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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1360997 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #3195 on: Jul 20, 2018, 04:51 AM »


How Maria Butina, accused Russian spy, worked her way into top US circles

Criminal charges open new front in bid to counter Russian disruption and suggest American associates of Butina, 29, may be under threat

Jon Swaine and Lois Beckett
Guardian
20 Jul 2018 21.09 BST

The Las Vegas hotel ballroom was crowded, but the Russian redhead caught Donald Trump’s eye. “Yes, ma’am,” he said, inviting a question.

It was July 2015, and Maria Butina wanted to know what Trump, then a month into his unlikely campaign for the White House, planned to do about US relations with her country. Trump had good news.

“I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin,” he said.

Butina, then 27, was asked on the sidelines of the event why she had travelled all the way to Nevada for a gathering of libertarians and conservatives. “I would like to know more, and to bring this knowledge to Russia,” she said casually. “I hope it will be useful for my country.”

According to US prosecutors, Butina’s patriotic curiosity had by then developed into the beginnings of a criminal conspiracy.

Butina was arrested last weekend and appeared in court in Washington on Monday, charged with operating as a secret agent for the Kremlin. She is accused of working to infiltrate the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an attempt to influence the Republican party and, ultimately, the US government.

An FBI agent who investigated Butina said in a court filing she tried to develop secret back channels with American politicians that could “penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian federation”.

Butina denies any wrongdoing. Her attorney, Robert Driscoll, said she was a legitimate college graduate and aspiring businesswoman who happened to be Russian. She “intends to defend her rights vigorously and looks forward to clearing her name”, he said.

The charges open a new front in the justice department’s effort to counter Russian disruption of US politics, and signal that American associates of Butina may be seriously imperilled. They also threaten to conclude Butina’s short adventure in Washington with up to five years in a federal prison.

As she worked her way into some of American conservatism’s most rarefied circles, Butina had a compelling and simple pitch: she was building Russia’s equivalent of the NRA.

She spent years cultivating relationships with Republican operatives, gun rights activists and religious leaders. She took photographs with Republican presidential candidates and helped bring NRA officials to Moscow.

In the grey-haired, male-dominated world of conservative conferences, Butina stood out. She was young, tall and flirtatious, according to two gun rights activists who knew her. In 2014, she was the subject of a flattering profile in Russian GQ, accompanied by a photoshoot of her posing with pistols in Dolce & Gabbana underwear.

Butina has said she was raised in Siberia, where her father introduced her to guns and taught her to shoot. After college, she said, she founded a chain of furniture stores. Then she moved to Moscow, where she said she ran an advertising company. In a 2012 profile, she described founding a group called The Right to Bear Arms some time around 2011. She also took the American journalist profiling her to shoot guns “at a former KGB range”.

Butina clearly knew how to handle firearms: she was comfortable and competent around guns. But other aspects of her résumé did not seem to add up, one activist said. When asked for basic official documents for her Russian gun rights group, the activist said, Butina could not produce any.

    She did not behave in what I considered an entirely professional manner. She had an extra button or three unbuttoned
    Julianne Versnel

Alan Gottlieb and Julianne Versnel, husband-and-wife gun rights activists, said they had an intimate dinner with Butina and Alexander Torshin, her longtime mentor, during a Right to Bear Arms conference in Moscow in 2013. Torshin, a senior official at Russia’s central bank, is now accused by US prosecutors of directing Butina’s operations.

Gottlieb, founder of the Washington-state based Second Amendment Foundation, said Butina always seemed laser-focused on gun policy. Still, she was an unusual character: assertive, even aggressive and determined to make herself the centre of attention.

“She did not behave in what I considered an entirely professional manner,” Versnel said. “She had an extra button or three unbuttoned.”

Her husband added: “She knew how to use her youth and beauty to make sure that she was engaged in conversation.”

Butina began cultivating American contacts. In 2013, John Bolton, now Trump’s national security adviser, appeared in a Russian gun rights video that Right to Bear Arms used for pro-gun lobbying in Russia. Bolton was reportedly asked to appear in the video by David Keene, a recent president of the NRA, who had become acquainted with Torshin.

In April 2014, Butina flew to Indianapolis for the NRA convention. She posted photographs to the Russian social network VK showing that she mixed with Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s pugnacious vice-president, along with heavyweight Republicans including Bobby Jindal, then governor of Louisiana, and Rick Santorum, a former US senator and presidential candidate.

That September, Butina invited Paul Erickson, a conservative political operative and veteran NRA member based in South Dakota, to address her gun rights group in Moscow. Six months later, according to US officials, she emailed an American political operative who appears to be Erickson to set out what she called project “Diplomacy”. Erickson did not respond to messages this week.

The subject line of Butina’s email, sent on 24 March 2015, appeared to liken her to a notorious KGB propagandist during the cold war. In the text, she declared that the Republican party, in the prosecutors’ words, “would likely obtain control over the US government after the 2016 elections”.

The disclosure this week raised an obvious question: what, at a time when most national opinion polling indicated an advantage for Hillary Clinton over her potential Republican rivals, had convinced Butina that the GOP would be triumphant in an election still 20 months away?

Saying that she wanted to build more constructive relations with the traditionally hawkish Republicans, Butina noted the NRA’s “central place and influence” in the party. She said she needed a $125,000 budget to fund her participation in GOP conferences. The American political operative provided her with a list of “important contacts” to meet.

A few weeks later, Butina was back in the US for the NRA’s 2015 convention. Held in Nashville, Tennessee, it again gave her access to the most in-demand figures in the conservative movement. She and Torshin chatted with Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, who posed for a photograph with her and spoke a few phrases in Russian. In July, Butina attended the launch of Walker’s presidential campaign.

The Kremlin seems to have been interested. Court filings said Butina wrote Torshin a memo about a political campaign event that detailed her “private meeting” with the same candidate at the NRA convention. Walker was not identified by name. Then came Butina’s encounter with Trump at the Freedom Fest event in Las Vegas.

Late that year, Butina’s gun rights group paid to fly NRA allies to Moscow for a visit that included lavish dinners and a meeting with Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister. Her guests included Erickson, Keene and David Clarke, the former sheriff of Milwaukee, who would go on to support Trump’s presidential campaign.

Pete Brownell, a gun company chief executive who also took part in the 2015 Moscow trip, became NRA president in 2017. In May this year, his tenure ended abruptly and earlier than expected. Representatives did not respond to questions about whether his departure was connected to the Russia trip.

The NRA and Clarke did not respond to requests for comment. A person who answered the phone at a number listed under Keene’s name said on Monday he was “out fishing” and was not expected back until the end of the month.

As the 2016 campaign intensified, and the likelihood of Trump’s Republican primary victory became clear, Butina began honing her activities and trying to gain access to the candidate and his circle, according to US officials.

During that election year, she obtained a student visa and enrolled in an international relations graduate program at American University in Washington. But her networking continued.

Butina told a second American associate, also unidentified in the charging documents, that a Kremlin official had endorsed her efforts to establish a back channel to US politicians. She wrote: “All we needed is <<yes>> from Putin’s side. The rest is easier.”

Court filings describe extensive efforts by Butina and Torshin over the following months to arrange a series of “friendship and dialogue dinners” in Washington and New York. They reportedly used American go-betweens to make an apparently unsuccessful approach to senior members of Trump’s campaign with a “backdoor overture” on behalf of Vladimir Putin’s government.

They tried to get access to Trump himself in May 2016, but had to make do with his son. The Trump Organization confirmed that Donald Jr met Torshin during the NRA convention in Louisville, Kentucky, but tried to downplay the significance of their discussion.

Alan Futerfas, an attorney for the Trump company, told CBS the two men were introduced and “made small talk for a few minutes” before dining separately. Futerfas has also said the discussion was “all gun-related”. The New York Times reported on Monday that Butina was present at this meeting and that congressional investigators have obtained a photograph of the three together.

According to the FBI, when guns didn’t bring her to Trump, Butina tried again with God. An investigator described in court filings a series of contacts between Butina and an organiser for the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Butina and Torshin attended in February 2016.

(Torshin and Butina came even closer to a meeting with the president at the following year’s Prayer Breakfast. Shortly before the scheduled encounter, a White House aide flagged Torshin’s “baggage” and cancelled the meet and greets, Yahoo News reported.)

By 4 October 2016, with just a month to go before polling day, Butina’s first American associate – apparently Erickson – emailed a contact to say that he had “been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin” and Republican leaders.

The next day, Butina and Torshin exchanged a series of cryptic Twitter messages reflecting on their efforts, according to prosecutors. When Torshin asked about the status of the “Russia-USA friendship society”, Butina replied “we are currently ‘underground’ both here and there” and signalled a need to avoid publicity.

“Time will tell,” Butina wrote. “We made our bet.”


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« Reply #3196 on: Jul 20, 2018, 04:54 AM »


Huge Egyptian sarcophagus found to contain three mummies

Archaeologists open granite tomb but are dismayed at state of decay after ‘sewage leak’

Ruth Michaelson in Cairo
Guardian
20 Jul 2018 18.04 BST

Egyptian archeologists have opened a 30-tonne black granite sarcophagus to find three decomposed mummies after sewage water apparently leaked inside.

“The sarcophagus has been opened, but we have not been hit by a curse,” said Mostafa Waziry, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities, in response to news reports warning of maledictions hidden inside the tomb in the port city of Alexandria.

Waziry, accompanied by a team of specialists in mummification and restoration, instead found three mummies and a red liquid he identified as sewage water, believed to have entered the sarcophagus through a crack on its right side, causing the decomposition of the mummies.

The tomb was found buried five metres beneath the surface and the help of Egyptian military engineers was required to open the 15-tonne lid. After capturing the world’s attention because of its unusually large size, observers believed it could contain the remains of a prominent figure, with some considering the possibility that it could contain the corpse of Alexander the Great.

The sarcophagus, almost three metres across and two metres high, is believed to date from the early Ptolemaic period, which began following the death of Alexander in 323BC.

It was found during construction work in Egypt’s northernmost city, accompanied by a weathered alabaster head thought to depict one of the occupants of the tomb. Archeologists were excited because a layer of mortar beneath the lid suggested it had remained untouched since it was buried thousands of years ago.

The skulls of the three mummies found inside will now be analysed in order to identify their ages and cause of death.

Shaaban Abdel Amonem, one of the specialists in mummification who attended the opening, said initial assessments showed the trio were probably soldiers, with one of the skulls displaying evidence of arrow blows.

Waziri said the lack of death masks in precious metals, amulets, statuettes or inscriptions on the sarcophagus meant the bodies were unlikely to be those of Ptolemaic or Roman royals.

Video footage from the news website Youm7 showed a man pouring the red liquid into the street, after samples were taken to be analysed.


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« Reply #3197 on: Jul 20, 2018, 04:57 AM »


'Desperate to find a way out': Iran edges towards precipice

Economic grievances, lack of freedoms, global sanctions and climate change putting country under unprecedented pressure

Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent
Guardian
Fri 20 Jul 2018 05.00 BST

In the words of Mohammad, a graphic designer out of work for four months, life in Iran is “like being a fish in a rapidly shrinking puddle of water, under scorching sun in the middle of desert”.

On the surface the 28-year-old’s comments speak to the country’s grave environmental challenges: it is experiencing its worst drought in modern history, with water shortages and recurring electricity cuts that cut the internet, halt lifts and disrupt air conditioning in 40C heat. Authorities in Tehran are even considering to bringing working day forward, from 6am to 2pm, to help workers cope.

But Mohammad, who relies on his father’s pension for survival, like a “leech feeding on blood” as he puts it, is not speaking about the environment. Instead he is referring to a wider crisis he says has created a sense of hopelessness permeating Iranian society, which few have seen on such a scale since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

    If it’s war, so it be, but quick
    Mohammad

A combination of factors ranging from economic grievances and a lack of social and political freedoms to international pressure and sanctions has put the country under unprecedented pressure. Many Iranians would now agree with Mohammad that the country faces a pivotal moment.

“People are desperate to find a way out,” he says. “If it’s war, so it be, but quick; if it’s reaching an agreement, so it be, but quick; if it’s regime change, so it be, but quick.”

Weeks of sporadic protests across the country over water scarcity, unpaid salaries and currency depreciation, combined with mounting pressure from the Trump administration, which wants all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by 4 November, have piled pressure on Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani. He is increasingly being seen as a lame duck as he proves unable to fight off hardliners and pursue his agenda. One pledge he has delivered on – the landmark 2015 nuclear deal – is unravelling after Donald Trump pulled the US out of the framework in May.

A piece of tech – an interactive pen – that Mohammad bought last year for 5m rials is now priced at 25m rials (£440), a five-fold increase. Similar price increases have affected other items, particularly those imported and dependent on the price of the dollar. The rial has hit an all-time low and foreign companies are increasingly pulling out of Iran because they fear US actions which will make it difficult for people like Mohammad to find jobs.

“All the ‘down to America’, ‘down to Israel’ chants put us in this agony,” he says. “All the people around me are thinking about emigrating. My only way to flee is a student visa, but the costs are high – also you can’t find visa appointment times easily.”

Alarm bells have been raised about the country edging towards a political, economic and even environmental precipice, and analysts fear that the warnings are being ignored. Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of politics at Tehran University, says the situation has become so bad that “people see no light at the end of the tunnel”.

“In no period of time before this, we’ve had so much anguish, so much anxiety, so much despair about the future of the country,” he says. “Even this [level of despair] didn’t exist during the Iran-Iraq war years. Despite all the problems during the war, and the rationing, there was hope, because people believed the war would one day finish, but now, the problem is like having an illness that never gets cured.

“It might get like Iraq, bartering food for oil. Rouhani is getting closer to hardliners; he is becoming like a football team that has lost the first game 3-0 and now has no hope for the next match. He has become a lame duck.”

Zibakalam adds that Iranian society has turned its back against both conservatives and reformists, as people see no prospect of reconciliation with the US.

He believes that if, or rather when, the situation gets worse, hardliners will become strengthened, meaning that “the unelected part of the establishment will grab more power”.

Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at the University of St Andrews, says the outcome of the current situation “would be … something akin to military government”.

“What’s going in Iran is not something for democracy, people are not chanting for democracy, people are chanting for water and bread,” Ansari says. “In 2009 [post-election unrest], people were saying: ‘Where is our vote?’ That’s finished, what’s happening now is much more fundamental talking to the body politic of the country, which is more existential.”

The post-revolutionary optimism that helped people go through the Iran-Iraq war, he says, has given way to a state of despair as economic, social and political resources have become depleted.

The Iranian currency has been steadily losing its value against the dollar since the 1979 Islamic revolution, when $1 bought 70 rials. This week, $1 was exchanged for up to 75,000 rials in central Tehran.

Rouhani raised expectations when he became president in 2013, but could not deliver, says Ansari. “Everyone is focusing on Trump; Trump is his own problem right, let’s not diminish it, but actually the elephant in the room is [Iran’s supreme leader, Ali] Khamenei.

    We are going all the way downhill, like Venezuela
    Matin

“Khamenei’s principal priority is the Islamic Revolution, and not the Islamic Republic. Khamenei has always been of the view that you have to show strength, but there comes a time when you have to ask what does this mean? [President] Assad showed strength in Syria but what does it mean for him in the long run?”

For ordinary Iranians, the sense of despair is palpable. Sam, a 26-year-old university lecturer from Shiraz, describes Iran’s ordeal as “the knife reaching the bone”, a Persian proverb meaning the last straw.

Matin, 25, from Isfahan, who earns $115 a month working in a dentist surgery and lives with his parents, is even more downbeat. “We are going all the way downhill, like Venezuela,” he says.


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« Reply #3198 on: Jul 20, 2018, 05:00 AM »


'One more racist law': reactions as Israel axes Arabic as official language

‘Nation state’ law gives Jews exclusive rights over Arabs who make up fifth of Israel’s population

Oliver Holmes in Nazareth, Sufian Taha in Jerusalem, Hazem Balousha in Gaza City
Guardian
20 Jul 2018 17.56 BST

The passing of a law in Israel that affords exclusive rights to Jewish people and removes Arabic as an official language has rippled through the country’s Arab minority, who have decried the legislation as unabashedly racist.

“It’s one more law, one more racist law,” said Najib Hadad, 56, in Nazareth, the country’s largest northern city whose residents are predominately Arab.

“We have got to the point where we just want to work; to live. In Israel, we have good lives, we work, and we are free to speak. We have our people in the Knesset [parliament],” he said. But he added: “This law is a racist law.”

There are roughly 1.8 million Arabs in Israel, making up about a fifth of the state’s population. They are mostly Palestinians and their descendants who remained in place after the 1948 war between Arabs and Jews. Hundreds of thousands of others were displaced or fled.

Suhad Banna, an English teacher who is also from Nazareth but lives in the Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv, said the legislation made her feel like a “class B citizen”.

“The ironic thing is that Israel is calling itself a democratic state,” she said. “I have no idea how it’s a democratic state after this bill. What democratic state are they are talking about?”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has promised to ensure civil rights but says “the majority decides”.

Many Israeli Arabs complain of prejudice in their access to services and education, even as racial discrimination is illegal. The “nation-state” bill was amended this week after a previous version appeared to legalise racially segregated communities. However, another contentious clause says “the state sees the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment and consolidation”.

Banna says Arabs in Israel are not “full citizens with equal rights”.

“I have no problem with Judaism; my problem is with the Zionism,” she said. “I am living in Tel Aviv with two roommates: one of them is a Jew, and the other one is Christian, and I am a Muslim. We are talking about it all the time.”

From Jerusalem’s Shuafat neighbourhood, a walled-off area that expanded as a Palestinian refugee camp and is now one of the most deprived districts of the city, Mahmoud Ali said Arabs have lost “what is left of our rights”.

“I am afraid with this law the Israeli will have an excuse to expel us from our land,” the 50-year-old said. “Welcome to the dark ages.

“They can do whatever they want, and nobody can stop them. Imagine if Jordan approved a law that made it an Islamic state? The whole world would turn upside down.”

Samah Salaime, 43, who lives between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, said everyone in the minority had previously felt like second-class citizens “but now it’s official”.

“I came from a refugee family, the rest of my family were deported to Syria in 1948, and now they are in Germany and Sweden,” she said. “They are saying we can stay under the umbrella of the Jewish state with economic rights but no language and no nation, or even culture.”


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« Reply #3199 on: Jul 20, 2018, 05:05 AM »


How Trump destabilised Montenegro with a few words

Anger and disbelief after US president implied that Balkan state unworthy of Nato’s defence

Helena Smith in Athens
Guardian
20 Jul 2018 17.23 BST

In the height of summer, Montenegrins are usually preoccupied with cooling themselves off along the Adriatic coast. This year, the heat has been turned up even more, after Donald Trump characterised the tiny Balkan nation’s people as “very aggressive” and capable of sparking a third world war.

Barely a year since the former Yugoslav republic joined Nato, Trump’s remarks – in an interview with Fox News on Tuesday – have been met with a mix of mockery, contempt and outright disbelief. Publicly and privately officials admit that the US president’s latest verbal volley has hurt.

Asked by host Tucker Carlson in a conversation about Nato’s common defence policy: “Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack?” the US president replied: “I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question.

“Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people ... They’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations, you’re in world war three.”

On Thursday, after 48 hours of remaining tight-lipped, the Montenegrin government hit back, defending its role as “a stabilising state” and saying it was proud of belonging to the 29-member military alliance.

“Today as a new Nato member and candidate for EU membership Montenegro contributes to peace and stability not only on the European continent but worldwide, along with US soldiers in Afghanistan,” it said. “We build friendships, and we have not lost a single one … in today’s world, it does not matter how big or small you are, but to what extent you cherish the values of freedom, solidarity and democracy.”

Earlier, sources had sought to play down the comments, citing the possible impact on the 629,000-strong country in a post-Trumpian world of shifting susceptibilities and global insecurity.

For a government that pushed hard for Nato membership – selling accession to the alliance as a guarantee of future security despite immense internal opposition among a people that had briefly been the target of Nato bombing in 1999 – Trump’s implication that the strategic state is unworthy of defence has both beggared belief and elicited disappointment.

“Far be it for me to comment on what a US president says, but he seems to be out of touch with US policy goals and not know what Nato is,” said Vesko Garčević, Montenegro’s former ambassador to Nato, who oversaw the country’s accession talks. “Membership was a strategic shift,” he told the Guardian from Podgorica, the country’s capital. “It was about joining the western club, embracing western values, not only about security. For Montenegro and the alliance it was a huge achievement, a very big success.”

Like most Balkan experts, Garčević fears that Trump’s intervention, so soon after his meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, not only mirrors Moscow’s anti-Nato messaging but plays directly into Putin’s hands.

“To have the president of the US, the most powerful member of the alliance, question Nato’s principle of solidarity can only work in Russia’s favour,” he said. “One should ‘never say never’ when it comes to Trump … but this is insane. I can tell you these days we are thinking about our holidays, heading to resorts along the Adriatic, not waging world war three.”

With EU accession processes for most western Balkan states in stasis, Putin may be tempted to fill the space by testing the willingness of Nato members to respond in the event of another being attacked, say analysts.

“Trump’s remarks further undermine Nato and his message may be interpreted in Moscow as a clear sign that the current US government will not support its allies, should Moscow seek to destabilise the region by whatever means,” said Kenneth Morrison, professor of modern south-east European history at De Montfort University in Leicester. “What’s important for the region is certainty and a clear sense of direction for the western Balkans – a clear EU perspective and, for those that seek it, Nato membership.”

Few countries as small as Montenegro – the state has an army of around 2,000 with 400 reservists – has annoyed Moscow as much. When Podgorica signed up to the alliance it completed an arc that ran along the eastern Adriatic, from Croatia to Greece, that Nato would control.

Infuriated that the west should encroach on areas long viewed as falling within its own sphere of influence, Moscow reacted with barely concealed fury, going so far as to support a coup in 2016 against the government of then prime minister, Milo Đukanović. Although the putsch ultimately failed it had been hoped that with Đukanović’s assassination, a pro-Russian party would be brought to power.

“As the Montenegrin government drew closer to Nato membership, it also supported EU sanctions against Russia. There was a steady decline in Montenegrin-Russian relations, which traditionally had been very good, from 2014 onward,” said Morrison.

Podgorica’s support for EU sanctions against Russia, despite close commercial, political and cultural ties, had been cause for sharp rebuke with Russia’s ambassador to Serbia, Aleksandar Čepurin, likening Montenegro’s attempts to join Nato to “a monkey chasing a banana”.

As such, the US president’s comments not only undermined the government but could also embolden the country’s pro-Russian and anti-Nato opposition. “Such comments only bolster the opposition Democratic Front, who have been alleged to have links with the Russian government,” Morrison said. “Many of them were anti-Nato and pro-Trump, largely because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric about what he regarded as the unviability of Nato.”

Wesley Clark, a retired US army general and former Nato supreme allied commander, went further, voicing concerns that Trump’s remarks could destablise the traditionally volatile Balkan region. “Worrying to hear Trump use Russian talking points with Tucker Carlson, about Montenegro,” he said in a tweet referring to Trump’s Fox News interviewer. “Montenegro has been under continuous pressure by Russia for more than a decade. Trump’s comments weaken Nato, give Russia a license to cause trouble and thereby actually increase the risks of renewed conflict in the Balkans.”


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« Reply #3200 on: Jul 20, 2018, 05:21 AM »


Trump plans to formally invite Putin to US later this year, White House says

Sarah Sanders says Trump asked John Bolton to invite Putin ‘to Washington in the fall and those discussions are under way’

    Trump’s invitation to Putin draws rebukes from Democrats and his intelligence chief

Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington
Guardian
20 Jul 2018 22.22 BST

Donald Trump has asked his administration to formally invite Russian president Vladimir Putin to visit Washington later this year, the White House announced on Thursday.

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Trump asked his national security adviser John Bolton to extend the invitation to Putin for a “working level” dialogue between the two leaders.

    Sarah Sanders (@PressSec)

    In Helsinki, @POTUS agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs. President Trump asked @Ambjohnbolton to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway.

    July 19, 2018

The invitation comes as the White House has faced a tumultuous week in the aftermath of Trump’s controversial summit with Putin in Helsinki.

Trump was roundly criticized from Democrats and Republicans in Washington for siding with the Kremlin over the judgments of US intelligence on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. It took the president several attempts to walk back his comments, amplifying the fallout from his joint appearance with Putin.

Trump was nonetheless unfazed by the backlash, deeming the summit a “great success” in a tweet earlier on Thursday while saying he looked forward to a second meeting with Putin.

“The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media,” Trump wrote.

“I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear ... proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more. There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems...but they can ALL be solved!”

The news of Trump’s plan to host Putin for a meeting at the White House caught at least one of his own intelligence chiefs off guard.

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, was informed of the announcement by Andrea Mitchell, during an onstage interview at the Aspen Security Form in Colorado.

“Say that again?” Coats responded, prompting laughter from the crowd. “Did I hear that?”

“OK. That is going to be special,” he added.

Coats took the unusual step earlier this week of issuing a public statement countering Trump’s suggestion in Helsinki that Moscow was not responsible for meddling in the 2016 election.

Speaking in Aspen, Coats stood by his decision to contradict the president.

“I was just doing my job,” he said.

“As I expressed to the president on my third visit to the Oval Office as his adviser, I said: ‘Mr President, there will be times I have to bring news to you that you don’t want to hear. But know that it will to the best extent be unvarnished, non-politicized, and the best our incredible intelligence community can produce.’”

Coats went on to describe Russia as the most aggressive state actor attempting to interfere in US affairs. He also warned of the need to be “ever-vigilant” and “relentless”.

Coats continued: “And by the way, the former director of the KGB is the one leading their nation. I think that anybody that thinks Vladimir Putin doesn’t have his stamp on everything that happens in Russia is misinformed. It is very clear that virtually nothing happens there of any significance that Vladimir Putin doesn’t know about or hasn’t ordered.”

Ignoring the warnings of intelligence leaders, Trump has continued to lavish praise on Putin and has emphasized the need to improve US-Russia relations. It has remained unclear, however, what the president is seeking to accomplish from his negotiations with his Russian counterpart.

Prior to their joint press conference in Helsinki, Trump and Putin met behind closed doors for two hours with only their interpreters present. Little is known about what was discussed, prompting Democrats on Capitol Hill to demand that Trump’s national security team testify before Congress.

The controversy escalated on Wednesday, when Sanders told reporters Trump was entertaining a proposal from Putin that would allow special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to interrogate the 12 Russian military intelligence officials it indicted last week if, in exchange, the US allowed the Russian government to interrogate certain Americans, including the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul.

Faced with yet another firestorm, the White House was later forced to undertake another course correction and on Thursday rejected the proposal in a public statement.

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

Trump staffers freaking out because DNI head Coats laughed at president’s invitation to Putin to visit White House: report

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
19 Jul 2018 at 21:09 ET   

The White House is in discord Thursday night after President Donald Trump’s decision to invite Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to Washington was mocked by one of his senior aides, reports the Washington Post.

The decision to follow-up on Trump’s much-criticized Helsinki summit by inviting the dictator who installed Trump as president through election meddling with an invitation to visit the U.S. was apparently shocking to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who was told about it on stage at a conference.

“Okaaaay,” Coats said when told. “That’s going to be special.”

The Post reports that “inside the White House, Trump’s advisers were in an uproar over Coats’s interview” and that “the optics were especially damaging.”

“Coats appeared to be laughing at the president, playing to his audience of the intellectual elite in a manner that was sure to infuriate Trump,” the report said.

Others in the White House were worried that Coats would resign in protest over the Putin meeting and that Trump had praised him to keep that from happening.

“Coats has gone rogue,” said a senior White House official.

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

CNN’s Jake Tapper aghast at Putin invite: ‘What the hell is going on? Seriously. What the hell is going on?’

Sarah K. Burris
Raw Story
19 Jul 2018 at 16:49 ET       

The normally calm CNN host Jake Tapper was shocked at the latest developments in the White House’s latest efforts to clean up President Donald Trump’s agreements to Vladimir Putin. Namely, that Trump said that he would look into turning over U.S. ambassadors to Putin for interrogation. It was revealed Thursday that the president has invited the Russian leader to come to the White House in the fall.

In a conversation about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ statement allowing room for the idea that the U.S. could hand over former Ambassador Michael McFaul and financier Bill Browder, Tapper just couldn’t believe it.

“What the hell is going on?!” He exclaimed, while the political panel laughed. “Seriously. What the hell is going on? Sincere offer from Putin and an incredible offer? I’m looking at you to see if you can answer the question. What?!”

His panel was left shocked and unsure of what to say, other than to repeat the list of concerning promises made by Trump to Putin. Even Republican commentator Josh Holmes said he had similar questions.

“I know I am more of a conspiracy theorist,” commentator Angela Rye confessed. “I will go back to my word ‘kompromat’ — narcissism is blinding. Let’s say he is not compromised. If he is not then that means that he is so narcissistic that he can’t even potentially accept the fact that as has been proven Russia interfered with the U.S. election because they favored him.”

She noted that the fact that he simply can’t accept the idea has evolved from eye-rolling to a cause for great harm to American national security.

“It’s causing great harm to have confidence in him even from his party. What was said in the meeting?” she asked.

The New York Times revealed late Wednesday night that Trump had the raw data and text messages proving Putin personally ordered the election hacks.

Watch the full conversation: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6pho6c

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

Furious Jeff Flake comes close to calling Trump a traitor: ‘He gave aid and comfort to an enemy of democracy’

Brad Reed
Raw Story
19 Jul 2018 at 13:30 ET                   

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Thursday lit into President Donald Trump’s behavior at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — and he came surprisingly close to branding the president an outright traitor.

During a speech on the Senate floor, Flake slammed Trump’s refusal this week to say whether he believes his own intelligence agencies more than Putin when it comes to whether Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

“The findings of our intelligence community regarding the Russian aggression are not matters of opinion, no matter how powerful and strong Putin’s denial,” Flake said. “To reject these findings and to reject the excruciating specific indictment against the 12 named Russian operatives in deference to the word of a KGB apparatchik is an act of will on the part of the president and that choice leaves us contemplating the dark mystery, ‘Why did he do that? What would compel our president to do such a thing?'”

Flake admitted that he had no answers at the moment to explain Trump’s behavior, but he said there could be no doubt about the implications of the president’s actions.

“The president let down the free world by giving aid and comfort to an enemy of democracy,” Flake said. “In so doing, he dimmed the light of freedom ever so slightly in our own country.”

The phrase “giving aid and comfort” to enemies is used in the United States Constitution to define treason.

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKky5gN80VM

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

LEAKED: Putin pitched Trump on Crimea deal — and promised him it wouldn’t go public

Brad Reed
Raw Story
19 Jul 2018 at 14:54 ET

A new report from Bloomberg claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin made a proposal to President Donald Trump to resolve the dispute over the annexed territory of Crimea — and that Trump was receptive to it, so long as Putin kept it under wraps.

Sources tell Bloomberg that Putin pitched holding a popular referendum in Crimea so that its citizens could decide if they wanted to stay as part of Russia or return to Ukraine, which held the territory until Russia annexed it in 2014.

During the discussion, Putin “agreed not to disclose the plan publicly so the U.S. president could consider it,” according to Bloomberg’s sources.

The publication writes that Ukrainian officials will likely be “alarmed” by Putin’s proposal — and even more so by Trump’s willingness to consider it. As the report notes, Ukrainian officials in the past have accused Russia of rigging elections in the disputed territories to make it seem as though there is more popular support for the Russian annexation than there really is.

“Leaders of so-called rebel republics in Donetsk and Luhansk held referendums in May 2014 that declared independence,” Bloomberg explains. “The votes were rejected as illegal by the U.S. and the European Union, while Ukraine called them a “farce.” Russia said at the time that it “respects” the votes, which showed as much as 96 percent support for breaking away from Ukraine.”

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

Ex-intel officer nails Trump’s allegiance to Russia: ‘He has adopted their worldview’

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
19 Jul 2018 at 10:13 ET

During a panel discussion on MSNBC, terrorism and intelligence expert Malcolm Nance blasted Donald Trump for his complete disbelief in American intelligence agencies — and the way it’s influenced his relationship with Russia.

As Nance sees it, Trump “absolutely, flat-out does not believe anything that US intelligence says to him” because it often “violates the meta-narrative that’s in his head about how the world works.”

That meta-narrative, the ex-intelligence officer added, “is not intrinsic to Donald Trump,” but was “put there by the Russians.”

“As far back as 2013, he has adopted their worldview,” Nance said. “And that’s precisely what the Russians have always wanted.”

Trump “defaults to their position” because he was groomed to do so, the former cryptologist added.

“That narrative of Russia, good, their money, good, they want to be partners with him, they will enrich him in some way and everybody else is out to get him,” Nance explained. “It’s going to be very difficult going forward with anything until this president either disabuses himself of this opinion or until some action forces us to have a new administration.”

“Let’s be honest,” host Stephanie Ruhle said. “He’s never actually going to do that.”

Watch via MSNBC: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6pg1hu

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

White Americans humiliated themselves by supporting the racist stooge of a foreign tyrant

Chauncey Devega, Salon
17 Jul 2018 at 14:21 ET 

Making excuses for racism never ends well. It hurts people on both sides of the color line. In the case of Donald Trump, racism helped him to win the White House and, as now appears evident, betray the United States to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s embrace of Putin’s autocratic regime and betrayal of the United States’ military and intelligence agencies at Monday’s summit in Helsinki constitutes one of the worst moments in the history of the American presidency.

Through those actions Donald Trump has ushered a new phrase into the American vocabulary: treasonous racism.

There were many stops on this ignominious journey.

Donald Trump’s voters were motivated by racism, sexism, nativism, prejudice and bigotry. There is overwhelming evidence in support of this conclusion. Yet, the narrative that Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton was due to “economic anxiety” among the “working class” still persists.

After the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville last summer, Trump infamously said that there were “very fine people” among the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and other domestic terrorists who ran amok, killing Heather Heyer and injuring many other people. Donald Trump’s grotesque comment was met with deflections and rationalizations by many in the news media and among the political class, along the lines of “we can’t call him a racist because we don’t know what’s in his heart.”

Trump met with a group of law enforcement officers last May in California. During that meeting Trump clearly suggested that he believes Hispanics and Latinos are “animals.” Once his comments became public there were, of course, more deflections and excuses. Those who interpreted Trump’s remarks that way were taking them “out of context.”

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., has met with Trump on several occasions to discuss the country’s “racial atmosphere.” As a black conservative fulfilling his anointed role as professional best black friend to white racists, Scott has said that Trump is not racist but rather is “racially insensitive.”

In the most recent example of Donald Trump’s white identity politics and de facto embrace of white supremacy, last week in Britain he said this in his now-legendary interview with the Sun, a London tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch:

    I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you are losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist ten or 15 years ago.

Who does Trump mean by “you” in that passage? What does he mean by “your culture”? The president offered similar thoughts on immigration at his subsequent press conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May:

    I just think it’s changing the culture. I think it’s a very negative thing for Europe. I think it’s very negative. … I think it’s very much hurt other parts of Europe. And I know it’s politically not necessarily correct to say that, but I’ll say it and I’ll say it loud. And I think they better watch themselves because you are changing culture, you are changing a lot of things.

Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, helped decode this text in an interview with the Washington Post:

    The way he put this argument about changing our culture … about Europe becoming less nice than it is, in other words, these people are here and they are making the culture crappy and making the place lesser, that’s straight out of the white supremacist/white nationalist playbook …

Donald Trump is indeed America’s “first white president.” But he aspires to be something much more. Donald Trump yearns to be King of the White People.

Let’s back up a few steps: Claims about how “our” culture is being damaged or polluted by nonwhites (as well as Muslims and other non-Christians) are built upon a deranged and ahistorical fantasy. Historically, Europe has long had encounters with “nonwhite” cultures and civilizations. There were “nonwhite” people living in Europe during the Middle Ages and at various times before that. At least two Roman emperors were born in Africa, and several more had origins in what we would now call the Middle East. Moorish invasions and an infusion of Arab culture and learning helped lift Europe out of the Dark Ages.

Moreover, the very idea of a “white” Europe is extremely problematic for a number of reasons. The concept of “whiteness” did not come into existence until approximately the 15th century. As mentioned above, ancient civilizations had nothing similar to the modern conception of race. The main dividing lines for much of European history have been around religion and nationality. The white supremacist fantasy that Donald Trump and many others on the far right embrace presupposes a monocultural and monoracial Europe that does not exist and never did. Throughout Europe’s history, migration and immigration have been a net gain by any possible measure — economically, culturally, socially and politically.

In his quest to become King of the White People, Donald Trump has used or channeled white supremacist talking points and related ideas many times.

Trump is a professional white victimologist. In keeping with that identity, he and his allies have systematically tried to undermine the civil rights of African-Americans and other nonwhites. The Trump administration has even gone so far as to suggest that “affirmative action” and other programs “discriminate” against white people. Moreover, the Department of Justice and Department of Education have recently been tasked with investigating “racism” against white people. This is a central white supremacist notion: Any effort to combat racism is defined as “anti-white.”

Donald Trump has consistently used “eliminationist” language in referring to nonwhite refugees, immigrants and undocumented residents: They are “vermin” or “snakes” or “animals,” an “invading” “infestation.” This is strikingly similar to the language and logic used by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to refer to the Jewish people and others they wished to drive out, enslave or exterminate.

Trump’s administration wants the United Nations to remove all language from official documents that condemns racism and nationalism as a threat to democracy. Trump does not want the U.S. to be a leader in global human rights. He does, however, want our nation to carry the global banner of white racism and white supremacy.

Trump’s administration, at least at times, has served as a base of operations for white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others who embrace such ideas under the cover of “ethno-populism,” “economic nationalism” and a desire to end “multiculturalism.”

There is a simple reason that high-profile white supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer, as well as rank-and-file hate-mongers, have claimed Donald Trump as their leader and hero. Trump has repeatedly shown through his words, deeds, policies and other actions that he shares their values.

David Duke was effusive on Twitter in his support of Trump’s treasonous behavior in Helsinki:

    What happened in Helsinki is Historic. I my lifetime [sic] I have never seen such a courageous attack on the whole of the ZOG, the Zionist Occupied Government of the United States and the Zionist Occupied Media! Today Trump is a Hero! Trump is no Jesus but they hate him as much!!!!!!

    Bravo Trump! Bravo Russia! Bravo to all the true American Patriots who put America first and Peace and Justice first before the Zionist Deep Evil State ruling American Media and Politics. Russia has values America once had and America the values that Communist Russia had!

Fox News and the broader right-wing echo chamber has been grooming its audience for years with white supremacist narratives about white people becoming “victims” in this “new America” and how their culture is imperiled by the “browning of America.” This is a slightly more polite repackaging of white supremacist rallying cries about “white genocide” and “race suicide.”

Furthermore, one cannot overlook the way many white supremacists and other members of the global far right look to Vladimir Putin for leadership. They see Russia under Putin as a leader in the global struggle for “white Christian civilization.”

America has been sick with a white democracy problem for centuries. But with Donald Trump’s presidency this has reached a new crescendo.

Republicans and other Trump supporters have consistently chosen loyalty to their party and its authoritarian leader over love of country and American democracy. Racism helped to facilitate that decision. Ultimately, when Republicans decided that Trump’s evident racism and bigotry were not disqualifying attributes — and, for many of his voters, were the main reason to back him — they also betrayed the United States.

Philanthropist and impeachment advocate Tom Steyer was correct when he said this on Monday:

    Today, Americans and our allies around the world have witnessed the most disgraceful and appalling performance by a U.S. president in our history. The entire world has seen that Vladimir Putin has full control over Donald Trump. Trump’s defense of Putin — a known tyrant — at the expense of our intelligence agencies and democratic institutions is nothing less than treason and fully meets the criteria of high crimes and misdemeanors. Trump must be impeached to preserve the fabric of our democracy and the safety of our republic.

With Trump’s betrayal in Helsinki, America has now been brought to this: Tens of millions of white Americans now pledge fealty to Donald Trump, he who would be King of White People, even as their leader bends the knee to Vladimir Putin. Shame on them all.


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« Reply #3201 on: Jul 20, 2018, 05:51 AM »

Republicans should be repulsed

by Joe Scarborough
July 20 2018
WA Post

The morning after my first congressional reelection campaign, I was driving around Pensacola, Fla., collecting signs from supporters’ yards. It was an opportunity to spend time with my dad, who I had always suspected favored my brother over me. But I was confident that the previous night’s victory would make him proud. As we began driving through my neighborhood, the car radio was reporting election results: “And freshman Republican congressman Joe Scarborough breezed to reelection with an impressive 73 percent of the vote.” Turning toward my father in anticipation of some welcome adulation and praise, I found him instead glaring at the radio.

“Who the hell were the other 27 percent?” he bellowed.

Twenty years later, I am asking my father’s question of the party I once represented in Congress. For if it is true that only 40 percent of Republicans believe the United States should remain in NATO, as recent polling indicates, then who exactly are the other 60 percent?

Were they sleepwalking through history while our North Atlantic allies stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States during that long, twilight struggle against Communist Russia? Have they forgotten that during that Cold War, nothing less than the planet’s survival hung in the balance? Or that it was the North Atlantic alliance that pushed back tirelessly against Kremlin thugs who were trying to undermine the Western democracies? Or that American presidents from Harry S. Truman to George H.W. Bush shared NATO’s mission to free 100 million Eastern Europeans from the cruel grip of a regime that enslaved an entire continent and killed tens of millions of its own people?

Are today’s Republicans now so tribal as to blindly endorse a foreign policy warped by President Trump’s obvious allegiance to a former KGB chief who controls Russia through repression, bribery and political assassination and who has called the collapse of that evil empire the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century”?

Exactly who are these people, and what have they done with my party? And how could any American support Trump’s tragically weak performance at Helsinki?

Over the course of three days, President Trump commented on Russian election interference in ways that repeatedly contradicted his own intelligence officials. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

What loyal American would embrace a “Putin First” foreign policy that aligns U.S. interests with a Russian dictator’s goals rather than those long championed by America’s military and intelligence communities?

How can any red-blooded Republican not be repulsed by their commander in chief’s blubbering belief that a former Soviet spy’s cynical lies were as compelling as the clear and convincing evidence presented by the U.S. military community, the CIA and his own director of national intelligence?

It strains credulity to believe that any Republican would be so foolish as to defend the diplomatic debacle that led one European newspaper to call the U.S. president “Putin’s Poodle.” Even at home, Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post blasted Trump’s “see-no-evil” approach, and the Wall Street Journal editorialized that Congress needed to develop a containment strategy for both Vladimir Putin and Trump.

If anything can still be shocking three years into Trump’s chaotic political career, it may be that 71 percent of Republicans still support his handling of Russian relations, even after a summit that many considered treasonous.

If he were still alive, my rock-ribbed Republican father would be asking who these 71 percent were, and why they were selling out America’s national security in the name of a hapless reality TV host. But there is no good answer to that question. Further speculation over Trump’s disloyalty to the United States or Republicans’ fealty to their dumpy dupe of a demagogue is best left to political historians and the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

After President Trump cast doubt on U.S. intelligence findings on Russia's election meddling, network news anchors were flabbergasted, outraged and disgusted. (Jenny Starrs /The Washington Post)

But regardless of the verdicts ultimately handed down by historians and the special counsel’s office, the Helsinki summit brought two distressing realities into even sharper focus: The president of the United States is under the thumb of Putin. And the Republican Party he leads no longer deserves to survive.

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

Morning Joe: Trump’s White House invitation to Putin is ‘political suicide’ for GOP majorities

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
20 Jul 2018 at 07:21 ET                  

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said President Donald Trump’s invitation to Russian president Vladimir Putin was “political suicide” for his Republican congressional majority — and proved he was effectively owned by the Kremlin.

The president apparently invited Putin to visit the White House just ahead of this year’s midterm elections — which caught his staffers off guard — and the “Morning Joe” host and MSNBC analyst John Heilmann were dumbfounded.

“It’s a moment that we will remember, I think, historically, and it’s kind of astonishing on a million levels,” Heilemann said.

Trump evidently made the invitation during his private, one-on-one meeting with the Russian president, who would visit the White House just weeks before Americans vote.

“That speaks to the extraordinary leverage that Vladimir Putin has over Donald Trump,” Heilemann said. “We still don’t know exactly why, but it’s an incredible thing.”

Scarborough said those reasons would remain a mystery until they were revealed by special counsel Robert Mueller or historians, but he and Heilemann agreed the visit could be devastating to GOP candidates in swing districts.

“It’s political suicide,” Heilemann said.

Scarborough and Heilemann also agreed that Republicans finally seemed ready to challenge the president after he appeased Putin in Helsinki.

“They all, in various ways, are trying to signal that something is wrong here,” Heilemann said. “What we saw from Donald Trump in Helsinki and what we’ve seen in the aftermath of Helsinki suggests that something is not just wrong but deeply dangerous.”

“I think you are starting to see some kind of shift in the tectonic plates in the way the government is dealing with Donald Trump and in particular the way your former party is dealing with him,” he added. “This may be a week that history remembers.”

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

Journalist who was a skeptical of Trump-Russia collusion can no longer deny ‘what’s starting us in the face’

Brad Reed
Raw Story
20 Jul 2018 at 07:37 ET    

Politico Magazine chief editor Blake Hounshell has long been a skeptic of theories that President Donald Trump somehow colluded with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

In the wake of Trump’s infamous press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin this week, however, Hounshell is throwing up his hands and admitting he got it wrong.

In a new column posted Friday, Hounshell writes that Trump’s performance over the last week — in which he has attacked NATO allies, trashed British Prime Minister Theresa May hours before a state visit with her, and refused to say whether he believes his own intelligence agencies more than Putin — has left him unable to think of a reasonable explanation for his behavior other than being somehow compromised by Russia.

Click to read the whole article: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/07/20/confession-of-a-no-longer-russiagate-skeptic-219022

“Facts are piling up, and it’s getting harder to deny what’s staring us in the face,” he writes.

Hounshell then goes through all of the possible past explanations for Trump’s actions and breaks down why none of them hold up after the past week.

“Nobody would say his odd solicitousness toward the Kremlin leader is a political winner, and it certainly causes an unnecessary amount of friction with Republicans in Congress,” he writes. “He’s kept it up at great political cost to himself, and that suggest either that he is possessed by an anomalous level of conviction on this one issue, despite his extraordinary malleability on everything else—or that he’s beholden to Putin in some way.”

Hounshell concludes by predicting that Trump will soon try to once again question the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered — and he says this should strike deep fear into the hearts of U.S. allies.

“Trump may have grudgingly admitted that Russia did the deed, but nobody should be surprised if he starts shedding doubt on it all over again,” he writes. “Maybe, just maybe, he can’t admit that Moscow tried to put him in the Oval Office because he’s under strict instructions not to.”

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

GOP congressman: Trump ‘actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign’

Tana Ganeva
Raw Story
20 Jul 2018 at 10:11 ET                   

In a New York Times op-ed published Friday, Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), a former undercover CIA officer,  bluntly lays out the case that President Donald Trump is being manipulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them,” Hurd writes.

He explains why this is dangerous.

“By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad,” Hurd says.

He reiterates the fact that the intelligence community’s conclusion about Russian meddling in the 2016 election are certain.

“Our intelligence community has concluded with high confidence that President Putin personally ordered his security services to undertake an influence campaign aimed at undermining confidence in American democracy to sow chaos in our electoral system,” he writes.

Hurd then outlines the tools Congress can use to counter Russian disinformation and meddling around the world.

He asks that Congress continue arming Ukraine in its fight against Russian separatists. Hurd also calls for more stringent sanctions, and legislation that might improve Ukraine’s ability to counter Russian disinformation. He wants State Department head Mike Pompeo to testify before Congress about what transpired during meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and President Vladimir Putin.

Hurd also emphasizes the importance of arming the intelligence community with the tools it needs to counter Russian intelligence.

“Without action, we risk losing further credibility in international negotiations with both our friends and foes on critical trade deals, military alliances and nuclear arms.”

By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.


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« Reply #3202 on: Jul 21, 2018, 05:17 AM »


Seven ways … to prevent skin cancer

Sunburn can lead to skin cancer, so it is especially important to be careful in summer. From suspect moles to suitable sunscreen, you can minimise your risk if you know the steps to take and the warning signs

Ann Robinson
Guardian
7/21/2018

Moles are clusters of pigment-containing cells (melanocytes) and are usually harmless. Melanomas – the least common, but most dangerous type of skin cancer – can arise in pre-existing moles. Things to look out for include rapid growth, a change in colour, shape or border, and a previously flat mole becoming raised. Bleeding, itching, scaling or ulceration, also warrant urgent medical attention. It is useful to know what is normal, too; new, harmless moles often appear up to the age of 25, they tend to fade with age but often get darker in pregnancy. Dermatologist Howard Stevens says melanomas can look like innocent moles (“a wolf in sheep’s clothing”), so if you notice a single large mole (greater than 6mm in diameter) that is growing or changing, ask to see a dermatologist.

Spotting the changes

If you have lots of moles, it can be hard to keep an eye on them. Programmes that monitor your moles (mole mapping) use computer-assisted technology to photograph, analyse and store images of your moles over regular intervals. But you can do it yourself by looking out for the ABCDE of moles; asymmetry, border irregularity, colour change, diameter increase and enlargement or elevation.

Watch your ears and eyes

Take special care of areas of skin that are often exposed to sun, burn easily and don’t heal well – such as the tips of your ears and areas around the eyes. Basal cell cancers – the commonest and least destructive type of skin cancer – often arise near the eyes and sides of the nose. Squamous cell cancers – less common, but occasionally aggressive cancers – can arise on the tops of your ears and lips, often starting as a roughened patch that won’t heal. Melanomas can arise anywhere on the body, either in an existing mole or as a new raised nodule or spot that looks like a mole.
Know your risk

Anyone can get skin cancers, but, as with most cancers, they are much more common as you get older. People most at risk of a melanoma have fair skin and hair, blue eyes, more than 20 moles, have been exposed to severe sunburn (especially in childhood) and have a close family member who has had a melanoma. Once you have had a melanoma, you are at greatly increased risk of another.

Be UV-aware

Exposure to high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or sunbeds increases the risk of all types of skin cancer. UVA rays cause skin damage such as wrinkles and play a part in some skin cancers. UVB causes sunburn and direct damage to skin cells and increases the risk of most skin cancers. UV levels can be high even on cloudy days. Rays are strongest from 10am to 4pm, at high altitude and the nearer you are to the equator. The Met Office publishes a UV index forecast for 417 world cities, giving a level of risk from 1-11 and advising about suitable precautions.

What are ‘suitable precautions’?

Look after babies and children; later development of skin cancer is linked to childhood sunburn. Babies should be kept out of direct sun and kids should never be allowed to burn. When the UV index is 1-2 (a typical UK winter day), no protection is needed; UV 3-7 means you should wear a shirt, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. For UV 8-11, the advice is to seek shade, stay indoors during midday hours and wear a shirt, hat, shades and sunscreen at all times when outside. A hot summer day in the UK may well reach 7 or even 8.

What sort of sunscreen is best?

You need a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 30-plus if the UV index is above 3. For an adult, you need two tablespoons (about the amount you can fit in your palm) of sunscreen for your entire body, including ears, neck, face, hands and feet. Put it on while still indoors because it takes about 15 minutes to be absorbed into the skin and start doing its job. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or heavy sweating. Use a lip balm SPF 15-plus to protect lips.


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« Reply #3203 on: Jul 21, 2018, 05:26 AM »


Electric Vehicle Sales Foretell a Big Oil Crash

By Paul Brown
Ecowatch
7/21/2018

Oil and gas companies have underestimated probable electric vehicle sales and the effect they will have on their own businesses and profits, a new report says.

If the car manufacturers' projections of future sales of electric cars are correct, then demand for oil will have peaked by 2027 or even earlier, sending the price of oil in a downward spiral as supply exceeds demand, said Carbon Tracker (CT), an independent financial think-tank carrying out in-depth analysis on the impact of the energy transition on capital markets.

It said fossil fuel companies have taken into account some engine fuel efficiencies and the effect they would have on oil demand, but not the expected increase in electric vehicles themselves. There is a big mismatch between forecasts of EV market penetration from vehicle manufacturers and from oil majors, said Laurence Watson, a CT data scientist.

"The oil industry is underestimating the disruptive potential of electric vehicles, which could reduce oil demand by millions of barrels a day. Increases in fuel efficiency will also eat into oil demand and the industry's profits. The oil majors' myopic position presents a serious investor risk," he told the Climate News Network.

Expectations Far Lower

The report looks at all the projections of the oil majors, including Exxon and BP, and says their figures for electric vehicle growth in the 2020s are 75 percent to 250 percent smaller than those expected by the global car manufacturers that have announced targets.

Electric vehicle sales in China alone, a figure bolstered by government intervention, are expected to be seven million a year by 2025. These, plus the three million a year aim of Volkswagen by the same date, would exceed oil industry estimates for sales for the whole world.

There are immense variables taken into account in the report. These include the number of miles driven by the average electric vehicle and the sort of car it replaces.

These variables depend on the influence of various governments' policies to reduce oil in transportation in order to keep global temperature rise below 2°C beyond pre-industrial levels. The need to reduce air pollution also strongly favours the introduction of electric vehicles in cities.

More Demand Reduction

Another of the imponderables is the increasing efficiency of the internal combustion engine, which in itself also reduces demand for oil. It follows a growing trend already well-established in several countries, including Sweden, which from 2019 will produce no more vehicles powered by internal combustion alone.

The take-up of electric vehicles is crucial to the future of the oil industry because transportation takes up 50 percent of total oil demand. About half of the demand from transport is from light passenger vehicles, those that are most likely in the short term to switch to electricity.

Heavy-duty transport, aviation and shipping are also beginning to switch, but it is cars that will make the early difference.

The report argues that it is not total oil demand that matters but the difference between supply and demand. The 2014 crash in the oil price was caused by a surplus of 2 million barrels of oil a day, mainly because of a boom in U.S. shale production.

To get the price back up in order to improve oil company profits took the combined efforts of the OPEC oil countries and the Russian government in cutting production, a process that needed three years.

According to the CT report, demand for oil will fall by 8 million barrels of oil a day by 2030 because of the expected deployment of electric vehicles, meaning that the oil-producing countries will have to constantly reduce their production in order to keep prices up.

The report argues that although oil demand will continue to be very large, the peak demand will have been reached around 2025. Demand displacement by electric vehicles "will significantly disrupt oil and gas company business models. Furthermore, we believe that when global oil demand peaks this will fundamentally alter investors' approach to the industry."


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« Reply #3204 on: Jul 21, 2018, 05:28 AM »


‘Powerful Evidence’ of Global Warming’s Effect on Seasons Found in Troposphere

By Daisy Dunne
Ecowatch
7/21/2018

Scientists studying the troposphere—the lowest level of the atmosphere—have found "powerful evidence" that climate change is altering seasonal temperatures.

A study published in Science finds that climate change has caused an increase in the difference between summer and winter temperatures across North America and Eurasia over the past four decades.

This could be the result of summer temperatures warming at a faster rate than winter temperatures in these parts of the world, the researchers say.

The findings show the "substantial human influence on Earth's climate, affecting not only global averages, but also local and seasonal changes," another scientist says.

Most of the world's weather originates in the troposphere, a second scientist tells Carbon Brief, meaning that changes to seasonal temperatures could be affecting the likelihood of extreme weather events, such as flooding and drought.

Sky High

Evidence shows that the seasons are changing. In Europe, for example, analysis of the first-emergence dates of more than 500 plant species shows that the first day of spring has advanced by six to eight days in the past three decades.

However, working out to what extent seasonal changes can be explained by climate change—rather than natural climate variability, caused by phenomena such as El Niño—presents more of a challenge.

To quantify the influence of climate change versus natural variability, scientists often carry out "attribution" studies.

The new study is the first to assess how climate change could be influencing seasonal temperature changes in the troposphere—a layer that covers roughly the first 17 kilometers (approximately 10.6 miles) of the atmosphere above the earth.

Writing in their research paper, the team, led by Dr. Ben Santer, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said:

"Our results suggest that attribution studies with the changing seasonal cycle provide powerful evidence for a significant human effect on Earth's climate."

Satellite Sentinels

For the study, the researchers analyzed atmospheric temperature data recorded by satellites throughout the summer and winter months from 1979-2016. (Carbon Brief has published an explainer on how satellite temperature records compare with measurements at the earth's surface.)

The map below shows how the difference between summer and winter temperatures, expressed as an average per decade, has changed across the world.

On the map, dark red indicates where the difference between summer and winter temperatures have grown larger, while dark blue shows where the difference has grown smaller.

Temperature difference between summer and winter months (per decade) from 1979-2016. Red shows a large temperature difference between the seasons, while blue shows a small temperature difference.
Source: Randel (2018) Data source: Santer et al. (2018)

The map shows that the difference between summer and winter temperatures has increased the most in mid-latitude regions, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

This is because, in these regions, atmospheric summer temperatures are increasing at a faster rate than winter temperatures—causing the disparity between the two seasons to grow larger and larger, the researchers say.

The northern hemisphere has experienced more summertime warming than the southern hemisphere because it contains more land, the researchers say. The presence of land means that less heat can be absorbed by the ocean—leading to amplified atmospheric warming.

The map also indicates that the eastern edges of both North America and Eurasia have experienced the greatest amounts of warming. This could be because, during the winter in these regions, warm air masses are carried from east to west—leading to milder winters along western continental margins, the researchers say.

Changes in temperatures are not as pronounced around the tropics because this region is not highly seasonal, the researchers say. Instead, the seasons in tropical regions are typically defined by rainfall ("wet" and "dry," for example), rather than by temperature.

In contrast, the difference between summer and winter temperatures around the poles has shrunk over the past four decades, the map shows. In these regions, winter temperatures are rising faster than summer temperatures, the research finds.

In the Arctic, this winter warming is partly influenced by the diminishing presence of sea ice during summer months, the researchers say. With less sea ice present, the ocean absorbs more heat—which is later released during the winter, the researchers say.

The reason that winter atmospheric warming may have accelerated above Antarctica is less clear. However, previous research suggests that the presence of polar clouds in the stratosphere (which sits above the troposphere) could be playing a role.

'Substantial Human Influence'

To understand to what extent the observed seasonal changes were influenced by human-caused climate change, the researchers compared the satellite results to climate models.

The model simulations, which ran from 1979-2016, included a range of natural factors that can influence tropospheric temperature, including the cooling effect of volcanic eruptions and aerosols. To include the impact of human-caused climate change, the researchers used a "business-as-usual" emissions scenario known as RCP8.5.

The results show that only simulations that include the impact of human-caused climate change could correctly predict the patterns of seasonal temperature change recorded by the satellites.

This indicates that humans are having a "substantial influence" on the temperatures in the troposphere, said Dr. William Randel, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who was not involved in the research. In an accompanying perspectives article, he writes:

"[The] findings provide further markers of a substantial human influence on Earth's climate, affecting not only global averages, but also local and seasonal changes."

Weather Worries

However, it is not clear how temperature changes in the troposphere could affect conditions at the land surface, he adds:

"The connection between changes at the surface and the free troposphere awaits explanation."

One possible effect could be changes to the timing and likelihood of extreme weather events, said professor Neil Harris, head of the Centre for Environment and Agricultural Informatics at Cranfield University, who was not involved in the research. He told Carbon Brief:

"The paper significantly increases confidence that the observed changes in the troposphere—where all our weather is—are consistent with models and that they are of human origin. This gives more confidence in the existing findings of an increase frequency of extreme weather, such as more intense rainfall and more extreme summer hot spells."


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« Reply #3205 on: Jul 21, 2018, 05:30 AM »


Air Pollution in National Parks as Bad as 20 Largest U.S. Cities

Ecowatch
7/21/2018

A new study shows the importance of clean air regulations to prevent air pollution from reaching national parks.

A study published in Science Advances Wednesday found that, between 1990 and 2014, the ozone concentrations in 33 of the largest and most visited national parks were statistically indistinguishable from the ozone concentrations in the 20 largest U.S. cities.

While air quality in urban centers began to improve after the 1990 version of the Clean Air Act, the study found that the parks' air didn't begin to clear until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) implemented the 1999 Regional Haze Rule that specifically called on states to reduce emissions to improve visibility in national parks.

Overall, researchers found the number of days with ozone levels deemed unsafe by the EPA decreased more substantially in urban areas than in parks, suggesting the need to strengthen the haze rule.

"Even though the national parks are supposed to be icons of a pristine landscape, quite a lot of people are being exposed to ozone levels that could be detrimental to their health," study co-author and Cornell University assistant economics professor Ivan Rudik told The Associated Press.

The study, conducted by researchers at Iowa State and Cornell universities, suggested that some people are taking health concerns into consideration and staying away on days when air quality is low. It found that the number of park visitors fell by 2 percent when ozone levels rose just a little bit and by as much as 8 percent in months with three or more high ozone days.

While the study could not assess why visitation numbers fell on those days, Rudik said it was possible people were choosing to stay away after reading air quality reports published by the parks and other government agencies. Other studies have shown that people tend to avoid locations covered by air pollution alerts.

The results offer a new argument against attempts by Trump's EPA to reverse changes made to the haze rule by the Obama administration to strengthen it by requiring scrubbers and other technologies to reduce pollution from industrial sources. The original version of the rule would only return normal visibility to 30 parks by 2064, critics pointed out, according to the Sierra Club.

"Some of the arguments that people are making against the Regional Haze Rule are that the benefits are basically zero, that these visibility rules don't matter that much or maybe the health improvements are overstated. But if you look at what people actually do, they clearly do care," Rudik told the Sierra Club.

Of course, parks are still seeing plenty of visitors. National parks overall have seen record numbers of visitors in recent years, and 35 percent of park visits take place on days with high ozone levels.

The health of those undeterred visitors is yet another reason to strengthen the rule.

"The dollar value of these health benefits could be very large, especially if you aggregate them over these millions of visits over the years," Rudik told The Sierra Club.

Of the parks studied, the air at Sequoia National Park is among the worst for national parks because it is downwind of pollution sources like farms, highways and urban pollution from as far away as San Francisco, CNN reported.

During every year except two since 1996, Sequoia National Park had more days on which ozone levels breached the EPA's safe limit than did Los Angeles, the U.S. city with the worst ozone pollution, the study found.

On the other side of the country, Acadia National Park has some of the highest air pollution levels in the Northeast as polluted air from cities south and west gets stuck between the park's mountains.

Another park that struggles with unsafe air was Joshua Tree National Park.

"From 1990 to 2000, Joshua Tree ... had, on average, 105 unhealthy ozone days per year while NYC had 110. From 2001 to 2014, average unhealthy days decreased in both locations to 101 per year in Joshua Tree and 78 in NYC," Rudick told CNN.

"Consistent with our overall results, the improvements in Joshua Tree are more modest than those in NYC," Rudik said.

Overall, unsafe ozone days have fallen from 53 to 18 per year in major cities and 27 to 16 days per year in national parks.


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« Reply #3206 on: Jul 21, 2018, 05:33 AM »


Interview: 'You will never run from death': shot by poachers in Uganda

Jonathan Watts

Ranger Samuel Loware’s life is under constant threat in his efforts to conserve wildlife from heavily armed guerillas

Guardian
Sat 21 Jul 2018 06.15 BST

The bullet that pierced the shoulder of Ugandan ranger Samuel Loware had already taken one life and could easily have added his. The shell was fired by a Sudanese poacher trying to flee back over the border with contraband meat from the Kidepo Valley national park.

Loware had been tracking the fugitive - one of a band of heavily armed raiders - from the early morning with the help of a local villager. As the two pursuers approached a gully, the poacher opened fire from behind a tree trunk that had been pushed down by an elephant. One shot passed through the chest of the villager into the body of the ranger, who was returning fire.

The poacher escaped, leaving the villager dead and Loware with a bullet lodged under his skin. The bone was not fractured but the wound could have been fatal. By the time the ranger reached the nearest clinic, the bullet had moved so far from the entry point that nurses were unable to find it. The sergeant had to be driven several hours further to a hospital in Kitgum , where X-rays revealed the location – four inches down his back – allowing a surgeon to cut it out before it could claim a second life.

This episode on 5 February was the latest in a series of deadly clashes between Ugandan rangers – who are dedicated to protect elephants, giraffes, zebras and buffalos – and heavily armed guerrilla-turned poachers who are desperate for food and money after deserting from the Sudanese People’s Liberation army.

Five months on, Loware is sitting at a broken plastic table in an empty dining room in Apoca, the rangers camp in the centre of the vast expanse of savanna that makes up the Kidepo Valley national park . His wounds have healed, but he knows the risks have not gone away. The person who shot him is still at large. Countless other desperate Sudanese are taking their AK47s and Kalashnikovs on raids across the border, where they terrorise villagers, hunt antelopes, bucks, zebra, buffalos and other animals for meat, or kill elephants and ostriches on behalf of Chinese ivory and bone-marrow smugglers.

His family have begged him to return home because they are worried about his safety but he tells them that being a ranger is the best way he can provide for his seven children, as well as contributing to the local economy and the world.

“They should be happy that I survived,” he says.

Loware’s profession is the most perilous form of environmental defence in the world. Close to a hundred rangers have been killed every year since 2010, according to Thin Green Line, an NGO that lobbies for greater protection for nature’s frontline protectors. In the past year, most of the deaths have been in east and central Africa.

For Loware, the worst previous period was 2009-11, when he was caught up in two deadly operations. In the first, two Ugandan self-defence force soldiers were killed in a joint operation with rangers against buffalo poachers armed with AK47s. On another mission, he saw his commander killed in a gun battle with Sudanese poachers near the Kidepo river.

“That was a terrible time,” he recalls. “I was traumatised. I thought of quitting.”

This is a familiar refrain among rangers, who often suffer from mental as well as physical strains. Their burden is huge.

As in the Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya, rangers alone cannot save Africa’s wildlife, but they do slow the slaughter.

Inside the park, many villagers have been persuaded to give up illegal arms. There have been numerous confiscations of skins and ivory. Many poachers have been arrested or killed. But the porous border with Sudan remains a problem.

The key, Loware believes, is better frontier management and greater education for young Sudanese. Many poachers are teenagers who have spent their lives in war zones rather than schools. They have guns but no concept of conservation. “In the north these guys have no relationship with animals. They say, we are keeping these animals for what?” he explains.

By contrast, Loware says he was raised to believe in wildlife protection as a necessity and an opportunity.

Conservation is often portrayed as a foreign concept, but he says indigenous people in his region practiced sustainable culling of wild animals long before the creation of the Kidepo national park in 1954. During British rule, his uncle asked for the support of police to punish those who failed to follow the rules. This led to the establishment of “game guards”, the precursors of today’s rangers.

That same uncle also used to proselytise in the village, telling his family and neighbours that if they did not care for giraffes, elephants and other animals, then their children might only know them from books. Several family members took up the cause. Loware joined the Uganda Wildlife Authority Rangers in 2000. The six months of training was gruelling. Of the 60 who were recruited alongside him, he was one of only 25 who graduated.

Now a sergeant, his duties include ecological monitoring, fire management, radio operation and wildlife database updating. For him, fire prevention is the most important task, but it is usually only when there is a conflict with poachers that his increasingly militarised work makes the headlines.

Despite high risks and low pay (£140 per month), he plans to continue and another generation of his family could follow him into the job. He tells his seven children about his work and the importance of conservation to Uganda and the world.

He says the wildlife he protects brings academics and tourists, whose funds help to build schools and clinics. There are also jobs for researchers and hotel workers. The 3,000-strong Ugandan ranger forces is set to add another 500 to its ranks this month.

The perils remain. Overall Loware says the situation is no better than when he started. But he no longer thinks of quitting as he did after the death of his commander.

“As of now I am comfortable because - as they say - if you run you will never run from death,” he says. “Even a man who sits at home and doesn’t work as a ranger can die in an accident or be killed by raiders. So from that time until now I decided that for the love of conservation, for the love of the rest of my colleagues and for the love of the country, let us work.”


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« Reply #3207 on: Jul 21, 2018, 05:39 AM »


Imran Khan near victory in Pakistan election but some ask if he is playing fair

Former cricket star galvanises support for PTI party with pledge to end corruption

Memphis Barker in Lahore
Guardian
Sat 21 Jul 2018 05.00 BST

On a stage high above a hockey stadium to the north of Lahore, a compere shrieks into the microphone. Supporters of Imran Khan clamber onto rows of chairs. Then the 65-year-old cricket legend steps forward.

With a general election due to be held on Wednesday, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is just a bat swing away from a victory he has pursued relentlessly since relinquishing a glamorous London lifestyle of celebrity and nightclubs more than 20 years ago.

“This is an opportunity to change Pakistan,” he tells an 8,000-strong crowd in the poor suburb of Shahdara, as moths collide with high-powered floodlights. “You will not have it again and again.”

Merchants inside the stadium cash in on Khan’s celebrity with T-shirts, phone covers and flags decorated with the craggily handsome features of the “Captain” who led Pakistan to victory at the 1992 cricket World Cup. But it is his promise to end corruption that has transformed the party he founded in 1996, and which held only one seat in parliament until 2013, into the probable leaders of the next government.

Claiming that $10bn (£7.6bn) is laundered out of Pakistan each year, the populist, socially conservative leader hits out at the “traitors who have made this country poor”.

Khan’s political fortunes have risen steadily in the year since he successfully petitioned Pakistan’s supreme court to disqualify the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, on corruption charges. Earlier this month, Sharif was imprisoned on a 10-year sentence: from the stage, a PTI official claims that that a jailer switches on Sharif’s television during Khan’s rallies, forcing him to watch his tormentor-in-chief.

“Have you seen Avenfield House?” Mohammed Asif asks outside the rally. “Those are my flats,” says the 33-year-old Khan supporter, referring to four properties in Park Lane, London, which lie at the heart of Sharif’s corruption case. “They belong to the people of Pakistan.”

But Khan is a deeply polarising figure and his poison-tongued campaign inflamed political tensions. After he called supporters of Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) “donkeys”, an animal charity reported that PTI aficionados had beaten one of the animals close to death.

Khan implied in a tweet following the deaths of 149 people an Isis-claimed suicide attack on 13 July in the eastern province of Balochistan that the PML-N was behind the attack as a way to distract attention from Sharif’s legal woes. “Beginning to wonder why whenever Nawaz Sharif is in trouble, there is increasing tension along Pakistan’s borders and a rise in terrorist acts? Is it a mere coincidence?” he asked.

More damaging to his claims to represent a break with the status quo is the accusation that Khan is taking advantage of the support of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment, which has ruled the country for nearly half of its coup-studded 71-year history. Polls show the two parties neck-a-neck but PML-N leaders appear so downcast as to have practically conceded.

“Sharif is just crying about the election as this is the first time he hasn’t been able to use his own umpire,” Khan said at the Shahdara rally.

In political terms, Khan has plenty of incentive to seek out shortcuts, according to analysts . The PML-N has had a broadly positive record in government over the last five years, in which the party has notably reduced power blackouts. According to political commentator Fasi Zaka, this means “it would not have been his election” without a military-backed campaign against the party in which supportive media channels have been taken off air, politicians have been pressured to defect, and the courts selectively targeted its leaders.

In a recent interview with Dawn newspaper, Khan lamented that “this is not Europe, you cannot just tell people what you stand for and they will vote for you”. This is a lesson he appears to have learned from the election of 2013, when he worked himself into the ground – eventually falling off stage and being hospitalised.

Since then, his campaign has evolved from promises of a “New Pakistan” – better schools, better hospitals, an end to pilfering from the state – into something more traditional. Around one third of his party’s candidates are recently recruited “electables”, long-in-the-tooth politicians who bring with them vote banks and, often, corruption scandals. These characters, many believe, will help the PTI crack the crucial province of Punjab, which returns more than half the 272 directly elected seats in the National Assembly.

But former allies told the Guardian that many believe that the party has shifted away from its anti-corruption platform. “There are cuckoos in the PTI nest,” Brigadier Samson Sharif, the party’s ex-shadow defence secretary, said. Khan “now has so many albatrosses hanging around his neck … he is a pied piper leading the people nowhere”.

Born in Lahore in 1952, the Oxford-educated cricketer has also undergone what appears to be significant a personal transformation. While he used to party with Mick Jagger, today he defends Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws and criticises “Westoxified” Pakistani liberals.

In 2017, the provincial government his party has run for the past five years in the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa granted $3m to the Haqqania madrassa, a fount of Taliban fighters, drawing sighs of “Taliban Khan” from the coffee shops frequented by Islamabad’s liberals. Others note the arc of his marriages: first came Jemima Khan, a glamorous British heiress. Earlier this year Khan secretly wed his spiritual adviser, Bushra Maneka.

Still, the spectre of an electorally poisonous playboy past was revived with the publication this month of a kiss-and-tell memoir by his second wife, Reham Khan, a former news anchor, PDF copies of which were shared far and wide on Pakistani WhatsApp. She alleges he used “six grams” of cocaine a night, has several love-children and sexts women in his party. “She is just a porn star,” says supporter Zulfikar Ali Khan, repeating the argument of PTI insiders that the book’s publication was co-ordinated with the PML-N.

If the book was a ploy, it seems unlikely to pay off. According to Credit Suisse, the PTI stands a 75% chance of forming a coalition government under Khan. Some supporters even celebrate the army’s alleged tilting of the field as proof that the institution is doing its job. “If they are involved, they are in favour of Pakistan,” says Umair Iqbal, 25. “Even if you put down a vote for PML-N,” adds Shehzar, 19, “it will go to PTI. The PML-N has no chance of forming a government as it has no supporting hands.” In reference to the army, he said: “They know how to bowl you out.”

That appears a blessing to Khan for now. But with a looming economic crisis, political instability and an assertive military establishment to handle, Pakistan’s probable next “Captain” will have to zealously guard his own stumps.


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« Reply #3208 on: Jul 21, 2018, 05:42 AM »


Nicaragua: Ortega blames 'satanic sect' for uprising against his rule

President claims the unrest that has left over 300 dead is due to a ‘diabolical force’ from a US-backed conspiracy to topple him

Tom Phillips in Mexico City
Guardian
21 Jul 2018 18.04 BST

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega has hit out at what he has claimed is a “murderous, coup-mongering satanic sect” behind a three-month uprising against his rule that has left more than 300 dead.

There is growing international consensus that Ortega’s own forces and pro-government militias are responsible for the overwhelming majority of the violence that has gripped Nicaragua since protests erupted in April.

However, during a pro-government rally in Managua on Thursday, Ortega sought to shift blame for the bloodshed on to the “diabolical force” he claimed was part of a US-backed conspiracy to topple him.

“We have to re-establish order in our country,” the former guerrilla told thousands of flag-waving supporters who had assembled in the lakeside Plaza de la Fe to celebrate the 39th anniversary of the 1979 Sandinista victory over the Somoza dictatorship. “The road isn’t war, but peace and dialogue.”

Ortega has faced growing international condemnation over the killings in recent days, including from one-time supporters.

Uruguay’s former leftwing president, José Mujica, this week said he feared the Sandinista dream had strayed into autocracy, adding: “There are times in life when you must say: ‘I’m off.’”

Thirteen Latin American countries – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay – have denounced “the acts of violence, intimidation and the threats directed towards Nicaraguan society”.

That criticism coincides with what observers call an intensifying government propaganda campaign intended to blunt growing international pressure.

“They are trying to push back and persuade people that it is not a matter of innocent students being attacked by a brutal government, it is a matter of a government defending citizens … from criminals and thugs who are being paid by the extreme right,” said Geoff Thale, a Central America expert and activist from the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America.

But Thale said such allegations were not supported by fact. “Do I think the demonstrators are all noble pacifists? No, I wouldn’t say that. But that this is some organised effort by the extreme right who has hired organised criminals and foreign thugs? I don’t think there is any credible evidence for that.”

Thale compared attempts to equate opposition violence with killings carried out by government-linked forces to Donald Trump’s bid to blame “both sides” for white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year. “There may be violent acts on both sides … But overwhelmingly the deaths have been of protesters and people associated with them.”


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« Reply #3209 on: Jul 21, 2018, 05:44 AM »


Civilians flee conditions 'not fit for humans' in Yemen's besieged port city

Lull in hostilities prompts residents to escape Hodeidah in their thousands, amid concern that fighting could soon resume

Kate Hodal
Guardian
Sat 21 Jul 2018 07.00 BST

The besieged port city of Hodeidah in Yemen has become a “ghost town” as residents continue to flee in their thousands, using the current lull in hostilities to sell what remains of their belongings and escape amid fears UN-brokered negotiations will collapse.

Aid workers have told the Guardian that although things seem peaceful as diplomatic talks continue between warring parties, schools and businesses remain closed, and “anyone with any resources to get out is doing so now”.

“People are living in pathetic conditions not fit for humans and completely untenable for those who are most vulnerable,” said Isaac Ooko, area manager in Hodeidah for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC).

“What might appear to be a pause to the outside world doesn’t feel the same for those of us seeing what it means for people here.”

More than 35,000 families have been displaced from Hodeidah governorate since June, when the Saudi-led coalition began a military offensive to wrest control of the vital Red Sea port city from Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

UN-led negotiations, brokered by special envoy Martin Griffiths, have floated the idea of handing over Hodeidah – which handles about 70% of all Yemen’s imports – to UN supervision, in a bid to end current blockages on food, water and oil.

The hiatus has allowed much-needed supplies to come back into the famine-stricken country, where 22 million people – 80% of the entire population – need humanitarian aid.

But aid workers warn supplies are low, with current food stocks at only 40% and fuel at just 16% of July’s requirements.

“It’s very easy for food to come in overland, but the biggest problem is the fuel,” said NRC’s advocacy adviser Suze van Meegan by phone from the capital, Sana’a.

    People are living in pathetic conditions not fit for humans
    Isaac Ooko

“Without enough fuel, hospitals won’t be able to use their generators, water systems requiring pumps will start breaking down and the risk of cholera reemerging is a very real one – it would only take two or three days of no water for things to really explode.”

Dina El-Mamoun, head of policy and advocacy at Oxfam International Yemen, said many people who want to leave do not have the money to do so, and “some of those who have sought to flee have fallen victims to landmines”.

She added: “The fighting in the southern part of Hodeidah in particular continues to intensify, as military enforcements were said to have been sent to Tuhaita area in Hodeidah in the last couple of days. Locals are talking of thousands of people effectively trapped in those areas.”

Families are reduced to eating one meal a day, she said. There are also reports that renal treatment centres are running out of medical supplies.

Aid workers warned against seeing the break in aggression in the port city as an indication of nationwide peace, pointing to continued fighting in districts south of the city, such as At Tuhayat and Zabid.

Airstrikes north of the northern city of Sa’ada, combined with ground troops moving down towards Hodeidah, have pushed a steady stream of people to seek safety in Hajjah, where aid teams claim civilians are arriving in temperatures of 40C desperate for water, with only the items they can carry.

Those who remain in Hodeidah question whether the current pause is just the calm before the storm.

“We’ve been watching this situation develop over the last one to two years but this is the point at which we feel the least certain about what will happen next,” said van Meegan.

“We fully support and endorse everything being done by the special envoy and are inclined now to see it as the only hope for maintaining peace in Hodeidah. If that process falls apart at any point, for any reason, it is very hard to say what will happen.”


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