Steve Bannon Described U.S. Jews as ‘Enablers’ of Jihad

In a treatment describing a documentary on a purported Muslim plan to take over America, Stephen Bannon, now President Donald Trump’s top strategic adviser, described the “American Jewish community” as among unwitting “enablers” of jihad.

Bannon, a former banker who transitioned into a career as an ultranationalist propagandist, culminating in his becoming a top adviser to the Trump campaign, made several right-wing documentaries in the 2000s.

The Washington Post reported Friday on a 2007 proposal for a documentary that was never made called “The Islamic States of America.” It would be comprised of interviews of people who, like Bannon, believe that the threat posed to the West is broader than Islamist extremist terrorists, embracing an array of Muslim advocacy groups.

It describes as “enablers among us” – albeit with the “best intentions” — major media outlets, the CIA and FBI, civil liberties groups, “universities and the left” and the “American Jewish Community.”

It also describes “front groups and disingenuous Muslim Americans who preach reconciliation and dialogue in the open but, behind the scenes, advocate hatred and contempt for the West.”

Among these named by Bannon as “cultural jihadists” are the Islamic Society of North America, a group that had associations with the Muslim Brotherhood at its founding in the 1960s, but in recent years has worked closely with Jewish groups, including in combating anti-Semitism and raising Holocaust awareness among Muslims.

Before joining Trump’s campaign last summer, Bannon helmed Breitbart News, a site that is stridently pro-Israel, but which also has featured white nationalists and which Bannon once described as a platform for the “alt-right,” a loose-knit alliance that includes within it anti-Semites as well as right-wing Jews.

(h/t Times of Israel)

Trump Says He Cut Wall Street Reform Because His “Friends” Need Money

On Friday, Donald Trump signed an executive order intended to roll back Dodd-Frank, the sprawling regulatory framework President Obama signed into law in 2010 to avoid another financial crisis, which was not entirely beloved on Wall Street. He also scrapped a fiduciary rule intended to protect retirees by forcing brokers and advisers to “work in the best interest of their clients.“ (This, too, was controversial.)

According to its defenders, Dodd-Frank has been a modestly successful, if tortuous affair, requiring banks to bend over backwards to comply with regulations that protect investors and consumers from abusive practices and excessive risk. According to Trump, it was inconveniencing his friends:

“There is nobody better to tell me about Dodd-Frank than [JP Morgan C.E.O.] Jamie [Dimon]. So he has to tell me about it, but we expect to be cutting a lot from Dodd-Frank because, frankly, I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses, they can’t borrow money,” Trump said Friday morning, shortly before signing the executive orders. “They just can’t get any money because the banks just won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank.”

And here’s how Gary Cohn, Goldman Sachs president turned White House National Economic Council Director made the case for getting rid of the fiduciary rule unveiled last spring:

“We think it is a bad rule. It is a bad rule for consumers. This is like putting only healthy food on the menu, because unhealthy food tastes good but you still shouldn’t eat it because you might die younger.”

That is literally the greatest analogy we’ve ever heard, and we challenge Cohn and the Trump administration to top it. (In fact, the only way they could is if Cohn appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday and said, “The fiduciary rule is like only putting out vape pens at a party, because crystal meth feels good but you still shouldn’t smoke it because you might die younger.” Let the consumer have their meth! How could more choice be bad, in an industry defined by vast asymmetries of information between brokers and consumers?

Oh, and in case you were wondering: Elizabeth Warren is obviously pissed about all of this.

“Donald Trump talked a big game about Wall Street during his campaign—but as president, we’re finding out whose side he’s really on,” the Massachusetts senator said in a statement. “Today, after literally standing alongside big bank and hedge fund C.E.O.s, he announced two orders—one that will make it easier for investment advisers to cheat you out of your retirement savings, and another that will put two former Goldman Sachs executives in charge of gutting the rules that protect you from financial fraud and another economic meltdown.”

Warren, along with Senator Tammy Baldwin, also sent a letter to Gary Cohn telling him he ought to “recuse himself from decisions directly or indirectly related to Goldman Sachs.”

(h/t Vanity Fair)

 

 

 

Trump Opens National Prayer Breakfast Asking to Pray for ‘The Apprentice’ Ratings

At an event attended by thousands from countries around the world, President Donald Trump opened his Thursday remarks at the annual National Prayer Breakfast with talk of TV ratings.

The president noted his “tremendous success” as star of the reality show “Celebrity Apprentice.” Trump hosted the show for 14 seasons, and followed up the fact of his success by noting the show’s drop in ratings since his departure.

“We know how that turned out. The ratings went right down the tubes. It’s been a total disaster,” Trump said. Actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger has since rebooted the show.

“And I want to just pray for Arnold if we can, for those ratings,” he joked.

The Austria native was quick to respond to the president’s remarks, suggesting they swap jobs:

Trump Vows to Overturn Ban on Political Activity by Churches

President Trump promised faith leaders Thursday that he would “totally destroy” the law that prohibits churches from engaging in political activity, a move that would upend 63 years of settled tax law.

In an appearance at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Trump said he would make good on his promise to overturn the so-called Johnson Amendment, which bans public charities — including churches — from campaigning for or against a candidate for for elected office. Those who do risk losing their tax exemption.

“Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs. That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution,” Trump said. “I will do that, remember.”

The statement was met by enthusiastic applause from the religious leaders.

The 1954 law is named for its author, then-senator Lyndon Johnson. Because it’s in the tax code, any change would have to come from Congress.

Campaign watchdogs criticized Trump’s call, saying it would open up another conduit for unlimited — and anonymous — money in elections. Religious groups can accept sums of any size and do not have make public their donors’ identities.

“This is a way to convert religious organizations, charities and educational groups into dark money organizations,” said Robert Weissman, president of the left-leaning group Public Citizen. Allowing groups that are exempt from paying taxes to engage in political activity would force the government to subsidize secret money in politics, he said.

The position is not a new one for Trump, who used it as a selling point to evangelical voters during his campaign. In a speech to the Values Voters Summit in Washington last September, Trump said, “The first thing we have to do is give our churches their voice back. It’s been taken away.”

Trump argued that the Johnson amendment has restricted not just political speech, but religious speech as well. “If they want to talk about Christianity, if they want to preach, if they want to talk about politics, they’re unable to do so,” he said in September. “All religious leaders should be able to freely express their thoughts and feelings on religious matters.”

(h/t USA Today)

Trump Threatens Funding Cut If UC Berkeley ‘Does Not Allow Free Speech’

President Trump early Thursday threatened to cut federal funding to the University of California, Berkley after violent protests broke out on its campus Wednesday in response to a planned appearance by a far-right commentator.

“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?” the president tweeted Thursday morning.

A scheduled appearance by right-wing commentator Milo Yiannopoulos was canceled Wednesday night about two hours before the Breitbart editor was scheduled to speak.

The university said in a statement the violence was “instigated by a group of about 150 masked agitators who came onto campus and interrupted an otherwise non-violent protest,” according to NPR.

“This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers,” U.C. Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennet told The Associated Press.

More than 1,500 people had showed up to protest Yiannopoulos’s appearance on campus.

At least six people were injured, according to CNN.

Yiannopoulos called what happened “an expression of political violence,” according to CNN.

“I’m just stunned that hundreds of people … were so threatened by the idea that a conservative speaker might be persuasive, interesting, funny and might take some people with him, they have to shut it down at all costs,” he said in a Facebook Live video.

(h/t The Hill)

Millions in Campaign Funds Went to Trump Firms

President Trump’s campaign spent a total of $12.7 million at businesses run by him and his family members over the course of the 2016 presidential election, according to a tally of newly filed campaign-finance reports.

The largest sums went to Trump’s airline, TAG Air, which received $8.7 million as the Republican used his own jet to fly around the country, according to a USA TODAY analysis of year-end reports filed this week. Another $2 million went to Trump Tower, the Trump Organization skyscraper that housed his campaign headquarters.

Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, which Trump dubbed the Winter White House last month, received more than $435,000 during the campaign.

The spending at Trump properties, which continued after he won the election, underscores how much Trump was willing to mingle his political and business operations – from buying meals at his own Trump Grill to renting space at his own golf clubs.

More than $3,000 went to Trump ICE LLC, Trump’s bottled-water brand, for “office supplies,” according to Federal Election Commission filings.

In all, the amount spent at Trump businesses by his political operation represent a little more than 19% of the $66.1 million Trump himself donated to the campaign and less than 10% of the $133.6 million that flowed into his main campaign account from other donors.

The spending could well continue if he decides to seek re-election. Trump filed a statement of candidacy for the 2020 election on Inauguration Day because he had already surpassed the $5,000 fundraising threshold to require reporting contributions for the next election, he noted in a letter to the Federal Election Commission. That doesn’t mean he’s definitely running in 2020, Trump said in the filing.

Kellyanne Conway Blames Refugees For ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ That Never Happened

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Donald Trump, has come in for criticism and ridicule after blaming two Iraqi refugees for a massacre that never happened.

Conway, the US president’s former campaign manager who has frequently faced the press to defend his controversial moves, cited the fictitious “Bowling Green massacre” in an interview in which she backed the travel ban imposed on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Interviewed by Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball programme on Thursday evening, Conway compared the executive order issued by Trump in his first week in the White House to what she described as a six-month ban imposed by his predecessor Barack Obama.

This claim has been debunked by commentators who have pointed out that the 2011 action was a pause on the processing of refugees from Iraq after two Iraqi nationals were arrested over a failed attempt to send money and weapons to al-Qaida in Iraq.

Conway told Matthews: “I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalised and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre.

“Most people don’t know that because it didn’t get covered.”

It didn’t get covered, many are now pointing out, because there was no such massacre.

The two Iraqi men arrested in 2011 did live in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and are currently serving life sentences for federal terrorism offences. But there was no massacre, nor were they accused of planning one. The US department of justice, announcing their convictions in 2012, said: “Neither was charged with plotting attacks within the United States.”

Analysis by the Cato Institute of terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and 2015 found that foreign nationals from the seven countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – have killed no Americans.

Following the Conway interview, some social media users pointed out that false rumours about a Halloween massacre had circulated in several universities, including Ohio’s Bowling Green state university, in 1998.

But the likelihood that Conway had Kentucky in mind was bolstered when that state’s senator Rand Paul also made a variation of her false claim. In a separate interview with MSNBC, Paul referred to “the attempted bombing in Bowling Green, where I live”.

Conway had already prompted astonishment by describing comments by White House spokesman Sean Spicer that Trump’s inauguration crowd “was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period” as “alternative facts”.

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood, and they’re giving – Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that,” Conway told NBC last week.

Matthews did not press Conway on her Bowling Green massacre claim in the interview, and she has not yet responded to reports that she misrepresented the events of 2011.

(h/t NBC News)

Media

 

Trump on Phone with Australian Leader: ‘This Was the Worst Call By Far’

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief – a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Donald Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refugee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – and that “this was the worst call by far.”

Trump’s behavior suggests that he is capable of subjecting world leaders, including close allies, to a version of the vitriol he frequently employs against political adversaries and news organizations in speeches and on Twitter.

“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.

Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

Trump returned to the topic late Wednesday night, writing in a message on Twitter, “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico. But his treatment of Turnbull was particularly striking because of the tight bond between the United States and Australia – countries that share intelligence, support one another diplomatically and have fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The characterizations provide insight into Trump’s temperament and approach to the diplomatic requirements of his job as the nation’s chief executive, a role in which he continues to employ both the uncompromising negotiating tactics he honed as a real estate developer and the bombastic style he exhibited as a reality television personality.

The depictions of Trump’s calls are also at odds with sanitized White House accounts. The official readout of his conversation with Turnbull, for example, said that the two had “emphasized the enduring strength and closeness of the U.S.-Australia relationship that is critical for peace, stability, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and globally.”

A White House spokesman declined to comment. A senior administration official acknowledged that the conversation with Turnbull had been hostile and charged, but emphasized that most of Trump’s calls with foreign leaders – including the heads of Japan, Germany, France and Russia – have been both productive and pleasant.

Trump also vented anger and touted his political accomplishments in a tense conversation with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, officials said. The two have sparred for months over Trump’s vow to force Mexico to pay for construction of a border wall between the two countries, a conflict that prompted Peña Nieto to cancel a planned meeting with Trump.

Even in conversations marred by hostile exchanges, Trump manages to work in references to his election accomplishments. U.S. officials said that he used his calls with both Turnbull and Peña Nieto to mention his election win or the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

One official said that it may be Trump’s way of “speaking about the mandate he has and why he has the backing for decisions he makes.” But Trump is also notoriously thin-skinned and has used platforms including social-media accounts, meetings with lawmakers and even a speech at CIA headquarters to depict his victory as an achievement of historic proportions, rather than a narrow outcome in which his opponent, Hillary Clinton, won the popular vote.

The friction with Turnbull reflected Trump’s anger over being bound by an agreement reached by former President Barack Obama’s administration to accept refugees from Australian detention sites even while Trump was issuing an executive order suspending such arrivals from elsewhere in the world.

The issue centers on a population of roughly 2,500 people who sought asylum in Australia but were diverted to facilities off that country’s coast at Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. Deplorable conditions at those sites prompted intervention from the United Nations and a pledge from the United States to accept about half of those refugees, provided they passed U.S. security screening.

Many of the refugees came from Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia, countries now listed in Trump’s order temporarily barring their citizens entry to the United States. A special provision in the Trump order allows for exceptions to honor “a preexisting international agreement,” a line that was inserted to cover the Australia deal.

But U.S. officials said that Trump continued to fume about the arrangement even after signing the order in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

“I don’t want these people,” Trump said. He repeatedly misstated the number of refugees called for in the agreement as 2,000 rather than 1,250, and told Turnbull that it was “my intention” to honor the agreement, a phrase designed to leave the U.S. president wiggle room to back out of the deal in the future, according to a senior U.S. official.

Turnbull told Trump that to honor the agreement, the United States would not have to accept all of the refugees but only to allow them each through the normal vetting procedures. At that, Trump vowed to subject each refugee to “extreme vetting,” the senior U.S. official said.

Trump was also skeptical because he did not see a specific advantage the United States would gain by honoring the deal, officials said.

Trump’s position appears to reflect the transactional view he takes of relationships, even when it comes to diplomatic ties with long-standing allies. Australia troops have fought alongside U.S. forces for decades, and the country maintains close cooperation with Washington on trade and economic issues.

Australia is seen as such a trusted ally that it is one of only four countries that the United States includes in the “Five Eyes” arrangement for cooperation on espionage matters. Members share extensively what their intelligence services gather and generally refrain from spying on one another.

There also is a significant amount of tourism between the two countries.

Trump made the call to Turnbull about 5 p.m. Saturday from his desk in the Oval Office, where he was joined by chief strategist Stephen Bannon, national security adviser Michael Flynn and White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

At one point, Turnbull suggested that the two leaders move on from their impasse over refugees to discuss the conflict in Syria and other pressing foreign issues. But Trump demurred and ended the call, making it far shorter than his conversations with Shinzo Abe of Japan, Angela Merkel of Germany, François Hollande of France or Putin.

“These conversations are conducted candidly, frankly, privately,” Turnbull said at a news conference Thursday in Australia. “If you see reports of them, I’m not going to add to them.”

(h/t Chicago Tribune)

Trump-Ordered Raid in Yemen That Killed US Navy SEAL Was Approved ‘Without Sufficient Intelligence’

The US military said on Wednesday it was looking into whether more civilians were killed in a raid on Al Qaeda in Yemen on the weekend, in the first operation authorized by President Donald Trump as commander in chief.

US Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens died in the raid on a branch of Al Qaeda, also known as AQAP, in al Bayda province, which the Pentagon said also killed 14 militants. Medics at the scene, however, said about 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.

US Central Command said in a statement that an investigating team had “concluded regrettably that civilian noncombatants were likely killed” during Sunday’s raid. It added that children may have been among the casualties.

Central Command said its assessment “seeks to determine if there were any still-undetected civilian casualties in the ferocious firefight.”

US military officials told Reuters that Trump approved his first covert counterterrorism operation without sufficient intelligence, ground support, or adequate backup preparations.

As a result, three officials said, the attacking SEAL team found itself dropping onto a reinforced Al Qaeda base defended by landmines, snipers, and a larger-than-expected contingent of heavily armed Islamist extremists.

The Pentagon directed queries about the officials’ characterization of the raid to US Central Command, which pointed only to its statement on Wednesday.

The US officials said the extremists’ base had been identified as a target before the Obama administration left office on January 20, but President Barack Obama held off approving a raid ahead of his departure.

A White House official said the operation was thoroughly vetted by the previous administration and the previous defense secretary had signed off on it in January. The raid was delayed for operational reasons, the White House official said.

The military officials who spoke with Reuters on condition of anonymity said “a brutal firefight” took the lives of Owens and at least 15 Yemeni women and children. One of the dead was the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a militant killed by a 2011 US drone strike.

Some of the women were firing at the US force, Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters.

Intelligence gathered

The American elite forces did not seize any militants or take any prisoners offsite, but White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Wednesday the raid yielded benefits.

“Knowing that we killed an estimated 14 AQAP members and that we gathered an unbelievable amount of intelligence that will prevent the potential deaths or attacks on American soil — is something that I think most service members understand, that that’s why they joined the service,” Spicer said.

A senior leader in Yemen’s Al Qaeda branch, Abdulraoof al-Dhahab, and other militants were killed in the gunfight, Al Qaeda said.

One of the three US officials said on-the-ground surveillance of the compound was “minimal, at best.”

“The decision was made … to leave it to the incoming administration, partly in the hope that more and better intelligence could be collected,” that official said.

As Sunday’s firefight intensified, the raiders called in Marine helicopter gunships and Harrier jump jets, and then two MV-22 Osprey vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft to extract the SEALs.

One of the two suffered engine failure, two of the officials said, and hit the ground so hard that two crew members were injured, and one of the Marine jets had to launch a precision-guided bomb to destroy it.

Trump traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday in an unexpected visit to meet with the family of Owens, who had been a chief special warfare operator.

(h/t Business Insider)

Judge Orders Trump Golf Club to Reimburse Members

A federal judge has ruled that Trump National Jupiter Golf Club in Florida will pay just under $6 million to some members who were denied access to the club, Politico reported.

The judge found that the club violated its contracts by holding deposits from members on a “resignation waiting list.” Those members were denied access to the club.

The members who took part in the class-action lawsuit claimed membership rules were altered when now-President Donald Trump took over the club in 2012 and contracts were violated, according to CNNMoney.

Brad Edwards, the attorney for the former members, said the club was ordered to pay more than $4.8 million in damages and almost $1 million in interest, the amount the plaintiffs requested.

The club “created their own contorted reading of a contract that allowed them to avoid the refundability of the deposits,” he said.

The Trump Organization’s lawyer, Alan Garten, told the news outlet the decision will be appealed.

“The members who resigned were all members under Ritz-Carlton who resigned prior to Trump taking ownership. Trump purchased the club from Ritz and effectively saved it because it was in financial ruin. Notwithstanding the foregoing, we disagree with the judge’s ruling and intend to appeal it,” said Garten.

Trump owns the club, but was not a defendant in the suit.

(h/t The Hill)

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