to the massacre.

Read for yourself:

Was Trump Wrong About Orlando Shooter Motive? (Were We All?)

Just a second there, stupid politician man.

Palm Beach Post:

A former classmate of Omar Mateen’s 2006 police academy class said he believed Mateen was gay, saying Mateen once asked him out.

Officials say Mateen shot and killed 49 people and injured 53 others at an Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning.

The classmate said that he, Mateen and other classmates would hang out, sometimes going to gay nightclubs, after classes at the Indian River Community College police academy. He said Mateen asked him out romantically.

“We went to a few gay bars with him, and I was not out at the time, so I declined his offer,” the former classmate said. He asked that his name not be used.

He believed Mateen was gay, but not open about it. Mateen was awkward, and for a while the classmate and the rest in the group of friends felt sorry for him.

“He just wanted to fit in and no one liked him,” he said. “He was always socially awkward.”

L.A. Times:

The gunman who attacked a Florida LGBT nightclub had attended the club before the attack and had used a gay dating and chat app, witnesses said.

Kevin West, a regular at Pulse nightclub, said Omar Mateen messaged him on and off for a year before the shooting using the gay chat and dating app Jack’d.

But they never met – until early Sunday morning.

West was dropping off a friend at the club when he noticed Mateen – whom he knew by sight but not by name – crossing the street wearing a dark cap and carrying a black cellphone about 1 a.m., an hour before the shooting.

“He walked directly past me. I said, ‘Hey,’ and he turned and said, ‘Hey,’” and nodded his head, West said. “I could tell by the eyes.”

At least four regular customers of Pulse, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender nightclub where the massacre took place, told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday that they believed they had seen Mateen there before.

“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” said Ty Smith, who also uses the name Aries.

He saw Mateen at the club at least a dozen times, he said.

And the Daily Mail quotes his ex-wife as saying he had “gay tendencies“.

It would be unusual for an ISIS adherent to be gay.  And it suggests that Mateen’s motive was based, at least in part, on self-loathing.  There is nothing to suggest that ISIS personally recruited him.  This was a lone wolf.  He may have simply latched on to ISIS as the reason, simply because self-loathing gays aren’t that aware of the self-loathing.  He was trapped between two worlds — the rigid tenets of his faith (perhaps buttressed by his anti-gay father), and his inner desires.  He chose one — violently.  (Not an excuse, of course.  Just a possible explanation).