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Trump Pals Have a Plan For Lifting Sanctions on Russia

Mother Jones

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The president’s friends have a proposal for him:

A week before Michael T. Flynn resigned as national security adviser, a sealed proposal was hand-delivered to his office, outlining a way for President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Flynn is gone, having been caught lying about his own discussion of sanctions with the Russian ambassador. But the proposal, a peace plan for Ukraine and Russia, remains, along with those pushing it: Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who delivered the document; Felix H. Sater, a business associate who helped Mr. Trump scout deals in Russia; and a Ukrainian lawmaker trying to rise in a political opposition movement shaped in part by Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

….Mr. Cohen said Mr. Sater had given him the written proposal in a sealed envelope. When Mr. Cohen met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office in early February, he said, he left the proposal in Mr. Flynn’s office. Mr. Cohen said he was waiting for a response when Mr. Flynn was forced from his post. Now Mr. Cohen, Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko are hoping a new national security adviser will take up their cause. On Friday the president wrote on Twitter that he had four new candidates for the job.

The “Ukranian lawmaker” is a pro-Putin opponent of the current regime in Ukraine. Sater is, um, a guy with an interesting background: “mafia linked,” spent some time in prison, worked as an FBI informant, and spent several years as a close business associate of Donald J. Trump. Oh, and Sater was born in Russia and continues to have lots of contacts there.

And Cohen? Well, he’s the guy who could actually get inside the White House and deliver the letter. You remember Michael Cohen, don’t you?

Every time we turn around, there’s something new linking Trump to Russia. Just a few days ago, FBI Director James Comey briefed the Senate Intelligence committee about the ongoing investigation of Team Trump and its ties to Russia, and all the chatter afterward was about how the senators seemed kind of shaken by what they heard.

Who knows? Maybe it all turns out to be nothing. But there sure is a lot of smoke out there. It’s hard to believe there isn’t a fire too.

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Trump Pals Have a Plan For Lifting Sanctions on Russia

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Why Does a White Guy Always Have to Be the Hero?

Mother Jones

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Chinese director Zhang Yimou, of Hero and House of Flying Daggers fame, made his English-language debut with The Great Wall, which opened Friday. But in a story set in ancient China, Matt Damon’s character sticks out like a sore thumb. The presence of his pale mug in movie posters and trailers drew backlash even before the film’s release. “We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that only a white man can save the world,” Fresh Off the Boat actress Constance Wu wrote in a Twitter tirade. “We don’t need salvation.” Damon and Yimou felt compelled to publicly defend the film, with Damon calling it “historical fantasy.”

The lack of people of color in starring roles is a longstanding Hollywood problem, and things are especially bad for Asians. A 2016 study (PDF) by the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California found that more than half of films and TV shows had no speaking roles for Asian characters—and it’s exceedingly rare to see Asians in lead roles. Producers often claim there just aren’t enough roles for Asian actors, which is true—or vice versa, which is not. Often, when the opportunity arises to cast Asian characters, Hollywood decision-makers hire white actors to portray them. Sometimes they simply rewrite nonwhite characters as white ones. These things are called whitewashing.

The Great Wall exemplifies a related Hollywood trend wherein white characters play a dominant role in a foreign situation, while nonwhite locals are reduced to sidekicks or people “to be killed or rescued—or to have sex with,” as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen put it recently. Vogue recently added to the outrage over cultural tone-deafness by presenting Karlie Kloss, an American model of German and Danish descent, as a geisha—for the magazine’s diversity issue, no less. Vogue later removed the photographs from its website and Kloss apologized for her participation, but it was yet another episode in America’s long history of whitewashing Asians. We’ll leave you with this brief history of the same. Dig around and you’re sure to find plenty more.

1926

The first Charlie Chan film is released, starring Japanese actor George Kuwa, but the films fail to win large audiences until Warner Oland, a Swedish actor, takes on the role. The Chan films become extremely popular, with more than 40 made, but are later criticized for racist stereotypes.

Wikimedia Commons

1935

Merle Oberon, whose partial Indian ancestry she keeps a secret for most of her life, is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She is later credited as the first (and only) Asian-American ever nominated in that category.

1944

In Dragon Seed, Katharine Hepburn, plays Jade, a Chinese woman who stands up to Japanese invaders. Turhan Bey, who is of Turkish and Czech descent, co-stars as her husband.

Katharine Hepburn and Turhan Bey in Dragon Seed. Wikimedia Commons

1945

Rex Harrison portrays a Thai king in Anna and the King of Siam, the film adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. A 1951 remake continues to use non-Asian actors in the role—Russian-born Yul Brynner is the new king.

1956

Marlon Brando plays Sakini, a Japanese translator on the island of Okinawa after World War II, requiring hours of daily makeup work. “It was a horrible picture,” he later writes, “and I was miscast.”

1961

Mickey Rooney dons yellow-face, prosthetic teeth, and taped eyelids for his role as Audrey Hepburn’s temperamental landlord in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (His “bucktoothed, myopic Japanese” is “broadly exotic,” the New York Times writes.) Rooney is later taken aback to learn that his portrayal is considered racist. “It breaks my heart,” he tells the Sacramento Bee in 2008, adding, jokingly, “Those that didn’t like it, I forgive them.”

Breakfast at Tiffany’s Wikimedia Commons

1967

Sean Connery, 007, goes undercover Japanese in You Only Live Twice. (His makeup job would fool nobody, let alone a Bond villian.)

1972-75

In the TV series Kung Fu, David Carradine plays Kwai Chang Caine, a Buddhist monk versed in the martial arts. Bruce Lee had originally pitched the series and hoped to star in it, but the producers went with Carradine instead. Kung Fu became one of the most popular shows of its day.

David Carradine in Kung Fu. Wikimedia Commons

1981

Asian actors and artists in California protest Hollywood’s attempt to revive Charlie Chan with Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen. “I don’t think racism is funny any more,” San Franciscan Eliza Chan tells the Washington Post. “We have been called “Charlie” for so many years. We have been made fun of—the way we speak, the way we act—people expect us to be like Charlie Chan, and we can’t stand that any more.”

1982

British actor Ben Kingsley, whose father is Indian, wins a Best Actor Oscar for Ghandi. He is the first—and as of 2017, the only—actor of Asian descent ever nominated in the category, much less win.

Director Richard Attenborough, left, and actor Ben Kingsley pose with their Ghandi Oscars. Reed Saxon/AP

1984

Japanese-American actor Gedde Watanabe portrays the (ostensibly) Chinese exchange student Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles. Mainstream audiences find the caricature hilarious, but many Asian-Americans cringe. “Because there were so few Asian actors onscreen at that time, people were looking for Kurosawa in a comedy,” Watanabe recalls in a 30th anniversary interview. “Sixteen Candles wasn’t that kind of movie.”

Gedde Watanabe as Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles.

1990

A British theater production of Miss Saigon, a retelling of Madame Butterfly in the context of the Vietnam War, almost doesn’t make it to Broadway after a union protests the casting of British actor Jonathan Pryce in a Eurasian role. Although Pryce, who wears eye prosthetics and bronzer for the performance, wins a Tony and the play goes on to become one of Broadway’s longest-running hits, Miss Saigon continues to be criticized for its stereotypical portrayals.

2003

Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai features Tom Cruise as Capt. Nathan Algren, a guilt-wracked former Union Army soldier who gets to be the hero when he helps some rebel samurai fight a corrupt Japanese empire—it’s all about Cruise, of course. Washington Post critic Stephen Hunter savages the film: “Basically what Zwick has done is to take Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves and insert it into the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, with a samurai clan in the role of an Indian tribe.”

Warner Bros.

2006

Ang Lee is the first Asian director to win an Oscar, for Brokeback Mountain.

Director Ang Lee accepts his Oscar from Tom Hanks. Chris Carlson/AP

2010

White actors play the leads in the live-action film adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender, previously an animated series with characters of Asian and Native American descent. Fans pan it and the movie flops.

Avatar: The Last Airbender series. Nickelodeon

The Last Airbender movie. Paramount Pictures

2012

White actor Jim Sturgess dons yellowface and doctored eyes to play a Korean character in Cloud Atlas. Director Andy Wachowski defends the casting: “The intention is to talk about things that are beyond race. The character of this film is humanity.” It’s not Sturgess’ first brush with whitewashing: In 21, a film based on the true story of college card-counters who gamed the casinos, he plays a student who in real life was Chinese-American.

2015

Emma Stone stars as a half-Asian character in Aloha, which flops at the box office. The role, she says later, opened her eyes to Hollywood’s diversity problems and “flaws in the system.” Director Cameron Crowe also apologizes, calling the casting “misguided.”

Feb. 2016

In an otherwise spot-on monologue—”I’m here at the Academy Awards, otherwise known as the White People’s Choice Awards”—Oscars host Chris Rock rips Hollywood’s lack of diversity, yet manages to stereotype Asian Americans, who are all but invisible in American films

April 2016

The creators of Ghost in the Shell, adapted from a Japanese manga and anime film, face backlash after casting Scarlett Johansson as the Japanese main character. Tilda Swinton also gets hit with criticism for her role as the Ancient One, a Tibetan character, in Dr. Strange.

Ghost in the Shell, 1995. Production IG

Ghost in the Shell, 2017. Paramount Pictures

May 2016

Comedian Margaret Cho, Nerds of Color blogger Keith Chow, author Ellen Oh and other Asian Americans start a monthlong #WhiteWashedOut campaign that calls on Hollywood to stop whitewashing Asians and urging white actors to reject Asian roles.

Nov. 2016

Hong Kong actor and director Jackie Chan accepts an honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards in an emotional speech: “After 56 years in the film industry, making more than 200 films, breaking so many bones, finally this is mine.” He is one of four filmmakers to receive the lifetime achievement award.

Jackie Chan at the Governors Awards. Chris Pizzello/AP

Feb. 2017

Matt Damon plays a European mercenary who saves China from monsters in The Great Wall. Actress Constance Wu takes issue: “We like our color and our culture and our strengths and our own stories,” she writes. “Hollywood is supposed to be about making great stories. So make them.”

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Why Does a White Guy Always Have to Be the Hero?

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GOP Senator Calls for Investigating What FBI Did About Russia-Trump Intelligence

Mother Jones

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The night before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the New York Times dropped a bombshell: intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been examining intercepted communications and financial transactions in an investigation of possible contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials. This report seemed to confirm previous indications that the US government has collected sensitive intelligence about interactions between Trump insiders and Russians. And hours before the inauguration, I ran into Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has been one of the few Republicans to call for a special investigation of the Russian hacking that helped Trump, and I asked him about this latest development.

Graham, a member of the Senate judiciary committee, said that he didn’t know anything about the intelligence intercepts. He remarked, “I want to learn and investigate all things Russian, wherever it leads.” He noted that it was clear that Vladimir Putin’s regime had “tried to undermine our election” and “succeeded in creating discontent and discord.” He added, “I want to know what they did and who they did it with.” He went on: “I want to see all of it…I want to know what Russia did…If there is campaign contacts, I want to know about it.”

Graham said he hoped to examine what the FBI knew about any Trump-Russia contacts and what actions the bureau had taken. (Before the election, FBI Director Jim Comey talked rather publicly about the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of her email at the State Department. But Comey has declined to say anything in public regarding whether the bureau has probed links between Trump associates and Russians.) “I hope to be able to work with Sen. Grassley the chair of the judiciary committee to look into the FBI’s role,” Graham said, “in terms of what they did, what they know, and what they can provide to Congress.”

At the moment, the Senate investigation of the Russian hacking and possible contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign is being conducted by the Senate intelligence committee. So it’s unclear whether Graham will get his wish for a judiciary committee inquiry into the FBI end of this matter.

Before darting off to inauguration business, Graham, who often tussled with Trump during the 2016 campaign, criticized the incoming president for trying to downplay Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “Trump,” he said, “seems to be in the forgive-and-forget mode.” He noted the “biggest mistake” Trump could make would be “forgiving Russia…for what they did in our election.”

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GOP Senator Calls for Investigating What FBI Did About Russia-Trump Intelligence

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Read the US Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking

Mother Jones

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The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Friday released its declassified report on Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election by hacking Democratic outfits during the campaign.

The report comes a day after top intelligence officials, including Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the issue. During the hearing, Clapper said the intelligence community has grown more “resolute” in its assessment that Russian intelligence was involved in the hacks aimed at the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. On Friday, Clapper, Rogers, FBI Director Jim Comey, and CIA Director John Brennan briefed President-elect Donald Trump on the classified evidence linking Russia to the hacks and the leaking of the swiped emails. After the briefing, Trump released a statement noting that Russia is one of many actors that try to hack US targets, but the statement did not acknowledge the US intelligence community conclusion that Moscow had mounted the cyberattack against the United States as part of an operation to help elect Trump president.

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ICA 2017 01 (PDF)

ICA 2017 01 (Text)

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Read the US Intelligence Report on Russian Hacking

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Clapper: Election Cyber Attacks Were Directed By the Kremlin

Mother Jones

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said today that the intelligence community believed “more resolutely” than it did three months ago that Russia was behind a campaign of cyberattacks during the presidential election. The LA Times reports on his testimony before Congress:

Three U.S. spy chiefs testified publicly for the first time Thursday that the Kremlin’s most senior leaders approved a Russian intelligence operation aimed at interfering in the U.S. presidential race, a conclusion that President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly challenged.

….“We assess that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the recent election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets,” they wrote in joint remarks submitted for the hearing.

….U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that the Russian cyber operation sought to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and to help Trump’s bid for the White House. Clapper did not confirm that judgment Thursday, although he indicated it would be included in the classified report. “Yes, we will ascribe a motivation,” he said. “I’d rather not preempt the report.”

The full House and the full Senate will be briefed on a classified version of the review next week, Clapper said. After those briefings, a declassified version will be made public, he said….“I intend to push the envelope as much as we can in the unclassified version because I think the public should know as much about this as possible,” Clapper said. “There are some fragile sources and methods.”

I don’t have anything to say about this since, obviously, I don’t know any more than what Clapper told us. We’ll just have to wait for the unclassified report and see what it says.

But I will comment on one thing: aren’t liberals supposed to be the ones who are skeptical of the intelligence community? Are we suddenly defending them just because it’s politically convenient?

There’s some of that going on, I’m sure. But the real reason is a lot simpler: the intelligence community doesn’t really have any motivation to make this stuff up aside from a generalized dislike of Russia. They are interested in keeping everyone on edge about cyberattacks, but that doesn’t require Russia to be involved in what happened. In fact, doubling down on the Russia story even after Trump won is nothing but bad for the CIA. All they’re doing is pissing off the incoming president, something they could easily avoid by keeping the cyberattack story but downplaying the Russia angle.

So this is sort of an admission against interest. The CIA’s interest is in getting more money for cyber security and cultivating a strong relationship with a new president. The fact that they’re doing just the opposite suggests pretty strongly that they believe in no uncertain terms that Russia really is behind this.

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Clapper: Election Cyber Attacks Were Directed By the Kremlin

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