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« Reply #4380 on: Today at 05:06 AM »

Netflix’s 'Rotten' Reveals the Perils of Global Food Production

By Katherine Wei

We all love to eat. And increasingly, our cultural conversation centers around food—the cultivation of refined taste buds, the methods of concocting the most delectable blends of flavors, the ways in which it can influence our health and longevity, and the countless TV shows and books that are borne of people's foodie fascinations. However, there's one aspect we as consumers pay perhaps too little heed: the production of food before it reaches markets and grocery store shelves. We don't directly experience this aspect of food, and as a result, it's shrouded in mystery, and often, confusion.

Netflix's recent documentary series, Rotten, tells the true and sometimes gruesome story of what goes on behind the scenes of global food production—and the pitfalls that accompany the widespread lack of awareness of how and where commonly consumed foods are sourced. The docuseries is produced by Zero Point Zero, the production company behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown, and consists of six hour-long episodes, each of which centers around a specific type of food. They feature those at the frontlines of food production (beekeepers, garlic sources, peanut farmers, etc.); those laboring to reduce the dangers of food-induced allergies (restaurant owners and hospital researchers); as well as lawyers, detectives and prosecutors, who explain exactly how food production gets entangled with the law.

It is difficult to pin down a moral to the frankly appetite-suppressing series. While we recommend watching the show, know that it might trigger some panic around food consumption—episodes trigger dark queries (Should we stop dining out altogether considering restaurants lie about catering to food allergies? Are bottles of fake honey mixed in with the real ones at my grocery store? Am I aiding and abetting forced labor in Chinese prisons when I add garlic to my pasta sauce?). However, the experts and producers featured in this true crime-esque series leave many of the common and pressing questions unanswered. So, Sierra turned to food production experts. Read on to learn more about the issues presented in Rotten, and to glean some easy ways to stay informed, and combat potential food production pitfalls.

Rotten's first episode, Lawyers, Guns and Honey, digs deep into problems beyond the well-documented disappearance of bees and bee colonies. The crew visits honey importers throughout the United States, and a German lab, to discuss the history of cheap honey that's been diluted with sugar or artificial sweeteners before being shipped to the U.S. The crew talks to prosecutors who busted one nefarious German honey importer, and to importers about how they test samples for "honey adulteration."

The first solution for protecting oneself from such adulteration is a no-brainer: get in touch with your favorite honey production company and ask where their honey is imported from. Know that labels that claim origin in Asian countries like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia are likely to be fake. These countries often act as middlemen to China, which "launders" its fake honey in nearby countries before shipping it on to the United States.

Too many brands to grill? Never fear, check out the National Honey Board, which educates consumers, chefs, honey retailers and honey farmers about the production of quality honey. NHB also has a locating service for local honey farms throughout the U.S., making it easy for consumers to find a farm that sells honey produced by its own bee colonies. Another quick tip? Look for a True Honey Source label on the jar you're about to buy. THS allows consumers to track their honey all the way back through the supply chain to its country of origin, and the beekeeper that harvested it.

Episode Two, The Peanut Problem, discusses the precipitous rise in food allergy cases in the United States. According to Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, food allergy prevalence among children increased 50 percent from 1997 to 2011, and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology last October announced a 21 percent increase in peanut allergies in children since 2010. This episode is not about food production scandals so much as the plight that befalls America's peanut farmers as peanut sales drop. It also chronicles the perils that ensue when a restaurant ignores the needs of customers with peanut allergies (people have died from such negligence).

The Peanut Problem explains that while scientists have been unable to determine the cause of the skyrocketing numbers, restaurateurs are necessarily stepping up their game to allergen-proof their dishes, and schools and communities are educating one another on the complex and sometimes lethal nature of food allergies. The best resources to educate yourself on food allergies, locate your local immunologists and connect with fellow advocates for food allergy awareness? Food Allergy Research and Education and the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. These organizations also provide grants that fund allergy research projects. Seeking truly allergy-friendly restaurants in the U.S.? AllergyEats is essentially the Yelp of the food allergy community. Users can tweak the search filters according to specific allergies.

Humans consume almost 50 billion pounds of garlic every year, and the global garlic industry rakes in $40 billion in annual revenue. Garlic Breath tells the story of how the world's garlic industry is monopolized by two powerful companies—and serves as an especially prescient wake-up call for shoppers unaware of where their food comes from.

Most of the garlic we buy is from China, where many prisoners are forced to peel garlic behind bars, working up to 16 hours a day—often until their fingernails fall off. Also unsettling? The show reveals that the two leading garlic companies, America's Gilroy Garlic and China's Harmoni Garlic, have found out a way to game the system under the protection of the Fresh Garlic Producers' Association. FBPA is largely controlled by Christopher Ranch, who owns Gilroy Garlic. Ranch imports his garlic from Harmoni and, not wanting to be slapped with a tariff, he has been keeping the U.S. Department of Commerce from reviewing Harmoni's export prices.

So what's a garlic lover to do? Aside from steering clear of the above brands, it's important to start peeling your own cloves. Around 60 percent of the garlic Americans consume from China is pre-peeled, likely thanks to illegal forced labor, so it's best to buy unpeeled cloves directly from small garlic farms or farmers' markets. The U.S. Department of Labor maintains an up-to-date list of "goods believed to produced by child labor or forced labor and their source countries." It's a good place to start, but if you're concerned that the DOL's list may not always be current, you can always check this website to determine the whereabouts of your local farmer's market.

Episode 4, Big Bird, might give you pause before buying another broiler chicken from your local grocery store chain outlet. The story begins with those behind America's massive chicken production operation: the chicken "growers," whose control over their farms has in recent years been largely stripped away thanks to corporate giants like Perdue, Pilgrim's Pride, Sanderson Farms and Tyson. These corporate poultry companies have growers sign contracts to raise birds supplied by "Big Chicken." While the companies provide feed and medication, the growers build their own farms and otherwise finance the whole operation.

The chickens are contractually raised in ways these corporations deem efficient (but not necessarily humane), and the process is also fashioned into a tournament system that pits growers against one another for bonuses awarded to those who manage to raise the heaviest birds using the least feed. Chickens never see the light of day (this keeps them inactive and plump), and growers at the bottom of the competitive pack wind up losing money as a form of punishment. This is a system curved to solely benefit the corporations.

In 2012, chicken surpassed beef as the most consumed meat in the United States, due to its cheaper price point and mass production efficiency. Not only has chicken production moved beyond traditional poultry farms, but it's now in the reins of a few major corporations in Brazil, the U.S., Thailand and China—some of which have been bribing their local governments to look the other way as they expand their less-than-humane operations to multiply bird reproduction, and then slaughter them, assembly-line style. The result of such mass production? Broiler chickens come cheap at supermarkets—around $7 each.

Some farmers have ducked out of this system to raise chickens on their own terms, in hopes of keeping the corporate giants from dominating the global chicken market. But one should be prepared to spend much more on ethically raised chicken. Chickens from one farm featured on Rotten (where they're shown enjoying free space to roam freely) are sold for three times the aforementioned supermarket price. Concerned consumers might start by learning more about the industry lingo decorating meat and egg labels in the grocery store, and learning to tell the marketing terms (neither "natural" nor "cage-free," for instance, means chickens had humane living conditions) apart from standardized, informational labels (Certified Humane, Animal Welfare Approved).

You could also reach out to farms that sell their own poultry through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides a local foods directory through which consumers can seek out farms that offer "regular deliveries of locally-grown farm products." LocalHarvest and EatWild are other websites that provide growing databases for local farms in every state, and even other countries.

In Milk Money, dairy farmers inform viewers that small American family-owned dairy farms might disappear from the market in just 10 years. In the last 40 years, Americans' milk consumption has decreased by about 33 percent. Since 2000, around 30,000 dairy farms in the U.S. have sold their cows and closed down. Rotten explains that the government no longer invests money to keep dairy prices stable, and that U.S. dairy farms have had to adapt to fluctuating global milk prices and exporting standards ever since the World Trade Organization opened American dairy markets up to the world. As a result, today's milk prices are set by a government-created formula that fluctuates along with commodity markets, and is impossible for farmers to predict.

Farmers are trying to remedy their losses by focusing on products that bring higher profits than "table milk," aka pasteurized milk. Organic milk from cows that are raised according to USDA Organic standards and graze freely rakes in twice the revenue of table milk, but it's a pricey transition for small traditional farmers. Instead, some are turning to raw, unpasteurized milk, a controversial product sold at nearly three times the price of regular milk.

Milk Money covers the heated debate between supporters and naysayers of raw milk. Studies have shown that raw milk reduces chances of asthma, eczema, allergies and nasal infections in children, but many public health officials consider milk straight from the cow a vector for disease. This episode examines the notorious history of raw milk consumption, which can lead to illness and death, and introduces those advocating for farmers to stop selling unpasteurized milk for the profit.

While there is no conclusive crime-solving in Milk Money, it highlights one common consumer mistake: the belief that one should "try everything once" in a quest to cure children's health problems. The best course of action? Seeking doctors and immunologists who are familiar with their health conditions and can give well-reasoned advice regarding raw milk remedies. Concerned milk drinkers should also get in the habit of checking dairy products' labels; if the word "pasteurized" is missing, it's possible that raw milk is an ingredient. And while it's generally safe to buy from local sources, you might want to confirm with your farmers' market milk sellers that their products are pasteurized. They should have proof of this. Here's a list of states that ban the sale and consumption of raw milk.

America's fish consumption has doubled in the past five decades. While fishermen have long extolled the ocean as the perfect food source (it grows your food, and the supply seems endless) the series' finale, Cod Is Dead, exposes a phenomenon with which Rotten viewers have become familiar: the crash of a food production industry caused by dwindling supplies, or corrupted exploitation. In short, domestic fisheries are suffering because the ocean's fish population has been dropping over the past few decades. We're specifically talking about "groundfish"—including cod, halibut and flounder—which dwell near the ocean's bottom, and which have long been popular catches with domestic fisheries on the East Coast.

This episode also moves beyond the dangers of overfishing by exposing fishing tycoon Carlos Rafael, who is infamous for selling fish under the table to dealers, falsifying fish quota, consolidating fishing permits, and exploiting the catch share system. Designed by the Environmental Defense Fund, the catch share system exists to ensure that fishermen get a fixed percentage of the fish they catch (to reduce overfishing). Because the system is not monitored, Rafael has been able to get more than his share of fish and profits. With Rafael currently sentenced to 46 months in jail, however, the imbalance within New England's fishing scene might bounce back to normal. But what should continue to concern consumers is the question of whether or not we are eating more fish than we can afford to.

Scientists have been saying the ocean supply will crash, while fishermen are arguing that they cannot afford to fish less. So, the government has stepped in to regulate seafood prices, and has begun importing more fish to keep pace with the rise in the country's seafood consumption. As of now, 94 percent of Americans eat fish from foreign countries. These are shipments that have been frozen, thawed for cheap processing, and frozen again for shipping. Many such products do not come with labels detailing the travels seafood has made before landing in your grocery basket. If this is of concern, try to shop at stores that clearly label their seafood, indicating origins and where the fish was processed, or buy your fish directly from fish markets that source seafood from the nearest fisheries. Seafood processors and government regulators commonly use QR codes and barcodes to trace seafood. Look for such stickers on your supermarket salmon fillets—they'll help you figure out whether your grocery store keeps track of where its seafood is sourced.

As Rotten repeatedly shows, food is intimately tied to trade, politics, power—susceptible to both market forces and criminal subterfuge. And the global corporate food industry relies, at least in part, on consumers' ignorance. The overarching moral of the series? Check your food labels carefully, and whenever possible, buy locally.

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

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« Reply #4381 on: Today at 05:10 AM »

How a poor community in Mali became a trailblazer for tracking child mortality

Extraordinary success of programme under which health workers make house calls could save untold young lives in sub-Saharan Africa

Kate Hodal
20 Mar 2018 07.00 GMT

Home to a large number of migrants and an even larger number of babies, Yirimadio is a heaving, ramshackle district on the outskirts of Bamako. Only a decade ago, it was a commune, much like any other on the Malian capital’s periphery. Now, though, it is the unexpected scene of a pioneering healthcare scheme. Child mortality rates here have dropped to the point where they are now the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa – an achievement that may all be down to knocking on doors.

The premise of the scheme, which launched in 2008, is simple: community health workers spend at least two hours, six days a week searching for patients door-to-door, providing free care to whoever needs it. Mali has long struggled to contain preventable infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. Consequently, the country has the world’s sixth highest under-five child mortality rate, estimated at 115 deaths for every 1,000 births according to the most recent figures available. But by turning conventional healthcare on its head – sending health providers to patients at no cost, instead of requiring them to seek out fee-paying medical attention – Yirimadio achieved a spectacular turnaround. Between 2008 and 2015, the child mortality rate dropped from 154 deaths to seven for every 1,000 live births.

Experts have called the scheme – the findings from which were published this week in BMJ Global Health – extraordinary. They say it offers “very strong evidence” that universal healthcare can be both cost-effective and widely accessible.

    The results are unprecedented. But that’s not what we want. We want them to be boring, normal. That’s the real challenge
    Dr Ari Johnson, co-founder, Muso

“These results are really very impressive,” said Robert Yates, project director at the Centre on Global Health Security. “This is a part of the world where, generally, access to adequate healthcare is very difficult because of distances, costs and poor quality of services. But by removing user fees, providing free services, and going the extra mile by going into communities and treating sick children, the [scheme] has made primary health care extremely accessible.

“It just shows that when poor communities get good, free healthcare, it goes a long way to improving mortality rates. Put simply: kids don’t die.”

At an average cost of $8 (£5.70) a person annually, the price of the intervention is well within what governments in the region are already spending on healthcare, say the report’s authors, who believe that rolling it out more widely could lead to increased child survival rates elsewhere.

Dr Ari Johnson, who co-founded Muso and co-authored the study, said the scheme’s success proved that “these goals aren’t lofty aspirations or unfeasible: they’re imminently achievable”.

“These results are unprecedented. They are extraordinary,” said Johnson. “But that’s not what we want. We want these results to become boring and normal. That’s the real challenge.”

Communities participated in the initiative during a hugely challenging period in Mali that brought a coup d’etat, al-Qaida occupation in the north, and the west African Ebola outbreak. “Amid global efforts for universal health coverage and child survival, these findings reset the goalposts for what be achieved, in even the most challenging settings,” said Johnson.

Muso is leading a separate trial in rural Mali, under which communities will either be randomly served door-to-door by medical professionals, or required to take themselves to a community health centre.

“That trial will address a number of questions and limitations that we can’t [currently] address,” said Johnson. “It’s incredibly important that this study be followed up to try to replicate the findings and find further examples.”

In the meantime, Yates is hopeful that other governments will take note of the recent findings and commit to achieving similar results.

“Lessons like this are so applicable in other countries in the region: take Nigeria for example, that’s got a GDP per capita of $2,200,” he said. “It spends 0.9% of its GDP on healthcare, but if it spent 2% on healthcare it could get these results. This is very strong evidence for what works. I would argue everyone in global health knows this, and what is lacking in countries across the world is the political commitment to make this happen.”

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« Reply #4382 on: Today at 05:15 AM »

A woman’s final Facebook message before euthanasia: ‘I’m ready for my trip now...’

Assisted suicides in the Netherlands include a 29-year-old who had nothing wrong with her physically
Harriet Sherwood

Harriet Sherwood
20 Mar 2018 21.00 GMT

At 2pm on 26 January, Aurelia Brouwers lay down on her bed to die. Clutching a toy pink dinosaur and listening to her favourite music, the 29-year-old drank her prescribed medication as close friends gathered round. “She asked me to lie next to her. She had a smile on her face, and then she went softly into sleep,” Sjoukje Willering told the Observer. “It was very serene and calm. It was beautiful.”

Four hours earlier, Brouwers had posted her last message on Facebook. “I’m getting ready for my trip now. Thank you so much for everything. I’m no longer available from now on.” Brouwers died at home in the small Netherlands town of Deventer less than a month after being declared eligible for euthanasia under the country’s 2002 Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act, which permits the ending of lives where there is “unbearable suffering” without hope of relief. Her death has triggered a fierce debate in a country that has one of the most permissive euthanasia laws in the world.

For not only was Brouwers young, she did not have a terminal disease such as cancer. She suffered from psychiatric illnesses, including severe anxiety, depression, eating disorders and psychosis. She self-harmed and had attempted suicide numerous times. She had spent nearly three years as an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital, and had served time in prison for arson.

Some say Brouwers’s death is a terrible illustration of the “slippery slope” inevitably associated with euthanasia legislation. Others who supported legalisation now also fear it has gone too far. Her supporters see her case as an important precedent, an escape to those in hopeless situations. “Every day was so hard. She was in a deep black hole,” said Willering. “She said it felt like a hundred knives being stabbed into her head. She never had a moment of doubt that she wanted it to end.” Her death was inevitable, one way or another, she added. “But she wanted the right to die with dignity, and she wanted other psychiatric patients to know that they also have a choice. This was her message to the world.”

This month, annual figures from the bodies that review euthanasia cases in the Netherlands showed an 8.1% increase in assisted deaths in 2017, taking the total to nearly 6,600 people. It came on top of a 10% annual increase the previous year. The vast majority had cancer, heart and arterial disease, or diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. But 169 had dementia, up from 141 the previous year. And 83 had severe psychiatric illnesses – up from 64 in 2016. “Supply has created demand,” said Professor Theo Boer, who supported the 2002 legislation but resigned from a regulatory body in 2014 amid concern about rising numbers. “We’re getting used to euthanasia, that is exactly what should not happen. We’re no longer speaking about the exceptional situations that the law was created for, but a gradual process towards organised death.”

The review bodies found that in 99.8% of cases, euthanasia was carried out in line with legal guidelines. However, Dutch prosecutors have recently opened criminal investigations into four cases, and last year an investigation began into a 74-year-old woman with dementia who had requested euthanasia before her illness became severe. Confused and agitated, she had to be restrained by family members to allow a lethal injection to be administered.

The focus of the current review of Brouwers’s death is a large redbrick house in The Hague, close to a clutch of museums in the north of the city. It houses the Levenseindekliniek – End of Life Clinic – a last resort for those who have been refused euthanasia elsewhere. Brouwers came here after failing to convince her own doctors and psychiatrists that she met the criteria for euthanasia. According to Steven Pleiter, the clinic’s avuncular director, a doctor and a nurse assessed Brouwers and built a relationship with her over a long period.

Her case was also reviewed by a multidisciplinary group at the clinic. “Aurelia was known to us for years. She was young but had already been suffering for a long time. Our processes are very careful,” Pleiter said.

The Levenseindekliniek has 62 doctor-nurse teams working part-time, but is on a significant recruitment drive to meet the spiralling demand for euthanasia. In 2012, the first year it was open, the clinic helped 32 people to die. Last year the figure was 750. But, Pleiter pointed out, that was only 30% of 2,500 applicants. One in every four does not meet the legal criteria, another 25% withdraw their request, and 20% die while their cases are being evaluated. Last year 9% of those undergoing euthanasia through the clinic had psychiatric illnesses and 10% had dementia. The costs are covered by the country’s health insurance system.

“Death by euthanasia is 4% of all deaths in the Netherlands. Is that a slippery slope? I don’t think so,” said Pleiter. Much of the demand was coming from the baby-boomer generation, he added. “They are thinking differently about the way life ends. God and religion are less dominant in their lives. They want more autonomy. But every case is unique.”

The decision Brouwers had waited so long for came on New Year’s Eve. It was “the best present I could have”, she wrote. “She was very happy, but she also had some hard moments, knowing she had to say goodbye to friends and family,” said Willering. “She was very open about it. You could ask her at any moment, ‘Aurelia, is this really what you want?’ and she would say, ‘Yes, I want to die.’ ” Another friend, Toon Krijthe, also at her bedside when she died, said: “I was glad for her, because I knew this was her only option – and I knew if it wasn’t a yes, she would find another way.”

Brouwers spent the days until 26 January saying goodbye to friends and working on a television documentary that was broadcast after her death. “She also visited the crematorium to plan and rehearse her funeral,” Krijthe said. “She believed in God, and she prayed, but she didn’t go to church.”

On the appointed day, two doctors from the Levenseindekliniek were present as Brouwers swallowed the liquid medication prescribed for her. “It took about 10 or 15 minutes for her to fall into sleep. She was very ready for it,” Willering said. She was cremated a week later. Within the Netherlands, it was a huge news story. As well as the television documentary, Brouwers’s death was a front-page story in the regional paper, with an additional six pages inside. “Personally I sympathise with her, and I’m happy she got a humane death,” said Boer, who teaches ethics at the Theological University of Kampen. “But culturally, I’m concerned that her death is being portrayed as a brave solution to severe suffering. She had huge support on social media.

“A border is being crossed between individual empathy and societal acceptance. If it becomes a societal norm that a person who has a psychiatric condition can opt to die, that is a problem.”

However, according to Professor Agnes van der Heide, an end-of-life expert at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, public opinion surveys show “a substantial proportion of our population think the law should be even more liberal – especially with regard to dementia”. Many who see their parents or grandparents in the grip of advanced dementia wish to opt out of such a bleak end-of-life scenario for themselves.

Not all doctors agree. Last year a group of 220 took out a newspaper advertisement saying they would refuse to euthanise patients with dementia who were unable to give verbal consent, even if the individual had signed a declaration of wishes in advance. “Our moral abhorrence at ending the life of a defenceless person is too great,” they wrote.

“It’s difficult to see how you can administer a lethal injection to a patient who doesn’t understand what you’re doing. So there is a conflict between doctors and the public,” said Van der Heide.

Yet some want to go even further. Pia Dijkstra, an MP and member of the centrist-liberal D66 party, has proposed a law allowing anyone over 75, without a diagnosis of physical or mental illness, to request euthanasia. “There is a growing number of older people who want to decide themselves how their life should end – how, when and where, and in a dignified way. They feel their life has been good but it’s now complete. They want control. The existing euthanasia law doesn’t meet their needs,” she said.

A study is to be carried out before a bill goes to parliament, but Dijkstra said the proposal had the support of 60-70% of the public, with some arguing for no age restriction. “I have had an enormous number of emails and letters from elderly people who want this possibility. But it’s important to have a good debate. And it’s so important to let older people know they are valued by society, and that this should be their choice.”

    It is not good for society to have organised death facilitated by the state
    Steven Pleiter, clinic director

Euthanasia advocates say people are helped to die regardless of the law. “About 80% of cases are reported to the review committees, which means 20% are not,” said Van der Heide. Some were in the area of so-called mercy killings, carried out by medical staff or family members; some involve palliative sedation, to relieve suffering but which ends in death. Penney Lewis, head of the Centre of Medical Law and Ethics at King’s College London, said: “Underground euthanasia happens in permissive and prohibitive jurisdictions. It happens everywhere.”

Despite the permissiveness of Dutch law, many applicants are refused, she said. “There is a lot of debate among Dutch doctors about what constitutes unbearable and hopeless suffering. But I think a model based on suffering is preferable to one based on a diagnosis.

“I’m not convinced by the ‘slippery slope’ argument. Of course, there’s evidence that the more people understand that this is an option, a greater proportion will avail themselves of it.”

The “normalisation” of euthanasia is of deep concern to Boer. “It is not good for society to have organised death facilitated by the state. A culture of euthanasia undermines our capacity to deal with suffering, and that is very bad for society.”

    Not only was Aurelia Brouwers young, she did not have a terminal disease. She suffered from psychiatric illnesses

The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg all have permissive laws on assisted dying and voluntary euthanasia, based on applicants’ suffering, and restricted to citizens of those countries. Switzerland allows assisted dying on compassionate grounds, and some clinics there, such as Dignitas, accept people who are not Swiss residents.

More restrictive laws exist elsewhere: assisted dying is legal in six US states (California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington) plus Washington DC; in Canada; and in the Australian state of Victoria (after a campaign, pictured above). New Zealand is considering legislation. These are based on the “Oregon model”, which permits assisted dying for people with a terminal illness who are mentally competent and have a defined life expectancy.

In 2015, MPs in the UK voted against an assisted dying bill by 330 votes to 118. The campaign group Dignity in Dying advocates a law based on the Oregon model, covering people with less than six months to live. “Aurelia Brouwers made her choice in a very different legal context from the one we are campaigning for,” said Tom Davies of Dignity in Dying. The group is supporting Noel Conway, 68, who has motor neurone disease and has mounted a lawsuit to allow him a “peaceful and dignified death” by taking medication prescribed by a doctor. The court of appeal is expected to hear his case in May.

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« Reply #4383 on: Today at 05:19 AM »

'I've never been to school': child waste pickers living on Pakistan's streets

Eight-year-old Zarmeena is one of the country’s 1.5 million homeless children, many of them Afghan refugees, who miss out on education and often fall prey to violence and abuse

Haroon Janjua
20 Mar 2018 07.00 GMT

On a cold winter morning, as the sun rises above the squalor and stench of the slums of the Islamabad, frail-looking children are already up, picking rags from the dumps. It is a risky and competitive business.

Zarmeena, an eight-year-old Afghan girl, wears ill-fitting wellington boots slashed down to ankle-length, with clothes that are no more than thin pieces of fabric wrapped around her.

“I come daily here to collect garbage for the scrap dealer who gives me money,” she says. “I have been doing this work for two years or maybe more.”

Zarmeena’s work as a rubbish scavenger pays her less than $1 (70p) a day. The number of street children in Pakistan is on the rise, according to a recent study, with an estimated 1.5 million under 18s sleeping rough in the country’s urban centres.

A report from the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc), a thinktank working on the rights of children in Pakistan, states: “Street children are vulnerable to all kinds of hazards including: sexual abuse, street violence, psychological trauma, drug addiction, and falling victim to communicable diseases.”

Children like Zarmeena are homeless for many reasons: domestic violence, abuse, poverty, or because they were born to parents who could not afford to feed another young mouth.

Child rights activists have been calling on the government to establish rehabilitation centres with basic facilities to stop street children falling into the hands of the criminal gangs who increasingly prey on them. The government has responded by opening child protection offices in 12 districts but Rana Asif Habib, of the NGO Initiator Human Development Foundation, in the southern port city of Karachi, says the issue is linked to the Afghan refugee crisis and to Pakistan’s rising inflation rates.

“We are providing free education to street children, in mobile schools, but the problem with the Afghan children is that they don’t have their birth certificates and they are suffering a lot,” says Asif.

He believes that around half of all Pakistan’s street children are Afghan refugees.

He also believes nearly 70% of them are runaways. The vulnerability of these children was gruesomely highlighted in December 1999 in Pakistan, when a serial killer, Javed Iqbal, was convicted of the murders of 100 children in Lahore. Iqbal sexually abused and murdered the children, before disposing of their bodies by dissolving them in acid.

Child protection offices are being opened in 12 more districts to provide facilities for street children in their local areas.

Naveed Mukhtar, of the Child Protection Bureau, said: “Two vehicles are being used to get street children into protective custody. They are being provided with free education, accommodation and skills in order to make them responsible citizens.”

Unicef’s child protection chief for Pakistan, Sarah Coleman, says that collecting data posed “significant challenges”. She says Unicef has a focus on “the provision of technical support to federal and provincial governments for the generation of robust evidence” to show that child protection issues are improving.

Pakistan has so far struggled to safeguard its children with an estimated 22 million not in education. Back on the dump in Islamabad, Zarmeena gets back to sifting through smelly piles of waste. “I have never been to school,” she says.

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« Reply #4384 on: Today at 05:21 AM »

Emmanuel Macron launches global campaign to promote French speaking

President has said French could be ‘the number-one language in Africa ... and maybe even the world’

Kim Willsher in Paris
Tue 20 Mar 2018 05.00 GMT

Emmanuel Macron will launch an international campaign to promote French speaking across the world in a speech at the Academie Française on Tuesday.

The president will announce what the Elysée says is a unique government-funded programme to boost “learning, communication and creation” in French.

Macron’s crusade is not confined to the club of French-speaking countries, known as la Francophonie – many of them in Africa – but across the globe.

Ambassadors from Ghana and Nigeria – traditionally English-speaking Commonwealth countries – have also been invited to Tuesday’s speech, which will be attended by Goncourt prize-winning author Leïla Slimani, appointed Macron’s personal representative for Francophone affairs last year.

Elysée officials have insisted the presidential crusade is not intended as a challenge to the English language but a push for a more multilingual world. However, on an official visit to Delhi last week Macron wooed Indian students, inviting them to “gain access to Europe” by choosing to study in France. His remarks brought a swift riposte from Boris Johnson saying that Britain had better universities.

Macron promised to promote French as part of last year’s election campaign. In a speech to students in Burkino Faso last November, he claimed French could be “the number-one language in Africa ... and maybe even the world”.

French is the sixth most spoken language in the world – after Mandarin Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish and Arabic – and there are now more French speakers outside France than inside it. Population estimates suggest there will be more than 700 million French speakers by 2050, 80% of them in Africa.

La Francophonie, a network of more than 80 countries where French is spoken – including 32 where it is an official language – is France’s post-colonial equivalent of the Commonwealth.

Macron is expected to announce that money will be poured into teaching French, especially in Africa, alongside “maternal languages” in order to boost the “role and place of French in the world”.

He will also unveil measures to encourage more international students to study in France, as well as better language programmes for refugees and those who are “less well integrated” in France. The campaign will include measures to make French more widely used in the global media, the internet and the digital economy, and to encourage artists, writers and musicians to use French in their work.

A number of acclaimed writers in French have criticised Macron’s linguistic crusade as imperialist and out of touch. Last month, Alain Mabanckou, the prize-winning Congolese writer, told the Guardian la Francophonie had become an instrument of French imperialism propping up African dictators.

Mabanckou argued that the world club of French-speaking countries was “still defined by France, from a diplomatic point of view” as a continuation of hazy, old foreign policy ideas and a way of “sustaining French imperialism”.

In an open letter to Macron, Mabanckou wrote: “Unfortunately, la Francophonie is still seen as a continuation of France’s foreign policy in its former colonies. Rethinking Francophonie is not just ‘protecting’ the French language.”

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Xi Jinping warns he is ready to 'fight bloody battles' against China's enemies

Emboldened president reserves strong words for activists in Hong Kong and Taiwan who want to ‘split China’

Benjamin Haas China correspondent
Tue 20 Mar 2018 05.00 GMT

Chinese president Xi Jinping has delivered a nationalistic speech in which he vowed the nation would “take our due place in the world” and was ready “to fight bloody battles against our enemies”.

Xi also promised “rejuvenation” and warned against attempts to erode China’s unity during a speech at the close of the annual session of the National People’s Congress, the country’s annual parliament often derided by experts as little more than a show that lacks serious policy debate.

This year the legislature removed term limits on the presidency, paving the way for Xi to rule for life. He was unanimously re-elected to a second term.

“The Chinese people have understood since ancient times that nothing is free,” he said. “To be happy, one must fight for it.”

The nationalist tone and content of the speech was mainly directed at a domestic audience, according to Merriden Varrall, director of the East Asia Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney.

“Removing term limits ruffled a few feathers in the Party and Xi is aware there might be some tough times ahead, especially with Trump threatening a trade war,” Varrall said. “He wants to tap into nationalism and show he is the person who can confront those challenges.”

Xi portrayed a world seeking to combat China’s peaceful rise on the global stage, and the need to push ahead at all costs. At the same time he worked to calm fears of an increasingly assertive foreign policy, saying: “China’s development will not pose a threat to any other country”.

“Only those who are accustomed to threatening others will see everyone as a threat,” he added.

Xi also had strong words for activists in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Politicians in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous city handed back in China by the UK in 1997, have advocated for greater self determination in recent years, with some calling for outright independence.

Elections in 2016 in Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy claimed by China, saw a president elected who is wary of closer tied with the mainland.

“Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will meet with the people’s condemnation and the punishment of history,” he said to a chorus of loud applause from the assembled officials.

“The Chinese people share a common belief that it is never allowed and it is absolutely impossible to separate any inch of our great country’s territory from China.”

In contrast to Xi’s speech, premier Li Keqiang focused on reassuring investors and businesses during his annual highly scripted press conference where questions are pre-screened.

“China’s economy has been so integrated with the world’s, that closing China’s door would mean blocking our way for development,” he said. “China’s aim is to ensure that both domestic and foreign firms, and companies under all kinds of ownership structure, to be able to compete on fair terms in China’s large market.”

Foreign business have for years complained government regulations have produced an uneven playing field in China. Some of those policies, such as forced technology transfers and intellectual property theft, have drawn sharp criticism from Donald Trump.

“They’re talking about reforms but not as the international community understands them, China will still come first,” Varrall said.

The comments of openness come as the threat of a global trade war looms with the US imposing tariffs on steel and aluminum and reports Trump may target Chinese products specifically in future tariffs. The US is poised to announce new duties on $60 billion worth of Chinese technology and consumer goods annually, Reuters reported.

“Like rowing a boat, opening up is a two-way movement entailing mutual efforts,” Li said.

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« Reply #4386 on: Today at 05:25 AM »

Saudi crown prince begins US trip as allies share concerns about Trump

Mohammed bin Salman hopes to seal major business deals during a three-week tour but the failure of his relationship with Jared Kushner to deliver progress on Middle East peace and Iran has left him exposed

Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent, and Julian Borger, diplomatic editor
Tue 20 Mar 2018 05.00 GMT

Ahead of his first visit to Washington as heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been warned to set a distance between himself and Donald Trump, who some regional advisers have come to regard as volatile and unpredictable.

The US president will receive Prince Mohammed in the White House on Tuesday during a reciprocal visit after Trump’s high-profile trip to Saudi Arabia last May when – on his first trip abroad as leader – he reset bilateral ties, which had become strained under Barack Obama.

The White House meeting marks the beginning of a three-week, seven-city trip to the US, in which Prince Mohammed will travel with an entourage of officials and business leaders, seeking to strike deals with Silicon Valley firms and oil and gas companies in Texas.

A senior US administration official said the Trump administration would be lobbying for $35bn in deals for US companies.

Prince Mohammed’s arrival aims to build on political and business connections that have been strengthened ever since Trump’s visit to Riyadh – particularly through his son-in-law and envoy, Jared Kushner.

However, as Trump and Kushner face mounting travails on the home front, regional allies – initially buoyed by Washington’s renewed support – are now striking a cautionary tone to the Saudi prince.

Over the past 10 months, Prince Mohammed has struck up a warm rapport with Kushner, who has been a regular guest in Riyadh, where he has discussed two of the region’s most intractable issues: peace between Israel and the Palestinians and how to counter Iran.

However, efforts on both fronts have so far been counterproductive, officials have told the Guardian, leaving both men – but in particular Prince Mohammed – exposed.

At the same time, concerns have mounted about legal pressures facing the president and Kushner, who have been targets of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential poll.

Kushner is Trump’s unofficial envoy to the Middle East, but further concerns were raised in the region last month when his security clearance was revoked. Reports from Washington said this was partly because of his extensive and sometimes undeclared foreign contacts.

More broadly, the high turnover of senior administration staff and Trump’s unorthodox way of making policy via Twitter instead of an executive process have unsettled allies in the Middle East, who are not sure what to make of his policies, or temperament.

“Everyone has spent a lot of time second-guessing him,” said a regional official. “And it’s making his friends wary.”

During his visit to Washington, the Saudi prince will meet the CIA director – and nominee to be the next US secretary of state – Mike Pompeo, as well as Vice-President Mike Pence, Trump’s embattled national security adviser, HR McMaster, and defence secretary, James Mattis.

Both Kushner and Trump had been keen to present their version of a Middle East peace plan, which would bring Israel and the Palestinians together after 70 years.

But after the White House recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – in a move which Trump said removed a stumbling block from peace talks – the Palestinians rejected the US as a broker.

According to regional leaders familiar with basic details of what was being put together, Prince Mohammed was to be responsible for bringing the Palestinians to the table, while Kushner was to do the same with Israel and its backers among Jewish groups in the US..

“The problem, though, was Jerusalem,” said the regional leader. “Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is under a lot of pressure from the Saudis about this, and he is very stressed and ill because of it. What were they thinking? How can the root cause of all of this no longer be at the centre of a solution?”

While Saudi Arabia earlier this year denied claims that Jerusalem was no longer a centrepiece of peace talks between the two sides, a senior Palestinian official confirmed to the Guardian that such a proposal has been made “at senior levels”. Citing the sensitivity of the discussions, the official would not elaborate.

A government member in a Gulf state, who demanded anonymity, corroborated the account, but said that after an initial discussion had begun between senior officials in December, no further talks had been held. On Monday, Abbas called Trump’s ambassador to Israel, a “son of a dog”.

New approaches towards intractable issues have become trademarks of Prince Mohammed’s brief reign as Crown Prince. While he has achieved some change domestically, with a series of social changes – including moves to break down rigid rules that have marginalised women in Saudi society – he has not achieved the same results on the international front.

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia remains bogged down in a war with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels and has imposed a punishing blockade on an impoverished population, that has drawn widespread international condemnation. A nine-month standoff with Qatar also remains unresolved.

Yemen is likely to be up for discussion in Washington, although Trump has shown little interest in the war.

Prince Mohammed is expected to meet senior leaders of corporations such as Google, Apple, General Electric and Uber while in the US, as well as Hollywood producers.

After Washington, Prince Mohammed is due to fly to Boston, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston. At the last stop he is hoping to lure more of the US oil sector to Saudi Arabia, doubling down on Trump’s pivot away from clean energy towards fossil fuels.

Briefing reporters in Washington, the Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said the kingdom was in discussion with the US about contracts to build nuclear reactors for the energy sector, but was assessing cooperation with Russia, China, France, South Korea and Japan.

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« Reply #4387 on: Today at 05:28 AM »

Japan prepares to execute up to 13 members of Aum Shinrikyo cult

Some cult members, who killed 13 people in a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995, have been moved to new facilities

Daniel Hurst in Tokyo
Tue 20 Mar 2018 06.32 GMT

Japan is believed to be preparing to execute as many as 13 members of a doomsday cult in what could become the country’s biggest round of hangings in the past decade.

Tuesday marked the 23rd anniversary of Aum Shinrikyo’s sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway, which killed 13 people and caused illness among thousands of others.

Some of the members of the cult were transferred to detention facilities outside of Tokyo last week, fuelling local media speculation that their executions could be imminent. Japan normally doesn’t execute people until all accomplices’ cases have been finalised. That milestone was reached in January this year.

Japan executed 15 people throughout the course of 2008, the largest number to be sent to the gallows in a single year in recent history.

It is unclear whether the Aum Shinrikyo members would be put to death on the same day, but executions in Japan are routinely shrouded in secrecy until the final moments. In previous cases, inmates have spent years on death row only to be informed of their impending execution hours before being led to the gallows. Families are sometimes informed only after the hanging has taken place.

Amnesty International argued that if the government proceeded with the Aum Shinrikyo executions in coming months, it would be seen as a “cynical” attempt to get the news out of the way before the elevation of a new emperor next year and the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020.

“The mark of a civilised society is recognising the rights of every individual, even those responsible for heinous crimes,” said Amnesty east Asia researcher Hiroka Shoji.

“The death penalty can never deliver justice as it is the ultimate denial of human rights.”

Aum Shinrikyo was a violent cult that sought confrontation with the state as a prelude to the end of civilisation. On 20 March, 1995, members used umbrellas with sharp tips to puncture bags filled with liquid sarin in five train carriages during Tokyo’s morning rush hour.

Thirteen members were sentenced to death for a range of Aum-related crimes including the subway attack. Seven were transferred to a number of different detention facilities outside of Tokyo. Ringleader Shoko Asahara, 63, who is also subject to a death sentence, is yet to be moved.

The Japan Society for Cult Prevention and Recovery (JSCPR) has written to the justice minister calling for everyone but Asahara to have their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

“Asahara was the brain and the other 12 were merely the limbs,” said Taro Takimoto, a JSCPR board member who himself was a victim of a sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo.

Japan was recently challenged about the death penalty in a United Nations human rights forum. Several countries called for the punishment’s abolition, or at least for a moratorium on executions being carried out.

But the Japanese government said sovereign countries should be allowed to make independent decisions.

“The majority of the Japanese people consider the death penalty to be unavoidable in the case of extremely heinous crimes and therefore Japan currently does not have any plans to establish a forum to discuss the death penalty system,” the government said in a formal reply.

Shizue Takahashi, 71, whose husband Kazumasa died in the subway attack, laid flowers at Kasumigaseki station in central Tokyo on Tuesday morning. Referring to the death row inmates, she told Kyodo News: “I hope they will be executed according to law and without making a fuss about it.”

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« Reply #4388 on: Today at 05:39 AM »

Trump fumes Mueller probe is ‘going to choke the life out of’ his presidency

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
20 Mar 2018 at 06:42 ET                  

President Donald Trump is privately fuming and publicly lashing out over special counsel Robert Mueller and his sprawling probe of the president’s ties to Russia.

Republican lawmakers have bluntly told Trump to tone down his escalating criticism of Mueller, the former FBI director, and his investigation, but GOP leaders have taken no action to protect the special counsel and instead are hoping to wait out the storm, reported the Associated Press.

The president has griped to confidants that the Mueller probe was “going to choke the life out of” his presidency if allowed to continue indefinitely,” one outside adviser told the AP.

The Washington Post reported Monday night that Trump was not consulting with top advisers, such as chief of staff John Kelly or White House counsel Donald McGahn, on the Russia probe but was instead “watching television and calling friends,” according to a source who apparently receives those calls.

He added attorney Joe diGenova, who floats “deep state” conspiracy theories on Fox News and other TV networks, to his legal team this week.

Trump tweeted Mueller’s name for the first time over the weekend, after his legal team received some questions the special counsel might ask during a face-to-face interview with the president.

White House lawyer Ty Cobb issued a statement Sunday insisting that the president was not considering Mueller’s removal, a day after Trump attorney John Dowd called for an end to the special counsel probe.

“Multiple White House officials said Monday that they believe Trump is now acutely aware of the political — and even legal — consequences of taking action against Mueller,” the AP reported. “For now, they predicted, Trump will snipe at Mueller from the outside.”


Mueller sees Trump lawyer Mike Cohen as ‘a potential cooperator’ in Russia probe: Ex-federal prosecutor

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
19 Mar 2018 at 20:21 ET                  

According to some legal experts, the legal debacle surrounding President Donald Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels may shape up to be more than just a national embarrassment.

CNBC reported Monday that the Daniels saga — and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s role in it — may be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller.

Though Cohen’s role in the Daniels scandal is not directly related to the special counsel’s probe, it could be used to cast doubt on his continued insistence that he did not collude with Russia.

“If the affair did happen,” CNBC’s report noted, “Trump and Cohen’s denials could be used by Mueller to cast into doubt the reliability of their claims about other areas of his investigation.”

Stephen Braga, a white-collar criminal defense professor at the University of Virginia’s law school, told CNBC that “this information would go generally to both of their credibilities and, more specifically, to both of their potential modus operandi for trying to control information that might be adverse to the president’s interests.”

He went on to say that Mueller “might be able to use the potential threat of prosecuting Cohen for actions related to Daniels as leverage to get him to cooperate in the ongoing probe of the Trump campaign.”

Mimi Rocah, former federal prosecutor and regular MSNBC contributor, said that “it may be that this doesn’t connect directly to Russia, but rather that Mueller sees Cohen as a potential cooperator.”

Because Cohen is named in the infamous “golden showers” dossier for allegedly meeting with Kremlin officials in a secret 2016 meeting in Prague, the report continued, his culpability in the Daniels lawsuit may be used to attain his testimony on that meeting.


MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow outlines how Trump’s lawyers are seeking a Watergate-style compromise with Mueller

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
19 Mar 2018 at 21:55 ET                  

Reports on Monday revealed the latest ploy by President Donald Trump’s lawyers to strike a deal with special counsel Robert Mueller — and as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow noted, a similar compromise took place during the Watergate scandal.

In an attempt to exonerate himself after the revelations of White House tapes regarding the Watergate break-in was revealed, President Richard Nixon proposed a compromise — he’d not only release to his special counsel, Archibald Cox, a transcript of the tapes, but would also have a seemingly neutral lawmaker compare the transcripts to the audio.

The only problem? The lawmaker, John Stennis, a “pro-Nixon, Dixiecrat senator” from Mississippi, “was famously deaf.”

The episode became infamously known as the “Stennis Compromise.” When Cox refuted Nixon’s offer, the president went down the line at the Justice Department to get someone to fire him — an episode that, even more infamously, became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre” after his attorney general and deputy AG resigned in protest of the request.

“Ultimately, a new special counsel was appointed,” Maddow said. “And that was all she wrote for the Nixon administration.”

The host proceeded to note that Trump’s lawyer’s latest “gambit” — offering Mueller “written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation” in hopes that Mueller won’t ask the president about them in person — resembles the Stennis Compromise.

“The records do not include Trump’s personal version of events but provide a narrative of the White House view,” the Washington Post‘s report on the document turnover, which Maddow read on air, noted.

“Trump’s lawyers hope this evidence eliminates the need to ask the president about some of these episodes,” the host continued, citing the Post‘s reporting. “Raise your hand if this is gonna make this whole problem for the White House go away.”


‘Trump is Nixon on steroids’: John Dean tells CNN’s Cooper ‘we’re witnessing a very public obstruction of justice’

Elizabeth Preza
Raw Story
19 Mar 2018 at 21:08 ET                  

John Dean, the former White House Counsel for President Richard Nixon, on Monday said Donald Trump’s recent attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller constitute “a very public obstruction of justice,” telling CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “Trump is Nixon on steroids.”

Dean was discussing Trump’s weekend Twitter rant, during which the president wrote Mueller’s name for the first time—all while declaring the special counsel’s probe “a witch hunt.”

“I think what we’re witnessing is a very public obstruction of justice,” Dean said Monday. “He, as I see it, has already exceeded everything that Nixon did. He’s really much more intimately involved than Nixon ever was in a cover-up.”

Dean contrasted Trump’s engagement in the “cover-up” with Nixon’s—who Dean explained was not involved in Watergate until he was informed about it by his chief of staff.

“Trump from the very beginning, he’s involved in this,” Dean said. “And so I see a very different profile, and the big difference being Nixon was behind closed doors— everyone was surprised when there were recordings of it. Trump is right out front on it, and he’s dealing with it publicly.”

“That’s a pretty stunning statement that I want you to have repeat that,” Cooper replied. “You’re saying in your opinion Donald Trump has gone farther than Richard Nixon did to obstruct justice?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Dean replied. “I think Trump is Nixon on steroids and stilts.”


‘Can you say Saturday Night Massacre?’: GOP congressman warns Trump firing Mueller would ‘paralyze’ Congress

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
19 Mar 2018 at 20:50 ET                  

One GOP member of Congress warned Monday night that if President Donald Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller, it would “paralyze” the legislative branch.

Fox News White House correspondent Chad Pergram tweeted that Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said the potential firing “would be an Archibald Cox moment,” referencing President Richard Nixon firing his special counsel and instigating the resignations of two top cabinet members.

“Can you say Saturday Night Massacre?” Dent asked Pergram rhetorically, referencing the post-Watergate episode. “It would paralyze this institution. We would then do nothing else.”

    GOP PA Rep Dent on if Trump would fire Mueller: Can you say Saturday Night Massacre? It would be an Archibald Cox moment like Watergate..it would paralyze this institution. We would then do nothing else.

    — Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) March 20, 2018

Dent also reportedly told the Fox News correspondent that he’d support legislation to protect Mueller — but that doing so could be a “poison pill.”

    Dent says he supports putting a provision in the omnibus to protect Mueller, but says that could be a poison pill.

    — Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) March 20, 2018

Dent has in recent weeks been a staunch critic of Trump’s personnel choices. During a CNN interview last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania congressman blasted the president for making the “deplorable” decision to fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson via tweet — a move he credited for swaying the state’s special congressional election in favor of Democrat Conor Lamb.

Over the weekend, Dent also criticized the Trump Justice Department’s decision to fire former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe just a day before he became eligible for his pension.

“This firing looks a bit forced, a bit rushed. Candidly, it looks like retribution and a bit vindictive,” Dent said on CNN. “And I think it’s unfortunate. The man said he’s resigning, you know, and on a Friday night before his 50th birthday he’s fired to take away his pension? I don’t like the optics of this, I really don’t.”

Dent, who earlier in March called out the president’s “crony capitalism,” announced last fall that he is not seeking re-election. He cited people within the Republican Party who “profit from polarization” and those who “love dysfunction” as his reasons for calling it quits after a nearly 30-year career in public service.


What a perfect example of just how stupid American are ........... USA ! USA ! USA ! UNITED STUPID AMERICA

Morning Joe panel horrified by growing belief in ‘deep state’ conspiracy: ‘This is the gift we got from Trump surrendering to Putin’

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
20 Mar 2018 at 07:35 ET                  

Panelists on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” were aghast at a poll showing the widespread belief in “deep state” conspiracy theories promoted by President Donald Trump.

The president and his right-wing allies — from Fox News hosts to InfoWars’ Alex Jones — have claimed Trump is the victim of a government plot to undermine his presidency and remove him from office, rather than the target of a law enforcement investigation of his political and business ties to Russia.

Although 63 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with the term “deep state,” according to Monmouth University, 74 percent said they believe such a network exists in Washington when pollsters described the conspiracy theory.

“America is an idea, it’s not a democracy, it’s not a republic before it is an idea,” said MSNBC analyst Mike Barnicle. “And the idea that 74 percent, according to the Monmouth University poll, believe there is a deep state run by a military-political intellectual hierarchy, apart from government, and this is the gift we’ve gotten from Donald Trump. This is the gift we’ve gotten from him surrendering to Vladimir Putin and causing chaos in the country.”

Host Mika Brzezinski and two of her guests, veteran diplomat Richard Haas and Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, explained how career bureaucrats helped elected officials navigate a complicated U.S. foreign policy.

“This is not happening in a vacuum,” said Haas, the longtime president of the Council on Foreign Relations. “Over the next two or three months this administration is going to face three enormous decisions, what to do about these tariffs, and what to do about the Iran nuclear agreement, and the idea that it is consumed by this chaotic churn of people and what to do about this investigation, the combination of the two, again, this is about as bad as it gets.”

Brzezinski suggested one wrong move by the Trump administration could set off a nuclear showdown — or worse — and Ignatius agreed the stakes were enormous.

“It’s a really dangerous time, real challenges for an inexperienced president — thank goodness we have very good people in the military,” Ignatius said. “I just want to note one thing about this deep state poll. It’s a very dangerous thing when most of the country begins to believe that a small group in the country is manipulating decisions. We’ve seen that historically in countries that begin to break down.”

“I’ve spent much of my life reporting from countries in the Middle East where people believe that, that conspiratorial idea that politics is embedded,” Ignatius added. “If the United States is becoming a country like that, people have to fight for democracy. If most people think my vote is stolen, it doesn’t matter then you get into that it appeals to that feeling that people have and you begin to go over the edge, so I take that poll seriously.”


Trump to hire lawyer who peddles conspiracy theories about ‘deep state’ framing the president: report

Brad Reed
Raw Story
19 Mar 2018 at 13:29 ET                   

President Donald Trump is reportedly set to hire a Washington lawyer who has pushed the view that officials at the FBI and Department of Justice engaged in a conspiracy theory to frame Trump for colluding with Russian government officials.

The New York Times reports that attorney Joseph E. diGenova is being brought in to bolster Trump’s legal team, in what could be a signal that the president is going to more aggressively take on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In an interview with Fox News earlier this year, diGenova asserted that “there was a brazen plot” by officials in the FBI and DOJ “to illegally exonerate Hillary Clinton and, if she didn’t win the election, to then frame Donald Trump with a falsely created crime.”

Trump has grown increasingly combative with career law enforcement officials, as he publicly celebrated the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe over the weekend, while also calling out special counsel Robert Mueller by name for the first time on his Twitter account.

This has led to more speculation that Trump could fire the special counsel, although the White House has issued statements saying that he has no intention to do so at this time.


CNN’s Mudd blasts Trump’s cynical hiring of conspiracy-spouting attorney DiGenova to rile up the kook base

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
20 Mar 2018 at 09:50 ET                   

According to former CIA officer, turned CNN pundit, Phil Mudd, President Donald Trump only hired attorney Joe DiGenova to go on television and rile up his conspiracy-loving base, and not for his legal expertise.

Appearing on CNN’s New Day with hosts John Berman and Erica Hill, Mudd scoffed at Trump’s move of bringing on DiGenova, who was a regular cable TV fixture when conservative activists worked with GOP lawmakers to bring down President Bill Clinton with a variety of conspiracy theories.

Sharing a clip of the attorney accusing the Clinton campaign of planting the seeds of Russian collusion before the election in an effort to undermine Trump should he beat the former Secretary of State, host Hill pressed Mudd to explain what DiGenova brings to the president’s defense team table.

“Phil Mudd, he’s lashed out at the FBI, the Department of Justice, talked about this conspiracy,” Berman explained. “This is the man Donald Trump has brought on who can go out there and be a fire for him. what’s the impact there?” the CNN host asked.

“There’s no impact on the investigation,” Mudd scoffed. “Look, the investigators are going to do what they want. I see two aspects to the hiring of DiGenova. I don’t think he’s about the investigation, he’s about the face of the investigation. A lot of people in this country, I talk to them all the time, I get emails from them, believe in these conspiracies, they think there is some deep state conspiracy to take out the president.”

“This guy is going to be on TV talking about this, all the time,” he added. “Look, the other thing is I think this is more about what happens after the investigation. If you get further indictments of people in the Oval Office, this guy is going to be on two minutes later saying, ‘I told you there is a conspiracy against the White House, I see it now and now and  we have to take action to stop the conspiracy.’  He’s all about TV and the after-action.”

CNN correspondent Chris Cillizza then jumped in to add his two cents.

“I think a lot of what’s happening here, particularly over the last 96 hours it’s sped up, is Donald Trump getting ready for what comes next, that it is unlikely that this investigation sort of ends,” Cillizza explained. “A lot of what you see, the smearing of Mueller, the attempted smearing of Mueller, DiGenova coming out, it’s prepping for something is going to happen and no one knows what that something is.”

“The Mueller investigation is going to conclude,” he warned. “And it likely not going to look great for the Trump administration.”

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