Fri, Jun

Really, Who’s the Bigger Hate Monger?

THE COHEN COLUMN-A week or so ago we threw out the idea that someone should be selling Impeach Trump & Lock Him Up popcorn, all in a classic, bold red striped, scoop style popcorn box, seeing as how we are in for a series of must-watch investigative hearings on the Trump/Russian criminal conspiracy.

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Just Shut Up

BELL VIEW--Did you know that conservative voices are being silenced by the all-powerful PC thought police? Mike Pence is shunned by the Notre Dame Class of 2017; Betsy DeVos is booed at a historic black college in Florida; Ann Coulter is run out of town on a rail in Berkeley. Donald Trump complains about his historic bad press, while across the country his supporters cry that no one understands their pain. 

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The Real Meaning of Covfefe!

CORRUPTION WATCH-Finally, Trump has provided an answer to his bizarre turn of phrase, “covfefe.” As the world now knows, this is the last word in a midnight tweet by the Twit-in-Chief. It comes at the end of a prepositional phrase, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.” 

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Who is the Real Leader of the Free World?

POLITICS-For the last three quarters of a century, the question, “Who is the leader of the Free World?” inevitably was answered by giving the name of the president of the United States. Since World War II, America’s leader -- Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and so on -- was viewed as the person in charge of the non-communist half of the globe. His counterpart in the bilateral world of yesteryear was the guy who ran the Kremlin. 

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Killing Children is Always Terrorism

HISTORICAL HYPOCRACY-Could somebody explain to me why the senseless unprovoked attack by one person (Salman Abidi) on an audience that included mainly innocent children at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England is designated as terrorism -- while ongoing government-sanctioned senseless unprovoked attacks on innocent children in Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and elsewhere are not considered terrorism, but rather, "collateral damage?” 

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Montana Elects a Thuglican to Congress

THE COHEN COLUMN-The election results in the Montana special house race are in, and unfortunately the people of Montana did not know what kind of smiley face thug was running on the Republican side until it was too late, after most of them had mailed in their ballots.

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BOTUS and My Impeachment Popcorn

THE COHEN COLUMN--Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to run the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, is widely respected by both parties after more than 20 years at the forefront of U.S. law enforcement.

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Looking at Memorial Day Through 2017 Lens

GUEST WORDS--The United States is the most militarized and jingoistic nation on earth. Its foreign policy is guided by imperialist militarism, neoliberal capitalism and racial xenophobia. For more than sixteen years now, three presidential administrations have carried out a so-called “War on Terror” (GWOT), a perpetual state of war that is waged globally, under the depraved reasoning that “the world is a battlefield,” to quote investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. As demonstrated by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the GWOT is conducted through conventional warfare. More often, however, it is executed through covert or “dirty” wars, against groups and individuals in many other nations.

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Trump’s ‘Historic’ Visit to the Middle East: Much Ado about Nothing

TRUMP WATCH--Sadly, President Trump’s visit to the Middle East only confirmed my skepticism about what might come out of it. Trump went to the region with nothing to offer to mitigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and received no commitment from either Israeli or Palestinian leaders to resume the peace negotiations in earnest, but he received lots of platitudes and empty good-will gestures.

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Trump’s Immovable Base Gets Wobbly

HULLABALOO--Nate Silver makes a helpful observation about Donald Trump's allegedly immovable base: 

A widely held tenet of the current conventional wisdom is that while President Trump might not be popular overall, he has a high floor on his support. Trump’s sizable and enthusiastic base — perhaps 35 to 40 percent of the country — won’t abandon him any time soon, the theory goes, and they don’t necessarily care about some of the controversies that the “mainstream media” treats as game-changing developments.

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Science Committee Sends Trump a Letter: ‘Concerned Over His Dubious Scientific Sources’

TRUMP’S FAKE SCIENCE--Seven members of the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology have submitted a letter to President Donald Trump expressing concern over his use of dubious scientific sources and calling for him to appoint a director to the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

In the letter, which was signed and submitted on Thursday, the representatives—all Democrats—referenced a Politico story published Monday, "How Trump Gets His Fake News," as the impetus for their statements. The story alleged that Trump's deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, had slipped the president two printouts of Time magazine covers—one, supposedly from the 1970s, predicting a coming ice age, and another, from 2008, about global warming—to convince him of media hypocrisy on the topic of global warming. The 1970s cover, Politico reported, was a fake and an Internet hoax. 

"Disseminating stories from dubious sources has been a recurring issue with your administration," the letter states. "You have a tool at your disposal in this regard, should you wish to make use of it, in the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) which, under your administration, has been left largely unstaffed and without a director."

The Office of Science and Technology Policy was originally created informally under President John F. Kennedy Jr. to advise the White House on policies pertaining to science and technology (at the time, that included the NASA Moon Mission). It was later officially established under the 1976 National Science and Technology Policy, Organization, and Priorities Act.

The letter's writers urged Trump to appoint a director whose views represent "the broader scientific community." Until the department is adequately staffed, it continued, "we fear that you will continue to be vulnerable to misinformation and fake news."

(Katie Kilkenny is an associate editor at Pacific Standard, where she covers culture both online and in print. This report was posted first at Pacific Standard.


How to Recognize an Interactive Liar

THE COHEN COLUMN-Did you ever wonder why Trump thinks he can get away with constantly changing his story, at the extreme peril of exposing the untruth of what he said a month or a even just a day before?

I have already predicted that Trump is going down. How quickly that will happen, and all our lives depend on the speed of that, is a critical function of how many of you speak out and demonstrate that
you are speaking out.

OK, it's not just that Trump lies about everything; it's that his lies are constantly shifting, constantly contradicting each other.

Consider this direct recent quote, his response  to a question from a FOX News talking head about what was behind his threatening tweet suggesting there might exist "tapes" to embarrass Comey, so Comey better keep his mouth shut.

"All I want is for Comey to be honest, and I hope he will be, and I'm sure he will be, I hope." 

Did everyone pick up on what just happened here?

Does Trump hope that Comey will be honest, or is he sure that Comey will be honest? Or is he just hoping? Which is it, actually?

The correct and chillingly accurate answer is: neither.

What Trump is, is an interactive liar. In classic con man style he is constantly calibrating, and recalibrating his lies in the moment to his audience of the moment, based on his calculation of what they are most likely to buy. 

He watches your eyes, gauges your reaction, and adjusts, which is to say he lies over and again. The instant you stop buying it he will say something completely different. Just as he likely always did in his business negotiations. How is having a businessman as President working out, America?

What the quote above demonstrates most clearly is that he dynamically "tests" lies, trying to find the optimum and most effective lie for the particular audience in real time.

It had been observed that there was a lot of improvisation in Trump's campaign speeches, "riffing" some called it. But what he primarily improvises is a false reality.

It has to be true…doesn't it? Didn't we just hear the crowd roar?

This is why his campaign promises were all immediately worthless on the spot, as worthless as a diploma from Trump University. It was never about anything else but making a sale in the moment, assuming there ever was a specific promise you could pin down, even in the moment.

Trump is a performance liar. The memory hole is the next instant away. It is 1984 on speed dial.

I never said what you remember, he constantly claims. Even if he just said it, you heard him wrong, the situation has changed, whatever. All videotape and audio recorded evidence to the contrary he calls "fake news." We believe he actually considers lying a form of entertainment.

is motto should be: “Why tell the truth when a lie would do just as well?”

He will pile on phony and insincere compliments, only to call you the world's worst, most stupid, loser, bad person in the next breath, the instant you don't bend to his will. This is what he did to former FBI Director James Comey in particular, back and forth, back and forth. First, Comey is courageous, then he is a disgrace, then he is courageous again, then a disgrace again, an endless cycle, rinse and repeat, ad nauseam. And in the end he will condemn you for the very thing he praised you for earlier -- as Comey himself has so rudely just discovered.

“If the G.O.P.’s surrender to candidate Trump made exhortations about Republicans’ duty to their country seem like so much pointless verbiage, now President Trump has managed to make exhortation seem unavoidable again.

He has done so, if several days’ worth of entirely credible leaks and revelations are to be believed, by demonstrating in a particularly egregious fashion why the question of “fitness” matters in the first place

The presidency is not just another office. It has become, for good and bad reasons, a seat of semi-monarchical political power, a fixed place on which unimaginable pressures are daily brought to bear. It is the final stopping point for decisions that can lead very swiftly to life or death for people the world over.”

Those who voted against him recognized, or at least suspected, all of this already.

Those who did vote for him must hear these words, and let us pray, for all of our sakes, while there is still time for them to save themselves, that these people are still capable of discerning truth. Or as one former Apprentice contestant said, “…these shows are constructed. They don't happen, nor do they portray actual reality. They are constructed reality." Just like Trump.

“Read the things that these people, members of his inner circle, his personally selected appointees, say daily through anonymous quotations to the press. (And I assure you they say worse off the record.) They have no respect for him, indeed they seem to palpitate with contempt for him, and to regard their mission as equivalent to being stewards for a syphilitic emperor.

It is not squishy New York Times conservatives who regard the president as a child, an intellectual void, a hopeless case, a threat to national security; it is people who are self-selected loyalists, who supported him in the campaign, who daily go to work for him. All this, in the fourth month of his administration.”

Forward this message to everyone else you know.
But first, food for thought from some Facebook friends. 

1) “Donald Trump should start every morning with a tweet about what he is doing that day to help working-class Americans,” said Republican strategist Alex Conant. “Instead, his morning tweets make it clear how much the Russia story is distracting him and his White House.” 

(2) In your opinion, is Trump largely to blame for the matters that have distracted us from the issues, or is it mainly someone else's fault. As I have thought about this, Trump was supposed to be this tough businessman. But his constant whining about how people are saying bad things about him, and blaming others (the fake news media, etc.), isn't the way tough guys should be acting. Whenever a problem arises, you deal with it like a grown up, and not like the younger child who complains that his older siblings are picking on him.


(Michael N. Cohen is a former board member of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, founding member of the LADWP Neighborhood Council Oversight Committee, founding member of LA Clean Sweep and occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


The Wolf Who Cried Boy

RAPE AND RACE POLITICS-In a calculated and cynical move, Bill Cosby -- a person who shamed poor black people for not “acting right” in front of white people; who chastised us on behalf of Whiteness; who made fun of our particular customs, our particular situations, and our particular names; who told us to stop using racism as an excuse for our condition — is now claiming that racism is behind all of the rape allegations against him.  And he’s claiming that to solidify the support of the very same black communities he spent a great deal of time berating. 

This is the definition of crafty. He knows our history and the history of the country. He knows that there is a horrific praxis amongst white people to falsely accuse black people of crimes we didn’t in no ways commit. There is a peculiar, sordid, and long-standing practice of white women falsely accusing black men of rape.  

Cosby is hoping to bank on this brutal history and use it as cover to cast doubt on his own crimes. I mourn that decision because of the confusion and chaos it will cause for black people who are actually innocent, who were actually falsely accused, whose innocence will be doubted even further because a clearly guilty person has misused a historical reality for his own benefit --  a historical reality he spent a good chunk of public speeches denying. 

And there is one huge detail that Cosby and others find themselves overlooking: not all of his victims are white women. 

There are a number of black women, including famous black women like Beverly Johnson, who have come forward with stories of being victimized by Cosby. 

Yes. We live in a country where we are innocent until proven guilty. And in a rape culture, rape is one of the hardest crimes to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. We are always looking to somehow blame the victim and absolve the rapist because consent is an abhorrent concept to the imperial mind; and this is, in all ways, an imperial nation. 

Please keep in mind that over 50 women have come forward. 

OVER. 50. 

If there’s more than 50 who came forward, the statistics say that there’s probably more than 100 who didn’t. Now isn’t the time to hold onto myths and symbols. Now isn’t the time to give in to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. Now is the time to consider that Cosby’s sole black woman attorney quit, probably because she found her conscience. 

Now is not the time to be a fool. 

Now is the time to be a witness. 

(Son of Baldwin: To the tick-tock and you don’t stop. Writing for my life. And perhaps yours. Disturbing the peace in order to find it. No sleep ’til Crooklyn. Let’s get free. This piece originated in The Medium.com.)  Prepped for CityWatch buy Linda Abrams.


Trump Drunk: We Need an AA for the Trumpaholics

GELFAND’S WORLD--One person writing to the website Quora asks, "I love President Trump. Why don't people understand him?" Another questioner on the same site asks, "Why does CNN News lie about Trump?" It's all very strange. Those of us on the other side can't even keep up with the daily scandals, much less figure out why one-third of the country still supports the man. Why do they remain so loyal? 

Here are a few other such questions supplied by readers of the same site: 

Why do people think Donald Trump provides false statements, when they are actually true? 

Are there any news outlets that don't hate Trump? I’m not looking to cause controversy, I’m simply looking for some reliable (preferably non-biased) news outlets. I often find that the “credible” news outlets interpret his actions according to their own liberal bias. I don’t like conservative bias either, but news outlets tend to be mostly liberal. 

You've really got to wonder how Trump followers can hold to their slavish devotion, including the widespread misconception that the mainstream media somehow have a "liberal bias." What's biased about showing excerpts of Trump's latest speech? 

Perhaps there is an explanation, one in which we view Trump worship as akin to a neurotic fixation. How else to explain the continued support in the face of the hundreds of lies, the obvious mental laziness, the insensitivity to the real problems of real Americans? 

Perhaps there is an analogy in terms of mental problems. Think of alcoholics in recovery, who often say that they had to hit bottom before they were ready to attempt sobriety. Their symptom (drinking) is buttressed by all manner of psychological defenses. The condition goes on and on until the drinking causes so much pain in the person's life that withdrawal is seen as the only choice. 

Right now, Trump supporters are faced with an embarrassing situation, because the guy on their bumper stickers hasn't brought back the miners' jobs or negotiated improved trade agreements. Instead, he's committed one faux pas after another, yet they don't seem to be leaving him en masse. Here are some more comments from his supporters: 

Why do some Americans hate Trump when most of the people around the world seem to support him? 

Why is the western media anti-Trump? 

Will Democrats be mature and ask themselves if it's really worth impeaching Trump and hurting the country

Perhaps his biggest overreach as a politician came in his commencement address to the Coast Guard graduates. Graduation speeches can be corny or flattering, but you usually don't expect the invited speaker to wallow in self pity. When it comes to a military academy graduation, the least you can do is to avoid insulting the audience directly. Another fail. 

A hundred years ago, the budding field of psychoanalysis postulated that neurotic symptoms covered up deep conflicts. Since giving up on the symptoms (hysterical paralysis, say) would force the patient to deal with the underlying conflict, the patients would defend their symptoms desperately against therapeutic intervention. 

In the modern day, the old psychoanalytic approach is being modified by increasing knowledge about the brain and its chemistry. But perhaps that Freudian view of the mind, as much as it may no longer describe thought precisely, is a pretty good description for the current state of conservative politics. 

How else can you explain the slavish devotion to Donald Trump that is defended by his supporters against all fact, reason, and public display? Even the smallest level of intellectual honesty would demand a certain amount of disappointment. There must be a lot of emotional attachment to conservative thought among Trump voters. How else to explain the Quora questions listed above? 

Consider that the president just blabbed super secret material to the Russian ambassador (and it probably damaged the war against ISIS), that the president is using his office to make money using his hotel chain, and that presidential appointments are a complete freak show. How do you defend those scandals? 

In fact, we are caught up in a maelstrom where we have so many scandals that we can't keep up with them. In the past week alone, there have been at least three revelations that would have taken over the news for months in any previous administration. Referring to the former FBI chief as a "nutjob" is just one more data point in the Trump record.

It's long since time that liberals defend liberalism and go on the attack against the rants against media bias. We should ask why something is perceived to be biased when it is a simple statement of fact. And here's another one: Political correctness? Hell yes if we are simply responding to overt racism. It's time we all got on that train. 

In the meantime, we should be pointing out that continued defenses of Donald Trump as a leader or as a president are becoming more and more pathetic. How do you defend the indefensible? The explanation is that there must be a great deal of emotional need. Our political culture needs to move towards demanding real truth and real fairness, not the fake "balance" the right wing provides.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected]


Trump’s Islam Speech: Just as Bizarre as Everything Else He Does

INFORMED COMMENT--Trump’s speech on Islam, written by notorious Islamophobe Stephen Miller, who used to organize Orwellian “Two Minutes Hate” sessions against Muslims at Duke, is just as bizarre as everything else Trump does. 

Miller-Trump imply, as has become common in right wing American discourse, that Muslims have a peculiar problem inasmuch as they produce terrorists. What do they think the Ku Klux Klan is? I estimate that people of European Christian heritage polished off as many as 100 million persons in the 20th century and that Muslims may have killed 2-3 million. 

Trump seems to think that pumping $110 bn in new shiny weapons into a volatile Middle East will lead to peace! If there is any sure correlate of war, it is massive purchases by one regional power of new armaments. You have to use them while you have the advantage or your rivals also acquire them.

Trump managed to insult Islamic civilization by implying that the pre-Islamic civilizations in the region were better:

“Egypt was a thriving center of learning and achievement thousands of years before other parts of the world. The wonders of Giza, Luxor and Alexandria are proud monuments to that ancient heritage. All over the world, people dream of walking through the ruins of Petra in Jordan. Iraq was the cradle of civilization and is a land of natural beauty.”

This is sheer Orientalism, an allegation that Pharaonic Egypt, Nabatean Jordan and Sumerian and Babylonian Iraq were great civilizations but that once Islam came, they went downhill. Miller-Trump do not know about al-Azhar University in Egypt being among the oldest in the world (George Makdisi argued it was *the* oldest). They don’t know about Harun al-Rashid’s House of Wisdom where Greek philosophy was debated in Arabic by the Abbasid caliph and his court sages at a time when Charlemagne was trying to learn to scratch out his name. They don’t know about the Abbasid invention of algebra or of Omar Khayyam’s use of geometry to solve algebraic equations. The only compliment they give Islamic civilization is that Dubai and Riyadh have skyscrapers, which is surely the blind spot of a Realtor.

Miller-Trump sweep up national resistance movements like Hamas and Hezbollah with al-Qaeda! Neither of these would exist if the Israelis hadn’t a) expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes in 1948 and then come after millions of their descendants and militarily occupied them in 1967 and b) if the Israelis had not launched a brutal war of aggression on Lebanon in 1982 and attempted to occupy permanently 10% of Lebanese territory. The Shiites of south Lebanon *liked* the Israelis before 1978. The 1982 invasion killed 10,000-20,000 people and involved indiscriminate artillery barrages and aerial bombing of Beirut, which Usama bin Laden alleged helped inspire him to destroy some American skyscrapers.

Designating Hezbollah a terrorist organization but not doing so to the armed Israeli squatters who routinely attack Palestinians in their own homes is typical of everything that is wrong with US policy in the region. Attacking civilians is always wrong (and is cowardly). But Hezbollah in 1984-2000 mainly attacked other soldiers, who were illegally occupying Lebanese Shiite land.

As for Yemen’s Houthis, they are not a creature of Iran, which has relatively little to do with them. They are rural Zaydi Shiites who resented Saudi attempts to proselytize them, marginalize them, and make them Wahhabis. You’ll never have peace in Yemen as long as you don’t recognize legitimate Zaydi interests.

For Trump to attack Iran, which just had a popular election where the electorate bucked the choice of the Leader, from Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where the populace have no rights, is weird.

The American Right is deeply implicated in radicalizing Muslims. Afghan Islam was radicalized by the Reagan jihad against the Soviet Union. Eisenhower and Reagan both attempted to enlist Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism against Communism. Most Palestinians were secular or mainstream until the Israelis cultivated Hamas as an alternative to the PLO.

Trump wants to site a center for combating extremist ideology in Saudi Arabia! The Wahhabi form of Islam practiced in that country encourages extremist ideology! The Saudis took the practice of takfir or excommunicating Sunnis and Shiites to the next level. In the 19th century they even excommunicated the Ottoman Emperor!

If the Saudis want to combat extremism, they have to formally abjure this unfortunate heritage of Wahhabism and roundly condemn the unilateral branding of people as non-Muslim when they maintain that they are Muslims. (In the Sunni and Shiite mainstream, takfir or excommunication of a Muslim is rare and disapproved).

Contemporary radical extremism in the Muslim world is founded on a few basic principles:

  1. takfir or the excommunication of other Muslims for being insufficiently puritanical, anti-democratic, anti-Western, etc.
  2. exalting holy war or “jihad” as they understand the word (it does not mean holy war but merely struggle for the faith in the Qur’an) to a basic pillar of the religion.
  3. Willingness to commit suicide to blow other people up. Suicide is forbidden in mainstream Islam just as it is in Catholicism.

Saudi Arabia has to condemn all three– excommunication, the militarization of jihad, and homicidal self-sacrifice.

So Miller-Trump are barking up entirely the wrong tree here, as you would expect from completely ignorant people sticking their bare hands into about 50 bee hives.

Then they condemn Iranian intervention in Syria but don’t mention that Saudi Arabia backed the radical terrorist group Jaysh al-Islam that had genocide against Syria’s Shiites on their minds.  Nor do they admit that without Hezbollah, Homs would have fallen to al-Qaeda in Syria (which the US has tacitly supported; yes) and could have been used to cut off Damascus to resupply.

Any fair-minded and knowledgeable person in the Middle East would read this speech as a farrago of Orientalist prejudice against Muslims, coddling of Wahhabis, slamming of Shiites, and continued rank unfairness toward the Palestinians in favor of holding the Israelis completely blameless for their massive ethnic cleansing campaigns, which are ongoing.

That terrorism can be addressed by vague words and by failing to address the underlying social causes is a non-starter. That war and violence can be tamped down by unfairly taking one side in a sectarian struggle or by flooding massive new arsenals into the region are the pipedreams of bigots who cannot face their own bigotry.

(Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. He has written extensively on modern Islamic movements in Egypt, the Persian Gulf and South Asia. This post originally ran on Juan Cole’s website.)


Reviving Israeli-Palestinian Talks Now Will Go Nowhere

MIDDLE EAST WATCH-President Trump’s upcoming visit to Israel and Palestine -- during which he hopes to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- will go nowhere unless he fully understands the complexity of the conflict and why previous attempts by successive American administrations to negotiate a peace deal have failed. Recently, he stated that “I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians. There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- none whatsoever.” Trump’s over-simplification of the conflict suggests he has no clue about what it would take to make peace and why the mere resumption of peace talks is dead on arrival.

There are three major impediments to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that must largely be mitigated before the resumption of any negotiations: a) there is profound distrust of the other; b) both sides have a deep sense of mutual insecurity; and c) illusions are held by powerful extremist constituencies on both sides that seek to deny the other a state of their own and who believe they can have all. This is where the process of reconciliation must begin, and Trump can make a significant contribution to peace if he can persuade both sides to begin such a process to alleviate the three impediments.

Distrust: The pervasive and mutual distrust cannot be assuaged through negotiation, nor dispelled by simply agreeing to begin to trust one another -- it is a process that must be nurtured. Distrust remains one of the most daunting problems that continues to haunt both sides and has become engrained in the minds of nearly every Israeli and Palestinian, as neither has made any effort to mitigate it. On the contrary, they have and continue to engage in hostile public narratives and take demonstrable actions on the ground in ways that only deepen distrust.

Continuing distrust has created a dogmatic attitude of stubbornness and reinforced assumptions about each other’s true intentions. The absence of trust has also led to social paralysis and the loss of hope while evoking fear, a deep sense of uncertainty, and the inability to foster social bonds. Thus, this absence has sunk too deep to be simply rectified at the negotiating table. Both sides have become suspicious of every action, however well-intended, taken by the other as mutual skepticism deepens the sense of futility in making any concession.

For these reasons, Trump should not simply urge both sides to renew the negotiations. Instead, he should beseech them to engage one another by taking mutual conciliatory measures to cultivate trust. Only then will they view one another as partners worthy of being trusted, which is fundamental to the resumption of peace negotiations with the confidence that they would succeed.

To that end, Trump should among other things pressure Netanyahu to halt the expansion and legalization of illegal settlements, release some Palestinian prisoners, provide building permits with minimal restrictions, make it easier for Palestinians to conduct business deals in Israel, allow a greater number of Palestinians to work in Israel, and declare that Israel is prepared to discuss all conflicting issues between the two sides.

Likewise, Trump should pressure the Palestinian Authority to end all incitement, refrain from public acrimony against Israel, condemn all acts of violence, speak openly about the need to make some painful concessions, seek genuine reconciliation with Hamas, and – with the US’ help – induce it to join the Arab fold by embracing the Arab Peace Initiative. Finally, Trump should appeal to the leaders on both sides to engage with one another on a regular basis to foster personal chemistry and personal trust.

In addition, both sides should undertake several people-to-people measures, including: facilitating tourism in both directions, emboldening women activism, supporting student interactions, providing Palestinian youth opportunities to study at Israeli universities, embarking on joint sport activities, and exchanging art exhibitions -- all of which are central to inculcating trusting, neighborly relations.

National security: There is a current state of fear and anxiety for the future experienced by both sides, which is constantly fed by a deep sense of national insecurity. This concern is largely informed by past experiences.

Notwithstanding its formidable military prowess, Israel has and continues to feel vulnerable due to random shellings, acts of terrorism, and other types of extreme violence such as stabbings and car rammings. This sense of insecurity became the state’s mantra, often prompting Israel to take disproportionate measures against the Palestinians.

For the Palestinians, Israel’s formidable military power and the knowledge that they cannot overwhelm it instills a deep sense of insecurity, which is often reinforced by fear of night raids, home demolitions, loss of territory, and administrative detention, among others. The fact that Israel can take these measures at will has further intensified the deep sense of vulnerability among the Palestinians.

To allay this sense of mutual insecurity, Trump should insist that both sides take concrete measures to stop violence, condemn it when it occurs, and work together to demonstrate their commitment and sensitivity toward each other’s national security concerns. Moreover, both should fully coordinate and collaborate on all internal security matters, share intelligence, and work closely to preempt any planned acts of violence by extremists on either side.

Illusions: Both sides have a very powerful and widely influential constituency that still believes they can have it all. In Israel, parties such as Jewish Home (HaBayit HaYehudi), which is led by Naftali Bennett and is part of the coalition government, publicly call for the annexation of much of the West Bank because they believe the Jews have an inherent right to the whole “land of Israel.”

On the Palestinians’ side, Hamas (notwithstanding their occasional declaration that they will accept a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders) insists that all of mandated Palestine, including Israel, is Palestinian territory, and at best they would tolerate the Jews to live under Palestinian rule.

Both sides have been living with these illusions and are imbued with a zero-sum approach. Unfortunately, their leaderships have done little but propagate these beliefs. Israel’s illusions have served to create the logic for the continuing occupation, and Palestinian extremists cling to their illusions just as blindly as the Israelis, which leads to resistance to and fear of change. This has contributed to making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both chronic and intractable.

To disabuse both sides of these illusions that either can have it all, Trump must make it abundantly clear to both sides that the U.S. can help facilitate an agreement at a later date only when both sides accept these three unmitigated facts: a) neither can have it all; b) coexistence is not one of many options, but the only option; and c) the conflict will end only on the basis of a two-state solution.

Trump must understand that the success of future peace talks rest entirely on addressing the above three obstacles through a process of reconciliation, and that the best thing that the U.S. can do at this juncture is initiate a reconciliatory process and play the role of a mediator while monitoring both sides to ensure that they live up to these requirements.

I personally do not believe that Netanyahu will allow the creation of a Palestinian state under his watch, nor would Abbas be able to make the necessary concessions and survive politically, nor would Trump’s “magical negotiating skills” produce any significant breakthrough.

That said, this process of reconciliation remains crucial under any circumstance to pave the way for a future new Israeli government and Palestinian Authority to pursue peace on a solid foundation.

(Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies and is a contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

The Hidden Bombshell in the Comey-Trump Story

OTHER WORDS--How can you tell an authoritarian when you see one? We know the 20th century hallmarks — brown shirts, street rallies, and the like. But there’s an autocratic attitude, some historians suggest, that can easily be traced across the centuries.

To put it simply, New York University professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat told Democracy Now recently, “authoritarians believe that institutions should serve them, and not the other way around.”

Just ask Jim Comey — who, as recently as October, might’ve been Donald Trump’s favorite person.

Less than two weeks before the November vote, the now-former FBI director announced that he was reopening an investigation into one of Trump’s favorite subjects: Hillary Clinton’s emails. For that, Trump praised Comey’s “guts,” while Clinton now blames Comey’s announcement for costing her the election.

Trump seemed happy to accept that help. But in a twist, Comey also found the guts to investigate whether Trump accepted help from the Russians, too. For that, he was fired this month. “This Russia thing” was “a made-up story,” Trump complained by way of explanation.

All that’s explosive enough. Even more so was a subsequent revelation: That Trump had called on Comey to “let go” of an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser who’d been ousted for lying about his own contacts with the Russians. 

That little bombshell is now headline news all over. But buried in the New York Times story about that memo was another, less noticed bomblet: “Alone in the Oval Office,” the paper reported, Trump said “Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information.”

That’s right: In addition to asking Comey to stop investigating his friend Flynn, the president called on the FBI director to arrest journalists who published things Trump found unflattering. Perhaps including stories like this one.

Was this an impulsive request? Not likely. In fact, the administration appears to have been laying the groundwork for this for some time.

Take WikiLeaks. Trump once said he “loved” the group for publishing leaked Clinton campaign emails. But then it earned the White House’s enmity by also publishing details about CIA hacking.

Trump’s CIA director has since described WikiLeaks as “a hostile foreign intelligence service” and warned that “America’s First Amendment freedoms” will not “shield them from justice.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions is now trying to bring a case against the group’s founder, Julian Assange.

While leaking classified information may be a crime, publishing it most certainly isn’t — that’s been protected by the Supreme Court since the early 1970s. In this respect, any charges brought against WikiLeaks could equally be brought against virtually every newspaper and TV station in the country.

Which, by all appearances, is the idea. When CNN asked if the WikiLeaks case could lead to charges against other outlets, Sessions didn’t bother to deny it.

Of course, this is all under the auspices of a candidate who called journalists “lying, disgusting people” and even wondered aloud about whether he’d kill them as president. (He ultimately said no, but seemed reluctant.) And it’s the same White House that wants to sue journalists whose reporting it disputes.

But consider that Michael S. Schmidt, the Times reporter who broke the Comey memo story, happens to be the very same person who reported on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Has anyone benefited more from that reporting than Trump?

It all depends on the headlines that come next, apparently.

They’ve surely been spotty about it, but in a democracy public institutions — from law enforcement to the free press — are supposed to serve the public, not the president. If Trump can’t accept that, maybe he’s the one who should be fired.

(Peter Certo is the editorial manager of the Institute for Policy Studies and the editor of OtherWords.org


The Post-Trump Era?

GUEST WORDS--On be careful about what you you wish for, Henwood warns that while Vice President Mike Pence "might not be able to overcome his party’s internal divisions [he would] probably could do a better job than Trump, and every day would not be a circus as it is now." (Photo: John Sommers II/Reuters)

How much longer can this go on? As I write this, PredictIt gives 71/29 odds that Trump will last the year, but it’s mighty tempting to buy the “no”—especially after the revelation that he asked Comey to shut down the Flynn investigation. (Disclosure alert: I bought 100 shares of “no” at $0.28.)

What is the endgame of the people, mostly Democrats, pounding the drums most heavily? Do they want to impeach Trump, which seems a long shot given Republican control of Congress? Do they want to bruise his weak ego so badly that he resigns? Clearly the job is much harder than he ever imagined—and, by the way, what reasonably sentient person over the age of 8 ever thought the presidency wasn’t grindingly hard? But he also wants adulation, not the relentless volleys of shit he’s gotten. It’s not impossible to imagine him just walking offstage, especially if his legal situation gets seriously dicey.

What then? President Pence? If Pence were president, the entire Republican dream agenda would sail through Congress in like three weeks. Pence spent a dozen years in Congress (Tea Party branch) and four years as governor of Indiana; he’s an appalling figure but he knows how things work. He might not be able to overcome his party’s internal divisions, but he probably could do a better job than Trump, and every day would not be a circus as it is now.

"President Pence? If Pence were president, the entire Republican dream agenda would sail through Congress in like three weeks."

Pence is a horror—fiscal sadist, misogynist, homophobe, lover of the carceral state. He’s repeatedly described himself as “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order,” though given today’s modern GOP, it’s not clear there’s much of a difference among these features. (He should have said he’s a reactionary Christian; there are plenty of other kinds.) He’s a creationist who rejects climate change, thinks stem cell research is “obsolete,” and once actually said that “smoking doesn’t kill.” His anti-abortion law was the most extreme in the country. His cuts to Planned Parenthood led to a rural HIV epidemic. Like Sessions, Pence is a maximalist on drugs, including weed. He’s hot to privatize Social Security. He likened the Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare to 9/11.

Should Trump get pushed out, the orchestrated campaign of healing would be painful. It’s not far-fetched to imagine leading Democrats channelling Gerald Ford’s “our long national nightmare is over.” There would be something of what Wall Street calls a “relief rally” on the transition, and it would perversely grease the way for Pence to make the U.S. more like the Indiana he left behind. We should be fighting to keep him in office, as fatally damaged goods.

Several things seem to be driving this campaign to squeeze Trump out, aside from the obvious fact he’s an unstable ignoramus. Dems still can’t get over the fact that they lost to the most unpopular candidate in the history of polling, but instead of blaming their own terrible candidate (the second-most unpopular candidate in the history of polling) and the slavers’ legacy, the Electoral College, they want to blame Russia. (Time was they blamed Comey too—remember when Paul Krugman said that “Comey and Putin installed a crazy, vindictive can’t-handle-the-truth person in the White House”? But he’s since been rehabilitated.)

But that’s not all: a large part of the political class (Hillary prominent among them, along with John McCain), the security establishment, and their contract-hungry patrons in the military–industrial complex all want desperately to make Russia the enemy, and are reviving zombie tropes from the Cold War to promote their cause. Trump may well have friends in the Russian mob, but his resistance to elite hostility towards the country is one of the few non-awful things about him.

It’s been stunning to watch liberals cheering on the security state’s war-by-leak against Trump. He’s odious, but he is the legally elected president—under an absurd electoral system, but that’s the one we’ve got. (Makes you wonder what they would have done to Sanders, if by some unimaginable fluke he’d won.) And yet we’ve seen months of praise for the CIA and the FBI as the magic bullets who could deliver us from the short-fingered vulgarian.

The defenses of the CIA began with Trump’s disparaging remarks about the Agency before taking office, which were taken as near-blasphemous. For an amateur like Trump, such attacks were extremely risky. In early January, Chuck Schumer presciently warned (on the Maddow Show, of course): “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community—they have six ways from Sunday of getting back at you.” You’d almost think that he knew what would come next: an endless series of leaks portraying Trump as Putin’s towel boy and, as an extra-special bonus, a pervert (the piss tape)—all applauded by liberals, with little regard for the CIA’s 70-year history of lying, assassination, and coups.

Then came the Comey firing, and suddenly the FBI was a noble organization as well. It’s far from that, and has always been. As Mark Ames reports in his little history of the Bureau, it has no legal charter; Congress didn’t want to authorize a secret police so Teddy Roosevelt created it by executive fiat. Much of the Bureau’s history has been about persecuting communists—and gay people—and smearing its enemies. It spent the 1960s and early 1970s trying to ruin Martin Luther King, the Black Panthers, and and the New Left. In other words, it’s been political from the very first, and all these current worries about “politicizing” the FBI are Grade A bullshit.

Which brings us back to the endgame issue. Democrats look to be extending the strategy of their failed 2016 campaign by being the not-Trump and nothing more—it’s all they’ve got. They are making no visible effort to come up with an appealing agenda as an alternative to the deeply unpopular one the GOP has on offer. In fact, they’re annoyed at Bernie Sanders for trying to get the party to talk about policy, which is somehow seen as an act of narcissism in the Beltway worldview:

But the senator, who’ll be 79 the next time the New Hampshire primary rolls around, is continuing to put himself at the center of the conversation. He’s introduced a Medicare-for-all bill this week that he hopes will force others to sign on.

Imagine that! Pushing a bill to expand health insurance coverage at a moment when Republicans are trying to take it away. The ego of that man.

The party’s strategy can’t be counted a success on conventional measures; Gallup reports that the Dems have lost 5 approval points since November, leaving the two parties with near-identical approval ratings (D: 40%, R: 39%).

During the early days of the Trump administration, it seemed like a serious left opposition might take form. That‘s a hazy memory now that so many liberals and even leftists are taking dictation from the security state and throwing around words like “treason.” We can do better than this, can’t we?

(Doug Henwood edits the  Left Business Observer, a newsletter he founded in 1986, He also hosts Behind the News, a weekly radio show covering economics and politics on KPFA, Berkeley. His book Wall Street is now available for free download here


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