Judge rejects Trump defense against claim he incited violence at rally

A federal judge has rejected President Donald Trump’s free speech defense in a lawsuit in which he is accused of inciting violence against protesters during his campaign.

Trump’s lawyers sought to dismiss the lawsuit by three protesters who say they were roughed up by Trump supporters at a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville.

Trump’s lawyers contend that when the candidate said “Get ’em out of here”, he didn’t intend for his supporters to use force.

Two women and a man say they were shoved and punched by audience members as Trump directed them from the podium. Much of the scuffle was captured on video and widely broadcast during the presidential campaign.

Judge David J Hale in Louisville ruled on Friday that the suit against Trump, his campaign and three of his supporters can proceed.

Hale found that there were ample facts supporting the allegation that the protesters’ injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s actions.

“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ‘em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” Hale wrote.

Two of the Trump supporters are named in the suit. They are Alvin Bamberger, a member of the Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA) from Ohio, and Matthew Heimbach, a leader of the white supremacist group Traditional Youth Network from Paoli, Indiana.

Bamberger reportedly expressed regret over having been “caught up in the frenzy” at the rally, in a statement to the KWVA last year.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, says Heimbach is “considered by many to be the face of a new generation of white nationalists”.

Source: The Guardian newspaper web site.

Trump presidency is in a hole

After 70 days in office Mr Trump is stuck in the sand.

DONALD TRUMP won the White House on the promise that government is easy. Unlike his Democratic opponent, whose career had been devoted to politics, Mr Trump stood as a businessman who could Get Things Done. Enough voters decided that boasting, mocking, lying and grabbing women were secondary. Some Trump fans even saw them as the credentials of an authentic, swamp-draining saviour.

After 70 days in office, however, Mr Trump is stuck in the sand. A health-care bill promised as one of his “first acts” suffered a humiliating collapse in the—Republican-controlled—Congress. His repeated attempts to draft curbs on travel to America from some Muslim countries are being blocked by the courts. And suspicions that his campaign collaborated with Russia have cost him his national security adviser and look likely to dog his administration (see article). Voters are not impressed. No other president so early in his first term has suffered such low approval ratings.

The business of government

Mr Trump is hardly the first tycoon to discover that business and politics work by different rules. If you fall out over a property deal, you can always find another sucker. In politics you cannot walk away so easily. Even if Mr Trump now despises the Republican factions that dared defy him over health care, Congress is the only place he can go to pass legislation.

The nature of political power is different, too. As owner and CEO of his business, Mr Trump had absolute control. The constitution sets out to block would-be autocrats. Where Mr Trump has acted appropriately—as with his nomination of a principled, conservative jurist to fill a Supreme Court vacancy—he deserves to prevail. But when the courts question the legality of his travel order they are only doing their job. Likewise, the Republican failure to muster a majority over health-care reflects not just divisions between the party’s moderates and hardliners, but also the defects of a bill that, by the end, would have led to worse protection, or none, for tens of millions of Americans without saving taxpayers much money.

Far from taking Washington by storm, America’s CEO is out of his depth. The art of political compromise is new to him. He blurs his own interests and the interests of the nation. The scrutiny of office grates. He chafes under the limitations of being the most powerful man in the world. You have only to follow his incontinent stream of tweets to grasp Mr Trump’s paranoia and vanity: the press lies about him; the election result fraudulently omitted millions of votes for him; the intelligence services are disloyal; his predecessor tapped his phones. It’s neither pretty nor presidential.

That the main victim of these slurs has so far been the tweeter-in-chief himself is testament to the strength of American democracy. But institutions can erode, and the country is wretchedly divided (see article). Unless Mr Trump changes course, the harm risks spreading. The next test will be the budget. If the Republican Party cannot pass a stop-gap measure, the government will start to shut down on April 29th. Recent jitters in the markets are a sign that investors are counting on Mr Trump and his party to pass legislation.

More than anything, they are looking for tax reform and an infrastructure plan. There is vast scope to make fiscal policy more efficient and fairer (see article). American firms face high tax rates and have a disincentive to repatriate profits. Personal taxes are a labyrinth of privileges and loopholes, most of which benefit the well-off. Likewise, the country’s cramped airports and potholed highways are a drain on productivity. Sure enough, Mr Trump has let it be known that he now wants to tackle tax. And, in a bid to win support from Democrats, he may deal with infrastructure at the same time.

Yet the politics of tax reform are as treacherous as the politics of health care, and not only because they will generate ferocious lobbying. Most Republican plans are shockingly regressive, despite Mr Trump’s blue-collar base. To win even a modest reform, Mr Trump and his team will have to show a mastery of detail and coalition-building that has so far eluded them. If Mr Trump’s popularity falls further, the job of winning over fractious Republicans will only become harder.

The character question

The Americans who voted for Mr Trump either overlooked his bombast, or they saw in him a tycoon with the self-belief to transform Washington. Although this presidency is still young, that already seems an error of judgment. His policies, from health-care reform to immigration, have been poor—they do not even pass the narrow test that they benefit Trump voters. Most worrying for America and the world is how fast the businessman in the Oval Office is proving unfit for the job.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

Republican infighting is part of being Republican


‘Working together, this unified Republican government will deliver relief and peace of mind to the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare,’ Paul Ryan said despite health advocates’ criticism of bill. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Trumpcare failed to pass but the real problem is that the Republican Party is plagued by partisan infighting. Mr. Trump was able to use the ideological differences between factions in the party to his advantage during the election campaign. Not only did he overthrow the party’s traditional leadership, he united many of the other competing interests in the party.

But the campaign is over now. The factions in Congress are starting to make the President’s life much more difficult. What’s the basis of Republican disunity? Aren’t Republicans, whether elites or voters, all staunch conservatives who oppose the Democrats?

Jon MacKay is an affiliate researcher of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation. William Bendix is assistant professor of political science at Keene State College, in New Hampshire. Together they examined how several hundred interest groups have rated congressional Republicans since 2001. They found three distinct factions that were stable over time. Each represented different sets of ideological interests. The party leaders reside in what we call the corporate-establishment faction – a group that advances pro-business policies. The difficulty is that two other Republican factions also compete for power: a lunch-pail faction, whose members focus on working-class issues, and an ethno-radical faction, whose members support a mix of nativist and fiscally regressive policies. You can read their research here…. 2016 08 18 Bendix & MacKay Partisan Republican Infighting

What’s become clear is that any policy decision Donald Trump makes is now likely to produce as many losers as winners within their party’s coalition.

After the health-care defeat, Mr. Trump has said he’ll next turn to tax cuts, dramatically lowering taxes across the board. His plan, estimated to reduce federal revenues by $6-trillion (U.S.) over ten years, will provide much greater tax relief to the affluent than it will to middle- and working-class voters. This makes it, in many respects, a mainstream Republican proposal.

But that’s the problem. Massive revenue cuts need to be offset by large spending cuts, otherwise the national debt will balloon. Mr. Trump wants to boost military spending, cut taxes and slash industry oversight and entitlement programs. That likely suits the corporate establishment and the ethno-radicals of the party, but it will outrage most everyone else – including lunch-pail voters. True, Trump could cut taxes and increase spending without totally blowing up the budget by issuing 100-year bonds. But it’s hard to imagine the ethno-radicals supporting this big-government, big-debt strategy.

Trade protectionism, another pillar of Mr. Trump’s election campaign, is the most important issue for Canada. Although famously inconsistent on many issues, Trump has been unwavering on trade. He has already abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has said that he wants to reopen NAFTA, impose tariffs on individual firms, and possibly withdraw the U.S. from the World Trade Organization.

These promises are aimed at lunch-pail Republicans, who have seen manufacturing jobs disappear over the last three decades. But this anti-trade agenda is at odds with the corporate establishment of the party – which has, since at least Ronald Reagan, advocated trade liberalization.

You may read the complete article on the Globe and Mail newspaper web site.

Trump discovers politics isn’t like business

Donald Trump listens to a speaker in the East Room of the White House on Friday. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump is used to running private companies with him as President, and enjoying the Presidential power private companies provide. Now he finds being President of the United States isn’t the same as being President of Trump Organization.

Republicans, who voted more than 60 times to repeal or alter Obamacare over the past few years only to be vetoed by Obama, had got their big chance and blown it. The party’s deep ideological and factional divisions, temporarily papered over amid the euphoria of last November’s surprise win, were back with a vengeance as it struggled to go from opposition to governance.

In Trump’s rambunctious election campaign, the 70-year-old novice promised to repeal and replace the ACA “immediately”. It was a bad choice for an opening offensive. Healthcare reform is to American presidents what the Russian winter was to Napoleon.

Trump has said tax reform is next, and years of Republican planning might allow for that legislation to pass more easily. But his ability to work with Congress is in grave question. His unique selling point, as a dealmaker, has taken a huge hit.

Gwenda Blair, a Trump biographer, said of Trump’s supporters: “They voted for a guy who could fix it, the CEO, on The Apprentice for 10 years, who could make a deal with anybody.”

But the tactics that served Trump so well in business – playing the alpha male, holding one-on-one meetings – did not translate to politics, she said.

“Now he’s up against 535 other people [in the House and Senate], other people who have their own independent power base and are not really interested in rolling over. The model of taking one person in a room and beating up on them doesn’t work with 535.”

But as the health care bill negotiations gathered steam, it was clearly not going to be plain sailing. Last month, Trump admitted: “Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated.” The bill was, in the eyes of many, rushed and deeply flawed, falling well short of Trump’s campaign pledge to provide insurance for everyone.

Grassroots protests erupted across the country, citizen activists hitting the phones and constituents berating congressmen at town hall events. Groups representing hospitals and medical professionals derided the legislation. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that the AHCA would lead to 24 million fewer Americans having health insurance over the next 10 years. The bill achieved the rare feat of uniting the far left and far right in opposition.

Friday’s failure was a fillip for the anti-Trump “resistance” but it was hardly grounds for complacency. The president looks set to press ahead with his agenda on everything from rolling back Obama-era protections on the environment to building a wall on the Mexican border to firing off tweets that alienate allies and embolden enemies.

He may also ensure that his prediction of Obamacare’s explosion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Move fast and break things” will continue, even it if means breaking his own party.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

US immigrants make sub-zero trek for slim chance at asylum in Canada

A man who claimed to be from Sudan illegally crosses the US-Canada border into Hemmingford, Quebec, in Canada. Photograph: Christinne Muschi/Reuters

His wet clothes frozen stiff and feet sinking into the deep snow, Mamadou allowed himself a shred of hope when he glimpsed a faint light in the distance.

Many hours earlier, he had set out for the border just as the sun was setting, trudging through thick woods near Plattsburgh, New York, towards Canada.

Temperatures plunged to -15C and a bitter wind whipped snow-laden tree branches into his face. Several times, he was forced to wade through rivers or lakes.

“I was so cold. I was soaked. I didn’t think I was going to make it,” said the 46-year-old, choking back tears as he recalled his ordeal earlier this month. “I didn’t know where I was going – I had no map, no lamp, no light – nothing.”

What he did know, he said, was that he had no other option. “Because I’m no longer safe in the United States, and in my country – I’m going to be killed.”

Mamadou, whose full name is not being published for his protection, decided to cross into Canada after more than a decade of living legally in the US.

He had fled from the Ivory Coast in 2006 soon after rebels killed his father and burned down his family home.

American authorities denied his request for asylum, but a judge allowed him to stay in the country on the grounds that deportation would endanger his life. Mamadou found work – legally – as a taxi driver in New York: “I worked hard and paid taxes.”

But when Trump was elected president of the US, Mamadou, a Muslim, wondered nervously what the news might mean for him. The answer came swiftly: in early March, immigration officials visited his apartment in the Bronx.

After their third visit – each time Mamadou was out working – he decided to seek refuge in Canada.

Days later he took a taxi to a border crossing near Plattsburgh, and explained his situation to Canadian immigration officials. They denied his asylum request, pointing to the Safe Third Country Agreement, which prohibits most people who have already sought asylum in the US from making a refugee claim in Canada.

But the agreement only applies at official border crossings; if refugees can slip into the country elsewhere along the 5,500-mile frontier, they are eligible to make a claim. He decided to slip across elsewhwere.

“But I didn’t know if it was Canada or the United States,” he said. The clue was in a street sign that read arrêt – or “stop”, in French. Relief overcame him as he realised this was the end of his nine-hour trek. Seconds later, he collapsed.

A police officer on patrol found him on the side of the road, clinging to life. As Mamadou lay unconscious, paramedics cut his frozen clothes and shoes off with scissors. Four hours later, he came to in a local hospital. He was still shivering and unable to speak, and his feet were swollen from frostbite.

His ordeal hints at the extreme risks being taken by some to make an asylum claim in Canada, said Mamadou’s lawyer, Éric Taillefer. “We found him,” he said. “But what if there’s someone we haven’t found? I really hope we’re not going to find a body in the spring.”

For months, advocates on both sides of the border have been urging the Canadian government to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, arguing that doing so will allow asylum seekers in the US to simply apply at official border crossings rather than making hazardous journeys.

So far the Canadian government has said it has no plans to suspend the agreement.

In Mamadou’s case, the agreement has resulted in a cruel twist. In Canada, asylum seekers are only allowed one chance to make a claim – a chance that Mamadou used up when he was first denied refugee status at the border crossing.

If he hadn’t applied first through proper channels and only crossed through the woods, he would now be eligible to make a refugee claim. Instead, he now faces deportation to the Ivory Coast, said Taillefer. His lawyers are pushing for him to be granted the right to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds, hoping he might be the exception in a program with a success rate of around 3%.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

Trump’s commerce secretary oversaw Russia deal while at Bank of Cyprus


Wilbur Ross was previously vice-chairman of the Bank Of Cyprus. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Wilbur Ross, the Trump administration’s new commerce secretary, presided over a deal with a Russian businessman with ties to Vladimir Putin while serving in his previous role as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.

The transaction raises questions about Ross’s tenure at the Cypriot bank and his ties to politically connected Russian oligarchs. It comes amid confirmation by the FBI that it is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

In 2015, while he served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, the bank’s Russia-based businesses were sold to a Russian banker and consultant, Artem Avetisyan, who had ties to both the Russian president and Russia’s largest bank, Sberbank. At the time, Sberbank was under US and EU sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Avetisyan had earlier been selected by Putin to head a new business branch of the Russian president’s strategic initiative agency, which was tasked with improving business and government ties.

Avetisyan’s business partner, Oleg Gref, is the son of Herman Gref, Sberbank’s chief executive officer, and their consultancy has served as a “partner” to Sberbank, according to their website. Ross had described the Russian businesses – including 120 bank branches in Russia – as being worth “hundreds of millions of euros” in 2014 but they were sold with other assets to Avetisyan for €7m (£6m).

Ross has not been accused of wrongdoing and there is no indication the Russian deal violated US or EU sanctions. Ross resigned from the Bank of Cyprus board after he was confirmed as commerce secretary last month.

Ross, who had made billions of dollars years earlier by betting on bankrupt steel mills, was known for taking risky bets. But his decision to inject €400m into the bank with other investors encompassed a different kind of risk. It put him at the centre of the biggest financial institution in a country that was widely considered to be a tax haven for Russian oligarchs, even as the US and EU were imposing sanctions on Russia. In 2014, the year he made his investment, the US State Department considered Cyprus an area of “primary concern” for money laundering (pdf), according to its official assessment.

Ross was appointed vice-chairman at the bank after his investment in 2014, a post he shared with a deposit holder-turned-shareholder, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, referred to in Russian media as a former KGB official and Putin ally. According to the bank’s annual reports, the two attended two board meetings together in 2014 and as many as five together in 2015 before Strzhalkovsky’s May 2015 resignation from the board. One of the questions that has been posed to Ross by Democratic senators is whether he ever had contact with Strzhalkovsky.

One of Ross’s first big decisions at the bank was the appointment of former Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann as chairman, whom he chose in part because of Ackermann’s “huge Rolodex”, according to a 2014 Bloomberg interview.

Ackermann’s ties to Russia were especially strong, including a warm relationship with Putin and Herman Gref of Sberbank.

In a separate management decision under Ross’s watch, Bank of Cyprus gave Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest private bank, until 2019 – four more years than originally planned – to pay back a €100m debt it owed in connection to Alfa’s purchase of the bank’s Ukrainian assets. Alfa Bank still owed Bank of Cyprus €57m as of the end of September. Bank of Cyprus said the extension was provided because of the “worsening geopolitical situation in Ukraine”.

John Koenig, former US ambassador to Cyprus, told the Guardian he did not believe Ross had ever gone out of his way to favour Russian investors or the Kremlin. At the time, he recalled, officials were actively seeking investments from big US and European banks but nobody was interested until Ross came along.

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

‘Turkish Trump,’ a Hotel Plan and a Tangle of Foreign Ties

Mukemmel Sarimsakci, a real estate executive who goes by Mike, or “Turkish Trump.” Credit Jake Dean

Before taking office, Donald J. Trump pledged that his business empire would forgo new deals abroad while he was president. But as the Trump Organization unveils a new brand of hotels, that promise is not preventing the company from bringing foreign deals home.

The company, now largely run by Mr. Trump’s eldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr., has been pursuing a downtown Dallas hotel project with a real estate firm that has deep Turkish roots. The hotel, if built, would fall under the Trump Organization’s Scion chain, a more affordable alternative to its five-star luxury line.

An examination by The New York Times of records including corporation registrations, private emails and archived websites found that Alterra Worldwide, the real estate firm that would own the hotel and be partners with the Trumps, has business ties in Russia, Kazakhstan and at least two dozen other countries. Ordinarily, such international experience would be a selling point for the firm, but it is a complicating factor when dealing with Mr. Trump’s company, where concerns already have been raised internally about some of Alterra’s foreign connections.

Alterra’s president, Mukemmel Sarimsakci, is a familiar face in Dallas, where he has recruited foreign investment to other developments that earned praise from city officials. Mr. Sarimsakci — who goes by Mike, or, alternatively, the “Turkish Trump” — is also listed on an expert consultant website charging $465 an hour for advice on doing business in such countries as Iran, Mexico and Nigeria. And he has counseled the governments of Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Sudan and Georgia, among others, on renewable energy, he acknowledged to The Times.

In January, then President-elect Trump and his lawyers announced his ethics plan, which included putting his business in a trust managed by his two eldest sons and an executive, while also appointing an outside ethics adviser and a chief compliance counsel to review potential deals.

In drafting his presidential ethics policy, Mr. Trump gave extra consideration to international dealings, given the emoluments clause of the Constitution banning federal employees from accepting gifts from foreign leaders or governments. He pledged that profits made from foreign governments at existing Trump hotels would be donated to the United States Treasury.

Projects in the United States, even those funded with foreign money, arguably pose less of a reputational and ethical threat to the company and the president because they would be subject to local laws and regulations. Even so, once foreign money is involved, it can be difficult to trace its origins.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.