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TBR News September 25, 2018

Sep 25 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. September 25, 2018 : “Myths and Legends of the 9/11 attack are symptomatic of the shabby propaganda ground out by mindless creative writers. This is a subject that will be with us for years and will certainly grow in the telling. The WTC buildings collapsed solely for a number of rational, provable reasons but the following the Saudi attack, all manner of “expert” opinions erupted into the public like some kind of a tropical skin disease and a great army of conspiracy idiots left the stale fictions surrounding the Kennedy assassination and gratefully rushed to embrace the new religion, a religion that had the exciting suggestions of “plasmoid clouds.” “Ex-Soviet controlled rockets,” “’Nano thermite explosives planted in both buildings,” and on and on.

Then it is revealed unto us that brilliant, fearless reporters and daring bloggers have exposed and are exposing the Real Truth behind the 911 disaster. We are subjected to the Plasmoid Clouds, The Chinese/Bulgarian Guided Missiles, The ex-Soviet Scientists working with the CIA, and Mossad and the Illuminati.

Ah, and now we learn about the dread Nano Thermite! Yes, more “experts” (as always, unidentified) found traces of this explosive all over the streets after the WTC building collapsed! Of course not a word was ever mentioned about this shocking fact for eight years but why let that bother the seekers after truth?

What about the self-sacrificing US Army Special Forces who actually went inside the buildings, acting on orders from Laura Bush the Freemasons and their controllers, the Illuminati (who were working with the Mossad at the time),  and blew the Twin Towers, and themselves, up? And the acres of foreign rocket engine parts strewed all over New York’s streets, or huge lakes of molten steel found by unidentified “rescue workers” in the cellars of the WTC?

God, will these disillusions never end?

And the public has been reassured that all is not lost after all. Years later, a paid hack will write a book and it will emerge on how Nicolas Tesla’s Z-Ray, controlled by former KGB officers stationed on Planet X,  actually brought down the two buildings,  as well as the Pentagon!

Two hijacked commercial airliners slammed into these buildings, setting fires that weakened the structure, causing the weight of the building above the point of impact to collapse down on itself.

There is absolutely no mystery at all about this.

Stories about rockets, explosives and other matters are entertaining and keep some people of limited intellect occupied but structural engineers never believed any of these burgeoning urban legends for a nanosecond.

And eventually the killings at Columbine High School and Sandy Hook will be blamed on trained dwarves, members of the Mossad, killer robots, the Skull and Bones Society of Yale, the Teamsters, ABC News, Putin’s Russia or the Mormon Church.

The public has long ago lost confidence in their government and their controlled media and when that happens, all kind of rumor, theory and legends grow up like fungus in the woods after a long rain.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 31
  • Trump’s New (Non-Democratic) Normal
  • Rod Rosenstein’s Job Is Safe, for Now: Inside His Dramatic Day
  • Brett Kavanaugh: third woman expected to make accusations of sexual misconduct
  • Man who threatened Boston Globe also called NY Times, NFL: prosecutor
  • Russia’s S-300 delivery shows Israel who’s in charge, but not aimed at hurting relations – analysts
  • With Russia’s S-300 in Syria, Israel will have to think twice about the next strike
  • The Syrian Ceasefire Proves How Far Putin Has Come Out on Top

 

 

Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 31

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018

 

  • Oct 11, 2017

 

“Winning the Electoral College is so easy for Democrats. They start off with three major states. To win the Electoral College for a Democrat, it’s almost like a given.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: This claim — that it is almost a given for a Democrat to win every presidential election — is obvious nonsense. Six of the last nine presidents, all of whom except for Gerald Ford had to win an Electoral College election, have been Republicans.

Trump has repeated this claim 17 times

“I was with Bibi Netanyahu of Israel. And he was saying Donald, the wall works. They had an open border that was like a sieve. People just poured in. 99.9 per cent of the people now, it stopped. Nobody gets in.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: Exact numbers do not exist, but Israel’s barrier with the West Bank stops far fewer than “99.9 per cent” of people who seek to cross, and it is certainly false that “nobody gets in.” The New York Times reported at length last year on “a thriving smuggling industry that allows untold numbers of people to pass over, under, through or around what Israelis call the security barrier.” A police spokesman said “hundreds” of illegal crossers were detained every week.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“I think it was one of the most incompetently drawn deals we’ve ever seen. $150 billion given (to Iran), we got nothing.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: The “$150 billion” figure has no basis. Experts said Iran had about $100 billion in worldwide assets at the time; after the nuclear deal unfroze Iranian assets, Iran was able to access a percentage of that $100 billion, but not all of it. PolitiFact reported: “The actual amount available to Iran is about $60 billion, estimates Garbis Iradian, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew pinned it at $56 billion, while Iranian officials say $35 billion, according to Richard Nephew, an expert on economic sanctions at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.”

Trump has repeated this claim 19 times

 

“We have missiles that can knock out a missile in the air. Ninety seven per cent of the time. If you send two of them, they are going to get knocked down.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: The U.S. missile defence system is not nearly that effective even if you accept the disputed effectiveness estimate of the government’s missile defence agency. “Trump said a thing that is false even by the standards of what the missile defence agency is saying. The numbers are just wrong, and they’re obviously wrong in a way that is favourable to Trump,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told the Star. The math is complicated, but in short: the 97 per cent figure would be basically correct, Lewis said, if Trump had been talking about the estimated effectiveness of firing four interceptors at a missile, not two. (The disputed estimates give each interceptor a 60 per cent chance of success, so, barring a problem with the system itself, each additional interceptor fired is thought to raise the chance of destroying any particular missile.) With just two interceptors, the estimated chance of destroying a missile is closer to 84 per cent, Lewis said.

 

“I am building up the military like nobody has ever seen. We are close to $800 billion in spending.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: The military budget is $700 billion — a $640 billion base budget, plus $60 billion in “Overseas Contingency Operations” war funding.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

 

“This should have been taking care of long ago. Clinton gave them (North Korea) billions of dollars.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: The Washington Post reports that “billions” is an exaggeration: “Under the Clinton accord with North Korea, between 1995 and 2003 the United States spent about $400 million supplying the fuel oil to North Korea that was required under the deal. An international consortium spent about $2.5 billion to replace the North’s plutonium reactor with two light-water reactors; the project was not completed before the deal collapsed…the money mostly went to South Korean and Japanese companies, not North Korea.”

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times

 

“We did it on the border. The border was like a sieve. Now it’s down 78 per cent.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: There has never been any basis for the “78 per cent” figure Trump has frequently cited. Trump and others use the number of apprehensions on the southwestern border as a way to measure illegal immigration. Comparing the eight full months of Trump’s tenure — February through August — to the same months in 2016, apprehensions were down 54 per cent, not 78 per cent.

Trump has repeated this claim 12 times

 

“Our country is losing business. Losing jobs. We have a one per cent GDP (growth under Barack Obama).”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: The economy grew by 1.6 per cent in 2016, closer to 2 per cent than 1 per cent.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

 

“And we do need more Republican senators because we have a tiny, small, we have 52 to 48. Out of a couple people, want to grandstand or whatever they want to do, all of a sudden. Because when you have to get almost every single vote, you need 51. You have to get at least 50 because the Vice President Mike Pence…He comes out — so we need 50. So, that means out of all of these people, two people decide they want to do something for whatever reason…Now, all of a sudden, you don’t have health care.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: Trump again exaggerated the difficulty of getting legislation through the Senate. His preferred legislation failed because three Republican senators voted against it, not two; with Pence as vice-president, Republicans can afford to lose two members of their caucus on any given bill.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

“One thing that I am very proud of, the state of West Virginia. Last month, it was one of the highest percentage increases in GDP, the state of Texas beat it.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: West Virginia had the second-highest GDP growth during the first quarter of 2017, not last month; the news was announced in July, two-and-a-half months prior. Trump has a habit of describing good-news events as if they occurred more recently than they actually did.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“Well, you know, you have some really well-run states that have very little borrowing. Some have no borrowing but has very little borrowing. And it’s unfair that a state that is well-run is really subsidizing states that have been horribly mismanaged. I won’t use names but we understand the names. But there are some states that have hundreds of millions and billions of dollars in borrowing. And it’s unfair that those states really are being subsidized by states like Indiana and Iowa. ”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: Trump’s administration has argued that Republican-run states like Indiana and Iowa are subsidizing other states that have higher taxes, presumably Democratic-run states. Their argument is focused on the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes. Essentially, they claim that since the people of high-tax states can make bigger federal deductions, thus reducing their payments to the federal treasury, those people are effectively being subsidized by the people of lower-tax states. But this has nothing to do with state borrowing, as Trump suggested it did. And looking at the big picture — all kinds of taxation as compared to all kinds of federal spending — it is not true that small red states are subsidizing big blue states. One analysis, by the financial website WalletHub, found Indiana to be the 10th-most “federally dependent” state; eight of the top 10 were states Trump won in 2016.

 

“We have the highest enthusiasm level in 28 years…for manufacturing.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: Trump was again referring wrongly to the National Association of Manufacturers’ optimism survey, which has been conducted for 20 years, not 28.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times

 

“Auto companies are announcing that they are going to build plants back in the United States. That hasn’t happened for years.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: Auto companies also announced new U.S. plants and other hefty U.S. investments during the Obama era. In 2015, for example, Volvo announced that it would open its first U.S. car plant, in South Carolina. During the Obama era, auto companies also poured money into expansions and improvements of their existing U.S. plants. For example, GM announced in 2013 that it would invest $1.2 billion to upgrade an Indiana truck plant, while Ford announced in 2015 that it would invest $1.3 billion to upgrade a Kentucky truck plant.

Trump has repeated this claim 7 times

“And I’m so proud of the $5.2 trillion of increase in the stock market. Now if you look at the stock market, that’s one element but then we have many other elements. The country, we took it over at 20 trillion. As you know, the last eight years they borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country. So they borrowed more than $10 trillion. Right? And yet, we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months. In terms of value. So, you could say in one sense, we are really increasing values and maybe in a sense, we are reducing debt.”

Source: Interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity

in fact: This is simple nonsense. A rise in the stock market is not a reduction in the national debt. These are just two different things.

 

“The more than 30 million Americans who have small businesses will see — listen to this — a 40 per cent cut in their marginal tax rate — 40 per cent.”

Source: Speech on tax reform

in fact: Trump grossly exaggerated the number of people who would receive a tax cut of 40 per cent. Business Insider’s Josh Barro found that “only the very richest slice of business owners — 670,000 of them, all making over $400,000 — would enjoy the full 40 per cent reduction in their tax rate that Trump bragged about, from 39.6 per cent down to 25 per cent.” The others are currently taxed at a lower rate, so Trump’s proposed cut to 25 per cent would affect them less — or affect them not at all. As Barro points out, “86 per cent of tax filers with business income would get no benefit at all from the proposal, because they’re already taxed at a marginal rate of 25 per cent or less.”

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“But giving so many countries a tremendous advantage over us — if you look at China at 15 per cent…”

Source: Speech on tax reform

in fact: China has a business tax rate of 25 per cent. It offers a 15 per cent rate only to certain firms, mostly in the high-tech sector, in about 20 particular cities. Trump is wrong to suggest that 15 per cent is China’s general business rate.

Trump has repeated this claim 13 times

 

“Our framework will unlock the American dream for millions of our fellow citizens. By eliminating tax breaks and special interest loopholes that primarily benefit the wealthy, our framework ensures that the benefits of tax reform go to the middle class, not to the highest earners. It’s a middle-class bill. That’s what we’re thinking of.”

Source: Speech on tax reform

in fact: Regardless of what Trump is “thinking of,” the benefits of his preliminary tax plan would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, not the middle class. A Tax Policy Center analysis found that the top 1 per cent of earners would reap 50 per cent of the gains.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times

 

“GDP growth reached more than 3.1 per cent last quarter — way ahead of schedule. We weren’t supposed to hit that number for a long time. Not for a long time.”

Source: Speech on tax reform

in fact: Some experts thought GDP growth would hit that level in that very quarter, the second quarter of 2017. The Atlanta Fed, for example, had forecast 4.2 per cent growth, then revised it to 3.6 per cent. They were not alone above 3 per cent: at the time of the revision, financial publication Barron’s wrote, “It’s still a high forecast. Most economists see second quarter growth between 2.1 per cent and 3.2 per cent.”

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

 

“Wages are rising — and you know you haven’t heard that in a long time.”

Source: Speech on tax reform

in fact: Wages have been rising since 2014. As PolitiFact reported: “For much of the time between 2012 and 2014, median weekly earnings were lower than they were in 1979 — a frustrating disappearance of any wage growth for 35 years. But that began changing in 2014. After hitting a low of $330 a week in early 2014, wages have risen to $354 a week by early 2017. That’s an increase of 7.3 percent over a roughly three-year period.” FactCheck.org reported: “For all private workers, average weekly earnings (adjusted for inflation) rose 4% during Obama’s last four years in office.”

Trump has repeated this claim 25 times

 

“It would be really nice if the Fake News Media would report the virtually unprecedented Stock Market growth since the election.”

Source: Twitter

in fact: The post-election stock market rally is not “virtually unprecedented.” A Business Insider analysis found that the S&P 500 grew by almost exactly the same rate, 19 per cent, after Obama was re-elected in 2012. Business Insider also found three additional post-election rallies of 19 per cent or more — after John F. Kennedy was elected, after George H.W. Bush was elected, and after Bill Clinton was re-elected. Those three rallies were all larger than the Trump-era rally.

  • Oct 13, 2017

“But most important on Puerto Rico is their electric plants are essentially gone. Now, they were gone before the hurricane…” And: “We have to help them get the plants rebuilt.”

Source: Comments to media before Marine One departure

in fact: Puerto Rico’s power plants were “not severely damaged” by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello told ABC; federal official said the same. Trump appeared to be confusing power plants with power lines.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times

 

“Actually, Emmanuel (Macron) called up, and he talked to me. And I said, look, Emmanuel, they just gave Renault a lot of money. Take their money; enjoy yourselves. But we’ll see what happens.”

Source: Comments to media before Marine One departure

in fact: Trump was mixed up about Renault’s August 2017 deal with Iran. In reality: the company was spending a lot of money in Iran, not receiving a lot of money from Iran. Specifically, Renault agreed in August to invest about $780 million in Iran operations. “Of course, an investment does mean Renault will make a return eventually, but they are set to have some hefty costs first,” Yar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum, told the Star. Renault, he said, is indeed generating revenue from current car production in Iraq, “but the new investment is so large Trump has the money flow backwards.”

“They (Iran) should have thanked Barack Obama for making that deal. They were gone. They were economically gone. He infused $100 (billion) to $150 billion into their economy.”

Source: Comments to media before Marine One departure

in fact: Experts said Iran had about $100 billion in worldwide assets at the time; after the nuclear deal unfroze Iranian assets, Iran was able to access a percentage of that $100 billion, but not all of it. PolitiFact reported: “The actual amount available to Iran is about $60 billion, estimates Garbis Iradian, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew pinned it at $56 billion, while Iranian officials say $35 billion, according to Richard Nephew, an expert on economic sanctions at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.” Regardless, the “$150 billion” figure has no basis.

Trump has repeated this claim 19 times

“The Iranian regime has also intimidated international inspectors into not using the full inspection authorities that the agreement calls for.”

Source: Speech on Iran nuclear deal

in fact: This claim was swiftly rejected by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which conducts the inspections. “So far, the IAEA has had access to all locations it needed to visit. At present, Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime,” director general Yukiya Amano said in a statement.

“Worst of all, the deal allows Iran to continue developing certain elements of its nuclear program. And importantly, in just a few years, as key restrictions disappear, Iran can sprint towards a rapid nuclear weapons breakout.”

Source: Speech on Iran nuclear deal

in fact: As the New York Times reported, “just a few years” is an exaggeration. “In reality, the major provisions last a decade or longer,” the Times reported. “The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a vocal critic of the deal, said it ‘largely expires after only 15 years.’ Iran cannot use more than 5,060 centrifuges to enrich uranium — and it cannot pursue research and development on centrifuges — for 10 years.”

“Realizing the gravity of the situation, the United States and the United Nations Security Council sought, over many years, to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons with a wide array of strong economic sanctions. But the previous administration lifted these sanctions, just before what would have been the total collapse of the Iranian regime, through the deeply controversial 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.”

Source: Speech on Iran nuclear deal

in fact: Experts did not believe the Iranian regime was on the brink of “total collapse” before the sanctions were lifted. “An imminent collapse of Iran’s economy was highly unlikely, according to international economists and U.S. officials,” the Associated Press reported in its own fact check; “In 20 years that I’ve been covering Iran, the regime has never been near total collapse,” Wall Street Journal senior writer Farnaz Fassihi wrote on Twitter.

“Among many historic steps, the executive order followed through on one of my most important campaign promises to so many of you: to prevent the horrendous Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights. Thank you. We will not allow government workers to censor sermons or target our pastors or our ministers or rabbis. These are the people we want to hear from, and they’re not going to be silenced any longer.”

Source: Speech to Values Voter Summit

in fact: As some Christian leaders and religion-policy experts pointed out, Trump’s executive order in May did not follow through on his campaign promise on the Johnson Amendment (which prohibits churches from endorsing or opposing political candidates). During his campaign, Trump pledged to “get rid of,” “repeal,” and “totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” His executive order, though, merely says the Treasury Department will, “to the extent permitted by law,” not impose a tax penalty on a person or religious organization who “speaks or has spoken about moral or political issues from a religious perspective.” The government almost never imposed such penalties even before the order, and such a directive is far from complete repeal. “Trump’s Religious Liberty Order Doesn’t Answer Most Evangelicals’ Prayers; Prayer breakfast pledge to ‘totally destroy’ Johnson Amendment comes up shy,” read the headline on the website Christianity Today.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times

“We have a 17-year low in unemployment.”

Source: Speech to Values Voter Summit

in fact: It is a 16-year low. Trump sometimes gets it right, sometimes exaggerates.

Trump has repeated this claim 8 times

“And something I’ve said so much during the last two years, but I’ll say it again as we approach the end of the year. You know, we’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore.”

Source: Speech to Values Voter Summit

in fact: This claim is so absurd that it almost feels silly to fact check it, but we will anyway. Yes, people still talk about the Christmas season.

 

 

 

Trump’s New (Non-Democratic) Normal

What Happens When the Adults in the Room Are as Scary as the Crying Baby?

September 24, 2018

by John Feffer

Tom Dispatch

During a lifetime of make-believe, Donald Trump has never pretended to be a conventional politician. When he finally decided to make a serious bid for office, he built his presidential aspirations on the flimsiest of foundations: a wild conspiracy theory about Barack Obama’s birthplace. His leadership bona fides were equally laughable, having presided over bankrupt casinos and failed real-estate projects, fabricated the persona of a lady-killer, and created a reality TV show about a tin-pot entrepreneur.

It wasn’t difficult to predict how all this would end up politically. Plenty of oddballs had run for president, from Jello Biafra to Roseanne Barr, and gotten nowhere. The guardrails of American democracy were set up to prevent just such outsiders from making it anywhere near the Oval Office. Donald Trump’s three presidential qualifications — money, name recognition, and unbounded arrogance — were obviously not enough to overcome his lack of sway with party bosses. Seasoned politicians and backroom operators, the putative “adults in the room,” had spent years ridiculing the blowhard with the bad hair banging on the door and demanding red-carpet treatment.

And then, of course, he won. In the 2016 presidential election, the guardrails of democracy collapsed. The Electoral College, designed to weed out all those with what Alexander Hamilton had once called “talents for low intrigue and the little arts of popularity,” delivered a victory to a candidate who had talents for little else. As Jeff Greenfield wrote at Politico immediately after the elections,

“The blunt fact is that many of the guardrails that were supposed to protect the world’s oldest functioning democracy have been shown to be perilously weak, as vulnerable to assault as the Maginot Line was in the face of the German army some 75 years ago.”

In the wake of The Donald’s upset victory, journalists and pundits hastened to recommend a slate of advisers who could inject some gravitas into the new administration and restore an approximation of that Maginot Line. Under counsel from such grey eminences as former national security advisors Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice, the new president brought a bevy of such “adults” into his administration, including ExxonMobil oil executive Rex Tillerson as secretary of state and active duty Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as national security advisor. Two “adults,” Republican Party grandee Reince Priebus and retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, have similarly tried, as White House chiefs of staff, to manage Trump. Recently, a New York Times op-ed written by an anonymous “senior administration official” suggested that a “steady state” of “adults in the room” has been covertly ensuring that President Trump doesn’t blow up the country or the world.

In response, President Trump has done his best to fire or at least ignore all such adult supervisors. After the departures of Tillerson, McMaster, and economic adviser Gary Cohn, the New Republic lamented that Trump was “systematically removing the guardrails in his cabinet” (which proved no more effective than the electoral ones). In fact, after the latest “crazytown” revelations in the bestselling new book by veteran Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, perhaps it’s time to retire those creaky metaphors of American politics. No more “guardrails,” no more “adults.” They represent thinking that has proven woefully inadequate for understanding Donald Trump’s rise to power or the America of this moment.

Forget Donald Trump for a second and just think to yourself: Who’s responsible for the last 17 years of never-ending American wars that have convulsed the planet? Babies? Teenagers? Grown men acting like babies? Let’s face it: perfectly sober adults, including the man who left ExxonMobil to become secretary of state, have long seemed intent on ensuring the flooding, burning, and general destruction of this planet. And don’t forget that the adults in the Republican Party, backed by their deep-pocket funders, were responsible for getting Donald Trump over the hump and into the Oval Office. Ultimately they, and not the policy-ignorant president, are to blame for the devastation that followed.

As for those guardrails, they represent, at best, the most imperfect of metaphors. Despite all the actual guardrails on American highways, traffic fatalities have risen to more than 40,000 a year and cars are now the top killers of Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. Guardrails may prevent the occasional drunk from driving into a ravine, but they obviously don’t stop a significant portion of the population from committing autocide.

The truth is: those guardrails of democracy were faulty long before Trump came along and some of the adults in the room are scarier than the squalling infant. Such metaphors, in fact, make it increasingly difficult to see what Trump and his babysitters are really doing: not just destroying a culture of civility or undoing the accomplishments of the Obama administration but attacking the very pillars of democracy.

Moving the Guardrails

Donald Trump, The Washington Post concluded a year after his election, had broken through “the guardrails of presidential behavior.”

Given the sheer number of lies he’s spewed in his tenure in office — more than eight mistruths a day and rising — the Post’s conclusion seems incontrovertible. However, when it comes to wrongdoing, Trump has plenty of presidential precedents, from the high crimes and misdemeanors of Richard Nixon to the torture policies of George W. Bush. Trump is as crude as Lyndon Baines Johnson, as ill prepared as Ronald Reagan, as sexually predatory as Bill Clinton. All of these presidents prepared the American public for a leader who, like some super villain in a comic strip, would combine the worst qualities of his predecessors in one explosive package.

Trump broke through no guardrails (a feature of highway safety that he once disparaged in a Wall Street Journal interview as the “worst crap”). Rather, generations of politicians and operatives incrementally moved them to such a degree that his behavior became acceptable to enough Americans to elect him.

Admittedly, his actions are now breaking new ground. He’s elevated family members — daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner — to senior policy positions, while ensuring that his business empire profits from his presidency in unprecedented ways. Still, to understand the more lasting impact of the Trump administration requires a look at how his crew is transforming the underlying structures of American democracy, whether it’s the influence of money on politics, the hijacking of the judiciary, or the undermining of media watchdogs.

Trump grabs the daily headlines with his loose tweets and outrageous acts. The savvy operators and implementers lurking in his shadow use the cover of scandal to move those guardrails in a big league fashion. The defenders of today’s Maginot Line will wake up some morning to discover that the enemy never had to storm the battlements. They just uprooted the fortifications and shoved them out of the way.

Boosting the Rich

Many democratic countries wouldn’t tolerate the way the rich and corporations call the shots in American elections. To win a House seat, for example, now costs, on average, $1.5 million; a Senate seat, nearly $20 million. By contrast, in Canada, where neither corporations nor unions can make campaign contributions and individuals are restricted to a very modest $1,500 cap on party donations, a typical campaign for parliament costs in the tens of thousands of dollars and nearly half of the biggest spenders lose.

In 2010, the situation in the United States became incomparably worse when the Supreme Court decided, in the Citizens United case, that campaign contributions are constitutionally protected free speech. Super PACs can now spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, giving rich individuals unparalleled impact and a way to cover their tracks through “dark money” contributions. Former president Jimmy Carter has accurately labeled that decision “legalized bribery.”

Meanwhile, money has come to play a remarkable role in policymaking, too. Where other countries struggle to expunge bribery and corruption from their political systems, the United States has simply institutionalized it under the rubric of lobbying. As Michael Maiello wrote in Forbes back in 2009:

“[I]n an open society like the U.S., our brightest minds are unable to draw meaningful distinctions between handing someone an envelope full of cash and flooding a senator’s campaign war chest, except to point out that lobbying is far more effective. A briber wants to circumvent the law. A lobbyist wants to change it.”

Trump famously declared his independence from donors and lobbyists. He told the Koch brothers, for instance, that he didn’t “need their money or bad ideas.” In the end, however, he would prove just as beholden to big donors as any conventional politician. He rode to power with the backing of casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, Home Depot co-founder Bernard Marcus, World Wrestling Entertainment co-founder Linda McMahon, hedge fund operator Robert Mercer, and philanthropist Betsy DeVos. After the election, he immediately rewarded McMahon and DeVos with administration positions, then pushed through a tax reform bill that was a bonanza for his billionaire buddies and transformed Middle East policy to reflect the demands of Adelson, Marcus, and Mercer. And though he promised to clean out the Washington swamp, his appointees have been embroiled in one scandal after another.

The Trump team is also making structural changes to restrict the ways that ordinary citizens can, in the future, challenge such a plutocratic form of government. Building on successful Republican Party efforts in, for instance, Florida leading up to the 2000 presidential election, the Trump administration is going all out to suppress the electoral participation of minorities and the poor. New voter ID laws helped him win key states like Wisconsin, so no surprise that he wants to make such a voter ID system a nationwide one.

Leading up to the midterms, the Republican Party has also been rushing to purge voter rolls and put in place racial gerrymandering, even using the Americans with Disabilities Act as an excuse to close polling places in rural Georgia to tamp down the African-American vote. In a team effort by the Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the president has also directed federal agencies to gather voting records in areas of North Carolina with large Latino populations in order to keep likely Democratic Party voters away from the polls.

In this way, Trump is working to return America to its glory days — when only well-off white men had the right to vote.

Tilting the Courts

Trump controls (if that’s the term for it) the White House; the Republicans, in part through voter suppression and gerrymandering, control Congress. But pollsters predict that the Democrats are likely to win back at least the House in the coming midterm elections and the 2020 presidential election is clearly still up for grabs. So, in its quest to move the political guardrails more permanently, the Trump administration has focused on the third branch of government: the courts. There, it can not only neuter one of the most powerful checks on Trump’s 1% agenda, but have an impact that will last for decades.

With the Supreme Court, the Republicans in Congress proved both lucky and strategic. President Trump was immediately able to fill a vacancy, thanks to the Republican Party’s successful Hail Mary decision to block Merrick Garland’s nomination in the waning months of the Obama administration. Then, by nominating Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy created by Antonin Scalia’s death, the Trump team began to make a play for the retirement of swing-voting justice Anthony Kennedy. Gorsuch had clerked for Kennedy and so had the two key candidates (Brett Kavanaugh and Raymond Kethledge) that Trump fingered for his seat, should it become vacant. The president then played up his business relationship with Kennedy’s banker son, while Ivanka worked her charms on the judge over lunch. Administration officials swore that they would honor Kennedy’s legacy, as long as he resigned quickly enough to squeeze in another confirmation before those midterms threatened Republican majorities in Congress.

Meanwhile, the Trump team barreled along making judicial appointments to the lower courts at a time when it could barely be bothered to fill key positions in the State Department. The new president came into office with 105 unfilled judicial vacancies, a legacy of Republican congressional foot-dragging during the Obama years. While conservative allies supplied him with a wish list of judicial ideologues, Trump acted with all deliberate haste by appointing 22 appeals court judges and 20 district judges (all lifetime positions). These new judges — in the 12 federal judicial circuits with regional jurisdiction — have already made their mark in cases involving campaign finance, presidential authority, and abortion, among other issues. “After just 18 months, Trump has ‘flipped’ two circuits — the Sixth and Seventh — from what Trump’s supporters in the conservative legal movement consider ‘liberal’ to more properly conservative,” writes Jason Zengerle in the New York Times Magazine, pointing out that other circuits are also now nearing the tipping point.

This judicial transformation extends to federal agencies. Administrative law judges are basically civil servants who handle a varied caseload from Social Security benefit claims to regulatory enforcement. After making a broad interpretation of a recent Supreme Court decision, the Trump administration is now transforming these 1,900 judges into the equivalent of political appointees. It also argues that it can fire judges and hire new ones to pack such administrative courts, which will then help push a Republican anti-regulatory revolution from within.

At one point, Donald Trump casually remarked that he thought the United States should try out the Chinese system of “president for life.” While that’s not likely to happen any time soon, with his judges for life, the president is institutionalizing the 1% ideology of the adults in that room of his before the voters can kick him out of office.

Sidestepping the Watchdogs

After a lifetime using the media to build his brand, Donald Trump is now systematically trying to blow up one of the cornerstones of American democracy. He has called the press the “enemy of the American people,” repeatedly labeled reputable media outlets as “fake news,” and legitimized far-right sources by parroting their claims.

Trump didn’t create such a climate. The rise of Fox News, the spread of websites like Infowars, and the persistent popularity of right-wing radio shock jocks have all contributed to the demonization of the “liberal” media. As a result, for a significant number of Americans, trying to gather facts — as opposed to expressing opinions at top volume — has become a suspect occupation. According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, when it comes to the general population, trust in the media has dropped five points since 2017 and an astounding 22 points for the “informed public” (defined as college-educated and in the top 25% of household income).

The mainstream media have long aspired to serve a watchdog role. Reporters are supposed to fact-check the powerful, sniff out corruption, and peel away government propaganda to expose the hidden histories behind it. Granted, journalists have blind spots and the economically powerful often don’t receive the sort of scrutiny that the politically powerful do, but media operations with budgets for investigative journalists and fact-checkers are an integral part of any democratic society.

Donald Trump hasn’t just disparaged the mainstream media, he’s done an end run around it. He feels little need to hold press conferences — only one in his first year of office (compared to Obama’s 11) — because he communicates with the America he wants to reach directly through his Twitter account. The news media then have to play catch-up reporting on his tweets.

In doing so, he creates the appearance of candor, since he speaks his mind without PR specialists getting in the way — but not to the entire American population. Typically, he avoids making speeches in blue states (places that his administration’s policies are deliberately crafted to harm). His strategy is to preach to the choir 24/7 in a communications universe free of the mainstream media. When it comes to reporters, the president’s supporters follow his lead and pay them little attention. Indeed, 72% of Republicans trust Trump over the media and nearly half believe that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” His attacks on the media, deliberately designed to distract attention from his various scandals, are undermining the entire institution.

In effect, Trump has cultivated a constituency that lies outside the democratic conversation, building on the 22% of Americans who believe autocracy to be superior to democracy and the slightly larger percentage who would support a military coup to combat crime or corruption. Independent media wouldn’t last long in either scenario.

The New Normal

The most dangerous part of Trump’s onslaught on democracy is the cynicism it’s likely to generate, which will only reinforce the goals of the Trumpistas if a significant chunk of the 99% decide that voting isn’t worth it, politics is a game best avoided, and Twitter is superior to a newspaper. Democracy doesn’t just die in darkness. It can die of indifference — not with a bang or a whimper, that is, but with a yawn.

Of course, there’s nothing like a famously corrupt politician to reinvigorate civic action. In the aftermath of the Watergate scandals, a new wave of reformers won places in Congress, immediately launching investigations into covert operations, establishing new rules for campaign finance, and attempting to rein in the power of the presidency through measures like the War Powers Act. In other words, after the scandals of the early 1970s, reformers surveyed the wreckage of the political landscape and attempted to repair the infrastructure of American democracy. At best, they offered quick fixes, while during the Reagan years that followed, the putative adults in the room returned to their favorite activity: moving the guardrails to favor the wealthy and the powerful.

After the midterms in November, new voices like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib will be in Congress and there will undoubtedly be renewed energy to stop, if not roll back, Trumpism. All those whom the president has insulted — and it’s an ever-lengthening list — may join hands in an effort to break the vicious circle of ignorance, apathy, and anger Trump has encouraged. This will be no easy task. But it would be poetic justice if what’s left of the mechanisms of democracy — voting, the courts, and the press — can still be used to defeat a potential autocrat, his family, and all the putative adults he’s brought into the room to implement his profoundly anti-democratic program. The question is: Will it already be too late?

 

Rod Rosenstein’s Job Is Safe, for Now: Inside His Dramatic Day

September 24, 2018

by Michael D. Shear, Katie Benner, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — When Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, headed to the White House on Monday morning, he was ready to resign and convinced — wrongly, it turned out — that President Trump was about to fire him. Top Justice Department aides scrambled to draft a statement about who would succeed him.

By the afternoon, Mr. Rosenstein was back at his Pennsylvania Avenue office seven blocks from the White House, still employed as the second-in-command at the Justice Department and, for the time being at least, still in charge of the Russia investigation.

What happened in between was a confusing drama in which buzzy news reports of Mr. Rosenstein’s imminent departure set in motion a dash to the White House, an offer to resign, Capitol Hill speculation about Mr. Rosenstein’s successor and, finally, a reprieve from an out-of-town president.

“We’ll be determining what’s going on,” Mr. Trump said Monday afternoon from New York, where he was meeting with foreign leaders at the United Nations General Assembly. Asked about Mr. Rosenstein, Mr. Trump said: “We’re going to have a meeting on Thursday when I get back.”

Even for an administration famous for chaos and rival factions, Monday’s events offered a remarkable display of the anxiety gripping the administration after a New York Times report on Friday that Mr. Rosenstein had considered secretly taping the president and discussed using the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.

Mr. Rosenstein called the account “inaccurate.” But it raised fresh questions about the fate of the deputy attorney general, who has repeatedly clashed with Mr. Trump and his supporters on Capitol Hill over the Russia inquiry. Critics called for him to be fired. Allies demanded he stay.

This account of the events of the past several days is based on interviews with people close to Mr. Rosenstein, White House advisers, Justice Department officials, lawmakers from both parties and others familiar with the rapidly evolving situation.

By Friday evening, concerned about testifying to Congress over the revelations that he discussed wearing a wire to the Oval Office and invoking the constitutional trigger to remove Mr. Trump from office, Mr. Rosenstein had become convinced that he should resign, according to people close to him. He offered during a late-day visit to the White House to quit, according to one person familiar with the encounter, but John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, demurred.

Aides began planning over the weekend for his departure, coming in to the Justice Department to determine how to recalibrate in the aftermath of his exit.

Over the weekend, Mr. Rosenstein again told Mr. Kelly that he was considering resigning. On Sunday, Mr. Rosenstein repeated the assertion in a call with Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel. Mr. McGahn, who was dealing with the emergence of another accusation of sexual assault against Brett M. Kavanaugh, the president’s Supreme Court nominee, asked Mr. Rosenstein to postpone their discussion until Monday.

Some White House officials also believed that only the president could legally accept Mr. Rosenstein’s resignation, not Mr. Kelly, according to two people familiar with internal discussions.

By about 9 a.m. on Monday, Mr. Rosenstein was in his office on the fourth floor of the Justice Department when reporters started calling. Was it true that Mr. Rosenstein was planning to resign, they asked? Officials at the Justice Department took the inquiries as evidence that the White House wanted to speed along that outcome.

Mr. Rosenstein and Ed O’Callaghan, his top deputy, raced out of the building and headed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for what they expected to be the final word. Justice Department officials told reporters that Mr. Rosenstein expected to be fired upon arriving there.

A spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores, began drafting a news release that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was on his way back from a weekend in Alabama, would distribute if Mr. Rosenstein were fired.

At the White House, the deputy attorney general slipped into a side entrance to the West Wing and headed to the White House Counsel’s Office to meet with Mr. McGahn, who had by then been told by Mr. Kelly that Mr. Rosenstein was on his way and wanted to resign.

Mr. Rosenstein was emotional, according to people familiar with his meeting with Mr. McGahn. Mr. Rosenstein wanted to leave on amicable terms, not in a manner that would trigger an angry Twitter tirade from Mr. Trump.

But Mr. McGahn, who is set to leave the White House as soon as the Kavanaugh nomination is concluded, reminded Mr. Rosenstein of his own short-term status and directed him to talk to Mr. Kelly.

Two people familiar with the discussions described Mr. Kelly as “conflicted” about Mr. Rosenstein’s fate, believing that a departure before the midterm elections in November would be bad for the president. At some point, Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Trump had what the president’s spokeswoman called “an extended conversation” about the Times article. Mr. Trump said the two spoke Monday but did not say when.

The president had already planned to clean house at the Justice Department — but not until after the elections, according to one person who had discussed Mr. Rosenstein with Mr. Trump before last week’s Times article. Monday’s drama about an imminent resignation created an unwanted headache, the person said.

But as Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Kelly remained behind closed doors, the possibility of Mr. Rosenstein’s departure had already sparked blaring headlines about the implications for the Russia probe and the management of the Justice Department.

“Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, Is Considering Resigning,” The Times wrote. CNN and MSNBC broke into their coverage of the confirmation battle over Judge Kavanaugh to report that Mr. Rosenstein was on his way to the White House to resign.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers were caught off guard. Some legislators from both parties, already wrangling over the Kavanaugh nomination and girding for November’s elections, seemed to wish the matter would simply disappear.

“I hope they can work it out,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican. He told reporters that Mr. Rosenstein had done “a good job in a tough position” and, echoing a line senators have repeatedly employed to try to dissuade Mr. Trump from shaking up senior law enforcement, warned that confirming a replacement for Mr. Rosenstein at this point would be “problematic.”

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, expressed more consternation, saying on Twitter that she was “concerned” by reports of Mr. Rosenstein’s fate and that he “plays a critical role” overseeing the Russia inquiry.

On his radio show on Monday, the president’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said he did not know whether Mr. Rosenstein was going to be pushed out. But he used the confusion to call for a pause in the Russia investigation, saying that if Mr. Rosenstein did resign, it “clearly becomes necessary and appropriate” that “there be a step back taken here” and a “time out on this inquiry.”

Word began leaking out of the White House that Mr. Rosenstein had joined a previously scheduled meeting of top administration officials in the West Wing — evidence that he had not resigned or been fired. At the Justice Department, Mr. Sessions returned around the time it became clear that Mr. Rosenstein was not being fired.

Speculation continued until 12:48 p.m., when Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, tweeted that Mr. Rosenstein had requested a conversation with the president.

“Because the President is at the United Nations General Assembly and has a full schedule with leaders from around the world, they will meet on Thursday when the President returns to Washington,” Ms. Sanders said.

Within the hour, Mr. Rosenstein exited the White House, captured by news cameras being escorted to his black SUV by Mr. Kelly. The motorcade swiftly drove back to the Justice Department, where the deputy attorney general went back to his scheduled meetings, including one on white-collar crime, and other law enforcement officials turned back to preparing for Tuesday’s meeting between Mr. Sessions and state attorneys general about tech companies.

The release that Ms. Flores drafted did not go out.

But the fact that Mr. Rosenstein may be on the job for at least another 72 hours is unlikely to be the end of the story. A departure by Mr. Rosenstein this week would thrust the administration into further turmoil just weeks before November’s midterm elections.

As the top Justice Department official overseeing the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, Mr. Rosenstein had long been the target of Mr. Trump’s bitter grievance about what he calls a politically motivated witch hunt. Mr. Rosenstein has repeatedly backed Mr. Mueller.

Though officials have said their relationship had improved recently, the president was said to consider terminating Mr. Rosenstein in summer 2017. More recently, in a Twitter rant in April, Mr. Trump accused Mr. Rosenstein of being one of the most conflicted officials at the Justice Department, asserting without evidence that he was among those seeking proof of a Trump-led conspiracy with Russia’s election interference.

“No Collusion, so they go crazy!” Mr. Trump wrote.

If Mr. Rosenstein leaves, Noel Francisco, the solicitor general, would assume oversight of the Russia investigation, according to a Justice Department official. Matthew G. Whitaker, chief of staff to Mr. Sessions, would become acting deputy attorney general, an unusual move; typically, a top aide to the deputy attorney general would take over the post.

Critics have said that Mr. Francisco cannot oversee the Russia investigation without a waiver from the White House because his former law firm, Jones Day, is representing the Trump campaign in the investigation, creating a conflict of interest. Justice Department officials have not addressed whether a waiver would be needed if Mr. Rosenstein departs.

Republican lawmakers aligned with Mr. Trump have spent months wrangling over information pertaining to Justice Department investigations. Democratic opponents have said that those increasing demands were meant to corner Mr. Rosenstein and eventually push him to either compromise the integrity of the investigations or to resign.

On Monday, Representative Bob Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, appeared to validate Mr. Rosenstein’s concerns about being called to testify about the Times article. It was based on interviews over several months with people who were told about Mr. Rosensteins’ comments at the time or who were briefed on memos that documented them, including some written by Andrew G. McCabe, the acting director of the F.B.I. at the time.

Mr. Goodlatte said that he planned to issue a subpoena for Mr. McCabe’s memos as soon as this week. House Republicans close to Mr. Trump had already made one attempt to obtain copies of the memos but were rebuffed by the Justice Department.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Nicholas Fandos and Katie Rogers contributed reporting.

 

Man who threatened Boston Globe also called NY Times, NFL: prosecutor

September 24, 2018

by Nate Raymond

Reuters

BOSTON (Reuters) – U.S. investigators are probing whether a man accused of threatening to kill journalists at the Boston Globe after calling them “the enemy of the people” made similar threats to the New York Times and National Football League, a prosecutor said on Monday

Robert Chain, 68, pleaded not guilty in Boston federal court to charges that he threatened Globe employees in August after the paper coordinated an editorial response by more than 350 newspapers to President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media.

Assistant U.S. Attorney George Varghese said authorities were investigating other threatening calls Chain made.

“We are investigating a number of calls made to other organizations, including the New York Times (NYT.N) and the NFL,” he said.

Trump has frequently criticized journalists and labeled news reports that he objects to “fake news.” He has called news organizations the “enemy of the people,” and has regularly attacked the Times.

Trump has also voiced anger over NFL players who knelt during the playing of the national anthem in a protest over police killings of unarmed black men and teens.

Noting that 19 firearms were found in Chain’s home in California after his Aug. 31 arrest, Varghese asked a federal magistrate judge to require Chain to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet to ensure he does not approach those organizations.

William Weinreb, Chain’s lawyer, did not object to that condition. But he noted that Chain had not violated any of his bail terms and that the guns that the government seized were lawfully owned.

A spokeswoman for the New York Times said the paper had been informed that federal authorities were probing alleged calls by Chain to the newspaper.

Weinreb declined comment outside of court. An NFL spokesman declined to comment.

Chain, who lives in Encino, California, faces seven counts of use of interstate and foreign commerce to transmit a threat to injure another person. Each count carries a maximum five-year prison term.

On Aug. 16, the day the editorials ran, Chain called the Globe’s newsroom and threatened to shoot employees in the head at 4 p.m, prosecutors said. The threat prompted authorities to station police outside the paper’s Boston building.

Varghese did not detail the content of the calls he said Chain made to the Times and NFL.

Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Scott Malone and Rosalba O’Brien

 

Brett Kavanaugh: third woman expected to make accusations of sexual misconduct

Attorney Michael Avenatti says third woman ‘reached out’ about sexual misconduct allegations against Supreme Court nominee

September 24, 2018

by Joanna Walters in New York

The Guardian

A third woman is expected to publicly make accusations of sexual misconduct against supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this week, her attorney Michael Avenatti said, plunging the judge’s confirmation to America’s highest court into further uncertainty.

“She reached out to me. We vetted her claim and she satisfactorily passed that vetting,” Avenatti said of the new accuser in an interview with the Guardian on Monday.

Avenatti said the woman has also asked to testify at a hearing before the Senate judiciary committee on Thursday, which will hear from California professor Christine Blasey Ford, who has alleged the judge drunkenly sexually assaulted her while in high school.

The fresh allegations relate to Kavanaugh’s school days when he attended the elite Georgetown prep school in Maryland, where Ford has already accused him of a violent sexual attack at a party there when he was 17 and she was 15. Those allegations turned his confirmation process upside down earlier this month.

A second accuser, Deborah Ramirez, came forward Sunday to say that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her at a party when he was a freshman at Yale.

Matters relating to the additional individual date back to Georgetown preparatory school, Avenatti said.

“I’m going to be representing her and I may be representing some corroborating witnesses, and we plan on releasing additional information,” he told the Guardian.

Avenatti is better known as the combative, anti-Trump lawyer representing Stormy Daniels, who made her name as an actor and producer of pornographic films. Daniels is involved in multiple civil cases with the president and his one-time lawyer, Michael Cohen, over her account that she had an affair with Trump in the past. Trump denies the affair but paid Daniels hush money before the 2016 election to stay quiet about it.

Avenatti pointed out on Twitter on Monday morning that his new client is currently planning on identifying herself publicly prior to the expected hearing on Thursday.

He called for her to be able to testify before the Senate judiciary committee, which is holding Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, and also demanded that the committee question Mark Judge, a contemporary of Kavanaugh’s at Georgetown whom Ford says was involved in the alleged assault upon her.

Avenatti tweeted on Sunday evening that: “I represent a woman with credible information regarding Judge Kavanaugh and Mark Judge. We will be demanding the opportunity to present testimony to the committee and will likewise be demanding that Judge and others be subpoenaed to testify. The nomination must be withdrawn.”

Within minutes on Sunday night, Avenatti had been contacted by Mike Davis, the chief counsel for nominations for the judiciary committee, asking that any additional information “be submitted so that Senate investigators may promptly begin an inquiry”.

Avenatti replied that he was aware of significant evidence of Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, in summary, participating in “the targeting of women” with alcohol or drugs at house parties in the Washington DC-area in the early 1980s “in order to allow a ‘train’ of men to gang rape them”.

Avenatti then posted: “Senate investigators should pose the following questions to Judge Kavanaugh without delay and provide the answers to the American people,” and then listed detailed questions, including: “Did you ever target one or more women for sex or rape at a house party? Did you ever assist Mark Judge or others in doing so?”

On Monday he further posted that his new client has previously worked within the state department, the US Mint and the Department of Justice and has been granted multiple security clearances in the past. “The GOP and others better be very careful in trying to suggest that she is not credible,” he added.

Avenatti acknowledged that the list of detailed, questions about various aspects of the alleged sexual misconduct which he thought the committee should ask Kavanaugh, were noticeably specific.

“They are very pointed because they are designed to elicit answers that go directly to the facts,” he said.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell described the various and growing accusations against Kavanaugh as “a choreographed smear campaign”. Trump once again spoke in support of his ultra-conservative nominee, who had appeared to be sailing towards an almost certain, if controversial, confirmation until Ford’s allegations emerged.

A defiant Kavanaugh on Monday wrote a letter to committee chairman and Republican Chuck Grassley and ranking Democrat Diane Feinstein, saying: “I will not be intimidated into withdrawing from this process. The coordinated effort to destroy my good name will not drive me out… The last-minute character assassination will not succeed.”

 

Russia’s S-300 delivery shows Israel who’s in charge, but not aimed at hurting relations – analysts

September 24, 2018

RT

Russia’s decision to boost Syrian air defenses in response to the downing of an Il-20 plane amid an Israeli raid is meant to sting, but not pose a serious threat to Israel’s national security, experts told RT.

Last week, a Russian Il-20 electronic warfare plane with 15 crew on board was shot down off Syria’s coast by a Syrian anti-air missile fired in response to an Israeli air raid. The raid targeted the Latakia province, which houses a Russian airbase.

Moscow accused Israel of failing to warn the Russian military of its impending attack in time to move the landing aircraft out of harm’s way. On Monday, the Russian military said they would boost Syrian air defenses in several ways to prevent similar incidents in the future.

“It was inevitable that at some point [Israel] would cross that line in its special relationship with Russia and would go a bit too far,” said Beirut-based journalist Martin Jay.

“The deal that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin gave to Israel was incredible. It [not only] allowed Israel to make air strikes with impunity across the country on targets that it believed to be Hezbollah weapons factories or Iranian military installations.”

Russia had also promised to keep pro-Iranian militias away from Syria’s border with Israel and froze a planned delivery of an S-300 long-range air defense system to the Syrian armed forces. This deal has now been unfrozen and is to be completed within two weeks, Moscow has announced.

“I think all bets are off now. Russia is showing Israel who is in charge and that it won’t take any more nonsense,” Jay told RT.

The deployment of the S-300 would reduce Israel’s ability to strike targets in Syria, although how much would depend on the number of batteries and the skill of the crews that would man them, said Nikolay Surkov, a senior researcher at the Moscow-based International Institute for World Economy and International Relations. Should Israel take risks or use more costly weapon systems, it may be able to conduct air strikes in Syria even after the planned upgrade, he said.

“They will have to use more assets, use armed drones and cruise missiles as opposed to fighter jets,” he said. “At least that’s what they told me when we discussed a possible delivery of the S-300 a few years ago… Of course this would be more difficult, more costly and more risky.”

The Russian expert believes that Israel may tolerate losses during sorties in Syria up to a point, possibly even ramping up attacks by way of retaliation, as was the case with the loss of a fighter jet in February. The worst-case scenario would be a full-blown air war in southern Syria not involving Russia directly.

“Russia has made its response and showed Israel how displeased it is. But Russia and Israel are partners, and neither side wishes to endanger this partnership. I believe a way forward that would satisfy both parties would be found. The Israelis would be more cautious in the future while Russia would refrain from further escalation,” Surkov predicted. “At the moment we don’t have a confrontation here, just mutual complaints.”

Similar messages, which signal Russia’s willingness to prevent the conflict with Israel from spiraling out of control, came from Moscow after the Defense Ministry’s statement. The Kremlin stressed that the measures taken by the military are not aimed at any third parties while the Foreign Ministry said Russia’s relations with Israel are too “massive and comprehensive” to be significantly hurt by the fallout from the Il-20 incident.

But Jay, the Lebanon-based journalist, pointed out that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be limited by pressure at home in how he can deal with the situation.

“He has been resolving all the allegations of corruption through his political fortitude. He is doing really good at the moment, but this could be a game changer,” he said.

 

With Russia’s S-300 in Syria, Israel will have to think twice about the next strike

The new missile system provided by Russia is not a total barrier to airstrikes, but Israeli jets’ freedom of action will be significantly curbed

September 25, 2018

by Amos Harel

Haaretz

The two latest developments in Moscow – the Defense Ministry’s report that placed full responsibility for last week’s downing of a Russian plane over Syria on Israel, and the announcement of the transfer of advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems to the Assad regime – shouldn’t surprise anyone in Israel except maybe a few foolish supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. No matter how good his relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be, Netanyahu can’t make the problem disappear.

Russia suffered an embarrassing blow when Assad’s anti-aircraft fire shot down the plane, and it still has widespread interests to promote in Syria. It was quite clear that the affair would lead to a Russian condemnation of Israel and to demands of Israel. The bottom line still depends on Putin, who initially sufficed with a cautiously worded statement the day after the incident. For the time being it seems the result of the Russian steps will be a significant restriction of Israel’s freedom of action over Syria.

Netanyahu warned Putin: S-300 air defense system in irresponsible hands will endanger region

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced Monday that his country would supply Syria with S-300 ground-to-air missiles. Russia, he said, would also use electronic warfare systems to prevent the activation of satellite tracking systems along Syria’s coast, making it harder for Israel to conduct airstrikes. And Russia will equip Syrian anti-aircraft units with Russian tracking and guidance systems to prevent mishaps in which Syria downs Russian aircraft.

The transfer of S-300 missiles to the Syrians, along with even more advanced systems (like the S-400) that the Russians are deploying near their bases in Syria’s northwest, don’t constitute a total barrier to Israeli attacks. According to foreign media, the Israel Air Force has trained for missions in which Israeli jets must contend with S-300 batteries – which the Russians sold to Cyprus and are now in Greece’s hands. It’s reasonable to assume that the air force can figure out how to reduce the risk when facing these systems.

In April, after an American attack and a number of Israeli attacks, Moscow announced that it would sell the S-300 systems to Syria, but it didn’t follow through. This time the Russians seem more determined to follow through, though it’s doubtful the weapons will be delivered in two weeks as promised by Shoigu, and it could take the Syrians a while to learn to operate the technology.

The test for Israeli-Russian relations is sure to come soon when a new intelligence warning pops up about an Iranian attempt to smuggle arms into Lebanon on a route near the Russian bases in northwestern Syria. Because Iran is determined to continue with its arms shipments to Hezbollah, and Israel has insisted on its right to attack such shipments, Jerusalem is bound to face a dilemma: Should it attack once again near the Russians and risk further exacerbating the crisis and even the downing of an Israeli plane?

Russia’s announcement of the decision to supply the S-300s and its report Sunday on the circumstances of the downing of the Ilyushin plane  underscore one point. Moscow can’t accuse the main culprit responsible for the incident – its ally, the Assad regime. (It’s amazing to see that blame for the Syrian anti-aircraft forces doesn’t even appear in the Defense Ministry’s official statement.)

It was therefore clear from the beginning that the responsibility would be placed on Israel. It’s also interesting that all the blame is directed at the Israeli military, which the Russians accuse of being unprofessional or “criminally negligent, at the very least.” The Israeli political leadership isn’t mentioned except for one general claim about Israel’s alleged dangerous offensive policy in Syria.

The Russian inquiry seems dubious; some of its claims are odd. For instance, the Russians say Israel gave them a warning of only one minute (it’s surprising that Israel hasn’t stated the real time lag, which was much longer). According to experienced Israeli pilots, the claim that the Israeli jets hid behind the Russian intelligence-gathering plane is unreasonable and not in keeping with accepted operational practices.

The accusation that Israel deceived the Russians about the location of the planned attack also seems illogical. According to Russia, the IAF informed it about an attack in northern Syria, while the attack occurred in western Syria. Latakia is in northwest Syria, as a quick glance at a map reveals. And because the military coordination has been working successfully for three years now, during which hundreds of Israeli attacks have taken place, it’s hard to believe that the two sides haven’t yet cleared up some basic terminology.

The Russian announcement accuses Israel of ungratefulness in light of Moscow’s steps on behalf of Israeli interests such as keeping Iranian forces from the Israeli border in the Golan Heights. (The Russians say they’ve kept them 140 kilometers [87 miles] away, while actually it’s 85 to 100 kilometers, a buffer zone that doesn’t include Damascus, where Iranian soldiers remain.)

In recent years, Russia has been caught lying or spreading disinformation about its role in a number of incidents, the most recent being its involvement in the U.S. presidential elections, the poisoning of the former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, and the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. So it’s hard to believe that anyone but Syria and Iran will adopt the Russian version of last week’s events.

But it’s unlikely that this will matter. Moscow has the last word on the plane affair. It seems Putin waited for an Israeli blunder to put Jerusalem in its place.

This isn’t the end of an era for Israel’s military operations in Syria, where it has conducted hundreds of attacks in the north over the past six years. But for now, it appears the situation on the northern front won’t return fully to the conditions before the Russian plane was shot down.

Israel has operated freely in northern Syria for years thanks to the combination of offensive actions and good diplomatic relations with the Russians. Mostly, Israel acted shrewdly, achieving many of its goals.

But in recent months Israel has displayed excessive confidence in Syria. It’s unlikely that the Russians were happy with the Israeli military’s announcement this month that it had conducted more than 200 attacks in Syria since the beginning of last year. It seems Jerusalem hasn’t fully grasped the implications now that the Assad regime, with the help of the Russians, has regained control of most of the country, including the region bordering Israel.

Israel isn’t a superpower and isn’t invincible. It will have to take into account Russian considerations and maybe even adapt its offensive model. Senior defense officials say they ascribe great importance to the latest incident. Those who still claim that this is just a mild shudder on the wing must be so busy defending Netanyahu’s image that they’re no longer capable of analyzing reality objectively.

 

The Syrian Ceasefire Proves How Far Putin Has Come Out on Top

September 23, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

A ceasefire seldom gets a good press. If it succeeds in ending violence or defusing a crisis, the media swiftly becomes bored and loses interest. But if the fighting goes on, then those who have called the ceasefire are condemned as heartless hypocrites who either never intended to bring the killing to an end or are culpably failing to do so.

Pundits are predictably sceptical about the agreement reached by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Sochi on Monday to head off an imminent offensive by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces directed against rebels in Idlib province. This is the last enclave of the armed opposition in western Syria which has lost its strongholds in Aleppo, Damascus and Daraa over the past two years.

Doubts about the accord are understandable because, if it is implemented, the anti-Assad groups in Idlib will be defanged militarily. They will see a demilitarised zone policed by Russia and Turkey eat into their territory, “radical terrorist groups” removed, and heavy weapons ranging from tanks to mortars withdrawn. The rebels will lose their control of the two main highways crossing Idlib and linking the government held cities of Aleppo, Latakia and Hama.

There is a striking note of imperial self-confidence about the document in which all sides in the Syrian civil war are instructed to come to heel. This may not happen quite as intended because it is difficult to see why fighters of al-Qaeda-type groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham should voluntarily give up such military leverage as they still possess. The Syrian government has said that it will comply with the agreement but may calculate that, in the not so long term, it will be able to slice up Idlib bit by bit as it did with other rebel enclaves.

What is most interesting about the agreement is less its details than what it tells us about the balance of forces in Syria, the region and even the world as a whole. Fragile it may be, but then that is true of all treaties which general Charles de Gaulle famously compared to “young girls and roses – they last as long as they last”. Implementation of the Putin-Erdogan agreement may be ragged and its benefits temporary, but it will serve a purpose if a few less Syrians in Idlib are blown apart.

The Syrian civil war long ago ceased to be a struggle fought out by local participants. Syria has become an arena where foreign states confront each other, fight proxy wars and put their strength and influence to the test.The most important international outcome of war so far is that it has enabled Russia to re-establish itself as a great power. Moscow helped Assad secure his rule after the popular uprising in 2011 and later ensured his ultimate victory by direct military intervention in 2015. A senior diplomat from an Arab country recalls that early on in the Syrian war, he asked a US general with a command in the region what was the difference between the crisis in Syria and the one that had just ended with the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. The general responded with a single word: “Russia.”

It is difficult to remember now, when Russia is being portrayed in the west as an aggressive predatory power threatening everybody, the extent which it was marginalised seven years ago when Nato was carrying out regime change in Libya.

Russia was in reality always stronger than it looked because it remained a nuclear superpower capable of destroying the world after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 just as it was before. It should be difficult to forget this gigantically important fact, but politicians and commentators continue to blithely recommend isolating Russia and pretend that it can be safely ignored.

The return of Russia as a great power was always inevitable but was accelerated by successful opportunism and crass errors by rival states. Assad in Syria was always stronger than he looked. Even at the nadir of his fortunes in July 2011, the British embassy in Damascus estimated that he had the backing of 30 to 40 per cent of the population according to The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East by Christopher Phillips, which should be essential reading for anybody interested in Syria. Expert opinion failed to dent the conviction among international statesmen that Assad was bound to go. When the French ambassador Eric Chevallier expressed similar doubts about the imminence of regime change he received a stern rebuke from officials in Paris who told him: “Your information does not interest us. Bashar al-Assad must fall and will fall.”

Such wishful thinking and flight from reality continues to this day. Miscalculations by Washington, Paris and London have provided Putin with ideal political terrain on which to reassert the power of the Russian state. The agreement signed by Russia and Turkey last Monday deciding the future of Idlib province is a token of how far Russia has come out on top in Syria. Putin is able to sign a bilateral agreement with Turkey, the second largest military power in Nato, without any reference to the US or other Nato members.

The accord means that Turkey will increase its military stake in northern Syria, but it can only do so safely under license from Moscow. The priority for Turkey is to prevent the creation of a Kurdish statelet under US protection in Syria and for this it needs Russian cooperation. It was the withdrawal of the Russian air umbrella protecting the Kurdish enclave of Afrin earlier this year that enabled the Turkish army to invade and take it over.

As has happened with North Korea, President Trump’s instincts may be surer than vaunted expertise of the Washington foreign policy establishment and its foreign clones. They have not learned the most important lesson of the US-led intervention wars in Iraq and Syria which is that it is not in western interests to stir the pot in either country. Despite this, they argue for continued US military presence in northeast Syria on the grounds that this will weaken Assad and ensure that any victory he wins will be pyrrhic.

Everything that has happened since 2011 suggests the opposite: by trying to weaken Assad, western powers will force him to become more – not less – reliant on Moscow and Tehran. It ensures that more Syrians will die, be injured or become refugees and gives space for al-Qaeda clones to reemerge.

Russian dominance in the northern tier of the Middle East may be opportunistic but is being reinforced by another process. President Trump may not yet have started any wars, but the uncertainty of US policy means that many countries in the world now look for a reinsurance policy with Russia because they are no longer sure how far they can rely on the US. Putin may not always be able to juggle these different opportunities unexpectedly presented to him, but so far he has had surprising success.

 

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