World

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.

Dear Glenn Greenwald

Dear Glenn Greenwald:

I read your article in The Intercept which basically asserts hypocrisy on the part of Democrats/Obama when it comes to Putin.  You are correct in pointing out that Obama himself suggested a “reset” with Russia, that Obama did not want to go to war with Russia over that country’s invasion of the Crimea, and that Obama suggested working in military partnership with Russia when it comes to Syria.  And this is why you state that Obama has been giving “accommodation” to Putin, so Democrats shouldn’t throw stones when Trump praises Putin.

But, of course, therein lies the difference.  Obama has chosen to ease tensions with Russia, but has failed largely because of Putin’s human rights violations and global aggression.  Trump, on the other hand, seems eager to praise Putin for two reasons (1) Putin’s so-called “strength” — which comes in part from the fact that the Russians under Putin don’t have much of a system of checks and balances; and (2) Putin praises Trump.

Nobody can suggest that Obama praises Putin (and if he did, he certainly doesn’t do it out of vanity and narcissism).  Obama has exhibited a willingness to get along with Russia, but he is unwilling to roll over.  Trump, on the other hand, has shown that he can be rolled over, if only by receiving praise.  This is an entirely different US-Russia strategy than the one for which you criticize Obama.  Trump is already exhibiting capitulation, not just accommodation.

Or take the Russian hacking of the DNC and quite possibly the government.  You take Obama to task for not engaging in some retaliation.  First of all, we don’t know that.  But assuming that is true, he certainly calls Putin out on that sort of thing.  Compare that to Trump, who goes on state-run Russian television, and expresses doubt that Russia was behind the hacking at all!!

To equate Obama and Trump in their approach to Russia is to ignore glaring differences between the two men.  Obama’s approach to Russia is measured; he exhibits caution.  Trump has cast aside all caution.  And for that, criticism directed at him is apropos.  Obama’s approach to Russia is arguably flawed, but Trump’s approach is objectively outlandish and alarming.

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:

Trump’s National Security Speech: Based on Lies

In the wake of the Orlando gay nightclub massacre, Trump seized the opportunity to Muslim-bash in a national security speech, even though (as I will write soon) it looks less and less like the shooting was a bonafide Islamic terrorist attack.

Vox summarizes the lies:

1) Trump: There’s no screening for refugees coming to the US

We’re not screening people. So why don’t we have an effective screening system? We don’t. We’re being laughed at all over the world. The burden is on Hillary Clinton to tell us why we should admit anyone into our country who supports violence of any kind against gay and lesbian Americans.

The truth: Trump is wrong: There is an extensive, onerous screening process for refugees who come to America. You can see so yourself here.

2) Trump criticizes Libya intervention, supported it himself

For instance, the last major NATO mission was Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya. That mission helped unleash ISIS on a new continent.

The truth: Trump has repeatedly characterized Libya as a unique failure of President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy. But he actively supported that intervention, even though he’s spent much of his candidacy pretending he didn’t.

3) Trump: Clinton wants to admit “hundreds of thousands” of refugees to the US

Altogether under the Clinton plan, you’d be admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East with no system to prevent radicalization of the children and their children.

The truth: Trump is wrong here as well: Clinton has only called for increasing the number of Syrian refugees by 65,000, according to CNN.

4) Trump: The Orlando shooter was “born this Afghan”

The killer, whose name I will not use or ever say was born this Afghan, of Afghan parents, who emigrated to the United States.

The truth: Trump is wrong: Omar Saddiqui Mateen, the killer, was born in New York and raised in Florida.

5) Trump: “Large numbers” of Somali refugees joining ISIS

Large numbers of Somali refugees have tried to join ISIS. The male shooter in San Bernardino, again whose name I will not mention, was the child of immigrants from Pakistan and he brought his wife.

The truth: This dramatically misrepresents the number of Somali refugees from the US who have joined ISIS, which a New York Times story pegs at no more than 15. Perhaps Trump is speaking about Somali refugees globally, but given when he made this point — during a part of his speech about domestic terrorism — that’s almost certainly giving him too much credit.

6) Trump: Obama’s “famous apology tour” created ISIS

We’ve tried it President Obama’s way. Doesn’t work. He gave the world his apology tour. We got ISIS. And many other problems in return. That’s what we got. Remember the famous apology tour

The truth: There is a coherent conservative critique of President Obama’s speeches abroad, in which he has at times acknowledged America’s faults in foreign wars. And there is a coherent conservative critique of President Obama’s approach to defeating ISIS.

But Trump isn’t engaging with either narrative. He’s instead just drawing a direct link from Obama “apology tour” to the birth of ISIS, and I’m not aware of any serious attempt to connect the two. Trump certainly doesn’t give any reason to believe they’re related.

Even if you look at the supposed apologies that have to do with Islamic terrorism or the Muslim world, it’s not clear how they could have possibly created ISIS.

7) Trump: Hillary Clinton wants to ban guns

[Hillary Clinton] says the solution is to ban guns. … She wants to take away Americans’ guns and then admit the very people who want to slaughter us. Let them come into the country. We don’t have guns. …

She wants to take away Americans’ guns and then admit the very people who want to slaughter us. Let them come into the country. We don’t have guns. Let them come in, let them have all the fun they want.

The truth: Clinton has not called for anything remotely resembling a ban on guns — she wants to ban assault weapons but has otherwise not called for a gun ban. Someone listening to Trump’s speech would have come away with an entirely wrong idea of her policy.

8) Trump’s criticism on pushing for regime change in Syria

The decision to overthrow the regime in Libya, then pushing for the overthrow of the regime in Syria, among other things, without plans for the day after, have created space for ISIS to expand and grow.

The truth: As with his initial approval of the Libya invasion, Trump has grossly distorted his record on Syria. (As Vox’s Matt Yglesias points out, he once called for a “big, beautiful safe zone” in the country.)

The weirder, specific problem here is the knock on Clinton and Obama for creating ISIS by “pushing for the overthrow of the regime in Syria” — when Trump has himself calledfor ground troops in Syria.

9) Trump suggests Muslims need to do more to help fight terrorism

They have to work with us. They know what is going on. They know that he was bad. They knew the people in San Bernardino were bad. But you know, what they didn’t turn them in and we had death.

The truth: This line revives a long-running Trump suggestion that Muslims are largely to blame for not really joining us in the fight against terrorism.

AND…

Trump’s “solutions” were simply ludicrous. For example, he called for military action in Muslim nations. Citing unnamed military leaders, Trump gave his strategy to kill them there before they kill us here.

“We have generals who think we can win this thing so fast and so strong but we have to be furious for a short period of time and we’re not doing it,” he said.

Why did Trump not mention the names of the generals who think this?  Because they don’t exist, I expect.  However, real, live military experts don’t feel that lobbing bombsin  Syria would stop incidents like the one in Orlando.

“I fundamentally disagree,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Mick Bednarek, who served as the chief U.S. military adviser in Iraq from 2013 to 2015. “The bottom line is [more bombing] has absolutely no bearing on individuals like Omar Mateen in Orlando, who obviously had some mental issues — like his absolute hatred of gays, lesbians and transgender community. Just wantonly increasing bombing against extremist radical groups in Iraq, Syria, etc. is not going to have a bearing on individuals in the United States and change their behavior.”

20 [Update: 50] Dead In Orlando Gay Club Shooting; Possible Terrorism

USA TODAY:

A heavily armed assailant opened fire in a packed Orlando nightclub early Sunday in a bloody massacre that left about 20 people dead and prompted a terrorism investigation, authorities said.

Police Chief John Mina said the tragedy began at 2:02 a.m., when three police officers engaged in a gun battle with a suspect outside Pulse Orlando, a gay club just south of downtown. A hostage situation then took place inside, and a SWAT team was called in, Mina said. Police received updates from patrons trapped in the club, and decided to storm the club at about 5 a.m.

Phelan M. Ebenhack, AP
Police officers direct family members away from a multiple shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

“Our biggest concern was further loss of life,” Mina said. “We exchanged gunfire with the suspect, and he was dead at the scene.”

Mina said 42 people were transferred to local hospitals, and one officer was wounded. He estimated the death toll at 20, and said at least 30 people were rescued.

“Tonight our community witnessed a horrific crime… that will have a lasting effect on our community,” a solemn Mayor Buddy Dyer said.

FBI Special Agent Ronald Hopper said the case was being investigated as a possible act of terrorism, either domestic or international. It was not clear if the shooter acted alone, he said. He said authorities were trying to determine if there was a connection with radical Islam.
“We do have suggestions that the individual may have leanings toward that particular ideology,” Hopper said.

A federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY the suspect has been identified as Omar Mateen and said investigators were reviewing the attacker’s possible utterances that may provide more specific information about a terror ideology or affiliation. The official, who was not authorized to comment, characterized the attack as “certainly’’ terrorism. It was not immediately clear whether investigators were aware of the attacker prior to the assault.

Mina said the gunman was armed with an assault rifle, a handgun and some sort of unidentified device. Officers from multiple agencies and dozens of emergency vehicles responded to the scene. Orange County Fire and Rescue called for gurneys to move victims from the club.

Many of the casualties were rushed to Orlando Regional Medical Center, which was placed on lockdown.
“We can confirm this is a mass casualty situation. Support from local/state/federal agencies,” Orlando police tweeted about four hours after events began to unfold. Then, a short time later: “Pulse Shooting: The shooter inside the club is dead.”

The White House said President Obama  was briefed by Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
Mina said there was no indication that there was more than one shooter. A bomb squad was at the scene, and police reported conducting a “controlled explosion.”
Hours after the shooting, police were still trying to piece together what happened.
“Anyone who was at Pulse nightclub and was a witness Please come to the Orlando Police HQ,” the department tweeted. “Any information you have could aid investigators in this case”

FBI Director James Comey has said in recent months that authorities had about 1,000 open investigations into home grown violent extremists. The overwhelming number of those cases, authorities said, were suspects with alleged ties to the Islamic State.

Orlando recently wrapped up its annual weeklong Gay Days festival on June 6 in which up to 150,000 in the LGBT community attend area theme parks, gay nightclubs and special events. It was the 25th anniversary of Gay Days. It remains one of the largest gay pride events in the world.

Saturday night and into Sunday, the club was celebrating Latin Night. Club patron Christopher Hansen told CNN he heard what could have been 20 or 30 shots, setting off a panic as people scrambled for cover or raced for the exits. He said he helped a couple people who were wounded.

“It’s just shocking,” said Hansen, who crawled to safety. “I just saw bodies going down.”
As the tragedy was unfolding, Pulse Orlando posted to its Facebook page: “Everyone get out of pulse and keep running.”
Rosie Feba, a witness, told the Orlando Sentinel she and her girlfriend were in the club near closing time when, “she told me someone was shooting. Everyone was getting on the floor. I told her I didn’t think it was real, I thought it was just part of the music, until I saw fire coming out of his gun.”

Feba told the Sentinel she her girlfriend ran out of the club and helped a man who had been shot get outside.

The Orlando Fire Department called for its bomb squad and hazardous material team to the scene after 3 a.m. ET. Police K-9 dogs searched the area around nearby Orlando Regional Medical Center with an armed deputy in head-to-toe military gear.

A loud bang was heard before 5 a.m., but Orlando Police tweeted that it was the  controlled explosion by law enforcement.

Ali Kurnaz, 25, told USA TODAY he was working in his living room about a block from the nightclub when he heard gunfire.

“I could hear multiple rounds of gunfire to the point where it scared my cats,” Kurnaz said. “They came running from a different room.”

Kurnaz said he heard sirens as multiple police cars headed to the crime scene and helicopters flying over his neighborhood.
In some tweets appearing to come from inside Pulse nightclub short after the assault, people said they were hiding. Twitter users also said they heard multiple gunshots.
The shooting spree came just
one day after The Voice star Christina Grimmie was shot and killed after a concert Friday night at the Plaza Live Theater in Orlando. That gunman, identified as Kevin James Loibl, 27, of St. Petersburg, Fla., fatally shot himself after the attack.

UPDATE ON SHOOTER:

Both of Mateen’s parents are originally from Afghanistan, according to CBS News.

Mateen was born in New York, NBC News reports.

He was married in 2009, public records show. It is not clear if he was still married at the time of the attack.

Mateen is a registered Democrat who has also lived in Fort Pierce, Florida, according to online records.

He was also a notary public in Florida, but his license, issued in 2008, expired in 2012, records show.

UPDATE: Orlando mayor now says 50 dead, 53 injured

UPDATE: Shooter’s father tells NBC that religion not a factor, but did hear his son speak out against gays as recently as two weeks ago.

Testy Trump Gets Testy When Press Holds Him Accountable

Not long ago, in late January, Trump skipped a GOP debate in Wisconsin.  Instead, he held an event in Des Moines which, he claimed, raised $6 million for military veterans.

Trump, not used to being called out on his lies, had a bit of a problem.  The press, as time went on, started reporting that the $6 million was untrue, and it all came to a head yesterday, Memorial Day.

So today Trump held a press conference to clear up what happened to the “over $6 million” he claimed to have raised when he skipped the GOP debate. Not unexpectedly, the presser became contentious as Trump blamed the media for actually following up on his claim.

Via Politico:

Donald Trump railed against the media on Tuesday morning as he released details of the money he’s raised and distributed to veterans organizations, even calling out one journalist as a “sleaze” during a combative news conference.

Trump has faced pressure to release information on where the money went after he held a fundraiser for veterans in January in lieu of a Fox News debate.

Speaking with veterans behind him at Trump Tower on Tuesday morning, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said his campaign has sent off $5.6 million to veterans organizations, which he named one by one after railing against the media for coverage over the disbursements.

“I raised close to $6 million,” Trump said. “It’ll probably be over that amount when it’s all said and done, but as of this moment it’s $5.6 million.”

He also blasted the Fourth Estate, telling reporters that the media should be ashamed.

“Instead of being like, ‘Thank you very much, Mr. Trump,’ or ‘Trump did a good job,’ everyone said: ‘Who got it? Who got it? Who got it?’” Trump said. “And you make me look very bad. I have never received such bad publicity for doing a good job.”

Minutes later, he called out Tom Llamas, a journalist with ABC News.

“I could have asked all these groups to come here and I didn’t want to do that. I’m not looking for credit,” Trump said. “But what I don’t want is when I raise millions of dollars, have people say, like this sleazy guy right over here from ABC. He’s a sleaze in my book. You’re a sleaze because you know the facts and you know the facts well.”

He’s not looking for credit? Really? Then why does he mention it constantly?

As the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza points out, the only reason that veterans got what Donald Trump promised them was because the media followed up on his promises:

1. Trump said, on the night of the event, that he had raised $6 million for veterans groups. This from a CNN report of the speech:

He did it Thursday night, dazzling a crowd of hundreds of enthusiastic supporters by announcing that he had raised more than $6 million for veterans in one day — $1 million of it from his own checkbook. “We love our vets,” he said.

2. Trump made the $1 million personal donation to veterans groups a week ago and only after WaPo’s David Fahrenthold did a deep dive into where the promised money went. That was four months after the speech/fundraiser where Trump trumpeted that he had donated the money.

What you saw this morning at Trump Tower was the press at its best, not at its worst, as Trump said over and over again.

Good for the press in keeping on him.  Now if they can only do this regarding his tax returns.

Not ALL the press is giving Trump a hard time.  . In fact, the official North Korean newspaper has all but endorsed Trump:

An editorial published Tuesday heaps praise on Trump as a “wise politician” and a “far-sighted presidential candidate,” according to a report by NKNews.org, which noted that the article referred to many of the presumptive Republican nominee’s statements on foreign policy with respect to North Korea in particular.

“Trump said ‘he will not get involved in the war between the South and the North,’ isn’t this fortunate from North Koreans’ perspective?” the writer of the piece, identified as Chinese North Korean scholar Han Yong Mook, who also referenced Trump’s comments in March saying that he would consider withdrawing United States troops from the Korean peninsula if South Korea does not pay more for its defense.

“Yes do it, now … Who knew that the slogan ‘Yankee Go Home’ would come true like this?” Han wrote, according to the report. “The day when the ‘Yankee Go Home’ slogan becomes real would be the day of Korean Unification.”

Well done.

Trump’s Foreign Policy: Bad, Incoherent But Not Novel

Trump gave a rambling, incoherent and contradictory speech on Wednesday on foreign policy, that was notable because it was a prepared speech which he read off the teleprompter.  That means he actually thought about what he was going to say, and it still came out horribly.  And almost everyone agrees.  Here’s Lindsey Graham’s tweets:

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Trump’s theme was “America First”, a slogan which history does not paint well.  It was the slogan of Charles Lindburgh and others who advocated keeping out of World War Two.  Later, it was taken up by anti-semites.

Fred Kaplan summarizes the many other problems with the speech:

He said that, because of President Obama’s policies, our friends and allies feel they can no longer depend on us—then said that a Trump administration would quit NATO and abandon our allies in Asia entirely unless they started spending more on defense.

He said that his No. 1 national-security goal would be to defeat ISIS—then said that he would work with other nations to do so only if they “appreciate what we’ve done for them,” because for us to be good to them, “they also have to be good to us.” (There’s something childish, even narcissistic, about this demand, which he recited in the tone of a desperately firm parent.)

He said, as he has many times, that our trade deficit has severely weakened America and strengthened China—then said that we have enormous economic leverage over China and that we should use it to get China to rein in North Korea.

He said we should not help any country that isn’t our friend—then proposed easing tensions with Russia. (It’s possible to hold one view or the other, but not both.)

He said he would strengthen America’s economy in order to shrink the deficit—then said he would use the extra wealth to boost jobs, then said he would use it to increase the military budget, without the slightest recognition of possible trade-offs or the need to set priorities.

Then there are the statements, many of them reprised from debates and campaign speeches, that are simply untrue. He claimed that Iran has violated the nuclear agreement, when in fact it’s abided by the terms. He added that, because of the deal, Iran has become “a great, great power”—which must come as news to Iran’s leaders, who are frustrated that, despite the lifting of sanctions, they still can’t get much trade going with the West. He said Obama has “snubbed” Israel, when in fact many Israeli military and intelligence officers credit Obama with providing more security assistance than any recent president.

Trump added that Obama has let our nuclear arsenal atrophy, when in fact the Pentagon is spending $20 billion a year to maintain and modernize it. He said Obama’s proposed defense budget for next year (which, by the way, amounts to $608 billion) is 25 percent smaller than his budget for 2011—when, in fact, it’s larger. He said that, since 1991, the active-duty U.S. Army has shrunk from 2 million troops to 1.3 million, that the Air Force is one-third smaller, and that the Navy’s force of ships has declined from 500 to 272—which may sound alarming, until you consider (which Trump hasn’t) that the Cold War ended in 1991: It would be strange if the military hadn’t shrunk since then.

And there were the bombastic pronouncements with no basis whatsoever. “The world is more dangerous than it has ever been.” (Think about that claim for one minute, and you’ll see how absurd it is.) About ISIS, he said, “They’re going to be gone if I’m elected president, and they’ll be gone very, very quickly.” (What does this mean? Is he going to scowl at them? Nuke them?) “No one knows how to reduce debt, but I do.” (One way he reduced debt in the private sector was to buy debt-ridden companies, then abandon the creditors or offer them dimes on the dollar or nothing. International debt doesn’t work this way.) He also said, as he has before, that he opposed the Iraq war because it would destabilize the Middle East—when, in fact, he supported the invasion not long before it took place.

While conservatives hated the speech, they are themselves to blame for much of it.  Many of these “facts” and bromides rolled out by Trump (the lower military budget, Obama apologizing for America on the world stage) — these are staples in the conservative line of bullshit that just ain’t so.

What conservatives used to say with a wink and a nod, Trump lights it up with neon.  His foreign policy speech — disjointed, full of false patriotism, and simply impossible — was more of that.  No wonder the U.S. allies hated it….. and Russia loved it.

What’s The Panama Papers All About?

The leak amounts to 2.6 terabytes of information — perhaps the largest whistleblower leak in history.  Also, it might topple a country or too.

So it might be interesting to learn what the Panama Papers leak is all about.

It starts with a company called Mossack Fonesca.  That’s a Panamanian law firm that has long been well-known to the global financial and political elite.  The firm’s operations are diverse and international in scope, but they originate in a single specialty — helping foreigners set up Panamanian shell companies to hold financial assets while obscuring the identities of their real owners. Since its founding in 1977, it’s expanded its interests outside of Panama to include more than 40 offices worldwide, helping a global client base work with shell companies not just in Panama but also the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, and other notorious tax havens around the world.  The Panama Papers are leaks from that law firm.

What’s a shell company?  Well, sometimes a person or a well-known company or institution wants to buy things or own assets in a way that obscures who the real buyer is. For example, companies don’t like to tip their hand to what they are doing, and the use of shell companies to undertake not-ready-for-public-announcement projects can be a useful tool.  Shell companies are often used for simple privacy reasons. Real estate transactions, for example, are generally a matter of public record. So an athlete, actor, or other celebrity who wants to buy a house without his name and address ending up in the papers might want to pay a lawyer to set up a shell company to do the purchasing.

Here’s another way to put it, thanks to a Reddit user:

When you get a quarter you put it in the piggy bank. The piggy bank is on a shelf in your closet. Your mom knows this and she checks on it every once in a while, so she knows when you put more money in or spend it.

Now one day, you might decide “I don’t want mom to look at my money.” So you go over to Johnny’s house with an extra piggy bank that you’re going to keep in his room. You write your name on it and put it in his closet. Johnny’s mom is always very busy, so she never has time to check on his piggy bank. So you can keep yours there and it will stay a secret.

Now all the kids in the neighborhood think this is a good idea, and everyone goes to Johnny’s house with extra piggy banks. Now Johnny’s closet is full of piggy banks from everyone in the neighborhood.

One day, Johnny’s mom comes home and sees all the piggy banks. She gets very mad and calls everyone’s parents to let them know.

Now not everyone did this for a bad reason. Eric’s older brother always steals from his piggy bank, so he just wanted a better hiding spot. Timmy wanted to save up to buy his mom a birthday present without her knowing. Sammy just did it because he thought it was fun. But many kids did do it for a bad reason. Jacob was stealing people’s lunch money and didn’t want his parents to figure it out. Michael was stealing money from his mom’s purse. Fat Bobby’s parents put him on a diet, and didn’t want them to figure out when he was buying candy.

Now in real life, many very important people were just caught hiding their piggy banks at Johnny’s house in Panama. Today their moms all found out. Pretty soon, we’ll know more about which of these important people were doing it for bad reasons and which were doing it for good reasons. But almost everyone is in trouble regardless, because it’s against the rules to keep secrets no matter what.

The leaked documents provide details on some of these piggy banks — uh, shell companies. They reveal shocking acts of corruption in Russia, hint at scandalous goings-on in a range of developing nations, and may prompt a political crisis in Iceland.

Here are a few of the highlights, with links to the full stories where you can read the details:

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In a way, the fact that people use shell companies is not new, and it’s always been somewhat understood that there’s some underlying shenanigans behind these accounts.  Some of the shenanigans revealed by the Panama Papers involves nothing more than legal avarice.The name of Ian Cameron, the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, shows up in the Panama Papers, for example. Mossack Fonseca helped him set up his investment company Blairmore Holdings (named after his family’s ancestral country estate) in the British Virgin Islands, where, marketing material assured investors, the company “will not be subject to United Kingdom corporation tax or income tax on its profits.”

This particular kind of move is perfectly legal and doesn’t even involve any secrecy. It is entirely typical for investment companies whose employees all work or reside in New York, London, or Connecticut to be domiciled for tax purposes in someplace like the Cayman Islands.  Although when Bernie Sanders talks about this stuff, this is what he means.

On the other hand, there is shadier stuff.  One wealthy client, US millionaire and life coach Marianna Olszewski, was offered fake ownership records to hide money from the authorities. This is in direct breach of international regulations designed to stop money-laundering and tax evasion.

An email from a Mossack executive to Ms Olszewski in January 2009 explains how she could deceive the bank: “We may use a natural person who will act as the beneficial owner… and therefore his name will be disclosed to the bank. Since this is a very sensitive matter, fees are quite high.”  (It’s not clear with Ms. Olszewski has broken the law).

Meanwhile, as I write this, Iceland is going ballistic.  Protests throughout (below is a live YouTube stream) as the Prime Minister there refuses to resign:

Anyway, to be continued.

Is ISIS On The Ropes?

Don’t look to the Republican presidential candidates for an honest answer to that question.  They want ISIS to be flourishing because it gives them a plank to campaign on.

But if you look at my tweets, you’ll see that Paris and Belgium are sweeping out the network with arrests, and that the Number 2 ISIS guy was killed, US officials believe.

And now, according to the Washington Post, ISIS may be on retreat on multiple fronts.  The paper reports that both Palmyra and a string of villages in northern Iraq are being overrun by US-backed forces:

These are just two of the many fronts in both countries where the militants are being squeezed, stretched and pushed back….Front-line commanders no longer speak of a scarily formidable foe but of Islamic State defenses that crumble within days and fighters who flee at the first sign they are under attack.

….Most of the advances [] are being made by the assortment of loosely allied forces, backed to varying degrees by the United States, that are ranged along the vast perimeter of the Islamic State’s territories. They include the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in northeastern Syria; the Kurdish peshmerga in northern Iraq; the Iraqi army, which has revived considerably since its disastrous collapse in 2014; and Shiite militias in Iraq, which are not directly aligned with the United States but are fighting on the same side.

The U.S. military estimated earlier this year that the Islamic State had lost 40 percent of the territory it controlled at its peak in 2014, a figure that excludes the most recent advances.

….In eastern Syria, the seizure late last month of the town of Shadadi by the Kurdish YPG — aided by U.S. Special Forces — was accompanied by the capture of nearly 1,000 square miles of territory….The operation was planned to take place over weeks. Instead, the town fell within days, said a senior U.S. administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

“Shadadi was going to be a major six-week operation,” he said. “The ISIS guys had dug trenches and everything. Instead, they completely collapsed. They’re collapsing town by town.”

Emphasis mine.

Is this true?  Maybe, or maybe it is Defense Department spin (it wouldn’t be the first time).  But if this reporting is true, it represents a self-sustaining dynamic: rumors of ISIS collapse inspire Iraqi forces to fight harder, which in turn contributes to ISIS collapse. At this point, the issues in the way of further progress are as much diplomatic as military: “We could probably liberate Mosul tomorrow, but we would have a real mess on our hands if we did,” says Michael Knights of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Something to be cautiously optimistic about.

Brussels Attacks: Silver Lining Edition

The death toll stands at 31 from yesterday’s coordinated ISIS-terrorist attacks in Brussels.

We’re getting some details from the Belgian prosecutor.

There were three explosions. Two explosions hit the Zaventem airport in Brussels around 8 am local time (3 am Eastern) in the departure area. One was in the entryway and the other near the American Airlines ticket counter. Both were suicide bombings. 10 people were killed and 100 wounded. A third bomb was left at the airport and safely deactivated, according to the Associated Press. The bomb, in a suitcase, contained the biggest explosive charge; it exploded right after the bomb squad arrived.

Another explosion followed at 9:11 am local time (4:11 am Eastern) in the Maelbeek metro station near central Brussels.  The explosions at Maelbeek were on a metro car, part of a three-car train that had just pulled out on its way to the next station. The metro explosion alone killed 21 people and injured 106, 17 of them seriously

Belgium’s federal prosecutor identified two suspects as two brothers with criminal records, Khalid el-Bakraoui, 27, and Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, 30, as well as a third man, who they did not identify, who is still at large. Ibrahim el-Bakaraoui was killed in the suicide bombing at the airport, and Khalid el-Bakraoui was killed in the suicide bombing in the metro.

Belgian police released video from the airport that showed three men, allegedly the attackers, pushing luggage carts. The man in the center is Ibrahim el-Bakraoui. The man to his left has not been identified but is thought to be another suicide bomber.  They are searching for the man who is wearing a dark hat and light jacket in the photo.

160322130113-01-belgian-police-photo-exlarge-169TERRORISME   Suspect à identifier  1

The cab driver who took the bombers to the airport was able to help Belgian police find the apartment where the men stayed. Investigators found a nail bomb, chemical products and an ISIS flag during a house search in the northeast Brussels neighborhood of Schaerbeek, Belgium’s federal prosecutor said in a statement.

They also found a laptop computer which contained a will/suicide note from Ibrihim El Bakraoui in which he wrote: “Being in a hurry, I don’t know what to do, being searched for everywhere, not being safe, if it drags on it could end up with me in a prison cell next to him”, which French media have reported is a reference to suspected Paris attacker Salah Abdeslam.”

This suggests a couple of things to me.  The rapid unraveling of the ISIS network on Brussels, culminating in the arrest of one of the Paris terrorist late last week, forced the hand of ISIS.  Obviously, it would have been preferable to bring down the net on the entire operation before these attacks, but we can take some solace in the fact that they were panicky and running.

Also, it looks like the Brussels attack and the Paris attack may have come from the same network, maybe even the same cell or extended cell.  There are some reports that the bombmaker in both attacks may be the same person.  If so, then it is gratifying to know that the problem — while serious — may not be as widespread as the fearmongers suggest.

 

Quote Of The Day

“Good God, they’re probably cutting videos of this right now. . . Donald Trump right now is validating the cartoonish view that they tell their operatives…that America is a racist nation, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and that that’s why you must carry out terrorist attacks against them…It’s irresponsible and it needs to stop.”

– terrorism expert Malcolm Nance, the head of the Terrorism Asymmetrics Project and a veteran of Navy intelligence, today

trumpbrain

The Brussels Attacks

35 dead (at last count) and over 200 wounded.  The attacks took place during morning rush hour in Brussels, as three ISIS or-ISIS-related gunmen opened fire at the airport in Brussels and then self-detonated via an explosive belt.

An hour later came an explosion in a Brussels subway station — Maalbeek.

The bloodshed came just four days after the dramatic arrest in Brussels of Salah Abdeslam — the prime suspect in the Paris attacks claimed by IS — after four months on the run.

It is not known if the attacks were related.

One thing about Belgium — they do have an awful lot of radicalized Muslims going to Syria and other places, and then returning home to Belgium.  It’s a far worse problem for them than with the French or with the U.S.

Both Trump and Cruz are quick to stoke the flames of fear, with Cruz actually putting this statement out:

cruzstatementbrussels

I’m not sure what he means, but apparently being nice to peaceful Muslims is “surrendering to the enemy”.  I guess.

And of course, Trump doesn’t want to be out-Trumped by Cruz, and makes no bones about turning this into votes.  Really.

Trump flat admits that terrorism helps him, as shown in this WaPo column:

CeKi1itUEAEK3aB

That’s pretty insidious.

Hate Is The New Black

Whole Lot of Hatin’ Going On:

The number of hate groups on the American radical right expanded from 784 in 2014 to 892 in 2015 – a 14 per cent increase, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

The SPLC released the statistics Wednesday in a new report, The Year in Hate and Extremism.

With the increase in hate groups came an increase in domestic political violence in the U.S., both from the radical right and from American jihadists.

“They laid plans to attack courthouses, banks, festivals, funerals, schools, mosques, churches, synagogues, clinics, water treatment plants and power grids,” writes Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the SPLC.

“They used firearms, bombs, C-4 plastic explosives, knives and grenades; one of them, a murderous Klansman, was convicted of trying to build a death ray.”

Using statistics from a year-end report from the Anti-Defamation League, the SPLC said a minimum of 52 people died from extremist violence in the U.S. in the past 12 months.

That was the most in a year since 1995, the year of the Oklahoma City bombing that left 168 men, women and children dead.

The SPLC reports a growth in Klu Klux Klan chapters from 72 in 2014 to 190 in 2015 and attributes the rise in the 364 pro-Confederate battle flag rallies last year.

Those took place after South Carolina took down the battle flag from its Capitol grounds following the June massacre of nine black churchgoers by a white supremacist flag enthusiast in Charleston, S.C.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, black separatist hate groups also gained strength, going from 113 chapters in 2014 to 180 in 2015. The SPLC says the growth followed the explosion of anger fostered by highly publicized incidents of police shootings of black men.

“But unlike activists for racial justice such as those in the Black Lives Matter movement, the black separatist groups did not stop at demands for police reforms and an end to structural racism. Instead, they typically demonized all whites, gays, and, in particular, Jews,” Potok writes.

“Conspiracy-minded anti-government ‘Patriot’ groups rose from 874 in 2014 to 998 in 2015 as well.

Potok notes that terror can breed hate crimes. After a jihadist couple in San Bernardo, California murdered 14 people in December 2015, it triggered a string of physical attacks on mosques and Muslims.

“Several political figures have harnessed that fear, calling for bans on mosques, Muslim immigrants and refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East,” Potok wrote.

To be sure, the report offered less than flattering portrays of the Republican presidential front-runners when it came to fanning the flames of dissent.

Partly fueling the new rise in hate groups are such Republican presidential candidates as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, experts contend.

The SPLC went so far to use Trump’s image on the cover of its report.

Inside, the SPLC makes no apologies, noting: The armed violence was accompanied by rabid and often racist denunciations of Muslims, LGBT activists and others — incendiary rhetoric led by a number of mainstream political figures and amplified by a lowing herd of their enablers in the right-wing media.”

The group says that the right-wing politicians are fostering a sense of polarization and anger in the U.S. that might be unmatched since the political upheavals of 1968.

“Donald Trump’s demonizing statements about Latinos and Muslims have electrified the radical right, leading to glowing endorsements from white nationalist leaders such as Jared Taylor and former Klansman David Duke,” writes Potok.

“White supremacist forums are awash with electoral joy, having dubbed Trump their ‘Glorious Leader.’ And Trump has repaid the compliments, retweeting hate posts and spreading their false statistics on black-on-white crime.”

The report noted that Donald Trump described President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s brutal “Operation Wetback” as a “very humane” way to accomplish mass deportation, and responded to the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally by saying, “Maybe he should have been roughed up.”

You can read the report here

ir-160-hate-map-fb

Unedited Video Of the Oregon Standoff and Arrest and Showdown

There have been conflicting stories about how militant LaVoy Finicum.  Occupants of Finicum’s car say he was “executed” with his hands up.  Law enforcement accounts say that he was reaching into his left jacket pocket and not keeping his hands up (and a loaded gun was found in that pocket later).

To me, in this video, a couple of things are quite clear:

(1)  Finicum’s car was trying to flee law enforcement after he was stopped.  This all happens within the first minute of the video

(2)  When the car goes into a snowbank, Finicum comes out and his hands are raised.  However, he is not standing still.

So clearly, he was not complying with the police officers.

But did he reach for the gun.  I see it in the video.  When the video is enlarged to fullscreen, I see his hands come down and toward his pocket and that’s when he gets shot by the federal agent behind him.

You be the judge. This is the complete video footage of a joint FBI and Oregon State Police traffic stop and OSP officer-involved shooting of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. This footage, which has only been edited to blur out aircraft information, was taken by the FBI on 01/26/2016 and released by the FBI on 01/28/2016. Note regarding date/time stamp in the left corner of video: Pilots use Zulu Time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), when they fly. Zulu time is eight hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time (PST). Therefore, although this footage was taken on January 26, 2016 in Oregon, the date/time stamp on the video shows just after midnight January 27, 2016.

If the video provides some sense of how the shooting went down, it still doesn’t offer much indication of why. Did Finicum think he could make it through the snow? Was it his decision alone to drive ahead, or did the other passengers agree? Did he expect police would fire? (He’d previously said he would rather die than be arrested.) Why did all the other passengers in both cars surrender without incident? These questions seem likely to remain unanswered at least until the others describe the moment.

The shooting and arrests seem to have effectively sapped the occupation of its energy. Ammon Bundy, arrested in the Jeep behing Finicum’s truck,  made a statement through his lawyer, called on the remnant to leave, and police surrounded the refuge and threw up road blocks. Several militia members have been arrested as they leave. There are now just four people left, and they are demanding that police agree not to arrest them in exchange for leaving.

“We’re asking, just drop the charges and we’re willing to go. But if they’re not willing to do that, we’re all just willing to stay here and see what happens,” one man, tentatively identified as David Fry, says in a video from the refuge posted Thursday. Fry told the Los Angeles Times’ Matt Pearce that three of them have been told they’re free to go, but a fourth faces a criminal charge. They also don’t want authorities to check their guns. If it’s hard to imagine police agreeing to such an exchange, it’s also true that the occupation’s demands—including release of two men imprisoned for federal crimes and federal surrender of the refuge—also always seemed wildly unrealistic.

Oregon Standoff Loosing Steam

Kudos to law enforcement.  Looks like their tactic worked.  A lot of lefties, including me, thought they were ignoring the armed occupiers when this thing began, but the feds knew what they were doing:

The Mass Shooting You Didn’t Hear About

The FBI doesn’t take victory laps, but I think maybe it should. These stories happen all the time and they never get the same media attention as the stories in which people bleed. And that’s why so many Americans live in (and vote out of) fear. We’re doing okay against the bad guys — better than you might think.  This story isn’t featured in any of the national media:

A terrorist-style plot intended to kill dozens of people with automatic weapons at a Masonic center in Milwaukee was foiled this week by FBI agents, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Samy Mohamed Hamzeh discussed his plan to attack the center with two others, detailing how they would quickly and quietly kill the first people they saw and then methodically move through the building, “eliminating everyone” they encountered, according to a federal criminal complaint.

Hamzeh, 23, has been charged with possessing a machine gun and a silencer. Despite indications of an attempted act of terrorism, Hamzeh is not charged with any terrorism counts.

“We are Muslims, defending Muslim religion, we are on our own, my dear, we have organized our own group,” Hamzeh said, according to the criminal complaint, adding he was confident it would trigger more attacks in the United States.

“Such operations will increase in America, when they hear about it. The people will be scared and the operations will increase, and there will be problems all over,… this will lead to people clashing with each other. This way we will be igniting it. I mean we are marching at the front of the war,” he said, according to the complaint.

Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad called it a “detailed plan to commit a mass shooting intended to kill dozens of people.”

Bravo, FBI.

North Korea’s Got One Too (Just To Use On You Know Who)

There was a 5.1 magnitude earthquake yesterday in North Korea.

N Korea Earthquake

Except it wasn’t an earthquake.  North Korea announced that it had detonated a sophisticated hydrogen bomb. North Korea’s three previous nuclear tests since 2006 have been met with international condemnation, including resolutions and sanctions from the Security Council. But North Korea has ignored the U.N. on this.

The good news is this: as the UN Security Council held an emergency session on Wednesday to respond to North Korea’s action, the White House said that initial US findings were “not consistent with North Korean claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test”—something that would have represented a major ramp-up in North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said initial data from various monitoring sources were “not consistent with North Korean claims of a successful hydrogen bomb test.”

Nuclear monitors also said the magnitude of the blast suggested an atomic explosion rather than one produced by an exponentially more powerful hydrogen device — potentially more than 1,000 times more destructive than the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima near the end of World War II.

But that’s not conclusive.  We (the United States) reportedly sent our WC-135 “sniffer plane” from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa on Wednesday, while Japan said it dispatched three aircraft. Gases can sometimes leak out for several weeks after a test, so it might take some time for this question to be answered.

After the 2006 test, a significant amount of gas was detected, enabling analysts to say it was a plutonium-based device, while in 2009, no gases were found. The residue from the 2013 test was very faint, meaning it was impossible to draw any conclusions, analysts say.

We’ll know more in a few weeks.

Does this mean the U.S. is at risk, if they have that technology?

Probably not.  They still need missiles that will get through our missile defense shield.  And miniaturization technology, which is huge (if you can’t get a bomb on a missile, there’s no point).

But a weaponized North Korea could spell trouble for our allies, particularly Japan and South Korea.  And Kim Jung Un is such a loony tunes, who knows what he might do.

Domestic Terrorism Update

Busy day today, so I have little commentary.  I recommend an article in The New Yorker for a slightly different, but valuable, perspective than mine:

American vigilantism is never racially innocent. Its two parents are self-mobilization on the frontier, usually against Native Americans at a time when homesteading was reserved to whites, and the racial terror of the Ku Klux Klan in the South during and after Reconstruction. It is too much to call the occupiers “domestic terrorists,” as the Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh or the Klan were, but it is also obtuse to ignore the special comfort that certain white men have using guns as props in their acts of not-quite-civil disobedience. After all, guns were how they acquired their special sense of entitlement to public lands in the first place.

The latest news seems to be that the “protesters” have said they will leave if the locals there want them to.  That’s good news.

A leader of the activists occupying a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon’s snowy back country said he and others would agree to stand down and leave if local residents ask them “directly” to end their campaign.

Ryan Bundy, who along with his brother has emerged as a leader of the activists and protesters holed up in a compound of federal buildings in southeastern Oregon, pledged to organize a meeting as early as Tuesday to let Harney County residents speak with them directly.

But on Tuesday, Bundy renewed his vow that there was no end in sight for the occupation.

Residents in the county’s largest towns – Burns and Hines – have said they agree with the activists’ message but take issue with their tactics, such as the armed occupation of government-owned buildings.

In Burns, signs have gone up asking the occupiers to leave. Some residents said they are fearful of a violent confrontation if federal agents were to descend on the refuge.

That sounds to me like Bundy thought he has the support of the local community when he said he would leave if the local residents wanted him to.  And now he’s finding out, uh, maybe not.  The article continues:

He said the occupying group has made “no direct demands,” but the participants have stated that they will leave if the federal government gives up control of the nearby Malheur National Forest.

Well, that’s not going to happen.

Armed Terrorists Seize Federal Property

You would think this would be 24/7 headline news, but it isn’t.  The terrorist takeover began Sunday morning, but the regular news outlets barely covered it.  Only on Twitter was it discussed at any length, thanks to the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack.

Now that it is a regular non-holiday workday, the media is starting to report it.  Before then, the only real outlet covering the story was The Oregonian.

What’s at the center of this issue is the federal land management, and two people: Dwight Hammond, age 73, and his son Steve Hammond, age 46.  These men are ranchers in Oregon.  Strap yourselves in.

Hammond Ranches owns about 12,000 acres in the Diamond-Frenchglen area. They use this ground to run cattle during the winter. Until two years ago the Hammonds used 26,420 acres of land belonging to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for summer grazing (the U.S. government gives out grazing permits).

Now, when it comes to ranching, fire is an important tool. It is used to burn invasive species that crowd out native grass and other plants.  Fire can kill those pests, leaving plenty of grazing (on the non-burned grass/plants) for the cattle.

The problem is, fire is also a threat. Recent wildfires have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in this territory, putting the ground off limits for grazing. Cattle have been killed in the runaway blazes, and lives endangered.

In 1999, Dwight Hammond got a stern letter from the local manager for the federal land bureau saying that Steve Hammond had set a fire that spread to federal ground. The letter said Steve told officials in a subsequent meeting that he “did not believe there was any way to control fire behavior or where it would burn, and that he did not take any action to prevent the fire from burning.”  Nevertheless, the Hammonds got off with a warning.

The problem started with two more fires set by the Hammonds — one in 2001 and one in 2006.

The fire in 2001 was a simple prescribed burn.  According to Steve and Dwight Hammond, it was intended to take out invasive juniper.  But federal prosecutors said the men’s real motive for starting the blaze, which consumed 139 acres and forestalled grazing for two seasons, was to cover up evidence of an illegal slaughter of deer. The government presented evidence that Steven Hammond called an emergency dispatcher to ask if it was OK to burn — roughly two hours after they already lit the fire. His attorney said in court that Hammond called the land bureau beforehand.

The government acknowledged that the next fire, in 2006, was intended as a defensive move. Steve Hammond set backfires to keep a lightning-caused fire from burning onto the Hammonds’ ranch and hitting their winter feed.  But the government said Steve Hammond lit up on the flanks of a butte, despite a countywide burn ban and the knowledge that young part-time firefighters were camped up higher. Their crew boss spotted the fires, which were set at night, and moved the crew, but campers and others were in danger.

The two men were indicted and convicted in 2010 on federal arson charges. On top of sentencing for arson, they also faced sentencing under the federal Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which reads in pertinent part:

SEC. 708. ENHANCED PENALTIES FOR USE OF EXPLOSIVES OR ARSON CRIMES.

    (a) In General.--Section 844 of title 18, United States Code, is 
amended--
            (1) in subsection (e), by striking ``five'' and inserting 
        ``10'';
            (2) by amending subsection (f) to read as follows:

    ``(f)(1) Whoever maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to 
damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, 
vehicle, or other personal or real property in whole or in part owned or 
possessed by, or leased to, the United States, or any department or 
agency thereof, shall be imprisoned for not less than 5 years and not 
more than 20 years, fined under this title, or both.

Hammonds’ lawyers argued that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 did not apply to the Hammonds — after all, they weren’t terrorists.

But the government argued that it didn’t matter.  The portion that dealt with enhanced penalties for explosion and arson crimes did not say the defendant HAD to be a “terrorist”.

You can understand why this was part of the law.  Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrow Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, including children.  The assumption behind Section 708 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (quoted above) was… well, if you are blowing up or setting fire to federal property, you must be a terrorist.

To his credit (in my opinion), U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan opined that although Section 708 applied to the crime committed by the Hammonds, Congress did not intend it to apply to people like the Hammonds.  A five year prison term would be unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment, the judge said.  “It would be a sentence which would shock the conscience,” Hogan added before sentencing Dwight to three months and Steve to one year.

The two men served their time, but the District Attorney appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit.  The Ninth Circuit reasonably ruled (in my opinion) that Section 708 set out a mandatory sentence of “not less than five years”.  The words “shall be” (which I emboldened above) are not “may be”.

So, the Hammonds were ordered back to prison to serve a five year sentence each.  They are supposed to start serving today.

But believe it or not, this has little to do with the Hammonds’ sentence.

Federal agencies own and regulate huge chunks of land in western states like Oregon and Nevada.  The United States of America holds deed to three-fourths of Harney County. Ranching done for a century and more is under pressure from environmentalists, recreationalists, and hunters.

fed_landuse

As such, those with anti-government views, particularly in western states, often focus on the federal government ‘s land-use policies.  The plight of the Hammonds has become a rallying call for one militia and patriot group after another. Men who see tyranny in federal acts are standing for the two men.  The Hammonds’ case — and the change to their sentencing, just further fed into views of a tyrannical federal government out of control.

For example, the federal government sued the Hammonds for $1 million the costs of fighting the fires that they set.  In late 2014, the Hammonds settled the lawsuit, agreeing the federal government $400,000. That has been paid.

But the settlement also required the Hammonds to give the land bureau first chance at buying a particular ranch parcel adjacent to public land if they intended to sell. For some, this is evidence that the government was going after the Hammonds in order to increase its property holdings — a “land grab” the “militia” members would say.  There is little evidence to support that.

So how did the yahoos get involved?  Well, on Saturday, members of the militia attended a demonstration in Burns, Oregon.  The purpose was to protest the Hammonds’ case. After the protest, the militiamen drove to the wildlife refuge and took it over.

It seems that the militiamen may have initially planned to seize the wildlife refuge headquarters in order to establish a “sanctuary” where the Hammonds could go to evade prison.

One of the most outspoken of the militia-terrorists is Ammon Bundy, whose father Cliven Bundy became a Fox News star in 2014 for his armed standoff in Nevada with the federal government over cattle-grazing rights. (see earlier postings about that controversy).  His brother Ryan is another occupier.

What do they want?  Ammon talked to some press people:

The group is demanding that the Hammonds be released and that the federal government give up control of the Malheur National Forest.

As Ammon Bundy sees it, the locals are “not strong enough” to stand up for themselves, so the militia must act as the “tip of the spear” and lead the fight on behalf of the locals.

Thus, Bundy and his fellow militiamen have seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge — located in a remote area some 50 miles southeast of the city of Burns — in hopes of creating a “base” where “patriots” like themselves can come, with their guns, to live and make their stand against the “tyrannical” federal government.  Several pickup trucks blocked the entrance to the refuge Sunday, with armed men wearing camouflage and winter gear stationed outside.  The exact number of armed men is unknown. It’s worth nothing that the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge visitors’ center is probably one of the least critical spots to occupy in all of the United States.

So far, it’s not going well for these “patriots”.  It turns out that the Hammonds don’t actually want the militia’s help — or at least, not anymore.

At first, according to the Oregonian, the Hammonds “accepted the militia’s offer of help to avoid prison.” But they “changed their minds after being warned by federal prosecutors to stop communicating with the militia” and have now “professed through their attorneys that they had no interest in ignoring the order to report for prison.”

Ammon also tried to recruit residents from the surrounding area, reportedly meeting with 10 or so locals, but they all turned him down.

The Oregonian interviewed some locals who expressed sympathy for the Hammonds and for the militia’s “constitutional arguments” but ultimately rejected the militia for its extremism.

The militia, the local fire chief told the newspaper, “seems like a bunch of people ready to shoot. I don’t want that in my county.”

Chatter on right wing blogs about the story is muted.  Breitbart News hasn’t touched it, except for one transitional paragraph at the start of a story recapping the Cliven BBundy matter in Nevada.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he hoped that the protesters would step aside, adding that “our prayers right now are with everyone involved in what’s happening with Oregon, and especially those in law enforcement that are risking their lives.”

“Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds. But we don’t have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others,” he said. “And so it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio decried the occupation as “lawless” and urged those involved in the standoff to pursue what they wanted through more lawful, constructive means.

But that’s not what they intend to do.  According to an Oregonian reporter…

Is the situation dangerous?  Not last night.  There was virtually no law enforcement presence of any sort.

But now, as the sun comes up, the FBI has arrived and set up a briefing center.  The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and local schools in the area are closed today.  I feel bad for The City of Burns Police Department which has three officers – the Chief and two officers – and an administrative assistant.

All told, this appears to be an act of terrorism.  When it comes to the Hammond arsons — yes, I can easily see why that was NOT terrorism.  But armed men taking over a federal building and demanding land — that’s insurrection, if not domestic terrorism.

And needless to say, the disparity in news coverage as well as law enforcement response, which compared to — say — Ferguson (where protesters had no guns and took no federal property) is astounding.  Also, they are being called “protesters”, rather than terrorists.

It is unclear how this will play out.  But soime people are serious.  Here’s one guy saying the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a tyrannical agency so he has made a suicide video and has promised to die for “the constitution.”

P.S.  Most of Oregon used to be Indian land.  Now we see a bunch of white guys complaining about a tyrannical oppressive government.  Irony.

To be continued….

UPDATE:  The terrorists want you to join them “to prevent bloodshed”…

UPDATE:  This is a slow-moving story.  I guess the government tactic is to wait them out until they get bored.  Which means no developments for days, weeks, or maybe even months.  But….

I guess “Patriots For God and Freedom’s Constitution of Citizens Together United for American’s Constitutional Second Amendment Crusaders and OathKeepers” was taken.

Anyway, the posted some signs and it looks like they are running low on the letter n.

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ANOTHER UPDATE: HuffPo says the “militia” wants a standoff with the FBI, but the FBI isn’t taking the bait:

The FBI is working closely with state police, and FBI officials are busy establishing a public information office in Burns. But due to a number of factors — the crisis is unfolding in a remote part of Oregon; it doesn’t appear to be a life-or-death situation; and there are no hostages involved — law enforcement officials want to avoid unnecessarily escalating the standoff, the source said. The FBI instead hopes to get a better handle on the situation over the next few days.

The FBI will not be releasing specific information about law enforcement movements, but it is working with local law enforcement agencies to “bring a peaceful resolution to the situation at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge,” officials from the bureau said in a statement.

***

For now, there are no sirens, no police cars zooming to the seized building and no SWAT teams arriving in armored vehicles. In the parking lot of the refuge’s headquarters building, journalists mingle freely with activists. The 30-mile stretch of road between Burns and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where the militants are holed up, is snowy and barren.

Below the fold…. The Onion summarizes everything

Picture Of The Year?

I don’t know, but it should be contender.  The photographer is not a journalist or professional photographer, but I don’t know if that makes any difference.

This is a woman who escaped ISIS territory and was able to wear color again, taken sometime in early December 2015.

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Did Ted Cruz Leak Classified Information During The Latest GOP Debate?

It went down like this.  While Rubio and Cruz were debating each other’s records on national security and surveillance, Cruz got into some details about what the bulk data program covers.

“What he knows is that the old program covered 20 percent to 30 percent of phone numbers to search for terrorists,” Cruz said, referring to Rubio. “The new program covers nearly 100 percent. That gives us greater ability to stop acts of terrorism, and he knows that that’s the case.”

It’s not clear if Cruz, who is unpopular with many of his Senate colleagues, revealed classified information. But in his response to Cruz, Rubio noted that he did not want to say too much about the program.

“Let me be very careful when answering this, because I don’t think national television in front of 15 million people is the place to discuss classified information,” Rubio said. “So let me just be very clear. There is nothing that we are allowed to do under this bill that we could not do before.”

And that was how it went down.  Moments afterward, this was tweeted:

Becca Watkins is the communications director for Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Burr told reporters that his staff was looking into the matter as to whether or not Cruz disclosed classified information. Cruz is not well-liked in the Senate, even by his Republican colleagues.

Late yesterday, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced that it will not be investigating anything said during Tuesday’s debate.

Meaning…. well, anything.  If Cruz leaked classified information, they’re certainly not going to admit it.  Better than the terrorists think that 100% of bulk phone data is being culled.

The Trump Backlash Continues

A $6 billion golf community under construction in Dubai is removing his name from the project. Trump was tossed from a respected business network in Scotland, where the billionaire says he invested more than $300 million in golf courses and other developments. And Lifestyle, a retailer that does business in an enormous marketplace spanning the Middle East, India and Africa, stopped selling Trump branded products. Trump lost his honorary doctorate at Robert Gordon University (RGU) in Scotland.

Trump says that these nations are “caving to political correctness”.

In the national media, Tom Brokaw, the veteran NBC News anchor, has called Trump’s proposal “dangerous,” and likened it to the Holocaust and the Japanese internment. On its front page, The New York Times has said Trump’s idea is “more typically associated with hate groups.” Dan Balz, of The Washington Post, has called Trump’s rhetoric “demagogic,” while BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith has informed staff that it is acceptable to refer to Trump on social media as a “mendacious racist,” because, he said, those are facts.  Thankfully, journalism has moved into the ‘have you no shame’ mode, rather than the typical “he-said she-said”.

Muslim-Americans are speaking out.  The prize goes to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his Time editorial, which begins:

The terrorist campaign against American ideals is winning. Fear is rampant. Gun sales are soaring. Hate crimes are increasing. Bearded hipsters are beingmistaken for Muslims. And 83 percent of voters believe a large-scale terrorist attack is likely here in the near future. Some Americans are now so afraid that they are willing to trade in the sacred beliefs that define America for some vague promises of security from the very people who are spreading the terror. “Go ahead and burn the Constitution — just don’t hurt me at the mall.” That’s how effective this terrorism is.

I’m not talking about ISIS. I’m talking about Donald Trump.

This is not hyperbole. Not a metaphor. Webster defines terrorism as “the use of violent acts to frighten the people in an area as a way of trying to achieve a political goal; the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

If violence can be an abstraction — and it can; that’s what a threat is — the Trump campaign meets this definition. Thus, Trump is ISIS’s greatest triumph: the perfect Manchurian Candidate who, instead of offering specific and realistic policies, preys on the fears of the public, doing ISIS’s job for them. Even fellow Republican Jeb Bush acknowledged Trump’s goal is “to manipulate people’s angst and fears.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” Now, we don’t require by law that our candidates tell the truth. They can retweet (as Trump did) racist “statistics” from a white supremacist fictional organization that claimed 81% of murdered whites are victims of blacks, when the truth is 84% of whites are murdered by whites. They can claim (as Trump did) to have seen on TV thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering on 9/11, even though there is no evidence of this. They can say (as Trump did) Syrian refugees are “pouring” into the country when only 2,000 have come (out of 4.3 million U.N.-registered refugees). Then, when caught lying (as Trump has been over and over), they can do what every belligerent child does: deny, deny, deny.

While Trump is not slaughtering innocent people, he is exploiting such acts of violence to create terror here to coerce support. As I have written before, his acts could be interpreted as hate crimes. He sounds the shrill alarm of impending doomsday even though since 9/11, about 30 Americans a year have been killed in terrorist attacks worldwide — as The Atlanticpointed out, “roughly the same number as are crushed to death each year by collapsing furniture.” Trump’s irresponsible, inflammatory rhetoric and deliberate propagation of misinformation have created a frightened and hostile atmosphere that could embolden people to violence. He’s the swaggering guy in old Westerns buying drinks for everyone in the saloon while whipping them up for a lynching.

About 30,000 foreign fighters have gone into Syria to join ISIS, thousands of them from Europe and at least 250 from the United States. What most of us in these bountiful countries can’t understand is how our young, raised with such opportunity, choose to abandon our values to embrace a culture of pitiless violence. Before going, many of these recruits spend much of their time on social media being brainwashed by propaganda videos. One 23-year-old woman, a devout Christian and Sunday school teacher, was recruited via Skype. The recruiter spent hours with the lonely woman teaching her the rituals of Islam. Maybe that’s because, according to some psychologists, the brain’s default setting is simply to believe because it takes extra work to analyze information.

The same process works for Trump’s supporters. They are impervious to facts or truth because their (understandable) frustration and anger at partisan greed and incompetence have fatigued them out of critical thinking. Like deranged newscaster Howard Beale in Network, they are mad as hell and they aren’t going to take it anymore. To express their outrage, they have rallied around a so-called “outsider” with no political experience, no detailed policies, and whacky ideas that subvert the very Constitution that he would be required to swear to uphold. Electing him would be like asking the clown at a child’s birthday party to start juggling chainsaws.

Muhammad Ali hit Trump with this released statement:

I am a Muslim and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world. True Muslims know that the ruthless violence of so called Islamic Jihadists goes against the very tenets of our religion.

We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda. They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody.

Speaking as someone who has never been accused of political correctness, I believe that our political leaders should use their position to bring understanding about the religion of Islam and clarify that these misguided murderers have perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.

Even Ted Cruz, who has taken pains to avoid critiquing Trump, remarked at a private fundraiser that he would have problems with Trump as President and having his finger on the button.

None of this, of course, has affected Trump in the polls.  He leads in NH and SC by quite a bit.

Interestingly, there is an article in the New York Times today which reads

Fear of Terrorism Lifts Donald Trump in New York Times/CBS Poll

I am among the many who thinks it should read

Donald Trump Lifts Fear of Terrorism in New York Times/CBS Poll

The San Bernadino shootings (and to a lesser extent, the Paris attacks), of course, started the fear, but Trump is exploiting that fear in a way that even ISIS couldn’t.

On the other hand, not everyone is in Trump’s grip.  He is viewed as strongly negative by the electorate in general.  Here are some graphics from a WSJ/NBC poll released today:

WSJNBC1

WSJNBC2

Again, I think Trump has a ceiling and he’s a media phenomenon, but I don’t think he has a chance in hell to be the GOP nominee.  That’s almost irrelevant though, as his behavior this week is actually damaging to national security.  This is the culmination of years of anti-government right wing radio and TV — an actual honest-to-God fascist candidate who doesn’t see what he advocates as fascism.  In the guise of rejection of political correctness, he rejects the US Constitution and American values.

He’s yuge among white supremacists and crazy people.  The Ku Klux Klan is using Donald Trump as a talking point in its outreach efforts. Stormfront, the most prominent American white supremacist website, is upgrading its servers in part to cope with a Trump traffic spike.

This typifies a Trump fanatic/.  This lady, I am embarrassed to say, is a state representative in New Hampshire:

This is an interesting chapter in American politics, like the McCarthy Era was at one time.  I can’t wait until it is over.

UPDATE: It’s getting ugly too.  Here are Trump protesters being forcefully removed from a Trump event at the Plaza Hotel


UPDATE #2:  The first poll conducted entirely after Trump’s Muslim remarks just came out.  It was conducted by Reuters/Ipsos:

Trump led the pack of candidates seeking the Republican Party’s nomination in the 2016 election with 35 percent of support from Republican voters, the opinion poll released on Friday found, the same lead he held before Monday, when he said Muslim immigrants, students and other travelers should be barred from entering the country.

Most Republican voters said they were not bothered by his remarks, though many said the comments could still hurt Trump’s chances of becoming president. Twenty-nine percent of Republicans, who will pick the party’s nominee for the November 2016 election, said they found Trump’s remarks offensive against 64 percent who did not.

***

Still, in a sign of how Trump’s rhetoric has polarized the electorate, 72 percent of Democrats and 47 percent of voters overall said they were offended by Trump’s comments.

Forty-one percent of Republicans polled said Trump’s remarks could hurt his chances of becoming president; that figure was higher among all respondents.

Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson came in second among Republicans with 12 percent in the Reuters/Ipsos poll, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tied with 10 percent.

Trump May Have Hit The Ceiling

Donald Trump has defied political pundits for months now.  When he first attacked John McCain, the thought was that it would kill him in the polls, but then he went up.  And that’s been the story for over four months now.  He keeps on appealing to the worst-of-the-worst conservative base and his numbers go up.

But many are now saying what I have always said.  Yes, he has a strong base, but he has a low ceiling.  I have put that ceiling on mid-30% of Republicans.  I don’t think he can get much higher than that.

Yesterday, Trump crossed a line.

Donald J. Trump called on Monday for the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can “figure out what is going on” after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., an extraordinary escalation of rhetoric aimed at voters’ fears about members of the Islamic faith.

A prohibition of Muslims – an unprecedented proposal by a leading American presidential candidate, and an idea more typically associated with hate groups – reflects a progression of mistrust that is rooted in ideology as much as politics.

Mr. Trump, who in September declared “I love the Muslims,” turned sharply against them after the Paris terrorist attacks, calling for a database to track Muslims in America and repeating discredited rumors that thousands of Muslims celebrated in New Jersey on 9/11. His poll numbers rose largely as a result, until a setback in Iowa on Monday morning. Hours later Mr. Trump called for the ban, fitting his pattern of making stunning comments when his lead in the Republican presidential field appears in jeopardy.

Saying that “hatred” among many Muslims for Americans is “beyond comprehension,” Mr. Trump said in a statement that the United States needed to confront “where this hatred comes from and why.”

“Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life,” Mr. Trump said.

That was too much, even for Republicans who have avoided taking shots at him.  Every GOP candidate spoke against this.  Jeb Bush called it “unhinged”.  Others called it “unamerican”. The former vice president, Dick Cheney, said Mr. Trump’s proposal “goes against everything we stand for.” And others.

Cruz, who rarely distances himself from Trump, took a small step away, saying “I do not believe the world needs my voice added to that chorus of critics” referencing the large group of Republican and Democratic presidential candidates who have criticized the plan, adding “I commend Donald Trump for standing up and focusing America’s attention on the need to secure our borders.”  But then he tweeted how he will always defend religious liberty.  So… a VERY small step away — small enough to still pat The Donald on the back.

But Cruz stands alone in his weak condemnation.

GOP lawmakers have gone to the House floor telling Trump to drop out of the race.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman (D) tweeted late Monday that he was barring Trump from his city “until we fully understand the dangerous threat posed by all Trumps.”

Some are concerned and saying that, even as a candidate, Trump is a threat to national security.  There’s a lot of truth to this.  Trump’s rhetoric is the best recruitment tool that ISIS could have.

Trump is also getting burned overseas. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, said: “The only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

Then there is the media.  The Philly Daily News:

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Trump’s rationalization for this is pretty bizarre.  He keeps using the “what’s going on” phrase:

Here’s something else that’s telling: In an interview with ABC News this morning, Trump repeated various formulations designed to express generalized uncertainty and anxiety, over and over: “What is going on?” “We don’t know what is going on.” “We have to figure things out.” “What the hell is going on.” “We have to figure out what’s going on. Something is happening that’s not good.” “Until our country’s Representatives can figure out what is going on, we have no choice but to do this.”

The details don’t matter in the least. What matters is that Trump is speaking to a basic sense among his supporters that something is going on, thatsomething is wrong. He is willing to admit this and speak to the need to do something about it, even something drastic or “frankly unthinkable.” If that offends the politically correct and corrupt media, which is probably complicit in this American decline in any case, all the better.

Details, indeed, don’t matter. On the radio this morning, I heard a CNN interviewer ask exactly how banning Muslims from entering the country would be done, since religion does not appear on passports.  Trump, obviously speaking off the cuff, said in essence, that the customs people would ask them “Are you Muslim?”

Right.  I see a few flaws in that.approach.  From a practical standpoint (they will lie) and, oh by the way, can it get MORE unconstitutional?  I think not.

Trump compares his policies to Roosevelt’s during WWII, but unfortunately for Trump, most people view Japanese internment as a BAD part of our history.  And Trump is getting compared to Hitler today, more than Roosevelt.

Will it deter Trump die-hards?  Of course not.  CNN and NBC News interviewed a number of Trump supporters in South Carolina, and asked them to react to the new “plan.”.  Here’s what they said:

“I don’t want ’em here. Who knows what they gonna bring into this country? Bombs? ISIS? What?”

“That’s a very prudent idea. I think that he’s done due diligence when he makes that statement. We have to protect our American citizens first.”

“We just let terrorists into this country.”

“Somebody just needs to go in there and take control of this. It’s going rampant, and I’m worried about America. Worried about our safety. They’re getting in. They need to be stopped.”

“I think it’s a good idea. With everything that’s going on in the world right now — it sounds harsh, but reality is reality.”

“I’m a veteran paratrooper. Been in three different campaigns and two different wars. Both Iraq and Afghanistan. And I’ve had too many brothers and sisters lost over there in those two wars to just let them come here free range in our country now. It’s a kick in the face to every veteran there is that’s fought in those wars, to us trying to protect our homeland from them coming in.”

As CNN’s reporter put it: “No one here we spoke with had a problem with the plan.”

It’s too soon to see if this has any effect on his polling numbers.  But given the VERY LOUD outcry, I don’t expect him to go up, as he usually does.  I think this propels him into the ceiling.

Actually, it might be polls that drove this.  According to one poll of likely Iowa caucusgoers, Ted Cruz is on top in Iowa at 24%, followed by Donald Trump (19%), Marco Rubio (17%), and Ben Carson (13%).

The real issue isn’t Trump, but the GOP’s reaction to it.  So far, the party spokesmen have said nothing.  (Reince Pribus simply has said, “I don’t agree”).  But White House press spokesman Josh Earnest said it best:

“The Trump campaign for months now has had a dustbin of history-like quality to it, from the vacuous sloganeering to the outright lie to even the fake hair—the whole carnival barker routine we’ve seen for some time now… The question now is about the rest of the Republican party and whether or not they’re going to be dragged into the dustbin of history with him.”