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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1285301 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #3525 on: Jul 10, 2018, 05:35 AM »

Ex-Obama official sketches terrifyingly plausible scenario for Trump destroying NATO — by next week

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
10 Jul 2018 at 07:49 ET                   

A former U.S. ambassador to Israel warned that President Donald Trump might blow up the international order as soon as next week.

Daniel Shapiro, who served as ambassador for nearly six years under President Barack Obama, said no plans appear to be in place if Trump pulls the U.S. out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which he said appears likely.

“I don’t think we are fully grappling with the possibility that we could be on the on the cusp of a completely new era, a fundamental reshaping of the international order,” Shapiro tweeted. “And I don’t mean over the course of the Trump Administration. I mean by next week.”

    1. I don't think we are fully grappling with the possibility that we could be on the on the cusp of a completely new era, a fundamental reshaping of the international order. And I don't mean over the course of the Trump Administration. I mean by next week.

    — Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) July 9, 2018

Shapiro admitted the possibility sounded “outlandish,” but he said it would be “insane” not to plan for what would happen if Trump undermined or destroyed NATO.

“Trump clearly wants to pull the US out of NATO,” he tweeted. “He doesn’t believe in the alliance (or any alliances); he thinks our allies take advantage of us; he complains that NATO is worse than NAFTA(whatever that means); he seeks purely transactional relations with our closest partners.”

The former ambassador agreed alliance members should meet their 2 percent of GDP spending targets, and he said the president was right to push for that, but he said Trump’s attacks on NATO allies showed he wanted out — and that he’d already weakened the organization.

“Perhaps most damaging is that his rhetoric is building up hostility to NATO among his supporters,” Shapiro tweeted. “It’s a huge breach in the consensus American support for the alliance that has undergirded Western security for 70 years, and it won’t disappear when Trump does.”

He also questioned his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose long-term goal is the weakening or destruction of NATO and the European Union.

“What’s more, his passionate desire for friendship with Putin is emboldening Russia & risks doing further damage to European security,” Shapiro tweeted. “If he recognizes Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, if he seeks to tone down sanctions on Russia over its aggression vs Ukraine, watch out.”

    6. What's more, his passionate desire for friendship with Putin is emboldening Russia & risks doing further damage to European security. If he recognizes Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, if he seeks to tone down sanctions on Russia over its aggression vs Ukraine, watch out.

    — Dan Shapiro (@DanielBShapiro) July 9, 2018

He said the next two weeks — which includes the NATO summit and a private meeting between Putin and Trump — could be crucially important to world history.

“If he sabotages the NATO summit the way he did the G-7, don’t be surprised if he actually makes a move toward exiting NATO,” Shapiro tweeted. “Think he won’t? On what basis? Because his staff restrains him? Because of his strategic understanding? Please.”

After that, he said, the world order could quickly fall apart.

“If we get there, the implications are innumerable & terrifying: Russia pawing at Baltics & other (Eastern and Central) European states; breakdown of joint defense structures; withdrawal of US troops from Euro bases; less restrained German foreign policy; weaker US power projection to Eurasia,” Shapiro tweeted.

“That just scratches the surface,” he continued. “We honestly cannot begin to imagine living in a new era without these international organizing structures. Because for all of NATO’s challenges, no sane person or American political leader has or would contemplate such a reckless move.”

“But it could happen,” he added. “Our President doesn’t know the history or strategy, doesn’t listen to experts, personalizes everything & makes it transactional, & loves the drama of the outrageous move that dominates cable TV coverage. For him, pulling out of NATO is all gain, no cost.”

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

‘Dismaying and disturbing’: Ex-GOPer explains Trump and Putin’s ‘convergence of interests’ on destroying NATO

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
10 Jul 2018 at 14:26 ET                  

Days after announcing that he’s leaving the GOP, foreign policy analyst Max Boot told CNN that he has significant concerns about President Donald Trump’s escalating attacks on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — and his cozying up to his Russian counterpart.

“He is definitely weakening the alliance,” Boot told CNN’s Wolf Blitzter Monday. “The question is whether it will survive his presidency or not. Part of that will depend, I think, on how long he stays in office.”

The analyst said he believes it’s “really striking, the degree of hostility that Donald Trump evokes against NATO.”

“Have you ever heard him say anything positive about NATO?” Boot mused. “Off the cuff in rallies, it’s always criticism, criticism, criticism — not just of NATO but also the [European Union], the two great institutions that have created the post-war European order founded upon peace and prosperity.”

“Donald Trump is really calling all that into question with his hostility towards our allies and alliances,” he added. “At the same time, his sympathy for Vladimir Putin, who is also trying to destroy NATO and the EU — there seems to be a convergence of interest here between Trump and Putin, which is dismaying and disturbing.”

Blitzter noted that Trump has for years railed against NATO, and Boot agreed, adding that it’s clearly a “deeply-held belief” of the president’s that he “will not be strayed from.”

“Remember that this time last year, it took everything that H.R. McMaster, who was then the national security adviser, could do to get Trump on his previous trip to the NATO summit to simply avow he would support NATO Article 5, the mutual defense provision,” the analyst recalled. “Now H.R. McMaster is gone and there’s a sense that the ‘axis of adults’ has lost power in the White House. They can’t restrain Trump anymore. He’s feeling his full Trumpiness, as it were, so he’s acting on his most deeply-held beliefs, which includes this innate hostility towards America’s allies and trade partners.”

Watch via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xCoQ82pbBE

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Former intelligence officer warns: We’re ‘on the cusp’ of ‘losing the American constitutional republic forever’

Chauncey Devega, Salon
10 Jul 2018 at 09:32 ET                  

The crisis that has befallen America under Donald Trump’s presidency is not ripped from the pages of a John le Carré or Jason Matthews spy novel. It is all too real.

This article was originally published at Salon

The U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee has unanimously endorsed the intelligence community’s conclusion that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election, with the goal of electing Donald Trump and undermining American democracy.

Former CIA director John Brennan agrees that Vladimir Putin commanded his spies and other agents to assist Donald Trump so that he would defeat Hillary Clinton. Brennan also believes that Putin may be blackmailing Trump as a means of forcing the president to do his bidding.

Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted numerous people in connection with Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and related criminal behavior.

Trump openly encouraged Putin and his agents to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Trump continues to publicly praise Putin and make excuses for his apparent efforts to subvert American democracy. Trump now plans to meet privately with Putin later this month. It has been reported that no American advisers or other observers will attend these meetings.

If what now seems apparent is indeed true, Putin has successfully conducted one of the greatest covert operations in modern history. He and his agents have undermined the United States’ standing in the world and apparently now control a president, the Republican Party, and tens of millions of Americans who have embraced authoritarianism and betrayed their own country’s democratic values and institutions.

How was Russia able to accomplish this? Is Donald Trump actively working for Vladimir Putin and Russia or is he just a “useful idiot”? What social cleavages did Russia exploit in order to do so much damage to the United States? How does Russia’s support of Trump and American fascism fit into a much larger global plan?

In an effort to answer these questions I recently spoke with Malcolm Nance, a career intelligence and counterterrorism officer for the United States government. In his more than three decades working in that capacity, Nance served with U.S. Special Operations forces, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. He has worked in the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. A frequent guest contributor on MSNBC, Nance has authored several books, including the bestselling “The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election.”

Nance’s new book is “The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West.” This conversation has been edited for clarity and length. A longer version can be heard on my podcast.

It has been about a year since we last spoke about President Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election. At this point are matters better, worse or about what you expected in terms of how Trump is behaving and his impact on the country?

Things are happening as expected. But who would have thought that Donald Trump would be feeling so much pressure about being caught working with the Russians that he would feel the need to start paying them off so greatly? Trump is now warning that he may eliminate or downgrade NATO.

It’s just insane. We created NATO. It was a United States invention for the collective security of Europe. It has been a Russian desire since 1947 to break up NATO. Trump also wants to remove the United States from the World Trade Organization. He is doing this all before his summit meeting with Putin.

But in some ways Donald Trump is way worse than I thought he would be at this point. He is acting like a guy who has to rob a bank to pay off the Colombian drug lord. Every day that he wakes up alive is like a blessing. This is the level of debt and peril that I think Donald Trump is in — that he would literally take a sledgehammer to everything the United States has built in an effort to save himself.

Donald Trump is acting like Putin’s vassal. The public evidence that Trump and his inner circle colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election is overwhelming. Yet Trump’s voters, the Republican Party and the right-wing news media keeps denying the facts.

Putin is his handler. There are too many people who keep saying that they are “sick of hearing about Russia.” These people refuse to acknowledge the  evidence. There is a national counterintelligence investigation targeting the White House. The president and all of his staff are implicated.

We have Michael Flynn, the [former] national security adviser to the president, pleading guilty to lying to the FBI because he covered up secret contacts with a foreign government and lied about it when confronted with the facts. The evidence is now in the realm of the Justice Department, and they’re not going to just come out and give it to you. This is what all these Republican congressmen are trying to do. For example, Devin Nunes and Trey Gowdy. They’re trying to get the evidence so that they can use it to try to exonerate Donald Trump.

This is obstruction of justice on a grand scale. I suspect that when it’s all said and done and the sum total of the evidence comes out, it’ll be overwhelming and undeniable. As I told you last year, we’re entering a Benedict Arnold moment in American history. Robert Mueller is not playing games here. He cannot accelerate things because Donald Trump is taking a sledgehammer to government, although I’m certain he will accelerate things in order to make sure that justice is served. There will be more indictments, some of them very high profile. For example, Jared Kushner lied when he was asked about using Russian secret communications in an effort to hide his communications with Russia from the NSA and CIA.

Where is the mass protest and outrage among the American people? There should be massive  protests and marches that disrupt day-to-day life. Is this passivity and perhaps exhaustion also part of Russia and Putin’s psy-op against the American people?  

I think they chose their asset well. Donald Trump knows how to play this game. He understands that his only salvation is to manipulate the public. He doesn’t care if he destroys the fundamental infrastructure of the FBI. He has Rudy Giuliani telling him the good guys are the average field officers and the leadership needs to be completely redone because Trump wants to control the Justice Department. This is Trump’s way of obstructing justice and expanding his power.

Republicans are so taken by and loyal to Trump that they will believe and do anything he says. A good example of that is the Harley-Davidson factory and the nail factory that were shut down or may go away due to his tariffs. There have been interviews with people who said, “Well, we know it’s going to affect us firstly, but if Donald Trump says it’s for the best, then OK.” That’s cultism. Lo and behold, they actually say, “Well, Donald Trump didn’t do that. That’s the Europeans or that’s the liberals or that’s the Democrats that made me lose my job.”

We’re entering a very dangerous period in American history. It is terrifying. I was rereading my book last weekend and I really had no idea that putting all of this together in one solid package would lead to the conclusion that there is, in fact, a plot. The Russians have a plan and a strategy. They have been executing the strategy for 15 years, by finding Donald Trump and building him up as a character and fostering his betrayal of the United States of America. They clearly set out to destroy American democracy and Donald Trump is the man to do it. We are, as of this November, on the cusp of possibly losing the American constitutional republic forever.

The Russians have been doing this in Europe with ultra-right-wing groups, fascist groups and others that have their origins with the Nazis. The Russians aren’t Communist anymore. They are ultra-conservative Christian nationalists.

Their goal is to use democracy to destroy democracy. You want to get rid of democracy, have an election. But this is an election where they vote away your rights. This is an election where you lose to voter suppression and aid from a foreign power. But at the end of that loss, these enemies of real democracy then say, “Oh, no. It was all fair and square.” The Republicans want an autocracy where the rights of minorities and others are not protected. Vladimir Putin, with Donald Trump and with the European conservative movements, are building an axis of autocracies, and the United States is on the relatively quick road to becoming an autocracy and no longer a constitutional republic.

Were American conservatives particularly vulnerable to being manipulated because they are anti-intellectual and already predisposed towards authoritarianism? Or was the Russian plan just that masterful and devious?  

The Russians watch very carefully. We have to recognize their president is a former career KGB officer. The goals of Russia since 1917 have been to destroy capitalism, discredit democracy and show that Communist collectivism was the greatest social and political system in the world.

The Russians realized that that the American right wing, with its hatred of Barack Obama, was a natural ally. So the Russians went about co-opting these right-wingers. I call them the “American beachhead.” Since 2005 the Russians have been hammering almost every conservative political movement in Europe — they are now funded by Moscow, particularly the neo-Nazi and the fascist ones.

The Russians really invest in these organizations because their goal is to create autocracies. To re-engineer the world away from a Washington-centric European alliance to a Moscow-centric, autocratic one.

Steve Bannon was just in Europe speaking to right-wing and fascist groups, telling them to be proud of being called racists. Trump’s former adviser Sebastian Gorka actually wore a literal medal that was awarded by a Hungarian group allied with the Nazis.

In my book I call Steve Bannon “the American Goebbels.” He is the evangelist of the American alt-right. In Europe there are groups such as Pegida (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), which is the rabid anti-foreigner movement in Germany who got power through the AFD (Alternative für Deutschland), and went from something like 3 percent of the polls last year to now being the second-largest party in Germany with 30 percent of the vote.

Trump is pretty much riding a high wave with 40 or so percent support. Hitler won with 37 percent. Bannon was just in Europe meeting with the Hungarian government and the Jobbik Party. Bannon also went to meet with the Five Star Movement in Italy whose foreign minister, Matteo Salvini, just threatened to deport and put on trains all of the Roma people — the “gypsies” — in Italy. The last guy who put the Roma out of a country and round them up on trains was Adolf Hitler and he sent them straight to Auschwitz.

So this is really dangerous talk that’s going on in Europe. We may be one or two elections in Europe from seeing the complete collapse of the European order that we established at the end of World War II.

In effect, Trump’s immigration policy amounted to putting the families of black and brown refugees in concentration camps. The United States has withdrawn from the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. How do these images of crying babies and broken families help Vladimir Putin’s plot against America?

This all works out for the Russians. First, note how the Russians have now shifted. Remember, last year they were starting to criticize Trump by saying that he had been consumed by the swamp. Now it is all completely reversed. Trump is a strong leader. Trump is closing his borders. Middle East and African immigration into Europe is the No. 1 platform for European conservatives. Trump is the Johnny-come-lately to the story. So Trump saying the same is a double thumbs-up for the Russians and their strategy of inciting nativism and racism and chaos.

Trump has been on Fox News and elsewhere joking about Putin and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Is he a  “useful idiot” for Putin’s spies? Or is Trump actually afraid of being caught by Robert Mueller and his behavior reflects that? Either way he is acting like a guilty person.

I’m certainly been pretty vocal on this point. “Useful idiot” is a technical term. It’s a person who is an unwilling dupe, who through their own actions helps your cause. I think Trump started out as a useful idiot when it came to selling apartments and getting money from Russians who were liquidating their assets from the Soviet Union. I think he then became a willing asset when they started using him when he wanted to run for president. Trump knows everything is being done in his benefit. He is one step from being an agent. We may find out with Donald Trump that is the case. Who knows?

There are multiple examples of Trump and his confidants meeting with Russian representatives in private without American translators or media present. Trump will meet with Putin again in a few weeks. Again, this conversation will be private. How unusual is this?

It’s extremely unusual and people that should know better, like Gen. [John] Kelly, are not alarmed. They think this is just Trump’s way of doing things. But Trump meeting Putin in private is like him going in for his quarterly evaluation. I would not doubt if it actually comes out to effectively be that. As I said, I think this nation is in a Benedict Arnold moment.

Moreover, I think that there will be multiple Benedict Arnolds in the story. No other president would ever do this. No other president would be allowed to do this. Trump is getting away with this behavior because he has cowed the Republican Party with fear that they’ll be put out of office by his cult members. There is nothing Trump cannot do at this point.

Matters are very dire. I think this “blue wave” in the midterms is much exaggerated. Trump will win in 2020 — if he runs again — for a variety of reasons. What will America look like if Trump continues to get his way in terms of serving Putin’s and Russia’s interests, rather than those of the United States and the American people?

You will not recognize the United States. The country will vote itself into an autocracy. Trump and the Republican Party will suspend parts of America’s representative democracy. They will amend the Constitution. And America will see 65 percent of its people living under subjugation. Now, I don’t say that lightly. That’s an intelligence analysis based on the empirical data. I say that with experience honed with humility. Donald Trump makes no secret of his desires in that regard. His biggest problem has been democracy. I disagree with you, however, on one point. I do believe there will be a “blue wave.”

The problem with the progressives and liberals right now is that they are still treating this situation like we are in a state of normalcy.

Vladimir Putin actually warned that if Trump wins, he has to be careful of an American backlash like the one that swept the pro-Moscow government out of power in the Ukraine. He’s terrified of democracy. He’s terrified of people power. That’s my message. We have got to mobilize.

It has to be made clear that American democracy may go away this November because if the Democrats don’t win the House of Representatives, it’s done. Trump will get whatever he wants. I don’t think he will win in 2020, because at that point I hope a hero will emerge.

Michael Moore recently said that the American people must be prepared to die to stop Trump’s authoritarian and fascist movement. Do you think Moore is just being hyperbolic? Or is he correct?  

I think he’s a little hyperbolic. Look, when the alt-right killed Heather Heyer the response from law enforcement has essentially run the alt-right underground. They had no idea that punching Nazis is a pretty deep-seated American value.

What would you tell people who are terrified or afraid of Trump and what he is doing to America? What advice would you give them?

I get those types of questions every day. The first thing I tell people is: “Stand fast. We will win this.” You have to understand that we are not up against one man. We are up against 40 percent of the American public who don’t understand what’s going on because they only believe Donald Trump. What we must do now is commit ourselves to the American democratic experiment and the best spirit of the founding.

If we turn out this year like it was a presidential election year, then we will win in a phenomenal landslide. You must vote like your life depends on it, because it could, if you’re a woman that might need an abortion. It could, if you’re a Latino. It could, if you’re a young black man where shootings can now essentially be written off with a rubber stamp.

When this nation was built out of my city, Philadelphia, the odds were simple. They win or they hang. And now it’s simple again. We win or we lose American democracy. We lose it forever, and I don’t think we’ll come back from autocracy.

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Trump names Brett Kavanaugh as nominee for next supreme court justice

The nomination, if confirmed by the Senate, would represent one of the most consequential decisions of Trump’s presidency

    Trump announces supreme court nominee – as it happened

David Smith in Washington
Guardian
Tue 10 Jul 2018 04.24 BST

Donald Trump has named Brett Kavanaugh as his nominee for the US supreme court, lighting the fuse of an acrimonious political battle and potentially setting the court on a more conservative course for decades to come.

The selection of the federal appeals court judge was the cue for euphoria on the right and confirmed many progressive fears. If rubber-stamped by the Senate, it would represent one of the most consequential decisions of Trump’s presidency.

Kavanaugh’s record will come under particular scrutiny for clues as to how he might vote in any future review of Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion. Last year, Kavanaugh decided against a 17-year-old undocumented immigrant in federal custody who sought to immediately terminate her pregnancy, though he was overruled by colleagues.

As a special counsel investigation into Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia continues, Kavanaugh could also be the deciding vote in whether a criminal prosecution goes forward. He is likely to be questioned about his past assertions that a sitting president should be protected from indictment.

In a 2009 article, Kavanaugh wrote: “A serious constitutional question exists regarding whether a president can be criminally indicted and tried while in office.”

He also opined that “indictment and trial of a sitting president … would cripple the federal government, rendering it unable to function with credibility in either the international or domestic arena” and that “even the lesser burdens of a criminal investigation … are time consuming and distracting”.

Trump’s pick comes less than two weeks after Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the “swing vote” in the court’s rulings, announced his retirement, and 18 months after he won plaudits from conservatives for appointing Neil Gorsuch to the court.

The announcement was made with fanfare in the east room of the White House with Trump’s wife, Melania, Vice-President Mike Pence and numerous senators in attendance. A day of feverish speculation among journalists and across social media came to an end with a few simple words.

“Tonight, it is my honour and privilege to announce that I will nominate Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States supreme court,” Trump said. There was prolonged applause as Kavanaugh entered the room with his wife, Ashley, and daughters, Margaret and Liza, with whom he lives in Maryland.

“Throughout legal circles, he is considered a judge’s judge – a true thought leader among his peers,” Trump said. “He is a brilliant jurist, with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time.”

The president added: “There is no one in America more qualified for this position, and no one more deserving.”

Appearing self-confident at the podium, Kavanaugh, 53, described himself as “humbled” and “deeply honoured” by the elevation. He told Trump: “Throughout this process, I’ve witnessed first-hand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary. No president has ever consulted more widely, or talked with more people from more backgrounds, to seek input about a supreme court nomination.”

Kavanaugh, careful to avoid any hint of ideology, added: “My judicial philosophy is straightforward. A judge must be independent and must interpret the law, not make the law. A judge must interpret statutes as written. And a judge must interpret the constitution as written, informed by history and tradition and precedent.”

The Yale graduate has served as a judge on the US court of appeals for the DC circuit since 2006, authoring more than 300 opinions, including 11 that have been affirmed by the supreme court. Before becoming a judge, he worked as a White House lawyer for President George W Bush, clerked for Kennedy and was an attorney for the office of the solicitor general.

Bush said in a statement: “Brett is a brilliant jurist who has faithfully applied the constitution and laws throughout his 12 years on the DC circuit. He is a fine husband, father, and friend and a man of the highest integrity.”

Within minutes of the announcement, a political showdown was under way along sharply partisan lines. Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader in the Senate, said: “President Trump has made a superb choice ... Judge Kavanaugh has sterling academic credentials. He is widely admired for his intellect, experience, and exemplary judicial temperament.”

Leonard Leo, a key adviser to Trump on supreme court nominations, said: “Brett Kavanaugh is among the most distinguished and respected judges in the country, with nearly 300 opinions that clearly demonstrate fairness and a commitment to interpreting the constitution as it’s written, and enforcing the limits on government power contained in the constitution.”

And Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion organisation March for Life, said: “He is exceptionally qualified for the role and will no doubt serve as a fair, independent judge who will remain faithful to the constitution.”

But there was a chorus of alarm and condemnation from Democrats and progressive groups, who organized a boisterous protest outside the supreme court on Monday night. They believe Kavanaugh will be significantly more conservative than Kennedy on issues such as abortion.

Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, said: “In selecting Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the supreme court, President Trump has put reproductive rights and freedoms and healthcare protections for millions of Americans on the judicial chopping block ... I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have.”

Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House, said: “Judge Kavanaugh’s long history of opposition to the full, fundamental right of every woman to make her own decisions about her body, family and healthcare poses a grave threat to women’s rights and to our founders’ promise of liberty and justice for all.”

And Kamala Harris, senator for California and seen as a 2020 presidential hopeful, argued: “Judge Kavanaugh has consistently proven to be a conservative ideologue instead of a mainstream jurist. As recently as last year, he disregarded supreme court precedent and opposed the healthcare rights of a vulnerable young woman. That ruling was overturned by a sitting of all the judges on his court.”

The Women’s March organisation said in a statement: “Trump’s announcement today is a death sentence for thousands of women in the United States. Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination threatens to move our nation’s highest court dangerously to the right and further erodes protections for almost every marginalized group in America.

“Trump is following through on his most threatening campaign promises: the Muslim Ban. The crackdown on immigration. Now, overturning Roe v Wade.”

Kavanaugh is now likely to mount a charm offensive, visiting senators in their offices ahead of his confirmation hearing. Attention will swiftly turn to two Republican senators and three Democrats who could prove critical in a knife-edge vote.

Republican Susan Collins of Maine, who has previously supported abortion access and who did not attend Monday night’s event, gave little away, saying only: “I will conduct a careful, thorough vetting of the president’s nominee to the supreme court, as I have done with the five previous supreme court justices whom I have considered.”

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Here are 5 things you need to know about Trump’s Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
10 Jul 2018 at 07:03 ET                  

In a choice that could have sweeping implications for the entire United States for generations to come, President Donald Trump announced Monday that he is nominating Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here are five things to know about the nominee:

1. He played a significant role in Kenn Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton

Kavanaugh has been a major player in several significant partisan battles in his career, including his role as a member of independent counsel Kenn Starr’s team investigating Clinton. Kavanaugh was one of the authors of the report delivered to Congress, which offered broad justifications for impeachment, though he has since seemed to back away from those views.

2. He favors expansive powers for the NSA.

Some civil libertarians fear Kavanaugh because he has been permissive of the NSA’s expansive spying powers. He wrote a concurrence which declined to hear a case challenging the agency’s power to obtain years of metadata about domestic phone calls.

“As someone who sued the NSA over their metadata gathering as a violation of the Fourth Amendment, he and I disagree on that point, and I think a lot of liberty-minded folks are going to have that as a major concern,” Ken Cuccinelli, president of the Senate Conservatives Fund, told the Washington Examiner.

3. Some Republicans see him as too friendly to Obamacare.

In a dissent Kavanaugh wrote in response to a challenge to Obamacare, he ruled that the law’s coverage mandate — one of it’s most controversial provisions — was a tax. Though he was not explicitly defending the law, the finding that the mandate was a tax allowed Justice John Roberts to conclude that the law was constitutional, a decision that continues to infuriate some conservatives.

4. He would still pose a threat to health coverage.

At the same time, as Vox’s Dylan Matthews points out, Kavanaugh could be a threat to Obamacare or similar laws.

Kavanaugh once wrote that a president could nullify laws such as Obamacare if he or she deemed it unconstitutional. This view of presidential power would give someone like Trump the ability to completely undermine his predecessor’s achievements, even without going through Congress.

5. He would likely protect Trump from criminal and civil legal actions.

One of Kavanaugh’s views likely to draw the most attention in the coming weeks and months is his view of presidential immunity. After serving on Starr’s team, which took an aggressive stance toward the president, Kavanaugh has come around to the view that the president should be largely free from criminal and civil legal action.

This view would certainly appeal to Trump, who faces a wide range of legal challenges on both criminal and civil fronts. If a key issue in the Russia investigation or another legal challenge against the president finds its way to the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh is likely to side with Trump.

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

Trump picked Kavanaugh for SCOTUS to avoid Russia probe consequences: MSNBC legal analyst

Sarah K. Burris
Raw Story
09 Jul 2018 at 22:12 ET                  

Dahlia Lithwick, a senior editor at Slate, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow that President Donald Trump may have appointed Brett Kavanaugh because of past statements about the protection the president should have from prosecution.

“I want to clarify one thing: in the article where he talked about this, he didn’t say as a Constitutional matter the president should be immune from all civil and liability. He said Congress should pass a law to protect the president. I don’t think he was making the Constitutional point that is quite so broad,” Lithwick said.

Since Congress has done no such thing, it’s unclear whether Kavanaugh will take that position when given the opportunity to decide whether Trump can be prosecuted if the investigations take that turn.

Maddow noted that Kavanaugh was making a political comment that a prosecutor usurping Congress’ responsibility should be outlined in the law.

“I think it is important because it is not quite as dispositive of this question as we would like to think,” Lithwick explained. “On your question, if you think about how much fire Kavanaugh drew. Ted cruz hated him. We had the whole Federalist posting one post after another saying, ‘We won’t be for Trump if he puts Kavanaugh up.'”

She said that she believes this isn’t the “fire fight” that the evangelical community wanted and that Kavanaugh isn’t conservative enough for their taste. She went on to say she was “stunned” at how the right brought out “the long knives against him” in the lead-up to Trump’s choice.

“I think that Donald Trump was making exactly the calculus you and Sen. [Corey] Booker (D-NJ) just identified,” she told Maddow. “‘If i have to figure out who to mollify, I have all these groups angry about someone. I am going to protect myself. I am going to pick guy who wrote most expansively over years what the scope of presidential power is. And, I think, that in that sense you see Trump not looking at the landscape of ‘who do I need to satisfy in the upcoming mid-terms.’ He’s saying, ‘How do I protect me?'”

Watch the full conversation: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6o404p

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Morning Joe slams Republicans for surrendering to Putin in exchange for tax cuts and conservative court

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
10 Jul 2018 at 07:21 ET                  

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said Republicans had traded tax cuts and two conservative Supreme Court justices for the NATO alliance that had allowed the U.S. to dominate the last half-century of world history.

The “Morning Joe” host said Trump had thoroughly taken control of the GOP, which has turned a blind eye to the president’s highly questionable relationship with his Russian counterpart.

“Vladimir Putin does not like NATO, Russia hates NATO,” Scarborough said.

“Getting back to bargains conservatives and Republicans made, people make bargains with themselves, but this deal that the Republican Party has made,” he continued, “how the Republican Party is now Trump’s party and people are having to change their, the generational-held views to be in line with Donald Trump.”

He asked whether the trade-off was worth it.

“You know, you get two Supreme Court picks and you get tax cuts,” Scarborough said, “but you also get the destruction of the U.S. order that made us the most powerful country over the past 50 years, and a huge question mark over what Vladimir Putin has on Donald Trump.”

MSNBC analyst Mike Barnicle said the president appeared to be conspiring with Putin to undermine the European Union.

“We’re on the eve of the president of the United States about to go to Europe, and we have Russia led by Putin trying to dismantle, disrupt and destroy the European Union and lo and behold, the president of the United States is his principal ally in doing this,” Barnicle said. “Incredible.”

Trump is headed to the annual NATO meeting Tuesday, and next week he will meet privately with Putin — whom he has offered nothing but praise.

“He had one thing after another thing after another thing, add more question marks about what does Putin have on Donald Trump?” Scarborough said. “A question we’ve asked time and time again, and then you look and say, what is the one thing that Vladimir Putin — what is his number one geopolitical strategic goal? It would be the breaking up of NATO, the breaking up of the European Union.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JN6NVpUsZ4

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No one takes him seriously’: MSNBC’s Katy Tur nails Trump for embarrassing America on the global stage

Dominique Jackson
Raw Story

President Donald Trump is kicking off his NATO summit on Tuesday. He also plans to meet with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

President Trump has taken a nontraditional route in building relationships with America’s allies. President Trump oftentimes contradicts himself with what the rest of what his administration is saying.

“For instance, defense secretary James Mattis talks about wanting to build up NATO. Donald Trump talks about no one paying up. To get North Korea to make a deal. Then you have the president saying deal’s made, done, all great, wonderful,” MSNBC’s Katy Tur said on Monday. “The intelligence community saying Russia hacked our election. Donald Trump, saying he believes Vladimir Putin.”

“So who do they trust? Do they trust the president speaking or do they trust the rest of our government?”  Tur asked.

Tur ended by saying that it says a lot that not too many people in the global community take President Trump seriously.

“So what does that say about the president, that no one takes him seriously?” Tur asked.

Watch: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6o3e6w


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« Reply #3526 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:16 AM »

Ancient tablet of Odyssey epic discovered in Greece

Agence France-Presse
11 Jul 2018 at 13:23 ET     

An ancient tablet engraved with 13 verses of the Odyssey has been unearthed in southern Greece in what is possibly the earliest-recorded trace of the epic poem, the culture ministry said Tuesday.

The clay slab is believed to date back to the third century, during the Roman era.

“If this date is confirmed, the tablet could be the oldest written record of Homer’s work ever discovered” in Greece, a ministry statement said.

The extract, taken from book 14, describes the return of Ulysses to his home island of Ithaca.

The tablet was discovered after three years of surface excavations by the Greek Archaeological Services in cooperation with the German Institute of Archaeology.

It was found close to the remains of the Temple of Zeus at the cradle of the Olympic Games in western Peloponnese.

First composed orally around the 8th century BC, the epic — which is attributed to ancient Greek author Homer — was later transcribed during the Christian era onto parchment of which only a few fragments have been discovered in Egypt.

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« Reply #3527 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:20 AM »

Loneliest tree in the world serves as a perfect record of how humans have permanently altered Earth

Evidence that we have entered the Anthropocene epoch has been presented by scientists.

Immanuel Jotham
7/11/2018
IBT   

A lone tree in the Campbell Islands in New Zealand has been found to have a perfect record of human activity in terms of environmental impact and pollution, including nuclear and radioactive waste dumped into the atmosphere since the 1960s.

A recent study published in Scientific Reports has defined the current epoch (the geologic timescale) as "Anthropocene", which is derived from anthropogenic and translates to "of human impact". Researchers have called it so because they believe that for the first time in the planet's history, humans have not only dominated the planet, they have also "profoundly and permanently altered the Earth system".

Human activity, the researchers say, has impacted the planet to such an extent that it is comparable to the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs to end the Cretaceous period and marked the beginning of the Palaeogene, noted a report in Live Science.

The study involved looking for readings related to peak atmospheric radiocarbons that were leaked into the atmosphere as a result of extensive thermonuclear bomb testing that was carried out in the 1950s and 1960s, with scientists taking tree ring core samples and studying them carefully.

Campbell Islands, off the coast of New Zealand, is uninhabited, remote and pristine, and was chosen as the spot to make these readings. The island's only tree – a Sitka spruce was able to accurately show that the "bomb peak" took place in the last quarter of 1965.

Researchers turned to the lone tree because it was not native to the island, but planted there in 1907. It is the world's 'loneliest' tree, with the nearest one over 160 km away from it. According to the study's logic, if anything had happened in the atmosphere and affected the tree so far south, it was bound to have affected almost the entire Earth.

Considering that nuclear testing was mostly done in the northern hemisphere earlier and core samples of the tree showed elevated carbon-14 levels that matched the time period when it happened, the study concluded that it was a marker for the beginning of the Anthropocene.

Carbon-14, noted the report, has a half-life of over 6,000 years. So even if scientists were to look for this line in the Earth's history thousands of years from now, they will find it intact not just in vegetation, but also in the soil and marine sediments. Shrubs and other plants on the island also have this record intact, as per the report.

The definite divide between the Cretaceous period and the start of the Palaeogene was marked by a significant spike in the planet's iridium levels, possibly from the iridium-rich asteroid that crashed into the Earth.

Similarly, to mark the beginning of the Anthropocene, there needs to be a clear line that divides it from the Holocene. One of the indicators is a marked spike in greenhouse gases about 8,000 years ago. It was the first time humans started to cut down trees and make way for construction and formal cultivation.

Another contender for this demarcation is the sudden spike in carbon dioxide levels in the mid 1800s – the start of the industrial revolution. The "Great Acceleration", or the massive spike in human population post WWII, was also considered as a clean line where the next epoch could be marked. However, human population growth was not even throughout the planet.

The Anthropocene epoch, however, is reported to still be hotly debated among geologists because of all the confusion in its definition. This data from the world's loneliest tree, however, could finally settle it.


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« Reply #3528 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:22 AM »

New AI can detect earthquakes sooner and reduce natural hazards

New system is 13,500 times more accurate than current earthquake detection method.

Claire Toureille
IBT
7/11/2018   

A team of researchers have built an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that can detect earthquakes faster than any other existing devices.

Engineers from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came up with an algorithm that can predict earthquakes before they happen and reduce natural hazards. They published their findings today (14 February) in Science Advances.

Most of the existing earthquake detection methods are designed to detect medium to large earthquakes and fails to sense smaller events. That is because these minor earthquakes are buried under what is known as seismic noise. Rather than a clear noise, it defines a persistent vibration of the ground that can happen due to a number of random factors.

While seismic waves of big earthquakes are easily identifiable from seismic noise, it is trickier for lesser events.

But these smaller earthquakes come with risks too and detecting them could help reduce a number of hazards.

MIT and Harvard scientists led by Thibault Perol have come up with a system called ConvNetQuake (Convolutional neural network for earthquake detection location) that can detect big, medium and small quakes with an accuracy of 94.8%. It can also predict the location of these earthquakes with 74.5% accuracy.

How it works

In order to understand how different ConvNetQuake is from already existing models, we have to look at how traditional models work to detect big and medium earthquakes.

They are often based on waveform similarities as it enables the detection of quakes that originate from the same region and have the same source. Waveform correlation is the most accurate method available today to detect these repeating earthquakes. However, it takes a lot of time to detect long repeating series of earthquakes.

Another method, known as Fingerprint and Similarity Thresholding (FAST) does not require human supervision. It extracts fingerprints from seismic waveforms and creates a data bank of these fingerprints.

ConvNetQuake is faster than both these systems and can handle larger sets of data as well. It creates a map of probable seismic events.

Looking at how each system performed when analysing one week's worth of continuous seismic waveform data, the autocorrelation data predicted 100% of earthquakes, but took 9 days and 13 hours to do so. FAST predicts 88.1% of them in 48 minutes. It took ConvNetQuake only one minute and one second to predict 94.8% of earthquakes, as well as signposting their location.

According to the study, ConvNetQuakes is 13.500 times faster than the aucorrelation method and 48 times faster than FAST.

They tested their system in Oklahoma, where more earthquakes activity has been detected in recent years. They analysed the seismic activity of that region that occurred between August and November 2014.

ConvNetQuakes successfully predicted all 209 events catalogued by the Oklahoma Geological Survey in July 2014.

Perol's system could be extremely useful in not only detecting earthquakes but also understanding why they occur. However, it performs best when big quantities of data have already been collected, and will detect earthquakes more accurately in areas with high seismicity rates.


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« Reply #3529 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:24 AM »

Climate change to drastically affect weather and rain patterns throughout India

Scientists predict that the number of rain-carrying cyclones reaching India will come down by around 60% by the end of this century.

Immanuel Jotham
IBT
7/11./2018   

Climate change, or global warming, has been predicted to affect the way India will receive its rainfall in the coming years. Simulation models show several years of dry spells and a shift in where the rain will eventually fall.

A team of climate scientists from the Center for Prototype Climate Modeling in New York University Abu Dhabi and the University of California have created models and simulations. The models were developed with the help of data that was collected earlier by researchers who were involved in separate studies to predict sea surface temperatures between 2071 and 2095. These models and simulations have now been used to predict the situation in India.

What they found is of grave concern since the country is not only a large one, it has the world's second largest population as well. A major part of the food produced in India, noted a report by Phys.org, depends on seasonal rains called monsoons.

Researchers looked at what are called cyclonic atmospheric vortices – also known as low-pressure systems (LPSs). Rain comes from such cyclones throughout the monsoon season and over half the rain India receives in its Ganges plains is because of these LPSs, which have been found to be affected by sea surface temperatures.

As sea surface temperatures increase, the location of where the rains will eventually fall is in turn directly affected. The team is reported to have made use of a "high-resolution atmospheric general circulation model" that can predict the distribution of LPS activity.

Results of the simulation were not positive – it revealed that there could be a 60% drop in LPS events in the Bay of Bengal. The results also showed a 10% increase in LPS activity over certain land areas. This means a dry mid-section in the country can be expected and rain in northern India will become more frequent.

If this does in fact play out as predicted, there will be serious implications for the overall climate, not only in India, but also in the rest of Southeast Asia, where a major portion of the world's population lives.

Scientists in a different study predicted that even if the Paris accords are kept, the world is not likely to be a better place because of it in the future.


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« Reply #3530 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:26 AM »


Wildfires, Record Highs Scorch California

Ecowatch
7/11/2018

Wildfires continued to burn across California this weekend, abetted by record high temperatures that caused power outages affecting thousands of customers in Los Angeles, CNN reported Sunday.

"Friday's record-setting heat led to unprecedented peak electricity demand," the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said, according to CNN. 34,500 customers lost power, about 2.5 percent of Los Angeles customers.

That 2.5 percent was forced to endure the record-breaking heat wave without air conditioning or fans.

Downtown Los Angeles hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit Friday, breaking its daytime temperature record of 94 degrees, set in 1992. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) thermometers also recorded a record-breaking high of 111 degrees, according to CNN. The National Weather Service (NWS) also reported record highs on Friday of 114 at the Hollywood Burbank Airport, 117 at the Van Nuys Airport, 117 in Ramona and 114 in Santa Ana, The New York Times reported.

Further south, the San Diego NWS said Friday's temperature of 120 degrees in Chino might be the highest temperature ever recorded temperature by the Automated Surface Observing Systems (ASOS) in the valley or coastal areas of Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino or San Diego counties.

The record temperatures were a break from historical patterns that usually see Southern California reach its highest temperatures in September and October, according to The New York Times.

"The overall trend over decades to more intense and more frequent heat waves is definitely a signal of global warming," UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain told The New York Times.

The heat wave did no favors for firefighters combating the dozens of wildfires that have broken out in the Western U.S.

A fire that broke out in Santa Barbara County Saturday burned almost two dozen homes and prompted Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency in the county, The New York Times reported.

On the California-Oregon border, one person died in the Klamathon Fire that started Thursday, the first person to die in this year's fire season, Reuters reported.

The National Interagency Fire Center reported that as of Friday, fires had burned more than 2.9 million acres, already surpassing the national annual average of 2.4 million acres over the past 10 years, according to Reuters.

However, California firefighters should get some relief in the form of cooler temperatures this coming week.

"Starting Monday we're going to see a gradual cool down, as we shave just a few degrees off each day until about midweek it gets to something like normal, in the mid-90s (Fahrenheit) inland and 80s at the coast," Jim Hayes of the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland told Reuters.


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« Reply #3531 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:29 AM »


What’s Worse Than Palm Oil for the Environment? Other Vegetable Oils, IUCN Study Finds

By Hans Nicholas Jong
Ecowatch
7/11/2018

Banning palm oil in favor of other vegetable oils deemed less destructive to the environment could lead to greater biodiversity losses, a new report says.

The report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) comes amid mounting debate about the use of palm oil, with the European Union seeking to phase out the use of the ubiquitous commodity in biofuels by 2030, citing environmental and human rights violations in the production of the commodity.

But existing vegetable oils that could theoretically replace palm oil would be far more damaging to the environment because they would need more land, according to the IUCN report "Palm Oil and Biodiversity."

The production of palm oil is characterized by its high yield relative to other vegetable oils, meaning more of it can be produced from a given area of farmland than other oil crops. The latter require up to nine times more land than oil palms to produce the same amount of oil.

Palm oil is currently produced from just 10 percent of all farmland dedicated to growing oil crops, yet accounts for 35 percent of the global volume of all vegetable oils.

"Half of the world's population uses palm oil in food, and if we ban or boycott it, other, more land-hungry oils will likely take its place," IUCN director general Inger Andersen said in a press release.

Indonesia and Malaysia are the world's biggest producers of palm oil, accounting for a combined 90 percent of global supply. However, the expansion of oil palm estates, particularly in Indonesia, has long been criticized for driving deforestation across much of the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, as well as stoking social conflicts over land and other resources with forest and indigenous communities.

Feeding global demand for vegetable oils with other crops would only shift the damage elsewhere, to ecosystems such as the tropical forests and savannas of South America, the IUCN report said. One such oil crop widely cultivated in South America is soy, which has already had a massive negative impact on biodiversity in the region. Studies have linked the cultivation of soy to lower bird diversity in Brazil and Argentina. Much of Brazil's soy production takes place in the Cerrado, a vast tropical savanna that's home to rare and threatened species found nowhere else.

A recent report by the global environmental campaign NGO Mighty Earth found that 30,000 acres of forest, or about 12,100 hectares, were being cleared to plant new soy fields in northern Argentina, which supply some of the companies producing soy-based biodiesel for export to the U.S.

"When we look at soybean use of production there, we [sent] a team to Argentina, and we found tremendous damage to the forest," Henry Waxman, chairman of Mighty Earth, said at a panel discussion at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum in Norway on June 28.

The IUCN report emphasized that even though palm oil was the most efficient oil crop, it needed to be deforestation-free to halt the destruction of biodiversity in Southeast Asia and other regions where it's produced. The current practice of producing palm oil remains highly destructive, leading to the decimation of tropical rainforests and the species that depend on them, the report said. Orangutans, gibbons and tigers are among the 193 threatened species on the IUCN's Red List that would be affected by the continued expansion of oil palm plantations into forest areas—a menagerie of biodiversity representing half of the world's threatened mammals and almost two-thirds of threatened birds.

"Palm oil is decimating South East Asia's rich diversity of species as it eats into swathes of tropical forest," said Erik Meijaard, the report's lead author and chair of IUCN's oil palm task force. "But if it is replaced by much larger areas of rapeseed, soy or sunflower fields, different natural ecosystems and species may suffer."

What's Next?

The report found that by far the biggest gains for biodiversity in an oil palm context are through avoiding further deforestation, which can be achieved through improved planning of new plantations and better management of forest patches left untouched in plantations.

The report also recommended stakeholders push for greater demand for sustainably produced palm oil, thereby putting pressure on producers to improve their practices.

"With most palm oil being supplied to India, China, and Indonesia, consumer awareness in these countries needs to be raised to ensure that this demand will materialize," the report read.

Adrian Suharto, the head of stakeholder engagement at Finland-based biodiesel supplier Neste Corporation, agreed with the report's recommendations.

"The most important thing is that what you buy is sustainable and you educate people and help support the local government in Indonesia and Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia, and everywhere else to understand the importance of having sustainable production [of palm oil]," he said at the Oslo Tropical Forest Forum.

The European Federation for Transport and Environment, an umbrella for NGOs working in the field of transport and the environment, said the best solution would be to completely remove biofuel mandates and incentives for crop-based biofuels that force people to use biofuel. It cited as a case in point the EU's 2009 policy requiring every EU member state to have 10 percent renewable fuels by 2020.

The EU is now revising its renewable energy policy, which will remove the incentives for crop-based fuels starting from 2020. It will also phase out the use of palm oil in biodiesel, which Laura Buffet, the manager for clean fuels at the transport and environment federation, said was a move in the right direction.

"I agree that if you keep the same drivers and the same high target, and you just remove one feedstock from the equation, it'll be likely to be filled by something else," she said at the Oslo forum. If those alternatives are soy or rapeseed oil, she added, "you will also look at indirect impact and deforestation, so it's not going to solve entirely the issue."

"That's why we're asking for reducing or completely removing the mandate, and that's going to be the best solution."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.


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« Reply #3532 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:31 AM »


Global temperature rises could be double those predicted by climate modelling

Researchers say sea levels could also rise by six metres or more even if 2 degree target of Paris accord met

Lisa Cox
Guardian
11 Jul 2018 19.00 BST

Temperature rises as a result of global warming could eventually be double what has been projected by climate models, according to an international team of researchers from 17 countries.

Sea levels could also rise by six metres or more even if the world does meet the 2 degree target of the Paris accord.

The findings, published last week in Nature Geoscience, were based on observations of evidence from three warm periods in the past 3.5m years in which global temperatures were 0.5-2 degrees above the pre-industrial temperatures of the 19th century.

The researchers say they increase the urgency with which countries need to address their emissions.

The scientists used a range of measurements to piece together the impacts of past climatic changes to examine how a warmer earth would appear once the climate has stabilised.

They found sustained warming of one to two degrees had been accompanied by substantial reductions of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rises of at least six metres – several metres higher than what current climate models predict could occur by 2100.

“During that time, the temperatures were much warmer than what our models are predicting and the sea levels were much higher,” said Katrin Meissner from the University of New South Wales’s Climate Change Research Centre and one of the study’s lead authors.

She said the effects today would mean populous urban areas around the world and entire countries in the Pacific would be underwater.

“Two degrees can seem very benign when you see it on paper but the consequences are quite bad and ecosystems change dramatically.”

Meissner said potential changes even at two degrees of warming were underestimated in climate models that focused on the near term.

“Climate models appear to be trustworthy for small changes, such as for low-emission scenarios over short periods, say over the next few decades out to 2100,” she said. “But as the change gets larger or more persistent ... it appears they underestimate climate change.”

The researchers looked at three documented warm periods, the Holocene thermal maximum, which occurred 5,000 to 9,000 years ago, the last interglacial, which occurred 116,000 to 129,000 years ago, and the mid-Pliocene warm period, which occurred 3m to 3.3 m years ago.

In the case of the first two periods examined, the climate changes were caused by changes in the earth’s orbit. The mid-Pliocene event was the result of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations that were at similar levels to what they are today.

In each case, the planet had warmed at a much slower rate than it is warming at today as a result of rising greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans.

“Observations of past warming periods suggest that a number of amplifying mechanisms, which are poorly represented in climate models, increase long-term warming beyond climate model projections,” Prof Hubertus Fischer of the University of Bern, one of the study’s lead authors.

“This suggests the carbon budget to avoid 2°C of global warming may be far smaller than estimated, leaving very little margin for error to meet the Paris targets.”


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« Reply #3533 on: Jul 11, 2018, 04:56 AM »


Teenager at centre of Kenyan court case over botched abortion has died

Family of raped teenager are demanding government reissues guidance on safe terminations after crackdown puts lives at risk

Rebecca Ratcliffe
Guardian
11 Jul 2018 07.00 BST

A teenager whose botched abortion was at the centre of a high court case in Kenya has died.

The girl, who was raped aged 14 and then left with horrific injuries after a backstreet termination, had been the subject of a controversy over whether the Kenyan government was to blame for her death.

The girl’s mother and a group of campaigners had filed a case against the government, claiming it had failed to offer the girl – known as JMM – adequate post-abortion care and are calling for the government to reinstate guidelines on safe abortions.

JMM’s mother, as well as the Federation of Women Lawyers-Kenya and two human rights advocates, filed the case in the Kenyan high court in 2015.

Campaigners say that if successful it could save the lives of thousands of women a year. The hearings are expected to conclude this week.

“My daughter’s horrific suffering and tragic death was entirely preventable. I watched her go through more pain than you can imagine, she did not have to die like this. She had no choice and now I have lost a daughter,” JMM’s mother said in a statement.

Access to abortion was widened under Kenya’s 2010 constitution, which allowed for the procedure in cases where the health or life of a pregnant woman is at risk, and in cases of emergency. But the government has since backtracked, withdrawing standards and guidelines designed to make legal abortions safer, and banning health workers from undergoing training on abortion.

The crackdown has had a chilling effect on abortion services, said Evelyne Opondo, ‎regional director for Africa at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the petitioners.

“Immediately after, we saw an increase of police harassment. Police would go into health facilities and arrest people … and take out equipment. We also saw providers who ordinarily provide these services refusing to provide these services, saying it’s not worth the risk,” said Opondo.

The court case seeks to challenge the ministry of health’s actions as a violation of the constitution and international law, and will seek compensation for JMM’s family.

The petitioners are calling for abortion training for healthcare workers and the reinstatement of national standards and guidelines. This would ensure the abortions allowed under the constitution would be provided safely, said Opondo. It would also enable health workers to provide post-abortion care to women whose lives are at risk because of botched procedures.

JMM, who died last month, was transferred between four separate facilities because medical staff did not have the knowledge or equipment to treat her. She had suffered kidney failure and had been bedridden for several months before her death. “If these people were trained or had the capacity to know how to attend to people who require post-abortion care we would not have had this delay; she would have been given antibiotics, she would have been attended to in a way that her health would not have to deteriorate that fast,” said Opondo.

Women seeking post-abortion services face stigma and discrimination in health facilities, with those who are poor or young receiving the worst care. In 2012, nearly 120,000 women were admitted to public health facilities for abortion-related complications.

JMM’s mother said: “I know if our country had any respect for her life and her rights, she would still be here today. But how many more girls and women are going to suffer before something is done, before they receive justice? Kenya has to make abortion safe and accessible.”

The court decision is expected before the end of the year.

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« Reply #3534 on: Jul 11, 2018, 05:00 AM »


'I want to empower Afghan women': female prosecutor on a lonely mission

Zainab Fayez, the sole woman in Kandahar’s attorney-general’s office, wants greater equality in the Afghan justice system

Haroon Janjua
Guardian
7/11/2018

Zainab Fayez, the only woman serving as a prosecutor in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar, has resolved 50 cases of abuse against women, and helped detain 21 men accused of violence against women, including police officials, over the past year. But she still longs to see other women join her in the legal profession.

“My aim is to see the next generation of Afghan women empowered,” said the 28-year-old, who has worked in Kandahar’s attorney-general’s office for the past two years. “In Kandahar, it is very hard for a woman to work alone in an office, which is predominantly occupied by male staff members and where women as workers are taboo.

“In Afghanistan’s justice system, women’s participation is necessary and we need to work hard to provide a good foundation for the next generation of women. I am ready to make any kind of sacrifice for this cause.”

A graduate from the Sharia faculty of Kabul university, Fayez is proud of her work towards the elimination of violence against women – despite the challenges.

The United Nations says Afghanistan’s court system is failing to provide adequate access to women who are victims of violence.

Orzala Ashraf Nemat, a leading women’s rights activist who worked directly on cases of violence against women between 1999-2007 in Afghanistan and in refugee camps in Pakistan, said attitudes needed to change. For instance, there is a “notion that mediation is anti-women, but it’s also a lasting, long-term solution to domestic violence,” she said.

And, “we should get rid of ideas such as that rape victims should marry their rapists.”

Despite her own success in resolving dozens of cases related to women’s rights violations, mainly involving domestic violence, in Kandahar province, Fayez said many more cases remained unresolved because women did not report them.

The Afghan judicial system badly needs more female professionals in order to instil confidence in women so they feel free to discuss their concerns with female staff, she said.

In Kandahar, the crucible of the Taliban’s rise to power in the 1990s, Taliban gunmen shot dead a leading women’s rights campaigner in April 2009, and Afghanistan drew international condemnation for a law that critics said legalised rape in marriage.

As a woman, Fayez is on her own in Kandahar as she deals with issues such as child marriage, domestic violence, sexual assault, the denial of inheritance rights and access to education. If more female prosecutors were working alongside her, she said, the impact would be much greater in achieving justice for women.

A fellow female prosecutor, Maria Bashir, based more than 500km away in western Herat province, was presented with the International Women of Courage award for her work promoting women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Fayez, who is married and has a one-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, travels 12km every day to reach her office. Her husband Fakhruddin said he supports his wife in a society where it is taboo for women to hold jobs. “We need to break stereotypes for the empowerment of Afghan women,” he said.

A report from the International Development Law Organisation said women in Afghanistan often lack access to opportunities to gain legal qualifications and for professional development, in comparison with their male counterparts, resulting in a discrepancy between the number of women who graduate from the law and Sharia faculties and those actually employed in the justice sector.

“In Afghanistan, female prosecutors, as well as female service providers and responders [are] needed across the whole social service sector,” said Hadia Nusrat, a gender expert working for women’s rights in Kabul and Islamabad. “The resistance to women taking up jobs involving interaction with the public requires innovative support mechanisms and political commitment … to ensure that Afghans transition to peace and stability with equity and dignity through the main workforce largely comprising women and youth.”

There has been an influx into Kandahar of Afghan girls who lived in Pakistan and have a good education, but they are not aware of Afghan law or the justice system. Amid increasing economic insecurity and unemployment, some women may be more fearful of alienating men who are usually the sole breadwinners, or of taking action that might lead to men’s imprisonment.

For women like “Gula”, a victim of domestic violence who approached the Kandahar attorney-general’s office seeking legal assistance against her husband, having access to a female prosecutor let her talk freely and frankly about the psychological trauma she had experienced.

Another victim of domestic violence, “Sabira”, who also sought legal help, said: “Sharing problems with female staff that could not be shared with male officials is amazing. There should be more female staff at Kandahar’s attorney-general’s office so that more women are able to discuss their problems and seek justice.”

Activist Pashtana Durrani said: “Afghan women are unaware of their rights [and] the majority are not educated. Women in Kandahar are facing an extreme level of discrimination in pursuing their careers either from the Taliban, who don’t let women work, or from men who are brainwashed that women should stay at home.”

A story shared by Human Rights Watch recently indicates how far Afghanistan needs to travel before women can begin to have confidence that the justice system will work for them – a nurse who came across two girls aged six and seven showing signs of severe sexual assault, and reported this to the district prosecutor’s office, was reprimanded by the judge and threatened with imprisonment for false reporting, despite the fact the girls’ attacker – a 17-year-old boy – was ultimately convicted of sexual assault.

Women in Afghanistan only stand a chance of getting justice when Fayez’s dreams have come true, and there are many more women working in the legal profession.


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« Reply #3535 on: Jul 11, 2018, 05:04 AM »


Interview: Kidnapped model Chloe Ayling: ‘People didn't believe me because I wasn't in tears'

The British glamour model was kidnapped in Milan and held for six days in a remote farmhouse. Last month, her attacker was sentenced to more than 16 years. So why do people still doubt her?

Simon Hattenstone
11 Jul 2018 08.00 BST
Guardian

What does the ideal kidnap victim look like? Nothing like Chloe Ayling, apparently. The glamour model made the headlines in August last year, when she walked into the British consulate in Milan and claimed she had just been released after six days of captivity. She had turned up for a modelling assignment in Milan, Ayling told officials, been injected with the tranquilliser ketamine, stuffed into a holdall bag and driven 120 miles in a car boot to a remote farmhouse near Turin. She said she had been gagged, was unconscious for much of the journey, and was later told she would be auctioned as a sex slave on the dark web for €300,000 (£265,000).

Ayling spent three weeks in Italy while police investigated, before returning home to Coulsdon in south London. Then 20 and a mother of one, she recounted her story to TV reporters in her mother’s front garden. Wearing hotpants and a low-cut top, she smiled, posed with her dog and seemed to enjoy the attention. “I feared for my life, second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour,” she said. But she might as well not, because the image – of a young woman basking in the spotlight – overpowered her words.

Reporters started to scrutinise Ayling’s story. If she was telling the truth, why had she been caught on CCTV footage in an Italian village, holding her kidnapper’s hand? Why did she agree to share his bed? And why did she go shoe shopping with him while captive, but not mention it to the police?

Before long, the questions became accusations. Ayling’s alleged kidnapper, 30-year-old Lukasz Herba, claimed in court that they had dreamed up the project together, to help her out of financial difficulties. He also claimed their plan was based on the plot of a recently released film, By Any Means, in which a minor celebrity is kidnapped, and that he was in love with her.

Last October, Ayling appeared on the ITV show Good Morning Britain, where she was interrogated by host Piers Morgan. “Why would you lie to the police about such a key thing?” he asked. “It’s not insignificant to be going shopping with the alleged kidnapper and buying new shoes.” When she protested, he pushed back: “If you’re going to conduct media interviews where you’re being paid money, and you’re doing a book for thousands of pounds before there’s even been a trial, I think we’re perfectly entitled to ask you difficult questions.” Ayling was defensive and not entirely convincing, though she stood her ground. “It will all come out in the end,” she said.

And it did. Last month, Herba was convicted of kidnapping and extortion, and sentenced to 16 years and nine months in jail. Prosecutor Paolo Storari described Herba, a Pole based in the UK, as “a fantasist with narcissistic tendencies”. The court said the length of the sentence reflected the fact that Ayling could have been killed by the ketamine, or suffocated in the car boot.

It’s now almost a year since she was kidnapped. Today, we meet in a ramshackle photo studio in east London, reminiscent of the lockup where she was drugged in Milan; the place spooks her slightly, she says. She is here with her agent, Adrian Sington, who masterminded her book deal – another thing she has been criticised for. Soon after the kidnap, she dumped her modelling agent, Phil Green, for Sington. Sceptics said this was a sign of her ruthless ambition; Ayling said it was because Green had compromised her safety in setting up the shoot from which she was abducted. The more you look at it, there is not a single aspect of the Chloe Ayling story that is controversy-free.

When I arrive, Ayling is mid-shoot, laughing and smiling. The stylist suggests she buttons up her dress, but she prefers it a little open. She stands side on, shoulders back and pouting. “Do you think it would be possible to stand a little less ‘glam’?” the photographer asks. She tries but fails, and laughs.

    He told her that if she was sold into slavery, she would be fed to tigers when her owners grew bored with her

It is Ayling’s 21st birthday the day we meet, and in some ways she seems so young – giggly, naive. In others, she seems older than her years. Ayling has a two-year-old son, Ashton, and has been modelling since she was 18. She has a lovely face, but today it is a little swollen and lopsided, a look that suggests she has recently used dermal fillers.

I ask what the past year has been like. “Crazy,” she says. “I’ve done so much, because I’ve spent it travelling a lot.” She reels off the places she has visited – Milan, New York, LA (three times), Miami, Vegas, Dubai, the Maldives – mainly to give interviews. It sounds as if she has had a fabulous time, until she explains why: “I’ve travelled so much to put it all to the back of my mind, as much as possible.”

One of the reasons Ayling came over badly on television is that her story appears not only unlikely, but also incredibly complex. Even when she talks about it now, there are times when she seems to confuse reality with the fantastical web of lies Herba created to brainwash her. Herba told Ayling he belonged to an organisation called Black Death, a violent group of Romanian traffickers that he was desperate to leave. In order for her to be released, and for him to be freed from service, he would have to raise the €300,000 and hand over the 20 properties he owned, he said – so their fates were inextricably intertwined. He told her that if she was sold into slavery, she would be fed to tigers when her owners grew bored with her.

Herba told Ayling that she had been kidnapped from Milan by two Black Death foot soldiers. He said that, when he heard about it, he travelled from Rome to rescue her, because he realised she had been kidnapped by mistake: Black Death regard the kidnap of young mothers as unethical and unprofitable (they aren’t worth as much on the dark web, Herba said). The initial kidnappers knew him as a more senior member of Black Death, he said, and he had given them permission to leave the farmhouse while he took over. To ensure she did not escape, Herba told her that there were Black Death agents everywhere; she had to trust him, he said, because he was risking his life to help her.

Only Herba made it all up. Black Death does not exist. Yes, there were two kidnappers, but it was revealed in court that one of them was Herba in a ski mask; the other is alleged to be his brother, Michael, who was extradited from Britain to Italy last month to stand trial. Herba believed that if Ayling was terrified of Black Death, she would do anything for him – and so it proved. “He always made out that he was the one who saved me. I looked at him like, what would I do without him? He said that if I escaped, not only would I die, he would as well. He was the only person who seemed to care that I would be free.”

Ayling says she spent the first day and night handcuffed to the furniture, crying. On the second day, Herba asked if she would like to share his bed. Of course she agreed, she says. “I’m not going to be, ‘No, I want to stay handcuffed to the furniture.’ I would never object to something he wants me to do in that time, because I didn’t want to upset him or make him angry.” He made it obvious he wanted her to sleep next to him? “Of course. And I’m not going to say, ‘No, I don’t want to sleep next to you.’ Why would I be a bitch about it? Why would I be nasty to him, when he is my only way out?” At times, she still talks about her ordeal in the present tense.

She had only one strategy: to make Herba feel sorry for her, to make him believe she was worth saving. And, over the days, it was apparent that his feelings were becoming more tender. He would ask whether they might become a couple. “I’d say, ‘In the future, when I’m released.’ Then he’d get excited about the thought of it, and him being in a happy mood was better for me, because then there’s more chance of him releasing me.” So she made him believe they might have a future together? “Yes. Obviously, I had no interest, but I had to play it as if I did. It was the only thing I had to focus on to get out.” Is she a good actor? She laughs. “No. I hated drama at school. I’m too shy for that.”

Then the story became even stranger. Herba told Ayling that she had already met him, a few months earlier. In April 2017, posing as a photographer called Andre Lazio, he had lured her to Paris for a fake photo shoot. The agency paid £2,000 up front, but the shoot was called off when “Andre” called to say his equipment had been stolen. Ayling briefly met Herba when he turned up to apologise and give her money for a taxi to the airport. Ayling says she never recognised Herba as Andre, because he had been wearing sunglasses.

    I relied on this man totally. I couldn’t bear to be separated from him… He said if I escaped I would die

But while she was captive in Italy, he told her a different story. He said that he had been ordered to kidnap her in Paris by Black Death, but refused when he discovered she was a mother. In court, yet another story emerged: that Herba had indeed planned to kidnap Ayling at the time, but panicked when a terrorist attack on the Champs Élysées left Paris flooded with police. The fake modelling assignment in Milan (again, he paid the agency £2,000 up front) was his second and more successful attempt.

At the farmhouse, Herba asked Ayling who might pay a ransom for her. She named three older men. He emailed Phil Green (who was not one of them) to say she had been kidnapped and would be released for €300,000. Eventually, Green responded to say one of the friends she had named was offering £20,000 for her release. It wasn’t enough, but by now Herba seemed determined to let her go anyway. To this day, Ayling says she doesn’t know why. Maybe he believed they had a future together; maybe he didn’t know what to do next; maybe he was just crazy. She tries not to think about it, she says.

But even then he kept the fiction up. Herba told her that once she was released she would have to send him €50,000 in bitcoin, and help publicise Black Death as a leading terror organisation. “He said, ‘Because you’re from the UK and we don’t have an audience in the UK, I need you to promote Black Death. This is one of the conditions of me being able to leave the organisation.’ And I was like, yes, of course.”

I look at her, baffled. Why on Earth would that be one of his demands when the organisation didn’t even exist? Ayling looks equally perplexed. “I just don’t understand. I don’t understand anything he did.”

Herba drove her to the consulate in Milan. The initial plan was to drop her a short walk away and make his escape. But it was a couple of hours until the consulate opened, so he decided they should breakfast together. Witnesses later told reporters that they were laughing and joking in a cafe. Eventually, he decided on an even riskier course of action: he would walk her into the consulate and hand her in. He told Ayling to say he was her only friend in Italy and that, after escaping her kidnapper, she had borrowed a stranger’s phone and asked him to come to her rescue. Herba assumed he would simply be allowed to leave the consulate.

Initially, Ayling stuck to this story. But she soon hit a problem. “The police were like, ‘OK, what’s his phone number?’ And I didn’t know it.” Was it apparent from the off that she was making it up? “Yes. They obviously knew. They’re not stupid. I said to Nicoletta, the translator, ‘I need to get this off my chest, but I’m scared.’ And then I said everything.” Only, she didn’t quite say everything, and the truth soon caught up with her.

When asked where she had got the new clothes she was wearing, Ayling claimed Herba had given them to her at the farmhouse. (She had been stripped of everything bar her underwear when she was abducted.) This was true of her tracksuit, but not her trainers; Herba had taken her shopping four days after she was kidnapped. Why didn’t she tell the police? “It was the end of the interview. I’d been speaking for 12 hours, and I just wanted to leave. I thought that would be another whole load of questions, and it would drag on for so much longer. So I just didn’t mention it.”

This was when the police told her they had footage of the two of them shoe shopping and holding hands. (They had been looking for her: after Green received Herba’s email a few days earlier, he contacted the Italian authorities.) How did that make her feel? “It was so bad. I was shocked. I had just spent 12 hours giving as much detail as I can, and there’s one thing I don’t mention. I broke down.” Because she thought she’d messed up? “No, I just thought, I’ve given so much information, even though I’m in so much danger, but at the end of the day, you’re not going to believe me. I was angry and frustrated for not mentioning something so minor.”

Did she think the shopping trip looked bad? Not at all, she says. “No one can say you should have acted in a certain way, because who the hell has gone through that? Something so crazy. So how would you know how to react? Anything you think will get you free, you have just got to do.” She says she is proud of the initiative she showed. “If you just refuse to do anything they say, most people wouldn’t come out alive. I’d rather have acted as I did and be here right now, rather than act as people say I should have.”

When Herba was arrested, Ayling felt confused; at the time, she believed he had rescued her from Black Death. “I was grateful to him. I felt sympathetic to the fact he was in jail, and the Romanians were still out there.”

In fact, she says, she felt terrified without him. “I relied on this man totally, even to the point where, when he wanted to drop me 20 minutes from the consulate, I couldn’t bear to think about being separated from him. Because I thought other members of Black Death would get me in the time it took to walk there.”

It wasn’t until Herba’s pre-trial hearing last August that she discovered the truth: there was no Black Death; Herba had bought the ski masks; there were photographs of her drugged on his phone; and his brother appeared to be his collaborator. Ayling was cross-examined at the hearing, standing behind a curtain screening her from Herba, on the understanding that she would not have to attend trial. Three weeks after her release, she was allowed home.

Why does she think people didn’t believe her when she got back? She admits her own inconsistencies didn’t help, but there were other reasons. For example, her smiley demeanour during that first television appearance. “I don’t think people believed me because I wasn’t in tears. But I was happy, as you would be, seeing your family after a month when you thought you weren’t going to again. Also, because cameras are an everyday part of my life, I probably reacted differently from how most people would if they had been through the same thing.” She also believes there was a strong element of snobbery. “I think if you’re a glamour model, you’re bound to be portrayed in that way. It’s just the stereotype, I guess.” What is that stereotype? “That we just want fame and publicity.”

***

So many stories emerged about Ayling after her return, few of them positive. Her former boyfriend and the father of her son, Conor Keyes, told the press that he had been caring for their son largely singlehandedly, while she focused on her modelling. Her former agent Green said he was disappointed in her for dropping him. Her estranged father tried to get back in touch. It emerged that she had been Facebook friends with Herba a couple of years earlier; Ayling explained that she was naive – if people wanted to be Facebook friends, fine: the more she had, the higher her profile.

There was endless tabloid speculation about the ways in which Ayling might capitalise on the kidnap. Actually, she says, she never planned on a life in the public eye. After doing well in her GCSEs, she started A-levels in law, business and psychology. She hoped to become a lawyer. But at the age of 17, she got pregnant. Ayling had the baby, failed her A-levels, did a course in sports science and went on to join Green’s agency. “I was interested in Page 3,” she says. Why? “I honestly don’t know. I love travel and it allows me to travel.” She did some work for the Daily Star, but says glamour modelling is a far cry from the way it used to be, back when Samantha Fox and Linda Lusardi were household names.

Ayling, who was brought up by her Polish mother in south London and attended a state school, speaks in a surprisingly Sloaney way. I ask where the voice came from. When she went into modelling, she explains, she started to socialise with different types of people. “I hang around with people older than me, more intelligent, really. I chose to surround myself with people who have a bigger vision in life.”

It was one of these people, Rory McCarthy, who offered to pay the £20,000 to secure her release. The tabloids have referred to the 57-year-old investment banker as a former boyfriend, but Ayling says this is untrue; they are just friends. “We’ve known each other for three years now, and we weren’t speaking at the time I was taken. We’d had an argument. So I was surprised he offered money. That was really sweet.”

There have also been reports that she is dating Britain’s Got Talent judge David Walliams, who contacted her because he was interested in her story. Is that true? “No!” She looks at Sington.

“There is no truth in it,” he says decisively.

“I prefer not to talk about my personal life, but no, I’m not with him.” So he is a friend? She giggles and looks at Sington again.

“I think it’s best to avoid it,” he tells her.

What is she going to do next? She says she doesn’t really have plans, but “I wouldn’t do Page 3 again.” Why not? “I just don’t really do this stuff any more. It’s all a bit more…” She looks at Sington again. “What’s the word?”

“Claaaassy,” he says in his plummy voice.

Sington seems less uncertain about her future. “I’m just going to prompt her,” he says. “TV, books and feature film. We’ve got a major meeting with a television production company. It’s not just Netflix.”

Is it true that she’s going to be in this year’s Celebrity Big Brother? “No.” Would she be interested if she were offered it? “No, I just wouldn’t do it...” She pauses. “At the moment.”

It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Ayling does turn up on Big Brother next month, or another reality show. When I ask if there is any truth in the stereotype of the fame-hungry glamour model, she is candid. “Well, you do want publications – that is the goal of a model. It’s just natural.” That’s how you measure success? “Exactly. And different jobs measure success differently.”

Unfortunately, many people have equated a desire for fame with a willingness to do anything to achieve it – even taking part in a fake kidnap. Having met Chloe Ayling, I think there is nothing she wants more than a bigger public profile. But I’m equally sure that she is neither cynical nor reckless enough to participate in her own abduction.

After she got home, Ayling says she struggled. She couldn’t – or wouldn’t – sleep. “For the first few months, I stayed up while my mum slept, and would then sleep during the day. Every little noise I heard at night, I would run into her room. At one point I even pushed the chest of drawers against the door because I was so scared.”

Rather than revisiting the six days she was held, she has been obsessing about what she could have done to avoid it. “I keep thinking about what would have happened if I’d messed up their plan – if I’d turned up at the studio with a male friend. I kick myself for not bringing someone with me. I wish I’d been more streetwise.”

Has anything positive come of the experience? “It’s made me a lot stronger. And I’m a lot wiser. I’m more paranoid and cautious.” Is that a good thing? “It means I will never get into that situation again.”

She remembers one thing her lawyer said to her: nothing will feel insurmountable now that you’ve got through this. And, she says, he was right – even in terms of dealing with the online trolling she has received, and still does. “It didn’t get to me as much as it should have, because what I went through in the first place was so bad. And I knew that everybody important, people close to me and the authorities, believed in me, so I didn’t really care about what the haters online would say.”

When Ayling heard, on 11 June, that Herba had been convicted, she felt relieved and validated. Her lawyer Francesco Pesce is now seeking €500,000 (£442,000) in compensation. She knows there will still be those who continue to believe she was complicit in her own kidnapping, but she’s not going to let that bother her. “It’s just ridiculous,” she says. “People think they know more than the court.”

    The court was told Herba had asked his mother to delete his emails. His password was twattwat1

In Ayling’s book, Pesce says he started out thinking that Herba had to be a genius – that there must be a masterplan behind the idea of going into the consulate with her. But in court it emerged that Ayling had the misfortune, or good luck, to have been abducted by the most clueless kidnapper in the world. There were more than 50 witnesses for the prosecution – police investigators, forensic investigators, scientific experts, technical experts. The court heard that, before the kidnapping, Herba had been trying to create the poisons ricin and cyanide at home, while repeatedly searching online for “Chloe Ayling”, “Black Death” and “sex-trafficking”.

A text message from Herba to his accomplice was read out in court: “Buy a big trip bag. Very big. You know for what [purpose] it serves so you know how big it should be.” The prosecution told the court there was no evidence of collusion: no emails, no incriminating Facebook messages, nothing to support the claim that Ayling was an accomplice. It was revealed that Herba has phoned his mother and asked her to destroy the evidence – to dump his car and delete his emails. He gave her his password: “twattwat1”.

The last time Ayling saw Herba, he was being led away by police. At the time, she felt sorry for him – after all, he had rescued her from the horrors of Black Death. But any sympathy is now long gone. “I hope he serves his full 16 years,” she says. “Don’t forget they said I could have been killed by the ketamine, or by being locked in the car boot for five hours.”

What would she say if she saw him now? “Why? I just don’t understand why the hell you would go through all the effort of doing that. And for what? I don’t understand. I genuinely don’t.”

The taxi pulled up outside a building in Milan. Many modelling assignments are in disused warehouses, but as soon as you go inside there is noise and equipment everywhere. I suppose the silence, looking back now, was a clue that all wasn’t quite right.

I put my hand on the handle to the door marked “studio” and a man suddenly came at me from behind. I felt a gloved hand on my mouth and nose, and panicked. My head was being held back, another arm pinning me across my neck. Then I saw another masked man rush in front of me with a needle. I tried to fight, but I couldn’t. He grabbed my right arm and pushed up my sleeve. I was wrestled to the floor. The masked man was over me now, the syringe piercing my skin. A wave of darkness descended.

A jolt stirred me and I tried to open my eyes. What was happening? It was pitch black. I could hear noises, but I was too drowsy to work out what was going on. I tried to open my mouth, but I couldn’t – there was tape across it. Eventually, I managed to peel it off and I could breathe. Then I felt metal around my wrists and ankles. Handcuffs.

There was black, rubbery material all around me; I realised I was in a bag. My mind focused on a small hole in front of me. I became all-consumed with trying to get my hands through that gap so I could breathe. When I eventually dislodged the zip, it got lighter and I realised I was in the boot of a moving car. I decided I needed to get the driver’s attention and stop the car. I tried to make some noise, banging and shouting out, “Driver! Driver!”

Suddenly, the car stopped. I waited. The boot opened and I saw two masked men.

It was such an effort to talk, but I said, “Where are we? What’s happening?” They didn’t reply. One of them leaned in and put the tape back over my mouth. They tightened the handcuffs around my wrists. Then they zipped up the bag again and moved the parcel shelf back over me. The boot slammed shut and I felt the car moving again.

I was so hot. I was grateful I was not in my thick jacket, but then I realised I wasn’t the one who had removed it. I was still in my pink velvet bodysuit and socks, but my cap, jacket, jeans and trainers had gone. Why had they taken my clothes off? My last memory was the man and the syringe. Had I been raped? I think I would have known, wouldn’t I? But if it hadn’t happened yet, would it happen? Was I going to be killed, or tortured? Would anyone know where I was?

The car stopped again, the boot opened and one of the men jumped in and lay behind me, like he was spooning me. There was no time to process why he was suddenly next to me. As soon as the boot shut, I took my chance to talk.

“What’s happening?” I asked. “Where am I?”

“You not get hurt, don’t worry,” he said in broken English with an accent. I asked where we were going, but he was acting clueless.

He kept saying, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” I started to cry. The enormity of the situation hit me and I couldn’t help it. The tears were for me, my mum, my baby boy. I didn’t know if I would ever see them again.

• This is an edited extract from Kidnapped: The Untold Story Of My Abduction, by Chloe Ayling, published on 12 July by John Blake Publishing at £8.99. To order a copy for £6.99, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846.


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« Reply #3536 on: Jul 11, 2018, 05:08 AM »


Rise of Italian populist parties buoys anti-vaccine movement

Backlash against sportsman’s post about his young daughter highlights lingering distrust

Angela Giuffrida in Rome
Guardian
Wed 11 Jul 2018 05.00 BST

When Ivan Zaytsev, a volleyball player with Italy’s national team and an Olympic medallist, posted a picture of himself alongside his child on social media last week, it wasn’t intended to be a political statement.

His seven-month-old daughter had just received a vaccine and Zaytsev wanted to celebrate her bravery. But within seconds he was hit with a deluge of abuse from anti-vaccine activists. The attacks ranged from accusations of being bankrolled by pharmaceutical companies to chilling messages wishing for his child to contract a disease.

“I wanted to share this moment as a parent and congratulate my daughter – she smiled during the entire process – as well as reassure other parents,” Zaytsev, who also has a son, told the Guardian. “I realise that I’m a public figure and everything I do has consequences, but I didn’t expect this. When it touches me it’s one thing, but when they wish illness for your children then you become very angry.”

He did not officially report the case but Italian postal police, who investigate online crime, are trying to trace the perpetrators. Last year they shut down a Facebook page that organised “measles parties” so that parents could expose their children to the disease in an attempt to immunise them naturally.

The small but virulent anti-vaccine movement has been buoyed by the rise to power of a populist coalition sceptical about injections. Days after Zaytsev posted his photo, Giulia Grillo, Italy’s health minister, said parents no longer had to provide schools with a doctor’s certificate proving their children had been vaccinated.

A law introduced by Grillo’s predecessor, Beatrice Lorenzin, last July made 10 vaccines mandatory for children enrolling in state-run schools. As the new government debates a revision of the law, Grillo said the decision to drop the certificate requirement was aimed at spurring school inclusion and simplifying rules for parents.

The law was brought in to boost immunisation coverage amid a surge in the number of measles cases in the country. Last year Italy recorded 4,885 instances of the highly contagious disease, second in Europe behind Romania. So far this year there have been 1,700 cases and four deaths.

A five-fold increase in measles cases in the UK recently prompted British doctors to advise precaution when travelling in countries with a low immunisation coverage such as Italy.

“Unfortunately it’s a fact that Italy has a coverage of measles that is similar to Namibia,” said Roberto Burioni, a professor of microbiology and virology at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan. “So objectively, those who come to our country are at risk of contracting measles.”

Grillo is a member of the Five Star Movement (M5S), whose founder, Beppe Grillo (no relation), has said in the past that vaccines can be as dangerous as the diseases they protect against. In 2015 the party proposed a law against vaccinations, citing “the link between vaccinations and specific illnesses such as leukaemia, poisoning, inflammation, immunodepression, inheritable genetic mutations, cancer, autism and allergies.”

Before the election in March, M5S changed course slightly. The party leader, Luigi Di Maio, said he was not anti-vaccination but against obliging parents to have their children injected. Last week Giulia Grillo, who is pregnant with her first child, said she would have her baby vaccinated.

But M5S’s coalition ally, the League, could end up dictating how the debate is resolved. Matteo Salvini, the party’s leader and deputy prime minister, recently said the requirement for 10 vaccines was “too much”.

“It’s difficult to know what [the government] will do because within M5S there are different positions – some are close to the scientific position, others are opposed,” said Burioni. “The League doesn’t leave me feeling very optimistic but judging before they’ve done anything would be premature.”

Italians’ perception of the safety of vaccinations was heavily influenced by now discredited claims of a connection between the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism.

In a high-profile case in 2012, a court in Rimini awarded compensation to the family of an autistic child after ruling that the child’s autism had probably been caused by the MMR jab. The judgment was quashed on appeal three years later.

The low coverage also stems from mistrust of mainstream politicians and experts. “There is a crisis of trust in all the elites,” said Giovanni Orsina, a politics professor at Luiss University in Rome. “So if a doctor says ‘you must vaccinate your child’, he’s not seen as someone competent but as someone who gets money from companies that sell vaccines.”

Orsina said that while the issue of obligation would be a central part of the political debate, he did not believe the government would veer too far in the direction of anti-vaccine campaigners. “They will do something but not too much,” he said.


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« Reply #3537 on: Jul 11, 2018, 05:10 AM »


Mexico: 40% of country is paralyzed by violence, says new chief of staff

Alfonso Romo, who’ll work under the new incoming president known as Amlo, says chronic insecurity has gripped the country

Tom Phillips in Mexico City
Guardian
11 Jul 2018 17.46 BST

As much as 40% of Mexican territory is prisoner to chronic insecurity and violence, the future chief of staff of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the incoming president, has claimed.

Alfonso Romo, a prominent entrepreneur who was part of the leftist’s watershed election triumph last week, made the assertion during a summit of business leaders on Monday in Mexico City.

“Veracruz is paralyzed. Tamaulipas, paralyzed; Michoacán, paralyzed. Guerrero, paralyzed,” Romo said, referring to four of the most notoriously violent states in a country that last year suffered a record 29,000 murders.

“I won’t go on, so I don’t scare you,” Romo added, according to the newspaper Unomásuno which splashed the widely-reported claim onto its front page under the bright red headline: “Paralyzed by Insecurity”.

López Obrador, or Amlo as he is widely known, made cutting violence a key prong of his third presidential bid and his promise to “pacify” Mexico helped him secure more than 30 million votes.

Amlo has vowed to rethink Mexico’s devastating and highly militarized war on drugs – which experts blame for at least 200,000 deaths since 2006 – and be tough on the social causes of crime.

In interviews this week, Amlo’s future public security chief, Alfonso Durazo, said plans to reduce violence included raising police salaries, eradicating corruption, considering the decriminalisation of marijuana and an amnesty for low-level criminals, and placing a greater emphasis on crime prevention.

“The situation in which we find ourselves did not happen overnight … and as a result we aren’t going to resolve it overnight,” Durazo admitted. But by the end of Amlo’s six-year term, in 2024, Mexico would again be “a country of peace and tranquility”, he predicted.

Ioan Grillo, the author of a book on Mexico’s drug crisis called El Narco, said Amlo faced “a herculean task”. “But then again because it’s such a bad starting point, a little bit of improvement will go a long way.”

“Drug trafficking will continue. Kidnapping will continue. Stealing oil, extortion, product piracy, human smuggling … These things will continue. But if there is some reduction in the overall violence, or the most antisocial crimes, it will look OK,” Grillo added.

“If in his first year he has a reduction of murders – by 10% or 20% even – if instead of being 29,000 there are 24,000, then that will look OK.”


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« Reply #3538 on: Jul 11, 2018, 05:15 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/11/2018 01:01 PM

Europe's Next Test Case: A Journey Down Austria's Path to the Right

By Ullrich Fichtner

With a right-wing extremist party in government again, a major experiment is currently taking place in Austria -- one that may test the endurance of democracy in Western Europe. A visit to a country that appears unable to come to terms with its own history as it lurches to the right.

If you enter Austria from the west, near Bregenz on Lake Constance, with a little luck and the right meteorological conditions, images of stunning beauty will unfold between the water and the mountains. The peaks divide the weather, with rain fronts and clear skies competing for space, or dense fog spreading across the ground like mystical, glowing steam. When night falls further back in the High Alps in this geological spectacle called Austria, the peaks and summits soon start resembling the heads of animals, like monstrous bodies whose flanks are dotted with villages resembling Christmas ornaments. The geographic drama mellows to the east, flowing into more friendly hills until, finally, behind Graz, behind Vienna, in Burgenland, the Pannonian Basin is reached, and you come to the end of today's Austria. It's a beautiful country. That much must be said ... before saying anything else.

Everything else concerns the strange paths along which the country, its society and its political classes have been traveling for quite some time -- perhaps for a hundred years, perhaps even longer, but at the very least since this winter, since a new government has moved into its offices in Vienna's magnificent palaces. The country is now governed by a coalition that likes to refer to itself "turquoise-blue," a reference to the two parties' political colors -- turquoise represents the party of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and blue the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ). But going by what we've learned about political color affiliations from history, it would be more accurate to describe it as a "black-brown" coalition. The black, of course, is the traditional color associated with conservatives. And the brown is the color of right-wing extremists and the Nazis.

The doubts began on the very first day of the chancellorship of Kurz, a 31-year-old native son of Vienna who comes from an upper middle-class family and has the gentle face of an apostle. Kurz has a few semesters of law school under his belt to go with a successful career as a politician with the mainstream, Christian-conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP). He had the option of forming a coalition government together with the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) after October's election. It still would have allowed him to become chancellor and would have produced the kind of coalition government that Austria has had for decades. But he ultimately decided against an alliance with moderate leftists and left-wing liberals and instead preferred to form a partnership with the hard right and right-wing extremists from the so-called Freedom Party, which is known throughout Europe for its penchant for radical right-wing populism. Since then, a hail of slurs and apersions has spread across Austria, a constant flirtation with the vulgar and primitive, a sketchy interplay of words, actions and symbols.

On the very first day, when the new government first presented itself to the public just one week before Christmas, a photo shoot of the new cabinet took place at the gates of Vienna, located on Kahlenberg hill. As every child in Austria is taught, it is here where the 1683 Siege of Vienna by the Turks was driven back. It is here, according to popular imagination, that the Christian West was saved.

To understand this political PR campaign as a German, you would have to imagine Angela Merkel calling the media to Leipzig to present her cabinet at the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, the site where Napoleon's retreat from Germany was sealed. And when asked the obvious question about the meaning of this particular choice of location, the chancellor would reply: Meaning? What do you mean? I have no idea what you're getting on about.

And that's precisely how her counterpart in Vienna replied when he was asked what the appearance at Kahlenberg meant. Kurz just made his apostle face and said: the place? It had no symbolic meaning -- no, his team chose the location, and he had nothing to do with it.

That's the way things work in Austria these days. No one has any idea what is actually meant by things. Whether anything is meant at all and, if so, how it is meant. Are, for example, the far-right fraternities in the country, those so-called Burschenschaften that form such an important wing of the FPÖ party, just too lazy to delete the Nazi songs still slumbering in their songbooks? Or do they still sing them here and there out of conviction? How does Austrian society live with the suspicion that there are young people in its ranks who study law or medicine during the day and celebrate the gassing of the Jews with beer in the evening, as these fraternities have been known to do? How can a country stand the thought that people like that might now even be sitting in parliament, where 20 out of 51 members of the FPÖ belong to one of the country's Burschenschaften, and often one that leans strongly to the right?

It may sound a little over the top to say that Austria is teetering on the edge, a little hysterical to claim that the country and its capital city of Vienna are politically on the brink. But it's not totally wrong to do so either. It is certainly wrong to keep conjuring up a relapse into the 1930s, as some opponents of the new government are wont to do. But questions about whether Austria remains and still wants to be an open-minded, modern democracy are justified. Or whether authoritarian thinking will continue to infiltrate society. And the extent to which everyday Austrian life, in freedom and prosperity, is being spoiled by a willful, reactionary spirit.

We don't have the complete picture yet, but some remarkable puzzle pieces are already coming together. Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the FPÖ, is a man whose "youthful sins" include spending copious leisure-time hours with criminal neo-Nazis. A man who, despite having long since reached adulthood, sends out narrow-minded, malicious, xenophobic postings and fake news to millions of people via Facebook every day, complete with fake caricatures, unsubstantiated allegations, deliberate deceptions and broadsides against lawyers and journalists alike.

Another FPÖ member, Herbert Kickl, was handed the Interior Ministry portfolio, a man who served as secretary-general of the party from 2005 to 2018 and is responsible for election advertising that included slogans like "Keep the West in Christian hands" or, even less sophisticated, "Islamization must be stopped."

As a minister, this man is now ordering raids on government agencies, claiming that "a restrictive asylum policy is a legitimate concern of the population," and insisting that an "infrastructure" must be created in Austria, "where we can succeed in keeping those who enter an asylum process appropriately concentrated in one place." Concentration camps? Not in so many words, perhaps. But was that what he really meant? Was that the message he was trying to send to the electorate?

Europe's Latest Test Case

Like Hungary, Italy and Great Britain before it, Austria is now another test case for Europe. Sitting as it did between NATO and the Eastern Bloc, Austria always insisted on its neutrality during the Cold War, but there was never a doubt that it belonged to the West, both culturally and politically. But that certainty is now being cast into doubt. It seems that many Austrians have grown so tired of the arduous negotiation of compromises that they are instead turning to authoritarian models. That they no longer want to argue rationally, but emotionally. What we are talking about here is the question of whether Germany's neighbor is, bit by bit, bidding farewell to the democratic way of life. Whether its society still wants pluralism and if it is capable of enduring the thousand varieties of multiculturalism and the processes of migration despite all the difficulties they present.

The best way to approach answers to such questions is to visit this beautiful country, its mountains, its lakes and its rivers. On May 4, 1991, a young politician named Jörg Haider threw himself into the gorge beneath the Jauntal Bridge in Carinthia on a bungee cord to send the message that new times were dawning. On can visit Persmanhof in the Karawanks, a place where partisans once hid until SS men committed one of the last war crimes of World War II, and where it becomes apparent that no country can ever really escape its history.

More than 30 extensive interviews were conducted during the reporting of this story -- with fraternity members and book authors, with journalists and FPÖ politicians, with students, cabaret artists, diplomats, historians, engaged citizens and a village mayor at the foot of Grossglockner Mountain in the Alps.

The journey took the reporter through Innsbruck, Villach and Graz, up to Salzburg and, of course, over to Vienna, where a third of all Austrians live and where intellectuals still hold court in the city's famous coffee houses. It is a city where every alley has history to tell, where Heroes' Square alone could provide material for a thousand novels, where Empress Elisabeth "Sisi" of Austria lives on forever, where the Lipizzaner do their dance and where the colossal labyrinth of the imperial Hofburg palace all provide hints of how great the Habsburg Empire was until 1918.

Vienna's Café Engländer, with its red benches and black chairs, is where Robert Misik likes to take his lunch. He always orders "Menu 1" with dessert without so much as glancing at the menu. He's in a hurry on this day because he has promised his mother he would visit. Misik is the Viennese edition of the dedicated intellectual, a leftist, but casual at the same time, he wears a leather jacket and has a receding headline and a strongly honed sense of humor, which makes a lot of things easier. On the day of our meeting, "Menu 1" is wafer-thin beef schnitzel, breaded and fried -- and very Viennese.

Misik is the author of numerous books and he has also written or signed numerous political appeals. He's always there when the need arises to organize protests against the right. He's hard working and stands up for what he believes in, including on the internet. He fills his days doing video columns, writing editorials and conducting radio interviews. His latest book, a witty collection of short essays entitled "Love in the Times of Capitalism," has just been published.

To Misik, Kurz's new government is the product of what he describes as the "the end of a 30-year process of gradual deadening." It's a process that began back in the 1980s, he explains, when the FPÖ began shedding its many skins and began its rise under Jörg Haider. This path led to the first national coalition government between ÖVP and FPÖ in 2000. The chancellor at the time was Wolfgang Schüssel, a man who wore a bow tie and who, practically on his own, destroyed the last remnants of credibility that the country's politics still had.

Character Flaw

The European Union imposed sanctions against Austria for seven months at the time, a sign it was united against right-wing extremism. It is an act that would be inconceivable today. But it's also likely that the well-meaning move actually strengthened extremist and anti-EU tendencies in Austria. Many Austrians, after all, pride themselves on their stubbornness. They have always been easy to reach with "we've had enough"-type slogans -- of the kind the FPÖ has masterfully applied in all policy areas. Indeed, the party's opponents are not particularly surprised that the right-wing populists were once again able to ride such slogans to a spot in the government coalition. "We have progressed," says Robert Misik, "from the unthinkable to the unspeakable to the unbearable." That is very well stated, even if you have to read it twice.

"We're masters at looking the other away, of denial and suppression," says Anneliese Rohrer, sitting in the conservatory of the distinguished Café Landtmann on Vienna's famous Ringstrasse, where the colossal Burgtheater stands directly in front of the high windows. Rohrer, who will turn 74 this year, has a successful career behind her as a newspaper journalist, and the courageous woman continues writing today. Her opinion on the current state of politics in the country is expressed in the name of one of her books: "Character Flaw: The Austrians and Their Politicians." In light of the Kurz government, Rohrer describes her attitude toward life these days as "queasy and helpless." The fact that 70 years after World War II we have to worry about the state of democracy again, she says, "is incomprehensible."

On the day of our meeting, the new government has only been in office for 40 or 50 days, an ice-cold, dark day in February. The government has just announced that subsidies will be cut for the integration of refugees, for German-learning courses and other programs. Rohrer says the move is "pure malice" given how it will intentionally marginalize people.

Rohrer says everything is worse this time around than in 2000. First, because Haider couldn't stand the fraternities. And, second, because this time the FPÖ has been targeting government institutions. The Constitutional Court, university boards, police forces and institutions are to be "re-colored" -- a reorganization, she says, that should be concerning to everyone.

Of course, parties have always sought to stack government posts with their own people, but the Freedom Party of Austria is in a league of its own. The party has signed a cooperation agreement with Vladimir Putin's United Russia and maintains cordial relations with many right-wing extremist parties across Europe, including Vlaams Belang in Belgium and Front National in France. The week before last, cheerful selfies of FPÖ Vice Chancellor Strache together with Italian racist Matteo Salvini went viral.

Hands on Many Levers

The FPÖ is a party which makes no secret of its admiration for Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán. It is a party that has always been in tune with the white nationalist Identitarian Movement, which in Germany has attracted the scrutiny of Germany's domestic intelligence agency, which is responsible for monitoring all forms of extremism. It is this party has its hands on many levers in Austria today.

Members of the FPÖ are now responsible for the police and intelligence apparatuses, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT), which monitors extremists in the country, the army, the diplomatic service and the social welfare authorities. Perhaps Chancellor Kurz wasn't paying very close attention when his "turquoise-blue" coalition took shape, but the FPÖ now not only holds the office of vice chancellor, but also the Interior, Foreign, Defense, Transport and Labor and Social Affairs ministries, all of them key government portfolios. This raises some extremely basic questions: How do government officials in Vienna see international cooperation in the future? Which foreign intelligence service, which police, which judicial authority, which military apparatus would exchange knowledge and data with a government that includes friends of Putin, Orbán admirers and Salvini fans?

One could attempt to employ charm to gloss over everything, as Austrian government spokesman Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal does. He is constantly firing off greetings in every direction in flowing, dance-like moves so that nobody can possibly feel ignored.

On one early spring morning, Launsky-Tieffenthal is strutting through the richly stuccoed halls of the Chancellery in Vienna. Chancellor Kurz has invited reporters to a background interview on the forthcoming Austrian Presidency of the European Council, the powerful EU body representing the member states. Kurz's chief of staff will be present, as will the foreign minister. In greeting, Launsky-Tieffenthal notes that we had never met before. "Glad to have you here," he says.

We stride up a massive staircase once used by legendary Austrian Empire diplomat Prince von Metternich in the 19th century. Located behind the Stone Hall is the Congress Hall, actually named after the Congress of Vienna, which once sealed the end of the Napoleonic era here. There are five heavy chandeliers in the hall, under which a TV-friendly podium has been set up for Kurz and his colleagues, all in white.

The background discussion, it turns out, is actually a press conference -- the room is full, Launsky-Tieffenthal greets the guests and they drink cappuccinos out of dainty cups served by waitresses. A few hours later, Launsky-Tieffenthal will reply by text message to a casual question that came up during our chat about the color of the broad, flesh-colored frieze that skirts the base of the ceiling around the entire hall. "Pompeii red," the text reads.

An Obsession with Migrants

The chancellor takes the stage right on time and he seems well rested standing between the Austrian and European flags flanking the podium. You don't get the slightest sense that he feels at all burdened by the high office he now occupies. He speaks about Europe, or, to be more specific, about "the fight against illegal migration." In Austria, after all, the two issues are currently one and the same.

Whenever Kurz raises his gentle voice, words begin tumbling out, the meaning of which could have been conveyed in a much more concise manner. And he never forgets to emphasize his own achievements. "You'll remember," he says, "that I was one of the first ..." Or: "Even as foreign minister, I noted to my European counterparts early on that ..."

Kurz never misses the opportunity to incorporate foreigners, and the problems he associates with them, into what he says. And he exploits any opportunity to share his own very streamlined version of history -- namely: "as you are certainly aware," he shut down the Balkan Route practically on his own.

Thanks in part to Kurz's performances, Austria's societal debate is also obsessed with migrants and all the trouble people have with them. And it's not just about refugees, but also foreigners of all stripes, including Germans, Slovenes and Hungarians. Somehow, there are always too many of them, allegedly taking up all the public housing, filling up the universities and snapping up all the tickets to the Vienna State Opera so that people born in the country can't get them. During the press conference, Chancellor Kurz says a "continuous consideration of the migration problem" is needed, and that this is largely Austria's contribution to Europe's future. Of course, much more will be heard from the country about that subject now that Austria has assumed the helm of the EU Council Presidency for the next six months.

"Kurz is a PR product," says Florian Klenk, sitting inside the city's Zum Schwarzen Kameel restaurant, where a charismatic head waiter named Maître Gensbichler keeps an eye on bourgeois society between generously filled sandwiches and delightful apricot pancakes. Klenk is editor-in-chief of the Viennese city magazine Falter, which has established itself as the central organ of civil resistance in the growing cacophony of Austrian politics. The magazine's circulation is increasing, not just in Vienna.

Klenk, born in 1973, holds a doctorate in law and is famous in Austria as an investigative journalist. In the course of his reporting, he regularly uncovers dirt on the police, the judiciary and various other institutions. He recently brought to light a shocking scandal about Austrian peacekeeping troops. He's a man who knows his way around the country, even its less savory corners.

Klenk is, on the one hand, quite alarmed. Alarmed that the FPÖ is increasingly and brazenly encroaching on the democratic sphere and that things have become so debased that the interior minister can hire a writer from the extremist fake news platform Unzensuriert.at (uncensored.at) as his spokesman, without any consequences. He also believes that Kurz is the first Austrian chancellor to be a "right-wing populist with a friendly face," to emerge on the European political stage, one who could be in office for a long time to come.

But on the other hand, Klenk says, this government, or at least the coalition with the FPÖ, will fail because the ÖVP is putting pressure on its junior partner to enact policies that go against the interests of populists' own base. For example, legislation is being drafted that would go against the interests of the poor and vulnerable in society, against the sacrosanct social housing and workers' rights. "That will kill the FPÖ in the long term," Klenk says.

Later that evening, he starts to philosophize about his country. He's sitting in Zum Schwarzen Kameel, a large place, half cafe, half restaurant and in a pseudo art nouveau style with lots of paneled, mirrored niches. "It's difficult to make judgements about Austria," he says, "Because you never know where you are. It's like these niches, with the mirrors. When you go by, you see it ahead in the mirror, whereas in fact it's behind you. And if you come from the right, you see it first in the mirror from the left. It's like that here. That's how things work."

Learning How Austria Ticks
Austria is one of the last remaining paradises for print journalism. There are papers across the country -- from the serious national newspapers like Der Standard and Die Presse, to the good regional publications and the impressive newsweeklies such as Profil and then the Kronen Zeitung, a mass-circulation daily, that is essential reading to understand how the nation ticks.

The newspaper has a print run of 700,000 and reaches 3 million readers a day in a country of 8.8 million inhabitants. To reach that kind of audience, a German newspaper would have to have a print run of 7 million and a readership of 30 million. That's something that even Bild, the biggest-selling paper in Germany, couldn't dream of attaining.

The "Krone" as it's called, is pure tabloid, with a rapid stream of political reports, folksy stories, family dramas, crime, sports, attacks on politicians, there's a solid level of xenophobia, it looks down on minorities, gets riled up over lax judges and allows bishops to write columns in which they spread the gospel to the people. On the positive side, a democracy that can withstand a paper like the Kronen Zeitung for a long time without major damage can be considered relatively stable. At least on the one hand.

On the other, though, the Krone shares a lot of the blame for the fact that there is little progress in the liberalization of Austrian society, argues Doron Rabinovici. The writer is sitting in Café Korb, where the walls are painted the color of egg yolks. He says the newspaper is one of the reasons that, in contrast to Germany, "there's no firewall against right-wing extremism." The paper is constantly flirting with racism and shows open disdain for democracy. "The terms are constantly being blurred," Rabinovici says, "and that starts with the fact that they are always being described as right-wing populists when they are in fact right-wing extremist populists."

Rabinovici is a fixture in the contemporary German-language literary world, a permanent part of Vienna's intellectual life. Five years ago, he brought his "The Last Witnesses" to the Burg Theater -- a shocking and critically acclaimed play that included the participation of witnesses to the Nazi pogroms of 1938. Rabinovici also organized the mass protests at Heldenplatz against the first ÖVP/FPÖ coalition in 2000. Around 250,000 people responded to his appeal: "We are Europe -- no to the racist coalition." In January, he once again tried to organize a similar rally. This time, only 70,000 people turned up.

Rabinovici, a relatively short man with a sharp mind, is bitterly disappointed with the political developments of recent years. He says the current government is more dangerous than that of 2000. Back then, Austria was the exception in Europe, but today its authoritarian tendencies are part of the mainstream. Democracy is in retreat, even in its previous bastions in Europe and America, "and none of us know how we are going to get out of this."

Falling Back

Rabinovici sees three crises overlapping that are also grist to the mill of the extremists, in Austria and beyond. First, it's no longer possible to finance the welfare state as we once knew it due to the shifts being caused by globalization. Second, supranational organizations, such as the European Union, haven't succeeded in credibly replacing the nation-state. And third, the nation-states are under such pressure that they are falling back to protectionist ideas, hot on the heels of the reactionaries, nationalist and racists.

This, he says, is the situation Austria finds itself in. The new government is "taking steps every day against foreigners," and spreading anti-Semitic catch-phrases. A love of the "heimat," that uniquely German concept that combines home, hearth and a deep suspicion of the other, is becoming the patriotic duty of every citizen, and every conflict is presented as us against them. Last year on Twitter, a local politician branded the writer, who moved to Vienna from Tel Aviv as a child, as "Rabinovici the well-poisoner." That's how things are in today's Austria.

Unbelievable things are written and said on social media, on TV or in newspapers, without causing much of a debate. When, for example, a former bishop from Salzburg says that same-sex relationships cannot be blessed by the church because, after all, "it isn't possible to bless a bordello, a concentration camp or a weapon either," the story merits but a single column in the back pages. When the FPÖ general-secretary suggests on Twitter that a critical academic "get psychiatric help" to cure himself of his "ignorant hogwash," it no longer triggers a scandal.

The issue of women wearing headscarves, on the other hand, is given prominent standing in the media, as if people in Austria didn't have any other problems that needed addressing. The issue of stiffening penalties again sex crime offenders is never put to rest. And the result is that the public culture of debate continues to erode, and people only briefly perk their ears when some local politician in the mountains leans on the right-wing lexicon when fulminating against Muslims.

That someone is Peter Suntinger, who has been mayor of the small town of Grosskirchheim for 21 years, far away from Vienna. "We are a strictly Catholic community. We won't accept any Muslims, they simply don't fit in."

Grosskirchheim is in the state of Carinthia, located on the high Alpine road that accesses the country's highest mountain, the Grossglockner. The highest section of the village lies at an altitude of 1,500 meters (4,920 feet) and is covered in snow into May in some years.

Dressed in traditional Austrian livery, Mayor Suntinger lists out his problems over a cup of coffee. The biggest one is the fact that Grosskirchheim is shrinking. It's a problem for the remaining population, for the town's economic foundations, for transportation connections and, ultimately, for the town's integration in Austrian public life. Tourism is stagnating and a "fatally substantial emigration" has taken hold, Suntinger says, adding that national policymakers are doing nothing except producing "empty phrases of regionalization." "Down below in Spittal, in the district seat, a school bus makes its rounds once every 10 minutes," he says, "but up here, there is nothing. The development of the cities is taking place at the expense of rural areas."

Many of Suntinger's concerns seem quite justified. The mayor would love to turn the currently applicable logic driving funding on its head. Were it up to him, there wouldn't be a single cent available for home building subsidies in the valley and the money would instead be funneled to mountain villages and remote communities like Grosskirchheim -- the further away from population centers, the more the support available. "It is said," he says, "that it doesn't matter where you work these days. If that's true, then it wouldn't be such a bad idea to set up your computer in a beautiful landscape like ours rather than in a basement in Vienna."

If Peter Suntinger's political profile was limited to his fight for rural areas and to his last re-election with 79.5 percent of the votes, he would just be another small-town mayor in Austria. But he is also a notorious and self-absorbed provocateur who positively invites nasty invective. During a three-hour discussion in the Grosskirchheim community center, he reveals more sides than a disco ball. His ideas are all over the map, an odd amalgam of backwoods and freethought with a generous dose of folkloric irredentism. His focus is on preserving heimat.

Grosskirchheim lies at the foot of a massif not far from the Grossglockner, Austria's highest mountain at 3,798 meters (12,460 feet). Suntinger says he has climbed it more than 300 times and has stood on its peak on new year's day 32 times in the last 34 years, trudging up its slopes with skis strapped to his back.

Electrified by Haider

He also used to go on frequent mountaineering trips, some of them technical climbs, with his late friend Jörg Haider, the former right-wing populist icon who died in a car crash in 2008. Suntinger still has deep admiration for Haider and he looks back fondly on those days. In contrast to modern-day politicians who do nothing but emit hot air, he says, Haider was a man with a social conscience who everyone listened to, no matter if it was the grandmother in the mountain farmhouse or the bank director in the city. Haider was an athlete, Suntinger says, he was dynamic and close to the people, often spending weeks on the road in the country. "That's not easy to do."

Electrified by Haider, Suntinger went into politics for the FPÖ in the early 1990s. Just as Grosskirchheim is his heimat in real life, Haider's FPÖ was his political heimat. But that was long ago. Suntinger despises the party today, it's leaders and fat cats in Vienna who, he says, no longer have a social conscience and "only want to get to the feeding trough." In 2013, he suspended his party membership, as he puts it, and left the party in 2016 even though, as he says with no small degree of pathos: "In my breast, a freedom-loving heart is still beating."

The party, says Suntinger, is marching in the wrong direction, falling back to the right-wing fringe, which Haider tried to leave behind. With all the fraternity members in parliament, he says, the party is in the process of drifting to the right. "It's bad," Suntinger says. "That much you know if you know these people." His back ramrod straight, Suntinger is sitting in the community center in front of a gumweed plant. He is an enigmatic, mistrustful sort.

Until late in the fall of 2017, his village hosted seven refugees from Syria, Suntinger says, "and we of course helped them." He says he personally escorted one of the men from the group to the timber yard so he could make himself useful "but he didn't really want to work." The whole thing, he adds, was difficult. "These Syrians, they had mobile phones, great clothes, they didn't seem like it was about having a roof over their heads." The refugees after World War II, Suntinger says, had to beg for a lump of bread and their clothes were in rags.

In Suntinger's world, foreigners are not beneficial, rather they pose a threat to the status quo, especially if they aren't Christians. A couple of people from Holland recently moved to Grosskirchheim, but they are Protestants and thus not too repugnant. But Muslims? That's different, he says, adding that the townspeople elected him to make sure that no foreigners settle there.

If a Muslim tried to buy a house in the town, Suntinger says, he as mayor would speak to the seller and, if necessary, offer more money. "Soil politics," he calls it. It is, of course, unlikely that a Muslim would seek to move to Grosskirchheim given such circumstances, but if you accuse him of merely conducting xenophobic symbolism, he responds that he isn't xenophobic. And if you ask what he has against Muslims, Suntinger says he doesn't have anything against Muslims, he just doesn't want them living in Grosskirchheim. If you then tell him that such logic is that of right-wing extremists, Suntinger responds that he isn't a right-wing extremist. His own family, he says, was uprooted, having been forced to flee over the mountains from Sudetenland, a former region of Germany which is now part of the Czech Republic, following World War II. "With that kind of background, you don't become a right-wing nationalist."

It's a pattern that is repeating itself across Austria these days. People are borrowing from the extremist lexicon while wanting to appear moderate. Politicians flirt with far-right themes and then act surprised when they are labeled far right themselves. On the campaign trail, they speak of North Africans and other "riffraff" but then insist that it please not be misunderstood. Markus Abwerzger, regional head of the FPÖ in Tyrol, is one of them. He said North Africans and "riffraff," which doesn't really fit to him.

The young lawyer was born in 1975 in Dornbirn, a town in the Vorarlberg region of the Austrian Alps, and lives today in Innsbruck -- a healthy, laid back type with impressive sideburns. He has a lot on his plate when we meet. Tyrol has just elected a new regional government. But his main headache is that a young party official had sent around a WhatsApp message to party allies with a portrait of Hitler in full Führer uniform along with the message: "Missing since 1945." These kinds of things, Abwerzger says, "drive me crazy. It makes my blood boil."

'We Are Not a Nazi Party'

This "Nazi shit" is constantly setting the party back, he says, these stupid acts are "demoralizing." The focus needs to be on forging alliances between the center and the right, Abwerzger says. "We are not a Nazi party. The Nazi insults that we constantly get, in truth, they trivialize the Nazis."

Abwerzger's political career is typical for his generation of Austrians. When he was still in high school, where he was a gifted footballer, the entire postwar order was overturned and the person responsible for doing so was Jörg Haider. To understand his influence on Austrian society, it's necessary to understand how things were back then. A system designed to provide proportional representation had descended into absurdity. Social Democrats and Christian Democrats had carved up the entire country between themselves. Initially, it was doubtlessly done with the good-faith intention of ensuring stability. Ultimately, though, the priority became that of tightening their grip on power.

Everything in the country, from tennis courts to jobs, from automobile clubs to schools were either red or black, Social Democratic or Christian Democratic. And if you belonged to the black team, you didn't play on the same tennis courts as the Social Democrats, while if you were a red, you wouldn't be given an apprenticeship at a Christian Democratic enterprise. Some people joined both parties to keep all their options open. There was no real opposition in parliament, just a massive grand coalition between the Social Democrats and Christian Democrats. Laws were enacted without any debate, simply being agreed upon by the two parties. Austrians had long forgotten what democracy even looked like. And then along came Haider.

He fought his way to the top of the FPÖ, a tiny party at the time largely made up of people caught in the past, not a few of whom still dreamed of a Greater Germany. But then Haider began crisscrossing the country, a mountaineer who drove fast cars, a clubgoer and cocktail drinker who nevertheless played the role of people's advocate. He made records with Alpine choirs and appeared on TV, where he used his sharp wit to destroy the gray men of the old system.

Outside of Austria, Haider is primarily remembered only for what he said about the Nazis, such as his claim that the "Third Reich" had "decent labor market policies." Yes, Haider did, in fact, say this and other terrible things. But in terms of his impact on Austrian society, it was of minimal importance. The writer Robert Menasse said way back in 1995 that Haider had triggered a necessary renewal. Menasse added that he took the unrepentant Nazis along with him "by occasionally winking in their direction."

Haider destroyed the old two-party system almost single-handedly, transforming the FPÖ into a third political force. The party's vote increased under Haider from between 5 and 10 percent to between 16 and 22 percent. And then, in 1999, it hit 26.9 percent and formed its first coalition with the conservatives, one that stunned Europe in 2000. Austria was suddenly a very different country, largely thanks to Haider.

Now, 18 years later, Tyrol FPÖ boss Markus Abwerzger was almost named justice minister in the new government in Vienna. But he says he wanted to wait. His children are still very young, he insists, and he wants to solidify his base first. By dog-whistling to the Nazis? By equating North Africans with riffraff?

These types of questions obviously cause the FPÖ politician some embarrassment. In an election campaign, he says, you have to push certain buttons. You have to? Well, yes, Abwerzger says. Then he switches back to attack mode. It's not just the FPÖ who are aggressive, he insists, others also resort to such tactics. You have to be able to react.

For the FPÖ, that often means journalists. The Austrian state broadcaster ORF, for example, had to apologize to Abwerzger because it edited a TV report about the Tyrol election such that it looked like he was nodding his head in agreement when an old man said that these days you can't even say "stinking Jew" without being called a Nazi. It would almost be funny if it weren't so tragic. But Abwergzer, not surprisingly, doesn't see it as a laughing matter. "I was shocked," he says. "If that had been allowed to stand, my career would have been over, and my 3-year-old daughter would be taunted in her kindergarten about having a Nazi papa."

In southern Austria, those driving on the A2 highway in the direction of Vienna will see a lot of signs for Italy and Slovenia. It's only one and a half hours from Klagenfurt to Ljubljana, and it takes just three hours to drive from Villach to Venice. Yet Austrians live in their own separate world, in which they develop their own inner life, their own internal map of the country. The train from Vienna to the Slovakian capital of Bratislava takes just 59 minutes. Innsbruck lies halfway between Germany and Italy in a part of Austria that is only 50 kilometers (31 miles) wide. Back in the Habsburg era, the empire may have felt vast and endless, but these days, you're never very far from a border.

It is a situation that seems to cause a certain amount of stress in the Alpine country, which isn't particularly spacious, objectively speaking. There's only limited room in the valleys and the development of the cities is hampered in many instances. Although the country was an economic beneficiary of the fall of the Iron Curtain, psychologically it sees itself as a loser. The Iron Curtain not only divided, it also protected. And by 2015, as the Balkan route became filled with refugees, there was a return to the vague primal fear of being overrun by foreign hoards from the east or being culturally diluted.

It's like being on an emotional rollercoaster. Today, the nation is revered, celebrated at every folk festival, but that is something of a new development. For a long time, the nation of Austria was not something people cared much about, much less felt passionately about. It was perhaps only in 1978, when Austria defeated Germany by a score of 3:2 in the World Cup in the Argentinian city of Cordoba, that the country developed something approaching an identity. For Austria, it was a feeling similar to the one Germany had after winning the World Cup in 1954 -- that feeling that the country had something to be proud of.

Traveling through Austria, one is confronted by both delusions of grandeur and feelings of inferiority, often at the same time. When Chancellor Kurz embarks on tours of Europe, meeting Merkel, appearing in Brussels or Berlin, hosting CSU leaders in Linz, the press coverage at home makes it seem as though a giant is striding across the world stage, writing history as he goes. And when Kurz is invited to appear on German TV news or talk shows, the Austrian press makes it seem as though it's the greatest honor ever bestowed upon a foreign guest in Germany.

War Against Press Freedom

If this were all just a novel, one of the crucial scenes would undoubtedly be set at the Küniglberg in the west of Vienna, where the headquarters of broadcaster ORF are located. Everyone passes through its doors sooner or later and no politician of standing has managed to avoid Armin Wolf, the host of the station's most important news show.

Wolf is not just a star in Austria. He's also been honored for his journalism in Germany, deservedly receiving the prestigious Hans Joachim Friedrich and Grimm prizes. His shows are well moderated and every interview he conducts is exciting. There's always a moment when he strikes, surprising his guest with some obscure fact, contradiction, or false statement from the past. He very often manages to so rattle his interviewee that they say things they hadn't intended to -- and the way he does it makes it not just a craft but an art form.

In person, Wolf is a friendly, modest presence, with more than 30 years under his belt at ORF. He doesn't make a big deal about having 400,000 followers on Twitter and 300,000 on Facebook. And in the end, it may not help much. There is a debate raging in Austria about the entire ORF brand, including talk of getting rid of it altogether. There has been an increase in attacks since the new government took over, with accusations that the state broadcaster has been "infiltrated by the left" and the populist spotlight being shone on the fees Austrians must pay to fund the station. A referendum on its future has even been proposed, and the FPÖ never misses an opportunity to raise doubts about the quality of ORF.

The problem, says Wolf, is that the FPÖ's demand that the ORF fee be abolished was the only issue on which the party could score points. We are sitting together over coffee in the ORF cafeteria, which has all the charm of a rundown highway rest-stop café. A plate with a sample of the daily special stands at the entrance and at the next table, a couple of technicians are speaking so loudly it sounds as if they are trying to talk over a jackhammer. Wolf suggests moving to a quieter corner. At times, he seems exhausted.

During this year's Carnival season, Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the FPÖ, posted a fake ad for ORF on his Facebook page as a "joke." It showed an image of Armin Wolf in a TV studio overlaid with the text: "There's a place where lies are turned into news. That place is ORF." Wolf sued Strache and the case was settled out of court. The FPÖ politician had to issue a public apology in the form of an ad taken out in the Kronen Zeitung. The episode has its humorous aspects, but the aftertaste is bitter.

The FPÖ and its supporters are engaged in a veritable war against press freedom and against any opinions that do not suit their own, reminiscent of Trump's Twitter tirades. The right has contrived an argument that tough criticism of their government is an impermissible abuse of press freedoms -- a rather outrageous stance to take. Reacting to the suggestion that ORF is not neutral, Wolf says: "I think there's a natural tension between serious journalism, which is all about differentiating, and populist politics, which is all about emotions." His facial expression is blank when he says it -- just like when he goes on the attack during a televised interview.

'On the Fault Line of Our Times'

Populists are in power in Austria but it's sometimes difficult to define exactly what that means. The tone has become coarser, and not only in parliament. People who never previously felt the need to get involved in politics now want to take a stand. There's a new club for "Grannies against the far right," for example, and other groups for the young, for the middle-aged, for waiters, athletes, construction workers and artists, all of whom feel compelled to voice their opinions and fight for their own worldviews. It's not exactly the worst situation for a society that for decades was ruled by a self-satisfied political elite.

"Austria lies on the fault line of our times," says Stefan Apfl, a serious young man who is editor-in-chief of the small monthly magazine Datum. In his own way, Apfl too belongs to the Haider generation. He was still a schoolboy when the legendary FPÖ leader first stirred up the old political scene. Since then, it's not just politics but the entire postwar deal in Austria that has been destroyed, one that saw the state supply everyone with a job, home and leisure time. "This entire supply chain that once worked has been severed," says Apfl. "And it can't be fixed. Now the gaps have to be filled -- with xenophobia, for example."

And with a lot of heimat. Across the country, no matter where you tune in on any weekday morning, you will find the program "Guten Morgen Österreich," or "Good Morning Austria," on ORF.

The show is broadcast from a mobile studio that travels around the country and stops in a different village each day. Bands play in in village squares, people talk about herbs and recipes, there are gardening tips and magic tricks -- and ORF makes sure that no one has a bad word to say about anything.

There's pop music, webcams on the top of mountains, panoramas from the Alpine peaks of Gamskogel and Kitzsteinhorn, from Kasberg, Arlberg and Wildkogel. It's almost like Austrians feel like tourists in their own country.

Or like an audience watching itself, such as in the Raimund Theater in Vienna, which is staging the patriotic musical comedy, "I Am from Austria." Busloads of Austrians arrive day after day to take in the story of an Austrian actress who has become famous in Hollywood and returned home for a visit. Between the Grand Hotel, opera balls and the Alpenglow, she not only finds the man of her dreams, but also a newfound love for her homeland. The emotional climax is when the beautiful heroine, after some tender yodeling, sings the title song: "I Am from Austria."

It's not easy to quote from the text, as it's mostly performed in dialect. The basic premise is that the homeland melts the ice in her soul, things like that, and that she is envious of the storks with whom it would be so nice to fly, as an Austrian over Austria. It may sound like kitsch, but the song -- written in 1989 by Reinhard Fendrich who is world famous if you come from the Alps -- has become the country's unofficial anthem.

In the original video, Fendrich is shown leaning against the cross at the summit of the Grossglockner mountain with his guitar and the modern folk song quickly became a hit across the country. Today, it is sung when Austrians win at any sports event, during football matches or even when bowling buddies get together for a few beers.

The current president, Alexander Van der Bellen, used the song in his final, perhaps decisive campaign ad. He only just barely managed to beat out his FPÖ opponent. The song, in other words, says a lot about the country -- particularly when you know how it came about.

It was written in the 1980s as the country was rocked by the scandal surrounding Kurt Waldheim. The former UN secretary-general had hopes of being elected Austrian president until the true extent of his wartime and Nazi past was revealed.

Reinhard Fendrich was unhappy about the resulting image of his country in the world. And he wanted to combat the impression that all Austrians were in actuality unrepentant Nazis. He wanted to show that there were still lots of good reasons to love this beautiful country.

The nerve that he struck back then still throbs today. And these days, it is once again exposed. And it hurts more than ever.


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Nato summit: Donald Trump says Germany is 'captive of Russians'

US president says Berlin’s relationship with Moscow is ‘inappropriate’ in tirade on opening day of summit

Ewen MacAskill in Brussels
Guardian
Wed 11 Jul 2018 09.29 BST

Donald Trump has launched an extraordinary tirade against Germany on the opening day of the Nato summit in Brussels, accusing Berlin of being a “a captive of the Russians” because of its dependency on energy supplies.

At his first meeting of the summit, with the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, Trump described the relationship between Germany and Russia as “inappropriate”.

Nato officials had been nervously awaiting the first meeting as an indicator of how Trump – who arrived in Brussels on Tuesday night – would behave over the next two days. Within minutes they had their answer.

This summit is shaping up to be the most divisive in Nato’s 69-year history. Normally, Nato summits are mostly fixed in advance and proceed in an orderly fashion. Trump’s first words signalled this one was not going to be like that.

He complained that German politicians had been working for Russian energy companies after leaving politics and said this too was inappropriate. Germany was totally controlled by Russia, Trump said.

With Stoltenberg looking on uncomfortably throughout, the US president was unrelenting. “I think it is very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia,” Trump said. “We are supposed to be guarding against Russia, and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions dollars a year to Russia.

“We are protecting Germany, we are protecting France, we are protecting all of these countries and then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they are paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia. I think that is very inappropriate.”

He added: “It should never have been allowed to happen. Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they will be getting 60-70% of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline.

“You tell me if that’s appropriate because I think it’s not. On top of that Germany is just paying just a little bit over 1% [of GDP on Nato defence contributions] whereas the United States is paying 4.2% of a much larger GDP. So I think that’s inappropriate also.”

His comments were linked to his push for other European countries – particularly Germany – to pay more for Nato’s defence needs.

“I think it is unfair,” Trump said. Other US presidents had raised European defence spending levels in the past but he was intent on dealing with it. “We can’t put up with it,” he said.

Germany’s plan to increase its defence expenditure to the Nato target of 2% of GDP by 2030 was not good enough, Trump said. “They could do it tomorrow,” he added.

Stoltenberg seemed surprised by the force of Trump’s remarks. He attempted to respond, saying mildly: “Even during the cold war, Nato allies were trading with Russia.”

Asked about Trump afterwards, he responded diplomatically, restricting himself to saying the US president’s language had been “direct” and “frank”.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, will get a chance to respond when she and Trump have a one-to-one meeting scheduled for later on Wednesday. There had already been expectations it would be a testy encounter, and this appears even more likely after Trump’s opening remarks.

According to reports in the US media, Trump is keen to see Merkel replaced as chancellor. His outburst could be part of a strategy to try to undermine her at a time when she is domestically vulnerable.

Merkel has been one of the most outspoken critics of Trump among European leaders. The two clashed at the G7 summit in Canada last month. That summit ended in disarray in a spat between Trump and Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister. Nato officials are clinging to hopes that this summit will not end the same way.

Trump’s criticism of a Germany deal with Russia on energy appeared to relate to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline direct to Germany.

Just before he and Stoltenberg sat down to breakfast, Trump claimed the US was paying a disproportionate share of European defence and this was unfair to the US taxpayer.

Europe would have to step up, he said. “They will spend more. I have great confidence they’ll be spending more.”

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‘Diplomatic malpractice’: Ex-NATO ambassador torches Trump’s ‘Orwellian’ breakfast tirade against allies

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
11 Jul 2018 at 06:50 ET                  

Panelists on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” recoiled in horror as they watched President Donald Trump rant against Germany and other NATO allies at a breakfast event opening an annual summit.

Host Joe Scarborough said the president was obviously and clumsily trying to impress Russian president Vladimir Putin, whose longterm strategic goal is to weaken or break up the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

“This was supposed to be just a photo op,” Scarborough said. “The president wanted to make sure that he sent the message to Vladimir Putin while appearing to question energy shipments to Russia, that he was actually doing everything he could to disrupt the NATO summit from the start, and to also undermine America’s alliance with NATO.”

Nick Burns, who served as ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush, strongly condemned the president’s statements and behavior.

“It’s just infuriating to watch this happen,” Burns said. “You cannot imagine any American president, all the way back 75 years, deciding to become the critic-in-chief of NATO. I mean, it’s Orwellian. He’s making our friends out to be our enemies and treating our enemies like Putin as our friends.”

Burns said the president misrepresented the facts about NATO and defense spending, and he said the U.S. relied heavily on the strategic advantage gained by American military bases in Europe.

“It would cost us more money to bring the troops home than to keep them in Europe, so what is the point of this?” Burns said. “It’s all about politics, and the president’s base, not about the power of the United States. This incredible alliance that we’ve built, every president from Truman — it’s infuriating to see this happen. It’s diplomatic malpractice.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House chief of staff John Kelly looked on in embarrassment as Trump complained that Germany enjoyed a trade relationship with Russian while the U.S. paid for a portion of its defense under the Cold War-era treaty.

“Donald Trump is just, once again, ignorant of history,” Scarborough said. “Ignorant of diplomacy and of the very things that have gotten us to a position where we have a $19 trillion economy, and by far the most powerful military and economic engine in the world, on the planet.”

Scarborough said the tirade may fool Trump supporters who are as ignorant of world affairs as the president seems to be, and historian Jon Meacham agreed that he seemed to be trying to turn supporters against the alliance.

“It’s diabolical in that it almost manages to create as much chaos as possible,” Meacham said, “not really creative chaos, but create chaos, because, if you listen to that, you know, basically we have a president who sounds like the guy at the end of the bar who has a bee in his bonnet and on about his third or fourth beer.”

“He’s laying this out in a way that his base, many people in his base, will repeat, because he’s saying it,” Meacham continued. “They’re going to like the idea he was sitting there talking to this guy with a funny accent — they’re going to love that.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kq2_6rcTJxY

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Republican strategist Rick Wilson says Trump ‘eager as a schoolgirl’ to hang with Putin and destroy NATO

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
11 Jul 2018 at 22:45 ET                  

A panel on CNN Wednesday night took up the topic of Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator who interfered in the 2016 election in an effort to get Trump the 77,000 votes he needed to secure an electoral college victory.

Republican strategist Rick Wilson said that regardless of what the men say in secret, it’s already a “disaster.”

“This is a moment of disaster already for our European allies,” Wilson said. “He’s eager as a schoolgirl for this meeting with Vladimir Putin and he’s throwing all sorts of shade and hating on our NATO allies, folks that have stood with us for 70 years.”

Trump will not listen to advice, Wilson said.

He’s resisting the entreaties of both the allies and his own staff to issue a statement about Article 5, which is the provision the NATO an attack on one is an attack on all.”

NATO is the foundation of American military strategy and foreign policy and Trump appears ready to destroy it to forge a relationship with the Russian dictator who he idolizes, Wilson said. Wilson reminded viewers of how important NATO and its provision for mutual assistance have been.

“The last time Article 5 was invoked was 9/11 and NATO allies were calling us within hours, the rubble was still smoking when they called volunteered to help,” he said.

trump simply cannot appreciate something like that if it doesn’t benefit him today, Wilson said.

“Donald Trump is signaling that unless he gets his cut of the vig on this thing he’s going to walk away on this alliance. This is a moment of incredible political and global tragedy if we let this slip away.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IgckHY-pDKU

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

Trump opens NATO summit with fact-free breakfast rant against Germany

Reuters
11 Jul 2018 at 07:10 ET                  

U.S. President Donald Trump accused Germany of being a “captive” of Russia on Wednesday as Western leaders gathered in Brussels for a NATO summit where Trump wants Europeans to pay up more for their own defense.

In a startling public outburst against the NATO heavweight, Trump told NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that Germany was wrong to support a new $11-billion Baltic Sea pipeline to import Russian gas while being slow to meet targets for contributing to NATO defense spending that was intended to protect Europe from Russia.

“We’re supposed to be guarding against Russia and Germany goes out and pays billions and billions of dollars a year to Russia,” Trump said in the presence of reporters at a pre-summit meeting at the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium.

Trump, who is set to hold a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Wednesday, appeared to substantially overstate German reliance on Russian energy and to imply the German government was funding the pipeline, which Berlin says is a commercial venture.

With tensions in the Western defense alliance already running high over Trump’s demands for more contributions to ease the burden on U.S. taxpayers, and a nationalistic stance that has seen trade disputes threaten economic growth in Europe, the latest remarks will fuel concerns among allies over the U.S. role in keeping the peace that has reigned since World War Two.

After the two-day summit in Brussels, Trump will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen hit back at Trump’s truculent remarks: “We have a lot of issues with Russia without any doubt,” she told reporters in English. “On the other hand, you should keep the communication line between countries or alliances and opponents without any question.”

Stoltenberg later told reporters that Trump had used “very direct language” but that all NATO allies were agreed that the cost of defense spending must be spread around and that last year had seen the biggest increase in a generation.

The NATO chief was frank about the impact of Trump’s criticism on the Western allies at a broader level and he referred to non-NATO issues such as trade, where Trump is angry over the U.S. trade deficit with the European Union.

“There are disagreements on trade. This is serious. My task is to try to minimize the negative impact on NATO,” Stoltenberg told a forum in the margins of the summit.

“So far is hasn’t impacted on NATO that much, I cannot guarantee that that will not be the case in the future. The transatlantic bond is not one, there are many ties, some of them have been weakened.”

‘Dependence’ on Russia

Trump said Germany’s closure of coal and nuclear power plants on environmental grounds had increased its dependence, like much of the rest of Europe, on Russian gas.

Trump said: “We’re protecting Germany, we’re protecting France, we’re protecting all of these countries. And then numerous of the countries go out and make a pipeline deal with Russia where they’re paying billions of dollars into the coffers of Russia … I think that’s very inappropriate.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who meets Trump at the summit, has given political backing to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to import more gas, despite criticism from other EU governments. However, Berlin insists it is a privately funded commercial project with no input of public money.

Trump said: “If you look at it, Germany is a captive of Russia. They got rid of their coal plants, they got rid of their nuclear, they’re getting so much of their oil and gas from Russia. I think it is something NATO has to look at.”

However, his comment that “Germany is totally controlled by Russia because they are getting 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline” appeared to mis-state German energy use — about 20 percent of which is accounted for by oil and gas imports from Russia.

Trump also renewed his call for other NATO allies, including Germany, to “step it up” and pay in more to the Western alliance after years in which U.S. taxpayers have, he said, borne an “unfair” share of military spending

“They have to step it up immediately. Germany is a rich country, they talk about increasing it a tiny bit by 2030. Well they could increase it immediately, tomorrow, and have no problem,” Trump said.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sabine Siebold. Additional reporting by Robin Emmott, Alissa de Carbonnel, Humeyra Pamuk, Phil Stewart, Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Richard Balmforth

**********

Donald Trump says he expects to find UK in 'turmoil' during visit

    Trump on Boris Johnson: he was ‘very nice’, ‘very supportive’
    Summit with Putin may be ‘the easiest of them all’, Trump says

Martin Pengelly in New York and Jessica Elgot in London
Guardian
11 Jul 2018 13.22 BST

Donald Trump expects to see a country in “turmoil” when he lands in the UK on Thursday for a two-day visit he said would make his subsequent summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki seem “easy”.

The president spoke to reporters on the south lawn of the White House on Tuesday morning, before boarding Marine One to begin his trip to Europe, which will start with a Nato summit in Brussels.

He repeated familiar criticism of Nato and spoke warmly of Boris Johnson, the British foreign secretary and Brexit leader who resigned on Monday. Trump said Johnson had been “very nice” and “very supportive”.

A spokesman for Theresa May later said Trump’s remarks had been “positive”.

“It’s going to be an interesting time in the UK and certainly an interesting time with Nato,” Trump said, over the noise of the helicopter. “Nato has not treated us fairly but I think we’ll work something out. We pay far too much and they pay far too little. But we will work it out and all countries will be happy.”

Johnson was the second Eurosceptic member of May’s cabinet to resign in recent days, after the Brexit secretary, David Davis. The UK, Trump said, was in “a situation that’s been going on for a long time”.

“So I have Nato, I have the UK which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think! Who would think. But the UK certainly has a lot of things going on.”

Trump was asked if he had spoken to May since Johnson’s resignation.

“I have not, no, I have not,” he said. “Boris Johnson’s a friend of mine, he’s been very nice to me, very supportive and maybe I’ll speak to him when I get over there. I like Boris Johnson, I’ve always liked him.”

The president was also asked if the prime minister should stay in power. That, Trump said, would be “up to the people”.

“I get along with her very well,” he said. “Have a very nice relationship. That’s up to the people, not up to me.”

UK police are mobilising in numbers not seen since widespread rioting in 2011, in order to meet planned anti-Trump protests.

Regarding Trump’s praise for Johnson, May’s spokesman said it was “positive for the UK that the former foreign secretary had a good relationship with the president.

“It’s important for the special relationship to have a strong relationship at [a] political level. I know [new foreign secretary] Jeremy Hunt is looking forward to forging his own relationships with his US counterparts.”

Asked if it was embarrassing that the president considered the UK to be in turmoil, the spokesman said: “The PM is looking forward to showing the president the UK and is confident he will leave with a very positive impression.”

Of Trump’s remark about the relative ease of his meeting with Putin, the spokesman said: “I received that as being humorous.”

Trump stoked domestic controversy, however, by refusing to say if he saw Putin as a friend or a foe.

All major US intelligence agencies agree that Russia meddled in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump defeat Hillary Clinton; special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with such efforts. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was due in court on Tuesday as part of his plea deal with Mueller.

“I really can’t say right now,” Trump said. “As far as I’m concerned, he’s a competitor. I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, is a good thing.”

Trump also said his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, had not as reported given Kim Jong-un an Elton John CD containing the song Rocket Man – Trump’s nickname for the North Korea leader – when they met in Pyongyang last week.

“They didn’t give it,” Trump said. “I have it for him. They didn’t give it. But it will be given at a certain period. I actually do, I actually do have a little gift for him, but you’ll find out what that gift is when I give it.”

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

CIA analyst says ‘republic is burning’ because American institutions are not up to battling Trump’s authoritarianism

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
11 Jul 2018 at 00:06 ET                  

The United States was not designed to withstand the sort of authoritarian onslaught we’re seeing from Donald Trump, former CIA analyst Nada Bakos warned on Wednesday night.

Appearing on Don Lemon’s CNN program, Bakos expounded upon a tweet where she warned that “the republic is burning.”


    The republic is burning and we are all bystanders. (This is not hyperbole)

    — Nada Bakos (@nadabakos) July 10, 2018

Bakos said that American democracy is in a very fragile state.

“Now we see how weak these institutions are it comes up against authoritarian measures,” she said. “The institutions themselves aren’t built for this. Our democracy is fragile enough right now because of the erosion that’s happened. W’re starting to see and not feel quite impactfully as we should some of the things that authoritarians have typically done throughout the years.”

The problem, Bakos said, is that the Constitution designed our government to have checks and balances—and they have failed under the Republican Party’s failure to hold President Trump accountable. As a CIA analyst, she would have flagged this.

“This is what we would call an early warning analysis,” she said. “We would talk about the fact that, here are the signposts along the way and the signals that measure authoritarian values that crop up…. you’re eroding democratic norms.”

USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers, who was also on the panel, agreed.

“This is what happens in every country before the fall. Some people say, people are being alarmists, everybody’s overreacting. When things are starting to crumble people literally say ‘Our institution’s too strong, people can stand up against this,” she said.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCwP9hndK8E

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

Mike Pompeo admits his North Korea meeting was a disaster: It went ‘as badly as it could have gone’

Tana Ganeva
Raw Story
11 Jul 2018 at 17:53 ET                  

As President Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin approaches, Russia experts are growing increasingly anxious that he’ll blow the opportunity.

On Tuesday, CNN reported that Secretary of State Mark Pompeo, who’d helped oversee Donald Trump’s meeting with King Jong-un, thinks that his own meeting with the North Korean officials had not gone according to plan.

According to sources, Pompeo said it went “as badly as it could have gone.”

Watch the full report from CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAvrFwhDceM

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

Trump issues full pardons to ranchers who sparked Bundy-led armed takeover of Oregon refuge

Brad Reed
Raw Story
11 Jul 2018 at 10:30 ET                  

President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued full pardons to Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond, the father-and-son duo whose imprisonment sparked an armed takeover of a federal facility led by anti-government “sovereign citizen” extremists Ammon and Ryan Bundy.

The Hammonds were convicted in 2012 on two counts of committing arson on federal land. Their imprisonment inspired a Bundy-led militia to undertake an armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge to protest the federal government’s restrictions on federal land use.

In his pardon of the Hammonds, the president noted that jurors dropped “most” of the original charges against them, even as they found them guilty of two arson charges. He also said that the Hammonds’ five-year prison sentence was part of an “overzealous” prosecution by Obama administration officials, while calling the Hammonds “devoted family men” and “respected contributors to their local communities.”

Dwight Hammond, 76, has served roughly three years of his five-year sentence while his son, 49-year-old Steven Hammond, has served four years in prison.

Read Trump’s full pardon below.

    NEW: @POTUS issues full pardons for Oregon ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond who were embroiled in the Bundy/compound takeover dispute of 2014 pic.twitter.com/hbP0R3QejU

    — Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) July 10, 2018

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

GOP strategist warns ‘bad things will flow’ from rancher pardons: Trump is ‘giving oxygen to ultra-right militia’

David Edwards
11 Jul 2018 at 13:17 ET                  

Republican strategist John Weaver on Tuesday warned that President Donald Trump is appeasing “ultra right militia” groups by pardoning two ranchers who sparked the armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge.

In an expected move on Monday, the president announced that Dwight and Steven Hammond would receive full pardons for the arson on federal lands, which encouraged Ammon and Ryan Bundy to instigate the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

Writing on Twitter, Weaver ominously predicted that “bad things will flow” from the pardons.

“What a dangerous thing for this ‘president’ to do,” he said, “giving oxygen to ultra right militia who don’t respect the law or the constitution and present a danger to the Republic. Bad things will flow from this.”

    What a dangerous thing for this "president" to do, giving oxygen to ultra right militia who don't respect the law or the constitution and present a danger to the Republic. Bad things will flow from this. https://t.co/yWK2qslL30

    — John Weaver (@JWGOP) July 10, 2018

Civil rights attorney Joshua Engel replied, agreeing with Weaver.

“I prosecuted some of the ‘sovereign citizen”/”Militia’ folks; they are dangerous people who threaten judges and police and would not submit to the jurisdiction of the courts,” he wrote. “The President should be working against those who are avowed enemies of the Constitution.”

    I prosecuted some of the "sovereign citizen"/"Militia" folks; they are dangerous people who threaten judges and police and would not submit to the jurisdiction of the courts

    The President should be working against those who are avowed enemies of the Constitution

    — Joshua A. Engel (@joshuaadamengel) July 10, 2018

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

Trump administration guts grants to help those in need get Obamacare

Reuters
7/11/2018

The Trump administration is cutting most of the funds previously provided to groups that help people get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and will push them to promote plans lacking the law’s benefits and protections, a government agency said on Tuesday.

Under the latest cuts, so-called navigators who sign up Americans for the ACA, also known as Obamacare, will get $10 million for the year starting in November, down from $36.8 million in the previous year, according to a statement by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

This follows a reduction announced by the CMS last August from $62.5 million, along with an even bigger cut to advertising for enrollment, and represents the latest in a series of moves to weaken the ACA by the administration of President Donald Trump.

Navigators will be “encouraged to demonstrate how they provide information to people who may be unaware of the range of available coverage options in addition to qualified health plans, such as association health plans, short-term, limited-duration insurance and health reimbursement arrangements,” the CMS statement said.

On Saturday, the administration said it would suspend a program that was set to pay out $10.4 billion to insurers for covering high-risk individuals under Obamacare last year, saying that a recent federal court ruling prevents the money from being disbursed.

Health insurers warned that the action could drive up premium costs and create marketplace uncertainty.

Trump’s administration has used its regulatory powers to undermine the ACA on multiple fronts after the Republican-controlled Congress last year failed to repeal and replace the law instituted by Democratic President Barack Obama. About 20 million Americans have received health insurance coverage through the program.

Reporting by Eric Walsh; Editing by Lisa Shumaker


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