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Putin extends olive branch to Arab League on Syria

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to extend his influence in the Middle East by being a little chummy with the Arab League. TASS in Moscow reports Putin’s main focus was regional stability in his missive to Arab League members.

“Russia is prepared to develop cooperation with the Arab League in order to ensure regional stability. I hope that in the wake of the defeat of the main forces of ISIL (former name of the Islamic State terror group, outlawed in Russia – TASS) in Syria and Iraq, we will be able together to contribute to intensifying the political settlement and post-conflict reconstruction processes in those countries and tackling pressing humanitarian issues,” the head of state said in his message of greetings to the participants of the Arab League meeting posted on the Kremlin’s website on Sunday.

Putin also noted that it is necessary to continue the fight against terror groups, while respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Arab states.

According to Putin, the normalization of the situation in the Middle East is impossible without resolving the Palestinian issue. “All issues related to the status of the Palestinian territories, including the Jerusalem problem, need to be tackled through direct Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on a generally recognized international legal basis, including the relevant resolutions passed by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly and also the Arab Peace Initiative endorsed by the Arab League,” the Russian president noted.

One interesting thing to come out of this is the fact Putin’s statement isn’t on the Kremlin’s website anymore, so it’s possible his slide into the Arab League’s DMs didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. The group is staying relatively quiet about Putin’s gesture and there’s no word if it had any real effect on this past weekend’s summit in Saudi Arabia. It was quite curious to see an Al Jazeera report claiming the US, UK, and French airstrikes on Syria weren’t discussed at all during the gathering.

According to a summit spokesman, the leaders were to discuss the Syrian conflict but not the strikes that targeted the sites near Damascus as well as in the province of Homs.

The leaders called for an international probe while condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters after the summit.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar have previously issued statements in support of the action while Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon expressed concern.

My guess is the Arab League decided to treat the airstrikes as an “elephant in the room” and one which needed to be avoided at all costs to keep shoes from being thrown at each other. The group did find plenty of time to discuss President Donald Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, so…priorities? It does show the failure of governmental bodies to get together and discuss issues because Syria is technically a member of the Arab League, although their membership was suspended in 2011. It’s quite a conundrum for the League and whether they end up figuring something out or burying their heads in the sand is another question entirely.

It will be interesting to see if any further discussions happen on the Syrian airstrikes and whether the Arab world will decide to get more involved in the civil war. They certainly seem more than willing to let the West and the Kremlin handle the load while they wring their hands and offer platitudes, and money, towards the rebels. The conflict in Syria is supposed to be a civil war yet it’s turning more and more into a bit of a proxy war between the West and Russia.

The key factor for Americans is to remember what George Washington and Thomas Jefferson said about global alliances which favor one country over another. Washington wrote in Daily American Advertiser in 1796 how troublesome and destructive these situations can become.

Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious, while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence therefore it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Jefferson was more succinct in his 1801 inaugural address.

Equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none;

This doesn’t mean isolation, as many might guess, but simply being careful about crazy alliances which could pit Americans against another country instead of allowing free trade and free markets to rule the day. The world has definitely changed since Washington and Jefferson made the statements but the principal stays the same. The U.S.’ inability to remain out of entangling alliances is one reason why it finds itself being drawn further into Syria. Putin’s move towards the Arab League could actually come back to bite him as the Arab world tries to figure out what to do with a civil war which is being funded by more than a few outside actors.

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Fearless Girl to stand on her own, at least for now

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Fearless Girl is finally going to move and, at least for now, she won’t be taking Charging Bull with her. The decision to move Fearless Girl a few blocks away to a position opposite the New York Stock Exchange was prompted by concerns about crowds and traffic. From the NY Daily News:

The much-beloved statue will depart her perch opposite the iconic Charging Bull to stare down some new scenery: The New York Stock Exchange, the Daily News has learned…

The move comes as the city and the company sought a more permanent home for the popular statue — and one with fewer safety issues than her current spot in a Bowling Green median, which gets overrun with onlookers who often stand in the busy street…

Due to safety concerns about traffic — and potential terror attacks using cars — the city said it was also exploring moving the Charging Bull itself.

But while Fearless Girl will move by year’s end, there are no immediate plans to move the bull — the city said Wednesday it was “exploring” putting it somewhere else downtown.

However, there’s really no doubt that Fearless Girl doesn’t work without some opponent to be fearless about. So will staring down the New York Stock Exchange be enough? The NY Times reports that Mayor de Blasio really wants to keep the statues together:

A spokesman for Mr. de Blasio said that it was important to the mayor, who has posed with “Fearless Girl” and spoken of its meaning to young women and girls, to keep the two works together.

“The mayor felt it was important that the ‘Fearless Girl’ be in a position to stand up to the bull and what it stands for,” said Eric F. Phillips, the mayor’s press secretary. “That’s why we’re aiming to keep them together. The bull has also always been a traffic and safety issue the city’s hemmed and hawed over. The moves achieve a few goals.”

Artist Arturo Di Modica, the creator of Charging Bull, has said his figure was meant to be a symbol of “freedom in the world, peace, strength, power and love.” It was, of course, a symbol of America’s economic strength and, implicitly at least, of the power of capitalism itself. Di Modica felt the addition of Fearless Girl turned his optimistic statue into a corporate comment on gender politics and, worse, a threat to be defied.

It’s interesting that the progressive Mayor is so eager to maintain that reinterpretation of Di Modica’s art. In fact, I think his press secretary’s statement goes a long way to proving Di Modica’s point about the attempt to reinterpret his work. Fearless Girl isn’t just standing up to the bull but also “what it stands for.” Why would Mayor de Blasio want to do that? A statement he made last year to New York Magazine might give a hint:

I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development. . . .

Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality. [Emphasis added.]

Fearless Girl’s placement opposite Charging Bull goes well beyond standing up for more women in high finance jobs and boardrooms (the alleged point of the statue). The Mayor who praised the “socialistic impulse” toward government planning is doing is best to change one of the best-known symbols of America’s free market into a threat to be defied. I really don’t think that’s an accident.

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Whoa: DOJ Inspector General sends criminal referral for Andrew McCabe to U.S. Attorney

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You know who you can thank for this? James Comey! He’s the one who initiated the IG investigation into leaks to the WSJ in October 2016 about the FBI’s investigation of the Clinton Foundation, or so he claimed to the Daily Beast. Which makes this tweet from January seem … awkward now:

Comey will be on Jake Tapper’s show for an interview within the hour. I wonder what the first question will be.

The Justice Department inspector general referred its finding that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe repeatedly misled investigators who were examining a media disclosure to the top federal prosecutor in D.C. to determine whether McCabe should be charged with a crime, according to people familiar with the matter…

Lying to federal investigators is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, and some legal analysts speculated in the wake of the report that the inspector general seemed to be laying out a case for accusing McCabe of such conduct. The report alleged that one of McCabe’s lies “was done knowingly and intentionally” — which is a key aspect of the federal crime

Ironically, Comey — who appointed McCabe to his post as the No. 2 official in the FBI — stressed in his book released this week the importance of telling the truth to federal investigators and holding accountable those who do not.

“People must fear the consequences of lying in the justice system or the system can’t work,” wrote Comey in his new book, per WaPo, and how here we are. Will the next McCabe fundraising webathon be for bail money?

Comey reiterated yesterday on “The View” when asked about McCabe that lying to the feds isn’t okay. McCabe and his lawyer didn’t like that:

“In his comments this week about the McCabe matter, former FBI Director James Comey has relied on the accuracy and the soundness of the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) conclusions in their report on Mr. McCabe. In fact, the report fails to adequately address the evidence (including sworn testimony) and documents that prove that Mr. McCabe advised Director Comey repeatedly that he was working with the Wall Street Journal on the stories in question prior to publication. Neither Mr. Comey nor the OIG is infallible, and in this case neither of them has it right.”

The wrinkle here is that the IG’s recommendation is based partly on a test of credibility between McCabe and Comey himself. McCabe claims that when Comey asked him in October 2016 whether he had authorized any info on the Clinton Foundation probe to be released to the WSJ, McCabe told him yes, that he was working with the paper to correct inaccuracies in the story. Comey, however, told the IG that McCabe told him he didn’t know who’d been talking to the paper. Upon further investigation, the IG agreed with Comey. Which is to say, if this turns into a prosecution — and there’s no guarantee that it will — the star witness against Andrew McCabe might be … James Comey.

The statute here, by the way, is the same statute that Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to violating: 18 U.S.C. 1001, which makes it a crime to lie to federal officials. The U.S. Attorney will be under heavy political pressure to indict McCabe in order to show that the “no lying” rule applies to its own officers just as much as it does to Trump’s aides. Although I wonder if Trump might inadvertently let them off the hook by tweeting something celebratory about the McCabe referral, leaving the U.S. Attorney to argue that the president’s endless Twitter attacks on McCabe have made it impossible for him to get a fair trial. As such, he might not be charged or, if he’s amenable, he may be allowed to cop a plea with a wrist-slap penalty. If anything is capable of driving home the lesson to Trump that he shouldn’t be tweeting about pending legal matters, watching McCabe walk free because of his big mouth might be it.

Nah, who are we kidding. Nothing will drive that lesson home. Exit question: What if McCabe and Michael Cohen end up as cellmates in the federal pen? I smell sitcom.

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Trump: Feds will not pay for Jerry Brown’s National Guard ‘charade’

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The war of words between President Trump and California Governor Jerry Brown over illegal immigration heated up again this morning. Just yesterday Gov. Brown suggested 400 National Guard troops would be headed for the border and that the federal government had agreed to pay for it. But this morning President Trump tweeted this:

This all started a couple weeks ago when President Trump announced that, since funding for his border wall was stalled, he was calling on states to send National Guard troops to the border. A week later, there was another surprise when Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he would be sending 400 National Guard troops to the border to fight smuggling and drug trafficking. However, Brown also drew a line at getting involved in preventing illegal immigration saying, “It will not be a mission to round up women and children or detain people escaping violence and seeking a better life. And the California National Guard will not be enforcing federal immigration laws.”

That made it a bit unclear what California’s troops were actually going to do. National Guard troops are not allowed to arrest people at the border. That’s the job of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. Troops from other states were using surveillance equipment and notifying the border patrol if they saw someone trying to cross the border. They were also given jobs doing paperwork and other support roles aimed at freeing up more border patrol officers. But earlier this week the Associated Press reported that California was rejecting most of the actual jobs the border patrol wanted the troops to do.

The state informed federal officials it will not allow its troops to fix and repair vehicles, operate remotely-controlled surveillance cameras to report suspicious activity to the Border Patrol, operate radios and provide “mission support,” which can include clerical work, buying gas and handling payroll, according to officials with knowledge of the talks who spoke condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

The next day, California officials said they were not backing away from sending troops to the border even as a CBP Deputy Commissioner confirmed the core of the Associated Press report, i.e. Gov. Brown would not let his troops do a number of support jobs for the border patrol.

Wednesday, Gov. Brown released a statement saying 400 troops were headed to the border, “after securing the federal government’s commitment this week to fund the mission.” That certainly makes it sound as if some agreement has been reached. But if so, Trump’s tweet this morning appears to be rejecting that agreement. So far, there has not been a response from Gov. Brown clarifying whether or not his National Guard troops are still headed for the border.

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