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« Reply #3030 on: Jun 14, 2019, 04:09 AM »

Swiss women strike to demand equal pay

Planned events include giant picnics and pram marches, culminating in demonstrations

Agence France-Presse in Geneva
Fri 14 Jun 2019 09.28 BST

Women across Switzerland are walking off the job and into the streets to demand wage parity, nearly three decades after staging the country’s first nationwide strike for equal pay.

Events planned throughout the day range from pram marches to whistle concerts, extended lunch breaks and giant picnics, culminating in demonstrations on Friday evening in several cities, including in front of the government building in Bern.

Unions and rights groups organising the events are hoping to see a sea of purple – the colour chosen to show solidarity with the cause – but in a country where work stoppages are extremely rare the turnout remains uncertain.

On 14 June 1991 – 10 years after equality between the sexes was enshrined in the Swiss constitution – half a million women walked out of their workplaces or homes to protest at persistent inequalities.

Three decades on, however, the organisers of Friday’s events say things have barely improved, insisting women need to demand “more time, more money, more respect”.

Women in Switzerland on average still earn 20% less than men.

For men and women with equal qualifications, the wage gap remains nearly 8%, according to the national statistics office.

Riding the wave of the global MeToo movement, a new generation of women is attacking the lingering issues of discrimination, harassment and wage inequality with renewed vigour.

Organisers have called upon women to stay away from their jobs, and also housework, for the day to help raise awareness about the vital contribution women make across society.

“The objective is to block the country with a feminist strike, a women’s strike,” the activist Marie Metrailler said.

Strikers will also be demanding zero tolerance for violence against women and more respect and better pay for women’s work, including through the introduction of a minimum national salary.

In some towns, nurseries will be closed, while schools will ensure only minimum service to allow the mainly female staff and teachers to take part in the day’s events.

Organisers have urged women who are unable to take a full day to at least pack their things and leave by 3.24pm. “After that, women work for free,” said Anne Fritz, the main organiser of the strike and a representative of USS, an umbrella organisation of 16 Swiss unions.

Back in 1991, about 500,000 women – a high number in a country that at the time counted fewer than 3.5 million female inhabitants – marched and organised giant picnics in the streets.

The large turnout was all the more remarkable given that work stoppages have been extremely rare in Switzerland since employers and unions signed the “Peace at Work” convention in 1937. It states that differences should be worked out through negotiation rather than strikes.

Back then, many women were blocked from participating in the strike, and organisers fear a repeat on Friday, with the country’s main employers’ organisation flatly opposed to the action.

But according to a recent poll by the Tamedia group, 63.5% of Swiss residents back the strike.

A number of politicians have also voiced their support, and parliament has decided to mark the occasion with a 15-minute break.

The idea of another nationwide women’s strike was born out of frustration at an attempt to change the law to impose greater oversight over salary distribution, which passed through the Swiss parliament last year.

The final text applied only to companies with more than 100 employees – affecting fewer than 1% of employers – and failed to include sanctions for those that allowed persistent gender pay gaps.

Gaining recognition of women’s rights has been a drawn-out process in Switzerland, which was one of the last countries in Europe to grant women the right to vote, in 1971.

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« Reply #3031 on: Jun 14, 2019, 04:10 AM »

Hong Kong's digital battle: tech that helped protesters now used against them

Wary of being tracked and targeted like activists inside China, protesters are keeping a low profile online
Lily Kuo

Lily Kuo in Hong Kong
Fri 14 Jun 2019 06.51 BST

In early June, Ivan Ip, 22, joined a public chat group on Telegram called “Parade 69”, named for a mass demonstration planned in central Hong Kong to protest a bill allowing for the transfer of suspects from the city to China. According to Ip, an administrator of the group of more than 30,000 people, they discussed things like bringing sunscreen, water, and umbrellas to block the sun or rain.

Two days after the protest, which saw as many as one million Hong Kong residents march against the proposed extradition law, authorities arrived at Ip’s apartment in the evening. Banging on the door, they yelled: “Police! Open up the door!”

For the next eight hours, the police, with a warrant for Ip’s arrest on suspicion of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, raided his room and questioned him at home and at the police station. After forcing him to unlock his phone and downloading chats from the group, they interrogated him about the group’s creator, the purpose of the forum, and whether Ip knew of other groups for planning “radical actions”.

Ip’s arrest is one of several cases that have generated a wave of anxiety among protesters in Hong Kong, thousands of whom have come out to rally against a law they believe spells the end of freedom for their city, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory where residents have long enjoyed freedom of speech and press, and unfettered access to the internet, unlike their peers on the mainland.

A protest movement that once capitalised on messaging apps and social media platforms is now seeing those same tools used against it. During pro-democracy protests in 2014, the mostly young, digitally savvy protesters mobilised and organised a two-month shutdown of the city over public platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and through groups on WhatsApp.

Now, more protesters are keeping a low profile on social media, communicating only via secure messaging apps, deleting conversations related to the protests, and using pre-paid SIM cards not linked to their personal information. Wary of being tracked, others are disabling location tracking on their phones and buying paper subway tickets rather than using metro cards linked to their IDs.

Protesters have been cautioned to always wear face masks, in case photos are used to identify them. Many declined to give out their phone numbers or contacts to reporters, fearing their information could wind up in the hands of police.

“It is unprecedented for Hong Kong put such high pressure on freedom of speech. People are getting muted, as the regime wants,” Ip said, describing such methods as a “white terror”.
Paranoia and ‘picnics’

Ip was released on bail around 3am on the morning of 12 June and is currently working with a lawyer on the case. The charge of inciting others to cause a public nuisance carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. The Telegram chat group Ip was in has now been shut down.

The methods are reminiscent of mainland China, where citizens can be detained for comments posted on social media and dissidents’ communication is often surveilled.

Telegram said on Wednesday it had suffered “powerful” denial of service (DDoS) attacks, originating from China. The platform’s founder, Pavel Durov, said the attacks coincided with the protests in Hong Kong that day.

Much of the fear among Hong Kong protesters comes from the arrests of previous leaders of the 2014 protests who were charged with related crimes of inciting public nuisance and sentenced to varying jail terms.

“People are very cautious now,” said Billy Li a convener for the Hong Kong Progressive Lawyers Group. “The incitement charge has made people very concerned about whether they can be charged similarly when they say something on the internet.”

As a result, the protesters are also changing their language. In an online call, activists invited residents to join a “picnic” in a park the government complex on the evening of 11 June. By the next day, thousands of protesters had surrounded the government.

Experts say another concern is what Hong Kong authorities do with the personal data of protesters. The police are equipped with cameras. The biometric data of those arrested is collected. It is not clear how long such data is kept for and for what it is used, according to Craig Choy, a data protection lawyer.

Choy warned that another risk is Beijing being given access to the personal data of Hong Kong residents who have participated in the protests. “There is no restriction on cross-border data transfer. All this can be sent to China. It’s like throwing a stone into the sea. You don’t know how they are going to use it.”

Still, Ip says he is not so easily intimidated. “Everywhere in Hong Kong are civilians who believe they can exercise their public power in a lawful way. And I do believe in hope, that Hong Kongers will keep fighting for their dreams and will weather this storm.”

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« Reply #3032 on: Jun 14, 2019, 04:14 AM »

Uganda jails hundreds of men for sex offences against women and girls

Campaigners applaud move to curb gender-based violence after courts hold special sessions to clear backlog of cases

Samuel Okiror in Kampala
14 Jun 2019 13.29 BST

Hundreds of men in Uganda have been jailed for sexual offences against girls and women during a month of special court sessions to clear a backlog of cases.

Between November and December last year, 414 men and nine women were found guilty during 13 trials held in selected courts in 13 districts around the country, according to the justice, law and order sector, a body that brings together government ministries working on legal matters.

The perpetrators were handed sentences ranging from community service to up to 50 years in jail.

“Overall, the objective of the pilot was met with unprecedented success, leading to the disposal of over 788 cases against the target of 650 cases,” said a report.

Activists and campaigners have welcomed the convictions, which they described as “decisive action” that sends a strong message.

“We applaud the gesture of special court sessions on GBV [gender-based violence]. Convicting more than 400 perpetrators is an exciting and welcomed landmark,” said Simon Richard Mugenyi, advocacy and communications manager at Reproductive Health Uganda.

“It’s a massive signal to those who plan to abuse women’s rights. It has been one of the missing links. Therefore, this will go a long away to curb GBV.”

Florence Auma, programme specialist for gender and human rights at the UN population fund in Uganda, said: “The convictions were deterrent enough for those that went through the court process. For those that plea-bargained, the highest penalty was 28 years in prison, including time already served on remand.”

The mother of a 12-year-old girl abused by her 35-year-old uncle in the eastern district of Soroti welcomed the decision to sentence the man to 19 years in jail.

“I am happy with the sentence and I know it is a lesson for other men in the community,” she said.

“Everybody said the perpetrator would bribe the officials and be set free. When I heard the sentence, I felt that justice had been served.”

The Ugandan police crime report recorded 14,985 cases of defilement (sexual assault on a person under 18) and 1,335 rape cases in 2017.

“SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence] has been on the increase in Uganda. Decisive action is therefore required,” said Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.

“Given that [sexual violence] involves infringement of the dignity and privacy of the individual, having special courts on SGBV is appropriate. Giving deterrent sentences is encouraged,” he said.

The special sessions were successfully piloted between 12 November and 15 December to help clear a backlog of more than 1,000 cases.

Mercy Grace Munduru, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the convictions could not obscure the need for the judiciary to learn more about trying sexual violence cases.

“There is need for specialised training for judicial officers who directly adjudicate over these matters; there is also need to comprehensively engage communities in this process prior to establishing special courts,” she said. “The specialised nature of the courts requires a careful approach.”

The report said prosecutions for gender-based violence needed to be handled with greater sensitivity towards survivors.

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« Reply #3033 on: Jun 14, 2019, 04:17 AM »

Brazil: Bolsonaro fires key moderate who warned of dangers of 'extremism'

    Government secretary Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz forced out
    News comes as scandal swirls around justice minister Moro

Tom Phillips in Mexico City and Anna Jean Kaiser in Rio de Janeiro
Fri 14 Jun 2019 00.50 BST

Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has sacked one of the most prominent moderates in his administration for reportedly failing to ideologically align himself with his commander-in-chief’s radical creed.

Gen Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, Bolsonaro’s secretary of government, had repeatedly locked horns with the president’s crotchety US-based guru, Olavo de Carvalho, and was reportedly relieved of his duties on Thursday afternoon.

The move, which sent shockwaves through Brazilian politics, came as Bolsonaro finally broke an almost four-day silence over a still unfolding scandal involving his justice minister Sérgio Moro.

Moro is facing calls for his resignation after a series of politically explosive leaks published by the Intercept suggested he colluded with prosecutors in order to jail Bolsonaro’s key rival in last year’s presidential election, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Polls suggested Lula would have defeated Bolsonaro had he been able to run.

Bolsonaro loyalists and Olavo de Carvalho devotees celebrated the defenestration of Santos Cruz, one of the key players in what is seen as a comparatively moderate military faction with the administration.

“Santos Cruz has been relieved of his duties. The drinks are on me,” tweeted the Bolsonarian blogger Allan dos Santos.

But political observers voiced shock and concern that one of the more temperate characters around Brazil’s far-right leader had been forced out.

Brian Winter, a Brazil specialist and the editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly, said: “It is very sudden, it is very unexpected, and it comes at a time when the pragmatic voices seemed to be ascendant in the government. This is one of the most pragmatic voices in the government who can be fired.”

Winter said it was unclear whether Santos Cruz’s demise was the result of a clash with the president, or friction with Bolsonaro’s Olavo de Carvalho-supporting sons, Eduardo and Carlos, who have been “baying for his head publicly and behind the scenes” for weeks.

The Rio broadsheet O Globo said the sacking was the result of “a lack of political and ideological alignment”.

Santos Cruz became embroiled in a public feud with Olavo de Carvalho in March, with the latter launching a succession of foul-mouthed and often infantile Twitter attacks.

“Watch your mouth, you shit,” Carvalho tweeted at one point.

On another occasion he branded Santos Cruz “a pompous turd”.

Santos Cruz hit back more subtly, using one interview to warn of the danger “extremism” and “fanaticism” posed to Bolsonaro’s government and Brazil.

Santos Cruz’s dismissal came shortly after Bolsonaro offered his backing to another key minister, Sérgio Moro, who has come under fire this week following the Intercept’s revelations.

“What he did is priceless. He is part of Brazilian history,” Bolsonaro said in reference to the sprawling Car Wash anti-corruption investigation for which Moro became famous.

However, the Intercept’s editors have vowed to release more compromising material from what they call a “vast trove” of secret documents, leaving Brazil’s political class bracing for further turbulence.

Sergio Praça, a political scientist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation University, said: “There’s a feeling that this is only the beginning and things can change quickly. We don’t know what more is coming or when.”

Winter said the political upheaval came after Bolsonaro’s government “appeared to have found some kind of relative footing over the last month or so”.

“It looked like they were starting to pull it together, relatively speaking. Guess what? The drama is back.”

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« Reply #3034 on: Jun 14, 2019, 04:39 AM »

Trump faces a tsunami of criticism after saying it’s OK to use foreign intel on opponents

By Agence France-Presse

Donald Trump on Thursday reignited the political storm that has threatened to engulf his presidency by insisting he has the right to use dirt provided by foreign governments on political opponents without informing the FBI.

In an interview aired late Wednesday by ABC News television, Trump was asked about taking help similar to the research offered by Russian operatives to his 2016 campaign about rival Hillary Clinton.

“There’s nothing wrong with listening,” Trump said, adding that he’d only “maybe” contact the FBI if he “thought there was something wrong.”

When ABC interviewer George Stephanopoulos pointed out that FBI Director Christopher Wray recently said that any foreign meddling in US elections should be reported, Trump responded: “The FBI director is wrong.”

A torrent of criticism erupted Thursday, including from vital Republican ally Senator Lindsey Graham, who said the president had made “a mistake.”
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“I believe that it should be practice for all public officials who are contacted by a foreign government with an offer of assistance to their campaign — either directly or indirectly — to inform the FBI and reject the offer,” Graham said.

Senior Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer called Trump’s comments “shocking.”

“To say that it’s OK for foreign countries to interfere in our elections, with motives that are not what’s in the interest of the American people? Disgraceful,” he said.

“Everybody in the country should be totally appalled,” the Democratic speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, said.

– ‘Ridiculous!’ –

Trump defended himself Thursday, saying that his remarks had been taken out of context and that anyway he talks “every day” with foreign figures.

“Should I immediately call the FBI about these calls and meetings? How ridiculous! I would never be trusted again,” he tweeted.

However, Trump was referring in his tweet to conversations with allies like the leaders of France and Britain, and even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II.

But on Wednesday Trump was asked about getting assistance from countries like Russia or China, which are seen by the US government as potentially dangerous competitors.

The White House and Republicans argued that Trump was being unfairly singled out when the Democrats had been the ones to make use of the now infamous dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, in 2016.

Steele talked to Russian sources for the report which was paid for by a legal firm linked to Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Filled with explosive and in some cases apparently completely erroneous claims about Trump’s links to Russia, the report was eventually handed over to US law enforcement, adding fuel to a massive official probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The hypocrisy here knows no bounds,” Trump spokesman Hogan Gidley said, branding criticism of the president “absolutely ridiculous.”

– Impeachment threat –

According to Mueller, who completed his probe in April after nearly two years of exhaustive inquiries, Trump’s 2016 campaign had numerous contacts with Russians but the pattern did not amount to proof of a conspiracy with Moscow.

Despite that, Democrats say that Trump’s behavior was suspicious enough to warrant further investigation in congressional committees. A loud minority of lawmakers is even pushing for impeachment.

Trump’s interview with ABC came on the same day his son Donald Jr was grilled by US senators about his contacts with Russians.

In June 2016, the younger Trump held a now-infamous meeting at Trump Tower that included his father’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Democratic nominee Clinton.

Trump declared victory after the Mueller report was released but his latest comments have reignited the controversy just as his 2020 reelection campaign starts up in earnest.

Trump will hold a rally with supporters in Florida to mark the official kick off on Tuesday.

One of Trump’s fiercest Democratic opponents, House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff, called the president’s comments on taking foreign help “a dereliction of duty.”

“The Trump campaign sought such help in 2016, and their candidate just put out word they want more in 2020. It’s up to Congress to put a stop to it,” he said.


‘It is a crime!’ Fox’s Shep Smith brutally shames Trump for welcoming foreign interference in 2020

By Brad Reed
Raw Story

Fox News host Shepard Smith on Thursday read President Donald Trump the riot act for his decision to welcome foreign interference in the 2020 presidential election.

Smith began by playing a clip of the president saying he’d “want to hear” a foreign government that brought him damaging information on his opponent in the 2020 presidential election.

“It is interference,” Smith said, describing what Trump was advocating. “And a candidate accepting anything of value from a foreign entity is a crime.”

Smith then noted that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he believed that the president made a “mistake” in welcoming foreign interference in American elections, but Smith wasn’t buying that excuse.

“The president has made similar comments before and he’s doubled down today,” Smith said. “During the 2016 campaign, he said he hoped Russia would find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails, and he praised WikiLeaks for publishing stolen DNC documents.”

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqhlVKzOrFg


Andrew McCabe rips the ‘new low’ by Republicans cowering to Donald Trump

Raw Story

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe slammed the GOP during an interview with MSNBC Nicolle Wallace.

McCabe ripped Republicans for failing to stand up to Trump after he said that he would be take dirt on a political opponent from a foreign operative.

“I worked on three presidential campaigns, and you didn’t even take a phone call from a representative of a foreign government. Frankly, when I worked on a campaign, you didn’t take phone calls from an organization with aligned interests. But we heard from the president himself, and we heard Congress, they did a little more than shrug but not much. Does that to you explain where we are now?” Wallace said.

McCabe explained that the Republican Party has lost its core values.

“I think it emboldens the president to say the ridiculous things he says all the time and it explains why he feels strong enough to do these things to give in to his more baser instincts because he knows that party is not going to hold him accountable to anything,” McCabe said.

“This is not the first failure of courage that we’ve seen on the part of congressional Republicans, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. There’s a new low in terms of the sort of activity and behavior that congressional Republicans are willing to accept from this president every day,” he said.

“Republicans are now completely okay with the statement by the president that he would accept information from the Russians. I mean, the Republican Party traditionally strong on national defense, the party that fought Russia, the party that won the Cold War, and here we are today where things like the statements made to ABC take place yesterday and you hear a collective nothing from the leadership on the Republican side of the hill,” he said.


Lindsey 'i love being Trump's drag queen' Graham repeatedly busted for lying to defend Trump’s threat to cheat in 2020

Raw Story

Sen. Miss Lindsey 'i love being Trump's drag queen'  Graham (R-SC) compared President Donald Trump’s invitation for foreign campaign assistance to opposition research conducted by a former British spy, and he was roasted online.

The South Carolina Republican agreed public officials should notify the FBI and reject any offer for campaign assistance from a foreign government, but he accused Democrats of doing the same thing during the 2016 election.

    American electoral campaigns should be run by, for, and decided by the American people.

    Foreign influence in our electoral process is and has been a problem.

    — Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 13, 2019
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    ………..and that information, unverified, was apparently used by the FBI to obtain a warrant against an American citizen.

    — Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 13, 2019

Other Twitter users heaped scorn on Graham for helping Trump push bogus conspiracy theories about the Steele dossier.

    GOP hired Fusion who used Steele, former British security agent w deep contacts in Russia, to investigate Trump. John McCain was given dossier, after reading it contacted FBI. Steele also contacted FBI because worried that Trump compromised based on what his RU sources found..

    — Denise Louis 📻 (@birdyluisa) June 13, 2019

    Surely you know the difference between accepting help from a foreign national and accepting help from a foreign government. Even you can tell the difference, right?

    — kyliebrant (@kyliebrant) June 13, 2019

    Wow 😮 can’t believe you’re lying 🤥 about this. Completely twisting the truth!! You know a conservative group hired this firm initially and they were a business in the United States! And this business went to John McCain and FBI with its concerns! Stop LYING

    — Krista weber (@kcwweber) June 13, 2019

    I literally can’t believe what a liar you are.

    — I Am Crapaport (@claudialonow) June 13, 2019

    That’s not spine it’s spin

    — Paprikapink (@PaprikaPink) June 13, 2019

    Fact: the Steele dossier started with GOP hiring Fusion GPS. Eventually it found its way to the Democratic side. Both parties turned it over to the FBI. Stop it already. Every time you lie or lack spine I make another donation to @harrisonjaime

    He’s getting double today.

    — Space Pirate (@brentcrawford) June 13, 2019

    Gaslight much comrade?

    — AccaDaccca (@AccaDaccca) June 13, 2019

    Very wimpy, as expected

    — Dr Haider (@ArabiaDeserta) June 13, 2019

    Too little, too late, suckup.

    — Cathi Brennan (@CathiBrennan67) June 13, 2019

    Oh Wow just Wow, Lindsay! That’s telling Trump, that’s setting him straight! Gee, I bet he’s just shaking in his boots on how you eviscerated him after he said he’d let Russia, China, Iran or even Norway interfere with the 🇺🇸electoral process! Golly, you sure are tough! NOT!!

    — Alice in Nova Scotia🇨🇦 (@Allie6251) June 13, 2019

    False equivalency, Linds.

    — Scott Monty (@ScottMonty) June 13, 2019

    Research is legal. Hacking is not.

    — Mark Davenport (@markdavenport70) June 13, 2019


    — Jason Marbach (@TheArmoryBand) June 13, 2019

    The Republicans hired this firm first. Interesting that Republicans always omit that truth.

    — M Skinner (@Briarangeldog) June 13, 2019

    They hired Fusion GPS, not a foreign national. Fusion contracted with Steele, who was FORMER secret service and not representing any foreign entity. Also this:https://t.co/L3LhkNTJO8 pic.twitter.com/juLCUt37tK

    — A Dissident is Here 🌊 (@Pulpiteer) June 13, 2019

    Lies. Obfuscation. Whataboutism. True to form.

    — Embassy Cat (@mellymagscopy17) June 13, 2019

    Wrong again, dear.https://t.co/03VQf65mO4

    — Raven (@overfossilfuels) June 13, 2019


Trump appointee calling for Kellyanne Conway’s ouster says her law-breaking behavior is ‘unprecedented’

on June 14, 2019
By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

When the Office of Special Counsel announced in a new report Thursday that Kellyanne Conway has so egregiously violated the Hatch Act that she must be removed from her federal job, the White House was clearly upset.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Steven Groves released a statement saying that the office has “unclear and unevenly applied rules which have a chilling effect on free speech for all federal employees.” And White House Counsel Pat Cipollone requested that the office withdraw its report on Conway, writing in a letter that “the White House must ensure that OSC exercises its significant authority in an appropriate and neutral manner.”

But Henry Kerner, the special counsel (a completely separate role from the the Special Counsel’s Office, which was previously run by Robert Mueller), is standing firm. A Trump appointee, Kerner acknowledged what was an “unprecedented” step against Conway in comments to the Washington Post.

“You know what else is unprecedented?” he added. “Kellyanne Conway’s behavior.”

“In interview after interview, she uses her official capacity to disparage announced candidates, which is not allowed,” he continued. “What kind of example does that send to the federal workforce? If you’re high enough up in the White House, you break the law, but if you’re a postal carrier or a regular federal worker, you lose your job?”

Conway had previously been reprimanded when she directed viewers of Fox News to buy products from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line, which she is not allowed to promote from her federal post. But most of her violations of the Hatch Act, according to the Office of Special Counsel, stem from her advocacy for and against certain electoral candidates, which federal employees (the president and the vice president excepted) are barred from doing.

The White House argued that enforcement of this act inhibits the free speech of federal employees, but employees like Conway are free to resign and join the Trump campaign if they wish to be paid political advocates.  The purpose of the Hatch Act is to prevent the president from using the federal government to advance his narrow electoral ends. The White House also complained that the office is partisan and biased against Republicans, but this claim is senseless, given it is led by a Trump appointee.

“Typical White House gas lighting,” said Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, of the White House’s complaints. “OSC’s leader is a Trump appointee from a respected right-leaning watchdog group.”


Sarah Sanders exits after two fraught years as Trump hails 'a very fine woman'

    Sanders, who made false claims on Trump’s behalf, departs
    Press secretary says ‘I love the president’ in emotional farewell

David Smith in Washington
14 Jun 2019 22.56 BST

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, has become the latest official to leave Donald Trump’s volatile administration, but in an emotional farewell she insisted: “I love the president.”

Sanders, a bitterly divisive figure who has not held a press briefing for a record 94 days, will return to her home state of Arkansas, it was announced on Thursday, though her exact plans remain unclear.

Trump and Sanders expressed mutual admiration that suggested the parting was amicable. The president first announced her departure via Twitter then spoke of her in glowing terms at an unrelated event at the White House. He described Sanders as “a magnificent person” and who has done “an incredible job”.

Sanders promised that she would continue to be “one of the most outspoken and loyal supporters of the president and his agenda” – raising the prospect that she could follow her predecessor, Sean Spicer, into becoming a political pundit on channels such as Fox News. “I know he’s going to have an incredible six more years,” she added.

Sanders will not be missed by Trump’s critics. Matthew Miller, a former justice department spokesperson, tweeted: “Good riddance. She had the most important spokesperson job in the world and used it to lie repeatedly to the American people. I hope shame and stigma follow her the rest of life.”

Sanders, daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, took over from Spicer in July 2017. She was the third woman to hold the position. She was one of the closest and most trusted White House aides and one of the few remaining who worked on his campaign.

    Good riddance. She had the most important spokesperson job and used it to lie repeatedly to the American people
    Matthew Miller

Sanders provided stability after Spicer’s series of wayward gaffes and, unlike other Trump officials, stayed in his good graces with her unswerving, often ostentatious shows of loyalty. In January she told the Christian TV network CBN that “God wanted Donald Trump to become president”.

Sanders amplified Trump’s attacks on the media, sometimes clashing with CNN correspondent Jim Acosta in the briefing room, and notoriously made false claims on behalf of the president, deepening questions about the administration’s credibility.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed that Sanders admitted to investigators that she had made an unfounded claim that “countless” FBI agents had got in touch to express support for Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey in May 2017. Sanders later claimed her comments were “a slip of the tongue” and made in “the heat of the moment”.

It was also on her watch that the daily press briefing, a staple of past administrations, became irregular and all but petered out. There has been no briefing for the past three months, effectively replaced by impromptu gatherings with reporters in the White House driveway, and by Trump’s own question-and-answer sessions on the south lawn.

Sanders becomes the latest in a long list of White House departures; Trump has presided over a record turnover of staff. He has not yet announced a successor.

At the press conference on Thursday, Trump summoned Sanders to join him at podium. The 36-year-old beamed as the president said: “She’s going to be leaving the service of her country and she’s going to be going – I guess you could say private sector… She comes from a great state, Arkansas, that was a state that I won by a lot, so I like it.”

The president added: “If we can get her to run for the governor of Arkansas, I think she’ll do very well. I’m trying to get her to do that… She’s a very special person, a very, very fine woman, she has been so great, she has such heart, she’s strong but with great, great heart, and I want to thank you for an outstanding job.”

Trump kissed Sanders on the head amid applause. She took the podium, visibly resisting tears, and said: “This has been the honour of a lifetime, the opportunity of a lifetime.

She said she had “loved every minute, even in the hard minutes, I’ve loved it.

“I love the president. I love the team that I’ve had the opportunity to work for. The president is surrounded by some of the most incredible and most talented people you could ever imagine and it’s truly the most special experience. The only one I can think of that might top it just a little bit is the fact that I’m a mom. I have three amazing kids and I’m going to spend a little more time with them.”


A smugly smirking sasquatch has turned our greatest deliberative body into a corpse — and it’s worse than it sounds

By Michael Winship, Common Dreams
- Commentary

Comparisons are odious, Shakespeare wrote, and maybe so, but these days, virtually everything to do with Washington has become so foul-smelling that a mere comparison now and then seems like a tiptoe through the tulips.

Comparisons: Recently, Donald Trump has been referred to as Fat Nixon, although I see him more in the mold of moldy old Andrew Johnson; corrupt, racist and about to be impeached.

In a June 9 New York Times profile, Attorney General William Barr was compared by a former Justice Department official to “the closest thing we have to Dick Cheney,” a thought that should send a shiver up the spine of any sentient or quail-hunting American.

As for Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell, in past days the Senate majority leader has compared himself to Death itself. He told a fundraiser back home in Kentucky that any progressive legislation from the House would be DOA when it hits the Senate: “If I’m still the majority leader of the Senate after next year, none of those things are going to pass the Senate. They won’t even be voted on. So think of me as the Grim Reaper: the guy who is going to make sure that socialism doesn’t land on the president’s desk.”

Mitch The Grim Reaper, scourge of “socialism.” Sweet. He also has compared himself to Darth Vader. And Democratic presidential wannabe Michael Bennet recently declared, “Trump is the star of his own three-ring circus in Washington, but there is no doubt who the ringmaster actually is, and that is Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell.”

Yes, Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell—the smugly smirking Sasquatch who vows to stomp progressive laws flatter than Kansas. The man who told National Journal in 2010 that, to hell with legislative success, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He didn’t succeed in that particular election but he certainly helped lay the groundwork for our current gruesome predicament.

Mitch is the guy who before the 2016 presidential election refused to let the public know the extent of Russian interference and threatened those who wanted to tell the truth (and who now is blocking legislation that would combat more meddling – see below.)

And Mitch is The Grim Reaper who blocked Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, claiming that to obey the wishes of the American people, filling the seat had to wait until there was a new president, but who now has said – to laughter and applause at a Kentucky chamber of commerce meeting last month  — that if there was a similar vacancy next year, Republicans would not hesitate to fill it, presidential election year be damned.

So in reality, the Garland ploy was, in the words of stalwart Philadelphia Inquirercolumnist Will Bunch, “a naked power play to make pro-business judges set our laws for the next 40 years.”

And that’s just a piece of it. Under McConnell, the Senate has become the GOP elephants’ graveyard, a place for confirming right-wing judicial and executive appointments and little else.

Here’s how The New York Times described it on June 6 : “The Senate left for D-Day celebrations after a three-day workweek in which nothing passed. Three minor administration posts were filled on Wednesday, and the Senate mustered four votes on motions to end debate. Meantime, the logjam of unaddressed legislation piled higher.”

Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy complained that McConnell has “effectively turned the United States Senate into a very expensive lunch club that occasionally votes on a judge or two.” According to The Times, “Barely a dozen roll-call votes have been held this year on bills, amendments and legislation, and around 20 bills have been signed into law since January.”

“I don’t know what the hell [McConnell’s] for, I only know what he’s against,” House Rules Committee chair Jim McGovern told The Hill. “… Anything that helps working people, or helps those struggling to get into the middle class, he’s against.”

On the other hand, despite Mitch’s intransigence in the Senate and Trump’s tweets and complaints, the House of Representatives is very busy. Its ongoing investigations of the president have gotten the most press but haven’t slowed the members down, as the president and others have suggested.

It’s useful to list just some of the many pieces of legislation passed by the house so far this year, proposed laws that now languish in the Senate mortuary (thanks to Vox for this, where there’s a more thorough compilation):

    HR 1 — For the People Act of 2019, legislation promoting campaign finance reform, government transparency, automatic voter registration and an end to the gerrymander;

    HR 5 — Equality Act, protecting the LGBTQ communities;

    HR 7 — Paycheck Fairness Act, fighting salary and benefits discrimination against women;

    HR 8 — Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, much needed gun regulation;

    HR 9 — Climate Action Now Act, including restoration of our role in the Paris accords;

    HR 840 — Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act, adding child care to veterans’ benefits;

    HR 986 — Protecting Americans with Preexisting Conditions Act of 2019;

    HR 987 — Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act;

    HR 1585 — Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019;

    HR 1500 — Consumers First Act;

    HR 1644 — Save the Internet Act of 2019.

And don’t forget, among others, several additional bills helping veterans; continuing work toward increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and restoring sections of the Voting Rights Act overturned by the Supreme Court; the Secure Act, making it easier to offer 401K plans and convert them into steady retirement income; and the Dream and Promise Act, building a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the children of the undocumented. As for desperately needed infrastructure, there’s a plan, but Trump stomped out before Democrats could present it.

The only things the House and Senate have agreed on are disaster relief, the anti-US involvement in Yemen resolution that Trump then vetoed, the bills that ended the long government shutdown, and restricting robocalls.

Meanwhile, amidst all that senatorial torpor and up for reelection this year, Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell continues using his connections, raking in campaign contributions from special interests and handing out plenty of pork barrel cash to his state.

Rich in pocket but morally bankrupt. As mentioned, he’s been blocking efforts to take further action to bolster election security, while according to the website Sludge, lobbyists for the two largest voting machine vendors, “ES&S and Dominion Voting Systems have made contributions to McConnell’s campaign and joint fundraising committee.”

Further, The Inquirer’s Will Bunch asks, “What does McConnell get out of his less-than-vigilant approach to Russian meddling in our democracy? One of his biggest donors (a whopping $3.5 million to McConnell’s leadership PAC) is Russian-born U.S. citizen Len Blavatnik, who’s maintained close ties in his homeland and has business partnerships with two Russian oligarchs who’ve figured prominently in Trump-tied scandals, Viktor Vekselberg and Oleg Deripaska. McConnell recently used his Senate clout to get U.S. sanctions lifted on Deripaska and his large aluminum company Rusal, which promptly announced a plan to invest $200 million in a new plant… in McConnell’s Kentucky.”

McConnell married well. His second wife, Trump’s transportation secretary Elaine Chao, comes from a wealthy and influential family in the shipping business. Her father gave them millions of dollars in gifts that make McConnell one of the richest members of the Senate. What’s more, according to The New York Times, “In all, from 1989 through 2018, 13 members of the extended Chao family gave a combined $1.66 million to Republican candidates and committees, including $1.1 million to Mr. McConnell and political action committees tied to him, according to F.E.C. records.”

The largesse extends to Elaine Chao’s cabinet position, too. According to Politico, “The Transportation Department… designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.” Mitch laughed it off, telling a reporter, “I hope we can do better next year.”

It’s all of a piece. McConnell’s hypocritical and brutal cynicism, coupled with the urge for power and to make a buck any way he can, together make for an egregious attack on the principles of freedom and democracy—in many ways worse than Trump because Mitch knows exactly what he’s doing and how to do it.

A more suitable comparison to him isn’t The Grim Reaper of the spirit world but the mad Romanian ruler Vlad the Impaler, the 15th century menace upon whom, in part, Bram Stoker is said to have based the bloodthirsty character of Dracula.

Vlad’s ruthless cruelty killed tens of thousands. No enemy was safe but the innocent died, too. In turn, McConnell’s stewardship of the legislative burial ground that the Senate has become is killing decent law upon decent law, many of which would, in fact, save lives. (Let’s see if he’ll allow a Senate vote on making long term the 9/11 victims’ compensation bill the House passed this week after Jon Stewart’s angry testimony before the judiciary committee. “Gosh, I haven’t looked at that lately,” Mitch disingenuously told reporters.)

Don’t be fooled; when the Republicans say that this fatal gridlock is the fault of Democrats, they’re playing the exact same game of projection that Donald Trump plays non-stop: accuse the opposition of those sins and crimes that in reality are your own. Keep in mind that list of forward-thinking bills already passed by the House but deliberately bottlenecked by McConnell, and realize that come Election Day Trump isn’t the only menace to the republic who has to go.


‘McConnell’s Graveyard’: Nancy Pelosi trolls Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell and his ‘Grim Reaper’ political campaign

Raw Story

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Thursday took a shot at Senate Majority Leader Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess'  McConnell (R-KY).

While speaking to reporters at her weekly press conference, Pelosi presented a list of bills that the Democratically-controlled House had passed.

“Leader 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess'  McConnell seems to take great pride in calling himself the Grim Reaper,” Pelosi explained. “It’s part of his political campaign, it’s part of the pride he takes as leader of the Senate.”

“None of these things are going to be passed, they won’t even be voted on,” she said of the list of bills, which included the legislation on Dreamers, equal rights, gun violence prevention, violence against women, climate and paycheck fairness.

“What is it about Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell and the Republicans in Congress that they do not want to respond to what is so popular across the board in our country?” the Speaker later asked.

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« Reply #3035 on: Jun 14, 2019, 05:34 AM »

MSNBC’s Morning Joe and Mika clash over whether Trump is ‘evil’ — or just ‘demented’

By Travis Gettys
Raw Story

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski clashed over whether President Donald Trump is evil, or just “demented.”

The “Morning Joe” co-hosts were grappling with Trump’s invitation to foreign adversaries to interfere with the 2020 election, and they agreed that he had repeatedly confessed to crimes in TV interviews.

“Mika was saying when he did that, she said, ‘This guy is so bad, and others say he’s so evil, he’s so evil,'” Scarborough said. “I said, ‘Well, yes, okay, I get what you’re saying, but wouldn’t a truly evil guy have answered the question to Lester Holt (about firing FBI director James Comey over Russia), ‘No, no, that’s not why.'”

“Wouldn’t a truly evil guy say to George Stephanopoulos, ‘Of course I would report it, I would report it instantly — in fact, I’ve hired three lawyers, and they’re going to be scanning throughout the entire government, we’re going to have the toughest task force on foreign interference ever,’ while he’s actually calling China and calling Russia and saying, ‘Hey, you got anything, you got anything?'” he continued. “That’s the thing about Donald Trump.”

“That’s the thing about Donald Trump,” Scarborough added. “It’s all in plain view. This is a guy that just blurts out whatever is in the front of his head at the time.”
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Brzezinski started to interject, but Scarborough asked MSNBC contributor Donny Deutsch to comment first.

“He’s a bad dude,” Deutsch agreed, “but to your point, Joe, it’s interesting, it’s almost childlike — as he takes the cookie — did you take the cookie? I didn’t take the cookie. He genuinely doesn’t think it’s wrong. That’s how demented he is, or whatever word you want to attach to him, that in front of the entire world, why wouldn’t I? Wouldn’t everyone? You can almost say is he evil or just no moral compass? There’s no compass there to even look at.”

Brzezinski finally got a chance to object to Scarborough’s characterization of her comments.

“I want to take myself out of a box here,” she said. “I never said he’s evil and my reaction is not oh, he’s evil. My reaction to what happened the other night, when he said that is to George Stephanopoulos, was this is horrendous, horrendous for our democracy.”

“He is a national security threat,” she added, “and what he does is not stupidity. What he is doing is not evil playing out before our eyes. What he does is he manipulates the truth, he desensitizes the American public and the world to what is right and wrong, and does things in plain sight — and the results are evil. What happens in a dictatorship, what happens when evil forces step in is this — slowly chipping away at our values, slowly chipping away at our democracy and that, whether he knows it or not, whether he’s planning it or not, whether he gives a damn or not, that’s what’s happening.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzFBFs3SnLw

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« Reply #3036 on: Jun 15, 2019, 04:22 AM »

Rapid DNA analysis helps diagnose mystery diseases

on June 15, 2019
By The Conversation

As doctors, we deal with a lot of uncertainty. Often, it is difficult to diagnose what is making a patient sick because symptoms from both infectious and non-infectious diseases can be indistinguishable from each other.

The tried-and-true method for clinicians has been to formulate a list of the most likely possibilities – and narrow that list down by ordering a series of tests. However, despite extensive, state-of-the-art testing in hospitals today, we still can’t diagnose approximately 50% of cases of respiratory infection (pneumonia), bloodstream infection (sepsis), and neurological infection.

I am an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at University of California, San Francisco. But in college I specialized in computer science and bioengineering. Because so many of my current patients never end up with a definitive diagnosis, I became interested in applying my skills to leverage emerging sequencing technology and develop a computational pipeline for analysis of DNA sequencing data, with the ultimate goal of providing more accurate diagnoses.
What is next-generation sequencing?

My colleagues and I have developed a novel clinical diagnostic test that allows millions of DNA sequences to be decoded from a single clinical sample; for example, a tube of cerebrospinal fluid collected from a hospitalized patient via a lumbar puncture, also known as a “spinal tap.” The aim of this test, called “metagenomic next-generation sequencing” (mNGS), is to diagnose mysterious infections in acutely ill patients.

So far, the bulk of our experience is using this test to diagnose the most severely ill patients with life-threatening infections. However, I envision that as sequencing costs fall, this test could be performed routinely for all patients with suspected infectious syndromes.

This test is called “metagenomic” because DNA from all potential pathogens – bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites – as well as the patient are simultaneously sequenced. We diagnose likely causes of infection by searching for tell-tale traces of DNA from the causative pathogen.

Currently, the overall turnaround time for the test is 48-72 hours. New sequencing devices may soon make it possible to run this test in less than six hours.

Precision diagnosis of acute infectious diseases

For our study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, we enrolled 204 children and adults from eight different hospitals across the U.S. All of these patients had a mysterious, undiagnosed neurological illness – meningitis, encephalitis and/or myelitis – of unknown origin.

To identify the cause we used clinical mNGS testing to identify the pathogens causing the patient’s acute illness.

We ran the mNGS test on cerebrospinal fluid samples from these patients. After analyzing the data we found that in a surprisingly large proportion of infections – 13 of 58, or 22.4% – mNGS testing was necessary to make a timely and accurate diagnosis.

In eight of these infections identified by mNGS only, the diagnosis directly guided doctors to a targeted and appropriate antibiotic treatment. In one neurological infection caused by hepatitis E virus, the mNGS diagnosis likely spared the patient from a liver transplant. That’s because her hepatitis E infection was treatable with an antiviral drug: ribavirin. Without knowing that the patient’s infection was caused by the hepatitis E virus, this effective drug would not have been considered.

Overall, our study demonstrates the clinical usefulness of metagenomic testing in diagnosing neurological infections. The approach can be used for other types of clinical samples and infections, such as analysis of respiratory samples to diagnose infectious pneumonia.

It is my hope and expectation that this powerful new diagnostic tool will transform the way that we as physicians manage infections in our critically ill patients. This would ultimately lower health care costs and saving lives by virtue of earlier and more accurate diagnoses.

Charles Chiu, Professor of Laboratory Medicine, University of California, San Francisco

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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« Reply #3037 on: Jun 15, 2019, 04:25 AM »

Forest Service Wants to Fast-Track Logging Without Environmental Review

Jordan Davidson

The U.S Forest Service unveiled a new plan to skirt a major environmental law that requires extensive review for new logging, road building, and mining projects on its nearly 200 million acres of public land. The proposal set off alarm bells for environmental groups, according to Reuters.

The proposed changes, released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), affect how new projects comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a decades-old law that requires detailed analysis prior to approval for any project that could significantly affect an ecosystem. One of the revisions, for example, would eliminate the requirement for a thorough environmental study before permitting mining on blocks of land up to one square mile in size, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The USDA says that eliminating some impact studies and reducing the number of redundant environmental reviews will allow it to repair roads, trails and campgrounds quickly. It also claims that shedding the red tape will allow the agency to take proactive steps to mitigate the threat of wildfires, according to the USDA's press release.

"We are committed to doing the work to protect people and infrastructure from catastrophic wildfire," said Sonny Perdue, secretary of the USDA, in the agency's statement. "With millions of acres in need of treatment, years of costly analysis and delays are not an acceptable solution — especially when data and experience show us we can get this work done with strong environmental protection standards as well as protect communities, livelihoods and resources."

Environmental groups, however, quickly refuted Perdue's statement and criticized the plan, pointing out that the proposal will cut the public out of the decision-making process and damage public lands.

"This is clearly consistent with the Trump administration's desire to reduce government and to cut the public out of the process of managing a public asset," said Susan Jane Brown, an attorney for advocacy group Western Environmental Law Center, as The Washington Post reported. "To try to draw a line between climate change-induced wildfire and the need to cut the public out of the process of wildland management is disingenuous."

Environmental groups quickly spotted a new loophole in the law for commercial logging that would permit up to 4,200 acres of clearcutting, or 6.6 square miles, without any public involvement.

"It's huge even in a western forest, and it's just unthinkable in an eastern forest," said Sam Evans of the Southern Environmental Law Center, as reported by CNN. In a statement he said the idea that clearcutting 4,200 acres without ecological harm doesn't pass the laugh test.

He noted that when there is transparency and accountability, the public has the opportunity to stand up for its ecological values. However, with the new proposal, "National Forest users — hikers, bikers, and wildlife watchers — won't know what's coming until the logging trucks show up at their favorite trailheads, or until roads and trails are closed," Evans said in a press release.

The proposal would also allow the forest service to build five miles of new roads through woodlands without a mandatory NEPA review.

"That's a lot of road," said Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, as reported by The Washington Post. "Roads are some of the most destructive things you can build through forests." He added that pavement affects where rainwater flows and it cleaves its way through animal habitats.

Susan Jane Brown pointed out that if the Forest Service wants to fast-track mining and road permits, this proposal will have the opposite effect, since it will force environmental groups to tie projects up in court, according to The Washington Post.

"This is going to be, if it were put in place, a full-employment plan for lawyers," said Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) during a congressional hearing, as The Washington Post reported.

    House, Senate Committees Attack Environmental Laws Using Wildfire

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« Reply #3038 on: Jun 15, 2019, 04:28 AM »

Tree-planting in England falls 71% short of government target

New figures show 1,420 hectares were planted in year to March 2019 against target of 5,000

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
15 Jun 2019 15.56 BST

Tree-planting in England fell well short of targets in the past year new figures show, despite government promises to restore and plant new woodland across the country to combat the climate change crisis.

Only 1,420 hectares (3,507 acres) of trees were planted in England in the year to March 2019, against the government’s target of 5,000 hectares in the period, with smaller areas in Wales and Northern Ireland, at 500 hectares and 240 hectares respectively. The total tree cover of the UK is unchanged at 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland.

However Scotland did far better, with 11,200 hectares planted, taking the UK’s total to 13,400 hectares, the highest level overall in the last decade.

Michael Gove, the environment secretary, has promised a national campaign of tree-planting, with pledges from the government of £50m for 10m new rural trees and £10m for 130,000 urban trees by 2022. Setting out measures the UK will need to implement to achieve the net-zero carbon target, which is shortly to be enshrined in legislation, the Committee on Climate Change said 1.5bn trees would be needed by 2050, equivalent to an area of 30,000 hectares every year, with 15% of crop land turned to tree-planting and growing plants for fuel.

The Woodland Trust, which planted half of the new broadleaf woodland for England last year, called for much greater government support for tree-planting.

Farmers in England face complex choices over tree-planting, because they get little support for it owing to the way the government has implemented the EU’s common agricultural policy. They are also uncertain over Brexit – the government has promised “public money for public goods” in a new agricultural system after Brexit, but there is little detail on how this will work and the new “environmental land management contracts” will only be phased in from 2024, which leaves a gap in the potential support available.

Abi Bunker, director of conservation at the Woodland Trust, said: “It will be a challenge, it will cost money, it will mean tough choices, but the human race is at a crossroads for our environmental future. To avoid climate breakdown, we have to act. If the framework is in place, meeting the ambition of 17% tree cover for the UK is achievable.”

The Soil Association said that the way in which the EU’s common agricultural policy has been implemented in England has helped to discourage tree-planting by farmers, and called for any new post-Brexit system to provide much more support. “At the very least, future agricultural policy should not disadvantage farms pursuing agroforestry,” the organisation said at a parliamentary event this week. “Agroforestry is not a short-term investment for farmers.”

Guy Shrubsole, trees campaigner at Friends of the Earth, which is campaigning to double tree cover, said: “Our government talks the talk on fighting climate breakdown, but these figures show that planting of new trees, and replacing those felled, in England is [near] a historic low. Trees are going to form a key part in getting the country to net zero emissions, so we need to see a huge improvement in how quickly trees are being planted.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “Our forest and woodlands are vital for providing timber, reducing flood risk and protecting our wildlife, which is why planting more trees is at the heart of our ambition to protect the environment for future generations. This is why we are introducing our new environment bill, which will include ambitious legislative measures to take direct action to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age.

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« Reply #3039 on: Jun 15, 2019, 04:31 AM »

Australia's oldest things: how mind-boggling timelines meet the climate emergency

They were here before us and should live on long afterwards. With 12 years to avert catastrophe, we need to imagine the aeons to come and consider the creatures that outlive us

by Jeff Sparrow
15 Jun 2019 23.16 BST

Wilbur the tortoise has, in all probability, lived more than a hundred years.

“From his size and weight and general health,” says Adam Lee, a reptile keeper at the Melbourne zoo, “we put him at about 110 but there’s no real way of telling with giant tortoises unless you have them from birth or as a hatchling.”

Lee holds out a carrot and Wilbur snaps at it.

He seems, in certain respects, even older than that – ancient, even prehistoric. He scrabbles on the concrete floor with ungainly dinosaur feet. When I stroke his massive shell, I can feel the scratches on the keratin. He snuffles as he eats, his leathery jaw jutting irritably, as if he were an aggrieved pensioner discussing franking credits.

Yet the idea that this creature, happily munching his carrot, predates the first world war astonishes me.

Lee explains that giant tortoises (or “GTs”, as he calls them) can live more than 200 years, perhaps reaching 250.

This sounds preposterous. But I already know of Jonathan, a giant tortoise estimated to have been born in 1832 but still alive and well on the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic.

The picture of him taken in the St Helena Government House grounds in the 1880s almost seems evidence for time travel. It shows four men (“good types of Saint Helenians”, according the original caption) clearly belonging to the colonial era: a portly police officer wearing a custodian helmet; a groundskeeper working in a bowler hat and a waistcoat.

And there, at the feet of those long-dead gentlemen, stands Jonathan, looking entirely the same as he does in photos from 2019.

On the day of my visit, Melbourne is blustery, so much so that Lee warns via email not to expect “much GT action”, since Wilbur and his slightly younger companion (perhaps 90), Little John, both dislike the cold.

I can’t bring myself to complain, given the prolonged warmth of Victoria’s autumn.

In our times, unseasonal temperatures – even when pleasant – fill me with a vague dread. The novelist Delia Falconer discusses climate change ushering in “a new age of signs and wonders”, in which the most commonplace occurrences (a warm evening, the absence of birdlife at a particular spot, an unexpected change in vegetation) feel fraught with ecological portent.

“As the world becomes more unstable in the grip of vast and all-pervasive change,” Falconer writes, “it’s difficult to discern exact chronologies, relationships and meaning.”

More than anything, I think, climate change politicises time.

Lord Byron considered the sea “the image of eternity”. For us, however, it means flux and uncertainty, with new research suggesting the oceans could rise as much as two metres by 2100.

“Time is money,” warned Benjamin Franklin, and the extractive industries built fortunes taking him at his word. Fossil fuels depend on million-year old geological processes so that, in a sense, industrial society runs by burning natural history.

The emergence of Greta Thunberg as a global leader highlights the temporal inequity of climate change, a burden shrugged off by the old on to the young.

“Our future was sold,” she explained in a speech to the British parliament, “so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money.”

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have, perhaps, 12 years to avoid catastrophe – and one of those years has nearly passed. Yet, though we must act immediately, we need to imagine the aeons to come, planning for outcomes well beyond the threescore years and ten that scripture allots to a man.

Hence my interest in Wilbur and the other creatures whose lives extend longer than our own.

In 2007 biologists identified a 50-ton bowhead whale caught near Alaska as more than 115 years old by examining pieces of a particular harpoon stuck in its shoulder bone. Because whalers only used that patented variety of exploding lance for a brief window in the late 1880s, the fragments confirmed scientists’ suspicion that bowheads could live several centuries – providing, of course, they weren’t harpooned first.

Three years ago researchers from the University of Copenhagen dated a female Greenland shark as 392 years old.

As the Guardian’s Nicola Davis explained, that means the animal “was born during the reign of James I, was a youngster when René Descartes set out his rules of thought and the great fire of London raged, saw out her adolescent years as George II ascended the throne, reached adulthood around the time that the American revolution kicked off, and lived through two world wars”.

It’s a mind-boggling chronology, an illustration of just how wondrous our planet remains.

Yet there’s a less ennobling aspect to the story.

Where the Alaskan whale was classified by a projectile scar, scientists established the shark’s age because of an atomic bomb. The nuclear tests conducted in the 1950s sent spikes of carbon-14 into the food chain of the North Atlantic, which then provided a kind of date stamp, marking a particular layer of proteins as they grew on the poor fish’s eye.

The oldest creatures carry marks from the people of the past and so remind us of the scars we’re already leaving on lives in the future. That becomes even more obvious when we turn from the animal kingdom to the realm of plants, the demesne in which the true ancients reside.

When I ask the Australian National University’s Dr Matthew Brookhouse, an academic and forester, about the longest living trees in Australia, he tells me that a great deal depends on what classifies as life.

“What we need to define is the age of what we’re interested in: is it the age of the organism or is it the age of the stem?”

If we focus on the stem – the bit that looks like our traditional notion of a tree – then certain Huon pines can be dated as 2,000 years old, making them more or less contemporaneous with Jesus.

“But what we see as the tree,” Brookhouse continues, “is really just the current aerial projection of the organism, like a potato or like a daffodil bulb. What’s lying below the ground is the longer term embodiment of that organism.”

On that basis, particular clumps of Huon pine could be said to have lived for perhaps 11,000 years, with vegetative cloning rendering the “individual” trees genetically identical.

Other forms of clonal life stretch way back into deep time. A stand of king’s holly in Tasmania has been alive for an unthinkable 43,000 years, while the Wollemi pine of the Blue Mountains west of Sydney seems to have been cloning itself for even longer.

There is, Shakespeare said, “no clock in the forest” and the Wollemi pine proves his point.

Brookhouse specialises in dendrochronology, the science of tree rings. The field itself stretches way back in history, with the ancient Greeks aware that trees produced new rings each year and Leonardo da Vinci describing the correlation between ring thickness and climate.

“Except for those very long records from ice cores, the temperature reconstructions spanning thousands of years come from tree rings,” Brookhouse says. “Much of what we know about how unusual the current temperatures are comes from trees.”

Experts described this year’s bushfires in Tasmania as “unprecedented”, with the blazes devastating some of the oldest forests in the state. King’s holly will, in all likelihood, become extinct in the wild, partly because of fires and partly from an introduced pathogen called phytophthora, something that also menaces the Wollemi pine.

Does Brookhouse feel an emotional tug when studying such ancient trees?

“Absolutely. I have a sense of quiet respect for an organism that predates us all.” He hesitates. “Actually, the emotional response to plants of that age is strongest when you see them deteriorating or when you see one die as a consequence of something we’ve done – really, in the blink of an eye, relative to the tree’s experience.”

Adam Lee expresses something similar.

The Melbourne keeper explains that the reptiles and amphibians with which he works have been hit hard by the environmental emergency, with frogs, in particular, in the midst of a mass extinction.

The giant tortoises once roamed in great herds (known, delightfully, as “creeps”) across the volcanic atolls around the Seychelles.

“I wish I could have been there,” says Lee, giving Wilbur’s long neck a rub. “It is like a dream.”

But sailors on the long voyages necessitated by the spice trade seized the giant tortoises as living meat stores, and now conservationists classify all the species as endangered.

Wilbur came to the zoo from the Seychelles in 1965, back in an era when keepers could casually swap a koala for a tortoise.

Since then, much has changed but Wilbur retains a long memory for his friends and for his enemies.

“I spent a lot of time bonding with him,” says Lee. “At the start he’d be trying to bite me and over time the aggression diminished to the point where, when I came in, he would walk over and rest his head on my arm and let me give him a little scratch. He’s much better these days but there used to be two or three keepers that he was friendly with – and with all the rest he was aggressive.”
He laughs.

“Well, as aggressive as a giant tortoise can be.”

Without question, Wilbur’s age lends him a certain gravitas. He could, after all, live for another century or more – and, because of that, he seems almost a proxy for nature as a whole, separate from humanity and yet now dependent upon us.

“We have pets and you generally know you are going to outlive your pet,” Lee says. “It is weird to think that here is another animal with which I have a bond and it’s going to outlive me. It’s humbling.”

A single reptile or an organism as massive as the Great Barrier Reef: the fates of those other lives is now entwined with our own.

Lee rubs the tortoise’s head once more.

“I am here with Wilbur now; I will do what I can to make his life positive. And then it will be someone else’s turn.”

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« Reply #3040 on: Jun 15, 2019, 04:43 AM »

Uganda jails hundreds of men for sex offences against women and girls

Campaigners applaud move to curb gender-based violence after courts hold special sessions to clear backlog of cases

Samuel Okiror in Kampala

Hundreds of men in Uganda have been jailed for sexual offences against girls and women during a month of special court sessions to clear a backlog of cases.

Between November and December last year, 414 men and nine women were found guilty during 13 trials held in selected courts in 13 districts around the country, according to the justice, law and order sector, a body that brings together government ministries working on legal matters.

The perpetrators were handed sentences ranging from community service to up to 50 years in jail.

“Overall, the objective of the pilot was met with unprecedented success, leading to the disposal of over 788 cases against the target of 650 cases,” said a report.

Activists and campaigners have welcomed the convictions, which they described as “decisive action” that sends a strong message.

“We applaud the gesture of special court sessions on GBV [gender-based violence]. Convicting more than 400 perpetrators is an exciting and welcomed landmark,” said Simon Richard Mugenyi, advocacy and communications manager at Reproductive Health Uganda.

“It’s a massive signal to those who plan to abuse women’s rights. It has been one of the missing links. Therefore, this will go a long away to curb GBV.”

Florence Auma, programme specialist for gender and human rights at the UN population fund in Uganda, said: “The convictions were deterrent enough for those that went through the court process. For those that plea-bargained, the highest penalty was 28 years in prison, including time already served on remand.”

The mother of a 12-year-old girl abused by her 35-year-old uncle in the eastern district of Soroti welcomed the decision to sentence the man to 19 years in jail.

“I am happy with the sentence and I know it is a lesson for other men in the community,” she said.

“Everybody said the perpetrator would bribe the officials and be set free. When I heard the sentence, I felt that justice had been served.”

The Ugandan police crime report recorded 14,985 cases of defilement (sexual assault on a person under 18) and 1,335 rape cases in 2017.

“SGBV [sexual and gender-based violence] has been on the increase in Uganda. Decisive action is therefore required,” said Livingstone Sewanyana, executive director at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.

“Given that [sexual violence] involves infringement of the dignity and privacy of the individual, having special courts on SGBV is appropriate. Giving deterrent sentences is encouraged,” he said.

The special sessions were successfully piloted between 12 November and 15 December to help clear a backlog of more than 1,000 cases.

Mercy Grace Munduru, a lawyer and human rights activist, said the convictions could not obscure the need for the judiciary to learn more about trying sexual violence cases.

“There is need for specialised training for judicial officers who directly adjudicate over these matters; there is also need to comprehensively engage communities in this process prior to establishing special courts,” she said. “The specialised nature of the courts requires a careful approach.”

The report said prosecutions for gender-based violence needed to be handled with greater sensitivity towards survivors.

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« Reply #3041 on: Jun 15, 2019, 04:45 AM »

Hong Kong leader suspends extradition bill amid protest pressure

Carrie Lam says legislation that would allow suspects to be sent to mainland China ‘caused a lot of division’

Emma Graham-Harrison and Verna Yu in Hong Kong
Sat 15 Jun 2019 08.27 BST

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has suspended indefinitely efforts to pass a controversial new extradition law, after a week of mass protests and street violence put heavy pressure on the city’s leaders.

But in a defensive press conference, the chief executive insisted her only errors were of communication, defending the much-criticised bill as vital to Hong Kong’s security and promising to relaunch an improved version after further consultation.

Speaking out after three days of silence, and on the eve of another major protest march called for Sunday, Lam repeatedly described herself as “heartbroken” and admitted that the bill had “caused a lot of division” in Hong Kong.

She denied that the abrupt reversal – reportedly made after meeting one of China’s most powerful leaders on Friday – was aimed at warding off further chaos, after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to oppose the law.

“The decision I made is not about pacifying people or, as some have said, restoring my damaged reputation,” Lam said, repeatedly brushing off questions about whether she planned to resign.
People attend a Hong Kong rally in support of demonstrators protesting against the proposed extradition bill.

Hong Kong was plunged into crisis by government attempts to ram the law through the territory’s legislature. Hundreds of thousands of protesters thronged the city’s streets this week to oppose it, with police brutality and government intransigence adding to public outrage.

Opponents say it would fatally undermine Hong Kong’s economy and way of life by allowing both residents and visitors to be sent to China for trial in opaque courts controlled by the Communist party.

There was also intense international scrutiny, with the US presidential hopeful Joe Biden the latest figure to weigh in on the showdown, praising protesters and warning officials that the “world is watching”.

    Joe Biden (@JoeBiden)

    The extraordinary bravery shown by hundreds of thousands in Hong Kong, marching for the civil liberties & autonomy promised by China is inspiring. And the world is watching. All of us must stand in support of democratic principles and freedom.
    June 14, 2019

On Wednesday evening, after the worst clashes in the streets, Lam had doubled down in defence of the extradition bill and criticised protesters who had endured a day of teargas, rubber bullets and police beatings as “spoiled children”.

But on Saturday she said she had acted to stop violence escalating. “This is time to restore as quickly as possible calmness in society,” she said. “After the confrontation I saw on Wednesday, if it occurs again there will be more serious [injuries].”

She played down the size of demonstrations against the law, and repeatedly defended police use of force, describing the use of batons, teargas and rubber bullets as defensive.

But opposition leaders are worried that the shift is a tactical retreat, aimed at buying time to intimidate or demoralise opponents. There have already been reports of arrests of people in hospitals as they sought treatment, and of digital activists.

“I think the government is trying to defuse the movement,” said Baggio Leung, an activist and politician who was barred from taking up a seat in the legislature after holding up a sign saying “Hong Kong is not a part of China”.

He added that the protest on Sunday would go ahead, and the movement would continue until the extradition law was permanently taken off the table, but he was worried about the chilling effect of mass prosecutions.

“We are calling for no extradition bill and no prosecution,” he said. “We fear they will prosecute a lot of protesters, maybe even a few hundred, to try and scare the people.”

With the legislature due to go on summer recess in July, any attempt to take up the legislative process again will not be until autumn at the earliest. “Lam is buying time for herself and her pro-Beijing pals,” said Kenneth Chan, a professor in the department of government at Hong Kong Baptist University.

“The plan aims to reduce turnout at the protest, so the government can wait for a more propitious moment to try again, perhaps after local elections in November, when students will be back at school,” Chan added.

Lam and officials in Beijing appear to have decided the political cost of temporary retreat will be less than that of further confrontation.

Lam met one of China’s most senior politicians, Han Zheng, in the Chinese border city of Shenzhen on Friday night to discuss the situation, the pro-Beijing Sing Tao reported. Zheng is the central government’s point man on Hong Kong, a vice-premier and one of just seven members of the elite politburo standing committee.

Some Hong Kong tycoons have already started moving assets abroad, Reuters reported on Friday, amid concern about the extradition law. It cited financial advisers, bankers and lawyers familiar with the transactions.

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« Reply #3042 on: Jun 15, 2019, 04:48 AM »

Brazil Supreme Court criminalizes homophobia

on June 15, 2019
By Agence France-Presse

Brazil’s Supreme Court voted Thursday to criminalize homophobia, an important step for sexual minorities in one of the most dangerous countries for LGBT people in the world.

The Supreme Federal Court (STF), which voted eight to three in favor of the measure, classified homophobia as a crime similar to racism, until Congress — which is held by a conservative majority and is strongly influenced by evangelical churches — passes a law specifically addressing such discrimination.

Brazil now joins a growing number of countries in the typically conservative and Catholic-influenced Latin American region that have passed measures in favor of LGBT rights.

“All prejudice is violence. All discrimination is a cause of suffering,” said judge Carmen Luzia while voting in favor of the measure.

“But I learned that some prejudices cause more suffering than others.”

According to the NGO Grupo Gay de Bahia, which has collected national statistics for the past four decades, there were 387 murders and 58 suicides over “homotransphobia” in 2017, a 30 percent increase from 2016.

This works out to one LGBT death by suicide or murder every 19 hours in Brazil.

The country’s highest court considered it neglect of legislative power not to have outlawed such discrimination until now.

But the three judges that voted against the measure insisted that criminalizing homophobia was Congress’s job, not the court’s.

“Only Congress can approve (the definition of) crimes and penalties; only Congress can pass laws on criminal conduct,” said judge Ricardo Lewandowski.

Acts of racism, and now acts of “homotransphobia,” in Brazil face one to three years in prison or a fine.

– Religious liberty –

The STF’s decision has caused tension within Congress, with some legislators feeling stripped of their powers.

With a large group defending their interest in Congress, the Pentecostal churches — whose following has grown exponentially in Brazil, the country with the most Catholics in the world — are expected to try to slow down initiatives such as that passed by the STF.

Criminalizing homophobia could restrict church leaders, many of whom fear being penalized for rejecting same-sex unions by invoking religious texts.

But in the STF’s verdict, the court explicitly stated that criminalizing “homotransphobia” will not restrict religious freedom, so long as the churches do not promote “hate speech” that incites discrimination, hostility or violence against people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Thursday’s decision is the latest in a a wave of pro-LGBT rights decisions in Latin America.

Brazil had already legalized same-sex marriage, along with Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay. They were joined most recently by Ecuador, whose highest court on Wednesday approved same-sex marriage in a landmark ruling for the country.

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« Reply #3043 on: Jun 15, 2019, 04:50 AM »

20 years since NATO-wrought freedom, Kosovo remains in limbo

New Europe

PRISTINA, Kosovo  — In Kosovo so far, the sword has worked better than the ploughshare. It's exactly 20 years since NATO forces set foot in the former Yugoslav province, after an allied bombing campaign ended Serbia's bloody crackdown on an insurrection by the majority ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo — revered by Serbs as their historic and religious heartland.

But, though it is now independent, Kosovo and its 1.8 million people lack full international recognition. NATO forces are still there and relations with Serbia remain frigid despite years of European mediation efforts.

It doesn't help that both countries are headed by politicians deeply involved in the events of 1999 that left more than 10,000 dead. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic was a close aide of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, and his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, led the ethnic Albanian insurrectionists.

The main proponents of the 78-day NATO air campaign, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, his Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then-NATO commander Wesley Clark, were in Pristina Wednesday to attend anniversary celebrations and be awarded a Kosovo honor.

Cheered by a crowd of 3,000 in central Skenderbeu Square, Clinton said it had been "my life's biggest honor to have stood with you against ethnic cleansing and for freedom." The former president is highly popular in Kosovo, and a gold-painted, 11-foot statue of him stands in another part of the capital.

Clinton urged Kosovars to "never forget the challenges" ahead. "A new form of courage and patience is needed to build the future," he said. The reaction in Serbia was very different. Marko Djuric, Serbian government's chief negotiator for Kosovo, described the anniversary celebrations in Pristina as a cynical "ball of vampires" attended by those who unlawfully bombed Serbia 20 years ago.

"Twenty years after the aggression, those most responsible for crimes against Serbs have not been punished," Djuric said. Pristina-based analyst Shkelzen Maliqi said despite progress in building state institutions and an army, Kosovo still faces "much work to make it functional in every aspect."

The economy is rickety, with high levels of poverty and unemployment, and the rule of the law and democratic institutions are weak, according to international monitors. It's a meager consolation that the national soccer squad is doing well in European qualifiers, although organizers had to ensure it won't have to play against Serbia. International pop stars Dua Lipa and Rita Ora are both Kosovars — albeit resident in Britain — and Kosovo is hoping that it will soon be eligible to participate in the European Song Contest, despite Serbian objections.

However, the key problem is Kosovo's international state of limbo. Despite having declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and its nationhood being recognized by 115 countries, including the United States and most European Union members, it is not recognized by Serbia or its allies, Russia and China.

"Kosovo is irreversibly an independent state but still not a U.N. member due to Russia's veto," Maliqi said. "Five EU countries have not recognized Kosovo, thus helping Russia keep a frozen conflict situation in the region."

Many Kosovars feel let down by the international community. They are the only former Eastern Bloc nationals barred from visa-free travel to EU countries, despite a deal with Brussels that Pristina says it has fulfilled by signing a border demarcation agreement with neighboring Montenegro following years of Western pressure.

Agron Bajrami, editor-in-chief of Koha newspaper, also highlights the lack of reconciliation with Belgrade. "Building normal ties with yesterday's aggressor, Serbia, has not been going well despite EU mediation," he said.

The dialogue that started in 2011 has been stalled since last year after Kosovo set a 100% import duty on all Serbian and Bosnian goods, despite international calls to lift or suspend the measure. Kosovo insists on full recognition of its statehood as the end result of the talks, something which — at the moment at least — is not acceptable to Serbia.

A land swap that would apparently have involved Kosovo ceding Serb enclaves — which contain valuable mineral and water resources — and Serbia handing over its ethnic Albanian-dominated southern territory was tentatively aired last year by presidents Vucic and Thaci. But the idea was strongly opposed by European countries and now seems to have been shelved.

A new regional summit in Paris on July 1 backed by France and Germany will likely focus more on convincing Pristina to suspend its trade measure than on achieving a legally binding agreement between the two countries.

Kosovo's ambassador to the U.S. summed up the feeling of hopelessness in an address to the U.N. security council this year. "It is astounding," Vlora Citaku said. "Simply unbelievable, that this council has convened more sessions to talk about Kosovo than it has for Syria, Yemen or Venezuela" without achieving progress.

Semini reported from Tirana, Albania. Nicholas Paphitis in Athens, Greece, and Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, contributed.

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« Reply #3044 on: Jun 15, 2019, 05:02 AM »

Trump has backed himself into a dangerous corner on Iran

An oil tanker is seen on fire in the Gulf of Oman, in waters between Gulf Arab states and Iran, on June 13.

By Editorial Board
WA Post
June 15 2019

PRESIDENT TRUMP has recklessly navigated himself into a corner in the Persian Gulf. Though he campaigned against Middle East wars and has repeatedly said he does not want one with Iran, Mr. Trump has ordered a series of provocative actions toward the Islamic republic that, on Thursday, produced the entirely predictable images of oil tankers burning near the Strait of Hormuz — and the very real danger of escalation toward armed conflict.

Mr. Trump blames Iran for the attacks, which U.S. officials say involved attaching underwater mines to the ships; the U.S. military released video appearing to show an Iranian craft removing an unexploded mine from one of the vessels. In fervently denying responsibility, the Iranian government is taking advantage of the shattered credibility of a U.S. president who has been caught in thousands of lies. But it appears likely that Tehran was responsible for the attack and for another strike against ships in the Gulf of Oman last month; the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has threatened just such action in the past.

Iran is responsible for aggression across the Middle East, against which the United States ought to push back. But the ship attacks were the foreseeable result of Mr. Trump’s campaign to apply “maximum pressure” on the Islamic republic without any accompanying diplomacy. After unwisely withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Tehran struck by the Obama administration, which had restrained Iran’s most dangerous threat to the United States, Mr. Trump ratcheted up sanctions — including, in April, a move to shut down Iran’s remaining oil exports.

The only peaceful avenue that Mr. Trump offered out of this economic vise was the acceptance by the Khamenei regime of a dozen U.S. dictates that would completely reverse its foreign policy. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who laid out the demands, himself conceded they would not lead to any diplomatic agreement; instead, Mr. Pompeo speculated, “what can change is, the people can change the government.” Under these circumstances, it’s no surprise that Iran would respond with actions aimed at punishing the United States — such as disrupting the vital oil trade through the Persian Gulf — while avoiding the direct attacks on Americans that might provide the White House with a casus belli.

Mr. Trump sounds sincere when he says he doesn’t want a war, but he doesn’t have an easy way out of the crisis he has created. Mr. Khamenei on Thursday rejected negotiations with the United States, prompting the president, who had repeatedly said he wanted such talks, to rule them out himself on Twitter. The administration will seek to enlist European allies to join it in confronting Iran over the ship attacks, but the Europeans will inevitably be wary, given that Mr. Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and reapplied sanctions over their strong objections. Meanwhile, barring another escalation by Iran, Congress may not support U.S. military action.

The administration is talking about steps short of that, such as providing U.S. naval protection to ships transiting the gulf. But Iran will likely continue to seek ways to inflict pain on the United States and allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. If Mr. Trump genuinely wishes to avoid further escalation, he should pursue a credible diplomatic outreach to Iran, perhaps in concert with the Europeans — and he should set goals that are achievable. De-escalation by both sides would be a good start.


Is the Iran-U.S. tinderbox about to ignite?

By David Ignatius Columnist
June 15 2019
WA Post

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of “unprovoked attacks” near the Strait of Hormuz, video screens behind him showed thick black smoke billowing from the two tankers that were struck Thursday. It was the dramatic imagery that sometimes precedes armed conflict.

Pompeo didn’t offer hard evidence, and Iran denied the attacks.

The U.S. response in the escalating confrontation with Iran, for now, seems to be continued pressure short of war. “Our policy remains an economic and diplomatic effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table,” Pompeo said.

Thursday’s attacks were especially brazen because one of the targeted ships is Japanese-owned, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran at the time carrying a message from President Trump. As Pompeo put it, Abe’s mission was “to ask the regime to de-escalate and enter into talks.” Abe was rebuffed in person by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and, symbolically, by the attack on the tanker.

The bottom line is that Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign has collided head on with Khamenei’s maximum resistance. Trump’s recent talk about Iran’s supposed eagerness for negotiations has been self-deluding, but so is any hope that Iran will quickly moderate its behavior. Met by American economic warfare, Iran’s hard-liners are doubling down with their own forms of deniable warfare, with mines, drones and proxy attacks.

What are the internal dynamics of this escalating crisis, and where is it heading? Conversations with a half-dozen current and former senior U.S. officials and other experts produced some early assessments:

● Iran is attacking partly because it has been badly hurt by U.S. economic sanctions. Tehran’s early approach of strategic patience, hoping to wait Trump out, “has bled into gradual escalation,” argues Behnam Ben Taleblu of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Iran is now willing to embrace the dynamic of risk” to escape the economic straitjacket.

● Trump has a new opportunity to broaden international support for his Iran policy, after isolating the United States last year by abandoning the Iran nuclear agreement. Brian Hook, the State Department special representative for Iran, has been coordinating efforts at the U.N. Security Council. At a private meeting Thursday morning, most members condemned the tanker strikes, a U.S. official said. This coalition-building will increase.

● Trump’s hopes for a quick win were misplaced. At recent overseas events, Trump has been dangling concessions and inviting negotiations. “We’re not looking for regime change. I want to make that clear. . . . We’re looking for no nuclear weapons,” he said in Tokyo on May 27. “I’d much rather talk. . . . The only thing is, we can’t let them have nuclear weapons,” he offered in London last week. And in Normandy, he declared: “I understand they want to talk and that’s fine, we’ll talk. One thing they can’t have is nuclear weapons.”

Not exactly subtle as a diplomatic pitch. Also, not successful.

● Hard-liners are more ascendant than ever in Tehran. Pompeo cited a steady escalation of attacks since early May on tankers, a Saudi oil pipeline, the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and a Saudi airport. Potentially more dangerous are Iran’s moves to escape provisions of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported this week that Iran is increasing its production of enriched uranium, which was capped under the pact.

● Diplomatic feelers from Iran, which raised some hopes in Washington, lack support from the supreme leader’s camp. One such feint was this week’s release after nearly four years in prison of Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman who had been living in Washington. Two months ago, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had proposed “serious dialogue” on a prisoner swap for Zakka. Sabotaging such diplomatic byplay may have been one goal of hard-liners in Thursday’s tanker attacks.

The tableau of recent weeks has been striking. Trump has been a whirling dervish of diplomacy, almost pleading for Iran to come to the negotiating table and discuss a broader, longer-lasting deal that Trump could claim was an improvement over the one negotiated by his predecessor. Meanwhile, Khamenei has sat implacable, even as President Hassan Rouhani dangled hints that Iran might be willing to talk.

But as long as Khamenei is alive, his voice is decisive. And it couldn’t have been clearer Thursday, as he rejected Abe’s mediation: “I do not consider Trump, as a person, deserving to exchange messages with. We will not negotiate with the United States.”

You could almost hear, in the supreme leader’s voice, an echo of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who said during the Iran hostage crisis, “America can’t do a damn thing against us.” That Iranian overconfidence is what makes this confrontation so dangerous.


Trump expert Tony Schwartz reveals ‘all you need to know’ about the president

By Bob Brigham
Raw Story

The co-author of the president’s 1987 autobiography Trump: The Art of the Deal on Friday revealed “all you need to know” about the commander-in-chief.

Tony Schwartz offered advice on how to respond to Trump as his behavior becomes even more erratic.

“As we all know, Trump is shameless and compulsive liar. Here’s the solution: ignore everything he says — everything,” Schwartz counseled.

“Don’t waste any energy in outrage,” he continued.

“Just know nothing he says is ever true,” Schwartz said. “That’s all you need to know.”
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    As we all know, Trump is shameless and compulsive liar . Here's the solution: ignore everything he says — everything. Don't waste any energy in outrage. Just know nothing he says is ever true. That's all you need to know.

    — Tony Schwartz (@tonyschwartz) June 14, 2019

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