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America Spends Billions To Get The Best Intel In The World But Can’t Make Trump Read It

WASHINGTON ― Even as taxpayers spend many tens of billions of dollars each year so that thousands of analysts can produce a detailed intelligence report each morning for the president, Donald Trump appears less and less interested in receiving it.

In June, as border clashes between nuclear powers India and China flared, Trump ― who keeps the lightest work schedule going back to at least Ronald Reagan and possibly Dwight Eisenhower ― scheduled just seven “daily” intelligence briefings. In April, when North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un disappeared for days, Trump had only eight.

And in February, as the coronavirus jumped to Italy and Iran and began spreading unnoticed in the United States, Trump had just three – fewer than the four days he spent golfing in South Florida or the five days he staged campaign rallies.

Through the first half of this year, Trump has had only 41 intelligence briefings, according to a HuffPost review of his daily schedules, an average of 1½ per week.

When Trump took office, he scheduled an intelligence briefing nearly every weekday. But that grew more sporadic as the year passed, down to where he had only 13 in October 2017 and 12 in January 2018. On Feb. 6, 2018, the phrase “intelligence briefing” began to replace “daily intelligence briefing” in the public schedule until, by mid-April 2018, the “daily” part had vanished for good.

And though the written distillation of the briefing material is available to him early each morning in the “President’s Daily Brief” (PDB), Trump does not like to read, particularly information that he finds boring, such as intelligence analyses, according to former White House aides, including ex-national security adviser John Bolton.

“He’s just not receptive to new facts,” Bolton told CBS News on Wednesday. “The intelligence briefings don’t communicate as much information as they should. We tried to think of ways to change that. I think it was probably a doomed effort.”

Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and a spokesman for the National Security Council under former President Barack Obama, said Trump’s unwillingness to pay attention puts the intelligence community in a bind. “It makes it virtually impossible for the president to be an informed participant in the discussion of policy responses,” he said.

A senior White House aide called HuffPost’s tally “inaccurate” and said the public schedule does not reflect all of Trump’s intelligence briefings. “The president receives extensive intelligence briefings by his career CIA briefer several times a week,” the aide said on condition of anonymity. “He’s also routinely briefed on critical intelligence matters throughout the day if they rise to the level of the president of the United States by his national security adviser and chief of staff.”

But the aide would not respond to follow-up questions asking why the White House would put some intelligence briefings on the public schedule but not others. The aide also would not provide examples of intelligence briefings Trump has had that were not on the public schedule.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not respond to a HuffPost query asking why Trump takes so few intelligence briefings. During a news conference on Tuesday, she claimed that Trump does, in fact, read. “This president, I’ll tell you, is the most informed person on planet Earth when it comes to the threats that we face,” she said.

Trump’s lack of interest in intelligence is under scrutiny for the second time this year, with news outlets, starting with The New York Times, revealing that U.S. intelligence had learned Russia had been paying rewards to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan for murdering American soldiers but Trump had done nothing about it.

Previously, it was disclosed that Trump’s PDB informed him of the grave threat posed by the coronavirus in the first days of January. Trump, though, was at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach on a golf vacation and did not have his first intelligence briefing of the year until Jan. 6, and then only nine all that month.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, posted a five-word critique of the situation to Twitter on Wednesday: “I’ll read my daily briefings.” 

Laziest President In Modern Times 

The renewed attention on Trump’s intelligence briefings also casts more light on his work habits.

Republican George W. Bush was typically in the Oval Office by 6:45 each morning, when he received his intelligence briefing, although he often took a break later in the day for exercise.

Obama received the PDB on his iPad at 6 each morning, where he read it before starting his day with a workout and getting to the West Wing by 9.

President Donald Trump speaks to the press Thursday at the White House about the latest job report. Concerns have been raised



President Donald Trump speaks to the press Thursday at the White House about the latest job report. Concerns have been raised that he fails to show much interest in White House intelligence briefings.

Trump, in contrast, spends most of his mornings watching television in the residence and posting tweets about what he has just seen. He rarely gets to the West Wing much before noon and, as a proponent of an unusual theory that humans are born with a finite quantity of energy, does not exercise.

“His laziness cannot be overestimated, but it doesn’t get enough attention,” said Charles Leerhsen, who ghost-wrote Trump’s book “Surviving at the Top.” “It may be his core failing.”

That light work schedule has been a habit for decades, made possible by the hundreds of millions of dollars ― more than $1 billion in today’s dollars ― he inherited through the real-estate business his father founded and which he took over in his late 20s.

In his book “The Art of the Deal,” Trump said he didn’t like to schedule his day, preferring instead to come to his office, make some calls and see what came of it. “I play it very loose,” author Tony Schwartz wrote in Trump’s voice. “I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”

Leerhsen said the biggest hoax Trump was able to perpetrate was his business competence. “His schedule was purposely empty, and as similar to the day before as possible. Daily feeling of fabric swatches for new drapes and carpets in his Atlantic City hotels. He hated travel because of germs and because it was broadening,” Leerhsen said. “He really does not want to learn anything. Learning is not what he does. I’ve never met anyone else like him.”

That approach continued when he became a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. For the first months of the campaign, while the other candidates spent endless hours crisscrossing the early voting states, with a half dozen events a day, Trump staged one or two rallies per week and mainly campaigned from the atrium of his building in Manhattan through remote television interviews.

Despite this, his White House staff insists that he outworks everyone else in the building ― a view Trump himself amplified in statements he posted to Twitter earlier this year. “The people that know me and know the history of our Country say that I am the hardest working President in history,” he wrote. “I work from early in the morning until late at night.”

Stuart Stevens, a Republican political consultant who worked on the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, said Trump and his staff are confusing activity and tweeting with useful work.

“Trump is like a toddler. He has no ability to concentrate and no interest in anything that doesn’t affect his own immediate world,” he said. “Self-involvement 24/7 is exhausting, but it’s not work.” 

It Depends On What “Brief” Means 

Trump and his aides, meanwhile, continue trying to defend his handling of the intelligence regarding the bounties ― reportedly as high as $100,000 per dead U.S. soldier ― that Russians were paying.

For days, White House officials have tried to draw a distinction between what he was told at his Feb. 27 intelligence briefing versus what may have been in his PDB that day.

“It was a career CIA officer with more than 30 years of tenure who made the decision not to brief it up,” McEnany said Wednesday, claiming that the briefer did not mention the Russian bounty information. “And the national security adviser agreed with that decision. She’s an excellent officer and does great work, and made the decision not to brief it up. It was the right decision to make.”

But McEnany’s claim ignores other reports that the information first became known to the White House in 2019 and that then-national security adviser Bolton personally brought the information to Trump’s attention. He declined to confirm that reporting by The Associated Press but over the weekend told NBC News that Trump ― who has had multiple conversations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the weeks since the February briefing and has been trying to get Russia readmitted into the Group of Seven organization of the world’s largest democratic economies ― would likely deny any knowledge of the intelligence.

“He can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it,” Bolton said Sunday.

And as he predicted, Trump on Wednesday claimed the entire story was a “hoax,” his catch-all term for news coverage that portrays him negatively.

“Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level,” Trump wrote.

Both Trump and his staff, in leaning so heavily on the excuse that he was not “briefed,” appear to be conceding that he neither reads his PDB nor believes that it is his responsibility to do so.

“President Obama and Vice President Biden started every day reading and being briefed about the top threats to our nation,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said. “But this president shows up to work at noon and devotes more time to ranting about his own optics on Twitter than he does to honoring that all-important duty. He’s even demonstrated that he’s willing to trust Chinese government propaganda, Vladimir Putin and discredited right-wing fever dreams on Fox News more than our intelligence community.”

Stevens said Trump’s continual deference to Putin suggests there is a more sinister reason Trump does not want to do anything about the reports of Russian bounty payments. “He is compromised by Russia. He is terrified our intelligence will learn the source of that compromise,” Stevens said. “So he hates any intelligence involving Russia.”

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Politics

A National Guardsman Sent To LA Protests Is Under Investigation For Ties To Proud Boys

The California National Guard is investigating a member’s possible ties to the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group, after he posted a photo of himself standing next to a military vehicle inscribed with one of the group’s slogans while patrolling anti-racist protests in Los Angeles last month. 

Anonymous anti-fascist activists shared the photo with HuffPost, which Sgt. Brian Jackson posted on Facebook last month. After HuffPost inquired about the image, a spokesperson for the California National Guard confirmed on Wednesday that Jackson, a motor transport operator from Bakersfield, California, is now under investigation for ties to the extremist group. 

“We have initiated an investigation and will take appropriate action in accordance with regulations,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma said in a statement. “Any form of hate speech and extremist behavior is not tolerated, and has no place in the California National Guard.” 

Jackson has not, however, been suspended during the investigation, Shiroma said. It’s unclear how long the investigation will last. 

Jackson was among the roughly 1,000 armed California National Guard troops sent to Los Angeles County in early June to quell the uprising against police brutality, one of many such demonstrations that have swept the country in response to a series of high-profile killings of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. 

“Hopefully a quiet night in Canoga Park,” read the caption Jackson posted with the photo on June 2, referring to the Los Angeles neighborhood. 

The message inscribed on the vehicle, “POYB 2020,” is an acronym for “Proud Of Your Boy,” a Proud Boys slogan derived from a song in Disney’s ”Aladdin.”

Some of Jackson’s Facebook friends wrote “POYB” and “Uhuru” — a common Proud Boys chant — in the comments below his photo. 

A protester looks at National Guard troops posted in Los Angeles on June 3. Jackson was among their ranks.



A protester looks at National Guard troops posted in Los Angeles on June 3. Jackson was among their ranks.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Proud Boys as a hate group. Its members are explicitly anti-feminist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. While the group publicly claims to reject the so-called alt-right and says it allows Black and brown members, its ranks have included many white nationalists and its founder, Gavin McInnes, is deeply racist.

Proud Boys are perhaps best known for violently attacking leftist protesters in the streets, attacks that they discuss and plot in private chat rooms. McInnes once said members could become a high-ranking, or “fourth degree,” Proud Boy if they “kick the crap out of an antifa.”

Jackson did not respond to a request for comment sent via Facebook on Wednesday, and soon after HuffPost sent the message, he deleted multiple racist posts and other evidence related to the Proud Boys from his Facebook page.

“Serious question: what is ‘Black culture?’” Jackson wrote in one post that has since been deleted.

“As far as culture is concerned,” he wrote in a subsequent comment on that post, “why is America so obsessed with endorsing something that seems contrary to polite society and our American values (drugs, weak family structures, criminality, glorification of violence, subjugation of their own people to low expectations and political slavery)?” 

Another since-deleted post featured an advertisement for an April 25 Proud Boys rally against coronavirus lockdown measures. 

Jackson appeared to have attended that April 25 rally, and posted a Facebook Live video from the event. The footage includes a man in the Proud Boy uniform — a black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo shirt — near Jackson.

After HuffPost contacted Jackson this week, he replaced his Facebook profile photo — a graphic with the words “ZERO WHITE GUILT” — with an image of the comedian Will Ferrell. (Proud Boys often describe themselves as “anti-white guilt.”)

Jackson’s current Facebook banner image shows him and other national guardsmen posing with members of the Los Angeles Police Department during the protests last month. 

The Jackson incident comes amid heightened concern about white supremacists and other extremists within law enforcement and the military, especially as those institutions have been deployed to suppress anti-racist protests. In many cities, law enforcement has used violent tactics against protests, including tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. 

Last month, Right Wing Watch reported that a member of the Ohio National Guard, who had been sent to Washington, D.C., to police protests there, was a white supremacist YouTuber. “They activated my unit and we’re getting real ammunition to shoot and kill,” the Ohio guardsman, Shandon Simpson, allegedly wrote on the social media platform Telegram ahead of his deployment. 

“Rahowa,” Simpson added, using the popular fascist shorthand for “racial holy war.” The FBI later said Simpson had been removed from the protests in D.C. and sent home. Simpson has since said he was discharged from the Ohio National Guard. 

Vice News also reported that at least one member of a private chat group for so-called Boogaloo Bois — a far-right movement hoping to hasten a violent civil war in the U.S. — claimed to be a Pennsylvania National Guardsman getting ready to deploy to protests in Philadelphia. 

And in Wilmington, North Carolina, last month, three white police officers — who haven’t been connected to any extremist groups — were fired after they were caught on a patrol car camera using racial slurs while discussing murdering Black protesters. 

“We are just going to go out and start slaughtering them fucking niggers,” one officer said. 

“Wipe ’em off the fucking map,” the same officer said of Black Americans. “That’ll put ’em back about four or five generations.”

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Politics

RNC Pays Big Bucks To Former ‘Apprentice’ Producer, For Convention Stuff. And Things!

With Donald Trump’s reelection effort riding a wave of perfect poll numbers, a booming economy, and a nation that’s completely healthy and at peace with itself, there’s really little reason to think too much about politics, since nothing could possibly derail Trump’s coronation as president-for-life. Which is why it’s probably not worth even considering this Daily Beast story reporting that the Republican National Convention has hired a former producer of Trump’s financial-education documentary series “The Apprentice” to help it put together the party’s big Coronavirus Rainbow Party. Of particular not-interest is the tiny detail that the producer, former NBC exec Chuck LaBella, has no actual experience in doing political conventions or events. Also of no significance at all would be that LaBella is said to know “all the dirt” about Donald Trump. Honestly, no single person could have all the dirt.


LaBella no doubt works hard for the money, and that’s why the RNC treats him right (also we have no idea why the article has his name with a lowercase b when he capitalizes it himself):

From August 2019 through May 2020, the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Convention made
a dozen payments totaling more than $66,000 to Labella Worldwide, Inc. for “production consulting services.”

Gosh, dare we dream of a Gary Busey-Meat Loaf rematch at the convention? There can obviously be no other reason for the payments to LaBella’s very busy entertainment concern, which is thriving so hard that its website currently looks like this:

We suppose a particularly rude person might conceivably jump to totally unwarranted conclusions from some other details in the Daily Beast story:

According to actor Tom Arnold, who was a contestant on the show and has since become a vociferous Trump critic, Labella was in possession of Trump’s ostensibly salacious—and, in political and media circles, long-sought—behind-the-scenes Apprentice outtakes. “Chuck LaBella was there and knows all,” Arnold said. Arnold’s accusations are often brushed aside by Trumpworld as conspiracy-mongering. But the charges he leveled were reportedly serious enough that Trump’s then personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, helped situate Labella with a close attorney, Keith Davidson, in late 2017. Davidson’s name became prominent for his representation of another Trump-adjacent personality: porn star Stormy Daniels, for whom he helped arrange hush money payments in order to maintain her silence about her alleged affair with Trump. Davidson did not return a request for comment.

What, you people see the names of some people who happened to be involved in hush-money payments that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to making on the behalf of Individual One, and you think there might be something funny going on with these completely above-board consulting fees to a great entertainment industry expert who’s bringing his expertise to an upcoming event? Gosh, you’re cynical, and the Daily Beast is very careful — as are we — to avoid suggesting there’s anything the least bit untoward going on here.

And indeed, it would be highly inappropriate to think otherwise, says RNC national press secretary Mandi Merritt, who is definitely not described as having a completely flat, expressionless affect as she told the Daily Beast that LaBella was doing perfectly standard event production things:

Chuck LaBella is consulting on a variety of efforts for convention, including talent, production, stage design, and media consulting. […] It’s incredibly common for large scale events such as these to receive consulting from those with backgrounds in the entertainment industry and to suggest anything other than that is not only flat on wrong, but offensive and misleading.

INCREDIBLY common, probably the most ordinary thing ever! An unnamed RNC official also pointed out that the Democrats are using a person who happens to have entertainment industry connections for their convention, too, noting that the DNC has “re-hired Ricky Kirschner (sic) as executive producer for its convention.” Kirshner, the Daily Beast points out, has indeed “produced every Democratic Party convention since 1992 in addition to Super Bowl halftime shows and the Tony Awards,” so he really is a LOT like the former Trump associate who has never done a political convention before and is merely rumored by a crazy actor guy to have dirt on Trump.

The article also notes that, before it went into COMING SOON mode, an archived version of LaBella’s website said he was “currently consulting for two network television shows: Fox’s The Masked Singer and ABC’s Holey Moley.” We would add that since Sarah Palin was recently on the “Masked Singer” thing — intoning, we shit you not, “Baby Got Back” — clearly LaBella IS a political sort of guy, so let’s just not read anything at all into his being paid to work on this summer’s RNC.

We would say more, but we suddenly really need to pee for absolutely no reason at all.

[Daily Beast]

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OANN Cooked Up A Poll For President Trump To Snort, Shoot, Smoke, Or Pop. It’ll Make You Feel Good!

Fox’s inbred cousin One American News Network has released a poll of Arizona voters, and it is a holy wonder. Donald Trump is going to get all tingly in his orange bits when he discovers that he’s running four points ahead of Biden instead of four points behind. Martha McSally is not A IDIOT, though, so she’s probably not going to fall for a poll that shows her four points ahead of Democrat Mark Kelly, rather than trailing him by 10. On the other hand, she is getting pretty desperate, so …

Okay, let’s take a look at this poll, shall we? See if maybe there’s some way they manipulated the pool of “527 registered, likely voters in Arizona” sharing their opinions via “interactive voice responses and an online panel of cell phone users.”

Uhhhhhh, 47 percent of respondents to this poll voted for Trump four years ago, and only 33 percent for Clinton? Does that seem like a representative sample of the electorate?

via NYT

In fact, it does not!


They shaved off 11 percentage points worth of Hillary Clinton voters from the jump? Very subtle! Well if OANN deliberately undersampled registered Democrats, that would show up in the party registrations, right?

Hmm, let’s just compare that to the party breakdown according to Arizona’s Secretary of State.

Fam, we are shook! They look to have given Democrats a haircut here, too. Whodathunkit from a network that had to pull its own poll last month for being complete garbage! And just for good measure, let’s compare the racial breakdown of their sample set to the Census Bureau’s estimate that Hispanics make up 32 percent of Arizona’s population.

UH HUH. So when they say, “The results are weighted by voting demographics,” what they mean is “We arbitrarily decided that Democrats and Hispanics weren’t going to turn up at the polls, which gave us the whiter, more Republican sample set we were hoping for.”

So, now we know where they hid the salami — not that it was all that hard to find, TBH — let’s see if stacking the deck yielded any spectacularly silly results.

In 2016, CNN’s national exit polling showed Trump garnering eight percent of the African American vote, 28 percent of the Latino vote, and 27 percent of the Asian vote. OANN shows him at 22 percent with African Americans, 32 percent with Latinos, and a whopping 76 percent with Asians. And if you think that’s some crazy shit, they’re showing McSally beating Mark Kelly 53 to 47 among African Americans. Sounds legit!

How did those crank-yankers at OANN manage to find McSally beating Mark Kelly with less of the white vote than she got in 2018 when she lost to Kyrsten Sinema? It’s magic!

Or perhaps it’s done by piling leading questions on top of a GOP oversample. Those onanists asked a full four questions using the word “riot” (Whom do you trust to prevent violent riots in American cities?; Is rioting an effective way to change policy?; Is activating the national guard an effective way to prevent further rioting?; Who is more responsible for the riots across the country?), two about support for the police, and one about blaming China for the coronavirus.

Two weeks ago, before Arizona’s COVID-19 numbers went through the roof, the pollsters from Sienna and the New York Times had Biden up 7 and Kelly up 9. But now that shit’s hitting the fan courtesy of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, OANN wants you to believe that the Grand Canyon State is coming home to the GOP.

Yeah, you bet.

[OANN Poll]

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Of race and royalty: How the king surprised Belgium

Press play to listen to this article

By speaking out about Belgium’s brutal colonial past, the country’s King Philippe took a gamble — and might have opened up a Pandora’s box.

On Tuesday, on the 60th anniversary of the Congo’s independence from Belgium, the monarch sent a letter to the Congolese president expressing his “deepest regret” for the “acts of violence and cruelty” that were committed in the Congo under Belgian occupation.

It was a surprising rupture with the royal tradition of silence on the country’s colonial history. Even though the Black Lives Matter protests had led to mounting pressure on the royal family to speak up, most expected the palace would wait at least until fall, when a new truth and reconciliation commission in the Belgian parliament is expected to start working on a report about the country’s colonial history.

But in the days leading up to the anniversary, the 60-year-old king realized he needed to acknowledge the suffering of the colonial period and so help to introduce a sort of calmness into the debate, people close to him told POLITICO, especially as this is one of the traditional roles of the king in Belgian society.

Belgium’s Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès confirmed to reporters at a celebration of the anniversary in Brussels that it was the king himself who initiated the idea of a personal letter expressing his regret, as an indirect descendent of Leopold II, the Belgian king who used the Congo as his personal fiefdom for several decades starting in the 1880s.

“Expressing regrets eludes the real issues at stake” — Gia Abrassart, founder of the Café Congo project

“This will surely be remembered as a milestone in his reign,” said Kalvin Soiresse Njall, a member of the Brussels parliament of African descent who applauded the move. “He’s creating a historic profile for himself.”

While Philippe’s letter was commended by most politicians and activists, the wider reaction reflects the sensitivity of the issue. Some have argued the king should have stayed out of the debate, while others say the regrets he conveyed this week are too little, too late.

Having crossed a line, Philippe is finding it’s not so easy to stop. He has already come under pressure to do more, putting him at risk of being drawn deeper into the highly charged political discussion.

“Expressing regrets eludes the real issues at stake,” said Gia Abrassart, founder of the Café Congo project. “These are not apologies. Without apologies, it will be very difficult to claim for memorial and financial compensations,” she said.

“It’s a very important first step,” said Wouter De Vriendt, a member of the Belgian parliament for the Greens. “But this can’t be a one-shot move. We have to move beyond this letter and engage in a discussion about formal apologies as a nation.”

‘He can’t do it’

Speaking out about the Congo was a bold move — but it was one the Belgian king could make because he has spent the past several years building political capital and popular support in the linguistically divided country.

That his advisers felt he was in a position to act is a reflection of how far he has exceeded expectations since ascending to the throne in 2013 — especially because so many feared he was not up to the job.

Two decades ago, Herman Liebaers, then the “grand marshal” in charge of the royal court, said in an interview about Philippe that “he just can’t do it.”

In the years before his father’s abdication handed him the crown, Philippe’s rigid public appearances were roundly mocked. After he criticized the far-right Vlaams Belang party in 2004, fears mounted over a “king with a mission.” Philippe said in an interview that Vlaams Belang wanted to destroy Belgium, but that he would make sure this didn’t happen. The interview was controversial, as Belgian royals are not supposed to state political preferences.

As recently as the beginning of the decade, when the 2010 parliamentary election left Belgium without a government for what was then a record-setting 589 days, some politicians admitted privately they were happy Philippe had not ascended to the throne, as they weren’t sure whether he could have handled the situation.

It wasn’t just politicians who had their doubts about the then-crown prince. Belgian media questioned his fitness to govern, and royal observers pointed to his difficult childhood; he was the oldest son of a difficult marriage, and by dint of his position was not permitted to take decisions on his future. King Boudewijn and Queen Fabiola, his uncle and aunt who have no children, took charge of his education after it became clear that Philippe would inherit the throne. He was required to finish high school at a boarding school in Flanders, where he found it difficult to make friends.

King Philippe has long struggled with coming off as awkward and stiff | Eric Lalmand/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images

“The childless couple Boudewijn and Fabiola have made Philippe into a caricature: the prince without character,” Barend Leyts, now spokesperson for European Council President Charles Michel, wrote in his biography of Philippe.

The Belgian royal family is just like any other family: It has its issues. Philippe’s father, Albert II, made headlines earlier this year when a DNA test confirmed he had fathered the artist Delphine Boël during an extramarital affair, which he had long denied.

The family’s relationship with Philippe’s youngest brother Prince Laurent has also been difficult, especially after the younger royal became embroiled in a controversy over Muammar Gaddafi’s unpaid debts. Earlier this month, Laurent reacted to the toppling of Leopold II’s statues during Black Lives Matter protests by defending his ancestor and claiming the monarch could not be held responsible, as he “never went to Congo.”

Entourage is key

So when Philippe ascended to the throne in 2013, Belgium braced for the worst, especially with the country headed for another election in 2014. But his first speech as king proved to be a turning point, earning him praise for speaking with confidence and respect about the sensitivities of both Flanders and Wallonia, the country’s fractious Flemish-speaking and French-speaking regions.

After the 2014 elections, Philippe succeeded fairly quickly in forming a government, though the coalition he helped build was so unprecedented — it had no majority in the French-speaking part of Belgium — that it was at first called the “kamikaze government.”

That success has been mostly attributed to Philippe’s entourage, most notably to his first chief of staff, Frans van Daele. One of Belgium’s most eminent diplomats and the former right-hand-man of European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, van Daele’s experience wrangling EU leaders seemed to prove useful in Belgian politics.

The palace spokesperson, Rafike Yilmaz, makes sure reporters are told how to interpret the subtle political messages the king gives in speeches, while at the same time providing details on the queen’s outfits.

Van Daele declined to take credit. “For years, King Philippe has been underestimated,” he told POLITICO. “His own input was crucial for his successful start. And don’t forget he’s the one who carefully selected his own entourage.”

Philippe’s experience leading economic missions and state visits had allowed him to build an “up-to-date” and wide-ranging network of people to pick from, said Vincent Dujardin, professor of contemporary history at UCLouvain. “Creating a Cabinet is one of the few remaining powers our king has — and he has been very careful to keep a strict balance in terms of political plurality.”

It’s this new team that has burnished Philippe’s once tarnished image. Belgians now see him as a king who is (literally) close to his people, as he cycles the streets of Brussels or flies to Brazil to cheer Belgium’s football team. The media often portrays him as a devoted father, who takes his children to school and calls when he’s abroad. His handlers are also keen to show him as a man of flesh and blood, sweating when he runs a half-marathon in Brussels or breaking the waves as he kitesurfs on the North Sea.

The palace has also tried to shrug off its reputation as a fortified building full of mysteries. Political meetings have been moved from the palace in Laeken in outer Brussels to the palace in the city center, where it’s easier to film handshakes and where citizens can catch a glimpse of the royals.

The palace spokesperson, Rafike Yilmaz — crowned spokesperson of the year by Belgian journalists in the category “behind the scenes” — makes sure reporters are told how to interpret the subtle political messages the king gives in speeches, while at the same time providing details on the queen’s outfits.

The queen, Mathilde, has been crucial for the rising popularity of the royal family. Whereas Philippe can be a little stiff, Mathilde comes across as more accessible, an easy conversationalist capable of making visitors feel welcome and at ease.

“A king is not just head of state, but also head of nation,” van Daele said. “A part of a king’s role is to sympathize with your nation and to gain a sense of trust. His marriage with Queen Mathilde has played a tangible part in that.”

Deadlocked

That second part of his job — king of a nation — is proving to be the trickiest.

After all, he’s head of state of a country that has been in a political deadlock since elections in May 2019. The future of his country — and, to a limited extent, his own job — depends on the country’s politicians finding a way out of the stalemate. It might not be Philippe’s job to govern, but it is his job to ensure proper governance.

As in the United Kingdom, there’s a strong consensus in Belgium that the monarch should stay out of politics. But the prohibition does not apply when there’s no government. Whereas the British queen does not get involved in coalition building and only ceremoniously appoints the prime minister, the Belgian king has a key role in the forming of a new government.

Queen Mathilde has won praise for being more accessible to the public | Olivier Matthys/Getty Images

It’s at that time when his political power is at its height — and at the same time, at its most vulnerable. The palace is well aware that the Netherlands in 2012 chose to limit the head of state’s role in government formation.

In cases where political parties struggle to come to an agreement (an increasingly common occurrence in Belgium), it is the king’s job to try to forge an agreement. As part of the process, the king invites political leaders for colloque singulier, private meetings held under conditions of strict secrecy.

“It’s not an easy job,” said a Belgian political leader, speaking on condition of anonymity. “He manages to ask the right questions, gets a sense of all our sensitivities and tries to make a decision that is best for the stability of the country.”

Philippe has taken a different approach from that of his father, who was often criticized for not giving the Flemish nationalists a fair chance. Philippe even invited the far-right Vlaams Belang for consultations at the palace after they became the second biggest party in Flanders last May. The invitation caused uproar in the French-speaking part of Belgium, but the palace defended the move by saying that ignoring them would have been met with incomprehension in Flanders.

In contrast to his father, who always kept his chief of staff next to him during audiences, Philippe speaks to politicians alone, “I felt him concerned, a little worried, committed and constructive. These interviews are well prepared — he has background information about you before you arrive,” said François De Smet, leader of the French-speaking nationalist party Défi, after his audience with the king.

So far, more than a year after the 2019 election, Philippe has yet to find a stable coalition — Prime Minister Wilmès heads an emergency government given provisional powers during the coronavirus crisis. But few blame him for the impasse.

The end of Belgium

The reaction to Phillippe’s letter to the Congo highlights the challenge facing the monarch: What if Belgium’s needs are too big to solve?

While the move was broadly welcomed by most Belgian politicians, among Flemish far-right nationalists it served as yet another reason to complain about the Walloons.

“The Flemish people had nothing to do with Belgium’s colonial history,” said Wouter Vermeersch, a member of the Belgian parliament for Vlaams Belang. “It was the royal family and the French-speaking haute finance who were responsible. If someone has to pay for mistakes in the past, it’s them.”

Flemish nationalists recognize the monarch’s role as a factor of stability and the king’s importance in promoting economic interests abroad.

The political impasse — one of the most complicated in the country’s complicated history — has revived questions about the future of Belgium. The country’s quarreling regions aren’t just linguistic rivals, they’re moving quickly apart politically.

Flanders votes more to the right, and Wallonia further to the left. The country was already sinking into debt before the crisis, and the coronavirus will lead to a deficit of €42 to €50 billion, or 10 to 12 percent of the country’s GDP. This doesn’t make it easier to get parties around the table, said Dujardin, the UCLouvain professor.

Flemish nationalists advocate for a deep overhaul of the country’s governing structure, which would gut national authority and give more power to the regions. The coronavirus was for them yet another sign that the relationship with the Walloons has run its course.

Philippe’s fans can console themselves with the fact that his crown does not necessarily depend on his success in keeping the country together. Greater Flemish autonomy wouldn’t necessarily make him the last king of the Belgians.

Flemish nationalists recognize the monarch’s role as a factor of stability and the king’s importance in promoting economic interests abroad. Few in the country are eager to brave the disruption splitting the country would entail.

Separating Belgium would be like 10,000 Brexits, said De Smet, the leader of Défi. “It would reverberate an awful message across Europe if we can’t hold together a small country with three languages and 11 million inhabitants!”

The situation might look hopeless now, but Philippe is not yet out of options to end the political deadlock. New elections are still a possibility, as is another emergency government. As former Belgian Prime Minister Gaston Eyskens said: “Belgium is tougher than one thinks.”

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A National Guardsman Sent To LA Protests Is Under Investigation For Ties To Proud Boys

The California National Guard is investigating a member’s possible ties to the Proud Boys, a neo-fascist group, after he posted a photo of himself standing next to a military vehicle inscribed with one of the group’s slogans while patrolling anti-racist protests in Los Angeles last month. 

Anonymous anti-fascist activists shared the photo with HuffPost, which Sgt. Brian Jackson posted on Facebook last month. After HuffPost inquired about the image, a spokesperson for the California National Guard confirmed on Wednesday that Jackson, a motor transport operator from Bakersfield, California, is now under investigation for ties to the extremist group. 

“We have initiated an investigation and will take appropriate action in accordance with regulations,” Lt. Col. Jonathan Shiroma said in a statement. “Any form of hate speech and extremist behavior is not tolerated, and has no place in the California National Guard.” 

Jackson has not, however, been suspended during the investigation, Shiroma said. It’s unclear how long the investigation will last. 

Jackson was among the roughly 1,000 armed California National Guard troops sent to Los Angeles County in early June to quell the uprising against police brutality, one of many such demonstrations that have swept the country in response to a series of high-profile killings of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. 

“Hopefully a quiet night in Canoga Park,” read the caption Jackson posted with the photo on June 2, referring to the Los Angeles neighborhood. 

The message inscribed on the vehicle, “POYB 2020,” is an acronym for “Proud Of Your Boy,” a Proud Boys slogan derived from a song in Disney’s ”Aladdin.”

Some of Jackson’s Facebook friends wrote “POYB” and “Uhuru” — a common Proud Boys chant — in the comments below his photo. 

A protester looks at National Guard troops posted in Los Angeles on June 3. Jackson was among their ranks.



A protester looks at National Guard troops posted in Los Angeles on June 3. Jackson was among their ranks.

The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the Proud Boys as a hate group. Its members are explicitly anti-feminist, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant. While the group publicly claims to reject the so-called alt-right and says it allows Black and brown members, its ranks have included many white nationalists and its founder, Gavin McInnes, is deeply racist.

Proud Boys are perhaps best known for violently attacking leftist protesters in the streets, attacks that they discuss and plot in private chat rooms. McInnes once said members could become a high-ranking, or “fourth degree,” Proud Boy if they “kick the crap out of an antifa.”

Jackson did not respond to a request for comment sent via Facebook on Wednesday, and soon after HuffPost sent the message, he deleted multiple racist posts and other evidence related to the Proud Boys from his Facebook page.

“Serious question: what is ‘Black culture?’” Jackson wrote in one post that has since been deleted.

“As far as culture is concerned,” he wrote in a subsequent comment on that post, “why is America so obsessed with endorsing something that seems contrary to polite society and our American values (drugs, weak family structures, criminality, glorification of violence, subjugation of their own people to low expectations and political slavery)?” 

Another since-deleted post featured an advertisement for an April 25 Proud Boys rally against coronavirus lockdown measures. 

Jackson appeared to have attended that April 25 rally, and posted a Facebook Live video from the event. The footage includes a man in the Proud Boy uniform — a black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo shirt — near Jackson.

After HuffPost contacted Jackson this week, he replaced his Facebook profile photo — a graphic with the words “ZERO WHITE GUILT” — with an image of the comedian Will Ferrell. (Proud Boys often describe themselves as “anti-white guilt.”)

Jackson’s current Facebook banner image shows him and other national guardsmen posing with members of the Los Angeles Police Department during the protests last month. 

The Jackson incident comes amid heightened concern about white supremacists and other extremists within law enforcement and the military, especially as those institutions have been deployed to suppress anti-racist protests. In many cities, law enforcement has used violent tactics against protests, including tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray. 

Last month, Right Wing Watch reported that a member of the Ohio National Guard, who had been sent to Washington, D.C., to police protests there, was a white supremacist YouTuber. “They activated my unit and we’re getting real ammunition to shoot and kill,” the Ohio guardsman, Shandon Simpson, allegedly wrote on the social media platform Telegram ahead of his deployment. 

“Rahowa,” Simpson added, using the popular fascist shorthand for “racial holy war.” The FBI later said Simpson had been removed from the protests in D.C. and sent home. Simpson has since said he was discharged from the Ohio National Guard. 

Vice News also reported that at least one member of a private chat group for so-called Boogaloo Bois — a far-right movement hoping to hasten a violent civil war in the U.S. — claimed to be a Pennsylvania National Guardsman getting ready to deploy to protests in Philadelphia. 

And in Wilmington, North Carolina, last month, three white police officers — who haven’t been connected to any extremist groups — were fired after they were caught on a patrol car camera using racial slurs while discussing murdering Black protesters. 

“We are just going to go out and start slaughtering them fucking niggers,” one officer said. 

“Wipe ’em off the fucking map,” the same officer said of Black Americans. “That’ll put ’em back about four or five generations.”

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Politics

Bill Barr Is Systematically Removing U.S. Attorneys Connected To Trump Investigations

While the country is distracted by a public health and economic crisis, Attorney General William Barr is systematically removing U.S. attorneys who are connected to investigations that touch on Donald Trump and his shady associates.

On Thursday, CNN reported that the Department of Justice was considering replacing the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn with an ally of Barr. CNN noted that this particular post “wields significant influence by virtue of its jurisdiction and recently has investigated individuals close to President Donald Trump.”

The push by Barr to install one of his buddies comes after he forced Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York, out of his position.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out on Thursday, Barr appears to be methodically removing powerful U.S. attorneys connected to investigations that involve Trump.

“Today’s news isn’t a rerun,” the MSNBC host said. “Bill Barr, one by one, has been picking off those U.S. attorneys and removing them from their posts.”

Video:

Maddow said:

We don’t know whatever happened to the Rudy Giuliani investigation. We know that Lev and Igor’s trial has been delayed until after the November election, but what’s going on between the attorney general and these ongoing cases touching the president? I mean, we’ve seen a lot of this, right? But today’s news isn’t a rerun. This isn’t — they just keep doing the same play over and over again. It’s recursive news. I mean, Bill Barr has now taken out the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., he’s taken out the U.S. Attorney in SDNY. He has now taken out as of tonight the U.S. Attorney in EDNY. These are all the major prosecutors offices basically in the country where there are major ongoing prosecutions and investigations touching on the president, his businesses, his inaugural, his campaign personnel, and all the myriad fallout from the Russian effort to help Trump in the last election. Bill Barr, one by one has been picking off those U.S. attorneys and removing them from their posts.

Bill Barr isn’t even pretending anymore

As America devolves further into crisis under the incompetent leadership of Donald Trump, Bill Barr isn’t even pretending to be a legitimate attorney general – not that he ever was.

As I wrote last month, Barr is Trump’s new fixer, not America’s attorney general. From day one, he’s helped shield this corrupt president, whether it’s whitewashing the Mueller report, meddling in Trump-related SDNY cases, or pushing the president’s crackpot conspiracy theories,

William Barr might be the head of the Justice Department, but there is nothing just about what he’s doing.

Follow Sean Colarossi on Facebook and Twitter

Sean Colarossi currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was an organizing fellow for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns. He also worked with Planned Parenthood as an Affordable Care Act Outreach Organizer in 2014, helping northeast Ohio residents obtain health insurance coverage.

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RNC Pays Big Bucks To Former ‘Apprentice’ Producer, For Convention Stuff. And Things!

With Donald Trump’s reelection effort riding a wave of perfect poll numbers, a booming economy, and a nation that’s completely healthy and at peace with itself, there’s really little reason to think too much about politics, since nothing could possibly derail Trump’s coronation as president-for-life. Which is why it’s probably not worth even considering this Daily Beast story reporting that the Republican National Convention has hired a former producer of Trump’s financial-education documentary series “The Apprentice” to help it put together the party’s big Coronavirus Rainbow Party. Of particular not-interest is the tiny detail that the producer, former NBC exec Chuck LaBella, has no actual experience in doing political conventions or events. Also of no significance at all would be that LaBella is said to know “all the dirt” about Donald Trump. Honestly, no single person could have all the dirt.


LaBella no doubt works hard for the money, and that’s why the RNC treats him right (also we have no idea why the article has his name with a lowercase b when he capitalizes it himself):

From August 2019 through May 2020, the Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Convention made
a dozen payments totaling more than $66,000 to Labella Worldwide, Inc. for “production consulting services.”

Gosh, dare we dream of a Gary Busey-Meat Loaf rematch at the convention? There can obviously be no other reason for the payments to LaBella’s very busy entertainment concern, which is thriving so hard that its website currently looks like this:

We suppose a particularly rude person might conceivably jump to totally unwarranted conclusions from some other details in the Daily Beast story:

According to actor Tom Arnold, who was a contestant on the show and has since become a vociferous Trump critic, Labella was in possession of Trump’s ostensibly salacious—and, in political and media circles, long-sought—behind-the-scenes Apprentice outtakes. “Chuck LaBella was there and knows all,” Arnold said. Arnold’s accusations are often brushed aside by Trumpworld as conspiracy-mongering. But the charges he leveled were reportedly serious enough that Trump’s then personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, helped situate Labella with a close attorney, Keith Davidson, in late 2017. Davidson’s name became prominent for his representation of another Trump-adjacent personality: porn star Stormy Daniels, for whom he helped arrange hush money payments in order to maintain her silence about her alleged affair with Trump. Davidson did not return a request for comment.

What, you people see the names of some people who happened to be involved in hush-money payments that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to making on the behalf of Individual One, and you think there might be something funny going on with these completely above-board consulting fees to a great entertainment industry expert who’s bringing his expertise to an upcoming event? Gosh, you’re cynical, and the Daily Beast is very careful — as are we — to avoid suggesting there’s anything the least bit untoward going on here.

And indeed, it would be highly inappropriate to think otherwise, says RNC national press secretary Mandi Merritt, who is definitely not described as having a completely flat, expressionless affect as she told the Daily Beast that LaBella was doing perfectly standard event production things:

Chuck LaBella is consulting on a variety of efforts for convention, including talent, production, stage design, and media consulting. […] It’s incredibly common for large scale events such as these to receive consulting from those with backgrounds in the entertainment industry and to suggest anything other than that is not only flat on wrong, but offensive and misleading.

INCREDIBLY common, probably the most ordinary thing ever! An unnamed RNC official also pointed out that the Democrats are using a person who happens to have entertainment industry connections for their convention, too, noting that the DNC has “re-hired Ricky Kirschner (sic) as executive producer for its convention.” Kirshner, the Daily Beast points out, has indeed “produced every Democratic Party convention since 1992 in addition to Super Bowl halftime shows and the Tony Awards,” so he really is a LOT like the former Trump associate who has never done a political convention before and is merely rumored by a crazy actor guy to have dirt on Trump.

The article also notes that, before it went into COMING SOON mode, an archived version of LaBella’s website said he was “currently consulting for two network television shows: Fox’s The Masked Singer and ABC’s Holey Moley.” We would add that since Sarah Palin was recently on the “Masked Singer” thing — intoning, we shit you not, “Baby Got Back” — clearly LaBella IS a political sort of guy, so let’s just not read anything at all into his being paid to work on this summer’s RNC.

We would say more, but we suddenly really need to pee for absolutely no reason at all.

[Daily Beast]

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OANN Cooked Up A Poll For President Trump To Snort, Shoot, Smoke, Or Pop. It’ll Make You Feel Good!

Fox’s inbred cousin One American News Network has released a poll of Arizona voters, and it is a holy wonder. Donald Trump is going to get all tingly in his orange bits when he discovers that he’s running four points ahead of Biden instead of four points behind. Martha McSally is not A IDIOT, though, so she’s probably not going to fall for a poll that shows her four points ahead of Democrat Mark Kelly, rather than trailing him by 10. On the other hand, she is getting pretty desperate, so …

Okay, let’s take a look at this poll, shall we? See if maybe there’s some way they manipulated the pool of “527 registered, likely voters in Arizona” sharing their opinions via “interactive voice responses and an online panel of cell phone users.”

Uhhhhhh, 47 percent of respondents to this poll voted for Trump four years ago, and only 33 percent for Clinton? Does that seem like a representative sample of the electorate?

via NYT

In fact, it does not!


They shaved off 11 percentage points worth of Hillary Clinton voters from the jump? Very subtle! Well if OANN deliberately undersampled registered Democrats, that would show up in the party registrations, right?

Hmm, let’s just compare that to the party breakdown according to Arizona’s Secretary of State.

Fam, we are shook! They look to have given Democrats a haircut here, too. Whodathunkit from a network that had to pull its own poll last month for being complete garbage! And just for good measure, let’s compare the racial breakdown of their sample set to the Census Bureau’s estimate that Hispanics make up 32 percent of Arizona’s population.

UH HUH. So when they say, “The results are weighted by voting demographics,” what they mean is “We arbitrarily decided that Democrats and Hispanics weren’t going to turn up at the polls, which gave us the whiter, more Republican sample set we were hoping for.”

So, now we know where they hid the salami — not that it was all that hard to find, TBH — let’s see if stacking the deck yielded any spectacularly silly results.

In 2016, CNN’s national exit polling showed Trump garnering eight percent of the African American vote, 28 percent of the Latino vote, and 27 percent of the Asian vote. OANN shows him at 22 percent with African Americans, 32 percent with Latinos, and a whopping 76 percent with Asians. And if you think that’s some crazy shit, they’re showing McSally beating Mark Kelly 53 to 47 among African Americans. Sounds legit!

How did those crank-yankers at OANN manage to find McSally beating Mark Kelly with less of the white vote than she got in 2018 when she lost to Kyrsten Sinema? It’s magic!

Or perhaps it’s done by piling leading questions on top of a GOP oversample. Those onanists asked a full four questions using the word “riot” (Whom do you trust to prevent violent riots in American cities?; Is rioting an effective way to change policy?; Is activating the national guard an effective way to prevent further rioting?; Who is more responsible for the riots across the country?), two about support for the police, and one about blaming China for the coronavirus.

Two weeks ago, before Arizona’s COVID-19 numbers went through the roof, the pollsters from Sienna and the New York Times had Biden up 7 and Kelly up 9. But now that shit’s hitting the fan courtesy of Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, OANN wants you to believe that the Grand Canyon State is coming home to the GOP.

Yeah, you bet.

[OANN Poll]

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Behind the lines: a communique from the Victorian resistance

Who would have guessed that running a quarantine via the party’s neoliberal profit motive could go so horribly wrong!

pill testing
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

The following communique from the Victorian death zone was picked up on Forces Radio at 06:15 before the line went dead. The current condition of the resistance is unknown. 

It’s a good thing there’s a plentiful supply of agency photos of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews looking forlorn, because it looks like we’re going to need them.

Initially it appeared that the Victoria-only outbreak of the plague — a sort of darker Nick Cave/Peter Temple strain, dressed in black — was merely a product of the state’s success in controlling the thing, a low-end bounce.