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« Reply #2730 on: Feb 06, 2019, 05:50 AM »

State of the Union: Donald Trump attacks Mueller and Democrats in divisive speech

The president called for bipartisan unity but decried ‘ridiculous partisan investigations’ and took hard line on immigration  

Lauren Gambino in Washington
Wed 6 Feb 2019 08.26 GMT

Donald Trump issued sharp warnings to Democrats, including cautioning that “ridiculous partisan investigations” would harm economic progress, in comments that clashed with an appeal for unity during his first State of the Union address to a newly divided Congress.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” Trump declared. The presence of Democrat House speaker Nancy Pelosi on the dais behind him was an acute reminder of the political challenges he will face in the next two years.

The remarks were an apparent reference to the investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, into Russia meddling in the US election as well as Democrats’ promised oversight investigations into the president’s conduct and personal finances.

In wide-ranging remarks to a joint chamber of Congress on Tuesday night that lasted more than 80 minutes, Trump appealed to two areas of his base supporters by reasserting his vow to build a wall on the southern US border with Mexico, and urging lawmakers to ban late-term abortions.

He also announced that he would hold a second summit with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in Vietnam on 27 and 28 February. The leaders first met last summer in Singapore.

Trump’s speech came at a critical moment for his presidency. Halfway into his term, having just suffered serious losses in November’s congressional elections and after prompting the longest government shutdown in US history, Trump had hoped to strike a new tone with his calls on Congress to come together over infrastructure projects and his trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future,” he said. “The decision is ours to make.”

However, while Trump avoided any reference to his much-threatened declaration of a national emergency over what he claims to be an immigration crisis on the southern border, he again outlined his case for a wall and accused lawmakers of hypocrisy on border security.

During the speech, Trump’s comments careened from dark proclamations about the “lawless state of our southern border” and the “bloodthirsty monsters” who fight for Isis, to sweet moments praising the optimism of a 10-year-old girl who fought brain cancer and veterans who helped liberate Europe from Nazism during the second world war.

The president commanded one of the biggest stages in American politics on Tuesday night but, unlike last year’s address, Capitol Hill was something of a hostile environment.

Pelosi – a formidable adversary who has thwarted his border wall at every turn – sat mostly stone-faced, occasionally scanning the text of his speech. She was joined on the dais by Vice-President Mike Pence, who dutifully applauded the president at each opportunity.

Seated in front of Trump was a record number of female House members, most Democrats and some dressed in white, in homage to the suffragist movement. In the gallery above were two former employees of Trump’s New Jersey golf club, both immigrant women who have gone public about its hiring practices, and the sexual assault survivor who confronted the Republican senator Jeff Flake in an elevator during the fraught confirmation of the conservative supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In a moment of levity, Democratic congresswomen erupted in cheers and applause when Trump said the thriving economy had helped female employment.

Trump smiled: “Don’t sit yet. You’re going to like this.”

“Exactly one century after the Congress passed the constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote,” he said, “we also have more women serving in the Congress than ever before.”

This time the chamber rose to its feet and Democrats and Republicans joined in a bipartisan U-S-A chant. Many of the women were elected as part of a backlash to Trump’s presidency.

Members also sang Happy Birthday to Judah Samet, a Holocaust survivor who also survived an attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 people dead last year and on Tuesday turned 81.

Among the guests seated with the first lady, Melania Trump, were family members of a couple killed in Nevada last month, allegedly by someone who was in the country illegally, and Joshua Trump, a boy who was bullied at school because he shares a last name with the president, though is no relation.

The public gallery also included, at Democrats’ invitation, undocumented immigrants and temporary residents threatened by the Trump administration’s policies, climate scientists, labor leaders, gun violence victims and federal workers who went without pay for 35 days during the government shutdown and who are worried about a repeat.

During his speech, Trump made the case for his “zero-tolerance” immigration policies, calling it a “moral duty” to address what he has claimed to be a “crisis of illegal immigration” at the US-Mexico border.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” he said, in defense of his demand for a wall. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

He also touted his stewardship of a strong economy after what he called “decades of calamitous trade policies” and committed to rebuilding America’s “crumbling infrastructure”.

The address was treated as the start of his presidential re-election campaign as several Democrats running to unseat him in 2020 sat in the audience. Among those who have declared were Democratic senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren.

In a strike at Democrats’ liberalizing policy agenda, Trump decried “new calls to adopt socialism in our country”. The reference to socialism elicited a chorus of boos from Republicans.

“America was founded on liberty and independence,” Trump said, “not government coercion, domination, and control.” Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont who is also weighing a presidential bid, appeared bemused by the line.

On foreign policy, an area where Trump faces an increasingly adversarial Republican Senate, the president defended his decision to withdraw US troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Just hours prior, the Senate approved a resolution opposing the plan.

He vowed to work with the nation’s allies to “destroy the remnants of Isis” and said his administration ”accelerated” negotiations to reach a political agreement in Afghanistan.

“Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he said.

Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the race for governor in Georgia in an election marred by accusations of voter suppression, became the first African American woman to deliver the Democratic rebuttal to the president’s address.

Speaking from Atlanta, Abrams called voting rights the “next battle for our democracy”.

“Let’s be clear: Voter suppression is real,” Abrams said. “From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy.”

David Smith in Washington contributed to this report


Trump has been unimpeachable in uniting a country – in horror

Richard Wolffe

The US president was wasting time in his second State of the Union speech, he just wants to talk about Trump

Wed 6 Feb 2019 03.48 GMT

Just one year ago, Donald Trump stood in front of an exhausted nation to deliver a pick-me-up of bipartisan love.

Yes, several thousand Americans had just died after his botched recovery in Puerto Rico. Yes, he was kowtowing to the Kremlin and kneecapping the FBI. But why, he wondered, can’t we just get along?

“It is not enough to come together only in times of tragedy,” he lamented. “Tonight, I call up on all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground, and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people we were elected to serve.”

Trump’s leadership has been utterly flawless on this front. You might even say unimpeachable.

In the last 12 months, he has brought Washington together in horror by separating thousands of immigrant children from their parents and detaining thousands more in secret prisons. He has dismayed both sides of Congress by bragging about a government shutdown that began while his party controlled the whole ball game. Republicans and Democrats alike stood aghast as he cozied up to North Korea, forced out his respected defense secretary, and pathetically petted Vladimir Putin.

He has never wavered from setting aside his calls to set aside our differences. He has resolutely failed to seek out common ground. And his idea of unity is to rally as many old white men as he can find on a golf course.

After Democrats took control of the House in the biggest mid-term landslide in decades, Trump has united the country to the point where a clear majority won’t even consider voting for his reelection next year.

It’s reassuring to know that the climate may change, the economy may tip into recession, but Trump’s entirely empty calls for comity go on year after year. It’s almost as if his speechwriters aren’t reading his tweets.

“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate,” Trump declared on Tuesday night, after breaking the spirits of so many federal workers with his self-imposed stalemate over his imaginary border wall.

“We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make.”

Sadly Trump himself made his own decision earlier on Tuesday when he called Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, a “nasty son of a bitch”. Perhaps that counted as a new wound to be healed at some indeterminate point in the future. At next year’s state of the union, quite possibly.

Those comments came at the president’s traditional lunch with news anchors. So it was an entirely confidential attempt to build new coalitions, forge new solutions, etc.

If Trump didn’t have such obvious trouble breathing through his nose, you might say this state of the union was breathtaking.

After losing so many children at the border, turning away so many asylum seekers, and distorting immigration law into a tool of punishment, Trump had the chutzpah to say: “We have a moral duty to create an immigration system that protects the lives and jobs of our citizens.”

Moral duty are the words that will surely be carved into the opening paragraph of his obituary. Along with words such as “failure” and “complete absence”.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s WORKING CLASS and America’s POLITICAL CLASS than illegal immigration,” he said with the kind of rhetorical flourish that would have made Demosthenes cry. “Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

This counts a zinger on Planet Trump. If a doorman is good enough for Trump Tower, why not place doormen all along the southern border? There really is nothing quite as down to earth as a populist billionaire.

Trump was sorely in need of more zingers on Tuesday, if not a pile of crushed amphetamine. He was, in his own words, extraordinarily low energy.

He halted at the end of every half-line as if surprised by the phrases and policies that followed. Almost like he was reading the speech from his prompter for the first time. Almost like he’s spent the last year watching cable television and rage tweeting instead of bringing people together or boning up about policy.

His hand gestures were expansive in ways that his policies obviously aren’t. His words were elastic in ways that his mind obviously isn’t.

Without a trace of irony, he insisted he would not shy away from those who threaten the Jewish people. “We must never ignore the vile poison of anti-Semitism, or those who spread its venomous creed,” said the man who described the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville as some very fine people.

The only life in the speech came from the split decision on the faces of the two people seated behind him. Vice-president Mike Pence smiled with all the sincerity that his android builders had hardwired into his circuit boards. House speaker Nancy Pelosi puckered up like she was enduring a full gallon of fresh lemons.

The Trump doctrine, such as it is, found its fullest expression in the carefully crafted – and sometimes rhythmically rhyming – phrases that tripped and slipped from Trump’s lips. Channeling his inner Charlie Sheen, and as much tiger blood as courses through his veins he insisted “America is winning each and every day”.

But wait. There are clouds on the horizon: strange celestial illuminations that portend no good. They could imperil us all, or perhaps just those among us who go by the name of Trump.

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States – and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” said the Trump patriarch. “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.”

As rhyming slogans go, this is notch below “BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!” But in terms of proto-national emergencies, Mueller’s many-headed investigations and indictments are far more pressing to this president than the one he’s faking at the border.

Which helps explain his curious choice of guest: a schoolboy who shares his last name and has been sadly mistreated by his school friends as a result. The whole schtick about inviting guests to a state of the union is to open the aperture to the world outside. In Trump’s case, the world outside extends to people with the same name suffering from his own reputation.

Let’s face it. The state of the union bores President Trump as much as he bored us while delivering it. All that time wasted talking about the state of the union, when he really wanted to talk about the state of Trump. Perhaps he could rebrand it in time for his final delivery next year.

    Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist.


Here are 7 of Trump’s most outrageous lies and distortions during the State of the Union

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet - COMMENTARY
06 Feb 2019 at 22:23 ET                  

President Donald Trump spoke from prepared remarks Tuesday night as he delivered the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

As Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale has noted, Trump’s on-script speeches tend to be much more accurate than his off-the-cuff rally tirades, which are filled to the brim with lies and distortions. When he speaks from a teleprompter, his staff produce formalized comments that sometimes withstand fact-checking scrutiny better than his usual claims.

But he still made many specific, demonstrably false claims. The greatest lie, though, was the basic premise of his speech: a supposed call for unity. Instead of a unifying rallying cry, it was filled with much of his typical divisive attacks and vicious fearmongering, particularly about immigrants.

Here are seven of his other false claims and distortions Tuesday night:

1. “After 24 months of rapid progress, our economy is the envy of the world, our military is the most powerful on earth, and America is winning each and every day.”

The implication here that Trump’s presidency oversaw a huge resurgence in the military and the economy is just flat-out false. The United States’ military has been the world’s biggest (and most wildly expensive) for generations long before Trump came around. And while the economy has continued to grow under this president, it has essentially carried on the trajectory it started under President Barack Obama.

2.  Trump claimed that the United States’ economy is the “hottest economy anywhere in the world.”

While “hottest” is a vague term, many economies are in fact growing much faster than the United States’. The New York Times explained:

    The American economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of 2018, the most recent available data. Growth in Latvia and Poland was almost twice as fast. Same for China and India. Even the troubled Greek economy posted stronger growth. And a wide range of economic analysts estimate that the growth of the American economy slowed in the fourth quarter, and slowed even further in the first month of 2019.

3. He said that under his administration, the country has “added 600,000 new manufacturing jobs.”

This is false, as Dale explained:

    There have not been 600,000 manufacturing jobs added during Trump’s presidency: 12,822,000 as of Jan. 2019, 12,368,000 as of Jan. 2017, an increase of 454.000 jobs. https://t.co/t8HU3Sw2Xq pic.twitter.com/AiE0KGsXkm

    — Daniel Dale (@ddale8) February 6, 2019

4. Under his administration, Trump said, the economy added 5.3 million jobs.

In fact, the economy has added 4.9 million jobs in the past two years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

5. Trump said there is an “urgent national crisis” of illegal crossings at the border.

Under Trump, border crossings have actually been at record lows for recent decades. He used to boast about this fact until he realized he needed to drum up a rationalization for his border wall.

The New York Times reported:

    While that is an uptick from the monthly average in the fiscal year that ended in September 2017, the numbers pale in comparison to early 2000s, when border arrests averaged about 100,000 per month.

    A record number of families have tried to cross the border in recent months, overwhelming officials at the border and creating a new kind of humanitarian crisis.

6. Trump falsely said that, after having an extremely high crime rate, El Paso became “one of the safest cities” because of a border wall.

Trump has said this many times before, and it is absolutely false.

“That is a straight-up lie about El Paso, which was one of America’s safest large cities for violent crime before the fencing was erected and did not immediately see crime fall after the fence was built,” said Dale.

7. “I want people to come into our country in the largest numbers ever, but they have to come in legally.”

This was a brazen obfuscation of his own views. Trump has previously promoted the RAISE Act, which would cut legal immigration rates in half. He has also railed against so-called “chain migration” — immigration based on family ties — and the visa lottery, and he has fought to reduce both.


New York federal prosecutors continue to encircle Trump — and experts think they could pose an even greater danger than Mueller

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
06 Feb 2019 at 05:42 ET  

Because his mission focuses on the 2016 election and the eye-popping revelations about connections between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has captured the media and the nation’s attention for nearly two years.

But with the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, which included the allegation that the president directed him to violate campaign finance laws, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have made it clear that they, too, pose a real danger to the commander in chief. And that danger appears only to be growing.

On Monday, multiple news outlets reported that Trump’s inaugural committee has been subpoenaed for a wide-ranging list of records related to allegations of potential crimes including “conspiracy against the US, false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, inaugural committee disclosure violations, and violations of laws prohibiting contributions by foreign nations and contributions in the name of another person, also known as straw donors,” according to CNN.

And on Tuesday, CNN reported that SDNY prosecutors are also seeking to interview people from the Trump Organization.  Meanwhile, the New York attorney general’s office, which enforces state rather than federal laws, continues to investigate the Trump Foundation, the president’s charity that was forced to dissolve.

According to CNN:

    Trump and his legal team have long harbored concerns that investigations by New York federal prosecutors — which could last throughout his presidency — may ultimately pose more danger to him, his family and his allies than the inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to people close to Trump. Prosecutors’ recent interest in executives at Trump’s family company may intensify those fears.

Others have made this claim openly. Christ Christie, the former New Jersey governor and a long-time ally of the president, has argued during his current book tour that SDNY is a big danger to Trump than Mueller. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and frequent critic of the president, mad a similar claim Tuesday.

Trump’s public behavior and private attacks on Mueller suggest that he really does fear the special counsel, despite claims to the contrary. At the same time, he has had little to say about the SDNY investigations that clearly threaten him. But it’s possible this is prudent a political strategy — make Mueller the main enemy, and that way, if his investigation produces less than some expect, Trump can say any charges from other prosecutors are just a desperate attack. Or perhaps Trump’s animosity to Mueller simply reflects the fact that, as appears to have happened, the special counsel can uncover damaging facts about him, which can then be seized upon by other offices.


‘This is where it ends for this president’: Michael Cohen friend predicts Trump’s ‘criminal enterprise’ will fall

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
06 Feb 2019 at 05:00 ET                  

As evidence that President Donald Trump’s businesses and other entities are the subjects of a range of serious criminal investigations, beyond even Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, his allies are reportedly worried about his criminal exposure. One of the most damaging pieces of information to come out against the president thus far emerged when Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, told a federal court that he violated campaign finance laws at the direction of his former employer.

Donny Deutsch, an advertising executive and a friend of Cohen, predicted Tuesday on MSNBC that Trump’s problems are only going to get worse as the extent of his alleged criminality with regard to various entities is exposed.

“The Trump Organization has always been a dirty organization in every which way,” he said — a claim bolstered by his close relationship with Cohen, who was deeply involved in the president’s business. “You’re seeing the inaugural committee, you’re seeing the [New York] attorney general go after the charities. This is where it ends for this president. It is a criminal enterprise.”

Deutsch also predicted that prosecutors will use the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act to prosecute Trump-linked crimes, a law that was designed to go after organized crime bosses. However, some legal experts are skeptical that officials would seriously pursue this strategy. Ken White, a former federal prosecutor, has frequently argued that it is extremely unlikely that the government will use RICO to go after Trump and his related entities.

Watch the clip below:

    “The Trump Org has always been a dirty organization… You see the inaugural committee, the NY Attorney General [going] after the charities, this is where it ends for this president. It is a criminal enterprise…” – @DonnyDeutsch w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/1jAFTZ4k8v

    — Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) February 5, 2019


Russian-born lobbyist got ‘suspicious’ payments right before and after June 2016 Trump Tower meeting

Igor Derysh, Salon
06 Feb 2019 at 05:23 ET                  

Banks flagged “suspicious” payments to a Russian-born lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin, who attended the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, both before and after his meeting with Donald Trump Jr.. Paul Manaford and Jared Kushner, BuzzFeed News reported.

Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News shows that Akhmetshin, a Washington lobbyist who previously served as a Soviet military officer and has been described by the New York Times as a “master of the dark arts,” made large round-number cash deposits in the months before and after the meeting. The meeting was set up after Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer linked to the Kremlin, offered the Trump campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton.

According to the report, bank investigators flagged a “suspicious” payment to Akhmetshin from Denis Katsyv, who runs Prevezon Holdings, a company accused by the Department of Justice of laundering money in a $230 million Russian tax fraud.

The documents show that Akhmetshin received a $100,000 wire transfer from Katsyv and $52,000 from a Katsyv-backed foundation. He also made a cash deposit of $40,000. Bank investigators flagged them as suspicious because of their unclear source, their overseas origin, and suspicions that Akhmetshin had violated federal lobbying laws, BuzzFeed News reported. Another $500,000 in payments from Katsyv’s foundation two months before the Trump Tower meeting was also flagged by Bank of America investigators as possible evidence of corruption and bribery.

Investigators also found that Akhmetshin received other large, unexplained wire transfers from companies overseas and from political insiders, “one of whom is a veteran Republican operator with ties to the Trump campaign,” the outlet reported.

Last month, Natalia Vesenitskaya, the Russian lawyer who brought Akhmetshin with her to the meeting, was indicted after prosecutors alleged that she secretly coordinated with the Kremlin while representing Katsyv in a money laundering case.

Katsyv funded a lobbying campaign by Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin against the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials connected to the tax fraud. Donald Trump Jr. told lawmakers that the primary topic the Russian attendees wanted to discuss at the Trump Tower meeting was the Magnitsky Act. The meeting was also attended by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chief Paul Manafort, who has since been convicted on numerous unrelated federal charges.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has also been looking at the meeting and has requested financial information on the attendees from banks. Mueller is also investigating Katsyv’s foundation, Bloomberg reported. BuzzFeed News reported that Wells Fargo also gave documents about Akhmetshin to the Department of the Treasury, which were passed along to Mueller’s team. Congressional investigators have also asked for the Treasury documents.

Akhmetshin has downplayed his role at the meeting, telling a Senate committee that he coincidentally happened to be in New York to catch a play and showed up in a T-shirt and jeans after getting a last-minute invite from Veselnitskaya.

Another attendee, Ike Kaveladze, told the committee that the lobbyist showed up wearing “highly inappropriate” hot pink jeans and a hot pink shirt.

Despite that striking attire, Akhmetshin was the only person in the room for the meeting whom Donald Trump Jr. said he did not remember in his Senate testimony.

“As I mentioned in my statement, people have said there was an eighth person,” the president’s eldest son testified. “I just can’t remember. … I’ve heard the name. I don’t recall now.”


Trump has been whipping Senate Republicans to vote against his possible conviction ‘for months’: MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace

Raw Story

MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace on Tuesday suggested that there’s been chatter from Capitol Hill about Donald Trump whipping Senate Republicans to vote against convicting him in the case of his impeachment.

While discussing Trump’s border wall quagmire, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted that declaring a national emergency “is not gonna go over well with the Republican Senators [the president] really relies on.”

“He needs those Republican Senators — may need them a whole lot at some point,” Robinson said.

“For his conviction?” Wallace asked.

“That’s what you’d really need Republican Senators for,” the columnist quipped.

The host said that it’s her understanding that “they’ve been whipping that vote for months to make sure there’s no conviction, should he be impeached.”


Bombshell document dump shows Trump Org sought Putin’s help to build Moscow tower — and win election

Travis Gettys - COMMENTARY
06 Feb 2019 at 11:16 ET                  

A newly released trove of documents show how President Donald Trump’s praise for Russian president Vladimir Putin lined up with behind-the-scenes efforts by his family and associates to build a high rise in Moscow.

The president frequently praised Putin while campaigning for U.S. president in 2016, and he insisted he had no business ties to Russia — all while his attorney Michael Cohen and others on the Trump Organization payroll negotiated the Moscow development, reported BuzzFeed News.

The website published a cache of internal Trump Organization documents Tuesday that show how detailed and extensive negotiations matched up with developments in Trump’s presidential campaign.

Negotiations were hot and heavy in October 2015, when Cohen and Trump associate Felix Sater were working to secure a deal to build the 100-story tower — and to forge a closer relationship with Russia and its president.

“All we need is Putin on board and we are golden, meeting with Putin and top deputy is tentatively set for the 14th,” Sater emailed Cohen on Oct. 12, 2015. “See buddy I can not only get Ivanka to spin in Putins Kremlin office chair on 30 minutes notice, I can also get a full meeting.”

Trump tweeted out a Washington Examiner story with the headline, ‘Putin loves Donald Trump,’ on Oct. 17, 2015, just days after receiving a signed letter of intent from a Moscow developer.

The Trump Organization made edits to that letter of intent over the next 11 days, according to documents published by the website, and a final version of the letter was signed Oct. 28, 2015, by Trump and Russian developer Andrey Rozov.

“Michael my next steps are very sensitive with Putin’s very very close people, we can pull this off,” Sater emailed Cohen on Nov. 3, 2015. “Michael let’s go. 2 boys from Brooklyn getting a USA president elected.”

“Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow,” he said in another email that same day, “and Donald owns the republican (sic) nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and out boy is in. I’ll take the Ambassadorship to the Bahamas so I can fish and dive, and be a hero to my kids. That my friend is the home run that I want out of this.”

Sater and Cohen began arguing in the final weeks of 2015 about the length of negotiations, and the Trump Organization attorney apparently grew impatient and tried to take matters into his own hands by emailing Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov’s office, according to the criminal information filed against the attorney by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Cohen continued trying to reach Peskov during January 2016, and eventually spoke to the Kremlin official’s assistant.

Trump boasted to campaign crowds that Putin had praised him as a “genius,” as Cohen and Sater made plans to visit Russia with their boss.

“I think I’d have a good relationship with Putin, who knows,” Trump told a rally in February 2016. “If we got along with Russia, that would be sort of nice, wouldn’t it?”

Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met June 9, 2016, with a Russian attorney promising damaging campaign information about Hillary Clinton, and that same day Sater texted Cohen about preparations for the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

“I am filing out the badges for the St. Pete economic forum for you,” Sater texted. “Putin is there on the 17th very strong chance you will meet him as well.”

Those plans were scuttled June 14, 2016 — the day the Washington Post reported that Russian government hackers had penetrated the Democratic National Committee — and Cohen asked Sater to meet him in the atrium of Trump Tower in New York and told him the Moscow deal was off.


Here’s what the timing of the Trump inauguration subpoena means for the Mueller investigation: national security expert

Raw Story

Independent national security journalist Marcy Wheeler detailed how the timing of the Southern District of New York’s subpoena for a trove of information from Donald Trump’s inaugural committee may signal a change in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

On Monday evening, ABC News reported that the SDNY had subpoenaed the Trump inaugural committee, and subsequent reports revealed that the committee is accused of money laundering and making false statements.

“The subpoena seeks information relating to a bunch of conspiracy-related crimes,” Wheeler noted, “parallel to the crimes Mueller looked at in the Russian investigation, but including other countries.”

The inaugural committee subpoena may also help explain why Guy Petrillo, an alum of the Southern District, recently stopped representing Michael Cohen, the journalist added.

“Since Cohen refused to cooperate with SDNY on what would have been this investigation,” she wrote, “he’s likely to face further criminal exposure for his efforts to get rich off the big party.”

Wheeler went on to say that she suspects the SDNY “is only now getting around to digging into what is surely a vast swamp of corruption because Mueller asked them to wait” until the inauguration portion of his own investigation was done.

This subpoena, and a potential ending of the special counsel’s investigation into the inauguration, may be in line with reports that Mueller will soon wrap up his probe, the national security expert added.

It also “may mean that after the results in Mueller’s Russian investigation soften Trump up,” Wheeler concluded, “this investigation will just be ripening, possibly even at a time where Trump can be indicted.”

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« Reply #2731 on: Feb 07, 2019, 04:57 AM »

The miracle method for sustainable rice – and bigger harvests

A technique developed by a Jesuit priest is producing bumper crops – and reducing emissions of a grain responsible for 1.5% of greenhouse gases

John Vidal in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
2/7/ 2019 07.00 GMT

The fragrant jasmine rice growing on the left side of Kreaougkra Junpeng’s five-acre field stands nearly five feet tall.

Each plant has 15 or more tillers, or stalks, and the grains hang heavy from them. The Thai farmer says this will be his best-ever harvest in 30 years and he will reap it four weeks earlier than usual.

It is very different on the other side of the field. Here, Junpeng planted his rice in closely spaced clumps of 20 or more seedlings in shallow water just as he, his father and millions of other small farmers across south-east Asia have always done. He used the same seeds but the conventionally grown plants are wind-battered and thin, and clearly have fewer, smaller grains.

Junpeng is part of a pilot project to see if it’s possible to grow more rice with less water and fewer greenhouse gases. The dramatic difference between his two crops points a way to help the world’s 145 million small rice farmers, and could also greatly reduce global warming emissions from agriculture.

The project, backed by the German and Thai governments and by some of the world’s largest rice traders and food companies, has seen 3,000 other farmers in this corner of Thailand’s “rice basket” near the Cambodian border trained to grow sustainable rice according to the principles of a revolutionary agronomical system discovered by accident in Madagascar in the 1980s.

Jesuit priest Henri de Lalanié working in the highlands observed that by planting far fewer seeds than usual, using organic matter as a fertiliser and keeping the rice plants alternately wet and dry rather than flooded, resulted in yields that were increased by between 20 and 200%, while water use was halved. Giving plants more oxygen, minimising the competition between them and strictly controlling the water they receive is thought to make them stronger and more resilient to flood and drought.

When it was first employed outside Madagascar in 2000, the system of rice intensification (SRI) was dismissed by a handful of scientists who questioned the legitimacy of the reported increased yields. But since then, it has evolved and been developed by peasant farmers working in many different climates around the world.

Academic criticism has since all but disappeared and the SRI system of farming has been validated in hundreds of scientific papers and adopted by up to 20 million farmers in 61 countries, according to the SRI information centre in Cornell University.

“The results consistently cite yield increases, decreased use of seed, water and chemicals, and increased income,” says Norman Uphoff, professor of global agriculture at Cornell.

Vietnamese, Cambodian, Nepalese, Filipino, Indian and African farmers have all reported large increases. In 2011, a young Indian farmer broke the world record for rice production, harvesting 22 tonnes from a single hectare (2.47 acres).

“SRI is very positive in west Africa. It uses fewer seed and fertilisers and needs less water. Farmers saved up to 80% of the cost of seed and got increased yields and incomes. They see the advantages and they change. People are teaching each other now,” says Professor Bancy Mati, director of the water research centre at Jomo Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya.

The Thai farmers who took part in the Ubon Ratchathani trial say they are delighted. Says Khampha Bunchansee from Noan Dang village: “It was very easy to learn. I will use the extra money to invest in a tractor. If I can do it, anyone can. Everyone can come and learn.”

“I applied more fertiliser on my conventional crop but it produced lots more leaf but not more grain,” says Wanna Sriwila, also from Noan Dang. “Now I bring other farmers to see what can be done. Seeing is believing.”

But what is now exciting some of the world’s largest food corporations and governments is that growing rice along SRI principles also greatly reduces emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane, which escapes when rice, or any other crop, lies waterlogged for weeks at a time.

Methane is roughly 30 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and rice emits as much as 1.5% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. With the human population in south-east Asia expected to grow by around 100m people in the next 20 years, emissions from rice growing could increase 30% or more.

The urgency to act for the global good, self-interest in maintaining production and the possibility of accessing money to reduce farm emissions has now led heavy rice-using food companies like Mars and Kellogg’s, and the agri-business colossus Olam, to set up the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP).

This coalition of companies, NGOs and governments sets the world’s first voluntary sustainability standards for rice growing. It adopts the basic SRI principle of planting seedlings further apart, and keeping them moist rather than flooded, but adds targets and measurements to provide consistency.

“Rice is both a victim and a cause of climate change,” says Sunny Verghese, CEO of Singapore-based Olam’s, which grows its own rice on 25,000 acres in Nigeria, owns mills and processing plants across south-east Asia and ships nearly 20% of the world’s globally traded rice.

“South-east Asian rice farmers are among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change impacts such as rising sea levels, salinity, temperature rise and droughts. Yields can decrease as much as 10% for each 1C temperature increase, threatening food security for billions of people.

“With another two billion people we cannot carry on the way we are. We must go beyond what is currently being done and achieve far more at greater scale. We must re-imagine the whole food supply chain if the world is to become carbon neutral by 2050,” he says.

“SRI should influence everyone’s thinking. In Nigeria we saw a 70% increase in yields, albeit from a low base. SRI is revolutionary. It is a genuine change in thinking. It is difficult for scientists to understand that an amateur [like Lalanié] should have a solution. We want to partner with SRI, to scale up in Africa.

“But reducing emissions from rice cannot be a trade-off that hurts farmers and communities who depend on it for their income and sustenance. We have to measure the true cost of food and dismantle the subsidy system.”

Working with German development agency GIZ and south-east Asian governments, Olam now plan to roll out SRP rice to 100,000 farmers in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and India within five years, increasing yields and incomes, and reducing methane emissions by 50%.

Governments and global bodies must act too, says tropical agronomist Erika Styger, director of climate-resilient farming systems at Cornell University who led a three-year World Bank study of 50,000 farmers using SRI methods in 13 west African countries. This saw a 56% rise in yields in irrigated areas, an 86% increase in rain-fed areas and an average 41% increase in income.

“The SRI revolution is happening. People are changing their practices and you can see SRI in the field in many places now. There is no reason why SRI should not become normal agronomic practice,” says Styger.

“But there is no long term funding. If we want to make it mainstream it needs to get to a critical mass. We are left with breadcrumbs, with only short-term project finding,” she says.

“The food system is broken. Olam on its own cannot fix it, we can only change it. We can’t do it overnight but there is a new way of collaborating. Companies must change and reduce their resource intensity. The whole food sector must change,” says Verghese.

“What is needed now is large retailers to brand SRP. It’s the way we can reduce emissions, use less water and grow more. Win. Win. Win.”

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« Reply #2732 on: Feb 07, 2019, 04:59 AM »

Swansea tidal lagoon plan revived – without government funding

Firm hopes to build scheme within six years after ministers rejected it for being too costly

Adam Vaughan
7 Feb 2019 10.06 GMT

The backers of a pioneering project to harness energy from the tides off the Welsh coast have rebooted the scheme and believe they can build it without the help of government.

With the recent failure of two major nuclear projects, attention has turned to alternatives to fill the low-carbon power gap, with developers of windfarms and small nuclear plants among those vying for government support.

Now the firm behind the proposed Swansea tidal lagoon, for which ministers rejected subsidies last year on the grounds it was too costly, has said it believes the project can work without government money and be built within six years.

Swansea-based Tidal Power plc said several major companies were interested in buying the low-carbon electricity generated by the tide flowing through turbines in a concrete wall along Swansea bay.

Property company Land Securities, Cardiff airport and developer Berkeley Group are among those to have expressed an interest in signing a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the lagoon.

Such PPA deals are typically used by big energy users as a way of hedging against future power price rises, or burnishing green credentials by buying from renewable sources. A record 13.4 gigawatts of clean energy contracts were signed last year, according to BloombergNEF.

The lagoon’s backers also believe its prospects will be boosted by adding floating solar panels to the lagoon, ramping up the amount of electricity it generates. UK water companies have already used floating solar power on reservoirs in Manchester, near Heathrow and elsewhere.

The addition of solar should increase the Swansea lagoon’s annual energy output by more than a third, up from 572 gigawatt hours, enough to power about 150,000 homes, to about 770GWh.

Chris Nutt, the business development manager at Tidal Power, said: “It is becoming widely understood that there is a huge hole left in our long-term energy demands and after the latest cancellation of expected new nuclear capacity our choices if anything have become simpler – saturate the UK coastline with offshore wind or invest in groundbreaking solutions like Swansea Bay.”

The company is sounding out big energy users, including leading brands in the professional services, telecoms, media, manufacturing, services and utilities sectors.

Mark Bailey, the director of planning and development at Cardiff airport, said: “The tidal lagoon project … could be a game changer for the Welsh economy.”

The plan is to secure enough signed PPAs by the end of the year to enable a final investment decision in early 2020, with construction starting shortly afterwards. If that timetable were met, the project would be generating power in 2024 or 2025.

Going ahead without subsidies would be a rarity for a new power station in the UK, almost all of which rely on some form of government contract or subsidy before being greenlit.

Advocates of the project have said the predictability of the tides could be useful as nuclear falters and variable sources such as solar and wind power grow. But government has been sceptical.

The business secretary, Greg Clark, told parliament recently: “No one is more enthusiastic than I about innovation and new technologies, but the truth is that the costs of the proposed [Swansea] project were three times that of Hinkley Point C, and a full programme [of several lagoons] would make a tiny contribution to our energy supply for a much greater cost.”

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« Reply #2733 on: Feb 07, 2019, 05:01 AM »

Trump State of the Union speech: what climate change experts say

Top scientists condemn State of the Union address and say future presidents must confront climate change as urgent priority

Emily Holden in Washington
7 Feb 2019 14.20 GMT

A climate scientist and a former government expert in the audience for Donald Trump’s annual address to Congress said this will probably be the last administration that can forgo talking about climate change in the State of the Union speech.

Trump did not mention rising temperatures or extreme weather, although he did tout the country’s status as the top producer of oil and gas and boast about how quickly his officials have moved to cut regulations.

Lisa Graumlich, the dean of the environment college at the University of Washington, attended the State of the Union address as a guest of the Washington congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.
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“I have been doing research on climate change since the 1970s, and it always seemed very far away in time and space. It was something that was going to happen when people’s grandchildren were alive. And that has changed,” Graumlich said. “I don’t think that future presidents will find themselves in this position, because people are feeling the effects of climate change.”

Joel Clement, who resigned from the interior department because he said the administration was muzzling scientists and ignoring climate change effects on vulnerable communities, now works with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He was invited by the Maine congressman Chellie Pingree.

“The Trump administration’s strategy is to ignore climate change and pretend it doesn’t exist and pretend the science doesn’t exist even if it’s coming from its own agencies,” Clement said. “To not say anything about it is just ignorance, and it’s irresponsible.”

In 10 years, Clement said, climate change will be central to all policy discussions, as one of the top three or four issues in the world, Clement said.

Several other high-profile climate advocates were invited by other Democrats protesting against Trump’s doubts of the science and his rollbacks.

    This administration’s strategy is to ignore climate change, pretend it doesn’t exist and pretend the science doesn’t exist
    Joel Clement

The New York congressman Paul Tonko invited the League of Conservation Voters’ Gene Karpinski and the Maryland congressman Jamie Raskin brought along 350.org’s Bill McKibben.

The Massachusetts senator Ed Markey attended with the head of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, Varshini Prakash, who is calling for a Green New Deal to tackle inequality and quickly cut greenhouse gas emissions. Markey is expected to join Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this week in releasing expanded language on the high-level goals of a Green New Deal.

Even the Democratic rebuttal to Trump’s speech, by the ex-Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, only mentioned climate change once, in a list of priorities the US could pursue. However, Bernie Sanders, in his own response speech, noted warnings in reports from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“How can a president of the United States give a State of the Union speech and not mention – not one word – about climate change when the leading scientists of the world tell us that climate change is real, that climate change is caused by human activity, that climate change is already causing devastating harm in the United States,” Sanders said. “Furthermore, the scientists tell us we have a very short, 12 years, not a lot of time in order to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels.”

While very little of the primetime speeches focused on climate change, Democrats will hold two hearings in the House on Wednesday about its effects.

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« Reply #2734 on: Feb 07, 2019, 05:03 AM »

Europe's most deprived areas 'hit hardest by air pollution'

Exposure to particulate matter and ozone highest in poor eastern European states, says study

Arthur Neslen
7 Feb 2019 16.05 GMT

Europe’s poorest, least educated and most jobless regions are bearing the brunt of the air pollution crisis, according to the first official stocktake of its kind.

Nearly half of London’s most deprived neighbourhoods exceeded EU nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits in 2017 compared with 2% of its wealthiest areas.

Heart-attack survivors exposed to long-term air pollution in the Greater London area were more likely to be readmitted to hospital, where they also had higher mortality rates.

Similar findings were reported in France, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Wales and Wallonia, according to data-mining analysis from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Shirley Rodrigues, the deputy mayor of London, said the government had “a moral obligation” to act on the city’s 9,000 pollution-related early deaths and the £4bn annual cost to the NHS.

She said: “There is a vast inequality in London between the richest and poorest areas. The richest areas own the most cars but people in the most deprived areas have the worst air quality – and the lowest car ownership figures. There is a moral obligation on the mayor – and on all of us – to act.”

While accepting there had been “some noise” against a £12.50 ultra-low emission zone rate due to begin on 1 April, she said the mayor had received a a lot of public support for the charge.

The mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah, who died of an asthma attack linked to air pollution, wants this recorded on the death certificate, which could be a way of focusing the debate, said Hans Bruyninckx, the EEA’s executive director.

“You can see those connections are already being made by citizens,” he said. “The question is: are we making them at a policy level?”

Across Europe, more than half a million people die prematurely each year from exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ozone (03) and NO2, but the extent to which the numbers are skewed by class has been under-researched.

Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, the World Health Organization’s climate change and health team leader, said: “We’ve known at the global level for a long time that the poorest countries are much more exposed than the richest. It’s shocking to see that these inequities are also clear even within one of the richest continents in the world.”

Data in the EEA report shows that heart attacks and strokes account for 80% of early deaths from pollution, followed by lung diseases and cancers.

Polluted air is also being increasingly linked to new-onset type 2 diabetes in adults, obesity in children, systemic inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease and IQ deficiency.

Older people and children in working-class urban areas are most likely to suffer from its impacts.

“They are also the ones who tend to have the least say in how and where they live, work or go to school, which, in turn, affects their exposure to these environmental health hazards,” the report says. “As a result, their health tends to suffer the most from the impacts of air pollution, noise and extreme temperatures.”

Exposure to PM2.5 – by far the biggest killer – and O3 was highest in eastern European states blighted by poverty, unemployment and poor education.

Across Europe, Kosovo has suffered the most damaging impacts from PM2.5, and Iceland the least.

The EU’s environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella, said: “It is our fundamental duty to to aim for a high level of protection, respect the precautionary principle and take preventive rather than remedial action to promote social justice. The patterns of vulnerability and exposure are set to continue unless we take action that is more decisive.”

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« Reply #2735 on: Feb 07, 2019, 05:06 AM »

Why are so many women writing about rough sex?

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

After #Metoo, it’s no surprise a new generation of female authors is exploring sexual abuse and dominance

Thu 7 Feb 2019 06.00 GMT

Recently I have found myself wondering about the prevalence of rough sex in new fiction written by women. It’s viscerally present in You Know You Want This, the new short-story collection by Kristen Roupenian (who shot to fame last year with Cat Person, published in the New Yorker): I found some of the scenes so unpalatable that I had to keep putting it down. They (spoiler alert) include a woman strangled to death as part of a sex game; a man who imagines his penis is a knife when he has sex; and a woman who says to the guy she is sleeping with: “I want you to punch me in the face as hard as you can. After you’ve punched me, when I’ve fallen down, I want you to kick me in the stomach. And then we can have sex.”

Now, my personal discomfort with the sexual content is no comment on its quality – fiction that never challenges us isn’t good fiction at all. Each reader can make up their own mind about how good the work is. But what is interesting about this rough sex is what it tells us about the current cultural moment. It is supposed to be edgy and transgressive – in You Know You Want This, it feels deliberately put there to shock – and yet it’s everywhere. More often than not it is women writing it and female characters desiring it, and frequently those characters are using sadomasochistic sex as a way of processing their own trauma. The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have shone a light on abuse and harassment, so it’s no wonder a new generation of women are exploring how that manifests itself in sexual relationships.

In Sally Rooney’s much-lauded Normal People, the heroine Marianne brings the legacy of the abuse she has suffered at home into the bedroom:

“Will you hit me? she says.

For a few seconds she hears nothing, not even his breath.

No, he says. I don’t think I want that. Sorry.”

It also features in Rooney’s 2017 debut novel Conversations with Friends, where Frances, another self-loathing, self-harming heroine asks a man to hit her while in bed: “I felt I was a damaged person who deserved nothing. Would you ever hit me? I said. I mean if I asked you to.”

And in Roxane Gay’s 2017 short-story collection, Difficult Women, the female characters are beaten, raped and strangled. Again, trauma is a factor:

“‘Hit me,’ I said. I begged. I grabbed his hand and curled his fingers into a fist and held his fist to my breastbone. I said, ‘Please, if you love me, hit me.’”

It has become a common narrative device and not one limited to literary fiction, as Fifty Shades of Grey demonstrates. That book was heavily criticised for equating a predilection with BDSM with a traumatic childhood, and indeed these are associations that have dogged the BDSM community for many years. Pamela Stephenson Connolly wrote for this newspaper that “BDSM, played in a safe and consensual manner, is not proof of mental or physical illness, essential badness or emotional damage from trauma or abusive parenting.”

This line of thinking has been noted in Rooney’s work. Normal People’s “portrayal of the complexities of submission, dominance and consent can never quite shake the suggestion that Marianne is somehow abnormal, or damaged,” wrote Helen Charman in the White Review, suggesting that there was something “Victorian” in the narrative desire to pathologise her. Others, perhaps partly because of her Irishness, have sensed the remnants of a religious morality in Rooney’s writing about sex.

However, some women do draw a link between rough sex and trauma. Gay has written extensively about her own rape and its legacy, including fantasising about her attacker. A young woman I interviewed, who asked not to be named, told me of her own rape: “As gross as it sounds, I used to search for almost identical scenes in porn as it was the only thing I could get off on, even though the experience itself was horrendous.”

These are these women’s truths, their lived experiences. No wonder they are cropping up in writing. My own novel has a scene in it of (non-consensual) choking during sex, something many of my female friends have encountered. They cite the transactional nature of dating apps and hardcore porn as factors.

But, despite a recent outpouring in writing, it’s been going on for much longer than that. The use of rough sex in fiction is undoubtedly influenced by Mary Gaitskill, whose excellent collection, Bad Behaviour, came out in 1988 (I was a year old when it was published, and – reading it as a teenager, I marvelled at just how weird sex could be). It remains the gold standard: nuanced, funny, genuinely transgressive, unapologetic, complicated.

In a recent New Yorker interview, Gaitskill was asked about the relationship between love and torture, and she replied: “Love can be a deep feeling, so it becomes connected to other deep feelings, especially but not only sexual feelings. Deep feelings can be tangled together at the roots, and some of them are not always benevolent.”

This is a notion that Gaitskill has explored extensively in her work, which tackles gender power dynamics as well as the alienation and disillusionment of advanced capitalist, urban societies. Her women are not rag dolls or victims or voids to be filled – Gaitskill’s heroines live and breathe, they are complex, and funny. Even when a female character is tied up, debased and degraded she is, as author Suzanne Rivecca writes, “still ambivalent, still at war, still parsing the ludicrousness of it all in her head. She is still, in short, inescapably herself.”

The brittle humour of Ottessa Moshfegh’s narrator in 2018’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation comes close to this, but she is one of the few recent writers who has successfully mastered that tension. Nihilistic, tragic, self-hating female characters with mental health issues are more common. Is this where we are at? Fiction needn’t reflect real life, except much of this new wave is being treated as though it does. “Sally Rooney gets in your head,” the New Yorker tells us; many thought Roupenian’s Cat Person was a personal essay.

Gaitskill released Bad Behaviour at a time when the power dynamic between men and women was shifting, and the fallout is funny. The sex was sometimes dark, but the tone was wry, and the women sharp: “You have really disappointed me,” a would-be masochist tells her lover in the short story, A Romantic Weekend. The man, in turn, is frustrated by her “somethingness”: “With other women with whom he had been in similar situations, he had experienced a relaxing sense of emptiness within them that made it easy for him to get inside them and once there, smear himself inside their innermost territory until it was no longer theirs but his.”

In the end, for Gaitskill, no one – man or woman – comes out well. That’s what makes her stories so good. One wonders what has happened in the intervening decades that so many modern heroines seem as empty and broken as Gaitskill’s pervy men want women to be. They’re no longer putting up a psychological struggle. They’ve internalised it, they want it, even. That’s not to say that some of this writing isn’t brilliant at times, or even important; but nonetheless, I find myself craving a bit more of a fight. Instead, the reader is left feeling bleak and tawdry, as though the battle has been lost.

• Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a Guardian columnist and author

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« Reply #2736 on: Feb 07, 2019, 05:20 AM »

Japan PM vows to fight child abuse after 'heart-wrenching' death of girl, 10

Mia Kurihara, who died after being returned to her father’s care, joins high-profile cases that have shocked the country

Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Thu 7 Feb 2019 06.39 GMT

Authorities in Japan are facing demands to do more to protect children from abusive parents following the death of a 10-year-old girl who was returned to the care of her father despite evidence that he had been violent towards her.

Mia Kurihara was found dead in the bathroom of her home in Chiba, near Tokyo, in January, just over year after telling teachers that her father, Yuichiro Kurihara, regularly beat and bullied her.

Her body was found with bruises and scratches, and she appeared to have been repeatedly doused with cold water. Kurihara was arrested the following day on suspicion of causing bodily harm, and her mother, Nagisa, was arrested this week in connection with their daughter’s death. An autopsy failed to establish why Mia had died.

The case has attracted huge media attention and prompted criticism of Japanese authorities amid a dramatic rise in the number of abuse cases.

Police reported the suspected abuse of a record 80,104 children last year, according to government figures released on Thursday, up almost 25% from the previous year. Experts attributed the rise to growing public awareness of the issue in the wake of several high-profile cases.

Japanese welfare officials and police have traditionally been reluctant to investigate allegations of child abuse and domestic violence. Social workers complain they are under-staffed and lack the powers to intervene to protect children when confronted with uncooperative parents.

Mia’s death, however, prompted experts to call for drastic changes in the way authorities investigate child abuse, including closer cooperation between the police, teachers and welfare authorities.

“People must recognise that child abuse is a very serious matter that cannot be dealt with by one organisation alone,” Keiji Goto, a lawyer, told public broadcaster NHK.

The prime minister, Shinzo Abe, vowed to eradicate child abuse in response to Mia’s “heart-wrenching” death. “We failed to respond to the call for help that she had courageously sent out,” he told MPs this week. “As a government, we take that seriously.”

The widespread revulsion that greeted the death last March of Yua Funato, a 5-year-old girl who was starved to death by her mother and stepfather, prompted the government to introduce emergency measures, including increasing the number of case workers and granting child welfare officials powers to remove at-risk children from the care of their parents.

Funato had begged her parents to stop mistreating her, pleading with them to “forgive me” in a notebook found after her death.

Newspapers joined calls for the government to take urgent action. Mia’s case, the Japan Times said in an editorial, “underlines once again that similarly tragic consequences of child abuse will likely be repeated unless all the relevant parties take all warning signs of child abuse seriously and respond in a manner that places the utmost priority on the safety of children”.

The primary school pupil had revealed her father’s abusive behaviour in a questionnaire at school in late 2017. “My father is violent towards me,” she wrote, after being assured that her answers would remain confidential. “He wakes me up in the middle of the night and kicks and beats me. Teacher, is there anything you can do about this?”

Under pressure from her “aggressive” father, local board of education gave him a copy of Mia’s questionnaire – a decision experts said could have led him to behave more violently towards her.

Mia was placed in protective custody but was sent back to her parents a month later after officials received assurances that her mother would play a bigger role in her upbringing, Japanese media said.

Her father is also suspected of forcing her to write a note saying she had lied about his behaviour and wanted to move back with her parents.

According to Japanese media, education officials did not make follow-up visits to Mia’s home to check on her welfare, even after a long absence from school.

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« Reply #2737 on: Feb 07, 2019, 05:23 AM »

'A drastic step backwards': Guatemala considers amnesty for war crimes

Proposal under consideration by congress would free criminals convicted of extrajudicial killings and torture

Nina Lakhani
Thu 7 Feb 2019 06.00 GMT

War criminals convicted of extrajudicial killings, torture and sexual slavery could soon walk free if Guatemalan lawmakers sanction a blanket amnesty for crimes committed during the 36-year armed conflict which left 200,000 people dead or disappeared.

Congress will vote this week to reform the national reconciliation law and give absolute impunity for crimes against humanity including genocide, rape and forced disappearance. The law currently exempts only political crimes and has been regarded as a beacon for postwar justice since coming into force alongside the 1996 peace accords.

The new initiative is backed by former army generals angered by a wave of prosecutions that has resulted in the convictions of at least 33 military officers and militia members since 2008. One former guerrilla leader has also been convicted of human rights abuses.

If approved, all the convicts, and those held on remand awaiting trial would be free within 24 hours; pending trials would be cancelled and ongoing investigations shelved.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights commissioner, condemned the move as a “drastic step backwards for the rule of law and victims’ rights”.

The vote takes place as the beleaguered president, Jimmy Morales, backed by a powerful network of military and economic elites, continues efforts to oust the UN-backed anti-impunity group Cicig and sabotage the constitutional court.

The timing is no coincidence, said Jo-Marie Burt, a political science professor at George Mason University and senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (Wola).

“This push is part of a broader effort by a coalition of military, business and political interests not just to stop Cicig, but to end all investigations into organised crime, human rights violations and corruption in order to reassert their total dominance in Guatemalan politics and society.”

Cicig does not investigate historical crimes but has helped weed out corruption from the courts and attorney general’s office, which are also now under attack.

Amnesty supporters argue that prosecutors have unfairly targeted security forces over leftist guerillas. But 93% of human rights abuses were committed by US-backed government forces, compared with 3% by guerrilla groups, according to the postwar Commission for Historical Clarification.

The felons who would benefit from the amnesty include top-ranking generals from the bloodiest period of the counterinsurgency war when rural indigenous communities and urban social activists were mercilessly persecuted.

Among them are Benedicto Lucas García, the former head of the armed forces, and Manuel Callejas y Callejas, the former intelligence chief, who are serving 58 years for crimes against humanity, the 1981 forced disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and aggravated sexual assault against his older sister Emma Guadalupe.

Gen García is also accused of crimes against humanity at the Creompaz military base where 550 bodies were exhumed from mass graves. This case involving eight senior officers would be abandoned.

“The total amnesty violates our right, and that of the Guatemalan people, to justice and the truth. It would thwart the hopes of victims to have a little peace in our souls,” the eldest sibling Lucrecia Molina Theissen told the Guardian.

Any hope of justice for the other 5,000 children disappeared during the war would be crushed by the amnesty. It would also quash the sentences handed down in a landmark 2016 ruling against two officers convicted for sexually enslaving 15 Mayan Q’eqchi’ women in the Sepur Zarco village after their campesino husbands were disappeared.

Guatemala’s criminal counterinsurgency past is connected to current illicit activities, said political analyst Luis Solano.

Callejas, the convicted former intelligence chief, is the alleged founder of the organised crime network known as the Brotherhood which infiltrated public institutions including border control and customs for financial gain.

It was a customs scandal that in 2015 brought down the government – and alleged criminal empire – of the former army general Otto Pérez Molina.

The bill, which is sponsored by a dozen members of congress, claims a total amnesty is necessary to achieve “true peace and reconciliation”. It must win three votes by a simple majority, before passing to the executive.

The proposed reform would also enable legal action against human rights activists considered a threat to public law and order, which campaigners fear could lead to reprisals against those who testified in high-profile cases.

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« Reply #2738 on: Feb 07, 2019, 05:26 AM »

This man plotted Guaidó's rise – and still dreams of leading Venezuela

Leopoldo López led the opposition’s challenge to Maduro from house arrest but could his protege thwart his own ambitions?

by Joe Parkin Daniels in Cúcuta, Tom Phillips in Caracas and Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington
Thu 7 Feb 2019 06.00 GMT

When Juan Guaidó declared himself Venezuela’s interim president last month, he appeared to leapfrog a generation of rival opposition leaders and offer a dramatic way past the infighting and tactical differences that had hobbled previous efforts to unseat Nicolás Maduro.

But the rise of the fresh-faced opposition leader was orchestrated by a Harvard-educated economist with a checkered history in Venezuelan politics, who continues to direct opposition strategy and coordinate with US and regional officials from under house arrest in Venezuela.

Interviews with Venezuelan opposition figures and officials in Washington have confirmed that Leopoldo López, a divisive former mayor of a Caracas borough, helped engineer Guaidó’s meteoric rise – and still harbours ambitions to become Venezuela’s next president.

Since 2017, López – a distant relative of the South American revolutionary hero Simón Bolívar – has been confined to his home in the moneyed Chacao district of Caracas where he once served as mayor.

But he handpicked Guiadó to lead his People’s Will party in congress and continues to play a central role in the campaign to force Maduro from office.

“Leopoldo’s in contact with everyone, every day, constantly,” López’s wife, Lilian Tintori, told the Guardian. “He’s been sewing together an opposition that’s totally united and strong and pushing in the same direction, which is what we are seeing now.”

López has long been a polarising figure, advocating a more confrontational approach than some other opposition leaders. “He is often described as arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry – but party officials also concede his enduring popularity, charisma, and talent as an organiser,” a Caracas-based US diplomat wrote in a 2009 cable published by WikiLeaks.

After anti-government protests in 2014, López was given a 14-year prison sentence for inciting violence, following a trial activists denounced as politically motivated and flawed.

Moved to house arrest in 2017, López is barred from speaking to the press and remains under close guard by police who take his photo with a copy of the day’s newspaper every four hours – “like a hostage”, Tintori said. But using encrypted messaging apps, he remains in contact with other opposition activists in Venezuela, Colombia and the US.

Winning over Trump

Convinced that support from the White House would be crucial to toppling Maduro, López and his allies have made a concerted effort to win over the Trump administration.

Sources confirmed scores of meetings between US officials and López surrogates – including Tintori – in Washington and around the globe.

In February 2017, Tintori dined with Donald Trump at the White House, in a meeting facilitated by Senator Marco Rubio, who has been instrumental in shaping Trump’s Venezuela policy.

Hours later, the president tweeted a photo of himself with Tintori, Rubio and Vice-President Mike Pence, calling for López to be “immediately” freed.

    Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

    Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner & husband of @liliantintori (just met w/ @marcorubio) out of prison immediately. pic.twitter.com/bt8Xhdo7al
    February 15, 2017

“The Trump administration took a side, supporting the Venezuelan people because they know how we suffer,” Tintori said. She added that similar lobbying efforts with the Obama administration – including a meeting with the then vice-president Joe Biden in February 2015 – had achieved less.

The restrictions on López – and the fact Tintori’s passport was revoked in September 2017 – have required him to delegate many diplomatic responsibilities to exiles.

One such figure is David Smolansky, a former mayor from López’s party, People’s Will, who fled Venezuela in disguise in late 2017 when a warrant was issued for his arrest and now lives in Washington.

Another is Carlos Vecchio, López’s friend and fellow a Harvard graduate, who arrived in Washington in 2014, also after fleeing Venezuela.

“This effort we are now seeing really got going when we decided not to participate in the fraudulent elections last May,” said Vecchio, who was recently appointed Guaidó’s ambassador to the US. “That’s when we decided to get a real movement going around the world not to recognise Maduro as legitimate on 10 January.”

Desperate to build momentum, Vecchio and Smolansky worked their contacts in Washington, including Rubio and the Democrat Bob Menendez. People’s Will members also took advantage of the 175 embassies hosted in the US capital, speaking with diplomats from around the world, especially Latin America.

“We started working to get people not only to declare Maduro as illegitimate, but to recognise the leader of the national assembly as the constitutionally legitimate interim president of Venezuela,’ Vecchio said.
Leopoldo Lopez: According to one US diplomat. ‘He is often described as arrogant, vindictive, and power-hungry – but party officials also concede his enduring popularity, charisma, and talent as an organiser.’

The campaign was further boosted last year when Brazil and Colombia elected rightwing leaders, Jair Bolsonaro and Iván Duque, both of whom had campaigned promising a harder line towards Maduro.

The multi-pronged diplomatic assault yielded the results López had been waiting years for when Juan Guaidó received a call from Pence on 22 January.

A US official with knowledge of the call said Pence promised Guaidó that the Trump government would back him if he took the presidential oath amid mass demonstrations planned for the next day.

Pence placed the call after receiving Trump’s blessing at an Oval Office meeting also attended by Rubio, three other Florida Republicans and the national security adviser, John Bolton.

Guaidó took the oath – and the US was as good as its word, recognising him as Venezuela’s president within minutes.

The move took many diplomats and members of the opposition by surprise, but by the evening of 23 January, a dozen Latin American countries and Canada – who Tintori had also been lobbying – had followed suit.

“Guaidó’s courageous efforts to restore democracy and constitutional order come at great risk to himself and his family, but he has broad international support as nations worldwide recognise Maduro as Venezuela’s criminal usurper,” Rubio told the Guardian, adding that the US would continue to play an important role, through diplomatic recognition, financial and humanitarian aid.

For now, the focus remains on Guaidó – a previously little-known politician transformed into an overnight celebrity.

But those close to López doubt he will stay in the background forever. And some suspect it is only a matter of time until he seeks the keys to the presidential palace himself.

“Obviously there are aspirations. There are people that want to be there, right?” said Juan Andrés Mejía, another prominent party member and López ally. “In People’s Will we have a candidate, who is Leopoldo. Juan Guaidó is playing a huge role at this point, which is allowing a transition to happen.”

Asked if López was still the party’s official candidate, Mejía replied: “Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.”
What next for Venezuela? The four most likely outcomes
Read more

But some believe López’s ambitions could be derailed by the sudden rise of his protege. Guaidó has captured the hearts and minds of millions of Venezuelans, and López may find his dreams of leading Venezuela have to be put on hold.

“Guaidó is a messianic figure now,” said Vanessa Neumann, president of the risk analysis firm Asymmetrica and occasional adviser to various opposition members. “If he calls free elections, Guaidó will win. He will be our president for the next six years – and Leopoldo will hate that.”

Mejía insisted that the end – restoring democracy to Venezuela – was more important than the means and hinted Guaidó could still emerge as the opposition candidate to be Venezuela’s next president. “We will see. Maybe he will be [the candidate] and that would be great … who knows?”

“Our objective is very clear – free and fair elections in the shortest time possible and from there on, we are willing to discuss the rest,” Mejía added.

When asked if López still harboured ambitions to become president, Tintori said: “Leopoldo has always fought for Venezuela, even when he was silenced and jailed in horrible conditions. He is a public servant with a plan for this country, and that is what we are seeing with everything he has done with Guaidó.”

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New Intel Committee’s Russia probe is much broader than America — or Trump — expected: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow

Raw Story

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow could not contain her excitement Wednesday when describing in-depth how broad the House Intelligence Committee’s newly-reinstated Russia investigation under Democratic leadership is to be.

“This is not what I was expecting,” Maddow said. “This is way more of a capital-D ‘doozy’ than anybody was expecting outside of this committee.”

The host outlined the five main avenues the committee’s investigation is set to explore: the “scope and scale” of Russia’s electoral interference; potential collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign, transition and administration and foreign governments; whether Trump or his family or business associates have been compromised by “foreign actors”; whether Trump or his associates were vulnerable to foreign intelligence; and whether the president obstructed justice.

Maddow pointed out that the third point — essentially investigating whether Trump or anyone near him acted as a foreign agent — is perhaps the most startling to come from Congress.

“The Intelligence Committee is also going to investigate, quote, ‘whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds level, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates,'” she read.

“This means they’re now officially and with subpoena power investigating directly the thing that you shout out in the dark in the middle of the night when you wake up sweating and you thought it was a dream and you didn’t realize you said it out loud,” Maddow added. “You know how you wake up in the night drenched in sweat saying ‘what if the president is a foreign agent? That’s point number three.”

The host later said that she wasn’t sure Trump was aware of such a broad investigation when he made his strange rhyming aside claiming “if there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation” during the State of the Union the night prior.

“I don’t know what the president was hoping for last night when he decided to say in his State of the Union address that Congress shouldn’t investigate him anymore or the country gets it,” Maddow quipped, “but I cannot imagine this was the desired result of that now indelible and permanent line that will always be part of the history of the Trump presidency and the history of the State of the Union address in America.”


Here’s what Mueller will be able to prove now that he has the House Intelligence Committee transcripts: ex-prosecutor

Raw Story

A former federal prosecutor explained Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller will have more ammo than ever before now that he’s gotten transcripts from the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe interviews.

Joyce Vance, the former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, told her MSNBC co-panelists that Mueller has been given a “pregnant list” of transcripts from individuals like Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Brad Parscale and more.

Since Mueller now has those documents, he “can do two things,” the ex-prosecutor said.

“He can compare it against evidence he has or testimony that he has taken himself,” Vance explained, adding that the special counsel now “also has the physical document that he would need to trigger a prosecution.”

“In other words, prosecutors don’t indict people for perjury without an official transcript,” she said. “They need it for evidentiary reasons in a courtroom.”

House Republicans made a “last-minute play trying to avoid naming people to the committee so that these official transcripts couldn’t be sent over to Mueller,” the former federal prosecutor noted.

“Now he’s got what he needs,” Vance concluded. “I’m sure Donald Trump Jr. is at the top of his list. There has been public reporting that indicates he may have contradicted himself. But there’s no telling how deep into this list he could be looking.”


Trump running scared as final stages of the Russia probe leave him under assault from all directions

Heather Digby Parton, Salon - COMMENTARY
07 Feb 2019 at 11:51 ET                  

State of the Union addresses are almost always as dull as dishwater, and Tuesday night’s was no exception. President Trump haltingly read a speech that sounded as if it were written for someone else and the audience responded in entirely predictable ways. But sometimes these events are interesting simply because they are happening in the midst of a crisis or some other news event. For instance, Bill Clinton gave his speech in 1997 against a split-screen image of the O.J. Simpson jury preparing to deliver its verdict. In 1986, Ronald Reagan postponed his address because of the Challenger space shuttle disaster.

This year may be remembered as the one where cable news networks spent most of the day leading up to the big speech talking about all the new criminal investigations into the president, his business, his family and his associates. The New York Times reported this week that the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York has issued subpoenas to dozens of people involved with Trump’s inauguration. His inaugural committee raised suspicions from the beginning: It raised more money than any inaugural in history and nobody knows where all that cash actually went.

This week’s federal subpoenas were broad and included possible charges of conspiracy against the U.S., false statements, mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, inaugural committee disclosure violations, and violations of laws that prohibiting contributions from foreign nations and contributions in the name of another person, a practice also known as “straw donors.”

The inaugural committee accepted a lot of money from foreign individuals under unclear or dubious circumstances, and that has become a focus of the Mueller probe as well. The fact that federal prosecutors are now paying attention to that question suggests to some observers that Mueller has concluded that part of his investigation and passed it along to the U.S. attorney in New York. That would tend to confirm the widely held assumption that Mueller is protecting his investigation by farming it out, piece by piece, to prosecutors. The thinking goes that Trump can’t fire every single prosecutor who’s investigating him.

Maybe there’s some misdirection here as well. Some TV commentators are saying this may indicate that the Russia probe isn’t going anywhere and the real action is in the Southern District of New York. That’s very doubtful, in my opinion. Most likely Trump is looking at serious trouble coming from both directions.

On Tuesday CNN reported that the Southern District is also investigating the Trump Organization, or at least has been interviewing executives from the company. It’s not clear what prosecutors are seeking, but I think we know there’s a great deal that would attract suspicion once they start looking. Allen Weisselberg, the company’s CFO, is already cooperating under an immunity agreement in the Michael Cohen campaign finance case, and probably has some good stories to tell. Perhaps this explains the recent reporting that Trump has been pressuring Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, asking “why more wasn’t being done to control prosecutors in New York” and suggesting they were “going rogue.”

There are a whole bunch of prosecutors going rogue these days, if that’s the case. In addition to the New York U.S. attorney’s probe of both Trump’s company and the inaugural committee, New York state’s attorney general is still probing the now-disbanded Trump foundation, while Mueller continues to investigate the Trump campaign, the transition team and the administration. Oh, and the House of Representatives will be holding hearings into all of this as well.

A reporter asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for comment about the subpoenas sent to the inaugural committee and she said that had nothing to do with the White House. Of course, she would also insist that all these investigations into every organization or institution that has Trump’s name on it have nothing to do with Donald Trump as a person or as president. So it’s fair to say she’s in a bit of denial.

Trump had nothing didn’t to say about all of this in his speech other than vague, impotently threats about how Congress can either have “peace and legislation” or “war and investigation.” Democrats did not seem particularly frightened by it. But if Trump’s not frightened, he should be. The feds are now swarming over every aspect of his life.

By all accounts, the Russia investigation is closing in. BuzzFeed published a new trove of documents pertaining to the Trump Moscow project recently, and they tell a very different story than the one we’ve heard from Trump over the last two years:

    The effort to get the tower built was long-running, detail-oriented, and directly entwined with the ups and downs of his campaign.

    As Trump went from rally to rally, vociferously denying any dealings in Russia, his representatives, Michael Cohen and his associate Felix Sater, worked with Trump Organization lawyers and even Ivanka Trump to push forward negotiations to build a 100-story edifice just miles from the Kremlin. The fixers believed they needed Putin’s support to pull off the lucrative deal, and they planned to use Trump’s public praise for him to help secure it. At the same time, they plotted to persuade Putin to openly declare his support for Trump’s candidacy. “If he says it we own this election,” Sater wrote to Cohen.

Journalist Marcy Wheeler reports that these documents show a timeline that has Cohen and Sater conferring within minutes of the infamous Trump Tower meeting, and then abruptly canceling a trip to meet Putin on the day the Washington Post first revealed that the Russian government was suspected of hacking the DNC. It’s all suggestive of an even more tangled web than we knew.

We haven’t yet seen evidence showing that the Russian government was directly conspiring with the Trump campaign to sabotage the election, beyond that Trump Tower meeting and Roger Stone’s mysterious shenanigans. But this information is important because it shows that regardless of whether the Russians had anything on Trump before the 2016 campaign, they certainly did once he began to lie publicly about not having any business deals there. They clearly knew he was lying, which made him vulnerable to blackmail.

This is exactly the same situation that had the Department of Justice apoplectic about former national security adviser Michael Flynn. When Acting Attorney General Sally Yates raced to the White House on that day shortly after Trump’s inauguration, it was because the DOJ knew that Flynn had lied about his conversations with the Russians. That made him a security risk because Russian agents could clearly hold that information over his head.

Whatever else was going on with Trump and Russia — and there is more for sure — that would have been more than enough to light everyone’s hair on fire in the counterintelligence division of the Department of Justice. It should spark the same reaction in American households too.


Legal expert outlines 8 times Trump was warned about Russia and failed to act

Raw Story

At the State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Donald Trump chided “ridiculous partisan investigations,” he claimed were getting in the way of good governance.

Yet, evidence continues to mount—both in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe—and multiple investigations by prosecutors in New York—that the Trump campaign may have been compromised by the Kremlin.

The site News and Guts—an arm of journalist Dan Rather’s production company—broke down legal expert Steven J. Harper’s timeline of suspicious inaction by Trump in response to warnings of Russian aggression. They hone in on the following points.

Last week, US intelligence officials testified that “Russia can disrupt an American electrical distribution network “for at least a few hours” and is “mapping our critical infrastructure with the long-term goal of being able to cause substantial damage.”

According to the “Worldwide Threat Assessment” report, published by the Office of National Intelligence, the Kremlin presents a dire threat to America and its allies.

“We assess that Russia poses a cyber espionage, influence, and attack threat to the United States and our allies,” they wrote.

President Trump’s response was to tweet “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school.”

On News and Guts, Harper outlines all the other times the President’s response to Russia has seemed suspiciously glib.

For example, as far back as the summer of 2016, Trump was warned by FBI officials that foreign agents—like Russia—would try to infiltrate his campaign. In September Trump praised Putin and refused to admit Trump advisors were engaging in multiple contacts with Russian agents.

In October, the Intelligence community published a report concluding Russia was trying to interfere in the US election. Candidate Trump once again downplayed the allegations, stating “Hillary Clinton has no idea whether it is Russia, China, or anybody else… Our country has no idea,” at the third Presidential debate.

The intelligence community’s warnings—and Trump’s denials—continued on an almost monthly basis, the timeline reveals.

In January, the Office of National Intelligence issued another report that found Putin directed a campaign to help Trump’s candidacy. Trump acknowledged that Russia probably tried to hack the elections, but added that other countries likely did as well. As Harper notes, days after Trump’s inauguration, the administration considered lifting all sanctions against Russia.

Harper lists a total of eight examples of Trump either whitewashing reports of Russian interference or enacting actions benefiting Russia despite evidence of Russian manipulation of US elections.

In mid-December, a report presented to the Senate Intelligence Committee found Russia is trying to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation using social media. Trump derided the Mueller probe as a Witch Hunt on Twitter.


Mueller places sealed document in vault on the same day Cohen’s congressional testimony delayed

Raw Story

A sealed document was placed in a vault as part of the special counsel case against former Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen.

Courthouse News reporter Adam Klasfeld noted the docket activity Wednesday, the same day Cohen’s congressional testimony was delayed “in the interests of the investigation” until Feb. 28 by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA).

    Docket activity in U.S. v. Michael Cohen on the same morning his testimony is postponed.

    "SEALED DOCUMENT placed in vault. (mhe)" pic.twitter.com/yIOsE2eBu7

    — Adam Klasfeld (@KlasfeldReports) February 6, 2019

Cohen, who has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller, had been scheduled to testify before the committee Friday in a closed-door session.

It’s not clear what the sealed document might be, but it was part of the Mueller docket, and not the Southern District of New York, where Cohen also has a cooperation agreement.

    Clarifying on this: This is the Mueller docket, not the SDNY docket. Which means it's probably NOT inauguration committee related (which might get its own docket, when things get around to that). https://t.co/Fc2zsJBEk8

    — emptywheel (@emptywheel) February 6, 2019


‘Beyond Russia’: House Dems are plotting ‘expansive and thorough’ probe into Trump’s financial interests

Raw Story

House Democrats announced on Wednesday that they are planning to conduct a thorough investigation into President Donald Trump’s financial interest that go well beyond his past attempted business deals with the Russian government.

As described by CNN’s Manu Raju, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) promised a “broad investigation into financial interests that may be driving the president’s decision making.”

According to Raju, this probe would not just be limited to the House Intelligence Committee, which Schiff now chairs, but would also “encompass several House committees.” What’s more, the probes won’t be limited to whether Trump conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

“It will go beyond Russia and Saudi Arabia,” Raju reported on CNN. “He made very clear it is going to be an expansive and thorough probe.”

Additionally, Raju reported that Schiff has not yet given a reason why he postponed the testimony of former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen and would only say that it was “in the interest of the investigation” to delay the hearing.

“If the president was hoping for less congressional investigations, House Democrats are answering with a resounding, ‘No,'” quipped CNN’s Kate Bolduan.

Watch the video below.

    If the Pres was hoping for less congressional investigations, House D's are answering with a resounding NO. House Intel just announced it is expanding its investigation beyond Russia. @mkraju explains. pic.twitter.com/MGkdWK7roc

    — Kate Bolduan (@KateBolduan) February 6, 2019


Trump’s grotesque and ‘psychotically incoherent’ speech proved he’s an existential threat to democracy

Chauncey Devega, Salon
07 Feb 2019 at 05:52 ET                  

Donald Trump is a prince of lies. possessed of a blinding lack of self-awareness and totally devoid of a capacity for critical self-reflection.

As the Washington Post has exhaustively documented, Trump has told at least 8,000 lies as president. Tuesday night’s State of the Union address added to this total.

Contrary to Trump’s claims, the state of the union is not strong. American democracy is imperiled by him and his party — by their authoritarianism, petit-fascism, and total and utter disregard for the rule of law.

Trump wants Congress (read: the Democratic House majority) and the country (read: people who voted against him and continue to oppose him) to “reject the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution.”

This is the opposite of Donald Trump’s own personal life mantra and decades-long pattern of living.

Throughout his State of the Union speech Trump either lied outright or distorted the facts on a wide range of issues, including immigration, his imaginary border wall, crime, the economy, the war against ISIS, North Korea, women’s rights and the drug crisis.

In his flaccid and boring address he also called back to tired Republican talking points about the evils of “socialism.” Perhaps White House senior adviser Stephen Miller played the infamous 1961 recording “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine” for our current president before his speech.

Trump also hung up political red meat for his white evangelical supporters, who are among the most devout and loyal members of the cult of Trumpism.

Throughout his State of the Union speech Trump either lied outright or distorted the facts on a wide range of issues, including immigration, his imaginary border wall, crime, the economy, the war against ISIS, North Korea, women’s rights and the drug crisis.

In his flaccid and boring address he also called back to tired Republican talking points about the evils of “socialism.” Perhaps White House senior adviser Stephen Miller played the infamous 1961 recording “Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine” for our current president before his speech.

Trump also hung up political red meat for his white evangelical supporters, who are among the most devout and loyal members of the cult of Trumpism.

Perhaps most important, Donald Trump believes he is above the law. He suggested that the safety and security of the United States depends on not holding him accountable for his likely collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election, as well as his many other apparent crimes:

    An economic miracle is taking place in the United States — and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!

Commentator Van Jones described Trump’s address afterward as “a psychotically incoherent speech mixing cookies with dog poop.” That is largely accurate, yet Trump supporters and Republican voters in general will devour it as though it were a wonderful meal.

Part of the explanation can be found in Donald Trump’s hostage-taking of the U.S. government to get money for his wall. The conventional political wisdom is that Trump “lost”: His disapproval numbers increased among the general public and he was apparently forced to capitulate Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats “won” by forcing Trump to end the shutdown, at least temporarily.

Some observers have suggested that the longest government shutdown in U.S. history was the result of an inexperienced White House which had “miscalculated.” This is one example among many where, in my judgment, Trump and his agents are playing a different game than the political pundits and so-called experts realize or want to accept.

Trump is not a video-game boss or comic-book supervillain possessed of amazing genius. Rather he and the conservative movement are simply playing a different game with different criteria for victory.

Their goal is not consensus, serving the common good or ensuring that the general will is served in the interest of democracy. It is victory at any cost for their “team” — democracy and the American people be damned.

Trump’s State of the Union address spoke exclusively to his right-wing public and the most extreme elements of the conservative movement, the only audience he cares about. It was successful on those terms.

As stated amid the mountain of lies that was this speech, Trump will try to give right-wing Christians a country where women do not have reproductive rights and the divide between church and state is torn away.

Huge corporations will be further empowered to despoil the earth for profits while workers are left more vulnerable. The social safety net will be cut still more.

Racist, bigots and nativists are empowered with hopes that they will get their wall, immigration “reform” and other policies designed to ensure, both symbolically and literally, that white Americans control every major aspect of the country’s political, economic and social life.

The right-wing agenda has other elements as well, which Trump has masterfully advanced. Again, those who focus on the “horse race” aspect of American politics, and who still have faith in the power of previously-existing norms and traditions, are not looking in the correct place for answers. They made this mistake in the 2016 presidential race and continue to do so now.

One of this agenda’s guiding principles is that government is illegitimate in itself. It is to be destroyed from within so it can be stripped away and sold off to the highest corporate bidder. The American people are just another product to be monetized and exploited under gangster capitalism.

Trump has appointed corporate executives, incompetents, and other self-interested actors to destroy the very federal agencies they ostensibly “lead.” The shutdown and Trump’s other policies are designed to undermine faith in the usefulness and legitimacy of the federal government when it comes to solving collective problems and enhancing the lives of the American people.

Contrary to Trump’s lies about serving the common good and ensuring “prosperity” and “progress,” his policies are designed to cause pain and harm to the American people in general, and particularly to nonwhite people and others viewed as not being “real Americans.”

Evidence indicates, for instance, that the government shutdown caused disproportionate harm and pain to African-Americans. Federal employees are also more likely to be Democrats. Trump cares nothing for them and their well-being.

In Trump’s State of the Union speech he continued to threaten that he may declare a “national emergency” if he does not get money for his wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This will be another way for Trump to further cement his power and to weaken the country’s democracy in the service of an extreme right-wing agenda.. Vijay Prashad expands on this in a recent essay at CounterPunch:

    It will all make a mockery of the judicial process. Trump the destroyer would have then galloped through the institutions of the state — setting them aflame with the fires of illegitimacy. The executive branch, the presidency, is already the font of mockery. His acting secretaries are going to deepen the distrust with government. The legislature, already low in public trust, will find its legitimacy eroded further. And then, the judiciary, the final branch of government, will be set aflame. At the end of Trump’s first term in office, it is likely that trust in government will be as low as it could possibly go. If Trump is re-elected, it is likely that during the second term, the government might wither away … leaving behind a police force to patrol the disaffected U.S. population and a military to discipline the world.

Will Donald Trump’s government shutdown hurt him at the polls in 2020? Likely not.

Trump’s Republican supporters will never abandon him. Those Americans hurt by the government shutdown were already predisposed to vote against Trump and are not going to support him for any reason. As political scientists and others have repeatedly shown, the American people are not very sophisticated politically. A broad swath of undecided and independent voters will no longer remember the shutdown or include it in their decision-making. And if low information and independent voters do actually think about the government shutdown relative to “pocketbook voting” they may not attribute the blame correctly. They may instead choose to punish the Democrats and not Donald Trump and the Republican Party.


‘This is not Russia!’ Dem Congressman calls out Republican efforts to erode ‘essence of our democracy’

Matthew Rozsa, Salon
07 Feb 2019 at 06:11 ET                  

In a speech to the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday, Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., did not hold back while arguing that “most Republicans” have tried to keep people from voting by “cutting back on early voting, eliminating polling places, and taking other steps to reduce the number of people who vote.”

“Especially troubling,” he said, “in some cases, they have engaged in illegal efforts to suppress the vote that target minority communities.”

“One year ago today, on my mother’s dying bed, at 92 years old — former sharecropper — her last words were, ‘Do not let them take our votes away from us,’ ” Cummings said during Wednesday’s hearing. “They had fought. She had fought and seen people harmed, beaten, trying to vote. Talk about inalienable rights. Voting is crucial, and I don’t give a damn how you look at it.”

American politicians, Cummings argued, should be making it easier for people to vote and encouraging increased voter turnout through “early voting, absentee voting, voting by mail, and other ways to help citizens cast their votes.”

Cummings championed a bill, H.R. 1, that would simultaneously protect voters’ rights and attempt to remove the covert influence of big money in politics. He called H.R. 1 “one of the boldest reform packages to be considered in the history of this body,” and declared that the “sweeping legislation will clean up corruption in government, fight secret money in politics, and make it easier for American citizens across this country to vote” to open his remarks.

Cummings pointed to controversial anti-voter efforts in North Carolina, Georgia and Kansas. After that, he discussed how H. R. 1 would “institute procedures to automatically register eligible voters and put in place protections to keep them on the correct voter rolls. It would provide for expanded early voting and absentee voting and give additional funding to states to maintain enough polling sites so everyone can easily go cast their ballot.”

Cummings vowed to “fight until the death” to ensure that every citizen has the right to vote, “because it is the essence of our democracy.”

“This is not Russia,” he said. “This is the United States of America!”

One of the most controversial election fiascos occurred in Georgia, where Republican candidate Brian Kemp managed to purge 340,134 voters from the rolls in his campaign to defeat Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and become the next governor. Because the difference between Kemp and Abrams was less than 60,000 votes, Abrams could have won if even one-third of the purged voters had showed up and (as is considered likely) had overwhelmingly voted for her.

“We have already been told that has Brian Kemp has laid down the law to all the counties, ‘You are not to count provisional ballots of anyone who has been purged, even if they have been purged wrongly,'” journalist Greg Palast told Salon last year. “Now we have, as we know, 340,134 people purged for moving who didn’t move. We don’t know how many will vote, but if they show up, they have been given no notice, and when they show up a lot of them will be shocked to find that they have been removed from the voter rolls.”

Cummings also discussed a feature of the bill that would implement new reforms in the Executive Branch, explaining that his focus would be on the section that falls within the committee’s jurisdiction under Title VIII. These would include a ban on senior officials “from accepting ‘golden parachute’ payments from private sector employers in exchange for their government service,” a provision that Cummings claims would have prevented former Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn “from receiving more than $100 million in accelerated payments from Goldman Sachs while leading the Trump Administration’s efforts to slash corporate taxes.” Another section would “require transition teams to have ethics plans in place and make those plans publicly available,” while a third would “prohibit senior federal employees from working on matters that affect the financial interests of their former employers or prospective employers. They could obtain waivers for this requirement, but those waivers would have to be made public.”

Finally — and perhaps as the most pointed rebuke of President Donald Trump — “Title VIII also would make clear that Congress expects the President to divest his business holdings — just as every single President since Jimmy Carter has done — and place them in an independent and truly blind trust.”

Previous attention has been drawn to the ways in which Trump’s perceived or actual corruption can hurt the economy. As Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., explained in a report from 2017, “Congress must be vigilant against the potential for President Trump to enrich himself and his family at the expense of the average American. The president and his family’s conflicts of interests are inexcusable and unacceptable, and could depress economic output by over $1,000 per person just in one year. Not only are these practices dangerous, but harmful to the economic security of American families across the country.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already announced her support for H. R. 1 and her commitment to “advancing” it, although this refers not to having an immediate floor vote but rather to House committees holding hearings on the measure.

“During this Black History Month, I am pleased we will be advancing H.R. 1, which contains Congressman John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act ensuring equal access to the ballot for every eligible voter, and lays the groundwork of the subsequent passage of Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s Voting Rights Advancement Act,” Pelosi wrote in a “Dear Colleague” letter on Monday.

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« Reply #2740 on: Feb 08, 2019, 05:09 AM »

Cavity two-thirds the size of Manhattan discovered under Antarctic glacier

Disintegration of rapidly melting Thwaites ice mass could threaten coastal communities worldwide

Lisa Cox
8 Feb 2019 22.09 GMT

Scientists have discovered a giant cavity at the bottom of a disintegrating glacier in Antarctica, sparking concerns that the ice sheet is melting more rapidly than expected.

Researchers working as part of a Nasa-led study found the cavern, which they said was 300 metres tall and two-thirds the size of Manhattan, at the bottom of the massive Thwaites glacier.

The space is big enough to have contained 14bn tonnes of ice and most of that ice has melted during the past three years.

In a paper published in Science Advances, the scientists said the rapid change in the ice was “unexpected” at some points on the glacier.

The researchers found the cavity using Italian and German satellites and ice-penetrating radar from Nasa’s Operation IceBridge, which uses research aircraft to monitor changes in polar ice.

“The size of a cavity under a glacier plays an important role in melting,” said the study’s lead author, Pietro Milillo, who is scientist at the Nasa Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “As more heat and water get under the glacier, it melts faster.”

But Milillo told the Guardian the size of the underwater cavity was not the main concern because the 14bn tonnes it released were already underwater and so would not contribute to sea level rise. The important aspect of the paper, he said, was what it revealed about the interaction between sea and ice.

Jeremie Mouginot, a co-author of the paper and a research scientist at the Université Grenoble Alpes, said ocean water was filling a widening gap between the floating ice shelf and the bedrock.

Thwaites, he said, was a 120km-wide “monster glacier” that is continuing its retreat with huge future implications, because it could potentially add 0.6 metres to rising seas.

Thwaites also supports neighbouring glaciers that, if they melted, would increase sea levels by an additional 2.44 metres, threatening coastal communities worldwide.

Mouginot said further studies would be needed on where and how Thwaites will decline. “The current question is not if the glaciers will retreat but at which pace.”

There are already new investigations of Thwaites under way, including one by a UK team, as well as studies of other Antarctic regions.

The hole is on the glacier’s western side and has been melting at a rate of about 0.6 to 0.8km a year since 1992, a rate that while stable was “extremely high”, Nasa said.

Eric Rignot, a co-author of the study, said understanding how warming oceans were melting the glacier away was “essential to project its impact on sea level rise in the coming decades”.

“We have suspected for years that Thwaites was not tightly attached to the bedrock beneath it,” he said.

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« Reply #2741 on: Feb 08, 2019, 05:12 AM »

Rabbits, chickens and Tin Tin the goat: the backyard farms of Nairobi

On a tiny urban smallholding in Kenya, the Huruma Town Youth Group tend goats and chickens and grow vegetables – sharing their bounty with the community’s most vulnerable

Naomi Larsson in Nairobi
8 Feb 2019 07.30 GMT

In a space of less than an eighth of an acre in Huruma, a small informal settlement in north-east Nairobi, is a tiny farm housing 19 goats and 286 birds – chickens, doves and guineafowl.

Pens and cages have been cobbled together with discarded wood and corrugated iron. Goats hop from a pen curious to see their new visitors, passing day-old chicks who squeak from inside a cage. There’s a goat skin drying out in the sun as a bunch of flies swarm above it.

Moments of calm can only be found inside the group’s office, where a small goat sits quietly under a chair. Her name is Olivia, and she is blind.

This farm, as small and chaotic as it is, is a lifeline for Kevin Uduny and the rest of the Huruma Town Youth Group (HTYG) who manage it. Uduny and four others co-founded the group a decade ago to get away from the problems of unemployment and poverty in the slum. This small plot was once wasteland, a spot for young people to hide and take drugs, Uduny says.

They began by keeping chickens, and in 2014 acquired three dairy goats through a grant from a government initiative to help eradicate food poverty in slums. The project (though not the size of the farm) has grown from there. Now, eight members of the youth group work here, along with young kids from the area who volunteer.

Urban farming has become a vital resource for Kenyans living in areas with high levels of food insecurity. Almost half of Nairobi’s citizens are malnourished, and an estimated 73% of Nairobi’s slum population live below the poverty line.

“As a young person I regret being born in Kenya. Huruma is tough, we struggle to live. Young people are dying,” Uduny says, referring to the poverty and violence that plague these informal settlements.

“We help ourselves. We want to empower the community so the young people can grow, but we need to feed ourselves first. That’s number one.”

Silvester Odhiambo, who goes by the name of Silver, has been farming with Uduny for five years. He’s just 23 and wears green overalls and boots, but his youthful energy is masked by a look of stern maturity. He’s relied on backyard farming since childhood; when he struggled to get fees together for school, he planted kale and reared poultry to sell.

Silver believes farming in cities can help get a lot of people out of poverty. “Whenever I was sent for school fees, I could sell the animals and I saw that it has good benefits. The population is rising, and people have to eat.”

Kenya has always been a nation of small-scale farmers. Almost 2 million urban and peri-urban households keep livestock, and the numbers are predicted to increase to 6 million by 2050. In Nairobi itself, there were an estimated 23,000 heads of cattle in the 1980s – and numbers are expected to be far larger now.

At another small-scale backyard farm in the east of the city, Francis Wachira is stepping out of his house among the ramshackle shanties of Maringo estate. He’s wearing a white lab coat, and the skin on his hands is tough after years of agricultural work. “If people can embrace this, start growing their own in their backyard, then we can feed ourselves, we can feed people in the city, and the surplus we can take to the rural area,” he says.

Wachira has been growing vegetables and rearing animals here for almost 20 years. His large plot is on disused land he took over, where he grows all kinds of vegetables. “Anything people give me I try. Where are my seeds from England?” he asks. The room of about 3 metres by 5 metres holds 30 goats and another slightly larger room holds 500 rabbits.

Wachira calls himself the rabbit king: he’s one of the leading rabbit farmers in Nairobi and has built an extensive business here, selling meat to hotels and local shops.

In his eyes, agriculture and livestock farming can solve Nairobi’s food problems.

“Whatever they’re producing they feed themselves and they feed their community around them. This is something that should be embraced.”

In recent years the county government has begun to acknowledge the importance of urban farming for the city’s poorer population. In 2015 the Nairobi City County established the Urban Agriculture Promotion and Regulation Act, a framework that supports urban farming as a way to improve food security.

“In the past urban agriculture started off as being seen as ridiculous, poverty oriented. Something that should be looked down upon and got rid of as dirty and dangerous,” says Diana Lee-Smith, co-founder of the Mazingira Institute, which has built a network of urban farmers in the city. “That’s starting to change with these new institutional changes.”

The size and conditions in city farms, particularly in slums, undoubtedly brings in questions of safety. Most are known not to adopt adequate biosecurity and waste management practices, according to the FAO. Living in close proximity to animals risks the spread of disease. Vaccination coverage across the country is also low, but the Nairobi county act will attempt to regulate these issues – sustainable crop and livestock production, animal welfare, and hygiene and sanitation standards.

There also seems to be a growing awareness among the farmers themselves. The Huruma farmers and Wachira have a vet they use regularly to vaccinate the animals, and they try to be sustainable by making their own compost using animal manure and leftover vegetables, leaving it to dry out in the sun for a few weeks.

“Small crop livestock farms are the most efficient ecological food production units,” argues Lee-Smith. “The livestock consume the fresh waste [in the form of vegetables], then the rest is composted, and that’s used on the crop farm, so then the crops again produce and the crop waste gets used again for animals. It’s a complete cycle.”

Some research has even disputed the disease risk in urban farms. In a study based in Dagoretti, Nairobi, where one in 80 households keep cattle, non-dairy households were more likely to report diarrhoeal disease than neighbours who kept livestock. Researchers suggested that the benefits of improved nutrition outweigh the risks of disease exposure in keeping livestock.

Back in Huruma, at three in the afternoon when the heat of the midday sun has dispersed, Uduny calls Tin Tin over for milking. All the female goats are named. There’s Obama, Ida and Silver – the grumpy goat that only the human Silver is able to control. Tin Tin shares the name of Uduny’s grandmother, who raised him and his sister after his parents died when he was still in junior school.

“Tin Tin really brings a lot of milk,” he says smiling. “I started farming when I was a kid even before my mum passed. She told me one thing: in the future you’re going to be a good farmer. So I tend to think that’s a blessing.”

He feels lucky, but life working on the farm is still hard. The farmers earn less than one dollar a day as production is still low. In Nairobi the legal minimum wage for casual labourers and domestic workers is now about $6 a day. The goats, all 19 of them, are fed on leftover vegetables that they find at the end of the market day as they can’t afford proper feed, but this isn’t nutritious enough for them to produce a lot of milk.

They sell one litre of goat’s milk for 100 Kenyan shillings (75p), and a tray of (about 30) eggs will go for 500 shillings. But before they can sell anything, they need to feed themselves and vulnerable people in the community.

The farmers fill their diets with milk and eggs, and any vegetables they can grow in the slum. “When we have a goat we slaughter, we share with the community.

“We can’t satisfy all the customers. We are concentrating on a small space which is also a challenge. We can’t sustain everyone with this small space.”

But, he adds, “At least we get something small. It’s a hand-to-mouth initiative. At the end of the day, you have kids relying on you, and you have personal issues. It’s difficult but we hope God will lift us.”

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« Reply #2742 on: Feb 08, 2019, 05:14 AM »

UK worst offender in Europe for electronic waste exports – report

Electronic waste hazardous due to toxic parts was tracked to developing countries

Sandra Laville
8 Feb 2019 06.00 GMT

The UK is the worst offender in Europe for illegally exporting toxic electronic waste to developing countries, according to a two-year investigation that tracked shipments from 10 European countries.

The investigation by the environmental watchdog the Basel Action Network (BAN) put GPS trackers on 314 units of computers, LCD monitors and printers placed in recycling facilities in 10 countries. Researchers mapped what they said was the export of 11 items to Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania, Thailand and Ukraine.

Electronic waste is deemed a hazardous waste by the EU due to toxic parts containing substances such as mercury, lead and flame retardants. Exports of this type of waste to non-OECD and non-EU countries are illegal under EU law.

The UK was the top of the list of suspected illegal shipments. Five computers and LCD monitors were shipped to developing countries after they were tracked and placed in council recycling centres across England and Scotland.

Ireland, Denmark, Italy, Spain and Germany also exported electronic waste to developing countries in what are suspected to be illegal shipments, the report said.

By extrapolating the illegal exports with figures on electronic waste generation throughout Europe, the report estimated that 352,474 metric tonnes of electronic waste was being illegally shipped from the EU to developing countries each year.

Jim Puckett, director of BAN, said the illegal shipments perpetuated an EU waste management regime “on the backs of the poor and vulnerable”.

“We have discovered a very significant stream of illegal shipments of hazardous consumer electronic scrap to vulnerable populations,” he said.

“This flies in the face of EU claims to make continuous efforts to implement a circular economy which can only responsibly exist by eliminating … leakage from the system.”

The UK’s shipments went from council recycling facilities to Nigeria, Tanzania and Pakistan.

Chris Smith, national intelligence manager for the UK Environment Agency, said: “The Environment Agency takes these matters very seriously with a proactive criminal intelligence led team in place that is dedicated to detecting and preventing illegal waste shipments from England.

“However, our challenge is vast. Detecting illegal waste shipments is the ultimate hunt for the needle in a haystack, and this is where partnerships allow us to extend our reach and effectiveness. By providing the Environment Agency with an early insight into their tracker deployment, the Basel Action Network enabled us to quickly and efficiently close down four illegal waste operators who exported the electrical waste containing their trackers.”

Africa was by far the region of the world most targeted by EU e-waste exporters. The continent received seven exported units (five to Nigeria, one to Ghana, and one to Tanzania) of tracked equipment – 64% of the shipments leaving the EU.

The report said that due to the lack of proper waste management in the recipient developing countries, including open burning of e-waste, there was likely to be local contamination of crops and threats to humans from the illegal exports.

Far more should be done, the study said, to prosecute the robust illegal trade, including working with target countries to stem the toxic tide.

“The export rates identified in this study … remain far too high when one considers that we have only been able to put an eye on the tip of an iceberg of the vast quantities of toxic [e-waste] generated per annum in the EU,” said Puckett. “When extrapolated, as we have shown, the figures represent truly frightening amounts of EU leakage.”

Puckett condemned lobbying by the electronics manufacturing industry, which is attempting to create a loophole in the Basel convention to allow broken, low value electronic scrap to flow from Europe on the grounds that it will be “repaired” in developing countries. He urged the EU not to agree to the loophole.

“The answer to criminal activity is not legalising that activity but improving the enforcement to ensure the future health of Europe is not dependant on poisoning the rest of the world.”

In the last two years the rest of the world has increasingly begun to act against imports of rubbish and waste from Europe. China banned the import of millions of tonnes of plastic waste last year.

Thailand – one of the countries to which illegal shipments were found to have been made – acted in June 2018 to stem the flow of e-waste being imported after concerns it was becoming the dumping ground for the world.

Other countries have also begun to restrict waste imports from European countries.

The Guardian recently revealed concerns over illegality and fraud in the plastic recycling export industry in the UK as the impact of the import bans created a crisis in UK recycling.

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« Reply #2743 on: Feb 08, 2019, 05:17 AM »

Green New Deal: Ocasio-Cortez unveils bold plan to fight climate change

Blueprint for a carbon-neutral economy has been embraced by prominent Democrats and evokes FDR’s famous legacy

Emily Holden and Lauren Gambino in Washington
8 Feb 2019 12.18 GMT

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is releasing a broad outline of a vision for the Green New Deal, a plan to battle economic and racial injustice while also fighting climate change.

The new congresswoman’s blueprint, co-introduced by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, aims to develop a carbon-neutral economy in 10 years, which would require huge strides in reducing the US’s reliance on oil, gas and coal. It does not set a date for ending the use of fossil fuels.

Specifically, the resolution says it is the duty of the federal government to craft a Green New Deal “to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions”. That includes getting all power from “clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources”.

The document also endorses universal healthcare, a jobs guarantee and free higher education – a huge shift in messaging from nearly a decade ago, when Democrats were advocating for a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gases by allotting industry permits for pollution.

Sixty members of the House and nine senators are co-sponsoring the resolution, including several presidential candidates, according to a fact sheet from congressional aides that did not include a list of supporters. However, any legislation would be dead-on-arrival with Republicans in control of the Senate and the White House, and would be difficult for Democrats to implement even if they controlled government. In supporting documents staffer acknowledge the investment required would be “massive”.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said a select committee on climate change, which she has announced the members of, will not be tasked with writing a specific bill and called the Green New Deal a “suggestion”.

“It will be one of several or maybe many suggestions that we receive,” Pelosi said in an interview with Politico. “The green dream or whatever they call it, nobody knows what it is, but they’re for it right?”

Discussions on what shape the plan would take also involved major environment, justice and labor organizations, as well as the youth-run Sunrise Movement. Backers hope the six-page resolution will push Democrats vying for the White House in 2020 not just to sign on to the general idea, but to lay out specific legislative goals.

Some environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, said they were encouraged by the movement on climate change but that the resolution does not do enough to confront fossil fuels. The Sierra Club, however, welcomed the document.

Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist from New York who has been in Congress for just over a month, centered her campaign on climate change and a Green New Deal.

But the resolution itself focuses on the tenets of a progressive policy platform as much as it does on climate change.

It is both a framework for a cleaner-energy future and a plan for a large-scale mobilization that would rival in scale and scope the progressive New Deal policies ushered in under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression.

One of its goals is “to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth”.

The resolution says significant portions of the American population are suffering from declining life expectancy, exposure to pollution, and lacking access to healthy food, healthcare, housing, transportation and education. It spotlights wage stagnation, lacking socio-economic mobility, income inequality, a racial wealth divide, a gender pay gap and weakened bargaining power for workers.

The resolution text comes as Donald Trump frequently questions the science that shows humans burning fossil fuels are causing temperatures to rise and exacerbate extreme weather. He did not mention climate change in his annual address to Congress this week, despite increasing warnings from scientists.

Democrats, who hold a majority in the House, are trying to raise awareness of climate change as an impending crisis, with two committees holding hearings this week and a third to follow next week. But Republican lawmakers remain resistant to any legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans in dual climate change hearings called by House Democrats yesterday attacked the as-yet unwritten Green New Deal, charging that it would be far too expensive and would worsen poverty. Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters say the strategy is designed to do the opposite – to create jobs in a green economy.

Meanwhile, Trump’s agencies continue to roll back climate regulations enacted by the Obama administration. US carbon emissions increased last year, according to analysis by the economic firm Rhodium Group.

Ocasio-Cortez elevated the Green New Deal when she joined activists at a protest outside the then minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s office last year. The activists are planning to protest at Democratic debates in an effort to ensure the proposal, which was until now largely a liberal rallying cry for action on climate change, is a prominent issue for the 2020 election.

Before the text was released, several presidential candidates had already embraced the notion of a Green New Deal, including senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand. The former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro committed to the plan during his campaign announcement.

The Democratic congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who is the co-chair of the House progressive caucus and a sponsor of the legislation, said the resolution defined the scale and scope of what must be done to combat global warming.

“We really need an urgent and comprehensive approach,” said Jayapal.

Such legislation has little chance of becoming law as long as Republicans control the Senate and Trump is president. But Jayapal said Democrats would continue to lay the groundwork for a Green New Deal while pushing more incremental legislation.

“This is a moment for us to push a comprehensive view of the challenge before us,” she said, “and therefore to offer the solution that we need to address that challenge.”

The world has already warmed about 1C since the industrialization in the 19th century and is barreling toward exceeding a 1.5C increase, which climate scientists say will significantly worsen the risks of extreme heat, drought, floods and poverty.

Already, the process for drafting the brief documents has outlined the fights ahead, even among progressives who want climate action.

A background summary prepared by staffers said the plan “sets a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, at the end of this 10-year plan because we aren’t sure that we will be able to fully get rid of, for example, emissions from cows or air travel before then”.

But climate justice advocates who represent the communities seeing the worst of environmental damages and pollution already want to quickly phase out all fossil fuels. Many also oppose nuclear power that uses mined uranium but represents a huge portion of the US’s zero-carbon energy.

Angela Adrar, the executive director of the Climate Justice Alliance, a coalition of communities dealing with environmental problems, said her group supported the vision of the Green New Deal, even though members were concerned about what they saw as loopholes to allow some fossil fuels use.

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« Reply #2744 on: Feb 08, 2019, 05:21 AM »

Pope Acknowledges Nuns Were Sexually Abused by Priests and Bishops

NY Times

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis said on Tuesday that the Roman Catholic Church had faced a persistent problem of sexual abuse of nuns by priests and even bishops, the first time he has publicly acknowledged the issue.

Catholic nuns have accused clerics of sexual abuse in recent years in India, Africa, Latin America and in Italy, and a Vatican magazine last week mentioned nuns having abortions or giving birth to the children of priests. But Francis has never raised the issue until he was asked to comment during a news conference aboard the papal plane returning to Rome from his trip to the United Arab Emirates.

“It’s true,” Francis said. “There are priests and bishops who have done that.”

The pope’s admission opens a new front in the long-running scandal of sexual abuse by priests, recognizing nuns who have tried for years to call attention to their plight. With the #MeToo movement going strong, and Francis under pressure for neglecting the victims of child abuse, the nuns’ pleas have gained traction.

In November, the organization representing the world’s Catholic women’s religious orders, the International Union of Superiors General, publicly denounced the “culture of silence and secrecy” that contributed to abuse, and urged nuns to report abuse to law enforcement.

A top official in the Vatican office that handles sexual abuse allegations resigned last month after a former nun accused him of making sexual advances during confession. The official, the Rev. Hermann Geissler, chief of staff in the Vatican’s doctrinal office, denied the allegation, the Vatican said.

An article last week in Women Church World, the women’s magazine of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, blamed the abuse on the outsize power of priests.

“The abuse of women results in procreation and so is at the origin of the scandal of imposed abortions and children not recognized by priests,” wrote the article’s author, Lucetta Scaraffia, a feminist intellectual and the editor in chief of Women Church World.

Asked about these developments on Tuesday, Francis said that it was a continuing problem and that the Vatican was working on the issue. Some priests, he said, have been suspended.

“Should more be done? Yes,” Francis said. “Do we have the will? Yes. But it is a path that we have already begun.”

Francis recalled that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, had been “a strong man” who he said had sought to remove priests who committed sexual abuse and even “sexual slavery.”

Francis spoke about a case in which Benedict dissolved an order of nuns “because a certain slavery of women had crept in, slavery to the point of sexual slavery on the part of clergy or the founder.”

A Vatican spokesman, Alessandro Gisotti, said later that Francis was referring to the Contemplative Sisters of Saint-Jean, a small group in France that confronted a variety of problems.

Even though the abuse of nuns gets less attention than the abuse of children and young men, it is not new. In the 1990s, as the child sex abuse crisis was starting to emerge in the United States, leaders of women’s religious orders wrote several reports calling attention to cases of priests abusing nuns.

Many examples came from Africa, where priests were said to have turned to nuns for sex during the spread of AIDS. One sister at the time, Maura O’Donohue, wrote of a case in Malawi where priests impregnated nearly 30 sisters in one congregation. When they complained to the archbishop, she wrote, they were replaced.

Last year, a nun in India accused a bishop of repeatedly raping her between 2014 and 2016. The bishop was arrested after she reported him to the police, a decision that divided the local Catholic community. Many priests celebrated when the bishop, who faces trial this year, was released on bail.

In a high-profile case in Chile, the Vatican is investigating reports that priests abused nuns. Current and former nuns said the women had been removed from the order when they reported the abuse.
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Last summer, an investigation by The Associated Press found cases of abuse of nuns in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, and reported that the Vatican had not adequately punished offenders or supported victims.

At a conference in Pakistan recently, Sister Rose Pacatte, who is based in Los Angeles, spoke to leaders of women’s religious orders on how to prevent abuse.

“Don’t report to bishop or priest as the first step to deal with the situation,” warned one slide in her presentation. “They may be the abusers or may protect them.”

Last year, Mary Dispenza, a former nun who works with the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a victims’ advocacy group, helped popularize the hashtag #nunstoo on Twitter. She intended to gather stories of people abused by nuns, but started to hear from nuns about abuse by priests.

“I’m really angered by the words of the pope just now,” Ms. Dispenza said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “I am angered by the Pope not standing up and really speaking out about the tragedy, and actions he will take.”

The majority of the pope’s visit to the United Arab Emirates was focused on interreligious dialogue with the Muslim world, and it culminated with the signing of a sort of manifesto for brotherhood with Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s influential Al Azhar mosque.

Asked on the plane home about conservative criticism that he had been Pollyannaish in his approach to the Middle East and been taken advantage of by the Muslim sheikhs, Francis joked, “Not only the Muslims,” and noted that his critics felt he had been manipulated by just about everyone.

But he said the document he signed was on strong theological footing.

“I want to say this clearly, from a Catholic point of view, the document has not moved a millimeter” from church teaching codified in the Second Vatican Council. He said he took the extra step of having the document vetted by a tough Dominican theologian, who approved it. “It’s not a step backward,” he said.

“It is a step forward.”

He also made it clear that he had continued to voice his concerns about the persecution of Christians in the region — which he said his flock knew all too well — but that either “me or another Peter,” meaning a successor pope, would surely visit more Muslim countries.

Earlier Tuesday, the pope celebrated Mass at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi before roughly 135,000 Catholics, many of them migrants from India, the Philippines and South America, who had come to the Emirates to work.

The Mass, also attended by 4,000 Muslims, was the largest public celebration of a Christian rite in the history of the Muslim country, where the worship of other faiths is tolerated but is not typically done in such a public way.

The next major event on the pope’s schedule is a meeting with presidents of the world’s bishops’ conferences at the end of February in Rome to focus on a response to the global sex abuse crisis that is threatening the pope’s legacy and the moral capital that is the currency of his pontificate.

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