The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Trump Issues First Public Condemnation Of Anti-Semitic Incidents

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump delivered his first public condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States on Tuesday after a new spate of bomb threats to Jewish community centers around the country and vandalism in a Jewish cemetery.

Several of the centers were evacuated for a time on Monday after receiving the threats, the JCC Association of North America said, and another center was evacuated on Tuesday morning in San Diego, California, according to police.

Also, vandals toppled about 170 headstones at the Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, over the weekend.

“The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,” Trump told reporters.

He was speaking at the end of a tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, which Trump said showed “why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.”

The comments marked a change for Trump, who had not explicitly and publicly condemned the threats against Jews when asked last week. Instead, he spoke more generally about his hopes of making the nation less “divided.”

The president reacted with anger at a news conference last week when a journalist from a Jewish magazine asked how his government planned to “take care” of a rise in threats.

Trump berated the reporter for asking a “very insulting” question, appearing to believe the reporter was accusing him of being anti-Semitic.

“Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life,” the president said, adding that he was also the least racist person. Trump has often noted that one of his daughters is a convert to Judaism, he has Jewish grandchildren and he employs many Jews in his business.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka, a close adviser to her father who practices Orthodox Judaism, responded to the latest threats in a message on her Twitter account on Monday evening.

“America is a nation built on the principle of religious tolerance,” she said. “We must protect our houses of worship & religious centers.”

On Tuesday, Trump again declined to answer a question about what action he would take to address the threats to Jewish organizations. Sean Spicer, a White House spokesman, said later that Trump would respond through “deed and action” over the coming months and years.

‘BAND-AID’

Trump’s derogatory campaign rhetoric against Muslims and Mexican immigrants won enthusiastic backing from prominent white supremacists who embrace anti-Jewish, anti-black, and anti-Muslim ideologies. It also drew greater media attention to fringe extremist groups.

Trump has disavowed their support. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is the former publisher of Breitbart, a news website popular among right-wing extremist groups.

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York, which has criticized the Trump administration repeatedly over anti-Semitism, said his comments were too little too late.

“The president’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration,” Steven Goldstein, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Spicer rejected the characterization.

“I wish that they had praised the president for his leadership in this area,” he told reporters when asked about Goldstein’s comment. “Hopefully as time goes by they’ll recognize his commitment to civil rights.”

Jewish groups criticized the White House for omitting any mention of Jews in its statement marking Holocaust Memorial Day last month. The White House said the omission was deliberate since the Nazis also killed people who were not Jews, if in smaller numbers. The stated goal of the Nazis was the extermination of Jews.

One day after speaking at a security summit in Munich, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spent Sunday morning walking through the grounds of the Dachau concentration camp in Germany with a camp survivor.

Over the course of Presidents’ Day on Monday, bomb threats were sent to 11 Jewish community centers, including ones in the Houston, Chicago, and Milwaukee areas, according to the JCC association. They were found to be hoaxes, as was another threat that forced the evacuation of a center in San Diego on Tuesday morning, according to police.

No arrests were made. The FBI has said it is investigating recent threats as “possible civil rights violations.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent Muslim human rights group, has offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone behind the threats, saying Muslims felt a duty to support any targeted minority group.

The incidents on Monday followed three waves of bomb threats so far this year. In all, at least 69 incidents at 54 Jewish community centers in 27 states and one Canadian province have been reported, according to the JCC association.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington, Tom Gannam in St. Louis and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Frances Kerry and Jeffrey Benkoe)

IMAGE: Local and national media report on more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, U.S. February 21, 2017.  REUTERS/Tom Gannam

Despite Showman Reputation, Trump Fails To Book A-Listers For Inauguration

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump made his name with opulent hotels and a dramatic reality TV show, but his inauguration on Friday as the 45th U.S. president is shaping up as a more understated affair, with big names in entertainment staying away.

Like those who came before him, Trump will take his oath on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building and lead a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, but there will be fewer official balls and less glitz and celebrity talent to welcome in the new president.

Inaugurations have been star-studded affairs since 1941, when President Franklin Roosevelt held a gala with actors Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Rooney and other stars of the era, said Jim Bendat, a historian who has written a book on U.S. inaugurations.

But this year, several singers – including Elton John and Charlotte Church – declined invitations to perform at inaugural events. Trump, a New York businessman and former star of “The Apprentice” TV show, won with a populist platform that included promises to build a wall along the Mexican border, restrict immigration from Muslim countries and dismantle Obamacare.

Broadway star Jennifer Holliday said yes to performing, but backed down after a backlash from fans.

“You can’t really find precedent for that,” Bendat said in an interview.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, singer Jackie Evancho and the Rockettes dancing troupe are among those slated to perform, although individual Rockettes will be allowed to opt out of performing if they so choose.

Trump’s inaugural committee has said it is intentionally avoiding top entertainers.

“We’re fortunate in that we have the greatest celebrity in the world, which is the president-elect,” Tom Barrack, inaugural committee chairman, told reporters at Trump Tower in New York last week.

“So what we’ve done, instead of trying to surround him with what people consider A-listers, is we are going to surround him with the soft sensuality of the place,” Barrack said.

Trump is slated to attend three official galas. Other modern inaugurations have had around 10 official balls, which the president and first lady would attend in rapid succession, typically dancing during each appearance.

Then-President Bill Clinton held a record 14 balls during his 1997 inauguration, Bendat said.

On Thursday, a series of choirs and marching bands will perform at the Lincoln Memorial, followed by a concert featuring country music star Toby Keith.

Trump, who is entering office with unusually low approval ratings, has repeatedly pushed back against reports that his inauguration may be lacking in star power or have low attendance.

“People are pouring into Washington in record numbers,” Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Bikers for Trump are on their way. It will be a great Thursday, Friday and Saturday!”

Officials expect about 800,000 spectators for the events – down from the estimated 1.8 million who flocked to Washington for Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

Just 40 percent of Americans said they had a favorable view of Trump versus 55 percent who had an unfavorable view, according to a Gallup poll taken from Jan. 4 to Jan. 8.

At a similar point before he took office in 2009, Obama was viewed favorably by 78 percent of Americans. Before taking office in 2001, President George W. Bush had a 62 percent favorable rating, according to the Gallup data.

“What is most likely to distinguish Trump’s inauguration is the number of protesters,” said Brian Balogh, co-host of American history radio show BackStory.

The National Parks Service has granted permits to protest for 27 groups. On Saturday, the National Mall will draw what organizers estimate will be about 200,000 people to a Women’s March to protest Trump.

The Women’s March, which is expected to be the largest protest, is aimed at bringing attention to human and civil rights issues. Honorary co-chairs of the protest include activist Gloria Steinem and actor Harry Belafonte.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: Preparations are finalized on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, where Donald J. Trump will be sworn in as America’s 45th president, in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2017.  REUTERS/Mike Theiler

Angry Trump Dismisses Russian Dossier Report As ‘Phony Stuff’

NEW YORK (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump said on Wednesday that U.S. intelligence agencies might have leaked a dossier of what he called “fake news” about how Russia had tried to sway his actions, saying the allegations were false.

In his first formal news conference since July, Trump slammed two news organizations for reporting unsubstantiated claims about his ties to Moscow but praised other reporters for holding back.

“I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out,” Trump told about 250 reporters jammed into the lobby at his New York offices.

“It’s all fake news, it’s phony stuff, it didn’t happen,” said Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20. The dossier, which emerged late on Tuesday, was first reported by CNN. BuzzFeed published detailed elements of the report.

Two U.S. officials said Tuesday evening that the allegations, which one called “unsubstantiated,” were contained in a two-page memo appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election that was presented last week to Trump and to President Barack Obama.

The Republican president-elect has long said he hopes to improve ties with Moscow, but his plans have come under intense scrutiny after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia used cyber attacks and other tactics to try to tilt the presidential election in his favor over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

His stance has rattled traditional U.S. allies such as NATO countries and many U.S. foreign policy experts who consider Russia a geopolitical adversary.

About a dozen protesters gathered behind a police barricade across the street from Trump Tower, holding signs with slogans like “Dump Trump” and “Allegiance To America Not Russia” as Fifth Avenue traffic streamed by.

At the other end of the block, a separate group of protesters held signs with Trump sporting a Hitler mustache, and chanted, “In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America!”

The Russia news obscured what was the original purpose of the news conference: a chance for the real estate developer to describe how he will separate himself from his global business operations to avoid conflicts of interest once he takes office.

Trump, who owns hotels and golf courses as well as assets like a winery and modeling agency, will transfer all his assets into a trust and put his two sons in charge, hiring an ethics adviser to review any transactions for conflicts, a Trump lawyer told reporters on Wednesday.

The company will not enter any new deals while Trump is president, and all profits generated at Trump’s hotels by foreign governments will be donated to the U.S. Treasury, the lawyer said.

His daughter Ivanka, whose husband Jared Kushner will be a senior adviser to Trump in the White House, also will cease her management role in the Trump Organization, the lawyer said.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jeff Mason, Jonathan Landay and John Walcott in Washington and Jonathan Allen and Melissa Fares in New York; Writing by Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: Vice President-elect Mike Pence (L) is seen in the background as U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Trump Tower, Manhattan, New York, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Obama Says New Black History Museum Tells Story Of America

 WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Saturday expressed hope that a new national museum showcasing the triumphs and tragedies of the African American experience will help to bring people together as the nation reels from recent racial upheaval.

Speaking at a dedication ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Obama said that the story of black America is the story of America.

“This national museum helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are,” said Obama.

“Hopefully, this museum can help us to talk to each other. And more importantly, listen to each other. And most importantly, see each other. Black and white and Latino and Native American and Asian American – see how our stories are bound together,” he said standing on a stage outside the bronze-colored, latticed museum.

The museum, located on the National Mall, officially opened its doors on Saturday. It contains 36,000 items that trace the journey of African Americans from slavery in the 1800s to the fight for civil rights in the 20th century and lauds modern icons, such as media mogul Oprah Winfrey and tennis champion Serena Williams.

With a ring of a bell, Obama and wife Michelle and four generations of an African American family inaugurated the $540 million museum designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, who was inspired by Yoruban art from West Africa.

Obama, who made history as the first black president of the United States, spoke as racial tensions flared once again across the nation in the aftermath of police shootings of two black men in the past two weeks.

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a white police officer has been charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting Terence Crutcher, 40, whose car had broken down and blocked a road.

Violent protests broke out after a separate incident in Charlotte, North Carolina, where police shot Keith Scott, a 43-year-old father of seven.

The deaths were the latest in a string of fatal encounters between police and African Americans that have sparked unrest and threaten to overshadow Obama’s legacy on race relations.

IObama said the museum’s exhibits on the fight against racial discrimination and segregation could provide context for current movements against police brutality.

“It reminds us that routine discrimination and Jim Crow are not ancient history. We shouldn’t despair that it’s not all solved,” Obama said, noting all the progress that the country has made just in his lifetime.

“This is the place to understand how protest and love of country don’t merely coexist, but inform each other,” he said.

The dedication ceremony was attended by a who’s who of American officials, including Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as entertainment luminaries including Winfrey, Stevie Wonder and Will Smith.

The Obamas were joined on stage by former President George W. Bush, and his wife Laura. Bush signed the law authorizing construction of the museum in 2003.

“A great nation does not hide its history, it faces its flaws and it corrects them,” Bush said.

Demand to visit the museum is high, with free tickets to the museum quickly snatched up online.

Obama has joined in the excitement for the new attraction. The first family enjoyed a private preview earlier this month. He also hosted a reception at the White House on Friday in honor of the opening and attended a star-studded concert heralding the museum at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Friday night.

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Mary Milliken)

Louisiana Flood: Obama To Tour Area To Assess Damage

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will visit Louisiana on Tuesday to assess flood damage there, days after he was criticized for not cutting short his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard to view the devastation in the Gulf Coast state.

Obama, who returned on Sunday from his annual August vacation on the Massachusetts island, is expected to tour areas in the state capital, Baton Rouge, hit by record flooding and to meet with Louisiana officials to discuss recovery efforts.

The White House on Monday defended the president’s decision not to visit the state sooner, saying Obama was more focused on the federal response to the crisis than securing photo opportunities.

“There’s an all too common temptation to focus on the politics and to focus on the optics,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told a news briefing. “But the survivors of the flooding in Louisiana are not well served by a political discussion, they’re well served by a competent, effective, strong, coordinated government response.”

The deluge that dumped more than 2-1/2 feet (76 cm) of rain on parts of Louisiana has been described as the worst U.S. disaster since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The floods have killed at least 13 people and damaged more than 60,000 homes.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump toured the state on Friday. He said Obama should have taken time from his break to travel to Louisiana.

On social media, some Louisiana residents and others urged Obama to visit, and Baton Rouge’s newspaper, The Advocate, voiced a similar view.

Obama received updates on the flooding during his vacation from U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, who have both visited Louisiana.

The president’s travel requires a huge retinue of Secret Service agents and assistance from local and state law enforcement officials, so the White House usually waits to visit disaster zones to avoid tying up police and emergency resources needed elsewhere.

Despite the criticism about the timing of Obama‘s visit, Earnest said FEMA had received bipartisan praise for its work in the aftermath of the flooding, unlike the criticism the agency faced following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 under then-President George W. Bush.

“I think the effectiveness of the response thus far speaks for itself,” Earnest said. “And I think frankly, it’s the most effective way to answer any of the politically motivated criticism that the president has faced.”

(Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama holds a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. August 4, 2016.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst