The president’s performance in Paris was a stunning abdication of global leadership!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SLATE NEWS)

 

Trump Retreats From the West

The president’s performance in Paris was a stunning abdication of global leadership.

U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte Macron attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday.
U.S. President Donald Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and his wife Brigitte Macron attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday.
Benoit Tessier/AFP/Getty Images

The most disturbing thing about President Trump’s disgraceful performance in France this past weekend is the clear signal it sent that, under his thumb, the United States has left the West.

He came to the continent to join with other world leaders to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. But the significance of the armistice is not so much to commemorate the fallen in an absurd and ghastly war as it is to celebrate the special peace—grounded in a democratic European Union and a trans-Atlantic alliance—that grew in its wake and the greater war that followed.

And yet, after flying nearly 4,000 miles across the Atlantic, Trump stayed in his room in Paris on Saturday rather than making the additional 50-mile trip to the Aisne-Marne cemetery, where 50,000 American soldiers were laid to rest a century ago. His excuse for not attending was lame, to say the least. His aides said, after the fact, that rainfall precluded a trip by helicopter—a claim refuted by the writer James Fallows, an instrument-certified pilot who, as a former White House official, is familiar with this helicopter.

A later claim, that the route posed a challenge to the large presidential motorcade, is doubly insulting. It’s insulting, first, to the Secret Service and White House travel office whose professionals prepare for, and surmount, any and all obstacles on such trips (an insult exacerbated by the fact that none of the other leaders’ security teams had any trouble dealing with the route); second, to the armed forces and allies, who must wonder whether Trump might turn away from the challenges of mobilizing armored battalions to the front lines in the event of an invasion.

Let us stipulate that Trump didn’t want to get his hair mussed or that security risks frightened him, which may also explain the fact that he hasn’t yet visited American troops in any war zone. (By contrast, Obama made his first trip to Iraq three months into his term and, in his time as president, flew eight times to Afghanistan; George W. Bush, in his two terms, made four trips to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.) However, this does not explain Trump’s late showing for Sunday’s ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, or his skipping of the march toward that event down the Champs-Elysees.

Among the more than 60 world leaders who gathered for the ceremony, only he and Russian President Vladimir Putin were latecomers. (British Prime Minister Theresa May didn’t come to France at all, perhaps owing to her own current problems with the EU.) Many cocked eyebrows have been thrown at the photo of Trump beaming at Putin, while other allied leaders went deadpan, as his friend from the Kremlin approached.

Back in 1917, Russia was the first allied nation to leave the war as the Bolsheviks took power, in part thanks to the Germans, who smuggled Lenin onto a train from Zurich back home, where he proceeded to lead the revolution. That same year, the United States was the last allied nation to enter the war, supplying the aid and firepower that helped break the stalemate and secure victory.

President Woodrow Wilson then led negotiations for a peace on such onerous terms to the defeated powers—historian David Fromkin called it “a peace to end all peace”—that a resumption of war 20 years later was almost inevitable. World War II was fueled by nationalist impulses and facilitated by the crumbling of empires—both of which resonate with developments in global politics today.

This was the context of French President Emmanuel Macron’s speech at the Arc de Triomphe, in which he condemned nationalism—the “selfishness of nations only looking after their own interests”—as a “betrayal of patriotism.” In part, and most obviously, he was jabbing at Trump, who listened with a scowl; but he was also warning against, as he put it, “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death.” Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it, George Santayana once wrote. The problem with Trump is he never knew history—and doesn’t think he needs to learn it. His election marked Year Zero, as far as he is concerned: He frequently says that he’s unlike, and better than, any previous president, so any lessons of the past are irrelevant.

Macron and everyone else at the Arc had not only the rise of Trump in mind but also the turn toward right-wing nationalism in Hungary and Poland, the uncertain course of Brexit in Britain, and the collapse of Angela Merkel’s centrist coalition in Germany—leaving Macron as the last surviving celebrator of the post-WWII Western traditions, and he too is buffeted by pressures from the left and the right.

At such an occasion so rife with moment and symbolism, any other American president would have felt compelled to repair and strengthen this union. If there were any doubts that President Trump understands little about his mission, and cares even less, this trip dispelled them once and for all.

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Global Leaders Snub The Jerk Trump At Meeting Of World Leaders

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO NEWS AGENCY)

 

WHITE HOUSE

Global leaders snub Trump and his nationalistic vision

Amid Armistice Day events in France, the president stands at the outskirts of the world stage.

SURESNES, France — President Donald Trump looked very much alone in Paris this weekend, isolated from European leaders and longtime U.S. allies as he continued to pursue his “America First” agenda.

He seemed most at ease late Sunday afternoon, on the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, as he visited the Suresnes American Cemetery and memorial just outside Paris, where the stage and star power were his alone.

There, standing before rows upon rows of simple white crosses with a view of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, he commemorated Americans killed in “The Great War” and paid tribute to the way the U.S. fought alongside European nations.

“Earlier this year, President Macron presented an oak sapling from Belleau Wood as a gift to our nation — an enduring reminder of our friendship sealed in battle,” Trump told the audience, referring to the French president’s state visit in April. “We fought well together. You could not fight better than we fought together.”

He called Suresnes the “highlight” of his trip during his roughly 10-minute speech, and joked to the six World War II veterans in attendance that he hoped “I look like that someday.”

It was the rare moment in Paris, an event where Trump was in control and could try to shine, coming off a weekend in which European leaders rebuked him both implicitly and explicitly. From Macron to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the message seemed clear: Trump is taking the U.S. in a more isolated direction, while former allies band together to reject him.

Before roughly 70 world leaders, Macron, for instance, criticized the nationalist movement that Trump has embraced and made a cornerstone of his two-year-old presidency.

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said earlier Sunday at a ceremony in Paris. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism by saying, ‘Our interest first, who cares about the others?’”

Even the optics of that Armistice Day event showed Trump on the outskirts. European leaders took buses to the event and proceeded toward the Arc de Triomphe as church bells rang, while the president and first lady Melania Trump entered once the European leaders had already taken their places on risers. The only person who arrived after Trump was President Vladimir Putin of Russia, who made his own grand entrance.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump arrived after the group of Europeans because of “security protocols.”

The White House’s decision to scrap a planned visit to the Aisne-Marne memorial because of rainy and overcast weather on Saturday caused its own backlash online and in Europe. Aisne-Marne is the burial site of 2,289 veterans. The monument at an adjacent site, Belleau Wood, celebrates U.S. Marines who fought there in a pivotal battle in 1918.

Winston Churchill’s grandson Nicholas Soames wrote on Twitter: “They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen.”

European leaders piled on, too, with Macron posting a photo to social media of him and Merkel clasping hands at Compiègne, the site of the signing of the ceasefire agreement that stopped World War I.

The two-day trip provided moment after moment of this pattern: Trump holding himself apart from European leaders as they, in turn, refused to abide by his actions and rhetoric. For foreign policy experts, it was a long-anticipated moment in which Macron showed the limits of his like-fest with Trump and sought to assert himself as a strong leader on a continent where the alliances are rapidly shifting.

Later Sunday afternoon, Macron again distanced himself from the American president shortly before Air Force One took off for the U.S.

“I’m a strong believer in cooperation between the different peoples, and I’m a strong believer of the fact that this cooperation is good for everybody, where the nationalists are sometimes much more based on a unilateral approach,” Macron said during a CNN interview, one coda to the weekend.

100 Years Since Her Execution, Was Mata Hari a Sexy Spy or a Sexy Scapegoat?

(I FOUND THIS ON GOOGLE PLUS, THOUGHT THAT SOME OF YOU MIGHT LIKE IT SO I RE-BLOGGED IT OVER HERE FOR YOU.)(Terry Westbrook Lienhert)

 

FEMME FATALE

100 Years Since Her Execution, Was Mata Hari a Sexy Spy or a Sexy Scapegoat?

At nearly every turn, Margaretha Zelle MacLeod made the wrong choices. Yet she managed to create a persona that continues to dance on the crowded stage of popular culture.

PARIS—Her name lives on a century after they stood her in front of a firing squad on Oct. 15, 1917, and watched her die: Mata Hari, treacherous spy, devious liar, a wicked woman to the core. Or was she something else entirely? Was she isolated and vulnerable, spinning an identity and a living from illusion and sexuality, little more than a victim of male bias and scapegoat for military failure?

Nothing about Mata Hari was simple and clear, not then, not now. Rising from the ambiguity are a thousand legends and interpretations, each projecting onto her a tale of their own, in books and films, now even on Twitter and Facebook. Margaretha Zelle MacLeod, a middle-class Dutch divorcée from Leeuwarden, died, but Mata Hari, femme fatale and exotic dancer, has become eternal. She might consider that her greatest success.

“Mata Hari and Madame Zelle MacLeod are two completely different women,” she wrote in a June 5, 1917, letter to Captain Pierre Bouchardon, the military judge investigating her case, which is part of the Mata Hari dossier held at the Service Historiques de la Défense archives outside Paris. “Today with the war, the passport, I am obliged to live and sign Zelle, but that woman is not known to people. As for me, I consider myself to be Mata Hari.”

“At 16, she had an affair with the 51-year-old headmaster. She was expelled; he continued his career.”

If it weren’t for her obsession with money, her fame might have been short-lived, her name obscure to us today. But she had found herself alone and empty-handed more than once, and it had marked her deeply. Add to that obsession a lifelong pattern of poor decisions and woeful attachments, landing in the middle of cultural and national strife, and the fate of Mata Hari seems nearly a tale foretold.

When she was 13, her fairly successful father declared bankruptcy and abandoned the family, her mother suffered a breakdown, and Margaretha was left to care for three younger siblings. At 16, placed in a teacher-training school, a path to earning a living, she had an affair with the 51-year-old headmaster. She was expelled; he continued his career. It was perhaps her first lesson that in the wake of scandal, the woman takes the blame. She walked right by it.

In 1895, she found a husband. According to A Tangled Web, the latest Mata Hari biography by British archivist Mary W. Craig, Rudolf MacLeod was a 39-year-old lieutenant of Scottish descent in the Dutch colonial service, posted in today’s Indonesia. In order to advance in rank, he would need a wife, but as he had syphilis, permission to marry would be denied. He sneaked around the rules, advertised in a local newspaper and was answered by 18-year-old Margaretha Zelle. She agreed to marry him six days after they met. She got more than she bargained for.

Within three years, they had two children, a boy and a girl, and a disintegrating marriage in an isolated outpost of central Java. MacLeod drank, gambled, kept mistresses, and worst of all, he beat her, violently and regularly.

For distraction, she watched the Javanese servants dance in the garden, soon learned the sinuous, sensuous moves, and danced with them. The family was transferred to North Sumatra, and within a month, the children fell ill, and the boy died, at age 2. MacLeod raged; she stayed out of his way, and learned new dances. In 1902, they were sent back to the Netherlands, where she filed for divorce, based on abuse.

“She was a harbinger of a new style of dancing and expression that would come to define the Belle Epoque.”

Given custody of their daughter, but receiving none of the court-appointed support from MacLeod, Margaretha began frequenting houses of ill-repute. MacLeod had her followed, and took their daughter away from her. She moved to Paris, broke and alone, tried modeling, acting, and finally dancing. Her big break came in 1905 when Emile Guimet asked her to perform at his Musée Guimet, before an elite audience, and the press raved about the seductive Javanese dancer in breastplates and headdress, filmy veils and discreet bodystocking, just a glimpse away from nudity. She took the stage name Mata Hari, Malay for “eye of the sun.”

She was a harbinger of a new style of dancing and expression that would come to define the Belle Époque. Those were the years when Vaslav Nijinsky danced in tights, with a sensuality never before seen at the Paris ballet, in Afternoon of a Faun, while barefoot Isadora Duncan launched modern dance, and Igor Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” upended the idea of music composition. Mata Hari was part of the creative excitement, and parlayed her reputation for exotic sensuality into finding wealthy lovers to support her in grand style.

When her husband’s second marriage ended in divorce, she tried to get custody of her daughter, but her lifestyle encouraged the court to consider MacLeod the more stable household. Both her children likely were infected at birth with syphilis; her daughter died in 1919, at age 21, of a cerebral hemorrhage, according to Craig. At the time of her arrest, Mata Hari had among her toiletries a mercury-based ointment, the only treatment then available for syphilis symptoms. Both the disease and the treatment could cause brain damage: Was she affected?

Mata Hari was highly paid for her dancing, but entirely profligate in her spending. She gave a series of performances at the Olympia in Paris in autumn 1906, for a fee of 10,000 FF ($50,000 today). She also was named in the first of a series of lawsuits for unpaid bills, for 12,000 FF in jewelry she ordered, but did not cover. This would become a habit. As soon as she had some money, she threw it at clothes, furs, jewelry, carriages. She believed that creating a successful illusion of beauty and mystery did not come cheaply.

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“I am a dancer, and after the war, I may be obliged to take theater engagements in Berlin or Vienna, as in Paris. I am not married. I am a woman who travels a great deal. I am to be excused for losing the notion of money,” she wrote in late May to the French judge. “Sometimes I lose, sometimes I win.”

The gamble she took in 1915 would turn out to be of the highest stakes, although she did not realize it until nearly the end. She was living in Berlin in the summer of 1914, waiting for a performance scheduled for September at the Metropol Theater, entertaining several lovers, including the chief of police. The eruption of the war in August took everyone by surprise, but as a foreigner in Berlin, it also froze her bank account and confiscated her goods. Among them were furs that she later said were worth 80,000 FF. That was a loss she would not let go.

In her own words, she was an international woman. She spoke several languages, she traveled around Europe constantly, she had lovers in every country, it seemed. With the advent of war, borders were secured, passports required, questions asked. Ambiguity and mystery were no longer assets, but instead brought her rapidly to the attention of the authorities. She was a woman with no fixed home, no husband, no steady source of income.

“I am not married. I am a woman who travels a great deal. I am to be excused for losing the notion of money.”

“I should have realized before leaving but I thought things were like the year before, and unfortunately, everything has changed,” she wrote on July 6, to her maid in the Netherlands. “People are meaner, difficulties and formalities are insurmountable. Traveling has become an impossibility for a woman like me.”

Her prolific sex life also made her vulnerable to charges of treason. At that time, sexuality outside the norm—and the excess of Mata Hari’s affairs shocked even somewhat-liberal France—was considered to reflect the whole of a person’s moral character. With war, the focus was on patriotism. For a woman whose primary support came from her sexual relationships, it was not an enormous leap for the authorities to believe that she might sell her country as well. And nearly all of Mata Hari’s lovers were military officers. The investigating judge of the Third Military Court of France, Captain Bouchardon, listed them in his report on the case: a Dutch colonel, a Belgian commandant, a Russian captain as main lovers, but also passing through officers from Montenegro, Italy, two from Ireland, three or four English, and at least five French.

“I like officers,” she responded when he questioned her. “I have liked them all my life. I would rather be the mistress of a poor officer than of a rich banker.”

The crux of the case against her was that she took 20,000 FF from the German consul in Amsterdam in the summer of 1916, when French soldiers were dying at a rate of some 40,000 a month under German artillery barrages at Verdun. She admitted that the consul asked her to spy for him, and swore she did not do it. She took the cash, dumped the invisible ink, and moved to Paris. It was revenge for losing her furs, she insisted through five months of interrogation.

“Mata Hari saw an opportunity to recompense herself, that is all,” she wrote in the June 5 letter to Captain Bouchardon. “But I beg you to believe me. I have never committed an act of espionage against France. Never. Never.”

There was another payment though, 5,000 FF, that came to her through a man suspected of being a German agent. And then the French intelligence services got copies of German telegrams describing the movements of their Agent H-21, actions and contacts that matched Mata Hari’s to the minute and the letter. She suggested to Bouchardon that the Germans were playing with them, trying to distract them from finding an actual agent at work. In fact, the telegrams were sent in a code the Germans most likely knew was broken, according to A Tangled Web.

Bouchardon asked repeatedly in interrogations about the 20,000 FF payment. What had she done with it? “During my stay in France from June to December 1916 I must have spent 15 to 16,000 FF, but I cannot be precise because I never count. I put the 20,000 from [the German consul] toward debts I had in Holland, especially those resulting from a lawsuit by my upholsterer,” she said, according to the June 12 transcript.

Bouchardon and his team did not accept her cavalier attitude toward money. “We have investigated quite a few espionage cases,” he said, according to a transcript of a June 1 interrogation. “We know the German prices and we can tell you that, in relation to their usual fees, that seems a colossal sum.”

There was the money, and then in December 1916 an incriminating meeting with the German military attaché in Madrid. Mata Hari was arrested in February 1917, and put on trial in July. A panel of seven military judges took two days to find her guilty and sentence her to death; an appeal and plea for clemency both were rejected. She was kept at the Conciergerie prison during the trial; a previous occupant to await trial there was Marie Antoinette. “The situation of a foreign woman like me is extremely delicate at this time in France,” she wrote on July 6 to her maid in the Netherlands.

Bouchardon brought a priest and two nuns to the prison to get her before dawn on Oct. 15. She put on a black cape trimmed with fur, a black felt hat, and black heels, according to a news story filed by Henry Wales of the International News Service. They drove her to Fort de Vincennes, east of Paris, and stood her in front of a post. She declined a blindfold, and stared evenly at the 12 soldiers as they fired.

Fort de Vincennes today houses the archives of the Service Historique de la Défense, including her 1,300-page dossier (accessible online here). Mata Hari was one of 126 persons executed for espionage by France during the First World War; at least two others also were women, caught out by a female double-agent. (Purported photographs of Mata Hari’s execution are from a film re-enactment; no pictures were taken at the time.)

Mata Hari’s life was over, but her fame had only begun. In 1931, she was portrayed by screen goddesses Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, in films based loosely on her story. Hundreds of books have been published, biographies, novels, historical fiction, non-fiction, erotica, even a comic-book series. She has a Twitter handle, a Facebook page, and videos on YouTube. Mata Hari restaurants and bars are sprinkled across France and Germany. She even has an exhibit for this centennial of her death, at the Fries Museum in her hometown, Mata Hari: the myth and the maiden, from Oct. 14 through April 2018.

At nearly every turn, Margaretha Zelle MacLeod made the wrong choices. She did not learn the lessons that were offered or pick up on the clues that were given, until it was too late. Yet she managed to create a persona that continues to dance on the crowded stage of popular culture. Mata Hari may or may not have been a spy, but she remains a legendary figure.

Top U.S. diplomat in China quits over Trump climate policy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Top U.S. diplomat in China quits over Trump climate policy

By David Brunnstrom and John Walcott | WASHINGTON

David Rank, the chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, has left the State Department over the Trump administration’s decision to quit the 2015 Paris agreement to fight climate change, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.

A State Department spokeswoman confirmed Rank’s departure, but said she was unable to verify Twitter posts that said he resigned as he felt unable to deliver a formal notification to China of the U.S. decision last week to quit the agreement.

“He has retired from the foreign service,” said Anna Richey-Allen, a spokeswoman for the department’s East Asia Bureau. “Mr Rank has made a personal decision. We appreciate his years of dedicated service to the State Department.”

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, President Donald Trump’s pick as the next U.S. ambassador to Beijing, is expected to take up the post later this month.

A tweet from China expert John Pomfret quoted unnamed sources as saying that Rank had resigned as he could not support Trump’s decision last week to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Another tweet from Pomfret said Rank called a town hall meeting to announce his decision to embassy staff and explained that he could not deliver a diplomatic note informing the Chinese government of the U.S. decision.

A senior U.S. official confirmed the account given in the tweets, but added that after Rank announced his intention to retire on Monday in Beijing, he was told by the State Department to leave his post immediately. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Rank, a career foreign service officer who took over the post of deputy chief of mission in Beijing in January 2016, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jonathan Fritz, the embassy’s economics councillor, would serve as chargé in his place, Richey-Allen said.

Rank had been with the department for 27 years and served as the political councillor at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan from 2011-12.

Trump’s announcement last Thursday that he would withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord, saying the agreement would undermine the U.S. economy and cost jobs, drew anger and condemnation from world leaders and heads of industry

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and John Walcott, additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, editing by G Crosse)

Former V.P. Al Gore says that Trump’s decision was a threat to humanity

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) Former Vice President Al Gore expressed disappointment Sunday over his failure to persuade President Donald Trump to keep the US in the Paris climate agreement.

Gore said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump’s decision was a threat to humanity and bad for the US position in global politics. “I think it was reckless,” Gore said. “I think it was indefensible. It undermines America’s standing in the world. It threatens the ability of humanity to solve the climate crisis in time.”
Trump announced on Thursday his decision to initiate the nation’s withdrawal from the landmark agreement of which nearly every country on earth is a member. His speech came after weeks of internal White House debate.
Trump’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka, was among those who supported the US remaining in the agreement.
Gore met with both Trumps in December at Trump Tower in New York. At the time, he called their discussion “lengthy and very productive.”
In his CNN interview Sunday, Gore said he had spoken with Ivanka Trump several times since that meeting but that they had not spoken since Trump’s announcement.
“I thought that he would come to his senses on it, but he didn’t,” Gore said.
Gore also said the trend of the future would be toward clean energy and away from carbon-emitting fuels. He said there was progress happening “all over the world.”
“The direction to move in the future is very clear,” he said.
“We’re now seeing governors and mayors and businesses and civic leaders really beginning to move regardless of what the White House says. … The American people are going to provide leadership, even if President Trump will not.”

Uber Used Secret Greyball Tool To Deceive Authorities Worldwide

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Uber’s Greyball tool was developed to weed out riders thought to be using its service improperly.Credit Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was being resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been outright banned.

The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities such as Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.

Greyball was part of a broader program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The VTOS program, including the Greyball tool, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team.

Greyball and the broader VTOS program were described to The New York Times by four current and former Uber employees, who also provided documents. The four spoke on the condition of anonymity because the tools and their use are confidential and because of fear of retaliation by the company.

Continue reading the main story

Uber’s use of Greyball was recorded on video in late 2014, when Erich England, a code enforcement inspector in Portland, Ore., tried to hail an Uber car downtown as part of a sting operation against the company.

At the time, Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as the miniature vehicles on the screen made their way toward the potential fares.

But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in their Uber apps were never there at all. The Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from its app and through other techniques. Uber then served up a fake version of its app that was populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.

Portland vs. Uber: City code officers try to ticket drivers 

At a time when Uber is already under scrutiny for its boundary-pushing workplace culture, the Greyball tool underscores the lengths to which the company will go to win in its business. Uber has long flouted laws and regulations to gain an edge against entrenched transportation providers, a modus operandi that has helped propel the company into more than 70 countries and to a valuation close to $70 billion.

Yet using its app to identify and sidestep authorities in places where regulators said the company was breaking the law goes further in skirting ethical lines — and potentially legal ones, too. Inside Uber, some of those who knew about the VTOS program and how the Greyball tool was being used were troubled by it.

In a statement, Uber said, “This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

Dylan Rivera, a spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said in a statement: “We’re very concerned to hear that this practice continued at least into 2015 and affected other cities.

“We take any effort to undermine our efforts to protect the public very seriously,” Mr. Rivera said.

Uber, which lets people hail rides from a smartphone app, operates multiple kinds of services, including a luxury Black Car one in which drivers are commercially licensed. But one Uber service that many regulators have had problems with is the company’s lower-cost service, known as UberX in the United States.

UberX essentially lets people who have passed a cursory background check and vehicle inspection to become an Uber driver quickly. In the past, many cities banned the service and declared it illegal.

That’s because the ability to summon a noncommercial driver — which is how UberX drivers who use their private vehicles are typically categorized — often had no regulations around it. When Uber barreled into new markets, it capitalized on the lack of rules to quickly enlist UberX drivers, who were not commercially licensed, and put them to work before local regulators could prohibit them from doing so.

After authorities caught up, the company and officials generally clashed — Uber has run into legal hurdles with UberX in cities including Austin, Tex., Philadelphia and Tampa, Fla., as well as internationally. Eventually, the two sides came to an agreement, and regulators developed a legal framework for the low-cost service.

That approach has been costly. Law enforcement officials in some cities have impounded or ticketed UberX drivers, with Uber generally picking up those costs on behalf of the drivers. Uber has estimated thousands of dollars in lost revenue for every vehicle impounded and ticket dispensed.

This is where the VTOS program and the use of the Greyball tool came in. When Uber moved into a new city, it appointed a general manager to lead the charge. The manager would try to spot enforcement officers using a set of technologies and techniques.

One method involved drawing a digital perimeter, or “geofence,” around authorities’ offices on a digital map of the city that Uber monitored. The company watched which people frequently opened and closed the app — a process internally called “eyeballing” — around that location, which signified that the user might be associated with city agencies.

Other techniques included looking at the user’s credit card information and whether that card was tied directly to an institution like a police credit union.

Enforcement officials involved in large-scale sting operations to catch Uber drivers also sometimes bought dozens of cellphones to create different accounts. To circumvent that tactic, Uber employees went to that city’s local electronics stores to look up device numbers of the cheapest mobile phones on sale, which were often the ones bought by city officials, whose budgets were not sizable.

In all, there were at least a dozen or so signifiers in the VTOS program that Uber employees could use to assess whether users were new riders or very likely city officials.

If those clues were not enough to confirm a user’s identity, Uber employees would search social media profiles and other available information online. Once a user was identified as law enforcement, Uber Greyballed him or her, tagging the user with a small piece of code that read Greyball followed by a string of numbers.

When a tagged officer called a car, Uber could scramble a set of ghost cars inside a fake version of the app for that person, or show no cars available at all. If a driver accidentally picked up an officer, Uber occasionally called the driver with instructions to end the ride.

Uber employees said the practices and tools were partly born out of safety measures for drivers in certain countries. In France, Kenya and India, for instance, taxi companies and workers targeted and attacked new Uber drivers.

“They’re beating the cars with metal bats,” Courtney Love, the singer and celebrity, tweeted from an Uber car at a time of clashes between the company and taxi drivers in Paris in 2015. Ms. Love said protesters had ambushed her Uber ride and held her driver hostage. “This is France? I’m safer in Baghdad.”

Uber has said it was also at risk from tactics used by taxi and limousine companies in certain markets. In Tampa, for instance, Uber referred to collusion between the local transportation authority and taxi companies in fighting ride-hailing services.

In those environments, Greyballing started as a way to scramble the locations of UberX drivers to prevent competitors from finding them. Uber said it remained the primary use of the tool today.

But as Uber moved into new markets, its engineers saw that those same techniques and tools could also be used for evading law enforcement. Once the Greyball tool was put in place and tested, Uber engineers created a playbook with a list of tactics and distributed it to general managers in more than a dozen countries across five continents.

At least 50 to 60 people inside Uber knew about Greyball, and some had qualms about whether it was ethical or legal. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team, headed by Salle Yoo, the general counsel. Ryan Graves, an early hire who became senior vice president of global operations and a board member, was also aware of the program.

Ms. Yoo and Mr. Graves did not respond to a request for comment.

Outside scholars said they were unsure of the program’s legality. Greyball could be considered a violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or possibly intentional obstruction of justice, depending on local laws and jurisdictions, said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University, who also writes for The New York Times.

“With any type of systematic thwarting of the law, you’re flirting with disaster,” Mr. Henning said. “We all take our foot off the gas when we see the police car at the intersection up ahead, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this goes far beyond avoiding a speed trap.”

To date, Greyballing has been effective. In Portland that day in late 2014, Mr. England, the enforcement officer, did not catch an Uber, according to local reports.

And two weeks after Uber began dispatching drivers in that city, the company reached an agreement with local officials for UberX to be legally available there.

Fury Rises in France Over Accusations Police Beat and Raped a Black Man

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

The remains of a car on Tuesday after it was burned the night before by protesters in Aulnay-sous-Bois, north of Paris. CreditAlex Turnball/Associated Press

PARIS — Youths set cars and trash bins ablaze and vandalized buildings in suburbs around Paris on Wednesday, venting rage for the fourth straight day over accusations that police officers had beaten and raped a young black man they arrested last week.

The police have used tear gas several times over the four days to disperse angry crowds, and in one instance officers fired live rounds into the air as warning shots, a rare occurrence in France. Five people were convicted on Wednesday evening of “ambushing” police forces. But there have also been peaceful marches in and around Paris to protest the arrest, and the violent unrest has waned.

The unrest has not approached the scale of violence that shook France for weeks in 2005. But even so, it reflects persistent tensions between the police and residents in suburbs where people from immigrant backgrounds are often concentrated and where unemployment is high, especially among young people.

The arrest last Thursday took place in one such suburb, Aulnay-sous-Bois, which is not far from where the 2005 trouble started: Clichy-sous-Bois, where two teenagers died fleeing the police. Youths in the area complain about frequent racial profiling by the police, who in turn cite the difficulties and dangers they face working in hostile neighborhoods.

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A similar case in August, when Adama Traoré, a 24-year-old black man, died of asphyxiation in custody after fleeing a police identification check, set off days of violent clashes in another town north of Paris, Beaumont-sur-Oise.
Photo

President François Hollande on Tuesday with the 22-year-old man whose arrest last week ignited the protests.CreditArnaud Journois/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In a sign that the authorities were eager to defuse this week’s unrest, President François Hollande paid a hospital visit on Tuesday to the 22-year-old man whose arrest ignited the protests. In video filmed by the newspaper Le Parisien, Mr. Hollande said the young man was known by the local authorities for his “exemplary conduct.”

“The judiciary has taken up the matter; it must be trusted,” Mr. Hollande said, adding that it would “ensure that the truth is known.”

The young man and his family have urged protesters to avoid violence.

Police officers arrested him as they were checking the identification of a dozen young men they suspected of dealing drugs; there is security camera footage of part of the encounter. Speaking to the BFM TV news channel in the days that followed, the young man said that the police officers had insulted and hit him and that one of them “took his baton and shoved it into my buttocks.”

The man was hospitalized with serious injuries to his rectum and bruises on his face and skull.

The four officers, all in their 20s and 30s, were suspended and placed under formal investigation, but were not detained. All four were charged with assault, and one was charged with rape.

Advocacy groups say the authorities have been slow to prosecute police officers accused of using excessive violence. According to a report published by one group last year, 63 people were injured and 26 died from police violence in France from 2005 to 2015, but only seven officers were convicted in those cases.

France’s defender of rights, an independent ombudsman whose office monitors civil and human rights, has also opened an investigation of the episode last week.

Photo

Demonstrators marched on Monday in the streets of Aulnay-sous-Bois. CreditMilos Krivokapic/Associated Press

The defender’s office and civil rights groups have complained for years that the police conduct ID checks without keeping records to show whether they were done for “objective and verifiable reasons.” In a recent study, the defender’s office found that the probability of being stopped by the police for an ID check was 20 times as high for young men who were “perceived as black or Arab” as it was for the general population. Advocates have called for making the police more accountable, and are angry that the Socialist government has dropped one promised measure, to have officers issue receipts when they check IDs.

Luc Poignant, a police union spokesman, said that it had become difficult for officers to work effectively in neighborhoods where they no longer have normal day-to-day interactions with residents. “When we go back there, it’s felt as an intrusion,” he said.

Still, he said, if the investigation finds that the four officers involved in the arrest last week deliberately did what they are accused of, they have no place on the police force. The officers have said that the young man’s injuries were accidental.

Bruno Beschizza, the right-wing mayor of Aulnay-sous-Bois, told France Info radio on Wednesday that it was crucial to “rebuild trust” between residents and the police, in light of what he called a “serious, intolerable, unacceptable act.” Mr. Beschizza, a former police officer and police union representative, said he would install more security cameras around his city.

The arrest last week and the unrest in the days since comes at a time when tensions have also been rising between the police and the government.

Thousands of officers protested across the country in October after two officers were seriously burned by firebombs in Viry-Châtillon, a struggling suburb south of Paris. A bill introduced after that episode to give officers more leeway to use firearms in self-defense was discussed in Parliament on Wednesday.

Police unions have repeatedly called for increased police budgets and have complained of difficult working conditions, especially when dealing with protests or with terrorist attacks.

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French President Hollande Says French Values Must Be Defended In Cold War Climate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

Hollande Says France Must Defend Values in Cold War Climate

December 31, 2016, 3:03 PM EST
  • Outgoing French president sees democracy, freedom at risk
  • Final New Year’s address targets National Front’s Le Pen

French President Francois Hollande tells the French they have values to defend in the context of a new Cold War — a reference to both geopolitics and the country’s looming presidential election.

“There are moments in history when everything can be toppled. We are living through one of those periods,” Hollande said in a televised speech from Paris. “Democracy, freedom, Europe and even peace — all of these things have become vulnerable, reversible. We saw it with Brexit and with the U.S. election in November.”

Hollande, who came to power in May 2012, bowed out of France’s 2017 presidential race earlier this month, meaning today’s New Year’s eve address to the nation will be his last as head of state. The Socialist leader insisted to French voters that they have a responsibility on the global stage when they cast their ballots.

“France is open to the world, it is European,” Hollande said. “It is not possible to imagine our country crouching behind walls, reduced to its domestic self, returning to a national currency and increasingly discriminating based on peoples’ origins. It would no longer be France. That is what is at stake.”

Those remarks directly targeted the policies of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who is committed to pulling France out of the euro, increasing restrictions on immigration, as well as putting up tariff barriers.

“Our main enemy is our doubt. You must have confidence in yourselves,” Hollande said.

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Germany: After Berlin Murders: Chancellor Merkel Political Career Is In Jeopardy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST/WORLD POST)

THE WEEKEND ROUNDUP 

Europe was already reeling from major terror attacks in Brussels, Paris and Nice as well as Brexit and the defeat of the political establishment in the Italian referendum before this week. With anti-immigrant parties standing ambitiously in the wings waiting for events to further boost them into power, the worst thing that could have happened, the shoe waiting to drop, was a terror attack at Christmas time in Germany by an asylum-seeker linked to Islamist terror groups. It is just that which took place in Berlin this week.

That the inevitable has now occurred likely seals the political fate of Europe. Public opinion will surely turn decisively against the open-arms refugee policy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — the most prominent defender of the troubled European project of integration and the free movement of people. Merkel’s coalition partner (yet mainstream opponent) Horst Seehofer of the Bavarian Christian Social Union, has already laid down the challenge. “We owe it to the victims, to those affected and to the whole population to rethink our immigration and security policy and to change it.” As Nick Robins-Early reports, the Alternative for Germany party and other anti-immigrant groups are already capitalizing on the incident. One AfD leader called those killed “Merkel’s dead.”

Alex Görlach hopes that Merkel’s considerable political skills can save the day by adjusting the Europe-wide refugee policy in the wake of this week’s tragedy. That she is also the only European leader who can stand up to the next American president, Görlach notes, could be a political asset.

Yet, even if the chancellor survives, the damage has already been done. The European idea, which has been losing luster for years, looks to be the latest and most consequential casualty of a world in turmoil that stretches from the rubble of Aleppo to the World War II memorial ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, near where the Christmas market attack took place in Berlin.

Writing from Germany, Stefan Schmidt argues that his fellow citizens should resist calls to blame anyone but the perpetrator while continuing to embrace the values of an open, but inevitably vulnerable, society. In a similar vein,Sebastian Christ writes from Berlin that, “We can’t give in to those who want to force their hate-filled world view on us. … On top of everything, we must continue to hold on to freedom for ourselves. I will definitely continue going to Christmas markets in Berlin.”

Picking up on the theme in the back of everyone’s mind about Muslims at Christmas, Dean Obeidallah fondly remembers his Muslim father, born near Jesus’ birthplace of Bethlehem, hanging Christmas lights on their home in New Jersey as a child. He also surveys other American Muslims who partake in the holiday, including Aasif Mandvi.

Unfortunately, the attack in Germany wasn’t the only attack we saw this week. Another act that shocked the world took place in Ankara, where the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated. John Tures, who has studied the different motivations and effectiveness of “lone wolf” versus “wolf pack” terrorists linked to organized extremists, argues that preventing future attacks, whether of the kind in Berlin or Ankara, requires being able to distinguish between these two threats.

Details are still emerging about the attack in Ankara, but it appears to be an apparent act of revenge over the Kremlin’s key role in the brutal assault on Aleppo in recent weeks. As Alex Motyl writes, more such attacks can be expected due to Putin’s Syria policy. “Anti-Russian terrorism is the new normal,” he says. Turkish journalist Ilgin Yorulmaz ponders the timing of the assassination in Ankara, which came on the eve of a tripartite meeting of Russia, Turkey and Iran concerning Syria, and reports that some suspect a geopolitical aim. “A strong NATO member,” she writes, “Turkey may have found a new ally in Russia, and possibly even Iran, to become a game changer in the Middle East.”

This week also saw the last evacuations out of Aleppo. Dr. Ahmad Tarakji, whose organization has been working on the ground in the besieged city, offers a detailed account of the humanitarian catastrophe there, which he says is far from over after the forced relocations. “The world has failed the people of Aleppo time and time again,” he writes, “but it’s not too late to act now to help those seeking refuge somewhere else. The international community must do everything in its power to protect these most vulnerable of people. They continue to suffer while the world is standing idly by.”

Writing from Moscow before the Syrian regime claimed control over all of Aleppo,Vladimir Frolov proposes that the best course for the Kremlin now would be, “declaring victory in Aleppo, scaling down its military operations against the rebels, refocusing its air war on ISIS in a new collaborative effort with the U.S. and pressuring the Assad regime into a political settlement.”

Returning to the hot issue of Russian influence meddling in the affairs of democracies, Toomas Hendrik Ilves knows from whence he speaks. In 2007, the former president of Estonia experienced a Kremlin-led cyberattack on his government, banking and news media servers. He expects more such attacks in Europe as elections loom. “The conundrum that Europe will face in the coming year,” he writes from Tallinn, “is whether or not to use illiberal methods to safeguard the liberal state. … Because of cyberattacks and fake news, we can already imagine the problem all democratic societies will face in future elections: how to limit lies when they threaten democracy?”

In an exclusive interview, former U.S. National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski claims Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the effort to tip the recent American election scales in Trump’s favor. “Yes. Russian intelligence was involved, no question,” he says, “Yes. Putin plays that kind of direct role. Russian intelligence is not some independent agency. It is an agency of the state organized for specific political purposes. Putin absolutely controls the state apparatus. No doubts there.” He also warns that “stupid irritations” over Taiwan risk derailing America’s most important foreign policy relationship with Beijing. “A world in which America and China are cooperating,” Brzezinski underscores, “is a world in which American influence is maximized.”

One of the hottest issues in the U.S. presidential campaign was Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall with Mexico. Writing from Mexico City, Homero Aridjis and James Ramey offer a highly innovative proposal: Instead of Trump’s wall, they want to build a border of solar panels. “It would have a civilizing effect in a dangerous area,” they contend. “Since solar plants use security measures to keep intruders out, the solar border would serve as a de facto virtual fence, reducing porousness of the border while producing major economic, environmental and security benefits on both sides.” Such an installation, they continue, “would make trafficking drugs, arms and people all the more difficult for criminal cartels. In Mexico, the solar border would create a New Deal-like source of high-tech construction and technology jobs all along the border, which could absorb a significant number of would-be migrant workers on their way to cross into the U.S. illegally, at great physical risk.”

Rolling back globalization to stem joblessness and inequality was another prime issue in the recent presidential election campaign. Branko Milanovic takes up this challenge, arguing that reversing globalization would only reduce growth rates in both the advanced and emerging economies, to no one’s benefit. “A more promising avenue for dealing with inequality in rich countries for the 21st century,” he writes, “is to reduce inequality in human and financial capital endowments. This implies, first, reversing the currently extraordinary high concentration of capital assets by giving the middle classes fiscal and other incentives to invest and own assets and, second, equalizing access to high-quality education that is increasingly monopolized by the rich.” A special Highline investigative report we publish this week traces the corporations and criminals profiting handsomely from the refugee crisis.

How Will Iran’s Ali Khamenei And President Donald Trump Deal With Each Other?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST/WORLD POST)

How Will Khamenei And Trump Deal With Each Other?

12/02/2016 09:44 am ET

During his campaign for presidency and afterwards, President-Elect Donald Trump has expressed his opposition to military intervention in other countries, as well as nation building such as, for example, what happened in Afghanistan. On January 20 Trump will begin his term as the president. He believes that the main threat in the Middle East is the Daesh (also known as the ISIS or ISIL), not the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and that in order to destroy Daesh, his administration will be willing to work with Russia and other nations. The Guardian recently reported that Donald Trump, Jr., recently met in Paris with Randa Kassis, a pro-Syrian government activist who believes that the war in Syria can be ended through cooperation between the U.S., Russia and the Syrian Government. Trump also met with Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D. Hawaii) who is strongly against U.S. intervention in Syria.

But, although Iran has been fighting the Daesh fiercely, both in Syria and in Iraq, Trump has taken a hard-line toward that country, with members of the national security team that he has picked so far all being strongly anti-Iran.

On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei missed a golden opportunity to resolve most, if not all, issues between Iran and the United States with the Obama administration, and to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. Thus, he now has to wait to see what policy the incoming Trump administration will take toward Iran.

Khamenei’s strong suspicion of the United States

Iran’s recent history was reset when the CIA coup of 1953 in Iran that toppled the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, and contributed to Iran’s intellectuals’ opposition to both the United States and the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This anti-American third-world discourse was born in that era, and a tall and strong wall of distrust and suspicion was built between the two countries with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981, and the Iran-Iraq of 1980-1988 during which the United States supported Iraq.

President Obama wanted to pursue diplomatic negotiations with Iran to resolve the issues between the two nations but, aside from the nuclear negotiations, Khamenei’s strong suspicion about the U.S. intentions and his claim that the U.S. is interested only in deceiving Iran prevented a diplomatic breakthrough. In a speech on 20 October Khamenei said,

“When the Americans get together with our officials, they complain about my suspicion about the U.S. Well, should I be optimistic? Can one trust you [the U.S.], given the situation that you have created [in the Middle East]?” To back up his claim he recalled that Secretary of State John Kerry had said that so long as Iran supports the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, the American sanctions against Iran will not end. Khamenei also said, “In my private and public meetings with the officials I have always repeated that our problems with the U.S. will not be resolved if we retreat from our position regarding Iran’s nuclear program, because then they [the U.S.] will ask us about our long-range missiles. After that they will ask about our support for Hezbollah and Hamas. They will then pressure us to support human rights the way they do. If you back down about all of these and accept what they demand, the U.S. will ask why our religion is mixed with our government. They [may even] ask us why Iran is such a large country with a large population. The Americans will never let us alone.”


Trump “Confirms” Khamenei’s Pessimism about the U.S.

In another speech on November 3 Khamenei said,

“I want to correct two mistakes today. The Americans created two erroneous claims and then propagated them among Iranians through their organizations and those Iranians that are linked to the CIA – the same people ‘who feel the scent of the pleasures of this world; who regret their [revolutionary] past, and those who have run out of breath [and can no longer continue on the revolutionary path]’. Imam Khomeini said “scream all you can at the U.S.” The first erroneous claim by the pro-U.S. Iranians is that they say that this [what Khomeini suggested] is not rational, and is only due to fanaticism and pride. The second mistake, which is even more dangerous than the first one, is that they [the same Iranians] claim that having [diplomatic] relations with the U.S. will solve all of all problems. One can counter their argument with 10-15 reasons to show that, not only will compromise with the U.S. not solve our problems, but it will also worsen them. A good example is the nuclear agreement [with P5+1]. Through lies, bad faith, and deception U.S. has not ended its sanctions against Iran, and [in fact] it has strengthened them.”

Khamenei then said that the U.S. cannot solve its own problems and, therefore, cannot be expected to solve Iran’s problems. He then recalled the presidential debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton and said,

“Did you watch the debates? Did you see the facts they [the candidates] talked about. Did you hear them? Americans themselves made the revelations. The things that we have been saying [about the problems that the U.S. is facing], and much more, which many people did not believe, were revealed by them [Trump and Clinton]. The interesting thing is that the candidate who expressed them more bluntly [Trump] also received more attention. Because that man spoke more clearly, more bluntly, he received more attention. The other side [Clinton] said that this is populism, it is demagogic. Why is it demagogic? The [American] people listened to him [Trump] and realized that he was right; they had experienced those facts [expressed by Trump] in their own lives. Human rights and dignity have been destroyed in that country [U.S.]. There is racism. Just a few days ago the same man [Trump] said that if you are people of color, if you are black or red [American-Indian] and are walking in streets of New York, Chicago, Washington, California, or elsewhere, you cannot be sure that you will be alive even for a few more minutes. You see, this was said by someone who may go to the White House as the next President of the United States to run that country. This is American racism. He [Trump] also spoke about poverty in the United States. He said that 44 million people go hungry every day in the U.S. He declared, as have others, that less than 1 percent of the Americans owe more than 90 percent of the wealth. Human values have been destroyed there. Discrimination, deep [economic] gaps, rift among people, racism, and violation of human rights [all exist in the U.S.]….. What the two respected candidates for the Presidency of the United States, one of whom will be the next President, are saying is not baseless. They both are bad, but together they are making revelations that may destroy the United States, and they have succeeded.”

Khamenei then explained that when people shout “death to America” and “scream as much as you can at America,” they mean death to racism, discrimination and violation of human rights.

Khamenei has been warning about two issues. One is U.S. “penetrating” and gaining “influence” in the main centers of decision-making in the Islamic Republic, while the second one is what he calls the danger of senior officials becoming “infatuated” by the United States. In a speech on 17 November Khamenei claimed that some senior Iranian officials are attracted to the U.S., but he believes that the U.S. has nothing attractive to offer. “You saw that the same criticisms that I have been levelling at them [the U.S.] were brought up by Trump,” Khamenei said, adding,

“In these [American] elections several of the most prominent political figures talked about issues that we had also talked about, and said much more. The new President of the United States says that if we had spent the funds that we spent on wars here in the United Stated, we could have rebuilt the country twice over, and fixed all the roads, bridges, and cities, and we would not have had poverty in the United States. Those that are infatuated with an illusion [the U.S.], can they understand this? There is so much failure and destruction [in the U.S.] and they spend all that money on dishonorable wars. Were those wars honorable?”

Khamenei then pointed out that a defensive war against the enemy, while respecting humane laws of war, is honorable. But, he believes that “the U.S. wars of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen that have murdered tens of thousands of civilian people, particularly women and children, are dishonorable.” He then asked in the same speech, “Why does Iranian elite not have the political wisdom [to understand this] and admit them?”


Not Pre-judging Trump, but Threatening to Retaliate if He Violates the Nuclear Accord

In his speech of 17 November Khamenei said that he does not want to prejudge Trump, but “we are ready for anything.” A week later on 24 November he repeated that he does not want to prejudge Trump, because [as a Persian proverb goes] “this watermelon has not been cut yet.” But, he claimed that the Obama administration did not deliver on its promises and obligations toward the nuclear agreement, but that, “The U.S. Congress renewed the U.S. sanctions against Iran for another 10 years, which is a violation of the nuclear agreement,” adding, “If the [Congress-approved] sanctions become law, it will definitely violate the nuclear agreement, and they should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran will react to it.” He then added that the U.S. has used the nuclear agreement as a tool to pressure Iran. President Hassan Rouhani had promised that the sanctions will be lifted if a nuclear agreement is reached, but, “The nuclear compromise has been used against Iran,” Khamenei said, adding, “If the Congress-approved sanctions are also approved by the Senate and become law, it will imply that the United States has violated the nuclear agreement, and the deal with P5+1 will become one with P4+1, as the United States has effectively left the agreement behind.”

Trump and Iran

Although Trump has professed his opposition to many wars multiple times, his national security team has three characteristics:

One, some of them are close to the Tea Party and the Evangelical Christians. Mike Pompeo, who is to be Director of the CIA, said in 2014, “This threat to America” is from a minority of Muslims “who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer. They abhor Christians, and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”

Two, they are strongly linked with the pro-Israel right wingers. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of States, and a strong critic of the U.S. policy toward the Middle East, said recently that if the U.S. moves its embassy to Jerusalem [as Trump has promised], a war with Iran will become more likely.

Three, they have strong connections with the military-industrial complex and many private security and intelligence firms. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, has an intelligence consulting and lobbying firm. He is strongly anti-Iranand has claimed repeatedly that Iran is more dangerous than Daesh. He has also said that Islam is like a “cancer” that “has to be excised from every Muslim.” Interestingly, since Trump electoral victory, the value of the stocks of military firms has gone up dramatically.

Given these facts, and Trump’s lack of experience, there is considerable concern about his foreign policy. But, the situation for Iran is more critical. Marine General James Mattis, who is said to be the leading candidate for running the Pentagon, has claimed that Iran uses Daesh to expand its influence. The leading candidates for Secretary of State – Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Mitt Romney, are all strongly anti-Iran, and have called for “regime change” in Iran. In 2015 Giuliani called for bombing of Iran.

If during his first few months in office Trump takes on an aggressive posture toward Iran, it will hurt the re-election chances of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the elections for which will be in early June 2017. IN that case, hardliners may defeat Rouhani in the elections. Khamenei and the military hardliners have been constantly reminding Rouhani that the nuclear agreement with P5+1 has had no fruits for Iran, other than forcing it to retreat from its positions. Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, said on 26 November that, “[Although] there is no longer any sanctions against selling oil, we still have not received the proceeds from our previous sales. Senior officials had predicted that we would receive them between February and September, but that has not happened yet.” In a speech on 27 November Khamenei criticized the Rouhani administration for the nuclear negotiations “that was done in haste,” allowing the U.S. to gain some influence. He emphasized again that the renewal of the ten-year sanctions by Congress will be a violation of the nuclear accord.

What is Trump’s policy toward Iran? Will he try to resolve the issues between the U.S. and Iran through diplomacy, or will he follow those who present a demonic image of Iran? Wil he eliminate all those who favor negotiations with Iran, and empower those who want war with that nation?

To have peace and democracy, there is no way other than negotiations. U.S. wars in the Middle East have resulted in destruction of several nations, killing of hundreds of thousands of people, and the growth of terrorist groups, not to mention its financial cost that has so far been $3 – 4 billion. It is time for diplomacy in the Middle East. Without peace and security there can never be any democracy, respect for human rights, and economic developments; they will all be marginalized. Any thinking person knows that there are deep differences between an Iran that can make a transition to democracy and respect for human rights, and an Iran that can be transformed to another Syria.

This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei

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