We need a high wall with a big gate

With Trump using immigration simply for political gain, Democrats need to be the adults and offer a realistic, comprehensive approach.

Kamala Harris, the Democratic senator from California, recently raised eyebrows when she asked Ronald Vitiello, President Trump’s nominee to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whether he appreciated the “perception” that ICE spreads “fear and intimidation” among immigrants the way the Ku Klux Klan did among blacks.

Harris carefully worded her question around the “perception” of ICE — and it was raised in part because Vitiello had once shamefully tweeted that Democrats were “the NeoKlanist party.” Nevertheless, with Harris a likely Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, Republican media pounced on her with variations of: “Hey voters, get this: Democrats think the ICE officers protecting you from illegal immigrants are like the K.K.K. You gonna vote for that?”

ICE does seem to have a bad culture, but it is not the K.K.K. At the same time, I don’t think the Democratic Party is just for open borders. Alas, though, I’m also not sure what exactly is the party’s standard on immigration — and questions like Harris’s leave it open to demonization.

Since Republicans have completely caved to Trump’s craven exploitation of immigration as a wedge issue, the country, as usual, needs the Democrats to be the adults and put forward a realistic, comprehensive approach to immigration, which now requires two parts.

The first is a way to think about the border and the second is a way to think about all the issues beyond the border — issues that are pushing migrants our way. You cannot think seriously about the first without thinking seriously about the second, and if you don’t, this week’s scenes of Customs and Border Protection officers firing tear gas to keep out desperate migrants near Tijuana will get a lot worse.

Regarding the border, the right place for Democrats to be is for a high wall with a big gate.

Democrats won’t do as well as they can nationallywithout assuring Americans that they’re committed to securing our borders; people can’t just walk in. But the country won’t do as well as it can in the 21st century unless it remains committed to a very generous legal immigration policy — and a realistic pathway to citizenship for illegals already here — to attract both high-energy, low-skilled workers and high-I.Q. risk takers.

They have been the renewable energy source of the American dream — and our secret advantage over China.

But thinking beyond the borderis where Democrats can really distinguish themselves; it’s where Trump has been recklessly AWOL.

This is how we got to where we are today: During the 19th and 20th centuries, the world shifted from being governed by large empires in many regions to being governed by independent nation-states. And the 50 years after World War II were a great time to be a weak little nation-state.

Why? Because there were two superpowers competing for your affection by throwing foreign aid at you, building your army, buying your cheap goods and educating your college students; climate change was moderate; populations were still under control in the developing world; no one had a cellphone to easily organize movements against your government; and China was not in the World Trade Organization, so everyone could be in textiles and other low-wage industries.

All of that switched in the early 21st century: Climate-driven extreme weather — floods, droughts, heat and cold — on top of man-made deforestation began to hammer many countries, especially their small-scale farmers. This happened right as developing-world populations exploded. Africa went from 140 million in 1900 to one billion in 2010 to a projected 2.5 billion by 2050.

Syria grew from three million people in 1950 to over 22 million today, which, along with droughts, totally stressed its water resources. Guatemala, the main source of the migrant caravan heading our way, has been ravaged by deforestation thanks to illegal logging, farmers cutting trees for firewood and drug traffickers creating landing strips and smuggling trails.

A satellite map just released by University of Cincinnati geography researchers demonstrated that nearly a quarter of the earth’s habitable surface changed between just 1992 and 2015, primarily from forests to agriculture, from grasslands to deserts and from wetlands to urban concrete.

Meanwhile, the internet has enabled citizens to easily compare their living standards with those in Paris or Phoenix — and find a human trafficker to take them there. Also, China joined the W.T.O., dominating low-wage industries, and the end of the Cold War meant no superpower wanted to touch your country, because all it would win was a bill.

So it’s now much harder to be an average little country. The most frail of them are hemorrhaging people, like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan and most every nation in sub-Saharan Africa. Others — Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya — have just fractured.

Together, they’re creating vast zones of disorder, and many people want to get out of them into any zone of order, particularly America or Europe, triggering nationalist-populist backlashes.

Why? Because there were two superpowers competing for your affection by throwing foreign aid at you, building your army, buying your cheap goods and educating your college students; climate change was moderate; populations were still under control in the developing world; no one had a cellphone to easily organize movements against your government; and China was not in the World Trade Organization, so everyone could be in textiles and other low-wage industries.

All of that switched in the early 21st century: Climate-driven extreme weather — floods, droughts, heat and cold — on top of man-made deforestation began to hammer many countries, especially their small-scale farmers. This happened right as developing-world populations exploded. Africa went from 140 million in 1900 to one billion in 2010 to a projected 2.5 billion by 2050.

Syria grew from three million people in 1950 to over 22 million today, which, along with droughts, totally stressed its water resources. Guatemala, the main source of the migrant caravan heading our way, has been ravaged by deforestation thanks to illegal logging, farmers cutting trees for firewood and drug traffickers creating landing strips and smuggling trails.

A satellite map just released by University of Cincinnati geography researchers demonstrated that nearly a quarter of the earth’s habitable surface changed between just 1992 and 2015, primarily from forests to agriculture, from grasslands to deserts and from wetlands to urban concrete.

Meanwhile, the internet has enabled citizens to easily compare their living standards with those in Paris or Phoenix — and find a human trafficker to take them there. Also, China joined the W.T.O., dominating low-wage industries, and the end of the Cold War meant no superpower wanted to touch your country, because all it would win was a bill.

So it’s now much harder to be an average little country. The most frail of them are hemorrhaging people, like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan and most every nation in sub-Saharan Africa. Others — Venezuela, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya — have just fractured.

Together, they’re creating vast zones of disorder, and many people want to get out of them into any zone of order, particularly America or Europe, triggering nationalist-populist backlashes.

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Trump is getting even terrible

By Gail Collins, Opinion Columnist


Things can get worse, and with him, they always do.

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Terrible week. Donald Trump was on the road trying to rev up the country against a pitiful caravan of poor people struggling through Mexico. Meanwhile, there was a spate of bombing attempts directed at some of the president’s regular tirade targets, from Hillary Clinton to George Soros to CNN.

The F.B.I. is working on the bombs. Trump has urged the country to unify, to which the country presumably replied, “Now you tell us?”

At his rally in Wisconsin on Wednesday night, Trump did have some early words for peace and harmony. Then he demanded that the media “set a civil tone and to stop the endless hostility and constant negative and often time false attacks.” You would think that for at least one evening he’d just mention the importance of a free press. Or even suggest that, say, body-slamming reporters is a bad thing.

This is getting scarier and scarier. The president has been on a rally marathon in which he alternates between saying things that are meant to whip his audience into rage and things that are just wildly egocentric and imaginary. He’ll never improve. All we can do is hope he sticks to his less dangerous form of awfulness.

We want the Donald Trump who yowls about wildly overestimated crowd sizes and nonexistent achievements. For instance, on Monday in Houston he bragged about Brett Kavanaugh and gave the audience a primer on Supreme Court appointments that went like this:

“Who — who appointed the highest percentage of judges? No, no, no, it wasn’t Hillary Clinton. No, she didn’t make it, remember? She didn’t make it. No, you know who it is? You’ll never guess. It’s called George Washington. And we’re after George Washington. So, a very big thing, no, George Washington, why? Because he just started. He did 100 percent. Nobody’s ever going to break that record. Nobody’s ever going to break the record of George Washington.”

Always do enjoy bringing you some Trumpian oratory.

And — wait! In actual reality, Trump is not after George Washington. Franklin Delano Roosevelt placed nine justices on the Supreme Court and Ronald Reagan got four. Trump has gotten two, the same number as George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

I am telling you all this to cheer you up.

During the rally tour, the preferable making-stuff-up Trump also announced “a very major tax cut” just for middle-income people, which would be passed before Nov. 1, or after the election, or “next week,” depending on when you were listening.

“We’ve been working on it for a few months,” he said in Houston.

This appeared to be total news to everybody in his administration. But maybe the “we” Trump referred to was Ivanka and Jared. Jared is great with numbers. Just because his company is teetering on bankruptcy due to one of the most disastrous deals in real estate history doesn’t mean there isn’t some talent. That sort of thing runs in the family.

Asked about details of his plan — like who would count as a middle-income person — Trump said they’d be coming “sometime just prior, I would say, to November.”

That would mean … next week. Well, some details. Maybe its name.

Pop Quiz: What do you think would be a good name for Trump’s tax cut?

A) Herman

B) Biggest Middle-Class Tax Cut Since George Washington

C) Thing That Never Was

I don’t know about you, but I’m kinda going for Herman. Or Rocco.

The cruel-is-cool Trump has been ranting about immigration, claiming the caravan of desperate families making their way out of Central America included bad people “from the Middle East.” None of the reporters who have been walking through the caravan have come across anything like this. The president claimed he learned it from Border Patrol officers. He quotes unnamed Border Patrol officers a lot. You get the impression that in the still of the night when everybody else is asleep and he can’t think of anything to twitter, he calls up the border police and chats about their day.

“Wait until you see what happens over the next couple of weeks,” he told the Wisconsin crowd, in one of the more ominous moments of the night. “You are going to see a very secure border. Very secure. You just watch. The military is ready. They’re all set.”

John Bolton, the freaky national security adviser, and John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, had what is known in polite circles as a “profanity-laced argument” about border policy. We’ve been hearing a lot lately about Kelly’s temper. This is sort of disturbing, since he’s supposed to be one of the not-insane people in the administration who will keep a lid on things if the president goes totally batty. Another is Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who Trump recently described as “sort of a Democrat” who “may leave. I mean, at some point everybody leaves.”

When you’re down and out, keep that last little bit in mind. At some point everybody leaves.

There may be ‘violence’ if GOP loses midterms – Donald Trump warns

President heard urging Christian ministers to sway voters and alluding to leftwing violence in leaked audio.

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In a private meeting with Christian ministers, Donald Trump warned of “violence” if Republicans do not maintain control of Congress in the midterm elections, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by the New York Times.

At a state dinner for evangelical Christian ministers on Monday night at the White House, Trump urged religious leaders to use the power of their pulpits to make sure that “all of your people vote” in November, the New York Times reported.

“You’re one election away from losing everything you’ve got,” Trump reportedly told them.

If Republicans lose Congress, “they will end everything immediately”, the president said, seemingly referring to Congressional Democrats.

He went on: “They will overturn everything that we’ve done and they’ll do it quickly and violently. And violently. There’s violence. When you look at antifa, and you look at some of these groups, these are violent people.”

The Times reported that these additional remarks did not make clear “whom he was talking about”.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request to clarify whether the president was referring to congressional Democrats as “violent people”, or to comment on what connection the president was alleging between establishment Democratic lawmakers and young anti-fascist protesters.

Trump’s comments appear to echo the rhetoric of political advertisements from the rightwing National Rifle Association. In a much-criticized video advertisement last year, the gun rights group used footage from street protests to paint the entire American left, and all Americans who oppose president Trump, as violent thugs who “bully and terrorize the law-abiding”. The ad’s incendiary rhetoric was sharply criticized, with one critic calling it “a whisper shy of a call for full civil war”.

Over the past two years, as emboldened neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups have staged public rallies and marches across the United States, black-clad anti-fascist protesters, or “antifa”, have shown up to demonstrate against them. Anti-fascist protesters argue that the best way to prevent American neo-Nazis from growing more powerful is to make them afraid to meet or demonstrate in public.

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White supremacists and neo-Nazis exchange insults with anti-fascist protesters at last year’s rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Many of the rightwing groups that “antifa” demonstrators show up to protest are self-described fascists. But the tactics of direct street protest and physical confrontation remain controversial among many Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike.

The protest behavior of “antifa” has become a favorite topic for Republicans looking to deflect attention from the activities of violent white supremacist extremists who greeted Trump’s presidency as a victory, and who advocate publicly for a whites-only nation.

During the violent neo-Nazi rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, white supremacists attacked black residents and protesting local ministers, and clashed with anti-fascist protesters in the streets. Afterwards, Trump repeatedly condemned “both sides” for the violence.

Local Charlottesville residents who had showed up to protest the white supremacists, and found themselves as the targets of violence while police officers stood by, had a different opinion.

“Antifa saved my life twice on Saturday,” the Rev Seth Wispelway, a local minister from Charlottesville, told Slate in the wake of last August’s violence.


Cover photo: On August 23, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he has asked Mike Pompeo to study the seizing of farms and ‘large scale killings of farmers’ in South Africa [AP Photo/Evan Vucci]

“President Buhari is lifeless”: here is how Trump stirred controversy in Nigeria

Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari became the first president from sub-Saharan Africa to visit Donald Trump’s White House on Monday. But even after they neatly avoided Mr Trump’s alleged comments about “shithole” African countries, the US president managed to stir controversy in Nigeria, writes the BBC’s Stephanie Hegarty from Lagos.

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President Donald Trump of the US (r) dicussing with visiting President Muhammadu Buhari during a meeting at the White House, Washington, USA.

Perhaps warning bells rang when Mr Trump started off asking Mr Buhari how he was getting on with “that Boca Haram”, a reference to militant Islamist group Boko Haram.

But then again, maybe that slip of the tongue was predictable.

Less so was what he said next, as the former reality television star weighed in on the conflict between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt – or the way in which he would frame it.

“We have had very serious problems with Christians who are being murdered in Nigeria,” Mr Trump said. “We are going to be working on that problem very, very hard because we cannot allow that to happen.”

‘Genocide’?

The US president showed little understanding of a very complicated and intensely politicised crisis – one which has a battle between nomadic cattle herders and settled farmer over access to land and grazing rights at its centre.

But perhaps it should not come as any surprise. Mr Trump has always been quick to jump to the defence of Christians in conflicts such as Syria and Iraq and comments like this play well to his base among Evangelical Christians in the US.

But his point of view also plays into popular feeling among some Nigerian Christian groups.

Coffins arrive at Ibrahim Babanginda Square in the Benue State capital Makurdi, on January 11, 2018

Deadly clashes between herdsmen and farmers have raised tensions in Nigeria

It is a widely touted refrain that the conflict between farmers and herdsmen constitutes a “genocide against Christians”.

It is hard to support this claim with any fact: there have been many killings on both sides in this conflict.

But the recent attack on a Catholic church by suspected Fulani herdsmen and the murder of 17 people, including two priests, have added fuel to the flames of those who want to frame the conflict in this way.

After that attack a priest in the area told the BBC he was doing what he could do prevent young Christian men from his parish launching random reprisal attacks on Muslims. Clearly then, Mr Trump’s words then make for dangerous rhetoric.

But many Christian leaders have taken to mainstream and social media to push this narrative, jumping upon Mr Trump’s comments as a kind of vindication of their own claims.

In response, Nigerian Muslim advocacy groups have criticised his comments.

In a statement, the director of the Muslim Rights Concern, Ishaq Akintola, said they were “prejudiced, parochial and unpresidential” and claimed that Mr Trump “is luring Nigerian Christians into bolder confrontation with Muslims”.

With elections due in February 2019, there is an intensely political side to all of this. President Buhari has announced his intention to re-run for office. He is a Muslim and a Hausa-Fulani.

Much of the conversation on this crisis falls along these ethnic and political lines – Christian vs Muslim; Hausa-Fulani vs everyone else. In reality, the conflict falls along lines that are much less easily defined.

US President Donald Trump and Nigeria"s President Muhammadu Buhari take part in a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018 in Washington, DC.

President Muhammadu Buhari thanked Mr Trump for inviting him to the White House

During the press conference, Mr Buhari was quick to deflect the Christian comment.

He immediately reframed the question to address a conflict between farmers and herdsmen, saying: “The problem of cattle herders is a very long historical problem. Before now, cattle herders were known to carry sticks and machetes… but these ones are carrying AK-47s.”

As he has in the past, he went on to explain what is happening as a consequence of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s arming of “mercenaries”.

Mr Buhari claimed they are now returning to West Africa and causing trouble.

Whether Gaddafi’s former soldiers are responsible for this crisis or not, there is a point to be made here. Since the crisis in Libya began, guns have been flooding into West Africa through the Sahel – just as migrants have been rushing in the other direction.

Last year, the Director of UN’s Regional Center for Peace and Disarmament in Africa said 70% of the illegal small arms imported to West Africa end up in Nigeria, according to PRI Nigeria.

But if Mr Buhari felt any exasperation at Mr Trump’s unexpected comments, it was quickly brushed under the carpet.

Despite the rhetoric which does little to promote peace in Nigeria’s central region, the two leaders came across as firm friends.

Instead, in true Trump style, the two men patted each other on the back over a recent “deal”: the sale of 12 US military aircraft to Nigeria.

And another bone of contention was artfully avoided – Mr Trump’s allegedly ungracious comments in January comparing African countries to a toilet.

While many Nigerians had hoped their president would take Mr Trump to task, Mr Buhari admitted he did not bring it up.

Instead, Mr Buhari, standing in the Rose Garden, reiterated his deep appreciation for the invitation. He seemed to shrink into the background as Mr Trump took centre stage, complimenting Nigeria as a beautiful country and professing his desire to visit Africa’s most populous state.


Cover photo: US President Donald Trump and Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari shake hands as they take part in a joint press conference in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 30, 2018, in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN

Trump finally suspends clothes exports to Rwanda

Donald Trump’s administration has suspended duty-free exports on clothes to Rwanda after the East African nation imposed tariffs on US imports of second-hand clothing and footwear which it blames for harming the local textile industry.

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Rwanda banned second-hand clothes to revive its textiles industry. Photo: AFP

“The president’s action does not affect the vast majority of Rwanda’s exports to the US”, a statement by the office of the US trade representative read.

The clothes imports account for 3% of what Rwanda exports to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) and are valued at $1.5m (£1m).

Rwanda’s position had been widely adopted by East Africa’s states but Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda dropped their stance fearing retaliatory action that would lead to loss of access to US markets via Agoa.

Rwanda clothing imports have so far dropped by a third.

Donald Trump denies knowing of Russia meeting

  • President issues volley of tweets after explosive CNN report
  • Trump attacks former lawyer’s use of Clinton-linked counsel

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Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

Donald Trump responded on Friday to bombshell reports that his former lawyer Michael Cohen says Trump knew of and approved a meeting between his son and aides with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

The president denied knowing of the meeting and questioned Cohen’s motives and connections, writing: “He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!”

The lawyer referred to is Lanny Davis, Cohen’s counsel who defended Bill Clinton during his impeachment in the late 1990s.

Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort met at Trump Tower on 9 June 2016 with a group including the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, having been told she was offering sensitive information about Clinton from the Russian government.

On Thursday, citing an unnamed source, CNN reported that Cohen said he was present when Donald Jr told his father about the Russians’ offer to meet and that Trump approved it. NBC said it had independently verified the report.

On Friday, the president first tweeteda familiar complaint, that “the ridiculous news that the highly conflicted Robert Mueller and his gang of 13 Angry Democrats obviously cannot find Collusion”.

Mueller is a Republican appointed by a Republican, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. According to public information, 13 of Mueller’s investigators have registered as Democrats and nine have donated to Democrats.

“The only Collusion with Russia was with the Democrats,” Trump added, without presenting evidence. He then referenced a New York Times reportthat Mueller, the special counsel, is examining his Twitter feed as part of his investigation of potential obstruction of justice.

“The rigged Witch Hunt continues!” he added. “How stupid and unfair to our Country….And so the Fake News doesn’t waste my time with dumb questions, NO,….

“…..I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr. Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?). He even retained Bill and Crooked Hillary’s lawyer. Gee, I wonder if they helped him make the choice!”

Cohen’s investment in New York taxi medallions, which have been hit by the rise of Uber and other car services, has been widely reported.

Trump, his son, his lawyers and other officials have repeatedly claimed the Trump Tower meeting did not produce any “dirt” on Clinton and the future president did not know about it until details were revealed in July 2017. The president told reporters onboard Air Force One then: “I only heard about it two or three days ago.”

Trump’s role in the production of a misleading statement about the meeting is reportedly part of Mueller’s investigation.

On Thursday night Trump’s current lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, mounted a counterattack.

“It would have to be people in the room with the president that can corroborate Cohen, which there won’t be because it didn’t happen,” he told CNN. “And then it becomes a credibility contest between two or three witnesses who say one thing and Cohen who says another.”

He added: “He’s been lying all week, he’s been lying for years” – a comment potentially damaging to Trump since Cohen was working for him during those years. Cohen has also seen his home and premises raided by the FBI over his role in payments to women who claim affairs with Trump – affairs Trump denies. Whether or not Cohen will “flip” and turn against Trump has been the subject of mounting speculation.

Trump’s knowledge or otherwise of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting is a key issue in Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and links between Trump aides and Russia.

Donald Trump personally blames Putin for election meddling

After clashing statements on who was responsible, president claims he told Russian leader: ‘We can’t have this’.

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Donald Trump now says he holds the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally responsible for his country’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, further walking back a statement on Monday that drew bipartisan rebukes.

In an interview set to be broadcast Wednesday evening, the US president told Jeff Glor of CBS News that he holds Putin responsible “because he’s in charge of the country, just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country”.

Asked if he agreed with US intelligence assessments that Russia meddled in the election in 2016, Trump replied: “Yeah, and I’ve said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that is true, yeah.”

Asked what he had said to Putin during a one-on-one meeting the two had in Helsinki on Monday, Trump replied: “Very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling, we can’t have any of that.”

But Trump stopped short of saying that if the intelligence services were correct in their assessment, then Putin must be lying.

“I don’t want to get into whether or not he’s lying. I can only say I do have confidence in our intelligence agencies as currently constituted. I think Dan Coats is excellent … we have excellent people. So when they tell me something it means a lot.”

Christopher Wray, the FBI director, speaking at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, said Wednesday that Russia continued to attempt to sow discord in the US, using fake news and propaganda to “spin up” Americans.

He added that he stood behind the US intelligence agencies’ assessment of Moscow’s election meddling.

He also said that Moscow’s offer of assistance in the investigation of Russian military intelligence officials indicted in the US on espionage charges, was “not high on our list of investigative techniques”.

The president’s statements came after a second day of efforts by the White House to quell bipartisan anger over his failure to publicly hold Putin to account at a joint news conference in Helsinki.

Trump rejected criticism from senior members of even his own party, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who accused him of showing “weakness”.

“I totally disagree. I think it was a strong news conference. People said you should have gone up to him, you shoulda started screaming in his face. We’re living in the real world, OK?”

In his private meeting with Putin, Trump continued, the two leaders discussed nuclear proliferation and the protection of Isreal. On North Korea, Trump said the Russian president “agrees with what I’m doing and that I’m doing a great job. He said he’d help, and I think he will.”

“I think we have a deal. There’s no rush. There’s no missiles going off. We have our hostages back. There’s no testing, so we’ve come a long way in a short period of time. There is no rush, but we would like to see the denuclearization of North Korea. He (Putin) feels strongly about and I feel strongly about it, so that’s good.”

Earlier on Wednesday, the White House tortured semantics of the past several days continued when Trump replied “no” when asked by reporters whether he believed Russia was “still targeting the US”, contradicting Dan Coats, director of national intelligence.

A few hours later, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, claimed Trump had been answering a different question, and that “we believe the threat still exists”.

The exchanges came a day after Trump’s tortured effort to clarify what he had said in Helsinki on Monday, claiming that he had accidentally used “would” instead of “wouldn’t” to describe whether he thought Russian intelligence interfered in the election.

Trump had told reporters: “They said they think it’s Russia; I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump told reporters. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

In a series of Twitter posts on Wednesday morning, Trump continued his campaign to recast interpretation of the Helsinki meeting.

“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki. Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”

Obama ‘stylishly ‘ attack Trump by criticising ‘strongman politics’

Former US president uses speech in Johannesburg to urge respect for human rights.

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Former US President Barack Obama speaking in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photo: Reuters

Barack Obama has made a coded attack on his successor, Donald Trump, attacking “strongman politics” in his highest-profile speech since leaving office.

Speaking in Johannesburg, Obama urged people around the world to respect human rights and other values that are under threat, in an impassioned address marking the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s birth.

While not mentioning Trump by name, Obama’s speech countered many of the US president’s policies, calling on people to keep alive the ideas that Mandela worked for, including democracy, diversity and tolerance.

Obama said today’s times were “strange and uncertain”, adding: “Each day’s news cycle is bringing more head-spinning and disturbing headlines … we see much of the world threatening to return to a more dangerous, more brutal way of doing business.”

He targeted politicians pushing “politics of fear, resentment, retrenchment”, saying they are on the move “at a pace unimaginable just a few years ago”.

He attacked “strongman politics”, saying “those in power seek to undermine every institution … that gives democracy meaning”.

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About 14,000 people gathered in a cricket stadium to hear Obama’s speech. Photo: Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

His speech highlighted how Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years, kept up his campaign against what appeared to be insurmountable odds to end apartheid, South Africa’s system of white minority rule.

Mandela, who was released from prison in 1990 and became South Africa’s first black president four years later, died in 2013, leaving a legacy of reconciliation and diversity along with a resistance to inequality, economic and otherwise.

Obama has shied away from public comment on Trump, whose administration has reversed or attacked many of Obama’s achievements. The US under Trump has withdrawn from the 2015 Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, and tried to undercut the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Instead of commenting on politics, Obama’s speech drew on broader themes and his admiration for Mandela, whom the US’s first black president saw as a mentor.

When Obama was a US senator he had his picture taken with Mandela. After becoming president he sent a copy of the photo to Mandela, who kept it in his office. Obama also made a point of visiting Mandela’s prison cell and gave a moving eulogy at Mandela’s memorial service in 2013, saying the South African leader’s life had inspired him.

Many South Africans view Obama as a successor to Mandela because of his groundbreaking role and his support for racial equality in the US and around the world.

Moses Moyo, a 32-year-old Uber driver, was among the thousands lining up to listen to Obama’s speech. “I think he’ll speak about how Mandela changed the system here in South Africa, how he ended apartheid and gave hope for the poor and encouraged education,” he said.


SOURCE: BBC/The Guardian, UK/SABC

Five Questions on the Trump-Putin summit – Your morning briefing

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(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up)

Good morning, Here are yesterday’s top stories, and a look ahead – Click on any title to read the complete story.

In a joint press conference that followed Monday’s closed-door summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, the U.S. president refused to blame the Russian president for any meddling in the 2016 presidential election, accepted Putin’s denial of interference – and cast doubt on the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies, just two days after a federal grand jury indicted 12 Russian military officers for conspiring to interfere with the election.

Trump’s Helsinki performance drew criticism from Republican lawmakers such as Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake and Rob Corker, who denounced the president’s comments. On Twitter former CIA director John Brennan called Trump’s behavior “nothing short of treasonous.”

Steven Pifer, a non-resident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and a former State Department official focused on U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union, spoke with Reuters editor Helen Coster about the summit.

“Following Trump’s bull-in-the-china-shop diplomacy at NATO and in London and his obsequious and embarrassing performance in Helsinki,” said Pifer, “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that U.S. foreign policy interests would have been better served had Trump stayed home.

OSTER: What was your main takeaway from the summit?

PIFER: Based on the press conference, Vladimir Putin has every reason to be happy. He got a formal summit with President Trump, which helps his spin that Russia is no longer isolated. He did not appear to give on any major issue, and Trump declined to challenge Russian actions. The president, at least in public, failed to criticize Russian aggression against Ukraine and did not put down a marker that Russian meddling in U.S. politics is unacceptable and, if continued, would result in U.S. retaliation. One can only hope that things went better in the actual discussions, but it’s not clear there is any reason to believe that.

COSTER: What do you think of the fact that Trump took Putin’s side against the U.S. intelligence community?

PIFER: Trump’s acceptance of Putin’s denial of election-meddling over the considered judgment of the U.S. intelligence community (and the growing number of indictments of individual Russians) is astonishing. He gave the Kremlin no reason not to continue such interference in U.S. election processes: it’s been successful (from their point of view), the costs are minimal, and the U.S. president apparently does not believe it is happening. Why not continue?

COSTER: What do you expect to be the reaction among U.S. allies – in public and in private?

PIFER: U.S. allies will likely keep their views to themselves publicly, but they have to be dismayed in private. Contrast Trump’s reluctance in Helsinki to criticize Putin or any Russian misbehavior with his eager readiness to criticize allies [at last week’s NATO summit] in Brussels, particularly Germany and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, over defense spending, plus his London interview in which he put the European Union at the top of his list of foes of the United States.

COSTER: So much of diplomacy happens in small steps and behind the scenes. What steps of that nature might have come out of today’s meeting, and what do you expect for U.S.-Russia relations going forward?

PIFER: Hopefully, the summit will produce follow-up dialogues that might yield some progress. Putin opened the door for discussions on arms control, including on extending the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which would be in the U.S. interest. We will have to see what comes, but it would be wise to be patient and keep expectations modest.

COSTER: A lot of people are stating that Trump’s comments today give Putin a blank check in terms of his future behavior. What do you think?

PIFER: Genuine improvement in U.S.-Russian relations will require at least some change in problematic Russian policies, such as aggression against Ukraine, interference in U.S. domestic politics and involvement in Syria. It does not appear that Trump gave Putin a reason to change any of those policies, so Russian misbehavior will likely continue.

Have a great day!


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