The president lit the fuse

(Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
(Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution)

 

Since Monday a series of  pipe bombs have been mailed or delivered to a particular group of Democratic and liberal political figures.

To former President Barack Obama’s office in Washington, D.C., to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s home in New York, to billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros at his home in New York, to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), intercepted at a congressional mail facility, and to former CIA Director John Brennan, addressed to him at the studios of CNN. A fifth bomb was sent to former Attorney General Eric Holder but was misaddressed. It was returned to the office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Based on what information has been released to the public, all of the bombs appear to share the same design and packaging, suggesting they are all the work of a single group or individual. The recipient list and the political climate in America strongly suggests these attacks amount domestic terrorism. As extremism expert JJ MacNab notes:

But more importantly, all of the targets share something else in common. Each has been critical of the current administration, and each has been repeatedly and publicly attacked by President Donald Trump, either at his rallies, or via Twitter, or both.

Every.

Last.

One.

As counterterrorism expert Mubin Shaikh remarked on Twitter earlier today, “sending mail bombs to coerce or kill politicians is 100% the definition of terrorism.” He’s absolutely right. As I’ve written before, President Trump counts among the ranks of his supporters individuals and groups who have expressed their willingness to take up arms against their fellow Americans. He has refused to condemn extremist violence perpetrated by those whose approval he courts.

Inciting violence against his critics was a regular feature of Trump’s campaign rallies, one his followers all too often acted upon. Here’s a handy compilation if you need a reminder:

Now it seems more than likely that the president’s own rhetoric has once again lit the fuse.

A man among hyenas

Yussuf Mume Saleh and the hyenas. (Credit: Jessica Beshir)
Yussuf Mume Saleh and the hyenas. (Credit: Jessica Beshir)

 

For more than 35 years, Yussuf Mume Saleh has walked out from the walls that surround the ancient Ethiopian city of Harar for a nightly, solitary ritual of communion between man and beast.

Filmmaker Jessica Beshir has now made a beautiful short documentary, Hairat, that captures the relationship between Saleh and the spotted hyenas that he has spent a lifetime with. The Atlantic has more:

For Jessica Beshir, a filmmaker who grew up in Harar, visions of Saleh and the delicately-cultivated bond he shares with these wild—and often dangerous—animals are embedded in her childhood nostalgia. “It was like going to see a magical play,” Beshir told The Atlantic in a recent interview. “I was hypnotized by the relationship between these uncanny lovers.”

Years later, Beshir decided to track down Harar and capture Saleh’s otherworldly ritual with the predators on film. Her short documentary, Hairat, shot in haunting black and white, depicts Saleh dangling meat scraps into the darkness. Like gods from the underworld, the hyenas emerge and accept Saleh’s offerings. It’s a rarely seen communion with the natural world, captured in cinematic poetry.

“One night, on my way to film Abba Yussuf, I met a young poet, Elias Shagiz Adonay Tesfaye, who spoke to me about love and heartbreak,” Beshir said. As the filmmaker and the poet zigzagged the labyrinth of the walled city, Tesfaye began reciting his poetry. “The dichotomy of love and fear informed the film’s rhythm and black-and-white aesthetics,” Beshir said.

In an interview before the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Beshir explained that she wanted her documentary to “feel like a poem.” She has more than succeeded. Take a few minutes and see for yourself.

 

Protect our corruption! Vote GOP!

180801-rothkopf-trump-pandora-box-scandal-hero_weqcvx
(Photo illustration: The Daily Beast)

 

In assessing the incredibly weak hand that Republicans are holding with less than eight weeks before midterm elections, conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin makes this excellent point at the Washington Post today:

Finally, the entire GOP argument that if Democrats are elected, the Democrats will investigate corruption, obstruction, his fitness to govern, etc., is getting more nutty by the day. Democrats’ response is increasingly effective: That’s right, it’s about time someone held Trump and his cronies accountable.

Stoking fear that Congress would do its job without spineless Republican majority leaders somehow doesn’t “sing” as a GOP campaign message. And if ever there was a felt need to keep Trump in check, his constant media presence surely will remind voters that an unchecked Trump is a dangerous Trump.

The problem, of course, is the president himself. Trump has become radioactive to all but his most rabid supporters. Recent polling makes that clear, even in the Midwest and Rust Belt states that delivered him the White House back in 2016.

Trump’s administration is little more than a shabby Pandora’s box of comically inept corruption, blatant cronyism, nepotism, and self-dealing. That’s when it’s not being criminally negligent or malevolently cruel.

If the best case the GOP can make to voters is that they need to return a Republican majority to Congress in order to protect that sorry record, they may as well not contest the race at all.

**Editor’s note — Holy cow it’s been a long time since I’ve managed to post! I’ve been a little preoccupied with the end of summer and adjusting to a new role at my university as chair of the Department of Political Science. For those of you who’ve forgotten that you subscribe to this gem of a blog, apologies for the reminder. For those of you who actually missed the blog, I’m sorry to disappoint you with this effort, but thanks for sticking around. 

Pay attention to this unhinged threat

(Image: Daily Star)
(Image: Daily Star)

 

It used to be that we had to wait for the latest official statement from North Korea to experience the kind of unhinged threats that President Donald Trump vented toward Iran last night:

If you think I’m exaggerating the comparison, take a look at this handy collection of North Korean gems compiled last year by the Evening Standard:

  • “The four islands of the [Japanese] archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche … Japan is no longer needed to exist near us.
  • The US should be “beaten to death like a rabid dog.”
  • “Let’s reduce the US mainland into ashes and darkness. Let’s vent our spite with mobilisation of all retaliation means which have been prepared till now.”
  • Pyongyang is ”ready to use a form of ultimate means” to punish the United States.
  • “The forthcoming measures by DPRK [the Democratic Republic of Korea] will make the US suffer the greatest pain it has ever experienced in its history.”
  • “If the US is stupid enough to shove its stinky face on this land again and keep brandishing its nuclear club despite our repeated warnings, the DPRK will teach the US some manners with the strategic nuclear force that it had so far shown to the world. Any form of military threat or blackmail by the US can never scare the DPRK. On the contrary, it will only redouble the resolve of the Korean army and people to annihilate the enemy.”

Honestly, compared to Kim Jong Un’s government, Trump’s efforts lack real flair or creativity. And generally speaking, Trump’s threats are just as believable.

That said, there are good, and worrying, reasons why we shouldn’t just brush this off, as former National Security Council official Jeffrey Prescott has outlined. The risks here come more from the very real dangers of misstep, blunder, and accidental escalation than they do from a carefully calculated policy of coercion.

Since walking out on the international agreement which had very successfully put a brake on Iran’s nuclear arms program, the United States has failed to offer a viable diplomatic alternative to getting greater cooperation from Tehran. Instead we’ve reverted to the kinds of threats and economic pressure that were proven failures in terms of reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

This led to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warning Trump in a speech Sunday not to raise tensions further. Trump’s bedtime all-cap threat-tweet was his carefully considered reply.

While the United States has unilaterally reimposed sanctions on Iran, our partners in the original agreement have not followed suit. As a consequence, the Trump administration is trying to put pressure on other countries to stop buying Iranian oil. The Iranians have responded by reminding us, and the rest of the world, that they can easily choke off the flow of Middle East oil and natural gas by closing the Strait of Hormuz through which those supplies must pass to reach international markets.

Unsurprisingly then, this increased pressure from the United States has increased tension with Iran, raising the possibilities of further escalation, deliberate or otherwise. To this mix, add the fact that Trump has surrounded himself with advisors – specifically National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who have long pressed for regime change in Iran.

At the same time, Trump probably believes that his “maximum pressure” approach to North Korea brought that country to the Singapore summit, which, while producing great optics for Trump, delivered nothing in terms of a North Korean commitment to denuclearize. This is something the president himself has apparently come to realize even as he refuses to say so in public.

So keep an eye on this one. Because war with Iran would be catastrophic, for everyone.