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Thanks to Trump, Germany says it can’t rely on the United States. What does that mean?

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Henry Farrell writes in the Washington Post:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a crowd Sunday in southern Germany that Europe can no longer rely on foreign partners.

Merkel on Sunday declared a new chapter in U.S.-European relations after contentious meetings with President Trump last week, saying that Europe “really must take our fate into our own hands.”

Offering a tough review in the wake of Trump’s trip to visit E.U., NATO and Group of Seven leaders last week, Merkel told a packed Bavarian beer hall rally that the days when Europe could rely on others was “over to a certain extent. This is what I have experienced in the last few days.”

This is an enormous change in political rhetoric. While the public is more familiar with the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States, the German-U.S. relationship has arguably been more important. One of the key purposes of NATO was to embed Germany in an international framework that would prevent it from becoming a threat to European peace as it had been in World War I and World War II. In the words of NATO’s first secretary general, NATO was supposed “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.” Now, Merkel is suggesting that the Americans aren’t really in, and, by extension, Germany and Europe are likely to take on a much more substantial and independent role than they have in the past 70 years.

This is thanks to Trump

Merkel’s comment about what she has experienced in the past few days is a clear reference to President Trump’s disastrous European tour. Her belief that the United States is no longer a reliable partner is a direct result of Trump’s words and actions. The keystone of NATO is Article 5, which has typically been read as a commitment that in the event that one member of the alliance is attacked, all other members will come to its aid. When Trump visited NATO, he dedicated a plaque to the one time that Article 5 has been invoked — when all members of NATO promised to come to the United States’ support after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001. However, Trump did not express his commitmentto Article 5 in his speech to NATO, instead lambasting other NATO members for not spending enough money on their militaries. When Trump went on to the Group of Seven meeting in Italy, he declined to recommit to the Paris agreement on climate change, leaving the other six nations to issue a separate statement.

This cements the impression of the United States as an unreliable partner. Trump has ostentatiously refused to express his commitment to an agreement that has been the bulwark of Europe-U.S. security relations over the past three generations. He also has declined to say that the United States will work within the previously agreed framework on global warming. While many authoritarian states are cheered by Trump’s election and actions, since he is unlikely to press them on human rights and other sore points, traditional U.S. allies are enormously disheartened.

This may lead to a stronger Europe . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2017 at 8:52 pm

Leaked Documents Reveal Counterterrorism Tactics Used At Standing Rock To “Defeat Pipeline Insurgencies”

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When police and corporations cooperate to attack peaceful protests (a right guaranteed under the Constitution), you get the idea that the US is headed in a bad direction: corporations do not do the job of government because the corporation mission (make more profit) is not in keeping with governmental responsibilities (spending money collected via taxes to defend the country, promote the general welfare, and address public needs (protecting the environment, maintaining infrastructure, educating citizens, tracking and preventing disease outbreaks, making sure our foods and pharmaceutical drugs are pure and safe, and so on—including checking corporate misbehavior).

Alleen Brown, Will Parrish, and Alice Speri report in The Intercept:

A shadowy international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. The documents provide the first detailed picture of how TigerSwan, which originated as a U.S. military and State Department contractor helping to execute the global war on terror, worked at the behest of its client Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, to respond to the indigenous-led movement that sought to stop the project.

Internal TigerSwan communications describe the movement as “an ideologically driven insurgency with a strong religious component” and compare the anti-pipeline water protectors to jihadist fighters. One report, dated February 27, 2017, states that since the movement “generally followed the jihadist insurgency model while active, we can expect the individuals who fought for and supported it to follow a post-insurgency model after its collapse.” Drawing comparisons with post-Soviet Afghanistan, the report warns, “While we can expect to see the continued spread of the anti-DAPL diaspora … aggressive intelligence preparation of the battlefield and active coordination between intelligence and security elements are now a proven method of defeating pipeline insurgencies.”

More than 100 internal documents leaked to The Intercept by a TigerSwan contractor, as well as a set of over 1,000 documents obtained via public records requests, reveal that TigerSwan spearheaded a multifaceted private security operation characterized by sweeping and invasive surveillance of protesters.

As policing continues to be militarized and state legislatures around the country pass laws criminalizing protest, the fact that a private security firm retained by a Fortune 500 oil and gas company coordinated its efforts with local, state, and federal law enforcement to undermine the protest movement has profoundly anti-democratic implications. The leaked materials not only highlight TigerSwan’s militaristic approach to protecting its client’s interests but also the company’s profit-driven imperative to portray the nonviolent water protector movement as unpredictable and menacing enough to justify the continued need for extraordinary security measures. Energy Transfer Partners has continued to retain TigerSwan long after most of the anti-pipeline campers left North Dakota, and the most recent TigerSwan reports emphasize the threat of growing activism around other pipeline projects across the country.

The leaked documents include situation reports prepared by TigerSwan operatives in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and Texas between September 2016 and May 2017, and delivered to Energy Transfer Partners. They offer a daily snapshot of the security firm’s activities, including detailed summaries of the previous day’s surveillance targeting pipeline opponents, intelligence on upcoming protests, and information harvested from social media. The documents also provide extensive evidence of aerial surveillance and radio eavesdropping, as well as infiltration of camps and activist circles.

TigerSwan did not respond to a request for comment. Energy Transfer Partners declined to comment, telling The Intercept in an email that it does not “discuss details of our security efforts.”

Additional documents, obtained via public records requests, consist of communications among agents from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Justice Department, the Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, as well as state and local police. The “Intel Group,” as its members refer to it, closely monitored anti-Dakota Access protests in real time, scooped up information on the water protectors from social media, and shared intelligence.

Included among the documents obtained via public records requests were “daily intelligence updates” developed by TigerSwan that were shared with law enforcement officers, thus contributing to a broad public-private intelligence dragnet. In the internal situation reports, TigerSwan operatives comment frequently about their routine coordination and intelligence sharing with law enforcement. The intel group went so far as to use a live video feed from a private Dakota Access security helicopter to monitor protesters’ movements. In one report, TigerSwan discusses meeting with investigators from North Dakota’s Attorney General’s Office.

North Dakota’s Attorney General’s Office declined to comment.

TigerSwan’s internal reports and the intelligence briefings shared with law enforcement name dozens of DAPL opponents. Some of those named are well-known activists, while others have minimal public affiliation with the water protector movement. The reports’ authors often comment on camp dynamics, including protester morale and infighting, and speculate about violent or illegal actions specific individuals might take and weapons they might carry. The documents reveal the existence of a “persons of interest” list as well as other databases that included identifying information such as photographs and license plate numbers.

The situation reports also suggest that TigerSwan attempted a counterinformation campaign by creating and distributing content critical of the protests on social media. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 May 2017 at 9:47 am

We can’t let heinous attacks overseas obscure our homegrown terrorism problem

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Update: Recent example of homegrown terrorist problem. More details in this report. The terrorist is a white supremacist. I will mention that when George W. Bush was president, he tasked DHS with developing reports on the threats of domestic terrorism from left-wing and right-wing groups. The report on left-wing terrorism (e.g., attacking loggers) was issued with no problems, but when the report on right-wing terrorism came out (after the election: Janet Napolitano was Secretary of Homeland Security by then. The GOP went beserk and GOP members of Congress demanded that the report be withdrawn.

The reason for that demand is unclear, but the charitable interpretation is that the GOP was thinking that if right-wing terrorism was not mentioned, it would go away. (Few have accused the GOP in Congress of having much in the way of intelligence.) But it did not. I think the report would be interesting to see, but the GOP today is worse than the GOP then, and there is no way that the GOP will address right-wing terrorists. Instead, the GOP does all it can to encourage them, and is willing to get its own hands dirty (as in body-slamming a reporter for asking questions in public). /update

Another update: “The U.S. Has a Homegrown Terrorist Problem.”

Chauncey DeVega writes at Salon:

During a speech delivered in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, President Donald Trump told Muslims to “Drive out the terrorists. Drive out the extremists. Drive them out of your places of worship.”

There is no question that terrorist groups representing a perverted form of Islam have caused mayhem and destruction. This week’s heinous bombing in Manchester, England, that killed 22 people is one glaring example — although it’s worth noting that most of the violence committed by ISIS and similar groups has been directed against their fellow Muslims. (It’s not yet clear whether the Manchester perpetrator had any significant connection to militant groups in the Arab or Muslim world.)

But Trump and too many other Americans are often silent when it comes to the terrorists and extremists in their own country.

In the United States, right-wing domestic terrorists have killed hundreds of people since 2007. Moreover, federal law enforcement and other agencies have repeatedly warned that terrorism by right-wing extremists affiliated with the sovereign citizens movement, white supremacists and other hate groups poses a greater threat than violence by Islamic terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, more people have been killed and injured in the United States by white right-wing domestic terrorists than Muslim extremists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has also documented a record increase in hate crimes against Jews, Muslims and people of color that began with the start of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and has continued through the first months of his presidency.

Last Saturday Richard Collins III, a 23-year old African-American college student and newly commissioned U.S. Army lieutenant, was stabbed to death in an apparently random attack at the University of Maryland campus.

The accused killer is a white man named Sean Urbanski, who was apparently a member of an online white supremacist group called Alt Reich Nation. The university police chief, David Mitchell, described it this way: “When I looked at the information that’s contained on that website, suffice to say that it’s despicable. It shows extreme bias against women, Latinos, members of the Jewish faith, and especially African-Americans. . . . Which brings up questions as to the motive in this case. Knowing that, we will continue to look for digital evidence, among other items of evidentiary value.”

As reported by The Daily Beast, BuzzFeed and other sources, Urbanski was apparently a Trump supporter who commented upon and “upvoted” racist, nativist and anti-Muslim posts and memes in various online forums.

Apparently, Trump’s commands to “drive out the terrorists” and “extremists” apply in distant Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East but not to white people in the United States.

This act of probable racial terrorism occurred during a political moment when the safety and security of black and brown Americans is under threat from their own government. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 May 2017 at 10:02 am

Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with KremlinI

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I think it’s natural to wonder exactly why the son-in-law and close adviser of the president wanted a secret communication channel with the Kremlin. Perhaps he will explain and it will all turn out to be a big misunderstanding. Or it may turn out that Russia is putting serious moves on the US now that they believe we have a weak, venal, easily manipulated, ignorant, angry, and impulsive man as president.

Ellen Nakashima, Adam Entous, and Greg Miller report in the Washington Post:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, then President-elect Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the fact of the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.

The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts. But officials said that it’s unclear what Kislyak would have had to gain by falsely characterizing his contacts with Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin still saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Trump.

Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than rely on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 4:15 pm

Arkansas executed a man for a crime to which another person had confessed

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Arkansas doesn’t seem to value human life all that much, for all its “Pro-Life” enthusiasm. Among Radley Balko’s morning links (and it’s worth looking at them all):

Last night, Alabama executed Thomas Arthur, despite the fact that there was DNA that may have shown he was innocent — and that another man confessed to the crime.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 11:06 am

House Republicans will not concede they broke a fundamental health-care promise

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House Republicans are, so far as I can tell, fundamentally dishonest and lie more or less constantly, mainly about their actions and their words. Mike DeBonis reports in the Washington Post:

The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Republican health-care bill had just been made public Wednesday, and Rep. Mark Meadows was standing off the House floor, 15 minutes into a sparring session with reporters over its significance when he suddenly paused.

“Listen,” Meadows (R-N.C.) said, his voice cracking. “I lost my sister to breast cancer. I lost my dad to lung cancer. If anybody is sensitive to preexisting conditions, it’s me. And I’m not going to make a political decision today that affects somebody’s sister or father because I wouldn’t do it to myself. So I tell you that in the most earnest of ways that we’re going to get this right.”

The burst of emotion from the House Freedom Caucus chairman, a man who played a crucial role in shepherding the American Health Care Act to passage, was a poignant reaction to an uncomfortable fact: According to the nonpartisan CBO, the GOP bill broke a fundamental promise GOP leaders made to the public.

Repeatedly, top Republicans said, people with preexisting medical conditions would still be able to purchase affordable insurance under the AHCA. They downplayed concerns from independent analysts that the protections they included would not be sufficient to protect the sickest patients from drastic price hikes — touting a last-minute fix to beef up subsidies without waiting for the CBO to judge whether it would work.

“Preexisting conditions are in the bill,” President Trump said last month. “I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’ ”

“Under this bill, no matter what, you cannot be denied coverage if you have a preexisting condition,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said earlier this month, after his office issued a release saying the bill “protects people with preexisting conditions.”

“We need to protect the most vulnerable people,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who worked with Meadows to craft a viable bill, told CNN. “These are people with preexisting conditions. We want to make sure they are protected.”

The CBO found that while insurers could not deny coverage to sick Americans, they would be far from being “protected.”

In states that choose to waive certain insurance coverage mandates as allowed under the GOP bill, the report stated, “people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all.”

The scorekeepers added: “[L]ess healthy people would face extremely high premiums, despite the additional funding that would be available under [the AHCA] to help reduce premiums. Over time, it would become more difficult for less healthy people (including people with preexisting medical conditions) in those states to purchase insurance because their premiums would continue to increase rapidly.”

The analysis undermines not only the claims made by GOP leaders, but also shows that their bill could, by undoing what is perhaps the Affordable Care Act’s single most popular provision, throw consumers back into insurance markets where their ability to purchase affordable insurance would depend on their health.

The CBO report prompted a variety of explanations and evasions this week. Many House Republicans simply cast doubt on the CBO’s ability to analyze health-insurance markets. . .

Continue reading.

I have to say that the US political situation looks increasingly bad. Seriously bad.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 10:15 am

CBO Agrees: Trumpcare Wipes Out Protections for Pre-Existing Conditions

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Kevin Drum explains: the GOP’s healthcare plan ACHA eliminates protections for pre-existing conditions if you don’t have a policy through some organization (a group policy). Individual policy holders will be screwed just as they were before Obamacare.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2017 at 12:34 pm

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