Racist dog

Cartoon by Emad Hajjaj

Why Trump's racist dog whistle won't work this time

CNN: Donald Trump's grandfather, Friedrich Trump, was born in Kallstadt, Germany, and emigrated to the United States as a teenager. (According to one historian, he was thrown out of his country of birth for failing to perform mandatory military service.) Now Friedrich's grandson has become President of the United States, and is trying to fuel a re-election campaign by stoking nativist resentment.

It was so inflammatory that it burnt through the hesitations of cautious editors. CNN plainly, correctly, called it a "racist attack." The President sarcastically suggested that some of his non-white critics are not real Americans. He urged that "Progressive Democrat Congresswomen," the best-known of whom happen to be women of color, should go back to their countries. The "Congresswomen," he wrote, "who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world..." should leave.

He was most likely referring to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, born in New York; Rashida Tlaib, born in Michigan; Ayanna Presley, born in Massachusetts; and Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born naturalized American. They are all US citizens, like him, like his wife, his in-laws, and his ex-wives. They are Americans.

The America I have known is made up primarily of people who are intrigued and attracted to people of different backgrounds.

And although there has always been a segment that does not trust outsiders -- and bigots who consider non-whites inferior -- most Americans are not racists, not bigots, and not nativists. So why is Trump, the man who possesses a peculiar political instinct, betting his re-election on dividing Americans and turning them against their better instincts?

He thinks it worked the first time. But this is not 2016. In 2016, the entire world was terrified by ISIS terrorists beheading hostages and blowing up nightclubs. The Great Recession was recent enough that people still feared the recovery might unwind, making it easier for many people to believe that immigrants were taking away their jobs. He could frighten people by talking about rapists at the border, promising better health care, and an administration of "only the best people." Back then, we didn't know quite how much Trump lied, and how many of his promises he would be unable to keep.

Sure, his racism, his cruelty against migrants and his family separation policy will still play well with a segment of the electorate. But today, Americans see Trump for what he is. They see his campaign and what he is trying to do. When he tweets about corrupt, inept governments, we think about Donald Trump. When he tells the descendants of immigrants that they should leave, we think perhaps Friedrich Trump's grandson is the one who doesn't belong here.

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN and The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author; view more opinion articles on CNN.

Iran tanker

Cartoon by Stephane Peray

UK may help release Iranian oil tanker if it gets Syria guarantee 

The Guardian: Foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said he told his Iranian counterpart on Saturday that Britain would facilitate the release of the detained Grace 1 oil tanker if there were guarantees it would not go to Syria.

Hunt said Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had told him that Iran wanted to resolve the issue and was not seeking to escalate tensions.

He tweeted: “Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Constructive call. I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One & that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in Gib courts.

“Was told by FM Zarif that Iran wants to resolve issue and is not seeking to escalate. Also spoke to [Gibraltar’s chief minister] Fabian Picardo who is doing an excellent job co-ordinating issue and shares UK perspective on the way forward.”

The exchange comes after confirmation that the UK will step up its military presence in the Gulf by sending a second warship to the region to protect British commercial oil tankers.

HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, will be deployed within days after it completes a course of Nato exercises in the Baltic Sea, with the aim of being in the Gulf region by next week.

The ship will work alongside the Royal Navy’s frigate HMS Montrose and US Gulf allies, but will not participate in Washington’s proposed global maritime coalition to protect shipping in the area.

Theresa May said this week that she would begin talks with US authorities on increasing a transatlantic presence in the region, following two sets of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and an attempt by the Iranian navy to push a British-owned oil tanker towards Iranian waters.

Britain’s relations with Iran deteriorated last week when the UK seized Grace 1, suspected to be carrying oil destined for Syria, in breach of EU sanctions. Tehran has denied the ship was heading for Syria and threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation if Grace 1 was not released.

The ship’s captain and chief officer were arrested by the Gibraltarian authorities after the vessel was searched for more than a week. On Saturday, the Royal Gibraltar police said the pair and two second officers had been conditionally bailed without charge, while the investigation is continuing and the vessel remains in detention.

Saudi Human Rights

Cartoon by Tom Toles

Saudi prosecutors seek death penalty for Khashoggi suspects 

The Guardian: A Saudi prosecutor has asked for the death penalty for five of 11 suspects held over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi at the country’s consulate in Istanbul on 2 October, the state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.

The call came during the first court hearing in the Khashoggi case, which has shredded the kingdom’s international reputation and strained its relations with Turkey, the US and many other western governments.

In a trial that is likely to have major international diplomatic consequences, the 11 defendants appeared in court on Thursday in a session closed to the public.

In late October the Saudis said they had detained 18 suspects in relation to the murder, but the names have not been shared with Turkish authorities.

The Saudi general prosecution said the interrogation of a number of the accused would continue, adding that two requests asking for further evidence had been sent to Turkey but had not received any response.

The Saudi prosecution said that following the hearing in the case the defendants asked for a copy from the prosecutors and sought time to make their defence.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has asked for the accused to be extradited to Turkey to stand trial, a request that has been rejected.

Erdoğan has effectively accused the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, of ordering the killing of Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, and has run a persistent campaign revealing details of the Turkish police investigation into the murder that has kept Saudi Arabia on the diplomatic back foot.

The CIA has also told US Congress that it believes the crown prince ordered the killing. The episode has already led to a Saudi cabinet reshuffle, involving the partial demotion of the foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, and a reordering of the Saudi intelligence service seen to be at the heart of Khashoggi murder.

Jubeir was replaced by Ibrahim al-Assaf, an experienced figure who had previously served as finance minister.

In response to Khashoggi’s murder, Britain has asked that the Saudis reassure the world that such an event cannot be repeated, seen as a code that the crown prince will not be able to use the intelligence service as a personal tool to suppress dissent abroad.

The trial will be notable for the degree to which the defendants are able to set out in open court whether they were instructed by the state to carry out the murder, or instead had been instructed to repatriate Khashoggi, but on meeting resistance from the journalist chose to kill him.

Trials in Saudi Arabia are normally held behind closed doors so it is likely no claim that the hit team were acting on orders of the royal court will ever be aired.

The human rights group Reprieve estimates there have been nearly 700 executions in Saudi Arabia since 2014.

Saudi Arabia has provided sharply contrasting accounts of how Khashoggi came to die. On New Year’s Eve, Turkish police released new footage purporting to show bags containing Khashoggi’s body parts being carried into the home of the Saudi consul general in Istanbul. Turkish authorities have carried out numerous body searches in Turkey since the murder, but without success.

The Turkish network A Haber broadcast video showing the entrance to the gated residence of Saudi Arabia’s consul general in Istanbul, not far from the Saudi consulate. The footage shows men, their faces obscured by shadow, carrying several large suitcases or bags into the building. The Saudis have not allowed the garden’s well to be fully searched, or dried. The footage purportedly hows Maj Gen Mahir Abdul Aziz Muhammad Mutrib, an associate of the crown prince, helping with the movement of the bags.

The consul, Mohammed al-Otaibi, has returned to Riyadh, and has not been seen.

Turkey has also released a sound recording inside the consul general’s office in which Khashoggi resists suffocation. Subsequently a member of the Saudi team can be heard telling a superior over the phone to “tell your boss” that the mission had been achieved. That is believed to be a reference to the Saudi crown prince.

Missile Strike

Trump's friend

Cartoon by Randall Enos

Trump 'feels badly' for labor secretary amid calls for resignation over Epstein case 

The Guardian: Donald Trump on Monday defended his labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, from accusations that he helped Jeffrey Epstein, the financier charged with sex trafficking on Monday, escape justice 10 years ago.

Then, Epstein was suspected of similar crimes in Florida, where Acosta was a top federal prosecutor.

“I feel very badly actually for secretary Acosta because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job,” said Trump, who previously called Epstein “a terrific guy”.

“I feel very badly about that whole situation. But we’re going to be looking at that, and looking at it very closely.”

Epstein was arrested on Saturday after disembarking from a private flight from France. He pleaded not guilty to federal charges brought on Monday in New York. A bail hearing is set for next Monday.

Critics of Acosta said Epstein should never have been allowed to walk free after dozens of young girls began to step forward in 2005 to identify as victims of a man now charged with assaulting underage girls, paying them off with cash and inducing them to lure other young girls to his homes.

As part of a secret plea deal signed by Acosta in 2008 and criticized as “ridiculously lenient”, Epstein pleaded guilty to a state-level charge of soliciting prostitution from girls as young as 14 and registered as a sex offender.

Trump said that was “a long time ago”.

“He’s been a great, really great secretary of labor,” Trump said, speaking to reporters in the Oval Office. “The rest of it, we’ll have to look at it very carefully. But you’re talking about a long time ago and again it was a decision made, I think, not by him but by a lot of people.”

A growing wave of Democrats called for Acosta to step down. Scattered Republicans said a review of the plea deal appeared appropriate.

“If [Acosta] refuses to resign, president Trump should fire him,” the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said on the floor of the chamber. “Instead of prosecuting a predator and serial sex trafficker of children, Acosta chose to let him off. We cannot have as one of the leading appointed officials in America someone who has done this.”

Acosta defended himself on Twitter, calling Epstein’s alleged crimes “horrific” and saying new evidence had come to light.

“Now that new evidence and additional testimony is available, the NY prosecution offers an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice,” Acosta tweeted.

But critics argue that plenty of evidence of Epstein’s alleged misdeeds, including a 53-page sex crimes indictment prepared in 2007 and built on a years-long FBI investigation, was available to Acosta and his team 10 years ago.

In a report by the Miami Herald, whose work on the case was cited on Monday by prosecutors in New York, multiple sources involved in the case at the time accused Acosta of caving to pressure from Epstein’s lawyers >>>

Bomb Iran


The Godfather

Cartoon by A.F.Branco

The Godfather of the Islamic Republic of Iran

The National Interest: Amid Iran’s tantrums over the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign, a consequential anniversary which marked three decades since Ali Khamenei’s ascension to the supreme leadership has gone largely unnoticed. After Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, Ayatollah Khamenei is the second-longest serving head of state in the Middle East and, according to one recent estimate, ranks fifth in longevity of current non-monarchical world leaders. His thirty-year reign at the helm of Iran reveals a dual Machiavellian modus-operandi as supreme leader—puppeteer for the elected and patron for the unelected—and explains the current power dynamic in Tehran.

The Puppeteer-in-Chief

As supreme leader, Ali Khamenei has often been a referee among Iran’s warring political factions—fearing that absolute power competes absolutely—and in the process cementing his own authority. Thus, under his administration, Iran’s presidency has been a political death sentence.

Early on, Khamenei, as president, learned at the knee of Ruhollah Khomeini how to exercise authority. According to a CIA estimate prepared in December 1983, Khomeini often served as an arbiter between Khamenei and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, then-speaker of parliament, because of their intense personal rivalry. It concluded that Khomeini “permits neither to achieve a decisive advantage over the other.”

While Khomeini had singular authority and symbolic stature as the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Khamenei, upon ascension to the supreme leadership, suffered from an inferiority complex because of his lack of religious standing. As a result, in addition to adopting Khomeini’s arbitral role, Khamenei adapted the position, becoming a puppeteer among the different power centers to enhance his own standing.

This may have been in part why he supported the constitutional amendments of 1989 to abolish the position of prime minister—which up until that point was held by his foe Mir-Hossein Mousavi—in order to consolidate political threats from rival power centers. The presidency remained, but the four chief executives who served under him—Rafsanjani, Khatami, Ahmadinejad, and Rouhani—found their careers crushed by the experience after flying too close to the electoral sun.

Rafsanjani suffered a humiliating loss after he ran for parliament in 2000, was defeated by upstart firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for an encore as president in 2005—after allegations the supreme leader’s son supported Ahmadinejad—and was even barred by the Guardian Council from running again in 2013. After his service for eight years, reformist Mohammad Khatami faces an international travel ban and state media blackout. Two of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s vice presidents were sentenced to prison after he left office, and like Rafsanjani, Khamenei’s disciples nixed another Ahmadinejad bid for premier in 2017.

Rouhani is experiencing this dynamic in real time. Since 2015, the supreme leader has hedged in his support for the nuclear deal—privately greenlighting negotiations with the P5+1 while publicly proclaiming his lack of trust in the United States. Such a formulation has provided Khamenei with a political insurance policy—which he cashed-in after the U.S. withdrawal in 2018, with the supreme leader publicly throwing his president and foreign minister under the bus just last month. Khamenei said, “But the way the JCPOA was handled, I did not really believe in it, and mentioned this to the president and the foreign minister and warned them several times.” This plausible deniability insulated his office and clipped Rouhani’s wings. Presidents may come and go, but supreme leaders stay.

The Godfather of the Islamic Republic of Iran

As supreme leader, Khamenei has also been patron to proxies inside Iran. He’s utilized his constitutional appointment authority over the unelected organs of power like the armed forces and the judiciary to instill loyalty, longevity, and lordship over the Islamic Republic’s crown jewels. In practice, this meant Khamenei cultivated a loyal cadre of professionals—some with controversial, extremist, or inferior credentials—whom he named and nurtured, creating dependency.

Consider Khamenei’s championing of Hassan Firouzabadi, who, despite neither having served in Iran’s regular army nor the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), ascended to the chairmanship of the General Staff of the Armed Forces for twenty-seven years. After he fell out of favor—rumors persist about Firouzabadi’s health—Khamenei made sure a golden parachute was available, appointing him as his senior military advisor. Ditto for Hossein Taeb, a former student of Khamenei, and the head of the IRGC’s Intelligence Organization, where Khamenei recently extended his tenure. Taeb has been dubbed a “psychopath” and is accused of horrific violence and corruption—yet Khamenei steadily promoted him from head of counterintelligence for the Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) to commander of the Basij and finally as the IRGC’s intelligence chief.

A similar pattern exists in the supreme leader’s appointments within the judiciary. Most of Khamenei’s chief justices—Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, Sadeq Larijani, and incumbent Ebrahim Raisi—held the inferior religious rank of hojatolislam, rather than ayatollah, before their assumption of power. Additionally, as some observers like Mehrzad Boroujerdi have noted, with the exception of Ebrahim Raisi, no chief which Khamenei appointed had prior judicial experience. Yet all of these clerics not only landed at the top of one of Iran’s most powerful institutions, but also have all been serious contenders to succeed Ali Khamenei as supreme leader.

This dynamic has also effectively resulted in a parallel state—or a state within a state—where the supreme leader protects and promotes allies cast aside by the elected power centers. For instance, after then-President Rafsanjani allegedly fired Hossein Taeb from MOIS, Khamenei continued to advance his career. Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i had a similar experience—after then-President Ahmadinejad sacked him as minister of intelligence, Khamenei found a landing spot for him in the judiciary.

In the end, Ali Khamenei has navigated the treacherous waters of Iran’s politics as a manipulator of the elected and master of the unelected. As Washington and Tehran engage in contretemps, it is Khamenei’s network and playbook that will reign supreme.
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Jason M. Brodsky is the policy director of United Against Nuclear Iran. 

Special Edition


Rapinoe for president

Carton by Ed Wexler

Megan Rapinoe for president

By Joel Mathis 

The Week: There are three things we know to be true about 2019.

First, we know that the U.S. Women's National Team is, once again, the best women's soccer team on the planet: They won their second consecutive World Cup on Sunday.

Second, we know that the team's star, Megan Rapinoe, is no fan of President Trump, and won't be visiting the White House to celebrate that victory. (The team will get a ticker tape parade in New York, however.)

Third, we know that there are entirely too many people running for president — but that it's still really early, and no Democratic candidate has broken away from the pack yet.

These three facts may seem disparate, but taken together, they offer an intriguing possibility: Rapinoe shouldn't dismiss the idea of visiting the White House entirely — she should just wait until she's ready to move in and live there.

Yes, I'm saying Megan Rapinoe should run for president in 2020. She's already got Twitter's vote:

This might sound ridiculous. After all, Rapinoe has no real qualifications to serve as president. She's famous and outspoken, and right now she's ridiculously popular. She'll turn 35 next July 5, which means that she'll meet the Constitution's minimum qualifications for the presidency by the time the election rolls around in November 2020.

Then again, look at our current president. Evidence suggests that Trump didn't expect to become president when he ran for office — instead, he allegedly wanted to use the 2016 election as a jumping-off point to start his own television network. He had no history of public service, and his private sector accomplishments were questionable, to say the least. It's fair to say that Trump has knocked down the idea that you need any but the minimum qualifications to actually become president.

All you need these days is celebrity and attitude. Rapinoe has plenty of both.

What's the argument against her running? That she has ridiculous hair? That she alienates our British allies? That she's boastful, arrogant, and divisive? Rapinoe couldn't do any worse than Trump on those counts, could she?

In fact, there are a few areas in which she could compare and contrast herself favorably against Trump.

First, Rapinoe has a real history of accomplishment and excellence in her chosen field: She has been a member of national teams that won two World Cups, was a runner-up in another, and won gold at the 2012 Olympics. And she's not just been a stellar teammate — she's been a star. On Sunday, she won the Golden Boot award — for being the tournament's top goal-scorer — and the Golden Ball award for being the tournament's top player. Compare that to Trump's pre-presidential resume of bankruptcies, failed businesses, and a squandered fortune. Trump wears a suit and tie to work every day, which makes him look the part, but there's every reason to think Rapinoe's accomplishments are more substantial — and more the result of hard work — than his.

Living nightmare

Cartoon by Mana Neyestani

Far-right Pegida supporters probed for condoning German politician's murder

Deutsche Welle: State prosecutors in the eastern German city of Dresden in Saxony announced on Friday that they had begun investigations against far-right activists for publicly condoning criminal activities. They left the door open to possible charges of incitement to violence and disparaging the name of a deceased person.

Spokesman Lorenz Haase said the State Prosecutors' Office had initiated the investigation on its own, adding that he could not say whether any further complaints had been filed.

The move came in reaction to interviews conducted by German public television channel ARD at a weekly anti-immigrant Pegida rally in Dresden on Monday.

Reporters from the monthly ARD show "Kontraste" asked supporters about their thoughts on the June murder of regional Christian Democratic Union (CDU) politician Walter Lübcke and broadcast their reactions to a national audience on Thursday evening. 

Murder, 'a normal human reaction'

Several Pegida supporters who spoke with reporters were dismissive of the slain politician. One man, sporting an Alternative for Germany (AfD) T-shirt and key lanyard, called him a "traitor to his people."

Another called the murder "a normal human reaction," adding: "What comes around goes around."

"You have to thank Mrs. Merkel for Lübcke," another person claimed. "She stoked violence against politicians; she's responsible."

One last man brushed off the threat of right-wing violence: "Compared to the threat of left-wing extremism, a murder every two or three years, carried out for whatever hateful reasons, is harmless."

'What kind of times are we living in?'

Reactions and condemnation were swift. North Rhine-Westphalia's State Premier Armin Laschet (CDU) asked on Twitter: "What kind of times are we living in when people openly condone murder in front of the camera?" Laschet added, "One shudders at this abyss." 

Saxony's acting State Premier Martin Dulig of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) called for Germany's Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) to look into the statements. He said Pegida may pose a domestic security threat: "These aren't 'concerned citizens,' they are paving the way for fascism."

Pegida, keeping investigators busy from the start

According to Saxony's state parliament, the judiciary there conducted some 198 investigations into Pegida speakers and supporters between late 2014 and September 2018. Some 25 cases involved dangerous bodily harm and the display of symbols from unconstitutional organizations.

Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) was started in Dresden in 2014 in reaction to what adherents say is an Islamic invasion of the West.

The nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic, far-right group has held weekly demonstrations every Monday in Dresden for almost five years. Though the number of participants has dwindled of late, tens of thousands participated in 2015 rallies at the height of the so-called refugee crisis.

Supporter of Merkel's refugee policy

Walter Lübcke, who received death threats for his support of Chancellor Merkel's refugee policy, was shot in the head at his home near the city of Kassel on June 2.

The main suspect in the murder, Stephan E., has been in police custody since June 16. He has a prior arrest record and is known to have contacts with German right-wing extremists. Although he confessed to the murder, he recanted that confession earlier this week.

More Spineless Europe A Backgrounder

A Dangerous Delusion