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Jan 19, 2018, 07:08 AM
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 1 
 on: Today at 06:47 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Stormy Daniels: Trump asked to be spanked with a copy of Forbes Magazine — around the time he and his kids were on the cover

Newsweek
19 Jan 2018 at 20:35 ET     

Stormy Daniels, the porn star who allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump before he was president, said Trump once asked her to spank him with a copy of Forbes Magazine.

In emails obtained by Mother Jones from 2009, when Daniels was embarking on a political career, campaign strategists working for her at the time and looking for possible donor contacts in her cell phone chattered about the relationship between Daniels and Trump: Andrea Dubé, a Democratic political consultant wrote, "Donald Trump? In her cell phone?"

Another consultant, whom Mother Jones did not name, responded, "Yep. She says one time he made her sit with him for three hours watching ‘shark week.’ Another time he had her spank him with a Forbes magazine.”

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, reached international fame when the  Wall Street Journal reported that Trump's lawyer had allegedly paid $130,000 for her silence about the extramarital affair he had with her in 2006, a year after he married Melania Trump. The president denies the claims.

In the email exchange  Mother Jones reported, Daniels was in the midst of putting together a 2009 campaign to be the senator of Louisiana. She went on a "listening tour," met with consultants and began to brainstorm possible donors. She gave consultants a list of names of people she knew who could be potential donors, and that list included Donald Trump.

In another report recently published in  In Touch magazine, which interviewed Daniels years ago, she describes once again the president's affinity for "Shark Week," a week of shark-focused programming on the Discovery Channel. Daniels said Trump watched the program "obsessively." In that interview, Daniels claimed, “He told me once that I was someone to be reckoned with, beautiful and smart, just like his daughter.”

For the Journal piece, Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, submitted a statement from Daniels denying the claims. She said, “Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false...If indeed I did have a relationship with Donald Trump, trust me, you wouldn’t be reading about it in the news, you would be reading about it in my book.”

 2 
 on: Today at 06:35 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Here are the five biggest bombshells from the Fusion GPS founder’s House intel testimony

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
19 Jan 2018 at 17:54 ET                  

On Thursday, the House of Representatives released the declassified intelligence committee testimony of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson — and journalists immediately began perusing the 165 pages for clues.

The lengthy interview contained ample twists and turns, but below are five of the biggest revelations from Simpson’s testimony.

1. The Kremlin used the release of the “Trump-Russia” dossier to justify a massive purge.

    New: Glenn Simpson said the Kremlin used the release of the dossier as a justification for a purge – arrests and killings https://t.co/0U9f2a489B

    — Betsy Woodruff (@woodruffbets) January 18, 2018

As The Daily Beast’s Betsy Woodruff wrote, “The Kremlin used the publication of his firm’s dossier—which contains salacious and unsubstantiated allegations about Trump—as a pretext for a spate of arrests and killings,” and some of the people expelled from the intelligence institution may have been “American sources.”

2. Vladimir Putin was “very interested” in the Jewish diaspora.

    Weird snippet from the Glenn Simpson/Fusion GPS testimony before House Intel Committee: the Kremlin is apparently "very interested" in the Jewish diaspora. pic.twitter.com/ibcTAh9Dsi

    — Noor Al-Sibai (@nooralsibai) January 18, 2018

As Raw Story reported after the Simpson testimony was released, the research firm executive claimed the Russian government infiltrated the Orthodox Jewish and Christian churches for intelligence purposes.

3. A supposed “Russian gangster” ran a “high-stakes gambling ring” out of Trump Tower.

    SHOT: A Russian gangster ran a high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower, per Fusion GPS cofounder Glenn Simpson.

    CHASER: Trump was with that Russian gangster in the VIP section at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant (along with other "Kremlin biggies"). pic.twitter.com/zoa9OA60yk

    — Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) January 18, 2018

In one of the more difficult-to-corroborate aspects of his testimony, Simpson claimed that a Russian gangster known as “Taiwanchik” made Trump Tower his base of operations for a “high stakes gambling ring” — and that this knowledge led Fusion GPS to hire former British spy Christopher Steele to investigate.

4. Jared and Ivanka’s marriage was a business decision.

    The marriage of Ivanka and Jared was largely a business deal, Fusion GPS's Simpson suggests (page 86) https://t.co/hQZ0UbsNih pic.twitter.com/HyCx7xJNLR

    — David S. Joachim (@davidjoachim) January 18, 2018

Though he attempted to be “polite” about it, Simpson suggested that Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump’s marriage had a “business element” to it.

5. Fusion GPS was looking into Kushner’s use a controversial visa program that allowed foreign investors to “buy” their way into the U.S.

    Simpson, looking at a Kushner project, realized that the EB-5 VISA scam could be a way for foreign intel services to GET SPIES INTO AMERICA DISCREETLY. pic.twitter.com/RkbU2ubOIz

    — Eric Garland (@ericgarland) January 18, 2018

Simpson revealed that his research firm had been looking into Kushner’s use of the EB-5 visa program that critics say allows wealthy investors to get green cards in exchange for investments.

*************

Did Trump obstruct justice by silencing Bannon?

Newsweek
19 Jan 2018 at 07:18 ET  

President Donald Trump possibly obstructed justice or intimidated a witness if he did indeed tell Steve Bannon not to answer certain questions during his interview with the House Intelligence Committee, according to Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School professor who worked at the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama.

Foreign Policy reported Thursday that Trump “personally” decided to limit what Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, would tell House investigations on Tuesday. Trump based his decision on advice from Uttam Dhillon, a deputy White House counsel, said the report, which was based on two sources with knowledge of the matter. It was unclear how Trump conveyed the instruction to Bannon.

“Instructing Bannon to invoke a non-existent ‘executive privilege’ for pre-presidential communications—if that’s what Trump in fact did—would be legally improper at the very best, and could well constitute a form of witness tampering, and, in conjunction with Trump’s pattern of interference with the official probes into his campaign and the transition, an obstruction of justice,” Tribe told Newsweek by email.

Other legal experts were less certain. “Privilege may not apply because of what question Bannon is being asked to answer,” said Kathleen Clark, a professor at the Washington University School of Law, “but the mere assertion of privilege is not obstruction of justice.”

Another legal analyst, Eric Columbus, who worked at the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, said in a Twitter message that the reported scenario is not unprecedented, except for one aspect: “This is conceptually similar to how things have worked in past administrations, though very rare for POTUS himself to get involved at this point.”

Trump has previously faced allegations of obstruction of justice and witness intimidation. It’s unlikely that prosecutors would pursue Trump for obstructing justice in this way because there are better examples, according to Norm Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the former ethics czar under Obama.

“This would be a somewhat tenuous addition to what otherwise is shaping up to be a potentially strong case,” Eisen said. “A prosecutor wouldn’t want to open up himself to arguments about the president’s legitimate right to enforce a privilege. So it’s possible but unlikely that this will support the larger obstruction case.” The same goes for witness intimidation, he added.

Bannon met this week with the House committee as part of its probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and any links to political campaigns. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Tuesday that Bannon’s lawyer, William Burck, had informed the committee that Bannon wouldn’t answer questions about his time in the White House or during the presidential transition, forcing the committee to issue a subpoena.

“His counsel then conferred again with the White House and was instructed by the White House to ... refuse to answer any questions, even though he was under compulsory process, concerning the period of time during the transition and during the administration,” Schiff said.

“The scope of this assertion of privilege, if that’s what it is, is breathtaking. It goes well beyond we anything we have seen in this investigation," Schiff added. "This was effectively a gag order by the White House.”

On Thursday, Schiff referred to Bannon in a statement: “His counsel informed our committee that he was willing to answer these questions, but that he was being directed not to by White House counsel and the president.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at daily press briefings that such White House involvement in congressional testimonies is not unusual. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Trump will have less ability to limit what Bannon tells Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is also investigating Russia’s election meddling and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Mueller subpoenaed Bannon to testify before a grand jury, The New York Times reported Tuesday, but Bannon and Mueller's team have since reportedly worked out an arrangement for a less formal interview.

****************

Morning Joe panel destroys ‘twisted scoundrel’ Trump: ‘Putin has something on him — and it’s bad’

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
19 Jan 2018 at 07:12 ET                  

Panelists on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” were just as disgusted as anyone by salacious claims by a former porn actress about her sexual relationship with President Donald Trump — but they said it was more than tabloid trash.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen set up an LLC to pay $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels shortly before the election, possibly in violation of election law — but multiple news outlets passed on the story before the election.

“Funny, the National Enquirer is not covering this, probably because Donald Trump is friends with them,” said co-host Mika Brzezinski.

Co-host Willie Geist said it was a “serious and real story,” despite the subject, and host Joe Scarborough said it proved claims in the infamous dossier that Trump had been compromised by Russia president Vladimir Putin.

“Vladimir Putin has something that he is holding over Donald Trump’s head, and it is bad,” Scarborough said. “We started asking that question in December of 2015, two years ago, when Donald Trump was defending Vladimir Putin for assassinating journalists. Donald Trump was defending Vladimir Putin for assassinating political leaders in his own country. Donald Trump was defending Vladimir Putin for all the things he did.”

Republican strategist Susan Del Percio said conservative Christians had already compromised their own values to back Trump, after the scandals that had erupted before the election.

“How do you get past the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape?” Del Percio said. “It’s equally as bad, it’s his voice, saying what he did. This man is a scoundrel. His values are twisted.”

Scarborough said multiple Trump campaign associates and Cabinet members had lied about their contacts with Russians, and he said the president was hoping the barrage of scandal would eventually take its toll on Americans.

“So what is Donald Trump hoping? He is not hoping he can just brush aside a story of a porn star,” Scarborough said. “He’s hoping that when the truth comes out about what Vladimir Putin has and has had hanging over his head for decades, possibly, that we will all be too numb to notice. Ten tweets a day, five lies a day, bread and circuses, all of the game show, reality show distractions. Mika, that’s all he’s hoping. He wants to numb the American people, he wants to numb the electorate, he wants to numb everybody — his supporters, which already is numbing a lot of his supporters — to the dirty reality that is — not only his presidency, but his past.”

MSNBC contributor Donnie Deutsch said the scandal had barely been a blip, although it would have commanded wall-to-wall coverage if any other president had been accused of paying off a porn actress to cover up an extramarital affair.

“This would bring down any other president, it would be over,” Deutsch said. “Because this president has set the bar so below mud, that it almost becomes just another day at the office. We can’t let that happen. Let’s think about this again, think about that story. I don’t understand just from a selling newspapers point of view, just from a pure capitalism point of view.”

*************

The man-child in the White House reels wildly out of control

By Eugene Robinson Opinion writer
January 19 2018
Wa Post

The rude, petulant man-child in the Oval Office is reeling ever more wildly out of control, and those who cynically or slavishly pretend otherwise are doing a grave disservice to the nation — and to themselves.

How do you like him now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? President Trump convened a made-for-television summit at the White House and said he’d sign any immigration bill Congress passed. “I’ll take the heat,” he boasted. So a bipartisan group of senators came up with a deal — and he rejected it out of hand, launching into an unhinged rant about “shithole countries.”

What about you, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan? You came up with a clever way to get Democrats to agree to a stopgap funding bill, dangling the possibility of a long-term renewal of the vital Children’s Health Insurance Program. But the president tweeted that “CHIP should be part of a long term solution” and not a short-term measure to keep the government from shutting down.

Is this what you signed up for, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly? In a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, you said that some of Trump’s campaign positions on immigration were “uninformed” and that there will never be a wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. You reportedly added that whatever partial barrier gets built, Mexico won’t pay for it. But the president slapped you down with another series of tweets, claiming that his promised wall “has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it” — and that Mexico will, too, pay for the wall, “directly or indirectly.”

How was your week, White House physician Ronny Jackson? You did what is expected of everyone who stands at the lectern in the briefing room: lavish the president with flowery, over-the-top, Dear Leader praise. He is in “excellent health,” you announced. But the test results you released, according to many other doctors, indicate that Trump suffers from moderate heart disease and is on the borderline between overweight and obese.

Opinion writers Molly Roberts, Christine Emba, Alexandra Petri and Stephen Stromberg analyze President Trump's medical report with wit and wisdom. (The Washington Post)

Having fun, Stephen K. Bannon and Corey Lewandowski? As bigwigs in the Trump campaign, you helped a manifestly unfit blowhard get elected president. This week, you did the White House a favor by stonewalling the House Intelligence Committee in a way that angered even the Republicans on the panel, which is hard to do. But you remain in the crosshairs of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, and the best-case scenario is that you emerge unindicted but saddled with mountainous legal bills.

No one should feel sorry for those who choose to aid and abet this travesty of an administration. They made their choices. They elected to trust a man they know to be wholly untrustworthy, and to lie shamelessly to massage his swollen ego. At this point, I wouldn’t believe Sarah Huckabee Sanders if she told me that water is wet and the sky is blue.

But the larger impact is something we all must worry about: One year into the Trump presidency, we effectively do not have a presidency at all.

As McConnell noted in frustration Wednesday, he can’t orchestrate passage of an immigration bill unless he knows what Trump is willing to sign. Likewise, Ryan can’t pass spending legislation unless he knows what Trump will and will not accept. But the president has no fixed positions. His word is completely unreliable. How are congressional leaders supposed to do their jobs?

Regarding foreign policy, how can other nations take seriously anything Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says when he is subject to being countermanded on Twitter at any moment? What is the point of Jared Kushner’s diplomacy, if you can call it that, in the Middle East? Does “America first” really mean anything, or is it just Trumpian hot air?

And why, at this point, do reporters even bother to attend Sanders’s briefings, unless perhaps for the entertainment value? Past press secretaries all delivered pronouncements that were loaded with spin, but Sanders concocts laughable fantasies out of thin air — usually to “justify” crazy things Trump has said or tweeted.

The nation has never faced a situation like this: It is unwise to take literally or seriously anything the president and his official spokesmen say. An administration with no credibility cannot possibly lead.

Trump is incapable of growing into the job; if anything, he is becoming more erratic. I fear the day when a crisis arises and we must face it with a bratty preteen at the helm.

 3 
 on: Today at 06:30 AM 
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Merkel still in charge of her future amid impasse in Germany

New Europe
1/19/2018

BERLIN  — Angela Merkel has defied many forecasts of her looming political demise in 12 years as German chancellor. And nearly four months into post-war Germany's longest political impasse, she's likely to emerge on top again for the time being — whatever happens.

Opponents have argued that Merkel's time is nearing its end as they chew over her efforts to create a new government following September's election, in which support for her conservatives and their center-left coalition partners dropped.

Those partners, the Social Democrats, are agonizing about a decision Sunday on whether to negotiate another government with the former scientist. "The end of Angela Merkel's time in office has begun," Kevin Kuehnert, the head of the Social Democrats' youth wing and a prominent opponent of a coalition, said recently. "The Social Democrats would do well not to extend this time in office."

The pro-business Free Democrats, who pulled the plug on Merkel's first coalition-building attempt with them and another smaller party in November, have since sought to pin much of the blame on the chancellor.

"Germany won't be able to thrive in the future with Angela Merkel's recipes of the past 12 years," deputy leader Wolfgang Kubicki said. But opponents failed for years to find a way past Merkel and don't look close to doing so now, even if the 63-year-old is past her political peak. And there's no single obvious successor in her own party — potential rivals don't have the strength or, for now, the desire to mount an open challenge.

Merkel's popularity among voters and supporters of her own Christian Democratic Union remains remarkably solid for a leader in power so long. She built up that popularity in her early years as chancellor, sealing it with a calm response to the 2008 financial crisis and building on it by convincing many Germans that she was shielding them from the effects of the subsequent eurozone debt crisis.

"This feeling of security that she gave people is still there, in large part," said Manfred Guellner, the head of the Forsa polling agency. "That remains her strength, and is what many want in an uncertain global situation."

She still has popularity ratings that one-time mentor Helmut Kohl "could only dream of for 16 years" as chancellor, he added. Merkel has pulled her party to the center, helping squeeze support for the Social Democrats and others. She has developed a light-touch style of leadership that often allows her to appear above everyday politics, letting others argue over contentious issues before committing to a solution.

Critics have charged that she shows too little leadership. Her second-term government, a center-right coalition with the Free Democrats, was notorious for infighting that fueled periodic speculation it would collapse.

Guellner notes that German media speculation of an imminent end to Merkel's chancellorship dates as far back as 2010. Merkel emerged from that second-term government at the 2013 election with her party's best result in more than 20 years, while her coalition partners were punished.

Merkel's decision in 2015 to allow in large numbers of asylum-seekers caused major political friction and boosted the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, which last year became the third-largest in parliament after campaigning on a shrill anti-migration and anti-Merkel message.

But while a section of the electorate is now vehemently anti-Merkel, her Union bloc was still easily the biggest party in September's election, albeit with its weakest result in decades. That means that, whether or not the Social Democrats choose to continue the "grand coalition" of Germany's biggest parties that has governed since 2013, there still appears to be no way past Merkel for the foreseeable future. If there's no coalition, the options would be an unprecedented conservative minority government or a new election.

Merkel has made clear that she doesn't want a minority government — an arrangement that would require her to break with her consensual style and cobble together majorities on a case-by-case basis. Anti-coalition Social Democrats argue that it would be better for German politics if Merkel has to do so, and point to her past ideological flexibility.

"Mrs. Merkel has rejected all kinds of things, so I think this position could change under heavy pressure," left-wing lawmaker Hilde Mattheis said this week. If a minority government isn't installed, a decision that would be made by Germany's president, Merkel has indicated that she would run again in a new election. So far, polls suggest that there's been little change since September, and that her bloc would again emerge on top by a distance.

The conservative-leaning Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung questioned this week how long "the very German wish for stability, calm and reliability that brought Merkel high popularity ratings for 12 years" will hold at bay people's desire for new faces.

"When Merkel calls it quits, a new game will begin," it said in an editorial. It remains to be seen when that will be. "I don't think she will get into difficulty because there is no uprising in the Union," said Guellner, the pollster. "The only thing would be if she says, 'I've had enough and I'm packing up,' but there is no sign of that."

 4 
 on: Today at 06:25 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Frosty reception for South Korea's Winter Olympics detente with North

Young people and conservatives in South Korea accuse President Moon Jae-in of sacrificing Olympic ideals for diplomatic expediency

Justin McCurry and agencies
Guardian
Fri 19 Jan 2018 05.59 GMT

South Korea is facing a public backlash over its sports rapprochement with North Korea, with critics accusing the government of turning next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics into the “Pyongyang Olympics”.

After three high-level meetings along their border in little over a week, North and South Korea have proposed forming a joint women’s ice hockey team and allowing their athletes to march together under one flag at next month’s games in South Korea.

Despite the logistical challenges posed by North Korea’s eleventh-hour agreement to compete in Pyeongchang, the International Olympic Committee is expected to give the proposal a sympathetic hearing when it meets officials from both countries in Lausanne on Saturday.

But young people and conservatives in South Korea have accused the country’s president, Moon Jae-in, of sacrificing Olympic ideals for diplomatic expediency.

Moon’s approval rating fell to a four-month low of 67% on Friday, in a reflection of the public’s lukewarm response to his attempts to promote an Olympic détente he hopes will lead to a diplomatic breakthrough over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

Moon’s approval rating among people in their 20s and 30s – his core support – fell to 75% and 82% respectively, down six percentage points and seven percentage points from last week.

“North Korea was all about firing missiles last year, but suddenly they want to come to the South for the Olympics? Who gets to decide that?,” said Kim Joo-hee, a 24-year-old Seoul resident. “Does North Korea have so much privilege to do whatever they want?”

Conservative politicians voiced anger over a proposal to have the country’s athletes march with their North Korean counterparts under a unification flag rather than the South Korean flag.

“We are turning the Pyeongchang Olympics that we’ve got into the Pyongyang Olympics,” said Hong Joon-pyo, leader of South Korea’s main conservative opposition party, adding that Seoul was now “dancing to the tune” of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

Moon countered that North Korea’s participation at Pyeongchang “will serve as a chance to warm solidly frozen South-North ties.” He added: “If we march together or field a single team, I think that can be a further step in developing South-North relations.”

While the overall number of North Korean athletes has yet to be decided, the existing South Korean ice hockey squad of 22 players will have to be expanded, possibly to 35, to accommodate them – an arrangement criticised by their Canadian coach, Sarah Murray.

“Adding somebody so close to the Olympics is a little bit dangerous just for team chemistry because the girls have been together for so long,” Murray said.

Ice hockey officials in Switzerland, who face South Korea in their opening match, said the expected late addition of North Korean players was “not fair and distorts competition”.

South Korean government officials have also been forced to defend the planned use of North Korea’s Masikryong ski resort as a training base, after critics said it would generate publicity for one of Kim Jong-un’s pet projects.

 5 
 on: Today at 06:21 AM 
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Romania braced for huge protests amid 'big step backwards' on rule of law

Critics say changes to judicial system and proposed decriminalisation of some corruption offences mean separation of powers is ‘finished’

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels
Guardain
Fri 19 Jan 2018 05.00 GMT

Romania is taking the biggest step backwards on the rule of law since it joined the European Union, a former justice minister has warned before what could be the biggest street protests in a year this weekend in Bucharest.

Monica Macovei, who was an architect of Romania’s anti-corruption policy when she was justice minister from 2004-07, said changes introduced to bring the country into the EU were being dismantled.
xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg">

    There has been backwards and forwards, but this is worse
    ​Monica Macovei

She said recent changes to the judicial system and the proposed decriminalisation of some corruption offences constituted an unprecedented assault on the rule of law since Romania joined the EU in 2007. “There has been backwards and forwards, but this is worse.”

Macovei, now an MEP, was speaking to the Guardian at her offices in Brussels before Romania lost its second prime minister in seven months this week. Viorica Dăncilă has been named as prime minister designate, following the sudden departure of Mihai Tudose, who fell out with the leader of the ruling Social Democrat party.

Tudose’s unexpected resignation meant that the Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, was left kicking his heels while on an official visit to Romania this week. After a meeting with the prime minister was cancelled on Tuesday, Abe made a last-minute trip to an outdoor village museum of traditional peasant houses.

Hundreds of embarrassed Romanians apologised for the “careless” behaviour of their government on the Japanese embassy’s Facebook page. “On behalf of the Romanian people, please accept our sincere apologies,” wrote one Facebook user, in a typical post. “Unfortunately, our current government does not represent the people. They are only representing themselves, and in the poorest way.”

Dăncilă, currently an MEP with a low profile in domestic politics, could be leading a new government by 1 February, but commentators say it is unclear if she will be an independent actor, or a proxy for PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea.

Dragnea is barred from the premiership because of a conviction for ballot-rigging that led to a two-year suspended prison sentence. He also faces charges of abuse of office, but the case against him would be dropped if current legislative proposals are passed.

Under a draft bill, abuse of office would no longer be a criminal offence if the sums involved were less than €200,000 (£176,000). The final text has not been adopted by the senate, following its adoption in the lower house earlier this month.

Other changes being debated include decriminalising the offence of taking a bribe on behalf of someone else, as well as lower sentences for the bribe taker. Prosecutors would face restrictions on using wiretaps, CCTV footage or digital evidence as part of changes to the criminal code that have been sharply criticised by Romania’s anti-corruption prosecution unit, the DNA. “These changes could have a devastating impact on criminal investigations because they eliminate the indispensable legal instruments needed to investigate,” the DNA said in a statement last month.

In December, the Romanian senate agreed changes to the judicial system, despite protests by thousands of judges and magistrates, who say the laws erode the independence of the judiciary.

Macovei said these changes – unless overturned by the country’s supreme court – meant that the separation of powers was “finished”, while the proposed overhaul of the criminal code would allow MPs to get rid of all corruption investigations.

Between 2006 and 2017 anti-corruption investigations led to the jailing of the former prime minister Adrian Năstase, as well as the indictment of 20 current and former ministers, 53 deputies and 19 senators. The latest changes are “a perverse effect of a successful fight against corruption, against money-laundering and fraud”, she said.

On Saturday protests against the changes to the judiciary are expected in Bucharest, almost one year after the largest demonstrations since the fall of communism.

Radu Magdin, an independent analyst at the Smartlink consultancy, said attendance at the 20 January protests was hard to predict but said the changes on abuse of office and judicial reforms were likely to pass, irrespective of the numbers of protesters.

On Thursday, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption watchdog, known as Greco, issued an indictment of Romania’s anti-corruption drive, when it concluded that the country had complied with only two out of 13 of its recommendations on tackling corruption in public life.

Last month Greco launched an “urgent evaluation” of Romania’s draft law on the judiciary

following a warning from seven EU member states. Recently passed laws on justice reform, as well as the latest draft amendments to the criminal codes, “risk jeopardising” progress Romania has made over the last decade, said a statement from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Denmark and Finland.

Romania, along with Bulgaria, which also joined in 2007, is subject to special EU monitoring on the judiciary and rule of law.

The European commission, which oversees the monitoring, would like to bring the process to an end, but has faced criticism for being too soft on governments in Romania and Bulgaria.

Macovei voiced frustration that Brussels had declined to take a tougher approach with the Romanian government.

“The practice of the commission is we wait and see if it happens and then after it happens make pressure for change. And in my view this is a losing policy, for us, for my country [Romania] and for other countries. Because after it happens it is much more difficult to change.”

 6 
 on: Today at 06:17 AM 
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Greyhound track closure in Macau raises fears for dogs' lives

Animals rights campaigner says about 650 animals remain in infamous Canidrome – the majority exported from Australia

Christopher Knaus
19 Jan 2018 05.39 GMT
Guardian

The looming closure of the infamous Macau greyhound racing track has raised fears for the lives of hundreds of exported Australian dogs.

A group of animal rights campaigners are lobbying Macau’s government to rescue greyhounds from the controversial Macau Canidrome, or Yat Yuen, before its slated closure in July.

The track is notorious for its cruel conditions and high death rates. Rescue groups say dogs are kept in poor conditions in a concrete compound, often in scorching temperatures while suffering skin conditions and untreated injuries.

The Macau-based animal welfare group Anima said Australia had traditionally been the chief supplier of greyhounds to the Canidrome.

Retired and unwanted Australian greyhounds were, until recently, regularly exported to Macau for profit.

The president of Anima, Albano Martins, said his best estimate was that about 650 greyhounds remained in the Canidrome, the majority of which were from Australia.

“In the 54 years of this Canidrome … around 360 greyhounds per year were bought mainly in NSW and only eight were placed for adoptions in all these 54 years – after 2012, when we began to fight them,” Martins told Guardian Australia.

Anima has joined other animal rights groups to fight to save the remaining dogs before the Canidrome closes. They fear the dogs will be killed or sent to underground tracks in mainland China, where greyhound racing is illegal.

The groups have gathered 50,000 signatures on a petition to the Macau government, asking it to help secure the dogs and place them in Anima’s care.

“The Canidrome of Macau is sadly known in the whole world as a place of death, where no greyhound gets out alive,” the petition reads. “Even now, when the Canidrome is due to close by 2018, the dogs are still continuing to live in shameful conditions and to die without hope.

“How many of them will be alive when it closes? What will happen to the survivors? These are worrying questions, and the answers that are given will undoubtedly have an effect on how Macau is perceived and consequently on its touristic development.”

Greyhounds Australasia banned exports to Macau in 2013 owing to high death rates and poor conditions. But the ban does not stop people gaining the approval of the federal department of agriculture to export the animals abroad.

Late last year three Australians were found to have shipped 96 dogs to the Canidrome track with the approval of the federal department, despite the ban.

The majority of the greyhounds were bought in New South Wales for $500 and sold for between $2,100 and $2,700. The trio estimated they made a profit of $300 a dog, after the costs of quarantine, vaccination, flights and boxes.

A study by the US-based animal protection group Grey2K estimated that 383 dogs had been put down in Macau in 2010.

 7 
 on: Today at 06:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Plan to remove hen harrier chicks and raise them in captivity dismissed as 'nonsense'

Conservationists say government scheme, aimed at placating grouse moor land owners who object to the birds breeding on their land, will not boost numbers of the endangered birds

Patrick Barkham
Guardian
19 Jan 2018 12.35 GMT

Controversial government plans to remove chicks from the nests of one of England’s rarest birds and rear them in captivity have been criticised as “nonsense” by conservationists.

Hen harrier chicks or eggs will be removed from nests in northern England and hand-reared in captivity before being reintroduced into the wild, under the terms of a two-year licence issued by Natural England, the government’s conservation watchdog.

The “brood management” scheme is designed to boost hen harrier numbers but also placate grouse moor owners who object to the number of red grouse killed by breeding hen harriers. Supporters hope it will halt the illegal persecution of hen harriers by giving landowners comfort that breeding populations of hen harriers will not be permitted to expand on their moors.

But the RSPB said hen harriers were on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England because of illegal persecution, and called on the environment secretary, Michael Gove, to rescind the “ridiculous” licence.

An RSPB spokesperson said: “The idea that brood management is about helping hen harriers is nonsense. It is about facilitating unsustainable intensive land management which is destroying our uplands. To be clear, the RSPB is implacably opposed to this and as a landowner ourselves, we will never allow it on our land.”

Just three hen harrier nests produced chicks in 2017 in England, despite ecologists calculating that moorland habitat would naturally support at least 300 pairs.

Brood management is part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ hen harrier recovery plan, which aims to reduce hen harrier predation of grouse chicks on driven grouse moors, leading to an improvement in hen harrier numbers.

Andrew Sells, chairman of Natural England said: “It is a complicated and emotive picture and we have considered this application very carefully. Licensing this trial will allow important evidence to be gathered which, I sincerely hope, will lead to a self-sustaining and well-dispersed breeding population of these beautiful birds across England.”

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said she was delighted by the “ground-breaking research licence”.

“Moorland managed for red grouse contributes significantly to remote rural communities, businesses and treasured landscapes. This new wildlife management licence will give land mangers confidence that impacts of hen harriers breeding on their land can be minimised, creating a win-win scenario.”

The wildlife campaigner Mark Avery also condemned the plan, saying: “Defra are soft on wildlife crime and soft on the causes of wildlife crime. They are completely in bed with the grouse shooting industry and Natural England’s job is to plump up the pillows, smooth the sheets and supply hot water bottles.”

 8 
 on: Today at 06:13 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Tasmania launches roadkill campaign to reduce 500,000 native animal deaths

Drivers urged to stop throwing food out of windows, which attracts wildlife to the roadside

Calla Wahlquist
Guardian
19 Jan 2018 03.25 GMT

The motorists lobby in Tasmania has launched a joint campaign to reduce roadkill, saying that 500,000 native animals are killed on the state’s roads each year.

That equates to about one dead native animal per head of Tasmania’s population, giving the state one of the highest roadkill rates in the world.

In a joint campaign launch on Thursday with wildlife sanctuaries and the Wilderness Society of Tasmania, the Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania chief executive, Harvey Lennon, said changes in driver behaviour, such as not throwing food out the window, which would attract animals to the roadside, could reduce the number of animals lost to roadkill.

Lennon said recorded crashes between cars and wildlife showed an increase in crashes during winter months, coinciding with earlier nightfall, and that crashes with wildlife were also a significant cause of serious motor vehicle accidents.

The Wilderness Society Tasmania campaigner Vica Bayley said vehicles had a particularly devastating impact on Tasmanian devils because the carrion eaters were often hit when feeding on earlier roadkill.

In 2015, four devils that had been vaccinated against the deadly facial tumour disease, at the cost of $25,000 a head, were killed by cars within weeks of being released to the wild.

Bayley said even when the animals killed were not threatened species, the level of roadkill in Tasmania was an animal welfare issue.

“It’s about preventing all forms of wildlife, whether it is a threatened species or not, from what is at the end of the day an untimely death at the hands of a driver,” he said.
Tasmania conservation deal a legacy from the stubborn cattleman of King's Run
Read more

Greg Irons, the director of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, which runs a statewide wildlife rescue service, said the service received 30,000 calls to transport injured wildlife since its establishment in 2010, and 30% of those animals had been injured by a car.

Irons said the animals they most commonly saw were brush-tailed possums, pademelons and wallabies.

 9 
 on: Today at 06:07 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Amid #MeToo, former Soviet gymnast Tatiana Gutsu accuses fellow Olympic gold medalist of rape

By Bryan Flaherty
WA Post
1/19/2018

Former Soviet gymnast Tatiana Gutsu, the all-around champion at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, added her voice Tuesday to a growing number of women sharing their stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment with a public post on Facebook accusing a former teammate and fellow gold medalist of raping her when she was 15 years old.

The accusations come amid a global outpouring of similar stories from women who have experienced sexual harassment or assault following a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano. The #MeToo campaign has since become a global phenomenon — sparked by revelations about film producer Harvey Weinstein — that has generated more than 12 million Facebook posts and a half-million tweets using the hashtag.

In the post, Gutsu, now 41, says the sexual assault took place while competing at a team event in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1991, and she alleges male gymnast Vitaly Sherbo, who would have been 19 at the time, as her attacker:

    This is me being brave after 27 years. …

    Who rape me in Stuttgart Germany DTB 1991.

    Vitaliy Sherbo.

    Monster who kept me in my own prison to be afraid for so many years.

    [#MeToo: Harvey Weinstein case moves thousands to tell their own stories of abuse, break silence]

    This is me being brave after 27 years.Tatyana Toropova who I thought was my friend and a team mate in the National…

    Posted by Tatiana Gutsu on Monday, October 16, 2017

Gutsu and Scherbo competed for the Unified Team at the 1992 Games but were products of the Soviet Union’s Olympic machine that drew athletes from what have become more than a dozen individual countries and produced more than a thousand Olympic medalists between 1952 and its collapse in 1991. Both Gutsu and Scherbo were all-around champions in 1992, and the Unified Team’s men’s and women’s squads took home golds in Barcelona, as well. Scherbo won six total gold medals in Barcelona — adding titles in pommel horse, rings, vault and parallel bars to his team and all-around crowns. Four years later, he won four bronzes while competing for his home country of Belarus.

Gutsu, who retired abruptly from gymnastics following the 1992 Games and later moved to the United States, also calls out Rustam Sharipov, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist, and Tatyana Toropova in the Facebook post for knowing about the assault and not supporting her. “Rustam Sharipov thank you for being a great body for your friend and not protecting me as a little girl at 15” Gutsu wrote. Sharipov, a Ukrainian like Gutsu, also competed for the Unified Team in 1992 and is now the head coach of the Ohio State men’s gymnastics team.

Scherbo currently owns a gymnastics school in Las Vegas. The school’s website states that the school, named for its founder, has been open since 1998 and says “Recreational and competitive team classes for both boys and girls are offered as well as preschooler and toddler classes. Your child will learn in a positive atmosphere with a highly qualified U.S.A.G. staff hand selected by one of the most accomplished and decorated gymnasts in men’s gymnastics history.”

U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman, who has spoken out against sexism on Twitter in the past, tweeted her support of Gutsu.

    I support you Tatiana, I am so sorry. I am devastated. Vitaly you disgust me. Those who looked the other way are just as guilty. https://t.co/goaqk3AwgV

    — Alexandra Raisman (@Aly_Raisman) October 17, 2017

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNxL_tCAY58

 10 
 on: Today at 05:51 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Abuse survivor confronts gymnastics doctor: ‘I have been coming for you for a long time’

By Kyle Swenson
January 19 2018
WA Post

Two school pictures floated side-by-side on a projection screen in the Michigan courtroom.

Both images caught the same small girl  — in one, all gawky smile and bangs; the next, braces and long hair — a few years apart. Until this week, the child in the snapshots had been officially identified only as “Victim Z.A.” or “a family friend.”

But on Tuesday, Kyle Stephens, now a young woman, stepped out from the curtain of anonymity to directly address disgraced USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar before a judge in Lansing.

“I was the first to testify in this case, and worried of the attention that could come of that, I asked for complete anonymity,” Stephens explained, the pictures of her projected over her shoulder stemming from the time of her abuse. “I’m addressing you publicly today as a final step and statement to myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Stephens was the first of the nearly 100 survivors expected to testify at a four-day sentencing hearing for Nassar this week in state court. In November, the 54-year-old pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree sexual conduct with minors. Nearly 140 other survivors have accused the former Michigan State University faculty member of assault, including Olympic superstars Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas.

In a separate federal case in December, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography charges.

“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever,” Stephens told Nassar, according to news video. “They grow into strong women that return to destroy your world.”

But unlike other identified victims, Stephens’s abuse did not involve elite athletics. A close friend of her family, Nassar began assaulting Stephens when she was in kindergarten. When she told her parents about the abuse, they believed Nassar.

In a case dominated by celebrity victims and open questions about USA Gymnastics’s response to the scandal, Stephens’s powerful leadoff testimony this week underscored the human toll of Nassar’s runaway abuse  — which, for Stephens, included broken family ties and possibly her father’s suicide.

“I have been coming for you for a long time,” she told Nassar, who hid his eyes beneath his hand through the testimony. “I’ve told counselors your name in hopes they would report you. I’ve told your name to Child Protective Services twice. I gave a testament to get your medical license revoked. You were first arrested on my charges. And now as the only nonmedical victim to come forward, I testify to let the world know you are a repulsive liar.”

Stephens told the court her mother and father became close to Nassar and his wife, Stephanie, when Stephens was 5. “They were all medical professionals and shared a passion for the subject,” she said. “Most Sundays, Stephanie and my mother would cook dinner for both families. We shared sporting events, holidays, and many weekends in between.”

At the time, she was a typical child, Stephens explained. Her favorite television show was “Clifford the Big Red Dog;” her favorite book was “Junie B. Jones”; she had not yet lost all her baby teeth.

All this shattered, Stephens said, when Nassar first exposed his genitals to her in the dark boiler room of his house’s basement when she was only 6. “He told me, ‘If you ever want to see it, all you have to do is ask.’”

Stephens described an escalating pattern of abuse: Nassar started masturbating in front of the child; he rubbed his exposed genitalia on her bare feet; he penetrated her vagina with his fingers. “All of which took place with my parents, my sibling, his wife and his children in the same house,” she said.

When she was 12 years old, thanks to news accounts of the Catholic Church priest abuse and a friend’s own story about molestation, Stephens realized what was happening. She told her parents about what Nassar had been doing to her. Her parents confronted their friend.

“Due to complex details that I won’t get into here, my parents choose to believe Larry Nassar over me,” she said. Convinced their daughter had made a false allegation against a friend, Stephens’s parents brought Nassar over to their home to speak to her. Nassar told her, “No one should ever do that, and if they do, you should tell someone,” Stephens told the court.

The fallout from her confrontation with Nassar and her parents was its own tormenting ordeal. The father-daughter connection frayed. “His belief that I lied seeped into the foundation of our relationship,” she said. “Every time we got into a fight, he would tell me, ‘You need to apologize to Larry.’”

Then a year after her accusation, the two families began interacting again. The Nassars continuously asked Stephens to babysit for their own three children. As she explained to the court, when she was at the Nassars, she wasn’t the lying daughter, but accepted. “I began to feel brainwashed,” she said. “It was as if I had never accused him. I felt I was losing my grip on reality. I started to question whether the abuse ever happened.”

For her own sanity, Stephens forced herself to replay her molestation step by step in detail “so I didn’t forget that I was not a liar.” Suicidal and traumatized, she also sought out mental health treatment, but she could not turn to her parents for help; rather she was forced to “search for grants, participate in post-traumatic studies, ask for sliding scales, and babysit for the Nassars to pay for my own counseling.”

Before leaving for college at 18, Stephens confronted her father again about Nassar. “I told him I wasn’t lying,” she told the court. This time, he believed her.

“My father and I did out best to patch up our tattered relationship before he committed suicide in 2016,” Stephens said, her voice bobbing on a swell of tears. “Admittedly, my father was experiencing debilitating health issues, but had he not had to bear the shame and self-loathing that stemmed from his defense of Larry Nassar, I believe he would have had a fighting chance for life.”

In closing her remarks, Stephens asked the judge to sentence Nassar to a minimum of 40 and a maximum of 125 years in prison.

Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/0bbffd00-fb6b-11e7-9b5d-bbf0da31214d' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

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Olympian Simone Biles says she was abused by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar

By Will Hobson and Bryan Flaherty
January 19 2018
WA Post

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles has accused her former USA team physician, Larry Nassar, of sexually abusing her. (Reuters)

Simone Biles, one of the most decorated gymnasts in Olympic history, publicly alleged Monday that she was also sexually assaulted by former USA Gymnastics team physician Larry Nassar.

“Most of you know me as a happy, giggly, and energetic girl. But lately … I’ve felt a bit broken,” the 20-year-old wrote in a statement she posted on Twitter. “I am not afraid to tell my story anymore.”

Biles’s statement implied her abuse was similar to allegations made in lawsuits and public statements by more than 140 women, who have accused Nassar, under the guise of medical treatment, of probing and fondling without gloves, warning or permission. Before Nassar pleaded guilty to a series of sex crimes late last year, both he and his attorneys denied the allegations and maintained he was providing legitimate pain therapy.

“It is not normal to receive any type of treatment from a trusted team physician and refer to it horrifyingly as the ‘special’ treatment. This behavior is completely unacceptable, disgusting, and abusive, especially coming from someone whom I was TOLD to trust,” Biles wrote.

    Feelings… #MeToo pic.twitter.com/ICiu0FCa0n

    — Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) January 15, 2018

Biles, who won four gold medals and a bronze at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, is the third member of that team, dubbed “The Final Five,” to accuse Nassar of abuse, along with Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. McKayla Maroney, a gold medal-winning member of the 2012 Team USA women, and Jamie Dantzscher, a bronze medalist who competed at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, have also alleged abuse by Nassar.

Biles’s announcement came the day before the beginning of Nassar’s sentencing hearing in Lansing, Mich., in which dozens of women are expected to read victim impact statements over the course of four days before a judge hands down a sentence for seven sexual assaults Nassar has admitted to as part of a plea deal. Nassar, 54, already faces a 60-year sentence for federal child pornography crimes and has one more sentencing hearing scheduled for later this month, for three more sexual assaults committed in another county in Michigan.

Raisman tweeted earlier Monday that she will not be attending Nassar’s sentencing “because it is too traumatic” but added that a letter will be read in court on her behalf. “I support the brave survivors,” she wrote. “We are all in this together.”

Nassar, a physician with a specialty in sports medicine, particularly gymnastics, worked full-time at Michigan State’s school of osteopathic medicine and treated young athletes at a campus clinic. He also volunteered for USA Gymnastics and treated Team USA women’s gymnasts at the Karolyi family ranch outside Houston and at competitions around the globe.

Biles is one of the few elite gymnasts to come forward with allegations of abuse by Nassar who intends to continue competing, setting up a potentially uneasy relationship between one of America’s most well-known, and beloved, Olympic gymnasts and USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for the sport.

Last March, Steve Penny resigned as chief executive of USA Gymnastics as he drew criticism for acknowledging he waited five weeks in 2015 to inform law enforcement after a gymnast complained about Nassar, and that, after deciding to end USA Gymnastics’ relationship with Nassar a few weeks later, Penny did not inform Michigan State, where Nassar continued to work until September 2016, when another woman came forward alleging abuse.

Penny and USA Gymnastics have defended their decision not to inform Michigan State by claiming that was under direction of FBI agents investigating Nassar. The FBI — which has taken its own criticism for the slow pace of the Nassar investigation — has declined to confirm this contention. USA Gymnastics and Michigan State — whose employees have been accused in lawsuits of ignoring complaints against Nassar as far back as 1997 — are both facing dozens of lawsuits filed by alleged Nassar victims.

Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/00c323c6-fac3-11e7-9b5d-bbf0da31214d' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

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U.S. Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman says she also was sexually abused by team doctor

By Matt Bonesteel
WA Post
1/19/2018

Six-time Olympic medalist Aly Raisman has joined the list of U.S. gymnasts who say they were sexually abused by Larry Nassar, the team’s longtime doctor. Raisman describes the abuse during an interview on “60 Minutes” that will air Sunday and also talks about it in her new book, “Fierce,” which comes out next week.

“I am angry. I’m really upset,” Raisman told “60 Minutes,” per USA Today. “I see these young girls that come up to me, and they ask for pictures or autographs, whatever it is. … I just want to create change so that they never, ever have to go through this.”

Raisman would not divulge exactly what Nassar did to her, but she did say that Nassar began treating her at the age of 15. She also said that she spoke to FBI investigators about him after last year’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Raisman is the second member of the Fierce Five squad that won the team gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics to say she was sexually abused by Nassar. Last month, McKayla Maroney detailed how Nassar began molesting her at the age of 13 at a U.S. national team training camp in Texas and continued the abuse until she left the sport. Maroney also said Nassar abused her at the London Games.

Maroney’s allegations echo those made by other gymnasts who say they were abused by Nassar: that he molested her in the guise of medical “treatment” for hip and back pain.

Nassar, USA Gymnastics’ team physician for nearly 20 years, pleaded guilty to federal child-pornography charges in June and has been accused by more than 100 women and girls of sexual assault during his time as USA gymnastics’ team doctor. He is scheduled to be sentenced on federal child-pornography charges on Nov. 27 in Michigan. Prosecutors have recommended that he be given a prison sentence of between 22 and 27 years. Nassar still faces 22 state charges in Michigan over allegations that he sexually assaulted children, and convictions in those cases could result in a life sentence. His actions also are the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed by his alleged victims against both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, where Nassar worked for a number of years.

In August, Raisman criticized the way USA Gymnastics handled sexual assault complaints against Nassar and others involved with the organization.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re the Olympic champion or you’re an 8-year-old that goes to gymnastics in Ohio, or wherever you are in the United States,” she told USA Today and the AP. “Every single kid is important, and I want USA Gymnastics to do a better job with that.”

In a statement sent to The Post, USA Gymnastics said, “We are appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused, and we are very sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career.

“Aly’s passion and concern for athlete safety is shared by USA Gymnastics. Our athletes are our priority, and we are committed to promoting an environment of empowerment that encourages speaking up, especially on difficult topics like abuse, as well the protection of athletes at all levels throughout our gymnastics community.”

Last year, an Indianapolis Star investigation found that at least 368 gymnasts have alleged some form of sexual assault at the hands of their coaches or other adults involved with the sport. A previous Star investigation found that USA Gymnastics routinely failed to tell police about many of the allegations that occurred under the organization’s auspices and allowed predatory coaches to move from gym to gym. As a result, USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny resigned in March and the organization brought in former federal prosecutor Deborah Daniels to review its practices. Daniels found that the organization needed a “complete culture change” and made 70 recommendations as to how that should happen. USA Gymnastics says it has adopted all 70.

***************

McKayla Maroney says USA Gymnastics team doctor began molesting her at the age of 13

By Matt Bonesteel
WA Post
1/19/2018

Inspired to speak out by the burgeoning #MeToo movement, 2012  Olympic gold medalist McKayla Maroney announced early Wednesday on Twitter that she had been molested by Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to federal child-pornography charges in June and has been accused by more than 100 women and girls of sexual assault during his time as USA gymnastics’ team doctor.

Maroney, 21, alleges that Nassar began molesting her at the age of 13 at a U.S. national team training camp in Texas and continued the abuse until she left the sport. Maroney won a team gold medal as part of the Fierce Five as well as a silver in the vault at the 2012 Games in London where, she says, Nassar also abused her. She last competed at the 2013 world championships and announced her retirement in 2016.

Maroney’s allegations echo those made by other gymnasts who say they were abused by Nassar: that he molested her in the guise of medical “treatment” for hip and back pain.

    #MeToo pic.twitter.com/lYXaDTuOsS

    — mckayla (@McKaylaMaroney) October 18, 2017

Nassar is scheduled to be sentenced on the federal child-pornography charges on Nov. 27 in Michigan. Prosecutors have recommended that he be given a prison sentence of between 22 and 27 years. Nassar still faces 22 state charges in Michigan over allegations that he sexually assaulted children, and convictions in those cases could result in a life sentence. His actions also are the subject of a class-action lawsuit filed by his alleged victims against both USA Gymnastics and Michigan State, where Nassar worked for a number of years. It’s unclear whether Maroney is a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

**************

Olympian Gabby Douglas says she, too, was sexually abused by gymnastics team doctor

By Travis M. Andrews
WA Post
1/19/2018

Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas on Tuesday added her name to the list of athletes who allege they were sexually abused by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.

The 21-year-old gymnast posted the accusation in a lengthy message on Instagram. Jeff Raymond, a spokesman for Douglas, told The Washington Post in an email, “Gabby is confirming that she too was a victim of Larry Nassar.”

“I didn’t publicly share my experiences as well as many other things because for years we were conditioned to stay silent and honestly some things were extremely painful,” Douglas wrote.

Nassar, 54, previously worked at Michigan State University and as the national team doctor for USA Gymnastics for nearly 20 years before being fired in 2015. On Wednesday morning in Michigan’s Ingham County, he pleaded guilty to seven sexual assaults in and will face at least 25 years in prison.

In addition, Nassar faces similar charges in Michigan’s Eaton County and lawsuits filed by more than 125 women and girls, according to the Associated Press.

“For all those involved, I’m so horribly sorry that this was like a match that turned into a forest fire out of control,” Nassar said in court. He had previously denied the charges.

Douglas is among several Olympic gymnasts, including McKayla Maroney and Aly Raisman, who recently publicly accused Nassar of abusing them. The three athletes were on the 2012 team together, and Douglas and Raisman were also on the 2016 team. Both teams won gold medals.

Raisman criticized USA Gymnastics’s handling of allegations during an interview that aired on “60 Minutes.”

“What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?” Raisman said on the program.

USA Gymnastics has said that it’s “appalled by the conduct of which Larry Nassar is accused” and is “very sorry that any athlete has been harmed …”

Douglas’s allegation comes just days after she faced public backlash for appearing critical of the other accusers, particularly Raisman.

The controversy began last week when Raisman posted a Twitter message that said: “Just because a woman does a sexy photoshoot or wears a sexy outfit does not give a man the right to shame her or not believe her when she comes forward with sexual abuse . . . AND when a women dresses sexy it does not give a man the right to sexually abuse her EVER.”

Douglas retweeted that note, adding, “however it is our responsibility as women to dress modestly and be classy. dressing in a provocative/sexual way entices the wrong crowd.” She has since deleted her note.

But her words were met with immediate outcry, particularly among other female athletes. Olympic gymnast Simone Biles wrote that Douglas’s note “shocks me that I’m seeing this but it doesn’t surprise me . . . honestly seeing this brings me to tears bc as your teammate I expected more from you & to support her.”

On Tuesday, Douglas used her Instagram post to again apologize for her earlier comments.

“I didn’t view my comments as victim shaming because I know that no matter what you wear, it NEVER gives anyone the right to harass or abuse you,” she wrote. “It would be like saying because of the leotards we wore, it was our fault we were abused by Larry Nassar.”

“I do not advocate victim shaming/blaming in any way, shape or form!” Douglas added.

She also asked for forgiveness and said that she takes her “job as a role model very seriously” even if “there are times that I fall short.”

***************

Olympics doc who molested multiple gymnasts tells judge that it’s ‘too hard’ for him to listen to victims

Brad Reed
Raw Story
19 Jan 2018 at 11:33 ET                  

Larry Nassar, the disgraced former USA Gymnastics team doctor who has pleaded guilty to molesting seven girls, told Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina that he did not want to listen to his victims recount how he abused them because it was too hard.

NBC News reports that Aquilina on Thursday read aloud a letter that Nassar had written explaining how difficult it would be for him to listen to his victims’ stories, while also complaining about the way that the judge had handled his sentencing hearing.

“It’s delusional,” Aquilina said as she read Nassar’s letter. “You need to talk about these issues with a therapist and that’s not me.”

As part of the sentencing hearing, Aquilina is allowing all of his accusers to come into the court to deliver victim impact statements — and more than 100 have signed up to do so. Nassar complained that listening to these stories would be too taxing for him to endure, and he pointed out that he passed out twice before he was sentenced on separate charges of possessing child pornography.

Aquilina, however, wasn’t having any of it.

“Spending four or five days listening to them is significantly minor considering the hours of pleasure you had at their expense and ruining their lives,” she told him.

************

Coach tells ex-USA gymnastics doctor Nassar in court to ‘go to hell’

Reuters
17 Jan 2018 at 14:51 ET                  

A coach who sent dozens of young girls for treatment to USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who pleaded guilty to molesting female athletes, told the disgraced physicians on Wednesday to “go to hell” for his crimes.

Thomas Brennan, a youth gymnastics coach, confronted Nassar in a Michigan courtroom on the second day of a sentencing hearing for the former doctor, who pleaded guilty in November to multiple counts of sexual assault.

“For the record, go to hell,” Brennan said, glowering at Nassar.

Brennan’s outburst came as he stood next to one of Nassar’s victims, Gwen Anderson, as she recounted the molestation she suffered at the hands of Nassar.

At one point during Anderson’s tearful testimony, Brennan barked at Nassar, “look at her.”

Nassar has sat through the proceedings with his head bowed, not making eye contact with the victims. He apologized for his crimes at the November hearing, local media reported.

Brennan told Ingham County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina that he sent more than 100 girls to Nassar, whom he once considered a mentor.

“The guilt I feel for that is hard to fathom,” he said.

More than 100 victims are providing victim-impact statements during the four-day hearing, prosecutors said.

The judge has addressed each victim and repeatedly said she will make certain Nassar gets a lengthy prison sentence. Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence.

“He will die there,” Aquilina told one victim on Wednesday. “The next judge he faces will be God.” Aquilina is set to impose sentence on Friday.

Nassar is already serving a 60-year prison after pleading guilty in July to child pornography charges in federal court.

A mother of a one-time U.S. Gymnastics team member, Maggie Nichols, who tried to qualify to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games, also criticized Nasser on Wednesday.

“A real doctor never sees a child alone,” said Gina Nichols, who said she is a registered nurse and whose husband is a doctor. “You’re a serial child molester – a pedophile.”

Nichols also criticized USA Gymnastics for not properly vetting Nassar, who served as the team’s physician through four Olympic Games.

Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney and Simone Biles have gone public in recent months, saying they were assaulted by Nassar while undergoing treatment.

***************

At Larry Nassar sentencing hearing, a parade of horror and catharsis

Dozens of victims began testifying Jan. 16 at the sentencing hearing of Michigan doctor Larry Nassar, who has pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct. (Reuters)

By Will Hobson
January 18 2018
WA Post

LANSING, Mich. — The courtroom door swung open just after 9 a.m. and in shuffled the man who, before September 2016, was known throughout the region as the Michigan State University sports physician who also treated America’s best gymnasts, the personable father of three who happily chatted with mothers about his Catholic faith and Olympic travels while he performed unusual treatments he warned their daughters might find a bit uncomfortable at first.

Gaunt and haggard, he wore a dark blue jumpsuit, orange slippers and thin-framed glasses he periodically removed throughout the week, as dozens of young women stepped up to a microphone a few feet away and confronted him with accounts of what he did to them behind closed doors — at Michigan State, at local gymnastics centers, and in his home — and how irrevocably it changed their lives.

Nearly a year and a half after one woman filed a police report and contacted a newspaper, the criminal cases against Larry Nassar are nearing an end this week with a marathon sentencing hearing — 105 of the more than 130 girls and women who’ve accused Nassar of abuse are expected to speak — that began Tuesday and will likely stretch into next week, before a judge levies a sentence for seven sex crimes Nassar has admitted to as part of a plea deal.

The specifics of the pending sentence have caused little anxiety in the courtroom: With the 54-year-old already facing a 60-year federal term for child pornography crimes and a 25-year minimum as part of this plea deal, the judge has said she expects Nassar to spend the rest of his life in prison.

Rather than the sentence, the focus of this sentencing hearing has been the victims, many speaking publicly for the first time. Their accounts have been harrowing and heart-rending, but also, at times, victorious and cathartic. They have described the devastating toll Nassar’s crimes have taken, not just on those he abused, but also on parents and coaches wracked by guilt, or possessed with rage, about warning signs missed and complaints ignored.

A projector screen has displayed photographs of victims taken at the time of their abuse, an array of girls in gymnastics leotards and school class portraits. The first photos projected Tuesday were of a smiling brown-haired girl named Kyle Stephens — in one she was about 5 or 6, in the other she’s a few years older, with braces — who is now 26. A former family friend of Nassar’s, Stephens had been known in court filings before this week as “Victim ZA.”

Stephens’s family often spent Sundays with the Nassars, the mothers cooking dinner while Nassar played with the children. Stephens was 6 the first time a game of hide-and-seek took a detour into the boiler room, she said, and 12 when she decided to tell her parents what Nassar was doing to her.

Standing a few feet behind her, Stephens’s mother wept Tuesday as her daughter explained what happened next: Nassar said their daughter was lying, and the parents believed him. They made Stephens apologize. As a teenager, she said, she began to detach from her parents, often telling people she had no family.

“Larry Nassar wedged himself between myself and my family, and used his leverage as a family friend to pry us apart until we fractured,” she said.

Her father committed suicide in 2016, Stephens believes, in part because of the realization his daughter had been telling the truth.

“I’ve been coming for you for a long time,” Stephens told Nassar. “Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They turn into strong women, who have come back to destroy your world.”

A few minutes later, a photo of a beaming girl in a leotard appeared on the screen, as her mother, Donna Markham, stepped to the microphone. Her daughter, Chelsea, was 10 years old in 1995 when they visited Nassar. After one of the visits, Donna said, her daughter burst into tears.

“She said, ‘Mom, he put his fingers in me, and they weren’t gloved,’ ” Markham said. Her daughter begged her not to tell anyone, out of fear it would impact her gymnastics career.

“She said that everyone will know, and everyone will judge me, and the judges will know as I compete,” Markham said.

Her daughter soon quit gymnastics, Markham said, and her life spiraled into bouts with drug problems and depression. The image on the projector screen changed to one of Chelsea in her 20s, in a black winter coat, smiling, not long before she committed suicide in 2009, at 23.

“Every day, I miss her,” Markham said. “And it all started with him.”

Over the first three days, 68 victims’ statements were heard, describing abuse dating from the early 1990s to 2016. Among the victims were two sisters — one assaulted at 9, the other shortly after she graduated from Michigan State — whose parents sat in the courtroom Tuesday, glowering at Nassar as their younger daughter confronted him, and then returned Wednesday when it was the other daughter’s turn.

Their accounts aligned around common methods first described in a September 2016 story in the Indianapolis Star that resulted in Nassar’s firing from Michigan State, and realizations by dozens of other women that what they had accepted years before as medical treatment was actually sexual assault.

It often happened at Michigan State’s campus clinic, where Nassar’s office was decorated floor-to-ceiling with signed pictures of Olympic stars, acquired from his lengthy career as a volunteer physician for USA Gymnastics. One woman described Nassar’s office as “a shrine of his conquests,” and this week Simone Biles added her name to the list of Olympic gymnasts who accused Nassar of assault, joining Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney. The photos dazzled the girls, and often impressed the mothers, helping quell doubts about Nassar’s treatment.

Victims described ripple effects of abuse that have played out over years. Many have suffered through depression, post-traumatic stress anxiety disorder and panic attacks. Several have considered suicide. One cut herself, she explained, “because I wanted my outside to look as ugly as I felt inside.”

While many didn’t realize until 2016 they’d been abused, some said they always knew, in anecdotes well-known by other victims, and their lawyers who are pressing cases against Michigan State and USA Gymnastics.

In 1999, Nassar treated former Michigan State softball player Tiffany Thomas Lopez for the first time. She claims she later complained to multiple trainers about how he touched her, but no one contacted authorities.

“Every few years I wondered if there was another Tiffany Thomas,” she said.

In 2004, Brianne Randall, then 17, said she reported Nassar to a local police force whose investigators believed the doctor when he said it was a misunderstanding.

“For 13 years, I wondered if I was the only one,” Randall said.

And in 2014, recent Michigan State graduate Amanda Thomashow filed a complaint against Nassar with the school’s Title IX office and university police. The Title IX investigation cleared Nassar, and the police inquiry languished.

“Michigan State University, the school I loved and trusted, had the audacity to tell me I didn’t understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure,” she said.

Michigan State has insisted it handled the 2014 complaint properly, and — after mediation negotiations involving victims’ lawyers failed to produce a resolution December — is contesting lawsuits filed by more than 130 victims.

Parents’ burden

Among the most anguished testimony this week have been the accounts of parents, many who sat in the room as Nassar abused their children, unaware of what he was doing.

The mother of one 12-year-old victim described feeling uneasy when she noticed Nassar wasn’t wearing gloves.

“I questioned you about that, to which you answered in a way that made me feel stupid for asking,” the mother said. “I told myself, ‘He’s an Olympic doctor, be quiet.’ ”

She then noticed Nassar had her daughter “in some positions that made me uneasy,” she said. Another question prompted another condescending answer from Nassar, who repositioned himself between the mother and her daughter, and continued the treatment.

“The guilt that I feel, and that my husband feels that we could not protect our child is crippling,” the mother said.

As he did through much of the hearings, Nassar looked down at a notepad, his face in a drooping, hangdog expression that left victims wondering if he was feeling genuine remorse, or trying to appear so.

“I think he is remorseful for what is happening to him,” said Stephens, the family friend Nassar abused. “I don’t think he feels any remorse for us.”

On Thursday, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina read aloud portions of a letter Nassar sent her, asserting the lengthy sentencing hearing was a “media circus,” too harsh for him to handle, mentally.

“You may find it harsh that you are here listening, but nothing is as harsh as what your victims endured for thousands of hours at your hands,” the judge told Nassar.

One victim appeared to leave Nassar deeply affected for a few minutes. Jennifer Rood-Bedford was a Michigan State volleyball player from the early 2000s whose testimony produced one of the few moments of levity this week — she said she had made a plan to kick Nassar in the face if he ever tried to touch her improperly again — before she began to cry as she described her assault.

Rood-Bedford told Nassar she forgave him, citing her Christian faith, and her belief in the possibility of redemption.

“Dr. Nassar, I want you to know that I pray for you. . . . Please know my forgiveness towards you is sincere,” Rood-Bedford said. “There is hope that transcends all understanding. . . . You can choose to be a better man, and to be a different person. . . . Seek Him and find that.”

As she spoke, Nassar’s eyes squinted, and his head began to shake, as if sobbing. He removed his glasses, picked up a tissue, and dabbed at his eyes, but the tears never came.

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