Monthly Archives: January, 2017

Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’ Will Only Make Terrorist Attacks More Likely

Patrick Cockburn reports for The Independent:

muslim-ban-protest.jpgDonald Trump’s travel ban on refugees and visitors from seven Muslim countries entering the US makes a terrorist attack on Americans at home or abroad more rather than less likely. It does so because one of the main purposes of al-Qaeda and Isis in carrying out atrocities is to provoke an overreaction directed against Muslim communities and states. Such communal punishments vastly increase sympathy for Salafi-jihadi movements among the 1.6 billion Muslims who make up a quarter of the world’s population.

The Trump administration justifies its action by claiming that it is only following lessons learned from 9/11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers. But it has learned exactly the wrong lesson: the great success of Mohammed Atta and his eighteen hijackers was not on the day that they and 3,000 others died, but when President George W Bush responded by leading the US into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that are still going on.

Al-Qaeda and its clones had been a small organisation with perhaps as few as a thousand militants in south east Afghanistan and north west Pakistan. But thanks to Bush’s calamitous decisions after 9/11, it now has tens of thousands of fighters, billions of dollars in funds and cells in dozens of countries. Few wars have failed so demonstrably or so badly as “the war on terror”. Isis and al-Qaeda activists are often supposed to be inspired simply by a demonic variant of Islam – and this is certainly how Trump has described their motivation – but in practice it was the excesses of the counter-terrorism apparatus such as torture and rendition, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib which acted as the recruiting sergeant for the Salafi-jihadi movements.

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Steve Bannon Makes Power Play To Isolate Trump

Cenk Uygur breaks down Steve Bannon’s move to isolate Trump, thus making him easier to control. (The Young Turks)

Obama Killed a 16-Year-Old American in Yemen, Trump Just Killed His 8-Year-Old Sister

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

[…] Few events pulled the mask off Obama officials like this one. It highlighted how the Obama administration was ravaging Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries: just weeks after he won the Nobel Prize, Obama used cluster bombs that killed 35 Yemeni women and children. Even Obama-supporting liberal comedians mocked the Obama DOJ’s arguments for why it had the right to execute Americans with no charges: “Due Process Just Means There’s A Process That You Do,” snarked Stephen Colbert. And a firestorm erupted when former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered a sociopathic justification for killing the Colorado-born teenager, apparently blaming him for his own killing by saying he should have “had a more responsible father.”

The U.S. assault on Yemeni civilians not only continued but radically escalated over the next five years through the end of the Obama presidency, as the U.S. and the UK armed, supported and provide crucial assistance to their close ally Saudi Arabia as it devastated Yemen through a criminally reckless bombing campaign. Yemen now faces mass starvationseemingly exacerbated, deliberately, by the US/UK-supported air attacks. Because of the west’s direct responsibility for these atrocities, they have received vanishingly little attention in the responsible countries.

In a hideous symbol of the bipartisan continuity of U.S. barbarism, Nasser al-Awlaki just lost another one of his young grandchildren to U.S. violence. On Sunday, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, using armed Reaper drones for cover, carried out a commando raid on what it said was a compound harboring officials of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A statement issued by President Trump lamented the death of an American service member and several others who were wounded, but made no mention of any civilian deaths. U.S. military officials initially denied any civilian deaths, and (therefore) the CNN report on the raid said nothing about any civilians being killed.

But reports from Yemen quickly surfaced that 30 people were killed, including 10 women and children. Among the dead: the 8-year-old granddaughter of Nasser al-Awlaki, Nawar, who was also the daughter of Anwar Awlaki.

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Silicon Valley Super-Rich Head south to Escape from a Global Apocalypse

Hayden Donnell reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Global Apocalypse new zealandAt the Republican party convention in Cleveland last July, Trump donor Peter Thiel declared himself ‘“most of all, proud to be an American”. So it came as something of a surprise for New Zealanders to discover that the PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member had become an honorary Kiwi – joining a growing band of wealthy Americans seeking a haven from a possible global apocalypse.

Thiel was recently revealed to have bought a £4.5m lakeside property near the New Zealand town of Wanaka in 2015. When New Zealand Herald reporter Matt Nippert asked why Thiel had been allowed to buy land that appears to fit the classification of “sensitive” without permission from the country’s Overseas Investment Office, he was told it wasn’t necessary – Thiel was already a citizen.

The revelation was met with confusion. By the time of his appearance at the Republican convention, Thiel had already bought 193 hectares of pristine South Island land using his rights as a Kiwi. Politicians asked why a billionaire most famous for adamantly supporting Donald Trump and bankrolling the lawsuits that bankrupted Gawker Media had been allowed not only to buy land in New Zealand, but to make the country part of his future and identity. Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, accused the National government of “selling citizenship” to foreigners.

Thiel, who retains his American citizenship, in fact became a joint US-New Zealand citizen in 2011 and has described the country as “Utopia”, investing heavily in business start-ups.

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Trump Signs Executive Order Requiring That For Every One New Regulation, Rwo Must Be Revoked

Nolan D. McCaskill and Matthew Nussbaum report for Politico:

Image result for Trump Signs Executive Order Requiring That For Every One New Regulation, Two Must Be RevokedPresident Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday morning requiring that for every new federal regulation implemented, two must be rescinded.

“This will be the biggest such act that our country has ever seen,” Trump declared moments before signing it in the Oval Office. “There will be regulation, there will be control, but it will be a normalized control where you can open your business and expand your business very easily. And that’s what our country has been all about.”

The executive order signing, which fulfills a campaign pledge, comes after the president held a listening session with small-business leaders.

“If you have a regulation you want, No. 1, we’re not gonna approve it because it’s already been approved probably in 17 different forms,” Trump said. “But if we do, the only way you have a chance is we have to knock out two regulations for every new regulation. So if there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two.”

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The Koch Brothers Oppose President Trump’s Immigration Ban

Philip Elliott reports for Time:

Image result for The Koch Brothers Oppose President Trump's Immigration BanThe powerful policy and politics network organized by the billionaire Koch brothers made official what many had expected: an opposition to President Trump’s ban on visitors from seven countries with Muslim majorities.

In a statement provided to reporters covering the Kochs’ twice-a-year retreat, top official Brian Hooks said Sunday that the groups under his umbrella would not support Trump’s move, which has drawn thousands of protesters against the ban on immigrants and refugees.

“We believe it is possible to keep Americans safe without excluding people who wish to come here to contribute and pursue a better life for their families. The travel ban is the wrong approach and will likely be counterproductive,” said Hooks, the co-chairman of the Koch network. “Our country has benefited tremendously from a history of welcoming people from all cultures and backgrounds. This is a hallmark of free and open societies.”

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Six Other Times the U.S. Has Banned Immigrants

Al Jazeera reports:

On Friday, Donald Trump barred citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – from entering the United States for at least the next 90 days.

He also suspended the US refugee programme for 120 days, specifically banning Syrian refugees until further notice, reduced the number of refugees who would be admitted this year to 50,000 and specified that refugees who were from a religious minority and fleeing religious persecution should be prioritised.

A federal judge has blocked part of Trump’s executive order, ruling that travellers who have already landed in the US with valid visas should not be sent back to their home countries, and protests in response to passport holders from some Arab countries, including US green card holders, being blocked from passing through customs or prevented from boarding US-bound planes, have taken place at airports across the country.

But this is not the first time that the US has banned immigrants from its shores. Over the past 200 years, successive American presidents have placed restrictions on the immigration of certain groups.

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Are We One Terrorist Attack Away From Donald Trump Doing Something Really Crazy?

Ryu Spaeth writes for New Republic:

[…] As Beutler wrote, the institutions of civil society responded with alacrity to Trump’s Muslim ban, ensnaring his executive order in the courts. But the institutions of government are withering, starting with the moribund and morally decrepit Republican Party, the wound that allowed Trump to enter the body politic and hijack it. Meanwhile, the Western world is being buffeted by immense forces, from the fallout from the 2008 financial crisis to upheaval in the Middle East—the very forces that propelled Trump to the White House and continue to upend liberal democracy as we know it. The lesson of the 2016 election is that the system failed us utterly. If President Trump can happen, anything can happen.

All of this is to say that there’s a lot of gasoline lying around and it won’t take much to spark it. This is not to say we’re looking at some imminent version of the Reichstag Fire. Like everyone else, I took heart from the demonstrations at JFK and around the country; it was evidence that America is full of good people and that we are not doomed to some Trumpian dystopia. But just consider what would have happened if the terror attack in Quebec City had occurred in the United States (even if the attack targeted Muslims). With the ban already in place, wouldn’t such an attack become instantly politicized? Would such an attack not justify the ban in the eyes of the Trump administration, and give it grounds to expand it? Can anyone say, with any certainty, that we wouldn’t see tanks in the streets? I don’t think we should succumb to hysteria. But should we be afraid? Absolutely.

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UK Court Ruling on Brexit Emboldens Right-Wing of the Tory Party

Sharmini Peries speaks to economist John Weeks who discusses the recent Surpeme Court ruling that said the British Parliament must be consulted before Theresa May’s government can trigger an exit from the European Union (Article 50), and how Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has come under a lot of pressure to oppose attempts to negotiate quickly. (The Real News)

Linda McMahon: Trump’s Small Business Pick Has A History Of Crushing Smaller Competitors

Travis Waldron and Dana Liebelson report for The Huffington Post:

Related imageLinda McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment chief executive whom President-elect Donald Trump has tapped to run the Small Business Administration, built her billion-dollar corporate empire by crushing many of WWE’s smaller competitors.

Trump has claimed that McMahon helped grow WWE from a “modest 13-person operation to a publicly traded global enterprise with more than 800 employees in offices worldwide” ― a statement that appears word-for-word on McMahon’s personal website.

But the real story is more complicated — and controversial.

The World Wrestling Federation, which later became WWE, and that McMahon had a hand in running for nearly three decades, was not exactly a small business when she and her husband, Vince, took it over from Vince’s father in 1982, said Dr. Scott Beekman, a historian at the University of Rio Grande and the author of Ringside: A History of Professional Wrestling in America.

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Linda McMahon Seems a Perfect Fit for the Trump Administration

Dave Hannigan reports for The Irish Times:

Linda McMahon was a failed Republican candidate for the US Senate in 2010 and 2012. Photograph: Abigail Pheiffer-Pool/Getty Images.When Mick Foley, an iconic figure in the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) universe, missed an episode of Monday Night Raw last month, initial reports indicated the current general manager of the production was away getting a hip replacement.

Not an unexpected surgery for a man who has been putting his body on the line for decades. However, it later emerged that Foley didn’t have the operation because it costs $60,000 and he currently does not have health insurance to cover that astronomical figure.

Foley was embarrassed by the subsequent brouhaha and stymied an effort by devoted fans to crowdfund the treatment. But that somebody who is performing for the American public on television every week has to wait to replace a hip damaged over years in the line of duty highlighted once again the strange work practices of the WWE. Despite annual revenues around the $650 million mark, all wrestlers are independent contractors, not employees, and they must purchase their own health insurance.

As former president and CEO of this company notorious for putting the bottom line before the welfare of workers, Linda McMahon seems an obvious pick by Donald Trump to head up America’s Small Business Administration (SBA).

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Trump’s Nominee Linda McMahon: How the Small Business Administration Will Be Used to Destroy Regulations

Sharmini Peries speaks to former financial regulator Bill Black who says Linda McMahon’s career has involved exploiting workers as independent contractors and sabotaging small businesses. (The Real News)

Trump Struggles To Shake His Erratic Campaign Habit

Josh Dawsey reports for Politico:

Image result for Trump struggles to shake his erratic campaign habitsThat Donald Trump chose to spend the first 48 hours of his presidency feuding with the news media over crowd sizes, crowing about his win in front of a wall of killed CIA agents, spreading inaccurate information and firing off tweets didn’t shock his supporters or critics.

But it showed two likely hallmarks of the Trump administration, according to interviews with people involved in and close to his government.

First, his team will be very combative, even when the facts are not on their side, trusting that their political base dislikes the news media and will believe them no matter what. Sometimes, they are likely to muddy the water or throw a hand grenade into a political debate just to change the headlines.

“What you’re seeing with the press secretary is what the administration is going to do, they are going to challenge the press,” said Rep. Tom Reed, a New York Republican on Trump’s executive committee. “A lot of people in the Beltway forget that the news media doesn’t have much credibility. This is the way he ran his campaign, and it worked.”

And second, when Trump grows angry, he will usually want the strongest response possible, unless he is told no, and that he will often govern or make decisions based off news coverage.

“Most of the people around him are new to him. One of the things they don’t understand about him is he likes pushback. They are not giving him the pushback he needs when he’s giving advice. He’s a strong guy. He’s intimidating to a lot of people,” said Christopher Ruddy, a Trump friend who talks to him often and is the CEO of Newsmax. “If he doesn’t have people who can tell him no, this is not going to go very well.”

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Government Scientists at U.S. Climate Conference Terrified to Speak with the Press

Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept:

While Donald Trump was reviving both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, muzzling federal employees, freezing EPA contracts, and first telling the EPA to remove mentions of climate change from its website — and then reversing course — many of the scientists who work on climate change in federal agencies were meeting just a few miles from the White House to present and discuss their work.

The mood was understandably gloomy at the National Conference and Global Forum on Science, Policy, and the Environment. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. No one knows what’s going to happen,” one EPA staffer who works on climate issues told me on Tuesday, as she ate her lunch. She had spent much of her time in recent weeks trying to preserve and document the methane-related projects she’s been working on for years. But the prevailing sense was that, Trump’s claims about being an environmentalist notwithstanding, the president is moving forward with his plan to eviscerate environmental protections, particularly those related to climate change, and the EPA itself.

“It’s strange,” the woman said. “People keep walking up to me and giving me hugs.” Like several others I spoke to for this story, she declined to tell me her name out of fear that she might suffer retaliation, including being fired. She was not being paranoid. Already, agency higher ups had warned the EPA staff against talking to the press, or even updating blogs or issuing news releases. “Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press,” said one EPA missive that was shared broadly and ended up in the press. And while the staffer was at the meeting, the EPA’s new brass issued another memo to staff requiring all regional offices to submit a list of external meetings and presentations, noting which might be controversial and why.

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Texas Is Leading the Right-Wing Crusade Against Planned Parenthood

Jordan Smith reports for The Intercept:

At the end of a three-day hearing, a federal district court judge in Austin, Texas, on January 19 issued a temporary injunction blocking state officials from excising Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program — a move that would deny more than 11,000 of the state’s poorest residents from accessing preventive care from their provider of choice, and would annually strip Texas Planned Parenthood clinics of several million dollars.

The current court action is just the latest in a long string of attempts by the state of Texas to defund local affiliates of the nation’s largest provider of women’s health and reproductive care. And it is part of a larger movement by conservative state and federal lawmakers to cut off Planned Parenthood from all government funding.

If anti-choice lawmakers in D.C. have their way, it may be easier for Texas, and other states, to get their way.

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Trump’s Obsession with Faux Election Fraud Sets the Stage for Federal Voter Suppression

Alice Speri reports for The Intercept:

In a 24-hour news cycle in which Donald Trump decreed the construction of a new border wall with Mexico and draft executive orders emerged suggesting an impending ban on refugees and the return of post-9/11 interrogation techniques, the president also hinted at more to come — from sending “the Feds” to Chicago to a Department of Justice investigation into voter fraud. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the latter on Thursday, telling reporters that the president plans to sign an executive order “to better understand” voter fraud and voter registration.

The latest development, coming from a sitting president who just won an election, might seem like an odd priority, but it could be the most dangerous of all. In fact, while the president’s insistence on delegitimizing an election that put him in the White House seemed ironic to some, Trump’s decision to double down once again on one of his favorite and most demonstrably false lies — that millions of voters illegally cast ballots on November 8 — should spell trouble to anyone hoping this election is the last one he wins.

Trump, a sore loser even in victory, might have been simply obsessing over the 2.8 million ballots by which he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clintonwhen he announced Wednesday that he would seek “a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD,” which remains virtually non-existent. Although Trump is a master of political distraction, his often preposterous tweets have also been a reliable indicator of policies to come.

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Trump’s Muslim Immigration Executive Order: If We Bombed You, We Ban You

Zaid Jilani reports for The Intercept:

[…] What all seven countries also have in common is that the United States government has violently intervened in them. The U.S. is currently bombing — or has bombed in the recent past — six of them. The U.S. has not bombed Iran, but has a long history of intervention including a recent cyberattack.

It’s like a twisted version of the you-break-it-you-buy-it Pottery Barn rule: If we bomb a country or help destabilize its society, we will then ban its citizens from being able to seek refuge in the United States.

Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy explained this irony in a tweet Wednesday morning:

We bomb your country, creating a humanitarian nightmare, then lock you inside. That’s a horror movie, not a foreign policy.

[…] And consider that Iran, where al Qaeda, ISIS, and other anti-American terrorist organizations have no significant foothold, is included — but Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 9/11 hijackers came from and which has been a funding source for extremist groups, is not included.

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Visa Ban Excludes Countries with Direct Links to Terrorism and Where Trump Has Commercial Holdings

Kim Brown speaks to Phyllis Bennisa Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C. and the author of several books, who says Trump’s executive order is an effort to keep Muslims out of the country and has nothing to do with security. (The Real News)

Trump’s Crony Cabinet May Look Strong, But They Are Scared

Naomi Klein writes for The Nation:

Protest Crane at the White House[…] This is the backdrop for Trump’s rise to power—our movements were starting to win. I’m not saying that they were strong enough. They weren’t. I’m not saying we were united enough. We weren’t. But something was most definitely shifting. And rather than risk the possibility of further progress, this gang of fossil-fuel mouthpieces, junk-food peddlers, and predatory lenders have come together to take over the government and protect their ill-gotten wealth.

Let us be clear: This is not a peaceful transition of power. It’s a corporate takeover. The interests that have long-since paid off both major parties to do their bidding have decided they are tired of playing the game. Apparently, all that wining and dining of politicians, all that cajoling and legalized bribery, insulted their sense of divine entitlement.

So now they are cutting out the middleman and doing what every top dog does when they want something done right—they are doing it themselves. Exxon for secretary of state. Hardee’s for secretary of labor. General Dynamics for secretary of defense. And the Goldman guys for pretty much everything that’s left. After decades of privatizing the state in bits and pieces, they decided to just go for the government itself. Neoliberalism’s final frontier. That’s why Trump and his appointees are laughing at the feeble objections over conflicts of interest—the whole thing is a conflict of interest, that’s the whole point.

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Are Trump and Mexican President Provoking Conflict to Distract from Low Approval Ratings at Home?

Amy Goodman speaks to journalist Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, about the cancelled meeting between Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and U.S. President Donald Trump and whether both leaders benefit from the distractions surrounding this and Trump’s executive order regarding the building of a wall along the border. (Democracy Now!)

Theresa May Tells Trump U.S. and Britain Can Lead World Together Once Again

Kim Hjelmgaard reports for USA Today:

Image result for trump mayBritish Prime Minister Theresa May came Thursday to the city where the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain to reaffirm the “special relationship” the United Kingdom and United States have shared for more than two centuries.

“The leadership provided by our two countries through the ‘special relationship’ has done more than win wars and overcome adversity. It made the modern world,” May told an annual congressional retreat in Philadelphia.

“It is through our actions over many years, working together to defeat evil or to open up the world, that we have been able to fulfill the promise of those who first spoke of the special nature of the relationship between us,” she said. “The promise of freedom, liberty and the rights of man.”

May’s comments come ahead of her visit Friday to the White House, when she will bask in the political glow of being the first foreign leader to hold face-to-face talks with President Trump. The two leaders will discuss terrorism, ending Syria’s civil war, relations with Russia, NATO cooperation and a bilateral trade deal once the U.K. leaves the European Union, probably by 2019. Trade between the two countries is worth about $187 billion, and the U.S. is the largest single investor in the U.K.

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‘The Media is the Opposition Party’: Sarah Posner on Trump Adviser Steve Bannon Telling the Press to ‘Keep Its Mouth Shut’

Amy Goodman speaks to journalist Sarah Posner the rare interview Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon gave to the New York Times in which he said: “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while. I want you to quote this. The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.” Posner wrote an article for Mother Jones in August titled: ‘How Donald Trump’s New Campaign Chief Created an Online Haven for White Nationalists‘. Her latest piece for Rolling Stone is titled: ‘Trump Makes Good on His Nativist Campaign Promises‘. (Democracy Now!)

Trump Slams ‘Ungrateful Traitor’ Chelsea Manning Who Should ‘Never Have Been Released From Prison’

Tyler Durden reports for Zero Hedge:

Fox NewsTrump took to Twitter on Thursday morning, where in his first tweet he lashed out at Chelsea Manning, calling her an “ungrateful traitor” who should have never been released from prison.

“Ungrateful TRAITOR Chelsea Manning, who should never have been released from prison, is now calling President Obama a weak leader. Terrible!” he tweeted.

The reaction was prompted by Manning’s first column since former President Obama commuted her sentence for leaking classified documents, in which Manning said Obama had “few permanent accomplishments.”

“This vulnerable legacy should remind us that what we really need is a strong and unapologetic progressive to lead us. What we need as well is a relentless grassroots movement to hold that leadership accountable,” she wrote in The Guardian. “The one simple lesson to draw from President Obama’s legacy: do not start off with a compromise. They won’t meet you in the middle.”

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How the 19th Century Know Nothing Party Reshaped American Politics

Lorraine Boissoneault reports for Smithsonian:

CWBWMA.jpgLike Fight Club, there were rules about joining the secret society known as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner (OSSB). An initiation rite called “Seeing Sam.” The memorization of passwords and hand signs. A solemn pledge never to betray the order. A pureblooded pedigree of Protestant Anglo-Saxon stock and the rejection of all Catholics. And above all, members of the secret society weren’t allowed to talk about the secret society. If asked anything by outsiders, they would respond with, “I know nothing.”

So went the rules of this secret fraternity that rose to prominence in 1853 and transformed into the powerful political party known as the Know Nothings. At its height in the 1850s, the Know Nothing party, originally called the American Party, included more than 100 elected congressmen, eight governors, a controlling share of half-a-dozen state legislatures from Massachusetts to California, and thousands of local politicians. Party members supported deportation of foreign beggars and criminals; a 21-year naturalization period for immigrants; mandatory Bible reading in schools; and the elimination of all Catholics from public office. They wanted to restore their vision of what America should look like with temperance, Protestantism, self-reliance, with American nationality and work ethic enshrined as the nation’s highest values.

Know Nothings were the American political system’s first major third party. Early in the 19th century, two parties leftover from the birth of the United States were the Federalists (who advocated for a strong central government) and the Democratic-Republicans (formed by Thomas Jefferson). Following the earliest parties came the National Republicans, created to oppose Andrew Jackson. That group eventually transformed into the Whigs as Jackson’s party became known as the Democrats. The Whig party sent presidents William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor and others to the White House during its brief existence. But the party splintered and then disintegrated over the politics of slavery. The Know Nothings filled the power void before the Whigs had even ceased to exist, choosing to ignore slavery and focus all their energy on the immigrant question. They were the first party to leverage economic concerns over immigration as a major part of their platform. Though short-lived, the values and positions of the Know Nothings ultimately contributed to the two-party system we have today.

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U.S. No Longer a ‘Full Democracy’, But It’s Not Trump’s Fault

Rob Garver reports for The Fiscal Times:

Americans' Trust in Government 1958-2015The United States has fallen from the ranks of what a respected business intelligence provider considers “full democracies” and can now only be considered a “flawed democracy” — but the reason for the demotion may be a surprise.

As the country’s new president, Donald Trump, sits in the White House and tweets about some sort of federal takeover of Chicago and continues to press false claims of massive voter fraud in an election that he won, it would be easy to assume that the new ranking from the Economist Intelligence Unit is related to his elevation to the White House.

However, the respected 70-year-old research and analysis division of the same company that publishes The Economist newspaper says that Trump’s election is a symptom of broader failings of American democracy, not its cause.

“Popular trust in government, elected representatives and political parties have fallen to extremely low levels in the US,” the report says. “This has been a long-term trend and one that preceded the election of Mr. Trump as US president in November 2016. By tapping a deep strain of political disaffection with the functioning of democracy, Mr. Trump became a beneficiary of the low esteem in which US voters hold their government, elected representatives, and political parties, but he was not responsible for a problem that has had a long gestation.”

The US, it adds, had been “teetering on the brink” of falling out of the ranks of full democracies, and would have done so in this year’s report even if there had been no presidential election at all.

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Days Into His Presidency, Donald Trump Cashes In

Emily Jane Fox reports for Vanity Fair:

A few weeks before taking office, then-President-Elect Donald Trump held court at a press conference in Manhattan to address questions about his conflicts of interest. With a giant stack of papers stacked artfully to signal legal documents beside him onstage, he explained that he would step down from the day-to-day operations of the Trump Organization, hand over the keys to his adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, and pay the business no mind until he returns. “I hope at the end of eight years I’ll come back and say, ‘Oh, you did a good job,’” he said. “Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I’ll say, ‘You’re fired.’ ” Trump’s tax attorney, dispatched to detail the particulars, told reporters that the Trump Organization would appoint ethics advisers, avoid foreign deals while Trump is in office, and donate profits from foreign officials staying at his hotels to the U.S. Treasury.

These measures were meant to avoid the appearance of conflicting interests once Trump took office, though they did little to satisfy ethics experts, since the president continues to own a vast array of hotels, resorts, golf courses, real estate holdings, and licensing deals around the world. His children, to whom he is very close, stand to benefit from anyone looking to curry favor with the White House, too.

Trump has argued that he doesn’t care about the business anymore, now that he has the fate of the free world on his shoulders. He has opted to forgo his salary as president, too, since the billionaire (if you take him at his word, though he has not released his tax returns) can manage just fine without it.

But just five days since taking up residence in the White House, Trump is already managing to make money off his new gig. According to a report from CNBC, Mar-a-Lago, the sweeping Palm Beach resort owned by the Trump Organization, doubled its initiation fee on January 1, three weeks before Trump’s inauguration. The “Winter White House” now charges $200,000 to join, plus tax and $14,000 in annual dues, a massive increase that went into effect just hours after Trump spent the night there with his family, shaking hands and enjoying his last days there as a private citizen, for its New Year’s Eve party. Sources told the network that Mar-a-Lago, which last raised prices in 2012, had been considering a price hike for some time.

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Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight

David Titley and Lawrence M. Krauss write for The New York Times:

[…] This is the closest to midnight that the clock has been since 1953, when it was moved to two minutes to midnight after United States and the Soviet Union tested their first thermonuclear weapons within six months of one another.

We understand that Mr. Trump has been in office only days, that many of his cabinet nominees are awaiting confirmation and that he has had little time to take official action.

But Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and the Budget have disputed or questioned climate change.

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Trump: No to Black Sites But Yes to Torture

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Reports early Wednesday claimed President Donald Trump was planning to reverse the ban on CIA black sites holding detainees around the world. These reports ultimately proved untrue, with the White House insisting the memo in question was not genuine, and that they have absolutely no plans to review the black sites policy at all.

The flurry of conflicting reports on the CIA black sites was confusing and ultimately didn’t amount to much in and of itself, but the putative memo did mention a return to torture, and got President Trump talking, and again loudly endorsing the idea of torture.

Trump insisted that he had been assured by several top intelligence officials that torture “works” and that he believes the US has to “fight fire with fire” in the war against ISIS. Trump noted that ISIS routinely tortures, and that it’s unfair the US is “not allowed to do anything,” saying the two sides aren’t “playing on an even field.”

Though Trump presented his comments as deferring to the experts, he also made it very clear he leans toward the idea of torture, saying he wants to do everything that the US can “do legally.” This is in keeping with his campaign rhetoric, which faulted opponents as weak for not being pro-torture.

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Executive Orders Are Normal, Trump’s Are Only Appalling Because of What They Say

Jon Schwarz reports for The Intercept:

[…] The good news, such as it is, is that the executive branch is only supposed to execute the law, not make it. This means that some of Trump’s executive orders are more symbolic nods to his base than a real change in governance.

For instance, Trump has loudly celebrated his Wednesday executive order calling for “the immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” But presidents can only spend money that’s been appropriated by Congress, for the purposes Congress directed.

So if you read deep into the executive order, you’ll find that it merely instructs the secretary of homeland security to “identify and, to the extent permitted by law, allocate all sources of federal funds for the planning, designing, and constructing of a physical wall.” This means the secretary will look at money already appropriated by Congress and try to find some designated for a purpose that could somehow be interpreted as “build the wall.”

In other words, Trump’s order sets his administration looking under the federal budget’s sofa cushions for spare change, which is not going to add up to anything like the $20-$40 billion the wall would cost.

When Trump excitedly tweeted that “we will build the wall!” it actually just meant “we will build the wall if someday Congress gives me money for it!” — something that was true before he signed the executive order.

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Seymour Hersh Blasts Media for Uncritically Promoting Russian Hacking Story

Jeremy Scahill reports for The Intercept:

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh said in an interview that he does not believe the U.S. intelligence community proved its case that President Vladimir Putin directed a hacking campaign aimed at securing the election of Donald Trump. He blasted news organizations for lazily broadcasting the assertions of U.S. intelligence officials as established facts.

Hersh denounced news organizations as “crazy town” for their uncritical promotion of the pronouncements of the director of national intelligence and the CIA, given their track records of lying and misleading the public.

“The way they behaved on the Russia stuff was outrageous,” Hersh said when I sat down with him at his home in Washington, D.C., two days after Trump was inaugurated. “They were just so willing to believe stuff. And when the heads of intelligence give them that summary of the allegations, instead of attacking the CIA for doing that, which is what I would have done,” they reported it as fact. Hersh said most news organizations missed an important component of the story: “the extent to which the White House was going and permitting the agency to go public with the assessment.”

Hersh said many media outlets failed to provide context when reporting on the intelligence assessment made public in the waning days of the Obama administration that was purported to put to rest any doubt that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails.

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