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Apr 23, 2018, 10:14 AM
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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 899527 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #4410 on: Today at 04:34 AM »

Hope and mourning in the Anthropocene: Understanding ecological grief

The Conversation
23 Apr 2018 at 08:15 ET                  

We are living in a time of extraordinary ecological loss. Not only are human actions destabilising the very conditions that sustain life, but it is also increasingly clear that we are pushing the Earth into an entirely new geological era, often described as the Anthropocene.

Research shows that people increasingly feel the effects of these planetary changes and associated ecological losses in their daily lives, and that these changes present significant direct and indirect threats to mental health and well-being. Climate change, and the associated impacts to land and environment, for example, have recently been linked to a range of negative mental health impacts, including depression, suicidal ideation, post-traumatic stress, as well as feelings of anger, hopelessness, distress, and despair.

Not well represented in the literature, however, is an emotional response we term ‘ecological grief,’ which we have defined in a recent Nature Climate Change article: “The grief felt in relation to experienced or anticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.”

We believe ecological grief is a natural, though overlooked, response to ecological loss, and one that is likely to affect more of us into the future.

Understanding ecological grief

Grief takes many forms and differs greatly between individuals and cultures. Although grief is well understood in relation to human losses, ‘to grieve’ is rarely considered something that we do in relation to losses in the natural world.

The eminent American naturalist Aldo Leopold was among the first to describe the emotional toll of ecological loss in his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac: “One of the penalties of an ecological education,” he wrote, “is to live alone in a world of wounds.”

More recently, many respected ecologists and climate scientists have expressed their feelings of grief and distress in response to climate change and the environmental destruction it entails in places like: “Climate scientists feel weight of the world on their shoulders” and “Is this how you feel?”

Ecological grief is also a significant theme in our own work. In different research projects working with Inuit in Inuit Nunangat in Arctic Canada and farmers in the Western Australian Wheatbelt, both of us have spent a combined total of almost 20 years working with people living in areas experiencing significant climatic changes and environmental shifts.

Despite very different geographical and cultural contexts, our research revealed a surprising degree of commonality between Inuit and family farming communities as they struggled to cope, both emotionally and psychologically, with mounting ecological losses and the prospect of an uncertain future.
Voices of ecological grief

Our research shows that climate-related ecological losses can trigger grief experiences in several ways. Foremost, people grieve for lost landscapes, ecosystems, species, or places that carry personal or collective meaning.

For Inuit communities in the Inuit Land Claim Settlement Area of Nunatsiavut, Labrador, Canada, the land is foundational to mental health. In recent years, melting sea ice prevented travel to significant cultural sites and engagement in traditional cultural activities, such as hunting and fishing. These disruptions to an Inuit sense of place was accompanied by strong emotional reactions, including grief, anger, sadness, frustration and despair.

One male who grew up hunting and trapping on the land in the community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut explained:

    “People are not who they are. They’re not comfortable and can’t do the same things. If something is taken away from you, you don’t have it. If a way of life is taken away because of circumstances you have no control over, you lose control over your life.”

Chronic drought conditions in the Western Australian Wheatbelt elicited similar emotional reactions for some family farmers. As one long-time farmer described:

    “There’s probably nothing worse than seeing your farm go in a dust storm. I reckon it’s probably one of the worst feelings […] I find that one of the most depressing things of the lot, seeing the farm blow away in a dust storm. That really gets up my nose, and a long way up too. If its blowing dust I come inside – I just come inside here. I can’t stand to watch it.”

Sweeping away the dust in the central Western Australian Wheatbelt Feb. 2013.
Neville Ellis

In both cases, such experiences resonate strongly with the concept of “solastagia,” described both as a form of homesickness while still in place, and as a type of grief over the loss of a healthy place or a thriving ecosystem.

People also grieve for lost environmental knowledge and associated identities. In these cases, people mourn the part of self-identity that is lost when the land upon which it is based changes or disappears.

For Australian family farmers, the inability to maintain a healthy landscape in the context of worsening seasonal variability and chronic dryness often elicited feelings of self-blame and shame:

    “Farmers just hate seeing their farm lift; it somehow says to them ‘I’m a bad farmer’. And I think all farmers are good farmers. They all try their hardest to be. They all love their land.”

For older Inuit in Nunatsiavut, changes to weather and landscape are invalidating long-standing and multi-generational ecological knowledge, and with it, a coherent sense of culture and self. As one well-respected hunter shared:

    “It’s hurting in a way. It’s hurting in a lot of ways. Because I kinda thinks I’m not going to show my grandkids the way we used to do it. It’s hurting me. It’s hurting me big time. And I just keep that to myself.”

Many Inuit and family farmers also worry about their futures, and express grief in anticipation of worsening ecological losses. As one woman explained from Rigolet, Nunatsiavut:

    “I think that [the changes] will have an impact maybe on mental health, because it’s a depressing feeling when you’re stuck. I mean for us to go off [on the land] is just a part of life. If you don’t have it, then that part of your life is gone, and I think that’s very depressing.”

Similarly, a farmer in Australia worried about the future shared their thoughts on the possibility of losing their family farm:

    “It would be like a death. Yeah, there would be a grieving process because the farm embodies everything that the family farm is … And I think if we were to lose it, it would be like losing a person … but it would be sadder than losing a person … I don’t know, it would be hard definitely.”

Ecological grief in a climate-changed future

Ecological grief reminds us that climate change is not just some abstract scientific concept or a distant environmental problem. Rather, it draws our attention to the personally experienced emotional and psychological losses suffered when there are changes or deaths in the natural world. In doing so, ecological grief also illuminates the ways in which more-than-humans are integral to our mental wellness, our communities, our cultures, and for our ability to thrive in a human-dominated world.

From what we have seen in our own research, although this type of grief is already being experienced, it often lacks an appropriate avenue for expression or for healing. Indeed, not only do we lack the rituals and practices to help address feelings of ecological grief, until recently we did not even have the language to give such feelings voice. And it is for these reasons that grief over losses in the natural world can feel, as American ecologist Phyllis Windle put it, ‘irrational, inappropriate, anthropomorphic.’

We argue that recognising ecological grief as a legitimate response to ecological loss is an important first step for humanising climate change and its related impacts, and for expanding our understanding of what it means to be human in the Anthropocene. How to grieve ecological losses well — particularly when they are ambiguous, cumulative and ongoing — is a question currently without answer. However, it is a question that we expect will become more pressing as further impacts from climate change, including loss, are experienced.

The ConversationWe do not see ecological grief as submitting to despair, and neither does it justify ‘switching off’ from the many environmental problems that confront humanity. Instead, we find great hope in the responses ecological grief is likely to invoke. Just as grief over the loss of a loved person puts into perspective what matters in our lives, collective experiences of ecological grief may coalesce into a strengthened sense of love and commitment to the places, ecosystems and species that inspire, nurture and sustain us. There is much grief work to be done, and much of it will be hard. However, being open to the pain of ecological loss may be what is needed to prevent such losses from occurring in the first place.
Moonrise near Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Canada.
Ashlee Cunsolo

Neville Ellis, Research fellow, University of Western Australia and Ashlee Cunsolo, Director, Labrador Institute, Memorial University of Newfoundland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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« Reply #4411 on: Today at 04:37 AM »


UK to Review Climate Goals, Explore 'Net-Zero' Emissions Strategy

Ecowatch
4/23/2028

The UK will review its long-term climate target and explore how to reach "net-zero" emissions by 2050, Environment Minister Claire Perry announced Tuesday.

The UK is the first G7 country to commit to such an analysis, which would seek to align the country's emissions trajectory to the Paris agreement's more ambitious goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C.

The review will happen after the IPCC releases its special report on 1.5°C in October in order to use the best and most recent science, Perry said. Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the Paris agreement, praised the announcement: "This decision ... sends a strong message to the EU and other big economies ... it's time they too considered what more they can do."

As reported by The Guardian:

"Ways of meeting the net-zero target could include investing in projects to grow trees and restore soils, to take up greater carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as more controversial measures such as investing in emissions reduction projects overseas. Even with such methods, the UK is likely to have to bring forward targets on phasing out diesel and petrol engines, and expand renewable energy generation and, potentially, nuclear power.

Many actions under Conservative-led governments since 2010, however, have dismayed climate campaigners and may have to be reconsidered. These include the failure to insulate the UK's draughty homes, limits on renewable energy, the scrapping of carbon capture and storage projects and tax breaks for fossil fuels."


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« Reply #4412 on: Today at 04:39 AM »


7 Things You Can Do to Create a Plastic-Free Future

By Jen Fela
Ecowatch
4/23/2018

We're celebrating a huge moment in the global movement for a plastic-free future: More than one million people around the world have called on big corporations to do their part to end single-use plastics.

Now we're taking the next big step. We're setting an ambitious new goal: A Million Acts of Blue.

What's an Act of Blue?

An Act of Blue is any action that helps to stop single-use plastic from being created in the first place. It's inspired by love for our amazing blue planet and the urgent need to protect our oceans, waterways, landscapes and communities. It aims to hold corporations accountable for the plastic pollution crisis they helped to create.

Our marine life shouldn't have to live in a sea of plastic.

Ways to create change in your community.

We've created a comprehensive guide to creating change in your community with several kinds of actions you can take. These range from learning and sharing your passion for this issue to passing legislation in your city. Get started today to create a plastic-free future!

1. Learn, share and join

The first step towards action is knowledge. Are you a member of a community group that is eager to learn more about how they can protect our oceans and communities? Maybe your child's teacher is looking for ways to teach kids about environmental protection? Our toolkit has powerpoints and tips for giving a presentation—you can even host a movie night!

2. Be heard in the media

If you want to make change in your community, start with local media! Local newspapers, blogs and magazines are a great venue for getting the word out. In the toolkit, we walk you through how to write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and how to get it published.

3. Help create plastic-free supermarkets and restaurants

Nowhere is the dominance of single-use plastics and wasteful packaging more obvious than at the local supermarket. Make waves in your community by working to get a local supermarket to reduce their use of single-use plastics.

4. Get restaurants to ditch single-use plastics

Fed up with all the plastic straws and utensils at fast food places and cafes? Join the growing movement urging establishments to get rid of throwaway plastic products.

5. Lobby for local legislation

All over the world, towns, cities and villages are standing up for a plastic-free future by implementing local bans and laws restricting the use of throwaway plastic. Be part of this movement by working with your neighbors to get your local government to do the same.

6. Organize a local cleanup and #BreakFreeFromPlastic brand audit

Everyone loves a cleanup event, so why not take it to the next level? Get your community together to clean up a local beach, park, or riverbank—but don't stop there. Go through the single-use plastics collected and identify which companies produced them. Let's hold corporations responsible for their plastic waste!

7. Start a community group!

You don't have to go it alone. We have a lot of work to do, and we'll get a lot further—and have more fun—together. Get some friends and neighbors together for a plastic-free future!

Greenpeace and MCS (Marine Conservation Society) Mull Beach Clean at Kilninian Beach with pupils from Ulver Primary School, Isle Of Mull. Greenpeace brought its ship the Beluga II on an expedition of scientific research around Scotland, sampling seawater for microplastics and documenting the impact of ocean plastic on some of the UK's most precious marine life.

Excited to get started? Check out the full Million Acts of Blue toolkit to find out more about how you can work in your own community to end single-use plastics.


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« Reply #4413 on: Today at 04:40 AM »

Indonesia Calls in the Army to Fight Plastic Enemy

Ecowatch
4/23/2018

In March, a diver's video of masses of plastic floating off the Indonesian coast went viral. But that plastic often reaches the ocean through the country's rivers, clogging them to such an extent that Indonesia had to call in the army, the BBC reported Thursday.

The BBC spent time on the ground in Bandung, Indonesia's third largest city, and observed a concentration of bottles, plastic bags and styrofoam packaging so large it looked like an iceberg.

Reporters watched the army attempt to clear the river by riding a barge and removing debris with nets, but as they cleared, more trash would flow from upstream.

The soldiers filmed by the BBC had intended to load the plastic they collected onto trucks, but the trucks never arrived, so the soldiers used a digger to push it further downstream, where it would swamp the cleanup efforts of others.

"My current enemy is not a combat enemy, what I am fighting very hard now is rubbish, it is our biggest enemy," army Sergeant Sugito told the BBC.

West Java Environmental Protection Agency head Dr. Anang Sudarna, who petitioned the president to send in the army, said their efforts had made a difference, but there is still much more work to do.

"The result is a little bit improved ... but I am angry, I am sad, I am trying to think how best to solve this ... the most difficult thing is the people's attitude and the political will," Sudarna told t1he BBC.

Indonesia is one of five Asian countries that accounts for 60 percent of the plastic entering the world's oceans, a 2015 study found. Another 2017 study found that 86 percent of the plastic currently flushed through the world's rivers came from Asian countries, including Indonesia. The huge quantities of plastic pollution are the result of economic growth and increased quality of life in these countries, which have meant that waste collection has not kept pace with changing consumption patterns.

In Indonesia, plastic packaging has begun to replace traditional, biodegradable food storage devices like banana leaves, the BBC reported. Further, there is a local culture of disposing of waste in ditches and streams, which cannot support the quantities of plastic waste now being discarded.

Sugito said he wanted to encourage Indonesians to see plastic as a resource, and not just something to throw away.

"[P]lastic cartons and drinking bottles can be separated from the other rubbish and sold," he told the BBC.

To encourage this mindset, officials have set up "eco-villages" in Bandung where residents can trade in different kinds of plastic containers for cash.

While the problem is still overwhelming, the army's involvement illustrates an observation from Radboud University environmental science professor Ad Ragas that Indonesian authorities had begun to take plastic pollution much more seriously in the past two years.

He partly credited social media posts of clogged rivers for raising awareness and inspiring action.

"They immediately see that 'this is what my river look likes now and I'm doing that because I'm throwing all this plastic away' so they get feedback much quicker than they used to," he told the BBC.
The BBC's report arrives just in time for Earth Day, which is taking on the problem of plastic pollution this year. If the push is successful, Indonesia's rivers would finally have the freedom to flow again.


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« Reply #4414 on: Today at 04:43 AM »


Germany to Put 'Massive Restrictions' on Monsanto Weedkiller

Ecowatch
4/23/2018

German Agriculture Minister Julia Kloeckner announced Tuesday she is drafting regulation to stop use of glyphosate in the country's home gardens, parks and sports facilities, Reuters reported.

The minister also plans to set "massive restrictions" for its use in agriculture, with exemptions for areas that are prone to erosion and cannot be worked with heavy machinery.

"I am planning a regulatory draft as a first building block in the strategy to minimize use of glyphosate," Kloeckner said.

She said the proposal would be vetted by other ministries but did not set a deadline to end use of the herbicide.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient Monsanto's Roundup, is the world's best-selling weedkiller and has been used for more than 40 years. In Germany, about 40 percent of crop-growing land is treated with glyphosate.

The chemical has been at the center of international controversy since 2015, when the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as "probably carcinogenic." The European Food Safety Authority, as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, consider it safe.

In February, the new German coalition government agreed on a "systematic minimization strategy" to significantly restrict use glyphosate, "with the goal of fundamentally ending usage as fast as possible." The strategy did not include a timeframe.

Germany's new Environment Minister Svenja Schulze, from the center-left Social Democrats, welcomed Kloeckner's proposal as the first step to ending use of glyphosate. Eliminating its use is a key goal of Schulze's legislative term.

"We need a full exit from glyphosate during this legislative period. Glyphosate kills everything that is green, depriving insects of their food source," she said earlier this month.

In November, Kloeckner's conservative predecessor Christian Schmidt sparked outrage among glyphosate opponents and the previous German coalition after he unexpectedly voted in favor—and effectively swung the EU's decision—of renewing the weedkiller for the next five years.

According to Reuters, Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer, which is acquiring Monsanto, said the issue has become too politicized in Europe and that Germany would wind up banning the chemical without an adequate regulatory framework.


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« Reply #4415 on: Today at 04:47 AM »


India to introduce death penalty for child rapists

Prime minister approves executive order, which will apply to anyone convicted of raping a child under age of 12

James Tapper and Bhanvi Satija
Guardian
23 Apr 2018 13.30 BST

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, will introduce the death penalty for rapists of girls under 12 years old, following an outcry over the latest sexual assaults to shock the country.

Modi convened an emergency cabinet meeting on Saturday to approve an executive order, or ordinance, that will amend India’s criminal law. The order will also force police to complete rape investigations within two months and extend maximum sentences for the rape of girls under 16 and women.

Using the order allows Modi to bypass parliament. It only needs to be signed by the Indian president to take effect.

Modi had come under pressure after two high-profile cases where senior officials in his rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) were accused of rape or of trying to prevent police investigations.

In January, Asifa Bano, an eight-year-old girl from Kathua in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, was abducted, drugged and raped in a small Hindu temple. After five days the girl, who was a member of a nomadic Muslim tribe, was killed with a rock.

When police officers tried to arrest the temple custodian, Sanji Ram, and seven other men, they were confronted by a group of protesters orchestrated by BJP officers and a state minister.

Last week Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a BJP member of the Uttar Pradesh state parliament, was arrested after he and his brother were accused of raping a 15-year-old girl. The family tried to register a case with police for months without success, then the girl tried to burn herself alive outside the chief minister’s residence. The next day her father died in police custody.

Modi failed to address either attack for several days, fuelling public anger. Critics said too little had been done to protect women and change attitudes after the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012. The student, also known as Nirbhaya – Hindi for fearless – was attacked on a bus while travelling with her boyfriend and died 13 days later.

The chairwoman of the Delhi Commission for Women, Swati Maliwal, went on hunger strike nine days ago, saying that she would fast until the death penalty was introduced. “Until something concrete happens, I will not give up,” she said on Friday after the order was announced. “Until a system is there which ensures safety for the last girl, I won’t give up.”

However, the decision by Modi’s cabinet was criticised by opponents of the death penalty, which is already in force for other offences.

The Indian penal code, colonial-era legislation adopted after independence, allows the death penalty for murder, kidnapping, terrorism and treason, as well as a rape that leaves the victim in a persistent vegetative state. Since 2003, there have been three executions and 371 prisoners are on death row.

Asmita Basu of Amnesty International India said the order was “a knee-jerk reaction that diverts attention from the poor implementation of laws on rape and child protection.

“Studies have shown that most perpetrators are known to child victims,” she said. “Introducing the death penalty in such circumstances will only silence and further endanger children.”

The slow pace of justice is a significant obstacle in India’s attempt to deal with sexual assaults. Modi’s executive order calls for the mandatory completion of rape investigations within two months and for trials to last a maximum of the same period.

India launched fast-track courts after Singh’s murder in 2012 but they are struggling to cope with the volume of cases. There were 40,000 rapes reported in 2016, with children making up 40% of victims. The National Crime Records Bureau said in the same year only 28.2% of the child sexual abuse cases brought to trial had resulted in convictions.

It is common for court cases to last years or even decades – the longest civil case began in 1878 and has yet to be settled – because of a serious shortage of judges.

More than 1.6 million criminal cases that have been pending for more than 10 years. Around half the 18.9 million cases going through India’s district courts have been ongoing for more than two years.

One young woman spent 11 years bringing her attackers to justice after she was dragged into a car by a group of men at the age of 13 while walking home from her housemaid’s job in Lucknow. She went through six trials and endured more than 36 court appearances.

Abha Singh, a lawyer, said the executive order would deter men from committing crimes against women, but urged the government to set a timeframe for bringing suspects to justice. She added that the conviction rate in rape cases in India was just 28%.


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« Reply #4416 on: Today at 04:52 AM »

Smallville's Allison Mack was allegedly a 'top member' of cult that abused women

Actor may be first leader to face punishment for involvement in Nxivm, a group that forced members to conform to sexual demands

Edward Helmore in New York
Guaredian
23 Apr 2018 08.04 BST

As she was led from court in Brooklyn on Friday, Allison Mack appeared to wipe away a tear. The actor, best known for a role in the TV series Smallville, had entered a plea of not guilty to sex trafficking and forced labor charges which carry mandatory minimum sentences of 15 years and could lead to life in jail.

Flanked by lawyers and closely shadowed by FBI agents and federal marshals, the 35-year-old’s distress provided the first glimpse of what the future may hold for senior members of an alleged cult known as Nxivm.

Prosecutors claim Mack was second-in-command at the upstate New York headquarters of the group, and therefore instrumental in forcing new recruits to conform to the sexual demands of leader Keith Raniere.

The government alleges that so-called Nxivm “slaves” were forced to starve; ordered to remain celibate; and held down as Raniere’s initials were branded below their hips with a cauterizing pen. Mack is alleged to have put her hands on the women’s chests, telling them to “feel the pain” and to “think of [their] master”.

“Ms Mack was one of the top members of a highly organized scheme which was designed to provide sex to Raniere,” assistant US attorney Moira Penza said in court. “Under the guise of female empowerment, she starved women until they fit her co-defendant’s sexual feminine ideal.”

The government also alleged that Mack forced recruits to pose naked for photos – “including on one occasion close-up pictures of their vaginas” – that were given to Raniere, 57. He was arrested in Mexico last month, after being indicted, and has pleaded not guilty on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy. He is also being held in New York.

Mack, who played Clark Kent’s friend Chloe Sullivan in Smallville – the hit a series about Superman’s origins – was ordered held, judge Cheryl Pollak arguing that her lawyers failed to offer a “sufficient” bail package given the gravity of the charges.

Mack’s attorneys had argued that she was not a flight risk because she returned to the US voluntarily from Mexico. “The allegations contained in the indictment are only that: allegations. The hard facts establish that she is not a risk of flight,” lawyer Sean Buckley said.

Outside the court, Stanley Zareff – a friend of Dynasty star Catherine Oxenberg, whose daughter India is believed to be a member of Nxivm – said Mack had no right to be freed. India Oxenberg, she said, had become involved with Nxivm as part of a search for self-enlightenment.

“I hope that she can see the light and wake up,” he said. “Her family loves her. This is a crazy group. This is not fake news. And we certainly don’t want Allison Mack released. With Keith away, she’s now the leader of the group and I don’t trust her for a minute.”

‘Vanguard’

Nxivm was founded as an executive-focused self-help organisation but it appears to have metamorphised into a personality cult centred on Raniere, who falsely claims to have been a child prodigy who held the 1989 Guinness World Record for “highest IQ” and who followers reverentially call “Vanguard”.

Raniere was arrested at a villa outside Puerto Vallarta in Mexico on 25 March. Mack and Clyne were reportedly with him but fled.

According to the complaint against him, in 2003 Raniere began running workshops at a compound about 20 miles outside Albany, the New York state capital. The curriculum included teaching women about “the need for men to have multiple sexual partners and the need for women to be monogamous”.

By 2015, the government alleges, Raniere had established a society within Nxivm called DOS or “The Vow”, in which “women were recruited to be slaves under the false pretense of joining a women-only mentorship group”. Any challenge to his authority was brutally resisted, prosecutors allege, saying Raniere “physically assaulted at least two intimate partners” and punished one member for expressing romantic feelings for another with 18 months confinement.

Marc Agnifilo, a lawyer for Raniere, said earlier this month he was “confident these allegations will be soundly disproven”.

On Friday, prosecutors expressed concern over granting Mack bail, arguing that Nxivm members appeared to have access to money. An account Raniere was using at the time of his arrest had $8m in it, authorities have said.

It is thought that the group’s access to funds may be through the trusts of Clare and Sara Bronfman, heiresses to the Seagram liquor fortune and members of Nxivm. In 2003, Forbes published an exposé in which family patriarch Edgar Bronfman Sr described the group as “a cult”. A 2010 report in Vanity Fair claimed the Bronfman sisters’ funds were helping Nvixm resist a “multi-million-dollar, multi-front legal war”.

According to the Albany Times Union, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman opened and then suspended an investigation into the Ethical Science Foundation, a group formed in 2007 by Clare Bronfman.

The government investigation of Nxivm gathered pace last year, when former member Sarah Edmondson provided a first-hand account of the alleged branding practice. Edmondson later told Vice: “It was like a bad horror movie. We even had these surgical masks on because the smell of flesh was so strong.”

Her account, published by the New York Times, sparked an FBI investigation and triggered Raniere’s flight to Mexico. He did, however, respond to the Times story, posting on the group’s website: “This story might be a criminal product of criminal minds who, in the end, are also hurting the victims of the story.”

The group may not have ended recruitment efforts. Last month, according to the New York Post, a member threw a party in Williamsburg, promising “an evening of meeting cool, like-minded artists and chatting about life, authenticity, and the awesome human potential”.

Mack’s attorneys are due back in court on Monday, to petition for bail. Prosecutors have warned that Nxivm members have registered websites in the names of potential witnesses. Mack, prosecutor Penza said on Friday, “obviously has the ability to manipulate people. She has, based on the structure, a number of slaves underneath her who have pledged vows of obedience”.

Raniere will be in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday, to request bail.

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Smallville actor Allison Mack pleads not guilty on sex cult charges

35-year-old arrested as alleged co-conspirator in Nxivm, organization being prosecuted for sex trafficking and forced labor

Jake Nevins
Guardian
23 Apr 2018 15.42 BST

Allison Mack, who played Chloe Sullivan on the hit CW series Smallville for 10 seasons, has been arrested for her involvement in a sex cult called Nxivm.

Appearing in federal court in Brooklyn on Friday on charges that she helped recruit women into the organization, the actor entered a plea of not guilty. The judge refused a request by her lawyers to release her without bail. A bail hearing will be held on Monday.

The group’s leader, Keith Raniere, was arrested for sex trafficking and forced labor last month. He was extradited to the US from Puerto Vallarta in Mexico and is being held at a federal prison in Oklahoma City, without bond.

Mack, listed “Co-Conspirator 1” in the criminal complaint, was last seen chasing after the police car that took Raniere away from the villa in Mexico where he had been hiding. Mack, 35, is said to have acted as a key recruiter for the group while also acting as a direct “slave” to Raniere, with whom she had a sexual relationship.

Nxivm, which is reportedly run out of a townhouse in Halfmoon, New York, was publicly branded as a “self-help group”. Raniere, 57, allegedly blackmailed women into becoming sex slaves and branded their skin with his and Mack’s initials. Federal authorities said Raniere had a “rotating group of 15 to 20 women with whom he maintains sexual relationships”.

Prosecutors allege that Mack lured women into a secret society within Nxivm known as “The Vow”, which was called a “women’s mentorship group”. She reportedly forced the potential entrants to provide “collateral” in the form of compromising photos or statements. Mack also reportedly forced the women to have sex with Raniere, who was her own “master”.

“As this pyramid scheme continues to unravel, we ask anyone who might have been a victim to reach out to us with information that may further our investigation,” FBI assistant director-in-charge William F Sweeney said in a statement.

If convicted on charges of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy, Mack faces 15 years to life in prison.

As well as her role on Smallville, Mack provided her voice for the 2006 animated film The Ant Bully and was also seen in shows including Wilfred and The Following.

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‘Smallville’ star’s sex slavery cult forced women to wear cow udders if they weighed too much: report

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
22 Apr 2018 at 18:19 ET                   

Troubling new details are emerging about the allegations against leader Keith Raniere, who authorities accuse of being a cult leader who operated a ring of sex slaves.

The cult allegedly employed former Smallville star Allison Mack to recruit women as sex slaves in Nxivm. The women were allegedly branded and told they had to keep the situation a secret or face publicly humiliation.

The full court documents, as looked over by The Daily Mail, show that investigators claim Raniere wanted the women involved to be “exceptionally thin” and that they were put on strict diets and forced to document their food consumption.

If they broke Raniere’s rules, they were allegedly “forced to wear fake cow udders over their breasts while people called them derogatory names.” They were also thgratened with being caged.

You can read the full filing by prosecutors here.

The alleged cult had the veneer of a pretty typical New Age self-help group. In the below video, you can watch alleged co-conspirators Keith Raniere and Allison Mack discuss “authenticity.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsxHKDgvhYY


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« Reply #4417 on: Today at 04:55 AM »

Meet the Palestinian women at the forefront of Gaza’s protests

Al Jazeera
23 Apr 2018 at 09:17 ET 

Gaza Strip - On one side of the fence, dozens of Israeli soldiers lay positioned behind sand dunes, tracking the Palestinian demonstrators through the crosshairs of their snipers.

On the other side, young women, with Keffiyeh scarves covering half their faces to avoid tear gas suffocation, stand in front of the young protesting men, providing cover.

"Women are less likely to be shot at," said 26-year-old Taghreed al-Barawi on April 13, while attending the third consecutive Friday protests in Gaza near the Israeli border with her younger sister and a group of friends.

"We live in a male-dominated society and women's participation in protests can be a strange scene for some people in Gaza. However, this time men somehow were more accepting and encouraging. It seems like they finally realised that we're all part of this and women should be present," Barawi said.

But being female is no guarantee for protection.

Some 1,600 protesters, including 160 women, have been wounded and more than 30 have been killed by Israeli snipers since the Great Return March movement began on March 30, marked as Land Day for Palestinians.

Even though Barawi inadvertently choked on tear gas numerous times and felt like she was about to faint, the thought of quitting the protest didn't cross her mind.  "I had this feeling of strange courage, or I don't know what to call it - it's as if the nearer I got to the border, the stronger my desire was to move forward. Maybe it was the urge to come closer to our home and visit it [territories that Israel took over in 1948.

"Personally, I'm also inspired and intrigued by Ahed Tamimi and her bravery standing up to the Israeli army," Barawi said.

   The Great Return March is a non-violent, grassroots movement that calls for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes,  as per the UN Resolution 194 , from which they were expelled in 1948 when the state of Israelwas created.

Thousands have been participating in the mass sit-in, with dozens of tents erected along the border with Israel. Each tent is labeled with the name of the town that the family was expelled from in 1948. It's the largest mass protest Gaza has seen since the First Intifada.

The Palestinian territory with nearly two million population can only be accessed via Egypt and Israel but an Israeli-Egyptian blockade has been suffocating the Strip for 11 years. Living conditions have deteriorated over the years and unemployment wavers around 43 percent. Residents say they have reached a breaking point.

Palestinians have been protesting along Gaza's border every Friday afternoon for years, but what is noticeably different this time is that a large number of women and girls have been actively  participating on a scale not seen before.

And that's why this Friday's protests have been labelled the "Women's March of Gaza".

'My duty and responsibility'

Among those wounded and killed by Israeli snipers so far have not just been demonstrators, but journalists and medics too.

Razan al-Najjar is a 20-year-old volunteer nurse who has been working 12-hour shifts every day since the march started to aid those wounded.

Najjar herself has been hurt. She has fainted twice due to gas inhalation, while on April 13 she broke her wrist after falling while running to attend to a wounded protester.

Many urged her to take the ambulance to the hospital, but Najjar kept working.

"The Israeli army does intend to shoot as many as they can. It's crazy and I'd be ashamed if I was not there for my people," Najjar said.

"It's my duty and responsibility to be there and aid those injured."  Some of the injuries Najjar and her colleagues treat are ghastly - many of the hurt protesters arrive with large, gaping wounds, their flesh fully exposed due to the use of explosive bullets. Many of them have had their legs amputated.

"Take care of my mother and my brothers Razan," a young man told Najjar, she recalled, as he set out into the field to take part in the protest. He was shot dead later that day by an Israeli sniper.

"It breaks my heart that some of the young men who were injured or killed made their wills in front of me," Najjar told Al Jazeera. "Some even gave me their accessories [as gifts] before they died." One photograph that has gone viral shows 16-year-old Hind Abu Ola running away from the border fence with four young men rushing behind her, linking hands to form a human chain to protect her from flying bullets.

The teenager had seen that the young men had been suffocating and losing consciousness due to the large amount of tear gas dropped near the border fence.

Armed with onions and a bottle of perfume in her bag, she then ran towards them and helped revive them.

At that time, they found themselves under fire from Israeli snipers, so all five of them started sprinted back.

The Women's Committee of the march later honoured Abu Ola, who has become a symbol of women's resistance.

Barawi, the protester, explained that the active participation of women has helped in uniting Palestinians and strengthening the movement.   "I think that's something Hamas and Fatah realised and touched on in the march. There's no difference between a Hamas martyr and a Fatah martyr. The Palestinian woman will grieve both equally. This march was great because it brought that to people's attention. I saw no flags but Palestine's," Barawi said.

"I loved the sense of unity we all felt when both young men and women helped each other." The women's participation also caught the attention of Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee who advised Palestinian women on Twitter that it was best for them to stay at home.

Translation: "The good woman is the honorable woman, who takes care of her home and her children, and serves as a good example to them. However, the deprived woman who lacks honor does not take care of these things, acts wildly against her feminine nature, and cares not for how she is seen in society." "A woman's beauty is in her feminity and her weapon is her brain. So where are these traits in the vandal's personality?"

Women leaders more likely to achieve goals

Palestinian women have many times in the past led successful non-violent resistance against the Israeli occupation.

Studieshave shown that movements that welcome women into leadership positions are more likely to achieve their goals due to their use of non-violent tactics, which typically lead to more peaceful and democratic societies.

"The Palestinian woman is an integral pillar of the national movement and community. She's the big hearted patient, struggling mother, big sister and little daughter," said Hamad, the  head of the Women's Committee of the march.

"Women's presence at the march sends a clear message to the world that our protest is non-violent and peaceful. The Palestinian woman is a struggling woman but also a leading one, especially when it's a national duty." For the April 20 protests, the women's committee will be organising cultural and awareness programmes. Elderly women will be telling their tales of the Nakba - the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 - to the youngest and making traditional Palestinian food, while the youth will be performing the traditional dabke dance.

"This will plant a lot of seeds of awareness among younger generations of women," Hamad said.

Rana Shubair has been bringing her children regularly to the protest so they can learn about their historical homeland. Just a few kilometres away, on the other side of Israel's fenced border lie villages, many of which were destroyed during the Nakba and now stand abandoned.

Upon learning that most of historical Palestine now belongs to Israel, her friend's child asked: "Why don't we tell the police?" Shubair recounted.

"I think that what this child proposed is what we, as Palestinians, are seeking - and that is to hold Israel accountable and to demand the application of UN resolution 194 on the Right to Return," Shubair said.

"As a Palestinian, I belong to all of Palestine and I have the right to visit any Palestinian city. I want to be part of this protest to bring about the change I ardently believe in."  Anas Jnena reported from the Gaza Strip. Mersiha Gadzo reported and wrote from Doha.


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« Reply #4418 on: Today at 05:02 AM »


South Korea silences loudspeakers that blast cross-border propaganda

Sound system that plays pop music, radio dramas and news of the odd defection is turned off in advance of summit with North

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Guardian
Mon 23 Apr 2018 04.10 BST

South Korea has stopped broadcasting propaganda across its border with North Korea for the first time in more than two years, in a gesture of goodwill just days before the countries’ leaders are to meet in a historic summit.

The South Korean defence ministry said the broadcasts, which blare pop music and criticism of the North’s dynastic rule across the heavily armed border, fell silent at midnight on Sunday.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Pyongyang, which uses loudspeakers to broadcast praise for its leader, Kim Jong-un, and patriotic songs, would reciprocate.

“We hope this decision will lead both Koreas to stop mutual criticism and propaganda against each other and also contribute in creating peace and a new beginning,” the defence ministry said in a statement.

The use of loudspeakers to relay ear-splitting messages that combine criticism of North Korea with praise for life in the democratic, wealthy South, has long been a source of inter-Korean tension.

The decision to press the mute button came as the Wall Street Journal claimed Donald Trump would not be willing to offer North Korea significant sanctions relief before it has substantially dismantled its nuclear weapons programme.

“When the president says that he will not make the mistakes of the past, that means the US will not be making substantial concessions, such as lifting sanctions, until North Korea has substantially dismantled its nuclear programmes,” the newspaper quoted a senior Trump administration official as saying.

Whether or not South Korea’s broadcasts resume could depend on the progress of Kim’s meeting on Friday with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, in the first direct talks between the countries’ leaders for more than a decade.

They are expected to discuss replacing the armistice that ended the Korean war in 1953 with a treaty that brings a formal end to hostilities.

The two previous inter-Korea summits, held in 2000 and 2007 in Pyongyang, involved the then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.

Friday’s talks, to be held on the southern side of the truce village of Panmunjom, are the precursor to a planned summit between Kim and Donald Trump, although the date and location for their meeting have yet to be decided.

South Korea’s decision to silence its cross-border propaganda machine carries significant symbolic weight, because the broadcasts have come to serve as a bellwether of the state of inter-Korean ties.

Seoul briefly restarted the broadcasts in August 2015 – breaking an 11-year silence – after two of its soldiers were seriously injured by a landmine along the border, but halted them days later. They restarted in January 2016 following North Korea’s fourth nuclear test.

At the end of last year, Seoul used the loudspeakers to relay news of the dramatic defection of a North Korean soldier in an attempt to compound Pyongyang’s embarrassment over the incident.

But in February, North Korea turned down the volume of its own propaganda after the opening ceremony for the Pyeongchang winter Olympics, which featured the country’s athletes and cheerleaders.

For more than two years, North Korean troops ranged along the demilitarised zone – the 4km-wide buffer that has separated the two countries for 65 years – and civilians living nearby have been subjected to a mixture of South Korean music and criticism of the Kim regime.

South Korea’s broadcasts, aired at ear-splitting volume from 11 sites along the border, can be heard over a distance of 24km at night, and about 10km during the day. Their political message, designed to weaken public and military confidence in the regime, occasionally makes way for weather reports, domestic and international news, radio dramas and studio discussions of life the South.

Seoul’s decision comes two days after North Korea said it would end its tests of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and close its nuclear test site.

Trump, who erroneously tweeted on Sunday that North Korea had agreed to denuclearise – it has not said it will scrap its existing weapons – said the world was “a long way” from resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis.

“We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t – only time will tell,” he said on Twitter.


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« Reply #4419 on: Today at 05:07 AM »


Paris attacks suspect Salah Abdeslam gets 20-year sentence in Belgium

Court finds Abdeslam guilty of terrorism-related attempted murder over 2016 Brussels shootout

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels
Guardian
Mon 23 Apr 2018 10.01 BST

Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving suspect in the 2015 Paris attacks, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in Belgium after being found guilty of the attempted murder of police officers in a shootout in Brussels in March 2016.

Abdeslam’s accomplice, Sofien Ayari, was also given a 20-year sentence for his role in the shooting, which left four officers injured. Neither man appeared in court, as judges read out their verdict during a three-hour session at the Palais de Justice in Brussels.

The two men were also convicted for possessing firearms and each fined €12,000.

Abdeslam is being held in a high-security prison in northern France. His trial on charges relating to the Paris attacks, which left 130 dead, is expected to begin in 2020.

After the Paris atrocities, Abdeslam fled to Belgium, hiding out in different locations in the capital. Belgian police discovered him by chance, when a routine visit to what they thought was an empty flat turned into a shootout.

Four police officers were injured when the occupants fired Kalashnikovs at them from a flat in the quiet Brussels neighbourhood of Forest on 15 March 2016.

Abdeslam, a Belgian-born French national of Moroccan descent, and Ayari, a Tunisian national, were together in a back room during the shootout at Rue du Dries, while a third suspect, Mohamed Belkaïd, who “most probably” aided the Paris attacks, was killed in the gunfire. The pair left fingerprints and DNA all over the flat, including on the weapons, the court heard earlier.

Abdeslam fled over the rooftops, but was captured in Brussels a few days later. Four days after his arrest, terrorists in the same cell carried out the Brussels bombings that killed 32 people at the airport and on the metro.

The judges ruled against a request from a group representing victims of the Brussels attacks to be a civil party to the case, TV channel RTBF reported. This means the injured police officers remain the only parties to the case. A lawyer for the association V-Europe said the group would petition for a change in the law.

Prosecutors had asked for 20-year jail terms for the men, while Abdeslam’s lawyer, Sven Mary, wanted him acquitted over a procedural error. Mary said the whole case should be thrown out, because a routine court document naming the judges should have been issued in Dutch, rather than French.

On the first day of the trial, Abdeslam proclaimed that he would only put his “trust in Allah” and accused the court of being biased against Muslims. He refused to answer questions and did not attend the remainder of the proceedings.


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« Reply #4420 on: Today at 05:11 AM »


'A vigilante state': Aceh's citizens take sharia law into their own hands

People have started raiding, arresting and shaming anyone accused of violating the Indonesia region’s militant moral laws

Kate Lamb in Kayee Lee
Guardian
Mon 23 Apr 2018 01.36 BST

Everyone in the village saw it, either in the flesh or later when it was immortalised on YouTube. Local children even stuck their heads through the grates of a fence to watch, their attention trained on the spectacle in front of them: a young couple being doused in sewage.

Humiliated but compliant, the couple sat on the edge of a well in Kayee Lee, a village in the Indonesian province of Aceh, as the liquid ran off them in thick black streams.

By the time Roswati arrived at the scene, about 70 people had gathered to watch her son and his girlfriend being publicly shamed in the courtyard of the mosque, the village equivalent of the public square.

“They were standing there looking at them like thieves,” says Roswati of the local youths involved. “I asked them, ‘Why did you do this,’ and they said, ‘Wait till we burn your house down.’”

Roswati and her husband, both rice farmers, had been visiting friends in a nearby village, leaving their son, 24-year-old Maulizan, and his girlfriend Shirley, 19, at home alone.

In the sharia-ruled province of Aceh, that is a criminal offence.

Known as khalwat, or the “seclusion” or “indecency” law, in Aceh it is prohibited for two mature people, not married or blood-related, to be together alone in an isolated place. The offence is punishable by caning and a fine of up to 10m rupiah (£508).

But Maulizan and Shirley weren’t arrested and charged by Aceh’s sharia police. Instead, it was a posse of young men from the village that burst into the house, demanded to see their IDs and then forced them down the dusty village road to the mosque.

‘It’s like an infection’

In March there were four such cases in the provincial capital and surrounds alone, where ordinary Acehnese took it upon themselves to play judge and jury, raiding, arresting and shaming people who had allegedly violated Aceh’s militant moral laws.

A few unmarried couples, two university students suspected of being gay, and a transgender woman accused of soliciting for sex, were all rounded up – not by known vigilantes but ordinary residents, before they were eventually handed over to the sharia police. Five are still in custody pending trial at the religious courts.

Based on a special autonomy agreement, Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that can legally adopt sharia bylaws. Formalised in 2014, its criminal code outlaws alcohol, adultery, homosexuality, pre-marital sex and gambling, and regulates what women can wear.

Last year the province attracted international condemnation after two gay men were flogged, 83 times, for having sex. The effect of the punishment, the first in Aceh’s history, rippled through the province.

The public spectacle attracted thousands and included sermons by religious scholars on the dangers of homosexuality, reinforcing already deeply entrenched homophobia.

Kamal Fasya, an anthropologist from Aceh’s Malikussaleh University, said of the recent vigilantism: “It has happened again and again. Young people, especially uneducated young people such as in Kayee Lee, shaming them, hitting them in public.

“It’s like an infection,” he adds. “It’s contagious.”

In several cases this March it was young Acehnese men, some as young as 15, who carried out the attacks with the backing of their village chiefs. Not once were they themselves reprimanded or arrested.

In another case the attack was unplanned. On 12 March, a man delivering water to a beauty salon claimed he caught its transgender owner having sex with a man. He called in the mechanic next door and together they restrained the couple, confiscating the keys for their motorbikes so they couldn’t escape, and called the police.

‘If you see something don’t let it go’

In a surprise move last week Aceh’s governor, Irwandi Yusuf, signed a new regulation stipulating that canings will no longer be held in public. To minimise the impact on children, foreign investment and the possibility that such medieval scenes could again go viral, the punishments will now be meted out in prison.

“The prisoner is punished once,” Yusuf told reporters of the decision. “But if it’s recorded on video and that’s uploaded to YouTube, he is punished for life with those images.”

However, the public is already actively involved, and the idea that Acehnese should police their neighbours has firmly seeped in, often with official encouragement.

In 2016 Aceh’s mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal posted a picture of herself on her Instagram account wearing a red hijab and brandishing a pistol, with a message that warned LGBT people to get out of Aceh.

This year a “sharia hotline” was set up, one of three civic hotlines for citizens to report issues about rubbish, water, and moral transgressions. “Now they are encouraging people to call in,” says Mawah, an Acehnese transgender woman, “If you see something don’t let it go, they are told. The government is asking people in the community to monitor.”

Requests by the Guardian to interview those running the hotline and for any sharia-related data have been denied.

Andreas Harsono from Human Rights Watch is blunt in his assessment of the province. He says Aceh is “becoming a vigilante state”.

‘It’s only water’

At the official level there are complaints that sharia law is not carried out consistently, that politicians or other powerful figures are never targeted, that rich people can pay to get their charges dismissed.

After her son was doused in sewage in Kayee Lee, the village chief demanded Roswati pay the villagers a goat and 1m rupiah as compensation for the shame her son had bought upon the village. When she refused, she said the family was officially ostracised and was forced to move.

Muchtar has been village chief of Kayee Lee for 12 years and says he doesn’t have a problem with the young couple being punished. “Of course they have a right to enforce the law, they are local citizens,” he says of the village youths. “It was only water.”

“If my daughter did something like that and people beat her to death,” he adds, “I would agree with it.”


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« Reply #4421 on: Today at 05:14 AM »


Macron to put 'Trump whisperer' skills to test on state visit

The stakes are high for Macron’s upcoming state visit, but Elysée officials say the trip aims to cement an ‘intense, close relationship’

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
Guardian
Mon 23 Apr 2018 07.00 BST

They call him the Trump whisperer. France’s President Emmanuel Macron – who believes his diplomacy, persuasion and personal charm can sway the thinking of his US counterpart, Donald Trump – arrives in Washington on Monday for the deeply symbolic first state visit by a foreign leader since Trump came to power.

The stakes are high, with Macron expected to raise future plans on Syria after the recent joint missile strikes, as well as France’s determination to preserve the Iran nuclear deal which Trump wants to quit. Macron said last week that he had convinced Trump to keep troops in Syria for the long term but was quickly rebuffed by the White House.

But Elysée officials said the highly choreographed visit, including an intimate dinner with the Trumps at Mount Vernon, was aimed foremost at cementing what they called an “intense, close relationship built on trust”, underlined by Macron and Trump’s daily phone conversations over Syria strikes.

Macron’s drive for influence in Washington is built on a surprisingly close relationship forged between two men who would appear polar opposites.

Trump, 71, is an anti-globalist and a protectionist elected on a pledge to put America First, who had once appeared to favour Macron’s opponent, the far-right Marine Le Pen. Macron, 40, believes in a kind of cosmopolitan globalism and is an ardent pro-European.

The intellectual French president is the same age as Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr, and believes a head of state should read literature or philosophy every night lest they lose touch with reality. US observers wonder if Trump can finish a book. And yet Macron, driven by a keen sense of pragmatism, has built up perhaps the closest personal relationship to Trump of any world leader.

“What’s the secret of Trump whispering in 2018?” asked Gérard Araud, the French ambassador to Washington, as he attempted to sum up the Macron-Trump relationship at an Atlantic Council event in Washington this month. He acknowledged that although the presidents had different personalities, they were both “disruptors” whose elections had surprised and challenged the old political order in their countries. And both men can be brutally frank. “Donald Trump has never hidden what he thinks, and Emmanuel Macron is the same – so they have built a dialogue,” he said.

But the American media talk of “bromance” irks French diplomats who view the smiling and backslapping on display when Macron grandly invited Trump to Paris’s Bastille Day military parade last summer as just clever, logical diplomacy. “No it’s not ‘bromance’,” Araud said. “It’s simply that there is a common interest on both sides to reach an understanding. Any French president wants to have a good relationship with the president of the US. It’s nothing new.”

Macron’s notorious white-knuckled handshake of Trump at their first meeting has given way to honouring and flattering the US president, namely with the summer visit to Paris and dinner at the Eiffel Tower. The two men talk in English, without intermediaries, a nod to Macron’s belief that Trump is “not a classical politician”.

Although they agree on some key topics – such as counter-terrorism and Syria – they maintain what diplomats call “gentlemen’s disagreements” on others, including Trump’s resolve to leave the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear accord and economic protectionism.

Crucially, the Macron-Trump relationship has flourished while other traditional US allies appeared weakened: Germany during its long wait to form a government and the UK where Theresa May has not capitalised on the traditional London-Washington “special relationship”. Macron believes that the rules-based, western-dominated world order is being challenged, and France – a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN security council – has to be well-placed to respond.

“The word I use about Macron is neorealist,” said François Heisbourg, the chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Macron understands that we live in a Trumpian world – because it’s not only Trump, it’s Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdoğan, Egypt’s Sisi, China’s Xi Jinping. And Macron is rather good at playing the horse whisperer’s role with these kind of individuals. He is the only European political executive leader who is on speaking terms with all those people.”

But the question remains as to how much Macron has actually achieved in swaying Trump’s thinking. “Sometimes I manage to convince him, sometimes I fail,” Macron said earlier this year.

Laurence Nardon, head of the US programme at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), said: “Macron has said several times that he wanted to change Trump’s mind, for example on climate issues, trade barriers, the Iran nuclear accord. But so far in terms of concrete results, the results are limited, except on trade barriers, where negotiations are progressing.

“France hasn’t had an impact on changing American positions on climate change or the Iran deal for the moment. So the strategy hasn’t worked. But that is to be expected, because the reality is that Trump makes his decisions on issues such as protectionism, anti-environmentalism and Iran for reasons of internal politics, to please his own electorate. He is unlikely to change his views before the November midterms.”

She added: “And yet on the French side, it seemed a sound policy to try to influence America’s view. It was a chance that France had to take.”

Macron’s state visit is also about styling himself as a bridge to Europe for Trump. Germany’s Angela Merkel will visit Washington shortly after, reflecting European concerns on steel tariffs and the Iran deal.

“The Macron-Trump relationship translates as the French desire to be at the centre of the game,” said Thomas Snégaroff, a historian at Paris’s Sciences Po university. “Paris can’t envisage the progress of multilateralism at a world level without the US, the biggest power in the world.”


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« Reply #4422 on: Today at 05:38 AM »

The Business Deals That Could Imperil Trump

By Peter Fritsch and Glenn R. Simpson
Mr. Fritsch and Mr. Simpson are the founders of the research firm Fusion GPS.
April 23, 2018
NY Times

Put aside Russian collusion for a moment. Press pause on possible presidential obstruction of justice. Forget Stormy Daniels. The most significant recent development involving the president may be that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has subpoenaed Trump Organization business records as part of his inquiry into Russian interference in the presidential election.

Those documents — and records recently seized by the F.B.I. from the president’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen — might answer a question raised by the president’s critics: Have certain real estate investors used Trump-branded properties to launder the proceeds of criminal activity around the world?

We pored over Donald Trump’s business records for well over a year, at least those records you can get without a badge or a subpoena. We also hired a former British intelligence official, Christopher Steele, to look into Mr. Trump’s possible ties to Russia. In that 2015-2016 investigation, sponsored first by a Republican client and then by Democrats, we found strong indications that companies affiliated with Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, might have been entangled in foreign corruption.

A string of bankruptcies in the 1990s and 2000s may have left Mr. Trump’s companies largely unable to tap traditional sources of financing. That could have forced him to look elsewhere for financing and partners at a time when money was pouring out of the former Soviet Union.

Indeed, from New York to Florida, Panama to Azerbaijan, we found that Trump projects have relied heavily on foreign cash — including from wealthy individuals from Russia and elsewhere with questionable, and even criminal, backgrounds. We saw money traveling through offshore shell companies, entities often used to obscure ownership. Many news organizations have since dug deeply into the Trump Organization’s projects and come away with similar findings.

This reporting has not uncovered conclusive evidence that the Trump Organization or its principals knowingly abetted criminal activity. And it’s not reasonable to expect the company to keep track of every condo buyer in a Trump-branded building. But Mr. Trump’s company routinely teamed up with individuals whose backgrounds should have raised red flags.

Consider the Bayrock Group, a developer that once had lavish offices in Trump Tower. The firm worked with Mr. Trump in the mid-2000s to build the Trump SoHo in Lower Manhattan, among other troubled projects. One of its principals was a Russian émigré, Felix Sater, linked to organized crime who served time for felony assault and who later pleaded guilty to racketeering involving a $40 million stock fraud scheme.

Belgian authorities accused a Kazakh financier recruited by Bayrock of carrying out a $55 million money-laundering scheme (that case was settled without an admission of guilt). Civil suits filed in Los Angeles and New York allege that a former mayor of the largest city in Kazakhstan and several of his family members laundered millions in stolen public funds, investing some of it in real estate, including units in Trump SoHo. (The family has denied wrongdoing and says it is the victim of political persecution.)

Then there is Sunny Isles Beach, where over 60 individuals with Russian passports or addresses bought nearly $100 million worth of units in Trump-branded condominium towers in a part of South Florida known as Little Moscow. Among them were Russian government officials who made million-dollar investments and a Ukrainian owner of two units who pleaded guilty to one count of receipt of stolen property in a money-laundering scheme involving a former Ukrainian prime minister.

In 2006, the sale of condos in the first international hotel venture under the Trump brand, the former Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama, fell, in large part, to a Brazilian named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira. He worked with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering. Mr. Nogueira told NBC News last year that he sold about half of his Trump condos to Russians, including some connected to the Russian mafia, and that some of his clients had “questionable backgrounds.”

Three years later, as Reuters has reported, Panamanian authorities arrested Mr. Nogueira on charges of fraud and forgery unrelated to the Trump project. After getting out on bail, he fled to Brazil, where he faces a separate money-laundering investigation. In 2014, he fled Brazil, too.

The Trumps typically claim to be passive partners in projects like Trump Ocean Club and that they had minimal dealings with the likes of Mr. Nogueira. (The chief legal officer for the Trump Organization, Alan Garten, has said that no one in the Trump family remembers meeting or speaking to Mr. Nogueira. But there are photos of Mr. Trump and his daughter Ivanka with Mr. Nogueira.) Yet Mr. Trump’s limited public disclosures reveal his company has earned millions from licensing fees, a percentage of property sales and management fees in foreign projects. And the Trump family was sometimes personally involved in everything from a project’s design to its décor.

That appears to have been the case with the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, a high-end residence and hotel that has yet to open. In 2012, the Trumps signed a licensing agreement with the local developer, Anar Mammadov — the son of the country’s billionaire transportation minister, Ziya Mammadov, who an American diplomat once described in cables published by WikiLeaks as “notoriously corrupt even for Azerbaijan.”

The Trump Organization has said that it conducted an extensive due-diligence review of Anar Mammadov and that questions about the source of his wealth surfaced after they signed the deal. Presumably, Mr. Mueller will want to see evidence of that.

In Vancouver, the Trump Organization partnered with the son of Tony Tiah Thee Kian, a Malaysian oligarch who was convicted of providing a false report to the Kuala Lumpur stock exchange. That project, which was guided by Ivanka Trump and is one of the few Trump-branded properties to open since Mr. Trump took office, is now the subject of an F.B.I. counterintelligence inquiry, according to CNN. Mr. Garten, the Trump chief legal officer, told CNN: “The company’s role was and is limited to licensing its brand and managing the hotel. Accordingly, the company would have had no involvement in the financing of the project or the sale of units.”

It remains unclear whether Mr. Mueller will investigate these deals, or already is. But a comprehensive investigation could raise questions about the Trump Organization’s compliance with anti-money-laundering laws and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which — according to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Justice — makes it a crime for a United States company to act with willful blindness toward the corrupt activities of a foreign business partner.

The former Donald Trump insider Steve Bannon has hinted darkly about the Trump family’s exposure to money laundering. And Mr. Mueller has already secured the indictment of Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, on charges of money laundering related to his work in Ukraine. Federal prosecutors are reported to be looking into Jared Kushner’s family firm over its use of a federal program that offered wealthy Chinese investors visas in return for investments. Kushner Companies has denied any wrongdoing.

The Trump family’s business entanglements are of more than historical significance. Americans need to be sure that major foreign policy decisions are made in the national interest — not because of foreign ties forged by the president’s business ventures.

Peter Fritsch and Glenn R. Simpson, former journalists, are the founders of the research firm Fusion GPS.

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Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen has a history of ties to Russian organized crime

Heather Digby Parton, Salon
23 Apr 2018 at 09:30 ET                   

Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, once told Vanity Fair: “I’m the guy who stops the leaks. I’m the guy who protects the president and the family. I’m the guy who would take a bullet for the president.”

During a Wednesday appearance on MSNBC, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci confirmed that Cohen is as loyal as the day is long, telling Katy Tur there was no chance Cohen would turn state’s evidence against the president because he “is a very loyal person.” Scaramucci didn’t even pretend to believe that Cohen would have nothing to offer prosecutors. It seems to be a given that he knows where bodies are buried, but is willing to go to jail rather than betray Trump. That arguably says more about the latter than the former.

I wrote recently that I think this passionate belief in Cohen’s loyalty may be wishful thinking on Trump’s part. Apparently I’m not the only one. According to a Wednesday article in the Wall Street Journal, Trump’s former attorney Jay Goldberg has issued exactly the same warning:

    One of President Donald Trump’s longtime legal advisers said he warned the president in a phone call Friday that Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and close friend, would turn against the president and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.

    Mr. Trump made the call seeking advice from Jay Goldberg, who represented Mr. Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president not to trust Mr. Cohen. On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen “isn’t even a 1,” he said he told Mr. Trump. … “Michael will never stand up for you” if charged by the government, Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president. …

   He stressed to the president that Mr. Cohen could even agree to wear a wire and try to record conversations with Mr. Trump. “You have to be alert,” Mr. Goldberg said he told the president. “I don’t care what Michael says.”

Goldberg has some experience dealing with people like Michael Cohen — he has represented such criminal luminaries as Matty “The Horse” Ianniello, Joe “Scarface” Agone and Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo.  He sounded quite sure of his assessment that Cohen’s alleged loyalty would not hold.

Even setting aside Cohen’s foolish antics last week — hanging around on the street outside the New York courtroom, smoking cigars with his buddies — Trump knows what he has with this guy. Recall that Cohen has threatened media organizations with charming comments like: “I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. You understand me?” We know that Cohen is credibly accused of being the man who put together hush agreements with women whom Trump wanted to ensure never spoke publicly about their affairs with him. Dubious conduct is in his job description.

Nonetheless, Cohen is not exactly a made man. According to this report by ProPublica and WNYC, before he joined up with Trump in the mid-2000s Cohen was involved in a series of scams, including insurance and IRS fraud, for which he always avoided indictment while others were jailed or fined.

Many of his associates in these businesses came from the former Soviet Union and had connections to Russian organized crime. Cohen married a Ukrainian immigrant whose father had pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy to defraud the IRS in a taxi medallion fraud case. Cohen himself has made millions in the New York taxi business, which is reportedly one of the areas the FBI cited in its search warrant.

Cohen first hooked up with Trump by buying a number of apartments in Trump buildings, which led to Trump hiring him saw as an executive vice president of the Trump Organization. Cohen has been a part of the Trumpian inner circle ever since, whose main job, as he has said, is “protecting the family.”

We learned a few months ago that Cohen had been working with another Russian-born investor, the infamous Felix Sater, on a Trump Tower Moscow deal during the presidential campaign. Sater reportedly boasted to Cohen about his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, claiming that they could “engineer” the election for Trump.  Nobody knows exactly what he meant by that; Cohen has said that Sater was just using “colorful language” and it added up to nothing. But Cohen’s relationship with Sater is likely a central aspect of this whole tangled history.

Sater himself is an extremely complicated figure, a man who was himself involved in stock fraud and spent time in prison for badly injuring a man in a bar fight. He has been associated with both the New York Mafia and the Russian mob and has also allegedly been both an FBI informant and a CIA asset. He has known Michael Cohen since they were kids in Brooklyn. (Sater was born in Russia but apparently moved to New York as a child.)

According to Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, Cohen’s father and uncle were both doctors, but the uncle also owned a “social club” in Brooklyn called El Caribe that was a known Mafia hangout in the 1970s and ’80s. The Russian mob, then run by a legendary godfather named Evsei Agron then by his successor, Marat Balagula, (who was suspected of killing Agron) had offices in El Caribe and pretty much ran their nefarious business out of it for some years. Sater’s dad, Marshall reports, was “a reputed capo in the Mogilevich organized crime syndicate.”

So Cohen has been associated with mobsters and con men his whole life, which probably explains the widespread assumption that he would adhere to the pledge of omertà, the mafia code of silence. That code isn’t what it used to be. In 2001, Sammy “The Bull” Gravano finally turned on Gambino crime boss John Gotti and sent him to prison. Do you know who made the deal with Gravano? It was an assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Department of Justice. His name was Robert Mueller.

Michael Cohen may be mobbed up, but he’s no Sammy the Bull. Those who know him best seem to believe he’ll crack even before he has his fingers printed.

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‘He was iced out’: New report details Michael Cohen’s fall from fixer to feared snitch

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
23 Apr 2018 at 17:09 ET                   

Was the White House not big enough for Ivanka, Jared and Michael Cohen?

That’s one allegation in a new in-depth Washington Post feature that details Cohen’s evolution from trusted fixer to feared snitch.

According to the report, Cohen told Trump not to bring his daughter and son and law to Washinvgton. Meanwhile, they likewise opposed him.

Cohen never fully got over being left home in New York while his boss took off for Washington, D.C.

“Here was a guy who dedicated his life to Trump, who was sure he would be a top pick,” said one of WaPo‘s anonymous sources close to Trump. “He was iced out.”

The report also details how Cohen came into contact with Russian gangsters in Brighton Beach, in Brooklyn. The Soviet emigres were “tough kids,” and Cohen fell in with them, learning to speak their language “like a four year old.”

The story also goes through Cohen’s own business ventures and analyzes the financial strain on him as a result of owning Cohen taxi medallions, which are required to operate cabs in New York City, because of Uber and Lyft, which have shorn off about 80 percent of their value.

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There are four very clear paths to the end of the Trump presidency

Lucian K. Truscott IV, Salon
23 Apr 2018 at 13:21 ET                   

The next time you walk out to your car, or head down the street to the subway, or cross the parking lot on your way to the grocery store, look up and squint your eyes, and you’ll be able to see the end of the Trump presidency. It’s still a moving target, kept out of reach and out of focus by Trump’s chaotic daily delivery of distractions and dissembling, but it’s out there, and at this point it’s coming toward us, rather than headed in the other direction.

The impending doom is all Trump’s fault, of course. The first mistake he made was running for the office. The second was winning. The third was thinking that being president would be just like running his business in New York. (“I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly. There’s never been a case like this,” Trump told The New York Times soon after he won the election.) The fourth was believing he could protect himself from the law because he thought as president, he would control the FBI and the Department of Justice.

If Trump had not ridden that escalator down to the lobby of Trump Tower and announced that he would seek the highest office in the land, if he had stayed up there on the 26th floor and continued to run the Trump Organization, none of this would be happening.

Trump himself would not be under criminal investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to steal the election of 2016.

His campaign would not be under a counterintelligence investigation by the FBI for conspiring with elements of Russian intelligence to subvert and violate the laws of the United States.

His former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, would not be under indictment for money laundering, bank fraud, and other crimes and be facing a sentence that would send him to federal prison for the rest of his life.

His former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, would not have pleaded guilty to perjury and conspiracy to defraud the United States and be looking at jail time.

His former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, would not have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s then-ambassador to the United States.

His former campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, would not have pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians in London and be facing jail time. Alex van der Zwann, a London-based lawyer for the Skadden, Arps, Meagher and Flom law firm,  would not have pleaded guilty to lying about his meetings with Rick Gates and an email exchange with a Russian national by the name of Konstantin Kilimnik.

A citizen of California named Richard Pinedo would not have pleaded guilty to identity theft in a scheme to aid the Russians under indictment for engaging in a campaign of propaganda designed to interfere with and influence the 2016 election for president.

Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, would not be under a months-long investigation by the the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and his office and hotel room would not have been broken into  and all of the papers and electronic records of Cohen’s representation of Donald Trump would not have been seized by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney.

None of the people who have worked for Donald Trump on his campaign or in the White House, from Jared Kushner, to Donald Trump Jr., to Sean Spicer, to Reince Priebus, to Rob Porter, to Steve Bannon, to Hope Hicks, would have had to lawyer-up and be interrogated by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and by agents for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

None of that would have happened had not Donald J. Trump descended the escalator and ran for president and won.  Now his White House is surrounded by criminal and counter-intelligence investigations and prosecutions, and increasingly, those investigations have focused on Trump himself.

Last week, McClatchy reported that Mueller investigators have evidence that Michael Cohen traveled to Prague in 2016 in the late stages of the campaign, confirming one of the most explosive parts of the so-called Steele dossier, something that Cohen has repeatedly denied for months. () Mueller’s team is looking into reports that Cohen met with Konstantin Kosachev, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the Czech capital. The Steele dossier alleged that Cohen and the Russians and others discussed “how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers in Europe who had worked under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign.”

It has been reported that Mueller’s prosecutors are working on indictments of the Russian intelligence agents who hacked into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. At the time he allegedly traveled to Prague, Cohen had only one client: Donald Trump. So Mueller is investigating a direct connection during the campaign between Trump, through his lawyer, with Russians close to Putin. The evidence he is gathering is evidence of collusion, and the evidence leads straight to Trump.

So how might the end game play itself out? There are at least four possible scenarios.

The first scenario is that Mueller will come up with enough evidence that Trump has committed crimes, whether obstruction of justice or conspiracy with the Russians to steal the election, and will indict the president in office. This would lead to a constitutional showdown at the Supreme Court between Mueller and Trump. While a previous Supreme Court decision, Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681 (1997)  found unanimously that a president does not have immunity from a civil lawsuit, the court has not faced a decision as to whether a sitting president can be criminally indicted.

If the court took up the case, and found against Trump, Mueller’s charges against him would be in force, and Trump would face arrest and prosecution. It’s possible that the court could find that Trump can be indicted but not face trial until after he leaves office. In that case, Trump would be facing charges that could put him in prison sometime after he left office. The only way he could leave office and not face such criminal charges would be if he resigned and made a deal with the man who succeeds him for a pardon, similar to the way that Nixon resigned in 1974 and was pardoned by Gerald Ford for any and all crimes he committed against the United States while president.

The second scenario is that Mueller could issue a finding that Trump had committed crimes while in office without indicting him. In this case, Mueller’s report would be forwarded to the United States Congress and the House of Representatives would be faced with the decision whether or not to impeach him. In this scenario, much would depend on the 2018 elections. Democrats may retake the House, and many are predicting they will. In that case, a vote to impeach Trump would seem assured, although conviction in the Senate would be less than a sure thing. Trump could tough it out and win his trial in the Senate, like Clinton did in 1998 and 1999. He would then be able to run for re-election in 2020. A win by Trump would seem to be improbable, but then, strange things have happened before.

The third scenario is that Mueller’s investigation would lead to indictments of people close to Trump, such as Michael Cohen, or even Jared Kushner and/or Donald Trump Jr. Trump could preemptively pardon these individuals (or anyone else charged, for that matter) similar to the way President George H.W. Bush pardoned is former Secretary of Defense, Caspar Weinberger, days before he was to stand trial for charges brought against him by an independent prosecutor, Lawrence E. Walsh, in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal. The president’s pardon power is broad. The Constitution grants to the president, in Article II, Section 2, “Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

A pardon of a man like Michael Cohen might save Trump from the possibility that Cohen would flip and testify against him rather than face trial. But an argument could be made that having been granted a pardon would relieve Cohen of his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and he could still be compelled to testify against Trump. So Trump may not be able to pardon his way out of trouble in a showdown with Mueller after all.

The president’s pardon power is for “Offences against the United States,” which is to say in the cases of federal crimes. If charges were brought by the State of New York against Trump’s lawyer, or his son, or son-in-law, for example, Trump would not have the power to grant them pardons. The only way he could possibly save them would be to make a deal with the State of New York, which is unlikely, especially if he had already pardoned them on federal charges.

Which brings us to scenario number four. This one is based on the belief among many long-time Trump watchers that the only thing that really matters to Trump is his personal fortune. In this scenario, Trump will do anything to protect his business and his lifestyle once he leaves office. He may yet face charges that would follow him after he leaves the presidency. Federal and state charges could threaten not only to send him to prison, but lay siege to his empire.

His son and close associates may face state charges he can’t protect them from. If this were to come to pass, the only way out for Trump would be the Nixon way: make a deal to resign and be pardoned on the federal charges, and have the deal be contingent on the state charges being dropped against himself or those close to him as well. Nixon resigned from office with his fortune intact, including his homes in Key Biscayne and San Clemente. Trump may have to do the same if he wants to keep living at Trump Tower and visiting Mar-a-Lago.

This is what Trump faces every single day he remains in office. The Mueller investigation isn’t going away. Even if he fires Mueller, the convictions and indictments handed down already will stand, and Trump will be unable to end FBI investigations and pending prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys by executive fiat. The control over the FBI and the Justice Department he lusts for just isn’t there. Nor does he have control over courts and judges for whom he has often expressed contempt.

History books have always talked about men being “elevated” to the presidency, but when descended that escalator in Trump Tower in 2015, he dragged us into his pit of scandal, disgrace and criminality when he assumed office. But the end game is coming. Squint your eyes and tell me if you don’t see an escalator out there ahead of us. It’s going up.

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Michael Cohen case shines light on Sean Hannity's real estate empire

Fox News host who said Trump’s fixer ‘knows real estate’ has a portfolio that includes support from Department of Housing and Urban Development, a fact he did not mention when interviewing secretary Ben Carson last year

Jon Swaine in New York
Guardian
Mon 23 Apr 2018 07.36 BST

When Sean Hannity was named in court this week as a client of Donald Trump’s embattled legal fixer Michael Cohen, the Fox News host insisted their discussions had been limited to the subject of buying property.

“I’ve said many times on my radio show: I hate the stock market, I prefer real estate. Michael knows real estate,” Hannity said on television, a few hours after the dramatic hearing in Manhattan, where Cohen is under criminal investigation.

Hannity’s chosen investment strategy is confirmed by thousands of pages of public records reviewed by the Guardian, which detail a real estate portfolio of remarkable scale that has not previously been reported.

The records link Hannity to a group of shell companies that spent at least $90m on more than 870 homes in seven states over the past decade. The properties range from luxurious mansions to rentals for low-income families. Hannity is the hidden owner behind some of the shell companies and his attorney did not dispute that he owns all of them.

Dozens of the properties were bought at a discount in 2013, after banks foreclosed on their previous owners for defaulting on mortgages. Before and after then, Hannity sharply criticised Barack Obama for the US foreclosure rate. In January 2016, Hannity said there were “millions more Americans suffering under this president” partly because of foreclosures.

Hannity, 56, also amassed part of his property collection with support from the US Department for Housing and Urban Development (Hud), a fact he did not disclose when praising Ben Carson, the Hud secretary, on his television show last year.

Christopher Reeves, Hannity’s real estate attorney, said in an email he would “struggle to find any relevance” in Hannity’s property holdings, which he said were highly confidential.

“I doubt you would find it very surprising that most people prefer to keep their legal and personal financial issues private,” said Reeves. “Mr Hannity is no different.”

Spokespeople for Hud and Fox News declined to comment on the record.

    I doubt you would find it very surprising most people prefer to keep their legal and personal financial issues private
    Christopher Reeves, Sean Hannity's real estate attorney

The real estate holdings linked to Hannity are spread across more than 20 shell companies formed in Georgia. Each of the companies uses a variant of the same name, which combines the initials of Hannity’s children. Public records show the companies have bought up dozens of properties in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Texas and Vermont.

Among the most valuable are two large apartment complexes in Georgia that Hannity bought in 2014 for $22.7m. The developments are in the cities of Perry and Brunswick, which have higher poverty rates and lower median incomes than the US averages. One- and two-bedroom units in Hannity‍‍‍’s apartment complexes are available to rent for $735 to $1,065 per month, according to brochures.

The Georgia purchases were funded with mortgages for $17.9m that Hannity obtained with help from Hud, which insured the loans under a program created as part of the National Housing Act. The loans, first guaranteed under the Obama administration, were recently increased by $5m with renewed support from Carson’s department.

Hannity, who is reportedly paid $36m per year for his television and radio shows, was criticised this week following Cohen’s court hearing, after it became clear he had defended Cohen and Trump on the air without disclosing that he also consulted Cohen for legal services.

He also declined to note his financial interest when he hosted Carson on Fox News last June for a discussion about Hud and housing. Hannity praised privatisation plans pushed by Trump and Carson.

“I know you’ve done a good job,” Hannity told Carson.

Hannity complained during the discussion that home ownership in the US was at a 51-year low – a false claim he has made several times on air – and criticised the state of public housing.

“I like the idea of them owning the place,” Hannity said of people who receive housing assistance. “Well, that’s the real ideal,” said Carson.

The shell companies used to buy the properties are registered to the offices of Henssler Financial, a wealth management firm outside Atlanta. Bill Lako, a principal at the firm, has appeared on Hannity’s radio show as an expert on money issues.

Lako recently wrote an article for the show’s website berating Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating ties between Trump’s 2016 election campaign and Russia, without noting his ties to Hannity. He did not respond to an email.

When Lako appeared on Hannity’s radio show last month, Hannity disclosed that he was a Henssler client. He joked to Lako that the company took him on as a “charity case” when he worked in Georgia, but “now I’m the best client you have”.

The Georgia mortgages supported by Hud were guaranteed as part of a program aimed at protecting investors such as Hannity who buy rental apartment buildings. The government promises to cover losses if borrowers default on their mortgages. Borrowers pay an insurance premium to Hud in return. Bigger loan guarantees are available if the building houses low-income families.

Paperwork relating to the agreements with Hud, which was filed to county authorities, named Hannity as the principal of the shell companies used to buy the apartment complexes and to borrow the funds. Hannity personally signed several of the documents. A Hud source said Hannity was identified in non-public filings as the 100% owner of the apartment complexes.

    I know you’ve done a good job
    Hannity to Ben Carson, June 2017

Late last month, Hannity’s mortgages were replaced with loans for $22.9m that were rewritten with Carson’s Hud and a new bank. There was no indication that Carson was personally involved in the process. Carson does, however, have the authority to allow Hannity from 2019 to convert the rental complexes into condominiums for sale, which could be lucrative for the television host.

The shell companies used to buy the properties are limited liability companies (LLCs). Like in most states, they are not required to disclose their owners to Georgia regulators. LLCs are popular among well-known figures such as Hannity who wish to keep their business arrangements private.

But the Guardian obtained records in which Hannity signed deeds and other documents on behalf of four of the LLCs, sometimes being named as principal or manager. Four more of the shell companies have owned properties in which public records say Hannity or members of his family have lived.

Hannity also uses a separate company with a similar name to handle contracts relating to his syndicated radio show, according to records filed in two federal court cases. Georgia records say Hannity was chief executive, chief financial officer and secretary of this company before Lako took over the titles during 2016.

In other cases, only the relevant LLC’s name and a contact at Henssler Financial were identified in the real estate paperwork, meaning that it could not be confirmed whether Hannity was the hidden owner.

The list of properties bought by the Hannity-linked companies includes multimillion-dollar homes used by Hannity. It also features single-family units priced as low as $50,000 in relatively poor suburbs. In at least two cases, batches of homes were bought simultaneously at a discount, after they were repossessed by banks from their previous owners in foreclosure proceedings.

The entire portfolio connected to Hannity comprises at least 877 residential units, which were bought for a total of just under $89m. Another seven properties bought by the companies over recent years have subsequently been sold on for more than $4m, according to public records.

When Hannity this week stressed that his business relationship with Cohen related to real estate, he pointedly denied that it involved any financial settlements with other people.

Cohen previously arranged for a $130,000 payment to Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actor known as Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had sex with Trump. Cohen also helped Elliott Broidy, a prominent Republican fundraiser, pay $1.6m to a woman who said she had become pregnant during an affair.

Hannity said he had only “occasional brief conversations” with Cohen. He made varying statements about whether Cohen was compensated, initially stating that he had not been billed but later saying: “I might have handed him 10 bucks.”

In footage unearthed this week that was broadcast on Fox News in January last year, Hannity mentioned having discussed an unidentified $2bn property venture in Dubai with Cohen.

“I said, ‘I’m interested in that deal myself,’” said Hannity

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‘It’s incredibly spine-chilling to read’: Watch a DNC staffer explain why lawsuit against Russians and Republicans matters

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
23 Apr 2018 at 18:27 ET                   

On Friday, the Democratic Party filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign officials, Russia and Wikileaks, alleging that they conspired to interfere in the party’s business during the 2016 presidential election.

The lawsuit was immediately mocked by Russian state media and Donald Trump, and by outlets like National Public Radio, which published a news story saying it was “unlikely to yield any outcome.”

But the situation is coming into better focus as Democratic officials explain the thinking. Starting with the fact that, unlike Mueller, “you can’t fire a lawsuit.”

Luis Miranda, former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, went on MSNBC today to give his take. Miranda was a victim of the hacking, having his personal emails stolen and being threatened by trolls.

“The reality is that Republicans have a lot to answer for here—his campaign has a lot to answer for, and that’s what’s really going to be at stake,” he said.

As he explained, it’s all part of establishing the dirty tricks and getting punishment for them as a deterrent to future interference of this type.

“It’s an untold part of this story—the difficult conditions under which the Democratic Party staff had to operate, with a barrage of threats, attacks, constant harassment, phones being spoofed, all kinds of things that really made it incredibly difficult to do the external and internal communications of the party.”

And the damages are real, he said.

“The DNC really does have standing here in terms of real damage,” he said. “The millions of dollars that they potentially lost out on in donations, the money they spend trying to clean out the system and mitigate from these attacks.”

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


* Donald Trump, Tevfik Arif, center, and Felix Sater at the 2007 launch party for Trump SoHo, which they developed together.jpg (408.76 KB, 2048x1366 - viewed 1 times.)

* cohen.jpg (70.06 KB, 800x430 - viewed 1 times.)

* hannity the evil.JPG (21.93 KB, 352x330 - viewed 2 times.)

* harder.JPG (361.31 KB, 672x878 - viewed 2 times.)
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