France’s Election Is About So Much More Than Just Populism

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The French made history in the first round of their presidential elections on Sunday, as neither of the two winners came from the country’s large, traditional establishment parties for the first time in modern France.

Pro-European Union politicians and voters hope that independent candidate Emmanuel Macron will defeat far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen in the second round on May 7, giving a much-needed boost to an embattled EU. Polls predict that Macron will win with around 60 percent of the vote.

Some hold up Macron’s first-round victory as proof that the forces of populism are no match for the current liberal order. But in fact, the French election can be seen as an extreme example of a trend across Europe, in which establishment parties and traditional left-right divides are being supplanted by new political movements, anxiety over national identity and radical parties railing against the effects of globalization.

Even if Le Pen loses, millions in France will vote for her and she is set to remain a prominent political figure for years to come. France’s traditional left will still be in shambles and the country’s electorate divided.

“That we’re talking about whether Le Pen will achieve between 30 and 40 percent of the vote is massively significant. It would have been unthinkable,” said Duncan McDonnell, an expert on populism and professor at Griffith University. The only other time the National Front reached the second round was in 2002, when Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen was crushed in a landslide, 82 to 12 percent.

Unlike her father, however, Marine Le Pen has managed to find support among a wide range of voters ― from youth who are facing a near 25 percent unemployment rate to voters who feel left out of the benefits of trade and globalization.  

“If you look at an electoral map of France in this past election there are basically two Frances, between who voted for Marine Le Pen and who voted for Macron. It’s in that sort of France that has been forgotten in many ways ― rural France, rust belt France ― that Marine Le Pen is doing really well,” said Mabel Berezin, a professor at Cornell University who writes on European politics. 

The stark divide is not solely the result of populist success, analysts say, but also of the failure of the ruling Socialist Party to address growing discontent among its working-class voter base.

“The rise of the populist right both in France and in Europe more generally should be seen less of a cause than a consequence,” argued Sheri Berman, a professor of politics at Barnard College.

“The center-left parties, the social democratic parties or labor parties, have really had a huge amount of difficulty adjusting to the economic and social challenges of the last several decades,” said Berman. “What that has done has fragmented its traditional constituency.”

It’s not just the far right that has benefitted from the break-up of the traditional left, either, but some radical left parties as well. Communist-backed candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon gained nearly 20 percent of the vote in France’s first round, and was the favorite among youth voters. He campaigned on a platform opposing what he described as France’s “oligarchy,” and likened himself to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

The French distaste for the entrenched political system was so strong that in the first round, over 40 percent of voters cast their ballot for candidates on the extremes of the political spectrum. Even Macron, a pro-EU former banker, claims he is anti-establishment and neither left nor right.

What happened in France’s election isn’t unique. 

“Clearly in a whole range of European countries the allegiances of people are changing, party affiliation and loyalty are changing. People are now prepared to abandon their former ideological homes either on the center-left or center-right and vote for parties like the National Front,” said McDonnell.

The fracturing of established party systems is prevalent across Europe. Last month, the Netherlands’ elections saw the labor-oriented PvdA go from the second most powerful party to the seventh in a catastrophic defeat. France’s ruling Socialists were effectively wiped off the electoral map in the first round of voting and gained only 6.4 percent of the vote. In Britain, the once-powerful Labour Party appears headed for a humiliating loss in snap elections this June.

Italy’s center-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned last December following a referendum defeat, and now the most popular party is the ideologically amorphous Five Star Movement ― whose leader Beppe Grillo is a former comedian who applauded President Donald Trump’s election as a rebuke to the political establishment.

Clearly in a whole range of European countries the allegiances of people are changing, party affiliation and loyalty are changing.
Duncan McDonnell

While all these nations have domestic idiosyncrasies that make their political systems different, the threat to establishment parties is a cross-country trend.

As with Le Pen in France, far-right populist parties have capitalized on and fostered this political fragmentation. Amid persistent antipathy toward the EU ― as well as a debate over how to address immigration and the refugee crisis ― far-right populists have gained support by arguing they will take power from a corrupt elite and return it to the people.

These parties often possess a narrow and discriminatory definition of who “the people” really are, however, and it tends to exclude immigrants, Muslims and other minorities.

In addition to railing against elite politicians and officials in Brussels, far-right populists have played on ethno-nationalist sentiment and accused establishment parties of favoring immigrant and refugee interests over those of native-born citizens. They have vowed to close borders, enact anti-Islam legislation and turn away from international institutions. 

Although there is an increased spotlight on the rise of populism following the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote and the U.S. election, Europe’s far-right has been a growing presence for decades. But now, in several European nations, some of these parties have reached unprecedented levels of support.

In the countries where establishment politicians have held onto power, such as Germany, the U.K. and the Netherlands, they have often made capitulations to the far right. Dutch PM Mark Rutte hardened his stance on immigrants, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed a ban on face veils and former British PM David Cameron notoriously gambled that the Brexit referendum would be a way of easing pressure from the anti-EU right. 

But these measures to undercut populist challenges may be a Band-Aid solution. If establishment parties fail to address the social and economic issues that are increasingly driving voters to the extremes, analysts believe populist parties may continue to thrive and grow in the opposition, where their policies don’t have to be tested.

Though Macron is predicted to win the vote in May, he will face huge challenges as an inexperienced politician from a newly formed party tasked with fixing France’s myriad ills. Le Pen, meanwhile, will be able to point to any of his failings as proof her populist platform is the only real alternative to politics as usual. When France’s 2022 presidential election comes around, that appeal may be stronger than ever.  

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This Activist Nun Live-Tweeted The Arkansas Executions

On Monday night, the state of Arkansas killed inmates Jack Jones and Marcel Williams, completing the United States’ first double execution since 2000. 

For Sister Helen Prejean, an activist nun from Louisiana who has become a leading figure in America’s anti-death penalty movement, it was a night of heartbreak.

Prejean, whose book about capital punishment, Dead Man Walking, was made into an award-winning film, has been tweeting her concern about Arkansas since February. That’s when Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced plans for a flurry of executions. The state initially planned to conduct eight executions over a 11-day period in April, arguing its supply of a lethal injection drug would expire on April 30.

Prejean has been rallying opponents of the death penalty together to call and tell Hutchinson and Arkansas’ attorney general Leslie Rutledge to “stop the killing spree.”

As a Catholic, Prejean’s activism is rooted in her faith. When Gov. Hutchinson tweeted out a Bible verse on April 23, one day before his state planned to carry out double executions, Prejean was quick to respond with some choice words for the fellow Christian. 

On Monday, after hearing that the last legal avenues to prevent the executions were exhausted, Prejean turned her attention to mourning and telling the inmates’ stories. 

Jones, 52, faced the death penalty for the 1995 rape and murder of Mary Phillips, an Arkansas bookkeeper, and for attempting to kill Phillips’ 11-year-old daughter. 

Years later, Jones’ lawyers said he suffered from poor health. He was a diabetic patient and an amputee. His lawyers worried that the high doses of drugs he was on could prevent the lethal injection from working properly. 

And according to Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, he also suffered from mental illness and was a victim of sexual abuse.

In a series of tweets sent out as Jones faced death, Prejean used research compiled by the Fair Punishment Project to describe the inmate’s past. And in doing so, she reminded her followers of his humanity.

The AP reported that Jones was executed shortly after 7 p.m Monday evening.

Marcel Williams, 46, was on death row for raping and killing a 22-year-old woman named Stacy Errickson in 1994.

Williams, who weighed 400 pounds, was diabetic. His lawyers were concerned that Williams faced a “torturous” death because of his obesity.

Like she did for Jones, Prejean took to Twitter to tell her followers about Williams’ past.  

According to the Fair Punishment Project, Williams had apparently grown up in “crushing poverty” and had been the victim of sexual abuse since he was a child. Prejean used the Fair Punishment Project’s research to tell Williams’ story.

 Williams’ death was briefly delayed Monday night after his lawyers expressed concern about how Jones’ execution was carried out. The lawyers claimed Jones was “gulping for air,” which Arkansas’ attorney general denied.

A federal judge lifted the stay on the execution. The AP reports that Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson initially scheduled eight executions within a span of 11 days, which would have been the highest number of killings in such a compressed period since the Supreme Court death penalty was reinstated in 1976. Arkansas has killed three inmates so far this year, with one more scheduled for Thursday. The four others have been blocked. 

In a Facebook post last week, Prejean reiterated her belief that the death penalty isn’t merciful or just ― she believes it’s vengeful. 

“The Jesus that I know spoke out against vengeance, even to the point of giving up his own life. Jesus was a convicted criminal executed by the state,” she wrote. “That’s why I don’t understand how Governor Hutchinson can call himself a pro-life Christian while planning to kill 8 people in 11 days. The death penalty is antithetical to everything Jesus stood for and is a gross violation of the sanctity of life.”

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The Criminalization Of Immigrants From Clinton To Trump

Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com

As with America’s wars, so with the walling in of America, there’s a distinct history for President Trump to build on when it comes to the criminalization and deportation of large numbers of immigrants ― and, as TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky, author of Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal, writes today, it’s a history that is remarkably, dismally bipartisan. In a piece that runs against the grain of the moment but with the grain of history, she suggests that, despite the media panic over Trump’s deportation policies (and threats) as something new and terrifying that we’ve never seen before, the sorry history of recent presidencies ― Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s in particular ― suggests otherwise. In this sharp, thoughtful, and original piece, Chomsky explores just what those two Democratic presidents built, in terms of deportation policies, that will serve Donald Trump well over the next four years. Don’t miss this one! Love, Tom

From TomDispatch this morning: What Trump inherited, deportation in context ― Aviva Chomsky, “Making Sense of the Deportation Debate, How Bill Clinton and Barack Obama Laid the Groundwork for Trump’s Immigration Policies”.

TomDispatch regular Aviva Chomsky begins her latest piece this way: “Ever since he rode a Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race in June 2015 and swore to build his ‘great wall’ and stop Mexican ‘rapists’ from entering the country, undocumented immigrants have been the focus of Donald Trump’s ire. Now that he’s in the Oval Office, the news has been grim. A drumbeat of frightening headlines and panicked social media posts have highlighted his incendiary language, his plans and executive orders when it comes to immigrants, and the early acts of the Border Patrol and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents when it comes to round-ups and deportations. The temperature has soared on the deportation debate, so if you think we’re in a completely unprecedented moment when it comes to immigration and immigrants, you’re in good company.

“Trump has repeatedly claimed that immigrants, especially undocumented ones, are flooding the United States, causing crime waves, and depleting social service budgets. Never mind that the number of such immigrants has been in steady decline since 2008, that immigrant crime rates are lower than citizen crime rates, that the undocumented have no access to most social welfare programs, and that crime figures, too, have generally been on the decline in recent years.

“The media has played its own role in fanning the flames. Since Donald Trump entered the Oval Office, news reports have proliferated about rising raids, arrests, detentions, and deportations. These suggest that something new, terrifying, and distinctly Trumpian ― something we’ve simply never seen before ― is underway, including mass sweeps to deport individuals who would have been protected under the previous administration.”

In the rest of her piece, Chomsky explores out just how two previous Democratic presidents laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s coming deportation policies. It’s a grim, sad story, but a must-read!

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Group Accused Of DNC Hack Also Targeted Firm Formerly Known As Blackwater: Report

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WASHINGTON ― A cyber-espionage group that targeted political parties during U.S. and French elections also launched a phishing campaign against Academi, the private military firm formerly known as Blackwater, a new report says.

Pawn Storm, a hacking group also known as Fancy Bear, targeted Academi on April 24, 2014, according to a report released Tuesday by the cybersecurity firm Trend Micro. Crowdstrike, another security firm, has said Fancy Bear is believed to be “closely linked” to Russian intelligence services.

The Trend Micro report does not indicate whether Pawn Storm succeeded in stealing information from Academi during the phishing attack. Academi did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

Academi is the latest incarnation of Blackwater, a private military contractor founded by Erik Prince in 1997. Blackwater gained notoriety in 2007 when its employees shot at and killed more than a dozen civilians in Baghdad while escorting a U.S. convoy. As part of an attempt to clean up its image, Blackwater was renamed “Xe Services” two years later. Prince sold the company in 2010 and the new owners gave it yet another name: “Academi.”

Prince, whose sister, Betsy DeVos, is President Donald Trump’s secretary of education, has been in the news lately because of his ties to the Trump campaign. Last July, he recommended to senior Trump adviser Steve Bannon that the Trump administration replicate a Vietnam War-era CIA assassination program to be used against the militant group known as the Islamic State. In January, Prince reportedly acted as a representative of Trump during a secret meeting organized by the United Arab Emirates in Seychelles with a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin. (A spokesman for Prince denied that he took part in the meeting.)

On a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website, Academi says Prince has not been associated with the company since he sold it in 2010.

In May 2014, weeks after Pawn Storm reportedly targeted Academi, the German tabloid Bild am Sonntag alleged that Academi had 400 fighters on the ground in Ukraine backing the interim government against pro-Russian separatists. The story echoed earlier rumors circulating in Russian state-owned media outlets that the U.S. had sent mercenaries to help the Ukrainian special police crush opposition fighters in Donetsk and Lugansk.

In a statement, Academi called the Bild am Sonntag report “completely false.” Then-U.S. national security spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden called the report “nonsense.”

At the time, Russia had recently annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and was building up its military presence in and around Ukraine. McClatchy suggested that the German report could be part of a propaganda effort by Russia to diminish support for the government in Kiev.

“Russia has been waging a decade-long propaganda war to sour Ukrainians on the government in Kiev, and this report fits right in to Russia’s hopes to reduce international pressure on it,” McClatchy’s Matthew Schofield noted. “To be able to show that the United States, even in the form of mercenaries and not official military personnel, are active on behalf of Kiev would to many further justify Russian actions.”

The Trend Micro report released Tuesday does not indicate whether hackers obtained any information from Academi that they were later able to weaponize. But it does describe Pawn Storm’s practice of using the media “to publicize attacks and influence public opinion.”

Guccifer 2.0, the hacker who claimed responsibility for the cyberattack against the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign, approached reporters and offered them exclusive access to password-protected parts of the website dcleaks.com, where stolen emails were housed. According to Trend Micro, Guccifer 2.0 is “very likely” affiliated with Pawn Storm.

Last year, Fancy Bear hackers provided Der Spiegel, a respected German magazine, with internal emails from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency. The magazine used information from these emails in its feature about the effort to combat sports doping.

In its report, Trend Micro lists dozens of governments, political parties, international and private organizations, and news outlets that were targeted by Pawn Storm ― including the campaign of Emmanuel Macron, who is facing pro-Russian candidate Marine Le Pen in the French presidential election. 

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Trump Inauguration Admits Errors, Vows To Correct Numerous Faulty Donor Records

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WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump’s Presidential Inaugural Committee acknowledged late Monday that a final report it filed with the Federal Election Commission this month was riddled with errors, many of which were first identified through a crowdsourced data project at HuffPost.

“We plan to amend our report to reflect any changes that we have become aware of, including many of those donor records or technical glitches that we have recently become aware of, as is common practice with FEC reporting,” an inaugural committee spokesman, Alex Stroman, said Monday evening.

The inaugural committee raised more than $100 million for Trump’s Jan. 20 festivities, which included two inaugural balls that drew a combined total of about 30,000 guests. The fundraising set new records. But according to Brendan Fischer, counsel to the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, “it doesn’t seem that any real effort was made to collect the information that is very clearly required by law.”

The scores of mistakes contained in the more than 500-page FEC filing can largely be traced to a fundraising and ticketing system the Republican Party introduced this year, which provided special online access codes to Trump supporters. 

The access codes, mailed out in early January, entitled recipients to buy tickets, at $50 each, to the larger of Trump’s two inaugural balls. Within days, a secondary market for the access codes had sprung up, with some people asking their friends for codes, and others buying them on Ebay.

No two access codes were the same, and each code was good for a specific number of tickets, like rides at a carnival. Some codes were good for only two passes, while others were good for 100. But each code was tied to a specific address, meaning that if it was passed to someone else, that person’s name would be on the disclosure alongside the original code recipient’s address. 

A Trump supporter who spoke to HuffPost Monday described how she used four different access codes ― each belonging to a different friend ― to purchase $400 worth of ball tickets.

“People who donated to Trump got these written fancy invitations, inviting them to the inauguration, with a cover letter that said, ‘Here’s an access code,’ and you had to enter a PIN,” she said.

“We needed an access code so we could get a ticket to the inauguration and the ball. We used that access code, but it wasn’t a donation. It was a ticket price,” said the woman, who requested anonymity because her job prohibits her from making political contributions.

“The inauguration website did not request my street address when I purchased the tickets, even though I paid for the tickets using my credit card,” she continued. “I also listed the individual name of each ticket holder and their email address for delivery of their ball tickets.”

According to available records, none of those names was submitted to the FEC as a Trump inauguration donor. Instead, the final report submitted by the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee this month said the original donor made eight donations of $50 each, using four different addresses.

That such errors made their way into the official inauguration committee filing suggests that the committee failed to perform even basic checks to ensure that its record-keeping was accurate, a requirement under FEC guidelines.

“Even in light of the diminished reporting required by inaugural committees as opposed to campaigns, it doesn’t seem that they’ve done the basic reporting required by the FEC,” said Fischer. “These are not new rules, and this looks like negligence.”

These simple-looking errors in mailing addresses were first identified by volunteer fact-checkers as part of the Citizen Sleuth Project, which originated at HuffPost. By building a public and shared spreadsheet of Trump’s inauguration donors, accessible here, Citizen Sleuth was able to crowdsource the fact-checking part of investigating Trump’s inaugural donor records, With the help of more than 1,000 volunteers, a trove of detailed information was created about the more than 1,500 donations to Trump’s inaugural committee.

Fischer said the errors exposed by the Citizen Sleuth volunteers raise doubts about whether the Trump inauguration did basic due diligence, as required by law. By linking individual donations to the mailing address of the access code ― which was easy to pass around ― and not the address of the actual donor ― the Trump inaugural committee effectively created an alternate universe of donors records, he noted.

Fischer also said ticket buyers should have been better informed that the inauguration committee was reporting ticket purchases as political contributions. 

“They should have been told that if they made an aggregate contribution of more than $200, their name would be reported to the FEC,” he said.

Stroman said the inauguration committee didn’t try to trick ticket buyers into thinking that they weren’t making political contributions that would be reported to the FEC. The donation webpage included all the required information, he noted, and if people failed to read it, the fault lay with them, not with the Trump inauguration.

But for the donor who bought tickets for her friends, even a revised FEC report would leave her feeling deceived, she said.

She considered her tickets a purchase ― not a political donation. This was an important distinction for her, because of the donations restrictions of her job. She pointed to a press release from the Trump inauguration that described tickets to the ball as “the most affordable in recent history,” and available to anyone “who inquired about purchasing tickets.” Stroman said the confusion was unfortunate. 

“We only know what the donor gives us and our [data] vendor gives us, so it’s always a positive thing to be informed of errors in any report, so that records can be updated, and ultimately, can provide an accurate account of what happened, for posterity,” he said.

While the inaugural committee is now investigating a number of donor records, other records with questionable disclosure information have been resolved after the committee’s review of its own financial documents.

That includes a donation of $25,000 that appeared to have been made in the name of Katherine Johnson, a former NASA mathematician who was a character in the biopic “Hidden Figures.” The listing included an address at NASA headquarters, from which Johnson has been retired for decades. After the donation was reported, Johnson’s family quickly denied that Johnson had ever made such a donation.

Trump inaugural committee officers sought Monday to clear up the reason for the incorrect reporting.

“We have the highest respect for Ms. Johnson and her distinguished service to our country,” Stroman said. “Unfortunately, an error was made that wrongly attributed a donation to the committee to someone with a NASA address instead of the donor’s true address, which was in California. We apologize to Ms. Johnson and her family for any confusion or stress this may have caused.”

Another mysterious donation that has since been resolved came from “Isabel T. John,” a donor who gave $400,000 to the Trump inauguration but whose identity was difficult to trace. The FEC requires that committees collect a name and address for each donor giving more than $200. Isabel John’s address was an empty lot in New Jersey.

After this was brought to the attention of the committee, Stroman said, “our compliance staff went through every record by hand, and found that this donation was mistakenly attributed to an Isabel T. John, instead the donor’s name, which is Isabel Tonelli.”

Isabel and John Tonelli are the real donors, he added. The donation was made by wire transfer from Citibank which used the address of 111 Sylvan Ave. in Englewood, New Jersey, to facilitate the transfer.  

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Ivanka Trump Booed For Claiming Donald Trump Is A ‘Tremendous Champion’ For Women

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In her first international trip as an official White House adviser, Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, was booed as she attempted to laud her father’s record on women’s rights in front of a mostly female audience.

“He has been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive,” she said at the G20 women’s summit in Berlin on Tuesday, after stating she was “very proud of my father’s advocacy.”

Trump was part of a panel at the summit on women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship, which also included German Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde.

When the audience booed, the panel’s moderator, German journalist Miriam Meckel, asked Trump to respond, noting that her father has a record of misogyny.

“You hear the reaction from the audience,” Meckel said. “So I need to address one more point. Some attitudes toward women your father has publicly displayed in former times might leave one, uh, questioning whether he’s such an ‘empowerer’ for women.”

Donald Trump has faced numerous allegations of sexual harassment and assault. A 2005 tape surfaced during his presidential campaign that captured him bragging about being able to grab women “by the pussy.”

But in defending him, Ivanka Trump relied on a familiar tactic: laying the blame on the media.

“I’ve certainly heard the criticism from the media, and that’s been perpetuated,” she said, to laughter from the audience. “But I know from personal experience, and I think the thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women in their ability to do the job as well as any man.”

“As a daughter, I can speak on a very personal level knowing that he encouraged me and enabled me to thrive,” she added.

She also praised her father for hiring women in several top roles at the White House, and affirmed that she identified as a feminist.

“I do label myself a feminist, and I do think of that in broad terms,” she said. 

Trump lamented that the U.S. has no universal paid family leave policy, and has frequently stated that she hopes to work with her father to develop such a plan. But he has yet to make it a priority.

As one of her father’s closest advisers, Trump has an office in the West Wing of the White House. When that raised ethics concerns, she took a more formal role as an official but unpaid adviser to the president, after previously stating that she would just “be a daughter.”

But when asked to define her role on Tuesday, she struggled to explain, saying that she was “rather unfamiliar with this role as well.” 

“The German audience is not that familiar with the concept of a first daughter,” Meckel said. “I’d like to ask you, what is your role, and who are you representing, your father as president of the United States, the American people, or your business?”

“Certainly not the latter,” Trump said. “I’m rather unfamiliar with this role as well … It has been a little under 100 days and it has just been a remarkable and incredible journey.”

But she vaguely suggested that she would focus on “empowering women in the workplace” and emphasized that “this is very early for me.”

“I’m listening, learning,” Trump said. “I have no doubt that coming out of this trip, I’ll be informed.”

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