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Jan 16, 2018, 01:16 PM
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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 679289 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #4410 on: Today at 06:03 AM »

Canadian research adds to worry over an environmental threat the Pentagon has downplayed for decades

Pro Publica
16 Jan 2018 at 09:53 ET                   

New research by Canadian scientists into the spread of a chemical commonly used in military explosives has confirmed some of the worst fears of U.S. environmental regulators tracking the threat posed by the Pentagon’s handling of its munitions in this country.

The Canadian research analyzed soil and water samples at nine sites where military explosives were detonated between 1990 and 2014, and came up with data about where and in what concentrations the explosive compound known as RDX, a possible human carcinogen, had turned up. Calling RDX “an internationally known problem,” which “has led to an international warning on possible soil, surface water, and groundwater contamination on military training sites,” the research described with actual measurements how RDX floats on the wind and seeps through soils into water supplies.

The researchers took water samples from groundwater at the explosives sites and found that in 26 out of 36 samples, the RDX that had made its way into aquifers exceeded levels considered safe. As a result, the researchers suggest that the data can be used to model RDX contamination at any site where munitions are routinely detonated, and for the first time, give environmental experts a way to quantify how much of it is spreading into surrounding communities.

RDX was considered a major military breakthrough when it was first developed for large-scale use on the eve of World War II, and to this day it remains a staple of the U.S. military’s war-making abilities, used in bombs, missiles and other weapons. And for decades, the Pentagon has known about RDX’s potential health and environmental threat. But the Pentagon has long maintained that the risk is not great, and it has both financed research and flexed its political muscle to have its view prevail. Most recently, the Pentagon has waged an intense fight to not have the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency upgrade its classification of RDX’s health threat, a move that could expose the Department of Defense to billions of added dollars in cleanup costs.

At a minimum, the Canadian research — published Nov. 17 in the Journal of Environmental Quality — will add to the store of knowledge about RDX contamination. The research found that while the highest concentrations of RDX remained in a ring around the sites where munitions had exploded, pieces of explosive, perhaps as large as a centimeter, were carried on the wind and later settled in the soil. Surface and groundwater samples showed that the RDX ultimately did not quickly dissolve or degrade as it sank deeper into the earth, where it usually was carried into water supplies.

Harry Craig, one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s foremost experts on explosives contamination, has described RDX as the single greatest problem the U.S. faces when it comes to cleaning up thousands of toxic munitions sites across the country. In an email to agency colleagues, Craig described the Canadian research as both novel and useful.

ProPublica reported on the history of RDX and the Department of Defense’s long-standing campaign to minimize its risks and fight EPA regulation in December. RDX has been discovered at dozens of U.S. defense sites, and increasingly in public drinking water supplies around them.  After early research by the U.S. Army determined that RDX was likely responsible for cancerous tumors in rats and mice, the Department of Defense has produced dozens of reports portraying RDX as more benign.

The new report from Canadian scientists confirms some things that the Pentagon had long sought to deny: that RDX contamination was likely to be present in most places where munitions were exploded or detonated, and that once it was present in soil, RDX moved easily into water supplies. The Canadian findings suggest that RDX contamination on or around defense sites in the U.S. could be even more widespread than is already known.

The Canadian report, authored by researchers at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Centre Eau, Terre et Environnement, and at Defence Research and Development Canada, both in Quebec, lists several U.S. sites with concentrations of RDX contamination that had not been previously disclosed in environmental data the Pentagon had provided to ProPublica. At Fort Hood, in Texas, RDX was present at dangerous levels. The same was true at Fort Greely in Alaska and Fort Bliss in New Mexico.


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« Reply #4411 on: Today at 06:06 AM »


Exposed: Chevron's Secretive Drilling Site in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

By Jonathan Rosenblum
Ecowatch
1/16/2018

It's the middle of the frigid, long midnight at Tapkaurak Point, a spit of gravel curling out into the Beaufort Sea off the northern coast of Alaska. Up in the middle of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest remaining wilderness area in the U.S., the sun set weeks ago and won't peek above the horizon until the middle of January.

If you were there now, bundled up against the minus-20-degree chill, you could climb the low bluff at Tapkaurak, turn away from the frozen sea, and in the dim light cast by the moon and the stars you'd take in the expansive arctic plain giving way to the craggy Brooks Range to the south. In the middle of the plain, if the aurora borealis is bright enough, you might see poking out of the snow cover an upright post—physically insignificant but utterly out of place in the treeless Arctic landscape.

The post isn't a trivial anomaly. It stands as a warning sign for all of us, advertising the ambitions of Big Oil to turn this place from a wilderness into an industrial profit mill. Wedged into last month's $1.5 billion tax cut law, which benefits mostly the 1 percent, is a provision opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to commercial oil drilling.

After decades of being denied access to the refuge, the oil companies have achieved a legislative milestone. And absent a movement of popular resistance combined with legal action, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will join the growing list of places around the world plundered by CEOs and a political elite who put profits before people and the planet. We can and must stop them.

Fourteen summers ago I was fortunate to visit Tapkaurak Point, and saw up close what the future holds for the refuge if Trump, Congress and Big Oil get their way. I landed my kayak at Tapkaurak toward the end of a two-week Arctic refuge paddling trip with three friends. We had gone down the Kongakut River and along the Beaufort coast toward the village of Kaktovik, arriving at Tapkaurak late in the evening in mid-July. We ascended the bluff. To the north, the gravel tidelands of the spit gave way to a lagoon, bounded by a long narrow reef. Beyond the reef lay the Beaufort pack ice. To the south of us spread miles of arctic plain, sedge grass lit up in brilliant gold by the midnight sun. Beyond, the peaks of the Brooks Range, wearing a new coat of white snow, stood out boldly against the blue sky. And then we saw the post.

We walked toward it, through marshy fields of just-thawed permafrost dotted with tufts of wispy Alaska cotton and bladder campion—a hardy purple-and-pink-striped Japanese lantern-shaped flower just a few inches high. Red-necked phalaropes, readying for their late-summer flight to South America, bathed in small pools of water.

Alaska cotton is abundant in the Arctic tundra regions. Oil and gas development strips the landscape of vegetation and in the Arctic, destroys permafrost.

The tufts of dirt pushed up by permafrost were laced with small animal holes, and the snowy owl feathers scattered around were evidence that the birds had been hunting recently. The thousands of caribou who spend summers on the Arctic coast had already headed south into the Brooks Range, but sprinkled around the plain were antlers—shed after calving season, or perhaps the remnants of animals taken by predators.

Approaching the post we saw that it was a solid iron column, welded with the letters, "CHEVRON USA INC." This was the KIC-1 drilling site, the secretive test well Chevron was allowed to drill in 1986. Crews bored three miles down, at a cost of $40 million, before capping the site, dismantling the drilling platform and going home.

Chevron executives know what the well found, but they aren't telling. Years ago, a court gave the company the right to withhold the information from the public.

Even with Chevron's claim to have remediated the site, half-buried construction trash surrounds the post: Metal cans and grating, cloth, wood, and glass bottles, all of it ever-so-slowly deteriorating in the cold, dry Arctic. Trash does not compost up there—it lingers on.

Compared to the surrounding permafrost marshes, which were teeming with grasses, flowers and low shrubs, the land around the drilling site was mostly a bare brown, compacted from the weight of heavy vehicles and machinery that visited a generation earlier.

A short way to the south, more shapes rose from the plain. We slogged across the swampy ground to investigate. These weren't test drilling holes. It was an old Inupiat graveyard. The grave markers, in various stages of decay, were made of wood. "Raymond Nanolo, Dead August 12 1933." Another, name undistinguishable, had a 1922 date on it. They were trappers and hunters, people with tremendous ingenuity, self-reliance and stamina who walked lightly on the land, as their ancestors had for the last 3,000 years.

The next night, as we launched our boats off the gravel of Tapkaurak Point and headed west, I looked back at the arctic plain and the iron post. It was a small pinprick on the vast horizon. But even this tiny human experiment had left an indelible mark on the land, with its trashed-out site and barren ground.

What Trump and Congress aim to do is take the human destruction at Tapkaurak's KIC-1 site and expand it by many orders of magnitude. Even with new technologies like horizontal drilling, oil and gas production is a big deal, requiring powerful drills chewing through the earth, endless miles of pipes and electrical transmission lines reaching over the horizon, and slurries of mud and other waste. And then there are accidents.

For comparison, you could just look 120 miles west of Tapkaurak, at the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and the 800-mile pipeline that extends from the fields to the south through Alaska. Those fields and pipeline at one point averaged 500 oil spills a year.

It's no wonder that 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, oppose drilling in the Arctic refuge.

The Trump administration's Christmas gift isn't intended for anyone but a very narrow band of one percenters—Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who conditioned her tax bill "aye" vote to the Arctic drilling proviso, and the CEOs and major shareholders of Big Oil, who salivate at the idea of opening up the Arctic refuge to their profiteering.

Yet even with the passage of the law, resistance is not futile; indeed, it must be redoubled and join up with other fights to save the environment from oil profiteers. Two years ago, Shell Oil executives, facing a growing movement of mounting, creative protests and negative publicity, pulled their drilling operations out of the western Alaskan Chukchi Sea.

The Native American-led DefundDAPL movement has persuaded cities, organizations, tribes and individuals to withdraw more than $4 billion from Wells Fargo Bank because of its funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Three European banks pulled their funding for DAPL after the mass demonstrations at Standing Rock.

Now, a broad coalition of Native American and First Nation activists, including the DefundDAPL leadership, has launched a divestment campaign aimed at funders of proposed tar sands pipelines in Canada. Through direct actions, including militant bank office takeovers, the movement is building public awareness and pressing banks to withhold capital from these controversial projects.

Activist leaders recognize the need for hardball tactics.

"Big Oil, multinational corporations and their financial backers are not persuaded by moral and environmental arguments," explained Matt Remle, a Lakota Nation leader and co-founder of Mazaska Talks ("Mazaska" is a Lakota word for money). "They're capitalist and they are persuaded by one thing, money."

Just last month, activists pushed the Los Angeles City Council to disqualify Wells Fargo from doing business with the city.

These boycott movements, led by native peoples and environmental groups like 350.org, are just getting going.

Now, with the latest congressional action, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge joins the list of places to defend with organizing, boycotts and direct action, in addition to legal challenges.

Big Oil and their political patrons are counting on the reality that few people outside of the native Inupiat and the occasional kayak tourist will ever get a chance to stand at Tapkaurak Point and take in the splendor of the surrounding wilderness, or stand in silent awe in the burial ground of a people who lived in harmony with the arctic since before the time of King Solomon, Jesus of Nazareth, or the Prophet Mohammed. Only a handful of us will ever spy that ominous totem standing in the near distance of the Arctic plain, warning us that this all could go away in a handful of years.

But you don't have to go there to recognize that what's at stake is a lot more than the risk of scarred ground, ruined vistas, desecrated grave sites and a polluted wilderness. Rather, the destruction of the Arctic refuge would stand as a totem to the triumph of the capitalist drive for profit over the humane stewardship of our planet. We must not let that happen.

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.


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« Reply #4412 on: Today at 06:08 AM »


Indian man carves road through hills so children can attend school

Jalandhar Nayak used a chisel, hoe and pickaxe to dig five-mile route, with officials planning to compensate him for his efforts

Michael Safi in Delhi
16 Jan 2018 13.48 GMT
Guardian

A man in a remote eastern Indian village has single-handedly carved a five-mile (8km) road through hilly terrain to help his children attend school.

It had been taking Jalandhar Nayak’s three sons about three hours each way to navigate the narrow, rocky route to class. So two years ago the vegetable seller from Odisha state picked up a chisel, a garden hoe and pickaxe and began building a shorter route.

His efforts came to the attention of government officials this week when he was featured in a local media bulletin.

“My children found it hard to walk on the narrow and stony path while going to their school. I often saw them stumbling against the rocks and decided to carve a road through the mountain so that they can walk more easily,” he told News World Odisha.

    News World Odisha (@newsworldodisha)

    #EXCLUSIVE #NewsWorldOdisha
    Jalandhar Nayak of #Kandhamal turns the #MountainMan of #Odisha by his expedition of carving a path to his house through 5 mountains; He has managed to carve a 8ft wide road trough 3 mountains so far.#NewsWorldOdisha Discovers The #Manjhi of #Odisha pic.twitter.com/FjCyhXfvBi
    January 2, 2018

“Nayak’s effort and determination to cut mountains to build a road left me spellbound,” the local administrator, Brundha D, told reporters.

He said Nayak, 45, would be paid for the time he had spent building the path between Gumsahi village and the school in Phulbani, according to the Press Trust of India.

The family are the only remaining residents of Gumsahi, with the rest of the village having left for areas with better roads and amenities.

Nayak had planned to work for another three years to build the remaining four miles (7km) required to complete the road – a job that has now been taken over by the local government.

“The district collector has assured me [he will] complete the construction of the road to my village,” Nayak said.

Footage of Nayak labouring has been aired on national TV, showing him carving out the route and struggling to line it with small boulders.

His story is being compared with that of Dashrath Manjhi, a labourer from Bihar who spent 22 years building a road through a mountain, reportedly reducing the route between two districts by 42km.

Manjhi’s efforts, which have inspired several films, were prompted by injuries his wife suffered while trying to cross the mountain to bring him lunch. He died in 2007 and received a state funeral.


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« Reply #4413 on: Today at 06:15 AM »

Saudi women attend football game for the first time

Agence France-Presse
16 Jan 2018 at 10:22 ET     

Saudi Arabia allowed women to enter a football stadium for the first time to watch a match Friday, as the ultra-conservative kingdom eases strict decades-old rules separating the sexes.

The new measure comes after Riyadh, long known for imposing harsh restrictions on women, announced it was lifting a ban prohibiting them from driving, as well as reopening cinemas.

Women supporters, all wearing the traditional black abaya robe, arrived well ahead of Friday's kick-off in the Jeddah stadium, some in sunglasses and others with loose-fitting veils.

The Islamic kingdom has announced a series of reforms initiated by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since last year.

The first football match women are being allowed to attend is a clash between Saudi Premier League clubs Al-Ahli and Al-Batin in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

Alone or accompanied by their families, many women sat in reserved seats in Jeddah's Pearl stadium.

Glass panels were set up to separate men supporters from the women and family section of the stadium.

Saleh al-Ziadi brought his three daughters to the game.

"My daughters still don't believe this is happening. They have not yet realised they will be cheering their favourite team inside the stadium," he said.

Enthusiasm for the historic encounter began well before the scheduled 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) kick-off.

- 'Prosperous future' -

Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old football fan from Jeddah, said she was proud and looking forward to the match.

"This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future. I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change," she told AFP.

Ruwayda Ali Qassem, another Jeddah resident, called Friday a "historic day in the kingdom which culminates (in) ongoing fundamental changes".

"I am proud and extremely happy for this development and for the kingdom's moves to catch up with civilised measures adopted by many countries," she said.

The Saudi government said last week women would be allowed to attend a second match on Saturday and a third next Thursday.

The kingdom, which has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women, has long barred them from sports arenas through strict rules that keep the sexes apart in public.

But in September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in the capital Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, for the first time to attend celebrations marking the country's national day.

The easing of social controls comes as Prince Mohammed looks to repackage the oil-rich nation as more moderate and welcoming.

The powerful crown prince's "Vision 2030" programme for a post-oil era stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from an energy slump.

- 'Today, things have changed' -

Noura Bakharji, another Jeddah resident, said she always felt bitter when her brothers came back from stadiums to tell her about the excitement of watching football matches in person.

"I always watched games on TV while my brothers went to the stadiums... I asked myself repeatedly 'Why I can't go?'" she told AFP.
So happy to be here: Saudi supporters of Al-Ahli await the kick-off against Al-Batin in Jeddah on January 12, 2018 AFP / STRINGER

"Today, things have changed. It's a day of happiness and joy."

Hours before the game, Saudi clubs were encouraging women to attend through tweets on social media.

Some clubs are offering special abayas -- traditional head-to-toe robes for Saudi women -- in team colours.

State-owned Saudi Airlines announced prizes of free tickets for five families who want to travel between cities to watch games.

And a spokeswoman for the Saudi embassy in the United States tweeted her delight at the development.

"This is more than women's rights: today's match between Al-Ahli and Al-Batin, and the ones to follow, are opportunities for families to come together and enjoy KSA's national sport -- soccer!" Fatimah Baeshen wrote on Twitter.

"I'm rooting for the ladies -- enjoy!"


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« Reply #4414 on: Today at 06:17 AM »


Woman in Nepal dies after being exiled to outdoor hut during her period

Smoke inhalation suspected to have killed 21-year-old who lit fire to keep warm while observing controversial practice of sleeping outside during menstruation

Verity Bowman
Guardian
16 Jan 2018 14.04 GMT

A woman has died in a remote village in Nepal because of a controversial tradition that means menstruating women are required to sleep in huts.

Temperatures in Nepal can fall below zero degrees celsius in the winter months, but women are still forced to sleep in outdoor sheds that are often poorly insulated and unheated.

Government administrator Tul Bahadur Kawcha said the 21-year-old woman is believed to have died from smoke inhalation after lighting a fire to keep warm.

The Hindu tradition of consigning menstruating women to sleep outside stems from fear that they will anger the gods or contaminate the home if they remain indoors. In rural areas, it is widely believed that failure to observe the practice will lead to bad fortune in the form of death or sickness among family members or livestock. While married women usually stay outside for only a few days, others remain banished for up to a week.

Kawcha said menstrual exclusion is still common practice in remote villages, despite a supreme court ban and the imminent introduction of a law to punish anyone guilty of enforcing the custom with three months in prison or a fine of 3,000 Nepalese rupees ($29). The new law comes into effect in August.

The news follows numerous cases of deaths in relation to menstrual exclusion. In November 2016, Dambara Upadhyay died alone after spending four nights outside. Dambara, 21, was found by her sister-in-law found with blood coming out of her nose. Though local police suggested she might have suffered a heart attack, the initial post-mortem report could not determine a cause of death.

Other fatalities have been attributed to wild animal attacks, but the most common cause is smoke inhalation from fires started in an effort to keep warm.

Aid workers in Nepal have encouraged people to follow safe menstrual practices but, with belief in the practice remaining deep-rooted, change has been slow. A little progress has been made, however, with some families persuaded to allow menstruating women to sleep in secluded indoor rooms and others reducing the number of days spent outside.


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« Reply #4415 on: Today at 06:19 AM »

Adult actress Jessica Drake is being silenced by Trump nondisclosure agreement: report

David Ferguson
Raw Story
16 Jan 2018 at 18:54 ET                   

Jessica Drake — one of the more than 20 women who accuse President Donald Trump of sexually harassing, groping, forcibly kissing or inappropriately touching them — is being prevented from speaking out by a nondisclosure agreement, said The Daily Beast on Saturday.

“Jessica’s NDA blankets any and every mention of Trump, so she’s legally unable to comment,” Drake’s publicist told The Daily Beast on Friday evening. “Jessica signed a non-disclosure agreement after her allegations of misconduct, and she can’t do as much as peep his name publicly.”

As the Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern and Aurora Snow noted, nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) are often used by abusers who settle allegations as a means of keeping their victims silent.

These types of gag orders were a mainstay for Fox News, which covered up decades of sexual abuse, harassment and intimidation by forcing victims of the network’s ousted CEO the late Roger Ailes and its one-time star anchor, Bill O’Reilly.

“In late October 2016, Drake became the 14th woman to accuse then-candidate Trump of sexual misconduct,” wrote Stern and Snow. “At a public press conference, Drake, flanked by her attorney Gloria Allred, claimed that after she met Trump in July 2006 at Nevada’s American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, where she was working a promotional booth on behalf of the adult film company Wicked Pictures, he made a pass at her. Trump’s wife, Melania, had recently given birth to their son Barron at the time.”

Trump has been broadsided in recent days by questions about an apparent financial arrangement with another adult performer, Stormy Daniels. Daniels reported received $130,000 from Trump attorney Michael Cohen, but signed a statement assuring that this was not “hush money” as part of the deal.

Yet another adult performer, Alana Evans, said on Friday that Trump did have an affair with Daniels after marrying First Lady Melania Trump and that Trump and Daniels once invited her to join in on a menage à trois.

“Stormy calls me four or five times, by the last two phone calls she’s with Donald [Trump] and I can hear him, and he’s talking through the phone to me saying, ‘Oh come on Alana, let’s have some fun! Let’s have some fun! Come to the party, we’re waiting for you,’” said Evans.

Evans declined the offer.


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« Reply #4416 on: Today at 06:25 AM »

al-Baghdadi: 'We will get him': the long hunt for Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The world’s most wanted man remains at large, but as his ‘caliphate’ has crumbled so has the discipline of his leadership

Martin Chulov Middle East correspondent
Guardian
16 Jan 2018 16.00 GMT

Day and night for the past three years, an unprecedented number of the world’s spies have zeroed in on a patch of Iraq and Syria to hunt for one man. Their target, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group, has eluded them all. But only just.

The most wanted man on the planet has been traced to a specific place at least three times in the past 18 months alone. And despite the protection of a devoted network, there have been other sightings of the reclusive leader, reported by Isis members shortly afterwards and confirmed later by intelligence officers. Being a fugitive in the digital age, or in a losing cause, clearly has its shortfalls.

One 45-second mistake on 3 November 2016 almost cost Baghdadi his “caliphate” before its collapse last year. As Iraqi and Kurdish forces advanced on Mosul, Baghdadi took up a handheld radio in a village between the west of the city and the town of Tal Afar. Spies based in a listening post further north were stunned as his distinctive voice exhorted followers to stand their ground.

“He spoke for 45 seconds and then his guards took the radio from him,” said a senior member of the Kurdistan Region Security Council who monitored the call. “They realised what he’d done.”

That rare moment of ill discipline allowed the network of spies chasing Baghdadi to trace him in real time. But then, as on at least two other occasions, there was no time to act. Baghdadi’s entourage knew his cover had probably been blown and whisked him away.

Late last year, he was also traced to a village south of Baaj, again through the brief and careless use of a communications device. The connection was picked up by a signals intelligence network that has penetrated web and phone use in Isis areas. However, it was too fleeting to deploy fighter jets circling above on permanent hunt for targets, and there was no confirmation of exactly where he was hiding.

The morsels of chatter have helped fill in a picture of Baghdadi’s movements – and temperament; the cast-iron discipline of his immediate circle has weak spots after all. His senior leaders, however, have had far more trouble with communications discipline, and slip-ups have often led to their demise.

According to Hisham al-Hashimi, an Iraqi expert and writer on Isis, Baghdadi is literally the last man standing among the group’s founding members.

“Out of 43 main leaders, Baghdadi is the only one left,” he said. “Out of 79 senior leaders there are only 10 left. The mid-level commanders (124) constantly change positions and posts due to deaths of other members. Every six months their roles change, they either get killed or replaced.”
‘Everything changed when he arrived’

Before being killed, some Isis leaders spoke on intercepted phones about having been in meetings with Baghdadi, or having known his movements. Their mistakes offered glimpses of his capacity and methods as leader. However, more has been gleaned about the terrorist tsar’s habits and leadership by people who have seen him regularly in parts of north-western Iraq and north-eastern Syria, and reported the encounters afterwards to regional and western spies.

From late 2014 until her capture in May the following year, Nisreen Assad Ibrahim Bahar had served tea to Baghdadi in the town of Omar in north-eastern Syria, whenever he came to visit her husband, the Isis oil “minister” Abu Sayyaf.

“All I did is put the tea behind the door,” she told the Guardian. “But I knew he was there. He used to come often.” Bahar, otherwise known as Umm Sayyaf, said she was not allowed to see Baghdadi but was in no doubt when he was around.

“He used to visit my husband and talk business. Everything changed when he arrived.”

Abu Sayyaf was killed in a raid by US commandos, who took Bahar to Erbil, where she has been held ever since. She denies being a senior member of Isis, but her contact with the group’s leader has helped paint a picture of him.

A more comprehensive psychological profile of Baghdadi and his movement patterns had been drafted by US and British spies by mid-2015. Two years later, his area of travel had shrunk, as had the Isis “caliphate”.

Intelligence agencies in Iraq and Europe believe that for most of the past 18 months, Baghdadi has been based in a village south of Baaj, and has travelled in a small range between Abu Kamal, on the Iraq-Syria border, and Shirkat, south of Mosul.

Three intelligence agencies have confirmed that Baghdadi was seriously wounded in an airstrike near Shirkat in early 2015. Separate sources have confirmed to the Guardian that he spent several months recovering in Baaj. Even now, his movements remain limited by his injuries.

According to witnesses who saw him in Abu Kamal after the end of the Muslim festival of Ramadan, he was looking tired and drawn, a shadow of the confident, black-robed figure who ascended a pulpit in Mosul’s Great Mosque of al-Nuri in mid-2014 to proclaim the “caliphate’s establishment”.

Hashimi said: “Isis has resorted to being a shadow government. They still control small parts of Anbar and Euphrates river but they are sleeper cells. There is no leadership structure, it has dissolved. They do not hold meetings any more – and if they do it is never in the same place twice. They don’t even pass oral messages to each other any more. They use Signal and Telegram [encrypted apps] to communicate.

“They’ve cut back the men by 50%. The main budget cannot be touched any more. Leadership no longer matters.

“I’ve met with [foreign fighter] Abu Hamza al-Belgiki, who feels betrayed, as do all of them. They had been instructed to fight for Mosul till their deaths. When the battles intensified in the city the senior leaders and those close to Baghdadi all fled, leaving these fighters behind. They feel fooled. They have been fooled.”

Threat remains

Throughout the rise and fall of Isis, a debate has continued in intelligence circles about whether Baghdadi being dead or alive would make a difference to the group, and if the organisation still poses a threat to regional order and global security. A senior regional intelligence figure and a counterpart in Europe both say the threat level from the organisation has barely changed, and that Baghdadi’s survival could be used by his followers as a rallying call.

Officials say the branch responsible for planning attacks abroad has been left relatively unscathed by the losses of fighters and land.

“They are a complex administration filled with ex-intelligence officials,” Hashimi said. “They deal with recruiting, arming and transporting fighters and collect the financial contributions and alms. Out of 35 branches, 33 are run by two Iraqi men: Abdullah Youssef al-Khatouri, nicknamed Abu Bakr, and Abu Tiba Ghanem al-Jboori. We believe one is in Turkey and the other is in Scandinavia.”

Shiraz Maher, the deputy director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, at King’s College London, said Isis was trying to convince its followers that military defeat had changed little, particularly in its capacity for planning attacks abroad.

“In the next 24 months there will be concerted attempts to attack the west,” Maher said. “The narrative of vengeance is important.

“What we are seeing in the support community is a fatalistic resignation about what has happened. “In their narrative, they say the US could only defeat the “caliphate” by attacking it from the air but didn’t have the guts to fight on the ground. Had that been the case, they say, they would have won.

“Isis says it will return, and in the meantime it’s asking people to carry out attacks in its name. They’re also repositioning themselves politically, for example, with Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem, claiming to be the rightful guardians of that cause. This is the mutation of an idea, not the end of it.”

And as Isis regroups, so does Baghdadi. A US military assessment is that he is probably hiding in the Euphrates river valley, along the border with Syria. However, regional officials say he has returned to a tract of land between the Tharthar basin and the desert, nearer to where it all began for the now diminished leader and his downsized terror group.

“He’s on his last legs,” a regional official said. “We will get him this year. Finally.”

Additional reporting by Nadia al-Faour


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« Reply #4417 on: Today at 06:26 AM »


Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanović shot dead outside party headquarters

Ivanović killed on day that Belgrade and Pristina started talks on normalising ties

Andrew MacDowall in Belgrade
Guardian
Tue 16 Jan 2018 10.20 GMT

Oliver Ivanović, a prominent Kosovo Serb politician, has been gunned down outside his party headquarters on the day that Belgrade and Pristina started talks on normalising ties after a break of more than a year.

Ivanović was shot six times by unknown assailants in a drive-by shooting in the divided city of Mitrovica. The popular former secretary of state for Kosovo and Metohija in the Serbian government was an opponent of the Belgrade-backed Serb party in Kosovo.

His death may further complicate the troubled relationship between Kosovo and Serbia, which continues to regard the region as a breakaway province. It also raises questions over international peacekeeping and rule-of-law missions in the region, which critics say turns a blind eye to organised crime.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, and is recognised as an independent country by more than 100 countries, including the US, UK, and Germany. In 2013, the EU launched a new round of dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, with Serbia offered candidacy for EU membership. Ethnic Serbs are a small but significant minority, while 90% of the population are ethnic Albanians.

Russia and Serbia, as well as several EU member states, do not recognise Kosovo’s independence, and Kosovo is not a member of the United Nations. Serb-dominated northern Kosovo remains under significant influence from Belgrade, and international diplomats are reportedly floating the idea of partition. Tensions over Kosovo were already mounting as the Pristina government moved to scrap a war crimes court that would try alleged offences committed by ethnic Albanians, possibly including members of the political elite.

In 2016, Ivanović was himself convicted of war crimes by a panel of international judges presiding over a Kosovo court. He was found guilty of ordering crimes against the civilian population in 1999 during the Kosovo war, which was brought to an end after an extensive Nato bombing campaign.

In February last year, the conviction was overturned and the case sent back for retrial. Violence has flared up in Kosovo several times since the end of the war, and Ivanović’s arrest in 2014 led to protests by ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, and strong objections from Belgrade. Ivanović pleaded not guilty, saying the prosecution was politically motivated.

Ivanović had warned about the security environment in Kosovo, requesting a more active stance by the EU’s rule of law mission in Kosovo, Eulex, and Kfor, the Nato-led peacekeeping force. One of Ivanović’s vehicles was burned outside his home in July in the run-up to local elections.

“Ivanović was a pragmatic moderate, eager to reach out to find a compromise that would improve the lives of all people in Mitrovica, north and [Albanian-dominated] south,” said a western diplomat, who asked not to be named. “But he was stained by the war crimes indictment. More needs to be done to tackle organised criminal structures in the north of Kosovo, including by Belgrade.”

Negotiations between officials representing Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels were due to restart on Tuesday, but the Serbian delegation withdrew after news of the murder. President Aleksandar Vučić convened a meeting of the council of national security at noon and is due to make a statement. A Belgrade government source told the Guardian that the delegation was also withdrawn due to recent sabre-rattling by Kosovo’s parliamentary speaker, Kadri Veseli.

“Whatever happens, it is likely that the murder will be used for political purposes,” said James Ker-Lindsay, a specialist in south-eastern Europe at St Mary’s University in London. “I suspect this will also be used by some to try to deflect attention away from the growing political tensions over the new Kosovo criminal court.”


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« Reply #4418 on: Today at 06:45 AM »

The President and the Porn Star

Michelle Goldberg
JAN. 16, 2018
NY Times
  
In 1998, the professional moral scold William Bennett published a book titled “The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals.” In it, Bennett described blasé attitudes toward presidential adultery as corrosive. Clinton’s promiscuity, he argued, implicated his fitness for governing: “Chronic indiscipline, compulsion, exploitation, the easy betrayal of vows, all suggest something wrong at a deep level — something habitual and beyond control,” he wrote.

I was reminded of Bennett’s words by David Friend’s fascinating recent book, “The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido,” about the sexual scandals and cultural upheavals of that decade. In retrospect, the dynamics of the Clinton-era culture wars seem blissfully simple, pitting a sexually libertarian left against an aggressively prudish right. It is a cosmic irony that, 20 years later, it is conservatives who’ve finally killed off the last remaining unspoken rules about presidential sexual ethics.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that, a month before the 2016 election, Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen arranged a $130,000 payout to the porn star Stephanie Clifford, known by the stage name Stormy Daniels, to stop her from discussing a 2006 dalliance with Trump. The New York Times added new details. The Daily Beast then reported that another porn actress, Jessica Drake, who had accused Trump of offering her $10,000 for sex, signed a nondisclosure agreement barring her from talking about the president.

In any other administration, evidence that the president paid hush money to the star of “Good Will Humping” during the election would be a scandal. In this one it has, so far, elicited a collective shrug.

Liberals, in general, can’t work up much outrage, because the encounter between Trump and Daniels was by all accounts consensual. And few social conservatives are interested in criticizing the president, since they’ve talked themselves into a posture of hardheaded moral realism in order to justify their support for him. In 2016, for example, Bennett himself condemned “Never Trump” conservatives for their “terrible case of moral superiority.”

If there’s a significant scandal, it will lie in the origins of the $130,000, or in other encounters Trump has covered up. There’s a sentence in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It comes toward the end, when Steve Bannon is praising Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz: “Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.”

If it turns out there were payoffs to hide non-consensual behavior, there may be an uproar. But sleeping with a porn star while your wife has a new baby, then paying the porn star to be quiet? That’s what everyone expects of this president.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the right’s tacit embrace of a laissez faire approach to sexuality — at least male, heterosexual sexuality — coincides with attempts on the left to erect new ethical guardrails around sex.

In the 1990s, many feminists defended untrammeled eros because they feared a conservative sexual inquisition. Elements of that inquisition remain; attacks on reproductive rights have grown only more intense. Still, Trump has reconciled reactionary politics with male sexual license. In doing so, he’s made such license easier for feminists to criticize.

This weekend, the sex scandal that captivated people I know involved not Trump but the comedian Aziz Ansari. On Saturday, an online publication called Babe published allegations from a young photographer, pseudonymously called Grace, about a date with Ansari gone wrong.

Speaking to the writer Katie Way, Grace describes halfhearted — at least on her part — oral sex and Ansari’s insistent push for intercourse. Grace seemed to be disappointed that Ansari didn’t live up to his nice-guy feminist persona. “You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept going with advances,” she texted him.

Among feminists, reaction to the piece broke down roughly generationally. Grace interpreted her experience as sexual assault, but several older writers saw it as a story about caddishness and bad sex, neither of which justified the invasion of Ansari’s privacy. In The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan described it as “3,000 words of revenge porn” inspired by romantic disappointment.

I agree with Flanagan that the bad behavior Grace described doesn’t rise to the level of assault or harassment, and I don’t think Babe should have published the story. Still, I can sympathize with the younger feminists who are pushing the limits of the #MeToo movement. They are, it seems to me, trying to impose new norms of consideration on a brutal sexual culture, without appealing to religious sanction or patriarchal chivalry.

“A lot of men will read that post about Aziz Ansari and see an everyday, reasonable sexual interaction,” tweeted the feminist writer Jessica Valenti. “But part of what women are saying right now is that what the culture considers ‘normal’ sexual encounters are not working for us, and oftentimes harmful.”

Maybe feminists feel free to express their fury about the path sexual liberation has taken because they no longer need to defend sexual liberation itself from conservatives. In the 1990s, porn culture seemed subversive and chic. Now it’s become repulsively presidential.

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Trump was ‘allegedly’ with porn star while fat-shaming his pregnant wife

Crooks & Liars
15 Jan 2018 at 15:07 ET
  
Just a reminder that three "adult film actresses" have come forward over the past weekend to say they engaged in extra-marital affairs with the so-called president of the United States.

And looking back on the timeline of Trump's alleged affair with Stormy Daniels, who allegedly received $130,000 (Where did THAT money come from? I'm betting Shelly Adelstein.) one month before the election to keep quiet about the 2006 affair.

And apparently, the mainstream media is too busy figuring out how Hawaii was held by a fake nuclear bombing warning...okay that's legit.

    A president paying $130,000 in hush money to a porn star weeks before an election would be an administration-collapsing, party-decimating scandal at any other time in our nation's history but so would have about twenty other things that have happened in 2018 so far so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    - Scott Bixby (@scottbix) January 13, 2018

The thing that gets me the most steamed about this is that during that time, Melania was pregnant, and Trump was insisting to Melania that she get her pre-baby body back:

    About six months after they married, she became pregnant with Barron-and things changed, according to one source. She was 35-"checkout time" for women, as Trump once told Howard Stern-and no longer the dewy fox he'd met seven years earlier. A visitor to one of Trump's homes, late into Melania's pregnancy, recalls him remarking that he agreed to the baby on the condition that Melania would get her body back. "She promised him that everything would go back to the way it was," says this guest; it struck this person as a "contract." And he was simply rude to her. "There was no 'How do you feel?' No opening of doors, making sure she didn't fall. Just 'You wanted to have a baby.' " (Grisham counters that Mr. Trump was "very warm and supportive throughout her pregnancy.")

    As Donald's celebrity ballooned with The Apprentice, Melania was asked to tolerate even more. His public interchanges with Howard Stern, which provided a kind of Greek chorus to their relationship, went from lewdly objectifying to grotesque. He agreed with Stern that his daughter Ivanka was "a piece of ass." He joked that if Melania were in a horrible, mangling car crash he'd still love her as long as the breasts remained intact. When asked by Stern whether he'd be up for "banging 24-year-olds," Trump eagerly assented. Subsequent accusations suggest similar improprieties.

And he was fat-shaming her in public:

    Donald seems to agree, albeit disparagingly. As he puts it during an appearance on the Howard Stern Show in 2005, "You know, they just blow up, right? Like a blimp - in the right places. In her case, the right places. I mean she really has become a monster - in all the right places. I mean monster in the most positive way. She has gotten very, very large - in all the right places."

    It also surfaces during Donald's 2016 presidential campaign that around this time, Donald tells Billy Bush of Access Hollywood that he feels free to assault women with impunity and that he once made a move on Nancy O'Dell. Melania releases a statement after the videotape leaks, saying, "The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know."

Oh I think all of this represents the Donald Trump we know. And maybe nobody cares.

But the Republican Party never gets to use the term "moral majority" ever again.

***********

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/12/2018 06:10 PM

New Der SPIEGEL Cover explained: The Age of Fire and Fury

By Der SPIEGEL's Deputy Editor-in-Chief Susanne Beyer

Humanity as a whole is being set back just because of one single Person. Where is the world supposed to start again if it manages to survive Donald Trump?

"Fire and Fury" is the title of the new exposé of Donald Trump's first year in the White House. The tome has only been out for a few days, and yet it has already established itself as one of the books of the year. Even we journalists find ourselves describing the book's contents as "indescribable" and "unfathomable." Can the world's most powerful man really be dumb, senile and addicted to television as the book claims? He spends his early evenings watching three televisions in his bedroom? Eating a cheeseburger and tweeting all the while? An entire White House teetering between hysteria and chaos? And yet, it's still the journalist's job to describe the indescribable and fathom the unfathomable.

Our latest cover story explains how "Fire and Fury" came to be and whether, and the extent to which, it approaches the truth. Most importantly, however, it delves into the consequences for an America and a world that have been confronted with a nuclear-armed fool who is likely to remain in office for some time to come, who is neither mentally nor psychologically suited for the job - apparently also not physically, either, given how late he starts the working day and how early he ends it. That, unfortunately, is precisely the point: Humanity as a whole is being set back just because of one single person. The achievements of decades - the fight against a climate disaster, against the nuclear threat, for equality between men and women, between blacks and whites and so on and so on. Where is the world supposed to start again if it manages to survive Donald Trump?

Our cover image is a manifestation of all that exasperation. It was designed by New York artist Edel Rodriguez, who has done most of our past Trump cover images. It illustrates the regression of humanity through Trump. The title: "The Age of Fire and Fury."

*************  

Panama votes to boot Trump Hotels out of country

Newsweek
16 Jan 2018 at 06:19 ET    

An attempt to try to strip President Donald Trump's name from a hotel building in Panama has turned bitter, with the U.S. leader's hotel company refusing to leave the Central American country without a fight.

Owners of the Trump International Hotel in Panama City, the country's capital, are reportedly fighting to have the name of the building changed and oust the president's hotel management company, Trump Hotels.

However, two people familiar with the matter have told the Associated Press that Trump's staff "ran off" a team of Marriott executives invited last month to visit the property as a prospective new hotel operator.

The head of Trump Hotels, Eric Danziger, also called Marriott's CEO to complain about the visit, the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told AP.  

Newsweek also found that the group formerly known as The Trump Ocean Club Panama Owners Association has already stripped the president's name from it's title.

In September, records show the group's website had branded itself under the president's name, with "Trump" appearing 13 times on the front page.

But by January 5, the owners association had completely erased the U.S. leader's name from its title and website.

Now known as simply the Ocean Club Panama Owners Association, the group also posted on its website that it has attained attorneys to "take the necessary legal action to invalidate and cancel" power-of-attorneys "embedded by The Trump Organization in many of the TOC Owner deeds at closing of the purchase of their units."

The owners association says a firm called Global Legal Advisors has already filed documents to remove "embedded" power-of-attorneys from deeds "and they are working on hundreds more." The company offered to do at least some of the legal work pro bono, the group adds.

Global Legal Advisors and the Ocean Club Panama Owners Association could not immediately be reached for comment.

The Trump International Hotel in Panama City, which was completed in 2011, was Trump's first international hotel venture.

Ithaca Capital Partners, a firm based in Miami, bought the hotel amenities and the majority of the units in the hotel last August.

In October, Ithaca floated the proposal of removing Trump Organization’s directors from the hotel board and sending a notice of default to Trump in a bid to cut off Trump's link to the property.

The company cited complaints over alleged mismanagement—a claim the organization refuted.

“Not only do we have a valid, binding and enforceable long-term management agreement, but any suggestion that the hotel is not performing up to expectations is belied by the actual facts,” The Trump Organization said in a statement in November.

In November of last year, it also emerged that the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, who had been tasked with overseeing the international hotel project, had enlisted an accused Brazilian fraudster with connections to drug money launderers and Russian criminals as the hotel's top broker.

The Trump Organization distanced itself from the businessman, Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, however, saying it was never aware of his involvement.

The 70-floor waterfront building, which includes apartments and a casino, has, however, earned the president between $30 million and $50 million, according to AP.

The reported row between Trump Hotels and Marriott casts a spotlight on the issue of how American companies interact with the president's family-owned businesses.

Marriott is one of many companies with business and public policy interests before the Trump administration.

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

‘Trump has revealed who he is’: Former Bush speechwriter shreds cowardly GOPers who lie to protect Trump

By Michael Gerson Opinion writer
January 16 2018
Wa Post

Sometimes it is necessary to begin with the obvious. The claim that America needs more Norwegian immigrants and fewer Africans from “shithole countries” is racist. It is not the same as arguing for a higher-skilled immigrant pool. That argument might go something like: “We need a higher-skilled immigrant pool.”

President Trump, according to the compelling weight of evidence, treated African countries (along with Haiti and some other nations) as places of misery filled with undesirable people. That is a prejudice based on a stereotype rooted in invincible ignorance. Why not assume that men and women arriving from poor, oppressed and dangerous countries would love the United States all the more? Because, well, they are those kind of people. What kind of people? The ones who don’t look like Norwegians.

On this issue, Trump has not earned a single benefit of the doubt. His racial demagoguery in the Central Park Five case . . . his attribution of Kenyan citizenship to Barack Obama . . . his references to Mexican migrants as rapists and murderers . . . his unconstitutional attempt at a Muslim ban . . . his moral equivocation following the deadly protests in Charlottesville . . . his statement, reported by the New York Times, that Nigerians would never “go back to their huts” after seeing America . . . all of these constitute an elaborate pattern of bigotry. Trump makes offhand racist comments, he promotes racist stereotypes and he incites racism as a political strategy.

And still it is difficult for me to write the words: “The president of the United States is a racist.” The implications are horrible, but unavoidable. For starters, it means the president is blind to the contributions of African migrants to our country. It means that the president has undermined U.S. foreign policy across a strategic continent, and in the process, alienating people disproportionately prone to like the United States and respect its global role. It means that many Americans of color understandably view Trump as the president of white America, sharpening a legacy of distrust that will not quickly fade. Conversely, it means bigots also view Trump as the president of white America, providing energy and legitimacy to some of the worst people in the country.

3:12.....How Trump’s ‘shithole’ comment matches with his past statements on immigrants: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/5a4bdba2-f737-11e7-9af7-a50bc3300042' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

The Fix’s Eugene Scott explains how Trump’s “shithole countries” comment is the latest example of his history of demeaning statements on nonwhite immigrants. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

And it means the American president does not understand or appreciate the American story. It is the story of millions of migrants taken from Africa by force, stacked in ships like coal and transported to a “free” country that stole their labor, broke up their families and denied their humanity. The story of a great nation born with a fatal flaw — a shameful racial exception to its highest ideals. The story of blacks in America is one of a people who refused to accept their dehumanization, fought for the Union, rose up from slavery, defied bombings, police dogs and water cannons to defeat segregation, demanded that the country be true to what it said on paper and made America a better place for all its citizens. It is one of history’s greatest stories of the human spirit, and Trump knows nothing of it. He is indifferent to our defining miracle. And there is no way to lead a country you do not comprehend.

Trump has revealed who he is. Now we reveal who we are. The perfunctory criticisms, self-indicting silences, half-hearted defenses and obvious lies provided by most elected Republicans have been embarrassing and discrediting. Loyalty to Trump now consists of defending the indefensible. His advocates are becoming desensitized to moral corruption. They are losing the ability to believe in anything, even in their own courage.

Yet some Republicans and conservatives will never be reconciled with a Trump presidency. The reason is not one of tender sensibilities, but of deep conviction. Racism is not a single issue among many, to be weighed equally with tax or trade policy. Trump is at war with the central ideal of the Republic — a vision of strength through inclusion and equality that makes our country special and exceptional. The president is wrong — repeatedly and offensively wrong — on the centerpiece question of our history: Are there gradations in the image of God? The only acceptable, only American answer is “no.”

This debate will now be decided on countless private battlefields of conscience. We have been called to be part of the long American story, to help determine the nature and promise of our country. It is both an honor and a burden. We have no idea how this struggle will unfold. But we know how it must end: with a president who raises our sights instead of lowering our standards.

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

Sens. Cotton and Perdue are outed for lying on Trump’s behalf

By Jennifer Rubin
January 16 2018
WA Post

There is no honor among anti-immigrant advocates and liars, I suppose. After dutifully lying on behalf of the president regarding his abhorrent language (“shithole countries”), Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) were outed by the White House. The Post reports:

    Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard “shithouse” rather than “shithole,” allowing them to deny the president’s comments on television over the weekend. The two men initially said publicly that they could not recall what the president said.

Not only did these two repeatedly lie, but Cotton also impugned the integrity of Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who told the truth. Asked whether the accusation that Trump spoke the offending words or the sentiment was phony, Cotton lied, “Yes.” He went on to say, “Senator Durbin has misrepresented what happened in White House meetings before, and he was corrected by Obama administration officials by it.”

Honorable men would resign after such a remarkable revelation of their crummy character; neither Cotton nor Perdue will. We still await the appearance of a single staffer of either who would quit in protest.

The incident is telling in many respects, but none more important for Republicans than this: They can lie and enable the president hoping to score brownie points, but this White House won’t repay loyalty in kind. Instead, Republicans will find themselves humiliated.

Some lawmakers denied President Trump called Haiti, El Salvador and African nations "shithole countries" in a bipartisan meeting on Jan. 11. (Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

So to recap: The president described a preference for Norwegian (i.e. white) immigrants over those from “shithole” countries (African nations). He gave the Congressional Black Caucus the back of the hand (“At one point, Durbin told the president that members of that caucus — an influential House group — would be more likely to agree to a deal if certain countries were included in the proposed protections, according to people familiar with the meeting. Trump was curt and dismissive, saying he was not making immigration policy to cater to the CBC and did not particularly care about that bloc’s demands, according to people briefed on the meeting. ‘You’ve got to be joking,’ one adviser said, describing Trump’s reaction.”) He blew up a possible deal on the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, bragged about his actions to friends and then lied to the public about what he said. Two U.S. senators lied as well and then were double-crossed by White House aides.

This raises several questions: Why should these Republicans hold elected office? Why should anyone believe them in the future? And lastly, what is the appropriate response to them?

Given that the two senators lied to the faces of interviewers on the Sunday talk shows, network bookers might consider never having them on air again. They are known prevaricators, so whatever they say on their shows cannot be relied up as credible. News outlets should respect their viewers by denying airtime for those with so little respect for the truth.

In addition, Durbin might consider filing ethics claims against both of the senators, seeking appropriate punishment by the Senate. The ethics committee has jurisdiction to consider “complaints and investigate allegations of improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate, violations of law, violations of the Senate Code of Official Conduct and violations of rules and regulations of the Senate, relating to the conduct of individuals in the performance of their duties as Members of the Senate, or as officers or employees of the Senate, and to make appropriate findings of fact and conclusions with respect thereto.” I cannot imagine that publicly impugning another member’s integrity for the purpose of sustaining a lie would not constitute “improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate.”

Democrats have every reason to shame and shun these two Republicans, who have behaved in such a nakedly partisan and dishonest fashion. I’d like to think that all senators would, but we already know how deep the tribal instinct runs.

As for Trump, the more details that emerge, the more nakedly racist and dishonest he appears. Under these circumstances, my suggestion about boycotting the State of the Union might actually catch on. Moreover, I don’t see any purpose in conducting in-person meetings with the president behind closed doors when he and Republican supplicants will lie about what goes on. Perhaps lawmakers should insist that all their interactions with the president be recorded so as to prevent more incidents such as this in the future.

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

‘The president is a child’: MSNBC’s Joe and Mika rip Republicans for ‘sucking up’ to Trump at Mar-A-Lago

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
16 Jan 2018 at 07:08 ET                  

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski urged Democrats to stop negotiating with President Donald Trump, and force Republicans to own their mistakes.

The president headed back to Washington, D.C., from his Florida resort Mar-A-Lago with an immigration deal that’s “probably dead,” according to Trump, and a government shutdown looming unless Republicans can agree on funding.

“Republicans have a majority in the House, and they have a majority in the Senate and they have the president of the United States,” Scarborough said. “So if they can’t keep the government open, it’s their fault.”

His “Morning Joe” co-host called out House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who she called Trump’s “candy crush” later in Tuesday’s episode for reportedly giving the president his favorite Starburst flavors.

“Republicans, you need to be better parents,” Brzezinski said. “The president is a child, and running after him and sucking up to him at Mar-A-Lago is not going to help you. I don’t know if you are interested in going in there and seeing the spiral staircase and the gold and the mirrors on the wall. It’s not worth it, you need to parent him. Don’t show up. Tell him you’re not going to show up until he shapes up.”

Scarborough said Democrats should refuse to negotiate with Republicans unless they offer policies that voters have made clear they want.

“Republicans own Washington, D.C. — you should not give them a single vote in keeping the government running,” he said. “That’s their job, this is their government, this is their Congress, this is their presidency. The American people said they wanted Republicans to run Washington, D.C. — let them run Washington, D.C.”

Trump is blaming Democrats for the apparent failure to reach a deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, but Scarborough said the president and Republicans aren’t negotiating in good faith.

“Don’t give them a single vote unless they give you a clean bill on Dreamers,” he said. “If you do, let me say again, you are too weak and too spineless and too stupid cowardly to be given control of Congress in 2018. Listen to the people in the streets, listen to the people that knock on doors, that are going to be making phone calls for you in 2018. Don’t do a deal with this guy. No DACA, no deal.”

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

‘This is like Spinal Tap’: CNN panel ridicules Trump demand for only red and pink Starburst candies

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
16 Jan 2018 at 07:17 ET                  

A CNN panel reacted with smirks and laughter on Tuesday morning over a report that President Donald Trump loves House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) because he makes sure that Trump is supplied with favorite red and strawberry Starburst candies – which are the only ones he will eat.

According to a Washington Post report, McCarthy learned about Trump’s love of Starburst last fall when he was alone with the president in his suite aboard Air Force One, stating, “We’re there, having a little dessert, and he offers me some. Just the red and the pink.”

Noting Trump will eat only the cherry and strawberry candies, the GOP leader tasked one of his staffers with picking through Starburst packs and pulling the pink and red ones out as a gift to the picky president.

CNN co-hosts Chris Cuomo and Alysin Camerota rolled their eyes and laughed at McCarthy’s method of sucking up to the president.

“It’s breakfast time and I wish we had some fruit because I do consider Starbursts a fruit group,” Camerota quipped before making a reference to a Reagan-era controversy. “Ketchup is a vegetable and Starbursts are a fruit. So the president apparently loves the pink and red Starbursts only.”

“He prefers those to Starbursts from Central and South America and Africa,” co-host Cuomo smirked.

“So, congressman Kevin McCarthy went to the trouble of buying a bunch of Starbursts and doing sort of a homemade craft project,” Camerota explained with co-host Cuomo adding, “Don’t forget — your tax dollars at work.”

“He got his staff to buy a bunch of Starbursts,” CNN contributor John Avlon added while laughing. “And some poor dude’s job was to sort through and take out everything except pink and red.”

“So House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and his staff went through and took out all those nasty yellow and orange ones,” Cuomo inserted.

“This is like Spinal Tap’s rider,” Avlon added, recalling the popular cult film, “only green M&M’s.”

“Here’s the part, “Camerota stated, “Congressman McCarthy has figured out the way to the president’s heart: Starbursts. And he sent over a jar with his name, his own name, Kevin McCarthy, on the side so when the president reaches for one he can remember. And guess what? It’s working. He and Kevin McCarthy do seem to have a bromance right now.”

Watch the video via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pl9S62eYNl8

**********

Republicans want Trump to sell tax cuts — but instead he’s sitting in bed rage-tweeting ‘Fox & Friends’

Brad Reed
Raw Story
16 Jan 2018 at 07:33 ET                  

Republicans believe that President Donald Trump is a master salesman who can help them make the case that their recently passed tax cut bill is beneficial to all Americans.

However, as a new report from Axios makes clear, Trump has other ideas about what to do with his time.

Instead of going on a barnstorming tour of the country to sell tax cuts to the masses, Trump seems more intent on litigating petty feuds and insulting political foes.

“The White House should be making the best use of their ultimate salesman and tool — Donald Trump and the power of the presidency — to sell its tax cuts, low unemployment and surging market,” writes Axios. “Instead, Trump has Fox on the tube, and Twitter by his trigger finger.”

The trouble started when Michael Wolff’s explosive book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” hit bookshelves and quickly sold out. Axios’ sources say Trump is still furious about the book, even though most people inside the White House would like to move on.

Trump also made fresh problems for himself when he called African countries “shitholes” — and then had White House officials deny he made those remarks by insisting he only called them “shit houses” instead.

“What is the White House about right now?” a source close to Trump asked Axios. “I don’t know.”


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Golf, three TVs and Big Macs in bed: my week in the life of Donald Trump

Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury intimately described how the 45th US president spends his ‘executive time’ in the White House. Could our intrepid reporter walk a mile in his shoes?
Adam Gabbatt

Adam Gabbatt
Guardian
Tue 16 Jan 2018 06.00 GMT

Donald Trump is usually in bed by 6.30pm, watching three television screens and eating cheeseburgers. He has a separate bedroom from his wife, Melania, and is obsessed with cleanliness. The president prefers to eat at McDonald’s and similar fast food restaurants because he has a fear of being poisoned. He spends his evenings phoning friends to chat, going to sleep late.

We know this, and more, thanks to Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. Some of the book’s most intriguing revelations are those relating to Trump’s personal life – how the president of the United States actually spends his time, and who he spends it with. Fire and Fury reveals a lonely, bizarre existence. But there must be some attraction to this way of life. I decided to find out. I would live as Trump. For a bit.

Day one

Mimicking the life of a 71-year-old man who spends a large portion of his time in bed eating junk food is a daunting task. I spend Sunday getting my apartment Trump-ready. According to Fire and Fury, when Trump moved into the White House he asked for two extra televisions to be installed in his bedroom, so he could have three channels playing at once. I cobble together three screens. There is a TV playing Fox News – Trump’s favourite. The president professes to hate CNN and MSNBC, but he professes it with a level of knowledge that suggests he watches both channels, so they are playing on a desktop computer and my laptop.

At 6.30pm, I get into bed. Trump is usually in bed by that time, Wolff wrote, “with a cheeseburger, watching his three screens and making phone calls” to friends. I don’t usually talk to my friends on the phone. But after an hour in bed, with only a rightwing news channel for company, I am quite bored. I call my best friend, Ruth. She doesn’t answer. I call her again. She still doesn’t answer. I leave her a message saying I’m calling to “catch up”. Ruth texts me an hour later. It says: “What do you want you little bitch?” I don’t phone her again.

I have more joy with my friend Jono. He answers on the second call. That’s good because I’ve been working on channelling Trump’s style of conversation. It’s no secret that Trump likes to brag about himself. And repeat himself. Fire and Fury says that this extends to private conversation. There is a minor problem. I haven’t really got that much to brag about.

Trump might have inherited his fortune from his father, but he is undeniably a very wealthy man. And he was a TV show host. And he is president. I am none of those things. But then I’ve yet to bankrupt a single company, let alone four. And while the nation is yet to be polled on how they think I’m performing, I’m pretty sure my approval ratings wouldn’t be as bad as Trump’s.

“You know I’ve never been declared bankrupt?” I ask Jono. He asks what I want. “I’d say my approval ratings are fairly positive, right?” Jono disagrees. We talk for a bit about a mutual friend who recently got married. I try to segue back to my financial stability. He threatens to hang up. I ask Jono if he thinks the American public has faith in me. He does hang up.

Day two

As a single person, it’s easy to replicate Trump’s relationship with his wife, Melania. Apparently, they don’t have one. They sleep in separate bedrooms and Wolff reckons they can go days without seeing each other.

Within the domestic sphere, Trump is said to be extremely particular. In his early days in the White House, he tried to fit a lock on his bedroom door, but the Secret Service wouldn’t allow it. No one is allowed to touch his belongings. Especially his toothbrush. If he throws a shirt on the floor, the White House cleaning staff are not allowed to pick it up.

Trump also doesn’t like people removing his bed sheets. When the time comes for a bedding change, he strips the bed himself and throws the sheets on the floor. I follow his lead and take the sheets off my bed, dumping them on the floor. I only have one set of sheets. I put them back on the bed.

The day starts with a nice little lift. Axios has reported that Trump doesn’t do very much work. It seems he spends 8am to 11am engaged in “executive time”, which means spending time in the residential part of the White House “watching TV, making phone calls and tweeting”.

I send my boss a message on Gchat. I shall be in late today because I am engaged in executive time, I tell him. He wants to know what executive time is. I tell him I’m going to be watching TV and phoning my friends. It doesn’t go over well.

At 11am, executive time is over. I go to work for a bit. I don’t do very much. Pretending to be president is easy.

On the way home, I stop in at McDonald’s. It was already public knowledge that it is Trump’s favourite. Thanks to Fire and Fury, we know that is because he has a “longtime fear of being poisoned”. I used to work at McDonald’s. I have no problem with eating at McDonald’s. I do have a problem with what Trump eats at McDonald’s. According to his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s regular order is two Big Macs, two Filet-O-Fish and a chocolate milkshake.

I order it all and, back home, I take it to bed. The first Big Mac goes down easily. Next I take a bite out of the Filet-O-Fish. I must have made hundreds of Filet-O-Fish, but I’ve never tried one. It’s disgusting. It puts me right off my second Big Mac. I give the rest of the food to my neighbour. I drink the milkshake. I will later wake up with severe heartburn.

Dinner complete, I lie back and idly watch Fox News. Sean Hannity is upset about something. He really does have an angry face.

I’m running out of people to call. I’ve recently been texting a woman I met on a dating app. I call her. I tell her I’m in bed watching Fox News, having just eaten a load of McDonald’s burgers. She says she’s vegan. I don’t bring up my financial solvency.

Day three

Trump finished work at 4.14pm today, according to the White House’s pool reporter. I finish early too. I head home. My apartment smells like beef and tartar sauce.

It’s only 5pm when I get back, and I don’t feel ready for bed and burgers. Thankfully, the Trump presidency isn’t only about those things. Wolff writes that Trump has a bizarre hair construction routine – which isn’t necessarily news – but also reveals that he dyes his hair. Apparently, it is Trump’s impatience that leads to his hair’s unique orange hue. He won’t sit still long enough for the Just for Men dye to take effect.

Pleased to have something to do, I head out and buy two different types of Just for Men: one blond, one brown. Back home, I decide against the blond. I’m committed to strong, independent journalism, but I don’t want to walk around with orange hair for the next two months.

The brown dye goes on easily. Some of it gets on my face and won’t come off for another three days, but my hair does look darker. Although, given I’m alone in my apartment, it’s hard to get an accurate read on my appearance.

I take my new hair to McDonald’s and decide to eat in. It gives me a chance to look up the amount of calories in Trump’s order. It’s 2,430.

I still can’t get used to the Filet-O-Fish. I give one to someone outside. Back home, I notice that the diet is beginning to take its toll. I hope the White House has adequate plumbing.

I usually play soccer on Tuesdays. But instead, it’s a third night in bed. Earlier, Trump held a meeting with Republicans and Democrats, inviting in TV cameras, and it is dominating my three screens. During the meeting, Trump suggested that Dreamers – young, undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children – should unconditionally be allowed to stay in the country. Later, he changed his mind and said they could stay, but only if a wall was erected along the Mexico border.

CNN is pointing out the discrepancy. The president’s conflicting messages seem particularly pertinent, the CNN host says, because of questions Fire and Fury raised about Trump’s mental health. On Fox News, host Tucker Carlson thinks the meeting was a masterstroke by the president.

I’m too full of meat and cheese to pay much attention. I fall asleep.

Day four

After executive time, I go out and buy a big red tie. Today I will be dressing like the president. I tie it really long and it dangles awkwardly around my crotch.

I decide to play golf. It will be the first physical activity I’ve engaged in since assuming the Trump lifestyle. Despite criticising Barack Obama for playing golf while president, Trump has reportedly played golf on 21% of his days in office.

Over the holidays, Trump played at the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, but usually he likes to play at his club in New Jersey. I ring the club. I tell them I fancy a couple of holes. Can I come and play this afternoon?

“No. We’re closed for winter,” says the woman on the end of the phone. She adds that, in any case, Bedminster is a “membership course”. I ask how much it costs to join. The woman puts me through to the membership department. No one answers. Later, I look it up online. Membership is $300,000 (£218,000). I decide not to join.

By now, I really want to play golf. I don’t usually play, but the opportunity to do some exercise, however mild, is too good to miss. There is a driving range outside Manhattan that is open. I head there. When I arrive, I realise that in my haste to hit some balls, I’ve not packed any sports clothes. I’m wearing my suit and big tie.

I decide to play anyway. But I soon realise it is quite difficult to play golf in a suit. Especially a slim-fitting suit. I make a mental note. Maybe that’s why Trump goes for the big-shouldered 1990s look. The tie is a problem, too. It dangles over my hands. Still, it’s better than being in bed.

On the way home, I stop at McDonald’s. A man behind the counter recognises me and comments on the big tie. I don’t bring up Trump. He isn’t very popular in New York City. I cut my order to two Big Macs and a Diet Coke – another of the president’s favourite beverages. Earlier, I bought two boxes of Oreos. Trump likes Oreos.

I take the food to bed. It’s like groundhog day. I’ve gone right off Big Macs, but develop quite a taste for Oreos. My friend from the dating app tells me Oreos are vegan. I eat a lot of Oreos.

Day five

Executive time ran long this morning. Maybe it’s the burgers, maybe it’s the increasing amount of time I’m spending in bed, but I’m exhausted. I get up at 11.30am.

My apartment looks like the aftermath of a child’s birthday party. McDonald’s bags and boxes are strewn about the floor. The remaining Oreos are at the bottom of the bed, and there is a half-drunk chocolate milkshake in the sink. It was a rough night. I wonder if this is why Trump doesn’t like anyone going in his room.

I get a Diet Coke from the fridge and think about what I’ve discovered over the past few days. I’ve learned that I don’t like Filet-O-Fish, obviously. And that no one wants to talk to me on the phone. And that Oreos don’t contain dairy.

But I’ve also had a glimpse into just how lonely Trump’s life must be. I almost feel sorry for him. According to Fire and Fury, Trump never wanted to be president. As the results came in on election night, he apparently “looked as if he had seen a ghost”.

I wonder if much has changed since that night. Trump’s routine doesn’t seem like that of someone who is enjoying life. It seems as if this structured, monotonous way of life is a way of feeling in control at a time when Trump’s presidency is running away from him.

But, ultimately, Trump is responsible for what his life has become. He is the one who ran for president. He is the one who has managed to turn much of the American public against him. He is the one who seems to have alienated his family.

Trump has made his bed – literally and figuratively – and now he has to lie in it. A lot.


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