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Nov 15, 2019, 03:42 AM
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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 3915 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #15 on: Nov 09, 2019, 05:25 AM »


Philippines grants asylum to Iranian woman held in airport

Bahareh Zare Bahari was subject of Interpol arrest warrant after criticising regime

Carmela Fonbuena in Manila
Guardian
Sat 9 Nov 2019 04.04 GMT

The Philippine government has granted asylum to an Iranian former beauty queen and critic of the Iranian regime after she was stranded for four weeks in an airport.

Bahareh Zare Bahari was the subject of an Interpol “red notice” issued by Iran, resulting in her detention on 17 October when she attempted to enter the Philippines. She cited fears that she would be jailed or executed in Iran on politically motivated charges.

The Philippine justice department recognised Bahari as a refugee on 6 November, but released the document only on Friday.

The justice department ordered her to report to the Bureau of Immigration so she could be issued a visa and registration certificate. “If the refugee has no passport or valid passport, visa stamping is not required,” the document said.

The document also recommends that a travel document be issued and work permit requirements be waived if Bahari wishes to work in the Philippines.

On Saturday, Bahari was reportedly still in the airport, citing fears for her safety if she left.

Bahari said she had studied dentistry in the Philippines since 2014, the year she left Iran. She entered the public eye at the 2018 Miss Intercontinental beauty contest in Manila when she displayed a poster of Reza Pahlavi, the Iranian former crown prince and critic of the current leadership. She has also spoken in favour of Iranian women’s rights.

The decision to grant her asylum comes after Bahari revealed the toll her detention had had on her mental health.


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« Reply #16 on: Nov 09, 2019, 05:27 AM »


Bolivian police 'mutiny' in opposition to Evo Morales

Groups of officers in major cities join protests over disputed presidential election result

Dan Collyns in La Paz
Guardian
Sat 9 Nov 2019 05.34 GMT

Police in at least three Bolivian cities have declared mutinies and joined anti-government protests – a possible indication that parts of the security forces may be withdrawing their backing for President Evo Morales after weeks of unrest over disputed election results.

Bolivia’s defence minister, Javier Zavaleta, said on Friday that no military action would be taken against the police involved for now and the government would not mobilise troops as tens of thousands of Bolivians took to the streets in cities across the country.

The commander general of the Bolivian police said the officers had been “garrisoned” and had not mutinied.

Bolivia’s interior minister Carlos Romero said a “coup strategy was taking place” in a televised address and hinted that talks could take place to try to resolve the escalating political crisis as protesters call for Morales to step down amid accusations of fraud in October’s presidential elections.

In La Paz crowds cheered dozens of police officers who marched down a main avenue and garrisoned themselves in the city’s central police station. Other police remained on the streets guarding barricades around the presidential palace on Friday but the mood was starkly different from previous nights of clashes as protesters surrounded them singing: “Brother, police, join the people.”

In the rest of the country police units in the official capital, Sucre, and the most populous city, Santa Cruz, a bastion of the opposition, announced they were joining a mutiny launched by police officers in Cochabamba. Uniformed police waved Bolivia’s red, yellow and green flags from the rooftop of their station in Santa Cruz. Locals reports showed protesters picketing police stations in other cities urging officers to join them.

At least three people have died, the latest a 20-year-old student on Wednesday, in clashes between anti-government protesters and Morales’ supporters since the disputed election on 20 October.

A civic opposition leader, Luis Fernando Camacho, who urged the police to turn against the government, tweeted that he “cried with joy” and thanked the police for “siding with the people”.


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« Reply #17 on: Nov 09, 2019, 05:30 AM »

Ayodhya: India's top court gives Hindus site claimed by Muslims

Supreme court says site where mosque was torn down in 1992 should become Hindu temple

Hannah Ellis-Petersen South Asia correspondent
Guardian
Sat 9 Nov 2019 06.50 GMT

The Indian supreme court has ruled that India’s most hotly contested piece of religious land rightfully belongs to Hindus, and has granted permission for a temple to be built on the site in Ayodhya.

The five supreme court judges based their unanimous and historic judgement on Hindus’ claim that the site is the birthplace of their god Ram.

They ruled that a mosque that had stood on the site since the 16th century, and was the basis of the Muslim claim to Ayodhya, was “not built on vacant land” and that the Hindu belief could not be disputed.

The judges declared that a separate “prominent” five-acre piece of land would be allocated to the Muslim community to build a mosque near the contested site.

The ruling, just six months after his landslide election win, is another huge victory for India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) government, which have made the restoration of the Ram temple at Ayodhya a focal point of their Hindu nationalist agenda. The supreme court judges said plans for the temple would be drawn up within the next three months.

“It is a historic judgement,” said Varun Kumar Sinha, a lawyer for Hindu Mahasabha, a rightwing party that advocated for the rebuilding of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. “With this judgement, the supreme court has given the message of unity in diversity.”

The head of the Hindu nationalist RSS organisation, Mohan Bhagwat, echoed Sinha’s comments and said his group welcomed the decision. “This case was going on for decades and it reached the right conclusion,” he said. “This should not be seen as a win or a loss.”

Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer for the Muslim claimants, the Sunni Wakf Board, challenged the decision and said the board would meet later to decide whether to file an appeal. “We respect the supreme court, we respect the judgment, but we are not satisfied with this,” he said. “There are a lot of contradictions within the judgment. Five acres has no value.”

Conflict over Ayodhya has been raging between India’s Muslims and Hindus for more than 150 years. Muslims say it is a historical place of worship, but Hindus say the mosque, built by the Mughal emperor Babur, was on the site of an older temple honouring Ram’s birthplace.

The country was put on high security alert following the verdict for fear of religious violence and rioting. Thousands of police and paramilitary troops were dispatched to the state of Uttar Pradesh and around 500 people arrested in the days before. Protests and parties were also banned in Ayodhya.

The supreme court judges said their ruling was conditional on the “maintenance of peace and order and tranquility”.

The city was quiet in the immediate aftermath of the verdict. All non-residents were obliged to leave the city on Friday night and no one was allowed to leave their house without their identity card. A few firecrackers were set off, but the heavy police presence kept celebrations and protests muted.

Rajatram Maurya, a tailor in the city who used to grow flowers on the temple land before it was claimed by the government, had mixed feelings to the ruling. “The verdict is good for all, but I lost my land in this and the compensation I got from the government was barely anything … But I am glad there is peace in Ayodhya.”

Modi appealed for peace and urged people to respect the judges’ ruling. “Whatever the verdict … it won’t be anybody’s win or loss. My appeal to the people of India is that our priority is to ensure the verdict strengthens the values of peace, equality and goodwill of our country.”

BJP members led a march to Ayodhya in December 1992, during which hundreds of thousands of people descended onto the Babri mosque and reduced it to rubble with hammers and axes. More than 2,000 people were killed in the rioting and violence that ensued, and some BJP members are still facing trial for their role in the violence.

This destruction of the mosque has been cited as a pivotal moment in the failure of secularism and religious inclusivity in India, fracturing the country down religious lines that have been politically exploited ever since.

The sensitive decision over whether to rebuild a place of Muslim or Hindu worship on the site was dragged out over 27 years. A 2010 court ruling divided the land between Muslims and Hindus, but was rejected by both sides. The case was taken to the supreme court in August.

Since Modi and the BJP took power in 2014, the rebuilding of a Ram temple at Ayodhya has been at the forefront of their Hindutva agenda, which has pushed India away from its secular roots and toward a strongly Hindu identity.

This has led to growing hostility and violence toward the country’s Muslims, who number 200 million. Muslim history has been removed from school textbooks and there has been an increase in reports of vigilante Hindu mobs murdering Muslims suspected of killing cows, which are sacred in Hinduism.

In June, a Hindu mob tied a Muslim man to a lamp and lynched him to cries of “hail Lord Ram”. The Modi government’s actions in Kashmir in August, stripping the state of its long-held semi-autonomy, was also seen as directly targeting its majority-Muslim community.

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India strips citizenship from journalist who criticised Modi regime

British Indian Aatish Taseer believes move is intended as a warning to other writers

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, south Asia correspondent
Guardian
9 Nov 2019 16.29 GMT

A British Indian author and journalist has been stripped of his Indian overseas citizenship after he wrote an article criticising the regime of the country’s prime minister, Narendra Modi.

Aatish Taseer, who was born in the UK but raised in India and spent a further decade living there from the age of 25, was stripped of his overseas citizenship of India (OCI) status on Thursday.

Taseer, who has written multiple books on India, described the government’s move as “highly suspicious and systematic”. He added: “They are making an example of me and sending a warning message to other journalists.”

The decision followed the publication of his cover piece for Time magazine in May, just before the Indian elections, titled India’s divider in chief, which was highly critical of Modi’s actions while in power.

“Within India, the Modi government has completely altered the media climate, everyone critical has been muffled or silenced,” said Taseer. “And now my case shows that even those who think they are protected because they write abroad or for a foreign publisher, they are not going to be safe either.”

The decision to remove his OCI means he is blacklisted from India and may never be able to return.

“My work is so immersed in Indian life so there is a real pain as a writer, not being able to ever be in contact with this material again,” said Taseer. “And the other kind of pain is very personal. My mother who is 70 lives there. My grandmother who raised me lives there and she is 90 next year. Even if I take this to court, it is unlikely I will ever be able to see her again and for me that is the hardest part of all.”

The reason given by the home ministry for its action was that Taseer had “concealed the fact that his late father was of Pakistani origin” and was therefore ineligible for OCI status.

But Taseer denied this, saying his connection to Pakistan had never been hidden and had simply made him an “easy target”. He was not given official written notice that he had been stripped of his OCI status and instead found out via a public tweet from the ministry on Thursday.

Taseer’s father is Salman Taseer, a Pakistani born in pre-partition British India who later held the position of governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province until his assassination in 2011 for opposing the country’s blasphemy laws.

Growing up, Taseer had no connection to his father at all and his mother, a prominent journalist, was his sole legal guardian. Nonetheless, Taseer’s father had been clearly named on all his official documentation registering his status as an Indian citizen, first in 2000 when he received his person of Indian origin status, and again in 2016 when it was transferred to OCI status “without any issue”.

“I never had any problems with my citizenship until after the Time piece was written,” said Taseer. “There have been a number of times where my father’s Pakistani nationality has been as clear as day. I wrote a book on discovering him aged 21. He was assassinated in 2011 and it was a major story across the world. Everyone knew he was my father, that there was this connection, and not once did anyone in the government raise a question about my OCI status. But within 90 days of that Time story, suddenly it gets raised.”

In September Taseer received a letter saying the government was taking action against him for allegedly defrauding the home ministry and his OCI status was under review.

It followed an alleged smear campaign against him in India led by Sambit Patra, the spokesperson for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata party, and which was then picked up by Modi himself after the publication of the Time magazine article, where Taseer was repeatedly described as having an anti-India agenda due to his “Pakistani political family” background.


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« Reply #18 on: Nov 09, 2019, 05:33 AM »


Italy to put sustainability and climate at heart of learning in schools

Country will become first to make study of global heating and human influence on natural resources compulsory in state schools

Kate Hodal
Guardian
9 Nov 2019 12.25 GMT

Italy is to become the first country in the world to make sustainability and climate crisis compulsory subjects for schoolchildren.

State schools will begin incorporating the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development into as many subjects as possible from September, with one hour a week dedicated to themes including global heating and humans’ influence on the planet.

Other subjects, including geography, mathematics and physics, will also be taught from the perspective of sustainability, announced Lorenzo Fioramonti, Italy’s education minister.

“The entire [education] ministry is being changed to make sustainability and climate the centre of the education model,” said Fioramonti, a former economics professor who was criticised earlier this year for encouraging students to miss school to take part in climate protests.

“I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school.”

Fioramonti, a member of the pro-environment Five Star Movement, is the government’s most vocal supporter of green policies and has previously come under fire for proposing taxes on airline tickets, plastic and sugary foods in order to generate funds for education and welfare.

However, the government’s 2020 budget, presented to parliament this week, included a tax on both plastic and sugary drinks.

Fioramonti said that despite initial opposition to his ideas, the government seemed increasingly invested in greener policies.

“I was ridiculed by everyone and treated like a village idiot, and now a few months later the government is using two of those proposals and it seems to me more and more people are convinced it is the way to go.”

Surveys have shown that up to 80% of Italians back taxing sugar and flights, but industry producers oppose the plastic tax, arguing the “measure penalises products, not behaviour, and only represents a way to recover resources, while placing huge costs on consumers, workers and businesses”.

Fioramonti’s proposals have also come under direct fire from Matteo Salvini, Italy’s climate science-denying former deputy prime minister, whose far-right League voted against almost all key climate proposals in the last parliament.

However, Fioramonti said his ministry would stand strong against the opposition. “I want to represent the Italy that stands against all the things that Salvini does,” he said. “We have to build a different narrative and not be afraid of saying something Salvini may not like, because that’s why we exist.”


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« Reply #19 on: Nov 09, 2019, 05:41 AM »

Mick Mulvaney: new testimony draws Trump chief of staff into Ukraine scandal

Congress hears Mulvaney approved Trump-Zelenskiy meeting on condition Ukraine announced investigations tied to Joe Biden

Tom McCarthy in New York
9 Nov 2019 20.31 GMT
Guardian

Donald Trump’s acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney approved a White House meeting with the president for the Ukrainian president on condition Ukraine announced investigations tied to Trump’s political rival Joe Biden, according to testimony released on Friday.

Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, “blurted out” that Mulvaney had approved the meeting if the Ukrainians announced an investigation of Burisma, a gas company that formerly employed Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, said Fiona Hill, a national security council member who was deposed last month by the congressional committees pursuing an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

Hill’s account was corroborated by simultaneously released testimony by another firsthand witness to the conversation, Lt Col Alexander Vindman.

Previously released testimony has indicated a central role for Mulvaney in brokering an agreement in which Ukraine would intervene in the 2020 US election by announcing the Burisma investigation, but the Hill testimony released on Friday was the first to describe direct involvement in the plot by the acting chief of staff.

Mulvaney himself said in a televised October press conference that the White House had conditioned military aid on investigations in Ukraine, but he later denied he had said that.

Hill told investigators of a 10 July meeting attended by herself, Sondland, nationals security adviser John Bolton, Ukrainian officials and others.

Hill testified: “Then Ambassador Sondland blurted out: ‘Well, we have an agreement with the chief of staff for a meeting if these investigations in the energy sector start.’ And Ambassador Bolton immediately stiffened and ended the meeting.”

Vindman gave a similar account of the meeting.

“I heard him say that this had been coordinated with White House chief of staff, Mr Mick Mulvaney,” Vindman said. “He just said that he had had a conversation with Mr Mulvaney, and this is what was required in order to get a meeting.”

Mulvaney was further responsible for ordering a hold on almost $400m in military aid for Ukraine, Vindman testified. He explained the reason was “to ensure that the assistance aligned with administration priorities”.

With eight transcript releases over the past week, the impeachment committees have revealed a lot of mutually reinforcing evidence that the Trump administration tried to force Ukraine into domestic US politics, while taking steps to stop the plot from becoming public, alarming dozens of top-level US officials, who are defying a White House gag order to explain what happened.

While Trump himself made the most direct known ask of the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in a 25 July phone call previously summarized by the White House, the day-to-day management of the plot largely fell to Mulvaney and to Rudy Giuliani, according to testimony.

Testimony released Friday also shed new light on White House efforts to cover up its negotiations with Ukraine; on the destructive impact the plot had on the morale of career public servants; and on the borderline slapstick role of Sondland, a hotelier and Trump mega-donor with no previous diplomatic experience.

Sondman pursued a Ukrainian delegation visiting the White House in July out of the meeting that Bolton ended into a second meeting in the downstairs Ward Room, attended by Vindman.

“What did you hear Sondland say?” Vindman was asked during his testimony.

“That the Ukrainians would have to deliver an investigation into the Bidens,” Vindman replied.

“Into the Bidens. So in the Ward Room he mentioned the word ‘Bidens’?”

“To the best of my recollection, yes.”

On Friday, Trump distanced himself from Sondland, who gave his inauguration committee $1m, telling reporters: “I hardly know the gentleman.”

Hill and Vindman were startled by the nakedness of the deal Trump was chasing in the July phone call with Zelenskiy, which both listened in on, they testified. “It was pretty blatant,” Hill said.

Askedif there was “any doubt in your mind as to what the president, our president, was asking for as a deliverable”, Vindman replied: “There was no doubt.”

When he raised his concerns about the call with national security council lawyers afterward, Vindman said, he never heard any follow up. And the call was placed, abnormally, in a separate, highly restricted classification system, which became an issue when Vindman went to add his edits to the summary, per normal operating procedure.

The call summary released by the White House included unusual omissions and corrections, including the deletion of a mention by Zelenskiy of “Burisma”, which was replaced in the summary with “the company”.

The change was significant, Vindman said, because it hides the fact that when Zelenskiy heard Trump say “Biden”, he knew exactly what he was talking about – an investigation of Burisma.

“It would be significant,” Vindman said. “Because – because, frankly, the President of Ukraine would not necessarily know anything about this company Burisma. I mean, he would certainly understand some of this – some of these elements because the story had been developing for some time, but the fact that he mentioned specifically Burisma seemed to suggest to me that he was prepped for this call.”

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Impeachment inquiry: Fiona Hill tells lawmakers she's received death threats

Former top Russia expert at White House says harassment reached a peak after she agreed to testify in impeachment hearings

Julian Borger in Washington
Guardian
9 Nov 2019 21.44 GMT

The former top Russia expert at the White House has said she has been subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation, including death threats, which reached a new peak after she agreed to testify in congressional impeachment hearings.

Fiona Hill, who was the senior director for Europe and Russia in the National Security Council (NSC) said other NSC staff had been “hounded out” by threats against them, including antisemitic smears linking them to the liberal financier and philanthropist, George Soros, a hate figure on the far right.

In her testimony to Congress, a full transcript of which was released on Friday, Hill described a climate of fear among administration staff.

The UK-born academic and biographer of Vladimir Putin said that the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was the target of a hate campaign, with the aim of driving her from her post in Kyiv, where she was seen as an obstacle to some corrupt business interests.

Yovanovitch was recalled from Ukraine in May on Trump’s orders. In a 25 July conversation with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Trump described Yovanovitch as “bad news” and predicted she was “going to go through some things”. The former ambassador has testified she felt threatened by the remarks.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, led calls for Yovanovitch’s dismissal, as did two of Giuliani business associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. All three are under scrutiny in hearings being held by House committees looking at Trump’s use of his office to put pressure on the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponents.

“There was no basis for her removal,” Hill testified. “The accusations against her had no merit whatsoever. This was a mishmash of conspiracy theories that…I believe firmly to be baseless, an idea of an association between her and George Soros.”

“I had had accusations similar to this being made against me as well,” Hill testified. “My entire first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories, which has started again, frankly, as it’s been announced that I’ve been giving this deposition, accusing me of being a Soros mole in the White House, of colluding with all kinds of enemies of the president, and of various improprieties.”

She added that the former national security adviser, HR McMaster “and many other members of staff were targeted as well, and many people were hounded out of the National Security Council because they became frightened about their own security.”

“I received, I just have to tell you, death threats, calls at my home. My neighbours reported somebody coming and hammering on my door,” Hill said, adding that she had also been targeted by obscene phone calls. “Now, I’m not easily intimidated, but that made me mad.”

“When I saw this happening to Ambassador Yovanovitch, I was furious,” she said, pointing to “this whipping up of what is frankly an antisemitic conspiracy theory about George Soros to basically target nonpartisan career officials, and also some political appointees as well.”

In Yovanovitch’s case, Hill said: “the most obvious explanation [for the smear campaign] seemed to be business dealings of individuals who wanted to improve their investment positions inside of Ukraine itself, and also to deflect away from the findings of not just the Mueller report on Russian interference but what’s also been confirmed by your own Senate report, and what I know myself to be true as a former intelligence analyst and somebody who has been working on Russia for more than 30 years.”

Hill dismissed the suggestion that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election was a “conspiracy theory” intended to distract attention from Russia’s well-documented role.

The treatment of Yovanovitch, Hill said “had a really devastating effect on the morale of all of the teams that I work with across the interagency because everybody knows Ambassador Yovanovitch to be the best of the best in terms of a nonpartisan career official.

The former national security official, who resigned in July, said she thought that the fact that Yovanovitch was a woman in a high position also played a role in the attacks.

“I don’t see always a lot of prominent women in these positions – she was the highest ranking woman diplomat,” Hill said.

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Impeachment: how Trump's hardball tactics put the constitution in peril

The White House refuses to send witnesses to the House inquiry. Talk of obstruction grows. Experts say a crisis is at hand

Tom McCarthy in New York
Guardian
Sat 9 Nov 2019 07.00 GMT

Summoning the full force of its constitutionally vested powers, Congress last week called 13 witnesses to appear for questioning in the impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump.

Two of them showed up.

Four of the would-be witnesses – the acting White House chief of staff, two senior officials in the budget office and a state department lawyer – failed to appear in spite of congressional subpoenas, as distinct from requests.

A fifth witness, former national security adviser John Bolton, warned that he would reply to any subpoena with a lawsuit.

The story of the Trump presidency is one of repeated power struggles between branches of government and within the executive branch. But the standoff that has developed between the White House and the legislature during the impeachment inquiry, constitutional experts say, is loaded with dangerous potential to upset the balance of power and wreck the ability of Congress to check the president.

    This is about as intense a conflict as we could imagine between the branches
    Michael J Gerhardt

“This is about as intense a conflict as we could imagine between the branches,” said Michael J Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina school of law and an expert on impeachment and the constitution.

“It is unusual, though not unprecedented. This may be a great example of what we call constitutional hardball, where everybody’s kind of pushing their powers at least to their boundaries, if not beyond.”

The refusal of executive branch officials to comply with lawful congressional subpoenas has been compared to Richard Nixon’s refusal to turn over recordings of Oval Office conversations to investigators in the Watergate affair. In that standoff, Congress ultimately prevailed.

But the third article of impeachment against Nixon, for obstruction of the House impeachment inquiry, “rested on far more limited withholding of information from the House” than that which is being pursued by Trump, said Frank O Bowman III, author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump and a professor at the University of Missouri school of law.

“It’s completely abnormal,” Bowman said of the witness absences. “Inasmuch as the no-shows are in response to presidential orders or strong admonitions, they amount to obstruction of the House’s constitutional impeachment function and are therefore a free-standing ground for impeachment.”

The Trump administration has withheld more than just witnesses. Top officials – including vice-president Mike Pence, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, energy secretary Rick Perry and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney – have defied subpoenas for documents. So have agencies including the defense department and budget office.

Witnesses with no formal role in the administration have defied Congress, too – at times rather punchily.

Refusing a subpoena for documents, lawyers for Rudy Giuliani condemned the impeachment inquiry as “unconstitutional, baseless and illegitimate”. A lawyer for Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Ukrainian Americans arrested last month on campaign finance charges, asserted attorney-client privilege in withholding documents, because the two men “assisted Mr Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump”.

Neither man is a lawyer. Parnas has since switched lawyers and said he will cooperate.

‘Political talking points, and no law’

In defying Congress, the would-be witnesses have relied, explicitly and implicity, on an overarching case for non-participation made in a pugnacious eight-page letter sent to Congress in October by White House counsel Pat Cipollone.

“Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it,” the letter said.

A half-page letter from lawyers for Giuliani said the former New York mayor “adopts all the positions set forth in Mr Cipollone’s letter”.

The acting director of the office of management of the budget (OMB), Russell Vought, invoked the White House gag order in a dismissive tweet defying his subpoena.

“I saw some Fake News over the weekend to correct,” he wrote. “As the WH letter made clear two weeks ago, OMB officials – myself and Mike Duffey – will not be complying with deposition requests this week. #shamprocess”

As a legal document, the White House letter is weak, according to experts.

“I think it was filled with a number of political talking points, and no law,” said Gerhardt.

Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel under Barack Obama, wrote: “On the merits, it is an exceptionally weak performance. Add to this another deficiency: its glaring failure to effectively represent the institutional interests of the presidency.”

The noncooperation of executive branch officials could have serious implications for the impeachment inquiry, potentially depriving Congress and the public of crucial evidence.

Mulvaney might testify about how, exactly, the order came down for the OMB to suspend military aid for Ukraine. Perry attended several key meetings and could add to previous firsthand testimony about the precise nature of the deal Trump was pursuing. Bolton has said he might someday testify to relevant firsthand conversations he had with the president.

Pompeo could supply evidence that might help explain why the Ukraine plot gave rise to a moment of truth for so many career foreign service officers.

The 18 witnesses from the executive branch to have spoken to the impeachment committees so far have done so in defiance of the White House gag order.

Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, told reporters this week the executive branch refusal to cooperate amounted to evidence of obstruction of the inquiry, suggesting Trump, like Nixon, might face an article of impeachment along those lines.

“The White House excuses keep changing,” Schiff said. “First it was: the House hasn’t held a vote. Then, a claim of immunity never upheld by a court. Now they want their lawyers to participate, which is against the rules Republicans wrote.

“It doesn’t add up – except as evidence of obstruction.”

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

John Bolton’s lawyer sends signal to House Dems that his client wants to testify

on November 9, 2019
Raw Story

The attorney representing both former national security adviser John Bolton and former acting national security adviser Charles Kupperman indicated on Friday that both of his clients are willing to testify in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, according to CBS News reporter Rob Legare.

In a letter to House of Representatives General Counsel Douglas Letter, attorney Charles Cooper writes that both Bolton and Kupperman are ready “to testify if the Judiciary resolves the conflict in favor of the Legislative Branch’s position respecting such testimony.”

Cooper goes on to write that Democratic lawmakers “are mistaken” for saying that this deference to the judiciary is merely a stalling tactic intended to get his two clients off the hook for testifying.

“If the House chooses not to pursue through subpoena the testimony of Dr. Kupperman and Ambassador Bolton, let the record be clear: that is the House’s decision,” he says.

    NEW: Lawyer for impeachment witnesses BOLTON and Kupperman says his clients stand ready to testify if a federal judge says they must comply with a Congressional subpoena.

    House Chairs withdrew the subpoena earlier this week, but anew letter suggests they want to be subpoenaed. pic.twitter.com/RRXL3xKi5w

    — Rob Legare (@RobLegare) November 8, 2019

The letter seemingly confirms a report from earlier this week that claimed Bolton was “willing to defy” that Trump White House and testify in the impeachment inquiry so long as he is legally cleared to do so.

Bolton resigned in September, just after the still-anonymous whistleblower’s complaint against the president was filed with the intelligence community inspector general, who deemed it a “credible and urgent” threat.

Former National Security Council member Fiona Hill has testified that Bolton was wary of Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to press Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden — and she said he labeled Giuliani’s campaign a “drug deal.”

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Of course it would ... the ERRAND BOY IS SUMMONED...

'I would love to go': Trump considers Putin invite to Russia – video

Donald Trump has said he is considering attending a Russian military parade in May, claiming he has been invited by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The US president spoke to reporters on the White House lawn, where he also talked about Michael Bloomberg entering the Democratic primary. 'He’s not going to do well, but I think he’s going to hurt Biden actually … There’s nobody I’d rather run against than little Michael,' he said

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=27&v=kbtzOIbXBeU&feature=emb_logo

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Lindsey Graham ‘is like hypocrisy on steroids’: Bill Maher goes off on the South Carolina Republican

Raw Story
11/9/2019

MSNBC anchor Bill Maher ridiculed Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Friday’s “Real Time” on HBO for his defense of President Donald Trump during the impeachment inquiry.

“People use this phrase, ‘on steroids’ way too much, but he’s like hypocrisy on steroids,” Maher said.

So he presented 24 things that people don’t know about Graham.

“My spirit animal is the jellyfish,” was one item.

“When I was in school, kids would tease me by calling me ‘Lindsey,'” another item said.

Many of the jokes appeared to refer to Graham’s private life.

“If you saw just five seconds of the videotape Trump has on me, everything would suddenly make sense,” an item read. “For three weeks in 1992, I was married to Liza Minnelli.”

“John McCain’s last words to me were, ‘Let go of my hand,'” an item revealed.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDV0cs2Xb9o&feature=emb_title

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Seth Meyers destroys Lindsey Graham: ‘Not good when your defense is also a confession’

Raw Story
11/9/2019

The host of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” blasted Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for a ridiculous defense of President Donald Trump.

The host played a clip of the South Carolina Republican attempting to defend Trump.

“What I can tell you about the Trump policy toward the Ukraine, it was incoherent,” Graham argued. “It depends on who you talk to.”

“They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo,” he claimed.

Meyers thought the clip was hilarious.

“So they can’t be criminals because they’re stupid?” he asked.

“It is not good when your defense is also a confession,” Meyers explained. “No version of that is good.”

“Either they broke the law or they’re morons,” he continued.

The host presented a simile that seemed to capture the essence of Graham’s contention.

“It’s like if a cop pulled you over and said, ‘Do you know the speed limit?’ and you responded, ‘Of course not, I’m too drunk to read the sign,'” Meyers explained.

Watch: https://twitter.com/LateNightSeth/status/1192940360198017024/video/1

    Lindsey Graham won’t give up on the “Trump’s too stupid to commit a crime” defense. #ACloserLook pic.twitter.com/TrE8jhhIk7

    — Late Night with Seth Meyers (@LateNightSeth) November 8, 2019

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UFC’s Joe Rogan slaps down Trump Jr’s denials: 18,000 people booed the president at Madison Square Garden

Raw Story
11/9/2019

President Donald Trump was booed on Saturday as he walked into Madison Square Garden to watch mixed martial artists brawl in New York.

The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr, has insisted that the reaction to his father at the Ultimate Fighting Championship event was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“Despite the bullsh*t from blue checkmark Twitter, when we walked into the arena it was overwhelmingly positive,” Trump Jr. tweeted.

But according to Joe Rogan, the UFC’s color commentator, that’s not the case.

“They booed the f*ck out of him at the UFC,” Rogan said on his podcast this week.

“Oh, were you there? Because I heard from one camp that they cheered and another camp – his son said that they cheered for him,” comedian Greg Fitzsimmons said.

“Listen, I took my f*cking headphones off just to listen,” Rogan explained. “And it was ‘boo’ – 18,000 people just going ‘boo.’”

“His son said they were chanting USA,” Fitzsimmons remarked, laughing.

“Umm, maybe four people behind him were chanting USA,” Rogan replied. “Is that what Donald Jr said? If that was your dad, you’d probably say that too… look, they booed the f*ck out of him. I’m sure some people clapped, but if you had to bet your money on it … it was f*cking boos.”

Rogan added he was so close to Trump he could have “hit him with a rock.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVBaw8CKJG8&feature=emb_title


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« Reply #20 on: Nov 11, 2019, 04:16 AM »

Our earliest ancestors may have originated in southern Africa

A new study traced back our ancestral homeland to the south of the Zambezi river, just north of Botswana.

ZME
11/11/2019

By tapping into the genetic history etched inside our DNA, scientists were able to piece together hints describing our species’ formative years and environment. According to a new study, Homo sapiens emerged in southern Africa and thrived there for 70,000 years before a shift in the climate triggered the first waves of migrations that would eventually spread our species all over the globe.
We got it from mom

    “It has been clear for some time that anatomically modern humans appeared in Africa roughly 200 thousand years ago. What has been long debated is the exact location of this emergence and subsequent dispersal of our earliest ancestors,” says study lead Professor Vanessa Hayes from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney, and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria.

In order to trace the origin of our species, Hayes and colleagues leveraged the power of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), which is stored in the mitochondria — a cell organelle that is responsible for producing chemical energy called ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is necessary for all biological processes within the body to occur.

Nuclear DNA, which comprises most of our DNA, is inherited equally from both parents; a child will inherit 50% of their nuclear DNA from the mother and the other 50% from their father. On the other hand, mtDNA, which is only a small fraction of our DNA, is almost exclusively passed down from the mother’s side. As of 2018, we now know that mtDNA can sometimes be passed down from the father’s side too.

In humans, the mtDNA is in the form of a circle that contains approximately 16,500 nucleotide base pairs of DNA. In contrast, the DNA in the nucleus is divided into 46 linear chromosomes (23 from each of our parents) that have an average length of more than 200 million base pairs.

Since mtDNA changes very gradually over time, it can act as a reliable time capsule that can be used to extract all sorts of information about our ancestral mothers.

The researchers drew blood samples from over 1,000 living southern Africans to establish a comprehensive catalog of modern human’s earliest mitogenomes from the so-called ‘L0’ lineage. In human mitochondrial genetics, L is the mitochondrial DNA macro-haplogroup that is at the root of the anatomically modern human (Homo sapiens) mtDNA phylogenetic tree. People who are part of this macro-haplogroup are the living descendants of the oldest human ancestors.

This genetic data was overlaid with timeline, ethnolinguistic and geographic frequency distribution data, as well as climatic reconstructions from various periods, revealing that the earliest humans emerged in the Makgadikgadi–Okavango palaeo-wetland of southern Africa, just south of the Zambezi River, in northern Botswana. The L0 timeline reconstruction suggests that this maternal lineage emerged about 200,000 years ago.

    “We merged 198 new, rare mitogenomes to the current database of modern human’s earliest known population, the L0 lineage. This allowed us to refine the evolutionary tree of our earliest ancestral branches better than ever before,” says first author Dr Eva Chan from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, who led the phylogenetic analyses.

A welcoming homeland… but the grass is always greener on the other side

According to Andy Moore, a geologist at Rhodes University who investigated many archaeological, fossils, and geological features from the area, the homeland of our oldest maternal lineage was the perfect environment for life to thrive. It used to be the home to Africa’s largest lake system, Lake Makgadikgadi.

Shifts in the underlying tectonic plates had caused the lake to drain many thousands of years prior to the emergence of modern humans. This led to the formation of vast wetlands, which are some of the most optimal ecosystems for harboring life.

The newly refined evolutionary timeline suggests that modern humans lived in this stable environment for around 70,000 years. Simulations of the changes in the slow wobble of Earth’s axis revealed changes in the amount of solar radiation that hit southern Africa, causing shifts in rainfall.

    “These shifts in climate would have opened green, vegetated corridors, first 130 thousand years ago to the northeast, and then around 110 thousand years ago to the southwest, allowing our earliest ancestors to migrate away from the homeland for the first time,” co-corresponding author Professor Axel Timmermann, Director of the IBS Center for Climate Physics at Pusan National University, said in a statement.

This fits perfectly with the genetic data that shows a divergence in the earliest maternal sublineages, indicating a migration that occurred out of the homeland between 130,000 and 110,000 years ago.

    “The first migrants ventured northeast, followed by a second wave of migrants who travelled southwest. A third population remained in the homeland until today,” Hayes explained.

    “In contrast to the northeasterly migrants, the southwesterly explorers appear to flourish, experiencing steady population growth,” says Professor Hayes. The authors speculate that the success of this migration was most likely a result of adaptation to marine foraging, which is further supported by extensive archaeological evidence along the southern tip of Africa.

    “These first migrants left behind a homeland population,” remarks Professor Hayes. “Eventually adapting to the drying lands, maternal descendants of the homeland population can be found in the greater Kalahari region today.”

Writing for The Atlantic, science journalist Ed Young says that Hayes’ conclusions could be far-fetched — at least, what leading scientists he reached out thought.

    “It ignores a swath of evidence supporting an older origin for our species,” said Eleanor Scerri, an archaeologist who studies human origins at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.

    “The conclusions are far-fetched and very much overstated,” added Carina Schlebusch, a geneticist at Uppsala University who specializes in southern Africa. “It tells us very little about human origins as a whole. It only tells us about the origin of a very small part of the human genome, and nothing more.”

In his article, Young wrote:

    “In 2017, researchers described 315,000-year-old bones from a Moroccan cave called Jebel Irhoud that are the oldest Homo sapiens fossils ever found. Shortly after, a 180,000-year-old jawbone from the Misliya cave, in Israel, showed that humans had ventured out of Africa far earlier than suggested. Just this year, Harvati announced that a 210,000-year-old skull from Apidima Cave, in Greece, also belonged to Homo sapiens. All of this suggests that Homo sapiens not only existed but spread far and wide before the homeland period that Hayes defines. Complex stone tools support this idea: They’ve been found at sites that are about 300,000 years old, in locations as diverse as Morocco, Kenya, and South Africa.”

    “Based on such finds, many scientists have abandoned the simple idea that humanity originated in any one part of Africa.”

In other words, it would seem that this study is far from the last word on the matter of our species’ cradle.

The findings appeared in the journal Nature.


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« Reply #21 on: Nov 11, 2019, 04:21 AM »

How Scientists Got Climate Change So Wrong

Few thought it would arrive so quickly. Now we’re facing consequences once viewed as fringe scenarios.

By Eugene Linden
Mr. Linden has written widely about climate change.
NY Times
Nov. 11, 2019

For decades, most scientists saw climate change as a distant prospect. We now know that thinking was wrong. This summer, for instance, a heat wave in Europe penetrated the Arctic, pushing temperatures into the 80s across much of the Far North and, according to the Belgian climate scientist Xavier Fettweis, melting some 40 billion tons of Greenland’s ice sheet.

Had a scientist in the early 1990s suggested that within 25 years a single heat wave would measurably raise sea levels, at an estimated two one-hundredths of an inch, bake the Arctic and produce Sahara-like temperatures in Paris and Berlin, the prediction would have been dismissed as alarmist. But many worst-case scenarios from that time are now realities.

Science is a process of discovery. It can move slowly as the pieces of a puzzle fall together and scientists refine their investigative tools. But in the case of climate, this deliberation has been accompanied by inertia born of bureaucratic caution and politics. A recent essay in Scientific American argued that scientists “tend to underestimate the severity of threats and the rapidity with which they might unfold” and said one of the reasons was “the perceived need for consensus.” This has had severe consequences, diluting what should have been a sense of urgency and vastly understating the looming costs of adaptation and dislocation as the planet continues to warm.

In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group of thousands of scientists representing 195 countries, said in its first report that climate change would arrive at a stately pace, that the methane-laden Arctic permafrost was not in danger of thawing, and that the Antarctic ice sheets were stable.

Relying on the climate change panel’s assessment, economists estimated that the economic hit would be small, providing further ammunition against an aggressive approach to reducing emissions and to building resilience to climate change.

As we now know, all of those predictions turned out to be completely wrong. Which makes you wonder whether the projected risks of further warming, dire as they are, might still be understated. How bad will things get?

So far, the costs of underestimation have been enormous. New York City’s subway system did not flood in its first 108 years, but Hurricane Sandy’s 2012 storm surge caused nearly $5 billion in water damage, much of which is still not repaired. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey gave Houston and the surrounding region a $125 billion lesson about the costs of misjudging the potential for floods.

The climate change panel seems finally to have caught up with the gravity of the climate crisis. Last year, the organization detailed the extraordinary difficulty of limiting warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius), over the next 80 years, and the grim consequences that will result even if that goal is met.

More likely, a separate United Nations report concluded, we are headed for warming of at least 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. That will come with almost unimaginable damage to economies and ecosystems. Unfortunately, this dose of reality arrives more than 30 years after human-caused climate change became a mainstream issue.

Conventional wisdom, in the 1950s, on the pace of major climate change:

8,000 years

Each large square = 100 years

1960s through the ’80s:

Centuries or millenniums

1990s to today:

5 to 50 years

The word “upended” does not do justice to the revolution in climate science wrought by the discovery of sudden climate change. The realization that the global climate can swing between warm and cold periods in a matter of decades or even less came as a profound shock to scientists who thought those shifts took hundreds if not thousands of years.

Scientists knew major volcanic eruptions or asteroid strikes could affect climate rapidly, but such occurrences were uncommon and unpredictable. Absent such rare events, changes in climate looked steady and smooth, a consequence of slow-moving geophysical factors like the earth’s orbital cycle in combination with the tilt of the planet’s axis, or shifts in the continental plates.

Then, in the 1960s, a few scientists began to focus on an unusual event that took place after the last ice age. Scattered evidence suggested that the post-ice age warming was interrupted by a sudden cooling that began around 12,000 years ago and ended abruptly 1,300 years later. The era was named the Younger Dryas for a plant that proliferated during that cold period.

At first, some scientists questioned the rapidity and global reach of the cooling. A report from the National Academies of Science in 1975 acknowledged the Younger Dryas but concluded that it would take centuries for the climate to change in a meaningful way. But not everyone agreed. The climate scientist Wallace Broecker at Columbia had offered a theory that changes in ocean circulation could bring about sudden climate shifts like the Younger Dryas.

And it was Dr. Broecker who, in 1975, the same year as that National Academies report playing down the Younger Dryas, published a paper, titled “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” in which he predicted that emissions of carbon dioxide would raise global temperatures significantly in the 21st century. This is now seen as prophetic, but at the time, Dr. Broecker was an outlier.

Then, in the early 1990s, scientists completed more precise studies of ice cores extracted from the Greenland ice sheet. Dust and oxygen isotopes encased in the cores provided a detailed climate record going back eons. It revealed that there had been 25 rapid climate change events like the Younger Dryas in the last glacial period.

The evidence in those ice cores would prove pivotal in turning the conventional wisdom. As the science historian Spencer Weart put it: “How abrupt was the discovery of abrupt climate change? Many climate experts would put their finger on one moment: the day they read the 1993 report of the analysis of Greenland ice cores. Before that, almost nobody confidently believed that the climate could change massively within a decade or two; after the report, almost nobody felt sure that it could not.”

In 2002, the National Academies acknowledged the reality of rapid climate change in a report, “Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises,” which described the new consensus as a “paradigm shift.” This was a reversal of its 1975 report.

“Large, abrupt climate changes have affected hemispheric to global regions repeatedly, as shown by numerous paleoclimate records,” the report said, and added that “changes of up to 16 degrees Celsius and a factor of 2 in precipitation have occurred in some places in periods as short as decades to years.”

The National Academies report added that the implications of such potential rapid changes had not yet been considered by policymakers and economists. And even today, 17 years later, a substantial portion of the American public remains unaware or unconvinced it is happening.

24%

36%

17%

21%

of Americans …

… believe that

half of climate scientists, or fewer, think human-caused global warming is happening.

… believe that between 51 and 90 percent of scientists think global warming is happening.

… correctly understand

that almost all climate scientists think global warming is happening.

Don’t know

Were the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica to melt, sea levels would rise by an estimated 225 feet worldwide. Few expect that to happen anytime soon. But those ice sheets now look a lot more fragile than they did to the climate change panel in 1995, when it said that little change was expected over the next hundred years.

In the years since, data has shown that both Greenland and Antarctica have been shedding ice far more rapidly than anticipated. Ice shelves, which are floating extensions of land ice, hold back glaciers from sliding into the sea and eventually melting. In the early 2000s, ice shelves began disintegrating in several parts of Antarctica, and scientists realized that process could greatly accelerate the demise of the vastly larger ice sheets themselves. And some major glaciers are dumping ice directly into the ocean.

By 2014, a number of scientists had concluded that an irreversible collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet had already begun, and computer modeling in 2016 indicated that its disintegration in concert with other melting could raise sea levels up to six feet by 2100, about twice the increase described as a possible worst-case scenario just three years earlier. At that pace, some of the world’s great coastal cities, including New York, London and Hong Kong, would become inundated.

Then this year, a review of 40 years of satellite images suggested that the East Antarctic ice sheet, which was thought to be relatively stable, may also be shedding vast amounts of ice.

250 cm

(8.2 ft)

Changing Estimates of Sea Level Rise by 2100

200

I.P.C.C.

NOAA

WORST CASE

MID-RANGE

150 cm

(5 ft)

120

110 cm

(3.6 ft)

98

95

70

66 cm

59

55

55

55

26

1990

’95

2001

’07

’12

’13

’17

YEAR EACH ESTIMATE WAS PUBLISHED

Note: The I.P.C.C.'s 2007 estimate of future sea level rise did not include satellite data on the contribution of melt water from Greenland and Antarctica because of disagreements among scientists.

As the seas rise, they are also warming at a pace unanticipated as recently as five years ago. This is very bad news. For one thing, a warmer ocean means more powerful storms, and die-offs of marine life, but it also suggests that the planet is more sensitive to increased carbon dioxide emissions than previously thought.

The melting of permafrost has also defied expectations. This is ground that has remained frozen for at least two consecutive years and covers around a quarter of the exposed land mass of the Northern Hemisphere. As recently as 1995, it was thought to be stable. But by 2005, the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimated that up to 90 percent of the Northern Hemisphere’s topmost layer of permafrost could thaw by 2100, releasing vast amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

For all of the missed predictions, changes in the weather are confirming earlier expectations that a warming globe would be accompanied by an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather. And there are new findings unforeseen by early studies, such as the extremely rapid intensification of storms, as on Sept. 1, when Hurricane Dorian’s sustained winds intensified from 150 to 185 miles per hour in just nine hours, and last year when Hurricane Michael grew from tropical depression to major hurricane in just two days.

If the Trump administration has its way, even the revised worst-case scenarios may turn out to be too rosy. In late August, the administration announced a plan to roll back regulations intended to limit methane emissions resulting from oil and gas exploration, despite opposition from some of the largest companies subject to those regulations. More recently, its actions approached the surreal as the Justice Department opened an antitrust investigation into those auto companies that have agreed in principle to abide by higher gas mileage standards required by California. The administration also formally revoked a waiver allowing California to set stricter limits on tailpipe emissions than the federal government.

Even if scientists end up having lowballed their latest assessments of the consequences of the greenhouse gases we continue to emit into the atmosphere, their predictions are dire enough. But the Trump administration has made its posture toward climate change abundantly clear: Bring it on!

It’s already here. And it is going to get worse. A lot worse.


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« Reply #22 on: Nov 11, 2019, 04:24 AM »


NSW and Queensland bushfires: Sydney to face catastrophic fire danger for first time

More than 130 bushfires continue to burn, with three people dead and 150 properties destroyed, and conditions set to worsen
   
Lisa Cox and Christine Tondorf in Taree
Guardian
11 Nov 2019 07.49 GMT

The greater Sydney region will face catastrophic fire danger on Tuesday for the first time since the rating was introduced and fire authorities say conditions in other parts of New South Wales could also be set to worsen.

The warning was issued as more than 80 fires continued to burn in the north of the state late on Sunday.
Authorities warn lives at risk as horror fire day predicted for NSW on Tuesday
Read more

Three people have died in the fires and at least 150 properties have been destroyed. The number of properties lost in the emergency is expected to grow as fire grounds become accessible to crews assessing the damage.

On Sunday afternoon, two emergency warnings were issued for fires burning on the north-east and mid-north coast of NSW.

A fire at Bills Crossing, north of Taree, had already burned through almost 12,000 hectares, with the Rural Fire Service warning people in the Johns River area to seek shelter as the blaze approached.

The other warning was issued for an out-of-control fire in the Mt Nardi national park, where people were advised that leaving early was their safest option.

While some weather conditions were expected to ease late on Sunday and into Monday, both the Rural Fire Service and the Bureau of Meteorology warned that dangerous conditions were forecast for Tuesday.

The Rural Fire Service issued a catastrophic fire danger warning for the greater Sydney and greater Hunter regions – including the Blue Mountains and the central coast – on Tuesday due to high temperatures, strong winds and dry conditions.

Extreme fire danger is forecast in the Illawarra/Shoalhaven region, the north coast, the central ranges, the northern slopes and the north-western regions.

The far north coast, New England, the far south coast, the southern ranges, and the lower central west plains are expecting severe fire danger.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, visited devastated bushfire communities on Sunday.

The federal government announced that disaster recovery payments of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child would be made available immediately through Centrelink for people affected by fires in NSW and Queensland.

Leo Generaux from Tinonee, about 12km south-west of Taree, said on Sunday he didn’t know if he had a house to return to.

He and his wife had been evacuated twice in three days and had been told his neighbour’s home had been destroyed.

On Sunday, Generaux, aged in his 70s, was at the Club Taree evacuation centre watching for the arrival of Morrison and Berejiklian.

“We were allowed to go in on Saturday to see our home and our neighbours, waiting at our door, told us their house had been burnt to the ground. We were in a state of shock,” he said.

“We said, ‘You can stay with us,’ but they said, ‘That’s no good the fire hasn’t finished yet,’ and then in the afternoon we were evacuated again. There was a fire on the other side, the east side.

“The smoke was billowing towards us and we got the phone call, ‘Leave now’. I have no idea if my house is still there. We left in a hurry, only one road was open. That’s now closed. There is no way of telling what is going on at our property.”

In Terania Creek, near the Nightcap national park, Terri Nicholson spent Sunday watching fires move into private property on the western side of the valley and start heading south. Many residents in the immediate vicinity of multiple fires had been evacuated to The Channon, the nearest town.

Nicholson’s parents are Nan and Hugh Nicholson. Forty years ago they hosted the blockade that ultimately stopped logging of the rainforest near their property and saved rainforest in other parts of NSW.

“Nan and Hugh Nicholson hosted the site of the Terania protest to defend this great rainforest from logging and now we’re here defending it due to the effects of climate change,” Nicholson said from her parents’ property.

“I don’t even have the words right now. It’s just gobsmacking and distressing to witness.”

Nicholson said residents were preparing for conditions to worsen over the next few days.

“We’re seeing rainforest burn. There’s fire threatening our houses right now,” Nicholson said.

“There’s fire trucks, volunteers. The local fire service is incredible, they’re protecting our home. This is the home I grew up in. My childhood home. My parents’ land.

“It’s quite intense to see ancient, iconic rainforest burn – this delicate ecosystem – and see firefighters here risking their lives and just to see global heating in action.”

In Queensland, more than 50 fires were burning on Sunday and emergency warnings were still in place at Cooroibah and Ringtail Creek, north of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast.

Fires had destroyed houses, sheds and cars and forced thousands of people to flee their homes.

A firefighter suffered a broken leg but no lives have been lost or other injuries reported.

The winds and hot and dry conditions that have stoked blazes are set to continue on Sunday, ease on Monday, and worsen on Tuesday, challenging crews and people battling to save their homes.

The emergency warnings for Cobraball and nearby Bungundarra have eased but people are warned to be on the alert because conditions could get worse.

They face an anxious wait to see if their homes are still standing because they can’t return until it is safe to do so.

Red Cross Queensland’s emergency services manager, Colin Sivalingum, said it was a traumatic time for people in evacuation centres.

“Most people just want to go back home to see what’s actually happening. That’s making them very anxious. That’s what they’re telling us,” he told the ABC.


• Additional reporting by Australian Associated Press


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« Reply #23 on: Nov 11, 2019, 04:28 AM »


Air bubble barrier traps plastic waste in Amsterdam's canals

Invention to block waste, but not boats or wildlife, arrives in Dutch city’s famous waterways

Senay Boztas in Amsterdam
Guardian
11 Nov 2019 15.30 GMT

The world’s first rubbish barrier made entirely from bubbles has been unveiled in Amsterdam in an attempt to catch waste in the city’s canals before it reaches the North Sea.

A Dutch start-up, the Amsterdam municipality and the regional water board launched the Great Bubble Barrier, a simple device that channels rubbish – especially small pieces of plastic – to the side of the Westerdok canal where it can be retrieved. Tests have shown it can divert more than 80% of flotsam.

“More than two-thirds of plastics in the ocean comes out of rivers and canals – so if you have to intercept it, why not do it in the rivers?” says Philip Ehrhorn, co-inventor of the technology. “You can’t put a physical barrier in a canal: it has to be open for wildlife and recreation.”

The hope is that the innovation will help to address the mounting crisis of plastic waste in the ocean. Estimates suggest as much as 8m tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s seas each year – the equivalent of one truckload of old bottles, trays and containers every minute.

The bubble barrier is a long, perforated tube running diagonally for 60 metres across the bottom of the canal. Compressed air is pumped through the tube and rises upwards, and then the natural water current helps to push waste to one side. It is trapped in a small rubbish platform on the side of the Westerdokskade at the tip of Amsterdam’s historic canal belt.

Ehrhorn, a German naval architect and ocean engineer, got the inspiration from a water treatment plant he saw while studying in Australia in 2015. “At one stage they aerate the water, and on a big surface put air bubbles like a big jacuzzi,” he said.

“The small plastic pieces that people throw in the toilet all collected in one corner and that was the kind of spark for me. If you can guide plastic to the side, can’t you do it in a more directed way and on purpose in a river?”

At the same time, three keen Dutch amateur sailors and friends, Anne Marieke Eveleens, Francis Zoet and Saskia Studer, were discussing the problem over a beer in Amsterdam one evening and came up with the idea of a curtain of bubbles that sifts out waste but lets fish and boats through over a beer one evening in Amsterdam. The two teams came together to work on the idea, with the help of a €500,000 Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge award and other prizes.

The first operational barrier in Amsterdam – due to run 24 hours a day for three years – aims to supplement dredging operations, which currently collect 42,000 kg of larger plastics from the Dutch capital’s waterways each year. Bubble barrier waste will be separately collected, then analysed by plastics action group Schone Rivieren (Clean rivers).

Marieke van Doorninck, head of sustainability for Amsterdam council, hopes it will be a successful example. “Amsterdam’s canals have enormous appeal,” she said. “But when you think of them, you don’t think about plastic bottles and bags in the water. The bubble barrier will mean fewer plastics reach the ocean, and is a step towards better regulation of our ecosystem, to the benefit of man, beast and environment.”

In the small, waterlogged country, this kind of innovation is welcome. Bianca Nijhof, managing director of the Netherlands Water Partnership, who organises the Amsterdam International Water Week conference, running this week, added: “The Dutch live with the water and don’t fight against it: 50% of the country is below sea level, more than half is prone to flooding and in 2018 we had severe drought,” she said. “This special relationship with water combined with an entrepreneurial mindset mean that innovation is at our core. The bubble barrier is one solution for clean water for all.”


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« Reply #24 on: Nov 11, 2019, 04:33 AM »

Revenge porn is sexual violence, not millennial negligence

on November 11, 2019
By The Conversation

U.S. Representative Katie Hill was the latest victim of a form of sexual abuse that’s become increasingly common: revenge porn.

Intimate photos of her were leaked to the media and published, without her consent, for the world to see – a transgression Hill suspects her estranged husband was behind. The photos implicated Hill in a sexual relationship with a congressional staffer, an accusation that potentially put Hill in violation of House ethics rules.

Hill, a 32-year-old freshman representative, ended up resigning her seat on October 27.

Yet some of the ensuing coverage, instead of zeroing in on the leaked photographs, centered on blaming Hill for not being careful enough.

“The best way to avoid being a victim of revenge porn is to not take nude selfies and send them to people,” political commentator Alice Stewart announced on CNN.

In an article titled “A Word to the Young,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd implored millennials to do a better job protecting themselves and their reputations online.

“Don’t leave yourself vulnerable by giving people the ammunition – or the nudes – to strip you of your dreams,” she wrote. “OK, millennials?”

Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brought up Hill’s “error in judgement” and noted that what you share online “can come back to haunt you.”

As someone who studies the effects of sexual violence, I’ve heard this kind of victim-blaming far too often. To me, “Be careful of the photos you take of yourself” sounds eerily similar to “Don’t wear suggestive clothing.” Sexual violence happens because of sexual perpetrators. It has nothing to do with the clothing people wear or the photos they take of themselves.

Make no mistake: Revenge porn is a form of sexual violence, with the same motivations, power dynamics and potential for psychological harm at play.

It can happen to anyone

Revenge porn falls under the umbrella of what scholars call “technological forms of sexual violence.”

Other examples include “nonconsensual pornography,” which specifically refers to photos that are taken for a partner’s eyes, only to be eventually disseminated to others; “up-skirting,” which involves snapping sexually intrusive photos, often of someone’s genitals, without their knowledge; and “sextortion,” a form of sexual blackmail that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos fell prey to in early 2019.

What happened to Hill isn’t an outgrowth of millennial culture. The nonconsensual sharing of intimate images and videos has been happening for decades. For example, the first issue of Playboy featured nude images of Marilyn Monroe that Hugh Hefner used without her permission. A sex tape filmed by Pamela Anderson and her then-husband Tommy Lee was famously stolen and leaked in 1995.

But the growing role of digital technology in our everyday lives – and the ever-expanding scope of everyone’s digital footprint – has made more people vulnerable to this sort of abuse and exploitation.

One study from 2017 found that 1 in 12 participants reported that they’d had nude images taken of them and posted publicly against their wishes. In Australia, that number is 1 in 10 – a rate that jumps to 1 in 2 for those who are indigenous or report having a disability.

An Australian survey also found that 1 in 3 members of the LGBT community, like Rep. Hill and her alleged partner, report having intimate photos shared without their consent.

It can happen to anyone, at any age. Research from 2017 shows that almost 20% of reported victims are over the age of 50.

Control, retaliation and humiliation

Just as domestic violence was once misunderstood and tolerated, many people today fail to grasp how nude photographs can be wielded as weapons of abuse.

Yet the nonconsensual sharing of intimate images is a form of control, retaliation and humiliation, just like any other form of sexual violence.

The Power and Control Wheel is a tool used by domestic violence experts to understand the ways in which domestic violence occurs in everyday interactions. Originally developed in 1993 by activists Ellen Pence and Michael Paymar, it demonstrates the abusive tactics beyond physical violence – such as withholding money, threatening to leave and isolating partners from friends and family – that are used to wield power and control.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fahyih5s8fQ&feature=emb_title

In a forthcoming publication, psychologists Asia Eaton, Sofia Noori, Amy Bonomi, Dionne P. Stephens and Tameka L. Gillum explain how technological forms of sexual violence can be found in every category of the Power and Control Wheel. For example, one spoke of the wheel is economic abuse; another is coercion. It’s not difficult to see how intimate, private photographs can be wielded in a way that threatens someone’s job.

Abusive partners don’t even need nude photos to hurt them; photos or video footage can be altered via deepfake technology to create convincing and humiliating images.

The lasting psychological effects of having nude photographs of yourself shared online are just starting to emerge. The few studies that have been published show that victims deal with many of the same issues that survivors of rape and sexual harassment grapple with. One published in 2017 found evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts among revenge porn victims. Other studies have shown how being targeted with revenge porn can lead to the development of trust and privacy issues that last a lifetime.

“Ever since those images first came out I barely left my bed,” Rep. Hill said during her final speech to the House of Representatives. “I went to the darkest places that a mind can go. I’ve hidden from the world.”
Rep. Katie Hill’s farewell speech on Oct. 31, 2019.

Those words ring all too familiar for victims who have endured sexual violence, both online and offline.

Instead of engaging in a victim blame narrative that accuses millennials of being shortsighted, let’s focus on the 1 in 20 Americans who perpetrate this form of abuse that violates privacy, causes psychological harm and ends careers.

Kristen Zaleski, Clinical Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Southern California

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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« Reply #25 on: Nov 11, 2019, 04:55 AM »


Spanish election: deadlock remains as far right makes big gains

Socialist party wins election, but poll fails to ease political impasse

Sam Jones in Madrid
11 Nov 2019 23.40 GMT
Guardian

Spain’s ruling socialist party has won the country’s fourth general election in as many years but once again failed to secure a majority in a vote in which the far-right Vox party vaulted into third place and the centre-right Citizens party suffer a humiliating collapse.

The Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE), led by the acting prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, won 120 seats, three fewer than in April’s inconclusive election.

The conservative People’s party (PP) rallied after its dismal showing last time, winning 87 seats, while Vox finished third as its seat count more than doubled from 24 to 52.

The anti-austerity Unidas Podemos came fourth with 35 seats, followed by the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left with 13 seats. Citizens slumped to sixth place as the 57 seats it picked up seven months ago dwindled to just 10 and its leader, Albert Rivera, resigned on Monday.

Frustration and apathy appeared to have affected turnout, with participation dropping from 75.5% in April to 69.9%.

The result suggests Spain is no closer to ending its impasse and is again bound for months of negotiations and horse-trading to try to assemble a government at a time of unprecedented political fragmentation.

Sánchez said he intended to form a progressive government and urged his rivals and opponents not to stand in his way. “I’d like to make a call for the rest of the political parties to act generously and responsibly to unblock the political situation in Spain,” he said on Sunday night. “The PSOE will also act generously and responsibly to unblock it.”

The PP leader, Pablo Casado, said the ball was now firmly in Sánchez’s court. “We’ll see what Pedro Sánchez suggests and then we’ll fulfil our responsibility because Spain can’t carry on being deadlocked,” he said.

Vox’s leader, Santiago Abascal, told jubilant supporters that his anti-immigrant party would not let them down. “We have led a cultural and political change because we have opened up all the forbidden debates and told the left that the story isn’t over yet and that they don’t have any moral superiority” he said.
Spain stalemate shows inconclusive elections are the new normal
Read more

He was swiftly congratulated by fellow far-right European politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders.

Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Unidas Podemos, who has offered to help Sánchez back into office, said the repeat election had served “to reinforce the right and to give us one of the most powerful extreme right in Europe”.

Albert Rivera, the Citizens leader once touted as the poster boy of centrist Spanish politics, hinted that he might step down following his party’s pitiful results. “I want to be honest with the Spanish people,” he said. “There’s no excuse and no way to soften the bad result we had today.” He said he would hold a meeting with the party’s executive committee on Monday morning.

Iñigo Errejón, the former Podemos politician who now leads the new party Más País (More Country), said a progressive government was a “moral obligation” as the party won three seats in congress. “We can’t have a third election,” he said. “This repeat election is a warning about what happens when personal interests are put before national interests.”

Sunday’s election was triggered when the PSOE failed to find viable support for a new administration after its victory in April. The socialists were unable to reach an agreement with Unidas Podemos, while Rivera flatly refused to do anything to facilitate Sánchez’s return to office.

The poll results came against a backdrop of renewed tensions between the central government and the separatist regional government of Catalonia, as well as growing concern over the economy.

Spain’s unemployment figures rose by almost 100,000 last month and the European commission has revised the country’s growth forecast down from 2.3% to 1.9% for this year, and from 1.9% to 1.5% for 2020.

In the middle of October, Spain’s supreme court jailed nine Catalan separatist leaders for sedition over their roles in the failed push for independence two years ago. The verdict provoked violent unrest in Catalonia and prompted rightwing Spanish parties to call for a tough response from Sánchez, whom they routinely accuse of being too soft on the separatists.

The re-eruption of the Catalan crisis has helped fuel the rise of Vox, which favours a radical recentralisation of Spain.

The Catalan Republican Left hailed their showing on Sunday night as proof that the independence movement had responded to the sentence in “the only way it knows” – at the ballot box. It once again narrowly beat the Catalan socialists into second place in the region. The far-left, pro-independence Catalan CUP party picked up its first two seats in the national parliament.


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« Reply #26 on: Nov 11, 2019, 04:57 AM »


Bolivian president Evo Morales resigns after election result dispute

President quits after nearly 14 years in power, hours after promising fresh elections

Dan Collyns in La Paz
Guardian
Mon 11 Nov 2019 09.43 GMT

Evo Morales has announced he will resign as president of Bolivia after the military called for him to step down and the police withdrew their support following weeks of unrest over disputed election results.

In a televised address, Bolivia’s president of nearly 14 years said he was stepping down for the “good of the country”. but added in an attack on opponents whom he had accused of a coup attempt: “Dark forces have destroyed democracy.”

Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, later said on Twitter that the police had an “illegal” warrant for his arrest and that “violent groups” had attacked his home in Cochabamba, a city in central Bolivia.
Bolivians celebrate the resignation of Evo Morales in La Paz.

The commander of Bolivia’s police force said in a television interview that there was no warrant for Morales’s arrest. Video circulating on social media showed people walking through what was reported to be his ransacked home.

The announcement by Morales came shortly after the commander-in-chief of the Bolivian armed forces, Williams Kaliman, exhorted him to resign his “presidential mandate allowing the pacification and maintenance of stability for the good of Bolivia”.

In Bolivia’s main city, La Paz, people poured on to the streets waving the country’s red, yellow and green flags. There were reports of patrols by vigilantes guarding businesses in Cochabamba. Morales’s vice-president, Álvaro García Linera, also resigned.

The New York Times reported that Morales had flown from La Paz to Chimoré, in Cochabamba state, when it became clear that the military was turning on him. The area is populated by coca leaf growers, many of whom have remained loyal to Morales, himself a former coca farmer. His whereabouts in the early hours of Monday morning were unknown.

The departure of Morales, a leftist icon and the last survivor of Latin America’s “pink tide” of two decades ago, is likely to send shockwaves across the region at a time when left-leaning leaders have returned to power in Mexico and Argentina.

In a tweet, Mexico’s foreign affairs secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, said it would offer political asylum to Morales in accordance with the country’s “tradition of asylum and non-intervention”, if Morales sought it. He added that 20 other members of the government’s executive and legislature were already in the Mexican ambassador’s residence in La Paz.

Some of Morales’s leftist allies in Latin America, including the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, and Argentinian president-elect, Alberto Fernández, decried the turn of events as a “coup”

In a recording broadcast on Venezuelan state television, Maduro said: “We have to take care of our brother Evo Morales … We must declare a vigil in solidarity to protect him.”

Maduro’s position has been bolstered by the return of left-leaning leaders in Mexico and Argentina. But Morales’s resignation could unnerve the Venezuelan leader, who has clung to power this year despite an opposition campaign to convince the armed forces to rebel.

The Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, another longtime Morales ally, tweeted his “solidarity” and said: “The world must be mobilised for the life and freedom of Evo.”

Brazil’s government said it would back a democratic transition in neighbouring Bolivia and dismissed leftists’ argument that a coup had occurred.

“The massive electoral fraud attempt delegitimised Evo Morales, who had the right attitude and resigned in the face of popular outcry. Brazil will support a democratic and constitutional transition,” the Brazilian foreign minister, Ernesto Araújo, said in a tweet.

The Colombian foreign ministry also called on Bolivian state institutions and political parties to work together to “ensure that Bolivian citizens can express themselves freely at the polls”. It requested a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) permanent council to discuss the situation.

Earlier on Sunday, Morales had said he would call a new election after the OAS identified serious irregularities in the last vote and recommended a new ballot.

A preliminary report based on the OAS audit of the vote said it had found “clear manipulations” of the voting system and could not verify a first-round victory for Morales.

Carlos Mesa, the runner-up candidate in the disputed election, tweeted: “I will never forget this singular day. The end of tyranny. I am grateful as a Bolivian for this historic lesson.” Earlier on Sunday, Mesa said Morales and García Linera should be disqualified from participating in new elections as they had committed fraud.

The weeks-long standoff over the disputed election escalated over the weekend as police forces were seen joining anti-government protests.

At least three people have died in the unrest, which began on 20 October, the day of the election, and more than 300 people have been injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and Morales supporters.

The resignations of Morales and his vice-president meant it was not initially clear who would take the helm of the country pending the results of new elections.

According to Bolivian law, in the absence of the president and vice-president, the head of the Senate would normally take over provisionally. However, the Senate president, Adriana Salvatierra, also stepped down late on Sunday.

Legislators were expected to meet to agree on an interim commission or legislator who would have temporary administrative control of the country, according to a constitutional lawyer who spoke to Reuters.


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« Reply #27 on: Nov 11, 2019, 05:00 AM »


Klaus Iohannis poised for victory in Romanian presidential vote

Opinion polls also point to centrist incumbent winning runoff on 24 November

Reuters
11 Nov 2019 09.43 GMT

Romanian voters are going to the polls in a presidential election expected to support the incumbent, Klaus Iohannis, an anti-corruption policymaker who has won praise in the west for his commitment to the rule of law.

Opinion polls show Iohannis, a centrist liberal, winning the ballot with 40% of the vote. If correct, the 60-year-old will face a runoff on 24 November, which he is also expected to win.

Romania’s president nominates a prime minister, who has executive powers, after holding consultations with political parties. The president can also veto laws adopted by parliament by challenging them in the constitutional court or by sending them back to be reconsidered.

Under a succession of Social Democrat governments, Romania, which is part of the EU, rolled back anti-corruption rules, joining its former communist peers Poland and Hungary in facing criticism from Brussels over maintaining the rule of law.

Iohannis, who won his first term as president in 2014, had challenged a contested overhaul of the judiciary and attempts to limit magistrates’ independence.

If elected again, he will have a chance to install chief prosecutors willing to tackle endemic corruption, supported by the liberal minority government of the prime minister, Ludovic Orban, an ally who won a parliamentary vote of confidence this month.

“I voted for stability. We need stability with a president determined to fight the ‘corrupts’,” said Maria Dobre, 72, after casting her ballot at a Bucharest school, shortly after polls opened at 7am local time.

Iohannis is trailed in the opinion polls by Viorica Dăncilă, the leader of the Social Democrats (PSD) and a former prime minister, and by Dan Barna, the head of the centre-right opposition Save Romania Union. The polls have both challengers on about 20% of the vote.

Romania has been monitored by Brussels over progress on reform of its judiciary since 2007. In May, Liviu Dragnea, a former PSD leader, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison after being found guilty of corruption.

In October, the European commission reported that backtracking from judicial reform and the fight against corruption persisted.

Iohannis spearheaded a national referendum in which an overwhelming majority of Romanians said they wanted the government to be banned from altering legislation via emergency decrees, and advocated a national ban on granting amnesties and pardons for graft-related crimes.

“It’s important to have continuity at the helm and I think Iohannis deserves a new term. He … successfully fought and defeated the PSD. He must continue,” said Dora Stanga, a 29-year-old retail assistant.

Observers said a win for Iohannis could bolster the Liberal party’s chance of forming a coalition government after a general election scheduled to be held in late 2020 or early 2021 and restore investor confidence eroded by several years of political instability and fiscal largesse.

Polling stations across the country close at 11pm local time. Romania has 18.2 million eligible voters.


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« Reply #28 on: Nov 11, 2019, 05:18 AM »

Giuliani Associate Says He Gave Demand for Biden Inquiry to Ukrainians

The claim by the associate, Lev Parnas, is being vigorously disputed.

By Ben Protess, Andrew E. Kramer, Michael Rothfeld and William K. Rashbaum
NY Times
11/11/2019

Not long before the Ukrainian president was inaugurated in May, an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s journeyed to Kiev to deliver a warning to the country’s new leadership, a lawyer for the associate said.

The associate, Lev Parnas, told a representative of the incoming government that it had to announce an investigation into Mr. Trump’s political rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his son, or else Vice President Mike Pence would not attend the swearing-in of the new president, and the United States would freeze aid, the lawyer said.

The claim by Mr. Parnas, who is preparing to share his account with impeachment investigators, challenges the narrative of events from Mr. Trump and Ukrainian officials that is at the core of the congressional inquiry. It also directly links Mr. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to threats of repercussions made to the Ukrainians, something he has strenuously denied.

But Mr. Parnas’s account, while potentially significant, is being contradicted on several fronts. None of the people involved dispute that the meeting occurred, but Mr. Parnas stands alone in saying the intention was to present an ultimatum to the Ukrainian leadership.

Another participant in the meeting, Mr. Parnas’s business partner, Igor Fruman, said Mr. Parnas’s claim was false; the men never raised the issues of aid or the vice president’s attendance at the inauguration, lawyers for Mr. Fruman said.

Mr. Giuliani denied Mr. Parnas’s contention that he had delivered the warning at the direction of Mr. Giuliani. “Categorically, I did not tell him to say that,” Mr. Giuliani said.

The dispute represents the clearest indication yet that Mr. Parnas, who was indicted along with Mr. Fruman last month on campaign finance charges, has turned on Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, both Soviet-born businessmen from Florida, worked with Mr. Giuliani for months in Ukraine outside normal diplomatic channels to further Mr. Trump’s interests. The men have been subpoenaed to testify before Congress, and Mr. Parnas’s lawyer has said his client will comply to the extent he can without incriminating himself. It is unclear if Mr. Parnas will ultimately be called to testify.

Mr. Parnas’s account of the meeting, if corroborated, would reveal the earliest known instance of American aid being tied to demands for Ukraine to take actions that could benefit Mr. Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign. It would also represent a more extensive threat — to pull Mr. Pence from the inaugural delegation — than was previously known.

Mr. Trump froze nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine shortly before a July 25 call with the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Mr. Trump personally sought investigations into the Bidens and claims that Ukrainians had meddled in the 2016 election. In the call, Mr. Trump did not explicitly link the aid and the investigations.

Mr. Trump has denied a quid pro quo involving aid, and Mr. Zelensky has said he never felt pressured to pursue an investigation.

The meeting in Kiev in May occurred after Mr. Giuliani, with Mr. Parnas’s help, had planned a trip there to urge Mr. Zelensky to pursue the investigations. Mr. Giuliani canceled his trip at the last minute, claiming he was being “set up.”

Only three people were present at the meeting: Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and Serhiy Shefir, a member of the inner circle of Mr. Zelensky, then the Ukrainian president-elect. The sit-down took place at an outdoor cafe in the days before Mr. Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration, according to a person familiar with the events. The men sipped coffee and spoke in Russian, which is widely spoken in Ukraine, the person said.

Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, said the message to the Ukrainians was given at the direction of Mr. Giuliani, whom Mr. Parnas believed was acting under Mr. Trump’s instruction. Mr. Giuliani said he “never authorized such a conversation.”

A lawyer for Mr. Fruman, John M. Dowd, said his client told him the men were seeking only a meeting with Mr. Zelensky, the new president. “There was no mention of any terms, military aid or whatever they are talking about it — it’s false,” said Mr. Dowd, who represents Mr. Fruman along with the lawyer Todd Blanche.

In a statement on Friday, Mr. Shefir acknowledged meeting with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman. But he said they had not raised the issue of military aid. Mr. Shefir said he briefed the incoming president on the meeting. Mr. Shefir was a business partner and longtime friend whom Mr. Zelensky appointed as his chief adviser on the first day of his presidency.

“We did not treat Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman as official representatives, and therefore we did not consider that they could speak on behalf of the U.S. government,” Mr. Shefir said. He added Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman had requested that Mr. Zelensky meet with Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Shefir said in his statement that he had told Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman “that we could consider meeting with Mr. Giuliani, but only publicly and officially and only after the inauguration of the newly elected president.”

The statement from Mr. Shefir, issued in response to an inquiry from The New York Times, did not directly address Mr. Parnas’s claims that he had delivered an ultimatum about American aid in general and Mr. Pence’s attendance at the inauguration. A representative for Mr. Zelensky did not respond to a request for further comment.

Mr. Bondy, Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, challenged Mr. Shefir’s characterization. “It would simply defy reason,” he said, “for Mr. Shefir to have attended a meeting with Mr. Parnas if he did not believe Mr. Parnas spoke for the president, and also for Mr. Parnas not to have conveyed the president’s message at this meeting.”

Mr. Pence did not attend the inauguration. His office said in response to questions from The Times that it had told Ukrainian officials on May 13, a week before the swearing-in, that the vice president would not be there.

Mr. Giuliani is under investigation by Manhattan prosecutors and the F.B.I. over whether he illegally engaged in lobbying for foreign interests in connection with the Ukraine efforts. He has denied any wrongdoing, saying he was working for his client, Mr. Trump.

That investigation grew out of one into Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman. An indictment unsealed on Oct. 10 accused the men of illegally routing a $325,000 contribution to a political action committee supporting Mr. Trump through a shell company and linked them to an effort to recall the United States ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, who was the subject of criticism from many of Mr. Trump’s allies. The men were also charged with funneling campaign contributions from a Russian businessman to other American politicians to influence them in support of a marijuana venture. The two men, and two co-defendants, have pleaded not guilty.

The impeachment inquiry was started after a whistle-blower complained about the July phone call in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to look into Burisma, a Ukrainian company that gave Mr. Biden’s son Hunter a seat on its board and paid him as much as $50,000 a month. Mr. Trump suggested to Mr. Zelensky that Ukraine should contact Mr. Giuliani and the United States attorney general, William P. Barr, about the Bidens.

With Mr. Trump by his side at the United Nations General Assembly in September, Mr. Zelensky told reporters that his July call with the president had been “normal” and that “nobody pushed me,” adding that he did not want to become entangled in American elections.

Maggie Haberman and Kenneth P. Vogel contributed reporting.

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The White House is terrified about John Bolton’s extensive notes: report

Raw Story
11/11/2019

Axios reported Sunday that one of the biggest concerns in President Donald Trump’s White House is that former Director of National Intelligence John Bolton frequently took detailed notes during meetings. Those notes could not become part of the investigation into the president’s bribery of the Ukraine.

Bolton has said that he has no intention of testifying and is working on an upcoming book.

“These sources, including both current and former senior administration officials, tell me that the former national security adviser was the most prolific note-taker at the top level of the White House and probably has more details than any impeachment inquiry witness, so far, about President Trump’s machinations on Ukraine,” Axios reported.

Bolton’s lawyer Chuck Cooper, said in a letter than Bolton “was personally involved” in “many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed” in the impeachment testimonies.

“Typically, anything that could contain classified information is turned over to the White House for review when an employee departs. … One would hope Bolton has considered that before advertising that he has additional information,” he also said.

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Trump has been engaging in ‘traitorous-like behavior’ in the Oval Office: ex-White House official

Raw Story
11/11/2019

In an interview with CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday morning, former White House Communication head Anthony Scaramucci upped his attacks on his former boss, President Donald Trump, by accusing him of being a traitor.

The former White House official, who stepped down after 11 controversial days, has become a leading critic of the president and has been trying to whip up conservatives to drop the president as their candidate in the 2020 election.

After identifying the president’s most avid defenders as a “cult,” Scaramucci claimed the president needed to be ousted — and not only over his quid pro quo conversation with Ukraine’s president.

“I think it’s not just a Ukrainian call,” he began. “There will be other elements of the story that unfold where people say wait a minute, there’s a combination of incompetence, there’s a combination of the destruction of the executive branch of the United States in addition to the lawlessness and traitorous-like behavior.”

And the mention of treason, host Stelter pulled the ex-administration official up short.

“Traitorous-like behavior?” Stelter pressed, to which Scaramucci shot back, “There’s no question.”

“Strong word,” Stelter offered.

“What word would you use? You’re on the phone with the president of the Ukraine, and you’re strong-arming him to have him go after your political opponent?” the CNN guest explained. You’ve become a traitor of the Constitution and a traitor to the laws of the United States. Do you want to pretend that it’s not traitorous behavior?”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9jhXIK5PzE&feature=emb_title

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Trump is saying ‘I am above the law’ and ‘nobody can control me’: Harvard Law’s Laurence Tribe

Raw Story
11/11/2019

Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe explained that it has become obvious that President Donald Trump is using the Office of the Presidency for his own purposes.

Speaking to MSNBC host Ari Melber on his impeachment special, Tribe explained that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refused to authorize an impeachment inquiry until it became clear that Trump was using his office for political purposes.

“He was taking hundreds of millions of dollars voted by Congress and withholding them from the Ukraine in an act of sheer extortion and soliciting what amounted to a bribe because he wanted Ukraine’s help, help against Joe Biden for 2020 and help in clearing him of colluding with Russia in 2016,” Tribe said.

Ironically, Trump made that notorious July 25 call just as Robert Mueller had finished testifying before Congress about his investigation into the last time Trump asked a foreign power to help him during an election.

“People, I think, should understand that when those things happen the purposes of the impeachment power as defined originally by people like Hamilton and Madison kick in in a big way because we have a president who is abusing the power of his office, committing bribery, which is one of the explicit impeachable offenses and essentially betraying his oath in the country,” Tribe continued.

One way Tribe said he’s doing it is that Trump is placing himself above the law.

“One of the ways he’s doing that is by essentially saying nobody can control me. Nobody can investigate me, not the Manhattan D.A., not the courts, not the special prosecutor or special counsel,” Tribe continued. “And now, not even Congress.”

Former President Richard Nixon was told by the Supreme Court that he had to turn over the tapes of the recordings made in the Oval Office. There were, however, other subpoenas were defied by the White House. That became one of the Articles of Impeachment for Nixon.

“He’s called the impeachment a lynching, a phony proceeding,” Tribe went on. “He’s basically said nobody can investigate him. That, it seems to me, when it’s manifested not just in words but in orders to his subordinates, some of whom as patriots have denied the president, that amounts to laying down the gauntlet and saying, essentially, ‘I am king. Nobody can control me. I am above the law and if acting in that way does not constitute a reason for removing a president, then nothing does.'”

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CNN’s Tapper drops mic on Lindsey Graham over his ‘jarring’ transformation into full-fledged Trump defender

Raw Story
11/11/2019

State of the Union host Jake Tapper used his closing comments on Sunday morning to call out Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) for failing to do his job and look at the facts that have been revealed about President Donald Trump following the release of a whistleblowers complaint.

Standing before a large video screen, displaying some of Graham’s comments in defense of the president, the CNN host implored the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to do his job.

With a massive stack of House impeachment inquiry transcripts stacked up on a chair next to him, Tapper first stated that Graham passed on appearing on his show, before calling the GOP’s senator’s comments on Trump both “jarring” and “confusing.”

“We now have reams of evidence,” The CNN host continued. “Testimony from multiple Trump administration diplomats and national security officials current and former suggesting that outside that phone call, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, Rudy Giuliani, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney all were pushing Ukraine to investigate the Bidens if they wanted that aide in that White House meeting.”

Taper went on to compare Graham’s refusal to look at the evidence arrayed against Trump to former Congressman Earl Landgrebe (R-IN) who famously said during the Watergate hearings, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.”

Citing Graham’s friendship with the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) Tapper asked, “Is Senator Lindsey Graham trying to follow in the footsteps of John McCain? Or is he trying to follow in the footsteps of Earl Landgrebe?”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEsT-D56uF4&feature=emb_title

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Lindsey Graham: Senate can ignore ‘invalid’ impeachment if it doesn’t expose the whistleblower

Raw Story
11/11/2019

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) argued that he will consider any impeachment “invalid” unless it exposes the identity of the whistleblower who outed President Donald Trump’s alleged extortion of Ukraine.

While speaking to Fox News host Maria Bartiromo, Graham suggested that the Senate does not have to fulfill its constitutional obligations to try the president if the House impeachment is deemed “invalid.”

Graham praised Republicans in the House who have called on both the whistleblower and Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, to testify.

“I consider any impeachment in the House that doesn’t allow us to know who the whistleblower is to be invalid,” the South Carolina senator declared. “Because without the whistleblower complaint, we wouldn’t be talking about any of this.”

“I also see the need for Hunter Biden to be called to adequately defend the president,” he added. “And if you don’t do those two things, it’s a complete joke.”

House Democrats have argued that the whistleblower’s identity does not need to be exposed because the complaint against Trump has been corroborated by witnesses who have come forward.

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First round of impeachment witnesses are too credible for Republicans to attack: GOP strategist

Raw Story
11/11/2019

Republican strategist Susan Del Percio explained during an appearance on MSNBC’s “KasieDC” that the first witnesses that Democrats are calling for the impeachment investigation hearings this week are impossible to discredit.

Speaking to MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, Del Percio said that she anticipates the first things Republicans intend to do is work to take down any witnesses brought to the hearings this week. The problem, however, is that they are far too credible.

“They are going to try and discredit the witnesses. But as Sam Stein said, they are impeachable witnesses. These are all government servants, people who have dedicated their lives not just to their post, but in [Bill] Taylor’s case; he served in Vietnam. These are very accomplished people.”

She also anticipated that Republicans would try to do procedural things to muck up the hearings, but it might make them look bad to the general public who wants to hear what the people have to say. Two officials, in particular, Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Jim Jordan (R-OH), are known for dramatic flair during hearings.

“I think that can backfire on them,” Del Percio said. “So, the narrative that the Democrats have to give is a very smooth one, which is why the opening of the hearings, when you have 45 minutes to ask questions by professional staff, will make a huge difference in contrast to some of the other hearings we have seen.”


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« Reply #29 on: Nov 11, 2019, 05:25 AM »


After push from Perry, backers got huge gas deal in Ukraine

AFP
11/11/2019

KYIV, Ukraine (AFP) — Two political supporters of U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal from the Ukrainian government soon after Perry proposed one of the men as an adviser to the country's new president.

Perry's efforts to influence Ukraine's energy policy came earlier this year, just as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's new government was seeking military aid from the United States to defend against Russian aggression and allies of President Donald Trump were ramping up efforts to get the Ukrainians to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Ukraine awarded the contract to Perry's supporters little more than a month after the U.S. energy secretary attended Zelenskiy's May inauguration. In a meeting during that trip, Perry handed the new president a list of people he recommended as energy advisers. One of the four names was his longtime political backer Michael Bleyzer.

A week later, Bleyzer and his partner Alex Cranberg submitted a bid to drill for oil and gas at a sprawling government-controlled site called Varvynska. Their proposal was millions of dollars lower than their only competitor, according to internal Ukrainian government documents obtained by The Associated Press. But their newly created joint venture, Ukrainian Energy, was awarded the 50-year contract because a government-appointed commission determined they had greater technical expertise and stronger financial backing, the documents show.

Perry likely had outsized influence in Ukraine. Testimony in the impeachment inquiry into Trump shows the energy secretary was one of three key U.S. officials who were negotiating a meeting between Trump and the Ukrainian leader.

The sequence of events suggests the Trump administration's political maneuvering in Ukraine was entwined with the big business of the energy trade. Perry made clear during trips to Kyiv that he was close to? Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American investor and longtime Perry supporter who lives in Houston, and Cranberg, a Republican mega-donor who provided? Perry ?the use of a luxury corporate jet during the energy secretary's failed 2012 presidential bid.

Perry's spokeswoman said Wednesday that the energy secretary has championed the American energy industry all over the world, including in Ukraine. "What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company," said Shaylyn Hynes, the press secretary for the Energy Department.

Jessica Tillipman, who teaches anti-corruption law at George Washington University, said even if Perry did seek to influence foreign officials to award contracts to his friends, it is likely not illegal.

"My gut says it's no crime," she said. "It's just icky." Zelenskiy's office did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement to AP, Bleyzer denied that Perry helped his firm get the gas deal. "I believe that Secretary Perry's conversations with Ukrainian government officials, if they in fact took place, did not play any role in Ukrainian Energy winning its bid," Bleyzer said Tuesday. He said the process was competitive and transparent and "will hopefully serve as an example of how the Ukrainian energy market can be opened for new investments."

Amy Flakne, a lawyer for Cranberg's company Aspect Holdings, said Wednesday that Perry and other U.S. officials supported "a fair, competitive process to bring foreign capital and technology to Ukraine's lagging energy sector."

"Aspect neither sought, nor to our knowledge received, special intervention on its behalf," Flakne said.

'FREEDOM GAS'

As Trump's energy secretary, Perry has flown around the globe to push for U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, which he calls "Freedom Gas." He's made multiple trips? to Ukraine and other former Soviet-bloc nations, where shipments of American gas and drilling technology take on strategic importance as a potential alternative to continued dependence on imports from Russia.

Ukraine has long suffered from a reputation for political corruption, particularly in its oil and gas sector. In the chaotic days following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the newly independent Ukrainian government sold off many state-owned businesses worth billions to a cadre of well-connected oligarchs who amassed immense fortunes.

As Ukraine sought economic and security support from the U.S. and other Western democracies, those countries pressed it to put in place a more open and transparent process for awarding oil and gas exploration rights on state land.

At the urging of Western partners, Ukraine's government created a process requiring that exploration contracts be put out to bid and awarded following review from a selection board appointed by the president's cabinet of ministers. The board recommends the winners, pending final approval from the ministers.

Those Western partners also advised Ukraine to appoint an independent supervisory board at Naftogaz, the state-owned energy company, as a guard against corruption and self-dealing.

In February, the Ukrainian government opened bidding for nine oil and gas blocks encompassing 4,428 square miles (11,469 square kilometers) of land. Ukrainian Energy, the joint venture between Bleyzer's investment firm SigmaBleyzer and Cranberg's Aspect Energy, submitted a single bid for the largest block, which covers 1,340 square miles (3,471 square kilometers).

Under the contracts, the winning bidder is awarded exclusive rights to extract petroleum for up to 50 years. After the initial costs are recovered, the company and the government split the profits.

An internal review of the proposals by the Ukrainian Ministry of Energy and Coal Mining obtained by the AP show they were not the highest bidder.

The only competing bidder, UkrGasVydobuvannya, known by the acronym UGV, offered more than $60 million for the first phase of the project, compared with $53 million from Bleyzer and Cranberg, the document shows. UGV is Ukraine's largest domestic gas producer and is a subsidiary of Naftogaz, the state-owned company where Perry sought to replace board members.

Despite the lower upfront investment, the selection board gave the Americans higher scores for technical expertise and overall financial resources, according to the document reviewed by AP.

Of the nine gas deals awarded on July 1, Bleyzer and Cranberg's bid was the only one of the winners that didn't include the participation of a Ukrainian company. UGV won four of the remaining bids.

Two members of the board that helped select the bid winners told AP that the process is designed to be hard to improperly influence because it is a mix of government representatives and industry experts.

Roman Opimakh, a commission member who is the head of the State Service of Geology and Subsoil of Ukraine, said the government was looking for foreign investment, particularly U.S., and the board considered that as a factor. He said it's an advantage if a company is well-connected in?Washington but?added?that he saw no indication that U.S. officials influenced the process.

Perry, who served 14 years as the governor of Texas, has publicly championed the potential of U.S. hydraulic fracturing technology to boost oil and gas production in Ukraine?and pressed for the bidding process to be opened up to U.S. companies.

At an energy industry roundtable in Kyiv in November 2018, Perry said the potential for oil and gas development in Ukraine is "staggering." Ukraine, he declared, had a chance to become "the Texas of Europe."

At the same event, which was co-sponsored by the nonprofit U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, Perry plugged Cranberg's expertise. Both Cranberg and Bleyzer were in the room, along with several American and Ukrainian energy industry officials.

"You know, Alex Cranberg, who has been in this business a long time, can attest to this probably as well as anyone sitting around the table, that we have the potential to change the world," Perry said, according to a transcript released by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

During the same 2018 trip, Perry had a private meeting with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, where they discussed deepening the ties between the two country's energy industries, according to a U.S. Embassy summary of the meeting

Records suggest Perry has also met regularly with Bleyzer. Visitor logs released by the Energy Department through a public records request show Bleyzer entering through the VIP check-in desk at the building where Perry's office is at least three times, most recently on May 8.

Less than two weeks later, Perry was on a plane to Kyiv to attend the inauguration ceremony for Zelenskiy, who had defeated Poroshenko in an April election. It was during that trip that Perry presented his list of recommended advisers that included Bleyzer and remarked on their long friendship, according to a person in the room who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Attendees left the meeting with the impression that Perry wanted to replace an American representative on the Naftogaz board with someone "reputable in Republican circles," according to the person who was there.

Bleyzer said Tuesday that he had been included in what he described as a brainstorming session with Energy Department officials about creating an informal group knowledgeable about Ukraine's energy industry to help develop U.S. strategy, but he had no idea his name would be forwarded to the country's new president.

"I was not aware at any time that my name was recommended by Secretary Perry to the Ukrainian government to act in any capacity," Bleyzer said.

Perry's work in Ukraine places him at the center of the House impeachment inquiry into efforts by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to press Zelenskiy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter's business dealings with Burisma, another Ukrainian gas company.

Perry, who announced last month that he is resigning by the end of the year, has refused to cooperate with the congressional probe. In an Oct. 4 interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Perry said that "as God as my witness" he never discussed Biden or his son in meetings with Ukrainian or U.S. officials.

But Perry was at the White House for a key July 10 meeting where senior Ukrainian officials were told continued U.S. support was conditional on Zelenskiy's government opening investigations into Democrats and Burisma, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an aide on Trump's National Security Council, testified last month.

TEXAS TIES

Bleyzer and Perry's ties go back at least a decade. As governor, Perry appointed Bleyzer in 2009 to serve as?a member of a Texas state advisory board overseeing state funding to emerging technology ventures. The following year, Bleyzer contributed $30,000 to Perry's 2010 campaign for Texas governor.

The Ukrainian-born Texan cuts a flamboyant figure in the energy world. A 2012 profile in the Houston Chronicle is set in his modernist 15,000-square-foot mansion. In an accompanying photo, he stands next to his wife, a mane of gray hair to his shoulders, on a balcony overlooking a swimming pool.

A former engineer at Exxon, Bleyzer was born in Ukraine's Kharkiv region and trained in digital electronics and quantum physics. In 1994, he founded SigmaBleyzer Investment group, a private equity firm that specializes in developing corporate stakes in Eastern Europe. The company says it manages about $1 billion in assets.

Bleyzer also has ties to Giuliani. In 2008, Bleyzer's company hired Giuliani's former Houston-based law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, to help it acquire and consolidate cable holdings in 16 Ukrainian cities, including Kyiv, according to an announcement at the time. The same year, Bleyzer donated $2,300 to Giuliani's presidential campaign.

Bleyzer's company is the primary funder of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council, which promotes the interests of American businesses operating in Ukraine. According to tax records, the business council is run out of the Washington, D.C, offices of its president and CEO, Morgan Williams, who is also listed as the government affairs director for SigmaBleyzer.

The council, which sponsors events that feature senior U.S. and Ukrainian government officials, pushes for policy priorities that dovetail with Bleyzer's business interests — including lobbying to create the very process that opened Ukraine's state-controlled oil and gas fields to foreign investment, according to the webpage of the state geology service.

Days after the government in Ukraine posted the gas blocks for bidding in February, visitor logs show Williams accompanied Bleyzer through the VIP entrance at the Energy Department.

On May 28, the day the bids were due in Kyiv, Williams again accompanied Bleyzer, who photos show was sporting a Western-style shirt with a Stars and Stripes pattern, to the offices of Ukraine's energy ministry to submit their company's bid.

On June 5 — while Bleyzer and Cranberg's proposal was under review — Williams met with a key Zelenskiy adviser, Oleg Ustenko, and told him that significant expansion of oil and gas production in Ukraine could only be achieved with investments from private companies, including ones from the United States, according to a summary of the meeting posted on the business council's website.

In an apparent dig at the company competing against Bleyzer and Cranberg for the gas deal, Williams also told Ustenko that the "participation of the state monopoly player" undermined the chances of private companies to win, according to the summary.

What the council's media release failed to mention is that, like Williams, Ustenko serves dual roles. In addition to advising the Ukrainian president, the economist is the longtime executive director of The Bleyzer Foundation, a Kyiv-based nonprofit organization founded by Bleyzer in 2001. The group's website describes its mission as promoting private-sector investment in Ukraine.

Less than four weeks later, Ukraine Energy was named the winner of the Varvynska block over the Naftogaz subsidiary.

Bleyzer would not say whether he considered it a conflict for his employee to simultaneously be leading the international trade group while also advocating for his private business interests.

He said the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council is just one of many organizations that strongly support the participation of foreign companies in the bidding process "as one of the key factors in helping Ukraine achieve its energy independence from Russia."

As with Bleyzer, Cranberg also has longtime ties to Perry.

A graduate of the University of Texas in Austin, Cranberg was appointed by Perry in 2011 to serve a six-year term on the state university system's board of regents. He is a generous political donor, giving more than $3 million since the mid-1980s primarily to Republican candidates and fundraising committees, according to federal and state campaign finance records.

In the last 13 months, Cranberg has contributed just over $650,000 to two committees focused on electing Republicans to House seats, $637,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and $258,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee. He and his wife each gave $50,000 last April to Trump Victory, the joint entity that funds the president's reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee.

When Perry campaigned for president in 2011, federal disclosures show his campaign paid more than $16,000 to a holding company for a private jet used by Cranberg.

Cranberg is also among those who entered through the VIP desk at the Energy Department, logging in with his wife for a visit in April 2018.

His company last year hired Perry's former campaign manager, Jeff Miller, as a lobbyist. Miller has been to the Energy Department's headquarters at least a dozen times since Perry became secretary, according to the visitor logs. He mostly signed in through the VIP entrance.

Biesecker, Braun and Lardner reported from Washington.


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