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‘Death by a thousand cuts’: vast expanse of rainforest lost in 2018

Pristine forests are vital for climate and wildlife but trend of losses is rising, data shows

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Thu 25 Apr 2019 05.01 BST

Millions of hectares of pristine tropical rainforest were destroyed in 2018, according to satellite analysis, with beef, chocolate and palm oil among the main causes.

The forests store huge amounts of carbon and are teeming with wildlife, making their protection critical to stopping runaway climate change and halting a sixth mass extinction. But deforestation is still on an upward trend, the researchers said. Although 2018 losses were lower than in 2016 and 2017, when dry conditions led to large fires, last year was the next worst since 2002, when such records began.

Clearcutting of primary forest by loggers and cattle ranchers in Brazil dominated the destruction, including invasions into indigenous lands where uncontacted tribes live. Losses were also high in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Indonesia. Indonesia is the only major country where government protections appear to be significantly reducing the losses.

Ghana and Ivory Coast recorded the biggest percentage rises in rainforest destruction, driven by gold mining and cocoa farming.

“We are nowhere near winning this battle,” said Frances Seymour from the World Resources Institute, part of the Global Forest Watch (GFW) network, which produced the analysis. “It is really tempting to celebrate a second year of decline since peak tree cover loss in 2016 but, if you look back over the last 18 years, it is clear that the overall trend is still upwards.”

“The world’s forests are now in the emergency room – it is death by a thousand cuts,” she said. “Band-Aid responses are not enough. For every hectare lost, we are one step closer to the scary scenario of runaway climate change.” There are many government and corporate efforts to combat deforestation, but they are not proving to be enough, Seymour said.

The analysis looked at all tree losses in the tropics, but focused on primary forests. These are untouched and store the most carbon and have the highest populations and variety of wildlife. Their destruction is seen as largely irreversible, even over decades.

More than 3.6m hectares (8.9m acres) of pristine rainforest was cut down in 2018, according to the data. “Most of the 2018 loss [1.3m hectares] is clearcutting in the Amazon,” said Mikaela Weisse, a GFW manager. “Shockingly we are also seeing some invasions into indigenous lands that have been immune to deforestation for years.”

For example, at the Ituna Itata reserve in Brazil there was more than 4,000 hectares of illegal clearing in the first half of 2018, more than double the total loss since 2002. The reserve is home to some of the world’s last remaining uncontacted peoples, who have conserved the forest for centuries. Forest protection is being weakened under Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, but these impacts will only be seen in the data for 2019.

In the DRC, primary forest loss was 38% higher in 2018 than the average from 2011-2017. Expansion of small-scale forest clearing for agriculture and firewood is thought to have caused about three-quarters of this loss.

The destruction of Indonesia’s pristine forests has been driven by palm oil plantations, but has begun to fall and is at its lowest level since 2003. The government’s policies appear to be working, but 2019 is likely to be a drier year in the country than the last two and fires exacerbated by the draining of land could spike again. “Indonesia is not out of the woods yet,” said Weisse.

Forest destruction jumped by 60% in Ghana and 26% in Ivory Coast. “The good news is the cocoa industry has taken steps to combat this trend,” said Caroline Winchester, a GFW research analyst. “In 2017 the cocoa and forests initiative launched to end further deforestation.” However, 70% of tree felling in Ghana and Ivory Coast was in protected areas, she said.

Seymour also highlighted the direct human tragedies. “Behind the bars on these charts are heartbreaking losses in real places,” she said. “All too often the loss of an area of forest is also associated with a funeral, because every year hundreds of people are murdered when they try to stop the miners, loggers and ranchers. The moral imperative to act on this story is unquestionable and urgent.”

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« Reply #3706 on: Today at 03:58 AM »

'It's a groundswell': the farmers fighting to save the Earth's soil

Farmers across the world are ditching their ploughs to protect ecosystems – and it’s working

Matthew Taylor
25 Apr 2019 06.00 BST

John Cherry bends down and takes a handful of soil in his hands, brings it up to his face and breathes deeply.

“You can smell when it is good,” he says, poking it with a finger. “This smells of roots … there is a rich, organic quality to it. It is a good smell.”

Cherry is one of a growing army of UK farmers who are turning their back on the plough – and centuries of farming tradition – in an effort to tackle a little-noticed but potentially devastating environmental crisis: the degradation of the Earth’s soil.

The UN has warned that soils around the world are heading for exhaustion and depletion, with an estimated 60 harvests left before they are too barren to feed the planet.

That message was backed up in the UK by the environment secretary, Michael Gove, who warned that the country is 30 to 40 years away from “the fundamental eradication of soil fertility”. He added: “Countries can withstand coups d’état, wars and conflict, even leaving the EU, but no country can withstand the loss of its soil and fertility.”

The apocalyptic nature of the threat was underlined last month by a report that revealed that excessive use of pesticides had depleted the Earth’s soil and contributed to a drastic decline in insect numbers that threatened a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”.

But on his 800-hectare (2,000-acre) farm outside Stevenage, Hertfordshire, Cherry says that he and farmers like him around the world are fighting back.

The conservation agriculture movement he advocates means no ploughing or turning the soil, instead keeping the ground covered with crops all year round and growing a wide variety of plants.

The method involves more planning, but the benefits its advocates claim are remarkable – from plummeting costs on machinery and labour to a drastic reduction in fertiliser and chemicals. This in turn leads to a huge increase in insects, birds and wildlife, as well as fewer floods and more resilient crops during droughts.

Healthy soil can also absorb massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions – playing a key role in the drive to tackle climate breakdown and the biodiversity crisis.

As kites and skylarks fly above his fields, Cherry says he first became interested in conservation agriculture – or no-till farming – after speaking to others who were trying it.

“I have always been interested in soil, which in the end is the most important thing about farming,” he says. “I went to see a farm where it was being done and when you see someone who is farming without moving the soil it is mind-blowing.”

The movement, which began in the US, is now taking off around the world. Conservation agriculture (CA) is widespread in the Americas because of its water-retention properties in drought-prone and hot areas – healthier soil can hold and retain much more water.

Some experts have sounded a note of caution, though. The Soil Association, which promotes organic farming, says it backs conservation but warns that it should not be seen as a silver bullet.

A report written by Peter Melchett for the organisation , published in December shortly after his death, said that while CA minimised soil disturbance, reduced erosion and increased organic matter, by itself it was not guaranteed to increase biodiversity or the amount of atmospheric carbon that farmland can absorb and hold.

It said farmers should also consider planting trees (agroforestry), introducing livestock on to arable farms, and having more diverse crop rotations bringing grassland into arable systems.

Nonetheless, the movement is taking off in the UK. Three years ago, Cherry organised the Groundswell festival on his land to spread the word about the environmental and economic benefits of looking after the soil. He was amazed when 700 people turned up.

Last year that number had jumped to 1,250, and this year, as word spreads to farms across the UK and Europe, he is worried the farm won’t be big enough to cope.

“This whole thing is farmer-led,” says Cherry. “It is coming up from below, with farmers talking to each other and seeing the benefits, then adapting that to work on their own farms. It is a groundswell of farmers doing it – that is where we got the name.”

Not ploughing avoids disrupting micro-organisms, including the fungal threads that drive the biological life of the soil. A mix of crops on the land increases the diversity and health of the bacteria in the soil, which in turn supports a wide variety of insects.

Cherry says that one of the many benefits is that he no longer needs slug pellets, as the soil supports a lot of slugs’ natural predators. However, he does still use some sprays to clear the winter crops.

Cherry says: “We are using fewer chemicals and less fertiliser year on year as the soil recovers. Our aim is to get to using no fertiliser or sprays at all.

“There are guys in the US who have been doing this for 30 years and their soil is so fertile, they have got so much going on in the ground, that you do not need to apply anything.”

Cherry, who works the farm with his brother Paul, turned to conservation agriculture eight years ago. The first few years they had their best ever returns as costs declined in terms of machinery, labour and pesticides but yields remained high.

Cherry says there were “a few disappointing years as the soil adjusted, but our costs kept going down”.

He adds: “After 15 years or so, what most people find is that your costs are right, right down and your yields are better then they were at the beginning. On top of that, you have a genuinely sustainable future ahead.”

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) produced a report last year backing conservation agriculture as one method of replenishing degraded soils. It warned that a combination of industrial farming practices and poor land management have resulted in dangerous levels of soil erosion, compaction and declining fertility, which costs around £1.2bn a year in England and Wales.

Graeme Willis, the senior rural policy campaigner at the CPRE, says: “Soil is fundamental to delivering productive farming, a healthy countryside, and can play a key role in tackling climate change. But decades of neglect have degraded our soils to a point where much of this life-giving asset, which underpins the health of all living things, is no longer able to function as it should.

“Through conservation agriculture, farmers can reduce costs, use fewer chemicals and rebuild biological life in the soil, making it healthier, more resilient to extreme weather and able to support more wildlife. It’s win-win for farmers, the people they feed and the environment.”

Willis says there was a stark similarity between the human gut and soil in terms of planetary and human health. “Looking after the soil is much like looking after a healthy gut biome where variety is key: eat lots of different foods, especially plants, not too much wheat and cut back on the chemicals – for farming, pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, and for the gut, antibiotics and ultra-processed foods.”

Back on his farm Cherry is examining the soil and the tangle of winter crops that cover his field.

“The insects are the bottom of the food chain and there are so many things that eat them,” he says. “Since they have come back we have seen a huge increase in birds: skylarks, flocks of yellowhammers, kites, buzzards, and we are not doing anything special to attract them – they just love the fields, the system we have here.”

This article is part of a series on possible solutions to some of the world’s most stubborn problems. What else should we cover? Email us at theupside@theguardian.com

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Labour endorses Extinction Rebellion activists after week of protest

Shadow health secretary pledges to make climate change a central policy focus

Matthew Taylor, Peter Walker, Damien Gayle and Molly Blackall
25 Apr 2019 19.14 BST

Jon Ashworth speaks during a Extinction Rebellion protest at Parliament Square in London
Labour’s Jon Ashworth expressed his support for a citizens’ assembly. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Labour has backed the Extinction Rebellion protesters who have carried out a week of civil disobedience and occupations to highlight the ecological emergency, likening them to the Chartists, suffragettes and anti-apartheid activists.

Speaking in response to an urgent question in the Commons on Tuesday, the shadow energy minister, Barry Gardiner – who also holds the international trade role – said that alongside the school strikes, the protests organised by Extinction Rebellion were reminiscent of previous memorable struggles.

“All of those victories were won by citizens uniting against injustice, making their voice heard. And Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikers are doing just that,” Gardiner said.

Outside parliament, several hundred protesters from Extinction Rebellion gathered to call for politicians to engage with their three demands: for politicians to tell the truth, for the UK to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2025, and for the formation of a citizens’ assembly.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, came out to speak to the crowd, pledging to make climate change a central focus of Labour’s health and wellbeing policy and expressed his support for a citizens’ assembly.

Inside the chamber, former Labour leader Ed Miliband said the government must declare a climate emergency and introduce a “green new deal”.

Miliband, who was the energy and climate change secretary under Gordon Brown, said the protesters were correct. “The truth is the planet is warming far faster than we are acting,” he said. “Climate change is not some theoretical future prospect, but is with us here and now.”

Responding for the government, Claire Perry, the energy minister, rejected the idea of a climate emergency – “I don’t know what that would entail” – and said she had reservations about the Extinction Rebellion protests.

While she was glad such arguments were being heard, Perry said: “They have caused disruption for many hundreds and thousands of hard-working Londoners and they have required a heavy policing presence.

“I worry that many of the messages we are hearing ignore the progress that is being made, and as such make people fearful for the future rather than hopeful.”

More than 1,000 Extinction Rebellion activists have been arrested in the past week in a campaign of mass non-violent direct action orchestrated by the group to highlight how little time there is to halt manmade ecological breakdown.

Protesters occupied four sites across the capital and staged various acts of civil disobedience including blocking roads, disrupting a train line and conducting a protest at Heathrow airport.

On Tuesday the group said it intended to carry out more actions in the next few days – including blocking roads in and around the City of London on Thursday.

The group’s “rapid response team” met on Tuesday to decide its strategy for the coming weeks. A spokesperson said they were discussing how, when and if this stage of the “rebellion” should end rather than whether there should be more actions this week. The group said there would be two more “people’s assemblies” in the next few days at its Marble Arch camp before a final decision would be made on Wednesday.

“We have had enormous success and intend to continue,” said a spokesperson. “But what shape that is going to take and when we end is under discussion. It is important that we do have a little pause to take stock and get feedback from everyone – it has been an incredibly intense few days.”

One of the group’s co-founders, Roger Hallam, said: “We do want to negotiate with the government and will pause the disruption if that happens but at the moment it is all systems go … the rebellion continues.”

On Tuesday the group announced it had raised almost £200,000 – mostly in small donations of between £10 and £50 – since the protests began, making a total of £365,000 since January.

Scotland Yard’s tactics in policing the demonstrations appeared to harden at the weekend with protesters cleared from three of their four roadblocks. On Tuesday officers told Extinction Rebellion organisers that they faced arrest if they incited protesters to block roads around Parliament Square. Police said they were imposing preemptive conditions restricting any demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament.

Liam Geary Baulch, from London, said relations between the group and the police had become increasingly strained, with dismay over the Met’s decision to name those charged in connection with the protest and to seize a sound system it had been using in Marble Arch.

“We have seen thousands of people take non-violent action and over 1,000 arrests, yet we have had no complaints from the police about violence,” Geary Baulch said.


‘I would go to prison’: the ordinary people getting arrested for Extinction Rebellion

More than 1,000 demonstrators have been arrested in London in the past nine days. Here, nine of the climate change protesters explain the extraordinary ends they will go to for the Earth

Interviews by Homa Khaleeli
25 Apr 2019 16.52 BST

Bing Jones, 66, Sheffield, artist and retired doctor

I have never been a campaigner or activist before, but I have been worrying about the environment for decades. For 20 years I have written letters, signed petitions, ridden a bike – I have done everything that is “polite” – but the situation has, if anything, gone backwards.

I came across Extinction Rebellion (XR) in October last year, through George Monbiot, and joined up straight away. I have become totally absorbed. I came down to London with one of four groups from Sheffield. We were in Parliament Square, blocking the roads. Some people had glued or locked themselves to objects using tubes or chains. The police picked off the people not locked on first. We have been trained in non-violent direct action, so I knew what to do: you go floppy. It was my second time being arrested – I was also arrested in November, when XR closed five London bridges.

When you have your watch taken off, your belt and shoelaces removed and the door goes kerplunk, you have nothing to stare at in a cell but a stainless steel toilet. You do empathise with people who are disenfranchised. It’s salutary. But the climate emergency is so real and intense – it’s a privilege to feel you are doing something. Our great success this week is to show there is a large number of people willing to suffer the indignity and uncertainty of being arrested.

Would I be willing to go to prison for this? The short answer is yes. I would do more; I would do a hunger strike.

Rebekah West, 39, Somerset, countryside ranger

I have been a countryside ranger for 10 years and nature has always been my passion. I took personal action – a plant-based diet, trying not to fly, taking the bus, shopping and banking ethically – but I had given up signing petitions or writing letters to MPs about the environment because I felt like nothing was happening. Then last year when I met people from XR I finally felt inspired. I like the way they look at history and how the suffragette and civil rights movements worked, to see how to change policy.

Rebekah West.

My first time being arrested was in November last year at the five bridges protest. This week I have been arrested a couple of times. On Monday I was arrested on Waterloo Bridge – I was holding the road with other protesters, singing, and I put a thumb cuff on me and my friend. The police thought they would have to cut it off, but they used a little handcuff key. I was in for 16 hours. Then I went to Oxford Circus and became a “barnacle” on the pink boat XR had there, locked on with a tube. The police cut us out and I spent 24 hours in a cell. The custody officer said we were the nicest detainees he had met and that he agreed with our cause. Being arrested shows the sacrifices people are willing to make. It is massively regrettable we have to disrupt people, but is the only way to get people in power to listen.

Before I was in a cell for 24 hours, I thought I could go to prison for this cause, but when I was sitting there I realised I missed the hills, I missed the trees, I missed my dog. Could I really go to prison? I don’t know – but I do feel really passionate, so I have to see where the journey goes. We are not going to stop here.

Barry Slipper.

I have worked, since the age of 16, for all the major oil companies – BP, Shell, Esso. In 1986 I first heard about climate change through my Friends of the Earth group. As climate change and global warming moved up the agenda I thought it was inevitable that oil and gas companies would change because the consequences were so serious. But by the late 90s it was clear they had no intention of changing. So then you start to rationalise – how can I stay in this industry? And I started trade-offs – upping my donations to Greenpeace to balance things out.

I got laid off when I was 62 and I was keen to get into direct action. I have been travelling around to fracking sites for the past six years. The anti-fracking campaign has been so effective – it has shown we can make a difference.

When I first heard about XR, it seemed very extreme, but it’s an extreme situation. XR has to succeed or we all go down the tubes.

I have been here for just over a week with the Southampton XR group, holding the blockade on Edgware Road. The police are always polite – maybe because I look a bit fragile at 71. This is my fourth time being arrested: twice for fracking and twice for Extinction Rebellion. If you are a person of colour being arrested there are a lot more implications, but if you are white, retired, with no career to think about ... as long as I can pay the fines I can take these actions without too much concern for the consequences, although I don’t take it lightly.

I do feel bad about causing disruption to people. But I’ve been talking to motorists and 80% to 90% have a rant at you, then you give them the leaflet and they say, well, OK, I’ve got kids as well, you have a point. I never expected to be doing this, but I can’t think of anything more worthwhile.

Nabila Kalanzi, 24, London, poet

I would never have called myself an activist before. This has changed me. Let me put it like this: I would tattoo their symbol on my chest and I have never wanted to get a tattoo.

I started camping on Waterloo Bridge. We were able to protest, but also to just live there for a week. It was incredible. It proved that when human beings come together in a common cause, magic happens.

As a young black woman I never want to be arrested. That is a very valid fear for me. But now I am definitely considering it. This protest has degraded what the term “arrested” means because people have had so little fear about something we are taught can derail your whole future. People used it as a gift so that others could keep fighting.

I am willing for this to be my life and career and to wake up everyday to think about what I am doing to help the environment. But we need everyone to act.

Chris Trafford, 42, Abergavenny, youth worker

I first got involved in climate activism in 2015 but felt a bit frustrated with the movement; it seemed as if there was very little traction. But I felt XR understood the complexity of the issue, and the fact that changing the climate involves so many other topics: poverty, inequality, minority rights.

I arrived last Sunday and was assigned to Oxford Circus, where we put up our tents. I have never been arrested before, apart from spending the night in a cell as a teenager for getting into a fight. I need a DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] background check for my job so I spoke to a legal information service for activists beforehand.

I sat down at the roadblock and they arrested me within five minutes. If it didn’t affect my job I would go to prison on remand for this cause. We have to continue – it’s either this or extinction.

Momo Haque, 29, London, manager

I got involved because I am passionate about food sustainability, which is a big part of this. I like the fact there is no hierarchy in XR and everyone is doing their part. We are getting so many donations of food that we have spent very little money. I took time off from my job to help out and I have been here for three weeks, organising the food for everyone. I would be willing to be arrested for this cause, but someone needs to make sure the people sitting on the blockades get fed. It’s like feeding soldiers. The world is on fire and we need to do something about it.

Indra Don Francesco, 49, Glastonbury, shop worker

I have been involved in non-violent direct action for about 25 years; I’m overwhelmed now by the number of people who are willing to step through that fear barrier and be arrested. A lot of people are told that if you get arrested you’ll lose your job, your house, your mortgage. Over the years I have been arrested more than 100 times and have been charged 18 times for environmental campaigning. It’s not something I usually aim to do – but there’s a tree, there’s a chainsaw, so you get yourself in front of it ... what else can you do? But here it is a strategy and the cells are filling – it’s becoming an administrative nightmare.

How far am I willing to go? All the way. We don’t want to be here dancing around Marble Arch, but I would be willing to go to prison, go on a hunger strike or strap myself to something. If I thought it would work, I would do it.


It’s hard not to hear about XR. I have friends who are heavily involved. I am here with a group of tribal musicians called Oneness Jam. Any cause that needs attention, we come and bring some noise and entertainment – we need to keep things entertaining so people will stick around.

I haven’t been able to stay here because of my job, but I have been coming as much as I can. I had four hours’ sleep last night and only a few more before that. I feel guilty about not staying, but it’s about whether I sacrifice my job. I have never seen a campaign like this in my life. I work with Greenpeace a lot and I have seen some really cool protests and events, but this is fantastic.

Miriam Instowne, 20, north Manchester, student

This is the first time I have had so much purpose in my life. I’m sleeping in a tent on Park Lane – I have been here for eight days. I am the youngest of four siblings and they are all here. We have been blocking one of the busiest streets in the capital. I was sitting down on Waterloo Bridge, singing, when I was arrested.

From a young age you are told: get a degree, get a good job, toe the line – and that prison is the worst thing. But when you are trying to bring awareness about one of the most devastating things the human mind can conceive of, you feel calm.

I wasn’t frightened in the cell. I was sitting next to a heroin addict, so I was frightened for his safety, but not my own. If in 10 years’ time I looked back and I had just been sitting on my bum, not doing anything, I don’t think I would forgive myself. I think a criminal record in 10 years’ time might be obsolete anyway, because the environment is breaking down.


Extinction Rebellion protesters glue themselves to London Stock Exchange

Climate campaigners target financial district before ending occupations and blockades

Aamna Mohdin, Matthew Taylor and Molly Blackall
Thu 25 Apr 2019 09.40 BST

Climate change activists have glued themselves to the London Stock Exchange, in protest against the role of the finance industry in fuelling climate change.

Extinction Rebellion plans to cause rush-hour disruption in London’s financial district before it brings an end to the wave of demonstrations in which protesters have occupied sites across London for more than a week.

On Thursday morning, 13 protesters attached themselves the front and back entrances of the stock exchange and were said to be preventing people from entering. They wore LED signs saying: “Climate emergency”, “Tell the truth” and “You can’t eat money”. Police were there, but no arrests had been made, according to the group.

At Canary Wharf, at least four protesters climbed on top of a train on the Docklands Light Railway holding signs saying “don’t jail the canaries” and “business as usual = death”, in what the group said was a reference to “the financial sector’s role in our collective suicide”. Police officers are at the scene.

It follows a similar action this month after which three people were remanded in custody until their trial in May.

Among the protesters at Canary Wharf was Phil Kingston, an 83-year-old grandfather who has been involved in multiple direct action protests. One of the first members of Extinction Rebellion, he gained notoriety after chaining himself to a pipe in Oxford Circus.

“Like all parents and grandparents, I want a future,” he said. He expressed his concern over the impact of climate change on the poorest people, arguing that they would be most affected by ecological collapse. “Everything is going to have to shift,” he added, eating a sandwich on top of the train.

Diana Warner, 60, a retired GP, had superglued herself to the train. She said: “I’ve done it because, what else can I do? I want to speak up for all of our children. I also want to speak up for those who are losing their land now, and those who aren’t able to get enough food.”

Following last Wednesday’s similar action, Cathy Eastburn, 51, from south London, Mark Ovland, 35, from Somerton in Somerset, and Luke Watson, 29, from Manuden in Essex, were charged with obstructing trains or carriages on the railway by an unlawful act, contrary to section 36 of the Malicious Damage Act 1861.

Police detached Warner from the train and arrested her. When asked whether she was scared of also being put in remand for a long period of time, Warner said no. “It made it more necessary to be here. We are part of them and they are part of us. We all need to survive. Some people can see it, understand it, and feel with compassion that we need to prevent more death and catastrophe, but there are many who don’t.”

The climate “rebellion” to highlight the escalating global ecological crisis will draw to a voluntary end with a “closing ceremony” and a day of disruption in which demonstrators plan to swarm into the Square Mile to cause roadblocks, targeting big business and banking.

    Extinction Rebellion 🐝⌛️🦋 (@ExtinctionR)

    BREAKING: Time for MONEY to tell the truth on its role on the Climate and Ecological Emergency

    Extinction Rebellion UK is hitting the financial industry today to demand they tell the truth about the devastating impact the industry has on our planet. #lse #rebelforlife pic.twitter.com/zqof4bkCbR
    April 25, 2019

On Wednesday, the London protesters agreed to remove blockades and campsites at Marble Arch and Parliament Square.

Extinction Rebellion, which has been backed by senior academics, politicians and scientists during nine days of peaceful mass civil disobedience, said its action in the City of London was likely to last a few hours.

The group said in a statement that it would leave its remaining blockades on Thursday, but added: “The world has changed … A space for truth-telling has been opened up.

London protest map

“Now it is time to bring this telling of the truth to communities around London, the regions and nations of the UK, and internationally. In this age of misinformation, there is power in telling the truth.”

The group said it would like to “thank Londoners for opening their hearts and demonstrating their willingness to act on that truth”.

The statement added: “We know we have disrupted your lives. We do not do this lightly. We only do this because this is an emergency.”

The activists said protesters had “taken to the streets and raised the alarm” in more than 80 cities in 33 countries. “People are talking about the climate and ecological emergency in ways that we never imagined,” they said.

The group said it would work to build up a resilient movement to force politicians to address the climate crisis, and further direct action protests may take place as soon as the coming days.

The move came as it emerged that the environment secretary, Michael Gove, had agreed to the meet representatives of the group. A spokesperson for XR said this was “totally unconnected” to its decision to end the current phase of the protest, adding that the meeting was under consideration.

“It may or may not go ahead, depending on the details of how public it is and who will be attending,” they said.

Support for Extinction Rebellion has quadrupled in the past nine days as public concern about the scale of the ecological crisis grows.

Since the protests began last Monday, 30,000 new backers or volunteers have offered support to the group. In the same period, it has raised almost £200,000 – mostly in small donations of between £10 and £50 – making a total of £365,000 since January.

The group said the number of people who had signed up to offer ongoing support and backing for future demonstrations had risen from 10,000 before the protest to 40,000 by Wednesday morning.

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'Stigma does not go away': Mumbai’s dedicated LGBT health clinic

After reports of transgender people being refused treatment, a new centre offers specialised services – and respite from discrimination

Payal Mohta in Mumbai
25 Apr 2019 07.00 BST

Vivek Sharma has travelled 20km from his home to the congested eastern suburb of Mumbai for his HIV treatment. But the journey is no hardship for the 23-year-old student.

“My file was shifted to this clinic. I am so happy that this has finally happened.”

Sharma, who is bisexual, is waiting in the reception of a clinic believed to be India’s first specifically for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, having transferred his treatment from a government hospital closer to home.

“In any other[antiretroviral waiting room of the city, I wouldn’t have been at such ease,” says Sharma, who was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2017. In between friendly chats with the clinic’s staff, he adds: “The crowd there would have immediately labelled me as homosexual and made sure I felt unwelcome.”

About 2.1 million people are HIV positive in India, one of the highest rates in the world. But access to treatment and services for gay people, as well as transgender people and female sex workers is poor. A 2016 Lancet paper on transgender health in India found that two-thirds of transgender people had no access to treatment for sexually transmitted infections. Only 59% had been referred for HIV testing and 67% had not been given proper counselling about antiretroviral therapy (ARV).

“We have known days when trans communities could not get past the doors of any public healthcare deliveries in India. Security does not let them in,” says Vivek Anand, CEO of the Humsafar Trust, which opened the clinic in February. The trust has advocated for the rights of the LGBT movement in India for 25 years.

All the clinic’s staff, from the receptionist, pharmacist to the counsellors, belong to the LGBT community. Humsafar has been running a clinic for HIV testing from its offices since 1999.

“Over the years, 30-40% of the individuals who tested HIV positive at our clinic disappeared at some point during their [ARV] treatment at government hospitals,” says Anand. “Half of them never even showed up. More than discrimination, self-stigmatisation keeps the community away from accessing treatment.”

Counselling is essential to ensure sexual minorities continue their treatment.

“The number of patients in public [ARV] centres is very high,” says Srikala Acharya, director of Mumbai District Aids Control Society. “They can’t provide patients with quality prevention counselling or lifestyle management skills.”

Humsafar fills this gap in its eight-room clinic. There are separate therapists for pre- and post-HIV testing, as well as general counsellors, and a social support group that meets monthly. A visiting psychiatrist is due to join the team.

“The clinic sees an annual footfall of over 8,000 people of which 70% belong to the lower socio-economic strata,” says Anand. “So treatment is free and voluntary donations are appreciated.”

Acharya believes the clinic’s location will help with retention rates. “ARV is a lifelong treatment,” she explains. “So it needs to done in a place that is decentralised and convenient. Humsafar is close to the workplace of high risk HIV/Aids population.”

'It's a godsend': the healthcare scheme bringing hope to India's sick..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/mar/21/godsend-healthcare-scheme-bringing-hope-india-sick-ayushman-bharat

However, V Sam Prasad, the country manager programme at Aids Health Foundation India, is sceptical of the Humsafar model of care. “Transgenders and MSM [men who have sex with men] in India are an extremely discreet population,” he says. “They aren’t going to look for such clinics. We need to go to them.”

The ministry of health and family welfare wants to “end Aids by 2030”. Though activists believe that the LGBT population haven’t become a priority with the government’s HIV policies. With more than 1,600 public ARV centres across the country none solely cater to LGBT people.

Anand feels the solutions lies in community action. He believes Humsafar’s clinic is a step forward for the LGBT population to become “self-sufficient” within the health system.

“Somewhere deep down, discrimination and stigma just do not go away,” he says. “So communities need to drive their own agenda. We cannot wait forever.”

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Facebook takes down far-right groups days before Spanish election

Investigation uncovered networks reaching 1.7m people that were spreading fake news

Emma Graham-Harrison and Sam Jones in Madrid
Thu 25 Apr 2019 10.36 BST

Facebook has taken down several networks that were spreading far-right content to nearly 1.7 million people in Spain, days before national elections that are expected to see a surge in support for the far-right Vox party.

The networks were uncovered in an investigation by the campaign group Avaaz, and taken down only after it presented Facebook with its findings.

The discovery of a large network, spreading politically sensitive content unmonitored days before a key European election, is likely to add to concerns about social media firms’ willingness and ability to control hate speech and criminal activity on their sites.

On Wednesday British MPs condemned Facebook, Google and Twitter for their refusal to report users to the police when they remove criminal posts, except in rare cases when there is an immediate threat to life or limb.

Avaaz found that the networks in Spain were spreading fake news, including a doctored photo of a political opponent giving a Hitler salute, and misogynist, Islamophobic and homophobic messages. They were also coordinating the publication of identical posts apparently designed to look like spontaneous messages.

However, unlike its decision earlier this month to ban British far-right groups in a crackdown on hate organisations, Facebook said it had not taken down the Spanish pages because of their content, or for “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” – the network’s sanitised term for manufacturing and spreading fake news.

Instead, Facebook said they were targeted for breaking network rules. “We have removed a number of fake and duplicate accounts that were violating our authenticity policies, as well as one page for name change violations,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “We aren’t removing accounts or pages for coordinated inauthentic behaviour.

“As in other cases, we removed these accounts based on their behaviour, not the content they posted. Some additional pages were also disabled because they were administered solely by fake accounts.”

The largest network – Unidad Nacional Española (UNE) – had more than 1.2 million followers, and others reached hundreds of thousands more. Together they had more than 7 million interactions, at a time of intense political activity and focus on the political rise of the upstart far-right party Vox.

Spain’s apparent immunity to far-right politics finally wore off in December last year, when Vox dramatically exceeded expectations to take 12 seats in the Andalucían regional election, then cemented its power by backing a regional coalition between the conservative People’s party (PP) and the centre-right Citizens party.

Founded by disenchanted members of the PP six years ago, Vox is expected to achieve its national breakthrough in Sunday’s general election. Polls show it could pick up around 11% of the vote, making it the first far-right party to win more than a single seat in parliament since Spain’s return to democracy following the death of General Franco in 1975.

The Spanish government recently embarked on its own effort to protect both Sunday’s general election and the European polls next month.

The initiative, intended to guard against cyber-attacks and fake news, is described as “a series of preventative, reactive and co-ordinated cybersecurity measures, designed to guarantee the free exercise of rights and freedoms related to electoral processes”. However, it did not appear to have picked up on the Facebook networks tracked by Avaaz.

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04/25/2019 10:48 AM

'Absolutely Controlled MP': Documents Link AfD Parliamentarian To Moscow

Russian government emails show evidence of how Moscow is seeking to exploit the Alternative for Germany party in its propaganda war. The right-wing populists appear to be voluntary accomplices -- and a member of the federal parliament is at the center of the scandal. By DER SPIEGEL Staff

On a Thursday in April of last year, Markus Frohnmaier, a member of the German parliament representing the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, pressed a large red button together with five men in a five-star hotel in Crimea. The word "future" appeared on an LED wall, marking the beginning of the fourth Yalta International Economic Forum. The situation was reminiscent of 1980s TV show, a bit stiff, a bit artificial. You can find videos and photos of the event online.

The men who pressed the button with the German politician are faithful supporters of Russia and, seemingly, of its president, Vladimir Putin. They included an Austrian deputy mayor of the right-wing populist Austrian People's Party (FPÖ), as well as a former lawmaker in the Russian parliament, the Duma, and Sergei Aksyonov, the prime minister of Crimea installed by Putin. Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014 in violation of international law. Since then, the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions on the country. But that didn't keep Frohnmaier from traveling to Yalta.

After the opening of the forum, he gave an interview to the Russian international broadcaster RT in the lobby of the luxury hotel. Frohnmaier said that when you drive along the switchbacks in Crimea, it feels like Verona: the architecture, the wine, the seaside location. "What more could you want?" The sanctions, the member of the German parliament said, finally need to end: "It is simply fact that Crimea is now Russian Crimea. The people who view this highly critically won't be able to change that. Crimea isn't coming back, and I think people just have to accept that now."

Frohnmaier sounded like a PR agent for the Russian president. He often sounds like that on many days.

The AfD, which was founded six years ago as a euro-skeptic party, has proved to be a stroke of luck for Putin. It shares the Russian president's goal of attacking the establishment. Putin wants to break the West's power by driving a wedge through it. The AfD and the Kremlin also share a pronounced anti-American stance, as well as a disdain for modern values and marriage equality for same-sex couples.

The Russian leadership sees the biggest opposition party in the Germany parliament, the Bundestag, as an ally in the war against "degenerate Europe," as neo-fascist ideologue Alexander Dugin once described it. Their common goal is to weaken the enemy. Exclusive documents from the Moscow state apparatus show how this goal is to be attained. They also show how AfD politicians are, in this sense, turning themselves into Putin's pawns.

Worrisome Findings

Reporting conducted jointly by DER SPIEGEL, German public broadcaster ZDF, the BBC and the Italian newspaper La Repubblica has uncovered how Moscow is weakening Western European democracies and trying to enlist right-wing parties to help it do that. The leaked emails and documents provide telling insights on how these kinds of strategies for attaining influence in the West emerge, how these parties came into Putin's political sphere of influence and which instruments are being used to carry out the plans.

The Dossier Centre in London provided a large part of the material, along with its own research. The research center is financed by Russian businessman and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovski. DER SPIEGEL and its partners have analyzed the materials both in terms of content and technologically and have deemed them to be authentic.

The material is comprised of several bundles of different origins, but they contain documents that complement and correspond with each other in ways we believe confirm their authenticity.

Central documents were translated with the help of certified translators. Intelligence services also deem them to be plausible. The form and construction of some documents also resemble other documents intercepted by intelligence experts.

The new findings are worrisome, given that many in Europe are concerned Russia might try to influence the elections for the European Parliament in late May. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the head of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), recently warned on ZDF that the Russian government is "putting a lot of effort into weakening, into destabilizing the countries in the EU and its close neighbors."

The emails include, for example, a strategy paper created before the 2017 German federal election that describes several "foreign-policy activities," ranging from the "organization of meetings, vigils and other protest actions in EU countries to the successful support of resolutions in the national parliaments of the EU and to media campaigns." The goal was to promote Russian interests and enable the "discrediting" of Moscow's opponents.

Exploiting Right-Wing Populists

Who could be better suited for this than the AfD's people, who are almost all foreign-policy novices? Experts unanimously agree that, for years, Russia has been seeking to exploit right-wing populists as a megaphone for its strategy of expansion in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine, to provide legitimacy for dubious elections and as agitators in German town squares. Previously, there hasn't been any evidence that this kind of planning had been linked to the higher levels of the Russian state apparatus.

Now these activities can be documented in detail. The revelations are particularly vivid when it comes to AfD lawmaker Markus Frohnmaier. He plays a central role in the strategy paper, which was sent from the Russian Duma to the highest levels of leadership in the presidential administration. The people behind it made no secret of how they view the now 28-year-old political neophyte: as a useful idiot.

The document states, "we will have our own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag." An AfD member of the Bundestag willing to help fulfil Moscow's aims -- does this still represent a free, independent mandate?

DER SPIEGEL is also in possession of a draft of an English-language "action plan" for Frohnmaier's election campaign in which "material" and "media support" for Frohnmaier is requested in exchange for a promise that the candidate would diligently work to promote the issues most important to Moscow as a parliamentarian in the Bundestag.

Most of the data in the files consists of emails from former Berlin embassy attaché Daniil Bisslinger, who now works in Moscow's Foreign Ministry. He sent both professional and private mails via an email account using a Russian provider. Special forensic software did not find any evidence that they might have been manipulated.

The over 10,000 emails and 32,863 images also contain a large amount of private daily communication that DER SPIEGEL did not analyze, as well as countless verifiable facts. The second bundle of 4,436 emails from the Russian presidential administration was also checked by IT specialists. The revealing email about Frohnmaier came from this trove.

A Potential Partner for the Russians

It is hard to know when Frohnmaier's love for Russia first developed, but Bisslinger, a Russian career diplomat, played an important role in it.

On August 10, 2014, the Russian made an appearance at the Baden-Württemberg state convention of the AfD's youth wing, the Young Alternative for Germany (JA), which Frohnmaier was leading at the time. "Maintain and expand on contact," JA head Frohnmaier wrote after the meeting in Stuttgart. In an internal report, he enthused that Bisslinger's speech about the real reasons for the Ukraine crisis and about "Western expansion efforts" had been a "high-point of the event." The election of the new JA state head, he wrote, "nearly became a secondary matter to this guest appearance." Frohnmaier also forwarded his praise to the Russian, including a photo of himself and Bisslinger in front of the Russian and the German national colors.

It was to become the beginning of a wonderful friendship between the Young Alternative for Germany, their mother party and the smooth Russian representative.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and it began getting more involved in the Syrian conflict in 2015. During this phase, Moscow also began seeking to develop closer ties with right-wing parties across Europe, including Austria's FPÖ and Italy's Lega Nord. A Russian bank even gave Marine Le Pen's Front National in France a loan of approximately 9 million euros.

The AfD was also a potential partner for the Russians. Although economist Bernd Lucke, a trans-Atlanticist focused on euro-skeptic policies, was still leading the party in 2014, his base had widespread sympathy and admiration for Russia and its president, who didn't seem to hold any punches. As early as September 2013, Lucke's fellow board member Alexander Gauland, who is now party chairman, wrote in a position paper that Germany's foreign policy should become more akin to that of the Prussians: "The relationship to Russia should always be something worth carefully tending to."

Bisslinger's emails also document a meeting between Gauland and Armin-Paulus Hampel, the then AfD state leader in Lower Saxony, at the Russian Embassy in September 2014.

That same day, Hampel thanked the young attaché "for the good conversation today." He wrote that he would be "very pleased to maintain contact" and suggested they meet for another meal a few days later. Bisslinger had to cancel, because he was on vacation, but he did sent him a link to a briefing by the Russian Defense Ministry contradicting claims of Russian involvement in the downing of flight MH17 and instead blaming Ukraine. Bisslinger wrote that he would be "happy to meet" after his return.

And thus, the two sides grew closer. A month after the meeting, Bisslinger traveled to southern Germany on the invitation of the right-wing party, this time to the Musikhalle Ludwigsburg, an event space near Stuttgart, for a joint appearance with Frohnmaier and Gauland. The subject of the evening: "Russia - Dialogue Instead of Sanctions."

The Junge Alternative Zeitung, the JA's newspaper, argued that the Russian guest "didn't hold back in his criticism of the West," and wrote that "in his speech, Gauland, in turn, showed a great deal of understanding for the Russian position." It had been an evening of kindred spirits.

'Every Donation Is Welcome'

Bisslinger's emails often reveal how deep the AfD base's affection for Russia is. At times, an AfD candidate for the state parliament from Stuttgart asked the Russians for a donation for his campaign, because "every donation is welcome." Frohnmaier's JA colleague Reimond Hoffmann contacted the diplomat and asked him for help in his job search: "One application aims for a position as a trainee at Gazprom, the other application for a position at the embassy."

The young AfD functionary made clear which country he felt an affinity for. He wrote that he thought "at a time in which economic war is being conducted against Russia" that he "could help represent Russian interests in Germany." It is unclear from the documents how Bisslinger reacted to the request. When asked about it, Hoffmann answered that he has no recollection of the applications.

There is nothing reprehensible in and of itself about embassy employees trying to establish contacts with politicians, cultural figures or businesspeople in the country in which they are posted. On the contrary, it is part of their job. But it can be more problematic when these contacts become one-sided and have a specific aim, when emails are exchanged about donations and jobs, or when politicians are selected to become tools for a larger long-term strategy of political influence. And when these politicians are described as being "absolutely controlled" by Moscow, it far exceeds the boundaries of normal and appropriate political and diplomatic behavior.

In response to a request for comment, the Russian Embassy in Berlin argued that did not view it as "problematic when our employees cultivate contacts to different political forces and social structures in the guest country, unless these are classified as being extremist or radical." The AfD, it argued, is no exception to this rule, given that it is currently the largest opposition group in the Bundestag. "Of course, there cannot be any talk of financing of political activities in Germany, especially through donations."

Information Warfare

Information warfare, and the desire to control the media coverage of a political event, is a central element of Moscow's strategy. State channels like RT Deutsch, it's German-language website, or Sputnik have been broadcasting "alternative" news in Germany for years. AfD politicians, including members of the Bundestag, are regular guests on those media. In Russia, they are often presented to the domestic audience as high-ranking representatives of the German government, even when they are lower-ranking lawmakers, like Markus Frohnmaier.

The dissemination of propaganda through state media is just one part of the Russian attempt to gain influence. That effort also includes state-supported troll factories that flood social media around the world with pro-Russian messages. It includes hacker groups steered by the Russian intelligence services, with names like "APT 28," "Snake" and "Sandworm," that attack the computers of the Bundestag or the German government network and extract data. And it includes people who, in keeping with the Russian government's goals, incite protests in their home countries and foment unrest.

Islamophobic marches in Germany by the PEGIDA movement are useful for Moscow. So are the yellow-vest protests in France. As were the 2016 protests unleashed by the story of 13-year-old Lisa, the daughter of a Russian-German family, who claimed she had been raped by dark-skinned men. Even though it was quickly found to be a lie, the protests continued for weeks. They were led by, among others, a man who now works for an AfD member of the Bundestag with roots in Kazakhstan.

'Controlled Chaos'
Political scientist Stefan Meister, an expert on Russia at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank affiliated with the Green Party, argues that Moscow is exploiting a strategy of political infiltration both internationally and domestically when, for example Russian narratives are suddenly being conveyed in the Bundestag and when a member of the German parliament who has the authority of a public mandate declares the annexation of Crimea to be legitimate. "On Russian television, one gets the feeling that the AfD is the most important party in Germany."

The overall goal, Meister says, is to split the European Union, so that Russia can be in a better negotiating position with the West. "We are not talking about some planned coup," he said, "Russia views this as a security strategy."

Anyone who believes Moscow is following a firm plan is wrong, he argues. "That's not actually how modern Russia works," says Mark Garleotti of the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank. The historian describes it as being more like "controlled chaos" in which the Kremlin communicates very broad political goals. They are often conveyed via state television, whose programs suggest what is currently important to the political leadership. Then diplomats, journalists, oligarchs, PR experts and secret service agents, among others, try to implement those goals.

They embark on projects and initiatives to curry the favor of the presidential administration -- a bit of private entrepreneurship at the heart of the state. In this chaos, it is often hard to distinguish between what remains purely theoretical and what is implemented. This allows "plausible deniability": The Kremlin can deny ever having had anything to do with a proposed action, since it could purely have been a private initiative.

The bundle of emails makes it clear, however, that the AfD is especially central to one high-profile Russian project, "election observance." Foreign representatives of pro-Russian parties are often brought in, at the Russians' expense, as observers for important elections seen as controversial in the international community. The goal is to use the observers' presence to establish the legitimacy of the votes. These trips have nothing to do with the official election-monitoring mandate of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

In early 2018, former Russian attaché Bisslinger, who by that point was working at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow and had worked as Putin's personal translator during conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, tried to recruit politicians for these dubious missions. He approached lawmakers from the CDU, the center-left Social Democrats and the pro-business Free Democrats with whom he had established contacts during his time in Berlin to observe the Russian presidential election in March 2018.

Dubious Election Observation Missions

Bisslinger offered two versions of the trip: "Only Moscow," or a multiday package "including travel to Russian regions." The diplomat even claimed that "a meeting of the foreign election observers with Vladimir Putin is planned." Most of the people he wrote to turned down the offer, but people like the head of the "Prussian Society," a pro-Russian group, accepted it ("It was a great honor and pure pleasure for me").

The group that accepted the offer included a scholar who accuses the German media of biased reporting on Russia. In her emails, she revealed the primary purpose of these kinds of trips for Russia: For participants to claim in the media that Putin is a flawless democrat.

"I trust that my Russian friends will follow through on what they said to me," the media scholar wrote after her return, as she asked for reimbursement for the costs of her trip. "On my end, I have kept my word." As proof, she sent an interview of herself with RT Deutsch in which she had argued that it had been a clean election.

The questionable election-observation missions appear to be coordinated in Russia. Shortly before the election in March, a diplomat sent a detailed Excel worksheet with over 80 names. "Colleagues, good day!" he wrote. "As promised, I'm sending the list of the observers sorted by region. I am reminding you of the need to prepare a program so that the observers have the opportunity to give interviews to the media."

According to the email, the observers included countless right-wing populists from Italy's Lega Nord, the right-wing populist Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ), France's Front National and from the AfD.

The list of 24 men and women assigned to observe elections in the annexed Crimea, apparently to create the appearance of democratic normality there as well, was particularly sensitive. These included pro-Russian AfD lawmaker Ulrich Oehme and journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter, editor-in-chief of the right-wing radical magazine "Zuerst!" who was until recently one of Markus Frohnmaier's employees in the Bundestag. A set part of the schedule: A welcome by a state media outlet at Simferopol airport.

Moscow was well aware just how valuable the visit of allegedly neutral observers to the Crimea could be. Even the most pro-Russian politicians and celebrities in the West have been avoiding trips to the region, which was annexed in violation of international law. Even self-proclaimed Putin fan Gérard Depardieu, who holds a Russia passport, has thus far declined invitations to visit the Crimea.

AfD member Frohnmaier, for his part, preferred to observe the 2018 presidential election directly in the capital of Moscow and was more than satisfied with what he saw. "I had the impression that people were in good moods as they went to the polls," he told the pro-Kremlin radio broadcaster Sputnik. "A large majority of the people went to the polls to elect Vladimir Putin, which is what ultimately happened. We didn't see anything untoward."

The 'Battle Dwarf'

Why Frohnmaier is such an important parliamentarian when it comes to Russian interests can be explained by his background and by his rapid climb within his party. He was born in 1991 in Romania before being adopted out of an orphanage as a small child and growing up in rural southwestern Germany. After studying law for a few semesters in Tübingen and briefly experimenting with the right-wing extremist German Defense League, he ended up with the AfD in 2013, the year of the party's founding.

He quickly climbed the party ranks despite his tender age of just 22 and became part of the party's inner leadership circle. As head of the party's youth chapter, he was chosen by Frauke Petry to be her spokesman and protégé after she rose to become party leader in 2015. She even took to calling Frohnmaier, who is just 1.70 meters (5' 6") tall, her "battle dwarf."

When it became clear that Petry wasn't going to survive in her leadership position, Frohnmaier switched his allegiances to Alice Weidel, who was the AfD's lead candidate in German general elections at the time. Once the AfD moved into German parliament following the vote, Weidel nominated Frohnmaier for a leadership position in the AfD parliamentary group but was unsuccessful. Still today, a Weidel quote can be found on Frohnmaier's website, reading: "Despite his youth, he has a lot of experience."

The most important political lesson learned by Frohnmaier was likely that provocation is the most successful recipe available to the right-wing populists. And he quickly began outdoing most of his party colleagues with radical slogans. He enjoys, he says, "placing his middle finger on the Zeitgeist." On one occasion, he said it was the duty of German citizens to "put a stop to deadly 'knife-migration.'" Another time, he demanded the imposition of an 8 p.m. curfew on all male asylum-seekers younger than 50 as a way of protecting German women. In an interview with a right-wing magazine, he said: "Our generation will primarily suffer from the fact that Merkel has flooded this country with the lower classes from Africa and the Orient." By virtue of such statements, he earned 16 entries in the material collected by the German domestic intelligence BfV about the AfD and contributed to the agency's decision to place the party's youth chapter under observation.

A Fondness for Russia

The political up-and-comer is of particular interest to the Russians primarily because he is more open than most AfD politicians about his fondness for Russia. He has visited the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine, stopped over with right-wing groups in Belgrade and called on Putin's neo-fascist thinker Alexander Dugin in St. Petersburg. He would often bring his friend Manuel Ochsenreiter along on such trips. Early on, Frohnmaier established a relationship with then-Russian parliamentarian Robert Schlegel and with the Young Guard of United Russia, the youth wing of the pro-Putin party.

On his trips to Putin's vassals, Frohnmaier has always been able to count on being welcomed with open arms, despite his young age and limited influence. In March 2015, for example, he was a guest at the Russian Embassy in Paris, after which he posted photos on his website of the massive fireplaces, gold-framed mirrors and sparkling chandeliers -- a young politician from rural Germany surrounded by Tolstoy-esque pomp.

Frohnmaier also met with Vladimir Yakunin in Paris, who was president of the Russian railway company at the time and who has long been a confidante of Putin's. Afterward, the AfD politician gushed about his encounter with this "giant of international politics." What he didn't mention was that the U.S. placed Yakunin on its sanctions list following the annexation of the Crimea. "For the young AfD politician, things like the 'Western community of values,' the 'trans-Atlantic alliance' or other obscure phrases play no role whatsoever," enthused his right-wing radical friend Ochsenreiter in a profile for the far-right publication Zuerst!. In the article, he also told the story of how Frohnmaier's name had been misspelled at a conference in St. Petersburg to read "Frontmaier."

Given his affinity for Russia, his proactive networking and the ambition he has shown within an equally ambitious right-wing party, it is hardly surprising that senior members of the Moscow power apparatus took an interest in Frohnmaier.

The milieu into which the AfD politician was slowly pulled into was striking. It is one that didn't just include verbose PR consultants, business leaders and pro-Putin politicians, but also men who had been accused of involvement in arson attacks and Russian overseas spying operations. It isn't clear whether Frohnmaier understood who he was dealing with. But even if he thought of these people as friends, it seems likely that they primarily valued him for his political utility.

One place where a particularly large number of people from Frohnmaier's circle meet is in Yalta, located on the southern coast of the Crimea Peninsula. Frohnmaier's first visit to Yalta took place in spring 2016 to attend the Yalta International Economic Forum, one of Russia's largest economic conferences. The annual event enjoys the support of Putin's office and is intended to attract investors from around the world, including from the West -- a rather difficult prospect since the levying of sanctions in 2014. That, of course, has made it even more important to ensure that Western visitors attend the conference, and the Russian state sometimes even subsidizes their entire travel costs.

The trip was worth it for Frohnmaier, and not just politically: In Yalta, he met a Russian journalist who wrote for the pro-government newspaper Izvestia. "I saw her and thought to myself, she's the one," Frohnmaier said in October 2016. And he did, in fact, go on to marry the journalist, whose name is Daria.

'Foreign Policy Activities'

A group photo that was taken in Yalta in 2016 shows Frohnmaier in a blue suit surrounded by 11 other people, including an AfD party colleague and two Russians who will later be involved with exactly those emails in which Frohnmaier was declared to be a Moscow puppet.

The decisive email arrived at the Presidential Administration in Moscow on April 3, 2017. It reads like a rather stiffly formulated business plan of the kind a start-up might use to attract investors.

"Dear Sergei Alexandrovich! I am sending you the information for possible inclusion in the report for Alexander Leonidovich," it reads.

Attached to the email was a six-page document with the title "Foreign Policy Activities." And it reads like a brochure for top-quality propaganda work.

The authors of the document were seeking to organize demonstrations in the EU as a way of discrediting persons who "stand in opposition to the foreign policy trends of the Russian Federation." Other rallies should work toward "the lifting of anti-Russian sanctions," the document notes. The idea was that of inviting 15 largely right-wing parties and groups to an "informal platform," including Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement from Italy, Front National from France, the British National Party and, from Germany, the AfD, the neo-Nazi party NPD and the Islamophobic PEGIDA movement.

The strategy also called for representing Kremlin interests in European institutions by, for example, establishing contacts with various political parties and "successfully supporting resolutions in the national parliaments of EU member states."

'Active Measures'

For German readers, the document becomes particularly interesting at the spot where four already "active measures" are presented. The heading to item four reads: "Bundestag (September 24)."

It continues in the style of a telegram:

"Candidate: Markus Frohnmaier Place: Bundestag Chances of being elected to the Bundestag: high Required: support in the election campaign."

The authors of the document promised that a precise campaign plan would be delivered the following week. The desired result of the project: "We will have our own absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag." Another hope was that it would become easier to establish NGOs. Both the sender and the recipient of the email were civil servants in Putin's apparatus.

The mail was sent by a man named Pyotr Grigoryevich Premyak, at first glance just the staffer of a Duma backbencher from the Siberian city of Omsk who focuses on housing issues. But Premyak's resumé and his various social media accounts reveal that he is more than just a simple desk jockey. He used to be a member of the Council of the Federation, the upper house of Russian parliament. Before that, he served on the Kamchatka Peninsula, where he is from, as the head of counterespionage for a fleet stationed there. In other words, he is a former secret service agent.

The recipient of his email was a high-ranking official in the foreign policy section of the Presidential Administration. Premyak requested that he send the information from the document to a higher level of the hierarchy, to a man named Alexander Leonidovich Manzhosin.

At that time, Manzhosin had been head of foreign policy for the Presidential Administration for 13 years and was, in 2017, still an important foreign policy adviser to Putin, along with the foreign minister and Putin's own team of advisers. In other words, the mail was moving from one important decision-maker to the next. But who actually wrote the strategy paper and the assessment of Frohnmaier?

When asked by a reporter from ZDF, Pyotr Premyak admitted to having sent the email, but said the attached document did not originate with him. He said he often forwards communication onward without spending much time studying their content.

The document mentions a company called Hemingway Partners, and a company by this name is registered to the mother of a well-known Moscow political PR consultant. And there is a connection to Frohnmaier through her son Sargis Mirzakhanian: Both are in the group photo made in Crimea and both Frohnmaier and his wife Daria can be seen in Mirzakhanian's wedding photos. But Mirzakhanian denies having written the strategy paper.

There is also an additional connection from the document to Frohnmaier: Another Russian who was mentioned in the email to the Presidential Administration is a friend of Mirzakhanian from his university days who is also in the photo taken in Yalta. In a meeting in Moscow, the man, who is just starting a career in diplomacy, said that he had heard of the document and had met Frohnmaier. But his answers became vague and contradictory once the questions became more detailed. He said that he doesn't believe that the Kremlin had accepted the strategy paper.

A Disastrous Document

The document is nevertheless disastrous for Frohnmaier. According to the German constitution, members of the Bundestag are "not bound by orders or instructions" and are "responsible only to their conscience." Yet Frohnmaier is apparently seen as being under the complete control of foreign actors.

It isn't the first time that Frohnmaier has come under suspicion of being dependent on the Russians. Indeed, he himself has fed such suspicions. In April 2016, back when he was still studying law, he told the German daily Die Welt that he earns his living as a "political analyst." He declined to say who he worked for, adding that his employer valued discretion. Then, when a reporter from DER SPIEGEL accompanied him to Moscow in 2016, Frohnmaier spoke of a planned meeting with a representative of Putin's Presidential Administration. However, that meeting got cancelled.

Just recently, the German public broadcaster ARD and the news website T-online.de reported that Frohnmaier had been named to the organizational committee of the Yalta forum. It is a body that also includes two high-ranking members of the Russian secret service FSB. Could Frohnmaier's link to the Kremlin be closer than he wants to admit?

A second document hints that it might be. In the strategy paper that was sent to the Presidential Administration on April 3, 2017, it was promised that a "detailed campaign program will be received at the end of next week." And indeed, such a document was created eight days after the email with the strategy paper attached. It was called "Frohnmaier election campaign / action plan (draft)."

DER SPIEGEL is in possession of the one-and-a-half-page Word document. It was not part of the trove of documents provided by the Dossier Center. Rather, a high-ranking secret service agent from an EU member state provided the document to the BBC, which then shared it with DER SPIEGEL and other partners.

The author of the "Action Plan" to assist Frohnmaier makes no effort to conceal what the effort is about. "For the election campaign, we urgently would need some support," the document states. "Besides material support, we would need media support as well to put Frohnmaier in 'pole position' for foreign policy in the future party faction," it says. "Any type of interviews, reports and opportunities to appear in the Russian media is helpful for us."

If things really did play out as the documents seem to indicate, the effort alone would be extremely dubious. But if money changed hands and that money was spent by Frohnmaier's campaign, it would likely violate German campaign law. Through his lawyer, Markus Frohnmaier has vehemently denied such suspicions. He says he neither requested nor received such assistance. The lawyer said that his client "knew nothing" about the "alleged document."

Quid Pro Quo

The document can be interpreted such that the Russians were expecting quid pro quo, a potpourri of political activities advancing Kremlin interests. During the campaign, the candidate would promote "good relations with the Russian Federation," the document promised, and he would criticize "EU interference in Russian domestic politics." Frohnmaier would also, the document stated, emphasize his anti-LGBT position.

Upon being elected to the Bundestag, the document indicated that he would "immediately start operating in the foreign policy field," including accompanying delegations to Crimea and Donbass. Furthermore, he would frequently make himself available to the Russian media.

The campaign "action plan" isn't signed, isn't dated and is not printed on letterhead. But intelligence experts confirm that a lack of such identifying features is quite standard for comparable documents. The document's authenticity is supported by the fact that many of the activities described did in fact take place as described or in a similar manner. One major event described in the document, for example, was an appearance with Johann Gudenus, who at the time was the deputy mayor of Vienna for the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). The plan called for it to take place in the community center in Jettingen, located just southwest of Stuttgart. Frohnmaier himself helped publicize the event, and it ultimately took place -- though without the participation of Gudenus.

Frohnmaier also continued his trips to the east as an election observer and his rhetoric remained staunchly pro-Russia. As a parliamentarian, he has continually criticized the sanctions on Russia and has defended Putin's activities in Crimea, in Ukraine and in Syria. He did not, however, end up with a slot on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, with members of the AfD parliamentary group ultimately choosing someone else.

What is missing is a Russian response to the request for assistance. But the document's metadata is telling. In addition to the date on which the document was last saved -- April 11, 2017 -- there is a name listed next to the word "author." The name is Manuel Ochsenreiter.

And it his here were the connection between Frohnmaier, his friend Mirzakhanian and his friend Ochsenreiter is established. Just a few days after the document was written, the two men met in Yalta, as a joint photo clearly shows. Frohnmaier himself didn't participate in the event that year.

Extremely Good Connections

The right-wing extremist commentator Ochsenreiter has extremely good connections in Russia and he isn't just a friend to Frohnmaier's. Until recently, he was also on his parliamentary staff in the Bundestag and likely exerted influence on the political positions held by the young representative. Both Frohnmaier and Ochsenreiter insist that they know nothing about the document. But how credible is that denial? Just like Sargis Mirzakhanian, Ochsenreiter could also have given in to the temptation of taking advantage of his "friendship" with the AfD representative for political gain -- even if his lawyer insisted that his client had "never sought foreign support of any kind" for Frohnmaier or any other politician. Still, it is clear that Ochsenreiter is driven by motivations that go beyond a mere German election campaign.

For Ochsenreiter, the empire of evil is to be found in the United States. His ideological mentor is the Russian neo-fascist Alexander Dugin, who the German refers to as a "fatherly friend." Dugin has a narrow face, a bushy gray beard and an extremely anti-liberal worldview. Dugin's dream is that of a Eurasian empire stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok, and he says things like: "We strengthen those forces that refuse to support this ultra-liberalism and this Americanization and this society of gays, lesbians, trans-genders and bisexuals who have lost their roots and their identities."

As early as 2015, a meeting took place between Dugin, Frohnmaier and AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland in St. Petersburg, likely arranged by Ochsenreiter. Frohnmaier insists, however, that he only held a "brief, chance exchange" with Dugin.

At the time, the Russian told German broadcaster ZDF why he was interested in the German right-wing populists: "The AfD will ascend to power in Germany; that is why they are of interest to me."

The AfD visit to Dugin could, in fact, have taken place by chance. But in April 2016, Ochsenreiter openly turned to his friend to support his interests: In Berlin, the two founded a group called the "German Center for Eurasian Studies." According to the group's official registration, the organization's goals include "election observations," precisely the project that is a central component of Russian foreign policy.

For Frohnmaier, it is compromising enough that he has attached his name to an organization that has openly dedicated itself to promulgating Kremlin propaganda. But Ochsenreiter has done his friend an even greater disservice. The organization's founding document wasn't just signed by Frohnmaier, but also by a Polish friend of Ochsenreiter's named Mateusz P., the head of a pro-Russian splinter party who has been in investigative custody in his home country for almost three years. Public prosecutors accuse him of activities as a foreign agent on behalf of the secret services of Russia and China.

German intelligence agents began monitoring Mateusz P.'s activities in Germany five years ago and they consider him to be a pro-Russian agitator who is, they believe, well paid for his activities by the Russian state. He, too, can be seen with Frohnmaier in photos from Crimea.

Extremely Dubious Circles

It is safe to say, in other words, that the AfD parliamentarian is involved in extremely dubious circles. But his friend Ochsenreiter, in the meantime, has a much larger problem: He is suspected of being behind an arson attack on a cultural center in the Ukrainian town of Uzhhorod -- an attack that was designed to create tensions of the kind welcomed by Russian foreign policy.

According to the case file in a Krakow court, the defendant in the case is thought to have received money for the attack from Ochsenreiter: 500 euros in advance hidden in a book that was sent through the mail, and then 1000 euros in cash handed over later during a meeting at Tegel Airport in Berlin.

Berlin prosecutors have begun their own investigation as well on suspicions of abetment to aggravated arson and have requested judicial assistance from Poland. Ochsenreiter refuses to reply to questions about these accusations, but on Facebook, he wrote of an "absurd suspicion triggered by an obvious secret service campaign."

Through his lawyer, Ochsenreiter claimed that his friend Mateusz P., the espionage suspect, is the victim of "political oppression." The espionage accusations, the lawyer claimed on Ochsenreiter's behalf, are "completely fabricated and politically motivated." The lawyer also commented on the establishment of the Center for Eurasian Studies, noting that it was dissolved on Nov. 8, 2018. "There is no petty cash account or cash assets. As such, the organization remained idle throughout its existence."

Early last week, Markus Frohnmaier agreed to an off-the-record interview with DER SPIEGEL. But he insisted that nothing from that discussion be published. All answers to questions posed to Frohnmaier come from his lawyer.

According to that lawyer, Frohnmaier knows nothing about the email from the Kremlin or the strategy paper attached. He also said through his lawyer that he has no idea why he is referred to in the document as an "absolutely controlled MP in the Bundestag." He insisted that "at no time" has he been "under the control of any third party."

Frohnmaier also denied knowing the university friend of Mirzakhanian who was mentioned in the email, even though there is a photo showing them together. He said he was photographed with the man "by chance" during a trip to Crimea. Frohnmaier's lawyer also said the photo showing the AfD parliamentarian together with espionage suspect Mateusz P. was also taken "by chance." When the accusations against Mateusz P. became known, Frohnmaier said through his lawyer, he insisted that the German Center for Eurasian Studies -- of which both he and Mateusz P. are listed as founders -- be liquidated.

Frohnmaier's lawyer said his client was at no time engaged in political activities with Sargis Mirzakhanian, the PR consultant with ties to Putin. He said Frohnmaier never requested nor received financial support from either of the men.

Frohnmaier said through his lawyer that he also has no knowledge of the second document, the "action plan" for his election campaign. He also claimed not to know who might have penned the document. On Frohmaier's behalf, his lawyer said his client "had not requested financial or media support in this or comparable form from Russian politics, business or society."

Frohnmaier confirmed that he attended the Yalta International Economic Forum in Crimea last year and gave a speech. He said that he was reimbursed for lodging and a share of his travel costs.

After his appearance, he said he was asked if he wanted to become a member of the organizational committee. He said he expressed interest, but then heard nothing more about it. He said he wasn't aware that secret service agents were also part of the organizational committee. When he learned of these "dubious other persons," he said, he requested that forum organizers remove his name from the list.

But last week, just before this story went to print, his name could still be found on the website.

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« Reply #3711 on: Today at 04:33 AM »

04/25/2019 04:17 PM

'This Is Our Jungle': Abysmal Conditions for Refugees in the Greek Islands

By Steffen Lüdke, Giorgos Christides and Socrates Baltagiannis (Photos)

The European Union claims that the refugee pact with Turkey has been a success. Yet asylum-seeker camps on Greek islands in the Aegean have transformed into prisons. Thousands of migrants live there in horrific conditions.

Annick Toudji has found a bit of shelter in between some cardboard boxes, tarps and plastic bottles. It stinks of urine that has trickled in from the hillside above, past rickety tents and past the rocks where Toudji is about to build a fire. The acrid stench is a constant presence.

A tall and gaunt 33-year-old, Toudji is perched on a stump and cutting tomatoes with short, decisive blows into a pot. "This is our jungle," she says. It is a jungle without electricity or toilets. Instead, it has rats, cockroaches and scabies.

Thousands of migrants are languishing here on the Greek island of Samos and Toudji, whose journey from Cameroon began almost a year ago, is one of them. There are far too many migrants on the island to fit into Samos' official refugee camp and it has been spreading, tent after tent, for quite some time. That's how "The Jungle" came into being.

The camp and the hillsides surrounding it are currently home to some 3,800 migrants despite having been intended to house just 648 people. No other "hotspot" in the Aegean Islands is as overcrowded. And because the migrants aren't allowed to leave, Samos has developed into a kind of prison. The situation, says the aid organization Doctors Without Borders, is out of control.

The roots of the current situation were established three years ago in spring 2016, when the European Union reached an informal deal with Turkey. The key elements of that agreement are as follows:

    Turkey is to keep migrants from continuing onward to the EU and will received 6 billion euros from Brussels in return;

    the Greek government likewise receives support from the EU and in return promises to collect migrants on five Aegean islands and return them to Turkey, irrespective of their rights to international protection;

    for every Syrian sent back to Turkey, the EU will accept a different Syrian refugee who will be brought in legally.

Despite significant resistance from her European partners, German Chancellor Angela Merkel managed to push the deal through. The pragmatic goal of her pact: enabling the control of migration while not seeming inordinately inhumane. And according to Merkel, the policy has been a success -- to the point that she would like to establish similar deals with countries like Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. She sees it as being a key element of her foreign policy legacy and even the European Commission sees the pact with Turkey as a "game changer" -- and in a recent bulletin, the EU executive declared the migration crisis to be over.

But the situation on Samos makes it clear just how wrong that assessment is. The migration crisis is far from over, it has merely been concentrated into specific locations, including the five Aegean islands. Fewer people may be arriving than during the apex of the crisis, but they are suffering much more. Indeed, the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture recently criticized Greece for its treatment of the migrants and refugees.

And because the EU-Turkey deal still isn't working properly even three years after its introduction, the Greek government wants to replace the pact, DER SPIEGEL has learned. The situation on Samos also raises the question as to whether the EU should even use the deal with Turkey as a model for similar agreements with other countries given that Europe isn't even able to guarantee humane conditions in the camps located on its own soil.

Back in the jungle, a woman has joined Annick Toudji, her hands buried deep in the pockets of her winter coat as she silently watches Toudji. Her name is Vanessa Djila, a 19-year-old who is also from Cameroon. She has applied cream generously to her round face in an attempt to cover up a bad rash. "The spots are caused by fear," Djila says.

Fear has been Djila's constant companion since a night in February, when several men wearing masks forced their way into her tent under the cover of darkness and raped her. A hospital examination report supports her version of events. Ever since that night in February, she has been drinking whiskey every evening so she can fall asleep.

Annick Toudji is familiar with Djila's story and wants to do all she can to protect the 19-year-old -- like a sister, as she says. "This is not a good place," Toudji says, "especially for women." In the night, when the feral dogs howl on the hillside above, they don't dare leave their tents for fear of being attacked by other migrants. If they have to urinate, they do so in one of the plastic bottles lying around.

In the evening, Toudji is sitting on the cold, stone steps of a narrow row-house in the town of Samos below the camp. A Greek lawyer from Lesbos has rented an office for a week, and after just a single visit to the camp, he already has 41 clients. Toudji has been waiting two hours for the office door to open. She nervously shifts back and forth on the stone steps and quietly tells her story.

The Toudji family is from Bambili, a small town in northwestern Cameroon, where separatist groups have spent years battling against the military. On her mobile phone, Toudji shows images of her family's burned-out home. Aside from a beam and a bit of roofing paper, nothing is left. She says the rebels killed her mother and father and that her brother fled, likely to Nigeria. "The men found me in the bush and raped me," she says. "Again and again." Since then, she says, she has been struggling with infections and she can't sit for too long because of the pain.

Her escape led her from Cameroon to Turkey by plane, where she stayed with an uncle, spending months on the country's west coast sewing buttons onto shirts and blouses. But then, she says, her uncle demanded that she become a prostitute, prompting her to board a boat belonging to a human trafficker. It is impossible to corroborate Toudji's story. She knew nothing of Samos at the time, but she thought that her life would improve once she made it to Europe.

Instead, she's been stuck in the jungle since the beginning of the year. When it rains, her tent fills up with water. Three times a day, she lines up for two to three hours to receive a reheated frozen meal. She is plagued at night by panic attacks and nightmares. She had already suffered from the bad dreams before she arrived on Samos, but the jungle has only made them worse.

Toudji has only rarely seen the official refugee camp from the inside. Journalists are not allowed inside and are taken into custody by the police if they film or come too close to the barbed wire, but videos shot by the migrants themselves show what it looks like: The tents are sturdier than those in the jungle and there are showers and toilets, but there too, plastic bottles are strewn about and the floors and walls of the tents are covered in mildew.

Next to the barbed wire hangs a loudspeaker that defines the rhythm of the refugees' lives, the voice of a camp worker regularly squawking out of it. Those whose names are called have to hurry, otherwise they might miss their opportunity for an asylum hearing.

It is an opportunity for which some asylum-seekers have been waiting for years, in part because of a lack of Greek translators who can speak such languages as Farsi or Urdu. As a result, one family from Afghanistan that lives in the lower part of the camp has been given a hearing date in 2021, noted on a bit of blue paper that the migrants refer to as their "Ausweis," using the German word for ID, here in the Greek jungle.

Another reason for the delay is that asylum-seekers in Greece can appeal several times, but the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy admits that the country can only handle around 20,000 asylum applications per year. In 2018, though, the country received three times that number of applications, the highest per-capita total of any EU country.

It has been enough to overwhelm the inefficient Greek bureaucracy -- despite the fact that in the first three months of 2019, the total number of new arrivals was lower than on a single day in 2015. Turkey, after all, is fulfilling its part of the deal: It is largely preventing refugees from embarking on the short trip from the Turkish mainland to the Greek islands. But during the height of the refugee crisis, the Greek authorities were content to simply allow migrants to continue their journeys, often without any sort of asylum processing. The deal with Turkey brought this convenient practice to an end. Since then, the migrants have had to remain in the islands -- and the Greek authorities have had to do more work.

Even the most important element of the EU-Turkey deal isn't working. According to the accord, Greece is supposed to send back to Turkey those migrants who have no right to asylum in Greece within 25 days. But that seldom happens: By the beginning of April, the migration authorities had only managed to deport a total of just 41 people.

Who's to blame for the chaos? The European Commission and the Greek authorities both point the finger at the other. For the EU, the deportation of rejected asylum-seekers is of particular importance as a deterrent to other potential migrants and Europe continues to believe in the pact with Turkey. "We have repeatedly alerted the Greek authorities about the very challenging situation in the Greek islands," a European Commission spokeswoman said.

Greece, the spokeswoman said, must develop an effective and sustainable strategy to sort out the problems, particularly given the fact that the country has received more than 2 billion euros in aid to do so. The German weekly newspaper Welt am Sonntag recently quoted from a confidential report compiled by the German Embassy in Athens which included a quote by Simon Mordue, the European official in charge of monitoring the EU-Turkey pact, as saying that the situation has become a "disgrace for Europe." Patience with the Greek government appears to be wearing thin.

Gerald Knaus, head of the think tank European Stability Initiative (ESI) and the architect of the EU-Turkey refugee deal, is convinced that the disastrous situation for refugees in the Greek islands is not due to a lack of resources, but because the politicians responsible are preventing improvements. Greece, Knaus says, is willing to accept the horrific conditions because "the Tsipras government wants to deter refugees by treating new arrivals poorly."

Furthermore, because the number of those coming across the Aegean has plunged since the establishment of the deal three years ago, Knaus says, nobody in Europe is interested in taking up the issue. "There is simply a lack of political will to mitigate the suffering of refugees in Greece," he says.

The Greek Ministry of Migration Policy rejects such a notion and says that Greece is unable to shoulder the entire burden. "Our resources are finite," the ministry says, adding that the EU-Turkey pact was merely meant as a temporary, emergency measure. "The emergency has passed, and so should the pact," a ministry official told DER SPIEGEL. As a replacement, the Greek government would like to see a procedure in which other EU member states take refugees off Greece's hands and process their asylum claims there.

Athens has already negotiated a bilateral agreement with Portugal that works in accordance with this principle. As part of the deal, Lisbon has committed to taking up to 1,000 asylum-seekers. They are to be registered in Greece, but their asylum hearings will be carried out by Portuguese officials.

The plan would resemble the "relocation mechanism" that saw some EU member states begin helping out Greece and Italy in 2015, though on a voluntary basis. That plan has since expired, and it seems unlikely that such a mechanism might be reintroduced. Even after European Parliament elections in late May, countries like Hungary and Poland are likely to continue standing in the way.

The sun has already set by the time Vanessa Djila and Annick Toudji are finally welcomed into the sparsely furnished office belonging to the lawyer from Lesbos. He has crammed two tiny desks and five chairs into the 10-square-meter (110-square-foot) space. The air is sticky and everyone -- the lawyer, Toudji and Djila -- are all silent. Vanessa has just finished telling the story of that night when she was raped by the group of men. Nobody helped her, she says, and the camp's only psychologist sent her away after just a few minutes.

Toudji is staring at the wall, her dark eyes full of tears. When it is finally her turn to speak, she says something that even Djila doesn't know yet: Two days ago, after months in the jungle, she received a residency permit. "I have asylum," she says.

Toudji says she has already been to the police to apply for her new identification papers, but she says she was sent away and told to come back in two weeks. In the camp, she was also told that it would be better to wait until the UN Refugee Agency has an apartment for her on the mainland.

'You Are Free!'

Should she go to Athens anyway? All alone, without a job, without a place to live? There, too, she would likely only get the 150 euros per month she receives in the camp. But that's hardly enough to live on. Maybe she would manage to find a place to live somewhere, but it is far from a certainty. And how is she to find her way in Athens when she doesn't even know the difference between "kaliméra" (good morning) and "kalispéra" (good evening)? "I'm afraid," says Toudji. "Maybe I'll have to stay."

"Annick," the lawyer says. "Do you have a blue stamp on your ID papers?"

"Yes," Toudji says quietly.

"Then go, Annick, go," the lawyer says. "You are free! You don't need the police. Even if you don't get an apartment and money, it's better than staying here."

Toudji looks at him and Djila, saying nothing. All the energy seems to have left her body. She slides forward carefully on her plastic chair.

"If they take this stamp away from me," she says, "then I'm going to walk into the water."

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« Reply #3712 on: Today at 04:49 AM »

It’s not just obstructing justice: Here are 5 additional impeachment charges Trump could potentially face

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
25 Apr 2019 at 00:10 ET                  

Momentum seems to be gathering around the idea of beginning impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump. Some top Democrats are reluctant to outright call for impeachment, and they may not even want to call the coming hearings “impeachment proceedings,” but Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report lays out a clear case that Trump obstructed justice on many occasions. Democrats will investigate these incidents, and that should put them on the road to impeachment.

But it shouldn’t stop there. While meeting all the statutory requirements for obstruction of justice in his efforts to shut down the Mueller probe may be the most decisive case of a “high crime misdemeanor,” there are many other charges that could be brought against Trump that could also reach that threshold. If the House Judiciary Committee gets to the point where it is explicitly considering articles of impeachment, other charges should make the list.

Some may argue that expanding the set of charges is overreaching and that it would be better to stick to the narrower set of facts and analysis that Mueller lays out to make the case against Trump. But lawmakers should endeavor to hold Trump accountable for as many of his outrageous acts as possible and draw clear lines in the sand. And strategically, this may work to the benefit of an impeachment effort; perhaps some Republicans could even be encouraged to vote for certain articles of impeachment if they could also distance themselves somewhat from Democrats by voting against certain other charges.

So if Democrats end up pursuing impeachment in earnest, they should consider including the following charges:

1. Directing prosecutions of Hillary Clinton

As the New York Times pointed out Wednesday, the Mueller report showed that on three separate occasions, Trump pushed then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prosecute Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that he had recused from any issues that came up during the 2016 campaign. Trump had promised to “lock her up” during the campaign — which was pointed out as an authoritarian pledge at the time — and his attempt to follow through on it should be regarded as an outrageous abuse of power.

The report said that Trump was “trying to wield the power of law enforcement to target a political rival, a step that no president since Richard M. Nixon is known to have taken.”

“Not a crime, but just about the biggest abuse of power possible, and surely a textbook impeachable offense,” said former DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller of the Times report.

2. Offering to preemptively pardon to CBP chief

According to CNN, the president offered to pardon Customs and Border Commissioner Kevin McAleenan if he were arrested for following Trump’s orders to illegally deny asylum seekers entry to the country. This report has been confirmed by the New York Times, and Congress plans to investigate it further. If it turns it out it happened as described, it’s another case of Trump’s propensity to wildly abuse his power, and it could be grounds for impeachment. Similarly, Trump reportedly ordered CBP officers to deny entry to asylum seekers in violation of the law and to refuse to comply with any court orders to the contrary.

3. Directing criminal hush money payments

President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen is going to prison in part because of his participation in a criminal hush money scheme in the months before the 2016 election to silence women who said they had affairs. When Cohen pleaded guilty in the case, brought by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, he said in his allocution that Trump (“Individual-1”) directed him to carry out these campaign finance crimes. It would be a gross miscarriage of justice if only Trump’s flunky is forced to pay for these crimes.

4. Emoluments

Since day one of his term as president, many have argued that Trump is in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. This prevents anyone holding a United States office — including the president — from accepting
“any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” (An emolument is a salary or payment.)

At least some of Trump’s many businesses, which he still owns, take money from foreign governments. For example, sometimes emissaries of foreign governments stay at his Washington, D.C. hotel — effectively putting money in his pocket. He is currently facing civil lawsuits for his violation of this clause, but there’s no reason the House couldn’t decide that his willful breach of the Constitution is a “high crime or misdemeanor.”

5. Separating families

While Trump corruption, shady financial dealings, and abuses of power draw most attention when talking about impeachment, many of the reasons people most want Trump out of office relate to his horrifying policies. Obviously, impeachment isn’t usually the solution for policy disagreements, but if a policy is extreme and abusive enough, there’s a plausible case that it should be. Trump’s separation of migrant families falls into the category.

Not only was it cruel and abusive on its face, but aggravating the initial wrong, the administration had no plan to reunite the families they separated. The policy has had devastating effects thus far, and its impacts will last a lifetime. No one has yet been held responsible for these abuses, but it shouldn’t be hard to argue that they constitute “high crimes.”


‘Jail time’: Top Dem explains how they will deal with Trump officials involved in a ‘cover-up’

Raw Story

The Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Tuesday that imprisonment was a possibility for members of Donald Trump’s administration engaged in a “cover-up.”

Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA) explained how House Democrats intend to proceed in the face of obstruction by Trump loyalists.

“The White House is ordering people to ignore subpoenas from your committee, not just in terms of documents, but also in terms of appearing,” Maddow noted. “How does this resolve?”

“I mean, this is completely unprecedented, right?” Hill replied. “We don’t have examples of this where we have attempt after attempt after attempt to obstruct every kind of oversight into this administration. It’s really embarrassing and not just embarrassing, it’s dangerous.”

“I know yesterday the committee seemed to indicate that you’re moving toward holding this one White House official — on the security clearances issue — you’re moving toward holding him in contempt. What kind of penalties does that open him up to?” Maddow asked. “What sort of leverage does that give you over him to compel his testimony?”

“So there’s — when you told somebody in contempt, there are a few different things that can happen,” Hill replied. “That could mean jail time — where we have a conundrum right now is the Department of Justice is — we’ve got [Attorney General Bill Barr] who is acing more as Trump’s personal attorney and so I think where we have to figure out what exactly the path that we go down is going to depend on whether we can count on the Department of Justice to really uphold the Constitution and uphold the power of Congress as an independent branch.”

“And if that’s not the case, we have to look at different options here and again, I think it’s important for us to get back into session next week, to meet with the different chairmen, to meet with leadership and figure out exactly where this leaves us,” she explained.

She added, “it should be undeniable to the American people that this administration is doing everything that it can to cover up so many facets of what it has done … both before and since he became president.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGV7yEkoEu0


Trump’s retaliation against witnesses could get him 10 years in prison: Ex-Nixon lawyer

Raw Story

On Wednesday’s edition of “The Rachel Maddow Show,” former Nixon lawyer William Jeffress warned President Donald Trump that his behavior could put him in legal jeopardy.

“Through his tweets if nothing else, President Trump has made it clear that he’s furious at a number of people, certainly including Don McGahn, including Michael Cohen, likely including others who provided information to Mr. Mueller,” said Jeffress. “And that information made its way into the report and was embarrassing to President Trump.”

“Now there is a criminal statute on the books. It’s called retaliation against witnesses,” said Jeffress. “It punishes anybody who takes action to retaliate against a witness who has provided truthful information to law enforcement authorities. And President Trump and his lawyers have got to be very cautious in taking any action other than words against any of these people who he is angry at.”

“In terms of — what you just said there, other than words, would the kind of criticism that the president has levied already against people who have testified potentially be shaky ground, given the possibility of intimidation of witnesses being invoked here as a relevant statute?” Maddow pressed him. “Would it have to be some sort of act of furtherance to try to cause harm to those persons?” Maddow noted a recent report that the Trump campaign fired McGahn’s law firm ahead of the 2020 election.

“The way the statute reads is, if the president causes any harm to an individual in retaliation for his testimony, that’s a criminal offense carrying a prison sentence of up to 10 years,” said Jeffress. “And, yes, I think if you caused the firing of a law firm that caused harm to the witness, and you did that specifically with intent to retaliate against the witness’ testimony, that would unquestionably be a crime.”


Scathing editorial says ‘hostile’ Trump is defying Congress to save him from ‘political jeopardy’

Raw Story

On Wednesday, the editorial board at The Washington Post wrote that President Donald Trump is more concerned about “political jeopardy” than protecting the Oval Office.

As multiple investigations loom over Trump, he told his team to ignore subpoenas from House Democrats.

“If that were the standard, then Congress could never investigate anything. Mr. Trump’s Republican colleagues must remember the battles they fought with President Barack Obama over transparency only a few years ago when they ran the House,” the board wrote.

The editorial went on to explains that Trump’s “own words” are revealing his true motives.

“Mr. Trump’s own words reveal that he is motivated not by any specific concern about protecting presidential decision-making or some other crucial executive-branch function — but by concealing anything that might land him in political jeopardy,” they said.

Trump actions are, yet again, unprecedented the editorial noted.

“In the past, the executive branch and Congress generally struck deals to avoid direct confrontations on executive secrecy. But Mr. Trump seems unlikely to ditch his pugnacious attitude. If and when courts consider the situation, they will find a president unreasonably hostile to Congress’s legitimate interest in gathering information,” they wrote.


Constitution expert Laurence Tribe claims ‘treacherous’ Trump ‘has committed many crimes’

Raw Story

Constitutional law expert Laurence Tribe detailed how his views about impeaching President Donald Trump have changed during recent years.

Tribe was the co-author of the 2018 book To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment.

MSNBC anchor Lawrence O’Donnell noted that “the guidance you gave us in that book was in many ways putting the brakes on talk about impeachment that we were hearing [back] then. This story has changed dramatically to where we are tonight.”

“It certainly has,” Tribe replied. “I was saying impeachment can be very divisive. It can have a big backlash, it can look like we’re trying to undo an election, so we have to go slowly and carefully.”

That changed with the public release of the redacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“After the Mueller report came out, with all after its astonishing revelations about the systemic and sustained Russian attack on our democracy and the president’s sustained efforts to obstruct inquiry into that attack — even inquiry of a counterintelligence-type that would enable us better protect ourselves from going on attack in 2020 — it game clear there was no time to lose,” Tribe explained.

“So that’s why I’m very much in favor of the kinds of hearings that Rep. Nadler (D-NY) already as chairman of Judiciary is engaged in now. They’re not called impeachment hearings, but the impeachment process for anyone who understands what’s going on,” he continued. “It’s underway, but they don’t have the bumper sticker yet.”

“They’re looking into all of the evidence connecting the dots and as you’re earlier guests said, putting live witnesses on the air so that people can see for themselves through people like Don McGahn just how corrupt and fundamentally criminal this president was,” he explained. “And we cannot assume that public opinion will be completely impervious to that demonstration. That’s why the president is trying to shut them all up, trying to stonewall in this unprecedented way.”

Tribe said Trump’s crimes were worse than those committed by former President Richard Nixon.

Nixon “was not engaging in treacherous betrayal of the American republic. He was being a scofflaw, being a crook, but now we’ve got somebody who is fundamentally engaged in treachery.”

“Nothing could be more serious,” the Harvard Law professor concluded.

Tribe added that Trump “can still be tried criminally and that hopefully will happen when this president leaves office because he’s committed a lot of crimes.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4bQoXhBTMI


Trump is now obstructing justice right before our eyes — and he shows no signs of stopping

Amanda Marcotte, Salon - COMMENTARY
25 Apr 2019 at 14:05 ET                  

Last week, the public finally got to read (most of) a report by special counsel Robert Mueller detailing the results of an investigation into Donald Trump and his campaign’s involvement with Russian efforts to interfere with American democracy and Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice. The report was damning enough, chronicling both the Trump campaign’s extensive efforts to collude that, only through sheer incompetence, failed to rise to the level of criminal conspiracy, and multiple instances of obstruction that would likely lead to criminal indictment if Trump wasn’t a sitting president.

But even though the investigation is done and the report has been released, according to new reports out, both the collusion and the obstruction are ongoing. The Democrats who control the House of Representatives might as well start impeachment hearings now. With Trump committing misdeeds faster than Democrats can schedule hearings to investigate misdeeds, they can do so with the assurance that it’ll never get to a vote while Trump’s still in office.

With former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen out of office — basically fired on the grounds of insufficient racism — reporters are getting their fair share of stories from an anonymous “former senior administration official” eager to share tales of White House dysfunction that nonetheless paint Nielsen in a good light. The latest, from the New York Times, is particularly disturbing, in light of how clear it is that the Russian government fully intends to escalate its criminal interference in American politics for the 2020 election.

The article reports that Nielsen had become “increasingly concerned about Russia’s continued activity in the United States” and was particularly worried about “new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids.”

But when she tried to bring up these concerns to Trump, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told her not to, arguing that “Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory.”

This backs up other reports that show that the White House, while not actively trying to prevent American intelligence services from dealing with Russian attacks on American democracy, also refuses to offer any support or possibly even acknowledge that there’s a problem.

The obvious reason the Trump administration doesn’t want to help stop the Russian interference is that they believe that it benefits them. This is in line with what the Mueller report showed, which is that Trump and his campaign staff repeatedly tried to conspire with the Russian government’s efforts, but were unsuccessful due only to incompetence. Which is to say, this is a passive form of collusion, similar to a pawn shop that pretends  not to know that they’re fencing stolen goods.

Similarly, the efforts at obstructing justice not only are ongoing, but seem to be multiplying in response to the increased pressure from newly empowered Democrats. As the Washington Post reported Tuesday evening, Trump “is opposed to current and former White House aides providing testimony to congressional panels” and his administration plans to launch all-out legal warfare against any effort to subpoena witnesses and obtain documents.

This echoes the behavior recorded by Mueller, who laid out an eye-poppingly extensive campaign by Trump to hide information, lie to prosecutors, and otherwise obstruct federal investigations into any potential misdeeds by Trump or his allies. Trump continues to — publicly, shamelessly — do everything in his power to obstruct justice and evade any efforts to learn more about his conflicts of interest and potential crimes.

Trump not only gleefully missed Tuesday’s deadline to release his tax returns, but his plan is to use a bunch of pointless and likely doomed litigation maneuvers as a stalling mechanism to prevent the release of his financial information. On Monday, Trump sued both his own accounting firm and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-M.D., to block the subpoena from the House Oversight Committee, which Cummings chairs, into Trump’s financial records.

Trump’s legal team is using a frankly silly argument, saying that as there’s “no possible legislation at the end of this tunnel,” Congress has no legal authority to exercise oversight powers. The team claims that only the Department of Justice should be involved in such investigatory matters.

Of course, as Trump’s lawyers know, the Department of Justice has done some investigating in this matter, but punted the legal responsibilities to Congress on the grounds that the Justice Department can’t indict a sitting president. So Justice can’t deal with him on the grounds that it’s Congress’s job, but Congress can’t deal with him because that’s Justice’s job. Trump’s lawyers, in essence, are trying to establish that the president is above the law.

It probably won’t work as a legal argument (though with the Supreme Court stuffed with right wing hacks, anything is possible). But then again, it’s not really meant to. Instead, the strategy seems to be to tie up the subpoenas in court for as long as possible — ideally, until after the election — through frivolous litigation. Since that is only 19 months away, it’s not impossible for this strategy to work.

There is good news, however. While strong majorities of Trump voters will stand by him no matter how blatant his corruption or  how shamelessly he obstructs justice, there is reason to believe that the metastasizing scandals are demobilizing Trump’s supporters at the margins.

As political scientist Michael McDonald pointed out on Twitter Tuesday, Census data about the 2018 election shows a surprising drop in the share of the electorate that is white non-Hispanic from 2016 to 2018. It’s small — from 73.4% to 72.8% of the voters — but significant, because the non-Hispanic white share of the vote tends to go up during midterm elections and down during presidential elections, due to more people of color sitting out midterms.

What this means is either more people of color turned out to vote in 2018 than usual for midterms or more white people stayed home, or some combination of the two trends. While race is hardly a stand in for political affiliation, it’s also undeniable that most white people vote for Republicans, including Trump, and most people of color vote for Democrats. So these numbers, which helped Democrats gain 40 seats in the House in November, suggest that Trump’s over-the-top corruption is having a mobilizing effect on his opposition and demobilizing effect on his support.

All of which is why it’s time for Democrats to move beyond fears of beginning impeachment hearings. I used to be skeptical of impeachment, fearful that it could backfire if and when the Republican-controlled Senate failed to convict Trump. But with the Mueller report out and Trump responding only by escalating the criminally suspicious behavior he engages in, there’s good reason to think that starting impeachment trials will not only be the right thing to do, but will benefit the Democrats.

Trump’s guilty-acting behavior in response to the Mueller report has caused his approval ratings to go down again, after all, with 57% of Americans expressing disapproval of Trump. If Democrats start impeachment hearings, Trump will almost certainly escalate his obstruction and his public temper tantrums, making it impossible for the public to ignore that he acts as guilty as anyone has ever acted in the history of criminal investigations. And it also means there’s no reason to rush to a vote on impeachment, as Trump will keep taking actions that further open up criminal liability, adding to the list of things that need investigating and to the already long list of potential articles of impeachment.

At a certain point, even people who may not hate Trump as much as his fiercest opponents do might simply want him and the entire circus to go away, and the quickest and surest route to that is voting him out of office.

Either way, Trump has made it clear that he not only doesn’t feel shame about either collusion or obstruction, but fully intends to continue both, so long as he can get away with it. With the president thumbing his nose at the law so blatantly, the only reasonable response is to start impeachment hearings. Otherwise, it will just encourage more law-breaking from future Republican candidates.


Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell’s long-term strategy of packing the Supreme Court is becoming an obscene reality

Robert Reich - COMMENTARY
24 Apr 2019 at 14:13 ET                  

The Supreme Court heard arguments today on the Trump administration’s decision to alter the 2020 Census to ask people if they are American citizens.

In a former life, I argued cases before the Supreme Court. From what I gathered today, it looks as if the five Republican appointees to the Court have already decided this move by Trump is constitutional.

But it’s not. The U.S. Constitution calls for “actual enumeration” of the total population for an explicit purpose:  To count the residents – not just citizens, residents – of every state to properly allocate congressional representatives to the states based on population.

Asking whether someone is a citizen is likely to cause some immigrants — not just non-citizens, but also those with family members or close friends who aren’t citizens — not to respond for fear that they or their loved ones would be deported. In the current climate of fear, this isn’t an irrational response.

The result would be a systemic undercounting of immigrant communities. The Census Bureau has already calculated that it’s likely to result in a 5.1 percent undercount of noncitizen households.

This would have two grossly unfair results.

In the first place, these communities and the states they’re in would get less federal aid. Census data is used in over 132 programs nationwide to allocate over $675 billion each year.

An undercount would deprive many immigrant communities and their states of the health care, education and assistance they need and are entitled to.

Secondly, these communities and the states they’re in would have fewer representatives in Congress. The Census count determines the distribution of congressional seats among states. Under the Constitution, these seats depend on the total number of people residing in the state, not just citizens.

Which is the real reason for this move by the Trump administration.

It’s no secret that immigrants with the right to vote tend to vote for Democrats. So undercounting neighborhoods that are heavily Latino or Asian would mean fewer Democratic members of Congress.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the citizenship question is necessary in order to better enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Baloney. The Trump administration has shown zero interest in the Voting Rights Act. It has even defended voter suppression laws in court.

This is nothing but a Republican power grab orchestrated by the White House.

If Chief Justice John Roberts sides with his four Republican colleagues on this, the ruling will be the third in a series of landmark 5-to-4 Roberts Court decisions whose main purpose is to cement Republican control of federal and state governments.

The first and second were “Shelby County in 2013, which gutted the 1965 Civil Rights Act, and last year’s Janus decision, declaring that public employees don’t have to pay union dues.

Mitch McConnell’s long-term strategy of packing the Court in order to entrench the Republican Party is becoming an obscene reality.


Trump’s former White House lawyer may blow off the president’s demand to ignore subpoenas: report

Raw Story

President Donald Trump has made several moves to thwart multiple investigations into his presidency by House Democrats.

The White House told aides not to comply with subpoena in an attempt to stonewall investigations.

However, CNN reporter Manu Raju said that lawyers might ignore Trump’s demands. Recently, Trump boasted about his leadership by saying no one defies his orders after special counsel Robert Mueller’s report reveals that several aides did not do as he commanded.

“Facing WH defiance over demands and refusal to comply with subpoenas, Dems acknowledge they have limited options to push back. Holding in contempt is mostly symbolic and enforcing subpoenas will take court action and take time. So they’ll go to court,” Manu tweeted.

    A source familiar with McGahn’s thinking said the former White House counsel will do what the law requires, but no decision has been made yet about whether to cooperate with House Judiciary. https://t.co/ARWRbr94vl

    — Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 24, 2019

“Facing WH defiance over demands and refusal to comply with subpoenas, Dems acknowledge they have limited options to push back. Holding in contempt is mostly symbolic and enforcing subpoenas will take court action and take time. So they’ll go to court,” added.

    Facing WH defiance over demands and refusal to comply with subpoenas, Dems acknowledge they have limited options to push back. Holding in contempt is mostly symbolic and enforcing subpoenas will take court action and take time. So they’ll go to court. https://t.co/q1CpR1OEaG

    — Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 24, 2019


Mueller’s mystery referrals are ‘fueling anxiety’ as Trump rages against notetakers in the White House: report

Raw Story

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump once again fumed about the Mueller report, calling it a “witch hunt.”

Although the president initially appeared to celebrate the report’s findings — based on the very truncated memo written by Attorney General Bill Barr — sources behind the scenes tell Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman that he was always furious about what he knew the full report would reveal.

Trump has reserved most of his public ire for former White House Special Counsel Don McGahn. But Vanity Fair found out that he’s chiefly enraged at the so-called “notetakers” — members of the administration, like Rob Porter, who took notes during meetings.

“The former officials Trump has vented about, sources told me, are a group known as ‘the notetakers’ that includes former White House counsel Don McGahn, McGahn’s deputy Annie Donaldson, and staff secretary Rob Porter,” Sherman writes. ‘“The thing that pisses him off is the note-taking,”’ a former West Wing official interviewed by Mueller told me. “Trump thinks they could have cooperated with Mueller without all the note-taking.”’

Sherman also noted that there might be more bad news for the White House.

‘”Another vector fueling anxiety in Trumpworld is the shoes that have yet to drop, including the 12 criminal referrals mentioned in the report,”‘ Sherman writes.

According to Mueller’s final report, the special counsel’s team referred 14 criminal cases to other offices. Only two of those referrals are known. One was related to former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, while the other was related to former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig.

“What are these 12 that we don’t know about? They will not be good,” a Republican close to the White House told Vanity Fair.


This Trump proposal ‘should send chills down the spine of anyone with a conscience’

Agence France-Presse
25 Apr 2019 at 14:28 ET                  

The Trump administration earlier this year reportedly considered detaining migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, the 17-year-old U.S. prison in Cuba that human rights advocates have condemned as a horrific stain on American history.

“The idea of incarcerating children at Guantánamo should send chills down the spine of anyone with a conscience,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted Tuesday. “This is what happens when our president is so racist that he sees migrant children as an ‘invasion’ and not vulnerable children to be protected.”

The Trump administration’s proposal was first reported by the New York Times, which explained that Guantánamo “has a dormitory facility that has been used in the past to hold asylum-seekers.”

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security “examined” the plan earlier this year, the Times reported.

According to the Times:

    While there were no ‘immediate’ plans to house migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, the Defense Department is attempting to identify military bases that might be used for that purpose, a department spokesman, Tom Crosson, said on Monday…

    Meanwhile, authorities are struggling to identify new locations where migrants can be held in detention. The military awarded a $23 million contract in February to build a ‘contingency mass migration complex’ at Guantánamo, a plan that would expand the existing facility to house 13,000 migrants and 5,000 support staff in tents. That project appears intended primarily to accommodate a crush of migrants that might accompany a new crisis in the Caribbean, though it could theoretically be used to house Central Americans.

Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group that has long called for the closure of Guantánamo, called the Trump administration’s proposal “beyond appalling.”

    Beyond appalling: "In one initiative examined earlier this year, Department of Homeland Security officials looked at housing #migrant #children at #Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which has a dormitory facility that has been used in the past to hold asylum seekers." https://t.co/9qfPh77vYg

    — Physicians for Human Rights (@P4HR) April 23, 2019

The human rights group Amnesty International also denounced the reported plan on Twitter.

“Kids should not be in detention, period. And even considering putting them Guantánamo Bay is inhumane,” the organization said Tuesday. “Detaining asylum-seekers is a choice, and it’s a harmful and irresponsible one. The Trump administration’s mass detentions must come to an end.”

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