Thursday, March 2, 2017

Trump and His Obscene War Machine

The U.S. spends billions on un-winnable wars, sacrificing our safety.

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By Vijay Prashad

A month into his presidency, Donald Trump announced that he would increase US military spending by $54 billion. To do this, Trump said that he would cut the exact amount from the non-military, namely social, programs. The announcement came at the National Governor’s Association, which is made up of state leaders who have to bear the brunt of the federal cuts.
Money for homelessness and poverty, starvation and drug addiction will dry up, leaving state authorities with the paralytic duty of watching more and more of their residents wake up to the American nightmare. This is the old ‘guns vs. butter’ scenario taught to young students in elementary economics classes. If economics is a matter of choices over scare resources, and if budgets are a way to project your values, then Trump has made his views clear – guns matter more than butter.
The ‘guns vs. butter’ problem is not idle. The National Priorities Project looked at the $54 billion budgetary increase to the military and concluded that this increase itself is more than the discretionary budgets of the following US federal government agencies:
Department of Homeland Security ($48 billion).
Housing and Urban Development ($38 billion).
Department of Energy ($30 billion).
Department of Justice ($29 billion).
Department of State ($29 billion).
Environmental Protection Agency ($8 billion).
It is truly stunning to see the amount of public resources spent on the US armed forces as compared to what it spends on diplomacy and even on homeland security. Trump has said he would cut programs such as the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to fund the increase. The total outlay for these three agencies is $781 million. It is the cost of ten MV-22 Ospreys, one of which – at the cost of $75 million – had to be destroyed during Trump’s ill-fated Yemen raid this January.
The United States already leads the world in military spending. At around $600 billion per year, which is half the US discretionary budget, the United States spends more than the combined military budgets of the next seven countries. That means if you add the total military spending for China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, the United Kingdom, India, France and Japan, then you are still a few billion dollars short of the US military budget. It is appropriate to mention that Trump’s increase in the military budget – by $54 billion – is itself eighty per cent of the total Russian military budget.
The scale of military spending is beyond obscene. Each Tomahawk Cruise Missile that the US sends into Syria or Iraq costs $1.41 million. The cost of the US bombing in Syria from August 2014 to January 2017 has been $11.4 billion – with an average daily cost of $12.7 million. More money has been spent bombing Iraq and Syria than is spent for environmental protection. No other country comes close in terms of expenditure on the military, in terms of the hardware available to the military and in terms of the global reach of the military as a result of aircraft carriers and overseas bases. There is no question that the United States military is the most destructive force on the earth.
We Never Win a War
But of course having the most deadly military does not mean that you can win wars. Wistfully Trump told the governors that in his youth the United States used to win wars. ‘When I was young, in high school and in college, everybody used to say we never lost a war. America never lost,’ whispered Trump. ‘Now,’ he said mournfully, ‘we never win a war.’ Trump’s sense of history is very poor. But it is of a piece with his general ideology – to Make America Great Again. It was once great. It is no longer great. But was America really able to once win wars?
Born in 1946, Trump was in high school when the war on the Korean peninsula went into a stalemate. The United States did not win that war. The armistice of 1953 merely divided the country. There is still no final peace settlement. In fact, the war is technically ongoing. There are 83 American bases in South Korea, and the bill for these installations is over $1 billion per year (South Korea pays an additional $867 million, about forty per cent of the cost).
When Trump was in college, the United States entered Vietnam, where it would leave in ignominy in 1975. No real wars have been won by the United States in Trump’s lifetime. Even World War II was not won solely by the United States. The Soviet Union’s immense sacrifices on the eastern front and the colonial troops valiant battle across North Africa, South-East Asia and Europe should not be underestimated. The ‘Greatest Generation’ is not only American. That is a grotesquely narrow view of World War II. Trump is right, however, that the United States does not win wars – neither in Afghanistan nor in Iraq.
Trump believes that the United States has not won the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq because of a lack of funding for the military and because of too many human rights restrictions on the nature of combat. But perhaps the American problem in combat has got nothing to do with money or rules – for, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the US far outspent its opposition and it did not follow international norms of war or its own Army Code of Conduct. Massive aerial superiority combined with regimes of torture and night-raids did not win any of these wars.
What Trump does not acknowledge is that wars are not won by firepower and brutality alone, but they are won by being able to make a moral claim against an adversary. Thus far, the United States has fought wars of conquest and occupation – where the moral superiority of the occupier is impossible to establish. It was so hard that in 2002 even a US marine told me that he sympathized with the Afghans – ‘if someone invades my city,’ he said, ‘I’d take up arms and fight a guerrilla war.’ The illegitimacy of the wars is not something that occurs to people like Trump. You will win battles with better weaponry, but you won’t win wars that way. Wars are won on the moral plane, not on the battlefield.
As the UN resolution on decolonization noted in 1960, ‘The process of liberation is irresistible and irreversible.’ You can have the best guns, but you can’t destroy the human longing for freedom.
Strikingly, it does not occur to the liberals either. During his speech to Congress, Trump singled out Carryn Owens, the widow of US Navy Special Operator Ryan Owens, who died in Trump’s Yemen raid in the village of Yakla. After the speech, Van Jones, CNN analyst and a former Special Advisor to Barack Obama, said, ‘That was one of the most extraordinary moments in American politics. Period.’ There was no room for Jones to mention the illegitimacy of the US role in Yemen. The US provides arms to the Saudis who are bombing one side of the conflict in Yemen. The Saudis are also effectively using al-Qaeda fighters in parts of Yemen as their ground forces. At the same time as the US is indirectly supporting al-Qaeda via Saudi Arabia, it conducts a raid into a village in late January and massacres dozens of civilians (for more context, see my column from February 8).
Yemen’s foreign minister – Abdul Malik al-Mekhlafi – of the Saudi (and US) backed Yemeni government condemned the US attack on Yakla as ‘extrajudicial killings.’ There was no mention by establishment liberals such as Van Jones of the illegal nature of the raid. Nor did he demand a ‘Benghazi-scale’ investigation of the Yakla raid. Nor did he condemn the way Trump used the death of Ryan Owen to bolster his desire to increase military spending. None of that was on offer. Establishment liberals are as complicit as the Trump administration in such atrocities as the killing of civilians and the inhumane expenditure on military hardware rather than social goods.
The ‘military industrial complex’ has metastasized into each section of the US government, into each Congressional district. It is like Stage 4 cancer – rigid to the bones of American institutions. The obscenity of it cannot be questioned because of the fog of patriotism. To be a patriot is measured not based on your commitment to end hunger and illiteracy amongst your people. Rather it is measured based on your commitment to give your people a gun in their hands and to make sure your military is funded beyond imagination. Countries are hollowed out by such poor distribution of their resources and by imperial wars that can never be won.

Is Recusal Necessary? Trump: "I Don't Think So." Then Sessions Recuses Himself.

Like his former national security advisor Michale Flynn and despite widespread calls for resignation, president affirms "total confidence" in Attorney General Jeff Sessions

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Responding to growing pressure both from his colleagues and the public at large, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that he is recusing himself from federal investigations into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.  

Though he continued to deny the accusation that he lied under oath as "totally false," Sessions said he spoke with his staff and they recommended recusal. "They said that, since I had involvement with the campaign, I should not be part of any campaign investigation," Sessions said.

"This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation," he added.
While members of his staff may have recommended the move, it appears as though Sessions' boss, President Donald Trump, thought the recusal was wholly unnecessary.

Asked by reporters on Thursday afternoon if Sessions should submit to the demands for recusal, Trump answered, "I don't think so at all." And repeated, "I don't think so at all."

Trump said he had "total confidence" in his Attorney General and when asked by another reporter if and when he was aware that Sessions had spoken to Russia's ambassador, Trump replied, "I wasn't aware at all."

On First Day in Office, Zinke Axes Rule Protecting Wildlife from Lead Poisoning

After he rode to work on a horse

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On his first full day in office Thursday, newly-confirmed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rode a horse to work and proceeded to repeal a rule that protected plants and animals from lead poisoning.

The former Montana congressman's order (pdf) overturned a policy put into place by former Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) director Dan Ashe on January 19, before the Obama administration left office, that banned the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle in FWS wildlife refuges and other federal lands that allow hunting or fishing.

He also signed a separate order asking other agencies under his purview to come up with ways to make federal lands more accessible for recreational use, saying it "worries" him to think about hunting and fishing becoming a sport of the "land-owning elite."

According to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), spent lead ammunition causes poisoning in 130 species of birds and animals, and hundreds of reports have been written about the dangers of lead exposure to wildlife. The center said Zinke's swift action repealing the ban came in response to pressure from the National Rifle Association (NRA), which spent $30 million on ads promoting President Donald Trump's election.

"Switching to nontoxic ammunition should be a no-brainer to save the lives of thousands birds and other wildlife, prevent hunters and their families from being exposed to toxic lead, and protect our water," said Jonathan Evans, CBD's environmental health legal director.

"It's ironic that one of the first actions by Secretary Zinke, who fancies himself a champion of hunters and anglers, leads to poisoning of game and waterfowl eaten by those same hunting families," said Evans. "It's another sad day for public health and wildlife under the Trump presidency when special interests again prevail over common-sense environmental safeguards."

Zinke's gung-ho start to his first day in office comes after environmental groups expressed outrage over his confirmation on Wednesday, describing the former congressman from Montana as a "foe of endangered species" and warning that his voting record shows he "couldn't care less about our wildlife, climate, or public lands."
Indeed, Zinke has voted against endangered species protections 100 percent of the time and has taken donations from the fossil fuel industry. Ahead of the confirmation vote in February, 170 environmental organizations sent a letter to the Senate urging them to reject him.

"Zinke is another climate science-denier with ties to Big Oil who won't lift a finger for real climate action. His agenda will put communities in danger and, if the coal moratorium is lifted, would spell disaster for the climate," said May Boeve, executive director of the climate group, in response to his confirmation.
The horse was named Tonto.

Trump transition team canceled ethics training session

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By Dan Merica

President Donald Trump's transition team, days before he took office, nixed plans for an orientation class that would have prepared political appointees and White House staff for a series of ethical and legal issues, documents provided to CNN show.
The ethics program proposed by the General Services Administration would have helped White House staff and political appointees get through Senate confirmation hearings, work with Congress and corresponding agencies and comply with laws and executive orders -- all issues Trump nominees and staff have confronted during their first six weeks in office.
    The Trump administration said Thursday that the White House Counsel's office did provide political appointees and executive branch staff ethics training when they came into office.
    "Required trainings, including ethics, were provided to appointees by in-house counsels prior to assuming office," said Stephanie Grisham, a White House spokeswoman. "It was a requirement for everyone. In-house counsel has been taking it very seriously from the beginning."
    Grisham noted that White House Counsel Don McGahn "ramped up an experienced compliance team" in the early days of the Trump administration so that "all necessary training could be provided without paying for outside contractors."
    But the General Services Administration had solicited contracts for the eventually scrapped ethics training in a "request for quote" letter that went out on November 4, 2016, days before Election Day. The letter asked suppliers to provide three phases of training to roughly 4,000 attendees.
    "It is intended to start at the top and extend throughout the Federal Government, establishing the tone and culture of collaboration and accountability for the President's Administration," read the request.
    Similar programs had been implemented by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama's transition teams.
    The request for service said the Trump administration wanted to "acquaint key prospective presidential appointees with the types of problems and challenges that most typically confront new political appointees when they make the transition from campaign and other prior activities to assuming the responsibility of governance after inauguration."
    In total, the program was slated to cost $1 million.
    But days before Trump was inaugurated, on January 11, 2017, Matthew Gormley, the contracting officer for the General Services Administration, told those interested in the contract that the program was canceled.
    "It has been determined that the requirements as defined in the RFQ do not accurately reflect the current needs of the Presidential Transition Team and, consequently, it is in the government's best interest to cancel the solicitation," Gormley wrote.
    The Trump administration has been embarrassed by a number of high-profile vetting issues. Former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn was forced to resign after it became clear that he misled Vice President Mike Pence, former Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder withdrew his nomination after a series of damaging stories and missteps and a number of lower level staffers have been dismissed after failing to clear background checks.

    A Trump associate's double life: 'Building Trump Towers by day and hunting Bin Laden by night'

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    By  and 

    Working from a 24th-floor office in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, Felix Sater spent years trying to line up lucrative deals in the United States, Russia and elsewhere in Europe with Donald Trump’s real estate organization.
    For much of that time, according to court records and U.S. officials, Sater also worked as a confidential informant for the FBI, and — he says — U.S. intelligence.
    “I was building Trump Towers by day and hunting Bin Laden by night,” Sater, now 50, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview from New York.
    As managing director of Bayrock Group LLC, a real estate development firm, the Russian-born businessman met Trump in 2003, court records show, when Trump was looking to expand his business and branding organization around the globe.
    Although few projects were built, Sater worked on hotel and condominium deals with the Trump Organization through 2010 in New York, Florida, Arizona, London, Moscow and elsewhere even as he secretly helped the FBI infiltrate and take down organized crime figures, according to court records.
    Trump has denied they were close, but Sater had access to Trump’s inner circle as recently as this year. 
    In January, Sater and Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, met in a New York hotel with a Ukrainian lawmaker who asked them to bring the White House a pro-Russian peace deal for Ukraine.
    “I was only trying to stop a war,” Sater said of his role linking the lawmaker, Andrei Artemenko, with Cohen.
    The New York Times, which first reported the meeting, quoted Cohen as saying he gave the envelope containing the proposal to Michael Flynn, then Trump’s national security advisor, but Cohen now denies delivering it.
    “I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn,” Cohen wrote in an email to the Los Angeles Times.
    The White House has “no record” of receiving the Ukraine peace proposal, according to spokesman Michael Short. He also said that “no one in the White House” had discussed the matter with Cohen.
    There is no question that Sater led a double life during the years he worked with the Trump Organization.
    In 1998, Sater pleaded guilty to a federal charge of racketeering for his role in a Mafia-linked $40-million stock fraud scheme. He quickly cut a deal, agreeing to become a secret FBI informant in hopes of getting a lenient sentence.
    Court records were sealed to protect Sater’s identity, so his role in the fraud case stayed secret for a decade while he was at Bayrock. After a court hearing in 2009, he was fined $25,000 but was not sent to prison or ordered to pay restitution.
    At his sentencing hearing, several FBI officials vouched for Sater’s help. He got his biggest endorsement in January 2015 when Loretta Lynch was asked at her Senate confirmation hearing for U.S. attorney general why court records had been sealed in the fraud case.
    Sater had secretly worked with federal prosecutors and the FBI for more than 10 years, “providing information crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra” — the Mafia — according to Lynch, who had served as U.S. attorney in the Eastern District in New York.
    Sater’s lawyer, Robert W. Wolf, gives his client more credit, saying he worked with “numerous U.S. national security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies.” Sater says he helped hunt “America’s greatest enemies” in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
    There is no independent verification of those assertions.
    Former CIA officials who worked in counter-terrorism and Russian affairs said they never heard of Sater and doubt his cloak-and-dagger claims of chasing down terrorists.
    “We should not take this guy’s statements at face value,” said Glenn Carle, a former CIA operations officer who retired in 2007. “There are all sorts of people who seek protection by wrapping themselves in the American and CIA flags.”
    A spokesman for the CIA declined to comment.
    Sater’s business history with Trump is well documented, however. 
    In their first deal, in November 2003, the Trump Organization and Bayrock announced plans to build a 19-story condominium tower and hotel complex in Phoenix.
    Residents who objected that the project was too large forced a citywide referendum to block construction, however. Trump pulled out in 2005, and the project was never built.
    The following year, Bayrock licensed Trump’s name and began construction of a 24-story hotel and condominium complex in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
    The project ran out of money and was hit by lawsuits and claims of fraud by buyers. Trump was dropped from the lawsuits after asserting he was not the developer and was not responsible for the problems.
    The Trump Organization and Bayrock developed the Trump Soho hotel in Lower Manhattan starting in 2006. Sater appeared with Trump at a launch party in September 2007.
    Sater left Bayrock the following year after news stories first revealed his criminal record.  He continued to work with the Trump Organization — he had business cards that called him a “special advisor” and kept his offices in Trump Tower — trying to put together real estate deals through 2010.
    Sater said he had signed several development deals with Trump’s company, including one for a Trump Tower in Moscow, but none were built.
    “We were looking to do deals in various capitals, in London, Paris — we had no special affinity for Moscow,” Sater said in the interview.
    Sater says he was still pitching deals to the Trump Organization in 2015. A lawyer for the Trump company did not return requests for comment.
    In a sworn deposition in 2013 in a civil suit, Trump said he barely knew Sater.
    “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump said.
    Short, the White House spokesman, declined to comment on Sater’s role as an FBI informant or on Trump’s relationship with him.
    Born in Russia, Sater grew up in Brighton Beach, a gritty Brooklyn neighborhood known for its large Russian community, after his father emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1972.
    Sater became a licensed stock broker, but he stabbed a man with a broken margarita glass during a bar fight in 1991. He was convicted of felony assault and served about a year in prison.
    During his years as an informant, Sater sometimes confided in his rabbi — who thought he was making up his exploits.
    “I thought perhaps he had watched too many James Bond movies and read one too many Tom Clancy novels,” Rabbi Shalom M. Paltiel said in a 2014 speech naming Sater “man of the year” for his service to his Chabad congregation on Long Island.
    Paltiel said Sater then invited him to a secret thank-you ceremony at a federal building in New York.
    “To my amazement I see dozens of U.S. intelligence officers, from all the various three-letter intelligence agencies of this country, including some I had never even known existed,” Paltiel said in a video posted by Sater. Their accounts were “more fantastic and more unbelievable than anything he’d been telling me.”
    Several lawsuits paint a less flattering portrait of Sater, however.
    In one, Ernest Mennes, an investor in the Phoenix project, sued Sater and Bayrock in Arizona Superior Court in 2007, alleging that they had skimmed an unspecified amount of money and that Sater had threatened to kill Mennes if he disclosed Sater’s criminal record.
    Sater angrily denied the allegation. “You think I’m doing Trump Towers [deals] and telling someone I would … cut their legs off? Are you crazy?” he said in the interview
    Bayrock settled the case for an undisclosed amount. In an interview, Mennes praised Sater, saying he “served the U.S. well” and was “a great partner.”

    Dreamer Arrested After Speaking To Media Will Be Deported Without Hearing, Attorney Says

    “ICE’s assertion that her detention is ‘routine’ is absurd and seems anything but,” one lawmaker said.

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    By Elise Foley, Dana Liebelson

    WASHINGTON ― A 22-year-old undocumented immigrant arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Jackson, Mississippi, on Wednesday after speaking to the media about her family’s detention is set to be deported without a court hearing, her attorney said on Thursday.
    Daniela Vargas, who came to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 7 years old, previously had a work permit and deportation reprieve under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Her DACA status expired last November, and because she was saving money for the renewal — which costs $495 — her new application wasn’t received until Feb. 10.
    On Wednesday, a spokesman for ICE said Vargas would go through court proceedings to determine whether she is eligible for some type of relief, adding that the agency would take no further action until those proceedings were completed.
    But Abby Peterson, Vargas’ attorney, said ICE agents told her on Thursday that they would instead pursue immediate deportation without a court hearing or bond because Vargas entered the country through the visa waiver program, which allows certain foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for under 90 days without a visa. (Argentina was previously part of the program, although it no longer is.) Individuals who use the visa waiver program have no right to a hearing or to contest their removal unless they are seeking asylum.
    Peterson argued that the facts of Vargas’ case should be considered, including that she received DACA relief and had reapplied to the program.
    “She was 7 years old at the time [she came to the U.S.],” Peterson said. “She didn’t waive those rights, her parents waived those rights. And now she’s an adult trying to assert her own rights.”
    An ICE spokesman said the agency has no additional comment on Vargas’ case and directed The Huffington Post to the statement it made on Wednesday.
    She was 7 years old at the time [she came to the U.S.]. She didn’t waive those rights, her parents waived those rights. And now she’s an adult trying to assert her own rights.Abby Peterson, attorney for Daniela Vargas
    Vargas’ father and brother were detained on their way to work on Feb. 15. After her father was apprehended in the driveway, Vargas hid in the house for hours until ICE agents came in with a warrant, wielding guns. Agents questioned Vargas about her DACA status — an ICE official claimed she said she had it — but let her go.
    When HuffPost emailed with her on Tuesday, Vargas — who was planning to go back to school to study to be a math professor — said she was moving around because she was “afraid to stay in one spot and be taken back to Argentina.”
    Vargas talked to news outlets about ICE picking up her brother and father, and on Wednesday, she appeared at a press conference about immigrants’ contributions to the community. She was pulled over and arrested by ICE after leaving the press conference that day.
    Vargas’ plight has drawn the attention of numerous immigration advocates, inspiring several social media hashtags — including #FreeDaniela. United We Dream, an immigrant rights group, also started a petition asking DHS Secretary John Kelly to grant her protection from deportation, which had received more than 11,000 signatures by Thursday
    Several lawmakers have raised questions about Vargas’ detention. “ICE’s assertion that her detention is ‘routine’ is absurd and seems anything but,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement on Thursday. “Those like Ms. Vargas just want a better life for themselves and their families.”
    Vargas is currently being held at an ICE detention facility in Louisiana. She asked Peterson to share her message that she wants a chance to contribute to the U.S. 
    “I strongly feel that I belong here and I strongly feel that I should be given a chance to be here and do something good and work in this economy,” Vargas said, according to Peterson, who recorded their conversation.
    “I’ve even tried to join the military, and I can’t do that. But, I mean that’s not the point, the whole point is that I would do anything for this country.”
    Read Vargas’ full comments on her detention below:
    I don’t understand why they don’t want me. I’m doing the best I can. I mean I can’t help that I was brought here but I don’t know anything else besides being here and I didn’t realize that until I was in a holding cell last night for 5 hours. I was brought here. I didn’t choose to be here. And when I was brought here, I had to learn a whole new country and leave behind the one that I did know. And I barely knew that one. I feel, I strongly feel that I belong here and I strongly feel that I should be given a chance to be here and do something good and work in this economy. There’s so much that I can bring to the table, so much, like I can even teach music, I’m an excellent trumpet player you can ask my mom about any of that.  I’m great with math, I speak Spanish. You know, there’s a lot of stuff that I can do for this country that they’re not allowing me to do. I’ve even tried to join the military, and I can’t do that. But, I mean that’s not the point, the whole point is that I would do anything for this country.

    Did Trump reverse an Obama order last month because he knew there would be a Sessions-Russia investigation?

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    On  Feb. 9,  the same day current Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn into office, Donald Trump quietly signed an executive order that effectively changed the line of succession within the Department of Justice, laying out who will succeed Sessions in the event he dies, resigns or otherwise becomes incapacitated.

    Trump’s order was a reversal of one signed a month prior by then-president Barack Obama. A week before leaving office, Obama authorized Executive Order 13762, “Providing an Order of Succession Within the Department of Justice.” That order inexplicably removed Obama appointee Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, from the DOJ line of succession. As USA Today reports, at the time Obama offered no justification for why he removed an attorney he appointed from the order of succession within the DOJ.
    Fast-forward to Jan. 30, less than two weeks after Trump took office, when the president dramatically fired Obama holdover Sally Yates as Acting Attorney General after she refused to defend Trump’s controversial (and ultimately futile) immigration ban. As Sessions had yet to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Trump was able to elevate whomever he pleased to take Yates’ place.
    If Boente’s name sounds familiar, that’s not surprising. In the wake of Yates’ ouster, Trump asked Boente to serve as Acting AG. The Virginia attorney was officially named Acting Attorney General on Feb. 9, the same day Sessions was sworn into office—and the same day Trump signed the executive order reversing Obama’s line of succession.
    On Thursday, Sessions announced he would recuse himself from any investigation into Russia’s involvement with the 2016 presidential election, after the Washington Postreported that he failed to disclose multiple meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during his confirmation hearing. As Politico’s Eric Geller reports, Boente will now take over “any election-related investigations.”
    News of Boente’s elevated role in the investigation comes after a New York Times report published Wednesday revealed that in the waning days of the Obama administration, the White House scrambled to disseminate information about Russia’s efforts to undermine the election, as well as potential ties between Trump associates and Russian officials. According to the Times, the Obama administration’s goal was two-fold: to make sure Russia never interfered in that capacity again, and to present a clear trail of evidence for investigators.
    Though officials told the Times that “none of the efforts were directed by” the former president, it reflects an unease the prior administration harbored regarding a possible connection between Moscow and Trump.
    In December, Obama ordered a full assessment of Russian influence in the 2016 election. The 17 agencies and offices that comprise the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia interfered in an effort to help elect Trump. The full extent of Russia’s interference—and the Trump campaign’s potential involvement—is currently under investigation; as the story continues to unfold, one thing is clear: Despite the administration’s claims to the contrary, there is a “there” there.

    ‘The fuse is lit’: Dan Rather says Trump-Russia scandal is about to go off like a bomb

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    Veteran CBS News anchor Dan Rather wrote on Facebook Thursday that the scandal over Pres. Donald Trump’s personal and political connections to the Russian government and those of his aides is like a bomb with a lit fuse.
    “Every once in a while in Washington, the fuse is lit for what seems to be a big scandal,” said Rather. “Much more rarely does that fuse lead to an explosion of the magnitude we are seeing with Russia and the new Administration, and frankly the Republicans in Congress.”
    With revelations that Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions apparently perjured himself regarding contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, another key Trump appointee appears to be on the verge of going down in flames like national security adviser Gen. Mike Flynn.
    Flynn resigned last month after wiretaps on Kislyak’s phone revealed that he and Flynn had multiple conversations prior to the president’s inauguration that Flynn later lied about to the public and to Vice President Mike Pence.
    “Sessions is but the latest person close to President Trump who seems to be ensnared in a story that is more worthy of Hollywood melodrama than the reality of the governance of our country. Democrats are calling for Sessions to resign, and this story could move very quickly,” said Rather on Facebook.
    He continued, “We are well past the time for any political niceties or benefits of the doubt. We need an independent and thorough investigation of Russia’s meddling in our democracy and its ties to the President and his allies. We don’t know what we don’t know.”
    “The press is doing an admirable job,” he wrote. “But there is only so much it can do without such things as subpoena powers. Let’s just make this clear. This is about a foreign and hostile power trying to influence our election while being in contact with close aides to the presidential campaign that the Kremlin wanted to win. Furthermore, there are serious questions about Mr Trump’s longstanding ties to Russian money and influence peddlers. We don’t know where this might go, but it isn’t going away.”

    What Really Scared Me About Trump's Speech

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    By Kelly Hayes

    I didn't watch Donald Trump's speech Tuesday night, not because I was skipping it in protest, but because I was otherwise engaged. I was on a panel at a bookstore in Chicago, discussing civil disobedience. I didn't really need to know the content of the speech to know my time would be better spent discussing activation and strategy, rather than drinking my way through another round of "Just How Doomed Are We?" I knew I would get the full rundown when I got home, and catch all the varying takes online in the morning because, well, that's part of my job. When I did get caught up, I didn't find much of the news surprising, but as any marginalized person can tell you, you don't have to be surprised by something to be frightened by it, and here's what scares me: Trump is upping his game, and we, as resisters, aren't ready.
    Some have raged against the praise Trump has received. I've seen many posts and tweets bristling at the notion that actually reading from a teleprompter, and thus not losing his way mid-sentence, made Trump more "presidential" than he's been in the past, but let's be real. It does. To acknowledge that, of course, we have to put aside some cultural illusions about what the word "presidential" means. As far as I can tell, most people say it with some nostalgia for presidents they thought were particularly respectable, or even honorable. But as anyone with a sense of history can tell you, there is nothing inherently elegant or admirable about the presidency.

    If you give the matter some thought, I'm sure you won't have to reach far for examples of presidents who don't match any lofty standard one might like to attach to "the leader of the free world" or the commander-in-chief of the US military. But truly, to have an honest conversation, we have to de-romanticize that office, and what it means for a man like Trump to sit in it. He is not the first president with conflicts of interest. He is not the first president with a racist, xenophobic, predatory agenda. And he has not yet begun to let loose the havoc that many before him have caused. Climate change and nuclear weapons give Trump more world-ending potential than most former presidents, but in a contest of character, well, let's just say that, be there a hell, Donald will no doubt run into at least a few of his predecessors in the Ninth Circle.
    But as we all (hopefully) know, merely acting "presidential" will win over a lot of people who are inclined to sit back and "give him a chance."

    People want to believe that they're safe, and that their system of government, albeit flawed, will never completely betray them. They want to believe that in spite of any conflict or tumult, the center will hold, and nothing extraordinarily awful will happen. And Tuesday night, they got a glimpse of the kind of consistency they've been longing for. A president, standing before a joint session of Congress, coherently reading from a teleprompter, and acknowledging the wife of a Navy Seal who was killed in action. Some characterized this act as exploitative -- and to be clear, it is -- but as Glenn Greenwald pointed out, that exploitation is also standard presidential behavior. Trump wasn't the first to invoke it, and if he doesn't manage to end the world as we know it, he won't be the last.

    Trump hit a number of standard notes, for a presidential address, and the praise that followed is relatively unsurprising. The media is fickle, and so is the public, and too often, neither is concerned with details.
    It shouldn't be easy to erase heinous policies that target marginalized people, just as it shouldn't be easy to erase the culture of hate that Trump's administration is cultivating, but we just saw a chilling demonstration of how distractible the public really is. Rather than talking about the substance of what Trump had to say, most focused on the style in which he said it.

    Now, let's think about what this means, moving forward.

    On Tuesday, Jeff Sessions announced that the federal government will lay off on civil rights investigations of police departments. As this news emerged on Twitter -- that the attorney general of the United States was tacitly cosigning police violence, including murders committed by police, the broader public conversation seemed fixed on Trump's presentation and presence. Even as Trump announced in his speech that he is creating a new office to track the crimes of immigrants, bringing to mind the Nazi propaganda tactic of publishing crimes committed by Jews, the conversation was centered on the feel of the speech, with more than one pundit saying that Trump truly became president Tuesday night.
    Sadly, Trump has been president since he was inaugurated, and people living in the margins have felt the violence of his administration since that time. I sincerely wish that there were something decidedly unpresidential about his vicious agenda, but there isn't. If there were, countless American atrocities never would have occurred.

    The initial stumbles of the administration, and Trump's general cluelessness, gave organizers a running start on the PR front, but that head start was never going to last. In his early weeks, the media didn't know what to make of the Trump administration. Trump's team was accused of being wickedly genius one week, and comically idiotic the next. And while it was my feeling, from the beginning, that Trump's crew had stumbled out of a clown car and into a space they didn't understand, I also knew that most of their setbacks would be temporary. I warned people, including myself, not to take comfort in Trump's cluelessness, or the cluelessness of his team, because they would get better at this. After all, they have no shortage of resources or advisers. Their ability to strategize was always going to have an upward trajectory.
    And here we are.

    The president spoke in complete sentences and praised a fallen soldier, and suddenly, for some people, the world isn't spinning out of control. This is the actual problem to address. Because, as much as I hate to say this loudly, we're not ready. We weren't ready when Trump got elected, and we're not ready now. These people have the full power of government behind them and they are laying out plans that end horribly for many of us. And yet, here we are, allowing establishment Democrats to call themselves "the resistance" and entertaining arguments about what failed candidate should have won and why.

    I don't want to imply that no one is gearing up. Some people are already throwing down hard, and effectively. In California, some faith groups are openly offering residential sanctuary to the undocumented. There are plenty of people out there who recognize that this is a time of severity that requires aggressive action. But without thorough cultivation, mass movement momentum will fade. That will happen here and now, if we don't strategically mobilize. I obviously don't have a playbook for victory here. No one does, because we are living in a unique historic moment, but in the interest of being productive, I do have some advice, based on my own analysis and experience.
    Get the names of failed candidates out of your mouths. Those fights are over, and the fights unfolding around us are life and death affairs. It isn't simply hubris to argue about Hillary and Bernie at this point. It's downright disrespectful to the people whose lives and rights we ought to be using our energies to defend.
    Arguing about the failure of your preferred candidate is not social justice work, and it will avail us nothing.

    Get your learn on. Most of what you've been told about past resistance movements is candy-coated garbage, generated by a system that doesn't want you to know how to adequately resist it. Most of us don't understand the past well enough to thoughtfully relate it to the present, and we bicker so much about the tactics being employed eight states away, or what ought to have happened eight months ago, that we are not learning fast enough, or building collective power fast enough. So start learning now. If you are interested in protest, find a direct action training in your area. Read up on varying tactics. Know the history of employing those tactics -- when they've worked, and when they haven't. Read up or get trained up in strategic campaign planning, to get a sense of how to structure the story you're telling. Because if you are trying to influence the public, you are telling a story, and it needs to be compelling and well thought out. There is an art to protest. Study it, and then live it.
    Stop policing what everyone else is doing. Becoming a full-time movement critic is the fastest way to lose track of what's in front of you, and it's fruitless. The goal is to have a mass movement, and if we get there, none of us will have any centralized control of tactics or messaging. That's the way of things. We will disagree a lot. That's fine. People tend to characterize movements of yesteryear as having had some level of unity that puts us all to shame, but the truth is, changemakers, throughout history, have often found each other insufferable. If you read deeply into most of the movements the public tends to romanticize, you will find a broad spectrum of opinions on tactics, respectability and long-term visions. These conflicts have always been with us in movement work, but the people who got things done knew when to face forward and focus on the task at hand. We can and must challenge each other.
    We can and must enact tactics that are transformational, as opposed to simply oppositional, but not everyone will line up with what everyone else has to say -- or what they choose to do -- and we are really going to need to learn to pick our battles. Please consider, we have not adequately begun to fight the real enemy, and we do not have the social infrastructure to protect and defend those who are in danger. Pick your battles, and prioritize. This is a time for triage, for preparation, for building relationships we didn't have before and approaching friends we haven't met yet. And if you are not spending a lot more time learning, healing and building than you are talking smack about other leftists, you are not helping us move forward.
    Moving forward is a matter of survival for some of us, so I would appreciate it if we could get a move on.
    Build culture and community. We need community spaces where we can learn history and tactics together. We need to break bread together. We need to get close enough to one another to understand that, whatever divides us, we have more in common with each other than we do with those who now govern us. Movements must be grounded in culture, community and action. There is resistance work going on in this country. But is there a broader culture of resistance? The word itself is being co-opted by the establishment that helped pave the path to this dark moment. If we don't connect with one another, we will remain segmented and self-oriented in our advocacy and in our organizing. We have to break free of that. To fight together, we need to build together.

    People go to protests, and every once in a while, they make a friend, or connect with a new organization, but most of the time, we just go home, either empowered or deflated by the experience. The idea that movements only happen in the streets is a major hindrance to growth. It is important for people who care and who are able, to show up in the streets, but that's simply not going to be everyone's role. Whether the issue is distance, disability, or any other hindrance, we need to make it clear to people that everyone has an essential place, somewhere within the framework of the work we are doing -- which leads us to my next suggestion.

    Figure out what you have to give and who you ought to be giving it to. I hear from people all the time that they can't take certain risks. I understand, as there are risks I cannot take myself, though I have, at times, pushed my boundaries. Any analysis of what we can or can't give should be an analysis of what's at stake, and what is possible for us personally. With so much at stake (the fate of the earth itself, for example), I am willing to go the extra mile when I can, but as a person with a disability, I simply won't make every action or meeting, and there are some tasks that I simply can't take on. If our organizing does not account for these variations in ability and availability, we are failing. Everyone who wants to contribute should be able to do so, and by the same token, if you want to bring down the likes of Trump, figure out what you can do, and where to do it. As organizers and community members, we all have to make that effort, to connect our skills, abilities and raw political will with actual contributions. Whether it's food for a training or meeting, artistic contributions, the use of space, printing materials, running teach-ins or offering your skills as a photographer or writer -- there are countless ways to help, and everyone who wants to help should have work in front of them, because all hands are needed on deck.
    Remember that you don't have to like someone to respect their humanity or struggle. We won't always get along and we don't have to. I don't have to like you to respect you, and I don't have to agree with you to know that you deserve to live, and be free. By the same token, you don't have to agree with me about much of anything to know that my people, Native people, deserve to live. We will, at times, come into conflict, and there will be times when that conflict is necessary, but as my parents used to say, "Do your homework first." Because our enemies are getting stronger and more adept, and they are being normalized. The culture they are building needs to be countered, and the clock is ticking. So get your hands dirty, and start building.