Keystone Pipeline leaks 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota

CNN reports: A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone Pipeline in Marshall County, South Dakota, the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, said.

Crews shut down the pipeline Thursday morning and officials are investigating the cause of the leak.

This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in South Dakota, said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In April 2016, there was a 400-barrel release — or 16,800 gallons — with the majority of the oil cleanup completed in two months, Walsh said.

About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday. [Continue reading…]

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Kremlin tightens stranglehold on foreign media with more repressive legislation

Amnesty International reports: The Russian authorities will tighten their stranglehold on press freedom in the country today by introducing a bill that designates foreign-funded news organizations as “foreign agents” and imposes onerous obligations to declare full details of their funding, finances and staffing, said Amnesty International.

The move is likely to effect the Russian services of major international media outlets such as the BBC, Deutsche Welle and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

All political parties represented in the State Duma, the Russian Parliament’s lower chamber, have expressed their support of the bill and are expected to pass it unanimously as early as Wednesday.

“This legislation strikes a serious blow to what was already a fairly desperate situation for press freedom in Russia. Over the last couple of years, the Kremlin has been tirelessly building a media echo chamber that shuts out critical voices, both inside Russia and from abroad,” said Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International. [Continue reading…]

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We knew Julian Assange hated Clinton. We didn’t know he was secretly advising Trump

Robert Mackey reports: The revelation that WikiLeaks secretly offered help to Donald Trump’s campaign, in a series of private Twitter messages sent to the candidate’s son Donald Trump Jr., gave ammunition to the group’s many detractors and also sparked anger from some longtime supporters of the organization and its founder, Julian Assange.

One of the most high-profile dissenters was journalist Barrett Brown, whose crowdsourced investigations of hacked corporate documents later posted on WikiLeaks led to a prison sentence.

Brown had a visceral reaction to the news, first reported by The Atlantic, that WikiLeaks had been advising the Trump campaign. In a series of tweets and Facebook videos, Brown accused Assange of having compromised “the movement” to expose corporate and government wrongdoing by acting as a covert political operative.

Brown explained that he had defended WikiLeaks for releasing emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, “because it was an appropriate thing for a transparency org to do.” But, he added, “working with an authoritarian would-be leader to deceive the public is indefensible and disgusting.” [Continue reading…]

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Bannon sticking by Moore ‘through thick and thin’

Politico reports: Steve Bannon is not backing away from Roy Moore, the controversial Alabama Senate candidate facing a slew of accusations that he had inappropriate sexual contact with teenagers.

Two sources close to the former White House chief strategist and Trump campaign CEO, who helped turn the September Senate primary into a referendum on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, swatted down speculation that Bannon was reevaluating his support for Moore in the wake of the allegations.

“It is 100% fake news that Steve Bannon would abandon Judge Moore,” said a source familiar with Bannon’s thinking, comparing the situation with the Access Hollywood video scandal that prompted calls for Donald Trump to drop out of the presidential race.

“He is standing with Judge Moore through thick and through thin. The polls show the people of Alabama believe Judge Moore is innocent until proven guilty and these charges have not seen any evidence produced backing them up,” the source added. “The people of Alabama are smarter than the political class in Washington, the fake news locusts in the media, and the financial donor-class elites on the island of Manhattan. Judge Moore still has the support of the people of Alabama.” [Continue reading…]

Politico reports: Moore is trailing Democrat Doug Jones by 12 points in the Alabama special Senate election, according to a poll conducted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee after five women accused Moore of pursuing them as teenagers. [Continue reading…]

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Global efforts to reduce soda consumption through taxation meet fierce resistance from soda industry

The New York Times reports: public health organizations, including the W.H.O., cite soda taxes as one of the most effective policy tools for cutting consumption of what nutritionists call a “liquid candy” that has contributed to an epidemic of obesity and related health conditions around the world. Dr. Kathryn Backholer, an expert on the issue at Deakin University in Australia, said taxes on soda were “low-hanging fruit” in the fight against obesity, diabetes and other weight-related diseases because such drinks are easily categorized to tax and sensible to target because they “have little or no nutritional value.”

Dr. Backholer and other experts said the turning point for soda tax proponents came in 2014, when Mexico — Coca-Cola’s biggest consumer market by per capita consumption — approved a 10 percent tax.

Mexico also showcased how dirty the fight could get.

Last year, numerous advocates of a proposal to double Mexico’s tax to 20 percent received strings of upsetting and fraudulent texts from unknown numbers. One man got a message saying his daughter had been seriously injured; another found a text saying his wife was having an affair; a third received a link to a funeral home. Spyware was found on the phones. The proposal failed.

Elsewhere in the world, soda companies have assiduously worked their government connections and economic clout. In internal company emails leaked to an American watchdog group last year, Coke executives described strategies for winning over government ministers and other officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Portugal, and regions of Spain. [Continue reading…]

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Even if Mugabe has gone, Zimbabweans won’t be dancing in the streets

Wilf Mbanga writes: Should Zimbabweans be rejoicing today? Robert Mugabe, 93, has ruled them with an iron fist since 1980. He is the only president an entire generation aged under 40 have ever known. Admittedly, the fist was not so iron in the early years – but to millions of Zimbabweans it has become increasingly oppressive since the mid-1990s.

Thousands of people from the Ndebele ethnic group were slaughtered in the Gukurahundi purge of the early 1980s, and in the intervening decades many thousands more have paid with their lives. Women and children dying in childbirth at a faster rate than anywhere else in Africa; opposition activists beaten and tortured to death; journalists kidnapped and never seen again: it is a long and bloody list.

So surely Zimbabweans should be rejoicing at the news that Mugabe is now under house arrest, reported to have done a deal with the military in which he will resign in exchange for safe passage out of the country for himself, his wife, Grace, and his family.

But there is no dancing in the streets. The millions of Zimbabweans in self-imposed exile (estimated at 25% of the population) are glued to their screens, swinging between hope and despair at every tweet, every morsel of news, every rumour. Those back home, who have borne the brunt of Mugabe’s jackboot for the past decades, are huddled in their houses, hoping their phone batteries won’t die before the erratic power supply is restored. A desperate few ventured out to stand yet again in the endless bank queues, to draw their daily allowance, worth under 20 US dollars.

So why no dancing? The man believed to be their next president – the former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa – is every bit as iron-fisted as the man he is replacing. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea ‘sentences Trump to death’ for insulting Kim Jong-un

The Guardian reports: North Korea’s state media has criticised Donald Trump for insulting leader Kim Jong-Un, saying the US president deserved the death penalty and calling him a coward for cancelling a visit to the inter-Korean border.

An editorial in the ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun focused its anger on Trump’s visit to South Korea last week, during which he denounced the North’s “cruel dictatorship” in a speech to legislators in Seoul.

The visit was part of a marathon five-nation Asia tour by the US president aimed largely at galvanising regional opposition to the North’s nuclear weapons ambitions.

“The worst crime for which he can never be pardoned is that he dared [to] malignantly hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership,” the editorial said.

“He should know that he is just a hideous criminal sentenced to death by the Korean people,” it added. [Continue reading…]

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Pompeo emerges as favorite to succeed Tillerson

Politico reports: President Donald Trump has turned his daily intelligence briefing — a routine that in previous administrations has been a dry, formal affair — into a free-flowing conversation during which he peppers his CIA director, former House member Mike Pompeo, with questions about everything from national security threats to the internal dynamics of Congress.

After their 10 a.m. sessions, which Pompeo conducts in person about four mornings a week, Trump often asks Pompeo to accompany him to his next meeting — whatever it is.

The CIA director’s favored status in the West Wing has made him the odds-on choice to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, according to more than half a dozen administration officials and outside advisers familiar with the White House’s current plans. It’s not clear when Tillerson might leave — he has vigorously denied rumors that he plans to resign anytime soon — but Pompeo has told associates that he expects the president to tap him for the position and that he’d accept the job if it’s offered to him. [Continue reading…]

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Amazon’s relentless drive to sacrifice human interaction in commerce on the altar of convenience

 

Bloomberg reports: For the past year, Amazon employees have been test driving Amazon Go, an experimental convenience store in downtown Seattle. The idea is to let consumers walk in, pick up items and then pay for them without ever standing in line at a cashier. Amazon is vague on the mechanics, but the store relies on a mobile app and some of the same sensing technology that powers self-driving cars to figure out who is buying what.

Employees have tried to fool the technology. One day, three enterprising Amazonians donned bright yellow Pikachu costumes and cruised around grabbing sandwiches, drinks and snacks. The algorithms nailed it, according to a person familiar with the situation, correctly identifying the employees and charging their Amazon accounts, even though they were obscured behind yellow polyester.

Amazon Go represents Amazon.com Inc.’s most ambitious effort yet to transform the brick-and-mortar shopping experience by eliminating the checkout line, saving customers time and furthering the company’s reputation for convenience.

The push into groceries is a way for the company to get consumers to shop at Amazon more often. In September, the e-commerce giant acquired Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion and has been cutting prices at the upscale grocery chain to drive traffic. On Wednesday, Whole Foods began offering deep discounts on Thanksgiving merchandise, including antibiotic-free turkeys, and signaled that the markdowns will get more aggressive as it adopts Amazon’s Prime subscription service. Shares at Kroger and Sprouts tumbled after the announcement. [Continue reading…]

As much as Amazon might successfully market this commercial innovation in the name of added convenience, it’s actual goal is clearly the traditional business imperative of cutting costs, increasing profit margins, and beating down competition.

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Trump’s nuclear authority divides senators alarmed by his ‘volatile’ behavior

The Washington Post reports: Senators trying to prevent President Trump from launching an unprovoked nuclear attack were stymied Tuesday, after a panel of experts warned them against rewriting laws to restrain a commander in chief many worry is impulsive and unpredictable enough to start a devastating international crisis.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has said Trump’s threats to global rivals could put the country “on the path to World War III,” began Tuesday’s session warning of the inherent danger in a system where the president has “sole authority” to give launch orders there are “no way to revoke.”

By the time Corker emerged from the hearing — the first to address the president’s nuclear authority in over four decades — he was at a loss for what to do next. “I do not see a legislative solution today,” Corker told reporters. “That doesn’t mean, over the course of the next several months, one might not develop, but I don’t see it today.”

Trump’s shifting posture on how to address nuclear threats has made lawmakers in both parties uneasy, particularly as the crisis over North Korea’s ambitions escalates. [Continue reading…]

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Secret finding: 60 Russian payments ‘to finance election campaign of 2016’

BuzzFeed reports: On Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy’s Citibank accounts and contained a remarkable memo line: “to finance election campaign of 2016.”

That wire transfer is one of more than 60 now being scrutinized by the FBI and other federal agencies investigating Russian involvement in the US election. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry and most contained a memo line referencing the financing of the 2016 election.

The money wound up at Russian embassies in almost 60 countries from Afghanistan to Nigeria between Aug. 3 and Sept. 20, 2016. It is not clear how the funds were used. At least one transaction that came into the US originated with VTB Bank, a financial institution that is majority-owned by the Kremlin. [Continue reading…]

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British cybersecurity chief warns of Russian hacking

The New York Times reports: Russian hackers over the past 12 months have tried to attack the British energy, telecommunications and media industries, the government’s top cybersecurity official said Tuesday in a summary of a speech to be delivered on Wednesday.

The warning, by Ciaran Martin, chief of the National Cyber Security Center, is the strongest indication yet that Russian cyberattacks on Western governments and industries may be far more persistent than United States or British officials have previously acknowledged. [Continue reading…]

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British and Spanish leaders say Russian trolls meddled in their elections

The Washington Post reports: In a remarkable one-two punch aimed at Russian hackers, bots and trolls, the prime ministers of Britain and Spain have separately accused Russian entities — including some allegedly supported by the state — of meddling in European elections and have vowed to foil them.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Tuesday that an “avalanche” of bots spread “fake news” about Spain during Catalonia’s independence referendum last month and that Spanish authorities think that more than half of the originating accounts are in Russian territory.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday night charged that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia was attempting to “undermine free societies” and “sow discord” in Britain and among its Western allies by “deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories.”

“So I have a very simple message for Russia,” May said. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”

The allegations leveled by May and Rajoy stand in stark contrast to remarks made over the weekend by President Trump, who appeared to defend the Russian president. [Continue reading…]

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Sessions again changes his account of what he knew about Trump campaign’s dealings with Russians

The Washington Post reports: Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday again revised his account of what he knew about the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russians, acknowledging for the first time that he recalled a meeting where a foreign policy adviser mentioned having contacts who could possibly broker a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Sessions said he now remembered adviser George Papadopoulos saying in March 2016 that he knew people who might be able to help arrange a Trump-Putin meeting.

When Sessions was asked last month whether he thought surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians, he said, “I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened.”

But at Tuesday’s hearing, Sessions said his memory had been refreshed.

“I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting,” Sessions told lawmakers. “After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.” [Continue reading…]

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Sessions insists ‘factual basis’ will determine appointment of counsel, not Trump

The New York Times reports: President Trump did not need to send a memo or telephone his attorney general to make his desires known. He broadcast them for all the world to see on Twitter. The instruction was clear: The Justice Department should investigate his defeated opponent from last year’s campaign.

However they were delivered, Mr. Trump’s demands have ricocheted through the halls of the Justice Department, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now ordered senior prosecutors to evaluate various accusations against Hillary Clinton and report back on whether a special counsel should be appointed.

Mr. Sessions has made no decision, and in soliciting the assessment of department lawyers, he may be seeking a way out of the bind his boss has put him. At a congressional hearing on Tuesday, he pushed back against Republicans impatient for a special counsel. But if he or his deputy ultimately does authorize a new investigation of Mrs. Clinton, it would shatter post-Watergate norms intended to prevent presidents from using law enforcement agencies against political rivals.

The request alone was enough to incite a political backlash, as critics of Mr. Trump quickly denounced what they called “banana republic” politics of retribution, akin to autocratic nations where election losers are jailed by winners.

“You can be disappointed, but don’t be surprised,” said Karen Dunn, a former prosecutor and White House lawyer under President Barack Obama who advised Mrs. Clinton during her campaign. “This is exactly what he said he would do: use taxpayer resources to pursue political rivals.” [Continue reading…]

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The making of an American Nazi

Luke O’Brien writes: On December 16, 2016, Tanya Gersh answered her phone and heard gunshots. Startled, she hung up. Gersh, a real-estate agent who lives in Whitefish, Montana, assumed it was a prank call. But the phone rang again. More gunshots. Again, she hung up. Another call. This time, she heard a man’s voice: “This is how we can keep the Holocaust alive,” he said. “We can bury you without touching you.”

When Gersh put down the phone, her hands were shaking. She was one of only about 100 Jews in Whitefish and the surrounding Flathead Valley, and she knew there were white nationalists and “sovereign citizens” in the area. But Gersh had lived in Whitefish for more than 20 years, since just after college, and had always considered the scenic ski town an idyllic place. She didn’t even have a key to her house—she’d never felt the need to lock her door. Now that sense of security was about to be shattered.

The calls marked the start of a months-long campaign of harassment orchestrated by Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the world’s biggest neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. He claimed that Gersh was trying to “extort” a property sale from Sherry Spencer, whose son, Richard Spencer, was another prominent white nationalist and the face of the so-called alt-right movement.

The Spencers had long-standing ties to Whitefish, and Richard had been based there for years. But he gained international notoriety just after the 2016 election for giving a speech in Washington, D.C., in which he declared “Hail Trump!,” prompting Nazi salutes from his audience. In response, some Whitefish residents considered protesting in front of a commercial building Sherry owned in town. According to Gersh, Sherry sought her advice, and Gersh suggested that she sell the property, make a donation to charity, and denounce her son’s white-nationalist views. But Sherry claimed that Gersh had issued “terrible threats,” and she wrote a post on Medium on December 15 accusing her of an attempted shakedown. (Sherry Spencer did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the time, Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin barely knew each other. Spencer, who fancies himself white nationalism’s leading intellectual, cloaks his racism in highbrow arguments. Anglin prefers the gutter, reveling in the vile language common on the worst internet message boards. But Spencer and Anglin had appeared together on a podcast the day before Sherry’s Medium post was published and expressed their mutual admiration. Anglin declared it a “historic” occasion, a step toward greater unity on the extreme right.

It was in this spirit that Anglin “doxed” Gersh and her husband, Judah, as well as other Jews in Whitefish, by publishing their contact information and other personal details on his website. He plastered their photographs with yellow stars emblazoned with JUDE and posted a picture of the Gershes’ 12-year-old son superimposed on the gates at Auschwitz. He commanded his readers—his “Stormer Troll Army”—to “hit ’em up.”

“All of you deserve a bullet through your skull,” one Stormer said in an email.

“Put your uppity slut wife Tanya back in her cage, you rat-faced kike,” another wrote to Judah.

“You fucking wicked kike whore,” Andrew Auernheimer, The Daily Stormer’s webmaster, said in a voicemail for Gersh. “This is Trump’s America now.” [Continue reading…]

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Bahrain pipeline explosion seen as a warning from Iran

Simon Henderson writes: Saudi crude oil is reported to be flowing again through the Bahrain pipeline damaged by an explosion late on November 10. No one was injured in the blast, which sent a plume of flames high into the sky, damaging cars and nearby buildings. As yet, there has been no claim of responsibility, although the Bahraini government has described the incident as an “intentional act of sabotage,” blaming terrorists acting under instruction from Iran. For its part, Iran has denied any involvement.

Although oil was discovered in Bahrain before it was ever found in Saudi Arabia, the island’s actual reserves are very small. The pipeline affected, meanwhile, runs from the Saudi offshore Abu Safa oil field via a circuitous route across the Saudi mainland. Revenues from the field’s production are an important subsidy to Bahrain’s budget. The crude is refined at Bahrain’s refinery at Sitra, on the east coast of the island.

One oil industry publication suggested, “It is more likely than not that Iran chose [the attack] as a plausibly deniable response to Saudi Arabia’s perceived recent escalation against Iranian influence in Lebanon.”

The explosion occurred at Buri, a Shia town where the pipeline runs exposed on the surface rather than being underground. Buri, along with other Shia towns and villages, is off-limits to U.S. diplomatic and naval personnel based on the island, according to a map on the website of the U.S. embassy in the capital, Manama. [Continue reading…]

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