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A Short History of the Trump Family

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Written by Sidney Blumenthal on London Review of Books

The most enduring blight left behind by Donald Trump, long after he has smashed things up, will be the pile of books devoted to trying to make sense of him. It will grow after investigative journalists have spent years diving for hidden records, exploring subterranean corporations and foreign partners but never reaching the dark ocean bottom. It will continue after political scientists have trekked through mountain ranges of survey data seeking the precise source of his magnetic attraction for the aggrieved white lower-middle and working classes. It will outlast the pundits holding forth on TV, collecting lecture fees and cranking out bestsellers that retail inside dope gleaned, single-sourced and second-hand, from somewhere near the elevators of Trump Tower. It will not be stemmed even after the memoirs of Trump’s associates, unreliable narrators in the spirit of their leader, have been removed from the remainder bins in used bookstores.

Read the full story here

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?WHY NOW? NOT IN TIME?

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New York Times

Feb. 10, 2017

What will you do when terrorists attack, or U.S. friction with some foreign power turns into a military confrontation? I don’t mean in your personal life, where you should keep calm and carry on. I mean politically. Think about it carefully: The fate of the republic may depend on your answer.

Of course, nobody knows whether there will be a shocking, 9/11-type event, or what form it might take. But surely there’s a pretty good chance that sometime over the next few years something nasty will happen – a terrorist attack on a public place, an exchange of fire in the South China Sea, something. Then what?

After 9/11, the overwhelming public response was to rally around the commander in chief. Doubts about the legitimacy of a president who lost the popular vote and was installed by a bare majority on the Supreme Court were swept aside. Unquestioning support for the man in the White House was, many Americans believed, what patriotism demanded.

The truth was that even then the urge toward national unity was one-sided, with Republican exploitation of the atrocity for political gain beginning almost immediately. But people didn’t want to hear about it; I got angry mail, not just from Republicans but from Democrats, whenever I pointed out what was going on.

Unfortunately, the suspension of critical thinking ended as such suspensions usually do – badly. The Bush administration exploited the post-9/11 rush of patriotism to take America into an unrelated war, then used the initial illusion of success in that war to ram through huge tax cuts for the wealthy.

Bad as that was, however, the consequences if Donald Trump finds himself similarly empowered will be incomparably worse.

We’re only three weeks into the Trump administration, but it’s already clear that any hopes that Mr. Trump and those around him would be even slightly ennobled by the responsibilities of office were foolish. Every day brings further evidence that this is a man who completely conflates the national interest with his personal self-interest, and who has surrounded himself with people who see it the same way. And each day also brings further evidence of his lack of respect for democratic values.

You might be tempted to say that the latest flare-up, over Nordstrom’s decision to drop Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, is trivial. But it isn’t. For one thing, until now it would have been inconceivable that a sitting president would attack a private company for decisions that hurt his family’s business interests.

But what’s even worse is the way Sean Spicer, Mr. Trump’s spokesman, framed the issue: Nordstrom’s business decision was a “direct attack” on the president’s policies. L’état, c’est moi.

Mr. Trump’s attack on Judge James Robart, who put a stay on his immigration ban, was equally unprecedented. Previous presidents, including Barack Obama, have disagreed with and complained about judicial rulings. But that’s very different from attacking the very right of a judge – or, as the man who controls 4,000 nuclear weapons put it, a “so-called judge” – to rule against the president.

The really striking thing about Mr. Trump’s Twitter tirade, however, was his palpable eagerness to see an attack on America, which would show everyone the folly of constraining his power:

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Never mind the utter falsity of the claim that bad people are “pouring in,” or for that matter of the whole premise behind the ban. What we see here is the most powerful man in the world blatantly telegraphing his intention to use national misfortune to grab even more power. And the question becomes, who will stop him?

Don’t talk about institutions, and the checks and balances they create. Institutions are only as good as the people who serve them. Authoritarianism, American-style, can be averted only if people have the courage to stand against it. So who are these people?

It certainly won’t be Mr. Trump’s inner circle. It won’t be Jeff Sessions, his new attorney general, with his long history of contempt for voting rights. It might be the courts – but Mr. Trump is doing all he can to delegitimize judicial oversight in advance.

What about Congress? Well, its members like to give patriotic speeches. And maybe, just maybe, there are enough Republican senators who really do care about America’s fundamental values to cross party lines in their defense. But given what we’ve seen so far, that’s just hopeful speculation.

In the end, I fear, it’s going to rest on the people – on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.

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NYT: American Universities Must Take a Stand

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By Leon Botstein

Feb. 8, 2017

Not since the era of witch hunts and “red baiting” has the American university faced so great a threat from government. How is the university to function when a president’s administration blurs the distinction between fact and fiction by asserting the existence of “alternative facts”? How can the university turn a blind eye to what every historian knows to be a key instrument of modern authoritarian regimes: the capacity to dress falsehood up as truth and reject the fruits of reasoned argument, evidence and rigorous verification?

The atmosphere of suspicion and insecurity created by the undermining of truth provides the perfect environment for President Trump’s recent actions on immigration. The American university’s future, indeed its most fundamental reason for being, is imperiled by a government that constructs walls on the Mexican border, restricts Muslim immigrants and denigrates the idea of America as a destination for refugees.

Although American universities did not always welcome the huge influx of refugees after the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, that intellectual migration transformed a provincial and second-rate higher education system into the finest in the world. Manufacturing may have fled our borders, but American higher education remains a powerful and competitive force, a destination for students and scholars everywhere and a vital engine of employment and economic health. An astonishingly large percentage of graduate students and professors in science today are foreigners and immigrants.

I am a Jewish immigrant who came here as part of a family that was stateless, and my deep patriotism is rooted in that experience. I benefited from American humanitarianism, and I have worked my entire life to give back to this country. An America inhospitable to immigrants and foreigners, a place of fear and danger instead of refuge, is unthinkable in the context of the nation’s history and founding principles. If a more practical argument is required, think of the consequences for the quality and future of our colleges and universities, and their highly prized superiority in science and engineering.

Moreover, what will become of the major government agencies of scientific research, the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation? Will their research agendas be manipulated to fit Mr. Trump’s view of reality? Will there be a continuing erosion of support for basic research as opposed to research that contributes to some commercial product? The greatest advances in medicine were a result of research conducted after World War II, motivated exclusively to enable humankind to better understand nature, not to come up with a new drug.

What, then, are we, the leaders of our institutions of higher education, to do when faced with a president who denies facts, who denies science? Is it best to stand by when he repudiates climate science and revives the credibility of discredited theories about autism? Facts and photographs did not stop him from rejecting the evidence regarding the election results or the size of crowds at his inauguration. He has undermined public confidence in the electoral system. In the face of this, standing up for the truth — which is, after all, higher education’s business — might appear to be an act of political partisanship. But this is not about political parties. It is about the proper role of the academy in a troubling time.

American colleges and universities, public and private, are properly seen as nonpartisan elements in civil society, committed to research and teaching in a manner that transcends ordinary politics. But to succeed, these institutions must ensure that academic freedom and the highest standards of scholarship prevail. This means respect for the rules of evidence, rigorous skepticism and the honoring of the distinction between truth and falsehood.

Doing this has never been easy. Institutions of higher education are dependent on state and federal funding, including tax exemptions, research funds and scholarship support. Pressures from within also exist, often inspired by students and faculty members seeking to create a consensus of belief that can marginalize disagreement and dissent. Nevertheless, the key to the astonishing success and international superiority of the American university, particularly in science and engineering, has been its resilient commitment to freedom and nondiscrimination, and its respect for truth, no matter how uncomfortable.

The presidents of our colleges and universities must defend the principles that have enabled institutions of higher education to flourish. These are freedom and tolerance, and openness to individuals no matter their national origin or religion. The actions and spirit of the new administration threaten the American university’s core values.

The voices of our leaders in higher education must be heard in opposition. The cause is not partisan. The cause is a democracy where citizens of the entire world are welcome, minorities are protected and dissent respected. Such a democracy is the only context in which research and learning and the pursuit of knowledge can thrive. The time to act together is upon us. The world must have no doubt about where the American university stands.


Leon Botstein is the president of Bard College. This is an article from the On Campus series at www.nytimes.com/opinion/on-campus.

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Independent: Former MI6 agent Christopher Steele’s frustration as FBI sat on Donald Trump Russia file for months

Exclusive: Steele was so concerned by revelations he worked without payment after Trump’s election victory in November

By Kim Sengupta

Jan. 14, 2017

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Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent who investigated Donald Trump’s alleged Kremlin links, was so worried by what he was discovering that at the end he was working without pay, The Independent has learned.

Mr Steele also decided to pass on information to both British and American intelligence officials after concluding that such material should not just be in the hands of political opponents of Mr Trump, who had hired his services, but was a matter of national security for both countries.

However, say security sources, Mr Steele became increasingly frustrated that the FBI was failing to take action on the intelligence from others as well as him. He came to believe there was a cover-up, that a cabal within the Bureau blocked a thorough inquiry into Mr Trump, focusing instead on the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

It is believed that a colleague of Mr Steele in Washington, Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who runs the firm Fusion GPS, felt the same way and, at the end also continued with the Trump case without being paid.

Fusion GPS had been hired by Republican opponents of Mr Trump in September 2015. In June 2016 Mr Steele came on the team. He was, and continues to be, highly regarded in the intelligence world. In July, Mr Trump won the Republican nomination and the Democrats became new employers of Mr Steele and Fusion GPS.

In the same month  Mr Steele produced a memo, which went to the  FBI, stating that Mr Trump’s campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party’s election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.

Mr Steele claimed that the Trump campaign was taking this path because it was aware that the Russians were hacking Democratic Party emails. No evidence of this has been made public, but the same day that Mr Trump spoke about Crimea he called on the Kremlin to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.

By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton’s email transgressions.

The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.

As the election approached, FBI director James Comey made public his bombshell letter saying that Ms Clinton would face another email investigation. Two days before that Mr Giuliani, then a part of the Trump team, talked about “a surprise or two you’re going to hear about in the next few days. We’ve got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn things around.”

After the letter was published Mr Giuliani claimed he had heard from current and former agents that “there’s a kind of revolution going on inside the FBI” over the original decision not to charge Ms Clinton and that Mr Comey had been forced by some of his agents to announce the reinvestigation. Democrats demanded an investigation into how Mr Giuliani acquired this knowledge without getting an answer.

In October a frustrated and demoralised Mr Steele, while on a trip to New York, spoke about what he has discovered to David Corn, the Washington editor of the magazine Mother Jones. There was a little flurry of interest that quickly died down.

Mr Trump’s surprise election victory came and the Democrat employers of Mr Steele and Mr Johnson no longer needed them. But the pair continued with their work, hopeful that the wider investigation into Russian hacking in the US would allow the Trump material to be properly examined.

It was against this background that Senator John McCain, who had been hearing with growing alarm reports about Mr Trump and the Kremlin, met Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Moscow, who had spent 10 years in Russia and is highly respected for his knowledge of Russian affairs, at a security conference in Halifax, Canada.

Sir Andrew stressed to Senator McCain that he had not read the dossier, but vouched for Mr Steele’s professionalism and integrity. The chair of the Senate Armed Forces Committee then sent an emissary to London who picked up the dossier from an intermediary acting on behalf of Mr Steele. The Senator personally took the material to Mr Comey.

Mr Trump and Barack Obama were briefed about the allegations as part of a report into Russian hacking a week ago. Mr Trump remained silent about them until they were published this week and then he angrily denounced them as lies. His spokesperson said he could not recall the briefing.

Mr Steele is now in hiding, under attack from some Tory MPs for supposedly trying to ruin the chances of Theresa May’s Government building a fruitful relationship with the Trump administration. Some of them accuse him of being part of an anti-Brexit conspiracy. A right-wing tabloid has “outed” him as being a “confirmed socialist” while at university.