Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Calling For 'Renewal Of The American Spirit,' Trump Outlines Optimistic Vision
President Trump pushed the reset button after a rocky first month in office, delivering an on-message joint address to Congress that outlined an optimistic vision for America.
"I am here tonight to deliver a message of unity and strength, and it is a message deeply delivered from my heart," Trump said at the outset, declaring that "the torch of truth, liberty and justice...is now in our hands. And we will use it to light up the world."
On national security, the president said he had directed the Pentagon to "develop a plan to demolish and destroy ISIS," while promising to "work with our allies, including our friends and allies in the Muslim world, to extinguish this vile enemy from our planet." - Read More, NPR
Trump’s Address to Congress: Video and Transcript
President Trump on Tuesday delivered his first address to a joint session of Congress. The following is a partial transcript, as provided by the White House and prepared by the Federal News Service.
Free nations are the best vehicle for expressing the will of the people — and America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path. My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America. But we know that America is better off, when there is less conflict — not more.
We must learn from the mistakes of the past — we have seen the war and destruction that have raged across our world.
The only long-term solution for these humanitarian disasters is to create the conditions where displaced persons can safely return home and begin the long process of rebuilding.
America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align. We want harmony and stability, not war and conflict.
From now on, America will be empowered by our aspirations, not burdened by our fears — inspired by the future, not bound by the failures of the past — and guided by our vision, not blinded by our doubts.
I am asking all citizens to embrace this renewal of the American spirit. I am asking all members of Congress to join me in dreaming big and bold and daring things for our country. And I am asking everyone watching tonight to seize this moment and —
Believe in yourselves. Believe in your future. And believe, once more, in America. - Read More, NYTimes
Monday, February 27, 2017
Selling Trump a new Afghanistan commitment - By Josh Rogin
The Trump administration is considering whether to plunge more resources and troops into the United States’ longest war — Afghanistan — as some of the president’s top generals are calling for. The issue pits President Trump’s commitment to end nation-building against his promise to stamp out terrorism in a conflict where a clear U.S. strategy is sorely lacking.
After more than 15 years of U.S. fighting, the war is at a crossroads. The Afghan national security forces are on their heels. The government is asking the United States and its NATO partners to help it go on offense against the Taliban, which has been taking territory with the help of Pakistan, Iran and Russia. The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John W. Nicholson, has publicly testified that he wants “a few thousand” more troops there. He also says there is a need for a more “holistic review” of the mission.
As Defense Secretary Jim Mattis prepares a formal recommendation to the White House, debate has renewed in Washington on whether the United States is throwing good money after bad in Afghanistan. But as far as the Afghan government is concerned, there’s really no safe alternative.
“The Taliban, while they may not be directly planning direct attacks on U.S. territory, they provide the environment for all kinds of terrorist groups to operate,” Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington, told me. “If we allow any terrorist group to succeed, it doesn’t matter what terrorist group, it emboldens all of them.”
There’s an immediate need for equipment and personnel, he said, before the start of the summer fighting season, which is sure to be bloody. If thousands more U.S. troops arrive, they would serve in an advise-and-training role, not direct combat. But the idea is to embed them in Afghan units, placing them closer to the fighting.
The Afghan government is also asking for helicopters, special forces gear and intelligence assistance to fill urgent shortfalls. For example, the Afghan military’s fleet of Russian helicopters is mostly grounded, in part because of a lack of spare parts as a result of U.S. sanctions against Russia.
“Arbitrary political limits make it harder to accomplish the mission,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) told me. “It is equally important that the president make the public case for our continued presence in Afghanistan. . . . President Obama never made that case, and our mission suffered for it.”
The generals supporting the plan could strengthen their case by getting NATO allies to make human and financial commitments up front. That would address Trump’s criticism that NATO doesn’t do counterterrorism and doesn’t pay its fair share. The generals might also argue that Afghanistan is a natural long-term partner for the regional fight against terrorism, which is not going away soon.
Experts mostly agree, though, that surging resources to bolster the Afghan security forces is a stopgap measure at best. Without a comprehensive strategy that deals with Pakistan’s insistence on providing support and sanctuary for the Taliban, no gains are sustainable. A new strategy also must include a plausible path to return to negotiations to end the conflict. For now, the Taliban doesn’t feel enough pressure to compromise.
Selling a new U.S. commitment to Trump and then to the American people will not be easy. But if the administration is able to tune out the politics, share the burden and follow a clear strategy, the benefits of the deal will outweigh the costs. - Read More
Trump touts spending plan, but promise to leave entitlements alone puts GOP in a quandary
President Trump is preparing a budget that would fulfill some of his top campaign promises by boosting military spending while cutting domestic programs.
But his reluctance to embrace cuts to entitlement programs could lead to sharp tensions with Republicans in Congress who have long argued that Medicare and Social Security must be overhauled to ensure the government’s fiscal health.
The White House on Monday announced the first details of the president’s spending plan, highlighting a $54 billion increase in defense spending and equal cuts to domestic programs, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and foreign aid.
Trump touts spending plan, but promise to leave entitlements alone puts GOP in a quandary
White House officials skirted questions about whether the budget would include proposals to slow the growth of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the largest drivers of federal spending. But Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), have for years argued that spending increases must be accompanied by significant changes to entitlements.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted Monday that the president intends to keep his campaign promise to preserve the programs, but avoided commenting on whether there is any wiggle room, such as protecting current beneficiaries while implementing future changes.
In his speech, Trump is expected to outline an optimistic vision for the country, touting his intent to replace the Affordable Care Act, implement policies to help working parents and address national security concerns, including rebuilding the U.S. military.- Read More
George W. Bush opens up on Trump's war with the media, Russia and travel ban
George W. Bush opens up on Trump's war with the media, Russia and travel ban.
Early on in the exclusive sit-down, the former president expressed a clear-eyed support for the news media, saying a free press was "indispensable to democracy."
"We need an independent media to hold people like me to account," Bush told TODAY'S Matt Lauer.
"Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power." - Read More
Bush Weighs In On Trump Presidency, Calling Press 'Indispensable To Democracy'
It started out a simple, human interest story featuring a former president and his post-White House hobby — painting watercolors of world leaders, and now, portraits of American soldiers, wounded during military service.
But before it was over, that president, George W. Bush, made real news by doing something he had never before done in a public forum since leaving office: discussing at length the current occupant of the Oval Office.
All through the Obama years, Bush avoided questions about the policies of his successor. Even as Obama reversed Bush's executive orders. Even when Obama likened his predecessor's policies to driving the car "into the ditch." Bush avoided such debate, once telling CNN, "It's a hard job. It's difficult. ... A former president doesn't need to make it any harder." In a speech in Canada just weeks into the Obama presidency, Bush told his audience he wouldn't spend his time criticizing Obama, "and if he wants my help, he can pick up the phone and call me."
Which brings us to NBC's Today on Monday morning. - Read More, NPR
Pakistan Drives Out Afghan Refugees: "Now You're Calling Us Terrorists?"
(Kabul, February 13, 2017) – Pakistani authorities have carried out a campaign of abuses and threats to drive out nearly 600,000 Afghans since July 2016. The returnees include 365,000 registered refugees, making it the world’s largest mass forced return of refugees in recent years. They now face spiraling armed conflict, violence, destitution, and displacement in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s has been abusive towards refugees, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is promoting the exodus. Through enhancing its “voluntary repatriation” program and failing to publicly call for an end to coercive practices, the UN agency has become complicit in Pakistan’s mass refugee abuse. The UN and international donors should press Pakistan to end the abuses, protect the remaining 1.1 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and allow refugees among the other estimated 750,000 unregistered Afghans there to seek protection.- Read More, HRW
Refugee Rights -- Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch’s Refugee Rights Program defends the rights of refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced people worldwide. We respond to emergencies as well as chronic situations, focusing especially on documenting government efforts to block access to asylum, to deprive asylum seekers of rights to fair hearings of their refugee claims, and to the forcible return of people to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened. We conduct on-the-ground investigations to speak with uprooted people and document abuses against them. We take our findings directly to policy-makers and the media as we advocate for governments to improve access to asylum, to stop forced returns, and to ensure that all migrants are treated with dignity and regard for their basic human rights. - Read More
Europe’s Migration Crisis
Trump seeks 'historic' increase of 9 percent in U.S. military's budget
President Donald Trump is seeking what he called a "historic" 9 percent increase in military spending, even as the United States has wound down major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and remains the world's strongest military power.
Trump will ask Congress to boost Pentagon spending in the next fiscal year by $54 billion in his first budget proposal and slash the same amount from non-defense spending, including a large reduction in foreign aid, a White House budget official said on Monday.
The president does not have the final say on federal spending. His plan for the military is part of a budget proposal to Congress, which although it is controlled by his fellow Republicans, will not necessarily follow his plans. Budget negotiations with lawmakers can take months to play out.
Trump told state governors at the White House that his budget plan included a "historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America."
"This is a landmark event and message to the world in these dangerous times, of American strength, security and resolve. We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war and when called upon to fight in our name, only do one thing: Win," he said.
Officials familiar with Trump's budget blueprint said the defense increase would be financed partly by cuts to the State Department, Environmental Protection Agency and other non-defense programs.
“We’re going to do more with less and make the government lean and accountable to the people," Trump said.
Trump's budget will not seek cuts in federal social programs such as Social Security and Medicare, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday. - Read More
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Academy Awards 2017: Complete list of Oscar winners and nominees - latimes
The 89th Academy Awards have come to an end, where “Moonlight” was awarded the best picture Oscar after it was erroneously awarded to “La La Land” in a moment of onstage confusion.
“La La Land” ended up with six Oscars including director and lead actress (Emma Stone).Casey Affleck took home the lead actor award for “Manchester By the Sea,” while “Moonlight’s” Mahershala Ali took home the trophy for supporting actor. Viola Davis won the supporting actress Oscar for her work in “Fences.” - Read More
Warren Beatty explains how they incorrectly announced 'La La Land' as best picture
I want to tell you what happened. I opened the envelope and it said Emma Stone, 'La La Land.' That's why I took such a long look at Faye [Dunaway] and at you. I wasn't trying to be funny." - latimes
Saturday, February 25, 2017
California submits a $100-billion wish list of infrastructure projects to Trump for federal funding - latimes
With President Trump pledging $1 trillion for infrastructure, California officials on Wednesday took a break from their feud with the new administration to propose a list of $100 billion in projects for possible federal funding to help rebuild the Golden State’s system of crumbling roads and bridges and improve transit and water storage.
Any federal money for the 51 projects would be in addition to money California is hoping to raise for its aging infrastructure, wrote Nancy McFadden, the governor’s executive secretary, in a letter to the National Governors Assn.
“In the short-term, these projects will benefit businesses up and down the state and put thousands to work — many in communities with the highest rates of unemployment,” McFadden wrote. “Long-term, this investment will have lasting, expansive economic benefits by moving goods and people faster, protecting vulnerable communities from flooding, bolstering emergency response capabilities, saving and storing more water and improving energy reliability.”
The list of priority projects includes roads, levees, bridges, ports, train and public transit systems, water storage and recycling projects, and energy, military, veterans and emergency operations facilities and services.
The state faces a $136-billion backlog of necessary repairs on state highways and local roads, and Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed in his new budget to increase spending on transportation $4.3 billion a year for the next decade.
Gov. Brown's office said Wednesday it had agreed with legislative leaders to an April 6 deadline for any transportation funding deal. - Read More
Friday, February 24, 2017
Trump vows military build-up, hammers nationalist themes
President Donald Trump said he would make a massive budget request for one of the "greatest military buildups in American history" on Friday in a feisty, campaign-style speech extolling robust nationalism to eager conservative activists.
Trump used remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an organization that gave him one of his first platforms in his improbable journey to the U.S. presidency, to defend his unabashed "America first" policies.
Ahead of a nationally televised speech to Congress on Tuesday, Trump outlined plans for strengthening the U.S. military, already the world's most powerful fighting force, and other initiatives such as tax reform and regulatory rollback.
He offered few specifics on any initiatives, including the budget request that is likely to face a harsh reality on Capitol Hill: At a time when he wants to slash taxes for Americans, funding a major military buildup without spending cuts elsewhere would add substantially to the U.S. budget deficit.
Trump said he would aim to upgrade the military in both offensive and defensive capabilities, with a massive spending request to Congress that would make the country's defense "bigger and better and stronger than ever before."
"And, hopefully, we’ll never have to use it, but nobody is going to mess with us. Nobody. It will be one of the greatest military buildups in American history," Trump said.
His speech was heavy on the nationalist overtones from his campaign last year, focusing on promises to boost U.S. economic growth by retooling international trade deals, cracking down on immigration and boosting energy production.- More, Reuters
SIGAR released its thirty-fourth Quarterly Report to Congress, highlighting the role national procurement reform plays in Afghanistan's fight against corruption
In Afghanistan, the potential for monetary losses from corruption—not to mention other losses from poor management and oversight practices—is almost certainly more substantial. As SIGAR and other organizations have repeatedly found, Afghanistan suffers from limited institutional capacity to conduct basic governmental functions, and from widespread and systemic corruption that consistently places it near the bottom of international rankings for public perception of corruption.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has taken an active role in supporting procurement reform in Afghanistan. SIGAR views vigilant oversight and Afghan reform initiatives as important means of protecting American taxpayers’ aid money as more of it passes into budgetary control by Afghan ministries. - Read More
January 30, 2017 Quarterly Report to Congress (PDF)
SIGAR released its thirty-fourth Quarterly Report to Congress, highlighting the role national procurement reform plays in Afghanistan's fight against corruption - More
SIGAR’s High-Risk List highlights the greatest threats facing the US reconstruction effort in Afghanistan for the incoming Administration and the 115th Congress - More
Trump's New Adviser Is Known for Respecting Muslims - By Eli Lake
In some ways, President Donald Trump's new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, is a lot like the man he is replacing, Michael Flynn. Both rose to the rank of three-star generals in the Army. Their worldviews were formed during the war in Iraq.
At key points in their careers, the two generals were withering critics of the groupthink endemic to the strategic class. For Flynn this was a devastating paper he published in 2010 critiquing intelligence collection in Afghanistan. For McMaster this was his 1997 book on the failures of the military leadership to speak truth to power during the Vietnam War.
But McMaster and Flynn are very different in their assessment of America's relationship with Islam and how this influences the long war on terror. In recent years, Flynn has focused on defeating the ideology of radical Islam. McMaster, on the other hand, has focused on getting radical Muslims to turn on al Qaeda and other terrorists.
Let's start with Flynn. Like the president he served, the retired general believes America should wage a political war against radical Islam. In his more heated moments, Flynn spoke about Islam itself as a political ideology, and one that is at war with Western values. Radical Islam's threat to the West was a key theme in his 2016 book "Field of Fight," which he co-wrote with historian Michael Ledeen. In interviews with me over the years, Flynn has taken a more nuanced view on this than some others in Trump's orbit. Nonetheless, his approach, like Trump's, broke with George W. Bush and Barack Obama in emphasizing the differences between political Islam and Western values.
McMaster has taken a different approach. He helped rewrite the Army's counterinsurgency doctrine during the Iraq war, to apply the lessons of this kind of asymmetric warfare to the Muslim world. This meant in practice that he learned how to make allies out of Muslim fighters who had killed Americans, to turn the local population against al Qaeda. In McMaster's war, ideological purity was a hindrance to an effective campaign for the hearts and minds of pious Muslims.
Iraqis and Muslims won't see him as someone who hates Islam, even if the Trump administration is perceived that way. I have never heard him say anything against Islam," Jensen said. "Being respectful is one of his defining characteristics."
Privately, some of McMaster's allies worry that he will not have the power and influence of other political aides to Trump, like chief strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon has called Islam a "religion of submission." He has a seat on the National Security Council; McMaster will now lead it. - Read More, Bloomberg
H.R. McMaster Breaks With Administration on Views of Islam - nytimes
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s newly appointed national security adviser has told his staff that Muslims who commit terrorist acts are perverting their religion, rejecting a key ideological view of other senior Trump advisers and signaling a potentially more moderate approach to the Islamic world.
The adviser, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, told the staff of the National Security Council on Thursday, in his first “all hands” staff meeting, that the label “radical Islamic terrorism” was not helpful because terrorists are “un-Islamic,” according to people who were in the meeting.
That is a repudiation of the language regularly used by both the president and General McMaster’s predecessor, Michael T. Flynn, who resigned last week after admitting that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about a phone call with a Russian diplomat.
It is also a sign that General McMaster, a veteran of the Iraq war known for his sense of history and independent streak, might move the council away from the ideologically charged views of Mr. Flynn, who was also a three-star Army general before retiring.
General McMaster, several officials said, has been vocal about his views on dealing with Islamic militancy, including with Mr. Trump, who on Monday described him as “a man of tremendous talent, tremendous experience.” General McMaster got the job after Mr. Trump’s first choice, Robert S. Harward, a retired Navy vice admiral, turned it down.
Within a day of his appointment on Monday, General McMaster was popping into offices to introduce himself to the council’s professional staff members. The staff members, many of them holdovers from the Obama administration, felt viewed with suspicion by Mr. Trump’s team and shut out of the policy-making process, according to current and former officials.
In his language, General McMaster is closer to the positions of former Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush. Both took pains to separate acts of terrorism from Islamic teaching, in part because they argued that the United States needed the help of Muslim allies to hunt down terrorists.
“This is very much a repudiation of his new boss’s lexicon and worldview,” said William McCants, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of “The ISIS Apocalypse.”
“McMaster, like Obama, is someone who was in positions of leadership and thought the United States should not play into the jihadist propaganda that this is a religious war,” Mr. McCants said.
“There is a deep hunger for McMaster’s view in the interagency,” he added, referring to the process by which the State Department, Pentagon and other agencies funnel recommendations through the National Security Council. “The fact that he has made himself the champion of this view makes people realize they have an advocate to express dissenting opinions.”
But Mr. McCants and others cautioned that General McMaster’s views would not necessarily be the final word in a White House where Mr. Trump and several of his top advisers view Islam in deeply xenophobic terms. Some aides, including the president’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, have warned of a looming existential clash between Islam and the Judeo-Christian world. - Read More
Thursday, February 23, 2017
The children living in limbo: 'I feel 100 years old instead of 16' - The Guardian
He climbed the snow-capped mountains between Afghanistan and Iran, reluctantly boarded one of the fallible boats from Turkey to Greece, made his way across mainland Europe to Sweden, and he did the whole thing on his own at the age of 15. But the most significant journey Habibullah takes is the one that starts at 7am every morning. This is when he leaves his refugee camp in Linkoping, Sweden, and makes his way to school.
Every day he takes four buses – two there and two back – but it’s his chance to make a success of leaving his home in Afghanistan. He hopes it will make that traumatic trip across the world worthwhile. “I go to show my talent and I want to improve. I’m not good at maths or chemistry but I’m interested in English and Swedish.”
Habibullah will soon turn 17, which means he’s a little older than his 15- to 16-year-old classmates in the ninth grade, but he’s very proud of the fact that he can keep pace with them in many subjects, particularly in English.
However, it’s been making friends with the local children at school that’s proved a major challenge. “The Swedish children are friendly but unfortunately they don’t speak a lot [to me],” he says.
“But they are very kind …” he adds quickly, keen to clarify he’s not complaining. Finishing any story about how difficult he finds something on a positive note is a conversational tic of Habibullah’s.
“I was in such a bad situation over the last year but now I’m fine. I just need my brain to accept all of the things that happened to me,” he says. “I feel 100-years-old instead of 16. Everyone has the same question: ‘Can I help?’ But no-one can help me be happy.”
Sweden’s asylum policy is different to that of many other countries, and he is not only able to go to school but he has also been assigned a godmother, who is teaching Habibullah the Swedish way of doing things. The thing he’s most perplexed by is the Swedish habit of always being absolutely punctual. “If you are even one minute late, people are so cross,” he sighs. - Read More
McMaster has the Islamophobes worried, and that’s a good thing - WILLIAM MCCANTS
When America’s most influential Islamophobes are upset, you know the president made a good choice. “Score one [for] the swamp,” whined Robert Spencer upon hearing the news that Donald Trump appointed Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to be his national security adviser. Spencer makes a living scaring Americans about the dangers of Muslim soccer moms. “John Bolton lost out to this guy?” sputtered his frequent partner in whine, Pamela Geller, who scoffed at the general for saying, “Every time you disrespect an Iraqi, you’re working for the enemy.”
The Islamophobes are not wrong to sense that McMaster will be hostile to their worldview, according to those who know him best. McMaster spent much of his career fighting and winning wars in the Middle East, which required him to know the local cultures and treat Muslims like humans rather than scripturally programmed robots. “He absolutely does not view Islam as the enemy,” said Pete Mansoor, who served with McMaster in Iraq. “He understands that the world is not one dimensional, that the Muslim world is not one dimensional,” said John Nagl, who also served with McMaster. In other words, the complicated causes of terrorism require complicated solutions.
McMaster’s nuanced views will likely be at odds with those of the president’s chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, and the other members of Bannon’s so-called Strategic Initiatives Group, a policymaking body he co-leads with the president’s son-in-law and chief of staff. Bannon believes the teachings of Islam and a supine West are primarily to blame for jihadist terrorism, as does his counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka. Both scoff at the idea that jihadism arises from a confluence of factors, most of which are not religious. - More, Politico