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Mar 24, 2017, 10:22 PM
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 71 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 07:39 AM 
Started by Deva - Last post by The Otherside
Hi Everyone,

Yes Deva ready whenever you are

Heather


 72 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 06:36 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Shitstain Trump sends lawyers after teen for site where kittens can punch POTUS

International Business Times
21 Mar 2017 at 18:18 ET   

A 17-year-old is the target of legal attention by President Donald Trump’s general counsel over a site where kitten paws bat around images of President Trump’s face, according to a report from the New York Observer.

As the Observer reports, the site’s creator, named only as Lucy, initially made the site as a way to practice her coding skills. But after a few weeks, the site received a cease and desist letter from President Trump’s general counsel in New York. The cease and desist letter, which the Observer confirmed, mentions that “as I’m sure you’re aware, the Trump name is internationally known and famous.”

Lucy changed the site from TrumpScratch.com to KittenFeed.com, but said the Trump team contacted them again. According to a Whois lookup, KittenFeed.com was created on March 2 this year. Lucy told the Observer she was dumbfounded by the attention from President Trump’s legal team.

    “I was going to just let this go, but I think it’s, pardon my French, [f------] outrageous that the president of the United States has his team scouring the internet for sites like mine to send out cease and desists and legal action claims if we don’t shut down,” Lucy told the Observer in an email. “Meanwhile, he tweets about The Apprentice ratings and sends out power-drunk tweets about phone tapping. HOW ABOUT BEING THE PRESIDENT?”

Since his inauguration, the Trump administration has weathered through its share of controversies. In the past month, continued stories including the latest iterations of the administration’s travel ban and FBI director James Comey’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 presidential election have helped contribute to Trump’s low favorability ratings.

 73 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 06:24 AM 
Started by Deva - Last post by dollydaydream
Hi Deva, ready when you are to keep going.  Thanks.  DDD Smiley

 74 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 06:23 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad

In his first budget, Shitstain Trump to struggling seniors: You’ll be on your own

By Michelle Singletary
March 20 2017
WA Post

When people talk about retirement, they often muse about traveling the world, playing golf or visiting with grandchildren.

But the truth is many seniors won’t spend “golden” retirement years like they are on a long vacation. Instead they will be working because they can’t afford to retire. Or they’ll fret about finding or keeping a job to supplement their Social Security check.

Their days won’t be spent in leisure. They’ll struggle to pay for health care costs. They’ll rely on government programs or nonprofits for meals, energy assistance or to help with legal woes.

But President Trump’s first budget sends a stark message to the most needy seniors: “You’re on your own.”

Here are some of the proposed cuts that will affect seniors.
— Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program, which “helps a whole lot of old people pay for heat in the winter,” Slate’s Jordan Weissmann writes.

Trump’s budget guts the EPA and help for poor seniors. It’s a perfect symbol of his administration

— The elimination of the Energy Department’s weatherization assistance program. “It has provided states with grants that have helped insulate the homes of about 7 million families,” reported The Post’s Steven Mufson and Tracy Jan.

If you’re a poor person in America, Trump’s budget is not for you

— Elimination of the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which provides job training to low-income job seekers ages 55 and older.

“The administration estimates that it would save $434 million by cutting the program,” reported The Post’s Jonnelle Marte. “In the budget proposal, the administration criticized the program as ‘ineffective’ and said that one-third of the participants do not finish.” Even so, that still leaves a lot of seniors getting help.

Labor Dept. cuts target job training programs for seniors

— Meals on Wheels. There was some confusion about whether the funding for Meals on Wheels would be eliminated. The Community Development Block Grant program is a target for cuts and some funding for Meals on Wheels comes through this program. However a large portion of federal funds for Meals on Wheels comes through the Older Americans Act, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Community Living, according to a statement from Meals on Wheels America.

“The Trump administration has proposed a 17.9 percent cut in funding for HHS, but it has provided no detail on whether that would also impact the Administration for Community Living, which funds nutrition programs for the elderly,” reported The Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote in fact checking the outrage about possible cuts to Meals on Wheels.

Still, there’s reason to be concerned about cuts to the program. “The nationwide Meals on Wheels network, comprised of 5,000, local, community-based programs, receives 35 percent of its total funding for the provision of home-delivered meals from the federal government through the Older Americans Act,” the organization said.

— The elimination of the HHS office of community services, which includes an energy assistance program for low-income families, including seniors.

Trump’s budget framework points to big cuts in programs for seniors

— The elimination of Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit that provides legal aid to low-income Americans.

Trump budget would gut legal aid for veterans, domestic abuse victims and disaster survivors

The American Bar Association said in a statement is was outraged about the proposed cut, writing that some of the worthy services the nonprofit provides include protecting seniors from scams.

In a letter to Trump, Nancy LeaMond AARP’s executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer wrote: “As the budget process proceeds, we would encourage the administration to reconsider the proposed cuts to important programs, including NIH’s health care research, LIHEAP energy assistance programs, community service employment for older workers, housing and legal assistance to the poor and elderly, and transit and transportation programs serving the disabled and elderly.”

Claudia Ruddy of Florida shared how downsizing has shaped her and her husband’s early retirement. They didn’t have children but lived in a five-bedroom home in St. Petersburg. They had a lawn, cleaning and pool service.

“We agreed in our 50s we would move upon retirement to a small, pool-less house in a beach community with the goal of reducing our expenses to travel as much as possible,” she wrote. “We expected to work until 66.

But plans change. Her husband was laid off at 60. They moved to a modest two-bedroom home in Ormond by the Sea.

“The location does not require flood insurance and our property tax decreased by almost two-thirds,” she said. “Instead of the monthly $188 and $210 bills for sewer, water and electricity, we pay $100 for electricity and $30 for water. (Admittedly we do now have the task of pumping the septic tank every two years.) We still pay someone to cut the grass, but I can clean the whole house in a couple hours. I do miss the pool, but being able to walk to the beach is great. We found we could live nicely (traveling the U.S. every couple months and Europe for a month once a year) on a combination of part-time work and our pensions. No doubt having children or having strong ties to the more expensive area would make moving harder for many people, but it has certainly worked for us. We joke we should send my husband’s former employer a thank-you letter.”

Mark Dziewit of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., wanted to shared his thoughts on a Fidelity Investments retirement IQ test that I wrote about in last week’s newsletter.

On the question on how much some financial experts recommend people save by the time they retire, he wrote, “I don’t know (or care) how much so called experts say one should save as a multiple of your last year’s income. I do know that if I have a sum of money and I assume a 3 percent real annual return less my withdrawals, I can play with the variables to know what is needed to achieve a certain level of ‘income.'”

On the question about the average monthly Social Security benefit benefit paid in 2016, he wrote, “I know it’s not much. It only matters in the context that this ‘not much’ amount is what many of my fellow citizens will need to live on. Not good for them, not good for the country.”

“I think this test was not very useful,” Dziewit said. “However, for some it could get them thinking. So much info from experts is simplistic or just wrong. Thank you for this opportunity to ‘rant.’”

Let me remind you of all the questions for the retirement IQ test.
1. Roughly how much do many financial experts recommend people save by the time they retire?
a. About 2-3 times the amount of your last full year income
b. About 4-5 times the amount of your last full year income
c. About 6-7 times the amount of your last full year income
d. About 8-9 times the amount of your last full year income
e. About 10-12 times the amount of your last full year income

2. Stock markets go up and down. How often over the past 35 years do you think the market has had a positive annual return?
a. The annual return was positive fewer than 12 out of 35 years
b. The annual return was positive about 12 out of 35 years
c. The annual return was positive about 18 out of 35 years
d. The annual return was positive about 26 out of 35 years
e. The annual return was positive more than 26 out of 35 years

3. If you were able to set aside $50 each month for retirement, how much would that end up becoming 25 years from now, including interest if it grew at the historical stock market average?
a. About $15,000
b. About $30,000
c. About $40,000
d. About $60,000
e. More than $60,000

4. Given the current average life expectancy, if you were to retire at age 65, about how long would you need your retirement savings to last?
a. 12 years (or until you are 77)
b. 17 years (or until you are 82)
c. 22 years (or until you are 87)
d. 27 years (or until you are 92)
e. 35 years (or until you are 100)

5. Approximately how much was the average monthly Social Security benefit paid in 2016 to a retired worker?
a. About $500
b. About $900
c. About $1,300
d. About $1,700
e. About $2,100

6. About what percentage of your savings do many financial experts recommend you withdraw annually in retirement?
a. 1-3%
b. 4-6%
c. 7-9%
d. 10-12%
e. 13-15%

7. Which of the following do you think is the single biggest expense for most people in retirement?
a. Housing
b. Health care
c. Taxes
d. Food
e. Discretionary expenses

8. About how much will a couple retiring at age 65 spend on out-of-pocket costs for health care over the course of retirement?
a. $50,000
b. $100,000
c. $170,000
d, $260,000
e. $350,000

Click here to see the correct answers: https://www.fidelity.com/about-fidelity/individual-investing/how-much-do-you-know-about-retirement

 75 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 06:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
USA ..

Will Shitstain Trump be impeached – or is it just a liberal fantasy?

Only two presidents in history have been impeached, but murmurs continue to surround Trump. Here’s how the process would work – if it would at all

Tom McCarthy in New York
Guardian
Wednesday 22 March 2017 07.30 GMT

On 21 July 2007, George W Bush underwent surgery to have five polyps removed after what was described as a routine colonoscopy. The date may have been lost to history, but for the rare invocation at the time of a constitutional amendment laying out how the transfer of power to the vice-president works in cases of presidential disability.

For 125 minutes – as long as it took for Bush to enter and emerge from partial anesthesia, eat breakfast and display possession of his native wit – Dick Cheney held all the powers attached to the office of the presidency. (Some wags have suggested that Cheney wielded that authority, unofficially, over a much longer time span.)

Even before the FBI director announced on Monday that the bureau is investigating possible collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Moscow during the 2016 presidential election, the precise rules for how the powers of the presidency might be transferred – or simply rescinded – in case of criminality or emergency had become the subject of newfound and intense focus in the United States.

Whispers about impeachment, the most familiar constitutional procedure for removing a president, began to circulate even before Trump had taken the oath of office. But two months into Trump’s presidency, those whispers – and the search for any other possible emergency exit – have grown into an open conversation that has moved well beyond the realm of a Democratic party daydream. “Get ready for impeachment,” an influential, 13-term Democratic congresswoman tweeted after the bombshell FBI announcement.

The Trump-Russia intrigue has produced a flood of speculation as to whether a new Watergate scandal was afoot. That crisis, which began with a break-in at Democratic party offices inside the Watergate hotel in 1972, brought down President Richard Nixon after two years, in the only resignation of an American president yet.

In a remarkable 77-minute press conference/performance artwork in February, Trump denied inappropriate ties to Moscow, which US intelligence agencies have concluded tampered with the presidential election in Trump’s favor. “I have nothing to do with Russia,” Trump said. “I told you, I have no deals there, I have no anything.”

But the significance of the allegations, and of the FBI investigation, is plain.

“On a 10 scale of Armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9,” wrote Dan Rather, the longtime network news anchor, in a Facebook post. “This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. We may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.”

There are other grounds on which Trump might be removed from the presidency. A movement to impeach Trump for allegedly violating constitutional bans on receiving certain gifts – a problem rooted in the president’s failure to divest from his real estate, hotel and branding businesses – gained 875,000 online signatures in one month, said organizer John Bonifaz.

“I think there are many members of Congress who are deeply troubled,” said Bonifaz, a constitutional law expert and MacArthur fellowship recipient. “I think it’s only a matter of time before a resolution gets introduced in the United States Congress that starts this process of an impeachment investigation in the House of Representatives.”

In yet another scenario, as laid out in the 25th amendment to the constitution, which Bush invoked when he handed off power to Cheney, the vice-president, acting in concert with a majority of the cabinet, might declare the president unfit to serve. This is the most delicious scenario, for connoisseurs of political intrigue, though the amendment has never been invoked to remove power from a president against his will.

So what does the history of impeachment of US presidents tell us about where we might go from here?

Who has been impeached before?

Two presidents, Bill Clinton (1998) and Andrew Johnson (1868). (Congress may also impeach judges.) Articles of impeachment were passed against Richard Nixon by a congressional committee, but Nixon resigned before the House of Representatives could vote on the matter, meaning that technically he was not impeached.

Impeachment does not mean expulsion from office. Under the constitution, impeachment happens in the House of Representatives if a majority approves articles of impeachment previously approved in committee. Then impeachment goes to the Senate, where a two-thirds majority vote is required to convict the president, upon which he would be removed from office.

Both Johnson and Clinton were impeached in the House but then acquitted in the Senate and remained in office.

What can a president be impeached for?

“Treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”, the constitution says. Needless to say, there’s debate over what all those terms mean.

Johnson was charged with breaking the law by removing the US secretary of war, which, in the aftermath of the civil war, was not his decision as president to make. Clinton was charged with obstruction of justice and with perjury, for allegedly lying under oath to a federal grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Had Nixon not resigned, he might have been convicted in the Senate on one of three charges: obstruction of justice, abuse of power or defiance of subpoenas. In any case, President Gerald Ford, who was Nixon’s vice-president and who succeeded him, pardoned Nixon of any crimes a month after Nixon resigned.

Can a president be removed apart from through impeachment?

Theoretically, yes, under the aforementioned 25th amendment, which was ratified relatively recently, in 1967, to clear up succession issues made painfully urgent by the assassination of John F Kennedy.

The 25th amendment describes a process by which a president may give away power owing to his or her own disability (the Bush polyps case), and a separate process by which power may be taken from a president owing to disability or inability.

The key players in the second case are the vice-president and the top 15 members of the cabinet. If the former and a majority of the latter decide the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”, they submit that information in writing to the House speaker (currently Paul Ryan) and Senate president pro tempore (currently the Utah Republican senator Orrin Hatch) and just like that, the vice-president would be acting president.

The president may challenge such a decision, at which point a two-thirds majority in both chambers of Congress would be required to stop the president from regaining power.

It’s conceivable that Trump would not go quietly if his cabinet and Vice-President Mike Pence were to gang up on him.

How long do impeachment proceedings take?

There isn’t much precedent to say, but the Clinton case proceeded through Congress relatively quickly, in about three months. That example may be misleading, however, owing to the years-long investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton, including the Lewinsky affair, by the special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, which preceded it. Starr handed his report and research to the House judiciary committee, which therefore had no need to conduct a time-consuming investigation of its own.

Who’s saying Trump should be impeached?

About 46% of Americans who responded to a Public Policy Polling survey last month, for starters. Public opinion matters because for impeachment to happen, Congress must act, and elected officials sometimes hang their principles on opinion polls.

It’s notable that Nixon, a Republican, faced impeachment in a Congress controlled by Democrats, and Clinton was impeached by a Republican-controlled Congress. For Trump to be impeached, members of his own party would have to turn on him.

That’s why Republican base approval of Trump is so important. If Republican voters do not abandon the president, Republican members of Congress are not likely to.

On the other hand, the Republican Congress might conceivably be enticed into action by the prospect of dumping Trump in exchange for someone they are far more comfortable with: Pence, himself a former congressman and a much more predictable traditional conservative.

At least three congressional Democrats have called for impeachment proceedings of some kind. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin said on the House floor in February that if Trump did not divest business holdings and take other actions, then “we’ll have to take other actions, including legislative directives, resolutions of disapproval and even explore the power of impeachment”.
What might Trump be charged with?

Bonifaz, of the Impeach Trump Now group behind the petition, argues that Trump’s failure to divest from his businesses has already produced frequent violations of constitutional rules for emoluments, or gifts. Investigations into associations with Russia by Trump or his proxies could conceivably produce some kind of disloyalty charge. If Trump has to testify at some point about any of this, he could face a Clinton-style perjury charge. Abuse of power? Obstruction of justice? It seems as if, should Congress get to the point of charging Trump, they may have a buffet of potential charges to choose from.
What would it take in practice to trigger enough Republicans into action?

Remember that Republicans had promised to impeach Hillary Clinton as soon as she took office. But what they might not have remembered is that two-thirds of the Senate is required to convict a president of impeachable offenses. The Democrats are in the minority, but they do have 48 Senate seats out of 100.

The most important factor for Republicans in deciding whether to go after Trump would seem to be the disposition of Republican voters. If the people turn on the president, Congress may follow.
Might Trump resign before he’s impeached if there’s a smoking gun, as Nixon did?

What kind of mood does Pence seem to be in? Is he implicated? In the scenario of a Pence succession, it would be up to the current vice-president to pardon Trump or not. Maybe Trump would be more likely to get out of the way and avoid all or some impeachment proceedings – in this truly hypothetical scenario – if Trump felt reassured that Pence, upon acceding to power, would pardon him.
Could he refuse to comply with proceedings?

Only two months into the Trump presidency, we’ve already heard warnings, issued by members of Congress, about this or that constitutional crisis being afoot: Trump impugns judges; Trump overrides legislated regulations; courts block executive actions. There are many opportunities for further constitutional crises during the Trump years, and a Trump refusal to go along with prospective impeachment proceedings is certainly easy to imagine. In which case: who controls the military?
Could he refuse to step down if he’s found guilty?

Would Pence go down with him?

Not likely. There’s a school of thought that says a key reason the Republican congressional majority would assent to a Trump impeachment is because then they would get the president they really want, Pence. The closest historical precedent to a double whammy of this kind is the resignation in a bribery scandal of Nixon’s vice-president, Spiro Agnew, in 1973, a year before Nixon went down. But the alleged crimes were unrelated.

Reasons this might not be true include the fact of Trump’s historically low popularity rating at the two-month mark. Trump sits at 37% approval, according to Gallup, a whopping 24 points behind the historical average for first-term presidents. Additionally, Trump seems to be flying unusually close to the sun, in terms of his conduct as an elected official. During his campaign he refused to release his tax returns on the grounds that the usual rules did not apply to him. His refusal to divest from his businesses as president, on similar grounds, could lead him into legal hazards that other presidents have avoided. Finally, Trump is truly a Washington outsider, which could increase his vulnerability to acts of bureaucratic infighting or hidden treachery, as evidenced by the incredible number of leaks from the intelligence community so far.

On the other hand, the election of Trump has been a particularly painful blow to the progressive psyche, more so even perhaps than the re-election of Bush as the atrocities of the Iraq war mounted in 2004. Republicans suffered for eight years from what some of their critics called Obama derangement syndrome, becoming so wrapped up in their opposition to the president that any sense of greater purpose seemed sometimes to be lost. Are progressives and conservative purists suffering from Trump derangement syndrome? It’s possible. We’ll find out.

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

Bank that lent $300m to Shitstain Trump linked to Russian money laundering scam

Deutsche Bank among western institutions that processed billions of dollars in cash of ‘criminal origin’ through Latvia

Luke Harding and Nick Hopkins
Guardian
Tuesday 21 March 2017 19.00 GMT

The German bank that loaned $300m (£260m) to Donald Trump played a prominent role in a money laundering scandal run by Russian criminals with ties to the Kremlin, the Guardian can reveal.

Deutsche Bank is one of dozens of western financial institutions that processed at least $20bn – and possibly more – in money of “criminal origin” from Russia.

The scheme, dubbed “the Global Laundromat”, ran from 2010 to 2014.

Law enforcement agencies are investigating how a group of politically well-connected Russians were able to use UK-registered companies to launder billions of dollars in cash. The companies made fictitious loans to each other, underwritten by Russian businesses.

The companies would default on these “debts”. Judges in Moldova then made court rulings enforcing judgments against the firms. This allowed Russian bank accounts to transfer huge sums to Moldova legally. From there, the money went to accounts in Latvia with Trasta Komercbanka.

Deutsche, Germany’s biggest lender, acted as a “correspondent bank” for Trasta until 2015. This meant Deutsche provided dollar-denominated services to Trasta’s non-resident Russian clients. This service was used to move money from Latvia to banks across the world.

During this period many Wall Street banks got out of Latvia, citing concerns that the small Baltic country had become a centre for international money laundering, especially from neighbouring Russia.

In 2013, and under US regulatory pressure, JP Morgan Chase ceased providing dollar clearing services to the country.

From 2014, only two western lenders were willing to accept international dollar transfers from Latvian banks. They were Deutsche and Germany’s Commerzbank. Deutsche eventually withdrew correspondent services to Trasta Bank in September 2015.

Six months later, Latvian regulators shut down the bank. They cited repeated violations, and said the bank had failed to deal with its money laundering risk.

Latvia’s deputy finance minister, Maija Treija, said the money sent via Trasta was “either stolen or with criminal origin”.

The defunct bank was being used as vehicle to get money out of the ex-Soviet Union and “into the EU financial system”, she added.

Deutsche said it had significantly strengthened its systems and controls. It said that by the end of this year it will have hired more than 1,000 new staff in its compliance and anti-financial crime unit since 2015.

It added: “The bank has comprehensively reviewed its client onboarding and know-your-client processes and where necessary is exiting higher risk client relationships and markets.”

Commerzbank said it could not comment on its relationships with other banks. It said it put a high value on compliance. It said that suspicious transactions picked up during routine monitoring were reported to the authorities.

Deutche Bank ended its relationship with Trasta soon after Latvia’s regulator issued a warning, it is understood. In August 2015, the Financial and Capital Markets Commission stopped all transactions above €100,000.

Deutsche severed its relationship with the other key Laundromat bank - Moldova’s Moldindconbank – in 2012.

Ties with Russia are a matter of acute sensitivity for Deutsche. In February, it emerged that Deutsche had secretly reviewed multiple loans made to President Trump by its private wealth division to see if there was a connection to Russia. Trump owes Deutsche about $300m.

Deutsche refused to comment on its internal review. Sources say the bank discovered no evidence of any Moscow link. That covers other members of the US president’s family who are also Deutsche clients. They include Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s mother, Seryl Stadtmauer.

In January, the UK and US imposed record $630m fines on Deutsche for its role in another money laundering scam run out of its Moscow office. The bank failed to prevent $10bn of Russian money being laundered in a complex “mirror trades” operation. The wealthy Russians that used the scheme have not been identified.

Deutsche’s Private Bank – the division that lends to Trump – appears in the Global Laundromat scheme. Sources suggest that many of its clients are rich Russians, typically with personal assets of $50m-plus. According to Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, Deutsche processed more than $24m of Laundromat cash in 209 transactions.

Records obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Project (OCCRP) and Novaya Gazeta from anonymous sources show how the money was spent. Much of it vanished into opaque offshore companies. Some of it went on luxury items including diamonds, leather jackets, and home-cinema equipment.

One of Deutsche’s high net worth customers blew €500,000 at Mahlberg, a German jewellery firm. The payment in January 2013 was made by Seabon Limited, a Laundromat company registered in Tooley Street, London. More than $9bn was funnelled via Seabon, records show.

Almost €1m went to a Munich electronics firm, Rohde & Schwarz, which produces surveillance technology for security services and police.

Often, the explanation for high-volume payments was fake. The money spent on watches was marked down on the bank wire transfer as a payment for “computer equipment”.

Another $500,000 payment was made to a London fur broker, Gideon Bartfeld. Bartfeld said the money had arrived from Deutsche Bank New York, before being sent on to the Bank of New York Mellon, which paid the invoice. Trasta – the bank that first sent the money to Deutsche – did not appear in any paperwork, he added.

Bartfeld said the payment came via two “highly reputable and respected” global banks. He said: “Consequently, we received this payment in full confidence [as they] were satisfied that the payment met their rigorous due diligence and compliance requirements.”

The fur trader said he had known many of his Russian clients for years. His main markets were Russia and China, he added. There is no suggestion that Bartfeld or Mahlberg or Rohde & Schwarz were involved in wrongdoing.

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

US diplomacy in crisis amid cuts and confusion at state department

Critics says America’s soft power could be dramatically diluted if it does not find a way to stop alienating allies around the world

Julian Borger in Washington
Guardian
Wednesday 22 March 2017 10.30 GMT

The US state department is hosting a 68-nation meeting on Wednesday aimed at consolidating the international effort against Islamic State.

But the foreign ministers are convening in Washington at a time when the state department itself is under siege, facing swingeing budget cuts by a hostile White House, and led by a former oil executive who has said he did not want the job in the first place.

Rex Tillerson has billed the counter-Isis coalition meeting as a decisive moment “to set Isis on a lasting and irreversible path to defeat”. The secretary of state lambasted the Obama administration for its policy on Isis, claiming his predecessor never had a proper strategy to defeat the extremist movement.

“All that did was drag out the agony for everyone,” Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review (IJR), in his first interview since he surfaced in December as a surprise candidate for the role of secretary of state.

He said that the then president-elect, Donald Trump, had invited him to his transition headquarters in New York ostensibly to talk “about the world” and then stunned Tillerson, about to retire as head of ExxonMobil, by offering him the post of the nation’s top diplomat.

He said it was his wife who persuaded to accept the offer, telling him he was “supposed to do this”.

He made clear that the anti-Isis effort would be a priority for him and the defence secretary, James Mattis, who will also take part in Wednesday’s coalition meeting. A top Tillerson aide is quoted in the IJR article as saying the two men “get along like gin and vermouth”.

Over the course of the election campaign, Trump assured voters that he had a plan to defeat Isis, but never elaborated what that plan was. Tillerson and Mattis will seek to outline a strategy on Wednesday.

Tillerson explained it as a three-step process beginning with a military campaign, followed by a transition phase and a stability programme. It remains unclear, however, what that would mean in practice and how this plan would differ from the previous administration’s anti-Isis campaign, which was in full swing when Barack Obama left office.

One departure is that the new administration has stepped up the number of US ground troops involved in the push towards the Isis stronghold of Raqqa in Syria, a reflection of a general military-first bent of the Trump White House.

Its budget proposals would see a cut for the state department and US foreign aid of 28% of its current budget to less than $26bn (£21bn). When other cuts to contingency funds are taken into account, the effective funding decrease is about a third. Meanwhile, under the “Make America Great Again” budget, military spending is meant to rise by $54bn.

Senior Republicans in Congress have said they would oppose such deep cuts, but Tillerson himself has been criticised by former state department officials and supporters of US diplomacy for failing to stand up to Trump on the issue.

In the interview published by IJR on Tuesday night, Tillerson said state department spending was unsustainable. He claimed he talked to the president on a daily basis but conceded he had not discussed with him what such a sharp decrease in funding would mean. “We haven’t gotten that far yet,” he said.

Antony Blinken, the deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, said the bid to boost military spending at the expense of funding diplomacy represented a “fundamental misunderstanding” of national security.

“Diplomacy is national security,” Blinken said. He pointed out that without strong US diplomacy around the world, there would not be a coalition of more than 60 countries in the fight against Isis.

The cuts, Blinken said: “have the potential to dramatically dilute our soft power, and that has done wonders for us over many years and many places”.

“In a world in which all you have is your hard power, all of a sudden every problem is a nail and the only tool you have is a hammer,” he added. “The first people who’ll tell you that’s misguided is our military.”

In discussing the primacy of the fight against Isis, Tillerson appeared to turn the previous administration’s approach on its head. Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, saw the spread of Isis as being a consequence of the brutal nature of the counter-insurgency conducted by Russian, Iran and the Damascus regime. Extremism could only be defeated ultimately by an end to the war and a political transition.

Tillerson suggested that the fight against Isis had to come first: “We can’t get to deconflicting the rest of the region with Isis in the way,” he said. Neither he, nor anyone else in the Trump administration, has explained what such an approach means for cooperation with Russia, Iran or the Assad government in Damascus.

David Miliband, former UK foreign secretary and now president of the International Rescue Committee, said those decisions had to be made at the outset of any new strategy.

“The US needs to decide what role it wants to play, and who it wants to ally with, in the debates about the future of those parts of Syria still outside government control, and the future shape of a national government,” Miliband said.

“This cannot be considered independently of the commitment to defeat Isis in Iraq, where the US again faces the conundrum that Iran has the same declared enemy, but where victory threatens to extend its influence.”

Before it decides how to frame its new relations with US adversaries, critics of the new administration say, it has to find a way to stop alienating its allies around the world.

Trump used an awkward visit by Angela Merkel to Washington last week to berate Germany for not spending enough on defence, while his spokesman refused to apologise for an apparent endorsement of a baseless claim that the UK had spied on Trump on behalf of the Obama administration.

In his interview, Tillerson appeared to accuse South Korean officials of lying after it was reported in the Seoul press that he had not dined with his Korean counterparts (a diplomatic norm in Seoul and in many other capitals) because he had been fatigued.

“They never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realised that optically it wasn’t playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn’t have dinner because I was tired,” he said.

The secretary of state waded from that row directly into another, with America’s transatlantic allies, when Reuters new agency broke the news on Monday that he would be skipping a Nato foreign ministers meeting in early April so he could attend a Trump meeting with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and that he would be flying to Moscow later in the same month.

Nato officials said the timings of ministerial meetings were decided by suggesting dates, and then waiting for a few days to see if any of the capitals of the 28 member states objected. In this case, the US did not object to the proposed dates for the North Atlantic Council of 5 and 6 April, and so a media advisory was issued on 8 March announcing it would take place. Nato officials only found out on Tuesday that Tillerson would not be attending after all.

The state department said on Tuesday it was exploring alternative dates for the Nato meeting, but Daniel Baer, former US ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, said the clear lack of enthusiasm for the alliance was damaging.

“The US has to show up – and to lead – at Nato, and not just because others expect us to, but because especially in an era of global turmoil and Russian revanchism, the US has an interest Nato’s unity and strength,” Baer said. “This administration has routinely depicted Nato as a charity project for Europeans – it isn’t; a strong Nato is in the US national interest. The sad part about this whole episode is that it shows such a lack of understanding for the role the US plays in Nato and in the world.”

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

Rex Tillerson: 'I didn't want this job … my wife told me I'm supposed to do this'

Secretary of state said he had not met Shitstain Trump before he was summoned to Trump Tower to discuss ‘the world’ and was offered the role

Julian Borger in Washington
Guardian
Wednesday 22 March 2017 04.28 GMTL

Rex Tillerson has said he did not want to be US secretary of state and only took the job because his wife convinced him to do it.

The former ExxonMobil oil executive revealed his initial reluctance in an interview published after a controversial trip to Asia and hours before the biggest event of his two months at the state department, an international meeting on Wednesday about how to fight Islamic State (Isis).

“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review (IJR), in an interview conducted on his official plane during the three-nation Asia trip. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

He said he had not met Donald Trump before being summoned to Trump Tower after the surprise election victory, ostensibly to talk to the president-elect “about the world” and his experiences as an oil company

“When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned,” he said, adding that at 65 years old, at the end of a four-decade career at ExxonMobil, he had expected to retire: “I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids.”

However, he said that when he returned to his Texas home after meeting Trump in New York, his wife, Renda St Clair, shook her finger in his face and said: “I told you God’s not through with you.”

He said he now feels his wife had been right: “I’m supposed to do this.”

Not everyone shares that view. Tillerson has been the subject of heavy criticism since taking the post as the country’s top diplomat at the beginning of February. He was left out of the loop of several critical foreign policy decisions made in the administration’s early days, most importantly the travel ban for refugees and visitors from a list of Muslim countries.

He has also almost totally dodged the press for the first few weeks in his job. He did not take the Washington diplomatic press corps with him on his Asia tour, breaking with decades-old practice. The sole exception was the journalist from the IJR, a little-known outlet founded by a former Republican operative.

The initial explanation from the state department was that he wanted to save money and take a smaller plane than usual. In his interview, Tillerson repeated that explanation but also suggested it would be his policy to avoid the press until and unless he had a specific message to deliver.

He told the IJR: “I’m not a big media press access person. I personally don’t need it. I understand it’s important to get the message of what we’re doing out, but I also think there’s only a purpose in getting the message out when there’s something to be done.”

When questioned about Russia, the IJR reported: “He was so cagey … his answer wasn’t even worthy of inclusion.”

Tillerson has also been criticised for failing to defend the state department vocally enough in the face of a threatened budget cut of up to a third. Senior Republicans have said the cuts to diplomacy and foreign aid proposed by the White House would not pass Congress. In his remarks to the IJR, however, Tillerson appeared to relish the management challenge of cutting down the size of the US diplomatic establishment.

“Looking at ongoing conflicts, if we accept that we’re just going to continue to never solve any of these conflicts, then the budget should stay at the current level,” he said.

He said he had not yet talked to Trump about what a pared-down state department would look like or how it will be staffed: “We haven’t gotten that far yet.”

While in South Korea, Tillerson was reported in the Seoul press to have snubbed the government by telling Korean officials he was too tired to dine with them.

In response, he accused his hosts of being deliberately misleading. “They never invited us for dinner, then at the last minute they realised that optically it wasn’t playing very well in public for them, so they put out a statement that we didn’t have dinner because I was tired,” he told the IJR.

On Tuesday, the state department was fighting off a new controversy, after it emerged Tillerson would skip what would have been his first Nato foreign ministers’ meeting in early April in Brussels so he could be in Florida for Trump’s first meeting with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

The state department spokesman, Mark Toner, insisted the administration was 100% committed to Nato and that Tillerson would be meeting many member foreign ministers at the anti-Isis meeting in Washington on Wednesday. Toner said the state department had proposed new dates for a possible Nato meeting.

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

The New York Daily News Casts Shitstain Trump as Bumbling Evil Mastermind

By Hrafnkell Haraldsson on Wed, Mar 22nd, 2017 at 7:57 am
PoliticusUSA

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has also proven that you don't have to be very well informed, or even moderately intelligent, to do great evil.

The New York Daily News has struck again, leaving MSNBC producer Kyle Griffin to tweet, “Oh. My. God.”

Casting Donald Trump as a bumbling evil mastermind is not at all a reach. Notice they even sound alike when saying “millions” and “billions” of dollars.

And the treatment is in line with previous Daily News Trump covers, which have shown Trump as a zombie clown (“Dawn of the Brain Dead”) in February, and treasonous (“Lock Him Up!”) when he called on Putin to hack Hillary Clinton, to name just a couple prominent examples.

Donald Trump has proven to be woefully uninformed about almost anything you care to name, one of Mark Cuban’s early complaints about his fellow billionaire, and we all know that’s because he doesn’t want to be informed, as we have seen from his one-page, bullet-pointed briefings about incredibly complex matters.

Which is how we got to his infamous statement on healthcare at the end of February, that “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes tweeted,

    I'm convinced that whenever Trump says "most people don't know" it really means "I just learned." https://t.co/MYOP5LEmnZ

    — Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) March 22, 2017

The same, obviously, is true of statements that begin with “Nobody.” These express moments of epiphany for Donald Trump, an incredibly ignorant man just learning something the rest of us have always known and probably no longer think about much.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has also proven that you don’t have to be very well informed, or even moderately intelligent, to do great evil.

Donald Trump continually assures his audiences how smart he is. For example, his excuse for skipping intel briefings, “I’m, like, a smart person.” Apparently, unlike the rest of us, he thinks he learns through osmosis and just absorbs facts out of the air.

Which explains a lot.

Or telling the CIA, “Trust me, I’m like a smart person.” Well, he was smart enough to bring his own cheering section and keep them off camera, because he knew nobody in that room would be cheering for him.

He protests his smarts so much that you begin to wonder if he doesn’t protest just a little bit too much. Perhaps there is some self-awareness lurking under that ominous brow after all?

Moreover, as has been pointed out by astute observers, “Trump quotes make more sense coming from Dr. Evil.”

    Trump quotes make more sense coming from Dr. Evil. pic.twitter.com/mqT0084mgi

    — Left Action (@LeftAction) March 4, 2017

If the shoe fits, as they say, and it does. And now we have a name for Trump’s obedient servants in Congress, also thanks to the Daily News:

“President Trump, with his Mini-Mes in Congress, has bald-faced scheme to pass Trumpcare at expense of city taxpayers.”

We’re just going to have to be a bit less bumbling than Austin Powers to stop Donald Trump.

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

Nebraska Republican Says ‘I Don’t Really Understand What Motivates the President’

By Hrafnkell Haraldsson on Tue, Mar 21st, 2017 at 8:30 pm
PoliticusUSA

"If he had nothing personally to do with Russia, he should care deeply about saying...I want the exhaustive investigation to clear the deck"

Yes, even Republicans are shaking their heads trying to figure out what Donald Trump is thinking. Long-time Trump critic and Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse joined MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning to explain to the hosts that the Donald Trump’s behavior is literally beyond his understanding:

“I don’t really understand what motivates the president…’

He’s not alone. While Sasse was talking to Morning Joe, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) was professing ignorance on CNN’s New Day, saying that,

“I think we still need to figure out what the president was talking about when he talked about wiretapping, we know that President Obama personally would not have done that.”

    Q: Should Trump apologize?

    GOP Sen. @BenSasse: “I don’t really understand what motivates the president…”@Morning_Joe h/t @JesseRodriguez pic.twitter.com/QubGqiTzKk

    — Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) March 21, 2017

When co-host Mika Brzezinski asked Sasse if Trump should apologize for those wiretapping accusations, Sasse professed ignorance of Trump’s motivations:

    Mike Brzezinski: How do you recover from a lie that has really put a stain on the presidency? At this point, should President Trump apologize? Would that even help at this point?
    
    Ben Sasse: Well, I don’t really understand what motivates the president, but I hope that the president will take a long-term view of what the country needs. When people look back on his administration –
    
    Brzezinski: Would it help if he got real with everybody and said ‘I’m sorry’?
    
    Sasse: Yes. Listen, Russia has tried to do terrible things, not just to America but to NATO, the most successful military alliance in two millennia.
    
    Brzezinski: Doesn’t seem to get it.
    
    Sasse: The president should, if he had nothing personally to do with Russia, he should care deeply about saying, “hey, I’m the man that has the sign that says ‘the buck stops here.’ I wanna figure out everything that happened and I want the exhaustive investigation to clear the deck.”

Clearly what we think Trump needs to do, should do, and must do, is something very different than what Trump will do. His decision-making process, as Sasse points out, and as his decision to have Rex Tillerson skip a NATO meeting to go to Russia instead, is beyond explanation or understanding.

Ben Sasse had reservations before the election, explaining then that Trump’s platform was nebulous to him and apparently, he has found no enlightenment since.

While his is not the only head shaking on Capitol Hill, he is, unfortunately, one of the few Republicans willing to speak his reservations about Donald Trump.

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

Elizabeth Warren Calls for Postponement of Gorsuch Hearing Until After Trump FBI Investigation

By Sarah Jones on Tue, Mar 21st, 2017 at 7:00 pm
PoliticusUSA

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) doesn’t think the Senate should proceed forward with the Supreme Court nomination hearings as if there is no Russian smoke clouding President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

Warren noted that Gorsuch is up for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court by a President “whose campaign is under FBI investigation… for collusion w/ Russia. Lifetime court appointments can wait.”

    Neil Gorsuch is up for a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court from a President whose campaign is under FBI investigation.

    — Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 21, 2017

    I've strongly opposed the Gorsuch nomination. Giant companies don't need another Supreme Court justice to tilt the law in their favor.

    — Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 21, 2017

    But is the Senate really going to pretend there's no cloud over @realDonaldTrump & move on w/ the Gorsuch nomination like things are normal?

    — Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 21, 2017

    The FBI Director testified @realDonaldTrump's campaign is under investigation for collusion w/ Russia. Lifetime court appointments can wait.

    — Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 21, 2017

Elizabeth Warren has never been afraid to go there — the place where logic and common sense meet and force elected people to say obvious things that others lack the courage to say.

For some reason Republicans are always good at being on message and disregarding any negative feedback, whereas Democrats are a bit all over the place (democracy and all).

Warren’s message is what all Democrats should be saying in public appearances. This is not about revenge or even Gorsuch’s stance on issues. This is about the investigation into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. What kind of insane government would sit back and allow someone under investigation for treason to appoint a lifelong position to the highest place in the third arm of the government, part of the checks and balances that are supposed to make this country work.

The founders never anticipated Congressional Republicans being willing to sell their own country out, so Congress is not functioning as a check and balance due to Republican cowardice or perhaps something more sinister.

The only area of federal government left untainted by Russian control right now is the Supreme Court.

Of course Donald Trump should not be allowed to choose someone to fill the seat that President Obama constitutionally should have filled, but didn’t because Republicans blocked Obama’s excellent choice for no reason.

Republicans blocked Obama’s choice with no reason, but they won’t block Trump’s choice even though there is a good chance he is a Russian Trojan Horse.

Nope. That makes no sense, and Warren isn’t going to pretend like it does. It’s not normal, none of this is normal.

It’s not hyperbole to say our national security and sovereignty are on the line. Anyone who isn’t standing with Elizabeth Warren against moving Gorsuch forward until the FBI finishes its investigation, and indeed all investigations are completed, should not be getting paid by the people to represent them.

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

Democratic Senator Goes Off On Shitstain Trump Supreme Court Nominee For Being A Special Interest Tool

By Jason Easley on Tue, Mar 21st, 2017 at 11:57 am
PoliticusUSA

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) went off and ripped the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee for denying Merrick Garland a hearing and pointed out that Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch was the choice of special interests.

After Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch had refused to comment on how Merrick Garland was treated by Senate Judiciary Republicans, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) went off.

Leahy said:

Since this committee began holding hearings, public hearings for Supreme Court nominations in 1960, I wasn’t here at that time, but it has never denied a hearing or a vote to a pending nominee ever until Chief Judge Garland. I can express an opinion. I think it is shameful. I think it has severely damaged the reputation of this committee. I think it has severely damaged the reputation of the Senators who concurred with that. They were anything but the conscience of the nation in that regard, and those who proudly held their hand up and swore that they would uphold the Constitution did not.

It becomes more of a problem because it appears the president outsourced your selection to the far right big money special interest groups. You may not like that terminology, but even Republican Senators have praised the fact that the president had gone to this group, and had a list when he was running for office of who he could select from. A list not prepared by him, but by these special interest groups, and they have an agenda, and they are confident you share their agenda. In fact, the first person who interviewed you for this nomination said that they sought a nominee who understands things like we do.

Just in case anybody thought that Democrats had forgotten about the Garland fiasco and are going to let Gorsuch sail through the confirmation process, Leahy’s comments should be a wake-up call. Democrats are going to fight this nomination. Leahy made it clear that Democrats aren’t falling for his rehearsed tone of moderation.

One should expect that Senate Democrats are going to use every tool at their disposal to do everything that they can to keep Neil Gorsuch off of the Supreme Court.

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

A Witness Proves Shitstain Trump Is Selling Access To The Presidency Through His Private Florida Club

By Jason Easley on Tue, Mar 21st, 2017 at 11:05 am
PoliticusUSA

Attorney Alan Dershowitz’s account of Trump violating a White House promise that Trump wouldn’t talk policy at his private Florida club is proof of how the president is profiting from the presidency while selling access to his administration.

Dershowitz is not a Mar-a-Lago member but was having dinner with member and Trump pal Chris Ruddy. The famous attorney described how Trump talked policy with him at the club.

Dershowitz described having dinner at Trump’s private club where no policy is supposed to be discussed, “Then we schmoozed about a range of issues, the travel ban, the Supreme Court. Then he went and had dinner, and then he came back at the end of dinner just to say goodbye, and then he hung out again for about another ten or fifteen minutes schmoozing about a range of issues talking about the media talking about the leaks of information coming out about classified material.”

According to Dershowitz, the president took him aside and had a private conversation about a foreign issue. Dershowitz said, “We really talked about substantive issues of his choosing.”

What Dershowitz described contradicts a written statement from White House that Trump, “has not and will not be discussing policy with club members.”

Trump is selling access to his presidency through his private club in Florida. There are no visitor logs of Mar-a-Lago made public, so the American people don’t know who Trump is talking policy with when he heads to Florida every weekend.

If this is the manner in which Trump is interacting with guests at his club, he is directly and personally profiting from the presidency.

There is much to investigate in association with the Trump presidency, but one of the overlooked elements of his potential conflicts of interest is what is happening at his private, and closed to the public club.

Congress now has a reason to investigate the conflicts of interest surrounding Trump’s private club. The American people must demand an investigation.

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

Republicans In Total Free Fall As Shitstain Doesn’t Have The Votes To Pass Health Care Bill

By Jason Easley on Tue, Mar 21st, 2017 at 3:47 pm
PoliticusUSA

A new count of no votes found that even with Trump lobbying Republicans, he still lacks the votes to get the health care bill passed in the House.

Mark Murray of NBC News tweeted a list of 26 House Republicans who are currently “no” votes on Trumpcare:

    NBC News has now ID'ed 26 House GOPers who are opposed/leaning strongly against House health-care bill, per @AlexNBCNews & @LACaldwellDC pic.twitter.com/lksvwOTw3x

    — Mark Murray (@mmurraypolitics) March 21, 2017

Republicans have a 22 seat majority, but if 26 House Republicans vote against the bill, it will fail.

Donald Trump went to the Hill today to persuade Republicans to vote for the health care bill, and he left still lacking the votes to pass the legislation.

The reason why the legislation is looking less and less likely to pass is that the changes that are necessary for the conservative House Republicans to support the legislation would doom the American Health Care Act in the Senate.

There are enough Republicans who have stated that they vote against the bill because of the dropping of the Medicaid expansion to kill it if it reaches the Senate. If the bill gets more conservative to cater to the far-right members of the House, it will be dead on arrival in the US Senate.

The same internal conflicts that plagued Congressional Republicans during the Obama presidency are making it impossible for them to govern under Trump. Republicans have formed a circular firing squad and are taking themselves out.

Winning total control over the Executive and Legislative branches could go down as one of the worst things ever to happen to the Republican Party because the rubber is hitting the road.

Now that Republicans are being forced to govern, the ugly dysfunction and unpopularity of their ideology are on full view for an entire nation to see.

 76 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Fillon 'got €50k to fix meeting between Putin and Lebanese billionaire'

Beleaguered presidential candidate faces fresh allegations over 2015 meeting as prosecutors widen fake jobs inquiry

Kim Willsher in Paris
AFP
Wednesday 22 March 2017 11.22 GMT

The French presidential candidate François Fillon has been hit by allegations he was paid $50,000 (£43,000) to arrange a meeting between a Lebanese billionaire and Vladimir Putin as prosecutors investigating whether his wife was paid for fake jobs widened their inquiry to look into whether she signed forged documents.

The latest accusations came a week after Fillon, 63, was formally put under investigation for a misuse of public funds over the €700,000 of taxpayers’ money British-born Penelope Fillon earned for acting as his parliamentary assistant.

French media reported on Tuesday that the inquiry was examining suspected “aggravated fraud, forgery and use of forgeries” to claim she had worked when she had not, which her lawyer denies.

The allegations of Fillon’s role in a meeting between the Russian president, the Lebanese businessman Fouad Makhzoumi and Patrick Pouyane, the chief executive of the energy giant Total, were made in the latest issue of the satirical newspaper Le Canard Enchainé, which broke the alleged “fake jobs” scandal in January.

The article said Fillon’s consultancy company 2F Conseil had earned $50,000 for setting up the 2015 meeting.

Fillon’s spokesman vigorously denied the allegation, saying Canard Enchaîné’s “insinuations” were “completely without foundation”. The Kremlin dismissed the report as “fake news”.

The claims are the latest in a string of accusations levelled at the beleaguered rightwing candidate, who languishes third in the opinion polls for the first round presidential vote in a month. He is also under scrutiny for accepting an undeclared €50,000 loan from a French businessman in 2013 and for the gift of bespoke suits worth up to €48,000 from another wealthy friend.

Fillon has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and refused to bow out of the presidential race, despite promising to drop his leadership bid if he was put under official investigation.

During the first presidential debate on Monday evening, Fillion said: “I’ve made mistakes. Who hasn’t?” At campaign meetings he has described himself as “a profoundly honest man” while lashing out at judges, the government and the media, accusing them of engaging in a “political assassination” and a witch-hunt aimed at sinking his campaign.

Fillon was favourite to win the presidential election in January before his legal woes began when the Canard Enchainé claimed Penelope Fillon and two of the couple’s five children, Marie and Charles, had been paid a total of almost €900,000 over more than a decade to work as his parliamentary assistants. French parliamentarians are allowed to employ family members but they must hold real jobs and do real work.

In a recorded 2007 interview, Penelope Fillon told the Sunday Telegraph she had done “bits and pieces” for her husband but added: “I have never been, actually, his assistant or anything like that.”

Since January, however, there have been fresh allegations almost every week.

On Tuesday, investigators widened their inquiries after examining documents reportedly signed by Penelope Fillon bearing different calculations of the hours she had worked, which were seized in police searches at the Assemblée Nationale.

The French financial prosecutor is looking into whether “the calculations constitute forgeries made to justify, after the fact, the wages that were paid”, Le Monde reported.

Penelope Fillon has been summoned to appear before judges next Tuesday. Her lawyer, Pierre Cornut-Gentille, denied the new allegations against her. “There is not the slightest bit of forgery in this case,” he said. He criticised the violation of the confidentiality of an ongoing investigation. “We won’t defend ourselves before facing the court,” he told AFP.

On Wednesday morning, Fillon’s spokesman, Bruno Retailleau, criticised the press for orchestrating a “serialised campaign” against the candidate.

“We can clearly see these are organised leaks. The secrecy of the investigation has been violated. These leaks are either coming from the investigators or from the judges … every day, every week people are seeking to drop new stories that we can’t even verify … I think the French have the right to hear the issues,” Retailleau told RTL radio. “We’re being dragged into a soap opera.”

On Tuesday the French president, François Hollande, sought to contain a scandal in his outgoing Socialist government by accepting the resignation of the interior minister, Bruno Le Roux, offered almost immediately after France’s financial prosecutor opened a preliminary inquiry into claims Le Roux paid his teenage daughters €55,000 to work for him during their school holidays.

The prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, had earlier insisted MPs must be “beyond reproach” regarding their financial activities.

Opinion polls suggest the far-right Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, and the independent centrist Emmanuel Macron will go through from the first-round presidential vote on 23 April to the second round run-off on 7 May.

 77 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:54 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Lawyer for family of Russian whistleblower 'thrown from building'

Nikolai Gorokhov, who represents family of Sergei Magnitsky, is in intensive care after falling from fourth floor of apartment block

Shaun Walker in Moscow
AFP
Wednesday 22 March 2017 09.52 GMT

A Russian lawyer who represents the family of Sergei Magnitsky is in intensive care after falling from the fourth floor of his apartment building, according to unconfirmed reports.

The Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta suggested Nikolai Gorokhov had fallen after a winch snapped as he tried to lift a bath to a fourth-floor apartment, though details of the incident remained murky.
Sergei Magnitsky verdict 'most shameful moment since Stalin'
Read more

Magnitsky uncovered a massive fraud that implicated government officials, but was himself arrested in 2008 and died in prison in 2009, amid allegations he had been tortured and medical care had been withheld. Russia later put him on trial posthumously for tax evasion.

Gorokhov, 53, has represented the Magnitsky family since 2011, and was due in court on Wednesday as part of a case brought by Magnitsky’s mother against some of those allegedly involved in the fraud he uncovered.

A hearing was also due in Russia’s case against William Browder, the CEO of Hermitage Capital.

Magnitsky was acting as a lawyer for Hermitage, and after his death, Browder launched a campaign to bring the Russian officials involved in Magnitsky’s death to justice, including lobbying for the Magnitsky Act, which bans Russian officials implicated in rights abuses from entering the US.

Gorokhov is also a witness in a case due to be heard in New York in May which the UK government has brought against a Cyprus-based company alleged to have aided the laundering of proceeds from the fraud.

Hermitage Capital sent a press release stating Gorokhov had been “thrown from the fourth floor of his apartment building” on Tuesday, but did not give any further details. Browder did not respond to an emailed request for further comment.

    Bill Browder (@Billbrowder)

    Magnitsky family lawyer Nikolai Gorokhov thrown from 4th floor apartment in Moscow. Currently in critical condition w/severe head injuries
    March 21, 2017

Novaya Gazeta quoted an unidentified Hermitage spokesperson stating that in fact Gorokhov had fallen in the stairwell while attempting to lift a bath up to the fourth floor.

The Russian Interfax news agency on Wednesday morning quoted a law-enforcement source as saying police did not believe there was criminal intent or anything suspicious about Gorokhov’s fall.

 78 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:52 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Appeal to fight hunger in east Africa, and the US cuts that pose a threat to women

Disasters Emergency Committee calls for urgent funds for 16 million people facing hunger, and the US lines up with world’s worst abusers of women’s rights

development is supported by
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Tuesday 21 March 2017 13.57 GMT

The Disasters Emergency Committee has launched a major appeal to help the 16 million people facing hunger across east Africa. Ben Quinn visited the self-declared state of Somaliland, reporting on the 6 million people in urgent need of food assistance in Somalia: in the towns and villages he visited there was little sign of help arriving. In South Sudan, where famine has been declared, Simona Foltyn found aid delivery under threat from armed fighters.

At the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, Liz Ford reported that President Trump’s reintroduction of the global gag rule places the US side-by-side with some of the world’s worst women’s rights abusers. Activists warn that the gag rule will harm tens of thousands of vulnerable women.

 79 
 on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:50 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
World Water Day: one in four children will live with water scarcity by 2040

Unicef report says climate change and conflict are intensifying risks to children of living without enough water, and that the poorest will suffer most

Ben Quinn and Saeed Kamali Dehghan
Guardian
Wednesday 22 March 2017 00.01 GMT

One in four of the world’s children will be living in areas with extremely limited water resources by 2040 as a result of climate change, the UN has warned.

Within two decades, 600 million children will be in regions enduring extreme water stress, with a great deal of competition for the available supply. The poorest and most disadvantaged will suffer most, according to research published by the children’s agency, Unicef, to mark World Water Day on Wednesday.

Drought conditions and conflict are driving deadly water scarcity in parts of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Unicef anticipates that more than 9 million people will be without safe drinking water this year in Ethiopia alone. Nearly 1.4 million children face imminent risk of death from acute malnutrition in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

The report, Thirsting for a Future: Water and Children in a Changing Climate, looked at the threats to children’s lives and wellbeing caused by depleted sources of safe water and the ways in which climate change will intensify these risks.

As industrialisation and demographic shifts increase consumption, areas of south Asia and the Middle East will be particularly affected, according to one of the report’s authors, Nicholas Rees. “Where demand is extremely high then water stress will increase. It will go up in areas of rapid urbanisation, and we are already seeing that throughout sub-Saharan Africa and Asia,” he said.

Another report published on Wednesday warned that Iran is grappling with an unprecedented water crisis, and faces a greater threat from its environmental challenges than those arising from regional political issues or terrorism. The study, from London-based NGO Small Media, said that shortages could transform vast swaths of the country into near-uninhabitable areas in the coming decades.

“Iran is facing a water crisis that is unparallelled in its modern history. Lakes and rivers are dying, droughts are increasing in frequency, and even Iran’s deepest groundwater reserves are being sucked dry by Iran’s growing population and its thirsty agricultural sector,” the report said.

“Resultant soil erosion is accelerating the destruction of forest ranges across the country, and contributing to a sharp increase in dust storms and air pollution.”

It warned that ecosystems were collapsing, with some species of wildlife on the brink of extinction. Lake Urmia, the country’s largest lake, is a biosphere reserve recognised by Unesco: the report says it has shrunk to 12% of its size since the 1970s, “owing to frequent droughts, and aggressive, poorly implemented water management policies upstream”.

Across the world, the UN’s report says that 36 countries are facing extremely high levels of water stress, which occurs when demand far exceeds the renewable supply available. Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, increased floods, droughts and melting ice affect the quality and availability of water, as do sanitation systems.

The impact of climate change on water sources is not inevitable, according to the report, which made a series of recommendations designed to help curb the impact of climate change on the lives of children. These include calls for governments to prioritise access to safe water for the most vulnerable children above other water needs, and for communities to diversify water sources.

“We want to reduce child deaths. That is the goal. But we are not going to end child deaths without addressing environmental threats that they face,” said Rees.

“We focus on their susceptibility to disease but if we don’t also address the broad environmental risks we are going to fall short. Climate change is often felt through a change in the water – whether it’s a flood, rising sea levels or something else – and the effect of a changing climate is often felt by children through water first.”

The NGO WaterAid published findings on Tuesday of how vulnerable rural communities’ struggles to access clean water were being compounded by extreme weather events and climate change.

India, one of the fastest growing economies and home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, was ranked in an annual WaterAid survey as having the greatest number of people living rurally without access to clean water: 63 million.

In terms of those making progress, the report said, Paraguay has achieved the biggest improvements in getting water to rural dwellers. More than 94% of its rural population now has access to safe water, compared with 51.6% in 2000.

Papua New Guinea, Madagascar and Mozambique were among the worst performing countries for rural access to clean water.

WaterAid’s chief executive, Barbara Frost, said many of the countries featured in the report were already being hit regularly by severe cyclones, floods and drought. “Rural communities – which are marginalised by their remote location and a continued lack of funding for basic services – often bear the greatest burden of these events,” she said.

WaterAid is calling on international and national leaders to deliver on promises to meet the sustainable development goals, including a goal to ensure access to safe water and sanitation.

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 on: Mar 22, 2017, 05:41 AM 
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Honduras, where defending nature is a deadly business

In the first in a series, Yale Environment 360 reports from Honduras where Berta Cáceres fought to protect native lands and paid for it with her life – one of hundreds of victims in this disturbing global trend

Fred Pearce, for Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network
Wednesday 22 March 2017 11.00 GMT

They came for her late one evening last March, as Berta Cáceres prepared for bed. A heavy boot broke the back door of the safe house she had just moved into. Her colleague and family friend, Gustavo Castro, heard her shout, “Who’s there?” Then came a series of shots. He survived. But the most famous and fearless social and environmental activist in Honduras died instantly. She was 44 years old. It was a cold-blooded political assassination.

Berta Cáceres knew she was likely to be killed. Everybody knew. She had told her daughter Laura to prepare for life without her. The citation for her prestigious Goldman Environmental prize, awarded in the US less than a year before, noted the continued death threats, before adding: “Her murder would not surprise her colleagues, who keep a eulogy – but hope to never have to use it.”

“I knew she was afraid,” said Maria Santos Dominguez, who lives in the remote indigenous village of Rio Blanco in the country’s mountainous west, where Cáceres was the national face of a campaign against a dam on a river sacred to the Lenca people. “It was too much for her. I could tell.”

Most believe it was that campaign, against the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River, that provided the motive for her murder, one of a rash of recent killings of environmental and social activists in Honduras.

Honduras, says the international human rights group Global Witness, is “the deadliest country in the world to defend the natural world”. At least 109 people have been killed for taking a stand against dams, mines, logging, and agricultural projects in Honduras since a military coup there in 2009 installed a government that was quickly supported by the US state department. Global Witness catalogues the killings of environmental and human rights campaigners around the world, and its latest report revealed that 2015 was the most dangerous year on record to be an environmental activist.

Cáceres was only the most high-profile victim of a worldwide epidemic that saw nearly 200 deaths during the past year. “The environment is emerging as a new battleground for human rights,” Global Witness found. With demand for products like timber, minerals, and palm oil on the rise, companies are exploiting land with little regard for the people who live on it, according to the report, which noted that increasingly, “communities that take a stand are finding themselves in the firing line of companies’ private security, state forces and a thriving market for contract killers”.

And 2017 has already seen more. Another former Goldman prize winner, Mexican indigenous leader and opponent of illegal logging, Isidro Baldenegro was shot dead in January.

Yale Environment 360 has investigated the circumstances surrounding the killings of environmental activists on three continents – probing cases in Honduras, Malaysia, and South Africa. Two things emerge strongly: first, the frequent characterisation of the activists as environmentalists only tells part of the story. Their campaigns run much deeper and are often rooted in the social identity of minority groups – in Cáceres’s case, the indigenous Lenca people of Honduras.

And second, while lone thugs and gangsters often end up in court, there is frequently a conspiracy of actors engaged in silencing the activists. As Global Witness’s chief campaigner on the issue, Billy Kyte, puts it: “These are not isolated incidents – they are symptomatic of a systematic assault on remote and indigenous communities by state and corporate actors.”

According to Honduran prosecutors, of the eight people so far arrested in connection with the death of Cáceres, six have links to government security services, including an elite military squad trained by US special forces. And two of those charged have alleged links to the Honduran company behind the dam project, Desarrollos Energéticas SA. Yale Environment 360 has learned that the cases against those charged are being built based on records of mobile phone calls made around the time of the crime.
Why is Honduras the world's deadliest country for environmentalists?
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In a statement, the company said it “has not given any declaration, nor does it plan to do so, until the authorities in charge of the investigation determine the causes and perpetrators of this regrettable incident.”

Cáceres was born into one of the most prominent families of the Lenca people, who live in the mountains of western Honduras. In the 23 years since she helped form the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh), she had helped revive the Lenca’s cultural and political identity. Her organisation, based around its stronghold in the market town of La Esperanza, had become entrenched and vocal. It had established a training centre, nicknamed Utopia, and a network of radio stations, La Voz Lenca.

It was unapologetically Marxist in its approach, but rooted Lenca identity in the mountains and rivers, the forests, and the plant life of the region.

“Berta was Copinh and Copinh was Berta,” says Karen Spring, a Canadian social activist based in the national capital Tegucigalpa. “Especially after the 2009 coup, she had become one of the leading people in the country. And feared. That’s why they wanted to kill her.” She had opposed a rash of development projects and “concessions” handed out, often illegally, to private companies for dams, mines, and other projects.

Cáceres had also become an important figure in the growing Latin American movement of indigenous peoples. More than 3,000 people thronged the streets of La Esperanza for her funeral. A year later, the town is still full of graffiti declaring “Berta Vive”, and shrines are visible on street corners. Strangers from across the world make their way to her grave in the town cemetery. The martyrdom of Berta is well underway.

Cáceres’s political tenacity came from generations of family politics, particularly among the women. To understand her, I visited her 85-year-old mother, Austraberta Flores, with whom she lived until the final months. Friends say she left to spare her mother from witnessing the inevitable end. Besides having nine children, Flores was a midwife. Almost everyone I met in La Esperanza claimed to have been brought into the world by her.

But she was also a politician – thrice mayor of the city and a congresswoman in the capital Tegucigalpa. She promoted into national law an international code requiring free, prior, and informed consent from communities like the Lenca before development projects such as dams and mines can go ahead on their lands. “It’s still the strongest law we have,” Flores told me proudly.

She had also been a frontline activist, making regular forays to the border with El Salvador during the civil war there in the 1980s to help female Salvadoran fighters deliver their babies while on the run. “We were helping Salvadorans to liberate themselves so they could help liberate us,” she said.

“Berta grew up with struggle. She saw it every day,” Flores told me. “It was her schooling. I knew she would be important. I was always pushing her to become what she became.” Berta and her mother made a formidable team. While Flores drafted legislation on “free, prior, and informed consent” on development projects, her daughter organised street demonstrations supporting its introduction.

Flores blames the state for her daughter’s death. “She had filed 40 reports of threats against her. They knew she was under threat, but they failed to protect her.” Now Cáceres’s daughters, Bertita, 26, and Laura, 24, “have the responsibility to carry on,” Flores told me.

Much of Copinh’s power lies in combining political radicalism – anti-military, anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist, and anti-American – with a deep conservative attachment to the Lenca peoples’ heritage and land. In Copinh’s Women’s Wellness Centre, a new and heavily guarded building in La Esperanza where abused and intimidated women can take refuge, I met 75-year-old Pascualita Vasquez. She was the longtime chair of the council of elders, established by Cáceres to revive cultural traditions and links to the land. They bless rivers, bless soil before harvests, and bless new houses.

“Before Berta, our ceremonies were being forgotten. I remembered them as a child, but we no longer did them,” she told me. “But Berta emphasised for us how important it was to rescue our traditions, and to hold ceremonies before discussions of current issues like dams. We revere our ancestors, and now that Berta is dead, we see her as an ancestor, too.”

Now, reviving local herbal remedies and seeds – of corn, for instance – is central to reclaiming their land, she said. We spoke beside a shrine to Cáceres set up in the middle of the room, with candles, corn cobs, pine cones, and a flask of water from the river that Cáceres was protecting before she was killed.

The next day I traveled to Rio Blanco, the distant village that became the focus of Cáceres’s last campaign, against the Agua Zarca dam. It had been a violent and bitter struggle. In 2013, a local activist Tomas Garcia had been shot dead by soldiers during protests at a camp established by Chinese construction workers set to begin work on the dam.

My host was villager Maria Santos Dominguez, a local leader of opposition to the dam. She had a nasty scar on her face. She explained how the villagers had become divided between those for and against the dam. One family in particular had complained that she “spoke too much”. It was her fault, they said, that they couldn’t get economic development in the village.

“They saw me go past on the way to my children’s school one day, and they hid for my return. Then they attacked me with a machete. I had taken my phone out to talk to my husband. He heard it all and came running. He had my son with him and told him: ‘They are killing your mom.’”

Dominguez spent six months recuperating at the Wellness Centre in La Esperanza. “She was on the brink of suicide,” aides there told me. But now she was back home, as determined as ever. She broadcasts every week on the Lenca radio station, from a location that is kept secret to prevent attacks.

“We were born here. It is our land and our river,” she said. “If we lost the river, we’d die. We need its water to bathe, for fish, for water, for our crops and animals.”

She took me to the river, to a gorge where a quiet pool formed between two rapids. It was a beautiful spot and, in engineering terms, an ideal place for the dam they had so far been able to prevent. Dominguez often bathes her children in the clear, cool mountain waters. “The river is sacred to us. We believe in the spirits in the river – they are three little girls, and they give us strength to fight the dam builders,” she said. For Dominguez and others, it has become an existential fight.

A few days before her murder, Cáceres had come to Rio Blanco. “There were dam people on the river, working with machinery. It looked like they might be about to begin work on construction. So we went to see them,” said Dominguez. “But they accused her of stirring us up, and they threatened to kill her. A few days later she was dead. The dam people haven’t come back to the river since.”

Will the Agua Zarca dam ever be built? Some now doubt it. It would only have delivered a modest 22 megawatts of electricity. After the outcry over Cáceres’s death, international funders, including the Dutch financier FMO and the Finnish Finnfund, announced that they were pulling out of the project. The Chinese are gone, too. But elsewhere on Lenca territory, dams are going ahead.

In La Paz province, the Lenca have been fighting a rash of hydroelectric schemes on mountain streams, being promoted by a local politician and vice president of the Honduran Congress for the ruling right-wing Nationalist Party, Gladys Aurora Lopez, and her husband Arnold Castro. These projects are proposed for mountains that locals say have been illegally taken from them. Local leader Ana Mirian Romero had her home burned down. “They call us stupid Indians,” said La Paz activist Margarita Pineda Rodriguez. “But these projects offer us no benefits, only loss of our natural resources.”

“We are seeing the recolonisation of our country,” says Tomas Gomez Membreño, Cáceres’s successor as interim Copinh’s coordinator, as we talked at length in the training centre in La Esperanza one evening. “More and more of our natural resources are being handed out to foreign corporations. There is more and more repression of people who fight back.”

This is a wounded community. Cáceres’s brother Gustavo, hovering in the background as I interviewed her mother, seemed a broken man. Another of her former lieutenants, Sotero Chavarria, told me that he could not bear to go to the cemetery to see her grave.

But their tenacity in the face of continuing violence remains remarkable. In March 2016, less than two weeks after the assassination of Cáreras, another Copinh activist Nelson Garcia was shot dead outside his home south of La Esperanza, after spending the day defending local Lenca people against efforts to evict them from their land.

In July, an activist and mother-of-three Lesbia Yaneth Urquia was found dead near a garbage dump in the town of Marcala, with deep cuts to her head. One day in October, Copinh’s Membreño was shot at in the street, and someone opened fire on the home of another local leader, Alexander Garcia, while he and his family were asleep inside.

The day I arrived in Honduras, a La Paz activist, Victor Vásquez, was shot in the leg by a policeman while taking video footage of an eviction in the village of San Pedro de Tutule. “They tell us this is not our land, but we have been here for 500 years,” Vásquez told me a couple of days later at his home, where he was recovering. “The president wants to sell our land and our rivers, and the clean air in our mountains. He would sell the birds in the trees.”

In a quavering voice, his young son sat on his bed and sang me a song of defiance. Flying high on a tall tree above his village was a Honduran flag, its placement there a sign of indigenous resistance, he told me.

Cáceres’s modest bungalow stands empty today. The only sign of her violent end is a dent in the wire fence where the assassins had climbed over. A “Berta Vive” poster hangs in the window. Some want her home to become a museum of her life, to seal her martyrdom. The river she died to protect may or may not get dammed. But the battle for her legacy – and for the future of the Lenca and their lands – goes on.

    The Pulitzer Centre on Crisis Reporting provided travel funding for reporting this article.
    Fred Pearce is a freelance author and journalist based in the UK. He is a contributing writer for Yale Environment 360 and is the author of numerous books, including The Land Grabbers, Earth Then and Now: Potent Visual Evidence of Our Changing World, and The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming.

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