Top general says he would resist ‘illegal’ nuke order from Trump

CBS News reports: The top U.S. nuclear commander said Saturday he would push back against President Trump if he ordered a nuclear launch the general believed to be “illegal,” saying he would hope to find another solution.

Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday that he has given a lot of thought to what he would say if a president ordered a strike he considered unlawful.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

Hyten explained the process that would follow such a command. As head of STRATCOM, Hyten is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” Hyten added. “And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.” [Continue reading…]

The question, as to whether a presidential order to launch a nuclear strike would be legal, is a red herring. The real question Hyten should have addressed is what he will do if he receives an order that is legal but nevertheless unconscionable.

Does he accept that there might be circumstances in which his moral responsibility might be to refuse to follow a legal order?

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In Bonn, Trump’s answer to global warming? Drill, baby, drill!

Elizabeth Kolbert writes: Every year around this time, negotiators from across the globe meet in one city or another—Montreal, Marrakech, Copenhagen, Paris—to resolve that the world really ought come up with a plan to do something about climate change. This year’s Conference of the Parties, the twenty-third such gathering, is taking place in Bonn, and in addition to the usual impediments to progress—mistrust, inequality, bad faith—there’s now the Trump Administration to contend with. On Monday, the U.S. delegation used its sole official appearance at COP23 to tout fossil fuels.

“Promoting coal at a climate summit is like promoting tobacco at a cancer summit,” the former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was in Bonn for the cop, observed. Protesters at the event sang songs and then walked out, leaving the hall half empty.

Also on Monday, a group of scientists reported that global carbon emissions, which had been flat for the past few years, were once again on the rise. The group predicted that industrial CO2 emissions in 2017 would total thirty-seven billion tons, which is about two per cent more than in 2016, and that this figure would likely climb again in 2018. “World backsliding on curbing carbon emissions,” summed up a headline in the Bangor Daily News.

Then, on Tuesday, the International Energy Agency, which is based in Paris, released its annual “World Energy Outlook.” One of the agency’s key findings is that global energy demand will continue to rise through 2040. Another is that, owing to technological advances like fracking, the United States is poised to become a major exporter of fossil fuels. “By the mid-2020s, the United States [will] become the world’s largest liquefied natural gas exporter and a few years later a net exporter of oil,” the agency predicts. It’s hard to say which of these announcements was the most depressing, but, on some level, it doesn’t really matter, since they’re all connected. [Continue reading…]

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COP 23: Three ways cities are leading the fight against climate change

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By Barbara Norman, University of Warwick

The global population is predicted to rise to 10 billion by 2050, and the majority of those people will live in cities. Given that cities already account for 75% of the world’s energy use and 76% of carbon dioxide emissions, there’s a growing focus on how urban planning and design can reduce emissions and help humanity to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Representatives of the world’s global powers have gathered in Bonn to attend the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change – more pithily known as COP 23.

Working together to affect large-scale change has been the key message of the conference. There has been a groundswell of urban innovation on show, largely driven by the mayors and governors of cities and regions, as well as industry leaders and universities interested in promoting opportunities for greener growth.

These bodies have formed alliances and networks to develop ideas and strategies around smart mobility, renewable energy, living infrastructure and sustainable urban design. This has been the good news story of COP 23. The conference has given nation states a unique opportunity to work more closely with cities, to plan for climate change.

So, in my role as an urban and regional planner (in practice and academia) I spent some time in Bonn finding out about the exciting ways that cities are leading the fight against climate change.

[Read more…]

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‘Leadership means knowing when it is time for change,’ says Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Reuters reports: Gerry Adams, a pivotal figure in the political life of Ireland for almost 50 years, said Saturday that he would step down as leader of Sinn Fein, the main Irish Republican party, after more than three decades.

Reviled by many as the face of the Irish Republican Army during its campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, Mr. Adams reinvented himself as a peacemaker in the troubled region and then as a populist opposition member of the Irish Parliament.

At a packed party conference in Dublin, Mr. Adams said that he would be replaced as its president at its next annual gathering and that he would not run for re-election to Parliament.

“Leadership means knowing when it is time for change,” he said in an emotional speech. “That time is now.”

Mr. Adams stayed on stage as the 2,500-strong crowd, some in tears, gave him a standing ovation and sang a traditional Irish song about the road home.

Mr. Adams will almost certainly be succeeded by someone with no direct involvement in the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, a prospect that would make Sinn Fein a more palatable coalition partner in the Irish Republic, where it has never been in power.

Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, an English literature graduate from Trinity College Dublin who has been at the forefront of a new breed of politicians transforming the party’s image, is the clear favorite to take over. [Continue reading…]

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Ireland will block progress of Brexit talks without border guarantee

The Guardian reports: Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, issued a stark warning that the progress of the Brexit negotiations was at great risk of even further delay, during a day of stinging public rebukes for Theresa May as she met sceptical EU leaders at a Swedish summit.

The Irish taoiseach emerged from a frosty bilateral meeting with May at the European social summit and said: “I can’t say in any honesty that it’s close – on the Irish issue or on the financial settlement.”

Varadkar said he would not be prepared to back progress of the Brexit negotiations to trade talks at the summit in December without a formal written guarantee there would be no hard border in Ireland. Britain, he said, “wants a divorce, but an open relationship the day after”.

At the summit in Gothenburg, the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, gave the UK government an ultimatum that progress needed to be made on the Irish border and the financial settlement. Tusk also hit back at suggestions by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, that the UK needed to see more compromise from Brussels: “I appreciate Mr Davis’s English sense of humour.” [Continue reading…]

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How Yamnaya nomads and other herding cultures became early forces of globalization

Science News reports: Nomadic herders living on western Asia’s hilly grasslands made a couple of big moves east and west around 5,000 years ago. These were not typical, back-and-forth treks from one seasonal grazing spot to another. These people blazed new trails.

A technological revolution had transformed travel for ancient herders around that time. Of course they couldn’t make online hotel reservations. Trip planners would have searched in vain for a Steppe Depot stocked with essential tools and supplies. The closest thing to a traveler’s pit stop was a mountain stream and a decent grazing spot for cattle. Yet, unlike anyone before, these hardy people had the means to move — wheels, wagons and horses.

Here’s how the journeys may have played out: At a time when rainfall dwindled and grasslands in western Asia turned brown, oxen-pulled wagons loaded with personal belongings rolled west, following greener pastures into central and northern Europe. Other carts rumbled east as far as Siberia’s Altai Mountains, where Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan meet today. Families of men, women and children may have piled on board. Or travelers may have been mostly men, who married women from farming villages along the way. Cattle, sheep and goats undoubtedly trailed along with whoever made these trips, under the watchful guidance of horse riders. Wagons served as mobile homes while on the move and during periodic stops to let animals graze.

These journeys, by people now known as the Yamnaya, transformed human genes and cultures across a huge swath of Europe and Asia. Yamnaya people left their mark from Ireland to China’s western border, across roughly 4,000 kilometers. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Jean-Luc Ponty — ‘Nostalgic Lady’

 

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Too many Americans can’t tell fact from fiction

Timothy Egan writes: It would be much easier to sleep at night if you could believe that we’re in such a mess of misinformation simply because Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million people on Facebook.

The Russians also uploaded a thousand videos to YouTube and published more than 130,000 messages on Twitter about last year’s election. As recent congressional hearings showed, the arteries of our democracy were clogged with toxins from a hostile foreign power.

But the problem is not the Russians — it’s us. We’re getting played because too many Americans are ill equipped to perform the basic functions of citizenship. If the point of the Russian campaign, aided domestically by right-wing media, was to get people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, the bad guys have won.

As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. Good God. At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.

Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.

Fake news is a real thing produced by active disseminators of falsehoods. Trump uses the term to describe anything he doesn’t like, a habit now picked up by political liars everywhere.

But Trump is a symptom; the breakdown in this democracy goes beyond the liar in chief. For that you have to blame all of us: we have allowed the educational system to become negligent in teaching the owner’s manual of citizenship. [Continue reading…]

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Top Russian official tried to broker ‘backdoor’ meeting between Trump and Putin

The New York Times reports: A senior Russian official who claimed to be acting at the behest of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia tried in May 2016 to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and Donald J. Trump, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The news of this reached the Trump campaign in a very circuitous way. An advocate for Christian causes emailed campaign aides saying that Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime, had proposed a meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump. The subject line of the email, turned over to Senate investigators, read, “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to one person who has seen the message.

The proposal made its way to the senior levels of the Trump campaign before Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top campaign aide, sent a message to top campaign officials rejecting it, according to two people who have seen Mr. Kushner’s message.

Though the meeting never happened, Mr. Torshin’s request is the latest example of how the Russian government intensified its effort to contact and influence the Trump campaign last year as Mr. Trump was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination. It came just weeks after a self-described intermediary for the Russian government told a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, that the Russians had “dirt” on Mr. Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Soon after Mr. Torshin’s outreach fizzled, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower after being told that a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin would bring damaging information about Mrs. Clinton to the meeting. [Continue reading…]

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Hope Hicks may hold the keys to Mueller’s Russia puzzle

Politico reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is preparing to interview the woman who’s seen it all: Hope Hicks.

She’s been part of Donald Trump’s inner circle for years, first at Trump Tower and then as an omnipresent gatekeeper and fixer who could get emails or other communications directly to the boss during the 2016 campaign.

As a senior White House adviser and now as communications director, she’s been in the room for moments critical to Mueller’s probe, which has grown to include the president’s response to the Russia investigation itself.

Hicks’ history with Trump makes her one of the more useful witnesses for Mueller as he looks for insights into the president’s habits and moods. She also is one of the few people well positioned to recount the president’s reactions at various moments as the Russia scandal has sidetracked his presidency — including the Mueller appointment itself.

Mueller’s decision to request an interview with Hicks — who hasn’t been named in any criminal wrongdoing — also indicates he’s reached a critical point in the overall investigation, according to former prosecutors and veterans of past White House investigations. Typically, conversations with such senior-level aides are saved for near the end of a probe. [Continue reading…]

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Ivanka and the fugitive from Panama

Reuters reports: In the spring of 2007, a succession of foreigners, many from Russia, arrived at Panama City airport to be greeted by a chauffeur who whisked them off in a white Cadillac with a Donald Trump logo on the side.

The limousine belonged to a business run by a Brazilian former car salesman named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who was offering the visitors a chance to invest in Trump’s latest project – a 70-floor tower called the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower. It was the future U.S. president’s first international hotel venture, a complex including residential apartments and a casino in a waterfront building shaped like a sail.

“Mr Nogueira was an outgoing and lively young man,” remembered Justine Pasek, who was crowned Miss Universe by Donald Trump in 2002 and was acting in 2007 as a spokesperson for Nogueira’s company, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services. “Everybody was so impressed with Homes as they seemed to be riding the top of the real estate boom at the time,” she said.

One of those Nogueira set out to impress was Ivanka, Trump’s daughter. In an interview with Reuters, Nogueira said he met and spoke with Ivanka “many times” when she was handling the Trump Organization’s involvement in the Panama development. “She would remember me,” he said.

Ivanka was so taken with his sales skills, Nogueira said, that she helped him become a leading broker for the development and he appeared in a video with her promoting the project.

A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court.

Three years after getting involved in the Trump Ocean Club, Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he later fled the country. [Continue reading…]

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Freedom of the Press Foundation on the brink of severing its ties to Wikileaks

The Daily Beast reports: In the heat of the presidential election campaign last year, Xeni Jardin, a journalist and free speech advocate, developed a sickening feeling about WikiLeaks.

Jardin had been a supporter of the radical transparency group since at least 2010, when it published hundreds of thousands of U.S. military and State Department documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. In 2012, Jardin was a founding member of the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit established as a censorship-proof conduit for donations to WikiLeaks after PayPal and U.S. credit card companies imposed a financial blockade on the site.

But during the election season, Jardin noticed WikiLeaks veering violently off its original mission of holding governments and corporations to account. Beginning in July of last year, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ driving force, began releasing a cache of stolen email from the Democratic National Committee, and injecting WikiLeaks’ influential Twitter feed with the kind of alt-right rhetoric and conspiracy theories once reserved for Breitbart and InfoWars.

“Suddenly the voice of WikiLeaks seemed to be all about questioning one candidate—Hillary Clinton—and doing so in a way that was designed to benefit the other,” Jardin recalled to The Daily Beast. “The tone also seemed to echo some of the language on the far right. So when the guy in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, who is normally of the extreme left, is echoing Nazi publications, something is wrong.”

Her misgivings eventually led to a tense confrontation with Assange and touched off a year-long debate among the directors at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which has handled around $500,000 in individual donations for WikiLeaks over the last five years. Now the foundation acknowledges it’s on the brink of ending its assistance to WikiLeaks, on the grounds that the financial censorship Assange faced in 2012 is no longer in place.

“At our last board meeting in October 2017, a consensus arose that we could not find any evidence of an ongoing blockade involving PayPal, Visa, or Mastercard,” wrote Trevor Timm, co-founder and executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, in a statement to The Daily Beast. “We decided we would therefore formally notify WikiLeaks that unless they could demonstrate that a blockade was still in effect, we would no longer provide a mechanism for people to donate to them.” [Continue reading…]

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How Jared Kushner’s newspaper became a favorite outlet for WikiLeaks election hacks

Foreign Policy reports: In the fall of 2014, Julian Assange, the embattled head of WikiLeaks, was meeting with a steady stream of supportive journalists in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. Among those seeking an audience with Assange was a freelancer working for the New York Observer, the newspaper owned and published by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and key advisor, Jared Kushner.

Ken Kurson, the newspaper’s editor in chief — along with a freelance writer he’d hired — helped arrange a “no-holds-barred” interview with Assange that October.

“My editor Ken Kurson (kkurson@observer.com) and I are very interested in an interview with Julian Assange. This would be a cover story.… We will be in London the first week of October,” wrote Jacques Hyzagi, a freelance reporter for the Observer, to a press consultant who arranged interviews for WikiLeaks.

Kurson, when contacted by Foreign Policy, said he did not attend that meeting and has never communicated with Assange; he insists that the profile was Hyzagi’s idea. “We ran an interview pitched to us by a freelancer,” he wrote in an email.

“I have never communicated in any way with Julian Assange and this sort of fact-free, evidenceless charge is analogous to pizzagate and other totally ludicrous conspiracies,” he added.

Hyzagi did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Yet a series of exchanges between Hyzagi and the WikiLeaks representative indicated that a meeting involving Kurson and Assange was in the works; at one point Leonardo DiCaprio was invited to tag along, according to emails obtained by FP. (DiCaprio did not end up attending.)

After that, the plan was to travel to Moscow to meet with Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor. Snowden’s team declined a request for an interview from Hyzagi, according to Ben Wizner, Snowden’s attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. [Continue reading…]

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Trump halts Interior’s elephant trophy decision

The Washington Post reports: President Trump abruptly reversed his administration’s Thursday decision to allow elephants shot for sport in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be imported back to the United States as trophies, saying in a tweet Friday night that he was putting the decision “on hold” until further review.

“Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!”

Trump’s sudden tweet halted a decision by his own administration, announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, to end a 2014 government ban on big-game trophy hunting in Zimbabwe and Zambia, saying it would help the conservation of the species. Under U.S. law the remains of African elephants, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, can only be imported if federal officials have determined that hunting them benefits the species more broadly.

But the Fish and Wildlife decision almost immediately was met with a fierce backlash and outcry from animal rights activists and environmentalists — as well as prominent conservatives, and a key House committee chairman.

In a tweet, Fox News host Laura Ingraham expressed her dismay, writing, “I don’t understand how this move by @realDonaldTrump Admin will not INCREASE the gruesome poaching of elephants. Stay tuned.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) issued a statement Friday noting that in light of Zimbabwe’s current political turmoil – President Robert Mugabe is now under house arrest after a military coup – it made no sense to ease restrictions on trophy imports. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: As of 2014 the African elephant population stood at an estimated 374,000, according to the Global Elephant Census, a massive and costly effort to measure the continent’s remaining savanna elephant population. That’s down from an estimated 10 million elephants at the turn of the 20th century, and from 600,000 of the animals as recently as 1989.

The more detailed population trend data from the census showed that populations had been on a rebound from 1995 to about 2007. But since then, elephant populations have been declining by a rate of about 8 percent annually, or 30,000 elephants each year. [Continue reading…]

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Images suggest North Korea ‘aggressive’ work on ballistic missile submarine

Reuters reports: Satellite images taken this month of a North Korean naval shipyard indicate Pyongyang is pursuing an “aggressive schedule” to build its first operational ballistic missile submarine, a U.S. institute reported on Thursday.

Washington-based 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project, cited images taken on Nov. 5 showing activity at North Korea’s Sinpo South Shipyard.

“The presence of what appear to be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull in the yards suggests construction of a new submarine, possibly the SINPO-C ballistic missile submarine – the follow-on to the current SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine,” 38 North said in a report. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli military chief wants closer Saudi ties as Iran tensions rise

The Guardian reports: Israel’s military chief has given an “unprecedented” interview to a Saudi newspaper underlining the ways in which the two countries could unite to counter Iran’s influence in the region.

Speaking to the Saudi newspaper Elaph, Gen Gadi Eisenkot described Iran as the “biggest threat to the region” and said Israel would be prepared to share intelligence with “moderate” Arab states like Saudi Arabia in order to “deal with” Tehran.

The interview, however, is particularly striking in its very public and confrontational messaging: an appeal by Israel to Riyadh for a joint action on Tehran, delivered by Israel’s most senior soldier.

It is the latest dramatic twist in weeks of turmoil in the region, which followed an unexpected purge of Saudi princes and officials by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has also increasingly locked Saudi Arabia on a path to confrontation with Iran. [Continue reading…]

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International law is meant to prevent what’s happening in Yemen

Nathalie Weizmann writes: Every day brings worse news from Yemen. This morning, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that water and sewage systems in three cities in Yemen – Hodeidah, Sa’ada and Taiz – had stopped operating because imports of fuel were at a standstill. And just yesterday, the heads of the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the World Health Organization described the current situation in Yemen as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Yemen was already struggling with a humanitarian disaster after two years of war, but the situation grew far worse last week, when the Saudi-led military coalition stopped critical commercial supplies and humanitarian aid deliveries from entering Yemen, and blocked the movement of relief workers into and out of the country. The coalition announced the closure of all Yemeni airports, seaports and land crossings in response to a ballistic missile fired by Ansar Allah (also referred to as Houthi) opposition forces in Yemen and intercepted by the Saudi military over Riyadh’s international airport.

Reacting to the shutdown, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, warned that if it isn’t lifted, “it will be the largest famine the world has seen in many decades, with millions of victims.” According to key members of the humanitarian community in Yemen, “There are over 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance; 7 million of them are facing famine-like conditions and rely completely on food aid to survive.” [Continue reading…]

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