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May 27 2017 6:48 PM

The Most Cringe-Worthy Moments From Trump’s First International Trip

President Donald Trump is going back home. After nine days abroad in the Middle East and Europe, the commander in chief left Italy on Saturday afternoon to fly back to a White House that is steeped in scandal and turmoil. Trump celebrated the trip as a “home run.”

But before we get back to Washington, let’s look at some of the most memorable and embarrassing moments from the trip, in chronological order.

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Dancing in Saudi Arabia

The trip seems to have had two distinct phases with Trump seen as pretty successful in the first leg of the journey that included Israel and Saudi Arabia. Things got awkward right from the start though when Trump received a reception fit for a king in Saudi Arabia that included some stilted dancing with swords in tow.

The curtsy seen around the world

Trump had repeatedly criticized his predecessor for bowing to foreign leaders. Yet when he was presented with a gold medal by the Saudi king, Trump also appeared to bow. What’s more, his awkward body movement was so strange that when he came back up many thought they saw the president doing a curtsy.

Ice cold hand-slap

When Trump landed in Israel, footage of his arrival in Tel Aviv on Monday appeared to show First Lady Melania Trump slapping her husband’s hand away.

Later, when the pair arrived in Rome, there also seemed to be a purposeful hand-holding dodge but it was less clear so it didn’t get the same amount of attention.  

Geography fail

Trump met with a group of Israeli leaders and informed them that he “just got back from the Middle East.”

Facing off with Macron  

When Trump sat down with new French leader Emmanuel Macron the two shared a handshake that seemed to last a little too long. It appears Macron was prepared for Trump’s weird handshake where he tries to show power by jerking the person he is greeting back and forth. So Macron held on and the two shook hands “with considerable intensity, their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening,” according to a pool report. Trump grimaced, Macron seemed proud of himself.

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A combination photo shows President Donald Trump (L) trying twice to let go of a handshake with France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) as Macron holds tight in Brussels, Belgium on May 25, 2017.

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Macron greets leader of free world first

Later, Macron posted a video on Twitter that showed him walking up to a group of NATO leaders and he seemed to be headed straight for Trump. But at the last minute, Macron swerved to warmly greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Macron then greets other leaders before shaking Trump’s hand. And this time, Trump was the one who was ready and began moving his and Macron’s hands violently back and forth and up and down. Macron’s victory in the handshake battles didn’t last long.

The Montenegro shove

As NATO leaders walked to take a group photo in Brussels, Trump seems to have suddenly realized he was not at the front of the line. So he shoved Montenegro Prime Minister Dusko Markovic out of the way, presumably to make sure he was front and center of the photo-op. The video quickly became a global viral sensation. Markovic was eager to not make a big deal about it though. “This was an inoffensive situation,” Markovic told reporters. “I do not see it in any other way.”

May 27 2017 5:26 PM

Tillerson Declines to Host Annual Ramadan Event at State Department

Since 1999, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican was in power, secretaries of state have pretty much always hosted an event to mark Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. This year might be the exception as it looks like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declined a request to host a Ramadan event, reports Reuters. In the past, secretaries of state have either hosted an iftar dinner to break the fast at the end of the day or a reception to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the month.

This year, the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs requested Tillerson host an Eid al-Fitr reception thinking it could be easier on his schedule. But he declined and high-profile Muslim-American groups in Washington have said they have not yet received an invitation from the State Department to attend any type of reception.

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“We are still exploring possible options for observance of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the month of Ramadan,” a State Department spokesperson said. “U.S. ambassadors are encouraged to celebrate Ramadan through a variety of activities, which are held annually at missions around the world.”

May 27 2017 4:56 PM

Trump Refuses to Commit to Paris Climate Agreement, Vows Decision “Next Week”

President Donald Trump ended his first international trip by making clear just how alone the United States is now when it comes to climate change. While all other G-7 countries reaffirmed their commitment to the 2015 agreement to limit greenhouse gas emission, the United States stood alone. Trump’s refusal to sign onto the pact came after three days of intense lobbying by other leaders, including Pope Francis.

A short while later Trump took to Twitter to vow that he will make a final decision on the Paris agreement next week.

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The way the G-7 meeting spent so much time discussing climate change clearly frustrated some leaders who thought the accord signed by 195 countries was already a done deal. “The entire discussion about climate was very difficult, if not to say very dissatisfying,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters. “There’s a situation where it’s six—if you count the European Union, seven—against one.” French President Emmanuel Macron tried to be a bit more positive about it, noting a contrast from a few weeks ago when “people thought that the United States would pull out and that no talks would be possible.”

National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn told reporters that there had been a “very robust conversation” on the issue. When he was asked directly which way Trump was leaning on the deal, Cohn said “I don’t know.” Experts quickly said it was Trump’s failure to endorse the deal that made it impossible to reach more concrete action on climate change. “President Trump’s continued waffling on whether to stay in or withdraw from the Paris Agreement made it impossible to reach consensus at the Taormina summit on the need for ambitious climate action,” Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said. “But he stands in stark isolation.”

Trump’s failure to come to a decision on the Paris agreement reflects the intense discussions that are going on inside the White House that have pitted the nationalists in the administration with the more mainstream staffers. During the presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly referred to the Paris deal as a jobs killer.

May 27 2017 2:27 PM

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, Dies at 89

Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser in Jimmy Carter’s presidency before becoming a well-known expert and intellectual on foreign policy, died on Friday. His daughter, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, announced his death on social media. “He was known to his friends as Zbig, to his grandchildren as Chief and to his wife as the enduring love of her life. I just knew him as the most inspiring, loving and devoted father any girl could ever have,” she wrote on Instagram.

Brzezinski served all four years of Carter’s administration and is best remembered for leading a hardline against the Soviet Union while pushing for closer relations with China. He also was the one who advocated for a commando mission to rescue the 52 American hostages held in the Iran hostage crisis that ended in failure.

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Carter issued a statement praising Brzezinski shortly after his death. “Rosalynn and I are saddened,” Carter said. “He was an important part of our lives for more than four decades and was a superb public servant.” Former President Obama also mourned Brzezinski. “His influence spanned several decades, and I was one of several Presidents who benefited from his wisdom and counsel,” Obama said. “You always knew where Zbig stood, and his ideas and advocacy helped shape decades of American national security policy.”

Brzezinski endorsed Obama and had recently become a vocal critic of his successor, President Donald Trump. The last tweet he wrote on May 4 illustrates his frustration with the current White House: “Sophisticated US leadership is the sine qua non of a stable world order. However, we lack the former while the latter is getting worse.”

In February, Brzezinski wondered: “Does America have a foreign policy right now?”

May 27 2017 12:56 PM

White Supremacist in Portland Kills Two Men Who Tried to Stop His Racist Rants

Two men were stabbed to death and another was wounded when they tried to intervene and stop a man from yelling hateful slurs on a light-rail train at two young women, one of whom was wearing a hijab. The victims apparently tried to calm the passenger down as he went on with his hateful statements but he proceeded to slash their throats. A third passenger was also stabbed but is expected to survive the Friday afternoon attacks that coincided with the first day of Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar.

Video posted online appears to show the suspect taunting police before he was arrested.

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Police identified the suspect as Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, who was booked on two aggravated murder charges and an attempted murder charge, among others. Media outlets quickly identified Christian as a known white supremacist and right wing extremist. “He calls for a homeland for whites, he has anti-Semitic statements praising Nazis,” said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Povery Law Center after examining his Facebook page.

Christian also participated in the “March for Free Speech” in Portland on April 29 with a baseball bat in tow in an effort to attack left-wing protesters. Police took the bat away but he spent all day yelling racist slurs and giving the Nazi salute. “A few Portland police officers on April 29 appeared to be familiar with Christian, but not threatened by him,” reports the Portland Mercury. “They claimed he had a head injury and was mentally ill.”

Law enforcement officers also mentioned the specter of mental illness while discussing Friday’s stabbings. “We don’t know if he’s got mental health issues,” Sgt. Pete Simpson, a spokesman for the police in Portland, said. “We don’t know if he’s under the influence of drugs or alcohol or all of the above.”

May 27 2017 11:17 AM

Kushner Called on Russia to Set Up Secret Channel of Communications With Kremlin

Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son in law and closest adviser, talked with the Russian ambassador in December about setting up a back channel of communications between Washington and the Kremlin. The goal seems to have been to use Russian diplomatic facilities for these talks before Trump would be sworn in so any discussions wouldn’t be monitored, according to the Washington Post, which was the first to report the story that was later confirmed by numerous outlets.

The idea to set up this secret channel of communications was discussed at Trump Tower during a meeting between Kushner, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Michael Flynn, who later became National Security Adviser before he was fired. Although Reuters had already reported that Flynn and Kislyak discussed setting up a secret channel of communication, the Post was first to reveal that Kushner was part of that conversation as well. It isn’t clear who proposed the communications channel, according to the New York Times, but the goal was to have Flynn discuss directly with senior officials in Moscow about Syria and other issues.

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Although the back channel was never actually set up it’s a reminder of why the FBI has taken a particular interest in Kushner as it investigates possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. For now though, investigators are looking into Kushner’s activities but he is not the subject of a criminal investigation. For some, the whole thing is a stark example of how Trump’s closest advisers got to Washington without much experience and lots of naivete. The Post explains:

The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and it maintains a nearly constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.
“How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?” said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause “a great deal” of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, “seems extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”

Separately, Reuters reported that Kushner had at least three contacts with Kislyak that hadn’t been disclosed. At least two of them were phone calls last year. At these calls, Kislyak didn’t just discuss security issues like Syria but also the need to improve relations between Russia and the United States following the sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama. That has led investigators to wonder whether Kislyak or any other official suggested that getting rid of economic sanctions could prove financially beneficial to Trump’s associates.

Through his attorney, Kushner said he didn’t remember any calls with Kislyak. The lawyer also said Kushner is ready to talk to investigators and Congress about his contacts with Russian officials.

May 26 2017 2:29 PM

Why Greg Gianforte's Apology Was So Worthless

It has been widely reported that Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte apologized to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs in his victory speech on Thursday night. That apology, though, appears to be incomplete.

"When you make a mistake," Gianforte said to his supporters, "you have to own up to it. That's the Montana way." Oh? "Last night I made a mistake and I took an action that I can't take back and I'm not proud of what happened.

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"I should not have responded in the way that I did and for that I am sorry," he continued.

So here we have an apology for the act itself: The incident in which Jacobs (full disclosure: a friend of mine) asked Gianforte for his thoughts on the latest Congressional Budget Office score of the House health care bill, and Gianforte, according to both Jacobs and several witnesses, responded by grabbing his neck and slamming him to the ground.

What Gianforte's statement does not include is an explicit apology for his and his campaign's subsequent violation of "the Montana way," his apparently blatant lies about what took place and attempt to excuse his violent and allegedly criminal behavior. Gianforte's press team, shortly after the incident, made up a story involving Jacobs as the provocateur. "It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ," the statement read.

The Gianforte campaign rode out the last 24 hours of the race in opposition to the straw man of an overly aggressive liberal reporter who got what he deserved. It activated the necessary media allies. Rush Limbaugh, on his Thursday show, described how the "manly, studly" Gianforte took down "a Pajama Boy journalist," a "125-pound wet dishrag reporter," and your "average Millennial man today." One caller said that if every Republican candidate threw a reporter to the ground, "it would increase my chances exponentially of voting for them." On Fox News, one analyst spoke of the "snowflake reporter." The guy who loses his shit when asked about a CBO score, though: Now there's a man's man. In any event, this diversion worked and Gianforte is going to Congress, seemingly a member in good standing of the Republican caucus! And he didn't even have to offer a full apology.

What would a full Gianforte apology, in accordance with his description of "the Montana way," look like? It would cover both the incident and then the smears used to limit the damage. He might also apologize for the way his campaign staff anonymously bragged to reporters about all of the money they'd raised following the incident. Perhaps he'll get around to that more thorough accounting of his misdeeds during his court appearance.

May 26 2017 1:49 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Yeah, Gianforte Assaulted a Reporter, But Something Something Lauren Duca

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

On his show Thursday night, Tucker Carlson responded to criticism of Montana special election winner Greg Gianforte by arguing that, while Gianforte’s attack on a reporter was unacceptable, leftist political violence is more noteworthy than violence from the right:

[L]et’s not lie to ourselves, or more precisely, don’t let the people in charge lie to us. America does face a threat of political violence. It does not come, by and large from baby boomer evangelicals in Montana. Nor does it come from President Trump, whatever his flaws. The threat today comes from the progressive left and its growing enthusiasm for force as a political tool.
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Carlson then segued directly into a segment furthering his evidently still-running feud with Teen Vogue’s Lauren Duca, towards whom he'd "lost control" during an appearance on his show in December. (The issue at the time was Duca tweeting that critics shouldn't let Ivanka Trump "off the hook because she looks like she smells good.")

Duca, Carlson pointed out on Thursday, had tweeted an image of a crashing plane with the caption "Cute pic of Trump getting tired of winning." Carlson interpreted this as Duca "fantasizing about the deaths of her political enemies." "The left has gone insane," he said.

In other news:

The Daily Wire and RedState ran posts about a study from researchers at Brunel University allegedly claiming that physically weaker men are more likely to support liberal or socialist policies. RedState's Teri Christoph:

One need not look further than Silicon Valley to see this phenomenon at play. Take Mark Zuckerberg, for instance, who’s hardly a Tim Tebow-like stud. He is successful in today’s world because his brains, not his biceps, protect him from physically superior men. Like Tim Tebow.

The Washington Free Beacon and the Daily Caller ran posts about Hillary Clinton's coughing during her commencement address at Wellesley on Friday. The Free Beacon's post called her cough "a familiar problem from the campaign trail" while the Daily Caller noted that "she credited her croaky delivery to allergies rather than emotions."

At Heat Street, Jillian Kay Melchior noted that students at the center of Yale's 2015 Halloween costume controversy are graduating with awards. "A new class of social-justice warriors is graduating from Yale—and to celebrate, the university honored two students who led a Halloween witch hunt against administrator Erika Christakis in Fall 2015," she wrote. "Yale has awarded its Nakanishi Prize—given for academic achievement and racial activism—to Alexandra Zina Barlowe and Abdul-Razak Zachariah, graduating seniors who were 'two of Yale's most prominent Christakis critics,' the Wall Street Journal's James Freeman reports."

PJ Media’s Tom Knighton alerted readers to a class called "Abolition of Whiteness" being taught at Hunter College by Gender Studies Professor Jennifer Gaboury. "Gaboury, who is white, doesn't seem to understand that 'abolishing' whiteness is going to involve, you know, genocide," he wrote. "Violence, bigotry, fascism, everything evil you can think of is in style now on college campuses."

May 26 2017 1:43 PM

The Most Money Lines From Hillary Clinton’s Surprisingly Good Wellesley Commencement Speech

Hillary Clinton delivered the commencement address at Wellesley College on Friday. Her speech marked the third time she’s spoken at her alma mater’s commencement and came 48 years after she did so for the first time at her own graduation. The former first lady, U.S. senator, and Democratic presidential nominee never mentioned Donald Trump by name, but the president’s unspoken presence was impossible to miss in remarks that were funny, impassioned, and—fitting the occasion—exceedingly optimistic.

Clinton drew the loudest cheers from the assembled students when she delivered a history lesson on where things stood in the United States back when she addressed her own class at its graduation in 1969, the same year Richard Nixon was sworn in as president. The similarities to the present did not go unnoticed by the crowd:

I stayed up all night with my friends … writing and editing the speech. By the time we gathered in the academic quad, I was exhausted. My hair was a wreck. The mortarboard made it even worse. But I was pretty oblivious to all of that, because what my friends had asked me to do was to talk about our worries, and about our ability and responsibility to do something about them. We didn't trust government, authority figures—or really anyone over 30. In large part, thanks to years of heavy casualties, and dishonest statements about Vietnam, and deep differences over civil rights and poverty here at home, we were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants would ever be treated with dignity and respect. And by the way, we were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice. After firing the person running the investigation into him at the department of justice.
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You can watch the full address above (Clinton's speech starts at around the 51-minute mark), but a few other highlights:

“Chardonnay helped”

I couldn't think of any place I'd rather be this year than right here. You may have heard that things didn't exactly go the way I planned. But you know what? I'm doing OK. I've gotten to spend time with my family, especially my amazing grandchildren. I was going to give the entire commencement speech about them but was talked out of it. Long walks in the woods. Organizing my closets, right? I won't lie: Chardonnay helped a little too.

“A full-fledged assault on truth”

You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. Just log on to social media for ten seconds. It will hit you right in the face. People denying science, concocting elaborate, hurtful conspiracies theories about child abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors. Drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor. Turning neighbor against neighbor and sowing division at a time when we desperately need unity. Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes. Like the size of crowds. And then defending themselves by talking about, quote-unquote, alternative facts.

“An attack of unimaginable cruelty”

Look at the budget that was just proposed in Washington. It is an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, and hard working people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life. It grossly underfunds public education, mental health, and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic. And in reversing our commitment to fight climate change, it puts the future of our nation and our world at risk. And to top it off, it was shrouded in a trillion-dollar mathematical lie. Let's call it what it is. It's a con. They don't even try to hide it. Why does all this matter? It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we'll never solve them. It matters because it undermines confidence in government as a whole, which in turn breeds more cynicism and anger. But it also matters because our country, like this college, was founded on the principles of the enlightenment. In particular, the belief that people, you and I, possess the capacity for reason and critical thinking. And that free and open debate is the lifeblood of a democracy.

“Don’t let anyone tell you …”

Don't let anyone tell you your voice doesn't matter. In the years to come, there will be trolls galore online and in person, eager to tell you that you don't have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute. They may even call you a nasty woman. Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say your elite education means you are out of teach with real people. In other words, sit down and shut up. Now, in my experience, that’s the last thing you should ever tell a Wellesley graduate.

This isn’t the first time Clinton has taken a post-election swing at Trump. It’s a safe bet it won’t be the last.

May 26 2017 1:20 PM

More Bad News on Civilian Casualties in Iraq and Syria

Several recent reports underline the growing risk to civilians in the U.S.-led war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. On Thursday, the Pentagon released the results of an investigation, finding that more than 100 civilians were killed when the U.S. dropped a bomb on a building in Mosul, Iraq, in March, the largest single incident of civilian deaths since the campaign began in 2014. (Locals have put the number at around 200.) CentCom had initially denied that the strike took place, before announcing the investigation. Officials now say that ISIS had likely placed explosives inside the building, contributing to the deadliness after the bomb was dropped. The battle for Mosul, which has gone on for more than seven months now, has been particularly brutal for civilians, who have often been prevented from leaving by ISIS or advised not to by the Iraqi government.

Meanwhile, a fresh wave of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition reportedly killed dozens of civilians, including children, in Eastern Syria this week. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that “106 people have been killed in Mayadeen since Thursday evening, including IS fighters and 42 children.” Eighty of those were killed in an airstrike on a building that housed the families of ISIS fighters. Syria’s state news agency put the number at 35, and the coalition has not yet responded to the report.

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Journalist Samuel Oakford of the monitoring site Airwars also published an investigation in cooperation with Foreign Policy today finding that non-U.S. members of the anti-ISIS coalition have killed at least 80 civilians in Iraq and Syria since the start of the campaign, but that none of those 12 countries will acknowledge responsibility for any of the deaths. Airwars also reported this week that between 283 and 366 civilians likely died from coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in April, the fourth consecutive month that those deaths exceeded those caused by Russian strikes. This has raised questions about whether the Trump administration’s hands-off attitude toward airstrikes has raised the risk for civilians.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights today warned that civilians are increasingly victimized by both the intensified airstrikes, and the retaliatory attacks by ISIS. In once incident, ISIS fighters slit the throats of eight men in a town that had just been bombed, blaming them for giving away coordinates to the coalition. The situation is only likely to worsen as the battle for Mosul grinds on and the campaign against ISIS’s heavily fortified capital in Raqqa ramps up.

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