North Korea promises nuclear strike on U.S. if regime is threatened

CNN reports: North Korea threatened a nuclear strike on “the heart of the US” if it attempts to remove Kim Jong Un as Supreme Leader, Pyongyang’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Tuesday.

The threat was in response to comments from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who said last week that the Trump administration needed to find a way to separate Kim from his growing nuclear stockpile.

“As for the regime, I am hopeful we will find a way to separate that regime from this system,” Pompeo said. “The North Korean people I’m sure are lovely people and would love to see him go.”

KCNA reported that a spokesman from the North Korean Foreign Ministry said, “The DPRK legally stipulates that if the supreme dignity of the DPRK is threatened, it must preemptively annihilate those countries and entities that are directly or indirectly involved in it, by mobilizing all kinds of strike means including the nuclear ones.” [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: North Korea will be able to field a reliable, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile as early as next year, U.S. officials have concluded in a confidential assessment that dramatically shrinks the timeline for when Pyongyang could strike North American cities with atomic weapons.

The new assessment by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which shaves a full two years off the consensus forecast for North Korea’s ICBM program, was prompted by recent missile tests showing surprising technical advances by the country’s weapons scientists, at a pace beyond which many analysts believed was possible for the isolated communist regime.

The U.S. projection closely mirrors revised predictions by South Korean intelligence officials, who also have watched with growing alarm as North Korea has appeared to master key technologies needed to loft a warhead toward targets thousands of miles away.

The finding further increases the pressure on U.S. and Asian leaders to halt North Korea’s progress before it can threaten the world with nuclear-tipped missiles. President Trump, during his visit to Poland earlier this month, vowed to confront Pyongyang “very strongly” to stop its missile advances. [Continue reading…]

Newsweek reports: While North Korea’s leadership celebrates its successful testing of a missile that it claims can strike the United States with a nuclear warhead, its citizens are facing the prospect of its worst drought in 16 years, which could lead to even greater food shortages in the isolated country.

A report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released last week said that rainfall between the critical period of April to June was lower than for the same period in 2001, when cereal production reached an unprecedented low.

“More rains are urgently needed to avoid significant decreases in the main 2017 cereal production season,” the report said. “Should drought conditions persist, the food security situation is likely to further deteriorate.”

North Korea has long been criticized for spending a large proportion of its budget on developing weapons while failing to provide adequate food for its people. Between 2004 and 2014, it spent nearly a quarter of its gross domestic product on the military, by far the highest percentage relative to GDP of any country in the world. Meanwhile, two in five North Koreans are undernourished with more than two-thirds relying on food aid, according to the United Nations. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s unsurprising endorsement of illegal solicitation

Fred Wertheimer writes: It’s not surprising that President Donald Trump believes that “most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don Jr. attended in order to get info on an opponent” – his reference, of course, is to the infamous June 9 meeting organized by Donald Trump Jr. to obtain incriminating information on Hillary Clinton offered, as he knew, by the Russian government.

President Trump and his supporters keep trying to spin the line that there was nothing illegal about what Trump Jr. did.

That’s plain wrong.

Setting aside the question of criminal intent, the public record shows that Trump Jr. knowingly solicited “something of value” for the Trump campaign from a foreign source. Doing so was a violation on the federal ban on soliciting foreign support for a campaign. The fact that this was a foreign government, hostile to US democratic institutions, is not relevant to this legal analysis, though it is relevant to what we think of his actions as an ethical matter. Whether Trump Jr. actually received valuable information is irrelevant to the “solicitation” violation that occurred. In other words, the solicitation of a contribution, i.e. something of value to the campaign, from a foreign national is itself illegal, whether a contribution is or is not actually received in response to the solicitation.

According to an AP article a folder of information reportedly was given to Trump Jr. by the Russian government lawyer at the meeting. A participant in the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin, said that the attorney brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democrats. Akhmetshin recalled the attorney saying “This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” according to the AP.

This was just one account of the meeting and we do not know what was in the folder or what happened to the documents.

Whether that information in the folder was something “of value” to the campaign is a question that requires investigation. If it was and it was taken, then Trump Jr. and the campaign committed a second violation of not only soliciting but also receiving a contribution from a foreign national.

President Trump’s claim that “most politicians” would do what his son did means that the President thinks that most politicians would engage in illegal conduct by soliciting opposition research of value to the campaign from a foreign source, including a foreign adversary that has no respect for free and open elections.

The President’s position is not surprising, however, since his campaign knowingly and repeatedly violated the same statutory solicitation prohibition during the 2016 presidential election — by soliciting illegal campaign contributions multiple times from multiple foreign sources. [Continue reading…]

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Trump leaves Sessions twisting in the wind while berating him publicly

The Washington Post reports: President Trump and his advisers are privately discussing the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and some confidants are floating prospects who could take his place were he to resign or be fired, according to people familiar with the talks.

Members of Trump’s circle, including White House officials, have increasingly raised the question among themselves in recent days as the president has continued to vent his frustration with the attorney general, the people said.

Replacing Sessions is viewed by some Trump associates as potentially being part of a strategy to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and end his investigation of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

The president took another swipe at Sessions on Monday, calling his attorney general “our beleaguered A.G.” and asking why Sessions was not “looking into Crooked Hillary’s crimes & Russia relations?”

Both points are notable. Sessions was once considered one of Trump’s closest advisers and enjoyed access few others had. Now he is left to endure regular public criticism by his boss. [Continue reading…]

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How White House threats condition Mueller’s reality

Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic, and Benjamin Wittes write: What does the world look like today if you’re Robert Mueller?

You’ve got a huge, sprawling, immeasurably complicated job, and the President of the United States has just put you on notice of what you already have long suspected: You may not have much time.

A pair of stories published Thursday night by the New York Times and Washington Post announced that the White House is looking to “undercut” Mueller’s investigation and is “scouring” for information on potential conflicts of interest on the part of Mueller’s team. The stories describe a systematic effort to comb through the backgrounds of Mueller and his office in the hope of finding material damaging enough to merit firing Mueller, requesting the recusal of members of his team, or at the very least discrediting the independent investigation in the eyes of the public.

The White House is also examining the possible scope of the president’s pardon power and pushing the argument that the special counsel investigation should be sharply limited to exclude Trump’s finances. The attacks on Mueller and his office have been going on for a while now, but this new wave of hostility from the White House appears to have been instigated by concerns that Mueller’s probe will widen to include Trump’s business transactions—or that it already has. [Continue reading…]

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A veteran ICE agent, disillusioned with the Trump era, speaks out

Jonathan Blitzer writes: In March, two months after President Trump took office, I received a text message from a veteran agent at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). I had been trying to find field agents willing to describe what life was like at the agency in the Trump era. This agent agreed to talk. Over the past four months, we have texted often and spoken on the phone several times. Some of our discussions have been about the specifics of new federal policies aimed at dramatically increasing the number of deportations. At other times, we’ve talked more broadly about how the culture at ice has shifted. In April, the agent texted me a screen shot of a page from the minutes of a recent meeting, during which a superior had said that it was “the most exciting time to be part of ice” in the agency’s history. The photo was sent without commentary—the agent just wanted someone on the outside to see it.

The agent, who has worked in federal immigration enforcement since the Clinton Administration, has been unsettled by the new order at ice. During the campaign, many rank-and-file agents publicly cheered Trump’s pledge to deport more immigrants, and, since Inauguration Day, the Administration has explicitly encouraged them to pursue the undocumented as aggressively as possible. “We’re going to get sued,” the agent told me at one point. “You have guys who are doing whatever they want in the field, going after whoever they want.” At first, the agent spoke to me on the condition that I not publish anything about our conversations. But that has changed. Increasingly angry about the direction in which ICE is moving, the agent agreed last week to let me publish some of the details of our talks, as long as I didn’t include identifying information.

“We used to look at things through the totality of the circumstances when it came to a removal order—that’s out the window,” the agent told me the other day. “I don’t know that there’s that appreciation of the entire realm of what we’re doing. It’s not just the person we’re removing. It’s their entire family. People say, ‘Well, they put themselves in this position because they came illegally.’ I totally understand that. But you have to remember that our job is not to judge. The problem is that now there are lots of people who feel free to feel contempt.” [Continue reading…]

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We can oppose U.S. intervention, while telling the truth about Assad’s chemical attacks

Stephen Shalom writes: In late June, Seymour Hersh published an article in Die Welt claiming that the Assad government did not attack the town of Khan Sheikhoun with sarin on April 4. His argument aligns with a popular left narrative about American imperialism falsifying or exaggerating events in Syria to justify intervention and regime change.

For example, many commentators — Jonathan Cook, Uri Avnery, among others — have wondered why Bashar al-Assad would use chemical weapons when he was already winning the war. The attack seemed not only unnecessary but also likely to spark a harsh international response.

Soon after the Khan Sheikhoun bombing, the White House responded to these concerns. The short version appeared in a document released on April 11:

The Syrian regime maintains the capability and intent to use chemical weapons against the opposition to prevent the loss of territory deemed critical to its survival. We assess that Damascus launched this chemical attack in response to an opposition offensive in northern Hamah Province that threatened key infrastructure.

That same day, a senior administration official offered a longer version at a background press briefing, noting the Assad regime’s troop shortages and the danger opposition forces posed to an important airbase in Hama.

Especially given its source, this explanation demands more scrutiny, but the commentators who question Assad’s motives never address it. In fact, none even acknowledge its existence.

Indeed, as Anne Barnard reported, the sarin attack fits into Assad’s broader strategy. She writes that, since at least 2012, the Syrian government “has adopted a policy of seeking total victory by making life as miserable as possible for anyone living in areas outside its control.” These attacks are designed to let the opposition know that it remains at the regime’s mercy, that neither international law nor the international community cannot protect it, and that surrender is the only option.

Again, there may be good reasons to doubt Barnard’s analysis or her sources, but those who find it inexplicable that Assad would use chemical weapons have never responded to her argument. [Continue reading…]

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This piece of pro-Israel legislation is a serious threat to free speech

David Cole and Faiz Shakir write: The right to boycott has a long history in the United States, from the American Revolution to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Montgomery bus boycott to the campaign for divestment from businesses serving apartheid South Africa. Nowadays we celebrate those efforts. But precisely because boycotts are such a powerful form of expression, governments have long sought to interfere with them — from King George III to the police in Alabama, and now to the U.S. Congress.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, legislation introduced in the Senate by Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and in the House by Peter J. Roskam (R-Ill.), would make it a crime to support or even furnish information about a boycott directed at Israel or its businesses called by the United Nations, the European Union or any other “international governmental organization.” Violations would be punishable by civil and criminal penalties of up to $1 million and 20 years in prison. The American Civil Liberties Union, where we both work, takes no position for or against campaigns to boycott Israel or any other foreign country. But since our organization’s founding in 1920, the ACLU has defended the right to collective action. This bill threatens that right.

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act is designed to stifle efforts to protest Israel’s settlement policies by boycotting businesses in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The bill’s particular target is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign that seeks to apply economic and political pressure on Israel to comply with international law. [Continue reading…]

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From ISIS-lands to the Netherlands: Jihadists try to get the press to help them come home

The Daily Beast reports: Now that the self-proclaimed caliphate of the so-called Islamic State is falling apart in Syria and Iraq, many European jihadists are looking for ways to come home—and some of the Dutch ones have been reaching out to the media, hoping it will save their lives.

Just last week two fighters contacted TV shows in the Netherlands to announce their return to Dutch soil, a third contacted the police.

The grim irony of such a ploy is obvious. Many would-be holy warriors from European backgrounds have been associated with organizations that took journalists hostage, ransomed some, tortured and beheaded others. When they thought their groups were on a roll, jihadists bragged to their Western enemies “we love death as you love life.” And all too many times in France, Britain, Belgium, and Germany they have slaughtered innocents by the score.

But the three from the Netherlands are part of a group of 10 presumed jihadists who have criminal court cases pending against them. Dutch public prosecutors believe most of them are still to be found in what’s left of ISIS-land. After a Rotterdam court recently decided they could be present at their hearing, their trial was postponed until January 2018, allowing them time to return. [Continue reading…]

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In cyberwarfare, everyone is a combatant

The Wall Street Journal reports: This is already a banner year for hacks, breaches and cyberwarfare, but the past week was exceptional.

South Carolina reported hackers attempted to access the state’s voter-registration system 150,000 times on Election Day last November—part of what former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson alleges is a 21-state attack perpetrated by Russia. And U.S. intelligence officials alleged that agents working for the United Arab Emirates planted false information in Qatari news outlets and social media, leading to sanctions and a rift with Qatar’s allies. Meanwhile, Lloyd’s of London declared that the takedown of a significant cloud service could lead to monetary damages on par with those of Hurricane Katrina.

Threats to the real world from the cyberworld are worse than ever, and the situation continues to deteriorate. A new kind of war is upon us, one characterized by coercion rather than the use of force, says former State Department official James Lewis, a cybersecurity specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Businesses and individuals now are directly affected in ways that were impossible in the first Cold War. In another age, the threat of nuclear annihilation loomed over everyone’s heads, but the cloak-and-dagger doings of global powers remained distinct from the day-to-day operations of businesses. Now, they are hopelessly entangled. The often unfathomable priorities of terrorists, cybercriminals and state-affiliated hackers only make things worse.

The current climate of cyberattacks is “crazy,” says Christopher Ahlberg of Recorded Future, a private intelligence firm that specializes in cyberthreats. “It’s like a science-fiction book. If you told anybody 10 years ago about what’s going on now, they wouldn’t believe it.”

In the first Cold War, the U.S., China and the Soviet Union fought proxy wars rather than confront one another directly. In Cold War 2.0, we still have those—Syria and whatever is brewing in North Korea come to mind—but much of the proxy fighting now happens online.

The result is significant collateral damage for businesses that aren’t even a party to the conflicts, says Corey Thomas, chief executive of cybersecurity firm Rapid 7. Recent ransomware attacks that some analysts attribute to Russia might have been aimed at Ukraine but resulted in the shutdown of computer systems at businesses and governments around the world. Russia has denied involvement in these attacks. Botnets made of internet-connected devices, stitched together by an unknown hacker for unknown reasons, caused countless internet services and websites to become unavailable in October 2016. [Continue reading…]

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Why religion breeds both compassion and hatred

Tom Jacobs writes: President Donald Trump probably would not have been elected if not for the overwhelming support he enjoyed from evangelical Christians. This continues to puzzle and frustrate his opponents, who ask why they voted for a man whose campaign was largely based on hatred and vilification.

While it’s easy to blame tribalism or simple hypocrisy, newly published research suggests religiosity exerts two distinct psychological pulls.

It argues genuine piety can be a catalyst for compassion. But the shared rituals that create a cohesive congregation “may also produce hatred of others”—especially among those who lack deeply felt spiritual beliefs.

“Our data suggest that the social activities which accompany religion drive the hostility towards other groups, rather than the quality of one’s belief or the degree of devotion,” a research team led by Rod Lynch of the University of Missouri writes in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

Building on research that dates back to the 1960s, Lynch and his colleagues remind us that religious people come in two varieties: true believers, and those who embrace a faith tradition as a way of fulfilling some secular need, such as peace of mind or connection to a community.

This distinction between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” religiosity was laid out by the influential psychologist Gordon Allport in the 1960s, who reported ethnic prejudice was associated only with the latter. Much later research found this to also be true of homophobia. [Continue reading…]

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Trump and Putin fail in achieving their shared goal of lifting sanctions

The New York Times reports: Throughout 2016, both Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir V. Putin complained that American-led sanctions against Russia were the biggest irritant in the plummeting relations between the two superpowers. And the current investigations, which have cast a shadow over Mr. Trump’s first six months in office, have focused on whether a series of contacts between Mr. Trump’s inner circle and Russians were partly about constructing deals to get those penalties lifted.

Now it is clear that those sanctions not only are staying in place, but are about to be modestly expanded — exactly the outcome the two presidents sought to avoid.

How that happened is a story of two global leaders overplaying their hands.

Mr. Putin is beginning to pay a price for what John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, described last week as the Russian president’s fateful decision last summer to try to use stolen computer data to support Mr. Trump’s candidacy. For his part, Mr. Trump ignited the movement in Congress by repeatedly casting doubt on that intelligence finding, then fueled it by confirming revelation after revelation about previously denied contacts between his inner circle and a parade of Russians.

If approved by Congress this week, Mr. Trump has little choice, his aides acknowledge, but to sign the toughened sanctions legislation that he desperately wanted to see defeated.

Just days ago, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and other top officials were lobbying fiercely to preserve Mr. Trump’s right to waive Russia sanctions with a stroke of the pen — just as President Barack Obama was able to do when, in negotiations with Iran, he dangled the relaxation of sanctions to coax Tehran to agree to sharp, decade-long limits on its nuclear activity.

As one of Mr. Trump’s aides pointed out last week, there is a long history of granting presidents that negotiating leverage when dealing with foreign adversaries.

But by constantly casting doubt on intelligence that the Kremlin was behind an effort to manipulate last year’s presidential election, Mr. Trump so unnerved members of his own party that even they saw a need to curb his ability to lift those sanctions unilaterally.

On Sunday, Mr. Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, repeated the White House position that Mr. Trump remains unconvinced by the evidence Russia was the culprit behind the election hacking. He said that when the subject comes up, Mr. Trump cannot separate the intelligence findings from his emotional sense that the issue is being used to cast doubt on his legitimacy as president.

“It actually in his mind, what are you guys suggesting?” Mr. Scaramucci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “You’re going to delegitimize his victory?”

If so, Mr. Trump is the only one with access to the best intelligence on the issue who still harbors those doubts.

Last week at the Aspen Security Forum, four of his top intelligence and national security officials — including Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director — said they were absolutely convinced that the Russians were behind the effort to influence the election.

“There is no dissent,” Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, said on Friday at the Aspen conference. The Russians, he said, “caught us just a little bit asleep in terms of capabilities” the Kremlin could bring to bear to influence elections here, in France and Germany. The Russians’ goal was clear, he said: “They are trying to undermine Western democracy.” [Continue reading…]

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Jared Kushner’s got too many secrets to keep ours

Nicholas Kristof writes: For all that we don’t know about President Trump’s dealings with Russia, one thing should now be clear: Jared Kushner should not be working in the White House, and he should not have a security clearance.

True, no proof has been presented that Kushner broke the law or plotted with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election. But he’s under investigation, and a series of revelations have bolstered suspicions — and credible doubts mean that he must be viewed as a security risk.

Here’s the bottom line: Kushner attended a meeting in June 2016 whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin initiative to interfere in the U.S. election; he failed to disclose the meeting on government forms (a felony if intentional); he was apparently complicit in a cover-up in which the Trump team denied at least 20 times that there had been any contacts with Russians to influence the election; and he also sought to set up a secret communications channel with the Kremlin during the presidential transition.

Until the situation is clarified, such a person simply should not work in the White House and have access to America’s most important secrets. [Continue reading…]

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‘Letting go of every principle’: Tunisia’s democratic gains under threat

Monica Marks writes: It has been a dangerous week for Tunisia’s fragile democracy. Two retrogressive bills appear likely to pass parliament, possibly within days. The first would effectively give an to amnesty public officials who committed crimes in pre-revolutionary Tunisia. The second would grant corrupt security forces more leeway to violate human rights.

Both bills undermine the quest for dignity and justice embodied in Tunisia’s 2010-11 revolution
Both bills undermine the quest for dignity and justice embodied in Tunisia’s 2010-11 revolution. They will almost surely become law within days or weeks unless Tunisian civil society and international actors, most importantly the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), manage to convince the government to reverse course.

Tunisia has debated both pieces of legislation since 2015. That spring, newly elected President Beji Caid Essebsi, who insisted Tunisia must focus on future development rather than on past abuses, proposed the first bill. Called the Reconciliation Law, it initially offered amnesty to two groups: corrupt businesspeople and public officials.

Defenders of the law touted its supposed economic benefits. Lifting the threat of prosecution, they said, would encourage investment in Tunisia’s cash-strapped economy. They also argued that the law did not give an amnesty to the corrupt, since it promised that guilty parties would be required to repay ill-gotten gains.

The Reconciliation Law faced immediate opposition from civil society as well as international legal experts. They argued that the law lacked independent enforcement mechanisms and would undermine the work of the Truth and Dignity Commission, a constitutionally supported body that is pursuing transitional justice against state abuses, including financial crimes. [Continue reading…]

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Blaming religion for Middle East violence ignores nuance and absolves governments of their responsibility

Tristan Dunning writes: As the Islamic State group’s territorial project slowly but inexorably comes to an end in Iraq and Syria, the White House is once again trotting out the twin rationales of foreign fighters and the impending apocalypse to absolve itself of any responsibility for the rise and spread of extremist militant Islam.

Last week, US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk revealed that the US-led coalition was compiling a database of foreign jihadists fighting for IS, thereby signalling that the White House may be preparing to shift the focus of its operations from the ongoing recruitment bazaars of Iraq and Syria, to the putative eschatological battle against extremist militant Islam on a global level.

In similar vein, White House Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka asserted earlier this year that IS propagated the idea that Judgement Day was nigh and that now was the last chance to engage in jihad and thereby ascend to Paradise.

Invocations of such rationales as official explanations for the rise and persistence of extremist militant Islam are not only misleading, but also potentially counterproductive and dangerous. There are a variety of other more mundane reasons at play aside from supposed religious dogma. [Continue reading…]

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Jaroslaw Kaczynski is driving Poland away from European democracy

Der Spiegel reports: The nucleus of Poland’s political power lies not in the parliament in Warsaw, not in the presidential palace, but in a windowless, slightly strange looking building that most resembles a multistory car park. It’s not quite part of Warsaw’s city center, although downtown’s many new glass and steel skyscrapers are still just in sight.

Every day, an official car picks up Jaroslaw Kaczynski from his apartment in the Zoliborz neighborhood and brings him to this office block at 84-86 Nowogrodzka. The building houses a sushi restaurant, a copy shop and an insurance company — and the headquarters of Kaczynski’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Its chairman uses a separate entrance. In the mornings, a team of young staff members supplies him with books, newspapers and printouts. All in Polish, because Kaczynski only reads Polish sources. At midday, a procession of black limos starts arriving, delivering ministers — and occasionally the president of the Polish National Bank — to the Nowogrodzka office to pick up directives and seek advice.

Despite holding no formal government office, Kaczynski is Warsaw’s undisputed leader. Together with his late twin brother, Lech, he founded the PiS party in 2001 and twice led it to victory. In 2015, he hand-picked its presidential candidate Andrzej Duda, at the time an unknown member of the European Parliament, who went on to win the vote. He also personally selected current Prime Minister Beata Szydlo. Both politicians are widely seen as Kaczynski’s willing stooges. [Continue reading…]

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The untouchable Hope Hicks, a ‘souvenir from Trump Tower’

Politico reports: Hope Hicks was celebrating a family wedding at a Bermuda golf club the weekend after Donald Trump was elected president when she overheard members of another party expressing dismay about his victory.

The young press secretary was off duty, but she couldn’t help inserting herself into the conversation at the next table. “I promise, he’s a good person!” Hicks chimed in, begging them not to worry, according to multiple people who witnessed the exchange.

Hicks’ instinctual defense of the president is emblematic of how she views her role in the White House: as someone who deeply understands Trump, but also understands why, in her mind, people misunderstand him. The polite, soft-spoken 28-year-old newbie to Washington politics holds the lofty title of director of strategic communications, pulls down the top White House salary of $179,700 – the same as strategist Steve Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus – but operates outside of any organizational chart.

She is protected, in a world of rival power centers, by the deep bond she shares with the man at the top. He affectionately refers to her as “Hopester.” She still calls him “Mr. Trump.” And she views her job, ultimately, as someone who is installed where she is in order to help, but not change, the leader of the free world. [Continue reading…]

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How climate change denial threatens national security

Wired reports: In a cramped meeting room Wednesday on Capitol Hill, House Democrats hosted a roundtable to discuss climate change with several national security experts. In attendance were two former admirals, a retired general, a once-ambassador to Nigeria, and the former undersecretary to the Secretary of Defense.

Over several hours of questioning, they described how climate change would escalate instability across the globe and make it harder for the US military to conduct its operations. Nothing they said, however, was all that new. In fact, the Department of Defense has known about, and sometimes planned for, the security threats created by climate change for well over a decade. Congressional Democrats—minority members of the House Science Committee—called the roundtable as a plea to the Republican-led Congress to stop standing in the way of the military’s preparations for the heightened dangers of a warming world.

One of the key phrases here is “threat multiplier.” Coined about a decade ago by panelist Sherri Goodman, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense, it means climate change will raise the stakes for existing conflicts, and push unstable communities toward catastrophe. Case study: the Syrian Civil War, rise of ISIS, and Syrian refugee crisis began in part because of a climate change-linked drought that began in 2006. “Droughts affected the Syrian harvests, compounded by historically poor governance and water management,” says Marcus King, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University. This caused migrations of farmers into the cities, where they had neither jobs nor food. The violent protests for both became rallying cry against repressive president Bashar Assad. The protests became riots, then insurgency, and eventually full-blown chaos.

The threat multiplier paradigm is appearing in other places. Guatemala already has problems with food security, and many regions are still left ungoverned after that country’s not-so-distant civil war. Rising seas are bringing saltwater incursion to Egypt’s Nile Delta, adding food insecurity to that country’s already tense political situation. And in Nigeria’s capital city of Lagos, nearly half of the 22 million residents live below sea level and will eventually have to relocate—unlikely to be easy or conflict-free. “This isn’t a political issue for the defense community,” says Ann Phillips, a retired admiral and an advisor for the Center for Climate and Security. “We in this community are pragmatic and mission-focused.” [Continue reading…]

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