Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Wednesday Morning Open Thread: WTF edition

Turkey is bombing the shit out of the Kurds.

 

Our President is a lawless monster who only cares about himself and his interests.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Trump’s EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland was scheduled to testify to the House Intelligence Committee this morning, but Trump and Pompeo ordered him not to do it.

The New York Times: Witness in Trump-Ukraine Matter Ordered Not to Speak in Impeachment Inquiry.

The Trump administration directed a top American diplomat involved in its pressure campaign on Ukraine not to appear Tuesday morning for a scheduled interview in the House’s impeachment inquiry.

The decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators for three House committees is certain to provoke an immediate conflict with potentially profound consequences for the White House and President Trump. House Democrats have repeatedly warned that if the administration tries to interfere with their investigation, it will be construed as obstruction, a charge they see as potentially worthy of impeachment….

Robert Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland had been prepared and happy to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

Of course that is simply not true.

Background on Sondland from the Times article.

Mr. Sondland has become enmeshed in the burgeoning scandal into how the president sought to push the Ukrainians to investigate his political rivals. Although Ukraine is not in the union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland — a wealthy hotelier and campaign contributor — to take a lead in relations between the Trump administration and the country. Democrats consider him a key witness to what transpired between the two countries.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky on the call to do him “a favor” and investigate the business dealings of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat had worked on language for a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The diplomats consulted with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, about the statement, believing they needed pacify him in order to allow the United States to normalize relations with the Ukrainians.

Adam Schiff responded to the Trump administration’s illegal action.

Yesterday Newsweek talked to a member of the National Security Council who heard the call between Trump and Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan after which Trump ordered U.S. troops out of northern Syria: Exclusive: Official Who Heard Call Says Trump Got ‘Rolled’ By Turkey And ‘Has No Spike.’

In a scheduled phone call on Sunday afternoon between President Trump and President Erdogan, Trump said he would withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. The phone call was scheduled after Turkey announced it was planning to invade Syria, and hours after Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border and issued his strongest threat to launch a military incursion, according to the National Security Council official to whom Newsweek spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump’s own Defense Department “completely stunned,” said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime.

“President Trump was definitely out-negotiated and only endorsed the troop withdraw to make it look like we are getting something—but we are not getting something,” the National Security Council source told Newsweek. “The U.S. national security has entered a state of increased danger for decades to come because the president has no spine and that’s the bottom line.” [….]

According to the NSC official, who had first-hand knowledge of the phone call, Trump did not endorse any Turkish military operation against Kurdish Forces, but also did not threaten economic sanctions during the phone call if Turkey decided to undertake offensive operations.

Trump has also invited Erdogan to visit the White House next month.

Here’s a reminder what happened on a previous visit by Erdogan.

Yesterday, Trump threatened Turkey in a tweet that would cause any other person’s family to request a psychiatric evaluation:

Some outlets are reporting that Trump has been walking back the original order. We’ll see….

Meanwhile Turkey isn’t backing down. The Washington Post: Turkey rejects Trump’s threats amid conflicting U.S. signals over Syria offensive.

 Turkey’s vice president said Tuesday that his country would “not react to threats,” as it prepared to mount a military offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria, a day after President Trump warned that he would destroy Turkey’s economy if the offensive did not meet with his approval.

“When it comes to the security of Turkey, as always, our president emphasized Turkey will determine its own path,” the vice president, Fuat Oktay, said in a speech at a university in Ankara, the Turkish capital. He referred to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has vowed to create a “safe zone” in a lengthy swath of Syrian territory along Turkey’s border.

Erdogan and other Turkish officials have suggested for days that the military operation could begin at any moment. Turkish troop convoys have headed to the border, and local media outlets have published details of what they say is the battle plan. Turkey’s Defense Ministry wrote Tuesday on Twitter that all its preparations for the operation were complete.

But there was no sign yet that Turkish troops were moving forward, as the United Nations and aid agencies warned of potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences, and as the Trump administration delivered confusing signals about how it views Turkey’s plans to attack a Syrian-Kurdish force that partnered with the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State militant group.

A new poll shows that 59 percent of Americans support the impeachment inquiry.

The Washington Post: Poll: Majority of Americans say they endorse opening of House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

A majority of Americans say they endorse the decision by House Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry of President Trump, and nearly half of all adults also say the House should take the additional step and recommend that the president be removed from office, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The findings indicate that public opinion has shifted quickly against the president and in favor of impeachment proceedings in recent weeks as information has been released about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian government officials to undertake an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 campaign rival, and Biden’s son Hunter.

Previous Post-Schar School or Post-ABC News polls taken at different points throughout this year found majorities of Americans opposing the start of an impeachment proceeding, with 37 percent to 41 percent saying they favored such a step. The recent revelations appear to have prompted many Americans to rethink their position.

The poll finds that, by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans say the House was correct to undertake the inquiry. Among all adults, 49 percent say the House should take the more significant step to impeach the president and call for his removal from office. Another 6 percent say they back the start of the inquiry but do not favor removing Trump from office, with the remainder undecided about the president’s ultimate fate. The results among registered voters are almost identical.

Read more at the WaPo.

Vanity Fair has a long piece on Bill Barr’s past history. Author Marie Brenner suggests that Barr’s relationship with his father could provide clues to Barr’s alignment with Trump: “I Had No Problem Being Poltically Different”: Young William Barr Among the Manhattan Liberals. A brief excerpt:

Who, then, is the real William Barr? I wanted to investigate that question through the prism of his growing up as a young conservative in the intellectually demanding and socially cosseted world of New York private schools—ironically, the same schools that educated Cohn. I wanted to understand how he might have been affected in the 1970s by the public scandal that consumed his father, Donald Barr, then the headmaster of the tony Dalton School and a respected voice in academics, on the right-wing opinion pages, and at the center of America’s calamitous culture wars.

Donny Montana: October 6, 2019

William Barr’s origin story is, in fact, a parable of how family, education, protest, and principle served to shape the era—and shape a young man who would become America’s chief law enforcement officer. At the same time, it is also a narrative about how a charismatic, domineering, and doctrinaire figure named Donald might have helped define the contours of his son’s formative years….

In the 1967 Horace Mann yearbook, Barr had already been tagged with his future persona: “a staunch conservative on political issues,” a master of “facial contortions,” and a brilliant mimic of his Catholic school priests. Often, he rode the subway home with another classmate, Barry Scheck, who would become an attorney and eventually cofound the Innocence Project, using DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted prisoners. “We would argue all the way down from school and all the way back,” Scheck said.

Barr and his three brothers revered their father, spending countless hours at the dinner table discussing philosophy, politics, and the issues of the day. Before attending Horace Mann, all four siblings had gone to Corpus Christi, a nearby parochial school where he was in class with many Irish, Hispanic, and black students. William Barr was the privileged son of an intellectual. In first grade, he made a speech in class supporting Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower for president. At age eight, Barr told his parents that he wanted to learn to play the bagpipes. His father not only encouraged him but located a former Scottish pipes major in the British army and for years personally escorted his son up to 168th Street for Tuesday-night classes. At one point, the young Barr even declared to his Horace Mann adviser that when he grew up, he wanted to become head of the CIA.

Horace Mann was another environment entirely: completely secular, with a large Jewish contingent. A few who knew the Barr boys came to call them “the bully Barrs”; the siblings, these former classmates claimed, could be intimidating. The fact that his father was born Jewish was not a factor in Bill Barr’s upbringing. While he knew he had Jewish relatives, he never discussed the specifics with his father. “He had become more Catholic than the Catholics,” he said to those who asked.

The school was an enclave of conservative privilege that had educated New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, historian Robert A. Caro, and Si Newhouse Jr., the late owner of Condé Nast (the parent company of Vanity Fair). The head of the history department, Alfred Briggs, lectured on the evils of communism and Red China, and lavished praise on Horace Mann’s most notorious graduate, Roy Cohn. “We need more Roy Cohns in the world,” Briggs frequently said. “Roy was my best student of all time.”

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I plan to do it as soon as this post goes up.

One more by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times: Opinion: Do Barr, Pompeo and Giuliani share a death wish?

Atty. Gen. William Barr, who is deeply embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, doesn’t care about his place in history. “I’m at the end of my career,” he told Jan Crawford of CBS in March. “Everyone dies.”

Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s fixer, who is even more deeply embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, is likewise indifferent. “I don’t care about my legacy,” he told the New Yorker last month. “I’ll be dead.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 55, who is especially embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, also has his eye on an End Times cleansing. “It is a never-ending struggle,” he told a Kansas church group, describing his work for the president. “Until the Rapture.”

Poets have envisioned death in thousands of ways. Clouds, worms, reunions, virgins and more. But Barr, Giuliani and Pompeo — each in the midst of a distinct moral crisis — may have a new one. Death as sweet, sweet liberation from congressional oversight.

Let me propose an epitaph, suitable for any of these men when the time comes: “He’s gone where subpoenas can lacerate his heart no more.”

But if these men are counting on death to end their sea of troubles, the House doesn’t intend to give them that chance. With every letter or subpoena, Congress is demanding that these men stop daydreaming about oblivion or ecstatic union with Jesus and do what’s right in the here and now.

Read the rest at the link.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Tuesday Reads

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton welcomes Vice President Joe Biden as he disembarks from Air Force Two for a joint campaign event in Scranton, Pennsylvania

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden appeared together in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Atlantic reports:

For Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, their joint campaign stop Monday in Scranton, Pennsylvania, was a play for the swing state’s crucial voters, particularly those from the white working class who Donald Trump has taken pains to attract.

But it was also something of a homecoming: Both the vice president and Clinton’s father, Hugh Rodham, were born in the city, a former coal-mining and manufacturing hub. Biden has long used Scranton as a symbol of the American dream, and often invokes his early years there as evidence he’s a man of the people. During his remarks Monday, he framed Clinton as a fellow child of Scranton: the product of one of its families, yes, but also of its ethos.

The city “is made up of so many people with grit and courage—I mean this sincerely, from the bottom of my heart—with grit, courage, determination, who never, never, ever give up,” Biden said. “They deserve someone who not only understands them, they deserve someone who’s with them. And they deserve someone who’s made of the same stuff. That’s Hillary Clinton. That’s who she is.”

Biden also had plenty to say about Donald Trump, none of it nice. From Politico:

Vice President Joe Biden on Monday ripped into Donald Trump for his overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin, declaring that the Republican nominee “would have loved Stalin.”

At a rally in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Biden assailed Trump as unfit to be president and slammed his proposals on foreign policy and the military. With Hillary Clinton at his side, Biden criticized the GOP nominee’s repeated warm statements toward Putin and said “Trump’s ideas are not only profoundly wrong, they’re very dangerous and they’re very un-American.”

“This guy’s shame has no limits. He’s even gone so far as to ask Putin and Russia to conduct cyberattacks against the United States of America,” Biden said, raising his voice for emphasis over the raucous crowd. “Even if he is joking — which he’s not — even if he’s joking, what an outrageous thing to say.”

Pointing out his aide who travels with him and carries the U.S. nuclear codes, Biden said Trump is too unstable and lacks the knowledge to be given control over such weapons. The vice president also spoke warmly of his son Beau, a military veteran who went on to serve as Delaware’s attorney general before losing a battle with cancer in 2015. Biden said he would have tried to stop his son from serving if Trump were commander in chief.

biden-hillary-hug-640x480

As usual Biden went on and on, but he did have some very nice things to say about Hillary. There was also an awkward moment when Biden disembarked from his plane and gave Hillary a hug that seemed as if it would never end. Mediaite:

Vice President Joe Biden and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shared a tarmac hug Monday that got a little awkward when Biden just kinda refused to let go.

Biden deplaned before a Pennsylvania joint rally and hugged Clinton. But while Clinton broke off the hug after an appropriate amount of time, Biden held onto her. In a move easily recognizable to wrestlers and friend-zoners everywhere, Clinton starting tapping Biden on the arm as he continued the embrace.

All told, the hug lasted about fifteen seconds and three attempted tap-outs.

Donald Trump was in Youngstown, Ohio yesterday to make a supposedly “serious” speech about how he would combat terrorism. Many of the ideas he presented were for policies that the Obama administration is already carrying out. The rest were the usual insane, racist plans that have become his trademark. Tim Mak at The Daily Beast: Donald Trump Cribs His War Plan From the ‘Founder’ of ISIS: Barack Obama.

Trump spent a substantial amount of time in his speech hammering the Obama administration for not doing enough to defeat ISIS.

But in Syria, Libya, and Iraq, the multinational effort to defeat ISIS appears now to be on the upswing. And in the sparse moments when Trump actually proposed ideas to defeat ISIS, it sounded suspiciously like the ideas already being put into practice by his arch-nemesis Obama.

You know: the guy Trump called the “founder” of ISIS….

“They’re trying to make it look much better than it is. It’s bad,” Trump said, referring to the Obama administration and the Clinton campaign’s assessment of ISIS….

But while the Republican nominee’s address in Youngstown, Ohio, on Monday was billed as a speech describing new ways to defeat ISIS—in recent weeks ISIS has seen serious setbacks.

Trump denounced the situation in Libya, which he blamed on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But ISIS’s grip there is changing rapidly. ISIS appears to be on the verge of losing its African capital in the city of Sirte to local militia fighters who lately have been bolstered by U.S. airstrikes.

While Trump referred to stopping Syrian refugees from entering the United States, ISIS just suffered a major loss there Monday. After a months-long battle, Arab and Kurdish forces reclaimed a northern city that is on a key route for ISIS fighters, equipment and money traveling from Turkey into Syria. Over the weekend, video emerged showing female residents of this city burning their burkas and men cutting their beards, an outward display of the end of ISIS rule.

Meanwhile, ISIS already has lost territory in several Iraqi cities, including Fallujah, Ramadi, and Tikrit.

I wouldn’t expect Trump to know about what’s actually happening; I don’t think he reads anything in newspapers unless it’s about him. But you have to wonder who is writing his speeches.

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks during the final session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland

Much of the speech was devoted to his proposed anti-immigrant policies. Trump said that as president he would suspend immigration from countries that have problems with terrorism, although he didn’t specify which countries he was referring to. And how would President Trump keep these potential immigrants out? He would use something he calls “extreme vetting.” NBC News reports:

Donald Trump on Monday promised “extreme vetting” of immigrants, including ideological screening that that will allow only those who “share our values and respect our people” into the United States.

Among the traits that Trump would screen for are those who have “hostile attitudes” toward the U.S., those who believe “Sharia law should supplant American law,” people who “don’t believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred.”

Those who Trump will allow in are “only those who we expect to flourish in our country.”

The Republican nominee did not disavow his prior proposal to temporarily ban all Muslims from the United States “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” The position, released in December 2015, is still on the nominee’s website. He did, however, call for a temporary suspension “from some of the most dangerous and volatile regions of the world that have a history of exporting terrorism” in order to succeed in the goal of extreme ideological vetting.

It’s unclear whether or not this is in addition to, or in place of, his original temporary ban. In the past, as Trump has proposed a regional and country-based ban, he’s called it an “expansion” on his original ban — not a scaling back.

Trump did not name any countries that would be included in the regional ban, but said that should he be elected, his administration will ask the Department of State to “identify a list of regions where adequate screening cannot take place. There are many such regions,” Trump said. “We will stop processing visas from those areas until such time as it is deemed safe to resume based on new circumstances or new procedures.” One of Trump’s long standing complaints about Syrian, and other, refugees, is that they are not sufficiently vetted and, because of that, could be a “Trojan Horse.”

Here’s a good analysis of the speech by NBC News’ Benjy Sarlin: Making Sense of Donald Trump’s Disjointed Foreign Policy Pitch. Check it out at the link.

Tharid Udin and Imam Maulama Akonjee

Tharid Udin and Imam Maulama Akonjee

In other news, a Brooklyn man has been charged in the shocking murders of Queens Imam Maulama Akonjee and his friend Thara Uddin. Police don’t know the motive yet, but you have to wonder if Donald Trump’s hate speech could have contributed to this crime. From New York Magazine:

Police have charged a Brooklyn man for the brazen murders of a Queens imam and his associate on Saturday. Oscar Morel, 35, was taken into NYPD custody Sunday night after allegedly ramming his car into an unmarked police car around 11 p.m. in the Ozone Park neighborhood — the same community where the killings occurred. Police identified Morel on Monday evening, and said he’d been charged with two counts of second-degree murder, according to the New York Times. He’s also facing two counts of criminal possession of a weapon after police searched his home and found what they believe to be the revolver used in the killing and clothes worn by the gunman in surveillance video.

Police have not yet named a motive in the killing of the 55-year-old imam Maulama Akonjee and his friend and assistant 64-year-old Thara Uddin, both Bangladeshi immigrants and religious leaders in their Queens neighborhood. The men were shot in the head at close range in broad daylight around 2 p.m. on Saturday. The victims were a block away from the Al-Furqan Jame Masjid mosque, where both men, who wore traditional Muslim garb, had just finished afternoon prayers.

NYPD chief of detectives Robert Boyce said it’s still unclear if Morel had any connection to the two victims. “We’re still drilling down on it,” he said, adding that it’s “certainly on the table that it’s a hate crime.

A home-surveillance video of the shooting, released Sunday, shows the killer approaching the two men from behind. He rushes up behind them and lifts his arm and aims at the back of their heads; the two men crumple to the ground. The shooter appears to stuff the gun in his pocket and walk calmly away from the scene.

Read more at the link.

We’ve gone through years of public shootings, and there seems to be a new phenomenon developing–people thinking they hear gunshots and then freaking out mobs of other people. Will this become a regular “thing?” Two examples:

People running out of Crabtree Mall in NC to escape shooting that never happened.

People running out of Crabtree Mall in NC to escape shooting that never happened.

ABC News: Reports of Gunshots in Bustling Mall: Chaos, People Running.

Witness reports of gunshots ringing out inside a busy North Carolina mall caused chaos Saturday afternoon as shoppers ran screaming for the doors or sheltered in stores while dozens of officers arrived.

Police said hours later they were investigating but hadn’t confirmed whether any shots had been fired, adding no one was found wounded by gunfire although there were several minor injuries among people running away. The shopping complex in an affluent area of Raleigh was put on lockdown while helicopters buzzed overhead and numerous law enforcement vehicles swarmed the shopping area….

The police chief said no shell casings had been found by late afternoon. But she noted that witnesses heard what sounded like gunshots, and added that the FBI, sheriff’s office and state investigators were also on scene.

Eight people ranging in age from 10 to 70 were transported to hospitals for treatment of injuries suffered as they rushed to leave the mall, she said. None of those injuries appeared to be life-threatening.

Video posted on social media sites shows dozens of people running toward mall exit doors as numerous screams were heard. Outside the mall, where people gathered afterward, a police officer got on the loudspeaker of a fire truck and said there was no one shot in the mall. Witnesses described chaos after reports of shots.

New York Magazine: Scenes From the Terrifying, Already Forgotten JFK Airport Shooting That Wasn’t.

When the first stampede began, my plane had just landed. It started, apparently, with a group of passengers awaiting departure in John F. Kennedy Airport Terminal 8 cheering Usain Bolt’s superhuman 100-meter dash. The applause sounded like gunfire, somehow, or to someone; really, it only takes one. According to some reports, one woman screamed that she saw a gun. The cascading effect was easier to figure: When people started running, a man I met later on the tarmac said, they plowed through the metal poles strung throughout the terminal to organize lines, and the metal clacking on the tile floors sounded like gunfire. Because the clacking was caused by the crowd, wherever you were and however far you’d run already, it was always right around you.

Passengers huddled near the ground at immigration control while police looked for a possible shooter at JFK airport. It turned out to be a false alarm. PHOTO: BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Passengers huddled near the ground at immigration control while police looked for a possible shooter at JFK airport. It turned out to be a false alarm. PHOTO: BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

There was a second stampede, I heard some time later, in Terminal 4. I was caught up in two separate ones, genuine stampedes, both in Terminal 1. The first was in the long, narrow, low-ceilinged second-floor hallway approaching customs that was so stuffed with restless passengers that it felt like a cattle call, even before the fire alarm and the screaming and all the contradictory squeals that sent people running and yelling and barreling over each other — as well as the dropped luggage, passports, and crouched panicked women who just wanted to take shelter between their knees and hope for it, or “them,” to pass. The second was later, after security guards had just hustled hundreds of us off of the tarmac directly into passport control, when a woman in a hijab appeared at the top of a flight of stairs, yelling out for a family member, it seemed, who had been separated from her in the chaos. The crowd seemed to rise up, squealing, and rush for the two small sets of double doors.

Probably there were other stampedes, some small and some large, throughout the airport, to judge by the thousands of passengers massed outside on the tarmac by about 11 p.m. — not a peaceful mass, but a panicked one. Some of them had been swept outside by police charging through the terminals with guns drawn, shouting for people to get down, show their hands, and drop their luggage, since nothing was more important than your life. Others had been on lines where TSA agents grabbed their gear and just ran, at least according to reports on Twitter.

More at the link.

So . . . what else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!


Tuesday Reads

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

A series of terrorist bombings took place in Brussels, Belgium early this morning just days after the capture of Salah Abdeslam, the last surviving member of the group that perpetrated the attacks in Paris last November. This is a breaking story.

NPR: Terrorist Bombings Strike Brussels: What We Know.

At least 26 people are dead and more than 100 wounded, after explosions struck Brussels during the Tuesday morning rush hour, Belgian officials say. Two blasts hit the international airport; another struck a metro station. Belgium has issued a Level 4 alert, denoting “serious and imminent attack.”

“What we feared has happened, we were hit by blind attacks,” Prime Minister Charles Michel said at a midday news conference Tuesday. He added that there were many dead and many injured.

Citing Minister of Social Affairs and Health Maggie De Block, Belgian media say 11 people died in the airport attack. Transit and other officials say 15 people died at the metro station. Those same sources say there were 81 injured at the airport and 55 hurt in an attack on a train near the Maelbeek station.

French President Francois Hollande says, “terrorists struck Brussels, but it was Europe that was targeted — and all the world that is concerned.”

Obviously, the number of dead and injured could go up as authorities learn more. See live tweets with photos at the link.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - MARCH 22: Passengers are evacuated from Zaventem Bruxelles International Airport after a terrorist attack on March 22, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. At least 13 people are though to have been killed after Brussels airport was hit by two explosions whilst a Metro station was also targeted. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – MARCH 22: Passengers are evacuated from Zaventem Bruxelles International Airport after a terrorist attack on March 22, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium. At least 13 people are though to have been killed after Brussels airport was hit by two explosions whilst a Metro station was also targeted. The attacks come just days after a key suspect in the Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, was captured in Brussels. (Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)

Slate is posting updates on a live blog.

Three explosions rocked Brussels on Tuesday morning, killing more than two dozen people and injuring an untold number of others, according to local authorities and reports from the ground. While the cause of the blasts—two at the city’s airport and then one in its subway system about an hour later—remain unknown, officials are treating them as acts of terrorism. The carnage comes only days after Belgium police arrested Salah Abdeslam, the man believed to be the sole remaining survivor of the 10 men who carried out the terrorist attacks in Paris this past November that killed 130 people.

The latest update says “several of the apparent attackers may still at large.”

Metro train after Brussels attack

Metro train after Brussels attack

CNN reports: Brussels eyewitness: ‘A lot of people were on the floor.’

Jef Versele, from the Belgian city of Ghent, was making his way to check-in for a flight to Rome at Brussels Airport Tuesday morning when he heard a loud noise emanating from several floors below him.

“At first I was not aware that it was a bomb,” he told CNN. “I had the idea that an accident had happened in a food court or something like that.”

The explosion set off a panic, with people screaming and running through the terminal, before it was followed by a second explosion, “which was in my eyes much more powerful than the first one.”

The second blast, which blew out windows at the airport and brought ceiling panels down, left people collapsed on the floor and triggered even greater panic.

“It was quite a mess,” he told CNN.

He said although he was two floors above the source of the explosions — at least one of which was a suicide bombing, according to Belgian prosecutor Frederic Van Leeuw — many people around him were injured by the blast. He said there about 50 to 60 injured on his level of the airport, while the scenes on the lower levels were worse.

“A lot of people were on the floor. They were injured,” Versele said. “I think I was lucky, I was very lucky. I think I have a guardian angel somewhere.”

More eyewitness accounts at the link. Brussels is now on lockdown, according to the Boston Globe, which is also posting live updates.

U.S. President Barack Obama tours Old Havana with his family at the start of a three-day visit to Cuba, in Havana March 20, 2016. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama tours Old Havana with his family at the start of a three-day visit to Cuba, in Havana March 20, 2016. Photo by Carlos Barria/Reuters

President Obama is still in Cuba with his family, but he has been briefed on the attacks in Brussels. The Washington Post: Obama to address the Cuban nation in historic Havana visit.

President Obama will address the Cuban people directly Tuesday, delivering a speech that will be televised live on state television.

The address in Havana’s newly renovated Gran Teatro, before an audience of invited guests of the U.S. and Cuban government, is the keystone event in Obama’s two-and-a-half-day visit to the island. His top advisers said it represented his best chance to outline his vision of the future to ordinary citizens here, and to Cuban Americans at home.

White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters Monday the speech was “important because it’s the one chance to step back and to speak to the Cuban people, and all of the Cuban people,” including “Cubans in the United States.”

One of Obama’s overarching goals in fostering a diplomatic thaw with America’s longtime adversary, Rhodes said, was “reconciliation of the Cuban American community to Cubans here on the island.”

Still, even the speech’s setting spoke to the ongoing challenge the United States faces when it comes to engaging in a public dialogue in Cuba. American officials had originally hoped to do the address in an open-air setting, which would have allowed more ordinary citizens to attend. Instead, the national theater accommodates roughly 1,000 people, and the two governments evenly divided the tickets.

And even as the president seeks to highlight how his approach to Latin America has paid dividends, a series of blasts at Brussels’s airport and a metro station Tuesday served as a powerful reminder that terrorism overseas continues to threaten global stability. The apparently coordinated strikes have killed at least 26 people.

Back in the USA, Arizona is holding a presidential primary today and there will be caucuses in Idaho and Utah. (In Idaho, the Republicans have already voted.) On the Democratic side, Arizona, with 75 delegates, is the biggest prize.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes a selfie with supporters at a campaign rally at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Arizona March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni MARIO ANZUONI / Reuters

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes a selfie with supporters at a campaign rally at Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix, Arizona March 21, 2016. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni MARIO ANZUONI / Reuters

NBC News: Clinton, Sanders in Primary Showdown for Arizona’s Latino Vote.

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Guadalupe Arreola can’t vote in the Arizona primary Tuesday because she is undocumented, so she has spent the last few weeks encouraging Latinos who can to vote for Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders. On Sunday, she hosted a phone bank at her house. More than 50 people showed up.

“There are people who still don’t know Bernie Sanders, and I want to raise awareness of who he is,” said Arreola, whose daughter Erika Andiola is Sanders’ Latino media spokeswoman.

Martin Hernandez said he likes Clinton’s stance on a number of issues important to Latinos, including healthcare and immigration. An organizing director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 99, hesaid he especially likes that that she seems to understands the needs of Latino workers.

“I want somebody in the presidency who is going to help workers, especially those in our immigrant community,” he said. “They are the ones who face the most abuse. Many of them are underpaid and their rights are violated by their employers.”

Arreola and Hernandez represent the split that exists among Latino Democrats in Arizona on whether Sanders or Clinton should be the Democratic nominee for president. Both candidates have the backing of prominent Latino leaders, some of whom have appeared in television and radio ads being broadcasted across the state.

I’m not sure if NBC is just trying to make the primary look close or not. According to the Real Clear Politics average, Clinton is leading Sanders in Arizona 53-23, but FiveThirtyEight says there hasn’t been enough polling for them to project a winner. From everything I’ve heard, I think Hillary will win Arizona, and Sanders could win the Iowa and Utah caucuses.

Horrifying photo of Donald Trump at a rally in Salt Lake City.

Horrifying photo of Donald Trump at a rally in Salt Lake City.

However, there’s a wild card in Utah, according to Al Giordano (from privately distributed newsletter). He says that more and more Mormon women are voting Democratic, and it’s possible they could caucus for Clinton. Mormons absolutely hateand fear Donald Trump, so Giordano argues that it’s even possible that Utah could turn blue in November if Trump is the GOP nominee.

From McKay Coppins (who is a Mormon) at Buzzfeed: Mormon Voters Really Don’t Like Donald Trump — Here’s Why.

So far in 2016, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have proven to be one of the most stubbornly anti-Trump constituencies in the Republican Party — a dynamic that will likely manifest itself in Utah’s presidential caucuses next week.

National polling data focused on Mormon voters is hard to come by, but the election results speak for themselves. Even as Trump has steamrollered his way through the GOP primaries, he has repeatedly been trounced in places with large LDS populations.

In Wyoming, the third-most-heavily Mormon state in the country, Trump was able to muster just 70 votes in the low-turnout Republican caucuses there — losing to Ted Cruz by a whopping 59 points.

In Idaho, the country’s second most Mormon state, Trump lost the primary by 18 points.

And in the Mormon mecca of Utah, the most recent primary poll has Trump in third place — more than 40 points behind Cruz and 18 points behind Kasich.

The pattern holds at the county level as well. As New York Times data journalist Nate Cohn illustrated, the larger the proportion of Mormons in a given county, the worse Trump has generally performed in the primary contest there.

Much more at the link.

Mitt Romney will caucus for Ted Cruz in Utah.

Mitt Romney will caucus for Ted Cruz in Utah.

Philip Bump at The Washington Post: Why Utah hates Donald Trump (Hint: it’s not just about Mormonism).

Donald Trump is getting crushed in Utah.

First, the state’s adopted son, Mitt Romney, went gunning for Trump for weeks on end, and eventually revealed that he was backing Ted Cruz in the upcoming caucuses. Utah is adjacent to Idaho and Wyoming, where Trump has seen two of his biggest losses so far, both to Cruz. In a poll from Y2 Analytics released over the weekend, Trump comes in third, 42 points behind Cruz. (If Cruz wins more than half of the votes in the state, he gets all of the state’s 40 delegates.)

What’s even more remarkable, though, is that another poll suggested that Trump would lose to either Democrat in Utah in the general election. Utah is, of course, one of the reddest states — if not the reddest state — in the country. “Any matchup in which Democrats are competitive in the state of Utah is shocking,” Brigham Young University’s Christopher Karpowitz said to the Deseret News about that result.

Why? Mormon voters, of course; but polling (see lots of graphics at the link) show that people of any religion who are regular church-goers are more likely to be anti-Trump.

What may be prompting the stiff resistance to Trump, then, isn’t just that Utah is home to a lot of Mormons — it’s that those Mormons are more religious and that religious voters are more likely to view Trump with hostility.

The good news for Trump is that most of the states with the largest groups of regular churchgoers have already voted. Most are in the Bible Belt, as you might expect — a region where Trump did very well. Political beliefs are more complicated than they might appear at first glance. Sort of like religious ones.

It’s an interesting wild card, and something to keep an eye on. I’d certainly expect Jewish voters to be frightened by Trump’s strong-man campaign.

So . . . lots of things happening around the world today. What stories are you following? Dakinikat will post a live blog this evening for us to discuss primary and caucus results.