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Donald Trump is making a fool of Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Yesterday, Kelly gave an emotionally charged press conference, drawing on his own experiences as the father of a slain soldier, to defend his boss from charges of callousness in his treatment of Myeshia Johnson, widow of Sergeant La David T. Johnson, who was killed in Niger two weeks ago along with three other servicemen. While Kelly lambasted Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson for politicizing the issue, he conceded that her account of the conversation between Trump and Myeshia Johnson was substantially accurate. Kelly only disputed the way Johnson and Wilson interpreted Trump’s words—particularly the phrase “he knew what he signed up for”—indicating that no offense was intended.

Kelly might have hoped that he had put out the latest White House fire and that the matter could be soon forgotten. But Trump is not a man to forgive or forget. Last night he tweeted:

By saying that Wilson gave a “total lie” about the conversation, Trump is impugning the honesty not just of the congresswoman, but also everyone else who has spoken about the affair, including Myeshia Johnson and Cowanda Jones-Johnson (the mother of the fallen soldier). Moreover, Trump is also implying John Kelly is a liar. Such are the rewards for sacrificing your good name on behalf of the president.

Even if it was unintentional, Trump made a pregnant widow with two kids feel like her dead husband’s sacrifice was being disrespected. The normal response to such a situation would be for Trump to apologize. Instead, Trump has gone straight into the gutter and dragged his chief of staff with him.

November 19, 2018

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Piers Morgan just can’t help himself on International Men’s Day.

International Men’s Day has become an occasion to share messages about the importance of self-care for men to fend off physical and psychological ailments. Many on Twitter marked the day by discussing problems that men are particularly prone to, with a special emphasis on suicide:

But there was at least one prominent figure who wanted to use International Men’s Day for entirely different purposes. Piers Morgan is one of 46 people on Twitter followed by American president Donald Trump. Morgan decided to use his twitter account to spew forth tweets that made it clear that for him the day is an occasion to spite feminists.

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Donald Trump doesn’t actually seem all that keen on the military.

President Donald Trump’s bizarre decision to deride retired Admiral William McRaven on Sunday is symptomatic of a wider rift between the commander in chief and the military he oversees. 

Last year, McRaven said that the “president’s attack on the media is the greatest threat to our democracy in my lifetime.” Asked about these comments, Trump, in a Fox News interview that aired Sunday, inaccurately dismissed McRaven as a “Hillary Clinton fan” and “Obama backer.” 

The president also disparaged McRaven’s most famous achievement, commanding the raid that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.  “Wouldn’t it have been nice if we got Osama bin Laden a lot sooner than that, wouldn’t it have been nice?” Trump asked. “You know, living—think of this—living in Pakistan, beautifully in Pakistan, in what I guess they considered a nice mansion, I don’t know, I’ve seen nicer. But living in Pakistan right next to the military academy, everybody in Pakistan knew he was there.”

The Navy SEAL who pulled the trigger responded to Trump’s words with a tweet:

Conversely, the official Twitter account of the Republican Party took the president’s side:

As The Washington Post notes, the tussle with McRaven raises “broader questions about Trump’s relationship with military matters.” The president has been widely criticized for not attending an armistice ceremony in France and a Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.  He has also failed to visit soldiers fighting in the Middle East. He’s criticized his Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis as “sort of a Democrat.” The Post does note that Trump has earned some appreciation from the military thanks to his increases in the budget. But even that might end soon, since rising deficits are causing the administration to recalibrate the budget. The five percent cut Trump has ordered in the budget will mean $33 billion less for the Pentagon. 

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The White House Correspondents’ Dinner forgoes comedy as Trump continues slapfight with CNN.

Breaking with tradition, the The White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) will not hire a comedian to host their next annual dinner, but instead will use the services of historian Ron Chernow. Known for his best-selling biographies of Alexander Hamilton (which inspired a popular musical) and Ulysses S. Grant, Chernow will speak about the importance of the First Amendment. The shift away from comedy is emblematic of the fraught relationship between the WHCA and the Trump White House. Last year, the president didn’t attend the WHCA dinner and comedian Michelle Wolf’s satirical routine was attacked by many of the president’s partisan supporters.

As the WHCA changes the tone of the dinner, the White House seems to be gearing up for another battle against CNN correspondent Jim Acosta. After a court order forcing the White House to return Acosta’s press pass, the White House is giving signs that they will only do so temporarily and are looking for another occasion to revoke it, which would ignite a wider conflict not just with CNN but also the WHCA.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was interviewed on Fox News by Mike Huckabee (her father). Sanders said, “[T]radition has been in the past that the White House Correspondents’ Association determines who sits in [the press] room and who sits in those individual seats.” Huckabee noted, “But that’s tradition. It’s not law.” Sanders replied, “True.”

The implication of the exchange is that the White House could try to change the tradition of having the WHCA decide who sits in press conferences. On Sunday, President Donald Trump said about Acosta in a Fox News interview that, “If he misbehaves, we’ll throw him out or we’ll stop the news conference.”

The White House clearly sees a political advantage in stirring up strife with the press.

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Trump won’t be listening to the Khashoggi tape and is adopting a selective skepticism.

During an interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News which aired on Sunday, the president acknowledged that the United States government has a copy of a recording of the last moments of the life of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Asked if he had listened to the tape, Trump responded, “We have the tape. I don’t want to hear the tape. No reason for me to hear the tape.” He added that it was a “suffering tape” and “I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it . . . . It was very violent, very vicious and terrible.”

Beyond not wanting to listen to the tape, there’s reason to believe that Trump isn’t willing to follow the evidence of the Khashoggi case where it leads. On Friday, The Washington Post reported that the CIA had concluded that the evidence points with a high degree of confidence to Khashoggi being murdered at the order of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman.  

In his Fox interview, Trump emphasized that bin Salman repeatedly denied involvement in the killing. “Well, will anybody really know?” Trump, said, when asked whether bin Salman could be lying. “You saw we put on very heavy sanctions, massive sanctions on a large group of people from Saudi Arabia. But, at the same time, we do have an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”

By asking whether “will anybody really know” Trump offered a characteristic rhetorical move of selective or opportunistic epistemological skepticism. When Trump doesn’t want the truth of a matter known, he starts talking like a philosopher who doubts whether anything can be known. An earlier example of this occurred in October when asked whether there was any proof of his claim there were Middle Easterners on the caravan of asylum seekers in Mexico. “There’s no proof of anything,” Trump replied.

November 16, 2018

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Report: Trump is starting to ask questions about Mike Pence’s loyalty.

Last Wednesday President Donald Trump affirmed his desire to keep Vice President Mike Pence on the ticket for the 2020 election in the most public way possible, by asking “Mike, will you be my running mate?” at a press conference. But, as The New York Times reports, the surface bonhomie of the Trump/Pence relationship hides an undercurrent of distrust.

“In recent weeks, with his electoral prospects two years from now much on his mind, Mr. Trump has focused on the person who has most publicly tethered his fortunes to him,” the newspaper notes. “In one conversation after another he has asked aides and advisers a pointed question: Is Mike Pence loyal?”

The Times adds that “Mr. Trump has repeated the question so many times that he has alarmed some of his advisers. The president has not openly suggested dropping Mr. Pence from the ticket and picking another running mate, but the advisers say those kinds of questions usually indicate that he has grown irritated with someone.”

These reasons behind these questions are unclear. Aside from a brief expression of disapproval in October 2016 when the Access Hollywood tape was released, Pence has been as loyal a soldier as the president could want. Pence has helped secure Trump’s support among evangelical Christians, a key part of the Republican coalition. But since Times has now established his own popularity with those voters, Pence might be superfluous. Trump has shown a propensity for liking to keep his underlings uncertain of their status, so they struggle harder to please him. Mike Pence would be foolish to think his position is secure.

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The Mueller probe is going beyond Russian interference and looking at Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Writing in The Daily Beast, Erin Banco and Betsy Woodruff are reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller has been interviewing former Dick Cheney aid John Hannah, a sign that the investigation is expanding beyond its original purview and now looking at possible foreign interference in the 2016 election by other nations. Hannah, a stalwart figure in Republican foreign policy circles, has extensive ties to the governments such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Israel.

According to Banco and Woodruff, “Mueller’s team has been looking into the communications and political dealings of John Hannah, the former Cheney adviser who later worked on Trump’s State Department transition team. This includes interactions with Lebanese-American businessman and fixer George Nader, who brokered meetings between foreign dignitaries and Team Trump, and Joel Zamel, a self-proclaimed social-media guru with deep ties to Israeli intelligence.”

In 2016, Zamel’s company Psy Group attempted to sell its services as a social media influencer to the Trump campaign. According to the Daily Beast, Zamel was “trying to sell the Trump campaign on an online influence strategy and was communicating with several Trump officials, including Rick Gates, who has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI.”

A plan was presented to Donald Trump Jr., but there are conflicting accounts as to whether the services of Psy Group were used or not. In early 2017, the trio of Hannah, Zamel and Nader were instrumental in arranging a meeting between a Saudi general and members of Trump’s transition team, including Michael Flynn, who later became Trump’s first National Security advisor. The topic of discussion was overthrowing the Iranian regime.

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Four decades later, Khmer Rouge leaders convicted of genocide—which doesn’t fully encompass their acts.

Two of the leading members of the Khmer Rouge regime which terrorized Cambodia from 1975 to 1978 have been found guilty of genocide. The two men are Nuon Chea (the deputy of the late Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot) and Khieu Samphan (thehead of state in Pot’s regime). They were charged with acts of genocide aimed at two Cambodian minority groups: ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim. The convictions, which come after a long and arduous trial that was much delayed for political reasons, bring a measure of justice.

But the trial also illustrates the limits of genocide as a category in international law. The extermination of the Vietnamese and Cham Muslims should be seen as genocide and also part of the larger crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge.

The term genocide was coined in 1944 and codified as a part of international law in 1948 as a response to the crimes of Nazi Germany, notably the extermination of Jews and Roma. As such, it has an uneasy fit for the Khmer Rouge regime, which both targeted ethnic minorities but also had a broader list of class enemies that included intellectuals, the wealthy, city dwellers, and government officials. It’s estimated that between 1.7 and 2.5 million Cambodians died because of Khmer Rouge policies between 1975 and 1979, either through execution or starvation. This was out of a population of roughly 8 million and constitutes one of the greatest crimes against humanity in recorded history. While the term “auto-genocide” is sometimes used to describe Khmer Rouge policy, it has no standing in international law.

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Court filings accidentally reveal that Julian Assange has been charged.

The Washington Post reports that a court filing that failed to properly redact the name of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange makes clear that Wikileaks founder has a sealed charge against him. The revelation came in a filing in the Eastern District of Virginia in an unrelated case involving Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, who was detained because of an alleged interest in terrorism and charged with sexual crimes involving a minor.

The filing, written by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, who is also assigned to the Wikileaks case, urges that Kokayi’s case be kept under seal: “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

Since 2012, Assange has been living in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, originally to avoid arrest for sexual assault charges in Sweden, in a case now closed. He has stayed in the embassy in order to avoid possible arrest and extradition to the United States, a fear validated by the current news.

Wikileaks has a long history of publishing government secrets. Writing in The Intercept, journalist Glenn Greenwald argues that charging Assange would be a threat to press freedom.

“From the Pentagon Papers to the Panama Papers to the Snowden disclosures to publication of Trump’s tax returns to the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, some of the most important journalism over the last several decades has occurred because it is legal and constitutional to publish secret documents even if the sources of those documents obtained them through illicit or even illegal means,” Greenwald notes.

He added:

The Obama DOJ – despite launching notoriously aggressive attacks on press freedoms – recognized this critical principle when it came to WikiLeaks. It spent years exploring whether it could criminally charge Assange and WikiLeaks for publishing classified information. It ultimately decided it would not do so, and could not do so, consistent with the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment. After all, the Obama DOJ concluded, such a prosecution would pose a severe threat to press freedom because there would be no way to prosecute Assange for publishing classified documents without also prosecuting the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian and others for doing exactly the same thing.

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The new foreign minister of Brazil asserts climate change is a Marxist hoax.

Ernesto Araújo, newly named to be Brazil’s next foreign minister by incoming president Jair Bolsonaro, believes that climate change is a false idea invented by “cultural Marxists.” As The Guardian reports, a month ago Araújo wrote in a blog post that, “This dogma has been used to justify increasing the regulatory power of states over the economy and the power of international institutions on the nation states and their populations, as well as to stifle economic growth in democratic capitalist countries and to promote the growth of China.” (Conspiracy theories about “cultural Marxism” are a staple of the alt-right and are rooted in anti-Semitism).

The appointment of Araújo is in keeping with Bolsonaro’s own extreme anti-environmentalist rhetoric. But it’s uncertain to what degree the new government will carry out its agenda. Under international pressure, Bolsonaro is already backtracking on a promise to pull out of the Paris climate accord.

Carlos Rittl of the Brazilian Climate Observatory believes that Brazil is vulnerable to international campaigns. “Bolsonaro is not Trump,” Rittl told The Guardian. “Brazil is not the United States. We don’t have the same cards. If Brazil becomes a pariah on the global climate agenda, it would be extremely bad for our business, especially agribusiness. When they go to Europe to negotiate a deal, climate safeguards will be on the table. ”

November 15, 2018

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Even Donald Trump is sick of Sean Hannity’s fawning.

Sean Hannity has good claim to be Donald Trump’s number one fan in the media, but the love isn’t always reciprocated. On his Fox News program, Hannity has strained even the lax standards of his network by being an open cheerleader of the president, going so far as to appear in campaign videos. The two men repeatedly share a phone call most weeknights, after Hannity’s show ends. But, a new Daily Beast report indicates that Trump doesn’t fully respect Hannity’s ardent praise.

According to the news site:

Trump has repeatedly—and sometimes for a sustained period of time—made fun of Hannity’s interviewing skills, usually zeroing in on the low-quality laziness of the host’s questions, the three people with direct knowledge tell The Daily Beast.

“It’s like he’s not even trying,” Trump has said, one source recalled, right before the president launched into a rough imitation of Hannity’s voice and mannerisms to complain that the questions about how “great I am” give him nothing to work or have fun with.

Another source told The Daily Beast that Trump described Hannity’s soft-ball questions as “dumb.” 

The problem might be that Hannity is trying too hard to please Trump, which has rendered his praise worthless. A New York investigation into the Hannity/Trump relationship once noted, “More than most politicians, Trump abides by the Groucho Marx law of fraternization. He inherently distrusts anyone who chooses to work for him, seeking outside affirmation as often as possible from as vast and varied a group as he can muster—but Hannity is at the center.” 

But Hannity is no longer an outsider affirmer. He’s firmly a part of Trump’s circle of cronies. Which is another way of saying he’s a ripe target for Trump’s abuse.