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« Reply #3690 on: Feb 15, 2019, 05:24 AM »

Venezuela: Juan Guaidó denies bid to unseat Maduro has failed

Opposition leader believes movement for change in the country is irreversible

Tom Phillips in Caracas
Fri 15 Feb 2019 09.14 GMT

The Venezuelan opposition leader spearheading efforts to unseat Nicolás Maduro has rejected his rival’s claim that his campaign has failed but admitted the “trickle” of military defections to his side had so far been insufficient to force change.

In an interview with the Guardian, Juan Guaidó – now recognised as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president by more than 50 governments – insisted his country’s march into a new political era was unstoppable and Maduro’s “cruel dictatorship” doomed.

He repudiated Maduro’s claim this week that the opposition’s audacious challenge had collapsed as a mix of propaganda and delusion.

“I don’t see how it is over ... In fact, I’d venture to say change in Venezuela is irreversible ... Never before in Venezuela have we had such an important opportunity to achieve democratic change,” said the 35-year-old lawmaker who has been catapulted to fame since declaring himself Venezuela’s rightful leader on 23 January.

“I believe he is utterly detached from reality – constantly contradicting himself in his speeches – and this is a worry when we are seeking a peaceful transition,” Guaidó added of Maduro.

“This is how dictatorships always behave: they deny reality, they deny crises … What we must do is carrying on pushing forwards … carry on piling pressure on a dictatorship which is obviously not going to hand power over [voluntarily].”

The walls of the Caracas headquarters of Guaidó’s centrist party, Voluntad Popular (People’s Will), are decorated with inspirational quotes from pacifists and freedom fighters including Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,” says one, beneath a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi.

But critics question the authoritarian inclinations of several of Guaidó’s key allies, particularly in the US and Brazil.

Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, has attacked Maduro’s “despicable and murderous” regime but is notorious for celebrating a dictatorship-era torturer and sugarcoating the sins of the generals who ruled Brazil from 1964 until 1985.

The US president, Donald Trump, is also known for his admiration of autocrats including Vladimir Putin of Russia, China’s Xi Jinping, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, a Maduro ally whom Trump recently showered with praise.

Guaidó sidestepped criticism of his champions in Washington and Brasilia, claiming he hoped to build a broad international alliance including leftists such as Ecuador’s Lenín Moreno and rightwingers including the Chilean president, Sebastián Piñera.

“It’s an unprecedented coalition in support of a just cause,” he said, pointing to recognition from Australia, Germany, Honduras, Israel, Morocco, Paraguay, Poland, Spain and Japan.

“All those who talk about democracy, freedom and the rule of law, of human rights, of the fight against corruption are, I believe, important allies.”

Juan Andrés Mejía, a Voluntad Popular lawmaker and Guaidó ally, said: “Look, we are thankful to all heads of government that have supported our cause. But the fact that they support us doesn’t mean that we approve of everything they do abroad – or in their own countries.”

Nearly a month after Guaidó sparked a potentially historic showdown with Maduro – who inherited Hugo Chávez’s leftist Bolivarian revolution after his 2013 death – huge crowds of demonstrators continue to take to the streets in support.

But with Maduro showing no sign of budging, some fear Guaidó’s movement could lose momentum. In 2017, mass anti-Maduro protests also convinced many Chávez’s heir was finished only for him to emerge strengthened.

Guaidó insisted the 2019 revolt was different, largely because of its international backing and sky-high discontent among citizens and members of the military suffering the consequences of their country’s economic collapse.

“The fall of the Berlin Wall took a day … It was a barrier and it came down. I believe we are on the verge of something similar,” he said, adding that he hoped Maduro would be gone in “a very short period of time”.

Guaidó claimed 80%-90% of Venezuela’s population opposed Maduro and 80% of Venezuela’s armed forces wanted political change. But he also hinted at opposition frustration that an anticipated wave of high-level defections from the military had not yet materialised.

“More than the trickle that we have seen, a declaration en bloc by the armed forces would be ideal,” Guaidó admitted.

With the crisis dragging on longer than many observers had expected, and new American oil sanctions expected to bite soon, some fear food and fuel shortages could contribute to a calamitous breakdown in security.

At an event in Caracas on Wednesday night, one prominent security expert, Javier Ignacio Mayorca, warned: “The security situation in Venezuela could deteriorate tremendously … in the coming days.”

Guaidó admitted there were “X number of scenarios” – including violent ones – for Venezuela’s immediate future, but said he still believed the most likely prospect was a peaceful transition.

“The only ones talking about war are them,” the opposition leader said of Maduro’s authoritarian government, which has been promoting regular displays of military might since the crisis began.

Mayroca said it was also impossible to rule out an attack on Guaidó himself. “Venezuela doesn’t have a tradition of the physical elimination of big political players. But there could always be a first,” he warned, evoking the 1948 assassination of the Colombian politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán that sparked a decade of bloodshed known as La Violencia.

Guaidó, a spindly father-of-one whose calm manner and eloquence remind some of Barack Obama, admitted he was engaged in a high-stakes gamble. “Doing politics in Venezuela is a risk and you can pay with your life,” he said, pointing to more than 400 political prisoners and 1,000 exiles.

Might jail or exile be his future if Venezuela’s military refused to abandon Maduro?

“Or perhaps even death,” Guaidó replied. “As we say in Venezuela: ‘May God have mercy upon us’,” he added, knocking the table in front of him twice with his knuckles. “Obviously, there is a latent risk.”

With that, Guaidó strode out of the 17th floor office down a corridor whose walls were inscribed with handwritten tributes to his political mentor, Leopoldo López, who was jailed in 2014 for his role in the struggle against Maduro.

One message stood out from the calligraphy. “El futuro nos pertenece,” it said. “The future belongs to us.”

Additional reporting by Patricia Torres.

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« Reply #3691 on: Feb 15, 2019, 05:26 AM »

Spain's PM calls snap general election for 28 April

Country’s third general election in less than four years comes after national budget rejected

Stephen Burgen in Madrid and agencies
Fri 15 Feb 2019 09.31 GMT

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, has called a snap election for 28 April after Catalan secessionists joined rightwing parties in rejecting the socialist government’s national budget earlier in the week.

The country’s third general election in less than four years was seen as an inevitability following Sánchez’ defeat on Wednesday.

“Between doing nothing and continuing without the budget and calling on Spaniards to have their say, I choose the second. Spain needs to keep advancing, progressing with tolerance, respect, moderation and common sense,” Sánchez said in a televised address to the nation following a cabinet meeting.

“I have proposed to dissolve parliament and call elections for 28 April.”

Sánchez’s PSOE, which holds 84 of the 350 seats in congress, relied on the support of Basque and Catalan nationalist parties to seize power from the conservative People’s party (PP) in a confidence vote last year.

But the two main Catalan pro-independence parties – the Catalan Republican Left and Catalan European Democratic party – voted with the PP and centre-right Citizens party. The budget was defeated by 191 to 158, with one abstention.

A general election had been due next year.

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« Reply #3692 on: Feb 15, 2019, 05:30 AM »

Nigeria's youth boom approaches the voting booth frustrated

New Europe

ABUJA, Nigeria — Halima Usman is part of a booming new generation in Nigeria, voting for the first time in a presidential election Saturday after being raised during the country's two decades of civilian rule.

A majority of eligible voters in Africa's most populous nation are now 35 or younger, a demographic that will help double the continent's population by 2050. Yet the 23-year-old Usman is visibly frustrated. She and other young voters across Africa chafe under leadership that is two, three, even four times their age. President Muhammadu Buhari, 76, has spent months of his term overseas for medical treatment. His top challenger, Atiku Abubakar, is 72. Between them, they have run for president nine times.

"Buhari and Atiku are older than Nigeria itself," Usman told The Associated Press, with zero irony: The candidates were born more than a decade before Nigeria's independence in 1960. "These old people, they don't want to leave these possibilities for us."

Now a movement is making room for youthful voters like Usman in Nigeria's rough-fisted electoral process, where so-called godfathers in major parties often dictate who runs with maximum payoffs in mind. Meanwhile, Africa's largest economy limps along on crumbling infrastructure as money is drained away by graft.

"Old, recycled politicians," sniffed presidential candidate Kingsley Moghalu, a former Central Bank of Nigeria official who, at 56, is young enough to pitch himself to the rising generation. He has been endorsed by Nobel laureate and playwright Wole Soyinka, who dismisses Buhari and Abubakar as "worthy of absolute rejection."

At a nationally televised town hall, Moghalu laid out the grim landscape for young Nigerians. Youth unemployment at 54 percent, nearly double the overall rate. Three million people entering the job market each year. A three-month strike, now suspended, by university academics that he called "a national tragedy."

This political shift toward wooing Nigeria's youth began in May when Buhari signed a bill lowering the ages of candidates for president, governorships and lawmakers. Now a 35-year-old can run for president instead of waiting another half-decade. It has opened the doors to several presidential candidates under 40, though a few have withdrawn. More than 70 candidates are chasing the presidency in all.

The bill followed a nearly 10-year push by a movement calling itself Not Too Young to Run, which has inspired a global campaign by the United Nations. "This is the youngest continent in the world," executive director Samson Itodo told the AP. "When you look at democracy, it's about the majority. You cannot continue to exclude your largest bloc in decision-making. Young people are angry. We are fed up with this ruling elite who do not care about the people."

Some National Assembly lawmakers, trying to protect the status quo, made a last-minute effort to persuade colleagues to vote against the bill, he said. The youth movement, fueled by social media, quickly turned old school, printing fliers overnight explaining its benefits. By the time the bill passed, lawmakers were jostling to take selfies with the fliers to show young constituents back home, Itodo said.

The victory followed what researchers have called a breakdown in the social contract between generations. Youth in Nigeria once avoided criticizing their elders, who guided them in life, but that older generation increasingly is seen as not fulfilling its role.

"In the next couple of years, if Nigeria is not able to deal with this, we are going to be in a long-lasting conflict which of course will be built on existing fault lines," warned Idayat Hassan, director of the Center for Democracy and Development in Abuja. Youth gangs, once associated with universities as violent campus mafias, have moved into the streets, she said.

"There cannot be peace in the country unless we're able to ... actively engage with youth," Hassan said. Itodo, of Not Too Young to Run, pointed to signs of progress, including at least 14 million young voters registered since 2017. "Nigerian youths! There is no polling unit on social media," wrote the movement this week, reminding young voters that they cannot vote online but must go to actual polling stations.

And on Sunday, Nigerians watched an extraordinary televised debate featuring five of the youngest presidential candidates, all 40 or under. They pitched a Nigeria with 24-hour working electricity, good education and elected officials with a "true, selfless plan" for the people.

Those are soaring ideals in a country where children herd cattle along the capital's highways, hawk in roadside markets and beg, and where government buildings in the capital, Abuja, a city built in the 1980s, are already rotting away.

The young candidates, though polished and enthusiastic, remain the longest of shots in Nigeria, where millions of dollars are needed for a serious presidential run. "I put in almost $1 million of my own resources," 38-year-old candidate Emmanuel Etim said Wednesday after joining Buhari and other contenders in signing a pledge to pursue a peaceful election.

Etim was skeptical of Buhari's seeming embrace of Not Too Young to Run, saying the president had made no effort to engage with young challengers on a "neutral platform," offering access only to those who step aside and endorse him.

Then again, Wednesday's event went far better than a similar one in December, Etim said. At that time, Buhari "was shocked that a young person was even in the race," he said. "He literally giggled at me."

Now, Etim added, "I think he's taking us more seriously."

Follow Africa news at https://twitter.com/AP_Africa

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« Reply #3693 on: Feb 15, 2019, 05:32 AM »

In Nigeria, election spectacle at odds with rampant poverty

New Europe

RUGA SETTLEMENT, Nigeria  — It's hard to find a campaign poster in this threadbare settlement on the outskirts of the Nigerian capital, where thousands live in makeshift structures of tarpaulin and sticks of timber.

From his little grocery shop, 65-year-old Jafar Ali awaits the moment a presidential contender will visit Ruga. He isn't hopeful. "Of all the funds that have been spent, not even one naira has come into my hands," Ali said, referring to the Nigerian currency that is equal to about a quarter of one U.S. cent.

"We have been hearing that a lot of money is being shared," he added, referring to the cash the top candidates hand out to draw crowds to their rallies and the no-interest loans the government has been distributing before the vote.

"All we ask God is to give us a leader who will remember us one day and come here," Ali said. On the eve of Nigeria's election on Saturday, the spectacle of campaign expenditure is at odds with the rampant poverty afflicting many. The lack of campaigning in this impoverished area contrasts with the election-time bustle of downtown Abuja, where the capital's tree-lined streets are adorned with colorful posters of presidential candidates and where their followers are ferried in buses to boisterous events.

It also highlights the frustration many of Nigeria's poor feel amid an election campaign said to be one of the country's most expensive ever as incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari tries to shake off the challenge of his billionaire rival, Atiku Abubakar.

Although there are legal limits to how much a presidential candidate can spend — one billion naira, or about $2.7 million — the campaigns of Buhari and Abubakar are widely believed to have spent far in excess of that, often with the support of groups that donate huge amounts of cash as well as gifts.

In one notable case, a group in northeastern Adamawa state that's loyal to Nuhu Ribadu, once revered as an anti-corruption activist until he threw his support behind the ruling party, donated 40 vehicles to the campaign to re-elect Buhari last month. That donation raised eyebrows because it is well over the donation limit of 1 million naira.

Buhari, who ruled briefly as a military dictator in the 1980s, was voted into power in 2015 with promises to fight corruption, boost the economy and end the deadly insurgency of the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram.

Many Nigerians say he has failed on all three counts, citing an ineffective war on graft that appears to target opponents, persistent insecurity in the northern part of the country, and an anemic economy that is struggling to attract foreign investment.

In addition to his lackluster performance, the 76-year-old Buhari has spent months out of the country for medical treatment for an undisclosed ailment. Unemployment in Africa's most populous nation of 190 million was over 23 percent in the third quarter of 2018, up from 8.2 percent when Buhari took office, official figures show. Nigeria was in a recession for five months until early 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund, after the price of crude oil plunged to less than $30 a barrel in 2016.

Although Nigeria remains Africa's top oil producer, more than half of the country's total revenue goes toward servicing the public debt, according to the Brookings Institution, which reported last year that Nigeria had overtaken India as the country with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty.

Whoever wins Saturday's election will have to contend with a plethora of economic challenges that have left many Nigerians despairing, and often angry, with the government in Abuja. Despite its oil wealth, Nigeria's per capita income was $1,968 in 2017, according to the World Bank. There is an unresolved labor dispute over the minimum wage, which currently stands at 18,000 naira (about $50) per month.

Abubakar, a successful businessman and former vice president who is contesting the presidency for the fourth time, has seized on the wave of popular discontent with a vow to "get Nigeria working again."

For some Nigerians, the idea of their country as weak and uncertain is annoying. "We the masses are suffering in this country. What we are seeing is negative change," said Emmanuel Chimezie, 29, who said he hasn't found a job since graduating from college in 2015.

"Nigeria has a lot of potential, but how to harness it is a big problem in this country. We need a good leader who can diversify the economy, not depending on oil, oil, oil." Inflation rates pushing up the prices of food staples such as rice should convince the government to invest heavily in agriculture, he added.

"Buhari has to go," said Eze Onyekpere, who runs the Abuja-based Center for Social Justice. "If the masses don't sack him, then they should stop complaining." Campaign rallies, he added, have become "places for vulgar abuse" and rarely focus on bread-and-butter issues, mirroring how the candidates would govern.

Critics point out that the high cost of running campaigns fuels official corruption as elected officials bid to recover their costs once in office. "None of their manifestos speak directly to the needs of people," said Idayat Hassan, director of the Abuja-based civic group Center for Democracy and Development. "Politics is not the same as service to the people. If it were service to the people, they would not invest so much. It would not look like a do-or-die thing."

Similar concerns were raised last year in a report by the Chatham House think tank, which noted that Nigeria's two main parties are indistinguishable and both "function as patronage-fueled coalitions of fractious elite networks" whose goal is to get power and the associated financial rewards.

Some locals agree. "In Nigeria, politics has become an investment," said Wole Adeoye, an unemployed college graduate in the commercial capital, Lagos. "The losers lose all their money and the winners become rich overnight."

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« Reply #3694 on: Feb 15, 2019, 05:53 AM »

Trump poised to declare emergency as Congress approves shutdown deal

President is expected to sign bill but has vowed emergency action to build border wall with Mexico

Lauren Gambino and Ben Jacobs in Washington
Fri 15 Feb 2019 07.16 GMT
First published on Thu 14 Feb 2019 20.40 GMT

Donald Trump has vowed to declare a national emergency as a way of funding his long-promised border wall with Mexico, as Congress overwhelmingly approved a border security agreement that would prevent a second damaging government shutdown.

After days of uncertainty, Trump announced his intention to support the massive $333bn-spending package, which includes on a sliver of what he sought for a steel wall. The Senate moved quickly, approving the bill in a vote of 83-16. Hours later the House passed the legislation, 300-128. Trump is expected to seal the deal with his signature on Friday, while at the same time declaring a national emergency.

“President Trump will sign the government funding bill, and as he has stated before, he will also take other executive action — including a national emergency — to ensure we stop the national security and humanitarian crisis at the border,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “The President is once again delivering on his promise to build the wall, protect the border, and secure our great country.”

The border security compromise, tucked into a sweeping, 1,159-page spending bill that will fund the federal government through September, would appropriate $1.375bn for 55 miles of new fencing along the border with Mexico, just a fraction of the $5.7bn Trump initially demanded for 234 miles of new steel of concrete barriers.

A showdown over Trumps’s demand for billions of dollars to build the wall, a central campaign promise, prompted the longest government shutdown in American history. The White House is confident a national emergency would allow Trump to circumvent Congress to tap funding for his wall that has been at the center of a fierce dispute with Democrats, who say such a barrier is expensive and ineffective.

The provocative decision to declare a national emergency drew sharp condemnation from Democrats and threats of legal action while dividing Republicans, some of whom fear it sets a precedent for a future Democratic president to go around Congress.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said in a joint statement: “Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency and a desperate attempt to distract from the fact that President Trump broke his core promise to have Mexico pay for his wall.”

In order to avoid another shutdown, a bipartisan group of lawmakers solidified a compromise deal late Wednesday night to fully fund the government through the end of September.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers were relieved to avoid another partial government shutdown, just weeks after a standoff over border security shuttered several federal agencies for 35 days and deprived 800,000 government employees of their paychecks.

In the Senate, several Democratic presidential contenders, including senators Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren opposed the measure. While in the House, a handful of liberal members, including the freshman Democrats Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley, voted against the measure, arguing that Trump’s “weaponization” of enforcement agencies “does not deserve an increase in funding”.

But Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency ignited a new confrontation between the White House and Congress, as a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers expressed concern with his use of executive powers.

“I think declaring a national emergency where there is no national emergency is not good for the president to do and not good precedent for future presidents,” said the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, said Trump’s use of a state of emergency was of “dubious constitutionality” and would face challenges in court.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, said: “We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the constitution.” He warned that Trump was opening a door for a future president “to impose the Green New Deal”.

But several Republicans said such an action was Trump’s only option.

“For 20 years there’s been a bipartisan refusal on Capitol Hill by both big government Republicans and Ritz-Carlton Democrats … to enforce the immigration laws of this country or to change them,” said Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana. “We need to face the issue and this is a start.”

Meanwhile, Pelosi told reporters that she would consider a legal challenge to the declaration – something most observers say is inevitable and would probably be successful.

“You want to talk about a national emergency – let’s talk about today,” Pelosi said, noting that it was the first anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, which claimed 17 lives. “That’s a national emergency. Why don’t you declare that emergency, Mr President?”

And, confirming Republican fears, she said: “A Democratic president can declare emergencies as well.”

Tensions had boiled ahead of the vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, as party leaders sought assurance from the White House that the president would sign the legislation.

“Let’s all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill so the government doesn’t shut down,” the Republican senator Chuck Grassley said after opening prayers on Thursday morning.

Hours later, the majority leader, Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell, suddenly appeared on the chamber floor and, interrupting Grassley, who was speaking at that moment, announced that Trump would sign the spending deal and declare a national emergency.

Rallying Republicans around the plan, McConnell added: “I’m going to support the national emergency declaration.”


WaPo destroys Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell for ‘rolling over and playing dead’ for ‘Imperial President Trump’

Raw Story

The Washington Post unleashed a scathing editorial from its editorial board Thursday evening, singling out Mitch  'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell (R-KY) for doing nothing in the face of Trump’s increasingly brazen power grabs.

“Mitch  'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell just rolls over,” the Post said in the headline, before getting into a hypothetical situation where Democrats have the White House again, and are invoking Presidential power grabs, Trump style, to circumvent Congress.

“Imagine indeed if, two years from now, a President Booker, Harris, Warren or Bennet, seizing on the Parkland massacre’s anniversary, invoked emergency powers to halt the killing of innocents — by banning the sale of semiautomatic weapons, imposing uniform background checks for gun purchases or levying a stiff federal surtax on the sale of gun parts and ammunition,” the Post wrote.

“It seems logical that Senate Republican leader Mitch  'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell, having approved Mr. Trump’s emergency, would acquiesce in future such emergency declarations,” they added, before saving McConnell again. “By becoming a rubber stamp for Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has set a precedent: that he is prepared to accept any president who would treat the will of Congress, and the Constitution, with cavalier contempt.”

The piece ends with: “By his declaration, Mr. Trump will inaugurate a new, imperial phase of his presidency. Mr. McConnell, who had previously warned him against such an action, will show he has perfected a trick: roll over and play dead.”


‘Everybody run for your life’: Stephen Colbert hilariously impersonates Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell

Raw Story

On Thursday, comedian Stephen Colbert mimicked Senate Majority Leader Mitch  'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess'  McConnell (R-KY) over his announcement that President Donald Trump is prepared to declare a national emergency.

Trump reportedly has finalized plans to declare a national emergency to gain additional funding for his wall at the US-Mexico border, even after signing off on a funding bill to keep the government open.

Colbert said that it would be “insane” for Trump to declare a national emergency because of the backlash from his own party and the immediate court challenges he would face.

“Oh excuse me,” Colbert said before playing a clip of  McConnell on the Senate floor announcing Trump’s plans.

He then mocked Trump declaring a national emergency, since there is no real emergency. “Oh, everybody run for your life,” he joked.

“You can tell by the tone of my voice the urgency in which I am telling you, that this is a true national emergency,” he joked in a slow tone. “In a related matter, I see that the Senate chamber is on fire and filled with scorpions. Everybody run for your life.”

Watch below:

    TONIGHT: Happy #ValentinesDay! Trump is thinking about getting everyone a national emergency! #LSSC pic.twitter.com/HynfOBAd4g

    — The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) February 15, 2019


CNN’s Jennifer Granholm calls out the 18 GOP ‘invertebrate’ senators who claimed they would oppose Trump on his emergency declaration

Raw Story

CNN’s Jennifer Granholm had some choice words for Republican Senators Thursday on CNN.

Appearing on the cable network’s Cuomo Prime Time, the political commentator, in a discussion on President Donald Trump’s decision to announce a national emergency related to the southern border with Mexico, described 18 Senators from the right side of the aisle as “invertebrates” in a heated segment that also featured former GOP Senator Rick Santorum.

“There are 18 Republican members of the Senate alone who have expressed opposition to a national emergency declaration before the President declares it,” she said. “You better believe that is a political jeopardy for someone like Susan Collins (R) in Maine…people who are gonna be up [for re-election] in 2020,” she said of Republicans now potentially faced with supporting Trump’s ’emergency’ move.

Calling out those same Republicans, she mocked them as “invertebrates” who now need to stand up to Trump.

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


Ex-RNC head blasts GOP for standing by while Trump makes plans to declare national emergency

Raw Story

Not all Republicans are on board with President Trump’s reported plans to declare a national emergency in order to obtain his wall. Many are against the possibly precedent-setting move. Former Chair of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, told Chuck Todd today on NBC’s MTP Daily that “At the end of the day, this is something Republicans will rue.”

Steele was responding to what might happen when a future Democratic president takes office and potentially declares a national emergency over something the left considers an emergency, such as climate change or gun control.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) spoke today in a press conference on the same subject:

“If the president can declare an emergency on something he has created as an emergency, an illusion that he wants to convey, just think about what a president with different values can present to the American people,” Pelosi said.

“You want to talk about a national emergency? Let’s talk about today,” she added, referring to the first anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead on Feb. 14, 2018.

See video of Steele on Meet The Press here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhB8dYRYbRk


Democratic House Judiciary head threatens Trump with lawsuit if he declares state of emergency for border wall

Raw Story

Congressional Democrats revealed on Thursday a two-prong approach to block President Donald Trump from using a state of emergency declaration to bypass Congress and build his wall.

The first step will be introducing a “resolution of disapproval” in the House of Representatives, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler told Washington Post congressional reporter Rachael Bade.

If their legislative branch response is blocked by Senate Republicans, House Democrats will then fight the state of emergency in the judicial branch by filing a lawsuit against the president.

    BREAKING: @Judiciary Chair @RepJerryNadler tells me the House will bring a resolution of disapproval up to try to terminate Trump's national emergency to build the wall. If that fails in the Senate or is vetoed by Trump, House Dems will sue, he says. Story coming…

    — Rachael Bade (@rachaelmbade) February 14, 2019


BUSTED: Republican intel chair Burr caught in lie about author of salacious Steele Dossier

Raw Story

The Republican Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee was caught in a lie about Christopher Steele, the former MI6 officer who authored the salacious “Steele Dossier” on Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia.

President Donald Trump has publicly claimed that the Senate Intelligence Committee has vindicated him.


    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2019

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, was apparently caught after lying to CBS News, The Atlantic‘s Natasha Bertrand reported.

“Some Democratic aides were also confused at Burr’s recent claim that a key witness in the probe, former British spy Christopher Steele, had not responded to the committee’s attempts to engage with him,” Bertrand reported. “In fact, Steele submitted written answers to the panel last August, two people familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss the investigation told The Atlantic.”

“The Senate’s subpoena for his testimony was dropped shortly thereafter—indicating that they were satisfied enough with his responses that they weren’t planning to compel further testimony,” she explained.


McCabe’s revelations leave former top DOJ official stunned: It was worse than a Saturday Night Massacre

Raw Story

Former deputy attorney general Harry Litman could barely contain his shock on MSNBC this Thursday, telling host Katy Tur that Andrew McCabe’s book was a “stunning” look into FBI and Department of Justice deliberations about how to deal with President Donald Trump’s “slow motion Saturday Night Massacre.”

“The effect of this to me is is to remind us just how egregious and jarring it was,” Litman said. He dismissed any “sniping” over the particulars, and said the “general account overall” rang true.

“What it’s like in the hallways, the kind of complete flabbergasted feeling that everyone there has, the actual sitting down,” he said. “This is mind blowing to consider the 25th amendment, and joking or not wearing a wire.”

He said that Trump’s efforts where an example of a “stunning abrogation of presidential norms.”

“It’s harrowing,” Litman went on. “This is a slow motion Saturday night massacre, that’s what they were worried about at the time. In some way it’s worse.” McCabe, he said, described “a fall off in standards of presidential accountability” of historic proportions.

‘This is the stuff of Greece, Turkey. Law enforcement sitting down and wondering ‘do we have to oust the recently-elected president of the United States?'” he continued, shaking his head in disbelief. “It is stunning.”


The Daily Show brutally ridicules Fox’s Sean Hannity for whining AOC’s Green New Deal will deprive him of hamburgers

Raw Story

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has been scrutinized by right-wing media over her Green New Deal, which is an effort to combat climate change.

On Thursday, Trever Noah, host of The Daily Show, mocked right-wing media reporters over their exaggerations about what the deal is proposing.

According to The Boston Globe, “an incorrect Green New Deal explainer issued by her office mentions reducing the malodorous methane effluvium cows emit from their rear and front ports.”

Several have interpreted this as Ocasio-Cortez seeking to rid America of meat and that she is trying to turn everyone into a vegan.

“Over at Fox News when they heard Ocasio-Cortez and climate change sirens with off,” Noah joked.

He then played a clip of Hannity ranting about it.

“No more steak. I guess government forced veganism is in order,” Hannity said.

Noah then proceeded to mocked Hannity.

“Yeah they’ll force feed us broccoli. Yeah we are all going to be ganged-banged by vegetables,” he joked.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ2HX_NGlt4

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« Reply #3695 on: Feb 16, 2019, 05:17 AM »

Search for Shackleton's Endurance called off after loss of submarine

Weddell Sea expedition team loses contact with autonomous vehicle under ice sheet

Kevin Rawlinson

The search for Sir Ernest Shackleton’s lost ship, Endurance, has been called off after extreme weather trapped an underwater vehicle under a sheet of ice.

Explorers working on the Weddell Sea Expedition had hoped to find the Antarctic explorer’s vessel, which was crushed by ice and sank in 1915 during his ultimately unsuccessful attempt at a land crossing of the continent. But severe weather closed in and the sea ice conditions led to the loss of the team’s specialist autonomous underwater vehicle, the AUV7.

“Like Shackleton before us, who described the graveyard of Endurance as ‘the worst portion of the worst sea in the world’, our well laid plans were overcome by the rapidly moving ice, and what Shackleton called ‘the evil conditions of the Weddell Sea’,” the expedition’s director of exploration, Mensun Bound, said.

“We hope our adventure will have engaged young people about the pioneering spirit, courage and fortitude of those who sailed with Endurance to Antarctica.”

The team was using the AUV7 to locate the wreck using HD still colour cameras. They were on the final leg of their mission when the vehicle went underneath a vast sheet of floating ice and lost contact with the research vessel, the SA Agulhas II.

The team tried to recover the AUV7, but eventually decided to abandon the mission because of the risk they too might become trapped in ice.

Any captured footage there may have been of Endurance on the seabed was lost. The AUV7 had conducted what is believed to be the longest and deepest dedicated under-ice survey ever, lasting over 30 hours.

“The Weddell Sea Expedition team are truly disappointed that after such a huge effort, and overcoming several major setbacks, we have not been able to find Endurance,” said Dr John Shears, a polar geographer and the expedition’s leader.

“We are, however, very proud of our other achievements over the past weeks in Antarctica. We have greatly surpassed our primary expedition objective of undertaking pioneering scientific research at the Larsen C ice shelf.

“We have also conducted an unprecedented educational outreach programme, allowing children from around the world to engage in real time with the expedition and our adventures from the outset.”

Shackleton’s attempt to cross Antarctica began in 1914. Shortly after the vessel left the island of South Georgia, it encountered ice and became trapped for 10 months before sinking. The explorer and his crew survived for six months before reaching the uninhabited Elephant Island.

Shackleton and five other men then set off to seek help at a whaling station on South Georgia. After three unsuccessful attempts, he finally rescued his men in August 1916.

The Weddell Sea Expedition team said it may attempt its mission to find Endurance again.

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« Reply #3696 on: Feb 16, 2019, 05:20 AM »

'It is our future': children call time on climate inaction in UK

Thousands of young people take time out of school to join protests across the country

Sandra Laville, Poppy Noor and Amy Walker
16 Feb 2019 18.11 GMT

Some wore school uniform, with ties askew in St Trinian’s fashion, others donned face paint, sparkly jackets and DM boots. The youngest clutched a parent’s hand as people gathered in the sunshine in Parliament Square in London, a few metres from the politicians they say are letting down a generation.

They carried homemade placards, with slogans full of humour, passion and hope that the voices of thousands of children and young people would be heard.

“March now – or swim later”, “I’ve seen smarter cabinets in Ikea” and “denial is not a policy” read the banners, as chants for action on climate change grew and strengthened with the passing hours into a deafening roar. “What do we want? Climate action! When do we want it? Now!”

Across the UK it was a day for thousands who are not normally heard, as children took time out of their lessons to attend the strike.

“As students we don’t have the vote, and it is really unfair because this is going to impact on us the most. It is our future,” said Evie Baldwin, 15, from north London.

In Manchester, the students came with handwritten notes from their parents giving authorisation for their photos to be taken, and bullet points to explain why they felt compelled to strike.

There was a party atmosphere outside the central library, as students played Where is the Love? by the Black Eyed Peas and I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys.

They cheered as a band played Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, with its ecological refrain: “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone/They paved paradise, put up a parking lot.”

Lillia Adetoro, nine, told Manchester demonstrators: “Scientists across Europe say we have 12 years to get this right. The technology is there. The solutions are there. Brilliant minds across the world have been working on this for decades. And what they have said has been ignored.”

Children who had been told not to miss school defiantly attended the rallies anyway. Ten-year-old Hettie Ainsworth, in Brighton, had not been given permission by her primary school to join the protest, but such was her passion that her parents let her attend anyway.

To her, the issue was personal. She said: “The government isn’t doing enough about it. It’s important because it’s our future and if we don’t start paying attention to climate change, there may not be one.”

There was a range of age groups present, from people in their 60s, to children as young as four and five, running around in superhero costumes. Swedish 15-year-old Greta Thunberg was frequently cited as an inspiration by adults and children.

One group called Fridays for Future Manchester, which has been meeting outside the library every week for more than two months, stood with a banner painted with Thunberg’s face on it. Protesters from Extinction Rebellion and Campaign against Climate Change were also present.

Similar crowds were seen across the north of England, with organisers assembling in Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield.

Magid Magid, Sheffield’s lord mayor, who banned Donald Trump from visiting the city last year, said there was no better time to march than now. He said: “It’s as simple as action or extinction … [These students] come across as the fearless advocates in the face of those who have stopped caring about [the climate crisis]. They are literally saving our bloody planet.”

At the clock tower in the centre of Brighton, hundreds of primary, secondary and university students gathered.

As they marched towards the Level park, the crowd swelled. According to organiser Mary-Jane Farrell, more than 1,000 people were in attendance. While adults and supportive parents followed, teenagers in school uniform marched at the front of the crowd, shouting, among other things: “Greens in, blues out” and “Fuck the Tories”.

The procession blocked traffic on Brighton’s main roads, and onlookers clapped and took photos as people passed through.

Joe Paugler, 16, left his school during break time to join the march. He said he felt the need to raise awareness. “They don’t discuss climate change as much as they should in politics, probably because there’s no money in it,” he said.

Critics of the strike had suggested some students would use the strike as an opportunity to skip school, but most children seemed more excited by the prospect of attending their first protest.

At Level park, crowds cheered for several of the day’s speakers, but the loudest applause was undeniably for the local Green party MP, Caroline Lucas.

Surrounded by children vying to get a selfie with her, she said today marked a real turning point. “It’s children’s futures at stake, and frankly our generation has let them down and certainly the politicians at Westminster have let them down,” she said.

Hundreds of young people gathered across Glasgow, cheered on by MSP Ross Greer, who tweeted: “Just look at these incredible young women, who can’t be older than 13/14, taking action to save the world and their future.”

In London, there were more than 1,000 in attendance by lunchtime. Among them was former Labour leader Ed Miliband with his nine-year-old son, Daniel. “I am here because it is our future, and we need to protect it,” said Daniel.

The size of the demonstration took the police by surprise. “I don’t know how many are here, but it’s a lot – much more than we expected,” said one officer.

Several hours in, what had begun as a rally outside the House of Commons turned into a spontaneous running march on Downing Street, as hundreds of teenagers, sprinted along Whitehall to chant their message outside No 10.

As they surged down the road, buses, trucks and taxis, were forced to stop. “Honk your horn,” the teenagers shouted, to blasts from scores of drivers.

Other groups broke away from the main crowd to sit down in the road, forcing Westminster traffic into gridlock for more than two hours. Holding hands, they refused to be moved, as the police deployed mounted officers in an attempt to move them back into Parliament Square.

One officer successfully lifted 15-year-old Alex Cooper off the road – only for her to continue her seated protest moments later. “This is a great turnout,” she said. “We need the government to listen.”

Across the street, among those watching from the sidelines, one woman said: “My 13-year-old daughter is in there somewhere. I am so proud of her.”

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« Reply #3697 on: Feb 16, 2019, 05:23 AM »

Toxic black snow covers Siberian coalmining region

Activists say ‘post-apocalyptic’ scenes in Kuzbass highlight manmade ecological disaster

Marc Bennetts in Moscow
16 Feb 2019 14.54 GMT

Residents of a coalmining region in Siberia have been posting videos online showing entire streets and districts covered in toxic black snow that critics say highlight a manmade ecological catastrophe.

In one video, filmed in Kiselyovsk, a town in the Kuzbass region, a woman drives past mounds of coal-coloured snow stretching to the horizon, covering a children’s playground and the courtyards of residential buildings. The scenes in the footage were described as “post-apocalyptic” by Russian media.

The coal dust that turns the snow black in the Kuzbass comes from numerous open pit mines that environmental activists say have had disastrous consequences for the health of the region’s 2.6 million people, with life expectancy three to four years lower than Russia’s national average of 66 for men and 77 for women.

Cancer, child cerebral palsy, and tuberculous rates in the Kuzbass region are all above the national average.

“It’s harder to find white snow than black snow during the winter,” Vladimir Slivyak, a member of the Ecodefense environmental group, said. “There is a lot of coal dust in the air all the time. When snow falls, it just becomes visible. You can’t see it the rest of the year, but it is still there.”

Despite political tensions between Moscow and London, Russia is the leading supplier of British coal imports. Russian mines supplied around half of the 8.5m tons of coal shipped into Britain in 2017, with up to 90% of it coming from the Kuzbass region. Coal is used in Britain for a range of purposes, including the manufacture of cement and steel and in power stations, which the UK government is committed to phasing out by 2025.

Some Russian environmental activists are calling on Britain to boycott Russian coal. “The best way to put pressure on them is to stop buying coal until they improve the situation,” said Slivyak.

The dust contains a variety of dangerous heavy metals, including arsenic and mercury, environmental activists say. Environmental problems are exacerbated by the practice of loading coal on to open train cars for export, with wind and rain depositing dust on towns and rivers along the rail tracks.

Critics say Russian authorities turn a blind eye to routine violations of safety norms and regulations, with open pit mines often located dangerously close to towns and villages. Andrei Panov, the deputy governor of the Kuzbass region, said coal-burning factories, transport-related pollution and unspecified businesses were possible causes of black snow.

The number of environmental protests, which were previously almost unheard of in the Kuzbass, are on the rise, with dozens reported in recent years as locals use the internet to organise.

Officials in Mysky, a town in the region, were mocked recently for painting black snow white in an apparent attempt to improve the appearance of a children’s snow-slide.

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« Reply #3698 on: Feb 16, 2019, 05:33 AM »

The Tiny Swiss Company That Thinks It Can Help Stop Climate Change

Two European entrepreneurs want to remove carbon from the air at prices cheap enough to matter.

By Jon Gertner
NY Times
Feb. 16, 2019

Just over a century ago in Ludwigshafen, Germany, a scientist named Carl Bosch assembled a team of engineers to exploit a new technique in chemistry. A year earlier, another German chemist, Fritz Haber, hit upon a process to pull nitrogen (N) from the air and combine it with hydrogen (H) to produce tiny amounts of ammonia (NH₃). But Haber’s process was delicate, requiring the maintenance of high temperatures and high pressure. Bosch wanted to figure out how to adapt Haber’s discovery for commercial purposes — as we would say today, to “scale it up.” Anyone looking at the state of manufacturing in Europe around 1910, Bosch observed, could see that the task was daunting: The technology simply didn’t exist.

Over the next decade, however, Bosch and his team overcame a multitude of technological and metallurgical challenges. He chronicled them in his 1932 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Chemistry — an honor he won because the Haber-Bosch process, as it came to be known, changed the world. His breakthrough made possible the production of ammonia on an industrial scale, providing the world with cheap and abundant fertilizer. The scientist and historian Vaclav Smil called Haber-Bosch “the most important technical invention of the 20th century.” Bosch had effectively removed the historical bounds on crop yields, so much so that he was widely credited with making “bread from air.” By some estimates, Bosch’s work made possible the lives of more than two billion human beings over the last 100 years.

What the Haber-Bosch method had going for it, from the very start, was a ready market. Fertilizer was already in high demand, but it came primarily from limited natural reserves in far-flung locales — bird droppings scraped from remote islands near Peru, for instance, or mineral stores of nitrogen dug out of the Chilean desert. Because synthetic ammonia competed with existing products, it was able to follow a timeworn pattern of innovation. In much the same way that LEDs have supplanted fluorescent and incandescent bulbs (which in turn had displaced kerosene lamps and wax candles), a novel product or process often replaces something already in demand. If it is better or cheaper — and especially if it is better and cheaper — it usually wins in the marketplace. Haber-Bosch did exactly that.

It may now be that another gas — carbon dioxide (CO₂) — can be removed from the air for commercial purposes, and that its removal could have a profound effect on the future of humanity. But it’s almost certainly too soon to say for sure. One sunny morning last October, several engineers from a Swiss firm called Climeworks ambled onto the roof of a power-generating waste-incineration plant in Hinwil, a village about 30 minutes outside Zurich. The technicians had in front of them 12 large devices, stacked in two rows of six, that resembled oversize front-loading clothes dryers. These were “direct air capture” machines, which soon would begin collecting carbon dioxide from air drawn in through their central ducts. Once trapped, the CO₂ would then be siphoned into large tanks and trucked to a local Coca-Cola bottler, where it would become the fizz in a soft drink.

The machines themselves require a significant amount of energy. They depend on electric fans to pull air into the ducts and over a special material, known as a sorbent, laced with granules that chemically bind with CO₂; periodic blasts of heat then release the captured gas from the sorbent, with customized software managing the whole catch-and-release cycle. Climeworks had installed the machines on the roof of the power plant to tap into the plant’s low-carbon electricity and the heat from its incineration system. A few dozen yards away from the new installation sat an older stack of Climeworks machines, 18 in total, that had been whirring on the same rooftop for more than a year. So far, these machines had captured about 1,000 metric tons (or about 1,100 short tons) of carbon dioxide from the air and fed it, by pipeline, to an enormous greenhouse nearby, where it was plumping up tomatoes, eggplants and mâche. During a tour of the greenhouse, Paul Ruser, the manager, suggested I taste the results. “Here, try one,” he said, handing me a crisp, ripe cucumber he plucked from a nearby vine. It was the finest direct-air-capture cucumber I’d ever had.

Climeworks’s rooftop plant represents something new in the world: the first direct-air-capture venture in history seeking to sell CO₂ by the ton. When the company’s founders, Christoph Gebald and Jan Wurzbacher, began openly discussing their plans to build a business several years ago, they faced a deluge of skepticism. “I would say nine out of 10 people reacted critically,” Gebald told me. “The first thing they said was: ‘This will never work technically.’ And finally in 2017 we convinced them it works technically, since we built the big plant in Hinwil. But once we convinced them that it works technically, they would say, ‘Well, it will never work economically.’ ”

For the moment, skeptics of Climeworks’s business plan are correct: The company is not turning a profit. To build and install the 18 units at Hinwil, hand-assembled in a second-floor workshop in Zurich, cost between $3 million and $4 million, which is the primary reason it costs the firm between $500 and $600 to remove a metric ton of CO₂ from the air. Even as the company has attracted about $50 million in private investments and grants, it faces the same daunting task that confronted Carl Bosch a century ago: How much can it bring costs down? And how fast can it scale up?

Gebald and Wurzbacher believe the way to gain a commercial foothold is to sell their expensive CO₂ to agriculture or beverage companies. Not only do these companies require CO₂ anyway, some also seem willing to pay a premium for a vital ingredient they can use to help market their products as eco-friendly.

Still, greenhouses and soda bubbles together represent a small global market — perhaps six million metric tons of CO₂ annually. And Gebald and Wurzbacher did not get into carbon capture to grow mâche or put bubbles in Fanta. They believe that over the next seven years they can bring expenses down to a level that would enable them to sell CO₂ into more lucrative markets. Air-captured CO₂ can be combined with hydrogen and then fashioned into any kind of fossil-fuel substitute you want. Instead of making bread from air, you can make fuels from air. Already, Climeworks and another company, Carbon Engineering, which is based in British Columbia, have moved aggressively on this idea; the Canadians have even lined up investors (including Bill Gates) to produce synthetic fuel at large industrial plants from air-captured CO₂.

The ultimate goal for air capture, however, isn’t to turn it into a product — at least not in the traditional sense. What Gebald and Wurzbacher really want to do is to pull vast amounts of CO₂ out of the atmosphere and bury it, forever, deep underground, and sell that service as an offset. Climeworks’s captured CO₂ has already been injected deep into rock formations beneath Iceland; by the end of the year, the firm intends to deploy 50 units near Reykjavik to expand the operation. But at that point the company will be moving into uncharted economic territory — purveyors of a service that seems desperately needed to help slow climate change but does not, at present, replace anything on the consumer or industrial landscape. To complicate matters, a ton of buried CO₂ is not something that human beings or governments have shown much demand for. And so companies like Climeworks face a quandary: How do you sell something that never existed before, something that may never be cheap, into a market that is not yet real?

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Even the most enthusiastic believers in direct air capture stop short of describing it as a miracle technology. It’s more frequently described as an old idea — “scrubbers” that remove CO₂ have been used in submarines since at least the 1950s — that is being radically upgraded for a variety of new applications. It’s arguably the case, in fact, that when it comes to reducing our carbon emissions, direct air capture will be seen as an option that’s too expensive and too modest in impact. “The only way that direct air capture becomes meaningful is if we do all the other things we need to do promptly,” Hal Harvey, a California energy analyst who studies climate-friendly technologies and policies, told me recently. Harvey and others make the case that the biggest, fastest and cheapest gains in addressing atmospheric carbon will come from switching our power grid to renewable energy or low-carbon electricity; from transitioning to electric vehicles and imposing stricter mileage regulations on gas-powered cars and trucks; and from requiring more energy-efficient buildings and appliances. In short, the best way to start making progress toward a decarbonized world is not to rev up millions of air capture machines right now. It’s to stop putting CO₂ in the atmosphere in the first place.

The future of carbon mitigation, however, is on a countdown timer, as atmospheric CO₂ concentrations have continued to rise. If the nations of the world were to continue on the current track, it would be impossible to meet the objectives of the 2016 Paris Agreement, which set a goal limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius or, ideally, 1.5 degrees. And it would usher in a world of misery and economic hardship. Already, temperatures in some regions have climbed more than 1 degree Celsius, as a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted last October. These temperature increases have led to an increase in droughts, heat waves, floods and biodiversity losses and make the chaos of 2 or 3 degrees’ additional warming seem inconceivable. A further problem is that maintaining today’s emissions path for too long runs the risk of doing irreparable damage to the earth’s ecosystems — causing harm that no amount of technological innovation can make right. “There is no reverse gear for natural systems,” Harvey says. “If they go, they go. If we defrost the tundra, it’s game over.” The same might be said for the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, or our coral reefs. Such resources have an asymmetry in their natural architectures: They can take thousands or millions of years to form, but could reach conditions of catastrophic decline in just a few decades.

At the moment, global CO₂ emissions are about 37 billion metric tons per year, and we’re on track to raise temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius by 2100. To have a shot at maintaining a climate suitable for humans, the world’s nations most likely have to reduce CO₂ emissions drastically from the current level — to perhaps 15 billion or 20 billion metric tons per year by 2030; then, through some kind of unprecedented political and industrial effort, we need to bring carbon emissions to zero by around 2050. In this context, Climeworks’s effort to collect 1,000 metric tons of CO₂ on a rooftop near Zurich might seem like bailing out the ocean one bucket at a time. Conceptually, however, it’s important. Last year’s I.P.C.C. report noted that it may be impossible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees by 2100 through only a rapid switch to clean energy, electric cars and the like. To preserve a livable environment we may also need to extract CO₂ from the atmosphere. As Wurzbacher put it, “if you take all these numbers from the I.P.C.C., you end up with something like eight to 10 billion tons — gigatons — of CO₂ that need to be removed from the air every year, if we are serious about 1.5 or 2 degrees.”

There happens to be a name for things that can do this kind of extraction work: negative-emissions technologies, or NETs. Some NETs, like trees and plants, predate us and probably don’t deserve the label. Through photosynthesis, our forests take extraordinary amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and if we were to magnify efforts to reforest clear-cut areas — or plant new groves, a process known as afforestation — we could absorb billions more metric tons of carbon in future years. What’s more, we could grow crops specifically to absorb CO₂ and then burn them for power generation, with the intention of capturing the power-plant emissions and pumping them underground, a process known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS. Other negative-emissions technologies include manipulating farmland soil or coastal wetlands so they will trap more atmospheric carbon and grinding up mineral formations so they will absorb CO₂ more readily, a process known as “enhanced weathering.”

Negative emissions can be thought of as a form of time travel. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, human societies have produced an excess of CO₂, by taking carbon stores from deep inside the earth — in the form of coal, oil and gas — and from stores aboveground (mostly wood), then putting it into the atmosphere by burning it. It has become imperative to reverse the process — that is, take CO₂ out of the air and either restore it deep inside the earth or contain it within new surface ecosystems. This is certainly easier to prescribe than achieve. “All of negative emission is hard — even afforestation or reforestation,” Sally Benson, a professor of energy-resources engineering at Stanford, explains. “It’s not about saying, ‘I want to plant a tree.’ It’s about saying, ‘We want to plant a billion trees.’ ” Nevertheless, such practices offer a glimmer of hope for meeting future emissions targets. “We have to come to grips with the fact that we waited too long and that we took some options off the table,” Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton scientist who studies climate and policy, told me. As a result, NETs no longer seem to be just interesting ideas; they look like necessities. And as it happens, the Climeworks machines on the rooftop do the work each year of about 36,000 trees.

Last fall, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a lengthy study on carbon removal. Stephen Pacala, a Princeton professor who led the authors, pointed out to me that negative-emissions technologies have various strengths and drawbacks, and that a “portfolio” approach — pursue them all, then see which are the best — may be the shrewdest bet. If costs for direct air capture can be reduced, Pacala says he sees great promise, especially if the machines can offset emissions from economic sectors that for technological reasons will transition to zero carbon much more slowly than others. Commercial aviation, for instance, won’t be converted to running on solar power anytime soon. Jennifer Wilcox, a chemical-engineering professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Massachusetts, told me that air capture could likewise help counter the impact of several vital industries. “There are process emissions that come from producing iron and steel, cement and glass,” she says, “and any time you make these materials, there’s a chemical reaction that emits CO₂.” Direct air capture could even lessen the impacts of the Haber-Bosch processes for making fertilizer; by some estimates, that industry now accounts for 3 percent of all CO₂ emissions.

Pacala equates the challenges confronting Climeworks and Carbon Engineering to what the wind- and solar-power industries faced in the 1970s and ’80s, when their products were expensive compared with fossil fuels. Those industries couldn’t rely on demand from the private sector alone. But some policymakers perceived tremendous environmental and public benefits if they could surmount that hurdle. Government investments in research, along with state and federal tax credits, helped the young industries expand. “Wind and solar are now the cheapest forms of energy in the right locations,” Pacala says. “The return on those investments, if you calculated it, would blow the doors off anything in your portfolio. It’s like investing in early Apple. So it’s a spectacular story of success. And direct air capture is precisely the same kind of problem, in which the only barrier is that it’s too costly.”

[Thirty years ago, we had a chance to save the planet. Read about the decade we almost stopped climate change.]

Most of Climeworks’s 60 employees work in a big industrial space in downtown Zurich, on two floors of a low-slung building that the company sublets from a German aerospace firm. Manufacturing operations are on the ground floor; the research labs are upstairs, along with a small suite of shared offices, a hallway kitchen and a hangout area. The place has the stark, casual feel of a tech start-up, with one exception: The walls are lined with oversize photos of pivotal moments in Climeworks’s young history — its ungainly early prototypes; the opening of the first Hinwil plant that collected CO₂ for the greenhouse.

“It’s a little bit by accident that we are based in Switzerland,” Wurzbacher told me. He and Gebald both grew up in Germany and met as undergraduates at E.T.H. Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. “We met on Day 1, on the 20th of October of 2003,” Gebald recalled. “And on Day 1 we decided that we’d have a company.” Their aspiration was to be entrepreneurs, not to start a carbon-capture firm, but both men were drawn to research on renewable energy and reducing emissions. After they completed their master’s projects, they decided to create a direct-air-capture prototype and go into business. Both took the title of company director. Helped by a number of small grants, Climeworks was incorporated in 2009.

The two men were not alone in trying to chip away at decades of carbon emissions. An American start-up, Global Thermostat, now finishing its first commercial plant in Alabama, began working on air-capture machines in 2010. And almost from the start, Gebald and Wurzbacher found themselves in a friendly competition with David Keith, the Harvard engineering professor who had just started Carbon Engineering in British Columbia. Keith’s company settled on a different air-capture technology — employing a higher-heat process, and a liquid solution to capture CO₂ — to brew synthetic fuels. Climeworks’s big advantage is that it can make smaller plants early, Keith told me: “I am crazy jealous. It’s because they’re using a modular design, and we’re not.” On the other hand, Keith said he believes his firm is closer to building a big plant that could capture carbon at a more reasonable cost and produce substantial amounts of fuel. “I don’t see a path for them to match this.” Gebald told me he thinks his and Keith’s companies will each succeed with differing approaches. For now, what all the founders have in common is a belief that the cost of capturing a ton of carbon will soon drop sharply.

Their view is not always shared by outside observers. M.I.T.’s Howard Herzog, for instance, an engineer who has spent years looking at the potential for these machines, told me that he thinks the costs will remain between $600 and $1,000 per metric ton. Some of Herzog’s reasons for skepticism are highly technical and relate to the physics of separating gases. Some are more easily grasped. He points out that because direct-air-capture machines have to move tremendous amounts of air through a filter or solution to glean a ton of CO₂ — the gas, for all its global impact, makes up only about 0.04 percent of our atmosphere — the process necessitates large expenditures for energy and big equipment. What he has likewise observed, in analyzing similar industries that separate gases, suggests that translating spreadsheet projections for capturing CO₂ into real-world applications will reveal hidden costs. “I think there has been a lot of hype about this, and it’s not going to revolutionize anything,” he told me, adding that he thinks other negative-emissions technologies will prove cheaper. “At best it’s going to be a bit player.”

Last year, when David Keith and his associates at Carbon Engineering published figures projecting that their carbon-capture technology could bring costs as low as $94 a metric ton, Herzog was not convinced. Keith nevertheless made the case to me that two new investors in Carbon Engineering — Chevron Technology Ventures and a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum — scrutinized his company’s numbers to an exhaustive degree and agreed the economics of the venture were solid enough to merit putting up substantial amounts in a $60 million investment round. Both Climeworks founders told me they agreed with Keith’s cost estimates, and saw a similar downward curve for their own technology.

Climeworks’s current goal is to remove 1 percent of the world’s annual CO₂ emissions by the mid 2020s. Yet meeting such a benchmark, if it’s even possible, would require bringing the cost of direct air capture down by nearly an order of magnitude while maintaining and expanding their roster of clients substantially. At the moment, Wurzbacher and Gebald have planned for several generations of Climeworks machines, with each new model promising declining prices. “Basically, we have a road map — $600, down to $400, down to $300 and $200 a ton,” Wurzbacher said. “This is over the next five years. Down to $200 we know quite well what we’re doing.” And beyond $200, Wurzbacher suggested, things get murkier. To move below that price would depend on “new developments” in technology or manufacturing.

Both founders told me they expect to reap enormous cost reductions from expanding production — activities that involve buying materials more cheaply in bulk and assembling units on automated factory lines instead of building them by hand, as is the case now. Design advances could wring out other costs. “Maintenance is very expensive,” Wurzbacher said. “Right now, if we exchange the filters in the collectors, we have to rent a crane, and that’s a lot of man-hours. In the next-generation units, we have improved that a lot, so relatively small design changes could cut the costs of maintenance by a factor of three.” Climeworks also intends to derive savings from improvements to crucial materials, like the sorbent that catches the CO₂. At the moment, the company’s technology requires that the temperature inside the units be raised periodically to about 100 degrees Celsius to release CO₂ from the sorbent so it can be drawn off and stored. If the process can be done at a lower temperature, the units will use less energy, and the life of the materials should be extended, further driving down costs.

The company’s ambitions for mass production may still seem extreme. To actually capture 1 percent of the world’s carbon emissions by 2025 would, by Gebald’s calculations, require that Climeworks build 250,000 carbon-capture plants like the ones on the roof at Hinwil. That adds up to about 4.5 million carbon collectors. For a company that has only built 100 collectors (and has 14 small plants around Europe), it’s a staggering number. The Climeworks founders therefore try to think of their product as the automotive industry might — a piece of mass-produced technology and metal, not the carbon they hope to sequester. “What we’re doing is gas separation,” Wurzbacher said, “and that’s traditionally a process-industry business, like oil and gas. But we don’t really see ourselves there.”

The founders note that Toyota makes more than 10 million cars annually. “Every CO₂ collector has about the same weight and dimensions of a car — roughly two tons, and roughly 2 meters by 2 meters by 2 meters,” Gebald said. “And all the methods used to produce the CO₂ collectors could be well automated. So we have the automotive industry as a model for how to produce things in large quantities for low cost.” The two men have already sought advice from Audi. They are also aware that the automotive industry perfected its methods over the course of 100 years. Climeworks, if it plans to have even a modest impact, doesn’t have nearly as much time.

In 1954, the economist Paul Samuelson put forward a theory that made a distinction between “private-consumption goods” — bread, cars, houses and the like — and commodities that existed apart from the usual laws of supply and demand. Modern global markets are obviously quite successful at pricing private goods we need and want. But the other type of commodity Samuelson was describing is something now known as a “public good,” which benefits everyone but is not bought, sold or consumed the same way. Definitions of a public good can vary, but the oft-used examples are lighthouses, national defenses and clean air.

Direct air capture can no doubt create private goods, like soft-drink carbonation or fuels. What makes its value so difficult to estimate is that in burying CO₂ for a better atmosphere — and, almost certainly, a better future — its purveyors would also create a public good. “The challenge with just collecting and burying CO₂ is that there isn’t a market yet,” Julio Friedmann, a former United States Energy Department official who now works at Columbia University, told me. “What it’s really about is offering an environmental service for a fee.” And what that means, in short, is that direct air capture’s success would be limited to the size of the market for private goods — soda fizz, greenhouse gas — unless governments decided to intervene and help fund the equivalent of several million (or more) lighthouses.

An intervention could take a variety of forms. It could be large grants for research to find better sorbent materials, for instance, which would be similar to government investments that long ago helped nurture the solar- and wind-power industries. But help could also come by expanding regulations that already exist. A new and obscure United States tax provision, known as 45Q and signed last year by President Trump, offers a tax credit of up to $50 a ton for companies that bury CO₂ in geologic formations. The credit can benefit oil and gas firms that pump CO₂ underground during drilling work, as well as power plants that capture emissions directly from their smokestacks. Yet it could be used by Climeworks too, should it open plants in the United States — but only if it manages to remove and bury 100,000 tons of CO₂ per year.

Governments can make carbon more expensive too. The Climeworks founders told me they don’t believe their company will succeed on what they call “climate impact” scales unless the world puts significant prices on emissions, in the form of a carbon tax or carbon fee. “Our goal is to make it possible to capture CO₂ from the air for below $100 per ton,” Wurzbacher says. “No one owns a crystal ball, but we think — and we’re quite confident — that by something like 2030 we’ll have a global average price on carbon in the range of $100 to $150 a ton.” There is optimism in this thinking, he admitted; at the moment, only a few European countries have made progress in assessing a high price on carbon, and in the United States, carbon taxes have been repudiated recently at the polls, most recently in Washington State. Still, if such prices became a reality, they could benefit the carbon extraction market in a variety of ways. A company that sells a product or uses a process that creates high emissions — an airline, for instance, or a steel maker — could be required to pay carbon-removal companies $100 per metric ton or more to offset their CO₂ output. Or a government might use carbon-tax proceeds to directly pay businesses to collect and bury CO₂. In the absence of any meaningful government action, perhaps a crusading billionaire could put all the money in his estate toward capturing CO₂ and stashing it in the earth.

If carbon came to be properly priced, a global ledger would need to be kept by regulators so that air-capture machines could suck in and bury an amount equivalent to the CO₂ that emitters produce. Because CO₂ emissions mix quickly into the atmosphere, location would be mostly irrelevant, except for the need to situate plants near clean energy sources and suitable areas for sequestering the gas underground. A direct-air-capture plant in Iceland, in other words, could take in the same quantity of emissions produced by a Boeing 787 in Australia and thus negate its environmental impact. What’s more, there might not be limitations on the burial process. “It doesn’t cost too much to pump CO₂ underground,” Stanford’s Sally Benson says. Companies already sequester about 34 million metric tons of CO₂ in the ground every year, at a number of sites around the world, usually to enhance the oil-drilling process. “The costs range from $2 to $15 per ton. So the bigger cost in all of this is the cost of carbon capture.” Benson told me that various studies suggest that the earth’s capacity for CO₂ sequestration could be in the range of 25 trillion metric tons; burying, say, five billion metric tons of CO₂ a year is therefore within the realm of possibility.

In an imaginary, zero-carbon future, the revenue prospects for air-capture companies would probably be enormous. “If we get to $100 to $150 a ton,” Wurzbacher told me, “then the market is almost infinite.” It would be so large, he said, that even if his company went through an exponential expansion, he doubted it could serve all the potential clients. At such low prices, companies could potentially fold carbon offsets into their pricing — or be compelled to do so — leading to an explosion in the market. “Christoph and me, we are always saying, we think that if this develops in a direction we think it does, we are not founding a company — we’re really founding a new industry,” Wurzbacher said. He points to the work in Iceland — a collaborative effort, funded partly by the European Union — as the first step toward that industry. At the moment, a single Climeworks collector on a Reykjavik geothermal field takes in air and collects CO₂; after the gas is flushed from the machine’s filter, it is mixed with water, essentially forming hot seltzer. Then the liquid is injected into a basalt rock formation deep underground. Over the course of about two years, the CO₂ mineralizes, locking away the gas forever.

At Climeworks’s offices in Zurich, I asked Valentin Gutknecht, who was at the time the company’s business-development manager, if he could bury in Iceland my emissions from my plane flight from the United States to Zurich. He had a written agreement he could print out and give me, but it wouldn’t be cheap, he warned. The price was running about $600 a metric ton, meaning my flight would cost about an extra $700. But I was hardly the first person to ask him. The weekend before, Gutknecht told me, he received 900 unsolicited inquiries by email. Many were from potential customers who wanted to know how soon Climeworks could bury their CO₂ emissions, or how much a machine might cost them. I had the sense I was getting a glimpse of what’s to come: A community of people — not large enough to make a difference, but nonetheless motivated — seemed ready to pay a premium to reverse their CO₂ emissions.

Later, Wurzbacher told me he wants to offer a “one click” consumer service, perhaps in a year or two, which would expand what they’re doing in Iceland to individual customers and businesses. A Climeworks app could be installed on my smartphone, he explained. It could then be activated by my handset’s location services. “You fly over here to Europe,” he explained, “and the app tells you that you have just burned 1.7 tons of CO₂. Do you want to remove that? Well, Climeworks can remove it for you. Click here. We’ll charge your credit card. And then you’ll get a stone made from CO₂ for every ton you sequester.” He sat back and sighed. “That would be my dream,” he said.

Paradoxical though it may seem, it’s probable that synthetic fuels offer a more practical path to creating a viable business for direct air capture. The vast and constant market demand for fuel is why Carbon Engineering has staked its future on synthetics. The world currently burns about 100 million barrels of oil a day. David Keith told me he thinks that by 2050 the demand for transportation fuels will almost certainly be modified by the transition to electric vehicles. “So let’s say you’d have to supply something like 50 million barrels a day in 2050 of fuels,” he said. “That’s still a monster market.”

Steve Oldham, Carbon Engineering’s chief executive, added that direct-air-capture synthetics have an advantage over traditional fossil fuels: They won’t have to spend a dime on exploration. “If you were a brand-new company looking to make fuel, the cost of finding and then extracting fossil fuel is going to be really substantial,” he says. “Whereas our plants, you can build it right in the middle of California, wherever you have air and water.” He told me that the company’s first large-scale facility should be up and running by 2022, and will turn out at least 500 barrels a day of fuel feedstock — the raw material sent to refineries.

Climeworks perceives a large market for fuels, too. In a town near Zurich called Rapperswil-Jona, the firm has installed a collector in a small plant, run by the local technical university, to produce methane. In a room about the size of a shipping container, the Climeworks machine takes in CO₂ through an air duct and sends it through a maze of pipes to combine it with hydrogen, which is derived from water using solar power. When I visited, the plant was a few weeks away from being operational, but the methane coming out of the works could replace gasoline in the engine of just about any car, bus or truck outfitted to run on natural gas. At a larger plant in Italy, Climeworks recently joined a consortium of European countries to produce synthetic methane that will be used by a local trucking fleet. With different tweaks and refinements, the process could be adapted for diesel, gasoline, jet fuel — or it could be piped directly to local neighborhoods as fuel for home furnaces.

From an economic standpoint, synthetic fuels could allow producers to plug into a huge existing infrastructure — refineries, gas stations, cars, planes, trucks, homes, ships — and replace a product already in demand with something arguably better. But the new fuels are not necessarily cheaper. Carbon Engineering aspires to deliver its product at an ultimate retail price of about $1 per liter, or $3.75 per gallon. What would make the product competitive are regulations in California that now require fuel sellers to produce fuels of lower “carbon intensity.” To date this has meant blending gas and diesel with biofuels like ethanol, but it could soon mean carbon-capture synthetics too.

In an expanding market, synthetic fuels could have curious effects. Since they’re made from airborne CO₂ and hydrogen and could be manufactured just about anywhere, they could rearrange the geopolitical order — tempering the power of a handful of countries that now control natural-gas and oil markets. The methane project in Rapperswil-Jona is especially suited for that country’s needs, Markus Friedl, a thermodynamics professor overseeing the project, told me, because Switzerland imports almost all of its natural gas, and its ability to generate energy from renewable sources is limited during the colder months. Carbon-capture-derived fuels, if they become cheap enough, could be a form of energy storage — made in summer, with solar or wind power, and used in winter — that carries a lower cost (and longer life) than batteries.

From an environmental standpoint, air-capture fuels are not a utopian solution. Such fuels are carbon neutral, not carbon negative. They can’t take CO₂ from our industrial past and put it back into the earth. If all the cars, trucks and planes of the year 2050 run on renewable fuels instead of fossil fuels, their CO₂ emissions would need to be removed from the air, recycled into the same product they originally burned through, and the cycle would need to repeat, ad infinitum, lest emissions increase. Even so, these fuels could present an enormous improvement. Transportation — currently the most significant source of emissions by sector in the United States — could cease to be a net emitter of CO₂. Just as crucial, the technology of direct air capture could scale up to become better and cheaper.

A huge expansion would also involve huge complications. “You start to get into really big challenges when you get to these big, large scales,” Glen Peters, a research director at the Cicero Center for International Climate Research in Oslo, told me. “If you can do one carbon-capture facility, where Carbon Engineering or Climeworks can build a big plant, great. You need to do that 5,000 times. And to capture a million tons of CO₂ with direct air capture, you need a small power plant just to run that facility. So if you’re going to build one direct-air-capture facility every day for the next 30 years to get to some of these scenarios, then in addition, we have to build a new mini power plant every day as well.” It’s also the case that you have to address two extraordinary problems at the same time, Peters added. “To reach 1.5 degrees, we need to halve emissions every decade,” he said. That would mean persuading entire nations, like China and the United States, to switch from burning coal to using renewables at precisely the same time that we make immense investments in negative-emission technologies. And Peters pointed out that this would need to be done even as governments choose among competing priorities: health care, education and so on.

“The idea of bringing direct air capture up to 10 billion tons by the middle or later part of the century is such a herculean task it would require an industrial scale-up the likes of which the world has never seen,” Princeton’s Stephen Pacala told me. And yet Pacala wasn’t pessimistic about making a start. He seemed to think it was necessary for the federal government to begin with significant research and investments in the technology — to see how far and fast it could move forward, so that it’s ready as soon as possible. At Climeworks, Gebald and Wurzbacher spoke in similar terms, asserting that the conversations around climate challenges are moving beyond the choice between clean energy or carbon removal. Both will be necessary.

Gebald and Wurzbacher seem less assured about the future of global policy than on the mechanics of scaling up. Some of that, they made clear, was related to their outlook as engineers, to what they’ve gathered from observing companies like Audi and Apple. If the last century has proved anything, it’s that society is not always intent on acting quickly, at least in the political realm, to clean up our environment. But we’ve proved very good at building technology in mass quantities and making products and devices better and cheaper — especially when there’s money to be made. For now, Gebald and Wurzbacher seemed to regard the climate challenge in mathematical terms. How many gigatons needed to be removed? How much would it cost per ton? How many Climeworks machines were required? Even if the figures were enormous, even if they appeared impossible, to see the future their way was to redefine the problem, to move away from the narrative of loss, to forget the multiplying stories of dying reefs and threatened coastlines — and to begin to imagine other possibilities.

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« Reply #3699 on: Feb 16, 2019, 05:42 AM »

'Secrets will eat you up' – inside the shocking Michael Jackson documentary

In a disturbing new documentary, two accusers share their stories of what they say happened to them at the hands at the world’s most famous pop star

Benjamin Lee

It only takes about two minutes into the four-hour documentary Leaving Neverland to realise that Michael Jackson’s legacy is never going to be the same again. After a brief introduction, praising him for his indisputable talent, one of his accusers looks into the camera and lists the ways in which the singer helped him. He then states: “And he sexually abused me for seven years.”

Ever since it was announced as a late addition to this year’s Sundance film festival, controversy hasn’t been far behind. The singer’s estate labelled it “an outrageous and pathetic attempt to exploit and cash in on Michael Jackson” while fans have reportedly levelled threats against the film’s director, the Bafta winner Dan Reed. Protests had been teased online, leading to an increased police presence, but on a frosty morning here in Utah, only a small group of the late singer’s die-hard obsessives showed up.

For those inside the Egyptian theatre on Main Street, resistance wasn’t futile, it was utterly impossible. Over four hours, set to be shown in two portions on HBO and Channel 4, Reed shared the detailed testimonies of two men accusing Jackson of graphic and extensive sexual abuse when they were children. Before it started, we were informed that healthcare professionals were on hand for those who might need it, the explicit descriptions potentially causing difficulties for those who might feel triggered. While prior court cases might have buckled and previous accusers might have been labelled delusional opportunists, it’s difficult to imagine this sensitively crafted and horrifically detailed film being quite so easily denied.

In a decision justified in a post-screening Q&A, Reed limits the focus to the two accusers and their families, insisting quite rightly that their stories remain powerful without any extraneous material. Their accounts contain many similarities: they were both younger than 10 when they got to know Jackson, they both possessed a keen interest in performing and they were both allegedly groomed then abused for an extended period of time.

The first accuser, whom we hear from at the outset, is Wade Robson, who at a young age developed an intense fandom for Jackson, his “walls plastered” with posters. Described as “a sensitive boy”, he preferred dance over basketball and was soon emulating Jackson’s moves at the age of five in a local contest. The prize was meeting the man himself and the pair developed a deep friendship, one that was encouraged by an over-eager, self-described stage mother, spellbound by Jackson’s celebrity.

The second accuser, James Safechuck, encountered Jackson after nabbing a key role in a Pepsi ad. Similarly, the two developed a friendship at a young age and by 10 he was accompanying him on tour, followed by an equally starstruck mother, who saw Jackson as another son.

It’s James who first describes his recollection of their friendship turning sexual with Jackson allegedly introducing him to masturbation. He saw it as a form of “bonding” and it kicked off what he describes as a “sexual couple relationship” when the two were left alone, allowed to share hotel rooms by James’s unaware mother. The stories progress into even darker territory as she would find her hotel rooms being booked on different floors, Jackson making sure to prevent any potential discovery. James recalls that he woke on one occasion to find Jackson saying that while he was asleep, he had performed oral sex on him. He also told the boy that he was Jackson’s first sexual experience and that this was just an “acceptable way of experiencing your love”.

When Neverland Ranch was built, it became easier to ensure privacy. “It sounds sick but it’s kind of like when you’re first dating somebody,” James explains, after listing the many, many spaces at the complex where Jackson would allegedly abuse him. He claims that Jackson would tell him that his mother was mean and that women were evil, pushing him away from his family and further into Jackson’s life.

Wade claims that his abuse started at an even younger age, when he was just seven. The family stayed at Neverland and after Jackson convinced Wade’s mother, he was allowed to be alone with the boy for five days. “You and I were brought together by God,” Jackson said to Wade as he would allegedly engage in a number of anal and oral activities with him. He told Wade, too, that women weren’t to be trusted and warned that if anyone were to find out, they would both face jail.

In one of the most chilling scenes, James recalls the mock wedding the pair had, complete with a wedding ring which he still owns and shows to the camera. He claims Jackson would reward him with jewelry for engaging in sexual acts. “It’s still hard for me to not blame myself,” he says, with his hands shaking as he holds the many trinkets.

But the tenderness soon wore off as Wade, still just seven, was allegedly shown hardcore porn, while James was introduced to alcohol. The two were slowly phased out of Jackson’s life as younger boys were introduced. “You’re no longer special,” James says. Macaulay Culkin replaced Wade in Jackson’s music video for the song Black or White, and Wade and James dealt with feelings of jealousy and resentment. Before the documentary premiered, Culkin denied any impropriety. “For me, it’s so normal and mundane,” he said. “I know it’s a big deal to everybody else, but it was a normal friendship.”

In 1993, Jackson was publicly accused of sexual abuse by Jordan “Jordy” Chandler, which led to him reinserting himself into the lives of both boys, allegedly coaching them on how to respond to any questions. The case was ultimately settled out of court.

“Secrets will eat you up,” James says while detailing the long term damage of the alleged abuse. Both he and Wade have suffered from depression, self-loathing, and anxiety and have struggled with familial relations. At one point, bleakly, James adds: “I don’t think time heals this one. It just gets worse.”

The film also delves into the responsibility of the parents, with both mothers explaining their decision-making processes. Both were horrified when, as adults, their sons shared their stories and both sons have found forgiveness difficult. It also examines the complex reasoning for their decision to stay silent for all these years, including Wade’s appearance at Jackson’s 2004-5 trial, when the singer was accused of abusing Gavin Arvizo, as part of his defence.

“I want to speak the truth as loud as I spoke the lie,” Wade says near the end of the film, determined to make up for the lost years spent grappling with the experience alone.

After the film ended, an ashen-faced crowd rose to their feet to applaud Wade and James, who arrived on stage, both visibly moved by the response. They had met briefly as kids but have recently found support from each other as a way of feeling less isolated. They pointed out, for those who might question their motivations, that there was no compensation for appearing in the documentary. “We can’t change what happened to us,” Wade, now 36, said. “The feeling is what can we do with that now.”

They’ve both received death threats from Jackson fans, who today have flooded Twitter with attempts to discredit the pair. “I understand that it’s really hard for them to believe because, in a way, not that long ago, I was in the same position they were in,” Wade said. “Even though it happened to me, I still couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that what Michael did was a bad thing up until six years ago. So I understand. We can only accept and understand something when we’re ready, and maybe we’ll never be ready. Maybe we will. So that’s their journey.”

    Leaving Neverland will air on HBO and Channel 4 later this year

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« Reply #3700 on: Feb 16, 2019, 05:44 AM »

Nigeria postpones election just hours before polls due to open

Electoral commission cites unspecified ‘challenges’ for vote that will now take place on 23 February

Ruth Maclean and Eromo Egbejule in Kano
Sat 16 Feb 2019 02.37 GMT

Nigeria’s electoral commission has delayed the presidential election until 23 February, making the announcement just five hours before polls were set to open on Saturday.

It cited unspecified “challenges” amid reports that voting materials had not been delivered to all parts of the country.

“This was a difficult decision to take but necessary for successful delivery of the elections and the consolidation of our democracy,” commission chairman Mahmood Yakubu told reporters in the capital, Abuja, late on Friday night. He said more details would be released on Saturday afternoon.

President Muhammadu Buhari faces a tight election contest in Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, top oil producer and most populous nation, against the main opposition candidate, businessman and former vice president Atiku Abubakar.

The election has been seen as a referendum on Buhari’s first term, which has been marred by his prolonged absence due to illness, a weak economy, and the government’s failure to effectively tackle corruption and insecurity.

But the 84 million people registered to vote across Nigeria are waking up to learn that they will not be able to take part in the poll for another week.

Nigerians have to return to their home states to cast their votes, and many of those who have travelled across the large west African country in order to do so will not be able to repeat the journey next weekend.

On Friday, planes leaving Abuja airport were full of people going home in order to take part in the election. On election day, travel is restricted, and most people walk to polling stations to cast their votes.

Elections for the state governors, due to be held on 2 March, were also delayed by a week. The cost of the election, already expected to be 242 billion naira ($670m) will increase now.

The country’s presidential elections in 2011 and 2015 were also delayed over logistics and security issues.
Nigeria election: Buhari battles body double rumours and economic woe
Read more

The decision to delay this year’s vote was criticised by the chairman of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, Uche Secondus, said the move was an action that was “dangerous to our democracy and unacceptable”, adding that it was part of an attempt by Buhari to “cling on to power even when it’s obvious to him that Nigerians want him out”.

The president’s ruling All Progressives Congress party criticised the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the delay.

Buhari “cooperated fully with INEC by ensuring everything it demanded to conduct free and fair elections were promptly made available,” it said in a statement. “This news is therefore a huge disappointment to us.”

An electoral commission official said that “some result sheets and some ballot papers are reportedly missing. We want to track every (piece of) sensitive material, take inventory of what we have and what is missing”.

    INEC Nigeria (@inecnigeria)

    Breaking News: The #NigeriaDecides2019 Elections now to hold on; 23rd February, 2019 for Presidential and National Assembly while the Governorship, State House of Assembly and the FCT Area Council Elections is to hold on 9th March, 2019. pic.twitter.com/6zhvBLQe2a
    February 16, 2019

A government official said: “The legitimacy of the entire process will be questioned and the winner could lack the moral authority to superintend the affairs of the state.”

In the lead up to the election Nigeria has been dealing with pockets of instability. Authorities bolstered security in much of the country on the eve of the vote, after past elections were marred by violence, voter intimidation and ballot rigging.

A faction of Boko Haram attacked a state governor’s convoy on Tuesday, killing four people and stealing vehicles. Elsewhere, 15 people were crushed to death at a ruling party rally in eastern Port Harcourt. On Thursday, 14 sacks of ballot papers were intercepted in Kano state – though police said they were merely “specimen” papers to educate voters.

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« Reply #3701 on: Feb 16, 2019, 05:47 AM »

Germany rebukes Trump over criticism of Nato spending

Defence minister’s comments at Munich conference reflect deepening transatlantic rift

Patrick Wintour in Munich
16 Feb 2019 17.11 GMT

The Nato alliance is about decency and dependability, not just cash and contributions, Germany’s defence minister has said in a rebuke to Donald Trump over his insistence that European countries rapidly increase their defence spending.

Ursula von der Leyen told a gathering of defence ministers in Munich the alliance was about fairness in collective decision-making, and not just during military missions.

As the conference opened a study was published showing that European Nato members would have to raise their defence spending by £102bn a year to hit the 2% of GDP target set for 2024. That would require a 38% increase in spending, the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in its annual military balance report.

The failure of Washington’s European allies to get even close to that figure has infuriated the US president, who accuses them of freeloading. The US accounts for 70% of Nato states’ defence spending, the report found. It spent nearly $650bn (£506bn) in 2018, compared with around $250bn for all the European Nato members combined.

Trump’s anger over spending has fuelled concern about his commitment to the alliance. At a Nato summit in Brussels last year he made a blistering public attack on Berlin in a televised meeting with Angela Merkel.

Von der Leyen tried to defuse a potential replay of that row on Friday by insisting that calls for Germany to increase defence spending were justified. She also pointed out that the call to hit 2% had been made by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, but added, pointedly: “Yes, Nato is about cash and contributions but it is also about decency and dependability.”

Tensions are also likely to surface at the conference over the unilateral style of US foreign policy. Polls before the gathering found that most French and German respondents had greater confidence in Vladimir Putin’s leadership than Trump’s.

In an index of the damage caused by Trump’s “diplomacy by tweet” approach, defence ministers met to discuss the latest stage in the fight to defeat Islamic State (Isis) in north-east Syria after his unilateral decision to withdraw the 2,000 US troops in the country.

Pat Shanahan, on his first trip abroad as the acting US defence secretary, said he foresaw a “bigger and stronger” US-led coalition combatting Isis globally as Washington pulls its troops out of Syria.

“While the time for US troops on the ground in north-east Syria winds down, the United States remains committed to our coalition’s cause, the permanent defeat of Isis, both in the Middle East and beyond,” Shanahan said in remarks to reporters.

Trump’s decision, which as yet lacks a clear timetable, angered some allies, confounded US military officials and prompted Jim Mattis to resign as defence secretary. It also left a strategic question about how to secure the mainly Kurdish north-east of Syria, where Turkey wants to impose an exclusion zone.

European officials said they were given few details during the closed-door meeting in Munich and many questions remain. “We are still trying to understand how the Americans plan to withdraw,” one European official told Reuters.

The French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was mystery how the US said it wanted to be tough on Iran, and yet was leaving Syria in a way that will leave Iran stronger.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham told the conference the US would be asking allies to contribute forces to help stabilise areas liberated from Isis, drawing scepticism from a French diplomat who said: “Once the Americans leave we’ll be forced to leave. We aren’t going to be the patsy for the Americans.”

The differences between the EU and US also extend to whether to seek a replacement to the INF nuclear arms treaty, from which the US and Russia have withdrawn, accusing one another of violations. Germany would like a broader replacement treaty that embraces China, but the IISS pointed out that if the terms of the current treaty were imposed on China, it would have to destroy 95% of its cruise and ballistic missile arsenal.

The US was also unrepentant about its ad hoc anti-Iran summit in Warsaw this week, saying the event was not a one-off and would lead to a new, permanent anti-Iranian coalition spanning Arab states, the US and Israel. The alliance will confront Iran’s aggressive drive to build a Shia crescent and new dynamic across the Middle East, according to the US special representative on Iran, Brian Hook.

The claim will alarm European leaders further because they face a concerted joint drive by Washington and its Arab allies to crush the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and bring about a form of regime change in Tehran through economic sanctions.

Iranian aggression across the region “had done an excellent job in driving Arab states and Israel much closer together,” Hook said.

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How a Slovakian neo-Nazi got elected

In 2013, the far-right politician Marian Kotleba won a shock victory in regional elections. Four years later, he was voted out in a landslide. But now he’s running for president. By Shaun Walker

More from this series: The new populism
16 Feb 2019 06.00 GMT

In December 2013, Marian Kotleba, a former secondary school teacher who had become Slovakia’s most notorious political extremist, arrived to begin work at his new office – the governor’s mansion in Banská Bystrica, the country’s sixth-largest city. Kotleba venerated Slovakia’s wartime Nazi puppet state, and liked to dress up in the uniforms of its shock troops, who had helped to round up thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Now, in the biggest electoral shock anyone could remember in the two decades since Slovakia’s independence, the people of Banská Bystrica and the surrounding region had voted for the 37-year-old Kotleba to be their governor. The four-storey mansion, with its vaulted ceilings and gilded pillars, would be his workplace for the next four years.

Banská Bystrica is a tranquil kind of place, with a genteel Mitteleuropa charm: the centre has pavement cafes, neat rows of burgher houses and a number of handsome baroque churches. At eight minutes to every hour, a clock in the central square plays a dainty jewellery-box jingle. And now, it had the dubious distinction of being the first place in modern Europe to have elected a person widely regarded as a neo-fascist to a major office.

For the next four years, heavy-set men in the green shirts of Kotleba’s Our Slovakia party guarded the door of the administration building; they worked out in a gym that was constructed for them in the basement of the governor’s office. Journalists, for the most part, were forbidden to enter. Kotleba branded the mainstream media liars, and said he would communicate directly with the people. An industrial printing press, brought into the building early in his term, pumped out regular pamphlets called Our Slovakia, which were sent across the region, and later, the country.

The colourful, four-page leaflets were packed with the tropes that had defined Kotleba’s campaign: decent Slovaks were being exploited and terrorised by corrupt politicians, “Gypsy criminals” and shadowy international forces. Articles railed against promiscuity, abortion and homosexuality, all of which threatened the traditional family and the Slovak nation. Often, there was a personal appeal from Kotleba not to believe the “tendentious opinions” about him in the media. Tall, stocky and balding, and always wearing a neatly trimmed moustache, Kotleba looked equal parts supply teacher and gang leader. He had a purposeful strut and a boxer’s habit of shifting his weight from one foot to the other. At meetings and rallies, he spoke in a hectoring, insistent tone about the urgency of his tasks.

In many of the smaller settlements there were simply not enough jobs, and the most talented people got out as soon as they could. There was a vague resentment at being seen as second-class citizens inside the European Union, and a more acute feeling that the Slovak political class was isolated from the masses and only interested in lining its pockets. Soon enough, the same issues would fuel the rise of rightwing populism across the region. Within a few years, after migration and nationalism had taken over the political agenda, much of Europe would also be grappling with the far-right’s success at the ballot box. But back in 2013, nobody was expecting a neo-Nazi to win an election. How was it possible that 55% of voters had backed someone this extreme?

Three years later, Kotleba pulled off another electoral shock, using his platform as governor to take his far-right party into parliament after a vigorous campaign in small towns across the country. Our Slovakia won 14 out of 150 seats in the Slovak legislature. In March, he will run for president.

In Slovakia, regional governors are responsible for the unglamorous nitty-gritty of local administration: bus timetables, road maintenance and some education and healthcare. The country’s population of about 5.5 million is divided into eight regions; in the west, the capital, Bratislava, brushes against the Austrian border and is just a short hop from Vienna. In the east, the country stretches to the Ukrainian border. Banská Bystrica, the largest region by area, is right in the middle, a three-hour train ride from the capital. The city of Banská Bystrica itself is something of an intellectual hub, with four theatres and a well-regarded university, but the surrounding region is regarded as a hinterland of dessicated industrial plants and unprofitable agricultural concerns. Most of the small towns, linked by winding and poorly paved roads, were the sort of places whose names caused metropolitan Slovaks to raise their eyebrows in consternation.

During his campaign, Kotleba had promised to stand up for the “decent people”. They had been getting a raw deal, he said, exploited by both the “political mafia” in charge of the country, and “Gypsy parasites”. Many Slovak politicians used inflammatory language about the country’s Roma community, but Kotleba took it a step further. Members of his party, in their distinctive green shirts, even prowled trains on special vigilante patrols designed to “prevent Gypsy criminality”.

In land and property disputes that broke out with Roma families, Kotleba frequently sent party members to intimidate the Roma or force them off land they were deemed to be occupying. The tales of such heroic rescue operations coming to the aid of “decent people” were written up in lurid detail in the pamphlets cranked out by the printing press. Instead of being the crazed ravings of a fringe lunatic, they now came imprinted with the approval of a man serving in high office.

Kotleba rebuffed my attempts to talk with him, saying he did not trust western journalists, so, instead, I met Milan Uhrík, who was Kotleba’s deputy in Banská Bystrica and is now an MP from his party. We drank coffee in a shopping mall outside his home town of Nitra, an hour’s drive away from Banská Bystrica. Regarded as the polished face of Kotleba’s party, Uhrík had a couple of days’ worth of light stubble and wore a checked shirt. He spoke to me softly in fluent English, and although he was friendly enough, within seven minutes of us sitting down, he was on the defensive, insisting unprompted that he had no problems with “the Jews”. He repeatedly denied Kotleba or the party was racist or fascist, batting away criticism with wide-eyed mock-surprise and the predictable retort that the real victims of discrimination were white Slovaks.

Uhrík ran over what he saw as the achievements of Kotleba’s time in office, which he lamented were fairly miserly only because the central government had blocked them from doing more. I asked him what he was most proud of, and he buried himself in his phone, looking for the right English translation. “Ah, pickaxes, that’s the word,” he said with a boyish grin. “Pickaxes and shovels – that was our programme.” The policy in question hit on two of Kotleba’s favourite themes in one: Roma and roads. It involved long-term unemployed people being put to manual labour on the roads, using the simplest of tools. It employed around 90 people, many of them Roma. “They couldn’t work with computers, or do some business, they were simplest people on the labour market, but they have to do something because when they sit at home and do nothing they just start drinking, stealing and doing some criminal stuff,” he said. Kotleba’s programme was widely criticised for being both demeaning and pointlessly inefficient. It was soon shut down by the regional parliament – in Uhrík’s mind, because they were alarmed by its success.

Uhrík was on his way to Banská Bystrica to plot strategy with Kotleba, and gave me a lift in his roomy black Mercedes, bought with money from his successful pre-politics IT career, he said. We drove past a shopping centre where the Kotleba green-shirts were doing unsolicited, informal security patrols, a new offshoot of the train-patrol programme. “The Gypsy gang was threatening the managers who were selling clothes in shops,” he said, gesturing at the mall as we sped past. “The police did nothing. When our members come, the Gypsies have more respect for our members than for the police. The police cannot do anything because they’re too scared to be marked as racist.”

Uhrík spent a lot of time talking about “Gypsies”, mostly involving him explaining how the party was not racist, in terms that sounded incredibly racist. After an hour’s drive through a hilly landscape of golden fields and trees that were just starting to turn with the onset of autumn, he dropped me off in Banská Bystrica. He bade me farewell, and promised to intercede personally on my behalf with his boss, although he looked doubtful. A few days later, the final rebuttal came by email. Kotleba would wait to see what kind of article I wrote, before deciding whether to speak to me in the future.

Slovakia’s short history as an independent state began in 1993, when Czechoslovakia split in two. Four years previously, crowds across the old country had surged into city squares and demanded the end of the Moscow-backed communist regime, in a series of demonstrations that became known as the Velvet Revolution. The old order melted away without violence, and enthusiasm for the new politics was high: in the 1990 elections, the first after the Velvet Revolution, the turnout was over 96%. The 1993 divorce with the Czechs was also peaceful – but ahead lay a difficult transition, involving the speedy creation of a new economy and new political institutions, as well as the search for new national identities after four decades of communism. The country joined the EU in 2004.

These momentous changes formed the backdrop to the younger years of Marian Kotleba, who was born in 1977 in Sásová, a drab suburb of Banská Bystrica. But from Sásová’s collection of nine-storey apartment blocks filled with boxy, functional apartments, the political shifts would have felt distant. There wasn’t much to do, and subcultures flourished among the bored youth. At least one of Marian’s older brothers was involved with a clique of far-right skinheads, but Marian was a quiet, shy kid. He kept his head down and didn’t say much, according to the recollections of his contemporaries.

After completing an economics degree at the local university, followed by a masters, he got a job at a local secondary school teaching IT. One of his former students, Michal Dzurko, told me Kotleba was a competent but strict teacher, who would sometimes play videogames with his favoured students after classes. During these sessions of a game called Unreal Tournament, Dzurko recalls Kotleba taking delight in introducing characters named after other teachers at the school. “Yeah bitch, take that,” he would yell, as he shot his computerised colleagues.

One day in 2005, Kotleba’s students realised their IT teacher had a secret life, when they saw him on the news, leading a gang of neo-fascists parading through the nearby town of Zvolen holding flaming torches. There on television was Kotleba’s boyish face, adorned with a thin moustache, a gap shaved in the middle to create the effect of a half-opened drawbridge. He wore a black peaked cap and a black shirt, with an armband featuring the double cross of the wartime Slovak state, a close Nazi ally. The uniform was almost identical to those of the Hlinka Guard, the fascist state’s shock troops.

Now that the quiet teacher’s alter-ego had been outed, Kotleba brought his ragtag band of extremists into a political party called Slovak Unity, of which he was leader. It was not a success: in 2006 elections it got just 0.16% of the vote. Dzurko, Kotleba’s former student, had fallen in with an extreme-right crowd as he progressed through school. At home, he spent long hours reading conspiracy websites about Jewish cabals and the oppression of the Slovak people and on Friday nights would go out and look for fights. And yet, even for people like Dzurko, Kotleba was seen as a bit of a joke. After the 2006 elections, Dzurko and friends saw Kotleba in the street and began shouting “Zero! Point! Sixteen! Percent!” at him.

After being crushed at the polls, the party was liquidated by the courts in 2006 for its overtly anti-democratic nature. Kotleba took a brief break from politics, opening a shop in Banská Bystrica called “KKK – English fashion”. The three Ks were meant to represent the three Kotlebas, but the Ku Klux Klan reference was fairly obvious, especially given the clothing on sale – T-shirts and hoodies with far-right emblems and insignia. Kotleba and his followers regularly dressed in Hlinka Guard uniforms (making minor alterations, as the actual uniforms were illegal). “We are Slovaks, not Jews, and that is why we are not interested in the Jewish issue,” he said in 2009, when asked about the wartime deportations of the Jews from Slovakia by the very unit in whose uniform he was dressed.

Soon, he was back in politics with a new outfit called People’s Party Our Slovakia. This time, Kotleba was much more careful when it came to the party programme, and obviously neo-Nazi or anti-democratic policies were excised. It didn’t help much, though. At elections in 2010 and 2012, the party got less than 2% of votes.

It was clear that full-on neo-Nazi ideology was never going to garner more than fringe support, but Kotleba saw that by softening the message a bit, there was a much larger electorate potentially available. The black uniforms were swapped for green T-shirts bearing the party logo. Sometimes he even wore a shirt and jacket. He stopped talking about the Jews and started talking more about the Roma. Antisemitism wasn’t much of a vote-winner in Slovakia, but promising recriminations against the country’s Roma community would be much more effective. Locked out of education and the workplace, many of Slovakia’s 400,000 Roma were trapped in a spiral of disenfranchisement, poverty and sometimes crime. “After decades of marginalisation you can’t just change it in a few years,” Michal Vašecka, a Slovak sociologist, told me. “And if anyone tries to do something openly to help the Roma, it’s political suicide.” Indeed, any time even basic employment or housing rights programmes were launched, Kotleba and others would complain about the Roma getting special treatment. Kotleba didn’t call them Roma, but used the semi-pejorative “cigani” (“Gypsies”), and he promised to get tough with them.

Kotleba thus relaunched himself as a straight-talking, no-nonsense guy, who would stand up for decent people – slušní ľudia. This became his refrain. He repeated it, again and again, in his campaign speeches and literature. Slušní ľudia would be protected from economic corruption, slušní ľudia would be shielded against moral decay, slušní ľudia would no longer be terrorised by “Gypsy criminality”. The man who had only recently marched in the uniforms of Holocaust perpetrators was now portraying himself as the paragon of decency.

The Slovak political scene in 2013 was dominated by the Smer (“Direction”) party, headed by prime minister Robert Fico. The party had been tainted with a number of corruption scandals, cronyism and links to shady oligarchs. In many ways, the supposedly centre-left Smer was similar to Viktor Orbán’s far-right Fidesz, in neighbouring Hungary. “Neither Fidesz nor Smer have a clear ideological direction, and both Orbán and Fico are very adaptive politicians,” said Zsuzsanna Szelényi, a former Hungarian MP who is now a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. The Hungarian electoral system, together with Orbán’s ruthlessness, allowed him to take a much firmer grip of his country than his Slovak counterpart: Smer dominated the electoral scene, but often had to govern in coalition.

The 2013 election for Banská Bystrica governor was meant to be a formality for Vladimír Maňka, a local Smer functionary. He had been in the job for four years, and was combining his post as regional governor with a job as an MEP. With a neatly trimmed shades-of-grey moustache, receding grey hair and spectacles, Maňka looked every inch the classic Smer man. He was a competent technocrat, born in the region, and he worked Stakhanovite hours – but with the double workload he was only in Banská Bystrica two-and-a-half days per week, flying in from Brussels or Strasbourg. He was not personally accused of corruption scandals but was tarnished by association with Smer. During the campaign, a mischievous series of billboard advertisements appeared, of unknown provenance, featuring a photograph of Maňka and thanking voters for his enormous salary.

Among Banská Bystrica’s small group of far-right skinheads, there was an excitement about the newly ascendant Kotleba, but at the same time he was cultivating a new type of voter. The area around Banská Bystrica was once dotted with silver and tin mines, which had brought prosperity for centuries. But the treasure had long been exhausted, and with the collapse of the socialist agricultural system, the small towns and villages were in a sorry state. Many of those who had opportunities to do so departed for Bratislava, Austria or Britain: out of a regional population of 650,000, the local government estimated that roughly 50,000 people had left in the decade since EU accession. Many of those who remained in the provinces felt isolated from the regional government in Banská Bystrica, let alone from Bratislava or Brussels. “There’s nothing here; all the clever people have gone,” several different people muttered to me wistfully, during my travels around the region.

Daniel Vražda, a burly and tenacious local reporter who has lived his whole life in Banská Bystrica, had first noticed Kotleba in 2005, when he caught the public eye with his torchlit marches, but initially dismissed him as a nobody, as most people did. Now, though, Vražda was travelling around the region watching Kotleba campaign, and could see with his own eyes how the revamped politician was connecting with the people he met. Nobody had ever bothered to campaign in the small towns before, but Kotleba went to these places, where it was hardly less surprising to see a real politician appear in the flesh than it would have been to see a herd of elephants stroll into town.

He held small gatherings, listened to people’s grievances, and told them that everyone was stealing from them, the decent people, the slušní ľudia. Vražda looked on, and thought that if he didn’t know what Kotleba really stood for, he too might have been persuaded by a lot of the messaging. Kotleba promised new and better local roads, a fairer deal for all, and action against the Roma. The specifics were left vague. “He told everyone he would make order with the Gypsies, but he never explained how,” Vrazda told me. “So, one person could imagine a job-creation programme, while another person could imagine baseball bats.”

Maňka, on the other hand, used his few campaign appearances to boast about the apparent economic prosperity he had brought. “Maňka kept talking about €160m (£140m) he had attracted to the region, thinking people would thank him for this,” said Vražda. “But they’re earning €400 a month, and these numbers mean nothing to them. The numbers are probably true, but if ordinary people tried to find the money, they wouldn’t. And then Marian Kotleba came along and said, ‘I’ve found the money. It’s in the pockets of Vladimír Maňka.’”

Despite all this, on election night things went more or less as planned for Maňka. He got a fraction less than half the vote, meaning there would be a run-off. Kotleba was the surprise runner-up, but he was way behind, on 21%. Conventional wisdom dictates that if an extremist candidate sneaks into the final round of voting, the moderate will see them off, a hypothesis borne out by two generations of Le Pens in France, among many others. In parts of the Slovak media there was alarm that a neo-Nazi had made it to a run-off, but everyone expected the second vote to be a formality. “I have absolutely no doubt that Mr Maňka is going to win the second round without a single problem,” prime minister Robert Fico said in a television interview. He added, with a laugh: “Even a sack of potatoes would beat Marian Kotleba.”

And then the unthinkable happened. In the first round, Maňka had been just 600 votes short of an outright majority; this time he was trounced, with Kotleba receiving 55% of the vote. The turnout was still a miserly 25%, but it seemed that while many Maňka voters had not bothered to turn up to vote for a second time, Kotleba had energised a different set of new voters with his promises to stand up for the “decent people”.

When I met Maňka recently to discuss the 2013 vote, it was clear the subject is still a raw one. He remains an MEP, but mention his name even now in Slovak political circles and someone will say “sack of potatoes” with a snigger. Maňka arrived at our breakfast meeting with a bag of props, including literature filled with graphs and pie charts showing how successful his time in office had been. He placed on the table a glass award he had won in 2013 for running the most transparent region in Slovakia. The US ambassador, with whom he used to play tennis, had personally awarded it to him, he said.

Maňka didn’t seem to think actually winning the approval of voters had even been part of his duties. “I didn’t campaign, I was busy working and solving all the problems,” he told me, about the time between the first and second rounds of voting. “We had solved everything, the region was healthy, I was very happy.” Five years later, he still looked genuinely confused by the result.

A few weeks after the vote, Kotleba was confirmed as the new governor at a formal event where a chunky ceremonial chain was placed around his neck, as Maňka and top city officials looked on, shell-shocked.

During his first year in office, Kotleba employed dozens of his party members in jobs at the local administration. Green-shirted security guards blocked the doors, giving the place the air of a cult headquarters. One of his first moves was to remove the EU flag from the administration building, in line with his belief that Slovakia should withdraw from both the EU and Nato.

Kotleba did not have control of the regional parliament, which tried to frustrate his initiatives at every turn, but he set about making his influence felt wherever he could. He was particularly put out by programmes promoting human rights and tolerance in schools, and issued guidelines suggesting that instead of doing that, it would be better if the schools held beauty pageants. These were aimed at “girls learning to present themselves as ladies, and for them to see that there is still a world that values women’s dignity and spiritual beauty”. Some schools ignored the recommendations and still held the anti-extremism sessions; others did indeed hold beauty contests. Kotleba’s Kulturkampf continued in other areas, as he cancelled a contemporary dance festival he deemed to contain “pornography”, as well as an EU-funded project to resettle people with mental disabilities from a decaying communist-era facility into smaller supported housing units, and reintegrate them into society.

When the time came to campaign across the nation for the 2016 parliamentary elections, Kotleba and his party made good use of the deft double messaging common to extremists trying to go mainstream: putting on a more humane face for the general public, while providing clear signals for the core support. He attended an extreme-right march in Bratislava, where he wished everyone present “a happy White day”, to raucous applause. The party handed out charitable donations to youth sports clubs and other approved causes, but the amount on several occasions was €1,488, a number widely used as code by neo-Nazis. (The number 14 refers to the Fourteen Words, a white supremacist slogan, while 88 stands for Heil Hitler, as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.) Uhrík told me it was merely a coincidence.

In interviews, Kotleba claimed to be outraged at accusations of racism, and said he was simply defending the “decent people”, who were now endangered by a new threat: the large numbers of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe from Africa and the Middle East. All the previous rhetoric about the Roma could now be grafted on to a new and even more threatening “enemy”. He was largely shunned by state television, but was active on Facebook and other social media, and stepped up his leafleting by mail. The leader, with an entourage of green-shirted disciples, travelled to the forgotten towns and villages once again, promising to restore dignity to the forgotten peoples of Slovakia, stripped from them so cruelly by the corrupted, decadent Slovak elites.

As the parliamentary vote approached, the political rhetoric across the spectrum shifted closer towards Kotleba. Politicians across central Europe said they did not wish to support migrants when there were still so many people living in poverty in their home countries, and Slovakia was no exception. “Islam has no place in Slovakia,” said prime minister Fico, nailing his colours to the rightwing, anti-refugee mast. Two Slovak researchers, Viera Žúborová and Ingrid Borárosová, concluded that the endless mainstream discussion of the migration topic “logically had to bring advantages for the party which had been for years presenting itself with Eurosceptic politics and hostility against minorities”. While it’s possible that Smer wooed some of Kotleba’s voters by claiming the migration issue as their own, adopting the same kind of inflammatory language perhaps signalled to others that Kotleba had been right all along. His party won 8% of the vote and ended up with 14 seats in parliament.

In Bratislava, the result sent shockwaves through polite society. Previously, it had been possible to dismiss Kotleba as a freakshow in the provinces; now he was at the heart of national politics. There was a hand-wringing discussion about how to treat the country’s newest parliamentarians – reminiscent of debates happening elsewhere as parties formerly considered fringe extremists began taking government offices. Andrej Kiska, who occupied the largely symbolic presidential role, was the one liberal force in Slovak politics, and refused to invite Kotleba to the presidential palace as is customary with heads of new parliamentary parties. “Let’s draw a clear line: these people are fascists and we won’t cooperate or talk with them,” he told Slovaks, explaining his decision.

At the liberal newspaper Denník N in Bratislava, editorial staff held discussions to decide how to cover Slovakia’s newest political force. “All of us know that he’s a fascist who is pretending to be a guy wearing a suit,” editor-in-chief Matúš Kostolný told me. He felt the paper should cover the actions of Kotleba’s MPs, but not carry interviews with them or treat them like regular parliamentarians. “I did a lot of research about how this was handled in other countries, and basically there are no good solutions. If he were in power, he’d be attacking the system we live in, so why should public television discuss his toxic ideas?”

Others weren’t so sure. The veteran war correspondent Andrej Bán argued that while Kotleba himself should be blacklisted, it was worth engaging with party members. Bán thought it was necessary to listen to Kotleba’s supporters, and later set up an organisation called Forgotten Slovakia, which organised public discussions in small towns across the country.

Polling showed that some of the most radical Kotleba fans were young Slovaks, most of whom consumed their news via Facebook. Among 18- to 21-year-olds, Kotleba’s party had got more votes than any other at the 2016 parliamentary elections. In one region, schools organised mock elections among students, and Kotleba won every time. “They poison the well of young people. If you start at age 11, then by 16 you can have a brainwashed Nazi. Without Facebook, Kotleba wouldn’t be in parliament,” claimed Vašecka, the sociologist.

A number of NGOs began organising discussion groups in schools to try to increase political engagement among young people. Michal Dzurko, Kotleba’s former student, had flirted with extremism but later became a committed campaigner against it. He travelled to schools to hold discussion sessions with radical young pupils. The children asked many questions, and often he could see that there were new thought processes whirring in some of their heads. “Nobody had taught them the basics of how to be a citizen,” he said. “They can tell you all the parts of a fucking maple leaf in Latin because that’s what they teach in school, but nobody teaches them media literacy or how the world works.”

Soon, it was time to think about who would stand against Kotleba in the November 2017 regional elections, in which he wanted to secure another four-year term as Banská Bystrica governor. Ján Lunter, a wealthy local businessman, was keen to run, and thought the best way to beat Kotleba was to offer a positive agenda, rather than to focus on the evils of Kotleba’s ideology and try to shame people into not voting for an extremist. Born into a farming family but a longstanding vegetarian, Lunter had begun producing tofu in the early 1990s, back when vegetarian foods were hard to come by. By 2017, the company was producing seven tonnes of tofu per day, selling it across central Europe, and employed 200 people at its factory just outside Banská Bystrica. With a creased face and boomerang eyebrows, he looked slightly dishevelled in a suit, giving him simultaneous airs of respectability and relatability. He was by no means a charismatic orator, but he was possessed of a Zen-like calm that he would maintain all through the electoral campaign. Importantly, he was not a career politician, and had no links to Smer or other established political forces. The main political parties, and most other interested independents, stepped back to give Lunter the best chance of winning.

Lunter’s son Ondrej, who ran his father’s campaign, engaged a set of Bratislava consultants to help craft the messaging, led by Peter Hajdin, a youthful 45-year-old with a fortnight’s worth of beard. Hajdin had worked on President Kiska’s campaign in 2014, helping him to a surprise victory against Fico, the Smer prime minister who had been keen to transfer to the presidential palace. For Lunter, Hajdin thought of a fairly straight campaign that would promote him as a decent, honest, hard-working businessman. The words Kotleba, Nazi, extremism or anything similar were not to be used. It was better to communicate with people by showing them a different vision of politics, he thought, rather than by yelling at them. The care and energy put into the campaign was in stark contrast to Maňka’s run four years earlier. Hajdin created slick branding, starting with the logo – a white, all-caps LUNTER in a chunky, no-nonsense font, embossed on a red rectangle. “I wanted something like a Swiss chocolate logo, something tasty you’d like to have a bite of,” he told me in the offices of his Bratislava agency. Three campaign teams toured the region with balloons, leaflets and big smiles.

In Bzovík, a typical town of around 1,000 residents an hour’s drive from Banská Bystrica, Kotleba had won comfortably in 2013. Michaela Urban, a community organiser who helped organise campaigning for Lunter in 2017, admitted that she herself had voted for Kotleba in 2013. “I knew absolutely nothing about him – it was just about voting against Maňka. I don’t think many people knew that much about him then.” In the four years of his governorship, Kotleba came to the town frequently, she said, to check on the progress of restorations to the 17th-century castle. He also repaired a road to the village that had been bothering locals for years. “A few people like the ideology, but most people like him because it seems he takes an interest,” she said.

Nevertheless, it seemed likely that many people did also approve of aspects of Kotleba’s rhetoric. “Everywhere I went, people asked me what I would do about the Gypsies, and said at least Kotleba did something,” Lunter told me, about his campaign visits around the region. Like many Slovak towns, Bzovík had a completely segregated Roma community, who lived in a settlement down a muddy track on the outskirts, where houses were stacked together higgledy-piggledy, unlike the neat bungalows in the rest of the town. Ownership rights were murky, even though the community has been there for generations. “Animals are more protected in this country than Roma people,” 47-year-old Eva Grešková complained to me, as she cooked lunch inside one of the houses. Tensions had increased over the years of the Kotleba governorship, she said, as the governor’s rhetoric removed any vestigial taboo around open discrimination against Roma. She had a litany of unpleasant cases, from muttered abuse on the street to bus drivers refusing to take Roma kids on board.

As the vote approached, Banská Bystrica was on edge. A dance theatre to which Kotleba had cut funding rehearsed a new show about the battle between good and evil, to premiere shortly after the election. They created posters featuring a man trying to jump over a ravine, with a demonic green hand emerging from the depths to pull him in. The posters read “Good/Evil Prevails”. The theatre rehearsed two alternate endings, to be used depending on the electoral result.

On election night, everyone awaited the votes from the countryside nervously, remembering what had happened four years ago. In a number of small towns and villages like Bzovík, Kotleba won a majority again, but by midnight it was clear that Lunter would easily win the overall vote, and the celebrations began in the restaurant the Lunter team had hired. By the time Lunter and his small entourage arrived at the governor’s office to take up their new jobs a few weeks later, almost everything had been stripped from the walls and cabinets, but there were a few curious discoveries. In a side-room off the governor’s office they found a camp bed. Kotleba, apparently, had been sleeping there. In a cabinet, they found three different drafts of a grovelling letter to the Russian ambassador apparently written by Kotleba, in which he said he wanted to buy a Russian car and hoped for any assistance possible from Russia. When I met Lunter, he retrieved the drafts from a grey folder marked “Kotleba” that he still keeps in his office, and read one out with a smirk. It was not clear if any version of the letter was ever sent, but it appeared to bolster rumours of illicit funding from Moscow, which Uhrík strongly denied to me.

In the days after the vote, dancers from the theatre went around town with a red marker and crossed out the “evil” on their posters, so that they now read simply, “Good prevails”. After four years, Banská Bystrica had finally got rid of Kotleba. Lunter, asked what his first act as governor would be, said he planned to open the windows of the regional administration building and let in some fresh air.

Back in 2013, Kotleba had benefited from a perfect storm of hometown factors – complacent incumbent, widespread disillusion, low voter turnout, and slick online and in-person campaigning – to win victory. The years of Roma isolation and alienation also helped, with Kotleba’s unpleasant rhetoric finding a receptive audience among many frustrated rural residents. With a well thought-out campaign, Lunter was able to beat him easily, despite not being a particularly charismatic politician. Although he is now an established fixture in Slovak politics, Kotleba is ultimately seen as too much of a genuine extremist to win real majorities nationally. Ahead of March’s presidential elections, most polling has him unlikely to break double figures.

It would be nice to think that, after four years of Kotleba, the people of Banská Bystrica had an epiphany and realised he was a charlatan and a racist. But Kotleba all along was a symptom, not a diagnosis, and it’s hard to draw the conclusion that all is well with politics in Slovakia. Kotleba – whose current presidential campaign posters say “Family is a man and a woman: Stop LGBT” and “finally a Slovak president” – is often mentioned in a pairing with Boris Kollár, a flamboyant businessman whose party, We Are Family, also made it into parliament in 2016 on a vague “family values” programme. Kotleba attracted a large proportion of angry provincial men, while Kollár attracted large numbers of disillusioned women from the regions, according to Slovak pollsters.

When I met Kollár in his parliamentary office recently, he was dressed in a sharp suit and characteristically loud tie. “Voters don’t read election programmes, voters decide based on emotions,” he told me as he chomped on expensive chocolates. Kollár has 10 children from nine different women, yet says he named his party We Are Family because his focus was on “traditional conservative values when it comes to the family”. Was it some kind of joke, I asked. “I have shown I can look after my children, it’s proof I can look after all the children,” he said, clarifying that his traditionalism was mainly focused on opposing the expansion of LGBT rights. When I asked what his solution to the issue of Roma poverty and isolation was, he looked at me very seriously, and said: “We’ll buy them 700,000 plane tickets and send them all to England and see how you like it.” He lifted his head back and gave a huge roar of laughter. Then he said: “That was a joke.” Kollár set up his party five months before the elections; he got nearly 7% of the vote and now has 11 MPs.

The response of prime minister Fico and his ruling Smer party to the rise of these populist and extremist parties was to try to stifle them by pilfering their playbook. Fico called journalists “dirty anti-Slovak prostitutes”, claimed anti-government protests were organised by George Soros, and continued the rhetoric against migrants and refugees. Protests against his government erupted last spring over the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee. They were shot dead at home, as Kuciak was investigating alleged ties between government-linked figures and organised crime, and the killings shocked the urban elite. The protesters who flooded the central squares in cities across the country were mainly middle-class, liberal Slovaks. I even met some government ministry employees at one protest in Bratislava last April. They said it was time for a different kind of politics, without corruption and ties to organised crime. The protesters had no party orientation, but protested under the slogan For a Decent Slovakia. To everyone’s surprise, Fico stepped aside in March last year, although Smer is still in government. A countrywide movement was formed, outside party politics, holding rallies and meetings under the Decent Slovakia brand, to keep up the pressure on the ruling elite.

It was that same word – decency – of which Kotleba was so fond. Indeed, some of the core demands of the Kotleba greenshirts were not so different to those of the middle-class protesters in Bratislava. Both wanted a crackdown on graft, new politicians who listened, and were demanding respect and decency.

President Kiska, the one prominent progressive politician in the country, is not standing for re-election next month, and while Kotleba is unlikely to win, progressive Slovaks are worried about Štefan Harabin, a former minister of justice known for colourful insults, disdain for the media and occasional nationalist rhetoric. The establishment, Smer-backed candidate is Maroš Šefčovič, a vice-president of the European Commission’s Energy Union, who has little experience of electoral politics. If Harabin gets to the second round and picks up the votes of Kotleba and other nationalists, he may have a shot at winning.

Before leaving Slovakia, I paid a visit to the presidential palace, a grand, gaudily renovated complex in central Bratislava, where I chatted with Rado Baťo, a political advisor to the president with a James Joyce quote tattooed on one arm and a sloth on the other. He said the focus groups his team had carried out showed a surprisingly large crossover between Kotleba voters and Kiska voters. Many of the same people who voted for a progressive liberal in favour of minority rights as president had backed a far-right extremist party in parliamentary elections. It suggested that actual policies mattered less than the perception of a willingness to shake up the system, he said. “Slovak politics is no longer divided between left and right. People don’t care if parties are leftwing or rightwing. They just want the government to get shit done.”

• This article was amended on 14 February 2019. An earlier version suggested Kotleba lost his governorship before taking his party into parliament, but it was after. It also referred to Štefan Harabin as a former high-court judge; he is a former minister of justice, but remains a judge; and Maroš Šefčovič is a vice-president at the European Commission, not a deputy commissioner.

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« Reply #3703 on: Feb 16, 2019, 06:04 AM »

Trump's emergency declaration is unconstitutional – ask his lawyers

Lloyd Green

When Obama used executive powers on immigration, Jay Sekulow and Noel Francisco cried tyranny

Sat 16 Feb 2019 06.00 GMT

A shutdown averted, a constitutional crisis born. On Friday, Donald Trump declared a national emergency to gain additional funds for his much promised border wall, bypassing Congress and raiding the Pentagon for $3.6bn, already a legally dubious proposition in the eyes of the justice department. So much for Mexico paying.

Once upon a time, Trump and his legal minions brayed against unilateral executive actions, calling them tyrannical. Not any more. Barack Obama is out of the White House. Hail Caesar, hello his praetorian.

Take Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal lawyer. In April 2016, in a brief to the supreme court attacking Obama’s unilateral expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, Sekulow painted Obama as a despot.

Echoing James Madison, founding father and fourth president, Sekulow thundered that the “accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judiciary, in the same hands … may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny”. He also compared Obama and his executive order to Harry Truman’s unconstitutional seizure of America’s steel mills during the Korean war.

    Earlier this month, Mitch McConnell voiced his opposition to Trump invoking emergency powers. Time flies

According to Sekulow, Truman “violated controlling precedent and abdicated [his] constitutional duty to faithfully execute the law”.

In other words, by expanding Daca without a congressional green light, Obama had committed an impeachable offense.

There is also Noel Francisco, now Trump’s solicitor general, the man charged with representing the government before the supreme court. In the Obama years, as a private litigator, he successfully contended that the president could not thwart the Senate’s power to approve presidential nominations by resorting to the “recess appointment” process when Congress was actually in session.

“As much as presidents may desire an escape-hatch from Senate confirmation, the constitution does not provide one”, Francisco wrote. Channeling his inner Cicero, he added that the separation of powers between the president and Congress “protects against the abuse of power” that “is critical to preserving liberty”.

Completing this tableau, Sekulow and his client, then House speaker John Boehner, sided with Francisco. As for Senator Mitch McConnell and 44 of his Republican colleagues, they accused Obama of seeking to “usurp” their powers.

Apparently, McConnell has since found the 30 pieces of silver that were just right for him. On Thursday, the Senate majority leader threw his weight behind the president, announcing on the floor: “I’m going to support the national emergency declaration.”

Earlier this month, McConnell voiced his opposition to Trump invoking emergency powers. Time flies.

Make no mistake, Republican politicians have embraced Trump as strongman-lite. In a 2016 radio broadcast Paul LePage, then governor of Maine, treated Trump’s authoritarian streak as a plus. “Our constitution is not only broken,” LePage declared, “but we need a Donald Trump to show some authoritarian power in our country.”

Disturbing but not surprising. From the outset, Trump’s core backers wanted a wall and a socially conservative president who felt no need to play by the rules. Except for the second amendment, everything was on the table.

Tea Party patriots decked out in tricorn hats and waving copies of the constitution – over and done with. In the words of Joe Sitt, an early Trump backer and a major player in New York real estate: “We don’t have a president, we have a king.”

Other Trump backers are less muted. Franklin Graham, the late Rev Billy Graham’s son, threatened Americans with God’s wrath if they had the temerity to criticize the president. Sarah Sanders, the president’s press secretary, gushed: “God wanted Donald Trump to become president.” That begs so many questions.

Predictably, too, there is a Trump tweet. In 2014, when Obama was going rogue on the constitution and immigration, Trump tweeted: “Repubs must not allow Pres Obama to subvert the Constitution of the US for his own benefit & because he is unable to negotiate w/ Congress.” Yes, Trump got that one right.

He also told his favourite TV show, Fox & Friends, that Obama’s action was unconstitutional and impeachable.

Like McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, the house minority leader, Mark Meadows, head of the Freedom Caucus, and Senator Lindsey Graham have fallen into line. Other Republicans, however, are less sanguine about Trump running roughshod over the constitution and Congress’ power over the purse.

Senator Marco Rubio found his inner straddle, saying: “We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the constitution … a future president may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal.”

In a burst of predictable handwringing, Senator Susan Collins characterized Trump’s emergency declaration as being of “dubious constitutionality. It undermines the role of Congress.”

Trump and his lawyers should expect to see their own words thrown back at them. As the president himself acknowledged on Friday: “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.”


National emergency: Trump's 'clear abuse of power' faces torrent of lawsuits

Declaration prompts dire warnings but fallout could be contained by successful legal challenge or resolution in Congress  

Tom McCarthy in New York
16 Feb 2019 16.26 GMT

As state attorneys general across the country threaten to sue the White House over Donald Trump’s declaration of a national immigration emergency on Friday, Democrats and Republicans insisted Trump was overstepping his powers, while legal analysts warned of a dangerous new phase of the Trump presidency.
White House press secretary says she was interviewed by special counsel – as it happened
Read more

But the potentially huge fallout from the emergency declaration – which might upset the constitutional balance of powers or divert funding from natural disasters crises – could be contained if an anticipated avalanche of lawsuits succeeds in blocking Trump in court, or if Congress passes a resolution terminating the declaration.

Trump is expected to fight back against such potential obstacles, in what many observers warned would be a direct challenge to the explicit assignment in the US constitution of the power of the purse to Congress – not the president.

The American Civil Liberties Union executive director Anthony Romero called the declaration “a clear abuse of presidential power – one that sidesteps the role of Congress in the appropriation of funds”.

He said: “The chickens will come to roost when the next president uses these powers to call a national emergency on gun control or climate change.”

Democratic congressional leaders echoed the sentiment. “This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed president, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process,” the House speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said.

“The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”

While the implications for presidential power were the point of sharpest concern in the immediate aftermath of the declaration, analysts identified many other potential hazards, from the diversion of disaster relief funds to a damaging political fight.

Under the national emergency law, the House of Representatives has the power to pass a resolution terminating a state of emergency that the Senate would then be required to vote on. Texas congressman Joaquin Castro, a Democrat, said on Friday that he was preparing to introduce just such a resolution.

But Trump came in for criticism from an unusually strong contingent from his own party as well. “I believe it’s a mistake on the president’s part,” said Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine. “I don’t believe that the National Emergencies Act contemplated a president repurposing billions of dollars outside of the normal appropriations process.”

The Washington Post editorial board issued one of the more dire warnings. “By his declaration, Mr Trump will inaugurate a new, imperial phase of his presidency,” an editorial warned.

The public does not appear to be with the president. The hashtag, #FakeTrumpEmergency, was among the top five trending topics Friday morning in the United States on Twitter. Only 32% of Americans favor the declaration in polling on average, with 65% opposed, polling analyst Nate Silver pointed out.

That support could shrink if the wall funding is perceived as distracting from other necessary work. The declaration appears to give Trump the power to shift funding for military construction – as much as $21bn in unobligated military construction funding might be available, congressional aides told Foreign Policy – or from the US Army Corps of Engineers, which operates dams and is responsible for flood control and wildfire protections, wetland restoration and environmental stewardship.

But before such diversion of funding happens, the declaration could die in court. The justice department has advised the White House that the declaration was likely to be blocked in the courts, ABC News reported.

The Democratic Attorneys General Association, which counts members in 26 states, released a statement saying they would not hesitate to challenge the declaration.

“We will not hesitate to use our legal authority to defend the rule of law, as we did in our previous lawsuits, such as protecting Daca recipients and standing up against the President’s attempts to separate children from their families,” the statement said. Daca refers to an immigration amnesty program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

The NAACP Legal Defense fund president Sherrilyn Ifill also vowed to challenge the declaration. “With this move the president makes clear that the only unifying theme of his immigration policy is animus towards people of color,” she said in a statement. “Simply put: our foreign policy should never be dictated by racism or vanity.”

Many analysts see significant hurdles in court for the emergency declaration, just as federal court rulings from Hawaii to Virginia blocked various iterations of Trump’s attempted Muslim travel ban.
What is a national emergency – and does it mean Trump can build his wall?
Read more

Harry Litman, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Bill Clinton administration, wrote last month that “Trump has decent legal arguments on his side” under cover of the 1976 National Emergencies Act, which was meant to restrict situations in which the president might declare an emergency – and limits the duration of emergencies to 180 days, barring renewal – but had the unintended effect of formalizing the presidential power.

“The pivotal legal question is likely to be whether the courts defer to Trump’s determination as president or whether they review it independently,” Litman wrote. “Will the question be framed as ‘is there an emergency?’ or ‘Did the president plausibly conclude that there is an emergency?’”

Working against Trump is that there are no signs of an emergency afoot apart from his continual assertions on the matter. Border-crossing apprehensions hit a 46-year low in 2017, according to US customs and border protection figures. The Department of Homeland Security estimated undetected illegal border crossings dropped by more than 90% between 2006 and 2016.

“I just don’t think this is going to amount to much or have a long legacy,” tweeted Juliette Kayyem, a former DHS official under president Obama and a lecturer at Harvard. “It will get tied up in courts. Pelosi has a counter plan. It’s a bad norm, but it’s up to next president to reestablish those. It’s pathetic more than anything else. Did I say pathetic?”

Conservatives expressed distress at the president’s action, calling it anti-conservative.

“I remember when being Republican meant being for the rule of law, against unchecked executive authority, and for separation of powers,” tweeted Paul Rosenzweig, a professor at George Washington University law school and former homeland security official in the George W Bush administration. “Call me old school. I still am.”


Paul Manafort should be sentenced to up to 24 years in prison, Mueller says

Trump’s former campaign manager found guilty in August on eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud and a foreign bank account

Jon Swaine in New York
Sat 16 Feb 2019 01.57 GMT

Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, should be sentenced to up to 24 years in prison, the special counsel Robert Mueller said on Friday.

Mueller’s team said in a court filing that Manafort should face a prison term of 235 to 292 months, or between 19 and a half and 24 and a half years, for “serious, longstanding, and bold” financial crimes.

Manafort, 69, could also receive financial penalties totaling more than $50m, according to the filing by Mueller’s prosecutors. His sentence will be decided by federal judge TS Ellis.

The new court filing dealt with Manafort’s convictions in Virginia last year for fraud and other crimes that the veteran political consultant began committing before he joined Trump’s campaign in 2016.

“Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars,” Mueller’s team said. “The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct.”

A jury found Manafort guilty in August on eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud and a foreign bank account. They could not reach a verdict on 10 other charges.

He was found to have hidden more than $16m in income from US authorities, which allowed him to avoid paying $6m in taxes. He also hid tens of millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts secured $25m in loans from banks through fraud.

Manafort had “ample funds” to cover the tax bills he should have paid, the filing said, but “he simply chose not to comply with laws that would reduce his wealth”.

Mueller’s team said Manafort resorted to fraud to maintain a lifestyle of “lavish spending” – spanning multiple homes, luxurious rugs and an ostrich-skin leather jacket – after his lucrative work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine dried up.

Following his convictions, Manafort admitted other crimes in a plea deal to avoid a second trial on other charges in Washington DC. But the deal was scrapped by Mueller after Manafort continued to lie to investigators.

Friday’s court filing said Manafort’s “concerted criminality”, even while out on bail and under indictment last year, should be a factor in his Virginia sentence. He also faces sentencing next month in Washington for crimes he admitted in that case.

Mueller is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, which intelligence agencies concluded was aimed at helping Trump. Prosecutors from Mueller’s team have said Manafort’s interactions in 2016 with Konstantin Kilimnik, an alleged Russian intelligence operative, are a central focus of their inquiries.

Manafort has been in jail since June last year, when he and Kilimnik were charged with witness tampering while Manafort awaited his trial in Virginia. Kilimnik denies the allegations and insists he has not worked for Russian intelligence.

Mueller’s team said on Friday that Manafort had resorted to crime despite having had “every opportunity to succeed” – including a good education at Georgetown university and law school. His sentence should punish him for serious wrongdoing and serve as a deterrent to others tempted to commit similar crimes, they said.

The court filing said Manafort was the ringleader of a financial criminal operation that also involved his accountants, Kilimnik and Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy chairman on the Trump campaign. Gates has pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.

“Manafort solicited numerous professionals and others to reap his ill-gotten gains,” the prosecutors wrote.

Separately on Friday, the transcript of a hearing held in Manafort’s case in Washington DC on Wednesday was unsealed. The transcript showed judge Amy Berman Jackson explaining why she agreed with Mueller that Manafort had breached his plea deal by lying.

Jackson said Manafort had been caught lying repeatedly about his interactions with Kilimnik, which she said went to the “undisputed core” of Mueller’s search for any “links and/or coordination” between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

“Mr Kilimnik doesn’t have to be in the government or even be an active spy to be a link,” she said.

Jackson said Manafort had forced Mueller’s investigators “to pull teeth” by trying to withhold facts if he thought he could get away with doing so, before learning that Mueller’s team actually already knew the truth.


Roger Stone: Mueller discloses evidence Trump adviser communicated with Wikileaks

Stone says evidence is ‘innocuous Twitter direct messages’ that prove ‘absolutely nothing’

Sat 16 Feb 2019 02.39 GMT

The US Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, disclosed for the first time on Friday that his office has evidence of communications between Roger Stone, a longtime adviser to President Donald Trump, and WikiLeaks related to the release of hacked Democratic party emails.

In a court filing on Friday, Mueller’s office said it had gathered that evidence in a separate probe into Russian intelligence officers who were charged by Mueller with hacking the emails during the 2016 US presidential campaign and staging their release.

In an email criticising media coverage of Mueller’s filing on Friday, Stone said the evidence was “innocuous Twitter direct messages” that have already been disclosed to the House Intelligence Committee and “prove absolutely nothing”.

Also on Friday, a federal judge placed some limits on what Stone and his lawyers can say publicly about his criminal case brought by the special counsel in the Russia investigation.

But the US district judge, Amy Berman Jackson, stopped short of imposing a broad ban on public comments by the outspoken political operative, issuing a limited gag order she said was necessary to ensure Stone’s right to a fair trial and “to maintain the dignity and seriousness of the courthouse and these proceedings”.

Stone was indicted last month for lying to Congress about his communications with others about the hacked emails. Mueller did not say at the time that he had evidence of communications with WikiLeaks. Stone, an ally of Trump for 40 years, has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Stone has previously acknowledged brief exchanges with both WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 but maintains he never had advance knowledge about the release of hacked emails.

But Friday marked the first time Mueller indicated he had obtained related evidence, although it remained unclear if the evidence is more substantial than what is publicly known.

“The government obtained and executed dozens of search warrants on various accounts used to facilitate the transfer of stolen documents for release, as well as to discuss the timing and promotion of their release,” Mueller’s team wrote in a filing to the US district court in Washington DC.

“Several of those search warrants were executed on accounts that contained Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0 and with Organization 1.”

Organization 1 is a reference to WikiLeaks, while Guccifer 2.0 is a hacker persona US intelligence agencies say was a cover name used by Russian military intelligence.

WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 each published emails and other documents from the Democratic party in 2016 in an operation that Mueller alleges was part of a Kremlin-backed effort to tip the election in favour of then Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

WikiLeaks has previously denied any ties to or cooperation with Russia.

Stone, 66, was arrested in an FBI raid at his Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home last month. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of lying to Congress, obstruction and witness tampering. The charges stem from conversations he had during the 2016 election about WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that released material stolen from Democratic groups, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

US intelligence agencies have said that Russia was the source of the hacked material, and last year Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officers in the hacking. But Stone is not accused of directly coordinating with WikiLeaks.


Maddow breaks down importance of Mueller having Roger Stone’s communications with Wikileaks and the Russians

Raw Story

MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow on Friday explained the significance of evidence that special counsel Robert Mueller revealed in court filings against Roger Stone.

“President Trump’s long-time advisor, he was arrested at his home in Florida three weeks ago today. Mr. Stone has pled not guilty to seven felony charges,” Maddow noted. “He says he wants to go to trial, he says he is innocent of everything he has been charged with.”

“But one of the interesting things about Roger Stone’s indictment, right from get-go, is on the front-page of the indictment, prosecutors notified the court they considered his case to have a sibling,” Maddow explained. “That case is the Mueller indictment of a dozen Russian military intelligence officers. That case is the GRU indictment, one of the core indictments of Mueller’s investigation.”

Stone sought to have the cases formally separated in an effort to get a different judge.

Maddow read from the government’s response, which laid out exactly why the cases were related.

“In the course of investigating that activity, the government obtained and executed dozens of search warrants on various accounts used to facilitate the transfer of stolen documents for release, as well as to discuss the timing and promotion of their release,” prosecutors noted. “Several of those search warrants were executed on accounts that contained Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0 and with Organization 1.”

“So the same search warrant turned up the evidence that led to the charges against these Russian military intelligence officers that they hacked and stole documents for release during the campaign and used Wikileaks as part of the distribution channel for doing that,” Maddow explained. “The same search warrant also turned up the information that led to Stone being charged for lying to congress about their investigation of among other things Wikileaks.”

“So that’s Mueller’s prosecutors today telling a federal judge in Washington D.C. they have the communications between Stone and Russian military intelligence,” she noted.

“They’ve also got the communication between Roger Stone and Wikileaks concerning the stolen Democratic documents that the Russian hacked and staged for distribution during the campaign in a way that was designed to cause maximum damage to Hillary Clinton and maximum benefit to Donald Trump,” she added.


Judiciary chair vows special counsel report will be made public: ‘We can invite Mueller to testify’

Raw Story

Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) was on Cuomo Prime Time Friday night, and the House Judiciary chairman wasted no words when it came to how serious he takes Mueller’s ongoing Russia probe.

“We have to get this report out to the American people,” he told host Chris Cuomo of Mueller’s impending report, which some have speculated Republicans and the new Attorney General would instead like to quash.

“We will get that information out one way or another,” Nadler said of Mueller’s eventual report to the Attorney General. “If [Barr] refuses to get it out, our committee will subpoena it….we can invite Mueller to testify,” he told Cuomo, adding emphatically “we will get it out.”

Nadler also made it clear he thinks Trump knows much more than he is letting on regarding the Russia investigation. He ended his guest spot on CNN by saying:

“It’s hard to believe that the President sits on top of a pinnacle in which all the top people are conspiring with the Russians, or seeking to conspire with the Russians, almost all are indicted or convicted, for, among other things, lying about contacts with the Russians, and [Trump] knows nothing about it…it’s difficult to believe.”

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« Reply #3704 on: Feb 16, 2019, 06:16 AM »

Bill Maher destroys Trump’s ‘incoherent’ emergency declaration Rose Garden rant: Time ‘to call the nursing home’

Raw Story
16 Feb 2019 at 22:32 ET                  

HBO’s “Real Time” host Bill Maher hilariously attacked President Donald Trump for a declaring a national emergency to build his border wall after Mexico and Congress refused to fund his plan.

“Try to remain calm, there’s a national emergency, haven’t you heard?” he asked.

“He did it, f*cko did it today,” Maher said. “The president declared a national emergency.”

Maher ridiculed Trump’s Rose Garden press conference announcing the declaration.

“This was just completely crackers,” he said. “I know I’ve said that before, but this was just one long, baseless, incoherent, stream of consciousness, call the nursing home rant.”

“We don’t even notice anymore when he gets stupider, it’s like farting on a garbage ship,” he continued.

“You know who should’ve declared a national emergency long ago? Fact checkers,” Maher joked.

“A national emergency should not be used by Trump — it should be used on Trump,” he concluded.

He went on to joke about Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Melania Trump’s sex life, and Fox News personality Sean Hannity.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQeyFBf6Wbk


This Trump performance is why people talk about the 25th Amendment

By Dana Milbank Columnist
WA Post
February 16 2019

It was a fine day for a national emergency.

There was no sign of alarm as administration officials and journalists assembled Friday in the Rose Garden under a perfect blue sky amid unseasonable warmth. Nor was there any sense of crisis conveyed by President Trump, scheduled to fly to his Mar-a-Lago resort later Friday. The much-anticipated emergency declaration was to have been at 10 a.m. At 10:18, an official said Trump would talk in two minutes. At 10:39, Trump emerged.

His topic demanded utmost solemnity: The situation on the border is so dire, such a crisis, that he must invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress, testing the boundary between constitutional democracy and autocracy. But with the nation watching, Trump instead delivered a bizarre, 47-minute variant of his campaign speech.

He boasted about the economy, military spending and the stock markets (“we have all the records”), and he applauded the Chinese president’s pledge to execute people who deal fentanyl (“one of the things I’m most excited about in our trade deal”). He said Japan’s prime minister had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He declared Ann Coulter “off the reservation” but praised his favorite Fox News hosts and celebrated Rush Limbaugh’s endurance (“try speaking for three hours without taking calls”).

Further, Trump reported on his “great relationship” with the dictator of North Korea (which, Trump reported, is found “right smack in the middle” of South Korea, China and Russia), and he declared the “eradication of the caliphate” in Syria (his top general in the region begs to differ). He introduced his new attorney general, disparaged the Democrats’ “con game,” criticized retired House speaker Paul Ryan, invoked campaign promises, recited the “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan and pronounced his reelection prospects excellent. He pinged from regulations to Britain to MS-13 to “monstrous caravans” to an apocryphal story about women gagged with duct tape.

Oh, and he also mentioned his emergency declaration — specifically, that it isn’t necessary. “I didn’t need to do this,” he said in response to a question from NBC’s Peter Alexander. It’s just that the emergency declaration lets him build a border wall “faster.” He acknowledged that “I don’t know what to do with all the money” Congress gave him for border security, and he said that even if he only gets an amount closer to the $1.35 billion Congress authorized for barriers, “it’s going to build a lot of wall.”

Somewhere, administration lawyers were face-palming.

On Thursday came reports that former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe had confirmed that Justice Department officials discussed the possibility of removing Trump under the 25th Amendment for incapacity. The president then spent the next 30 hours showing exactly why some people think him incapacitated.

As The Post reported, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke on the phone with Trump at least three times Thursday, trying to get Trump to agree to the bipartisan border agreement and avoid another shutdown. When Trump finally agreed — apparently in exchange for McConnell dropping his opposition to an emergency order — the majority leader rushed to the Senate floor to announce it before Trump changed his mind, interrupting an irate Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Earlier, Grassley had offered the Senate his own benediction to supplement the Senate chaplain’s: “Let’s all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill.”

Prayers and frantic reassurance: This is how Republicans deal with an erratic president determined to defy an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress, take money from the military (the Pentagon’s uses for it “didn’t sound too important to me,” Trump said) and set a precedent for future presidents to declare emergencies for their pet projects.

When President Barack Obama attempted a less aggressive use of executive power in 2014, Republicans denounced him as a “tyrant” and “dictator,” McConnell called him an “imperial president,” and Trump himself said Obama “could be impeached” for it. Many lawmakers warned Trump not to “usurp the separation of powers” as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) put it.

Trump seemed not to have heard such warnings as he ricocheted from topic to topic in the Rose Garden. He carried a speech to the lectern but mostly ignored it as he spun fantasies.

Evidence that most of the illegal drugs pass through legal border crossings? “It’s all a lie.”

CNN’s Jim Acosta pointed out that border crossings are near record lows and illegal immigrants are not disproportionately criminal.

“You’re fake news,” Trump replied.

Playboy’s Brian Karem asked Trump to “clarify where you get your numbers.”

“Sit down,” Trump told him, declaring that “I use many stats.” Minutes later, he pumped a fist in the air and departed.

“What about the 25th Amendment?” Acosta called after him.

Trump’s performance had already provided a compelling answer.

Watch: 3 minutes of the declaration by Trump: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/fb6de9d9-5973-4709-b303-c897ac8c76e2' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

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