Saturday, May 20, 2017

Trotsky explains Donald Trump to you: Our idiot president is a “substitute” who represents America’s mass ignorance and bottomless narcissism

How Trump's ludicrous rise mirrors the process that brought Stalin to power — and, mercifully, how it doesn't

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There’s a useful concept in understanding how societies deteriorate into dictatorship that was most famously developed by Leon Trotsky, although it reaches a lot further back in history. This notion of “substitutionism” — I promise the idea is sexier than the name — might help us understand the current occupant of the White House a little better, if only in a negative sense. If Donald Trump presents himself, as he does in every public speech, as a representative or “substitute” for some large group of voiceless and powerless people, then what group is being represented and how did this substitution occur?
Whatever you make of Trotsky’s role as a leader of the Russian Revolution — and his level of responsibility for what became of it in later years — he deserves more recognition than he gets as one of the 20th century’s shrewdest observers of politics, as well as a first-rate journalist who never allowed his personal ideology to dictate his perceptions. I would love to teleport him forward in time and give him an MSNBC show: “Breaking Eggs with Leon Trotsky,” on which he converses jovially with Republican legislators and think-tank neocons — displaying his superior knowledge of French brandy and art history — before promising to fertilize the fields of the future with their bleached bones.
Substitutionism, as understood and refined by Trotsky (he may have coined the term, but didn’t invent the idea), works like this: In a large, sprawling nation where the political situation is murky and chaotic and the mass of the population is sunk in apathy and ignorance, small groups of educated people in the metropolitan centers nominate themselves to speak for the whole. Trotsky was thinking of the Russian Empire at the turn of the last century, where well-meaning intellectuals in St. Petersburg and Moscow often claimed to represent the interests of the millions upon millions of illiterate, superstitious peasants spread out across the vast heartland. Just spitballing here, but I’m thinking we could come up with more recent examples that are at least somewhat analogous.
Trotsky and his fellow Bolshevik revolutionaries ruthlessly mocked the pretentious, French-speaking twits who thought they knew what was best for some family of nine who literally slept with pigs in a hut 2,000 miles away, had never seen a book that wasn’t the local priest’s illustrated Bible and weren’t quite sure whether the Tsar was a human or divine being. But as Trotsky himself soon came to appreciate, the Russian tradition of substitutionism played out on a grand and ironic scale during and after the revolution he helped make.
Some of this is well understood in retrospect, although all of it remains controversial. The Bolsheviks under Lenin and Trotsky — who were in fact just one faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, after a bitter ideological split — shocked the world by staging a successful revolution in the name of the industrial working class, a social entity that can barely be said to have existed in the Russia of 1917. Some Bolsheviks certainly came from the working class (although neither of those guys did), but historians are never likely to agree about how much of the Russian proletariat actually supported the October Revolution, or how enthusiastically or for how long.
So a minority political movement — a “vanguard party,” to use Leninist terminology — seized power in the name of a minority social class, because that class was perceived as the protagonist of history that would bring an end to all oppression and suffering, etc. Without getting lured into endless debate about the moral dimensions of the Russian Revolution and when exactly it began to go south — that way lies madness! — I think it’s fair to say that Lenin and Trotsky did not intend or envision a despotic one-party state that would crush all forms of opposition and endure for decades as a regime of lies, brutality and murder.
Whether that nightmarish outcome was the inevitable consequence of the Bolsheviks’ initial substitutions — substituting the industrial working class that only half-existed for a vast nation that largely had no idea what was happening, and then substituting a few thousand committed revolutionaries for that class — is an enormous historical unanswerable. It’s not as if the leaders of the October Revolution were unaware of this paradox, or the dangers it presented. In fact it was Trotsky who famously laid out almost exactly what would happen, in an essay written 13 years before the revolution — not as an attack on his future nemesis, Joseph Stalin, but an attack on Lenin’s conception of a centralized, disciplined party bureaucracy:
In the internal politics of the Party these methods lead … to the Party organization “substituting” itself for the Party, the Central Committee substituting itself for the Party organization, and finally the dictator substituting himself for the Central Committee …
It took Stalin the better part of a decade after Lenin’s death to consolidate his power through this gradual process of substitution, which went much further than Trotsky had imagined possible in 1904. At least in theory, the Bolsheviks were OK with open political debate both inside and outside the party, although they certainly reserved the right to crack down on “counterrevolutionary” activity when the workers’ state confronted a state of emergency — a state which, like our own War on Terror, effectively never ended. Even Lenin never suggested that the Communist Party and the Soviet state should be the same thing, and he repeatedly made clear that the bureaucracy could not be trusted to act in the interests of the working class just because it said it was doing so.

Detention of Student Activist by Border Patrol Sparks Local Protests

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Claudia Rueda, a 22-year old student activist, was detained by Border Patrol agents earlier this week, in an incident that her lawyer and supporters say is “retaliation” for earlier protests.
Last month, Rueda protested the detention of her mother, Teresa Vidal-Jaime. Although Vidal-Jaime was picked up during a drug raid, she has since been released and authorities say she has no connection to the drug trafficking incident in question. Rueda herself was picked up this week outside her Los Angeles home by Border Patrol agents and sent to a detention facility in San Diego, Calif.

In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Border Patrol officials said Rueda was one of seven people arrested as part of an investigation into “a cross-border narcotics smuggling operation.” All seven, however, were arrested on suspicion of immigration violations, not drug offenses, according to the Border Patrol statement.
Rueda violated the terms of her visa, the statement said. The others arrested were not named and identified only as five Mexican nationals and one Guatemalan national. The statement also described Vidal-Jaime as “connected” to the drug trafficking organization, though a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which was involved in the April arrests, previously told The Times that the woman was not a subject of the narcotics investigation. ...
Late Friday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice released a statement saying that Rueda had been transferred to ICE custody.
“Department of Homeland Security databases indicate Ms. Rueda currently has no legal authorization to be in the United States,” Kice said. “Accordingly, she has been placed in removal proceedings.… It will now be up to an immigration judge ... to determine whether Ms. Rueda has a legal basis to remain in the U.S. or will be ordered removed.”
Monika Langarica, Rueda’s attorney, told the Times that there is no link between Rueda and the alleged drug ring.

“There is a lot that suggests retaliatory behavior on Border Patrol’s part,” Langarica stated.
One of Rueda’s supporters, fellow immigration activist Claudia Bautista, agrees. “They wanted payback,” she told the Times, arguing that Rueda’s detention was “retribution” for her earlier activism.

Rueda’s case, which has already sparked local protests and grassroots mobilization, comes the same week as new statistics from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) show that, in President Trump’s first 100 days, immigration arrests have increased almost 40 percent.

“This is exactly what everyone feared,” Bautista told the Times. “It is very concerning they’d just come into a Los Angeles neighborhood and take her and other people.”
Read the full report here.

White House officials say Trump is 'undisciplined' and 'self-destructive'

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By Sonam Sheth

President Trump is abroad on his first foreign trip, but that hasn't stopped his problems from piling up at home. And despite administration officials' public attempts at pivoting the focus to the national security risks of leaking information to the public, staffers are privately "exasperated" by Trump, according to Axios' Jonathan Swan and Mike Allen
"They view their boss as completely undisciplined and self-destructive," Axios reported
On Friday, the New York Times reported that Trump told Russian officials former FBI director James Comey was "a real nut job" and that firing Comey had taken "great pressure" off of him. Trump had fired Comey one day before making the alleged comments to Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting.
The Times' story was just the latest in a slew of bombshell revelations that raised questions about whether the president was actively trying to squash an FBI investigation into his campaign's ties to Russia. Following a tumultuous two weeks, legal analysts and lawmakers said the controversy could be bigger than Watergate and have even raised the possibility of presidential impeachment on obstruction of justice charges. 
The "entire landscape of Trump's behavior" is what would prompt an obstruction of justice charge, said Jens David Ohlin, an associate dean at Cornell Law School and an expert on criminal law. That includes "telling Comey to back off on the Flynn investigation, firing him when he wouldn’t, and then admitting on national television that he dismissed Comey because of the Russia investigation."
Trump's statement about Comey to the Russians is significant because it "is indirect evidence of his corrupt intent when he fired Comey," Ohlin added. "Any good lawyer would tell Trump that he needs to stop talking about the Russia investigation.”

In the wake of Trump's comments and explosive media coverage over the last 2 weeks, White House lawyers have reportedly begun researching presidential impeachment, sources told CNN
But despite escalating tension surrounding the Russia probe and Trump's interference with the investigation, White House staffers are more "numb than panicked," according to Axios. 
"Those who went through the campaign with Trump are numb to the crises and thought so many times before that this [sic] would be the one to break Trump," Axios reported. And despite their apparent frustration with their boss, White House officials admit "Trump has got some special resilience that they can't begin to understand. A coat of protection that almost seems supernatural to them."
Trump's most stalwart supporters, Axios added, are "unfazed" by the Trump-Russia revelations and fallout from Comey's firing. "They're just swinging for Trump and have no qualms working to defend him."
The Trump-Russia controversy picked up new steam on Wednesday when deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to helm the FBI's Russia probe. 
Rosenstein's decision drew bipartisan support, and intelligence officials said Mueller's selectionmeant Trump "may have gone from the frying pan into the fire." 
"Mueller has a reputation for being a straight shooter and won’t be swayed by pressure from the White House," Ohlin said. And although there's no timeline on how long the investigation will take, "it’s not a good development for the Trump White House."


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FOR MOST OF his four years as chair of the Science Committee, Republican Congressman Lamar Smith of Texas has served up more spectacle than policy. As arguably the showiest climate denier and opponent of environmental regulations in Congress, Smith has orchestrated climate change hearings that are the scientific equivalent of pro-wrestling matches. Stacked with skeptics who mocked mainstream climate science, they offered virtually no chance for significant dialogue. Similarly, Smith’s challenge to the well-documented relationship between air pollution and lung disease was seen as little more than a craven nod to the energy companies that were responsible for that pollution. And his repeated use of his subpoena power has served mostly to attract attention and make life difficult for the scientists and government workers he has targeted.
But Smith, who has boldly argued against funding for an institute that studies the toxicity of substances such as lead and asbestos, and has rushed to the defense of Monsanto’s RoundUp, is no longer just throwing bombs from the margins. With Trump in the White House and Scott Pruitt at the helm of the EPA, Smith now has the power to turn his visions of regulatory rollback into realities.
Already this session Smith revived two bills that, before the election, had been dismissed as nuisances. The Honest Act, which grew out of a strategy developed by the tobacco industry, is designed to prohibit the EPA from using public health research; the other bill, known as the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act, was crafted to allow industry representatives to serve on scientific boards. Both bills were passed by the House in March.
And Smith just helped industry score another long-shot victory that would have been unthinkable before Trump. Back in 2015, after the EPA concluded the Northern Dynasty Minerals Company’s proposed 30-square-mile gold and copper mine would result in the destruction of up to 94 miles of streams and 5,350 acres of Alaskan wetlands and endanger the region’s salmon resources, one of the world’s largest, the agency limited the company’s ability to get permits for the project. So Northern Dynasty sought help from Smith.

In October 2015, Smith fired off a letter charging that the EPA had reached its decisions about the mining project before conducting its scientific study. The next month he held a hearing, to which he invited the CEO of Northern Dynasty so he could make the case for the mine himself. And in April 2016 Smith’s committee held another hearing about the mine in which Smith argued that the EPA had colluded with local groups opposed to the project.
At that point, financial concerns along with opposition from broad range of Alaskans, including native groups and commercial fisherman, had dimmed the chances that the company would ever plumb the Alaska wilderness for gold — so the crusade seemed like more of Smith’s trademark political theater. After the presidential election, however, Smith’s pet project took a different turn. In February, he sent another letter to the EPA about the mine, this one bearing congratulations to the recently confirmed EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, and explaining that EPA’s intervention in the project was based on a “questionable scientific assessment.” Last week Pruitt reversed the EPA’s stance, clearing a path for Northern Dynasty to move forward.
Smith has always been well liked by the energy industry — he has received more than $700,000 from the oil and gas industry over the course of his career, more than from any other sector — but his newfound power has clearly delighted climate deniers, as evidenced by the hero’s welcome he received when he gave the keynote address at the Heartland Institute’s Climate Conference in March.
Not everyone is pleased with Smith’s successes on behalf of polluting industries. National environmental groups are beginning to target Smith for being “one of the worst climate change deniers in Congress,” as Craig Auster of the League of Conservation Voters described him. And just as he is reaching the height of his power in Washington, Smith is facing a wave of outrage from constituents in Texas that could present the first real challenge for his seat in 30 years.

In many ways, Lamar Smith is an odd choice to chair the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, a perch from which he has at least partial jurisdiction over NASA, the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, FEMA, the U.S. Fire Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Energy, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
A lawyer who majored in American Studies and worked briefly as a business reporter before entering Congress, Smith doesn’t have a background or a degree in science. Like many Christian Scientists, he seems to eschew medicine. (Smith’s first wife, Jane, who was trained in the Christian Science practice of healing through prayer, died in 1991 in a Christian Science hospice, reportedly after refusing medical treatment.)
Smith often says he is seeking a return to “sound science” with his efforts to roll back regulation. But he is facing growing criticism from scientists and environmentalists around the country for making a mockery of the House Science Committee, or “the Exxon Committee on Science Fiction,” “the POTUS Ad Agency,” and “the environment-ruining dream team,” as some of its many haters on Twitter have referred to it.
The House Science Committee hasn’t always elicited such reactions. “It used to be a committee that was basically nonpartisan,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, the ranking Democrat who has served for 24 years on the committee. “We always had meaningful dialogue,” Johnson told me. “But it’s gotten to the point where we are labeled as a scientific committee made up of people who don’t believe in science. This is the most extreme experience I have had.”
Perhaps no one is more familiar with that extreme partisan atmosphere than Michael Mann, a climate scientist who has been mocked and jeered by Smith. “He’s a henchman,” Mann said of Smith. Both men went to Yale, and Mann said he believes the Congressman is well educated and smart enough to know that what he’s saying about climate change isn’t true. “That leaves only two possibilities: First, that it isn’t the science he’s rejecting, it’s the implications he doesn’t like. The other possibility is that he’s doing the bidding of the powerful fossil fuel interests that fund his campaigns.” Either way, said Mann, “He’s setting the world back.”
A Republican from an oil state now serving his 16th consecutive term in Congress, Smith has never faced a serious electoral challenge. When he first ran for Congress in 1986, he won with more than 60 percent of the vote. The next time out, he got 93 percent. And he has enjoyed comfortable victories since. For four of those elections, the Democrats in his strangely shaped district, which includes San Antonio as well as parts of Austin and Texas Hill Country, didn’t even bother putting up a candidate.
The first visible signs that the political tide was beginning to turn emerged in October, when his hometown paper, The San Antonio Express Newsdeclined to endorse his re-election bid. In an editorial, the paper took issue with what it called “his bullying on the issue of climate change.” The results of a poll published 10 days later showed eroding support for Smith, with 45 percent of voters saying they were less likely to vote for Smith after learning he had taken Exxon Mobil’s side in the dispute over the company’s handling of climate change.
But the real shift came on election day, when Trump got 52 percent of the vote in the 21st district. As elsewhere, many of those who didn’t vote for the president found themselves in an emotionally and politically heightened state. After seeing many of these distraught people in his office, a San Antonio therapist named Jason Sugg decided to start a support group. Ten people attended its first meeting in January. Four months later, more than 4,200 people have joined what has become the TX21 chapter of Indivisible, including some life-long Republicans who supported Smith in the past.
Perhaps the strongest indicator of the opposition to Smith is the extent to which it has attracted people who haven’t been politically involved before.

“He is making enemies of people who do not want to be activists, who would rather take home their six-figure salaries, drop a check in the collection plate on Sunday morning, and let someone with social justice expertise figure out what to do with it,” said Whitney Williams, one of Smith’s constituents and a member of the Indivisible group. In particular, Williams, a technologist, took issue with Smith’s attacks on government scientists, which “spark indignant fury among those of us who dedicate our lives to delivering the promise of technology.”
While the group initially emerged to fight Trump, the presidential race focused Smith’s constituents on their congressman’s environmental policies, which in turn has helped fuel an explosive wave of energy to unseat him. Smith had no Democratic challengers in 2014 and only one poorly funded opponent last year. But with a year-and-a-half still to go before the next election, nine people have already announced their intention to run for his seat. While they span the spectrum from Joseph Kopser, a former Republican and Army veteran, to Derrick Crowe, who describes himself as an “unabashed nerd and unrepentant pacifist,” all have taken issue with Smith’s stance on climate.
The race to unseat Smith has also drawn attention from national environmental groups. 314Action, a new group dedicated to helping scientists run for public office, is targeting Smith through its “Under the Scope” program. The group plans to invest in ads for the winner of the primary, according to Ted Bordelon, communications director 314Action, who described the group as an “Emily’s List for Nerds.”
Anti-Smith sentiment has even emerged in the Hill Country, the reddest and most rural part of Smith’s district. On a recent Saturday, a group of local residents gathered under a live oak tree on the ranch of Joyce Humble and Terry Casparis to talk about unseating their congressman. Most had met one another in the months since the election. “I didn’t know anyone out here who was like-minded before the election,” said Humble, a retiree who spends about 20 hours a week doing political work. “Now I know tons of people!”
Ashley McAllen, who sat across from Humble, is a physician who has temporarily stopped practicing medicine to devote himself to progressive politics in the area. While the Hill Country is still a Republican stronghold, McAllen said growing concerns about water entered politics here after the area underwent a severe drought a few years ago. “More people here believed in global warming during that drought than ever before,” said McAllen. Though the rains have returned, some wells are still running dry, and McAllen feels that Smith’s climate denial will clash with locals’ knowledge that climate change is already affecting them. “They know something is different. They can see it in their creeks.”
Colin Strother, a Democratic consultant who lives in the 21st district, agrees that changing environmental realities are affecting Texas politics. “Water conservation and aquifer storage and recovery, these are conversations that are happening in every single community in Smith’s district as a matter of survival,” said Strother. “Everyone is dealing with issues that 20 years ago no one had ever heard of.”
Yet Strother believes whoever winds up challenging Smith still faces long odds. The only way to win, according to Strother, is to focus on all of Smith’s vulnerabilities, including his inaccessibility to constituents. “When LBJ represented this district, he used to hover his helicopter and yell down to farmers through a bull horn. But if you’re not a member of the Republican club or part of the wealthy moneyed donor community, you’re never going to see Smith,” said Strother. Defeating Smith, he said, will require bringing environmentalists together with “people who want the son of a bitch to show up once and a while.”
The absence of their congressman has been a recurrent theme for TX21 Indivisible, which since January has been regularly requesting Smith’s presence at a town hall meeting. One member composed a song inviting Smith to meet with her. Others have made cardboard cutouts of Smith to stand in for him. And for the past few months, a small group has visited Smith’s San Antonio office every Tuesday morning to express their concerns and ask their congressman to speak with them in person.
Trish Florence is a regular at these meetings. The single mother of two autistic sons, Florence never felt she had time for political activism. But since the election she has spent up to 20 hours each week planning protests, making signs, and otherwise holding her elected officials accountable. “I don’t feel like I have a choice,” said Florence, who recently helped deliver a “severance package,” complete with a giant pink slip and model of the earth, to Smith’s office. After he voted for TrumpCare, Florence left her congressman another gift: photos of her boys with lists of their preexisting conditions written on the back.
A few weeks ago, one of Florence’s sons tagged along on a Tuesday visit. Jack is 11 and extremely worried about climate change. When one of Smith’s staffers came out to greet them, Jack explained the science behind global warming — how greenhouse gases can trap the sun’s heat and cause the earth to heat up. Florence hopes the meeting was helpful for Jack. “He learned that he can do something and can have a voice,” she said. Smith’s takeaway was less clear. He wasn’t in the office, though his staff member promised to deliver the message.

But Wait, U.S. Bank Has Not Stopped Funding Pipelines

Despite announcing its intent to stop pipeline project loans, U.S. Bank still gives massive amounts of general financing to oil giants who build pipelines. Will it stop that?

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A recent viral article published by EcoWatch has inaccurately reported that U.S. Bank is the “first major bank to stop financing pipeline construction.” If you take a close look at U.S. Bank’s 2017 Environmental Responsibility Policy, you’ll see it only committed to cease “project financing.” There’s the rub. Despite this new policy, U.S. Bank continues to provide hundreds of millions of dollars of corporate financing to pipeline companies for general use, including pipeline construction.
U.S. Bank is behind many oil giants, including Enbridge, Energy Transfer Partners (here and here), Phillips 66 (here and here), and Marathon. All four of these companies own major stakes in the Dakota Access pipeline, and Phillips 66 and Marathon are the primary shippers of oil through DAPL. U.S. Bank also finances Cabot Oil & Gas, DTE Energy (here and here), EQT (here and here), National Fuel GasPlainsRange Resources and Williams.
So while they may not be providing project-level loans, U.S. Bank is certainly responsible for the continuing construction of thousands of pipelines.
“Just as weapon manufacturers are responsible for the terror their products reign, by backing big oil, these banks are responsible for the pipelines that violently desecrate indigenous lands and waters,” says Jacqueline Fielder (Mnicoujou Lakota, Hidatsa) an organizer of the San Francisco Defund DAPL Coalition.
The difference between project-level vs. corporate-level financing is important.
Pipeline companies often do not need to structure or disclose their capital flows down to the project level. For example, the entire Dakota Access pipeline system, including its connections to Texas and Louisiana, has an estimated price tag of $5.5 billion, but only $2.5 billion was structured as project-level financing.  
The recently launched Mazaska Talks campaign aims to keep the pressure up on the banks funding the Bayou Bridge pipeline, part of the DAPL system, as well as all four proposed tar sands ​pipelines: Keystone XL, Line 3Trans Mountain, and Energy East. None of these has project-level financing, so the targets are the pipeline companies themselves: TransCanada, Enbridge, and Kinder Morgan. Not surprisingly,the banks funding all four pipelines are nearly the same as the list of DAPL funders compiled by Food & Water Watch.
These financial institutions are in the business of profiting from extraction and aren’t going to back out easily.
During DAPL’s construction, U.S. Bank provided Energy Transfer Partners with a $175 million line of credit. Just six weeks ago, U.S. Bank recommitted to Energy Transfer on that deal, but the new agreement no longer discloses how much each bank has committed.
Now they say they will stop “project financing”? U.S. Bank knows that the average consumer would not pay attention to the complicated bigger picture, so it was a very clever public relations move—and many green groups bought it.
If U.S. Bank is going to stop financing pipelines, it has to stop lending at the corporate level, too. As early as July, we should get a chance to see if U.S. Bank’s new policy is just words.
On July 2, 2017, the credit agreement EQT has with U.S. Bank and others is set to expire. Marathon, a shipper on and a 9 percent stakeholder of DAPL, has an agreement involving U.S. Bank that expires in late July 2017. Let’s wait to cheer U.S. Bank until it puts its money where its mouth is.
Now is the time to step up our demands that banks divest from industries that endanger our future generations, says Rachel Heaton (Muckleshoot Tribe) of Mazaska Talks. “We know there are always loopholes through which banks will try to pass off responsibility, but we will continue to resist until these banks completely divest from all pipeline and fossil fuel corporations and incorporate the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous peoples into their corporate lending structures.”


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The first four months of the Trump Administration have generated many real headlines that could have appeared first in a satirical publication such as the Onion or The New Yorker’s own the Borowitz Report. But the headline that appeared on the Times’ Web site on Friday afternoon may have been the most bizarre yet: “Trump Told Russians that Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure from Investigation.”

The story that ran under the headline, by Matt Apuzzo, Maggie Haberman, and Matthew Rosenberg, was based on “notes taken from inside the Oval Office” during President Trump’s now notorious meeting, last week, with the two Sergeys—Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to Washington. (In case your mind has snapped after the past few days of news meld, a quick reminder: that was the meeting during which Trump gave the men from the Kremlin classified information about an isis bomb threat.) Here is the second paragraph from the Times’ story:

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Note, first, the dilemma presented to the Times’ headline writers. What bit of this quote should they prioritize?

Even by Trump’s standards, calling Comey a “nut job” was startling. It was no secret that he didn’t like Comey—a couple of days after dismissing him, he publicly referred to him as “a showboat” and “a grandstander”—but Trump here wasn’t shooting the breeze with one of his billionaire friends, or golf buddies, or even NBC News’s Lester Holt. He was talking, during an official meeting from which he had barred the American news media, to two representatives of a foreign government that tried to disrupt last year’s U.S. election.

In such circumstances, the “nut job” bit of the quote surely deserved its own headline. Or did it? What about Trump’s statement that the firing had relieved the “pressure” he faced? As they say in the legal trade, this went to the question of intent. If Trump were ever to be impeached on the grounds that he had attempted to obstruct justice, the manner in which he fired Comey would surely figure prominently in the charges.

Immediately after Comey’s dismissal, the White House put out a cover story that Trump wasn’t its instigator—that he merely accepted a recommendation from Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General. But Trump pretty much demolished that justification during his televised interview with Holt last week, in which he said he had intended to axe Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendation. He also told Holt that that the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the decision.

On Twitter, my colleague Jeffrey Toobin said Trump’s words to Lavrov and Kislyak were “close to a confession to obstruction of justice.” Certainly, it is hard to read the remarks and not conclude that Trump, in offing Comey, had intended to shut down the Russia probe—or, at the very minimum, to influence it in such a way that his political prospects would be improved.

And there was another reason that the second half of Trump’s quote was so newsworthy. It provided more evidence, if any were needed, that he is delusional or ignorant about how the American political system works. After he fired Comey, did he really believe that people in Washington, particularly the former F.B.I. director and his allies, would stand by quietly and accept such a blatant abuse of Presidential authority?

Evidently, Trump did think this, and so did many of the people around him. According to news reports, the one White House adviser who questioned the wisdom of the Comey hit was Steve Bannon, who was concerned about the inevitable backlash. Even twenty-four hours after the act was done, Trump appears to have been oblivious to this danger. Hence his blithe boast to the Russians: “That’s taken off.” (As in, off the table.)

Two more Trump shockers, then—appearing just when Trump was leaving town on a nine-day trip to the Middle East and Europe. Ultimately, the Times’ headline writers decided to combine the news items in one headline. A fitting coda to a truly nutty week.

Palestinian Prisoners on Hunger Strike as Trump Visits Israel

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By  Marjorie Cohn

As Donald Trump arrives in Israel, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners are participating in a hunger strike to protest their mistreatment. On April 17, Palestinian Prisoners' Day, approximately 1,500 prisoners began refusing food, ingesting only salt water. That amounts to about a quarter of all Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel.
Their demands include increased visitation rights with humane treatment of family visitors; installation of a public telephone to communicate with families; and an end to medical negligence, solitary confinement and administrative detention.
Many of the striking prisoners have been taken to the hospital after their health deteriorated, the Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs reported.
Marwan Barghouti, the imprisoned Palestinian activist who called for the hunger strike, wrote in a New York Times op-ed, "Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells."
Barghouti added, "Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment and medical negligence."
In a rare public statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) decried the "systematic suspension" by Israeli authorities of family visits for hunger strikers, and of permits for their families. Citing the Fourth Geneva Convention, the ICRC said Palestinians have a right to these visits, which can only be limited on a case-by-case basis for security reasons, not just for punitive or disciplinary purposes.
Approximately 40 percent of the Palestinian territory's male population has been imprisoned or detained by Israel at some point. Hundreds of the 6,500 Palestinians who are currently incarcerated are women, children, journalists and elected officials. "There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members," Barghouti wrote.
Solitary Confinement
The Israeli authorities have tried to break the strike by moving leaders into solitary confinement. Solitary confinement can lead to hallucinations, catatonia and even suicide, particularly in prisoners who are already living with mental illness.
Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, concluded that prolonged solitary confinement may violate the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Israel is party to both treaties.
Administrative Detention
Many Palestinians in Israeli prisons are in custody under administrative detention, where they are held without formal charges for months, even years, based on secret evidence.
Administrative detention violates the ICCPR. It forbids arbitrary detention and mandates that prisoners be promptly informed of the charges against them and afforded due process.
Israel Considers Force-Feeding Striking Prisoners
Israeli officials have reportedly put food in front of striking prisoners, which a lawyer for the Palestinian Authority characterized as "psychological torture."
Israel has threatened to force-feed prisoners participating in the hunger strike, but the Israeli Medical Association stands by the medical opinion that force-feeding is "never ethically acceptable." As a result, Israel is reportedly considering importing foreign doctors to force feed hunger strikers. Physicians for Human Rights Israel asked the World Medical Association to tell doctors not to come to Israel to do what Israeli doctors will not.
The Declarations of Tokyo and Malta, the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association prohibit doctors from participating in force-feeding of prisoners capable of understanding the consequences of refusing food. 
In addition, the International Committee of the Red Cross guidelines state: "Doctors should never be party to actual coercive feeding. Such actions can be considered a form of torture and under no circumstances should doctors participate in them on the pretext of saving the hunger striker's life."
Palestinians Live Under Illegal Occupation
Barghouti, a Palestinian political prisoner who has spent 15 years in an Israeli prison, is one of the most prominent Palestinian leaders. He launched the First and Second Intifadas against Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. In his op-ed, he wrote, "Israel, the occupying power, has violated international law in multiple ways for nearly 70 years, and yet has been granted impunity for its actions."
Many international human rights experts concur. Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories and professor emeritus at Princeton University, and Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University and an authority on apartheid, co-authored a report commissioned and published in March by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia. The report concluded "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians constitutes "the crime of Apartheid," which the authors characterized as a "crime against humanity under customary international law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court."
Falk and Tilley recommended participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), a nonviolent worldwide movement challenging the Israeli occupation.
The BDS movement was launched in 2005 by representatives of Palestinian civil society. They called upon "international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era ... [including] embargoes and sanctions against Israel."
This call for BDS specified that "these nonviolent punitive measures" should last until Israel fully complies with international law by 1.) ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the barrier wall; 2.) recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and 3.) respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their land as stipulated in United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194.
The US Enables the Occupation
Israel exercises control over nearly every aspect of Palestinian life in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. That includes borders, airspace, ingress and egress of people and goods, and the seashore and waters off the coast of Gaza. The occupation violates the fundamental human rights of Palestinians.
In 2014, Israel invaded Gaza and killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. Nearly 10,000 Palestinians were wounded, more than 2,000 of them children. Tens of thousands of Palestinians lost their homes and infrastructure was severely damaged. Numerous schools, UN places of refuge, hospitals, ambulances and mosques were intentionally targeted.
Flavia Pansieri, former UN deputy high commissioner for human rights, said that human rights violations "fuel and shape the conflict" in the occupied Palestinian territories, adding, "human rights violations in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are both cause and consequence of the military occupation and ongoing violence, in a bitter cyclical process with wider implications for peace and security in the region."
Israel could not maintain the occupation without the support of its chief ally, the United States. Before he left office, Barack Obama promised Israel a record $38 billion in military assistance over the next 10 years.
In spite of Israel's pervasive violation of Palestinian human rights, the US government walks in lockstep with Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful United States-based organization that lobbies for Israel, heavily influences US foreign policy.
International criticism of Israel is opposed not only by Israel but also by the United States.
Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the UN, pressured UN Secretary-General Antonió Guterres to withdraw the Falk-Tilley report from the UN website, and Guterres capitulated. The chairperson of the UN agency that published the report resigned in protest against the withdrawal.
In April, all 100 US senators signed a letter to Guterres decrying "the UN's anti-Israel bias" and "continued targeting of Israel by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and other UN entities." The letter praised Guterres for "disavowing" the Falk-Tilley report and demanded the elimination or reformation of UN committees that support the BDS movement.
In the letter, the senators decried anti-Semitism but made no mention of Israel's egregious violations of Palestinian rights. Any criticism of Israeli policy is labeled anti-Semitism, even though many Jews -- including members of Jewish Voice for Peace, Jewish Center for Nonviolence and IfNotNow -- oppose the occupation.
What Will Trump Do in Israel?
Trump has naïvely expressed a desire to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet his choice for US ambassador was David Friedman, who opposes Palestinian statehood. Friedman is a major patron of the illegal settlements Israel continues to build on Palestinian land: not an honest broker.
Israel is likely reeling from Trump's provision to the Russians of intelligence Israel gave the US in secret. Still, Israel will probably maintain the pretense of cordiality in order to keep the gravy train running.
We will see what Trump does and says during his visit to Israel. He sent 59 Tomahawk missiles to Syria to avenge the chemical attack allegedly carried out by the Syrian government. Will Trump express concern about Israel's human rights violations, including those underlying the prisoners' hunger strike?
There has been a painful silence from the international community about the hunger strike. The Global Palestinian Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Network said in a statement, "The lack of international response to the mass hunger strike of over 1,000 Palestinian political prisoners who are in need of immediate intervention and protection symbolizes the dehumanization and demonization of the Palestinian people in their struggle for dignity, justice and freedom."
As Barghouti wrote, "Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace."