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May 27 2017 2:27 PM

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Dies at 89

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser in Jimmy Carter’s presidency before becoming a well-known expert and intellectual on foreign policy, died on Friday. His daughter, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, announced his death on social media. “He was known to his friends as Zbig, to his grandchildren as Chief and to his wife as the enduring love of her life. I just knew him as the most inspiring, loving and devoted father any girl could ever have,” she wrote on Instagram.

Brzezinski served all four years of Carter’s administration and is best remembered for leading a hardline against the Soviet Union while pushing for closer relations with China. He also was the one who advocated for a commando mission to rescue the 52 American hostages held in the Iran hostage crisis that ended in failure.

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Carter issued a statement praising Brzezinski shortly after his death. “Rosalynn and I are saddened,” Carter said. “He was an important part of our lives for more than four decades and was a superb public servant.” Former President Obama also mourned Brzezinski. “His influence spanned several decades, and I was one of several Presidents who benefited from his wisdom and counsel,” Obama said. “You always knew where Zbig stood, and his ideas and advocacy helped shape decades of American national security policy.”

Brzezinski endorsed Obama and had recently become a vocal critic of his successor, President Donald Trump. The last tweet he wrote on May 4 illustrates his frustration with the current White House: “Sophisticated US leadership is the sine qua non of a stable world order. However, we lack the former while the latter is getting worse.”

In February, Brzezinski wondered: “Does America have a foreign policy right now?”

May 27 2017 12:56 PM

White Supremacist in Portland Kills Two Men Who Tried to Stop His Racist Rants

Two men were stabbed to death and another was wounded when they tried to intervene and stop a man from yelling hateful slurs on a light-rail train at two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab. The victims apparently tried to calm the passenger down as he went on with his hateful statements but he proceeded to slash their throats. A third passenger was also stabbed but is expected to survive the Friday afternoon attacks that coincided with the first day of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar.

Video posted online appears to show the suspect taunting police before he was arrested.

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Police identified the suspect as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, who was booked on two aggravated murder charges and an attempted murder charge, among others. Media outlets quickly identified Christian as a known white supremacist and right wing extremist. “He calls for a homeland for whites, he has anti-Semitic statements praising Nazis,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Povery Law Center after examining his Facebook page.

Christian also participated in the “March for Free Speech” in Portland on April 29 with a baseball bat in tow in an effort to attack left-wing protesters. Police took the bat away but he spent all day yelling racist slurs and giving the Nazi salute. “A few Portland police officers on April 29 appeared to be familiar with Christian, but not threatened by him,” reports the Portland Mercury. “They claimed he had a head injury and was mentally ill.”

Law enforcement officers also mentioned the specter of mental illness while discussing Friday’s stabbings. “We don’t know if he’s got mental health issues,” Sgt. Pete Simpson, a spokesman for the police in Portland, said. “We don’t know if he’s under the influence of drugs or alcohol or all of the above.”

May 27 2017 11:17 AM

Kushner Called on Russia to Set Up Secret Channel of Communications With Kremlin

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son in law and closest adviser, talked with the Russian ambassador in December about setting up a back channel of communications between Washington and the Kremlin. The goal seems to have been to use Russian diplomatic facilities for these talks before Trump would be sworn in so any discussions wouldn’t be monitored, according to the Washington Post, which was the first to report the story that was later confirmed by numerous outlets.

The idea to set up this secret channel of communications was discussed at Trump Tower during a meeting between Kushner, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Michael Flynn, who later became National Security Adviser before he was fired. Although Reuters had already reported that Flynn and Kislyak discussed setting up a secret channel of communication, the Post was first to reveal that Kushner was part of that conversation as well. It isn’t clear who proposed the communications channel, according to the New York Times, but the goal was to have Flynn discuss directly with senior officials in Moscow about Syria and other issues.

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Although the back channel was never actually set up it’s a reminder of why the FBI has taken a particular interest in Kushner as it investigates possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. For now though, investigators are looking into Kushner’s activities but he is not the subject of a criminal investigation. For some, the whole thing is a stark example of how Trump’s closest advisers got to Washington without much experience and lots of naivete. The Post explains:

The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and it maintains a nearly constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.
“How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?” said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause “a great deal” of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, “seems extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”

Separately, Reuters reported that Kushner had at least three contacts with Kislyak that hadn’t been disclosed. At least two of them were phone calls last year. At these calls, Kislyak didn’t just discuss security issues like Syria but also the need to improve relations between Russia and the United States following the sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama. That has led investigators to wonder whether Kislyak or any other official suggested that getting rid of economic sanctions could prove financially beneficial to Trump’s associates.

Through his attorney, Kushner said he didn’t remember any calls with Kislyak. The lawyer also said Kushner is ready to talk to investigators and Congress about his contacts with Russian officials.

May 26 2017 2:29 PM

Why Greg Gianforte's Apology Was So Worthless

It has been widely reported that Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte apologized to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in his victory speech on Thursday night. That apology, though, appears to be incomplete.

"When you make a mistake," Gianforte said to his supporters, "you have to own up to it. That's the Montana way." Oh? "Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can't take back and I'm not proud of what happened.

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"I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I am sorry," he continued.

So here we have an apology for the act itself: The incident in which Jacobs (full disclosure: a friend of mine) asked Gianforte for his thoughts on the latest Congressional Budget Office score of the House health care bill, and Gianforte, according to both Jacobs and several witnesses, responded by grabbing his neck and slamming him to the ground.

What Gianforte's statement does not include is an explicit apology for his and his campaign's subsequent violation of "the Montana way," his apparently blatant lies about what took place and attempt to excuse his violent and allegedly criminal behavior. Gianforte's press team, shortly after the incident, made up a story involving Jacobs as the provocateur. "It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ," the statement read.

The Gianforte campaign rode out the last 24 hours of the race in opposition to the straw man of an overly aggressive liberal reporter who got what he deserved. It activated the necessary media allies. Rush Limbaugh, on his Thursday show, described how the "manly, studly" Gianforte took down "a Pajama Boy journalist," a "125-pound wet dishrag reporter," and your "average Millennial man today." One caller said that if every Republican candidate threw a reporter to the ground, "it would increase my chances exponentially of voting for them." On Fox News, one analyst spoke of the "snowflake reporter." The guy who loses his shit when asked about a CBO score, though: Now there's a man's man. In any event, this diversion worked and Gianforte is going to Congress, seemingly a member in good standing of the Republican caucus! And he didn't even have to offer a full apology.

What would a full Gianforte apology, in accordance with his description of "the Montana way," look like? It would cover both the incident and then the smears used to limit the damage. He might also apologize for the way his campaign staff anonymously bragged to reporters about all of the money they'd raised following the incident. Perhaps he'll get around to that more thorough accounting of his misdeeds during his court appearance.

May 26 2017 1:49 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Yeah, Gianforte Assaulted a Reporter, But Something Something Lauren Duca

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

On his show Thursday night, Tucker Carlson responded to criticism of Montana special election winner Greg Gianforte by arguing that, while Gianforte’s attack on a reporter was unacceptable, leftist political violence is more noteworthy than violence from the right:

[L]et’s not lie to ourselves, or more precisely, don’t let the people in charge lie to us. America does face a threat of political violence. It does not come, by and large from baby boomer evangelicals in Montana. Nor does it come from President Trump, whatever his flaws. The threat today comes from the progressive left and its growing enthusiasm for force as a political tool.
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Carlson then segued directly into a segment furthering his evidently still-running feud with Teen Vogue’s Lauren Duca, towards whom he'd "lost control" during an appearance on his show in December. (The issue at the time was Duca tweeting that critics shouldn't let Ivanka Trump "off the hook because she looks like she smells good.")

Duca, Carlson pointed out on Thursday, had tweeted an image of a crashing plane with the caption "Cute pic of Trump getting tired of winning." Carlson interpreted this as Duca "fantasizing about the deaths of her political enemies." "The left has gone insane," he said.

In other news:

The Daily Wire and RedState ran posts about a study from researchers at Brunel University allegedly claiming that physically weaker men are more likely to support liberal or socialist policies. RedState's Teri Christoph:

One need not look further than Silicon Valley to see this phenomenon at play. Take Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, who’s hardly a Tim Tebow-like stud. He is successful in today’s world because his brains, not his biceps, protect him from physically superior men. Like Tim Tebow.

The Washington Free Beacon and the Daily Caller ran posts about Hillary Clinton's coughing during her commencement address at Wellesley on Friday. The Free Beacon's post called her cough "a familiar problem from the campaign trail" while the Daily Caller noted that "she credited her croaky delivery to allergies rather than emotions."

At Heat Street, Jillian Kay Melchior noted that students at the center of Yale's 2015 Halloween costume controversy are graduating with awards. "A new class of social-justice warriors is graduating from Yale—and to celebrate, the university honored two students who led a Halloween witch hunt against administrator Erika Christakis in Fall 2015," she wrote. "Yale has awarded its Nakanishi Prize—given for academic achievement and racial activism—to Alexandra Zina Barlowe and Abdul-Razak Zachariah, graduating seniors who were 'two of Yale's most prominent Christakis critics,' the Wall Street Journal's James Freeman reports."

PJ Media’s Tom Knighton alerted readers to a class called "Abolition of Whiteness" being taught at Hunter College by Gender Studies Professor Jennifer Gaboury. "Gaboury, who is white, doesn't seem to understand that 'abolishing' whiteness is going to involve, you know, genocide," he wrote. "Violence, bigotry, fascism, everything evil you can think of is in style now on college campuses."

May 26 2017 1:43 PM

The Most Money Lines From Hillary Clinton’s Surprisingly Good Wellesley Commencement Speech

Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College on Friday. Her speech marked the third time she’s spoken at her alma mater’s commencement and came 48 years after she did so for the first time at her own graduation. The former first lady, U.S. senator, and Democratic presidential nominee never mentioned Donald Trump by name, but the president’s unspoken presence was impossible to miss in remarks that were funny, impassioned, and—fitting the occasion—exceedingly optimistic.

Clinton drew the loudest cheers from the assembled students when she delivered a history lesson on where things stood in the United States back when she addressed her own class at its graduation in 1969, the same year Richard Nixon was sworn in as president. The similarities to the present did not go unnoticed by the crowd:

I stayed up all night with my friends … writing and editing the speech. By the time we gathered in the academic quad, I was exhausted. My hair was a wreck. The mortarboard made it even worse. But I was pretty oblivious to all of that, because what my friends had asked me to do was to talk about our worries, and about our ability and responsibility to do something about them. We didn't trust government, authority figures—or really anyone over 30. In large part, thanks to years of heavy casualties, and dishonest statements about Vietnam, and deep differences over civil rights and poverty here at home, we were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants would ever be treated with dignity and respect. And by the way, we were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice. After firing the person running the investigation into him at the department of justice.
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You can watch the full address above (Clinton's speech starts at around the 51-minute mark), but a few other highlights:

“Chardonnay helped”

I couldn't think of any place I'd rather be this year than right here. You may have heard that things didn't exactly go the way I planned. But you know what? I'm doing OK. I've gotten to spend time with my family, especially my amazing grandchildren. I was going to give the entire commencement speech about them but was talked out of it. Long walks in the woods. Organizing my closets, right? I won't lie: Chardonnay helped a little too.

“A full-fledged assault on truth”

You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. Just log on to social media for ten seconds. It will hit you right in the face. People denying science, concocting elaborate, hurtful conspiracies theories about child abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors. Drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor. Turning neighbor against neighbor and sowing division at a time when we desperately need unity. Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes. Like the size of crowds. And then defending themselves by talking about, quote-unquote, alternative facts.

“An attack of unimaginable cruelty”

Look at the budget that was just proposed in Washington. It is an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, and hard working people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life. It grossly underfunds public education, mental health, and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic. And in reversing our commitment to fight climate change, it puts the future of our nation and our world at risk. And to top it off, it was shrouded in a trillion-dollar mathematical lie. Let's call it what it is. It's a con. They don't even try to hide it. Why does all this matter? It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we'll never solve them. It matters because it undermines confidence in government as a whole, which in turn breeds more cynicism and anger. But it also matters because our country, like this college, was founded on the principles of the enlightenment. In particular, the belief that people, you and I, possess the capacity for reason and critical thinking. And that free and open debate is the lifeblood of a democracy.

“Don’t let anyone tell you …”

Don't let anyone tell you your voice doesn't matter. In the years to come, there will be trolls galore online and in person, eager to tell you that you don't have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute. They may even call you a nasty woman. Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say your elite education means you are out of teach with real people. In other words, sit down and shut up. Now, in my experience, that’s the last thing you should ever tell a Wellesley graduate.

This isn’t the first time Clinton has taken a post-election swing at Trump. It’s a safe bet it won’t be the last.

May 26 2017 1:20 PM

More Bad News on Civilian Casualties in Iraq and Syria

Several recent reports underline the growing risk to civilians in the U.S.-led war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. On Thursday, the Pentagon released the results of an investigation, finding that more than 100 civilians were killed when the U.S. dropped a bomb on a building in Mosul, Iraq, in March, the largest single incident of civilian deaths since the campaign began in 2014. (Locals have put the number at around 200.) CentCom had initially denied that the strike took place, before announcing the investigation. Officials now say that ISIS had likely placed explosives inside the building, contributing to the deadliness after the bomb was dropped. The battle for Mosul, which has gone on for more than seven months now, has been particularly brutal for civilians, who have often been prevented from leaving by ISIS or advised not to by the Iraqi government.

Meanwhile, a fresh wave of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition reportedly killed dozens of civilians, including children, in Eastern Syria this week. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that “106 people have been killed in Mayadeen since Thursday evening, including IS fighters and 42 children.” Eighty of those were killed in an airstrike on a building that housed the families of ISIS fighters. Syria’s state news agency put the number at 35, and the coalition has not yet responded to the report.

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Journalist Samuel Oakford of the monitoring site Airwars also published an investigation in cooperation with Foreign Policy today finding that non-U.S. members of the anti-ISIS coalition have killed at least 80 civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of the campaign, but that none of those 12 countries will acknowledge responsibility for any of the deaths. Airwars also reported this week that between 283 and 366 civilians likely died from coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in April, the fourth consecutive month that those deaths exceeded those caused by Russian strikes. This has raised questions about whether the Trump administration’s hands-off attitude toward airstrikes has raised the risk for civilians.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights today warned that civilians are increasingly victimized by both the intensified airstrikes, and the retaliatory attacks by ISIS. In once incident, ISIS fighters slit the throats of eight men in a town that had just been bombed, blaming them for giving away coordinates to the coalition. The situation is only likely to worsen as the battle for Mosul grinds on and the campaign against ISIS’s heavily fortified capital in Raqqa ramps up.

May 26 2017 12:30 PM

The Republicans Are the Party of Thugs and Nazis

There are decent Republican people. There are Republican voters and politicians and writers who promote principles of public decency. But there aren't enough of those individuals to have prevented the Republican Party, as a national institution, from becoming one that welcomes and encourages violence and white-supremacist racism.

The party's pre-Trump history is obviously not spotless. But 10 and 20 years ago the Republican party was usually forced to marginalize and disavow its openly racist, fascist elements, if only for reasons of political expediency. Not so anymore. Consider:

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  • The party has almost universally supported the agenda and personality cult of Donald Trump, who once bragged about grabbing women "by the pussy." Trump has been credibly accused of sexual assault by 14 women and has been accused by six others of entering changing rooms in which he knew that teenage girls would be undressed.
  • One of the president's senior advisers, Steve Bannon, has reportedly endorsed a book about race war—beloved in the neo-Nazi community—which refers to black individuals as "niggers" and "rats." Bannon openly supports white nationalist goals such as reducing the number of Asian American CEOs and was heavily involved in creating the career of white nationalist and Nazi fetishist Milo Yiannopoulos.
  • Trump's son, who was a key part of his campaign, repeatedly conducted campaign outreach to open, unapologetic white supremacists. The president himself conducted an exclusive campaign Q&A with a notorious internet forum rife with white supremacist hate speech.
  • Congressman Steve King, who has repeatedly endorsed white-supremacist talking points and praised European white nationalist parties, was once considered a nuisance by party leaders but has been embraced and promoted by Trump.
  • The Trump administration reportedly recently hired a woman whose most recent job was running an anti-immigration group that was founded by a white supremacist and has long-standing connections to the sewer world of race science.
  • Eyewitnesses from Fox News, of all places, say the newest Republican congressman—Montana's Greg Gianforte—body-slammed and punched a reporter who had approached him to ask a question about the American Health Care Act on Wednesday night. Gianforte was almost immediately charged with assault by a local sheriff who had donated to his campaign. Then, on Thursday, he was elected to Congress, where other Republicans appear ready to welcome him with, at most, the suggestion that he "apologize" for engaging in the spontaneous beating of someone who was trying to ask him a question about public policy.

Are there elected Democrats who express dubious views and commit crimes? Yes! But when those individuals get caught, they resign. They become, for example, "disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner." But the idea of disgrace is no longer a relevant concept in a Republican Party whose leaders and voters collectively condone and encourage violence against women, violence against the press, and the expression of white-supremacist views. That's not hyperbole, or a cheap shot—it's just reality. Happy Memorial Day!

May 26 2017 12:50 AM

Alleged Reporter Assailant Greg Gianforte Is Going to Congress. Good Job, Montana.

Republican Greg Gianforte won Montana’s special election on Thursday, according to projections from multiple news outlets.

The news comes a little more than 24 hours after the former failed gubernatorial candidate allegedly assaulted a reporter for the Gaurdian by body-slamming him in front of witnesses while being recorded by audiotape. Gianforte’s account of the alleged attack—that Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was actually the one who forced both of them to the ground after hounding the candidate with a recording device—was contradicted by multiple eyewitnesses. Those witnesses from a local Fox News team said, “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him” and then started punching him. Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault.

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With about 78 percent of the vote counted, the billionaire tech CEO was leading by roughly 34,000 votes, or a little more than 7 percent. It’s worth noting that the Election Day vote totals could not likely have changed the outcome of the race, in which two-thirds of the votes were cast early.

If the numbers hold, Democrats might actually consider it an encouraging sign nationally. Gianforte and his affiliated super PACs outspent Democratic opponent and country music performer Rob Quist and his super PAC supporters by about $5 million. Donald Trump won his race against Hillary Clinton this past fall in the state by 20 points, while Ryan Zinke—the Republican whose seat is being filled after he left Congress to become Trump’s Interior Secretary—won his contest by just under 16 points.

So you’re looking at about a +13 point swing for the Democrats from November’s presidential tally, and a nearly +9 point swing from last year’s congressional race. That was not enough for Democrats to take a seat they haven’t won in 20 years, but it is consistent with a recent pattern in this year’s special elections of large swings toward the Democrats. Last month in a deep-red Kansas district, Democrats experienced a 24-point swing. (They still lost the race in an incredibly unfavorable district.)

Meanwhile, Georgia’s 6th—much more favorable territory for Democrats—votes next month in a runoff election. The Democratic candidate in that race leads according to the most recent polling and took the plurality of votes in the first round. Still, at a some point just seeing positive national trends isn't going to be good enough for Democrats and they are actually going to need to put a win on the board. The Georgia runoff between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel will take place on June 20. Close will not cut it for Democrats in that race, if they want to have a real signal that the unpopularity of the Trump administration is actually translating at the polls and that 2018 will put the House of Representatives in play.

May 26 2017 12:19 AM

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: Not Randomly Attacking People Is Apparently Not His Gianforte

In the tradition of the Clintonometer and the Trump Apocalypse Watch, the Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

Montana's suddenly violent special House election appears set to end with victory for Republican and amateur wrestler Greg Gianforte. From what we know so far, though, Gianforte is probably only going to be winning his race by a margin in the high single digits. That's not great for the Republican Party given that it's held this House seat since the '90s in elections that haven't gotten closer than 11 points since 2000. Trump won the state in November, meanwhile, by 20 points. A straight-out Republican loss would have been extremely bad news for the party's 2018 outlook and, by extension, for Trump's chances of paying for his many heinous crimes. Tonight, then, is merely regular bad news. We're not going to raise our percentage likelihood over it, but those scoring at home should consider our 35 percent to be a more solid and robust 35 percent than yesterday.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

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