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« Reply #3510 on: Nov 16, 2018, 05:40 AM »

Khmer Rouge leaders found guilty of genocide in Cambodia’s ‘Nuremberg’ moment

Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea are the two most senior living leaders of regime that presided over deaths of at least 1.7 million in Cambodia

Hannah Ellis-Petersen South-east Asia correspondent
Fri 16 Nov 2018 06.13 GMT

The two most senior Khmer Rouge leaders still alive today have been found guilty of genocide, almost 40 years since Pol Pot’s brutal communist regime fell, in a verdict followed by millions of Cambodians.

Nuon Chea, 92, who was second-in-command to Pol Pot, and Khieu Samphan, 87, who served as head of state, were both sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity carried out between 1977 and 1979, in what is a landmark moment for the Khmer Rouge tribunals. The pair are already serving life sentences for crimes against humanity.

As senior figures in the Khmer regime, the court declared both men responsible for murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation imprisonment, torture, persecution on religious, racial and political grounds, enforced disappearances and mass rape through the state policy of forced marriages .

Nuon Chea, described by the court as “Pol Pot’s right hand”, was found guilty of all charges of genocide of the Vietnamese, former Khmer republic officials and the Cham Muslim minority. Khieu Samphan was found guilty of the genocide of the Vietnamese but was cleared of involvement in the genocidal extermination of the Cham.

The verdict, read by Judge Nil Nonn, gave a detailed account of some of the most horrific actions carried out by the regime, particularly focusing on the infamous S-21 security prison and execution site where tens of thousands were killed. Interrogations, and executions were carried out under the direct instruction of those in the “upper echelons, including Nuon Chea”, who oversaw S-21 for two years.

“The chamber finds that prisoners were brought to interrogation rooms, handcuffed and blindfolded, their legs chained during questioning” said Nil Nonn, adding that interrogation methods included “beatings with sticks, rocks, electrical wire, whips, electric shocks and suffocation and the extraction of of toenails and fingernails.”

As the list of the regime’s crimes were read out in detail, Nuon Chea asked to be excused from the court on the basis of ill health.

The judgment also emphasised that Khieu Samphan “encouraged, incited and legitimised” the criminal policies that lead to the deaths of civilians “on a massive scale” including the millions forced into labour camps to build dams and bridges and the mass extermination of Vietnamese. Buddhist monks were forcibly defrocked while Muslims were forced to eat pork.

David Scheffer, who was UN secretary general’s special expert on assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials and the former US ambassador at large for war crimes issues, described the genocide verdict as “very significant”. “This is comparable, in Cambodia, to the Nuremberg judgment after world war two,” Scheffer told the Guardian. “That is worth the money and effort.”

On Friday morning the courtroom in the capital of Phnom Penh was packed with families of some of the 1.7 million Cambodians who died between 1975 and 1979, through a combinations of mass executions, starvation and brutal labour camps, in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century.

“It was such an evil regime and it was the worst example of what a government can do,” said prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian. “I think this verdict is a very timely and very necessary. The fact that these crimes happened 40 years ago in no way diminishes the impact of this verdict for those who were affected by the crimes, people whose parents were tortured and killed.”

While neither Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan disputed their roles as pivotal figures in the Khmer Rouge communist regime – whose repressive policies of agricultural collectivisation and social engineering led to famine and saw hundreds of thousands put into labour camps – they both denied genocide. By the time the regime was ousted by Cambodian dissidents and Vietnamese troops in 1979, about 25% of Cambodia’s population had died.

Victor Koppe, the lawyer for Nuon Chea, told the Guardian the case at the extraordinary chambers in the courts of Cambodia (ECCC) had been conducted “very unfairly” and had served simply to prop up a version of history that suited the current government. Many of today’s government figures, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, served in the Khmer Rouge regime before defecting.

“In 10 or 20 years from now, when the dust has settled, people will look back on this as a complete waste of time and energy and resources,” he said.

He was echoed by Anta Guisse, the lawyer for for Khieu Samphan, who said that due to the symbolic importance of securing convictions, neither of the defendants had been given a fair trial. Both Koppe and Guisse confirmed they would be appealing the convictions.

The Khmer Rouge trials have been plagued by criticism since the ECCC was formed in 1997 through a conjoined effort by the UN and the Cambodian courts to try the “most senior” Khmer Rouge members. It took nine years to get the first case to trial and, 12 years and $320m later, it has convicted only three men. Most of those responsible for the killings, including Pol Pot, died before they could be tried.

The first life sentence was handed to Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, who ran S-21 concentration camp in Phnom Penh where at least 14,000 people were tortured and killed. In 2014, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were then found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Their second trial, for genocide and mass rape, drew to a close in June last year but the verdict has taken 18 months to reach by the panel of three Cambodian and two international judges.

Many have criticised the tribunals for moving at a glacial, and very expensive pace, and being susceptible to political interference from Hun Sen’s government. Prosecutor Koumjian said he “wished things had gone faster and that more people had been prosecuted”.

But Alexander Hinton, director of the Centre for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights, and UNESCO chair on genocide prevention at Rutgers University, said: “Justice is not perfect. But it’s better than no justice. And what’s the alternative? Impunity for mass murder.”

There are three Khmer Rouge commanders who are still awaiting trial but the future of the ECCC remains uncertain, mainly due to resistance from Hun Sen who has long opposed the trials and said that any more cases risked pushing Cambodia into civil war.

Hinton admitted that the political interference from Hun Sen’s regime had “tarnished” the legacy of the ECCC. “These tribunals are political through and through and this one is more than most” he said. “It has been plagued by accusations of corruption, political interference, and at times less than robust law.

“But in the end the court delivered,” he added. “There may just have been three judgments, but the process proceeded with the rule of law. I expect most Cambodians will take this court, warts and all.”

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« Reply #3511 on: Nov 16, 2018, 05:42 AM »

'Killing, abuse, sexual violence beyond belief': fears grow of all-out war in CAR

Experts warn collective failure of UN, donors and government has left Central African Republic on the brink
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Rebecca Ratcliffe
Fri 16 Nov 2018 07.00 GMT

The UN security council has failed to agree terms for extending a peacekeeping mission in Central African Republic just days after a top aid official warned the country is at risk of sliding into full-scale war.

Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who warned the UN peacekeeping mission is overstretched, said wider efforts to end the conflict were also failing.

“The UN effort is not succeeding, the donor effort is not succeeding and the government is in no way steering the country toward good governance,” said Egeland. “Nor are CAR’s neighbours playing the role of being good neighbours stabilising the country.”

On Thursday, the mandate for the UN’s peacekeeping mission, Minusca, was temporarily renewed for a month, following disagreements over whether it should provide support to the country’s national troops.

Aid agencies have warned that Minusca desperately needs additional resources to improve the number and quality of the mission, which has struggled to contain the crisis and faced allegations of sexual exploitation. But Minusca has struggled to persuade countries to contribute troops, while the US wants to reduce cost. Experts believe the number of troops, which currently stands at 12,000, is unlikely to rise further.

“The mission is not even close to fulfilling its mandate of protecting the civilian population,” Egeland added. “Civilians are routinely targeted, killed, abused – the sexual violence is beyond belief”.

Over a 48-hour period beginning on 31 October, 27,000 people were forced to flee after a camp and surrounding homes were burned and looted following clashes in Batangafo, in the north of the country. The site was “virtually next door” to a UN peacekeeper base, said Egeland.

He added that pledges made at a Brussels conference in 2016 – when 2.06bn (£1.8bn) was promised by donors – had failed to bring about reconciliation and reconstruction in most areas of the country.

“If it [the conflict] continues like right now, full-scale war is much more realistic than any kind of reconciliation and reconstruction outcome we thought of in 2016,” said Egeland.

“This is a place where a hand grenade and loaf of bread are more or less the same price,” he said, adding that the prevalence of diamonds and other precious metals has intensified violence by armed groups. “It is very easy to get guns and grenades for a low price, and unemployed, desperate young men are even cheaper.”

Conflict broke out in CAR in late 2012, when Seleka rebels – most of them Muslims, and many from Chad and Sudan – overthrew François Bozizé. Predominantly Christian fighters, known as the anti-balaka, retaliated. The number of armed groups, often competing for natural resources, has since multiplied.

Funding shortages have forced agencies to adopt a short term approach, said Egeland, focusing resources on the most crisis-hit areas, only to withdraw support as soon as the emergency is perceived to have faded. In Carnot, in the east of the country, the Norwegian Refugee Council was forced to withdraw a school programme that provided education for young people otherwise vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups.

So far this year, the humanitarian response in CAR has received less than half of the $500m dollars needed. An estimated 1.27 million people have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the violence.

Ferran Puig, Oxfam’s country director in Central African Republic, said aid efforts were severely hampered by insecurity. “A lack of humanitarian access to some areas is really preventing us from moving around outside of the areas [that are] under control of Minusca. When you try to do humanitarian response to communities elsewhere, it’s very difficult.”

This summer, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned of a rise in attacks on aid workers in the country, which is among the most dangerous for humanitarian workers. A total of 118 incidents were recorded between April and June.

There are fears over increased violence in areas such as Batangafo and Bambari, in the centre of the country. In Batangafo, 10,000 people fled to a local hospital and many others to the bush after violence erupted two weeks ago, forcing medical staff to cut back services. Roughly 5,000 people remain on the grounds, according to Médecins Sans Frontières.

Staff there normally see an average of 1,000 people for malaria cases each week, but this had fallen to 60 last week following the eruption of violence. “In two weeks’ time we are going to have severe cases of malaria because people are not arriving in the hospital, they are living in the bush,” said Helena Cardellach, field coordinator for Batangafo for Médecins Sans Frontières, which supports the hospital.

Medical workers are also concerned about increased cases of diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory infections, especially among children under five.

The Norwegian Refugee Council has called for an urgent review of the humanitarian response in 2019, ahead of the country’s 2020 elections, which it is feared may lead to a further escalation of violence.

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« Reply #3512 on: Nov 16, 2018, 05:44 AM »

After intense wrangling, UK backs a Brexit deal. Now what?

New Europe

LONDON  — Like white smoke from the Vatican announcing a new pope, the signal from Britain's Cabinet table says: We have a decision. After a year and a half of negotiating with the European Union — and fighting with itself — the U.K. government on Wednesday backed a deal to allow Britain's orderly exit from the bloc, and paint the outlines of future relations.

Prime Minister Theresa May's fractious Conservative government agreed on a deal that solves the key outstanding issue — how to ensure a frictionless border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland after Brexit. The "backstop" plan involves keeping the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a permanent trade treaty is worked out.

It's a breakthrough, but the path to Brexit day — just over four months away on March 29 — remains rocky. Here's a look at what is likely to happen next: BEELINE TO BRUSSELS May is due to update Parliament on Thursday on what has been agreed, while Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab will likely head to Brussels to meet with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

Barnier declared there has been "decisive progress" toward a deal — the phrase that allows EU leaders to call a special summit to approve the deal. They have penciled in a meeting for Nov. 25. The deal consists of two parts: a legally binding withdrawal agreement — which includes the border backstop — and a looser framework for future relations. The two sides have given themselves a transition period until the end of 2020 to work out the details of future trade ties.

PERIL IN PARLIAMENT Once the EU has signed off on it, the deal also must be approved by the European and British parliaments May hopes to get it passed by U.K. lawmakers before Christmas. Business groups warn that most U.K. companies will implement Brexit contingency plans — cutting jobs, stockpiling goods, relocating production — if there isn't clarity by then about the terms of Brexit.

But she faces an uphill battle. May's Conservative Party doesn't hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons, and relies on 10 lawmakers from Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party to win votes. But the DUP says it will reject any deal that treats Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the U.K.

Several dozen pro-Brexit Conservatives have vowed to oppose any arrangement that keeps Britain in a customs union, and tied to EU trade rules, indefinitely. The main opposition Labour Party also says it will oppose any deal that doesn't offer the same benefits Britain currently has as a member of the EU's single market and customs union.

May is calculating that, faced with the prospect of a chaotic "no-deal" exit — complete with financial turmoil, gridlock at U.K. ports and shortages of essential goods — most Conservatives and some opposition lawmakers will crumble and support the deal.

UNCHARTED TERRITORY If Parliament rejects the deal, Britain enters unknown territory. Lawmakers could try to send the government back to the negotiating table with the EU, though there's no simple mechanism to make that happen. They could defeat the government in a no-confidence vote in an attempt to trigger a national election.

Lawmakers could even vote for a new referendum on EU membership, though it seems unlikely there would be time to hold one before the U.K.'s scheduled departure date. The U.K. will cease to be an EU member on March 29 — deal or no deal.

Iain Begg, a professor at the London School of Economics' European Institute, said rejection of a deal would trigger a major political crisis because Britain's patchwork constitution offers no "prescribed way out of that dilemma."

He said in that case, "we really are into a period of great uncertainty about what happens next. I think nobody can know how it would unfold."

Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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« Reply #3513 on: Nov 16, 2018, 05:58 AM »

Julian Assange charged in secret, mistake on US court filing suggests

Court filing submitted by US authorities in an unrelated case mentioned existence of criminal charges against someone named ‘Assange’

Jon Swaine in New York and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Washington
Fri 16 Nov 2018 05.34 GMT

Julian Assange, a major target of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, has been criminally charged in secret, an apparent mistake in a court filing has indicated.

The court filing, submitted by US authorities in an unrelated case, mentioned the existence of criminal charges against someone named “Assange” even though that was not the name of the defendant.

The WikiLeaks founder, who has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London since seeking asylum in 2012, is considered a wanted man by US law enforcement agencies after his controversial publication of classified diplomatic cables and other secret US government documents.

One of Assange’s attorneys, Barry Pollack, said it was a “dangerous path for a democracy to take” for a government to bring criminal charges against someone for publishing truthful information.

“The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed,” Pollack said in an email.

Earlier on Thursday evening, the Wall Street Journal reported that the US was making preparations to prosecute Assange and was confident of being able to detain him and make him stand trial.

The court filing, written by assistant US attorney Kellen Dwyer, did not specify the nature of any charges against Assange. It was submitted to the federal court in the eastern district of Virginia, which handles many cases involving national security.

WikiLeaks is under investigation by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, for publishing tens of thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. US intelligence agencies concluded that the emails were taken by Russian government hackers as part of an operation aimed at helping the campaign of Donald Trump.

The filing was a motion asking the court to seal charges, meaning they are kept secret from public view.

It argued that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged”.

It later said: “The complaint, supporting affidavit and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

Legal analysts said the error was likely to have been caused by prosecutors copying and pasting from sealed documents outlining charges against Assange. Prosecutors are known to copy text from past court filings to make similar arguments in new cases, typically changing names and other relevant details accordingly.

Assange and his supporters have frequently claimed US authorities had filed secret criminal charges against him.

A spokesman for the Justice Department in Virginia’s eastern district would not directly address the question of whether the document meant Assange had already been charged by the US.

“The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing,” the spokesman, Joshua Stueve, said in an email.

WikiLeaks said on Twitter that the filing “reveals existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks’ publisher Julian Assange”.

WikiLeaks published more than 50,000 Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign, beginning with a batch taken from the party’s servers that was dumped online shortly before its national convention in July 2016. The leak prompted the resignation of the party’s chairwoman and disrupted Clinton’s campaign. WikiLeaks later published more emails taken from the account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Assange’s group featured in Mueller’s indictment in July of a group of Russian hackers accused of carrying out the email thefts but was not charged itself. Identified only as “organization 1”, it was accused of receiving the stolen emails from the Russian operatives after exchanging messages.
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The July indictment said WikiLeaks urged the Russians to give them the first batch of stolen emails in the days before the Democratic convention so it could publish them in a way that would “have a much higher impact than what you are doing”. The filings did not, however, say whether Assange’s group knew it was dealing with Kremlin-backed operatives.

The mistaken court filing was first noticed on Thursday by Seamus Hughes, an academic at Georgetown University and former US government official. It was filed in the case of a man named Seitu Sulayman Kokayi. It was submitted to court in Kokayi’s case in August this year and was initially sealed. The reason for its unsealing was unclear.

Kokayi, 29, is charged with coercing a 15-year-old girl to have sex with him and to give him pornographic images, and with sending her a video of him masturbating. However prosecutors told the court that investigators also collected “sensitive information relating to … national security” as part of the case. They told the court last week that they intend to use evidence gathered via electronic surveillance.


Ex-FBI counter-intel chief: Newly revealed Assange charges may be part of Mueller’s plan to target Trump

Raw Story
16 Nov 2018 at 06:45 ET

MSNBC “11th Hour” anchor Brian Williams broke in with breaking news on Thursday after the Department of Justice inadvertently revealed the existence of sealed charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Williams was fortunate to have as a guest Frank Figliuzzi, the former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“So, Frank, what’s the significance of this development to you?” Williams asked.

“Well, this has deep meaning also for me personally, because I was in Washington at headquarters when the entire intelligence community was wrestling with what to do with Julian Assange and Wikileaks,” he noted. “And that the great debate about whether we should even treat him as a foreign power — they were doing that much damage to us.”

“Look, I said before on your show, Brian, I think the strategy for Mueller is to tell us the story of a corrupt president through the indictments of others,” he noted.

“Understand that our intelligence community has Wikileaks covered like a blanket — as if they are a foreign adversary,” he revealed. “So when Trump sees questions he doesn’t like to answer, he might be realizing that Mueller has so much more on the classified side than anyone ever realized.”

“And maybe –just maybe — that is [spying] coverage of Julian Assange and Wikileaks and their role with the Russians in the release of emails during the presidential campaign,” Figliuzzi continued. “We have to wait and see.”


WATCH: Rachel Maddow explains why new Mueller filing means big news is coming soon

Raw Story
16 Nov 2018 at 06:45 ET                 

The host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC explained on Thursday why it appears there will be major developments in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — in the next 10 days.

Maddow reported on a new filing by the special counsel concerning the case of former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The special counsel’s office had a Friday deadline to update the overseeing judge on Manafort’s cooperation with investigators following his guilty pleas.

“And here’s the part that makes the ominous music start up in your head and that makes us put the red banner on the bottom of the screen,” Maddow said. “In this new report they just filed, Mueller’s prosecutors have just asked the judge to please give them 10 days before they tell the judge what’s up with Manafort’s case right now.”

“Ten days? That is very strange,” she noted. “They say they’re not going to make tomorrow’s deadline, they would like a 10 day extension.”

“That is unusual,” she added.

“What’s going to happen in the next 10 days that will give the court a better picture of how helpful Paul Manafort has been?” she wondered. “Something’s going to happen between now and 10 days from now that will allow them to be of greater assistance in the court’s management of this matter?”

“What’s going to happen in the next 10 days?” she asked.

“There is a palpable sense right now that this is the — this is the time we have been expecting, this is the thing for which we have all been reading up on our history,” she concluded.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNAoZsJLXJ4


What happens when the intelligence community decides that Trump is too dangerous to be president?

Jefferson Morley, Independent Media Institute
15 Nov 2018 at 23:15 ET                   

A surge of public activism by former CIA personnel is one of the most unexpected developments of the Trump presidency, and it is accelerating.

Two former CIA officers—both Democrats, both women, both liberal—were elected to Congress on November 6. Abigail Spanberger, former operations officer, was elected in Virginia’s 7th District. Elissa Slotkin, former analyst, won in Michigan’s 8th District. Both Spanberger and Slotkin incorporated their intelligence experience into their center-left platforms. Their victories tripled the number of CIA “formers” in Congress. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), previously the only former intelligence officer on Capitol Hill, won re-election by defeating Gina Ortiz Jones, herself a former military intelligence officer.

They are hardly alone. Former directors John Brennan and Gen. Michael Hayden are among Trump’s harshest critics. Other former CIA leaders like Michael Morell and John McLaughlin are more circumspect. But as a group, they are far more outspoken about the current president than, say, former director George H.W. Bush was about President Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. When Trump threatened to pull Brennan’s security clearance, more than 70 former intelligence officers signed an open letter calling Trump’s action a threat to free speech.

At the halfway point in Trump’s first term, these formers see themselves as a bulwark of an endangered democracy. The president and his supporters see a cabal of “deep state” radicals out to overturn the will of the people. With the appointment of Matthew Whitaker, an unqualified political operative, as Attorney General, Brennan said a “constitutional crisis” is fast approaching. The clash between a willfully ignorant commander in chief and a politicized intelligence community seems sure to deepen.

“I think the blatant disregard for the threat of foreign influence in our election and the demonization of the Intelligence Community was a turning point for a lot of us,” former branch chief Cindy Otis told me in an email. “…Critics can call me ‘The Deep State,’ but I joined the CIA under George W. Bush and the vast majority of people at CIA lean conservative on foreign policy/natsec [national security] issues.”

Six former CIA officers spoke to Deep State of the ideals of disinterested intelligence collection and analysis as the basis for their opposition to Trump.

“It is pounded into you: To be in the CIA, you have to be as objective as possible,” said Nada Bakos, author of a forthcoming memoir, The Targeter, about her CIA career. “Your personal beliefs don’t have a place in dealing with facts objectively.”

But history tells us the apolitical ideals of the agency have often been observed in the breach without provoking a revolt in the ranks. In the 1980s, former director Bush and a host of senior agency operatives joined the Iran-Contra conspiracy. They sought to subvert the Democratic majority in Congress that had banned covert intervention in Central America. The agency’s rank and file did not object. Indeed, many applauded when President Bush pardoned four CIA officials who had been indicted in the scandal.

After the 9/11 attacks, the consensus in Langley that torture was a permissible, effective and necessary counterterrorism technique no doubt struck many intelligence officers as apolitical common sense. But, of course, adopting “extreme interrogation tactics” was a deeply political decision that President Bush embraced, and President Obama repudiated. The agency deferred to both commanders in chief.

Trump is another story. Kent Harrington, a former station chief who served as agency spokesman, says historical comparisons miss “a huge and obvious point.”

“We are dealing with a level of ignorance and psychosis in the Oval Office and dysfunction in the so-called administration itself that makes drawing parallels, much less conclusions about Trump vs. previous national leaderships perilous to say the least,” Harrington wrote in an email.

The problem with Trump in the eyes of these CIA formers is almost pre-political. The president’s policy decisions matter less than his contempt for intelligence and the system that collects it.

“When we see things that are blatantly wrong, and the president is responsible, it is fair to speak out,” Bakos said in an interview. “If you’re silent, you’re part of the problem.”

The formers speaking out against Trump, she said, are simply defending “all the things that as agency officers we swore to uphold. The Constitution, as it was written. Freedom of speech. The values of democracy vs. nationalism.”

Former personnel know better than anyone that the CIA has a license to kill. The agency can spy, capture, bomb and assassinate. It can overthrow governments, foster (or smash) political movements, even re-organize entire societies, according to the inclinations of the president and his advisers.

CIA operatives could trust both neoconservative George W. Bush and internationalist Barack Obama with that arsenal because they believed, whatever their politics, both presidents were rational actors. With Trump, they can have no such confidence.

Trump’s contempt for the intelligence profession, weaponized in his “deep state” conspiracy theories, has agency personnel feeling professionally vulnerable, perhaps for the first time. An irrational chief executive has shattered their apolitical pretensions and forced them to re-examine what their core beliefs require.

Larry Pfeiffer, former chief of staff to Hayden, told me, “Until now I’ve been mostly a Republican voter at the national level because Republicans shared my views on national security. For a lot of people inside the national security community, that is not necessarily the case anymore. The Republican Party under Trump has abandoned people like us.”

When Pfeiffer told me, “Who knows? I might have to vote for Elizabeth Warren, or Bernie Sanders in 2020,” he sounded amazed by the possibility but not averse to it. Two years of Trump can do that to a former spy.

The point is not that the CIA is getting more liberal, says John Prados, author of The Ghosts of Langley, a history of the agency. Rather, the election results show that the voting bloc that supports the president now skews even more to the hard right. “The migration of [the] political spectrum to the right makes the agency look more liberal than it is,” he said in an interview.

“I find it sad—and maybe a few other adjectives—that Brennan now gets a pass for some of [the] things he did as director, just because he’s combatting Trump,” Prados said.

Prados also distinguished between former and current CIA personnel. While Trump has nothing but scorn for the former intelligence chiefs who blast him on CNN and MSNBC, he does have something to offer the agency’s current leaders: a policy mission they may find urgent.

“If Trump is going to carry out a secret war against Iran as he seems to want to do, who is our ally?” Prados asked. “Mossad [the Israeli intelligence service]? Who can work with Mossad? The CIA. If that is Trump’s Middle East agenda, the interests of current CIA people and the formers may diverge.”

But Harrington argues the crisis facing the CIA, and other federal agencies, goes beyond any one policy.

“Trump is not only relying on lies and falsehoods in his public statements, but I have to believe he is pushing back on the realities that are brought to him. Imagine Gina Haspel goes to the White House with a briefer to talk about the latest intel on—fill in the blank: North Korea’s missile program. What China is doing to supplant America in Asia. Where Europe wants to go with NATO. Does the president listen or care? Or even understand? We’re not in crisis on any one issue, but can we really say the government is functioning?”

Harrington expects the mistrust between the president and the intelligence community to grow in the next two years.

“No director of any federal agency can turn away the inquiries of the Democratic House,” Harrington said. “CIA people have to deal head on with the consequences of a president who is fundamentally not dealing with reality.”

If there’s one thing to be learned from talking to former CIA personnel, it’s the sense that the CIA system—powerful, stealthy, and dangerous—is blinking red about the latest news of an authoritarian leader in an unstable nation.

This article was produced by the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch predicts Trump will soon have an on-camera meltdown so bad even GOP can’t ignore it

Raw Story
16 Nov 2018 at 06:45 ET                   

MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch warns that President Donald Trump is going to completely melt down soon — and even Republicans won’t be able to ignore it.

Panelists on “Morning Joe” tried to analyze Trump’s renewed attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller, saying the frenzied tweets and clumsy admissions reflect reporting that the president and his lawyers have met for more than five hours this week to discuss the Russia investigation.

“He’s getting the questions from Mueller and freaking out,” said co-host Mika Brzezinski. “I know one cannot make that connection, but one can certainly surmise that at the time the questions from the Mueller probe are coming into this White House, at the time Democrats have control and the president is finally being educated of the fact that there is nothing he can do when he is compelled to hand over his tax returns and answer questions.”

“The president finally realizes for the first time in his life he is cornered and there is nowhere to go, and at the time that one might surmise his son is potentially on the list of those that might be indicted that this president is freaking out,” she added.

MSNBC contributor Donny Deutsch predicted the meltdown would reach new depths as the walls continued to close in.

“The absurd moves he makes will get heightened,” Deutsch said. “We’re seeing a different guy now. Donald Trump a few weeks ago was scary, he was a Bond villain like Goldfinger, now he’s more like Dr. Evil, where he comes on and instead of getting angry, you kind of almost chuckle. There’s a patheticness to him that’s starting to show that hasn’t been there in the past.”

Deutsch said the president has lost the control he has always craved, and he worried how that new reality would affect his behavior.

“We’re going to see now a caged animal, and I think we’re going to see behavior so much more aberrant than anything we’ve seen,” he said. “I think we’re going to see something happen to Donald Trump on camera, some of the tweets go to a new level that even Republicans are going to start to come out from under the rocks.”

Host Joe Scarborough said Trump’s tweets are usually a mix of projection and confession, and Republican strategist Susan Del Percio said the spectacle was pathetic and alarming.

“It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic, frankly,” Del Percio said. “To have a president of the United States spinning out of control and focused only on himself, and not on our country, at this point is devastating.”

Scarborough pointed to Trump’s admission that he appointed Matthew Whitaker as interim attorney general to interfere with the special counsel probe, and said the president’s attempts to obstruct justice were obvious.

“He just walks into it,” Scarborough said. “Maybe for Christmas this year, somebody can just get a stamp and, just make it easier for him, that says ‘obstruction’ on it and just stamp it on his forehead — it’s so obvious. You look at what he said to Lester Holt, what he told the Russian foreign minister, what he told the Russian ambassador of the United States about the firing of (James) Comey. He obstructs in the light of day.”


Conservative Max Boot warns Trump’s attacks on Mueller are now a ‘code red situation for the rule of law’

Alex Henderson, AlterNet
15 Nov 2018 at 16:09 ET                   

President Donald Trump has been very active on Twitter this week, bombarding his favorite social media outlet with a flurry of tweets attacking Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia-related investigation—and NeverTrump conservative Max Boot, interviewed by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin on November 15, cited those tweets as evidence that Trump is “feeling the heat.”

After the midterms, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with loyalist Matt Whitaker—who has been a vocal critic of Mueller’s investigation. Boot told Baldwin that when he read Trump’s recent tweets, he was especially troubled by the president’s reference to the investigation’s “inner workings.”

Boot said of Trump, “His henchman has just been appointed acting attorney general, and even though he has not shut down the Mueller investigation, the odds are that Whitaker has access to Mueller’s files. That’s why I thought it was very ominous today when Donald Trump tweeted about the inner workings of the Mueller investigation. He’s never referred to the inner workings before. It raises the question, in my mind: does he have access to those inner workings? Does he know what Mueller has? If so, this is really a code red situation for the rule of law.”

Outgoing Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake  has introduced a bill to protect Mueller’s investigation, and Boot told Baldwin it was “disgraceful” that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t even bring Flake’s bill to the Senate floor.

“It’s just tragic how Republicans who claim to be invested in the Constitution are allowing Donald Trump to attack the rule of law in plain sight,” Boot told Baldwin.

During the CNN interview, Boot was also critical of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for his Trumpian claim that Democrats are trying to steal votes and commit voter fraud on a grand scale in Florida’s vote count.

“I thought (Rubio) was someone who was more principled and Reaganesque and would speak up for American democracy,” Boot asserted. “And here he is, undermining American democracy for petty partisan reasons….There is zero evidence of any fraud in Florida.”

Rubio, Boot complained, has been “transformed in Donald Trump’s image. The entire Republican Party has been taken over by Trump.”

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« Reply #3514 on: Nov 16, 2018, 07:11 AM »

Even Trump Can’t Stop Mocking Sean Hannity’s ‘Dumb’ Softball Questions

Trump craves friction to set off sparks and drama. Hannity’s slobbering extinguishes them.

Asawin Suebsaeng, Lachlan Cartwright
Daily Beast

Donald Trump’s close relationship—on air and off—with Sean Hannity hasn’t stopped the president from mocking the Fox News star behind his back for being such a suck-up, according to three sources who have independently heard this mockery. These sources asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss private conversations with the president, and in one case also to avoid incurring the ire of Hannity, whom they called a “perfectly nice guy.”

Trump’s many radio and TV interviews, always touted as “exclusives” and rarely making any news, have been widely derided by media critics and political observers as simpering propaganda. And the president himself, a man famous for demanding relentless validation and unwavering loyalty, feels the same way.

Trump has repeatedly—and sometimes for a sustained period of time—made fun of Hannity’s interviewing skills, usually zeroing in on the low-quality laziness of the host’s questions, the three people with direct knowledge tell The Daily Beast.

“It’s like he’s not even trying,” Trump has said, one source recalled, right before the president launched into a rough imitation of Hannity’s voice and mannerisms to complain that the questions about how “great I am” give him nothing to work or have fun with.

Another person who’s heard Trump make similar comments since his inauguration says they remember the president calling Hannity’s softball questions “dumb.” This source recalled a round of ripping on the TV talker’s interview style and cloying devotion to Trump that lasted long enough that the source glanced at their watch and started feeling sorry for Hannity.

“Election Day [2016], I actually called you, I said, ‘You’re gonna get bad news about… 5:15 that afternoon. You lost Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.’ And you won ’em all. Polls don’t mean anything, do they?” Hannity asked during his most recent Fox News interview with Trump this month.

“I lost them based on the fake news,” Trump replied.

“Fake news,” Hannity repeated.

The president’s recurring complaints often focus on how sycophantic the TV host can be, both on and off camera, with Hannity’s slobbering leaving no friction to generate the sparks and drama that Trump craves.

“He likes it as sport,” a Republican close to the White House said, describing the president’s long-running addiction to sparring with media figures.

White House spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment on this story as of publication time. Neither did Hannity. Fox News declined to comment.

“Trump does enjoy the back-and-forth with the press—look at this whole Jim Acosta thing,” said Jeff Lord, a Trump ally and former CNN political commentator. “The president can call on anybody he wants. He could have ignored Jim Acosta. He didn’t do it. And he didn’t do it because… they would have some chance to do some verbal jousting there.”

Lord recalled that when he interviewed the then-future president at Trump Tower in 2014, Trump had enthusiastically promised he would “fight back” hard against the “dishonest” press if he ran for the White House. “Donald Trump delights in the combat with these folks,” Lord added.

Despite mocking Hannity’s softball questions, the president “loves Sean,” according to numerous Trump friends and White House officials, and is said to value him as a close pal and prominent informal political adviser who has his finger on the pulse of conservative America in a way few do.

“Sean Hannity told me last night…” is a phrase often heard by those closest to the president.

But Hannity is hardly the first friend or ally Trump has professed his love for even as he routinely disrespected or debased that person behind their back. For instance, when Oscar-winning actress and Trump acquaintance Marlee Matlin competed on Celebrity Apprentice, he repeatedly made fun of her by calling her “retarded”—simply because she was deaf.

With Hannity, Trump hasn’t always restrained himself until his friend was out of the room. Ahead of one of the president’s closing rallies before the midterm elections this month, the 2020 Trump campaign announced Hannity would be appearing onstage with Trump as a “special guest.”

Fox News began telling news outlets the “special guest” designation was wrong, and that Hannity would only be at the rally in Missouri to interview Trump for his show. Hannity himself tweeted the day of the event, “To be clear, I will not be on stage campaigning with the president,” and blamed any confusion on supposedly erroneous “reports” instead of Team Trump’s announcement.

In the middle of the political rally, the president called Hannity onstage anyway and told him to come up to the mic—which Hannity did to campaign with the president he supposedly just covers on air.

Hannity’s employer sprang into damage-control mode.

“Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” the network said in a statement. “We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight, and we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”

According to a senior administration official, Trump was aware of Hannity and Fox News’ stated position that the host would not campaign that night. The president simply “did not care” and did it anyway, the official said.

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« Reply #3515 on: Nov 17, 2018, 05:52 AM »

Ice Age Asteroid Crater Discovered Beneath Greenland Glacier

It is the first impact crater discovered under one of Earth’s ice sheets, according to the scientists who found it.

By Nicholas St. Fleur
Nov. 17, 2018

Buried beneath a half mile of snow and ice in Greenland, scientists have uncovered an impact crater large enough to swallow the District of Columbia.

The finding suggests that a giant iron asteroid smashed into what is today a glacier during the last ice age, an era known as the Pleistocene Epoch that started 2.6 million years ago. When it ended only 11,700 years ago, mega-fauna like saber-toothed cats had died out while humanity had inherited the Earth.

The discovery could lead to insights into the ice age climate, and the effects on it from the eruption of debris that would have resulted from such a cataclysmic collision.

“This is the first impact crater found beneath one of our planet’s ice sheets,” said Kurt Kjær, a geologist at the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and lead author of the study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

In 2015, Dr. Kjær and a colleague were analyzing a NASA map of Greenland when they noticed an enormous circular depression on the Hiawatha Glacier at Greenland’s northwest tip.

“There was a hidden landscape starting to take shape,” said Dr. Kjær. “We looked at it and said, ‘What is that?’”

At that moment Dr. Kjær thought about the car-size meteorite on display in the courtyard near his office in Copenhagen, which had coincidentally been recovered from the northwest of Greenland. He and his colleague joked that perhaps the circular structure was a crater left by an asteroid.

After the laughs subsided, they realized their suggestion might not be far-fetched. “There’s only so many ways you could create a circular feature beneath an ice sheet,” said Dr. Kjær.

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For three days in May 2016, his team flew over the crater in a German airplane with ice-penetrating radar, drawing imaginary grid lines across the surface.

John Paden, a radio-glaciologist at the University of Kansas, operated the radar on the flight. Every second it sent 12,000 radio wave pulses down into the ice, reflecting off the ice layers and allowing the team to measure the thickness, structure and age of the ice sheet.

The aerial survey confirmed that there was a huge pit with an elevated, circular rim and uplifting structures in the center, all telltale signs of an impact crater. The team’s analysis showed that the Hiawatha crater was nearly 1,000 feet deep and 20 miles in diameter, placing it among Earth’s 25 largest impact craters, although much smaller than the 90-mile crater left by the dino-busting Chicxulub impact.

“Once you start looking for structures beneath the ice that look like an impact crater, Hiawatha sticks out like a sore thumb,” said Joseph MacGregor, a glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and a co-author of the study.

The bowl of the crater presses right against the edge of the glacier, giving the wandering ice sheet a semi-circle-like appearance that is visible from above. Breaking out from that semicircle is a white tongue of ice, a large river containing sediments from the bottom of the ice sheet.

Dr. Kjær ventured to the floodplain via helicopter and collected sediment. He found what he said were pieces of highly shocked quartz, which signaled that a violent impact had occurred at some time in the area’s history. The area’s sediments also had high concentrations of nickel, cobalt, chromium, gold and platinum, an indicator that the meteorite was made of iron.

Because the team has not yet searched for ejected material from the impact in ice cores, they cannot establish an accurate date for the impact, beyond saying it occurred during the Pleistocene. Their next steps are to determine whether the asteroid smashed into a glacier or an area that was subsequently covered by ice, and to assess the climatic effects of the impact.

Dr. Kjær still wonders if the meteorite in the courtyard outside his office, which was found about 200 miles away from the Hiawatha crater, may hold clues to better understanding the ancient impact.

“Even though we have looked into the planet’s surface so much, with every type of equipment,” said Dr. Kjær, “the Age of Discovery is not over yet.”

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« Reply #3516 on: Nov 17, 2018, 05:53 AM »

Toxic herbicide found in many Texans’ drinking water

Texas Tribune
17 Nov 2018 at 07:00 ET                   

Nearly 500 water utilities across the state tested positive for atrazine — a weed killer — which can lead to harmful health effects, according to a new report. The Environmental Working Group also found that utilities are testing water during times when the herbicide isn’t being used as much — and that they may be lowballing the results.

More than 10 million Texans have consumed drinking water with some level of atrazine – a toxic herbicide – with 472 water utility systems statewide testing positive in at least one detection, according to a new report from an environmental group.

Comparing the test results submitted by water utilities to state environmental regulators to those from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group concluded that water utilities are testing for atrazine at times when farmers aren’t using it — the growing season typically spans late spring and early summer — and also appear to be lowballing their numbers. The group is calling for updates to federal federal drinking water standards.

The report found that nearly 30 million Americans have atrazine in their tap water — and that Texans who live near sorghum or corn-growing areas are more likely to have contaminated drinking water.

The 472 Texas utilities with atrazine contamination serve nearly 10 million people. Water utilities in Texas send their data to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental regulatory agency.

In their analysis, EWG compared 2017 federal testing data collected at utilities in seven states, including Texas, with atrazine levels reported to state authorities over the same period. For 70 percent of utilities analyzed, the EWG found that tests were conducted outside periods of the atrazine spikes or that reported levels were below what EPA tests found.

Olga Naidenko, an EWG senior science advisor, said many water utilities stay in compliance with drinking water regulations by avoiding testing during seasonal spikes of atrazine.

“The utility, by playing the dates game, may not pick up the spike,” said Naidenko, one of the report’s authors. “By testing before or after the spike, they are effectively missing the spike or reporting very low levels.”

Russell Hamilton, executive director of the Texas Water Utilities Association, said he is concerned when he hears reports like EWG’s, but said there are checks and balances in place to address elevation of herbicides like atrazine in water supplies.

“If atrazine is detected, that’s when the state takes action and there are steps in place where you have to start additional or advanced treatment procedures,” said Hamilton, whose organization provides training to those seeking to become licensed as water supply operators.

Brian McGovern, a spokesman for the state environmental agency, said the TCEQ uses third-party contractors to collect all chemical compliance samples, including those for atrazine. He said that monitoring would increase to a quarterly basis if atrazine levels rose above the EPA’s maximum contaminant levels or above the regulatory detection limit.

In Texas, levels have not gone above the limit, but the EWG report said water utilities in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio had atrazine spikes much higher than the federal legal limit but the EWG recommends that the atrazine limit for drinking water be at 0.1 ppb. Only two Texas communities were a part of the EPA monitoring program in 2017, according to Sarah Graddy, deputy director of communications at EWG.

Texas must adopt regulations at least as stringent as those adopted by the EPA under the Safe Water Drinking act, according to the TCEQ website. The current EPA standard for atrazine in drinking water is 3 parts per billion (ppb), but EWG says it should be 0.1 ppb.

Naidenko said EWG cannot determine whether there is an intent by water utilities to deceive but said what is truly important is whether or not people consuming the contaminated drinking water are made aware of the issue. Atrazine can disrupt hormones and hurt fetuses, leading to greater risks of cardiovascular disease or developmental delays, the group said.

A medical study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston suggests a connection between maternal atrazine exposure and gastroschisis, a birth defect in the wall of a baby’s abdomen. Another study by UTHealth “observed modest, but consistent, associations” between maternal atrazine exposure and various deformities in male genitalia.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, last updated in 1996, only annual averages of atrazine need to be reported. Naidenko said it is important for state water authorities to advocate for “greater scrutiny” and to require that testing take place at a time when spike in atrazine is expected.

“We know there is under-detection because of when utilities take their samples,” Naidenko said. “All we can say is it looks suspicious that the compliance test does not show the same kind of spike as when testing is conducting by testers who are not associated with the water utilities.”

The Office of Pesticide Programs at the EPA is studying whether or not it is appropriate to revise drinking water standards as they relate to atrazine, according to an EPA spokesperson. The EPA said it continues to evaluate peer reviewed data and information on the health effects of atrazine and simazine, another dangerous herbicide.

TCEQ said Texans can find information about their drinking water supply at Texas Drinking Water Watch, which allows users to search by county and system type, among other parameters. EWG said atrazine can be removed from water using common faucet-mounted filters or pitchers with a filter.

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« Reply #3517 on: Nov 17, 2018, 05:55 AM »

Brazil's new foreign minister believes climate change is a Marxist plot

Ernesto Araújo has called climate science ‘dogma’ and bemoaned the ‘criminalisation’ of red meat, oil and heterosexual sex

Jonathan Watts Global environment editor
17 Nov 2018 17.13 GMT

Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has chosen a new foreign minister who believes climate change is part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to stifle western economies and promote the growth of China.

Ernesto Araújo – until recently a mid-ranking official who blogs about the “criminalisation” of red meat, oil and heterosexual sex – will become the top diplomat of South America’s biggest nation, representing 200 million people and the greatest and most biodiverse forest on Earth, the Amazon.

His appointment, confirmed by Bolsonaro on Wednesday, is likely to send a chill through the global climate movement.

Brazil was where the international community first came together in 1992 to discuss reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Its diplomats have played a crucial role in bridging the gap between rich and poor nations, particularly during the forging of the Paris agreement in 2015.

But when the new government takes power in January, the foreign ministry that leads that work will be headed by a man who claims climate science is merely “dogma”.

In his blog, Araújo states his goal is to “help Brazil and the world liberate themselves from globalist ideology”, which he sees as anti-Christian.

The 51-year-old diplomat – who has never served as an overseas ambassador – claims unnamed leftist politicians have hijacked environmentalism to serve as a tool for global domination.

“This dogma has been used to justify increasing the regulatory power of states over the economy and the power of international institutions on the nation states and their populations, as well as to stifle economic growth in democratic capitalist countries and to promote the growth of China,” he wrote in a post last month.

In another, he claimed the centre-left Workers party in Brazil was “criminalising sex and reproduction, saying that all heterosexual intercourse is rape and every baby is a risk to the planet as it will increase carbon emissions”. He then went on to accuse the party of criminalising red meat, oil, air conditioners and Disney movies.

The incendiary rhetoric echoes that of Bolsonaro, who won last month’s presidential election with about 57.7m votes. The former army captain has since moved to put in place one of the world’s most far-right administrations and promised to align Brazil more closely to Trump and the US.

Climate negotiation experts said the appointment was sad for Brazil and the world – though they held out hope that the new foreign minister will be more pragmatic when he comes to represent his country.

“Brazil has played a very significant role for the Paris agreement. It would be really bad for the country’s image if he brings with him his ideology,” said Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory.

He said climate was the one area where Brazil could proudly boast to be a global leader, and urged the new foreign minister and president not to isolate the country in this field.

“Bolsonaro is not Trump. Brazil is not the United States. We don’t have the same cards,” he said. “If Brazil becomes a pariah on the global climate agenda, it would be extremely bad for our business, especially agribusiness. When they go to Europe to negotiate a deal, climate safeguards will be on the table. ”

The risk of losing soya and beef sales in Europe is thought to be why Bolsonaro has backtracked on threats to quit the Paris agreement and merge the agriculture and environment ministries.

But he remains intent on opening up the Amazon to the farmers, miners and construction companies that supported his campaign.

His pick as agriculture minister is the head of the farming lobby, Tereza Cristina Dias, who conservationists have nicknamed the “Muse of Poison” due to her enthusiastic support for relaxing controls on agro-toxins.

She and her colleagues are said to be gutting the responsibilities of the environment ministry before its new head is appointed. The environment institution is likely to be so subservient that insiders joke there will soon be two agriculture ministries in Brazil.

The slim hope now for climate advocates is that the powerful agribusiness lobby will come to realise that the rain for their crops depends on a healthy Amazon and stable global environment. More than 80% of Brazil’s municipalities have experienced drought in the past five years, which scientists have linked to deforestation.

But loggers are not waiting. The latest deforestation figures showed a sharp rise in deforestation during the election campaign, suggesting protections for nature and indigenous land are already weakening.

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« Reply #3518 on: Nov 17, 2018, 05:57 AM »

An Oil Spill in the Great Australian Bight Could Be Twice as Bad as Deepwater Horizon

Equinor, Norway's state oil company formerly known as Statoil, has faced criticism from environmentalists over its plans to drill the Great Australian Bight off the country's southern coast. A potential spill in the area would threaten the ecosystem and endanger the largest breeding populations of endangered southern right whales in the world.

Such fears are now confirmed if a blowout should actually occur, according to a leaked draft Oil Pollution Emergency Plan authored by Equinor and obtained by Greenpeace's Australia Pacific branch.

In a "worst credible case discharge" scenario—which involves a "loss of well control" and subsea releases of crude oil for more than 100 days—the spill could impact Australia's entire southern coast and even reach as far north as Sydney, the document shows.

This map shown in this tweet is based on Equinor's modeling of 100 different spills in the Great Australian Bight between the October to May drilling season.

"This leak should be the final nail in the coffin of Bight oil drilling," Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said in a press release. "Not only does it show that oil could drench a previously unimaginable area that would include iconic beaches such as Bondi and Manly, it also shows that oil companies have no plan for stopping such a leak should it occur."

Not only is the Great Australian Bight a significant southern right whale calving grounds, it's a feeding area for blue whales, humpback whales, orcas, sea lions and is one of Australia's most important fisheries, Greenpeace says.

Equinor's map shows how far an oil spill could spread in 60 days after the flow of oil was stopped by drilling a relief well to kill the impacted well. Under the worst case scenario, a "loss of well control" will release an average of 6,739 cubic meters of oil per day until the well is killed on day 102.

Equinor plans to drill for oil off South Australia's Eyre Peninsula using similar plans abandoned by BP and Chevron, according to ABC Australia.

Greenpeace noted that the leaked document comes just days after the Australian regulator NOPSEMA released BP's Well Operations Management Plan, which showed that an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight could release more than twice the amount of crude oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

What's more, the safety equipment would be unusable for more than a third of the year due to high waves, Greenpeace determined.

"BP's plan showed that not only would the high waves of the Bight make the use of a capping stack impossible but they also said it was 'highly unlikely' a second rig could be found to drill a relief well and 'kill' the leak," Pelle explained.

The BP plan said that a capping stack cannot be used in seas above 3.5 meters. Greenpeace obtained data from the Australian bureau of meteorology that said the sea-state is above 3.5 meters 33.6 percent of the year.

Equinor Australia country manager Jone Stangeland told ABC Australia the leaked document was part of an unfinished environment plan distributed to state governments.

He explained that the map was "based on an extremely unlikely worst-case event, simulated 100 times in different weather conditions and without any response action taken."

"The images don't represent an actual scenario, but the combination of 100 different extremely unlikely worst-case scenarios," he added. "For Equinor, no oil spills are acceptable, and we will not go ahead until we are convinced we can drill safely."

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« Reply #3519 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:09 AM »

Saudi women mount ‘inside-out’ abaya protest

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says wearing the robe is not mandatory in Islam, but in practice nothing has changed

Agence France-Presse
Sat 17 Nov 2018 02.39 GMT

Saudi women have mounted a rare protest against the abaya, posting pictures on social media wearing the obligatory body-shrouding robe inside out.

The conservative petro-state has some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women, who are required to wear the typically all-black garment in public.

Powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March said wearing the robe was not mandatory in Islam, but in practice nothing changed and no formal edict to that effect was issued.

Using the hashtag “inside-out abaya”, dozens of women have posted pictures of flipped robes in a rare protest against the strict dress code.

“Because Saudi feminists are endlessly creative, they’ve come up with new form of protest,” activist Nora Abdulkarim tweeted this week.

“They are posting pictures of [themselves] wearing their abayas inside-out in public as a silent objection to being pressured to wear it.”

Another woman on Twitter said the online campaign, which appears to be gaining traction after it surfaced this week, was an act of “civil protest”.

In an interview with CBS television in March, the crown prince said: “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men.”

But, he added, this “does not particularly specify a black abaya. [It] is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire to wear.”

After his comment, prominent Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamdi added a new wrinkle to the debate when he dismissed the long-held view that black was the only colour for abayas permissible in Islam.

Prince Mohammed, currently facing global criticism over the murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi, has spearheaded a liberalisation drive in the conservative kingdom.

In June, women celebrated taking the wheel for the first time in decades as the kingdom overturned the world’s only ban on female motorists.

The kingdom has also allowed women to enter sports stadiums, previously a male-only arena, and is pushing for greater participation of women in the workforce as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

But in tandem with the reforms, the kingdom has seen a wave of arrests of women activists in recent months in a crack down on dissent.

The country also faces criticism over its male guardianship system, which allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.

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« Reply #3520 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:12 AM »

'They see no shame': 'honour' killing video shows plight of Syrian women

Footage of a young Syrian woman’s execution by her brother was greeted with widespread horror. Yet such violence is all too common – and as a member of the Free Syrian Army, with its own police and courts, the man is untouchable

Shawn Carrie and Asmaa Alomar
17 Nov 2018 07.00 GMT

Kalashnikov in hand, the man looks into the camera. He stands over a terrified girl, who is pleading for her life.

“Make sure we can see both your faces,” a voice orders.

Behind the shaky camera, another one goads the gunman: “Go ahead, Bashar – cleanse your honour.”

Without another word, a flurry of bullets is fired into Rasha Bseis’s body. It takes nine agonising seconds for her to die.

Rasha had been murdered on camera by her brother, Bashar Bseis, condemned by rumours that she had committed adultery, for which the punishment – in her brother’s eyes – was death.

Even in a war as long and bloody as Syria’s, the execution, shared thousands of times on social media, shocked the Syrian community. The events unfolded after a scorned suitor had posted images of Rasha online. She was dragged from her home in a camp just 2km from Turkey’s border and shot by a soldier it trained and equipped – a fighter enlisted in the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army.

“What [Bseis] did was not an ethic of the Free Syrian Army and is contrary to the principles of our revolution,” Mustafa Sejari, a spokesman for the FSA, told the Guardian, adding that an investigation was under way and that a military court in Jarabulus had issued a warrant for Bseis.

Weeks later, however, an arrest has yet to be made, and there are fears that, as an FSA fighter, Bseis will never be held to account.

“These are people who see no shame in killing the girl, but actually believe it’s what washes away the shame she has brought on the whole family,” says exiled Syrian writer Loubna Mrie. “An innocent girl is dead because some guy posted her pictures on Facebook.”

While not unique to the Middle East, “honour” killings are a problem deeply rooted in Syrian society, “and not exclusive to one area or sect or faction”, says Mrie.

Even before the war began in 2011, women’s rights groups in Syria estimated that 300 women were killed each year by male relatives, and numbers have escalated during the crisis. Until 2009, killers were allowed to walk free if they justified the act as motivated by honour. The government repealed the law, replacing it with a mere two-year maximum sentence.

“I remember I was nine years old the first time I saw a video of a guy smashing his sister’s skull with a stone while the whole village watched and cheered,” says Mrie.

Such killings are meant to seal the matter, never to be spoken of again – perpetuating a culture of silence that functions to protect the killer.

Women on all sides of Syria’s war are targeted. When violence broke out in 2011, a campaign of mass rape by Assad’s soldiers was perniciously effective in both oppressing communities and provoking defections to the loosely formed Free Syrian Army.

Today, institutional protections for women in rebel-held territories are still severely lacking.

“It’s anarchy – the only rule is by traditions and customs, and the factions,” says Ola Marwa, head of protection at Women Now for Development, which operates in northern Syria.

A culture of shame means Syrian women rarely feel safe to report sexual violence. Even if they do, there are few avenues of support because “there’s no real authority or law to stand on,” Marwa says. “It’s difficult to raise awareness about empowering women to combat sexual violence because even discussing it is seen as incitement for people to go against their culture.”

Rasha’s killing in Jarabulus adds to a host of concerns plaguing Turkey’s allies in northern Syria, and raises questions over the future rule of law in the areas its military has intervened.

Turkey has made significant investments into rebel-held Syria – training its police force, building roads, hospitals and even branches of the Turkish postal service. By managing FSA groups, officials say they seek to bolster rebels more in line with its values, while sidelining extremist elements.

“We condemn this incident very clearly and explicitly,” says Leyla Şahin Usta, human rights chair of Turkey’s ruling AK Party.

“We are making efforts to correct mistakes made – the FSA has their own police force and their own courts. As the observer country, we advise them on the norms of human rights – but at the end of the day, the FSA is in charge.”

In June, a UN report raised concerns about sexual harassment and other human rights violations endangering the rule of law in Turkey’s newly conquered territories.

“Turkey has, at least publicly, tried to professionalise their rebel allies inside Syria – but they have not invested heavily in doing that,” says Haid Haid, research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. “That’s why you still have rebel groups committing atrocities, attacking civilians, preventing courts from arresting people, which allows some to violate the rights of others with immunity.”

A senior commander in the Turkey-backed rebel coalition adamantly denied reports of fighters committing sexual assault against local women, and vowed those who did would face a military court. “These crimes are unforgivable, and anyone who commits them will face their fair destiny,” Colonel Haitham Afisi told the Guardian.

Bashar Bseis nonetheless managed to flee to his hometown, Kastoon in Hama, outside FSA control. By the laws of the Islamic sharia courts that operate there, if he finds four witnesses to testify that Rasha committed adultery, he will be exonerated in her killing.

“Turkey definitely has a responsibility to hold its allies accountable when it comes to courts,” says Haid. “They don’t have the force yet to enforce their decisions, especially on rebel members.”

Still, “honour” killings may not be an issue the FSA is able or willing to solve, Mrie says. She questions the FSA’s motivations for starting the investigation and issuing the arrest warrant.

“I don’t know if they are doing this because they believe this guy should be held accountable, or just because it went viral on social media.”

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« Reply #3521 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:14 AM »

CIA finds Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi killing – report

Washington Post says Mohammad bin Salman’s brother, the Saudi ambassador to the US, advised journalist to attend Istanbul consulate

Guardian staff and Reuters
Sat 17 Nov 2018 10.26 GMT

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, the Washington Post has reported.

The Post said US officials expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, which contradicts Saudi government assertions that he was not involved.

It is the strongest assessment to date linking Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to the killing, and complicates Donald Trump’s efforts to safeguard US ties with one of the closest American allies in the region.
'Appalling' Khashoggi audio shocked Saudi intelligence – Erdoğan
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The crown prince has denied any involvement or knowledge of the murder of Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, on 2 October this year at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which he visited to get a document for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee.

The White House declined to comment on the Post report, saying it was an intelligence matter. The State Department also declined to comment.

The Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA reached its conclusions after examining multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother – Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States – had with Khashoggi.

Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said. The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear if Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed, but he made the call at his brother’s direction.

Maher Mutreb, a security official who has often been seen at the crown prince’s side, made the call to Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed, to inform him the operation had been completed, the Post said, citing people familiar with the call.

After the Post published its story, Khalid bin Salman denied telling Khashoggi to go to Turkey. He tweeted that the last contact he had with Khashoggi was via text on 26 October 2017, nearly a year before the journalist’s death. “I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim,” he said in his Twitter message.

    Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud)

    As we told the Washington Post the last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct 26 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim.
    November 16, 2018

In a second tweet, he published what he said was his full response to the newspaper.

    Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud)

    Unfortunately the @washingtonpost did not print our full response. This is a serious accusation and should not be left to anonymous sources. Our full response was the following: pic.twitter.com/vo1JcNAswx
    November 17, 2018

Earlier this week Saudi Arabia said it would pursue the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing. The Saudi public prosecutor claimed Saudi agents – including the head of forensics at the national intelligence service and members of Mohammed bin Salman security detail – had orders to abduct Khashoggi but decided to kill him when he resisted.

The claim had been contradicted by an earlier Saudi finding that the murder was premeditated. Mohammed bin Salman was not implicated in the murder, a spokesman for the prosecutor said.

With Reuters

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« Reply #3522 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:18 AM »

Apec leaders at odds over globalisation and free trade

Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad warns economic integration leaving many behind but Australia, China and Russia condemn protectionism

Sat 17 Nov 2018 03.33 GMT

Fault lines were quick to emerge over the future of free trade as leaders gathered for the Asia-Pacific summit on Saturday, with some calling for radical change while others argued for a return to the status quo on globalisation.

Speaking at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Papua New Guinea, the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, warned that globalisation was leaving some people behind and fuelling inequality.

“The benefits of free and fair trade and economic integration have been ruptured, exemplified by Brexit and trade wars between major economies,” he said.

“The trade war between the US and China has amplified further the disruption to our trade and commerce.”

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, followed by mounting a full-throated defence of free trade.
Apec summit in Papua New Guinea begins – in pictures

“Our efforts must be about persuading and convincing our peoples again about the domestic benefits,” he said.

Morrison said more than a billion people had been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1991 because of the jobs and more affordable consumer goods that free trade enabled.

His speech was a clear reference to the escalating trade war between the United States and China, along with the general protectionism of the US president, Donald Trump.

“We are witnessing a rising tide of trade protectionism along with financial volatility in some emerging economies,” Morrison said. “The test for us now is to stand up for the economic values we believe in and show how they work.”

Speaking on a cruise ship tethered in Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour, the Russian prime minister, Dimitry Medvedev, joined Morrison in warning against growing protectionism and argued for clear-cut and transparent rules on trade.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is not attending the Apec summit.

The anti-protectionism sentiment was also echoed by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

The shadow of protectionism and unilaterism is hanging over global growth, Xi said, joining his global counterparts in pushing for free trade.

China and the US have been locked in an escalating trade war since Trump won election in 2016.
'Can they really pull it off?': the Apec summit comes to Papua New Guinea
Read more

Trump has skipped the annual meeting of the 21-nation grouping, but the US vice-president, Mike Pence, is attending.

Pence tweeted that he would discuss “Trump’s commitment to prosperity, security and freedom in the Indo-Pacific”.

China has also been at loggerheads with the US over its territorial ambitions in the Pacific, encapsulated by Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Announced in 2013, the initiative aims to bolster a sprawling network of land and sea links with southeast Asia, central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

China’s efforts to win friends in the resource-rich Pacific have been watched warily by the traditionally influential powers in the region – Australia and the US.

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« Reply #3523 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:23 AM »

'They didn't give a damn': first footage of Croatian police 'brutality'

Migrants who allegedly suffer savage beatings by state officials call it ‘the game’. But as shocking evidence suggests, attempting to cross the Bosnia-Croatia border is far from mere sport

Lorenzo Tondo in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia
17 Nov 2018 13.44 GMT

As screams ring out through the cold night air, Sami, hidden behind bushes, begins to film what he can.

“The Croatian police are torturing them. They are breaking people’s bones,’’ Sami whispers into his mobile phone, as the dull thumps of truncheons are heard.

Then silence. Minutes go by before Hamdi, Mohammed and Abdoul emerge from the woods, faces bruised from the alleged beating, mouths and noses bloody, their ribs broken.

Asylum seekers from Algeria, Syria and Pakistan, they had been captured by the Croatian police attempting to cross the Bosnia-Croatia border into the EU, and brutally beaten before being sent back.

0:57..Footage shows asylum seekers allegedly beaten by Croatian police – video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx1Ci1WJtCM

Sami, 17, from Kobane, gave the Guardian his footage, which appears to provide compelling evidence of the physical abuses, supposedly perpetrated by Croatian police, of which migrants in the Bosnian cities of Bihac and Velika Kladusa have been complaining.

The EU border agency, Frontex, announced on Wednesday that this year is likely to produce the lowest number of unauthorised migrants arriving into Europe in five years.

Frontex said that approximately 118,900 irregular border crossings were recorded in the first 10 months of 2018, roughly 31% lower than the same period in 2017.

Despite this steady decline in numbers, many states remain embroiled in political disputes that fuel anti-migrant sentiment across Europe.

Frontex also noted that, while entries are declining, the number of people reaching Europe across the western Mediterranean, mostly through Spain from Morocco, continues to rise. Nearly 9,400 people crossed in October, more than double the number for the same month last year.

But the brutality of what is happening on Europe’s borders is not documented. Every night, migrants try to cross into Croatia. And, according to dozens of accounts received by the Guardian and charities, many end up in the hands of police, who beat them back to Bosnia.

No Name Kitchen (NNK), an organisation consisting of volunteers from several countries that distributes food to asylum seekers in Serbia, Bosnia and Italy, registers 50-100 people a week who have been pushed back by the Croatian authorities. Roughly 70% of them claim to have been beaten.

“In the last months our team in Bosnia and Herzegovina has regularly treated patients – sometimes even women and small children – with wounds allegedly inflicted by state authorities when attempting to cross into Croatia and Slovenia, where, according to their testimonies, their claims for asylum and protection are regularly ignored,” says Julian Koeberer, humanitarian affairs officer in the northern Balkans for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Since the turn of the year, the Bosnian authorities have registered the entry of about 21,000 people, coming from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran or Syria. Of these, an estimated 5,000 remain in the country.

Of 50 people to whom the Guardian spoke, mostly from Pakistan, 35 said they had been attacked by Croatian police. The majority of them arrived in Bosnia through Turkey, hoping to reach Slovenia, a Schengen country, before heading to Italy, Austria or Germany.

‘‘The Iranian police broke all my teeth, the Croatian ones broke my nose and ribs,” says Milad, 29, an Iranian asylum seeker who since September has lived in Bihac. “Yet everyone talks about the violence in Iran and nobody talks about the violence perpetrated by a European country.”

Adeel, 27, from Pakistan, claims he had his ankle broken with a truncheon. ‘‘Where are the human rights?” he asks.

Anees, 43, also from Pakistan, says he begged the police not to beat him after he was stopped in the woods on the border with Velika Kladusa. ‘‘I have a heart disease, I told them to stop because they could have killed me,’’ explains Anees, whose medical conditions are detailed in a clinical file.

On 9 June 2018, he had heart surgery at the Zdravstveni centre hospital in the Serbian city of Uzice. After the operation, he continued his journey. He struggles to breathe as he tells his story: ‘‘I told him I was sick, I showed them the clinical file. They did not give a damn. They started beating me and sent us back to Bosnia. But it does not matter. Tomorrow I will try the game again.’’

That’s what migrants call it: ‘the game”. But there is nothing fun about it. They set off in groups: 70 or 80 people, or sometimes as few as five to 10. Police, armed with truncheons, pistols and night vision goggles, patrol Europe’s longest border between Bosnia and Croatia. According to accounts provided by more than 10 migrants, some officers wear paramilitary uniforms with a badge depicting a sword upraised by two lightning bolts. This is the badge of Croatian special police.

“They stop us and, before beating us, they frisk us”, says Hamdi, 35, An Algerian language teacher. “If they find money, they steal it. If they find mobile phones, they destroy them to avoid being filmed or simply to stop us from contacting our friends. And then they beat us, four or five against one. They throw us to the ground, kick us, and beat us with their truncheons. Sometimes their dogs attack us. To them, we probably don’t seem much different from their dogs.”

Hamdi is one of three men traveling with Sami. The screams in the video are his. His face is covered in blood when he reaches his friends. His nose is broken, his lips swollen.

“After repeatedly being pushed back or forced to return to Bosnia on their own, asylum seekers find themselves in unsanitary, improvised settlements such as open fields and squats while formal government camps are full,” says Koeberer.

“Those sites still offer alarmingly inadequate conditions due to only slow improvement in provision of winter shelter (food, hygiene, legal status and medical care), and these inhumane living conditions have severe impact on people’s physical and mental health. In winter, the lives of those who are forced to remain outside will seriously be at risk.’’

At the camp in Velika Kladusa, where Hamdi lives, dozens of people sit in the mud and on piles of rubbish, awaiting the arrival of the doctors. On man has a cast on his arm and leg, the result, he says, of a police beating. Others show black eyes, bruises on their backs and legs, lumps and wounds on their heads, split lips, and scars on their legs.

‘‘There have been cases in which migrants claimed to have been stripped and forced to walk barefoot with temperatures below freezing,” said Stephane Moissaing, MSF’s head of mission in Serbia. “Cases where asylum seekers have told how police would beat children in front of their parents. From the information we have, up until now, it is a systematic and planned violence.”

Karolina Augustova, an NKK volunteer, says violence has increased since October protests in which hundreds of asylum seekers marched from the north-western town of Velika Kladusa towards Croatia to object against pushbacks that violate the rights of people to seek asylum in Europe.

The Bosnian police appear to be aware of the assaults. A Bosnian police agent guarding the camp in Velika Kladusa, who prefers to remain anonymous, points out a bruise on a boy’s leg. “You see this bruise?” he says. “It was the Croatian police. The Bosnian police know, but there is no clear and compelling evidence, just the accounts of the refugees and their wounds.”

The majority of Bosnians live in peace with migrants and view them as refugees. The scars from the war that ravaged this area in the early 1990s are everywhere, in the abandoned homes riddled with machine gun fire and in the collective memory of Bosnians. People from Bihac and Velika Kladusa know what it means to flee from war. The minarets of the numerous mosques along the border are a reminder that Bosnia is the closest Muslim community in Europe.

“I feel sorry for these people,’’ says the policeman on guard. ‘‘They remind me of the Bosnians when the war devastated our country.’’

MSF, NNK and a number of other organisations have repeatedly reported and denounced violence perpetrated by the security forces in the Balkans, but Croatian police deny all the allegations.

The Guardian has contacted the Croatian interior minister, the police and the Croatian government for comment, but has received no response.

Abdul, 33, recently arrived in Velika Klaudusa after a journey that lasted over a year. He comes from Myanmar and has lost everything: his wife and children were killed, and he has no news of his father, mother and sisters. Abdul has heard about the violence and is worried. The migrants around him, with bandaged legs and noses and bleeding mouths, cause fear.

“I lost everything, yes, it’s true,” he says. “But I have to get to Europe, one way or another. To make sense of what I lost. I owe it to my dead children. To my wife who was killed. To those who have not had the good fortune to have arrived here safe and sound.”

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« Reply #3524 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:37 AM »

Trump, stung by midterms and nervous about Mueller, retreats from traditional presidential duties

By Eli Stokols
Nov 17, 2018
NY Times

For weeks this fall, an ebullient President Trump traveled relentlessly to hold raise-the-rafters campaign rallies — sometimes three a day — in states where his presence was likely to help Republicans on the ballot.

But his mood apparently has changed as he has taken measure of the electoral backlash that voters delivered Nov. 6. With the certainty that the incoming Democratic House majority will go after his tax returns and investigate his actions, and the likelihood of additional indictments by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment, according to multiple administration sources.

Behind the scenes, they say, the president has lashed out at several aides, from junior press assistants to senior officials. “He’s furious,” said one administration official. “Most staffers are trying to avoid him.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, painted a picture of a brooding president “trying to decide who to blame” for Republicans’ election losses, even as he publicly and implausibly continues to claim victory.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who are close allies, “seem to be on their way out,” the official said, noting recent leaks on the subject. The official cautioned, however, that personnel decisions are never final until Trump himself tweets out the news — often just after the former reality TV star who’s famous for saying “You’re fired!” has directed Kelly to so inform the individual.

And, according to a source outside the White House who has spoken recently with the president, last week’s Wall Street Journal report confirming Trump’s central role during the 2016 campaign in quietly arranging payoffs for two women alleging affairs with him seemed to put him in an even worse mood.

Publicly, Trump has been increasingly absent in recent days — except on Twitter. He has canceled travel plans and dispatched Cabinet officials and aides to events in his place — including sending Vice President Mike Pence to Asia for the annual summits there in November that past presidents nearly always attended.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II was in Washington on Tuesday and met with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, but not the president.

Also Tuesday, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced plans to travel on Wednesday near the U.S.-Mexico border to visit with troops Trump ordered there last month in what is ostensibly a mission to defend against a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico and still hundreds of miles from the United States.

Trump had reportedly considered making that trip himself, but has decided against it. Nor has he spoken of the caravan since the midterm elections, after making it a central issue in his last weeks of campaigning.

Unusually early on Monday, the White House called a “lid” at 10:03 a.m. EST, informing reporters that the president would not have any scheduled activities or public appearances for the rest of the day. Although it was Veterans Day, Trump bucked tradition and opted not to make the two-mile trip to Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as presidents since at least John F. Kennedy have done to mark the solemn holiday.

Trump’s only public appearance Tuesday was at a short White House ceremony marking the start of the Hindu holiday Diwali at which he made brief comments and left without responding to shouted questions.

He had just returned Sunday night from a two-day trip to France to attend ceremonies marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I. That trip was overshadowed, in part, by Trump’s decision not to attend a wreath-laying at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, the burial place for 2,289 soldiers 60 miles northeast of Paris, due to rain.

Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did attend to honor the American service members interred there. Trump stayed in the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris, making no public appearances.

Other heads of state also managed to make it to World War I cemeteries in the area for tributes to their nations’ war dead on Saturday.

Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin were the only world leaders to skip a procession of world leaders to another commemoration, on Sunday, at the Arc de Triomphe. About 80 heads of state walked in unison — under umbrellas in the pouring rain — down Paris’ grand Champs-Elysees boulevard. Trump arrived later by motorcade, a decision aides claimed was made for security reasons.

Nicholas Burns, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush, said the weekend events, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of a war in which 120,000 Americans were killed, were ripe for soaring words and symbolic gestures, which Trump failed to provide.

“Not only did he barely show up, he didn't say anything that would help Americans understand the scale of the loss, or the importance of avoiding another great war,” Burns said. “He seemed physically and emotionally apart. It’s such a striking difference between the enthusiasm he showed during the campaign and then going to Paris and sulking in his hotel room.”

He added, “The country deserves more energy from the president.”

Trump took heavy flak on social media, especially for his no-show at the military cemetery.

"President @realDonaldTrump a no-show because of raindrops?” tweeted former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a Navy veteran. “Those veterans the president didn’t bother to honor fought in the rain, in the mud, in the snow - & many died in trenches for the cause of freedom. Rain didn’t stop them & it shouldn’t have stopped an American president.”

Nicholas Soames, a member of Britain’s Parliament and grandson of Winston Churchill, tweeted, "They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen.”

Trump, clearly feeling on the defensive days later, tried to explain himself on Tuesday, in a tweet.

"By the way, when the helicopter couldn’t fly to the first cemetery in France because of almost zero visibility, I suggested driving," he wrote. "Secret Service said NO, too far from airport & big Paris shutdown. Speech next day at American Cemetary [sic] in pouring rain! Little reported-Fake News!"

In that tweet, Trump falsely described the weather at the Sunday visit to another U.S. cemetery. Rather than “pouring rain,” photos showed him standing without a hat or an umbrella under overcast skies when he delivered remarks, though he did grasp an umbrella at one point while paying tribute at one soldier’s grave.

Just as Trump was returning to Washington on Sunday evening, Pence was heading to Asia in the president’s place, and at his first stop greeted Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trump’s absence, experts said, is notable, and a glaring affront to many Asian leaders.

“It matters more in Asia than other regions because ‘face’ is so important,” said Matthew P. Goodman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former White House coordinator for Asia-Pacific strategy during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. “Your willingness to go out there is a sign you're committed and not going is a sign you're not.”

Putin is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, looking to expand his country’s influence in Asia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea are also attending regional summits. And China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are simultaneously attending meetings across the region looking to broaden their country’s influence in the South China Sea and expand multilateral trade agreements.

Although Trump is set to meet with Xi at the Group of 20 summit of wealthy countries this month in Buenos Aires, his absence from the major Indo-Pacific meetings for a second straight year will “have some consequences for our position and our interests in the region,” Goodman continued. “Other countries are going to move ahead without us.”

What makes Trump’s perceived snub to the Asian powers more significant is that it comes on the heels of his brief European trip, which showcased his growing isolation from transatlantic allies. French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked Trump in a speech, stating that “nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism” as the U.S. president looked on sullenly.

Trump’s relations with Latin America, already strained, are little better after the White House last week announced that he was reneging for a second time on a commitment to visit Colombia. He had planned to go there later this month on his way back from the G-20 meetings.

In April, he’d sent Pence in his place to the Summit of the Americas in Peru, citing a need to remain in Washington to monitor the U.S. response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria. He’d planned to visit Bogota on the same trip.

This time around, there appeared to be no extenuating circumstances preventing a visit.

In a statement, the White House simply said, “President Trump’s schedule will not allow him to travel to Colombia later this month.”


Carl Bernstein explains why Trump is unraveling: ‘We’re back to the rage-aholic president’

Raw Story

Esteemed journalist Carl Bernstein appeared on CNN Friday to explain President Donald Trump’s recent behavior, including reports that he plans to fire several more key staffers.

The CNN host and Bernstein spoke about worries that the President is getting rid of the so-called firefighters in the administration and leaving in the “arsonists,” suggesting an upcoming conflagration in the White House.

They discussed why Trump appears to be unraveling further.

“We’re back to the rage-aholic president,” the veteran reporter concluded.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go3MhVopZno


Trump’s attorney general appointment Matt Whitaker challenged at Supreme Court

17 Nov 2018 at 18:00 ET                   

The fight over President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, with lawyers in a pending gun rights case asking the justices on Friday to decide if the action was lawful.

Critics have said the Republican president’s appointment of Whitaker, who now will oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, on Nov. 7 to replace the ousted Jeff Sessions as the chief U.S. law enforcement official violated the Constitution and federal law.

Lawyers for Barry Michaels, who filed a lawsuit in Nevada challenging a U.S. law that bars him from buying a firearm due to prior non-violent criminal convictions, decided to make Whitaker’s appointment an issue in their pending appeal before the high court because Sessions was named as a defendant in the case.

The lawyers told the justices that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should be the acting attorney general.

“There is a significant national interest in avoiding the prospect that every district and immigration judge in the nation could, in relatively short order, be presented with the controversy over which person to substitute as Acting Attorney General,” the lawyers, led by prominent Supreme Court advocate Thomas Goldstein, wrote in a court filing.

The court is not required to decide one way or another and could simply ignore or reject the motion.

Michaels’ lawyers argued that Rosenstein, the department’s No. 2 official, should have succeeded Sessions under a federal law that vests full authority in the deputy attorney general should the office of attorney general become vacant.

Some of the same lawyers behind Friday’s motion also are involved in a similar effort brought before a federal judge on Tuesday. In that case, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh asked a federal judge to bar Whitaker from appearing in an official capacity as acting attorney general in the state’s ongoing lawsuit against the Trump administration over the Affordable Care Act healthcare law.

Maryland also argued that Trump violated the so-called Appointments Clause of the Constitution because the job of attorney general is a “principal officer” who must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The Justice Department on Wednesday defended the legality of Whitaker’s appointment, saying Trump was empowered to give him the job under a 1998 law called the Federal Vacancies Reform Act even though he was not a Senate-confirmed official.

Congressional Democrats have voiced concern that Whitaker, who they have called a Trump “political lackey,” could undermine or even fire Mueller. Mueller’s investigation has led to criminal charges against a series of former Trump aides and has cast a cloud over Trump’s presidency.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham


Former deputy US attorney says after Wikileaks revelations, Stone connected to Trump ‘within a 15 foot putt’

Raw Story

Former deputy US attorney and MSNBC legal analyst Harry Litman said Friday that the new revelations about charges facing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggest that if Roger Stone is indicted, special counsel Robert Mueller will be “within a 15-foot putt” of President Trump.

Asked what it would mean if Stone was indicted or decided to cooperate, Litman replied “I think it’s huge,” and added that Stone was “the biggest piece of the puzzle”.

“We have several charges against people in Russia for hacking against Podesta, for mischief, possibly the Russia meeting. But it hasn’t been tied up domestically,” Litman said. “Stone, there’s really good reason to think, knew about the WikiLeaks hacking in advance, touted and crowed about it.” Litman also pointed out that the legendary political dirty trickster had been in “regular communication” with Trump throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.

“If Stone is actually charged it seems to me it puts Mueller within a 15-foot putt of the president himself,” he said, adding that the special counsel’s request for an “extremely short” continuance showed “that Mueller knows what move is afoot in the very near future.”

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYFxbnpNi5U


This is the only strategy that Donald Trump understands — and it’s going to backfire on him spectacularly

Heather Digby Parton, Salon - COMMENTARY
17 Nov 2018 at 11:40 ET                   

If there’s one thing you might have thought Donald Trump has learned in the past two years it’s that it was a huge mistake to go on TV with Lester Holt and admit that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey. Recall that Trump was just rambling, in his stream-of-consciousness mode, when he just blurted it out without prompting. That revealing statement was not only what precipitated the appointment of Robert Mueller, it was also one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that Trump was trying to obstruct justice when he fired Comey — an apparent confession of intent. Trump has said and done hundreds of stupid things during his tenure, but that one really stands out as the blunder of all blunders.

Oops, he did it again. This week, in the midst of what observers everywhere are characterizing as a meltdown, Trump gave an interview to the Daily Caller in which he was asked if he had come up with any names for the permanent attorney general appointment, and whether Chris Christie had come up. Trump replied that his acting AG, Matt Whitaker, is highly respected in the Department of Justice and that he got a “very good decision” affirming that Whitaker’s appointment was legal. Then he said:

    I knew him only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had.

    It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.

Nobody had mentioned Russia or the Mueller investigation. The question wasn’t even about Whitaker. Just as he blurted out his intent when asked why he fired James Comey, he blurted out his intent when he was asked about the attorney general. He doesn’t have the mental discipline not to reveal his motive for firing or hiring anyone when it comes to the Russia probe. If one didn’t know better one would think he is subconsciously begging to be indicted for obstruction of justice.

In any other administration, Whitaker would never have been chosen because of the obvious appearance of bias. He spent months trashing the investigation and declaring the president innocent of all charges. Indeed, it’s obvious that was the reason he was hired. At this point no one knows whether ethics advisers in the DOJ have been asked to weigh in on Whitaker’s possible conflict of interest, in that he worked closely with Sam Clovis, a subject of the investigation. Even so, the consensus seems to be that Whitaker can simply refuse to recuse himself even advised that he should. After what happened with Sessions, Whitaker recusing himself is about as likely as Donald Trump shaving his head. For all we know, Whitaker has been read into the investigation and has already been on the horn with Trump, sharing all the details. That might very well explain Trump’s thought process in that moment.

It would also explain why for the first time in weeks Trump fired off a volley of tweets about Mueller that are even more hysterical than usual:

    The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t…

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018

    ….care how many lives the ruin. These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018

    Universities will someday study what highly conflicted (and NOT Senate approved) Bob Mueller and his gang of Democrat thugs have done to destroy people. Why is he protecting Crooked Hillary, Comey, McCabe, Lisa Page & her lover, Peter S, and all of his friends on the other side?

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018

Trump making these kinds of wild accusations is nothing new. What is new is the way he’s now talking about the “inner workings” of the investigation. This raises suspicion that he’s heard something from Whitaker, although it’s certainly possible that he’s hearing from people who were interviewed by the prosecutors or the grand jury. If so, he’s once again raising suspicions that he’s obstructing justice, this time by witness tampering. (Then again, maybe he just heard something from some mouthpiece on Fox News or is making it up out of thin air. He’s doing that with increasing frequency these days.)

The mainstream media is overflowing with reports about chaos and pandemonium inside the White House. Theories abound about why his hysteria has escalated so precipitously. (I offered mine earlier his week — he can’t deal with losing and feels he’s been betrayed by his own people.) Whatever it is, it’s clear that he’s cracking under the pressure.

However, it’s not altogether true that this is purely an emotional reaction. Trump is not a good political strategist, as the recent election results attest. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a survival strategy. He told a journalist what it was all the way back in 2016.

CBS News’ Lesley Stahl shared an anecdote last spring about an interview at Trump Tower shortly after the election. She asked the president if he planned to continue bashing the media:

    I said, “You know, that is getting tired, why are you doing this? You’re doing it over and over and it’s boring.” He said, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

I’d say he’s been quite successful, at least with about 40 percnent of the population. But he’s not just doing that with the press.  He’s demeaned the U.S. intelligence community, the Department of Justice and the Mueller investigation. He has also instilled distrust in the electoral system in ways that are absurd but plant the seeds for him to challenge the results if he loses, as he clearly planned to do in 2016.  His survival strategy is to discredit anyone he believes poses a threat to him, and thereby persuade his followers not to believe those people even if they show proof.

Right now he’s facing the choice between pulling the plug on the Mueller investigation and dealing with the firestorm that he knows will follow, or letting it unfold and hoping that enough people become so convinced that the prosecutors are biased and untrustworthy that they will react to Mueller as the public reacted to Ken Starr’s report in 1998. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that was possible last week, concern-trolling the Democrats about engaging in “presidential harassment.”)

Trump is escalating his attacks on Mueller and the DOJ because he believes that is how he will get out of this mess. After all, Bill Clinton survived the Starr investigation — and an actual impeachment trial — just fine. Unfortunately for Trump, all the recent opinion polls show Mueller with over 50 percent approval, while Ken Starr never had more than 28 percent. Clinton had a 60 percent approval rating on the day he was impeached — Trump remains mired in the low 40s.

Trump doesn’t seem to realize that there’s a flaw in his strategy: It doesn’t work if the person who attempts to discredit others so that no one will believe them flagrantly discredits himself in the process.

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