Tag Archives: US politics

The putz in America’s room

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
July 15, 2017

U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

The words belong to Howard Fineman, the “Intergalactic Editor” of the HuffPost, as he is called on the Washington-based podcast done by Tony Kornheiser of ESPN fame. Fineman was talking about the meeting between US president Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin and the other two people in the room, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavirov, have known each other for years. Trump was the only person who “was an outsider.” He was, as Fineman put it, “the putz in the room.”

What a perfectly appropriate description of Donald Trump at this moment in time. Personally, I prefer the urban dictionary definition of this wonderful word: “a stupid, ignorant person; someone who doesn’t pay attention to anything going on; one who makes stupid remarks.”

Talk about hitting the nail on the head.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Trump has been president of the United States for only six months. Some days it feels like six years or even six decades. As the Russia scandal continues to swirl around him, his family, and the campaign team that helped elect him, one can see the situation becoming increasingly like a Tolstoy novel with new revelations of meetings with Russian operatives that spring to light with each passing day.

The news this week that Donald Trump Jr. held a meeting with a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin to discuss “dirt” on former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has blown the situation in Washington DC wide open. No one talks of anything else.

Media coverage of the much-ballyhooed health care bill, which arrived in the Senate a dead letter and looks like it will leave as one as well, seems strained and foreign. Big papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, and cable outlets like CNN and MSNBC, are tracking the fate of the bill in the Senate but only out of a sense of duty. The real story is the Trumps, whose ludicrous bumblings and travails have become America’s favorite TV novella.

The reports of Trump hunkered down in the Oval Office, seething at “unfriendly” media reports, raging at his staff, watching endless tapes of “Fox and Friends” to keep his spirits up, circulate everywhere. Although this image of Trump is denied by numerous talking head flunkies on endless cable TV shows, no one believes them. Why bother? No sooner is the denial out of their mouth when Donald Trump is tweeting out the exact opposite nugget, brazenly confirming what his minions have tried so hard to deny.

Don’t be fooled, however, by the dysfunction on display. Things are happening in the Trump administration. After years of numerous presidents creating regulations and agencies without the approval of Congress, Trump and his surrogates are engaged in the destruction of the regulatory system in Washington DC. Whether it’s clean air, clean water, better schools, consumer protections – any regulation that exists to protect the American public but hinders American business in any way, the Trump administration is trying to get rid of it. Their success rate is worrisome.

It’s important not to sleep on the Trump administration. Granted, that seems a difficult task. How could you worry about an administration that makes the Keystone Cops looked like the A-Team? It just seems too surreal to contemplate. Yet one cannot totally rule out the idea that this all part of some master plan by Trump to “make America great again”… In his image of course. Heaven knows he’s pulled a fast one on us before. He is in the White House after all.

No, that seems a bridge too far. It must be that these successes for the Trump administration are happening despite the events in the White House. After all, what have we learned about Donald Trump in the past six months?

That he is thin-skinned to a fault. That he is a misogynist pig. That he has the diplomatic skills of a sponge. That he has the attention span of a potato. That he can’t keep his mouth shut or his hands off his smart phone when he should. That he is malicious, holds grudges and has the temperament of a five-year-old child. That he lies not occasionally but habitually.

Americans don’t seem to understand how dangerous it is to have a man like this in the White House. At this moment he has a team of Republican operatives doing opposition research on members of the media. He intends to get even with anyone who has slighted him. This means that no media organization – other than the obsequious Fox News – is safe from his demented desire for revenge. It’s not about protecting America’s interests, it’s always about looking after The Donald.

He is the putz in the room. And the joke is on America. Only we’re not laughing.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

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American Civil Discourse in Serious Trouble

U.S. Capitol Police keep watch on Capitol Hill following a shooting in nearby Alexandria, in Washington, U.S., June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
June 17, 2017

The bi-partisan outpouring of unity that followed this week’s shooting at the GOP baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, was a welcome respite in the never-ending deluge of hate-filled rhetoric that overwhelms political discourse daily in the United States.

But it was only a moment. And before the moment itself was over, several voices had already resumed stone-throwing at the opposition. Although Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill appeared genuinely shaken by the shooting at the ballpark that left Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise in critical condition, which led to several very public statements about unity, the usual suspects outside the Beltway were soon filling the airwaves with bile.

First came Newt Gingrich, who blamed the left for a rise in violence in America. Well, the left is partially to blame for sure, but it wasn’t a leftist who stabbed two men to death on the train in Portland Oregon, or who shot nine African-Americans to death in a church in Charlotte. It’s not leftists who have been holding racist, bigoted rallies across the country against Muslims.

The most enlightening comment about Gingrich came from a Democratic member of Congress, who noted that the change in the political discourse in the United States can be traced back to Newt Gingrich’s election as Speaker of the House of Representatives (it’s also right around this time that Fox News came into being). And it is certainly true that Gingrich played a key role in the development of the 20th century version of the demonization of your opponent as political strategy.

And when talking about voices that increase, rather than reduce, the tension in the country, where would we be without mentioning Alex Jones. Jones, an unrepentant bigot and liar, reminds me of a man who runs into a burning building with a can of gasoline. Despite the fact that he’s had to apologize for numerous lies lately (his made-up stories about Hillary Clinton and members of her staff running a child slavery ring out of a pizza shop in Washington DC, or false allegations he made against the yogurt maker Chobani), he’s become something of a celebrity bête noire. He earned praise from Pres. Donald Trump (who praises anyone he thinks likes him) and he is the subject of a very controversial interview with Megyn Kelly on NBC, which has outraged critics on the left and the right primarily because of his vile fabrication that the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school never happened.

The day after the Alexandria shooting, Jones was making thinly veiled threats against CNN host Wolf Blitzer, who he said had to worry about being shot in the head. He then basically threatened every liberal in the country, hinting they would be wiped out in the coming “Civil War 2.”

Sad to say, this kind of hate-filled rhetoric can also be found among Democrats. While most Democrats, like most Republicans, were horrified by this week’s shootings, more than a few were not. It wasn’t hard to find tweets or comments on news stories from “progressive Democrats” who made comments like “One down, 217 more to go,” or “Too bad he didn’t get Trump.”

While progressives may not have as many public voices pushing a hate-filled agenda as the far right, they are there. One only needs to look at the shooter himself, a man who had volunteered on Bernie Sanders’ campaign in Illinois, to understand that there are Democrats who don’t understand, or who don’t want to understand, the difference between heated political rhetoric and political violence.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to get much better. My son, a college student in Wisconsin, has been warning me for the past two years to expect more political violence. These warnings increased during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, and his use of violent and hate-filled language during 2016. Things have not improved since Trump’s election.

I didn’t want to believe my son. But he has a much better grip on what is happening just below that layer of information most of us older Americans rely on, from cable news and newspapers. I am now inclined to agree with him. One only needs to look at recent clashes between far-left Antifa (anti-fascist) forces and far-right pro-KKK, or white supremacist groups like National Vanguard, to see where this may be headed. While most clashes between these opposing forces have been relatively low-level so far, one gets the sense that they are ready to explode at any second.

(There was an interesting moment at a recent far-right gathering in Houston. Several racist and anti-government groups had gathered in a park because of a rumor that Antifa forces were going to demonstrate and call for the removal of a statue of Sam Houston. The rumor turned out to be a hoax, but a fight did break out – between far-right groups like the Oath Keepers and the national Vanguard. Apparently the Vanguard folks and their ilk don’t think the Oath Keepers, an anti-government group composed of older former law enforcement officers, are racist enough.)

Compounding all of this is the fact that there are 300 million guns in the United States, and after last week’s shooting in Alexandria, many Republican lawmakers and groups like the NRA, want there to be more.

Perhaps the U.S. will reach a point where the tension will produce a reverse reaction and some form of sanity will be restored to political discourse in America. Then again, one day an alien spaceship piloted by unicorns may land on earth. I’m not willing to bet on which will happen first.

 

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Links: 

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

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Comey Lands Punches, But No Knockout Blow

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) speaks in Ypilanti Township, Michigan March 15, 2017 and FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., May 3, 2017 in a combination of file photos. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Kevin Lamarque/File Photos

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
June 09, 2017

Now that was a day full of news. First the much-anticipated testimony of former FBI director James Comey in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee about his dealings with US Pres. Donald Trump. And then later in the day the unanticipated flop of Teresa Mays’ conservative government in the British election.

My family was getting angry at me for spending so much time in front of a screen.

Let us focus, however, on Mr. Comey’s testimony. How you responded to what he said had a great deal to do with your own particular political persuasion.

Democrats celebrated when Comey called Trump “a liar,” and laid the groundwork for a possible obstruction of justice charge with the revelation of his one-on-one meeting with Trump, when he was asked to “let go” of the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s dealings with Russians.

Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Republicans, on the other hand, rejoiced at the fact that Comey confirmed that he had told Trump three times that he was not under investigation, and that Comey said former Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch had asked him to fuzz the description of an investigation into former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s email server. Republicans also rejoiced when Comey seemingly outed himself as a leaker.

The truth, as they say, lies somewhere in between.

One of the most important questions is, who is lying – James Comey or Donald Trump? Tthey both can’t be telling the truth.

Comey testified under oath that Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty if he wanted to keep his job, and that in a later meeting asked him to let go of the investigation into Flynn.

Trump’s private lawyer, in a statement that one that television commentator compared to a “goat rodeo”, denied that Trump said these things.

My money is with Comey, not because he is anymore likable than Donald Trump, but Trump has a record of falsehoods and misstatements going back decades. Comey testified under oath. And if anybody understands the penalties of lying under oath, it’s the former director of the FBI.

Most Americans share my view that Comey is more believable, according to public opinion polls – something like 70 per cent, according to the latest Pew poll.

There is something for everyone in the rest of the testimony. Allow me to enumerate.

  1. The fact that Trump made everyone, including the Atty. Gen., the VP, his Chief-of-Staff, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, leave the Oval Office before he spoke to Comey about the Flynn investigation, does not look good for the president. Even the Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee commented on this occurrence. You don’t ask everyone to leave the room if you’re going to request an innocent favor from a high-ranking government official. This will be a problem for Trump.
  2. The private dinner that Trump had with Comey, where he asked Comey to pledge in his loyalty, falls into the same category. It just should not have been done. Some Republicans and Trump sycophants are trying to portray this as naïveté on Trump’s part. Which is fine, but ignorance of the law is no defense. To go back to the question of truthfulness, this is where the meticulous notes that Comey took after each of his meetings with the president give him the strong upper hand. It’s long been practice in criminal cases, for instance, that notes of a meeting or conversation made immediately after it occurred can be used as evidence.
  3. The news that Comey, after reading Pres. Trump’s tweet about possible tapes of their meeting, decided to leak news of those notes to the New York Times via a friend is not a plus for the former FBI director. He was careful in his testimony to say that he had not leaked anything of a confidential nature, and he has had a history in the past of selectively releasing information to the media that cleared him of any involvement in other damaging events. Comey is the consummate Washington insider, and he knows how the game is played. Republicans and Trump supporters will try to make hay from this news, but there is no illegality here. Comey is a private citizen and he is free to do what he wants with these notes, especially considering Trump had already tweeted about these events, undermining any chance of claiming executive privilege. The question, however, of how this will play in the public, is different. This looks too cute by half, and for a man who has spent much of his career decrying leakers and the damage that they do, you can bet that past statements will be used against Comey.
  4. There were two other people who did not do well yesterday: current Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions and former Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch. Comey’s testimony about why Sessions recused himself from anything involving Russia and the Trump campaign created more questions than answers. It led to speculation that the current Atty. Gen.’s past involvement with Russian diplomats or agents was more complicated than previously understood. Like former Gen. Michael Flynn, Sessions could be in for a world of hurt. And the surprise news that Loretta Lynch had asked Comey to fudge his description of the investigation into possible misuse by Hillary Clinton and her staff of her private email server hurts Clinton’s complaint that Comey cost her election. It also shows why former Pres. Bill Clinton’s tarmac meeting with Lynch on a private jet was so disastrous for the Clinton campaign. Combined with Lynch’s request to fudge the description of the investigation, it provides Comey with more than enough reason to justify taking the controversial steps that he did.
  5. The Russians are coming! And they mean business. If there was a non-political moment that stood out in Thursday’s testimony by Comey, it was his insistence that the Russians did try to undermine the United States election and its electoral system, and that they will continue to do so. And that this is a real threat to the United States. (This also gave Comey a chance to take another shot at Trump, by pointing out that for all his concern about his friend Mike Flynn, Trump never once asked about how the Russians had digitally attacked the United States and any possible future threats.) And this is a point that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on. Count on it getting a lot more exposure in the coming months.

In the end, Comey’s testimony hurt Trump, but it did not destroy him. There is certainly not enough here to impeach Trump. It did show that former FBI director, and now special prosecutor, Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement with the Russians is now the only game in town.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Links: 

Watch the video of Comey’s appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, on the Senate site.

Statement for the Record, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,  James B. Comey June 8, 2017

 

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Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details and payment options, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

 

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Trump’s gurus taken off air

Jones, O’Reilly, Ailes inspired some of 45’s wildest claims 

24 Hours of Fox News. Photo by Ed Kohler via Flickr, Creative Commons

PENNEY KOME: OVER EASY
April 22, 2017

Last year brought the United States a video presidency. Many reports indicate that America’s 45th president is the first president to have trouble with basic reading above the Grade 4 level. Reportedly, he wants every issue to be reduced to no more than nine bullet points on a single page. (1)

He would rather get his information from outside sources – which has been a huge problem. For news and information, 45 relies on TV.  Interviewers often mention that 45 keeps the TV constantly blaring Fox News, which Politifact has named the least accurate cable news station.  (2)

When he’s on the Web, #45 likes Infowars, Alex Jones’ conspiracy theory website, promoting theories such as blaming the US government for the Newtown school massacre, and claiming the media  deliberately don’t report terrorist incidents in order to push a diversity agenda.

 

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Some people are alarmed that Jones’ ideas have surfaced in 45’s speeches. As Jay Willis wrote in Gentleman’s Quarterly, “…. if Trump’s assertion that the press is withholding this information is pretty scary, his willingness to fill in those gaps with the dystopian fever dreams of Alex Jones is off-the-charts terrifying.”

On the other hand,  #45 is going to have to start flipping dials and searching websites for new news sources, because his favourite sources are rapidly self-destructing.

Take Roger Ailes, who (with 20th Century Fox owner Rupert Murdoch’s approval) shaped Fox News into a vehicle for white men’s revenge fantasies, as well as a very successful business, with profits estimated at more than $1 billion a year.

“Murdoch tapped Ailes to create and run the network in 1996, ushering in a controversial new era in cable news,” CNN Money reported last year. “By hiring hosts like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and enforcing a conservative editorial point of view, Ailes developed a virtual public square for the American right and filled a void on television. It has dominated all other cable news channels for 14 years.

“The channel claimed to be ‘fair and balanced,’ but in reality its programming was tilted in favor of conservative opinions and Republican politics, reflecting the views of Ailes himself. Fox mixed daily news reporting and nightly conservative opinion in ways that many critics found to be damaging to American discourse. But Fox’s many fans said it was a necessary counterweight to liberal media bias….”  (4)

Then came a shock. Last year, Roger Ailes had to resign from Fox News, after news anchor Gretchen Carlson filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against him – and other Fox anchors quickly piled on with their own complaints about his behaviour. He’ll need the $40 million contract-payout he reportedly received from Fox, to respond to Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit, and perhaps others.

All the leggy blonde women news anchors on Fox look like they’re just about to compete in a Miss Universe contest – and that’s no coincidence, says Liza Mundy. She was surprised by how the Fox make-up department started plastering on cosmetics for her own guest appearance, ” … there is a YouTube montage devoted to leg shots of Fox anchors, who are often outfitted in body-hugging dresses of vibrant red and turquoise, their eyes enhanced by not only liner and shadow but also false lashes. A Fox regular once commented to me that she gets more calls from network management about her hair, clothes, and makeup than about what she says. ‘I just think of it as a uniform,’ she said of her getup….” (5)

This week, Fox News has also fired  Bill O’Reilly, (and risked his audience of four million cable viewers),  for the same reason as his boss: charges of sexual harassment. CNN called this move a very big deal.

“[Bill] O’Reilly… was the front-facing spokesman for the modern-day conservative movement just as now-deposed Fox boss Roger Ailes was its behind-the-scenes architect.

For the generation of conservatives who came into their political prime from the late 1990s through, well, today, O’Reilly was a North Star of sorts… a tough-talking populist, willing to stare down the so-called ‘mainstream media’ and skewer political correctness….”

The New York Times broke the story on April 1, reporting that O’Reilly had settled sexual harassment with five women to the tune of  $13 million with five women – and the Fox network stood by him and helped with the payments.

“Since then,” the Times reported on April 19, “more than 50 advertisers had abandoned his show, and women’s rights groups had called for him to be fired.” An internal investigation reportedly turned up “multiple” other women who had complaints they hadn’t filed – yet. (6)

Among the very few who rose to O’Reilly’s defense was Donald Trump, a long-time friend and unabashed fan of O’Reilly’s.  Similarly, Trump the candidate is very much in the O’Reilly political mold, says CNN. (7)

“[As a candidate] Trump embodied many of the principles that O’Reilly had popularized over the years — most notably a visceral rejection of political correctness and a willingness to blame most of the problems in the country on a biased and liberal media.”

Trevor Noah said that Bill O’Reilly’s “angry white man” persona was the basis for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Radio host Alex Jones is another “angry white man,” widely known as “America’s greatest conspiracy theorist.”

During last fall’s election, Spin Magazine called Jones “a bona fide force in mainstream American politics.” From his Austin, Texas home, his show beams to 160 stations across the US, while his websites attract an estimated 7.5 million views. (8)

Alex Jones is a leading “Truther.” “It would be unthinkable for any other major-party presidential candidate to willingly appear on a show with a man who believes that the U.S. government was involved in conducting the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, as Jones does, or to intimate that he would not accept the results of the election, an impulse that Jones encourages,” wrote Andy Cush in early 2016.

Yet #45 has echoed many of Jones’ completely unsubstantiated theories. A Clinton ad used a clip from Jones’ radio show where Jones said, “It is surreal to talk about issues here on air, and then, word-for-word, hear Trump say it two days later.” While not a top-tier player like Steve Bannon, Jones has been highly influential to #45’s tweets and public comments.

Another shocker – this last Tuesday, April 18,  Kelly Jones, Jones’ estranged wife, sued for divorce and sole custody of their three children, citing some of Alex Jones’ on-air rants as proof that he is mentally unstable and not a suitable parent.

“He says he wants to break Alec Baldwin’s neck. He wants J-Lo to get raped,” she testified. He broadcast his show from their home, with the children present.

In response, Alex Jones’ lawyer stated that Jones was playing a role when he was on-air. He was a performance artist. He didn’t really mean his threats against others, or his encouraging others to take violent action against his imaginary demons. Gag me with a spoon. (9)

Meanwhile, a dozen other big-name Fox News hosts have left for other venues. Bill O’Reilly is facing challenges in replacing his reputed $18 million annual salary. Alex Jones will probably need the performance of his life to carry on his radio and online career, not to mention his personal life.

What all these personalities have in common, #45 included, is that they eschewed the politically correct. They openly portrayed white male rage about losing privilege. They, and the US public, are learning that the privileged white male position is inherently toxic, to themselves and others.

Copyright Penney Kome 2017

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

Notes:

  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/the-president-reportedly-doesnt-read-memos-thats-a-huge-problem_us_589f1b6de4b094a129eb6ed6
  2. https://mediabiasfactcheck.com/fox-news/
  3. http://www.gq.com/story/donald-trump-loves-infowars
  4. http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/21/media/roger-ailes-leaves-fox-news/
  5. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/09/foxy-ladies/309054/
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/19/business/media/bill-oreilly-fox-news-allegations.html?_r=0
  7. http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/19/politics/bill-oreilly-fox-news-ailes/
  8. http://www.spin.com/featured/the-invisible-empire-of-alex-jones/
  9. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/infowars-alex-jones-performance-artist-playing-character-lawyer-conspiracy-theory-donald-trump-a7687571.html

Read more F&O columns by Penney Kome here

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Penney KomePenney Kome is co-editor of Peace: A Dream Unfolding (Sierra Club Books 1986), with a foreward by the Nobel-winning presidents of International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War.

Read her bio on Facts and Opinions.

Contact:  komeca AT yahoo.com

 

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Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal, of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and we do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. Please visit our Subscribe page or use the PayPal button below to chip in at least .27 for one story or $1 for a day site pass. Tell others about us, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Why Scientists Should Not March on Washington

Scientists in Canada, supported by scientists around the world and global science journals, protested attempts to cut science funding and censor scientists from speaking out under Canada's Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, who was defeated in 2015. Above, scientists from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada, take part in a nation-wide protest in September, 2013.  © Deborah Jones 2013

Scientists in Canada, supported by scientists around the world and global science journals, protested attempts to cut science funding and censor scientists from speaking out under Canada’s Conservative government led by Stephen Harper, who was defeated in 2015. Above, scientists from the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada, take part in a nation-wide protest in September, 2013. © Deborah Jones 2013

ANDREA SALTELLI 
March, 2017

The April 22 March for Science, like the Women’s March before it, will confront United States President Donald Trump on his home turf – this time to challenge his stance on climate change and vaccinations, among other controversial scientific issues. The Conversation

But not everyone who supports scientific research and evidence-based policymaking is on board. Some fear that a scientists’ march will reinforce the sceptical conservative narrative that scientists have become an interest group whose findings are politicised. Others are concerned that the march is more about identity politics than science.

From my perspective, the march – which is being planned by the Earth Day Network, League of Extraordinary Scientists and Engineers and the Natural History Museum, among other partner organisations – is a distraction from the existential problems facing the field.

Other questions are far more urgent to restoring society’s faith and hope in science. What is scientists’ responsibility for current anti-elite resentments? Does science contribute to inequality by providing evidence only to those who can pay for it? How do we fix the present crisis in research reproducibility?

So is the march a good idea? To answer this question, we must turn to the scientist and philosopher Micheal Polanyi, whose concept of science as a body politic underpins the logic of the protest.

Both the appeal and the danger of the March for Science lie in its demand that scientists present themselves as a single collective just as Polanyi did in his Cold War classic, The Republic of Science: Its Political and Economic Theory. In it, Polanyi defended the importance of scientific contributions to improving Western society in contrast to the Soviet Union’s model of government-controlled research.

Polanyi was a polymath, that rare combination of natural and social scientist. He passionately defended science from central planning and political interests, including by insisting that science depends on personal, tacit, elusive and unpredictable judgements – that is, on the individual’s decision on whether to accept or reject a scientific claim. Polanyi was so radically dedicated to academic freedom that he feared undermining it would make scientific truth impossible and lead to totalitarianism.

The scientists’ march on Washington inevitably invokes Polanyi. It is inspired by his belief in an open society – one characterised by a flexible structure, freedom of belief and the wide spread of information.

But does Polanyi’s case make sense in the current era?

Polanyi recognised that Western science is, ultimately, a capitalist system. Like any market of goods and services, science comprises individual agents operating independently to achieve a collective good, guided by an invisible hand.

Scientists thus undertake research not to further human knowledge but to satisfy their own urges and curiosity, just as in Adam Smith’s example the baker makes the bread not out of sympathy for the hunger of mankind but to make a living. In both cases this results in a common good.

There is a difference between bakers and scientists, though. For Polanyi: “It appears, at first sight, that I have assimilated the pursuit of science to the market. But the emphasis should be in the opposite direction. The self coordination of independent scientists embodies a higher principle, a principle which is reduced to the mechanism of the market when applied to the production and distribution of material goods.”

Polanyi was aligning science with the economic model of the 1960s. But today his assumptions, both about the market and about science itself, are problematic. And so, too, is the scientists’ march on the US capital, for adopting the same vision of a highly principled science.

Does the market actually work as Adam Smith said? That’s questionable in the current times: economists George Akerlof and Robert Shiller have argued that the principle of the invisible hand now needs revisiting. To survive in our consumerist society, every player must exploit the market by any possible means, including by taking advantage of consumer weaknesses.

To wit, companies market food with unhealthy ingredients because they attract consumers; selling a healthy version would drive them out of the market. As one scientist remarked to The Economist, “There is no cost to getting things wrong. The cost is not getting them published”.

It is doubtful that Polanyi would have upheld the present dystopic neo-liberal paradigm as a worthy inspiration for scientific discovery.

Polanyi also believed in a “Republic of Science” in which astronomers, physicists, biologists, and the like constituted a “Society of Explorers”. In their quest for their own intellectual satisfaction, scientists help society to achieve the goal of “self-improvement”.

That vision is difficult to recognise now. Evidence is used to promote political agendas and raise profits. More worryingly, the entire evidence-based policy paradigm is flawed by a power asymmetry: those with the deepest pockets command the largest and most advertised evidence.

I’ve seen no serious attempt to rebalance this unequal context.

A third victim of present times is the idea – central to Polanyi’s argument for a Republic of Science – that scientists are capable of keeping their house in order. In the 1960s, scientists still worked in interconnected communities of practice; they knew each other personally. For Polanyi, the overlap among different scientific fields allowed scientists to “exercise a sound critical judgement between disciplines”, ensuring self-governance and accountability.

Today, science is driven by fierce competition and complex technologies. Who can read or even begin to understand the two million scientific articles published each year?

Elijah Millgram calls this phenomenon the “New Endarkment” (the opposite of enlightenment), in which scientists have been transformed into veritable “methodological aliens” to one another.

One illustration of Millgram’s fears is the P-test imbroglio, in which a statistical methodology essential to the conduit of science was misused and abused for decades. How could a well-run Republic let this happen?

The classic vision of science providing society with truth, power and legitimacy is a master narrative whose time has expired. The Washington March for Science organisers have failed to account for the fact that science has devolved intowhat Polanyi feared: it’s an engine for growth and profit.

A march suggests that the biggest problem facing science today is a post-truth White House. But that is an easy let off. Science’s true predicaments existed before January 2 2017, and they will outlive this administration.

Our activism would be better inspired by the radical 1970s-era movements that sought to change the world by changing first science itself. They sought to provide scientific knowledge and technical expertise to local populations and minority communities while giving those same groups a chance to shape the questions asked of science. These movements fizzled out in the 1990s but echos of their programmatic stance can be found in a recent editorial in Nature.

What we see instead is denial toward science’s real problems. Take for instance the scourge of predatory publishers, who charge authors hefty fees to publish papers with little or no peer review. The lone librarian who fought this battle has now been silenced, to no noticeable reaction from the scientific community.

Trump is not science’s main problem today – science is.

Creative Commons

Andrea Saltelli has worked on physical chemistry, environmental sciences, applied statistics, impact assessment and science for policy. His main disciplinary focus is on sensitivity analysis of model output, a discipline where statistical tools are used to interpret the output from mathematical or computational models, and on sensitivity auditing, an extension of sensitivity analysis to the entire evidence-generating process in a policy context. At present he is in at the European Centre for Governance in Complexity, a joint undertaking of the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities (SVT) – University of Bergen (UIB), and of the Institut de Ciència i Tecnologia Ambientals (ICTA) -Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (UAB). The ECGC is located in the UAB campus in Barcelona. His latest works include Science on the Verge, a book on the crisis of science, a series of article of criticism of the Ecological Footprint  He is an Adjunct Professor, Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, University of Bergen, University of Bergen.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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From Russia with Love

Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech hosted by Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. {Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons] Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
March 4, 2017

It was meant as humour, but like all good humour it has a ring of truth to it.

The headline on the column, by Andy Borowitz of the New Yorker read, “Putin starting to wonder if his puppets are smart enough to pull this off.”

“When you choose a puppet, you’re looking for a sweet spot,” one of Borowitz’s imaginary sources, supposedly close to Putin, said. “You want to choose someone who’s dumb enough to be manipulated, but not so dumb that he can’t find the light switches.”

“Increasingly, it looks like we missed that sweet spot,” the fictional source said.

This satire was written two weeks before news broke about United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ meetings with the Russian ambassador in 2016. If Borowitz’s humourous take on these events were true, then you could picture Putin wondering what the hell is going on. How’s a guy supposed to concentrate on disrupting elections in Germany, France, and the Netherlands when the puppets he installed in the United States don’t seem to be able to go a single day without a screw-up of some kind? How’s a Russian dictator going to put in place his plan to restore Russia to its once-prominent place in the world with that kind of help?

Again, Borowitz writes humour. But this is starting to feel not so funny in real life.

The question of the Trump administration’s involvement with Russia, and Russia’s attempts to undermine the 2016 American election, are starting to smell like three-day-old fish left in the sun. The Trump administration had vehemently denied that any member of its team met with any Russian official of any kind. And for a while it looked like the Russia story might get buried in a slew of other Trumpian actions, like the shortsighted, ill-advised, and soon-overturned attempt to ban refugees from seven different countries in the Middle East.

But Russia is the story that just will not go away. Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post perhaps put it best when he wrote, “where there’s smoke and smoke and smoke and smoke, there’s probably fire.”

Perhaps what’s most puzzling is how the Trump administration is handling the growing story. This is particularly true in the case of Sessions. During his confirmation hearings, when he was asked about any contacts with Russian authorities, he could’ve simply answered that he had spoken briefly to the Russian ambassador, along with several other ambassadors, after he had given a speech at the Republican national convention. And said that his September meeting with the ambassador was merely a chance to discuss issues that were related to his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary committee. (That last one is a little bit of a hard sell, but is plausible enough that it would have given him cover.)

Instead, Sessions lied. To Congress, to the media, and the American public. After the “failing” Washington Post (sad) broke the story of his meetings, as it had also done with Mike Flynn, the scramble was on. For a man who called for then-Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch to recuse herself from the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, after she had a tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, Atty. Gen. Sessions was left with few options. And so Thursday he announced that he was recusing himself from any investigation into ties between the Trump administration in Russia. His troubles may not be over however, as that lying to Congress thing might become a sticking point. Nevertheless, the damage has been done.

Suddenly the Trump team’s repeated denials of any meetings with any Russian officials were starting to sound like an NFL general manager who says that he has “complete confidence” in his team’s coach after a 2- 14 season. You know it’s just baloney. And sure enough, Sessions barely had time to step aside before word leaked out that several other Trump administration officials had also met with Russians during 2016.

All of this must make Democrats delighted, but the truth is that it is bothering more than a few Republicans as well. So many heated denials followed by so many revelations that these denials were false creates a sense of cover-up that won’t go away. This is more than a question of “gotcha” politics. Behind all these disproved denials is a serious question of whether or not significant players on the Trump team colluded with another country in order to sabotage a political opponent. And in exchange for this help, these significant players told this other country that, once in power, it would go soft on sanctions and other measures that had been used to retaliate against its more outrageous actions.

That’s why there is a word that is only being softly whispered at the moment, but you can feel its presence. That word is impeachment. It’s difficult to believe that less than two months into Donald Trump’s first term as president that there are people on both sides of the aisle even theoretically discussing his impeachment. Yet it is there.

And as these Russian contacts grow in numbers and more questions are asked about why these discussions were held in the first place, that whisper may start to get much louder.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

 

LINKS:

Putin Starting to Wonder If His Puppets Are Smart Enough to Pull This Off, by Andy Borowitz, New Yorker, February 14, 2017: http://www.newyorker.com/humor/borowitz-report/putin-starting-to-wonder-if-his-puppets-are-smart-enough-to-pull-this-off

Chris Cillizza page at the Washington Post:  https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/chris-cillizza/?utm_term=.a7539b7100c7

Michael T. Flynn page on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_T._Flynn

~~~

Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Is Donald Trump a “Black Swan”?

Photo by Cindy Funk, 2009, Creative Commons

Photo by Cindy Funk, 2009, Creative Commons

TOM REGAN: SUMMONING ORENDA
February 4, 2017

As I drove my wife to catch the train into DC at 4 AM this past Friday morning, we listened to NPR’s daily rebroadcast of the BBC. At that time of the morning there is normally business programming of some kind and, because it is the BBC, it is almost always interesting. This particular morning Daniel Levin was being interviewed.

Levin is an American attorney turned successful writer. He was on the BBC to talk about his new book “Nothing But a Circus: Misadventures Among the Powerful,” published last month. The blurb from his publisher Penguin books on its promotional website reads, “In this eye-opening exploration of the human weakness for power, Daniel Levin takes us on a hilarious journey through the absurd world of our global elites, drawing unforgettable sketches of some of the puppets who stand guard, and the jugglers and conjurers employed within.”

The book sounds like a fascinating read, and in the interview Levin gave a taste of what he witnessed working with some of the world’s most powerful people, including Vladimir Putin, a story that some in the American government might find instructive. Then Levin said something that snapped me out of my half-drowsy stupor: he described Donald Trump as a “black swan.” Levin admitted he could be wrong, but said all the signs show that Trump fits the definition.

I first came across the idea in another book that I’ve spoken about before, Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast, and Slow,” who wrote about Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a financial professional and writer, who offered the idea of black swans as a way to look at the 2008 financial crisis. Rather than twist myself into knots trying to explain, I’ll quote from the website Investopedia:

“Taleb argued that black swan events are impossible to predict yet have catastrophic ramifications. Therefore, it is important for people to always assume a black swan event is a possibility, whatever it may be, and to plan accordingly. He also used the 2008 financial crisis and the idea of black swan events to point out if a broken system is allowed to fail, it actually strengthens it against the catastrophe of future black swan events.”

Taleb’s definition of a black swan event perfectly describes the rise of Donald Trump, from clown celebrity to the most powerful man in the world.

Just think about it. No one, no one, predicted that Trump’s candidacy would end up where it did. Even Trump in the beginning only saw a run for the White House as a chance to improve his brand overall, and perhaps generate a new TV show after he had been asked to leave The Celebrity Apprentice. And there is no doubt, as we have seen in barely two weeks of his administration, that our failure to predict this event is having catastrophic ramifications.

It is the final part of the Investopedia definition that those of us who failed to predict the rise of Trump need to focus on: “If a broken system is allowed to fail it actually strengthens it against the catastrophe of future black swan events.”

Well, it’s pretty fair to say the system failed. But, it’s produced a most amazing result. Millions of Americans have suddenly found their voices and their citizenship. Pundits and historians are already comparing it to what happened with the Tea Party in 2008 after the election of Barack Obama. The Women’s March on Washington; the large protest that took place at airports particularly in America, but also around the world, after Trump’s immigration ban; upcoming marches by scientists; a protest to take place on April 15 about Trump not paying his taxes …  These are just the most visible symbols that something perhaps not seen since the ’60s is happening.

It’s also happening in a much smaller level. In my own rural Virginia community people are already organizing, some very publicly, some very privately. Information is being shared via social media about upcoming meetings, protests, phone numbers to call to contact House and Senate representatives. There is a new sense of constant motion.

Reportedly, many Trump supporters are happy with the numerous odorous executive orders issued since he became president. But it’s important to remember that Trump is only president because of roughly 77,000 voters in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Many of those people were willing to make a bet on an unknown because they were tired of the status quo. This is what we missed, what we ignored, what we overlooked.

I was particularly struck by a phone call from a young man in Pennsylvania to a NPR talkshow who said he participated in some of the protests against Trump’s executive orders, but admitted he had voted for Trump. When asked why he voted for him, when he so obviously disagreed with many of the things the new president was doing, he answered that he was tired of the same old politics, that he was fed up with the Bush-Clinton dynasties, and that he felt Americans had to break away, and so he was willing to bet on Trump. He said he didn’t know if he would vote for Trump again but he felt it was right at the time.

It’s hearing comments like these that give me hope that Donald Trump is indeed a black swan. And that if we pay attention, listen better and learn, then improve the system, we can make sure that a Donald Trump never happens again.

Copyright Tom Regan 2017

Contact Tom Regan:  motnager@gmail.com

Related opinion columns on F&O:

America’s Fantasy World, by Tom Regan

In the fantasy world of America, globalization can be stopped dead in its tracks, and blue jeans will still sell for $20 a pair at Sam’s Club. Manufacturing jobs long vanished will be returned, despite the onslaught of automation …. Oh, it’s a wonderful world. Lollipops and unicorns and everybody wins the lottery under President Donald Trump. Too bad it doesn’t exist.

The Trumping of Rationality, by Tom Regan

For many years, economists, philosophers and pundits thought that people would always act rationally:  people would look at options and the information available to make rational choices. But in the mid-70s, two Israeli psychologists – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – turned that idea on its head.

Pins are out for the Trump balloon, by Jonathan Manthorpe

Even as the inaugural party hangovers still throb in Washington, leaders in other capitals are dreaming up ways to discover what kind of blow-hard Donald Trump is. He has given them plenty to work with.

Rule of Law vs Rule by Man, by Deborah Jones

The American Dream has shrunk to one simple question: rule of law, or rule by man?

~~~

Tom Regan Tom Regan is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area. He worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and with the National Film Board in Canada, and in the United States for the Christian Science Monitor, Boston Globe, and National Public Radio. A former executive director of the Online News Association in the U.S., he was a Nieman fellow at Harvard in 1991-92, and is a member of the advisory board of the Nieman Foundation for journalism at Harvard.

Return to Tom Regan’s page 

 

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded only by you, our readers. We are ad-free and spam-free, and do not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we need a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Visit our Subscribe page for details, or donate below. With enough supporters each paying a small amount, we will continue, and increase our original works like this.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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U.S. Ban Causes Immigration Chaos, Fury

A woman exits immigration after arriving from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

A woman exits immigration after arriving from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Yeganeh Torbati and Doina Chiacu 
January 28, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s most far reaching action since taking office plunged America’s immigration system into chaos on Saturday, not only for refugees but for legal U.S. residents who were turned away at airports and feared being stranded outside the country.

Immigration lawyers and advocates worked through the night trying to help stranded travelers find a way back home. Lawyers in New York sued to block the order, saying many people have already been unlawfully detained, including an Iraqi who worked for the U.S. Army in Iraq.

Confusion abounded at airports as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new rules, with some legal residents who were in the air when the order was issued detained at airports upon arrival.

“Imagine being put back on a 12-hour flight and the trauma and craziness of this whole thing,” said Mana Yegani, an immigration lawyer in Houston. “These are people that are coming in legally. They have jobs here and they have vehicles here.”

The new Republican president on Friday put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries. He said the moves would protect Americans from terrorism, in a swift and stern delivery on a campaign promise.

The ban affects travelers with passports from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen and extends to green card holders who are legal permanent residents of the United States.

Arab travelers in the Middle East and North Africa said the order was humiliating and discriminatory. It drew widespread criticism from U.S. Western allies including France and Germany, Arab-American groups and human rights organizations.

Iran condemned the order as an “open affront against the Muslim world and the Iranian nation” and vowed to retaliate. Of the seven countries targeted, Iran sends the most visitors to the United States each year – around 35,000 in 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The ban extends to green card holders who are authorized to live and work in the United States, Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said.

It was unclear how many legal permanent residents would be affected. A senior U.S. administration official said on Saturday that green card holders from the seven affected countries have to be cleared into the United States on a case-by-case basis.

People shout during anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protests outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

People shout during anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protests outside Terminal 4 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

LEGAL RESIDENTS STUNNED

Legal residents of the United States were plunged into despair at the prospect of being unable to return to the United States or being separated from family members trapped abroad.

“I never thought something like this would happen in America,” said Mohammad Hossein Ziya, 33, who came to the United States in 2011 after being forced to leave Iran for his political activities.

Ziya, who lives in Virginia, has a green card and planned to travel to Dubai next week to see his elderly father. “I can’t go back to Iran, and it’s possible I won’t be able to return here, a place that is like my second country,” he said.

Saleh Taghvaeian, 36, teaches agricultural water management at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, said he feared his wife would not be able to return from Iran after a visit.

In Cairo, five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni were barred from boarding an EgyptAir flight to New York on Saturday, sources at Cairo airport said. Dutch airline KLM [AIRF.PA] said on Saturday it had refused carriage to the United States to seven passengers from predominately Muslim countries.

Canada’s WestJet Airlines said it turned back a passenger bound for the United States on Saturday in order to comply with the order. A spokeswoman did not say which country the passenger had come from.

At least three lawyers from the International Refugee Assistance Project were at the arrivals lounge at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, buried in their laptops and conference calls, photocopies of individuals’ U.S. visas on hand.

U.S. AGENCIES SCRAMBLE

Women check their luggage after arriving on a flight from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Women check their luggage after arriving on a flight from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

In Washington, the agencies charged with handling immigration and refugee issues grappled with how to interpret the measure. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they were not consulted on the executive order and in some cases only learned the details as they were made public.

At the State Department, a senior official said lawyers were working closely with their counterparts at Homeland Security to interpret the executive order, which allows entry to people affected by the order when it is in the “national interest.”

However, a federal law enforcement official said, “It’s unclear at this point what the threshold of national interest is.”

Senior administration officials said it would have been “reckless” to broadcast details of the order in advance of new security measures. The officials told reporters that Homeland Security now has guidance for airlines.

They dismissed as “ludicrous” the notion that the order amounted to a “Muslim ban.” Afghanistan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Oman, Tunisia and Turkey were Muslim-majority countries not included, an official said.

Since it was announced on Friday, enforcement of the order was spotty and disorganized.

Travelers were handled differently at different points of entry and immigration lawyers were advising clients to change their destination to the more lenient airports, she said. Houston immigration lawyer Yegani said officials denied travelers with dual Canadian and Iranian citizenship from boarding planes in Canada to the United States.

The order seeks to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution. In a television interview, Trump said the measure was aimed at helping Christians in Syria.

Some legal experts said that showed the order was unconstitutional, as it would violate the U.S. right to freedom of religion. But others said the president and U.S. Congress have latitude to choose who receives asylum.

Lawyers from immigration organizations and the American Civil Liberties Union sued in federal court in Brooklyn on behalf of two Iraqi men, one a former U.S. government worker and the other the husband of a former U.S. security contractor.

The two men had visas to enter the United States but were detained on Friday night at Kennedy airport, hours after Trump’s executive order, the lawsuit said. One of the men, former U.S. Army interpreter, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was later released.

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Jeff Mason, Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu, Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Mica Rosenberg, Jonathan Allen and David Ingram in New York; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

 

Travel Bans Called Unjust in Middle East

By Eric Knecht and Maher Chmaytelli
January 28,2017

People exit immigration after arriving from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

People exit immigration after arriving from Dubai on Emirates Flight 203 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

CAIRO/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Arabs and Iranians planning U.S. trips reacted with fury on Saturday to new American travel curbs they said were insulting and discriminatory, as five Iraqis and a Yemeni were stopped from boarding a New York-bound flight in Cairo.

In some of seven Muslim-majority countries affected by the restrictions, would-be travellers preparing family visits, work trips or seeking to escape war reported chaotic disruption to their plans. Some said they had been humiliated.

Iran, one of the seven countries, said it would stop U.S. citizens entering the country in retaliation to Washington’s visa ban, calling it an “open affront against the Muslim world and the Iranian nation”.

“It’s not right to portray huge groups of Arabs and Muslims as possible terrorists,” Najeeb Haidari, a Yemeni-American security manager in Yemen, said a day after Trump put a four-month hold on refugee arrivals and temporarily barred travellers from war-torn Syria and six other mainly Muslim nations.

“This is a stupid, terrible decision which will hurt the American people more than us or anybody else, because it shows that this president can’t manage people, politics or global relationships,” Haidari added.

Sudan called the decision to ban entry of its citizens very unfortunate in light of “historic steps” just weeks earlier to lift U.S. sanctions for cooperation on combating terrorism.

In the most sweeping use of his presidential powers since taking office a week ago, Trump signed an executive order on Friday to pause the entry of travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days.

He said separately he wanted the United States to give priority to Syrian Christians fleeing the war there. The travel curbs began immediately, causing confusion for would-be travellers with passports from the seven countries.

UNFAIR DECISION

Sources at Cairo airport said the five Iraqi passengers and one Yemeni, arriving in transit to Cairo airport, were stopped and re-directed to flights headed for their home countries despite holding valid visas. [L5N1FI0CI]

A Syrian family holding U.S. visas who had travelled overnight from Beirut to Paris was prevented from boarding a connecting flight onto Atlanta, Lebanese airport sources said. They flew back to Beirut later on Saturday.

In Doha, Qatar Airways advised passengers bound for the United States from the seven newly banned countries that they needed to have either a U.S. green card or a diplomatic visa.

Farea al-Muslimi, a U.S.-educated Yemeni political commentator with the Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies said, “It’s insane – but what part of Trump is sane?”ers.”

“This punishes thousands of innocent people for things they have no control over, when the last few attacks in America had to do with radicalized U.S. citizens, not foreigners.”

A 34-year-old Sudanese man who won the U.S. Green Card lottery said he was worried he would be forbidden entry. “If I’m barred…this will destroy my life because I resigned from my work in Sudan and was preparing to settle in America,” he said.

Fariba, an Iranian-American who declined to give her family name and lives in New Jersey, said her parents would not be able to make a planned visit to celebrate Iranian New Year in March.

“What have we done to deserve such a ban? … This ban will ruin our lives. Thank you Mr. President. Are you making America great by hurting innocent people?”

Some people planning U.S. travel said the curbs would harm their careers. Others feared for the safety of their families.

“HUMILIATING INSULT”

In Baghdad, Bayan Adil, a doctor working in the Iraqi Health Ministry who applied for a U.S. visa to attend a medical seminar, said Iraqi academics should visit Europe instead of the United States, where they were no longer welcome.

“Trump’s decision is unfortunately a humiliating insult not only for us as academics but for all Iraqis,” she said.

Her comments were echoed by Abd Al-Jafar, a 43-year-old university professor in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, who said he had sought to go to the United States for doctoral studies.

“This decision, if implemented, will be a disaster,” he said. “I have work in Sudan and have no desire to emigrate to the U.S., just to study there. This decision is illogical.”

In Beirut, Joumana Ghazi Chehade, 34, a refugee from Yarmouk in Syria living in the Lebanese capital’s Burj al-Barajneh camp, said the decision would “destroy a lot of people”.

“Of course we’re not going to go blow anything up … All we are asking for is security and freedom.”

Mirna, an American and a mother of two living in Syria, said it was clear Trump “doesn’t want to receive Syrian Muslims … we have to expect the worst from him because he is a crazy man.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Babak Dehghanpisheh, Noah Browning, John Davison, Khalid Abdulaziz and Ahmed Elumami.; Writing by William Maclean; editing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Helen Popper)

Canada Welcomes Refugees

By David Ljunggren and Anna Mehler Paperny
January 28, 2017

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomed those fleeing war and persecution on Saturday even as Canadian airlines said they would turn back U.S.-bound passengers to comply with an immigration ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries.

A day after U.S. President Donald Trump put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily barred travellers from the seven countries, Trudeau said in a tweet: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

A second tweet included an archive photo of Trudeau welcoming a Syrian refugee at a Canadian airport in 2015.

Confusion abounded at airports around the world on Saturday as immigration and customs officials struggled to interpret the new U.S. rules.

In Canada, WestJet Airlines said it turned back a passenger bound for the United States on Saturday to comply with an executive order signed by Trump on Friday. WestJet spokeswoman Lauren Stewart said the airline would give full refunds to anyone affected by the order. It did not say which country the passenger had come from.

The order would help protect Americans from terrorist attacks, the president said.

Stewart said WestJet had been informed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) that the ban did not apply to dual citizens who had passports from countries other than those covered by the ban: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“U.S. CBP has confirmed it is the citizenship document they present to enter the country, not the country of where they were born,” Stewart wrote in an email.

Air Canada, the country’s other major airline, said it was complying with the order but did not comment on whether it had yet denied travel to any passengers.

“We are required to ensure passengers have the required documents for entry into, or transit the countries they are travelling to,” said spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur. “In the case of these nationalities, they are not permitted to enter the U.S.”

Copyright Reuters 2017

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Anna Mehler Paperny; Writing by Amran Abocar, Editing by Nick Zieminski and Grant McCool)

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

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Pins are out for the Trump balloon

General view of west side of US Capitol prior to the inauguration to swear in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

General view of west side of US Capitol prior to the inauguration to swear in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
January 20, 2017

Even as the inaugural party hangovers still throb in Washington, leaders in other capitals are dreaming up ways to discover what kind of blow-hard Donald Trump is.

He has given them plenty to work with over the last couple of years with his ignorant and intemperate outbursts. But it matters to everyone whether there is any substance behind Trump’s rabid self-promotion: his opiate of choice.

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania depart from services at St. John's Church during his inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

President-elect Donald Trump and his wife Melania depart from services at St. John’s Church during his inauguration in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The core question is whether the century of the United States imperium is at an end.

It was in the winter of 1918-1919 during the peace talks in Paris to conclude the First World War that Washington took over from London as the capital of the world’s super power. British leaders realized the era of their empire was spent and willingly handed the torch to the U.S., which shared Britain’s civic values.

With super power status goes the responsibility to act as a global arbiter. One can argue about how effectively and morally the U.S. has performed that task. What is beyond argument, however, is that the U.S. created the existing structure of international human discourse. By and large, those institutions were designed and created with a generous spirit and the aim of improving human security and wellbeing. Institutions like the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the International Monetary Fund, The World Bank, and all these organizations’ many spin-offs, undoubtedly are marked by the culture of their creators in Washington. But it is hard to sustain a credible argument that they are agencies of U.S. imperialism, though many try to do so.

Trump’s disdain and contempt for much of this structure does not bode well. He has called NATO “obsolete.” He has dismissed the UN as “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time.” He threatens to tear up trade agreements and warned allies in Asia such as Japan and South Korea not to count on Washington in a crisis.

He applauded the looming break-up of the European Union and got unnecessarily personal in his criticism of European leaders, especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Trump threatens an all-out trade war with China, which he accuses of currency manipulation and “stealing” U.S. jobs, and to jettison the policy over the status of Taiwan that has governed Washington-Beijing relations since the late 1970s.

Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has gone further with the chest thumping and told Beijing its activities in the South China Sea are unacceptable. “We’re going to have to send China a clear signal that, first, the island-building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed,” Tillerson said during his confirmation hearing.

North Korean leader Kim Jung-un said in his New Year Day’s address that his country is close to being able to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear warhead. Trump responded with a Tweet saying: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”

Even the rogue regime of former President George W. Bush, as mad and bad as it was, realised that pre-emptive strikes against countries with nuclear weapons was a step too far.

Trump will prefer to concentrate on domestic issues in his first months as president. He has set out an impressive agenda of rules, regulations, programs and agencies earmarked for destruction. And in his picks for departmental bosses and cabinet members Trump has assembled a wrecking crew of awesome credentials. (It is impossible to lampoon an administration whose choice for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, says guns should be allowed in schools to protect children from grizzly bears.)

But the rest of the world can’t and won’t give Trump a breathing space. He will be tested soon.

He has lined up an impressive array of world leaders who have reason to push back against Trump’s Elmer Gantry, bully pulpit methods. Of course, there is one who has no desire to test what Trump is made of. No doubt it will eventually become clear whether Trump is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most ardent groupie, the Kremlin’s Manchurian Candidate — brainwashed by oligarchs’ investments in his wobbly property empire — or something in between. But for the moment, Putin is in the unprecedented situation for a Russian leader of having in the White House a man who admires his murderous and autocratic leadership style, and who wants to be his BBF.

Putin’s test of Trump’s sincerity will be to do nothing. Trump has indicated he wants to remove sanctions imposed on Putin by outgoing President Barack Obama for interfering in the presidental election, for invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. If Trump follows through, that will play into Putin’s timetable nicely. Putin is due to be re-elected President next year, and although this piece of theatre is meaningless by any true definition of democracy, he likes the performance to give him the appearance of political legitimacy.

But Russia these days is basically Zimbabwe with nuclear weapons and bad winters. International sanctions have eaten into a misconceived economy, overly dependent on energy exports, and gnawed to the bone by Putin’s kleptocratic stable of oligarchs. Putin needs a little economic fillip to lessen the prospect of public demonstrations of protest at his re-election next year. Trump could be his trump.

It is also unlikely that the ayatollahs who rule Iran will want to push back against Trump, despite his having threatened to junk the 2015 agreement regulating Tehran’s nuclear development program, which he called “the worst deal ever negotiated” and a “disaster.” Trump does not appear to have grasped that this was not an agreement between Washington and Tehran. It is an agreement negotiated with Iran by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, and endorsed by the UN Security Council. Trump could perhaps back the U.S. out of the agreement, but it would make no substantial difference to the international contract with Iran or the resultant lifting of international sanctions on the Tehran government.

China has more reason than most countries to try to discover quickly what sort of flimflam man inhabits the Oval Office. Beijing has a huge range of options to choose from. There are U.S. businesses and non-governmental organizations operating in China. There’s actions that can be taken against Taiwan, which China claims to own, but which Trump seems to have singled out for friendship. There’s the possibility of taking a swipe at Washington allies Japan or South Korea. And, of course, there’s lots of opportunity for mischief in the South China Sea. Beijing’s forces have in the past buzzed U.S. military aircraft over the sea, harassed hydrographic research vessels, and chivvied U.S. oil company exploration ships.

What can be said for certain is that the Communist Party regime is a master at presenting no target. If China chooses to take a poke at Trump it’s a fair bet it will be in a way that leaves him blustering with fury and impotent to respond.

Beijing might well feel the task of prodding Trump can be best left to the Malevolent Teletubby Kim Jung-un in North Korea.

As Trump was going through the inauguration process on Friday, media in South Korea was reporting speculation from Seoul’s intelligence services that North Korea would soon test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S.

Kim, and his father Kim Jung-il before him, has put great effort into developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of presenting a credible deterrent. After five nuclear tests since 2006, Pyongyang appears to have atomic bombs that blow up with some reliability. What remains uncertain is whether it has mastered the miniaturization necessary to make a nuclear weapon that can be put on top of a missile.

Hand in hand with this program has gone the development of missiles. Pyongyang has managed to build a rocket that put some sort of satellite in orbit, but it has had great difficulty in developing reliable missiles. At the end of last year, for example, it had seven failures out of eight test launches of its Musudan intermediate-range missile.

Developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) is a significant leap beyond that, not least because it requires the ability to bring the missile warhead back down from space on the target and with some accuracy. There is no clear evidence North Korea has yet achieved that skill.

So what could Kim Jung-un do to get Trump’s goat? North Korea Watchers are suggesting three options. One is that Kim’s scientists might fire another of its space rockets, called the Unha, but fit it with a re-entry vehicle emulating a warhead. If it worked, that would demonstrate having mastered the technology to deliver a nuclear weapon in theory if not yet in practice.

Another option would be to test fire an ICBM. Pyongyang has displayed mock-ups of its KN-14 would-be ICBM in a military parade in 2015, but has not test fired it. It is designed for a mobile launcher, and thus far less vulnerable to counter measures than the Unha space rockets fired from fixed bases. But the first tests of the KN-14 are almost certain to fail. Thus any attempt by Kim to fire a KN-14 as a show of strength is most likely to be an embarrassing damp squib.

A third option – and the most disquieting – is for Kim to refrain from trying to thumb his nose at Trump and instead to pursue a quiet and measured ICBM development program. This means taking the time to fully learn the lessons of failed tests and designing remedies. It means cool relentlessness rather than bravado.

The only certainty, of course, is that there is no certainty where the test of Trump as an international player will come from. It is a moment to remember that remark attributed to former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. He was asked by a journalist what might knock his government’s program off course and is said to have replied: “Events, dear boy, events.”

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

Related on F&O:

Donald Trump Sworn in as 45th U.S. President, by Steve Holland  Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, succeeding Barack Obama and taking control of a divided country in a transition of power that he has declared will lead to “America First” policies at home and abroad.

The Trumping of Rationality, by Tom Regan   Column

For many years, economists, philosophers and pundits thought that people would always act rationally:  people would look at options and the information available to make rational choices. But in the mid-70s, two Israeli psychologists – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – turned that idea on its head.

Trump Hits Populist Note in Inaugural Address, by Richard Tofel, ProPublica

Donald Trump’s speech largely lacked lofty language, but contained a full-throated populist vision, delivered with confidence, and signaled this from the start in one of its most memorable lines: “Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” This might be heard to echo Ronald Reagan’s 1981 statement that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” but that would actually miss Trump’s point: The speech did not oppose government — it opposed the governors.

~~~

 

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

~~~

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Trump Hits Populist Note in Inaugural Address

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) takes the oath of office from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (R) with his wife Melania, and children Barron, Donald, Ivanka and Tiffany at his side during inauguration ceremonies at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) takes the oath of office from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (R) with his wife Melania, and children Barron, Donald, Ivanka and Tiffany at his side during inauguration ceremonies at the Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

by Richard Tofel, ProPublica
January. 20, 2017

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s inaugural address, it seemed no one knew exactly what to expect.

Today was clearly an occasion for the use of the teleprompters that Trump used to mock his predecessor for employing. But, with the prepared text scrolling before him, would Trump offer the sobriety of his speech after meeting the Mexican president last August, or that of Election Night — or the bellicosity of his Convention acceptance speech? Sobriety won the day.

But the speech was much more than sober. It largely lacked lofty language, but contained a full-throated populist vision, delivered with confidence, and signaled this from the start in one of its most memorable lines: “Today we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another or from one party to another, but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” This might be heard to echo Ronald Reagan’s 1981 statement that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem,” but that would actually miss Trump’s point: The speech did not oppose government — it opposed the governors.

Perhaps the most striking element of the speech is how positive it remained throughout. Yes, it painted a dark vision of the state of the country today, accentuating the negative in this respect as almost all presidents who succeed a person of the other party do. But the blame for these ills was cast only on two domestic players: an undefined “Establishment” and, most tellingly, “Washington” and “politicians,” implicitly of both parties, “who are all talk and no action constantly complaining but never doing anything about it.”

Trump once again, as at his Convention, made a presumably conscious play for Franklin Roosevelt’s “forgotten man” of 1932. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now,” Trump declared. But while some on the right have tried to recast this phrase and return it to the meaning of William Graham Sumner, who used it first in 1918 to refer to taxpayers forced to pay for reforms, Trump made no such allusions. Government must be part of the solution to his promises, if only because those promises are being made by the new head of the government.

And therein lies the great risk of the speech. The new president pledged today to rid the country of the problems of drugs, crime, inner city poverty and closed factories, and to launch an ambitious program of infrastructure spending. He pledged to “eradicate completely from the face of the earth” what he predictably called “radical Islamic terrorism.” None of these promises are likely to be literally fulfilled. Trump’s pledge to “never, ever let you down” seems a dangerous echo of Jimmy Carter, who said the same thing, and received 40 percent of the vote when he ran for re-election. The question then will be whether enough has been done to avoid popular disappointment.

A striking contrast in the speech was that between its pleas for domestic unity — Trump twice called for racial tolerance — and international division. On the latter score, it is worth comparing this from John Kennedy exactly 56 years ago, “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” with this from Trump today: “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”

Other questions ahead of today’s speech went more to style than to substance. Would Trump be gracious and thank his predecessor, as each new president since Carter in 1977 has done? He did. Would he be afflicted by the nervous sniffling of his debate performances (and the Mexican speech), or display the self-confidence that made those exceptions stand out? He sniffled a bit, but not nearly as much as in the debates — he seemed much more confident today than he did then.

One of the few things Trump and his aides said about the speech in advance was that it would be short. In the event, it was. The President clocked in at 1,454 words. That compares with 1,366 words in JFK’s inaugural address — the most memorable of the modern era. It is far longer than FDR’s fourth inaugural, which, at 573 words, was the shortest modern address — and nowhere near Washington’s second inaugural, in 1793, which set an enduring record for brevity at 136 words. But it was considerably shorter than Barack Obama’s largely unmemorable first inaugural address (everyone, it seems, remembers the day, but, unusually for Obama, very little of what was said); that speech ran 2,409 words.

One thing was entirely predictable: how the speech would end. Anyone paying any attention at all for the last 18 months should have known its last point would be a call to “Make America Great Again.”

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Related:

Donald Trump Sworn in as 45th U.S. President, by Steve Holland  Report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Friday, succeeding Barack Obama and taking control of a divided country in a transition of power that he has declared will lead to “America First” policies at home and abroad.

The Trumping of Rationality, by Tom Regan   Column

For many years, economists, philosophers and pundits thought that people would always act rationally:  people would look at options and the information available to make rational choices. But in the mid-70s, two Israeli psychologists – Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky – turned that idea on its head.

~~~~

 

Richard Tofel is the author of “Sounding the Trumpet: The Making of John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address” and “Eight Weeks in Washington, 1861: Abraham Lincoln and the Hazards of Transition.”

 ~~~

Facts and Opinions is a boutique journal of reporting and analysis in words and images, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by our readers. It is ad-free and spam-free, and does not solicit donations from partisan organizations. To continue we require a minimum payment of .27 for one story, or a sustaining donation. Details here; donate below. Thanks for your interest and support.

F&O’s CONTENTS page is updated each Saturday. Sign up for emailed announcements of new work on our free FRONTLINES blog; find evidence-based reporting in Reports; commentary, analysis and creative non-fiction in OPINION-FEATURES; and image galleries in PHOTO-ESSAYS. If you value journalism please support F&O, and tell others about us.

Posted in Also tagged , , |