Russia probe should focus on Shitstain Trump financial ties: US senator
29 Mar 2017 at 10:24 ET
A U.S. Senate investigation into Russia’s meddling during the U.S. election should include a thorough review of any financial ties between Russia and President Donald Trump and his associates, Democratic senator Ron Wyden said Wednesday.
In a formal written request made to the leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, Wyden said financial relationships between Trump, a real estate developer with properties around the world, and Russia are deserving of scrutiny because of resistance by Trump and some in his orbit have not been forthcoming about their finances.
“Efforts to understand these relationships and to separate fact from speculation have been hampered by the opacity of the finances of President Trump and his associates,” Wyden, who also sits on the intelligence panel, wrote to Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner.
The letter, though devoid of new details, is the latest piece of evidence suggesting Trump’s business dealings are attracting expanded interest from investigators amid a raft of new reports scrutinizing potential financial entanglements between the president and Russia.
Trump has declined to release his tax returns, bucking decades of precedent for presidents and presidential candidates.
The letter followed new disclosures in recent weeks of previously unknown meetings and financial arrangements between Trump’s associates and wealthy Russians, and came as Democrats attempt to focus public attention on questions about Trump’s connections to Russia.
On Monday, the state development bank Vnesheconombank disclosed that its executives had met Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser, in December. And last week Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, admitted he had done business work for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
Trump has repeatedly insisted allegations that he or members of his administration have an untoward relationship with Russia as “fake news.” He has also said that he has no business deals in Russia.
A Reuters investigation published earlier this month found that dozens of members of the Russian elite have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.
Wyden has repeatedly tried to push into public light more information about U.S. investigations into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
He organized a two-sentence letter from seven senators to the White House last November asking the outgoing Obama administration to declassify additional information about Russia’s interference in the election. Then-president Barack Obama announced a review of Russia’s activities soon after.
U.S. intelligence agencies later released a review of its assessment of Russia’s multi-pronged influence campaign, concluding Moscow’s actions were intended to help Trump win and discredit his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied the allegations.
Wyden in January also asked Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey if his agency was investigating links between Russia and associates of Trump. Comey declined to answer, but last week confirmed the FBI was probing possible ties.
Examining finances has long been within the purview of the oversight role of the intelligence panel, Wyden wrote, citing a recent committee report said that “financial intelligence has emerged as a significant area of (intelligence community) activity, aiming to ‘follow the money’ of adversaries.”
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by David Rohde and Lisa Shumaker)
Shitstain Trump’s business ties to Russia include alleged mobsters and money-laundering criminals: report
28 Mar 2017 at 18:10 ET
A new USA Today report reveals that while expanding his real estate developments, President Donald Trump and his business partners turned to wealthy Russians who allegedly had ties to organized crime, including mobs.
The information was found while reviewing “court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.”
According to USA Today, “The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering,” which the outlet detailed in its report.
Among them is “a twice-convicted felon who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man,” an investor in Trump’s SoHo hotel who was accused of money-laundering, and three owners of Trump condos in Florida and Manhattan who were accused of membership to a Russian-American mob and worked for a “crime boss” in Russia.
However, Trump has repeatedly claimed he has “no dealings with Russia.” You can find a detailed timeline of Trump’s connections to Russia — and to individuals with alleged involvement in organized crime, including money-laundering and mob activity — starting as early as 1979.
New York City real estate broker Dolly Lenz told USA Today, “I had contacts in Moscow looking to invest in the United States.” She said she had sold nearly 65 condos in Trump World in Manhattan to Russian investors who wanted to meet him.
“They all wanted to meet Donald. They became very friendly,” Lenz said.
Paul Manafort’s Shitstain Trump Tower apartment and 2 other NYC homes look like money laundering fronts: experts
28 Mar 2017 at 11:31 ET
Paul Manafort’s puzzling real estate deals fit the pattern for money laundering, according to law enforcement and real estate experts.
The former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump has come under investigation for his alleged ties to Russian and the ousted pro-Kremlin government in Ukraine, and his real estate career has raised new questions about his background, reported WNYC-FM.
The NPR affiliate examined three transactions in New York City between 2006 and 2013, in which Manafort paid the full amount in cash, using a shell company, and without taking out a mortgage.
Manafort then transferred the properties into his own name for no money and borrowed $12 million against those homes between April 2015 and January 2017 — a time frame that included his tenure as Trump’s campaign chairman, the station reported.
He’s taken out a total of $19 million in home equity loans — which are intended for home improvement — over the past five years on properties in New York City.
“It feels like we’re seeing a small piece of the bigger picture here,” attorney Julian Russo, who has investigated the loans, told The Intercept.
One of those properties is in Trump Tower, which coincided with his investment firm landing a $10 million contract with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, while another is located in Soho and the third is in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens neighborhood.
Manfort bought the Brooklyn house for $3 million four years ago and took out a $7 million against the property just three days before Trump’s inauguration, using a bank operated by Trump fundraiser and economic adviser Steve Calk.
David Reiss, a real estate law professor at Brooklyn Law School, was baffled by the loan, because the home’s estimated value on Zillow was listed at $4.5 million to $5 million, and he said home loans don’t typically exceed the value of a property without another source of collateral.
“I do think that transaction raises yellow flags that are worth investigating,” Reiss said.
The pattern isn’t unusual in New York City, but nine law enforcement and real estate experts told WNYC that the transactions merited scrutiny.
Those experts explained that money launderers often purchase properties in cash through shell companies, and then take out “clean” money against those real estate investments through bank loans.
“If the source of the money to buy properties was derived from criminal conduct, then you could look at the exact same conduct and say, ‘Oh, this could be a means of laundering ill-gotten gains,’” Debra LaPrevotte, a former FBI agent.
The U.S. Treasury Department, under former President Barack Obama, tried to crack down on such transactions last spring through its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which ordered limited liability companies to disclose the identity of the true buyer in property transactions.
The department reported in February that about a third of such transactions involved a buyer that was the subject of a previous suspicious activity report, and the Treasury Department said it would continue the monitoring program under Trump.
The radio station reported that all three transactions could be traced back to Manafort, but his connection to the shell companies would not likely have emerged if he hadn’t been under multiple investigations in other cases.
Manafort, then a Republican consultant, admitted in 1989 to using his influence to obtain a $43 million Department of Housing and Urban Development grant for a client.
He later became a 20-percent partner in the development firm he’d helped obtain the federal grant.
Did Paul Manafort launder money for Russia through Cyprus bank?
International Business Times
29 Mar 2017 at 09:21 ET
A Cyprus bank investigated accounts associated with Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief, for money-laundering, but instead of cooperating with the investigation, Manafort closed the accounts, NBC News reported.
Sources told NBC Manafort was associated with 15 bank accounts and 10 companies on Cyrpus. Court documents indicate at least one of those accounts received funds from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, NBC said.
Manafort, who resigned as Trump’s campaign manager in June after questions about his relationship with ousted pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, is under investigation for alleged ties to Russia but has denied repeatedly he ever worked for the Russian government.
Most of the accounts were at Cyprus Popular Bank, which asked for more information on them under the anti-money-laundering procedure known as Know Your Customer, NBC said. Instead of providing the information, Manafort closed the accounts just before a 2012 banking crisis that prompted a government takeover of the bank.
Bank of Cyprus assumed control of Cyprus Popular Bank in 2013 and told NBC the assets it took over did not include any accounts associated with Manafort.
Cyprus is known as a hub for moving money in and out of Russia. In a statement to NBC, Manafort said the accounts were set up for “legitimate business purposes.”
NBC said Manafort operated a complex network of businesses on Cyprus, and at least one of them, PEM Advisors Limited, received millions of dollars from Deripaska for a deal to buy a Ukrainian media network. The deal, which led to a falling out between Manifort and Deripaska, fell through, and the money never was accounted for, court documents in the Cayman Islands revealed.
NBC said it traced PEM and several other Manafort-linked companies to a law office in Nicosia, Cyprus, run by the country’s former justice minister.
The Associated Press reported last week Manafort benefited from a $10 million consulting contract with Deripaska in 2005 to influence politics and news coverage to benefit Putin. Deripaska took out a paid ad in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday to deny the AP report.
"I want to resolutely deny this malicious assertion and lie," the ad said. "I have never made any commitments or contracts with the obligation or purpose to covertly promote or advance 'Putin's government' interests anywhere in the world."
Shitstain Trump using travel ban to pressure Mideast nations on his casino business: ex-Bush ethics czar
29 Mar 2017 at 08:10 ET
President Donald Trump has kept his trademark for a casino in Jordan, where gambling is illegal and a deeply controversial issue, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. The revelation has renewed concerns over the relationship between Trump's business interests and U.S. politics abroad, according to a former top White House ethics lawyer.
Trump, who handed the reins of the Trump Organization to his adult sons after he became president, did not dissolve the company's claim to a proposed Donald Trump casino in Jordan although he did dissolve several others interests, including several connected to Saudi Arabia. Trump's Middle East business ambitions have come under fire since his election, especially those involving monarchies such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia where private holdings and government funds have been closely tied. The proximity of Trump and other world leaders to these deals led critics such as Richard Painter, the chief White House ethics lawyer under former President George W. Bush, to question whether Trump is flouting U.S. law.
"We don't want foreign governments in a position to pay off our politicians with special treatment," Painter, who was part of a lawsuit against Trump involving the president's alleged conflicts of interest abroad, told AP.
"If we're going to get involved in trying to work out Middle East peace, Jordan is a key player," he said. "We're going to have a lot of different things on the table and I guess this casino is going to be part of what's on the table. ... That's just corruption."
Jordan, led by King Abdullah II, has been a close ally of the U.S. in Washington's fight against jihadist organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS. Jordan has also played a role in negotiations in the neighboring Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abdullah, an advocate of Palestinians' national aspirations, met with Trump last month; soon after, the U.S. president appeared to reverse his position on the construction of settlements on Palestinian-claimed territory, adapting a much colder stance toward Israel's plans.
Gambling has been declared illegal in Jordan and Trump's application to build the casino would be rejected under the current laws, government spokesperson Mohammed Momani wrote to AP in an email. This law was briefly bypassed when the country's then-Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit quietly approved a bid by a U.K. developer to build a multimillion dollar, foreigners-only casino by the Dead Sea. The project was later frozen; Bakhit resigned from office after mass protests from conservative religious groups condemned the casino's construction, The Guardian reported.
The Trump Organization told AP that it reserved the right to renew the casino trademark and, under the supervision of Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump, the company opened the new Trump International Golf Club in Dubai last month.
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Alternative facts: Here are the 5 most unhinged conspiracy theories pushed at a GOP mega-donors’ climate conference
Alexandra Rosenmann, AlterNet
29 Mar 2017 at 06:31 ET
Before President Trump even approved the Keystone Pipeline, GOP mega-donors Robert Mercer and Rebekah Mercer were already celebrating with a two-day anti-climate conference sponsored by the conservative Heartland Institute. Among the speakers was British climate denialist Lord Christopher Monckton, who spoke fervently about convincing “illiberals” from Ivanka Trump to Al Gore that climate change is a hoax.
Here are five of his most bizarre theories.
1. The 97 percent ‘consensus‘ that humans are causing climate change is the result of communist influence.
“There isn’t a consensus,” Monckton told the audience. “The people who did the survey reported it as 97 percent because they were communists and they didn’t care about the truth.”
2. A tight-knit crew of Romanian intelligence veteterans have taken over the world’s leading mainstream media sources.
Monckton’s war against Pacepa’s disinformation will only be won by forcing Republican Chief Justice Roberts (who has handled many high-profile media cases) to resign.
3. ‘Fake news merchants‘ like Arnold Schwarzenegger can be taken down by boycotting Google.
Monckton is no fan of the Terminator’s warnings about pollution, and has called for his ATTN video to be deleted.
4. An eight-year-old bill that was never voted on is key to bringing down two blue-state congress members.
The Waxman-Markey Bill (American Clean Energy and Security Act), introduced by Reps Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), is a sore spot for Monckton, despite over 1,000 climate bills having been introduced by Democrats since.
“I have elevated Waxman and Markey to the peerage because that means they will have no further influence on politics at all,” said Monckton.
5. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is part of the resistance.
Despite Exxon’s aggressive funding of climate denial for decades, Monckton insisted its former chief executive officer, now Secretary of State, is “at best equivocal on the climate question.”
“My spies inside the administration, who are numerous and devoted, have told me that [Tillerson] is one of the chief foci of resistance to Mr. Trump honoring a promise that he wishes to honor, which is to withdraw forthwith not only from the Paris Climate Agreement but also from the UNFCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change),” he said.
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House panel’s Russia probe effectively put on hold
By Karoun Demirjian
March 28 at 8:08 PM
The House Intelligence Committee’s probe of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, including potential ties between the Trump team and the Kremlin, is effectively on hold, after its chairman said the panel would not interview more witnesses until two intelligence chiefs return to Capitol Hill for a still-unscheduled private briefing.
Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’s declaration Tuesday that “until [FBI Director James B.] Comey comes forward, it’s hard for us to move forward with interviews and depositions” comes as an indefinite stop order on a roster of expected interviews and testimony, from top Trump campaign surrogates to top intelligence and law enforcement officials serving during the election and transition period.
Late last week, Nunes (R-Calif.) canceled an open hearing scheduled for Tuesday that would have featured testimony from former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., former CIA director John Brennan, and former acting attorney general Sally Yates. He did so, he said, “in order to make time available” for Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers to brief the panel on “additional information” that came up during an open hearing with the same spy chiefs last Monday.
But the closed-door meeting was never scheduled.
According to several Democrats on the committee, Nunes also canceled two regular panel meetings this week, without giving them a reason. Such “hot spots” meetings, which normally take place on Mondays and Thursdays according to Democrats on the panel, are not solely dedicated to the Russia investigation, but cover any matters that come under the committee’s purview.
“Effectively what has happened is the committee’s oversight, oversight of our national intelligence apparatus, has come to a halt because of this particular issue,” said committee member Jim Himes (D-Conn.).
“In my three years here, I’ve never seen us have a full week without a hearing,” committee member Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said. “We’ve made no progress since last Monday’s open hearing, and that is intentional.”
A spokesman for Nunes said the “hot spots” meetings were never scheduled and will resume next week.
The effective freeze in the committee’s Russia investigation comes as Democrats are calling for Nunes, who was part of Trump’s transition team, to recuse himself from the probe. Their demand was inspired by Nunes’s announcement that he went to the White House last week to meet a secret source who provided him with information suggesting identities of either President Trump or his transition team surrogates may have been improperly revealed after being picked up in surveillance of foreign targets. The next day, Nunes briefed the news media, then the president and then the news media again before taking that information to his colleagues on the Intelligence Committee, enraging Democrats, who have accused him of coordinating with the White House to draw attention away from the Russia investigation.
Nunes has since apologized for what he said was a “judgment call” but not admitted to any wrongdoing and refused calls for him to step down.
But although Democrats want Nunes to step aside on the Russia investigation, they are raising a far more urgent cry for him to schedule the outstanding hearings — and quickly, so they can get the House investigation back on track.
“Schedule them both, and I think we can move forward,” committee member Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said, referring to both the expected closed briefing with Comey and Rogers, and the canceled open hearing with Clapper, Brennan and Yates. “You see the unraveling of this committee happening overnight for no good reason. We have a responsibility to do this investigation.”
A committee aide said Democrats on the panel offered to schedule both hearings next week but have not heard back from Nunes. The aide said that the holdup for Nunes appears to be that he did not want Yates, in particular, to testify.
The Trump administration tried to block Yates from testifying this month, according to a Washington Post report. The administration denied Tuesday that it had tried to block Yates’s testimony.
Nunes told reporters Tuesday that he intended to reschedule Yates, Clapper and Brennan for an open hearing “as soon as we can get the questions answered from the FBI director.”
“That would be a logical first step,” Nunes added.
But he did not say when he expected Comey to return to the committee or whether he believed the FBI director could answer all his questions in one more closed-door meeting.
Nunes and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, are also waiting on information from the FBI, NSA and CIA in response to a letter they sent the three agency directors this month, asking for a full list of names of U.S. persons whose identities had been exposed after popping up in surveillance reports directed at other targets. Nunes, who has refused to reveal his source or the full substance of what he has seen, told reporters that the information he viewed at the White House suggesting that even the president’s identity may have been revealed would be part of those documents.
Nunes said Tuesday that he expected the NSA to turn over the information about such “unmasked” names to the committee by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. He did not say when the committee would receive similar information from the CIA and FBI, which also have legal procedures to reveal incidentally collected names internally when doing so is important to understand a surveillance report’s intelligence value.
Mitch McConnell Joins Shitstain Trump Cover-Up By Refusing To Appoint Independent Russia Investigation
By Jason Easley on Tue, Mar 28th, 2017 at 3:19 pm
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed that an independent investigation into the Trump Russia scandal is not necessary because he believes that the Senate Judiciary Committee can do the job.
McConnell was asked why he would not support an independent investigation.
The Senate Majority Leader answered, “Because it’s not necessary. Chairman Burr and Senator Warner are working together well. The Senate Intelligence Committee I trust and our colleagues trust to follow every lead. To come up at some point with a report. I hope it will be on a bipartisan basis, and we’ll find out exactly what happened.”
With the House Intelligence Committee being sabotaged by the chairmanship of Trump transition official Devin Nunes, the American people can’t afford to “hope” that the Senate Intelligence Committee can come up with a bipartisan report.
An independent investigation has become essential to finding out the truth. If Mitch McConnell refuses to report an independent committee to investigate the Trump/Russia scandal, he is helping the President cover-up the facts.
This isn’t the first time that McConnell has helped Trump on Russia. Before Election Day, McConnell was informed about Russian election meddling, but instead of standing up for democracy and his country, the Senate Majority Leader refused to issue a joint statement with President Obama condemning Russia’s activities.
Anyone who stands in the way of getting to the truth is aiding Donald Trump.
The American people deserve more for a bipartisan report. The American people must be assured of an independent investigation.
Paul Ryan Commits A Crime Against America By Helping Shitstain Trump With Russia Cover-Up
By Jason Easley on Tue, Mar 28th, 2017 at 12:48 pm
By giving a three-word answer at his weekly press conference, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan revealed that he is using his power to assist President Trump with his Russia cover-up.
Ryan was asked by NBC’s Kasie Hunt if Nunes should recuse himself from the Russia investigation, and if he knew who Chairman Nunes’s source was. Ryan answered, “No and no.”
Speaker Ryan is putting his partisan politics ahead of the fact that the President and members of his administration may have colluded with an enemy of the United States to win a presidential election. Ryan is using his power as Speaker of the House to assist President Trump in covering up his potential crimes. Paul Ryan has no interest in finding out the truth about the Russia/Trump relationship. He is allowing the White House to sabotage the only House investigation into the matter by allowing a Trump transition official to chair the investigative committee.
No one in the mainstream media will say it out loud, but Paul Ryan is assisting the White House cover-up, which means that the Russia scandal is no longer an Executive Branch issue. The Legislative Branch of the US government has also been compromised.
Rep. Ryan (R-WI) is not going to let the truth be discovered because doing so might jeopardize his legislative agenda and House majority.
Speaker Ryan has made the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation irrelevant. He has also harmed the integrity of the House.
The Russia scandal now has the reach, not just to bring down Trump, but to also take out the House Republican majority, because Paul Ryan has chosen to help the Trump White House cover-up their Russian crimes.
The Devin Nunes wiretapping saga, explained
By Amber Phillips March 28 at 10:10 AM
As in any good spy story, the twists and turns in the real-life spy drama gripping Washington right now can be hard to follow.
There are three questions that the House and Senate intelligence committees and the FBI are trying to answer with their own investigations:
1. What is the extent of Russia's meddling in the U.S. election to help Trump win, as intelligence agencies have concluded, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again?
2. Did Trump campaign associates collude with Russia on said meddling?
3. Were Trump campaign associates caught up in unrelated spying of foreign nationals, and, if so, who leaked that fact to the public? (The identity of any U.S. national caught up in surveillance is kept secret from all but a handful of people.)
But in the eyes of national security experts, Democrats and even some Republicans, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has jeopardized the impartiality of his committee's investigation into the above questions by appearing to work with the White House to uncover information.
Now, Democrats are publicly calling for Nunes to step down from the House investigation.
Here's a timeline of everything you need to know about what led to this point:
November-December: Nunes serves as an adviser on the Trump transition team.
Jan. 25: The House Intelligence Committee announces it is investigating possible ties between Russia and President Trump's election campaign. In a joint statement, Nunes and the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), say they'll be looking at “any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.”
“This issue is not about party, but about country,” they say. “The committee will continue to follow the facts wherever they may lead.”
March 4, 6:35 a.m.: President Trump tweets a shocking allegation:
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
The president and his team offer no evidence that his predecessor had wiretapped then-candidate Trump. But they demand that Congress investigate their claims.
The week of March 6-10: The president's allies struggle to defend his accusation. “I don't think we should attack the president for tweeting,” Nunes tells reporters.
The week of March 13-17: Still struggling to provide evidence of the wiretapping, Trump's allies start walking back his accusation. “If you look at the president's tweet, he said very clearly, quote, 'wiretapping' — in quotes,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer says at a March 13 news conference.
March 15: Trump appears to lose one of his closest allies on Capitol Hill. “I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Nunes tells reporters during his and Schiff's near-daily briefings on Capitol Hill, adding, “Clearly the president was wrong.”
But Nunes does give the president this: “I think it's very possible” that Trump and his associates' names were swept up in unrelated wiretapping. (In spy language: incidental collection.)
March 16: With Trump's allies on Capitol Hill slipping away, Spicer scrambles to justify the president's insistence he was wiretapped. In a news briefing, Spicer points to an unsubstantiated claim made by a now-former Fox News contributor that President Barack Obama worked under the table with the British spy agency to tap Trump's phones.
March 16-March 17: Britain's national security agency derides the claim that Obama worked with it to wiretap Trump as “utterly ridiculous.” There are conflicting reports from the White House about whether Trump apologized to Britain for making the allegation.
In an unrelated news conference Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump backs away from ownership of the assertion by saying the White House was just reading off a news report.
Monday, March 20: The House Intelligence Committee holds a rare public hearing on Russian meddling in the U.S. election, featuring FBI Director James B. Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers.
FBI Director James B. Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers appear in front of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
In the hearing, Comey acknowledges for the first time that, yes, the FBI is investigating Russian meddling and any potential Trump associate connections. Democrats lay out their case for why they're pretty sure Trump's campaign did collude with Russia, while Republicans reiterate the White House's talking points on wiretapping.
“We know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower,” Nunes says. “However, it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”
Tuesday, March 21: Nunes makes a secret visit to the White House. We now know that Nunes was on White House grounds (not in the White House proper) looking at classified information to, in his words, “confirm what I already knew” about wiretapping.
Wednesday, March 22: Nunes goes to the White House, cameras in tow, to brief the president on some big news: He has evidence that Trump campaign officials were likely caught up in spying.
He holds a hastily gathered news conference outside the West Wing of the White House, where he refuses to share his source or reveal the actual information he has. “What I’ve read seems to me to be some level of surveillance activity — perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right,” Nunes tells reporters. “I don’t know that the American people would be comfortable with what I’ve read.”
Nunes speaks with reporters at the White House on March 22. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
But he repeats that Obama never authorized a wiretap specifically on Trump.
In a response to a reporter's question on whether he feels vindicated by what Nunes found, Trump says this:
Democrats are caught off guard by this news, which Nunes failed to share with the committee. They don't call on him to step down, but Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says Nunes should be investigated for potentially providing information to someone under investigation.
At a news briefing Friday, Spicer is at a loss to explain why Nunes briefed the president on information that it appeared Trump already had. “I did not sit in on that briefing,” Spicer says. “I'm not — it just doesn't — so I don't know why he would brief the speaker and then come down here to brief us on something that we would have briefed him on. It doesn't really seem to make a ton of sense. So I'm not aware of it, but it doesn't really pass the smell test.”
Thursday, March 23: Democrats on the committee say Nunes apologized to them for bypassing them and going straight to the White House.
Monday morning, March 27: News organizations report Nunes's earlier, previously unknown, White House trip.
Monday afternoon: Ethics and security experts are flummoxed as to why Nunes would need to go to the White House at all, let alone twice. They don't understand why he would:
(a) brief the president on documents apparently already in the White House's possession.
(b) work with the executive branch to obtain documents when he has subpoena power to see pretty much whatever he wants.
(c) brief the president — whose associates' ties to Russia might be the subject of the Intelligence Committee's investigation — before briefing his own committee members
Also Monday afternoon: Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, one of the highest-ranking Democrats in Washington, goes to the Senate floor and calls on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) to take Nunes off the investigation. Ryan replies via a spokeswoman that he has “full confidence” in Nunes to conduct an impartial investigation.
Monday evening: Schiff calls on his colleague to step down.
After much consideration I believe Chairman should recuse himself from involvement in investigation/oversight of Trump campaign & transition pic.twitter.com/jpfA1x80Si
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 27, 2017
Monday evening: A defiant Nunes says in multiple TV interviews that he needed a secure location to view these classified documents, which is why he went to the White House. “I'm sure that the Democrats do want me to quit, because they know that I'm quite effective at getting to the bottom of things,” he tells Fox News's Bill O'Reilly.
Democrats and security experts point out that Nunes, who is one of eight members of Congress with access to the nation's deepest spy secrets, has his own secure location on Capitol Hill to view such documents.
Tuesday morning, March 28: “It just doesn't make sense,” Schiff tells NPR, citing the above.
Some Republicans in Congress are also perplexed by Nunes's behavior this week.
"I think there needs to be a lot of explaining to do." -- @SenJohnMcCain on backlash over Rep. Nunes’ actions pic.twitter.com/nmY1juwQkt
— CBS This Morning (@CBSThisMorning) March 28, 2017
The rest of this week: Previously scheduled House Intelligence Committee hearings and meetings are canceled as the committee deals with the fallout from Nunes's actions.
On Tuesday morning, The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Nunes's committee this week. (Yates is the same official Trump fired in January when she refused to enforce his travel ban.)
Presidents have the authority to block information from Congress they deem vital to national security to keep secret, but the news is likely to fuel to charges that the White House is trying to hinder the investigation.
Republican Retreat: GOP Abandons Border Wall And Planned Parenthood Fight After Shitstain Trumpcare Loss
By Sean Colarossi on Tue,
Mar 28th, 2017 at 10:28 pm
The colossal failure of Donald Trump and Republicans to agree on a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is already having wide-ranging effects.
After suffering a humiliating defeat last week when their seven-year effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act went up in flames, Republicans are in all-out retreat, which is terrible for them and great for the country.
It’s so bad that they’re abandoning, at least temporarily, funding for Trump’s border wall and efforts to deny Planned Parenthood any federal funding.
According to a report from The Hill, Senate leaders are so afraid of being humiliated again, that they “signaled Tuesday they would set aside President Trump’s controversial request for a military supplemental bill that would include funding to begin construction of a wall along the southern border.”
Top Senate Republicans Mitch McConnell and Roy Blunt said the legislation involving the border wall funding would have to wait until “a later time,” according to the same report.
Even better? GOP members of Congress also appear to be backing away from another crusade they’ve been on for years – to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides critical health care coverage to millions of Americans.
“Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), meanwhile, sought to avoid another political landmine Tuesday by arguing that language defunding Planned Parenthood should be kept out of the spending legislation that needs to pass by April 28,” the report noted, signaling yet another victory for not just Democrats but the country generally.
The colossal failure of Donald Trump and Republicans to agree on a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act isn’t just a temporary setback – it’s a defeat that is already having wide-ranging effects. The GOP is quickly coming to grips with the reality that Americans aren’t in favor of their agenda, and the majority of them voted against Trump last fall.
For Trump, the next four years will likely be defined by fierce opposition to his agenda, and Republicans are starting to recognizing that aligning themselves with a deeply unpopular president who’s pushing a dangerous agenda is political suicide.
Senate Republicans pour cold water on talk of reviving healthcare bill
White House and Senate seem ready to abandon efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, even as House Republicans insist they won’t give up
Tuesday 28 March 2017 22.27 BST
Senate Republicans and the White House sounded ready to abandon efforts to repeal and replace the nation’s healthcare law, at least for now, even as House Republicans insisted on Tuesday they were not ready to give up on their years-long quest.
The intra-party dispute came in the wake of last Friday’s collapse of healthcare legislation in the House, a GOP humiliation at the climactic moment of seven years of promises to get rid of Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, made his views clear after a closed-door lunch with fellow Senate Republicans and Vice-President Mike Pence.
“It’s pretty obvious we were not able, in the House, to pass a replacement. Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that because we have the existing law in place, and I think we’re just going to have to see how that works out,” McConnell said. “We believe it will not work out well, but we’ll see.”
“I want to thank the president and the speaker, they went all out to try to pass repeal and replacement. Sorry that didn’t work,” McConnell added.
The White House legislative affairs director, Marc Short, also emerged from the Senate GOP lunch indicating the administration was moving on despite Donald Trump’s promises as a candidate to immediately get rid of Obama’s law.
“We understand there’s probably members in Congress who feel like ‘Look, we probably need to revisit this, and we need to make an effort to get it done,’ and if that’s the case, if the legislation reaches the president’s desk, I’m sure he’ll look to sign it,” Short told the Associated Press. “But at this time, at this time today, there are other things that we have on our priority list that we’re moving on to.”
Short pointed to the confirmation of supreme court nominee Neil Gorsuch, whose nomination will be on the Senate floor next week, as well as a looming funding deadline on 28 April that must be met to keep the lights on in the government. Short said that “of course” the White House hopes to avoid a shutdown. And, senior Republicans and the White House are eager to move on to tax overhaul legislation.
The comments on healthcare from Senate Republicans and the White House were a cold reality check on the newly revived hopes of House Republicans. Just this Friday, they were unable to muster the votes for their marquee legislation to repeal and replace the healthcare law and pulled it off the floor in an embarrassing setback for Trump and the speaker, Paul Ryan. But on Tuesday morning, they exchanged pledges of unity in a closed-door meeting and emerged eager to continue their efforts on healthcare, although they provided no specific plans or timeline for how they would proceed.
Ryan proclaimed: “We are going to work together and listen together until we get this right. It is just too important.”
The House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy, said: “We promised that we would repeal and replace Obamacare, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
And the House majority whip, Steve Scalise, claimed: “I think we’re closer today to repealing Obamacare than we’ve ever been before.”
Those comments landed with a thud on the Senate side. Asked if it were realistic for the House to try to revive its healthcare legislation, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, said: “No. I’m about healthcared out.”
The discussion on healthcare came with a hard deadline looming to pass legislation by the end of next month to keep the government running. GOP leaders in Congress and at the White House were trying to take steps to avoid stumbling into a shutdown.
Ryan said on Tuesday that any provision to “defund” Planned Parenthood didn’t belong in the catchall measure, while Senate GOP leaders like Roy Blunt of Missouri made clear they would like to avoid a showdown over Trump’s border wall, which is loathed by Democrats and disliked by some Republicans as well. Keeping Planned Parenthood and the border wall out of the spending bill would greatly improve its chances to get necessary Democratic votes in the Senate, although conservatives in both chambers might object.
The House just voted to wipe away the FCC’s landmark Internet privacy protections
By Brian Fung
March 28 at 7:37 PM
Congress sent proposed legislation to President Trump on Tuesday that wipes away landmark online privacy protections, the first salvo in what is likely to become a significant reworking of the rules governing Internet access in an era of Republican dominance.
In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast of protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. The rules also had required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves.
The Senate has voted to nullify those measures, which were set to take effect at the end of this year. If Trump signs the legislation as expected, providers will be able to monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads — making them rivals to Google and Facebook in the $83 billion online advertising market.
The providers could also sell their users’ information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data — all of whom could use the data without consumers’ consent. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which initially drafted the protections, would be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future.
Republicans voted to roll back landmark FCC privacy rules. Here’s what you need to know: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/03/28/republicans-are-poised-to-roll-back-landmark-fcc-privacy-rules-heres-what-you-need-to-know/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.8cbc494fbed2
Search engines and streaming-video sites already collect usage data on consumers. But consumer activists claim that Internet providers may know much more about a person’s activities because they can see all of the sites a customer visits.
And although consumers can easily abandon sites whose privacy practices they don’t agree with, it is far more difficult to choose a different Internet provider, the activists said. Many Americans have a choice of only one or two broadband companies in their area, according to federal statistics.
Advocates for tough privacy protections online called Tuesday’s vote “a tremendous setback for America.”
“Today’s vote means that Americans will never be safe online from having their most personal details stealthily scrutinized and sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
Supporters of Tuesday’s repeal vote argued that the privacy regulations stifle innovation by forcing Internet providers to abide by unreasonably strict guidelines.
”Consumer privacywill be enhanced by removing the uncertainty and confusion these rules will create,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who chairs the House subcommittee that oversees the FCC.
Policy analysts said the deregulatory effort may be the first of several that could alter the future of the Internet. Although regulators under President Barack Obama had moved to limit the power of Internet providers — by restricting what they could do with customer information and curbing their ability to block websites or slow down certain types of content — momentum appears to be moving in the opposite direction.
For example, consumer advocates fear that Congress or the FCC’s new Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, may seek to roll back the agency’s rules on net neutrality — the policy that forbids Internet providers from blocking content they don’t like or charging websites a fee to reach consumers over faster Internet speeds. Industry analysts said Tuesday that the FCC is also poised to deregulate the $40-billion-a-year industry for data connections used by hospitals, universities and ATMs.
Tuesday’s vote is a sign that Internet providers will be treated more permissively at a time when conservatives control the executive and legislative branches. That could be a boon for companies such as Verizon and Comcast as they race to become online advertising giants.
Internet providers have historically made their money from selling access to the Web. But now these providers are looking to increase their revenue by tapping the vast troves of data their customers generate as they visit websites, watch videos, read information and download apps.
Industry backers say that allowing providers to use data-driven targeting could benefit consumers by leading to more relevant advertisements and innovative business models. AT&T, for instance, used to offer Internet discounts to consumers in exchange for letting the company monitor their browsing history. With Tuesday’s vote, such programs could see a return, and be marketed as a way to access cheaper Internet — although consumer groups have criticized these plans as a way for providers to charge customers a premium for their privacy.
Tuesday’s vote took aim at FCC rules that were approved in October over strident Republican objections. At the time, the agency’s Democratic leadership argued that consumers deserved the same privacy protections governing legacy telephone service. As more Americans turn to the Internet to find jobs, do homework and seek education, the agency said, consumers needed new protections to keep pace with technology.
But industry advocates said the FCC’s rules defined privacy far too broadly. The industry favors the interpretation of another agency — the Federal Trade Commission — that does not consider browsing history or app usage data to be sensitive and protected.
But the FTC does not have the authority to punish Internet providers that violate its guidelines. That is because of a rule that leaves oversight of those companies to the FCC.
As a result, Tuesday’s vote may release Internet providers from the FCC’s privacy regulation, but the FTC would also be unable to enforce its own guidelines on the industry without new authority from Congress.
“One would hope — because consumers want their privacy protected — that they would be good actors, and they would ask permission and do these nice things,” said Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) in a House committee hearing Monday. “But there’s no law now that says they have to, and there’s no cop on the beat saying, ‘Hey, we caught you doing something.’ ”
Pai, the FCC chairman, called the legislation “appropriate” and blamed his Democratic predecessor for executive overreach. He also said that responsibility for regulating Internet providers should fall to the FTC.
“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework,” Pai said. “The best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”
Pai has said that his agency could continue to bring lawsuits against firms that are alleged to have violated consumer privacy, even if the FCC privacy rules were to be repealed.
Shitstain Trump lawyers say president is immune from Apprentice contestant's lawsuit
Lawyers say defamation suit brought by former contestant Summer Zervos should be barred as it may distract the president from performing his duties
Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington
Wednesday 29 March 2017 10.30 BST
Donald Trump’s lawyers are claiming he is immune while president from defamation claims brought by a former contestant on The Apprentice who accused him of sexual harassment.
The president’s private attorneys made the case in a legal filing in New York this week intended to halt the litigation against Trump by by Summer Zervos, who sued Trump days before his 20 January inauguration. Zervos was one of more than a dozen women who came forward before the November election to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct following the release of a decade-old Access Hollywood recording in which Trump bragged about groping and kissing women without their consent.
In her lawsuit, Zervos said Trump had defamed her while denying the allegations during his campaign. Trump tweeted at the time that Zervos’ charges were “100% fabricated and made-up” and “nonsense”, and also dubbed her and other women who made similar claims “liars”.
Trump’s lawyers cited a 1997 supreme court ruling to say the lawsuit should be barred as it held the potential to distract the president from performing his public duties. The ruling in question, Clinton v Jones, pertained to sexual harassment litigation against then-president Bill Clinton by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones.
The supreme court ultimately ruled in that case that presidents are not immune from civil litigation while in office. But the justices advised that immunity questions “should be decided at the earliest possible stage of the litigation”, due to the importance of and burdens imposed by presidential duties.
There were as many as 75 private lawsuits against Trump when he assumed the office of the presidency, according to an investigation in USA Today. A decision in Trump’s favor would thus have far-reaching consequences.
Zervos, who filed her lawsuit in New York, said Trump aggressively kissed and groped her against her will in his Beverly Hills hotel room in 2007. Her attorney, Gloria Allred, said in a statement Tuesday that Trump is not immune from the defamation lawsuit.
“The United States supreme court address this legal immunity issue in Clinton v Jones and determined unanimously that no man is above the law and that includes the president of United States,” Allred said. “We look forward to arguing this issue in court.”
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François Fillon's wife officially charged over embezzlement of public funds
Inquiry into wife of French presidential candidate comes after hours of questioning over work Penelope Fillon did for her husband
Kim Willsher in Paris
Tuesday 28 March 2017 22.11 BST
The British-born wife of French presidential candidate François Fillon has been formally put under investigation in the fake jobs scandal that has poisoned her husband’s political career.
Penelope Fillon is being prosecuted for embezzlement, misappropriation of public funds and aggravated fraud, it was reported late on Tuesday evening.
The announcement that she had been mise en examen – the equivalent in French law of being charged or arraigned – came after several hours of questioning by the French financial prosecutor.
Her husband was put under investigation two weeks ago, but insisted on continuing his bid to become France’s next leader. Once considered a favourite to become president, Fillon, 63, has seen his chances seriously damaged by the fictitious jobs allegations and other scandals.
Less than four weeks from the first round vote, he is now in third place behind the far-right Front National president Marine Le Pen and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron.
A third suspect, Marc Joulaud – who stood in for Fillon in the Assemblée Nationale when the politician was made a government minister, and also reportedly employed Penelope Fillon – has also been mis en examen.
The scandal erupted in January when the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé revealed that Fillon had paid his wife and two of their five children more than €900,000 (£781,000) for over 10 years to work as his parliamentary assistants. She was also allegedly paid another €100,000 to work for a literary review owned by one of her husband’s friends.
The beleaguered Fillon, representing opposition centre-right Les Républicains, was then mired in further allegations that he received €48,000 of bespoke suits from a wealthy friend, as well as a €50,000 undeclared loan. Fillon has since repaid the loan and told journalists he had given back the suits. However, the investigation has been extended into allegations that employment contracts discovered in a search of offices at the Assemblée Nationale and relating to Penelope Fillon’s work may have been altered or forged.
Fillon and his 61-year-old wife, a solicitor’s daughter from Llanover near Abergavenny in Wales, have denied any wrongdoing. The presidential candidate has accused the government of trying to discredit him, attacked the legal system and lashed out at the media.
French members of parliament are entitled to employ relatives if the jobs are real and work is done. The French financial prosecutor decided after a preliminary investigation that there was enough doubt over whether Penelope Fillon’s job was “fictitious” to continue the inquiry. The couple’s two eldest children, Marie and Charles, have also been questioned by the financial prosecutor.
The official accusations against her are complicity and concealment of embezzlement of public funds, complicity and concealment of abuse of social goods and complicity and concealment of fraud.
The charges raise the prospect that should Fillon be elected to the Elysée Palace, he would enjoy presidential immunity from prosecution during his time in office, while his wife could find herself in court.
Le Pen is also under investigation for allegedly using European parliament staff allowances to pay for FN party employees, including a personal bodyguard.
Current opinion polls suggest Le Pen and Macron will win the first round vote on 23 April and go through to a second round run-off on 7 May.
This article was amended on 29 March 2017. An earlier version said Marc Joulaud had been mise en examen; as he is a man, that should have been mis en examen.
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Broken promises for the children of Bangui abused by peacekeepers
Young people who reported sexual abuse by soldiers are still living on the streets in Central African Republic, despite political pledges they would be looked after
Inna Lazareva in Bangui
Tuesday 28 March 2017 17.28 BST
Children who reported they were abused by peacekeeping soldiers have been left on the streets to fend for themselves despite promises to look after them.
The revelation that international peacekeepers had been sexually abusing children in Central African Republic was at the centre of a huge controversy that erupted in 2015, and resulted in the resignation of senior UN official Anders Kompass, the whistleblower who exposed the UN’s failure to tackle the abuse.
Now an investigation has found that some of the victims are homeless, out of school, and resorting to making a living on the streets, despite assurances from the UN that they would be protected.
One teenager, David, 17, who sleeps rough near Bangui airport, told reporters from Swedish Television’s investigative programme Uppdrag Granskning (Mission: Investigate) that he was fending for himself as best he could. Other children told a similar story.
“I have not received any help,” said David, who was interviewed by officials investigating reports of abuse by the French Sangaris peacekeeping force, which were later leaked to the Guardian.
The Sangaris force was not part of the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR, but since then, other cases of alleged sexual abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers from countries including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Benin and others have emerged.
“There is no one who can help us. We are trying to get it together on our own: we wash up for people, we pick up water for the people, we wash cars. That is [how we have made our living] since then,” said David.
Junior, 16, also reported being sexually abused by soldiers. He wants to train to be a mechanic but is living rough and is not in school: “We would like to have some support for our studies,” he said.
When the scandal first broke in 2015, the French president, François Hollande, vowed to “show no mercy” to any French soldiers found guilty of assault in CAR. The UN said it would do its utmost to protect and assist the victims.
But in December it was revealed that the three French judges who had investigated the cases were not seeking to bring charges. The final decision rests with the Paris prosecutor, but judicial sources said that they expected the cases to be dropped altogether.
David said the victims had given up waiting for the promises to be fulfilled: “We thought that the authorities of Central African Republic will do something about this. But until now, nothing. That’s why we don’t follow it any more. I don’t know anything. We have no idea about the investigation.”
Of the 80 cases of abuse allegedly committed by international peacekeepers in CAR between 2014 and 2016, half involve children and nine left girls pregnant with so-called peacekeeper babies.
In January 2015, Martha, then 14, became pregnant by a soldier for Minusca (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Central African Republic). She was living in a displaced persons camp in Bambari.
She first became involved with the Congolese peacekeeper, who was in his 30s, after her father was murdered by an armed gang and her mother suffered a breakdown. He gave her food and money and promised he would marry her. But in the course of her pregnancy, Martha discovered she was HIV-positive. The UN heard about the case and the soldier was sent back to DRC, but Martha was left to raise the baby by herself.
“He said he’d help, support me, and support my mother who was in the hospital,” said Martha.
Now, rather than being at school, Martha spends her days washing, cooking, cleaning and looking after the baby. “I miss [school] a lot,” she said: “I so much wanted to go back this year.”
When interviewed by Swedish Television in January, Martha said the UN had given her 10,000 CFA (approximately £13), a bag of rice, and some milk and sugar.
The UN children’s agency, Unicef, which was given the task of overseeing the support of the children abused by peacekeepers, said it was unaware that youngsters were not getting help.
More than 200 children registered in Unicef’s assistance programme for minors said they had been victims of sexual abuse by peacekeepers.
Unicef’s representative in CAR, Aboubacry Tall, said: “The information that I have is that there is a weekly review with the partners, and my staff go out in the field as well to make sure that those that are in the [child protection] programme are in the programme and are being supported.”
He added that there “may be a gap here and a gap there”.
After reporters brought Martha’s case to the attention of Minusca, UN officers provided more support.
A UN report released this month found that cases of alleged sexual exploitation and abuse involving troops and civilian staff across all UN missions had increased year on year by 46% – up to 145 cases in 2016 from 99 in 2015.
The vast majority took place in CAR.
Earlier this month, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, announced a series of proposed measures to tackle abuse by UN peacekeepers of different nationalities, which has been reported in several countries. His plans include withholding soldiers’ salaries if their governments fail to undertake proper investigations of allegations involving troops, putting the money instead towards a trust fund for victims.
Guterres also proposed that a victims’ rights advocate would be appointed in four UN missions most affected by high instances of sexual abuse – CAR, DRC, Haiti and South Sudan.
The UN general assembly will be asked to endorse the measures later this year.
Children’s names have been changed for protection
Inna Lazareva worked as a researcher for Uppdrag Granskning
on: Today at 05:54 AM
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Mexican man cleared in sexual assault of schoolgirl because he didn't 'enjoy' it
Diego Cruz, 21, one of four privileged youths dubbed ‘Los Porkys’ who abducted and vaginally penetrated the teenager, did so without ‘carnal intent’ a judge ruled
David Agren in Mexico City
Wednesday 29 March 2017 00.01 BST
A Mexican judge has freed a wealthy young man accused of abducting and sexually assaulting a schoolgirl, on the grounds that the perpetrator did not enjoy himself.
Mexican rape victim reveals details of case plagued by privilege and impunity..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/30/mexico-rape-victim-details-wealth-politics-impunity-corruption
Diego Cruz, 21, was one of four young men from prominent families in the coastal state of Veracruz who were nicknamed “Los Porkys” on social media after they were accused of seizing a classmate from their elite private school as she left a New Year’s party on 1 January 2015.
In a ruling which was made public on Monday, Judge Anuar González found that although Cruz was accused of touching the victim’s breasts and penetrating her with his fingers, he had acted without “carnal intent” – and so was not guilty of assault.
González also found that although the victim, who was 17 at the time, was forced into the car of one of her alleged attackers, she was never “helpless”. Two of the other three suspects are accused of penetrating the victim.
The release of Cruz – who had fled to Spain, but was extradited back to Mexico – has prompted outrage among human rights activists, and marked a new low point in a case that has reinforced the perception that those with money and political connections are above the law.
“He sexually touched her, but because he didn’t enjoy it, it’s not sexual abuse?” said Estefanía Vela Barba, an activist on gender issues.
“Since there was no pleasure in the act, it was intended to cause humiliation. They were touching her, they were bothering her, so for the judge, if the intention wasn’t pleasure, it’s not sexual assault,” said Vela, who works in the legal studies department at the Centre for Teaching and Research in Economics.
“There’s no disputing the facts. It’s not some crazy woman saying this, it’s coming from the judge’s mouth and he’s saying that if they touch you against your will, it might not be abuse.”
The case of Los Porkys has provoked widespread indignation in Mexico, not least because it took place in the coastal state of Veracruz, which over recent months has come to symbolize the failure of the Mexican state to guarantee even a semblance of the rule of law.
Amid an escalating battle between rival crime factions, thousands of women have gone missing in the state; earlier this month, more than 250 human skulls were discovered at what is believed to be a clandestine drug cartel burial ground. Meanwhile, the state’s former governor Javier Duarte is on the run amid allegations that he stole vast amounts of public money.
The case of Los Porkys has also been held up as an example of the rampant impunity allowed the offspring of Mexico’s elite. Fifteen months after the attack, the victim described her ordeal in a public Facebook post, in an apparent attempt to shame authorities into taking action.
“I have nothing to repent,” she wrote. “I’ve gone drinking. I’ve gone to parties. I’ve worn short skirts like many girls my age … and for that I’m going to be judged? For that I deserved what happened?”
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Mount Everest climbers enlisted for canvas bag clean-up mission
Recreational climbers and Sherpas asked to help remove hundreds of kilograms of litter after series of deadly quakes on world’s highest peak
Michael Safi in Delhi and agencies
Wednesday 29 March 2017 10.40 BST
The government of Nepal and Everest expedition organisers have launched a clean-up operation at 21,000ft to remove rubbish left on the world’s highest peak after a series of deadly avalanches.
Sherpas and other climbers have been given 10 canvas bags each capable of holding 80kg (176lbs) of waste to place at different elevations on Mount Everest.
Dambar Parajuli, president of the Expedition Operators Association of Nepal, said on Wednesday the bags had been sent to camp two, a large camping site established in 2014 after an avalanche killed 16 Nepalese guides, leading to the cancellation of the climbing season.
The following year’s climbs were also axed after an earthquake-triggered avalanche swept Everest’s south base camp, killing 19 people.
Veteran guide Russell Brice said the tents and supplies left by rescued climbers needed to be removed.
Once full, the bags will be winched by helicopters and flown down the mountain. Removing the sacks by air means Sherpa guides do not have to risk carrying heavy loads of waste through the treacherous Khumbu Icefall to the base camp.
It is also cheap: the operation will use helicopters that would ordinarily return empty after dumping climbing ropes on the site. “This way we hope to bring down the trash without any extra cost,” Durga Dutta Dhakal, an official at the Nepal tourism department, told Reuters.
Recreational climbers will be urged to pick up any rubbish along their route, while Sherpas who carried equipment up the mountain for their clients will be paid extra – US$2 per kg – to return with bags of trash.
Hundreds of climbers and their guides are expected to attempt to scale the 8,850-metre (29,035ft) peak during the spring season. Climbers generally arrive in April and attempt to reach the summit in May when conditions are favourable.
Mountaineers have previously removed more than 16 tonnes of litter from Everest, but there are no estimates of how much is still on the mountain.
More than 600 people scaled the summit last year via Nepal and China. Hiking officials expect the number to swell this season as many mountaineers, whose $11,000 (£9,000) permits received two-year extensions after the quake, are expected to return.
A group of hiking companies that sponsor climbers said it was trying to bolster coordination between teams at high camps to avoid long queues of climbers in the mountain’s “death zone”.
“This will reduce crowding, minimise risks and improve safety,” Parajuli said.
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Alien intelligence: the extraordinary minds of octopuses and other cephalopods
After a startling encounter with a cuttlefish, Australian philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith set out to explore the mysterious lives of cephalopods. He was left asking: why do such smart creatures live such a short time?
Tuesday 28 March 2017 20.00 BST
Inches above the seafloor of Sydney’s Cabbage Tree Bay, with the proximity made possible by several millimetres of neoprene and a scuba diving tank, I’m just about eyeball to eyeball with this creature: an Australian giant cuttlefish.
Even allowing for the magnifying effects of the mask snug across my nose, it must be about 60cm (two feet) long, and the peculiarities that abound in the cephalopod family, that includes octopuses and squid, are the more striking writ so large.
Its body – shaped around an internal surfboard-like shell, tailing off into a fistful of tentacles – has the shifting colour of velvet in light, and its W-shaped pupils lend it a stern expression. I don’t think I’m imagining some recognition on its part. The question is, of what?
It was an encounter like this one – “at exactly the same place, actually, to the foot” – that first prompted Peter Godfrey-Smith to think about these most other of minds. An Australian academic philosopher, he’d recently been appointed a professor at Harvard.
While snorkelling on a visit home to Sydney in about 2007, he came across a giant cuttlefish. The experience had a profound effect on him, establishing an unlikely framework for his own study of philosophy, first at Harvard and then the City University of New York.
The cuttlefish hadn’t been afraid – it had seemed as curious about him as he was about it. But to imagine cephalopods’ experience of the world as some iteration of our own may sell them short, given the many millions of years of separation between us – nearly twice as many as with humans and any other vertebrate (mammal, bird or fish).
Cephalopods’ high-resolution camera eyes resemble our own, but we otherwise differ in every way. Octopuses in particular are peculiarly other. The majority of their 500m neurons are in their arms, which can not only touch but smell and taste – they quite literally have minds of their own.
That it was possible to observe some kind of subjective experience, a sense of self, in cephalopods fascinated Godfrey-Smith. How that might differ to humans’ is the subject of his book Other Minds: The Octopus, The Sea and the Deep Origins of Consciousness, published this month by HarperCollins.
In it Godfrey-Smith charts his path through philosophical problems as guided by cephalopods – in one case quite literally, when he recounts an octopus taking his collaborator by hand on a 10-minute tour to its den, “as if he were being led across the sea floor by a very small eight-legged child”.
Charming anecdotes like this abound in Godfrey-Smith’s book, particularly about captive octopuses frustrating scientists’ attempts at observation.
A 1959 paper detailed an attempt at the Naples Zoological Station to teach three octopuses to pull and release a lever in exchange for food. Albert and Bertram performed in a “reasonably consistent” manner, but one named Charles tried to drag a light suspended above the water into the tank; squirted water at anyone who approached; and prematurely ended the experiment when he broke the lever.
Most aquariums that have attempted to keep octopuses have tales to tell of their great escapes – even their overnight raids of neighbouring tanks for food. Godfrey-Smith writes of animals learning to turn off lights by directing jets of water at them, short-circuiting the power supply. Elsewhere octopuses have plugged their tanks’ outflow valves, causing them to overflow.
This apparent problem-solving ability has led cephalopods (particularly octopuses, because they’ve been studied more than squid or cuttlefish) to be recognised as intelligent. Half a billion neurons put octopuses close to the range of dogs and their brains are large relative to their size, both of which offer biologists a rough guide to brainpower.
In captivity, they have learned to navigate simple mazes, solve puzzles and open screw-top jars, while wild animals have been observed stacking rocks to protect the entrances to their dens, and hiding themselves inside coconut shell halves.
But that’s also reflective of their dexterity: an animal with fewer than eight legs may accomplish less but not necessarily because it is more stupid. There’s no one metric by which to measure intelligence – some markers, such as tool use, were settled on simply because they were evident in humans.
“I think it’s a mistake to look for a single, definitive thing,” says Godfrey-Smith. “Octopuses are pretty good at sophisticated kinds of learning, but how good it’s hard to say, in part because they’re so hard to experiment on. You get a small amount of animals in the lab and some of them refuse to do anything you want them to do – they’re just too unruly.”
He sees that curiosity and opportunism – their “mischief and craft”, as a Roman natural historian put it in the third century AD – as characteristic of octopus intelligence.
Their great escapes from captivity, too, reflect an awareness of their special circumstances and their ability to adapt to them. A 2010 experiment confirmed anecdotal reports that cephalopods are able to recognise – and like or dislike – individual humans, even those that are dressed identically.
It is no stretch to say they have personalities. But the inconsistencies of their behaviour, combined with their apparent intelligence, presents an obvious trap of anthropomorphism. It’s “tempting”, admits Godfrey-Smith, to attribute their many enigmas to “some clever, human-like explanation”.
Opinions of octopus intelligence consequently vary within the scientific community. A fundamental precept of animal psychology, coined by the 19th-century British psychologist C Lloyd Morgan, says no behaviour should be attributed to a sophisticated internal process if it can be explained by a simpler one.
That is indicative of a general preference for simplicity of hypotheses in science, says Godfrey-Smith, that as a philosopher he is not convinced by. But scientific research across the board has become more outcome-driven as a result of the cycle of funding and publishing, and he is in the privileged position of being able to ask open-ended questions.
“That’s a great luxury, to be able to roam around year after year, putting pieces together very slowly.”
That process, set in motion by his chance encounter with a cuttlefish a decade ago, is ongoing. Now back based in Australia, lecturing at the University of Sydney, Godfrey-Smith says his study of cephalopods is increasingly influencing his professional life (and his personal one: Arrival, the 2016 film about first contact with “cephalopod-esque” aliens, was a “good, inventive film”, he says, though the invaders “were a bit more like jellyfish”).
When philosophers ponder the mind-body problem, none poses quite such a challenge as that of the octopus’s, and the study of cephalopods gives some clues to questions about the origins of our own consciousness.
Our last common ancestor existed 600m years ago and was thought to resemble a flattened worm, perhaps only millimetres long. Yet somewhere along the line, cephalopods developed high-resolution, camera eyes – as did we, entirely independently.
“A camera eye, with a lens that focuses an image on a retina – we’ve got it, they’ve got it, and that’s it,” says Godfrey-Smith. That it was “arrived at twice” in such vastly different animals gives pause for thought about the process of evolution, as does their inexplicably short life spans: most species of cephalopods live only about one to two years.
“When I learned that, I was just amazed – it was such a surprise,” says Godfrey-Smith, somewhat sadly. “I’d just gotten to know the animals. I thought, ‘I’ll be visiting these guys for ages.’ Then I thought, ‘No, I won’t, they’ll be dead in a few months.’”
It’s perhaps the biggest paradox presented by an animal that has no shortage of contradictions: “A really big brain and a really short life.” From an evolutionary perspective, Godfrey-Smith explains, it does not give a good return on investment.
“It’s a bit like spending a vast amount of money to do a PhD, and then you’ve got two years to make use of it ... the accounting is really weird.”
One possibility is that an octopus’s brain needs to be powerful just to preside over such an unwieldy form, in the same way that a computer would need a state-of-the-art processor to perform a large volume of complex tasks.
“I mean, the body is so hard to control, with eight arms and every possible inch an elbow.” But that explanation doesn’t account for the flair, even playfulness with which they apply it.
“They behave smartly, they do all these novel, inventive things – that line of reasoning doesn’t resolve things, by any stretch,” says Godfrey-Smith. “There’s still a somewhat mysterious element there.”
on: Today at 05:40 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
A strong parliament will be nature’s last line of defence during Brexit
EU membership has given Britain vital environmental laws. Any changes to legislation must be done with full public scrutiny to protect us from exploitation
Wednesday 29 March 2017 09.30 BST
When Theresa May fires the Brexit starting gun by triggering article 50, she will start a process that could dramatically reshape almost every aspect of British life – from our economy, laws, and place in the world to our natural environment. The difficult choices our politicians make in just a few years could change the face of Britain for generations to come.
Even before the tough bargaining with the EU and other countries start in earnest, another, more domestic negotiation process will get underway – the constitutional power struggle between parliament and government over who will have the final say on the momentous Brexit decisions. A lot will ride on the outcome of this tug of war, and that includes the fate of many vital environmental safeguards we take for granted.
Over four decades of EU membership, Britain has acquired one of the most formidable bodies of environmental law in the world. Whether it’s air pollution, water quality, or toxic chemicals, many of the environmental safeguards protecting our health and our environment are rooted in EU law.
It is EU law that has chivvied a recalcitrant government into cleaning up our beaches, improving recycling rates, and banning bee-harming pesticides. The habitats and birds directives have provided stronger protection for threatened wildlife than any UK law. And it is the EU air quality laws that have allowed campaigners to hold ministers to account for their failure to tackle air pollution in the courts.
All these vital protections – the fruits of decades of negotiations, campaigning, and political work – are about to come under an unprecedented amount of pressure. Along with thousands of other EU laws, ministers say that most environmental legislation will be transposed en bloc into domestic law by the “great repeal bill”. Although this might sound like an unalloyed piece of good news, it isn’t.
Ministers have already warned that only two-thirds of environmental regulations can be adopted as they are, leaving the remaining third in dangerous limbo. But even the laws that are directly transferred will be put on much shakier ground. The institutions that guarantee their enforcement, such as the European court of justice and the commission, will have no jurisdiction in Britain. So who will hold the government to account? No 10 sources have suggested Theresa May favours the option of the UK remaining a member of EU regulatory agencies, but what powers these watchdogs will retain and what laws they will be able to enforce is not clear.
An even greater and more immediate danger lurks in the great repeal bill. Ministers have been talking about including a so-called Henry VIII clause in the bill that would give them the power to change primary legislation without a vote in parliament. In this scenario, an all-powerful executive will be able to cherry-pick which environmental legislation they want to keep while ditching the rest with a stroke of the pen.
The vital laws protecting our health and our environment from air pollution, noxious chemicals, and destructive industries will be left hostage to the whims of the government and business lobbies of the day.
Clues to how these powers may be used already abound. Michael Gove has openly called for the habitat directive to be scrapped. The environment minister George Eustice is on record describing it as “spirit-crushing”. And a leading Brexiter like Jacob Rees-Mogg has argued Britain could slash environmental and safety regulations on imported products, adopting, for example, emissions standards that are “good enough for India”.
Industry lobbies on both sides of the Atlantic have already sniffed an opportunity to do away with regulations that put consumers before corporate profits. A US farming lobbyist recently told Radio 4’s Today programme that any US-UK trade deal would be dependent on Britain allowing imports of US foods that have so far been banned, from chlorine-washed chicken to hormone-infused beef. Leading car makers in the US have already lobbied Trump for weaker fuel economy standards and got what they wanted. It’s hard to see why they wouldn’t attempt to do the same in Britain once the backstop of EU air quality rules has fallen away.
Closer to home, the owner of British Gas, Centrica, has urged the government to drop EU targets on renewable energy unless they can be used as a bargaining chip during Brexit negotiations. Since any deployment of wind and solar energy by communities and individual households is a threat to the big six’s stranglehold, Centrica is exploiting Brexit to pull a fast one on the competition and, ultimately, on consumers too.
This is just the beginning. The deeper we wade into the quagmire of Brexit negotiations, the more pressure industry lobbies are going to put on our politicians to sacrifice crucial environmental safeguards on the altar of low-standard trade deals. This is why our elected representatives have a crucial role to play in defending the values Britain holds dear.
A majority of people have voted for Brexit, but they didn’t vote for a more polluted or less green Britain. This government has no mandate to tamper with the environmental safeguards protecting our parks, our beaches, and our air. If the vague promise about “taking back control” is to be at least partially fulfilled, the crucial decisions about the future of our environment cannot be made over a handshake between ministers and corporate lobbyists.
Any changes to this vital legislation must be done in a democratic way – through a parliamentary vote and the thorough public scrutiny that accompanies it. A truly sovereign parliament during Brexit will be the last line of defence for our green and pleasant land.
on: Today at 05:38 AM
|Started by Rad - Last post by Rad|
EU leads attacks on Trump's rollback of Obama climate policy
Europe poised to take baton from US as leader in global efforts to fight climate change, with America’s commitment to Paris accords at risk
David Smith in Washington and Caty Enders and Dominic Rushe in New York
Tuesday 28 March 2017 22.59 BST
The European Union has led criticism of Donald Trump’s effort to unravel Barack Obama’s measures to combat climate change, suggesting that Europe will now take the lead in global efforts.
The US president signed an executive order on Tuesday aimed at eliminating the clean power plan, Obama’s landmark policy to set limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that power plants emit. America’s commitment to the Paris accord of nearly 200 countries now hangs in the balance.
Miguel Árias Cañete, the EU’s climate action commissioner, said: “We regret the US is rolling back the main pillar of its climate policy, the clean power plan. Now, it remains to be seen by which other means the United States intends to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement.”
He added: “The continued leadership of the EU, China and many other major economies is now more important than ever. When it comes to climate and the global clean energy transition, there cannot be vacuums, there can only be drivers, and we are committed to driving this agenda forward.”
The EU has the most ambitious emissions reduction target, Árias Cañete said. “We will stand by Paris, we will defend Paris, and we will implement Paris.”
Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said Trump’s action risked putting the US on the back foot. “I don’t know anyone who wants to breathe dirty air, who wants to worry about their water source, or who wants to leave a dangerous world to their children,” she said. “And because we are all united by these common desires, I am optimistic that Paris will endure, with world leadership remaining resilient in its commitments to Paris.”
The president’s executive order also throws out the government’s method for counting the benefits of cutting carbon pollution and abandons a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. Reaction on Washington’s Capitol Hill broke down along party lines, with Republicans welcoming the move towards energy independence.
The House speaker, Paul Ryan, said: “Today’s executive order is based on a fundamental truth: energy drives our economy. President Obama disregarded this, and the result was a barrage of regulations that crippled America’s energy industry. That is all in the past now. President Trump’s executive order will help America’s energy workers and reverse much of the damage done.”
The clean power plan had “ravaged coal country”, he added, and deserved a “full repeal”.
There was anger and dismay on the opposite side of the aisle as Democrats lined up to knock Trump’s order, with the notable exception of a senator from a coal-friendly state. They accused the president of denying scientific evidence to favour special interests.
Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, said: “If there was any doubt that big oil was back in charge under the Trump administration, today’s executive order lays that to rest. It reads as if it was written in an Exxon boardroom, with no regard for the health and safety of the American people, or the planet.
“This executive order is nothing more than a giveaway to big oil at the expense of the health and safety of our children and the bank accounts of hard-working middle-class families. Simply put, the Trump administration has put the health of the American people and the future of our planet on the back burner all for the sake of lining the pockets of big oil and extreme-right special interests.”
Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, said: “President Trump and congressional Republicans’ contempt for clean air, clean water, and our clean energy future endangers the health of our children and the strength of our economy. The administration’s spiteful assault on the clean power plan will not bring back jobs to coal country, it will only poison our air and undermine America’s ability to win the good-paying jobs of the future.”
Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, noted that global temperature records had been broken over the past three years. “At a time when we should be urgently investing in clean energy jobs and technology, Trump is giving the worst polluters free rein and pretending it’s all about the economy,” he said.
“True leadership is a president who had the political courage to move aggressively on carbon polluters, while leaving office with the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record. Instead, we have a president who has called climate change a hoax, picked an ExxonMobil CEO as his secretary of state, put a climate science denier at the head of the EPA, and gives a disgraceful handout to his rich friends in the fossil fuels industry.”
Congressman Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania, a Democratic member of the Bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus and Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, warned against a withdrawal from the Paris agreement. “Today’s executive order sends a dangerous signal to the world that the United States does not want to lead in one of the greatest fights of our time: combating global climate change,” he said.
The Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and the Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine co-authored the Super Pollutants Act of 2015, a bipartisan bill to reduce short-lived climate pollutants in the atmosphere. Murphy said: “Future generations will judge President Trump for this attack on our health and our safety. The Republican party is going to extraordinary lengths to deny that this meteor that is global warming is careening toward us.”
But not for the first time, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a state in coal country that Trump won in a landslide, broke ranks with his Democratic colleagues. “We need to strike a balance between the environment and the economy,” he said. “The clean power plan never achieved that balance. Rolling back this regulation is a positive step towards preventing further job loss, increases to consumer energy bills, and more damage to our economy. We must stop ignoring the damage these regulations caused our energy sector, our economy and our way of life in West Virginia.”
Trump’s attack on the clean power plan will not produce instant results. It faces bureaucratic wrangling and legal challenges that could take years. On Tuesday, a coalition of 23 states, cities and counties declared its intention to resist.
“We won’t hesitate to protect those we serve – including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the critical importance of confronting the very real threat of climate change,” said the group, led by the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman.
Industry groups have expressed scepticism about whether the measures will create employment as Trump claims. Robert Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy, the US’s largest private coal producer, said Trump’s moves were unlikely to significantly increase the number of coal jobs.
Chris Wood, CEO of the fishing advocacy group Trout Unlimited, said the executive order would hurt sportsmen, who depend on the resilience of American watersheds, in a multitude of ways. Wood sees the clean power plan as made up of “commonsense” requirements for the energy industry that protect public land for mixed use.
He said: “We’re not talking about hi-tech wizardry here. It was updating rules that hadn’t been touched in 30 to 40 years. It says, hey, treat your frack water once you’re finished with it. Make sure you have hardened concrete casings so they don’t leak.
With the repeal of the clean power plan, waterways will not only be more vulnerable to avoidable pollution but also to the varied impacts of climate change. Wood added: “Anyone who has seen these big fires in the west understands the effects on fish.”
Watchdogs and pressure groups joined the chorus of condemnation. Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said: “This is an all-out assault on the protections we need to avert climate catastrophe. It’s a senseless betrayal of our national interests. And it’s a short-sighted attempt to undermine American clean energy leadership.
“Trump is sacrificing our future for fossil fuel profits – and leaving our kids to pay the price. This would do lasting damage to our environment and public lands, threaten our homes and health, hurt our pocketbooks and slow the clean energy progress that has already generated millions of good-paying jobs.
“We won’t surrender our children’s future to fossil fuel profits without a fight.”
The alarm was also raised over potential economic consequences. Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a not-for-profit organisation that rallied hundreds of companies to support the clean power plan, said: “By taking this backward step, the US risks a stalled transition to a low-carbon economy, thus giving China and other countries the upper hand as they embrace renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies that are proliferating all across the globe.”