Trump plays semantics on Russian meddling  

“The president appeared Wednesday to walk back his walk-backs on Kremlin interference in the 2016 election.”

From Politico:

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump said he was tripped up by a double negative. On Wednesday, the White House claimed he was simply declining to respond when he replied “no” to a reporter’s question about whether Russia is still targeting America’s democratic government.

Trump’s position on Russian interference in America’s elections has devolved into a game of semantics, with Trump loudly casting doubt on the assessment of his own intelligence agencies only to half-heartedly backtrack when his comments draw forceful condemnation, including from members of his own party.

For the third day in a row, Trump and his top aides spent Wednesday clarifying the president’s remarks on Russia, attempting to breathe new meaning into comments that Trump made not in secretive closed-door meetings, but on national television or on Twitter for all to see.

During a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump was asked by a reporter if Russia was continuing to target U.S. elections. He looked at the reporter and said “no,” adding that the United States, in his estimation, has been tougher on Russia than any of his predecessors.

That assessment would contradict the U.S. intelligence community, including Trump’s Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has said Russia continues to target the United States.

But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters later Wednesday afternoon that Trump had in fact not said anything of the sort. “The president said thank you very much and was saying no to answering questions,” Sanders told incredulous reporters in the White House briefing room, adding later, “I talked to the president. He wasn’t answering that question.”

The reporter who asked the question, ABC News White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, tweeted later Wednesday, “Yes, he was looking directly at me when he spoke. Yes, I believe he heard me clearly.”

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This is the moment of truth for Republicans  

“The GOP can either defend the United States or serve the damaged and defective man who is now its president.”

From The Atlantic:

There are exactly two possible explanations for the shameful performance the world witnessed on Monday, from a serving American president.

Either Donald Trump is flat-out an agent of Russian interests—maybe witting, maybe unwitting, from fear of blackmail, in hope of future deals, out of manly respect for Vladimir Putin, out of gratitude for Russia’s help during the election, out of pathetic inability to see beyond his 306 electoral votes. Whatever the exact mixture of motives might be, it doesn’t really matter.

Or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure, and narcissistic that he did not realize that, at every step, he was advancing the line that Putin hoped he would advance, and the line that the American intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies most dreaded.

Conscious tool. Useful idiot. Those are the choices, though both are possibly true, so that the main question is the proportions.

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Trump is now repaying Putin for helping him win the presidency  

“Trump, who himself used the material funneled through WikiLeaks by Russia as a weapon, is in effect now rewarding Russian efforts to supply it, by refusing to treat this sabotage as a crime against our political system.”

By Greg Sargent, in The Washington Post:

The events of the past few days — culminating in President Trump’s meeting today with Russian President Vladimir Putin — have rendered this interpretation inescapable: Trump is currently in the process of repaying Putin for helping to deliver him the presidency.

Whatever comes of this meeting — even if Trump does, in fact, gain some concessions from Putin, and even if Putin does not get what he wants out of Trump — that storyline will remain operative. The known facts have now established it beyond any reasonable doubt, and the only alternative interpretations of that now-established basic bargain that make any sense are actually more nefarious than that one.

In Helsinki today, Trump and Putin spoke to reporters before entering their private meeting. Trump predicted that “I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship,” adding that “getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.” But as The Post’s write-up puts it: “Trump did not mention Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign as one of the topics to be discussed.”

On Friday, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III indicted a dozen Russian military intelligence officials in an extraordinary and wide-ranging set of cyberattacks on Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Democratic National Committee officials, alleging a detailed plot to sabotage the election that established the clearest connection yet to the Russian government. Yet not only did Trump fail to say he’d bring up Russian sabotage of our election with Putin, he also tweeted this:

In blaming only previous U.S. leadership and the current Mueller probe for bad relations with Russia — and not Russia’s attack on our democracy, which is particularly galling, now that this attack has been described in great new detail — Trump is not merely spinning in a way that benefits himself. He’s also giving a gift to Putin, by signaling that he will continue to do all he can to delegitimize efforts to establish the full truth about Russian interference, which in turn telegraphs that Russia can continue such efforts in the future (which U.S. intelligence officials have warned will happen in the 2018 elections). In a sense, by doing this, Trump is colluding with such efforts right now.

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Why is Trump so enthralled by Putin? What does the Russian president have on him?  

“New Mueller indictments underscore that Vladimir Putin attacks, undermines and opposes America anytime he can. Russia is a hostile adversary. Why won’t Trump admit it?”

By Paul Brandus, in USA Today:

When I went to work in the American Embassy in Moscow in 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed, I learned a valuable word: maskirovka. It means “disguise,” and the first syllable — mask — is all you need to know. A mask conceals. It deceives. Truth and knowledge come only by lifting it and peering behind it. Until then, the advantage goes to the wearer.

And so it is with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president who has so enchanted President Donald Trump, for reasons that we cannot yet confirm. From Canada to Korea, Trump, in his first year-and-a-half in office, has hurled thunderbolts of criticism at virtually every major American ally. Stirring his ire? They don’t spend enough on defense, or they have a trade surplus with us. Sometimes both. Yet when it comes to Russia and Putin — who is anything but an ally — it’s kid gloves. Why? Because Putin’s maskirovka has worked on a grand scale. Trump can’t see (or admit) what’s going on, and there’s nothing to suggest this dynamic will ever change.

Here’s what Trump and his often cult-like, believe-anything-he-says followers fail to acknowledge: U.S. intelligence agencies and the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee all say Russia hacked the 2016 election and tried to tip it in Trump’s direction. The tsunami of evidence now includes Friday’s indictments of a dozen elite Russian military hackers who, the Justice Department says, stole information from Democratic organizations and 500,000 voters. That’s a flat-out attack on our country and our way of life that Trump does not even acknowledge.

Trump is appeasing a hostile adversary.

Russia can, some U.S. analysts say, easily seize three Baltic nations — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — that used to be in the Soviet Union but are now in NATO. Russia backs Syria’s Bashar Assad, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and the mullahs in Tehran. Putin taunts our military by having his warplanes buzz U.S. navy ships and fly perilously close to our own aircraft. Putin has engaged in a crash program to rebuild his nuclear triad (Trump didn’t know what that was in 2016). And Putin’s state-controlled media loves to remind us that Russia is capable of reducing the U.S. to ashes.

And yet none of this bothers Trump, who describes Putin as a mere “competitor” who is “not my enemy.” He doesn’t call the Russian dictator a friend either, but that’s only because “I don’t know him very well.”

A “competitor?” Putin attacks us, undermines our election, actively opposes us everywhere he can — and Trump willingly, perhaps naively, plays along. And his supporters call Barack Obama the appeaser? At least Obama took action against the Russians before and after the election, hitting Moscow with sanctions, closing Russian facilities here and kicking out dozens of “diplomats.” Trump can’t even admit that election interference occurred. He has said he believes Putin’s denials — a slap in the face to the dedicated men and women of America’s intelligence agencies.

Here’s the part where Trump defenders point out that the president signed a law calling for new sanctions against Moscow, too. What they don’t seem to know — or can’t admit — is that Trump fought the bill and signed it only because Congress passed it with veto-proof majorities. Trump also sought to reopen the facilities that Obama ordered closed.

Let’s face it: When it comes to Russia, the true appeaser here, the apologist, the defender of the Kremlin, is the current president.

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‘Very stable’ Trump? European leaders beg to differ  

“The president’s wild shifts in tone left many NATO allies concluding no hidden strategy lies behind his unpredictability.”

From Politico:

As a NATO summit he threw into chaos wrapped up Thursday, President Donald Trump cheekily declared himself a “very stable genius.”

The other world leaders present mostly begged to differ.

Trump’s wildly unpredictable performance over two days in Brussels left many European leaders convinced that there is little method to the American president’s rhetorical madness, and simply no way to anticipate what he might do next.

“Nobody knows when Trump is doing international diplomacy and when he is doing election campaigning in Montana,” Danish defense minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said. “It is difficult to decode what policy the American president is promoting. There is a complete unpredictability in this, and one of the things you need in this alliance is predictability towards Russia.” […]

A senior NATO official said leaders had concluded that they simply could not rely on anything Trump said.

“You know the way he speaks, you cannot take him literally,” the official said.

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Donald Trump is the president I didn’t want, but now I know we need  

“I admit that I was wrong about Trump. He’s not a clown, and he is delivering on his promises.”

Gary Varvel, cartoonist and columnist for the Indianapolis Star, writes:

Over the years, my caricatures of Donald Trump have evolved but not as much as my opinion of him.

When Trump announced he was running for president, I admit that I didn’t take this millionaire, hotel magnate, reality TV show celebrity as a serious candidate. I doubted his ability to do the job. So I drew him as a clown. In fact, my cartoons were as critical of him as many of my liberal cartoonist friends.

Then Trump started a war with the news media, tagging major news outlets as “fake news.” Ahem, I’m in the media.

And while Trump promised to pursue conservative policies, this conservative cartoonist doubted his sincerity. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that he was on the left.

In the crowded primary field, Trump got the most attention by being the loudest. His tweets could not be ignored by the media and resulted in Trump dominating news coverage.

I found his personal attacks sophomoric. I mean, calling his opponents “Low-energy Jeb,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Little Marco,” “Crazy Bernie” and “Crooked Hillary” was not presidential. It was childish, but it worked. He won and they lost.

In this braggadocios “I’m the greatest” culture, Trump became the Muhammad Ali of politicians. His claims of, “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” “I’m really rich,” “I’m very highly educated,” “I’m the best (fill in the blank)” stretched credulity but was certainly entertaining.

In one of the debates, Trump admitted that he was an entertainer but said that he was more than an entertainer, that he was “a businessman, and that’s the kind of mindset this country needs to bring it back.” Soon his rallies were filled with people who believed that he was the real hope and change America needed.

In 1992, millionaire businessman Ross Perot said that the country needed to be run like a business. He was great at listing the country’s problems, but he didn’t communicate how he would fix them.

Trump identified the problems and fixes. His political promises were simple, repeated often and easily remembered — build the wall, repeal and replace Obamacare, cut taxes, destroy the Islamic State group, renegotiate better trade deals and make America great again.

So how in the world did Trump change my mind? He started keeping those promises.

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What kind of Supreme Court are we likely to have now?  

Leftist talking-head prophets of doom are in full cry over President Trump’s announcement of Brett Kavanaugh as his Supreme Court nominee.

They’re warning that earth-shattering transformations, to America’s detriment, are about to befall us.

Many on the political left are hopping mad and calling for all-out opposition to Kavanaugh.

Documentary film-maker Michael Moore, for example, has called for non-stop aggressive action everywhere to stop Kavanaugh, even to the extent of urging, in an Instagram post, “those on the left to do everything from calling their Senators, to pleading with journalists to engage in ‘investigative journalism,’ to find the ‘skeletons in every closet.'”

Talk about fighting dirty.

Conservative political commentator and writer Ben Shapiro, on the other hand, is of the view that with Kavanaugh, “we’re likely to get careful, narrowly tailored decisions, not earth-shattering transformation.”

In National Review, Shapiro writes:

Amid the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the political Left and the triumphalist trumpeting from the political Right regarding the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, one question has gone missing: What, exactly, will the Supreme Court look like once Kavanaugh joins?

Those on the left, like those on the right, suggest that Kavanaugh will be a transformational pick. They believe Roe is in danger, that Citizens United will be dramatically strengthened, that religious believers will be handed carte blanche, and all the rest.

Here’s the truth: If there’s one proposition that distinguishes Kavanaugh from his more militant colleagues, it’s his unique capacity to write specific, detailed decisions that knock down trees while leaving forests intact. Kavanaugh’s opinions tend not to be ringing endorsements or rebukes of the Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas type; they tend to be narrowly tailored decisions that recall Chief Justices Roberts and Rehnquist.

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Reunited immigrant children scooped up into parents’ arms  

“It was the largest single effort to date to undo the effects of President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy of separating families who try to slip across the Mexican border into the U.S.”

From AP News:

Lugging little backpacks, smiling immigrant children were scooped up into their parents’ arms Tuesday as the Trump administration scrambled to meet a court-ordered deadline to reunite dozens of youngsters forcibly separated from their families at the border.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, two boys and a girl who had been in temporary foster care were reunited with their Honduran fathers at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement center about three months after they were split up.

The three fathers were “just holding them and hugging them and telling them that everything was fine and that they were never going to be separated again,” said immigration lawyer Abril Valdes.

One of the fathers, Ever Reyes Mejia, walked out of the ICE center carrying his beaming son and the boy’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack. The boy was secured in a booster seat, and father and son were driven away. Lawyers said the fathers were too distraught to speak to the news media.

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‘A matter of life & death’: 15,000 white South African farmers seek refuge in Russia, report says  

“Russia has 43 million hectares of unused farmland, and has recently begun giving out free land to Russian citizens to cultivate farming.”

From RT:

A delegation of 30 South African farming families has arrived in Russia’s farmbelt Stavropol Region, Rossiya 1 TV reports. The group says it is facing violent attacks and death threats at home.

Up to 15,000 Boers, descendants of Dutch settlers in South Africa, are planning to move to Russia amid rising violence stemming from government plans to expropriate their land, according to the delegation.

“It’s a matter of life and death – there are attacks on us. It’s got to the point where the politicians are stirring up a wave of violence,” Adi Slebus told the media. “The climate here [Stavropol Region] is temperate, and this land is created by God for farming. All this is very attractive.”

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Spy for Us — or never speak to your family again  

“China is using its huge digital surveillance system, and the threat of sending family members to reeducation camps, to pressure minorities to spy on their fellow exiles.”

From Buzzfeed:

Spying on behalf of the Chinese state went against everything O. believed in.

Yet even as he sat thousands of miles away in a quiet town in Sweden, he knew the police in his home country held something over him that could compel him to do just that — the freedom of his teenage son.

“What could I do?” O. said. “I told them, ‘My son is in your hands. He is the only thing that matters to me. I will do whatever you ask.’”

O. and his son belong to an ethnic group called the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group who make up close to half the population of Xinjiang, a sprawling region in China’s west. There, China’s government has built one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance states. Measures used there include techniques like DNA collection, iris scans, and cellphone surveillance, and they are disproportionately targeted at minority groups. Hundreds of thousands of Uighurs have been sent to internment camps that are shrouded in secrecy over the past two years. None have been formally charged with a crime.

But if you’re Uighur, escaping China doesn’t mean you’ve escaped the surveillance state.

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