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Daily Reads: Attacks on the Media Central to GOP’s 2018 Midterm Strategy; Is it Watergate or Iran/Contra?

A roundup of stories we're reading at BillMoyers.com HQ...

GOP's 2018 Midterm Strategy: Bashing the Media

Counter-terrorism special forces assemble near the scene of a suspected terrorist attack near London Bridge on June 4, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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Arrests in London terror attack –> The BBC reports that 12 people were arrested in connection with Saturday’s terror attack in London. One was later released. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

Also from the BBC, the British government announced that the UK’s general election, scheduled for Thursday, will move forward as planned. Most political parties suspended their campaigns over the weekend out of respect for the victims of the attack, but they’ll get back to politics today.

And while leaders around the world issued solemn statements mourning the loss of innocent life and pledging their support for the British, The Washington Post’s headline sums up how the president of the United States responded: “Trump reacts to London terror by stoking fear and renewing feud with mayor.”

Worse than Watergate? –> Salon’s Paul Rosenberg considers the frequent comparisons between the scandal surrounding Russian interference in our election and Watergate, and concludes that this situation is more similar to Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal.

Related: Last week, we mentioned that Democrats on the House Financial Services Committee had requested information from Deutsche Bank about a series of Russian loans to Donald Trump’s organization, and other possibly related matters, but couldn’t issue subpoenas without a Republican signing onto the request. Reuters now reports that the bank confirmed receipt of their letter but was otherwise unresponsive.

#Resistance by the numbers –> Some argue that the Dems’ failure to flip seats in special elections in Kansas and Montana show that their coalition isn’t as fired up as the conventional wisdom holds. But at FiveThirtyEight, Nathaniel Rakich points out that when you include state-level races, there have been a total of 23 special elections since Trump took office and Democrats have won 12 of them. Not all of those races were competitive, but “overall, the trend is clear. Democratic special-election candidates have improved their margins over Republicans relative to their district’s partisan lean by an average of 14.4 percentage points. This pattern has popped up in districts from rural Minnesota to the suburbs of Atlanta to the black belt of Louisiana.”

Meanwhile, Alex Roarty and Lindsay Wise report for McClatchy that heading into the 2018 midterms, Republicans plan to deploy “a deliberate strategy to help GOP candidates win elections fueled by public hatred of reporters.” According to interviews with “strategists and party leaders across the country,” they write, “what started as genuine anger at allegedly unfair coverage — or an effort to deflect criticism — is now an integral part of next year’s congressional campaigns.”

The backstory is more interesting than the news –> Last week, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a Middle East fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, wrote about the growing rift among Gulf states at The MonkeyCage. It began with a Qatari Emir supposedly making “inflammatory comments” praising Iran and Hezbollah during a commencement address, which were posted to the Qatar News Agency. But people at the ceremony said the Emir didn’t even speak at the event, and the Qatari government claimed that hackers had posted the article. Nevertheless, “Tamim’s remarks caused immediate uproar in regional media, much of it based in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Both countries blocked Al Jazeera and other Qatar-based media outlets in the aftermath of the allegations, and new articles have been published daily in the week since” accusing “Qatar of being the weak link in the threat to regional stability from Iran and terrorism.” Since Donald Trump seems to touch all the big news these days, there is, Ulrichsen writes, a significant “Trump factor” in all of this. Read on at the link above for that angle.

The news out today, as reported by The Associated Press, is that “four Arab nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar on Monday over its relations with Iran and support of Islamist groups, isolating the tiny energy-rich country by cutting off its land, sea and air routes to the outside world.” [via The Los Angeles Times]

Shadow universe” –> The Washington Post’s Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Shawn Boburg look at how right-wing bomb-thrower David Horowitz’s Freedom Center “helped cultivate a generation of political warriors seeking to upend the Washington establishment,” a number of whom have since gone on to become “some of the most powerful and influential figures in the Trump administration.” It’s an example, they write, of “how charities have become essential to modern political campaigns, amid lax enforcement of the federal limits on their involvement in politics, while taking advantage of millions of dollars in what amount to taxpayer subsidies.”

Promises, promises –> On the campaign trail, Donald Trump lamented that the US had spent billions rebuilding Iraq while our own infrastructure crumbled. He said, “we’re going to start spending on infrastructure big.” He called for a $1 trillion infrastructure package, and a January Gallup poll found that more Americans named this as his most important promise than any other by a wide margin. But that was then, and this is now. Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Kate Kelly report for The New York Times that “President Trump will lay out a vision this coming week for sharply curtailing the federal government’s funding of the nation’s infrastructure and calling upon states, cities and corporations to shoulder most of the cost of rebuilding roads, bridges, railways and waterways.”

Like a GoFundMe for piracy and maybe murder –> During the first five months of 2015, 1,800 refugees drowned attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. Since then, various NGOs have established rescue groups which have saved thousands of lives. But according to The Guardian’s Mark Townsend, “far-right activists are planning a sea campaign this summer to disrupt vessels saving refugees in the Mediterranean, after successfully intercepting a rescue mission last month.” According to Townsend, “members of the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant ‘Identitarian’ movement — largely 20-somethings often described as Europe’s answer to the American “alt-right” — have raised £56,489 in less than three weeks to enable them to target boats run by aid charities.”

Meanwhile, here at home –> Allan Feuer and Jeremy Peters report for The New York Times that far-right groups are “recruit[ing] battalions of mainly young white men for one-off confrontations with their ideological enemies — the black-clad left-wing militants who disrupted President Trump’s inauguration and have protested against the appearances of conservative speakers on college campuses.” These “right-wing fight-clubs” use social media “to spout Islamophobic and anti-immigrant speech, recruit new members and mobilize followers to go to demonstrations where violence might erupt.”

One such clash occurred yesterday in Portland, Oregon, as pro-Trump white nationalists squared off with anti-fascist militants. But according to Hal Bernton at The Seattle Times, large numbers of local and federal police largely kept the two sides apart. They confiscated anything that could be used as a weapon, and at one point deployed tear gas and other “less-lethal” weapons. Fourteen people were arrested on various charges.

At Mother Jones, Madison Pauly looks at the “new generation of militant organizers” who “have pledged to resist emboldened white supremacists and right-wing extremists through ‘direct action’ that sometimes goes beyond nonviolent protest—including picking up arms.” Pauly adds that “some see themselves as the heirs of ’60s radicals like the Black Panthers, while others look to the antifa [or anti-fascist] movement for inspiration.”  And at Newsweek, Arie Perliger writes that the threat of right-wing extremism is rising in America even as the federal government froze “$10 million in grants aimed at countering domestic violent extremism” and “the White House wants to cut spending for programs that fight non-Muslim domestic terrorism.”

A troubling story –> Kim Weaver, a Democrat who was set to challenge Rep. Steve King (R-IA), says she’s withdrawing from the race because of a flood of “very alarming acts of intimidation, including death threats.” Weaver also said she feared losing her health insurance if she gave up her job in order to seek the ouster of one of the most extreme voices in Congress. Molly Longman and Jason Noble have the rest of the story at The Des Moines Register.

A happy story –> Ahn Do reports for The Los Angeles Times that Muslims and Latinos got together at the site of a new mosque in Santa Ana, California to break the Ramadan fast with some delicious tacos. She writes that “the idea is to demystify Islam through the sharing of food and to unite two groups, Muslims and Latinos, facing increasing discrimination in the Trump era.”

Historical revisionism –> At The Atlantic, Adam Serwer offers a critical look at Civil War icon General Robert E. Lee. “The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee,” writes Serwer, “is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.” Serwer argues that Lee was neither a brilliant military strategist nor a man who was conflicted about the morality of slavery — two claims that have become ubiquitous in commentary about Lee, and the controversy surrounding the removal of Civil War monuments. For Serwer, “Lee’s elevation is a key part of a 150-year-old propaganda campaign designed to erase slavery as the cause of the war and whitewash the Confederate cause as a noble one.”

Maybe don’t do this? –> “A photo of a man in Alberta mowing a lawn with a tornado swirling behind him has been causing a storm on social media,” according to the Canadian Press.  “It looks much closer if you look in the photo, but it was really far away,” the man said. “Well, not really far, far away, but… I was keeping an eye on it.”

Daily Reads was compiled by BillMoyers.com staff and edited by Kristin Miller.

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