Scores of Palestinians hurt as Jerusalem protests rage

from December 7, 2017 at 08:45AM

Thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets of Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to protest against the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, a contentious move that has inflamed tensions in Palestine and across the region.

In the occupied West Bank, Palestinians clashed with Israeli forces in a handful of cities throughout Thursday.

At least 49 Palestinians were injured in the protests, and 16 were sent to hospital, according to local health authorities in the West Bank.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Ramallah, said the clashes were dissipating after “several hours of quite vigorous confrontation between the youth and the Israeli army”.

Palestinian protesters gathered at the central Al Manara square in Ramallah and marched towards El Bireh, where they were met by Israeli troops firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Protests were also held in Hebron, Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem and Jericho in the West Bank, according to Anadolu news agency, as well as in East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

At least four Palestinians were injured in Gaza after Israeli soldiers fired live ammunition at dozens of demonstrators who assembled east of Khan Younes, in the southern part of the coastal territory, according to Palestinian news agency, Wafa. 

Trump’s ‘escalation’

Trump, ignoring warnings from the international community, announced on Wednesday that the US formally recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will begin the process of moving its embassy to the city, breaking with decades of US policy.

The decision has been condemned by world leaders who have described it as a “dangerous escalation” and a final nail in the coffin of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, while Israel says the city, which is under Israeli occupation, cannot be divided.

Haniya called for a new Intifada, or uprising, in response to the US move [Said Khatib/AFP]

Trump’s “announcement has the potential to send us backwards to even darker times than the ones we are already living in”, said Federica Mogherini, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs.

In a speech in Gaza City on Thursday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya has said the US decision is a “war declaration against Palestinians”, and called for a new Intifada, or uprising.

Haniya said US President Donald Trump‘s recognition “killed” the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

“This decision has killed the peace process, has killed the Oslo [accord], has killed the settlement process,” he said.

“The US decision is an aggression, a declaration of war on us, on the best Muslim and Christian shrines in the heart of Palestine, Jerusalem. We should work on launching an Intifada in the face of the Zionist enemy,” Haniya said.

Days of Rage

Palestinians had called for three days of rage in response to Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, and for the closure of local schools and stores.

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from East Jerusalem on Thursday, said a small-scale protest had been ongoing for most of the day outside Damascus Gate, the main entrance to the Old City.

“There has been a good deal of anger and just disbelief at what has happened overnight coming out of the White House,” Fawcett said.

Israeli police, meanwhile, attempted to break up the protest and confiscated Palestinian flags, he reported.

In Ramallah, Al Jazeera’s Abdel-Hamid said “another round of confrontations” between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers was expected on Friday.

“We expect more scenes [of] violence and unrest across the entire occupied West Bank,” she said.

Ignoring warnings

On Thursday, Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, told Al Jazeera from Ramallah that Trump was “joining Israel in the war crimes and in confirming the annexation of the occupied Palestinian Territories”.

“I hope that the Palestinian Authority will not accept to meet with this American team any more,” he said.

“Israel decided it wants everything. They want everything? Fine. We will also fight for everything,” he said.

“We might be talking about a popular wide uprising but non-violent one, similar to the first Intifada. That’s what we need. Israelis should see the Palestinian resistance everywhere.”

Read more at: Al Jazeera English

‘What approach is this?’: world leaders rebuke Trump over Jerusalem decision – video report

from December 7, 2017 at 06:37AM

Political leaders around the globe have spoken out after Donald Trump announced that the US would recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy to the city from Tel Aviv. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said Trump should ‘seek to make peace’ rather than stir up trouble, while the UK prime minister, Theresa May, said she would speak to Trump about his unilateral actions

Continue reading…

Read more at: World news | The Guardian

Democrats donate Franken PAC contributions to charity

from December 6, 2017 at 02:46PM

US Senator Al Franken, (JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

In the wake of sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a number of his fellow Democrats have stated that they have donated the money their campaigns received from Midwest Values PAC, a political action committee affiliated with Franken.  

So far in the 2018 election cycle, Midwest Values PAC has contributed $145,500 to 26 candidates, including 17 of Franken’s Senate colleagues.

At least 21 Democrats who have received contributions from Franken’s PAC this election cycle have pledged to return or donate to charities the PAC contributions, according to official statements and news reports.

Abby Finkenauer, who is running for Congress against incumbent Republican Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa, has reportedly donated the $1,500 she received in late September from the Midwest Values PAC.

In a statement issued by her campaign, Finkenauer said, “I’ve decided to donate Senator Franken’s donation to my campaign to the Riverview Center, a nonprofit in Iowa that helps individuals affected by sexual assault.”

Last month, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in a tweet that she will donate the $30,000 she’s received from Franken’s PAC over the past three election cycles to a food bank.

Similarly, Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) also said in a tweet that he will donate the $25,000 he’s received from the PAC to the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) donated $20,000 she has received to WOVIN: the Women Veterans Initiative on November 16th.

*Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) last month donated the $20,000 she received during the 2012 and 2018 cycles to Girls Inc. of Lynn. Warren also donated to charity contributions from former film executive Harvey Weinstein after he was accused of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Democratic congressional candidate Angie Craig from Franken’s home state of Minnesota are among others who have reportedly vowed to donate contributions from Midwest Values.

Representatives who have remained mum about their intentions include Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota.

On December 7th, Franken announced his intention to resign from the Senate.

*UPDATE: Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office told MassLive in mid-November that contributions from Midwest Values PAC were donated to charity.

The post Democrats donate Franken PAC contributions to charity appeared first on OpenSecrets Blog.

Read more at: OpenSecrets Blog

At SF Bayview town hall meeting, anger erupts as police show footage of an unarmed man

from December 8, 2017 at 08:59AM

Police have not yet found evidence that the 42-year-old man who an officer shot and killed last Friday after he stole a lottery van was armed, Capt. Valerie Matthews of the SFPD Major Crimes Unit told some 100 community members on Thursday at True Faith Church in the Bayview.

In response, residents at the community meeting questioned the purpose the department’s reforms and called for charges against the officer who fired the single fatal shot at Keita O’Neil.

Most of all, they challenged Police Chief Bill Scott, repeatedly asking the same question in different ways: what are you, as a reformer, going to do about this?

Gwen Woods – whose son, Mario Woods, was shot more than 20 times by five officers in Hunter’s Point in December 2015 – addressed Scott directly after the officers showed footage of the incident.

“What are you going to do?” she asked Scott, yelling at the top of her lungs and fighting tears. “Because the way that baby (O’Neil) and my baby (Woods), Kenneth Harding, Idriss Stelley, Alex Nieto … the way they were done – you’d better question it!”

“Everything is a question mark now,” she screamed. “You should know that. Everything is questionable now!”

Scott, who took over less than a year ago, remained largely silent throughout the meeting, listening and nodding to the residents as they questioned the panel of officers from the SFPD.

The officers offered a description of how the shooting took place.  

Captain Matthews, sitting beside Police Chief Scott and Captain Steven Ford of the Bayview Station, said that on Friday at 10:30 a.m., O’Neil robbed a California Lottery van containing lottery tickets.

Police chased O’Neil in the lottery van, which was “caravaning” with a gold SUV containing an unknown number of suspects in cahoots with O’Neil, Matthews said. After police detained the occupants of the gold SUV, police continued to chase O’Neil until he slowed the van at Fitzgerald Avenue and Griffiths Street.

There, Matthews said, O’Neil got out of the van, ran past the passenger window of a patrol car and was shot through the window by an officer, who has not been identified. The officer was apparently a recent graduate of the Police Academy.

That officer’s body-worn camera captured the incident. It was played twice for community members at the meeting.

The footage shows the officer preparing his gun as the patrol car closes in on the lottery van. O’Neil then runs past the passenger window of the patrol car. The offer fires one shot at O’Neil’s head through the window, and O’Neil falls to the ground.   

The footage was met by shock and anger from community members, who at one point argued among themselves about whether the police should show the footage again.

Body camera footage shows officer shoot Keita O’Neil, who was unarmed.


Scott said the department chose to release the footage because it did not endanger the safety of anyone involved in the investigation, did not jeopardize the successful completion of the investigation, or violate anyone’s privacy.

“I would like to remind everyone that the video evidence is only a portion of the investigation, and we are releasing it for the purposes of transparency,” he said.

Still, many in attendance were angered by what they felt was another unwarranted killing of an unarmed person of color. O’Neil is now among the 20 people killed by the SFPD since 2011. District Attorney George Gascón has closed 11 such cases without filing charges. Nine, including the case of the officer who shot O’Neil, are still open investigations. 

“We’ve been doing the same dance over and over,” said one community member to Scott, who looked on in silence. “What are you going to do about it? It’s got to stop.”

Others, who spoke during the public comment section, said they were friends with O’Neil, who they referred to by his nickname, “Iggy.”

A man named Demetrius Williams said he grew up with O’Neil. “He didn’t make the best choices all the time,” Williams said. “But he was no threat to where’s he got to get murdered.”

“He didn’t have no weapon,” Williams continued. “We’re here because another young brother got murdered – and it wasn’t by us … it was by people who took an oath serve and protect, not harass and arrest.”

The attendees broke into applause.

Jeremy Miller said he also knew O’Neil as a friend. “I remember his smile,” Miller said. “I shook his hand, I hugged his man.”

“I’ve been seeing … chatter about new community policing – and we don’t need none of that mess,” Miller screamed. “We need the police to stop killing our community. And that goes directly on your desk, Chief.”  

Toward the end of the meeting, Bayview Station Capt. Ford told the crowd that, in many ways, he was a product of the Bayview, having not grown up there, but having spent a lot of time in the neighborhood.  

“I want everyone in this room to understand that I look at myself like a resource,” he said.

Ford announced that he would be holding a meeting every Monday at 5 p.m. at Bayview Station “until the community feels comfortable moving forward from this incident.”

Community members pushed back.

“We’ll move forward when we get justice,” one yelled.

“What are you doing about the racists? asked another. “That’s all I want to know.”

“Clean it up!” yelled another.

Overview of police shootings in the Mission District

Read more at: MissionLocal

Trump slashes size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase national monuments in Utah

from December 4, 2017 at 04:09PM

Donald Trump reversed another Barack Obama action on Monday by significantly shrinking two national monuments in Utah.

The president signed two proclamations modifying designations for Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears.

“Some people think that the natural resources of Utah should be controlled by a small handful of very distant bureaucrats located in Washington,” Trump told a gathering in Salt Lake City, Utah. “And guess what? They’re wrong.”

He added: “You know best how to conserve this land for many, many generations to come.”

The president described it as “a historic action to reverse federal overreach and restore the rights of this land to your citizens”.

Trump said he had consulted widely with the state’s two US Senators and been assured the step would not be controversial. “I don’t think it is controversial, actually. I think it is so sensible.”

He described the Obama-era designations as a threat to people’s way of life and promised: “Public lands will once again be for public use.”

Earlier, on Air Force One, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters that Bears Ears will be reduced from 1.5m acres to 220,000 acres, while Staircase will be cut from 2m acres to 1m acres. Zinke insisted that this is not an energy issue – there is no oil and gas in Bears Ears – though there is coal in Staircase.

But Trump’s move to shrink the national monuments represents a triumph for fossil fuel industries, ranchers and Republicans, particularly those representing Utah, who have pushed the president to undo protections put in place by previous administrations that curb activities such as oil drilling and cattle grazing.

In April, promising to “end another egregious use of government power”, Trump ordered a review of national monuments declared since the 1990s.

Zinke, who has been a vocal proponent of allowing greater development including mining on public lands, recommended shrinking six monuments and altering the management plans of a further four.

If Trump follows through with all those recommendations, protected areas in Nevada, Oregon and California would be resized, as well as two vast marine monuments in the Pacific ocean. The areas could be remodeled to allow activities such as timber production, grazing or commercial fishing.

Zinke told reporters on Air Force One that “no one loves public land more than I do” and he is a “steadfast believer in public lands for public use” but added: “When a monument is used to prevent rather than protect, the president is right to take action.”
In the case of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah, Zinke said the whole Utah congressional delegation supports Trump’s move, as well as the governor and commissioner that represents the Navajo districts

But while the Trump administration has touted an economic boon from an influx of development, opponents point out that the tourism and local business stimulated by monument declarations is often far more valuable. Companies such as Patagonia, the clothing firm, have railed against Trump’s plan.

In Utah, the president’s decision prompted protests before his arrival to announce it. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators converged on the steps of the Utah state capitol.

“There’s nothing in our data that’d say, politically, that this is popular,” Lori Weigel, a Republican pollster in Denver, told the Associated Press of efforts to trim monuments.

“I can’t say why Utah elected officials have taken this on more than in other states. But we see widespread recognition that designation of protected land is valued.”

The monuments provide a bulwark for intrinsic values such as natural beauty, endangered species and, importantly to local tribes, heritage. Bears Ears, named after two towering buttes in the heart of the protected area, has around 100,000 archaeological sites, including native American ceremonial grounds, graves and rock art.

The five Native American tribes that form the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition say legal action is likely against Trump’s decisions on monuments in Utah. Shaun Chapoose, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe business committee, told the Guardian this week Trump’s policy was “another slap in the face in the overall relationship between the federal government and the tribes, and local people”.

US presidents are given sweeping power to protect land and waters under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which was signed by Theodore Roosevelt, an avowed hunter and conservationist. Since then, more than 150 sites have been unilaterally designated monuments by presidents, including the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.

Barack Obama frequently wielded this power amid Republican howls about executive overreach, creating or expanding 34 national monuments, including Bears Ears in December.

The Trump administration’s attempt to scale back this legacy will almost certainly encounter a thicket of legal action from enraged environmental groups.

“This is a shameful and illegal attack on our nation’s protected lands,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, a former director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service now head of Defenders of Wildlife. “Teddy Roosevelt is rolling in his grave. We’ll be seeing President Trump in court.”

Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate energy and natural resources committee, said: “Veterans, sportsmen, climbers, hikers and the outdoor economy all depend on open space.

“‎Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante have been driving a vibrant outdoor economy for years. Now President Trump is using unlawful authority to pollute these special places. His administration deserves an ‘F’ for stewardship.”

Read more at: World news | The Guardian

Israel turns West Bank into a ‘garbage dump’

from December 4, 2017 at 11:57PM

Israeli rights group B’Tselem has released a scathing new report detailing Israel’s transferral of waste to treatment facilities in the occupied West Bank, in violation of international law.

According to the report, released on Tuesday, Israel has established at least 15 waste treatment facilities in the West Bank to recycle waste largely produced inside Israel.

Six of the facilities process hazardous waste that poses serious health and environmental risks for surrounding Palestinian communities, the group stated.

The report details five Israeli facilities in the West Bank treating waste from Israel, four of which handle hazardous waste, including biological and medical waste, solvent waste from the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, oil waste and electronic and metal waste.

“Israel has turned the West Bank into a garbage dump,” Adam Aloni, a B’Tselem researcher and author of the report, told reporters at a news conference.

‘Sacrifice zones’

Israel produces some 350,000 metric tonnes of hazardous waste each year, according to B’Tselem.

Environmental regulations inside Israel can make the operating costs of waste treatment facilities high, encouraging Israel “to seek sacrifice zones” – areas “irrevocably impaired by environmental damage or neglect” – to absorb the costs and risks of managing hazardous waste, the report noted.

Israel found what it needed in the occupied West Bank and has been “abusing its status as an occupying power” in a territory where Palestinians have no rights to oppose Israeli policies that directly affect them, B’Tselem said.

“While Israel increases the amount of waste it creates, it diverts the risks and pollutants onto the Palestinian environment and land,” Aloni said.

In the West Bank, which has been ruled by Israeli military law since 1967, Israel can loosen its environmental policies to allow waste facilities to operate more cheaply.

“Since these plants are exempt from recording or reporting their external impact, no information is collected at all regarding the type and quantity of pollutants, how they are treated, the destination of wastewater pumping, or the quantity and destination of hazardous by-products,” the report stated.

De-facto annexation

At the same time, Israel has largely prohibited Palestinian communities from developing essential infrastructure, including waste treatment facilities.

“Israel uses the territory as if it was their own. It’s de facto annexation,” Aloni told Al Jazeera, noting that Palestinian development has simultaneously been “paralysed” by the Israeli occupation.

Karem Jubaren, the head of field research at B’Tselem, told Al Jazeera that nearby Palestinian communities have not been told what kind of waste is being treated in these industrial zones.

Palestinians residing near the industrial zones have complained of a perpetual bad smell and respiratory illnesses, Jubaren said, although he acknowledged that further research was needed to directly connect these issues with Israel’s waste treatment plants.

A resident of one of these communities told Al Jazeera that he was “too scared to talk” about the alleged effects.

Israel’s diversion of the environmental and health risks of treating its own hazardous waste to Palestinian communities “is part and parcel of the policy of dispossession and annexation it has practiced in the West Bank for the past fifty years,” the report stated.

“Israel is exploiting the West Bank for its own benefit, ignoring the needs of the Palestinians almost entirely, and harming both them and their environment.”

Read more at: Al Jazeera English

Robert Mueller Just Obtained Trump’s Personal Banking Information

from December 5, 2017 at 07:39AM

Photo Credit: katz / Shutterstock

Donald Trump’s personal banking information has formally been turned over to Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating whether the president’s campaign conspired with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.

Bloomberg reported early on Tuesday that Deutsche Bank, the German bank that serves as Trump’s biggest lender, had been forced to submit documents about its client relationship with the president after Mueller issued the bank with a subpoena for information.

The new revelation makes it clear that Mueller and his team are investigating the president’s financial transactions. It is not clear whether Mueller is interested in the bank accounts because they are connected to the Russia probe or if he is investigating another matter.

The news could also elicit a strong reaction from the president, who has previously said that any attempt to investigate his personal business dealings would go beyond Mueller’s investigative mandate and would represent a “violation”.

Trump has consistently denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia and has stated that he did not have any business dealings in Russia. Since then, news has emerged that the Trump Organization sold a significant number of its properties to Russian clients and explored opening a hotel in Moscow, though the plan never came to fruition.

The president has repeatedly criticised the Mueller investigation and, this weekend, alleged that the FBI’s reputation was “in tatters”. The attack followed the guilty plea of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who is now cooperating with federal investigators.

Mueller’s investigators have, according to previous media reports, examined Russian purchases of Trump-owned apartments, the president’s involvement with Russian associates in a development in SoHo, New York, and the president’s 2008 sale of his Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch, Dmitry Rybolovlev.

News of the subpoena was not unexpected. The Guardian reported in July that executives at the bank were anticipating they would receive a formal demand for banking records about the president and had already established informal contacts with Mueller’s investigators.

But the development nevertheless represents a significant blow to the president personally and indicates that Mueller is not limiting his probe to Trump campaign officials.

Deutsche Bank has for months been the subject of intense scrutiny – especially by Democrats on Capitol Hill – because of its dealings with the president and his family, who are also clients. Trump owes the bank about $300m in loans that were extended to him before he became president.

The Guardian reported in February that the bank had launched a review of Trump’s account earlier this year to gauge whether there were any connections to Russia and had not discovered anything suspicious.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser in the White House; her husband, Jared Kushner, who is also a presidential adviser; and Kushner’s mother, Seryl Stadtmauer, are all clients of Deutsche Bank.


Stephanie Kirchgaessner is the Rome correspondent for the Guardian.

Read more at: Alternet

Before Our Very Eyes, Trump Is Undoing the Work of Our Country’s Founders

from December 5, 2017 at 06:09AM

Painful as it is, we can only fight him if we pay attention.

Don’t look away. I mean it! Keep on staring just like you’ve been doing, just like we’ve all been doing since he rode down that escalator into the presidential race in June 2015 and, while you have your eyes on him, I’ll tell you exactly why you shouldn’t stop.

To begin with, it’s time to think of Donald J. Trump in a different light.  After all, isn’t he really our own UnFounding Father?  While the Founding Fathers were responsible for two crucial documents, the Declaration of Independence (1,458 words) and the Constitution (4,543 words), our twenty-first century UnFounding Father only writes passages of 140 characters or less. (Sad!)  Other people have authored “his” books. (“I put lipstick on a pig,” said one of his ghostwriters.)  He reportedly doesn’t often read books himself (though according to ex-wife Ivana, he once had a volume of Hitler’s speeches by his bedside).  He’s never seen a magazine cover he didn’t want to be on (or at least that he didn’t want to claim, however spuriously, he had decided not to be on).  He recently indicated that he thought the Constitution had at least one extra article, “Article XII,” which he promised to “protect,” even though it didn’t exist.  (My best guess: he believed it said, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved neither to the States respectively, nor to the people, but to Trump and his heirs and there will be no inheritance tax on them.”)

None of this should be surprising since, for him, the Constitution is undoubtedly a hearsay document, as is much of the rest of life.  Still, at 71, who could doubt that he himself has the constitution of an ox, thanks perhaps to those Big Macs he reportedly adores, the Trump Steaks he tried to peddle, and the taco bowls (“I love Hispanics!”) that he once swore he gobbles down.  As someone capable of changing his mind on almost anything (other than himself), his attention span tends to be short.  So briefing him on the state of the world, if you happen to be in the U.S. Intelligence Community, is evidently a challenging task. You reportedly want to keep it, well, brief — no more than a page per topic, three topics per visit, lots of visuals.  And don’t forget to skip the “nuance,” as well as any dissenting or conflicting views (especially on him, since that’s the rare subject he truly cares about).

His daily briefings reportedly have only a quarter of the information President Obama’s had, perhaps because the world’s gotten simpler since those godforsaken days.  Thank you, Rocket Man!  And to give him credit where it’s due, he’s done a remarkably thorough job of turning the Oval Office into a business venture for himself and his kids.  (Hey, if you happen to be a foreign diplomat, lobbyist, industry group of any sort, cabinet member, or White House adviser who wants anything from the Oval Office, let me recommend the new Trump International Hotel just down the block on Pennsylvania Avenue for a meal or an event!  There’s no better way to curry favor, even if you happen to be an Indian businessman and there’s no curry on the menu.  Don’t miss those $24 chocolate cigars!)  For the rest of us, we’ve gained immeasurably from his business ventures since his election.  Otherwise, how would we know what the once-obscure word “emoluments” actually meant. 

Thank you, big guy!

He’s Da Man!

Keep in mind, though, that none of this makes him any less historic.  As a start, it’s indisputable that no one has ever gotten the day-after-day media coverage he has.  Not another president, general, politician, movie star, not even O.J. after the car chase. He’s Da Man!

Since that escalator ride, he’s been in the news (and in all our faces) in a way once unimaginable. Cable news talking heads and talk-show hosts can’t stop gabbling about him.  It’s the sort of 24/7 attention that normally accompanies terrorist attacks in the United States or Europe, presidential assassinations, or major hurricanes.  But with him, we’re talking about more or less every hour of every day for almost two-and-a-half years without a break.  It’s been no different on newspaper front pages.  No one’s ever stormed the headlines more regularly.  And I haven’t even mentioned the social media universe.  There, he has, if anything, an even more obsessional audience of tens of millions for his daily tweets, which instantly become The News and then, of course, the fodder for those yakking cableheads and talk-show hosts.  Think of him not so much as a him at all but as a perpetual motion machine of breaking headlines.

Part of that’s certainly attributable to the fact that no presidential candidate or president has ever had his knack for attracting the cameras and gluing eyeballs.  Give him credit for a media version of horse sense that’s remarkable.  It’s a talent of a special sort fit for a special moment.  What catnip is for cats, he is for TV cameras. He was the Kardashian candidate and now he’s the Kardashian president.

But that’s the lesser part of the tale.  To grasp why we can’t help staring at him, why we essentially have no choice but to do so, you need to understand something else: this sort of attention hasn’t been a fluke.  It doesn’t represent a Trumpian black hole in time or an anomaly in our history, and neither does he.  Of course, he’s Donald J. Trump in all his… well, not glory, but [you fill in the word here].  However, he’s also a symptom.  He didn’t create this particular media moment or this American world of ours either.  He just grasped how it worked at some intuitive level and rode it (or perhaps it rode him) all the way to the White House. 

He’s gotten so much attention in part because he rose in (or, in his case, descended into) a changed media landscape that most of us hadn’t even begun to grasp.  He didn’t, however, create that landscape either.  If anything, it created him.  What he did was make himself the essence of it.  He was what a news media in crisis needed, as staffs were being decimated, finances challenged by the online world, reporters disappearing.  He came on the scene, politically speaking, just when a once-upon-a-time sense of the “news” was morphing into so many focus groups on what would glue eyeballs, while coverage was increasingly being recalibrated for a series of designated 24/7 events, each generally filled with horror, fear, and plenty of weeping people.  Think: terror attacks, mass killings, and anything involving “extreme weather” with all its photogenic damage.  

By the time The Donald set foot on that escalator, our world of news was already devolving into a set of 24/7 zombie apocalypse events.  Otherwise, he and his rants, his red face and strange orange comb-over wouldn’t have made much sense at all.  He would have been an unimaginable candidate before the media went into crisis, experienced what might be thought of as its own news inequality gap, and began refocusing on a few singular events of particularly resonant horror.  These, in turn, regularly wiped away most of the rest of what was actually happening on this planet, while giving media units with smaller staffs and fewer resources the opportunity to put all their attention and energy into a set of eye-gluing, funds- and staff-preserving spectacles.  As CBS Chairman Les Moonves put it bluntly during the 2016 presidential campaign, speaking of the focus on Trump’s candidacy and antics, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS… I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

In the end, it wasn’t Trump who brought it on; it was the media.  And all of this took place in the midst of the rise of a social media scene in which “fake news” was becoming the order of the day and millions of eyeballs could be reached directly by any conspiracy nut or, for that matter, presidential candidate with the moxie to do it.

It was, in other words, the perfect moment for a billionaire salesman-cum-conman-cum-reality-TV-sensation to descend that escalator.  Donald Trump was neither a media mistake, nor an out-of-space-and-time experience.  He was a man made for our unfounding media moment.

The President as Chameleon

And this same way of thinking about him is applicable to so much else.  As our UnFounding Father, he’s inconceivable without an American world that was already experiencing various kinds of incipient unfounding. 

Whatever he might now be fathering, he himself was the child, for instance, of a distinctly plutocratic moment.  If we have our first billionaire in the White House, it’s only because by 2015 this country’s democratic politics had devolved (with a little helping hand from the Supreme Court) into a set of 1%, or perhaps even .01%, elections. 

An American inequality gap that first began to almost imperceptibly widen in the 1970s has, by now, reached Grand Canyon proportions.  Before it hits its ultimate moment, it may make the nineteenth-century version of a Gilded Age look like an era of moderation.  Since 1980, stunningly enough, the share of national income of the richest 1% has doubled.  If all that American wealth hadn’t gushed upward, if it hadn’t produced a raft of billionaires, as well as hordes of multi-millionaires and millionaires, with so many interests to protect, we would never have experienced such prodigious top-down funding of elections; the building of a 1% democracy, that is, would have been inconceivable.  If the Republican Party hadn’t been sold to the Koch Brothers and the Democratic Party hadn’t gone all neoliberal on us, can you really imagine working class voters putting their faith in a billionaire to make America great again for them? I doubt it.

Similarly, if this country hadn’t been pursuing its never-ending war on terror so assiduously and unsuccessfully these last 16 years, while Washington was being transformed into a war capital, the national security state was rising to prominence as a kind of shadow government, and the funding of the U.S. military hadn’t become the only truly bipartisan issue in Congress, Trumpism would never have been conceivable. In our American world, The Donald’s tendency toward authoritarianism is often treated as if it were a unique attribute of his.  To believe that, however, you would have to overlook the growth in this century of a distinctly authoritarian spirit in Washington.  You would have to ignore what it meant for the national security state to be ever more embedded in our ruling city. You would have to forget about the American intelligence community’s development of an historically unprecedented surveillance machinery aimed not just at the world but at American citizens as well.

The Donald’s surprising decision to surround himself with “my generals” in a fashion never before seen in Washington, even in wartime, was treated in a similarly anomalous fashion.  And yet, given the Washington he entered, it was anything but.  During the election campaign, candidate Trump referred to those same generals as “rubble,” while deriding the losing wars they had been fighting for so long.  He seemed in some way to grasp that this was a country and a citizenry increasingly being unmade by war.

Still, it took him next to no time as president to tack to where Washington had been heading since 9/11.  As I’ve argued elsewhere, he might better be thought of as our chameleon president: a Democrat who became a fervent Republican, a billionaire businessman who somehow convinced rural white working class voters that he was their man, a former globalizer who’s taken off like a bat out of hell after globalizing trade pacts of every sort. He’s a man ready to alter his positions to fit the moment when it comes to everything except himself.

The Dumbfounding Father of Twenty-First-Century America

Let me mention just one more aspect of this Trumpian moment: climate-change denial.  At a time of such planetary stress, in his fervent promotion of a fossil-fuelized America — of coal miningpipelines, and fracking, among other things — in his essential rejection of the very idea of climate change, in his appointment of one climate-change denier after another to key positions in his administration, in his decision to make the United States the only country on the planet not to take part in the Paris climate agreement, he seems like an almost inexplicable manifestation of anti-scientific frenzy.  And yet think back.  He’s now the head of the party that, in recent years, sold itself to Big Energy, lock, stock, and barrel.  This, at the very moment when the oil giants were suppressing their own research on climate change and pouring money into organizations that would promote climate-change-denial disinformation campaigns.  By default, he has now become the head of what can only be called the party of climate-change denial.  In that sense, he couldn’t be more in the spirit of his times.

Okay, it’s true. He’s presidentially bizarre in ways no one expects a leader to be (other than, perhaps, some strange autocratic ruler in Central Asia).  And he’s certainly potentially dangerous.  But he’s something else, too: just what late twentieth and twenty-first century America prepared us for (even though we didn’t know it).  He’s the essence of where this country now is and seems to be headed.

So don’t imagine that he’s getting too much attention in the land of the rich and home of the craven.  Instead, look at him carefully.  Now, stare at him again.  And keep looking.  If you don’t take him in, you won’t understand what this moment actually is.  Yes, he’s the Dumbfounding Father of twenty-first-century America and that’s distracting, but he’s also the ultimate symptom of the unfounding of this nation, of the moment when — to slightly adapt a Cole Porter line — Plymouth Rock finally landed on us.

Truly, don’t look away from the unbelievable figure now in the White House because how else will you know where we are? And until we grasp that, until we understand that he isn’t an aberration but the zeitgeist and that simply removing him from the Oval Office won’t solve our problems, we aren’t anywhere at all.


Read more at: Alternet

Trump’s Transition Team Colluded With Israel. Why Isn’t That News?

from December 5, 2017 at 08:42AM

Did the Trump campaign collude with Vladimir Putin to win the 2016 election? Maybe. We await Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s next move to learn more about that. But in the meantime, why aren’t more members of Congress or the media discussing the Trump transition team’s pretty brazen collusion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undermine both U.S. government policy and international law? Shouldn’t that be treated as a major scandal?

Thanks to Mueller’s ongoing investigation, we now know that prior to President Donald Trump’s inauguration, members of his inner circle went to bat on behalf of Israel, and specifically on behalf of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, behind the scenes and in opposition to official U.S. foreign policy. That’s the kind of collusion with a foreign state that has gotten a lot of attention with respect to the Kremlin – but colluding with Israel seems to be of far less interest, strangely.

It’s the kind of collusion with a foreign state that has gotten a lot of attention with respect to the Kremlin — but colluding with Israel seems to be of far less interest, strangely.

Here’s what we learned last week when Mueller’s team unveiled its plea deal with Trump’s former national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn. In December 2016, the United Nations Security Council was debating a draft resolution that condemned Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied territories as a “flagrant violation under international law” that was “dangerously imperiling the viability” of an independent Palestinian state.

The Obama administration had made it clear that the U.S. was planning to abstain on the resolution, while noting that “the settlements have no legal validity” and observing how “the settlement problem has gotten so much worse that it is now putting at risk the … two-state solution.” (Rhetorically, at least, U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements has been a long-standing and bipartisan position for decades: Ronald Reagan called for “a real settlement freeze” in 1982 while George H.W. Bush tried to curb Israeli settlement-building plans by briefly cutting off U.S. loan guarantees to the Jewish state in 1991.)

So what did members of the Trump team do, as they listened to loud objections to the U.N. resolution from the Netanyahu government while counting down the days till Trump’s inauguration in January 2017?

“On or about December 22, 2016, a very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team directed Flynn to contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia, to learn where each government stood on the resolution and to influence those governments to delay the vote or defeat the resolution,” reads the statement of offense against Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. “On or about December 22, 2016, Flynn contacted the Russian Ambassador about the pending vote. Flynn informed the Russian Ambassador about the incoming administration’s opposition to the resolution, and requested that Russia vote against or delay the resolution.”

Who was the “very senior member” of the transition team who “directed” Flynn to do all this? Multiple news outlets have confirmed that it was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and main point man on the Middle East peace process. “Jared called Flynn and told him you need to get on the phone to every member of the Security Council and tell them to delay the vote,” a Trump transition official revealed to BuzzFeed News on Friday, adding that Kushner told Flynn “this was a top priority for the president.”

According to BuzzFeed, “After hanging up, Flynn told the entire room [at the Trump transition team HQ] that they’d have to start pushing to lobby against the U.N. vote, saying ‘the president wants this done ASAP.’” Flynn’s guilty plea, BuzzFeed continued, revealed “for the first time how Trump transition officials solicited Russia’s help to head off the UN vote and undermine the Obama administration’s policy on Middle East peace before ever setting foot in the White House.”

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 3: White House Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner speaks during a conversation with Haim Saban at the Saban Forum, December 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. The Saban Forum is a US-Israeli dialogue, hosted by the Brookings Institution. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

White House Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner speaks during a conversation with Haim Saban at the Saban Forum, Dec. 3, 2017 in Washington.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

None of this has been contested. In fact, on Sunday, Kushner made a rare public appearance at the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., to discuss the Trump administration’s plans for the Middle East and was welcomed by the forum’s sponsor, the Israeli-American billionaire Haim Saban, who said he “personally wanted to thank” Kushner for “taking steps to try and get the United Nations Security Council to not go along with what ended up being an abstention by the U.S.” Kushner’s response? The first son-in-law smiled, nodded, and mouthed “thank you” to Saban.

Meanwhile, the Israelis have been pretty forthcoming about their own role in all of this, too. On Monday, Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. and a close friend and ally of Netanyahu, told Politico’s Susan Glasser that, in December 2016, “obviously we reached out to [the Trump transition team] in the hope that they would help us,” and “we were hopeful that they would speak” to other governments “in order to prevent this vote from happening.”

The Trump transition team reached out to the Russian government in order to undermine the U.S. government because the Israeli government asked them to.

Got that? The Trump transition team — in the form of key Trump advisers Kushner and Flynn — reached out to the Russian government in order to undermine the U.S. government because the Israeli government asked them to.

Where’s the outrage? How is the sheer “scope and audacity” of the Trump-Netanyahu backchannels — to quote one U.S. official who spoke to me on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on this issue — not a bigger story? For a start, as University of Chicago law professors Daniel Hemel and Eric Posner argued in a New York Times op-ed on Monday, the much-mocked Logan Act of 1799 remains “a serious criminal statute that bars citizens from undermining the foreign policy actions of the sitting president.” These two legal scholars point out that “if Mr. Flynn violated the Logan Act, then so did the ‘very senior’ official who directed his actions. If that official is Mr. Kushner, then Mr. Kushner could go to jail.”

Then there is the issue of Middle East policy itself. It wasn’t outsourced to the Israelis by Trump and Co. only during the transition or only over settlements. The outsourcing has continued in office. Tomorrow, Trump is expected to announce that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — another key Israeli demand that every single previous president, Republican and Democrat, has resisted. The decision on Jerusalem is so contentious that it both undermines any chance of reviving the peace process and threatens to cost lives — not just those of Israelis and Palestinians, but of Americans too.

What was it that James Mattis, secretary of defense and former head of U.S. Central Command, said back in 2013 at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado? He pointed out that the chances of a two-state solution were “starting to ebb because of the settlements,” before adding: “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel.”

Until Mueller issues his final report, we can all agree to disagree on whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. For now, however, what we do know for sure and what seems beyond doubt is that Flynn and Kushner colluded with Netanyahu and Dermer, on behalf of Trump, to make America not great again, but much less secure.

Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Trump’s own defense secretary. 

Top photo: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Jared Kushner in Jerusalem on June 21, 2017.

The post Trump’s Transition Team Colluded With Israel. Why Isn’t That News? appeared first on The Intercept.

Read more at: The Intercept

The Government Is Trying to Make It Impossible For Reality Winner to Defend Herself in Court

from December 5, 2017 at 09:24AM

The investigation into potential Russian interference of the 2016 presidential election continues to dominate headlines, but one aspect of the saga has fallen completely away from public view: the case of former NSA contractor Reality Winner. Little attention is paid to the Trump administration’s first prosecution in its war on leaks, and the person being prosecuted for allegedly attempting to shine light on hackers’ attempts to probe the U.S. election infrastructure.

The Justice Department is now engaged in a multi-pronged effort to hamstring Winner’s defense against charges of violating the Espionage Act behind cumbersome classification rules, cut off any attempt by Winner to argue her alleged disclosures did not harm national security, and, according to her lawyers, were unconstitutionally keeping parts of the case hidden from public view.

The efforts on the part of the prosecutors represent a broad push by the government to hamper Winner’s attempt to defend herself.

In a brief filed on November 27, Winner’s defense team accused federal prosecutors of using secrecy rules to stifle their ability to do even basic research about the case. They’re arguing that a number of limitations and concerns have arisen that present a serious obstacle to the defense’s ability to gather evidence and prepare its case, and that are contrary to the Constitution and the presumption of openness in federal courts.”

The restrictions imposed by the government for operating under the law impose a huge burden on the defense team. And the stringent rules, along with other arguments the prosecution is making to the judge, could leave Winner little room to make her case.

The efforts on the part of the prosecutors represent a broad push by the government to hamper Winner’s attempt to defend herself. They are seeking to prevent Winner’s lawyers from citing public news articles in open court, restricting their ability to research those public articles even in private, hiding several aspects of the case completely from public view, and arguing that someone charged under the Espionage Act is not even allowed to bring up the fact that her actions never harmed national security.

A key part of the defense’s argument may hinge on the fact that nothing Winner is alleged to have leaked actually damaged national security and that similar information was likely already in the public domain. If the defense can prove that, then they can show that she did not violate the Espionage Act, which requires the “national defense information” released to have been “closely held” — a true secret, in other words. (The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media, has taken steps to provide independent support for Winner’s legal defense through the Press Freedom Defense Fund. First Look also contributed $50,000 in matching funds to the Stand With Reality campaign, which I co-founded.)

A key part of the defense’s argument may hinge on the fact that nothing Winner is alleged to have leaked actually damaged national security.

The law, however it’s being interpreted by the judge, as of now, bars the defense from citing this information — news articles, mostly — in its public legal briefs, and the prosecution is now trying to tie the defense’s hands by making it difficult to even research this information in private.

Winner’s defense team, which is already limited by the number of security clearances obtained in a timely fashion, is only allowed to discuss classified aspects of the case — defined so broadly to encompass virtually everything they do — in one of two government-designated Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities. Because the defense team is located in multiple states, research and communication among Winner’s lawyers are incredibly cumbersome and slow. What’s more, the lawyers are only allowed to discuss the case with Winner herself in one of these SCIFs.

While the prosecutors are afforded a classified email system so they can communicate with each other more freely and easily, the defense team is not. The defense team is prohibited from doing internet searches for public news articles outside the SCIF if they may contain classified information — even those that don’t cite Winner’s alleged leak. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of public news articles on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election that contain such information. But, because they can’t take the information out of the SCIF in any form, the defense cannot run standard Google searches for these types of articles to determine how they are related to the case.

The government’s restrictions on the defense are of a piece with its first major win early on in the case: Prosecutors convinced a judge that the defense shouldn’t be allowed to cite any news articles that may or may not contain classified information in any briefs open for public view.

On top of all this, several weeks ago, the government made sweeping arguments attempting to prohibit the defense team from making any argument related to national security at all — either publicly or behind closed doors. The Justice Department wrote in a little noticed brief in October that “the government is not required to prove: (1) that the disclosure of the classified intelligence reporting could threaten the national security of the United States, or (2) the specific mens rea requirements alleged by the Defendant, including intent to injure the United States.”

The Justice Department is contending that it doesn’t matter if Winner didn’t intend to harm the United States; it doesn’t matter if the document didn’t actually harm national security; and it didn’t even matter if the document could potentially could harm national security. Prosecutors are essentially arguing the national security implications of the leak are totally irrelevant and therefore, shouldn’t even come up at trial.

The defense accused the prosecution of violating the Constitution by entirely hiding aspects of the case from public view.

It’s bad enough that the trial has faded from public attention, but in the same November 27 brief, the defense accused the prosecution of violating the Constitution by entirely hiding aspects of the case from public view.

Many of the briefs in the case are filed under seal because they allegedly contain classified information. Instead of posting those documents on the public docket in redacted form, as the prosecutors are required to do by a protective order they already agreed to, the government has been forgoing even making the existence of such filings public at all.

Even if some of the information is classified, the public still has the right to know these briefs exist, and there’s plenty of case law to back it up. It’s not only a violation of Winner’s rights to a public trial as a defendant, but a violation of the public’s right to know how the government is prosecuting the case.

On Monday, months into the ongoing case, the government placed at least some of the classified filings on the public docket. But it’s still unclear how many and when other portions will be made available. And it doesn’t bode well that the government had to apparently be forced into complying with the law on public filings by a defense motion accusing it of violating the constitution.

With all the restrictions put on Winner’s defense team, it’s plain to see that leakers and whistleblowers tried under a law made for spies cannot get anything close to resembling a fair trial.

Top photo: Reality Winner is depicted in this courtroom sketch during her hearing at the U.S. District Courthouse in Augusta, Ga., on June 8, 2017.

The post The Government Is Trying to Make It Impossible For Reality Winner to Defend Herself in Court appeared first on The Intercept.

Read more at: The Intercept