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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1752418 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #3195 on: Dec 24, 2018, 05:13 AM »


Church welcomes its special Muslim visitors on Christmas Eve

Every year worshippers from the nearby mosque attend service at St Alban’s in London

Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent
Guardian
Mon 24 Dec 2018 08.00 GMT

On Christmas Eve, churches all over the country will welcome into their midnight mass services people who rarely take part in acts of Christian worship but find candlelit carols irresistible.

In the pews of St Alban’s in North Harrow there will be a special group of visitors: about three dozen Muslims from a nearby mosque.

For the past 10 years, worshippers at the Shia Ithna’ashari Community of Middlesex have been attending midnight mass at St Alban’s as a way of meeting their neighbours and taking part in Christmas festivities.

“For us, attending midnight mass is a great chance to participate in an important part of Christmas celebrations and meet people from our local church, many of whom have become our friends,” said Miqdaad Versi, an executive committee member of SICM.

“Ten years ago, this was one of the first times we met, and now it has flourished into a much stronger and long-lasting relationship as we meet regularly, work together and organise joint events.”

The Christmas visits were initiated by young members of the mosque. The executive committee checked with the church that they would be welcome, and every year since up to 50 Muslims have attended the midnight service.

Versi said that most Muslims enjoyed Christmas celebrations and the focus on family. “There are differences in belief, of course, but in the Islamic faith Jesus is revered as a major prophet.”

Each year, the group from the mosque includes some people who have never been inside a church before. “We prepare them before the service, so they know what to expect. It’s up to individuals whether they want to sing carols or go up to the altar to be blessed. Some do, some don’t.”
Back to the crib: north-west England's nativities – in pictures

The mosque also provides volunteers to local churches that provide shelter for homeless people on a rota basis over the festive period.

“We work with churches throughout the year,” said Versi. “They come to us during Ramadan for iftar [the meal that breaks the daily fast], and church leaders have spoken at the mosque.”

Kate Tuckett, the vicar of St Alban’s, said the attendance at midnight mass by members of the mosque was a “really positive sign of friendship”.

She added: “We’re delighted to welcome them. They come in a spirit of respect and their presence reinforces the strong links that have developed between our faith communities. Given the world we live in, anything we can do to foster dialogue and understanding will always be a good thing.”


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« Reply #3196 on: Dec 24, 2018, 05:18 AM »


Italian Senate OKs budget, tweaked to satisfy EU concerns

New Europe
12/24/2018

ROME  — After a raucous marathon session, the Italian Senate early Sunday approved a national budget law that was tweaked after the European Union objected to plans by Italy's populist government to satisfy expensive campaign promises with a large deficit.

The budget, which was revised by the government so the European Union wouldn't trigger sanctions, faces a Dec. 31 deadline for final approval in the lower Chamber of Deputies. Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio, who heads the euroskeptic 5-Star Movement, assured supporters via Facebook that funding in the 2019 budget would allow the coalition government to fulfill its pledges early in the year. They include rolling back pension changes and guaranteeing a minimum income for jobless or underemployed Italians.

"There are things that should make us proud," Di Maio said a few hours after Parliament's upper chamber endorsed the revised budget law at 3 a.m. with a 167-78 vote. Three senators abstained and dozens weren't present for the vote.

The budget also incorporates the promise by Di Maio's fellow deputy premier, Matteo Salvini of the "Italians First" League party, to enable Italians to retire at younger ages. The government's budget isn't "based on philosophy or on finance, but regards everyday lives," Salvini said.

Both leaders want to keep supporters happy, ahead of European Parliament elections in spring 2019. The 5-Star Movement triumphed in this year's election thanks in large part to votes from the south, where unemployment among youth hits 50 percent. Di Maio promised a minimum income of up to 780 euros (nearly 900 dollars) a month to those who agreed to look for work and undergo job training.

The revised budget has significantly less funding earmarked for the guaranteed income and eased pension rules than the amount in the version Italy first submitted to Brussels. But the costs are sizeable enough that Premier Giuseppe Conte's government has proposed new revenue sources to cover them.

The measures include taxes on higher-end, less energy efficient cars, on digital services, and on nonprofit groups, as well as slashing pensions that surpass 100,000 euros ($114,000) a year. Other levies include charging day-trippers to Venice a few euros and a 100-euro tax for amateur truffle hunters whose finds aren't worth more than 7,000 euros (about $8,000) on the market, Italian newspapers reported Sunday.

The government also is counting on money from selling little used state real estate and from a tax amnesty that would allow delinquent taxpayers to wipe the slate clean by paying a fraction of what they owe.

Opposition leaders on both the left and the right blasted the government's strategy as short on investments to revive Italy's struggling economy. The government is relying on "taxes, amnesties, without investments or an idea for the future, and is leading Italy into a blind alley, very dangerous for all," Lazio region Gov. Nicola Zingaretti, who wants to be the next head of the opposition Democratic Party.

Frances D'Emilio is at twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio


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« Reply #3197 on: Dec 24, 2018, 05:32 AM »

Trump stance on shutdown is 'useless' and 'puerile', senior Republican says

    Mulvaney: standoff ‘very likely’ to extend into 2019
    Corker blasts president as Democrats hold firm
    Robert Reich: the US is at the edge of the economic precipice

Martin Pengelly and agencies
Guardian
24 Dec 2018 19.42 GMT

Day two of the third US government shutdown in a year saw hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay, national parks closed and Donald Trump stubbornly refusing to accept the blame for an event he previously declared he would be “proud” to cause.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said the administration was waiting to hear from congressional leaders about an offer of a deal. But he also said the shutdown, caused by a standoff over border security funding, could “very likely” extend into 2019.

A senior Republican senator called the president’s behaviour in provoking and prolonging the shutdown “useless” and “puerile”.

The Senate adjourned on Saturday, majority leader Mitch McConnell citing a Republican House bill that included more than $5bn for Trump’s border wall as he passed the ball to Democrats and the White House. That meant the shutdown would continue until at least Thursday, after the Christmas holiday. Congress gathers again on 3 January. Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday it was “very possible” the shutdown could reach the New Year.

Speaking to ABC’s This Week, Mulvaney said he and Vice-President Mike Pence went to Capitol Hill “late yesterday afternoon and we’re waiting to hear back”. He also said Trump had “made it very clear” that he was “willing to discuss a larger immigration solution”.

Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee and will retire at the end of the year, did not express such optimism. He said Trump had contrived the shutdown as a campaign issue.

“This is a made-up fight so the president can look like he’s fighting,” Corker told CNN’s State of the Union, adding that precedent showed Democrats would back much larger spending for border security in return for reform, such as to the status of Dreamers, young undocumented migrants brought to the US as children – just not a wall.

“This is something that is useless, it’s spectacle, it’s puerile,” Corker said.

Mulvaney confirmed Corker’s point about why Trump prompted the face-off. The president was “proud to have this fight”, he told Fox, adding that “chaos” was “what Washington looks like when you have a president who refuses to sort of go along to get along”.

At the White House on Saturday, Trump lunched with rightwingers including House Freedom Caucus chiefs Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Jim Jordan of Ohio. No Republican leaders or Democrats, needed for any deal, were present.

Trump will remain in Washington for Christmas, his Florida vacation cancelled, first lady Melania Trump forced to fly back into town. On Sunday he continued to use Twitter to claim the Democrats were to blame for a shutdown he said last week he wanted.

The House bill that would have given him his required funds was a purely political gambit, in service of the inevitable blame game. Democrats in the Senate were never going to let it proceed.

Conservative Republicans welcomed the ensuing confrontation but most of the party did not, because polling shows the public oppose both the wall and a shutdown over it. On Saturday, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee said: “This is a complete failure of negotiations and a success for no one.”
Jared Kushner, Mick Mulvaney and Mike Pence arrive on Capitol Hill for talks.

But Democrats hold a trump card of their own: they will take control of the House in January. Nancy Pelosi of California, due to become speaker, said in a letter to colleagues on Saturday: “Until President Trump can publicly commit to a bipartisan resolution, there will be no agreement before January when the new House Democratic majority will swiftly pass legislation to re-open government.”

Mulvaney threw a dart or two in that direction on Sunday, telling Fox Pelosi was “in that unfortunate position of being beholden to her left wing”. In response, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hamill told Reuters “House Democrats are united in their opposition to the president’s immoral, expensive and ineffective wall” and said the White House should “stop the posturing and start serious bipartisan talks”.

Senate leader Chuck Schumer met Pence on Saturday. His spokesman said the two sides remained “very far apart”. On the Senate floor, the New York Democrat said the “Trump shutdown” could end immediately.

“If you want to open the government, you must abandon the wall,” he said.

Democrats have repeatedly said they are open to proposals that do not include the wall, which they say would be costly and ineffective. The party offered this week to keep spending at existing levels, $1.3bn, for fencing and other security measures.

Mulvaney appeared to agree with them on Sunday, saying: “The wall doesn’t solve all of our problems. A border fence does not solve all of our problems.” His remarks – like Corker's – echoed comments from 2015, unearthed by CNN, in which the then South Carolina congressman said Trump’s wish for a border wall was “absurd and almost childish”.

On those terms, earlier in the week, senators approved a deal to keep the government open. Trump seemed set to approve but then backtracked, apparently under the influence of rightwing media furious at his abandonment of a key campaign pledge, if disregarding his repeated vows that Mexico, not the US taxpayer, would pay.

Meanwhile, the shutdown played out. Around 420,000 essential workers were expected to work unpaid; 380,000 were to stay home without pay. Mulvaney told Fox salaries would be paid on 28 December, adding: “The next pay period that is impacted is 11 January.” Legislation is in train to ensure back pay if needed.

Trump had already declared Monday, Christmas Eve, a federal holiday. Rather than work around the clock, the leaders of the House and the Senate closed shop. But they did not rule out action if a deal were struck.

In New York City, thanks to state funds, the Statue of Liberty was open. But in Washington, another highly symbolic attraction was closed. The National Christmas Tree, near the White House, was dark.

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

US markets: Mnuchin to convene crisis team amid White House chaos

Treasury secretary talks to bank CEOs and calls together working group created after 1987 market crash

Staff and agencies
Mon 24 Dec 2018 03.32 GMT

The US Treasury secretary has sought to calm market jitters about White House dysfunction and the government’s partial shutdown, calling the heads of the nation’s six largest banks and gathering the “plunge protection team” that formed after the crash of 1987.

Steven Mnuchin called the bank CEOs on Sunday in an apparent attempt to reassure financial markets. In the unusual move, Mnuchin disclosed that he had spoken to the heads of Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

He said the CEOs all assured him they had ample money to finance their normal operations, even though there haven’t been any serious liquidity concerns rattling the market.

On Monday, Mnuchin will convene the president’s working group on financial markets, a group that includes Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The group, created following the stock market crash of October 1987, is known more commonly as the “plunge protection team” and met in 2009 in the latter stages of the financial crisis.

With investors worried about a litany of factors, including a partial federal government shutdown, the US-China trade dispute, interest rate rises and Donald Trump’s dispute with the Fed’s chairman, Jerome Powell, US stocks have plunged in December. The S&P 500 has suffered its largest monthly loss so far since the financial crisis a decade ago and is on pace for the largest loss in any December since the Great Depression.

Asian stocks were subdued on Monday as investors fretted about US political instability at a time when the global economy was showing signs of faltering. Moves were limited by a holiday in Japan while many bourses are set to close early for Christmas. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.5% to its lowest in seven weeks. Yet Chinese blue chips managed to edge up 0.2%, while E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 recouped early losses to rise 0.4%.

Oliver Pursche, a board member at Bruderman Asset Management, said: “More than anything else right now Washington and politics are absolutely driving investor sentiment and market direction and that can turn on dime.”

The US economy has been growing steadily since 2009, something most experts believe will continue, but there are signs things are slowing down in Europe and China.

Over the weekend, a flurry of reports claimed Trump had discussed the possibility of firing Powell. Such an unprecedented move would trigger further instability in the markets. US officials scrambled to deny Trump had suggested ousting Powell, who was appointed by the president barely a year ago.

Mnuchin, tweeted that he had spoken to the president, who insisted he “never suggested firing” Powell, and did not believe he had the right to do this.

However, Trump also declared – via Mnuchin – that he “totally disagrees” with the Fed’s “absolutely terrible” policy of raising interest rates and unwinding its bond-buying stimulus programme, piling further pressure on the US’s independent central bank.

Most economists and investors assert that any attempt by Trump to fire Powell would have significant repercussions in financial markets, which have long operated on the principle that the US central bank’s independence is integral to its mission and to market stability.

Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, said Mnuchin’s acknowledgement that the White House does not have the ability to remove Powell was more reassuring for investors than trying to say it did not want to remove the Fed chair. “The administration hasn’t been all that stable when it comes to changing their mind,” he said. “Politically, these are very strange times.”

AP and Reuters contributed to this report

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

Kentucky Congressman taunts Trump over his unfunded wall: Nothing more than a ‘manhood measurement’

Raw Story
12/24/2018       

Some allege big loud cars question a gentleman’s manhood, but in the White House, it’s the size of a wall, according to one Congressman.

During a Sunday interview with MSNBC’s Alex Witt, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) detailed what his Budget Committee is considering while it searches for a deal that could end the president’s government shutdown.

What we would demand in return is a sensible policy,” the now-Ranking Member said. “You know, Alex, we gave the administration 1.3 billion, I think, in the last budget year for border security. They haven’t spent that.”

He noted that this budget argument doesn’t actually have anything to do with border security or keeping the country safe. It’s about the president himself.

“But when it came to the reality of the president’s claim for securing the border, this really isn’t about a fence or a barrier or a wall, this is manhood measurement for Donald Trump, that’s what it is,” Yarmouth said. “He’s also proven himself impossible to negotiate with. This is the guy who wrote The Art of The Deal but you can’t tell him one thing and have him change his mind in another.”

Indeed, the Senate was told by Vice President Mike Pence that the deal would be signed by the president, but at the last minute, he pulled out of the deal. Many officials had already flown home for the holidays, believing the vice president knew what he was talking about, only to be forced to return and search for another budget deal.

Trump’s 2016 campaign promise was that Mexico would pay for the wall.

“It’s so easy,” Trump said during one speech. “Just rely on me.”

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

‘Alert the daycare staff’: Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker trolls Trump after Twitter meltdown

Raw Story
12/24/2018       

President Donald Trump went on another rant Sunday against Republican Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who is leaving the body after two terms. Corker had pledged to only serve two terms in the office, despite Trump begging him to run again.

Corker lit the ‘presidential bridge’ on fire on his way out of Washington, DC this week, which lead the president into another Twitter meltdown.

“Look, I’m saddened,” Corker said about the announcement by Gen. James Mattis he’d be resigning as Defense Secretary. “We’ve been working with allies for some 60 coalition groups that are working with us. The SDF, which is made up of Kurds and Arabs, have been doing the fighting for us. We’ve been helping them do what they’re doing, but they’re the ones doing the fighting.”

“I’m saddened for the broken relationships with countries that have been with us,” he continued. “I’m saddened for the many Kurds and others that likely will be killed and slaughtered by either the Syrians or the Turks. I’m saddened for our country in being so unreliable.”

Corker also told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump’s war against Congress for his border wall was nothing more than “juvenile.”

Hours later, Trump apparently saw the footage and struck out on Twitter.

“Senator Bob Corker just stated that, “I’m so priveledged [sic] to serve in the Senate for twelve years, and that’s what I told the people of our state that’s what I’d do, serve for two terms.’ But that is Not True – wanted to run but poll numbers TANKED when I wouldn’t endorse him,” Trump tweeted. “Bob Corker was responsible for giving us the horrible Iran Nuclear Deal, which I ended, yet he badmouths me for wanting to bring our young people safely back home. Bob wanted to run and asked for my endorsement. I said NO and the game was over. #MAGA I LOVE TENNESSEE!”

    Senator Bob Corker just stated that, “I’m so priveledged to serve in the Senate for twelve years, and that’s what I told the people of our state that’s what I’d do, serve for two terms.” But that is Not True – wanted to run but poll numbers TANKED when I wouldn’t endorse him…..

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018

    …..Bob Corker was responsible for giving us the horrible Iran Nuclear Deal, which I ended, yet he badmouths me for wanting to bring our young people safely back home. Bob wanted to run and asked for my endorsement. I said NO and the game was over. #MAGA I LOVE TENNESSEE!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018

Corker fired back, calling for the presidential “daycare staff” to be alerted.

    Yes, just like Mexico is paying for the wall… #AlertTheDaycareStaff https://t.co/4LwrkrSFFr

    — Senator Bob Corker (@SenBobCorker) December 23, 2018

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

‘Trump is weak and getting weaker’: Conservative predicts collapse of president as his problems spiral out of control

Raw Story
12/24/2018       

President Donald Trump “is weak and getting weaker” after caving to far-right demands and shutting down the federal government, Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin explained on MSNBC’s “AM Joy” on Saturday.

Anchor Joy Reid explained Republicans “fear Fox News” even though they could help their own popularity by passing a clean bill to keep the government open.

“Trump is weak and he is getting weaker by the moment,” Rubin argued.

“And the fact that the Russia investigation, the other investigations, are closing in…” she continued.

“Is that what this is about?” Reid interrupted.

“Yes, absolutely. He needs desperately to hold on to those people,” Rubin answered. “If those people break with him, then he is toast — I think he is toast, anyway.”

“But I think the more that he is under siege, the more he lose voices of sanity around him — [Jim] Mattis and everybody else — the more comes out through Michael Cohen, through [Mike] Flynn, the more desperate he becomes to please those people,” she explained.

“And it is not a situation in which Fox News follows the White House. The White House follows Fox News,” she added.

“Rush Limbaugh is bragging that he basically told him what to do,” Reid noted.

“Maybe Democrats should go negotiate with Rush Limbaugh, because apparently he checks with him,” Rubin suggested. “He is the principal here, I guess.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GXYZu-qKxg&ytbChannel=null

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

Mattis demanded Strategic Command notify him immediately if a nuke alert was being sent to Trump: Washington Post

Raw Story
12/24/2018             

According to a report in the Washington Post, outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis assured Congressional leaders that he would keep a close eye on President Donald Trump to keep him from starting a nuclear holocaust.

The Post reports, “Every day, the U.S. nuclear early warning system is triggered by some event or another, mostly civilian and military rocket launches by one or more of a dozen countries with ballistic missiles. When such launches appear to threaten North America, the head of U.S. Strategic Command is alerted, and sometimes these alerts warrant the urgent notification of the president.”

With the knowledge that the call would go directly to the volatile Trump, Mattis reportedly made other arrangements to be brought into the loop immediately.

“For over a year, Mattis has been trying to reassure congressional leaders that he could help check some of Trump’s impulses, in part by intervening in the nuclear chain of command,” the Washington Post’s Bruce Blair and Jon Wolfsthal explained. “In a break with normal procedures, Mattis reportedly told the commander of the Strategic Command to keep him directly informed of any event that might lead to a nuclear alert being sent to the president. He even told the Strategic Command ‘not to put on a pot of coffee without letting him know.'”

The report goes on to note that concerned lawmakers took his assurances to mean he “would either deal with a possible threat before it reached Trump or ensure he was present to advise Trump when such an alert arrived.”


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« Reply #3198 on: Dec 24, 2018, 07:38 AM »

‘Terminal’ Trump won’t survive as GOP members flee: MSNBC’s Morning Joe panel

Raw Story
12/24/2018

Reviewing last week’s events that saw the stock market collapse, Defense Secretary James Mattis resign, the government shut-down and GOP lawmakers taking open shots at Donald Trump — ‘Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough declared the president’s administration “terminal.”

Speaking with panelist Eugene Scott of the Washington Post, Scarborough asked, “What do we do, Gene, when it does appear that this administration is terminal? This administration will not survive.”

“What does everybody do working together to make sure that this administration that is terminal does not behave in a way that creates, not only a governing crisis, but a pandemic not only across this country but across the world?” he added.

“I agree with you that this,” Robinson replied. “We seem to have entered — you called it terminal — an unacceptable zone, a kind of end state of this administration where we have total chaos.”

“The U.S. government is shut down, the markets are in free-fall,” the columnist explained. “We have a Treasury secretary who perhaps accidentally further destabilized the markets over the weekend with ill-advised phone calls to the heads of the major banks saying, ‘don’t worry about anything.’ So, of course, everybody worries about everything.”

Scarborough went on to point out that Trump won’t survive now the Republicans feel free to criticize him in public.

Watch the video via MSNBC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bajrxCyghmg&ytbChannel=null


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« Reply #3199 on: Dec 26, 2018, 05:09 AM »

One bacteria lives on everybody’s skin — and it’s becoming resistant to antibiotics

ZME
12/26/2018

Researchers at the University of Bath, UK, report that an extremely common bacterium is developing antibiotic resistance..

A Staphylococcus epidermidis biofilm formed on a titanium substrate.

MRSA, E. coli, they’re all very scary. But new research says there’s a newcomer to the Scary Table: Staphylococcus epidermidis, a widespread species that lives on our skins. A close relative of MRSA, this bacteria is a leading cause of infections (some of them life-threatening) following surgery.

It’s abundant, widespread, generally overlooked — and rapidly becoming resistant to antibiotics, warn researchers at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath.

Staphil-oh no no no.

The team says we should take the threat posed by S. epidermidis much more seriously than we do today. They recommend taking extra precautions especially in the case of patients with heightened risk of infection that are due to undergo surgery.

The researchers started by retrieving samples of the bacteria from patients who developed infections following following hip replacement, knee joint replacement, and fracture fixation operations. Then, they compared the genetic material of these strains with those in swab samples harvested from the skin of healthy volunteers.

They report identifying a set of 61 genes that allow some strains of S. epidermidis to cause life-threatening infection. These genes help the bacterium grow in the bloodstream, avoid the host’s immune response, make the cell surface sticky so that the organisms can form biofilms, and make the bug resistant to antibiotics, they write. This finding, the team hopes, will further our understanding of why some strains can become infectious — in the future, this should help us keep the risk of post-surgery infection with S. epidermidis at bay.

The team also found that a small number of (healthy) individuals carry a much more deadly strain of the bacteria on their skin. Determining which strain (relatively harmless, dangerous, or one of these very dangerous ones) a potential patient carries on their skin before surgery would help doctors prepare extra hygiene precautions as needed.

    “S. epidermidis has always been ignored clinically because it’s frequently been assumed that it was a contaminant in lab samples or it was simply accepted as a known risk of surgery,” says  Professor Sam Sheppard, Director of Bioinformatics at the Milner Centre for Evolution at the University of Bath and the study’s lead author. “Post-surgical infections can be incredibly serious and can be fatal. Infection accounts for almost a third of deaths in the UK so I believe we should be doing more to reduce the risk if we possibly can.

    “Because the bug is so abundant, they can evolve very fast by swapping genes with each other,” he explains. “If we do nothing to control this, there’s a risk that these disease-causing genes could spread more widely, meaning post-operative infections that are resistant to antibiotics could become even more common.”

The paper “Disease-associated genotypes of the commensal skin bacterium Staphylococcus epidermidis” has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

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« Reply #3200 on: Dec 26, 2018, 05:12 AM »

Palm oil giant Wilmar International to combat deforestation using satellite monitoring of suppliers

'This announcement is a potential breakthrough," says Greenpeace's Kiki Taufik

Peter Stubley
Independent
12/26/2018
   
The world’s largest trader in palm oil has unveiled plans to use satellite monitoring to prevent further destruction of rainforests.

Wilmar International is backing a project by sustainability consultancy Aidenvironment to draw up a comprehensive mapping database of suppliers in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.

It has pledged to immediately suspend groups involved in deforestation or development on peatland, while also working with them to improve their operations.

The announcement by the company, which supplies around 40 per cent of the world’s palm oil, was hailed as a “potential breakthrough” by environmental campaign group Greenpeace.

Kiki Taufik, global head of Indonesian forests campaign for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said: “If Wilmar keeps its word, by the end of 2019 it will be using satellites to monitor all of its palm oil suppliers, making it almost impossible for them to get away with forest destruction.”
Watch more

    Malaysia and Indonesia ‘pressured UK’ over Iceland palm oil ban

He added: “As the world wakes up to the climate and extinction crisis, inaction is not an option. Wilmar has taken an important step and must now put its plan into action immediately.

“Stopping deforestation requires industry-wide action. Other traders and brands must now follow with credible plans to map and monitor all of their suppliers.

“Equally important is action to end exploitation and human rights abuses in the palm oil sector.”
Support free-thinking journalism and subscribe to Independent Minds

Palm oil is used in an enormous variety of products, including shampoo, candles, lipstick, bread and chocolate, and is also a critical component in fuels.

Destruction of rainforests and peatlands to make way for palm oil plantations releases large amounts of carbon emissions which fuel climate change and threaten wildlife such as orangutans.

The issue gained a higher profile amid controversy over Iceland’s Christmas advertisement, which features an orangutan mourning the loss of a forest home that has been destroyed.
The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devastation of the rain forests?
Show all 3

Wilmar said their “new, enhanced plan” was part of its policy of ”no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation” (NDPE) and called on other industry players to step up the pressure on non-compliant suppliers.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to our NDPE policy and this new enhanced plan is part of our sustainability strategy as we strive towards a supply chain free of deforestation and conflict,” said Wilmar’s chief sustainability officer Jeremy Goon.

Eric Wakker, co-founder of Aidenvironment Asia, said: “Companies in the palm oil supply chain will now gain better visibility into the plantation companies they source from in terms of their operational locations and especially their compliance with the NDPE policy.

“It will also allow companies to act faster against suppliers found to be involved in deforestation and peatland development.”


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« Reply #3201 on: Dec 26, 2018, 05:15 AM »

Brazil's new environment minister says country should stay in Paris Agreement despite climate sceptic president Bolsonaro

Ricardo Salles says remaining part of international accord must not sacrifice Brazilian autonomy on environmental issues

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent @josh_gabbatiss
12/26/2018

Brazil’s future environment minister has said his nation should remain part of the Paris Agreement despite doubts cast by president elect Jair Bolsonaro during his election campaign.

However, he also emphasised that Brazil must be allowed to retain its autonomy when making environmental decisions.

Mr Bolsonaro sparked international concern when he said on the campaign trail he may pull out of the Paris accord, which sets targets for cutting greenhouse gases to avoid catastrophic global warming.

Since being elected he has sent mixed signals about his green intentions, saying Brazil could stay in the agreement if certain conditions are met but also indicating he wishes to strip powers from his nation’s environment agencies.

“My inclination is ... to say that we shouldn’t leave the agreement,” Ricardo Salles, who is tipped to become minister after Bolsonaro assumes office on 1 January, said in an interview.
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    Bolsonaro risks turning Brazil into ‘climate rogues’

“But on the other hand, it doesn’t signify that we will accept any and all sanctions, restrictions and programmes indisputably.

“All countries must respect Brazilian autonomy to manage its territory and to decide its environmental policies internally,” he said.

Brazil has committed to cutting emissions 37 per cent by 2025 and 43 per cent by 2030 under the agreement, although the country has yet to fully lay out how it will meet those goals.

Brazil will use common sense in the details of how it will deal with the agreement, and the country thus far has been very responsible in preserving a large proportion of its native vegetation, the incoming minister said.

Mr Salles, who previously served as the top environmental official for the state of Sao Paulo, said he does believe climate change exists, although he could not say for sure whether it is human-made or a change that is occurring naturally.

Brazil should leave that question to academics and get on with the “less charming” business of environmental protection, he said, including dealing with waste, biodiversity, soil issues and converting the car fleet to lower emission biofuels.

Mr Bolsonaro will not cut the budget of the ministry and environmental agencies government oversees, which include enforcer Ibama – the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources – and conservation area administrator ICMBio, Mr Salles said.

But environmental agencies are not producing the results they should be with the resources they are given, and he said he will seek to correct this “mismanagement” and “inefficiency”.

Asked about whether Brazil should reconsider Ibama’s decision last week to deny Total SA a permit to drill in the sensitive Foz do Amazonas basin near the Amazon rainforest, Mr Salles said it would have to make sure ideology did not enter into the decision and that it was based solely on facts.

The country must strike a balance in environmental licensing, whether for farms or mines, and development, as overly strict rules drive people to illegality or lead producers to exit the market, he said.
Jair Bolsonaro speaks after winning Brazil presidential elections

Though Mr Bolsonaro has not been as forthcoming about his views on climate change as US president Donald Trump, he has been associated with known climate change deniers, including his new foreign minister who called global warming a “Marxist plot”.

When Mr Trump first announced his decision to quit the Paris accord, the Brazilian president elect shared an article defending the decision on Twitter titled “the greenhouse fables”.

Recently he criticised the Brazilian government’s environment agencies and said he will take away their powers to impose “fines all over the place”.

Attendees at the UN COP24 climate summit currently underway in Poland have expressed concerns that under Mr Bolsonaro’s leadership Brazil could be turned into a “climate rogue” state.

Additional reporting by Reuters


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« Reply #3202 on: Dec 26, 2018, 05:17 AM »

Coal boom in India and Southeast Asia to cancel out declines in North America and Europe, says report

'The story of coal is a tale of two worlds'

Josh Gabbatiss
Independent
12/26/2018   

Coal will continue to stay high on the agenda for the next five years despite much of Europe and North America phasing out the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.

The International Energy Agency predicted demand will remain steady at least until 2023, due to strong growth in India and Southeast Asia.

More stringent air quality and climate change policies, alongside the declining cost of renewable energy sources and abundant supplies of gas have all made coal an increasingly less attractive option.

But despite these trends, after demand for coal increased in 2018 its contribution to the energy mix will only drop slightly by around 2 per cent to 25 per cent in 2023.

“Despite significant media attention being given to divestments and moves away from coal, market trends are proving resistant to change,” the report said.
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    Poland shows no signs of breaking its coal addiction despite toxic air

Many European countries have already set imminent deadlines for the phase-out of coal (by 2025 in the UK), as it contributes disproportionately to carbon emissions from the energy system.

However, coal is still seen as an appealing prospect for nations including Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Pakistan.

India meanwhile is expected to see an increase in coal demand of 4 per cent each year.

“The story of coal is a tale of two worlds with climate action policies and economic forces leading to closing coal power plants in some countries, while coal continues to play a part in securing access to affordable energy in others,” said Keisuke Sadamori, director of energy markets and security at the IEA.

“For many countries, particularly in South and Southeast Asia, it is looked upon to provide energy security and underpin economic development.”

China, which currently accounts for nearly half of the world’s coal consumption, is expected to see coal demand fall by 3 per cent over the next three years.

Coal was recently in the spotlight at the United Nations’ important COP24 climate talks, due to host nation Poland’s continued enthusiasm for the fossil fuel.

Unlike many European nations, coal-fired generation still comprises 80 per cent of the Polish electricity supply.

On the other side of the Atlantic, US president Donald Trump has been accused of rolling back progress on cutting coal in an attempt to revitalise the ailing industry.

With the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning that the world needs to be effectively carbon neutral by 2050 to avoid disastrous global warming, many see coal as completely incompatible with climate targets.

The IEA said if their predicted trends pan out there will be a vital need to invest in carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) – technologies that can suck CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

Mr Sadamori noted the world’s approach “must rely on all available options – including more renewables, of course – but also greater energy efficiency, nuclear, CCUS, hydrogen and more.”


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« Reply #3203 on: Dec 26, 2018, 05:22 AM »

Rape victim accused of attempting to murder baby has been freed from jail

By Amir Vera,
CNN
12/26/2918

(CNN)A 20-year old who became pregnant after being raped by her stepfather was freed from an El Salvador jail Monday and acquitted on charges of attempting to murder her baby, CNN en Español reported.

Imelda Cortez had been imprisoned since April 2017 after she gave birth to her stepfather's baby in a latrine, according to the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), which has been supporting her case.

Cortez was taken into custody and accused of attempted murder even though the baby was found alive and well. She faced up to 20 years in prison, according to her lawyer Alejandra Romero. Abortion is illegal in El Salvador under all circumstances, without exception.

Cortez's defense argued she fainted while giving birth and had no control of her actions. The prosecutor's office requested charges be changed to abandonment and helplessness, punishable by one to three years in prison.

Her defense agreed to the lesser charges, but the court ruled to exonerate her of all charges. "The judge has said that Imelda is a victim of repeated sexual violence and that also explains why she couldn't have behaved differently at the time she gave birth," her attorney, Bertha Deleon, told reporters.

Cortez grew up being abused

Cortez grew up in an impoverished family in rural Jiquilisco municipality, southern El Salvador. From the age of 12, she was sexually abused by her 70-year-old stepfather, according to the petition to free her. The petition had received over 63,000 signatures as of Monday night.

Paula Avila-Guillen, director of Latin America Initiatives for the Women's Equality Center who has spoken with Cortez's lawyer, told CNN that the young woman "didn't understand that she had just given birth, so after she found herself bleeding she started screaming and was taken to the hospital."

"Later they found the baby who was completely healthy," said Avila-Guillen, adding that after Cortez was detained, the child was cared for by Cortez's mother who was still living with the stepfather.
"What makes Imelda's case even more outrageous is that she had been a victim of sexual violence by her stepfather since she was 12 years old until she was 18, however she's been treated as a perpetrator and not a victim," Avila-Guillen said.

In the small, socially conservative Central American country, women who have an abortion, or simply miscarry, can face up to 50 years in prison.

At least 129 women were prosecuted under El Salvador's stringent anti-abortion laws between 2000 and 2011, according to the pressure group Citizens Group for the Decriminalization of Abortion.

CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton and Sheena McKenzie contributed to this report.


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« Reply #3204 on: Dec 26, 2018, 05:40 AM »


DRC activists risk arrest to encourage voting in delayed election

Lucha members educate voters about their rights in election that has been due since 2016

Jason Burke Africa correspondent
Guardian
Wed 26 Dec 2018 10.42 GMT

Hundreds of activists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are risking arrest and torture to educate voters about their rights in the final days before the country’s long-awaited presidential election.

Members of Lutte Pour Le Changement, (Lucha, or Struggle for Change) have been running a door-to-door campaign to ensure voters go early to the polls, exercise their constitutionally guaranteed rights and “don’t get misled by false and demagogic promises”.

“We are very optimistic. We know the price we may have to pay is less than the prize we might win: a better future for our country,” said Jean-Paul Mualaba Biaya, 27, an unemployed economics graduate and Lucha activist in the southern city of Mbuji Mayi.

The poll was due to be held last Sunday but was delayed by a week. Electoral officials said the postponement was due to a spate of ethnic violence, an ongoing Ebola outbreak and problems caused by a recent fire that destroyed crucial material at an election commission warehouse in the capital, Kinshasa.

The delay to the election, already postponed repeatedly since 2016, angered supporters of the DRC’s fractured opposition. The outgoing president, Joseph Kabila, refused to leave office at the end of his second term in 2016 and only reluctantly agreed not to stand this time. The country’s constitution limits presidents to two consecutive terms.

Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, a former interior minister and Kabila loyalist, is standing for the ruling coalition instead. Kabila has been in power since 2001, and the election would be the DRC’s first democratic transition of power since independence from Belgium in 1960.

Observers hope the poll will bring a measure of security to the country. It is also likely to raise tensions and could prompt significant protests. Many fear further delay, which might tip the country into chaos.

Lucha was founded in the eastern city of Goma in the aftermath of contested elections in 2011. Its members have faced systematic repression. Hundreds have been arrested in recent years, often during protests against the government. Many members are jailed for long periods in appalling conditions on spurious charges. Others lose jobs or are otherwise penalised for their activism. Luc Nkulula, a prominent leader of Lucha, was killed in a mysterious fire at his home in Goma this year.

“We are under surveillance all the time. They arrested me and tortured me. I was beaten all over. I was asphyxiated. It was very tough, terrible,” said Mualaba, who was held for six weeks in 2016 before being released after a court hearing.

A 27-year-old management student from Mbuji Mayi said friends had been abducted, harassed and detained. “Conditions in prison were terrible. There were 50 men in a room that was four metres long and four metres wide. There was no clean water, nothing to eat, no medicines. Every challenge just makes us stronger,” he told the Guardian.

However, Lucha activists in Kinshasa said they had not been targeted “as badly as before” during the campaign for the current election. “It’s been OK, relatively speaking. I think they are focusing on other threats,” one senior activist said.

Analysts say Lucha makes a useful contribution to efforts to strengthen democratic institutions in the DRC but is not a significant political actor.

The main weakness of those opposing Shadary is disunity. After two political heavyweights were banned from contesting the election on legal technicalities, the remaining opposition candidates failed to unite on a common platform.

There are also widespread fears that new voting machines are impractical in a huge country with limited transport infrastructure and electricity, and could open the way to widespread fraud. Roughly 100,000 machines are to be distributed across the country, which is the size of western Europe.

Western diplomats have urged restraint following the delay but privately admit further postponements could cause “serious problems”.


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« Reply #3205 on: Dec 26, 2018, 05:43 AM »


Arab League set to readmit Syria eight years after expulsion

Gulf nations bloc moving to welcome Syria back into the fold after Bashar al-Assad’s brutal repression of protests

Bethan McKernan and Martin Chulov in Beirut
Guardian
Wed 26 Dec 2018 05.00 GMT

Gulf nations are moving to readmit Syria into the Arab League, eight years after Damascus was expelled from the regional bloc over its brutal repression of peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad.

At some point in the next year it is likely Assad will be welcomed on to a stage to once again take his place among the Arab world’s leaders, sources say. Shoulder to shoulder with the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and Egypt’s latest autocrat, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the moment will mark the definitive death of the Arab spring, the hopes of the region’s popular revolutions crushed by the newest generation of Middle Eastern strongmen.

Syria was thrown out of the Arab League in 2011 over its violent response to opposition dissent, a move that failed to stem the bloodshed that spiralled into civil war.

Now though, a regional thaw is already under way. This week, the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, became the first Arab League leader to visit Syria in eight years, a visit widely interpreted as a gesture of friendship on behalf of Saudi Arabia, which has shored up ties with Khartoum in recent years. Pro-government media outlets posted pictures of the two leaders shaking hands and grasping each other’s arms on a red carpet leading from the Russian jet that ferried Bashir to Damascus along with the hashtag “More are yet to come”.

Diplomatic sources have told the Guardian there is a growing consensus among the league’s 22 members that Syria should be readmitted to the alliance of Arab nations, although the US is pressuring both Riyadh and Cairo to hold off on demanding a vote from members.

The move comes despite Assad’s intimate ties to Iran, to whom the regime owes its survival. For Saudi Arabia and the UAE, re-embracing Syria is a new strategy aimed at pivoting Assad away from Tehran’s sphere of influence, fuelled by the promise of normalised trade relations and reconstruction money.

Both Syrian and external estimates say around $400bn (£315bn) is needed to rebuild the country, but the UN will refuse to send a penny until Assad engages with the UN peace process.

The full sum will probably never materialise and much of Syria is likely to remain in ruins – but Riyadh’s pockets are much deeper than Tehran and Moscow’s. Any forthcoming Gulf reconstruction money will be directed to areas that stayed loyal to the government throughout the war as a reward.

“Arab leaders in the Gulf have long acquiesced to the idea of Bashar al-Assad surviving in power. In the end, in the big scheme of regional revolution and counter-revolution, Assad was one of them – an Arab autocrat fighting against what especially Emirati and Egyptian leaders consider subversive revolutionary and Islamist forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Tobias Schneider, a research fellow at Berlin’s Global Public Policy Institute.

“Assad will be angling to pragmatically extract as much out of the regional powers’ ambitions as he can … Incremental steps towards normalisation without risking his own survival in a new bout of regional competition.”

Assad himself told a Kuwaiti newspaper in October that Syria has reached a “major understanding” with Arab states after years of hostility. His foreign minister, Walid al-Muallem, was seen warmly shaking the hand of his Bahraini counterpart, Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa, on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly earlier this year.

“What’s happening in Syria concerns us more than anybody else in the world. Syria is an Arab country, after all. It is not right for its affairs to be handled by regional and international players in our absence,” Khalifa told reporters.

Calls in Egyptian and Gulf media for Syria’s reinstatement were backed by the Arab Parliament, a toothless Arab League auxiliary, earlier this month, and have been boosted by rumours about the reopening of the Emirati embassy in Damascus, which observers believe would serve as a backchannel for Saudi diplomatic overtures.

A source in the city said that cleaners, decorators and other tradespeople have recently been seen entering the building, shuttered since relations were cut off in 2011. Barbed wire and concrete barriers at the front of the building have been removed.

Jordan has reopened a southern border crossing, Israel is working with Russia to reduce tensions in the disputed Golan Heights, and even Turkey – the sponsor of the last pocket of Syrian rebels in the country’s north-west – has suggested it will work with Assad if he is returned to office in “free and fair” elections.

However, for the west, Syria is likely to remain a pariah state. “There is of course always the question of how long international isolation lasts and in what ways it could start to break down. It will probably start within the region,” a European diplomat said.

“Our position remains firm, however. There’s no credible, genuine settlement process under way yet in Syria, so fundamentally there’s still no incentive for reconciliation with the regime.”

Assad may no longer care: his political horizons have been secured by Iran and Russia, and now Arab neighbours are clamouring to recover lost influence.

The remains of the Syrian political opposition have stuck to their demand for the regime to engage with the UN sponsored peace process. Privately, however, one member expressed frustration at the Arab countries who threw their weight behind Syria’s revolution in 2011.

“The regime should only be allowed to regain its seat at the table anywhere when [a 2015 UN ceasefire resolution] is implemented. We know this. It is not new. Our Arab brothers do not act like brothers.”


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« Reply #3206 on: Dec 26, 2018, 05:46 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
12/26/2018 05:59 PM

Yellow Vests Protests: If Macron Fails, Europe Fails

A Commentary by Henrik Enderlein

French President Emmanuel Macron has tried to calm protesters by raising the minimum wage, among other concessions. But if the yellow vests continue eroding his authority, it's not just France that will suffer. And Germany is partly at fault.

Famed German political sociologist Max Weber once argued that the two great drivers of revolutionary power were charisma and rationality. Charisma depends on enthusiasm, rationality on intellectualization. According to this blueprint, Emmanuel Macron would seemingly be the ideal revolutionary. He combines charisma and intellect like few others and believes in the need to change France, Europe and the world. The book about his campaign is called simply: "Révolution." Macron sees himself as a know-it-all in the best sense of the term, but precisely that is also his greatest weakness. Nowhere did Weber write that charisma and intellect magnify each other when combined. A glance at the trajectory of Macron's popularity in France might lead to the assumption that the two qualities cancel each other out. Can a charismatic leader be a know-it-all? Can a know-it-all have charisma?

Many French people now see Macron's election to the presidency as something of an accident. Emmanuel Macron had no party, little experience, and lots of luck. His political opponents destroyed each other. Indeed, polls show that far less than half of Macron's voters in spring 2017 voted for him out of conviction. The rest of his voters, though, indicated that the other candidates, Marine Le Pen first and foremost, were simply unelectable.

Luck is not a factor in Max Weber's discussion of charismatic rulers. Macron, who suddenly became head of state at the age of 39, first needed to develop his authority. And he did so with a clear strategy, setting out doing so with single-minded determination, seeking to develop charisma through images and symbols, and to carry out his revolution through shrewd argumentation. He put himself at the epicenter of French politics. As a candidate, he was alone. And he remained so as president. But this over-personalization had its price. Macron's system relied on the complete centralization of power in the hands of the president and of a few intellectually gifted advisors, who sometimes send out text messages at 3 a.m., as Macron does himself. Macron's IQ-absolutism was successful in his first year. The furthest-reaching job-market reforms in recent French history, which he instituted in fall of 2017, didn't even lead to a general strike, as had been feared. Macron loosened the rules for firing employees and broke up the rigid wage-negotiation system. He simultaneously lowered the budget deficit below the 3-percent mark for the first time since 2007. He even modernized the sacrosanct French secondary-school diploma, known as the baccalauréat. Emmanuel Macron has already reformed his country more profoundly than all the presidents before him -- at least since Mitterrand, who implemented an important wave of modernization starting in 1983.

Macron is proud of his reforms. Rightly so. He believes these reforms will bring growth back to France. Rightly so. He also believes that new growth in France will repair the social imbalances in the country. Rightly so. But Macron is forgetting about the span of time required between reform, growth and social justice. Many French don't want to wait. They want results. Immediately. The yellow vests don't have a face, but they have charisma. And they are united in anger. They want a revolution and they want more net income. They don't care what this might mean economically for their highly indebted country. They loathe the self-proclaimed revolutionary at the top, his aloof reliance on symbols, his know-it-all revolutionary rationality. Although the Élysée's arguments are technocratically coherent, the gilets jaunes confront them with brutal simplicity: If you abolish the wealth tax but raise the price of diesel by six cents per liter, you are an enemy of the people.

One-and-a-half minutes into his address to the nation last Monday, Macron took a deep breath and addressed those whom he had forgotten: the single mothers, the job-seekers, the excluded. The mea culpa was followed by the checkbook, with Macron pledging to raise the minimum wage, introduce a tax exemption for overtime pay and lower social-welfare contributions for pensioners. It was a classic Macron moment -- empathy paired with technocracy, symbolism paired with facts, charisma paired with rationality. Can this approach work? Definitely. But only if Macron can win back his authority.

The hatred of the yellow vests will not disappear immediately. On the other hand, though, the movement has no leverage to derail the Macron system. The government has confronted the violence of the demonstrators with severity, but no political movement has yet emerged. Even if such a movement were born, it would have no influence. Macron is relatively secure in the Élysée until May 2022 and he enjoys absolute majority in parliament. He has no coalition partners to keep happy and no reason to fear a no-confidence vote.

A Need to Build Trust

Even if everything goes wrong, he can still use the same presidential sleight of hand each of his predecessors has used: fire the prime minister and call for a new start. Only very few constitutional systems provide the head of state with the luxury of an institutionalized scapegoat. Leaders with access to a political defense mechanism like that won't step down, even under the most severe political pressure.

The gilets jaunes know this. The question now is whether they will insist on pursuing their 1789-style overthrow attempt. Macron has made it clear that he is looking for political debate and that he accepts all forms of democratic resistance. But the gilets jaunes see themselves as a revolutionary force. And precisely that makes them dangerous to Macron, despite his institutional power. As such, Macron has to hope that his concessions to low-earners find acceptance and open a path to political dialogue. But Macron also needs to open up. Initially, he focused on establishing his authority. Now he must focus on creating trust and developing acceptance of his chosen path of modernization. Merely staying in office won't be enough for his reforms to continue. For Europe, this is especially important: A weak French president who entrenches himself inside the Élysée Palace won't help anyone. It is in Germany's interest to support Macron.

Germany's Responsibility

Macron's loss of authority at home can also be tied to his lack of support from the German government. Macron's visionary Sorbonne speech was answered by the German chancellor with a technocratic interview on Page Two of a national newspaper. In the negotiations over further integration of the common currency union, the German government skillfully dragged Macron's government so deeply into a technocratic debate over implementation that they spent several nights debating subjects like "single-limb collective action clauses," a specialized bond-condition variant. Thus far, Macron's attempt to jolt Europe awake has fizzled. Some officials in Berlin are pleased that the German government has taught the Sun King pragmatism. "He is strong with his vision, but we are strong in our implementation," it has recently been said in Berlin's government quarter.

But Europe is more than a game of Monopoly, and the German-French partnership is a long-term project. How will Berlin react if Macron doesn't prevail and an alliance of the far-right and far-left EU-haters surrounding Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon takes power in 2022? Have we learned nothing from the Italian crisis?

Germany and Europe would now be well-advised to give Macron their support. If Macron fails, Europe fails. The French president's concessions to the gilets jaunes cost money. To start a debate now about deficit rules would be foolhardy. There is no better ammunition for Macron's opponents. We shouldn't forget that Germany didn't abide by the deficit criteria either when it instituted Agenda 2010, the package of welfare-system and labor-market reforms carried out between 2003 and 2005. From an economic standpoint, it is wise to accompany supply-side reforms with demand-side support, which is why the argument that a flexible approach to France should mean a flexible approach to Italy is irrelevant. In Italy, no serious reforms are being undertaken.

Berlin must have an interest in strengthening Macron, because Macron's quiet decline damages Germany. It would throw France back years economically if the revolutionary power in the country ceased being its president. It might be helpful to remember not just Max Weber, but also Abbé Sieyès, the great theoretician of the French Revolution. In 1799, he wrote: "Authority comes from above, trust from below." This formula still applies today -- to France, but also to Europe.

Henrik Enderlein is the president and professor of political economy at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin as well as the director of the Jacques Delors Institute.


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« Reply #3207 on: Dec 26, 2018, 06:02 AM »

Russia ‘chose’ Trump and then ‘ran him for president’ — and it could destroy him: ex-Israeli spy chief

Eric W. Dolan
Raw Story
26 Dec 2018 at 13:44 ET                  

Tamir Pardo, the former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said that Russia “ran” Donald Trump as their preferred candidate in the 2016 elections.

Pardo said at The Marker’s digital conference that Russia examined American politics and decided that Trump was most aligned with their interests.

They “thought, which candidate would we like to have sitting in the White House?” he said, according to Haaretz. “Who will help us achieve our goals? And they chose him. From that moment, they deployed a system [of bots] for the length of the elections, and ran him for president.”

But Pardo warned the same tactics used to support Trump could also be used to topple him.

“I don’t see a president coming out of the White House after a year-and-a-half or two and telling the public ‘I’m sitting here by mistake.’ Politicians from all over the world think it serves them too,” he remarked, according to Arutz Sheva.

“I think they’re wrong. At one point Trump might have thought the Russian move served him. This move could destroy him.”

**************    

CHRISTMAS PRESENTS FOR THE KREMLIN: Russia Gloats: ‘Trump Is Ours Again’

If Moscow was happy about the Syria pullout, it’s ecstatic about Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’ resignation.

Julia Davis
12/26/2018
Daily Beast

The Kremlin is awash with Christmas gifts from Washington, D.C. and every move by the Trump administration seems to add to that perception. On Wednesday, appearing on the Russian state TV show “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” Director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Semyon Bagdasarov said that the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is “struggling to keep up” with the flurry of unexpected decisions by the U.S. President Donald Trump. The news that Mattis decided to step down sent shock waves across the world, being interpreted as “a dangerous signal” by America’s allies.

Meanwhile, the Mattis departure is being cheered in Russia. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, has said that “the departure of James Mattis is a positive signal for Russia, since Mattis was far more hawkish on Russia and China than Donald Trump.” Kosachev opined that Trump apparently considered his own agenda in dealing with Russia, China and America’s allies to be "more important than keeping James Mattis at his post," concluding: "That’s an interesting signal, and a more positive one” for Russia.

Jubilation was even more apparent on Russia’s state television, which adheres closely to the Kremlin’s point of view. The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva asserted: “Secretary of Defense Mattis didn’t want to leave Syria, so Trump fired him. They are leaving Syria.”  

President Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, remarked: “The idea that Putin is happy about this Trump's decision to withdraw US forces from Syria is ridiculous. It puts them at a greater risk, so I think that's just silly.” To the contrary, the idea of an American withdrawal from Syria is being widely perceived in Russia as “a total dream come true” if it truly takes place.

State TV host Olga Skabeeva surmised that Americans are “losers, since Putin has defeated them in every way.” With a theatrical sigh, her co-host, Evgeny Popov, added: “Trump is ours again—what are you going to do?” Every member of the sizeable audience enthusiastically clapped. While these statements are decidedly sarcastic, Russian opinion makers recount the Kremlin’s victories with unmistakable glee. Popov smirked: “It seems to Americans that we won on every front: the U.S. Secretary of Defense has been removed, we unquestionably secured a complete, unconditional victory in Syria.” Skabeeva chimed in: “They’re also planning to leave Afghanistan.”

Popov pointed out: “On top of that, Rusal sanctions have been lifted with Trump’s hands.” Panelists of the show, including Russian lawmakers, couldn’t hide their satisfied grins. The reference was to the announcement that Trump’s Treasury Department intends to lift sanctions against the business empire of Oleg V. Deripaska, one of Russia’s most influential oligarchs, sanctioned for Russian interference in the U.S. elections.

Texas Representative Lloyd Doggett told The New York Times that the move to lift Rusal sanctions amounted to Trump “sliding another big gift under Vladimir Putin’s Christmas tree.” The gesture is certainly being interpreted that way in Russia. Deripaska’s attorneys are reportedly mounting an aggressive campaign to pursue the removal of personal sanctions from the Putin-linked oligarch as well.

Discussing the planned departure of the U.S. from Syria, state TV host Olga Skabeeva pondered why Trump suddenly decided to leave at this point in time: “Americans say, it’s because he is beholden to Putin. Is that logical? Yes, it is.”

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

Glee in Russia Over Trump’s Foreign Policy Largess

By Neil MacFarquhar
Guardian
Dec. 26, 2018

MOSCOW — A note of glee crept into Russian commentary and news coverage on Friday about the current turmoil in Washington around national security, with President Vladimir V. Putin seemingly checking off one item after another that he might have written on his wish list for Santa.

First, President Trump blindsided his aides and the rest of the world by deciding to pull the full contingent of some 2,000 American troops out of Syria, helping the Kremlin to confirm Mr. Putin’s gamble that intervening in Syria would revive Russian influence in the Middle East.

Mr. Trump followed that up by declaring that the United States would pull half its forces out of Afghanistan; the combined withdrawals prompted the resignation of Jim Mattis, the respected general who leads the Pentagon.

All that followed Mr. Trump’s already substantial effort to undermine NATO and the European Union by weakening the American commitment to its traditional alliances.

“Trump is God’s gift that keeps on giving,” said Vladimir Frolov, a Russian columnist and foreign affairs analyst. “Trump implements Russia’s negative agenda by default, undermining the U.S.–led world order, U.S. alliances, U.S. credibility as a partner and an ally. All of this on his own. Russia can just relax and watch and root for Trump, which Putin does at every TV appearance.”

One headline in a regional Russian newspaper trumpeted, “Trump Leaves the Dog Out in the Cold,” referring to Mr. Mattis’s nickname, Mad Dog, from his days in the Marines. Konstantin Kosachev, the leader of the international affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s Parliament, wrote on Facebook that the differences in Washington were “an interesting signal, and moreover, rather a positive one.”

There was also positive news for Russia on the economic front, with Washington announcing that it intended to lift sanctions on Rusal, the Russian company that dominates a large share of the world aluminum market. The firm is headed by Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch who is not only close to Mr. Putin, but also a one-time business partner of Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

If the perception in some quarters in the United States and on Twitter is that the Kremlin was blackmailing Mr. Trump into doing its bidding, that theory did not gain immediate traction in Russia. Instead, analysts and news articles were more likely to suggest that Mr. Trump was fulfilling his campaign pledges.

“I am not of the idea that he is being blackmailed,” said Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York, currently in Moscow. “Undermining NATO and undermining Europe is something that Putin would like to do, but Trump is doing it for different reasons.”

Still, even if convinced that Mr. Trump is not being blackmailed, analysts are still puzzled over why his actions so closely coincided with Russia’s foreign policy goals.

“Once again we see a president who appears to be acting impulsively and erratically — except when it comes to Russia,” said Leslie Vinjamuri, professor of international relations at SOAS University of London. “Here, Trump has been eerily consistent in his willingness to adopt policies that enable Russia’s strategy while undermining ours.”

Nevertheless, not everything is flowing in Moscow’s favor.

“Trump’s announcement that they are leaving Syria is a gift, of course,” said Valery D. Solovei, a political-science professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. The Kremlin may use its success in Syria to forge on into Libya for similar reasons, he said.

Afghanistan was more complicated, however.

“On the one hand, the Russians are gleeful about the American withdrawal; there is this ‘We told you so’ feeling,” he said, referring to the Soviet Union’s disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. But “the Kremlin has always feared that destabilization in Afghanistan could increase the flow of drugs and extremists to Russia.”

In Syria, the American presence had proved to be a convenient excuse for Mr. Putin about why the Russian intervention was not bringing the conflict to as rapid a close as he had promised. In addition, fighting the remnants of the Islamic State will now become Russia’s problem, with any upsurge in violence likely to undermine the Kremlin position that Syria is stable enough for a postwar political process and reconstruction funds.

On the sanctions front, although the United States lifted penalties on Rusal, that came at the cost of diminishing Mr. Deripaska’s role with the company. And Mr. Deripaska himself remains under sanctions for his business practices.

In addition, the Russian argument all along has been that sanctions had nothing to do with its actions, like invading Georgia and Ukraine and annexing Crimea, but were a way for the West to keep Russia down. So negotiating to escape them undermined that argument.

The Russian government also continued to harbor reservations that what Mr. Trump says and what he does are not always the same thing — and are subject to reversal at the drop of a tweet. So senior Russian officials reacted cautiously to the withdrawal announcements, starting with Syria.

“We need to figure out how, when, to where and in which manner the Americans are leaving,” Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Friday. “At this point, this is not clear.”

Mr. Putin, at a news conference on Thursday, again praised Mr. Trump, suggesting that the change to a Democratic majority in the House would further undermine the American president’s attempts to improve relations with Russia.

Despite such praise, however, the Trump administration has taken positions — on issues like withdrawing from arms-control treaties and especially on Ukraine — that the Kremlin dislikes. Washington has not acquiesced to Russia’s efforts to exert control over Ukraine, with Moscow’s attempts to maintain influence throughout the former Soviet Union one of its main foreign policy goals.

Moscow conveniently accuses Washington of being the source of its tensions with Kiev, including the naval clash in the Kerch Strait late last month and the moves by the Orthodox Church in Ukraine to establish its independence from Moscow.

Over all, there is also concern that Mr. Trump is a little too erratic. For now, his decisions are tilting in Mr. Putin’s favor, but there is also concern that they also could move in the other direction with equal speed.

“Too unstable a world is something that Putin does not really want,” said Ms. Khrushcheva, pointing out that Russia did not have the same financial or other resources as the United States to address problems all over the globe. “If there is way too much chaos, Russia would have to act in too many directions.”

For the moment, however, Moscow is on board for some instability. Mr. Trump’s curbs on the United States’ international role and focus on domestic matters give room for countries like China and Russia to expand their influence, analysts said.

“We can tolerate some degree of unpredictability and mercurial policies on the tactical level — it’s worth it,” Mr. Frolov, the Russian foreign affairs analyst, wrote in response to written questions. “In Trump we trust … to do the right thing.”

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

Was Trump blackmailed into pulling out of Syria?

Alex Henderson, AlterNet
26 Dec 2018 at 05:35 ET                  

One of last week’s biggest political bombshells came when President Donald Trump announced that he was withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria because the terrorist group ISIS (Islamic State, Iraq and Syria) had been “defeated” in that war-ravaged Middle Eastern country. Trump’s decision inspired a variety of reactions, from vehement criticism from Sen. Lindsey Graham and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to praise from Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. And Gen. Wesley Clark (a former NATO commander) has been among the critics, asserting on CNN that some U.S. allies in the Middle East are wondering if Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan coerced Trump in some fashion.During a CNN appearance on December 24, Clark stressed that “there doesn’t seem to be any strategic rational for the decision. And if there is no strategic rational, then you have to ask, ‘Why was the decision made? I can tell you that people around the world are asking this. And some of our friends and our allies in the Middle East are asking, ‘Well, did Erdogan blackmail the president? Was there a payoff or something? Why would a guy make a decision like this?’”

Clark disagreed with Trump’s claim that ISIS has been defeated in Turkey, telling CNN, “We’re not quite finished with ISIS….What does this say about the foreign policy of the United States? That we’re not reliable? That we make strategic decisions based on no strategic logic?”

The former NATO commander went on to say, “What the United States had going for it is the reputation of reliability, consistency—that we were going to be there through thick and thin. The decision on the spur of the moment as the president made undercuts all of that…. This is a really dangerous time for the United States in foreign policy because of this.”

    “There doesn’t seem to be any strategic rationale for the decision… then you have to ask, why was the decision made? Did Erdogan blackmail the president?” — Former NATO commander, Gen. Wesley Clark, on Trumps decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria.pic.twitter.com/oWvZJe8hP3

    — Kristian (@ursusmiratus) December 24, 2018

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

Chaos at home, fear abroad: Trump unleashed puts western world on edge

While a government shutdown and a key resignation grabbed headlines, diplomats were stunned by US actions over Yemen

Julian Borger in Washington
Guardian
26 Dec 2018 06.00 GMT

The US stumbled into the holiday season with a sense of unravelling, as a large chunk of the federal government ground to a halt, the stock market crashed and the last independently minded, globally respected, major figure left in the administration announced he could no longer work with the president.

The defense secretary, James Mattis, handed in his resignation on Thursday, over Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to pull US troops out of Syria. On Saturday another senior official joined the White House exodus. Brett McGurk, the special envoy for the global coalition to defeat Isis and the US official closest to America’s Kurdish allies in the region, was reported to have handed in his resignation on Friday.

That night, senators flew back to Washington from as far away as Hawaii for emergency talks aimed at finding a compromise on Trump’s demand for nearly $6bn for a wall on the southern border, a campaign promise which has become an obsession. The president tweeted out an illustration of a very pointy, very high metal fence which he called “our Steel Slat Barrier which is totally effective while at the same time beautiful!”

Earlier in the week, it appeared a deal had been reached to allow the funding of normal government functions into the New Year. But Trump abruptly changed his mind, most likely after watching rightwing pundits criticise the fudge on television.

    Trump has no real clear objective but has a destructive America First perspective on the world
    Evelyn Farkas

The immediate consequences were that 380,000 federal workers were placed on compulsory unpaid leave and another 420,000 would have to work through the holidays unpaid. About a quarter of government functions ceased for lack of funding. On Saturday the Senate adjourned without a solution, ensuring the shutdown will continue until Thursday at the earliest.

The mood of uncertainty accelerated an already precipitous stock market dive, the Dow Jones Industrial Average suffering its worst December fall since 1987.

Trump was left to brood alone in Washington. The first lady, Melania, and their son, Barron, flew off on Friday to Mar-a-Lago, the president’s private club in Florida.

“I am in the White House, working hard. News reports concerning the Shutdown and Syria are mostly FAKE,” the president tweeted.

Trump has been spending an increasing amount of time in his private quarters, appearing for work in the Oval Office later and later in the morning. His aides call it “executive time” but it is clear from his Twitter feed it is mostly spent watching TV and responding viscerally to what he sees and hears.

With the departure of two retired generals, the chief of staff John Kelly and the defense secretary James Mattis, the administration has lost two war veterans not afraid of standing up to Trump. In 2019, that insulation between Trump’s impulses and the rest of the world will no longer be there.

The last straw for Mattis was a phone call on 14 December between Trump and the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in which the president upended US policy.

Instead of warning Erdoğan off a threatened offensive into Syria aimed at Kurdish forces, Washington’s closest allies against Isis, Trump was persuaded in a matter of seconds to abandon Syria and leave the Kurds to their fate. Unable to change Trump’s mind, Mattis handed in his resignation on Thursday, with a letter he clearly spent some time composing, citing respect for allies as the critical difference.

“Mattis clearly felt he had reached the end of the road,” said Evelyn Farkas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defence now at the German Marshall Fund. “Trump has no real clear objective but has a destructive America First perspective on the world, which will become more manifest now there aren’t people around him willing and able to stand up to him.”

Furthermore, as the Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia heads towards a denouement, and the House of Representatives begins its own investigations once Democrats take control in January, Trump will have a growing incentive to look for new crises abroad to change the subject on his Twitter feed.

“We know from people who have worked with this man that when he feels out of control, he tends to create more chaos,” Farkas said. “That is what we are seeing now.”

‘Added room for misjudgment’

Accounts from inside the White House, such as Bob Woodward’s book Fear, confirm that Mattis had manage to steer the president from impulsive moves that would have turned the world on its head, like pulling the US out of Nato, or launching assassination strikes against Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

“With adversaries, Trump’s underlying unpredictability and lack of understanding of how to use the tools of American power will now be exacerbated by the lack of much in the way of experienced and judicious foreign policy advice and implementation,” said Tamara Cofman Wittes, a former deputy assistant secretary of state now at the Brookings Institution.

“So I think there’s added room for the kind of misjudgment and misinterpretation (on both sides) that leads small incidents to escalate into major international crisis.”

Trump’s top two remaining foreign policy aides, his national security adviser, John Bolton, and secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, have shown themselves ready to go along with his orders without much effort to change his mind, even when those instructions directly contradict their own professed views.

Both men have increasingly focused their efforts on the one area where their instincts are in line with Trump’s: putting maximum pressure on Iran. Before taking his White House position, Bolton advocated air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. European diplomats in Washington say Pompeo is reluctant to engage with them on any other subject.

    President Trump has yet to be faced with a true international crisis. His behaviour and actions give little hope
    Alexandra Bell

That focus has increased the importance administration puts on relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have egged Trump on against Iran, and downgraded alliances with European capitals, which have insisted on sticking by the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that Trump wants to destroy.

The new realities were brought home to British diplomats over the past week, when they were trying to get a United Nations security council resolution passed that would uphold a ceasefire in the Yemeni port of Hodeidah, guarantee delivery of humanitarian supplies and threaten consequences for war crimes.

Having been promised support from Washington, the UK mission was stunned when the US began circulating a rival resolution, stripped of language about humanitarian supplies and war crimes, the Americans apparently acting on behalf of the Saudi-led coalition, which has fought any UN attempt to constrain its military operations.

As the week went on, the UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, an important independent voice on US foreign policy who is also leaving the administration, declared herself unwell. Orders to the US mission came straight from Pompeo. Early on Thursday, American diplomats threatened their British counterparts with a veto, an almost unheard of step among allies.

“Utterly baffling behaviour from the US,” one diplomat said. “No one in the US-UN mission or state department able to give sensible advice to Pompeo who was obsessed with Iran and deleting all language which the Saudis and Emiratis disliked.”

‘Trump and Putin could end the world today’

The ever-present possibility of an unintended or unforeseen conflict flaring up increases fears among defence analysts over how Trump might respond without experienced figures like Mattis at his side.

“President Trump has yet to be faced with a true international crisis,” said Alexandra Bell, a senior policy director at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-proliferation. “His behaviour and actions give little hope that he’ll react to pressure with calm resolve.”

Bell pointed out that under the US command and control system, there is no institutional brake on Trump ordering a nuclear launch.

“The world must also come to grips with the fact that we have placed an inordinate amount of faith in the ability of individual leaders to behave rationally. By choice or miscalculation, President Trump and President Putin could end the world today and there’s little any of us could do to stop them. What’s worse is that’s the way we designed it.”

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

The end of Trump is drawing near

Robert Reich - COMMENTARY
26 Dec 2018 at 15:39 ET                  

This morning I phoned my friend, the former Republican member of Congress.

ME: So, what are you hearing?

HE: Trump is in deep sh*t.

ME: Tell me more.

HE: When it looked like he was backing down on the wall, Rush and the crazies on Fox went ballistic. So he has to do the shutdown to keep the base happy. They’re his insurance policy. They stand between him and impeachment.

ME: Impeachment? No chance. Senate Republicans would never go along.

HE (laughing): Don’t be so sure. Corporate and Wall Street are up in arms. Trade war was bad enough. Now, you’ve got Mattis resigning in protest. Trump pulling out of Syria, giving Putin a huge win. This dumbass shutdown. The stock market in free-fall. The economy heading for recession.

ME: But the base loves him.

HE: Yeah, but the base doesn’t pay the bills.

ME: You mean …

HE: Follow the money, friend.

ME: The GOP’s backers have had enough?

HE: They wanted Pence all along.

ME: So …

HE: So they’ll wait until Mueller’s report, which will skewer Trump. Pelosi will wait, too. Then after the Mueller bombshell, she’ll get 20, 30, maybe even 40 Republicans to join in an impeachment resolution.

ME: And then?

HE: Senate Republicans hope that’ll be enough – that Trump will pull a Nixon.

ME: So you think he’ll resign?

HE (laughing): No chance. He’s fu*king out of his mind. He’ll rile up his base into a fever. Rallies around the country. Tweet storms. Hannity. Oh, it’s gonna be ugly. He’ll convince himself he’ll survive.

ME: And then?

HE: That’s when Senate Republicans pull the trigger.

ME: Really? Two-thirds of the Senate?

HE: Do the math. 47 Dems will be on board, so you need 19 Republicans. I can name almost that many who are already there. Won’t be hard to find the votes.

ME: But it will take months. And the country will be put through a wringer.

HE: I know. That’s the worst part.

ME: I mean, we could have civil war.

HE: Hell, no. That’s what he wants, but no chance. His approvals will be in the cellar. America will be glad to get rid of him.

ME: I hope you’re right.

HE: He’s a dangerous menace. He’ll be gone. And then he’ll be indicted, and Pence will pardon him. But the state investigations may put him in the clinker. Good riddance.

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

The Threat in the White House

With the impetuous decisions that drove Jim Mattis into retirement, President Trump does more to undermine American national security than any foreign adversary.

By Susan E. Rice
Ms. Rice is a former national security adviser and a contributing opinion writer.
NY Times
Dec. 26, 2018

This country’s national security decision-making process is more broken than at any time since the National Security Act became law in 1947. Nothing illustrates this dangerous dysfunction more starkly than President Trump’s reckless, unilateral decisions to announce the sudden withdrawal of all 2,000 United States troops from Syria and to remove 7,000 from Afghanistan.

These decisions went against the advice of the president’s top advisers, blindsided our allies and Congress, and delivered early Christmas presents to our adversaries from Russia and Iran to Hezbollah and the Taliban. The costs of this chaos are enormous, starting with the blunt, unnerving resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, one of the last senior administration officials committed to preserving American global leadership and alliances.

In a stunning tweet Wednesday, Mr. Trump declared the Islamic State defeated and promised the rapid return of all United States forces from Syria. In fact, the Islamic State is not defeated, though it is greatly weakened. The Pentagon estimates that 2,000 to 2,500 fighters continue to control territory in southeastern Syria, while tens of thousands more remain throughout Syria and Iraq. Although many militants have melted back into the population, they can re-emerge, as we saw after the American withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. Stabilizing the areas liberated from the Islamic State to prevent its revival remains as important as ever.

Cutting and running from Syria benefits only militants, Turkey, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Russia and Iran. We are abandoning our Kurdish partners, leaving them vulnerable to Turkey’s offensive, after they did the hard work of undermining the Islamic State.

We are walking away from our British and French allies that deployed forces on the battlefield, and from the coalition of over 70 countries we painstakingly built to counter the Islamic State — without even the courtesy of consultation. We are leaving Israel alone to confront Iran and Hezbollah’s hostility, while relinquishing our remaining influence over the future of a fractured Syria.

The near simultaneous order to withdraw half of the American troops in Afghanistan shocked our NATO allies, who have served alongside United States forces since Sept. 11, and shook the Afghan government in advance of precarious presidential elections next year. This arbitrary and precipitous withdrawal will strengthen the Taliban and undermine diplomatic efforts to jump-start reconciliation talks, while opening the field to greater Russian and Chinese influence.

If our national security decision-making process were even minimally functional, there would have been a carefully devised plan to execute moves, including wrongheaded ones. The plan would have included strategies for mitigating risks to our partners on the battlefield and to friendly governments; advance consultations with allies; briefings of Congress; and a press strategy.

Instead, two factors combined to ensure the collapse of the decision-making apparatus.

First, it appears that the national security adviser, John Bolton, rarely convenes his cabinet colleagues, known as the principals committee, to review the toughest issues. Instead, key players are cut out, as reportedly the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was from the final, fateful meeting on Syria. Mr. Bolton has not named a replacement deputy national security adviser, leaving vacant a crucial position whose holder typically coordinates the national security agencies in drafting and carrying out policy.

Mr. Bolton has also taken over direct responsibility for managing everything from cyber and terrorist attacks to hurricanes and pandemics — tasks previously assigned to another top-level White House official. Mr. Bolton is also traveling abroad more than most of his predecessors, even as he is playing multiple all-consuming roles. These ill-advised choices alone would cripple national security decision-making.

But a second factor — Mr. Trump himself — has dealt the death blow to effective policymaking. The president couldn’t care less about facts, intelligence, military analysis or the national interest. He refuses to take seriously the views of his advisers, announces decisions on impulse and disregards the consequences of his actions. In abandoning the role of a responsible commander in chief, Mr. Trump today does more to undermine American national security than any foreign adversary. Yet no Republican in Congress is willing to do more than bleat or tweet concerns.

Against this backdrop, Mr. Mattis’s resignation is even more worrisome. Even though his record was mixed, he provided desperately needed reassurance to our allies, an unabashed if private counterweight to the president’s worse instincts, and experience and stature too great for Mr. Bolton to ignore. His departure will leave the administration all but devoid of wise, principled leadership and the guts to check a president who consistently places politics and self-interest above national security.

No one relishes keeping American service members in harm’s way. American troops should not remain indefinitely in Syria or Afghanistan. Our deployment of forces, strategy and objectives should be continuously evaluated, and decisions based on conditions on the ground and our broader interests. That is what the National Security Council decision-making process is supposed to do. When it is discarded, the security of the nation and our allies is the first to suffer.

Susan E. Rice, the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017 and a former United States ambassador to the United Nations, is a contributing opinion writer. @AmbassadorRice

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

‘He inherited a criminal enterprise’: MSNBC panel breaks down the ‘fraud behind the Trump family fortune’

Raw Story
12/26/2018            

MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes detailed the bombshell report by The New York Times that debunked President Donald Trump’s origin story of being a self-made businessman, when instead he inherited money from his father and would be worth more if he’d just invested in index funds instead of becoming a developer.

“My favorite part about the $413 million story is somebody who inherited $413 million managed to be $900 million in the hole,” MSNBC’s Joy Reid noted.

“That’s the thing,” Hayes said. “There’s the fraud, the debunking this myth, there is the fact that this was basically daddy’s little welfare case.”

“Also the fact he’s a serial failure and the deals keep having to be bailed out by dad,” he added.

“Anyone from New York, we know Donald Trump has been a grifter and lie and cheat,” explained Fordham University Prof. Christina Greer. “The Trumps lie constantly.”

“What we also understand, what we now know, is he inherited a criminal enterprise,” noted Princeton Prof. Eddie Glaude.

“That’s right,” Hayes chimed-in.

“He inherited a criminal enterprise,” Glaude repeated.


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« Reply #3208 on: Dec 26, 2018, 06:11 AM »

‘Quivering little boy’ Paul Ryan scorched by MSNBC conservative for cowardly slinking away from ‘Papa Trump’

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
26 Dec 2018 at 13:11 ET 
                 
Retiring Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was ridiculed on MSNBC’s “AM Joy” for being subservient to President Donald Trump.

Anchor Joy Reid played a clip of Ryan on Thursday, speaking in front of the White House, defending Trump for refusing to sign the bill that was passed by the House and Senate.

The federal government has since shut down, host Joy Reid explained.

The host played a second clip of Ryan trying to claim he does not listen to what Trump says, so he can’t criticize his fellow Republican.

“This is the definition of cowardice,” conservative Washington Post columnist Jen Rubin charged. “He does not have the nerve to say when Donald Trump says something outrageous.”

“The president’s words matter. Republicans used to say that,” she reminded. “So the notion that what he says doesn’t matter is bizarre.”

“Besides which, it is not just what he says, it has been what he does,” Rubin continued. “The child separation policy, running up the debt, pulling the rug out from under our allies, picking fights with you our allies, starting a trade war — these are all the things that Republicans like Paul Ryan used to stand up for.”

“But he is now a quivering little boy waiting for instructions from Papa Trump because he has no spine,” she argued. “He has no ability to differentiate himself from Donald Trump.”

“I think at this point he is so far from whatever he used to believe, he probably doesn’t even know what he believes,” Rubin added.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xwh2ahe4iuU


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« Reply #3209 on: Dec 26, 2018, 07:12 AM »

Trump is ‘unhinged’ and ‘there are no adults left’: MSNBC’s Morning Joe hits panic button on White House departures

Brad Reed
Raw Story
26 Dec 2018 at 07:57 ET                   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough on Wednesday hit the the panic button about all of the officials who are fleeing President Donald Trump’s White House.

After listening to the Washington Post’s Phil Rucker discuss how angry and alienated Trump now feels inside his own White House, Scarborough fretted that many of the people departing were some of the few people who were able to check the president’s impulses.

“In the summer of 1974, leading up to President Nixon’s resignation, at least he had Kissinger and some other adults still there,” Scarborough said. “We read stories from Woodward and Bernstein and others about a president at least on the verge of becoming unhinged, but this president appears to be unhinged and there are no adults left! He’s fired them all!”

Guest Eugene Robinson shared Scarborough’s take and said the departures of officials such as outgoing Defense Secretary James Mattis and outgoing chief of staff John Kelly were both deeply troubling.

“Everyone has to be concerned about what happens now,” he said. “We’ve seen almost two years now of Donald Trump with the guardrails in place, and as they’ve been removed one by one… my goodness, what happens next? It’s an extraordinary moment.”

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h9DxWTyee2A


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