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« Reply #2370 on: May 17, 2018, 05:12 AM »

Trump faces North Korea dilemma after Bolton infuriates Pyongyang

Trump is keen to keep his appointment in Singapore but the row involving his national security adviser presents a serious hurdle

Julian Borger in Washington
Thu 17 May 2018 11.12 BST

North Korea’s denunciation of John Bolton has forced Donald Trump to decide whether to stick with his national security adviser and his hardline tactics, or push ahead with a summit with Kim Jong-un that will provide historic spectacle but an uncertain outcome.

Underlying the plans for the Singapore summit was a fundamental ambiguity over what “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” means. For Pyongyang it is a fluid term that means a long-term process of disarmament, involving all major powers, in whose ranks North Korea would henceforward be counted a member.

The Trump administration thought it meant – or wanted it to mean – that Kim was ready to give up the arsenal he had declared complete and operational in January. For his part, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who was tasked by Trump to set up the Kim summit, was ready to live with the ambiguity, at least until 12 June, when the unprecedented encounter is due to take place.

In weekend television appearances, Pompeo seemed to blur the US negotiating position, suggesting the aim was to prevent North Korea threatening the US mainland with nuclear weapons, a lower bar that would theoretically permit Pyongyang to retain some warheads as long as they did not build intercontinental missiles.

Ambiguity is not Bolton’s style, however. In his own, competing, TV appearances, he was adamant that North Korea would have to take all its weapons apart and ship the fissile material to the US. It was this, coupled his earlier reference to the “Libya model” – which for Pyongyang summons up the memory of Muammar Gaddafi’s brutalised body being paraded on a truck – that got the regime’s attention.

“It was quite deliberate. We all know how Gaddafi died,” said Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia nonproliferation programme at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies of Monterey. “You don’t bring up a man’s grisly murder as an inducement.”

Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it was likely to be the bragging that Kim had been forced to the table by Trump’s successful use of “maximum pressure” with sanctions and threats that had stung the Pyongyang regime most.

Kim has portrayed his diplomatic opening as a natural consequence of completing the decades-long project to build a nuclear arsenal.

“The North Koreans were prepared to ignore a lot of what the administration said before the summit, but it was the victory lap before the race that has really set them off,” Narang said.

Bolton has a track record with the North Koreans, who blame him for persuading the George W Bush administration to quit a 1994 nuclear deal, the Agreed Framework. In his memoir, Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton boasts about his success in torpedoing state department efforts to keep talks with Pyongyang alive, deriding the diplomats as appeasers.

At the time, the regime denounced him as “human scum” and a “bloodsucker”, banning him from any bilateral talks. On Wednesday, the first deputy prime minister, Kim Kye-gwan, made it clear that the regime’s antipathy had not mellowed with time, noting “we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him”.

Earlier in the week, a western diplomat had predicted that the inevitable compromise at a Kim summit could force a parting of the ways between Trump and his third national security adviser. Trump, who has basked in suggestions he might be eligible for the Nobel peace prize, is clearly keen to keep his appointment in Singapore. The weekend row could now bring his looming dilemma forward.

The White House on Wednesday was hedging its bets, with its spokeswoman pointedly distancing Trump from Bolton’s “Libyan model”.

“Sarah Sanders threw Bolton under a bus this morning,” Lewis said.


Trump: 'We'll see' if North Korea summit is on after Kim's threat to cancel

Pyongyang threatened to withdraw over ‘one-sided demands’ but Trump says he hasn’t been told talks have been axed

Julian Borger in Washington
Thu 17 May 2018 08.08 BST

Donald Trump is still ready to meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, at a summit next month, despite a statement from Pyongyang that it was not interested in discussing “one-sided” demands that it give up its nuclear weapons, the White House said on Wednesday.

Asked whether the summit, planned for 12 June in Singapore, was still on, Trump told reporters: “We’ll see what happens.”

He added that “we haven’t been notified at all” that the North Koreans had cancelled the meeting.

The president said he would insist on “denuclearisation” at a summit with Kim. However, the word is ambiguous. North Korea uses it to describe a long-term process in which all nuclear weapons powers would eventually disarm, while Trump administration officials have interpreted it as the dismantling and eradication of the North Korean nuclear weapons and long-range missile programmes.

That ambiguity, which allowed plans to go forward for the first ever summit between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, appeared to have been punctured over the weekend when John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, went on the Sunday talkshows to give their quite different versions of the US negotiating position.

Bolton and Pompeo claimed that Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” had forced Kim to the negotiating table.

    If they want to meet, we’ll be ready and if they don’t, that’s OK too
    Sarah Sanders

Bolton, however, went further than Pompeo in defining denuclearisation. He said it meant “getting rid of all the nuclear weapons, dismantling them, taking them to Oakridge, Tennessee. It means getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.”

His comments followed an earlier remark that the administration, in disarming North Korea, would adopt the Libya model, referring to Muammar Gaddafi’s surrender of his embryonic nuclear weapons programme in 2003. North Korean officials have repeatedly pointed to Gaddafi’s grisly death in a Nato-backed insurgency eight years later as a reason not to give up the country’s nuclear weapons.

Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first deputy minister of foreign affairs, rejected that position on Wednesday, singling out Bolton and his comments.

Kim said: “This is not an expression of intention to address the issue through dialogue. It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”

He concluded his statement by saying: “If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit.”

Responding to the North Korean statement, Bolton told Fox News Radio Wednesday that “we are trying to be both optimistic and realistic at the same time”.

He said that the personal attack on him raised the question of “whether this really is a sign that that they’re not taking our objective of denuclearization seriously.”

The White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, claimed the Trump administration had “fully expected” North Korea’s posturing, and left the door open to the summit going ahead.

“If they want to meet, we’ll be ready and if they don’t, that’s OK too,” Sanders said.

She distanced Trump from Bolton’s comments on the “Libya model”. She said she had not “seen that as part of any discussions so I’m not aware that that’s a model that we’re using”.

She added: “I haven’t seen that that’s a specific thing. I know that that comment was made. There’s not a cookie-cutter model on how this would work. This is the President Trump model. He’s going to run this the way he sees fit. We’re 100% confident, as we’ve said many times before, as I’m sure you’re all aware, he’s the best negotiator and we’re very confident on that front.”

North Korea had earlier called the Singapore summit into question over joint exercises by US and South Korean forces which Pyongyang said involved B-52 and F-22 warplanes, both capable of carrying nuclear bombs. It argued it represented a hostile gesture that violated an April agreement between the leaders of North and South Korea.

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that there were never plans to include B-52 bombers in the Max Thunder war games. F-22 fighters have already taken part.

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« Reply #2371 on: May 17, 2018, 05:33 AM »

Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation

By Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos
May 17, 2018
NY Times

WASHINGTON — Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.

Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane.

The name, a reference to the Rolling Stones lyric “I was born in a crossfire hurricane,” was an apt prediction of a political storm that continues to tear shingles off the bureau. Days after they closed their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, agents began scrutinizing the campaign of her Republican rival. The two cases have become inextricably linked in one of the most consequential periods in the history of the F.B.I.

This month, the Justice Department inspector general is expected to release the findings of its lengthy review of the F.B.I.’s conduct in the Clinton case. The results are certain to renew debate over decisions by the F.B.I. director at the time, James B. Comey, to publicly chastise Mrs. Clinton in a news conference, and then announce the reopening of the investigation days before Election Day. Mrs. Clinton has said those actions buried her presidential hopes.

Those decisions stand in contrast to the F.B.I.’s handling of Crossfire Hurricane. Not only did agents in that case fall back to their typical policy of silence, but interviews with a dozen current and former government officials and a review of documents show that the F.B.I. was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known. Many of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation but risked revealing the existence of the case. Top officials quickly became convinced that they would not solve the case before Election Day, which made them only more hesitant to act. When agents did take bold investigative steps, like interviewing the ambassador, they were shrouded in secrecy.

Fearful of leaks, they kept details from political appointees across the street at the Justice Department. Peter Strzok, a senior F.B.I. agent, explained in a text that Justice Department officials would find it too “tasty” to resist sharing. “I’m not worried about our side,” he wrote.

Only about five Justice Department officials knew the full scope of the case, officials said, not the dozen or more who might normally be briefed on a major national security case.

The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s future national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.

In the Clinton case, Mr. Comey has said he erred on the side of transparency. But in the face of questions from Congress about the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. declined to tip its hand. And when The New York Times tried to assess the state of the investigation in October 2016, law enforcement officials cautioned against drawing any conclusions, resulting in a story that significantly played down the case.

Mr. Comey has said it is unfair to compare the Clinton case, which was winding down in the summer of 2016, with the Russia case, which was in its earliest stages. He said he did not make political considerations about who would benefit from each decision.

But underpinning both cases was one political calculation: that Mrs. Clinton would win and Mr. Trump would lose. Agents feared being seen as withholding information or going too easy on her. And they worried that any overt actions against Mr. Trump’s campaign would only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.

The F.B.I. now faces those very criticisms and more. Mr. Trump says he is the victim of a politicized F.B.I. He says senior agents tried to rig the election by declining to prosecute Mrs. Clinton, then drummed up the Russia investigation to undermine his presidency. He has declared that a deeply rooted cabal — including his own appointees — is working against him.

That argument is the heart of Mr. Trump’s grievances with the federal investigation. In the face of bipartisan support for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, Mr. Trump and his allies have made a priority of questioning how the investigation was conducted in late 2016 and trying to discredit it.

“It’s a witch hunt,” Mr. Trump said last month on Fox News. “And they know that, and I’ve been able to message it.”

Congressional Republicans, led by Representative Devin Nunes of California, have begun to dig into F.B.I. files, looking for evidence that could undermine the investigation. Much remains unknown and classified. But those who saw the investigation up close, and many of those who have reviewed case files in the past year, say that far from gunning for Mr. Trump, the F.B.I. could actually have done more in the final months of 2016 to scrutinize his campaign’s Russia ties.

“I never saw anything that resembled a witch hunt or suggested that the bureau’s approach to the investigation was politically driven,” said Mary McCord, a 20-year Justice Department veteran and the top national security prosecutor during much of the investigation’s first nine months.

Crossfire Hurricane spawned a case that has brought charges against former Trump campaign officials and more than a dozen Russians. But in the final months of 2016, agents faced great uncertainty — about the facts, and how to respond.

Anxiety at the Bureau

Crossfire Hurricane began exactly 100 days before the presidential election, but if agents were eager to investigate Mr. Trump’s campaign, as the president has suggested, the messages do not reveal it. “I cannot believe we are seriously looking at these allegations and the pervasive connections,” Mr. Strzok wrote soon after returning from London.

The mood in early meetings was anxious, former officials recalled. Agents had just closed the Clinton investigation, and they braced for months of Republican-led hearings over why she was not charged. Crossfire Hurricane was built around the same core of agents and analysts who had investigated Mrs. Clinton. None was eager to re-enter presidential politics, former officials said, especially when agents did not know what would come of the Australian information.

The question they confronted still persists: Was anyone in the Trump campaign tied to Russian efforts to undermine the election?

The F.B.I. investigated four unidentified Trump campaign aides in those early months, congressional investigators revealed in February. The four men were Michael T. Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said. Each was scrutinized because of his obvious or suspected Russian ties.

Mr. Flynn, a top adviser, was paid $45,000 by the Russian government’s media arm for a 2015 speech and dined at the arm of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Manafort, the campaign chairman, had lobbied for pro-Russia interests in Ukraine and worked with an associate who has been identified as having connections to Russian intelligence.

Mr. Page, a foreign policy adviser, was well known to the F.B.I. He had previously been recruited by Russian spies and was suspected of meeting one in Moscow during the campaign.

Lastly, there was Mr. Papadopoulos, the young and inexperienced campaign aide whose wine-fueled conversation with the Australian ambassador set off the investigation. Before hacked Democratic emails appeared online, he had seemed to know that Russia had political dirt on Mrs. Clinton. But even if the F.B.I. had wanted to read his emails or intercept his calls, that evidence was not enough to allow it. Many months passed, former officials said, before the F.B.I. uncovered emails linking Mr. Papadopoulos to a Russian intelligence operation.

Mr. Trump was not under investigation, but his actions perplexed the agents. Days after the stolen Democratic emails became public, he called on Russia to uncover more. Then news broke that Mr. Trump’s campaign had pushed to change the Republican platform’s stance on Ukraine in ways favorable to Russia.

The F.B.I.’s thinking crystallized by mid-August, after the C.I.A. director at the time, John O. Brennan, shared intelligence with Mr. Comey showing that the Russian government was behind an attack on the 2016 presidential election. Intelligence agencies began collaborating to investigate that operation. The Crossfire Hurricane team was part of that group but largely operated independently, three officials said.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said that after studying the investigation as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he saw no evidence of political motivation in the opening of the investigation.

“There was a growing body of evidence that a foreign government was attempting to interfere in both the process and the debate surrounding our elections, and their job is to investigate counterintelligence,” he said in an interview. “That’s what they did.”

Abounding Criticism

Looking back, some inside the F.B.I. and the Justice Department say that Mr. Comey should have seen the political storm coming and better sheltered the bureau. They question why he consolidated the Clinton and Trump investigations at headquarters, rather than in a field office. And they say he should not have relied on the same team for both cases. That put a bull’s-eye on the heart of the F.B.I. Any misstep in either investigation made both cases, and the entire bureau, vulnerable to criticism.

And there were missteps. Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director, was cited by internal investigators for dishonesty about his conversations with reporters about Mrs. Clinton. That gave ammunition for Mr. Trump’s claims that the F.B.I. cannot be trusted. And Mr. Strzok and Lisa Page, an F.B.I. lawyer, exchanged texts criticizing Mr. Trump, allowing the president to point to evidence of bias when they became public.

The messages were unsparing. They questioned Mr. Trump’s intelligence, believed he promoted intolerance and feared he would damage the bureau.

The inspector general’s upcoming report is expected to criticize those messages for giving the appearance of bias. It is not clear, however, whether inspectors found evidence supporting Mr. Trump’s assertion that agents tried to protect Mrs. Clinton, a claim the F.B.I. has adamantly denied.

Mr. Rubio, who has reviewed many of the texts and case files, said he saw no signs that the F.B.I. wanted to undermine Mr. Trump. “There might have been individual agents that had views that, in hindsight, have been problematic for those agents,” Mr. Rubio said. “But whether that was a systemic effort, I’ve seen no evidence of it.”

Mr. Trump’s daily Twitter posts, though, offer sound-bite-sized accusations — witch hunt, hoax, deep state, rigged system — that fan the flames of conspiracy. Capitol Hill allies reliably echo those comments.

“It’s like the deep state all got together to try to orchestrate a palace coup,” Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, said in January on Fox Business Network.

Counterintelligence investigations can take years, but if the Russian government had influence over the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. wanted to know quickly. One option was the most direct: interview the campaign officials about their Russian contacts.

That was discussed but not acted on, two former officials said, because interviewing witnesses or subpoenaing documents might thrust the investigation into public view, exactly what F.B.I. officials were trying to avoid during the heat of the presidential race.

“You do not take actions that will unnecessarily impact an election,” Sally Q. Yates, the former deputy attorney general, said in an interview. She would not discuss details, but added, “Folks were very careful to make sure that actions that were being taken in connection with that investigation did not become public.”

Mr. Comey was briefed regularly on the Russia investigation, but one official said those briefings focused mostly on hacking and election interference. The Crossfire Hurricane team did not present many crucial decisions for Mr. Comey to make.

Top officials became convinced that there was almost no chance they would answer the question of collusion before Election Day. And that made agents even more cautious.

The F.B.I. obtained phone records and other documents using national security letters — a secret type of subpoena — officials said. And at least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said. That has become a politically contentious point, with Mr. Trump’s allies questioning whether the F.B.I. was spying on the Trump campaign or trying to entrap campaign officials.

Looking back, some at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. now believe that agents could have been more aggressive. They ultimately interviewed Mr. Papadopoulos in January 2017 and managed to keep it a secret, suggesting they could have done so much earlier.

“There is always a high degree of caution before taking overt steps in a counterintelligence investigation,” said Ms. McCord, who would not discuss details of the case. “And that could have worked to the president’s benefit here.”

Such tactical discussions are reflected in one of Mr. Strzok’s most controversial texts, sent on Aug. 15, 2016, after a meeting in Mr. McCabe’s office.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected,” Mr. Strzok wrote, “but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”

Mr. Trump says that message revealed a secret F.B.I. plan to respond to his election. “‘We’ll go to Phase 2 and we’ll get this guy out of office,’” he told The Wall Street Journal. “This is the F.B.I. we’re talking about — that is treason.”

But officials have told the inspector general something quite different. They said Ms. Page and others advocated a slower, circumspect pace, especially because polls predicted Mr. Trump’s defeat. They said that anything the F.B.I. did publicly would only give fodder to Mr. Trump’s claims on the campaign trail that the election was rigged.

Mr. Strzok countered that even if Mr. Trump’s chances of victory were low — like dying before 40 — the stakes were too high to justify inaction.

Mr. Strzok had similarly argued for a more aggressive path during the Clinton investigation, according to four current and former officials. He opposed the Justice Department’s decision to offer Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers immunity and negotiate access to her hard drives, the officials said. Mr. Strzok favored using search warrants or subpoenas instead.

In both cases, his argument lost.

The F.B.I. bureaucracy did agents no favors. In July, a retired British spy named Christopher Steele approached a friend in the F.B.I. overseas and provided reports linking Trump campaign officials to Russia. But the documents meandered around the F.B.I. organizational chart, former officials said. Only in mid-September, congressional investigators say, did the records reach the Crossfire Hurricane team.

Mr. Steele was gathering information about Mr. Trump as a private investigator for Fusion GPS, a firm paid by Democrats. But he was also considered highly credible, having helped agents unravel complicated cases.

In October, agents flew to Europe to interview him. But Mr. Steele had become frustrated by the F.B.I.’s slow response. He began sharing his findings in September and October with journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere, according to congressional testimony.

So as agents tried to corroborate Mr. Steele’s information, reporters began calling the bureau, asking about his findings. If the F.B.I. was working against Mr. Trump, as he asserts, this was an opportunity to push embarrassing information into the news media shortly before the election.

That did not happen. Most news organizations did not publish Mr. Steele’s reports or reveal the F.B.I.’s interest in them until after Election Day.

Congress was also increasingly asking questions. Mr. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, had briefed top lawmakers that summer about Russian election interference and intelligence that Moscow supported the Trump campaign — a finding that would not become public for months. Lawmakers clamored for information from Mr. Comey, who refused to answer public questions.

Many Democrats see rueful irony in this moment. Mr. Comey, after all, broke with policy and twice publicly discussed the Clinton investigation. Yet he refused repeated requests to discuss the Trump investigation.

Mr. Comey has said he regrets his decision to chastise Mrs. Clinton as “extremely careless,” even as he announced that she should not be charged. But he stands by his decision to alert Congress, days before the election, that the F.B.I. was reopening the Clinton inquiry.

The result, though, is that Mr. Comey broke with both policy and tradition in Mrs. Clinton’s case, but hewed closely to the rules for Mr. Trump. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that alone proves Mr. Trump’s claims of unfairness to be “both deeply at odds with the facts, and damaging to our democracy.”

Spying in Question

Crossfire Hurricane began with a focus on four campaign officials. But by mid-fall 2016, Mr. Page’s inquiry had progressed the furthest. Agents had known Mr. Page for years. Russian spies tried to recruit him in 2013, and he was dismissive when agents warned him about it, a half-dozen current and former officials said. That warning even made its way back to Russian intelligence, leaving agents suspecting that Mr. Page had reported their efforts to Moscow.

Relying on F.B.I. information and Mr. Steele’s, prosecutors obtained court approval to eavesdrop on Mr. Page, who was no longer with the Trump campaign.

That warrant has become deeply contentious and is crucial to Republican arguments that intelligence agencies improperly used Democratic research to help justify spying on the Trump campaign. The inspector general is reviewing that claim.

Ms. Yates, the deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, signed the first warrant application. But subsequent filings were approved by members of Mr. Trump’s own administration: the acting attorney general, Dana J. Boente, and then Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

“Folks are very, very careful and serious about that process,” Ms. Yates said. “I don’t know of anything that gives me any concerns.”

After months of investigation, Mr. Papadopoulos remained largely a puzzle. And agents were nearly ready to close their investigation of Mr. Flynn, according to three current and former officials. (Mr. Flynn rekindled the F.B.I.’s interest in November 2016 by signing an op-ed article that appeared to be written on behalf of the Turkish government, and then making phone calls to the Russian ambassador that December.)

In late October, in response to questions from The Times, law enforcement officials acknowledged the investigation but urged restraint. They said they had scrutinized some of Mr. Trump’s advisers but had found no proof of any involvement with Russian hacking. The resulting article, on Oct. 31, reflected that caution and said that agents had uncovered no “conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.”

The key fact of the article — that the F.B.I. had opened a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign — was published in the 10th paragraph.

A year and a half later, no public evidence has surfaced connecting Mr. Trump’s advisers to the hacking or linking Mr. Trump himself to the Russian government’s disruptive efforts. But the article’s tone and headline — “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia” — gave an air of finality to an investigation that was just beginning.

Democrats say that article pre-emptively exonerated Mr. Trump, dousing chances to raise questions about the campaign’s Russian ties before Election Day.

Just as the F.B.I. has been criticized for its handling of the Trump investigation, so too has The Times.

For Mr. Steele, it dashed his confidence in American law enforcement. “He didn’t know what was happening inside the F.B.I.,” Glenn R. Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, testified this year. “And there was a concern that the F.B.I. was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people.”

Assurances Amid Doubt

Two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, senior American intelligence officials briefed him at Trump Tower in Manhattan on Russian hacking and deception. They reported that Mr. Putin had tried to sow chaos in the election, undermine Mrs. Clinton and ultimately help Mr. Trump win.

Then Mr. Comey met with Mr. Trump privately, revealing the Steele reports and warning that journalists had obtained them. Mr. Comey has said he feared making this conversation a “J. Edgar Hoover-type situation,” with the F.B.I. presenting embarrassing information to lord over a president-elect.

In a contemporaneous memo, Mr. Comey wrote that he assured Mr. Trump that the F.B.I. intended to protect him on this point. “I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook,” Mr. Comey wrote of Mr. Steele’s documents. “I said it was important that we not give them the excuse to write that the F.B.I. had the material.”

Mr. Trump was not convinced — either by the Russia briefing or by Mr. Comey’s assurances. He made up his mind before Mr. Comey even walked in the door. Hours earlier, Mr. Trump told The Times that stories about Russian election interference were being pushed by his adversaries to distract from his victory.

And he debuted what would quickly become a favorite phrase: “This is a political witch hunt.”


Trump discloses he reimbursed Michael Cohen for up to $250,000 in 2017

Footnote buried in financial records confirms Trump paid Cohen for ‘expenses’, worth between $100,000 and $250,000

Joanna Walters and agencies
17 May 2018 21.11 BST

Donald Trump has officially disclosed – via a footnote in tiny print buried in his newly released financial records – that he reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for up to $250,000 in 2017.

The exact reason for the payment is not given, beyond being stated as covering “expenses”, but came in the aftermath of Cohen paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump a decade before he became president.

The revelation on Wednesday came as part of the president’s annual financial disclosure, submitted to the US Office of Government Ethics (OGE).

The document stated: “In the interest of transparency, while not required to be disclosed as ‘reportable liabilities’ on part 8, in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen.”

The statement is a footnote on page 45 of the 92-page disclosure, in tiny print, and goes on to say: “Mr Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr Trump fully reimbursed Mr Cohen in 2017.” It declares that the value of the payment ranged from $100,000 to $250,000.

Ethics experts had been watching closely for the document to see if Trump would confirm that he paid Cohen back for the lawyer’s outlay – concerned that if the president did not he would be in breach of ethics laws.

Rudy Giuliani, the high-profile new name on Trump’s legal team, mentioned in a bombshell revelation on Fox TV earlier this month that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for paying Daniels, a point which the president had expressly denied when earlier asked about it by reporters aboard Air Force One.

Trump then acknowledged, via Twitter, the substance of Giuliani’s assertion, which prompted 48 hours of contradictory follow-ups by both Giuliani and the White House about what Trump knew and when he might have known it, about any payments. The week culminated in Stormy Daniels’ lawyer predicting Trump would end up being forced to resign. Trump denies the alleged affair with Daniels, who has said she prefers using her stage name to her real name of Stephanie Clifford.

Walter Shaub, the former director of the OGE, and Adav Noti, senior director for the Campaign Legal Center watchdog group, wrote in an opinion article for USA Today earlier this week that Trump was legally obliged to include the payment in the latest disclosure and should have done so in the previous filing that he submitted last year.

The government added its own footnote to the 2018 disclosure, saying: “OGE has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability.”

The footnote about the Cohen payment appears in a report giving the first extended look at Trump’s income from his properties since he became president. Among his holdings, he took in $25m from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.


Ethics Office has ‘essentially’ reported Trump to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
16 May 2018 at 14:17 ET                  

MSNBC chief legal correspondent Ari Melber reports that the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) sent a letter to the Department of Justice on President Donald Trump’s hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Former Department of Justice spokesperson Matt Miller described the letter as “essentially a criminal referral to DOJ for Trump making a false statement in a previous financial disclosure.”

“Fascinated by OGE’s decision to make this referral public,” he continued. “Leaves DOJ no choice but to open at least a preliminary investigation into Trump for false statements (if he wasn’t already a subject in the Cohen inquiry, which he might be).”

Walter Shaub, the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, went even further than Miller.

“This is tantamount to a criminal referral,” Shaub suggested. “OGE has effectively reported the president to DOJ for potentially committing a crime.”
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‘He’s in trouble’: Ex-FBI official explains how latest Michael Cohen bombshells are ‘awful’ news for Trump

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
17 May 2018 at 06:52 ET                  

President Donald Trump amended his financial disclosure forms to show a payment to attorney Michael Cohen — and a former top law enforcement official says he’s in “trouble.”

The Office of Government Ethics publicly asked the Department of Justice to investigate the reimbursement to Cohen, which is essentially a criminal referral, and former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi explained to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” what the news means for the president and his legal team.

“I come up with three scenarios, two of them are awful for the president,” said Figliuzzi, the former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence.

“The first one lacks credulity, that is that the president knew nothing about the payments,” Figliuzzi said. “He’s a good guy trying to repay his lawyer, Cohen, who tells him after the fact, ‘I need compensation.’ We’ve gone beyond that because Giuliani has said that the president knows Michael takes care of such things.”

“Scenario Np. 2 is the that president knew this was being done, he knew fictitious corporations might be set up,” the former FBI official said. “He knew a bank, a loan might have been set up fictitiously and there was money laundering or foreign governments involved. That makes him a co-conspirator for those underlying violations.”

“The third scenario is he found out later that things done were illegal and he paid Michael back,” Figliuzzi added. “That makes him an accessory after the fact. He’s in trouble.”

After a commercial break, Figliuzzi said the president’s longtime lawyer presents a significant risk, because Cohen is likely facing a significant prison sentence once he’s inevitably indicted on a variety of criminal charges.

“He’s one of the few people that I believe can raise the flag and say, ‘I’ve got what you need’ — and I think that’s going to happen,” Figliuzzi said. “When he sees the federal sentencing guidelines, the criminal exposure he has, he goes back to his family and says, ‘You’re not going to see me for decades.’ He’s going to flip, and how does he save himself? He talks about the big man, he talks about the president of the United States.”


‘These aren’t people — these are animals’: Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric reaches scary new intensity

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
16 May 2018 at 17:51 ET                  

Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric hit a scary new intensity on Wednesday afternoon.

The president, who made waves early in his campaign by calling Mexicans murderers and rapists, and is now denying the humanity of the humans who try to come to this country for a better life.

“These aren’t people, these are animals,” Trump said in view of C-SPAN’s cameras.

“We’re taking people out of the country—you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” he said. “We’re taking them out of the country at a level and a rate that’s never happened before.”

Trump then complained about the United States’ immigration laws, which he said were the “dumbest” in the world.

    President Trump during California #SanctuaryCities Roundtable: “These aren’t people. These are animals.”

    Full video here: https://t.co/alyS47LI5V pic.twitter.com/ifXicTHHP0

    — CSPAN (@cspan) May 16, 2018


‘Congratulations America’: Trump celebrates Mueller anniversary with bizarre tweet accusing Democrats of collusion

Brad Reed
Raw Story
18 May 2018 at 07:35 ET                  

President Donald Trump on Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the Mueller probe by issuing a bizarre tweet in which he accused Democrats of colluding with Russia.

“Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History… and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction,” the president wrote. “The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!”

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05/17/2018 06:13 PM

Trump and Iran: Time for Europe to Join the Resistance

A DER SPIEGEL Editorial by Klaus Brinkbäumer

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal marks the temporary suspension of the trans-Atlantic alliance. What now?

Trump's renown is rooted in American hero myths. Trump says that women like Carla Bruni lust after him, something that women like Carla Bruni vehemently deny. Trump says he is exorbitantly rich, yet Trump ran himself into the ground with his casinos to the point that he was 295 million dollars in debt in 1990. He was bailed out by the banks and by his father. The greatest myth, though, has to do with Trump's alleged negotiating expertise. This too is nonsense. Trump was never proficient in the art of the deal. As a businessman, he paid far too much for substandard properties and has shown no patience as a politician. He isn't curious. His preparation is nonexistent. Strategy and tactics are both foreign to him. Trump is only proficient in destruction. And that's what he does.

He backed out of the Paris climate agreement while promising a "better deal for America." But nothing came of the promise, neither a plan nor meaningful talks. In Trump's Washington, the only thing that matters is dismantling the legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump also promised to improve Obama's health care plan, but the details are complex and bothersome. So Trump destroyed Obamacare and has done nothing to replace it.

Now, he is playing the same game on the world stage with the Iran nuclear deal. Trump refers to it as "the worst deal ever," which is why he has now pulled the U.S. out of it. The negotiations that resulted in the deal in 2015 were a masterpiece of international diplomacy, but there are no plans in place to launch new talks.

Trump wants to bring the Iran regime to its knees with sanctions, but domestic political considerations in Tehran make it unlikely that the country will buckle. Leaders who demonstrate weakness in Iran are discarded. It seems more likely that they will close ranks. Iran-supported groups like Hezbollah are likely to pour fuel on the fire of conflicts in Yemen or Lebanon -- as close as possible to Israel's border. Iran presumably won't pursue the path of extreme escalation, since such a path wouldn't be beneficial, but it will likely cease allowing observers into the country, stop providing information on its uranium enrichment activities. It will seek to conceal what the West would like to know.

And what are the benefits of Washington's radical move? There are none. Just chaos where there was once order. Just American capriciousness after decades of stability.

The most shocking realization, however, is one that affects us directly: The West as we once knew it no longer exists. Our relationship to the United States cannot currently be called a friendship and can hardly be referred to as a partnership. President Trump has adopted a tone that ignores 70 years of trust. He wants punitive tariffs and demands obedience. It is no longer a question as to whether Germany and Europe will take part in foreign military interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is now about whether trans-Atlantic cooperation on economic, foreign and security policy even exists anymore. The answer: No. It is impossible to overstate what Trump has dismantled in the last 16 months. Europe has lost its protective power. It has lost its guarantor of joint values. And it has lost the global political influence that it was only able to exert because the U.S. stood by its side. And what will happen in the remaining two-and-a-half years (or six-and-a-half years) of Trump's leadership? There is plenty of time left for further escalation.

Every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., senior DER SPIEGEL editors gather to discuss the lead editorial of the week and ultimately, the meeting seeks to address the question: "What now?" Simply describing a problem isn't enough, a good editorial should point to potential solutions. It has rarely been as quiet as during this week's meeting.

Europe should begin preparing for a post-Trump America and seek to avoid provoking Washington until then. It can demonstrate to Iran that it wishes to hold on to the nuclear deal and it can encourage mid-sized companies without American clients to continue doing business with Iranian partners. Perhaps the EU will be able to find ways to protect larger companies. Europe should try to get the United Nations to take action, even if it would only be symbolic given that the U.S. holds a Security Council veto. For years, Europe has been talking about developing a forceful joint foreign policy, and it has become more necessary than ever. But what happens then?

The difficulty will be finding a balance between determination and tact. Triumphant anti-Americanism is just as dangerous as defiance. But subjugation doesn't lead anywhere either -- because Europe cannot support policies that it finds dangerous. Donald Trump also has nothing but disdain for weakness and doesn't reward it.

Clever resistance is necessary, as sad and absurd as that may sound. Resistance against America.


05/17/2018 09:33 PM

Exit from Iran Deal: Trump Strikes a Deep Blow to Trans-Atlantic Ties

With his decision to blow up the Iran deal, U.S. President Donald Trump has thrown Europe into uncertainty and anxiety -- and raised the specter of a new war in the Middle East. One thing is certain: the trans-Atlantic relationship has been seriously damaged. By DER SPIEGEL Staff

On Thursday, towards the end of a week that began for both of them with a slap in the face from the American president, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were standing together in the Coronation Hall of the Aachen Town Hall doing their best to project confidence. The French president had just been awarded the International Charlemagne Prize and Merkel had held the laudation. They praised each other and confirmed their unity -- even if they aren't entirely on the same page when it comes to the future of Europe.

But they do agree on one issue: Donald Trump. Lately, the American president has emerged as a great unifier of Europe. Ever since Trump's Tuesday announcement that the U.S. was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the core pieces of international diplomacy in recent years, the Europeans have been united in shock, in anger at Trump's irresponsible move and in their refusal to accept it. But they are also united in their helplessness when it comes to dealing with this new America.

The joint appearance by Macron and Merkel would have been a perfect opportunity for a unified reply to Donald Trump. For a joint vision of European foreign policy and a powerful appearance of decisive European politicians. They could have sought to reassure the people of Europe and demonstrate that they had a plan. But none of that came to pass.

What, after all, can Europe do?

The American withdrawal from the Iran deal is the most dangerous and cavalier foreign policy decision that a U.S. president has made since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The risk is very real that the move will worsen tensions in an already unstable Middle East and lead to an American-led war against Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quick to threaten a return to industrial-scale uranium enrichment and few doubt that such an eventuality could lead to conflict.

It became abundantly clear early Thursday morning just how tense the situation was, with the most serious confrontation yet between the Iranian Quds Force, operating in Syria, and Israel. Israel claims Iran first fired around 20 missiles at the Golan Heights, an area under Israeli control. The Israeli military says it responded with a massive attack on around 35 Iranian targets within Syria. The possibility of escalation in the region, of course, existed prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal. But the episode makes it clear how dangerous the current situation in the region is.

Attack on Europe's Pride

The mood in Paris, Brussels and Berlin is reminiscent of the period just prior to the war in Iraq. Most of Europe refused to back the U.S. in that conflict, even if the British and the Italians joined then-President George W. Bush in the offensive. This time around, however, the Europeans are united in their desire to preserve the deal with Iran, even if nobody knows how they might be able to.

An attack on the Iran deal is an attack on the pride of European foreign policy. To be sure, EU member states often find it impossible to produce a joint statement on overseas developments, such as the U.S. decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But Europe has consistently demonstrated unity on the Iran deal and along with Germany, France and Britain, the EU was a decisive participant in the talks.

For the EU's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, the treaty is proof of the influence united European diplomacy can have. She has an original copy of the deal on display in her office on the upper floors of the European Commission building in Brussels. It is opened to the page bearing the signatures of those involved, including that of John Kerry, who was U.S. secretary of state at the time.

Hardly surprising, then, that Mogherini adopted an aggressive tone on Tuesday evening when she stepped before the cameras at 8:30 p.m. in Rome just a few minutes after Trump had made his announcement. The nuclear deal, she said, is culmination of 12 years of diplomacy. "It belongs to the entire international community." She then appealed to Iran to continue to adhere to the deal. "Stay true to your commitments, as we will stay true to ours."

The idea behind this treaty, which was ratified by the UN Security Council, is that Iran would refrain for 10 years from further developing its nuclear program and in return the West would significantly reduce economic sanctions in place against the country. Because nobody trusted Iran's word, given past breeches of trust, the deal is based on a system of inspections and controls. Iran adhered to the deal, which was finalized in 2015 under the leadership of Barack Obama, but many Republicans in the U.S. nevertheless rejected it from the very beginning.

Farewell to America

In truth, Trump hasn't backed out of the deal, he has violated it by simply reimposing sanctions against Iran. That is the view widely held in the German government as well.

More than anything, though, Trump has humiliated Europe to a greater degree than any U.S. president before him. Macron fawned over him recently in the White House, Merkel swung by for a working lunch and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson also made the trip across the Atlantic in an attempt to save the deal and somehow find some kind of a compromise. But it was all in vain.

In the end, Trump backed out of the deal in the most brutal manner possible, with a combative speech and the reintroduction of all sanctions against Iran. He was unable to offer any convincing reasons for why he has chosen this particular moment in time to leave the deal. He wasn't even able to claim that Iran hadn't lived up to its end of the bargain because Tehran has demonstrably adhered to its provisions.

To complete Europe's humiliation, Trump's new U.S. ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, sent out a tweet this week demanding that German companies immediately begin winding down their operations in Iran. It sounded more like the words of a colonial power issuing orders than those of a diplomat in an allied country.

It isn't the first time that America's traditional trans-Atlantic allies have received such shabby treatment from Trump. The U.S. president has repeatedly accused his NATO partners of being freeloaders, he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement despite massive protest from Europe and he has indicated his willingness to start a trade war with the EU. Europe has had some kind of answer to all of these provocations: The NATO critiques from Washington have either been ignored or have led to promises of more defense spending in the future. On the Paris agreement, Trump's announcement has been more symbolic than real since large states like California are continuing to adhere to the deal's provisions. And when it comes to trade, Europe is a heavy hitter itself.

But Washington's violation of the Iran deal hits Europe hard. Although it has been clear for months that Trump was leaning toward taking such a step, it isn't obvious what might happen next. Europe seems woefully unprepared. In the days following Trump's announcement, Berlin, Paris and London have repeatedly said that they would continue to uphold the deal, that not much will change for companies interested in doing business in Iran and that options for protecting companies are being explored. But when asked what exactly such protections might look like, nobody has an adequate answer.

'An Existential Necessity'

In Aachen on Tuesday, Merkel essentially repeated the sentences she uttered last year during an appearance in Bavaria: "Europe can no longer rely on the U.S. It must take its fate into its own hands." Last year, her statement to that effect caused quite a stir both within Germany and beyond. This time, it was merely a statement of fact: The trans-Atlantic relationship has suffered tremendous damage. Merkel added that a joint foreign policy was "an existential necessity."

But is that something Europe is able to do? Is it able to declare independence from the West's traditional leader? Is it able to come to agreement on joint positions? And how can Europe defend itself when the German military is having trouble keeping such fundamental equipment as planes and submarines operational?

The feeling of alienation runs deep. Wolfgang Ischinger, formerly Germany's ambassador in Washington and currently the head of the Munich Security Conference, tweeted this week: "Is the transatlantic alliance dead? If one side refuses to even consider the arguments presented by the other side: are we still together, as we try to manage challenges to our shared security interests? Or are we now drifting apart for good? Sad questions!"

It sounds like a couple that, despite their best intentions to stay together, doesn't seem capable of making things work.

"In one respect, the trans-Atlantic alliance is indispensable for the foreseeable future, namely on the issue of nuclear protection," Ischinger says. "That cannot be replaced by anyone else. From a security perspective, we cannot cut the umbilical cord that binds us to the U.S." He adds: "Given our security policy interests, there is nothing we can do except lament the loss of a real partnership while nevertheless doing all we can to overcome this phase and work towards the time in two-and-a-half years when Trump is no longer in office and there is a new situation. For now, we have to hunker down as best we can."

Now that Trump has violated the nuclear deal, Europeans have three significant concerns: the consequences for Middle Eastern and European security; the risks for European companies that have invested in Iran; and the future of the relationship with the U.S. Niels Annen, minister of state in the Foreign Ministry, told DER SPIEGEL that Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal is "an erroneous decision with long-term, grave consequences for our relationship."

'Deeply Frustrated'

A member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Annen was in the U.S. capital this week for talks. When Trump announced his decision, Annen was sitting in the office of presidential adviser Fiona Hill, who specializes in issues pertaining to Russia and Europe in the National Security Council. Annen knows Hill well from her stint in the Brookings Institution, but the respect he has for her personally has not been enough to bridge their policy differences. There have been significant disagreements between Berlin and Washington in the past, Annen says, such as on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But, he adds, the feeling that they were pursuing shared goals was never lost.

That has changed under Trump, Annen says. Whether it is about trade or about the Iran deal: "Our core interests are now at stake," he says. "We must regrettably realize that there is hardly a willingness on the U.S. side to take arguments of their allies seriously." As a foreign policy practitioner, he says, you get used to reversals. "But when I was sitting in the airplane back to Europe this week, I was deeply frustrated for the first time."

On the way to his visit to Moscow on Thursday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told DER SPIEGEL: "The transformation the U.S. is undergoing has long since left its mark on the trans-Atlantic relationship. That is something that we had begun to feel long before the Tuesday evening disappointment. Nevertheless: We will continue seeking to work together with the U.S. on all policy areas. We are prepared to talk, to negotiate, but also to fight for our interests where necessary. At all levels, not just in the White House."

That sort of language used to be reserved for problematic nations of the world. Not for Germany's most important ally.

The President and the Hardliner

As Donald Trump was holding his 11-minute tirade against the Iran deal on Tuesday, a man was standing silently in the doorway of the Diplomatic Reception Room. John Bolton looked serious but satisfied. But it didn't take long for the mask to come off. "We're out of the deal," he crowed a quarter-hour later to a room full of journalists in the White House. And he then repeated the sentence a second and then a third time: "We're out of the deal." He seemed liberated, almost euphoric. A furious warrior had achieved his target.

There is hardly a crisis in the world that John Bolton does not feel can be solved with war. The solution to Saddam Hussein-controlled Iraq? Bombing. Iran under Hassan Rouhani? Bombing as necessary. Libya? Syria? North Korea? Apply pressure, regime change, bombing. For Bolton, war is a more effective extension of politics. If there is one thing you can't accuse him of, it's inconsistency.

It is particularly ironic that Bolton, who was briefly the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, is now experiencing his comeback as national security advisor to Donald Trump, a man who claimed during his campaign that he had been opposed to the Iraq invasion and that Hillary Clinton would bog the U.S. down in wars.

Bolton's diplomatic career has one constant: aggression. "John Bolton is a national security threat," wrote the magazine Foreign Policy in March. The New York Times wrote that he is a "political blowtorch." Bolton and Trump do not share the same view of the world, but the tools they prefer to use are the same, as is their list of enemies. Iran is one of them. Bolton is thought to be the author of Trump's Tuesday speech and he is the architect of the U.S.'s withdrawal from the deal. His predecessor, Herbert Raymond McMaster, had sought to convince Trump to remain in the deal. That was ultimately one reason for his eventual dismissal.

As a candidate, Trump called the Iran agreement "one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history." Bolton was only brought in to implement a decision the president had long-since made.

Bolton hates weakness and has no use for compromise. He is not a "neocon" who wants to spread democracy with the force of arms. He is a right-wing hawk who is less "America First" than "America Alone." He believes the application of force isn't just sensible, but necessary. Like Trump, he sees foreign policy as a zero-sum game: Where the U.S. isn't winning against other global powers, it is necessarily losing. He believes multinational organizations like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the European Union are superfluous. Three years ago, he submitted an op-ed to the New York Times in which he outlined his Iran plan. "To stop Iran's bomb," he wrote, "bomb Iran."

The Risk to Middle East Peace and Europe's Economy
And when it comes to Iran, Bolton's belligerence is joined by his dubious support of the People's Mujahedin. The radical group was formed in the 1960s in opposition to the Shah and was considered by the EU as a terrorist organization for a time. Some of those who have left the group say it works a lot like a sect. Today, the People's Mujahedin is basically lobbying for war against Iran, spending significant amounts of money in Washington and Europe in support of regime change in Tehran. Bolton has made appearances at several events held by the group. Last year, he proclaimed at a group gathering that "we here will celebrate in Tehran" before 2019.

Bolton and Trump share a predilection for destruction. And Trump is happiest when he is destroying policies constructed by his predecessor.

The Deal and Its Effect

In 2015, when Barack Obama presented to the world the deal that he and Secretary of State John Kerry had put together, he made clear what their primary goal was: His administration wanted to prevent a war with Iran. Obama also saw the deal as an opportunity for the country to transform itself. "The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel, that's a dead end," he said. The deal opens the path to tolerance, the peaceful resolution of conflict and greater integration into the global economy, he continued.

That was the second, more idealistic part of the deal: the idea that Iran wouldn't just be prevented from building the bomb by way of economic incentives but that the country could experience a fundamental transformation as a result of rapprochement.

And such a transformation did seem possible for a time. Just two months after Obama's speech, the U.S. president shook hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the first such gesture between a U.S. president and a senior Iranian official since the 1979 revolution. Hardliners in Iran were extremely critical of Zarif for having shaken hands with the "great Satan."

Many Republicans in the U.S. were also put off by the brief meeting between Obama and Zarif, not least those who are now celebrating Trump's planned meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and demanding that Trump be given the Nobel Peace Prize. Many of the critics -- like Bolton -- would rather have turned to military means to stop Iran. Others wanted to at least maintain intense military pressure.

Obama didn't have the deal ratified by the U.S. Senate because he lacked the necessary two-thirds majority. And Republicans warned Iran at the time that an unratified deal was merely an agreement between governments and that the next president could easily render it null and void.

There is also an ongoing conflict in Iran between moderates and hardliners, one which has flared up again following Trump's announcement on Tuesday. President Rouhani announced that Foreign Minister Zarif would be talking with the Europeans, Russia and China. Should Iran reach the conclusion that it can reach its goals with these partners absent the United States, Tehran will continue to adhere to it, he said. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, however, took to Twitter with the message: "I don't trust these three EU countries either." Absent guarantees, he went on, the deal cannot continue.

Iran's Grip on the Region

The crucial question is whether the West's hopes for the deal have been fulfilled. And there is a two-part answer. First: Its main goal has been met. Iran has demonstrably put an end to its military nuclear program even if, in accordance with the deal, it would be able to restart elements of its civilian nuclear program in 2025, and even the entire program in 2040, in conjunction with inspections. These "sunset provisions" were one of the main points of criticism of the deal, but they have thus far worked as planned.

What has not happened, however, is that in opposition to the hopes of many, Iran hasn't toned down its aggressive behavior in the region. On the contrary.

In the approximately three years since the agreement was signed on July 14, 2015 in Vienna, Iran has considerably strengthened its grip on the region. Israel and Saudi Arabia had previously issued warnings about what they saw as aggressive moves by Iran. Since then, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which acts independently of the government and reports directly to Ayatollah Khamenei, has significantly expanded its capabilities. It is now in a position to directly threaten Israel and Saudi Arabia at their borders.

The Saudis are concerned about the Revolutionary Guard's profile in Yemen, where the Iranians are supporting the Houthi militias in the country. Those militias recently gained the capability -- likely with Iranian help -- of firing missiles at the Saudi capital and have been doing so ever since.

As for Israel, the Iranians have expanded their capabilities on several fronts. They have been supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip for a long time, and now Syria has been added to the list. They are close to achieving their goal of dominating a "Shiite crescent" in the region, stretching from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.

When the Iran deal was signed, Iran's ally in Syria, President Bashar Assad, was close to defeat. Since then, his troops have been able to turn the tide with help from Russia, Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and militias supported by Iran. Assad now appears to be close to victory.

There is a kind of mutually beneficial pact between Damascus and Tehran: The Syrians need Iran's money and fighters; the Iranians want Syria's geographical location. From there, they are in a position to send Shiite militias made up of Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis to the Israeli border, send armed drones towards Israel, as it apparently did in February, or fire off rockets.

Iran has stopped its nuclear program. But it has continued to develop those capabilities that are not prohibited by the deal. It has become more intensively involved in regional wars. And it is continuing to pursue its missile program: Today, Iran's missiles are thought to be capable of reaching as far as Central Europe. The missile program was left out of the agreement, but Iran's military might and willingness to expand remains cause for concern.

"Iran's missile program is part of an arms race in the Middle East that the United States helped start" once the nuclear deal was signed, says Vali Nasr, an Iran expert with the Brookings Institution. "The issue that everybody forgets is that, when the nuclear deal was signed, the United States sold over $100 billion worth of new weapons to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, another $40 billion to Israel. The Iranians gave up their most important strategic asset, and instead, the U.S. actually strengthened the conventional military capability of its neighbors."

Iranian Disappointment

Mehdi Khajehpour's office is located on the fifth floor of a building on Tehran's Sa'adat Abad Boulevard. It is elegantly furnished, with classical glass and leather furniture. His company, Petro Sanat Sapra, sells equipment and tools for oil production. Since last night, he and his friends have been discussing what Trump's refusal to extend the suspension of the sanctions for another four months means in concrete terms. "This guy doesn't understand at all what this deal represents," he says.

The 34-year-old is wearing a sand-colored cotton suit, white shirt and speaks perfect English and even has a bit of German from time spent at the University of Würzburg a couple of years ago.

Khajehpour is part of the new generation of Iranian entrepreneurs. He regularly travels to Europe and he and his wife have managed to become reasonably prosperous. Their apartment is decorated in a European style, their eight-year-old daughter attends ballet classes and painting courses in the afternoons. And in the evenings, the Khajehpours like to invite friends over, young couples like them, who have had some hope about their future in the last three years.

Like many members of this younger generation, Khajehpour keeps out of politics. He cannot identify with the hardliners, but he also complains about the bad management of the current government. He and his wife have great hopes for President Hassan Rouhani's course aimed at opening up the country to the world and in addition to economic improvements, he has noticed that political discourse in the country has become more liberal.

People like him, Obama had presumably imagined, were to be the future of Iran. Now the disappointment is great.

"Trump is strengthening the radicals by once again creating difficult conditions for moderates," says Khjajehpour. He is pinning his hopes on the Europeans. "If they go, life will become very difficult."

The grim economic situation stems from corruption, populist policies and the sanctions -- and despite the deal, things haven't improved. At the end of last year, it prompted country-wide protests, and there was anger about the bankruptcy of several financial institutions that were tied to the elites, the Revolutionary Guard and religious forces. Some people lost their entire savings. The Iranian rial kept dropping to new record lows.

The country's precarious economic situation is one reason Trump believes he can force it to its knees. But Trump's strategy is risky. He wants to do in Iran what he has done in North Korea: Apply maximum pressure to force his opponents to give in. Former U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad explains how this is meant to work. Khalilzad is a neo-conservative who pushed for the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Both missions were failures.

Battling for Supremacy

Khalilzad says Iran should be hit at its "Achilles' heel": its economy. He says Trump should use tough sanctions to try to get Iran to relent. He says that would turn religious leaders against the current government and infuriate those who have thus far supported Rouhani. Ultimately, it could mean the collapse of the current government and pave the way for negotiations with the real rulers, the Revolutionary Guard.

Ultimately, Khalilzad says, the goal should be that of finding a far-reaching solution that includes all aspects of the Iran issue, including the ranges of the country's missiles as well as negotiations with the three biggest players in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey -- all of whom are battling for supremacy in what Khalilzad says is the "most unregulated region of the world." Agreements and rules must be established, Khalilzad says, though even he doesn't believe such a thing could happen quickly.

This is similar to what Trump and Bolton are picturing, and they want to force the Europeans to participate. This broader solution, however, is wishful thinking, because at the moment the U.S. are almost alone in their plan. Only Israel and Saudi Arabia support it, while the other signatories of the agreement -- China, Russia, the EU -- won't participate.

The Europeans believe that this kind of power play will result in the opposite of what Trump claims to want: The hardliners in Iran will once again gain the upper hand, the country will once again begin to enrich Uranium -- and ultimately, a war to stop Iran's nuclear program will become unavoidable. Several Europeans are now hoping that Russia, of all countries, will keep the hardliners in Tehran from escalating the situation, because the Syrian regime is strongly dependent on the Russians. The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow on Wednesday will likely also put pressure on Vladimir Putin to exert influence on the Iranians.

On the medium-term, the danger is a large war in the Middle East, but the short-term one is an escalation between Israel and Iran in Syria.

What makes the termination of the agreement with Iran so dangerous right now is the country's other military initiative: that of developing a shadow army of Shiite militias that the Revolutionary Guard has been recruiting from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last several years and has deployed in Syria and elsewhere. The push began with Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s to create a completely loyal, forceful bridgehead, has since grown into a monstrous apparatus with over 100,000 fighters.

It is a weapon that, in many ways, embodies the exact opposite of the nuclear program: It is not meant merely as a deterrent, but as a conquering force. It is often barely visible, and not controllable from the outside. In Syria, for example, the militias often fight with constantly varying compositions.

Israel's security apparatus, which was divided about the Iranian nuclear deal, is united in their alarm at the situation in southern Syria. Trump's brusque exit from the nuclear agreement might be seen in Israel as carte blanche for more aggressive attacks against the Iranians and their conglomerate of troops.

The Consequences for the Economy

From the start, the Germans, French and British had little hope they would be able to convince Trump to stick to the deal. This makes it even more surprising how poorly prepared they now are for the U.S.'s exit.

Most immediately, Trump's decision will affect European companies that invested in Iran at the end of the sanctions. The day after Trump's announcement, EU diplomats first tried to obtain some clarity about who might be affected by the sanctions. For this, they mostly had to depend on information U.S. officials are giving in briefings to American journalists in Washington.

What seems to be clear is that European companies now have between 90 and 180 days to wind down their activities in Iran. "We are giving companies an opportunity to get out," says Trump's Security Advisor Bolton. How generous. New deals, however, will not be allowed. Otherwise, European companies and banks will face penalties in the U.S. It seems to be the Americans' clear goal to bring Iran to its knees economically, and the collateral damage to Europe is seemingly irrelevant. This would mean that the already disappointingly small economic benefit Iran is enjoying from the deal would shrink further.

By re-imposing sanctions, Trump is hitting the Europeans and Iran where it hurts. Since the deal was signed, EU imports from Iran have increased by a factor of nearly nine, and exports to Iran have risen by almost 70 percent, starting from a relatively low level -- but with trade trends going in the right direction.

The EU can't do much about this. On Monday, the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany plan to meet with their Iranian counterpart, but it is largely symbolic. A group visit to Iran, which is also under discussion in diplomatic circles, would likewise have little direct impact.

European Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger can imagine offering assistance to European companies that are affected by U.S. sanctions. "If we stick to the Iran deal, and we should, then we should try to protect to the degree possible European companies who do business with Iran and who might be affected by U.S. sanctions," Oettinger told DER SPIEGEL. France has said similar things. But how?

Next week, EU heads of state and government plan on discussing the issue the evening before their Western Balkans Summit in Sofia. Unfortunately, it remains unclear how the affected businesses can be helped.

At the German Ministry of Economics, officials are seeking to play down the situation. "Only a small portion of German companies who have invested in Iran also do business in the U.S.," says one spokesperson. The transitional periods also mean that endangered companies with Iran connections could also pull back. The French government has also pointed to this fact.

Some in the European Commission are looking into whether the EU Globalization Adjustment could be used, but there isn't enough money available for it. There has also been discussion as to whether European companies could be threatened with penalties via so-called "blocking statutes" for obeying U.S. sanctions against Iran. The measures were initially established in 1996 to counter U.S. sanctions against Iran, Libya and Cuba.

But the German government believes such a solution is far-fetched. The U.S. would see any measure by the EU to protect its investments as aggressive. In a phone conversation with German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made it clear that all companies staying in Iran would be penalized.

That leaves small and mid-size companies who don't do business with the U.S., but that will hardly suffice for Iran. Though the country can at least keep selling oil to Russia, China and India.

Europe, What Now?

Ultimately, the question becomes whether Europe can see this crisis as a wake-up call, as the start of a new common foreign policy, and whether they will continue to endure Trump's humiliations or position itself as a diplomatic counterforce.

Wolfgang Ischinger, the German diplomat, says the crisis of confidence with the U.S. could be turned into a positive. "It is another dramatic wake-up call for the European Union to finally get a grip on itself. For the European project, I cannot imagine a better motivation than this shock from Trump." Ischinger is critical of how Europe has behaved in the past months: "We should have been better prepared."

On Thursday afternoon in Aachen, Emmanuel Macron did ultimately comment on Iran, though not in the Aachen Coronation Hall, but at RWTH, the city's university. He was there to speak with students and answer their questions. Macron said it is never good for international superpowers not to abide by the laws they created themselves. "Every escalation must be avoided. We are staying in the nuclear deal and ask of Iran that it also remain in the deal."

Macron's strategy seems complex: he wants to convince the Iranians not to exit the agreement while seeking rapprochement with the Americans who want to talk about a broader deal. "From the perspective of the U.S., we must first of all get rid of the things they believe their previous government did wrong. That is their perspective, that's just how it is," he said.

It sounded as if Europe was still stuck in the starting blocks.

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« Reply #2373 on: May 17, 2018, 08:02 AM »

E.U. leader lights into Trump: ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’

by Michael Birnbaum
May 17 2018
WA Post

European Council President Donald Tusk said May 16 that President Trump made Europe realize that "a helping hand" can only be found "at the end of your arm." (Reuters)

BRUSSELS — Even by the stressed standards of relations between Europe and the United States in the Trump era, European Council President Donald Tusk’s Wednesday criticisms were unusually cutting.

At the outset of a summit of European leaders whose agenda items, point by point, have to do with the flames of crises that many Europeans see as ignited by President Trump, Tusk ripped into what he called “the capricious assertiveness of the American administration” over issues including Iran, Gaza, trade tariffs and North Korea.

In comments to reporters and a subsequent tweet, he suggested the White House had lost touch with reality. He said Europe didn’t need enemies when it had friends like the United States. And he exhorted European leaders not to be reliant on Washington.

    Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.
    — Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) May 16, 2018

Just 16 months ago, such comments would have been unimaginable coming from an E.U. leader, whose continent modeled itself on the U.S. image in the aftermath of World War II. But Europeans are increasingly exasperated by the way Trump is steering U.S. policy, objecting not only to his stances but also to what they say is erratic policymaking that switches on the whim of Fox News programmers. The shifting desires make it nearly impossible to negotiate with the White House, many diplomats say, because they cannot strike a bargain to get close to what Trump wants when he doesn’t know it himself.

Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland who now presides over one branch of E.U. policymaking, went full zen in his angry description of Trump’s effect on Europe.

“Looking at the latest decisions of Donald Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies?” Tusk told reporters in English ahead of a summit in Sofia, Bulgaria. “But, frankly speaking, Europe should be grateful by President Trump. Because, thanks to him, we got rid of all the illusions. He has made us realize that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”

Throughout the first 15 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has made four big moves that irked the United States' European partners. (Video: Sarah Parnass/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

European leaders have scrambled to salvage the 2015 agreement in which Iran agreed to halt its nuclear program, a landmark deal that many Europeans see as essential for their security. Leaders on Wednesday plan to discuss whether to direct E.U. businesses to defy U.S. sanctions against Iran, an unusual measure with uncertain chances of success that would nevertheless be a diplomatic blow to Washington.

That came a day after many European newspapers featured dueling photographs on their front pages: the beaming visage of first daughter Ivanka Trump opening the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and the smoky carnage an hour’s drive away in Gaza, where scores of Palestinian protesters were killed by the Israeli military. The contrast has stirred up even more European anger toward Trump’s foreign policy, and the Gaza violence is another mark on the agenda for European leaders to discuss during their day and a half of meetings that starts Wednesday.

Tusk's public comments on Wednesday also touched on the new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum that are set to bite on June 1 unless Trump grants a reprieve. E.U. negotiators have said that as one of the closest trading partners of the United States, they will not make concessions with a gun to their head. There appears to have been little progress in those discussions. Tusk said Europe planned to stand its ground.

“We need to bring reality back to this discussion, which is not the case today,” he said

Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/04d1a468-591b-11e8-9889-07bcc1327f4b' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

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« Reply #2374 on: May 17, 2018, 09:53 AM »

Of course

China nearly triples purchases of Russian soybeans as US farmers suffer over Trump’s trade war

David Edwards
Raw Story
17 May 2018 at 11:31 ET                  

Russians are benefiting from President Donald Trump’s trade dispute with China while U.S. soybean farmers are suffering from lost sales.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that China nearly tripled its purchases of Russian soybeans, setting a record.

    Russia sold about 850,000 metric tons of soybeans to China from the start of the 12-month season in July through mid-May, according to Russia’s agriculture agency Rosselkhoznadzor. That’s more than during any season before and compares with about 340,000 tons sold during all of the previous period, Chinese customs data show.

Meanwhile, China has reportedly stopped buying U.S. soybeans after Trump announced tariffs on Chinese steel.

“Whatever they’re buying is non-U.S.,” Bunge Ltd. Chief Executive Officer Soren Schroder told Bloomberg last month. “They’re buying beans in Canada, in Brazil, mostly Brazil, but very deliberately not buying anything from the U.S.”

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« Reply #2375 on: May 18, 2018, 04:04 AM »

Tiny Brains of Extinct Human Relative Had Complex Features

By Nicholas St. Fleur
May 18, 2018
NY Times

What makes humans so smart? For a long time the answer was simple: our big brains.

But new research into the tiny noggins of a recently discovered human relative called Homo naledi may challenge that notion. The findings, published Monday, suggest that when it comes to developing complex brains, size isn’t all that matters.

In 2013 scientists excavating a cave in South Africa found remains of Homo naledi, an extinct hominin now thought to have lived  236,000 to 335,000 years ago. Based on the cranial remains, the researchers concluded it had a small brain only about the size of an orange or your fist. Recently, they took another look at the skull fragments and found imprints left behind by the brain. The impressions suggest that despite its tiny size, Homo naledi’s brain shared a similar shape and structure with that of modern human brains, which are three times as large.

“We’ve now seen that you can package the complexity of a large brain in a tiny packet,” said Lee Berger, a paleoanthropologist at Wits University in South Africa and an author of the paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “Almost in one fell swoop we slayed the sacred cow that complexity in the hominid brain was directly associated with increasing brain size.”

Not every scientist agrees with their interpretation.

Since its remains were first retrieved, Homo naledi has puzzled scientists. From head to toe the ancient hominin displays a medley of primitive, apelike features and more advanced, humanlike characteristics.

“It’s this mosaic that is unlike anything we have seen or expected,” said Dr. Berger who first discovered Homo naledi in the Dinaledi Chamber in South Africa’s Rising Star cave system. So far, researchers have found more than 2,000 fossils belonging to the human relatives which have provided a portrait of what the species once looked like.

Homo naledi had small teeth like a human’s, but their shape more closely resembles that of an ape’s. Its shoulders are also apelike, but the arms, wrists and hands more humanlike. The fingers, though, were long and curved, and the thumbs appeared particularly strong. The spine was a combination of primitive and Neanderthal-like, the pelvis resembled that of another more distant human relative, Australopithecus afarensis (dubbed Lucy), and the thighs also looked primitive. But below the knee, the legs were long and thin like a human’s and the feet were nearly identical to our own.

Now, researchers have found that Homo naledi’s similarities with modern humans extend into the brain. After examining the imprints, or endocasts, from five Homo naledi skull fragments, the team found that the species had a frontal lobe that was very similar to that of modern humans and unlike that of an ape’s. The scientists also found that Homo naledi had an asymmetrical brain, with the left brain appearing more forward than the right, which is also seen in humans. Asymmetry in the brain is associated with higher levels of behavioral complexity, the team said.

Based on the regions of the brain that Homo naledi shared with modern humans, the authors suggested that it may have exhibited complex behavior. But what they did not say was what those behaviors may have been, said John Hawks, an paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an author on the paper.

“Is that aspect of the brain evolution central to talking or stone tool making? We don’t know enough to say that,” he said. He added that the finding does not mean that brain size is not important to creating a complex brain — it is. Rather, size alone does not tell the whole story. “There’s something about shape that actually matters too,” he said.

“These new fossil hominids show that the evolution of hominins is much more complex than we thought before,” said Ralph Holloway, a paleoanthropologist at Columbia University and lead author of the paper. 

Emiliano Bruner, a paleoneurobiologist at Centro Nacional de Investigación sobre la Evolución Humana in Spain, said the finding still needs to be confirmed from a wider fossil record of the species that comes from outside the Dinaledi Chamber fossil site. That would help with understanding any variation that appears within the species.

Simon Neubauer, a physical anthropologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, said the finding did support the idea that both brain size and brain organization are important to human evolution. But he added that because of its age, the tiny-brained Homo naledi might be an outlier in a general hominin trend toward increasing brain sizes.

Dr. Bruner agreed.

“It is not reasonable to forget all that evidence because of a couple of outliers,” he said. “Exceptions are, as always, expected. But this does not break the rule.”

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« Reply #2376 on: May 18, 2018, 04:09 AM »

One man's race to capture the Rocky Mountains glaciers before they vanish

Garrett Fisher spent much of his summer in 2015 flying over places like Yellowstone taking stunning pictures of retreating glaciers

Oliver Milman
18 May 2018 11.00 BST

After hearing that the glaciers of the Rocky Mountains are rapidly vanishing, financial consultant Garrett Fisher took a novel course of action – he flew a light aircraft, built in 1949, low and alone over the mountains in order to photograph them.

Fisher spent much of his summer in 2015 flying over places such as Yellowstone, Glacier National Park and Grand Teton National Park, taking stunning pictures of retreating glaciers for a new book.

Fisher said the enormity of the loss was apparent from his plane, where he took in whole ecosystems such as the Wind River Range in Wyoming, which contains several major rivers that provide water for a large surrounding area.

“I’m completely resigned that they will all disappear; I was basically racing to see them before they are gone,” Fisher said. “There’s a bit of bleakness that our planet is going into unchartered territory.”

Glaciers, which are vast masses of snow and ice that move under their own weight, are receding at varying rates around the world due to rising global temperatures. Glacier National Park in Montana has seen some of the most dramatic recorded losses, with glaciers set to disappear from the park as early as 2030.

Globally, glaciers have lost around 400bn tons in mass a year since 1994, which is raising concerns for the millions of people and animals that rely upon glaciers for melt water. The retreat of huge glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland is also driving sea level rise.

The decline of glaciers has previously been illustrated by comparative pictures showing how the modern ice masses looked several decades previously, and more recently. But individual images of modern glaciers can also contain evidence of retreat, according to Lisa McKeon, a physical scientist at the US Geological Society.

“Pictures don’t really show the loss in ice volume but they can show the loss of area,” she said. “You can see previous moraines, which are rocks pushed by a glacier’s movement, far from the current edge of the glacier.”

McKeon has previously exhibited her own collection of comparative photos of glacier retreat at various galleries, where she left a comment book for visitors to log their thoughts.

“I’ve perused the comment book for the past two years or so, there’s a lot of sadness there,” she said. “It’s change. It evokes a sense of loss.”

Fisher’s book contains 177 pictures, many of them taken in precarious conditions, as the wind tossed the 69-year-old Piper PA11 plane that Fisher’s grandfather refurbished after he found it in a dilapidated condition in a North Carolina barn in the 1980s.

“I learned to fly in this plane,” said Fisher, who is from New York state but has spent a lot of time in Colorado and studied Rocky Mountain National Park there. “There is no heat, the door had to be open when taking pictures so there was an ungodly cold. The plane only has 100 horsepower but when you get to 15,000ft it only has around half of that. I would just go off on my own and hope the engine didn’t fail.”

Flying over Glacier National Park, in Montana, was the most challenging because of the “most absurd terrain, the extreme wind, the concentration of grizzly bears if I did have to land – I really didn’t want to go down there,” Fisher said.

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« Reply #2377 on: May 18, 2018, 04:11 AM »

Wind power overtakes nuclear for first time in UK across a quarter

News of milestone comes as MPs say policy changes have caused collapse in investment in renewables

Adam Vaughan
18 May 2018 06.01 BST

Britain’s windfarms provided more electricity than its eight nuclear power stations in the first three months of 2018, marking the first time wind has overtaken nuclear across a quarter.

The renewable energy industry hailed the milestone as a sign the UK was well on its way to an electricity system powered by cheap, domestic green energy.

Across the first quarter, wind power produced 18.8% of electricity, second only to gas, said a report by researchers at Imperial College London.

At one point overnight on 17 March, wind turbines briefly provided almost half of the UK’s electricity. Wind power helped during the cold snaps, too, supplying 12-43% of electricity during the six subzero days in the first three months of the year.

Two nuclear plants were temporarily offline for routine maintenance, while another was shut because of seaweed in the cooling system.

While wind together with solar supplied more power than nuclear in the final three months of 2017, thiswas the first time wind has managed the feat alone.

Dr Rob Gross, one of the authors of the Drax Electric Insights report, said: “There’s no sign of a limit to what we’re able to do with wind in the near future.”

The opening in December of a new power cable between Scotland and north Wales also helped unlock electricity from Scottish windfarms, some of which would normally be turned off to help National Grid cope.

The Western Link connection has drastically cut the amount of money paid by National Grid to windfarm owners for that curtailment. The company paid £100m in 2017 for curtailment. This year payments are already down by two-thirds.

Emma Pinchbeck, the executive director at industry group RenewableUK, said: “It is great news for everyone that rather than turning turbines off to manage our ageing grid, the new cable instead will make best use of wind energy.”

News of the quarterly milestone came as MPs said UK emissions targets were threatened by government policy changes, which had caused a collapse in clean energy investment since 2015, including a 56% fall in 2017.

Mary Creagh, Labour MP and chair of the environmental audit committee, said: “Billions of pounds of investment is needed in clean energy, transport, heating and industry to meet our carbon targets. But a dramatic fall in investment is threatening the government’s ability to meet legally binding climate change targets.”

Separately, the spending watchdog concluded that £23bn spent on a government subsidy scheme for low-carbon heating had been poor value for money and did not deliver its aims.

The public accounts committee said the renewable heat incentive had “wildly optimistic” goals and that the government failed to understand what consumers wanted.

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« Reply #2378 on: May 18, 2018, 04:13 AM »

Glyphosate shown to disrupt microbiome 'at safe levels', study claims

Study on rats said to show that the chemical, found in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, poses ‘a significant public health concern’

Arthur Neslen
18 May 2018 09.30 BST

A chemical found in the world’s most widely used weedkiller can have disrupting effects on sexual development, genes and beneficial gut bacteria at doses considered safe, according to a wide-ranging pilot study in rats.

Glyphosate is the core ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide and levels found in the human bloodstream have spiked by more than a 1,000% in the last two decades.

The substance was recently relicensed for a shortened five-year lease by the EU. But scientists involved in the new glyphosate study say their results show that it poses “a significant public health concern”.

One of the report’s authors, Daniele Mandrioli, at the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, said significant and potentially detrimental effects from glyphosate had been detected in the gut bacteria of rat pups born to mothers, who appeared to have been unaffected themselves.

“It shouldn’t be happening and it is quite remarkable that it is,” Mandrioli said. “Disruption of the microbiome has been associated with a number of negative health outcomes, such as obsesity, diabetes and immunological problems.”

Prof Philip J Landrigan, of New York’s Icahn School of Medicine, and also one of the research team, said: “These early warnings must be further investigated in a comprehensive long-term study.” He added that serious health effects from the chemical might manifest as long-term cancer risk: “That might affect a huge number of people, given the planet-wide use of the glyphosate-based herbicides.”

Controversy has raged around glyphosate since a World Health Organisation agency – the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – judged it to be a “probable human carcinogen” in 2015.

However, US and European regulators subsequently deemed it acceptable for use, a move campaigners condemned because of regulators’ use of secret industry papers and experts with alleged ties to Monsanto.

The US firm, which recently merged with Bayer in a deal worth more than $60bn, argues that it is being unfairly targeted by activist scientists with ulterior motives.

Scott Partridge, Monsanto’s VP for global strategy told the Guardian: “The Ramazzini Institute is an activist organisation with an agenda that they have not disclosed as part of their crowdfunding efforts. They wish to support a ban on glyphosate and they have a long history of rendering opinions not supported by regulatory testing agencies.”

“This is not about genuine research,” he added. “All the research to date has demonstrated that there is no link between glyphosate and cancer.”

In 2017, the Ramazinni Institute was criticised by members of the US Congress, which has provided it with funding. US congress members have also probed funding for the IARC.

The new crowdfunded pilot study which the Ramazzini Institute compiled with Bologna University and the Italian National Health Institute observed the health effects of glyphosate on Sprague Dawley rats, which had been dosed with the US EPA-determined safe limit of 1.75 micrograms per kilo of body weight.

Two-thirds of known carcinogens had been discovered using the Sprague Dawley rat species, Mandrioli said, although further investigation would be needed to establish long-term risks to human health.

The pilot research did not focus on cancer but it did find evidence of glyphosate bioaccumulation in rats– and changes to reproductive health.

“We saw an increase in ano-genital distance in the formulation that is of specific importance for reproductive health,” Mandrioli said. “It might indicate a disruption of the normal level of sexual hormones.”

The study’s three peer-reviewed papers will be published in Environmental Health later in May, ahead of a €5m follow-up study that will compare the safe level against multiple other doses.

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« Reply #2379 on: May 18, 2018, 04:14 AM »

Leaked report warns Cambodia's biggest dam could 'literally kill' Mekong river

Government-commissioned report says proposed site at Sambor reach is the ‘worst possible place’ for hydropower due to impact on wildlife

Tom Fawthrop in Kratie, Cambodia
18 May 2018 07.00 BST

A Chinese-backed plan to build Cambodia’s biggest dam could “literally kill” the Mekong river, according to a confidential assessment seen by the Guardian which says that the proposed site at Sambor is the “worst possible place” for hydropower.

The report, which was commissioned by the government in Phnom Penh, has been kept secret since it was submitted last year, prompting concerns that ministers are inclined to push ahead regardless of the dire impact it predicts on river dolphins and one of the world’s largest migrations of freshwater fish.

The proposed hydropower plant would require a 33km-wide concrete barrier across the river at Sambor, Kratie province. This quiet rural district is best known as a place for watching Irrawaddy dolphins, whose critically low numbers have just shown their first increase in 20 years.

To examine the environmental impact of the dam and the 82km-long reservoir that would form behind it, the Cambodian government commissioned the National Heritage Institute, a US-based research and consultancy firm, to undertake a three-year study in 2014.

But it has refused to make public the results of the Sambor Hydropower Dam Alternatives Assessment, despite numerous appeals from civil society organisations. A copy has now been leaked to the Guardian.

In its key findings the report notes: “The impact on fisheries would be devastating as it would block fish migration from the Tonle Sap (Cambodia’s Great Lake), a vital tributary to the Mekong and the spawning grounds upstream.”

The Mekong is the world’s most productive inland fisher y, sustaining the food security of 60 million people. The Mekong River Commission puts the value of wild-capture fish at $11b n, shared between the four member states of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.

The stakes are very high for a country where 80% of Cambodians count on fish as their main source of protein.

It is also a potential game-changer for other species in the Mekong’s ecosystem. Marc Goichot, WWF’s water resources specialist, said: “After 15 years WWF and our Cambodian partners are finally winning the battle to conserve Mekong dolphins with 15 new calves born since 2015. A Sambor dam would ruin all those efforts. Together with the plight of the dolphins, fisheries, livelihoods and nutrition of rural communities would all suffer, as well as precipitating the sinking of the Mekong delta in Vietnam.”

The plan for the dam dates back to a memorandum of understanding signed with China Southern Power Grid in 2006. Widespread opposition prompted the Chinese investor to withdrew from the project in 2008.

The country’s chronic energy shortage, high prices and its 50% import dependency prompted the government to revive the Sambor project in 2016, after Laos had already launched two controversial dams upstream - the Xayaburi and the Don Sahong dams.

In the executive summary, the report declares “a dam at this site could literally kill the river, unless sited, designed and operated sustainably. The Sambor reach is the worst possible place to build a major dam.”

Cambodia’s deputy minister of energy, Ith Praing , said: “It is a very sensitive issue and too early to publish any kind of information on Sambor.”

The survey team looked at 10 alternative locations for a Sambor dam site by deploying the world’s most advanced mitigation technology. The project director, Gregory Thomas, said: “Even the most advanced mitigation measures still pose high risks. There is no evidence that any large dam on a tropical river has ever been successful in the use of the latest fish mitigation technology.”

In place of a new dam, the study recommends integrating floating solar photovoltaic panels into the already operational Lower Sesan 2 dam , and operating the reservoir as a single integrated hybrid facility. Power capacity would be doubled to more than 800MW. This technique of augmenting existing hydropower facilities with solar photovoltaics plants has been widely developed in China and India.

According to the report, “solar energy is the only option with a positive net economic benefit after all costs and benefits are taken into account, and the cost of solar would be cheaper than the best possible mitigated dam”.

Cambodia’s Energy Ministry has so far taken only small steps in the direction of solar energy, and has given a tepid response to the 400MW solar proposal, which suggests it is still batting for a mitigated dam.

Praing said no decision would be taken until after July’s general election. If the dam is approved, the leading candidate to build it is China’s Hydrolancang International Energy Company.

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« Reply #2380 on: May 18, 2018, 04:18 AM »

Extreme botany: How far should we go to save a plant species?

Self-described extreme botanist Steve Perlman goes where no man – nor goat – has gone before to find and save the rarest plants in Hawaii.   

Eva Botkin-Kowacki

July 5, 2017 Waimea Canyon State Park, Kauai, Hawaii—Steve Perlman doesn't let anything, even hundreds of feet of vertical cliff, get in the way of his efforts to find and save endangered plants in the wild.

If he encounters a steep drop while traipsing through the most rugged vegetation in Hawaii or on other Pacific islands, Mr. Perlman simply pulls out ropes and rappels down to where he wants to go. Once you're out there, he says casually, "you just want to keep going. You don't want to be stopped by a waterfall, you want to see what plants are on those steep cliffs." And at 69, he's still roping into uncharted territory looking for rare plants.

Perlman’s brand of extreme botany, as he calls it, is just one example of heroic conservation efforts going on around the globe. But not everyone agrees on the best way to save the vast amount of the natural world that is under threat. Some say conservationists should use some sort of triage system to prioritize which species or ecosystems get attention, while others suggest that every species is valuable and deserves conservation attention.

For Hugh Possingham, chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, it’s a matter of saving as many species as possible, with limited resources.

“I suppose the question is not how far should we go to save a single plant species, it is what can we do with the resources we have,” says Dr. Possingham.

Acknowledging the limits on time and financial resources, Possingham has developed a formula for prioritizing conservation projects that also takes into consideration the number of species that could potentially benefit from each project and the probability of success.

“The system favors those species that are most in danger of extinction,” Possingham says, “but it is countered by the fact that sometimes those species that are most in danger of extinction are the ones that are harder to save, or more expensive to save.”

Perlman and Possingham bookend an ideological spectrum of views in the conservation world. Both are profoundly dedicated to preserving biodiversity but approach the problem from vastly different perspectives. Where Possingham finds clarity in careful cost-benefit analysis, Perlman functions in a perpetual race against time.

Divergent models of conservation

In Hawaii, where Perlman works as a statewide specialist for the University of Hawaii’s Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP), there are 238 known plant species teetering on the brink of extinction, each with fewer than 50 individuals left in the wild. To Perlman and his colleagues at PEPP, each one of those species deserves saving. And he is willing to do whatever it takes to try to save them: fencing off plants to keep out goats, pigs, and other grazers; rappelling off cliffs to collect seeds and pollen; and even hand pollinating the last few individuals of a species.

But on a global scale, nurturing each individual species back to health is a more weighty proposition. One in five of the world's plant species is threatened with extinction, according to the annual State of the World's Plants report from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. That's a lot of plants that need tender love and care – and money – to keep them from going extinct.

That’s where Possingham’s formula comes in. In New Zealand, for instance, where nearly a third of the archipelago’s indigenous plants are threatened, Possingham’s calculated approach has enabled conservationists to make educated decisions about where to allocate funds. In some cases, his formula has helped Kiwis stretch conservation dollars to save more species.

On the other end of the ideological spectrum, however, conservationists like Stuart Pimm worry that the triage-based approach not only dooms species that potentially could have been saved, it also stymies innovation.

“As a scientist, I think triage is such a bad idea because it doesn't advance the field,” says Professor Pimm, a conservation ecologist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., whose research is behind the widely cited figure suggesting that species are going extinct as much as 1,000 times faster than the background rate of extinction.

When biologists are fighting to save the last few individuals of a species from extinction, they are driven to innovate, he says. And through this process, “We are getting very, very much better at saving species from the brink of extinction,” he says. “We have forced ourselves not to write species off.”

What’s at stake?

One risk of extinction is that when a species disappears, its absence could disrupt other parts of the ecosystem if, say, it was the primary food source for a particular animal. But even if other species can fill the newly extinct species' ecological niche, something specific will still be lost: its genetics.

“Every species that is lost, I think it's fair to say, is a treasure that is gone forever,” says Ruth Shaw, a professor of ecology, evolution, and behavior at the University of Minnesota. Each species is genetically unique, she says, and “the diversity that we have came about through just awe-inspiring expanses of time, and is not replaceable in any kind of a time frame that we can understand.”

Preserving one-of-a-kind genetics is one of the reasons that Perlman and other botanists around the world collect seeds and cuttings of rare plants that can be stored in seed banks, tissue preservation facilities, or at least grown in captivity.

But the value of the genetics of the world's flora goes beyond simply being impressed by the feat of evolution that led up to today. Having a variety of plant genetics to draw from could be useful to scientists in the future who want to innovate in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, or to produce other plant-based products, says Stuart Thompson, a senior lecturer in plant biochemistry at the University of Westminster.

Large seed banks, like the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, contain many seeds from agricultural crops, as the world's population is currently at about 7.5 billion and is expected to continue rising quickly. With many mouths to feed, Dr. Thompson says, scientists may need to breed new genetics into agricultural crop species to make them more resilient or more productive. But if key genetic diversity is lost, that won't be possible.

Furthermore, he adds, "we could potentially be making use of non-agricultural species to facilitate agricultural innovation." As such, scientists might not know what plant species should be preserved. Some inedible plant could perhaps contain the genetics to revolutionize agriculture, but researchers need its genetics to be able to figure that out.

In that sense, the potential benefits of preserving a species is immeasurable. And so, day in and day out, Perlman heads for the cliffs, following his intuition and clues offered by the natural world to save as many species as he can access.

As a young botanist, Perlman noticed that goats and other grazers that were ravaging Hawaiian plants couldn't reach the steepest cliffs. He surmised that those cliff faces might harbor some of the islands’ rarest species. And so Perlman and his field partner Kenneth Wood have become pioneers of extreme exploratory botany, armed with deep reverence for every species they encounter – and little regard for their own safety.

“I'm not really thinking that I'm going to be dying because I'm on the cliffs,” Perlman says.

For him, saving plant species is all about responsibility. “I don't want to lose any of these species that are unique and so beautiful,” he says. “It's part of my responsibility to try and keep them all alive.”

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« Reply #2381 on: May 18, 2018, 04:21 AM »

Race is on to set up Europe's electric car charging network

New Europe

MUNICH  — Charging an electric car away from home can be an exercise in uncertainty — hunting for that one lonely station at the back of a rest-area parking lot and hoping it's working. In Europe, some of the biggest automakers are out to remove such anxieties from the battery-only driving experience and encourage electric-vehicle sales by building a highway network of fast charging stations. The idea is to let drivers plug in, charge in minutes instead of hours, and speed off on their way — from Norway to southern Italy and Portugal to Poland.

Much is at stake for the automakers, which include Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler and Ford. Their joint venture, Munich-based Ionity, is pushing to roll out its network in time to service the next generation of battery-only cars coming on the market starting next year. They're aiming to win back some of the market share for electric luxury car sales lost to Tesla, which has its own, proprietary fast-charging network.

Despite a slower-than-expected start, Ionity CEO Michael Hajesch told The Associated Press in an interview he's "confident" the company will reach its goal of 400 ultra-fast charging stations averaging six charging places each by 2020.

The idea is "to be able to drive long distances with battery electric vehicles, across Europe and to have the same experience at each station, meaning a very easy and comfortable customer journey," Hajesch said, speaking at the company's Munich headquarters near the 1972 Olympic stadium.

The idea is to break electric cars out of the early adopter niche, in which they are charged slowly overnight at home and used for short commutes. "The sites we are looking for are really the A-sites," he said, "directly at the autobahn. Not down the road, not driving five kilometers into the next industrial area and finding a charging station somewhere, without light, or any amenities around, but right at the autobahn."

"If you're going from Hamburg to Munich, because it's a weekend trip to friends, typically you do not have much time," he said. So what counts will be "the speed of recharging your vehicles, and at the same time finding maybe some amenities: maybe a coffee, getting a newspaper or whatever."

Ionity opened its first station April 17 at a rest stop off the A61 highway near the small town of Niederzissen, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Bonn in western Germany. The six high-speed chargers are operating in "welcome mode," meaning they're free until May 31. After that, Ionity plans to charge for the power, which it seeks to obtain from renewable sources.

Ionity has agreements for some 300 sites, working with fueling station and rest stop landlords. The average distance between stations will be 120 kilometers (75 miles). More charging availability is what it will take to get an environmentally aware car buyer like Rainer Hoedt to choose a battery-only vehicle. The 58-year-old Berlin geography teacher is a proud owner of a Mitsubishi Outlander, a plug-in hybrid that combines internal combustion with a battery he can charge overnight. The battery-only range of 50 kilometers (30 miles) lets him drive emissions free for daily trips at home.

But a family vacation of more than 200 kilometers (120 miles) to the Baltic Sea was a different story. Hoedt had to drive on internal combustion before finding a lone charging station as he approached his destination, using the goingelectric.de website.

"It was right next to the highway, there was one charging station and we were lucky that it was free," he said. But he couldn't find a charging station he could use by the seashore. On the way back, he was able to charge at a rest stop, but only by asking a non-electric car owner to move his vehicle away from the lone charging pole. A battery-only car might never have made it home.

And he couldn't use one to visit his cousin 650 kilometers (400 miles) away in Rosenheim. "I looked at the option... The infrastructure is still so bad, I just don't want to risk that I get stranded," he said. "Once the infrastructure gets better, that might be my next car."

Tesla has shown how charging infrastructure can drive vehicle sales. It has 1,229 stations with 9,623 fast chargers in Europe alone, where it has cut into Mercedes and BMW's sales of luxury cars. But it has its own proprietary plug. Ionity is using the CCS plug backed by the European Union as a common standard for all.

In both the U.S. and Europe, the situation is roughly similar: More chargers available in jurisdictions where government strongly backs electric vehicles, such as California, Norway or the Netherlands. Elsewhere, chargers get can harder to find for long stretches along rural highways.

Volkswagen, which agreed to invest in low-emission driving to settle charges it cheated on diesel emissions, is building 300 highway charging sites in the U.S. by June 2019 through its Electrify America unit. Japan has 40,000 charging points, exceeding its 34,000 gas stations, according to Nissan — but many of those are private garages.

Ionity is counting on the large 350-kilowatt capacity of its publicly available chargers — almost three times the 120 kilowatts per vehicle of Tesla's Superchargers. No car currently on the market can make full use of 350 kilowatt charging capacity. But they're coming: in 2019 Porsche plans to introduce the Mission E. Porsche says that the sleek, low-slung sports car will take 15 minutes to charge for 400 kilometers (250 miles) more driving.

Tesla and its founder, Elon Musk, "showed it's not enough to just build electric cars" without also building charging infrastructure, said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, director of the CAR Center Automotive Research at the University of Duisberg-Essen.

The automakers "are late, but it's better than it was... it remains the case that without Elon Musk the carmakers would not have realized this," he said.

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« Reply #2382 on: May 18, 2018, 04:24 AM »

Investors urge fossil fuel firms to shun Trump's Arctic drilling plans

Oil extraction in Alaskan wilderness area would be an ‘irresponsible business decision’, trillion-dollar investors say

Damian Carrington Environment editor
18 May 2018 19.00 BST

Investors managing more than $2.5tn have warned oil firms and banks to shun moves by the US president, Donald Trump, to open the Arctic national wildlife refuge (ANWR) to drilling.

Companies extracting oil and gas from the wilderness area in Alaska would face “enormous reputational risk and public backlash”, the investors say in a letter sent on Monday to 100 fossil fuel companies and the banks that finance them.

Exploiting the area would also be an “irresponsible business decision”, the group argues, as global action on climate change will reduce oil demand and mean such projects have a high risk of losing money. An accompanying letter from the indigenous Gwich’in people say it would be “deeply unethical” to destroy their homelands.

The 19m-acre refuge is one of wildest places left on Earth and the largest area of publicly owned land in the US. It is home to a huge range of animals, including polar bears, snowy owls and the porcupine caribou on which the Gwich’in rely for food.

In April, the Trump administration began the process of opening the ANWR for oil and gas drilling, the first such move since 1980. Significant oil and gas reserves are thought to lie under the ANWR coastal plain and Prudhoe Bay, a major oil centre, lies close to the refuge’s western boundary. The Gwich’in name for the coastal plain is “Sacred place where life begins”, as it is the breeding ground of the caribou.

“Drilling in the ANWR is an exceedingly high-risk gamble that companies and investors should avoid,” said New York state comptroller, Thomas P DiNapoli, trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, one of the investors that signed the letter. “A global low-carbon economy is emerging, driven by the growing opportunities for cleaner energy. We want the companies [we invest in] to help build that future, not destroy one of America’s last truly wild places.”

“There is no longer any doubt that climate change poses an acute risk not only to our collective way of life, but also to investments made in outdated and highly precarious forms of energy,” said Thibaud Clisson at BNP Paribas Asset Management, another signatory.

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in steering committee, said: “We call on oil companies and the banks that fund them to stand with the Gwich’in and leave this pristine and fragile place intact. The survival of my people depends on it.”

However, Alaska’s congressional representatives, who are all Republican, strongly support the drilling plan, suggesting it could bring in $1bn to state and federal governments in the next decade. When the plan to open the ANWR for oil and gas exploitation was announced, senator Lisa Murkowski said it was “the single-most important step we can take to strengthen our long-term energy security and create new wealth”.

Murkowski, also chairman of the Senate committee on energy and natural resources, said: “Responsible development is limited to just 2,000 federal acres – just one ten-thousandth of all of ANWR.”

But the letter from the Gwich’in steering committee says: “This place was originally set aside by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 as a refuge, not for development. Roads, pipelines, gravel mines, airstrips and other facilities that would be developed to support exploration and development on the coastal plain would undermine the wilderness character of the Refuge, fragment habitat and displace wildlife. And oil spills, which already occur on the North Slope, would harm fish and wildlife.”

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« Reply #2383 on: May 18, 2018, 04:32 AM »

The making of Meghan Markle

What happens when a ‘confident mixed-race woman’ marries into the royal family

By Jessica Contrera
May 18, 2018
WA Post

Meghan Markle was glaring at her love interest. She leaned forward, fury clear in her expression as she asked the question: Was it so hard to believe one of her parents was black?

“You think,” she spat, “this is just a year-round tan?”

He stammered. She grimaced. The opening credits began to roll.

It was just the scene of a television show, a few lines from the script of the law drama “Suits.” But Markle would later describe it as something more: the moment she was no longer playing the role of “ethnically ambiguous.” That was the description assigned to so many of the jobs for which she had auditioned. Others asked her to be white, like her father. Or black, like her mother.

Finally, in “Suits,” she’d been cast to play a character who was not one or the other — but both.

“The choices made in these rooms,” Markle would later write, “trickle into how viewers see the world, whether they’re aware of it or not.”

Five years after that scene aired, this woman who was grateful just to have her biracial identity represented on cable television is about to step into one of the world’s most glaring spotlights. On Saturday, she will marry His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales, better known as Prince Harry — popular, ginger-haired and sixth in line to the British throne.

2:39..How is Meghan Markle’s life about to change?: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/656b33e8-555b-11e8-a6d4-ca1d035642ce' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

The hullabaloo that precedes a royal wedding is well underway: Paparazzi are staking out Markle’s every move, gamblers are placing bets on who will design her dress, and biographers have tracked down every detail of her American past, all the way back to the name of the obstetrician who delivered her into the world.

For those inclined to roll their eyes at the frivolity of it all, the scene appears to be little more than an expensive sequel to the 2011 wedding of Harry’s older brother, William, to Kate; those two could actually become king and queen.

But with Meghan Markle, there are layers of history and culture to dissect. Every new development in the run-up to her wedding prompts conversations, think pieces and wishes: Is this a sign of progress in a post-Brexit Britain? Will she remind the world that the United States is proud of its diversity? Is the most fascinating aspect of this moment the fact that, under almost any other circumstances, an interracial marriage would no longer be fascinating at all?

She is both the heroine of a fairy tale come true — American meets prince! — and a spark for a debate about the role of race in society. And it is that topic, those who know Markle say, that is far more central to the story she would tell about her own life.

The chances of a biracial, divorced, American citizen marrying into the British royal family previously hovered at approximately zero/not in a million years/not over [insert name of your favorite monarch’s] dead body. And yet, ask the people who knew Meghan Markle before she was soon-to-be duchess Meghan Markle what they think of this turn of events, and they will express, again and again, that this is all very unsurprising.

“Of course she ended up being a princess,” said Natalie Myre Hart, who spent three years in acting classes with Markle at Northwestern University in the early 2000s. “She was always one of those people you wish you didn’t like because she was so beautiful and seemed so put together all the time.”

And so goes the palace-polished version of “Who is Meghan Markle?”: An upper-middle-class childhood in Los Angeles, where she was the star of school plays, a member of student council and a homeless shelter volunteer. College at Northwestern University, where, quite practically, she majored in theater and international relations. A career in Hollywood, where she side-hustled as a waitress and freelance calligrapher to pursue her dream. A two-year marriage to movie producer Trevor Engelson that ended in divorce — but after that divorce, “Suits” became a hit, her lifestyle blog garnered a small cult following, and Markle dedicated herself to international philanthropy.

Naturally, after her relationship with Prince Harry made news, the search began for the proverbial spots on the apple. Tabloids found estranged half-siblings who called Markle a “social climber,” a friend who took her ex-husband’s side in the divorce claiming she is “cold” and “calculated,” and footage of all the raunchy scenes of her acting career (which, according to one report, were carefully hidden from the queen).

Because Markle didn’t meet Prince Harry until she was 34, there is a whole life of fodder for royals-obsessed readers and Lifetime moviemakers to devour. Perhaps that is why so much of what has been written about Markle makes little mention of her heritage.

But when she has spoken and written about her life story in the past, race is front and center.

“Being biracial paints a blurred line that is equal parts staggering and illuminating,” she wrote in a 2015 essay for Elle UK. She has described how early her awareness began: Growing up, strangers often assumed her mother, yoga instructor and social worker Doria Ragland, was her nanny. Her father, a television studio lighting director, bought her both black and white dolls, but none of them looked quite like her. When she was 11 years old, her home town became a center of racial unrest when the officers who beat Rodney King were acquitted. Markle has said she came home from school to find a lemon tree in her front yard charred from passing rioters.

Markle’s all-girls Catholic high school was a portrait of diversity. “I didn’t even know that she was biracial until all of this came out with her marrying Prince Harry,” said Erich Alejandro, who performed in plays with Markle in high school. “In L.A., we are all used to so many different races, lifestyles and creeds. That stuff doesn’t even register.”

I was scared to open this Pandora’s box of discrimination, so I sat stifled, swallowing my voice.

At 18, Markle moved from Los Angeles to Evanston, Ill., to attend Northwestern University. There, her theater classmates remember the department as full of students who were mostly white and well-off. In her freshman year on the campus in Chicago’s suburbs, Markle met a dorm mate who asked about her parents’ interracial marriage, then told her it “made sense” they had divorced when she was young.

“I drew back,” Markle wrote of that moment in Elle. “I was scared to open this Pandora’s box of discrimination, so I sat stifled, swallowing my voice.”

She was bothered by the segregation in Chicago’s neighborhoods and the way that separation seemed to exist on campus, too. When the African American friends she made in the first quarter of her freshman year decided to forgo traditional sorority rush and opt for the black sororities, Markle wrestled with what to do.

“She didn’t feel like going to the black sorority was a terribly accurate identity for her,” said Liz Nartker, one of Markle’s sisters in Kappa Kappa Gamma. “She struggled with feeling like once she made that decision, it felt like a big wall to her in a way. Whether consciously or not, she felt like they distanced themselves from her. . . . That was harder than she thought it was going to be.”

Nartker said Markle lived in the Kappa house for two years, but when her sisters moved into apartments and houses together for their senior year, she chose to live alone. That year, she confided in Harvey Young, a professor who had recently come to Northwestern to teach the theater department’s first course on African American playwrights.

“She told me just how challenging it is to not be fully accepted for all of who you are within a variety of spaces. It takes a toll,” he recalled. Young, who is black, said Markle’s description of being wrongly identified as white stuck in his mind: “That sense that you can be in a space and feel accepted, and then something is said, and it makes you realize oh, you are not being embraced for who you are entirely.”

This happened to Markle constantly. People would ask, “What are you?” or assume she was white. Even her first talent agent, Nick Collins, said he didn’t send her to casting calls for people of color until she mentioned her black mom.

But getting into more auditions didn’t lead to more gigs. As she described in Elle, being an “ethnic chameleon” meant she wasn’t white enough for the white roles or black enough for the black roles. In the mid-2000s, Collins said, diversity still felt like a box the industry was trying to check, rather than an asset to recruit.

“If she was hitting the market for acting jobs today, she would be so much happier now than she was 11 years ago,” he said. “It was really hard for her. She had to work hard not to punish herself for the things that she wasn’t. It was hard enough being the things that she was.”

Mostly what she was: the girl who was on screen for a few moments, saying next to nothing. Viewers saw her holding a briefcase in towering heels on the game show “Deal or No Deal,” taking a seat on a plane next to Ashton Kutcher in “A Lot Like Love” and delivering a package to Jason Sudekis in “Horrible Bosses.” “You’re way too cute to be just a FedEx girl,” he tells her.

Then, at 29 years old, she auditioned for “Suits.” USA Network was looking for the girl who could play Rachel Zane, a firebrand in a pencil skirt whom the show’s protagonist would fall for. There was no ethnic descriptor attached to the role.

“The reality is that girl would have been played by Jennifer Aniston 10 years ago,” said director Kevin Bray.

When Markle auditioned, Bray remembered, there was some discussion about what she was. Latina? Mediterranean? He told the others at the casting table that he could tell she was biracial, like himself.

By the second season, Markle’s character had a family history — her father was a black attorney.

“I recall her being very appreciative that we were honoring her identity,” said Aaron Korsh, the creator of “Suits.”

As the show found success, Markle booked speaking appearances and wrote essays for women’s magazines. She started her lifestyle blog, The Tig, where she interspersed fashion advice with messages about self-empowerment and interviews with dynamic, diverse women. She told stories about the slavery and segregation experienced by her ancestors. She asked for her freckles to not be airbrushed away.

With every blog entry and social media post, more people were learning her message: She was no longer the girl who had been afraid to speak up when her heritage was insulted. She was here, she wrote, “To say who I am, to share where I’m from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman.”

Then came Harry and the Windsors and a royal engagement.

The blog and all of her social media accounts were deleted. The archives were wiped. The story of Meghan Markle, as she had written it, was being erased.

“Harry to marry into gangster royalty? New love ‘from crime-ridden neighbourhood’ ” — The Daily Star

“Miss Markle’s mother is a dreadlocked African-American lady from the wrong side of the tracks.” — The Mail on Sunday

“Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton” — The Daily Mail

In the fall of 2016, news broke that Prince Harry was dating Markle. The British tabloids were in a tizzy — and were, in some cases, blatantly racist. Kensington Palace released a statement calling out the “racial undertones” in the coverage and the “wave of abuse and harassment” experienced by Markle.

“Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed that he has not been able to protect her,” the statement read.

How did she feel about all of this? She made no statement of her own.

In November 2017, the couple announced their engagement. Online, the conversation quickly returned to race. Was it really progress to marry into a family that represents co­lo­ni­al­ism, to marry a man who once wore a Nazi costume to a party? Would she be marrying into the royal family if she wasn’t light skinned? Why was her blackness being measured at all?

“Can everyone leave Meghan Markle alone already?” tweeted one defender. “She’s mixed, she’s beautiful, and she’s engaged to a PRINCE. She’s winning! Quit hating.”

Markle herself was no longer taking part in the conversation about her identity. She was starting her new life: making public appearances, sitting for photo shoots, donning a dress reported to cost $75,000, all while looking lovingly into the prince’s eyes.

Kehinde Andrews, a Birmingham City University professor who studies race in Britain, says that is why Markle marrying into the royal family isn’t as revolutionary as it seems.

“She’ll be a princess that happens to be black rather than a black princess,” Andrews said. “Is she going to use this platform to raise issues of importance to black people in this country? That would be a black princess. I don’t think the royal family would allow it to happen. . . . It would make them too uncomfortable.”

But author Margo Jefferson, who is African American, sees Markle’s very presence in Kensington Palace as progress. “She has already done race history a real service,” Jefferson wrote in the Guardian. The question is what she’ll do next.

“When it comes to issues of race, gender, sexuality and class, how much can Meghan Markle say and do?” Jefferson asked. “How much does she want to say and do?”

In search of the answer, royal-watchers are dissecting every bit of wedding news for deeper meaning: the guest list, the mostly black gospel choir, the decision to include her mother in her procession to the church.

In Markle’s next role, will she get to be the “strong, confident mixed-race woman”? Or must she be the prim, polished duchess tradition requires? She may be hoping there’s a way to, once again, be both.

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« Reply #2384 on: May 18, 2018, 04:34 AM »

Black actresses brave downpour to protest at Cannes

Agence France-Presse
18 May 2018 at 07:23 ET                   

Sixteen black and mixed race actresses staged a glamorous red carpet protest at the Cannes film festival Wednesday to denounce everyday racism in the French industry.

Led by “Bamako” star Aissa Maiga, they also launched their new book “Being black is not my job” (“Noire n’est pas mon metier”), denouncing the prejudice they have suffered from directors and casting agents.

But the heavens opened as they stepped out onto the red carpet from their cars wearing spectacular gowns by Balmain’s mixed-race designer Olivier Rousteing.

Their march follows hot on the heels of an historic red carpet demonstration Saturday by 82 Hollywood stars, women directors, producers and scriptwriters, led by Cate Blanchett, demanding equal pay and status.

“I was moved to act by the spirit of the times,” Maiga told AFP, who said quotas “could be a possible option” for combatting the lack of black faces on screen, even if that would spark vehement opposition in France.

One of the actors who took part, Nadege Beausson-Diagne, said in the book that she had been asked if she spoke “African” at a casting.

She was also told, “You can’t play her, she’s a lawyer” and “Luckily you have fine features and you are not negroid, not too black…”

The actress, who appeared in France’s biggest ever film at the box office, “Welcome to the Sticks” (“Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis”), said she was also told she was “not African enough to be African” and that “for a black, you are really very intelligent. You should have been white.”

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