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Nov 18, 2019, 10:31 AM
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 on: Today at 10:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

‘He’s just a liar’: MSNBC’s Morning Joe bodyslams Bill 'i am Trump's butt plug' Barr’s ‘outrageous’ speech attacking Democrats

on November 18, 2019
Raw Story
By Travis Gettys

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough condemned Attorney General William Barr’s “disgraceful” speech before the conservative Federal Society.

The “Morning Joe” host and former Republican lawmaker described Barr’s speech as dishonest and harmful to the rule of law, and he shamed the audience members who applauded the attorney general’s attacks on congressional Democrats who oppose President Donald Trump.

“He’s just a liar, and for people in that audience clapping at that, you’re disgraceful, shameful,” Scarborough said. “Federalist Society, when I was in law school it stood for something different, it stood for the Constitution, the rule of law. You people are applauding a president and his attorney general who are making the argument that Madisonian checks and balances do not apply because Donald Trump is the president.”

“You are applauding an attorney general who is actually promoting an executive who is saying that Article II gives him unlimited power,” he added. “When you handed me out flyers at the University of Florida College of Law, didn’t say you were going all in for a tyrant, didn’t say the purpose of this organization is to promote conservative values on the bench, but in the alternative, we may actually support autocrats in training who say (they) have unlimited power because of Article II. This is shocking.”

Scarborough said the attorney general’s motives were plainly partisan.

“I wonder, where was Barr, by the way, other than making hundreds of millions of dollars, where was Barr when Mitch McConnell said that his only job over the next four years after Obama was elected president, was to make him a one-term president?” he said. “Where was Barr? Does that mean the democrats can shred the Constitution? I don’t understand.”

The former GOP lawmaker said the attorney general’s view of the Constitutional was dangerous to the rule of law.

“Bill Barr’s Constitution is completely different,” he said. “This does such violence to what we conservatives always hailed as Madisonian checks and balances, a limited executive — limited executive power. This is outrageous.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTZKwey2awQ&feature=emb_title

 on: Today at 06:54 AM 
Started by shakti devii - Last post by Rad

Even though this event is passed now it is amazing to watch the video of it.

God Bless, Rad

Watch Mercury transit the Sun in glorious 4K

Mike Wehner

Monday was a big day for astronomers around the world as it provided the rare opportunity to see Mercury transit the Sun. If you missed all the hype leading up to the event, the bad news is that you missed the chance to watch it happen live. The good news, however, is that NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) was keeping several close eyes on it, and NASA just released a new video showing the transit in gorgeous 4K.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yNzSwlnQ2Q&feature=emb_title

The video, which is just over a minute long, shows the tiny planet passing in front of our star using a variety of different imaging tools. NASA’s hardware can capture the light of the Sun in a variety of wavelengths, and seeing the transit through the SDO’s various filters is a real treat.

    NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory watched as Mercury moved across the Sun. The Solar Dynamics Observatory views the Sun in a variety of wavelengths of light in the extreme ultraviolet.

Mercury completes an orbit of the Sun in just 88 days. That’s less than one-quarter of the time it takes Earth to complete the same trip. That, combined with the fact that Mercury isn’t always lined up with Earth and the Sun when it passes by, means that being able to view a transit from Earth is somewhat rare. Observable transits happen roughly 13 times a century, but the next time one will occur will be in late 2032.

You’ve really gotta hand it to NASA with this video. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous, but it’s also presented in resolutions up to 4K, so if you have the means to cast it to a 4K TV it’s definitely worth it.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory that captured these incredible images was launched back in 2010. NASA planned on getting at least five years’ worth of work out of the satellite before calling it quits, but we’re already approaching its tenth year in space.

 on: Today at 06:15 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Mike 'pious pig' Pompeo: Last in His Class at West Point in Integrity

The secretary of state’s behavior has been cowardly and self-serving

By Thomas L. Friedman
Opinion Columnist
NY Times
Nov. 18, 2019, 6:00 a.m. ET

It seems like every story you read about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo always includes the sentence that he graduated “first in his class” from West Point. That is not a small achievement. But it is even more impressive in Pompeo’s case when you consider that he finished No. 1 even though he must have flunked all his courses on ethics and leadership. I guess he was really good in math.

I say that because Pompeo has just violated one of the cardinal rules of American military ethics and command: You look out for your soldiers, you don’t leave your wounded on the battlefield and you certainly don’t stand mute when you know a junior officer is being railroaded by a more senior commander, if not outright shot in her back.

The classes on ethics and leadership at West Point would have taught all of that. I can only assume Pompeo failed or skipped them all when you observe his cowardly, slimy behavior as the leader of the State Department. I would never, ever, ever want to be in a trench with that man. Attention all U.S. diplomats: Watch your own backs, because Pompeo won’t be.

Pompeo knows very well that his ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was an outstanding foreign service officer, whose tour of duty in Kiev had been extended by his own State Department in March 2019 until 2020 — because of the excellence of her work. But, alas, she was suddenly told to get on the next plane out in late April, after President Trump — having marinated himself in conspiracy theories about Ukraine showered on him by Rudy Giuliani and his corrupt Ukrainian allies — demanded she be yanked.

As Yovanovitch put it to the House Intelligence Committee on Friday: “Individuals, who apparently felt stymied by our efforts to promote stated U.S. policy against corruption — that is, to do the mission — were able to successfully conduct a campaign of disinformation against a sitting ambassador, using unofficial back channels. As various witnesses have recounted, they shared baseless allegations with the president and convinced him to remove his ambassador, despite the fact that the State Department fully understood that the allegations were false and the sources highly suspect.’’

Yes, Pompeo knew 100 percent that it was all a setup. We know that because, when Senator Bob Menendez asked Pompeo’s deputy secretary of state, John Sullivan, about Yovanovitch — at Sullivan’s Senate confirmation hearing on Oct. 30 to become the next U.S. ambassador to Moscow — he stated that she had served “admirably and capably.” When Menendez asked Sullivan whether Giuliani was behind her removal, Sullivan baldly declared that Giuliani was “seeking to smear Ambassador Yovanovitch, or have her removed. I believed he was, yes.”

Those were the words of Pompeo’s own deputy!

But they’ve never come out of Pompeo’s mouth. Though he reportedly argued privately to the President to keep Yovanovitch in place, Pompeo faithfully executed Trump’s order without uttering a word to defend his ambassador’s reputation in public.

Pompeo instead let his ambassador to Ukraine — who depended on him for protection — be stabbed in her back with a Twitter knife, wielded by the president, rather than tell Trump: “Sorry, Mr. President, if you fire her, I will resign. Because to do otherwise would be unjust and against my values and character — and because I would lose the loyalty of all my diplomats if I silently went along with such a travesty of justice against a distinguished 33-year veteran of the foreign service.”

Trump, the cowardly bully that he is, probably would have backed down had Pompeo showed some spine. But Pompeo did not attempt that, because he wants to run for president after Trump — and did not want to risk alienating Trump. It is as simple as that, folks.

Or it’s as simple as this: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, but lose his soul?” — Mark 8:36.

I have only met Pompeo once. I found him in private smart and engaging — but then we didn’t discuss ethics. So many in the State Department have now lost all respect for him — with good reason. His behavior is one of the most shameful things I have seen in 40 years of covering U.S. diplomacy.

How can Pompeo think he’s got what it takes to make the hard decisions needed to lead a nation as president, and send soldiers to war, when he can’t make a clear-cut easy decision to protect one of his own diplomats from being smeared by people acting outside our system.

As two now retired, longtime State Department diplomats, Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky, wrote on CNN.com on Saturday, “At the very least, Pompeo enabled the smear campaign to go unchallenged, acquiesced in the Giuliani back-channel effort with Ukraine and failed to say a word in defense of Bill Taylor, George Kent or Marie Yovanovitch. These are breathtaking acts of craven political cowardice and beneath the dignity of any secretary of state.”

Mike Pompeo: Last in his class at West Point on ethics in leadership.

I get the fact that Congressman Devin Nunes and Senator Lindsey Graham have a contest going over who can debase themselves in public the most by defending indefensible actions by Trump. (It’s neck and neck.) But they’re G.O.P. politicians, people we now know who will do anything to avoid giving up their $174,000-a-year salaries and free parking at National Airport.

But Pompeo is the secretary of state. That is such a privilege and responsibility. Thomas Jefferson was the first person to hold that job. Pompeo is no Jefferson. All he is doing now is trying to hide as much as possible from public view, counting on the next Trump outrage to wash away his own outrageous behavior. But the mark of Cain on his forehead will not wash off. He didn’t even have the decency or courage to speak to Yovanovitch personally, to look her in the eye and at least say, “Hey, I’m sorry.’’

Reporters and columnists need to ask Pompeo every chance they get: “What moral code are you operating by that would justify such behavior?’’

I wanted to make sure that I was not being unfair to the secretary of state, so I Googled the phrase “Pompeo Defends Yovanovitch” — just to make sure that I hadn’t missed anything. These were the headlines that came up: “Pompeo Is A ‘Coward’ For Not Defending Marie Yovanovitch,” “Pompeo Doesn’t Address Concerns Raised by Yovanovitch,” “Pompeo ducks questions about State’s lack of support for Yovanovitch” and “Senior State Adviser: Pompeo’s Silence on Yovanovitch Attacks Absolutely Killed Morale.”

So it’s now clear that Pompeo had not taken an oath to defend and protect the Constitution. He took an oath to defend and protect Donald J. Trump and Pompeo’s own future political career — above all else — and that’s exactly what he’s been doing. Shame on him.

As for Ambassador Yovanovitch, thank you for your service. You are a credit to our nation and its ideals — everything your boss was not. Hold your head high. Jefferson would have been proud of you.


‘Political blood in the water’: MSNBC’s Morning Joe mocks ‘desperate’ Trump for losing Kentucky and Louisiana

on November 18, 2019
Raw Story
By Travis Gettys

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough scorched President Donald Trump for squandering his political capital on vulnerable Republican candidates in two red-state losses.

The “Morning Joe” host questioned the president’s decision to hold 11th-hour campaign rallies for Eddie Rispone in Louisiana and Gov. Matt Bevin in Kentucky — both of whom lost their races.

“The president went all in,” Scarborough said. “I want you to imagine a business owner whose daddy gave him $400 million, right? And then that business owner says, ‘I’m going to start casinos in New Jersey,’ right? Imagine that, and imagine a guy whose daddy gave him $400 million. We’re just making this up right now, $400 million in today’s dollars.”

“He decides he’s going to start a casino business and then he ends up $9 billion bankrupt, that’s kinda like what this is,” he added. “How do you as a Republican lose Kentucky and Louisiana?”

Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire said the president isn’t getting good political advice because there’s no one left to offer any.

“There’s no one around him to tell him to stay away from some of these races or tell them that his line of attack is not going to work,” Lemire said. “The president is popular in Louisiana — he won it by 20 points — but you’re not going to go in there and paint the governor as a socialist and expect that to win. The governor in Kentucky, that was closer, but that was a race maybe you should stay away from. He didn’t, in part, because he’s so desperate right now to feed off the rally crowd, but to prove he’s vital during impeachment, and instead there’s three southern governor races in the last weeks, he lost two of them.”

Scarborough said the losses badly dent the president’s brand heading into his re-election campaign.

“There’s political blood in the water,” he said. “If the president had anyone around to say, you know what? Stay away from Kentucky because they elect Democratic governors from time to time. Stay away from Louisiana, don’t call the Louisiana governor a socialist because he’s more conservative than you are, Donald, on a lot of issues, and he really is.”

“It was, I mean, talk about how Donald Trump going down there and saying what he said about the socialist governor really was political malpractice,” he added.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrnjSjukod8&feature=emb_title


MSNBC’s Morning Joe laughs out loud at Fox News praise for Trump’s ‘superman’ energy: ‘He does one or two things a day, tops’

on November 18, 2019
Raw Story
By Travis Gettys

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough tried to unravel President Donald Trump’s mysterious hospital visit over the weekend, which the White House insists was the beginning of his annual physical.

The “Morning Joe” host laughed out loud at a clip of White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham and Fox News host Jeanine Pirro praising the president’s “superman” energy after the surprise hospital visit.

“Who was it, was it (Treasury Secretary Steve) Mnuchin who praised his perfect genes?” Scarborough said. “Was it Steve Mnuchin who said had he superhuman genes? And they said he would live to be 200 if he ate better?”

Scarborough said the president’s public schedule doesn’t suggest superhuman energy.

“He’s got, like, one event,” he said. “I think he does one or two things a day, tops.”

Scarborough said the public deserved accurate information about president’s health.

“He’s magically picked up, he’s two inches taller now than he was a couple of years ago,” Scarborough said. “The bone spurs are growing and pushing him up, and also, by the way — I’m sorry. I know a guy that weighs about 240, 241, this guy, this guy is — he’s pushing 300 (pounds). There is no doubt about it, there’s no doubt. There’s no doubt about it. Maybe he’s 270, maybe he’s 280.”

The summaries of Trump’s past physical exams have been “laughable,” Scarborough said, and the White House has already burned up all its credibility.

“I’m just saying we have a right to know our president’s health, and he’s done nothing but lie to us about it for several years,” Scarborough said.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-iUT7p3WbUU&feature=emb_title

 on: Today at 05:09 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Pelosi invites Trump to testify as new witnesses prepare


WASHINGTON (AFP) — Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited President Donald Trump to testify in front of investigators in the House impeachment inquiry ahead of a week that will see several key witnesses appear publicly.

Pushing back against accusations from the president that the process has been stacked against him, Pelosi said Trump is welcome to appear or answer questions in writing, if he chooses. “If he has information that is exculpatory, that means ex, taking away, culpable, blame, then we look forward to seeing it,” she said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s "Face the Nation.” Trump “could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants if he wants,” she said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer echoed that suggestion. “If Donald Trump doesn’t agree with what he’s hearing, doesn’t like what he’s hearing, he shouldn’t tweet. He should come to the committee and testify under oath. And he should allow all those around him to come to the committee and testify under oath,” Schumer told reporters. He said the White House’s insistence on blocking witnesses from cooperating begs the question: “What is he hiding?”

The comments come as the House Intelligence Committee prepares for a second week of public hearings as part of its inquiry, including with the man who is arguably the most important witness. Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, is among the only people interviewed to date who had direct conversations with the president about the situation because the White House has blocked others from cooperating with what they dismiss as a sham investigation. And testimony suggests he was intimately involved in discussions that are at the heart of the investigation into whether Trump held up U.S. military aid to Ukraine to try to pressure the county’s president to announce an investigation into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 candidate, and his son, Hunter.

Multiple witnesses overheard a phone call in which Trump and Sondland reportedly discussed efforts to push for the investigations. In private testimony to impeachment investigators made public Saturday, Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council aide and longtime Republican defense hawk, said Sondland told him he was discussing Ukraine matters directly with Trump.

Morrison said Sondland and Trump had spoken approximately five times between July 15 and Sept. 11 — the weeks that $391 million in U.S. assistance was withheld from Ukraine before it was released. And he recounted that Sondland told a top Ukrainian official in a meeting that the vital U.S. military assistance might be freed up if the country’s top prosecutor “would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation.” Burisma is the gas company that hired Hunter Biden.

Morrison’s testimony contradicted much of what Sondland told congressional investigators during his own closed-door deposition, which the ambassador later amended. Trump has said he has no recollection of the overheard call and has suggested he barely knew Sondland, a wealthy donor to his 2016 campaign. But Democrats are hoping he sheds new light on the discussions.

“I’m not going to try to prejudge his testimony,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said on “Fox News Sunday.” But he suggested, “it was not lost on Ambassador Sondland what happened to the president’s close associate Roger Stone for lying to Congress, to Michael Cohen for lying to Congress. My guess is that Ambassador Sondland is going to do his level best to tell the truth, because otherwise he may have a very unpleasant legal future in front of him.”

The committee will also be interviewing a long list of others. On Tuesday, they’ll hear from Morrison along with Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Alexander Vindman, the director for European affairs at the National Security Council, and Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.

On Wednesday the committee will hear from Sondland in addition to Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, a State Department official. And on Thursday, Fiona Hill, a former top NSC staffer for Europe and Russia, will appear.

Trump, meanwhile, continued to tweet and retweet a steady stream of commentary from supporters as he bashed “The Crazed, Do Nothing Democrats” for “turning Impeachment into a routine partisan weapon.”

“That is very bad for our Country, and not what the Founders had in mind!!!!” he wrote. He also tweeted a doctored video exchange between Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, in which Schiff said he did not know the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the inquiry. The clip has been altered to show Schiff wearing a referee’s uniform and loudly blowing a whistle.

In her CBS interview, Pelosi vowed to protect the whistleblower, whom Trump has said should be forced to come forward despite longstanding whistleblower protections. “I will make sure he does not intimidate the whistleblower,” Pelosi said.

Trump has been under fire for his treatment of one of the witnesses, the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump criticized by tweet as she was testifying last week. That attack prompted accusations of witness intimidation from Democrats and even some criticism from Republicans, who have been largely united in their defense of Trump

“I think, along with most people, I find the president’s tweet generally unfortunate,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Still, he insisted that tweets were “certainly not impeachable and it’s certainly not criminal. And it’s certainly not witness intimidation,” even if Yovanovitch said she felt intimidated by the attacks.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Trump “communicates in ways that sometimes I wouldn’t,” but dismissed the significance of the attacks. “If your basis for impeachment is going to include a tweet, that shows how weak the evidence for that impeachment is,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

And the backlash didn’t stop Trump from lashing out at yet another witness, this time Pence aide Williams. He directed her in a Sunday tweet to “meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!”


Republicans condemned for smearing impeachment witnesses born abroad

Trump tactic suggesting Marie Yovanovitch and Alexander Vindman have mixed loyalties criticized as bigoted


Republicans and Donald Trump have sought to smear key witnesses in the impeachment inquiry against the president as having dual or mixed loyalties to the US, due to being born abroad.

The move has sparked condemnation as a bigoted tactic that has maligned career US diplomats and officials as being potentially disloyal to their adopted country due to not being born in America.

The attacks have focused on the Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, the National Security Council Ukraine expert Alexander Vindman, and the former White House Russia security expert Fiona Hill.

Trump called the Canadian-born Yovanovitch “bad news”. The British-born Hill told congressional investigators that accusations against Yovanovitch related to a “mishmash of conspiracy theories … an idea of an association between her and George Soros”.

Hill also said far-right conspiracy theories that she herself was a “Soros mole in the White House, of colluding with all kinds of enemies of the President, and, you know, of various improprieties” resurfaced after her deposition before the House intelligence committee was announced.

Having links – real or imagined – to Soros, a Hungary-born billionaire philanthropist who survived the Holocaust, has become a “dog-whistle” for antisemitic abuse.

The attacks against Vindman – who was born to a Jewish family in Ukraine and fled the Soviet Union with his family at age three, subsequently settling in Brooklyn, have been particularly visceral. Vindman is also a decorated US veteran who served in Iraq.

The Fox & Friends television host Brian Kilmeade, for example, said of Vindman: “We also know he was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated with his family young. He tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.”

The former Republican congressman Sean Duffy claimed on CNN: “It seems very clear that he is incredibly concerned about Ukrainian defense. I don’t know that he’s concerned about American policy … We all have an affinity to our homeland, where we came from.” On Twitter, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in relation to Vindman: “A US gov employee who has reportedly been advising two gov’s? No wonder he is confused and feels pressure.”

The assaults on the trio’s characters reflect an anti-immigrant – and often, antisemitic – belief that foreign-born US officials maintain a dual loyalty to some outside homeland. While immigrants to the US – including those from the former Soviet Union – might maintain familial or cultural ties, they overwhelmingly embrace being American, experts told the Guardian.

“The theme of dual loyalty runs like a thread throughout American history and the reason for that is immigration has had an important role for the people in North America,” said Alan Kraut, a history professor at American University and member of the school’s Jewish Studies faculty.

In the United States’ early years, people questioned others’ purported allegiance to France or Britain. During the second world war, the internment of Japanese Americans stemmed from the erroneous belief they were “a national security risk because they were accused of having dual loyalty”, Kraut explained. Irish Americans were sometimes seen, because of the strength of their Catholic faith, as having an allegiance to the pope.

Since 1948, the “dual loyalty” claim against American Jews has generally been that they “have a dual loyalty to Israel more than the United States”.

“Antisemites use the charge of dual loyalty to fuel antisemitism,” Kraut said . “While it might be sort of déclassé to say, sort of, ‘Jews are an inferior race’, it’s not déclassé to say ‘the problem with Jews in America is dual loyalty’.”

Kees Boterbloem, a professor and history graduate director at the University of South Florida, said of Vindman: “I have no doubt that he and his twin brother are absolutely loyal to the United States,” especially since the country they were born in – the Soviet Union – no longer exists.

“How can you be loyal to something that’s no longer there?” he said.

Alina Polyakova, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who is an expert on Ukraine, Russia, and Europe, said there persisted an antisemitic narrative that Jewish immigrants were “never fully” part of their new countries.

“Certainly, Vindman’s parents would have experienced that exact same notion because of their Jewish identities. They weren’t ‘actually’ Ukrainian. They weren’t ‘actually’ Russian. They weren’t ‘fully’ citizens of the Soviet Union,” she said.

The attacks were brought up in the hearings last week.

George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state who leads Ukraine policy, ended his initial statement with a resounding defense of his colleagues.

“I would like to conclude my opening remarks with an observation about some of my fellow public servants who have come under personal attack,” Kent said to the House intelligence committee, naming Yovanovitch, Vindman, and Hill.

“Masha, Alex, and Fiona were born abroad before their families or they themselves personally chose to immigrate to the United States. They all made the professional choice to serve the United States as public officials, helping shape our national security policy, towards Russia in particular. And we and our national security are the better for it.”


‘A slam-dunk-case’: MSNBC analysts predict GOP will defend Trump — and ‘the guy is going to get off’

on November 17, 2019
Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

More evidence was outed Sunday as the Wall Street Journal revealed emails from EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who promised to keep the White House abreast of President Donald Trump’s demand for an investigation by Ukraine. The news prompted an MSNBC panelists to explain that it wouldn’t matter how much evidence was presented, Republicans will never vote to remove Trump.

Host Geoff Bennett asked about the witness testimony and preponderance of evidence that “all points in one direction at this point, that President Trump orchestrated this entire” Ukraine investigations.

“It’s a slam dunk case, and yet we know the guy is going to get off,” said Los Angels Times White House reporter Eli Stokols. “That’s effectively what you’re saying. Because all the testimony has lined up so closely, the fact that EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland has come to come in, and because testimony from Ambassador Bill Taylor and others, has had to change testimony, Republicans have no choice — the president has no choice but to try to dismiss the entire thing as partisan.”

He brought up Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who announced that he has no intention of reading any transcripts or paying attention to the impeachment inquiry. Meanwhile, Trump is attacking one of the witnesses, an adviser to his vice president, as a “Never Trumper.”

“It’s not anywhere close to being believable unless you want to believe it,” said Stokols. “And that is where they’re going because they believe there are enough people out there who do want to believe it, who will take Republicans at their word for this.”

Meanwhile, Sondland is concerned he may have perjured himself, and he may have initially lied, which is why he came back to “clarify” his testimony after he was outed by others.

“After the deposition Friday and news about the phone call and what he said on that call, there’s a possibility that he shows up on Wednesday and may take the Fifth [Amendment] when it comes to certain questions,” said Stokols. “That’s another unknown as we look toward Wednesday. We don’t know what he will do, because he’s really over a barrel right now.”


Pence adviser says that Trump’s phone call to Ukrainian president was ‘unusual and inappropriate’

on November 18, 2019
By Matthew Rozsa, Salon

Jennifer Williams, a Special Adviser on Europe and Russia issues for Vice President Mike Pence’s foreign policy team, told congressional investigators that she viewed President Donald Trump’s July 25th phone call to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky as “unusual and inappropriate.” Williams had listened in on the phone call while it was happening, and a whistleblower revealing the controversial contents of that call prompted the current impeachment inquiry into Trump.

Williams said that she had taken notes about the political conditions surrounding Trump’s July 25th phone call because she was concerned that the call itself had been improper, according to declassified testimony of Williams’ closed door deposition earlier this month to members of the House Intelligence Committee, House Oversight and Reform Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee. During that phone conversation, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate whether former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter had engaged in criminal activity while working for a Ukrainian gas company, whether the elder Biden had meddled in Ukraine’s domestic politics to protect his son and whether a Democratic National Committee campaign server supposedly containing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s missing emails was in that country. At the time of the phone call, Trump was withholding $391 million in American military aid to Ukraine.

Discussing the call before Congress, Williams said that she “found the specific references to be more specific to the President in nature, to his personal political agenda” than because of a broader “foreign policy objective of the United States.”

She later added, “I would say that it struck me as unusual and inappropriate.”

The House committees also released a transcript of the deposition given by Tim Morrison last month. Morrison is a former National Security Council official who served as the top Russia and Europe adviser in the Trump White House. Like Williams, Morrison had been listening in on the July 25th phone call. During his testimony, Morrison said that United States Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland relayed to him that Trump had informed him that Zelensky “must announce the opening of the investigations.” Morrison also testified that, when it came to the investigations and military aid, Sondland had “related to me he was acting — he was discussing these matters with the President.”

Morrison also testified about a conversation that he had with Sondland on Sept. 1. The exchange took place after a meeting between Pence and Zelensky in Warsaw during which Morrison saw Sondland speaking to a top Zelensky aide. After that conversation, Morrison claims that Sondland approached him and told him that “what he communicated was that he believed what could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would go to the mic and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation.” Burisma is the Ukrainian gas company that employed Hunter Biden.

If Trump is impeached by the House of Representatives, he will be the third president to undergo an impeachment trial. His impeachment will have been preceded by the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, which was initiated in 1868, and the impeachment of Bill Clinton, which was initiated in 1998. A third president, Richard Nixon, faced almost certain impeachment in 1974 due to the Watergate scandal but decided to resign before that could happen.


No way Pence didn’t know what Trump was up to in Ukraine after aide’s revelations: CNN panel

on November 18, 2019
Raw Story
By Tom Boggioni

A CNN panel discussion on testimony given by a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence said her revelations about what she knew about President Donald Trump’s Ukraine dealings can only mean Pence knew and is lying.

Speaking with New Day hosts John Berman and Alisyn Camerota, contributor Kaitlan Collins stated Jennifer Williams’ description of Trump’s Ukraine phone call was expected to set Trump off, which it did when the president raged at her on Sunday as a “Never Trumper.”

“We kind of saw this coming, that they anticipated the president could be frustrated by her testimony,” Collins explained. “Because in the weeks before, when she was going to testify behind closed doors, we saw them distancing themselves from her. Yes, she works in our office, but she’s the State Department employee detailed to our office.”

Collins added Williams, “aas on the call with the president. She traveled with Pence when he went to Warsaw to meet with the Ukrainian president.”

“She’s not some low-level staffer,” she continued. “She’s also not an eager witness. No one even realized she was on the call until someone else on the call named her to house investigators, that’s why she was called to testify in the first place.”

Former White House official Joe Lockhart jumped int to say Pence had to know what William had heard during the call.

“I think the other thing about Jennifer Williams, and it’s not getting as much attention, is she does place Vice President Pence in an awkward position,” Lockhart suggested. “He either has to argue he doesn’t read his briefing book, doesn’t listen to his staff, or I was in on this. It’s one or the other. So far he’s escaped scrutiny here, but he was briefed on his way to Warsaw by her and apparently, it was in his briefing book”

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


Sondland discussed sensitive matters with Trump on phone from Kyiv restaurant as waiters circled

Paul Sonne and Josh Dawsey
WA Post
November 18, 2019

Waiters were coming and going as U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland spoke on the phone with President Trump on July 26 from the outdoor section of a central Kyiv restaurant and discussed the Ukrainian president’s willingness to conduct politically charged investigations, an episode that also highlighted the lack of security around a presidential call, according to testimony to Congress and a person familiar with the episode.

Sondland arrived in Kyiv and scrapped a schedule the embassy had arranged for him, which included a meeting with the man who would subsequently become Ukraine’s prime minister, instead saying he wanted to meet only with Volodymr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, and the two aides closest to him: head of the presidential administration Andriy Bohdan and adviser Andriy Yermak, according to the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the subject.

Sondland’s interactions in Kyiv — the day after Trump called Zelensky and exhorted him to investigate former vice president Joe Biden — will be scrutinized in public testimony Sondland is scheduled to give this week at the impeachment inquiry.

Robert Luskin, an attorney for Sondland, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

How a CIA analyst triggered the impeachment inquiry

Congressional focus has intensified on the episode at the Kyiv restaurant called SHO, in which Sondland pulled out his mobile phone and dialed up Trump. In a closed-door hearing on Friday, David Holmes, an embassy staffer who was sitting at the table, testified that he overheard the conversation, which began with Trump asking if Sondland was calling from Ukraine.

“Ambassador Sondland replied, yes, he was in Ukraine, and went on to state that President Zelensky ‘loves your ass,’ ” Holmes testified in his opening statement. “I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’ Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to.’ ”

Two other people were sitting at the table at the time and would potentially be able to corroborate Holmes’s account: Suriya Jayanti, an embassy staffer who served as Sondland’s control officer for the trip, meaning she arranged his schedule and accompanied him wherever he went, and Tara Maher, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, according to people with knowledge of the lunch.

Sondland didn’t receive the kind of direct assurances he relayed to Trump during the meetings he held earlier that day with Zelensky and Bohdan, according to testimony from Holmes and people familiar with those meetings.

But Sondland did slip away for a one-on-one meeting with Yermak after meeting Zelensky, and shortly after that meeting concluded, went to the Kyiv restaurant and placed the phone call to Trump. Holmes testified that he was blocked from attending the meeting with Yermak as a note taker.

Sondland was also texting back and forth on WhatsApp with Yermak throughout the trip, and had been communicating with other Ukrainian officials over the messaging app in the preceding and subsequent months, according to people familiar with his interactions.

Most of those messages haven’t been made public or handed over to the House impeachment inquiry. The messages by Sondland that have been released are those in which he was communicating in a three-way conversation with Yermak and former Ukraine special envoy Kurt Volker. Volker, who stepped down from the post after a whistleblower complaint from a CIA analyst triggered the impeachment probe, turned those communications over to the committees leading the inquiry.

The chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees subpoenaed communications and documents from Sondland as the inquiry got underway, and Sondland turned over communications from his personal devices to the State Department. But according to a statement by the committee chairmen in October, the State Department withheld them from the impeachment inquiry, defying a subpoena the committees issued to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Sondland, a wealthy Republican hotelier from the Pacific Northwest who became Trump’s ambassador to the European Union after donating $1 million to the president’s inauguration committee, handled a number of situations for Trump that would normally be considered outside the remit of his position in Brussels. He swooped in to take over the Ukraine portfolio after Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, helped engineer the ouster of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

During the course of the phone call from the restaurant, Sondland also consulted with Trump on another matter of importance to the president at the time: efforts to free the American rapper A$AP Rocky from jail in Sweden at the request of reality television star Kim Kardashian.

The same day as his July 25 phone call with Zelensky, Trump lashed out at Sweden on Twitter and demanded the nation free the American rapper despite his assault charge from his role in a street brawl.

“Give A$AP Rocky his FREEDOM,” Trump tweeted. “We do so much for Sweden but it doesn’t seem to work the other way around. Sweden should focus on its real crime problem!”

Sondland, according to Holmes’s opening statement, advised Trump to “let him get sentenced, play the racism card, give him a ticker-tape when he comes home.” Sondland added that Sweden should have released the rapper on Trump’s word, but the president could at least tell the Kardashians he tried, according to Holmes’s recollection.

According to a senior White House aide, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a diplomatic issue, Sondland was involved in the A$AP Rocky effort because of his relationship with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and because Trump saw him as “the Europe guy.”

Apart from sending national security adviser Robert O’Brien, who was then his top hostage negotiator, to intervene in the matter, Trump pressured Sweden’s leader on a phone call to release the rapper, saying that the United States does a lot for Sweden and Sweden should do this for him, according to a U.S. official.

Swedish officials tried to explain they needed to let the courts deal with the matter, but Trump was angered, saying it should have been easy for the Swedish government to do as he asked, the official said. Swedish officials were baffled by Trump’s aggressive involvement in the case, the official added.

In early August, Sweden released A$AP Rocky from jail after he was detained for a month on assault charges. According to the official familiar with the episode, Trump was frustrated that he didn’t get enough credit for securing the rapper’s release.

This report has been updated to reflect the correct designation for Tara Maher, who is a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels.

Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.


Devin Nunes Is Danielle Steel

Republicans’ impeachment strategy? Storytelling.

By Frank Bruni
Opinion Columnist
 Nov. 18, 2019
NY Times

I came to your house with a gun. At least imagine I did. I tied you to a chair, took a step back and repeatedly fired. But my arm twitched; every bullet missed. Meanwhile, you slipped your knots and fled.

By the reasoning of Representative Jim Jordan, I did absolutely nothing wrong.

You’re alive! Not a drop of blood on you! An unconsummated crime is no crime at all, or so Jordan, one of the Republican Party’s more rococo philosophers, argued on Wednesday in defense of President Trump. Ukraine got its military aid; Trump did not get his investigation of the Bidens. To Jordan, that’s proof of innocence.

To a normal person, that’s proof of incompetence, which doesn’t exonerate the president but should definitely reassure us. Trump’s an autocrat all right, but the silver lining is that he’s an inept one. All strongmen should be this weak.

And all of us should have the mental limberness and ethical elasticity that Jordan and his troupe possess. They’re the Cirque du Soleil of c’est la vie. I’ve never seen anything like the Republican effort to defend Trump, which charts the frontiers of creativity, explores the outer limits of audacity, mutates like the monsters in the “Alien” movies and restores my faith in American ingenuity.

My faith in Washington, too. I long feared that politics had stopped attracting the country’s top talent, but some of our finest storytellers are working in the United States Capitol. John Grisham has nothing on Jordan. Danielle Steel can’t hold a candle to Devin Nunes.

Nunes was among the first Republicans to pipe up on Day 1 of the impeachment inquiry’s public hearings, held by the House Intelligence Committee, and it wasn’t just his narrative ambition that mesmerized me. It was his bold descent into his thesaurus, a sort of semantic spelunking.

The hearings, he said, marked the “pitiful finale” and “spectacular implosion” of the “Russia hoax.” They amounted to a “scorched-earth war against President Trump” that was “horrifically one-sided” and “preposterous.” This “low-rent Ukrainian sequel” had already involved a “closed-door audition process in a cultlike atmosphere in the basement of the Capitol.” Cultlike, no less! That’s a more fitting description of Republicans’ obeisance to the president and laundering of his wrongdoing, but then one hallmark of Trump and his sycophants is the projection of their own flaws onto their adversaries.

Nunes’s best bit on Wednesday and then again on Friday was his portrayal of Trump’s Democratic detractors as amateur pornographers intent on finding nude pictures of the president. I’m fairly confident that no one is intent on finding nude photographs of the president.

But at this point it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump himself tweeted one out. Would that be any crazier than what he did on Friday, as Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, testified?

There she was, a pained, stoic State Department amalgam of Erin Brockovich and Norma Rae, and Trump used his Twitter account to call her an international wrecking ball, single-handedly responsible for the mess that is Mogadishu. (One of her posts before Ukraine was Somalia.)

    Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019

This accomplished nothing in the way of silencing her but raised the prospect of witness intimidation being added to any articles of impeachment. Clearly, the Republican response to this impeachment inquiry isn’t some elegant strategy. It’s an epic snit.

Its leitmotif is hypocrisy. Nunes opened Friday’s hearing by lamenting all the important government business that was on hold because Democrats preferred to torture Trump. I somehow missed his pleas that lawmakers keep their eyes on the ball and devote themselves to practical problem-solving when the president stirred up one culture war after another just to change the topic of a given news cycle or hear a rally audience’s roar. But along comes the impeachment inquiry, and suddenly House Republicans are stymied stewards of levelheaded government.

They’re dismissing Wednesday’s and Friday’s hearings, held in public, as pure theater. But they complained about the closed-door testimony beforehand. They’re shrugging off the accounts of William Taylor, George Kent and others as hearsay. But the White House has decreed that such firsthand witnesses as Mick Mulvaney not cooperate.

One moment, Mulvaney publicly acknowledges the shakedown of Ukraine’s president, insists that it’s how foreign policy is done and tells the media to “get over it.” The next, he tells the media that they’re reprehensible fabulists for reporting exactly what he said. One moment, Republicans completely ignore Trump’s infamous July 25 phone call and claim that there’s no direct evidence of his bullying and — yes, Nancy Pelosi is right — his bribery. The next, they acknowledge the call, sigh over Trump’s behavior but say that it’s hardly impeachable.

In fairness, that’s only slightly more confusing to me than the Democrats’ perspective on the call, a definitive piece of evidence that they may be inadvertently downgrading. Usually, a process like the one that they’ve been engaged in over the last seven weeks is about finding a smoking gun. This process began with the smoking gun, and the farther the Democrats travel from it — eight witnesses this coming week? — the more they risk implying that it wasn’t enough.

But for curious behavior, Republicans have them easily beat, and their conduct during the impeachment inquiry is the culmination and apotheosis of their conduct since Trump wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination: an utter sellout of principle and a pure embrace of fiction to pacify an emotional infant and keep him from spitting up on them.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Republicans again suggested — while maintaining straight faces — that Trump’s foremost concern was corruption in Ukraine. Steve Castor, the Republicans’ chief counsel, also gave one of the president’s most convenient (and thus favorite) conspiracy theories a fresh whirl, positing that perhaps American intelligence officials had it all wrong and Ukraine, not Russia, hacked Democratic emails in 2016 and otherwise interfered in the election.

How would this make Trump’s demand that Ukrainians smear Joe Biden in return for millions of dollars of already-authorized aid O.K.? It wouldn’t — but what a juicy distraction! And what a perfect gateway for Castor’s attempt to get Taylor to testify that Trump legitimately believed that Ukrainians were, in Castor’s words, “out to get him.”

Try to follow along. Not only does incompetence equal innocence, but also paranoia is exculpatory. Same goes for the relative dastardliness of a deed, which becomes innocuous if it’s not maximally obnoxious. That’s my takeaway from when Castor, referring to Rudy Giuliani’s shenanigans, asked Taylor: “This irregular channel of diplomacy, it’s not as outlandish as it could be — is that correct?” Clarence Darrow, move over. Another genius of jurisprudence demands space in the history books.

All that Wednesday’s hearing lacked was Lindsey Graham. Yes, I know, he serves in the Senate, and the hearing took place in the House. But he’s the standard-bearer for Trump-coddling contortionism, the reigning king of the kinds of contradictions that were on display.

Presaging Jordan’s approach at the hearing, Graham a week and a half ago shrugged off the impeachment inquiry by calling Trump’s policy toward Ukraine so “incoherent” that the president and his minions “seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.”

He said at one point that he’d be open to any evidence that backed up such a quid pro quo, but then, more recently, he announced that he wouldn’t and couldn’t be bothered to follow the testimony, because he’d already made up his mind. As Billy Binion of Reason magazine noted, “Graham has bemoaned the Democrats’ lack of transparency, only to shield his eyes once the curtain was lifted.”

Maybe Graham will storm the hearing room yet, an effigy of Hunter Biden in tow. That would match the dignity of what we’ve seen from Republicans so far.

 on: Today at 04:57 AM 
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'Show no mercy': leaked documents reveal details of China's Xinjiang detentions

More than 400 pages leaked to New York Times by Chinese political insider document brutal crackdown on Muslim minority


Hundreds of pages of leaked internal government documents reveal how China’s mass detention of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang came from directives by Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, to “show absolutely no mercy” in the “struggle against terrorism, infiltration and separatism”.

More than 400 pages of documents obtained by the New York Times show the government was aware its campaign of mass internment would tear families apart and could provoke backlash if it became widely known.

Beijing has repeatedly refuted criticisms of its crackdown in the predominately Muslim region, which has seen more than 1 million Uighurs, Kazakhs and other minorities sent to camps where they are often subjected to political indoctrination. China has organised tours of the camps, which it describes as voluntary “vocational training centres” intended to provide “students” with job skills.

The documents, leaked by a member of the Chinese political establishment who hoped to prevent Xi and other leaders the ruling Chinese communist party from escaping responsibility, contradict those claims. That person requested anonymity, according to the New York Times.

According to the report, Xi first called for the crackdown in a series of private speeches given to officials during and after a visit to Xinjiang in 2014, weeks after Uighur militants had attacked a train station, stabbing and killing 31 people.

“We must be as harsh as them,” Xi said, adding, “and show absolutely no mercy.” In the speeches, Xi did not explicitly order the creation of a large network of camps, but called for the party to use the “organs of dictatorship” to deal with extremism.

Other documents showed that officials looked at the UK as a cautionary tale of a government placing “human rights above security.” Instead, Xi encouraged officials to follow aspects of the US “war on terror” following the September 11 attacks.

Among the most telling of the documents is a script for local officials in Turpan in southern Xinjiang to use when the children of parents being “punished” and sent to a camp returned home for school holidays. Many of Xinjiang’s top students attend university outside of the region, in universities in other Chinese provinces.

Officials were instructed to meet students as soon as they returned home and explain that their loved ones had been exposed to religious extremism and were receiving “concentrated education” to eradicate them of “violent terrorist thoughts.”

If asked why the relatives could not return home if they are only receiving training, officials were to employ the language of disease to justify the prolonged detention and isolation. “Freedom is only possible when this ‘virus’ in their thinking is eradicated and they are in good health,” the script said.

The documents also highlight the extent of resistance from local officials. In 2017, more than 12,000 investigations into party members for violations related to the “fight against separatism.”

According to internal documents, one Han Chinese official was jailed for trying to slow down the detentions and protect Uighur officials.

Another, named Wang Yongzhi in charge of Yarkand county, was made an example of after he defied orders and quietly released more than 7,000 detainees. “He refused,” an internal document said, “to round up everyone who should be rounded up.”

Beijing has not issued a response to the documents. While the New York Times is blocked in mainland China, the report appears to have been circulated. On the microblog Weibo, often heavily censored, some users posted in English: “He refused”.

One Weibo user wrote: “Time records everything. Those who need attention the most are often the ones who are not able to ask for it. The tide of history is surging. The truth will come out one day. That’s what I believe.”

 on: Today at 04:54 AM 
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Gotabaya Rajapaksa elected president of Sri Lanka

Victory for nationalist ex-army general raises fears over rights and religious harmony


Sri Lanka’s former wartime defence chief Gotabaya Rajapaksa, part of the country’s most powerful political dynasty, has been elected president, raising fears about the future of human rights and religious harmony in the region.

Rajapaksa, the candidate for the SLPP, the Sinhalese-Buddhist nationalist party, claimed an easy victory in the election on Saturday, which took place against a backdrop of some of the worst political instability and violence the country has seen since the end of the civil war a decade ago.

Before even half of the votes were in, the Rajapaksa camp were claiming victory. The candidate for the ruling UNP party, Sajith Premadasa, quickly accepted defeat and congratulated his rival. According to the election commission’s final count, Rajapaksa took 52.25% of the vote and Premadasa got 41.99%. Rajapaksa will be sworn into office on Monday.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to be the president, not only of those who voted for me but as the president of all Sri Lankans,” Rajapaksa said in a conciliatory tweet. “The trust you have invested in me is deeply moving and being your president will be the greatest honour of my life.”

The vote was divided down ethnic lines, with the majority Sinhala Buddhist community overwhelmingly backing Rajapaksa while minority Muslims and Tamils favoured Premadasa.

The election of Rajapaksa could be a decisive moment for Sri Lanka. Referred to as “the terminator” by his own family, Rajapaksa is known for his nationalistic and authoritarian leanings and is still facing allegations of corruption and torture.

“It is all our worst fears realised,” said Hilmy Ahmed, the vice-president of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council. “Sri Lanka is totally polarised by this result and we can see through the votes there is now a clear divide between the Sinhala Buddhist majority and the minorities. It is a huge challenge to see how the country could be united.”

The election took place seven months after the Easter Sunday attacks, in which self-radicalised Islamist extremists bombed hotels and churches, killing more than 250 people.

Rajapaksa, a former army colonel who served as secretary of defence when his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was president between 2005 and 2010, played on fears stoked by the attacks and put security at the forefront of his campaign agenda.

He and Mahinda Rajapaksa are credited with ending the 26-year Sri Lankan civil war, which took more than 100,000 lives, but their legacy is tarnished by grave human rights abuses and oppression.

As de facto head of the army during the end of the civil war between the majority Sinhala-Buddhist government and minority Tamil separatists, Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been accused of creating military death squads who hunted down Tamil fighters and any critics of the government.

He has already said he would repeal Sri Lanka’s commitment to a UN human rights agenda for reconciliation and accountability for atrocities committed in the civil war, describing it as illegal.

Basil Rajapaksa, another of the Rajapaksa brothers, who was the chief strategist of the election campaign, pledged that Gotabaya’s presidency would be a departure from the oppression under Mahinda and they would “respect media freedom and civic organisations”.

Under Mahinda Rajapaksa, all dissent was crushed and journalists and campaigners were routinely attacked. The police and the judiciary were also under the control of the Rajapaksa family.

Minorities in Sri Lanka were alarmed at the divisive Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist agenda that the Rajapaksa campaign was seen as promoting.

The Muslim community in particular, having faced violence and boycotts since the Easter Sunday attacks, had expressed concern about the prospect of Rajapaksa’s election. He had the backing of the nationalist Buddhist groups responsible for stoking anti-Muslim sentiment and violence in recent years.

The election had a turnout of more than 80%, one of the largest in Sri Lanka’s recent history. It was relatively peaceful, although there were incidents including a shooting attack on buses carrying Muslim voters in the north-east, which were stopped by a roadblock and fired upon. There were no casualties.

The campaign confirmed that it intended to put Mahinda forward for prime minister in the general election next year, paving the way for the family to take a double hold on power.

 on: Today at 04:52 AM 
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Velvet Revolution dissidents warn against new threats to Czech freedom

On the 30th anniversary of the uprising, Václav Havel’s allies say the revolution’s ideals are again at risk

Robert Tait in Prague
18 Nov 2019 08.23 GMT

Times have changed dramatically since Monsignor Václav Malý endured interrogations, beatings and the indignities of being barred from the priesthood while being forced to clean toilets as the price of campaigning against Czechoslovakia’s communist regime.

As a signatory and then spokesman for Charter 77, a civic initiative demanding respect for human rights that was led by, among others, the dissident playwright Václav Havel, the clergyman was on the frontline of opponents targeted by the hated secret police. Yet this weekend, exactly 30 years after the Velvet Revolution began, ushering in the overthrow of the totalitarian system, Malý – now Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop of Prague – is exhorting a new generation to fight new threats to their hard won freedom.

At a rally at the Czech capital’s Letná field, the same site where he moderated a huge demonstration in November 1989 hailed as a pivotal moment in overthrowing communism, Malý warned a crowd of more than 200,000 that the revolution’s achievements were endangered by politicians who wanted to divide society, limit freedom of speech, and concentrate political and media power in a few hands.

Saturday’s demonstration, organised by the Million Moments for Democracy student movement, was held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the revolution but also draw attention to what critics contend is a dangerous drift away from its ideals.

Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution, 1989 - in pictures: https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2019/nov/16/czechoslovakias-velvet-revolution-1989-in-pictures

It is the latest in a series of protests against the governing style of Andrej Babiš, the country’s billionaire tycoon prime minister, who has been accused of corruption and conflicts of interest, and the role of Miloš Zeman, the populist president who has promoted close ties with Russia and China. Speaking to the Observer in the Prague archdiocese headquarters, adjacent to the city’s magnificent castle, Malý said the pair failed to meet the standards of Havel, who became the first post-communist president of Czechoslovakia and later of the Czech Republic when it split from Slovakia in 1993.

“They change their positions and they are in the hands of PR advisers,” he said. “They give very simple promises that are very dangerous and they speak about enemies and divide society. It is the worst act of their governing.”

It was necessary to commemorate Havel’s ideals – crystallised in his famous quote “truth and love will prevail over lies and hatred” – which, Malý argued, are as relevant today as in communist times. Tributes to the events of 1989 – when Czechoslovakia shook off four decades of communist rule after similar allied regimes had fallen in Poland, Hungary and East Germany – have been ubiquitous in recent days. Slovakia’s president, Zuzana Čaputová, last week laid a wreath at a shrine in Prague’s Národní Třída, where demonstrators were attacked by riot police 30 years ago in an episode that triggered mass street protests heralding the regime’s downfall. Spectacular lighting displays, concerts and other events are planned for Sunday in the Czech capital and elsewhere.

Central to it is Havel, the softly-spoken former dissident who died in 2011 but remains an icon for many liberals.

Amid the adulation, however, another former Havel ally, Jan Urban, now a professor and political analyst at New York University in Prague, gave a more critical assessment, blaming him for indecisiveness, which bequeathed the Czech Republic unprincipled politicians and an unrepentant communist party that is still in parliament to this day, where it currently props up Babiš’s minority government.

“Václav was superb to the outside world. He put Czechoslovakia back on the map,” said Urban, co-founder of the post-communist Civic Forum movement.

“But domestically he was a disaster. And I say that knowing he was a dear friend. He was a dreamer. He should never have gone into presidential politics and he never learned the rules of parliamentary politics.

“Havel’s time stopped any chance of the fast delegitimisation of the communist party. These civil conflict situations always demand symbolic gestures because people want to believe that the new regime will do its utmost to give society a sense of justice. This was his biggest failing.

“I aways picture a simple comparison; the idea that members of [the Nazi party] would have sat in the West German Bundestag in 1975 is unthinkable. Why is a comparable situation normal here?”

Yet as vivid memories of life under communism resurfaced, Urban, 68, another Charter 77 signatory who was fired as a schoolteacher for refusing to sign official statements denouncing it, tempered his criticism of current developments. “I never expected to see the end of communism,” he said. “I just wanted to inflict as much damage as possible before they got me. So I cannot be disappointed.”

The desire to inflict damage – driven by anger over the loss of an unborn child after his wife miscarried following the trauma of a police interrogation – incurred huge personal strain.

After representing Charter 77 at a human rights conference in Moscow in December 1987, Urban returned to find himself under intense surveillance. Meetings with fellow dissidents had to be restricted to a few minutes or even seconds and convened on bridges, to foil secret police intervention.

In spring 1988, the StB, the communist security service, sent a coffin with his name on it to Urban’s flat in Prague’s Mala Strana district, today a favoured tourist haunt. Anonymous death threats arrived by letter and phone. Determined not to go to jail, he took to sleeping with running shoes beside his bed and a rope by his window to escape any dreaded pre-dawn knock on the door.

Another personal drama arrived in August 1989, when a courier arrived with a letter ordering him to report for military training early next day. Fearing a trick, Urban persuaded a friend to hide him in a hospital emergency ward, under the pretext of a feigned heart attack.

“Two secret police guys showed up and sat in the corridor, demanding that the doctor report everything to do with Mr Urban’s health,’ he said. “Incredibly, there was another Mr Urban slowly dying in the room next door. After five days, hospital staff helped me escape at 5am and I went into hiding for the next 10 days.”

By the eve of revolution, Urban – who was helping to run an underground news agency – was on his last warning. A judge had told him that his next misdemeanour would result in an indictment for subversion which could spell 12 years in jail.When the communist party leadership resigned, a week after protests began, it was “the most joyful few hours of my life”, Urban said.

But there was a catch: “I immediately realised we can do whatever we want – but we didn’t know what we wanted. We were totally unprepared.”

 on: Today at 04:49 AM 
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Curiosity just sent back some haunting photos of Mars

Mike Wehner

NASA’s trusty Curiosity rover has been chilling out on Mars for year over six years now. The bot regularly beams back images from the Red Planet, showcasing its towering peaks and vast valleys, and many of those photos feature the planet’s signature orange hue. Some of the latest images sent back by the rover aren’t nearly as colorful but are nonetheless stunning.

The latest mission update post by the Curiosity team features a shot of a geographical feature called Central Butte, located within the Gale Crater. Curiosity has called the crater home since its landing back in 2012, and the bot is slowly but surely scaling the area around the mountain called Mount Sharp.

The image is bleak, with the rocky terrain pushing upwards against a hazy sky. It’s a lonely image and a reminder of just how isolated Curiosity — and any robot that is sent to Mars — truly is.

It also provides a great look at the kind of terrain the rover has to tackle as it continues to travel across the Martian surface. Smooth rocks battered by dust and wind over millions of years are punctuated by smaller debris that could pose a threat to the rover’s already damaged wheels.

Despite the dangers, the rover continues to perform well. Geographical features like Central Butte provide scientists on Earth a clear look at the layering of the Mars landscape, revealing crucial details about how the planet’s surface has changed over time. As it slowly makes its way along, the rover’s science instruments return data on the chemical makeup of the rock and loose soil.

The Mars 2020 rover will be even better-equipped to tell scientists exactly what secrets the surface of Mars may be hiding, but Curiosity is far from finished. The rover’s nuclear power source can continue to provide power for well over a decade, and if the rover’s other systems remain functional we can expect it to continue exploring the planet for years to come.

 on: Today at 04:46 AM 
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Rabies breakthrough offers fresh hope in battle against deadly virus


New research raises hopes of oral vaccine for dogs, the chief source of transmission to humans
A dog is injected with a rabies vaccine in Honduras, 25 March 25 2003.

Researchers have discovered a way to stop rabies from shutting down critical responses in the immune system, a breakthrough that could pave the way for new tools to fight the deadly disease.

Rabies kills almost 60,000 people each year, mostly affecting poor and rural communities.

It is hoped that the discovery could lead to new and improved vaccines, including oral vaccines for dogs – which are responsible for the vast majority of transmissions to humans.

The study, published in Cell Reports and carried out by teams at Monash University and the University of Melbourne, provides crucial information about how the rabies virus targets the body.

The researchers believe they are the first to observe how a particular protein made by the rabies virus binds to a critical cellular protein known as Stat1, halting key parts of the immune response. The discovery has allowed scientists to make a modified, vulnerable version of the virus – which could be used to make a new, safe and effective live vaccine.

“You can very specifically change the rabies virus and change the sequences and structures of the proteins,” said Dr Greg Moseley, from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, a lead author of the study. “The modified virus can still reproduce, but is no longer able to stop strong antiviral immune mechanisms,” he added. “It is weakened and also should make a very strong immune response. Used in a vaccine, this would protect against infection by the deadly virus.”

Scientists plan to test these modifications in vaccine strains against rabies. If successful – and if regulatory hurdles are overcome – a modified vaccine could be administered orally to dogs through bait.

“If you can get high enough immunity in the dog population, rabies will die out. Safe and highly effective live oral vaccinations for dogs would make a great contribution to elimination,” said Moseley.

In up to 99% of cases, domestic dogs are responsible for transmitting the rabies virus to humans, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The disease is almost always fatal following the onset of clinical symptoms. Even if people manage to get medical treatment quickly, the cost of treating rabies exposure is often financially devastating for families.

Last year, the WHO announced a global strategy to eliminate dog-mediated rabies disease by 2030. Efforts by governments to tackle the disease have been hampered by a lack of funding and poor implementation.

Sarah Cleaveland, professor of comparative epidemiology at the University of Glasgow, said a new oral vaccine for dogs could provide a helpful additional tool in fighting rabies – especially in areas where injecting dogs is challenging.

But she added that the vast majority of dogs in Africa and Asia are owned and can be restrained for vaccination, and that there are high quality injectable vaccines available. “These are not being applied effectively, largely due to a lack of resources and support to government veterinary services in low-income countries to deliver mass dog vaccination campaigns,” she said.

“We should not let the promise of new vaccines distract us from the urgent need for scaling up mass dog vaccination now,” she added.

The discovery by researchers at Monash University and the University of Melbourne not only offers hope in the battle against rabies, but could help tackle other diseases – such as the Nipah virus, related to the measles virus – that target the immune response in a similar way. The same tools that were used to study rabies could be used to tackle Nipah, paving the way for antiviral drugs or vaccines.

 on: Today at 04:44 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Why Do Parrots Waste So Much Food?

The behavior is so consistent across species and in the wild that some scientists think it must be intentional.

By Cara Giaimo
Nov. 18, 2019

Polly wants a cracker. Polly gets chopped vegetables, because parrots need a diverse array of nutrients. Polly eats one bite and flings the rest onto the floor.

This is a common occurrence in the homes of parrot-lovers across the world. No matter what sort of delicious, nutritious meal is prepared, “half of it lands on the floor and stuck to the walls,” said Kat Gupta, the caretaker of a bronze-winged pionus named Leia and a frequenter of online parrot message boards, where others swap stories of re-tossed salads and overturned bowls.

Polly, Leia and their peers aren’t necessarily being picky. They’re just being parrots. According to a study last month in Scientific Reports, wild parrots across the world also waste food — an unusual and confusing habit in the animal kingdom, where making the most of a meal is generally an important part of survival.

The new study provides “a comprehensive picture of parrots’ food wasting behavior in their natural environment,” said Anastasia Krasheninnikova, a biologist at the Max Planck Comparative Cognition Research Group in Spain, an independent commenter.

Like parrot parents, researchers have long noticed their wild study subjects flinging around fruits, flowers and seeds that might have made perfectly good eating. Sometimes they’ll take a bite or two before discarding them. Other times, “they just cut it and let it fall,” said Esther Sebastián-González, a postdoctoral biology researcher at Universidad Miguel Hernández in Spain, and the lead author of the paper.

A group of ornithologists tracked this behavior in the wild over several years. They also watched for it in more controlled settings. The result was data covering 103 species in 17 countries, encompassing 30 percent of known parrot types.

Every single one wasted food, from the blue-and-yellow macaw of South America to the sulfur-crested cockatoo of Australia. In some instances, a single parrot was observed jettisoning 80 percent of food it picked.

“We knew that it was going to be widespread, but we were surprised it was that much,” Dr. Sebastián-González said. In some cases, “it looked like they were playing with the food instead of eating it.”

The data yielded patterns. Parrots are more likely to drop unripe fruits than ripe ones, and they’re more careful with food during breeding season, when they are raising hungry chicks.

But other factors didn’t matter so much: the size of the bird, the number of other birds around, whether or not there were parasites in the fruit.

Even birds that hadn’t eaten for a while greeted their next meal by junking parts of it. “They do it in any situation, which is very curious,” Dr. Sebastián-González said.

This profligacy might actually help other members of the birds’ ecosystems. The researchers observed 86 types of animals, from ants to cattle-like zebus, eating food that parrots had dropped. A number of these secondary munchers might have then dispersed seeds, a boon to the plants as well.

But this doesn’t explain the biggest question — what does it do for the parrots? In the past, observers have chalked the habit up to clumsiness. But that it happens with such regularity across species suggests that there could be “an intention in it,” Dr. Sebastián-González said.

Her best guess is that the parrots are planning ahead. “For human production, you cut fruits to make the crop better,” she said. “So maybe the birds are doing something like that. They are pruning the trees to get sweeter fruits, and bigger fruits later.”

Parrots are known to make forward-thinking decisions, so this wouldn’t be a total surprise, but it’s not clear yet how the behavior could have evolved, Dr. Kraheninnikova said.

The researchers are hoping to test their hypothesis with more studies. In the meantime, people like Dr. Gupta are left to shoulder their brooms, and to try new foods and new strategies, likely in vain.

“Based on our study, I don’t think you can do much,” Dr. Sebastián-González said.

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