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Friday, April 20, 2018

Trump is smashingly successful — at sowing utter confusion - The Washington Post


The Trump administration is succeeding wildly at one thing: sowing utter confusion about its foreign policy.
Perhaps “foreign policy” is the wrong term. “International lurchings” might be more apt. Allies and adversaries alike are having to learn which pronouncements to take seriously, which to ignore and which are likely to be countermanded by presidential tweet.
President Trump announces he has accepted an invitation to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, whose nuclear arms and ballistic missiles have provoked a dangerous crisis. No groundwork for such a meeting has been laid, so the president dispatches an envoy on a secret mission to Pyongyang — not a diplomat but CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Trump couldn’t send his secretary of state because, at the moment, he doesn’t have one. Pompeo is his nominee for the job.
On Wednesday, the president says he really, truly intends to go through with the meeting — unless it seems the encounter will not be productive, in which case he won’t meet with Kim after all. If there is a meeting, but it doesn’t seem sufficiently “fruitful,” Trump says, “I will respectfully leave the meeting, and we’ll continue what we’re doing or whatever it is that we’ll continue, but something will happen.
Got that? “Something will happen.” The possible outcomes range from hurt feelings to nuclear war.
On another front, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley went on television Sunday to deliver what sounded like a clear message: There will be new sanctions against Russia.
That made sense. The Russians interfered with our election, according to intelligence officials. Moscow continues to support and defend the Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad, who is accused of recently using chemical weapons again against civilians. And our British allies accuse the Russians of using a powerful nerve agent in an attempt to assassinate a former Russian intelligence officer living in England.
So Haley’s announcement of new sanctions was appropriate. But there won’t be any. That news came from, of all people, Trump’s new chief economic adviser, former television pundit Larry Kudlow. Pressed into duty on the foreign-affairs front, Kudlow told reporters that Haley “got ahead of the curve” and that “there might have been some momentary confusion.”
Haley was not amused. Her retort was memorable: “With all due respect, I don’t get confused.”
The rest of us do, though. Asked Wednesday to clarify the policy, Trump went on a rant about how no one has ever been as tough on Russia as he has — a laughable claim — and then waxed poetic (for Trump) about how nice it would be if the United States and Russia could just be friends.
The question was finally settled when Russian officials said they have been assured by the administration that there will be no new sanctions. If the Russkies are the most reliable source of information, maybe we should ask them who’ll win the 2020 election.
If the aim of foreign policy were to keep everybody guessing, Trump would be a smashing success. But that is no proper goal for the leader of the free world. Rhetorically, at least, the United States used to stand for freedom, democracy and human rights throughout the world. Now, apparently, we have an administration that sees foreign relations as a zero-sum game in which others must lose so that we may win.
But the Trump administration doesn’t even seem capable of deciding what winning looks like. Trump withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. As critics predicted, China took advantage of that decision to launch a major initiative to dominate trade in Asia. Last week, Trump reportedly ordered officials to look into rejoining the TPP. This week, the White House said no, we’re staying out.
Trump sent 2,000 U.S. troops into Syria to help drive out the Islamic State — despite his campaign pledge not to get involved in such wars — and had considerable success. But recently, according to widespread reports, he has been demanding an immediate withdrawal, which military officials say would leave behind a chaotic, blood-soaked breeding ground for terrorism. Who knows what the president will ultimately decide?
The Trump administration sees no reason to criticize authoritarian leaders such as Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and, of course, Vladimir Putin in Russia. By contrast, the president is chilly toward staunch allies who do not go out of their way to flatter him, such as Angela Merkel of Germany.
To brief Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for his meeting this week with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, I’d have told him one thing: Whatever you do, don’t beat him at golf.
Trump is smashingly successful — at sowing utter confusion - The Washington Post

6 Takeaways From the Comey Memos - The New York Times

"The Dossier’s Allegations Were Corroborated Mr. Comey’s decision to brief Mr. Trump on the dossier was based, at least in part, on the fact that American intelligence agencies had corroborated parts of the dossier, according to the memos.

‘I explained that the analysts from all three agencies agreed it was relevant and that portions of the material were corroborated by other intelligence,’ Mr. Comey wrote in a memo in February 2017, describing how he responded to a question from Mr. Priebus about why he told the president-elected about the dossier.

Parts of the memo are redacted but appear to say that information in the dossier ‘was consistent with and corroborated by other intelligence, and that the incoming president needed to know the rest of it was out there.’"

(Via.)  6 Takeaways From the Comey Memos - The New York Times:

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Stacey Abrams, the Candidate for Georgia Governor Who Could Make History | The New Yorker

"Stacey Abrams, at forty-four, has become one of the most prominent black female politicians in the United States. As Georgia’s House Minority Leader, Abrams, a Democrat, was the first woman to lead either party in the state’s general assembly. Since graduating from Spelman College and Yale Law School—in between, she got a master’s degree from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, at the University of Texas—she has worked as a tax attorney in Atlanta, co-founded a financial-services firm, and created the New Georgia Project to register hundreds of thousands of voters, particularly people of color, young people, and unmarried women. Abrams has also written eight ‘romantic suspense’ novels, half of them published by HarperCollins, under the name Selena Montgomery. Abrams has said that she created the pen name to keep her fiction separate from the papers on tax law she was also publishing at the time; she happened to be watching a documentary about Elizabeth Montgomery, who played the lead on ‘Bewitched,’ when she chose the name. Abrams has a book under own name, ‘Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change,’ coming out later this month.

On Saturday, I went to see Abrams speak at the International Longshoremen’s Association, in Savannah. Prior to her arrival, scores of dockworkers were milling about, checking their schedules, playing Ping-Pong, catching up with colleagues and friends. Of the dozen men I spoke to outside the I.L.A., all of them African-American, Wali Johnson, a man in his sixties selling watermelons from the back of his truck, was the only one who had heard of Abrams. ‘All I know is that she’s running for governor,’ he said. Should Abrams win in November, she would be Georgia’s first Democratic governor in fifteen years, its first black governor, and the first black woman to be the governor of any state in the country. ‘I don’t care if they’re Republican, Democrat, black, white, or Chinese,’ Johnson said, of politicians generally. ‘I just want them to do the right thing and don’t forget about us in the African-American neighborhoods.’"

(Via.). Stacey Abrams, the Candidate for Georgia Governor Who Could Make History | The New Yorker:

In Rural Tennessee, a Big ICE Raid Makes Some Conservative Voters Rethink Trump’s Immigration Agenda | The New Yorker

"April 5th began in the usual way at the Southeastern Provision meat-processing plant, in Bean Station, Tennessee—some workers were breaking down carcasses on the production line, while others cleaned the floors—until, around 9 A.M., a helicopter began circling above the plant. Moments later, a fleet of cars pulled up outside. Agents from the I.R.S., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Tennessee Highway Patrol emerged, and proceeded to arrest ninety-seven people, most of them originally from Mexico or Guatemala, for working without legal papers. It was the largest workplace roundup of immigrants in a decade.

Bean Station is a sleepy lakeside town of three thousand people in eastern Tennessee. The Southeastern Provision plant—located just off the main roadway, past cattle farms and clapboard churches—is made up of a string of dilapidated barn buildings, but it is the third-largest business in Grainger County. Two hundred and fifty head of cattle pass through the plant each day, which translates to roughly thirty million dollars of business every year. After the raid, the I.R.S. said in a court filing that many workers there typically make less than minimum wage, and that the agency believes the owners of the plant, headed by a man named James Brantley, owe the government millions of dollars in back taxes. But neither Brantley nor any of the other owners of the business were arrested on April 5th. (Lawyers for the plant owners could not be reached for comment.) Of the ninety-seven people taken into custody, ten are facing federal criminal charges relating to past immigration violations, and one is facing state criminal charges. The remaining eighty-six people were placed in deportation proceedings. Thirty-two of these people were released on the day of the raid—allowed to return to their families and sleep at home as their cases work through the system—but fifty-four were kept in detention, and many were soon moved to facilities out of state.

Most of the people who were arrested lived not in Bean Station but in a town called Morristown, part of Hamblen County, about ten miles to the south. In Morristown, a larger town of thirty thousand people, the raid was catastrophic news. Families’ worst fear had come true: husbands, fathers, wives, mothers—gone. The following day, more than five hundred students were reported absent from area schools, kept home out of a combination of fear, anxiety, and confusion. The raid also set off a whirl of activity, as relatives of those arrested gathered each day at a church in the center of town to meet with advocacy groups and discuss their legal options….

In Rural Tennessee, a Big ICE Raid Makes Some Conservative Voters Rethink Trump’s Immigration Agenda | The New Yorker

Why the Starbucks racial bias training is more than just good PR.

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"Starbucks is going to close all of its 8,000 company-owned stores on the afternoon of May 29, with the aim of giving a ‘racial bias education’ to some 175,000 employees. It’s easy to dismiss the action as a PR stunt, a way of throwing a bone to the protesters who were rightly infuriated by the company’s treatment of two black men in Philadelphia. But in fact, this education is critical to the continued future of Starbucks as a company.

Starbucks isn’t really in the coffee business. We’ve known that for over a decade. McDonald’s coffee is better and cheaper than Starbucks, but that hasn’t done any harm to the coffee shop’s bottom line. That’s because what people are paying for when they hang out at a Starbucks, isn’t the coffee. Instead, it’s the ‘third space’—that place, neither home nor office, where you can sit down, meet people, work, rest a minute, recharge. And it turns out to be much easier to give that space away ‘for free’ with expensive coffee than it would be to try to charge for that space and time directly."

In order for Starbucks’ business model to work, then, it needs to rely strongly on shared social norms. The company can absolutely cope with some people just coming in to wait for a friend or go to the bathroom, even if they don’t buy anything; it doesn’t need rules to prevent that. It just needs that behavior to not be too common.

That’s where social cues come in—the same cues that make it difficult to enter an austere high-end art gallery or keep posh hotel lobbies surprisingly empty, even in very crowded districts. We humans want to feel that it’s OK for us walk in somewhere and make ourselves comfortable, to sit down, hang out, wait, do nothing in particular. And Starbucks’ entire business model is predicated on getting those cues exactly right: to make people feel welcome, but also to make the same people feel social pressure to buy something.

Those cues are very subtle and, perforce, vary enormously from location to location. I’ve spent a bunch of time working in various branches of the New York Public Library recently, observing how relatively small differences in architecture, demographics, and staff behavior can have an enormous effect on the perceived acceptability of things like talking to other people, or taking a phone call, or just sitting in a chair and not reading anything.

The job of a Starbucks manager, then, is to constantly be aware of social interactions in the store, and to try to keep it as welcoming as possible to as many people as possible, while at the same time not being too welcoming to people who aren’t going to spend any money.

The manager will inevitably, sometimes, become the de facto enforcer of social norms. If everybody else in the store is angry and resentful at the person who has taken up a huge table for hours, without ordering anything, talking loudly on the phone the whole time, then ultimately it’s up to the manager to talk to that person and resolve the situation to general satisfaction. That’s not an easy job, and the wide range of discretion that the manager has in such situations is exactly the kind of place where racism can fester.

In Philadelphia, the store manager’s actions were so unjustifiable and obviously racist that, far from resolving a bad situation to make customers happier, she created a bad situation which made her customers furious, to the point that they took out their phones and vocally objected to what was going on. If any manager feels empowered to act in such a manner, that’s reason alone for a CEO to call an all-hands and try to right the ship.

But for Starbucks, the crisis is even more urgent than that. Once you become a multibillion-dollar household name, norms change: While people instinctively know the polite way to behave in a locally owned coffee shop, there are fewer social norms for how to deal with multibillion-dollar corporations. The men arrested in Philadelphia were keeping up their side of the social contract, behaving politely and respectfully.

But once we see the police being called on such people, there’s an understandable tendency to move away from a mindset of being polite, and to move instead toward a more aggressive mindset of demanding certain rights. Few people are going to feel guilty when the only harmed party is a faceless corporation with vast power and wealth. Go too far down that path, and it doesn’t take long before you end up in the kind of antagonistic stance that, say, United Airlines has with its passengers...

(Via.) Why the Starbucks racial bias training is more than just good PR.:

Why Apple REFUSED to Fix Linus' iMac Pro. Apple is right.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Election 2018 Is Off to the Racists | The Nation

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“Jews…commit a disproportionate number of mass shootings,” Wisconsin Republican congressional candidate Paul Nehlen lied on Facebook recently. Earlier, he had tweeted: “Poop, incest, and pedophilia. Why are those common themes repeated so often with Jews?” Another GOP House hopeful, Pennsylvania’s Sean Donahue, recently told me, “The United States was intended to be white…. I don’t see why we had to have the Fair Housing Act.”

Welcome to Trump’s America, where a rash of white nationalists are running for office. Depending on your definition, anywhere from nine and 17 white supremacists and far-right militia leaders are currently running for House and Senate seats, governorships, and state legislatures.



Most have little chance of winning, but as with the neo-Nazi Arthur Jones, who recently ran unopposed in the Republican primary for the Third Congressional District in the Chicago area and garnered 20,458 votes, their mere candidacies, along with their growing acceptance by other Republicans as legitimate stakeholders in the party, are a dangerous development. “They are, by their very presence, shifting the pole of what most Americans find to be acceptable political discourse,” said Eric K. Ward of the Western States Center, a progressive organization that works in seven states where white-nationalist groups have been active."



Election 2018 Is Off to the Racists | The Nation

Trump overruled Mattis on Congress vote on Syria strikes: NYT


Trump overruled Mattis on Congress vote on Syria strikes: NYT

Syria strikes may have been 'choreographed' with Russia: Sen. Menendez



Syria strikes may have been 'choreographed' with Russia: Sen. Menendez