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Monday, August 19, 2019

Sharpton: Firing of Cop Who Killed Eric Garner ‘Nothing to Celebrate’





"Members of Eric Garner’s family expressed gratefulness but no satisfaction to the announcement that New York City’s police commissioner fired the officer who killed their father after five years of waiting. Rev. Al Sharpton, speaking alongside members of Garner’s family, called the decision terminating Daniel Pantaleo “nothing to celebrate because Pantaleo will go home a terminated man but this family had to go to a funeral.” Sharpton criticized the city for taking so long to punish Pantaleo for what police said was his use of a prohibited chokehold that killed Garner in 2014. Garner’s daughter, Emerald Snipes, 26, thanked the police commissioner “for doing the right thing” but said she won’t stop fighting for police reform. “I will do everything in my power to never see another Eric Garner.”



Sharpton: Firing of Cop Who Killed Eric Garner ‘Nothing to Celebrate’

US high school students appear to give Nazi salute at sports ceremony | US news | The Guardian

Students appear to give a salute in video at Pacifica high school in Garden Grove, California.



US high school students appear to give Nazi salute at sports ceremony | US news | The Guardian

Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar address Israel travel controversy

Bias In Medicine: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Racism In 2019, From Trump To Netanyahu

Must Reads: For many black voters, 2020 isn’t about pride or making history. It’s about beating Trump - Los Angeles Times

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This article is stating a sad reality. I am with Kenyan Carter at the end of the article but most African Americans seem to want to play it safe with Joe Biden.
"Catrena Norris Carter is a bundle of conflicting impulses.
As a black woman, she’s delighted with Kamala Harris’ presidential bid. As a liberal activist, she’s thrilled with Elizabeth Warren’s groaning board of progressive policy proposals.
But as someone consumed with defeating President Trump, Carter is determined to think with her head, not her heart, and that cold calculation is pushing her toward Joe Biden among the crowded 2020 Democratic field.
The former vice president may not excite her like some candidates. But he boasts one asset that, to Carter’s mind, surpasses all others: As a white male firmly embedded in the political establishment, Biden — more than a female or black candidate — stands the best chance of winning the White House.
“We really need to be taking the temperature of the entire country,” said Carter, 51, who two years ago helped rally black women across Alabama to put Democrat Doug Jones in the U.S. Senate. “Not just people who think like us.”
Black voters, and black women in particular, are the bedrock of the Democratic Party. Given their large numbers in early-voting states such as South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana, they will have tremendous sway in choosing the party’s nominee. Some believe that tilts the race away from Biden, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke or other relatively centrist white males in favor of a more progressive candidate or person of color.
But nationwide polling, focus group interviews and conversations with campaign strategists, voters and political activists across Alabama suggest many African Americans aren’t focused on policy or making history by, say, putting Harris or another woman in the White House.
“They are so sick and tired of being sick and tired of Trump, there’s this almost unconscious feeling they’re going to go with the candidate that is more likely to beat him,” said Ron Lester, a Washington pollster who has spent decades surveying the attitudes of black voters.
For many, Lester said, “that is probably a white male,” given their deep-seated belief “that America is still a very racist place and a very misogynistic place and that a candidate who doesn’t get any white votes is probably going to lose.”
Not all agree.
We really need to be taking the temperature of the entire country. Not just people who think like us.
Alabama political activist Catrena Norris Carter
Steven Reed, a candidate for mayor of Montgomery, said that “looking for the safest bet is a recipe for disappointment” in November 2020.
“We need the best candidate with the best ideas and with the best opportunity to win and then implement that agenda,” said Reed, a county probate judge who is neutral in Alabama’s March 3 primary. “I don’t think playing it safe is the route Democrats should take if they want to win, if they want to excite the base, if they want to get out nontraditional voters and win over swing voters.”
Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, a left-leaning political action committee, noted that Barack Obama initially faced deep skepticism among African Americans, who strongly preferred Hillary Clinton early in the 2008 contest. It was only after Obama beat Clinton in Iowa and demonstrated his appeal to the state’s white voters that black supporters flocked to his candidacy, delivering him the Democratic nomination.
“People are nervous because the country is in such peril,” Shropshire said. “People need to have some historical perspective.”
But the stated willingness — for now — of many black voters to focus on electability or settle for less than their ideal candidate is one reason Biden has emerged as the early Democratic front-runner. It also points up the challenges facing Harris and New Jersey’s African American senator, Cory Booker, who are banking on racial pride to help boost them from the congested pack, and women like Massachusetts Sen. Warren, who are counting on a measure of feminist solidarity.
“My pragmatic side says that the person that can win this election is someone more in the middle, that’s not going to come out for [repealing] the death penalty and reparations,” said Faya Touré, 74, a veteran civil rights activist in Selma. She sat amid a museum-like collection of African art in her law office, blocks from the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where in 1965 blacks seeking the right to vote were clubbed and attacked with tear gas.
“I would love a candidate that would do that,” Touré continued. “But I don’t think that candidate’s going to win this election.”
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Faya Touré doubts a candidate who shares her views on abolishing the death penalty and paying reparations for slavery could win the White House.
(Mark Z. Barabak / Los Angeles Times)
If Obama’s history-making campaign was buoyed by hope and aspiration, many black voters regard the 2020 election with feelings more akin to resignation and risk aversion. Far from proving the country’s open-mindedness and racial progress, they said, the backlash to the nation’s first African American president only underscored its deep and abiding racial divide.
“What happened after we elected Obama?” asked Touré. “Voter suppression laws. White supremacy. Hate crimes. The tea party…. Without an Obama, there would never have been a Trump.”
The litany of grievance among African Americans is deep and wide: Trump’s reference to black and brown “shithole countries,” his condemnation of black athletes protesting police abuse and racial disparities, his equivocal response to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va.
The robust economy is no salve.
While the black unemployment rate was 6.7% in April, the lowest in decades, that has not translated into widespread African American support for the president or his economic policies. A recent survey conducted for BlackPAC found 90% of likely black voters believed conditions had stagnated under Trump or gotten worse. A January Pew poll gave him similarly poor marks.
“The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer and the middle class is spiraling down, while all is supposed to be right with the world,” said Materia Gipson, 61, a retired Birmingham schoolteacher who is shopping for a candidate even though she looks favorably on Biden.
The former senator from Delaware didn’t fare particularly well with African Americans in his two previous runs for president. But now, at age 76, there is an old-shoe familiarity, along with appreciation for Biden’s unswerving loyalty as Obama’s vice president in the face of what many consider unfair and racially motivated attacks.
“The conversation in the barber shop and beauty salons is that Biden was there for Obama, he had his back … he’s a really close friend, so it makes them feel like they have a relationship, even if they’ve never met him,” said Anthony Daniels, who leads Democrats in Alabama’s House of Representatives. “A lot of times in the African American community they don’t trade old friends for new friends.”
Parts of Biden’s political past continue to rankle.
More than four decades ago, early in his Senate career, Biden was a vocal opponent of busing aimed at school desegregation. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he was widely criticized for his treatment of Anita Hill during the 1991 confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Biden was also instrumental in passing a 1994 anti-crime bill criticized for contributing to the mass incarceration of black Americans.
“Kids whose daddies suffered under Joe Biden aren’t going to forget,” said Shante Wolfe-Sisson, a 25-year-old Birmingham political activist, whose preference runs more toward the left-leaning Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Polls suggest that older African Americans are more forgiving, supporting Biden to a greater extent than young black voters.
“We have to learn from things, and hopefully he did,” said Gipson, the retired Birmingham teacher, who brushed aside controversies over Hill and Biden’s tactile campaign style. “I want to look at bigger issues than touching somebody or what happened to Anita Hill. Some things you need to get past and look at the big picture.”
Kenyan Carter, though, has a hard time getting past a lot of things he doesn’t like about Biden.
Kenyan Carter is no fan of Joe Biden. But he'll vote for him if he's the Democratic nominee facing President Trump.
He’s out of touch, said the 21-year-old University of South Alabama journalism student, as his mother, activist Catrena Norris Carter, alternately shook her head and smiled indulgently. He’s too squishy when it comes to fighting climate change, Kenyan Carter went on, and seems too beholden to corporate interests.
“Biden to me is how you get people like Trump,” Carter said. “Biden is how you get people disassociated from politics because you get people like him in power.”
The younger Carter hasn’t yet settled on a candidate, but he volunteered last month at a Sanders rally in Birmingham and loves “how scared [Warren] makes Wall Street people and CEOs.”
That said, Carter will vote for Biden — grudgingly — if he becomes the Democratic nominee.
Anything, he said, to be rid of Trump."


Must Reads: For many black voters, 2020 isn’t about pride or making history. It’s about beating Trump - Los Angeles Times

Trump Used Asian Accent to Mock US Allies at Fundraiser





Trump Used Asian Accent to Mock US Allies at Fundraiser

400 years from slaves arriving in Virginia



400 years from slaves arriving in Virginia

400 years from slaves arriving in Virginia



400 years from slaves arriving in Virginia

Proud Boys organize rally of far right protesters in Portland



Proud Boys organize rally of far right protesters in Portland

Opinion | The Tired and Poor Who Make America Great - The New York Times

"America is on the verge of grand human re-sorting. On Monday, the Trump administration announced new immigration rules that favor younger, healthier and wealthier newcomers, and make it easier to deny permanent residency to those relying on public assistance programs like Medicaid, or those who don’t show enough funds on their visa applications.
When asked about the apparent contradiction between the new rules and the famous poem inviting the world’s “tired and poor” inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, suggested an interpretation that adds “standing on their own two feet” as new eligibility criteria. He then reassured the public that no revisions to the actual statue would be made. Mr. Cuccinelli’s commitment to preserving historical monuments is heartening, but it’s a bit like keeping a can from Coca-Cola, America’s other global icon, and filling it with vinegar. America is not America if a person with the proverbial $200 in his pocket is not allowed here.
When I immigrated to the “land of the free” from Russia in my early 20s, I didn’t have to rely on public assistance. But I have seen enough immigrants who did — some because they came old and sick; others because they were struck by misfortune. Neither category wanted to become “a public charge,” the term referring to individuals likely to become dependent on the government. Those who are forced to leave their home countries don’t do so because they want to freeload. But life happens, just as it does to those with American passports.

Take my father-in-law. A successful Soviet-era journalist, he applied for an exit visa in 1979 with a plan to work for the radio station Voice of America. By the time he was finally allowed to leave in 1987, he had survived a massive heart attack. He suffered another one en route to Boston, then seven more, plus two strokes; Medicaid paid for his treatment. My father-in-law never adjusted to living in a tiny studio in a subsidized house, and to doing so on $600 a month. But he lived, having defied the odds assigned to him by the doctors in his own country.

The father of my childhood friend had a different path into the bleak territory of public assistance. After receiving death threats from the local mafia, he and his wife were forced to abandon their thriving business in Russia and seek refuge with their daughter, married to a Texan. My friend’s father was fiercely determined to never “get on the government’s neck.” An executive and entrepreneur for most of his life, he took a job stocking shelves in a suburban wine store and was able to get back on his feet, moving himself and his wife to a place of their own. Sadly, his first mortgage bill came alongside a Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. The wine store provided no health insurance, but he qualified for Medicaid. He continued to work while he could stand, using what was left of his disability checks toward his mortgage. The rest of his expenses were paid by his daughters, including those related to his funeral.
The Trump administration’s new immigration rules make these situations, with a basic guarantee of life and dignity for all, much harder to achieve. They continue with the politics of division — into “beautiful places” like Mar-a-Lago and “rat holes” like Baltimore, “good countries” and “shithole countries,” those who can “stand on their own two feet” and those who can’t. The moral damage that comes with this type of leadership is obviously not a concern for this president, or for those who support him.

They should be concerned, however, with what’s to come next: Any society that starts down the path of marginalizing certain groups will eventually need new targets. For decades, Republicans have been trying to get rid of the threadbare “safety net” under the pretext of self-reliance. With these new rules, passed without congressional approval, they moved closer. Once the concept of “standing on one’s own two feet” as a prerogative of good citizenship takes hold, it can be scaled — to the refugees, currently exempt from the rules, to naturalized citizens and even to those born American. People cheering for the Trump administration’s sorting policies today might need to reach out for help tomorrow — and get a sermon on self-sufficiency.

The America that harbors the world’s “tired and poor” is obviously not the America that President Trump and his ilk want. Mr. Cuccinelli went as far as suggesting the plaque with the iconic poem had been affixed in an attempt to justify the first “public charge.” But whatever they say, the principle inscribed in bronze on America’s most enduring symbol, and in our hearts, is the law of the land. As long as the Statue of Liberty stands, it renders Donald Trump an impostor, while those who come to build this country with their hard labor are its true citizens."


Opinion | The Tired and Poor Who Make America Great - The New York Times

Friday, August 16, 2019

Opinion | What Are Trump and Netanyahu Afraid Of?





"By The Editorial Board Aug. 15, 2019



Update: On Friday, Israel said it would allow Representative Rashida Tlaib to enter the West Bank to visit her grandmother.



It is difficult to stomach the notion that an American president would put pressure on Israel to deny entry to two members of the United States Congress.



There are not many traditions of decorum that President Trump has not trampled on since entering the White House. But to put at risk, so cynically, America’s special relationship with Israel solely to titillate the bigots in his base, to lean so crassly on a foreign leader to punish his own political adversaries, to demonstrate so foul a lack of respect for the most elemental democratic principles, is new territory even for him.



Though facing a difficult election next month for which he sorely needs the support of his fractured right-wing base, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was said to be leaning toward allowing Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan to travel through Israel “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America,” as his ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, wisely said last month. But, on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu cravenly bowed before the pressure from Mr. Trump.



“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Thursday morning. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”



Sad, to borrow one of Mr. Trump’s favorite words. How sad that two leaders — each desperate to look tough to his own base — are risking a bipartisan relationship built between these two nations over generations. Only weak leaders would risk so much for a reward so negligible. To what end? To win a few political points against two of the newest members of Congress? To capture a few news cycles? To dial up the outrage machine just one more notch? Confident leaders would never have risked so much for so little.



Though many American presidents have sought to influence Israeli decisions throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they usually did so diplomatically — and to advance America’s interests. Mr. Trump, by contrast, leaned on Mr. Netanyahu as he would on one of his own appointees, in broad view, and in direct violation of what the president of the United States should be doing when democratically elected lawmakers are threatened with a blockade by an allied leader.



There can be, and has been, considerable debate over what the two congresswomen, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and both sharp critics of the Israeli government, have said and done. They have supported the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement aimed at pressuring Israel into ending its occupation of the West Bank, a movement that some Jews have deemed to be anti-Semitic.



Yet, from the outset, Mr. Trump has pounced on the religion and background of the two congresswomen to fan racial divisions. Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib were two of the four congresswomen of color, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who Mr. Trump said should “go back” to the countries they came from, giving rise to chants of “send her back” at a subsequent Trump political rally.



The visit Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib were contemplating was not to Israel proper, but to the West Bank, where they were to visit Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, on a trip co-sponsored by a Palestinian organization, Miftah, that promotes “global awareness and knowledge of Palestinian realities.” A visit was planned to the Al Aqsa Mosque, on what Israelis call the Temple Mount, an especially volatile site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is little question that their visit would have focused on Palestinian grievances over the Israeli occupation.



All that was clearly troublesome for Mr. Netanyahu, especially the support of the congresswomen for the B.D.S. movement. A relatively recent law allows the Israeli government to deny entry to supporters of the movement; it was this law that the government used to deny entry to the representatives.



In April the United States barred Omar Barghouti, one of the co-founders of the B.D.S. movement, from entering the country when he was scheduled to deliver a series of talks and attend his daughter’s wedding. Other American public figures have been detained by Israeli authorities, ostensibly because of their political views, including the IfNotNow founder, Simone Zimmerman, who was held at the border; a B.D.S. advocate, Ariel Gold, who was denied entry to the country; and the journalist Peter Beinart, who was held at the airport. Mr. Netanyahu later called Mr. Beinart’s detention a “mistake.”



Yet contrary to Mr. Trump’s tweet, it is blocking entry by two American legislators who are critics of Israel that shows great weakness, especially after Israel hosted visits by delegations of 31 Republican and 41 Democratic lawmakers this month. It has long been Israel’s mantra that critics of its policies should come see for themselves, and the country is certainly strong enough to handle any criticism from two members of Congress. Mr. Trump has done Israel no favor."



Opinion | What Are Trump and Netanyahu Afraid Of?

The Great Land Robbery: How Federal Policies Dispossessed Black American...

What Is Israel Trying to Hide? Reps. Tlaib & Omar Blocked from Taking Of...

Why Israel errs in barring Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar - comment - Israel News - Jerusalem Post

Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar



"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a slew of top advisers and officials from various security organizations and ministries have been hunkering down this week trying to decide what to do about Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.


The arrival of the democratically elected US congresswomen from Michigan and Minnesota – along with other US reps for what is being called a “Congressional Delegation to Occupied Territories in Palestine” – has been shrouded in mystery, but their motives certainly are clear. The deliberations taking place in Jerusalem centered on whether to let them land and enter Israel.
Neither Tlaib nor Omar are friends of Israel. Their past inflammatory statements precede them and they don’t seem interested in learning anything about the Israeli perspective of the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Despite that, the answer to the question about allowing them into the country should be obvious: of course.
Israel has nothing to hide regarding its policies and treatment of Palestinians – some of it just and some of it is ugly. BDS advocates Tlaib and Omar may be coming to inspect and learn only about the ugly side, but there is no reason why Israeli officials shouldn’t make every effort to engage them in dialogue and host them for frank discussions on the issues.
Last month, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer made clear that Israel would not bar the entry of the two congresswoman into Israel. “Out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” he said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), who was in Israel last week leading a bipartisan delegation, said that Tlaib and Omar should be welcomed in Israel.
“Israel’s confidence – as expressed by Mr. Dermer in having any member of Congress who wants to come to Israel, have the opportunity to come to Israel and have access and to see what all these members have seen and will see – is appropriate,” Hoyer said, a declaration backed by Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from California.
What’s changed since then? Is Netanyahu trying to further ingratiate himself with US President Donald Trump, who reportedly is lobbying Israel not to let the Democratic reps in? Let’s hope that wasn’t a consideration for such a sensitive issue.
The decision ultimately made by the government Thursday to apparently ban the congresswomen from entering Israel is shortsighted and deeply flawed. A quashed trip is only going to further deepen the divide between Democrats and Israel – moving moderate Democrats away from a positive view of the country – and raise the specter that Israel is behaving in something less than a democratic fashion.
Tlaib and Omar need to be let in and allowed to see what’s going on in Ramallah, Hebron and east Jerusalem. And every effort should be made by Israel to meet with them and present the other side of the coin. If Tlaib and Omar decline, it will be their loss – but Israel will have done the right thing. Now, all we’ve done is give Israel’s detractors a great gift."


Why Israel errs in barring Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar - comment - Israel News - Jerusalem Post

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Pelosi is ‘Original Villain’ Who Opened Door for Trump’s Attack on Four Congresswomen - Khmer Times



“She’s been very disrespectful,” Luqman said of Pelosi, adding that the four congresswomen gave the speaker “too much” deference in the beginning. “Pelosi, she was the foil in this story. She was the original villain. She opened the door for this, knowing how Trump is a media manipulator. He built his career on this.”

Pelosi is ‘Original Villain’ Who Opened Door for Trump’s Attack on Four Congresswomen - Khmer Times

Bernie Sanders slams Israel's ban of Muslim Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib ...

Israel Denies Entry to Omar and Tlaib After Trump’s Call to Block Them - The New York Times





"A decade ago, Daryl Johnson, then a senior terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote a report about the growing danger of right-wing extremism in America. Citing economic dislocation, the election of the first African-American president and fury about immigration, he concluded that “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”



When the report leaked, conservative political figures sputtered with outrage, indignant that their ideology was being linked to terrorism. The report warned, correctly, that right-wing radicals would try to recruit disgruntled military veterans, which conservatives saw as a slur on the troops. Homeland Security, cowed, withdrew the document. In May 2009, Johnson’s unit, the domestic terrorism team, was disbanded, and he left government the following year.



Johnson was prescient, though only up to a point. He expected right-wing militancy to escalate throughout Barack Obama’s administration, but to subside if a Republican followed him. Ordinarily, the far-right turns to terrorism when it feels powerless; the Oklahoma City bombing happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and all assassinations of abortion providers in the United States have taken place during Democratic administrations. During Republican presidencies, paranoid right-wing demagogy tends to recede, and with it, right-wing violence.



But that pattern doesn’t hold when the president himself is a paranoid right-wing demagogue.



“The fact that they’re still operating at a high level during a Republican administration goes against all the trending I’ve seen in 40 years,” Johnson told me. Donald Trump has kept the far right excited and agitated. “He is basically the fuel that’s been poured onto a fire,” said Johnson.



[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]



This past weekend, that fire appeared to rage out of control, when a young man slaughtered shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso. A manifesto he reportedly wrote echoed Trump’s language about an immigrant “invasion” and Democratic support for “open borders.” It even included the words “send them back.” He told investigators he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could.



Surrendering to political necessity, Trump gave a brief speech on Monday decrying white supremacist terror: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He read these words robotically from a teleprompter, much as he did after the racist riot in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when, under pressure, he said, “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.”



Back then, it took about a day for the awkward mask of minimal decency to drop; soon, he was ranting about the “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis. Nevertheless, on Monday some insisted on pretending that Trump’s words marked a turning point. “He really did set a different tone than he did in the past when it comes to condemning this hate,” said Weijia Jiang, White House correspondent for CBS News.



If history is any guide, it won’t be long before the president returns to tweeting racist invective and encouraging jingoist hatreds at his rallies. In the meantime, everyone should be clear that what Trump said on Monday wasn’t nearly enough. He has stoked right-wing violence and his administration has actively opposed efforts to fight it. Further, he’s escalating his incitement of racial grievance as he runs for re-election, as shown by his attacks on the four congresswomen of color known as the squad, as well as the African-American congressman Elijah Cummings. One desultory speech does not erase Trump’s politics of arson, or the complicity of the Republicans who continue to enable it.



It’s true that the Obama White House, giving in to Republican intimidation, didn’t do enough to combat violent white supremacy. But Trump rolled back even his predecessor’s modest efforts, while bringing the language of white nationalism into mainstream politics. His administration canceled Obama-era grants to groups working to counter racist extremism. Dave Gomez, a former F.B.I. supervisor who oversaw terrorism cases, told The Washington Post that the agency hasn’t been as aggressive as it might be against the racist right because of political concerns. “There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base,” he said. “It’s a no-win situation for the F.B.I. agent or supervisor.”



On Monday, by coincidence, Cesar Sayoc Jr., the man who sent package bombs to Democrats and journalists he viewed as hostile to Trump, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. In a court filing, his defense lawyers describe how he was radicalized. “He truly believed wild conspiracy theories he read on the internet, many of which vilified Democrats and spread rumors that Trump supporters were in danger because of them,” they wrote. “He heard it from the president of the United States, a man with whom he felt he had a deep personal connection.” He became a terrorist as a result of taking the president both seriously and literally.



Trump probably couldn’t bottle up the hideous forces he’s helped unleash even if he wanted to, and there’s little sign he wants to. If the president never did or said another racist thing, said Johnson, “it’s still going to take years for the momentum of these movements to slow and to die down.” As it is, Trump’s grudging anti-racism is unlikely to last the week. The memory of the mayhem he’s inspired should last longer."



Israel Denies Entry to Omar and Tlaib After Trump’s Call to Block Them - The New York Times

Opinion | Trump Is a White Nationalist Who Inspires Terrorism - The New York Times

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the White House Monday for the president’s remarks on last weekend’s mass shootings.



This is outrageous.  Both Trump and Netanyahu are corrupt evil thugs.  Birds of a feather....



"A decade ago, Daryl Johnson, then a senior terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, wrote a report about the growing danger of right-wing extremism in America. Citing economic dislocation, the election of the first African-American president and fury about immigration, he concluded that “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”



When the report leaked, conservative political figures sputtered with outrage, indignant that their ideology was being linked to terrorism. The report warned, correctly, that right-wing radicals would try to recruit disgruntled military veterans, which conservatives saw as a slur on the troops. Homeland Security, cowed, withdrew the document. In May 2009, Johnson’s unit, the domestic terrorism team, was disbanded, and he left government the following year.



Johnson was prescient, though only up to a point. He expected right-wing militancy to escalate throughout Barack Obama’s administration, but to subside if a Republican followed him. Ordinarily, the far-right turns to terrorism when it feels powerless; the Oklahoma City bombing happened during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and all assassinations of abortion providers in the United States have taken place during Democratic administrations. During Republican presidencies, paranoid right-wing demagogy tends to recede, and with it, right-wing violence.



But that pattern doesn’t hold when the president himself is a paranoid right-wing demagogue.



“The fact that they’re still operating at a high level during a Republican administration goes against all the trending I’ve seen in 40 years,” Johnson told me. Donald Trump has kept the far right excited and agitated. “He is basically the fuel that’s been poured onto a fire,” said Johnson.



[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]



This past weekend, that fire appeared to rage out of control, when a young man slaughtered shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso. A manifesto he reportedly wrote echoed Trump’s language about an immigrant “invasion” and Democratic support for “open borders.” It even included the words “send them back.” He told investigators he wanted to kill as many Mexicans as he could.



Surrendering to political necessity, Trump gave a brief speech on Monday decrying white supremacist terror: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” He read these words robotically from a teleprompter, much as he did after the racist riot in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, when, under pressure, he said, “Racism is evil — and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs.”



Opinion | Trump Is a White Nationalist Who Inspires Terrorism - The New York Times

Steve King Is Racist, Misogynist—and Not that Different From Other Republicans

"Republicans should be awarded no points for calling on Iowa Congressman Steve King to resign. Pointing out that this racist misogynist has no business serving in Congress is like pointing out that you shouldn’t make toast in a bathtub. It doesn’t mean you are insightful; it means the people who disagree with you are enfeebled.

King should have been drummed out of office a long, long time ago. But this week’s controversy is particularly odious. The Des Moines Register reports that King made his now infamous comments while trying to defend his religious fundamentalist position that abortion should be banned, even in cases of rape or incest. “What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” he said at the Westside Conservative Club meeting in Urbandale, Iowa. “Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages taken place and whatever happened to culture after society? I know I can’t certify that I’m not a part of a product of that.”
The statement is so offensive it wraps all the way around to farce. The guy is out there suggesting that female reproductive autonomy threatens the survival of the species. It is impossible to take seriously a person who thinks Flowers in the Attic is a story about the triumph of human evolution, and if he weren’t an actual member of Congress, nobody would.
King is what scientists call “a fool.” He says absurd things in ridiculous ways using evidence that is demonstrably false. I don’t want to waste time resurfacing every shockingly bigoted or sexist thing this man has said in public life, so just Google himThe New York Times is going to have to update its “Timeline of Steve King’s Racist Remarks and Divisive Actions” to add this latest Viking-rape apologist thought bubble.
Given this long and flagrant record, calling out a vapid knuckle-dragger like King is the easiest thing in the world for Republican politicians and media makers to do. It costs them nothing. And so, at this very moment, they are making the consequence-free virtue-signal of calling on King to resign.
That’s a problem, actually. King’s Republican co-conspirators are trying to distinguish the unwashed bigotry and misogyny of King from their own, when the only real difference is that Republicans usually use a can of Axe Body Spray before they go outside.
This headline in the Washington Examiner (for the uninitiated, the Washington Examiner is to Fox News as crack is to cocaine) says it all: “Steve King should go back where he came from.” You see what they did there? The Examiner used one of the most racist statements of Donald Trump’s entirely racist presidency—the one he deployed against four congresswomen of color—but now they’re using it against a white man so they can argue that the sentiment is not racist. They’re using it to try to draw a false equivalency between King and “the Squad,” which is bad enough. But they’re also trying to isolate King, outside of mainstream conservative thought, which is just not true. (Hello, Alabama!)
Or take Liz Cheney. Cheney is the third-highest-ranking representative on the Republican side. She tweeted out

Today’s comments by@RepSteveKingIA are appalling and bizarre. As I’ve said before, it’s time for him to go. The people of Iowa’s 4th congressional district deserve better.
Liz Cheney defended Donald Trump when he made those “send them back” comments about the Squad, saying that somehow they weren’t about race. She’s called Representative Ayanna Pressley “racist,” and is apparently willing to throw her own lesbian sister under the bus to gain higher office.
There’s no meaningful difference between Liz Cheney and Steve King. If I put Cheney’s voting record against King’s, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. Humanitarian standards for the Border Patrol: nay. Reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act: nay. Condemning Trump’s racist comments: lol, nay. Both of them even voted for the bill reprimanding Steve King. They’re both examples of what the mainstream Republican Party has become—it’s just that King likes to say the quiet part aloud.
What we’re seeing here is part of the GOP effort, aided by the media, to define racism or sexism or homophobia as something extreme and unhinged, as opposed to something common and integrated into our society. Republicans (along with many Democrats, frankly) don’t want to deal with the structural impact of white supremacy as practiced in this country for 400 years. They just want to label white supremacists as “fringe” figures who are “not actually a real problem,” as Tucker Carlson said. They don’t want to deal with the moral implications of forcing a woman to have her body hijacked for nine months, against her will, because she’s been the victim of a violent crime. They just want to throw up draconian abortion bans and institute fetal-personhood amendments but pretend like Kevin Williamson is a little wacky.
Republican politicians will be the first ones to decry political correctness when one of their racist flock gets zapped on Twitter for promoting hate speech, but the only kind of bigotry and misogyny they’re willing to acknowledge is the kind based on words, instead of actions. You can get Republican pols to furrow their brows and say, “I wish the president wouldn’t tweet so much.” But you can’t get them to do anything about the president’s policies of dehumanizing immigrants, terrorizing black and brown communities, suppressing the votes of nonwhite citizens, or erecting a wall to stand as a monument to his bigotry. No, they’d much rather go after King for saying something stupid about white nationalism than vote against the policies of white nationalism. They’d much rather go after King for saying something stupid about rape than go after Brett Kavanaugh for allegedly trying to rape somebody.
Asking Steve King to resign, but not Donald Trump, is a Republican strategy for normalizing Donald Trump. Trump is the bride to white nationalism; King is just the bridesmaid being asked to wear the ugly dress.
Republicans don’t have a problem with what Steve King believes; they have a problem with how he says it. Again, the Examiner makes that point plain: “Steve King’s rhetorical stupidity hurts the pro-life movement.”
Steve King is no gaffe machine; he’s just dumb. And he harms the causes he pretends to support.
If you’re willing to call Steve King and Donald Trump “racist” but not Liz Cheney and Mitch McConnell, all you are doing is allowing white Republicans to define that term for you. If you see that King and Trump are rape apologists but can’t see the same problem with Lindsey Graham and Brett Kavanaugh, then you’re just in it for the word games and not the struggle for equal rights.
From where I sit, they all look the same to me. Because I don’t look at what they say, I look at what they do."


Steve King Is Racist, Misogynist—and Not that Different From Other Republicans

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Opinion | Trump Is a White Nationalist Who Inspires Terrorism - The New York Times





Moscow Mitch is deep in the red mud.



"Last summer, it looked like things were finally about to change for Ashland, Ky. For two decades, the jobs that once supported this Appalachian outpost of 20,000 people on a bend in the Ohio River have been disappearing: 100 laid off from the freight-rail maintenance shop; dozens pink-slipped at the oil refinery; 1,100 axed at the steel mill that looms over the landscape. Then, on June 1, 2018, standing on a stage flanked by the state’s governor and business leaders, Craig Bouchard, the CEO of Braidy Industries, pointed across a vast green field and described a vision as though he could already see it.



In the little-used park just off I-64, Braidy would build the largest aluminum mill constructed in the U.S. in nearly four decades. The $1.7 billion plant would take aluminum slab and roll it into the material used in everything from cars and planes to soda cans. It would employ 600 full-time workers earning twice the average salary in the region, Bouchard said, and create 18,000 other jobs across the state. Gesturing at the empty space around him, the CEO described an employee health center, a technical lab, a day care and hundreds of employees walking around “carrying iPads.” More than just making aluminum, the plant would help “rebuild northeast Kentucky, and in fact all of Appalachia,” Bouchard told the crowd.





There was just one problem: Bouchard still needed a major investor to make the vision a reality. After months of searching, the only option was problematic. Rusal, the Russian aluminum giant, was tailor-made to join forces on the project. But it was under sanctions imposed by the U.S. Treasury Department. Its billionaire owner, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s, was being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for his potential involvement in the effort to swing the 2016 presidential election. The Treasury sanctions—punishment for the Kremlin’s “malign activities” around the world, including “attempting to subvert Western democracies”—made it illegal for Americans to do business with Rusal or its boss.



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So Bouchard faced a dilemma. Keeping his promise to bring good new jobs—a project that had already been touted by the White House—would mean partnering with a firm that had deep ties to the Kremlin. Which mattered more, the economic needs of a depressed region, or the national-security concerns raised by the Mueller investigation? Hundreds of miles from the congressional hearings and think-tank debates over Russian influence in Washington, Braidy Industries and the surrounding community had to weigh whether Russia’s 2016 plot had caused enough damage to American security, or American pride, to spurn a chance at an economic miracle.



Bouchard concluded they had no choice. He knew it could be controversial, if not outright illegal, to work on a deal with Rusal while it was still fighting to free itself from U.S. sanctions, he told TIME in an interview. But after a long talk with his lawyers about the risks of even discussing such a partnership, he traveled to Zurich in January 2019 for what he calls a “meet and greet” with a Rusal sales executive. Over dinner at La Rôtisserie, a restaurant with a view of the city’s 12th century cathedral, the executive told Bouchard that the company was ready to do business. “They said, ‘If we get the sanctions off, let’s meet again,’” he recalls. “And I said, ‘Wow, that’s interesting.’”



By mid-April, an exuberant Bouchard was standing at the New York Stock Exchange, announcing that the Russian company had purchased a 40% stake in the Ashland plant for $200 million. Back in Kentucky, the news was met with celebration and relief. “People who were skeptical are seeing that it’s big time,” says Chris Jackson, a 42-year-old former steel-mill worker. When he enrolled in a training program for the Braidy plant, Jackson recalls, many in the community doubted the jobs would ever materialize. “The Rusal agreement just showed everybody this is legit.”





But to some observers, the story of how a Kremlin-linked aluminum giant offered an economic lifeline to Appalachia is an object lesson of the exact opposite. Critics of the deal, both Democrat and Republican, say it gives Moscow political influence that could undermine national security. Pointing to Moscow’s use of economic leverage to sway European politics, they warn the deal is a stalking horse for a new kind of Russian meddling in America, one that exploits the U.S. free-market system instead of its elections. “That’s just what the Russians do,” says veteran diplomat Daniel Fried, who shaped U.S. policy on Eastern Europe at the State Department from the late 1980s until 2017. “They insert themselves into a foreign economy and then start to influence its politics from the inside.”



What worries national-security experts is not that Rusal, Braidy or Deripaska broke any laws in the deal. It’s that they didn’t. A TIME investigation found that Rusal used a broad array of political and economic tools to fight the sanctions, establishing a foothold in U.S. politics in the process. “You cannot go against them in a policy decision, even though it’s in our national interest, when they have infiltrated you economically,” says Heather Conley, who served as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State under President George W. Bush. “They use our laws, our rules, our banks, our lawyers, our lobbyists—it’s a strategy from within.”





To free itself from sanctions, Rusal fielded a team of high-paid lobbyists for an intense, months-long effort in Washington. One of the targets was Kentucky’s own Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, who helped thwart a bipartisan push to keep the sanctions in place. Since May, two of McConnell’s former staffers have lobbied Congress on behalf of Braidy, according to filings. Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, one of Rusal’s longtime major shareholders, Len Blavatnik, contributed more than $1 million through his companies to a GOP campaign fund tied to McConnell.



Deripaska denies he has interest in meddling in U.S. affairs. “If they didn’t touch me, I wouldn’t have to be so interested in U.S. politics,” Deripaska told TIME in February, after attending a panel with U.S. lawmakers in Munich. “But here I am,” he added with a smile.



Backers of the deal say its critics are playing politics or being paranoid. The U.S. benefits from economic ties to foreign powers, they say, as long as everyone plays by our rules. McConnell, who declined an interview with TIME, told reporters in May that his position on Rusal was “completely unrelated to anything that might happen in my home state.” Blavatnik’s company, Access Industries, told TIME his donations to both Democrats and Republicans over the years were driven “only by a desire to further a pro-business, pro-Israel agenda,” not a pro-Russia one. Rusal says its motives are purely financial. “Rusal keeps out of politics in all its markets,” the company told TIME. Industry experts agree that, apart from any political dividends, the plant in Kentucky will likely reap significant profits for its owners.





Since taking office, President Donald Trump’s Administration has tightened the rules on foreign investments that could pose a threat to national security. But in Ashland, as at the White House, few people want to see the deal undone. In the hilly towns around Ashland and Greenup, the nexus between Rusal, Braidy and national security matters little next to the jobs the deal would bring. Some 11,000 people have already applied to work at the future mill, according to Braidy.



In the end, one of the lessons of the pact may be that the U.S. has its hands tied when it comes to this brand of Russian influence. Fighting back would cost jobs that Americans need. Deripaska, who personally remains under sanctions, is glad to point out the dilemma. As he put it to TIME in February: “By hitting us, you hit yourselves.”



A crowd gathers at the groundbreaking for the new Braidy aluminum plant on June 1, 2018

A crowd gathers at the groundbreaking for the new Braidy aluminum plant on June 1, 2018 John Flavell

Back when Bouchard and Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin broke ground in June 2018, they shared a bottle of Korbel and plenty of optimism. That October, Trump touted the new aluminum mill at a rally at Eastern Kentucky University, heralding it as a symbol of blue collar revival. Back in Ashland, locals praised Bouchard’s commitment to the region, pointing to his investments in scholarships and promising playground equipment for local schools. In an area struggling with the twin crises of job losses and the opioid epidemic, the tall, genial CEO with a contagious grin has embraced an image of economic savior. When he walks around Ashland, Bouchard says, “Middle-aged women will just come up to me crying and hug me.”





Some in the region literally banked their future on the mill. More than 100 people, many of them middle-aged workers laid off from local steel and railroad companies, shelled out $15,000 for a two-year degree at a Braidy-partnered community college, spurred by the prospect of a job at the new plant. “You can finally see the gleam of hope in people’s eyes,” says Judge Executive Robert Carpenter, the top elected official in Greenup County. “I go to sleep every night with a smile on my face about it.”



But by late fall 2018, doubt had crept in. At the plant’s future site, fading Braidy Driven banners from the groundbreaking were the only sign of the economic renaissance Bouchard promised. Company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that Braidy was still hundreds of millions of dollars short. Local newspapers began to question the project. Bouchard’s Facebook page became a community message board of sorts, where hundreds of commenters divided themselves into cheerleaders or “nay-sayers” who pressed him for answers. “A lot of people in this area had lost hope,” recalls Justin Turner, a 26-year-old father of two who enrolled in the community-college program in hopes of landing a job at Braidy.





Bouchard felt the pressure. He grew desperate enough to accept help from just about anyone, he told TIME. “If they’re running a whorehouse, I wouldn’t say yes,” he says. “But literally any upstanding businessman from any country, any nationality, any religion, I’d welcome them. Help me rebuild Appalachia.”



It’s not that Bouchard didn’t know the risks involved in working with Russian billionaires. In 2008, he and his younger brother, Jim, sold their U.S. steel assets to a firm controlled by Alexey Mordashov, a Russian metals tycoon, in a transaction valued at around $775 million at the time. While the deal helped make them wealthy, it also deepened Bouchard’s concern over the role of Russian oligarchs in strategic U.S. industries. The next year, he co-authored a book titled “America for Sale,” which warned that foreign investors pose a threat to America’s economic and national security.



“[If] Putin harbors a nasty wish to throw a wrench into the works of the U.S. economy, then he now has acquired the means to do so,” Bouchard wrote. When it comes to industries vital to defense, like steel and aluminum, “the bottom line is that we believe it is risky business to trust Russian oligarchs,” the book concluded.





Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, in a hotel suite in Moscow, on March 27, 2019.

Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, in a hotel suite in Moscow, on March 27, 2019. Emile Ducke—The New York Times/Redux

Ten years on, Bouchard’s warning looms over the deal he cut in Kentucky. As Europe’s largest aluminum producer, Rusal employs over 60,000 people in 13 countries. “The company is indispensable,” says Jorge Vazquez, head of Harbor Aluminum, a market-intelligence firm. Rusal even had a green story to tell: its smelters in Siberia run on hydropower, so it pollutes less than most rivals.





But the company has a troubled past. In the 1990s, an array of mobsters, oligarchs and corrupt officials fought a bloody turf war for control of the aluminum assets privatized by the Russian state. Deripaska emerged from the struggle victorious. Still in his early 30s, he managed to consolidate Russia’s key aluminum assets and form Rusal in 2000. He developed close ties with the Kremlin, becoming a “more or less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad,” a 2006 U.S. embassy cable reported. The cable, later published by WikiLeaks, describes Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis.”



As his empire grew, Deripaska enlisted U.S. lobbyists to support his interests. Among them was GOP political operator Paul Manafort, who offered Deripaska a lobbying strategy that he said would benefit “the Putin Government,” according to the Mueller report. Manafort and Deripaska fell out in 2009 over unpaid debts.



But in the summer of 2016, Manafort became the chairman of the Trump campaign. “He owed us a lot of money,” one of Deripaska’s close aides, the former Russian intelligence officer Victor Boyarkin, told TIME in 2018. “And he was offering ways to pay it back.” Through intermediaries, Manafort sent Deripaska internal polling data and offered “private briefings” about the campaign, according to Mueller. As the special counsel investigated their relationship, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against Deripaska and Rusal in April 2018. In explaining the decision to sanction Deripaska, the Treasury Department cited allegations that he had, among other alleged offenses, “bribed a government official, ordered the murder of a businessman and had links to a Russian organized crime group.” Deripaska has denied these accusations as “groundless, ridiculous and absurd.” In a lawsuit filed in March in the District of Columbia, he accused the Treasury Department of “irrationality” for relying on such claims, which his lawyers said “originate from decades-old defamatory attacks by Deripaska’s business competitors.”





The announcement of sanctions sent ripples through the global economy. As companies scrambled to find new suppliers, aluminum prices surged 12% in a week, the largest increase since the 1980s. Deripaska claims he lost more than 80% of his net worth, or around $7.5 billion. The ensuing turmoil in the metals market helped Rusal fight back, as major corporations and European governments urged the U.S. to ease sanctions on the firm. “The U.S. government had some leverage, but Deripaska had leverage, too,” says Joshua Kirschenbaum, a former sanctions official at the Treasury Department. “It turned into a game of chicken.”



A Braidy sign looms over the future location of the company’s aluminum mill in northeastern Kentucky

A Braidy sign looms over the future location of the company’s aluminum mill in northeastern Kentucky Luke Sharrett for TIME

The man in charge of lobbying against the sanctions was Lord Gregory Barker of Battle, a British aristocrat. Even while serving in the House of Lords, Barker had agreed in 2017 to chair Deripaska’s conglomerate. Soon it fell to the former U.K. minister for energy and climate change to draft a strategy to free Rusal from sanctions by distancing the company from its owner. Dubbed the “Barker Plan,” it enlisted the bipartisan U.S. lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs to help win over Washington, at a fee of $108,500 per month, according to filings.





Mercury handed the assignment to a team of D.C. insiders that included former GOP Senator David Vitter and former Trump campaign aide Bryan Lanza. (Barker, Lanza and Vitter declined interview requests from TIME.) In marathon talks with the Treasury Department, the lobbyists argued that the U.S. had made a mistake in going after Rusal, former Treasury officials say. Allies in Europe agreed. Ambassadors from Germany, France, the U.K. and other E.U. states urged U.S. officials to ease the sanctions on Rusal and its parent company. They argued in a January 2019 letter to Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer that “the livelihoods of 75,000 workers across the European Union” depend on it. “The sanctions hurt everyone,” Deripaska wrote in an email to TIME on Aug. 13.



Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin came around to this logic. Ahead of G-20 meetings in July 2018, he told Reuters the goal was “not to put Rusal out of business.” So Rusal dangled a deal, offering to “permanently remove” Deripaska’s control over the firm by lowering his ownership stake to less than 50%, according to documents reviewed by TIME. After some discussions, Deripaska’s stake in Rusal’s parent company was reduced from 70% to 45%, with some of the difference going to family members and professional associates. A few days before Christmas, the Trump Administration announced it intended to lift the sanctions.





To some experts, it was a logical end to the face-off. “It was a reasonable deal,” says Brian O’Toole, a former sanctions expert at the Treasury Department under President Obama, “because the collateral damage of keeping that company under sanctions was so dramatic.” Under the deal to lift sanctions on Rusal, Deripaska, his family, and his close associates are also barred from using their shares to influence the company or to benefit from it.



But opponents of the deal say it’s laughable to believe Deripaska’s influence is really gone. “Ownership is the wrong test,” says Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, arguing Deripaska maintains influence over Rusal. Led by Schumer, Senators from both parties moved to block Treasury from lifting the sanctions. Yet Rusal had a powerful ally in McConnell, who backed Treasury’s move.



In recent weeks, McConnell has been taunted by protesters in Washington, on social media and back home, who have labeled him “Moscow Mitch” for his refusal to bring election-security legislation to a vote. It’s a moniker that has stuck in Kentucky, where Democrats started selling “Just Say Nyet to Moscow Mitch” merchandise, including Cossack hats. McConnell has slammed critics and the media for “modern-day McCarthyism” and says his record proves he has been tough on Russia.





Critics also seized on McConnell’s links to Blavatnik, a dual U.S. and U.K. citizen who is one of Rusal’s biggest shareholders. Born in the Soviet Union and naturalized in the U.S. in 1984, Blavatnik earned most of his fortune, estimated by Forbes at $16.5 billion, as a partner to Deripaska and other Russian oil and metals tycoons. Blavatnik’s family has donated to both Republicans and Democrats. But in recent years, his companies have been especially generous toward the GOP. Those contributions have since included a total of $3.5 million to the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC run by McConnell’s former chief of staff, according to Federal Election Commission data. The money helped Republicans keep control of the Senate in the 2018 elections, securing McConnell’s perch as the majority leader.



In a floor speech on Jan. 15, McConnell insisted the deal with Treasury “would continue limiting” Deripaska’s influence over Rusal and noted that Treasury can reimpose sanctions at any time. The Senate vote on Rusal came the next day. Eleven GOP Senators joined 46 Democrats in voting to uphold the sanctions, but it wasn’t enough. The critics needed a 60-vote supermajority to override the Trump Administration, but fell short by three votes—two of which were cast by McConnell and Kentucky’s Republican junior Senator, Rand Paul. The following day, 136 House Republicans broke ranks and joined House Democrats to oppose lifting sanctions, a rare but symbolic rebuke.





Ten days later, the sanctions on Rusal were formally lifted. Eleven weeks after that, Rusal announced its deal with Braidy.



CSX Transportation Inc. railroad tracks run past the idled blast furnace on the grounds of AK Steel's Ashland Works mill on May 15.

CSX Transportation Inc. railroad tracks run past the idled blast furnace on the grounds of AK Steel's Ashland Works mill on May 15. Luke Sharrett for TIME

A month after the sanctions were lifted, one of Rusal’s U.S-based executives, Andrey Donets, arrived in Ashland with three of his colleagues. They spent two days discussing strategies, touring schools, dining at the local country club and meeting community leaders. At the end of their trip, Bouchard pulled out some Kentucky bourbon, poured it into plastic cups and raised a toast. “In what we do, you dream big,” he recalls telling his new partners. “Or you go home.”





Bouchard remains buoyant about the deal. In interviews with TIME, he said the U.S. has nothing to worry about. The new aluminum plant will serve civilian customers, carmakers and the food and beverage industry, he says. (A company website says its aluminum alloys could have “military applications” in the future.) Few in Kentucky are focused on geostrategic concerns. “Rusal is a company. It’s not a country,” says Carpenter, the judge executive in Greenup County. “That kind of an investment, I don’t care who it’s with.”



But not everyone in Kentucky was excited about the Russians’ arrival. After Donets’ visit, a red billboard funded by a liberal group was erected on a busy stretch of I-75: “Russian mob money . . . Really, Mitch?” “The only reason Oleg is here is because Mitch McConnell opened the gate,” says Representative Kelly Flood, a Democrat from Lexington. “We are now all aligned with this criminal.” The deal created unease among some Republicans too. “I would not have taken the Russian money,” James Comer, the GOP Congressman representing Kentucky’s First District, said on the day the partnership was announced.





Yet even critics of the deal were leery of the fallout from killing it. In 2017, Governor Bevin had cut an unusual agreement in which the state directly invested $15 million in the new aluminum mill. At least 750 investors, most from Kentucky, put in money as part of the “crowdfunding” portion of Braidy’s common stock offering, Bouchard said. In effect, Kentucky taxpayers were partners in the project. “To pull out as a state now is to pull out on the people of Ashland,” says Flood.



Other Western democracies have learned that such bonds can carry consequences. Oligarch-owned companies have helped the Kremlin influence politics across Europe. Since Putin came to power in 2000, Russia has used economic leverage to “force a change in policy” or undermine governments in at least 19 European countries, Laura Rosenberger, a former National Security Council official under Obama, told a House committee last May.



On rare occasions, Russian oligarchs have even described how this strategy works. “What is a factory in a one-factory town? It’s what all life revolves around,” the billionaire Dmitry Firtash, a longtime ally of the Kremlin in Ukraine, told TIME in a 2017 interview. “We don’t just pay wages. We provide the social safety net. So people believe us.” When he and his factories put their support behind a political cause or candidate, “that influences people,” Firtash explained. “That’s what ensures electoral support.”





Only in the context of the Mueller investigation have U.S. policymakers begun to worry whether the tools of economic influence that Russia honed in Europe could work just as well on American politics. Russia’s direct investments in the U.S. amounted to less than $4 billion in 2018—a relatively minor sum—although its billionaires have long had an outsize presence in some industries, including the tech sector. “The Obama Administration was slow in general to recognize the problem,” says Fried, the former State Department official. “We’ve come to realize we’re not so special in that regard. We’re just targets like everybody else.”



The fight is not over in Washington. Treasury “needs to take potential harm to national security from Rusal’s proposed investment seriously,” Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Finance, said in an Aug. 11 statement to TIME. Wyden has been pushing for a review of the deal. Other Democrats say if Rusal is banking on its investment in American jobs to protect it from future sanctions, that highlights a bigger problem. “The situation with Rusal broadly raises concerns that entities may in effect be ‘too big to sanction’ given the inter-connectedness of the global economy,” says a Senate Democratic aide.





It’s not as if the U.S. has no protections against malign foreign investment. But thanks to a regulatory loophole, the Rusal–Braidy deal skated past the agency that vets foreign investments for threats to national security. According to the mandate of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), the agency does not investigate so-called greenfield projects, which are built from the ground up. And brand-new plants like the one in Ashland might just fit through that loophole, says Aimen Mir, who ran the agency for four years until 2018. As a general rule, he tells TIME, the agency tries to keep the U.S. as open as possible to legitimate foreign capital. “All other things being equal,” Mir says, “we should be welcoming of investment.”



That attitude has begun to shift under the Trump Administration. Through legislation passed last summer, CFIUS will get expanded powers to collect data on foreign investments and block the ones it deems to be a threat. In April, the agency pressured the Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman to sell his fund’s stake in a U.S. cybersecurity firm, Cofense Inc.





Those powers may soon be tested, because there are signs Rusal is not done investing in the U.S. Soon after the Kentucky deal was announced, Lord Barker sent a letter to the governors of eight more U.S. states. In the April 18 note, he touted the benefits of the Rusal investment and said the company was “eager to evaluate other opportunities around the country and your state in particular.”



To critics of Russian economic influence, the letter sounded one particularly ominous chord. “As part of our international growth strategy, we see significant opportunities across the whole industry value chain in North America,” Barker wrote. The investment in Kentucky, he added, “is just the beginning of our long-term ambitions.”



—With reporting from Alana Abramson/Washington



Opinion | Trump Is a White Nationalist Who Inspires Terrorism - The New York Times