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Nov 23, 2017, 08:20 PM
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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 505683 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #4395 on: Today at 06:20 AM »

Sexual harassment doesn't just happen to actors or journalists. Talk to a waitress, or a cleaner

There are far too many think pieces about high-level actresses and far too few about the waitress at your local diner

Alissa Quart and Barbara Ehrenreich
Guardian
11/23/2017

The number of women in the entertainment industry coming forward with charges of sexual harassment is starting to feel endless. They include stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie but also heads of tech startups and journalists, gallerists and producers.

But it is women working in far less glamorous occupations who really bear the brunt of male lechery and assault: the housekeepers, waitresses and farmworkers. A paper in the journal Gender, Work & Organization, based on interviews with female workers at five-star hotels, found almost all experiencing some kind of inappropriate sexual advance from a guest. In another study, 80% of waitresses reported sexual harassment. A mind-boggling 88% of female construction workers did, too.

If you look at these numbers, you recognize that most victims are not so glamorous.

And yet, the current conversation about harassment is deeply skewed by social class. There are far too many think pieces about high-level actresses and far too few about the waitress at your local diner.

Why? For starters, most working-class women don’t hire publicists or lawyers, and they aren’t able to cultivate friends in high places. (They are very rarely applauded for that word of the year, “bravery”, in public forums.) Most of these women never go public at all. After all, if you’re earning $8 to $10 an hour, you cannot afford to go without a paycheck for the weeks it would take to find a new job. Any expression of dissatisfaction with a hostile workplace can lead to a legal firing on the grounds of, for example, having a bad attitude.

Blue-collar and retail workers may well be happy to see the issue of sexual harassment getting attention, yet they might also be irritated at celebs receiving all the attention and respond accordingly. Talk to a hairdresser, a waitress or a domestic worker, and you’re likely to encounter a deep vein of resentment.

We put the studies aside and actually heard from women on social media. “I’ve been sexually harassed in minimum and low wage jobs: choices were to put up with it or quit. Every single time, I quit. But I was young & single. Many women don’t have that option,” Pittsburgh artist Amie Gillingham wrote on Barbara’s Twitter feed.

Or as writer Julie Rea put it to us, “When I was a waitress, there was sexual harassment/innuendo/verbal abuse from the chefs, the barmen, the kitchen porters, the drunk customers AND the male managers!”

Another former waitress in Michigan wrote on Twitter, “As a waitress I experienced harassment daily. No HR dept to report it to. Manager & owner were biggest offenders. It was keep quiet or lose my job. Needed that job.”

As Cecilia, who worked as a minibar attendant at a Chicago hotel, told the Huffington Post, she was asked to come into a room by a male guest who was masturbating to his computer when she entered. He wanted her to see him – this was by design.

Indeed, the “business trip” has gotten so hazardous that two cities – Seattle and New York – have passed initiatives that mandate that hotels supply their housekeepers with panic buttons. Harassment is so common that a hospitality careers website offers a checklist, albeit a toothless one, of what maids and cleaning women can do to protect themselves at work.

Threats involve creepy guests whacking off, grabbing them by their aprons, or throwing them down on the bed, as former IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly did to a hotel maid in 2011.

And if you think stronger unions always offer better protection for workers on this score, think again. According to a recent report, even staff at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have faced charges of sexual harassment – and that’s the largest service workers’ union.

There certainly is room for outrage about both the mistreatment of thespians and models, and the manhandling of waitresses or women picking berries in the fields (We should try for a both/and campaign. It could be called #MostofThem!).

Then again, that inclusive strategy rests on a tacit assumption that the airing of the pain of, say, actor Mira Sorvino will inevitably help less well-born women. And we think the associative property here is probably a fallacy. It’s basically a trickle-down theory of female empowerment. We know how well trickle-down theories of all kinds tend to pan out.

So how can we excavate the vast iceberg of sexual harassment that lies beneath the glittering tip of celebrity abuse?

This is a powerful moment for sharing our stories, but it can sometimes feel like we are only reproducing class divisions that have long existed in the feminist movement – where we are aware of the elegant suffering of celebrity comics, businesswomen and starlets but not those of the working mothers who are handing us our fries or fluffing our pillows. We are not seeing the way the latter are harassed in so many other ways. Working-class women regularly have their purses searched (ostensibly for stolen goods) or are expected to work overtime without pay. This kind of casual hassling is part of the general humiliation that most low-wage workplaces inflict.

Obviously, working women need safe spaces in which to share their experiences, which unions and affluent feminists could help provide – speak-outs and other public forums to spread the word that sexual harassment is not only pervasive but also, fortunately, illegal.

There is a statewide California bill requiring employers to train cleaning and security employees and managers in the basics of preventing sexual harassment. Not-for-profit organizations like Modern Alliance are working to bring many professions together against worker sexual harassment. The Local 1 union in Chicago has pushed for legislation with the brilliantly seamy hashtag #HandsOffPantsOn.

We should certainly put more pressure on local and federal government for similar bills and language in contracts around the country. But these are still small slaps at the many male hands groping at America’s female workforce.

Alissa Quart writes the Outclassed column for the Guardian and is the executive editor of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Barbara Ehrenreich is the founder of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America


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« Reply #4396 on: Today at 06:24 AM »

Indian politician offers $1.5m bounty for beheading of top Bollywood star Deepika Paukone

Surajpal Amu of PM Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party orders killing of actress and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali over accusations new film Padmavati misrepresents Hindi legend

VIdhi Doshi
Independent
11/23/2017

The release of a highly anticipated Bollywood blockbuster has been delayed after a politician from India's governing party offered a bounty of $1.5 million for the heads of the movie's star and director amid outcry that the film distorted Hindu legend.

The movie Padmavati - depicting the life of a legendary 14th century queen Padmini - marked the latest in a string of flash points from right-wing groups that perceive more clout under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has courted Hindu nationalists has part of his political base.

Often Hindu outrage is stoked by little more than rumours, such as deadly riots and vigilante violence over false claims that Muslims were killing cows that are sacred to Hindu culture. But this time with the film, the reason for the outrage is even more puzzling.

Members of the Rajput Karni Sena, a group associated with the warrior Rajput caste, claim it misrepresents history by depicting a love affair between the queen and a Muslim invader. The group is further upset that the queen's midriff is exposed in a song sequence. They have called for a nationwide strike, and backed the death threats against the star Deepika Padukone and the film's director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
 
But Bhansali insists the plot has no such love scene. And the movie trailer pays ample homage to Rajput bravery and their role in resisting Muslim armies.

The death threats - against one of India's most popular actresses and a prominent filmmaker - brought quick backlash. They were sharply denounced by leaders of Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, and the home minister in the southern Karnataka state, Ramalinga Reddy, ordered protection for the actress Deepika Padukone and her family.

Also at stake is the boundaries for world's most prolific film industry, where some directors have increasingly tried to push back against decades of film censorship for political reasons.

Chief ministers of a number of states demanded that controversial scenes be removed before the film is screened. The movie's producers have indefinitely delayed the film's release.

The news agency ANI reported that Surajpal Amu, a state-level media coordinator of the BJP, told a rally Sunday: “We will reward the ones beheading [Padukone and Bhansali] with Rs 10 crore, and also take care of their family's needs.” A crore signifies 10 million rupees.

Amu repeated the statement to The Indian Express. Video from the rally also showed Amu saying: “There's no need to discuss making cuts to the film. We won't allow it to play in theatres at all.”

An official from the BJP condemned Amu and said the party was considering taking legal action against him.

“It's absolutely appalling. What have we gotten ourselves into? And where have we reached as a nation?” said the actress Padukonewho plays the leading role of queen Padmavati and who recently appeared in xXx: Return of Xander Cage alongside Vin Diesel.

“We have regressed,” she added. “The only people we are answerable to is the censor board, and I know and I believe that nothing can stop the release of this film.”

A member of the Rajput Karni Sena group, Mahipal Singh Makrana,responded in a self-made video saying: “Rajputs never raise a hand on women but if need be, we will do to Deepika what Lakshman did to Shurpanakha,” referring to a Hindu epic in which a man cuts off a woman's nose. The group has also vandalised cinemas, burned posters and threatened to break the legs of actor Ranveer Singh who plays a villainous Muslim invader, Alauddin Khalji.

The violent reaction to the film's release further suggests a groundswell of conservatism in Modi's India. Bollywood films in 2000s were known for breaking taboos, when they increasingly began to show on-screen kissing, live-in relationships between unmarried couples, and interreligious romances, most famously in the 2008 historical drama Jodhaa Akbar.

Some members of Modi's party have made efforts to minimize Muslims' role Indian culture and history. Recently, members of the governing party misleadingly said that Taj Mahal was built on the site of an old Hindu temple, and that it “did not represent Indian culture.” The Taj Mahal was built by the Muslim Mogul king Shah Jahan.

Though members of right-wing groups have been briefly arrested for making threats in the past, legal action against them is rarely pursued by the government.

Ironically, the movie's trailer shows no sign of an interreligious romance and depicts the Muslim king as brutish and evil.

The director Bhansali issued a video statement saying the protests were caused by a misunderstanding and that there was no romance between the Muslim king and the Hindu queen. “We have made this film very responsibly, keeping in mind the Rajput dignity and respect. I would like to reiterate once again that our film has no dream sequence between Rani Padmavati and Alauddin Khalji or any other scene which will hurt anyone,” he said.


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« Reply #4397 on: Today at 06:27 AM »

Failed promises: survivors of deadly mudslide left homeless by Sierra Leone government

With little sign of promised government help, hundreds of families displaced by the disaster in August now face eviction from government shelters

Cooper Inveen in Freetown
Guardian
11/23/2017

The government of Sierra Leone has started closing down the emergency camps housing hundreds of families displaced by August’s deadly landslides, despite many people saying they still have nowhere to go.

After heavy rains triggered floods and a landslide in Freetown on 14 August, killing an estimated 1,000 people and displacing three times that number, survivors moved into temporary camps while awaiting permanent resettlement, as promised by the Sierra Leonean government.

Most of the 98 families living in the two official government camps, largely funded by UK Aid and the World Food Programme, had received financial assistance prior to the closure of the shelters on 15 November. But nearly 500 other families were staying in four unfinished buildings that had served as an informal refuge for three months. Despite most having been approved for relocation assistance, the majority said they had yet to receive it.

As the two official camps ceased operations last week, organisers of the four informal shelters refused to evict survivors until they were taken care of.

“A government team came by … and told us to clear the camps by 15 November, but we as community elders will not force these people to leave while they still have nowhere else to stay,” said Abu Bakar Conteh, head of the community at the base of the landslide. “After [the mudslides] people were told to abandon the areas where their homes were, so they came up here to these buildings. Since they’ve been here, no one’s been able to give them anything that could help resettle them.”

However, the government has accused those living in the informal shelters of trying to defraud the relief effort. Head of the Office of National Security (ONS), Ismail Tarawali, said: “Most of the people there were not actually affected, but are just trying to fool the system. People bring their families from up country to come and make fake claims. It makes it very difficult to conclude this exercise. Some people are just rogues.”

The majority of people in the shelters have been verified as legitimate by the UN.

Over the last two months, international organisations have gradually reduced their support to the informal shelters. Many of those living outside the two government camps weren’t registered for assistance until 11 November, nearly three months after the mudslide.

Street Child, a UK-based charity, said it would continue to provide food to people living in those camps, despite the conclusion of the wider relief effort.

“This is all about accommodation,” said Celia Mansaray, project manager for Street Child’s mudslide response. “We have genuine cases of people who lost their families who were not verified until last week, and there are others who still haven’t been … At night these buildings are jam-packed with people who have no place to go … If the camps were to actually close … what would be their fate? What kind of government doesn’t address these problems?”

Official assurances that at least 52 houses would become available to mudslide survivors by mid-October have yet to bear fruit. Officials now say the housing project was merely delayed and that once it gets off the ground again, more than 1,000 houses will be built for victims of natural disasters on the outskirts of Freetown. Survivors across the various shelters claim to have been given no information about how much the homes will cost, when they will be built or how to apply for them.

An official from the UN children’s agency, Unicef, the main organisers of the two government camps, said they were first informed of the new housing plan on 15 November, and did not know how the government intended to fund it.

On 20 November the ONS announced that verified survivors who had not received their aid packages would be permitted to continue sleeping in the formal and informal shelters until they did.

That decision followed a police crackdown on a protest outside President Ernest Bai Koroma’s mansion by residents of one of the government camps, who claimed the ONS was forcing them on to the streets without financial support. Several people were injured, including a breastfeeding mother.

“You need to have respect for leadership, not demonstrate every small thing,” Tarawali told survivors at the same camp. “We’ve told people that to demonstrate in this country you need permission, to call the police so they can protect you from bad people who want to join in.”

Relocation funds provided by UK Aid are being sent to verified survivors through a mobile banking app. Those who lost their phones or ID cards in the mudslide have waited weeks to be issued replacements in order to access their funds, and some have been sent only small amounts of the roughly $280 (£237) they were promised. Others have complained that even the full amount is not enough to secure housing for an entire family, let alone support them for two months, as officials said it would.

“All we ask the government is that [those of] us who are left who they’ve already verified, just give us the assistance promised so we can at least try to go live a normal life again,” said Fina Koroma, who lost her whole family apart from her infant daughter in the flooding.

“I don’t want to stay here. This place is right next to the disaster site and seeing the hillside every time I turn around makes me unhappy,” she said. “Your memory goes back to that day and what you had before and you can’t get it out of your head … You remember your brothers and sisters and how everyone used to live together, but you don’t see them any more.”


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« Reply #4398 on: Today at 06:32 AM »

Emmerson Mnangagwa hails 'new democracy' in Zimbabwe

Former Mugabe right-hand man who is set to become next president gives first speech after return from exile

Jason Burke and Emma Graham-Harrison in Harare
11/23/2017
Guardian

Zimbabwe’s former vice-president has said the country is witnessing a “new and unfolding democracy”, as he returned to a jubilant welcome two weeks after fleeing to South Africa following his sacking by Robert Mugabe.

Emmerson Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old liberation war veteran and stalwart of the ruling Zanu-PF party is to be sworn in as president on Friday. His sacking triggered the political crisis that culminated in the resignation of the 93-year-old Mugabe on Tuesday.

Mnangagwa arrived from Johannesburg at a military airbase in Harare on Wednesday afternoon and travelled directly to the Zanu-PF headquarters where a crowd of several hundred had gathered to hear his first speech as president-in-waiting.

“The people have spoken. The voice of the people is the voice of God,” he told supporters. “Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new and unfolding democracy.”

Soldiers controlled admission to the concrete complex, but allowed hawkers to sell ice-creams, bananas and soft drinks. Outside, a makeshift stall selling Zanu-PF T-shirts with the slogan “A New Era” and pennants in the national colours did brisk business.

Many supporters carried placards thanking Mnangagwa for his “resilience and endurance”.

Nicknamed “the Crocodile” for his fearsome reputation, Mnangagwa has been accused of leading brutal waves of repression against opponents of Zanu-PF and Mugabe.

His current popularity, though undoubtedly genuine, is clearly more dependent on the extraordinary events of the last week than any deep knowledge of the former spy chief.

“I am here to welcome my leader, our leader,” said Nicky Chihwa, a 28-year-old student waving a national flag. “We hope he will be someone who will bring us change. We don’t really care who. We just wanted Mugabe to go.” .

Jennifer Mhlanga, a Zanu-PF MP and member of the party’s central committee, said it was important that Mnangagwa felt he had the party’s backing.

“He needs to know that all this work, to meet all these high expectations, will not simply fall on his shoulders alone. He has all these people with him. The Zanu-PF family will assist him, the family of Zimbabwe will assist him,” she said.

Mnangagwa’s exile in South Africa underlined the important role the powerful neighbour has played during the crisis. Though attempts at diplomatic mediation failed outright, Pretoria offered a crucial haven to Mnangagwa and close allies when they were forced to flee three weeks ago.

Car horns and celebrations greeted the motorcade carrying Mnangagwa as it passed through the Zimbabwean capital on the way to party headquarters, where one small portrait of Mugabe remained on a wall but two large images had been stowed in a corner.

There is still much residual respect for Mugabe, and many in Harare say he should be allowed to “rest” rather than face charges or enforced exile.

Zanu-PF officials have said that Mugabe and his wife, Grace, will be allowed to live in Zimbabwe.

Ziyambi Ziyambi, a Zanu-PF MP and former minister, said the couple had been guaranteed impunity from prosecution and other unspecified protections.

“There has been an agreement. They are elder statesmen [sic] and will be respected and given their dues. He was our president and he agreed to resign so he will enjoy the benefits of being an ex-president and his wife too. He is our icon,” Ziyambi said.

Mugabe, who ruled the country with an iron grip for 37 years, finally caved to popular and political pressure on Tuesday, hours after parliament launched proceedings to impeach him. He had refused to leave office during eight days of uncertainty that began with a military takeover last week.

Harare was quiet on Wednesday morning after a night of joyous celebration. Traffic was normal and many people were going to work.

“It’s a new day for Zimbabwe. We are smiling,” said Lovemore Simbeli, 19, as he sold newspapers with front-page headlines announcing Mugabe’s resignation.

Mnangagwa, once one of Mugabe’s closest aides, can count on the support of the armed forces, the massed ranks of Zanu-PF followers across the country, and his own followers in the eastern part of Zimbabwe where he comes from.

Among those who greeted the new leader at the airport were relatives, including nephew Lucius Ngomo, a chief from near the town of Masvingo.

“In the family there are people who you see and who you say will rise up to a high level. He was one of those people,” Ngoma said.

The decision to sack Mnangagwa was a rare tactical error by Mugabe, who appears to have wanted to clear the way to power for his ambitious but unpopular wife and her G40 faction.

While there is widespread respect for Mugabe for his leadership during the brutal liberation wars of the 1960s and 70s, the first lady is viewed differently, with many calling for her trial and imprisonment.

Despite the guarantees offered by Mnangagwa and the military, the former leader may still prefer exile. Dubai, Singapore or Malaysia are considered the most likely destinations. The family is believed to have a substantial property portfolio overseas.


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« Reply #4399 on: Today at 06:35 AM »

Evil Ratko Mladić will die in jail. But go to Bosnia: you’ll see that he won

Ed Vulliamy

I revealed the camps where mass-murder and rape took place. But the Serbian warlord is still adored in the statelet from which non-Serbs were banished

Guardian
11/23/2017

General Ratko Mladić, the most bloodthirsty warlord to strut European soil since the Third Reich, will die in jail. Any other outcome after today’s verdict in The Hague would have been preposterous.

The mothers of the more than 8,000 men and boys mass-murdered in Srebrenica, over five days in the summer of 1995, have every reason to welcome the sentence of life imprisonment, and Mladić’s conviction for genocide: the only judicial standard by which that crime can be rightly measured.

But for all the back-slapping by human rights organisations and lawyers, there is a dark cloud under which the majority of those who survived Mladić’s hurricane of violence etch out their lives, and that shrouds the memory of those killed, or are still “missing”.

I testified against Mladić, as well as his political counterpart Radovan Karadžić and seven other defendants, at The Hague: mostly to give evidence on the network of concentration camps I revealed in this newspaper in 1992 – along with an ITN crew – and the litany of mass murder, ethnic “cleansing”, rape and destruction that followed over three bloody years.

Today I spent time on the phone to survivors. Beyond those bereaved by Srebrenica, not one shared in the celebration of Mladić’s conviction.

He faced two counts of genocide: one for Srebrenica, the other for what happened in the “municipalities” elsewhere in Bosnia. Here serial atrocities were committed by troops under Mladić’s direct command over those years, while the international community dithered, and worse. The whole idea of the Hague tribunal was as much an act of contrition for that failure as it was ambition for international justice. Mladić’s pogroms included more mass-murder, torture, mutilation and rape, in the camps at Omarska, Trnopolje and Keretem in north-west Bosnia. To the east, in Višegrad, civilians – including babies – were herded alive into houses for incineration, or down to a bridge to be shot, or chopped into pieces, and hurled into the river Drina. Then there was the wholesale demolition of countless towns and villages, and the “cleansing” of all non-Serbs, by death or deportation; the razing of mosques and Catholic churches; the gathering of women and girls into camps for violation all night, every night. And the rest.

None of this, apparently, is genocide. Mladić was acquitted on that count. This raises the question: then what is?

Among those in The Hague to hear the verdict was Kelima Dautović, who survived the Trnopolje camp while her husband was in one at Omarska, and lost many of her extended family and neighbours in the levelling of her home town of Kozarac in 1992. “It’s so disappointing, but hardly surprising,” she says. “Maybe they didn’t want to call it genocide because it happened under the eyes of the international community that was there, supposedly protecting us. Whatever, I hope the historians do a better job than the judges.”

Among the more outrageous farces along the tribunal’s long and winding road was the incarceration in 2015 of one its former senior officers, Florence Hartmann, for her subsequent journalistic coverage of Srebrenica, with reference to material sealed by the court. Hartmann, who from her cell could see Mladić taking daily exercise, observes today that “no genocide in history happened over five days in summer. Genocide is a process.”

She notes that unlike in other verdicts, the role of Serbia itself has been entirely omitted: “The verdict has stripped genocide of ideology, history and international context.”

It’s a good point. Human Rights Watch celebrates the fact that the verdict sends “a message to those in power around the world who are committing brutal atrocities, whether in Burma, North Korea, or Syria”, as preparations begin for prosecutions of war crimes in Syria.

But who exactly will be brought to justice? Mladić is a warlord, and better jailed than free. But, as archbishop Desmond Tutu has rightly asked: where was Tony Blair when it came to justice for the ruins of Iraq, to which one might add the names Cheney, Rumsfeld et al? Will justice in Syria be similarly “stripped” to exclude Assad and Putin, and whoever in the regime of our ally Saudi Arabia is arming Islamic State and bombing Yemen? Should that former darling of the human rights movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, be expecting an indictment?

The Hague tribunal’s remit was in part judicial, but also to “promote reconciliation” in the Balkans. Well, there is none. Mladić got largely what he wanted: a Bosnian Serb statelet from which almost every non-Serb was banished in 1995, to which only a bold few precariously return. He is adored, his portrait adorns bars and office walls in Bosnia and Serbia, his name sung at football matches.

Even the chief prosecutor at The Hague, Serge Brammertz, acknowledged that “conflict and atrocities can gain a logic of their own”, and life in Bosnia is more sectarian now than at any time since the war, all sides settling into the comfort zone of mutual hatred – which is, incidentally, financially lucrative to the political class leading all of them. Mladić is no doubt a furious man, but he can start his sentence with the satisfaction of a mission in no small part accomplished.

• Ed Vulliamy is author of The War Is Dead, Long Live the War: Bosnia – the Reckoning

Click to watch this video profile: https://www.youtube.com/embed/TqhzKRze7UI?enablejsapi=1&rel=0&showinfo=0&origin=https://www.theguardian.com


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« Reply #4400 on: Today at 06:50 AM »

‘We’re doing zilch’: State Dept. officials quit and say Trump admin. prevents fighting Russian propaganda

David Edwards
Raw Story
23 Nov 2017 at 14:30 ET                  

Ahmed Younis, who worked in an office of the State Department tasked with combatting Russian propaganda, said this week that “nothing” is being done on the issue because of “incompetence” inside President Donald Trump’s administration.

In an interview with Wired, Younis lamented that the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC), which he was recruited to help run in 2016, had become bogged down and paralyzed by “administrative incompetence.” Younis and two other high-level analysts recently became so frustrated that they quit their jobs.

Although the Global Engagement Center was created in 2016, it did not have the authority to track Russian propaganda until President Barack Obama signed a law last December.

But a number of former State Department staffers told Wired that “the government agency specifically tasked with analyzing and combating this issue has effectively been frozen.”

“The headline is: There’s nothing that’s being done,” one former staffer explained to the magazine. “On this issue of state aggression, I would say we’re doing almost zilch.”

Wired notes:

    When President Trump took office, appointing former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State, Younis anticipated the usual bureaucratic hurdles that accompany any new administration. But the hurdles his team faced in the first year of Trump’s tenure were higher than anyone expected.

    Under the Trump administration, Younis says, the coordinated plan to fight Russian disinformation and propaganda has failed to launch. The GEC has languished in the face of ongoing budget debates, a State Department-wide hiring freeze, and inconsistent views over how, exactly, the United States ought to engage with Russia.

The magazine asked Younis which parts of the GEC’s Russian propaganda mandate he was able to accomplish.

“Nothing. Nothing. Nothing,” he replied.

However, current officials at the State Department insisted that the GEC did not have the budget to take on Russian propaganda this year, and that $40 million in additional funds would become available in January 2018. It was not immediately clear how that money would be spent.

“It was passive aggressively, bureaucratically being ignored,” on GEC employee commented to Wired.

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‘Trump is our president’: Russian politicians ‘arranged a champagne party celebrating’ the 2016 election outcome

Elizabeth Preza
23 Nov 2017 at 00:06 ET
Raw Story
                  
In 2016, Russian political figures had a slogan saying, ‘Donald Trump is our president,’ and “arranged a champagne party celebrating” the outcome of the election, a former editor at Russia’s largest state media company claimed this month.

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza reports that Dimitri Skorobutov, who worked at a Russian state TV throughout 2016, kept planning guides detailing how Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted the U.S. presidential election covered. “Aside from Fox News, no network worked as hard as Rossiya, as Russian state TV is called, to boost Donald Trump and denigrate Hillary Clinton,” Lizza reports.

Contained in Skorobutov’s documents, for example, were directives from the Kremlin to play up an August 2016 story about Clinton falling while walking up steps.

“Me and my colleagues, we were given a clear instruction: to show Donald Trump in a positive way, and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, in a negative way,” Skorobutov said in a speech, according to Lizza.

“If Donald Trump has a successful press conference, we broadcast it for sure,” Skorobutov explained. “And if something goes wrong with Clinton, we underline it.”

“There was even a slogan among Russian political élite,” the former editor said. “‘Trump is our president.’ And, when he won the elections, on 9th November, 2016, Russian Parliament or State Duma even applauded him and arranged a champagne party celebrating the victory of Donald Trump.”

The report provides insight into how the presidential election played in Russia, as the government worked (according to U.S. intelligence agencies) to interfere in our nation’s democratic process. But Skorobutov told Lizza he doesn’t believe the Kremlin was successful in its ultimate goal—to make Trump a president who will bow to Putin’s will.

“Russian authorities failed with their hopes that financial and media support will make Trump really Russian,” he said. “They were wrong as they didn’t take into consideration the U.S. political system and mentality. Russian authorities hoped—literally—to buy Donald Trump, using bribes and tricks. But they failed.”

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Trump may have destabilized the whole Middle East by blurting out Israeli intelligence to Russians: report

David Ferguson
Raw Story
22 Nov 2017 at 17:55 ET                  

When President Donald Trump blurted out code-word protected Israeli intelligence to Russian officials in the Oval Office, he not only undermined other nations’ trust in the U.S. to keep secrets, the president may have further destabilized the already uneasy relationship between Israel and Iran — and by extension the entire Middle East.

Vanity Fair published an essay on Wednesday by author and journalist Howard Blum detailing the chain of events inadvertently set off by Trump’s loose lips.

Blum dissected the now-notorious May meeting in the Oval Office from a number of different angles, questioning whether the president revealed the information out of genuine incompetence, an overeager desire to impress his guests with his secret knowledge or whether the president is genuinely acting in Russia’s strategic interest.

Whatever the motivation, Trump has soured — perhaps irrevocably — the relationship between U.S. intelligence services and Israel.

“I get great intel,” the president boasted on May 10 to Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kisylak and Russia’s foreign minster Sergei Lavrov. “I have people brief me on great intel every day.”

“He quickly went on to share with representatives of a foreign adversary not only the broad outlines of the plot to turn laptop computers into airborne bombs but also at least one highly classified operational detail — the sort of sensitive, locked-in-the-vault intel that was not shared with even Congress or friendly governments,” wrote Blum.

He continued, “The president did not name the U.S. partner who had spearheaded the operation. (Journalists, immediately all over the astonishing story, would soon out Israel). But, more problematic, President Trump cavalierly identified the specific city in ISIS-held territory where the threat had been detected.”

Now, Blum said, “the president’s reckless disclosure continues to wreak havoc.”

U.S. intelligence agencies no longer trust Trump not to leak strategic information to the Kremlin. Third country agencies — ally nations like The Five Eyes and Israel — no longer believe that their sensitive information is safe in U.S. hands.

Israel is reportedly furious with Trump over the leak and battening down for possible hostilities with Russia’s closest strategic ally in the region, Iran.

“Trump betrayed us,” said a senior Israeli military to Vanity Fair. “And if we can’t trust him, then we’re going to have to do what is necessary on our own if our back is up against the wall with Iran.”

A war between Israel and Iran could be catastrophic for the region and plunge it into chaos. Experts say that by now the Russians have handed the intelligence to Iran. That nation will have done everything in its power to run down the source of the leak and identify the source.

“What, then, was the fate of Israel’s agent in Syria?” Blum asked. “Was the operative exfiltrated to safety? Has he gone to ground in enemy territory? Or was he hunted down and killed?”

An ex-Mossad officer with knowledge of the operation and its aftermath declined to tell Blum, but would only say, “Whatever happened to him, it’s a hell of price to pay for a president’s mistake.”

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LISTEN: British journalist details the ‘constellation of Russian connections circling around planet Trump’

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
22 Nov 2017 at 21:08 ET                  

The former Moscow bureau chief for the British newspaper The Guardian revealed to NPR host Terry Gross that Soviet and Russian intelligence agencies had targeted President Donald Trump for decades.

“You write that the Russians had their eyes on Donald Trump as early as the 1970s when he married Ivana Trump, who is from Czechoslovakia. Why were they keeping an eye on him in the ’70s? What were they looking for?” Gross asked Luke Harding, author of the new book “Collusion” on President Donald Trump, Russia and the dossier compiled by former MI-6 spy Christopher Steele.

“Well, the KGB really forever has been interested in cultivating people, actually, who might be useful contacts for them, identifying targets for possible recruitments possibly to be agents. That’s not saying that Donald Trump is an agent, but the point is that he would have been on their radar certainly by 1977 when he married Ivana, who came from Czechoslovakia, a kind of communist Eastern bloc country,” Harding explained. “And we know from Czechoslovak spy records de-classified last year that the spy agencies were in contact with Ivana’s father, that they kept an eye on the Trumps in Manhattan throughout the 1980s.”

The pattern could go back even further, as Raw Story reported Sunday.

“But I think what’s kind of interesting about this story, if you understand the kind of Russian espionage background, is Trump’s first visit to Soviet Moscow in 1987. He went with Ivana,” Harding noted. “He talks about getting an invitation from the Soviet government to go over there. And he makes it seem kind of rather casual. But what I discovered from my research is that there was actually a concerted effort by the Soviet government via the ambassador at the time, who was newly arrived, a guy called Yuri Dubinin, to kind of charm Trump, to flatter him, to woo him almost.”

“And Dubinin’s daughter, sort of who was part of this process, said that the ambassador rushed up to the top of Trump Tower, basically kind of breezed into Trump’s office and he melted. That’s the verb she used. He melted,” Harding repeated.

“That Trump melted when he was flattered?” Gross clarified.

“Yeah. That Trump melted with this kind of flattery,” Harding replied. “And several months later, he gets an invitation to go on an all-expenses-paid trip behind the Iron Curtain to Soviet Moscow.”

Harding noted the trip was arranged by Intourist, which “is basically the KGB.”

Harding was expelled from Russia in 2011 for unfavorable press coverage of the Kremlin. In her intro, Gross noted that Harding “learned a lot about Russian espionage partly through his own experience of being spied on and harassed.”

“You know, we can’t say that Trump was recruited in 1987. But what we can say with absolute certainty is there was a very determined effort by the Soviets to bring him over, and that moreover, his personality was the kind of thing they were looking for,” Harding explained. “They were looking for narcissists. They were looking for people who were kind of – dare I say it – corruptible, interested in money, people who were not necessarily faithful in their marriages and also sort of opportunists who were not very strong analysts or principle people.”

“And if you work your way down the list through these sort of – the KGB’s personality questionnaire, Donald Trump ticks every single box,” Harding concluded.

In fact, the very idea of Donald Trump running for office may have originated during his 1987 Moscow trip.

“And there’s a kind of curious coda to this, which is, two months after his trip – actually, less than two months, he comes back from Moscow and, having previously shown very little interest in foreign policy, he takes out these full-page advertisements in The Washington Post and a couple of other U.S. newspapers basically criticizing Ronald Reagan and criticizing Reagan’s foreign policy,” Harding explained.

“He also says that he’s thinking about politics, not as a senator or as a mayor, but he actually goes to New Hampshire and he actively floats the idea of running for president. It doesn’t happen then, but this is in his head,” Harding noted. “This is a strategic thought he has after his Moscow trip.

Decades later, the early days of the Trump administration featured many prominent members will Russia connections.

“I mean, it’s – obviously, Trump did the picking, but it’s almost as if Putin had the kind of last word because we’ve got Wilbur Ross, who as well as the Bank of Cyprus, we now know was doing business of our shipping company with Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law. We have Michael Flynn, whose woes are well-known, but clearly, was taking money from Russia Today, the Kremlin propaganda channel, and other Russian interests and not declaring it,” Harding reminded. “Then we have Rex Tillerson. I mean, he was a famous oil guy. I used to write about him in Moscow, and he got this Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin – sort of a sky blue ribbon pinned to his chest. And he pops up as U.S. secretary of state almost from nowhere.”

“And so we go down the list, whether it’s from policy aids like Carter Page or George Papadopoulos, who’s pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, or Trump associates like Felix Sater, longtime business pal, or Michael Cohen, the personal lawyer, who’s married to a Ukrainian,” Harding added.

“I mean, the sort of constellation of Russian connections circling around planet Trump is just quite extraordinary. And I think this, more than anything else, is what Mueller is now looking at,” he concluded.

Click to listen: <iframe width="100%" height="290" src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/565654507/565741035" frameborder=0></iframe>

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Why did DOJ official Dana Boente resign before Mueller charges?

Newsweek
23 Nov 2017 at 08:28 ET

A Democratic lawmaker wants to examine the abrupt resignation of a prominent Department of Justice official with connections to the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

On Wednesday, Senator Chris Coons asked the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing about the October resignation of Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. That district is where Special Counsel Robert Mueller  reportedly began using a grand jury around July to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

Boente, who has been at the Justice Department for more than three decades, is also resigning from his role as an acting assistant attorney general. He will stay at the department until the Senate confirms President Donald Trump’s nominee for that role. Early in the Trump administration, he served as acting attorney general and acting deputy attorney general. The Justice Department announced his resignation on October 27.

The Eastern District of Virginia is one of the most prominent of the 94 U.S. attorney districts. Because of an executive order that Trump signed in March, the U.S. attorney there is towards the top of the line of succession at the Justice Department. That means if Trump demands the Justice Department fire Mueller, and enough officials refuse, the Eastern District of Virginia attorney could become responsible for carrying out the order.

Last month, Mueller’s team announced charges against Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos, all of whom had been involved in the Trump campaign, through the U.S. attorney’s office at the nearby District of Columbia. That announcement happened three days after the news of Boente’s resignation.

Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, questioned the role Trump played in Boente’s leaving. In his letter on Wednesday, Coons requested a hearing “to examine potential presidential interference with U.S. attorneys’ offices.” He added, “My request is based on a series of events that leave me concerned that President Trump does not respect the important boundaries between politics and the prosecutorial decisions of U.S. attorneys within the Department of Justice.”

Coons said in the letter that he found Boente’s departure particularly troubling since it came just before Mueller’s team announced charges. “President Trump’s reported demand for his resignation, the sudden nature of its timing, its proximity to the indictments issued by special counsel Mueller and reported connections between the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia and the investigations of Paul Manafort and [former National Security Adviser] Michael Flynn, leave me concerned that this resignation was not business as usual,” he wrote. “I cannot take on faith that this dismissal was normal or justified.”

Boente has not commented publicly on his resignation, and earlier this week, a spokesman had declined Newsweek’s request for an interview with him.

Trump has had a contentious relationship with the Justice Department. He fired former FBI Director James Comey and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. He expressed regret for hiring Attorney General Jeff Sessions after Sessions, who had been an adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, recused himself from matters related to the campaign. He has also involved himself in the interviewing process for potential U.S. attorneys, which legal analysts have claimed is inappropriate. Preet Bharara, who Trump fired as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said on his podcast in October, “I can tell you it is highly unusual and probably really inadvisable for any president, and particularly this president...to be interviewing personally people for those jobs.”

Besides writing to Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Coons also wrote Wednesday to Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, calling for details about Boente’s resignation. He said in the letters that he had asked the Justice Department for information about the departure but had not received a response.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is one of three congressional panels investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, independently of the Mueller probe. The committee is also responsible for monitoring the Justice Department.


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Everything the Trump campaign told you about the connections between Trump and Russia was a lie: Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers
23 Nov 2017 at 15:23 ET      
            
Trump's relationship with Moscow has stalked the first year of his presidency, with key former aides under a US investigation for alleged collaboration with the Kremlin. (SPUTNIK/AFP / Mikhail KLIMENTYEV)
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Editor’s Note: The news is coming so fast and furious, from so many sources and in so many fragments, that it takes more than a scorecard to keep up with the Trump-Russia Connection. It takes a timeline — a “map,” if you will, of where events and names and dates and deeds converge into a story that makes sense of the incredible scandal of the 2016 election and now of the Trump Administration.

For years Steve Harper produced timelines for the cases he argued or defended in court as a successful litigator. Retired now from practicing law, Harper has turned his experience, talent, and curiosity to monitoring for BillMoyers.com the bizarre and entangled ties between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump and the murky world of Russian oligarchs, state officials, hackers, spies, and Republican operatives. You can check out the over 700 entries right here. But for an overview — and some specifics — of recent developments, I called up Steve to give us a sense of the emerging story.

—Bill Moyers

Bill Moyers: You’re the consummate trial lawyer with a celebrated reputation for summing up the closing argument for the jury, but from our work together on the timeline I know you also have the instincts of a journalist. So write the lede to the story this far: What’s the most important thing for us to know about the Trump/Russia connection as of today?

Steven Harper: Everything the Trump campaign told you about the connections between Trump and Russia was a lie.

Moyers: Go on.

Harper: Well, there are a number of different dimensions to the issue, but let’s just take the easiest one. The other day The Washington Post published a very good article that said for all of Trump’s denials during the campaign of any connections between him, his campaign and Russia, it turns out there were 31 interactions. And there were 19 meetings. Furthermore, what Trump and his people have been doing since then is everything they can to keep the public from being aware of the truth. And this feeds into the obstruction story.

Moyers: How so?

Harper: Up to and including the firing of James Comey, Trump did everything he could to try to shut down, slow down or stop the investigation. First, he tried to shut down the investigation of Mike Flynn. Then it turned out that Mike Flynn is probably just a piece of a much larger problem, which is Russia. Trump admitted to the Russian ambassador and to the Russian foreign minister shortly after he fired Comey that now he’s got some relief from the Russia problem — in other words, Comey’s gone! But what’s happened since then is the continuing effort to interfere with the investigation, even in the form of tweets — all of which sure look a lot to me like witness intimidation for some of the key players in the saga.

And then there’s a third component, which is in a way the most insidious — the willingness of the congressional GOP to be complicit in all of this. We’re talking now about a prescription for disaster for democracy. It’s all part of the same story. If you think about it, every single person who has said something about there being no connection between Trump and Russia during the campaign has been caught in a lie about it. Even with this fellow George Papadopoulos, the talking point immediately became, “Well, he didn’t get in trouble for anything that he did, he got in trouble for lying to federal investigators.” Sure, and what was he lying to federal investigators about? About whether or not there were any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. And that’s the part that everybody glosses over in terms of the talking points on the Republican side.

Moyers: George Papadopoulos was the youngest of Trump’s foreign policy team and not a prominent public figure. Now Trump loyalists say he wasn’t taken all that seriously by the campaign.

Harper: That’s another remarkable thing, of course — all the policy advisers all of a sudden are relegated to the status of low-level, unpaid volunteers, even though they sat in a meeting of foreign policy advisers with the presidential candidate himself early on. When they turn out to be suspects in this investigation, they all drop to the bottom of the heap, and it’s as if Trump had never heard of any of them.

Moyers: It’s usual in a case like this to move the paramount figures to the expendable list, no?

Harper: Oh sure, absolutely, and I fully expect before this is over, you’re going to get to a point where Donald Trump will say, “Oh, yeah, Donald Jr. — you know he was only my son for a very limited period of time.” It’s absurd. And it started with Paul Manafort — the same Manafort who actually delivered decisive delegates to Trump during a crucial period of the campaign. When the heat was turned on Manafort, they all said: “Oh, well, he played a limited role for a limited period of time.” Yeah, he was only manager of the campaign, how about that?

Moyers: Perhaps Trump, who aspired to be a great American president, will confess: “And I was just a real estate guy.” [laughter] Robert Mueller is moving quickly with the investigation now. We have new news almost every day. What’s the most recent development that strikes you as most important?

Harper: Three different strands have now begun to coalesce. There’s a core strand running through it that I call the “follow the money” strand. Perhaps most of what happened throughout the campaign, if you view it from Vladimir Putin’s side of the transaction, looks quite reasonable and makes a great deal of sense. Putin wants to eliminate sanctions on Russia, both because they affect him personally in a financial way and because they affect his country’s economy in a big way. So you dangle in front of Trump the prospect of a Trump Tower in Moscow. We always knew that Trump wanted a Trump Tower in Moscow, because Trump told us he did. But what we didn’t know was that during the campaign, the Trump organization was actively negotiating for such a development.

But two other strands have come together, and we need to understand them for all this to become a cogent narrative. The second strand involves political operatives. It turns out we’re hearing about people like George Papadopoulos, who obviously was in communication with the Russians, and that strand is now probably taking Mueller — certainly taking me — further up the food chain. Papadopoulos implicated Sam Clovis, the former co-chairman of the campaign. And with people like Stephen Miller and Hope Hicks, you’re getting right to the inner circle of the Trump campaign. All of a sudden last year, these low-level underlings, as they are now being described to us, were getting remarkable access, and they’re getting responses from within the campaign. They’re not sending emails off into cyberspace that no one ever answers; they’re hearing back from some of these higher-ups.

And the third strand is what I would call the “digital strand.” Cambridge Analytica, the Kushners, WikiLeaks — they’ve started coming together in a very dramatic fashion over the past two or three weeks. Pundits say they keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Well, didn’t John McCain say, “This is a centipede. I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop.” It seems as though there is just no limit to the number of shoes that keep dropping in this thing. Everyone thought the big bombshell was the June 9 meeting and the Don Jr. emails that had set up that meeting in Trump Tower relating to dirt the Russians were promising on Hillary Clinton. And then we just get this even more stunning series of interactions and communications and exchanges that show the people that Kushner hired to run the digital campaign going to WikiLeaks, and reveal Don Jr. having direct Twitter communications with WikiLeaks about Clinton documents. It’s just remarkable. If all of this had hit at the same time, it would have been blockbuster, but because of the dribbling out of it, no one focuses on the extent to which some of these three strands coalesce. And they sometimes coalesce around what I call very hot dates in the timeline.

Moyers: Let’s pause right there. There’s a beginning to a story like this. So I hope you’re reading a new book out this week by Luke Harding, once the Moscow correspondent for The Guardian of London. The title is Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money and how the Russians Helped Donald Trump Win. Have you been following coverage of the book?

Harper: Yes. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve read a couple of excerpts and summaries of certain portions of it.

Moyers: Harding, who’s a very experienced reporter, quotes the British ex-spy, Christopher Steele, who worked in Russia for years and compiled that notorious dossier on Trump that mysteriously appeared last year. He quotes Steele saying that “Russian intelligence has been secretly cultivating Trump for years.” As you and I discussed in August, Trump appears to have attracted the attention of Soviet intelligence as far back as 1987, on his first visit to Moscow — a visit arranged by the top level of the Soviet diplomatic service, with the assistance of the KGB.

Trump was of course looking for business in Russia. If you go to Trump’s own book, The Art of the Deal, he acknowledges “talking about building a large luxury hotel across the street from the Kremlin in partnership with the Soviet government.” And he quotes a letter he got from the Soviet ambassador to Washington saying the Soviet state agency for international tourism is inquiring about his interest in that partnership. Now, one has to ask: There were lots of ambitions real estate moguls looking for deals with Russia in the mid-’80s; why did they select Donald Trump?

Harper: And that’s the $64,000 question. It’s very interesting and Harding notes this as well, and it also was an early entry on our timeline — that in 1988, when Trump came back from the Soviet Union, he first made noises about wanting to run for president. Which brings us back to the second strand developing in this story, which is the personal contacts, the personal operatives, involved in a pretty straightforward if not classic Russian intelligence operation. Russian agents — the recruiters — look for soft spots in their target — in this case, the US — and those soft spots become points of penetration. The Russians must have been astonished at how they achieved penetration in Trump’s circle — astonished at the success that they were having across many different fronts simultaneously.

Moyers: I remember from my own experience in Washington in the ‘60s that the Russians were always trying to find “soft targets” — American citizens — who were drawn to that sort of relationship.

Harper: And what could be a softer target for a guy like Putin than a guy who measures the world and everyone’s self-worth in dollars?

Moyers: Much of what Harding reports in his book is circumstantial, but it adds up to what is fairly damning evidence. You’re the lawyer — how much can circumstantial evidence be introduced in an argument in a trial?

Harper: Plenty. There are lots of people sitting in jail who were convicted on circumstantial evidence. In fact, how often is it that there is actually what you would call eyewitness or direct evidence of criminal behavior, except in a situation where you can get one of the co-conspirators to turn state’s evidence and squeal on the others? People talk about circumstantial evidence as if there’s something terrible about it. Circumstantial evidence is the way most people go about proving their cases, whether they’re civil or criminal cases. And what separates circumstantial from direct evidence isn’t even all that clear. Would you say that the email exchanges between Donald Trump Jr. and the lawyer who was supposed to come to Trump Tower with dirt on Hillary Clinton were circumstantial evidence or direct evidence? It’s certainly direct evidence of Donald Trump Jr.’s intent when he says, “If you have what you say you have, in terms of dirt on Clinton, I love it.”

Some people keep saying there’s there’s no collusion. Trump’s favorite expression is “No collusion. No collusion. No collusion.” All right, let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about something the law recognizes as conspiracy or “aiding and abetting.” Let’s talk about a conspiracy to obstruct justice. In that respect, Trump’s own tweets become evidence. So it’s not as clear as I think some of the talking-head pundits would like to make it, that no collusion means the end of the inquiry. That’s just wrong.

Moyers: Suppose the circumstantial or direct evidence prove to be true; does it have to be out-and-out treason for Trump and his team’s actions to be impeachable offenses?

Harper: No. In all likelihood, treason may be the toughest thing of all to prove, because treason, at least in a technical legal sense, requires that you’re actually at war. And a decent defense could be for Trump that there’s been no declaration of war, so whatever was going on you’re never going to get it past the threshold of treason. There are still plenty of legal bases for concluding that Trump has some serious problems. One would be the election laws, including the financing of elections. It’s pretty clear you can’t accept help from a foreign government in order to win an election, and it seems pretty clear, at least to me, that if they weren’t actually using the help — and that’s a big if; I think they were, based on some of the things that I’ve seen — there’s certainly ample evidence that they were willing to be participating in whatever help anybody would give them to help Trump win the election.

The second category — apart from election laws and related finance laws — would be aiding and abetting computer theft insofar as there were illegal hacks into the DNC computers, and WikiLeaks and/or the Trump campaign knew that that happened, knew the hacks were illegal and knew they were willing to do everything they could to take advantage of it in order to help Trump win the election. That’s another fertile ground for illegality.

And the third category would of course be what I think will ultimately turn out to be the easiest to prove: the obstruction issues, relating to some of the behavior that we already know that George Papadopoulos, for one, engaged in when he lied to investigators about the nature of the connections between Trump and Russia.

Moyers: On the money issue, The Atlantic magazine published a very strong piece last week by Bob Bauer, in which he argues that Donald Trump Jr.’s private Twitter correspondence with WikiLeaks provides evidence of criminal violations of federal campaign finance rules which prohibit foreign spending in American elections, as you pointed out. He reminds us that those rules disallow contributions, donations or “anything of value” provided by a foreign national to sway an election. Those rules also bar a campaign from offering substantial assistance to a foreign national engaged in spending on American races.

Here’s a direct quote from Bauer’s article: “Trump Jr.’s messages not only powerfully support the case that the Trump campaign violated these rules, but they also compound the campaign’s vulnerability to aiding and abetting liability under the general criminal laws for assisting a foreign national in violating a spending ban. … The facts and circumstances here are without precedent in the history of campaign finance enforcement, and it’s hard to imagine that any truly neutral analyst informed about the law would conclude otherwise.”

So he concludes that Trump and his campaign face a “whopping legal problem.”

Harper: I agree with him completely. And here we reach one of what I call “the hot dates” when all these strands coalesce. You have these September-October email exchanges between Don Jr. and WikiLeaks. But now listen to what else you have: On Oct. 12, [Trump’s friend and former adviser] Roger Stone tells NBC that he has a backchannel communication with WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks’ private message to Don Jr. suggests that Trump publicize the Clinton documents from WikiLeaks. Fifteen minutes later Trump Sr. tweets about those WikiLeaks documents. That’s on one day. This is all on Oct. 12. And two days after that, Don Jr. tweets the very WikiLeaks link that WikiLeaks had already suggested that they publicize. That’s one point where these strands coalesce. My point is that Bauer’s case is even stronger than he may realize when you look at what you and I have called circumstantial evidence of what other things were happening, and how other layers of action were behaving at the same time.

Moyers: As you know, American intelligence has identified WikiLeaks as a conduit for information that Russian operatives stole from Democrats during the 2016 presidential campaign, and now of course it seems there was a connection between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign, as you’ve just outlined it. What do we know about why the Russian government would choose WikiLeaks to release information hacked from Hillary Clinton’s computers?

Harper: I think it was an outlet that would ensure publicity, maximum publicity. It’s a notorious organization. And I think if you want bad stuff to get out there and you want everybody to notice it, WikiLeaks would be the way to do it.

Moyers: Donald Trump Jr. reportedly has released all of his correspondence with WikiLeaks. Does this indicate his lawyers don’t think it is incriminating?

Harper: I think it is probably more likely the case that his lawyers assume that it’s going to come out eventually anyway. So the best way to do it is to sort of dribble these things out, hope for an intervening scandal, like Al Franken groping somebody or Roy Moore upsetting the Alabama election, and then let the mind of the body politic move on to something different. The good news is that Robert Mueller is not going to be distracted by the intervening events, and he’ll put all this together.

Moyers: But how significant is it that when Donald Trump Jr. had all of this information from WikiLeaks, it’s now being reported that he looked around the campaign to see if he could find someone who would act on WikiLeaks’ information, and it doesn’t seem that anyone responded? His appeals seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Harper: What makes you think no one responded? The fact that there’s no email trail doesn’t necessarily mean that there wasn’t a response. We know, for example, that what was happening throughout the campaign were interactions and conversations and discussions in which certainly one of the topics included granting Russia relief from sanctions. I don’t conclude that because an email response to Donald Jr. has yet to make its way into the public domain, nothing happened.

Moyers: So when Donald Trump on Oct. 10, tells the crowd at a campaign rally, “I love WikiLeaks,” and accuses the press of not picking up on what WikiLeaks was publishing, he knew WikiLeaks had dirt on Clinton, where it came from, and he wanted to get it out.

Harper: You would think so. And I’m most happy, frankly, that Mueller has such an extraordinary team of talented lawyers working with him, because the case from the prosecutor’s side is a dream in terms lending itself to a coherent, cogent narrative that strikes me as a really damning case.

Moyers: Is Julian Assange of WikiLeaks in any danger of facing US prosecution?

Harper: Not as long as he stays in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. Let’s assume he will stay out of the country for a while. I suppose Trump could pardon him.

Moyers: Is there any way that Assange could be viewed as an agent of a foreign power at this point, or is he just a rogue player?

Harper: My opinion is that during the election, he was an agent acting for the benefit for Trump. He claims that he wasn’t dealing with Russian documents. I find that difficult to believe. And certainly, as you said, the US intelligence community is of the view that WikiLeaks was the vehicle through which Russia distributed and disseminated its hacked documents. And I think he’s clearly acting on behalf of interests that are Russian interests.

Moyers: What do you make of Assange and WikiLeaks urging Donald Trump Jr. to suggest to his father that if he loses the election, he should contest the election? What was that about?

Harper: Chaos. I think the goal was chaos. That’s what takes me back to believing that at some level Russia was behind what WikiLeaks was proposing. Because for Putin there are two ways for him to improve Russia’s standing. One is to figure out a way to bring his country up. One easy way would be to get some relief from the sanctions. But an equally powerful way to do it is to bring Western democracies, especially America, down. So what better way to foment chaos than a postelection trauma, if you will, in which Trump is contesting election results in various states and doing all of the things he certainly would have been capable of doing? And of course, WikiLeaks feeds right into Trump’s soft spot by suggesting, in that same email that you just mentioned, that this could be good for him too, particularly if what he really wants to do is launch a new media network. So it all fits.

Moyers: What do you make of the fact that Donald Trump Jr. did not report to the FBI that WikiLeaks was soliciting him last year? Does that put him legally at risk?

Harper: The mere failure to report doesn’t, but it certainly adds to the question about what Trump Jr.’s true motives and the motives of the Trump campaign were in pursuing the information WikiLeaks was offering. Now, let me give you something else to think about, and see if your reaction causes you some of the heartburn it causes me.

In June of last year — quite a month, no? — there was another “hot date.” Jared Kushner — Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser — assumed control of the digital campaign and hired the firm Cambridge Analytica. We talked about Cambridge Analytica a moment ago. Well, Cambridge Analytica’s vice president had been Steve Bannon. And about the same time that Kushner hired Cambridge Analytica, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica is reaching out to WikiLeaks with an offer to help disseminate hacked documents.

And then you get to July 22 and WikiLeaks is releasing hacked documents. In August, George Papadopoulos is continuing to push Russia on the campaign team, Roger Stone is continuing to talk about his communications with Assange and WikiLeaks (and it certainly looks as if Stone is predicting more WikiLeaks releases of documents) and the daughter of the part-owner of Cambridge Analytica, Rebekah Mercer — who is also a Trump donor — tells its CEO to reach out to WikiLeaks too. And then Donald Jr.’s email exchange with WikiLeaks comes in September. See what I mean? There’s a ramping up of the process that culminates in those email exchanges that Don Jr. had with WikiLeaks and that becomes, I think, an important narrative to understanding the story.

Moyers: I need some Tums. [laughter]

Harper: It’s good and bad, I guess — getting mired in all these details. The good news is we learn more facts. The bad news is we learn more facts — and it may not be possible for Americans to put it all together and conclude that anything significant happened, when actually there’s a grave threat to democracy.

Moyers: Let me pause right there. As Josh Marshall points out at Talking Points Memo, the Justice Department is directly overseeing Mueller’s investigation. It has absolute power over the inquiry. Meaning that Mueller is now investigating his overseers. Isn’t that certain to have some impact on the process?

Harper: I don’t think so. Let me tell you why. I think the only thing that will affect the process, and this is the thing frankly that I fear more than anything else, will be if Trump fires Mueller. We know Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself. If he should resign, that would be a great victory for Trump, who could then appoint someone else as an acting attorney general who could then fire Mueller, and the ball bounces to Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein’s been on record a couple of times saying that he hasn’t seen any basis for firing Mueller. And at this point, I have competing views of Rosenstein in general, but I think on this issue, he realizes that his personal interest and his professional interest and even the country’s interest requires that if Trump were to issue an order to fire Mueller or even if he were to try to interfere with Mueller’s investigation in some way, allowing him to do so will be a very bad thing for Rosenstein personally. I don’t think he’ll do it.

Moyers: There’s a precedent for this, of course. Nixon went ahead and fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate.

Harper: Yes, but he had to go through [Attorney General] Richardson and [Deputy Attorney General] Ruckelshaus to do it. Trump would have to fire Rosenstein, then he’d have to fire an associate attorney general named Rachel Brand, who — based on everything everything I’ve read about her — would likely balk and not be inclined to follow an order unless she were satisfied that there was in fact good cause to do it.

Moyers: What might provoke Trump to risk everything — firestorm, constitutional crisis, even impeachment — to fire Mueller?

Harper: I think he’ll do it if he thinks that things are getting too close. I think he’s already been close to doing it in the past. And I think at some point, and I think it’s probably a question of when [not if], he will fire Mueller. I really fear that’s what’s going to happen. And of course the irony is that for the amount of time Mueller has spent on the job, he’s achieved remarkable results. He’s working very quickly, very efficiently. The median life of a special counsel is just under two years. The average is three years. The Iran-Contra investigation went for six and a half years. Whitewater went for more than eight years. The Valerie Plame NSA leak went for two years. We’re what? Just five months in?

Moyers: And Mueller’s already obtained two indictments and one guilty plea.

Harper: Precisely.

Moyers: The indictments are for Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. But the indictments are not related to the Trump/Russia connection, are they?

Harper: I think the answer to that is it remains to be seen. That’s clearly the way the Trump people are going to continue to try to spin it. But step back for a minute and think about the fact that a campaign manager [Paul Manafort] for a presidential candidate [Donald Trump] has been indicted for money laundering, tax evasion and all sorts of other wrongdoing arising from his work for Ukraine, where Putin and Russia were fomenting trouble. And shortly after he became the manager of the campaign, as we’ve learned, he was also offering to provide special briefings to a Ukrainian oligarch with whom he’d had business dealings. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see at some point some of these things merge into one another.

Moyers: You mentioned earlier that a new series of Trump advisers are under scrutiny. Hope Hicks is one of them. She’s perhaps the closest staffer to Donald Trump. Not even 30 yet, keeps a low profile, been with him a long time, apparently spends more time with the president than anyone else on the White House team. We’ve learned Mueller wants to talk to her. What have you learned about her and what can she add to this?

Harper: She can add a lot, I suspect. And I suspect that Mueller thinks so too, because as you say, she’s as close to the inner circle as you can get. She was also present at two really key points in this story — and many others, I could add. One in connection with what ultimately led to the firing of James Comey in May of 2017 — she was around for that. And as you may recall, we now have learned that it turns out that Trump had dictated to Stephen Miller, another close aide, what was apparently a four-page rant, or screed, of his real reasons for wanting to fire James Comey. So it’s hard to imagine that Hope Hicks wasn’t somehow involved in, or at least aware of, what was going on that weekend in Bedminster, New Jersey, when Trump was pouring his rage into that letter.

She was also aboard Air Force One — and maybe the lesson is you just never want to be on Air Force One with Donald Trump — when they were coming back from Europe, and Trump, as we learned much later, had a hand, a very heavy hand, in drafting a very misleading statement about what had transpired at that June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr., Manafort, Kushner and some Russians with ties to the Kremlin. Hope Hicks reportedly was advocating on behalf of transparency, but it appears that she lost out. And that’s just what we know Ms. Hicks was involved in. Who knows what else she was involved in and participated in, but I suspect a lot.

I also think she’s got a bit of problem because Carter Page revealed that she had been copied on those messages about what he had learned in Russia, or what he was planning to learn in Russia, when she had denied adamantly there had been no Trump campaign contacts with Russia. So she’s got a bit of a consistency issue there, it would seem.

Moyers: You mentioned Carter Page. He and George Papadopoulos traveled the world, apparently representing themselves as able to speak for the Trump campaign, even though the Trump campaign later said they weren’t. You’ve tracked down many instances of Papadopoulos in particular speaking to foreign leaders on behalf of Trump. Why is that important?

Harper: Well, he’s given extraordinary access to some very high-level people. He was giving speeches in which he was representing himself as being able to speak on behalf of Trump at least with respect to certain policies. And you know, it’s hard for me to imagine that he gets that kind of access unless there’s some credibility to what he’s saying about what his actual role in the campaign is. And of course we all know from the infamous photo taken at the Trump International Hotel that Papadopoulos was one of a handful of people seated at the table with Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump as Sessions presided over a meeting about Trump’s foreign policy and Trump told the group that he didn’t “want to go to ‘World War III’ over Ukraine.”

And I believe that’s what started the process of making clear to everybody who was on Trump’s foreign policy team that easing relations with Russia by easing sanctions, would be something that Trump would be open to. And I think a lot of what happens afterward you can fit into this broader framework of the question: What is Putin’s angle in all this? Well, Putin’s angle in all this is if he can get the Russian sanctions lifted, he’s a winner. And if Trump will help him do that, great. And even if Trump can’t help him, even if Trump doesn’t win the election, it can’t hurt that he’s created some chaos in a Western democracy, which clearly is what he intended and what happened.

Moyers: You mentioned Jeff Sessions. In his testimony to Congress last week, Sessions said it’s hard for him to remember meeting with, and conversations about, the Russians because the Trump campaign was in constant chaos. The fact that the campaign was in chaos certainly seems accurate, but would his excuse play at all in a trial?

Harper: No. And remember what Steve Schmidt, who was involved in John McCain’s campaign, said? He said he hopes that Jeff Sessions never gets a puppy because he’s not going to remember to feed it, he’s not going to remember to get it watered, he’s not going to remember to let it out. That puppy’s just going to be in terrible trouble.

But what’s interesting about Sessions to me is this: What Sessions said in his recent statements was, I haven’t remembered that Papadopoulos raised the issue of Trump meeting with Putin or members of the campaign meeting with representatives of Putin until I read about it in the news reports. But now that I’ve read about it, now I remember, and listen — I pushed back really hard and I said that it would not be appropriate for anyone to be meeting with a representative of a foreign government. All of the sudden, it’s like the light has gone on in Jeff Sessions’ head. Now, you have a situation sometimes in trials where a witness in a previous setting had sworn that he couldn’t remember something. And then six months or a year later, all of a sudden they have this epiphany and the memories came flooding out. And there’s something counterintuitive about somebody who says they remember more now about a specific event than they did a year earlier when asked about that same specific event. That just doesn’t play well with most juries.

And bear in mind, too, something else about Sessions that’s worth remembering that I doubt would necessarily be obvious to non-lawyers. Going into those Senate hearings, going into each one of those hearings, Sessions had to know that he was going to be asked about all of this stuff. And he had to know that he needed to be as familiar as he could be with whatever he could learn so that what he gave was truthful, straightforward, candid and ultimately something that the public and Congress would believe. And yet despite that, at each subsequent appearance, somehow there’s something new and the attorney general of the United States shrugs his shoulders and says, “Oh, I guess I did know that.”

My problem is, I want Sessions to hang on. I don’t want him not to be attorney general yet, because the minute that Sessions resigns or Trump fires him, then you have the door open to an acting attorney general, and I don’t want to live to see Scott Pruitt [head of the Environmental Protection Agency] or [former New York mayor and Trump ally] Rudy Giuliani become acting attorney general, which is something that Trump could do without even Senate confirmation. It doesn’t even have to be those two guys, because we know Trump has a plethora of cronies who will do whatever he says, because Trump says that’s what he wants, and if Trump says he wants Mueller fired, that to me is the disaster scenario for the country.

Moyers: So, to sum up for now: What’s the most innocent explanation for everything we know? What if all of this was simply Trump’s inexperienced people trying to establish diplomatic rapport with the Russians and hoping to reset America’s connection with Moscow?

Harper: Well, the most innocent explanation would be a level of incompetence and ignorance and stupidity that I honestly don’t think anyone could credibly believe, because the most innocent explanation is that Russia was launching a very sophisticated, multipronged intelligence operation and succeeded, but they succeeded because of the blind ambition and greed of the Trump organization coupled with a lack of judgment and intelligence and a fundamental failure to take into regard anything that would remotely look like patriotism when it came to the defense of democracy, subjugating all of that to the need to win. That’s the most innocent explanation. And I just don’t think all of them are that stupid.

Moyers: So what’s the most damning explanation for everything we know?

Harper: The most damning explanation is that the Russians launched a sophisticated intelligence operation. They found willing partners up and down the line throughout the Trump organization. And up and down throughout the Trump organization, as the details of that intelligence operation became known, the participants lied about it, lied about its existence, lied about their personal involvement in it and now they are all facing serious criminal jeopardy as a result.

Moyers: One more: I assume most people believe Russia’s interference in the election last year is a bad thing, a serious offense, but is it possible that by treating Vladimir Putin and his cronies as an existential threat, we’re playing directly into Putin’s hands and making him appear a more significant figure in the world than he really is?

Harper: Well, he’s already achieved that, but the problem is, what’s the alternative? Back in January, John McCain and Lindsey Graham were on national television acknowledging the seriousness of the Russian interference. McCain called it the cyber equivalent of “an act of war.” And if you acknowledge and recognize the existential threat, do you sit back and let the let the next thing happen in 2018 that Vladimir Putin wants to do? Remember, we have elections coming up next year. The uniform view of US intelligence is unambiguous, and if you don’t view it as an existential threat then you’re willing, I think, to sacrifice democracy.

We keep hearing, “Yeah, but Trump was still legitimately elected, he won the election fair and square.” Now we’re realizing that that may not even be true. I don’t personally believe that to be true anymore. I rankle every time somebody says he won fair and square, because that’s become less obvious every day. So the last line of defense would be, “Well, even if he didn’t win fair and square, he’s our president, so we’ve got to sit back and let whatever Putin’s going to do to us continue to happen because we don’t want our response to raise his standing in the world.” Well, I would submit it raises Putin’s standing in the world even more to have an accomplice in the White House.


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Republicans refuse to call transgender lawmaker a woman

Newsweek
23 Nov 2017 at 09:22 ET 

Republican lawmakers in Virginia plan to throw out hundred-year-old rules in their General Assembly so they don’t have to call the state’s first transgender legislator a woman.

Throughout the campaign leading up to the state election in Virginia early this month, Danica Roem’s Republican rival, Robert G. Marshall referred to her as a man in public, as did Virginia Republican Party campaign fliers.

If three close races in the state house—which are yet to be decided—leave its Republican majority intact, members will stop referring to each other as “gentleman” or “gentlewoman,” Republican House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox told the Washington Post through a spokesman early this week.

“All members will be afforded the same respect and courtesy that this nearly 400-year-old institution commands,” said Parker Slaybaugh, who represents Cox. “Speaker-designee Cox believes the ‘gentlelady’ and ‘gentleman’ terminology is outdated, and that referring to everyone as ‘delegate’ is more timely and appropriate.”

Roem’s 54.14 % to 45.46 % victory over Marshall was significant as he had pushed for legislation that would limit transgender people using washrooms based on their sex at birth. He was also one of the state’s longest-serving legislators.

Marshall said during the campaign that Roem was using her gender identity to score political points.

Read more: Judging Trump: How the Dem victory in Virginia changed everything

Roem responded after her win: “Bob is my constituent now. I don’t attack my constituents." She told the Post that she is surprised Republicans would move to end the tradition but “what matters the most to the people of the 13th District is that the woman they elected to serve them will be working on their behalf.”

“I will conduct myself as the gentlewoman from Prince William while I’m in Richmond and in any other official capacity in which I serve,” she added.

Democrat Kenneth R. Plum, Roem's fellow Viriginia delegate, declared, “If Danica Roem had not won the election we would still be doing the same thing we have done for 400 years. It’s unfortunate that we, in effect, have to single out her election, as unique as it is.”

Republicans argue that is is high time for a change. “It’s one of those things that we’re going to be forced to deal with,” said pastor Travis Witt, of Gilboa Christian Church who supported Marshall's bathroom bill. “It is much safer to use a nebulous, neutral term.”

Roem will be sworn in to the Virginia House of Delegates in January.


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