“Trump’s firing of James Comey yesterday proves that even those who carry water for the president are not safe.. After all, Trump and his cronies are investigable for so very many things”

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Trump’s firing of James Comey yesterday proves that even those who carry water for the president are not safe. Trump is in greater peril, it seems, by the hour. And in response, the long knives are out for anyone who is less than 100 percent dependable.

He needs unquestioned loyalists around him — especially in the office that could send almost anyone to prison.

After all, Trump and his cronies are investigable for so very many things, from questionable business dealings and conflicts of interest to tax matters to allegedly colluding with the Russian government.

Comey, under criticism for his own actions, faced significant public pressure to demonstrate that the FBI does its job. That could not have sounded good to Trump.

As it happened, just hours before the Comey news broke, WhoWhatWhy had published a lengthy investigation into the back story to Comey’s most famous — or infamous — act. It chronicled how Trump’s close surrogates and media allies pressured the FBI director to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Evidence strongly suggests that this surprising move days before the election was decisive in Trump’s unexpected victory.

Overall, having Comey at the Bureau was a blessing for Trump. Besides damaging Clinton, he also aided Trump by withholding information about the Bureau’s potentially much more serious probe into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia.

The incoming president knew he had a good thing going. In early January, during a reception for top law-enforcement officials, an obviously grateful Trump singled Comey out for special praise and even a hug. But he soon cooled on the FBI director — as he so often does with people.

Also, Comey’s life was growing increasingly complicated, and he himself appeared to have lost his footing. In recent days, he looked incompetent in front of Congress, even bungling key testimony, such as exponentially overstating the quantity of Clinton emails forwarded to Anthony Weiner’s computer. Trump, who if anything is about appearances, could not have enjoyed watching this televised spectacle.

But the real problem was, as they say in mafia movies, you’re either with us or you’re….out.

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Trump said in a letter dated Tuesday.

Comey is only the second FBI director ever to be fired. He joins William Sessions, who was dismissed by Bill Clinton in 1993.

Ostensibly, the reason for Comey being sacked was his “handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails,” according to a May 9th memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein. That reasoning rings hollow, however, as the alleged fireable offense took place more than six months ago.

It is much more likely that Comey’s revelation that Trump’s campaign is being investigated for its Russia ties as well as his testimony before the Senate last week were the real reason for his dismissal.

Trump and his team are desperately seeking to stifle Russiagate. Matters continue to heat up on that front. As we write, CNN is reporting that prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas. Firing one of the people in government who knows most about that sensitive topic would serve that aim twofold.

The FBI is itself entwined in the matter and urgently needs to clear the air. As WhoWhatWhy reported in another major investigation, published in late March, the Bureau maintained a long and close informant relationship with a Trump business associate working out of Trump Tower. The president may have been worried about where that thread could lead, as it includes hints as to Trump receiving long-term financing from oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin and organized crime.

Comey now can’t make any trouble on the matter; and it serves to put any other determined federal appointees — planning to rigorously follow Russiagate even if it leads to the Oval Office — on notice that such conduct will mean the end of their career.

Not surprisingly, Trump acolytes are presenting the firing as long in coming. As the veteran Trump strategist and hatchet man Roger Stone, himself under scrutiny in Russiagate, tweeted yesterday:

The problem with Trump’s attempt to scare North Korea…

VIA

President Trump and his advisers have taken a more and more threatening stance toward North Korea since January, and the isolated dictatorship has responded with threats of its own. Foreign-policy experts say a breaking point could be looming. Saturday marked the 105th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and the regime there commemorated the holiday with displays of military force — though, thankfully, not with a nuclear test, as many experts feared. Still, there is a sense of a collision course. Several days ago, the U.S. military moved a brigade of warships to the Korean Peninsula, as a show of force. Then on Friday, the North Korean government threatened to attack major American military bases in South Korea, saying it could destroy them almost instantly.

For a broader perspective on how Trump’s approach compares to what prior U.S. administrations have done, we spoke with George Lopez, professor emeritus at the Krok Institute for International Peace Studies, which is based at Notre Dame University. He has advised the United Nations and various governments on North Korea and sanctions issues since 1992. Lopez also proposes a set of directions for getting out of this conflict — directions that favor diplomacy over military force. What American leaders fail to understand, he says, is that they can’t scare North Korea by threatening war.

How is the Trump administration’s approach to North Korea so far different from what past administrations have done?

A couple things come to mind. One is that if you accept the notion of many of the pundits, that this administration’s foreign policy tends to be reactionary to the events of the moment, Mr. Trump was in the unenviable position of being the earliest U.S. president to face a direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions — with North Korea’s recent missile tests. He had it dumped in his lap right away.

Some recent reports say this should not be a surprise, because Obama’s people told Trump’s top foreign-policy people this was their biggest worry. Obama seems to have told Trump in their one-on-one meeting that North Korea was going to be Trump’s biggest dilemma and that he needed a regional approach to it.

Second, this is a president who, unlike prior presidents, has really surrounded himself with current or former military people, and who prides himself on saying, “The era of the gloves being on and restraining our military is over. In order to make America great again, we’re going to flex our muscles and use the resources we have, instead of keeping our hands in our pockets.” Then this week, the administration used what many would call a prohibited weapon in the Afghan theater, and it has also launched these strikes on Syria.

The timing of both those seemed pointed.

I think it was not without some delight in the White House that there was a secondary messaging effect to North Korea. These actions went in conjunction with the U.S. moving a small Navy brigade to the Korean Peninsula, and also with Trump’s meeting and phone calls with the Chinese president, to signal that our patience is running out.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear who is the Asia expert most influential in the White House’s national security staff, and the last time I checked the State Department chart, we still didn’t have a fully staffed Bureau of Asian Affairs. Have we seen, in any pronouncement where he’s talked about North Korea, anybody other than Jared Kushner, the vice-president, H.R. McMaster, or James Mattis at his side? No.

That gives many of us pause, because he’s not getting enough information about the way North Korea sees the actions he’s taken. So we’re in a kind of fog of actions in search of a strategy and a policy. I think it’s part of this administration’s style to make some big decisions as they go along, as events and opportunities and constraints present themselves. The difference here is that you’re talking about the potential for war, and I don’t sense an understanding of the gravity of that.

What do you think the administration’s philosophy is, to the extent that it has one?

It’s a belief that we’ve been weak-minded in regard to North Korea, that we’ve been continually undermined by them, and we’re at least going to show strength of will. On one hand, on the campaign trail, the president said, “I think I could sit down directly with this guy, and in ten or 15 minutes, we’ll see how far we can get.” It was “Trump as the great negotiator.” But we didn’t hear any of that after the inauguration.

Instead, what we’ve gotten follows a different theme you heard on the campaign trail: “My administration isn’t going to tie the hands of the military. We are not going to back down from any threats from places like North Korea. We’re going to solve problems with or without the Chinese.” However, this seems to sideline Japan and North Korea — our two most critical allies. We have no idea whether or not, when the Japanese prime minister visited Mar-a-Lago, North Korea came up in conversation.

You’ll notice that a tendency of this administration is to say, before every visit from a foreign dignitary — whether it’s Angela Merkel, from Germany, or Xi Jinping, from China, or Shinzo Abe, from Japan — “There’s going to be a lot of serious talking about issues.” But then we’re told after the fact, “It was a good get-to-know-you meeting.” You don’t have the detailed agenda that was discussed at the meeting, or information on what joint task forces were set up by each nation to move ahead with problems that were to be mutually explored.

Ideally, what role would our allies in the region be playing?

Well, one strategy that a group of us have advocated over the last couple weeks is to say, “Military force is so crazy to think about, the next best option is financial bankruptcy and economic strangulation.” That is, if you want to take the gloves off, take the gloves off in the trading and financial sector. Take a lesson from the tightening of the noose around Iran, and go after commodities, go after general trade sectors. You absolutely implement the top five or six recommendations of the U.N. Panel of Experts, which would hold all states in the Asian region responsible for ending corresponding banking accounts with not only North Korean banks, but with the shadow companies they’ve set up in Malaysia and China and elsewhere.

China needs to get tighter with the financial actors within its country who continue to sustain unabated channels to illicit financing for North Korea. There are a series of draconian financial measures that then get the attention of the great young dictator, and you can say, “The next move is yours. Do we talk or not?” But what this administration has done is put us in an all-or-nothing bind. Either he blinks or we blink.

If I’m an adviser to Kim Jong-un right now, and I know I could be assassinated if I seem weak and counterproductive, I’m going to say, “Look, you were right. We should do a nuclear test. But you know what? A nuclear test might invite too much response from them. Let’s shoot off one of the missiles and see if they try to shoot it down.” So, if the notion in the White House is, “By god, we go it alone, we issue the ultimatums, we tell ’em we might go it alone, we put out the strike force” — and then the test goes on, and we get louder, and we wag our finger more, we show them that in fact we don’t have a policy in mind.

How does all this look from North Korea’s point of view? And what prompted them to threaten, on Friday, that they’d launch a military strike against U.S. military posts in South Korea?

This pushes us to an area of speculation. For a year, on the U.N. Panel of Experts, I had colleagues who spent 20 hours a day trying to dissect the North Korean leader’s mind. And that’s like being a baseball player: If you hit .333, if you get one out of every three guesses right, you’re a superstar. So I can’t pretend to fully know the way they look at the world.

But the issuing of the threat against South Korea is a smart approach that says, “Well, let’s talk militarily. You could knock out our nuclear sites, but you can’t knock out the 175 major artillery batteries we have, poised to shoot at the minute we detect that we’re being attacked — and those can knock out 80 percent of Seoul. So the blood will be on your hands if you choose to initiate an attack against our nuclear sites.” In other words, “You’re not the only people who can issue ultimatums, and you’re not the only people who have military deliverables that are supposed to make us quake and fear that we must change our behavior.”

So, is issuing the threat just a way of reminding us that they have these capabilities?

Yes. Absolutely. And in particular, reminding the South Koreans and everyone else in the neighborhood.

This regime has had an ideology, through three generations, that the war of liberation of South Korea will come when the United States oversteps its boundaries. And remember, they don’t have a peace treaty with the United States. If they were interested in peace, they would be proactive in coming back to the bargaining table and finishing off the armistice agreement from 1953.

This isn’t Syria. This isn’t Afghanistan. This is the point at which, if a U.S. missile crosses into North Korean territory, all bets on everything are off. It fits their worldview, that sooner or later, they will have to fire everything they have. That’s the only way the North could potentially survive an exchange.

So, as part of their long-term vision, they think a very violent standoff is inevitable?

I wouldn’t say inevitable, but they think it’s highly likely, which is why they’ve been preparing for it for more than 40 years. When they hear talk about a U.S. strike being imminent, their trigger fingers get tighter. So I think we need a U.S. policy that doesn’t put them in a position where their trigger fingers get nervous. You have to deal with the nuclear weapons and the missiles on their own terms, and you can’t use the potential for war against them as leverage.

Because they’re not afraid of it.

Yes! They’re ready for war.

Could you explain the holiday that was marked on Saturday, the Day of the Sun? There was some speculation that North Korea would honor the day with a nuclear test.

The seriousness of the holiday can’t be exaggerated. We have no equivalent in the United States — even at, let’s say, the 200th anniversary of our independence. This is a nation with a cult of the singular leader. You could even say, from a Western point of view, “Okay, for the 100th anniversary, I’d understand a big bang. But the 105th? That’s not really a big deal, is it?” Yes. Every anniversary of the birth of the founder of the great nation — who then gave us his prodigy, his son and his grandson, who are great rulers — is the ultimate big deal. And this particular leadership, under the grandson, has not only continued to cultivate himself as the most perfect of leaders, in the image of his grandfather, but he’s upped the ante for each and every anniversary, to demonstrate what they call the shogun mentality — which is, military first, pulling the entire nation to great development on the world stage.

They’ve said they could destroy the major American military bases in the U.S. “within minutes.” Do you think that’s true?

No, there’s nothing I’ve seen that shows they have the capability. Do they have the capability to hit our Navy’s strike force? They probably do. But I’d suggest that if North Korea launches an attack on the strike force, probably two or three missiles would hit. That’s what I think their capability level is.

You said several years ago that with co-operation from China, we could choke off the supply of materials North Korea would need to enrich uranium. Where does that proposal stand now?

The error of our ways from about 2006 to 2013 is that we thought, “Let’s choke off the materials that let them build centrifuges and the like.” When what we should have been doing, and we absolutely have to do as our last-ditch effort now, is, we have to end their access to money — in all forms. We have to end the access of Korean diplomats marching off with big duffle bags, pretending they’re off to go play golf in Poland, when what they’re really doing is carrying gold bars and loads of cash, which ultimately goes to fund the various services that run the missiles. And you do need China’s help for that. Right now, China is looking the other way.

This was the victory of the Iran sanctions: There was no outlet, any longer, for illicit activities. Not in Lebanon, not in Cyprus, not in any of the traditional areas. And that net became a noose and really shut off everything. We need that on North Korea. It’s possible to attain it, but you can only attain it with a large amount of co-operation from all the banking industries involved, and with a determination of what an 18-month plan will be. Once they cry financial “Uncle!” what are you proposing for them? Starve and die? Or are you proposing, “Now maybe we should reinvigorate the diplomatic discussions that were going on in the mid-2000s?”

Ultimately we’re looking for a full peace treaty that can be signed by all parties, including the United States. Some recognition of nonaggression against North Korea can be the great Western concession, in exchange for x — whether x is a complete stabilization of their weapons programs, with no more development, or something else. I think our days of being able to bargain for, or strangle for, denuclearization is over. If you’re Kim Jong-un, you’ve looked at Saddam, you’ve looked at Syria, you’ve looked at all these other examples, and said, “These poor dumb dictators. They were attacked because they didn’t have the weapon.”

Sure. If you were in his position you’d never give that up.

Of course not. Even if the president of the United States came off a plane, landed in Pyongyang, and kissed the ground, saying, “It’s great to be here. There’s peace between our nations” — there would be nothing in their experience or ideology that would lead them to believe that tomorrow they wouldn’t be attacked.

What do you think the odds are of China actually getting onboard and helping with that kind of plan?

I think China has been onboard in lots and lots of areas. It’s looking for a little more empathy in understanding how hard it is for them to police their own economy. But I think that consistent with the anti-corruption theme that’s going on in China, they could do this. At the same time, we don’t improve their leverage or influence on Pyongyang if Pyongyang continues to believe that we prefer the military option. Then they look at the Chinese and say, “You are a weak enabler. You will allow the peninsula to go up in flames, simply because you’re not willing to stand up to the United States and tell them the military is not an option.”

Now if you look at the reporting in the official Chinese press, they’ve been saying for the last week, “We’re trying to convince Mr. Trump the military is not an option here.” But they’re not getting any help from the Trump administration.

But financial sanctions would be part of a longer-term solution, and there’s a prospect right now of very imminent violence. What’s the best way out of this immediate situation?

The best way out is to tell the folks in command of the brigade of ships, “Keep your powder dry no matter what happens, unless you’re directly attacked.” Also for the United States to be preparing multiple statements, with our allies in the region, at the U.N. Security Council, and out of Mar-a-Lago, of what we’re going to say when a nuclear-missile launch has occurred, or if a new nuclear test goes on. We’ve got to make sure our president doesn’t approach the microphone and says, “That’s the last straw. I’m taking actions in the next 48 hours, and they’ll never know what I’m going to do until I do it.” You can’t have that. In other words, someone needs to lasso him, quite frankly, and make sure we have a clearly articulated dynamic.

We think we can intimidate the North Korean leadership into keeping their powder dry. What we’re doing, more than anything else, is playing into their ongoing scenario of a likely, if not inevitable, confrontation with the West.

It seems like that’s the most fundamental error: to think we can scare them off with the threat of war.

Yeah. And if things really, really go badly here, people are going to be reading the history books, 25 years from now, and saying, “How could they not have known? How could they not have known these were North Korea’s thoughts?”

If you’re going to use as your calculus of success or failure, of an unarticulated policy, who blinks first, you’re on really, really shaky ground.

Why Obamacare defeated Trumpcare…

VIA

With the collapse of the House health-care bill, the cause of repealing Obamacare, a right-wing obsession for seven years and a day, has died. The flame will never be fully extinguished in the hearts of the true believers — after all, in right-wing think tanks and other places far removed from electoral politics, anti-government zealots still dream of phasing out Social Security or Medicare. But the political project dedicated to restoring the pre-Obamacare status quo, in which people too sick or poor to afford their own insurance without the subsidies and regulations of the Affordable Care Act could be safely ignored, is gone forever. And it is dead for the best possible reason, the reason that undergirds all social progress: because a good idea defeated a bad one.

Conservatives have already collapsed into mutual recriminations for their failure. Reporters have blamed Trump’s deal-making skills. Trump’s loyalists are loudly blaming Paul Ryan. “I think Paul Ryan did a major disservice to President Trump, I think the president was extremely courageous in taking on health care and trusted others to come through with a program he could sign off on,” Chris Ruddy, CEO of the right-wing site Newsmax and a longtime friend of Trump’s, tells Bloomberg. “The president had confidence Paul Ryan would come up with a good plan and to me, it is disappointing.” David Brooks blames both Trump and Congress. “The core Republican problem is this,” he writes. “The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided.”

The American Health Care Act is a truly horrendous piece of legislation. But it did not become the vehicle for the Obamacare repeal effort because Trump, or Ryan, or anybody insisted on it over some other option. It became the repeal bill because nobody in the Republican Party had a better idea.

Reforming the health-care system is an inherently daunting project. What makes health care so resistant to change is that, the worse the system gets, the harder it is to change. More waste means more profit centers with an interest in protecting their income. And more uninsured people means more anxiety for those who do have insurance about losing it, and hence more resistance to change. The political miracle of Obamacare was its ability to design a way to cover the uninsured and to pay for the coverage in a politically viable fashion. The law found a way to solve a political problem that had frustrated would-be reformers for decades.

And they accomplished it against the ruthless opposition of a united party that has used every demagogic method to undermine it — in Washington, in the states, and in the courts. If Republicans had not launched a legal battle to allow states to deny Medicaid coverage to their citizens, and then cruelly taken up the opportunity to do so; sabotaged small but crucial risk-corridor payments to encourage insurer participation; and denied funds for outreach to exchange customers, it would be functioning better than it is. Still, it is functioning. As the Congressional Budget Office found last week, the exchanges are not in a death spiral. Insurers have found a stable price point.

Republicans have spent eight years fooling themselves about Obamacare. They have built a news bubble that relentlessly circulates exaggerated or made-up news of the law’s shortcomings and systematically ignores its successes. The smartest members of the conservative-wonk set played a more clever game to retain their influence. No serious conservative analyst could argue that Obamacare had actually made the health-care system worse. How could they, when the federal government is now spending less money on health care than it was projected to spend before Obamacare passed, medical inflation is at the lowest level since the government began recording it 50 years ago, and 20 million more Americans have insurance? But admitting Obamacare constituted an improvement in the health-care system, even an imperfect one, would be tantamount to expulsion from the conservative movement, and with it any hope of influencing Republican policy. The closest they might come is pleading that repealing Obamacare was “not enough,” that they must also replace it with something better. This formulation allowed them to neatly sidestep the question of whether repeal alone would make the system better or worse.

So instead of comparing Obamacare to what it replaced, they compared it to the plan Republicans would have passed, if only they had the chance. The existence of the mythical Republican health-care plan was the foundation for every serious critique of the law. And now that that plan has finally appeared, virtually the entire conservative intelligentsia has been forced to admit it is worse than Obamacare. The single data point that conservatives have repeated with the most relentless frequency is that Obamacare is unpopular. It is true that, for most of its life, the law has polled in the 40s. Republicans deemed all disapproval of Obamacare to be approval for their stance, never acknowledging that much of this disapproval came from those who wanted the law to do more, not less. Now that there is a Republican alternative, it is polling at an astonishing 17 percent. Comically, repeal efforts have pulled Obamacare’s polling above water. The slim reed of public opinion upon which they built their manic repeal crusade snapped immediately under the weight of political implementation.

It is true that other conservative health-care ideas do exist in the universe. It is also true that the GOP’s lack of a supermajority forced it to pursue fiscal-only repeal measures, and prevented the full rewriting of Obamacare regulations that right-wing purists would have liked. But those ideas would also have failed. Indeed, many of them are even more politically fatal than the ones Paul Ryan wrote. The original version of Ryan’s plan would have financed its tax credits by scaling back the tax deduction for employer-sponsored insurance. That is a sound idea, but one that would have jeopardized employer insurance for 150 million Americans, making any such bill radioactive.

The right’s insoluble problem is that people who have insurance like it. Employer-sponsored insurance is popular. Medicare is popular. Medicaid is popular. To the extent that the exchanges in the ACA are not that popular, it is because they are less like those forms of insurance and more like the kind of insurance conservatives prefer — they have higher deductibles, more price discrimination between old and young, and more market competition. Any employer-sponsored insurance plan is going to cover essential health benefits. It’s going to charge the same price to the young and the old alike. In other words, it is going to spread the risk of needing medical care throughout the population it covers.

Conservatives disagree philosophically with the very concept of insurance as most Americans experience it. Insurance means spreading risk, which is a form of redistribution. Republicans postured against Obamacare from the left, denouncing its high deductibles and premiums, and promising a better, cheaper plan that would cover everybody. Their plan, inevitably, did the opposite. All politicians overpromise, of course. But the Republicans did more than overpromise. They delivered a policy directionally opposed to their promises.

It is not possible to write a bill that meets public standards for acceptable health-insurance coverage within the parameters of conservative ideology. It is possible — just barely — to write a bill that meets public standards for acceptable health-insurance coverage within the parameters of liberal ideology. The form taken by Obama’s health-care reform will change over the decades to come. But its central triumph, creating a federal right to access to basic medical care, will never be taken away.

“The ruling classes prefer Obamaesque evil over Trump’s for obvious reasons. They need a president who can commit wrongdoing with a smile, not with a sneer. We the people shouldn’t be fooled by either one”

Trump is the less effective evil

The trope of supporting the Democratic Party as the lesser of two evils has proven to be a huge failure. Barack Obama epitomized the foolishness of this political choice. As Black Agenda Report pointed out he was not less evil than Republican presidents. He was just the more effective evil. As the first black president and with the Democrats’ undeserved reputation as the party of justice and peace, he was able to get away with more evil doing than any other president in recent memory.

Donald Trump is just the opposite. He is openly evil and successfully appealed to 60 million voters in spite of, or in some cases, because of that fact. In little more than one week Trump has moved forward on his pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border, repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it, build the DAPL and Keystone XL pipelines, and ban immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations.

His executive order banning citizens of Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Iraq from entering the United States generated immediate outrage and a swell of popular action. What went unnoticed is that citizens of these seven nations were first chosen for scrutiny and travel restrictions by Barack Obama.

Trump’s executive order only mentions Syria by name and includes other “countries of concern,” a term that is an Obama administration contrivance. Visa waivers no longer applied to people who visited any of these countries. Even persons with dual citizenships were subjected to these restrictions which amounted to nothing more than war by other means. All seven of these countries have at various times been subjected to American aggression. They have all been attacked with military action, proxy wars and sanctions. America makes countries unlivable and then tells fleeing victims that the door is shut.

The Trump team’s amateurishness turned the immigration ban into a public relations problem. They did not anticipate popular outcry, demonstrators converging on airports and lawsuits filed to protect people who just 24 hours earlier were legally able to enter the country. Some were freed in the ensuing chaos but others were detained or stranded and unable to enter the country. Federal judges ruled against it in a variety of ways and the acting attorney general finally declared that the Justice Department would not defend the executive order. Trump responded by firing her.

But these temporary setbacks should not be seen as a complete victory nor should they result in support for the Democrats. The ham fisted Donald Trump did what others have done before him. He benefited from policies enacted by predecessors and gave himself wider latitude to carry out human rights abuses. Bush claimed a right to indefinitely detain anyone he considered a terror suspect. Obama took this doctrine one step further. He claimed and acted upon a right to kill anyone he deemed a terror suspect. The NSEERS policy which subjected men from 25 countries to travel restrictions and extra scrutiny began with Bush but was continued under Obama for two years. Obama did not dismantle the program completely until he was on the verge of leaving office.

The response to this crisis must include an honest assessment of the Democratic Party and its role in creating it. The Democrats’ treachery and ineptitude which brought Trump to power has still not been discussed thoroughly and should be on the agenda for any and all discussions. Right wing Democrats like Cory Booker should not be let off the hook because they showed up at an airport making an obvious case for following immigration law. This same man turned his back on the wishes of his supporters and instead followed the dictates of his corporate backers when he thwarted a plan to bring cheaper drugs into the country. The politicians who put their thumbs on the scale for the unethical and incompetent Hillary Clinton also must explain themselves. This needed conversation cannot be lost in the effort to fight Trump.

No one should think that the Democratic Party will be able to capitalize on this situation or anything else Trump presents to them. One can also assume that his 60 million voters are quite happy with this decision and will applaud him for making it. There isn’t necessarily a downside for Trump in getting bad press when his would-be opponents are hapless and won’t admit that their implosion handed him the presidency.

It is a good thing that so many people rose up against presidential law breaking. But that presents yet another contradiction. This resistance will be valuable only if it results in mass action against the larger political system. Selective amnesia for Hillary Clinton or other Democrats will not do. Appeals to the phony clarion call for lesser evilism should not be the response to Trump administration policies.

It is good to fight for humane treatment of Syrians but their rights should be respected whether they are at an American airport or in Damascus. They leave their homeland because Obama administration policy destroyed their country in the frenzy for regime change and that must not be forgotten. The silence of Obama supporters during the commission of this war crime should not be forgotten either.

The ruling classes prefer Obamaesque evil over Trump’s for obvious reasons. They need a president who can commit wrongdoing with a smile, not with a sneer. We the people shouldn’t be fooled by either one. The story of the immigration executive order is a test case for progressives. Will they fight by returning to a discredited party or will they fight to create something new?

Democratic senators ought to reject every Trump appointee still awaiting confirmation. They must act like the Republicans do when they are out of power. Until the immigration executive order some Democrats, like progressive heroine Elizabeth Warren, were supporting some Trump nominees. The “going along to get along” must end. But so should support for the Democrats. People who raced to the airport to try to help their fellow human beings should look elsewhere and kill off the incompetent lesser evil for good.

Democrats owe their members more than just speaking up when Trump commits an illegal act. That is just a starting point. The Trump presidency is proof of the Democratic Party’s irrelevance. Its failure is proof that new politics are needed. Claims of lesser/greater evil must not rule the day. All of the evil must be excised no matter where it comes from.

“He has political ideas on the right, pro-Israel, anti-immigration. I had a number of debates with him about Trump. He was obviously pro-Trump”

On the Quebec mosque terrorist

Social media postings by the suspect in the shooting attack that killed six persons and injured 19 at a Quebec City mosque on Sunday evening indicate he was a fan of US President Donald Trump, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen, the Israeli army and other far-right groups.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, was arrested as a suspect in the slayings several miles from the mosque, after he called police himself, the newspaper Le Soleil reported.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the shooting as a “terrorist attack on Muslims in a center of worship and refuge.”

Pro-Israel, pro-Trump

Bissonnette studied political science at the University of Laval.

Jean-Michel Allard-Prus, a fellow student, told Le Journal de Quebec that he often talked politics with Bissonnette.

“He has political ideas on the right, pro-Israel, anti-immigration,” Allard-Prus said. “I had a number of debates with him about Trump. He was obviously pro-Trump.”

Initially, police said there were two suspects and media named the other as Mohamed Khadir, reportedly in his 30s. He was detained near the mosque minutes after the shootings that took place when the building was packed for evening prayers.

But on Monday Quebec police said said only one of the men was a suspected shooter and the other was a witness.

Bissonnette is the suspected shooter.

The other man initially arrested and held over night before being released – his name is actually Mohamed Belkhadir – told told La Presse that he had been been at prayers in the mosque on Sunday night, and then went outside to shovel snow on the steps. A short time later, he heard the gunshots that lasted 15 to 20 seconds. He then went inside to call emergency services. He saw an injured person and tried to assist. He then saw an armed man and ran away, not knowing the armed man was a police officer. “I thought it was someone who had come back to shoot,” he said.

Police evidently thought Belkhadir was a fleeing suspect and arrested him.

“I understand and respect that they caught me,” Belkhadir added. “They saw me run away and thought I was a suspect.”

Victims

The victims of the attack were not immediately named, but their nationalities were reported to be two Algerians, one Moroccan, one Tunisian and two citizens of other states in Africa.

Some of the victims were later identified by media. They include Khaled Belkacemi, a professor of agriculture at the University of Laval, pharmacist Aboubaker Thabti and Ezzedine Soufiane, who owned a grocery store near the mosque.

Thabti had emigrated to Quebec from Tunisia in 2012 with his wife and three young children.

Bissonnette was reportedly a student at Quebec City’s Laval University, and was previously unknown to police.

Far-right affinity?

Quebec media have pointed to the Facebook page of Bissonnette. The Facebook page became inaccessible some time after The Electronic Intifada made copies of it.

The Facebook page showed that Bissonnette has “liked” a number of political figures and entities which, if taken as signs of his views, may indicate far-right leanings.

His “likes” include the official Facebook pages of Trump, Le Pen, the “Israel Defence Forces” and a group called “United with Israel.”

He “liked” Richard Dawkins, a leading proponent of “new atheism,” which often veers into strident Islamophobia.

Bissonnette also “liked” the nationalist Parti Québécois which ran a losing general election campaign in 2014 on a “Charter of Values” that was widely seen as promoting intolerance of Muslims. The party has strongly condemned the attack.

Most of the postings on his personal page showed Bissonnette engaging in mundane activities, including fishing and enjoying cheese pairings.

But the Quebec publication La Presse reported that Bissonnette was known as a troll to members of a Facebook group called Bienvenue aux réfugiés – Welcome to Refugees.

According to the group’s administrator, Bissonnette often posted comments attacking foreigners in general and feminists, who he termed “feminazis.”

Downplaying motives

Meanwhile, the far-right outlet Fox News initially focused on Khadir – about whom next to nothing was known except his name and his reported Moroccan ancestry. It later updated its story, but only after disseminating the ultimately false impression that a Muslim man had been the shooter.

This follows a familiar pattern of downplaying threats of right-wing violence and the possible political motives of suspected attackers when they are not of Arab ancestry or Muslim.

It ultimately turned out that Khadir is not a suspect at all.

Authorities have termed the shooting a “terrorist” attack but have yet to reveal any other motives.

While social media postings can’t tell the whole story, the US government clearly thinks they are relevant to discerning people’s beliefs or intentions.

The Trump administration is considering asking foreign visitors for their social media accounts, a policy that actually started under Obama.

In September, a man arrested for burning a Florida mosque had shared extreme pro-Israel and anti-Muslim propaganda on his Facebook page.

Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to death for murdering nine people at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, had similarly used the Internet to spread his white supremacist creed.

The Quebec killings come at a time of heightened tension, amid protests over Trump’s ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Trump’s partner in Mexico…

How Mexico’s president paved the way for the wall

Donald Trump made good today on part of his promise of an immigration crackdown. Mexico and Mexicans, along with countries he fears could send “radical Islamic terrorists,” are his principal targets. The southern border wall will be built and the president will actively pressure and persecute local officials who protect undocumented immigrants.

It’s one thing to chastise local mayors. It is quite another to escalate tensions with a country of over 120 million with which you share a border of some 2,000 miles. But it turns out that Trump has a key Mexican accomplice to achieve his objectives: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Trump would not be able to do what he’s planning without the complicity of the Mexican government. If Mexico had authorities concerned about the welfare of their people, actions like Trump’s would be stopped cold.

Indeed, the foreign government that made the greatest contribution to Donald Trump’s victory was not Russia. It was Mexico. Vladimir Putin’s alleged covert meddling in the presidential election pales in comparison to Peña Nieto’s overt, public support for Trump. The Mexican leader is expected to cash in on that support on Tuesday, January 31st as he becomes the first Latin American head of state to meet with the new U.S. president in the White House.

Peña Nieto will speak publicly about protecting his people, but his real agenda is to negotiate impunity for his government as his administration winds to an end. In exchange for Trump ignoring the vast corruption scandals and systematic human rights violations south of the border, Peña Nieto will sell his country down the river by legitimizing Trump’s attacks on Mexico and Mexicans with his visit.

Trump and Peña Nieto have a great deal in common. The Mexican president already applies mass deportation policies, of the kind Trump promised, against Central Americans trying to cross Mexico towards the United States. Peña Nieto has also already begun construction, with U.S. help, of a high-technology equivalent of a “wall” on Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala.

Like Trump, Peña Nieto has placed the corporate agenda front and center. He began his administration with a blitz of “structural reforms” that privatized the oil and electricity industries, rolled back protections for labor, and attacked public education. Freedom of expression and protest have also come under heavy fire. Marches are systematically repressed, social and political leaders jailed or assassinated, and journalists censored, fired or murdered. Federal security forces have also committed a series of heinous massacres. An extreme equivalent of the America’s Patriot Act, allowing for the permanent use of the military for law enforcement and the generalized suspension of habeas corpus, freedom of assembly, and other fundamental rights, is presently being discussed in the Mexican Congress.

Peña Nieto directly contributed to the success of the Trump campaign. On August 31st, 2016, the Mexican president organized what amounted to a royal reception for Trump at the Los Pinos Presidential Residence in Mexico City. The Republican candidate was struggling in the polls at the time, shortly after the Democratic National Convention had given Hillary Clinton a significant bump. One of Trump’s weakest spots was that he was perceived to be unable to handle the job of commander-in-chief or be fully respected by foreign leaders. His aggressive attacks on immigration had also created the impression that he was a racist.

Peña Nieto would save the day. As if Trump were already President of the United States, he was flown from the Mexico City airport to Los Pinos in the presidential helicopter. The two men then held a joint press conference adorned by Mexican and American flags in the ballroom normally reserved for foreign heads of state. Peña Nieto applauded the “fundamental agreements” with Trump on policy and offered to work with the Republican candidate to “strengthen” both the U.S.-Mexico and the Mexico-Guatemala borders. During his turn at the microphone, Trump proclaimed that Peña Nieto was his “friend.”

Energized by his campaign stop in Mexico City, Trump then travelled that afternoon to Arizona to deliver one of his key anti-immigration speeches. There, Trump simultaneously called Peña Nieto a “wonderful president” and publicly ratified his promise to build an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall.” Thanks to Peña Nieto, all of a sudden Trump miraculously had become, without modifying his policies an inch, both a statesman and a friend of Mexico and Mexicans. His polls rose thereafter.

Since the November election, Peña Nieto has continued his efforts to appease and please Trump. In December, the Mexican president named the man who orchestrated the Trump visit in August, Luis Videgaray, as his new foreign secretary. Videgaray is an economist who has confessed that he has absolutely no diplomatic experience. The only point supposedly in his favor is that he is apparently liked by Trump, who in September tweeted that Videgaray is a “brilliant finance minister and a wonderful man.”

The day before Trump´s inauguration, Peña Nieto also extradited Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the United States. This move has been widely interpreted in Mexico as an offering to show the Mexican president’s deference to Trump. Extradition procedures are long and complicated, and the Mexican authorities had repeatedly told President Obama that he needed to be patient. Then suddenly immediate action was mysteriously made possible, as if to greet the new resident of the White House.

Peña Nieto’s behavior flies in the face of those who would suppose that the kindred spirits in Latin America for figures like Trump would be so-called “populist” leaders like Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa or Evo Morales. The real Trump equivalent is Peña Nieto, since both have targeted Mexicans.

Mexicans on both sides of the Río Grande therefore find themselves today in a position of particularly extreme vulnerability. Not only are they under attack by the new U.S. administration, but they have also been abandoned by their own government. Hope remains, nevertheless, in the possibility of confronting the Trump-Peña Nieto alliance through the construction of a grand binational, citizen-led coalition in defense of justice in North America.