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TBR News March 31, 2018

Mar 31 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. March 31, 2018:”As time goes by, more and more negative information about President Trump is emerging and this information, coupled with his thoroughly erratic behavior is causing a serious polarization in the concepts of the voting public. His behavior has already upset the business and political oligarchy, both in this country and in others and the end result will certainly be both a total loss of power with the legislative and the judicial and public anger. It was hoped by many that Trump would be a forceful and constructive President but it is now very evident that these hopes are being seriously eroded.”

Table of Contents

  • The Appointments of Bolton and Pompeo Bring Us Closer to War
  • John Bolton Skewed Intelligence, Say People Who Worked With Him
  • USA TODAY exclusive: Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills
  • Most French want Macron crackdown on radical Islamists – polls
  • US, Turkey on collision course in Syria’s Manbij
  • Trump attacks California governor for pardoning ex-convicts facing deportation
  • Danny Ray Thomas Was a Broken Man Who Needed Help. Instead He Was Gunned Down by a Cop in Broad Daylight.
  • Fox’s Ingraham taking vacation as advertisers flee amid controversy
  • Israeli troops wound dozens on Gaza border as Palestinians bury dead from earlier violence

 

The Appointments of Bolton and Pompeo Bring Us Closer to War

March 30, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Independent/UK

Armed conflict between the US and Iran is becoming more probable by the day as super-hawks replace hawks in the Trump administration. The new National Security Adviser, John Bolton, has called for the US to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal of 2015 and advocated immediate regime change in Tehran. The new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has said the agreement, which Trump may withdraw from on 12 May, is “a disaster”. Trump has told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he will not accept a deal with “cosmetic changes” as advocated by European states, according to Israeli reporters. If this is so, then the deal is effectively dead.

The escalating US-Iran confrontation is causing menacing ripples that could soon become waves across the Middle East. The price of crude oil is up because of fears of disruption of supply from the Gulf. In Iran, the value of the rial is at its lowest ever, having fallen by a quarter in the last six months. In Iraq, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi admits his greatest fear is a confrontation between the US and Iran fought out in Iraq.

A dangerous aspect of the super-hawk approach to Iran is similar to that of the Bush administration in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In both cases, those calling for use of armed force had, or have, lethally little knowledge of what they were/are getting into. Pompeo had a simple solution to the Iranian problem when he was still a congressman, telling reporters it would take “under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity”.

Optimists, though these have become fewer on the ground in Washington in the last few weeks, are dismissive of such bellicose rhetoric. But whatever Trump and his lieutenants think they are doing, their words have consequences. Governments have to take threats seriously and devise counter-measures to meet them in case the worst comes to the worst. In the wake of the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, American neo-conservatives boastfully proclaimed it would be “Baghdad today, Tehran and Damascus tomorrow”. These slogans were enough to ensure the Syrian and Iranian governments did everything in their power to make sure that the US could not stay in Iraq.

Looking back, the invasion of Iraq marked the turning point for the hegemony of the Anglo-Saxon powers – the US and the UK – on the world stage. The fraudulent justification for the war and the failure of those who launched it to get their way against relatively puny opponents turned a conflict which was meant to be a show of strength into a demonstration of weakness. Foreign intervention in Libya and Syria in 2011 produced similar calamities.

If we are on the edge of a fresh crisis in the Middle East, centring on Iran, then the US is in a much weaker position than it was pre-Trump. Domestically divided and short of allies, it can no longer control the rules of the game as it once did. Over the last year there are two examples of this: in May, Trump visited Saudi Arabia giving unequivocal backing to its rulers and blaming the troubles of the region on Iran. But it turned out that the prime target of Saudi Arabia and UAE was not Iran but tiny Qatar. All Trump had achieved was to break the previously united front of Gulf monarchies against Iran.

In another major misjudgement by the US in January, the supposedly moderate Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the US would be keeping its forces in Syria after the defeat of Isis, and intended to get rid of President Bashar al-Assad and roll back Iranian influence. This ambition was largely fantasy, but the Russian and Turkish reaction was real. Four days after Tillerson’s arrogant declaration, the Turkish army poured into northern Syria with Russian permission and within two months had eliminated the enclave of Afrin, inhabited by Kurds who are the only US ally in Syria. The Kurds are now rather desperately hoping they will not be left in the lurch by the US in the event of a Turkish military assault on the main Kurdish-held territory in north-east Syria.

I was in the Kurdish-held zone in Syria earlier this month and wondered what the US will do if the Turks did decide to advance further. The north Syrian plain east of the Euphrates is dead flat with little cover, while the main Kurdish cities are right on the Turkish border and highly vulnerable. The US only has 2,000 troops there, and their effectiveness depends on their ability to call in devastating airstrikes by the US air force. This is a powerful option, but would the US really use it in defence of the Kurds against Nato ally Turkey?

What Trump claims was President Obama’s weakness of will and poor negotiating skills was in reality an astute ability to match US means to US interests and avoid being sucked into unwinnable wars. This was never really understood by the Washington foreign policy establishment, which is stuck in the pre-2003 era when US strength was at its height in the years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Still less is it grasped by super-hawks like Bolton and Pompeo, with no idea of the political and military minefields into which they are about to stumble.

The US establishment and its allies may be aghast at Trump withdrawing from the nuclear deal, but it looks more than likely he is going to do it. Sanctions on Iran may be reimposed, but these are never quite the winning card that those imposing them imagine, whatever the suffering inflicted on the general population. Sanctions unilaterally imposed by Trump may damage Iran, but they will also isolate the US.

Whatever the outcome of a confrontation between the US and Iran, it is not going to “Make America Great Again”. The northern corridor of the Middle East, south of Turkey and north of Saudi Arabia, has always been the graveyard of US interventionism: this was true of Lebanon in the 1980s when the US embassy was blown up, and when 241 US services personnel (including 220 marines) were killed by a truck bomb in Beirut. This was true in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, and Syria from 2011 to the present day. The US has commonly blamed Iran for these frustrations, an explanation that has some validity, but the real reason is that the US has been fighting a sect rather than a single state. All these countries where the US has failed either have a Shia majority, as in the case of Iran and Iraq, a plurality, as in Lebanon, or are a ruling minority, as in Syria. As the most powerful Shia state, Iran has an immense advantage when it comes to fighting its enemies in such a sympathetic religious terrain.

The new line-up in Washington is being described as “a war cabinet” and it may turn out to be just that. But looking at ignorant, arrogant men like Bolton and Pompeo, it is difficult to avoid the feeling that it will all end in disaster.

 

USA TODAY exclusive: Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills

Among those who say billionaire didn’t pay: dishwashers, painters, waiters

by Steve Reilly,

USA TODAY

During the Atlantic City casino boom in the 1980s, Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. landed a $400,000 contract to build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah’s at Trump Plaza.

The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward’s father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for the Trump Organization, the resort’s builder.

Edward’s son, Paul, who was the firm’s accountant, still remembers the amount of that bill more than 30 years later: $83,600. The reason: the money never came. “That began the demise of the Edward J. Friel Company… which has been around since my grandfather,” he said.

Donald Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will “protect your job.” But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans, like the Friels, who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them. At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA TODAY NETWORK, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others.

Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. That includes 21 citations against the defunct Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and three against the also out-of-business Trump Mortgage LLC in New York. Both cases were resolved by the companies agreeing to pay back wages.

In addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens — filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work — since the 1980s. The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.

The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.Trump and his daughter Ivanka, in an interview with USA TODAY, shrugged off the lawsuits and other claims of non-payment. If a company or worker he hires isn’t paid fully, the Trumps said, it’s because The Trump Organization was unhappy with the work.

“Let’s say that they do a job that’s not good, or a job that they didn’t finish, or a job that was way late. I’ll deduct from their contract, absolutely,” Trump said. “That’s what the country should be doing.”

Chapter 1

‘Visibly winced’

To be sure, Trump and his companies have prevailed in many legal disputes over missing payments, or reached settlements that cloud the terms reached by the parties.

However, the consistent circumstances laid out in those lawsuits and other non-payment claims raise questions about Trump’s judgment as a businessman, and as a potential commander- in- chief. The number of companies and others alleging he hasn’t paid suggests that either his companies have a poor track record hiring workers and assessing contractors, or that Trump businesses renege on contracts, refuse to pay, or consistently attempt to change payment terms after work is complete as is alleged in dozens of court cases.

In the interview, Trump repeatedly said the cases were “a long time ago.” However, even as he campaigns for the presidency, new cases are continuing. Just last month, Trump Miami Resort Management LLC settled with 48 servers at his Miami golf resort over failing to pay overtime for a special event. The settlements averaged about $800 for each worker and as high as $3,000 for one, according to court records. Some workers put in 20-hour days over the 10-day Passover event at Trump National Doral Miami, the lawsuit contends. Trump’s team initially argued a contractor hired the workers, and he wasn’t responsible, and counter-sued the contractor demanding payment.

“Trump could have settled it right off the bat, but they wanted to fight it out, that’s their M.O.” said Rod Hannah, of Plantation, Fla., the lawyer who represented the workers, who he said are forbidden from talking about the case in public. “They’re known for their aggressiveness, and if you have the money, why not?”

Similar cases have cropped up with Trump’s facilities in California and New York, where hourly workers, bartenders and wait staff have sued with a range of allegations from not letting workers take breaks to not passing along tips to servers. Trump’s company settled the California case, and the New York case is pending.

Trump’s Doral golf resort also has been embroiled in recent non-payment claims by two different paint firms, with one case settled and the other pending. Last month, his company’s refusal to pay one Florida painter more than $30,000 for work at Doral led the judge in the case to order foreclosure of the resort if the contractor isn’t paid.

Juan Carlos Enriquez, owner of The Paint Spot, in South Florida, has been waiting more than two years to get paid for his work at the Doral. The Paint Spot first filed a lien against Trump’s course, then filed a lawsuit asking a Florida judge to intervene.

In courtroom testimony, the manager of the general contractor for the Doral renovation admitted that a decision was made not to pay The Paint Spot because Trump “already paid enough.” As the construction manager spoke, “Trump’s trial attorneys visibly winced, began breathing heavily, and attempted to make eye contact” with the witness, the judge noted in his ruling.

That, and other evidence, convinced the judge The Paint Spot’s claim was credible. He ordered last month that the Doral resort be foreclosed on, sold, and the proceeds used to pay Enriquez the money he was owed. Trump’s attorneys have since filed a motion to delay the sale, and the contest continues.

Enriquez still hasn’t been paid.

Chapter 2

Unpaid hourly workers

Trump frequently boasts that he will bring jobs back to America, including Tuesday in a primary-election night victory speech at his golf club in suburban New York City. “No matter who you are, we’re going to protect your job,” Trump said Tuesday. “Because let me tell you, our jobs are being stripped from our country like we’re babies.”

But the lawsuits show Trump’s organization wages Goliath vs David legal battles over small amounts of money that are negligible to the billionaire and his executives — but devastating to his much-smaller foes.

In 2007, for instance, dishwasher Guy Dorcinvil filed a federal lawsuit against Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club resort in Palm Beach, Fla., alleging the club failed to pay time-and-a-half for overtime he worked over three years and the company failed to keep proper time records for employees.

Mar-a-Lago LLC agreed to pay Dorcinvil $7,500 to settle the case in 2008. The terms of the settlement agreement includes a standard statement that Mar-a-Lago does not admit fault and forbids Dorcinvil or his lawyers from talking about the case, according to court records.

Developers with histories of not paying contractors are a very small minority of the industry, said Colette Nelson, chief advocacy officer of the American Subcontractors Association. But late or missing payments can be devastating for small businesses and their employees.

“Real estate is a tough and aggressive business, but most business people don’t set out to make their money by breaking the companies that they do business with,” she said, stressing she couldn’t speak directly to the specifics of cases in Trump’s record. “But there are a few.”

In the interview, Trump said that complaints represent a tiny fraction of his business empire and dealings with contractors and employees, insisting all are paid fairly. “We pay everybody what they’re supposed to be paid, and we pay everybody on time,” he said. “And we employ thousands and thousands of people. OK?”

Chapter 3

The slot-machine cabinets

Despite the Trumps’ assertion that his their companies only refuse payment to contractors “when somebody does a bad job,” he has sometimes offered to hire those same contractors again. It’s a puzzling turn of events, since most people who have a poor experience with a contractor, and who refuse to pay and even fight the contractor in court, aren’t likely to offer to rehire them.

Nevertheless, such was the case for the Friels. After submitting the final bill for the Plaza casino cabinet-building in 1984, Paul Friel said he got a call asking that his father, Edward, come to the Trump family’s offices at the casino for a meeting. There Edward, and some other contractors, were called in one by one to meet with Donald Trump and his brother, Robert Trump.

“He sat in a room with nine guys,” Paul Friel said. “We found out some of them were carpet guys. Some of them were glass guys. Plumbers. You name it.”

In the meeting, Donald Trump told his father that the company’s work was inferior, Friel said, even though the general contractor on the casino had approved it. The bottom line, Trump told Edward Friel, was the company wouldn’t get the final payment. Then, Friel said Trump added something that struck the family as bizarre. Trump told his dad that he could work on other Trump projects in the future.

“Wait a minute,” Paul Friel said, recalling his family’s reaction to his dad’s account of the meeting. “Why would the Trump family want a company who they say their work is inferior to work for them in the future?”

Asked about the meeting this week, Trump said, “Was the work bad? Was it bad work?” And, then, after being told that the general contractor had approved it, Trump added, “Well, see here’s the thing. You’re talking about, what, 30 years ago?”

Ivanka Trump added that any number of disputes over late or deficient payments that were found over the past few decades pale in comparison to the thousands of checks Trump companies cut each month.

“We have hundreds of millions of dollars of construction projects underway. And we have, for the most part, exceptional contractors on them who get paid, and get paid quickly,” she said, adding that she doubted any contractor complaining in court or in the press would admit they delivered substandard work. “But it would be irresponsible if my father paid contractors who did lousy work. And he doesn’t do that.”

But, the Friels’ story is similar to experiences of hundreds of other contractors over the casino-boom decade in Atlantic City. Legal records, New Jersey Casino Control Commission records and contemporaneous local newspaper stories recounted time and again tales about the Trumps paying late or renegotiating deals for dimes on the dollar.

A half-decade after the Friels’ encounter, in 1990, as Trump neared the opening of his third Atlantic City casino, he was once again attempting to pay contractors less than he owed. In casino commission records of an audit, it was revealed that Trump’s companies owed a total of $69.5 million to 253 subcontractors on the Taj Mahal project. Some already had sued Trump, the state audit said; others were negotiating with Trump to try to recover what they could. The companies and their hundreds of workers had installed walls, chandeliers, plumbing, lighting and even the casino’s trademark minarets.

One of the builders was Marty Rosenberg, vice president of Atlantic Plate Glass Co., who said he was owed about $1.5 million for work at the Taj Mahal. When it became clear Trump was not going to pay in full, Rosenberg took on an informal leadership role, representing about 100 to 150 contractors in negotiations with Trump.

Rosenberg’s mission: with Trump offering as little as 30 cents on the dollar to some of the contractors, Rosenberg wanted to get as much as he could for the small businesses, most staffed by younger tradesmen with modest incomes and often families to support.

“Yes, there were a lot of other companies,” he said of those Trump left waiting to get paid. “Yes, some did not survive.”

Rosenberg said his company was among the lucky ones. He had to delay paying his own suppliers to the project. The negotiations led to him eventually getting about 70 cents on the dollar for his work, and he was able to pay all of his suppliers in full.

Chapter 4

Unpaid based on whimsy

The analysis of Trump lawsuits also found that professionals, such as real estate agents and lawyers, say he’s refused to pay them sizable sums of money. Those cases show that even some loyal employees, those selling his properties and fighting for him in court, are only with him until they’re not.

Real estate broker Rana Williams, who said she had sold hundreds of millions of dollars in Manhattan property for Trump International Realty over more than two decades with the company, sued in 2013 alleging Trump shorted her $735,212 in commissions on deals she brokered from 2009 to 2012. Williams, who managed as many as 16 other sales agents for Trump, said the tycoon and his senior deputies decided to pay her less than her contracted commission rate “based on nothing more than whimsy.”

Trump and Williams settled their case in 2015, and the terms of the deal are confidential, as is the case in dozens of other settlements between plaintiffs and Trump companies.

However, Williams’ 2014 deposition in the case is not sealed. In her sworn testimony, Williams said the 2013 commission shortage wasn’t the only one, and neither was she the only person who didn’t get fully paid. “There were instances where a sizable commission would come in and we would be waiting for payment and it wouldn’t come,” she testified. “That was both for myself and for some of the agents.”

Another broker, Jennifer McGovern, filed a similar lawsuit against the now-defunct Trump Mortgage LLC in 2007, citing a six-figure commission on real-estate sales that she said went unpaid. A judge issued a judgment ordering Trump Mortgage to pay McGovern $298,274.

Even Trump’s own attorneys, on several occasions, sued him over claims of unpaid bills.

One law firm that fought contractors over payments and other issues for Trump — New York City’s Morrison Cohen LLP — ended up on the other side of a similar battle with the mogul in 2008. Trump didn’t like that its lawyers were using his name in press releases touting its representation of Trump in a lawsuit against a construction contractor that Trump claimed overcharged him for work on a luxury golf club.

As Trump now turned his ire on his former lawyers, however, Morrison Cohen counter-sued. In court records, the law firm alleged Trump didn’t pay nearly a half million dollars in legal fees. Trump and his ex-lawyers settled their disputes out of court, confidentially, in 2009.

In 2012, Virginia-based law firm Cook, Heyward, Lee, Hopper & Feehan filed a lawsuit against the Trump Organization for $94,511 for legal fees and costs. The case was eventually settled out of court. But as the case unfolded, court records detail how Trump’s senior deputies attacked the attorneys’ quality of work in the local and trade press, leading the firm to make claims of defamation that a judge ultimately rejected on free speech grounds.

Trump claims in his presidential personal financial disclosure to be worth $10 billion as a result of his business acumen. Many of the small contractors and individuals who weren’t paid by him haven’t been as fortunate.

Chapter 5

‘Tons of these stories out there’

Edward Friel, of the Philadelphia cabinetry company allegedly shortchanged for the casino work, hired a lawyer to sue for the money, said his son, Paul Friel. But the attorney advised him that the Trumps would drag the case out in court and legal fees would exceed what they’d recover.

The unpaid bill took a huge chunk out of the bottom line of the company that Edward ran to take care of his wife and five kids. “The worst part wasn’t dealing with the Trumps,” Paul Friel said. After standing up to Trump, Friel said the family struggled to get other casino work in Atlantic City. “There’s tons of these stories out there,” he said.

The Edward J. Friel Co. filed for bankruptcy on Oct. 5, 1989.

Says the founder’s grandson: “Trump hits everybody.”

Contributing: John Kelly, Nick Penzenstadler, Karen Yi, David McKay Wilson

 

Most French want Macron crackdown on radical Islamists – polls

March 30, 2018

by Brian Love

Reuters

PARIS (Reuters) – Most French people want Muslims suspected of harbouring extremist views detained if they appear on spy agency watchlists and would back a ban on ultra-conservative Salafist Islam, two polls showed after the latest deadly attack in France.

Right-wing opponents of Emmanuel Macron have demanded the president get tough on security and suggest there would be widespread public support for steps targeting mosques and imams preaching hate, as well as foreigners deemed a threat.

An Odoxa poll published on Friday showed 87 percent wanted people suspected of religious radicalisation to be put in detention, and 88 percent favoured banning Salafist Islam.

An Elabe survey showed 80 percent backed the expulsion of radicalised foreigners, while more than half of its respondents said Macron was not doing enough to counter terrorism.

The president wants to redraw the relationship between France’s Muslims and the secular French state. He is not the first.

Since the late 1980s, successive Paris governments have tried but failed to nurture a liberal “Islam of France” that would help integrate the faith into a mostly secular society.

The issue is back in focus after a Moroccan-born French national killed four people in southwestern France on March 23, proclaiming allegiance to Islamic State. About 240 people have now been killed in France since early 2015 by militants or inspired by the ultra-hardline Islamic State group.

Salafist Islam, the puritan literalist interpretation of the faith that is the basis for Islamic State’s violent ideology, says Muslims must return to the practices of early Islam in the seventh century and shun many aspects of modern Western life.

Opposition politicians including centre-right leader Laurent Wauquiez and far-right chief Marine Le Pen have demanded the expulsion of all foreigners on the so-called Fiche S watchlists of the intelligence services. They contain about 20,000 people, of which about 10,000 for reasons of religious radicalisation or connections.

Former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls urged the government to consider internment in cases where a real risk of militant activity is perceived.

Valls has also pressed for a ban on Salafism, a step current Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has so far dismissed.

“You cannot ban an idea but you can punish its consequences if they undermine public order, the laws or the republic or the basic rules of society,” Philippe told lawmakers this week.

France, a traditionally Catholic nation, formally separated church and state a century ago and strict secularism is the official rule. The country has Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim communities. The latter is estimated to number upwards of five million.

 

US, Turkey on collision course in Syria’s Manbij

A town in northern Syria is at the center of a potentially explosive dispute between Turkey and the United States. The fate of the US-led coalition against the “Islamic State” and the future map of Syria are at stake.

March 31, 2018

by Chase Winter

DW

The United States and Turkey are on a collision course in northern Syria, threatening to ignite a dangerous new phase in the Syrian civil war, undermine the fight against the “Islamic State” (IS) and redraw the map of the Middle East.

The epicenter of this brewing conflict is Manbij, where the US-backedSyrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkish-backed rebels face off across a combustible frontline.

Regional complexities blur map of control

The SDF, a mixed Arab and Kurdish force, captured Manbij from IS with US-led coalition support in August 2016, extending the boundaries of the de-facto autonomous Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, or Rojava, across the west bank of the Euphrates River.

Fearing the Kurdish YPG militia, the dominant force in the SDF, would expand the offensive to link up with Kurdish-controlled enclave of Afrin further to the west, the Turkish military and Syrian rebel allies intervened in Operation “Euphrates Shield” in August 2016.

Seven months later Turkey and its rebel allies had vanquished IS and carved out a zone of control in northern Syria. Operation Euphrates Shield set the stage for the Turkish military and its rebel allies to launch an offensive against the YPG in Afrin, which it captured this March after a two-month offensive.

Turkey looks to create sphere of influence

According to Cengiz Candar, a foreign policy adviser to former Turkish President Turgut Ozal in the early 1990s, Turkey’s actions in Syria – including setting up governance structures – “looks more as permanently establishing a Turkish presence in northern parts of Syria that will serve Ankara, hitting many birds with one stone.”

“Turkish objectives go beyond merely preventing the Kurds. It is to place Turkey as a regional power or at least as a broker, as a formidable player, on the map of Syria and also if possible on Iraq’s, to have a stature in shaping up the future of the region,” he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long vowed to clear northern Syria of a “terror corridor.” Turkey considers the YPG, and its political wing the PYD, to be a terrorist group tied to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), waging a three-decade-long insurgency in Turkey.

Turkey issues hardline threat

On March 28, the Turkish National Security Council issued a statement saying “Terrorists in Manbij need to leave the region immediately; otherwise Turkey will not hesitate to take its own initiative as it did in other regions. Turkey will maintain the same steadfastness against terrorist groups east of the Euphrates.”

The threat comes as US and Turkish diplomats continue to try to ease tensions over northern Syria following meetings in February, with Turkey demanding the US pressure the SDF to withdraw from Manbij to the east of the Euphrates.

Unlike in Afrin, US and coalition allies have special forces in Manbij and east of the Euphrates to support the SDF against IS and deter any other armed groups – including NATO ally Turkey.

Manbij: The next frontier

The so-called “Manbij pocket” occupies strategic territory overlapping geo-military struggles in Syria’s multi-sided conflict alongside tribal, ethnic and ideological factors pushing and pulling on the ground. Ethically, the city is about 80 percent Arab.

The Manbij Military Council, a largely Arab body allied with the SDF, controls the area and is viewed as a successful integration of Arabs into the SDF, said Nicholas Heras, a Middle East Security fellow at the Center for a New American Security.

“The Manbij Military Council is probably one of the most successful examples of the SDF creating an Arab partner force within its structure,” he said, noting that the US had prodded Syrian Kurds to include Arabs within the SDF as a condition for support.

Turkey opposes US-backed, Arab-Kurdish force

From Turkey’s perspective, the Manbij Military Council is nothing more than a front for the PKK/YPG pulling the strings behind the scenes. The Manbij Military Council’s embrace imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan’s ideology of “democratic autonomy” has also upset some Arab tribes in the area, according to Heras.

The Manbij Military Council has been one of the key components of the SDF, fighting IS not only in Manbij but also in Raqqa and further east around Deir ez-Zor.

The US military has resisted concessions to Turkey over Manbij out of concern it may unravel the carefully put together coalition of Kurds and Arabs fighting IS under a US umbrella.

After the US stood by as Turkey conquered Afrin, a hasty US withdrawal from Manbij would also be viewed betrayal by the SDF.

“Manbij for the US is more than just a territory on the map. For the US military it is the door that secures the Raqqa countryside and Raqqa is the showroom model for the US’ post-IS stability building mission,” said Heras.

Will US appease Erdogan?

Any US concession to Turkey on Manbij also raises the question of whether it would be enough to appease Erdogan.

“US policy makers believe Erdogan’s appetite is bigger than just Manbij and they take him at his word. When Erdogan says Manbij, he means all the way to the border of Iraq,” Heras said.

“The mood within the US military is to not withdraw from Manbij unless there is a very clear and on paper agreement with the Turks as to the limits of where Turkey will be able to operate east of the Euphrates – which is nowhere. Unless there is that kind of guarantee, the mood is not to back down in Manbij,”he said.

US policy unclear

However, US policy is one of mixed signals, which may embolden Turkey and discourage the SDF, possibly tempting the Kurds to ally with the Assad regime against Turkey.

As the US military repeatedly commits to standing their ground, US President Donald Trump said in off the cuff remarks this week the US would leave Syria “very soon.”

“We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon – very soon, we’re coming out,”Trump said after noting IS has largely been defeated. The comments reportedly caught the State Department and Pentagon off guard.

Candar, now a Visiting Scholar at Stockholm University’s Institute for Turkish Studies, noted that US indecisiveness “emboldens Erdogan to follow a reckless policy in Syria which might end up with unintended consequences for all the parties involved.”

Asked what his advice to US policy makers would be, he said: “Anything that would not be interpreted as appeasement could be considered as a sober advice for the US policy makers in handling Turkey over northern Syria. However, I am also aware that the sobriety is not a peculiar trait of the current American administration.”

 

Trump attacks California governor for pardoning ex-convicts facing deportation

  • Two of five ex-convicts fled Khmer Rouge in Cambodia
  • Trump pardoned the Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio over racial profiling

March 31, 2018

AP

Washington-Donald Trump attacked the California governor, Jerry Brown, on Saturday for his pardon of five ex-convicts facing deportation, including two who fled the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia with their families four decades ago.

In a tweet, Trump referred to Brown as “Moonbeam”, a nickname a newspaper columnist coined for him in the 1970s. Trump then listed the ex-convicts’ crimes before they were pardoned on Friday. They include misdemeanor domestic violence, drug possession, and kidnapping and robbery.

Trump, who last August pardoned Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio over the unconstitutional racial profiling of Latinos, wrote: “Is this really what the great people of California want?”

According to the White House pool report, Trump sent his tweet – and two continuing his attack on Amazon.com – from the presidential motorcade on the way to one of his golf courses in Florida.

A spokesman for Brown responded to a request for comment with more information about the five men but did not directly address Trump’s criticism.

In a news release about the pardons on Friday, the governor’s office said: “Those granted pardons all completed their sentences years ago and the majority were convicted of drug-related or other non-violent crimes.”

“Pardons are not granted unless they are earned,” the governor’s office added.

Brown’s pardons were the third time the Democrat has intervened on behalf of immigrants deported or facing deportation over convictions. He has accused the Trump administration of “basically going to war” with California over immigration policy.

Brown’s pardons do not automatically stop deportation proceedings, but they eliminate the convictions on which authorities

Trump’s pardon spared Arpaio from a possible jail sentence. The 85-year-old lawman announced a run for Senate in January.

Those pardoned on Friday by Brown included Sokha Chhan and Phann Pheach, who face deportation to Cambodia, a country ruled in the 1970s by the genocidal Khmer Rouge.

Chhan was convicted of two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence in 2002 and served about a year in jail. Pheach was convicted of possessing drugs and obstructing a police officer in 2005 and served six months. His wife has said he is in federal custody.

Also pardoned was Daniel Maher, who served five years stemming from an armed robbery of a San Jose auto parts store in 1994. Convicted of kidnapping, robbery and being a felon in possession of a firearm, he is facing deportation to China, where he has never lived. He is from Macau, which became part of China after his family moved to California when he was three.

Also pardoned while facing deportation were Daniel Mena and Francisco Acevedo Alaniz. Mena served three years of probation after being convicted of possessing illegal drugs in 2003. Alaniz served five months for a 1997 car theft.

The governor is a former Jesuit seminarian and traditionally issues pardons close to Christian holidays. Easter falls on Sunday. California’s longest-serving governor has now issued 1,519 pardons, 404 in his first two terms, from 1975 to 1983.

 

 

Danny Ray Thomas Was a Broken Man Who Needed Help. Instead He Was Gunned Down by a Cop in Broad Daylight.

March 30 2018

by Shaun King

The Intercept

Everyone should know the name and story of Danny Ray Thomas, but too few people do. Our national attention span for police brutality and racial violence has plummeted since the election of President Donald Trump. He has a way of completely sucking the wind out of the news cycle and much of mainstream media obliges — obsessing over his every move.

From 2014 to 2016, we reached a national crescendo — where the important names and stories of injustices, and the cities where they happened, were seen and known by the world. Over 3,500 people were killed by American police during that period, according to the website Killed by Police, which aggregates information about reported killings. In 2014, the nation came to know the stories of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice. In 2015, it was Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland. In 2016, it was Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

But what about 2017? Of the 1,193 people killed by American police last year, according to Killed by Police, whose story do you know? When I ask this question of audiences around the country, most people struggle to name one person. Why is that? What happened? The brutality damn sure didn’t end.

Until police slaughtered 22-year-old Stephon Clark — an unarmed, nonviolent black man — in his own backyard in a hail of twenty bullets, could you name a single victim of police violence from 2018?

I’m not judging you. You don’t know these names and stories because they just aren’t being shared with the same force of previous years. But you need to find a place in your heart and mind to know the story of Danny Ray Thomas.

It’s a story of grief. It’s a story of the excessive consequences of mass incarceration. It’s a story of mental health. It’s a story of the criminalization of drug addiction in black communities. And, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a story of a police officer who cared so little about the story, the humanity, the pain, that he executed a broken man in broad daylight. The details I’m going to give you about this case — that Danny Ray Thomas was unarmed, that the cop had other ways to deal with it, and much more — make it hard to see this any other way.

The crisis of mass incarceration does many things — chief among them is that it tears families apart. On August 12, 2016, Thomas, who was then 32 years old, was serving a three-year prison sentence in Bryan, Texas — over one hundred miles away from his kids in Houston. The man had lived a rough life and struggled with drug addiction. According to local news reports, he was sentenced to three years in prison not for a violent crime, not even for selling drugs, but for possession of PCP.

He needed rehab, diversion, and counseling. Instead, like hundreds of thousands of African-Americans, he was sent to prison. This isn’t how that situation goes down in affluent white communities across this country when parents or children struggle with drug addiction.

On Friday, August 12, 2016 — while Thomas was serving that outrageous sentence in prison — the unthinkable happened. His two children, 5-year-old Kayiana and her 7-year-old brother Araylon “Ray Ray” Thomas, named after his father, were killed. According to local news reports, their mother, 30-year-old Sheborah Thomas, invited the kids one by one into the bathroom and deliberately drowned them. Earlier that day, the kids had performed at a talent show.

After Sheborah Thomas allegedly killed the kids, she hid their lifeless bodies under her neighbor’s house and left them there for days until she told an acquaintance on Sunday. The acquaintance took her to a police station and flagged down an officer; Sheborah Thomas then confessed to the crime. She was charged with capital murder and is still in jail now, awaiting trial.

Imagine now the pain of Danny Ray Thomas, far away from home, locked behind bars for simple drug possession. Imagine getting the news that your babies were drowned to death. When it happened, Jason Clark, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, released a statement on how Thomas received the news: “As you can imagine, he’s pretty upset right now.”

I don’t how I’d wake up and push through life again if anyone killed my babies. But trying to imagine being in prison, and their deaths happening while I was away, is simply unthinkable. Those who knew Thomas, of course, said he struggled mightily in the wake of such a loss. How could he not?

His sister Marketa Thomas told reporters that she and her brother both struggled with mental illness and supported each other through it all the best way they knew how. “He had my back through everything. And he promised me he wouldn’t leave me, and he didn’t leave me,” she said. “Somebody took him from me.”

Indeed, they did.

Last Thursday, in broad daylight, as onlookers filmed and even nervously laughed a little, Thomas appeared to be in the middle of a mental health emergency. Waddling through the street with his pants all the way down at his feet, his body moved, but his mind was somewhere else. He genuinely appeared lost, wandering to and fro aimlessly, walking with intention but going nowhere sensible.

It was a spectacle. Even if you didn’t know that the man wandering around with his pants at his feet had had his heart and soul ripped away, any sensible human being would’ve known that Thomas was a man in distress. He needed an ambulance. Instead, he got a cop.

That cop, Cameron Brewer, worked for the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and just happened to be in the area when he saw the disturbance Thomas was causing. Within 30 seconds, Thomas was shot and killed.

Danny Ray Thomas was completely unarmed. From what we can see in the videos of the encounter — only a few seconds of which are off-camera — it doesn’t appear that Thomas ever touched or threatened the officer.

What’s doubly disturbing is that the officer, as we so often hear, had a body camera, according to the Harris County Sheriff, but it was charging in his car. He also had a Taser, but chose not to use it; and he had been trained in how to deescalate a mental health crisis, but appeared to have forgotten that, too.

If America’s nurses were as nervous and easily frightened as our cops, and had the power to shoot people, our national murder rate would skyrocket overnight. Instead, those nurses, who see broken men like Thomas every hour of every single day, find a way to provide treatment without ever firing a single bullet.

Unarmed black men like Danny Ray Thomas and Stephon Clark received absolutely no patience from the officers who eventually shot and killed them, but watch the endless patience cops gave the man in another video posted to Twitter.

How in the world is the Parkland shooter, armed with an arsenal and having killed 17 people, alive, but Danny Ray Thomas is dead? How in the world is Dylann Roof, having slaughtered nine sweet souls at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, alive, but Stephon Clark couldn’t make it out of his own backyard after being suspected of vandalism?

Waddling through those streets with his pants down, Danny Ray Thomas couldn’t have outrun a little old lady. He was a nuisance. Whatever crime he committed would’ve likely received a ticket or citation.

Instead, he got the death penalty. While the local sheriff, Ed Gonzalez, has expressed concern about the shooting by his deputy, concern is not justice. Concern is better than nothing, I suppose, but only slightly. That concern won’t bring this man’s life back.

Just as cops did with Stephon Clark, Deputy Cameron Brewer served as judge, jury, and executioner for Danny Ray Thomas. He faced no jury of his peers. He had no reasonable opportunity to defend himself. His misery is now over, but this was not suicide by cop. Danny Ray Thomas did not ask for this. He didn’t leave this earth on his own terms. As deeply wounded and broken of a man as he was, he had his entire life ahead to try to put the broken pieces back together again.

That’s what life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means. Danny Ray Thomas was denied all three.

 

Fox’s Ingraham taking vacation as advertisers flee amid controversy

March 31, 2018

Reuters

Fox News show host Laura Ingraham announced on her show late Friday that she is taking next week off, after almost a dozen advertisers dropped her show after the conservative pundit mocked a teenage survivor of the Florida school massacre on Twitter.

Eleven companies so far have pulled their ads after a pushback by Parkland student David Hogg, 17, who called for a boycott of her advertisers.

A Fox News Channel spokeswoman said Ingraham was taking a pre-planned spring vacation with her children.

Hogg took aim at the host’s show, “The Ingraham Angle”, after she taunted him on Twitter on Wednesday, accusing him of whining about being rejected by four colleges to which he had applied. Hogg is a survivor of the Feb. 14 mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the Parkland suburb of Fort Lauderdale. He and other classmates have become the faces of a new youth-led movement calling for tighter restrictions on firearms.

Hogg tweeted a list of a dozen companies that advertise on “The Ingraham Angle” and urged his supporters to demand that they cancel their ads.

On Thursday, Ingraham tweeted an apology “in the spirit of Holy Week,” saying she was sorry for any hurt or upset she had caused Hogg or any of the “brave victims” of Parkland.

But her apology did not stop companies from departing.

The companies announcing that they are cancelling their ads are: Nutrish, the pet food line created by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, travel website TripAdvisor Inc (TRIP.O), online home furnishings seller Wayfair Inc (W.N), the world’s largest packaged food company, Nestle SA (NESN.S), online streaming service Hulu, travel website Expedia Group Inc (EXPE.O) and online personal shopping service Stitch Fix (SFIX.O).

According to CBS News, four other companies joined the list Friday: the home office supply store Office Depot, the dieting company Jenny Craig, the Atlantis, Paradise Island resort and Johnson & Johnson which produces pharmaceuticals as well as consumer products such as Band-Aids, Neutrogena beauty products and Tylenol.

Hogg wrote on Twitter that an apology just to mollify advertisers was insufficient.

Ingraham’s show runs on Fox News, part of Rupert Murdoch’s Twenty-First Century Fox Inc (FOXA.O).

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago, Gina Cherelus in New York, Andrew Hay; Editing by Kim Coghill and Chizu Nomiyama

 Israeli troops wound dozens on Gaza border as Palestinians bury dead from earlier violence

March 31, 2018

Reuters

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops shot and wounded about 70 Palestinians among crowds demonstrating at the Gaza-Israel border on Saturday, health officials said, after one of the deadliest days of unrest in the area in years.

Thousands of people marched through the streets of Gaza in funerals for the 15 people killed by Israeli gunfire on Friday, and a national day of mourning was observed in the enclave and in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Israel was responsible for the violence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was protecting its sovereignty and citizens.

An Israeli military spokesman said he was checking the details of Saturday’s unrest. It broke out when Palestinians gathered on the border between the Hamas-run enclave and Israel then began throwing stones. Palestinian health officials said about 70 were wounded.

On Friday at least 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli security forces confronting protesters. The military said some had shot at them, rolled burning tyres and hurled rocks and fire bombs toward troops across the border.

Hamas said five of them were members of its armed wing. Israel said eight of the 15 dead belonged to Hamas, designated a terrorist group by Israel and the West, and two others belonged to other militant groups.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians had gathered on Friday along the fenced 65-km (40-mile) frontier, where tents had been erected for a planned six-week protest pressing for a right of return for refugees and their descendents to what is now Israel.

But hundreds of Palestinian youths ignored calls from the organizers and the Israeli military to stay away from the frontier and violence broke out.

The protest, organized by Hamas and other Palestinian factions, is scheduled to culminate on May 15, the day Palestinians commemorate what they call the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe” when hundreds of thousands fled or were driven out of their homes in 1948, when the state of Israel was created.

Israel has long ruled out any right of return, fearing an influx of Arabs that would wipe out its Jewish majority. It says refugees should resettle in a future state the Palestinians seek in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Peace talks to that end have been frozen since 2014.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but still maintains tight control of its land and sea borders.

Egypt also keeps its border with Gaza largely closed.

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said: “The message of the Palestinian people is clear. The Palestinian land will always belong to its legitimate owners and the occupation will be removed.”

Israeli military spokesman Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis said Hamas was using the protests as a guise to launch attacks against Israel and ignite the area. He said violence was likely to continue along the border until May 15.

“We won’t let this turn into a ping-pong zone where they perpetrate a terrorist act and we respond with pinpoint action. If this continues we will not have no choice but to respond inside the Gaza Strip,” Manelis told reporters.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an independent investigation into Friday’s bloodshed, and appealed for all sides to refrain from any actions that could lead to further casualties or put civilians in harm’s way.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell, Editing by Angus MacSwan

 

 

 

 

 

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