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« Reply #3660 on: Feb 22, 2019, 05:12 AM »

‘The pope ignored them’: Alleged abuse of deaf children on two continents points to Vatican failings

By Anthony Faiola , Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli
WA Post

LUJAN DE CUYO, Argentina — When investigators swept in and raided the religious Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf, they uncovered one of the worst cases yet among the global abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church: a place of silent torment where prosecutors say pedophiles preyed on the most isolated and submissive children.

The scope of the alleged abuse was vast. Charges are pending against 13 suspects; a 14th person pleaded guilty to sexual abuse, including rape, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The case of the accused ringleader — an octogenarian Italian priest named Nicola Corradi — is set to go before a judge next month.

Corradi was spiritual director of the school and had a decades-long career spanning two continents. And so his arrest in late 2016 raised an immediate question: Did the Catholic Church have any sense that he could be a danger to children?

The answer, according to a Washington Post investigation that included a review of court and church documents, private letters, and dozens of interviews in Argentina and Italy, is that church officials up to and including Pope Francis were warned repeatedly and directly about a group of alleged predators that included Corradi.

Yet they took no apparent action against him.

“I want Pope Francis to come here, I want him to explain how this happened, how they knew this and did nothing,” a 24-year-old alumna of the Provolo Institute said, using sign language as her hands shook in rage. She and her 22-year-old brother, who requested anonymity to share their experiences as minors, are among at least 14 former students who say they were victims of abuse at the now-shuttered boarding school in the shadow of the Andes.

Vulnerable to the extreme, the deaf students tended to come from poor families that fervently believed in the sanctity of the church. Prosecutors say the children were fondled, raped, sometimes tied up and, in one instance, forced to wear a diaper to hide the bleeding. All the while, their limited ability to communicate complicated their ability to tell others what was happening to them. Students at the school were smacked if they used sign language. One of the few hand gestures used by the priests, victims say, was an index figure to lips — a demand for silence.

“They were the perfect victims,” said Gustavo Stroppiana, the chief prosecutor in the case.

And yet they may not have been the first. Corradi, now 83 and under house arrest, is also under investigation for sexual crimes at a sister school in Argentina where he worked from 1970 to 1994. And alumni of a related school in Italy, where Corradi served earlier, identified him as being among a number of priests who carried out systematic abuse over five decades. The schools were all founded and staffed by priests from the Company of Mary for the Education of the Deaf, a small Catholic congregation that answers to the Vatican.

The Italian victims’ efforts to sound the alarm to church authorities began in 2008 and included mailing a list of accused priests to Francis in 2014 and physically handing him the list in 2015.

It was not the church, however, but Argentine law enforcement that cut off Corradi’s access to children when it shut down the Provolo school in Lujan. Argentine prosecutors say the church has not fully cooperated with their investigation.

'The church has not been victim-centered': Women speak about sex abuse in Catholic Church

Ahead of a Vatican summit on sex abuse, activists fighting to stop the phenomenon in the Roman Catholic Church spoke Feb. 19 in Rome. (Reuters)

As Francis prepares to host a historic bishops’ summit this week to address clerical sexual abuse, the lapses in the case — affecting the pope’s home country of Argentina and the home country of the Roman Catholic Church — illustrate the still-present failures of the church to fix a system that has allowed priests to continue to abuse children long after they were first accused.

Corradi’s lawyer declined multiple interview requests for this article and did not respond to emails seeking to speak with the priest. Attempts to reach Corradi through his family were unsuccessful. The Vatican declined to comment on a detailed list of questions.

But Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the abuse-tracking site BishopAccountability.org, said the Provolo case “is truly emblematic.”

“The church failed them abysmally. The pope ignored them, the police responded,” she said. “It’s a clear example of the tragedy that keeps playing out.”

Local church authorities are skeptical

As in Argentina, deaf students from the Provolo schools in Verona, Italy, kept their experiences of sexual abuse to themselves for years. But after they started opening up, they worked from bottom to top to inform the Catholic church, according to letters and other documents. They wrote to the local bishop in 2008. Soon after, they provided a list of accused priests and religious figures to the local diocese. By 2011, a list of names was with the Vatican. By 2015, a list was in the hands of the pope.

The rumblings started with Dario Laiti, a former student who came forward in 2006 after noticing a new children’s facility in the town and worrying that abuse might be happening there, as well.

“I was the first,” said Laiti, who for years had made excuses when his wife asked why he hadn’t wanted children.

Soon, more than a dozen other former students were telling their stories, using an improvised mix of sign language and limited speech. Their accounts ranged in time between the 1950s and 1980s. As adults, they had become woodcutters, delivery men, factory workers. Some were unemployed. Few had sustained relationships. One of their schoolmates had committed suicide.

One student, Alda Franchetto, said she had tried to confide in her parents years earlier — running away from the school as a 13-year-old in a burst of euphoria and explaining to them what was happening to her there. Her parents, she said, didn’t believe her and returned her to the institute.

“They said, ‘You need this to learn how to speak and write,’ ” Franchetto said.

By the time the adult former students started reporting their abuse, it was too late to press criminal charges. But it was not too late for accountability through the church. They wrote to the local bishop in 2008, informing him of their claims. Soon after, at the request of a journalist from the Italian news magazine L’Espresso, 15 former students took another step: writing sworn statements describing sodomization, forced masturbation and other forms of abuse. The statements named 24 priests and other faculty members, including Corradi. The student association said dozens of others had experienced abuse but did not want to come forward publicly.

The bishop, Giuseppe Zenti, was dismissive. In a news conference, he called the allegations “a hoax, a lie, and nothing more,” and he noted the association for former students was involved in a property dispute with the Provolo Institute. The former students filed defamation charges against Zenti and included their statements as part of the lawsuit — essentially handing the names of the accused priests to the diocese.

The case caught the notice of the Vatican, which in 2010 asked Zenti to look more deeply into the claims, according to church letters. The local diocese brought in a retired judge, Mario Sannite, to investigate.

“That’s how I found myself in the middle of this story,” Sannite said.

Sannite became the on-the-ground representative of the Holy See, asked to relay his findings — and his analysis — to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In December 2010 and January 2011, Sannite interviewed 17 former students from Provolo, with the help of a sign-language interpreter. He said the accounts were harrowing, and he later wrote that there was no reason to doubt the “majority” of the accusations. In the report sent to the Vatican, though, Sannite wrote that he had doubts about one former student, the only one who happened to name Corradi as an abuser — even though some of the others interviewed had overlapped with Corradi’s time at the school.

Gianni Bisoli, a then-62-year-old ski instructor, accused 30 religious figures and other Provolo faculty members of abusing him — a number far beyond the others. And his allegations were particularly explosive; one of those he accused was Giuseppe Carraro, the bishop of Verona in the 1960s and 1970s, who after his death was on the path to canonization.

“Bisoli’s statements were likely deemed quite dangerous,” said Paolo Tacchi Venturi, a lawyer who at the time was representing the victims.

With the help of a sign-language interpreter and Tacchi Venturi, Bisoli spoke with Sannite for 12 hours, over the course of three days, according to records. Others who were in the room told The Post that Bisoli described the abuse in detail.

In interviews with The Post, Bisoli recounted that he was abused by Corradi several times, including once when he had been corralled along with two other children into a bathroom reserved for priests. In that instance, Bisoli said, he was ordered against a wall by Corradi and two other religious figures. Bisoli remembered Corradi sodomizing him with his finger.

Sannite assessed that Bisoli was certainly a victim of abuse. But in the report he wrote, which was sent through Verona’s diocese to the Vatican, the former judge said it was implausible that Bisoli could have been abused by so many — that the institute he described was akin to an “infernal circle.” Sannite noted that some of Bisoli’s dates did not match, and some of the accused did not appear to be at the institute in the years Bisoli described. Sannite also offered another theory: that Bisoli “repackaged his overflowing allegations by drawing from the collection of his own experiences as a homosexual” adult.

In an interview at his home last month, Sannite read from the report, though he did not share a copy with The Post. When asked why a gay man might be less likely to accurately describe abuse, Sannite said, “It’s not as if I can say there are differences.” Then he asked why he was being asked such a question. Later, Sannite wrote in an email that he did not mean to draw a connection between Bisoli’s credibility and his sexuality.

Bisoli, in an interview, said it was “offensive” and a “provocation” that anybody’s sexuality in adulthood might figure into an assessment.

Following church guidelines, Zenti wrote a letter to accompany the report to the Vatican, according to the Diocese of Verona, which declined to share it with The Post. But Zenti remained skeptical about the claims and said in 2017 testimony — conducted as part of a separate lawsuit — that even a word like sodomization would be “hard to convey for a deaf-mute.” The bishop also reported hearing a theory that the Veronese victims were behind the claims in Argentina, as well, perhaps as a way to “gain possession of the nice properties of the institute in those places.”

Based on the investigation in Verona, the Vatican punished only one priest, Eligio Piccoli, who was ordered to a life of prayer and penance away from minors. Three other priests were given admonitions — essentially warnings that the Vatican was watching future behavior.

This photo from 1960 shows Nicola Corradi (left), lay brother Luigi Spinelli and student Maurizio Grotto at the Provolo Insitute’s summer camp in San Zeno di Montagna, Italy. Corradi and Spinelli were among the alleged abusers listed in a letter to Pope Francis. Grotto was recognized by the Vatican as a victim of abuse at the school. (Courtesy of the Associazione Sordi Provolo)

A church official in Verona said the allegations against Corradi were not looked at closely in large part because of the assessment about Bisoli. “We acted on the broad premise that Bisoli wasn’t deemed reliable,” Monsignor Giampietro Mazzoni said. “In this case, perhaps, making a mistake — since we didn’t know then what would later happen in Argentina.”

One of the other former students who Bisoli said was in the priests-only bathroom, Maurizio Grotto, has offered conflicting accounts of what happened. He told Sannite he was not abused by Corradi and said in an interview with The Post that he was. Another former Provolo student, Franchetto, said in an interview that she was molested by Corradi but had tried for years, “as a measure of self-defense,” to forget his face. She did not tell the Vatican investigator about her experiences. The president of the association representing the Italian victims, Giorgio Dalla Bernardina, said he knows of other Corradi victims who have been unwilling to speak publicly.

Lawyers involved in the case and experts on clerical abuse say the church failed to examine whether the pattern of abuse in Italy was playing out at the overseas Provolo locations where Italian priests had been sent. Some dioceses in the United States report abuse accusations to law enforcement no matter what — even if the accused priest is deceased or if the statute of limitations has expired — and suspend priests from ministry as accusations are being investigated. The Diocese of Verona said it did not contact law enforcement.

Tacchi Venturi, the lawyer who had represented the victims during the hearing, said the Vatican made one other error — a “logic contradiction” — by acknowledging that Bisoli was abused but not looking into who might have abused him.

“If you say he suffered abuses, and you believe he was a victim, and he says he was abused by people, then you hear them all,” Tacchi Venturi said, noting that the task was easier because only some of the accused were still alive. “You go on and interrogate all of them.”

Pope Francis asks the victims to pray for him

The Italian victims believed that if anybody could better handle abuse cases, it was Francis, who was selected as leader of the church in 2013 — two years after the Verona inquiry — and who announced the creation of a new commission on child protection. The former Provolo students wrote to Francis in late 2013, giving a broad timeline of their case. They said they didn’t hear anything back. In 2014, according to postal receipts, they tried again, with more direct language — mailing to the pontiff’s Vatican address a list of the 14 alleged abusers they felt had gone largely unpunished. They received no response from Francis or others in the Vatican.

So, in October 2015, 20 people from Verona — most of them victims of abuse — boarded a train to Rome. They had no certainty of meeting the pope, but they targeted a day the Vatican was recognizing people with disabilities. And indeed, after Francis held Mass at St. Peter’s Square, a Vatican official invited two of the people from Verona to a small event with the pontiff. Paola Lodi Rizzini and Giuseppe Consiglio took their place near the stage of Paul VI Audience Hall holding a letter — later reviewed by The Post — listing the same 14 names.

Consiglio, now 29, was the youngest of the victims from Verona. He’d attended school in the late 1990s, and he had come forward in 2012 — after the Vatican’s investigation. But he was upset with the Vatican’s response. He said he wanted the Vatican to “open its eyes” and “close the schools.” He told The Post that his own childhood had unraveled because of abuse. He said he was raped hundreds of times by a priest who was “rough” but careful not to get Consiglio’s blood on his cassock. Consiglio tried to jump out a school window when he was 12 but was stopped by a nun. He was treated with antipsychotics. Into his adulthood, he lived at home, with few friends. He was so terrified of being locked into rooms that he hoarded his family’s keys.

Then, inside the Vatican, he was eye to eye with Francis.

Lodi Rizzini recalls speaking first and telling the pontiff they were there representing a victims’ group from Verona.

“I said, ‘Giuseppe is a victim of sexual abuse, and he has a letter from all victims,’ ” Lodi Rizzini said.

Consiglio handed Francis the envelope. A Vatican photographer documented the moment.

The letter inside appealed to the pontiff by saying the church’s behavior in their case was “absolutely not aligned with the zero tolerance of Pope Francis.” It said the church had let priests and other religious figures who had abused them go on to live “normal lives.”

Then a paragraph listed 14 priests and lay brothers that the victims believed were still alive. The list included Consiglio’s own alleged abuser, a handful of figures who had not been punished in Italy and four said to be in Argentina — including Corradi.

Lodi Rizzini and Consiglio remember Francis receiving the letter and handing it off to a deputy without opening it. Photos show Francis blessing both Lodi Rizzini and Consiglio by touching them on the head. Both of them remember Francis, before walking away, saying, “Pray for me.”

People involved in the case say the former students’ plea did not appear to prompt the church to take a closer look at any of the named priests.

Four months later, in February 2016, a letter arrived in Verona from one of Francis’s close lieutenants, then-Bishop Angelo Becciu, who held a key position in the Secretariat of State. Becciu wrote that His Holiness “welcomed with lively participation what you wanted to confide in Him.”

“He wishes to remind you,” the letter continued, “of what the Holy See has done and keeps on doing with unwavering commitment on clerical sexual abuses, operating in support of the victims’ tragedies and to prevent the sad phenomenon.”

Law enforcement responds

In the early 1960s, the Provolo Institute in Verona dismissed one priest and another faculty member for “moral inadequacy,” church officials say. But there is no evidence, according to church records, that the Company of Mary knew of the allegations against Corradi when it transferred him from Italy to Argentina in 1970. Even if something had been known, “I doubt there would have been an explicit mention in the archive,” said Mazzoni, the chief judicial figure in the Diocese of Verona.

In Argentina, Corradi initially taught at a Provolo Institute for the Deaf in La Plata, a provincial city an hour’s drive from the belle époque buildings of Buenos Aires. Following the disclosures of widespread abuse in Lujan de Cuyo in 2016, La Plata authorities launched an investigation that has uncovered allegations of sexual abuse and mistreatment, dating back to the 1980s, against at least five men who worked at the school, including Corradi and another Italian cleric.

The other Italian — Elisio Pirmati — was also named by Verona students in the letters sent to the pope. Maria Corfield, the prosecutor in the La Plata case, said Pirmati has returned to Italy and is living in retirement at the Verona Provolo — which is no longer active as an institute for the deaf but rents space to another school. Efforts by The Post to contact him were unsuccessful.

Thus far, Corradi has been accused of sexual abuse by two alumni of the school in La Plata. Prosecutors received a report of another alleged Corradi victim who killed himself as an adult. While in total 10 alleged victims from the La Plata school have come forward, Corfield said she has spoken to other apparent victims who have resisted getting involved.

“They say they have families now and don't want to explain,” she said.

Lisandro Borelli, now 40, entered the La Plata Provolo as a student in 1989 after becoming clinically deaf due to severe beatings from his parents. In an interview, he recalled Corradi placing him on his knee and fondling his genitals during lessons when the priest would also insert fingers into his mouth to try to teach him how to pronounce words.

Once, he said, he was punished at the school by being locked in a cage for two days without food. In a separate incident, he said he was thrown down a staircase in an act of intimidation after catching a priest at the school raping his roommate.

“When we found out this started in Italy, we were surprised,” Borelli said in sign language. “Now I think about it and say, was this happening at other Provolo institutes?”

In 1994, Corradi’s religious congregation sent him to set up a new Provolo Institute in western Argentina. The school — a sprawling brick compound surrounded by high walls that served as both a boarding and day school for dozens of deaf children — opened in 1998, with Corradi as spiritual director.

In the fluorescent-lit halls lined with polished tiles, Corradi first lured one boy to his room when he was around 7 years old, according to the alleged victim, who today is a shy and delicate 22-year-old. In an interview with The Post, the man recalled his confusion as Corradi undressed him, followed by the searing pain of rape. Afterward, Corradi gave him a toy — a small blue pickup truck. “I couldn't look him in the eye,” the man said, using sign language. “It scared me. It disgusted me.”

He said he was raped regularly for the next five years. He recalled that during the ordeals, he would stare at a statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus not far from Corradi’s bed. He said he could see Corradi speaking words he could not hear or understand.

The school did not teach sign language — instead embracing a methodology that sought to teach deaf children to read and speak like the hearing. That system, prosecutors say, was also ideal for hiding abuse. Abused pupils say they learned sign language in secret from older students, but even that was of little help.

The 22-year-old man and his sister — the 24-year-old who wanted Francis to come to Argentina and see what happened there, and who said she was raped as a child by another Provolo employee — came from a poor family whose parents had limited knowledge of sign language.

“We didn’t want to go to school, but our parents were convinced it was the best for us,” said the sister. “So we were mistreated at home. We were hit because our parents just thought we didn’t want to go to school.”

Prosecutors say that as spiritual director of the school, Corradi not only took part in abuses, but facilitated access to children for other sexual predators working at the school.

Prosecutors and victims allege that under Corradi’s direction, a Japanese nun, Kosaka Kumiko, would groom the most docile children. She would touch them, and have them touch themselves and each other. Kumiko has maintained her innocence in court.

Also among the alleged abusers in Lujan is a deaf and mentally challenged man, now in his 40s, who prosecutors say had been abandoned as a child at the Provolo Institute in La Plata. They say the man told other victims he had been abused by Corradi there. And when Corradi made him a gardener at the new Provolo school in Lujan, the man is alleged to have begun to abuse other children.

The worst cases of abuse documented by prosecutors at Lujan occurred between 2004 and 2009. During those years, Francis served as Cardinal Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, a diocese some 700 miles southeast of Lujan de Cuyo, and would not have been accountable for actions at the school. However, the allegations in Argentina of abuse and corruption of minors stretch beyond when the church was warned and well after the Italian victims sought to alert Francis directly in 2013. The most recent incident involving Corradi is alleged to have involved the distribution of pornography to children in 2013. Other suspects also allegedly touched students inappropriately in 2015 and 2016.

The church’s inaction allowed the alleged abusers to remain in daily contact with children — until a distraught former student went to Argentine authorities.

The rail-thin 27-year-old, who, like other victims, spoke on the condition of anonymity, said she had been raped by an Argentine priest who served under Corradi. In an interview, she said that for years she considered killing herself — even writing a suicide note to her parents before standing on a bluff by a river and weighing whether to jump.

“I felt like water, as if I was nothing,” she said in sign language in her lawyer’s office in Mendoza, Argentina. “I wanted to kill myself, but I had to keep living with it, every year.”

A friend, she said, convinced her that what she and other victims really needed was justice. So, in November 2016, she walked into a state center for people with disabilities and requested a sign-language interpreter. They would later go together to the state parliament, where, on Nov. 24, 2016, they met with a state senator who sounded the alarm.

Rapidly acting on her testimony, prosecutors raided the school two days later — finding pornography and letters that implicated one of Corradi’s associates, Father Horacio Corbacho, a 58-year-old Argentine priest. In court filings, one sexually suggestive letter, apparently written by someone familiar with the abuse, asks Corbacho “how much more silence can you ask of a deaf mute?”

Jorge Bordon, Corradi’s 62-year-old driver, last year pleaded guilty to 11 counts of abuse. His confession effectively implicated some of the other defendants, though Corbacho, Kumiko and others have denied the accusations. Corradi — under house arrest at an undisclosed location in Argentina and facing six counts of aggravated abuse — has yet to enter a plea.

The Rev. Alberto Germán Bochatey, a bishop appointed by the pope to oversee the Provolo schools in the aftermath of the scandal, said Corradi believes himself to be innocent.

“He feels destroyed,” said Bochatey, who last met with Corradi two months ago. “He built that school.”

After Argentine authorities shut down the Lujan school in November 2016, the Vatican appointed two priests to conduct an internal investigation that is still ongoing. Prosecutors say church officials in Argentina have declined their request to share the findings.

Bochatey, who is not involved in the investigation, denied a lack of church cooperation. He said he received a request for the report and replied in a letter to prosecutors that it needed to be submitted directly to the Vatican. He said he did not forward the request. Stroppiana, the prosecutor, said he has no recollection of receiving a response from Bochatey or any other church authorities.

Bochatey blamed prosecutors and victims’ lawyers for overstating the scope of the allegations. He suggested Freemasons — members of a fraternal order known for secret rituals and community service that the Catholic Church has long viewed as antagonists — were somehow behind the accusations, although he acknowledged the church had no “proof.”

“We think the Masonic order was behind it,” he said. “We cannot understand why [the accusations] are so direct and intense. They try to build a big case that [it was a] house of horrors, 40 or 50 cases, but there are little more than 10.”

He added, “I spoke with many parents who said their kids were happy. They didn’t want their school to close.” He continued, “I think something happened, but not the way they’re trying to show.”

He defended the school’s approach to teaching the deaf, saying the point was for them to read and speak. Perhaps some teachers had been too strict, he said.

“Maybe sometimes a teacher did wrong,” he said.

The church, he said, has not only been forced to close the school in Lujan but also sell the land it sits on.

“We’re paying expensively for our mistake,” he said.

Harlan and Pitrelli reported from Verona, Italy. Rachelle Krygier in Caracas, Venezuela, and Natalio Cosoy, in Buenos Aires, contributed to this report. 

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« Reply #3661 on: Feb 22, 2019, 05:30 AM »

Venezuela crisis threatens disease epidemic across continent - experts

Collapse of Venezuela’s healthcare system could fuel spread of malaria and other diseases across region

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Emma Graham-Harrison in Tumeremo
22 Feb 2019 23.30 GMT

Experts have warned of an epidemic of diseases such as malaria and dengue on an unprecedented scale in Latin America following the collapse of the healthcare system in Venezuela.

Continent-wide public health gains of the last 18 years could be undone if Venezuela does not accept help to control the spreading outbreaks of malaria, Zika, dengue and other illnesses that are afflicting its people, experts have warned in a report published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Venezuela was once a regional leader in malaria control, but as healthcare has collapsed there has been a mass departure of trained medics, the report says, creating a public emergency “of hemispheric concern”.

“These diseases have already extended into neighbouring Brazil and Colombia, and with increasing air travel and human migration, most of the Latin American and Caribbean region (as well as some US cities hosting the Venezuelan diaspora, including Miami and Houston) is at heightened risk for disease re-emergence,” says the paper.

The lead author, Dr Martin Llewellyn, based at the University of Glasgow, has called for global action. “The re-emergence of diseases such as malaria in Venezuela has set in place an epidemic of unprecedented proportions, not only in the country but across the whole region,” he said.

“Based on the data we have collected we would urge national, regional and global authorities to take immediate action to address these worsening epidemics and prevent their expansion beyond Venezuelan borders.”

He said that the figures were probably an underestimate because the Venezuelan government had shut down the institution responsible for collecting data for the World Health Organization.

“Venezuelan clinicians involved in this study have also been threatened with jail, while laboratories have been robbed by militias, hard drives removed from computers, microscopes and other medical equipment smashed,” he said.

Malaria cases, in a country certified to have eradicated the disease in 1961, rose by 359% between 2010-15, from 29,736 to 136,402. They surged 71% from 2016-17, to 411,586, because of a decline in mosquito control and a shortage of antimalarial drugs.

The epidemic has been supercharged by the rise of illegal mining in the jungle near the southern border with Brazil, where reservoirs of the disease survived despite its official elimination nationwide.

Venezuelans had flocked to the area in recent years to dig and pan for gold in wildcat mines, as the economy collapsed and hyperinflation eroded salaries for professionals and workers.

Stagnant water in pits and unsanitary camps provided a perfect breeding ground for mosquitos, and malaria was soon endemic at many of the mines. Some miners and their families have endured dozens of bouts of the disease.

One woman working near the town of Tumeremo said her four-year-old had already had 13 bouts of malaria. After the last one, doctors warned her: “You have to choose – your daughter or the mine.” She moved to a different pit, but the family cannot afford to leave the area.

The transitory nature of mining work means the area’s problems have gradually affected vast swathes of the country, as infected workers took the disease home with their gold, reintroducing malaria to areas where it had been eradicated.

“I’ve never been to the mines,” said David Guevara, a 39-year-old builder queuing for malaria treatment in the industrial port of Ciudad Guyana, nearly 125 miles (200km) from the nearest mining camps.

It is his second episode of the disease. “There are no controls [on malaria] now,” he said. “And it’s the children who are paying for this.”

There was rarely any malaria in the city before 2015, but now the government clinic where he is seeking medical help is always busy.

“It’s an epidemic here now. It’s a lie that you have to go to the mines to get it,” said Marina Gutierrez, a 25-year-old who has had eight bouts of malaria over the last year and was at the clinic to seek help for her daughter. “She had only just finished treatment two weeks ago. She got rid of it and then it came back.”

Geraldine Flores blames a serious case of malaria for her son’s premature birth. She went into labour with Yelbi Josue after she came down with the disease when she was seven months’ pregnant and working at the mines.

Chagas disease, one of the leading causes of heart failure in Latin America, may be resurgent, says the review. Dengue has risen more than fivefold between 2010-16. Six increasingly large epidemics were recorded between 2007 -16, compared with four in the previous 16 years.

Chikungunya and Zika outbreaks have epidemic potential, say the authors. There were an estimated 2 million suspected chikungunya cases in 2014, more than 12 times the official estimate.

“We call on the members of the Organisation of American States and other international political bodies to apply more pressure to the Venezuelan government to accept the humanitarian assistance offered by the international community in order to strengthen the buckling health system.

“Without such efforts, the public health gains achieved over the past 18 years could soon be reversed,” said Llewellyn.

Additional reporting by Clavel Rangel

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« Reply #3662 on: Feb 22, 2019, 05:33 AM »

Millions of forest-dwelling indigenous people in India to be evicted

Critics say ‘disastrous’ supreme court ruling is ‘mass eviction in name of conservation’

Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi
Fri 22 Feb 2019 09.46 GMT

Millions will be evicted in India after the supreme court ruled that indigenous people illegally living on forest land should move.

Campaigners for the rights of tribal and forest-dwelling people have called the court’s decision on Wednesday “an unprecedented disaster,” and “the biggest mass eviction in the name of conservation, ever”.

The ruling came in response to petitions filed by various wildlife conservation groups, which wanted the court to declare the 2006 Forest Rights Act invalid. The act gives forest dwelling people the right to their ancestral lands, including those in specially “protected” areas that contain sanctuaries and wildlife parks to conserve wild life. The groups told the court that “tribal” people in 17 states had encroached illegally on these protected areas, jeopardising efforts to protect wildlife and forests.

The conservation groups said state governments should see if families could prove their claim under the act and, if they could, they should be allowed to live and work on the land. If they failed to prove their claim, they should be evicted by the state government.

The supreme court has ordered the 17 state governments – where claims were considered by special committees – to act on about 1.1m claims now rejected as bogus and evict the families. Depending on the size of the families, more than 1m claims could translate to about 5-7 million people being evicted by 27 July.

Survival International’s director, Stephen Corry, said: “This judgment is a death sentence for millions of tribal people in India, land theft on an epic scale and a monumental injustice. It will lead to wholesale misery, impoverishment, disease and death, an urgent humanitarian crisis, and it will do nothing to save the forests which these tribespeople have protected for generations.”

Groups campaigning for the tribal people – among the poorest, most neglected and marginalised of India’s communities – say that many of them would not have understood the need to produce the relevant documents proving their right to the land to the assessing committees.

That claim has been rejected by wildlife groups who said that, given that millions of claims were filed on this issue (of which about 1.2m were accepted), there was widespread grassroots awareness of the need to stake their claim and how to do it.

For wildlife protection groups, the issue is of India’s forests being relentlessly eroded by humans encroaching on animal habitats. There have been innumerable cases of villagers illegally living on protected forests meant exclusively for animals.

Debi Goenka, the head of the Conservation Action Trust, said that human rights activists and other groups who opposed the court order seemed to think that India could live without its forests.

He said: “What they don’t realise is that, barring two, all of India’s rivers are forest-dependent. Satellite imagery has shown tribal encroachments into protected forests. Can a country survive without forests? If they think India can survive without forests and without water, so be it.”

The issue is expected to become more heated in the coming weeks. Wildlife groups insist that all the court has done is tell state governments to recover forest land from people who made bogus claims which, after due process, were rejected. Those with genuine claims will be given title deeds to the land.

On the other side of the debate are politicians such as the Communist party leader, Brinda Karat, who has written to the prime minister, Narendra Modi, in protest against the court’s decision. She said: “It will be highly unjust to … traditional forest dwellers if an ordinance is not passed immediately to protect them from eviction … It will be a virtual declaration of war.”

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« Reply #3663 on: Feb 22, 2019, 05:35 AM »

‘Lives are hanging on the line’: Kenya delays landmark ruling on gay rights

Decision prompts anger as high court asks for more time to consider evidence

Jason Burke in Nairobi
Fri 22 Feb 2019 08.23 GMT

Judges in Kenya have postponed a long-awaited landmark ruling that could have led to sex between men or between women decriminalised.

The attempt by LGBT campaigners to have colonial era legislation struck out has been closely watched by activists across Africa.

But Justice John Mativo said on Friday that the high court needed more time to consider the evidence. The judgment will now be given in late May.

The delay prompted anger and disappointment among campaigners who gathered to hear the decision in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

“I just wish the excuse was better. People’s lives are hanging on the line. Justice has been delayed, but it has not yet been denied,” said Yvonne Oduor, a campaigner.

Lawyers representing gay and lesbian associations have argued laws punishing “unnatural” acts with sentences of up to 14 years in prison contravene Kenya’s progressive constitution. There has been opposition from church groups who claimed homosexuality was a “perversion” and “unAfrican”.

LGBT people face systematic harassment and discrimination in a number of African countries, in many of which gay acts are illegal.

“Decriminalisation is just one percent of the struggle. Society is really homophobic. Being legal is not enough. We have to be safe too,” said Marylise Biubwa, a social justice activist.

Frank Mugisha, a campaigner for gay rights in Uganda, said before the ruling that a positive result would encourage other countries to follow Kenya’s path. Angola recently decriminalised homosexual sex and courts in Botswana will decide on the issue next month.

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« Reply #3664 on: Feb 22, 2019, 05:37 AM »

North Korea appeals for food aid as regime cuts rations due to drought and sanctions

Nation facing 1.4 million ton shortfall as UN estimates that around half of the population is in need of extra supplies

Staff and agencies
Fri 22 Feb 2019 01.34 GMT

North Korea has issued an international appeal for help to combat food shortages after drought and floods led to a poor harvest, worsening the impact of UN sanctions.

Pyongyang has told the United Nations that it is facing a shortfall of 1.4 million tons in food production this year, including crops of rice, wheat, potato and soybean.

The UN estimates that 10.3 million people – almost half of North Korea’s population – are in need of food due to a sharp drop in crop production. It estimates that 40% of people in the country are undernourished.

“The government has requested assistance from international humanitarian organizations present in the country to address the impact of the food security situation,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

UN agencies are holding talks with Pyongyang “to take early action in order to address humanitarian needs,” he said.

In a memo to the UN, the communist regime called on international organisations “to urgently respond to addressing the food situation”.

It said food production last year was 4.951m tons, 503,000 tons down on 2017. The UN confirmed these figures as official government data provided at the end of January.

North Korea said it would import 200,000 tons of food and produce about 400,000 tons of early crops, but that it would still be left with a gap and from January would cut daily rations to 300g (10.5 ounces) per person from 550g.

The release of the undated two-page memo by the North Korean mission to the UN comes ahead of a second summit next week between Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Washington has been demanding that North Korea give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States, while the communist regime has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean war and security guarantees.

The 15-member UN security council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

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Here are 7 things to know about CNN’s claim that Mueller’s report is coming soon

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet - COMMENTARY
22 Feb 2019 at 15:42 ET                   

Building upon rumors and other vague reports that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation may soon be coming to some sort of a close, CNN published a story Wednesday afternoon claiming that the Justice Department is preparing to receive a report from the former FBI director as early as next week.

Given the complexities of the case, the special counsel regulations, shake-ups in the Justice Department, and lack of clarity around reporting from anonymous sources, it was not initially clear what this story means. Some saw it as clear evidence that newly appointed Attorney General William Barr was working to shut down the investigation, while others argued that it reflected trends that have been clear in Mueller’s work for months. It’s also not clear if Mueller’s report means new charges could be coming or what would happen to pending cases.

But there is a lot we do know. Here are seven things to keep in mind to help make sense of this news:

1. Whatever happens next week or with Mueller, investigations of President Donald Trump are certain to continue.

Even if Mueller concluded that Trump was completely cleared of wrongdoing regarding the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and any efforts to obstruct this probe — the two prongs of the case believed to touch on the president — much more of Trump’s past is under scrutiny.

Mueller’s efforts, it seems, have led to at least two other investigations that directly implicate Trump. At this point, the public knows most about the case of Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes as charged by the Southern District of New York — crimes that he alleged he carried out on Trump’s orders. There is also the ongoing investigation out of SDNY of Trump’s inaugural committee, about which less is known but which may involve allegations of money laundering and foreign influence peddling.

Other investigative matters may have also spun off from Mueller’s probe to other parts of the Justice Department. Federal prosecutors from D.C., for example, are already known to be working alongside Mueller’s team on some cases. And on completely separate tracks, the New York attorney general and oversight committees in the House of Representatives are known to be pursuing multiple investigations of Trump and those around him.

2. The regulations are clear about what the “Mueller report” is and isn’t.

If Mueller does issue a “report,” it’s not entirely clear what this means in common parlance. But according to the special counsel regulations, he is required to draft a confidential report on his decisions about why he chose to prosecute — and perhaps most importantly, not to prosecute — certain people for certain crimes. For instance, if Mueller concluded that there was substantial evidence to charge Trump himself with crimes, but decided not to because DOJ policy says he can’t indict a sitting president, this decision would presumably be recorded in this report.

But that report is not public. It goes to the attorney general who then makes the decision about what to do with. It likely would contain classified material and other information, such as grand jury testimony, which cannot be made public. The attorney general may then decide to make part of the report public, share it with Congress, or lock it away in a filing cabinet.

Also of note is that, since Barr has only just joined the Justice Department, he may not have yet been cleared by ethics officials to oversee Mueller. That may mean that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who first appointed Mueller, may still be in charge of the investigation.

3. Mueller is preparing to submit a sentencing filing on Paul Manafort soon — and it could be explosive.

Some, like reporter Marcy Wheeler, have suggested that Mueller’s report may come in the form of court filings. And one major court filing coming up is Mueller’s sentencing memo regarding Paul Manafort.

Of course, we don’t know what it will say until it’s made public. But it’s possible Mueller may use this filing to make public a good deal of substantial and important information that was not previously known. This could end up serving as a something like a public “report” — one that the attorney general would likely be unable to block. However, it may be highly redacted.

4. People familiar with Mueller don’t believe he’d let the investigation be prematurely thwarted.

Much of the initial reaction to CNN’s report reflected fears that Trump’s new attorney general was inappropriately bringing the investigation to a close. Many people familiar with Mueller and the Justice Department, however, doubted this hypothesis.

“Everyone caterwauling over Barr immediately ‘ending’ Mueller probe: Remember Mueller’s team has had months to prepare to be ousted/fired/shutdown,” said Garrett Graff, who wrote a book about Mueller’s time leading the FBI. “Idea that they’d be caught by surprise, without recourse, is absurd. If Mueller is wrapping up, he means to.”

Matthew Miller, a former DOJ spokesperson, concurred.

“Agree 100%,” he said on Twitter. “Though we of course need to verify everything, if Mueller is ending now, it’s almost certainly his decision.”

5. If Mueller were being silenced, there could be leaks and resignations.

Fears about Mueller being obstructed internally are also misplaced because there would likely be significant signs of dissension were this to happen. Officials could resign from the department in protest. Information about the investigation could begin leaking. Mueller himself could hold a press conference to discuss any untoward efforts to shut him up — a move that would be guaranteed to hold the nation’s attention.

6. There are still many threads in the investigation that don’t appear to have concluded.

However, there is reason to have some doubts about the news. There are significant threads in the Mueller probe that have yet to be satisfactorily resolved.

For example, though Mueller has charged Roger Stone, he has yet to charge Stone’s associate Jerome Corsi. This is surprising because Corsi released what he said was a plea deal, which he rejected, that had been offered by Mueller. It seems unlikely that Mueller would have offered him a plea deal if he were not prepared to charge Corsi.

There are also to legal battles that Mueller has yet to resolve. One is a mysterious sealed case involving the subpoena of a foreign state-owned company; the other is a grand jury subpoena for another associate of Roger Stone. It’s not clear why Mueller would be wrapping up his investigation without finishing these fights, given that he must have thought they were important in the first place.

There are also myriad other reports and indications of criminal behavior that haven’t yet shown up in any public filings from Mueller. It’s possible none of these threads produced any prosecutable evidence. Of course, it’s also possible that Mueller has indictments on some of those matters, or others unknown to the public, under seal, and they may soon be revealed as part of his “report.”

Another possible explanation of these hanging threads, suggested by the CNN report, is that Mueller may have handed off even more aspects of the investigation to other parts of the DOJ than we know. He could be doing this for a variety of reasons, and we may never find out what they are until charges are brought by other prosecutors, if they ever are.

7. We’ve heard similar predictions before.

One final note of caution: We’ve heard claims that Mueller’s wrapping up before, and they’ve proven wrong in the past. Sometimes this idea was put out by Trump’s own attorneys, but reporters have also made the claim as well.

For instance, in June 2018, the Washington Post published a story indicating that Mueller would “write up his findings” about the obstruction of justice investigation into Trump by the end of the summer. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

However, this report did include one suggestion that provides a potential explanation for CNN’s report. It indicated that there would be at least two Mueller “reports” — one on obstruction of justice and another on Russia-related matters. It’s far from certain this prediction was accurate, but if it was, it’s possible the “Mueller report” that is coming down the pike is only one of these possible reports. That could help explain why significant threads in the case remain unresolved.


GOP’s latest defense of Trump quickly falls apart as his obstruction of justice becomes even more obvious

Heather Digby Parton, Salon - COMMENTARY
22 Feb 2019 at 12:44 ET                   

I wrote about former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe’s new book “Threat” last week after CBS News first teased its big interview with McCabe that aired last Sunday. At the time it seemed as if the big news coming from the book was a rehash of last fall’s story about Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein suggesting that he wear a wire into the Oval Office and about the supposed talk within the Department of Justice about invoking the 25th Amendment to declare President Trump unable to fulfill his duties.

When asked about it by CBS News’ Scott Pelley in the interview, McCabe confirmed that it happened, which made Trump have a nuclear Twitter meltdown and caused the right-wing media to start screeching about “Deep State coups” and suggesting that McCabe should immediately be arrested and that he and former FBI director James Comey should be waterboarded to spill everything they know. Presumably by CIA director Gina Haspel and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Because that’s their specialty.

As it turns out, that wasn’t in McCabe’s book at all. He answered the question when asked but told Anderson Cooper on CNN Tuesday night that he didn’t put it in the book because that episode hadn’t been revealed when he wrote it and he thought it would be a huge distraction if he did. He was right. An anecdote that wasn’t in his book has received far more attention than it should.

The big revelation in the book is that after Trump fired Comey, which everyone knew was because of the Russia investigation, McCabe opened a counter-intelligence investigation and an obstruction of justice investigation into the president of the United States, because of his suspicious behavior during the campaign and in the White House. And — surprise — it turns out that McCabe and Rosenstein briefed the Gang of Eight, which includes the leadership of both parties in congress and the chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. At the time, the eight were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

McCabe notes that Nunes had “stepped back” from his role on the Intelligence Committee by that time, after having being exposed conspiring with the White House and lying to the media in his silly “midnight ride” and was not expected to show up. But he came anyway, and neither Rosenstein nor McCabe had the authority to ask him to leave, so he heard the whole thing. When asked by Anderson Cooper whether he believed Nunes would rush to tell the White House everything, McCabe said he always assumed someone would tell the White House about the investigations.

In his book, McCabe writes:

    After reminding the committee of how this investigation began, I told them of additional steps we had taken. No one interrupted. No one pushed back. The mood in the room was sober. Schumer had been nodding his head and looking at me very directly throughout the brief. On McConnell’s side of the table, I sensed a great deal of resignation.

Rosenstein then took over the meeting and told the assembled officials that he was appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Trump campaign’s apparent ties to Russia.

What this means is that these members of Congress have known from the beginning that the DOJ and the FBI had opened these two investigations because of the president’s suspicious behavior, and that they formed the basis for the Special Counsel’s investigation. If McCabe is right, and one of the little birdies in the meeting whispered in the president’s ear, he knew it right away too.

According to McCabe, Rosenstein was enlisted by the White House counsel to write the memo laying out the reasons for firing Comey and told him Trump had repeatedly asked him to “include Russia” (which he refused to do). What the president specifically meant by that isn’t spelled out but we know that the original letter firing Comey was cooked up during a long rainy weekend at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with senior adviser Stephen Miller, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. The letter they produced was so inflammatory that then-White House counsel Don McGahn nixed it. We don’t know how much of that original memo (described by those who read it as a “screed”) was focused on Russia, but Robert Mueller does. He has a copy of it.

What we do know is that in the letter Trump wrote firing Comey, he clumsily “included Russia”:

    While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.

And then came this, just a month after the Comey firing and the Mueller appointment:

    I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017

As you can see, that was yet another lie. Trump had planned to fire Comey. He even admitted it on TV. And we know that his crack team of political advisers, led by Kushner, had assured him that it would be a big political winner.

Later, Trump would repeatedly insist that he wasn’t under investigation at all, despite the fact that it was obvious to everyone he was.

Looking back on that meeting, which laid out all the predicates for what turned into the Mueller investigation, shines a very different light on how this scandal has unfolded. And now we have the explosive New York Times piece published on Tuesday called “Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him,” which shows that not only did the president know very well that he was personally being investigated, he has been methodically trying to sabotage his own Justice Department for the better part of the last two years.

Trump’s most recent intrusion was trying to get his acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, to order the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York to “unrecuse” himself from all those investigations into Trumpworld, a concept that never even existed until Donald Trump came along.

He just can’t stop obstructing justice. But then why would he? His new attorney general, William Barr, agrees with that Republican icon of corruption Richard Nixon, that “if the president does it, it’s not illegal.” Barr has told Trump he is perfectly free to interfere with investigations, order them up, protect his friends and punish his enemies. So I wouldn’t expect any of it to stop unless Congress finally steps up to do its duty.

The country is probably dizzy by now trying to keep up with the cascading news stories about the various investigations and rumors surrounding Trump’s presidency. It’s overwhelming. But it always comes back to one simple, common-sense observation: no innocent person could possibly act this guilty.


Trump already colluded ‘in plain sight’ — and his new attorney general can’t protect him from Mueller: conservative columnist

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
22 Feb 2019 at 19:10 ET                   

Whether it’s true or not, multiple reports now suggest that some form of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “report” will soon be released, and the U.S. political commentariat is bracing for the news.

Of course, no one seems to know for sure when any key documents from Mueller will be made public or when he will officially close up shop. But conservative writer Jennifer Rubin, a long-time critic of President Donald Trump, argued Thursday that whenever Congress receives Mueller’s conclusions, the pressure will then be left to Congress to decided how to proceed. She has little doubt that Mueller will decline to indict Trump, so if criminal charges are warranted, impeachment will be the only option.

“The immediate consequences for the president will be political,” she wrote in a new Washington Post op-ed. “Once Mueller is done, the host of other investigations will continue while the focus moves to Congress. Congress and the voters get the last say as to when and under what conditions Trump’s presidency will end.”

Like everyone else, Rubin doesn’t know what Mueller will ultimately conclude. And she notes that every step along the way, the special counsel has demonstrated that he is ahead of the game, revealing new explosive findings that haven’t previously been known.

Speculating about what might be in the report, she wrote:

    The only “collusion” by Trump we can definitively identify occurred in plain sight — his public request for the Russians to go find Hillary Clinton’s emails. WikiLeaks would later oblige, releasing the first emails within hours of the “Access Hollywood” tape’s release. (Trump’s efforts to pursue the Moscow Trump Tower deal despite Trump’s public denials provide a possible motivefor Trump to cover up his Russian connections, but do not on their face appear to be illegal.)

    More likely to be included in Mueller’s report is a catalogue of Trump’s efforts to disrupt and interfere with investigations into his and his campaign’s Russia contacts. Trump’s role in concocting phony cover stories (regarding the reason for firing James Comey as FBI director, to explain the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting), his offers to pardon witnesses, his efforts to influence the Manafort jury by publicly disparaging prosecutors, his attempts to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself, his attempt to persuade Comey to go easy on Flynn, and any potentially misleading written answers by Trump to Mueller’s written questions could be laid out so as to bring us to the inescapable conclusion that Trump obstructed justice.

It should be noted that Mueller has already provided a provocative detail about Trump’s call for the Russians to get Clinton’s emails. An indictment of the GRU officers involved in the hacking said that the Russians actively tried to access Clinton’s personal files the same day Trump explicitly made that public proclamation. There are also indications from the indictment of Roger Stone that the Trump ally may have had a role in ushering the release of the hacked emails on the day the “Access Hollywood” tape was released.

And for those who fear that the reported coming demise of special counsel’s office means newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr is prematurely silencing Mueller, Rubin is deeply skeptical.

“I am less concerned than many that Barr, who is a respected lawyer and owes Trump no particular loyalty, will bury the report, especially if Mueller has obtained approval from the chief judge to release grand jury materials to Congress,” she wrote. “Perpetuating rumors and speculation about what is in or not in the special counsel’s report serves no one’s interest.”


Trump’s ‘national emergency’ border wall cash grab flounders — a huge chunk of the money has already been spent: report

Raw Story

According to a new report in RollCall, some of the money President Trump wants to shuffle around from other federal programs to build his wall has already been spent, and is likely to be unavailable from the sources the Trump administration has previously identified.

Despite the ‘national emergency,’ Trump will still have to seek approval from both parties for some of the money, the report notes, effectively rendering a full one-third of the funds unavailable, RollCall’s John Donnelly writes.

As a result, it may be difficult for the president to circumvent Congress, who could still stop a large part of Trump’s ’emergency’ border wall funds from being spent.

“A reprogramming request must be approved by both Republicans and Democrats on the four authorizing and appropriating panels that oversee the Pentagon,” the new report notes. “Such approval in this case is all but certain to fail. All it would take is one chairman or ranking member to say no.”

Donnelly’s story quotes Indiana Democrat Peter J. Visclosky, chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, who said he would turn down any request to reprogram military money to pay for a border wall.

“I am adamantly opposed to the use of any funds provided by Congress to the Department of Defense for the unauthorized construction of a wall on the Southwest border,” Visclosky said. “I and the other members of the House Appropriations Committee will carefully examine each element of the President’s proposal and the serious jurisdictional and Constitutional concerns that it raises.”

Even some Republicans have said they are opposed to raiding military construction budgets to pay for Trump’s wall. Just this week, a GOP Congressman from Texas stated at a town hall that he is opposed of taking money away from previously earmarked military construction projects to build any border barrier.


Trump, Stephen Miller, and the ‘national sovereignty’ lie

Trump: 'If you don't have a wall system, we're not going to have a country'

By Greg Sargent
Opinion writer
February 22 2019
WA Post

We spend so much time chasing the small lies down rabbit holes that we often lose sight of the much bigger lies that undergird them. In this regard, one of the most monstrous lies we regularly hear from President Trump and his allies is the notion that our national sovereignty is under severe threat.

During Chris Wallace’s much-discussed cross-examination of Stephen Miller last weekend, Trump’s senior adviser pulled off a move of supreme rhetorical sleaze. In defending Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build his wall, Miller slipped this in with almost no time remaining for Wallace to correct him:

    This is a deep intellectual problem that is plaguing this city which is that we’ve had thousands of Americans die year after year after year because of threats crossing our southern border. … If the president can’t defend this country, then he cannot fulfill this constitutional oath of office.

Post fact checker Glenn Kessler has a new piece that dismantles this absurdity from every different angle. It’s entirely baseless. There isn’t any national comprehensive data set on people killed by undocumented immigrants, but as Kessler shows, if you extrapolate out using other data sets, the claim is not even close to credible.

What’s more, studies show that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans and that illegal immigration does not lead to increased crime or violence. And even if you give very generous treatment to the slippery rhetorical trick Miller uses — note that Miller refers to deaths at the hands of vaguely defined “threats” — and include deaths from drugs, this doesn’t support Miller’s argument, either, because Trump’s wall wouldn’t stop the flow of drugs, most of which come through official ports of entry.

A bigger absurdity

But what deserves more attention here is the much bigger underlying absurdity Miller’s claim is designed to push: the idea that we’re losing control of our country.

Miller claims that without the wall, Trump “can’t defend" our borders. Elsewhere in the Fox News interview, Miller broadens the claim: “You cannot conceive of a nation without a strong, secure border. It is fundamental and essential to the idea of sovereignty and national survival to have control over who enters and doesn’t enter the country.”

This is an assertion that Trump himself makes constantly — he regularly employs some variation of the formulation that “a country without borders isn’t a country” — yet it almost never gets examined in its own right.

It’s actually two lies in one. Let’s take the idea that we don’t have control over our borders. This is not true by any reasonable metric — illegal border crossings are near historic lows, while the number of Border Patrol agents has expanded to an extraordinary degree, and terrorists breaching the border is a nonexistent problem. This is all well documented. What needs to be pointed out more often is that these things blow up the second, bigger lie — that we don’t have a country or national sovereignty.

Indeed, a report from Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security found in 2017 that the southern border is “more difficult to illegally cross today than ever before.” That, too, renders the bigger lie even more absurd.

What about the big spike in asylum-seeking families? That is a very real problem. But it is not a problem of allegedly nonexistent borders, since these people are largely turning themselves in to seek asylum. Trump and Miller argue that many of these people are slipping into the interior while awaiting hearings, and have sought changes to the law to, for instance, make it easier to detain families together indefinitely. This is a worthy debate to have. The response is that such measures are deeply inhumane and that the better answer to the problem — which Trump absurdly hypes to begin with — is to invest more in streamlining and reorganizing the ways in which asylum seekers are processed.

But regardless of which side of that debate you take, there’s just no credible way to argue that this problem poses a serious threat to our national sovereignty, unless the real claim being made here is that any illegal infiltration of the country, no matter how minor in the larger scheme of things, represents a serious threat to it.

In truth, for Trump and Miller, the real goal is to dramatically downsize the numbers of asylum seekers in the country whether they are here legally or not. That’s why they keep trying to place limits on the ways asylum seekers can apply. (Notably, they are also busily slashing refugee flows at every chance they get.)

There’s one other pernicious argument here that must be addressed. Miller’s suggestion that there is a “deep intellectual problem in this city” is a variation of the claim that on illegal immigration, political elites are out of touch. As Trump recently put it:

    No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls, and gates, and guards.

But this demagoguery about elites coddling undocumented immigrants, too, is at its core a lie. Large majorities of Americans support giving them a path to legalization. They simply do not see the general presence of undocumented immigrants in this country as the threat to America that Trump and Miller keep hyping.

Trump and Miller really do view the levels of overall immigrants here — legally or not — as a threat to our national sovereignty. As Jacob Levy notes, the view that sovereignty is synonymous with restricting immigration to keep the nation and “its people” homogeneous is a hallmark of Trump’s type of demagogic, xenophobic populism.

But this Trump/Miller conception of national sovereignty fundamentally misstates what the term really means. If it connotes the ability for the nation to govern itself — that is, to control who gets in and who gets out — then if majorities legitimately got their elected representatives to let in immigrants or to let more remain here legally, they wouldn’t constitute a threat to our sovereignty, either. And on this question, political majorities are aligned against Trump and Miller, and with the Democratic political class, which supports current levels of legal immigration and wants to give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.


Why there is no end in sight for Trump’s legal troubles — regardless of what Mueller does

Matthew Chapman, Alternet
22 Feb 2019 at 12:18 ET                   

With special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe reportedly delivering a report to Attorney General William Barr as soon as next week, President Donald Trump may feel that if the report fails to implicate him directly in any specific wrongdoing, he will finally be out of the woods.

But as former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night, that is far from the case.

For one thing, Katyal said, while the report may be a final summation, signifying the end of the investigation under special counsel regulations, which is what the media seems to assume, that is not necessarily what it is. “There’s also a separate provision in the regulations for ‘urgent action reports,’ and it’s certainly possible that all this is is Mueller saying he’s providing some sort of report but not a final report. It doesn’t say he’s concluding the investigation on his own or anything like that.”

For another thing, if it is indeed the final report, Barr would then have to write his own report and deliver it to Congress, “and it’s contemplated in the regulations that that report should be public, if the public administration of justice so requires. So two different reports.”

“But most importantly, these are only about Mueller and his investigation, which is a very limited one, into Russia counterintelligence and then obstruction of justice, the firing of [FBI Director James] Comey,” Katyal added. “It doesn’t have to do with the Southern District investigation, the Trump Foundation, the other things Congress is looking into and the like. So that’s all separate.” And worse still, if the investigation only makes a brief summary public, that could actually be “counterproductive” to the president, because “it won’t resolve anything.”

If Trump believes the end of the Mueller investigation will be the end of his legal problems, Katyal said, he’s in for a big surprise. The investigation, he said, is like “the internet,” and when Trump focuses all his anger on the Mueller probe, “he’s like a 1950s hacker cutting a phone line … this is a much bigger, much more metastasized investigation.”

Watch below:

    Former Acting Solicitor General @neal_katyal says Pres. Trump seems not to fully understand the number of legal threats he faces outside the Mueller probe:

    "He's like a 1950s hacker cutting a phone line. This is a much bigger much more metastasized investigation." pic.twitter.com/ML4aTQtCWV

    — Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) February 21, 2019

Katyal is right. There are numerous investigations unfolding into Trump and the GOP that have nothing to do with Mueller, from the Southern District of New York’s probe into the president’s former attorney Michael Cohen paying off women, to the District of Columbia prosecutors investigating admitted Russian agent Maria Butina’s infiltration of the NRA, to the New York State Attorney General’s and Tax Office’s probe of the Trump Foundation, to the criminal investigation of Trump’s inaugural fund, to the lawsuitalleging Trump violated the Emoluments Clause when foreign diplomats stayed at his hotel, to the endless string of investigations in Congress into his finances, his actions in office, and his Cabinet members.

Even if Mueller goes away, Trump’s problems have no end in sight.


Trump ridiculed by Canadian premier over disastrous tariff debacle: ‘He’s hurting the U.S. more than Canada’

Raw Story

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative premier slammed American President Donald Trump’s trade policy with its northern neighbor during a speech in Washington, D.C. Thursday.

HuffPost Canada reported that Doug Ford — the province’s leader and brother to the controversial, drug-using Toronto mayor Rob Ford — ridiculed Trump’s tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel.

“To be very frank, it’s hurting the U.S. more than it’s even hurting Canada,” Ford said at the event organized by the Canadian American Business Council. “For every job that they think they’re creating (with the tariffs), they’re losing 16 jobs.”

The Ontario premier noted that beyond the harm it causes the United States, the tariffs also hurt Canada as well.

“When we ship a part, some parts go back and forth across the border eight times,” Ford said. “And every time they go across they’re getting dinged.”

Ford added that he intends to raise the issue with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer when they meet in Washington this week.

“We’re just provincial,” he said, “(but) for 19 states, their largest trading partner is Ontario.”

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« Reply #3666 on: Today at 06:16 AM »

NASA finds a second huge impact crater beneath Greenland’s ice sheet


A new impact crater has been found under more than a mile of ice in northwest Greenland. Credit: NASA Goddard.

Scientists didn’t think they would be able to find evidence of ancient impact craters in places such as Greenland or Antarctica, which should have been cleared away by erosion by underlying ice. But, in November, researchers found a huge 30-kilometer-wide crater (19 miles) beneath Greenland’s Hiawatha Glacier. It was the first meteorite impact found beneath an ice sheet, a breakthrough moment in geoscience that combined the latest imaging technologies. Now, researchers report finding an even larger crater beneath Greenland’s thick ice. With a width of 36.5 km (22 miles), if confirmed, the new crater would be the 22nd largest impact crater found on Earth.

Beneath the ice

The new site was identified just 183 km (114 miles) from Hiawatha, but, judging from current evidence, the two impacts weren’t likely made during the same time. Both are fairly recent though. Scientists estimate that Hiawatha is no more than three million years old, while the new impact site in northwest Greenland was likely formed by an asteroid impact within the past 2.6 million years. Although it doesn’t have a formal name yet, researchers are considering naming it the Paterson crater, in honor of the late glaciologist Stan Paterson, who helped reconstruct climate data for the past 100,000 years using ice cores from Greenland.

    “We’ve surveyed the Earth in many different ways, from land, air, and space—it’s exciting that discoveries like these are still possible,” said Joe MacGregor, a glaciologist with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who made contributions to the discovery of both craters.

MacGregor was inspired by last year’s discovery to scour topographic maps for more signs of other craters. He eventually noticed a circular pattern in an ice surface map made using data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. His suspicions were confirmed by raw radar data, including those collected by NASA’s Operation IceBridge, which were used to study the topography of the bedrock beneath the ice.

The images that MacGregor and colleagues assembled show all the hallmarks of an impact crater, including a flat, bowl-shaped depression in the bedrock, surrounded by an elevated rim and centrally located peaks. Measurements also revealed a negative gravity anomaly over the area, which is also characteristic of impact craters.

    “The only other circular structure that might approach this size would be a collapsed volcanic caldera,” MacGregor said in a statement. “But the areas of known volcanic activity in Greenland are several hundred miles away. Also, a volcano should have a clear positive magnetic anomaly, and we don’t see that at all.”

Given the proximity of the two craters, it’s plausible that a double asteroid system impacted the area. In order to investigate this possibility, the researchers studied the erosion rates of the two craters. The findings suggest that the new crater is far more eroded than the Hiawatha crater, and consequently older. Previously, two pairs of geographically close craters in Ukraine and Canada were also found to be unrelated.

    “The existence of a third pair of unrelated craters is modestly surprising but we don’t consider it unlikely,” MacGregor said. “On the whole, the evidence we’ve assembled indicates that this new structure is very likely an impact crater, but presently it looks unlikely to be a twin with Hiawatha.”

The findings appeared in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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« Reply #3667 on: Today at 06:18 AM »

Climate change will make extreme cold more prevalent — and that’s bad news for some animals


A team of researchers from Binghamton University investigated the effect of climate change on amphibian health and susceptibility to parasites. The researchers focused on cold weather variability, a less-discussed consequence of climate change, and discovered that it makes amphibians more susceptible to some hazards while lessening the risk of others (such as parasites). They hope the study will help showcase the important role cold weather variability, not just warmer temperatures, play in the context of climate change.

Change goes both ways

    “There is a lot of misconception that global climate change only refers to an increase in warming temperatures,” says Jessica Hua, assistant professor of biological sciences at Binghamton and paper co-author. “We feel that the research in this paper is important because it highlights that global climate change is more complex than just an increase in average temperature. In fact, global climate change is also predicted to increase the prevalence of extreme cold temperature events, as well as increase the amount of variation in temperature fluctuations.”

While climate change is recognized as “one of the most serious issues facing us today,” its impact on animal and plant populations isn’t known in depth. Weather variability, in particular, can have dramatic effects on natural systems. For example, rising mean temperatures prompt organisms to breed earlier in the spring, the team explains, which paradoxically increases their risk of experiencing wild fluctuations in temperature during early development — especially cold weather.

These temperatures don’t have to fall into the ‘deadly’ range to cause damage, the team adds, to alter how susceptible amphibians are to other stressors. To investigate the issue further, they placed wood frog embryos in various cold temperature regimes, researchers looked specifically at the consequences of exposure to these lower temperatures.

Amphibians exposed to constant cold conditions as embryos were more susceptible to road salt contamination, but were able to recover as they aged, the team reports. This is particularly relevant, as salt use on roads is predicted to increase exactly as these extreme cold temperature events are taking place. The frogs exposed to cold temperatures as embryos were also smaller overall as they aged, and developed at a slower pace. This ended up protecting them against parasites as their small stature made them less attractive targets.

These results were not anticipated, the team adds, and determining whether the impact from the cold was harmful or helpful for the amphibians overall is difficult to gauge.

    “We initially predicted that exposure to cold temperatures would be stressful to developing embryos. As a consequence, we expected that exposure to stressful conditions early in life would make amphibians less able to deal with other stressors later in life (i.e. parasites),” Hua said. “We were also surprised because past studies have found that cooler temperatures can increase amphibian susceptibility to another parasite (the fungus, chytrid). In this case, the negative effects of the cooler temperatures on amphibians are driven by the fact that the fungus survived better in cooler temperatures.”

Amphibian populations are on the decline globally, so considering the effects of cold temperatures may be important in understanding how to better protect them in the future, the team concludes.

The paper “The effects of different cold-temperature regimes on development, growth, and susceptibility to an abiotic and biotic stressor” has been published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

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« Reply #3668 on: Today at 06:19 AM »

Norway to develop copper mine in pristine Arctic environment


In what has been viewed a landmark decision, Norway has decided to allow the construction of a new copper mine close to Europe’s northernmost point, in an area inhabited by native reindeer herders and fishermen.

View of Kvalsund. Image credits: Ludovic Péron.

It’s a classic industry versus environment problem. Ironically, the mine’s development has been enabled by climate change, which has made the frigid area more accessible, and the government has agreed to greenlight the project. The mine is expected to generate substantial revenue and jobs in the area.

    “The mining project will strengthen the industrial base in the north,” Industry Minister Torbjoern Roe Isaksen of the centre-right coalition government said in a statement. “It will contribute positively to the local community, with new jobs and skills.”

However, the mine digging could severely damage reindeer summer pastures, and there are also plans to dump tailings into a nearby fjord, which would destroy spawning grounds for the coastal cod.

Norwegian officials say that there will be little harm done to the environment, but local fishermen and herders disagree.

    “I am shocked by the government’s decision. I had hoped that the Norwegian government would have heard our arguments … They do not take us seriously,” reindeer herder Nils Mathis Sara told Reuters. “We will definitely protest against this decision.”

You could hardly imagine a more picturesque village than Kvalsund, where the mine is planned. The painted wooden houses hug closely together in the Repparfjord, bearing the common sub-zero temperatures. However, this lovely picturesque rural area also has picturesque rural problems. The village has 1,027 inhabitants, and much of the municipality money is spent on caring for the elderly, as younger people have moved away in search of more attractive economic prospects.

Much of the traditional Sámi culture has been lost in the past century, but this is still one of the most authentic Sámi areas in Scandinavia. The two most important economic activities have been traditionally fishing and reindeer herding, though, in more recent years, tourism has also become more important.

All herders in Arctic nations (such as Russia, Canada, or US) echo the Norwegian Sámi concerns, citing threats from climate change, oil spills, mining, and poaching. The Arctic has experienced accelerated warming, with temperatures rising by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) since pre-industrial times, twice the global average.

In a way, the Kvalsund conundrum can serve as a good metaphor for the entire planet: on one hand, economic prospects are appealing, but on the other hand, they can come at devastating environmental damage. Sooner rather than later, the entire world will have to make that decision. Apparently, Norway already has.

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« Reply #3669 on: Today at 06:21 AM »

World's food supply under 'severe threat' from loss of biodiversity

Plants, insects and organisms crucial to food production in steep decline, says UN

Jonathan Watts Global environment editor
23 Feb 2019 23.05 GMT

The world’s capacity to produce food is being undermined by humanity’s failure to protect biodiversity, according to the first UN study of the plants, animals and micro-organisms that help to put meals on our plates.

The stark warning was issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation after scientists found evidence the natural support systems that underpin the human diet are deteriorating around the world as farms, cities and factories gobble up land and pump out chemicals.

Over the last two decades, approximately 20% of the earth’s vegetated surface has become less productive, said the report, launched on Friday.

It noted a “debilitating” loss of soil biodiversity, forests, grasslands, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass beds and genetic diversity in crop and livestock species. In the oceans, a third of fishing areas are being overharvested.

Many species that are indirectly involved in food production, such as birds that eat crop pests and mangrove trees that help to purify water, are less abundant than in the past, noted the study, which collated global data, academic papers and reports by the governments of 91 countries.

It found 63% of plants, 11% of birds, and 5% of fish and fungi were in decline. Pollinators, which provide essential services to three-quarters of the world’s crops, are under threat. As well as the well-documented decline of bees and other insects, the report noted that 17% of vertebrate pollinators, such as bats and birds, were threatened with extinction.

Once lost, the species that are critical to our food systems cannot be recovered, it said. “This places the future of our food and the environment under severe threat.”

“The foundations of our food systems are being undermined,” wrote Graziano da Silva, the director general of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, in an introduction to the study. “Parts of the global report make sombre reading. It is deeply concerning that in so many production systems in so many countries, biodiversity for food and agriculture and the ecosystem services it provides are reported to be in decline.”

Agriculture was often to blame, he said, due to land-use changes and unsustainable management practices, such as over-exploitation of the soil and a reliance on pesticides, herbicides and other agro-chemicals.

Most countries said the main driver for biodiversity loss was land conversion, as forests were cut down for farm fields, and meadows covered in concrete for cities, factories and roads. Other causes include overexploitation of water supplies, pollution, over-harvesting, the spread of invasive species and climate change.

The trend is towards uniformity. Although the world is producing more food than in the past, it is relying on ever-expanding monocultures.

Two-thirds of crop production comes from just nine species (sugar cane, maize, rice, wheat, potatoes, soybeans, oil-palm fruit, sugar beet and cassava), while many of the remaining 6,000 cultivated plant species are in decline and wild food sources are becoming harder to find.

Although consumers did not yet notice any impact when they went shopping, the authors of the report said that could change.

“The supermarkets are full of food, but it is mostly imports from other countries and there are not many varieties. The reliance on a small number of species means they are more susceptible to disease outbreaks and climate change. It renders food production less resilient,” warned Julie Bélanger, the coordinator of the report.

As examples, the report noted how overdependence on a narrow range of species was a major factor in the famine caused by potato blight in Ireland in the 1840s, cereal crop failures in the US in the 20th century, and losses of taro production in Samoa in the 1990s.

“There is an urgent need to change the way food is produced and ensure that biodiversity is not something that is swept aside but is treated as an irreplaceable resource and a key part of management strategies,” said Bélanger.

The report found evidence that attitudes and practices were slowly changing. In recent years, there has been a greater uptake in sustainable forest management, ecosystem approaches to fisheries, aquaponics and polyculture. But the authors said there had been insufficient progress. Organic agriculture, for example, now covers 58m hectares (143m acres) worldwide, but this is only 1% of global farmland.

The report signalled a heightened interest by governments in biodiversity, a subject that rarely gets the same attention as climate change. Many states reported economic losses caused by disappearing or shifting ecosystems. Ireland, Norway, Poland and Switzerland noted shrinking bumblebee populations. Egypt was concerned that its fishing industry would suffer because fish were migrating northwards due to rising ocean temperatures. Gambia said communities were being forced to buy expensive industrially-produced products because free wild food sources were becoming scarcer.

The biodiversity crisis is set to rise up the global agenda, with discussion on the topic at the next G7 in April, a World Conservation Congress in June, and then a major UN conference in Beijing next year.

“Around the world, the library of life that has evolved over billions of years – our biodiversity – is being destroyed, poisoned, polluted, invaded, fragmented, plundered, drained and burned at a rate not seen in human history,” Ireland’s president, Michael Higgins, said at a biodiversity conference in Dublin on Thursday. “If we were coal miners we’d be up to our waists in dead canaries.”

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« Reply #3670 on: Today at 06:24 AM »

LGBT rights threatened in Brazil under new far-right president

Gay lawmaker flees Brazil due to death threats

Brazil's first openly gay congressman Jean Wyllys will not return to Brazil to serve a third term in office, after constant death threats to him and his family.

By Anthony Faiola and Marina Lopes
February 2/22/2019
WA Post

SAO PAULO, Brazil — In President Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, boys will be boys, and girls will be girls. And that’s an order.

Damares Alves, the evangelical pastor who serves as Bolsonaro’s minister of women and family, declared on her first day in office that in the new Brazil, “girls wear pink, and boys wear blue.”

“Girls will be princesses, and boys will be princes,” she added. “There will be no more ideological indoctrination of children and teenagers in Brazil.”

Bolsonaro’s minister of education, Ricardo Vélez Rodríguez, shut down a section of the ministry devoted to diversity and human rights. He has said he is against the discussion of “gender theory” — which studies gender identity — in the classroom.

Bolsonaro, too, has left no question about where he stands on these issues.

“We will unite people, value the family, respect religions and our Judeo-Christian tradition, combat gender ideology and rescue our values,” Bolsonaro said at his New Year’s Day inauguration.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro names evangelical pastor Damares Alves the country’s new minister for women and the family Jan. 1. (Isac Nobrega/AFP/Getty Images)

The administration’s actions are raising concerns among liberals, who are bracing for policies embraced by a president who once said he would prefer a dead son to a gay son. Last month, Jean Wyllys, Brazil’s only openly gay congressman, gave up his seat and fled the country amid death threats and hateful messages.

Over the past 10 years, Brazil’s LGBT population secured several civil rights victories in the courts, including same-sex marriage in 2013 and legal transgender name and gender changes in 2018. But as the LGBT community gained new rights, Brazil was growing more conservative. A third of the country is now evangelical, up from 15 percent in 2000, according to Datafolha, a local pollster.

This change has been reflected in Brazil’s increasingly powerful evangelical caucus, which now claims 1 in 6 members in Brazil’s lower house, making it the most conservative National Congress since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1984.

Under Bolsonaro, the new Ministry of Women, Family and Human Rights declined to add the LGBT community as a group explicitly protected by its mandate. Last month, the health official who headed the nation’s HIV prevention task force was fired, apparently for authorizing a campaign aimed at educating transgender Brazilians.

Gender and sexuality have become a primary target for evangelical groups over the past decade. A question about trans culture on a high school standardized test, for example, drew widespread criticism from Brazil’s growing religious right, which argued that gender education had gone too far. In 2017, the government decided to withdraw mention of gender identity from curriculums. Some conservative politicians in state and city governments are now pushing for a ban on any discussion of gender diversity and sexual orientation in the classroom.

Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/21f4777c-8ceb-4a02-a8ae-1b3a2acb8388' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

“Gender ideology is a field of study with no scientific backing that causes confusion for children in development because it negates the biological identity of the child and destroys distinctions between masculine and feminine. It is an extremely grave social experiment,” said Cleber Cabral Siedschlag, coordinator of Front for the Defense of the Christian Family, a conservative group against the teaching of liberal ideology in schools.

Beyond the classroom, LGBT groups worry that the election of Bolsonaro will give new life to bills calling for their rights to be revoked or curtailed. These proposals, until now, have languished in the National Congress.

One such bill seeks to define a family as a relationship between a man and woman, which the LGBT community fears could have implications for health care, adoption and welfare benefits. Evangelical backers of Bolsonaro also are pushing for a new airing of a bathroom law that would compel people to use the restrooms associated with their biological sex.

The bills face uphill battles given centrist and left-wing opposition, but critics say the new government’s aggressive stance is nevertheless fueling a toxic atmosphere for people in the LGBT community.

In recent years, killings of LGBT Brazilians have soared, a trend activists say is getting worse as homophobic rhetoric finds an official perch.

Hate crimes in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, peaked in the months leading up to October’s presidential election, as Bolsonaro, once a fringe politician, entered the mainstream. The city registered an average of 16 hate-crime cases a day in August, September and October, more than triple the daily average for the first half of the year, according to a tally of police reports obtained by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper using freedom-of-information requests. Homophobic hate crimes in particular rose 75 percent during those months.

Last year, Bolsonaro said he rejected the votes of anyone who was violent. But experts monitoring hate crimes say they are becoming more frequent.

On Dec. 21, Anderson de Sousa Lima, 25, was walking down Avenida Paulista, the street that hosts Brazil’s largest annual pride parade, with his husband of three years, Plinio Lima. When a man behind them started shouting homophobic slurs, saying they should die, his husband confronted the man, he said.

The man stabbed Plinio with a Swiss army knife, he said.

He watched as Plinio stumbled backward, grabbed his hand and said, “I’ve been stabbed.” In moments, Plinio’s black shirt was soaked in blood, and he fell to the ground, where he bled to death in his husband’s arms.

“He took away his life, but my life ended. I don’t know what I will do without him,” said Lima, who said he had never suffered any aggression in the past. He blamed the current political climate, in part, for the attack.

“All it took was Bolsonaro to be voted into office for this to happen,” he said. “It’s not all his fault — people are born this way — but it created a revolt. Brazil was accepting things, but now I see the situation is getting worse.”

The climate for the LGBT community is so fearful that hundreds of couples, on the suggestion of the Brazilian Bar Association, have rushed to marry in the months since Bolsonaro’s victory in October, fearing the 2013 court decision that legalized same-sex marriage is at risk. Bolsonaro has called the decision “a blow to family unity and family values.”

In June 2018, Brazil’s courts ruled that transgender people could change their genders and names at registrar offices without undergoing physical exams — another hard-won victory for the LGBT community. But that, too, activists fear, could be under siege. That threat has led to a stampede of transgender Brazilians seeking to register their new names and genders.

Sol Rocha, a 25-year-old veterinarian and trans woman, has been doing odd jobs to save the $100 she’ll have to pay in fees to change her legal gender from male to female.

“For me, it’s very important to do this as quickly as possible, to get my documents as quickly as possible,” she said, “because I know that soon we won’t be able to do this.”

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« Reply #3671 on: Today at 06:34 AM »

Nigeria election goes ahead amid violence and tech failures

Reports of attacks and gunfire in some areas as voting gets under way in presidential poll

Ruth Maclean, Eromo Egbejule in Lagos, and Ismail Alfa in Maiduguri
Sat 23 Feb 2019 10.53 GMT

Nigeria’s long-awaited presidential election has arrived, amid heavy gunfire, voting technology failures and reports of vote buying in some areas.

Some voters arrived at polling stations at 3am to ensure their vote was counted in an election expected to be dominated by the incumbent, Muhammadu Buhari, and the former vice-president Atiku Abubakar.

“I will congratulate myself. I’m going to be the winner,” Buhari said after casting his vote in his northern hometown of Daura, responding to a question about whether he would congratulate his opponent if he lost.

Hundreds of people fled Geidam in the north-eastern state of Yobe after a reported attack by the Boko Haram splinter group Iswap, which is affiliated to Islamic State. In Maiduguri, people woke to the sound of heavy gunfire, but authorities said it was “not targeted at members of the public but was for security purposes” as they called on voters to turn out en masse.

“There’s no attack on any part of Maiduguri and hence no threat to public peace and order,” a police spokesman said. Some residents questioned why the security forces would choose to hold an unannounced drill likely to cause panic only a few hours before polls opened.

Ibrahim Usman, who voted in Maiduguri, said his elation at being able to vote was almost destroyed by the failure of smart card readers at his polling station in Abbaganaram primary school. The readers, and the permanent voter cards (PVCs) needed to use them, were introduced in 2015 to accredit voters.

“It delays the process, and can you believe that it took the wisdom of the party agents to agree to the use of manual ways?” Usman said.

In Lagos in the south, young people woke early and braved the drizzle to get to polling stations, with some planning to vote for candidates outside the establishment.

“They [Abubakar and Buhari] are both terrible people and not fit to be president,” said Oluchi Nzeadibe, 27, an advertising executive who arrived at her polling station at Ebute Metta just before 8am to avoid long queues. She said she would vote for the former deputy central bank governor Kingsley Moghalu.

“I don’t think Atiku will bring any real change if he wins. And all the ‘experience and leadership’ they’ve sold us at all levels, what has it brought us really? This old bunch needs to go. Let’s have a Justin Trudeau for once, a younger person. I’m voting Moghalu because he’s different and hasn’t been in power before.”

Voters reported that agents of the two major parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), arrived at many polling booths and offered voters financial inducements.

Fatoye Oluwaseyi, a lawyer, said he had to politely dismiss agents from both parties who approached him with 5,000 naira (£10). He told them he had made the decision to vote out Buhari’s administration a year ago.

He said he was voting against the ruling party because Buhari’s administration has been inept and showed a “brazen disregard for the rule of law”.

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« Reply #3672 on: Today at 06:36 AM »

State of emergency declared in Sudan by under-fire president

Clashes between police and protesters break out as Omar al-Bashir announces measures

Reuters in Khartoum and Associated Press in Cairo
Sat 23 Feb 2019 00.25 GMT

Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has appointed a new prime minister, but left the country’s current defence, foreign and justice ministers in place following the declaration of a one-year state of emergency.

Just hours after announcing that he would dissolve the country’s central and state governments, Bashir appointed new state governors who were all from the military, according to a presidency statement.

Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 coup, said on Friday he would postpone pushing for constitutional amendments that would allow him to seek a third term in office.

Facing genocide charges, Bashir’s rule has been rocked by civil wars and increasing street demonstrations. A heavy security crackdown has left scores of protesters dead. At least 57 people have been killed since December.

“Our country is passing through a difficult and complicated phase in our national history,” Bashir said in a speech televised live from the presidential palace in Khartoum. “We will get out of it stronger and more united and determined.”

In a rare acknowledgment, Bashir described the demands of the protesters as “legitimate” but said there were attempts to exploit the youth protests “to take the country to the unknown”.

The state of emergency will give the security forces a free hand in cracking down on protesters and carrying out detentions and it places heavier restrictions on the press and opposition parties.

The announcements were instantly met with street demonstrations, demanding Bashir step down. Witnesses said riot police fired teargas and arrested a number of protesters.

Sudan has been gripped by nationwide protests since 19 December. The demonstrations, which show no sign of abating, were triggered by rising prices and shortages but quickly turned to calls for Bashir to step down.

Bashir’s term ends in 2020 and he has repeatedly promised not to make new runs for the presidency. Without amending the constitution, he cannot run for a third term. His announcement came days after a parliamentary committee that is amending the constitution to scrap presidential term limits cancelled its meetings.

The Sudanese Professional Association, which is spearheading the country’s demonstrations, warned of any measures that could “turn against” the demands of the Sudanese people and vowed that it would respond with escalating street protests.

“The demands of this revolution are crystal clear,” the statement said. “The regime and its head must step down.”

However, Bashir warned the opposition of the “zero sum” game that created chaos, pointing to the wave of the Arab spring uprisings that led to civil wars in countries such as Libya and Yemen.

As he was speaking in the presidential palace, dozens of protesters were taking to the streets in Khartoum and other places, chanting, “just fall”.

Shelving intentions to amend the constitution to pave the way for a third term in office appears to be the only political concession Bashir has made so far after two months of demonstrations.

“What Bashir presented are tactics to keep his regime alive,” said Mubarak al-Mahdi of the Umma party. “Declaring a state of emergency means suppressing freedom of expression and demonstration and tightening grip on the revolution.”

Sudan’s main opposition groups called for a four-year transitional government followed by elections.

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« Reply #3673 on: Today at 06:39 AM »

The battle to save Lapland: 'First, they took the religion. Now they want to build a railroad'

Will a railway across Europe’s last great wilderness create new jobs – or destroy the Sami people’s ancient way of life?

Tom Wall
Sat 23 Feb 2019 11.00 GMT

The frozen white expanse of Lake Inari stretches off towards banks of dark birch and pine trees marking the distant shore line. There is not even the faintest breeze – the sub-zero air is perfectly still and very, very cold. A delicate dusting of snowflakes has fallen in the night, a pristine layer of gleaming crystals resting on the thick sheet of snow and ice.

Jussa Seurujärvi, 22, momentarily stops helping his father, 51, and sister, 16, pull up fishing nets from holes in the ice to take in the long, slow Arctic sunrise, which glows with pastel strokes of yellows, purples and pinks. His brow furrows slightly and he says with a gentle determination: “I want to continue living from this land just as my ancestors have done for hundreds and hundreds of years. This is a way of life for us – it is not just a job.”

His father quickly dispatches five prized white fish and a slimy looking burbot ensnared in the net. Almost every part will be used by the family, with even the burbot’s muddy-green scales destined for his mother’s handicrafts. “The Sami way has always been that you take what you need – you don’t take any more,” says Seurujärvi.

This is the scared heart of the Sami homeland in the upper reaches of Finnish Lapland. It is a largely pristine landscape of forests, marshes, scree-covered fells and deep, clean lakes. Often described as Europe’s last great wilderness, it is also home to lynxes, brown bears, wolverines and golden eagles. Thousands of tourists come every year to enjoy the unspoiled nature and marvel at wonders such as the northern lights; more than 100,000 foreign visitors, including 22,000 British tourists, passed through the region’s capital, Rovaniemi, in December 2017.

    There are thought to be about 1,000 Sami words devoted to reindeer appearance, behaviour and habits

Yet climate scientists and locals warn the region is under threat like never before from powerful global political and economic forces keen to exploit its plentiful natural resources and open up lucrative Arctic shipping routes to Asia. The Sami – who have inhabited these harsh northern latitudes since the last ice age and are the only indigenous people in the EU – fear that proposals to build a €2.9bn railway to the EU’s first Arctic port, in Norway, will provide mining and logging companies with the infrastructure they need to venture ever further into the wilder, untouched parts of Lapland.

The three municipalities of northern Lapland promote the project to global investors as a way of developing the region’s ore fields and timber industry, as well as exploiting oil and gas reserves in the Barents Sea, which contain 5‑13% of the world’s untapped oil and 20-30% of the world’s untapped gas. They claim it could one day carry millions of tonnes of goods to Europe from container ships taking advantage of melting sea ice in the Northeast Passage.

Although government officials working on the proposed route have this month raised concerns about the scheme’s finances, Finland’s transport minister, Anne Berner, insists it remains a strategic goal for the Nordic country. “Most railway projects are not financially valid or solid in their initial plans. The Arctic rail is still a part of the strategic long-term plan of connecting Finland to other parts of the world, including central Europe,” she says.

As the sun begins its descent below the tree line at 3pm, Seurujärvi takes grass on his ski-mobile to feed 25 or so local reindeer he has gathered in the snow-draped forests near his home. “When we have enough reindeer, we will have a round-up and other herders will come and take theirs and we will keep ours,” he explains, pointing out the different markings on their backs.

Reindeer are revered in Sami culture because for thousands of years these perfectly adapted Arctic survivors have provided families with meat and milk; hides for clothing, shoes and tents; bones and antlers for tools, handicrafts and weapons; and sinews for sewing. This is reflected in the language: there are thought to be about 1,000 Sami words devoted to reindeer appearance, behaviour and habits. Or as Seurujärvi puts it: “Without the reindeer, the Sami people wouldn’t be.”

Yet the government’s preferred route for the railway – which was formally announced in March last year – would pass between 5km and 10km from Seurujärvi’s home, cutting in two the land used by his herd and six others in the reindeer cooperative on the north side of Lake Inari. Seurujärvi fears this would spell the end for the reindeer herding practised by the Sami, in which the semi-domesticated animals are allowed to graze freely, consuming more than 400 different types of plants. “Everybody would lose their jobs if the railway comes. Our land would be divided – it would be like a new border,” he says. “Reindeer follow migration paths through forests. If they can’t, there will not be enough food to feed them all.”

If the railway is unfenced, accidents with trains speeding at up to 220km/h could decimate herds, especially when they are drawn into open spaces to escape clouds of mosquitoes that rise from marshes in the summer months.

Seurujärvi first heard about the plans on social media last year. “I saw it on Facebook – I couldn’t believe it,” he says.


It is not just reindeer herders on remote farms who were the last to hear about major infrastructure projects in their homeland. In the icy black of the early evening, Sami parliament president Tiina Sanila-Aikio is heating up reindeer soup in her home on the outskirts of Inari village, which serves as the centre of cultural and political life for the 10,500 registered Sami in Finland. Sanila-Aikio is a former rock musician and language teacher who took on the job when the last president resigned in protest at what he saw as moves by the Finnish state to forcibly assimilate the Sami.

She discovered the railway plan while checking her phone in bed in June 2017. “I read it in the media. I didn’t believe it was true. They did not even mention the Sami,” she says between mouthfuls of silky soup, enriched with meaty reindeer bones. The parliament has since been consulted and has made clear its opposition. But the government and municipalities have been developing detailed plans regardless. Sanila-Aikio sees the Finnish authorities’ stance as a continuation of longstanding colonial attitudes towards the Sami, which saw their spiritual beliefs, language and democratic village councils known as Siida suppressed over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries. “First, they took the religion, then they broke the Siida system, then they took the lands and the language. And now they want to build a railroad,” she says.

Almost every Sami family can tell you stories of children taken to boarding schools and beaten if they spoke Sami after the second world war. Or relatives from the same generation stripped naked and measured by officials trying to establish their racial inferiority. Although much has changed since those dark days – the Sami now have an elected parliament, and language and culture rights enshrined in the Finnish constitution – they do not have ultimate control of their lands and waters. Finland, unlike Norway, has not ratified the UN Independent Labour Organization’s convention of indigenous people, which would give the Sami a greater say over their homeland. Nor has the Finnish state apologised for the treatment of the Sami, which both Norway and Sweden did in the 1990s.

Sanila-Aikio says the parliament would not be able to stop corporations using the railway to get even more raw materials out of the Sami homeland. “Our previous president used to say that the only thing we can really decide is the date of our meetings,” she notes, with a sardonic smile. At present, only logging and gold panning take place in the Sami homeland. Last year, 4,250 hectares of forest were earmarked for felling and 253 gold extraction permits were in place, including 15 new ones for heavy digging machinery. Sanila-Aikio says this is only the start: “We don’t have any mines yet. But they are very close – there are mines all around the Sami area in Finland, Russia, Norway and Sweden.” She calls this process a “slow colonisation”, under which their lands are divided by the railway and handed over to outside industries. “This means the end of the Sami people, because there are no possibilities to practise traditional livelihoods,” she says, her eyes starting to fill with tears. “Then the Sami are extinct.”

There are also fears the project will endanger Lapland’s delicate ecosystems, which are crucial to the fight against runaway climate change. Finnish climate scientist Tero Mustonen – who has been studying the Arctic region of the Nordic countries for more than 20 years – says ecologically pristine parts of northern Lapland will be completely transformed by the railway. “These areas are providing us with climate security. They are the lungs of Europe and the carbon sinks for the future,” he says on the phone from a climate conference. Mustonen, a lead author for the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says Finland must decide if the promised GDP growth is worth the risk: “What are the economic benefits of those shipping containers compared to the benefits that rivers and marsh mires have provided to us over millennia in terms of climate security?” The peat-rich soil in Lapland’s wetlands traps vast amounts of carbon, preventing it from contributing to climate change, while rivers act as a conveyor belt, bringing nutrients and carbon between the sea and inland lakes.

    Finland was last year ranked as the best place to invest by mining companies. 'It is California 1848. It is a gold rush'

Mustonen has produced the only study so far examining the ecological impact of the railway for the Sami parliament. He found engineers would have to quarry for rocks every 4km along the northern stretch of the 465km route to shore up the rails and service road, as well as diverting thousands of brooks, lakes, rivers and streams. “The railroad itself will be roughly 15m across,” he says. “But creating a network of service roads and quarries will leave a crater at least 100m wide across an area that has no infrastructure.”

Though Mustonen cannot predict exactly how much industry will follow, he points out that mining companies are already scouring Lapland for new deposits. “It is a bonanza. It is California 1848. It is a gold rush,” he says. “We offer stability and western-style services, in the same sort of poorly regulated legal framework as Congo or Russia. The taxation is minimal and the mining authorities are in favour of giving these lands to these companies.” Finland, which has given over an estimated 13% of its entire land mass to mining activities, was last year ranked as the best place to invest by mining and exploration companies.


Despite these warnings, there appears to be plenty of support for the railway in southern Lapland, perhaps because some locals believe it will bring more industrial jobs to an area that in the past has suffered from high unemployment. The small town of Sodankylä, which is on the proposed route, is experiencing a mining boom, with a 6.7% unemployment rate – the lowest in Lapland.

An hour or so outside the town’s busy centre lies the biggest mine in Finland: Kevitsa. This vast open-cast pit – which is owned by the Swedish mining firm Boliden – employs 480, mainly local, people, along with 250 contractors. In an almost impenetrable blizzard of snow, giant yellow trucks trundle up and down a spiral of steep dirt roads towards the bottom of the blast-scarred pit 400 metres below ground level. Every year the trucks remove 45m tonnes of waste rock and ore. The extracted copper, nickel and gold is then sold on European metal markets, with some of the rarer metals ending up in China.

In a control room overlooking the pit, two workers are taking a break before more rock is blasted away. Truck driver Heidi Salumäe says the mine has been good for the area. “Sodankylä is livelier now,” she says. “There are more people in town. There are customers in shops.” Salumäe, whose husband and brother also work here, says the town was struggling before the mine opened in 2012. “Youngsters were forced to go after they finished school, mostly to southern Finland. Businesses were closing. Without the mine coming, this place would have died,” she says.

Digger operator Antti Kunnari, whose two brothers also work at the mine, is supportive of the railway project. “It would be good. Kevitsa won’t be the last mine in this area. The railway will help with logistics,” he says.

In the bright site office, which looks like an Ikea showroom, Peter Bergman, Kevitsa’s charming Swedish manager, says there are a lot of mining companies prospecting in Lapland. “It is a big boom. There is a lot of exploration in these northern areas,” he says. “We are expanding from 7.5m tonnes to 9.5m tonnes of ore a year to meet future demand for electrification and automation.” He denies there is lax regulation, insisting Finland has tightened up its act since the Talvivaara disaster in 2012, when nickel, uranium and other toxins leaked into a nearby lake in the east of the country. “It has changed the playing field in Finland. There is a lot more control from the authorities,” he says. “The permit process is really slow. From a find to a mine is about 10 or 15 years.”

Alongside the Nordic mining companies, there are Canadian, Australian and British firms rushing to exploit a valuable mineral belt stretching across Lapland. Europe’s largest gold mine, which is owned by Canadian producer Agnico Eagle, is 85km away in Kittilä. Anglo American, which has its HQ in London, is currently carrying out exploratory drilling in an EU-protected nature reserve in Viiankiaapa just outside Sodankylä.

The firm’s Arctic outpost is in an unremarkable building on the edges of Sodankylä. The straight-talking Finnish project manager, Jukka Jokela, is enthusiastic about the quality of the metals, including copper, nickel and cobalt, the firm’s drilling rigs have discovered: “The quality of the deposit is world class. I’ve been in this business for 40 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.” If Anglo-American gets permission from Finnish authorities, it plans to mine underneath the reserve. “Most of the mining will happen at more than 1km depth. We are not going to destroy Viiankiaapa.”

Not all the residents are reassured. Riikka Karppinen has been campaigning against the project since she was 15, even meeting ministers in Helsinki. Now in her 20s, she grew up in a village near Viiankiaapa and spent her childhood fishing for pike and picking cloudberries in the reserve. “I have a lot of happy memories,” she says crunching through the snow-caked mire. “I still come here to ski in the winter and in the summer you can hear so many birds.”

Karppinen, who topped a local election in Sodankylä in 2017, has formed a formidable alliance with Timo Helle, a local retired biologist opposed to the project. They dismiss claims it would leave the habitat unharmed. “There is no way you can have an environmentally friendly mine in a conservation area – it would dry out the mire and the infrastructure would change it,” Karppinen says.


More than 100km to the south is the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi, where thousands of tourists flock to see Santa Claus, drink in ice bars and go on husky sleigh rides. But the region’s politicians have weightier matters on their minds: how to deliver the Arctic railway project over the next 30 years.

Mika Riipi, the hard-working county governor of Lapland, has a brief break in his schedule of meetings and trips abroad. He is away so often he doesn’t even have his own room in the regional council’s offices, which overlook the glinting white cityscape of snow-covered housing blocks, theatres and libraries.

    This Arctic railway won’t be built if climate change is stopped – but we might be able to build it when the ice melts

Riipi, who is in charge of the development of the region, says he has been talking to Chinese state companies keen to invest in the project because Finnish trains could carry goods offloaded in Norway onwards to major European markets. “They are quite eager to make these kinds of investments,” he says. “They have this philosophy of the Arctic silk road.” The rest of the €2.9bn bill could be met by the EU, with contributions from the Finnish and Norwegian governments.

Riipi believes the project’s success depends on the speed of sea ice melting, as well as geopolitical instability affecting the Suez Canal, which is currently the main shipping route between Asia and Europe. “This might sound a little controversial, but we have tried to find out those mega trends and then try to think, can we utilise them – of course climate change is one of those,” he says. Indeed, the project is predicated on rising global temperatures. “I personally believe that this Arctic railway won’t be built if climate change is stopped – but in the worst-case scenario then we might be able to build it when the ice melts.”

The regional council does not include any representatives from the Sami parliament, but Riipi insists they do not have anything to fear from the railway. “The Sami culture has survived even though roads have been there. This is another road – except it goes a long way in tunnels,” he says. He adds the council opposes mining in the Sami homeland, although he admits it does not issue the mining permits: “We made a decision at the regional level, we don’t want any mines in the Sami home area.”

Across the street from the regional council offices lies Rovaniemi’s modernist city hall. It was designed by celebrated Finnish architect Alvar Aalto as part of a grand plan to rebuild the city around the contours of a reindeer’s antler, after it was destroyed in the second world war. Heikki Autto, the centre-right chair of the council, also supports the plan. In an airy hall outside the main council chamber, he makes the case that it is an environmentally friendly scheme. “We all want to prevent climate change, but what seems to be inevitable is that the ice is going and this opens up the sea route. It is only one-third the distance of the current route between Europe and Asia and, of course, it is more environmentally sound to use the short cut.”

Autto claims the railway would help the Sami in northern Lapland. “I have a Sami background myself, but the Sami-speaking population in our traditional home area has diminished to the point where if we don’t find new opportunities and business activity it will totally disappear,” he says. He sees no reason not to allow mines in the Sami homeland: “Why not? It has to be discussed with the local community, but it would provide livelihoods for hundreds of people directly and for thousands indirectly.”

Back on the darkening shores of Lake Inari, the political machinations of the regional capital seem very far away. Seurujärvi is warming himself up with a cup of coffee and barley bread in his kitchen. He longs to live a quiet life, but believes he must resist the railway if the next generation is to live off the forests and lakes of his ancestors.

“Reindeer herding has been my only dream,” he says. “I want to give my future children the chance to live in the Sami way.”

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Michael Cohen turned over new information on Trump family business to federal prosecutors: report

Raw Story

Longtime Donald Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen told federal prosecutors about “insurance claims” made by the Trump Organization, The New York Times reported Friday.

“Mr. Cohen, who worked at the Trump Organization for a decade, spoke with the prosecutors about insurance claims the company had filed over the years, said the people, who did not elaborate on the nature of the possible irregularities,” The Times explained.

“While it was not clear whether the prosecutors found Mr. Cohen’s information credible and whether they intended to pursue it, the meeting suggests that they are interested in broader aspects of the Trump Organization, beyond their investigation into the company’s role in the hush money payments made before the 2016 election to women claiming to have had affairs with Mr. Trump,” the newspaper explained.

Cohen was also questioned California venture capitalist Imaad Zuberi’s donations to Trump’s inauguration.

“Around the time that Mr. Zuberi contributed $900,000 to the committee, he also tried to hire Mr. Cohen as a consultant and wrote him a substantial check, one of the people said,” The Times explained.


‘Cohen knows about money’: CNN’s Phil Mudd predicts Trump is doomed after latest Michael Cohen bombshell

Raw Story

Counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd didn’t hold back Friday on Wolf Blitzer’s The Situation Room.

The CNN commentator and frequent Trump critic weighed in on the recent New York Times report saying Michael Cohen may have given federal prosecutors new information on the Trump family business.

“He’s not a good poker player,” Mudd said of Trump. “He played his hand already….look at his Twitter feed. How many times has he gone after campaign people such as [Paul] Manafort, [Rick] Gates, [Michael] Flynn? Flynn was the first cooperator and the number of times the president has gone after Flynn, I could probably count on one hand.”

On the other hand, Mudd continued, “how many times has he gone after Cohen? Countless times…what’s the difference between Manafort, Gates, Flynn and Cohen? Cohen knows about money. I think the president’s worried because he knows he has a vulnerability on this issue, and he told us [he did].”

Gloria Borger, who also appeared alongside Mudd on Friday’s episode of The Situation Room echoed the sentiment.

“We know that Michael Cohen is such an important link in all of this,” she said. “Yes, his credibility will be questioned, sure, but he has said publicly: ‘I have a story to tell.'”

Watch the segment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZRtChvzi9E


CHECKMATE: NY prosecutors are ready to indict Paul Manafort if Trump pardons him

Raw Story

If former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has been lying to prosecutors in the hopes of securing a pardon from President Donald Trump, he will be in for a nasty surprise should such an event ever come to pass.

Bloomberg is reporting that New York state prosecutors have “put together a criminal case against Paul Manafort that they could file quickly if the former chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign receives a presidential pardon.”

According to Bloomberg’s sources, attorneys working for New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. have uncovered potential tax fraud crimes committed by Manafort that they could choose to prosecute should Manafort ever be released from prison by Trump.

Vance’s office started investigating Manafort in March 2017, two months before Robert Mueller was even appointed as special counsel and even longer before Manafort was indicted for tax fraud, conspiracy against the United States and other charges.

Bloomberg says that Vance’s prosecutors have found evidence of “evasion of New York taxes and violations of state laws requiring companies to keep accurate books and records,” although there is some worry that some of these charges could overlap with charges leveled by Mueller, which could constitute double jeopardy.

“Vance’s office has identified several areas where it believes Manafort can be charged with state offenses without triggering double jeopardy protections,” the report claims. “For example, New York law allows defendants who have already been convicted of evading federal taxes to be charged with the same conduct as it applies to state taxes. As a part-time resident of New York, Manafort has some exposure.”


Federal investigators are going to drive Trump ‘crazy’ as they come after his entire family: MSNBC legal analyst

Raw Story

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) are going to be investigating Donald Trump for the rest of his life, Above the Law co-editor-in-chief Elie Mystal explained on MSNBC’s “All In” with Chris Hayes on Friday.

Mystal joined Hayes to discuss the latest news on Michael Cohen’s cooperation with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan.

“What do you make of this?” Hayes asked.

“I think what it tells us is that SDNY is going to be part of Donald Trump’s life — for the rest of his natural life,” Mystal predicted.

“SDNY is coming at Trump like syphilis — it’s going to make him crazy and it’s never going away,” he said, as Hayes laughed.

“SDNY is going to be here now, it’s going here when Trump is out of office, it’s going to be here for his family, it’s going to be here for his grandkids if he’s not careful,” Mystal added.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=664t3BF4nvk


An Emergency for the G.O.P.

The Constitution or The Donald? Why is this such a hard choice for congressional Republicans?

By The Editorial Board
Feb. 23, 2019

Once again, congressional Republicans are facing a gut-check moment, forced to choose between supporting and defending the Constitution or Donald J. Trump. It’s not looking good.

House Democrats introduced a joint resolution of disapproval on Friday aimed at canceling President Trump’s bogus national emergency at the southern border. Representative Joaquin Castro of Texas is leading the charge, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expediting the measure, which is on track for a floor vote on Tuesday. It is widely expected to pass the chamber, where Democrats have the majority.

Once the resolution clears the House, the Senate is required to hold its own vote within 18 days — meaning the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, cannot do his usual stonewalling. Even so, with Republicans in control there, and loath to irk the president, the resolution is widely expected to die. At that point, it will be up to the courts, where multiple suits have already been filed, to grapple with this out-of-control executive.

It is not too late to stop this legislative cop-out. Critical principles are at stake — Congress’s power of the purse, the separation of powers — that transcend any one declaration or leader. Members of both parties need to make clear that a presidential pique is not the same thing as a national emergency, that a president who fails to persuade Congress to support his priorities can’t then simply pursue them by fiat. Lawmakers who cannot rally themselves to this cause should stop pretending that they’re anything more than partisan automatons; they will have declared themselves members of a second-class branch of government.

As has often been noted, there is no border emergency, aside from Mr. Trump’s desperation to make good on a rabble-rousing campaign slogan. Having failed to extract billions of taxpayer dollars from Congress for the construction of his wall, the president executed a power grab. Don’t just take our word for it; that’s how Mr. Trump himself explained it in last week’s bizarre Rose Garden emergency declaration.

Think of it as the presidential equivalent of phoning 911 because your pizza delivery is taking too long.

Congress has the power to effectively override an emergency declaration through a resolution of disapproval. On Wednesday, Ms. Pelosi sent Democratic and Republican members a “Dear Colleague” letter urging support for such as move. “We have a solemn responsibility to uphold the Constitution, and defend our system of checks and balances against the President’s assault,” she wrote.

House Republicans once cared passionately about checks and balances, and frequently accused President Barack Obama of abusing his authority. In 2016, one of the “Big Ideas” in the conference’s “Better Way Agenda” was a pledge to end presidential overreach: “Our President has been acting more like a monarch than an elected official. That stops now.”

Mr. Obama did extend emergency declarations for several uncontroversial foreign policy matters and use executive orders (lawfully) to achieve policy goals. But he never invoked emergency authority to divert money after Congress refused to fund a pet project.

For some reason, the Republicans have been far less vocal about their high-minded principles with Mr. Trump in the White House. Of the more than 225 co-sponsors who had signed on to the disapproval resolution as of Friday, only one was a Republican, Representative Justin Amash of Michigan.

In the Senate, plenty of Republicans remain skittish about executive overreach. Several have publicly expressed disapproval of Mr. Trump’s faux-mergency, ranging from the ultraconservative Mike Lee to the more moderate Susan Collins, from the freshman Mitt Romney to the old-timer Chuck Grassley. “I don’t like this,” Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski told The Associated Press. “I think it takes us down a road and with a precedent that, if it’s allowed, that we may come to regret.” Kentucky’s Rand Paul declared that “extraconstitutional executive actions are wrong, no matter which party does them.”

For the joint resolution to clear the Senate, only four Republicans need to join Democrats to assert that the president cannot thumb his nose at Congress whenever it suits him. But despite all the hand wringing, thus far, only one has said she will: Ms. Collins, who recently told reporters, “If it’s a clean disapproval resolution, I will support it.”

Some Republicans dislike what Mr. Trump has done but have convinced themselves that there’s no point in voting for the resolution since the president will surely veto it. Others rationalize that the emergency declaration, while outrageous, may be technically legal, and thus should be left to the courts to sort out. Some Republicans are toying with the idea of voting against the resolution but then introducing new legislation to reform the underlying National Emergencies Act.

These are all dodges — ways to make Republicans feel better about not pushing back — and they can provide only false comfort. As he has shown time and again, Mr. Trump is a bully, and he likes to push boundaries. Let him take your lunch money today, and tomorrow he will kick you out of your treehouse.

Republican lawmakers swore an oath to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and to well and faithfully discharge the duties of their office. Here’s their chance.

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