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« Reply #30 on: Dec 03, 2019, 04:46 AM »

Germany: Merkel’s party rejects full overhaul of coalition


BERLIN (AFP) — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party is rejecting a root-and-branch renegotiation of the agreement underpinning Germany’s government after the junior coalition partner elected leaders who want new concessions, but it was unclear Monday how acute the risk is of the coalition falling apart.

Members of the center-left Social Democrats on Saturday chose left-leaning duo Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken as their new leaders. They rejected a rival team that included Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz and strongly favored staying in Merkel’s coalition.

Walter-Borjans and Esken are more skeptical, though they haven’t advocated a quick exit. They have suggested renegotiating issues such as the level of the minimum wage, climate protection and investment, but it’s unclear how far their demands will go.

A party congress starting Friday is likely to show what the Social Democrats want to achieve to stay in the coalition, nearly two years before the next election is due. The party is mired in a long-term poll slump, which some blame on its status as Merkel’s junior partner for 10 of the past 14 years.

Merkel’s Union bloc has made clear that it sees no need for a significant overhaul. The coalition deal thrashed out last year features a provision for a midterm review including consideration of whether “new plans must be agreed in light of current developments.”

The leader of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, told ZDF television Monday the new leadership doesn’t amount to a major change “as a result of which we have to completely renegotiate a coalition.”

The coalition agreement “is the basis on which we are working, and it is valid for the whole parliamentary term,” she said. “We are concentrating on dedicating ourselves to work of substance — we are not a therapy facility for the coalition parties.”

She noted that both the other parties in the coalition have changed their leaders since the government took office without demanding a renegotiation. While she and other conservatives are firmly ruling out a radical renegotiation, it’s possible that there may be some room for talks that fall short of that — and unlikely that the Union will want to be seen as responsible for the coalition collapsing.

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, also made clear that the chancellor is willing to talk about new ideas “as is usual in a coalition, but a renegotiation of the coalition agreement is not pending.”

If the Social Democrats did decide to walk out, it’s unclear what would happen. Merkel’s bloc could seek to carry on in a minority government or, theoretically at least, negotiate an alternative coalition; or the result could eventually be an early election.

Merkel has said that this is her last term and she won’t run in the next election, currently due in the fall of 2021.

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« Reply #31 on: Dec 03, 2019, 05:01 AM »

Trump re-election could sound death knell for Nato, allies fear

The US president’s ambivalence or even hostility towards the alliance will hover over the 70th anniversary meeting in the UK

Julian Borger in Washington
Tue 3 Dec 2019 01.43 GMT

Donald Trump arrived in the UK to meet Nato allies who are fearful that he could pose a serious threat to the survival of the alliance if he wins re-election next year.

Days before Wednesday’s leaders’ meeting just outside London to mark Nato’s 70th anniversary, the US announced it was cutting its contribution to joint Nato projects.

Nato officials say the cut (which reduces the US contribution to equivalence with Germany’s) was mutually agreed, but it comes against a backdrop of Trump’s longstanding ambivalence about the value of the alliance, and suggestions that US security guarantees to allied nations were dependent on their military spending.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser until September, heightened fears among allies about the president’s intentions in a private speech to a hedge fund last month, in which Bolton (according to a NBC report) warned that Trump could “go full isolationist” if he wins re-election next November, withdrawing from Nato and other international alliances.

Trump has continually complained about the defence spending of European allies who committed less than the agreed 2% to defence, particularly Germany. And he has cast doubt on US commitment to its obligations under article 5 of Nato’s founding document, the Washington Treaty, under which an attack on one ally is considered an attack on all allies.


Trump’s disregard for reality could result in his refusal to leave office after losing in 2020: NYT columnist

Raw Story

President Donald Trump may refuse to leave office if he loses the 2020 election, a New York Times contributing op-ed writer explained on CNN on Monday.

Anchor Don Lemon interviewed Wajahat Ali, and played a clip of Fox News personality Tucker Carlson siding with Russia against America.

“Russia attacked our elections and Russia is attacking our ally Ukraine, over 13,000 Ukrainians have died, but Tucker Carlson and the Republican Party have made this Faustian bargain they will burn everything down for Trump,” Ali explained.

Ali suggested Ronald Reagan would join the Democratic Party if he were still alive.
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“But to answer your question Don, why they’re doing this, it is very deliberate, they’re not stupid,” Ali said. “The point is to exhaust us. To exhaust us with disinformation and leave Americans confused. Authoritarianism 101: attack the truth.”

Ali then wondered what would happen if Trump lost re-election in 2020.

“If the election is close, he’ll say it was invalid, everyone was against me,” he said. “Maybe or maybe not I’ll leave, the Republican base come with me, I’m your leader.”

“That’s what people aren’t preparing for, what happens if he doesn’t leave and how much will the Republicans burn down for Trump,” he said.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7lzXso--G-Y&feature=emb_title


Obama lawyer rips White House impeachment strategy: ‘I didn’t think it was possible’ to not cooperate

Raw Story

The former acting Solicitor General of the United States blasted President Donald Trump’s legal strategy during the impeachment inquiry.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Neal Katyal about his new book, Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump.

“What do you make of the White House strategy, A., its effectiveness and, B., legality, in terms of not cooperating at all, no documents from the State Department, from the White House other than that rough transcript which they released early on,” Cooper said.

“I dedicated my life to the study of the constitution and I didn’t know that the president’s strategy here was a thing,” Katyal replied. “I didn’t think it was possible.”
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“I mean, the idea that a president on his own can unilaterally say, ‘I’m not going to bother cooperating with an impeachment investigation’ — that is the essence of constitutional arrogance and the destruction of our separation of powers,” he explained.

“I think it is an impeachable offense just the way the president has acted toward this impeachment investigation,” he added.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lEBwLCdBImA&feature=emb_title


Trump can’t call impeachment ‘unfair’ when he won’t even send lawyers to plead his case: Fox’s Judge Napolitano

Raw Story

On Fox News Monday, legal analyst and Trump-skeptic conservative Andrew Napolitano warned the president he is making a mistake by refusing to send counsel to make his case in the House impeachment hearings — and suggested that the president can’t claim the process is rigged against him when he refuses to even participate in the process.

“I think the president would be very unwise not to send lawyers there,” said Napolitano. He acknowledged that it would be “unseemly” of the president to testify at the hearings himself, “but I think he makes a mistake when he refuses to participate,” because his lawyers could argue his case for him effectively.

“So it would be in his interest to participate in that, right?” said Cavuto. “To exonerate himself or at least state his case?”

“Absolutely,” said Napolitano, who started out as supportive of the Trump administration and willing to promote conspiracy theories for the president, but has gradually become one of his harshest critics on Fox News. “He also loses the argument ‘it’s unfair’ if he doesn’t take the opportunity to participate himself.”

Regarding his personal view, Napolitano said that he believes the evidence shows the president’s attempt to cut off military aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden is “clearly impeachable, because it involves two potential crimes,” bribery and campaign finances offenses. “Republicans are free to say that’s not an impeachable offense, but they are not free to say it didn’t happen, because the evidence that it happened is overwhelming.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkdylWAbr9w&feature=emb_title


GOP Senator Richard Burr refuses to tell reporters whether his committee’s investigation confirmed GOP conspiracy theory on Ukraine

Raw Story

On Monday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, flatly refused to discuss with reporters whether his committee’s investigation into whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 presidential election corroborated the conspiracy theories of President Donald Trump and his allies:

    Look at this remarkable exchange. @SenatorBurr is basically giving the middle finger to the very idea that he might have some kind of obligation, as chair of the Senate Intel Committee, to shed light on a matter that Republicans and Trump are using to mislead the American people: pic.twitter.com/qDqq8k51fa

    — Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) December 3, 2019

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The idea that Ukraine, rather than Russia, was at the heart of election interference in 2016 has been broadly discredited. However, Republicans have attempted to use this narrative to exonerate Trump of accepting help from Russia, and it formed part of the basis of the president’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine.


GOP Sen John Kennedy ‘knows he is being dishonest’ in pushing Russian disinformation: former CIA director

Raw Story

The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency blasted Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) for knowingly being dishonest with the American people.

MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews played former CIA Director John Brennan a clip of Kennedy on “Meet the Press” pushing the debunked conspiracy theory that it was actually Ukraine — not Russia — that interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“First of all, Sen. John Kennedy is a great discredit to his name,” Brennan said.
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“We can agree on that one,” Matthews replied.

“Secondly, he’s not being duped — he knows that he’s being dishonest,” Brennan continued. “He knows he’s trying to defend and protect Donald Trump at all costs and so he’s not going to be honest with the American people.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mg2tl9b4bI&feature=emb_title


Bombshell report says AG Barr is disagreeing with his own staff on Trump investigation

Raw Story

Attorney General Bill Barr is reportedly disagreeing with his own professional staff as he continues to defend President Donald Trump, The Washington Post reported Monday.

“Attorney General William P. Barr has told associates he disagrees with the Justice Department’s inspector general on one of the key findings in an upcoming report — that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the matter,” The Post reported.

“The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, is due to release his long-awaited findings in a week, but behind the scenes at the Justice Department, disagreement has surfaced about one of Horowitz’s central conclusions on the origins of the Russia investigation. The discord could be the prelude to a major fissure within federal law enforcement on the controversial question of investigating a presidential campaign,” the newspaper explained.
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“Barr’s public defenses of President Trump, including his assertion that intelligence agents spied on the Trump campaign, have led Democrats to accuse him of acting like the president’s personal attorney and eroding the independence of the Justice Department,” the newspaper noted.


Conservative law professor lays into Bill Barr for ‘bizarre’ attack on inspector general’s defense of the FBI

Raw Story

On Monday, following Attorney General William Barr’s move to discredit the Justice Department Inspector General report that defended the Russia investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign as valid, conservative law professor Jonathan Adler sharply rebuked Barr’s move, suggesting that the attorney general’s criticisms had no foundation in proper DOJ procedure:

    If the story is accurate, it’s as if AG Barr doesn’t understand the relevant question. Key is whether threshold sufficiency of evidence to open investigation existed, not whether other exonerating evidence might also exist.

    — Jonathan H. Adler (@jadler1969) December 3, 2019

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Trump and his Republican allies have long hoped that the IG report would validate their narrative that the Russia investigation was started improperly. The report, which will be released in the coming days, reportedly finds fault with some of the FBI’s surveillance practices, but broadly finds the investigation itself was justified.


Federal prosecutors will not block indicted Giuliani associate from testifying to Congress: report

Raw Story

On Monday, the Washington Post reported that federal prosecutors will not stand in the way of indicted Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas from testifying to Congress in impeachment proceedings.

The decision clears the way for Parnas to offer evidence — although he will still be bound by a court order that prohibits him from revealing details of his own criminal proceedings.

Parnas’ lawyer told a federal judge earlier on Monday that he potentially has evidence pertinent to the investigation on several of his personal devices, including five iPhones, two iPads, two Samsung devices, and an iMac, which had been confiscated by federal investigators.
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Parnas, along with fellow Giuliani associate Igor Fruman, have been indicted on campaign finance charges related to the apparent scheme to extort Ukraine with military aid to make this provide dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden’s son. Giuliani, who was heavily involved in that scheme, is reportedly also under criminal investigation.


‘That doesn’t add up in the Republican analysis’: CNN host does point-by-point analysis eviscerating GOP report

Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

Former Defense Department Special Counsel Ryan Goodman explained during an appearance on CNN that the Republican-authored report on impeachment flies in the face of the facts viewed by Americans during the hearing.

“I think it’s not effective,” Goodman told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “I think they have played their hand, whatever hand they had, and it does have Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan’s name right at the top, and that’s for a reason. So, it’s across-the-board on every single fact, it’s for the president. ‘Everything was correct and appropriate’ for the president.”

He went on to say that the Republican report flies in the face of what was heard during the weeks of hearings.

“It defies what we learned for the last two weeks in the public hearings,” Goodman continued. “It defies the fact that three or four Trump-appointed senior officials reported the phone call itself, criminal referral to the Justice Department. It defies the fact that the GOP witness, Kurt Volker, said in retrospect, he understood it was about Biden and the 2020 election and he would have objected if he understood it at the time because it was unacceptable. So, I think they lose a lot, because many Americans, republicans as well, say they think the president acted inappropriately, but it’s not impeachable, but at least it was inappropriate. They get to that point.”

Burnett walked through key facts in the report and then played back testimony refuting the GOP’s claims. Specifically, the GOP said that there was “no quid pro quo,” a talking point straight from Trump’s mouth. Burnett read the summary of Trump’s call with Ukraine on July 25 that asked for “a favor though” after Ukraine brought up their need for military weapons. (A screen capture of the transcript is below)

Donald Trump’s incomplete Ukraine call summary (Screen capture from White House document)

“So, that’s the summary of the call and that doesn’t add up to Republican analysis,” said Burnett.

“The evidence does not establish that President Trump withheld a meeting with President Zelensky for the purpose of pressuring Ukraine to investigate Burisma Holdings, Vice President Joe Biden, Hunter Biden, or Ukraine influence in the 2016 election,” the GOP says in their report. President Donald Trump’s summary of the Ukraine call (above) dispells that assertion.

“Of course under-oath testimony shows the complete opposite to be true,” Burnett said, and showed videos confirming her assertion. “So, point by point, that we were just able to kind of eviscerate those points.”

Watch: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x7oq4y1

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« Reply #32 on: Dec 03, 2019, 06:56 AM »

‘The president just acted like a clown’: Morning Joe rips Trump’s bonkers early morning London press conference

on December 3, 2019
Raw Story
By Tom Boggioni

“Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough was all over a 50+ minute press conference Donald Trump held in London early Tuesday morning as most of America was still asleep, saying the president just embarrassed the U.S. again.

The president talked about his impeachment to the international press assembled to cover the NATO conference and rambled about unnamed “legal experts” backing him before attacking the Democrats.

After sharing clips of the president talking, Scarborough and co-host Mika Brzezinski leveled the president.
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“The president just, once again, acted like a clown on the international stage. first of all,” Scarborough began. “Just in the past hour. And, of course, this is the same president who used the crosses at Normandy to attack Nancy Pelosi, to attack his domestic political rivals. This is the same president who used Congressionally-approved foreign aid, military aid to a democratic country invaded by Vladimir Putin once again to try to impact domestic politics.”

“You know everybody across the world is snickering when the president said, we had legal scholars looking at these transcripts — not transcripts — and they said it’s perfect,” he continued. “What were the names of those legal scholars? I would love to know. and I would love to know where these legal scholars who said those calls were absolutely perfect are employed this morning, because I don’t think they exist.”

“Everybody in the world knows he’s lying and he’s representing us on the world stage this morning,” he concluded before sarcastically adding, “Great job.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHXGEWDXgZ8&feature=emb_title


Morning Joe goes scorched earth on ‘lying’ Bill 'i am Trump's butt-plug' Barr for dismissing IG report that didn’t back Trump’s conspiracy claims

on December 3, 2019
Raw Story
By Tom Boggioni

The entire panel on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” jumped all over Attorney General Bill Barr on Tuesday morning after it was reported that he does not agree with a central conclusion of the forthcoming report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz about the Russia investigation.

After host Mika Brezinki detailed statement made by the Trump appointee — who appears to be acting as Trump’s personal lawyer — c-host Joe Scarborough called out the AG.

“This is an attorney general, though, who misrepresented the [special counsel Bob] Mueller report weeks before it was released because he wanted to spin it most favorably for the president of the United States and he did so in a way that even Robert Mueller believed twisted the words from the proper context,” Scarborough explained. “This is also an attorney general who lied, committed perjury in front of congressional committees — for some reason they haven’t decided to bring him up on charges for that. And here, as Matt Miller said, if these reports are accurate, here’s an attorney general who actually is attacking an inspector general for not being critical enough of his own agencies.”
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“Again, you have Donald Trump, you have Vladimir Putin, and you have William Barr, now pretty maids all in a row, lined up wanting to disparage U.S. intel agencies at all costs,” he concluded.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gExsKIhb6zA&feature=emb_title

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« Reply #33 on: Dec 04, 2019, 04:26 AM »

A Turkish dam is about to flood one of the oldest continuously settled places on Earth

By Kareem Fahim
Wa Post

HASANKEYF, Turkey — The time had finally come for Ramsiz Alcin to leave, generations after her ancestors settled in this ancient town on the Tigris, decades after the state proposed building a dam down river and after years of protests that had ultimately failed to stop it.

The dam would leave Hasankeyf almost totally submerged.

The water was coming, soon, officials said. So Alcin and her family moved last month, abandoning their house with its fig and pomegranate trees. A flatbed truck transferred their belongings to a new home, on higher ground, but the place — shoddily built, with a garden full of rocks — was no substitute.

“They made victims of the people of Hasankeyf,” she said.

It is expected to take a few months before the water starts to rise in this 12,000-year-old town, one of the oldest known, continuously inhabited settlements in the world, as the reservoir created by the Ilisu dam more than 35 miles downstream begins to fill.

Turkey’s government has promoted the dam as a vital development project — part of a larger network of dams aimed at reducing the country’s dependency on energy imports and providing jobs in its impoverished southeast region.

But the project has also faced years of stiff resistance from critics who said its benefits were hardly worth the cost to local communities and from historians, archaeologists and others who say the preservation of Turkey’s cultural heritage is a global concern.

The reservoir will stretch nearly 100 miles from Ilisu and displace more than 70,000 people, wipe out endangered wildlife species and erase the splendor of Hasankeyf.

The town is arranged like a living museum, in the shadow of limestone cliffs, with remnants of its past settlers — Neolithic, Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman — strewn delightfully about for visitors. Two majestic, stone piers rise from the river at an entrance to the town — the remnants of a 12th century, four-arched bridge. Farther down the river are caves, carved out of the banks like a honeycomb by settlers thousands of years ago.

The arguments over the project pit ambitious development plans against historical preservation and poorer citizens against government and big business. The dam, built in a Kurdish-majority area, has also added to the complaints by ethnic Kurds that they are marginalized by the state.

The dam is also a source of regional tension, too. Turkey’s construction of dams and irrigation projects have reduced the flow of water in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to Iraq and Syria, its downstream neighbors, causing hardship and sparking fears of greater conflict.

The Ilisu dam is part of a government plan dating to the 1970s aimed at developing southeastern Turkey with 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric plants, according to a summary on the website of the Ministry of Industry and Technology. The goals of the project — the largest and costliest in Turkey’s history — include “eliminating development disparities existing between the region and other parts of the country,” the summary says.

Protests against the dam have drawn in foreign environmentalists and scored a major victory in 2009, when European creditors withdrew funding from the project. But the next year, Turkish banks stepped in to provide the government with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, and the project moved forward.

The gates are slamming shut to refugees from Syria. This couple would risk it all to reach the West.

The government has spent millions relocating artifacts from Hasankeyf, including a 15th-century tomb, a bathhouse and a mosque. Some are already on display in New Hasankeyf, and others will be housed in a new museum. One of the town’s best-known attractions, a Roman citadel, will remain visible above the waterline. But the other iconic structure — the remains of the old Tigris bridge — will be submerged.

“Thousands of years of history will be left underwater,” said Midini Cicek, who picnicked with two friends near a pond a few miles from Hasankeyf, in a spot he said they had all visited since childhood. Thousands of people living in nearby villages are being displaced, and fishermen who worked along the river are facing the loss of their livelihood, he said.

The valley where they sat would be transformed. But Cicek tried to find a bright spot. “We’ll put Jet Skis on the water,” he said.

On a recent Sunday, Hasankeyf was filled with tourists, some saying they came to catch a last glimpse of the place before it vanished.

Mehmet Arif Ayhan, who owns a rug store in the central market, tried to coax them into his shop, looking to make sales in the days or weeks that remained. “The tourists are here to take pictures,” he said. “They don’t come inside.”

His family had lived in the town for at least 500 years, according to his parents, who were part of a generation that lived in the caves carved into Hasankeyf’s cliffs. He had not decided what to do once he was forced out. “Most likely, I’ll be one of the last people moving,” he said.

Alcin surveyed her new neighborhood in a government-built settlement called New Hasankeyf, a mile away from the old town. The gray houses, laid out like a barracks, erased the sense of the community that had been built in old Hasankeyf, she said.

“We’ll barely be able to see each other here,” she said.

Ahmet Akdeniz, whose family also had lived in Hasankeyf for hundreds of years, has been one of the vocal supporters of the government plans to transform the area — so enthusiastic, in fact, that the Turkish foreign ministry had flown him abroad to promote the project to European audiences, he said. He said residents displaced by the dam would benefit from larger homes and more tourists as the government promoted the attractions in New Hasankeyf.

But even Akdeniz acknowledged some of the complaints about the new settlement, blaming the shoddy construction in the homes on “mistakes” by government contractors.

Further downstream, Ahmet Demir, the mayor of Irmak, a village of 200 people, said a government compensation system would allow residents to build new homes on higher ground, a process that had already begun.

But nothing about the future was certain. The residents were farmers who raised animals, and “that will end with the lake,” he said, referring to uncertainty about the quality of the soil as the landscape was transformed. “Maybe we will fish?”

“I never wanted any of this. This is my home,” he said, gesturing to the lush valley, as the sun set. “What is money, compared to this?”

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« Reply #34 on: Dec 04, 2019, 04:28 AM »

‘People are underestimating the force of angry kids’: Greta Thunberg returns to Europe for climate summit

on December 4, 2019
By Common Dreams

At COP 25, Thunberg said, “we will continue the fight there to make sure that within those walls the voices of the people are being heard.”

After three weeks of sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Spain, teen climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived Tuesday in neighboring Portugal, where she was welcomed by an enthusiastic crowd of supporters.

“We’ve all been on quite an adventure,” the 16-year-old Swede told reporters in Lisbon shortly after her arrival. Thunberg has gained global recognition for her solitary protests for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament last year, which led to an international youth-led school strike movement known as Fridays for Future.

    Climate change activist Greta Thunberg arrived in Lisbon, Portugal, on Tuesday after a 3-week journey across the Atlantic.

    Thunberg will head to a UN climate change conference in Madrid, Spain. pic.twitter.com/yDpcTPMBzs

    — NBC News (@NBCNews) December 3, 2019

In August, Thunberg—who refuses to travel by plane—sailed from the United Kingdom to the United States for a U.N. summit in New York City. She also toured North America, addressing members of the U.S. Congress, joining major protests, and meeting with climate activists. After the U.N. conference, COP 25, was moved from Chile to Spain, she turned to social media to find a low-carbon way to get to Madrid.

Thunberg’s call for travel assistance was answered by the owners and crew of La Vagabonde, a white 48-foot catamaran that uses solar panels and hydro-generators for power. The teenager and her father Svante joined professional sailor Nikki Henderson as well as yacht owners Riley Whitelum and Elayna Carausu and their baby for the three-week journey.

“I’m doing this to sort of send the message that it is impossible to live sustainable today, and that needs to change. It needs to become much easier.”
—Greta Thunberg, climate activist

“I am not traveling like this because I want everyone to do so,” Thunberg explained to reporters Tuesday. “I’m doing this to sort of send the message that it is impossible to live sustainable today, and that needs to change. It needs to become much easier.”

The Associated Press reported that Thunberg will spend several days in the Portuguese capital before she heads to COP 25, where representatives from governments across the globe are discussing efforts to battle the climate crisis, including national commitments under the 2015 Paris agreement.

At the conference, Thunberg said, “we will continue the fight there to make sure that within those walls the voices of the people are being heard.”

“I think people are underestimating the force of angry kids,” she added. “If they want us to stop being angry, then maybe they should stop making us angry.”

Ahead of the conference, which kicked off Monday and is scheduled to run through Dec. 13, youth leaders organized a worldwide climate strike on Friday to pressure the COP 25 attendees to pursue more ambitious policies. Another global strike is planned for this coming Friday.

Chilean Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt—who is still serving as president of COP 25, despite the relocation—said Tuesday that she hopes Thunberg will motivate those attending the conference to back bolder climate commitments.

Schmidt told the AP that Thunberg “has been a leader that has been able to move and open hearts for many young people and many people all over the world.”

“We need that tremendous force in order to increase climate action,” the minister told Reuters television. “We need Greta in here with all that force.”

Bolstering arguments from both activists and policymakers that the international community needs to step up its efforts to address the climate crisis, the World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday released a new report which warned that inadequate efforts to curb planet-warming emissions could lead to a global temperature rise of 5°C by the end of the century.

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« Reply #35 on: Dec 04, 2019, 04:31 AM »

Atlantic haven is a test bed for planet’s sickly oceans

on December 4, 2019
By Agence France-Presse

Clad in diving gear or oilskins and gumboots, a team of scientists and activists spent weeks in the South Atlantic, enduring storms and choppy seas to check up on a place almost no-one has heard of.

Their mission: To monitor an underwater mountain for clues of global warming and plastic pollution — and vet the impact of a 12-year-old ban on trawling.

Researchers with Greenpeace sailed a thousand kilometers (600 miles) northwest of Cape Town to Vema Seamount, one of the most remarkable, yet poorly-known, features of the Blue Planet.

The volcanic mountain rises a colossal 4,600 meters (15,000 feet) from the ocean abyss — almost as high as Mont Blanc, the highest point in Europe.
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Its conical peak, eroded to a flat top by waves over thousands of years, reaches to just 26 meters (85 feet) from the surface.

AFP journalists joined the 30 crew, scientists and campaigners for 10 days of their three-week long exploration.

Aboard the research ship Arctic Sunrise, specialist divers shared jokes as they put on bright orange and black dry suits, strapped on air cylinders and ran through final checks of high-resolution cameras.

They jumped out through the pilot door, disappearing in the deep blue waters for about 45 minutes — a twice-a-day ritual, weather permitting.

Below the waves, the divers took samples and recorded an inventory of sea life.

– Ocean haven –

Vema is an ocean oasis — its shallow summit is bathed in sunlight, enabling algae, kelp and black coral to grow, which in turn draw fish and crustaceans.

The divers resurfaced, elated.

“There were lots of fish around us, just swimming around us, in a big circle. It was absolutely awesome to see. Beautiful!” said Dutch diver Sander Jansson.

Vema — named after a vessel which discovered it in the 1950s — lies in international waters.

Little more than one percent of ocean areas lying outside national jurisdictions benefit from some form of international protection, according to the UN’s Ocean Action website.

Vema is fortunate to be one of the very few areas of the deep seas that enjoys such a shield.

In 2007, an intergovernmental fisheries science and management body, the South East Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (SEAFO) banned bottom trawling on Vema and other seamounts.

Some of the species at Vema have clearly flourished since then.

“There is so much life down there,” said marine biologist and expedition leader Thilo Maack.

“There is crayfish, there’s a lot of seaweed, there’s a lot of sponges and fish of any kind”.

He added: “This is just a perfect example of what happens if we leave nature on its own for a certain period of time even if it was overfished, it will replenish”.

The sunnier outlook even extends to the Tristan rock lobster — a species that was twice driven to near-extinction to meet seafood demand in East Asia.
AFP / MARCO LONGARI Divers rinse themselves with clean water after a dive to the seamount

“Who says there are no lobsters down there?” quipped German diver Pascal van Erp as he stepped back on deck after his first dive.

When the current was too strong for divers to go into the water, the researchers launched an underwater drone and sat inside a blue shipping container on the ship’s deck, monitoring screens sending back video footage.

– Need for protection –

Marine conservation organisations are pushing for ocean havens to be vastly expanded.
AFP / MARCO LONGARI Marine biologist Robert Anderson prepares kelp samples for drying and analysis

Greenpeace has mounted a pole-to-pole Arctic-to-Antarctic expedition to lobby the UN to come up with an international legally-binding treaty that protect at least 30 percent of the world’s deep oceans from human activities and industrial fishing by 2030.

The UN is negotiating new policies and these which should be finalised at a global conference early next year.

Francois Engelbrecht, professor of climatology at South Africa’s University of the Witswatersrand, said the plight of the oceans was like the fight against climate change — both had to be addressed at a planetary level.

“The entire Earth system is connected, it is a coupled system, and changes in one part of the world sooner or later affect many other parts of the world,” he said.

“So the international efforts to protect the oceans and to mitigate climate change are in fact an effort that requires tremendous international cooperation.”

– Climate peril –

The oceans play a vital role in the grim calculus of global warming.

They are, at the same time, a shield against warming, a future accelerator of it and a victim of it.

By absorbing a quarter of manmade carbon dioxide (CO2) and more than 90 percent of the heat generated by greenhouse gases, oceans avoid huge amounts of atmospheric warming, says the UN’s top scientific panel, the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).

But warmer oceans means rising sea levels, as well as stored heat that will ultimately be released to the atmosphere — climate-altering mechanisms that may function for centuries to come.

“A breakdown in climate will ultimately impact on our oceans,” Bukelwa Nzimande, 29, a South African activist.

“They act as carbon sinks, they hold lots of wildlife which captures the carbon, at the same time they absorb excess heat that would ideally be felt by us as humanity.”

Higher sea temperatures and acidification caused by CO2 absorption are widely feared because of their impact on marine biodiversity, although this remains poorly understood.

One of the tasks at Vema was to look for evidence of whale migration and compare that with past years.

By comparing patterns of migration times, scientist hoped to make deductions over any changes to currents and feeding grounds.

Another priority was to look for discarded plastic, which is emerging as one of the biggest threats to marine wildlife.

Plastic bags can be swallowed by marine mammals, and small species absorb minute plastic particles that then accumulate up the food chain.

The UN estimates that 640,000 tonnes of fishing equipment is discarded around the oceans each year.

Despite the general pristine state of Vema and the ban on fishing, there was evidence that fishing had taken place at Vema.

Divers found a lobster pot and video footage from a drone showed pieces of abandoned fishing nets, known as ghost gear.

– Life at sea –

There were more than 30 crew, scientists and activists aboard the Arctic Sunrise, a 45-metre (147-feet) Norwegian-built ice breaker.

They hailed from South Africa, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Britain, among other nations.

They shared small cabins equiped with bunk beds, complete with guard rails for the stormy days when the ship swayed violently from side to side.

“Even if my employer today says there’s no more money to pay me a salary, I will continue doing what I’m doing,” said deckhand Barry Joubert,39, who quit his job at a game reserve in Parys, South Africa five years ago to join Greenpeace.

South African-born captain Mike Fincken, 55, spends six months of the year away from his seven-year-old son in Wales.

One of his deck assistants is Tuleka Zuma, a 31-year-old mother of an 18-month-old toddler back in South Africa’s southeastern KwaZulu-Natal province.

Celine Desvachez, a 27-year-old Belgian boat pilot, said she cannot “find any meaningful way of living my life” other than doing what she did.

“Actually my personal battle is when I go off the ship,” she said.

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« Reply #36 on: Dec 04, 2019, 04:34 AM »

Revealed: 'monumental' NSW bushfires have burnt 20% of Blue Mountains world heritage area

More than 10% of forest in NSW national parks destroyed by fire this season, with the damage to Gondwana rainforest a ‘global tragedy’  

Lisa Cox
4 Dec 2019 02.42 GMT

More than 10% of the area covered by New South Wales national parks has been burned in this season’s bushfires, including 20% of the Blue Mountains world heritage area, state government data obtained by Guardian Australia has revealed.

The amount of bushland destroyed within NSW national parks dwarfs that of the entire previous fire season, when 80,000 hectares were lost.

Ten times that amount has burnt since July.

The damage caused by fire in the Gondwana rainforest world heritage area in the north of the state is a “global tragedy” and an “absolute crisis” a Nature Conservation Council ecologist says.

The chief executive of the council, Chris Gambian, said the loss of 800,000 hectares in NSW national parks, out of a total of 1.9m hectares burnt in the state since 1 July, “changes the calculus of nature conservation in the state”.

The “monumental” scale of the fires meant conservation of land would now be “more important than ever”, Gambian said.

    Because they’ve been permanently wet and have never burnt right through, they’re like mountain-top arcs of ancient biodiversity.
    Mark Graham, Nature Conservation Council ecologist

“National parks are the best way to protect species and landscapes, but when your national parks have been decimated, you have to look at the total picture and other measures.”

As well as the losses in the Blue Mountains, concern has centred on the Gondwana rainforest world heritage area, a collection of reserves of subtropical rainforest that span 366,500 hectares across NSW and Queensland.

Mark Graham, an ecologist with the council who specialises in fire and biodiversity, said the fires there were “a global tragedy”.

“I don’t think that’s over-egging it,” Graham said.

Last week, the Unesco World Heritage Centre expressed concern about the Gondwana fires and asked the federal government whether the damage was affecting their universal values.

Twelve of 28 NSW world heritage reserves have been at least partly affected by fire.

Graham said until a week ago Barrington Tops and the New England national park were the two largest blocks of Gondwana that had not been affected by fire. That changed after lightning strikes sparked fires in those areas.

“To be really blunt, it’s an absolute crisis,” Graham said.

“Because they’ve been permanently wet and have never burnt right through, they’re like mountaintop arcs of ancient biodiversity.

“These fires have directly impacted upon the values they were listed for.”

Further south, the Gospers Mountain fire has been burning out of control since last month in the Wollemi and Yengo national parks, part of the Greater Blue Mountains world heritage area, which covers one million hectares of national park and is dominated by temperate eucalypt forest.

The executive officer of the National Parks Association of NSW, Gary Dunnett, said the national parks of the Blue Mountains were some of the most fire-prone landscape in the country, particularly during drought.

“They’re particularly vulnerable to these large-scale fires,” he said.

“I think it’s reasonable to say we haven’t seen anything on this scale since 2000-2001 and, again, the millennium drought was the big driver for that.”

On Tuesday morning, 118 fires were burning in NSW, 48 of them out of control.

A spokeswoman for the NSW planning, industry and environment department said “at 800,000 hectares burnt to date, this is much larger than the average season”.

“It’s the largest season since 2002-03 which affected over one million hectares of parks and reserves,” she said.

“The environmental conditions, combined with strong winds and extremely low humidity, makes firefighting extremely difficult and dangerous,” she said.

“Many have referred to the NSW situation this year as unprecedented, and our experience to date would support this statement.”

She said the Blue Mountains area was a landscape adapted to recover after fire, and more detailed assessments of the impact would occur when conditions were safer.

Similarly, post-fire mapping would be done in the Gondwana area to determine the full impact on the world heritage area because in some reserves it is only sections of national park that are world heritage listed.

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« Reply #37 on: Dec 04, 2019, 04:37 AM »

Abused Russian sisters who killed father face murder trial

on December 4, 2019
By Agence France-Presse

Investigators said Tuesday that two sisters who killed their father after years of abuse should face murder charges, in a case highlighting Russia’s dire record on domestic violence.

Three Russian sisters — Krestina, Angelina and Maria Khachaturyan — stabbed their father Mikhail to death in July 2018 after suffering years of beatings and sexual assault.

They were 17, 18 and 19 at the time.

Their case has sparked protests and calls for the women to receive psychological help instead of being sent to prison.

There is no specific law against domestic violence in Russia and activists have long accused authorities of turning a blind eye to abuse.

Russia’s Investigate Committee said in a statement on Tuesday that it had completed a probe into the killing and was recommending charges of premeditated murder against the two older sisters, Krestina and Angelina, now 21 and 19.

The probe established that the sisters stabbed their father with a knife and beat him with a hammer, causing fatal injuries.

It pointed to “mitigating circumstances” but said the two older sisters were of sound mind and aware of their actions at the time of the attack.

They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Investigators recommended that the youngest sister, Maria, should enter mandatory psychiatric care.

Lawyers and activists say the teenagers were forced to act to save their lives, pointing to poor legal protections for abuse victims.

Mari Davtyan, a lawyer for Angelina, told AFP the case should not go to trial because the sisters “used reasonable force in self-defense”.

– ‘Fought for their lives’ –

Alexei Liptser, a lawyer for Krestina, said the sisters were likely to be convicted despite the campaign in their defense.

“We know that if investigators decide something this is simply a matter of time,” he told AFP, pointing to Russia’s extremely low acquittal rates.

He said the two sisters were asking for a jury trial, adding: “A trial by jury can not only soften the punishment but also acquit.”

The three sisters now live in separate homes and are forbidden to communicate with each other.

Russia decriminalized all but the gravest types of domestic violence in 2017. Police do not normally intervene, even in severe cases.

Women’s rights activist Anna Rivina said the investigators’ announcement was evidence of the authorities’ continued reluctance to address domestic violence.

“The state in the form of its various institutions still does not recognize the problem and is not prepared to protect the lives and health of its citizens,” she told AFP.

“The Investigative Committee wields the law against those who have found themselves in a monstrous situation and had to fight for their lives,” Rivina said.

A group of Russian lawmakers last week unveiled a new bill on domestic violence.

Ultra-conservative groups have campaigned against the bill, saying it will destroy families and the powerful Russian Orthodox Church has also opposed it.

© 2019 AFP

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« Reply #38 on: Dec 04, 2019, 04:56 AM »

Footage appears to show world leaders joking about Trump at Nato summit

Group including Macron and Johnson appear to be discussing US president

Kate Lyons
Wed 4 Dec 2019 09.15 GMT

A video has emerged that appears to show world leaders including Boris Johnson, Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron joking about Donald Trump at the opening of this week’s Nato summit in London.

Footage shows the leaders at a function at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday evening. Johnson asks Macron: “Is that why you were late?” before Trudeau interjects: “He was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top”.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxtdCeg7VPE&feature=emb_logo

Trudeau adds: “Oh, yeah, yeah yeah. He announced … ” before he is cut off by Macron, who speaks animatedly to the group. Macron’s back is to the camera and his words are inaudible.

It is never said whom the group are talking about, but the exchange could relate to the US president, who is known for his long, rambling press conferences and who had an unscripted 50-minute back and forth with reporters on Tuesday.

As he did at last year’s Nato meeting, Trump has thrown out normal summit protocol and used his appearances with allied leaders to field dozens of questions from the world’s media.

The Queen hosted world leaders at a reception at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday night to mark 70 years of Nato cooperation, as protesters gathered outside, rallying against Trump and his perceived interest in the NHS in a US-UK trade deal and Nato.

After an edited cut in the film, the footage later shows an incredulous Trudeau telling the group, which also included Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, and Princess Anne: “You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor.”

Again, it is not known whom the group are talking about, and none of the world leaders appeared to realise the conversation was being recorded.

The video was originally posted online by Sputnik News, a news agency established by the Russian government-owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya. A much longer version of the video on Sputnik’s Facebook page shows more of the interactions between guests at the reception.

An edited version of the video, focusing on the interactions between these leaders, with the audio cleaned up and subtitles added, was posted on Twitter by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday.

The footage emerged after a day when Nato disunity was on full display, as Macron accused Turkey of colluding with Islamic State proxies, and Trump described Macron’s criticisms of Nato’s “brain death” as insulting and “very, very nasty”.

On Wednesday, Trump is scheduled to meet the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the prime minsters of Denmark and Italy. He is also due to give another news conference, this time on his own, after the 29 Nato leaders hold a full three-hour closed-door summit session and issue a statement to celebrate their supposed unity.

The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has threatened to hold up Nato efforts to bolster the protection of the Baltic republics against Russia unless the allies brand the Kurdish militias who defeated Isis in Syria as “terrorists”.

Amid fears Erdoğan could even veto the summit declaration and with barely two hours to go before the leaders sat down for their sole roundtable discussions, the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, admitted a solution to the issue had still not been found.

“I’m confident that we will be able to find a solution to the issue related to updating the revised defence plans,” Stoltenberg said as he arrived for the summit at a luxury golf hotel on the outskirts of London. “I discussed this with President Erdoğan last night and we are working on the issue as we speak.”

Johnson played down the dispute. “There is far, far more that unites us than divides us, and I think one thing every leader here is absolutely resolved upon is the vital importance of Nato for our collective security,” the prime minister said as he arrived.

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« Reply #39 on: Dec 04, 2019, 04:59 AM »

EU mission tells Malta PM to quit immediately over Caruana Galizia case

Joseph Muscat has made serious errors over investigation into journalist’s murder, says Dutch MEP

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels and agencies
4 Dec 2019 14.42 GMT

The head of an EU mission to Malta has called on the country’s embattled prime minister to quit immediately amid anger over his handling of the investigation into the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, who is leading the European parliament’s emergency fact-finding mission to Malta, said she was “not reassured” after meeting Joseph Muscat and his justice minister, Owen Bonnici.

“I think everybody recognises, including the prime minister himself, that he has made some serious errors of judgment and I would say that staying on longer than necessary is another error of judgment,” she told reporters in Valleta.

She said trust between the EU and Malta had been seriously damaged, and that Muscat had done little to allay concerns.

The main opposition party said on Monday it would boycott parliament until Muscat left office.

A small crowd of protesters threw eggs and insults at both Muscat and Bonnici as they arrived at government headquarters for Tuesday’s meeting.

“The EU must put pressure on him to go,” said Caruana Galizia’s sister, Mandy Mallia, who took part in the demonstration. “Yorgen Fenech wasn’t acting alone.”

Separately, Matthew Caruana Galizia, one of the journalist’s three sons, described the EU’s response to the scandal as “a huge letdown”, although he focused his criticism at the European commission, which is responsible for upholding European law, rather than MEPs.

“There has been pressure from the European parliament, but the response from the European Union has been hopeless, it has just been a huge let down,” he told the Guardian.

At a valedictory press conference on his last day in office as European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker declined to comment on the situation in Malta, claiming he didn’t have the details. Juncker said he was “highly concerned” about the rule of law in more than one EU country without going into specifics.

Matthew Caruana Galizia cited this as an example of the commission’s “abysmal” approach to Malta, adding he expected more from Juncker’s successor, Ursula von der Leyen, who took office on Sunday. “I expect them to come down like a tonne of bricks, especially after Juncker’s failures. He was abysmal.”

The Maltese political crisis is an early test for Von der Leyen, who is under pressure to show that she will not allow EU member states to undermine the rule of law.

The commission has called on Malta to establish an independent public prosecutor, after experts at the Council of Europe raised a red flag about the separation of powers.

That issue was discussed in a phone call between European commission vice president Věra Jourová and Bonnici on Monday, while Jourová told an FT conference that failure to implement judicial reforms could trigger an EU sanctions procedure, known as article 7.

During the call Jourová also said that the Caruana Galizia murder investigation had “to be brought to a conclusion without any political interference” a commission spokesman said on Tuesday.

Muscat has promised to stand down in mid-January to allow the Labour party time to pick a new leader. The Caruana Galizia family have called for an investigation into Muscat’s role after investigators alleged there were links between his chief of staff, Keith Schembri, and the man accused of organising the murder.

Schembri resigned last week and was then arrested and later released from police custody without charge. He is alleged to have links with Fenech, Malta’s richest man, who has been charged with complicity in the murder. Konrad Mizzi, who had been accused by Caruana Galizia of corruption, also quit his post as Malta’s tourism minister last week.

Muscat, Schembri, Fenech and Mizzi all deny wrongdoing.

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« Reply #40 on: Dec 04, 2019, 05:04 AM »

Central African Republic seeks a salve for the scars of war

Conflict-ravaged country hopes trials at new court in Bangui will at last punish those responsible for massacres and rape

Jack Losh in Bangui

The moment they entered town, the rebel soldiers started firing on civilians. As terrified crowds fled into nearby woods, a 40-year-old disabled woman called Monique Douma realised she was trapped.

“I told Monique to come with me but she said she couldn’t,” a relative later told investigators. “She said: ‘I don’t have the strength to run.’” Militants set fire to Douma’s home while she hid inside.

This massacre in Central African Republic (CAR) unfolded in May alongside coordinated attacks on two neighbouring villages in Ouham-Pendé prefecture. Fighters from the 3R armed group tied up and then killed dozens of men. Douma suffered fatal injuries in the blaze; the body of a 10-year-old girl was later found with a single bullet to her head.

By the end of it, at least 46 civilians were dead. Many of the militants remain free.

The harrowing attack in the country’s north-west is just one of many to have ravaged CAR since civil war erupted in 2013, often with no consequence for the culprits. Corrupt, dysfunctional courts mean that thousands of victims of brutality are routinely denied justice.

About 300 miles away, a new development in the capital, Bangui, could signal a change. On Rue Martin Luther King Jr, behind a concrete wall painted with the scales of justice, a courthouse is being overhauled. Ringed by razor wire, this construction site is part of a bold experiment to begin to pull this crisis zone back from the brink.

To be known as the special criminal court (SCC), an ambitious institution is being set up in a country scarred by ethnic cleansing and war crimes, the lead actors of which remain at large. The violence stretches back to 2003, when General François Bozizé seized power in a violent coup that sparked severe unrest.

In 2013, when Muslim Seleka rebels overthrew Bozizé, prompting Christian anti-balaka militias to rise up, the country was thrown into a period of reprisal killings, widespread rapes and mass displacement.

After years of Bozizé’s authoritarian rule, what was left of CAR’s justice system collapsed.

This February, rebel groups and the government signed a peace deal – the eighth attempt to resolve the six-year conflict. Nine months on, violence involving signatories of the treaty is rising. Clashes between two armed groups called the FPRC and MLCJ in the north-east have displaced more than 24,000 people. Another group, the UPC, has advanced into south-eastern areas, breaching the ceasefire, drawing condemnation from the UN and raising tensions with local anti-balaka militants.

Prosecutors at the embryonic SCC are now tasked with indicting militants for crimes in CAR since the 2003 coup, and hope their endeavours will mark the denouement of this bloody tragedy, fuelled in part by a culture of impunity. They are progressing with multiple investigations, including one into the massacre in Ouham-Pendé in May.

It is hoped trials will start in 2021. By bringing warlords to justice, the plan is to usher in a new era of accountability that deters militants from launching more attacks.

Since the 1990s, CAR has hosted roughly a dozen different peacekeeping and special political missions; this new court is just the latest experiment in the country’s “laboratory for international peacebuilding initiatives”, to use Yale anthropologist Louisa Lombard’s phrase. While similar tribunals elsewhere have judged alleged war criminals from Cambodia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia, this one would be the first UN-backed court established inside a country where fighting continues.

But huge challenges remain.

“The special criminal court is an unprecedented effort to deliver much-sought justice for brutal, widespread crimes committed with impunity in the country,” says Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch (HRW). “The court, with its combination of international and domestic judges and prosecutors, also holds promise as a potential model for other countries.”

Legal gears elsewhere are also starting to turn. Two alleged anti-balaka chiefs – one of them prominent in African football, the other a politician nicknamed Rambo – have appeared at the international criminal court (ICC) in The Hague. Prosecutors accuse Patrice-Edouard Ngaissona and Alfred Yekatom of commanding armed groups against CAR’s Muslim population, using murder, torture and child soldiers. Both have denied wrongdoing.

A sign in Bossangoa advocates against using children in armed groups. Photograph: Jack Losh

Judges there are deciding if there is enough evidence to move forward with a trial, which could be the first of many to emerge from CAR’s years of bloodshed. “This case will not be the last one,” said the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, at the end of a preliminary hearing last month. “I am investigating all sides in the conflict.”

In September, a national court in Bangui secured the first conviction of a former Seleka rebel commander, jailing Abdoulaye Alkali-Saïd for crimes against humanity. While his sentence of just six years – and the breakneck speed of his trial – raised some eyebrows, the prosecution of a high-ranking militant who had targeted civilians was hailed as a positive step.

“This is the fight against impunity,” says the country’s attorney general, Eric Didier Tambo. “If the ICC can catch some big fish, we too are catching other fish.”

February’s peace agreement also raised hopes of establishing a long-awaited truth and reconciliation commission, but this has still not got off the ground.

The SCC is a hybrid court of national and international elements. Consultants are sourced from western countries; donors include France, Holland, the EU and the US. But its creators are keen not to be seen as meddling foreigners in this former French colony, weary of decades-long exploitation and outside interference, and trials will follow CAR’s national legislation, with more than half of the court’s 25 magistrates hired locally.

The SCC’s precarious funding model was highlighted by a recent HRW report that uncovered a gap of approximately $1m (£775,000) for 2019 operations, with no money pledged for future years. The anticipated costs are about $12.4m a year. This year’s gap has since been plugged, but sources say a further $5m is needed for 2020.

The HRW report also warned about staff shortages, which have held up important activities, and urged existing officials to intensify investigations.

CAR’s UN peacekeeping mission, known by its acronym Minusca, is a key player in efforts to reform the justice sector, having rehabilitated 24 courts and prisons.

But insiders also describe bureaucratic tussling at the SCC between court staff and managers at Minusca and the UN Development Programme, with red tape impeding staff’s ability to work on their own initiative.

“No one group is governing the court single-handedly, but everyone involved in it has something to say,” says a senior western contractor who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. “Minusca talks about making the court more independent, but they interfere in everything.”

Vladimir Monteiro, Minusca’s spokesman, says the mission is developing a strategy to improve the court’s autonomy, adding that Minusca “continues to bridge gaps that cannot be otherwise filled”.

CAR is awash with weapons, and armed groups control approximately three-quarters of the country, so robust protection for witnesses is imperative. Without reliable law enforcement, the court is developing its own system, although “further progress is needed”, adds the HRW report.

Facilities for detaining high-risk suspects are limited, and beset by overcrowding. Nor has secure accommodation been provided to most of the SCC’s domestic judges, leaving them vulnerable to intimidation. Investigators will need to rely on UN peacekeepers for security, making it hard to operate discreetly. An SCC spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Even as the war cools down, the court faces a country where years of widespread violence have ravaged its social fabric, normalising sexual exploitation and increasing the prevalence of domestic abuse. Once a conflict ends, explains Madeleine Rees, secretary general of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, it can be “very difficult to switch back to constrained behaviour regulated by law”. The roots of wartime sexual violence lie in social inequality that predate the outbreak of hostilities. “It starts in the household and it spreads then into society more broadly,” says Rees. “When you get an armed conflict, the sorts of violence that were perpetrated before then get meted out more.”

Despite all the challenges, there is a strong desire to see the SCC succeed. Mike Cole, chief of the ICC country office in CAR, said the court could be a catalyst for justice reform. From hiring interpreters to keeping evidence safe, the SCC promises to put in place “all those rather dull and boring but incredibly important justice-related capacities that any normal, functioning court would have”, he says.

“After cases have come and gone,” adds Cole, formerly of the British army legal services branch, “the transfer of that real capacity into the national system is a potential huge legacy, regardless of the outcome of any cases.”

For now, as rounds of rough justice continue, survivors have little prospect of seeing the guilty in court.

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« Reply #41 on: Dec 04, 2019, 05:21 AM »

Here’s what the Ukraine report reveals about Devin Nunes’ shady role in the scandal

on December 4, 2019
By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
- Commentary

While the House Intelligence Committee’s Ukraine report, released Tuesday, is primarily an indictment of President Donald Trump’s conduct, it also includes stunning details about the committee’s top Republican: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA).

Nunes and his allies have argued, in defense of Trump, that committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) is somehow the subject of a conflict of interest in the impeachment inquiry because his staff spoke to the intelligence community whistleblower who first exposed the Ukraine scandal. But in reality, it seems that Nunes is much more deeply implicated in the facts of the case, raising serious questions about his own conflicts of interest and potential misconduct.

For example, the report found that, while reporter John Solomon was publishing claims from a Ukrainian official against former Vice President Joe Biden — claims exactly like those that Rudy Giuliani and President Donald Trump would push Ukraine to investigate as part of the scandal — Nunes appeared to be in the loop on some related conversations:

    Over the course of the four days following the April 7 article, phone records show
    contacts between Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas, Representative Devin Nunes, and Mr. Solomon.
    Specifically, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Parnas were in contact with one another, as well as with Mr.
    Solomon. Phone records also show contacts on April 10 between Mr. Giuliani and Rep. Nunes, consisting of three short calls in rapid succession, followed by a text message, and ending with a nearly three minute call. Later that same day, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Solomon had a four minute, 39 second call.

Lev Parnas, referenced here, is one of the two Giuliani associates who have been indicted by the Southern District of New York as part of a campaign finance conspiracy. The charges against them are linked, in part, to the campaign to oust former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, which eventually Trump carried out.

Phone records included in the report from this time show five calls between Nunes and Giuliani, three of which appear to have been successful. They also show four calls between Nunes and Parnas, only two of which were apparently successful; one call was eight minutes, 34 seconds long.

A lawyer for Parnas recently told CNN that his client claims Nunes met with a disgraced former Ukrainian prosecutor to dig up dirt on Biden. Though the claims have not been confirmed, travel records suggest the trip could have occurred. Nunes has aggressively lashed out at CNN’s report, calling it “demonstrably false” and saying he would sue, but he did not contest any specific claim.

But the lawyer claimed that Nunes and Parnas began communicating around the time of the trip, and the Ukraine report seems to confirm at least the fact that they have been in direct communication.

The report also said that, on May 8 — while Giuliani was public discussing a trip to Ukraine to push for the investigations Trump wanted — he had a call with Derek Harvey, a Nunes aide. It continued:

    Call records also show that around midday on May 10, Mr. Giuliani began trading aborted calls with Kashyap “Kash” Patel, an official at the National Security Council who previously served on Ranking Member Devin Nunes’ staff on the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Patel successfully connected with Mr. Giuliani less than an hour after Mr. Giuliani’s call with Ambassador Volker. Beginning at 3:23 p.m., Eastern Time, Mr. Patel and Mr. Giuliani spoke for over 25 minutes. Five minutes after Mr. Patel and Mr. Giuliani disconnected, an unidentified “-1” number connected with Mr. Giuliani for over 17 minutes Shortly thereafter, Mr. Giuliani spoke with Mr. Parnas for approximately 12 minutes.

During the public hearings, witnesses also suggested that Patel may have been briefing Trump privately on Ukraine, though it wasn’t a part of his formal role. The report said that Dr. Fiona Hill claimed Patel “maintained a close relationship with Ranking Member Nunes after leaving his staff to join the NSC.”

It’s not clear yet what all these facts add up to yet. But when asked on Tuesday about what they mean, Schiff expressed concern.

“I’m going to reserve comment,” he said, before adding that it is “deeply disturbing that, at a time when the president of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival, that there may be evidence that members of Congress complicit in that activity. Now, there’s a lot more to learn about that, and I don’t want to state that that is an unequivocal fact. But the allegations are deeply concerning. Our focus is on the president’s conduct first and foremost. It may be the role of others to evaluate the conduct of members of Congress.”


Experts: House impeachment report spells ‘deep, deep trouble’ – for Devin Nunes

By David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement

As journalists and legal experts wade through the 17-plus pages of the executive summary and the 300 pages of the full House Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday afternoon, it’s increasingly clear the report is quite damning for the President – which we already knew – and for that committee’s Republican Ranking Member and former chairman, Devin Nunes, who is mentioned at least 48 times in the report.

Nunes over the past few years has led the charge to defend President Trump, from a late-night visit to the White House to obtain what he wrongly claimed was damning evidence of criminal activity surrounding FISA warrant unmasking – to his more recent conspiracy theories, including the lie that Ukraine and not Russia attacked the 2016 U.S. election. There’s also his latest lawsuit: after suing an imaginary cow and others, Rep. Nunes is now suing CNN for $435 million.
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All that aside, let’s look at how the experts are weighing in on just how much “deep, deep trouble” Congressman Nunes may be in, as law professor and former Special Counsel at the Dept. of Defense Ryan Goodman suggests:

    Looks like Devin #Nunes is in deep, deep trouble.

    Comprehensive list of call records listed in #ImpeachmentReport

    Nunes/senior aide Derek Harvey calls


    Giuliani and indicted Lev Parnas, who were engaged in disinformation campaign and Ukraine dirt on Bidens. pic.twitter.com/n0bKgBnpIX

    — Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) December 3, 2019

Attorney for indicted Giuliani “henchman” Lev Parnas points to information from Politico’s National security correspondent Natasha Bertrand:

    Devin Nunes, you should have recused yourself at the outset of the #HIC #ImpeachingHearings. #LetLevSpeak https://t.co/HeG8kFEDwl

    — Joseph A. Bondy (@josephabondy) December 3, 2019

CNN’s Manu Raju says Nunes “could be tied to effort to dig up Biden dirt”:

    Just tried to ask Devin Nunes to react to being named in the Dems’ impeachment report – and he ignored my question. Here are details on phone records suggesting Nunes could be tied to effort to dig up Biden dirt: https://t.co/RMedUXkU56

    — Manu Raju (@mkraju) December 3, 2019

CNN’s Jake Tapper points to Nunes’ “contacts with Giuliani and others”:

    Many of the references to @DevinNunes in here are about his contacts with Giuliani and others — not his role as ranking GOPer on the committee https://t.co/M25weA0eMu

    — Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) December 3, 2019

Just Security editorial director Kate Brannen points to passages about calls between Nunes and Giuliani and others – including possibly the president – that could also spell big trouble:

    There is news in this House Intel report.

    It contains new evidence of phone calls between Giuliani and Nunes back in April. pic.twitter.com/veEeY2chaC

    — Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) December 3, 2019

    The House Intelligence Committee obtained phone records that shed new light on possible coordination between Giuliani, Nunes, his staff, Kash Patel (his former staffer), John Solomon, Parnas and possibly the president. pic.twitter.com/19Mm4l0qaw

    — Kate Brannen (@K8brannen) December 3, 2019

Talking Points memo writer Nicole Lafond: “Nunes was in contact with Giuliani during key parts of Giuliani’s campaign to attack Yovanovitch”:

    The phone records cited in House Intel Dems’ report shows that Nunes was in contact with Giuliani during key parts of Giuliani’s campaign to attack Yovanovitch and while Giuliani prepped to travel to Ukraine https://t.co/O9WyR29k7d

    — Nicole Lafond (@Nicole_Lafond) December 3, 2019

Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld:

    Chairman Schiff’s presser ends with a bang.

    Asked about the report’s findings about Rep. Devin Nunes, Schiff notes: “There may be members of Congress who were complicit in that activity,” referring to this passage detailing Nunes’ contacts with Giuliani, Parnas and Solomon. pic.twitter.com/vdgmME4sKt

    — Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) December 3, 2019

Program director at Campaign Legal Center Brendan Fischer:

    There are a crazy number of phone calls between Lev Parnas and Devin Nunes–many of them on April 12, the same day Victoria Toensing signed a retainer to rep the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor Lutsenko in meetings with US officials. pic.twitter.com/uieCHMe0K2

    — Brendan Fischer (@brendan_fischer) December 3, 2019

Republican political strategist Rick Wilson sums up Nunes’ actions with one of Giuliani’s indicted henchmen in this colorful tweet:

    I guess Devin Nunes was too busy suing imaginary cows to mention to the committee but he was having late night “Love you! Love you more! You hang up first. No you hang up first” calls with Lev Fucking Parnas.

    — Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) December 3, 2019


Devin Nunes tells Fox News he doesn’t ‘recall’ Giuliani associate Lev Parnas — they spoke at least 4 times

Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) told Fox News host Sean Hannity that he doesn’t “recall” Lev Parnas, the recently indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez tweeted.

Hannity was outed for having coordinated with President Donald Trump, Giuliani and Donald Trump Jr. to take down former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, in the House Intelligence Committee report, released Tuesday.

But in a conversation with Nunes, the two men were all laughs about the serious allegations they face.
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    On "Hannity" just now, Devin Nunes was asked about the call logs. He says of one of his calls with Giuliani: "We were actually laughing about how Mueller bombed out." He also claims he doesn't recall Lev Parnas' name, although it's "possible" they spoke.

    — Felicia Sonmez (@feliciasonmez) December 4, 2019

“We were actually laughing about how Mueller bombed out,” Nunes said of the report showing Trump obstructed justice at least 10 times.

While Nunes said that he doesn’t “recall” speaking to Lev Parnas, he explained that it is “possible” that they did speak.

Call logs show they not only spoke, but they did so four times.

    "It's possible" https://t.co/4ioOFSOH3H pic.twitter.com/lGgemuBLlP

    — Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) December 4, 2019

Trump also claimed that he didn’t know Parnas or his associate Igor Fruman, but the men were photographed with Trump and his GOP allies dozens of times and seen in multiple videos.

It’s something that raises serious ethical questions, according to former acting-FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who spoke to CNN’s Chris Cuomo about Nunes late Tuesday.

While Nunes was speaking to Hannity, the hashtag #NunesGotCaught was trending nationally on Twitter.

Watch part of the interview below:

    Hannity: Did you ever talk to this guy Lev Parnas?

    Devin Nunes: You know it’s possible but I haven’t gone through all my phone records. I don’t really recall that name. pic.twitter.com/NY8PXPdUC9

    — Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) December 4, 2019

    “They shouldn’t be listening to someone who has been indicted” says the man who has repeated calls listed in the call logs with the indicted person pic.twitter.com/wuVfXM2wR0

    — Acyn Torabi (@Acyn) December 4, 2019


Mike Pence was implicated — and Fox News just threw him under the bus

Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

Fox News revealed on the lower-third of their screen Tuesday night that the Intelligence Committee report implicates Vice President Mike Pence, as “The Weekly List’s” Amy Siskind captured.

    This chyron 💜💙💜💙#PresidentPelosi pic.twitter.com/AD7v0HiBwP

    — Amy Siskind 🏳️‍🌈 (@Amy_Siskind) December 4, 2019

Indeed, Pence was implicated in the damning report released Tuesday afternoon, though Fox News has been implicated in coordinating with President Donald Trump to get rid of the Ukraine ambassador and perpetuate conspiracy theories that protect Russia.

As Yahoo News reporter Mike Isikoff pointed out, the report alleges that Pence was “either knowledgeable of or active participant” in the impeachable offenses committed by the president.

    First big takeaway from House intel report: It concludes that VP Pence– who would become POTUS if Trump is removed– was "either knowledgeable of or active participant" in conduct that is basis for impeachment. pic.twitter.com/Ty5eQtYDAx

    — Michael Isikoff (@Isikoff) December 3, 2019

Fox personality Sean Hannity was implicated for working with Giuliani Trump and Donald Trump Jr. to tear down Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch


‘Rudy is cut off from Fox News’: Giuliani benched after Republicans ‘had to do something’

Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

President Donald Trump’s television lawyer has reportedly been benched from the president’s favorite cable television network.

“For more than a year, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have been part of a chorus of West Wing advisers telling Donald Trump that he needs to fire Rudy Giuliani,” Vanity Fair reported Tuesday. “But as Giuliani’s legal woes mount, Trump is coming around to his advisers’ view that Giuliani is a liability, three Republicans close to the White House told me.”

Giuliani is apparently so counter-productive that Trump has had to bench him.
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“The relationship has grown so strained that Trump has even directed Giuliani not to appear on Fox News,” the magazine reported, citing “a Republican briefed on the conversations.”

“A Fox source said Giuliani has declined producers’ requests to appear on the network in recent days,” Vanity Fair added.

“Rudy is cut off from Fox News,” the Republican said.

“We had to do something, we don’t want Rudy out there. Every time he talks it’s bad for Trump,” another Republican explained.


Even Lindsey Graham refuses to buy into Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy theories: ‘Russia interfered’

Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

While Sens. Ron Johnson, John Kennedy and other GOP leaders have decided that Ukraine is to blame for 2016 election meddling, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is refusing to play into the conspiracy theory.

Speaking with a group of reporters, including Mediaite, at the Capitol Tuesday, Graham said “It was the Russians. I’m 1,000 percent confident that the hack of the DNC was by Russian operatives, no one else.”

“The Ukraine — they had zero to do with the hacking of the DNC and the stealing of the emails,” Graham continued, refuting a key talking point of President Donald Trump. “Whether or not people from the Ukraine met with DNC operatives, I don’t know. All I’ve seen is press reports and nobody’s validated those reports. I have no knowledge that the Ukraine did anything to interfere with our elections other than press reports and to suggest that we know that I think would be a stretch because I don’t think anybody knows that.”

“I’ve got no doubt that it was the Russians who stole the DNC emails,” Graham told CNN after a follow-up question. “It wasn’t Ukraine. Russia was behind the stolen DNC emails and [John] Podesta and all that good stuff.”


Lindsey Graham floats censure with Trump in London: Senate trial will be too ‘traumatic’ on ‘the country’

Raw Story
By David Edwards

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested on Tuesday that President Donald Trump might be censured to prevent the country from going through a “traumatic” impeachment trial in the Senate.

Graham, who has been Trump’s biggest defender in the Senate, made the suggestion when he was asked about a possible censure, according to CBS journalist Alan He.

“Who am I to advise my Dem colleagues about what to do,” Graham reportedly said. “Censure would probably gain some bipartisan support… the country going through an impeachment trial would be traumatic and I think we should avoid that if possible.”
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    Q. Censure better outcome than impeachment?

    GRAHAM: “…Who am I to advise my Dem colleagues about what to do. Censure would probably gain some bipartisan support…the country going through an impeachment trial would be traumatic and I think we should avoid that if possible…”

    — Alan He (@alanhe) December 3, 2019


Adam Schiff reveals the three Trump Cabinet members who remain under investigation: ‘There’s a lot we still have to learn’

Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

The chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence revealed three Cabinet-level officials in the Trump administration who are still being investigated in after the impeachment inquiry report was transmitted to the House Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Adam Schiff (R-CA) was interviewed by MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell on “The Last Word” on Tuesday.

“What can you tell us about the possible continued elements of your investigation that might be continuing beyond this point?” O’Donnell asked.

“Well, there’s a lot that we still have to learn about the conduct of others,” Schiff replied. “We know, I think, very well what the president did that he withheld this military assistance, that he withheld this meeting in the White House, to coerce Ukraine into doing investigations to help his re-election campaign.”

The former federal prosecutor identified three such individuals: Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget who is also serving as acting White House chief of staff.

“But how much involvement did the Secretary of State have in this?” Schiff wondered. “We know he was in the loop from the documentary evidence and testimony of Ambassador [Gordon] Sondland. We know the vice president was aware of the conditionality of the military aid on these political investigations. We certainly know Mick Mulvaney was deeply involved in this.”

“There’s more to learn about their role,” he said. “There’s also more to learn about when this whole scheme began, because there are indications it started far earlier than we expected, that indeed some elements of this go back to when the prior president of Ukraine, [Petro] Poroshenko was in office, efforts to get that president and his attorney general, [Yuriy] Lutsenko, to engage in his sham investigations to help Donald Trump.”

“One thing we know already — without a doubt — and that is this president will do it again. Indeed, he’s never stopped inviting foreign interference in our election, and for that reason we really cannot delay,” Schiff explained.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcbk_S69yLo&feature=emb_title


Watch Rachel Maddow summarize the impeachment report in 78 words — spoken in 46 seconds

Raw Story
By Bob Brigham

MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow on Tuesday briefed her viewers on the contents of the 300-page impeachment inquiry report released by the House Intelligence Committee.

In addition to her summary, Maddow said Americans seeking to educate themselves on the report could also check out the “short, readable executive summary.”

If the 22-page executive summary is too much, there’s also a four-page preface.

Maddow also noted that people could just read the sub-headlines from the executive summary and learn a great deal in only 78 words.
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Here are the sub-headlines that Maddow put on on a graphic — and read in less than a minute:

        The President’s Request for a Political Favor
        The President Removed Anti-Corruption Champion Ambassador Yovanovitch
        The President’s Hand-Picked Agents Began the Scheme
        The President Froze Vital Military Assistance
        The President Conditioned a White House Meeting on Investigations
        The President’s Agents Pursued a “Drug Deal”
        The President Pressed President Zelensky to Do a Political Favor
        The President’s Representatives Ratcheted up Pressure on the Ukrainian President
        Ukrainians Inquired about the President’s Hold on Security Assistance
        The President’s Security Assistance Hold Became Public
        The President’s Scheme Unraveled
        The President’s Chief of Staff Confirmed Aid was Conditioned on Investigations

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cW_eyv5F55Y&feature=emb_title


Trump frequently refuses to believe intelligence briefings: Fired intelligence official Sue Gordon
By Matthew Chapman
Raw Story

On Tuesday, former Deputy Director of Intelligence Sue Gordon said that while she worked for President Donald Trump, he consistently refused to believe the findings of intelligence officials.

Trump, said Gordon in her speech to the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, has two responses to intelligence information: “One, ‘I don’t think that’s true,’. The one is ‘I’m not sure I believe that, and the other is the second order and third order effects. ‘Why is that true? Why are we there? Why is this what you believe? Why do we do that?’ Those sorts of things.”

Trump forced the resignation of Sue Gordon after firing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats in August, which allowed him to directly appoint counterterrorism official Joseph Maguire as acting head of the agency.

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« Reply #42 on: Dec 04, 2019, 06:03 AM »

GOP tries to connect dots on Biden and Ukraine, but comes up short

Glenn Kessler
WA Post
December 4, 2019 at 3:00 AM EST

“Did you know that Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Poroshenko at least three times in February 2016 after the president and owner of Burisma’s home was raided on February 2nd by the state prosecutor’s office?”

— Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, in a question directed at witnesses at the impeachment inquiry, Nov. 19, 2019

“It is my understanding that on February 4, 2016, the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, announced the seizure of property from the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings’ founder, Mykola Zlochevsky. The seizure occurred pursuant to a raid on Mr. Zlochevsky’s home on February 2, 2016.”

— letter from Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Nov. 21, 2019

President Trump has falsely claimed that then-Vice President Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire Shokin, the top Ukrainian prosecutor, because he was investigating Ukraine’s largest private gas company, Burisma, at a time when Hunter Biden was on the Burisma board. In fact, the opposite is true — Joe Biden was carrying out administration policy, coordinated with European allies, to press for the removal of Shokin because he was not investigating corruption.

These facts have not stopped Trump’s Republican defenders from trying to prove Trump correct. In recent weeks, senior lawmakers have suggested that there was a nefarious connection between a “raid” in February 2016 on the home of the founder of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky, and calls that Biden made at the time with Ukraine’s president at the time, Petro Poroshenko.

Graham has made this alleged connection the start of an investigation he has launched into Biden and his son, demanding records and transcripts of Biden’s calls to Ukraine that month.

The Fact Checker was suspicious of these claims because it had been our understanding that the investigation of Zlochevsky was largely dormant at the time of Biden’s diplomacy. Indeed, the U.S. ambassador at the time had singled out mismanagement of the Zlochevsky case as an example of Ukraine’s failing to hold corrupt officials to account.

Working with our colleagues Michael Birnbaum and David L. Stern, who discussed the case with sources while reporting in Kyiv, we’ve determined that this alleged connection is based on a misunderstanding of what took place in the Ukrainian courts.

The Facts

Zlochevsky had served in top Ukrainian government positions in the country’s energy sector and had transformed himself into one of the country’s richest men. In the process, he has faced years of legal troubles and allegations of corruption, which he has denied. Britain once froze $23 million of his assets, but he was not charged with any crimes and the freeze was eventually lifted.

Zlochevsky was also under scrutiny by Ukrainian prosecutors. On Aug. 5, 2014, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) initiated case 42014000000000805 regarding “large-scale” illicit enrichment and money laundering allegedly committed by Zlochevsky, according to a timeline provided to Birnbaum by the Anticorruption Action Center (AntAC), a leading anti-corruption group.

After briefly transferring the case to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on Dec. 29, 2014, the PGO issued a notification of suspicion to Zlochevsky regarding the allegations. AntAC reports that prospects for success were “low from the very beginning” because the statutes for “illicit enrichment” required a high burden of proof to show that assets were proceeds of bribery. (Ukrainian journalists say that making the case briefly a police matter led to the unfreezing of Zlochevsky’s assets in Britain.)

Nevertheless, on Feb. 2, 2015, the Prosecutor General’s Office seized personal property attributed to Zlochevsky but legally owned by his family, including a mansion, a luxury car and plots of land, according to AntAC. The court order was not published, but journalists eventually exposed what had happened later in 2015.

Now here’s where it gets complicated. On Nov. 10, 2015, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a law amending the procedure for asset seizures, requiring higher standards of proof. The law came into force in December, and Zlochevsky appealed the seizure.

In the meantime, that same month, the PGO tried to send its cases to another prosecutorial entity, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which is funded with U.S. and European aid and received technical support from the FBI. “NABU received tons of files in December 2015, just as their jurisdiction was starting,” said Daria Kaleniuk, the head of AntAC.

(During a December visit to Kyiv, Biden had addressed the Ukrainian parliament and decried the “cancer of corruption” in the country. “The Office of the General Prosecutor desperately needs reform,” he said. During that visit, he also privately urged Poroshenko to fire Shokin.)

“There was a window of a few weeks when Zlochevsky’s lawyers sued to unseize the assets,” Kaleniuk told Birnbaum. “The court unseized the assets in December when the case was in between jurisdictions. The prosecutors didn’t even show up,” because they had no jurisdiction, since the case had been transferred from Shokin’s oversight, in the prosecutor general’s office, to NABU.

So, on Dec. 25, 2015, the seizure was canceled. But the court order was not published until Jan. 27, 2016, which prompted a public outcry, according to AntAC. So the PGO scrambled to get it reinstated, and the order was published Feb. 4, 2016.

When we asked Graham’s office why he thought there was a raid in February 2016, his office pointed us to a news account of the second court order. The article, however, references property “seized under the previous court ruling.”

In other words, there was largely a technical reinstatement of a court order that already had been in place for at least a year. Matching up the assets listed in the July 2015 report and the February 2016 report, the main difference we see is the inclusion in 2016 of a Rolls-Royce and a trainer, though AntAC reports a luxury car was seized in 2015.

Later in 2016, on Nov. 1, the seizure was canceled after the PGO closed the case, according to AntAC. The case over time had been turned into an investigation of possible tax avoidance, and a Burisma subsidiary paid back taxes.

As for Biden’s phone calls, the Obama administration regularly provided detailed readouts of the calls, so the topics are well-documented.

Feb. 11: Biden spoke to Poroshenko by phone. “The two leaders agreed on the importance of unity among Ukrainian political forces to quickly pass reforms in line with the commitments in its IMF program, including measures focused on rooting out corruption,” the White House said.

Feb. 18: Another call took place between Biden and Poroshenko, two days after the president had announced he had asked Shokin to resign. “The Vice President also commended President Poroshenko’s decision to replace Prosecutor General Shokin, which paves the way for needed reform of the prosecutorial service,” the White House said in a statement.

Feb. 19: Poroshenko announced he has received Shokin’s resignation letter. That same day, Biden spoke separately to Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. “He urged Ukraine’s leadership to unite and rebuild popular trust around a strong governing coalition and reform program, and to accelerate Ukraine’s efforts to fight corruption, strengthen justice and the rule of law, and fulfill its IMF requirements,” the White House said.

“I listened into to all the February calls. Until Nunes floated his wacky conspiracy theory, I’d never heard of the ‘raid’ — and nothing related to Burisma or Zlochevsky came up in any of those calls,” Colin H. Kahl, Biden’s national security adviser at the time, told The Fact Checker. “Unlike the current administration, we always read out our calls and the call readouts captured the major topics of the conversations.”

Anna Makanju, Biden’s senior policy adviser for Ukraine at the time, also listened to the calls and said release of the transcripts would only strengthen Biden’s case that he acted properly. She helped Biden prep for the conversations and said they operated at a high level, with Biden using language such as Poroshenko’s government being “nation builders for a transformation of Ukraine.”

A reference to a private company such as Burisma would be “too fine a level of granularity” for a call between Biden and the president of another country, Makanju told The Fact Checker. Instead, she said, the conversation focused on reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund, methods to tackle corruption and military assistance. An investigation of “Burisma was just not significant enough” to mention, she said.

Pavlo Klimkin, Ukrainian foreign minister from 2014 until Aug. 29, 2019, told Birnbaum that the firing of Shokin was universally urged by Ukraine’s benefactors. “The demand came not just from the U.S., and not just from Biden,” he said. “I heard it in every meeting with the international financial institutions, especially the IMF and World Bank. It was not just Biden. Clearly.”

We reported our findings to Graham’s aides on the Senate Judiciary Committee and to a spokesman for Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee but did not receive an immediate response. Instead, out of the blue we received a phone call from John Solomon, a former Washington Post reporter who apparently was the source for Republicans. He said two people from Capitol Hill had alerted him to our inquiry.

Solomon acknowledged that there had been a seizure of assets in 2015 but said that on the basis of his interviews, such as with Shokin, and a review of court files, he believes some new assets were seized in February 2016. “My understanding is there was a reseizure and a new seizure of assets,” he said. “There was back and forth [in the courts], sure.”

Solomon added: “I am very careful to use the word ‘seizure.’ I don’t use the word ‘raid.’ ”

“The purpose of our investigation is to find out the truth of what the son of a former vice president of the United States was doing on the board of a Ukrainian gas company who was paying him $50,000 a month,” said Taylor Reidy, spokeswoman for the Judiciary Committee. “He didn’t have any known experience in Ukraine or the oil and gas industry. But the company did appear to be running into legal issues regarding corruption. Our letter was the first step in our investigation, not the last. We expect additional requests for information as we learn more about these interactions and what was happening among the stakeholders.”

The Pinocchio Test

Republicans are clearly trying to connect some dots to give an impression of malfeasance by Biden. But they are looking at the wrong dots. Nothing significant appears to have happened in February 2016 except primarily the reinstatement of a previous court order. Instead, Zlochevsky’s assets had been seized a year earlier and were only briefly not under a court order because of a prosecutorial error.

In other words, there would have been no reason for Biden to raise the supposed raid of Zlochevsky’s home in his phone calls. Moreover, as we’ve shown, Biden’s aides at the time say that neither Burisma nor Zlochevsky was raised in the calls.

Graham and Nunes earn Four Pinocchios.

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« Reply #43 on: Dec 04, 2019, 06:25 AM »

Putin could not be happier watching Trump at NATO’ as world leaders laugh at him: Morning Joe</b?

on December 4, 2019
Raw Story
By Travis Gettys

World leaders appeared to mock President Donald Trump behind his back in a video from the NATO summit in London, and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said the episode marks just how low the U.S. has fallen on the world stage.

The “Morning Joe” host suggested the mockery was prompted by Trump’s bizarre rant against impeachment and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), whom he slurred as “deranged” and suffering from mental problems during a news conference at the international event.

“Oh, boy, somebody is projecting again,” Scarborough said. “It’s either projection or a confession. I think that rant for a president who just keeps getting humiliated at the summit, just — they’re laughing at him in Buckingham Palace. They’re mocking and ridiculing him, it’s getting caught on tape.”
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“(French president Emmanuel) Macron just absolutely eviscerated him yesterday in a press conference, and he’s just losing it,” Scarborough added. “So again, I think it’s projection talking about lying, talking about the fact that he would be in jail but for the fact that, well, he’s president of the United States right now and can’t be indicted.”

The loss of stature seems to serve the interests of Russian president Vladimir Putin, Scarborough said, which so many of Trump’s failures seem to do.

“You look at the disintegration of NATO, as well,” Scarborough said, “the most important alliance on the globe. It has been a thorn in the side of the Soviet Union for decades, for half a century. It’s been a thorn in Vladimir Putin’s side since he took over that country at the turn of the century, and Donald Trump over the past three years has been dismantling it one failed summit after another failed summit after another failed summit.”

“Once again, as Nancy Pelosi says, all roads lead back to Vladimir Putin,” Scarborough said. “In this case, Vladimir Putin could not be happier this morning watching Donald Trump once again fight with all of his NATO allies.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5FZVS4rzMs&feature=emb_title

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« Reply #44 on: Dec 04, 2019, 06:48 AM »

The Intelligence Committee’s report is a triumph

By Jennifer Rubin
Opinion writer
WA Post
December 4, 2019

Some observers of the impeachment hearings conducted under the auspices of the House Intelligence Committee bizarrely concluded that the proceedings lacked “pizzazz.” While that is a ridiculous metric for evaluating an inquiry into gross misconduct by the president, no one will find the report on those hearings and on other evidence boring. It’s got pizzazz to spare.

First, the nuts and bolts from the executive summary:

    President Trump’s scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential reelection campaign. The President demanded that the newly-elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, publicly announce investigations into a political rival that he apparently feared the most, former Vice President Joe Biden, and into a discredited theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 presidential election. To compel the Ukrainian President to do his political bidding, President Trump conditioned two official acts on the public announcement of the investigations: a coveted White House visit and critical U.S. military assistance Ukraine needed to fight its Russian adversary.

Those facts have yet to be contradicted. We have Trump’s own words on the July 25 rough transcript (“do us a favor though”), diplomat David Holmes’s account of the president pressing Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about “investigations," the hold on nearly $400 million in aid, Trump’s public statements inviting China and Ukraine to weigh into the election and the testimony of multiple career civil services that Trump outsourced his scheme primarily to Rudolph W. Giuliani, who publicly bragged that he was talking about Biden with Ukrainians.

What is new are the call records showing ongoing communications between Giuliani and the Office of Management and Budget (which ordered the hold on aid) and, stunningly, between the ranking Republican member of the Intelligence Committee (and conspiracy monger) Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.) and indicted Giuliani associate Lev Parnas. Nunes therefore becomes a fact witness, and his efforts to disrupt the hearings and toss out one red herring after another begin to reek of self-interested obstruction of the committees work.

Constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe comments, “The evidence of those suspicious Giuliani phone calls with [Vladimir] Putin-linked thugs reinforces the overwhelming case that the American president was directing a criminal conspiracy to conscript US military aid and the august powers of his office to benefit himself and his own reelection at the expense of the national security.” He adds, “If this isn’t impeachable and removable conduct, we’re done as a constitutional republic.”

The report also makes clear that Trump’s scheme “was undertaken with the knowledge and approval of senior Administration officials, including the President’s Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.” The report reminds us, “In fact, at a press conference weeks after public revelations about the scheme, Mr. Mulvaney publicly acknowledged that the President directly tied the hold on military aid to his desire to get Ukraine to conduct a political investigation, telling Americans to ‘get over it.’”

Aside from the near-airtight factual case against Trump for having engaged in what amounts to bribery and extortion for political gain, the report makes crystal clear the necessity of obtaining testimony from other witnesses. “The call records the committee obtained make clear there is a treasure trove of evidence lying just beyond their grasp,” says former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller. “Had the White House not obstructed this investigation, they could have obtained testimony about what these people discussed and almost certainly produced even more damning evidence than they already have.” Miller adds, “It also seems to show that Nunes was in the middle of this plot from the beginning, which might explain why he was so mad throughout the hearings.”

For starters, Nunes needs to appear and provide testimony under oath. None of his calls or actions implicate any privilege; he is not immune from subpoenas as a fact witness. Moreover, given the direct communication with the OMB, its senior political appointees must appear and answer questions about their contacts with Giuliani.

Moreover, in view of the conclusion that senior officials knew of the scheme, their testimony becomes all the more vital. As luck would have it, a federal district court just denied a stay on the order former White House counsel Donald McGahn must testify and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit just affirmed a lower-court ruling that Deutsche Bank and Capital One must turn over financial records to the House. Both obliterate Trump’s claims of “absolute immunity." The report underscores that it is worth a brief pause to pursue witnesses hiding behind bogus immunity claims. The courts now seem to be moving with speed, providing some chance that vital witnesses could be corralled.

“There’s a real difference in hearing the story witness by witness and seeing it all laid out on a timeline,” observes former prosecutor Joyce White Vance. “It’s like watching the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. As Schiff says, the country now has to decide whether what happened is impeachable or whether the country has to ‘get over it’ as Trump’s chief of staff said, and let presidents use the power of their office to cheat in elections.”

The Intelligence Committee’s report is a triumph of clarity and thoroughness. Now to make the best possible case, the House should press to hear from newly revealed witnesses who have knowledge of Trump’s action and potentially participated in wrongdoing. If current Cabinet members such as Pompeo do not appear, the House should consider impeaching them as well. The stonewalling must end.

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