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Jun 26, 2019, 02:43 PM
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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 2173578 times)
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« Reply #3570 on: Jun 25, 2019, 05:03 AM »

This is the reality of Trump’s America

By Eugene Robinson
Columnist
WA Post
June 25 2019

President Trump’s immigration policy has crossed the line from gratuitous cruelty to flat-out sadism. Perhaps he enjoys seeing innocent children warehoused in filth and squalor. Perhaps he thinks that’s what America is all about. Is he right, Trump supporters? Is he right, Republicans in Congress? Is this what you want?

A team of lawyers, tasked with monitoring the administration’s compliance with a consent decree on the treatment of migrant children, managed to gain access to a Customs and Border Protection detention center in Clint, Tex., last week. The lawyers were not allowed to tour the facility but were able to interview more than 50 of the estimated 350 children being held there.

Let me quote at length how Willamette University law professor W. Warren Binford described those interviews to a reporter for the New Yorker:

“They the children were filthy dirty, there was mucus on their shirts. . . . There was food on the shirts, and the pants as well. They told us that they were hungry. They told us that some of them had not showered or had not showered until the day or two days before we arrived. Many of them described that they only brushed their teeth once. This facility knew last week that we were coming. The government knew three weeks ago that we were coming.

“So, in any event, the children told us that nobody’s taking care of them, so that basically the older children are trying to take care of the younger children. The guards are asking the younger children or the older children, ‘Who wants to take care of this little boy? Who wants to take [care] of this little girl?’ and they’ll bring in a two-year-old, a three-year-old, a four-year-old. And then the littlest kids are expected to be taken care of by the older kids, but then some of the oldest children lose interest in it, and little children get handed off to other children. And sometimes we hear about the littlest children being alone by themselves on the floor.

“Many of the children reported sleeping on the concrete floor. They are being given army blankets, those wool-type blankets that are really harsh. Most of the children said they’re being given two blankets, one to put beneath them on the floor. Some of the children are describing just being given one blanket and having to decide whether to put it under them or over them because there is air-conditioning at this facility. And so they’re having to make a choice about, Do I try to protect myself from the cement, or do I try to keep warm?”

Binford told reporters that the older children described outbreaks of influenza and head lice at the overcrowded facility, which she said was designed to hold no more than 104 detainees. She told The Post that she “witnessed a 14-year-old caring for a 2-year-old without a diaper, shrugging as the baby urinated as they sat at a table because she did not know what to do.”

The legal experts monitoring the treatment of migrant children rarely go public with their findings, but Binford was shaken by what she saw and heard. She said the overwhelmed CBP guards at the Clint facility were sympathetic to her efforts and knew the children should not be warehoused in such conditions. Thankfully, according to news reports Monday night, hundreds of the children were removed from the facility.

According to the consent decree Binford is helping to monitor, they should not be warehoused at all. Most should have quickly been released to a parent, relative or guardian who is already in the United States.

Shamefully, there is more: Dolly Lucio Sevier, a physician who was able to assess 39 children at a different detention facility in McAllen, Tex., described conditions there as including “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food,” according to a document obtained by ABC News.

“The conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities,” Lucio Sevier wrote.

Trump and Vice President Pence responded with lies (blaming the Obama administration), deflection (blaming Democrats in Congress) and lots of oleaginous faux concern. But this is a humanitarian crisis of Trump’s making. A president who panders to his base by seizing billions of dollars from other programs to build a “big, beautiful wall” also panders to his base by cruelly treating brown-skinned migrant children like subhumans.

Do not look away. This is the reality of Trump’s America. Deal with it.


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« Reply #3571 on: Jun 25, 2019, 06:01 AM »


MSNBC’s Mika scorches Trump over sex assault denials: ‘What type of woman would you rape?’

on June 25, 2019
Raw Story
By Travis Gettys

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski revealed the horrific meaning behind President Donald Trump’s defense against new rape claims.

Author and columnist E. Jean Carroll has accused the president of raping her more than 20 years ago after a chance meeting at a Manhattan department store, but Trump insists he couldn’t have assaulted her because she’s not his “type.”

“We’re talking about sexual assault, talking about actual rape and the president said that she’s not his type,” the “Morning Joe” co-host said. “So I guess the follow-up question is, since you have a type when it comes to rape, what’s your type, Donald Trump, and is it any of the other women who claimed that you raped them?”

“What is your type, since you have a type, that you would rape?” Brzezinski added.

MSNBC contributor Elise Jordan thanked her for describing Carroll’s claims as rape, and explained why the author’s allegations — and Trump’s denials — hit her particularly hard.

“I feel it very viscerally,” Jordan said. “What Trump is saying is this woman wasn’t even worth raping, wasn’t even worth assaulting. It’s the low regard that he holds so many women, and it’s behavior, his attitude towards women that permeates everything he does in his entire life on a daily basis his entire life.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeDP28gz_7w


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« Reply #3572 on: Today at 03:45 AM »

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are catching a ride on hospital flies

Mike Wehner
BGR
6/26/2019

When you’re particularly sick, you go to the hospital. Health care facilities like clinics and hospitals can improve our quality of life, but they may also have the potential to bolster so-called “superbugs” which are antibiotic-resistant versions of some of the most troublesome bacteria.

In a new study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, researchers took a close, hard look at insects — specifically, flies — present in hospitals in the United Kingdom, and they found that not only do the airborne bugs carry bacteria, but much of it is also the kind that doctors fear most.

As Gizmodo reports, the study focused on seven hospitals throughout the UK, and the flies that live therein. The researchers captured flies and tested them for the presence of various bacteria, and the findings were, well, not particularly reassuring.

The team found that nearly 90 percent of the flies carried at least one kind of bacteria that is bad news for humans, like Salmonella or E.coli, but it was the particulars of these bacteria that was the most troubling. Of the bacteria collected in the study, over half showed resistance to at least one form of antibiotic.

Medical professionals have long considered the potential of so-called “superbugs” to wreak havoc among large populations. Not bugs in the literal sense, but antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could spread rapidly with no known cure.

The good news, at least in the case of the flies in this study, is that the amount of bacteria that flying insects carry is rather small. The minute amount of bacteria that could be deposited on any surface a fly or mosquito might land on would likely be too small to cause an infection.

That said, the research is still a troubling look at how effortlessly bacteria can travel, even in an environment that you would imagine to be incredibly clean and sterile.


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« Reply #3573 on: Today at 03:48 AM »


Trump’s EPA wants minimal limits on poison in drinking water

on June 26, 2019
By Sarah Okeson,
DCReport

The Trump EPA calculated recommended limits of a dangerous chemical sometimes found in drinking water that can harm babies’ brain development that were more than 9 times higher than those imposed by a few states by fudging a key number in the calculation.

The Trump recommended a limit for perchlorate, which can harm infant brain development, of 56 micrograms per liter, far above the limit of 6 that California imposed and 2 that Massachusetts set, more than a decade ago.

“I guess they think it’s just fine to have children have IQ loss,” said Betsy Southerland, a retired EPA official who oversaw science and technology issues in the EPA Office of Water.

Perchlorate, which a GAO study found in the water, soil or sediment of 45 states, is particularly dangerous to babies because it can harm infant brain development if their mothers are exposed to it in food or water while pregnant. Babies can also ingest perchlorate in their mothers’ breast milk or in formula.

Scientists account for uncertainty in calculating such limits with what is known as the “uncertainty factor” to protect the most vulnerable such as infants. Our nation’s public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used a factor of 10 for perchlorate. The Trump EPA cut that by 2/3s to 3.

“I don’t think it’s grounded in the science,” said Tom Neltner, the chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “I think it’s a distorted reading of the science.

EPA spokesman Ken Labbe did not have a response for DCReport.org about how the limits were calculated.

Massachusetts virtually eliminated perchlorate from its public drinking water supply with its limit. Testing between 2001 and 2003 found perchlorate levels of 4 micrograms per liter or higher in water systems nationwide serving more than 16.6 million people. Bleach, which water systems use to disinfect water, can degrade into perchlorate. The chemical is also in rocket fuel.

Tell EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler your thoughts on regulating perchlorate. Call Wheeler at 202-564-4700 or write to him at EPA Headquarters / William Jefferson Clinton Building / 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW / Mail Code: 1101A / Washington, D.C. 20460.

The Environmental Defense Fund can be reached online.

The American Water Works Association, which has urged that perchlorate not be regulated, paid for a study that found faults with a more rigorous model that the Obama administration would have used to set limits for perchlorate. The Trump EPA cited that study in recommending the laxer limits.

Neltner said the Trump EPA cherry-picked which studies to use in setting the recommended limit. The Environmental Defense Fund had recommended a limit of 4 micrograms per liter.

“You really get one chance to build a brain,” Neltner said.

The Trump EPA could also impose limits of 18 micrograms or 90 micrograms per liter or decide against regulating perchlorate. The federal advisory limit is 15 micrograms. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will have the final say.

The proposed regulation is the first new standard the EPA is putting forward for an unregulated contaminant in drinking water in more than 23 years.

Cleaning up perchlorate contamination can cost millions. The EPA reached a $1.1 billion settlement in 2014 to clean up a former chemical manufacturing site in Henderson, Nev. The chemical contaminated Lake Mead.


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« Reply #3574 on: Today at 03:50 AM »


Report warns of major air pollution in Bosnian city of Tuzla

New Europe
6/26/2019

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina  — Environmental groups called on Tuesday for urgent measures to combat air pollution in the central Bosnian city of Tuzla, saying dust concentration far exceeds legal limits and causes premature deaths.

The CEE Bankwatch Network group, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) and the Center for Ecology and Energy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also urged authorities in a report to scrap plans to build another coal-fired unit in addition to the local lignite power plant.

The report says the plant and its adjacent open-cast mines and ash disposal site are the main sources of pollution in Tuzla. There has been no immediate official reaction. The report says dust pollution in Tuzla has been twice the legal limit on two thirds of monitored days in 2018, causing more than 100 premature deaths.

"People in Tuzla have already been protesting against air pollution, feeling that their city is one of the most polluted in the world," said Denis Zisko from the Center for Energy and Ecology. "The data we publish today shows just how serious the problem is and how authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who are failing to even do proper monitoring of smog levels, are directly responsible for hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of illness."

The report urged the authorities to introduce short- and long-term measures to reduce coal pollution and upgrade the air monitoring network to identify the true magnitude of the impact on health. The new planned coal plant unit — which will be financed by China and has been criticized by European Union officials — would add to the total installed capacity at the existing plant and come with another polluting ash pond, which would only increase air pollution when dry, warned Ioana Ciuta from CEE Bankwatch Network.

"One of the most shocking aspects is that authorities are presenting the construction of a new coal unit in Tuzla as part of the solution," she said. "People in Tuzla must not fall for such a lie."


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« Reply #3575 on: Today at 03:51 AM »


‘A true public health emergency’: 70+ medical groups sound alarm on climate crisis

on June 26, 2019
By Common Dreams

Groups lay out action agenda to advance climate solutions and strengthen resiliency

Scores of medical groups on Monday called the climate crisis “a health emergency” and laid out what they framed as a blueprint for the public and private sector to take swift action.

The agenda is signed by over 70 groups, including the American Medical Association, American Heart Association, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the National Association of Social Workers.

    Today, WPSR joined 74 medical and health organizations as part of the Climate, Health, and Equity Policy Action Agenda. These solutions are critical to protect human health: https://t.co/oeeu0Ga5Yk #ClimateHealthEmergency #ClimateChangesHealth pic.twitter.com/uKcUbEGQ5N
    Raw Story is now on Instagram. Get our latest stories and
    exclusive videos. Click to follow!

    — Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility (@psr_washington) June 24, 2019

“Climate change is one of the greatest threats to health America has ever faced—it is a true public health emergency,” the groups state. “The health, safety, and well-being of millions of people in the U.S. have already been harmed by human-caused climate change, and health risks in the future are dire without urgent action to fight climate change.”

Referencing the impacts of climate-related events and air pollution that have already claimed lives, the groups “call on government, business and civil society leaders, elected officials, and candidates for office to recognize climate change as a health emergency and to work across government agencies and with communities and businesses to prioritize action on this Climate, Health, and Equity Policy Action Agenda.”

In addition to averting thousands of deaths annually in the U.S., they note, a far-ranging approach to tackling the climate crisis will improve communities’ well-being as well as that of the planet.

But, they warn, “Without transformational action, climate change will be increasingly severe, leading to more illness, injury, and death; mass migration and violent conflict; and worsening health inequities. By mobilizing climate action for health and health action for climate, the U.S. can reduce climate pollution and build healthy communities that are resilient in the face of climate risks.”

They outline for six priorities for “climate action for health”:

    A recommitment to the Paris climate accord;
    A transition away from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewables;
    A push towards “active modes of transportation” like biking;
    Boosting ecologically-stewarded food systems and forests;
    Guaranteeing safe and affordable drinking water for all; and
    Supporting a just transition for the workers and communities most impacted by the climate crisis.

They describe three more actions categorized as “health action for climate”:

    Make the health sector a vocal part of climate action;
    “Incorporate climate solutions into all healthcare and public health systems”;
    Build resilient communities, especially those most adversely impacted by climate crisis.

An additional call, which urges boosting funds for climate and health, rounds out the groups’ “roadmap to develop coordinated strategies for simultaneously tackling climate change, health, and equity.”

Physicians for Social Responsibility, on Twitter, said, “It’s time for government, business, and civil sector leaders to recognize the #ClimateHealthEmergency and advance bold solutions!”


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« Reply #3576 on: Today at 03:55 AM »

Trouble in Paradise: the rise and fall of Germany's 'brothel king'

Jürgen Rudloff’s chain of ‘wellness spas’ sold sex as a health service for men. But his business model was fatally flawed – as his trial for aiding and abetting trafficking revealed

Hilke Lorenz
Guardian
26 Jun 2019 09.00 BST

Until his dramatic fall from grace, Jürgen Rudloff was the self-proclaimed “brothel king” of Germany. Owner of a chain of clubs he boasted was the “the largest marketplace for sex in Europe”, he was every inch the well-dressed entrepreneur, a regular face on reality TV and chat shows.

Rudloff is now serving a five-year sentence for aiding and abetting trafficking. His trial laid bare the misery and abuse of women working as prostitutes at his club who, according to court documents, were treated like animals and beaten if they didn’t make enough money. His imprisonment has dismantled the idea of Germany’s “clean prostitution” industry and raised troubling questions about what lies behind the legalised, booming sex trade.

Prostitution – legalised in Germany in 2002 – is worth an annual €15bn (£13.4bn), and more than a million men visit prostitutes every day. The change in the law led to a rise in “super brothels”, attracting tourists from countries where such establishments are illegal.

Rudloff’s empire – a chain of Paradise brothels – was founded on the idea that sex could be sold as a health service for men, on an almost industrial scale.

The jewel in the crown was the Stuttgart Paradise, opened in 2008 at a cost of more than €6m.
The Paradise club in Stuttgart.

The five-storey club is billed as a “male wellness centre”, where customers pay €69 to cover entry, a meal, drinks and a Turkish bath. Sex costs an additional €50 for half an hour. Men wear bathrobes and shower shoes; women are naked aside from high heels.

Women who work at the club also pay the €69 entry fee, a daily tax of €25 plus the cost of a dormitory bed if they spend the night.

The Paradise business model is the same as the hundreds of other “sauna clubs” across Germany – brothel owners provide the premises, and the women are self-employed. Yet Rudloff’s high-volume, low-cost model only works if the supply of women is enough to satisfy demand and bring enough customers through the doors.

According to court documents, this became a problem for Paradise almost immediately. There weren’t enough women to fill the clubs. So Rudloff’s friends in the industry offered to help him out.

In 2008, as Rudloff was growing his business, investigators in Augsburg, Bavaria – a hundred miles from Stuttgart – received a tip-off that gangs from the city were trafficking women from eastern Europe, and sending them to work in Paradise. (While prostitution is legal in Germany, pimping and sex trafficking are not.) There was still no clear connection to Rudloff at this point. Then in 2013, a trafficking investigation into a brothel in Augsburg uncovered further links with Paradise.

At 6pm on 30 November 2014, in a mammoth operation involving 1,000 police officers and 70 locations, Rudloff’s four clubs in Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Saarbrücken and the Austrian city of Graz were searched simultaneously. The private and business premises of the brothel managers, as well as investors’ cars and apartments, were combed through, and files, financial records, computers and phones confiscated.

The evidence was sufficient to convict several pimps who had trafficked women into Paradise. Rudloff himself was finally arrested in September 2017.

In a trial lasting almost a year, testimony from the jailed pimps revealed that trafficking was crucial to the success of Rudloff’s business.

Among the witnesses at his trial was Ibrahim “I”, a former member of the Hell’s Angels and a close friend of Rudloff’s. Ibrahim admitted forcing women into prostitution at Paradise, setting them a daily target of €500 a day and beating them if they didn’t bring enough money home. He would hit them on the head, rather than the body, he explained, so that no one would see the bruises. He also tattooed his name on to women’s bodies and ordered women to undergo breast enlargement surgery.

One woman who worked at Paradise told the court she had seen young women weeping after their first night working there. Another said that she had seen gang members treat women “like animals”.

Peter Holzwarth, the chief prosecutor at the trial, argued that the owner and management at the clubs were guilty of Organisationsdelikt – aiding and abetting an organisation involved in criminality. “He knew – in the cases brought to court – that the women working at his club were being exploited by pimps,” says Holzwarth. “And he knew the women were trafficked, or rather, he thought that they might be and [still let them work], and that is sufficient for a conviction.”

The court agreed. Sentencing Rudloff in late February this year, the judge remarked: “A clean brothel of this size is hard to imagine.” He said he hoped the convictions would serve as a warning to the sex industry.

Three months on, questions are being asked about the scale of the criminality that could be lurking within Germany’s legalised brothels.

Augsburg’s chief police inspector, Helmut Sporer, says that the huge growth of the sex industry post-legalisation has fuelled a rising demand for women. German authorities have no data on the number of women who work in the domestic sex trade, but conservative estimates suggest 400,000. According to Sporer, more than 90% of these women come from south-east Europe and Africa, and half are under 21.

“The majority don’t conform to the profile of the self-employed sex worker. They speak no German – or only very basic German. They have a limited education and they are travelling abroad for the first time. Many don’t even know which city they are in,” says Sporer, who says that all these factors make it likely that many are not working voluntarily in prostitution.

It’s not just migrants at risk of exploitation. Sandra Norak, 29, has never worked at Paradise, but spent six years working in brothels across Germany after meeting a man on the internet while she was still at school.

Norak’s boyfriend threatened her with violence, forcing her to work at a brothel where she had to sleep with up to 500 clients a month. She kept none of the money for herself. Now an activist for changes to Germany’s prostitution laws, Norak claims her exploitation was replicated for the majority of the women she met, most of whom were pushed into the trade by pimps or traffickers.

It was not until 2014 that she was able to get herself out of the sex trade and complete high school.

The experience, she says, is a “kind of destruction of your identity”. “Some of the women could have got away from the guy exploiting them but didn’t have the strength or the belief to find their way back to a respectable life.”

The Paradise case has shaken the industry, says lawyer Frank Theumer, who has known Jürgen Rudloff for 30 years, and defended him at his trial. “The big brothel owners, whether in Augsburg, Hamburg or Berlin, have become more careful.” According to Theumer, what happened to Rudloff could happen to anyone working in the industry.

There are many who believe Rudloff’s conviction makes it easier for campaigners pushing to criminalise prostitution. Undine de Rivière, of the professional association of sex workers BesD, has been connected with the trade for 25 years. These days she works mainly from her private apartment or as an escort. An hour with her in the afternoon costs from €300, depending on the services requested. De Rivière says that though forced prostitution and trafficking do occur, she is convinced that neither is inherent to sex work.

Lilli Erdbeermund, also of BesD, agrees: “Opponents of sex work seek such high-profile cases as supply for demanding a general ban on sex work or further special laws for our industry … [yet] these criminalising laws have particularly dire consequences for one of the most vulnerable groups in sex work: migrants.” She says such laws push sex workers, especially those from marginalised groups, into danger.

A sex worker at the Paradise club in Stuttgart. Photograph: Leif Piechowski/ Lichtgut/The Guardian

For prosecutors like Holzwarth, Rudloff’s conviction is a warning to those cashing in on Germany’s insatiable demand for commercial sex. “Rudloff’s case was not an isolated incident,” he says. “In my opinion, cooperation between brothel owners and pimps is risky but profitable for both sides. A win-win situation … but the case has had an impact already. I think brothel owners will be more careful about dealing with pimps.”

    Hilke Lorenz is a reporter for the Stuttgarter Zeitung. Additional reporting by Catherine Nelson


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« Reply #3577 on: Today at 04:12 AM »


Denmark's youngest prime minister leads new leftist government

Mette Frederiksen’s Social Democratic party forms minority government

Reuters in Copenhagen
Wed 26 Jun 2019 00.20 BST

Denmark has became the third Nordic country this year to form a leftist government after the Social Democratic party leader, Mette Frederiksen, finalised terms for a one-party minority government. Aged 41, she becomes the country’s youngest ever prime minister.

“It is with great pleasure I can announce that, after three weeks of negotiations, we have a majority to form a new government,” Frederiksen said on Tuesday.

A bloc of five left-leaning opposition parties led by Frederiksen’s Social Democratic party won a majority in the 5 June election, prompting centre-right leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen to resign as prime minister.

While the leftist opposition bloc got a convincing majority, support for the Social Democratic Party declined slightly compared with the 2015 vote, but it remained the biggest party.

Despite differences among left-leaning parties over issues such as welfare and immigration, Frederiksen got their backing to form a one-party minority government, a common arrangement in Denmark.

The election results signalled that Danish voters had rebelled against austerity measures, while dealing a blow to rightwing nationalists, who lost more than half of their votes compared with 2015.

In Finland and Sweden, the Social Democratic parties formed governments earlier this year.


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« Reply #3578 on: Today at 04:14 AM »


Brazilian diplomats 'disgusted' as Bolsonaro pulverizes foreign policy

Former ambassadors say far-right leader has cuddled up to rightwing nationalists, irked China, infuriated Middle Eastern partners, and jettisoned its position as climate crisis leader

Tom Phillips in São Paulo
Guardian
26 Jun 2019 09.00 BST

It has long been considered one of the jewels of Latin American statecraft; a shrewd, dependable and highly trained foreign service that helped make Brazil a global climate leader and soft power heavyweight.

But six months into the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, even veteran diplomats struggle to mask their horror at the wrecking ball being taken to the country’s nearly two century-old foreign office, known as Itamaraty after the Rio palace where it was once housed.

“I feel disgusted,” said Rubens Ricupero, Brazil’s former ambassador to the United States and one of the most outspoken critics of the Bolsonarian foreign policy revolution.

Since the far-right leader took office in January, his foreign policy team has set about pulverizing decades of diplomatic tradition: cuddling up to rightwing nationalists including Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán; irking China, and jettisoning its position as a climate crisis leader; infuriating longtime Middle Eastern partners by embracing Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel and threatening to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem.

All this under a Bible-bashing pro-Trump foreign minister who claims global heating is a Marxist conspiracy and Nazism is a movement of the left.

“I would say it is the most dramatic shift in Brazilian foreign policy in a century,” said Oliver Stuenkel, an international relations specialist from the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo.

In interviews with the Guardian, doyens of Brazilian diplomacy described their bewilderment, unease and indignation at seeing such a cherished ministry – and their country’s place in the world – turned on its head.

“Our current foreign policy takes Brazil back to a period of history at which Brazil didn’t even exist: the Middle Ages,” complained Roberto Abdenur, a former ambassador to China, Germany and the US.

Marcos Azambuja, Itamaraty’s former secretary general, said he felt surprised and perplexed by the onset of this new era.

“There has been a change – and I fear a change for the worse,” said Azambuja, who also served as ambassador in France and Argentina.

“I didn’t imagine that this could happen.”
Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, ‘isn’t taken seriously – either in or outside the ministry – because he represents a kind of sect … that the Americans would call a lunatic fringe’.

The diplomats’ grievances touch on virtually every area of Brazil’s new foreign policy, from Bolsonaro’s excessive entente with Trump, to his hostility to China and the damage his rhetoric has done to Brazilian soft power.

Some fret over Bolsonaro’s interference in the affairs of Brazil’s neighbours, such as Argentina – where he has warned voters not to vote for Cristina Kirchner – and Venezuela – where Brazil has championed efforts to topple Nicolás Maduro.

But the objections begin with the people running the show: Brazil’s foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo; the president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro – widely seen as Brazil’s de facto secretary of state; and Olavo de Carvalho, a US-based polemicist of whom both men are disciples.

Ricupero claimed the appointment of Araújo, a mid-ranking functionary notorious for his eccentric pro-Bolsonaro blogposts, had scandalized Brazil’s diplomatic corps.

“What I hear from my colleagues who are still active is that among diplomatic staff there is an almost complete rejection of the minister and the current line … He isn’t taken seriously – either in or outside the ministry – because he represents a kind of sect … that the Americans would call a lunatic fringe,” Ricupero said.

There is even greater angst over the role of Eduardo Bolsonaro, a 34-year-old congressman who Steve Bannon recently named the South American frontman for his far-right group The Movement.

To the dismay of many diplomats, Eduardo Bolsonaro – who last year declared Brazil’s foreign service in need of sterilization – appears even to have offered Bannon a say in policymaking.

When Jair Bolsonaro made a state visit to Washington in March, Bannon was invited to dine with him at the Brazilian embassy. “We are in the perverse, absurd situation of having a foreign citizen influencing Brazil’s foreign policy,” Abdenur protested.

Potential to damage to ties with China – Brazil’s biggest trading partner – is perhaps the subject causing diplomats to lose most sleep.

Bolsonaro repeatedly attacked Beijing during last year’s presidential race, and Araújo is famed for his dislike of what he calls “Maoist China”.

Abdenur, Brazil’s top diplomat in Beijing from 1989 to 1993, warned such antagonism could do “serious harm” to Brazil-China relations.

Another major gripe is Bolsonaro’s courtship of Trump. Azambuja said Brazil had traditionally enjoyed “excellent” ties to the US, even under Bolsonaro’s nemesis, the former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who cultivated an unlikely bond with George W Bush. But getting too close to Trump’s “radicalism” was unwise.

Abdenur said he feared that by embracing other nationalist leaders in Poland and Hungary, Brazil would alienate major European democracies.

“We have nothing to gain from it. We can only lose,” Abdenur said.

Finally, there is upset over how Bolsonaro’s radical rhetoric and views on the environment and human rights have damaged Brazil’s international image.

In March Bolsonaro reportedly scolded his ambassadors for failing to rid him of his overseas reputation as “a racist, homophobe and dictator”. But Ricupero said that was mission impossible.

“No ambassador can try to alter the reality. Bolsonaro is what he is,” he said.

‘A mitigation job’

Ricupero said some senior diplomats were battling to limit Bolsonaro’s impact: “They are trying – to use the language of climate – to mitigate, to attenuate the effects. It’s a mitigation job.”

Other more moderate administration figures – crucially the vice-president, Hamilton Mourão – have also been engaged in “damage containment”. In May Mourão flew to Beijing to reassure China’s leaders over the relationship and was received by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

But many in Itamaraty are lying low, fearful of being punished for challenging the Bolsonarian line. Since January, three top-level diplomats who were foreign ministers under the former leftist president Dilma Rousseff have been dispatched to less prestigious posts in Croatia, Cairo and Qatar.

“This is really wrong,” Abdenur said. “It was never common in Itamaraty for there to be witch-hunts or mass sackings or transfers when governments changed, in order to punish.”

Araújo and Eduardo Bolsonaro did not respond to interview requests from the Guardian. But both men have publicly celebrated what they call a new, ideology-free foreign policy, particularly its alignment with the US and support for the Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

In a speech to newly graduated diplomats last month Araújo urged them to heed Bolsonaro’s “clarion call” and embrace his push for change “as a profound existential commitment”.

“What moves us is the simple and profound conviction that what we are doing is right,” a tearful Araújo added, before declaring Bolsonaro a Christ-like saviour building a “new Brazil”.

Ricupero, who said he was speaking out in the hope of persuading business leaders to pressure Bolsonaro to moderate his foreign policy, begged to differ.

Having joined Itamaraty more than 50 years ago, he felt saddened by the direction his country was now taking – though not surprised given the “group of fanatics” in charge.

“I have never had any illusions,” Ricupero said. “I always thought this was a disastrous choice.”


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Iran says it will never build a nuclear weapon

Minister says Islam forbids such a move as country prepares to breach nuclear deal

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
Guardian
26 Jun 2019 16.21 BST

Iran will never pursue a nuclear weapon, its foreign minister has claimed, saying Islam prevented the country from doing so.

Iran has previously said it is ideologically opposed to acquiring nuclear weapons and seeks nuclear power only for civilian purposes. But in the current unpredictable climate it is possible Donald Trump could pick up Javad Zarif’s remarks as a signal to talk.

The White House is pursuing a twin-track strategy of seeking talks while trying to throttle the Iranian economy through sanctions that block trade with Europe and oil sales, and freeze the assets of political and diplomatic leaders.

Iran has said it will breach the uranium enrichment limits set out in the 2015 nuclear deal on Thursday, but that does not imply the country is on the path to building a nuclear weapon.

Zarif pointed to the past use of nuclear weapons by the US and to recent comments by Trump that he had called off a military strike on Iran because it would have killed 150 people.

“You were really worried about 150 people? How many people have you killed with a nuclear weapon? How many generations have you wiped out with these weapons?” Zarif said on Tuesday.

“It is us who, because of our religious views, will never pursue a nuclear weapon.”

The US president again threatened Iran with “obliteration” in a Twitter tirade in which he also accused the country’s leaders of killing 2,000 Americans.

“The Iranian leadership doesn’t understand the words ‘nice’ or ‘compassion’, they never have. Sadly, the thing they do understand is strength and power, and the USA is by far the most powerful military force in the world, with $1.5tn invested over the last two years alone,” he wrote.

“The US has not forgotten Iran’s use of IEDs & EFPs (bombs), which killed 2,000 Americans, and wounded many more … Any attack by Iran on anything American will be met with great and overwhelming force. In some areas, overwhelming will mean obliteration.”

The angry tweets came after Iran said the US’s decision to impose sanctions on its supreme leader and other top officials was “idiotic” and had permanently closed the path to diplomacy between Tehran and Washington.

Trump imposed fresh sanctions on Monday against the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and military chiefs, in an unprecedented step designed to increase pressure on Iran after Tehran’s downing of an unmanned American drone. Khamenei is Iran’s utmost authority, who has the last say on all state matters.

Washington said it would also impose sanctions this week on Zarif, who negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with the US and other major powers and has spearheaded Iranian diplomacy since.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, described the White House as “afflicted by a mental disability” and said the sanctions against Khamenei were “outrageous and idiotic”, especially as the 80-year-old cleric has no overseas assets and no plans to ever travel to the US.

Tehran said the US had spent weeks demanding that Iran match America’s diplomacy with its own diplomacy, rather than military responses, but was now trying to immobilise its chief diplomat.

“Imposing useless sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader and the commander of Iran’s diplomacy is the permanent closure of the path of diplomacy,” the foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in a tweet on Tuesday. “Trump’s desperate administration is destroying the established international mechanisms for maintaining world peace and security.”

Speaking in Israel, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, insisted the president remained open to real negotiations and “all that Iran needs to do is walk through that open door”.

Iran’s decision to breach the nuclear deal is a response to US sanctions and Europe’s failure to provide economic protection. It is due to be followed by more serious breaches on 7 July.

This places the EU in a dilemma since France, Germany and the UK are desperate to keep the deal alive but cannot find a route to de-escalate the crisis between Tehran and Washington.

The three European countries issued a statement on the margins of the UN security council on Monday urging Iran to stay inside the deal, saying: “It is in everyone’s interest to show restraint and avoid any actions that would undermine this vital pillar of the non-proliferation regime and of our collective security.”

They also insisted they were working hard to implement their commitments to Iran – a reference to setting up financial mechanisms to help Tehran trade with Europe without the threat of US sanctions – and condemned recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

The UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, warned Iran not to breach the uranium enrichment limits, saying in the Commons: “It is absolutely essential they stick to that deal in its entirety for it to preserve and for us to have a nuclear-free Middle East.”

He also ruled out British involvement in military action. “The US is our closest ally. We talk to them the whole time but I cannot envisage any situation where they request, or we agree to, any moves to go to war.”

He again called for de-escalation, saying: “Neither side wants war, but it is very important for there to be ladders for people to climb down so discussions can take place.”

Trump is due to raise the issue of tightening maritime security in the Gulf at a G20 summit starting on Friday in Japan. He wants Asian countries including Korea and Japan to contribute more to defence of shipping in the Gulf especially the strait of Hormuz.

Analysts said the impact of the fresh US sanctions on an already heavily sanctioned country would be limited. “The newly announced Iran sanctions are symbolic,” said Jarrett Blanc, a former senior state department official now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Trump said he was willing to pursue dialogue with Tehran without preconditions, but the sanctions appeared to make such talks even less likely.

The Iranian ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, said: “No one in clear mind can have a dialogue with somebody who is threatening you with sanctions; as long as that is still there, there is no way we can have a dialogue.”

The ratcheting up of tensions between the two countries comes in the wake of the Gulf of Oman tanker attacks, when two vessels were damaged by explosions. The Trump administration blamed Iran for the attacks, but Tehran denied responsibility.

Then last week a US drone was shot down by Iran, further escalating the crisis. The US president responded by ordering an attack on Iran, before pulling back and opting for stronger sanctions instead.

Tensions with Iran have been mounting since Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal last year and began applying pressure on Tehran through economic sanctions.


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Mueller agrees to testify in public about Russia investigation after House Democrats issue subpoena: report

on June 26, 2019
Raw Story

On Tuesday evening, CNN reported that former special counsel Robert Mueller has agreed to testify in public about the Russia investigation, following subpoenas from House Democrats.

“The House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee announced … the special counsel has agreed to appear in public on July 17th in an open session to testify about what he found as a part of his two-year investigation into Russian interference, as well as potential obstruction of justice in the White House,” said CNN reported Manu Raju. “Now, they say in this letter, both the chairmen of these committees, Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff, that they have subpoenaed Bob Mueller and he’s agreed to testify under subpoena.”

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Robert Mueller likely thought Don Jr. was guilty — here’s why that actually made it hard to investigate Trump

on June 26, 2019
Raw Story

Special counsel Robert Mueller has completed his investigation of ties between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign, turned over his findings to Congress, and stepped down from his post at the Justice Department.

His findings were incredibly damning for the president and his allies, finding evidence that the campaign eagerly accepted Russian help, if not a full-blown conspiracy, and outlining ten potential episodes where Trump obstructed justice. But Mueller’s conclusions are by no means the end-all of everything that happened. Mueller himself acknowledged in his report that Trump’s lack of cooperation probably prevented him from finding a lot of information.

In fact, as former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade wrote in Just Security, Mueller might paradoxically have found it harder to investigate the president because he believed his son was guilty of serious offenses.

“Typically, immunity is offered only to witnesses whose own culpability is less than the individuals against whom they are testifying. Mueller appears to have concluded that the witnesses who invoked the privilege were themselves too culpable to offer them immunity,” wrote McQuade. “A fair inference from reading the report is that Donald Trump, Jr., likely invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to refuse to testify before the grand jury.”

Trump Jr. was a massive focus of Mueller’s investigation owing to the infamous Trump Tower meeting in which he met with a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 election.

“While Trump, Jr., to date has not been charged with a crime, he may have had valid concerns during the investigation that his answers would incriminate himself,” wrote McQuade. “Mueller did not grant Trump, Jr., immunity, placing him in that category as someone whose own culpability made him a poor candidate for immunity. Trump, Jr.’s refusal to answer questions prevented Mueller from fully exploring the facts about the Trump Tower meeting. While any witness has a constitutional right to invoke his Fifth Amendment privilege, Mueller states that the privilege contributed to his inability to conduct a complete investigation.”

Ironically, then, if the president did in fact commit a crime, one of the key reasons the special counsel could not determine this may have been that his son was involved as well!

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

Trump’s sneak attack on social security — and how the president thinks he can quietly get away with it

on June 26, 2019
By Nancy J. Altman, Independent Media Institute
- Commentary

Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal included billions of dollars in Social Security cuts. The proposed cuts were a huge betrayal of his campaign promise to protect our Social Security system. Fortunately for Social Security’s current and future beneficiaries, he has little chance of getting these cuts past the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats.

So Trump and his budget director/chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who has long been hostile to Social Security, are trying another tactic to cut our earned benefits. They are pursuing a long game to reach their goal. In a divide-and-conquer move, the focus is not Social Security. At least, not yet.

Last week, the Trump administration revealed that it is planning to employ the so-called chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) in a way that does not need congressional approval. “Chained CPI” might sound technical and boring, but anyone who has closely followed the Social Security debate knows better. It has long been proposed as a deceptive, hard-to-understand way to cut our earned Social Security benefits.

Trump plans to switch to the chained CPI to index the federal definition of poverty. If he succeeds, the impact will be that over time, fewer people will meet the government’s definition of poverty — even though in reality, they will not be any less poor. The definition is crucial to qualify for a variety of federal benefits, including Medicaid, as well as food and housing assistance. The announcement was written blandly about considering a variety of different measures, but anyone who knows the issue well can easily read the writing on the wall.

So, what does this have to do with Social Security? Like the poverty level, Social Security’s modest benefits are automatically adjusted to keep pace with inflation. If not adjusted, those benefits will erode, slowly but inexorably losing their purchasing power over time. These annual adjustments are already too low, but they are better than no adjustment at all. The chained CPI would make these adjustments even less adequate. The top line of the following chart shows what a more accurate adjustment would look like. The line below it shows what the current adjustment does to benefits, and the bottom line shows what the stingier chained CPI would do:

Proponents of the chained CPI say that it is better at measuring “substitution,” but don’t be fooled. The current inadequate measure already takes into account substitution of similar items. This is the idea that if the price of beef goes up, you can substitute chicken. In contrast, the chained CPI involves what are called substitutions across categories. If your planned vacation abroad goes up, you can stay home and buy a flat screen television and concert tickets instead.

Of course, neither form of substitution is much help to seniors and people with disabilities whose health care costs are skyrocketing. There’s no substitution for hospital stays and doctor visits. Those who propose the chained CPI are apparently fine with letting seniors who can’t afford even chicken substitute cat food.

The idea of substitution within or across categories makes no sense for people with no discretionary income. If all of your money goes for medicine, food and rent, how does substitution make sense? If you are so poor that your children go to bed hungry, how do you substitute?

Back in 2012, President Barack Obama proposed a so-called Grand Bargain to cut Social Security using the chained CPI, in return for Republicans agreeing to increase taxes on the wealthy. The goal of this Grand Bargain was ostensibly to reduce the deficit, despite the fact that Social Security does not add a single penny to the deficit.

Grassroots activists around the country fought back, and Obama ultimately realized his error. He removed the chained CPI from his budget proposals and endorsed expanding, rather than cutting, Social Security’s modest benefits. Social Security expansion is now the official position of the Democratic Party.

Yet Republicans have still continued to push Social Security cuts, including the chained CPI. Back in December 2017, they passed a massive tax cut for corporations and the super-wealthy. Afterwards, they used the predictable deficits their tax cuts caused as an excuse to call for cutting Social Security. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans made well-publicized statements about the so-called “need” to cut Social Security. What was much more secret was a provision in the tax bill which replaced the measure used to index the tax brackets with the chained CPI.

Now, Trump wants to apply the chained CPI to the calculation of poverty rates. This will directly hurt many seniors and people with disabilities by making it more difficult to qualify for Medicaid and other programs many of them rely on, including food and housing assistance. It is also a long-term threat to Social Security itself.

The strategy is clear: Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress plan to apply chained CPI everywhere else, and then say that it is only common sense and indeed fair that we apply it to Social Security as well. We should be consistent, right?

Trump thinks that he can get away with executing this long-game attack on Social Security quietly, while the media and public are focused on his tweets, name calling, and scandals. But we must not be distracted. If we do not stop this attack in its tracks, our earned benefits will be next.

If you want to forestall another fight over cutting Social Security through the chained CPI, call your members of Congress, write to your local paper, and tell your friends: No chained CPI! No chained CPI for our earned benefits! No chained CPI for the most vulnerable among us!

This quiet effort to embed the chained CPI is a fight Trump does not want to have, certainly in an election year. But it is one we will bring to him. Grassroots activism defeated the chained CPI before. This time it will be harder because Trump can substitute the chained CPI without legislation. That means we have to simply fight harder. If we stick together, we surely will win. And we must. All of our economic security depends on it.

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Paul Krugman drops the hammer on the GOP’s growing ’embrace of cruelty’ under Trump

on June 26, 2019
Raw Story

In a damning column for the New York Times, Nobel Prize-winning columnist Paul Krugman called out Republican lawmakers for turning their backs on the needs of their constituents saying it is nothing less than incomprehensible cruelty.

Pointing to a Washington Post article on the desperate need for medical services for the poor in red-state Tennessee, Krugman said that Americans in rural communities that voted heavily for Donald Trump are bearing the brunt of the GOP’s desire to gut the Affordable Care Act.

“Since the focus of the Washington Post report was on personal experience, not policy, it’s understandable that the article mentioned only in passing the fact that Tennessee is one of the 14 states that still refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. So I’m not sure how many readers grasped the reality that America’s rural health care crisis is largely — not entirely, but largely — a direct result of political decisions,” Krugman suggested.

“The simple fact is that the Republicans who run Tennessee and other ‘non-expansion’ states have chosen to inflict misery on many of their constituents, rural residents in particular,” he continued before adding, “So if rural America is suffering, a large part of the explanation is gratuitous political cruelty. This cruelty has denied health insurance to millions who could have had it with a stroke of the pen. And rural hospitals are closing, rural doctors leaving, in large part because people can’t afford to pay for care.”

According to Krugman, Republican lawmakers cynically play on their constituents hatred of Washington D.C., making it looks like out of touch bureaucrats are to blame for their plight. In fact, as he illustrates, neglect of their needs can be directly attributed to Republican governors and GOP-dominated statehouses.

“While rural Americans often tell reporters that they feel neglected and ignored by big-city coastal elites, the people preventing them from getting health care aren’t in New York or D.C., they’re in their own state capitals, ” he wrote before asking the big question: “But why are Republican state-level politicians so determined to punish their own base?”

According to the economist, it comes down to old-fashioned “mean-spiritedness.”

“Some of it may reflect the general meanspiritedness, the embrace of cruelty, that was already infecting the G.O.P. even before Donald Trump, and has now become one of the party’s defining traits. Yes, that’s harsh, but you know that it’s true,” he wrote, answering his own question before calling out GOP lawmakers over their cynicism.

“One way to make people feel hostile toward those elites is to block their access to federal benefits, and hope they don’t realize who’s actually causing their misery,” he explained. “Is it conceivable that conservative politicians have that much contempt for their base? Yes.”

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

How the GOP is the most corrupt political party in living memory

on June 26, 2019
By Robert Reich
- Commentary

Trump has been ramping up his “Deep State” rhetoric again. He’s back to blaming a cabal of bureaucrats, FBI and CIA agents, Democrats, and “enemies of the people” in the mainstream media, for conspiring to remove him from office in order to allow the denizens of foreign shi*tholes to overrun America.

But with each passing day it’s becoming clearer that the real threat to America isn’t Trump’s Deep State. It’s Trump’s Corrupt State.

Not since Warren G. Harding’s sordid administration have as many grifters, crooks and cronies occupied high positions in Washington.

Trump has installed a Star Wars Cantina of former lobbyists and con artists, including several whose exploits have already forced them to resign, such as Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Tom Price, and Michael Flynn. Many others remain.

When he was in Congress, the current White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from payday lenders, then proposed loosening regulations on them. Trump appointed Mulvaney acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, of all things.

When he was Trump’s special adviser on regulatory reform, Wall Street billionaire Carl Icahn sought to gut EPA’s rule on ethanol credits which was harming his oil refinery investments.

Last week it was reported that a real estate company partly owned by Trump son-in-law and foreign policy advisor, Jared Kushner, has raked in $90 million from foreign investors since Kushner entered the White House, through a secret tax haven run by Goldman Sachs in the Cayman Islands. Kushner’s stake is some $50 million.

All this takes conflict-of-interest to a new level of shamelessness.

What are Republicans doing about it? Participating in it.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who also happens to be the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch "i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell, has approved $78 million in grants for her husband’s home state of Kentucky, including a highway-improvement project that had been twice rejected in the past. Chao has even appointed a special liaison to coordinate grants with McConnell’s office.

Oh, did I say, McConnell is up for reelection next year?

News that a Cabinet secretary is streamlining federal funding for her husband’s pet projects would be a giant scandal under normal circumstances. But in the age of Trump, ethics are out the window.

Congressman Greg Pence, who just happens to be the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, has spent more than $7,600 of his campaign funds on lodging at the Trump International Hotel in Washington since he was elected in November, although federal election law forbids politicians from using campaigns dollars to cover housing costs.

The Corrupt State starts with Trump himself, giving new meaning to the old adage about a fish rotting from the head down.

When foreign governments aren’t currying favor with Trump by staying at his Washington hotel, they’re using state-owned companies to finance projects that will line Trump’s pocket, like China’s $500 million entertainment complex in Indonesia that includes a Trump-branded hotel.

Trump claims the Deep State allows foreigners to take advantage of America. The reality is Trump’s Corrupt State allows Vladimir Putin and his goon squad to continue undermining American democracy.

“I’d take it” if Russia again offered campaign help, Trump crowed last week, adding that he wouldn’t necessarily tell the FBI about it. Just days before, Trump acknowledged “Russia helping me get elected” the first time.

Despite evidence that Russia is back hacking and trolling its way toward the 2020 election, Republican defenders of Trump’s Corrupt State won’t lift a finger.

Mitch McConnell refuses to consider any legislation on election security. He and Senate Republicans even killed a bill requiring campaigns to report offers of foreign assistance to the FBI and federal authorities.

The charitable interpretation is McConnell and his ilk don’t want to offend Trump by doing anything that might appear to question the legitimacy of his 2016 win.

The less charitable view is Republicans oppose more secure elections because they’d be less likely to win them.

Trump and his Republican enablers are playing magicians who distract us by shouting “look here!” at the paranoid fantasy of a Deep State, while creating a Corrupt State under our noses.

But it’s not a party trick. It’s the dirtiest trick of our time, enabled by the most corrupt party in living memory.

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

Mitch "i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell is hated even more than Trump — and Democrats may use that to sweep the 2020 elections

on June 26, 2019
Raw Story

Senate Majority Leader Mitch "i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell (R-KY) arguably was everything President Donald Trump stood for politically long before Trump was even taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

Gallons of ink have been spilled about how he is a worse threat to democratic institutions than Trump. He has blocked any and all progressive reform, engineered a right-wing takeover of the federal courts, rewrote Senate rules to enforce GOP ideology, and did all in his power to undermine campaign finance and corruption laws. In the historical record, he is probably matched in his power and anti-democratic tendencies only by Joseph Gurney Cannon, the early 20th century House speaker who essentially ruled Congress with an iron fist.

McConnell is also one of the most toxic and despised politicians in America — even more than Trump. And some Democratic strategists now believe the key to winning in 2020 is to make the election a referendum on him.

According to the Huffington Post, a poll conducted by End Citizens United across 10 battleground states showed that anti-McConnell messaging is more effective than anti-Trump messaging. Democrats started with a 3-point advantage on the generic ballot, but among voters who were exposed to messaging about McConnell, it grew to a 12-point advantage. Trump messaging only generated a 6-point advantage.
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The anti-McConnell sentiment is robust across a broad range of key groups. The Majority Leader polls just 18 percent approval among independents, and 25 percent in Obama-Trump counties.

Democrats face a difficult Senate map in 2020 — while most of the seats in play are held by the GOP, most are in safely red states. Democrats will have to net a total of four seats to win the majority, or three if they win the White House.

For his part, "i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell reportedly relishes the idea of an election nationalized about him — his campaign has eagerly embraced both the “Cocaine Mitch” and “Grim Reaper” labels — and as he seeks a seventh term in 2020, he aims to portray himself as the only thing standing in the way of Congress enacting full-bore socialism. But it is clear that huge swathes of the electorate see him as standing in the way of Congress doing anything, period.

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

New 2020 poll shows Trump trailing all Democrats — some by double-digits

on June 26, 2019
By Shira Tarlo, Salon

President Donald Trump trails all of his Democratic rivals in hypothetical matchups of the 2020 presidential race, according to the result of a new poll released Tuesday.

This article originally appeared on Salon.

The survey, conducted by Emerson Polling, found that the president lags behind former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., by 10 points nationally — 45 percent to 55 percent. He also trails Sen. Elizabeth Warren by six points — 47 percent to 53 percent —and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg by four points — 48 percent to 52 percent.

In regards to the crowded Democratic primary field, Spencer Kimball, director of the Emerson Poll, pointed out: “Similar to our other polls, Biden and Sanders voters are the most loyal with 50 percent to 55 percent saying they are set on their candidates.”

“Comparatively, 33 percent of Warren, 18 percent of Harris and 17 percent of Buttigieg voters say they will stick with their current choices,” he added. “This suggests that about 30 percent of the Democratic electorate are spoken for and another 30 percent leaning toward the top two candidates as of now leaves a narrow lane for another candidate to grab a plurality of the vote.”

The survey also showed that Trump maintains a steady approval rating of 43 percent, while his disapproval rating has dropping one point since last month to 48 percent.

It also found a gender gap among approval rating for the president, with 47 percent of male respondents approving and 47 percent disapproving of his job in office, as compared to females where 49 percent disapprove and 39 percent approve.

Several other national polls in recent weeks have showed Trump trailing Biden, who has held a commanding lead over the 2020 Democratic presidential field ahead of the first debates on June 26 and June 27. Other polling has indicated Biden leads Trump in several critical battleground states, including in internal polling conducted by the president’s re-election campaign.

Trump severed ties with three of his five pollsters after leaked internal polling showed him lagging behind Biden. The polling, conducted by the Trump campaign’s lead pollster Tony Fabrizio between March 13 and March 28, found Trump trailing Biden by double-digits across swing states seen as crucial to his re-election victory and in Democratic-leaning states where Republicans have sought to gain momentum. It also showed Trump underperforming in reliably red states that have not been competitive for decades in presidential elections.

Trump has angrily denied coverage of the numbers, telling reporters last week, “Those polls don’t exist. I just had a meeting with somebody that’s a pollster and I’m winning everywhere, so I just don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He also tweeted that his numbers are “the best numbers WE have ever had,” and claimed the numbers reported were from “Fake Polling.”

The Emerson College poll was conducted between June 21 and June 24 among 1,096 registered voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.


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« Reply #3581 on: Today at 04:51 AM »


Phase one of US Middle East peace plan greeted with scepticism

No Israelis or Palestinians present for launch of plan that shreds decades of diplomacy

Martin Chulov Middle East correspondent
Guardian
26 Jun 2019 18.25 BST

The first phase of the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan for Israel and Palestine has been rolled out to scepticism, anger and outright derision.

A conference hall of regional officials – with no Israelis or Palestinians present – was the first to hear details of the US-brokered deal, an economic blueprint that shreds decades of diplomacy and which even its mooted financial backers seemed reluctant to embrace.

The centrepiece appears to be a call for donors to contribute $50bn to kickstart the Palestinian economy and win the buy-in of neighbouring Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, which would eventually open direct trade links with the West Bank and Gaza.

There has been no sign of a political dimension to the proposal, hailed as the brainchild of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. Critics across the region suggested the US was replacing the long-agreed “land for peace” formula with a blunt new “money for peace” that attempted to buy off the Palestinian cause.

Kushner said his plan was “the opportunity of the century” for the Palestinians but their acceptance was a precondition for peace.

“Agreeing on an economic pathway forward is a necessary precondition to resolving the previously unsolvable political issues,” he said. “To be clear, economic growth and prosperity for the Palestinian people are not possible without an enduring and fair political solution to the conflict – one that guarantees Israel’s security and respects the dignity of the Palestinian people.”

Acknowledging the scepticism about his father-in-law’s policy in the region, he said: “My direct message to the Palestinian people is that despite what those who have let you down in the past say, President Trump and America have not given up on you.”

Nancy Okail, the executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said: “The Palestinian issue is primarily political, and pouring money into it won’t solve it. Kushner’s plan is indicative of his lack of understanding of the history and dynamics in the region, offering a simplistic and unviable, immoral non-solution to a longstanding, complex issue.”

Hours before the official “Peace to Prosperity” conference dinner in the Bahraini capital, Manama, on Tuesday, Saudi Arabia released a statement reiterating its support for the two-state solution. This has been the bedrock of past discussions between Israelis and Palestinians, underwritten by successive administrations in Riyadh and Washington.

Saudi Arabia is an ally of the Trump administration and a nominal supporter of the conference. Its crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had forged a close understanding with Kushner in the months before the conference; both are understood to see the 71-year-old conflict through a similar lens.

During Kushner’s time as Trump’s Middle East envoy, core demands of the Israeli rightwing have been implemented. US aid to Palestine has been slashed, the bitterly contested city of Jerusalem declared as Israel’s capital, Palestinian diplomatic missions closed in Washington and US missions closed in the West Bank and Gaza.

“We’ve gone from a ‘land for peace’ formula addressing a decades-old occupation and siege to a ‘money for peace’ recipe for disaster,” said HA Hellyer, a senior associate fellow of the Royal United Services Institute and the Atlantic Council.

“The needs and rights of the Palestinians – the occupied – are now openly and explicitly disregarded by the Trump administration with such transparency that such a ‘money for peace’ recipe for disaster [to them] is a logical conclusion,” Hellyer said.

“There are precious few in the Arab world who are willing to invest much political capital to address and solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but that doesn’t translate to support for this. If that were the case, we would see high-level delegations, for example, going to the Bahraini workshop. Instead, Arab states are trying to send as low-level diplomats as possible.”

Sir John Jenkins, a former Middle East director for the Foreign Office, said torpor across Palestinian politics had contributed to a loss of faith in the existing peace model.

He said Palestine’s political structure had collapsed and there was “no Palestinian national narrative any more”, pointing to the “bureaucratisation and demoralisation of Fatah”, the “futilely belligerent” Hamas in charge of Gaza, and the fact that the Palestinian Authority that runs parts of the West Bank was “widely distrusted and despised as corrupt by many Palestinians”.

Jenkins said: “Add to this the failure of the Arab uprisings, the consequent discrediting of political Islamism, the collapse of Arab nationalism and the rise of securitised authoritarianism, and the old context within which the Palestinian national cause sat has also vanished. No one has replaced it with anything satisfactory. This is a failure of the political imagination.”

He said this vacuum had been filled with “the promise of economic development, as if that will make the unorganised but still widespread and powerful Palestinian yearning for a state, or at least a political community, go away. I think that’s a misreading. Economic development gets you so far – but then what?”

He added of mooted Arab benefactors: “I can’t see them simply signing on the dotted line unless there is some sort of political horizon. The Palestinian issue retains a distinctive power to mobilise many Arabs emotionally. It’s hard to see why the Kurds and others are allowed to realise national aspirations but not the Palestinians. And Iran would accuse them of selling out the instant they signed. Why give them the satisfaction?”

Hellyer said a two-state solution, already diluted, may become even less viable in the absence of meaningful political engagement. “If the Israelis continue along this present course of action, they make the alternative of a one-state solution more and more inevitable, where the Palestinian struggle for national self-determination in a state is transformed into a civil rights struggle in a single state alongside Israelis.”


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Shocking photo of drowned father and daughter highlights migrants' border peril

The toddler’s arm was still draped around her father’s neck after bodies were found in the Rio Grande as they sought asylum

Patrick Timmons in Piedras Negras, Martin Hodgson in New York, and David Agren in Mexico City
Guardian
Wed 26 Jun 2019 01.39 BST

The grim reality of the migration crisis unfolding on America’s southern border has been captured in photographs showing the lifeless bodies of a Salvadoran father and his daughter who drowned as they attempted to cross the Rio Grande into Texas.

The images, taken on Monday , show Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, 26, and his daughter Valeria, lying face down in shallow water. The 23-month-old toddler’s arm is draped around her father’s neck, suggesting that she was clinging to him in her final moments.

Mexican newspapers compared the photograph to the 2015 image of the 3 year old Syrian boy Alan Kurdi who drowned off the Greek island of Kos – although it remains to be seen if it will have the same impact on America’s fierce immigration debate.

Their bodies were discovered on the bank of the river near Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, just half a mile (1 kilometer) from an international bridge.

According to Julia Le Duc, a reporter for the newspaper La Jornada, Martínez Ramírez had arrived in Matamoros on Sunday, hoping to request asylum from US authorities with his wife, Vanessa Ávalos, and their daughter.

But when he realized that it could be weeks before they were even able to start the asylum process, Martínez decided they should swim across, said Le Duc, who witnessed Ávalos give her account to the police.

“He crossed first with the little girl and he left her on the American side. Then he turned back to get his wife, but the girl went into the water after him. When he went to save her, the current took them both,” Le Duc told the Guardian.

The image underlines the dangers which mostly Central American migrants face in their attempts to escape violence, corruption and poverty at home and find asylum in the United States.
Authorities stand behind yellow warning tape along the Rio Grande where the bodies of Óscar Alberto

As part of a broader crack down on migration, the Trump administration has made asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are considered – a process which can take years. Migrants have increasingly turned to more remote and dangerous routes across the southern frontier.

On Sunday, two babies, a toddler and a woman were found dead after succumbing to heat exhaustion in Anzalduas Park, which borders the river in the city of Mission.

Elsewhere three children and an adult from Honduras died in April after their raft capsized on the Rio Grande, and a six-year-old from India was found dead earlier this month in Arizona, where temperatures routinely soar well above 100F.

So far this year, dozens of people have died attempting to cross the Rio Grande, where water levels are at their highest levels in 20 years and record levels of snowmelt run-off have transformed the river into a raging torrent.

Claudia Hernández, a Mexican police officer in the border town of Piedras Negras, told the Guardian: “The river is treacherous and the people who aren’t from here don’t know that. I grew up here along the Río Bravo river [Río Grande]. I wouldn’t even go into that water to bathe or swim. There are springs and whirlpools and when the current takes you it can pull you under.”

Isabel Turcios, a Franciscan nun, the director of the Casa del Migrante shelter in Piedras Negras said that local activists warn migrants not to try their luck on the river, but the US has drastically reduced the number of migrants who are allowed to request asylum each day.

“People get desperate and cannot keep waiting. They just want to cross. So they go to the river and without any form of protection – no lifejacket, nothing to save them – they go into the river. They always tell me that if God wants them to make it then somehow they will make it.”

She added: “It’s not how things should be. They should be able to cross at the bridges. Every human being has the right to migrate. It’s a human right.”

Meanwhile Mexico has launched its own crackdown on migrants as the government scrambles to ward off Trump’s threat of trade tariffs.

“Very regrettable that this would happen,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Tuesday in response to a question about the latest deaths on the border. “As there is more rejection in the United States, there are people who lose their lives in the desert or crossing” the river.

According to reports in the local press, Martínez, Ávalos and their daughter left their home in the municipality of San Martín in April. But after two months waiting in the southern city of Tapachula – and fearful of the Mexican authorities – the family decided to push on.

“They said they were scared because of the way things were going for migrants, what with the pressure from Trump. That’s why they decided to cross the river. Their plan was to hand themselves into US migration,” Martínez’s sister Wendy told El Diario de Hoy.

One of Martínez’s cousins, Enrique Gómez, tweeted an appeal to the Salvadoran president, Nayib Bukele, pleading for help in repatriating the bodies. Gómez said the family sought assistance from the Salvadoran government but were being charged between $7,000 and $8,000 to repatriate the bodies. Bukele’s office responded by asking Gómez to send a private message and promised to start the repatriations.

The photograph of Martínez and his daughter provoked soul-searching among some Mexicans, but recent polls revealed that attitudes towards migrants have hardened in recent months.

“The image of a father and the little one in the Rio Bravo… is a painful symptom of our systematic failure,” tweeted author Alma Delia Murillo. “And on top of that you have idiots who blame the migrants because ‘they took the risk.’”

Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker, also expressed their dismay on Tuesday evening. “Trump is responsible for these deaths,” wrote O’Rourke in a tweet, while Harris called it “a stain on our moral conscience”.

Polling firm Parametría showed 58% of Mexicans opposing migrants entering the country from Central America. Just 32% of respondents expressed the same opinion on November, when caravans from Central America transited the country and were welcomed with outpourings of generosity.

This report includes material from the Associated Press


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