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Nov 22, 2017, 03:35 AM
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 71 
 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:31 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Country diary: peregrine is on the chase, but I can't make out the prey

Wepham Down, West Sussex Most hunts happen in the early morning or just before dusk – except in winter during the short days

Rob Yarham
Guardian
11/18/2017

Skylarks are chasing each other over the fields, their sharp calls piercing the air. Two of the birds climb overhead. The second, having seen off the first, circles back, and begins to hover, singing snatches of its bright, vigorous territorial song. The brown, falling leaves are a reminder that it’s November.

Shadows drift across the hillside. The evening sun, reaching between the breaks in the moving cloud, lights up patches of undulating ground so they glow golden brown and yellow-green before falling into darkness again. A group of white gulls is heading back from the coast to the open fields to find somewhere to roost for the night. The sun catches each one as they pass, and they shine brightly like silvered pearls.

Three dark birds spiral high above them. At first, I think they’re gulls as well, but they are still dark when the sun catches them, and then I see their pointed wings. Peregrine falcons. I watch them soar in climbing circles, two about 100 feet (30 metres) above the third. The lowest one begins to flap its wings faster, picking up speed. It hurtles low, towards the trees, in a stoop. It pulls up, then flaps again, banking left, then right. It is chasing another bird, but I can’t make out the prey. The hunting peregrine flies down, below the treeline. The two falcons that have been shadowing the hunt from above drop down into the valley and out of sight.

Most peregrine hunts happen in the early morning or just before dusk – except in winter during the short days – and are rarely witnessed. I wonder if any of the three birds were among the young I had watched fledge in the summer. It seems surprising the family would still be together – the young have usually moved on, or the adults have chased them away from the territory, by this time of year.

Perhaps two are still learning to hunt from their parent. It was impossible to make out any markings at this distance and in this light – immature birds would still be brown and streaked. The peregrines don’t reappear. I consider searching for them, but it’s turning dark and cold.

    This article was amended on 15 November 2017 to add the location of Wepham Down, West Sussex.

 72 
 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:29 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Logging in native forests: court to hear challenge to historic 'peace deal'

Green groups are basing challenge on claim that Victorian forestry agreement is not being adhered to
Leadbeater's possum

Michael Slezak
18 November 2017 02.12 GMT
Guardian

Exemptions allowing logging to occur in Australia’s native forests without approval under federal environmental law are being challenged in court as lawyers claim the agreements creating them are not being adhered to in an area of Victoria.

The case, brought by Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) on behalf of Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum, could have national implications, with other groups raising similar concerns around the country.

Australia’s 10 regional forestry agreements (RFAs) in Victoria, Tasmania, New South Wales and Western Australia were signed between 1997 and 2001, each running for 20 years.

The agreements between state and federal governments mean proposals to log in designated native forests are not required to be approved through the usual federal process, under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC).

They were seen by many as a historic peace deal that attempted to preserve conservation values while allowing the forestry industry continued access to native trees.

But the agreements require performance reviews to be conducted every five years. EJA will argue that since those reviews have not been undertaken in Victoria, some logging in the forests covered by the Central Highlands RFA, which threatens Greater gliders and Leadbeater’s possums must gain approval under the EPBC, which has not occurred.

The Victorian Central Highlands RFA was signed in March 1998. But over the 19-year period, the Victorian and federal governments say they have done just one review, which examined the period to 2009 and was completed in 2015.

An EJA lawyer, Danya Jacobs, said the case asked the court to prohibit logging at 34 sites where Greater gliders and Leadbeater’s possums live, unless federal environment laws were complied with.

Logging in those forests is a major threat to the species, both of which are listed as threatened by both state and federal governments.

“The native forest logging industry has operated as if it’s exempt from federal environment law for almost 20 years, on the basis of agreements that have not been complied with,” Jacobs said.

“This case asks the court to examine this situation in specific forests that are home to iconic threatened species that are suffering because of logging.”

On Tuesday afternoon, VicForests agreed to immediately halt logging at two sites named in the claim until Friday, when an urgent hearing of an injunction application may take place.

Nathan Trushell, chief executive of the state-owned commercial logging company, VicForests, said they believed their operations were in accordance with the Regional Forest Agreement.

“Prior to harvesting, a thorough, multi-layered planning process is undertaken to consider the management of many environmental and other values present in the forest,” Trushell said.

“We are keen to see the matter resolved as quickly as possible to minimise disruption of timber supply to local mills and important regional jobs.”

A detailed review of RFAs, conducted in 2016 by the National Parks Association of NSW, concluded the agreements failed in all their aims, the logging of native forests they facilitated resulting in an increase in the number of threatened species.

Lead author of the report, senior ecologist at the National Parks Association of NSW Oisin Sweeney, said the court case in Victoria would be carefully watched around the country and could have major implications for other RFAs.

“It’s absolutely relevant in NSW,” Sweeney said. “We have had the first five-yearly report. It was produced in the ninth year of the RFA. So it was several years late. We still haven’t had the 10 and 15 years reports even though we’re 18 years into the RFA.”

The logging allowed by the RFAs in NSW has been destroying habitat of koalas there. A report released in May by the NSW Environmental Protection Agency found that all koala populations in NSW, with one possible exception, have continued to decline, with at least one population now considered endangered.

In August, the first RFA in the country was rolled over, with an agreement signed between the Tasmanian and federal government.

 73 
 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Growing number of global insurance firms divesting from fossil fuels

Report shows around £15bn of assets worldwide have been shifted away from coal companies in the past two years as concern over climate risk rises

Jonathan Watts
Guardian11/18/2017

A growing number of insurance companies increasingly affected by the consequences of climate change are selling holdings in coal companies and refusing to underwrite their operations.

About £15bn has been divested in the past two years, according to a new report that rates the world’s leading insurers’ efforts to distance themselves from the fossil fuel industry that is most responsible for carbon emissions.

Fifteen companies – almost all based in Europe – have fully or partially cut financial ties, says the study by the Unfriend Coal campaign, which represents a coalition of a dozen environmental groups including Greenpeace, 350.org and the Sierra Club.

Zurich, the world’s seventh biggest insurer, is the latest to shift away from coal, announcing this week that it is pulling out of coal to contribute to broader efforts to achieve the Paris accord goal of keeping global warming below 2C.

Allianz, Aviva and Axa have previously made similar moves. Lloyd’s and Swiss Re are expected to follow in the coming months.

The campaign has a long way to go. The early movers represent only 13% of all global insurance assets. None of the major US insurers such as Berkshire Hathaway, AIG and Liberty Mutual have taken action, according to the study.

Despite this, the authors say the shift of assets and coverage since 2015 is gaining momentum.

“Coal needs to become uninsurable,” said Peter Bosshard, the coordinator of Unfriend Coal. “If insurers cease to cover the numerous natural, technical, commercial and political risks of coal projects, then new coalmines and power plants cannot be built and existing operations will have to be shut down.”

Such financial pressure is crucial if global warming is to be kept in check.

The International Energy Agency says 99% of coal generation needs to be phased out by 2050 if even the upper goal is be reached, but coal production continues to rise and governments have shown insufficient commitment to reining it back.

Zurich said its decision to pull out was a practical as well as altruistic. “It’s not about politics or blame. It’s about utilising the immense amount of data and analytics we have from internal engineers, as well as external scientific experts, to guide our view of the future,” said Rob Kuchinski, global head of property and energy.

The Bank of England has identified four reasons insurers should be concerned about climate change: their fossil fuel assets could be stranded, they could be held liable for damages linked to their investments, they could see their market diminish, and their payouts could rise.

Payouts are also expected to rise. Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer, recently suffered a €1.4bn loss and also faces soaring claims from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“Left unchecked,” British insurer Aviva states, climate change will “render significant portions of the economy uninsurable, shrinking our addressable market.”

The topic of insurance is prominent on the agenda of UN climate talks in Bonn this week, where the focus is on the lack of coverage for small islands and other nations most affected by rising sea levels and worsening droughts. Wealthy nations are proposing a plan to underwrite climate change coverage to 400 million people in developing countries by 2020.

 74 
 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Trump postpones big-game trophy hunting decision after colossal backlash

Newsweek
18 Nov 2017 at 00:21 ET 

On Friday evening, President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he would halt his decision to lift a ban on big-game hunting trophies, almost a day after his administration announced that trophy hunters were allowed to kill elephants in countries such as Zambia and Zimbabwe and bring home tusks or any other body parts as prizes.

He tweeted, “Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts. Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!”

Trump’s decision to roll back an Obama-era ban on such practices caused an uproar among conservation groups and social media users who posted pictures of the president's sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, as they were holding a cut-off tail of a killed elephant and other slain animals.

 75 
 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Underwater castle with ancient ‘fairy chimneys’ found

Newsweek
18 Nov 2017 at 06:48 ET 

Researchers studying a vast lake in Eastern Turkey have unearthed the remains of a 3,000-year-old castle buried beneath its waters.

Tahsin Ceylan, an underwater photographer and videographer, Mustafa Akkuş, an academic from Van Yüzüncü Yıl University’s fishery faculty, Murat Kulakaç, a diving instructor and Cumali Birol, a diver, plunged into Lake Van, Turkey's largest lake, to discover its secrets, Hurriyet Daily News reported.

The castle likely dates from the reign of the ancient Urartu Kingdom, which grew up around Lake Van during the Iron Age.

Researchers have identified the castle as Urartian because the stone used in its construction is characteristic of that civilization.

The Urartians left the area around Lake Van as the waters rose but their buildings stayed behind, partly lost to the deep.

Full excavations are yet to be carried out, so researchers do not know how tall the castle’s walls are, but around three to four meters (around 10 to 13 feet) are visible above the lake bed. The ruins overall cover a square kilometer (0.4 square miles).

Researchers say that the alkaline water of the lake has allowed the castle to remain preserved in excellent condition. 

Previous study of the lake discovered stalagmites up to 10 meters (33 feet) in length, dubbed “underwater fairy chimneys.”

Local governor Arif Karaman said: “Studies were done on the underwater portion of the historic Urartian castle in our city, revealing it to be nearly 3,000 years old."

Ceylan said: “Many civilizations and people had settled around Lake Van. They named the lake the ‘upper sea’ and believed it had many mysterious things. With this belief in mind, we are working to reveal the lake’s ‘secrets.’”

He added: “We have shared all these findings with the world...It is a miracle to find this castle underwater. Archaeologists will come here to examine the castle’s history and provide information on it.”

 76 
 on: Nov 18, 2017, 05:18 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Supercomputer being sent into space to see if it can survive a mission to Mars

First-of-its-kind experiment from Hewlett Packard Enterprise stress tests PC aboard ISS for one year.

James Billington
Independent
11/18/2017 

Computing company Hewlett Packard Enterprise is helping to speed up the mission to Mars by sending a commercial, off-the-shelf, supercomputer into space to see how it copes with the harsh conditions.

The first-of-its-kind experiment will see the Spaceborne computer travel to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft  where it will spend a year (the same time it takes to travel to Mars) in operation.

A mission to the Red Planet will require highly advanced onboard computing that can run for lengthy periods without the risk of burning out – this is why this study HPE and Nasa are investing in improving today's technology to achieve that goal.

The Linux-running computer has essentially taken a commercial PC and fitted it with a unique water-cooled enclosure, but while Nasa's space computers are typically 'ruggedised' to withstand things like radiation, solar flares, subatomic particles and unstable power this has been adapted to survive through special software instead.

"This physical hardening takes time, money and adds weight, so HPE took a different approach to harden the systems with software. HPE's system software will manage real time throttling of the computer systems based on current conditions and can mitigate environmentally induced errors," according to a blog post by Alain Andreoli, Senior Vice President & General Manager, HPE Data Centre Infrastructure Group.

The hope of this experiment will prove that current technologies can be deployed in the quickest manner possible without the need to wait for Nasa engineers to modify hardware to make them space-proof.

Astronauts who may one day make the trip to Mars will be required to work on computers and laptops to transmit data back to Earth. The further they travel from home the longer the lag or delay of transmission will be, which could be dangerous or even deadly if astronauts are met with mission critical scenarios they cannot solve themselves. This is why the experiment is critical in developing a high-performance computing system that can be relied upon.

The Spaceborne experiment could also have a knock-on effect back on Earth with any breakthroughs in the software technology potentially trickling down to consumer PCs for next-generation high performance computing.

While Elon Musk is raring to get Earthlings on their merry way to Mars until the computing resources are available to confidently cope with space and not degrade during the long journey Nasa missions will not be able to take off.

 77 
 on: Nov 17, 2017, 07:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
 SPIEGEL ONLINE
11/17/2017 10:19 AM

A Country, Still Divided: Why Is the Former East Germany Tilting Populist?

The Berlin Wall fell 28 years ago, yet vast divisions remain between the former East and West of the country. In the recent election, the populist AfD party did particularly well in the eastern states. But why? By DER SPIEGEL staff

It's a weekday morning in Thuringia's state parliament and the representatives are engaged in heated debate.

"Embarrassing," one of them shouts.

"The NPD couldn't have put it better," yells another, referring to the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany.

"I'm outraged!"

"How dare you?"

"I won't stand for your constant lies!"

"You couldn't even spell the word 'decency'!"

"Just shut up!"

"I think it's only right that we as the state parliament apologize for this comment."

The parliament is having a debate about the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a far-right terror cell that murdered 10 people across Germany between 2000 and 2007. Should there be a memorial to their victims? Two MPs from the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) have seized the opportunity to provoke other parties.

Thuringia's regional government consists of a so-called "red-red-green" coalition of the Left Party, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens. One of the AfD politicians is arguing that this coalition wants to dictate to the people of Thuringia and indeed "the German people" that they are "basically stuck in the Third Reich." He maintains the coalition is out to convince the public that "people are rotten." Only victims of NSU terror are honored, he argues, and not those of Islamist terror. "We're expected to become loyal followers of a new so-called anti-fascism!"

The plenary assembly taking place in the newly-built, light-flooded state parliament building is attended by Bodo Ramelow, Thuringia's state governor, a member of the Left Party. He goes from staring at the speaker, incomprehension written across his face, to burying his head in his hands. Eventually he goes up to the podium himself.

"I am ashamed that such a speech is made here in the state parliament," says the state governor.

Something has changed in Germany. A country that until recently was crowned the most popular in the world in various surveys has become consumed by self-doubt and mired in a quest for identity. The rapid rise of the AfD has rocked the nation, including in the states of what was once West Germany and where the AfD are now represented in all state legislatures. Mainly, however, it has been the case in the states of the former East, where the AfD is now the second more powerful party. In Saxony, it's the strongest.

November 9 marked the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It wasn't a milestone anniversary as it was in 2014, when the country threw a jubilant party complete with fireworks and guests from all over the world. The unified country had grown up, was economically robust, modern and tolerant. The message was: finally, what belonged together had grown together, as former Chancellor Willy Brandt once predicted. But had it really? Is it still true?

What's going on in eastern Germany? In the wake of the elections in September, newspapers have been trying to figure out why the eastern states have lurched the furthest to the right, and why German nationalism and xenophobia appear to have be getting inexorably more overt there - from the anti-immigrant Pegida marches to the anti-refugee protests in Freital and Heidenau and the outpourings of anger at Angela Merkel during her election campaign appearances over the summer.

The theories put forward so far are based on two assumptions: That it's the result of economics and the wealth gap that still exists between the western and eastern states, or that it's related to some supposed collective psychological disorder spurred by the fact that the experience of two dictatorships was never properly dealt with.

But it's not that simple. In recent weeks, a team of DER SPIEGEL journalists met people who have been observing, encouraging or fighting the shift to the right in Germany's eastern states: voters, parliamentarians, state governors, regional politicians and representatives of grassroots society. It has created a multi-faceted picture showing nationalist, racist and anti-democratic elements, as well as lighter ones - and possible paths out of the populism trap.

Everyone seemed to agree that the September election was a cry for attention. Twenty-eight years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is high time eastern and western Germany finally listened to one another, so that German reunification is not merely an excuse for fireworks, as it was on the 25th anniversary, three years ago.

Something for Everyone

The rubble has been swept into little piles, with plastic garbage sacks dotted between them. "Mineral wool can cause cancer," read stickers on the bags. "Wear protective clothing!" it says underneath, followed by a vivid exclamation mark and a gas-mask pictogram.

This is all that's left of an obsolete high-rise estate built in communist East Germany. Weisswasser in Oberlausitz, a region near the border between Saxony and Poland, is a deserted town. Many have left and those that have stayed can justifiably call themselves among the losers of German reunification. 28 percent of them voted for the AfD in the federal elections.

Nine kilometers to the east, on the River Neisse, is Bad Muskau. It's home to a palace and a park which was renovated to the tune of millions and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tourism is a nice earner for the small town and its inhabitants, and Bad Muskau is one of eastern Germany's success stories. Even so, almost one in three voted AfD in the election -- 3.6 percent more than in Weisswasser.

"In actual fact, we're already just a perfectly normal mainstream party here," says Tino Chrupalla. In Oberlausitz, the AfD offers something for everyone - people who feel forgotten as well as those who've benefited from reunification. "Even pastors vote for us." In September Chrupalla succeeded in ousting the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) as the most popular local party, which they had been for the last 25 years, when he won a direct mandate and defeated Michael Kretschmer, the Saxon CDU's general secretary.

When 42-year-old Chrupalla talks, he comes across as friendly, open, frank. He waxes lyrical about Weisswasser's golden years in East Germany, when people worked in the lignite mines and the glassworks, and lived in ultra-modern high-rises.

"I had a lovely childhood," he says. "Very nice, very safe." Doors were left unlocked in the countryside, there were few break-ins and when they did happen, the perpetrators were soon apprehended by the East German police. "My parents never had to worry about where I was playing."

Once the Berlin Wall had fallen, Helmut Kohl - the CDU chancellor who went down in history as the father of reunification -- became his new idol. He joined the Junge Union, the youth wing of the CDU, and he and his friend and fellow party member Michael Kretschmer paid a visit to the chancellor. Chrupalla trained to be a housepainter and went on to set up his own business. His company thrived, he got married - reunification brought him nothing but good fortune.

But he felt increasingly alienated from Germany. Thousands of jobs were lost. Half the inhabitants of Weisswasser moved away. Bus routes in the surrounding countryside were cancelled. Stores and schools in local villages were closed. And gangs from Eastern Europe started crossing the open border to steal cars.

The region was changing, and so was Germany. The financial crisis, the euro crisis, the refugee crisis and then same-sex marriage. "No one ever asked us what we thought," says Chrupalla. He took part in the anti-Islam, far-right Pegida demonstrations in Dresden and eventually joined the AfD. Then he stood for election as a member of the German parliament.

"I never dreamt I would lose my constituency," says Chrupalla's erstwhile colleague, Michael Kretschmer. As the representative for Oberlausitz in the Bundestag, the CDU politician helped keep EU research funds pouring into the region and opened doors in Berlin for local mayors. "I believe I was a good representative," he says.

But during the election he got the impression that voters wanted to "make a point" - not necessarily to him, he says, but to the chancellor, to the CDU in Berlin. About refugee policy. "People had the feeling they weren't being taken seriously," he says.

In fact, protest voters have done him a favor, too. In December, he is set to take over from state governor Stanislaw Tillich, who is resigning in light of his party's disappointing performance in the September election. Kretschmer, who lost his seat in Oberlausitz, is now supposed to save the CDU in Saxony and indeed the state itself from the AfD.

His rival Tino Chrupalla, meanwhile, is also advancing his career - in Berlin. He's now deputy chairman of the AfD's parliamentary group. "As a humble housepainter, I am proud to have made Saxony's CDU lose its footing," he says.

So far, Chrupalla has not shown any signs of demagoguery, unlike AfD firebrands like Björn Höcke, a Saxon state parliament politician who has publicly questioned Germany's culture of remembrance for the Holocaust. He refers to an "erosion of democracy" and says that regional parliaments aren't consulted on important issues. "The genie's been let out of the bottle," he says. "People aren't going to stand for it any more."

The Sin of the Fathers

The Haseloff family has lived in or near Wittenberg for 600 years. Its members have been active in local politics through the generations, and right now it's Reiner Haseloff's turn. The 63-year-old is the current governor of Saxony-Anhalt.

As he leads the way through his hometown, which is southwest of Berlin, his every step brings him face to face with his past, and with Germany's history. Here's the linden tree at the Luther House where Haseloff proposed to his wife. There's the square in front of the university, one of the oldest in Germany, which was visited by Frederick the Great and Napoleon. And there's the church where Luther preached his sermons and the first mass was celebrated in German.

Haseloff still remembers how in October 1989 he and many others gathered here, not far from Luther's pulpit, to pray for peaceful change, and then headed outside to the market square to demonstrate.

Today radical right-wingers are setting the mood, and the CDU politician is asking himself how this could have happened. "God punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation." That's what he heard recently in church on a Sunday, during a reading from Exodus. "You can work out for how much longer we will have to carry the twentieth century's burden of guilt," he says.

He is digging, layer by layer, to reach the roots of today's dissatisfaction. He starts with the economy. "Imagine if half the country's population had no regular work," says Haseloff, who was director of the local employment office in the 1990s. At the time, 49.3 percent of people in Saxony-Anhalt were registered as unemployed or were signed on with an employment initiative. "We veered from one insolvency to another."

At the same time, the birth rate in the region declined by 50 percent. "Social rupture on this scale was unprecedented in peacetime Germany," he says,

Every week for the last 15 years, opponents of the controversial Hartz IV labor reforms introduced in the early 2000s have demonstrated in Wittenberg. Haseloff has often talked with them. But this afternoon a different group has assembled on the market square. Angry Christians are protesting against the "Judensau," or Jewish pig - an anti-Semitic relief dating from the 14th century that adorns the facade of the church. They want it to be removed.

It's an issue that Haseloff is familiar with. In 1988, he was part of a group of Christians who succeeded in getting a memorial plaque to Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust installed in the ground below the relief. But he believes the Judensau shouldn't be removed. "If it's taken away we would no longer have this reminder that we must confront our history," he says.

The demonstrators aren't convinced. They see a connection between the relief and the state of current politics and the AfD. "Something is happening and we can't tell yet where it will lead," says one of them.

It's possible that issues weren't debated enough in recent years in the states of the former East. Perhaps because people were too busy simply sorting out their lives. "We were buffeted by change," says Haseloff.

But now that the unemployment rate is down, the economy is finally picking up and even the population is once again growing, the long absence of public debate and of questions about identity has become more conspicuous. The far-right is consciously exploiting this vacuum.

In regional elections in Saxony-Anhalt in March 2016, the AfD secured 24.3 percent of the vote, its best result in Germany at that point. The new representatives marched in step to the regional parliament. Back then, Haseloff seemed to be in shock in his office in Magdeburg. He said it reminded him of Weimar Germany in its dying days and that he had realized "how fragile democracy is in Germany."

And today? The federal elections saw a small sea-change in Saxony-Anhalt. Support for the AfD was 19,6 percent, 5 percent lower than it was in the regional election. "We don't need a shift to the right," says Haseloff. Properly implementing existing agreements and laws would be enough. "The others should not be given any opportunity to use our failings against us. We cannot allow them to accuse us of us not abiding by the rule of law."

Democracy Is Hard Work

Fürstenwerder in the Uckermark, in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, isn't a forgotten and ignored country village. It's home to just 650 people, but there are two doctor's practices, an elementary school, a bakery, a butcher's, a local history museum and a bookstore with a café, where ladies meet for a glass of sparkling wine and neighbors exchange eggs their hens have laid for coffee grown by Mexican Zapatista cooperatives.

In Fürstenwerder, the AfD scored 24 percent in the federal election.

One afternoon in October, Nils Graf is sitting down in his bookshop with the local mayor, Dirk Kammer, discussing this swing to the right. Kamme, a qualified carpenter, still can't believe it. "If you make an effort, the way you have to make an effort anywhere in Germany, then you can have a good life and make something of yourself," he says.

Needless to say, the government's refugee policy has also been an issue in Fürstenwerder. There's a young Syrian who appears to suffer from schizophrenia, and whose erratic behavior upsets locals. Nonetheless, the majority of them are not xenophobic. Five Syrian families have lived here, and were well looked after by the village's official welcoming committee and by the community at large. So why exactly did the AfD do so well in the election?

Graf explains that the far-right even had supporters among people who donate to refugee charities: "Self-employed skilled laborers who think that AfD has their interests at heart." They picked up on just one aspect of the AfD's program that suited them, "and they don't care about the rest of it."

Kammer has been mayor for a year. It's an unpaid position, but a full-time job. The 45-year-old says people often visit his office just to complain. "There's a branch blocking the road or they think the grass needs mowing somewhere," he says. But they don't want to do anything about it themselves. That's what you're there for, he's often told. You sort it out.

And once they've voiced a complaint, they want something to be done about it immediately, he adds. They can't understand that he needs to talk to other authorities. "Nothing's going to happen from one day to the next," he often finds himself saying.

He's a member of the local council and represents the grassroots Bürgerfraktion movement. He's keen to promote more open debate in the village. "No one should be allowed to just retreat and isolate themselves until the lid blows off," he says. "Democracy is about having to make an effort."

New System, New Problems

How does life in a dictatorship change people? It's a question that Wolfgang Freese has given a lot of thought. "Democracy can be incredibly hard work if in the past all your decisions were made for you," he says.

He's in the council hall of the district authority for Ostprignitz-Ruppin, northwest of Berlin. It's a big room with high ceilings and wood-paneled walls in the heart of Neuruppin. He's recalling the events of November 1989 - when outside, on the cornices of the building's masonry, thousands of candles flickered, a symbol of the peaceful protests against the East German regime. Inside, Freese was pushing for democratic co-determination rights for the opposition group Neues Forum. Freese still regularly visits the room. He's now a representative for the Green Party and discusses district matters here with other politicians.

Even then, he had concerns about how eastern German society would cope with unemployment and foreigners. The country was unfamiliar with either. Guaranteed jobs and no immigration meant that for many, the East German system was a comfortable one.

Neuruppin has come a long way in recent years. Unemployment is down, its arts and culture scene is thriving, many residents are involved with civic initiatives. The association "Neuruppin Bleibt Bunt" (Neuruppin Remains Colorful) has done a lot to bring together locals and refugees.

Even so, Freese, who works in special education needs and as a DJ, has, over the years, often been irked by people who tell him: "Wolfgang, I voted for you even though you're with the Green Party." Or that they voted for him, but that their second vote went to the neo-Nazi NPD.

In the last few months he distributed pamphlets against the AfD and tried to get into conversation with its supporters. Freese feels like he knows everybody in Neuruppin and was surprised to see a lot of people he didn't know. One day he ran into an old acquaintance he'd worked with in the East German civil rights' movement, who's now in the AfD. His former comrade-in-arms told him that whenever he sees Angela Merkel or Sigmar Gabriel, he's reminded of East Germany's Central Committee. "That's where a line is drawn," says Freese. "How can you argue with that?"

The local politician is now 61. He's eager to carry on working and looking to the future, taking a stance, both in public and as a private individual. However hard it may be. "Who wants to ruin a birthday party by correcting problematic statements?" he asks. But he also says that remaining silent isn't an option. He wants to reach out to people in their echo chambers, correct fake news and de-emotionalize hysterical debate. "Constant dripping wears the stone," he says, smiling cautiously.

Rewriting the Past

Bodo Ramelow is sitting in the Thuringian parliament's canteen in Erfurt, shortly after the debate about the NSU memorial. The state governor is talking about the first time he saw a fully-veiled woman in Thuringia - here in the parliament, of all places. It was Wiebke Muhsal, an AfD representative, protesting against what she sees as the debasement of women.

He goes on to describe the pig heads left on the construction site of a new mosque as a protest by people who think Muslims are to blame for more crime, more rapes, and that everyone will be having to wear veils soon. "I have to hear these blues all the time," says Ramelow.

"There's a lot of adrenaline about," he says. The mood in the AfD is becoming increasingly autocratic, which other parties interpret as them saying: You'll be gone soon - we'll have driven you out.

Ramelow gets out his phone. He's got three color-coded maps of Germany saved on it which supposedly explain the malaise gripping the eastern states. The first one shows where incomes are lowest and where the minimum wage is most common. "It's the old East Germany," says Ramelow. "Marked the darkest." He switches to the next map, which shows in which states the most foreigners live. Thuringia is home to the second lowest number of foreigners in Germany. "There aren't any foreigners there," he says, opening the third map. This one shows where support for the AfD is strongest. The whole of eastern Germany is dark blue.

But how do these maps correlate? And why are so many people expressing their frustration in nationalistic, xenophobia terms?

Anyone who grew up in communist East Germany knows "Sister Agnes," a film made by the state-run DEFA studios in 1975 which tells the story of a plucky district nurse in Oberlausitz who looks after the needs of the villagers and can solve every problem, even when it involves taking on the authorities.

Ramelow recently began referencing the film in public appearances. "It still works," he says. He talks about the time he - a West German - first saw a postcard depicting Sister Agnes. He laughed uproariously - he thought it was hilarious. "Later I realized it was all about identification, about one's 'homeland', and that the figure of the district nurse is still relevant." The film shows a world that many miss, but doesn't reflect the realities of East Germany under longtime leader Erich Honecker: A society where medical care was available in every community and there was always a village store around the corner. The way people remember it, the store's shelves were perfectly well-stocked.

"The longer ago something was, the happier the memory," says Ramelow.

Anger takes several forms. One of them is quiet, expressed behind closed doors, and another is loud, bellowed on market squares. And these days, in parliament, too. Ramelow and his colleagues have to ask themselves how they should respond to this form of dissatisfaction, both in society and in the assembly.

Almost every party is now addressing the subject of heimat, or "homeland," including Ramelow and the Left Party. It's not about insulting AfD voters, he says, but about taking people seriously, and addressing issues such as child care and poverty amongst the elderly.

"In Berlin, the parties need to form a government soon so that we in the eastern states can start to negotiate with them about injustices that are specific to us, but also improved social services and more investment," says Ramelow. Parties other than the AfD need to come up with solutions fast. "If we underestimate these people, it will harm democracy."

Taking a Stand

It's Tuesday evening at the Karl Liebknecht stadium in Potsdam-Babelsberg - the "Karli," as it's affectionately known. But the floodlights are switched off, the stalls are empty and just a few of the SV Babelsberg 03 football club offices next door are lit up.

Katharina Dahme, 31, sits in front of a wall decorated with trophies and pennants, explaining how the relationship between football and politics works here in Potsdam, in Brandenburg just outside Berlin. "We organize sit-down protests against neo-Nazi demonstrations, against the AfD and work with refugees," says Dahme, a member of the supervisory board. "This is all matter of course."

In 2014 the club founded a team for refugees, Welcome United 03, and registered it for official game activity. It was promoted in the very first season - but not everyone was pleased. "People made ape noises, wore t-shirts with abusive slogans, and insults from fans and other teams are unfortunately not uncommon," says Dahme. At one game last year, several players with a rival team wore t-shirts under their jerseys with the slogan 'Refugees not Welcome', the mood was very aggressive."

She's believes the success of the AfD has encouraged people to be more open. "There's been an increase in people braying anti-Semitic chants or making 'Heil Hitler' salutes directly to the camera," she says. And she thinks that's partly due to the AfD. "If people are saying these things in parliament, then I can say them too," is the thinking, in her opinion.

But the Welcome United team recently played the team that had been so aggressive last year, and this time there wasn't a trace of overt discrimination or disrespect. "Our campaign is working," says Dahme.

The Babelsbergers hope that it will also pay off elsewhere. In mid-September, they launched an initiative called "Nazis raus aus den Stadien" ("Get Nazis out of stadiums"). People across Germany have started wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan.

However, fans ran into problems on home turf when they responded to "Heil Hitler" salutes made by fans of the visiting team by yelling "Nazi pigs out!" The Northeastern German Football Association promptly slapped a fine on the club.

"We're not standing for that," says Dahme. "As far as we're concerned, there's an anti-racist consensus in our stadium and I'm proud of that."

Banging the Drum for Democracy

When Alexander Gauland set his sights on the Frankfurt an der Oder constituency, in Brandenburg, it looked like a direct mandate was his for the taking. Frustration was rife and the AfD's high-profile frontrunner was met with cheers when he spoke at taverns on the campaign trail.

But events took an unexpected turn. The man who talked on election night about "hunting" Angela Merkel and her party, lost to affable, elderly Martin Patzelt of the CDU, who's been in politics in the region for 20 years.

Asked what he learnt from the election, Patzelt recalls the day that Gauland praised and defended the exploits of the Wehrmacht in the Second World War. "At that point, I switched from listening mode to fighting mode," he says.

Nearly all his campaign posters were defaced, with "Traitor to the Nation" and "Merkel's Marionette" scrawled across them. Patzelt, who ran a Catholic children's home in communist East Germany, was undeterred. He stuck to his convictions - the convictions he was known for.

In 2014, he had appealed to his constituents to take in refugees on the grounds that people in Brandenburg had enough spare rooms and spare cash to accommodate a few guests. Patzelt reminded them that Germans expelled from eastern and central Europe after the Second World War, such as his own family, had also been reliant on kindness and generosity. He himself took in two Eritreans. Then he received death threats.

Patzelt is vehemently opposed to the shift to the right that many in his party are now calling for. "That would be a seal of approval to all the sloganeering and then when in doubt, people might end voting for the extremist version," he says. His conviction paid off. Patzelt fared better on election night than his party did.

But what happens now? As mayor of Frankfurt an der Oder from 2002 to 2010, he urged the younger generation to head west for training. He hoped they would eventually return and start families and businesses. The plan didn't work out. Now, the generation that founded craft industry firms, businesses and farms after German reunification is retiring, and few of them have managed to find successors.

Patzelt himself is 70, and will be retiring in four years. Until then, he plans to armor his constituency against the sloganeering of the populists. Together with his colleagues from the SPD, Left Party, Green Party and pro-business FDP, he will be touring villages, visiting schools and taverns, banging the drum for democracy. "With the fall of the Berlin wall, we were given the privilege of being able to decide our futures ourselves," he says. "I want to reignite people's enthusiasm for that."

A New Division?

A few days after the federal election, the Bertelsmann Foundation published a study aimed at finding explanations for the erosion of Germany's mainstream parties. The social scientists who authored it found that society is divided into those who approve of modernization and those who are skeptical of it.

Modernization skeptics would like to halt the process of social, economic and cultural change. They yearn for some kind of harmonious and safe national order, with rising wages and a robust welfare system. Much like the old West Germany.

According to these findings, the election results would suggest that most modernization skeptics live in the eastern states, while western Germany is home to more modernization supporters - people who are, for the most part, well-disposed to the changes wrought in recent years.

If this is true, Germany faces a new dividing line running along the former intra-German border. But these findings might also just be another example of the typical, patronizing view western Germans have of a part of the country they don't understand. It's an area - between the Baltic coast, the Harz mountains, the River Oder and the Ore mountains - which has in fact undergone a radical modernization.

Reiner Haseloff has spent a lot of time trying to figure out why the AfD, with its prejudicial ideas, is more successful in eastern Germany than in the west. "Who founded this party? Who is at its helm, who are its intellectual leaders? Which society gave rise to it?" He points to Bernd Lucke, Alexander Gauland and Björn Höcke, who all hail from western Germany.

The governor of Saxony-Anhalt is a polite man. "West Germans like to come over here and philosophize about us," he says. He is keen to distance himself from that attitude, and doesn't want to pass judgement on the west. "I wouldn't presume to do so." He has enough on his plate understanding his own constituents.

And it's only one side of the story, adds Haseloff. "This debate should be conducted in the west honestly."

By Maik Baumgärtner, Markus Deggerich, Frank Hornig and Andreas Wassermann

 78 
 on: Nov 17, 2017, 07:23 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
And the biggest loser in the GOP’s tax plan is... humans

By Catherine Rampell
WA Post
11/17/2017

Corporations are people, my friend. Both Mitt Romney and the Supreme Court told us so years ago.

Still, they left out one key fact: It’s way better to be a corporate-person than a person-person. At least when Republicans are reshaping the tax code.

Republicans love cutting taxes. They’d cut all the taxes in the world if they could. But the rules that allow senators to pass their tax agenda with only 51 votes require setting priorities for who gets the most generous cuts, or any cuts at all. This week, the party made its top priority abundantly clear.

It chose corporations. By a long shot.

Both the House tax bill — which passed handily Thursday — and the Senate version are heavily weighted toward business. Both bills would slash rates on regular corporate profits, “pass-through” business income (currently taxed at regular individual rates) and overseas profits that get repatriated. They also provide other tax breaks for companies, such as allowing full and immediate expensing for qualified investments.

Of course, Republican lawmakers and administration officials promise that these corporate giveaways will really, truly, honest-to-goodness primarily benefit us regular humans, especially humans in the middle class.

That’s because, they claim, corporate tax cuts will unleash a wave of business investment and therefore economic growth, most of which will trickle down to the little people-people.

It’s hard to find an independent economist who buys this. Even corporate executives won’t back up this story.

At the Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting this week, a Journal editor asked audience members to raise their hands if their companies planned to invest more should the tax legislation pass. Only a smattering of hands went up.

Gary Cohn, the director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, looked out at the crowd with surprise.

“Why aren’t the other hands up?” he said, laughing a bit.

This was no one-off embarrassment. A survey of 300 companies this summer similarly found that a tax holiday on the repatriation of overseas profits was more likely to lead to share buybacks, mergers and paying down debt than investment and hiring.

The Washington Post readers are some of the most critical out there. Opinion writer Catherine Rampell reads and responds to her hate mail from readers. (Adriana Usero, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

It gets worse. The Senate plan isn’t just more generous to companies than it is to individuals. It effectively takes from low- and middle-income individuals to give to corporations.

The Senate bill makes the corporate rate cuts permanent. Which is expensive. So expensive, in fact, that the cuts would cause the bill to run afoul of those rules that allow passage with a simple majority vote.

Senate Republicans came up with a solution, however. To offset the cost of those corporate cuts, they did a few things that hurt individuals.

First, they decided to “sunset” — that is, make temporary — nearly all of the goodies for households, such as the doubling of the standard deduction and expanding of the child tax credit, in their bill. Further, they changed the way that individual tax brackets are calculated so that households move into higher marginal rates more quickly than they do under current law. 

Finally, they added the repeal of the individual health-insurance mandate, which would have the not-very-intuitive effect of reducing tax subsidies for lower- and middle-income Americans, some of whom will cease buying health insurance without the mandate.

The net result of these changes: Over time, fewer American households get tax cuts. In fact, as of 2021, households making $10,000 to $30,000 would see their taxes go up on average, according to a report released Thursday by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s nonpartisan internal analysis shop.

And, by 2027, every income group under $75,000 would experience tax increases, on average, relative to what they would pay if Congress left the law unchanged.

This doesn’t even account for other effects of repealing the individual mandate that would also hurt many human-persons. Premiums, for instance, would spike, as healthier and younger people dropped out of individual insurance pools.

Nor does it include the fact that passing tax cuts this year would trigger automatic cuts to Medicare starting in January. Not a decade from now, or five years from now, but January. Overriding these cuts would require 60 votes in the Senate.

Perhaps because the legislative process has been so rushed, many senators don’t appear to even know that these cuts are in the offing. Even so, when given the opportunity to vote for an amendment explicitly ruling out cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid if their tax bill blows a hole in the budget, Republicans voted no Wednesday.

Person-persons, rather than corporate-persons, may still be the ones who vote. But they’re clearly not Republican lawmakers’ most prized constituents.

 79 
 on: Nov 17, 2017, 06:49 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
The Russia investigation’s spectacular accumulation of lies

President Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign. Here's what the messages say.

By Michael Gerson 
November 17 2017
WA Post

I spent part of my convalescence from a recent illness reading some of the comprehensive timelines of the Russia investigation (which indicates, I suppose, a sickness of another sort). One, compiled by Politico, runs to nearly 12,000 words — an almost book-length account of stupidity, cynicism, hubris and corruption at the highest levels of American politics.

The cumulative effect on the reader is a kind of nausea no pill can cure. Most recently, we learned about Donald Trump Jr.’s direct communications with WikiLeaks — which CIA Director Mike Pompeo has called “a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia” — during its efforts to produce incriminating material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. But this is one sentence in an epic of corruption. There is the narrative of a campaign in which high-level operatives believed that Russian espionage could help secure the American presidency, and acted on that belief. There is the narrative of deception to conceal the nature and extent of Russian ties. And there is the narrative of a president attempting to prevent or shut down the investigation of those ties and soliciting others for help in that task.

In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing.

What are the implications? President Trump and others in his administration are about to be hit by a legal tidal wave. We look at the Russia scandal and see lies. A skilled prosecutor sees leverage. People caught in criminal violations make more cooperative witnesses. Robert S. Mueller III and his A-team of investigators have plenty of stupidity and venality to work with. They are investigating an administration riven by internal hatreds — also the prosecutor’s friend. And Trump has already alienated many potential allies in a public contest between himself and Mueller. A number of elected Republicans, particularly in the Senate, would watch this showdown with popcorn.

But the implications of all this are not only legal and political. We are witnessing what happens when right-wing politics becomes untethered from morality and religion.

Post Opinion writers Ruth Marcus, Jennifer Rubin, and Quinta Jurecic discuss the evolving political saga of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Russia probe. (Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

What does public life look like without the constraining internal force of character — without the firm ethical commitments often (though not exclusively) rooted in faith? It looks like a presidential campaign unable to determine right from wrong and loyalty from disloyalty. It looks like an administration engaged in a daily assault on truth and convinced that might makes right. It looks like the residual scum left from retreating political principle — the worship of money, power and self-promoted fame. The Trumpian trinity.

But also: Power without character looks like the environment for women at Fox News during the reigns of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly — what former network host Andrea Tantaros called “a sex-fueled, Playboy Mansion-like cult, steeped in intimidation, indecency and misogyny.” It looks like Breitbart News’s racial transgressiveness, providing permission and legitimacy to the alt-right. It looks like the cruelty and dehumanization practiced by Dinesh D’Souza, dismissing the tears and trauma of one Roy Moore accuser as a “performance.” And it looks like the Christian defense of Moore, which has ceased to be recognizably Christian.

This may be the greatest shame of a shameful time. What institution, of all institutions, should be providing the leaven of principle to political life? What institution is specifically called on to oppose the oppression of children, women and minorities, to engage the world with civility and kindness, to prepare its members for honorable service to the common good?

A hint: It is the institution that is currently — in some visible expressions — overlooking, for political reasons, credible accusations of child molestation. Some religious leaders are willing to call good evil, and evil good, in service to a different faith — a faith defined by their political identity. This is heresy at best; idolatry at worst.

Most Christians, of course, are not actively supporting Moore. But how many Americans would identify evangelical Christianity as a prophetic voice for human dignity and moral character on the political right? Very few. And they would be wrong.

Many of the people who should be supplying the moral values required by self-government have corrupted themselves. The Trump administration will be remembered for many things. The widespread, infectious corruption of institutions and individuals may be its most damning legacy.

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Trump’s penchant for deception is infecting his team: Here are 15 huge lies told by administration officials

McClatchy Washington Bureau
17 Nov 2017 at 03:56 ET     

 WASHINGTON — "There are three kinds of lies," Mark Twain once wrote: "lies, damned lies and statistics."

The Trump administration has employed them all.

From the exaggerated estimates of his inaugural crowd to the unraveling of claims that his campaign never dealt with Russia, Donald Trump's presidency has been a mosaic of untruths, half-truths and distortions.

And they are not just his own, which are legion. Many belong to people inside his political orbit. From Cabinet secretaries to White House aides to campaign advisers — even family members — they are all knitted together by the common thread of deception. The fog is so thick inside the Trump White House that it could be cited for violating clean air standards.

Some of the falsehoods are causing headaches for the perpetrators as Justice Department and congressional investigators probe Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his team assisted. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for instance, has faced repeated questioning on Capitol Hill about his contacts with Russians, which were more numerous than he first allowed; his latest confrontation with lawmakers came this week. And Trump White House aide Jared Kushner was taken to task by senators on Thursday for repeatedly failing to disclose communications about WikiLeaks, which published hacked emails of Democratic leaders last year, and a "Russian backdoor overture."

The motives behind some of the misrepresentations are petty. Does the fact that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lied about his wealth and instead of qualifying as a billionaire, he's merely a millionaire many times over, shake the foundations of democracy?

Not really.

But Sessions' serial evasions about his role in the Russia scandal possibly do.

"Information has been revealed by the inch as they've been caught with email or in other ways" showing they haven't told the full truth, said Stephen Macedo, a professor of politics and director of the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University.

"It is very worrisome," he said, adding that he believed the infection of Trumpworld with a virus of deception may date back to the candidate's refusal to make public his tax returns. That "may send a sign that full disclosure is not expected and keeping secrets is what you get can get away with. ... Certainly the example being set at the top doesn't seem favorable."

All governments, as well as lots of politicians, lie or shade the truth for a variety of reasons: sometimes to protect national security; other times to cover up embarrassing mistakes or facts.

President Richard Nixon lied about Watergate, ushering in the era of modern-day political scandals. President Bill Clinton lied about his affair with a White House intern. The George W. Bush administration lied about Iraq having nuclear weapons and ended up triggering a war that dangerously reshaped the political landscape in the Middle East

The president has set the tone. His untruths and misdirections have been prolific: from claiming that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in the 2016 presidential election, to suggesting that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign, to "nobody knows" whether Russia meddled in the election.

Perhaps the pervasive deception springs somehow from the tribalism that infects politics now, or the erosion of ethical and moral pillars that have generally supported public debate. People have less faith in institutions, whether they be government, the church, the media — even the National Football League. Voters distrust their leaders more and have come to expect less, and some of those serving in top spots in government come from positions where they could, to some degree, fashion their own reality.

"When you rise to the top, there's often a standard that a lot of what's normal doesn't apply," said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College and director of its college poll. "They're just so accustomed to getting their own way, to shaping the world that they live in."

Trump has praised his choices to run federal agencies as "the finest group of people ever assembled ... as a Cabinet." Yet several, along with others in his circle, have not told the truth, or at the very least, fudged their accounts so much they should all be wearing chocolate mustaches.

Here's a selection:

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin: He denied under oath that the bank he used to run, OneWest, robo-signed mortgage documents during the Great Recession. It's a predatory lending practice that involves bank employees signing documents en masse without reviewing them. In both written responses to senators considering his nomination to be treasury secretary last January, and in testimony this summer before a House committee, Mnuchin denied the practice occurred.

That was at odds with a deposition from a former OneWest Bank president and a consent order from the federal Office of Thrift Supervision, which found that the bank had, indeed, engaged in "unsafe or unsound practices."

Mnuchin also did not reveal during his confirmation hearing nearly $100 million in assets, as well as his position as director of an investment fund in the Cayman Islands, a known tax haven.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions: First he got himself in trouble during his confirmation hearing last January when Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked what Sessions would do if evidence surfaced that members of the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government.

"I'm not aware of any of those activities ... and I didn't have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it," he replied.

But then it came out he had met with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak twice last year: at the Republican convention in July and then again in September. Just last month during questioning at another Senate hearing, Sessions was asked if he believed that Trump campaign surrogates communicated with Russia. He said he didn't, nor was he aware of anyone who did.

But then a low-level campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Papadopoulos attended a campaign meeting in March 2016 with Trump, Sessions and others where the subject came up. After some discussion, according to J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign national security adviser, Sessions said it was a bad idea and ended the debate.

At his appearance this week before the House Judiciary Committee. Sessions said several times he could not remember certain events, denied that he had lied to Congress and said he now recalled the campaign meeting that Papadopoulos attended after reading news reports.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: He's not really the billionaire he claims to be, according to an investigation by Forbes magazine. Upset that Forbes had planned to remove him from The Forbes 400, its list of the richest Americans, he insisted that he was worth $3.7 billion, but actually it's just a paltry $700 million, the magazine concluded. Ross claimed that he had family trusts valued at more than $2 billion, which he was not required to disclose. His own Commerce Department subsequently issued a statement that the $2 billion "never happened," the magazine said.

Forbes minced no words excoriating Ross: "It seems clear that Ross lied to us, the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with Forbes since 2004," said the article, which also said that inflating his wealth probably translated into additional business opportunities for him.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: She denied during her confirmation hearings that she sat on the board of her family's foundation when it made contributions to several conservative groups that opposed LGBT rights. But tax returns for several years show that DeVos was vice president of the foundation's board at the time. Under repeated questioning by Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., DeVos said the foundation's years of tax forms were wrong, "a clerical error," she said.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt: He told a Senate hearing that he never used his personal email account to conduct business while he served as Oklahoma's attorney general. But he did, according to records released in a lawsuit in Oklahoma.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price: The physician and former Georgia congressman said during his confirmation hearing that the discounted cost he paid for a biotech stock was available to every investor. The Wall Street Journal revealed that the price he paid was available to only a select few. Price was forced to resign when his extensive use of private charter air travel became public.

Former White House national security adviser Mike Flynn: The retired Army lieutenant general didn't last long in his post after it was revealed that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence. He told Pence that at a meeting during the transition with the Russian ambassador, he had not discussed economic sanctions against Russia, when he actually had.

Flynn might also have deceived about who paid for his trip to Russia in 2015 during a Defense Department inquiry into the renewal of his security clearance.

White House chief of staff John Kelly: The retired Marine general put out a false tale during the fallout from the dust-up over the president's call to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, one of four soldiers killed in Niger during a terrorist ambush. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., a Johnson family friend was in the car when Trump called Johnson's wife to express his condolences. A dispute arose over the tone of Trump's message, with Wilson criticizing the president. Trump attacked Wilson on Twitter, and at a press briefing, Kelly accused her of being an "empty barrel" who had taken undeserved credit for getting the money for a new FBI field office building in Florida by just calling up then-President Barack Obama. Nope. Wilson wasn't even in Congress in 2009 when the project was funded.

White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller: He told multiple untruths last February in several television appearances. He repeated a debunked, but widely popular, Republican claim that voter fraud was rampant, and that large numbers of non-citizens were registered to vote. He also repeated Trump's baseless claim that voters were bused into New Hampshire from Massachusetts to vote in the state's Republican presidential primary last year. But for that, Trump asserted, he would have won the primary.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner: Trump's son-in-law neglected to include significant details on his security clearance form, including his numerous foreign contacts. Among them: his June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who was to provide negative information about his Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. He has also had to amend his financial disclosure form numerous times and has twice been fined for filing ethics reports late.

In addition, on Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a prickly letter to Kushner regarding documents he failed to produce last month, including emails from September 2016 about WikiLeaks, as well as one that refers to a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite." The panel, which learned of the emails from other witnesses who have turned them over, set a deadline of Nov. 27 for Kushner to give them up.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: After the driver of the truck killed several people on a Manhattan bike path, Trump threatened to send him to the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and said the U.S. justice system was "a joke and it's a laughingstock." At a press briefing, Sanders denied that he had said it: "That's not what he said. He said that process has people calling us a joke and calling us a laughingstock."

White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway: The onetime pollster famously brought us the phrase "alternative facts" in a "Meet the Press" interview last January during an exchange over the White House's false claims about the size of Trump's inaugural crowd. Host Chuck Todd asked why the White House sent out then-press secretary Sean Spicer to "utter a falsehood? Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office on day one."

"No it doesn't," Conway replied. "Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What ... you're saying it's a falsehood ... Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that."

"Wait a minute,." Todd said. "Alternative facts? Alternative facts. ... Look, alternative facts are not facts. They're falsehoods."

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer: He repeatedly issued fact-free statements from his perch in the briefing room, such as: Unlike Syrian President Bashar Assad, even Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons. (His Nazi Third Reich murdered millions of Jews and others in gas chambers.) Spicer also doubled down on Trump's claim that his swearing-in "was the most-watched inaugural."

Donald Trump Jr.: The president's eldest son changed his account of a meeting with a Russian lawyer in June 2016 several times. He first said that he never represented the campaign in the meeting; then that he did, but it was about Russian adoption; and then that it was supposed to be about obtaining damaging information about Hillary Clinton, which he said never materialized.

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski: He had said he didn't know Carter Page, an energy consultant and former Trump policy adviser. But Page recently told the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and its alleged ties to the Trump campaign, that he told Lewandowski that he had traveled to Moscow and talked about the campaign. Questioned about that on Fox News, Lewandowski backtracked and said he knew of Page and his trip.

"My memory has been refreshed," he said.

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

Robert Mueller could use supposedly ‘toothless’ law to bring down Trump

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
17 Nov 2017 at 06:53 ET                   

While special counsel Robert Mueller investigation into President Donald Trump’s White House outwardly appears to be focusing on money laundering and contacts between the administration and Russian contacts, the former FBI director has an ace of his sleeve by giving new life to the the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, to flip former aides against the president.

According to a report by NPR, FARA, which has previously been described as “toothless,” is playing a major part in the pursuit of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates.

As described by NPR, FARA “requires Americans working on behalf of foreign governments, foreign political parties, or any person or organization outside the U.S., to disclose who is paying them to do what.”

Manfort’s deep ties to political work for foreign governments — in addition to advising the president — opened him up to being charged under the statute and provides a clue of yet another avenue Mueller is using to dig into the Trump administration.

“It’s a statute designed to bring out into the sunlight the coordination between foreign actors, foreign governments, foreign corporations, foreign private citizens and those in the United States who are pushing for particular policy changes,” explained University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck, adding, “The idea [was] not that these policy changes are per se problematic, but that when a foreign interest is the one funding, calling the shots, pushing for some kind of change to domestic policy, the American people and American policymakers have a right to know.”

According to the report, from 1966 to 2017, the Justice Department sought just seven prosecutions under FARA, and there are fewer than 10 staffers in the Justice Department investigating and enforcing FARA cases.

With Manafort and Rick Gates already charged by Mueller’s team under FARA, it seems inevitable that former national security adviser Michael Flynn is facing similar charges for filing as a agent long after he did work for the Turkish government.

What remains to bee seen is how both the Mueller team and attorneys for White House staffers deal with a law that is seldom enforced and has little track record that might provide a road-map for a legal strategy.

As Flynn attorney Robert Kelner, explained, “The statute itself is extremely vague: It contains a number of terms that are not well defined. There’s very little case law interpreting it.”

“There’s been a lot of confusion about what it means and very, very little enforcement and that tends to lead to an atmosphere in which lots of firms don’t pay very close attention to a statute that they don’t understand, he added.

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

Lawmakers seek more information from Trump son-in-law Kushner in Russia probe

Reuters
17 Nov 2017 at 04:30 ET                   

Jared Kushner’s lawyer failed to give the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee documents President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser received about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” the committee’s leaders said on Thursday.

In a letter to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell, Senators Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman and top Democrat, listed the documents and emails among materials Lowell has failed to produce.

Kushner, the letter said, also forwarded to an unidentified campaign adviser emails from September 2016 concerning Wikileaks, the whistleblower group that published emails U.S. intelligence agencies determined Russian military intelligence had hacked from Democratic Party accounts.

“It appears that your search may have overlooked several documents,” the letter said of Lowell’s responses to three requests for materials related to the committee’s investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“Mr. Kushner and we have been responsive to all requests,” Lowell said in a statement. “We provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner’s calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request. We also informed the committee we will be open to responding to any additional requests and that we will continue to work with White House Counsel for any responsive documents from after the inauguration.”

When asked about the letter, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred reporters to Lowell. Trump denies any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Russia denies a January report by three U.S. intelligence agencies that it conducted an influence operation to skew the 2016 presidential vote in favor of Trump over his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team last month subpoenaed Trump’s campaign for documents containing specified Russian keywords from more than a dozen officials. According to the Journal, a person familiar with the matter said the campaign has been complying voluntarily with the request.

Grassley’s and Feinstein’s letter to Lowell also specified keywords, including Clinton, WikiLeaks, hacking, and the names of four Russian banks.

ONE PERSON OF INTEREST

Kushner remains one person of interest to the investigations by Mueller and congressional committees, according to a source with knowledge of the probes.

Among other things, investigators want to know if Kushner knew during the 2016 campaign that Russia was hacking Democratic emails in an effort to help Trump and whether he tried to create a secret back channel between the Trump White House and the Kremlin, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Investigators also want to know if Kushner took part in or knew of any post-election efforts by Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, or others to lift U.S. economic sanctions on Russia in exchange for financial investments or other business deals.

A May 26 Reuters report quoted two sources who said Kushner and Flynn discussed with former Russian ambassador to Washington Sergey Kislyak creating a “back channel” between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that would bypass the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies.

Flynn, a former Army general who led the Defense Intelligence Agency and later was a Trump campaign adviser, was fired in February as national security adviser after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Kislyak.

The letter to Lowell also said he had failed to produce “communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Kushner.”

Millian, who has used multiple aliases, is a Belarussian-born émigré who in 2006 helped incorporate the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored trips to Russia by U.S. businessmen.

After a December 2011 trip arranged by the chamber and a quasi-governmental agency in Russia called Rossotrudnichestvo, FBI agents questioned participants about whether Russian spies had approached them during the visit, one of the travelers said.

Millian, who met Trump on at least one occasion, has boasted of his ties to the former New York real estate developer and reality television star. He has denied being a Russian spy.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Jonathan Landay, Matt Spetalnick, Warren Strobel and John Walcott; Editing by Dan Grebler and Chris Reese)

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Businessman who provided intel on Trump’s alleged ‘golden showers’ was in email chains with Jared Kushner

Noor Al-Sibai
17 Nov 2017 at 21:28 ET   
Raw Story

Among the revelations from Congress’ news blast claiming the president’s aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner failed to provide documents about an alleged “Russian backdoor overture” is a smaller — but still controversial — contact he had with a Belarusian-American businessman.

Discussing the findings from a letter sent to Kushner’s lawyers by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand told MSNBC host Chris Hayes that the lawmakers called the young real estate magnate out for failing to disclose that he’d been copied on emails from a businessman Sergei Millian.

Millian, who founded the Russia-America Chamber of Commerce trade group, has claimed to have a business relationship with Donald Trump. He is also the alleged source of the rumor that Trump once hired prostitutes in Moscow to urinate on a bed that gave the infamous Fusion GPS document the nickname “golden showers dossier.”

Millian’s name has appeared multiple times in 2017, most recently in relation to former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos. The reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee also claim that Millian was in regular contact with Papadopoulos after the latter tried to set up a meeting with him, Bertrand said.

The release of the committee’s letter to the public, she continued, proves that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking Democrat, and committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) were “very frustrated.”

“It was clearly an indication they are sick and tired of Jared Kushner omitting this very important information,” Bertrand said, noting that it’s rare for this committee to send letters so publicly.

Watch Bertrand explain the significance of Kushner’s potential contacts with the controversial Belarusian-American below, via MSNBC.

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Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke refuses to provide documentation in taxpayer funded travel investigation: inspector

Reuters
11/17/2017

The U.S. Interior Department has failed to provide documentation needed for an internal probe of Secretary Ryan Zinke’s travels, the department’s inspector general said on Thursday.

“Our investigation has been delayed by absent, or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips,” Mary Kendall, the department’s deputy inspector general, said in a letter sent this week to David Bernhardt, the department’s deputy secretary. The letter was published on the department’s web site.

The inspector general launched an investigation of Zinke’s travels after reports emerged in September that he had used a private plane owned by oil executives. The probe was launched after the inspector general received numerous complaints about Zinke’s travels, including the use of three chartered flights.

One of those flights, taken in June from Las Vegas to near Zinke’s hometown in Montana, cost taxpayers over $12,000, according to a Washington Post report.

Kendall’s letter said her office had received full cooperation from all employees it had contacted, but that “we have found the documentation and adherence to departmental travel policies deficient and without proper management oversight and accountability.”

It said many authorizations and vouchers required for Zinke’s travel have yet to be completed and processed. It requested documentation no later than Dec. 11 for the secretary and his wife, Lolita Zinke, when she accompanied him on government travel.

The letter also complained that the department’s travel review process failed to include proper documentation and accountability.

The Interior Department had no comment, but referred to a letter, also published on the web site, from Bernhardt responding to Kendall.

In a speech at conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation in September, Zinke denied inappropriate travel and said his travels were approved by “career employees” of the Interior Department’s ethics office. He called reports about his use of chartered private flights “a little B.S.”

Bernhardt said in his letter that additional documents for the probe had been sent to the inspector general’s office earlier in the month. He said the department will work to provide available documentation for Zinke’s travel and said he appreciated recommendations by Kendall on travel procedures for the secretary’s immediate office.

Bernhardt also said that Zinke and he had “inherited an organizational and operational mess” from the Obama administration. He said department travel procedures were the same under Obama.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have also come under scrutiny over reports of expensive private plane use.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Dan Grebler)


 80 
 on: Nov 17, 2017, 06:36 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Jacinda Ardern retorts to Donald Trump: 'No one marched when I was elected'

New Zealand prime minister describes lighthearted retort to US president after he ribbed her for ‘causing a lot of upset in her country’

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Guardian
Friday 17 November 2017 07.43 GMT

New Zealand’s new prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has described how she joked with Donald Trump when they first met, telling the US president “no one marched when I was elected”.

Revealing details about her first meeting with Trump at the east Asia summit in Vietnam last week, Ardern said the exchange was low-key and relaxed.

Ardern was sworn in as prime minister last month. The pair had already had a conversation by telephone in late October, when Trump called Ardern at her Auckland home to congratulate her on winning the election.

The meeting at the east Asia summit was the first time the leaders – who are polar opposites on the political spectrum – had been introduced face to face.

“I was waiting to walk out to be introduced at the east Asia summit gala dinner, where we all paraded and while we were waiting, Trump, in jest, patted the person next to him on the shoulder, pointed at me and said, ‘This lady caused a lot of upset in her country,’ talking about the election.” Ardern told Newsroom.

“I said, ‘Well, you know, only maybe 40%,’ then he said it again and I said, ‘You know,’ laughing, ‘no one marched when I was elected’.”

Asked by the the New Zealand Herald about her impressions of Trump, Ardern was diplomatic.

“He is consistent,” Ardern told the newspaper. “He is the same person that you see behind the scenes as he is in the public or through the media.”

Ardern became well known for her quick wit during the New Zealand election campaign and her pithy retort to Trump has been praised by New Zealanders on social media, who applauded her pluck in speaking plainly to the most powerful politician in the world.

“He laughed and it was only afterwards that I reflect that it could have been taken in a very particular way,” Ardern continued.

“He did not seem offended.”

In an interview with the Guardian during the election campaign Ardern said she planned to handle any relations with Trump as a “diplomat” – an intention that seems to have been challenged by their most recent exchange.

“Despite us coming from different parts of the political spectrum, that is not new for world leaders and I have to respect democracy and the people who’ve chosen their leader in the United States,” Ardern said at the time.

On 21 January, the day after Trump’s inauguration, Ardern joined thousands in Auckland as part of the global women’s march, which arose in reaction to a series of complaints from women about sexual advances from the US president, as well as his plans to cut access to abortion across the US and in developing countries supported by US aid.

In September the Wall Street Journal said that Ardern was New Zealand’s own version of Trump because of her plan to crack down on immigration; a headline Ardern labelled “offensive” and “absolutely false.”

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