TBR News December 5, 2017

Dec 05 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., December 5, 2017:”It appears more and more that we are seeing a reprise of the second Nixon administration. Trump is antagonizing the establishment in this country to a remarkable degree and many voters are obviously having second thoughts about the effectiveness and depth of his presidency. The European community, to include Russia, find Trump a dangerously inconsistent and untrustworthy ally. There is no doubt he made many promises to Putin about normalizing relations with Russia, promises he promptly broke under pressure from the neo-cons and Israel. That latter country has been pressuring Trump to attack Iran and support their enmity with a Hezbollah that inflicted serious military defeats on their army in the last Israeli incursions of Lebanon. The Saudi dream of a Great Sunni Empire is collapsing along with their oil productions and in their agony, Saudi Arabia is capable of great destruction in both the Middle Eastern political scene but in the economic/political structure in the United States.”


Table of Contents

  • Trump Post-Flynn Approval Ratings Released, He’s Going To Explode (DETAILS)
  • Lawyer for Trump posits legal immunity
  • Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private Spies to Counter “Deep State” Enemies
  • A New Study Says That Rising Seas Could Destroy the East Coast: And our history.
  • US moves to criminalize non-disclosure of virtual currency ownership
  • Is Flynn’s Defection a Death Blow?
  • Trump misses deadline over moving US embassy to Jerusalem
  • Germany warns US of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
  • From ‘Russia-Gate’ to ‘Israel-Gate’
  • Deutsche Bank subpoenaed to provide Trump accounts’ data
  • What’s the Matter with Eastern Europe?



Trump Post-Flynn Approval Ratings Released, He’s Going To Explode (DETAILS)

December 2, 2017

by Gloria Christie


Things are looking very bad for Donald Trump. People are not happy that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn has entered into a plea agreement, spelling possible presidential crimes. Plus, they despise the terrible Trump tax bill that transferred wealth to the top one percenters from the middle- and lower-bracket income earners. This is how it shakes out in the latest Gallup Poll.

The November 29 to December 1 Gallup Poll showed him with  a staggeringly low 33 percent approval rating and a 72 percent disapproval rating.

This means that Donald Trump has a lower approval rating than any other president in the history of modern polling at the 317th day on the job. The sitting president began his tenure at a historical low. Thus far, he has had only one legislative win, the Tax Cut and Jobs Act, and people appeared to see through the spin and recognize how badly it would affect them.

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In addition, Trump’s administration’s response to Hurricane Maria’s damage to the Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands was abysmal.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller delves deeper into the heart of his investigation, the Trump presidency’s rating can only continue to decline.

After 10 months on the job, FiveThirtyEight showed Trump at an all-time low of 37.9 percent approval rating among the top five polls. He carried a whopping 59.6 percent disapproval rating.

Reuters/Ipsos ranked the president with a 37 percent approval rating and a 57 percent disapproval rating in its poll. It was conducted November 26 through November 30.

Lucid ranked Trump with a 35 percent approval rating and a 52 percent disapproval rating in its poll. Lucid conducted its poll November 28 and November 29.

Economist/YouGov showed the president with a 39 percent approval rating and a 53 percent disapproval rating. It surveyed between November 26 through November  28.

Rasmussen Report/Pulse Opinion Research gave him a more optimistic rating in its latest poll taken November 28 through November 30. Trump carried a 44 percent approval and a 55 percent disapproval in this poll.

Real Clear Politics also included the Quinnipiac, NPR/PBS/Marist, and the Harvard-Harris polls in its data.

The Quinnipiac poll rated Trump’s approval rating for the week of November 15 through November 20 at 38 percent. His disapproval rating was 57 percent.

The NPR/PBS/Marist poll ranked the president’s approval rating at 42 percent in its survey taken November 13 through November 15. His disapproval rating in this poll was 54 percent.

The Harvard-Harris poll showed Trump’s approval rating at 41 percent and is disapproval at 59 percent from November 11 through November 14.

Compared to other presidents, Donald Trump has also also doing poorly. At the same time in his presidency, Barack Obama had a 50.4 approval rating compared to Trump’s 37.9 approval rating.

After the same number of days in office as Trump, 317, President George W. Bush carried a 85.5 percent approval rating. President Bill Clinton came in at 47.9 percent, and President George H.W. Bush had a 69.8 percent approval rating.

Even President Richard Nixon did not have time to blow through his approval rating. On his 317th day, he had a 66.9 percent approval rating.

Presidential job approval is a snapshot in time of how the public sees the president’s job performance.

Gallup bases its Presidential Job Approval Center approval rating for President Trump on weekly Gallup Daily tracking averages. It updates its data by 1 p.m. ET on Mondays.

The Gallup organization tracks the percent of Americans who approve or disapprove of the job Donald Trump has been doing in his job as president on a daily basis. Its weekly results are the result of telephone interviews of about 3,500 adults in the U.S.

Its margin of error is +/- 2 percentage points.


Lawyer for Trump posits legal immunity

Other experts scoff at theory that ‘president cannot obstruct justice’

December 5, 2017

by Sari Horwitz and Philip Rucker

The Washington Post

The brazen assertion Monday by one of President Trump’s lawyers that a president cannot be found guilty of obstruction of justice signaled a controversial defense strategy in the wide-ranging Russia probe, as Trump’s political advisers are increasingly concerned about the legal advice he is receiving.

Trump tweeted over the weekend that he knew then-national security adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador before firing him in February — and before FBI Director James B. Comey said Trump asked him to be lenient while investigating Flynn. Experts said the president’s admission increased his legal exposure to obstruction-of-justice charges, one of the core crimes under investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

But Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd sought to excuse the president’s tweet in part by telling Axios and NBC News on Monday that the “president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case.”

Dowd declined to elaborate on his theory or explain the emerging legal strategy to The Washington Post.

Inside the White House, some senior officials were baffled that Dowd publicly offered this interpretation of the law, which has been advanced since the summer by constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz in defense of Trump but flatly dismissed by many other legal scholars.

Ty Cobb, a White House lawyer overseeing its handling of the Russia investigation, said Monday that the Dershowitz-Dowd theory was not the president’s official legal strategy.

“It’s interesting as a technical legal issue, but the president’s lawyers intend to present a factbased defense, not a mere legal defense,” Cobb said in an interview with The Post. “That should resolve things, but we all shall see.”

Asked whether Trump agrees that a president cannot obstruct justice, Cobb replied, “I never talk about what the president’s beliefs are or discuss communications between the president and his lawyers.”

Many Washington lawyers and legal scholars disputed Dowd’s interpretation, citing several court cases and articles of impeachment — as well as, in the words of one expert, “common sense.”

“We have a president, not a king,” said Sam Berger, senior policy adviser at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “No one is above the law, whether it be Trump or any of his close associates. It’s the sort of desperate claim that makes you wonder, ‘What exactly are they hiding?’”

Berger argued that Dowd’s reasoning amounts to a “Hail Mary pass” for the president to escape responsibility. “This response, ‘If it’s the president, it’s not a crime,’ has never flown with the American people or our legal system in any context,” he said. “Claiming that the president can’t obstruct justice flies in the face of both common sense and past precedent.”

Some legal scholars, however, support Dowd’s claim. Dershowitz, a Harvard Law School professor, said Monday on Fox News Channel that Trump was within his rights when he fired Comey.

“You cannot charge a president with obstruction of justice for exercising his constitutional power to fire Comey and his constitutional authority to tell the Justice Department who to investigate, who not to investigate,” Dershowitz said. “That’s what Thomas Jefferson did, that’s what Lincoln did, that’s what Roosevelt did. We have precedents that clearly establish that.”

Dershowitz was appearing on “Fox & Friends,” a pro-Trump morning show that the president regularly watches. After his appearance, Trump tweeted, “A must watch: Legal Scholar Alan Dershowitz was just on @foxandfriends talking of what is going on with respect to the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history.”

Dershowitz wrote a column in June for The Washington Examiner in which he argued that Trump’s efforts to stop the FBI probe could not be considered obstruction because he was constitutionally empowered as president to direct the attorney general and the FBI director and tell them whom to prosecute.

Furthermore, he wrote, “the president has the constitutional authority to stop the investigation of any person by simply pardoning that person.”

Within Trump’s political orbit, concerns have grown in recent weeks about Trump’s legal strategy, crafted by Cobb and Dowd, as well as attorney Jay Sekulow, who at key moments has served as the public face of the defense team.

Cobb and Dowd have urged Trump to cooperate fully with Mueller’s investigation, providing documents when asked by the special counsel and encouraging White House staffers to comply with requests for interviews.

The two men have sought to assure White House advisers that Trump is not vulnerable to obstruction-of-justice charges. “They think everything is clean there,” said one senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

Cobb and Dowd also have been privately assuring the president that the Mueller probe was likely to reach its conclusion by the end of this year, complete with a public exoneration of Trump of any wrongdoing. That timeline seems overly optimistic to some legal experts, considering Mueller last week charged Flynn with lying to the FBI and secured his cooperation in the investigation.

In Monday’s interview, Cobb said he still believes Mueller’s investigation of Trump will reach “an appropriate result” by Christmas or early January.

But some Trump advisers and outside allies — including former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon — have been grumbling for weeks that the president’s legal strategy is too compliant with Mueller and not combative enough.

One Republican strategist in frequent contact with senior White House officials said there had been “consternation” among Trump’s political advisers in recent days.

“The concern is that every time the president feels a little bit of pain from what Mueller’s doing, [his lawyers] give him OxyContin and tell him he’ll be fine by the morning,” this strategist said metaphorically, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “Rather than being aggressive lawyers defending the president’s prerogative, they’re bending over backwards on the theory that Mueller is fair and it’ll all be over soon.”

These concerns grew over the past 48 hours as Dowd sought to explain the president’s tweet about firing Flynn in a succession of media interviews, which had some Trump loyalists grimacing.

Asked to respond to criticisms of the legal team, Cobb said, “There’s no question that Bannon is doing the president a great disservice by agitating persistently on this issue. Internally, where people are actually informed, there’s no consternation about the decision to cooperate fully with the special counsel, and Mr. Bannon has yet to identify what fights he would pick and how constructive that would be.”

Going forward, Cobb said, “I’m not going to litigate every isolated fact that people may testify about or may ask about in the press because that’s not fair to the process or to the special counsel or to the witnesses.”

The Brookings Institution in October published a 108-page study titled “Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump.” The authors reviewed the articles of impeachment against presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, and those drafted against judges Harry Claiborne in 1986 and Samuel Kent in 2009. They concluded that “obstruction, conspiracy, and conviction of a federal crime have previously been considered by Congress to be valid reasons to remove a duly elected president from office.”

Co-author Norm Eisen, former special assistant for ethics and government reform in the Obama administration and a senior fellow in governance studies at Brookings, said, “There’s a long line of cases holding that when a government official exercises an otherwise legal authority with corrupt intent, they can be prosecuted for obstruction. It flows from the notion that no person is above the law.”

In 1999, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, argued that Clinton should be removed from office for obstructing justice in the investigation into his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

“The facts are disturbing and compelling on the president’s intent to obstruct justice,” Sessions said at the time.


Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private Spies to Counter “Deep State” Enemies

December 4 2017

by Matthew Cole and Jeremy Scahill

The Intercept

The Trump administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency.

The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”

North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.

The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran.

“I can find no evidence that this ever came to the attention of anyone at the NSC or [White House] at all,” wrote Michael N. Anton, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, in an email. “The White House does not and would not support such a proposal.” But a current U.S. intelligence official appeared to contradict that assertion, stating that the various proposals were first pitched at the White House before being delivered to the CIA. The Intercept reached out to several senior officials that sources said had been briefed on the plans by Prince, including Vice President Mike Pence. His spokesperson wrote there was “no record of [Prince] ever having met with or briefed the VP.” North did not respond to a request for comment.

According to two former senior intelligence officials, Pompeo has embraced the plan and lobbied the White House to approve the contract. Asked for comment, a CIA spokesperson said, “You have been provided wildly inaccurate information by people peddling an agenda.”At the heart of the scheme being considered by the White House are Blackwater founder Erik Prince and his longtime associate, CIA veteran John R. Maguire, who currently works for the intelligence contractor Amyntor Group. Maguire also served on Trump’s transition team. Amyntor’s role was first reported by BuzzFeed News.

Michael Barry, who was recently named NSC senior director for intelligence programs, worked closely with Prince on a CIA assassination program during the Bush administration.

Prince and Maguire deny they are working together. Those assertions, however, are challenged by current and former U.S. officials and Trump donors who say the two men were collaborating.

As with many arrangements in the world of CIA contracting and clandestine operations, details of who is in charge of various proposals are murky by design and change depending on which players are speaking. An Amyntor official said Prince was not “formally linked to any contract proposal by Amyntor.” In an email, Prince rejected the suggestion that he was involved with the proposals. When asked if he has knowledge of this project, Prince replied: “I was/am not part of any of those alleged efforts.”

The former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the efforts scoffed at Prince’s denials. “Erik’s proposal had no company names on the slides,” this person said, “but there is no doubt that Prince and Maguire were working together.”

Prince and Maguire have a long professional relationship. Maguire recently completed a stint as a consultant with Prince’s company, Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based security and logistics company partially owned by the Chinese government. FSG has no known connections to the private spy plan.

Prince has strong ties to the Trump administration: His sister Betsy DeVos is secretary of education, he was a major donor to the Trump election campaign, and he advised the transition team on intelligence and defense appointments, as The Intercept has previously reported. Prince has also contributed to Pence’s campaigns.

Maguire spent more than two decades as a paramilitary officer in the CIA, including tours in Central America working with the Contras. He has extensive experience in the Middle East, where he helped plan the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Maguire and Prince met together in September with a senior CIA official at a Virginia restaurant to discuss privatizing the war in Afghanistan.

Prince told a top fundraiser that Maguire was working on part of his Afghanistan plan, characterizing it as the first part of a multi-pronged program. The fundraiser added that Prince never directly asked him for money. But sources close to the project say Maguire did seek private funding for Amyntor’s efforts until a CIA contract materialized. “They’ve been going around asking for a bridge loan to float their operations until the CIA says yes,” said a person who has been briefed on the fundraising efforts.

Beginning last spring and into the summer, Maguire and a group of Amyntor representatives began asking Trump donors to support their intelligence efforts in Afghanistan, the initial piece of what they hoped would be a broader program. Some Trump fundraisers were asked to provide introductions to companies and wealthy clients who would then hire Amyntor for economic intelligence contracts. Maguire explained that some of the profit from those business deals would fund their foreign intelligence collection. Others were asked to give money outright.

“[Maguire] said there were people inside the CIA who joined in the previous eight years [under Obama] and inside the government, and they were failing to give the president the intelligence he needed,” said a person who was pitched by Maguire and other Amyntor personnel. To support his claim, Maguire told at least two people that National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, in coordination with a top official at the National Security Agency, authorized surveillance of Steven Bannon and Trump family members, including Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump. Adding to these unsubstantiated claims, Maguire told the potential donors he also had evidence McMaster used a burner phone to send information gathered through the surveillance to a facility in Cyprus owned by George Soros.

Amyntor employees took potential donors to a suite in the Trump Hotel in Washington, which they claimed was set up to conduct “secure communications.” Some White House staff and Trump campaign supporters came to refer to the suite as “the tinfoil room,” according to one person who visited the suite. This account was confirmed by another source to whom the room was described. “John [Maguire] was certain that the deep state was going to kick the president out of office within a year,” said a person who discussed it with Maguire. “These guys said they were protecting the president.”

Maguire and others at Amyntor have boasted that they have already sent intelligence reports to Pompeo.

Prince, Maguire, and North have long shared a common frustration over the failure of the U.S. government to bring two suspects from a high-profile terrorist event in the 1980s to justice. Last summer, Maguire discussed rendering the suspects with White House officials after learning the men had been located in the Middle East. Despite having no U.S. government approval, associates of Maguire began working on a snatch operation earlier this year, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Prince colleague.

Maguire, concerned that the FBI would not take action, made an offer to senior White House officials. The message, according to a person with direct knowledge of the rendition plan, was: “We’re going to go get these guys and bring them to the U.S. Who should we hand them over to?”

The rendition plan was meant to be a demonstration that Maguire and his associates had an active intelligence network and the capability to grab suspects around the world. Prince maintains he has nothing to do with that plan. But according to a source with extensive knowledge of Prince’s networks, Prince was working in parallel to assemble a team to help apprehend the men.

According to two people who have worked extensively with Prince in recent years, Prince has been contacting former Blackwater personnel who worked on a post-9/11 era CIA assassination program targeting Al Qaeda operatives. That program, which the Bush White House prohibited the CIA from disclosing to congressional intelligence committees, was revealed to Congress in 2009 by then-CIA Director Leon Panetta. The CIA says the program did not result in any assassinations.

Among the capabilities Prince offers is a network of deniable assets —  spies, fixers, foreign intelligence agents — spread across the globe that could be used by the White House. “You pick any country in the world Erik’s been in, and it’s there,” said a longtime Prince associate. “They’re a network of very dark individuals.” The associate, who has worked extensively with Prince, then began rattling off places where the private spies and paramilitaries already operate — Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, “all across North Africa.”

Opaque contracting arrangements are typical for Prince, who became a lightning rod in his Blackwater days and now prefers to minimize controversy by operating in the shadows, disguising his involvement in sensitive operations with layers of subcontractors and elaborately crafted legal structures. “That’s his exact MO,” said the longtime Prince associate, adding that Prince consistently attempts to ensure plausible deniability of his role in U.S. and foreign government contracts.

“I have zero to do with any such effort and saying that I did/do would be categorically false,” Prince said in his email to The Intercept. “Knowingly publishing false information exposes you to civil legal action. The only effort I’ve quite publicly pitched is an alternative to Afghanistan.”

The intelligence and covert action program would mark an unorthodox return to government service for Prince, the onetime CIA contractor who built a mercenary force that became notorious during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would also raise new questions about Prince’s foreign entanglements since he sold Blackwater.

In addition to Prince’s former assassination network, the hidden cadre of spies with no official cover — NOCs in CIA jargon — includes the assets of another key player in the Iran-Contra affair, CIA Officer Duane Clarridge, who died in 2016. Maguire, who worked under Clarridge as a young CIA paramilitary in Central America during the mid-1980s, took over the network of contract spies, who operate mostly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Last summer, as Prince pushed his public proposal to privatize the war in Afghanistan, he and Maguire had broader ambitions, according to a person involved in the discussions. “The goal was to eventually get their network of NOCs worldwide, but they initially started with Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Prince seems to be firing on a lot of cylinders and pitching overt and covert plans,” said a current intelligence officer who has closely monitored Prince’s career and been briefed on several of Prince’s recent efforts, including the proposals to Pompeo. The official declined to discuss details of the plans but pointed to Prince’s much-discussed pitch to privatize the war in Afghanistan as a smokescreen for offering other more controversial programs and operations.

Prince’s Afghanistan plan, which received substantial media attention and got a hearing at the highest levels of the Trump administration, “was brilliant because it changed the narrative and made him relevant,” the officer said, referring to Prince’s scandal- and investigation-plagued career at Blackwater. The officer also added that the very public Afghanistan pitch, replete with cable news interviews and op-eds, provided a legitimate reason “to justify meeting with people” at the White House, CIA, or other government agencies.

“Erik has no hobbies,” said the longtime Prince associate. “Counterterrorism is his hobby.”

In some ways, these plans mirror operations Prince led during the Bush-Cheney administration. When Prince was running Blackwater, he and a former CIA paramilitary officer, Enrique Prado, set up a global network of foreign operatives, offering their “deniability” as a “big plus” for potential Blackwater customers, according to internal company communications obtained by The Intercept.

In a 2007 email, with the subject “Possible Opportunity in DEA—READ AND DELETE,” Prado sought to pitch the network to the Drug Enforcement Administration, bragging that Blackwater had developed “a rapidly growing, worldwide network of folks that can do everything from surveillance to ground truth to disruption operations.” He added, “These are all foreign nationals (except for a few cases where US persons are the conduit but no longer ‘play’ on the street), so deniability is built in and should be a big plus.”

The longtime Prince associate said that the nexus of deniable assets has never gone away. “The NOC network is already there. It already exists for the better part of 15 years now,” he said.

Prince has long admired North and viewed his role in Iran-Contra as heroic, said the Prince associate. In 2007, Prince testified defiantly before Congress following the Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, in which Blackwater operatives gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians, including women and children. Shortly after his testimony, Prince’s longtime friend, conservative California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, praised the Blackwater chief. “Prince,” Rohrabacher said, “is on his way to being an American hero just like Ollie North was.”

North, a Marine lieutenant colonel on the Reagan National Security Council, oversaw a scheme to divert proceeds from illicit arms sales to Iran to Contra death squads in Nicaragua. The resulting scandal became known as the Iran-Contra affair, and North was convicted of three felonies, though these convictions were later thrown out.

Both North and Maguire attended a small reception in 2014 celebrating Prince’s third marriage — to his former spokesperson Stacy DeLuke. “It was an intimate affair,” said the Prince associate. “Only Erik’s closest friends were invited to that reception.” On election night in 2016, DeLuke posted photos on social media from inside Trump headquarters.

On November 30, Prince testified behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee about his January trip to the Seychelles to meet with Mohammad bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and a Russian fund manager close to Vladimir Putin. According to the Washington Post, Prince presented himself as an unofficial envoy of President-elect Trump. The Intercept reported last week that the fund manager was Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Prince repeatedly said that he did not remember the identity of the Russian, but on Thursday, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Prince admitted that he did in fact meet with Dmitriev.

Prince may have revealed part of his strategy in a July 2016 radio interview with Steve Bannon, when he proposed recreating the CIA’s Phoenix Program, an assassination ring used in the Vietnam War, to battle the Islamic State. Prince said in the interview that the program would be used to kill or capture “the funders of Islamic terror, the wealthy radical Islamist billionaires funding it from the Middle East.”




A New Study Says That Rising Seas Could Destroy the East Coast: And our history.

December 2, 2017

Oliver Milman

Mother Jones

Large tracts of America’s east coast heritage are at risk from being wiped out by sea level rise, with the rising oceans set to threaten more than 13,000 archaeological and historic sites, according to new research.

Even a modest increase in sea level will imperil much of the south-eastern US’s heritage by the end of the century, researchers found, with 13,000 sites threatened by a 1m increase.

Thousands more areas will be threatened as the seas continue to climb in the years beyond this, forcing the potential relocation of the White House and Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and inundation of historic touchstones such as the Kennedy Space Center and St Augustine, Florida, which lays claim to being the oldest city in the US.

“There are going to be a lot of cultural sites lost and the record of humanity’s history will be put at risk,” said David Anderson, a University of Tennessee anthropologist who led the published research.

“Some sites will be destroyed, some buried in marshes. We may be able to relocate some. In some places it will be devastating. We need to properly understand the magnitude of this.”

Threatened areas, including locations on the national register of historic places, include Native American sites that date back more than 10,000 years, as well as early colonial settlements such as Jamestown, Virginia and Charleston, South Carolina. Researchers pinpointed known sites using topographical data and analyzed how they would fare in various sea level rise scenarios.

Florida, which has a southern portion particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, has the most sites in danger from a 1m raising of the oceans, followed by Louisiana and Virginia.

A 1m sea level rise by 2100 could prove optimistic, with several studies showing the increase could be much greater. Scientists have warned that the break up of the Antarctic ice sheet could significantly fuel sea level rise, pushing the global increase to around 6ft by 2100.

The latest US government estimate predicts a worldwide increase of 1ft to 4ft by 2100, although an 8ft rise “cannot be ruled out”.

The eastern seaboard of the US is at particular risk, with water piling up along the coast in greater volumes than the global average. The problem is compounded by areas of the coast, such as in New Jersey and Virginia, gradually subsiding due to long-term geological hangover from a vast ice sheet that once covered much of North America.

Sea level rise is expected to displace millions of people from the US coasts over the next coming decades, with Anderson warning this will create further damage to heritage sites as people move inland.

There is still some uncertainty over the exact timescale involved in the changes—it may take several hundred years for some coastal places to be at risk—leading to hopes that coastlines can be adapted in time in order to protect vital infrastructure and sacred sites. But losses appear inevitable.

“Putting a sea wall around the whole of the US won’t be an easy thing to do and would cause a lot of damage elsewhere,” said Anderson. “We are going to have to do a lot of planning as a civilization in the next 50 to 100 years and we have to take heritage into account.”

Coastal heritage has been lost by previous fluctuations in sea level rise and Harold Wanless, a coastal geologist at the University of Miami who wasn’t involved in the study, said that tough decisions will need to be made as to what to protect in the future.

“We will have to look at how much effort we expend saving these sites over more practical things such as critical infrastructure or developing new agriculture resources,” Wanless said. “Our human history is important but there are a lot of new things to focus on. They will all need time and effort.”

Human-driven climate change is already creating its own historical artifacts, with around a dozen towns in Alaska set to be abandoned or relocated due to rising sea levels and diminishing sea ice. In Louisiana, a community near New Orleans received federal funding last year to relocate because much of their low-lying land has disappeared.

“It’s going to be an important choice for government,” said Rob Thieler, a sea level rise expert at the US Geological Survey. “There’s land that is becoming uninhabitable right now and we’ve seen from the hurricanes this year that people have to leave not just from the flooding but because infrastructure and services become unreliable.”


US moves to criminalize non-disclosure of virtual currency ownership

December 4, 2017


The US Senate is reportedly considering a bill to outlaw the concealment of ownership of digital currency accounts by American citizens domestically and abroad.

The Senate Judiciary Committee says existing anti-money laundering (AML) laws need to be modernized.

The bill will amend the definition of ‘financial account’ and ‘financial institution’ to include cryptocurrencies and digital exchanges.

Experts warn that if the law is passed, it will likely have far-reaching effects for digital currencies’ users both in the US and abroad.

“It’s bad… I think it’s going to end in a very confrontational way between bitcoin—even bitcoin holders and users—and the US Government,” said cryptocurrency analyst and a 10-year Wall Street veteran Tone Vays.

The issue of virtual currencies is interesting, according to John A. Cassara, board member of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

I’m just glad I had my career when I did because I don’t know what I’d do trying to follow the money when it comes to digital currencies, it’s extremely, extremely challenging…I think if you look at the metrics, the metrics suggest today [that] digital currencies are a small fraction of the threat that we face…,” he said in his testimony during the bill hearing.

“We’re right at a crossroads, and it’s going to be very, very interesting to see what goes forward,” Cassara added.

According to media reports, the White House has been actively monitoring cryptocurrencies and ramping up regulatory policies toward them. In June, New York Representative Kathleen Rice asked the government to research the role of virtual currencies in terrorism.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has ruled that digital coins and tokens from ICOs are considered securities and must be subject to federal securities laws. That means it will be not as easy for US companies to hold an ICO or for US citizens to participate as they have to be registered and comply with securities laws.

Is Flynn’s Defection a Death Blow?

December 5, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan


Why did Gen. Mike Flynn lie to the FBI about his December 2016 conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak?

Why did he not tell the FBI the truth?

As national security adviser to the president-elect, Flynn had called the ambassador. Message: Tell President Putin not to overreact to President Obama’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats. Trump will be president in three weeks, and we are committed to a new relationship.

Not only was this initiative defensible, it proved successful.

Putin accepted the loss of his diplomats and country houses on Long lsland and the Eastern Shore. Rather than expel U.S. diplomats in retaliation, he invited them and their families to the Kremlin’s New Year’s parties.

“Great move…(by V. Putin),” tweeted Trump, “I always knew he was very smart.” This columnist concurred:

“Among our Russophobes, one can hear the gnashing of teeth.

“Clearly, Putin believes the Trump presidency offers Russia the prospect of a better relationship with the United States. He appears to want this, and most Americans seem to want the same. After all, Hillary Clinton, who accused Trump of being ‘Putin’s puppet,’ lost.”

Flynn, it now appears, was not freelancing, but following instructions. His deputy, K. T. McFarland, sent an email to six Trump advisers saying that Obama, by expelling the Russians, was trying to “box Trump in diplomatically.”

“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation,” warned McFarland, “Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia.” Exactly.

Flynn was trying to prevent Russian retaliation. Yet, as the ex-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, he had to know his call to Kislyak was being monitored and recorded.

So, again, why would he lie to the FBI about a conversation, the contents of which were surely known to the people who sent the FBI to question him?

The other charge of lying about a call with Kislyak was Flynn’s request for Russian help in getting postponed or canceled a Security Council vote on a resolution denouncing Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

Obama’s White House was backing the anti-Israel resolution. And Bibi Netanyahu had asked Trump to weigh in to block the vote.

Bottom line: Flynn, acting on instructions, tried to prevent a U.N. condemnation of Israel, and to dissuade Russia from a mass expulsion of U.S. diplomats, lest this poison the well against a rapprochement for which the American people had voted.

In the court of public opinion, Flynn’s actions would find broad support. Rather than deny knowledge of them, Trump should have taken credit for them.

Why the general would lie to the FBI about conversations he had to know U.S. intelligence had recorded is a puzzling question, but now also an irrelevant one, water over the dam.

For Trump’s general is now the newly conscripted collaborator of the media-Mueller-Democrat-deep state conspiracy to overturn the election of 2016 and bring down the Trump presidency.


After 18 months, we have no evidence Trump colluded with Russia in hacking the emails of the DNC or John Podesta, which is what the FBI investigation was supposedly about.

There is no conclusive evidence Flynn committed a crime when, as national security adviser-designate, he tried to prevent Obama from sabotaging the policies Trump had run on – and won on.

Yet there is evidence Russian intelligence agents colluded with a British spy in the pay of the oppo research arm of the DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign – to find dirt on Donald Trump.

And there is evidence James Comey’s FBI wanted to hire the British spy who appeared to have access to the Russian agents who appeared to possess all that wonderful dirt on the Donald.

It is hard to see how this ends well.

This weekend, after Flynn’s admission he lied to the FBI, Beltway media were slavering like Pavlov’s dogs at anticipated indictments and plea bargains by present and former White House aides, Trump family members, and perhaps Trump himself.

The joy on the TV talk shows was transparent.

Yet the media have already been badly damaged; first, by the relentless Trump attacks and the cheering for those attacks by a huge slice of the country; second, by their reflexive reaction. The media have behaved exactly like the “enemy” Trump said they were.

In this us-versus-them country, the media now seem to relish the role of “them.” The old proud journalistic boast to be objective and neutral reporters, observers and commentators is gone.

We are all partisans now.

As last Friday’s sudden 300-point drop in the Dow reveals, if Trump’s enemies bring him down, they will almost surely crash the markets and abort the recovery that took hold in Trump’s first year.

And if the establishment, repudiated by Trump’s victory, thinks it will be restored to the nation’s good graces if they destroy Trump, they are whistling past the graveyard.

When Caesar falls, the cheering for Brutus and Cassius tends to die down rather quickly. Then their turn comes.


Trump misses deadline over moving US embassy to Jerusalem

White House says decision will be made in coming days, as Turkey warns that any change to city’s status would be a ‘red line’ for Muslims

December 5, 2017

by Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem

The Guardian

Donald Trump appears to have missed a deadline for signing a waiver on a US law requiring its embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, in an act of brinkmanship over one of the Middle East’s most fraught issues.

According to diplomats and Palestinians officials, the original deadline was expected to have fallen on Friday at midnight and was pushed to Monday. That deadline passed without an announcement after a White House official said no action would be taken on Monday.

Amid mounting anxiety over Trump’s intentions, the US president was facing a growing chorus of warnings over potential repercussions over a unilateral US decision regarding Jerusalem’s status.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, described the status of Jerusalem as a “red line” for Muslims that could lead to a severing of relations with Israel, while the European Union warned of possible “serious repercussions”.

Saudi Arabia – which has been enjoying a discreet warming of relations with Israel – cautioned against taking any step that would “obstruct the ongoing efforts to revive the peace process”.

Some reports suggest Trump may reluctantly announce the signing of the waiver in the coming days, others that he may also announce that he plans to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The latter would result in the Palestinian leadership “stopping contacts” with the US, a diplomatic adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas said .

In June, Trump issued a waiver to comply with the 1995 law, which insists the president must relocate the embassy to Jerusalem or explain at six-monthly intervals why doing so is not in the national security interests of the US.

The failure to announce the signing of the newest waiver does not indicate whether or not the US president has approved it. However, it feeds into a growing tension in the region.

The status of Jerusalem is a key issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with both sides claiming the city as their capital. Trump repeatedly promised during his election campaign to move the embassy.

All foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv with consular representation in Jerusalem. For more than two decades successive administrations have signed a legal waiver delaying by six months plans to move the US embassy to the Holy City.

“If the status of Jerusalem is changed and another step is taken … that would be a major catastrophe,” the Turkish deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdağ, said on Monday. “It would completely destroy the fragile peace process in the region, and lead to new conflicts, new disputes and new unrest.”

The Arab League leader, Abul Gheit, warned any such move would pose a threat “to the stability of the Middle East and the whole world”, while the French president, Emmanuel Macron, warned Trump that Jerusalem’s status must be decided “within the framework of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians”.

The White House statement saying that Trump would miss the deadline came after a frantic 48 hours of public warnings from allies and private phone calls between world leaders.

“The president has been clear on this issue from the get-go: it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, who said a declaration on the move would be made “in the coming days”.

Palestinian sources made clear they had expected the waiver to be continued. “We were told the waiver would be signed,” one official told the Guardian. “The expectation of [Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas office was that then Trump would recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which we and no Arab leader can accept.

“If that happens,” the source added, “we will walk away from contacts with US officials.”

The sense of danger around the issue was underlined by a report in the Washington Post that a classified memo had been sent to embassies in the Middle East warning of the risk of anti-American protests related to an announcement concerning the embassy.

Domestic politics may push Trump toward recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital instead, in a gesture towards conservative voters and donors.

Amid internal White House disagreements, several US administration officials were unable or unwilling to say with certainty what Trump would decide. “The president’s going to make his decision,” his Middle East peace envoy and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said.

Israeli’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, urged Trump to grasp a “historic opportunity”.


Germany warns US of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Germany’s foreign minister has urged the White House of taking the decision, saying it “does not calm a conflict.” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Donald Trump called to tell him he plans to recognize Jerusalem.

December 5, 2017


The international community has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or its unilateral annexation of territory around the city’s eastern sector, which it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War.

However, Israeli officials have urged the Trump administration to take the decision. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the White House to take the “historic opportunity” to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he hopes to “see an American embassy here in Jerusalem next week or next month.”

Europe sounds alarm

In Europe, the US proposal has been met with skepticism and warnings. French President Emmanuel Macron  said on Tuesday that he reminded Trump that the status of Jerusalem should be determined during negotiations for a two-state solution.

After meeting with US State Secretary Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, said any action that risked undermining efforts to restart peace talks “must absolutely be avoided.”

“A way must be found through negotiations to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of both states, so that the aspiration of both parties can be fulfilled,” Mogherini said.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel on Tuesday warned the US about the dangers of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“Recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel does not calm a conflict, rather it fuels it even more,” Gabriel said. “It’s in everyone’s interest that this does not happen.”

Gabriel’s remarks come as the White House has suggested it may take the decision to relocate its embassy and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

On Tuesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said US President Donald Trump called to inform him of plans to move the US embassy, reported the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency.

Abbas “warned of the dangerous repercussions of such step on the (long-stalled) peace process, security and stability in the region and the world,” said Palestinian presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh.

The Jerusalem question

The status of Jerusalem has been a key stumbling block during previous peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, in particular regarding the question of how to divide sovereignty and oversee holy sites. Another major issue is illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The international community has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or its unilateral annexation of territory around the city’s eastern sector, which it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War.

However, Israeli officials have urged the Trump administration to take the decision. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called on the White House to take the “historic opportunity” to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying he hopes to “see an American embassy here in Jerusalem next week or next month.”


From ‘Russia-Gate’ to ‘Israel-Gate’

As one fake scandal fades, a real one emerges

December 4, 2017

by Justin Raimondo


Life is full of surprises. Like that time you were counting on a new bike for Christmas, and were totally certain your parents were going to come through, and then – lo and behold! – on Christmas morning there it was: a spanking brand-new Segway! The final evidence that, despite your best efforts, you’d always be a nerdy little dork. (And yes, a pocket calculator turned up in your stocking,)

That’s just what happened to #TheResistance this holiday season. For months they’ve been salivating heavily in anticipation of the turning of Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor now charged with lying to the FBI. Flynn has admitted doing so on at least two occasions, both involving his answers to questions about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kisylak. During the transition – after Trump’s election but before he took office – Flynn was talking to the Russians about two subjects: the possible blowback from the Obama administration’s decision to impose more sanctions and close the Russian compound in Maryland, and the Russian position on the controversial UN resolution condemning Israel for building yet more “settlements” on Palestinian land.

The incoming Trump team was “intensely focused on improving relations with Moscow and was willing to intervene to pursue that goal,” as the New York Times phrased it, even as the war cries in the Democratic party got louder and demagogues like Adam Schiff waved the bloody shirt of Russia-gate. That took balls: and here’s another instance where the alleged non-interventionists ensconced in the world of thinktanks and academia fail to give the Trump people the credit that is their due.

Think about it, folks: both the US and the Russians possess enough nuclear firepower to destroy all life on earth several times over. This sword of Damocles is hanging over us by a thread, just as it loomed large during the last cold war with Moscow. It’s a  machinery of annihilation that is set on hair-trigger alert, and any number of events could unleash it: a miscalculation, a foolish bluff, a misunderstanding, a technical glitch, a showdown similar to the Cuban missile crisis. All that stands between us and utter extinction is the hope that this apparatus of death can be restrained by mutual agreement. Bravo to the Trump administration for making peace a priority. If this is now a crime, and even “treason,” as the mouth-breathers of #TheResistance would have it, well then let the Washington Inquisition make the most of it.

I feel obligated to repeat my admonition of the various Beltway careerists who light up the small firmament of anti-interventionism: why no defense of the White House on this vitally important issue?

Given the scope of a special counsel’s powers, and the wide berth he is given to pursue possible violations to the law far removed from his original mandate, perhaps we should have expected that some other foreign connection would come to light. Flynn was instructed by none other than Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law, to approach “every member of the Security Council” to block the resolution condemning the seizure of Palestinian property. The Russians were directly contacted by Flynn, who asked them to veto the resolution in the Security Council.

Flynn’s unsuccessful efforts on behalf of the Israelis were the fruit of an Israeli appeal to the incoming Trump administration. The day after Flynn’s conversation with the Russian ambassador on this subject an anonymous Israeli official told CNN “that Israel – and reportedly the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, himself – had contacted Trump to seek his assistance in killing the resolution.”

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe continues, the full extent of the covert Israeli effort to undermine what was then US policy will come to light, and this may prove to be the most revealing aspect of the whole affair.

What’s interesting is that an Israeli official would come right out and brazenly boast of having turned to the Trump team to stop the resolution:

“The official – in comments that may come back to haunt the White House – said that Israel had ‘implored the [Obama] White House not to go ahead and told them that if they did, we would have no choice but to reach out to President-elect Trump.

“‘We did reach out to the president-elect,’ the official added, ‘and are deeply appreciative that he weighed in, which was not a simple thing to do.’”

By inserting that information into the public record, the legal case against both Flynn and possibly other figures in the Trump administration is considerably strengthened. Which makes one wonder: did the Israelis deliberately burn Trump?

Yes, I’m indulging in pure speculation, and yet why would an Israeli official openly discuss such a delicate matter? Even as the outgoing Obama-bots were setting the trap for Flynn – an effort Tel Aviv may well have been privy to – the Israelis were letting the world know that they had the Americans in their pocket.

This is more grist for Mueller’s mill: aside from that, Kushner has financial and political links to Israel, and these are now likely coming under the special counsel’s scrutiny. One can now see what direction this investigation may be taking us: Instead of revealing collusion between the Trump team and the Russians, the Flynn indictment exposed Kushner’s collusion with Israel.

Has Russia-gate morphed into Israel-gate?

If this is, indeed, the direction Mueller is taking, then this development is certain to end the fondest hopes of #TheResistance. Because it’s highly unlikely any public official, no matter how compromised, is going to be prosecuted for collusion with the Israelis and/or their American lobby. The last time US law enforcement tried that was back in 2009, in the Larry Franklin spy scandal, in which two employees of AIPAC, the powerful Israeli lobby, were prosecuted for procuring vital secrets from National Security Council analyst Larry Franklin. That case was dropped because pursuing it would have revealed yet more secrets.

That was a case of outright espionage: “collusion” is a far different – and much vaguer – matter. In any event, the fact is that after what seems like years of accusations, not a single iota of actual evidence has corroborated the charge that the Trump campaign plotted with Putin to deprive Hillary Clinton of her divine right of succession to the Oval Office. The foundational myth upon which the Mueller investigation rests – the idea that Russia was behind the WikiLeaks email dump – was never real to begin with: the Mueller probe, therefore, once launched, branched out into a more general look at foreign influence on the incoming administration. Which could and should mean that half of Washington will soon be lawyering up.


Deutsche Bank subpoenaed to provide Trump accounts’ data

Special counsel Robert Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank to share data on the US president’s business dealings, as his investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the US election widens.

Decenber 5, 2017


A person familiar with Mueller’s investigation told the news agency Reuters on Tuesday that Germany’s largest bank received a subpoena from the US special counsel several weeks ago to provide information on certain money and credit transactions, confirming a report by German daily Handelsblatt published on the same day.

Deutsche Bank has loaned the Trump organization an estimated $300 million (€253 million) for its real estate dealings prior to Donald Trump becoming president. The lender said Tuesday it would not comment on any of its clients, adding that Deutsche Bank “always cooperates with investigating authorities in all countries.”

Mueller is investigating alleged Russian attempts to influence the 2016 US presidential election and potential collusion by Trump aides. Russia has denied meddling in the election and Trump has called the special counsel’s investigation a “witch hunt.”

Dealings with Russia suspected

In June, Deutsche Bank already rejected demands by US House Democrats to provide details of Trump’s finances, saying sharing client data would be illegal unless it received a formal request to do so.

Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank’s loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia.

Deutsche Bank faces questions about a series of so-called Russian mirror trades, in which it allegedly helped Russian clients move money out of the country. Those trades are being investigated in multiple probes in the US and Europe. The Mueller investigation now wants the bank to detail any ties between those trades or other Russian financing as it seeks to identify anyone connected to Donald Trump, his family or advisers.

Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank stretches back some two decades and the roughly $300 million he owes to the bank represents nearly half of his outstanding debt, according to a July 2016 analysis compiled by Bloomberg news agency.

That figure includes a $170-million loan Trump took out to finish a hotel in Washington. He also has two mortgages against his Trump National Doral Miami resort and a loan against his tower in Chicago.

An internal investigation carried out by Deutsche Bank didn’t yield any evidence of connections between the client relationship with Trump and the bank’s mirror trades affair, a person briefed on the matter said.


What’s the Matter with Eastern Europe?

Welcome to the Birthplace of Trumpism

by John Feffer


He was a rich businessman, an outspoken outsider with a love of conspiracy theories. And he was a populist running for president.

In 1990, when Donald Trump was still beyond the furthest outskirts of American politics, Stanislaw Tyminski was trying to become the new president of post-communist Poland.  He shared something else with the future Trump: nobody in the political elite took Tyminski seriously.

That was a mistake. He was the standard-bearer for a virulent right-wing populism that would one day take power in Poland and control the politics of the region. He would be the first in a long line of underestimated buffoons of the post-Cold War era who started us on a devolutionary path leading to Donald Trump. Tyminski’s major error: his political backwardness was a little ahead of its time.

In true Trumpian fashion, Stan Tyminski couldn’t have been a more unlikely politician. As a successful businessman in Canada, he had made millions. He proved luckless, however, in Canadian politics. His Libertarian Party never got more than 1% of the vote.

In 1990, he decided to return to his native Poland, then preparing for its first free presidential election since the 1920s. A relatively open parliamentary election in 1989, as the Warsaw Pact was beginning to unravel, had produced a solid victory for candidates backed by the independent trade union, Solidarity. Those former dissidents-turned-politicians had been governing for a year, with Solidarity intellectual and pioneering newspaper editor Tadeusz Mazowiecki as prime minister but former Communist general Wojciech Jaruzelski holding the presidency. Now, the general was finally stepping aside.

Running in addition to Mazowiecki was former trade union leader Lech Walesa, who had done more than any other Pole to take down the Communist government (and received a Nobel Prize for his efforts). Compared to such political giants, Tyminski was an unknown.

All three made promises. Walesa announced that he would provide every Pole with $10,000 to invest in new capitalist enterprises. Mazowiecki swore he’d get the Rolling Stones to perform in Poland. Tyminski had the strangest pitch of all. He carried around a black briefcase inside which, he claimed, was secret information that would blow Polish politics to smithereens.

Tyminski managed to get a toehold in national politics because, by November 1990, many Poles were already fed up with the status quo Solidarity had ushered in. They’d suffered the early consequences of the “shock therapy” economic reforms that would soon be introduced across much of Eastern Europe and, after 1991, Russia. Although the Polish economy had finally stabilized, unemployment had, by the end of 1990, shot up from next to nothing to 6.5% and the country’s national income had fallen by more than 11%. Though some were doing well in the new business-friendly environment, the general standard of living had plummeted as part of Poland’s price for entering the global economy. The burden of that had fallen disproportionately on workers in sunset industries, small farmers, and pensioners.

Mazowiecki, the face of this new political order, would, like Hillary Clinton many years later, go down to ignominious defeat, while Tyminski surprised everyone by making it into the second round of voting. Garnering support from areas hard hit by the dislocations of economic reform, he squared off against the plainspoken, splenetic Walesa.

Tyminski did everything he could to paint his opponent as the consummate insider, a collaborator with the Communist secret police in his youth.  “I have a lot of material and I have it here… and some of it is very serious and of a personal nature,” Tyminski told Walesa in a debate on national television, holding that briefcase of his close at hand. Walesa retaliated by accusing him of being a front man for the former communist secret police. Tyminski was forced to admit that his staff did include ex-secret policemen, but he never actually opened that briefcase. Walesa was resoundingly swept into the presidency by an electoral margin of three to one.

Stan Tyminski eventually took his wild conspiracy theories and populist pretensions back to Canada, a political has-been. And yet he was prescient in so many ways (including those charges against Walesa, who probably did collaborate briefly with the secret police). The liberal reforms that Eastern Europe implemented after the transformations of 1989 were supposed to be a one-way journey into a future as prosperous and boring as Scandinavia’s. Tyminski, on the other hand, had conjured up a very different, far grimmer future — unpredictable, angry, intolerant, paranoid — the very one that seems to have become our present.

Tyminski’s “children” now govern nearly every country in Eastern Europe, and the United States, too, is in the grip of a Tyminski-like leader. Perhaps these illiberal leaders have reached the peak of their influence — or have they? The opposite scenario is too dismal to contemplate: that the political climate has irreversibly changed and liberalism has irrevocably weakened in the U.S., in Eastern Europe, everywhere.

All (or at Least a Few) Aboard

Imagine the history of Eastern Europe after 1989 as a train leaving a decrepit station where tasty snacks and interesting reading material aren’t available, the public address system issues garbled announcements, the bathrooms are out of order, and the help desk unstaffed. As the final boarding chimes echo through the station, the passengers pile onto the train.  A lucky few are in a first-class car with access to a surprisingly good cafe and plush sleeping compartments, a somewhat larger group in the reserved second-class seats, and everyone else crowded into totally rundown cars with appalling seats. The ultimate destination all of them have been told is a lovely terminal with well-provisioned stores, clean public restrooms, and a responsive administrative system in a city and country equally well run.

Think of this as the train of “transition.” Everyone on it seems convinced that they’re en route to a stunning market democracy in a post-Cold War world where political differences and ideological struggles have lost their relevance, where as American political theorist Francis Fukuyama famously put it in 1989, the “end of history” is in sight. “Today,” Fukuyama wrote a couple of years later, “we have trouble imagining a world that is radically better than our own, or a future that is not essentially democratic and capitalist.”  Pragmatic decisions are all that’s left, and they’re to be chewed over by policymakers and implemented by bureaucrats.

If Eastern Europeans knew what they’d left behind and were fervent about where they were heading, they had little idea about the nature of the journey they were undertaking. German political scientist Ralf Dahrendorf tried to provide a few time stamps for such a transition: six months to create parties and political institutions, six years to establish the basis for a market economy, and 60 years to build a proper civil society. Except for some cranky members of the extreme right and a few Stalinist leftovers, everyone in the region seemed to back this liberal project, seeing it as a ticket into the larger European community.

For the first few years, the train of transition rolled along. There was grumbling in the back cars, but everyone was still on board with the overall plan to reach Western Europe or bust.

As it happened, the first-class passengers were easily transported to the heart of the sunny West. The second-class passengers barely made it across the border. And the rest didn’t get far beyond that original, disheveled station.  Mind the Gap

When I first traveled across Eastern Europe in 1990, the very year of the Polish presidential election, many of the people I interviewed expected to be living like Viennese or Londoners within five years, a decade at the most. If this was a delusion, it was one partially fueled by the outside advisers who flooded the region in 1990. Planners from the U.S. Agency for International Development, for example, put a five-year window on their assistance package.

And for some, the transition did last only a few years because cities like Warsaw in Poland quickly became high-priced locations for international corporate offices and NGOs. So the capital cities of Eastern Europe made the trip west, while smaller cities and towns and, above all, the countryside remained mired in the past.  This urban-rural gap mirrored the one that still persists between Western Europe and Eastern Europe. In 1991, according to the World Bank’s figures, Hungary’s per capita gross domestic product was $3,333, Austria’s $22,356. By 2016, Hungary’s had risen to $27,481, while Austria’s stood at $48,004. In other words, though the gap had been narrowed considerably, as with other Eastern European countries — Poland ($27,764), Romania ($22,347), Bulgaria ($20,326) — it had at best been cut in half.

“In 1965, West Germany was already the wealthiest and most productive country in Europe,” Adam Jagusiak, a former peace activist and Polish Foreign Ministry employee, told me in an interview in 2013. “It took them only 20 years. They produced more than France and Britain. They had their Wirtschaftswunder, their economic miracle. What’s most disappointing for most people, not just me, is that after 23 years we cannot close the gap…  Poland would have to grow 10 percent annually to close the gap. That’s a neck-breaking pace, like Japan in the 1950s and 1960s or like South Korea in the 1970s. We grow maybe two or three percent.”

The liberal project succeeded in ushering virtually all of Eastern Europe into the European Union. But in the end, because of the persistent gap between expectations and reality, voters began to look around for something different.

Opportunism Knocks

Stan Tyminski ran for president before unemployment in Poland soared from 6.5% in 1990 to 20% by 2002. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán had far better timing.

Orbán was a young lawyer in Budapest in 1988 when he helped found a liberal party that you had to be under 35 to join. Fidesz, the Alliance of Young Democrats, won a commendable 21 seats in the 1990 elections, good enough for a sixth-place showing. Four years later, that country’s former Communist Party (renamed the Socialists) came out on top, while Fidesz dropped a couple spots. What disappointed Orbán far more, however, was the way the Alliance of Free Democrats — the “adult” version of Fidesz — opted to form a coalition government with the Socialists.

That was the moment when, having second thoughts about liberalism as a vehicle for his own personal ambitions, he began to transform both Fidesz, which dropped its under-35 requirement, and himself. When economic “reform” shocked Hungary as it had Poland, Orbán recast himself as an increasingly illiberal Hungarian nationalist and his once-liberal party became a pillar of the new right. In 2010, he became prime minister for the second time, a position he’s held for the last seven years.

In a remarkable number of ways Orbán anticipated Donald Trump. He reversed his country’s longstanding mistrust of Russia by openly courting its president, Vladimir Putin, and pledging to transform Hungarian politics along the lines of that country’s “illiberal state.” He railed against mainstream journalism, attempted to bend the judiciary (and the constitution) to his will, and rigged the state apparatus to benefit his supporters. In perhaps his most ominous twist, Orbán courted the Hungarian version of the alt-right with relentless anti-immigrant statements and the occasional anti-Semitic gesture.

The Polish right wing was so enamored of Orbán’s success that, in 2011, former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski announced that “the day will come when we will succeed and we will have Budapest in Warsaw.” Four years later, his Law and Justice Party took power on a mixed platform of populism and conspiracy theories reminiscent of Stan Tyminski’s.

Now, Donald Trump is constructing Budapest in Washington D.C., as he unwittingly follows Tyminski’s and Orbán’s trajectory. The reality TV star cultivated his status as an extreme outsider. During the Obama era, he identified a political opportunity on the right and, in September 2009, switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party. Seven years later, having combined outlandish conspiracy theories (think: birtherism) with an astute critique of liberal elites, he squeaked into power. He surely owes something to native (and nativist) traditions from Huey Long to Ross Perot, but he shares so much more with his compatriots across the Atlantic.

That transatlantic commonality begins with his canny exploitation of the gap between expectation and reality. The United States, like Eastern Europe, was going through its own “economic transition” in the 1990s. Millions of Americans expected the new economy — the global economy, the digital economy, the service economy, the sharing economy — to produce new jobs, better jobs.  And it did generate enormous wealth, but mostly, as in Eastern Europe, for a narrow, highly urbanized slice of the population. Income inequality has increased so dramatically that the American world now resembles the nineteenth-century Gilded Age.

In the eras of Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, the liberal project meant government intervention in the economy on behalf of working Americans and the disadvantaged. By the time Bill Clinton took the White House in 1993, the focus of the “new” Democrats was already shifting to global free-trade deals that would only accelerate the country’s loss of manufacturing jobs and a harsh vision of social spending represented most starkly by Clinton’s grim version of welfare reform. Meanwhile, the increasing coziness of the “new” Democratic Party and Wall Street would lead to significant financial deregulation that, in turn, would produce an economic meltdown in 2007-2008.

Although Barack Obama would prove progressive on some issues, he would also embrace Clintonesque positions on trade, social welfare, and Wall Street. As in Eastern Europe, such a liberal project would leave many people behind. So no one should have been surprised that these disappointed voters would eventually seek their revenge at the polls, as traditional Democrats in working-class neighborhoods began to vote Republican.

Aided by “dark money” and his dark mutterings about migrants, Mexicans, and Muslims, Trump rode a wave of Eastern European-style disenchantment to the Oval Office. Now, he’s taking his revenge not just against the neoliberalism of the Clinton and Obama years, but the entire twentieth-century liberal understanding of the state.

Conservative anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist once remarked that his dream was not “to abolish government” but “to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The question today in both Eastern Europe and the U.S. is: Have Trump, Orbán, and others shrunk liberalism to such a degree that they can now drown it in that bathtub?

The Future of Liberalism

Those wielding political metaphors love the idea of oscillation. You know, the pendulum swinging back and forth, the tide ebbing and flowing, voters opting for one political flavor and then, surfeited, returning to what they once rejected.

So far, voters in Eastern Europe haven’t shown any signs of wanting to return to the liberal politics that had delivered their countries to the promised land of European Union (EU) membership. In Hungary, Fidesz continues to lead the polls as the 2018 elections approach. The right-wing Law and Justice Party in Poland has only increased its popularity since it captured the state in elections two years ago.

Indeed, the rest of the region is following their lead. In October, the party of billionaire right-wing businessman Andrej Babiš captured the most votes in the Czech elections. Boyko Borisov, a populist with an authoritarian bent, has returned to power in Bulgaria, while nationalists are back in charge in Croatia. The anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim leader of Slovakia, Robert Fico, has been prime minister for nine of the last 11 years. (Though governing from the social-democratic left, Fico has exhibited distinctly authoritarian tendencies.) These leaders have different political philosophies and operate in different cultural contexts, but they all share one thing: an aversion to the liberal project.

Further out on the fringes, the Eastern European alt-right flourishes. This year, neo-Nazis flew the American flag in a February march in Croatia’s capital Zagreb to celebrate Donald Trump; 60,000 far-right nationalists gathered for Poland’s annual independence day in November; and Hungary has become a virtual mecca for extremists. As right-wing authoritarians gain mainstream appeal, those further to the right are courting greater visibility.

In Europe, there is still a counterweight to this rejection of the liberal project: the European Union.  It has, for instance, strongly censured the Polish and Hungarian governments for their illiberal policies, and it still carries real weight. Unless the EU manages to transform its economic policies in a way that stops favoring rich countries and wealthy individuals, however, it’s likely to prove incapable of stemming the tide of reaction. New French President Emmanuel Macron has offered some interesting proposals — from an EU-wide financial transactions tax to the taxation of digital companies — that might temper some of the galloping greed.  But such EU reforms won’t boost the fortunes of liberalism in Eastern Europe unless that organization begins to address the persistent divide between the two parts of the continent and (as in the United States) between thriving metropolitan centers and those left behind in more rural areas.

In America, Donald Trump remains a deeply unpopular president.  Widespread political resistance to his administration and the Republican Congress has already claimed some early victories. But thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, rich, right-wing, anti-liberal individuals and foundations have had an outsized impact on politics. Buoyed by the support of the Koch brothers and others, the Trump administration will do everything possible over the next three years to bankrupt the economy through tax “reform,” pack the courts with anti-liberal judges, shed federal personnel, gut federal regulations, and otherwise ensure that the government it hands to its successor will be as close to drowned as possible.

When it comes to this version of “populism,” Eastern Europe led the way.  The question now is: Will it again?  If anti-Trump forces here don’t address persistent voter disgust with the status quo, the Eastern European example offers a grim glimpse of a possible American future as right-wing libertarians, intolerant nationalists, and alt-right extremists secure their lock on the policy apparatus.

Waiting for the “inevitable” pendulum swing of politics is like waiting for Godot. The political scene will not regain equilibrium by itself. In Eastern Europe, as in the United States, the opposition has to jettison those elements of the liberal project that have proven self-defeating — the economics of inequality and the politics of collusion with the powerful — and offer a genuine antidote to right-wing populists. If not, you might as well slap a do-not-resuscitate order on liberalism, kiss social welfare goodbye, and brace yourself for a very mean season ahead.


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