Trump’s claims of no collusion are hogwash

John O. Brennan writes:

When Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s internal security service, told me during an early August 2016 phone call that Russia wasn’t interfering in our presidential election, I knew he was lying. Over the previous several years I had grown weary of Mr. Bortnikov’s denials of Russia’s perfidy — about its mistreatment of American diplomats and citizens in Moscow, its repeated failure to adhere to cease-fire agreements in Syria and its paramilitary intervention in eastern Ukraine, to name just a few issues.

When I warned Mr. Bortnikov that Russian interference in our election was intolerable and would roil United States-Russia relations for many years, he denied Russian involvement in any election, in America or elsewhere, with a feigned sincerity that I had heard many times before. President Vladimir Putin of Russia reiterated those denials numerous times over the past two years, often to Donald Trump’s seeming approval.

Russian denials are, in a word, hogwash.

Before, during and after its now infamous meddling in our last presidential election, Russia practiced the art of shaping political events abroad through its well-honed active measures program, which employs an array of technical capabilities, information operations and old-fashioned human intelligence spycraft. Electoral politics in Western democracies present an especially inviting target, as a variety of politicians, political parties, media outlets, think tanks and influencers are readily manipulated, wittingly and unwittingly, or even bought outright by Russian intelligence operatives. The very freedoms and liberties that liberal Western democracies cherish and that autocracies fear have been exploited by Russian intelligence services not only to collect sensitive information but also to distribute propaganda and disinformation, increasingly via the growing number of social media platforms.

Having worked closely with the F.B.I. over many years on counterintelligence investigations, I was well aware of Russia’s ability to work surreptitiously within the United States, cultivating relationships with individuals who wield actual or potential power. Like Mr. Bortnikov, these Russian operatives and agents are well trained in the art of deception. They troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters. Too often, those puppets are found. [Continue reading…]

Revoke my security clearance, too, Mr. President

Retired Navy admiral William H. McRaven writes:

Dear Mr. President:

Former CIA director John Brennan, whose security clearance you revoked on Wednesday, is one of the finest public servants I have ever known. Few Americans have done more to protect this country than John. He is a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him.

Therefore, I would consider it an honor if you would revoke my security clearance as well, so I can add my name to the list of men and women who have spoken up against your presidency.

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.

A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

Senate intel wants to follow the money in the Russia probe. But Treasury isn’t making that easy

BuzzFeed reports:

In its investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Senate Intelligence Committee has spent more than a year trying to follow the money. But its efforts, unparalleled on Capitol Hill, have been hampered by a surprising force: the US Treasury Department, which has delayed turning over crucial financial records and refused to provide an expert to help make sense of the complex money trail. Even some of the department’s own personnel have questioned whether Treasury is intentionally hamstringing the investigation.

Little is known about what, exactly, goes on behind the locked doors that lead into the committee’s offices. But now, interviews and emails obtained by BuzzFeed News lay bare the numerous hurdles the secretive committee has faced in its mission to obtain and decipher troves of banking records that could shed more light on the Russian scheme — and whether the current president had anything to do with it.

Treasury has at times been reluctant to cooperate with the committee’s requests for sensitive financial documents that are significant to the Russia probe, at one point going at least four months without responding to one of the committee’s requests. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s racism is evident throughout his presidency, irrespective of whichever racial slurs he has or hasn’t uttered

Jason Johnson writes:

Trump is a racist. That doesn’t hinge on whether he uttered one particular epithet, no matter how ugly it is. It’s about the totality of his presidency, and after only 18 months in office you can see the roots of his racial animus throughout his policy initiatives whether you hear it on tape or not.

Over the course of his career, well before he took office, Trump’s antipathy toward people of color has been plainly evident. In the ’70s, his real estate company was the subject of a federal investigation that found “Trump employees had secretly marked the applications” of minority apartment rental applicants with codes such as “‘C’ for ‘colored.’ ” After black and Latino teenagers were charged with sexually assaulting a white woman in Central Park, he took out full-page ads in New York City newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty, but never backtracked or apologized when the teenagers’ convictions were overturned. He championed birtherism, and wouldn’t disavow the conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya until the end of his 2016 presidential campaign. [Continue reading…]

 

A second Brexit referendum is not impossible, but it would be difficult

Martin Kettle writes:

Let’s assume … that Britain decides to hold a second referendum. This is nowhere close to being an end to the matter. In fact there is both an underlying problem – and a whole heap of practical ones. The underlying problem is that Britain has never satisfactorily sorted out whether or how referendums can coexist with our system of representative democracy. The last two years have been an object lesson in the seriousness of this. Last month an independent commission on referendums, commissioned by University College London’s constitution unit, argued that it must be sorted out. But it won’t be. There just isn’t time. The second referendum would trigger a whole set of problems of its own, whatever the result.

Now consider some practical problems. The first of these is time. Brexit is scheduled to take place on 29 March next year. Almost certainly, all 27 remaining EU states would have to agree to extend the article 50 process beyond then. That can’t happen overnight. Parliament would also need time. Referendums need legislation. Legislation can be amended. The bill would certainly not be nodded through. The Electoral Commission and the local authorities that must run the poll need time to draw up rules – and these need to work far better than in 2016. Yet the bill for the 2016 referendum was introduced 13 months before polling day. This vote would have to be in spring 2019. We’re looking at – perhaps – three months max. [Continue reading…]

If Stephen Miller’s ideas on immigration had been in force a century ago, his own family would have been wiped out

David S Glosser writes:

Let me tell you a story about Stephen Miller and chain migration.

It begins at the turn of the 20th century, in a dirt-floor shack in the village of Antopol, a shtetl of subsistence farmers in what is now Belarus. Beset by violent anti-Jewish pogroms and forced childhood conscription in the Czar’s army, the patriarch of the shack, Wolf-Leib Glosser, fled a village where his forebears had lived for centuries and took his chances in America.

He set foot on Ellis Island on January 7, 1903, with $8 to his name. Though fluent in Polish, Russian and Yiddish, he understood no English. An elder son, Nathan, soon followed. By street corner peddling and sweatshop toil, Wolf-Leib and Nathan sent enough money home to pay off debts and buy the immediate family’s passage to America in 1906. That group included young Sam Glosser, who with his family settled in the western Pennsylvania city of Johnstown, a booming coal and steel town that was a magnet for other hardworking immigrants. The Glosser family quickly progressed from selling goods from a horse and wagon to owning a haberdashery in Johnstown run by Nathan and Wolf-Leib to a chain of supermarkets and discount department stores run by my grandfather, Sam, and the next generation of Glossers, including my dad, Izzy. It was big enough to be listed on the AMEX stock exchange and employed thousands of people over time. In the span of some 80 years and five decades, this family emerged from poverty in a hostile country to become a prosperous, educated clan of merchants, scholars, professionals, and, most important, American citizens.

What does this classically American tale have to do with Stephen Miller? Well, Izzy Glosser is his maternal grandfather, and Stephen’s mother, Miriam, is my sister.

I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, an educated man who is well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country.

I shudder at the thought of what would have become of the Glossers had the same policies Stephen so coolly espouses— the travel ban, the radical decrease in refugees, the separation of children from their parents, and even talk of limiting citizenship for legal immigrants — been in effect when Wolf-Leib made his desperate bid for freedom. The Glossers came to the U.S. just a few years before the fear and prejudice of the “America first” nativists of the day closed U.S. borders to Jewish refugees. Had Wolf-Leib waited, his family likely would have been murdered by the Nazis along with all but seven of the 2,000 Jews who remained in Antopol. I would encourage Stephen to ask himself if the chanting, torch-bearing Nazis of Charlottesville, whose support his boss seems to court so cavalierly, do not envision a similar fate for him. [Continue reading…]

How the Trotskyist movement manages to survive despite its long record of failure

 

Trump made socialism great again

Shadi Hamid writes:

The election of Trump—and the populist upsurge he helped encourage—has confirmed that politics is no longer the art of the possible, but the improbable. If Trump can win the highest office in the land, then why can’t the rest of us run for something, too? Why shouldn’t a 33-year old Egyptian-American named Abdul run for Michigan governor? Why shouldn’t a 28-year old, who was only a bartender a year ago, defeat a Democratic establishment stalwart? And why shouldn’t that person say, without shame or apology, that she’s a socialist?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary-election victory, coming on the heels of Bernie Sanders’s insurgent presidential campaign, has thrust “socialism” into the center of the American political conversation. Ideas once dismissed as radical are now gaining a hearing. Fights are raging within the Democratic Party, and on the political left. And that reinvigorated debate—and the other political conflicts Trump has inflamed—may be one of Trump’s more unlikely and ultimately positive contributions to American democracy.

Few people would say that conflict is a thing to be embraced. The usual assumption is that conflict and polarization undermine democracy. We hear paeans to civility, unity, and coming together as a nation. But conflict, or at least the threat of it, can be a powerful motivator.

If a government has no fear that the poor might one day revolt, then it will have few incentives to check the excesses of the rich. If elected leaders have no fear that they might lose the minority vote, they will have little reason to take racism as seriously as they should. If established parties have no fear that populist parties might take their place, they will have little reason to rethink their basic approach to politics. Without pressure from populist challengers, centrist parties will avoid addressing sensitive issues, instead postponing them until crisis hits. And crisis almost certainly does. [Continue reading…]

Charlottesville is not an anomaly

Rev. William J. Barber II tells Politico:

A year after Charlottesville, America’s conscience has been stirred, but we have yet to reach a true moral awakening. The same politicians who quickly denounced the violence and murder in Charlottesville as an act of hate and racism remain complicit in passing racist public policy. Denouncing acts of racism is good public relations, but dismantling the works of racism is the true challenge facing our leaders.

When 23 states pass voter suppression laws, purge voter rolls and draw racialized, gerrymandered districts, furthering the disenfranchisement of black, brown and white voters, that’s racism. When the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, and for five years since House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have refused to restore it, that’s racism. And when we see the Trump administration rip Latino children from their parents and deport them, that’s racism.

Charlottesville is not an anomaly. It is not a flashpoint. It is a symptom of a greater moral malady afflicting our nation. We are a nation that allows 140 million of our neighbors to live in poverty, a nation that disproportionately incarcerates black and brown people, continues to segregate public schools and housing. This is not the America we were meant to be.

If as a nation we are willing to denounce Charlottesville, then we must be equally willing to denounce and restructure the systems that create the animus and ignorance that ignite events like it. Ultimately, racism is a denial of the 14th Amendment, which provides equal protection under law regardless of wealth, creed or color. Movements in our history—from emancipation to suffrage, civil rights to workers’ rights—have not been about challenging individual groups or actors. Those movements were about forcing systemic changes to our moral and civic structures. Many people will never say they are racist, but every day they participate in policies that align with the policy agenda of white nationalists. This is the racism we must address for a true revolution of values. [Continue reading…]

Democrats need to stand for something, as well as against Trump

Gary Younge writes:

For quite some time during the primary season for the 2016 presidential race, Democratic party leaders were delighted that Donald Trump was leading the Republican pack. They assumed the brash reality TV star would expose the bigotry of the Republican base before flaming out and leaving a more plausible candidate beholden to an energised mob, and consequently unelectable. After Trump insulted Heidi Cruz (a Goldman Sachs executive and wife of fellow Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz) for her looks, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, said: “I want Donald Trump to talk every single day for the rest of this election.” He did. And he won.

More than two years later, Trump is still talking. Last week he branded journalists “horrible, horrendous people” to a large crowd in Pennsylvania, who chanted, “Lock her up!”, referring to Hillary Clinton. “We’re building [the wall],” he told them. “And we’re going to start getting very nasty about it … It’s our country, so get the hell out.”

The question is: who is still listening? And do the Democrats have anything more convincing to say this time? A slew of election results earlier this week gave some indication as to the impact two years of Trump’s presidency are having on the electoral and political landscape.

The first and probably most important development is that the Republicans are consistently down. Way down. In a congressional byelection in Ohio, the Republicans appear to have eked out a narrow victory with just a one percentage-point margin (postal votes have yet to be counted). Trump, of course, claimed this as a triumph. But this was in a white, mostly suburban district that Republicans have held since 1982. Trump won it by 11 percentage points in 2016; the previous Republican incumbent enjoyed margins three times as great. It shouldn’t have been close. But the Republicans threw everything at it, including visits from the president and vice president. The Democrats need to win 23 House seats in order to win control – according to the Cook Political Report there are 68 Republican-held seats as, or more, vulnerable in the lower chamber. Strong Democratic showings in three congressional primaries in Washington state, some in districts where Republicans were thought to be quite safe, further illustrated that this was no one-off.

But while they are down they are by no means out. Trump’s approval ratings are only marginally lower than Barack Obama’s were at this stage in his presidency, and trending up. The proportion of Americans who think the country is moving in the right direction is also growing, and is at a considerably higher level than at this point during Obama’s first term. [Continue reading…]