Archives for April 2017

Trump invites confirmed killer, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House

The New York Times reports: When President Trump called President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Saturday, the American leader’s national security aides saw it as part of a routine diplomatic outreach to Southeast Asian leaders. Mr. Trump, characteristically, had his own ideas.

During their “very friendly conversation,” the administration said in a late-night statement, Mr. Trump invited Mr. Duterte, an authoritarian leader accused of ordering extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the Philippines, to visit him at the White House.

Now, administration officials are bracing for an avalanche of criticism from human rights groups. Two officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council, both of which were caught off guard by the invitation, to raise objections internally.

The White House disclosed the news on a day when Mr. Trump whipped up ardent backers at a campaign-style rally in Harrisburg, Pa. The timing of the announcement — after a speech that was an angry, grievance-filled jeremiad — encapsulated this president after 100 days in office: still ready to say and do things that leave people, even on his staff, slack-jawed.

“By essentially endorsing Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings,” said John Sifton, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “Although the traits of his personality likely make it impossible, Trump should be ashamed of himself.” [Continue reading…]

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White House has considered restricting press freedom

ABC News reports: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said the Trump administration has “looked at” changes to libel laws that would curtail press freedoms, but said “whether that goes anywhere is a different story.”

President Trump frequently slams the press for its coverage of him and in March suggested changing libel laws.

Libel is when defamatory statements about someone are published. But the American press enjoys some protection from lawsuits claiming libel because of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech rights. [Continue reading…]

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Trump can’t win his battle against the judges

Dahlia Lithwick writes: President Donald J. Trump is fuming at yet another federal judge. Earlier this week, San Francisco District Judge William H. Orrick temporarily enjoined the Trump administration’s simultaneously grandiose and ultimately toothless plan to strip federal funding from sanctuary cities. The president, as is his wont, apparently decided it’s pointless to threaten and undermine an individual jurist when he could go after an entire federal appellate court. So off he went on a boilerplate Twitter rant in which he wrongly blamed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for his loss at the trial court level; wrongly characterized that appellate court’s reversal record; and wrongly faulted a city and county in California for “judge shopping” (not an actual legal term) for opting to file in the jurisdiction in which they exist, as opposed to filing in, say, Texas or Georgia, where they do not exist. (Circuits are geographic, not ideological.) No matter what you do to the 9th Circuit, California will still be California. And Trump’s fury at the 9th Circuit ignores the fact that he has also been thwarted by federal judges on courts in various other jurisdictions, including the 2nd and 4th Circuits, where thinking jurists also roam free.

Never one to let actual facts or geographic reality stand between himself and his grudges, Trump escalated his war on the federal judicial branch Wednesday with an interview with the Washington Examiner in which he pledged to revisit plans to break up the 9th Circuit, presumably because he thinks breaking up a federal circuit court will magically change his badly drafted executive orders into legally sound ones: “Everybody immediately runs to the 9th Circuit. And we have a big country. We have lots of other locations. But they immediately run to the 9th Circuit. Because they know that’s like, semi-automatic,” Trump said. I am frankly shivering in delicious anticipation of Trump’s forthcoming executive order breaking up the 9th Circuit.

The president doesn’t seem to realize that his newest attack on the courts, by its own terms, simply strengthens Orrick’s case—that the order, read as Trump’s lawyers now suggest, reinforces the status quo, or, read as Trump characterizes it, is unconstitutional. Every time he talks, he makes things worse. [Continue reading…]

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Alexei Navalny on Putin’s Russia: ‘All autocratic regimes come to an end’

Shaun Walker writes: Alexei Navalny is in good spirits for a man who can hardly step outside without being insulted, assaulted or arrested. Earlier this month he was released from a 15-day stint in a Russian jail. And on Thursday, in Moscow, unknown assailants threw green dye in his face, the second such attack in recent months. But his habitual half-smirk never seems to waver.

Perhaps it is because, as Vladimir Putin prepares to stand for yet another presidential term in elections next March, Navalny is threatening to bring some life to the arid landscape that is Russian politics. Navalny was imprisoned because of a protest he called for on 26 March. It surprised everyone with its size. In Moscow alone, police detained more than 1,000 people, and jailed dozens. Although the numbers were small in absolute terms, people protested in dozens of towns across Russia, marking a worrying new development for the Kremlin.

For Navalny, the fortnight behind bars seems to have been an energising rather than a demoralising experience. “There were some others in the jail, and for all of them it was their first protest in their lives,” says Navalny when I meet him in his office in a Moscow business centre. “When they saw me walking past, they were calling out, ‘When’s the next protest?’ They weren’t asking if there would be one, they wanted to know when.”

Navalny, 40, is a lawyer-turned- campaigner whose Anti-Corruption Foundation carries out investigations into the wealth of Putin’s inner circle. After some years when he was on the fringes of liberal politics but known for his Russian nationalist views, Navalny emerged as the main opposition leader in the wave of protests that accompanied the build-up to the last Russian presidential election, in 2012. [Continue reading…]

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Erdogan expands his crackdown on dissent

The New York Times reports: The Turkish government expanded its crackdown on dissent and free expression over the weekend, purging nearly 4,000 more public officials, blocking access to Wikipedia and banning television matchmaking shows.

A total of 3,974 civil servants were fired on Saturday from several ministries and judicial bodies, and 45 civil society groups and health clinics were shut down, according to a decree published in Turkey’s official gazette.

Turkish internet users also woke up on Saturday to find that they no longer had access to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia written by volunteers.

The dismissals mean that an estimated 140,000 people have now been purged from the state and private sectors, and more than 1,500 civil groups closed, since a failed coup last year.

It also ends opposition hopes that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may ease the crackdown and build greater national consensus after his narrow victory in a recent referendum to expand the power of his office.

Instead, Mr. Erdogan has accelerated the process. Since the referendum, and before Saturday’s move, the police had detained more than 1,000 workers and suspended a further 9,000 accused of having ties to an Islamic group founded by a United States-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen.

The organization was once allied with Mr. Erdogan, but is now accused by the government of masterminding the failed attempt to overthrow him in July. Those purged on Saturday were also accused of having connections to Mr. Gulen. [Continue reading…]

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Montenegro ratifies NATO membership in historic shift to Western alliance

The Guardian reports: Montenegro’s parliament has supported the Balkan country’s membership in Nato in a historic turn toward the west amid protests by Russia and the pro-Russia opposition.

Politicians voted 46-0 to ratify the accession treaty with the western military alliance. They then stood up and applauded the decision.

The parliament has 81 members, but pro-Russia opposition politicians boycotted the session. Several hundred opposition supporters gathered outside the hall before the vote.

Montenegro has a small military of about 2,000 troops, but it is strategically positioned to give Nato full control over the Adriatic Sea. The other Adriatic nations – Albania, Croatia and Italy – are already in the alliance.

Russia has been angered by Nato’s expansion to Montenegro, which is in Moscow’s traditional area of interest. Russia’s foreign ministry denounced the Montenegrin parliament’s ratification of membership on Friday as “a demonstrative act of trampling all democratic norms and principles”. [Continue reading…]

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Solar employs more U.S. workers than Apple, Google, and Facebook combined

Joe Romm writes: The rapid rise of solar power is one of the most astonishing transformations in the history of global energy use.

A decade ago, solar photovoltaics (PV) was just a tiny sapling, easily dismissed by fossil fuel advocates. Today, after a remarkable 30-fold increase in PV sales in just nine years, it has become a giant redwood forest.

And the giant is still growing, as GTM Research reported in its latest Global Solar Demand Monitor for the first quarter of 2017. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Mario Batkovic — ‘Ineute Finis’

 

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Hasan Minhaj at WH Correspondents’ Dinner: ‘I am watching the news, but it feels like I am watching CNN watch the news’

 

Hasan Minhaj: My favorite entertainment channel is in the building tonight — CNN is here, baby.

Now, you guys have some really weird trust issues going on with the public.

I am not going to call you fake news but everything isn’t breaking news.

You can’t go to DEFCON 1 because Sanjay Gupta found a new moisturizer.

Every time a story breaks you have nine screens — nine boxes on the screen! I am trying to watch the news not pick a player in Street Fighter. It’s giving me anxiety.

If you have nine “experts” on a panel, what is your barrier of entry?

“Here to talk about transportation infrastructure is my Uber driver, Gary. Gary, what ‘a you got?” — it just says Gary 4.8 stars.

“I dunno know — I got a mint.”

“Thanks Gary, let’s go to the next countdown clock.”

All you guys do is stoke up conflict.

Don [Lemon], every time I watch your show it feels like I am watching a reality TV show.

CNN Tonight should just be called “Wait a second, now hold on, stop yelling at each other, with Don Lemon.”

You know your news, right? Come on. But every time I watch CNN it feels like you are assigning me homework.

“Is Trump a Russian spy? I don’t know, you tell me. Tweet us at AC 360.” No, you tell me.

I am watching the news, but it feels like I am watching CNN watch the news.

Just take an hour, figure out what you want to say, then go on the air.

We are in a very strange situation where there is a very combative relationship between the press and the president, but now that you guys are “minorities,” just for this moment, you may understand the position I was in. It is the same position a lot of minorities feel like they are in in this country. And it’s: do I come up here and just try to fit in and not ruffle any feathers? Or do I say how I really feel? Because this event is about celebrating the First Amendment and free speech.

Free speech is the foundation of an open and liberal democracy, from college campuses to the White House.

Only in America can a first-generation Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president — the orange man behind the Muslim ban.

And it’s a sign to the rest of the world — it’s this amazing tradition that shows the entire world that even the president is not beyond the reach of the First Amendment.

But the president didn’t show up. Because Donald Trump doesn’t care about free speech. The man who tweets everything that enters his head, refuses to a knowledge the amendment that allows him to do it.

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How ISIS took over Mosul

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad writes: From Baghdad, Mosul is viewed with suspicion if not outright hostility. Its people – educated, relatively wealthy and religiously conservative – had dominated both state bureaucracy and the officers’ corps since Ottoman times. In the sectarian politics of post-invasion Iraq, in which the farmers of Diyala, the tribesmen of Ramadi and the merchants of Mosul were all treated as like-minded Sunnis, squeezed into a corner and challenged to provide a coherent political programme, Mosul was the only place where an indigenous Sunni political identity took root, helped along by an old social structure that had survived the invasion relatively intact. In the civil war that followed, a brutal and highly effective urban insurgency emerged in Mosul. Unlike the tribe-based insurgencies in Ramadi and Falluja, crushed when tribal elders and commanders were bought off and converted into pro-American militias, the insurgency in Mosul was never defeated.

Maliki, who worked to dismantle Sunni power and believed that demonstrations in Sunni cities were a plot financed by Turkey and Qatar to create a Sunni province, fuelled the animosity between Shia Baghdad and Sunni Mosul. He unleashed his police and security forces to suppress any opposition in the city and they behaved like an occupying army, detaining at will, disappearing, torturing and humiliating the people. So in June 2014, when the triumphant jihadis paraded their pick-up trucks through the streets of Mosul, many saw them as liberators, or at least as the lesser evil.

Ahmad, an engineer who once owned a thriving computer business in Mosul, was visiting friends in Erbil that month when his wife called him to say that something was happening. ‘I drove back quickly,’ he said. ‘The roads were blocked and the situation was tense. When I arrived I started hearing from friends and neighbours that the insurgents had been battling Iraqi troops on the outskirts of the city and had taken over a neighbourhood in the west.’ At first he thought nothing of the news: such clashes were common in Mosul. The insurgents were the de facto rulers after dark, levying taxes, imposing protection rackets and controlling the roads in and out of the city. Like all owners of businesses, he had to pay them, on top of the usual bribes he had to pay the army and the police to be left alone.

The next day rumours were spreading, and when the government imposed a curfew he realised the situation was serious. Then came unbelievable reports: the rebels were in full control of the western part of the city, and the governor and all high-ranking officials had fled. The army was in disarray and officers had abandoned their men, who were deserting en masse. ‘We started seeing the poor soldiers running through the streets, some in their underwear. They begged us to tell them how they could leave the city. In my street I showed two soldiers the way out. Some of my neighbours said we should attack them, take their weapons, but I said no, they hadn’t harmed us. Truly, no one in the city harmed the soldiers. Those who fled survived, those who were captured were killed. No one could believe that the army that had oppressed us for so long, that had treated us so badly, had vanished so quickly.’

‘I have to be honest,’ he added. ‘When the Islamic State first entered Mosul everyone was happy. People started clapping for them. They allowed us to remove the concrete blocks the army had installed to close the neighbourhoods. Before, it would take an hour to go from one area to the other, afterwards the roads were open and we felt free. They let the people alone and didn’t mind if people smoked, if people prayed or not. You could go anywhere, do anything you wanted, as long as it didn’t hurt them. I would go to the woods with a friend, sit in a café, smoke a nargileh, and they would turn up. Tall, muscled and mostly foreigners, they wouldn’t dare say a word to you. In the early days we said this was the life.’

Unlike their previous incarnations, the jihadis didn’t just promise the people of Mosul a Sunni resistance to the injustices inflicted on them by the American invasion or the sectarian politics of the Shia government in Baghdad. They went further: they promised a state, a just state based on the principles of Sunni Islam, military strength and effective bureaucracy. In their literature and sermons the jihadi ideologues used different names: the Caliphate, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, the Islamic State. All these names were eventually superseded and one name remained: the State, al-Dawla. It signified to the people of Mosul the nature of the new rulers, who were going to provide them with a strong, non-corrupt and functioning administration, just like the one they had before the Americans came and messed everything up.

‘They conned the people,’ Ahmad said. ‘They brought prices down and reimposed order. People from the heart of Mosul, from its oldest houses, would join them because they said this was the true Islam. Doctors and university professors joined them, my son’s teacher became a preacher for them, carrying a pistol and grenades on his belt. The whole city joined them.’

This new state took on all the familiar qualities of the ancien regime: it was narrow-minded, pathologically suspicious and phantasmagorical in its call for a return to a glorious past. This wasn’t because it was all a conspiracy on the part of the former regime to enable it to come back to power but because – apart from the novel possibilities afforded by social media for the dissemination of messages and propaganda – the jihadis had no new vision when they came to govern beyond the rotten practices they had inherited from the totalitarian regimes that ruled and still rule the region. [Continue reading…]

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China, India become climate leaders as West falters

Climate Central reports: Less than two years after world leaders signed off on a historic United Nations climate treaty in Paris in late 2015, and following three years of record-setting heat worldwide, climate policies are advancing in developing countries but stalling or regressing in richer ones.

In the Western hemisphere, where centuries of polluting fossil fuel use have created comfortable lifestyles, the fight against warming has faltered largely due to the rise of far-right political groups and nationalist movements. As numerous rich countries have foundered, India and China have emerged as global leaders in tackling global warming.

Nowhere is backtracking more apparent than in the U.S., where President Trump is moving swiftly to dismantle environmental protections and reverse President Obama’s push for domestic and global solutions to global warming.

The U.S. isn’t alone in its regression. European lawmakers are balking at far-reaching measures to tackle climate change. Australian climate policy is in tatters. International efforts to slow deforestation in tropical countries are failing. [Continue reading…]

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Climate March draws thousands of protesters alarmed by Trump’s environmental agenda

The New York Times reports: Tens of thousands of demonstrators, alarmed at what they see as a dangerous assault on the environment by the Trump administration, poured into the streets here on Saturday to sound warnings both planetary and political about the Earth’s warming climate.

Starting at the foot of the Capitol, the protesters marched to the White House, surrounding the mansion while President Trump was inside on his 100th day in office. Once there, the demonstrators let out a collective roar, meant to symbolically drown out the voices of the administration’s climate change deniers.

The protesters, who had gathered for the latest in what has become near-weekly demonstrations of varying stripes against the president, then offered a chant: “Resistance is here to stay, welcome to your 100th day.” [Continue reading…]

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EPA website removes climate science site from public view after two decades

The Washington Post reports: The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening that its website would be “undergoing changes” to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information.

One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions.

The changes came less than 24 hours before thousands of protesters were set to march in Washington and around the country in support of political action to push back against the Trump administration’s rollbacks of former president Barack Obama’s climate policies. [Continue reading…]

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Former director of anti-immigration group set to be named ombudsman at U.S. immigration agency

ProPublica reports: A former director of an anti-immigration group, Julie Kirchner, is expected to be named as ombudsman to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Monday, according to a person with knowledge of the pending appointment.

Kirchner was from 2005 to 2015 director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that has advocated for extreme restrictions on immigration.

The ombudsman’s office at USCIS provides assistance to immigrants who run into trouble with the agency, such as immigration applications that take too long to process or applications that may have been improperly rejected. The ombudsman also prepares an annual report for Congress in which they can issue audits and policy recommendations without consulting with USCIS in advance. [Continue reading…]

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Russians, in peaceful protest, call for Putin to quit

Reuters reports: Several hundred Russians lined up in central Moscow on Saturday under the gaze of riot police to hand over handwritten appeals for President Vladimir Putin to quit, as similar protests took place in other cities.

Putin, who has dominated Russian politics for 17 years, has not said whether he will run in presidential elections in March 2018. But the 64-year-old politician, who enjoys high popularity ratings, is widely expected to do so.

Saturday’s protest in the capital — called “We’re sick of him” — was organized by the Open Russia movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Once Russia’s richest man, he was freed by Putin in 2013 after spending a decade in jail for fraud, a charge Khodorkovsky said was politically-motivated. [Continue reading…]

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Turkey just banned Wikipedia, labeling it a ‘national security threat’

The Washington Post reports: If you try to open Wikipedia in Turkey right now, you’ll turn up a swirling loading icon, then a message that the server timed out.

Turkey has blocked Wikipedia. If you’re inside the country, you can only access the online encyclopedia through a virtual private network connection to a system outside the country.

Turkish officials reportedly asked the online encyclopedia to remove content by writers “supporting terror.”

Wikipedia “has started acting as part of the circles who carry out a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena, rather than being cooperative in fight against terror,” ministry officials said, according to Al Jazeera. It tried to show Turkey “at the same level and in cooperation with terror groups.”

The Ministry of Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications told the Daily Sabah, a pro-government newspaper, that Wikipedia was blocked for “becoming an information source acting with groups conducting a smear campaign against Turkey in the international arena.” The ministry did not cite specific examples of offending content. Officials also said the site would not be unblocked until Wikipedia opened an office in the country and started paying taxes. [Continue reading…]

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On the happy life

Massimo Pigliucci writes: Lucius Annaeus Seneca is a towering and controversial figure of antiquity. He lived from 4 BCE to 65 CE, was a Roman senator and political adviser to the emperor Nero, and experienced exile but came back to Rome to become one of the wealthiest citizens of the Empire. He tried to steer Nero toward good governance, but in the process became his indirect accomplice in murderous deeds. In the end, he was ‘invited’ to commit suicide by the emperor, and did so with dignity, in the presence of his friends.

Seneca wrote a number of tragedies that directly inspired William Shakespeare, but was also one of the main exponents of the Stoic school of philosophy, which has made a surprising comeback in recent years. Stoicism teaches us that the highest good in life is the pursuit of the four cardinal virtues of practical wisdom, temperance, justice and courage – because they are the only things that always do us good and can never be used for ill. It also tells us that the key to a serene life is the realisation that some things are under our control and others are not: under our control are our values, our judgments, and the actions we choose to perform. Everything else lies outside of our control, and we should focus our attention and efforts only on the first category.

Seneca wrote a series of philosophical letters to his friend Lucilius when he was nearing the end of his life. The letters were clearly meant for publication, and represent a sort of philosophical testament for posterity. I chose letter 92, ‘On the Happy Life’, because it encapsulates both the basic tenets of Stoic philosophy and some really good advice that is still valid today.

The first thing to understand about this letter is the title itself: ‘happy’ here does not have the vague modern connotation of feeling good, but is the equivalent of the Greek word eudaimonia, recently adopted also by positive psychologists, and which is best understood as a life worth living. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Luzazul — ‘De Maas’

 

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