TBR News October 18, 2017

Oct 18 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., October 18, 2017:”We are out of the office until October 20. Ed”

Table of Contents

  • Children Are Dying at Alarming Rates in Foster Care, and Nobody Is Bothering to Investigate
  • Trump Is the Only One Losing Out by Refusing to Certify the Iran Deal
  • Thousands of govt docs found on laptop of sex offender married to top Clinton adviser
  • Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers
  • Climate change sets the world on fire
  • Catalonia to formally declare independence if Spain suspends regional autonomy: source
  • Malta’s overdue struggle against corruption, crooks and imbeciles
  • Air attack may have caused UN chief’s plane crash: study

October 17, 2017

  • Islamic Terrorism and the United States
  • Countering the Populists: Merkel Moves Left to Disarm the Right


Children Are Dying at Alarming Rates in Foster Care, and Nobody Is Bothering to Investigate

October 18 2017

by Ryan Grim and Aída Chávez

The Intercept

Children in the for-profit foster care system are dying at alarming rates, but the deaths are not being investigated, a two-year investigation has found.

The investigation, conducted and released in rare bipartisan fashion by the Senate Finance Committee, looked closely at one of the largest private providers of foster care services, the MENTOR Network.

The companies and agencies charged with keeping foster children safe often failed to provide the most basic protections or take steps to prevent tragedies, the investigation found.

In the wake of the report, shares of the MENTOR Network’s parent company, Civitas Solutions, traded sharply downward, but quickly rebounded amid a lack of press coverage.

By pushing the report to colleagues, Sen. Ron Wyden, the committee’s top-ranking Democratic member, said he and panel chair Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, are trying to “light a big fire around” how important it is to fix the child welfare system’s flaws.

The report was prompted in part by a BuzzFeed investigation into the company two years ago. The committee found that 86 children had died in the company’s care over a 10-year period, and the firm had conducted internal investigations in only 13 cases.

The political problem for foster children is a structural one. It would be hard to think of a group with less lobbying power in Washington, D.C., while the group homes that warehouse children are making significant profits off each one and are loathe to see that income dry up. Late last year, Hatch and Wyden made a push to reform the system with a bill that would privilege family settings over group homes, but a Baptist group home network in North Carolina persuaded its Senate delegation to block the legislation.

Meanwhile, state agencies and judges tend to be quick to pull a child from their home at the first sign of trouble, reasoning that the safest move is to act rather than leave them with a parent. If tragedy strikes while a child is at home, media attention condemns the parents and the system that left the child there. But when tragedy strikes a child who was hastily moved into a group home, the death often passes unnoticed.

The failure of the child welfare system is a “real moral blot on the country,” Wyden said, and children “aren’t going to have an army of lobbyists behind them,” so it’s up to lawmakers to show how serious the failures of the system are. Wyden said he hopes this report shocks opponents of the Families First bill into taking a second look.

Roughly 1,600 children die each year due to abuse and neglect, the committee reported.

“Members of Congress don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to spend my whole day being rotten to kids,’” Wyden told The Intercept after the release of the report. “I just don’t think they have a sense of the enormity of the problem and the vulnerability of the kids and the families and how broken the system is, so what we’re trying to do is get this in front of them so that with all of the other issues that are coming at them, they’ll say, ‘You know, it’s a bipartisan effort, there’s two approaches on this, let’s get going.’”

The investigation found that MENTOR did not investigate fatalities; the vast majority of children who died were not the subject of internal investigations even when the death was unexpected, and pending autopsy reports were excluded from files.

‘‘The MENTOR Network serves significantly more children and youth with heightened risk factors relative to others in foster care, and sustains child mortality rates that are comparable with national norms,” the company told the committee.

The panel, however, dubbed that claim “false,” noting its death rate among foster children was found to be 42 percent higher than the national average.

“The gaps in the system are so enormous that, according to the advocates who care and are trying to do a good job, there isn’t even a way to track the extent of the mistreatment of the kids,” Wyden said. “The inquiry dug deeply into the MENTOR Network, and I don’t think anybody can look away when you find in a 10-year period, 70 percent of the kids who died in MENTOR’s care and custody, died unexpectedly.”

The investigation was conducted by requesting information from all 50 states; 17 didn’t bother to submit anything. “It’s kind of like some of these managers in states just consider protecting the children an afterthought, not a priority,” Wyden said.

The report cited news accounts of children placed in homes with individuals who had been convicted of kidnapping and other serious crimes, with parents who had substance abuse problems, and in homes where caretakers had previously “failed” foster care placements.

“This isn’t an abstraction,” Wyden said. “This is about denying the most vulnerable kids in America the chance to have healthy and productive lives.”



Trump Is the Only One Losing Out by Refusing to Certify the Iran Deal

October 15, 2017

by Patrick Cockburn

The Unz Review

As President Trump withdraws certification of the nuclear agreement with Iran, commentators across the world struggled for words to adequately convey their outrage and contempt. A favourite term to describe Trump is as “a wrecking ball”, but the phrase suggests a sense of direction and capacity to strike a target which Trump does not possess.

The instant that Trump decertifies the deal struck by President Obama in 2015, the US becomes a lesser power and Iran a greater one, because he will confirm the belief that America is led by an egoist motivated by ignorant prejudice. Accusations of mental derangement have always been part of common currency of political abuse, but there is a growing belief among international leaders that in Trump’s case there might be something to it, though they have few ideas about what they should do about this.

Their bemusement is understandable given that the situation is so bizarre. In the past, highly neurotic individuals were most like to gain power as hereditary monarchs, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany being a prime example. Full blown psychoses are less common, though madness of Charles VI of France and Henry VI of England in the late Middle Ages precipitate both countries into civil wars. What is extraordinary about Trump’s all-consuming egomania, or what some call “malignant narcissism”, is that it did not prevent his rise to power.

Iranian leaders may calculate that, short of all-out war, they come out the winner: the US-led coalition of states that once isolated Iran has disintegrating and today it is the US that risks isolation. Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China and the UN nuclear watchdog all say that Iran has abided by the terms of the agreement. The ability of the US to line up all the other big powers in support of a deal brokered by itself was proof that the US was a superpower; its abandonment will have the opposite effect. As if this was not damaging enough to the US, turning over the whole mess to a dysfunctional Congress only highlights the implosion of US influence in the world.

Suggestions in western capitals that they might paper over the breach with America by disagreeing with Washington over the nuclear deal but supporting US allegations that Iran is trying to destabilise the Middle East do not really work. This demonisation of Iran as the sinister hidden hand in the Middle East is just as misleading and simple-minded as Trump’s views on the nuclear weapons deal. Much of what he and his administration says is regurgitation of Saudi and Israeli propaganda which may not even be believed in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.

The relationship between Iran and the US has always been a complex mixture of hostility and cooperation. The antagonism dates from the overthrow of the Shah in 1979, the seizure of US diplomats and embassy in Tehran, and the Iran-Iraq war. But this has also been accompanied by a high degree of de facto – and often covert – cooperation: since Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in in 1990, Washington and Tehran have often found themselves sharing the same enemies. Tehran benefited as a regional power in 2001 when the US overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan and again in 2003 with the fall of Saddam Hussein. Iran and the US had a similar interest in preventing Isis and al-Qaeda winning in Syria or Iraq after Isis captured Mosul in 2014.

The US and its allies were always circumspect, when they were not being dishonest, about their cooperation with Tehran in Iraq. After Nouri al-Maliki was chosen as Iraqi PM in 2006, an Iraqi official called me to say that “the Great Satan”, the Iranian term for the US, and “the Axis of Evil”, the US term for Iran, had “come together to give us our new leader.” His successor, Haider al-Abadi, also required endorsement from both Washington and Tehran.

One of the many negative consequences of the election of Trump is that his failings are so glaring that they obscure those of the rest of his administration and other US and international leaders. Hillary Clinton’s grasp of the likely consequences of US actions in Iraq, Syria and Libya was always limited. David Cameron and Nicholas Sarkozy happily led the way for Nato to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi with no sensible thoughts about the aftermath. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson won some credit by reportedly calling Trump “a moron”, but he quite untruthfully told the Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javid Zarif that the US-Iranian “relationship has been defined by violence – against us”.

In reality, Iranian strength in the Middle East depends on its position as the leading Shia power and its influence is largely confined to countries with significant Shia communities: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen. The US, Saudi and Israeli picture of Iran, as permanently plotting to destabilise the Middle East, misstates Iranian ambitions and exaggerates their capacity.

So much of what Trump says turns out to be the soon-to-be forgotten tweet of the day, that the impact of decertification is impossible to predict. He denounced President Obama’s weakness in Iraq and Syria, but changed US policy has changed very little because the Pentagon largely calls the shots and he does not know what else to do. A summary of his new approach says the new policy will in future focus “on neutralising the government of Iran’s destabilising influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants”. This could mean that in the future the US will regard anyone opposing Saudi Arabia or its allies as a terrorist or it could mean nothing at all.

The current crisis in the Middle East consists of multiple crises that cross-infect each other. The biggest crisis is with Isis which is facing defeat in Iraq and Syria, but is not quite eliminated. It has lost the war in both countries because it has been under attack from a range of enemies from the US air force to Hezbollah, Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Shia paramilitaries, Syrian army and Russians. These countries and movements may not like each other and may not coordinate their attacks on Isis, but cumulatively they have worn down the jihadis. Isis commanders will hope that the new Trump policy will open up divisions among its numerous enemies enabling it to survive and regenerate itself.

The Iranians are sensibly saying very little, presumably calculating that nothing they do will be quite so damaging to US interests as what Trump is doing. The true destabiliser in the Middle East is not Iran but Trump himself.


Thousands of govt docs found on laptop of sex offender married to top Clinton adviser

October 18, 2017


The State Department admitted the FBI discovered nearly 3,000 government documents on a laptop belonging to the ex-husband of Hillary Clinton’s top adviser, Huma Abedin, conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch said.

The revelation was in response to a May 2015 lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the State Department after it failed to respond to a Freedom of Information request (FOIA) seeking all emails of official State Department business received or sent by Abedin between January 2009 and February 2013 “using a non-state.gov email address.”

This is a disturbing development. Our experience with Abedin’s emails suggest these Weiner laptop documents will include classified and other sensitive materials,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a statement, naming Abedin’s ex-husband, Anthony Weiner.

“When will the Justice Department do a serious investigation of Hillary Clinton’s and Huma Abedin’s obvious violations of law?” the statement added.

The documents were discovered on Weiner’s laptop after devices were seized as part of an FBI investigation into an allegation that he had engaged in ‘sexting’ with a 15-year-old girl. The discovery of the State Department emails led then-FBI Director James Comey to reopen an investigation late in the 2016 US presidential election.

In July 2016, Comey, exonerated Clinton following the probe into whether the former secretary of state’s private servers had been used to transmit or store classified information. Comey said he referred the case to the Department of Justice for a prosecutive decision.

The investigation began as a referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General in connection with Clinton’s use of a personal email service during her time as secretary of state.

Comey said from a group of 30,000 emails, 110 in 52 chains had been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.  Eight of those chains contained information that was ‘top secret’ at the time they were sent, 36 contained ‘secret’ information, and eight contained ‘confidential’ information.

“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,”wrote Comey.

After finding more documents on Weiner’s laptop, Comey alerted Congress that the agency had reopened its investigation. However, three days before the presidential election the FBI announced that it had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

In August, Judicial Watch released 1,600-plus pages of emails the State Department had turned over under the group’s FOIA lawsuit. The documents included 91 email exchanges that were not previously handed over to the State Department, for a total of 530 emails that were not included in Clinton’s initial 55,000-page disclosure.

Judicial Watch said the State Department is processing 100,000 emails Clinton failed to disclose when she served as secretary of state, some of which were sent by Abedin and found on Weiner’s laptop. Clinton attempted to delete 33,000 emails from her non-government server. The State Department is currently checking about 500 pages per month, following a court order. Judicial Watch said at this rate the documents won’t be fully available until at least 2020.


Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth, scientists say

October 18. 2017

by Damian Carrington Environment editor

The Guardian

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.

Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, said Caspar Hallmann at Radboud University, also part of the research team: “All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.”

The amateur entomologists also collected detailed weather measurements and recorded changes to the landscape or plant species in the reserves, but this could not explain the loss of the insects. “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” said Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologists.

Goulson said a likely explanation could be that the flying insects perish when they leave the nature reserves. “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” he said. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

In September, a chief scientific adviser to the UK government warned that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and that the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored”.

The scientists said further work is urgently needed to corroborate the new findings in other regions and to explore the issue in more detail. While most insects do fly, it may be that those that don’t, leave nature reserves less often and are faring better. It is also possible that smaller and larger insects are affected differently, and the German samples have all been preserved and will be further analysed.

In the meantime, said De Kroon: “We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers.”

Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia, UK, and not involved in the new research said the work was convincing. “It provides important new evidence for an alarming decline that many entomologists have suspected is occurring for some time.”

“If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate – about 6% per year – it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. They pollinate flowers: flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops. They provide food for many animals – birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.”

Another way of sampling insects – car windscreens – has often been anecdotally used to suggest a major decline, with people remembering many more bugs squashed on their windscreens in the past.

“I think that is real,” said Goulson. “I drove right across France and back this summer – just when you’d expect your windscreen to be splattered all over – and I literally never had to stop to clean the windscreen.”


Climate change sets the world on fire

Southern Europe and western parts of Canada and the US have been devastated by wildfires this year. And they’re not the only ones – it seems like much of the world is ablaze right now. And this could be the new normal.

October 18, 2017


This year has been a terrible year for wildfires across the globe. And there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Over the last several weeks, more than a dozen massive blazes have swept through Northern California, killing 41 people, destroying 6,000 homes and devastating the area’s celebrated wine country.

Authorities have called the disaster the deadliest and most destructive series of blazes in California history. Across the US, the government has spent more than $2.7 billion (€2.2 billion euros) on firefighting in its just-finished budget year, a new record.

Thousands have been evacuated in northwestern Spain in recent days, with fires killing at least four people.

In neighboring Portugal, a series of wildfires broke out on Sunday in the center and north of the country, killing 41 and injuring another 71, according to the civil protection agency. These latest fires came after similar huge blazes in June killed 64 people, making 2017 the deadliest year on record for forest fires in the country.

Over the summer, wildfires burned out of control on several continents. Southern Europe endured a record heat wave this year, creating hot, dry conditions that saw Italy, France, Croatia, Spain and Greece all swept by three times the average number of wildfires.

The western Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia saw the worst season for fires since records began, with more than 1.26 million hectares (3.11 million acres) going up in flames by mid-October, according to provincial wildfire services.

But it’s not just North America and Southern Europe that have been hit. In Siberia, wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes, and around 700 hectares of Armenian forest were also destroyed by fire. Earlier this year, Chile saw wildfires that were unparalleled in the country’s history, according to President Michelle Bachelet.

Even Greenland, not known for its hot, dry conditions, suffered an unprecedented blaze this summer with a large grassy peatland fire burning for two weeks.

Big picture

“A lot of these things are happening locally, but people don’t always connect them to climate change,” said Kevin Trenberth, a scientist at the Climate Analysis Section of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in the US. “But there is a real climate change component to this and the risk is going up because of climate change.”

With global temperatures rising, scientists say wildfires are likely to become increasingly frequent and widespread.

“What’s really happening is that there is extra heat available,” Trenberth told DW. “That heat has to go somewhere and some of it goes into raising temperatures. But the first thing that happens is that it goes into drying — it dries out plants and increases the risk of wildfires.”

So has 2017 been a record year for wildfires?

Tough competition

It certainly looks like it’s been a big year for fires in Europe and North America. But Martin Wooster, professor of earth observation science at King’s College London, said other parts of the world have seen worse in recent years.

“For example, this year, fires across Southeast Asia are extremely unlikely to be anything like as severe as they were in 2015,” he told DW.

Two years ago, drought caused by the El Nino weather system created lethal conditions for Indonesian forests and peatlands  already degraded by draining and logging.

The smoldering peat — ancient, decayed vegetable matter condensed into a carbon-heavy fuel — kept fires burning for months on end.

“This led to huge fires, far bigger than any seen in Europe, and some of the worst air pollution ever experienced,” Wooster said.

Longer fire seasons, longer recovery

But there does appear to be a distinct trend, as fire seasons seem to be becoming longer and harsher. “In the western United States, the general perception is that there is no wildfire season any more, but that it’s continuous all year round,” said Trenberth.

In many parts of the world, wildfires are part of a natural cycle. Savannas, for example, are maintained by fire. Some trees not only survive fires but need them to release their seeds. Human intervention can disrupt these cycles, the scientific discipline of fire ecology has found. Putting out small fires can allow flammable debris to accumulate until a colossal fire starts that cannot be controlled.

But global warming is resulting in hotter, drier conditions that mean such infernos are becoming more common, even with careful forest management. And the changed climatic conditions can mean forests take far longer to recover. Meanwhile, fires are also starting in areas like the tropics that have no natural fire ecology.

Human fingerprints

Climate change isn’t the only man-made factor. Fires can also be started by careless humans dropping cigarettes or letting campfires burn out of control.

And in regions like the Amazon, where the annual fire season increased by 19 percent between 1979 and 2013, fire is deliberately used to clear forest to make way for agriculture. “Farmers light fires to clear an area and what happens in drought conditions is that these fires become wild because the vegetation is so dry, it gets out of control,” said Trenberth.

All this can have a feedback effect — more fires mean more carbon released into the atmosphere, which in turn drives climate change.


Catalonia to formally declare independence if Spain suspends regional autonomy: source

October 18, 2017


MADRID (Reuters) – Catalonia’s regional president told a meeting of his party he would formally declare independence if Spain starts the process of suspending the region’s autonomy on Thursday, a Catalan government source said on Wednesday. Madrid has given Thursday as a deadline for the regional government to back down from a symbolic independence declaration made last week, or face direct rule from the capital.

If Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy moves to apply direct rule on Thursday, it will take between three and five days for regional autonomy to be effectively suspended.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Jesus Aguado and Julien Toyer


Malta’s overdue struggle against corruption, crooks and imbeciles

The murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has refocused attention on corruption and money-laundering scandals in Malta. The island that critics – including her own son – described as a “mafia state.”

October 18, 2017

by Ben Knight


After the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, EU lawmakers have called on the European Commission to do more to combat money-laundering and corruption in Malta after looking the other way for too long.

Caruana Galizia was thefirst to reveal the Maltese names in the “Panama Papers,” the 11.5 million documents leaked in May 2016 that revealed how wealth was hidden and laundered across the world.

Perhaps most notably, she wrote about offshore shell companies held in Panama and elsewhere by members of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s government – as well as his wife. Many of the accusations in her widely read blog, whose last post was published less than an hour before her death on Monday, were repeated by her son Matthew Caruana Galizia in a Facebook post published on Tuesday.

“It is of little comfort for the prime minister of this country to say that he will ‘not rest’ until the perpetrators are found,” he wrote. “First he filled his office with crooks, then he filled the police with crooks and imbeciles, then he filled the courts with crooks and incompetents. If the institutions were already working, there would be no assassination to investigate – and my brothers and I would still have a mother.”

MEPs step in

The German Green party Member of European Parliament Sven Giegold, who met Daphne Caruana Galizia as a member of the European Parliament’s Panama Papers inquiry, wrote his own blog post in the wake of the journalist’s death, accusing the European Commission of doing too little to end the “culture of impunity” in Malta.

“We had a plenary debate [on Malta] in June, and after the debate, we put questions to the European Commission asking for precise information on possible treaty violations by Malta, and the Commission until now has not answered,” he told DW. “I believe Malta is breaking EU money-laundering laws, and the European Commission has been idle. They have not enforced money-laundering laws in many areas.”

The problem with Malta

Malta, like many smaller EU states and separate entities within states, such as the UK’s islands Jersey and Guernsey — create financial environments that easetax evasion and allow corruption. Other members of the EU inquiry were “shocked” by the circumstances on Malta, according to Molly Scott Cato, MEP of the British Green party, who said the information Caruana Galizia provided helped to set up the committee.

“This is coming out of the free flow of capital that’s been around since the 1980s,” Cato said. “It’s enabled the global plutocrat to spread money around to avoid paying tax. The problem is, once you start with that, corruption follows — so we know we’ve got criminal money, we’ve got money financing terrorism.

“The level of corruption in Malta doesn’t come as a surprise to me,” she added. “But it’s obviously shocking that someone would be killed like this. Our absolute priority is that we need to have a full inquiry, and it needs to be seen to be independent, because, unfortunately, there is no longer much confidence in the ability of the Maltese authorities to conduct their investigations.”

That much was backed up by a tweet sent out by Herman Grech, a journalist at the Times of Malta newspaper, who said the investigation has been slow to get started.

But Grech was also keen to defend Malta’s reputation: “If you were to ask me is the police in a bad state, my answer is yes: I don’t think the police are competent and equipped enough to deal with certain problems this country is facing. Is this place a mafia state? No it’s not. I find it quite ridiculous that it is being called that.”

Not that there weren’t systemic problems in the country, Grech added.

“It’s a problem that former politicians are appointed to the bench,” he said. “We’re filling up important posts with partisan people. So I’m not discounting corruption.”

Grech also said that while the Maltese crime rate was relatively low, gang-related crime had always been a problem.

“Statistically, Malta is one of the safest countries in Europe, but we’ve had five or six car bombs in the last two years – none of them have been resolved,” he said.


Air attack may have caused UN chief’s plane crash: study

October 17, 2017

by Carole Landry


A new UN report on the mysterious 1961 plane crash that killed UN secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold in central Africa has concluded it appears “plausible” the aircraft came under attack.

Sweden has called “an open wound” the unsolved questions over Hammarskjold’s death, which came during the Cold War between Western nations and the Soviet bloc.

The latest findings take into account newly-released information from the archives of Belgium, Britain, Canada, Germany and the United States.

Hammarskjold, a Swedish diplomat who had been the UN’s second secretary-general since 1953, was on his way to negotiate a ceasefire for mining-rich Katanga province in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo when he died along with 15 other people.

His plane crashed on September 17 or 18 of 1961 near Ndola, in northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia. Early inquiries said pilot error was to blame but an independent commission in 2013 noted the possibility of “hostile action” and called for further investigation.

The new report by a former chief justice of Tanzania, Mohamed Chande Othman, was presented to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in August after reviewing the secret files.

“Based on the totality of the information we have at hand, it appears plausible that external attack or threat may have been a cause of the crash,” said an executive summary seen by AFP on Tuesday.

The plane registered as SE-BDY may have been downed “by way of direct attack causing SE-BDY to crash, or by causing a momentary distraction of the pilots,” it added.

Othman said there was a “significant amount of evidence from eyewitnesses that they observed more than one aircraft in the air, that the other aircraft may have been a jet, that SE-BDY was on fire before it crashed, and/or that SE-BDY was fired upon or otherwise actively engaged by another aircraft.”

Such evidence “is not easily dismissed,” he said.

– Katangan rebels and their jets –

The judge zeroed in on new information concerning aircraft operated by Katangan rebels, who opposed Congo’s independence from Belgium, suggesting they had more air power than previously thought.

Previous inquiries had dismissed the theory that Katangan forces may have shot down the plane because it was believed that they had only one jet — a French-made Fouga — at the time.

New information provided by the United States and other sources showed that three Fouga aircraft were purchased from France and delivered to Katanga in 1961 “against objections of the US government.”

Other planes, including one from West Germany, were available for use in Katanga and several airfields were employed by Katangan forces in the region, according to the new information.

Documents received from Britain and the United States appear to establish for the first time that both countries had agents in and around Congo at the time of the crash.

This showed that further information on the cause of the crash may be found in the intelligence, security and defense archives of member-states, said the report.

Othman said he was unable to verify a claim by a Belgian pilot, “Beukels,” who told French diplomat Claude de Kemoularia in 1967 that he shot down or forced the plane o crash.

Requests for information were also sent to South Africa, which is said to have documents on “Operation Celeste,” a purported plot to kill Hammarskjold, but access to those has not yet been granted.

Russia and France have also been asked to provide documents.

Othman recommended that governments appoint a senior official to scour their archives, with particular attention paid to radio intercepts and related records.

The report is expected to be presented to the UN General Assembly which in 2014 adopted a resolution that called for a full investigation to shed light once and for all on Hammarskjold’s death.

Comment: In September 1961, Hammarskjöld found out about the fighting between non-combatant UN forces and Katanga troops of Moise Tshombe. He was en route to negotiate a cease-fire on the night of September 17-18 when his plane crashed near Ndola, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). He and fifteen others perished. There is still speculation as to the cause of the crash.

On August 19, 1998, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), revealed that recently-uncovered letters had implicated British MI5, American CIA and South African intelligence services in the 1961 crash of Dag Hammarskjöld’s plane


Islamic Terrorism and the United States

October 18, 2017

by Christian Jürs

In early January of 1993, Islamic leaders in Iran, Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan and the Sudan proclaimed a holy war against selected Christian nations. Primary amongst their enemies was the United States, mainly because of its unquestioning support for the state of Israel. Targets of opportunity were to be American financial interests throughout the world, American political and military personalities, (both inside and outside of the United States), prominent objects such as the World Trade buildings in New York, the Pentagon, theWhite House and the capital buildings in Washington and the following projected areas of strategic, political and sociological significance:

1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)

2nd Vice Presidential DC Area Bunker

63 US-based Nuclear Power Plants

AF New Boston Sat Tracking Station

Air Force Satellite Control Network

American Type Culture Collection

American controlled oil pipelines in:

Alaska, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iraq

Anniston Chemical Depot

Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory-West

AU Defence Signals Directorate

Barksdale Air Force Base WSA

Beale Air Force Base

Big Hole Communications Bunker

Bremerton Submarine facilities

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Bunker on White Rock Road

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant

Camp David Presidential Retreat

Capenhurst Phone-Tap Tower

Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters at Langley, VA

Charleston Naval Weapons Station

Chesepeake Car Tunnel, Norfolk, VA

Chevron Refinery, Pascagoula, MS

Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center

CIA Office of Special Technology

CIA Special Training Center

CIA/NSA Special Collection Service

Cudjoe Key Air Force Station

Defense Nuclear Weapons School

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

DIRNSA Residence

Dixon/Stockton Naval Radio Facilities

DoD WMD Contractors

Downtown Manhattan Telephone Hubs

Drug Enforcement Administration

Edwards AFB/NASA Dryden Flight Center

Fairchild Air Force Base WSA

FBI Academy

FBI CALEA Wiretap Homes

Former NSA Rosman Station

Ft. Meade SIGINT Operations Center


Grand Coolie Dam system

Grand Forks Air Force Base

Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Hoover Dam and associated power grid

Horizon-Backscatter Radar

HQ of the Homeland Security Dept.

Indian Point Nuclear Generating Sta.

Janet Airlines Terminal

Jim Creek Naval Radio Station

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

Kirtland Nuclear Storage Complex

Lake Kickapoo Space Surveillance Sta.

Lawrence Livermore National Lab

Letterkenny Army Depot

MacDill AFB and Central Command

Marfa v. Chinati Foundation

Marshall Space Flight Center

McGregor Naval Weapons Idustrial. Reserve

Medina Regional SIGINT Center

Millstone Nuclear Power Plant

Minot Air Force Base

Mississippi River Bridges

Moyock Naval SIGINT Station

National Air Intelligence Center

National Football League Stadiums

National Reconnaissance Office

National Reconnaissance Office HQ

National Security Agency

Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek

Naval Maritime Intelligence Center

Naval Missile Range Facility

Naval Radio Station Driver

Naval Security Group at Winter Harbor

Naval Security Group San Diego

Naval Security Group Skaggs Island

Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Naval Station Norfolk

Naval Submarine Base Bangor

Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay

Naval Submarine Base New London/NSGA Groton

Naval Surface Warfare Center

Naval War College

Naval Weapons Station Earle

Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach

Naval/Marine Intel Training Center

Nellis Nuclear Weapons Storage Area

Nevada Nuclear Test Site

New York City Water Reservoirs

Newport Chemical Depot

North Island Naval Air Station WSA

NRO at Moffett Field

NSA Bad Aibling DE Echelon Station

NSA Friendship Annex

NSA Geraldton AU Echelon Station

NSA Kent Island Research Facility

NSA Leitrim CA Echelon Station

NSA Menwith Hill UK Echelon Station

NSA Misawa JP Echelon Station

NSA Morwenstow UK Echelon Station

NSA Neighborhood

NSA Pine Gap AU Echelon Station

NSA Sugar Grove US Echelon Station

NSA Waihopai NZ Echelon Station

NSA Yakima US Echelon Station

NSGA at North Island NAS, San Diego

Nuclear Device Assembly Facilities

NYPD Ammunition Depot

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Panama Canal locks

Pantex Nuclear Warhead Plant

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant

Presidential Homes in Texas and Maine

Pueblo Chemical Weapons Depot

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

Radio Station Cutler

Ready Reserve Force

San Nicolas Isle Missile Test Center

Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant

Site R – Raven Rock Governmental Bunker

Statue of Liberty

Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Sugar Grove Echelon Station

Tooele and Deseret Chemical Depots

Twenty-eight US Airports

Two Rock Ranch Communications Station.

  1. Army Intelligence Center

US Army Chemical Center

US Bullion Depositories

US Nuclear Weapons Storage Areas

US Secret Service Training Facility

US Transatlantic Cable Landings

US Transpacific Cable Landings

US Vice Presidential Official Residence

Warren Air Force Base

Warrenton Training Center Site D

Whiteman Air Force Base WSA

Wilson Blvd Tech Centers, Arlington

WIPP Nuclear Waste Target

Yakima Echelon Station

Yorktown Naval Weapons Station

Yucca Mountain Project


Countering the Populists: Merkel Moves Left to Disarm the Right

Angela Merkel’s response to the rise of the far-right AfD is to shift her party further to the left and position herself as the social conscience of the new coalition. But within her party, many have doubts about the strategy.

October 18, 2017

by Melanie Amann, Tobias Hausdorf, Ralf Neukirch and Cornelia Schmergal


Angela Merkel has been leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) for 17 years, six months and four days, but she still knows how to surprise her party. Last Saturday she dropped by the annual congress organized by its youth wing, the Junge Union. The younger generation has long seen itself in the vanguard of the CDU’s conservative faction, frequently rallying behind politicians who do not see eye to eye with Chancellor Merkel.

At the 2004 congress, Helmut Kohl was given a welcome that suggested he, rather than, Merkel was at the helm of the party (“Who is our idol? – Helmut Kohl”). A year later, the man of the hour was Friedrich Merz, her archrival at the time, who was hellbent on tax reform. This year, the standing ovations were in honor of Jens Spahn, the young state secretary at the Ministry of Finance and the man that many are hoping will spearhead a conservative U-turn within the CDU.

Not surprisingly, there was a rancorous atmosphere when Merkel took to the stage on Saturday morning to field questions from the audience. Was she willing to admit the party had suffered a bitter defeat in the election in late September? Was it not high time she began paying more attention to center-right voters?

Once again, Merkel demonstrated that she is nothing if not flexible when under pressure, and laid out her plan to woo back voters who defected to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) on September 24. The trouble was, her plan was not even remotely what many members of her party want to hear.

A Caring CDU

In his speech the previous evening, Jens Spahn had spelled out what he sees as the reasons for the CDU’s election humiliation in no uncertain terms. The elephant in the room, the issue no one dares address, in his opinion, is refugee policy. “Does anyone here seriously believe that the reason we lost 12 percent to the AfD in Baden-Württemberg is because of old-age care policy?”

The one person who does seriously believe it is Angela Merkel. She talked about the badly paid care workers for the elderly, about families who can’t afford affordable housing in Germany’s cities. She talked about aging men and women who spent 45 years working only to find their pensions aren’t enough to live on.

“These are social issues we need to resolve,” she said. “The CDU is sometimes more inclined to focus on the economy and less inclined to consider what it actually means for the individual,” she added, in a small swipe at her own party. By the time Merkel left the Congress center in Dresden after about two hours, it had become eminently clear that her response to the rise of the right-wing populist AfD is to shift to the left.

If the Chancellor succeeds in cobbling together a “Jamaica Coalition” – so named because the colors associated with the parties involved (CDU black, FDP yellow and green for the Green Party) are the same as those on the Jamaican flag – she will likely make herself out to be its conscience. “A mainstream party might as well give up when it loses sight of the common man,” is one of the chancellor’s credos, and the priority now is to concentrate on “Christian social principles.”

It would, of course, be futile to contend that Merkel made the nation knuckle down to a diet of social stringency in recent years. She approved a minimum wage, she went along with the push to reduce the retirement age to 63 and she signed off on a bill approving the so-called “mother’s pension,” an entitlement for older women taking into account the years they may have spent raising children. Some within the party think it’s downright impossible for the CDU to shift any further to the left.

An Unexpected Ally

But Merkel is also aware that something’s got to give. September’s election, which saw the CDU receive just 32.9 percent of the vote, its worst result in over 60 years, has left too much uncertainty. But at the same time, she wants to prevent a shift to the right at all costs, even though so many are clamoring for it. It would amount to an admission that not only her refugee policy was a dire mistake but also her decision to gradually open up the CDU to center-left voters. It would leave her politically bankrupt.

Shifting to the left is her only option, and in doing so, she has an unexpected ally: Horst Seehofer, whose Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, suffered an even worse setback than the CDU. Seehofer has concluded from that poor showing that reviving his dispute with Merkel over refugee policy would only boost the AfD, so he has finally put an end to the quarrel about a hard upper limit to the number of refugees Germany can accept, an issue which has dogged their relationship for the last 18 months.

“Social issues played a major role in the election,” says Andreas Scheuer, secretary general of the CSU. “We will be addressing these in-depth. If you want to avoid increasing the number of protest voters then you need to look into these issues. That’s something everyone needs to grasp.” Seehofer last week told the CSU’s parliamentary group in Bavarian state parliament in Munich that the public should not have the feeling that the state is so preoccupied with looking after refugees that there is no financial support left over for them.

Seehofer made it obvious which demographic he is thinking of – families with children, elderly people with modest pensions and normal working people who can’t afford the high rents in cities like Munich. These people felt overlooked by politicians, he argued, and that needs to change.

The CDU and CSU have now added incentives worth billions to their election platforms. Their tax policy pledges alone will cost more than 20 billion euros, with 15 billion of that going to reduce income tax. They are planning to spend 15 billion euros reducing income tax and introduce additional tax and other benefits for families with children.

Further social policy spending would come on top of that total. The CDU/CSU have said, for example, that they intend to introduce a subsidy worth billions to help families build their own homes. Additional spending plans relate to hospital funding retirement home care.

Seehofer and Merkel know that the government’s budget is on solid ground. Berlin is predicting growth of 2 percent next year and the year after, which has made party leaders more willing to dig into state coffers to make sure voters are happy. They remain divided on just one issue: The CSU wants to factor an extra year of child-raising into the “mother’s pension” for women whose children were born before 1992. Doing so would cost a further 7 billion euros.

Seehofer told the CSU state parliamentary group in Munich that he would insist on making the adjustment, but there is strong resistance from the CDU. “I believe that bolstering the ‘mother’s pension’ is a difficult project because of the high costs associated with it,” says Karl-Josef Laumann, head of the Christian Democratic Workers’ association.

Skirting the Issues

The CDU is currently exploring two possible compromises. But none of them will be able to disguise the fundamental problem with the “mother’s pension” – and the reason it was so controversial in the first place: It was one of the costliest policy’s passed by Merkel’s outgoing governing coalition, but it fails to benefit many disadvantaged women.

Seehofer has indicated that he is prepared to compromise on the “mother’s pension” and has let it be known internally that there is no “red line.” However, he is demanding concessions on other issues. He sees it as a mistake that before the election, the CDU/CSU failed to provide information on how pensions would develop, especially after 2030.

The CSU leader is now demanding specific information about pension levels and how contributions are likely to change. He also wants to see the state provide more support for private pension arrangements, although it remains to be seen what form this would take. Last week, Merkel and Seehofer fleshed out a time-frame for negotiations with the FDP and the Greens, and also decided who their own negotiator would be. But there was no discussion of actual issues.

A Risky Strategy

The fear in the CDU is that any agreement between Merkel and Seehofer could prove costly, a concern has been exacerbated by the fact that Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble will not be part of the coalition talks because by the time they begin in earnest, he will have been elected as president of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. “This will make it much harder for us to prevent an expensive deal,” said one senior member of the CDU.

It is now up to Jens Spahn, state secretary at the Ministry of Finance, to step into Schäuble’s shoes and make sure that spending does not spiral out of control. “There are some big ideas but not much scope to implement them over the next four years,” he says. “If you want to maintain a balanced budget and reduce taxes then you better not have expensive plans.”

Spahn isn’t the only one with reservations about Merkel’s agenda. The CDU/CSU fared as badly as they did in the election because they hemorrhaged 1.6 million voters to the pro-business FDP, more than they lost to any other party. Tackling this trend by shifting to the left is unorthodox, to say the least.

Even within her outgoing coalition with the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Merkel was no vocal champion of free-market principles. In coalition negotiations in 2013, the SPD and the CDU not only approved the “mother’s pension” but also the full pension for people retiring at 63. This pension package was the most expensive social reform of all time in Germany. By 2030, it will have cost 160 billion euros.

The Chancellery believes that a Jamaica coalition leaves the CDU with no other option than to make itself an advocate for pensioners and low-wage earners. As long as the unemployment rate remains low, no one will question Merkel’s economic ability, so there is no sense in trying to compete with the FDP. But will her new approach help bring back the millions of voters who jumped ship and voted for the AfD?

Spahn has his doubts, and so do others. A 120-page book currently making the rounds in the CDU. Written by Werner Patzelt, a political scientist from Dresden, and published by Mario Voigt, deputy head of the party’s state chapter in Thüringen, it reads like a sober account of how the parliamentary election unfolded.

From a democratic perspective, Patzelt writes, there is nothing wrong with the AfD having won seats in German parliament. Former CSU leader Franz Josef Strauss, he goes on, was always of the opinion that German conservatives should provide a political home even to the right wing, provided those voters were rooted in democracy. But “a new generation of CDU politicians thought they knew better and gambled away the CDU/CSU’s representation monopoly to the right of the center.” Patzelt himself is a member of the CDU and it wasn’t necessary for him to mention Merkel by name. Everyone in the party knows who the critique is aimed at.


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