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Has Trumpism Made The World Less Safe For Jews?

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Earlier this month, a lifetime ago in the Trump administration, an art dealer named Todd Brassner burned to death in a fire at Trump Tower. (The building did not have a sprinkler system on its residential floors because its eponymous owner refused to install one, citing its prohibitive cost). According to the New York Daily News, real estate mogul Trump was less than enamored of Brassner, reportedly referring to his tenant as “that crazy Jew.” The scandal barely registered with the American public, but it offered yet another reminder that the Oval Office is still oozing with anti-Semitism, even after the departures of white nationalists like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka.

Bigots and bullies have grown emboldened. The Anti-Defamation League tallied1,986 anti-Semitic attacks in 2017, up 57 percent over the year prior. Schools proved the most common place for these incidents; 457 were perpetrated against children grades K-12. American Jews have not faced the kind of overt persecution that Muslims, African Americans and Latinos have since Trump assumed office, but as Jonathan Weisman warns in his new book, now is no time for diffidence or retreat.

One part memoir, two parts sociological study, (((Semitism))) explores what it means to be Jewish in Trump’s America, with all of its inherent possibilities and dangers. (The triple parentheses allude to the so-called alt-right’s method of marking Jews on social media for online harassment). Days ahead of a neo-Nazi rally in Newnan, Ga., AlterNet spoke with Weisman over the phone about the rising tide of white nationalism, American Jewish organizations’ singular obsession with Israel and the need for Jews across the country to form broad coalitions. The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Jacob Sugarman: You yourself acknowledge that there are other religious and ethnic groups who are even more imperiled by Trump’s presidency than American Jews. Why do you think it’s important to explore the wave of anti-Semitism his run for office and subsequent election appear to have triggered?

Jonathan Weisman: When white nationalists talk about so-called white genocide, they imagine that white human beings, specifically white men, are being supplanted and driven out by brown people: African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims and immigrants more generally. But their mythology also tells them that these brown people are inferior beings, so they summon the Jews as the cause of their demise, the answer to the question, “How could this be happening to us?” It’s the Jews, they believe, who are the puppet masters, pulling the strings of the ethnic hordes. You can’t separate one group from another, we’re all in this together.

The American Jewish community also has a certain amount of power and resources to bear in this fight. If a Jew stands up and screams, “Anti-Semitism,” the response is often, “You’re just being parochial. There are other people who have it far worse than you. What are you doing?” That’s why it’s so essential we form alliances with Muslim Americans, immigrants, Latinos and African Americans to denounce all forms of bigotry.

JS: Does Trump pose a unique threat to Jews, or is he simply channeling hatreds that have always been present in American society?

JW: I’m not sure I’d call it a unique threat because the globe goes through spasms of nationalism, and these spasms tend to be bad for Jews. The rise of white nationalism is international, and Trump is proof that it has arrived at the shores of the United States. If you look at [Viktor] Orban’s Hungary, or what’s happening in Poland, or the last elections in Italy, or Golden Dawn in Greece, you have to think that the virus is spreading. Things are demonstrably worse in Europe than they are in the U.S., but we’re at a dangerous moment in history.

JS: I’m glad you brought up Hungary and Poland. Has Trump’s victory rekindled anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe?

JW: Absolutely. There’s no question that the white nationalists in Europe look at the president as a kindred spirit. They feel they have some momentum, and with Trump in the Oval Office, they no longer have to fear the United States as a bulwark against their movement.

JS: If we can wind back the clock two years, why do you think American Jewish organizations were so tepid in their response to Trump’s presidential campaign? Did they fail to recognize the threat he posed?

JW: Over the last 20 years, whether they’re liberal outfits like J Street and New Israel Fund or conservative groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition and AIPAC, mainstream Jewish organizations have become obsessed with Israel. To an extent it’s understandable, because at least for now, support for Israel may be the one thing that Democrats and Republicans can agree on. You’re not going to get into trouble with potential donors or supporters by focusing on the Israeli cause. But this focus has come almost at the exclusion of domestic politics in the United States. Few realize that the white nationalist movement actually emerged in the later Bush years, after the public had soured on the Iraq War and later with the collapse of the financial system. Conservatives were looking for a new rallying cry. Most people, virtually everybody, ignored the alt-right for eight years. And during that time, American Jews were basically arguing about Israel.

JS: How did the concern of these organizations become so blinkered, and do you believe it has affected their commitment to social justice?

JW: Money is obviously a big part of it, but it’s also complacency. The United States from 1960 to 2016 felt like it was on slow but steady trajectory toward a more pluralistic, inclusive and tolerant society. I think these organizations were completely blindsided by this latest surge of nationalism. They had been looking for a cause to rally behind, and Israel offered an obvious one.

JS: At the risk of falling into the same trap, do American Jews have a responsibility to speak out against the recent violence on the Gaza border?

JW: You have to understand that Jews in their late teens and early 20s have grown up experiencing nothing but Likud politics, with no exposure to hope in the Middle East. They don’t know an Israel with a Labor or a centrist government. They don’t remember the Oslo Accord, and they certainly don’t remember the Camp David Accord. On their left, they have the BDS movement, and on their right they have their elders telling them, “Part of your Judaism is bound to your fealty to Israel.”

I believe very strongly that if love of Israel is a prerequisite to Jewish identity in this country, then we’re going to lose an entire generation. It’s probably the biggest threat facing the American Jewish community today—that drift of young Jews away from Judaism because of the demands that Israel puts on them. Jews should be able to embrace their religion and their identity without having to answer to the latest atrocity in Gaza.

JS: Why do you think anti-Semitism and militant Zionism have proven so compatible? At least superficially, Likudniks and an administration that has featured the likes of Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka would appear to make for strange bedfellows.

JW: I think the more you study alt-right ideology, the less strange it appears. Unlike the kind of anti-Semitism that you see emerging in the British Labour Party or on the French left, the alt-right is not especially anti-Zionist. They view Israel as a model ethno-state for their own country. There’s no incompatibility with white nationalism because they believe Jews have a place to go and should go there.

JS: I have to push back a little bit here. Are you really suggesting that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is rife with anti-Semitism?

JW: I wouldn’t go so far as to call him an anti-Semite himself, but absolutely, I think anti-Semitism is a real problem in the Labour Party and that Corbyn has been especially reluctant to confront it.

JS: How did Gamergate presage the 2016 election, and why does misogyny so often serve as a gateway drug for overt racism and anti-Semitism?

JW: For most of the decade, members of the alt-right talked to themselves in their own little online ghettos at the National Policy Institute and Taki’s Magazine, and then at the Daily Stormer, Stormfront and other neo-Nazi publications. Gamergate showed that they could spread their ideology in the chat rooms of 4chan and 8chan, the comment sections of YouTube and eventually on Twitter—that through doxxing, trolling and other tactics, the web could be weaponized. And remember, there was a bridge from one movement to the other. One of the great orchestrators of Gamergate was Milo Yiannopolous, who parlayed his notoriety into an editing gig at Breitbart and later emerged as a celebrity on the alt-right.

I talked to

Zoë Quinn, and she believes that Gamergate was like a signal flare to white nationalists. They said to themselves, “Oh my God, we can do that too.” And it took very little time for the harrassment campaign to turn anti-Semitic, because Quinn’s boyfriend was a Yeshiva-educated Jew. Before long, trolls were threatening her with rape and posting photo-shopped images of her covered in semen.

The entire episode was a trial run for Trump’s presidential bid. All of the abuse heaped on Quinn, Brianna Wu and other women video game designers was redirected not just at political journalists on the campaign trail, but the Jews of Whitefish, Montana. (The National Policy Institute is based in Whitefish, as is the mother of alt-right founder, Richard Spencer). As for why misogyny leads to anti-Semitism, I think feelings of sexual frustration or humiliation can be a powerful source of hatred. And hate breeds hate, right?

JS: Donald Trump won’t be president forever, even if he wishes he could be, so what hope do we have of mending the hole his political ascent has torn in the social fabric? You advocate for American Jews to assume their place in the public square, but given how insular our media consumption has become, are we sure one still exists?

JW: You know, I actually think it does. I’ve been doing a lot of traveling to promote the book, and everywhere I go, I’m asked, “What can we do?” I’m a journalist; I’m not a social activist or a community organizer, so my answers are limited. But I think that there’s a desire out there to build alliances, and you’re seeing it now. I recently spoke to a Jewish organization on Long Island, and its first instinct after a swastika was found scrawled on a local synagogue was to form an interfaith coalition against bigotry. People understand we cannot be a series of atomized organizations standing up for ourselves. I believe we’ll remember the age of Trump as a re-emergence of activism on a very local level.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

Paul Krugman: The Bad Faith Of Republicans Is Endless

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Earlier this week, the Trump administration released a $4.4 trillion budget proposal that calls for a massive increase in military spending along with cuts to programs for food stamps and basic school safety, among other essential social services. The proposal would also blow up the federal deficit over the next decade, but of course Republicans have never been the fiscal hawks they claim to be. As Paul Krugman writes in his Friday column, the GOP consistently operates in bad faith, “pretending to care about things it doesn’t, pretending to serve goals that are the opposite of its actual intentions.”

When Barack Obama was in office, Republicans accused Democrats of gutting Medicare to finance the Affordable Care Act. It’s true, the legislation slashed funding, like ending overpayments to insurance companies, but so did the GOP’s proposals at the time. And what has Donald Trump done since he assumed office? Push for billions in Medicare reductions and the virtual decimation of Medicaid, despite his campaign promises to leave both programs intact.

“Why have Republicans become so overwhelmingly the party of bad faith? (And not just about budgets, of course; remember when Republicans cared deeply about a president’s sexual morality?)” Krugman asks. “The main answer is probably that the party’s true agenda, dictated by the interests of a handful of super-wealthy donors, would be very unpopular if the public understood it. So the party must consistently lie about its priorities and intentions.”

While he refuses to let the GOP off the hook, the New York Times columnist reserves his ire for the “Washington centrists” who helped legitimize an obvious fraud like Paul Ryan. Krugman also takes aim at the mainstream media, which gave the House speaker “years of adoring coverage” purely out of fear of being accused of liberal bias. The reality is that both Ryan and his party have always wanted to dismantle the social safety net, and pretending otherwise does the public a tremendous disservice.

“Our job, whether we’re policy analysts or journalists, isn’t to be ‘balanced’; it’s to tell the truth,” he concludes. “And while Democrats are hardly angels, at this point in American history, the truth has a well-known liberal bias.”

Read Paul Krugman’s column at the New York Times.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

 

Worse Than George W. Bush! Poll Shows Plunging World Approval Of U.S. Leadership

Earlier this week, based on a survey of nearly 2000 participants, Politico and Morning Consult found more than a third of Americans would give Donald Trump a failing grade for his first year in office. Poll respondents were especially disgusted with his handling of climate change and foreign relations, among other policy matters. Judging from the Rating World Leaders: 2018 report published Thursday, the rest of the world feels much the same way.

According to Gallup, the median approval rating of U.S. leadership abroad has slid from 48 to 30 percent since Trump took office. That’s four points lower than President George W. Bush’s mark of 34 percent in 2008, five years after he launched the disastrous invasion of Iraq. Similarly, disapproval of the U.S. president has soared from 28 to 43 percent over the same time period.

“The recent drop in approval ratings is unrelated to the world’s being less familiar with the new U.S. administration,” Gallup notes. “The global median who do not have an opinion about U.S. leadership in 2017 (23 percent) is similar to the 25 percent in the last year of the Obama presidency.”

Polling data reveal the U.S. has seen its biggest losses in Portugal, Belgium, Norway and Canada, each experiencing a drop in approval rating of at least 40 percent. President Trump has proven especially unpopular in the Americas, where disapproval of U.S. leadership has climbed from 27 to 58 percent since President Barack Obama’s final year in office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Trump fared well in Israel, where he enjoys an approval rating of 67 percent—approximately the same mark the U.S. ally gave the second Bush administration.

“The losses in U.S. leadership approval may have implications on U.S. influence abroad,” the poll report continues. “With its stable approval rating of 41 percent, Germany has replaced the U.S. as the top-rated global power in the world. The U.S. is now on nearly even footing with China (31 percent) and barely more popular than Russia (27 percent)—two countries that Trump sees as rivals seeking to “challenge American influence, values and wealth.”

Gallup observes that the findings mark a “return to the status quo” under George W. Bush’s second term. Whether the U.S. will be able to regain the world’s trust, as it largely did under President Obama, remains to be seen.

Read Gallup’s complete findings.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

5 Facts That Should Leave You Queasy About Michele Bachmann’s Possible Run For Senate

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

The president of the United States is threatening nuclear annihilation on Twitter, and the people of Alabama nearly elected to the U.S. Senate a man who believes homosexuality is a crime, claims Muslims should not be allowed to hold public office and stands accused of sexually abusing multiple teenage girls. Meanwhile, the so-called Resistance is pinning its hopes on a collusion probe led by George W. Bush’s former FBI director, opening its arms to the likes of Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) and former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

By all accounts, we are living through the dumbest and most dangerous period in modern American history. So perhaps it’s only fitting that Michele Bachmann is contemplating a political comeback.

Over the holiday weekend, the former Minnesota representative confided to disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker that she has been awaiting word from God about whether she should run for Al Franken’s vacant Senate seat. (Bakker served nearly five years of a 45-year sentence after defrauding his followers of nearly $158 million. He claims to have foreseen 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 Japanese earthquake.)

“I’ve had people contact me and urge me to run for that Senate seat, and the only reason I would run is for the ability to take these principles into the United States Senate,” she said. “The question is, should it be me? Should it be now?”

A founding mother of the Tea Party caucus, Bachmann staked out any number of ludicrous positions during her career in Congress, before Donald Trump was a twinkle in the electorate’s eye. This isn’t the first time she has sought God’s permission to run for office; she credited the Almighty for her presidential run in 2012, which she claims was “wildly successful” because she forced the GOP to adopt Obamacare repeal as its party line. “I fulfilled the calling that God gave me,” she told Bakker.

Here are five facts about the erstwhile congresswoman that should leave you queasy about her possible run for Senate.

1. She plays fast and loose with campaign finance laws.

In March of last year, the Federal Elections Committee issued a notice that nearly $1.7 million had gone missing from her congressional campaign committee between October and December 2016. Bachmann’s committee treasurer told the Center for Public Integrity at the time that the discrepancy was merely a “mistake in using the filing software.” But four years prior, following her ill-fated bid for president, Bachmann came under investigation by the elections committee, the House Ethics Committee and the FBI for violating campaign finance laws.

According to the original complaint, first obtained by the Daily Beast, former campaign staffer Peter Waldron alleges Bachmann “funneled money” through a direct-mail consultant to pay Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson an “illicit six-figure salary.” Waldron also accuses the consultant, who doubled as Bachmann’s national political director, of taking money from her political action committee as a full-time staffer, a violation of FEC rules. Bachmann did not seek reelection in 2014.

2. She believes end times are nigh and yearns for the apocalypse.

Whereas the whole of the Republican Party was up in arms over Obama’s deal with Iran, Bachmann believed it was reason to rejoice—not for geopolitical reasons, but because she believed it brought the world that much closer to fulfilling biblical prophesy. According to Zechariah 12:3, “all the nations of the earth” will unite against Israel, which will set in motion the second coming of Jesus Christ. She called the nuclear pact, “the most important national security event of my lifetime.”

“It’s probably not worth unpacking any more of this lunacy,” Sean Illing wrote at Salon. “The broader point is that people like Bachmann (and many other Republicans) really believe this stuff. Indeed, there’s a significant subset of the GOP that advocates for Israel on purely theocratic grounds: They yearn for the apocalypse. These people fancy themselves patriots, but they’re gleefully subordinating American foreign policy to religious dogma in order to hasten the end times.”

3. She’s profoundly xenophobic.

Like virtually every Republican during the 2016 election, Bachmann lent her support to Donald Trump. Unlike other Republicans, she believed “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that if Hillary Clinton had prevailed, it would have been the last U.S. election ever held. The source of her conviction was not her apocalyptic worldview, although it just as easily could have been, but her deep-seated suspicion of brown people.

“It’s a math problem of demographics and a changing United States,” she told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2016. “If you look at the numbers of people who vote and who live in the country and who Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to bring in to the country, this is the last election when we even have a chance to vote for somebody who will stand up for godly moral principles. This is it.”

4. She’s a virulent Islamophobe.

Even by the GOP’s increasingly febrile standards, Bachmann has remained ahead of the curve in her hostility to refugees generally and Muslims specifically. In 2012, she co-authored a letter to the State Department with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rep. Thomas Rooney (R-FL), Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), claiming the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated the United States government in pursuit of “civilization jihad.” The group also launched a smear campaign against Clinton aide Huma Abedin, claiming her mother, brother and late father all had ties to Muslim extremists.

In November 2015, she implored conservatives to oppose the entry of Syrian refugees into the country, citing an article from a fringe right-wing website that claimed Muslim men are rapists.

“Refugees are 70 percent gang-age males,” Bachmann wrote in a tweet. “No more in the US.”

One week later, Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

5. She’s in the Koch brothers’ pocket.

The Koch brothers, who have donated untold millions to the Tea Party Caucus, are all the evidence Bachmann needs of the existence of a higher power. During an interview at the Koch-sponsored Conservative Political Action Conference, she thanked God for the oil barons’ support and suggested that those who criticize her benefactors should be tried for organized crime, per Right Wing Watch.

“I just thank God that there’s a billionaire or two on our side,” she said. “All the billionaires seem to be on the radical left, so I’m glad that we have a couple on ours. I hope we get a few more that are willing that come out but realize also this is an intimidation movement, I’m sure that the donors on our side don’t like to have their names vilified and that’s what this is about, intimidating people from giving money to our cause, that’s it. There’s something called the RICO statute, the racketeering law, that should be applied against them for doing this.”

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

Donald Trump Has Spent More Than A Quarter Of His Presidency At His Golf Resorts

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

In 2016, Americans who work full time accrued an average of 22.6 paid vacation days, though only used 16.8, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The second figure represents a half-day increase over 2015. During Trump’s 11-plus months in office, he has already spent over 100 days on golf resorts, including more than one month each at his properties in New Jersey and Florida, per the Wall Street Journal.

Trump frequently mixes business and pleasure—he infamously enjoyed a “beautiful chocolate cake” at Mar-a-Lago while launching a bombing campaign on a Syrian airbase in April—but the final tally for 2017 is noteworthy given how frequently he criticized President Obama for golfing on the job. The New York Times reports that by his fourth month in office, Trump had already spent more time on the links than his three predecessors combined. The tax money Trump has spent on golf carts alone could have bought 54,095 school lunches.

Common Dreams notes that not only do the president’s excursions raise questions about his level of interest in governing, they also likely constitute an ethics violation, as each trip benefits his properties financially. Prior to assuming office, the president handed control of the Trump Foundation to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., but refused to divest from his business interests, which include the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago; the president calls the latter his “winter White House.”

“Critics including the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)—which vowed to continue fighting against the president’s conflicts of interest after their lawsuit against him was dismissed this week—say Trump still profits off of his hotels, restaurants, and clubs,” writes Julia Conley. “Many of his properties have raised their rates since Trump began his term, raising concerns that Trump and his company are profiting off his position in government, particularly when foreign leaders visit them.”

On Christmas Day, the president vowed to get back to work the next day in order to “make America great again.” That night the White House issued the following press schedule for Tuesday, December 26:

H/T Common Dreams

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

 

Is Paul Ryan Planning To Step Down As Speaker Of The House?

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Since Doug Jones’ improbable victory in the Alabama special Senate Election, Democrat Randy Bryce (aka the “Iron Stache“) claims he has raised tens of thousands of dollars for his congressional campaign in Wisconsin. But if the GOP succeeds in ramming through its regressive and hugely unpopular tax bill before December 27, when Jones is scheduled to assume office, Bryce may not be running against the Speaker of the House.

According to a new report, Republican lawmakers believe Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) might “step aside” if and when Donald Trump signs the Tax Cuts and Job Act into law. As one member of the House Freedom Caucus observes, it could be a “Boehner-meeting-the-Pope moment.” (John Boehner resigned as speaker of the House after watching Pope Francis deliver a joint address to Congress in 2015.) A devotee of the objectivist Ayn Rand, Ryan has made it his life’s work to dismantle the so-called welfare state.

Citing multiple anonymous sources, HuffPost’s Matt Fuller reveals that Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election, has never enjoyed the responsibilities of House Speaker, and that he’s only grown more disenchanted with the job since Trump was elected president.

“The speculation over Ryan’s next move has particularly intensified as Republicans negotiate spending deals with Democrats,” he writes. “Ryan has repeatedly pushed off the possibility that a legislative solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program will be attached to a government spending agreement, but conservatives are worried Republicans could finish their tax bill, have the speaker announce his retirement and then watch Ryan do the same kind of ‘barn cleaning‘ that Boehner did at the end of his speakership.”

Does this mean Ryan is plotting a run for higher office? His fellow Republicans remain circumspect.

“It’s unclear whether Ryan has any further political aspirations beyond this job,” Fuller continues, “but some Republicans think Ryan would be served well by offering himself as a sacrifice for the completion of an immigration deal, particularly if Ryan’s political aspirations are far off in the future. (Or if he doesn’t have any future political aspirations.)”

Update: A separate report from Politico adds that, “In recent interviews with three dozen people who know the speaker—fellow lawmakers, congressional and administration aides, conservative intellectuals and Republican lobbyists—not a single person believed Ryan will stay in Congress past 2018.”

H/T HuffPost.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

 

The Republican Party Is All But Fundraising On Trump’s Sexist Smear Of Kirsten Gillibrand

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

On Tuesday morning, as thousands of Alabama voters cast their ballots for a Republican candidate accused of sexually abusing multiple teenage girls decades ago, Donald Trump launched a Twitter strike on one of the most prominent female politicians in the country. Now, the Republican Party is using his sexist smear to help raise money for the RNC.

Whereas Trump’s tweets about Hillary Clinton have largely focused on allegations of corruption, his latest assault on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) was distinctly sexual in nature.

Just what exactly did the president of the United States mean by that parenthetical? Republicans can’t say. Sen. Bob Corker insists he hasn’t seen the tweet, and when asked if he cared to read it, declined. “I don’t know that I want you to show it to me,” he told reporters later in the day. “I can’t respond if I don’t know anything about it.”

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) sounded as though she’d just as soon walk into a cornfield than answer questions about the president’s activity on social media. “I’m sorry, I don’t follow his Twitter,” she told Igor Bobic of HuffPost. Like Corker, Ernst was also offered the chance to see Trump’s tweet. And like Corker, she refused: “No, I would rather not. Thank you.”

As of this writing, not a single Republican senator has condemned the president for insinuating that one of their Democratic colleagues offered to perform sexual favors in exchange for campaign contributions.

The GOP’s silence is galling if entirely unsurprising. This is the same party, after all, that reversed its decision to cut off funding to Roy Moore’s senate campaign after seven women came forward with allegations of harassment and abuse—a decision that ultimately led an RNC committee member to resign in disgust. (Trump himself has been accused of sexual misconduct by 19 women and counting.) Still, it was jarring to see the RNC piggyback on the president’s disgusting remarks with an attack of its own.

 

Earlier this week, Trump recorded a robocall for Moore ahead of Tuesday’s special election. “Hi, this is President Donald Trump and I need Alabama to go vote for Roy Moore,” the recording began. “It is so important. We’re already making America great again.”

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

Is The Radical Right Attempting Another Media Takeover?

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Imagine, if you can, reading a glowing profile of former national security adviser Steve Bannon, or a featurette about White House communications director Hope Hicks’ favorite hobbies. Now imagine reading one of those stories in the formerly progressive alt-weekly that launched the careers of Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Carr and Katherine Boo, among countless others.

That is the scenario in play if Armstrong Williams and his shadowy business partner, Steve Kalifa, follow through on their threats to buy the Washington City Paper. According to the Washington Post, news of Williams’ interest has “rattled” staffers, with some discussing the possibility of resigning in protest should the purchase come to pass.

Their apprehension would appear justified. While Williams maintains he has no desire to alter the publication’s politics, far-right investors are setting their sights on some of the country’s most prestigious newspapers and magazines, as the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting Group has expanded in 15 territories and Donald Trump continues his unholy crusade against “fake news.” (A recent Poynter study finds Republicans’ trust in the mainstream media has plummeted to historic lows.)

The Washington City Paper’s uncertain future dovetails with the demise of the American alternative weekly newspaper. Once flush with local advertising dollars, these local weeklies were leveled by Craigslist, then crushed by Google and Facebook. The Boston Phoenix folded in 2013, and the Village Voice canceled its print edition earlier this year. For the time being, the Washington City Paper is owned by SouthComm, but the Nashville media company has signaled it will either sell before the end of the year or terminate the publication altogether.

Enter Armstrong Williams. A friend and associate of Clarence Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Williams first entered the public consciousness when he told the Wall Street Journal that Anita Hill, who had accused Thomas of sexual harassment, was unstable. (“Sister has emotional problems.”) Thomas would later be confirmed to the United States Supreme Court, and Williams parlayed his new celebrity in conservative media circles into radio programs and op-ed columns. In 2005, USA Today revealed that he had received $240,000 to promote George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act on his nationally syndicated television show.

Williams himself is no stranger to charges of sexual misconduct. A former staffer filed a lawsuit in 2014 claiming “at least once a week, the Defendant Williams would grab Plaintiff’s buttocks or penis when Plaintiff was least expecting it,” while a separate employee of a Jos. A. Bank men’s clothing store alleges he “[grabbed] his penis through his pants.” Both cases were settled out of court.

Although Williams served as Ben Carson’s top adviser during the Republican primary, he watched the 2016 election returns with Donald Trump. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s now proposing “soft-focus takes on prominent Trumpites.”

“Let’s, for a moment, take Williams at his word that he doesn’t want to turn the paper into a vessel for his worldview,” writes the Post’s Ben Terris. “What then could he possibly want with a newspaper that loses money?”

The same question might be asked of the billionaire Koch brothers, who recently contributed $650 million to Meredith Corporation’s purchase of Time Inc. Like Williams, the libertarians whose contributions to far-right candidates and think tanks across the country were meticulously documented in Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” claim they will preserve their publication’s editorial independence. And like Williams, they almost certainly have an ulterior motive.

“Knowing the Kochs, I think they’d have to see it as a business that could at the same time further their political interests,” Stanley S. Hubbard told the New York Times in November. (Hubbard owns multiple television stations across the country and calls himself a friend of the reclusive oil magnates.) “They probably see Time magazine as a left-wing rag. I’m sure that they would like to see it be more objective and also to straighten it out to make it a profitable venture.”

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich describes the Kochs’ vows to stay out of managerial operations in a single word: “rubbish.”

“The Koch brothers don’t invest $650 million for nothing,” he wrote in a Facebook post last month. “My guess is they intend to use Time and its other publications—which reach millions of online and print readers—to promote their right-wing conservatism. The investment also gives them a way to combine their cache of voter information held by a data analytics company controlled by their network, i360, with the publishers’ consumer data.”

If the Washington City Paper and Time are both facing hostile right-wing takeovers, then one is already underway at LA Weekly, which just laid off its top editors and all but one of its staff writers following its sale to a mysterious company called Semanal Media. (As recently as last week, the buyers had refused to reveal their identities, to the alarm of the Society of Professional Journalists.) Not much is known about Semanal Media’s backers, but boutique hotel developer Paul Makarechian and real estate redeveloper Mike Mugel have both donated “large sums to numerous Republican campaigns,” according to the LA Times. Brian Calle, who is currently running LA Weekly, previously served as an officer at the Claremont Institute—a conservative think tank whose stated mission is to purge civic life of progressivism. One of his first orders of business after assuming control of the newspaper’s operations was to put out a call for unpaid contributors.

Last month, Joe Ricketts, the former chairman of Ameritrade and a prominent Trump donor, shuttered two essential local news sites, DNAInfo and Gothamist, days after its staffers had voted to unionize. Ricketts contends the move was merely a business decision, but as Hamilton Nolan argues in the New York Times, he gives away the game in his statement calling the union a “competitive obstacle making it harder for the business to be financially successful.” America’s institutions are under assault from an increasingly authoritarian White House, and as the right continues to consolidate its wealth and power, the free press has never looked more vulnerable.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

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