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« Reply #4305 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
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 #4306 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
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 #4307 on: Jul 11, 2018, 05:15 AM »

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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America: witness you Russian Asset In Chief .. your 'president' ...

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
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.”


‘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


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

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
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


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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« Reply #4309 on: Jul 11, 2018, 06:08 AM »

Trump Derides NATO as ‘Obsolete.’ Baltic Nations See It Much Differently

By Marc Santora
July 11, 2018

RIGA, Latvia — Near midnight on the outskirts of the Latvian capital, close to 100,000 spectators joined 16,500 singers last week in a song about a mystical castle that is submerged when foreign powers hold sway only to rise again.

The castle is a metaphor for their nation. The foreign powers?

Well, from the 20th century, take your pick. First it was the Russians. Then the Germans. Then the Russians again. Only in the last quarter-century has Latvia been able to reclaim its nationhood, and only in the last decade has it felt secure in that claim.

The security came from one thing: joining NATO, an alliance of nations forged after the fires of World War II and expanded during the Cold War as a buffer against Soviet aggression.

Now, with Russia once again on the prowl, that alliance seems to be at risk in ways that were virtually inconceivable when Latvia joined in 2004.

As President Trump joins his second NATO summit meeting — having called the alliance “obsolete,” derided its members as deadbeats and suggested that American military protection is negotiable — there is deep unease on the alliance’s eastern flank. And that sense has only been heightened by Mr. Trump’s scheduled one-on-one meeting next week with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The United States ambassador to Estonia, James D. Melville Jr., became so exasperated with the constant statements from Mr. Trump disparaging the alliance and the European Union that late last month he quit in disgust.

And as the Trump-Putin meeting approached, a popular Russian-language Latvian newspaper ran a picture of the two men, cheek by jowl, with the ominous headline: “What Will Trump and Putin Agree On: The End of the E.U.?”

For the nations of Latvia and Estonia, nestled between Russia and the Baltic Sea and with large ethnic Russian populations, NATO is no abstraction.

Long before the debate over the Kremlin’s interference in the American election, there was alarm in the Baltic nations over Russian attempts to influence public opinion and exploit the complicated issues of ethnic identity in a region reshaped by war and occupation. In both the annexation of Crimea and its actions in Ukraine, the Russian government has used protecting the rights of ethnic Russians as a pretext for intervention. About one-third of the populations of Latvia and Estonia are ethnic Russians.

Even as Mr. Trump has railed against NATO, the United States military has continued to lead the alliance in combating what is now commonly referred to as Russian hybrid warfare: asymmetric and nontraditional military capabilities used to destabilize democracies through cyberattacks, disinformation and propaganda campaigns.

NATO member nations have also devoted energy and resources to improving battle readiness and the speed of deployment, in the event they should face a sudden crisis with their aggressive neighbor to the east.

During a visit to Latvia on his way to the NATO meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada acknowledged that “these are uncertain times” and said that NATO must remain alert to “changing threats.”

He condemned Russia for its annexation of Crimea, its actions in Ukraine and what British intelligence says is its involvement in the use of a nerve agent in England, which has evolved into a murder case after the death of a British woman last Sunday.

Mr. Trudeau sidestepped questions about his relationship with Mr. Trump, who derided the Canadian leader as “very dishonest and weak” after the Group of 7 summit meeting in June. But he said that Canada’s decision to increase its military spending 70 percent over the next decade was not the result of pressure from Washington, but rather a response to new and emerging threats.

But for all the fighting over financial contributions to NATO from member states, the struggle in the Baltics to confront sophisticated propaganda campaigns aimed at ethnic Russian populations showed that it will take more than money and beefed up military forces to counter the emerging threat.

In that new fight, culture is a battleground — and music is a weapon. The Czech Republic had its Velvet Revolution, but Latvia’s struggle to break free from the Soviet Union is known as the Singing Revolution.

Last week, in what organizers described as “a national cultural vaccination that’s administered every five years,” the country held its Latvian Song and Dance Festival, a seven-day extravaganza expected to draw nearly 500,000 people, about a quarter of the country’s total population.

Latvia’s culture minister, Dace Melbarde, said the festival, which stretches back about 145 years, was about much more than singing and dancing. “It is about the awakening of the national consciousness in the 19th century that set the framework to become a nation,” she said.

That this year’s festival fell on the 100th anniversary of the nation’s founding has given more resonance to what is already a deeply emotional event. Even when Latvia was occupied by foreign powers and not allowed to fly its flag, the tradition continued.

The festival culminates with a final concert, described as “a cosmic journey through destiny, history, nature and family that ends with a return home along the Milky Way,” and the singing of “Gaismas pils,” the song about the magic castle.

In conversations with dozens of people at the festival and around Riga, worries about NATO were not the top concern, but there was a nagging sense that the world was off-kilter and the guarantees of recent years might not be as solid as they once seemed.

Edgars Vilumsons, 29, has grown so used to Russian provocations that he sees them as part of the background noise of daily life.

“It’s like if your neighbor had a mean dog and every day you walk past that dog but all it does is bark,” he said. “You are not going to stop what you are doing.”

His 85-year-old grandmother, he said, was not as sanguine. She often talks of being caught between Russian and German artillery fire, which destroyed the family home. After the annexation of Crimea, which shook Latvia, the theoretical seemed possible. Mr. Trump has suggested that he might be open to recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which the international community uniformly condemned as an act of blatant aggression.

Ms. Melbarde, still a bit bleary eyed from singing until dawn, said that one had to understand Latvia’s ethnic makeup and generational divide to understand its anxiety.

Most of the ethnic Russians arrived after the war, when the country was under Soviet domination. They have long been educated in separate schools and formed different social bonds as the nation has struggled to integrate them into society.

But the assimilation process has been made harder by increasingly aggressive propaganda campaigns in the Russian-language news media, narratives widely believed to be directed from Moscow with the intent of heightening divisions.

For example, Ms. Melbarde said, an annual summer festival based on ancient pagan traditions celebrating nature was portrayed as something sinister. “They reported that a bunch of neo-Nazis got together in the woods and set fires,” she said.

Ms. Melbarde said that more work needed to be done to combat the disinformation flowing to Russian speakers. NATO’s new strategic communication center in Latvia provided crucial help in fighting false and malicious narratives, she said.

Her hope is that in the near future, Russian speakers will feel that they can be proud of their ethnic identity but also feel a shared sense of national identity.

Indeed, research conducted by the Latvian government indicates that many younger ethnic Russians are willing to see themselves as Latvian.

The government hopes to capitalize on that sense by starting to integrate the schools, a move that failed in 2003 because of political opposition but that was recently approved by the legislature.

Anastasia Stankevich, 18, said that prospect terrified people like her parents, who are afraid that their children will forget their culture in Latvian schools.

Ms. Stankevich, who is deciding whether to attend college outside Latvia, said she shared the ambivalence of many Russian speakers.

“I feel a bit different than the Latvians,” she said. “We like different jokes.”

They also celebrate different holidays, including one that deeply divides the country: May 9. For Russian speakers, that was the day that World War II ended and is a cause for celebration. For Latvians, it was the day the occupation started.

Russia has never acknowledged itself as an occupying force, and lawmakers in Moscow passed a law specifically stating that Latvia’s being a part of the Soviet Union was justified by international law.

“On this day, I read the Latvian news and see one thing and then read the Russian news and see something totally different,” Ms. Stankevich said.

She said she understood the different perspective and just wanted to live in a country “where everyone respects each other’s culture.”

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« Reply #4310 on: Jul 11, 2018, 06:33 AM »

Believe it or not, Trump just told the truth

WA Post
by Dana Milbank Columnist

I used to say that if you wanted to know whether President Trump was telling the truth, flip a coin. But it turns out I overstated the odds of Trumpian truthfulness.

The Post’s Fact Checker reviewed all claims Trump made at his Montana rally last week and found that 76 percent of them were false or suspect. Therefore, assuming this proportion holds for all Trump utterances, the odds he is telling the truth are closer to the chance of drawing a spade at random from a 52-card deck.

So what happened Tuesday morning was, by definition, improbable: Trump emerged from the White House, stood on the South Lawn — and said something quite accurate.

Departing for meetings in Europe with NATO officials, British leaders and then Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump observed: “Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?”

Actually, we all would think — because Trump outlined it for us during that Montana rally.

Of Europeans, he said this: “They kill us on trade. They kill us on other things. . . . On top of that, they kill us with NATO. They kill us.” He went on to say that “we are the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing,” using a Yiddish word for male genitals.

2:12..One Trump rally: 76 percent of claims are dubious | Fact Checker: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/d77d817c-83ee-11e8-9e06-4db52ac42e05' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

President Trump's campaign style rally on July 5 was littered with claims that are false, misleading or lack evidence. (Meg Kelly /The Washington Post)

But he said this of Putin: “I might even end up having a good relationship, but they’re going, ‘Will President Trump be prepared? You know, President Putin is KGB and this and that.’ You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine.”

So Putin is fine, but Europeans are killing us. Using this distinction, we can extrapolate a taxonomy:

Things that Trump thinks will kill us:

● Free markets.

● Free trade.

● Democracy.

● Free speech.

● Free press.

● Opposition parties.

● Independent courts.

● The rule of law.

● Human rights.

Things that Trump thinks are fine*:

(* from the April human rights report on Russia by Trump’s State Department)

● Extrajudicial killings.

● Enforced disappearances.

● Torture.

● Arbitrary arrest and detention.

● Lack of judicial independence.

● Political prisoners.

● Severe interference with privacy.

● Severe restrictions on freedom of expression.

● Violence against journalists and bloggers.

● Blocking and filtering of Internet content.

● Severe restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly.

● Increasingly severe restriction on freedom of association.

● Restrictions on freedom of movement.

● Severe restrictions on the right to participate in the political process.

● Restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns.

● Widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government.

● Thousands of fatal incidents of domestic violence, to which the government responded by reducing the penalty for domestic violence.

● Thousands of fatal incidents of child abuse.

● Trafficking in persons.

● Institutionalization in harsh conditions of a large percentage of people with disabilities.

● State-sponsored as well as societal violence against LGBTI people.

As we have seen for some time during the Trump era, the good guys are the bad guys, and vice versa. The world has been upside down for so long that American toilets now swirl in the opposite direction.

Just a few weeks ago, Trump insulted his allies in the Group of Seven and called the leader of Canada weak and dishonest — and then flew off to Asia to hail North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as honorable. North Korea is now back to calling the Trump administration “gangster-like,” but Trump continues to have “confidence” in his new friend.

On his European trip this week, Trump isn’t merely drawing a verbal distinction between the European killers and the fine Putin. He is acting accordingly.

On the eve of his NATO meeting in Brussels, Trump kept up a steady attack on fellow members for failing to pay their share. Responding to European Council President Donald Tusk’s warning that the United States has few allies left, Trump on Tuesday dismissed the fraying NATO alliance by saying it “helps them a lot more than it helps us.”

After Belgium, Trump goes to Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May helped limit Trump’s exposure to protests (including a giant balloon of a baby Trump in a diaper) and arranged an audience with the queen. Trump repaid her Tuesday by lavishly praising Boris Johnson, the Brexit leader whose resignation as foreign secretary has brought May’s government to the verge of collapse.

From there, Trump proceeds to Helsinki to meet Putin, whom Trump has already rewarded with a call for Russia to be readmitted to the G-7, a deepening rift in the transatlantic alliance and an acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia didn’t interfere in U.S. elections.

The European killers will watch anxiously to see what gift Trump might bestow this time. Recognition of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine? A drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe?

It is probably true that hanging out with Putin is the “easiest” thing Trump will do in Europe. But such a fine man requires fine gifts.

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« Reply #4311 on: Jul 11, 2018, 07:46 AM »

Meanwhile ...

Mitch "I don't have a soul, only a rancid abscess" McConnell says not worried about Trump withdrawing U.S. from NATO

10 Jul 2018 at 15:16 ET                  

The top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Mitch "I don't have a soul, only a rancid abscess" McConnell, on Wednesday said he was not worried that President Donald Trump will withdraw the country from NATO, as Trump, who has a history of fiercely criticizing and occasionally scrapping international agreements, traveled to a major summit of NATO members.

Mitch "I don't have a soul, only a rancid abscess" McConnell also said “there is nothing inherently wrong” about Trump meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin while he is in Europe. The two leaders plan to meet alone, without any extra staff.

Reporting by Amanda Becker; Writing by Lisa Lambert; Editing by James Dalgleish


GOP senator melts down while trying to defend Trump’s NATO posturing: ‘I’m never comfortable with anything’

Noor Al-Sibai
11 Jul 2018 at 09:41 ET                   

Amid light grilling from CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) began twisting himself in knots trying to defend President Donald Trump’s aggressive NATO posturing.

According to the Iowan Republican, Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric is meant to put pressure on the group to act more sternly with Russia — an issue the host suggested was never made explicit during the summit so far.

“Would you have liked for President Trump to bring up that point?” Camerota asked Grassley.

“Well, don’t you think that he — that it’s evident?” the senator retorted. “He doesn’t have to bring it up.”

“I don’t know about that, senator,” she responded. “I don’t know where he stands with Russia.”

But Grassley was already cutting her off.

“It is evident that Russia is in Crimea, Russia is threatening the Baltics, Russia is in Ukraine,” the senator said. “You know that.”

Camerota responded that she was aware of Russia’s incursions, but wanted to know how it’s “evident” to Grassley that that’s the reason for Trump’s NATO aggression.

She continued to push as Grassley skirted the question, asking him for specific evidence that Trump’s “adversarial” tone is about Russia, to which he responded that it’s clear because NATO is “spending more money.”

“So you are comfortable with the message and tone he started the NATO summit with?” the host asked.

“I don’t want to ever say that I’m comfortable with anything,” Grassley said.

Watch the entire interaction via CNN: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6ob11u

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« Last Edit: Jul 11, 2018, 07:53 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #4312 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:07 AM »

Never Mind the Summer Heat: Earth Is at Its Greatest Distance From the Sun

During aphelion, our planet receives 7 percent less sunlight than in January, but changes in the planet’s orbit are not what causes our seasons.

By Shannon Hall
NY Times

On Friday, Earth will swing toward the outermost point in its orbit, known as aphelion. You, me and everyone on the planet will be three million miles farther from the sun than when we are closest to it.

The change occurs because our planet’s orbit is not perfectly circular. Instead, it is squashed into an ellipse with the sun offset from the center — an effect that causes Earth to orbit to its farthest point every July and its innermost point, or perihelion, every January (the exact dates vary slightly from year to year).

So, while record-breaking temperatures and raging wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere might lead you to believe the sun is punishingly close right now, remember that it is just the opposite. In fact, the extra distance causes the amount of received sunlight to drop by 7 percent compared to January. 

But don’t expect any relief from summer. Seasons on Earth are the product of changes in the amount of direct sunlight as the planet tilts toward and away from the sun — not its orbital path. It would take a much greater swing, so that the amount of received sunlight dropped significantly, in order to notice the difference.

To consider what life would be like on a planet under these orbital circumstances, you only have to look as far as Mars, whose elliptical orbit causes the amount of received sunlight to vary by as much as 31 percent over the course of the planet’s year.

“I find it amusing that the common misconception about Earth’s seasons is actually true if you are on Mars,” said David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute. “School children on Mars will need to be taught differently.”

Just like Earth, Mars swings toward the frigid outer solar system at the peak of its Northern Hemisphere’s summer and its Southern Hemisphere’s winter. But because that swing is so much more dramatic, the plunge in sunlight creates a milder northern summer and a downright frigid southern winter. Later, Mars snuggles up close to the sun, leading to a milder northern winter and a simmering southern summer.

“It’s like toasting your marshmallow slowly from a safe distance above the campfire, then swooping in close for the nice quick char,” said Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, referring to that southern summer.

In short, the planet’s dramatic orbit moderates the swing between seasons in the north but exaggerates it in the south.

The effect is so strong it can even be seen through a backyard telescope. The Red Planet’s polar ice caps, for example, grow in the winter and shrink in the summer. But because the southern winter is far more extreme than the northern winter, the southern polar ice caps grow more than twice as far as their northern counterparts.

On the flip side, that sizzling southern summer gives rise to winds so strong they rip dust off the Martian floor and into the atmosphere. That can kick-start dust storms that grow so large they envelop the entire planet, much like the one currently threatening NASA’s Opportunity Rover.

What’s more: Not only does such a squashed orbit cause an asymmetry in the strength of the seasons, but also in their length. As a planet edges toward the outermost point in its orbit, it will slow down significantly. Then, it will pick up speed as it starts to fall back toward the sun. That means that while those Martian southern summers are intense, they’re also roughly 30 days shorter than northern summers.

Still, the change in seasons on Mars is not as dramatic as it could be.

“Martians feel their change in orbital distance much more distinctly than Earthlings do,” said Richard Binzel, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But the Plutonians have it even worse.”

The dwarf planet’s orbit is even flatter than Mars’s orbit, causing the sunlight to vary by as much as 64 percent. That said, during Pluto’s nearly 250-year-long orbit around the sun, its closest approach occurs during its spring and fall, when added sunlight has a less pronounced effect than during a hemisphere’s summer. But that wasn’t always the case. Because of fluctuations among the planets across our solar system’s eons, Pluto’s closest approach steadily shifts across the seasons.

Just under 1 million years ago, Pluto nestled up closer to the sun during its northern summer. The two effects conspired to create a “super season” where temperatures were so warm that liquids of methane and nitrogen could have flowed across its frigid surface. “That is a very hot day on Pluto,” Dr. Binzel said. Signs of these flows were detected by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it studied the planet in 2015.

And while the planet has cooled over the last 900,000 or so years, it will reach another super season in another 900,000 years when the planet’s Southern Hemisphere tips toward the sun at the exact point it swings closest.

Earth’s orbit, will also change one day. While our planet’s closest approach to the sun currently takes place during the northern winter, it has slowly shifted over time. In about 10,000 years, its closest approach will occur six months later during the northern summer.

But given Earth’s relatively circular orbit, it will never have super seasons like those on Pluto or the extreme, asymmetric seasons of Mars. Instead, our planet will stay relatively stable — a characteristic that just might have given rise to life.

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« Reply #4313 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:11 AM »

India's unofficial recycling bin: the city where electronics go to die

In Moradabad, whole communities subsist by processing waste created by the world’s love affair with electronic goods. In this extract from their book, Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey investigate the impact of this dangerous trade

Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey
Gu ardian
12 Jul 2018 11.00 BST

From the road one could see locals washing the ash from burned e-waste and using sieves to recover fragments of metal. Women and children broke apart and segregated the printed circuit board components, prying open the object and separating the gold, silver and copper-plated components.

Locals in Moradabad in western Uttar Pradesh described [to us] the process of recycling this hazardous material. Once the basic dismantling and separation were achieved, different methods of extraction followed: typically burning, grinding, washing and bathing in acid.

The city of Moradabad, home to 900,000 people, was once celebrated as the brass capital of India. Now it is notorious as a centre for e-waste processing, an industry built on the declining fortunes of its famed brassware sector.

This e-waste economy is thriving as the hazardous material, exported from the affluent developed world, continues to plague cities in developing countries. Can anything be done to stem the flow?

According to a report from the Indian Centre for Science and Environment, the brass industry suffered a severe blow from the global recession of 2008. Dwindling demand led people practised in metalwork to make the “natural” move into the e-waste industry, and streams of electronic goods began arriving from across the country and beyond.

The figures, according to one estimate, were staggering: 50% of the printed circuit boards used in appliances in India end up in Moradabad. With more than nine metric tonnes of waste arriving daily, the industry was said to employ tens of thousands of workers, most of whom earned between 100 and 300 rupees (£1-£3) a day.

    50% of the printed circuit boards ​used in appliances in India end up in Moradabad

The major e-waste processing site we observed was situated beside the bridge over Moradabad’s Ramganga river, in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood. Men managing the flow of goods were visible from the bridge, as rickshaws carrying electronic discards made their way through the gate and disappeared into the alleys. Rhythmic hammering echoed up to the bridge.

The role of the police presence was hard to gauge, but according to one local there was an arrangement between the police and various parties – presumably intended to appear as though strict regulations on e-waste processing were in force.

In fact, the gatekeeping function was to exclude outsiders. Local people believed the police received money and goods from e-waste dealers who wished to protect their businesses, and that benefits flowed up and down the chain of command. The lowly police on the gate relied on small gratuities, but locals suggested that bigger favours went to more senior officials. The e-waste industry required protection from busybodies who might want to enforce the law or from potential competitors who might pry into their business and steal clients.

Moradabad’s old specialty of brass manufacture simplified the shift to recycling electronic waste. Brass making requires high heat to melt and combine copper and zinc. Pit furnaces, used to turn the recovered metals into ingots, were available and well understood.

Once the circuit boards from phones and computers were burned to dislodge metals from plastics, they were turned into powder by ball mills of the kind used in brass manufacturing. The powder from the dissolved circuit boards was separated by sieves or by washing in water. The pit furnaces finished the task of melting metal into ingots.

Copper was by far the largest proportion of metal recovered in this extraction process, and much of the copper was sold back to the brass industry in the city. The recovery of much smaller quantities of platinum, gold and other precious metals was worthwhile because of their high market value.

This e-waste industry relies on what anthropologist Anna Tsing calls “salvage capitalism”, in which value is gained with little capitalist control and regulation. Indeed, many of the transactions and restrictions characterising the Moradabad slum depended on a local, non-capitalist economy that has its own value system. Families work in dismal conditions to sustain an elaborate network of exchange. But this informal economy creates value for capitalist enterprises that benefit from the semi-clandestine activity.

In the absence of an international standard coding that clearly defines what constitutes hazardous or toxic waste, it becomes relatively easy to smuggle across borders with impunity. This is further facilitated by a host of actors and institutions that populate the waste trade and handle transnational waste flows with entrepreneurial innovation.

E-waste will continue to plague the subcontinent. The increase in electronic discards from a more affluent population compounds the problem of waste dumping from developed countries. Lax regulations and a cheap labour force make India an attractive place for disposal and processing.

The offshoring of industrial hazardous waste from first-world countries to the third world is notoriously difficult to track, identify and quantify – but there is evidence to suggest that illegal dumping continues unabated.

    This article is an extract from Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India by Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey, published by Harvard University Press.

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« Reply #4314 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:13 AM »

Nestlé products removed from Melbourne zoos over palm oil

Zoos Victoria made the decision after Nestlé lost its sustainable certification

Melissa Davey
12 Jul 2018 03.17 BST

Products from the food and drink giant Nestlé will no longer be stocked at the stores and food carts at Melbourne and Werribee zoos.

Zoos Victoria made the decision after the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) suspended Nestlé’s membership when the company failed to submit a 2016 progress report, and its 2017 report lacked a timetable for producing or buying certified sustainable palm oil.

“Nestlé was given the opportunity to complete its annual communications of progress report for 2017 through active engagement, and has declined to submit a time-bound plan,” a statement from RSPO said.

It said Nestlé also had an unpaid membership fee of €2,000 (A$3,150).

It means Nestlé will no longer be able to claim to be an RSPO member or that its products contain certified sustainable palm oil.

A Nestlé spokeswoman said the company was “disappointed” by the suspension and by the response of Zoos Victoria.

“Absolutely nothing has changed for our products: we are continuing to use exactly the same palm oil ingredients from the same RSPO certified supply chains,” she said.

“Any palm oil in Nestlé products sold at zoos in Victoria is sustainably sourced. We’re disappointed that our RSPO membership has been suspended. We’re talking to the RSPO and hope to requalify in the coming days.”

The spokeswoman said RSPO certification was important to holding the palm oil sector to account.

“While our approaches differ, we believe that the sector will be stronger if we work together,” she said.

Zoos Victoria’s director of wildlife conservation and science, Rachel Lowry, said the zoo’s stance was clear.

“The only palm oil we sell is from companies who source only 100% certified sustainable palm oil through the RSPO,” she said.

“We will continue to keep our zoo shelves clear of Nestlé products until they take the necessary steps to comply with the RSPO standards, for we remain confident this is the best and most reliable way that we, as an organisation committed to fighting wildlife extinction, can guarantee that the food that we are selling across our zoos is not contributing to the loss of wildlife such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers abroad.”

An analysis published in June by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found palm oil was damaging global biodiversity, affecting 193 threatened species.

“Certified palm oil has so far proven to be only marginally better in terms of preventing deforestation than its non-certified equivalent, but the approach is relatively new and holds potential for improving sustainability,” the IUCN said in a statement. “More efforts are needed to ensure that sustainability commitments are honoured and that their reporting is transparent, but also that there remains a demand for certified palm oil.”

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« Reply #4315 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:15 AM »

Hawaii to Approve Landmark Ban on Coral-Damaging Sunscreens


Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a bill Tuesday prohibiting the sale of sunscreen that contains chemicals considered harmful to ocean ecosystems, including coral reefs.

The Aloha State is the first in the nation to enact such a law.

"Studies have documented the negative impact of these chemicals on corals and other marine life. Our natural environment is fragile, and our own interaction with the earth can have lasting impacts. This new law is just one step toward protecting the health and resiliency of Hawai'i's coral reefs," said Gov. Ige in a press release.

The measure, introduced by Democratic State Sen. Mike Gabbard, bans in Hawaii the sale and distribution of all sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate, or both, without a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.

Extensive coral bleaching is occurring in Hawaii's most popular snorkeling spot, Hanauma Bay. While studies have identified climate change as one of the drivers of the bleaching, scientists also blame the estimated 412 pounds of sunscreen that leaches into the tourist-heavy bay per day.

Even a drop of oxybenzone in 4.3 million gallons of water, or six and a half Olympic sized swimming pools worth, is enough to harm corals, the New York Times reported.

Gabbard noted in an Instagram post that the landmark legislation is not just a first for the U.S., it's also the first law of its kind in the world.

He pointed out that since the ban does not take effect in the state until 2021, it's important for the world to take notice of this timely issue, as the health of coral reefs are declining in waters across the globe.

Up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen bleed into the world's reefs every year, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

Hawaii's legislation was praised by conservation groups.

"The significance of this action will extend far beyond the islands. With 9 million visitors each year, Hawaii's commitment will educate consumers worldwide about the harmful effects that sunscreen can have on marine life," Matt Ramsey, director of Conservation International Hawaii in a press release.

"Coral reefs are a critical component of our food, culture, economy and overall way of life. We simply must protect them," Ramsey added.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate, which filter UV rays, can be found in more than 3,500 sunscreen products, including popular ones sold by Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat and Coppertone.

There are many reef-safe sunscreen options available, which contain minerals such as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Edgewell Personal Care, makers of Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens, told Outside: "To meet consumer needs, we produce several Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic products that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate."

In his Instagram post, Gabbard linked to a 5-minute video called Reefs At Risk that highlights the sunscreen additives' adverse effects on fragile coral reefs and other marine life.

Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGP9loQ0dqs

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« Reply #4316 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:18 AM »

3 Reasons the Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Could Happen Again

By Justin Mikulka

In the five years since the oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, claimed 47 lives, the world has learned much about the risks that hauling oil by rail poses. One of the clearest lessons is how little has been done to address those risks, which means that deadly event could easily happen again.

To mark the anniversary, Kathleen Fox, chair of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada, released a statement on oil-by-rail. "Much has been accomplished in the intervening years, but more remains to be done," she said.

Fox is correct about one thing: More remains to be done. Much more.

Here are three main reasons history may yet repeat itself.

Read this explainer for background on what unfolded during the fiery early morning hours of July 6, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic: https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/01/23/rail-workers-acquitted-trial-deadly-lac-megantic-oil-train-disaster

Reason #1: Inadequate Safety Regulations

The Bakken shale oil carried on the runaway train that decimated the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic is a very light and highly volatile crude oil that ignites easily. Despite many calls for regulations in the U.S. to make that oil safer via a process known as stabilization—including from Obama's Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, the issue of stabilizing oil volatility on trains remains unaddressed on either side of the border.

Similar concerns are arising for trains shipping oil from Alberta (home of the tar sands) after multiple derailed trains have resulted in fires and explosions reminiscent of those involving Bakken oil.

Another apparent safety gap in regulations involves the outdated brake systems on oil trains, which is the case in both the U.S. and Canada. Rail experts have testified repeatedly that modern electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes would be a huge improvement over the current air braking system that was considered revolutionary in the 19th century. When the U.S. Department of Transportation released an overhaul of rules governing oil trains in 2015, ECP brakes were among the requirements. However, that measure was repealed in late 2017 due to intense industry pressure.

An important point to keep in mind here is that all of the major oil-by-rail carriers (BNSF, CSX, CN, CP) move oil from both the U.S. and Canada, which leads to something known as harmonization in the regulations. Because the trains couldn't easily cross the border if the rules were different in each country, the regulatory agencies in both must work together to ensure harmonization.

Canada's TSB Chair Fox noted in her recent remarks that the DOT-111 tank cars, which were carrying the oil that destroyed part of Lac-Mégantic are no longer permitted to move crude oil, in either Canada or the U.S. Those tank cars clearly were unsafe for transporting flammable liquids—something they were never designed to do.

However, Fox also noted that rail companies have until 2025 to phase in the new rail tank cars that will replace DOT-111s, and progress on that transition has been slow. The 2015 oil train rules mandate stricter standards for rail tank cars carrying hazardous materials, which means rail companies have a decade to switch to new DOT-117 cars. Yet Fox does not address the real issue at play with tank cars.

The real problem is that DOT-117 tank cars are also proving inadequate for moving oil safely, as evidenced when an oil train of cars meeting the new standards derailed in Iowa in June 2018. Many of the cars ruptured, resulting in a spill of 230,000 gallons of oil into a flooded Iowa river. These new DOT-117 tank cars don't appear to offer any real safety benefits over the older cars. They may look nicer with the new paint and lack of grafitti, but that seems to be the only demonstrable improvement.

DOT-117 tank cars, the new rail cars that are slowly replacing the DOT-111 cars carrying oil.
Justin Mikulka

Another gap involves an automatic braking technology known as positive train control (PTC), which was first recommended in 1970. The rail industry resisted moving forward with PTC for almost 40 years until 2008 when Congress mandated that rail companies install PTC on all trains, passenger and freight, by 2015. Despite the congressional mandate, the industry refused to cooperate.

Instead, the rail industry threatened to shut down the U.S. economy if required to fulfill the legislative requirement. In response, Congress granted the industry a three year extension. As the third year of that extension winds down, the largest oil-by-rail company, BNSF, has asked for another two year extension.

Why would rail companies refuse to implement this well-known safety technology that reportedly could have saved nearly 300 lives between 1969 and 2015? Because it costs money to implement and it only costs a fraction of that money to hire lobbyists to fight the regulations.

That priority was starkly revealed in a 2015 story by The Intercept, which reports that during a 2009 investor call, a Wall Street analyst told rail executives they need to do more to "further educate" Congress about why the PTC mandate was unacceptable.

That exchange occurred six years before the industry was required to implement PTC, giving rail companies plenty of time to hire lobbyists to argue against implementing a safety technology now almost 50 years after it was first recommended.

Yet another example of a regulatory gap in rail safety measures stretches back to Lac-Mégantic, which involved a runaway train parked on a hill above the town. Corporate cost cutting and a lack of rules to prevent runaway trains helped lead to the 47 lives lost in that town. In her statement reflecting on the five years since the disaster, TSB Chair Fox mentions that "the issue of additional physical defenses, which the TSB has called for to help prevent uncontrolled movements, has yet to be sufficiently addressed."

"Additional physical defenses" are ramps or locks placed in front of a train to prevent it from running away in the event something else goes wrong. A simple and proven solution. But starting and stopping trains with these safety devices in place takes longer, and because time is money in the rail industry, companies generally don't use them.

Despite being one of the easiest problems to solve, runaway trains, or "uncontrolled movements," are increasing since Lac-Mégantic. CBC News reported that Faye Ackerman, a TSB board member, noted the situation is getting worse. "… in the last five years, the number of these uncontrolled movements has been on the rise," Ackerman said.

In June 2017, an event eerily similar to Lac-Mégantic (minus the explosion and fatalities) unfolded when a 72 car train was not properly braked and ran away for "five kilometres onto a busy track just north of Toronto."

There are many factors that could eliminate runaway trains. The train in Lac-Mégantic had back-up braking systems, but no rules require their use and the company policy was to not use them. In addition, positive train control could also prevent runaway trains, and modern ECP brakes would also help. But the simplest solution would be the "additional physical defenses" that Fox referred to.

Reason #2: Oil Trains Derail More Often

Another lesson revealed in the wake of Lac-Mégantic is that oil trains derail more often than similar trains carrying ethanol, another hazardous material. The reason is likely because oil trains tend to be longer and heavier and may be subject to more sloshing forces from the liquid moving inside the not-entirely-full tank cars. Unlike tanker trucks or other types of trains, oil trains don't have to be weighed, and some evidence indicates rail companies may be overfilling oil train cars beyond the current weight limits. And no regulations exist dictating the train lengths safe for transporting flammable materials like oil.

Of course, longer and heavier trains make more money for railroads. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal notes that one of the reasons the rail industry is shifting to ever-longer trains is due to pressure from "activist investors." Activist investors—much like the one who told industry executives they need to lobby against positive train control—apparently are calling the shots about how companies operate their trains.

Given the lack of real safety improvements after Lac-Mégantic, this issue is not going away. Canada just reported record levels of oil-by-rail movements for April of this year. And that number is likely to increase significantly in the next several years, as the oil industry there continues to face pipeline constraints. U.S. oil-by-rail movements are increasing too but remain below the peak levels reached during the Bakken oil-by-rail boom, which lasted from about 2012 to early 2016.

After the recent oil train derailment in Iowa, Kevin Birn of IHS Markit, an energy analytics and consulting company, stated the obvious:

"The accident is a manifestation of increased crude-by-rail from Western Canada due to pipeline constraints."

Despite the evidence showing that long, heavy trains filled with oil derail more often, very little has been done to improve the safety of moving oil by rail since Lac-Mégantic. As oil-by-rail continues on its latest uptick, another catastrophe like the one that claimed 47 lives in a small Quebec town is likely inevitable.

Reason #3: The Rail Barons Are in Charge

In December 2016, a group came together in Ottawa, Canada's capital, to discuss Lac-Mégantic and what the industry and regulators have learned since the devastating events of July 2013.

Brian Stevens, National Rail Director for Unifor, Canada's largest private sector union, was one of the speakers. Stevens previously spent 16 years as an air-brake mechanic working on trains.

Stevens summed up the problem: "Nothing has changed. The railway barons are still there. And stronger than ever."

And while this statement was made by a Canadian at a conference in Canada about an accident in Canada, the rail barons are on both sides of the Canadian-American border.

His statement even came before the Trump administration began its efforts to remove safety measures enacted during the Obama adminstration. Since then, the rail barons successfully had the regulations for modern ECP brakes repealed. Trump appointed the former head of rail company Conrail as the new top rail regulator at the Federal Railroad Administration. If you are a rail baron, this was all great news.

In the first Congressional hearing about rail safety in the Trump era, Rep. Bill Shuster got right to the point about the goal of any changes to regulations when he said that government should "allow the railroad industry to keep more of their profits."

This statement reveals why so little has been accomplished to improve oil-by-rail safety. Moving oil-by-rail in a safe manner may be possible given the raft of potential safety measures outlined here, but it is highly unlikely that the venture would still be profitable for rail companies. As a result, the rail industry is favoring the status quo and federal regulators in the U.S. and Canada have done little to nothing to change that.

Five years after the derailment in Lac-Mégantic, all of the major risks related to moving oil by rail still exist, but the large portion of downtown Lac-Mégantic destroyed that day in 2013 does not. Its continued absence stands as a stark reminder of the very real dangers of the current oil-by-rail industry.

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« Reply #4317 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:20 AM »

You Care Where Your Food Comes From. Why Not Your Pot?

By Dan Nosowitz

With it's increasing legality across the U.S., cannabis is going through growing pains.

Because it was illegal for so long, cannabis is way behind compared to other plants in terms of our understanding of its best used, grown and sold. A 2015 study showed that the two major types of cannabis—indica and sativa—aren't even usually marked correctly. For context, this is kind of like not knowing whether a tomato is a beefsteak or a roma—different flavors, different uses.

Another side effect of cannabis's illegality is that, in states where the herb is now permissible, consumers suddenly have the the power of choice. For most of our lifetimes, cannabis purchasing was restricted to whatever we could get. "If [your dealer] even had two or three different strains or varieties, that meant you had a great connection," said Ben Gelt, the board chair of the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC). Contrast that to other farm-grown greenery and produce, where choice abounds.

Over the past two decades, this country has had a massive reckoning in terms of how much we care about where our food comes from. Organic food sales hit $47 billion in 2016. Farm-to-table restaurants can be found in almost every city. Sustainable, local and pesticide-free are buzzwords; they don't describe the majority of this country's food, not by a long shot, but the basic fact is that people are beginning to really care about where their food comes from.

And yet: when was the last time you even asked where your weed came from?
Where's All The Organic-Labeled Weed?

Prior to its localized legalization, cannabis crops were necessarily a black-market operation. There were no regulations, no inspections, no rules about what you could and couldn't do on a cannabis farm, because the entire farm was against the law. That led to cannabis farms becoming, mostly unbeknownst to consumers, among the most destructive agricultural operations in the country. Cannabis farmers used, and continue to use, insane amounts of pesticides and truly awful farming practices. Why not? If the authorities find your farm, your excess use of rat poison will be the least of your worries. But that's lead to widespread environmental poisoning, deaths of endangered animals, pesticides dumped right into waterways.

Even in places where cannabis is now legal, the regulations lag far behind those of other crops. "States have become expert at taxing the industry and controlling the industry, but not at dealing with these very real public health and safety issues," said Gelt.

While many groups are working on getting stricter regulations, the CCC is working on getting consumers to demand better products. A logical way to do that would be to embrace the organic label: the theory, which has sort of worked with food, is that you convince people organic food is a better way to grow (or healthier to eat), then people demand it, and farmers grow more of it because they can charge more.

There inlies the problem: There is no organic cannabis—at least in the way we think about organic-labeled food. Because cannabis isn't legal across the entire country, the USDA's organic certification program won't certify any cannabis farm, even those that are legal in their jurisdiction and are following all the rules. That means that the people who are actually growing ethical cannabis are just losing money, because they don't have a label (or the demand) that allows them to charge more—and the same way it costs more to grow ethical tomatoes or raise ethical chickens, it costs more to grow ethical cannabis.

The other big problem is that the CCC, like many other folks, believes that the USDA's organic program is deeply flawed, beholden to agribusiness and full of loopholes. That same distaste led some groups to create their own organic label with stricter rules. For the CCC, which focuses on a crop that can't even get regular organic certification, it's a no-brainer: make your own label.
Where's the Market for "Organically Grown and Fairly Produced" Cannabis?

The CCC's will be called CCC Certified, with language specifying that the labeled product is "organically grown and fairly produced." (I asked Gelt whether he thought the USDA might sue him for using the word "organic." "That particular phrasing came from our attorneys," he said. And, to be honest, if the USDA sues the CCC, the resulting attention could likely be nice.)

But nobody is asking for organic weed right now. "People haven't gotten totally used to the fact that they're in command. It's almost like, am I allowed to be here?" said Amy Andrle, the owner of an ethical cannabis operation in Denver and a CCC board member. There is a substantial overlap between people who buy cannabis and people who care about where their food comes from, and yet few seems to realize that cannabis should follow the same rules: A 2016 study from Elizabeth Bennett at Lewis and Clark College found that many involved in the cannabis trade—both sellers and consumers—believed that cannabis was inherently "natural" or environmentally friendly, either because of an assumption about the attitudes of the growers or, bizarrely, because cannabis is a plant product.

This is emphatically not the case. To help get consumers on the right track, the CCC is starting out with a year-long education campaign. They're trying out a marketing campaign called "What's In My Weed?" as an attempt to make the public aware, at least a little, about this issue.

In lots of ways, it's an understandable dilemma. "I know how to shop for eggs, for meat, for coffee, for a car," said Gelt. "But I haven't been taught how to shop for cannabis."

The actual CCC label is a ways off; the CCC hasn't ironed out all of the details. There's the added trouble of how cannabis is grown, for one thing: many of those unsatisfied with the USDA's organic farming label are mad that it allows hydroponics and container-grown plants. But the vast majority of cannabis in the U.S. is grown indoors, and the CCC does not plan to exclude that. So where does that leave the label? (There are, of course, good and less good ways to grow plants indoors, just as there are for outdoor plants.) And the actual science of cannabis consumption lags so far behind that a rash of new studies stemming from legalization could change what's considered ethical.

This is a period of exploring, trying new things, and inevitable making mistakes for the cannabis industry. But education is a vital part of getting the industry into the right place. And everything's got to start somewhere.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

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« Reply #4318 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:22 AM »

Fishing Companies Halt Activities in Waters Proposed for Antarctic Sanctuary


The five companies responsible for 85 percent of krill fishing in Antarctica announced Monday that they would put a "voluntarily permanent stop" to fishing in vulnerable areas earmarked by conservationists for the world's largest ocean sanctuary, the Guardian reported.

Krill are an important food source for iconic Antarctic marine life like whales, seals and penguins. They also help fight climate change by eating carbon-heavy food near the ocean's surface and excreting it in deeper water, according to the Guardian.

"The momentum for protection of the Antarctic's waters and wildlife is snowballing," Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace's Protect the Antarctic campaign told The Guardian. "This is a bold and progressive move from these krill fishing companies, and we hope to see the remainder of the krill industry follow suit."

The five companies make up the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting (ARK) and come from Norway, Chile, South Korea and China, AFP reported.

They said they would stop fishing in the coastal waters that Greenpeace and 1.7 million supporters want to see converted into a sanctuary and would also restrict fishing in "buffer zones" around penguin breeding sites, according to the Guardian.

The ARK also officially backed a proposal to create a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the waters around Antarctica, AFP reported.

"Our members agree that the industry must develop sustainably to ensure long-term viability of the krill stocks and the predators that depend on it," ARK said in a statement reported by AFP.

The ARK's decision comes after supporters of the sanctuary pushed retailers including Holland and Barret to stop selling supplements containing krill, the Guardian reported.

The fate of the sanctuary now rests in the hands of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which consists of 24 governments that manage Antarctic waters.

The CCAMLR passed a U.S.-and-New-Zealand-proposed sanctuary around the Ross Sea in 2016, but rejected a plan backed by Australia and France for a sanctuary in East Antarctica last year, AFP reported.

The EU proposed another area five times the size of Germany in the Weddell Sea last October, and Greenpeace launched its current campaign to support that proposal. The CCAMLR will vote on the proposal this October.

The Pew Charitable Trusts' Antarctic and Southern Ocean head Andrea Kavanagh hoped the krill companies' decision would inspire the governments to act.

"Governments should follow industry's lead and support MPAs," she told AFP.

World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) Antarctica program head Chris Johnson said it was important that the companies' voluntary action was backed up by enforceable laws.
"A comprehensive and effective network of marine protected areas surrounding the continent—which must include no-take marine sanctuaries—is essential for safeguarding biodiversity and improving sustainable fisheries," he told The Independent.

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‘A miracle, a science, or what’: How the world came together to save 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave

by Shibani Mahtani and Panaporn Wutwanich
July 12  2018
WA Post

Footage shows members of the boys soccer team, who were rescued from a cave complex in northern Thailand, recuperating in a Chiang Rai hospital. (Government of Thailand)

MAE SAI, Thailand — Divers compared it to mountain climbing — but in tight, pitch-black spaces and buffeted by swirling floodwaters, towing a child.

They had to guide their charges through passages as narrow as a couple of feet, weighed down by bulky equipment. A diver in front led the way, with a boy tethered to him and another diver following behind.

Each arduous round-trip extraction took between nine and 11 hours.

Finally, on Tuesday, the “all-star” team of expert cave divers from at least six countries completed the mission once feared impossible, pulling to safety the last of the 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old coach from the remote cave where they had been marooned for more than two weeks.

“We’ve rescued everyone,” said Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former governor of Chiang Rai province and the lead rescue official, as volunteers and journalists erupted in jubilant cheers and claps. “We achieved a mission impossible.”

The Thai navy SEALs added in a Facebook post: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”

The disappearance of the boys and their novice monk turned soccer coach from this small town on the Thailand-Myanmar border — and their remarkable discovery, alive, nine days after they went missing June 23 — launched an extraordinary saga of international cooperation and ingenuity, as experts from many fields planned how to maneuver all 13 out alive.

When no clear opening could be found atop the mountain range housing the cave, having the boys swim out with the 18-strong team of British, Australian, Chinese, Thai, American and Danish divers was considered the least risky of a range of daunting options.

The dramatic three-day mission kicked off Sunday after days spent preparing the cave — and the boys. One diver said in a Facebook post that he had spent 63 hours in the cave system over the past nine days.

The effort, which swelled and gained momentum after the group was found July 2, involved more than 100 rescuers inside the cave, 1,000 members of the Thai army and almost 10,000 others who facilitated all kinds of assistance, from rides up to the cave site to meals of fried chicken, eggs, and rice and noodle soups for divers, volunteers and journalists. International experts set up rescue communications, while Thai villagers set up coffee stalls and massage stations.

The mission was also a race against the weather.

Rescuers spent days balancing the risk of impending monsoons, which could have flooded the cave again, against the boys’ readiness, weakened as they were by their ordeal. Rain fell periodically throughout the three days of extractions, but pumping efforts were so successful that the amount of time the boys spent underwater was minimized, officials said.

The tension that had gripped this small town near the site finally broke Tuesday evening as the last of the ambulances turned on their lights and sirens and raced downhill from the cave. Thai police officers lining the road from the entrance laughed and flashed thumbs-ups at the vast numbers of news organizations from all over the world waiting for this very scene.

Onlookers cheered “Hooyah moo pa!” — a reference to the name of the boys’ soccer team, Moo Pa, or Wild Boars.

A hint of setting sun and blue skies broke through the heavy clouds behind the caves as a helicopter whirred through the sky, carrying the last boys recovered to a hospital in nearby Chiang Rai.

Thai navy SEALs and an Australian medic who had been stationed with the boys for days, preparing them for their dive, were brought out of the cave soon after.

On Sunday, officials decided they could no longer wait, saying conditions were “as perfect as they will be” for a rescue attempt. Over the next three days, the boys were brought out in groups: four on the first day, four on the second day and four, plus their coach, on Tuesday.

Among those rooting for their rescue were world leaders, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and billionaire inventor Elon Musk, who tasked his team of engineers with building a “kid-sized submarine” made out of rocket parts that would be able to move the young boys through the cave’s narrow passageways.

Shortly after the full rescue was announced, President Trump sent a congratulatory message.

“On behalf of the United States, congratulations to the Thai Navy SEALs and all on the successful rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the treacherous cave in Thailand. Such a beautiful moment — all freed, great job!” he wrote.

Doctors attending to the eight boys who were rescued Sunday and Monday said they are generally in good health. It was an incredible result considering that the boys spent nine days incommunicado, without food, until they were found, and then waited days more before embarking on an hours-long dive that even the most skilled cave divers described as among the most dangerous they have attempted.

A retired Thai navy SEAL died Friday after he ran out of oxygen while placing compressed-air tanks along the exit route.

“Doctors have treated the boys, and now all of them are okay and cheerful and are talking normally,” said Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, permanent secretary of the Thai Ministry of Public Health. One of the boys initially had a heartbeat that was too slow, and some had low white-blood-cell counts, but they have since been stabilized. Two have been treated for minor lung infections, doctors added. They were all treated for rabies — in case there were bats in the cave — as well as tetanus, and they were given IV drips.

Doctors expect the boys to be in the hospital for about seven days, although they could be out sooner if their bloodwork comes back negative for abnormalities.

None of them have fevers, and all are able to eat normal “medical” food, Jesada said, an improvement from the watered-down porridge they were fed when they were first rescued. A nutritionist is monitoring their diet and has recommended that they eat nothing spicy or salty — despite the boys’ cravings for spicy basil pork and rice and grilled pork.

By Monday evening, the boys were able to joke, laugh and have normal conversations, doctors said. So far, their families have seen them through a glass barrier.

Officials said families of the rescued group were preparing to head to Chiang Rai, finally able to see their loved ones after weeks of agony. Among them was Umporn Sriwichai, an aunt of assistant coach Ekapol Chanthawong. She has cared for the young man since his parents died when he was 10.

“I just want to give him a hug and say ‘I missed you,’ ” she said. “That is the first thing I will do.”

Timothy McLaughlin and Steve Hendrix in Mae Sai and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.


‘He loved them more than himself’: How a 25-year-old former monk kept the Thai soccer team alive

Shibani Mahtani
WA Post

Thai forest rangers examine a map as they view a possible drilling option during rescue operations for the soccer team and their assistant coach on July 7. (Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock)

MAE SAI, Thailand — The head coach of the Thai soccer team spent the morning of June 23 preparing his young assistant for an important task: looking out for the boys by himself.

Nopparat Khanthavong, the 37-year-old head coach of the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) soccer team, had an appointment that morning. Ekapol Chanthawong, his assistant, was to take the younger boys to a soccer field nestled by the Doi Nang Non mountain range, a formation with numerous waterfalls and caves that straddles the Thai-Myanmar border.

“Make sure you ride your bicycle behind them when you are traveling around, so you can keep a lookout,” he wrote in a Facebook message he shared with The Washington Post. Ekapol coaches the younger boys, so Nopparat told him to bring some of the boys from the older team for additional eyes.

“Take care,” he wrote.

The hours that followed kicked off a chain of events that has riveted the world: a dramatic search and rescue that found the boys alive nine days later, huddled on a small, muddy patch surrounded by floodwaters. Attention has focused on the only adult, 25-year-old former novice monk Ekapol, and the role he has played in both their predicament and their survival.

Efforts to extract the boys have involved a swelling team of thousands of divers, engineers, military personnel and volunteers from all over the world — including Elon Musk’s SpaceX — with no clear plan in sight. Diving, the most probable method, is seen as too risky for now given the boys’ lack of swimming experience, pitch-black muddy waters through narrow passageways, and the death this week of a retired Thai Navy SEAL who was among those readying the cave for the boys’ dive. Engineers have been searching for a way through the mountain’s surface, hoping to drill down and reach them within the cave, but acknowledge it could take months and alter the cave’s geography in the process.

As the rush to figure out how to rescue the group continues, some have chided Ekapol for leading the team into the cave. A large warning sign at the cave’s entrance raises the risk of entering so close to the monsoon season, they say, and he should have known better.

But for many in Thailand, Ekapol, who left his life in the monkhood three years ago and joined the Wild Boars as an assistant coach soon after, is an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys as they go through this ordeal. A widely shared cartoon drawing of Ekapol shows him sitting cross-legged, as a monk does in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

According to rescue officials, he is among the weakest in the group, in part because he gave the boys his share of the limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys how to meditate and how to conserve as much energy as possible until they were found.

“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave, in an interview with a Thai television network. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”

Ekapol was an orphan who lost his parents at age 10, friends say. He then trained to be a monk but left the monastery to care for his ailing grandmother in Mae Sai in northern Thailand. There, he split his time between working as a temple hand at a monastery and training the newly established Moo Pa team. He found kindred spirits in the boys, many of whom had grown up poor or were stateless ethnic minorities, common in this border area between Myanmar and Thailand.

“He loved them more than himself,” said Joy Khampai, a longtime friend of Ekapol’s who works at a coffee stand in the Mae Sai monastery. “He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke. He was the kind of person who looked after himself and who taught the kids to do the same.”

He helped Nopparat, the head coach, devise a system where the boys’ passion for soccer would motivate them to excel academically. If they got certain grades in school, they would be rewarded with soccer gear, such as fresh studs for their cleats or a new pair of shorts. The two spent time looking for sponsors and used the Moo Pa team to prove to the boys that they could become something more than their small town would suggest — even professional ­athletes.

“He gave a lot of himself to them,” Nopparat said. He would ferry the boys to and from home when their parents could not and took responsibility for them as if they were his own family.

He also kept the boys on a strict training schedule, according to physical education teachers at the school field where they practiced. That included biking across the hills that surround Mae Sai.

On that Saturday two weeks ago, Nopparat did not know where Ekapol would be bringing the young soccer team but thought it would be a learning experience for him to manage them on his own.

The older Wild Boars were having a match in the evening, he said, so he put his phone away. When he checked it at 7 p.m., there were at least 20 calls from worried parents, none of whose sons had come home. He frantically dialed Ekapol and a number of the boys in quick succession but reached only Songpol Kanthawong, a 13-year old member of the team whose mother picked him up after training. He told Nopparat that the team had gone exploring in the Tham Luang caves. The coach raced up there, only to find abandoned bicycles and bags at its entrance and water seeping out the muddy pathway.

“I screamed — ‘Ek! Ek! Ek!’ ” he said. “My body went completely cold.”

Information had slowly started to come outabout the boys’ nine-day ordeal before they were eventually found on Monday night, through letters and limited communication between the coach, the team and the rescuers who have been with them in a small cave chamber.

The rush of euphoria that ran through the town of Mae Sai and across the world when the group was found has settled into a grim reality that neither Ekapol nor the 12 in his care may see daylight for days or even weeks. Officials said Saturday that they have a three- to four-day window in which conditions will be “most favorable” for the boys to attempt to dive out before monsoon rains hit and continue for months.

Urgent concerns include the amount of oxygen in the section of the cave that the group is taking refuge in, which had fallen below healthy levels. Officials are now limiting the number of rescue workers who can travel into the cave to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that builds when they exhale. Rising water levels, too, could force a quick extraction, but authorities say the boys are not ready to make the dive.

Friends, meanwhile, grow worried for Ekapol. He had the boys’ complete trust, and it is unlikely that they would have set off ­exploring in the cave’s chambers without him.

“I know him, and I know he will blame himself,” said Joy, his friend at the monastery.

On Saturday morning, the Thai Navy posted photos of letters that the group had written to their family and the outside world. Ekapol’s, scribbled on a yellow-stained piece of paper, torn out from a notebook, was brief, but included a promise and an apology.

“I promise to take the very best care of the kids,” he wrote. “I want to say thanks for all the support, and I want to apologize.”

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