Monday, February 20, 2017

Trump's new Ambassador to Austria?

Trump's has unofficially asked a concert pianist named Patrick Park to be the new US Ambassador to Austria.

Shannon Donnelly rkeports for the Palm Beach Daily News (Patrick Park may get to realize dream as Austrian ambassador 02/12/2017):

Patrick Park is an avid fan of “The Sound of Music.” You might say he’s obsessed with it. “Really, I’ve seen it like 75 times,” the concert pianist/industrialist said.

“I know every single word and song by heart. I’ve always wanted to live in the Von Trapp house.”

Well, if he can’t live there, at least he’ll be close enough to visit.

Park has received unofficial word from President Donald Trump — well, as unofficial as a handwritten note saying “on to your next chapter, Ambassador!” can be — that he is the president’s choice to be U.S. ambassador to Austria. [my emphasis]

To most Americans, "I’ve always wanted to live in the Von Trapp house," sounds cute, maybe a little silly.

But Ambassadors are supposed to pay attention to symbolism. So I wonder if he knows this about the house where he says he's always wanted to live: "In real life, the von Trapps' property was confiscated by the Nazis and SS chief Heinrich Himmler moved in. SS barracks were built in the garden and the property was secured with barbed wire and armed guards." (Tom Peterkin, Maria von Trapp returns to home that inspired The Sound of Music Telegraph 06/25/2008)

Himmler's old office there is now an interfaith chapel. Last I heard, it's not for rent as office space. You'd think a concert pianist wouldn't be so tone-deaf.

To be clear, the point making a point here about a minor instance of the klutziness of the Trump Family Business Administration. US Ambassadorships are notoriously doled out to major campaign contributors, perfectly legal as long as there is no explicit quid pro quo. This is different from the more typical international practice of having Ambassadors be people with sound experience in foreign affairs or government, often veterans of the home country's diplomatic service.

A biographical sketch of Park in Palm Beach Galas, Patrick Park: Hitting the Charitable High Notes, undated but apparently from early 2012 says:

Professionally, he serves his family’s company, the Park Corporation, in marketing. The company is involved with numerous manufacturing operations as well as real estate. Park was instrumental in converting a 2.2-million-square-foot manufacturing plant, which once churned out tanks for use in World War II and the Korean War, into a world-class exhibition center in Cleveland, Ohio. Known as the International Exposition Center, it’s adjacent to Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
Bloomberg's Company Overview of Park Corporation (02/20/2017) describes the company this way:

Park Corporation is a multi-divisional company specializing in corporate divestitures of orphan business units, special situations, recapitalizations, mature, reorganization, acquisitions out of bankruptcy, 363 transactions, and bank debt purchases. It seeks to invest in middle market companies in the industrial sector. Additionally, the firm manufactures machinery and components for the steel and energy related industries. It also sells industrial equipment for the metalworking and mining industries. The firm produces and sells integrated steel products; and offers oil refining and power generation services, as well as convention and trade show services. It engages in the development of industrial and commercial real estate properties; and private equity and fixed income investment. Park Corporation was founded in 1946 and is based in Cleveland, Ohio.
Also, the Van Trapp villa is a lovely place, where people can rent rooms. The atmosphere is more like that of a bread-and-breakfast or an Austrian Gasthaus than a hotel. It's not expensive to stay, either. It's out in a residential neighborhood in Salzburg with a bus stop a short walk away. They certainly don't market it as the place where Heinrich Himmler lived! And the interfaith chapel is a nice statement recognizing that life and history has its dark sides that we shouldn't allow to dominate.

Wishful thinking on Trump's mass deportation program

Some Republican big growers in California have apparently talked themselves into thinking the Trump mass deportation of undocumented workers won't affect them much.

In his report, Rory Carroll (Latino laborers fear deportation, but officials tell California farmers not to fret Guardian 02/20/2017) quotes two lines from the Lennon-McCartney song "Strawberry Fields Forever":

Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see.

It's true that the State of California under Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear that it won't willingly cooperate with a mass deportation program. And California growers have gone through various cycles in which xenophobia against Latino immigrants attracts more attention and support from politicians. But California agriculture depends on undocumented immigrant labor. So the growers in the past have always been able to count on wink-and-a-nod laxity in enforcement, even while they can hold the threat of deportation or illegal firings over their workers' heads.

Some of them apparently think things will go on as in past cycles of xenophobic hostility. Others are more apprehensive about not being able to hire enough workers, probably the more realistic perspective at the moment. But Carroll observes, "Both versions, for now, are accurate – a dissonance stemming from ambiguity over current government policies and the fact that no one has any clue what will happen next."

“It’s a lot of hype from the advocacy groups and the media,” said Rob Roy, head of the Ventura County Agricultural Association. “I deal with over 100 farms and not had one farmer come to me with any complaint about immigration issues or raids.”

Ice enacted similar raids under Barack Obama, who deported a record 2.5m people with little media outcry, Roy said. “But with Trump, suddenly the moral fibre of our country is coming apart. I don’t think Ice is going to start running into fields and taking away farm workers. I don’t believe that.”

This also struck me:

“It’s a lot of hype from the advocacy groups and the media,” said Rob Roy, head of the Ventura County Agricultural Association. “I deal with over 100 farms and not had one farmer come to me with any complaint about immigration issues or raids.”

Ice enacted similar raids under Barack Obama, who deported a record 2.5m people with little media outcry, Roy said. “But with Trump, suddenly the moral fibre of our country is coming apart. I don’t think Ice is going to start running into fields and taking away farm workers. I don’t believe that.”
That link is to an earlier Guardian article, also by Rory Carroll, that provides some useful reality-based discussion of the US immigration situation, How Breitbart and the conservative right opened a new front in the war over fake news 12/15/2016, where he writes:

Breitbart faults the Guardian for using the oft-cited statistic that the Obama administration deported a record 2.5 million people, saying this is misleading or inaccurate because authorities have “inflated” the number by including a category of border crossers which used to be counted as “returned” rather than formally deported.

It is true that authorities are now prosecuting and often jailing more border crossers before formally deporting them, whereas in previous eras most were swiftly returned to Mexico with little formality. If you include returnees as well as deportees, the Clinton and Bush administrations sent back far more people than the Obama administration.

But the fact remains that Obama has formally deported more than his predecessors. This table from the Department of Homeland Security’s annual yearbook of immigration statistics shows the record going back to 1892.

One reason formal deportations have risen is deterrence. The strategy is to punish illicit border crossing with months or even years in jail. Another reason is demographic shifts. The number of Mexicans trying to cross has plunged while the numbers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have surged. They latter cannot simply be dumped back across the Rio Grande.
The Obama Administration didn't undertake the kind of systematic mass deportation of current undocumented residents that Trump promised on the campaign trail and is clearly trying to implement in practice. That doesn't mean that Obama's deportation policy was a good one. But it is important to make distinctions, both to understand what's going on and to counter the stock propaganda justification of "well, Obama did it, too!"

The December 15 article includes this chart based on Homeland Security data:

But Obama's immigration policy was a prime example of the toxic brand of "bipartisanship" he practiced. He justified his aggressive detention and deportation program to Democrats by packaging it as an attempt to get comprehensive immigration reform by convincing Republicans he was serious about border enforcement. Not only did it not achieve the alleged goal of getting enough Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform to get it passed. It also reinforced the Republican framing of the immigration issue as one of law-enforcement in which harsher is better than humane.

How could a Democrat frame the immigration issue differently? Like Jerry Brown did in his State of the State address this year:

A few moments ago, I swore into office our new attorney general. Like so many others, he is the son of immigrants who saw California as a place where, through grit and determination, they could realize their dreams. And they are not alone, millions of Californians have come here from Mexico and a hundred other countries, making our state what it is today: vibrant, even turbulent, and a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.

We don't have a Statue of Liberty with its inscription: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." But we do have the Golden Gate and a spirit of adventure and openness that has welcomed - since the Gold Rush of 1848 - one wave of immigration after another.

For myself, I feel privileged to stand before you as your governor, as did my father almost sixty years ago. His mother, Ida, the youngest of eight children, was born in very modest circumstances, not very far from where we are gathered today. Her father arrived in California in 1852, having left from the Port of Hamburg, aboard a ship named "Perseverance."

It is that spirit of perseverance and courage which built our state from the beginning. And it is that spirit which will get us through the great uncertainty and the difficulties ahead.

... in California, immigrants are an integral part of who we are and what we've become. They have helped create the wealth and dynamism of this state from the very beginning.

I recognize that under the Constitution, federal law is supreme and that Washington determines immigration policy. But as a state we can and have had a role to play. California has enacted several protective measures for the undocumented: the Trust Act, lawful driver's licenses, basic employment rights and non-discriminatory access to higher education.

We may be called upon to defend those laws and defend them we will. And let me be clear: we will defend everybody - every man, woman and child - who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Uncertainties in the Balkans with the new Trump Presidency and the Russians

"Political instability in the Balkans is the last thing the EU needs when it is already faced with geopolitical uncertainty from Brexit, the Trump administration, and the diplomatic conflict with Russia over the war in Eastern Ukraine," writes Wolfgang Münchau in Watch out for instability of the Balkans Eurointelligence 02/17/2017.

Linking to the articles below, he gives this analysis:

In principle, Trump is good news for Putin because he prefers to deal with strong-leder types than with multinational organisations like the EU - or even NATO which Trump has even called obsolete. Possible flashpoints include the increasingly tense relations between Serbia and Kosovo; and the breakdown of Bosnian intercommunity relations as the Serb entity the Republika Srpska increasingly contests Bosnia's constitutional court. The situation in Bosnia directly involves the EU as it oversees the application of the Dayton agreement through its high representative. Montenegro, on the other hand, appears strongly committed to both EU and NATO membership. The US is favourable to Montenegro's accession to NATO, which woud be a setback for Russian designs in the region.
The Balkan Wars of the 1990s sent many refugees into other European countries, who are right now struggling with a major refugee crisis that has been going on since at least 2011. One of the more important inflection points in US-Russia relations was the Kosovo War of 1999. Russia saw Serbia as an ally and having NATO effectively detach the province of Kosovo was by all accounts I've seen interpreted as a serious setback in Russian foreign policy. It didn't help matters that the Kosovars later carried out similar ethnic cleansing actions in the province against Serbs that NATO was intervening to stop when the Serbs were carrying it out against the ethnic-Albanian Kosovars.

As Alberto Call observed in a 2001 essay ("Kosovo and the Moral Burdens of Power" in War Over Kosovo: Politics and Strategy in a Global Age, Andrew Bacevich and Eliot Cohen, eds.):

The only power that historically would have had the ability and the inclination to frustrate NATO's actions in Kosovo, Russia, was politically and economically weak and ultimately dependent on Western goodwill. Throughout the crisis, it could play no more than a mildly obstructionist role and, in the end, it encouraged Serbia to give in to Western demands.
The articles Münchau links include:

Dejan Anastasijevic warns about what he sees as pessimistic and alarmist articles in mainstream publications about the possibility of new Balkan Wars in Stirring up the Spectre of New Balkan Wars Balkan Insight 01/30/2017: "the Serbian Army held ten times as many exercises with NATO members than it did with Russia last year."

Leonid Bershidsky, Russia Re-Enacts the Great Game in the Balkans Bloomberg View 01/19-20/2017:

Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Putin's Security Council, recently named a potential expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to include Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia among the biggest Western threats to Russia. The Kremlin has already seen Bulgaria, once a key Balkan ally, join NATO and the EU -- and watched it scupper a major Russian natural gas pipeline project.
Florian Bieber, Trump and the Balkan Princes: What Trump’s presidency means for South East Europe EUROPP 02/06/2017:

The shift of thinking, acting and writing about the Balkans from focusing on EU integration, democracy and norms to geopolitical influence, national interests and foreign actors began before Trump, but his presidency has accelerated it. The weakness of the EU has made individual member states broker deals, like Austria in closing the Western Balkan route in Macedonia for refugees, which have little to do with EU integration and more with “good old” national interest.

The emphasis on national interests over norms, shared ideas of democracy and rule of law is giving rise to dangerous pyromaniacs, like Timothy Less in his piece for Foreign Affairs arguing for a redrawing of the borders. Others have since followed suit. They all appear to believe that with Trump in power, there is an opening for a grand redesign.
(For more on the Austrian diplomatic action Bieber references and its political context in Austria, see: Claus Heinrich, Österreich: Neutral und rechts? Blätter 2:2017)

Salvador Llaudes, Los Balcanes Occidentales en la era de Trump por Elanco 15/02/2017, recommends caution at this point in assuming that Trump's well-known present fondness for Vladimir Putin will necessarily translate into common US-Russian positions on the ever-complicated problems in the Balkan states.

John R. Schindler, one of the analysts Dejan Anastasijevic challenges in the article linked above, President Trump’s First Foreign Policy Crisis: Balkan War Drums Beat Again Observer 01/25/2017: "Although most of the world recognizes Kosovo’s independence, Serbia does not. Tensions are on the rise thanks to Belgrade’s mounting provocations."

Pushing forward with the Trump mass deportation

McClatchy reports on other notions being considered at high levels of the Trump Family Business Administration on mass deportation and repression against immigrants, Exclusive: DHS chief proposes prosecuting parents of children smuggled into U.S. by Franco Ordoñez 02/18/2017. Some of the leaks we're seeing like this may be "trial balloon" tests of public and Congressional reaction.

The two leaked memoranda reported on in this piece are Enforcement of the Immigration Laws to Serve the National Interest and Implementing the President's Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Policies, both dated February 17 and both signed by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

As of the writing of the article, neither had been officially adopted as policy by the Trump Family Business Administration. But given the credible reports of serious misconduct by ICE agents during the early weeks of Trump's mass deportation effort, it's also possible that leaking these memorandum could function as a kind of wink-and-nod to ICE as to what the Administration's intentions and desires are.

Ordoñez reports:

The draft orders also would affect thousands of children who arrived in the United States as “unaccompanied minors” and were subsequently reunited with a parent living in the country illegally. Those children would no longer be protected against deportation, and their parents would be subject to criminal prosecution if they had paid human traffickers to bring their children across the border – a common scenario now.

One of the memos said 155,000 unaccompanied children have been detained in the past three years, and that 60 percent of them were later reunited with a parent inside the United States.

“The surge of illegal immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States,” Kelly wrote in the memorandums, copies of which were made available to McClatchy Saturday.
For the Trump Family Business Administration and its white supremacist supporters, five-year-old children being reunited with their parents are "a significant national security vulnerability."

Illicit diplomatic dealings with Russia? Not a problem. Family values in uniting minor children with their parents? Ha, you didn't think Republicans were serious with all that "family values" jabber, did you? This is how the Trumpists view threats to "national security." Some to kind in mind when the Trump Family Business Administration decides they can enrich themselves and their cronies by invading some other country.

Ordoñez also explains:

The memos were intended to implement two of Trump’s executive orders on enforcement of immigration laws inside the United States, but would go farther by wiping away several orders President Barack Obama issued to protect those in the United States who had not committed criminal acts beyond entering the country without permission.

“These memorandums represent a significant attempt to expand the enforcement authority of the administration in areas that have been heavily litigated,” said Leon Fresco, who headed the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation under Obama.
For what it's worth, both memoranda use identical language saying, "This memorandum implements the Executive Order entitled "Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements," issued by the President on January 25, 2017." The President said in his news conference last week that this EO would be withdrawn during this coming week and replaced by another.

The "Enforcement of the Immigration Laws" memo contains this language:

The Department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. In faithfully executing the immigration laws, Department personnel should take enforcement actions in accordance with applicable law. In order to achieve this goal, as noted below, I have directed ICE to hire I 0,000 officers and agents expeditiously, and to take enforcement actions consistent with available resources. However, in order to maximize the benefit to public safety, to stem unlawful migration and to prevent fraud and misrepresentation, Department personnel should prioritize for removal those aliens described by Congress in Sections 212(a)(2), (a)(3), and (a)(6)(C), 235(b) and (c), and 237(a)(2) and (4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

Additionally, regardless of the basis of removability, Department personnel should prioritize removable aliens who: (1) have been convicted of any criminal offense; (2) have been charged with any criminal offense that has not been resolved; (3) have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense; (4) have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter before a governmental agency; (5) have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; (6) are subject to a final order of removal but have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or (7) in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.
I won't try to get into the weeds of all those categories. But I'll note here that wording like "have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense," i.e., not even charged much less convicted with no distinction of the kind of criminal offenses specified, and "in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security" are broad enough to put hundreds of thousands or even millions in those detention center in which private for-profit prison companies are planning to detain the targets of this mass deportation. Especially since the same memorandum defines minors reuniting with their parents as "a significant national security vulnerability."

I'm not familiar with these kinds of immigration-enforcement policy documents, so it's hard for me to make a judgment as whether some of the statements in both memoranda are considered as necessary legal stipulations in such documents or whether they are propaganda statements to promote the Trumpist line about the scary, scary "criminal aliens." But I will say it's hard to tell the difference in some cases.

Daphne Eviatar engages in some informed speculation about how the new version of the Muslim Ban Executive Order may approach the anti-refugee policies that Trump tried to implement with the January 25 EO, Travel Ban Could Let Repressive Regimes Decide Who Can Enter US Just Security 02/17/2017. As she notes, not every provision of the January 25 EO is covered by the federal court stay. And she explains:

The [Jan 25] order appears to envision the U.S. government seeking and relying on information from some of the most repressive and dysfunctional regimes in the world, about the citizens who are fleeing them, often because of that repression and dysfunction. Would the United States rely on the Iranian regime, for example, to vet the requests of Iranian political dissidents and fleeing religious minorities, and to provide the U.S. government reliable information about those dissidents or minorities so the US can grant them a visa? Would the United States rely on information from the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria — with which the US was not long ago on the brink of war — to vet leaders of opposition groups we’ve supported, or their family members?
And it's hard to argue with her characterization of it:

It’s a bizarre plan that would place the fate of the persecuted in the hands of their persecutors, and would rely on information provided by our proclaimed enemies to determine who we will allow in the United States. What’s more, if the United States were actually planning to provide these states with the names of individuals seeking to come to the United States, it would immediately endanger not only the individuals seeking to leave, but also their family members, who intend (or are forced) to stay behind.

Of course, the U.S. government should gather reliable information about refugees. And through a rigorous and often grueling vetting process, it already does.

... to insist that every applicant’s home country provide that information, even if it’s a country that the US routinely criticizes for prosecuting, imprisoning and executing people based on false charges and fabricated evidence, is beyond absurd. Since some of these countries are clearly not U.S. allies, and would likely either refuse or be unable to provide the requested information, the scheme could in effect – and perhaps by design – lead to a default ban on refugees from Muslim-majority countries.We would be turning our backs on precisely those refugees who need us the most.
And, on the family unification issue, she notes, "Within the US, the effect would be to deny established immigrant and refugee communities already here the ability of ever seeing their relatives again."

She also cites the legal opinion of federal District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema in Tareq Aqel Mohammaed Azis v. Donald Trump (Lawfare link), which says:

Defendants have maintained that the EO is necessary to protect the United States from terrorist attacks tobe carried out by nationals ofthe seven affected countries [Dkts. 31-1, 80]; however, they have not offered any evidence to identify the national security concems that allegedly prompted this EO, or even described the process by which the president concluded that this action was necessary.

And contrary to the national security concems recited in the EO, the only evidence in the record on this subject is a declaration of 10 national security professionals who have served at the highest levels of the Departinent of State, the Departinent of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Council through both Republican and Democratic administrations, [Dkt. 57], and at least four of whom "were current on active intelligence regarding all credible terrorist threat streams directed against the [United States] as recently as one week before the issuance of the" EO. Id. at Ƣ  2. They write

We all agree that the United States faces real threats from terrorist networks and must take all prudent and effective steps to combat them, including the appropriate vetting of travelers to the United States. We all are nevertheless unaware of any specific threat that would justify the travel ban established by the Executive Order issued on January 27, 2017. We view the Order as one that ultimately undermines the national security of the United States, rather than making us safer. In our professional opinion, this Order cannot be justified on national security or foreign policy grounds.
Id.. at Ƣ  3. They also observe that since September 11, 2011, "not a single terrorist attack in the United States has been perpetrated by aliens from the countries named in the Order." Id. at Ƣ  4.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Trump Wall and mass deportation program

From Elizabeth Drew, Terrifying Trump New York Review of Books 02/07/2017:

Then there was the Wall, which had begun as a political fantasy — an illusion of Trump’s creation to fire up his followers at rallies. The Wall was his metaphor for “getting tough with Mexico” for its ostensibly “sending us” criminals, drugs, and rapists, though Mexico has cooperated with the US government to prevent such immigration and drug running, as well as the transit of Central Americans trying to reach the US. In fact, immigrants have a lower crime rate than native-born Americans.

Trump’s case against illegal Mexican immigration into the US is counterfactual in still another sense: for years more Mexicans have been leaving the US than have been coming into the country. Trump and numerous congressional Republicans intone about the necessity for “border security,” but in fact the US has spent an estimated $132 billion since fiscal year 2005 on fences, additional agents, sensors, surveillance cameras with night vision, helicopters, drones, and radar — and illegal crossings have dropped dramatically.

Once elected, Trump had to at least act as if he was determined to build his chimerical but audience-pleasing Wall. If it happens to not be built, he can say he tried and pass the blame onto others for unwillingness to “protect our borders.” His second reckless, crowd-pleasing claim, that he’d get Mexico to pay for the Wall, plus his own inability to suffer a rebuke, got him into an unnecessary row with the president of Mexico, whose country of course has no intention of paying for the Wall. [my emphasis]
Reading this brought to mind John Steinbeck's introduction to a published collection of his Second World War articles as a reporter oversees, Once There Was a War (1958):

For what they are worth, or for what they may recapture, here they are, period pieces, fairy tales, half-meaningless memories of a time and of attitudes which have gone forever from the world, a sad and jocular recording of a little part of a war I saw and do not believe, unreal with trumped-up pageantry, so that it stand in the mind like the battle pictures of Crécy and Bunker Hill and Gettysburg. And, although all war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal, still there was in these memory-wars some gallantry, some bravery, some kindliness. A man got killed, surely, or maimed, but, living, he did not carry crippled seed as a gift to his children.

Now for many years we have suckled on fear and fear alone, and there is no good product of fear. Its children are cruelty and deceit and suspicion germinating in our darkness. And just as surely as we are poisoning the air with our test bombs, so are we poisoned in our souls by fear, faceless, stupid sarcomic terror. [my emphasis]

Friday, February 17, 2017

Flynn and the Trump-Russia scandal

Sen. Patty Murray wrote on her Facebook page 02/15/2017 about the departure of National Security Adivser Michael Flynn from the Trump Family Business Administration over his :

To say that this is deeply concerning would be an understatement, and people deserve answers. I'm glad Michael Flynn is now out of the White House and away from influencing our national security, but this should not be the end of the story. So I'm calling for an immediate and independent investigation to get to the bottom of President Trump's communication with Russia and Vladimir Putin, both during the campaign and after the election. Democrats and Republicans may disagree on a lot of things, but when it comes to our national security or the integrity of our elections, everyone should put their country over protecting their Party's leader.

There are a lot of factors at play in this drama, which in some ways may be the first major exposure of the extent of the corruption that seems to be the basic operating model of the Trump Family Business Administration. Because I won't be surprised at all if Trump's attitude toward Russia turns out to be based on some business deal in which his family business expects to profit. ExxonMobil's $500 billion deal with Russia that was suspended by the sanctions on Russia over Ukraine is a big one to watch in this context.

There definitely needs to be a serious investigation of the Trump-Russia connections, as Bernie Sanders describes here, Bernie Explains Questions around Trump's Ties to Russia 02/15/2017:

Paul Pillar lays out the seriousness of this already-major political scandal, Shaking the Foundations of Loyalty The National Interest 02/15/2017:

What is intriguing and entertaining in fiction constitutes a political and even constitutional crisis if it arises in reality. Given what we, the public, know so far, such a crisis is at hand now involving Russia and the Trump administration and Trump entourage. A string of revelations can be explained away individually, but collectively they give rise to profound and legitimate doubt about whose interests are being served by those in power.

The earliest press reports, back during the election campaign, involved relationships between senior members of the Trump campaign and Russia. Then there were the intelligence-based findings about a comprehensive Russian effort to interfere in the U.S. presidential election, partly with the objective of tilting the election toward Trump. There were reports from a retired British intelligence officer about Trump-related shenanigans in Russia, reports that seemed to many eyes to be too deliciously salacious to be true, but the officer has a sound reputation and subsequently some of the details of his reports have been corroborated. Add to that the behavior of the new president himself, who does not hesitate to insult longstanding allies and to attack targets ranging from Broadway casts to an American department store company, but who has an oddly soft touch when it comes to Vladimir Putin and his regime in Russia—even as that regime engages in behavior such as violation of an arms control treaty that is one of the foundations of European security. Trump’s national security adviser takes a fall for lying about pre-inauguration dealings with Russia about sanctions. Couple that with the uncharacteristic non-response by the Putin regime to the most recently imposed sanctions. And now the earliest reports come back in more glaring form with further press reporting that aides to Trump were dealing before the election not just with Russia but with Russian intelligence officials.

Eli Lake defends the Trump crew over the Flynn fiasco in The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn Bloomberg View 02/14/2017. He runs with the Republican line is that the real issue is the leaks about Flynn, not Flynn's dubious dealings with the Russian government.

He even says, "It's not even clear that Flynn lied." He considers Flynn's claim in his resignation letter that he inadvertently gave wrong information in his debriefings with Trump's team to be credible.

A better explanation here is that Flynn was just thrown under the bus. His tenure as national security adviser, the briefest in U.S. history, was rocky from the start. When Flynn was attacked in the media for his ties to Russia, he was not allowed by the White House to defend himself. Over the weekend, he was instructed not to speak to the press when he was in the fight for his political life. His staff was not even allowed to review the transcripts of his call to the Russian ambassador.

There is another component to this story as well -- as Trump himself just tweeted. It's very rare that reporters are ever told about government-monitored communications of U.S. citizens, let alone senior U.S. officials. The last story like this to hit Washington was in 2009 when Jeff Stein, then of CQ, reported on intercepted phone calls between a senior Aipac lobbyist and Jane Harman, who at the time was a Democratic member of Congress.

Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.

In the past it was considered scandalous for senior U.S. officials to even request the identities of U.S. officials incidentally monitored by the government (normally they are redacted from intelligence reports). John Bolton's nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations was derailed in 2006 after the NSA confirmed he had made 10 such requests when he was Undersecretary of State for Arms Control in George W. Bush's first term. The fact that the intercepts of Flynn's conversations with Kislyak appear to have been widely distributed inside the government is a red flag.
This is shameless echoing of the Trump Family Business Administration's position, in which the leaks about Flynn's misconduct are the only real problem. It's a ridiculous justification.

But it is important to keep in that there aren't some dubious motives at play on the side of the Good Guys, too.

Congressman Adam Schiff, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, appeared on MSNBC talking about the Trump-Russia scandal, The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 2/14/2017 from the interview in the video.

MADDOW: Let me ask your response to this new reporting from the “New York Times.” I don`t know if you had a chance to review it. The headline is “Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence”. “The New York Times” citing multiple American sources saying that phone records and intercepted calls show members of Trump`s presidential campaign had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign and the year before the election.

I just wanted to get your response to that.

SCHIFF: Well, this is really, I think, the heart of the investigation and that is was there some form of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin? The Kremlin was engaged in illegal activities in the United States designed to influence the outcome of the election. Obviously, their intent was to help Donald Trump and hurt Secretary Clinton, and were Trump campaign surrogates or aides or others affirmatively working with the Russians towards that illegal object?

That`s really one of the central and most important allegations to be investigated. And we have agreement on a bipartisan basis to do that investigation, but there are a lot of big questions about whether we can get that done, and one of them, frankly, is personified by one of the photos you just showed and this is Director Comey, because we`re going to need his cooperation if we`re going to do this investigation.
This makes total sense. And he didn't go beyond the information publicly available in that comment.

Here is the video of the interview, Rep. Adam Schiff: Need James Comey's Cooperation To Investigate Russia Ties:

But just after 5:15 in the video, Schiff says:

Well, this is really the, I think, the heart of the investigation. And that is, was there some form of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin?

And the final point I want to make and you began your program with this tonight, and I`m so glad you did focusing on Putin`s, you know, attempt to discredit and eliminate his political rival or potential political rival, what the stakes are here because, you know, people ask and Sean Spicer wants to suggest what`s the big deal about Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador? Isn`t that sort of ordinary course of events?

The big deal is this. We`re in a global struggle with Russia right now. They are trying to propagate their authoritarian model around the world. [They've ruined democracy, eliminated most democratic institutions in Russia. They're trying to dismantle European institutions in Europe. Liberal democracy is under assault and we are still the last, best hope of democracy around the world. And in that struggle, we cannot afford to be undermined at the very highest levels of the White House. And that's why this is so important.]
(The bracketed sentences are on the video but are missing from the online transcript.)

That framing of US-Russia relations could have been lifted verbatim from innumerable examples from the Cold War. And, at least as much as its antecedents, it's a grandiose, unrealistic, and dogmatic conception. No, the United States' vital interests are not at stake in a competition with Russia over the form of government in Zambia or Grenada. The US and Russia have common interests in some areas, competing interests in others. The US needs to handle those differences realistically, without just giving away concessions so that, for instance, ExxonMobil and the Trump family can increase their fortunes at the expense of US national interests. And without taking careless and reckless actions. It serious enough that we've extended NATO membership and protections to the Baltic states without reorganizing the US military position in Europe to credibly be able to support those guarantees. Treating that commitment is an almost casual way creates a vulnerability that the Russians can easily exploit now.

The Democrats have long since tried to out-hawk the Republicans in their rhetoric. But we need a realistic and practical policy toward Russia in particular, not one based on sweeping, dogmatic and largely empty ideological talk.

Trump's mass deportation continues and looks to get much nastier

Our new President, who was inaugurated four weeks ago today, gave a press conference yesterday that was historic, in that no one seems to know of a Presidential press conference that was so "unhinged," a word commonly used in the immediate reaction to it.

During it, he talked about his anti-immigrant Executive Order, whose implementation has been put on a "stay" by the federal courts (Scorning media, Trump denies reports of chaos during wide-ranging news conference PBS Newshour 02/16/2017):

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Trump also defended his ban on travelers from seven mostly Muslim nations. It’s been blocked in federal court.

Today, the Justice Department announced that the order will be rescinded. The president said that a new one is coming, and he addressed the fate of immigrant children shielded from deportation under the so-called DACA program.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision. We had a court that’s been overturned. Again, may be wrong, but I think it’s 80 percent of the time, a lot.

We had a bad decision. We’re going to keep going with that decision. We’re going to put in a new executive order next week some time. But we had a bad decision.

Now, what I wanted to do was do the exact same executive order, but said one thing. I said this to my people. Give them a one-month period of time. But General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, said, if you do that, all these people will come in a month, the bad ones.

You do agree there are bad people out there, right, that not everybody that’s like you. You have some bad people out there.

So, Kelly said you can’t do that. And he was right. As soon as he said it I said, wow, never thought of it. I said how about one week? He said, no good. You got to do it immediately, because, if you do it immediately, they don’t have time to come in.

Now, nobody ever reports that. But that’s why we did it quickly.

LISA DESJARDINS: Can you give us more details on the executive order you plan for next week? Even its broad outlines?


LISA DESJARDINS: Will it be focused on specific …

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It’s a very fair question.

LISA DESJARDINS: ... countries? And, in addition, on the DACA program for immigration.


LISA DESJARDINS: What is your plan? Do you plan to continue that program or to end it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids, in many cases, not in all cases.

In some of the cases, they’re having DACA, and they’re gang members, and they’re drug dealers, too. But you have some absolutely incredible kids, I would say mostly. And they were brought here in such a way — it’s a very — it’s a very, very tough subject.

We’re going to deal with DACA with heart. I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget, and I have to convince them that what I’m saying is — is right. And I appreciate your understanding on that.

But the DACA situation is a very, very — it’s a very difficult thing for me, because, you know, I love these kids. I love kids. I have kids and grandkids. And I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do, and you know, the law is rough.

I’m not talking about new laws. I’m talking the existing law is very rough. It’s very, very rough. As far as the new order, the new order is going to be very much tailored to the — what I consider to be a very bad decision.

But we can tailor the order to that decision and get just about everything, in some ways more. But we’re tailoring it now to the decision, we have some of the best lawyers in the country working on it.

And the new executive order is being tailored to the decision we got down from the court. OK? [my emphasis]
That part on DACA sounds like he was briefed to sound sympathetic to the DACA kids while blaming the Obama Administration for the problem, saying he Trump was only enforcing the law the way he was required to do. Even stated well, that would be a pretty transparently silly argument. But stating such point with nuance doesn't seem to be one of the President's strong points.

The PBS reporters returned to the subject int heir commentary:

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, one of the things I want to follow up on is something that you were asking the president today. What’s happening, what is the latest with the executive order?

LISA DESJARDINS: Right, such a critical piece of information.

The president, as we played for our audience, said he will have a new order out next week. It seems that this next order is an attempt to almost replicate the past order, but line it up so that it passes some kind of court muster.

And it also seems, reading between the lines — and I have one source indicating that they have not figured out exactly how to do that yet. That’s why it hasn’t been released yet, the White House still designing this executive order.

But pay attention to Mr. Trump’s words today, Hari. He also said that this is extreme vetting, that they had to move up more quickly because of the Ninth Circuit ruling. So this is something they were looking at more long-term that they seem to be incorporating into an executive order next week.

It doesn’t seem like it’s all the way fully baked, but it’s going to be significant when it comes.
The Associated Press is reporting today that John Kelly, Secretary of U.S. Homeland Security, has prepared a memo for ICE that is apparently not yet official policy proposing to nationalize up to 100,000 National Guard troops to participate in mass deportation of Latinos. "The 11-page document calls for the unprecedented militarization of immigration enforcement as far north as Portland, Ore., and as far east as New Orleans, La." (Trump considers mobilizing 100,000 National Guard troops for immigration roundups Los Angeles Times 02/17/2017)

We're looking a a major mass deportation in its early stages, if the Republicans get their way. Here's one example from Mississippi that Trump and the Republicans want to see replicated millions of times over: David Kenney, Two arrested in Jackson immigration raid Mississippi News Now 02/15/2017 . It's good to see active popular opposition to these moves. (Thousands take to streets of uptown for national immigrant strike WSOC Charlotte

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bad history helps bad ideology and xenophobic extremism

Christopher de Bellaigue has a useful essay on the problems of the "clash of civilizations" theory that Islamophobes use to provide some ideological justification for their xenophobia and militarism and religious bigotry, Trump’s dangerous delusions about Islam Guardian 02/162017.

And he reminds us that once a group perceived as foreign and weak is targeted for hatred, for many people the hatred takes on a life of its own:

Even accounting for the new arrivals of recent years, Muslims amount to just 6% of Europe’s population, and 1% of that of the US. But proportionality of response is not considered a virtue among the new nationalists – and even if the Muslim immigration figures were to start to fall, and all fear of submergence under a Muslim tide was demonstrated to be empirically groundless, who’s to say the populists would allow the thrill of fear to abate?

What seems more likely is that today’s proponents of harsh anti-Muslim measures will find retroactive justification in any virulent reaction they excite, leading to even more and harsher measures against Muslims – much as the European powers whose interventions helped hasten the collapse of the Islamic Enlightenment at the start of the last century felt their actions were vindicated by the violence that followed.

For those whose primary concern is the perpetuation of cultural homogeneity, the pressing question is a simple one: what is to be done with the Muslims? The clashist version of history makes their antipathy to modernity indisputable; integration and assimilation are therefore impossible. This would seem to be the position of the 60% of Germans, for example, who have been found in surveys to agree with Frauke Petry’s AfD that Islam does not belong in their country.

No, Trump's mass deportation program isn't just about violent criminals

The courts are stepping in again to restrain Trump's hastily-designed mass deportation program (Sam Levin, Seattle judge demands an explanation after undocumented 'dreamer' arrested Guardian 02/15/2017):

The arrest of an undocumented immigrant who was granted a work permit under Obama has sparked fears among other recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program and prompted a judge to demand an explanation from the government.

Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year-old with no criminal record who was brought to the US from Mexico when he was seven years old, was taken into custody last Friday in Seattle. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers made the arrest at his father’s house, despite the fact that Medina, who has a three-year-old son, has twice been granted an employment authorization card under the Daca program.

Deportarán a primer "dreamer" - Trump - Denise Maerker 10 en punto Noticieros Televisa 02/14/2017:

This arrest is a red flag as to the scope of Trump's deportation drive:

Madeleine Villanueva, a student at the University of California, Berkeley and a Daca recipient who moved from the Philippines at age nine, said it was hard to imagine that the arrest of Ramirez was a “mistake”.

“I think it was a message to the states or cities that are more willing to set up those sanctuary spaces for undocumented immigrants,” said Villanueva, who is part of a group called Rising Immigrant Scholars through Education. “Hopefully more of this doesn’t happen, but I’m not surprised that it did.”

Regardless of the fate of Daca, Villanueva said she was concerned for undocumented people like her father who weren’t protected by the program: “Even before Trump was elected, Daca was never the solution for me or my community. It always left people behind.”
But ICE is claiming that Ramirez is one of those cartoon Latino villains that Trump like to describe to his white supremacist followers, as Nina Shapiro reports (Do feds have evidence that detained Dreamer is a gang member beyond tattoo? Seattle Times 02/16/2017). It seems that Ramirez has a tattoo, so he's a gang member for sure! At least according to ICE:

... one of his attorneys, Luis Cortes Romero, said immigration officials started accusing Ramirez Medina of gang membership just because of a tattoo.

While processing Ramirez Medina after being taken in custody Friday, the attorney said, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents noticed a tattoo that said “La Paz BCS.”

La Paz means peace in Spanish, and is also the capital of Baja California Sur, the meaning behind the initials and the part of Mexico where Ramirez Medina was born, according to his attorney.
A tattoo that says, "Peace"? He's probably a terrorist, too!

At least according to the warped xenophobic bigotry driving the Trump Family Business Administration's deportation policy.

Mike Carter reports on a statement that uses the very workable phrase "deportation force" to describe the ICE units carrying out Trump's unconstitutional mass deportation program (Seattle ‘Dreamer’ sues over his detention under Trump’s immigration actions Seattle Times 02/14/2017): "Sen. Maria Cantwell said Tuesday that she is 'looking into this troubling situation,' and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, blaming the Trump administration’s 'deportation force,' demanded Medina’s immediate release."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Trump's mass deportations and resistance to them

The Real News reports, Trump's Immigration Order Sets Barriers on Fighting Deportation at the Local Level 02/15/2017:

For all Trump's (well-deserved) political troubles, his very ugly deportation action is proceeding.

So is the resistance to it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Demonstrations across Mexico on Sunday against Trump's and his wall

Demonstrations took place in various Mexican cities against Trump's anti-Mexico policies.

Melenio reports on the demonstrations in Marcha México contra Trump 02/13/2017

Mariana Atencio reports in Widespread Anti-Trump Protests Take Place Across Mexico NBC News 02/03/2017:

Wide-spread anti-Donald Trump demonstrations were held in 18 cities across Mexico on Sunday, marking the country's first such protests since the U.S. president's inauguration less than a month ago.

The principle behind them was simple: a show of national unity against Donald Trump.
But this made me do a double-take:

Some 70 organizations were involved in the rallies, including Amnesty International, Mexico's National University, business and community organizations and numerous young activists.

In Mexico City, 11,000 people marched along Reforma Avenue to the iconic Angel of Independence with banners that called the U.S. president "Twitler" and read, simply, "Stop Trump."
I don't know what size demonstrations one might typically expect in nationwide demonstrations in Mexico. But 11 thousand doesn't strike me at first glance as a large crowd for a Sunday for a national issue like this with broad public support.

Atencio does note, "However, some demonstrators choose not to protest after encountering those supporting President Enrique Peña Nieto, underlining ideological fractures inside the country between those who support the Mexican president and those who oppose him. Peña Nieto's approval ratings are the lowest they've been since he took office."

That was obviously a complication. Some of the demonstrators reportedly protested against both Trump and Peña Nieto. (Rosalía Vergaqra, Movilización anti-Trump, marcada por divisiones Proceso 12.02.2017)

El Universal reports that the number of demonstrators in Mexico City was closer to 20,000. (Marchan 20 mil contra Trump en laCDMX, estima la SSP 12.02.2017)

The Los Angeles Times report refers to the official city estimate of 20,000 in Mexico City, but adds, "The turnout was relatively modest in a city that regularly hosts massive demonstrations." (Patrick McDonnell, Thousands march against Trump in Mexico City: 'Pay for your own wall!' 02/12/2017)

An analysis in Proceso (Marco Appel, Trump, México y la Unión Europea 13.02.2017) reports that Peña Nieto's government is trying to forge closer ties with the EU in the face of the new pressure from the US under Trump.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Trump's Latino roundups have begun

The Trump Family Business Administration is expanding arrests of Latinos with the intent to deport them.

From the Young Turks, How Trump's Deportations Are Breaking Up Real Families 02/10/2017:

Pilar Marrero reports in Autoridades migratorias intensifican arrestos, reportan actividades en al menos diez estados La Opinión 02/10/2017 that apparently expanded ICE operations are being reported in the 10 states of "California, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Virginia, Georgia, Carolina del Sur, Carolina del Norte, Nueva York y Oklahoma."

Officially, the arrests are focused on people who have committed crimes. But Trump adviser Stephen Miller on Meet the Press today was cagey about whether those whose only crime is not strictly complying with the immigration laws are being prioritized among the alleged criminals. This was a policy change that Trump announced as part of his January 25 Muslim Ban Executive Order, which is legally on "stay." But it appears that ICE is enforcing the changed policy anyway.

Marrero describes reports from North Carolina and Texas of roadblocks in which people's immigration status is being checked.

She quotes Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro writing on February 10:

I am concerned about the ICE raids in Texas. I have been informed by ICE that the agency’s San Antonio field office has launched a targeted operation in South and Central Texas as part of Operation Cross Check. I'm asking ICE to clarify whether these individuals are in fact dangerous, violent threats to our communities, and not people who are here peacefully raising families and contributing to our state. I will continue to monitor this situation.

Dallas News reports (Trump praises ICE for immigration enforcement 02/12/2017):

As a candidate, Donald Trump vowed to take a hard line on immigration. Five days after taking office, he signed a sweeping executive order that made clear that just about any immigrant living in the country illegally could be a priority for deportation, particularly those with outstanding deportation orders. The president's order also said enforcement priorities would include convicted criminals, immigrants who had been arrested for any criminal offense, those who committed fraud, and anyone who may have committed a crime. ...

... immigrant rights groups say the actions are harsher than in the past.

Advocates began fielding calls Thursday from immigrants and their lawyers reporting raids at homes and businesses in the greater Los Angeles area. In one instance, agents showed up at the home of a 50-year-old house painter named Manuel Mosqueda in the Los Angeles suburbs, looking to arrest an immigrant who wasn't there. In the process, they spoke with Mosqueda, arrested him and put him on a bus to Mexico - though lawyers were able to halt his deportation and bring him back.

In all, Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested about 160 people during a five-day sweep in Southern California aimed at immigrants with criminal histories and deportation orders, including a Salvadoran gang member wanted in his country and a Brazilian drug trafficker. Marin acknowledged that five of those arrested would not have met the Obama administration's enforcement priorities.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Julius Evola: philosopher of Fascism and Trumpism?

Jason Horowitz analyses the work of Julius Evola on Presidential adviser Steve Bannon (Steve Bannon Cited Italian Thinker Who Inspired Fascists New York Times 02/10/2017):

Evola, who died in 1974, wrote on everything from Eastern religions to the metaphysics of sex to alchemy. But he is best known as a leading proponent of Traditionalism, a worldview popular in far-right and alternative religious circles that believes progress and equality are poisonous illusions.

Continue reading the main story Evola became a darling of Italian Fascists, and Italy’s post-Fascist terrorists of the 1960s and 1970s looked to him as a spiritual and intellectual godfather.

They called themselves Children of the Sun after Evola’s vision of a bourgeoisie-smashing new order that he called the Solar Civilization. Today, the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn includes his works on its suggested reading list, and the leader of Jobbik, the Hungarian nationalist party, admires Evola and wrote an introduction to his works.
Horowitz writes that Benito Mussolini became a fan of Evola because he admired Evola's authoritarian concept of the "ideal order."

The dictator already admired Evola’s early writings on race, which influenced the 1938 Racial Laws restricting the rights of Jews in Italy.

Mussolini so liked Evola’s 1941 book, “Synthesis on the Doctrine of Race,” which advocated a form of spiritual, and not merely biological, racism, that he invited Evola to meet him in September of that year.

Evola eventually broke with Mussolini and the Italian Fascists because he considered them overly tame and corrupted by compromise. Instead he preferred the Nazi SS officers, seeing in them something closer to a mythic ideal. They also shared his anti-Semitism.
A. James Gregor's Mussolini's Intellectuals: Fascist Social and Political Thought (2006) devotes a full chapter to Evola along with references elsewhere in the book:

Among the desperate efforts made to find the irrationality and malevolence that typifies contemporary mayhem in a Fascist source, some have seized on the work of Julius Evola. Elevated to the stature of “the philosopher of Fascism,” Evola has been identified as one of the principal sources of “right-wing extremism.”

The fact is that whatever the case might be with respect to Evola’s connections with contemporary extremism, there are virtually no grounds for identifying him as a spokesman for Fascist doctrine [i.e., during the Mussolini period]. Such an identification has become possible only because Fascism as an historic reality has receded further and further into the mists of stereotypy and political science fiction. An entire quarter century of Italian history has taken on the banal qualities of a poor morality play. Fascism no longer appears as an historical reality, but becomes a waking horror, without substance and without an intellectual history. [p. 16]
Gregor may be underestimating the ideological continuity between the original Fascists and today's versions. He continues directly, "In fact, Italian Fascism has very little, if anything, to do with either Julius Evola or modern extremism of whatever sort. Those today identified as 'neofascists,' 'cryptofascists,' and 'parafascists' are, most frequently, not fascists at all, but persons suffering clinical afflictions."

As we have seen often, people with clinical afflictions do play real roles in real-life politics.

But Gregor's warning that ideas of notable thinkers, or notorious ones, need to be understood in their historical context, even when their ideas have a much longer temporal influence, is a good one. Many such treatments of the precedents of Hitler's thinking have been published, including Brigitte Hamaan's Hitlers Wien. Lehrjahre eines Diktators (1998) and the extensive scholarly annotations to the 2016 Mein Kampf.Eine kritische Edition, published by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte.

It's possible that Evola is more of an influence on Trumpism than it was on Italian Fascism. Horowitz reports:

As Mr. Bannon suggested in [a 2014] speech, Mr. Putin’s most influential thinker is Aleksandr Dugin, the ultranationalist Russian Traditionalist and anti-liberal writer sometimes called “Putin’s Rasputin.”

An intellectual descendant of Evola, Mr. Dugin has called for a “genuine, true, radically revolutionary, and consistent fascist fascism” and advocated a geography-based theory of “Eurasianism” — which has provided a philosophical framework for Mr. Putin’s expansionism and meddling in Western European politics.
Gregor writes in a footnote (p. 158):

Thus, in 1937, Julius Evola, a marginal thinker in Fascist Italy, published his Il mito del sangue that was presumably read and approved by Mussolini himself. Evola wrote that “the theory of race,” which inspired National Socialist Germany, was not a “concept” that could be evaluated employing “properly scientific, philosophic, or historical” criteria. Evola identified National Socialist race theory as a “myth”—not a fiction, but a nonrational device, which through “suggestive force” would be capable of moving persons to action. He reminded his audience that Mussolini had always insisted that race was a “matter of sentiment, not a reality.” [my emphasis in bold]
Looking at Evola's development over the years as a thinker, Gregor certainly doesn't present him as a very perceptive or admirable advocate for his positions, which owed a lot to a vague mysticism. He even argues that Evola's reputation as a significant influence on Italian Fascism was not a contemporary view but one developed later and superficially associated with Italian Fascism of the 1920s and 1930s:

In retrospect, it appears evident that Evola was never particularly interested in Fascism, as such. In effect, he actually has no place in any history of Fascist social and political thought. He is accorded a place because, years after the passing of fascism, discussants have chosen to identify him as the “fascist” source of the irrationalism and antihumanism of contemporary “extremism.” He presumably provided the meaning of fascism for modern revolutionaries.

In fact, Evola was never a fascist, however the term is understood. He provided idiosyncratic meaning for all its principal concepts in his candid effort to further the interests of that arcane Tantric and Vedic Wisdom that he had made his own. [pp. 197-8]
None of this is to say that Evola was a misunderstood democrat or a closet leftist of some kind. He wasn't. Nor could he be described as an opponent of the Mussolini regime. But Gregor argues at some length that Evola's influence on Fascism in Italy and National Socialism in Germany was marginal, a minor sideshow of highbrow propaganda.

Roger Giffith, in a critical remark on the Evola chapter in Gregor's book (Roger Griffith, American Historical Review 110:5 Dec 2005, pp. 1625-6), reinforces the point that Evola's influence on postwar neofascism is more significant than for Mussolini's Fascism:

[Gregor's] efforts in chapter nine to show that Evola was never a true representative of Italian fascist ideology under Benito Mussolini is tilting at windmills, since no serious scholar has ever claimed this. What experts such as Marco Revelli, Franco Ferraresi, and Richard Drake have demonstrated in considerable empirical detail is that Evola has had a major impact both on postwar fascism in Italy and on several currents of revolutionary nationalism, both cultural and terrorist, that emerged elsewhere in Europe after the defeat of the Axis powers. As a philosopher of generic fascism, Evola eclipses in importance Giovanni Gentile, whose impact outside the confines of fascist Italy has been minimal. [my emphasis in bold]
Walter Laqueur in his Foreward to What History Tells: George L. Mosse and the Culture of Modern Europe (2003) also refers to "postwar neofascists such as Julius Evola."

Robert Payne writes that Evola became "Italy's leading 'racial philosopher,' and later yet the chief ideologue of the country's terrorist radical right in the period after World War II." (my emphasis; A History of Fascism, 1914-1945; 1995; p. 113) Payne also observes, "Evola was largely ignored in Fascist Italy by all save some of the most radical sectors of Fascism (though Mussolini seems to have held his intellectual dynamism in some esteem)."

Payne elaborates on the views of Evola's that had particular influence after the Second World War:

Strictly speaking, therefore, Evola had never been a complete Fascist and was never a full neofascist, but after the war he became the intellectual leader of the most extreme radical right. Though anti-Jewish, he later considered Hitler's demonic anti-Semitism to have been a "demagogic aberration." What made Evola so attractive both to genuine neofascists and to the radical right after the war was the fact that he developed eloquently and incisively an alternative concept of history and of culture, based on uncompromising antidemocratism, elitism, mysticism, and the call for a revolutionary elite to create a hierarchic, organic new order, structured on socioeconomic corporation. The goal, as in Fascist doctrine, was to achieve a "new man" with a "soul of steel" capable of "transcendence against temporality," who would live a "warrior epic" imbued with "legionary spirit." In all this there lay a scarcely veiled encouragement of terrorist action against the present rotting order. Evola thus provided inspiration for a wide range of right radical, neofascist, and even neo-Nazi groups in Italy. [my emphasis; pp. 502-4]
The fact that Evola was a mystical racist crank with little intellectual influence among Italian Fascism in Mussolini's day doesn't make the fact that a man currently as powerful as Steve Bannon favors his ideas any less creepy. And it's cold comfort that one of the erratic new President's most influential advisers may be significantly inspired by a crackpot extremist who had a major influence "both on postwar fascism in Italy and on several currents of revolutionary nationalism, both cultural and terrorist, that emerged elsewhere in Europe after the defeat of the Axis powers."

Trump's xenophobia Muslim Ban undermines national security

Steve Vladeck describes the statement of several former national security officials, including John Kerry and Janet Napolitano condemning Trump's Executive Order instituting the Muslim ban in Bepartisan Ex-Senior US Officials to Federal Court: Trump's Immigration Order Endangers National Security Just Security 02/06/2017. He quotes this section from their statement:

We all agree that the United States faces real threats from terrorist networks and must take all prudent and effective steps to combat them, including the appropriate vetting of travelers to the United States. We all are nevertheless unaware of any specific threat that would justify the travel ban established by the Executive Order issued on January 27, 2017. We view the Order as one that ultimately undermines the national security of the United States, rather than making us safer. In our professional opinion, this Order cannot be justified on national security or foreign policy grounds. It does not perform its declared task of “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States.” To the contrary, the Order disrupts thousands of lives, including those of refugees and visa holders all previously vetted by standing procedures that the Administration has not shown to be inadequate. It could do long-term damage to our national security and foreign policy interests, endangering U.S. troops in the field and disrupting counterterrorism and national security partnerships. It will aid ISIL’s propaganda effort and serve its recruitment message by feeding into the narrative that the United States is at war with Islam. It will hinder relationships with the very communities that law enforcement professionals need to address the threat. [my emphasis]
Fred Kaplan judges that the Executive Order (EO) shows, "He doesn’t seem to understand the political nature of war or the strategic consequences of politics." (The Commander Stumbles Slate 01/29/2017)

Vladeck also explains:

The statement also assesses that “the Order will endanger intelligence sources in the field,” which is notable since the signatories include John McLaughlin and Michael Morell, who served at different points as Deputy Director and Acting Director of the CIA during the George W. Bush Administration.

The group’s statement also calls into doubt any deference that might normally be given to executive branch decision-making. “The ‘considered judgment’ of the President in the prior cases where courts have deferred was based upon administrative records showing that the President’s decision rested on cleared views from expert agencies,” their statement reads. “Here, there is little evidence that the Order underwent a thorough interagency legal and policy processes designed to address current terrorist threats [and] we know of no interagency process underway before January 20, 2017 to change current vetting procedures.” [my emphasis]

Also at Just Security, Cristina Rodríguez expands on that point (Trump and the Immigration Bureaucracy: Should We Expect Civil Servants to Dissent? 02/09/2017):

By all accounts,... it appears that the Trump White House failed to enlist the relevant agency heads, much less their knowledgeable civil service personnel, when formulating the order—bypassing inter-agency consultation that could have highlighted operational concerns. The initial chaos at the airports in the days after the order’s release, and the administration’s repeated change of position on whether the EO applied to green card holders, suggest it had no real insight or plan for how to provide implementation guidance. The airport turmoil was only exacerbated by the nature of customs and border officials’ jobs. Officers at ports of entry have considerable discretion when determining whether to allow a non-citizen into the country. They know it, and they operate with that frame of mind every day. The administration’s failure to communicate the meaning of the new order created uneven enforcement. The sweeping reach of the order further amounted to a shock to the system, opening the door to overbearing law enforcement and excessive hardships for families and others.

Amazingly enough, the absence of inter-agency consultation and communication with the bureaucracy might actually become relevant in the litigation, as courts seem willing to question the President’s national security judgment in light of the haphazard formulation and implementation of the order. His disorganization and poor planning is an indication that national security may not have been his motive at all. [my emphasis]
Personal rule of the United States may be turning out to be harder than our new President expected.

But, as Dahlia Lithwick says, "There is no longer any doubt that President Trump is at war with the federal judiciary. The more the courts align against him, crossing virtually all ideological and political divisions to do so, the more he insists they are partisan and “political” and willfully endangering the country." (Why Trump Has Declared War on the Judiciary Slate 02/10/2017)

Friday, February 10, 2017

Russian political interference: keeping it (too) simple

There should be a real investigation of the Russian hacking story and of possible improper dealings between the Trump campaign and the current Russia government.

And it's obvious that the ideological position and propaganda efforts of the Putin regime are oriented toward encouraging xenophobic, white supremacist and authoritarian parties and movement in other parts of the world, including Europe and the US.

But that doesn't mean Democrats or progressives need to be simple-minded about the whole thing, either.

Unfortunately, Robby Mook seems to be doing exactly that in I ran Clinton's campaign, and I fear Russia is meddling with more than elections Guardian 02/07/2017.

This could be straight out of 1950's anti-Russian propaganda pamphlet, except it's taking an anti-Putinist perspective instead of an anti-Communist one.:

But there’s a deeper dimension to Russia’s actions, which deserves the free world’s urgent attention: its capacity to silently influence domestic legislation and policy-making between elections.

With his success in the US last year, Putin has put opponents on notice that there will be a price to pay for crossing him. Indeed, the complex infrastructure that Russia built to infect public discourse with false or stolen information isn’t going anywhere. It can be unleashed at any time, on any issue, domestic or international.
One wonders which countries Mook considers to be part of the Free World. Obviously, the list wouldn't include Russia.

Mook's pitch strikes me indulging in the same kind of scare-mongering we've become all too familiar in the Global War on Terrorism, or whatever the Trump Family Business Administration is calling it these days.

Is Russia, a petrostate hard hit by the drop in oil prices in recent years, really such a towering threat to US security and to elections in the US and the EU? I realize that even a small country can concentrate resources on particular governmental efforts. But by comparison, the CIA World Factbook as of this writing shows estimated 2016 US GDP in dollars, in Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) terms, at $19 trillion, Russia's at $4 trillion. US military spending exceeds that of Russia by astronomical amounts.

But cyber-security and cyberwar capabilities can also give a country new capacities to wage asymmetric conflicts. And that's why the Russian hacking and related issues from 2016 need to be investigated seriously. Along with, you know, enforcing election and espionage laws.

Other than vague references to doing more of something or other to block Russian mischief and referring to filtering measures implmented by Facebook and Twitter, he does mention this: "We must also think about how to manage the presence of government-backed news operations, such as Russia Today (rebranded as the more opaque RT) which can increase their reach through online promotion. The law makes no distinction between the New York Times and outlets like RT or China Daily, which are essentially state-sponsored propaganda."

What does this actually mean? Blocking broadcasts online in the US from RT and China Daily? What immediately comes to mind is how this kind of restriction might have on Internet functioning and Internet businesses. Surely it must also have crossed the mind of Hillary's campaign manager that a Republican President with a Republican Congress with a Republican-dominated federal court system would be happy to use such a law to declare other state-owned or state-funded channels that makes them unhappy. to be "propaganda." Like the BBC. Or TeleSUR. Or the ARD channel in Germany. Or ORF in Austria. Or Televisión Pública Argentina - even though their main programming under the Macri government is light entertainment. After all, our current President claims that major mainstream channels and news services routinely spread Fake News.

But Mook apparently thinks American brains are easily washed by TV channels using those hyper-sophisticated, occult persuasion techniques available to the Russians. Or something. But he adds another sentence in the last quoted passage, " The law makes no distinction between the New York Times and outlets like RT or China Daily, which are essentially state-sponsored propaganda. Sadly, the unfiltered nature of much social media means many Americans don’t see much of a distinction either." (my italics)

And, I have it on good authority that foreign papers in dangerous places with lots of terrorists like France also carry statements by non-American government. So maybe we need to block French news sites of all kinds. And German and British and Swedish, too. I'm being sarcastic because it's a road I would prefer to see Democratic politicians steer clear of. It will not work out for the best, even if it did cause short-term annoyance to Trumpists not to have RT to spread some of the same news that Infowars, Breitbart News, FOX News and Republican hate radio promote 24/7.

A new questions are now in the news about Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn's dealings with Russia. The Washington Post reports in National security adviser Flynn discussed sanctions with Russian ambassador, despite denials, officials say 02/10/2017 that Flynn had discussions during the Presidential transition period with the Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, about Western sanctions against Russis.

This is embarrassing for Flynn, because he had denied having had such discussions with Kislyak, as had Mike Pence.

But it's not at all clear from the report that there was anything illegal or otherwise improper about that discussion itself. The Post notes:
The nature of Flynn’s pre-inauguration message to Kislyak triggered debate among officials in the Obama administration and intelligence agencies over whether Flynn had violated a law against unauthorized citizens interfering in U.S. disputes with foreign governments, according to officials familiar with that debate. Those officials were already alarmed by what they saw as a Russian assault on the U.S. election.

U.S. officials said that seeking to build such a case against Flynn would be daunting. The law against U.S. citizens interfering in foreign diplomacy, known as the Logan Act, stems from a 1799 statute that has never been prosecuted. As a result, there is no case history to help guide authorities on when to proceed or how to secure a conviction.

Officials also cited political sensitivities. Prominent Americans in and out of government are so frequently in communication with foreign officials that singling out one individual — particularly one poised for a top White House job — would invite charges of political persecution.

Former U.S. officials also said aggressive enforcement would probably discourage appropriate contact. Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration, said that he was in Moscow meeting with officials in the weeks leading up to Obama’s 2008 election win.

“As a former diplomat and U.S. government official, one needs to be able to have contact with foreigners to do one’s job,” McFaul said. McFaul, a Russia scholar, said he was careful never to signal pending policy changes before Obama took office. [my emphasis]

Court hands Trump a setback on the Muslim ban

The 9th circuit federal appeals court yesterday refused to lift the lower court's stay on implementation of Trump's discriminatory and xenophobia Muslim band. Aljazeera's report includes discussion of the emphasis Trump puts on the the threat of terrorism he claims is being adderessed byt he Musloim ban, Trump setback as US court refuses to restore travel ban, Trump setback as US court refuses to restore travel ban 02/10/2017:

Cathleen Decker discusses Trump appeals court defeat in Appeals court ruling was the biggest warning to Trump yet on how he's approaching the presidency Los Angeles Times 02/10/2017. She writes that the decision was:

... a reminder of how Trump, and his inability to curb his impulses, can pose a threat to his own goals.

Tweets and comments from the president that were once seen as merely inflammatory and insulting, such as his regular campaign pledge to enact a ban on all Muslims seeking to come to the U.S., took on more power when cited as evidence before the courts. Indeed, Trump’s own words cut against the Justice Department’s argument that the president’s executive order did not amount to an unconstitutional ban on any particular religion.

The court also provided a rebuttal to the bleak worldview Trump has promoted through exaggerations and falsehoods about safety threats at home and abroad.

“The government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States,” the judges wrote.
The immigrant advocacy group CHIRLA (Coalición por los Derechos Humanos de los Inmigrantes) is protesting over recent ICE arrests in southern California, as reported by Francisco Castro in CHIRLA delata supuestas redadas migratorias en Los Ángeles 02/09/2017.

Los angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in an op-ed in the same paper calls attention to the key economic role immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, play in the economy of Los Angeles, Los inmigrantes son integrales a la prosperidad de Los Ángeles 02/09/2017.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Trump not persuading the Morning Joe crew on the Muslim ban

Even Joe Scarbourgh is apparently dismayed by the President's antics over the Muslim ban, as we hear in Joe: 'Presidents Do Not Speak This Way' Morning Joe 02/09/2017:

But Republicans still aren't ready for this:

And this is a bizarre twist in the immigration story:

This, however, is unsurprising news!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Trumpism and Latin America

The first few weeks of the Trump Family Business Administration are having a notable on international relationships within Latin America.

Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Peru have all publicly expressed diplomatic support for Mexico in its disagreements with the US over the Trump Wall. (México agradece a Argentina su “solidaridad” y prioriza la relación bilateral El País 07.02.2017)

The Trump Wall seems to have already come to symbolize the internal anti-immigrant measures against Latinos in the US, Trumpist white nationalism/racism against Latinos, and the often obnoxious way the US behaves in Latin America generally.

It's not surprising that Latin American nations would look to make more common cause with each other with Trump as US President and taking such an openly hostile position towards Mexico, to the point of threatening to send in troops! Making common cause makes plain good "realist" sense.

What is surprising to me to see that Argentine President Mauricio Macri's government is taking a particularly visible role in this effort. Peña Nieto publicly thanked Macri for his country's "solidaridad frente a la nueva posición adoptada por el Gobierno de Estados Unidos" ("solidarity in facing the new position adopted by the government of the United States"). Macri's Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra said that Argentina was ready to make a statement of support a week earlier, but postponed it at Peña Nieto's request. (Malcorra: “Latinoamérica no es más dura con Trump porque México no lo pide, busca un acercamiento” El País 07.02.2017)

Argentina and Mexico were already making bilateral agreements last year, Macri's first full year in office. (Daniel Venegas, Peña Nieto firmará acuerdos de cooperación con Argentina Melenio 28.07.2016) In his public expression of gratitude to Macri this week, the Mexican President also stated that Mexico would be giving a higher priority to bilateral commercial agreements with Argentina.

But the context for such cooperation is rapidly shifting with the new administration in Washington. Despite the pragmatic adjustment of relations with Cuba under Obama, he and his Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry adopted a basically conservative policy toward Latin America. And I mean conservative in the ideological sense, not in the sense of caution. At the end of his term, Latin American politics had shifted in a way that was amenable to that approach. The left-leaning governments of Argentina and Brazil had been displaced by conservative ones dedicated to neoliberal "Washington Consensus" and to close cooperation with the Obama and the once-presumed Hillary Clinton Administrations. In Argentina, the change took place by legitimate elections in 2015, in Brazil in 2016 by a "soft coup" that the Obama Administration clearly found to be not unwelcome.

With Mexico in the conservative hands of Peña Nieto's government, Washington had friendly conservative governments committed to neoliberal economic policies in the north in Mexico and Argentina and Brazil in the south, able to press for conservative regime change in Venezuela, neoliberal economics and the weakening of regional organizations like UNASUR that the Obama Administration saw as challenging US hegemony in Latina America.

Macri now is at least giving public signals that he wants to position Argentina with other countries in both Latin America and Europe that are alarmed by Trump's generally reckless and hostile approach to foreign policy. Macri plans to visit Spain later this month. said that Argentina was ready to make a statement of support a week earlier, but postponed it at Peña Nieto's request. Malcorro also commented, "Trump ha descolocado al mundo, no solo a la Argentina" ("Trump has disturbed the world, not just Argentina").

And Mexico now has new incentives to make regional alliances to provide diplomatic and business options to the changed situation with the United States. Peña Nieto also has the incentive that he's been an unpopular President, which is not unusual for governments following a dogmatic austerity program. "Donald Trump’s obsession with constructing a wall on the frontier with Mexico has achieved something inconceivable — the start of a campaign to unite the country which could favour President Enrique Peña Nieto," writes Cecilia González (The Mexican side of the wall Buenos Aires Herald 02/03/2017) She explains the Mexican President's problems this way:

The mirage constructed by Peña Nieto started to collapse as from September 26, 2014, when 43 students from the Escuela Normal Rural Isidro Burgos in Ayotzinapa went missing after a hail of gunfire in Iguala, Guerrero, one of the poorest and most violent states in the country. The fatigue with the long silenced violence, the profile of the missing (poor youths studying to be primary school teachers in impoverished areas) and the presence of journalists during the gunfight triggered massive protests in Mexico and other countries. The world learned of disappearances and murders in Mexico under a supposedly democratic government. Peña Nieto’s international image never recovered, above all because the government wanted to manipulate the evidence and close down the case, which was prevented by the families of the victims supported by human rights organisations.

In late 2014, when the government was still facing the impact of the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students, a team of investigative journalists headed by Carmen Aristegui revealed that first lady Angélica Rivera had purchased a US$ 7 million mansion from Grupo Higa, a company which Peña Nieto had favoured with multi-million public works contracts when he was governor of the state of México. In mid-2015, his friend Virgilio Andrade, the official heading the civil service, concluded (to nobody’s surprise) that there was no conflict of interest but the stain of corruption left by the “white house” proved indelible for the government.

As if Peña Nieto was short of problems, on July 12, 2015, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, fled from a maximum-security prison via a tunnel a kilometre and a half long which his accomplices had patiently built in more than a year. The Mexican government became a laughing-stock and never recovered, not even when the drug czar was recaptured six months later.

And then there is the issue of the structural poverty which Mexico suffers and which no government has reduced, for which all ex-presidents are responsible and which is the main cause of Mexican emigration to the US. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), during the first two years of Peña Nieto’s government poverty in Mexico rose from 51.6 to 53.2 percent. Over 60 million Mexicans are poor and do not expect to improve their lives in their own country. How are they not going to try their luck on “the other side”? [my emphasis]
John Ackerman summarizes Peña Nieto's situation this way (Mexico: Ending the Neoliberal Nightmare NACLA 48:4 2016):

After the election of Peña Nieto in 2012, the international press explicitly hailed him as the man who would be able to stop the advance of South American “populism” and bring back the “Washington Consensus” as the dominant ideology in Latin America. Indeed, Peña Nieto’s central, though unstated, objective since taking power on December 1, 2012, has been to dismantle the progressive legacy of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. He has drastically rolled back protections for labor, imposed neoliberal education reforms, and moved to hand over the enormous oil and gas industry to transnational petroleum companies. He has also turned Mexico into a servile client of U.S. foreign policy and its northern neighbor’s “national security” concerns.
Macri's solidarity with Mexico against Trump doesn't mean that the previous goals of the Mexico-Brazil-Argentina conservatism has completely changed. But the foreign policy context has shifted dramatically.

And in Macri's domestic policy, he's applying a bit of Trumpism in restricting immigration himself from some other South American countries: Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru. (Bolivia envía una delegación por el decreto migratorio de Macri Página/12 05.02.2017.

Macrismo is, of course, generated protest and resistance, not least because of the grim results of over a year of neoliberal, Herbert Hoover/Angela Merkel austerity economics, El pueblo argentino marcha contra políticas del gobierno macrista teleSUR 02/05/2017: