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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1284715 times)
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« Reply #4230 on: Sep 04, 2018, 06:23 AM »


What apocalyptic vision guides our president?

By Kathleen Parker Columnist
Wa Post
9/4/2018

As Sen. John McCain’s departing call to national unity reverberated across America this week, President Trump’s prediction of violence should Democrats prevail in November’s midterm elections seemed both discordant and, well, weird.

Trump issued his dire warning on Monday — two days after McCain’s death — at a gathering of evangelical pastors at the White House. Trump warned that if they didn’t rally their parishioners to turn out and vote Republican, Democrats “will overturn everything that we’ve done, and they’ll do it quickly and violently.”

I’ve nearly rubbed my chin raw from stroking it for answers.

What sort of apocalyptic vision guides our commander in chief? What level of paranoia inspires such hyperbolic projections?

These questions are tendered as rhetorical exercise. We know what petty perdition this president has created for himself. And, sadly for the country, it needn’t have been this way. Given the antipathy toward Hillary Clinton, Trump might have won the election without appealing to raw emotion and base fears. Later, he might have changed his tune as president and tried to appeal to a broader cross-section of Americans. Who knows? As McCain said, in this country, nothing is inevitable. Trump might have united the nation in common cause.

Instead, he chose the ugly path. In immigration, health care, tax overhauls and foreign policy, Trump has taken the low road. Thus, the less-rhetorical question is: How do these evangelical pastors sleep at night?

What you need to know about evangelicals in the Trump era. The label "evangelical Christian" gets thrown around in politics. Here's a look at how it has evolved and this group's religious beliefs and political leanings: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/5aa80b1c-0d02-11e8-998c-96deb18cca19' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

We know that many conservatives voted for Trump because he promised to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court. We also know that Trump ran away with the evangelical Christian vote.

But one must ask these men and women of the cloth: Is it really more important to hope for a Supreme Court that might reverse (or, more realistically, erode) Roe v. Wade than it is to have a president of whom we can be proud? In whom we can trust to be thoughtful, honest and impervious to every little slight?

Does same-sex marriage, which a majority of Americans support, so offend these church leaders that they would rather risk a nuclear matchup with North Korea? Or an increasingly tenuous relationship with Russia and China, owing to Trump’s careless use of power to intimidate, insult and badger our geopolitical foes? This month, Russia is slated to hold war games — its largest since the dissolution of the Soviet Union — and China’s army will be involved.

Is this of no consequence to those who preach the word of God?

Granting the benefit of the doubt, Trump’s supporters early on might have deluded themselves into believing he wouldn’t be that bad. But what’s their excuse now?

But Trump was surely serious when he spoke about the darkness that would descend upon the land if Republicans lose the House. One would have thought he was speaking of the Islamic State or the Taliban, not fellow Americans with a different point of view. Even stranger, he mentioned violence in the context of antifa, a loose group of anti-fascists militant in their protest of the white supremacists who have celebrated Trump’s presidency as a giant step for white mankind.

If Republicans do lose Congress in the fall, it won’t be because evangelicals didn’t turn out to vote, though that surely would be a redemptive act. It will be because of Trump himself. A Post/ABC News poll released Friday found that 60 percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s job performance. The same survey also found that 63 percent support special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. And 64 percent said they support Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump has been threatening to fire. A Democratic victory in the midterms will happen because of the GOP’s silence in the face of Trump’s untenable behavior, their lack of courage in condemning his draconian execution of policies, and the utter hypocrisy of allowing such a foul-mouthed, race-baiting misogynist to occupy the Oval Office after many of these same paragons of virtue impeached Bill Clinton for lying about his irresponsible affair with an intern.

Violence isn’t likely should Republicans lose, but impeachment probably is. This is what Trump anticipates and fears. If evangelical pastors really want to help the country, they should urge their parishioners to read McCain’s last testament and heed his words: “We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe.”


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« Reply #4231 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:04 AM »

Scientists Are Retooling Bacteria to Cure Disease

By manipulating DNA, researchers are trying to create microbes that, once ingested, work to treat a rare genetic condition — a milestone in synthetic biology.

By Carl Zimmer
NY Times
Sept. 5, 2018

In a study carried out over the summer, a group of volunteers drank a white, peppermint-ish concoction laced with billions of bacteria. The microbes had been engineered to break down a naturally occurring toxin in the blood.

The vast majority of us can do this without any help. But for those who cannot, these microbes may someday become a living medicine.

The trial marks an important milestone in a promising scientific field known as synthetic biology. Two decades ago, researchers started to tinker with living things the way engineers tinker with electronics.

They took advantage of the fact that genes typically don’t work in isolation. Instead, many genes work together, activating and deactivating one another. Synthetic biologists manipulated these communications, creating cells that respond to new signals or respond in new ways.

Until now, the biggest impact has been industrial. Companies are using engineered bacteria as miniature factories, assembling complex molecules like antibiotics or compounds used to make clothing.

In recent years, though, a number of research teams have turned their attention inward. They want to use synthetic biology to fashion microbes that enter our bodies and treat us from the inside.

The bacterial concoction that volunteers drank this summer — tested by the company Synlogic — may become the first synthetic biology-based medical treatment to gain approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

The bacteria are designed to treat a rare inherited disease called phenylketonuria, or PKU. People with the condition must avoid dietary protein in foods such as meat and cheese, because their bodies cannot break down a byproduct, an amino acid called phenylalanine.

As phenylalanine builds up in the blood, it can damage neurons in the brain, leading to delayed development, intellectual disability and psychiatric disorders. The traditional treatment for PKU is a strict low-protein diet, accompanied by shakes loaded with nutritional supplements.

But in experiments on mice and monkeys, Synlogic’s bacteria showed promise as an alternative treatment. On Tuesday, company investigators announced positive results in a clinical trial with healthy volunteers.

The researchers are now going forward with a trial on people with PKU and expect to report initial results next year.

Tal Danino, a synthetic biologist at Columbia University, said that a number of other researchers are working on similar projects, but no one has moved forward as fast as Synlogic. “They’re leading the charge,” he said.

One of Synlogic’s co-founders, James J. Collins, a synthetic biologist at M.I.T., published one of synthetic biology’s first proofs of principle in 2000.

He and his colleagues endowed E. coli bacteria with a way to turn a gene on and off when they were exposed to certain chemicals — “like a light switch for genes,” Dr. Collins said in an interview.
“I think anywhere there are bacteria in the body is an opportunity to engineer them to do something else.”

Tal Danino

At first, the scientists envisioned using rewired bacteria as environmental sensors — perhaps detecting airborne biological weapons and producing a chemical signal in response.

But then came the microbiome.

In the mid-2000s, microbiologists began charting our inner menagerie of microbes, the vast diversity of organisms that live inside healthy people. The microbiome is continually carrying out complex biochemistry, some of which helps shield us from diseases, scientists found.

Synthetic biologists soon began wondering whether they could add engineered bacteria to the mix — perhaps as internal sensors for signs of disease, or even as gut-based factories that make drugs the body needs.

“You can’t overestimate the impact of the microbiome work,” said Jeff Hasty, a former student of Dr. Collins who now runs his own lab at the University of California, San Diego. “That, in a nutshell, changed everything.”

Dr. Collins and Timothy K. Lu, another synthetic biologist at M.I.T., co-founded Synlogic in 2013, and the company began looking for diseases to take on. One of their picks was PKU, which affects 16,500 people in the United States.

Drugs have recently become available that can drive down levels of phenylalanine. But they only work in a fraction of patients, and they come with side effects of their own.

“The current tools that we have available are not good enough,” said Christine S. Brown, the executive director of the National PKU Alliance.

For years, researchers have explored treating PKU with gene therapy, hoping to insert working versions of the defective gene, called PAH, into a patient’s own cells. But so far the approach has not moved beyond studies in mice.

To Synlogic, PKU looked like a ripe opportunity to use synthetic biology to create a treatment that might gain government approval.

Company researchers selected a harmless strain of E. coli that’s been studied for more than a century. “Most people have healthy, good E. coli in their intestinal tracts,” said Paul Miller, the chief scientific officer of Synlogic.

The researchers inserted genes into the bacteria’s DNA so that once they arrived in the gut, they could break down phenylalanine like our own cells do.

One of the new genes encodes a pump that the bacteria use to suck up phenylalanine around them. A second gene encodes an enzyme that breaks down the phenylalanine into fragments. The bacteria then release the fragments, which get washed out in urine.

The Synlogic team wanted the microbes to break down phenylalanine only in the right place and at the right time in the human body. So they engineered the bacteria to keep their phenylalanine genes shut down if they sensed high levels of oxygen around them.

Only when they arrived in a place with little oxygen — the gut — did they turn on their engineered genes.

To test the bacteria, the researchers created mice with the mutation that causes PKU. When the mice received a dose of the bacteria, the phenylalanine in their blood dropped by 38 percent, compared with mice without the microbes.

The researchers also tried out the bacteria on healthy monkeys. When monkeys without the microbes ate a high-protein diet, they experienced a spike of phenylalanine in their blood. The monkeys with engineered bacteria in their guts experienced only a gentle bump.   

For their human trial, Synlogic recruited healthy people to swallow the bacteria. Some took a single dose, while others drank increasingly large ones over the course of a week. After ingesting the bacteria, the volunteers drank a shake or ate solid food high in protein.

On Tuesday, Synlogic announced that the trial had demonstrated people could safely tolerate the bacteria. In addition, the more bacteria they ingested, the more bits of phenylalanine wound up in their urine — a sign the bacteria were doing their job.

The next step will be to see if the microbes can lower phenylalanine levels in people with PKU.

“I’m amazed at how fast we got to where we are,” said Dr. Collins, who was not involved in Synlogic’s PKU research.

In July, Dr. Danino and his colleagues published a review in the journal Cell Systems, cataloging a number of other disorders that researchers are designing synthetic microbes to treat, including inflammation and infections.

Dr. Danino and Dr. Hasty are currently collaborating on another project: how to use synthetic biology against cancer.

One huge challenge in developing drugs for cancer is that they often fail to penetrate tumors. But microbiome researchers have discovered that natural bacteria regularly infiltrate tumors and grow inside them.

Now scientists are engineering bacteria that can also make their way into tumors. Once there, they will unload molecules that attract immune cells, which the researchers hope will kill the cancer.

“I think anywhere there are bacteria in the body is an opportunity to engineer them to do something else,” said Dr. Danino.

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« Reply #4232 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:07 AM »


Robot drone could protect Great Barrier Reef by killing crown-of-thorns starfish

Researchers say underwater drone can monitor coral bleaching and inject coral-eating starfish with vinegar

Australian Associated Press
9/5/2018

An underwater drone that can keep watch over the Great Barrier Reef’s health and kill invading species is ready to be put to the test.

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology say their robot reef protector can monitor coral bleaching, water quality, pest species, pollution and sediment buildup.

It has also been trained to detect crown-of-thorns starfish with 99% accuracy and can inject the coral-eating starfish with vinegar or bile salts, both deadly to the invasive predator.

Professor Matthew Dunbabin said RangerBot was not only autonomous but could also stay under water three times longer than a human diver and operate in all weather conditions.

“It’s an impressive piece of technology, [it’s] also deliberately low cost to allow production to be scaled up once the next level of operational testing is completed and all the necessary approvals are in place,” he said on Friday.

Dunbabin said the team hoped to eventually launch the drones up the length of the 2,300-kilometre long reef.

He said the robot was fitted with real-time guidance so it can avoid obstacles by moving in any direction.

Great Barrier Reef Foundation managing director Anna Marsden said the robot could become an extra pair of eyes and hands for frontline staff managing the reef.

“Due to [the reef’s] size and complexity, effective management is a mammoth and expensive task,” she said.

RangerBot is a collaboration between QUT, Google and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.


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« Reply #4233 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:10 AM »

Detroit to shut off drinking water in schools after lead found

Reuters
9/5/ 2018 at 05:56 ET                   

Detroit authorities on Wednesday ordered drinking water shut off at all city public schools after elevated levels of lead and copper were found in water at more than a dozen buildings with antiquated plumbing systems.

Over the weekend, supplies were cut at 16 schools and bottled water was provided until water coolers arrive, Detroit Public Schools Community District Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.

Although there is no evidence of excessive levels of copper or lead in other schools, Vitti decided to shut off water throughout the system “until a deeper and broader analysis can be conducted to determine the long-term solutions for all schools,” he said in a statement.

“We have no reason to believe that any children have been harmed,” said Chrystal Wilson, a spokeswoman for the district.

About 50,000 students are enrolled in the district, which operates 110 schools, according to its website. Detroit public schools students are due to start classes on Tuesday, although teachers are already working.

The Great Lakes Water Authority and Detroit Water and Sewerage Department said in a statement that the water, after treatment, surpassed all federal and state standards for quality and safety. They attributed any drinking water contamination in the affected schools to the antiquated plumbing in the buildings.

Detroit’s drinking water comes from the Detroit River.

Water safety is a sensitive issue in Michigan, where lead contamination in the water supply of Flint prompted dozens of lawsuits and criminal charges against former government officials.

Medical research has linked lead to a stunting of children’s neural development. Exposure to copper can cause gastrointestinal distress and liver or kidney damage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Flint switched its water supply to the Flint River from Lake Huron in April 2014 to cut costs. The corrosive river water caused lead to leach from pipes. Flint switched back to Lake Huron water in October 2015, but the contamination continued.

Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Peter Cooney


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« Reply #4234 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:12 AM »

Houses claimed by the canal: life on Egypt's climate change frontline

In Alexandria’s ‘Little Venice’, a poor fishing community faces the demolition of its homes and loss of its livelihood thanks to rising seas – and a local government keen to clear its slums

Ruth Michaelson in Alexandria
Guardian
9/5/2018

On the banks of the El Max canal near the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, one man untangles fishing nets in his turquoise-painted boat as the sound of a sledgehammer hitting bricks ricochets down the waterway.

Others lean out of their windows on one bank of the canal, staring at the growing piles of rubble of what was once rows of homes on the opposite bank. The previous occupants as well as those looking on are a harbinger of thousands who will be forced to leave their homes due to climate change.

Abir Mohamed Abdel-Salam says she doesn’t remember exactly when the canal water first rose above the height of her front window, pouring into her house. “It would reach the top of my thighs,” she says. Black fumes rise overhead from the adjacent petroleum factory.

For years, flooding has been a regular occurrence, and now she knows her emergency response by heart.

“First I would send someone to turn off the pumps,” she says, referring to the nearby pumping station designed to prevent flooding on an adjacent coastal road, one driven by wealthy Egyptians en route to their summer homes. “Then we would build a fort inside our house with the furniture.”

The three tiers of crumbling cement houses in El Max once formed the backbone of a 1,000-strong fishing community. But since March, the local authorities have forced half the residents out of their homes and into bleak tower blocks overlooking the canal they once depended on for their livelihood. Those that remain await the demolition of their homes, gazing at the rubble on the opposite bank as a reminder of what awaits them.

Alexandria is a city on the frontline of climate change. According to United Nations figures, even a 50cm sea-level rise will destroy its beaches entirely, while “the Alexandria lowlands – on which the city of Alexandria originally developed – are vulnerable to inundation, waterlogging, increased flooding and salinisation under accelerated sea-level rise”.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that global sea levels are expected to rise by as much as 68cm by 2050, flooding parts of Alexandria and seeping into the groundwater. It will also cause building collapses and force saltwater into vital farmland in the nearby Nile Delta region, destroying livelihoods and forcing more internal displacement.

The plight of El Max’s residents is an early warning sign, the first wave of thousands who will be forced to move due to the effects of climate change on the area, in particular nearby Lake Mariout.

“There are many areas around the lake that are located at least 3m below sea level,” says Alexandrian climate scientist Mohamed El Raey. “They will have to be abandoned and the people relocated. In these low-lying areas, there will be hundreds of thousands of people affected by flooding.” El Raey estimates that the government will be forced to move residents in less than 10 years.

These displaced people will form part of a growing global problem. The UN estimates that since 2009, one person every second has been displaced by a climate-change related disaster.

El Max is an unknown corner of the city to many Alexandrians, tucked away between a tangle of concrete overpasses, flat planes of polluted industrial wasteland and dust-choked streets where thick, dark clouds from nearby factories have coated every visible surface. Much of the surrounding area appears almost hostile to human life, despite its placement between the fertile Nile Delta and the Mediterranean coast.

The area is known as Alexandria’s own Little Venice, a community of people dependent on the water for their way of life and the rows of pastel-coloured homes that once sustained them. The decades-old informal dwellings are considered “slums” by the local government. The area has also featured in Egyptian film as a place of gangsters and illicit trading, generating rumours of real-world crime.

“This is Venice-El Max!” laughs Ahmed Saber, guiding his boat through the soupy brown water on the canal. Pollution from nearby factories has turned it into thick sludge, killing off many of the fish needed for the fishermen to survive. “It feels like Venice – I have a boat like they do in Europe. But it’s all about to be destroyed,” he says, as his boat passes another with rows of teeth painted at the bow to resemble a shark.

Saber, like many others in El Max, has repeatedly refuted signs of flooding that are all around them, from layers of rust on the bars on windows and doors to the water-worn steps that run between the houses. It seemed that admitting to the problem meant taking the side of the local authorities, who they said had been threatening the move for several years.

But by June this year, when half the community were forced to relocate, some residents were willing to be more open about the flooding.

The original problem, explains El Raey, stems from Lake Mariout. “The lake is almost 3m below sea level, so waste water dumping there causes fluctuations in the canal,” he says. “The buildings along the canal are also located below sea level.” The situation is worst in the winter, when the sea level rises.

Annual rainfall on Egypt’s coast has recently reached unprecedented levels, such as in 2015, says Dr Khayal Zahra of Egypt’s Coastal Research Institute. “Climate change-related problems meant that the amount of rainfall exceeded 227mm in two days.” The average rainfall had been 250mm a year, for the past 100 years. Excess rainfall exacerbates the rising levels of polluted water in El Max, overloading the nearby pumping station and raising the water levels of the canal until it floods residents’ homes.

But the rising waters on Egypt’s coastline will not affect everyone equally: Egypt’s poorest, living on the water’s edge or dependent on its resources, are vulnerable to the first and worst effects of climate change. They are also the authorities’ frequent target for forced relocation plans aimed at alleged illegal construction in areas they seek to reclaim.

“The state is working to end the issue of slums by 2022,” says Mohamed Sultan, a spokesman for the governor of Alexandria, referring to a state-wide initiative by President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to eradicate informal housing, known as ashwiyyet – urban working class centres often associated with both poverty and social discontent. Although several generations of families live in El Max and have paid rent for decades, the government claims the homes were built illegally and that the only solution is forced relocation, and demolition.

“The governorate has already started relocating the residents to a much safer area,” says Sultan, in reference to an austere cluster of red and sand-bricked tower blocks. The buildings are closer to the nearby beach, putting them in the path of future rising tides. “The previous houses were considered dangerous for the lives of the residents, as the water level increased and entered the homes, risking the lives of those who lived there,” he says.

The governorate insists that a new port will allow residents to fish, and store their equipment. But none of the residents the Guardian speaks to in El Max seem aware of the opportunity, viewing the move as a blow to their way of life and a shove into potential unemployment. They also cite a steep rise in rent, from under £1 a year to almost £9 each month – a sum that is untenable for many. It will mean packing extra family members into homes that residents like Abdel-Salam brand tiny compared with the houses they had before.

“The water is an excuse for the government to relocate people,” says Ali Abdel Rahman, a 63-year-old fisherman who sits inside the small blue-and-white-painted hut where he stores his fishing equipment. The room smells of saltwater, and most surfaces are encrusted with either salt, or rust. Outside the shop he sometimes cooks his catch on a small grill, and chats to his neighbours. He is cynical about government promises.

“I’m 63. There’s nothing I can do other than fish,” he says. “They say they’re building us new homes – but these houses aren’t homes, they’re just offices,” he adds bitterly.

Abdel Rahman, Abdel-Salam and other residents are certain that their lives in the new tower blocks might be a reprieve from the floods, but that the move will tear them away from their way of life.

“There, we have a sea view – but nothing else,” says Abdel-Salam.


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« Reply #4235 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:15 AM »


'It saved our business': Italy's farmers turn low into high with cannabis

Hemp cultivation for non-pharmaceutical could help revert desiccation of farm land

Lorenzo Tondo in Catenanuova
Guardian
9/5/2018

Italian farmers are in crisis as low prices of wheat, desiccated land and big companies importing grain take their toll. But some have found a solution: growing cannabis.

Hemp cultivation has been legal in Italy since 2016, and over the last few years the amount of land dedicated to the plant has increased from 400 hectares (1,000 acres) in 2013 to 4,000 hectares today.

The law – which allows cultivation for non-pharmaceutical use of plants with up to 0.2% of the psychoactive compound THC – was introduced with the intention of increasing the development of industrial hemp production. Italians have taken advantage of the legal change to produce not only hemp ricotta and environmentally friendly bricks, but also hemp pasta and biscuits.

“The boom in the production of hemp is an excellent example of the ability of agricultural firms to discover new frontiers,” said Roberto Moncalvo, the president of Coldiretti, Italy’s largest farmers’ association. “We are in the middle of an opportunity for economic and employment growth.”

This solution to the crisis affecting Italian farmers can be seen in a small green oasis set in the arid interior of Sicily. Among the clay fields and sheaves of abandoned grain, a sign depicting a seven-point leaf hangs from a gate.

Beyond it is Salvo Scuderi, the president of the agricultural cooperative Colli Erei. The 41-year-old has just finished reaping part of his hemp harvest, which will be used to make pasta, oil and flour. This year, Scuderi and 20 other producers of Rete Canapa Sicilia, an association whose goal is to promote and market the use of hemp in the region, have together produced almost 150 tonnes.

“Hemp saved our business,” he said. “This year we earned 10 times more than what we used to earn with wheat and it has enabled us to hire four workers.”

Wheat yields a profit of €250 (£220) per hectare in today’s market, while hemp can generate net earnings in excess of €2,500 per hectare, according t Rete Canapa Sicilia. And there are many Sicilian farmers who, in order to breathe new life into the dry land and to improve their financial situation have substituted wheat with hemp.

In the countryside around Catenanuova, temperatures can reach the mid-40s in the summer. It is where the Italian car manufacturer Fiat used to test its prototypes under high temperatures, scorching weather would force trains to stopbecause of expanding rails. But it is not the heat alone that has caused the desiccation of the land.

“Years of monocultural wheat cultivation are the problem,” said Dario Giambalvo, professor of agricultural sciences at the University of Palermo. “It has caused soil erosion, and is at risk of soon making the land infertile.”

According to data from Italy’s Council for Agricultural Research and Analysis of Agricultural Economics, land planted with durum wheat decreased by 7.4% in southern Italy last year, and by more than 9% in the north of the country. Overall production decreased by more than 4% during the last year.

This is why the move towards to hemp farming could help, say experts.

“The cultivation of hemp is a valid opportunity for a diversified farming which can be a good solution for the rebirth of abandoned and less fertile land,” said Giambalvo, “The ancient Romans taught us that diversifying crops can help make the land more fertile. I do not know if this will lead to the growth of the agricultural sector, certainly for Italy is a return to the origins.”

Up to the 1940s, Italy was the world’s largest producer of hemp after the Soviet Union. Back then in Italy, more 100,000 hectares were planted with hemp. After the war andthe move towards synthetic fibres, the cultivation of hemp plummeted. The downward trend continued as the campaign against illegal drug use was strengthened. In 1961 the Italian government signed the single convention on narcotic drugs. Despite the international treaty specifically excluding non-pharmaceutical hemp production from the regulations controlling cannabis, it led to further to decline in hemp cultivation in Italy.

    This could open the way for the legalisation of plant species with levels of psychoactive substances over 0.2%
    Salvo Scuderi, hemp farmer

“Hemp has been waiting 60 years to reclaim its rightful place,” said Scuderi. “And this could open the way for the legalisation of plant species with levels of psychoactive substances over 0.2% and to develop pharmaceutical experimentation.”

The 2016 law does not prohibit the commercialisation of hemp flowers, a gap that allowed market for the sale of light cannabis to blossom, with more than 500 stores in Italy. The flowers, sealed in bags or jars with names such as Gorilla Blue, Amnesia and Raging Bull, can be collected and used for tisanes or as scents for wardrobes. But the majority of customers simply crumble them, roll them and smoke them. The effects are not as pronounced as most cultivated strains of cannabis, which typically have THC levels of 15-25%, but do offer an immediate sense of relaxation.

According to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Italy ranks third in Europe for consumption of cannabis.

On his company’s jars of hemp flowers, Scuderi has placed a label: “pizzo-free”. “It means the product is made without giving a cent to the mafia,” he said. “We launched a clear message: producing cannabis doesn’t mean just regenerating the land; it is also a way to weaken the mafia, which for decades has continued uninhibited in its quest to control the criminal business of drugs trafficking, and to give back to the farmers what the bosses had taken away from them.”


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« Reply #4236 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:17 AM »

Despair for Australian farmers as drought kills livestock

Reuters
9/5/ 2018 at 06:46 ET                   

In better times, the dam on farmer Kevin Tongue’s property is three meters (yards) deep with water. It’s now been empty for three months.

The worst drought in living memory is sweeping through Australia’s east, the country’s main food bowl, decimating wheat and barley crops and leaving grazing land parched.

Tongue, his wife and two sons hand-feed their 300 breeding cows and 1,300 sheep with grain and fodder bought and transported from other parts of the country as drought-hit local supplies run out.

“It’s been a huge financial effect on everyone. Not just buying hay and things like that, but you know, we’ve got no winter crop and that’s probably a third of our income that we won’t have,” Tongue told Reuters on his farm near the town of Tamworth about 300 kilometers (188 miles) inland from Sydney in the eastern state of New South Wales (NSW).

Forecasters have dramatically cut anticipated wheat yields for the country’s most important crop three months before the harvest.

Glencore Agriculture has forecast a wheat crop in NSW of just 2.4 million tonnes, less than a third of the average annual yield of 7.4 million tonnes.

Tongue said the despair in the farming community was palpable.

“When you have some strange woman come up crying on your shoulder, saying, ‘I can’t find hay, I can’t find grain, what am I going to do?’ I’m just not in a position to say I can help you but, yeah, it is very hard.”

The east coast has received some recent sporadic rain, though it has not been enough to save crops. A sustained break of the “big dry” is required to enable grazing to resume.

NSW is the country’s most-populous state and produces a quarter of Australia’s agriculture by value. The state government has officially declared a drought.

On ‘Te-Angie’, north-east of Tamworth, Richard Ogilvie said he had lost in excess of A$40,000 ($29,264) in income on his Hereford cattle station as grazing pastures turned to dust and feed costs soared.

This will lead to a loss of about A$200,000 ($146,320) longer term due to the reduction in breeding cattle, he said.

Many farmers, including Ogilvie, have been forced to shoot starving cattle, which he said was putting a big strain on the family.

“The ongoing thing is not to dwell and get down too much with the ongoing days of dragging cattle out of dams and shooting the ones that can’t get up,” he said.

Australia’s federal government and the NSW state government have pledged several billions dollars in aid for drought-afflicted farmers.

Australia recorded its fifth-driest July on record last month. For NSW, the January-to-July period was the driest since 1965 and marked seven consecutive months of below-average rainfall for the state. ($1=1.3669 Australian dollars)

Reporting by Jill Gralow in TAMWORTH; editing by Jonathan Barrett and Neil Fullick


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« Reply #4237 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:35 AM »


'Alone and in fear': ordeal of married gay couple forced to flee Russia

Pavel Stotsko and Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky followed Russian law but their Danish marriage put their lives at risk

Marc Bennetts in Moscow
Guardian
Wed 5 Sep 2018 08.39 BST

On a cold January evening, as plainclothes police officers hammered relentlessly on the door of their flat near Moscow, newlywed gay couple Pavel Stotsko and Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky began to consider fleeing Russia.

“It was a siege situation. The police were in the entrance to the building, and all around it,” Stotsko said this week from the Netherlands, where the couple, who are both 28, were recently granted asylum. “We sat in the flat like in a prison cell, totally alone and in fear,” said Voitsekhovsky.

The two men’s problems with the Russian authorities began at the start of the year after they wed in Denmark, where same-sex marriages have been legal since 2012.

Although homosexuality is not against the law in Russia, same-sex marriage is. But after studying Russian civil law, Stotsko and Voitsekhovsky realised that the authorities are obliged to recognise marriages that have been registered abroad, even those between same-sex couples. Russian officials, it appears, were unaware of the legal loophole.

Upon their return to Russia in January, the couple submitted their internal passports to a register’s office in Moscow, where a clerk “calmly and without any questions” put marriage stamps on the documents. All Russians over 14 must by law possess internal passports that document their place of residence and marital status. They cannot be used for foreign travel.

“We were so happy when we got the stamps in our passports. We thought that we could now live happily and calmly in Russia, and that, despite all the homophobia, the law was on our side,” Stotsko said. “We didn’t expect that the authorities would respond so aggressively.”

Stotsko then posted online photos of the stamps in the passports and the couple gave interviews to Russian media, moves that sparked widespread outrage. Vitaly Milonov, an ultra-conservative MP with the ruling United Russia party, said the marriage stamps had no legal basis and likened Stotsko and Voitsekhovsky to “stinking goats”. He also said they should be “checked for dangerous diseases” and “kicked out of the country” as a warning to others. The interior ministry accused the men of defacintheir passports, which they denied. The couple also received numerous death threats.

Human rights groups say homophobic attacks have rocketed in Russia since President Vladimir Putin approved a controversial law barring so-called “gay propaganda” in 2013, effectively making it an offence to promote LGBT rights in public. Dozens of gay men were detained and tortured in Chechnya, a mainly Muslim republic in southern Russia, last year.

Police officers soon turned up at the couple’s flat in Lyubertsy, a small town just outside the Russian capital, and demanded that they hand over their internal passports. The officers’ actions, the men say, were overseen by Andrei Zakharov, the then deputy chief of Moscow’s police. Shortly after their arrival, police cut off the internet and electricity supply to the flat, plunging it into darkness.

“For Russians, a marriage stamp in their passport is a symbol that their marriage is recognised by the state. Naturally, when the authorities realised there was no legal grounds not to recognise our marriage, they decided to get rid of any evidence that this had happened in Russia,” said Stotsko.

Yet even after the men surrendered their passports, police refused to guarantee the couple’s personal safety, Stotsko said: “Zakharov also said he couldn’t give us any assurances that he wouldn’t arrest us later.”

Terrified, the couple decided to leave Russia that very same night, assisted by members of the country’s beleaguered LGBT community. “We left in the middle of a freezing January night with just $53 between the two of us,” said Stotsko. The couple fled to Amsterdam, where they applied for asylum. They say their lawyers advised them not to speak about their ordeal until this month, when they received confirmation that they were under the protection of the Dutch authorities.

They are now hoping to eventually receive Dutch citizenship and have no plans to return home. They are pessimistic about the long-term chances of an improvement in attitudes toward LGBT people in Russia.

“After Putin came to power, after the ascent to power of those people who came from the criminal underworld, criminal customs and ideas that ‘gays are dirty people’ gained more popularity and are now widely accepted throughout the government,” Stotsko said.

Although Russian police generally adopted a tolerant approach to foreign LGBT fans at this summer’s World Cup, which Russia hosted, homophobic attitudes are widespread.

Even in Moscow, which Stotsko says is safer than the rest of Russia, LGBT people can be subject to horrendous abuse in public, if they are open about their sexuality.

In a social experiment carried out in the city in 2015, two young men who walked hand-in-hand along the street were taunted repeatedly and even physically attacked by passersby. Last year, assailants beat a 29-year-old man to death in Moscow’s Gorky Park, near the Kremlin, “for not dressing right”.

In an eye-opening opinion poll published last month by a state organisation, two-thirds of Russians said they believed there was a worldwide gay conspiracy to subvert their country’s “traditional values”.

“Putin always says that everyone lives in Russia according to the law,” said Stotsko. “But what happened to us proves that he is a liar. We tried to live in Russian within the framework of Russian law, but instead the authorities broke the law themselves to seize our passports.”

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« Reply #4238 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:38 AM »

The dark secret of Thailand’s child brides

Underage Muslim girls are regularly forced into marriage with Malaysian men, and the government turns a blind eye

by Hannah Ellis-Petersen
Guardian
5 Sep 2018 22.00 BST

One day this summer, 11-year-old Ayu married 41-year-old Che Abdul Karim Che Hamid at a small pink mosque on the banks of the Golok river in the far south of Thailand. Earlier that morning, Che Abdul Karim and his soon-to-be child bride had travelled over the border from Malaysia into the Thai province of Narathiwat for the wedding. After a short ceremony at 11am and a trip to the Islamic Council offices to get their marriage certificate stamped, the couple crossed back over the border. Ayu was now Che Abdul Karim’s third wife.

In Malaysia, where men can legally marry girls under 18 if they get Islamic sharia court approval, Ayu’s case caused a national outcry in parliament and protests on the streets. But over the border in Thailand, where the controversial union took place, the response by the government and religious authorities has been notably muted.

Hashim Yusoff, the imam who married the couple, defended the arrangement: Ayu (not her real name) was “mature” he said, so the marriage was sah (legal under sharia law). The imam did make Che Abdul Karim – himself an imam in a rural village – pledge not to have sexual relations with his young wife, but medical tests since are said to show that the 41-year-old did not keep his promise.

Ayu’s father, Madroseh Romadsa, who was present at the wedding to give consent, said simply: “We have never done anything wrong. In Thailand, many people get married at early ages.”

Since 2003, under Thailand’s strict child protection laws, no one under 17 can marry, and sex with a minor is a prosecutable offence. However, in the southern provinces of Thailand – Narathiwat, Pattani and Yalla, which are majority Muslim – a legal loophole allows Muslim communities to apply Islamic law to family matters.

According to this law, there is no minimum age for marriage and, culturally, girls are deemed eligible as soon as they start menstruating. In this way, child marriage has continued as an unregulated norm and a solution to underage pregnancy and rape – with the Thai government appearing to turn a blind eye.

“Here, if a girl is not married by the time she is 16, it is already felt to be too late and that no one will want to marry her,” said Amal Lateh, who lives in Thailand’s Pattani province and was forced at 15 to marry a relative 10 years her senior.

The legal loophole has also created what Thai children’s rights activist Anchana Heemmina described as the “big business of cross-border marriage” – Malaysian men crossing into southern Thailand to easily engage in underage or polygamous marriages for which getting approval in Malaysia would be impossible or a very lengthy process.

Mohammad Lazim runs one such business, helping arrange cross-border marriages for Malaysian men. He works with more than 50 bridegrooms a year, mainly wanting a second or third wife – but insists never with underage brides. He says that his business is tiny compared with some.

“People come from all over Malaysia to do this,” he said. “Business is booming: instead of applying to a sharia court in Malaysia and answering all their difficult questions – a process that takes sometimes a year – the shortcut is to come to Thailand. Here there is no law.”

The practice is also particularly lucrative for imams practising on the Thai side of the Golok river, who charge four times as much to conduct a marriage for a visiting Malaysian as they do for people from their own community. In Malaysia, Che Abdul Karim would have found it difficult or impossible to obtain permission to marry Ayu; in Thailand, he simply paid the imam 4,500 baht (£105), and it was done. He has since been fined 1,800 Ringgit (£340) in a sharia court in Malaysia after pleading guilty to polygamy and conducting the marriage without the court’s permission.

Wannakanok Pohitaedaoh was forced into a violent marriage when young and now runs Luk Riang, a children’s shelter in Narathiwat. She said: “The biggest problem with child marriage in Thailand is that nobody wants to talk about it – not the Islamic Council, not the imams and not the government. It has always been swept under the rug, and that’s where they want it to stay.”

Her opposition is deeply personal. Wannakanok, now 34, was just 13 when she was forced into marriage by her parents and says the experience “haunts my soul to this day”.

“When he asked me to have sexual intercourse, I wasn’t ready for it. I didn’t even know really what that meant, so I refused, and then he raped me,” she said, sobbing at the memory. “He was very violent and every time he wanted to have intercourse, he would use violence. We were living at home, and my parents would hear me screaming.

“And it was the same for so many of my friends. Many of my friends who were 12 or 13 had been married to men who were a lot older than them, maybe in their 30s or 40s. But the girls were young like me and didn’t want sex, so violence was very common. We had no idea about sex at that age.”

Most of her friends were pregnant by 14. She still regularly hears similar cases to hers and Ayu’s. One 13-year-old girl, Naa, had recently been staying at the Luk Riang shelter while her mother worked in Malaysia. “Her mother came to pick her up but soon after they married her to a 40-year-old as his second wife,” said Wannakanok. “The family was very poor so she was a financial burden: it was easier to marry her off.”

There are no official figures on child marriages in Thailand but data from the human rights commissioner of Thailand shows that, in 2016 alone, in the public hospitals of Narathiwat, 1,100 married teenage girls gave birth. This does not include the three other provinces where child marriage is condoned, or births in private clinics and at home.

But the Thai government appears reluctant to engage with the problem at a senior level, pushing responsibility back to the provincial Islamic councils. “This issue has never been raised in the Thai parliament,” said Heemmina. “The government want to pretend it’s not happening because they don’t want to provoke the communities. They are protecting themselves.”

Their reluctance, she added, is rooted in sensitivity over self-determination for Islamic communities in the deep south of Thailand. For 14 years, a civil war has been raging in Narathiwat, Pattani, Yalla and occasionally southern areas of Songkhla. Its roots lie in Thailand’s annexation and conquest in 1909 of the Malay sultanate of Patani, which covered most of these provinces. A separatist movement formed in the 1950s exploded into all-out insurgency in 2004. Though the conflict has quietened in recent years, bombings and shootings are still common, and the fighting has cost almost 7,000 lives, 90% of them civilians.

    A girl raped in her village was taken to a shelter, but the Islamic Council visited to try to make her marry her rapist

As a result, policies imposed on the south from Bangkok are often a great cause of friction. The Thai government, which has thousands of troops stationed across the south, has little interest in stirring up tensions further by interfering in an issue deemed religiously sensitive.

Suraporn Prommul, governor of Narathiwat province, said he had recently met with the Islamic Council over the issue. However, the only change Ayu’s case had prompted was an agreement that in future – in cases involving a young bride and a foreigner – the couple must go first to the provincial Islamic Council office to get married, so the committee can look closely into the case.” There was no stipulation on how this would be enforced.

After the furore in Malaysia over Ayu’s marriage, the girl and her family have this month returned to their native Thailand. Child rights activists fear the Thai government’s apathy over the issue means Che Abdul Karim, who remains in Malaysia, will never be charged with child grooming and abuse. “I am scared this will be another case of child marriage legitimising paedophilia that is swept under the carpet,” said Heemmina.

The impact on girls of marrying before the age of 18 is globally accepted as causing lasting emotional and physical damage, but also perpetuating the cycle of poverty. Girls in the southern Thai provinces are commonly taken out of school once they are married. Many find themselves divorced and with a child before they are even 18.

But Safei Cheklah, the president of the Islamic Council of Narathiwat, while emphasising that council “guidelines” advise that under-18s should not be married, and admitting that it is “not suitable” – still vehemently defended the practice: “I have to speak based on Islamic principle, and according to Islam, the father can give permission for the girl to get married as long as she has achieved physical maturity.”

For the secretary of the Islamic Council, Abdul Razak Ali, whose own mother was just 13 when she married his 70-year-old father, allowing under-18s to marry was justified as a way to prevent “hideous” cases of adultery or illegitimacy. This also extended to forcing underage girls who are raped to marry their rapists.

Angkhana Neelapaijit, the human rights commissioner of Thailand, recounted a recent case of a 15-year-old who was raped in her village in the Yalla province. The girl was taken to a shelter but two days later the Islamic Council visited the girl to try to force her to marry her rapist. “They said it would be best for her,” said Angkhana.

Even charities seem wary of taking action. Aiyub Chena, vice-president of Nusantara, an Islamic NGO working with deprived children in southern Thailand, defended child marriage, because it protects girls from being stigmatised if they are caught with a man.

“Adultery is wrong and sinful according to Islam but if they banned child marriage, I am worried that would make adultery acceptable,” he said.

“You can change the law but that won’t change the society here. It will mean unmarried girls who get pregnant will be outcasts, and their children will not be accepted because they are illegitimate.”

Yet across the Islamic world there is a movement towards outlawing child marriage. Algeria, Oman, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, Morocco and Turkey have all set the minimum age for marriage at 18, and recently Indonesia prepared a presidential decree to close the legal loopholes that allow child marriage.

In a small village in Pattani’s Sai Buri district, women spoke about how common forced underage marriage still is in southern Thailand. They described figures known as “facilitators” who would come to the village on behalf of men who are looking for a young wife.

Amal Lateh, who was forced into marriage at 15, said: “When the facilitators come to the houses, they don’t ask the fathers directly – they will say things like, ‘Do you have any lambs or baby goats you are selling?’ Everyone understands what that means: it means they are looking for a virgin to marry. And then an arrangement will be made between the girl’s father and the facilitator. The girl has no say.”

Suranya Litae was 15 when she was forced by her father to marry a man 16 years her senior in order to help her family out financially. She spoke of her anger that the law did not protect girls from the trauma of underage marriage.

“I did not want to be married. I cried so much, and I wanted so much to run away,” she said. “But my family needed the money from my dowry to build a house. At that time I felt so sad because getting married meant I had to abandon my studies.

Sadly, Suranya, stroked the head of her seven-year-old son, Afdon. “I dreamed of being teacher,” she said. “But that didn’t come true.


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« Reply #4239 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:40 AM »

I get scared, but I'm staying': poignant words of murdered Mogadishu florist

Mohamed Mahamoud Sheik, who opened Somalia’s first flower shop, was killed on 2 August. In this previously unpublished interview, he talks about life in war-torn Mogadishu

Sarah-Eva Marchese and Rebecca Ratcliffe
Guardian
5 Sep 2018 09.00 BST

Dozens of young people wearing white headbands took to the streets of Mogadishu this month. They walked through the city demanding justice for the young entrepreneur Mohamed Mahamoud Sheik.

Sheik, a businessman known for bringing flowers to Somalia, was shot and killed on 2 August. Sheik had opened Mogadishu’s first florist, and launched Somalia’s first laundry and dry cleaner’s since the state’s implosion in 1991.

Born to Somali parents in Italy and raised in Tanzania, Sheik was among a number of expat entrepreneurs who went back to Somalia to open businesses, following the country’s two decades of conflict.

    To me flowers bring in a new light, a solution to the problems faced

In an interview in 2015, he spoke about why he believed flowers could bring normality to his country. “Most people wonder why [Somalia] is unable to gain peace and stability and have a functioning government. It is not because people do not want peace or a government. It’s because they cannot. They are still haunted and traumatised by the decades of war,” he said. “It has not set it into their minds that peace can truly happen.

“On a daily basis [people] witness bombs going off and see bodies and hear of death. They help those injured and bury their dead. They mourn and pray that God helps them. Then they move with their lives. The next day is again the same and nothing seems to change.

“To me flowers bring in a new light, a solution to the problems faced. It provides an opportunity to see beauty and gain sanity from all the problems surrounding us.”

Some people thought his decision to open a florist’s was mad, he said. Security was always a concern, and fresh flowers had to be imported from Kenya.

But his business grew steadily, with international UN staff making up the majority of his clients, as well as young couples on Valentine’s Day.

To make flowers more attractive to Somali customers, Sheik used chemicals to preserve them for longer. He would recommend different types, based on customers’ favourite colours and smells. But most wanted to order a red rose.

Over the years, on Valentine’s Day, he defied the warnings of some clerics, who said celebrating the event was illegal. A steady trickle of 20-somethings would come to his shop to buy baskets with flowers and chocolates, and post pictures on Instagram.

Some bought a single red rose. “I didn’t mind if they didn’t buy a bouquet,” he said. “It wasn’t about selling the flowers. It was about people appreciating them.”

He said he didn’t worry about being arrested, although he did fear being attacked. Despite this, Sheik was determined to stay. “I’m giving services people love and like,” he said. “If I just leave to another place, I won’t have the joy I’m having right now. I do get scared, but I’m staying here.”

No one has been arrested in connection with Sheik’s murder. The Mohamed Sheikh Ali Foundation has been established to continue his legacy, and a Twitter account, @WeAreNotSafe, has been set up in his memory. It is demanding security and justice for Somali citizens, and for the government to be held accountable.


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« Reply #4240 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:46 AM »


Germany's new movement: a leftist pitch for the left behind

Aufstehen is Europe’s latest bid to halt the flow of working-class votes to the right

Patrick Wintour
Guardian
Wed 5 Sep 2018 05.00 BST

Even in these globalised times, most political movements are a reflection of a national political culture, a specific personality, or a voting system, but the launch in Germany of Aufstehen, or Get Up, invites comparisons with Jeremy Corbyn’s Momentum, Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece and La France Insoumise led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

If Aufstehen succeeds in its goal of uniting and reframing the German left, it could mean Europe’s largest economy joins other countries in housing Eurosceptic, nationalistic, anti-establishment parties at both ends of the political spectrum, united in their opposition to liberal elites, globalisation, excessive migration and even Nato.

At the moment, Aufstehen is very much a reflection of its founders, especially the polarising Sahra Wagenknecht. Her insistence that the German left has to listen harder to German working-class anger over migration weakens the parallels with Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Saunders. Some have described her as seeking a “red-brown” coalition, a reference to Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which is polling as the second largest party in the country.

If anything, her preoccupations take her closer to Blue Labour, the near-defunct movement associated with Lord Glasman, a one-time adviser to Ed Miliband.

Aufstehen’s methods – it has a strong faith in digital campaigning – are similar to the Italian Five Star Movement. The idea of launching a movement, possibly as a precursor to a party, has echoes of Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche, but also of Podemos in Spain.

Its very specific pitch is a universal concern of the European left: reversing the loss of working-class votes to either abstention or the right. Its target is the left behind.

Wagenknecht herself says the inspiration for Aufstehen was La France Insoumise, or France Unbowed, the populist leftist movement founded by Mélenchon, a candidate in France’s last presidential elections.

Mélenchon, a 65-year-old former senator and former junior Socialist minister, is also Russia-friendly and a critic of Nato who wants France to withdraw from EU treaties. He has targeted foreign newcomers, declaring that he’s “never been in favour of freedom of arrival” and disapproves of migrants “stealing the bread” of French workers.

Wagenknecht insists the aim is not to form a new party, but to bring together the divided left, including her own Die Linke, the Green party and the SPD.

But some of her language is apocalyptic, and primarily aimed at former SPD voters who have defected to AfD. She says, for instance: “Germany is changing in a direction that many people do not want.” The climate is becoming rougher and more aggressive, “the cohesion is lost”. If left unchecked, “then this country will be unrecognisable in five or 10 years”.

At the launch of her movement on Tuesday she was reluctant to be specific about migration, saying excessive migration was putting pressure on public services

Her critics claim she tilts at windmills. In a recent interview, for instance, she said that if the core concern of leftist politics was to represent the disadvantaged, then the no-borders position was the opposite of being on the left.

She said: “All successes in restraining and regulating capitalism have been achieved within individual states, and states have borders.”

But she says it is inequality, as much as migration, that has been the breeding ground for resentment. Germany is full of contradictions: “We build internationally popular cars and machines, but we send our children in dilapidated schools where teachers are missing and repeatedly the class fails.” The government saves banks and subsidises corporations, but is not willing to protect old people from poverty.

Her many critics on the left claim that, far from uniting the left, she is on the verge of forming a fourth party. Her rhetoric has the effect of amplifying AfD rhetoric rather than combating it.


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« Reply #4241 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:48 AM »


Amid illiberal revolution in Hungary, a university with U.S. roots fights to stay

Demonstrators in Budapest protest legislation seen as targeting Central European University in April 2017.

By Griff Witte
September 5 2018
WA Post

BUDAPEST —  Next week, 1,500 students from more than 100 countries will converge in the heart of this regal city on the Danube to prepare for classes at a university that enjoys respect among Hungarian academics, top international rankings and an American accreditation.

The only thing Central European University lacks is assurance that this year’s back-to-school rush in Budapest won’t be its last. The university’s right to admit new students expires in January, and a hostile Hungarian government shows no sign of granting a reprieve.

“We’ve been taken hostage,” said Michael Ignatieff, a Canadian human rights scholar and former politician who, as the university’s president, may soon have to lead its retreat into exile. “I don’t want to do that. But we’re coming up to crunchtime.”

There is no precedent for a European Union member state expelling an entire university. But Central European University — founded and funded by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s favorite boogeyman, liberal Hungarian American investor George Soros — has become the prime target of Orban’s campaign to dismantle Europe’s multicultural, tolerant liberalism and cement a culture that is unapologetically Christian, conservative and nationalist.

Orban has repeatedly attacked the university, known as CEU, as an agent of Soros’s alleged plots, including a plan to create “a mixed population” in Europe.

Since Orban won a landslide reelection in April, his siege of academia has expanded to include a blitz against gender studies programs, an attempted takeover of scientific research funding and a push to remake the nation’s literary canon.

His ambitions for a cultural counterrevolution extend beyond his nation’s borders. Across Europe, as he proclaimed in a speech at a July youth festival, he foresees a chance to “wave goodbye” to liberal democracy — and with it a generation of intellectual and artistic elites who advanced an “ideology of multiculturalism” and “adaptable family models.”

“We are on the threshold of a great moment,” he declared.

Orban has found allies for his cultural crusade in a far-right movement that is ascendant across Europe, in Russian President Vladimir Putin and in the White House. President Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, has celebrated the Hungarian leader as “a hero.”

After years of isolation for Orban from the United States under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Trump called to congratulate him on his reelection. Hungary’s foreign minister was welcomed at the State Department in May. And Washington has dangled a possible meeting with Trump — a recognition Orban has long craved.

This willingness to engage, even as Hungary becomes increasingly autocratic, has generated criticism among democracy advocates. But it also gives the United States leverage in determining the future of CEU.

The new U.S. ambassador in Budapest, Trump appointee David B. Cornstein, is due to discuss the university with Orban in early September in a meeting that could be pivotal.

Cornstein has made clear that Washington wants Hungary to back off its attacks and allow CEU — which has dual accreditation in Hungary and the United States — to remain in Budapest.

“I hope it will continue to connect our two countries for many years to come,” Cornstein said in a visit to the university shortly after his arrival in June. The CEU campus — a collection of handsome stone-and-glass buildings in Budapest’s elegant Fifth District — is bedecked with blue banners featuring the slogan “#IstandwithCEU” in both English and Hungarian.

A bipartisan group of senators has voiced support for the university, saying the departure of CEU from Budapest could set a dangerous precedent for American academic institutions worldwide — and cause grievous harm to the U.S.-Hungarian relationship.

Orban still may shrug off the Americans, as he has ignored repeated appeals from European leaders to allow CEU to stay. But to Ignatieff, American pressure is the university’s last hope.

Ignatieff, who was leader of Canada’s Liberal Party and has written extensively on autocratic regimes as a journalist and a scholar, considers himself to have a grasp on Orban’s strategy.

“He understands that you can’t have stable, long-term domination of a political system unless you have an ideological project,” Ignatieff said.

Orban’s project involves visceral opposition to anything Soros touches. The prime minister’s reelection campaign was focused almost singularly on whipping up hatred toward the 88-year-old Soros, who has advocated what he describes as a humane approach toward the settlement of refugees.

Soon after Orban’s election to his fourth term, Soros’s nonprofit Open Society Foundations announced that it could no longer protect its staff in Budapest and was shifting operations to Berlin.

But CEU — Soros’s other great philanthropic endeavor in his native city — has hung on.

The university was founded in 1991 to support Central and Eastern European nations as they transitioned to democracy after the fall of communism. CEU has graduate programs that are among the top-ranked in the world. It leads all Hungarian universities in attracting European research grants.

It is not, Ignatieff emphasizes, Orban’s enemy.

“He’s got us wrong,” the 71-year-old said. “A university is a university. We’re not his political opposition.”

In April 2017, the Orban government rammed legislation through parliament that appeared tailor-made to target CEU. It dictated that foreign universities are not allowed in Hungary unless they also offer classes in their home countries. In response, CEU launched an academic program at Bard College in New York.

But the government has refused to sign an agreement acknowledging the arrangement, leaving the university in limbo.

Ignatieff said that without clarity soon, the university will be forced to shift its home base to Vienna, where it is building what had been intended as a satellite campus.

Laszlo Palkovics, the minister of innovation and until recently the government’s point person on higher education, said he considers Ignatieff’s threat to move to be a bluff.

“I don’t think he’ll do that,” Palkovics said in an interview in which he drew a distinction between the American-accredited legal entities and the Hungarian ones that make up the university.

The latter is welcome, he said. “We don’t want the Hungarian CEU to leave. They are a valuable member of the community.”

But Palkovics would not say when or whether the Hungarian government would sign the agreement that CEU needs to keep operating as a U.S.-accredited institution.

“This is a diplomatic issue,” he said. “Diplomacy is always complicated.”

The CEU controversy is not the only one that has unsettled Hungarian academic and cultural circles. In August, the government said it would stop funding gender studies programs, with Orban’s chief of staff telling reporters that “people are born either men or women” and that the issue is not worth studying.

The pages of pro-government newspapers, meanwhile, have lately been filled with attacks on authors who are perceived to be insufficiently supportive of Orban. Writers once scorned because of Nazi ties or connections to other right-wing groups have been rehabilitated.

“It’s not about the books,” said Krisztián Nyáry, a writer and creative director at one of Hungary’s largest publishers. “They’ve started to categorize writers according to their real or presumed political leanings.”

At the Hungarian Academy of Sciences this summer, researchers have been in an uproar over a government plan to take direct control of funding. Palkovics, the innovation minister, said the plan was aimed at focusing taxpayer money on areas that can generate a payoff for society.

László Lovász, a prize-winning mathematician who leads the academy, said members feared that it was an attempt to steer research findings in a government-friendly direction.

“I hope that was not the goal,” said Lovász, who has been negotiating a potential compromise.

Even during communist times, he noted, the academy’s researchers had a relatively free hand to pursue their studies. 

“It’s in the government’s interest,” he said, “to get an unbiased opinion.”

Gergo Saling and Andras Petho contributed to this report.


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« Reply #4242 on: Sep 05, 2018, 04:51 AM »


South Sudan accused of killings, torture, squalor in jails

New Europe
9/5/2018

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — Pushing filthy hands between the bars of his cell, Maluel Chol held up a small black plastic bag. "This is where I go to the toilet," he said. The 28-year-old has been detained for six months in South Sudan's capital, accused of murder but not yet officially charged and with no access to a lawyer.

Hundreds of people detained in South Sudan face such treatment and far worse, a new Amnesty International report says, accusing authorities of torturing people to death and letting many others languish behind bars since civil war began in late 2013.

At least 20 people died in detention between 2014 and 2016 and four died last year because of harsh conditions and inadequate medical care, according to the report. "It is extremely unconscionable that South Sudanese authorities arrest, torture and ill-treat people in total disregard for their human rights," said Seif Magango, Amnesty's deputy director for East Africa. He called on South Sudan's government to release political detainees or charge them.

Hundreds of people have been subject to prolonged and arbitrary detention without charge by the country's National Security Service and Military Intelligence Directorate, said the report, based on interviews with victims and witnesses. Suspected supporters of the armed opposition are increasingly targeted, it said.

One man suffered having his testicles pierced with sewing needles while being interrogated about the whereabouts of opposition leader Riek Machar, said the Amnesty report. Other detainees were made to drink water from the toilet and defecate and urinate in front of each other, while some were subjected to forced nudity and genital mutilation.

Last year one soldier died in detention while standing trial for a high-profile attack on a hotel in the capital, Juba, in 2016 in which foreigners said they were gang-raped and assaulted and a local journalist was shot dead.

South Sudan's government called the new Amnesty report "rubbish" and based on inaccurate information from social media. "We don't have a culture of torturing people. We put you in prison to put you behind bars, not to beat you," government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny told The Associated Press.

As part of a new peace deal, the government in August released more than 20 political prisoners. Despite that act of good faith, South Sudan's political environment has become increasingly intolerant and any criticism of the government can lead to intimidation and detention, the new report says.

In July, academic and activist Peter Biar Ajak was arrested at Juba's international airport and accused of treason. He has been detained without charge since then without access to legal counsel or any communication with the outside world, a human rights lawyer involved with his case, Phillips Anyang Ngong, told AP.

"It's a situation that gives us fear for how the shrines of justice and the institutions concerned will be able to save us from this continued arbitrary arrest of people without charges," Ngong said. According to South Sudan's Criminal Procedure Act, no one should be detained for longer than 24 hours while cases are investigated. The government has signed a U.N. convention against torture.

Even some prison officials acknowledge the system isn't working. At the public prison in Juba more than half of the roughly 1,000 inmates have not been charged or have not had access to a lawyer, director-general Henry Kuany Aguar told the AP.

On a recent visit to a detention center on the outskirts of Juba, AP spoke with several inmates held for days and weeks in squalid conditions without being charged. Two dozen men crammed into three cells lining a narrow, mud-spattered hallway in the county jail, which acts as a transition center before people are moved to prisons.

Hanging his head, inmate Maluel Chol said he had been transferred from cell to cell for months but had not appeared in court or seen a lawyer. Gripping the handle of an empty water jug in his cell, shared with six other men, he said he is discouraged: "I'll just keep being moved around until I die."


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« Reply #4243 on: Sep 05, 2018, 05:15 AM »

Bob Woodward’s new book reveals a ‘nervous breakdown’ of Trump’s presidency

Exclusive: Listen to Trump’s conversation with Bob Woodward

By Philip Rucker and
Robert Costa
September 4 at 11:08 AM

John Dowd was convinced that President Trump would commit perjury if he talked to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. So, on Jan. 27, the president’s then-personal attorney staged a practice session to try to make his point.

In the White House residence, Dowd peppered Trump with questions about the Russia investigation, provoking stumbles, contradictions and lies until the president eventually lost his cool.

“This thing’s a goddamn hoax,” Trump erupted at the start of a 30-minute rant that finished with him saying, “I don’t really want to testify.”

The dramatic and previously untold scene is recounted in “Fear,” a forthcoming book by Bob Woodward that paints a harrowing portrait of the Trump presidency, based on in-depth interviews with administration officials and other principals.

Woodward writes that his book is drawn from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants and witnesses that were conducted on “deep background,” meaning the information could be used but he would not reveal who provided it. His account is also drawn from meeting notes, personal diaries and government documents.

Woodward depicts Trump’s anger and paranoia about the Russia inquiry as unrelenting, at times paralyzing the West Wing for entire days. Learning of the appointment of Mueller in May 2017, Trump groused, “Everybody’s trying to get me”— part of a venting period that shellshocked aides compared to Richard Nixon’s final days as president.

The 448-page book was obtained by The Washington Post. Woodward, an associate editor at The Post, sought an interview with Trump through several intermediaries to no avail. The president called Woodward in early August, after the manuscript had been completed, to say he wanted to participate. The president complained that it would be a “bad book,” according to an audio recording of the conversation. Woodward replied that his work would be “tough” but factual and based on his reporting.

Exclusive audio: Phone call between President Trump and Bob Woodward: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/6de5355c-b053-11e8-8b53-50116768e499' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

The book’s title is derived from a remark that then-candidate Trump made in an interview with Woodward and Post political reporter Robert Costa in 2016. Trump said, “Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word, ‘Fear.’ ”

A central theme of the book is the stealthy machinations used by those in Trump’s inner sanctum to try to control his impulses and prevent disasters, both for the president personally and for the nation he was elected to lead.

Woodward describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” of the executive branch, with senior aides conspiring to pluck official papers from the president’s desk so he couldn’t see or sign them.

Again and again, Woodward recounts at length how Trump’s national security team was shaken by his lack of curiosity and knowledge about world affairs and his contempt for the mainstream perspectives of military and intelligence leaders.

At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.

“We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.

After Trump left the meeting, Woodward recounts, “Mattis was particularly exasperated and alarmed, telling close associates that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’ ”

In Woodward’s telling, many top advisers were repeatedly unnerved by Trump’s actions and expressed dim views of him. “Secretaries of defense don’t always get to choose the president they work for,” Mattis told friends at one point, prompting laughter as he explained Trump’s tendency to go off on tangents about subjects such as immigration and the news media.

Inside the White House, Woodward portrays an unsteady executive detached from the conventions of governing and prone to snapping at high-ranking staff members, whom he unsettled and belittled on a daily basis.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly frequently lost his temper and told colleagues that he thought the president was “unhinged,” Woodward writes. In one small group meeting, Kelly said of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor, fretted that he could do little to constrain Trump from sparking chaos. Woodward writes that Priebus dubbed the presidential bedroom, where Trump obsessively watched cable news and tweeted, “the devil’s workshop” and said early mornings and Sunday evenings, when the president often set off tweetstorms, were “the witching hour.”

Trump apparently had little regard for Priebus. He once instructed then-staff secretary Rob Porter to ignore Priebus, even though Porter reported to the chief of staff, saying that Priebus was “‘like a little rat. He just scurries around.’ ”

Few in Trump’s orbit were protected from the president’s insults. He often mocked then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster behind his back, puffing up his chest and exaggerating his breathing as he impersonated the retired Army general, and once said McMaster dresses in cheap suits, “like a beer salesman.”

Trump told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, a wealthy investor eight years his senior: “I don’t trust you. I don’t want you doing any more negotiations. . . . You’re past your prime.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the White House in March. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

A near-constant subject of withering presidential attacks was Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump told Porter that Sessions was a “traitor” for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, Woodward writes. Mocking Sessions’s accent, Trump added: “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. . . . He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”

At a dinner with Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others, Trump lashed out at a vocal critic, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He painted the former Navy pilot as cowardly, falsely suggesting he took an early release from a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam because of his father’s military rank and left others behind.

Mattis swiftly corrected his boss: “No, Mr. President, I think you’ve got it reversed.” The defense secretary explained that McCain, who died Aug. 25, had in fact turned down early release and was brutally tortured during his five years at the “Hanoi Hilton.”

“Oh, okay,” Trump replied, according to Woodward’s account.

With Trump’s rage and defiance impossible to contain, Cabinet members and other senior officials learned to act discreetly. Woodward describes an alliance among Trump’s traditionalists — including Mattis and Gary Cohn, the president’s former top economic adviser — to stymie what they considered dangerous acts.

“It felt like we were walking along the edge of the cliff perpetually,” Porter is quoted as saying. “Other times, we would fall over the edge, and an action would be taken.”

After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.

Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.

Cohn, a Wall Street veteran, tried to tamp down Trump’s strident nationalism regarding trade. According to Woodward, Cohn “stole a letter off Trump’s desk” that the president was intending to sign to formally withdraw the United States from a trade agreement with South Korea. Cohn later told an associate that he removed the letter to protect national security and that Trump did not notice that it was missing.

Cohn made a similar play to prevent Trump from pulling the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, something the president has long threatened to do. In spring 2017, Trump was eager to withdraw from NAFTA and told Porter: “Why aren’t we getting this done? Do your job. It’s tap, tap, tap. You’re just tapping me along. I want to do this.”

Under orders from the president, Porter drafted a notification letter withdrawing from NAFTA. But he and other advisers worried that it could trigger an economic and foreign relations crisis. So Porter consulted Cohn, who told him, according to Woodward: “I can stop this. I’ll just take the paper off his desk.”

Despite repeated threats by Trump, the United States has remained in both pacts. The administration continues to negotiate new terms with South Korea as well as with its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico.

Cohn came to regard the president as “a professional liar” and threatened to resign in August 2017 over Trump’s handling of a deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Cohn, who is Jewish, was especially shaken when one of his daughters found a swastika on her college dorm room.

Trump was sharply criticized for initially saying that “both sides” were to blame. At the urging of advisers, he then condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis but almost immediately told aides, “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made” and the “worst speech I’ve ever given,” according to Woodward’s account.

When Cohn met with Trump to deliver his resignation letter after Charlottesville, the president told him, “This is treason,” and persuaded his economic adviser to stay on. Kelly then confided to Cohn that he shared Cohn’s horror at Trump’s handling of the tragedy — and shared Cohn’s fury with Trump.

“I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times,” Kelly told Cohn, according to Woodward. Kelly himself has threatened to quit several times but has not done so.

Woodward illustrates how the dread in Trump’s orbit became all-encompassing over the course of Trump’s first year in office, leaving some staff members and Cabinet members confounded by the president’s lack of understanding about how government functions and his inability and unwillingness to learn.

At one point, Porter, who departed in February amid domestic abuse allegations, is quoted as saying, “This was no longer a presidency. This is no longer a White House. This is a man being who he is.”

Such moments of panic are a routine feature but not the thrust of Woodward’s book, which mostly focuses on substantive decisions and internal disagreements, including tensions with North Korea as well as the future of U.S. policy in Afghanistan.

Woodward recounts repeated episodes of anxiety inside the government over Trump’s handling of the North Korean nuclear threat. One month into his presidency, Trump asked Dunford for a plan for a preemptive military strike on North Korea, which rattled the combat veteran.

In the fall of 2017, as Trump intensified a war of words with Kim Jong Un, nicknaming North Korea’s dictator “Little Rocket Man” in a speech at the United Nations, aides worried the president might be provoking Kim. But, Woodward writes, Trump told Porter that he saw the situation as a contest of wills: “This is all about leader versus leader. Man versus man. Me versus Kim.”

The book also details Trump’s impatience with the war in Afghanistan, which had become the United States’ longest conflict. At a July 2017 National Security Council meeting, Trump dressed down his generals and other advisers for 25 minutes, complaining that the United States was losing, according to Woodward.

“The soldiers on the ground could run things much better than you,” Trump told them. “They could do a much better job. I don’t know what the hell we’re doing.” He went on to ask: “How many more deaths? How many more lost limbs? How much longer are we going to be there?”

The president’s family members, while sometimes touted as his key advisers by other Trump chroniclers, are minor players in Woodward’s account, popping up occasionally in the West Wing and vexing adversaries.

Woodward recounts an expletive-laden altercation between Ivanka Trump, the president’s eldest daughter and senior adviser, and Stephen K. Bannon, then the chief White House strategist.

“You’re a goddamn staffer!” Bannon screamed at her, telling her that she had to work through Priebus like other aides. “You walk around this place and act like you’re in charge, and you’re not. You’re on staff!”

Ivanka Trump, who had special access to the president and worked around Priebus, replied: “I’m not a staffer! I’ll never be a staffer. I’m the first daughter.”

Such tensions boiled among many of Trump’s core advisers. Priebus is quoted as describing Trump officials not as rivals but as “natural predators.”

“When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody,” Priebus says.

Hovering over the White House was Mueller’s inquiry, which deeply embarrassed the president. Woodward describes Trump calling his Egyptian counterpart to secure the release of an imprisoned charity worker and President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi saying: “Donald, I’m worried about this investigation. Are you going to be around?”

Trump relayed the conversation to Dowd and said it was “like a kick in the nuts,” according to Woodward.

The book vividly recounts the ongoing debate between Trump and his attorneys about whether the president would sit for an interview with Mueller. On March 5, Dowd and Trump attorney Jay Sekulow met in Mueller’s office with the special counsel and his deputy, James Quarles, where Dowd and Sekulow reenacted Trump’s January practice session.

Woodward’s book recounts the debate between Trump and his lawyers, including John Dowd, regarding whether the president will sit for an interview with special counsel Robert. S. Mueller III. (Richard Drew/AP)

Dowd then explained to Mueller and Quarles why he was trying to keep the president from testifying: “I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’ ”

“John, I understand,” Mueller replied, according to Woodward.

Later that month, Dowd told Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”

But Trump, concerned about the optics of a president refusing to testify and convinced that he could handle Mueller’s questions, had by then decided otherwise.

“I’ll be a real good witness,” Trump told Dowd, according to Woodward.

“You are not a good witness,” Dowd replied. “Mr. President, I’m afraid I just can’t help you.”

The next morning, Dowd resigned.

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

5 Takeaways From Bob Woodward’s Book on the Trump White House

By Noah Weiland
NY Times
Sept. 5, 2018

WASHINGTON — A new book by Bob Woodward, the longtime Washington Post reporter, portrays a White House with relentless infighting and a work culture so toxic and volatile that many of President Trump’s top advisers and cabinet members became accustomed to working around their boss, whom they described as unstable and uninformed.

“Fear: Trump in the White House,” which is set for a public release next Tuesday and already sits atop Amazon’s best-seller list, is one in a series of insider accounts published this year that have drawn the ire of the West Wing. “Fire and Fury,” by the writer Michael Wolff, and “Unhinged,” by the former White House adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman, also reported the kind of hostility and interpersonal feuding that Mr. Woodward depicts. Mr. Trump reacted to both books with numerous tweets targeting the authors.

On Tuesday, after copies of Mr. Woodward’s book leaked to reporters, Mr. Trump told The Daily Caller that parts of it may have been made up.

“It’s just another bad book. He’s had a lot of credibility problems,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Woodward.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, called it “nothing more than fabricated stories.”

Here are some key takeaways from the book.

The Russia investigation is a constant source of anxiety for Mr. Trump, and for his lawyers.

In late January, Mr. Woodward wrote, Mr. Trump sat down with John Dowd, then an outside lawyer advising the president on the White House’s interactions with Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel. The idea was to stage a mock interview between the president and Mr. Mueller, who was angling to question Mr. Trump. During the session, Mr. Trump repeatedly lied and contradicted himself, insulted the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey, then exploded in anger, ranting for a half-hour about the investigation being a “hoax.”

Mr. Dowd tried to demonstrate why their meeting was reason for Mr. Trump not to do an interview with Mr. Mueller, citing the president’s schedule demands.

“It’s not that you’re lying or you’re bad or anything like that,” Mr. Dowd told him. “Given your daily intake — just look what we’ve done this afternoon.”

Mr. Dowd handed him a letter addressed to Mr. Mueller asserting the president’s right to terminate the investigation. Mr. Trump loved it.

The day after, a gleeful Mr. Trump called Mr. Dowd. “I slept like a rock,” the president said. “I love that letter.”

By March, little progress had been made with Mr. Mueller. On March 5, Mr. Dowd met with the special counsel and one of his deputies and explained why he was trying to keep Mr. Trump away from them.

“I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot,” he said.

Later that month, Mr. Dowd told Mr. Trump why he should avoid an interview: “It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”

Mr. Mueller engaged in lively conversations for months with Mr. Trump’s lawyers.

The book offers the first extensive look at dialogue between Mr. Mueller and those involved in the Russia investigation. Mr. Woodward recounted Mr. Dowd’s zigzagging relationship with the special counsel’s office, and the lengths he went to to build a rapport with Mr. Mueller in the heat of negotiations over an interview with Mr. Trump. Mr. Dowd fluctuated between credulity and outrage, at one point telling Mr. Trump after an especially trying meeting with Mr. Mueller that the president may have been right about the special counsel all along.

Mr. Woodward wrote that Mr. Dowd would tell Mr. Mueller that the president did not have time for the inquiry while he was juggling the responsibilities of his new job.

“I’m very sensitive to that,” Mr. Mueller reportedly responded. “I’m doing the best I can.”

Still, Mr. Mueller at one point told Mr. Dowd that he could acquire a grand jury subpoena, which Mr. Dowd interpreted as a threat.

“I’m not trying to threaten you,” Mr. Mueller reportedly told Mr. Dowd. “I’m just thinking of the possibilities here.”

In one meeting with Mr. Mueller, Mr. Dowd, to make plain just how much he feared that Mr. Trump would commit perjury, asked Jay Sekulow, another one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, to re-enact Mr. Trump’s practice session from January. Mr. Sekulow, playing Mr. Trump, imitated an answer to a question about Mr. Comey.

“Sekulow’s answer was classic Trump — an answer spun out of thin air, with contradictions, made-up stuff, anger,” Mr. Woodward wrote. “A perfect performance. A perfect Trump.”

Mr. Trump’s advisers are repeatedly stunned by the president’s lack of interest in and knowledge of major issues.

Mr. Woodward used several defense-related meetings to illustrate the president’s problem grasping his own administration’s policy, including a July 2017 gathering at the Pentagon between Mr. Trump, military brass and members of his cabinet.

“When are we going to start winning some wars?” Mr. Trump groused as those around him tried to clarify the purpose of the war in Afghanistan. “We’ve got these charts. When are we going to win some wars? Why are you jamming this down my throat?”

Mr. Trump attacked the generals and cabinet members in the room, leaving Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson exasperated. He’s a “moron,” Mr. Tillerson reportedly said once Mr. Trump had left, using an expletive.

At a January meeting of the National Security Council, Mr. Trump asked why the United States was spending so much on the Korean Peninsula.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis replied that the administration was trying to prevent World War III. After Mr. Trump left the room, Mr. Woodward wrote, Mr. Mattis told people that Mr. Trump understood the topic like a “fifth or sixth grader.”

In another episode, Gary D. Cohn, the former chief economic adviser to Mr. Trump, “stole” a letter from Mr. Trump’s desk that the president had planned to sign, withdrawing the United States from a trade deal with South Korea. Mr. Woodward wrote that Mr. Cohn told a colleague that he had to “protect the country.” Mr. Trump apparently never realized the letter had disappeared.

In his interview with The Daily Caller, Mr. Trump denied that Mr. Cohn had taken the letter. “There was nobody taking anything from me,” he said.

Mr. Woodward also prints a summary of the July 2017 meeting written by a senior White House official who spoke with its attendees.

“It seems clear that many of the president’s senior advisers, especially those in the national security realm, are extremely concerned with his erratic nature, his relative ignorance, his inability to learn, as well as what they consider his dangerous views,” it read.

Mr. Trump himself was not a primary source for the book.

Mr. Woodward conducted most of his interviews on “deep background,” meaning he could incorporate the material without citing from whom it came. Throughout the book, he described settings and events with exhaustively reported detail, incorporating what he said in a note in the book were “hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand participants.”

But, Mr. Woodward said in the same note, Mr. Trump declined to be interviewed, leaving the tale largely his advisers’ telling.

The Washington Post published audio of an 11-minute call between Mr. Woodward and Mr. Trump in which Mr. Woodward warned the president that his book would be severe, and expressed regret that he never had a chance to incorporate Mr. Trump’s view of his own job. Mr. Trump sounded incredulous that he never got to sit for an interview and defend himself to the author. Mr. Woodward told him that he made the request to at least a half-dozen people close to the president, and that it was never granted.

On the call, Mr. Trump sounded worried, repeating his refrain that it would be a “bad” book for him, and that Mr. Woodward did not understand just how successful he had been in office.

“So we’re going to have a very inaccurate book, and that’s too bad,” Mr. Trump said.

“It’s going to be accurate, I promise,” Mr. Woodward responded.

“Yeah, O.K.,” Mr. Trump said. “Well, accurate is that nobody’s ever done a better job than I’m doing as president.”

John F. Kelly, the chief of staff, quickly soured on Mr. Trump

Mr. Kelly, who has long been rumored to be close to resigning, once called Mr. Trump an “idiot” and said the White House staff was operating in “crazytown,” according to the book.

“It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything,” Mr. Kelly bemoaned in a meeting. “He’s gone off the rails.”

Mr. Trump came to be suspicious of Mr. Kelly’s scrupulousness, finding workarounds, such as calling members of Congress when Mr. Kelly was not in the room.

When Mr. Cohn tried to resign over comments Mr. Trump had made after a white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va., in August 2017, Mr. Trump belittled him but persuaded him to stay. Mr. Kelly then pulled Mr. Cohn aside to express his dismay over how Mr. Cohn was treated.

“That was the greatest show of self-control I have ever seen,” Mr. Kelly said. “If that was me, I would have taken that resignation letter and shoved it up his ass six different times.”

Still, Mr. Kelly shared some of Mr. Trump’s paranoia about bad press.

“I’m the only thing protecting the president from the press,” Mr. Woodward quoted Mr. Kelly as saying in a meeting. “The press is out to get him. They want to destroy him. And I’m determined to stand in the way, taking the bullets and taking the arrows.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Kelly denied in a statement that he had ever called Mr. Trump an “idiot.”

Mr. Trump, apparently unconcerned about the rest of the book’s drama involving Mr. Kelly, posted the statement on Twitter on Tuesday evening.

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

‘We really are in Crazytown’: Conservative writer argues new Trump revelations require he be removed by the 25th Amendment

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
05 Sep 2018 at 20:25 ET                  

Conservative writer Max Boot declared in a Tuesday column for the Washington Post that in light of emerging details about the White House from reporter Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book, President Donald Trump should be removed from office using the 25th Amendment.

Under the 25th Amendment, the vice president can take over for a president if he gets the approval from half the Cabinet that the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” If the president objects, Congress can overrule this objection with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.

“If you take seriously the revelations in Bob Woodward’s book ‘Fear‘ — and how can you not, given Woodward’s nearly half-century of scoops about Washington’s elite? — then it’s time for President Trump to be removed from office via the 25th Amendment because he is clearly ‘unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office,'” Boot writes. “That will never happen, because the Cabinet is packed with Trump toadies who compete with each other to deliver the most fawning praise of their supreme leader. But on the merits, it should happen.”

The new book alleges that many of those closest to Trump think him incompetent and dangerous. Boot noted, however, that Woodward’s book isn’t surprising on this front — evidence of Trump’s unfitness for office has been clear since before the election.

Nevertheless, Boot argued, Woodward “does provide damning new evidence to buttress what we already know — that after more than 18 months in office, Trump is just as unqualified as ever to be president.”

For example, the new book reports that Trump’s aides have diminished his intelligence and his ability to perform his job while actively undermining his efforts to accomplish perilous acts, such as planning a preemptive attack on North Korea.

Most Republicans are in denial of the of fact Trump’s incompetence because of what it would mean for their party and its grip on power.

“We really are in Crazytown,” Boot says, using a word attributed to Chief of Staff John Kelly in the new book. “But Trump is far from the craziest person in town. His defects are no secret — they were obvious before his election. The really crazy people are the Republicans who think we should continue to entrust a man manifestly unfit to be Queens Borough president with the presidency of the United States of America.”

Here is the whole article:

President Trump is unfit for office. Bob Woodward’s ‘Fear’ confirms it

By Max Boot
Columnist
WA Post
September 5 2018

If you take seriously the revelations in Bob Woodward’s book “Fear” — and how can you not, given Woodward’s nearly half-century of scoops about Washington’s elite? — then it’s time for President Trump to be removed from office via the 25th Amendment because he is clearly “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” That will never happen, because the Cabinet is packed with Trump toadies who compete with each other to deliver the most fawning praise of their supreme leader. But on the merits, it should happen.

Of course, it doesn’t take Woodward’s revelations to demonstrate Trump’s unfitness for office. Trump demonstrates it on a daily basis with his campaign-rally rants and Twitter tirades. Just in the past day, the president has demanded that the Justice Department drop criminal investigations against his supporters because it could cost Republicans House seats, and suggested that NBC lose its broadcast license because, in essence, he objects to the criticism he receives on MSNBC. A senior Justice Department official told Axios: “It shows how POTUS thinks DOJ should be used: As a weapon against enemies and a tool to win elections.” In a normal world — a world where Congress was not controlled by blind Republican partisans — the fact that Trump continues to make demands so at odds with the rule of law would be cause for his impeachment and removal.

But even if Woodward doesn’t break  ground in conceptual terms, he does provide damning new evidence to buttress what we already know — that after more than 18 months in office, Trump is just as unqualified as ever to be president. Even Republicans know it. They just choose to deny it, because it would be too dangerous to their political well-being to admit reality.

Some of what Woodward reports has long been rumored in Washington, but he appears to have nailed down with his reporting the evidence showing that Trump had to be talked out of pulling U.S. troops out of South Korea and Afghanistan, planning a preventive strike against North Korea, assassinating Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Aides had to resort to sleight of hand to prevent the worst from happening — including removing papers from Trump’s desk before he signed them.

President Trump's Labor Day tweet about Attorney General Jeff Sessions is even more atrocious than usual, columnist David Ignatius says. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Woodward also reveals a new example of Trump’s dim-wittedness: The president apparently thought that Sen. John McCain had “been a coward for taking early release from a prisoner-of-war camp in Vietnam because of his father’s military rank and leaving others behind.” Maybe Trump genuinely thought McCain wasn’t a hero because he had no understanding of what McCain had done? Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had to gently explain to Trump that “you’ve got it reversed.”

Little wonder that Woodward quotes Mattis telling associates “that the president acted like — and had the understanding of — ‘a fifth- or sixth-grader.’  ” Or that Chief of Staff John F. Kelly reportedly said of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown.” There is also ample evidence to buttress economic adviser Gary Cohn’s conclusion that Trump is a “professional liar.” Trump even lied in a telephone conversation with Woodward, denying any knowledge that the veteran reporter wanted to interview him before admitting that Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) had relayed the request.

Trump, in turn, belittles his senior aides in ways that would be shocking coming from anybody else. He made fun of retired Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, a war hero, for dressing in cheap suits “like a beer salesman.” If only McMaster had devoted his life to selling real estate rather than protecting our nation, he would presumably have more of a suit-buying budget. And, not surprisingly, Trump was even more scathing about Attorney General Jeff Sessions in private than he is public. Acting just like the coastal elites he so often denigrates (but actually envies), Trump mocked Sessions’s accent and said, “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner. … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.”

Imagine the outcry among Republicans if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama had been caught making fun of Sessions’s accent and intelligence. But from Republicans all you hear is the sound of silence.

These revelations will be greeted among Republicans not as a sign of Trump’s unfitness for office — which they are — but as more evidence of a conspiracy among the “fake news media” against their electoral hero. That is the genius of Trump’s attacks on the press and on truth itself: He has largely inoculated his base against all of the damaging revelations that continue to emerge about the most corrupt and dysfunctional administration in U.S. history. And by keeping the support of his base (78 percent of Republicans approve of him in a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll), Trump protects himself from removal either via the 25th Amendment or the Article II impeachment process.

Kelly is right. We really are in Crazytown. But Trump is far from the craziest person in town. His defects are no secret — they were obvious before his election. The really crazy people are the Republicans who think we should continue to entrust a man manifestly unfit to be Queens Borough president with the presidency of the United States of America.

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Conservative columnist slams Trump’s ‘vaudeville act’ with Bob Woodward: He keeps ‘contradicting himself’

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
05 Sep 2018 at 20:34 ET                  

While discussing the many revelations from veteran journalist Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book about the Trump White House, MSNBC panelists led by host Chris Matthews derided the president for giving the Watergate reporter the “runaround.”

A recording published by The Washington Post reveals a conversation between Donald Trump and Woodward in which the reporter tells the president he attempted to get a hold of him through six people for the book. Trump makes multiple excuses and claims nobody told him about the interview request in the 11-minute recording.

“I never got a call. I never got a message. Who did you ask about speaking to me?” the president told Woodward in the recording. In response, the journalist said he spoke to “about six people.”

Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted during the Tuesday night Hardball panel that the host “couldn’t possibly play” the entire recording because “it would take up the whole show.”

“It’s long, it’s rambling, at times he seems to contradict himself,” Rubin said, adding later that the recording is evidentiary of “the chaos that surrounds” Trump.

Matthews noted that in the Post clip, “Trump is giving Woodward the runaround.”

“It’s like a vaudeville act — ‘you talked to who? You talked to him? You didn’t talk to me?'” the host said, imitating Trump.

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MSNBC host: It appears Trump’s lawyers ‘confirmed to Mueller that the president obstructed justice’

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
04 Sep 2018 at 21:11 ET                  

While discussing revelations from veteran Watergate journalist Bob Woodward’s new book about the Trump White House, MSNBC host Chuck Todd noted that one of the book’s revelations may have larger implications for Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In one section of the book, Woodward wrote that Donald Trump’s attorneys John Dowd and Jay Sekulow held a mock interview with the president to see how he’d fare under the questioning of the special counsel. It was so disastrous, the journalist wrote, that the attorneys re-enacted it for Mueller to show just how unprepared Trump was to face questioning.

“He just made something up,” Dowd reportedly told the special counsel at the March 5 meeting of the president’s mock interview. “That’s his nature.”

“I‘m not a lawyer and I try not to play one on TV,” Todd said while discussing the excerpt, “but it seems to me John Dowd and [White House layer] Ty Cobb confirmed to Robert Mueller that [Trump] obstructed justice.”

“They would be willing to go to Mueller and say ‘man, this guy, he’s gonna perjure himself, everything he tells you is going to be a lie,'” the host said, “which means every other witness is more credible than him.”

In response, NBC News political correspondent Steve Kornacki said it was “interesting” that Mueller didn’t contest the lawyers’ protestations but rather accepted them, per Woodward’s book.

Todd went on to wonder whether Trump is “being well-represented” by his attorneys.

The Washington Examiner noted that Dowd called Woodward’s book “the most recent in an endless cycle of accusations and misrepresentations based on anonymous statements from unknown malcontents.”

Watch via MSNBC: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6t40yy

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Carl Bernstein says Woodward’s book is a clear sign Trump is a ‘national emergency’ in stunning CNN interview

Brendan Skwire
Raw Story
05 Sep 2018 at 15:49 ET                  

Carl Bernstein in an appearance this afternoon on CNN didn’t tap dance around the allegations raised in Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

Responding to host Brooke Baldwin, who set a scenario of President Trump surrounded by “yes men or women” during a national emergency, Bernstein replied “It is time for the Republicans to say ‘the Trump presidency is a national emergency, and it is up to us, both parties, to treat the Trump presidency as a national emergency.” Bernstein also urged Congress to protect the Mueller investigation and to stop “blindly following this president and his incompetency.”

However, Bernstein was under no illusions that any of this would happen, referring to an “abdication of responsibility by the Republicans in the Congress of the United States such as we have never seen.”

“This situation is far more dangerous” than Watergate, Bernstein added. “Here we see and hear his aides by name day after day after day say, the president is unhinged, he is a rage-a-holic, he is a danger to our national security.”

Bernstein also pleaded to Chief of Staff John Kelly’s sense of patriotism. “It would seem to me that General Kelly in the interest of the country needs to resign. And with a statement that says the presidency can no longer be entrusted to this man.” He urged Kelly to promise “to appear before committees of Congress, whether in executive session or whether in open session”, and share his honest opinion on whether or not Trump “is competent and able to lead the United States.”

“We finally are inside the Trump White House,” Bernstein said. “And it is a horror show.”

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

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Trump now hates his own FBI chief as he enters the ‘worst mood of his presidency’: report

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
04 Sep 2018 at 17:08 ET                  

Donald Trump has reportedly taken to bashing FBI director Chris Wray as he enters “the worst mood of his presidency” due to the various investigations into him.

According to sources who spoke to NBC News, Trump has added Wray to his “hit list” of members of his administration that he regularly complains about.

The president is “in the worst mood of his presidency and calling friends and allies to vent about his selection of [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions and Wray,” a source familiar with the conversations told the network. That same person said Trump was focused on his attorney general and FBI director over the Labor Day holiday.

“Until now,” the report noted, “the president has been cautious about publicly criticizing the person he appointed after firing former FBI Director James Comey.”

Trump has since begun “grouping Wray with Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the special counsel’s Russia investigation.”


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« Reply #4244 on: Sep 05, 2018, 06:28 AM »

MSNBC’s John Heilemann reveals why Trump will commit perjury with Mueller: ‘He’s lost track of reality’

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
05 Sep 2018 at 06:54 ET                   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough dared President Donald Trump to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller — but analyst John Heilemann said it could only end badly for the president.

Bob Woodward’s new book, “Fear,” describes efforts by the president’s lawyers to prepare him for an interview with Mueller, but those practice sessions showed Trump was incapable of speaking with investigators without perjuring himself.

“Lawyers have an ethical obligation if they know that their client is committing perjury or is going to commit perjury, they have to report that to the court,” Scarborough said. “This is obviously something that John Dowd knew that he was going have to do if Donald Trump testified.”

Heilemann pointed to Mueller’s reported reaction to Dowd’s warning, saying he understood, and said that did not mean Trump would not be called to testify before the special counsel.

“Mueller there, though, is not at all ceding the notion that he doesn’t want Trump to come and testify,” Heilemann said. “Mueller is simply saying, which actually reads true to how Mueller would read things. He’s saying, ‘I understand,’ meaning, ‘I understand the nature of your problem, I get it.’ It doesn’t mean, ‘I’m trying to protect the president or Donald Trump’s presidency, but I understand the nature of your problem as a lawyer.'”

Scarborough said the president should be embarrassed that his own lawyers and staffers think he’s too stupid to speak with Mueller without deepening his legal jeopardy.

“They all think he’s dumb, think he’s stupid, all say he’s an idiot,” Scarborough said. “I’d be really insulted if I was the president and people thought that about me.”

Heilemann said the problem was actually deeper than that.

“The other thing they could think, that he’s a pathological liar and that he will lie, regardless what his mental state is or intellectual capacity is, the president will commit perjury because the facts are bad, the truth is bad,” Heilemann said. “He will lie to avoid the truth or doesn’t know what the truth is, you suggested a second ago. Not that he’s dumb, in the minds of the lawyers, but that he’s lost track of reality one way or the other.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kishkoRv94


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