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« Reply #2400 on: Apr 17, 2018, 04:22 AM »

Under the sea: Fighting Greece's plastic trash problem

New Europe

LEGRENA, Greece (AP) — Dressed all in black and preparing his diving gear with loud zips and clicks, George Sarelakos looks like he's part of a Greek naval operation ready to storm an island or take down smugglers.

He's not — but he and four other volunteer divers do have a challenging mission: Clearing the plastic trash from the sea floor that's suffocating Greece's marine life. In a heavy rain, they struggle to clamber off the rocks along a stretch of coast south of Athens favored by day-trippers looking for a nice place to swim within driving distance of the Greek capital.

"Most beaches are clean because they're tidied up by municipalities. But the big problem is on the seabed. It's is like a garbage dump," Sarelakos said. In January, the European Union launched a major campaign to reduce plastic waste across its 28 member states.

Greece starts the 12-year program with major disadvantages: An alarming rate of single-use plastic consumption, a waste management system largely neglected during a decade-long financial crisis and the longest coastline in the EU — nearly double the length of India's.

Within an hour, Sarelakos and his rubber-suited companions bring up large clumps of garbage, mostly old tires, tied into bundles with rope. A curious dolphin inspects their work before darting off to a nearby fish farm.

"All this is death for sea life. It's a problem that most people are totally unaware of," Sarelakos says. In a 2015 study, researchers trawled five coastal areas in the eastern Mediterranean and found that 60 percent of the marine litter detected was in the Saronic Gulf bordering greater Athens. And 95 percent of that trash was plastic, much of it single-use items like supermarket carrier bags or water and soft drink bottles.

The EU plans to make all plastic packaging on the market recyclable by 2030, and wants member states to crack down on single-use plastic, with consumers using no more than 40 lightweight plastic bags annually by 2025.

A few countries have already zoomed past that target: Finns on average use just four plastic bags a year. But for Greeks — now accustomed to sipping coffee out of plastic cups using plastic straws and with kiosk beverage coolers within easy reach of every city dweller — it's become part of the lifestyle. They use 296 bags per year, according to the EU Commission.

Local surveys suggest the number is even higher. Greek stores began charging for plastic bags on Jan. 1 — a relatively small step for a country still heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants and which is regularly fined for its large number of unregulated garbage dumps.

Only 16 percent of trash is recycled here, compared with the EU's average of 44 percent. Nearly everything else ends up buried in trash dumps. At Fyli, the country's largest landfill on the outskirts of Athens, bulldozers constantly reshape mountains of garbage in a quarried hillside, squeezing out a dark liquid called leachate to leave enormous stacks of brown-coated plastic. A steady flow of garbage trucks is coordinated by loudspeaker, and their entry is accompanied by packs of seagulls ready to swoop on the fresh new trash.

The site's environmental officer, Ioanna Kapsimali, is another volunteer diver in the Athens marine cleanups. She says it's impossible to contain all the plastic at the landfill. "Plastic is the most difficult material, given its chemical composition," she said, noting that it's so light it can be blown away by the wind and end up in the sea. "That happens with quite a large amount (of plastic). It causes problems because the plastic breaks up and is ingested by fish, birds and other animals."

Pieces of trash, including bottle caps and cigarette lighters, end up in the stomachs of birds and marine creatures, who are also often tangled in plastic nets. A few lucky creatures end up at Maria Ganoti's animal clinic in Athens. The director of the Greek Wildlife Care Association recently treated an injured seagull.

"We've had cases where animals have died and in the autopsy we find plastic items in the stomach, usually pieces of synthetic rope, which had been mistaken for a worm or a small snake," Ganoti said, speaking over the loud squawk of injured birds.

"If the animal swallows a large piece of plastic, it doesn't get broken down. It takes up space in the stomach and at some point . it will starve to death." According to pollution activists, Greeks are largely unaware of their country's plastic problem because bathing water quality remains high in most parts of the country and most of the pollution is not visible.

But visit a Greek shoreline not used by swimmers and that picture can quickly change. Conservationists say the Kolovrechtis Marsh north of Athens is threatened by a trifecta of environmental assaults: plastics washing up on its shores, fertilizers used by surrounding farms, and waste from nearby factories that include a ferronickel plant. The trash ending up at the small, protected nature spot endangers the nearly 200 types of birds found there, including hawks, herons and green-headed wild ducks.

On a three-hour trash collection with volunteers and municipal workers, plastics were cleared from a small strip of beachfront on the edge of the marsh — including 3,476 plastic bottles and 549 plastic bags.

Spanish volunteer Fran Vargas joined the effort, digging into the sand with his hands to pull out buried plastic bags. Nearly everything he found was single-use plastic. "We know that no matter how much garbage we collect, it will always be a fraction of what is going into the sea," he said. "So this is about making a point: That this is a big, big problem and that we need to stop — now."

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« Reply #2401 on: Apr 17, 2018, 04:24 AM »

Long-hidden toxic waste endangers Serbia's health, EU status

New Europe

PANCEVO, Serbia  — Dozens of rusty barrels and plastic tubs filled with a dark, oily liquid cluttered a muddy yard where chickens roamed. More brimming containers packed a wooden barn. The property in northern Serbia, located next to farmland and a railway line, stored about 100 tons of likely hazardous waste altogether, the country's environmental protection ministry said. Authorities found it last month, along with another big batch cemented into the walls of a nearby brick factory.

A string of similar discoveries has triggered alarms in Serbia, where masses of poorly secured industrial waste are believed to have been dumped or hidden and could pose long-term environmental and public health dangers.

The situation arising from decades of neglect, corruption and economic decay is "dramatic," Serbian Environmental Protection Minister Goran Trivan said. "People actually buried hazardous waste in their own yards as if it were some kind of hidden treasure," Trivan said in an interview with The Associated Press. "This has to stop."

The problem has come into focus as Serbia and other Balkan nations move closer to joining the European Union, a step that ultimately will require their environmental protection standards to be in line with those in existing EU member countries. Such reforms could take the EU candidates years to achieve.

Hazardous waste must be exported from Serbia to places such as Austria, Romania and Switzerland because the country does not have its own processing facilities. The shipments are costly, so some manufacturers and waste-management companies get rid of production residues improperly.

The concern about concealed pollutants results from simple math, Trivan said. The country generates some 130,000 to 220,000 tons of hazardous waste every year, and while part of it is either exported or stored properly inside Serbia, a chunk remains unaccounted for, he said.

"So, where is it?" Trivan said. "Figures tell us that we could be dealing with serious quantities, possibly thousands of tons." The way to handle the problem would be to step up government oversight and to introduce harsher sentences for offenders while encouraging private investments in waste management, Trivan said.

The ministry has teamed up with the state security agency, the prosecutor's office and police to locate as much dumped waste as soon as possible. A public campaign urges citizens to report sites where they suspect toxic materials might be stored.

Andjelka Mihajlov, an environmental scientist on the Serbian government team working to revise the country's laws to be in line with EU membership, said the potential damage that hidden toxic hazards pose to the country's people and environment cannot be estimated. It depends on factors such as the type of substances and where and how they were stowed.

"If not handled properly, hazardous waste poses a serious concern for public health," said Mihajlov, who served briefly as Serbia's environment minister. Authorities say that out of the more than a hundred companies registered in Serbia to handle hazardous waste, only about a dozen followed proper labeling, storage and disposal regulations. Instead, many waste management firms pocket the money companies pay them and abandon loads that were supposed to be shipped abroad somewhere in Serbia.

Officials suspect that was the case with the barrels and plastic tubs found on the property in the town of Pancevo in mid-March. A business named Eko 21 had been hired to deal with production waste disposed of the containers in an inhabited area without fences or any other safeguards to keep the population safe.

Residents of a village near the Serbian capital, Belgrade, were warned not to use their wells after dozens of barrels of toxic waste containing carcinogenic benzene were found buried in Obrenovac. The property owner was arrested and faces a prison term of up to five years if convicted of illegally storing dangerous substances.

Trivan said unreported waste could have been seeping into the ground for years at a number of as-yet unknown locations, polluting the surrounding water and land. "I am astonished by the level of negligence toward our own lives," he lamented.

Serbia also has unaddressed environmental problems with its waste water; all Serbian cities and many factories dump it straight into rivers. Air quality, drinking water safety and pollution from mines and power plans are worries as well.

Trivan acknowledged that his country is lagging at least 25 to 30 years behind in environmental protection, but is optimistic it will steer its way clear. "Nothing has been done for decades and we are now dealing with the consequences," he said. "But we should not despair. It can be done."

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« Reply #2402 on: Apr 17, 2018, 04:28 AM »

Poland violated EU laws by logging in Białowieża forest, court rules

Judge dismisses claims by Polish government that logging was necessary to protect ancient forest from outbreak of bark beetles

Arthur Neslen
Tue 17 Apr 2018 10.32 BST

The EU’s highest court has ruled that Poland’s logging of the ancient Białowieża forest is illegal, potentially opening the door to multi-million euro fines.

At least 10,000 trees have been felled in Białowieża, one of Europe’s last parcels of primeval woodland, since the former Polish environment minister, Jan Szyzko tripled logging limits there in 2016.

Government claims that the forest was bring protected from a spruce beetle outbreak were dismissed by European court of justice judges, who said that Poland’s own forest management plans showed that logging posed a greater threat to Białowieża’s integrity.
'My worst nightmares are coming true': last major primeval forest in Europe on 'brink of collapse'
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A minimum fine of €4.3m, potentially rising to €100,000 a day, could now be levied against Poland if the tree fells continue.

James Thornton, the chief executive of the green law firm ClientEarth, said: “This is a huge victory for all defenders of Białowieża forest. Hundreds of people were heavily engaged in saving this unique, ancient woodland from unthinkable destruction.”

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« Reply #2403 on: Apr 17, 2018, 04:56 AM »

Belgian doctor gets the all clear for note letting woman cancel gym membership

Fitness centre owners left hot and bothered after ruling by Order of Physicians

Daniel Boffey in Brussels
Tue 17 Apr 2018 10.35 BST

Owners of fitness centres in Belgium are in uproar after a doctor who wrote a medical note to free a woman from her expensive gym membership was cleared of malpractice on the grounds that he acted in his “social role”.

The country’s Order of Physicians agreed that the doctor had acted appropriately when helping a woman trapped in a contract she was unlikely to use and could not afford.

The high cost and inflexible nature of many fitness centres has long been a contentious issue in Belgium. Last year the government sought to liberalise contracts with a new code of conduct: minimum one-year contracts were ditched and customers were given the power to cancel a contract without penalty on the advice of a doctor.

In the latest development, the Order of Physicians has backed a doctor who admitted to writing a medical note for a woman because he did not believe she had the funds to see out a €70-a-month contract (£60) that had a further 18 months to run.

The doctor told the watchdog – the equivalent of the General Medical Council in the UK – that he had a responsibility to help his patient and had “acted out of social concern”.

“At these fitness clubs there are often really tight contracts that you almost can’t get rid of,” he said.

Lieven Wostyn, regional chairman of the watchdog, said it had to deal with an increasing number of such cases.

She said: “The social also plays a role in a doctor. And there was also a medical problem: the woman suffered from pain in the neck and a trailing middle ear infection.

“We get complaints about this more often than before. We look very closely at each complaint. There have also been cases where the fitness centre has been right.”

Eric Vandenabeele, the director of the professional association of gyms in Belgium, Fitness.be, described the ruling as “unacceptable”.

He said: “A doctor has to judge your health, not whether it was a good idea to conclude such a contract. Will a doctor now judge your contract with your energy supplier, or with your internet provider?”

In the UK, the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) acted in 2012 to reduce the number of gyms that tied their clients into long contracts.

The OFT has claimed its intervention in the market benefited more than 750,000 gym members. There are believed to be about 8.75 million active gym members in the UK.

The OFT claimed its move was also followed by innovations such as the rise of “pay-as-you-go” memberships.

However, the Belgian authorities have been slower to respond to the problem.

Simon November, of the Belgian consumers’ organisation Test-Aankoop, said: “It shows how these strangling contracts remain a problem and how few flexible fitness centres exist. We have been complaining for years.”

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« Reply #2404 on: Apr 17, 2018, 04:58 AM »

13-year-old boy unearths legendary Danish king’s trove in Germany

Agence France-Presse
17 Apr 2018 at 09:14 ET                   

A 13-year-old boy and an amateur archaeologist have unearthed a “significant” treasure trove in Germany which may have belonged to the legendary Danish king Harald Bluetooth who brought Christianity to Denmark.

Rene Schoen and his student Luca Malaschnitschenko were looking for treasure using metal detectors in January on northern Ruegen island when they chanced upon what they initially thought was a worthless piece of aluminium.

But upon closer inspection, they realised that it was a shimmering piece of silver, German media reported.

A dig covering 400 square metres (4,300 square feet) that finally started over the weekend by the regional archaeology service has since uncovered a trove believed linked to the Danish king who reigned from around 958 to 986.

Braided necklaces, pearls, brooches, a Thor’s hammer, rings and up to 600 chipped coins were found, including more than 100 that date back to Bluetooth’s era.

“This trove is the biggest single discovery of Bluetooth coins in the southern Baltic sea region and is therefore of great significance,” lead archaeologist Michael Schirren told national news agency DPA.

The oldest coin found in the trove is a Damascus dirham dating to 714 while the most recent is a penny dating to 983.

The find suggests that the treasure may have been buried in the late 980s — also the period when Bluetooth was known to have fled to Pomerania where he died in 987.

“We have here the rare case of a discovery that appears to corroborate historical sources,” said archaeologist Detlef Jantzen.

Bluetooth is credited with unifying Denmark. The Viking-born king also turned his back on old Norse religion and introduced Christianity to the Nordic country.

But he was forced to flee to Pomerania after a rebellion led by his son Sven Gabelbart.

Bluetooth’s lasting legacy is found today in smartphones and laptops — the wireless Bluetooth technology is named after him, and the symbol is composed of the two Runes spelling out his initials R. B.

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« Reply #2405 on: Apr 17, 2018, 05:00 AM »

China's Weibo reverses ban on 'homosexual' content after outcry

Microblogging site’s move to create ‘harmonious’ environment prompted protests under the hashtag #Iamgay

Lily Kuo
17 Apr 2018 04.52 BST

One of China’s largest social media sites, Sina Weibo, has reversed a ban on online content “related to homosexuality” after outcry from the country’s internet users.

On Friday, Sina Weibo said that for the next three months it would be removing comics and videos “with pornographic implications, promoting bloody violence, or related to homosexuality”. The internet company said the initiative was in an effort to “create a sunny and harmonious community environment” and comply with the country’s cybersecurity laws.

In response, Weibo users posted photos with their partners, comments, and rainbow emojis, accompanied by the hashtags #iamgay and #iamgaynotapervert.

A woman in Shanghai wrote in a post that received more than 55,000 likes: “I am the mother of a gay son. My son and I love our country. No matter where we go we tell others loudly and proudly that we are from China ... But today … I suddenly [find] that in this strong country, Sina Weibo is discriminating against and attacking this sexual minority.”

Many quoted China’s constitution and laws about the protection of minorities. One internet user referred to article 38 of China’s constitution which maintains that the “personal dignity” of Chinese citizens is “inviolable” and that insult directed against citizens is prohibited.

Others pointed out homosexuality was decriminalised in 1997 and in 2001 removed from the government’s list of mental disorders.

Following the deluge of comments Sina Weibo said on Monday that its campaign will no longer include gay content and would only focus on checking pornographic and violent material. “Thank you everyone for the discussion and your suggestions,” it said in a statement on its microblog account.

Much of China’s LGBT community has been forced underground. Only 15% said they had told their parents, and only 5% had come out publicly, according to a 2016 survey from the UN. Gay conversion therapy is still used in some public hospitals and private clinics.

The online backlash to Sina Weibo’s policy was a sign of growing acceptance and confidence of China’s gay community, according to Lu Pin, an activist and founder of the Feminist Voices blog. Vibrant gay communities exist in cities such as Shanghai, where rights groups have organised cruises for family members to come out to one another. Businesses have been targeting the so-called pink economy of the LGBT community.

“China’s gay community continues to push through obstacles. The growth around the world in support for gay rights has also given the Chinese strength” Lu said.

China’s online space has come under increasingly tighter control. In January, authorities ordered Sina Weibo to shut several portals, as part of the government’s efforts to eliminate “vulgar” or “harmful” online content. State media said last year 128,000 websites were closed for such content.

Weibo censors began deleting posts and blocking searches related to the ban over the weekend. But Weibo users persisted. One wrote, “You don’t allow me to speak, so you think I will just shut up? You delete my post, and you think I won’t post another? Every time you delete, we will start again.”

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« Reply #2406 on: Apr 17, 2018, 05:05 AM »

The Hague bans cannabis smoking in city centre in Dutch first

Move prompted by numerous complaints from both residents and visitors, says mayor’s office

Daniel Boffey in Brussels
17 Apr 2018 14.59 BST

The Hague has become the first Dutch city to ban the smoking of cannabis around its city centre, central railway station and major shopping areas, in the latest example of a wider trend towards reining in country’s traditional gedoogbeleid (tolerance policy).

Flyers are to be distributed at cannabis-selling coffee shops and homeless shelters to warn of fines for those caught breaching the ban. An English-language version of the flyer is to be made available in hotels.

Cannabis is sold openly in 573 coffee shops operating in 103 of the 380 municipalities in the Netherlands, including The Hague.

However, awareness of the increase in strength of the varieties of the drug now available, compared with the 1970s when the tolerance policy was introduced, and concern that it is encouraging antisocial behaviour, has seeped into the thinking of central and municipal authorities in recent years.

A spokesman for Pauline Krikke, the mayor of The Hague, said the “many complaints” from residents and visitors about the strong smell of cannabis, and the noise from its users, had prompted the prohibition.

The spokesman added that the mayor and police had decided there was evidence that “the use of soft drugs has a negative impact on the living environment of residents and visitors” in the areas where the ban will be in place.

The prohibition will be enforced by the police, with warnings given to those found to be using the drug in 13 designated public places over the next two weeks.

Fines, the level of which will be decided by the public prosector, will apply after that period, and the police will be proactively monitoring the doorways of shops for users.

The municipality of Amsterdam prohibits drug use around schools and playgrounds. Rotterdam introduced a ban on use in 2010 around five secondary vocational schools, which was later extended to schools across the entire city. The city has been also been seeking to reducing the number of coffee shops.

The development in The Hague is just the latest move in an attempt to tighten the rules around the sale and use of cannabis.

Recent governments have clamped down by banning coffee shops in border areas from serving tourists.

Last month the Dutch government announced a pilot scheme in 10 municipalities for the regulated production of cannabis, with cultivators recruited through a tender.

Coffee shops can currently sell the drug butare not allowed to produce it, which critics say provides a clear opening for criminal gangs to become the suppliers.

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« Reply #2407 on: Apr 17, 2018, 05:07 AM »

French president urges EU reform to fight rising nationalism

New Europe

STRASBOURG, France  — French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday urged the European Union to reform itself in order to offer better protection for its citizens in a world troubled by wars and authoritarian regimes.

The 40-year-old leader, who wants to play a key leadership role in the EU, outlined his vision for Europe's future in a speech at the Strasbourg-based European Parliament. Macron said democracy is the "best chance" for the EU to fight against rising nationalism on the continent.

"Faced with authoritarianism, the answer is not democratic authoritarianism but the authority of democracy," he said. Macron called for an energetic campaign for the European Parliament election in May 2019 as the EU also deals with the challenges of Britain's departure.

He told EU lawmakers that it's important "to have a democratic, critical debate on what Europe is about." Macron said citizens "want a new project" for the EU which addresses their concerns and fears in a world in which allies such as the U.S. are turning their backs on multilateral trade and climate change pacts.

All EU countries, except Britain and Hungary, have agreed to seek opinions of their citizens on the EU's future through debates and online consultations by summer. Macron will attend a debate on Europe in the eastern town of Epinal later Tuesday.

Speaking after Macron, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU isn't just a club led by France and Germany. Juncker said Macron's arrival in power in France has "given new hope" to the world's biggest trading bloc. But he recalled that "Europe is an ensemble," even with Britain set to leave the EU next year.

Macron will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday, as France and Germany aim to agree on proposals for EU reforms by June. During Macron's speech, some European lawmakers raised placards reading "Stop the war in Syria" and "Hands off Syria" to protest against joint airstrikes by U.S., Britain and France on chemical weapons facilities in Syria on Saturday.

Sylvie Corbet reported from Paris. Lorne Cook contributed from Brussels.

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« Reply #2408 on: Apr 17, 2018, 05:09 AM »

EU's Juncker warns of possible return to war in Balkans

New Europe

BRUSSELS  — European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is warning that the volatile Balkans could face a return to war if countries in the region have no hope of joining the European Union.

Juncker told EU lawmakers Tuesday: "I don't want a return to war in the Western Balkans." He said: "If we remove from these countries, in this extremely complicated region, I should say tragically, a European perspective, we are going to live what we already went through in the 1990s."

EU and Balkan leaders meet in Bulgaria next month, but the EU is unlikely to invite any country to join soon. The prospect of EU membership has proved a driving force for reform in the Balkans, which was torn apart by war as former Yugoslavia broke up.

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« Reply #2409 on: Apr 17, 2018, 05:12 AM »

Myanmar's president grants amnesty to over 8,500 prisoners

New Europe

YANGON, Myanmar  — Myanmar President Win Myint has granted amnesty to more than 8,500 prisoners, reportedly including at least three dozen political prisoners. The amnesty, announced Tuesday, coincided with Myanmar's traditional New Year. It was granted to 8,490 Myanmar citizens and 51 foreigners. A statement from presidential spokesman Zaw Thay said those released included the aged, people in ill health and drug offenders. None was individually named.

It also said 36 of those to be freed had been listed as political prisoners by the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The releases were to take place at prisons nationwide. Relatives and friends of those held waited Tuesday outside the gates at Insein Prison, in the northern outskirts of Yangon, where it was expected that more than 300 prisoners, including eight political detainees, would be released.

Although called an amnesty, the action appeared to actually be a mass pardon, meaning it would cover only prisoners who had already been convicted of crimes. Two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, facing a high-profile freedom of the press trial for possessing secret official documents would not be covered under the action.

One of the journalists' lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said his understanding was that the president was only pardoning convicted criminals. "So, since the two reporters have not been sentenced for prison terms, we don't know if they will be part of the release. If this was an amnesty, then it's possible that they might be part of the list," he told The Associated Press.

Bo Kyi, secretary of the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said the group was waiting to confirm the releases. "We don't know exactly if all 36 political prisoners will be released or not, and that's why the family members are waiting outside of the prison," he said.

The group, which has extensive experience in monitoring the incarceration of political prisoners, says that 54 are currently serving prison terms after being convicted, 74 are in detention awaiting trial, and another 120 are awaiting trial but are not detained.

Win Myint became president last month, after his predecessor, Htin Kyaw, stepped down because of illness. The Facebook page of Deputy Information Minister Aung Hla Tun said the presidential action was taken "as a gesture of marking the Myanmar New Year and after taking into consideration the prevalence of peace of mind among the people, humanitarian concerns and friendly relations among nations."

The release of political prisoners was a priority of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party when it took over power from a pro-military government in March 2016. Suu Kyi is the country's de facto leader, holding the specially created post of State Counsellor. Constitutional rules prohibit her from serving as president because her two children are British, as was her late husband.

When Suu Kyi's government took power in 2016, it made it a priority to release political prisoners detained during military rule, freeing almost 200 within a month. However, critics of Suu Kyi's government say it also has pursued politically motivated prosecutions, citing cases against land rights activists and journalists.

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« Reply #2410 on: Apr 17, 2018, 05:31 AM »

Sean Hannity revealed as Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's mystery third client

Fox News host says he might have handed Cohen ‘10 bucks’ but that none of his discussions ‘involved a matter between me and a third party’

Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland and Dominic Rushe in New York
Tue 17 Apr 2018 07.21 BST

Donald Trump’s legal fixer Michael Cohen has also been representing the firebrand conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of only three private legal clients Cohen has taken on in the past year, his lawyer told a federal court on Monday.

The revelation came as a federal judge rejected a bid by the president and Cohen to prevent US prosecutors from examining a cache of documents and recordings seized from Trump’s long-time confidant.

Cohen’s office, hotel and home were raided by the FBI last week following a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller that incensed the president and opened Trump up to a second front of legal peril.

Last week district judge Kimba Wood had ordered Cohen to disclose all his private practice legal clients since he left the Trump Organization after the 2016 election, but the president’s longtime confidant had partially resisted the court’s order. In a letter to Wood from his attorneys, Cohen disclosed that he had been representing the president and the disgraced former GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, but declined to reveal the identity of a third client.

However, lawyers for Cohen were forced on Monday afternoon to disclose that Hannity was the third individual.

Shortly after the revelation, Hannity said on his radio show that his legal relationship with Cohen involved “occasional discussions with him for his input and perspective” and he had assumed those discussions were confidential and covered by client confidentiality.

Hannity said he might have “handed him 10 bucks” for advice but none of those discussions “ever, ever involved a matter between me and a third party”.

A spokesperson for Fox News republished a statement Hannity had posted on Twitter. Hannity amplified his defense at the end of his Fox News show on Friday. He described Cohen as “a great attorney.” He insisted that he only consulted Cohen on real estate matters because “Michael knows real estate” and claimed that he never asked the Trump lawyer to attempt to conceal his identity. “I never asked Michael Cohen to bring this proceeding on my behalf,” said Hannity. The Fox News host defended the fact that he had not disclosed his relationship to viewers by simply saying: “My discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.”

The cable news veteran has frequently used his show to malign the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, led by Mueller.

Speaking on the evening the raids occurred, Hannity, who had not disclosed that Cohen was his lawyer, used his show to address Mueller directly. He said: “If you have evidence – any at all – show it to us or end this partisan investigation. The country is hanging by a thread tonight and you don’t seem to care.”

The letter from Cohen’s attorneys, sent to the court on Monday morning, disclosed that Cohen had provided seven other anonymous individuals with “strategic advice and business consulting” rather than traditional legal advice since he entered private practice.

Federal prosecutors in New York want a special “taint team” of government lawyers to begin reviewing files seized from Cohen last week so they can decide which documents are protected by attorney-client privilege and which may be used to prosecute Cohen.

But at the hearing on Monday Wood indicated she might appoint a “special master” to assist government lawyers rather than allowing a taint team to work on the files unencumbered.

Cohen is under criminal investigation, prosecutors confirmed last Friday. He may face charges from a grand jury operating separately from one being used by Mueller for his Trump-Russia investigation.

Cohen is “being investigated for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings”, Thomas McKay, an assistant US attorney, said in a court filing. Cohen has long described himself as an attorney for Trump but has for years filled a more wide-ranging role as a general troubleshooter.

Further adding to the drama, Stephanie Clifford, a pornographic film actor known as Stormy Daniels who alleges that she had a sexual encounter with Trump and was paid $130,000 by Cohen to keep quiet, was present during Monday’s hearing.

Communications between lawyers and the people they represent are typically kept confidential under the doctrine of attorney-client privilege. But an exception exists for documents providing evidence that the attorney was involved in a crime.

The searching of any attorney’s office by the government is highly unusual and typically triggers the appointment of the so-called taint team. Such special consideration is not given to ordinary suspects.

Trump’s attorneys had demanded in a letter to court on Sunday evening that the justice department’s plan be halted so that “our firm and the president may review for privilege those seized documents that relate to him” – an extraordinary request from someone in Trump’s position in this kind of case.

They called the FBI raids on Cohen’s home, office and hotel room “an operation disquieting to lawyers, clients, citizens and commentators alike”, and repeatedly referred to their client, whom they represent in a personal capacity, as “the president”.

Attorneys for Cohen had already applied to Judge Wood for a restraining order that would stop authorities reviewing the records seized from Cohen until Cohen’s team has reviewed the materials themselves.

McKay, the federal prosecutor, said in a court motion arguing against this that Cohen’s request was “unprecedented and is not supported by case law”. McKay stressed that the team of government lawyers who would review the seized material would be “walled off” from their colleagues, like himself, who are pursuing the criminal inquiry against Cohen.

Prosecutors suggested in their filing that while Cohen “holds himself out as a practicing attorney”, he is actually exaggerating the extent of his work in an attempt to cast a wide net of attorney-client privilege over the records seized by the FBI. Cohen denies this.

The justice department has “reason to believe that Cohen has exceedingly few clients and a low volume of potentially privileged communications”, McKay wrote.


‘Staggeringly dishonest’: MSNBC’s Mika challenges Fox News to fire Sean Hannity over Michael Cohen conflict

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
17 Apr 2018 at 06:33 ET                   

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski lambasted Fox News host Sean Hannity for keeping his conflict of interest with Michael Cohen a secret from viewers.

The conservative broadcaster was revealed in federal court to be the mystery third client of President Donald Trump’s attorney, and the “Morning Joe” co-host said Hannity should lose his job for reporting on Cohen without explaining their relationship.

“I don’t know how you get around that,” Brzezinski said. “It’s completely staggering dishonest with his viewers, with — I mean, look, how you can cover the story and not say you’re a part of it?”

Brzezinski then laid down an ethical challenge to the rival cable news network.

“I would fire someone who did that on my network,” she said.


‘Neither fair nor balanced’: CNN’s Anderson Cooper rips Hannity for failing to disclose Cohen relationship

Elizabeth Preza
Raw Story
16 Apr 2018 at 21:35 ET                   

CNN’s Anderson Cooper accused Fox News host Sean Hannity of failing to live up to the network’s (former) “fair and balanced” slogan after he chose not to disclose a relationship with longtime Donald Trump attorney Michael Cohen–despite reporting on said attorney.

Cooper was explaining a “stunning moment” at a federal courthouse Monday, during which a lawyer for Cohen revealed Hannity’s status as a client.

“It would seem the president and Sean Hannity share more than dinners and frequent phone calls and a mutual love of Fox News programming,” Cooper said. “They also share an attorney.”

Turning to Hannity’s denial of a former attorney-client relationship with Cohen, Cooper explained the host “seems to be saying, ‘I was not really a client of attorney Michael Cohen’s but our conversations are confidential because he is an attorney and I am his client.’”

Noting Hannity originally reported on the FBI raid of Cohen’s office and residence last week “as if he had absolutely no connection to the story,” Cooper tore into the Fox News host’s ethical failing.

“Not disclosing a business or legal relationship with someone you report on and has had on as your guest as least 16 times … that doesn’t sound neither fair nor balanced,” Cooper said.


Federal judge rejects request by Trump and Cohen to review FBI-seized files before government prosecutors

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
16 Apr 2018 at 18:03 ET                   

Fresh off her decision to compel the attorney representing the president’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to reveal Fox News host Sean Hannity as his mysterious third client, U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood on Monday afternoon rejected a motion by the lawyer that attempted to block the FBI from reviewing the files they seized from Cohen last week.

The New York Times on Monday reported that although Wood blocked Cohen’s attempt to halt prosecutors from seeing the files they took from him when he was raided, she did appear prepared to grant him a “special master,” or court-appointed outside attorney, to oversee the FBI investigation into him.


White House taps the brakes on fresh Russia sanctions — a day after Nikki Haley announces them

Agence France-Presse
16 Apr 2018 at 14:21 ET                   

The White House on Monday said it was weighing fresh Russia sanctions for Moscow’s role supporting Syria’s chemical weapons program, but officials cautioned that no decision has yet been taken.

“We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future,” said press secretary Sarah Sanders.

That message appeared to tap the breaks on imminent punitive economic measures. “We are evaluating but nothing to announce right now,” she said.

On Sunday, US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said new sanctions would be announced on Monday by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

Haley said the measures would target companies that supplied Damascus with equipment and other material related to chemical weapons, which killed more than 40 people in Douma on April 7 and prompted US-led airstrikes.

“With the political and diplomatic actions that we’re taking now, we wanted their friends Iran and Russia to know that we meant business and that they were going to be feeling the pain from this as well,” she said.

With an announcement seemingly imminent, officials at the Departments of State and Treasury referred queries back to the White House, while others indicated a Monday announcement was now unlikely.

It is not clear what has caused the apparent delay, but sanctions decisions are usually weeks if not months in the making.

The United States and European allies had discussed a sanctions package in the build up to last week’s strikes against targets in Syria, with the American measures said to be further along in the planning process than Europe — where consensus among member states is needed.

Adding to the complication is the lack of a Secretary of State after Rex Tillerson’s departure, as well as President Donald Trump’s desire to improve relations with Russia.

A Washington Post report suggested Trump had been furious with aides over the recent decision to expel 60 Russian diplomats, believing each European country — rather than Europe as a whole — would match that figure.

The White House said that despite events in Syria and the poisoning of a spy on British soil, Trump still wanted to sit down with Putin.

“The president has been clear that he’s going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he’d still like to have a good relationship with them,” Sanders said.

​”The president would still like to sit down with him, he feels like it’s better for the world if they have a good relationship.”

“But that’s going to depend on the actions of Russia. We’ve been very clear in our actions what we expect and we hope they’ll have a change in their behavior.”


California puts a halt to Trump’s border wall plan and refuses to send state troops to help

Dominique Jackson
Raw Story
16 Apr 2018 at 18:55 ET                   

Earlier this month, Trump boasted about sending National Guard troops to protect the southern border. Trump proposed to send nearly 400 troops to the border.

    We are sealing up our Southern Border. The people of our great country want Safety and Security. The Dems have been a disaster on this very important issue!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 7, 2018

U.S. officials announced Monday, that California is now refusing to send their troops as a resource because the work is too closely aligned with immigration enforcement according to the Associated Press.

Troops would have been a useful resource to perform work such as operating remotely-controlled surveillance cameras, documenting  suspicious activity, repairing vehicles, and a host of administrative tasks.

Despite his initial eagerness, California Gov. Jerry Brown pulled back on his support, and said he would not send California troops to work alongside immigration enforcement. Brown, instead wants to focus on criminal gangs and drug and firearms smugglers. The other border state governors in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, are all on board with Trump’s plan.

Lt. Col. Thomas Keegan, a California National Guard spokesman, said the state has not received a formal response from the administration about their position. Spokesman for the governor, Evan Westrup, did not respond to questions about California’s rejection to assist with guard duties.

According to the Associated Press, the state position angered federal officials because it puts a halt in their plans. California was also unclear about what tasks they would or would not do.


The weaponization of everyday life continues as the threat of violence dominates the American psyche

16 Apr 2018 at 13:37 ET                   

In a country with more than 300 million of them, a country that’s recently been swept up in a round of protests over the endless killing sprees they permit, you’d think I might have had more experience with them.

This article first appeared at TomDispatch.com

As it happens, I’ve held a gun only once in my life. I even fired it. I was in perhaps tenth grade and enamored with an Eagle Scout who loved war reenactments. On weekends, he and his friends camped out, took off their watches to get into the spirit of the War of 1812, and dressed in homemade muslin underclothes and itchy uniforms. I was there just one weekend. Somehow my pacifist parents signed off on letting their daughter spend the day with war reenactors. Someone lent me a period gown, brown and itchy and ill-fitting. We women and girls spent an hour twisting black gunpowder into newspaper scraps. I joked that the newspaper was anachronistic — the previous week’s Baltimore Sun — but no one laughed.

A man came by with a long gun, an antique, resting on the shoulder of his jerkin to collect our “bullets” and he must have read the gun terror written on my face.

“Wanna give it a try?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, stumbling to my feet, pushing my gown out of the way, and trying to act like I didn’t have broken-rifle patches, symbols of the pacifist War Resisters League, all over my real clothes. I felt a surge of adrenaline as I took the heavy weapon in my way-too-small hands. He showed me how to wrestle it into position, aim it, and fire. There were no bullets, just one of my twists of powder, but it made a terrifying noise. I shrieked and came close to dropping the weapon.

And there it was: the beginning, middle, and end of my love affair with guns — less than a minute long. Still, my hands seemed to tingle for the rest of the afternoon and the smell of gunpowder lingered in my hair for days.

Got Guns?

One in four Americans now owns a gun or lives in a household with guns. So how strange that, on that day in the late 1980s, I saw a real gun for the first and last time. I grew up in inner city Baltimore. I’ve worked at soup kitchens and homeless shelters all over the East Coast and stayed at dozens of Catholic Worker Houses around the country — Providence, Camden, Syracuse, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles — every one in a “tough” neighborhood. I lived in Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the mid-1990s, before you could get a $4 coffee or a zucchini scone on Van Brunt Street, before there was an Ikea or a Fairway in the neighborhood. All those tough communities, those places where President Trump imagines scenes of continual “American carnage,” and I’ve never again seen a gun.

Still, people obviously own them and use them in staggering numbers and in all sorts of destructive ways. Sensing that they’re widespread beyond my imagination, my husband and I have started asking the parents of our kids’ school friends if they own guns when we arrange play dates or sleepovers. We learned this from the father of a classmate of my 11-year-old stepdaughter Rosena. The dad called to make the arrangements for his son to come over after school. We talked logistics and food allergies and then he paused. “Now, I am sorry if this is intrusive,” he said, “but I do ask everyone: Do you keep guns in your house?” He sounded both uncomfortable and resolute.

I almost choked on my urge to say, “Don’t you know who I am?” In certain odd corners at least, my last name, Berrigan, is still synonymous with muscular pacifism and principled opposition to violence and weaponry of just about any kind, right up to the nuclear kind. But that dad probably didn’t even know my last name and it probably wouldn’t have meant a thing to him if he had. He just wanted to make sure his son was going to be safe and I was grateful that he asked — rather than just assuming, based on our Volvo-driving, thrift-shop-dressing, bumper-sticker-sporting lifestyle, that we didn’t.

“You know how kids are,” he said after I assured him that we were a gun-free household. “They’ll be into everything.”

And right he is. Kids are “into everything,” which is undoubtedly why so many of them end up with guns in their hands or bullets in their bodies.

“Do you question everyone about their guns?” I asked the dad. He replied that he did and, if they answered yes, then he’d ask whether those weapons were locked away, whether the ammunition was stored separately, and so on.

“Thank you so much. I think we need to start doing that too,” I said as our conversation was ending and indeed I have ever since.

It’s a subject worth raising, however awkward the conversation that follows may be, because two million kids in this country live in homes where guns are not stored safely and securely. So far this year, 59 kids have been hurt in gun accidents of one sort or another. On average, every 34 hours in our great nation a child is involved in an unintentional shooting incident, often with tragic consequences.

The National Rifle Association’s classic old argument, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” takes on a far harsher edge when you’re talking about a seven-year-old accidentally killing his nine-year-old brother with a gun they found while playing in an empty neighboring house in Arboles, Colorado.

Two weeks after we learn this new parenting life skill in this oh-so-new century of ours, my husband Patrick is on the phone with a mom arranging a sleepover for Rosena. I hear him fumble his way through the gun question. From his responses, I assume the mom is acknowledging that they do have guns. Then there’s the sort of long, awkward silence that seems part and parcel of such conversations before Patrick finally says, “Well, okay, thanks for being so honest. I appreciate that.”

He hangs up and looks at me. “They do keep guns for hunting and protection, but they’re locked up and out of sight,” he tells me. “The mom says that the kids have never tried to get at the guns, but she understands the dangers.” (He had heard in her voice apology, embarrassment, and worry that the guns might mean no sleepover.)

I grimaced in a way that said: I don’t think Rosena should go and he responded that he thought she should. The two of them then had a long conversation about what she should do and say if she sees a gun. She slept over and had a great time. A lesson in navigating difference, trusting our kid, and phew… no guns made an appearance. And we know more about our neighbors and our community.

Anything Can Be a Gun

My son Seamus, five, received an Easter basket from a family friend. He was happy about the candy of course and immediately smitten with the stuffed bunny, but he was over the moon about what he called his new “carrot gun.” It wasn’t a toy gun at all, but a little basket that popped out a light ball when you pressed a button.

The idea was that you’d catch the ball, put it back in, and do it again. But that wasn’t the game my kids played. They promptly began popping it at each other. His little sister Madeline, four, was in tattle mode almost immediately. “Mom, Seamus is shooting me with his carrot gun!”

“Mom, mom, mom,” he responded quickly, “it’s a pretend play gun, not a real play gun. It’s okay.” He made popping noises with his mouth and held his hand as if he were grasping a genuine forbidden toy gun. It was an important distinction for him. He’d been a full-throated participant in the March for Our Lives in Boston on March 24th, chanting with the rest of us “What do we want? Gun Control! When do we want it? NOW!” for four hours straight.

At the march, he pointed out that all the police officers managing traffic and the flow of people were wearing guns on their belts.

“I see a gun, Mom,” he kept saying, or “That police officer has a gun, Mom.”

Repeatedly, he noticed the means to kill — and then four days after that huge outpouring of youth-led activism for gun security, Stephon Clark was indeed gunned down in his grandmother’s backyard in Sacramento, California. The police officers who shot him were looking for someone who had been breaking car windows in the neighborhood and they fired 20 shots into the dark in his direction. The independent autopsy found that he had been hit eight times, mostly in his back. Clark turned out to be holding only a cellphone, though the police evidently mistook it for a tool bar, which could have done them no harm from that distance, even if he had wielded it as a weapon.

Maybe the police saw a weapon the same way my five-year-old son sees one. He can make a stick or just about anything else, including that little basket, into a “gun” and so evidently can the police. Police officers have killed black men and boys holding pipes, water hose nozzles, knives, and yes, toy guns, too.

Where Does the Violence Come From?

Parkland (17 killed, 14 wounded). Newtown (28 killed, 2 wounded). Columbine (15 killed, 21 injured). School shootings are now treated as a structural part of our lives. They have become a factor in school architecture, administrator training, city and state funding, and security plans. The expectation that something terrible will happen at school shapes the way that three- and four-year-olds are introduced to its culture. Part of their orientation now involves regular “shelter in place” and “secure-school” drills.

At my daughter’s pre-school, the kids are told that they’re hiding from rabid raccoons, those animals standing in for marauding, disaffected white boys or men roaming the halls armed. As parents, we need to do more than blindly accept that these traumatic exercises are preparing our kids for the worst and helping them survive. Kids are vulnerable little beings and there are countless dangers out there, but they have a one-in-600-million chance of dying in a school shooting. We endanger them so much more by texting while driving them home from school.

After every episode of violence at a school — or in the adult world at a church, night club, concert, movie theater, or workplace like San Bernardino’s Inland Regional Center or the YouTube headquarters — there’s always a huge chorus of “why”? Pundits look at the shooter’s history, his (it’s almost always a guy) trauma, and whatever might be known about his mental health. They speculate on his (or, in the rare case of those YouTube shootings, her) political leanings, racial hatreds, and ethnic background. The search for whys can lead to hand wringing about hard-driving rock music or nihilistic video games or endemic bullying — all of which could indeed be factors in the drive to kill significant numbers of unsuspecting people — but never go far enough or deep enough.

Two questions are answered far too infrequently: Where do the guns come from? Where does violence come from?

Guns of all sizes and description are manufactured and sold in this country in remarkable numbers, far more than can be legally absorbed in our already gun-saturated land, so thousands of them move instead into the gray and black markets. Evidence of this trend shows up repeatedly in Mexico, where 70% of the weapons seized in crimes between 2009 and 2014 turned out to be made in El Norte. We have an estimated 300 million guns in this country, making us first by far in the world in gun ownership and some of them couldn’t conceivably be used for “hunting.” They are military-style weapons meant to tear human flesh and nothing but that — like the AR-15 that 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz legally bought and used in his grim Parkland shooting spree.

This country, in other words, is a cornucopia of guns, which — honestly, folks — doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the Second Amendment.

Where does the violence come from? I’ve already shared my inexperience with guns. Now, let me add to it my inexperience with violence. I don’t know what it’s like to have to react in a split second to or flee an advancing perpetrator. No one has ever come at me with a gun or a knife or a pipe, or anything else for that matter. And I count myself lucky for that. In a nation in which, in 2016 alone, 14,925 people were killed due to gun violence and another 22,938 used a gun to kill themselves, it’s a significant thing to be able to say.

And yet, I know that I’m the product of violence (as well as the urge, in my own family, to protest and stop it): the violence of white privilege, the violence of American colonialism, the violence of American superpowerdom on a global scale… and that’s no small thing. It’s a lot easier to blame active-shooter scenarios on poor mental-health screening than on growing up in a world layered with the threat of pervasive violence.

Power is about never having to say you’re sorry, never being held accountable. And that’s hardly just a matter of police officers shooting black men and boys; it’s about the way in which this country is insulated from international opprobrium by its trillion-dollar national security state, a military that doesn’t hesitate to divide the whole world into seven U.S. “commands,” and a massive, planet-obliterating nuclear arsenal.

And don’t think that any of that’s just a reflection of Trumpian bombast and brutality either. That same sense of never having to say you’re sorry at a global level undergirded Barack Obama’s urbane dispassion, George Bush Junior’s silver spoon cluelessness, Bill Clinton’s folksy accessibility, George Bush Senior’s patrician poshness, Ronald Reagan’s aura of Hollywood charm, and Jimmy Carter’s southern version of the same. We’re talking about weapons systems designed to rain down a magnitude of terror unimaginable to the Nikolas Cruzes, Dylann Roofs, and Adam Lanzas of the world.

And it doesn’t even make us safe! All that money, all that knowledge, all that power put into the designing and displaying of weapons of mass destruction and we remain remarkably vulnerable as a nation. After all, in schools, homes, offices, neighborhoods across the country, we are being killed by our kids, our friends, our lovers, our police officers, our crumbling roads and bridges, our derailing trains. And then, of course, there are all those guns. Guns meant to destroy. Guns beyond counting.

So what might actually make us safer? After all, people theoretically buy the kind of firepower you might otherwise use only in war and pledge allegiance to the U.S. war machine in search of some chimera of safety. And yet, despite that classic NRA line — “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun” — are we truly safer in a nation awash in such weaponry with so many scrambling in a state of incipient panic to buy yet more? Are my kids truly on the way to a better life as they practice cowering in their cubbies in darkened classrooms for fear of invading rabid “raccoons”?

Don’t you think that true security lies not in our arming ourselves to the teeth against other people — that is, in our disconnection from them — but in our connection to them, to the web of mutuality that has bound societies, small and large, for millennia? Don’t you think that we would be more secure and so much less terrified if we found ways to acknowledge and share our relative abundance to meet the needs of others? In a world awash in guns and fears, doesn’t our security have to involve trust and courage and always be (at best) a work in progress?

As for me, I’m tackling that work in progress in whatever ways I can — with my neighbors, my town, my husband, and most of all my children, educating them in the ways violence scars and all those weapons just increase our journey into hell, never delivering the security they promise.

Frida Berrigan, a TomDispatch regular, writes the Little Insurrections blog for WagingNonviolence.org, is the author of It Runs In The Family: On Being Raised By Radicals and Growing Into Rebellious Motherhood, and lives in New London, Connecticut.

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« Reply #2411 on: Apr 17, 2018, 05:35 AM »

Paul Ryan has one last parting gift for the ultra-rich

Sophia Tesfaye,
17 Apr 2018 at 07:06 ET                  

It is yet another Tax Day in America. Eager to deliver another so-called win ahead of the midterm elections, Republicans are using the occasion to roll out even more tax cuts for the rich.

With fewer than half of Americans complaining that their personal tax obligation is too high — the smallest percentage in more than five years — and the recently passed GOP tax bill still significantly underwater, Republican lawmakers somehow think the best way to fend off building Democratic momentum is to reward wealthy GOP donors all over again.

Standing next to anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist (he of “drown government in the bathtub” fame), Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, recently announced his plan to ease the tax burden paid by America’s wealthiest citizens. Mind you, those people have already been helped out tremendously by the GOP’s tax law, which made a 40 percent reduction in the top corporate tax rate permanent while setting a 2025 expiration date on cuts to individual taxes and rates.

“When you’re investing more capital in businesses it means you’re hiring more people, it means you’re buying more equipment, it means you’re raising wages and that you’re driving economic growth,” Cruz said of his new proposal to index capital gains for inflation. The Texas Republican’s push for a second part of the GOP tax cuts is certain to exacerbate already growing concerns about budget deficits.

Just last week, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that the Republican tax cuts will fuel historic deficits. In March the federal deficit was $208 billion, an increase of $32 billion from last year. The Treasury Department had already said that the deficit increased 18.4 percent in February compared to 2017. GOP tax cuts are estimated to add $1 trillion or more to federal budget deficits over a decade, even after economic growth is taken into account.

Nevertheless, Republicans have stayed calm and carried on with tax cuts.

On Monday, President Donald Trump traveled to Florida where he praised the GOP tax law for driving one of the “greatest booms” to the U.S. economy. But job growth has actually slowed since Trump took office. Introducing his bill to discount capital gains taxes, in effect, to account for inflation, Ted Cruz claimed, “We’re seeing the economic benefits of this tax cut, even just a few months into it. Over four million Americans have already gotten pay raises or bonuses directly as a result of the tax cut.” But most Americans have not noticed a larger paycheck since the law was enacted, according to a CNBC poll released in March. A recent analysis from the pro-reform group Americans for Tax Fairness found that 433 corporations out of the Fortune 500 have not offered any bonuses or wage increase to employees since the passage of corporate tax cuts. Instead, the analysis found, companies spent 37 times as much on stock buybacks.

Even as GOP groups pour money into efforts to sell their tax cuts for the donor class to the voting base, the law remains massively unpopular. (A group linked to the Koch brothers has spent about $30 million in ads focusing on the tax law since August, and plans to run $400 million worth of ads in vulnerable GOP districts leading up to this year’s midterms.) Just 27 percent of Americans think the GOP tax cuts were a good idea, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Monday. In other words, the Republican tax plan has actually gotten less popular with voters over time.

But popularity was never really the goal, was it? The point was to starve the federal government of tax revenue in order to justify slashing the social safety net — something Republicans in Congress and the White House began to address in earnest last week.
Just one day after the CBO released its forecast of a ballooning federal deficit, Trump ordered federal agencies to conduct a broad review of so-called welfare programs to identify new work requirements to place on recipients. Right on time, House Republicans then introduced the 2018 Farm bill, featuring a stringent new proposal to mandate that adults between the ages of 18 and 59 work part-time jobs or be enrolled in at least 20 hours per week of job training in order to receive food stamps under the SNAP program.

Aside from the fact that SNAP spending is already down — from $79.8 billion in 2013 to about $70 billion in 2017 — the CBO estimates that as many as one million people could be kicked off the program as a result of Republicans’ proposed new rule. Most working-age SNAP recipients who don’t receive disability benefits already work, especially those able-bodied, childless adults who House Republicans claim abuse the system.

Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Congress followed up their corporate tax cuts with a massive omnibus budget that boosts spending past previous budget caps by $300 billion over two years.

On Tax Day 2018, just one week after House Speaker Paul Ryan announced his retirement at the age of 48 — after spending his entire adult life on the government “dole” — Republicans have once again laid bare their true intentions. Passing a deficit-busting tax bill was intended to explode the national debt and thereby endanger future funding for the tattered remnants of the social safety net that survived welfare reform in the 1990s — including Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

“We’re looking very strongly at welfare reform, and that’ll all take place right after taxes, very soon, very shortly after taxes,” President Trump promised when he was still lobbying members of his own party to pass the tax cuts last year. “People are taking advantage of the system,” he insisted.

Despite the unpopularity of GOP tax cuts, Republicans remain unwilling to let go of the Reaganite supply-side nonsense so memorably dubbed “voodoo economics” by former president George H.W. Bush. At least officially, they cling to the doctrine that slashing taxes will somehow increase revenues, with literally no evidence that this has ever worked. The only play they have left is to scream that Democrats who are trying to save the social safety net are really just implementing socialism.

“That’ll be the defining question in November,” House Ways and Means chair Kevin Brady, one of the architects of the tax overhaul, told Bloomberg, discussing the political effect of the tax cuts. “Do you want to go back to the bad old days where Washington took more of what you earned?”

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« Reply #2412 on: Apr 17, 2018, 05:38 AM »

Model claiming to know ‘a lot’ on Trump, Russia due in Thai court

Agence France-Presse
17 Apr 2018 at 05:56 ET                   

A Belarusian model detained in Thailand who claims to have revelations about alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US election was due in court Tuesday, in a case that grabbed widespread attention after her cryptic offers.

Anastasia Vashukevich, known by her pen name Nastya Rybka, was arrested with nine other foreigners in February when Thai police raided their sex training course in the seaside city of Pattaya.

She and six others were initially charged with lacking a work permit but are now facing additional charges of soliciting prostitution and criminal association, according to Apichai Krobpetch, Pattaya’s police chief.

Vashukevich, who is embroiled in a political scandal in Russia, made international headlines after she offered to reveal secrets to American journalists in a video posted on Instagram shortly after her arrest in Pattaya.

“They are trying to put us behind bars… That is why I am ready to tell you about all those missing puzzle pieces that you lacked… regarding a link between our esteemed lawmakers and (Paul) Manafort, Trump and all this brouhaha, the US elections,” she said in the video.

The model, who has written a book about seducing oligarchs, has not substantiated her claims but does have links to Russia’s elite.

She is facing a lawsuit in Russia over footage she filmed purporting to show an influential deputy prime minister, Sergei Prikhodko, enjoying lavish hospitality on a yacht owned by billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

The video went viral after it was published by top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny in February.

Deripaska, one of several Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the US this month, denied any wrongdoing and later sued Vashukevich and Alexander Kirillov, a “sex guru” who was also detained in Thailand, for invasion of privacy.

Deripaska, an aluminium tycoon, was once an associate of US President Donald Trump’s ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Manafort has been indicted on money laundering and tax-related charges as part of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

A participant in the sex training session who was not among those arrested told AFP that Vashukevich fears being deported back to Russia.

Three other participants have either been deported or are awaiting deportation, an immigration official told AFP.

The US Embassy in Bangkok has declined to comment on the case.

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« Reply #2413 on: Apr 17, 2018, 08:38 AM »

Former NSA analyst connects the dots between Sean Hannity, Julian Assange and Russian spies

Travis Gettys
17 Apr 2018 at 10:17 ET                   

Sean Hannity finds himself in a professionally problematic situation after he was outed in federal court as the mystery third client of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen — but he could potentially be in deeper trouble.

The Fox News broadcaster neglected to inform viewers of his personal ties to Cohen despite repeatedly discussing the attorney and the FBI raid on his home and office, which likely includes evidence related to Hannity’s discussions with him.

It’s not clear what evidence relating to Hannity could have been turned up by the search warrant, or whether those documents or recordings would be of any interest to investigators.

But former National Security analyst John Schindler and others have been warning for months that Hannity has helped the president spread Russian propaganda through his nightly Fox News broadcasts and daily syndicated radio program.

Schindler claims the Fox News broadcaster has been under counterintelligence investigation for his links to the Kremlin, which appear to run through WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

“We need to ask questions about Hannity’s relationship with the Kremlin, considering his track record of pushing rancid Russian disinformation on his Fox News program,” Schindler said. “Hannity is a propagandist, not a journalist, by his own admission, but if he has served as a witting conduit for lies crafted by Russian spies, Fox News needs to explain why they are airing Kremlin Active Measures aimed at the American public and calling it ‘news.'”

“Intelligence Community friends have told me that Sean Hannity has been under counterintelligence investigation for some time, based on his clandestine ties to Moscow,” he added. “Now we know why.”

Hannity played a key role in promoting a conspiracy theory about slain Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, whose family has sued Fox News over a since-retracted May 2017 article posted on the network’s website.

Fox News Malia Zimmerman and frequent Fox News guest Ed Butowsky reported that Rich had leaked thousands of internal DNC emails that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies believe were stolen by Russian hackers.

Schindler says the conspiracy theory originated just days after Rich’s murder on the shadowy conspiracy website Sorcha Faal — which claimed the 27-year-old was assassinated by a “hit team” linked to Hillary Clinton.

The website claimed its source was Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, and Schindler noted this “classic Kremlin disinformation” campaign was quickly picked up by Trump allies such as Hannity, Assange and Republican activist Roger Stone.

The Rich family’s lawsuit claims Trump himself reviewed drafts of the Fox News story last year before it was broadcast and published online.

WikiLeaks, which dumped the stolen emails online during the 2016 campaign, offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Rich’s killer — and Assange reportedly has been in contact with Hannity, Stone and Donald Trump Jr.

Stone appeared on the InfoWars radio show — where host Alex Jones also promoted the Rich conspiracy — the same day he sent an email claiming to have dined with Assange, and predicted “devastating” disclosures against the Clinton Foundation.

No evidence has turned up yet that Hannity and Assange were in contact during the campaign, but the WikiLeaks founder reached out to a parody Twitter account for the Fox News broadcaster that suggests the two men may have been in contact before — and Hannity has invited Assange to host his radio program.

Texas writer Dell Gilliam set up the phony account in January after Hannity’s legitimate account was briefly deleted after cryptically tweeting the phrase “Form Submission 1649 | #Hannity.”

Assange contacted the account, apparently believing it was the broadcaster, and offered to set up a meeting over “other channels” to send “some news about Warner.”

About a week later, Fox News broke into its evening programming to report on text messages between Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate’s Russia investigation, and a lobbyist linked to a Russian oligarch.

The texts had been reviewed months earlier by Republicans, who saw nothing suspicious about them, and Ed Henry, the Fox News reporter who broke the story, insisted WikiLeaks and Hannity played no role in his reporting.

Hannity hyped the report on his radio program, hours before Henry’s report came out, and Trump tweeted an attack on Warner’s credibility hours after it aired.

“Wow! -Senator Mark Warner got caught having extensive contact with a lobbyist for a Russian oligarch. Warner did not want a ‘paper trail’ on a ‘private’ meeting (in London) he requested with Steele of fraudulent Dossier fame. All tied into Crooked Hillary,” he tweeted.

Hannity also played a leading role in hyping a misleading memo written by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) intended to discredit the special counsel probe, which was also promoted by Russian bots on social media.

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« Reply #2414 on: Apr 18, 2018, 03:58 AM »

Human clones? The technology has nearly been perfected say scientists

Technology to make copies of animals has gotten good enough for companies to charge money to clone people's pets. Humans might not be too far away.

Immanuel Jotham
Apr 18, 2018 15:20 IST

The technology to successfully clone human beings is nearly there, but for a few scientific niggles. Also, social ethics and the taboo nature of this research seems to be the only things holding back reproductive cloning –cloning with the intent to create full-grown humans, for now.

For those who can afford it, there are private companies that are willing to clone their pets for them so that they can have a cat or a dog that will, for all intents and purposes live forever, notes a report by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

What then is cloning? Cloning is creating a living copy of an animal. Copies can be created by taking a whole adult cell and injecting it into an active egg that has been stripped of its own DNA. The embryo, if it survives, is a clone, notes MIT.

If animals like dogs and the famous "Dolly the sheep" can be cloned, then why not humans, one can be moved to ask. That is because the process of cloning is highly inefficient, notes the report. About one in hundred attempts lead to a live birth. This is not something that can, for now, be tested on humans. Most embryos don't make it, notes the report, some die in the IVF stage, others simply do not survive in the womb. Even if clones are born, a lot of them could suffer abnormalities and quickly die.

Having said that, over the last 15 years, genetics research and accompanying technology has grown significantly. Many hurdles that lead to defective births have been overcome, reports Futurism. In recent times, scientists have figured out how to unblock genes that are needed to help cells grow into full embryos. Some of these genes are not "turned on" in their default setting, says the report.

Chinese scientists who solved the gene issue have actually been successful in cloning monkeys, notes the report. So that means humans are next right? Not necessarily. The scientist who solved the gene puzzle and cloned monkeys points out that to create just two long-tailed macaques it took the researchers 63 surrogate mothers and 417 eggs, which in turn resulted in only six successful pregnancies.

While the science problems can be solved with just enough funding, researchers and time, what might, in fact be the biggest problem for human reproductive cloning might just be humans themselves. All forms of cloning is flat out banned in 46 countries, reproductive cloning is banned 32 more.

So for now, the only thing stopping an eccentric billionaire finding willing scientists and starting human factories in a country that doesn't ban cloning (like China), is the pressure of the diplomatic and scientific community, reports Futurism.

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