Sunday, May 14, 2017

Gregg Popovich lays into Donald Trump

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OAKLAND -- In the realm of the NBA, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich has been one of Donald Trump's most vocal critics. That trend continued on Sunday. 

Prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Popovich was asked whether he found himself distracted in recent months concerning Trump and the unusual state of the country. The 68-year-old Popovich did not hold back.

"To this day, I feel like there's a cloud, a pall, over the whole country in a paranoid, surreal sort of way," Popovich said. "It's got nothing to do with the Democrats losing the election. It's got to do with the way one individual conducts himself and that's embarrassing, it's dangerous to our institutions and what we all stand for and what we expect the country to be. But for this individual, he's in a game show. Everything that happens begins and ends with him -- not our people or our country. Every time he talks about those things that's just a ruse -- that's just disingenuous, cynical and fake." 

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has also levied occasional criticism of Trump this season. ​

Preet Bharara: Are there still public servants who will say no to the president?

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By Preet Bharara

Preet Bharara, a scholar in residence at New York University Law School, was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 2009 until this March.
The most dramatic hearing I helped to arrange as chief counsel to a Senate subcommittee took place 10 years ago Monday, when James B. Comey, then deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, described how he and FBI Director Robert Mueller intervened at the hospital bedside of Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The encounter occurred in 2004, after White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales tried to overrule Comey’s and Mueller’s legal objection to a secret terrorist surveillance program. When the White House nonetheless sought the ailing Ashcroft’s blessing to proceed, Comey prepared to resign. Ultimately, Comey and Mueller prevailed.

Jim Comey was once my boss and remains my friend. I know that many people are mad at him. He has at different times become a cause for people’s frustration and anger on both sides of the aisle. Some of those people may have a point. But on this unsettling anniversary of that testimony, I am proud to know a man who had the courage to say no to a president.
And in the tumult of this time, the question whose answer we should perhaps fear the most is the one evoked by that showdown: Are there still public servants who are prepared to say no to the president?
Now, as the country once again wonders whether justice can be nonpolitical and whether its leaders understand the most basic principles of prosecutorial independence and the rule of law, I recall yet another firestorm that erupted 10 years ago over the abrupt and poorly explained firing of top Justice Department officials in the midst of sensitive investigations. The 2007 affair was not Watergate, the more popular parallel invoked lately, but the lessons of that spring, after the Bush administration inexplicably fired more than eight of its own U.S. attorneys, are worth recalling.
When the actions became public, people suspected political interference and obstruction. Democrats were the most vocal, but some Republicans asked questions, too. The uproar intensified as it became clear that the initial explanations were mere pretext, and the White House couldn’t keep its story straight. Public confidence ebbed, and Congress began to investigate.
In response, the Senate launched a bipartisan (yes, bipartisan) investigation into those firings and the politicization of the Justice Department. Early on, the then-deputy attorney general — Comey was gone by then — looked senators in the eye and said the U.S. attorneys were fired for cause; although such appointees certainly serve at will, this assertion turned out to be demonstrably false. We learned that the U.S. attorney in New Mexico, David C. Iglesias, was fired soon after receiving an improper call from Republican Sen. Pete V. Domenici pushing him to bring political corruption cases before the election. We learned that Justice Department officials in Washington had improperly applied a conservative ideological litmus test to attorneys seeking career positions, to immigration judges and even to the hiring of interns.
Ultimately, amid the drumbeat of revelations, every top leader of the department stepped down under a cloud. Finally, Gonzales himself resigned. Strict protocols were put in place severely limiting White House contacts with Justice officials on criminal matters. The blow to the morale and reputation of the department was incalculable.
For me, the past week has been deja vu all over again. To restore faith in the rule of law, three obvious things must happen: First, we need a truly bipartisan investigation in Congress. That means no partisan nonsense — just a commitment to finding the facts, whatever they may be, proving (or disproving) Russian interference in our election and anything related. Congress is a check and a balance, and never more important than when a bullying chief executive used to his own way seems not to remember the co-equal status of the other two branches.
Second, the new FBI director must be apolitical and sensitive to the law-enforcement mission, not someone with a long record of reflexive partisanship or commentary on the very investigative issues that will come before the bureau. Unfortunately, some of the candidates paraded by cameras this past weekend reality-show style fall into that category. I can’t think of anything worse for FBI morale, for truth-finding or for public trust. More than ever the FBI needs a strong and stabilizing hand, which means somebody who has not spent most of his or her career pandering for votes, groveling for cash or putting party over principle.
Finally, I join in the common-sense call for an independent and uncompromised special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. Given the manner of Comey’s firing and the pretextual reasons proffered for it, there is no other way. My former colleague, now-Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, is a respected career prosecutor but has mostly deserved the doubts he generated with his peculiar press-release-style memo purporting to explain Comey’s sudden sacking. He can still fix it. The move would not only ensure the independence of the investigation, but also provide evidence of Rosenstein’s own independence.
History will judge this moment. It’s not too late to get it right, and justice demands it.

Manafort's Real-Estate Deals Said to Be Probed by N.Y.'s Top Cop

  • Schneiderman, Vance said to open inquiries of Trump ex-adviser
  • Manafort spokesman says investigation leaks could be crime

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By Erik Larson and Greg Farrell

New York State has opened an investigation into the real-estate dealings of President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, deepening the already intense legal scrutiny of the young administration.
The probe by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, one of the most outspoken critics of the president, is in a preliminary stage, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be named because the investigation isn’t public. Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign from April to August last year, has owned property in the Hamptons and Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is also in the early stages of an investigation into Manafort’s transactions, a person familiar with that probe said. Representatives for Schneiderman and Vance declined to comment.
The inquiries by the two Democrats could pose added legal peril for Manafort if investigators find evidence of a crime. Unlike a probe by the U.S. Justice Department and FBI, the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have no authority over New York state investigators scrutinizing whether Manafort broke state laws. Schneiderman is responsible for enforcing New York’s securities laws under the Martin Act, which gives him broad powers to pursue white-collar crime.
"If someone’s leaking information about an investigation, that’s a crime," Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said in a phone call on Saturday.
The Wall Street Journal on Friday reported on the state investigations. The newspaper also said the Justice Department had requested Manafort’s banking records from Citizens Financial Group as part of its inquiry into whether Trump’s former campaign associates colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
Manafort stepped down amid sinking poll numbers and controversy over his past work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. He has offered to speak with the House Intelligence Committee about his ties to Russia and denied any improprieties in his contacts with Russian officials or intermediaries.
Manafort’s business dealings have featured prominently in discussions of links between the Trump campaign and Russia. He used Cypriot bank accounts to receive money from Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska and Ukrainian clients, according to court records and former executives at the bank where the accounts were kept. Manafort and Deripaska have said the accounts were opened for legitimate business transactions.
Two congressional committees, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, was forced to resign after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with Russian officials, and Sessions recused himself from any decisions related to the Russia probes after he failed to reveal his talks with Russian officials during his confirmation hearing.

US ambassador to Israel: 'Great advantage to Netanyahu'

David Friedman is known for his support for the most extreme elements in Israel's settler movement.

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Nazareth - The choice of US ambassador to Israel has never before incurred such scrutiny or provoked such controversy.
Usually, the appointment is approved by the Senate's foreign relations committee by consensus. But David Friedman's confirmation vote in March split largely on partisan lines, with Republicans backing him and all but one Democrat opposing him.
Tens of thousands of liberal American Jews signed a petition opposing his nomination, and major Jewish organisations and hundreds of rabbis also objected.
But then, Donald Trump's envoy to Israel is no ordinary ambassador.
Rather than climbing up through the diplomatic ranks learning the arts of statecraft, 57-year-old Friedman - who was set to arrive at his post this week - has been propelled overnight into one of the world's most sensitive diplomatic posts.
An Orthodox Jew and the son of a New York rabbi, Friedman is a bankruptcy lawyer who has worked on Trump's behalf for the past 15 years. He joined the presidential election campaign last year as Trump's adviser on Israel.
This appointment should explode any remaining doubts among Palestinians and the international community that the US can be any kind of honest broker.
Nur Arafeh, Al-Shabaka analyst
But it is not Friedman's lack of experience causing the greatest concern. It is his long history of support not only for the Israeli right but for some of the most extreme elements in Israel's settler movement.
"This appointment should explode any remaining doubts among Palestinians and the international community that the US can be any kind of honest broker," Nur Arafeh, an analyst with Al-Shabaka, a Palestinian think-tank, told Al Jazeera.
She added: "It confirms that the Americans have no positive role to play in the struggle for self-determination or rights for the Palestinian people."
Friedman has vehemently opposed a Palestinian state, breaking with long-standing US official policy. He boasted recently, Arafeh noted, that he had helped to erase any reference to the two-state solution from the Republican election platform. He has also backed the annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank by Israel. Such statements put him to the right of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
As ambassador, he may not be in charge of making policy, but he will be the administration's eyes and ears in the region. His cables to the White House will frame official US perceptions of the Israel-Palestine conflict, and his recommendations are likely to shape policy.
That point was underscored by Daniel Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Israel. "Everything an ambassador says and does has an impact on policy," he told the US Jewish daily The Forward.
Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist and cofounder of the +972 website, said previous US ambassadors had collected and passed on data chiefly from human rights groups and the Israeli media. "If the new ambassador is hostile to human rights, the treatment of political prisoners and issues of free speech, that will make a real difference to the information arriving in Washington," he told Al Jazeera.
Equally significantly, Friedman's statements and actions - even small ones, given the highly volatile situation in the region - could have powerful reverberations.
Kurtzer was one of five former ambassadors who wrote to the Senate committee urging it to block Friedman's appointment for his "extreme positions", according to Haaretz.
Dianne Feinstein, a senior Democratic Senator, warned in a commentary that Friedman's "divisive rhetoric" and "dangerous positions … would undermine our national security by further inflaming tensions in the region".

The first test will be where he decides to base himself after he arrives in the region. He already owns a home in Talbiyeh, a neighbourhood of Jerusalem from which Palestinians were expelled in 1948.
While the US embassy is in Tel Aviv, Friedman has fervently advocated for its relocation to Jerusalem - a move, said Arafeh, that would be seen as giving the US seal of approval to Israel's declaration of all of Jerusalem, including the occupied East Jerusalem, as its "eternal, united capital".
Palestinians expect East Jerusalem as the capital of any future state. Moving the embassy could trigger unrest, not just among Palestinians, but across the region.
Although Trump has lowered expectations of an imminent decision on the embassy, the issue appears still to be under consideration. A congressional delegation has  visited Israel to investigate how such a move might be made, the Jerusalem Post reported.
If the embassy stays in Tel Aviv, Friedman's supporters believe he may still find a workaround, possibly by basing himself in the US consulate in Jerusalem.
Friedman's support for the settlements is not confined to words. He is an active fundraiser for, and donor to, some of the most extreme settler causes, including in East Jerusalem. As ambassador, Friedman will be expected to distance himself from such causes, but his sympathies may be harder to hide.
Haaretz recently revealed that he was a donor to the American branch of Ateret Cohanim, a far-right Israeli group that aggressively settles Jews in key locations in East Jerusalem, and especially around al-Aqsa, the most sensitive Islamic site in the region. Ateret Cohanim barely conceals its aim to bring Jerusalem's Old City and the mosque compound under Jewish control. Groups close to Ateret Cohanim want to destroy al-Aqsa and build a Jewish temple there.
To achieve its goals, the group has used subterfuge to buy dozens of homes in the Old City's Muslim quarter and then settle them with Jewish religious extremists, often turning the buildings into yeshivas, or Jewish seminaries. Laura Wharton, a Jerusalem councillor for the left-wing Meretz party, told Haaretz recently that Ateret Cohanim was "seeking to incite as much conflict as they can" in Jerusalem.
The new ambassador also has strong ties to the wider settler movement in the West Bank. He is the president of American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which raises millions of dollars each year for the Beit El settlement, close to the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
Although all the settlements violate international law, Beit El has erected buildings on land unlawfully seized from Palestinians that violate Israeli law, too. One such building, a school, has a plaque bearing Friedman's name.
According to the Israeli media, Friedman is drawn to this settlement in particular because of its huge symbolic significance to the settler movement. This is the place where, according to the Old Testament, God promised Jacob the Land of Israel. It is a site with the power to rally religious extremists to the more general settlement cause.
It is no coincidence that Beit El is home to the settlers' main media outlet, Arutz Sheva, for which Friedman fundraises and where he is a columnist.

In addition, the settlement lies far from Israel's recognised border, some 14km inside the West Bank. The consolidation of Beit El made possible by the donations secured by Friedman is seen by the settlers as a way to foil the creation of a Palestinian state.
Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American analyst based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said, given this background, Friedman would find it difficult to fulfil his role as ambassador.
"The Palestinian leadership will meet him because they have to, but who else will be willing to engage with him?" he told Al Jazeera. "He will struggle to open up any other channels to Palestinians."
A loss of faith in US influence, said Bahour, would create a vacuum. "That vacuum won't remain. Palestinians are not going to sit around waiting for four years to pass. It will be a gift to all forms of Palestinian resistance, from BDS [the boycott movement] and civil society to Hamas."
The split between Republicans and Democratic Senators over Friedman's appointment also offered the first signs of a possible polarisation in what can be said about Israel, said Bashir Bashir, a researcher at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. "It creates more space for views that have been repressed or sidelined as not politically correct," he told Al Jazeera. "It could pave the way for new political discourses."
That might include greater exposure for arguments for a one-state solution and comparisons of Israeli rule with apartheid.
Moshe Ya'alon, the former Israeli defence minister, expressed fears about such a development on a recent visit to Washington. He warned that Israel was already "paying a price" for allying itself so closely with Trump's team, and was at risk of being identified as an exclusively Republican cause. "Anti-Trump sentiments are becoming anti-Israel sentiments," he said, as reported by the Times of Israel.
Sheizaf said Friedman's influence was likely to contribute to Israel's political system shifting further to the right. Netanyahu's gradual entrenchment of Israeli military control over the occupied territories is under increasing challenge from settler leader Naftali Bennett, who is closer ideologically to Friedman. Bennett has pushed for bold new moves, such as formally annexing parts of the West Bank.
"Friedman strengthens those like Bennett who see this as an opportunity to make big changes," Sheizaf told Al Jazeera.
But ultimately, Friedman's effect would depend on where the Trump administration's policy on Israel-Palestine settles, observed Sheizaf. In that regard, Trump could prefer traditional bilateral negotiations or opt to leave Israel to its own devices.
"It's looking more likely the White House will prefer the second option, and in that sense, Friedman could be a great advantage to Netanyahu."

Mosul on My Mind

What It Really Means to Be on a “Flattening” Planet 

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By Tom Engelhardt

The closest I ever got to Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, was 1,720.7 miles away -- or so the Internet assures me.  Although I’ve had a lifelong interest in history, I know next to nothing about Mosul’s, nor do I have more than a glancing sense of what it looks like, or more accurately what it looked like when all its buildings, including those in its “Old City,” were still standing.  It has -- or at least in better times had -- a population of at least 1.8 million, not one of whom have I ever met and significant numbers of whom are now either dead, wounded, uprooted, or in desperate straits.
Consider what I never learned about Mosul my loss, a sign of my ignorance.  Yet, in recent months, little as I know about the place, it’s been on my mind -- in part because what’s now happening to that city will be the world’s loss as well as mine. 
In mid-October 2016, the U.S.-backed Iraqi army first launched an offensive to retake Mosul from the militants of the Islamic State.  Relatively small numbers of ISIS fighters had captured it in mid-2014 when the previous version of the Iraqi military (into which the U.S. had poured more than $25 billion) collapsed ignominiously and fled, abandoning weaponry and even uniforms along the way.  It was in Mosul’s Great Mosque that the existence of the Islamic State was first triumphantly proclaimed by its “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi.
On the initial day of the offensive to recapture the city, the Pentagon was already congratulating the Iraqi military for being “ahead of schedule” in a campaign that was expected to “take weeks or even months.”  Little did its planners -- who had been announcing its prospective start for nearly a year -- know.  A week later, everything was still “proceeding according to our plan,” claimed then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.  By the end of January 2017, after 100 days of fierce fighting, the eastern part of that city, divided by the Tigris River, was more or less back in government hands and it had, according to New York Times reporters on the scene, been “spared the wholesale destruction inflicted on other Iraqi cities” like Ramadi and Fallujah, even though those residents who hadn’t fled were reportedly “scratching out a primitive existence, deprived of electricity, running water and other essential city services.”
And that was the good news.  More than 100 days later, Iraqi troops continue to edge their way through embattled western Mosul, with parts of it, including the treacherous warren of streets in its Old City, still in the hands of ISIS militants amid continuing bitter building-to-building fighting.  The Iraqi government and its generals still insist, however, that everything will be over in mere weeks.  An estimated thousand or so ISIS defenders (of the original 4,000-8,000 reportedly entrenched in the city) are still holding out and will assumedly fight to the death.  U.S. air power has repeatedly been called in big time, with civilian deaths soaring, and hundreds of thousands of its increasingly desperate and hungry inhabitants still living in battle-scarred Mosul as Islamic State fighters employ countless bomb-laden suicide vehicles and even small drones.
After seven months of unending battle in that single city, perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that Mosul has receded from the news here, even as civilian casualties grow, at least half a million Iraqis have been displaced, and the Iraqi military has suffered grievous losses.
Though there’s been remarkably little writing about it, here’s what now seems obvious: when the fighting is finally over and the Islamic State defeated, the losses will be so much more widespread than that.  Despite initial claims that the Iraqi military (and the U.S. Air Force) were taking great care to avoid as much destruction as possible in an urban landscape filled with civilians, the rules of engagement have since changed and it’s clear that, in the end, significant swathes of Iraq’s second largest city will be left in ruins. In this, it will resemble so many other cities and towns in Iraq and Syria, from Fallujah to RamadiHoms to Aleppo.
The Disappearance of Mosul
At a moment when Donald Trump makes headlines daily with almost any random thing he says, the fate of Mosul doesn't even qualify as a major news story.  What happens in that city, however, will be no minor thing. It will matter on this increasingly small planet of ours.
What’s to come is also, unfortunately, reasonably predictable.  Eight, nine, or more months after this offensive was launched, the grim Islamic State in Mosul will undoubtedly be destroyed, but so will much of the city in a region that continues to be -- to invent a word -- rubblized.
When Mosul is officially retaken, if not “ahead of schedule,” then at least “according to plan,” the proud announcements of “victory” in the war against ISIS will make headlines.  Soon after, however, Mosul will once again disappear from our American world and worries. Yet that will undoubtedly only be the beginning of the story in a world in crisis.  Fourteen years have passed since the U.S. invaded Iraq and punched a hole in the oil heartlands of the Middle East.  In the wake of that invasion, states have been crumbling or simply imploding and terror movements growing and spreading, while wars, ethnic slaughter, and all manner of atrocities have engulfed an ever-widening region.  Millions of Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Yemenis, Libyans, and others have been uprooted, sent into exile in their own countries, or fled across borders to become refugees.  In Mosul alone, untold numbers of people whose fathers, mothers, grandparents, children, friends, and relatives were slaughtered in the Iraqi Army’s offensive or simply murdered by ISIS will be left homeless, often without possessions, jobs, or communities in the midst of once familiar places that have been transformed into rubble.

Mosul now lacks an airport, a railroad station, and a university -- all destroyed in the recent fighting. Initial estimates suggest that its rebuilding will cost billions of dollars over many years. And it’s just one of many cities in such a state. The question is: Where exactly will the money to rebuild come from? After all, the price of oil is at present below $50 a barrel, the Iraqi and Syrian governments lack resources of every sort, and who can imagine a new Marshall Plan for the region coming from Donald Trump’s America or, for that matter, anywhere else?
In other words, the Iraqis, the Syrians, the Yemenis, the Libyans, the Afghans, and others are likely, in the end, to find themselves alone in the ruins of their worlds with remarkably little recourse.  With that in mind and given the record of those last 14 years, how exactly do you imagine that things will turn out for the inhabitants of Mosul, or Ramadi, or Fallujah, or cities yet to be destroyed? What new movements, ethnic struggles, and terror outfits will emerge from such a nightmare?
To put it another way, if you think that such a disaster will remain the possession of the Iraqis (Syrians, Yemenis, Libyans, and Afghans), then you haven’t been paying much attention to the history of the twenty-first century. You evidently haven’t noticed that Donald J. Trump won the last presidential election in the United States, in part by playing on fears of a deluge of refugees from the Middle East and of Islamic terrorism; that the British voted to leave the European Union in part based on similar fears; and that across Europe pressures over refugees and terror attacks have helped to alter the political landscape.
Where Is Globalization Now That We Need It?
To frame things slightly differently, let me ask another question entirely: In these last years, haven’t you wondered what ever happened to “globalization” and the endless media attention that was once paid to it? Not so very long ago we were being assured that this planet was binding itself into a remarkably tight knot of interconnectedness that was going to amaze us all.  As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times put it in 1996, we were seeing “the integration of free markets, nation-states, and information technologies to a degree never before witnessed, in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations, and countries to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever.”  All of this was to be fed and led by the United States, the last superpower standing, and as a result, the global “playing field” would miraculously “be leveled” on a planet becoming a mosaic of Pizza Huts, iMacs, and Lexuses. 
Who of a certain age doesn’t remember those years after the Soviet Union imploded when we all suddenly found ourselves in a single superpower world?  It was a moment when, thanks to vaunted technological advances, it seemed blindingly clear to the cognoscenti that this was going to be a single-everything planet.  We were all about to be absorbed into a “single market for goods, capital, and commercial services” from which, despite the worries of naysayers, “almost everyone” stood “to gain.”  In a world not of multiple superpowers but of multiple “supermarkets,” we were likely to become both more democratic and more capitalistic by the year as an interlocking set of transnational corporate players, nations, and peoples, unified by a singularly interwoven set of communication systems (representing nothing short of an information revolution), triumphed, while poverty, that eternal plague of humanity, stood to lose out big time.  Everything would be connected on what was, for the first time, to be a single, “flattened” planet.
It won’t surprise you, I’m sure, to be told that that’s not exactly the planet we’re now on.  Instead, whatever processes were at work, the result has been record numbers of billionaires, record levels of inequality, and refugees in numbers not seen since much of the world was in a state of collapse after World War II.
Still, don’t you ever wonder where, conceptually speaking, globalization is now that we need it? I mean, did it really turn out that we weren’t living together on a single shrinking planet? Were the globalists of that moment inhabiting another planet entirely in another solar system? Or could it be that globalization is still the ruling paradigm here, but that what’s globalizing isn’t (or isn’t just) Pizza Huts, iMacs, and Lexuses, but pressure points for the fracturing of our world?
The globalization of misery doesn’t have the cachet of the globalization of plenty. It doesn’t make for the same uplifting reading, nor does skyrocketing global economic inequality seem quite as thrilling as a leveling playing field (unless, of course, you happen to be a billionaire). And thanks significantly to the military efforts of the last superpower standing, the disintegration of significant regions of the planet doesn’t quite add up to what the globalists had in mind for the twenty-first century. Failed states, spreading terror movements, all too many Mosuls, and the conditions for so much more of the same weren’t what globalization was supposed to be all about.
Perhaps, however, it’s time to begin reminding ourselves that we're still on a globalizing planet, even if one experiencing pressures of an unexpected sort, including from the disastrous never-ending American war on terror. It’s so much more convenient, of course, to throw the idea of globalization overboard and imagine that Mosul is thousands of miles away in a universe that bears next to no relation to our own.
What It Really Means to Be on a “Flattening” Planet
It’s true that in France last week extremist presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was defeated by a young, little known former investment banker and government minister, Emmanuel Macron, and the European Union preserved.  As with an earlier election in Holland in which a similar right-wing candidate lost, this is being presented as potentially the high-water mark of what’s now commonly called “populism” in Europe (or the Brexit-style fragmentation of that continent).  But I’d take such reassurances with a grain of salt, given the pressures likely to come. After all, in both Holland and France, two extreme nationalist parties garneredrecord votes based on anti-Islamic, anti-refugee sentiment and will, after the coming parliamentary elections in France, both be represented, again in record numbers, in their legislatures.
The rise of such “populism” -- think of it as the authoritarian fragmentation of the planet -- is already a global trend.  So just imagine the situation four or potentially even eight years from now after Donald Trump’s generals, already in the saddle, do their damnedest in the Greater Middle East and Africa.  There’s no reason to believe that, under their direction, the smashing of key regions of the planet won’t continue.  There’s no reason to doubt that, in an expanding world of Mosuls -- the Syrian “capital” of the Islamic State, Raqqa, is undoubtedly the next city in line for such treatment -- “victories” won’t produce a planet of greater ethnic savagery, religious extremism, military destruction, and chaos.  This, in turn, ensures a further spread of terror groups and an even more staggering uprooting of peoples.  (It’s worth noting, for instance, that since the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of U.S. Special Operations forces, al-Qaeda has grown, not shrunk, gaining yet more traction across the Greater Middle East.)  So far, America’s permanent “war on terror” has helped produce a planet of fear, refugees on an almost unimaginable scale, and ever more terror.  What else would you imagine could arise from the rubble of so many Mosuls?
If you don’t think that this is an ever-more connected planet still being “flattened” (even if in quite a different way than expected), and that sooner or later the destruction of Mosul will reverberate in our world, too, then you don’t get our world. It’s obvious, for instance, that future Mosuls will only produce more refugees, and you already know where that’s led, from Brexit to Donald Trump. Destroy enough Mosuls and, even in the heartland of the planet’s sole superpower, the fears of those who already feel they’ve been left in a ditch will only rise (and be fed further by demagogues ready to use that global flow of refugees for their own purposes).
Given the transformations of recent years, just think what it will mean to uproot ever vaster populations, to set the homeless, the desperate, the angry, the hurt, and the vengeful -- millions of adults and children whose lives have been devastated or destroyed -- in motion.  Imagine, for instance, what those pressures will mean when it comes to Europe and its future politics.
Think about what’s to come on this small planet of ours -- and that’s without even mentioning the force that has yet to fully reveal itself in all its fragmenting and globalizing and leveling power.  We now call it, mildly enough, “climate change” or “global warming.”  Just wait until, in the decades to come, rising sea levels and extreme weather events put human beings in motion in startling ways (particularly given that the planet’s sole superpower is now run by men in violent denial of the very existence of such a force or the human sources of its power).
You want a shrinking planet? You want terror? You want globalization? Think about that. And do you wonder why, these days, I have Mosul on my mind?

U.S. lawmakers ask Trump to turn over any Comey tapes

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By Ayesha Rascoe

U.S. lawmakers on Sunday called on President Donald Trump to turn over any tapes of conversations with fired FBI chief James Comey, potentially setting up a showdown with the White House as Democrats considered a boycott of the vote on Comey's replacement.
In a highly unusual move, Trump last week appeared to suggest on Twitter that he might have tapes of conversations with Comey and warned the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation against talking to the media. Trump and a White House spokesman declined to confirm or deny whether such tapes exist.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the White House must "clear the air" about whether there are any taped conversations.
"You can't be cute about tapes. If there are any tapes of this conversation, they need to be turned over," Graham told NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
Trump sparked a political firestorm when he abruptly fired Comey last week. The FBI has been investigating alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election and possible ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
Democrats have accused Trump of attempting to thwart the FBI's probe and have called for some type of independent inquiry into the matter.
Trump has said he removed Comey because he was not doing a good job and that Comey had lost the support of FBI employees.
Trump tweeted on Friday that "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
If there are recordings, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah told the "Fox News Sunday" program it was "inevitable" that they would be subpoenaed and the White House would have to release them.
Lee, who was on Trump's list of potential replacements for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, also said recording conversations in the White House is "not necessarily the best idea."
Trump's threat about tapes has intensified calls from Democrats for an independent probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump must immediately provide Congress with any tapes and warned that destroying existing tapes would violate the law.
Schumer also said Senate Democrats are weighing whether to refuse to vote on a new FBI director until a special prosecutor is named to investigate Trump's potential ties to Russia.
Russia has denied the claims and the White House says there was no collusion.
"To have that special prosecutor, people would breathe a sigh of relief because then there would be a real independent person overlooking the FBI director," Schumer told CNN's "State of the Union" program.
Trump, who has sought better relations with Russia, has continued to question whether it was behind the hacking of email accounts belonging to Democrats involved in Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told NBC's "Meet the Press" program there is no question that "the Russians were playing around in our electoral processes."

He defended Trump's decision to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office last week.
"It's in the interest of the American people, it's in the interest of Russia and the rest of the world that we do something to see if we cannot improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world," Tillerson said.
The Justice Department began interviewing candidates for the FBI director job on Saturday. Some people under consideration include acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas, New York Appeals Court Judge Michael Garcia and former Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, according to a White House official.
Meanwhile, a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday found that 29 percent of Americans approve of Trump's decision to fire Comey, while 38 percent disapprove.
If a Senate vote on a new FBI director breaks down along party lines, Democrats would not have the votes to block a nominee because Republicans hold a majority in the chamber.
"The key is getting some of our Republican colleagues to join us," Schumer said.
Republican leaders in the Senate have rebuffed calls for a special prosecutor, saying it would interfere with ongoing congressional probes.
Graham said there may come a time when a special prosecutor is needed but not now.
"Right now, it is a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation. So you don't need a special prosecutor," Graham said on "Meet the Press."