All of Putin’s / Trump’s Men

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The NYT has broken the story that several Trump associates are under investigation by the FBI for their contacts with Russian intelligence and other officials during the 2016 presidential campaign. These contacts worried the FBI and other intelligence agencies, given that they were seeing Russian hacking of campaign accounts at the same time.

The links between Trump and his associates on the one hand and the Russian Federation on the other are both broad and intense.

Donald J. Trump did pursue Russian business deals in Russia in 2013 (despite his denials), but these never bore fruit. However, Trump subsequently partnered with businessmen from Russia or its ‘near abroad,’ bringing them into the New York real estate market. Some observers have wondered whether these deals allowed those individuals to engage in money laundering.

Trump’s Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is actually a partner in a Russo-American oil firm, Exxon Naftegas, which is headquartered in an offshore tax haven in the Caribbean. Even just as ordinary everyday CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson did a $500 billion joint deal with Russia’s Rosneft to extract oil from the arctic. That’s evil no matter who he partners with. Also ironic, since such drilling is only made possible by the global warming caused by Tillerson’s billions of tons of annual carbon dioxide emissions. It is an unvirtuous circle.

President Obama’s sanctions on Russia rather interrupted the plans to drill the Russian arctic, and apparently Mike Flynn was sent to the Russian ambassador to the US to reassure him that those sanctions would be undone. Given that the price of petroleum has been halved in the past two years, Russia is desperate for new drilling, so it can make up some of the shortfall by new production. Moreover, both Tillerson and his Russian partners know that electric cars are coming fast and furious, and that the petroleum won’t be worth much in 20 years. So they’re eager to extract it and sell it while they still can.

$500 billion is a lot of money. People sometimes rob banks to get $10,000.

Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick for Commerce Secretary, has a joint venture (a bank in Cyprus) with Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. Ross has announced that he will keep ownership of 11 assets overseas, opening him to foreign influence.

Paul Manafort has for a decade been close to pro-Russian businessmen and politicians in the Ukraine. Ironically, the two discussed by Politifact are both Muslims, presumably Crimean Tatars. Manafort, as a major figure in the Trump campaign, apparently did not let Jared Kushner know about the full extent of his Russian connections. He also is alleged to have used his position to introduce changes into the Republican Party platform that benefit Russia. Kushner forced Manafort out last summer.

Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page flew to Moscow just days before the Republican National Convention. No one knows what that was all about. But a high Russian official admitted that numerous members of the Trump team were in constant contact with Russian officials

So Mike Flynn calling the Russian ambassor to the US in late December and reassuring Moscow about sanctions being lifted looks much more likely to have been a joint effort by the Moscow Gang of Trump and associates than a one-off piece of dark comedy.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBS News: “Trump’s comments on Russia, Putin draw GOP rebuke”

Photo of the Day: Sad Girl, Happy Girl, Iran 1900 (Sykes)

British Museum | Sir Percy Sykes | – –

Two rural Iranian girls of the Qajar era, 1900, one sad, one mischievous.


Via British Museum

Museum number: Sykes.453

Description: Lantern slide, showing two young girls posing. Iran.

Producer name: Photographed by: Gen Sir Percy Molesworth Sykes KCIE

Date: 1900 (circa)

Materials: glass

Questions about Judgment: Trump appointed Flynn in the First Place

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The sudden resignation of Trump National Security Adviser Mike Flynn on Monday evening clearly was actually a firing.

Flynn was given a pink slip for embarrassing Vice President Mike Pence by assuring him that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in his unusual late December telephone call. Obama had just that day placed more sanctions on Russia, in reaction to Russian hacking activities during the election.

But in addition, the revelations about Flynn were flying in DC. WaPo revealed that the former acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, had warned Trump that the Department of Justice had reason to believe that he was open to being blackmailed by the Russians (because of his lie about not discussing sanctions). Of course, similar allegations have been made about Trump himself.

The Russian press reported that Flynn had “retired.”

I wrote on Saturday,

The Washington Post reports that conversations with no less than nine intelligence officials confirm that Flynn did talk with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about Obama’s sanctions on the Russian Federation. Flynn apparently urged the Russians not to be too upset about the new sanctions suggesting that the Trump administration would revisit them. Flynn at the time was not in any government office and had no right to negotiate with a foreign power, an act prohibited to civilians by the Logan Act. Flynn must have known that the Russian ambassador’s telephone is under NSA surveillance and so it is weird to the extreme that he would risk breaking the law in public, so to speak.

It is bad enough that Flynn may have committed this breach of the law. On top of that, when questioned about these allegations he lied and said he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak. He not only lied himself but he told Vice President Mike Pence this lie and so arranged for Pence to go on television and repeat Flynn’s lie. Flynn wasn’t under oath, so I suppose this is just a lie and not perjury. But surely lying to your boss and embarrassing him would be a firing offense?

So I put my finger on exactly the transgression that led to Flynn’s downfall– that he lied to Pence. Apparently there are actual transcripts of the Flynn-Kislyak conversation in the hands of the CIA, which Flynn, Bannon and Trump had trashed on the issue of whether Russia had intervened in the election. Flynn was reckless to bring up an economic issue with Russia while still a civilian, and stupid if he did not know he was being recorded.

There is another investigation of Flynn that I also mentioned on Saturday, as to whether he took a fee from the Russian Federation to appear in Moscow at a dinner also attended by Vladimir Putin in honor of the Russian state-owned news service, Russia Today. This payment would violate the Logan Act, given that Flynn is a retired Lt. General and could have been recalled to service (as in a way he was, only on the civilian side, when Trump made him National Security Adviser).

Flynn had a lot of baggage. There are also questions concerning the about-face of Flynn with regard to Turkey. He had been a critic (he hates Muslims) but then when his consulting firm got a contract from a Turkish businessman close to President Tayyip Erdogan, Flynn abruptly switched around and became a big booster of Ankara.

These indications that the general is a man of easy virtue are not the only alarming things about him, of course. There is also his hatred of Muslims, what with calling Islam a cancer, and alleging that it is a political movement masquerading as a religion, his call for Arab and Iranian leaders publicly to confess that their ‘Islamic ideology’ is sick, and in need of ‘healing.’

What takes the cake is his allegation on Sirius radio in 2015 that Arabic signs had been erected on the border with Mexico to guide Muslim radicals into the United States.

This is tin foil hat stuff (and there’s lots more signs of mental instability in the man’s twitter feed, including buying into the bizarre pizzagate conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was running a pedophilia ring out of a DC pizza joint).

Any normal person who knew anything serious about Flynn’s erratic and fantastic assertions and about his shady “consulting” with foreign powers should have known better than to put him in charge of advising on America’s national security. He had already been fired from the Defense Intelligence Agency.

That Trump could not see what a hot mess Flynn was reflects extremely poorly on Trump’s judgment, and a mere resignation cannot change that.

Worse, questions are swirling about whether Trump himself put Flynn up to calling the Russians when Obama was still in office, and whether Flynn was just a messenger boy for his boss when he hinted around that Russia shouldn’t worry too much about those Obama sanctions.

Flynn may have fallen on his sword, or been tossed off the Trump Tower onto it. But severe questions about Trump’s judgment and perhaps even his entanglement in an illegal act (civilians are not allowed to conduct diplomacy with foreign powers). Every time Trump dances away from criticizing Putin, you have to wonder if he was in the same basket with Flynn. Kompromat.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn Resigns | The 11th Hour | MSNBC

After Miller’s Mega-Lies, time to rev back up the Reality Based Community

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Stephen Miller, a snot-nosed kid with a bad attitude, advertised as White House senior policy adviser, delivered himself of some stern jeremiads on Sunday on Meet the Press, along with many Big Lies of which Josef Goebbels would be jealous.

It is dreary to see a Republican White House once again fall into the clutches of grandiose fantasists and drooling conspiracy theorists. We saw this with Karl Rove and Irv “Scooter” Libby in the Bush years. The arrogance, the big globe-straddling ambitions, the spit in the face of average people, and above all the Big Lie. What is it about today’s Republican Party that drives it into the arms of high-end hucksters and confidence men? Maybe it’s the cognitive dissonance of being a servant to the .01% but pretending to want to help average folks.

After denouncing the third branch of government, given powers of legislative review by the Constitution, Miller said:

“our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

We have seen these unimaginative scenarios so many times. The media as the enemy (you can’t outdo tricky Dick Nixon on that one). The whole world having to be impressed. Have you *met* any French people? Believe me, Stephen, they aren’t impressed. They can’t get past those ears, and wonder what happened to your hair. And we haven’t even gotten to your boss. And, then, sigh, the unquestioned power of the president. What’s the matter, “unitary executive” too hard for you to say?

Then there were Miller’s Giga-lies about undocumented people voting in the millions. Or maybe they are tera-lies. A lot of bytes go into a lie that huuuje.

But it is banal and ennui-inducing by now. We’ve been there, done that. We had to form a whole new internet group the last time, the “Reality-Based Community.” I guess it is time to dust back off that comment section from 2004.

The key quote that kicked off the Community appeared in an article by Ron Suskind on October 17, 2004 in the New York Times entitled, “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush.” It is said that the Bush administration official who delivered himself of this famous quote was stragegist Karl Rove, who connived at a Permanent Republican Majority and urged a war on Iraq as a way to make sure George W. Bush got to be a two-term president (the longer in office, the more money to be made). So this is what is attributed to him:

““We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Rove did not mean to admit that he is detached from reality, any more than Kellyanne Conway intended to admit that she maintains a whole warehouse of alternative facts. Rove meant to say that George W. Bush had a big ol’ reality-creation machine on the back of his flatbed truck, and when you ran it, why it tinkered with dimensional space and made things turn out right for rich old cranky white men.

As for being an empire, no. The days of empire are over with. The “natives” or “wily oriental gentleman” as the Victorians called them all seem to have C4 plastic explosives now, if not, as with Pakistan and India and China, hundreds of nuclear warheads. Sticky wicket, old man, wot? Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani of Najaf in Iraq, an elderly Iranian gentleman, pushed you and George around like the paper tigers you were, and he even did it nonviolently. Other impudent imperial subjects regularly blew up the poor 18-year-olds you sent over there to do God knows what. Since you were so big on turning Iraq into a shining beacon on the hill, I hear they need a good electoral consultant in Falluja these days, and maybe you’d be so kind as to volunteer?

In other words, that reality creation machine on W’s flatbed truck was on the blink. So it got Rove and Bush into an Iraq War that is still going on and will cost us $6 trillion and which even other Republicans won’t stand behind. It deregulated the hell out of Wall Street and so sent the big investment banks right to Gehenna, along with millions of mortgages, leaving average people so impoverished that a lot of them are still drinking themselves to death or hanging themselves in the closet over it. And then your attempt to punish Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame for questioning your phony cover story of Iraqi nuclear weapons (“WMD”) got your aide Scooter Libby in big doodoo. Very judicious doodoo. And your climate denialism will drown your great grandchildren, or give them heat stroke. See if you can please re-set that particular reality you created with 5-6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year from our one country.

So yes, Karl, I get to study what you wrought to the universe, and the resets and the twists and turns. I even wrote a whole book, Engaging the Muslim World, about what you got wrong in one part of the globe. There are lots of such books to be written. We writers will write them for a long time. But alas reality is a harsh mistress and doesn’t like to be fucked with. Guess what happens to people who try to create an alternate reality?

I don’t even understand the ambition. Reality is all we have to hold on to. We shouldn’t want to mess with it. But it is just as well, since even “empires” can’t. Especially when the whole idea of empire is past its expiration date and smells like a pile of two-week-old corpses.

And I see your whippersnapper of a protegé, Mr. Miller, out before the cameras just like you were 13 years ago, strutting like a meerkat that caught a cobra by the tail, and lying his bony ass off. Brings a tear to my eye. Not nostalgia. It’s just, I know how this movie ends.


Related video:

ABC: “Stephen Miller on Immigration Order Next Steps: ‘All Options Are on The Table'”

Can Peak Gerrymandering by GOP be Challenged by Progressives?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a dramatic outcome that could well change national politics, a Federal court last November found Wisconsin’s highly gerrymandered electoral districts to be unconstitutional, since they were clearly designed to deprive Democrats of the vote. As WaPo points out, if other states with extreme gerrymandering are also taken on by the courts, or if the Supreme Court weighs in for the whole country, then the artificial hold of Republicans on power in the House of Representatives and many state legislatures could come to an end.

In the 2016 election for the House, Republicans received 52% of the popular vote but seized control of 57% of the seats.

In states where the legislature draws the electoral districts, there is always a temptation to design them in such a way as to disadvantage the rival party. That is why non-partisan redistricting commissions ought to be the ones drawing these lines (as is now the case in California, e.g.).

But what had been an occasional problem became systemic starting in 2010, when Karl Rove, the Koch brothers and other Republican operatives began a drive to have Republican-dominated state legislatures gerrymander the districts in a way to ensure that they could not easily be unseated and that the Republicans would have an advantage on the Federal level in Congress. Typically these redistricting schemes disenfranchise people who live in cities. Thus, Austin, Texas, which reliably votes Democratic, was split into 8 districts, each of them attached to a big rural hinterland where the city folk could be over-ruled by Republican voters.

The Wisconsin decision was influenced in part by a new, statistical, way that academic political scientists came up with to measure unfairness in redistricting, which they call the efficiency gap. An efficiency gap of 7% or more means that the other party can never hope to get back into power. The efficiency gap for Wisconsin’s gerrymandered districts is 15, in favor of Republicans.

Unfair redistricting on racial grounds has long been disallowed by the courts (which is not to say the Republicans don’t try to get away with it from time to time). But unfair redistricting on partisan lines has not typically been something the courts wanted to interfere in. Only because of the new efficiency gap measure were they persuaded to rule against extreme partisan gerrymandering.

In fact, the state of Wisconsin argued that the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue over the discrepancy, since they weren’t proven to have been significantly harmed.

Because of the extent of gerrymandering already institutionalized, it is very unlikely that Democrats can improve their position dramatically in 2018, and, indeed, very likely the Republicans will make gains.

This rigidity is dangerous to our Republic. The House is supposed to be able to respond quickly to national threats. Because of extreme gerrymandering, the nimbleness of the system is gone.

Teabaggers back in 2010 and 2012 were always nattering on about getting their country back (by which they appear to have meant that they had a Black president.) Progressives need actually to get our country back, and gerrymander reform is one necessary step along that path.

Related video:

The Young Turks: “Republican Gerrymandering Ruled Unconstitutional”

Could NSA Flynn face Criminal Charges over Russia Ties?

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn (Ret.) is the National Security Adviser of President Trump. Very serious questions continue to swirl around his relationship with the government of the Russian Federation. These questions take on special significance given the alleged Russian role in interfering in the 2016 presidential election. By now, two possible criminal charges could be lodged against Flynn, both related to Russia. The first is that he took money from the Russian government, a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. The other is that he called the Russian Embassy on Christmas Day last year and discussed the sanctions imposed on that country by President Obama over the hacking of the RNC and DNC during the election. Such a conversation would be a violation of the Logan Act.

The Washington Post reports that conversations with no less than nine intelligence officials confirm that Flynn did talk with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about Obama’s sanctions on the Russian Federation. Flynn apparently urged the Russians not to be too upset about the new sanctions suggesting that the Trump administration would revisit them. Flynn at the time was not in any government office and had no right to negotiate with a foreign power, an act prohibited to civilians by the Logan Act. Flynn must have known that the Russian ambassador’s telephone is under NSA surveillance and so it is weird to the extreme that he would risk breaking the law in public, so to speak.

Wall Street Journal: ” Michael Flynn’s Ties to Russia Under Investigation”

It is bad enough that Flynn may have committed this breach of the law. On top of that, when questioned about these allegations he lied and said he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak. He not only lied himself but he told Vice President Mike Pence this lie and so arranged for Pence to go on television and repeat Flynn’s lie. Flynn wasn’t under oath, so I suppose this is just a lie and not perjury. But surely lying to your boss and embarrassing him would be a firing offense?

Wochit News: “Aides Claim Flynn Told Pence He Didn’t Discuss Russia Sanctions”

In 2015, retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, having been fired by the Obama administration as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and then having retired from the military, flew to Moscow and attended a banquet in celebration of the “Russia Today” network, the Russian state-owned television channel. RT does some good work, but you have to keep in mind that its editorial line is set by the Kremlin. The connection to the state is even closer than in the case of the Voice of America. Flynn appears to have been paid for his appearance in Moscow, and it is possible that he was paid quite a lot.

Trump Security Adviser Mike Flynn Gives Putin Standing Ovation at Celebration of Propaganda Network

Retired officers can be recalled and are cautioned when they retire that they should avoid such payments by a foreign government, since it violates the Emoluments clause of the Constitution (1.9:)

“No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.”

Retired officers of the US military, inasmuch as they are subject to recall to service, are considered to be a “person holding any office of profit or trust” under the United States. Ranking Democratic members of six Congressional committees have asked the Pentagon for an explanation. So far none has been forthcoming.

Flynn is widely thought to be somewhat unbalanced, inasmuch has he has retweeted bizarre conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and has said that it is rational to be afraid of Islam. (Islam is the religion of 1/5 of humankind, so this is like being afraid of Chinese food or of Indian languages). Note that Flynn served alongside Afghan and Pakistani Muslim officers and if anything appears to have been overly cozy with them (he leaked classified intelligence on terrorists in Afghanistan to Pakistani officers), so the fear-mongering is for political and maybe financial benefit. If you thought the Muslim Pakistani officers were people you should be afraid of or that they were intent on killing 80% of the world, as Flynn has alleged in other contexts, then why would you give them classified intelligence on Afghan terrorists? Flynn’s private consulting firm also took a contract from a business in Turkey with links to President Tayyip Erdogan; no rational fear there.

Surely this is the first time since the Reagan Iran-Contra scandal that National Security Council personnel have been on such legal thin ice, such that criminal charges could be filed.

The real Victors in Judges’ ban on Trump’s Ban: US Universities

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

A three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday denied the Trump administration’s request that the Executive Order banning Muslims from 7 countries from coming to the US be reinstated. It was set aside by a Temporary Restraining Order issued by a Federal judge in Seattle.

One thing about this decision leapt out at me: that Trump’s actual opponents are in the main the University of Washington Seattle, Western Washington University at Bellingham, the University of Minnesota, and other state institutions of higher education in the two states that brought the suit against the EO.

That the universities should stand, at least temporarily, in the way of President Bannon’s plans to ban Muslims from the US, is poetic justice. Universities are everything that Fascists hate. They are machines for shredding the fake news on which the progress of Fascism depends. They promote rational tools of thought. They are cosmopolitan and international. They are based on merit and discount race. Fascism maintains that whites are superior to other races in every way, including in intelligence. But physics doesn’t care if you are white or brown. Physics only cares if your formula is correct, i.e. matches up with reality. Alt-NeoNazis like Bannon have no advantage in the university, despite their status as wealthy white males, unlike the situation in populist politics. Indeed, the irrational and apocalyptic discourse of a Bannon is looked down on and ridiculed by the university community.

It is no accident that one of the first things the Nazis did on coming to power in 1933 was to fire the Jewish university professors. That was only the beginning of the neutering and gutting of the universities under Fascism.

The Trump administration argued that Washington State and Minnesota had no standing to sue over the EO, since it had nothing to do with them. Judge James Robart found that the states did have standing to sue, on several grounds. One is that the states fulfill the role of parents or guardians for refugees resident in the state. Washington has at least 25,000 residents from the seven countries being banned, and has the obligation to look out for their interests. Another basis for their standing is that these states are economically harmed by the EO.

The main example of economic harm cited in the TRO is the harm to universities. Everything is telegraphic at this stage in the proceedings, so not a lot of detail is offered. But we can imagine the sorts of harm implied here. I noted last fall,

“There are about 1 million international students studying in American universities– nearly 5% of the country’s undergraduate population. Very large numbers of them are on government scholarships or are from wealthy families in their home countries, and the bulk of them pay full tuition. But they also rent apartments and go out to eat, and shop. These international students bring in $30 billion a year to the US economy.”

That is, the universities have students from these countries who were getting locked out of the country despite valid visas and travel documents, or even green cards (permanent residency). That is a loss of tuition, dormitory fees, etc. In addition, the universities employ professors and researchers from the 7 countries, and so would lose their contribution to e.g. research on a scientific project, where those non-citizen researchers may have been playing a crucial role. To have these researchers suddenly and arbitrarily deprived of the ability to follow through on their commitments to these projects is a clear loss to the universities. The numbers of university-related people would be even greater if green card holders and those with dual citizenship are affected, as was initially asserted by the Trump administration. In the face of massive protests, it backed off these extreme positions, but only via a note from the press secretary. The EO could still at any moment be interpreted to sweep up permanent residents and even US citizens.

The ruling says,

“The States argue that the Executive Order causes a concrete and particularized injury to their public universities, which the parties do not dispute are branches of the States under state law . . . Specifically, the States alleged that the teaching and research missions of the universities are harmed by the Executive Order’s effect on their faculty and students who are nationals of the seven affected countries. These students and faculty cannot travel for research, academic collaboration, or for personal reasons, and their families abroad cannot visit. Some have been stranded outside the country, unable to return to the universities at all. The schools cannot consider attractive student candidates and cannot hire faculty from the seven affected countries, which they have done in the past.”

The three-judge panel in San Francisco found that the universities do indeed have “third party standing” because their interests are “inextricably bound up with the activity the litigant wishes to pursue…” Moreover, in other cases schools have been allowed to assert the rights of their students. And, the quality of their faculty obviously deeply affects the universities.

So the 3 judges found that the states do have standing to sue, reaffirming the lower court opinion. But note that while the states might have other interests in the EO besides those of the universities, it is these educational harms that are foregrounded in both of the initial decisions staying the EO until larger issues can be addressed.

The Trump administration also tried to argue that the president’s EO is not subject to review by the courts because he has the right to exclude any class of aliens by fiat if he fears they are a danger to national security. The judges laughed this unreviewability argument right out of court, citing previous court reviews of precisely this sort of policy, as when Bush tried to deny habeas corpus (the right to be produced before a court when charged with a crime) to detainees (‘enemy combatants’) charged with terrorism, and the Supreme Court slapped him down.

A further consideration in upholding the TRO is the Executive Order’s violation of the Establishment Clause. The 1st Amendment in the Bill of Rights forbids the government to make one particular religion a state religion. The panel accepted the States’ argument that statements of Trump, Rudy Giuliani and others make it clear that the EO is a Muslim ban and if so, that it violates the first amendment. The judges argue that courts have often taken the legislative history into account in striking down laws that have the effect of discriminating with regard to religion. This argument appears to be controversial among the legal scholars, but they do give a lot of case law for this way of proceeding. Those who cite previous instances of US visa or refugee preference for minorities, it seems to me, are on thin ground because those took place before the 1965 Immigration Act, which forbids such discrimination. Likewise, lots of unconstitutional things were done on racist grounds in the past that would not pass muster today. I think both statute and current Supreme Court approaches to the Establishment Cause tell against the discrimination mandated in the EO.

As the case moves through the courts, the deference to the president on national security issues may reemerge as a decisive consideration. This dispute is by no means over, and precedent probably is on the side of the EO. But in these essential first weeks, we can be proud that the universities took a leading role in standing against this Muslim ban, against this affront to the constitution, against this nasty piece of Neofascist bigotry.


Motion for stay, 9th Circuit Order, 9 February 2017 by The Guardian on Scribd


Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 3.26.58 AM

Spicer: Trump can Criticize Iraq War but no one can Slam Trump’s Yemen Raid

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) – –

One-man fake news channel Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, said Wednesday that anyone who criticized the botched raid on Yakla in Yemen that killed innocent children and other noncombatants and left a Navy Seal dead “owes an apology” to the deceased sailor.

This assertion is perhaps the most disgusting thing Spicer or Trump have said, and boy is that saying something. It is also the height of hypocrisy.

Trump has been scathing in criticizing George W. Bush’s Iraq War, despite his initial support for it:

“Obviously the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake . . . George Bush made a mistake. Obviously we can make mistakes, but that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. They lied, they said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none and they knew that there were none.”

Doesn’t Trump therefore owe an apology to the 4,486 US military personnel killed in Iraq?

Governments are very good at the political shell game of getting up a war and then demanding support from the public in the name of the grunts they just sent into some godforsaken desert or jungle.

I remember how angry I used to get when W. would come on t.v. and say he was a “war president” and hadn’t sought that position. He literally went to war against Iraq for no good reason and turned himself into a war president! In using this term he was asking the US public to defer to him. It still makes me throw up a little in my mouth. Spicer did the same thing Wednesday.

There is a difference between supporting our troops and supporting the government that often unwisely or unnecessarily puts them in harm’s way. The analogy I make is between active duty personnel and defense attorneys. They often do not get to decide which cases they pursue, and sometimes they are ordered to defend a client who is actually guilty. But you don’t vilify the defense attorneys. They are just doing the job the US public asked them to do. Likewise you don’t vilify the troops. The don’t make policy. (Of course if a military person commits a war crime in the field, that is condemnable).

At the same time, using troop deaths to shield a president from criticism is disgusting.

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism did follow-up interviews in Yakla in Yemen and discovered the raid ordered by Trump killed 9 young children, one a US citizen, and all together it killed 25 civilians.

Republican critics like Sen. John McCain saw the death of a Navy Seal and the crash of an Osprey aircraft worth $70 million as indictments of the raid.

McCain doesn’t seem to care about the unnecessary civilian casualties. The Bureau for Investigative Journalism writes:

“It is already known that 8-year-old Nawar al Awlaki, the daughter of al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al Awlaki was among those who died in the attack. But following a field investigation, the Bureau can today reveal that nine children under the age of 13 were killed and five were wounded in the raid in al Bayda province on January 29.

Details emerged piecemeal last week regarding civilian and military deaths, the disputed value of the targets and deficiencies in planning – some of the information coming from military sources in unprecedented briefings against its own administration. Insiders told CNN and NBC that the ultimate target was AQAP leader Qasim al Raymi. If the soldiers didn’t find him in the village they hoped they would find clues as to his location.

But despite the growing reports of failure – and despite the death of Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William Owens and the destruction of a $70 million Osprey aircraft – Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer has continued to insist that the mission was a “successful operation by all standards.”

Evidence gathered by the Bureau must surely challenge that assessment. A fierce gunfight turned into an intense aerial bombardment, and the outcome “turned out to be as bad as one can imagine it being,” said former US ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche.

Working with a journalist who visited the targeted village of al Yakla five days after the raid and talked to nine of the survivors, we have collected the names and ages of all 25 civilians killed as reported by those who live there. The Bureau also has photos of the families hit and the homes destroyed as helicopter gunship fire rained down.

AQAP says 14 “of its men” were killed in the clash, including six villagers. The youngest was 17, the oldest 80.

The villagers say 25 civilians died alongside a group of militants, including nine children under the age of 13. They deny that any of the dead villagers were AQAP members. Of the nine young children who died, the smallest was only three months old. Eight women were killed, including one who was heavily pregnant. Seven more women and children were injured.”


Related video:

A ‘Disservice To Ryan Owens’ | NBC News

Syrian refugees ‘detrimental’ to Americans? The numbers tell a different story

By Jeffrey H. Cohen | (The Conversation) | – –

President Donald Trump wants to close the door on Syrian refugees, barring them indefinitely from settling in the U.S.

In an executive order signed on Jan. 27, the president wrote:

“I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.”

USRAP stands for United States Refugee Admissions Program.

In light of the president’s executive order and the continued debate over the status of refugees in the U.S., I’d like to reexamine two questions: What are the chances that a Syrian refugee might live in your community? And what is the risk that he or she would be a terrorist?

Details of the executive order

First, let’s consider what the president’s executive order would do.

In addition to ending the settlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. indefinitely, the president’s order would stop any refugee from entering the U.S. for 120 days.

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their home by violence or war.

The order blocks the entry of citizens from seven majority Muslim countries for a minimum of 90 days and caps admissions of refugees from all countries for 2017 at 50,000. That’s a decline of nearly 30 percent from 2015 when 70,000 refugees were settled and a decline of 41 percent from 2016 when 85,000 refugees were admitted.

The order gives no timeline concerning how the USRAP will be updated and made more secure.

There have been protests and several legal challenges to the order.

The Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco rejected an appeal by the Department of Justice to restore the order on Feb. 3, thus upholding an earlier decision by the Federal District Court in Seattle.

Nevertheless, the administration’s characterization of refugees as “dangerous” and tweets by Trump that warn of “bad people” freely pouring over the border continues to cloud an emotionally charged debate.

So what are the facts?

Why are people fleeing?

Syrians are being displaced by a civil war that has dragged on for more than five years. A major destabilizing factor in their country has been the spread of IS into Syria from Iraq. Airstrikes to take territory back from IS have leveled many Syrian cities.

According to the UNHCR, the numbers of people pushed out of their homes continues to outpace the resources available to support resettlement.

Since 2011, Turkey has accepted more than 2.7 million Syrian refees. However, Syrian refugees are increasingly turning away from Turkey and choosing instead to travel first to Libya and then risk crossing the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of finding security in Italy. This may be a way to avoid the difficulties created by Turkey’s agreement with the EU to manage the flow of refugees into Europe.

Finding a place for all of these people to resettlement is critical. Writing for the UNHCR, Leo Dobbs notes “Resettlement does not only provide Syrian refugees with a durable solution but has often been a critical and life-saving intervention for refugees with urgent protection needs and compelling vulnerabilities.”

How many Syrians are in the US?

From the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011 through November 2015, a total of 2,174 Syrian refugees were settled in the U.S. according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. They represented fewer than 0.0007 percent of the U.S. population.

In 2016, an additional 12,587 Syrian refugees were resettled in the U.S. While it was a record number for this country, for comparison, Germany settled nearly half a million refugees in the same year. By the end of 2016, the total number of Syrian refugees settled in the U.S. was 12,587 + 2,174, or 14,761, about .0046 percent of the country’s population.

In other words, the chances that a Syrian refugee would move next door to you are statistically zero. That’s true with or without Trump’s ban.

To put the small number of Syrian refugees who have been settled in the U.S. in context, the Mariel boatlift resettled approximately 125,000 Cubans in 1985. And between 1975 and 1995, about 2 million Vietnamese refugees were relocated to the U.S..

Is any too many?

Not one Syrian refugee in the U.S. has been arrested or deported on terror related charges.

This may be because Syrian refugees face intense scrutiny before they are allowed to enter the U.S. They are vetted in a process that can take up to 18 months. Once registered as a refugee by the UN, refugees face several rounds of interviews that include the U.S. State Department and the Department of Homeland Security as well as background checks, fingerprinting, health screening and classes in American culture.

After careful vetting, refugees are settled by one of nine agencies: Church World Service, Ethiopian Community Development Council, Episcopal Migration Ministries, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, International Rescue Committee, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops/Migration and Refugee Services, and World Relief.

No refugee is randomly placed into a community. Rather, agencies settle refugees in planned, predetermined cities and urban centers. They also minimize difficulties by keeping refugees as close as possible to family and friends.

A 2016 report from the Cato institute, a think tank “dedicated to the principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace” stated: “The hazards posed by foreign-born terrorists are not large enough to warrant extreme actions like a moratorium on all immigration or tourism.”

The Conversation

Jeffrey H. Cohen, Professor of Anthropology, The Ohio State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CNN: “Syrian refugees reunited with family in US”

Yemen withdraws blanket approval for US action after Trump’s botched Raid

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The the Arab press, reports that that government has withdrawn blanket permission from the Trump administration to conduct raids and drone strikes on al-Qaeda and other targets. It is sourcing one of the two Yemeni governments (that of Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi). Mansour Hadi’s diplomat expressed to the US “reservations about the way in which the raid on in Bayda province was carried out.” The US action targeted a base of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the town of Yakla.

The raid, in late January, appears to have killed at least 10 civilians, including an 8-year-old American girl, along with 14 al-Qaeda operatives; an American Navy Seal lost his life in the operation, as well, and three other Americans were wounded. Some observers with ties to the Seals suggest that the operation was poorly planned and turned into a fiasco.

It is now being reported that Trump was told that Obama would never have actually carried out the operation, the planning for which began last fall, and that this assertion was influential in Trump’s decision to go forward. (If it is true that Obama was reluctant, it was obviously because of the extreme difficulty of this sort of operation and the high likelihood something will go wrong).

Other reports suggest that the point of the operation was to kill or capture AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi. If he was the target, the mission failed, since he escaped and went on to ridicule Trump in an audio as “stupid.”

When Trump banned Yemenis from coming to the US, he alienated many of them; one Arab newspaper said the ban left Yemenis “disgusted.” The US-Saudi war effort in Yemen has created thousands of refugees, who Trump now says he will not help. If I were looking for a military ally, I wouldn’t treat them that way.

Yemen is a basket case, beset by a civil war in which outsiders have taken sides. If even it does not want Trump running around freely in its country, despite the promise his administration holds out, of a final destruction of the Houthis and their (alleged) Iranian patrons, then the US is in real trouble. Mansour Hadi is backed by Saudi Arabia and its allies. He now holds some of largely Sunni Muslim south Yemen and the southern port of Aden. Much of northern (actually northwestern) Yemen is in the hands of the Houthi (Zaydi Shiite) militia and its ally, former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, along with troops loyal to him.

AQAP has been the most active branch of the al-Qaeda franchise in trying to find ways to hit the United States, and was responsible for the 2009 underwear bomber attempted attack over Detroit. AQAP has a special interest in non-metallic explosives, which is why TSA airport authorities often insist we be scanned for pouches of PETN; it doesn’t set off the metal detectors.

Yemen is extremely hostile territory for US military action. Many Yemenis, even those who dislike the Houthis, are angry about indiscriminate Saudi bombing of civilians and infrastructure. They have held large demonstrations in the capital, Sanaa, against the Saudi bombing raids. The Saudis bomb them during the demonstrations. The US has been closely associated with this Saudi war, providing refueling facilities, help with strategy, and even help with choosing specific targets for Saudi bombing runs. Many Yemenis see the US as complicit in their misery.

The Zaydis in the north resent decades of Saudi hegemony, and feel that the hard line Wahhabis in Riyadh are trying to convert them from their moderate Shiism.

AQAP has taken advantage of the disarray into which the country has fallen to expand the areas where it is active, in the south of the country. It is yet a third force. Zaydi militiamen and soldiers in the Yemeni military were, years ago before the civil war, among the more effective fighters against al-Qaeda.

Trump on the campaign trail talked a good game against groups like AQAP. He is now encountering reality, which, whether he likes it or not, will make itself felt. The reality is that Yemen is extremely rugged, and that it is clannish, and outsiders without intimate knowledge of the people and terrain will find the country hard going. Moreover, if you were looking for Yemeni allies you might have wanted to avoid alienating the whole country by locking them out of the US.


Related video:

CBS This Morning: ” Pentagon says civilians likely killed in Yemen raid”