Day: April 13, 2017

No Ant Left Behind: Warrior Ants Carry Injured Comrades Home

This wounded ant (Megaponera analis), with two termites clinging to it, is alive but likely too exhausted after battle to get back to the nest without help.

Frank et al./Science Advances

Leave no man behind. That’s an old idea in warfare — it’s even part of the Soldier’s Creed that Army recruits learn in basic training.

And never leaving a fallen comrade is also the rule for some warriors who are ants, according to a report published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

These ants, Megaponera analis, hunt and eat termites. Scouts will go out, find a group of termites, and then return to the ant nest to muster the troops.

Biologist Erik Frank explains that 200 to 500 ants will march out in formation. “Like three ants next to each other, in a 2-meter-long column,” he says. “It’s very peculiar and it looks like a long snake walking on the ground.”

When the termites spot this invading army, they try to escape, but the fighting is fierce.

“And after roughly 20 minutes the battle is over,” says Frank, a doctoral student with the University of Würzburg in Germany who is researching animal behavior and evolution. “You have a lot of termites lying dead on the ground,” he says, “and the ants start collecting the termites to return.”

A few years ago, Frank was working at a field station in the Ivory Coast when he noticed that some of the ants marching home after battle weren’t carrying termites. Instead, they were carrying other ants.

“And I was wondering, ‘What exactly was going on there? Why were they carrying some of the ants?'” he recalls.

It turns out, those transported ants weren’t dead — they were injured.

Ants sometimes lose a leg or two, which makes it hard for them to walk. Or, they can be weighed down by a dead termite whose jaws had clamped onto them. Either way, they’re slower than uninjured, unburdened ants.

By marking these injured ants with paint, Frank learned that in nearly all cases, they made a full recovery after being carried home to recuperate. They learn to walk with fewer legs, and their ant buddies apparently will pull off stuck termites. It doesn’t take long for an ant that’s been hurt to once again be ready for action.

Ant Rescue

An injured ant (circled in red) that’s missing two legs is carried back by nestmates during the return journey from a termite raid.

“We saw them again, participating in hunts the next day,” says Frank.

He and his colleagues did some experiments to see what would happen to injured ants that weren’t carried home. It turns out that these poor ants couldn’t march fast enough. So they fell behind — and frequently got eaten by spiders and other predators, the researchers report.

It’s not so far-fetched, says Frank, to compare these ant rescue missions to those performed by human soldiers.

“One big difference I would say, though, is that these ants are not doing it out of the goodness of their heart,” says Frank.

He says they’re just responding to a chemical signal from the injured ants, rather than being motivated by empathy.

Peggy Mason, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago who has studied how rats will rescue other rats from traps, says this is a great study that confirms that ants will rescue each other in certain situations.

“Does it remind me of mammalian helping? Well, not really,” she says, noting that the ants don’t seem to be intentionally helping each other.

“One reason why one might think that they’re not is that if they encounter that same injured ant on the way to the hunt, they ignore it,” Mason says. Wounded ants only get carried home if they’re encountered after the battle.

Rats, in contrast, seem to have some sort of emotional response that triggers helping. Mason and her colleagues have found that giving rats an anti-anxiety drug seemed to take away their urge to release a distressed rat from a trap.

“None of them helped,” she says. “They didn’t help. They didn’t see a problem.”

It’s clear that bringing injured warriors home has huge benefits for the ant colony.

“The number of ants that are saved by this behavior is about equivalent to the number of ants that are born each day in that colony.” Mason says. “So they’re making this substantial contribution to the ant colony through this rescue behavior. That’s probably what drove this behavior to be selected for, and to evolve into a stable behavior.”

After all, she notes, “this is an army. They’re going off to attack the termites. It’s a battle. And the more numerous you are, the more successful you are.”

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Comedian Charlie Murphy Dies at 57

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/charlie-murphy-dead-comedian-was-57-993220

The ‘Chappelle’s Show’ star died from leukemia on Wednesday.

Charlie Murphy, the former Chappelle’s Show star and Eddie Murphy’s older brother, has died, publicist Domenick Nati told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 57.

Murphy died from leukemia on Wednesday, said Nati.

“Our hearts are heavy with the loss today of our son, brother, father, uncle and friend Charlie,” the Murphy family said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “Charlie filled our family with love and laughter and there won’t be a day that goes by that his presence will not be missed. Thank you for the outpouring of condolences and prayers. We respectfully ask for privacy during this time of great loss for all of us.”

Murphy became a household name through Dave Chappelle’s Comedy Central skit show thanks to his amazing stories of interactions with other celebrities during the height of his brother’s fame in the 1980s. The most popular short turned into a skit was about the late musician Rick James.

Concerning his friendship with James, Murphy once said there were way more wild tales to tell, but they would never had made TV.

“He went there, where I was like, ‘Yo, Rick, you took the shit too far.’ And his response, ‘There’s no such place. Darkness, let’s go to the abyss!'” Murphy once said on a Chappelle’s Show outtake. “I don’t want to go the the abyss, man. Rick wants to go to the abyss. In fact, he dwells in the abyss. And he wants company sometimes, and for some reason, he likes to reach out for me. And I’m not with it. And that’s when we would end up tussling.”

The comedian’s Twitter account sent a final note Tuesday evening that read: “One to Sleep On: Release the past to rest as deeply as possible.”

“You’ll be missed but never forgotten,” fellow Chappelle’s Show actor and good friend Donnell Rawlings said in an Instagram post featuring an image of the two together. “Charlie was a lion. It’s time for Darkness to see the light.”

Murphy also appeared in numerous movies, TV shows and even lent his voice to some video games.

The actor and comedian was on record as saying he was a hothead when he worked as a bodyguard for his famous brother. He said he loved Eddie so much, and thought he was so funny, that he would pick fights with people who did not laugh at his brother’s jokes when he performed.

“It was to the point that, if I went to a show and you were the hater in the audience that was like, ‘That shit wasn’t funny,’ POW! I’m jamming you, man,” Murphy once said. “Because the shit was funny. There was 10,000 people laughing, and you that one joker that wanna try and squeeze a lemon. F— you. I don’t even want you to be there. And I took it as a personal crusade, and they were like, ‘You know what, you’re a little overzealous with your job.’ So, that is how I ended up not doing that anymore.”

Murphy is also remembered for his amazing tale about the late legendary musician Prince, which was made into a skit for Chappelle’s Show. Murphy said he and some friends played basketball against Prince and his entourage one night in the 1980s. Murphy said he was shocked at how good the musician was at the game. Afterward, Prince made everyone pancakes. He was on record saying the story was true, even the breakfast.

“We just lost one of the funniest most real brothers of all time. Charlie Murphy RIP,” Chris Rock wrote on Twitter. Mogul Russell Simmons tweeted: “Just came out of meditation and learned that one of my friends and my biggest comedy idol passed. Damn I loved Charlie Murphy.”

“Terribly saddened … Charlie,” comedian Paul Mooney wrote.

Here’s What Josh Brolin Could Look Like As Cable

http://comicbook.com/marvel/2017/04/13/heres-what-josh-brolin-could-look-like-as-cable/

 

Today, it felt as if the whole comic book fandom cried out in unison when news broke about Cable being cast for Deadpool 2. The X-Men character has been one of Hollywood’s hottest tickets as everyone from Brad Pitt and beyond have been attached to the role in some way. However, the time-traveling mutant will ultimately be played by Josh Brolin, a surprise pick considering his work with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Up Next: Josh Brolin Cast As Cable

Despite his warring allegiances, Brolin has quickly become an accepted contender to take on Cable, and fans have been curious about how the star would fit the role. The actor does have a rugged look about him, but many wonder if he can pull of Cable’s cybernetic frame.

Well, you don’t have to wonder much longer. Thanks to BossLogic, ComicBook can bring you exclusive fan-art of what Brolin may look like as Cable. The visually stunning concept pieces show the actor with cropped grey hair, a torn armored torso, and strapped yellow work pants.

You can check out the pictures in our photo gallery below.

If you aren’t familiar with Cable, then you have some time to catch up on the character. In the Marvel Universe, Cable is also known as Nathan Summers, the son of Scott Summers. When he was just a child, Nathan was infected with a technological virus which threatened his life. To save his son, Scott sent Nathan to the future, and the boy learned how to use his telekinetic gifts there to control how far his disease would spread. As he grew older, Nathan adopted the moniker Cable and fought against tyrants like Apocalypse in his future timeline before he traveled backwards to prevent various impending calamities. As such, Cable helped formed a militarized group of mutants known as the X-Force to do the dirty work other warriors would not, and Deadpool worked alongside Cable for a period of time.

David Leitch (John Wick) will direct the Deadpool 2, taking over for original director Tim Miller. Fox will reportedly begin production on the film this June.

Deadpool 2 is currently ranked fourth in ComicBook.com Anticipation Rankings among all scheduled comic book movies. Fans have awarded the upcoming film a 4.22/5 rating.

josh-brolin-as-cable-
(Photo: BossLogic)

MORE DEADPOOL 2: Writers Explain The Cable And Wade Dynamic / Deadpool’s Colossus Reveals Which X-Men Property He’d Like To Appear In / Here’s What Zazie Beetz Could Look Like As Domino

US stock indexes edge lower in early trading

U.S. stock indexes edged lower in early trading Wednesday, weighed down by a slide in materials and industrial companies. Consumer goods stocks were up the most. Energy stocks also rose as crude oil prices headed higher. Trading was subdued as investors monitored brewing geopolitical tensions head of the long Easter holiday weekend.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slid 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,350 as of 10:09 a.m. Eastern Time. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 29 points, or 0.1 percent, to 20,621. The Nasdaq composite index lost 4 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,862.

GLOBAL TENSIONS: Investors are cautious as world events this week complicate the investment outlook. Tensions are rising over North Korea, which threatened the U.S. against making any military moves after Washington ordered an aircraft carrier to head toward the divided Korean Peninsula. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Moscow with the aim of getting Russia to ditch its ally Syria following last week’s chemical attack. France’s election later in the month is also giving investors a reason to hunker down and avoid taking any big risks.

IN A BIND: Fastenal slid 5.6 percent after the maker of industrial coatings and construction fasteners said its business was hurt by higher freight expenses and inventory costs. The stock lost $2.81 to $47.54.

OUT OF SEASON: Tractor Supply fell 5.8 percent after the farm equipment retailer said sales of seasonal goods fell during the first quarter. The stock shed $4.09 to $66.38.

ROYALLY REWARDED: BlackBerry shares vaulted 18.7 percent after arbitrators awarded the smartphone maker $814.9 million to resolve a dispute with Qualcomm over royalty overpayments. The stock gained $1.92 to $12.19.

CRUSING ALTITUDE: Delta Air Lines rose 2.1 percent after the company reported earnings that beat analysts’ estimates. The stock added 96 cents to $46.25.

MARKETS OVERSEAS: In Europe, Germany’s DAX added 0.2 percent, while France’s CAC 40 was 0.2 percent higher. Britain’s FTSE 100 was flat. Earlier in Asia, Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index slid 1 percent after the dollar fell under 110 yen for the first time in five months, pressuring the country’s exporters. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng reversed its losses in the final hour of trading, rising 0.9 percent. South Korea’s Kospi climbed 0.2 percent.

OIL & GAS: Benchmark U.S. crude extended its rally. Oil was up 12 cents to $53.52 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 32 cents on Thursday, its sixth gain in a row. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, was up 16 cents to $56.39 a barrel.

TREASURY YIELDS: The yield on the benchmark U.S. 10-year note fell to 2.29 percent from 2.32 percent late Tuesday. As bond prices rise, yields drop.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to a five-month low against the yen as investors seeking security amid global uncertainty piled into the Japanese currency. The dollar weakened to 109.60 yen from 109.69 yen late Tuesday, the first time it has broken below the 110 level since mid-November. The euro was roughly flat at $1.0602 from $1.0608.

___

Follow Alex Veiga on Twitter at twitter.com/_AlexVeiga

His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/alex-veiga

The Russia story just keeps getting worse for President Trump

Washington (CNN) Two stories dealing with Russia’s meddling in the election broke Tuesday night. And both were full of bad news for President Donald Trump.

The first, an exclusive to CNN, revealed that a number of Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence committees who have seen classified documents see no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal, further suggesting Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, misled Trump (and the public) when he described documents relating to the unmasking of Trump campaign officials caught up in an incidental collection operation by the intelligence community.
“Their private assessment contradicts President Donald Trump’s allegations that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice broke the law by requesting the “unmasking” of US individuals’ identities. Trump had claimed the matter was a ‘massive story.'”
The second, broken by The Washington Post, reveals that the FBI obtained a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court court warrant in August 2016 aimed at monitoring the communications of one-time Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
“The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.”
Scroll up. Read that one again. It’s a “wow.” Page has denied any wrongdoing.
What’s become clear over the first few months of the Trump White House is that we aren’t in the midst of a “he said-she said” when it comes to the campaign’s ties to Russia. It’s more of a “he alleged-he said, he said, she said, he said, he said” sort of situation.
As in, on the one hand, we have Trump asserting that the whole story of Russia’s attempts to influence the election via connections within his campaign apparatus is “fake news,” and grasping at the idea that somehow, some way he will be eventually proven right in his baseless claims that then-President Barack Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower.
On the other, we have FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, the heads of both the House and Senate intelligence committees — both Republicans — and lots and lots of other prominent voices within the intelligence community insisting the Russian investigation is entirely justified and that no evidence exists for Trump’s claims.
It’s not a fair fight — and shouldn’t be presented as one. And that has zero to do with partisanship and everything to do with the facts as we know them.
The best path forward for President Trump as it relates to Russia is to pivot from his current this-is-all-fake-news stance to one in which he embraces both the congressional and Justice Department investigations into the Russian meddling into the election. Given the amount of smoke surrounding Trump’s campaign and Russia, it’s no longer really a question whether it merits an investigation into whether there’s some fire at its center.
Simply because that’s the path Trump should take, of course, doesn’t mean it’s the one he will choose. In fact, for someone who prides himself on zigging when everyone thinks he should zag, Trump likely won’t follow this path. But all that ensures is that the Russia story will just keep getting worse for him and his administration.

Trump Says U.S.-Russia Relations May Have Hit ‘All-Time Low’

(WASHINGTON) — Laying bare deep and dangerous divisions on Syria and other issues, President Donald Trump declared Wednesday that U.S. relations with Russia “may be at an all-time low.” His top diplomat offered a similarly grim assessment from the other side of the globe after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

“Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” Trump said flatly during a White House news conference. It was stark evidence that the president is moving ever further from his campaign promises to establish better ties with Moscow.

Only weeks ago, it appeared that Trump, who praised Putin throughout the U.S. election campaign, was poised for a potentially historic rapprochement with Russia. But any such expectations have crashed into reality amid the nasty back-and-forth over Syria and ongoing U.S. investigations into Russia’s alleged interference in America’s U.S. presidential election.

“It’d be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin and if we got along with Russia,” Trump said. But he clearly wasn’t counting on it.

“That could happen, and it may not happen,” he said. “It may be just the opposite.”

Not long before Trump spoke in Washington, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson struck a similar tone after an almost two-hour meeting with Putin, saying the two countries had reached a “low point” in relations.

Trump, who last week ordered airstrikes on a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack, was asked Wednesday if Syria could have launched the attack without Russia’s knowledge. Trump said it was “certainly possible” though “probably unlikely.”

The newly hardened view of Moscow comes as the president has tried to shake suspicions about the motives behind his campaign calls for warmer relations. As the FBI and multiple congressional committees investigate possible collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign, the president and his aides can now point to his hard-line stance on Syrian President Bashar Assad as evidence he’s willing to stand up to Putin.

More than 80 people were killed in what the U.S. has described as a nerve gas attack that Assad’s forces undoubtedly carried out. Russia says rebels were responsible for whatever chemical agent was used, which the Trump administration calls a disinformation campaign.

Not long before Trump spoke, Russia vetoed a Western-backed U.N. resolution that would have condemned the chemical weapons attack and demanded a speedy investigation.

The dim view of U.S.-Russian ties from both Trump and Tillerson reflected the former Cold War foes’ inability to forge better relations, as Trump until recently has advocated.

Allegations of collusion between Russian officials and Trump campaign associates also have weakened Trump’s ability to make concessions to Russia in any agreement, lest he be accused of rewarding bad behavior. Russia wants the U.S. to eliminate sanctions on Moscow related to its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Until the chemical attack, the Trump administration had sought to step back from the U.S. position that Assad should leave power. But Tillerson repeated the administration’s new belief that “the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end.”

Beyond Syria, Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election also hovered over what was the first face-to-face encounter between Putin and any Trump administration Cabinet member.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov blasted U.S. claims that it has “irrefutable evidence” of election interference.

“We have not seen a single fact, or even a hint of facts,” he said. “I do not know who saw them. No one showed us anything, no one said anything, although we repeatedly asked to produce the details on which these unfounded accusations lie.”

He also rejected American claims of certain evidence that Assad ordered the chemical attack.

Still, Tillerson sought to stress the positives from his meetings. He said working groups would be established to improve U.S.-Russian ties and identify problems. He said the two sides would also discuss disagreements on Syria and how to end the country’s six-year civil war.

But such hopes appeared optimistic as the diplomats outlined their sharply diverging views on Syria. Tillerson said Syria’s government had committed more than 50 attacks using chlorine or other chemical weapons over the duration of the conflict. And he suggested that possible war crimes charges could be levied against the Syrian leader. Russia has never publicly acknowledged any such attacks by Assad’s forces and has tried for the past 18 months to help him expand his authority in Syria.

The civil war is separate from the U.S.-led effort against the Islamic State group in the north of the country.

While the most immediate U.S.-Russian dispute concerns culpability for the chemical weapons, broader disagreements over everything from Ukraine to Russia’s support for once-fringe candidates in European elections are among other sore points.

Tillerson was greeted frostily in the Russian capital as Lavrov began their meeting Wednesday by demanding to know America’s “real intentions.”

“We have seen very alarming actions recently with an unlawful attack against Syria,” Lavrov said, referring to the 59 Tomahawk missiles Trump launched at an air base to punish Assad for using chemical weapons. “We consider it of utmost importance to prevent the risks of replay of similar action in the future.”

Trump and others have indeed threatened similar action. But in a Fox Business Network interview, the U.S. president said he wouldn’t intervene militarily against Assad unless the Syrian leader resorts to using weapons of mass destruction again. “Are we going to get involved with Syria? No,” Trump said. But, he added, “I see them using gas … we have to do something.”

Inside Bannon’s struggle: From ‘shadow president’ to Trump’s marked man

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/inside-bannons-struggle-from-shadow-president-to-trumps-marked-man/2017/04/12/1f5aabc0-1f99-11e7-ad74-3a742a6e93a7_story.html?utm_term=.20593b1eae5a

 

When Stephen K. Bannon reported for work Wednesday, he did not act like a man who had just been publicly humiliated by his boss.

The White House chief strategist cycled in and out of the Oval Office for meetings with President Trump and took a seat in the front row of the East Room for the afternoon visit of NATO’s secretary general, flanked by some of the very advisers with whom he has been feuding.

But for Bannon, the day’s routine obscured the reality that he is a marked man — diminished by weeks of battles with the bloc of centrists led by Trump’s daughter and son-in-law and cut down by the president himself, who belittled Bannon in an interview with the New York Post.

The president’s comments were described by White House officials as a dressing-down and warning shot, though one Bannon friend, reflecting on them Wednesday, likened Bannon to a terminally ill family member who had been moved into hospice care.

The man not long ago dubbed the “shadow president” — with singular influence over Trump’s agenda and the workings of the federal government — is struggling to keep his job with his portfolio reduced and his profile damaged, according to interviews Wednesday with 21 of Trump’s aides, confidants and allies. Some colleagues described Bannon as a stubborn recluse who had failed to build a reservoir of goodwill within the West Wing.

How the Bannon-Kushner feud sums up the Trump administration’s inner turmoil

White House advisers Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon are in the midst of a feud — one that’s being waged in the media. The Fix’s Callum Borchers explains how it’s typical of the inner turmoil that’s plagued the Trump administration from the start. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

“Bannon is a brilliant pirate who has had a huge impact,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter. “But White Houses, in the end, are like the U.S. Navy — corporate structures and very hard on pirates.”

For now, at least, Bannon may survive the turmoil, and he and other White House staffers are striving to be on their best behavior after their infighting earned them a scolding by the president over the weekend, according to the aides and allies, many of whom requested anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about internal dynamics. Bannon declined to be interviewed.

But the mercurial president has a long history of turning quickly on subordinates, and the political hit late Tuesday in the New York Post was trademark Trump, using the friendly Manhattan tabloid to publicly debase his chief strategist. The president said Bannon was hardly the Svengali of his caricature, but rather “a good guy” who “was not involved in my campaign until very late.”

Bannon’s associates were caught off guard by Trump’s comments. Some interpreted them as a paternal “love tap” by Trump to assert his own dominance, while others worried they amounted to an indirect firing. Bannon himself was humbled, people close to him said, and his allies scrambled to defend him, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who praised him in an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s radio program.

In a second interview, with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Trump referred to Bannon as “a guy who works for me” — and pointedly noted, as he did with the New York Post, that he was his own “strategist,” even though chief strategist is Bannon’s job title.

Trump also is increasingly embracing more mainstream policy positions championed by daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and their allies, including ascendant National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, instead of Bannon’s brand of combative nationalism.

On Wednesday alone, Trump flipped from Bannon-favored positions on issues such as the Export-Import Bank and Chinese currency ma­nipu­la­tion, alarming some Bannon aides who feared their wing had lost influence with the president.

On Ingraham’s show, Sessions dismissed the suggestion that Bannon’s worldview, which he shares, was being sidelined. “I’m an admirer of Steve Bannon and the Trump family and they’ve been supportive of what we’re doing,” said the attorney general, who in recent days has unveiled tough policies aimed at illegal immigration and drug crimes. “I’ve not felt any pushback against me or on anything I’ve done or advocated.”

Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a close Trump friend who chaired his inaugural committee, spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington meeting with the president and his senior team. He characterized the ideological disagreement between Bannon and others as natural and even healthy.

“The way this president makes decisions is he encourages different points of view from different people, and he curates those and comes up with his own positions,” Barrack said. “The lack of unanimity is just the way this president manages. He is in command and control.”

Trump and his team are scrambling to notch accomplishments that they can hail at the 100-day mark later this month and to impose new discipline on a White House that has been riven by disorder and suspicion since Trump took office.

Justice Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court and sworn in this week, upending Senate procedure and marking a significant victory for Trump’s conservative base. But the absence of any other major legislative achievement and the public failure of a health-care overhaul has gnawed at the president, and other White House advisers have been quick to assign partial blame to Bannon, according to Trump staffers and outside allies.

Bannon’s effective demotion began last week when he was removed from the National Security Council’s principals committee. But his real problems began much earlier. Trump bristled at the media depiction of Bannon as a puppeteer, punctuated by the Feb. 13 Time magazine cover labeling Bannon “The Great Manipulator.”

Trump fashions himself as the leading man — the protagonist of every story in which he stars — and was content to have Bannon as his sidekick, but he did not welcome the competition for top billing.

Bannon further imperiled his standing with the president by getting crosswise with Kushner, officials said. The two men were close during last year’s campaign; Kushner came to see Bannon as a wartime consigliere. But in the White House, Bannon went to war with the business leaders Kushner helped recruit to the administration — Cohn and others, including Dina Powell, the senior economic counselor and deputy national security adviser.

Bannon privately derided them as “globalists” and “Democrats,” officials said, even though Powell worked in George W. Bush’s administration and has been called a principled conservative by leading Republican senators.

Bannon’s supporters believe he is an essential conduit between Trump and his nationalist, populist base. The wealthy Mercer family, which has nurtured Bannon’s political rise and infused Trump’s campaign and allied groups with millions of dollars, is closely monitoring Bannon’s falling fortunes. Rebekah Mercer, who directs the family’s political activities, is unnerved and worried about losing her best link to a president her family takes credit for helping get elected but believes Bannon will be able to maintain his influence, people close to the family said.

Ingraham wrote in an email of Bannon: “Of course he didn’t invent the conservative populist ideals that Trump ran on, but he is… a reminder in the West Wing of what the president’s core supporters expect of the administration and the promises that must be fulfilled. I think the president has really keen political instincts — and I have to believe he knows his chances of a successful first term are better with Steve on the inside than on the outside.”

But other Trump loyalists dispute the idea that Bannon is the id of the Trump movement, pointing out that Trump has been advocating some of the same populist positions — especially on immigration and trade — for decades and for more than a year on the campaign trail before Bannon’s hiring last summer.

These people argue that a better representative of Trump’s voters inside the White House is Stephen Miller, the senior policy adviser and former Sessions aide who joined the campaign early and helped Trump hone and communicate his ideas. They said Miller has worked closely with Bannon but also has strategically aligned himself with Kushner, who came to see him last year as indispensable at Trump’s side.

As tensions have heightened in recent weeks, the Bannon and Kushner camps have devolved into opposing firing squads. Team Bannon believes the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” a show the president watches regularly, are speaking regularly with Kushner and projecting his anti-Bannon sentiments. Kushner allies, meanwhile, finger Bannon as responsible for unflattering stories involving the president’s son-in-law, including those focusing on Kushner’s talks with Russians.

 

Inside a White House led by a president increasingly hungry to make deals, even with Democrats, Bannon’s dogmatism appears to have weakened him.

“The West Wing is finally appreciating it’s a democracy, not a dictatorship, but the rules are hard to navigate when there is such a high degree of polarization,” said Richard Hohlt, a longtime Republican consultant who has observed seven different presidents since his arrival in Washington. “It becomes difficult in a democracy if you’re going to be all ideological purity, all the time.”

Trump’s three oldest children — Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric — and Kushner have been frustrated by the impression of chaos inside the White House and feel that their father has not always been served well by his senior staff, according to people with knowledge of their sentiments. The Trump heirs are interested in any changes that might help resuscitate the presidency and preserve the family’s name at a time when they are trying to expand the Trump Organization’s portfolio of hotels.

“The fundamental assessment is that if they want to win the White House in 2020, they’re not going to do it the way they did in 2016, because the family brand would not sustain the collateral damage,” said one well-connected Republican operative, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s family. “It would be so protectionist, nationalist and backward-looking that they’d only be able to build in Oklahoma City or the Ozarks.”

Bannon has borne at least part of the blame for the administration’s problems governing. He was intimately involved in the entry ban, which was twice blocked in federal court, and the failed health-care push especially hurt him. Trump thought Bannon would be able to bring along the House Freedom Caucus — a group of hard-line anti-establishment conservatives — but they helped tank the bill to scale back the Affordable Care Act.

Reince Priebus, the often-embattled chief of staff, is among the aides who feel growing pressure from the president to show that the administration can govern. Priebus has been telling confidants, “I’m not going to have a Memorial Day where the number one headline is ‘Republicans can’t produce a budget’ when everyone else in America can,” according to multiple people with knowledge of his plea.

For Trump, one bright spot was the decision to launch 59 missiles in Syria last week. The president was pleased with the process, overseen by national security adviser H.R. McMaster, that brought together his war cabinet and corralled its expertise in a way that resembled a more traditional White House.

“He’s in the best place that I’ve seen him since the inauguration,” Barrack said. “He’s confident. He thinks he’s found the groove, and with his team too. . . . He looks great. His energy level is off the map. And I think he now feels the commander in chief role.”

U.S. Takes Sharper Tone on Russia’s Role in Syria

WASHINGTON — President Trump and Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson sought on Wednesday to isolate President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for backing the Syrian government in the wake of its lethal chemical weapons attack on civilians, and worked to build international pressure on Moscow to change course.

In Washington, Moscow and New York, the Trump administration publicly chastised Mr. Putin but privately worked to hash out increasingly bitter differences with him. At the same time, Mr. Trump embraced NATO — a military alliance he had previously derided as obsolete — as an effective and vital force for peace and security in a region where Russia has been an aggressive actor.

During his presidential campaign, and in his early days in office, Mr. Trump’s approach to foreign policy included speaking warmly of Mr. Putin and the prospects of a United States alliance with Russia. He had also questioned the usefulness of NATO, and the concept of an alliance for common defense to counterbalance Moscow’s belligerence.

In an interview that aired on Wednesday, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Putin was partly to blame for the conflict in Syria and denounced him for backing President Bashar al-Assad, whom he called an “animal.” Later at the White House, Mr. Trump said that Russia had likely known in advance of the Syrian government’s plan to unleash a nerve agent against its own people, and asserted that the United States’ relations with Moscow were at an “all-time low.”

 

In Moscow, Mr. Tillerson came away from a two-hour meeting with Mr. Putin — the first such face-to-face session of the Trump administration — without reaching agreement on facts involving the chemical weapons assault in Syria or Russian interference in the American election. And sharply diverging from the meeting of the minds between the United States and Russia that Mr. Trump frequently aspired to when he was campaigning, there was no visible warming of the relationship.

“There is a low level of trust between our countries,” Mr. Tillerson told reporters at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov. “The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”

The most immediate casualty of the clash was Russia’s decision last week to suspend a communication channel, set up in 2015, to share information about American and Russian air operations over Syria to avoid possible conflict. Mr. Lavrov said on Wednesday that “we’re willing to put it back into force” if Washington and Moscow can resolve their differences.

Further punctuating the Syria dispute, Russia on Wednesday vetoed a Western-backed resolution at the United Nations Security Council that condemned the chemical weapons attack. It was the eighth time in the six-year-old Syrian civil war that Russia, one of the five permanent Security Council members, had used its veto power to shield the government in Damascus. But in a possible sign of Russia’s isolation on the chemical weapons issue, China, the permanent member that usually votes with Russia on Syria resolutions, abstained.

The vote came the day after Mr. Trump spoke by phone to President Xi Jinping of China, whom he hosted last week at a summit at his Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Fla. White House officials said they credited the relationship between the two leaders that was forged during the visit, and the conversation Tuesday evening, with helping to influence China’s vote.

The day began with harsh words from Mr. Trump toward Mr. Putin, whom he had once praised effusively.

“I really think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on Russia to make sure that peace happens, because frankly, if Russia didn’t go in and back this animal, we wouldn’t have a problem right now,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Fox Business Network, referring to Mr. Assad. “Putin is backing a person that’s truly an evil person, and I think it’s very bad for Russia. I think it’s very bad for mankind. It’s very bad for this world.”

Later, after a meeting at the White House with Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general, Mr. Trump went out of his way to praise the military institution, which he called a “great alliance,” and to express disappointment with Russia.

Asked whether it was possible that Syrian forces could have launched the chemical attack without Russia’s knowledge, Mr. Trump said: “It’s certainly possible; I think it’s probably unlikely.”

“I would like to think that they didn’t know, but certainly they could have. They were there,” Mr. Trump said of the Russians during a 30-minute news conference at the White House.

Even as they have intensified their criticism of Russia for backing Mr. Assad, other senior Trump administration officials, including Mr. Tillerson and Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, have been careful to say there is no consensus that Moscow had foreknowledge that the Assad government planned to launch a chemical assault.

“Right now, we’re not getting along with Russia at all — we may be at an all-time low in terms of a relationship with Russia,” Mr. Trump said on Wednesday. Still, he held out hope that the United States and Russia could come to terms, suggesting that Mr. Tillerson’s talks with Mr. Putin had gone better than expected.

A quick détente seemed a remote possibility, given the level of tension surrounding the aftermath of the Syrian chemical weapons attack. On Tuesday, the White House accused Mr. Putin’s government of covering up evidence that Mr. Assad had been responsible for the sarin assault, which was launched from a base where Russian troops are operating.

Mr. Putin shot back that the charge was fabricated and accused the administration of Mr. Trump, who American intelligence agencies believe benefited during the election campaign from Russian cyberattacks intended to embarrass his Democratic rival, of fabricating the evidence to create a fake confrontation.

Amid the rift with Russia, Mr. Trump made a striking reversal on NATO, saying the alliance had transformed into an effective one since he took office.

“I said it was obsolete; it’s no longer obsolete,” Mr. Trump said, standing beside Mr. Stoltenberg.

Mr. Trump attributed his change of heart to unspecified transformations within NATO, which he said were a direct response to criticism he had leveled that the alliance was not doing enough to combat terrorism.

“I complained about that a long time ago,” Mr. Trump said, “and they changed.”

It was not clear what the president was referring to; NATO forces have been fighting alongside the United States in Afghanistan for more than a decade, an effort focused on combating terrorist groups including the Taliban.

Still, the turnabout drew praise from some lawmakers who had been concerned with Mr. Trump’s previous stance.

“Without NATO, the Soviet Union would be quarterbacking half of Europe today and Putin knows it,” said Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska. “NATO is the most successful military alliance in human history. This was the right decision.”

His comments came hours after a senior White House official said the Trump administration had supported the admission of Montenegro into NATO this week, in part to counter the influence of Russia in the small Balkan nation. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official cited “credible reports” that Moscow had backed a plot for a violent Election Day attack there last fall.

Mr. Trump on Tuesday signed the paperwork allowing Montenegro to enter NATO, two weeks after the Senate approved the move in a March 28 vote. The country’s admission, White House officials said in a statement, should signal to other nations aspiring to join the alliance that “the door to membership in the Euro-Atlantic community of nations remains open and that countries in the western Balkans are free to choose their own future and select their own partners without outside interference or intimidation.”

Trump, Xi converge on currency, Syria as US-China ties warm

WASHINGTON — The United States and China struck what appeared to be an unusual bargain Wednesday as President Donald Trump said he won’t label China a currency manipulator and voiced confidence Chinese President Xi Jinping will help him deal with North Korea’s mounting threat.

Another result of the diplomatic wrangling: a surprising Chinese abstention on a U.N. resolution condemning a Syrian chemical weapons attack.

In a newspaper interview and a White House news conference, Trump hailed the rapport he developed with Xi during last week’s Florida summit, which seems to have yielded an immediate easing of tensions related to the U.S.-Chinese trade imbalance and efforts to prevent Pyongyang from developing a nuclear missile capable of reaching the United States.

“I think he wants to help us with North Korea,” Trump said of Xi, crediting China in the news conference with taking a “big step” by turning back boats of coal that North Korea sells to its northern neighbor. North Korea conducts some 90 percent of its trade with China.

And in one of the sharpest reverses of his presidency, Trump backed off from a campaign pledge by saying he would not declare China to be a currency manipulator, an action that could have led to higher tariffs on Chinese goods. The accusation had formed a basis of Trump’s argument for lost American jobs, on the grounds that an undervalued currency was boosting Chinese exports and leading to artificially low prices, all at U.S. manufacturers’ expense.

“They’re not currency manipulators,” Trump told The Wall Street Journal earlier Wednesday, saying the country hadn’t been cheating on its currency for months. He said a U.S. declaration of Chinese manipulation could jeopardize talks with China on North Korea.

It’s rare for American leaders to link trade or currency disputes to broader international security efforts against countries such as North Korea. Trump’s predecessors had largely kept such disputes separate.

Asked specifically if his decision on currency was part of an agreement over North Korea, Trump responded: “We’re going to see. We’re going to see about that.”

He also repeated that trade concessions could be on the table for more cooperation on North Korea. He said he told Xi last week: “The way you’re going to make a good trade deal is to help us with North Korea, otherwise we’re just going to go it alone. That will be all right, too. But going it alone means going it with lots of other nations.’”

Trump’s upbeat assessment of the relations with China contrasted with blunt talk about ties with Russia, a country with which he had repeatedly vowed to start a new partnership. Trump told reporters the U.S.-Russian relationship has reached an “all-time low” amid differences over Syria.

Trump and Xi spoke by telephone Tuesday night, just days after their two-day gathering at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort. He and Putin talked on the phone last week after a deadly subway bombing in the Russian city of St. Petersburg.

The opposing fortunes of the two key American relationships were laid bare in a U.N. Security Council showdown Wednesday. In an unexpected move, China abstained rather than joining traditional ally Russia in vetoing a resolution that would have condemned the chemical weapons attack in a northern Syrian town last week.

Trump hailed China’s abstention. Beijing had joined Moscow in vetoing several previous Western-backed resolutions under President Barack Obama. But China’s abstention ultimately wasn’t much of a concession since it knew Russia would use its veto power.

On North Korea, Trump didn’t outline any concessions China was offering apart from the coal cutoff, which was announced two months ago.

The United States has been urging Beijing to use its economic leverage with North Korea, which conducted two underground nuclear explosions and two dozen missile tests last year. It is moving closer to developing a nuclear-tipped missile that could threaten the U.S. mainland.

Trump has given heft to the U.S. demand with shows of force. First, while Xi was visiting last week, Trump ordered 59 cruise missiles fired on a Syrian air base in response to government forces’ alleged use of a sarin-like nerve agent. This week, the U.S. president diverted an aircraft carrier toward the seas off the divided Korean Peninsula to deter North Korea from conducting another nuclear or missile test.

Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the development “bodes well for cooperation between the U.S. and China.”

“It will be interesting to see what measures China takes to ramp up pressure on North Korea,” she said. “That is the real litmus test.”

Officials at Treasury, the agency that is responsible for issuing currency reports every six months, confirmed that China won’t be named a currency manipulator. The next report is supposed to come out this week.

Some Democrats had supported Trump’s earlier position on China.

“The best way to get China to cooperate with North Korea is to be tough on them with trade, which is the No. 1 thing China’s government cares about,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer of New York said. “When the president fails to label them a currency manipulator, he gives them a green light to steal our jobs and wealth time and time again.”

In his interview with the Journal, Trump also said he would prefer that the Federal Reserve keep interest rates relatively low. And he left open the possibility of re-nominating Janet Yellen for a second four-year term as Fed chair. That would mark another shift from his campaign position that he would probably replace Yellen when her term as chair ends in February next year.

“I do like a low-interest-rate policy, I must be honest with you,” Trump said.

At Meeting, Putin and Tillerson Find Very Little to Agree On

MOSCOW — Vladimir V. Putin kept his guest, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, dangling all day.

It was not clear until around 5 p.m., when Mr. Tillerson’s small motorcade eased out of the Ritz-Carlton in one of the fanciest parts of Moscow and slipped into Red Square that Russia’s president was willing to engage in his first face-to-face meeting with a senior member of President Trump’s administration, even one who is an old business partner who used to show up on behalf of Exxon Mobil.

If a few weeks ago critics of the Trump administration feared that Mr. Tillerson would simply fold on the sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, they need not have worried. In a two-hour meeting, as later described in sketchy terms by Mr. Tillerson, they did not agree on much — certainly not on who was responsible for fatally poisoning Syrian civilians with the nerve agent sarin, or for the interference in the American elections last year and the European elections underway now.

“We need to attempt to put an end to this steady degradation, which is doing nothing to restore the trust between our two countries or to make progress on the issues of the greatest importance to both of us,” Mr. Tillerson said at a news conference with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov.

Mr. Tillerson went on to describe how the two countries were establishing “a working group to address smaller issues and make progress toward stabilizing the relationship,” a recognition of the fact that the big issues were so big that no working group would have the authority.

Dangling meetings is an old technique for Mr. Putin, used to keep other leaders off balance and demonstrate his control. But when Mr. Putin and Mr. Tillerson did meet, it was clear that they not only have different world views, but that they have different views of the facts. And that made it difficult to achieve anything other than cosmetic accords on the issues over which the two nations, in a revival of Cold War rhetoric, have charged each other with lying about.

For good measure, Mr. Lavrov offered a lengthy tutorial for Mr. Tillerson about all the examples of American-led regime change in the world — from Slobodan Milosevic to Saddam Hussein to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi — that went bad, suggesting it made no sense to add President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to the list.

But there was no talk of reviving the “Geneva process,” the meetings of nearly 20 nations that John Kerry, Mr. Tillerson’s predecessor, had organized to help force a political process to end the civil war in Syria and hold a vote that would decide the fate of Mr. Assad. Mr. Tillerson said, again, that Mr. Assad had to go — in a way he did not specify — and when pressed on whether he agreed with Mr. Trump’s description of the Syrian leader as an “animal,” he said that “characterization is one that President Assad has brought upon himself.”

Mr. Tillerson is in many ways the personality opposite of Mr. Kerry: When asked a hard question he will offer the tersest answer possible, rather than attack with words. Asked at the news conference whether he had raised with Mr. Putin the subject of Russian meddling in the 2016 American presidential election, he said, “As to the question of the interference with the election, that is fairly well-established in the United States.”

His answer ignored that such meddling is not a well-established fact in the mind of his boss.

Asked how he explained the difference between Russia’s use of cyberweapons in the election and the American use of them against Iran’s nuclear program and North Korea’s missile program, Mr. Tillerson said simply: “Cybertools to disrupt weapons programs — that’s another use of the tools, and I make a distinction between those two.”

That was the closest any Trump administration official has come to acknowledging, publicly, the use of cyberweapons against American adversaries.

Mr. Tillerson’s first visit to Moscow as America’s most important diplomat was also striking in what was conspicuously missing: There were no meetings with political dissidents or opponents of Mr. Putin. The subject of crackdowns or human rights in Russia never came up. But the Syria dispute provided plenty of tension.

In the 24 hours before Mr. Tillerson landed in Moscow, the White House accused Mr. Putin’s government of covering up evidence that Mr. Assad had been responsible for the April 4 chemical weapons assault, which the Americans say was launched from a base where Russian troops were operating.

Mr. Putin shot back that the charge was fabricated in ways reminiscent of the run-up to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.

He quoted two Russian writers, Ilya Ilf and Yevgeni Petrov, authors of the 1928 satire “The 12 Chairs,” and said, “‘It’s boring, ladies.’ We have seen this all before.”

But the diplomatic theater playing out in Moscow on a rainy Wednesday morning was far from boring: Mr. Putin, operating on home turf, was looking for any way to shape the narrative of Mr. Tillerson’s trip.

The Kremlin had initially said Mr. Putin would not meet with Mr. Tillerson, although his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, held out the possibility of a meeting later in the day.

Russian leaders have greeted virtually all new secretaries of state since the end of World War II.

Mr. Tillerson, who was recognized with an Order of Friendship medal by the Russian government while he was the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, has insisted on a tough line on Russia, ruling out any early end to sanctions unless the country returns Crimea to Ukraine and ceases meddling elsewhere.

On Syria, Mr. Tillerson delivered what sounded much like an ultimatum to the Russians on Tuesday while talking to reporters at a Group of 7 meeting in Italy.

“I think it is clear to all of us that the reign of the Assad family is coming to an end,” Mr. Tillerson said, echoing a theme first heard from President Barack Obama in 2011, when the Arab Spring led many to believe the Syrian leader was about to be overthrown.

Mr. Tillerson essentially demanded that Russia make a choice, severing ties with Mr. Assad and working with the United States on a variety of initiatives in the Middle East.

As Mr. Tillerson entered the Foreign Ministry here to meet Mr. Lavrov, an experienced and wily veteran of many of Russia’s post-Cold War encounters with Washington, the Russian government released another salvo against American intentions here.

The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova, said it was “useless” for Mr. Tillerson to arrive in Moscow with “ultimatums” and suggested that if he wanted any progress, he should start by getting Mr. Trump and his administration on the same page about Syria strategy.