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The Weekly Arc: May 12, 2017

Welcome to Arc’s newsletter, sent out once per week, highlighting the best and most interesting stories from around the web. The Weekly Arc is curated by Berny Belvedere. Past editions can be accessed here.

Comey Fired

President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency. It immediately ignited Democratic calls for a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.

Mr. Trump explained the firing by citing Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though the president was widely seen to have benefited politically from that inquiry and had once praised Mr. Comey for his “guts” in his pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign.

But in his letter to Mr. Comey, released to reporters by the White House, the president betrayed his focus on the continuing inquiry into Russia and his aides.

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Mr. Trump said in a letter to Mr. Comey dated Tuesday. — The New York Times

The Fallout

Days after his abrupt dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, President Donald Trump’s attempts to triage the fallout only plunged the episode further into confusion.

Conflicting accounts of how and why the firing happened ricocheted across Washington Thursday, each seeming to push the decision closer to Comey’s oversight of an investigation into Russian election meddling.

Trump himself linked the decision to the Russia probe in an interview. His spokeswoman suggested Comey’s dismissal could hasten the inquiry.

The turmoil surrounding Comey’s dismissal has frustrated the President and his senior-most aides, according to people familiar with the situation. All have expressed anger that the decision to fire Comey wasn’t properly executed and created a sharp backlash. The topic has all but consumed the West Wing, where Trump remains holed up Friday, his seventh straight day without a public event.

Attempts to move on from the firing have been minimal. Trump’s own official schedule remains empty, leaving some of his allies wondering whether his governing agenda has veered drastically off course. Even the normal parade of photo-ops has been scrapped; instead, Trump signed two executive orders behind closed doors Thursday, avoiding any more questions about his decision to remove Comey from his post.

It all led to the impression of a commander in chief operating in chaotic isolation while leaving even his closest allies to pick up the pieces. — CNN

Macron Wins

French voters handed Emmanuel Macron, the independent candidate, a decisive victory in the presidential runoff Sunday over Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate, buoying Europe’s political establishment that had watched with despair as populist movements threatened to derail the European experiment.

Macron, 39, who had all but been endorsed by Europe’s leaders after his first-round victory on April 23, earned 65.5 percent of the vote, according to early exit polls; Le Pen won 34.5 percent — slightly lower than polls had predicted. The polls projected Macron would win approximately 64 percent of the vote. Voter turnout was 74 percent by the time polls closed at 8 p.m. local time, markedly lower than the 80 percent that turned out in 2012. Approximately 4 million blank votes were cast.

Not only is Macron the youngest president in French history (he’s a year younger than Louis-Napoléon, Napoléon Bonaparte’s nephew, who was 40 when he was elected in 1848), he is also the first president in modern French history who does not belong to a major political party. Despite briefly serving as economy minister under outgoing Socialist President François Hollande, Macron quit the government in August 2016 to launch his own independent party, En Marche!, which he said aimed to “reconcile the two Frances that have been growing apart for too long.”…

Macron’s victory brings an end to a presidential contest labeled a rebuke of the political establishment. Both Macron and Le Pen cast themselves early on as outsiders who are far removed from the established parties that have ruled France for decades. It’s an anti-system characterization the two attempted to use against one another — Le Pen derided Macron during the final presidential debate as a Hollande 2.0, whereas Macron cast Le Pen as “the heiress of a name, of a political party, of a system that has prospered for years and years on the back of French people’s anger,” in apparent reference to her National Front (FN) party, which has maintained a fringe presence in French politics for most of its 45-year history. …

Macron’s victory is merely the first step of his efforts to govern France: He must now turn his focus to the next month’s parliamentary elections, during which voters will return to the polls to elect members of the National Assembly, the country’s lower but more powerful house of parliament. The election is particularly important because it will likely determine who becomes Macron’s prime minister, an individual who almost always comes from the party that controls the chamber. — The Atlantic

Ransomware Attack

Officials in nearly 100 countries raced Saturday to contain one of the biggest cybersecurity attacks in recent history, as British doctors were forced to cancel operations, Chinese students were blocked from accessing their graduation theses, and passengers at train stations in Germany were greeted by hacked arrival and departure screens.

Companies and organizations around the world potentially faced substantial costs after hackers threatened to keep computers disabled unless victims paid $300 or more in ransom, the latest and most brazen in a type of cyberattack known as “ransomware.”…

The attack was notable because it took advantage of a security flaw in Microsoft software found by the National Security Agency for its surveillance tool kit. Files detailing the capability were leaked online last month, though after Microsoft, alerted by the NSA to the vulnerability, had sent updates to computers to patch the hole.

Still, countless systems were left vulnerable, either because system administrators failed to apply the patch or because they used outdated software. The Washington Post

Afghanistan Redux

Senior Trump administration and military officials are recommending sending several thousand additional American troops to Afghanistan to try to break a military deadlock in the 15-year war there, in part by pressuring the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government.

The added troops would allow American advisers to work with a greater number of Afghan forces, and closer to the front lines.

The recommendation, which has yet to be approved by President Trump, is the product of a broad review by the Pentagon, the State Department, intelligence community and other government agencies on America’s longest war. It is broadly consistent with advice Gen. John W. Nicholson, the top American commander in Afghanistan, gave Congress in February.

Warning that the United States and its NATO allies faced a “stalemate,” General Nicholson told lawmakers that he had a shortfall of a “few thousand” troops and said more personnel would enable the American military to advise the Afghan military more effectively and at lower levels in the chain of command.

The international force assisting the Afghans has about 13,000 troops, of whom about 8,400 are American.

American officials said that 3,000 to 5,000 additional troops, including hundreds of Special Operations forces, could be sent. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

NATO nations would also be asked to send thousands of troops, and the precise number of American forces deployed would probably depend on what those allies were prepared to do.

Mr. Trump is expected to make a decision on his Afghan strategy before a May 25 NATO meeting in Brussels. — The New York Times

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This Week In History

May 13

1884 — Cyrus McCormick (b. 1809), inventor of the reaping machine, passes away.

May 14

1944 — George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, is born. In 2012, Lucas sold the rights to Star Wars to Disney for over $4 billion.

1984 — Mark Zuckerberg, creator of Facebook, is born. His net worth is reported to be over $60 billion dollars.

1998 — The Seinfeld Finale on NBC. The commercials run for $2M for 30 seconds.

May 15

1940 — McDonald’s opens its first restaurant in San Bernardino, California.

1886 — Emily Dickinson (b. 1830), American poet, passes away.

May 18

1804 — Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed Emperor of France by the French Senate.


Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age.

— James Joyce



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