January 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm | Published in:
Headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt [File photo]
January 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm
The news today is that the United States of America has a new President in Donald Trump. Beyond that, the world of fact and fantasy has collided to create a fake news landscape in which it is going to become increasingly difficult to separate the truth from lies.
It is a twilight zone in which the very worst dirty tricks are currently being employed. Trump has already blamed gullible US intelligence agencies for falling for a Russian dossier compiled by an ex-British spy, in which lurid allegations were made against him.
Although he dismissed the dossier angrily as fake news, it seems that Trump and his administration are selective when it comes to which fake news to believe and which to condemn out of hand. The new Washington set-up is already, for example, being duped into believing fake news about the Muslim Brotherhood. What else can we conclude when we hear that one of the first things he is preparing to do in the White House is to ban the Muslim Brotherhood in the US by declaring it to be a “terrorist organisation”?
The bill to this effect — the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act of 2015-16 — has been drafted by right-wing Republican Senator Ted Cruz. It identifies the Brotherhood and three of its offshoots, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), as “terrorist” groups.
Any reasonable person with even a modicum of understanding of the Muslim world knows that this is poppycock. Nevertheless, there are attempts to lump the Brotherhood in the same category as the Taliban, Al-Qaida and Daesh. Those who can differentiate between the ideologies of the latter three will know that from Kandahar to Raqqa, the Brotherhood is regarded as virtually heretical and hence is reviled by their supporters.
There is no doubt that as far as the pro-Israel lobby is concerned, the Brotherhood’s branch in Palestine — the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) – is the Devil’s spawn. This has to be regarded in context, though, because the Zionist lobbyists despise anyone and everyone who gives active support to the Palestinian cause, from families boycotting Israeli produce on the supermarket shelves to peaceful activists on the front line resisting Israeli teargas and bullets to protect olive trees in the occupied West Bank.
When the good people of Palestine held democratic elections and swept Hamas to power in 2006, the movement’s victory so angered the US administration that it funded, along with Israel, an attempted coup by a faction within Fatah; it failed, but the subsequent Israeli-led siege of Gaza has been in place ever since, with Washington’s full approval. America’s response to the movement’s electoral victory sent a warning shot across the region, for the benefit of the dictators and despots clinging to power, that the rest of the Arab world beyond Palestine might also want a taste of freedom and democracy.
It remains to be seen if Trump recognises the dossiers and briefings on the Muslim Brotherhood as fake, or if he will collude with the same Arab dictators and tyrants who have their own agenda as well as a long-distance relationship with the truth, along with their compliant media organisations.
Earlier this month, the Muslim Brotherhood took the unusual step of issuing an official statement decrying the fake news created to demonise the movement. This came after some sections of the media invented a story saying that the remnants of the Brotherhood in Egypt had announced “the militarisation of its movement against the military coup and that it has decided to resort to violence.”
“The General Office of the Muslim Brotherhood,” the group explained, “and all the departments affiliated with it, would like to stress that the group’s position as announced in February 2014, and which has been endorsed by the new Shura Council that was elected in the middle of this past December, of adhering to the revolutionary path in order to break the coup does not mean ‘militarising the revolution’ or heading toward violence.”
This simply means that the Brotherhood “is endeavouring to possess the tools necessary for achieving victory, in their all-encompassing definitions, based on civil resistance that peoples around the world legitimately resort to and that is supported by all the resolutions of international legitimacy in order to get rid of military dictatorship and win their freedom and dignity. This is a path that free nations cannot afford to do without in their endeavour to protect their gains and inflict defeat on the real terrorism that is being nurtured by the despotism of repressive regimes.”
The Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to bringing about change in such a troubled region as the Middle East through non-violent means should be commended and welcomed by any and all reasonable people, including those in Washington. However, it seems that the explicit statement is already being ignored by Trump’s advisors. Somebody needs to tell the new US president that his people are lying to him about the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood, both in America and overseas.
When dictatorships and rogue states that do not encourage freedom of speech, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Russia, have outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood it should be obvious that this indicates that the movement stands for the sort of values despised by such regimes and trumpeted — no pun intended — by the US and other Western states.
After the Muslim Brotherhood was swept into power in Egypt and Mohamed Morsi become its first democratically-elected leader it sent shock waves throughout the region. If freedom and democracy could come to Egypt, it was believed, then it could happen anywhere; that is why unelected regional heads of state set about spending billions of petrodollars to destabilise the Arab Spring and undermine the fledgling Morsi government in Cairo.
The result is that Egypt’s only democratically-elected president is now languishing in a Cairo hell-hole of a prison under sentence of death. Over the past three and a half years he has been joined by thousands of other political prisoners from the now banned Brotherhood. The Egyptian economy is in a mess and the government of coup leader Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi is propped up by foreign aid.
Ted Cruz’s bill requiring the US State Department to declare the Muslim Brotherhood as a “foreign terrorist organisation” looks very likely to become law just months after outgoing US President Barak Obama hosted a meeting with some senior members of the movement in Washington. A press release from the Texas senator claims that the Brotherhood “espouses a violent Islamist ideology with a mission of destroying the West”, which is contradicted completely by the group’s own statement.
If Trump hates fake news so much he should practice what he preaches; if he’s going to ban anything at all, it should be political statements by Republican ideologues like Cruz which spread false information. He has had a taste of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of lies when confronted with the dodgy intelligence dossier on his activities in a Moscow hotel. In truth, though, while most of us had a snigger at Trump’s expense, the reality is that no one died.
The deployment of misinformation about the Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, has been exploited eagerly by dictatorships with vicious crackdowns on their own citizens, at great cost to liberty and life. The stakes in this issue are high; fake news can be fatal. Now’s the time to put an end to such devious shenanigans. Trump should outlaw them today, and ignore the scaremongering about the Muslim Brotherhood by Ted Cruz or anybody else.
Donald Trump ran on a promise to tear down everything and anything Barack Obama had done.
Now it’s time for the reckoning.
Will Obama’s legacy, in fact, all be wrecked?
Will some of it stand, no matter what?
Will some of it be knocked to the ground now, with resurrection sure to come in the near future?
Marwan Bishara embarks on a journey of discovery.
Into the immediate past, the eight years of Obama.
Coming into office when America – indeed the whole world –
was on the verge of another Great Depression.
Bringing the crash to a soft landing
guiding it into a recovery.
Trying to end the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
but ending with even more chaos.
Into the shouting and confusion of today.
And a look into the future.
What will Obama’s legacy really be?
For the rest of the world.
‘EMPTY TALK’ INDEED
WASHINGTON, D.C.—It started to rain right as President Donald J. Trump started speaking. And with the rain came the darkest inaugural address Americans have ever heard from a new president.
Inaugural addresses usually are written with an eye toward the sweep of American history. They build on campaign promises but pivot to the presidential perspective: aiming to unite the nation around a common vision, infused with humility and optimism.
Think of the lines that endure: Jefferson’s “Every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle”; Lincoln’s “With malice toward none, with charity for all”; FDR’s “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”; JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Donald Trump instead offered a vision of “American carnage”—one often dissociated from fact and notably disrespectful to his predecessor and our nation’s role as a world leader.
This was an unreconstructed campaign speech, praising what he called “an historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen before.” He played explicitly to his populist working class base—the “forgotten man” of his formulation—while all but ignoring the need to reach out beyond those confines to begin to close the gap that exists in the nation, evident in his unprecedented popular vote loss and his lowest-on-record approval rating for any incoming president. The words “liberty” and equality”—the traditional pillars of American political faith were not mentioned.
In the interest of a fact-based debate, let’s look at the some of the key lines from his depressive domestic tour of America today, beginning with the bunting. Trump declared “Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people.” This is true and no person of any party would dispute it.
Then in one of the few moments of the speech that aimed for evocative imagery and emotion, he decried “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge, and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
A few facts: crime and poverty in America’s inner cities are certainly problems, as they have been for decades. But crime is down across the nation over the past decade and particularly in inner cities, Chicago being a bloody exception.
Calling rust-belt factories “tombstones” may have been the most powerful imagery of the speech but it ignores—as his campaign did—that GDP and domestic manufacturing are actually up in America over the Obama years.
These facts show that any vision of American carnage is fear mongering. The country Trump is inheriting has been improving fitfully but steadily over the Obama years. This is not a record of “empty talk,” as Trump put it to indirectly dis the outgoing president. The facts show that we are better off now than we were eight years ago: wealthier, safer and stronger by most measures. And this president will be judged by those standards.
If the speech reached the bar of “philosophy” set out by his advisors’ pre-game spin it was in the arena of economic affairs. The Reagan-era conservative standards of free trade and American leadership in international affairs has been declared dead under President Trump.
Here’s the promise of an avowed protectionist president: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”
Pat Buchanan or the most militant union leader couldn’t have phrased the protectionist commitment any clearer in their best fever dream.
Remember the Republican internationalism that united the party since Ike, reached its Cold War crescendo under Reagan and was extended to the Middle East by Bush 43? That’s gone, as well:
“For many decades we’ve enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry, subsidized the armies of other countries while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We’ve defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.”
Take it all together and it looks like isolationists finally have their president. Somewhere Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford are smiling that their phrase “America first” made it to the inaugural platform 77 years after they introduced it into the lexicon.
But there was notably few nods to American history in President Trump’s address. Instead, there was a litany of populist grievances combined with the self-congratulatory promise to finally let the people govern. The fact that anti-elite populist anger has been embodied by a celebrity billionaire has been surreal over the course of his 18-month road to the White House, but the idea that the people haven’t been electing presidents and representatives until now reinforces Trump’s peculiar self-importance, even among politicians.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the area President Trump sounded most confident and inspiring in was his promise to be a great builder. Never mind that the associated social spending on public works has been largely blocked by conservatives on Capitol Hill over the past four decades—this is an area in which Trump can lead and bipartisan coalitions might follow. The only problem is that the massive infrastructure plan has been pushed out past his first 100 days.
But inaugural addresses aren’t supposed to be about policy—there are about setting forward a positive vision for governing the whole nation while communing with the larger forces of history.
Trump’s dark inaugural failed to hit those inspiring heights and rarely seemed to even try. Instead of a sunny optimistic assessment about America, there was stormy pessimism. Instead of unity, there was division. Instead of embracing American leadership around the world, there was the promise of retreat. This was a departure from our best traditions and Republican convictions.
But this is the new president’s vision. Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.
Posted on Jan 5, 2017
As many suspected, President-elect Donald Trump’s web of business conflicts is much more complicated than he has let on.
An analysis by the Wall Street Journal published Thursday found that the incoming president owes at least $1.85 billion in debt to as many as 150 Wall Street firms and other financial institutions.
According to the examination of legal and property documents, “Hundreds of millions of dollars of debt attached to Mr. Trump’s properties, some of them backed by Mr. Trump’s personal guarantee, were packaged into securities and sold to investors over the past five years,” thus “broadening the tangle of interests that pose potential conflicts for the incoming president’s administration.”
In May, Trump filed documents with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that disclosed $315 million owed to 10 companies—but that only included debts for companies that Trump completely controls, “excluding more than $1.5 billion lent to partnerships that are 30 percent owned by him,” WSJ reported.
“As a result,” wrote WSJ reporters Jean Eaglesham and Lisa Schwartz, “a broader array of financial institutions now are in a potentially powerful position over the incoming president.”
Put more directly, as Think Progress’s Judd Legum did: “As president, Trump will be responsible for regulating entities that he also owes money to.”
In one troubling example, the investigation found that Wells Fargo, currently under investigation for a years-long banking fraud scandal, “runs at least five mutual funds that own portions of Trump businesses’ securitized debt;” is “a trustee or administrator for pools of securitized loans that include $282 million of loans to Mr. Trump;” and “acts as a special servicer for $950 million of loans to a property that one of Mr. Trump’s companies partly owns.”
“Once he takes office,” Eaglesham and Schwartz observed, “Mr. Trump will appoint the heads of many of the regulators that police the bank.”
The spread of Trump’s debt can in large part be attributed to the process known as “securitization,” when debt is repackaged into bonds and sold off. More than $1 billion of debt connected to the president-elect has been handled in this way.
While concerns over Trump’s conflicts of interest continue to mount, the president-elect has thus far failed to address the issue. Despite warnings from ethics attorneys, he has refused to divest his business holdings, though there were reports that he would hand the reins of the real estate empire over to his sons and advisors, Donald Jr. and Eric. At the same time, a December press conference was postponed and is now scheduled for Jan. 11—the same day as some of his more controversial appointees’ confirmation hearings.