TBR News September 5, 2017

Sep 05 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., September 5, 2017:”By threatening to embargo any imports from countries dealing with North Korea, Trump is causing unhappiness in some circles but also action. Both Russia and China are leaning on North Korea because if sanctions are not used, the US will use other, more violent, methods of stopping their nonsensical rocketry. And while a massive explosion was recorded as coming from North Korea, while it was initially thought to be an underground testing of a hydrogen bomb, there has been no detection of any radiation. Obviously, the North Koreans are running a bluff and set off standard explosives, pretending that they had a hydrogen bomb. It is not a good idea to poke a tiger with a stick.”


Table of Contents

  • Hurricane Irma, Now a Category 5 Storm, Threatens the Caribbean and Florida
  • Terrorism and the copycat effect
  • North Korea nuclear crisis: Putin calls sanctions useless
  • Watch What Trump Does, Not What He Says. He May Not Actually End DACA.
  • A Knife in the Dark: An Overview of Israeli Espionage against the U.S.
  • Turkey’s collapsing EU membership bid
  • Turkey says talk of ending its EU accession undermines Europe
  • Sanctions doubts grow as North Korea warns of ‘gift packages’ for U.S.
  • Israel: Netanyahu’s Wife To be Charged With Fraud Over Lavish Dinner Parties and Private Chefs
  • Syrian army breaks three-year ‘Islamic State’ siege in Deir el-Zour
  • Hezbollah co-leader: US nurtured ISIS monster against Syrian govt, now has to fight them
  • The secret about human evolution found in spit
  • Utah hospital to police: Stay away from our nurses


Hurricane Irma, Now a Category 5 Storm, Threatens the Caribbean and Florida

September 4, 2017

by Niraj Chokski and Matthew Haag

The New York Times

Just days after Hurricane Harvey devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana, another storm, Hurricane Irma, has strengthened over the Atlantic Ocean, threatening to batter the Caribbean this week as “an extremely dangerous” Category 5 storm, the National Weather Service said on Tuesday.

With maximum winds near 180 miles per hour, Irma is “the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic basin outside of the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico” ever recorded by the National Hurricane Center, according to the weather service.

The storm is expected to retain Category 4 or 5 status for days as it makes its way through the Caribbean. Florida is also increasingly likely to feel Irma’s effects later this week and during the weekend, though the storm’s potential impact on the state is not yet clear.

“It is too early to determine what direct impacts Irma might have on the continental United States,” the service said on Tuesday. But, it added, “everyone in hurricane-prone areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place.”

The “potentially catastrophic” hurricane is expected to bring life-threatening wind, rain and storm surges to parts of the northeastern Leeward Islands starting Tuesday night and the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday, according to the forecast.

The latest estimates put Irma on a more direct path toward South Florida, raising the possibility that the United States could be hit with back-to-back major hurricanes. Gov. Rick Scott of Florida declared a state of emergency on Monday for the state’s 67 counties.

“Hurricane Irma is a major and life-threatening storm, and Florida must be prepared,” Mr. Scott said in a statement. The last hurricane to hit Florida was Matthew last October, which brushed up along its east coast before making landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm.

Mr. Scott said on Twitter that he had discussed the storm on Monday with President Trump, who “offered the full resources of the federal government as Floridians prepare for Hurricane Irma.”

Coast Guard crew members and helicopters that assisted in rescue missions in southeast Texas for Hurricane Harvey were also starting to return to their home stations, including Florida, to prepare for Irma, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

American Airlines announced late Monday that it had canceled several flights on Tuesday between Miami and destinations in the Caribbean.

“For people in South Florida, now is the time to start preparing and getting those hurricane kits in order,” said Chuck Caracozza, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Miami.

For those in the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, preparations “should be rushed to completion,” the service said midday Tuesday.

If the peak storm surge coincides with high tide, waters may rise 7 to 11 feet above ground in the Virgin Islands and 3 to 5 feet above ground on Puerto Rico’s northern shore. In the northern Leeward Islands, waters could rise 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels.

The northern Leeward Islands can expect 8 to 12 inches of rain, with totals as high as 18 inches in some areas, according to the service. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands can expect 4 to 10 inches of rain, with totals potentially reaching 15 inches in some parts.

Late Tuesday morning, the National Weather Service offered yet another storm update on Twitter: Jose, a new tropical storm, had developed in the central Atlantic and is forecast to become a hurricane later in the week.



Terrorism and the copycat effect

A new study says the more the media covers terrorism, the more we inspire copycat attacks. What’s at work? Is it a conscious plan by terrorists or the psychological phenomenon known as the Werther effect?

September 5, 2017

by Julia Vergin


The conclusion of the study is clear: Through our daily coverage of news events, we journalists have the power to decide over the lives of others. Or to be precise: Our articles and reports can kill.

Most often it’s with reports about terrorist attacks, with pictures of the victims and the perpetrators, speculation about motives, background analysis, emotive language – and all this, preferably, on the front page.

Michael Jetter, an economics specialist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, has been researching the relationship between the media and terrorism. Jetter’s recently published study involves 61,000 acts of terrorism in 200 countries, ranging from the years 1970 to 2012, and the coverage of those events in the US daily newspaper, The New York Times.

The results suggest a correlation between the number of attacks and the intensity of the media coverage – to the extent that every new report about an attack increases the number of attacks in the following week by 1.4 times.

Is that really possible?

Jetter says his test proves it: “You see it on days when the coverage is about a hurricane and not about al Qaeda, that there are fewer attacks in the following week.”

And it could be down to simple psychology.

To die like Goethe’s “Werther”

It could be the so-called Werther effect that is leading us from one act of terrorism to another. The sociologist David Philips coined the term in the 1970s in reference to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” The protagonist suffers an unrequited love and commits suicide. Even in the 18th century, the story inspired a number of copycat suicides.

“The Werther effect is the phenomenon that the number of suicides in a population increases when the media coverage of a suicide is sensationalist,” says Benedikt Till, a psychologist at the Medical University of Vienna.

This is especially true when the suicide is described in detail, or when the motives – which are often simplified (“committed suicide because of debt or divorce”) – are used as a basis for wild speculation.

Till says such reports hold a lot of potential for other people to identify with the act. Photos of the surviving family or the suicide themselves can be a similar driver for emulation. For those whose lives are not in crisis, a sensationalist article is unlikely (or less likely) to drive you to suicide. But for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or those who are in a “suicidal development,” Till says media reports can tip the scales.

Journalists have learned to handle suicide responsibly. The German Press Code calls for restraint in media coverage of suicides (Guideline 8.7); researchers have developed other guidelines. Together with colleagues in the US, Till has developed guidelines for journalists reporting on mass shootings. German journalists, however, lack such guidance.

And there are no such guidelines for reporting about terrorist attacks – with fatal results.

What should we write?

But it’s not just how we report about terrorism, but also how much. At least that’s according to Michael Jetter’s study.

“We have to report less quantitatively, and then we’ll also see fewer attacks,” says Jetter. That is: fewer pictures, fewer editorials or lead articles, less emotive language and overall fewer articles. That’s how we can reduce the number of attacks, the researcher says.

Jetter has another theory, though, that could explain why more reports lead to more attacks: “It could be a rational planning on the part of the terrorists to use these moments of big media attention to launch another few attacks.”

Whether it’s the Werther effect or rational planning, every article about terrorism offers the terrorists the stage they need. We journalists help them spread fear and recruit future attackers. We are accessories to future attacks in which people die.



North Korea nuclear crisis: Putin calls sanctions useless

September 5, 2017

BBC News

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said pursuing further sanctions against North Korea is “useless”, saying “they’d rather eat grass than give up their nuclear programme”.

The US said on Monday it would table a new UN resolution on tougher sanctions in the wake of the latest test of a nuclear bomb by the North on Sunday.

Mr Putin also said that the ramping up of “military hysteria” could lead to global catastrophe.

He said diplomacy was the only answer.

China, the North’s main ally, has also called for a return to negotiations.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Han Tae-song, said his country’s recent “self-defence measures” were a “gift package addressed to the US”.

“The US will receive more gift packages from my country as long as it relies on reckless provocations and futile attempts to put pressure on the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea),” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

What did Vladimir Putin say about sanctions?

The Russian leader was speaking at the meeting of the Brics group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in Xiamen, China.

Although he condemned the North’s test as “provocative”, Mr Putin said: “Sanctions of any kind would now be useless and ineffective.

They’d rather eat grass than abandon their [nuclear weapons] programme unless they feel secure. And what can establish security? The restoration of international law. We should promote dialogue among all interested parties.”

Citing a “humanitarian aspect”, Mr Putin said millions of people would suffer under tougher measures, adding: “Sanctions have been exhausted.”

On Monday, at the United Nations in New York, US envoy Nikki Haley argued that only the strongest sanctions would enable the problem to be resolved through diplomacy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed that stance on Tuesday, saying more sanctions were urgently needed to counter the North’s “flagrant breach of international conventions”.

North Korea’s Han Tae-song said sanctions would never work and that his country would “never under any circumstances put its nuclear test runs on the negotiating table”.

Where are we with sanctions?

Last month, the Security Council voted unanimously to ban North Korean exports and limit investments in the country.

Ms Haley did not spell out what additional measures might be taken, but diplomats have suggested an oil embargo would have a crippling effect.

There could also be a ban on the North’s national airline, curbs on North Koreans working abroad, and asset freezes and travel bans on officials.

On Tuesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said after a conversation with her Chinese counterpart that she believed Beijing “could be open to more sanctions”.

Mr Putin said Russia’s trade with North Korea was negligible and did not violate current international sanctions.

What about the military situation?

After telling the UN Security Council that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was “begging for war”, Nikki Haley said: “War is never something the United States wants.

“We don’t want it now but our country’s patience is not unlimited.”

In talks overnight, US President Donald Trump and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in agreed in principle to scrap a warhead weight limit on the South’s missiles, which are currently capped at 500kg (1,100lb), giving it a greater strike force against North Korea.

The South on Tuesday also carried out further live-fire exercises at sea, following missile drills on Monday that simulated the targeting of the Punggye-ri nuclear site where North Korea carried out its bomb test.

Seoul has said there will be more live-fire drills this month.

South Korea’s Asia Business Daily quoted sources on Tuesday as saying the North had been observed moving a rocket towards its west coast.

The rocket, which appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), was moved overnight to avoid surveillance, it said.

The reports followed South Korean defence ministry statements on Monday that the North was preparing more missile tests.

The South has also said it is deploying four more launchers of the US Thaad (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence) missile defence system to join two already at a site in Seongju, south of Seoul.

But Mr Putin said that “ramping up military hysteria will lead to nothing good. It could lead to a global catastrophe. There’s no other path apart from a peaceful one.”

He said that given the North’s range of weaponry, including long-range artillery, simply setting up missile defence systems made no sense.

China also demanded a peaceful resolution.

China’s envoy to the UN, Liu Jieyi, said: “China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula.”


Watch What Trump Does, Not What He Says. He May Not Actually End DACA.

September 5 2017

by Ryan Grim

The Intercept

Some 800,000 people brought to the United States as children without proper authorization had their lives thrown into limbo on Tuesday when the Trump administration said that it would eventually be ending a 4-year-old program that affords them legal protections.

“The program known as DACA, that was effectuated under the Obama administration, is being rescinded,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters, ending the program but implementing a six-month delay before protections are taken away.

The run-up to the announcement played out with the “will-he-or-won’t-he” formulaic drama of a reality TV show, only with real lives at stake. Trump used the suspense of whether the he would kick the “Dreamers” off the island to drive ratings. The move was both a fulfillment of a campaign pledge and a broken promise Trump made to DACA recipients because of the variety of public statements Trump has made on the issue.

On Sunday night, a news item in Politico sparked early public pushback to the yet-to-be-made announcement canceling the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which indefinitely put off deportation for young immigrants in the country without authorization. “Trump has decided to end the Obama-era program that grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children,” Politico reported.

The story, however, added: “In a nod to reservations held by many lawmakers, the White House plans to delay the enforcement of the president’s decision for six months, giving Congress a window to act, according to one White House official.”

It wasn’t just a nod to lawmakers, though — it was a nod to Trump himself, who has since the election repeatedly assured DACA recipients that they would be safe under his administration. And, despite Trump’s threats to the contrary, they may still be.

Trump’s base, riled up by two years of campaign rhetoric and presidential statements against immigrants, is thirsty for more enforcement actions. But people close to Trump say he genuinely does not want to end the program. They said Trump is loath to punish someone who was brought to the U.S. as a young child with no say in the matter. That doesn’t mean, however, that Trump’s personal feelings will save the program.

For DACA recipients and millions of their friends and family linked to their fates, it means that their fight is starting again, and much of the politics play to their advantage.

One major hint that Trump may not follow through comes in the form the announcement’s delivery vehicle. On Monday, the administration said Sessions will make the announcement at 11 a.m. Tuesday morning. When have you ever known Trump to shy away from the cameras?

For signs of whether Trump actually intends to deport nearly a million recipients, pay far more attention to the six-month delay than the report that he has “decided to end” the program. During those six months, he’ll ask Congress to deal with the issue. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., has made the politics easy for Trump, having already come out against ending the program.

Either Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., fail to act — giving Trump an opening to quietly extend the program again while blaming a do-nothing Congress — or Congress will pass something, and the program gets a blessing from the legislature. In both cases, DACA recipients could retain their protections.

And in the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security said that it is still accepting applications for two-year renewals of work permits, meaning that the six-month extension could be much longer for some in the program — which gets Dreamers close to 2021, when there could be a new occupant of the Oval Office.

Indeed, Congress falling on its face and Trump extending the program is the scenario people who know Trump best envision.

The suggestion that Trump will not, in the end, do what he says he is going to do was oddly met with disbelief in some corners of the internet commentariat after journalists tweeted about it Sunday night. To understand how Trump got here, it’s necessary to understand the legal journey the program has taken.

The Obama administration launched DACA in August 2012, giving certain unauthorized immigrants brought to the U.S. as children — a group sometimes called “Dreamers” in reference to the failed DREAM Act — relief from deportation for two years, along with eligibility for work permits. Enrollment to the program can be renewed after two years, allowing DACA recipients to stay put for longer periods.

The administrative program came only after the Democratic-controlled Congress failed to pass the original legislation. The Pew Research Center estimated in 2014 that 1.1 million immigrants without proper legal documents qualified for the program. According to the most recent data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are about 790,000 DACA beneficiaries.

To qualify for the program, applicants must have been younger than 16 when they came to the U.S., younger than 31 as of June 2012, and at least 15 years old at the time of their applications, with a few exceptions. The program, which aimed to allow young immigrants to study and work in the U.S., required applicants to be enrolled in school or have a high school degree or equivalent. (Immigrants with felony convictions and other select major crimes were not eligible for relief under the program.)

The deportation amnesty program has faced a series of legal challenges, most notably after the Obama administration’s November 2014 attempt to expand DACA and create a similar program for parents of citizens called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans. Texas and 25 other states with Republican governors filed a lawsuit asking a federal court to enjoin the implementation of DAPA and expanded DACA, arguing that the president had abused his powers by circumventing Congress.

A federal judge in the Southern District of Texas granted the injunction in early 2015, and a divided Supreme Court left the injunction in place in June 2016 without setting any precedent.

In June of this year, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, nine other state attorneys general, and the governor of Idaho threatened to sue the Trump administration to stop DACA unless the government voluntarily phased out the amnesty program. They promised to drop the pending Texas lawsuit against DAPA and the expanded DACA program if Trump agreed to end DACA by Tuesday, September 5. Otherwise, they threatened to expand the lawsuit to include the entire DACA program.

There is reason to believe that the lawsuit would prevail, and that reason is named Neil Gorsuch, the newest Supreme Court justice. The court deadlocked 4-4 on the previous case, during a period before the late Justice Antonin Scalia had been replaced. There’s little doubt Gorsuch would join the four justices who sided against the administration, and the only hope for DACA recipients would be to flip Justice Anthony Kennedy or another of the original four anti-amnesty votes.

So the Trump administration’s Tuesday announcement accomplished several things at once. It satisfied the states’ attorneys general, who will now pull back on their lawsuit threat. And it satisfied the element of Trump’s base eager for an ultra-hard line on immigration. The protests against the program’s cancellation that have already begun will deepen the feeling among that portion of Trump’s base that he is truly fighting for them.

Given the protests, and the headlines following any likely failed congressional action, a significant portion of Trump’s base will believe that the program was actually ended.

For those who know that it wasn’t, there will be little political pain. Even Trump’s diehard supporters are not clamoring for the end of the program. A Morning Consult poll in June, for instance, found more than seven in 10 Republicans support letting DACA recipients stay in the country legally — with two-thirds of those supporting outright citizenship for them. Only 22 percent of Republicans said they wanted DACA recipients deported. Among all voters, just 14 percent supported deportation. That’s not the sort of number that is likely to overwhelm and overcome Trump’s personal opposition to ending the program.

Aside from Morning Consult, Rasmussen has been the pollster that has been most favorable to Trump; he frequently cites Rasmussen in public. So let’s use their numbers: As of this week, just over a quarter of Americans “strongly approve” of Trump’s performance; that can be understood as Trump’s base. Among them, at most half want DACA to end and for beneficiaries to be deported, assuming there is perfect overlap between strong Trump supporters and opponents of the program (which there isn’t).

The likelihood of Trump reversing himself and extending the program does not suggest that DACA recipients don’t face real risks. The limbo itself is a cruel blow, and the uncertainty adds another layer of challenge to all aspects of life, from the personal to the professional. Many of those recipients are already facing crises, as undocumented parents and other family members who were not eligible for the program have become targets of Trump’s ramped-up interior deportations.

But the fight is not over, no matter what the reality TV host or his Alabama sidekick announces on Tuesday.

Update: September 5, 2017

This story was updated to include the fact that Dreamers have the ability to apply to renew their two-year work permits, despite assertions that the program is ending


A Knife in the Dark: An Overview of Israeli Espionage against the U.S.

September 5, 2017

by Christian Jürs

Between 2010 and early 2017, more than 600 Israeli nationals were arrested or detained inside the United States, on a variety of visa violations and other nominally petty violations, including low-level drug trafficking. The majority of these detainees claimed they were Israeli art students, peddling art work to cover their college tuitions; or were toy vendors, employed by an Israeli-owned Miami Beach company, Quality Sales Corporation, which investigations link to Israel’s equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency.

The emerging pattern of surveillance of American government facilities, and established links to suspected Arab and Islamic terrorist cells prior to Sept. 11, by these Israeli nationals, set off alarm bells, following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Prior to Sept. 11, a series of highly-classified government memos had been circulated by the CIA and the NSA, pronouncing this Israeli espionage operation a major national security problem.

Israel is not a friend of the United States. This is because Israel runs a most aggressive and damaging espionage networks that targets the US. The fact of Israeli penetration into the country is not a subject that is ever discussed in the media or in the circles of governance, due to the extreme sensitivity of the US-Israel relationship coupled with the burden of the Israel lobby, which punishes legislators who dare to criticize the Jewish state.

In 2014 the FBI noted that Israel maintains “an active program to gather proprietary information within the United States.” A key Israeli method, said the FBI report, is computer intrusion. In 2016, the Defense Intelligence Service, a branch of the Pentagon, issued a warning that “the collection of scientific intelligence in the United States [is] the third highest priority of Israeli Intelligence after information on its Arab neighbors and information on secret US policies or decisions relating to Israel.”

Further, the middle level of CIA employees has been thoroughly infiltrated by Israeli citizens and it is said, in other agencies, that anything the CIA has, goes at once to Tel Aviv.

In 2016, the Central Intelligence Agency produced a scathing survey of Israeli intelligence activities that targeted the US government. Like any worthy spy service, Israeli intelligence early on employed wiretaps as an effective tool, according to the CIA report.

In 1954, the US Ambassador in Tel Aviv discovered in his office a hidden microphone “planted by the Israelis,” and two years later telephone taps were found in the residence of the US military attaché

In a telegram to Washington, the ambassador at the time cabled a warning: “Department must assume that all conversations [in] my office are known to the Israelis.”

The former ambassador to Qatar, Andrew Killgore, who also served as a   foreign officer in Jerusalem and Beirut, reported that Israeli taps of US missions and embassies in the Middle East and that this was an integral  part of a “standard operating procedure.”

According to the 2016 CIA report, the Israelis, while targeting political secrets, also devote “a considerable portion of their covert operations to obtaining scientific and technical intelligence.” These operations involved, among other machinations, “attempts to penetrate certain classified defense projects in the United States.” The penetrations, according to the CIA report, were effected using “deep cover enterprises,” which the report described as “firms and organizations, some specifically created for, or adaptable to, a specific objective.” . . .

The agency, called the Office of Special Plans (OSP), was set up by the former defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to second-guess CIA information and operated under the patronage of hard-line conservatives in the top rungs of the administration, the Pentagon and at the White House, including Vice-President Dick Cheney.

As the most powerful man in the White House, Cheney was deeply involved in the intelligence field and made three trips to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to demand a more ‘forward-leaning interpretation’ of information relating to the possibility that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

That there were no such weapons and that the CIA so advised the Vice President, he refused to accept their analysis and continued to insist that they produce documents supporting his thesis. In this he was aided by his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. (or Leibowitz)

The latter was later convicted of a felony connected to the intelligence community and sentenced to prison. Libby threatened to expose serious legal violations of the Bush administration and President Bush quickly commuted Libby’s jail sentence.

The OSP had access to an enormous amount of “raw” intelligence which came, in part, from the CIA’s directorate of operations whose job it is to receive and evaluate incoming reports from their agents around the world.


Turkey’s collapsing EU membership bid

September 4, 2017


BRUSSELS (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday she would seek an end to Turkey’s membership talks with the European Union.

Here is a timeline of the most significant dates in Turkey’s EU accession progress:

* 1987 – Turkey, a member of the NATO military alliance, applies to join the EU’s forerunner, the European Economic Community.

* 1997 – Ankara is declared eligible to start talks, after strong support from Britain, Italy and Sweden. They see the addition of a dynamic economy and a powerful player in Middle East politics as a benefit for the EU.

France, Germany and Austria are wary of admitting Turkey, concerned about the economic and cultural challenges of integrating a large, Muslim nation of 80 million people into the EU.

* 2002 – Turkey abolishes the death penalty, a basic condition for joining the European Union. Turkey’s Islamist-rooted AK Party wins a general election and vows to push for EU membership.

* March 2003 – Tayyip Erdogan becomes prime minister and later says that Turkey “is very much ready to be part of the European Union family.”

* October 2005 – Formal EU accession negotiations begin.

* 2010 – Turkey’s membership bid stalls over issues including the divided island of Cyprus, an EU member, which Turkey invaded in 1974. Pushed by Cyprus and France, EU capitals block the opening of new negotiating areas, or chapters.

* 2013/2014 – Erdogan’ purges thousands of police and hundreds of judges and prosecutors over a corruption scandal he says was engineered by political enemies.

* August 2014 – Erdogan is elected to the post of president which he plans to transform from a largely ceremonial post to a powerful executive office.

* October 2014 – The European Commission, the EU executive that oversees EU accession talks, submits its most critical annual report yet, warning of “serious doubts” about judicial independence.

* March 2016 – The European Union and Turkey agree to revive accession talks, as well as negotiations over visa-free travel for Turks to the bloc, as part of a broader accord to halt record flows of Syrian refugees to Europe in return for financial aid for Ankara.

* July 15, 2016 – A faction of the military tries to overthrow Erdogan, prompting international condemnation, including from the European Union.

But relations with Brussels quickly begin to sour as Turkey purges suspected coup plotters on a huge scale. The Council of Europe rights body, of which Turkey is a member, says the purge is unconstitutional.

* March 2017 – Erdogan accuses Germany of “fascist actions” reminiscent of Nazi times after being stopped from holding political rallies in the country as he seeks support among the 1.5 million Turkish citizens there ahead of an April referendum.

A narrow victory in the referendum gives Erdogan sweeping new powers that the European Union fears cements a new system of authoritarian rule and makes EU membership ever more distant.

* April 2017 – The European Parliament calls for a formal suspension of Turkey’s EU membership bid, which is now effectively frozen.

EU foreign ministers hold talks with Turkey’s top diplomat Mevlut Cavusoglu in Malta. They say they are against annulling Turkey’s decade-long bid for EU membership.

Privately, however, ministers raise the possibility of a new, looser agreement with Turkey on free trade, immigration and counter-terrorism. The European Union is Turkey’s biggest foreign investor and biggest trading partner.

* Sept. 3, 2017 – German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she will seek an end to Turkey’s membership talks, in an apparent shift of position during a televised debate weeks before a German election.

Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Ralph Boulton


Turkey says talk of ending its EU accession undermines Europe

September 4, 2017


ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Omer Celik said on Monday that any talk of ending his country’s negotiations for EU accession amounted to an “attack on Europe’s founding principles”.

His comments came a day after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was clear that Turkey should not join the EU and that she would talk to other EU leaders about ending its stalled accession process.

Merkel’s main challenger in Germany’s Sept. 24 national election, Martin Schulz, has also promised to push for an end to Turkey’s EU negotiations if elected chancellor.

“They are building a Berlin wall with bricks of populism,” Celik tweeted. Turkey will “keep going with its head held high as a European country and a European democracy,” he said.


Sanctions doubts grow as North Korea warns of ‘gift packages’ for U.S.

September 5, 2017

by Stephanie Nebehay and  Christine Kim


GENEVA/SEOUL (Reuters) – A top North Korean diplomat warned on Tuesday that his country is ready to send “more gift packages” to the United States as world powers struggled for a response to Pyongyang’s latest nuclear weapons test.

Han Tae Song, ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, confirmed that North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), had successfully conducted its sixth and largest nuclear bomb test on Sunday.

“The recent self-defense measures by my country, DPRK, are a gift package addressed to none other than the U.S.,” Han told a disarmament conference.

“The U.S. will receive more ‘gift packages’ from my country as long as its relies on reckless provocations and futile attempts to put pressure on the DPRK,” he added without elaborating.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Monday accused North Korean leader Kim Jong Un of “begging for war” with a series of nuclear bomb and missile tests. She urged the 15-member Security Council to impose the “strongest possible” sanctions to deter him and shut down his trading partners.

But Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said on Tuesday that a U.S. bid for the Security Council to vote on Sept. 11 on new sanctions is “a little premature.” Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council and has veto power.

“I don’t think we’ll be able to rush it so fast,” Nebenzia told reporters. Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Tuesday described more sanctions as a “road to nowhere.”

Wall Street stocks fell on Tuesday as U.S. trading reopened for the first time since the North Korean nuclear bomb test, and the U.S. dollar and Treasury yields fell. “It’s a more risk-averse picture,” said Vassili Serebriakov, FX strategist at Credit Agricole in New York. “North Korea accounts for most of it.”

Sanctions have done little to stop North Korea boosting its nuclear and missile capacity as it faces off with U.S. President Donald Trump who has vowed to stop Pyongyang from being able to hit the mainland United States with a nuclear weapon.



Israel: Netanyahu’s Wife To be Charged With Fraud Over Lavish Dinner Parties and Private Chefs

September 4, 2017

by Callum Paton


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara is expected to face criminal charges over fraud amounting to the equivalent of over $110,000 after, among other accusations, she is alleged to have used public funds to throw lavish dinner parties and hire private chefs.

The indictment against Sara Netanyahu, anticipated in a matter of weeks, sees the noose begin to tighten around the Israeli Prime Minister—known as ‘Bibi’—who is implicated with an inner-circle of associates in a series of cases relating to fraud, bribery and corruption, Haaretz reported.

Sara Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s third wife, is accused of misusing state funds at the residence the pair share, receiving goods under false pretenses and breach of trust.

Netanyahu reportedly ordered food and chefs to cater private events, at the expense of the Prime Minister’s Residence. The couple’s former cartaker, Meni Naftali, has filed a lawsuit claiming she gave a higher number of guests than had actually attended so as to pay more per meal for fewer diners.

The Times of Israel reported the most serious charges against her include the hiring of an electrician from her husband’s right-wing Likud party’s central committee. Sara went ahead with the hiring despite the Prime Minister’s legal office ruling against it.

Also under investigation are the use of government funds relating to personal expenses at the family’s private home in Caesarea. Furniture that was apparently bought for the residence in Jerusalem was moved to the pair’s personal home.

Eliad Shraga, the lawyer heading the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, tells Newsweek that the issues surrounding Sara Netanyahu have always been “in the margins” of the wider cases implicating her husband. He added that negative perceptions of her have also fuelled the controversy.

“The way that she behaves became a matter. Instead of being modest …  she did not accept that she is the wife of the prime minister, not the prime minister,” Shraga said. “[Sara] says she is always right and the media is after her, they are cheating her and she is the victim,” he added.

There are at least four other cases implicating the Israeli leader and his close associates. Case number 1,000 accuses Benjamin Netanyahu illicitly taking gifts from wealthy patrons including cigars and champagne. Police are expected to submit their recommendations in December.

Case 2,000 alleges that Netanyahu made a deal with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Israeli daily paper the Yedioth Ahronoth. Netanyahu is under suspicion receiving favorable coverage in exchange for hurting the commercial changes of competing paper Israel Hayom.

But the most damaging and potentially explosive case for the Prime Minister is Case 3,000. Netanyahu has denied intervening over a military contract with German defense contractor ThyssenKrupp in the acquisition of submarines for the Israeli Navy.

The Prime Minister’s personal lawyer David Shimron, his cousin stands at the centre of the controversy alongside Netanyahu’s former pick for his national security adviser and a senior naval commander. The accusations hit at the heart of the Israeli establishment implicating its highest level politicians and military leaders.


Syrian army breaks three-year ‘Islamic State’ siege in Deir el-Zour

Syrian state media has reported that government troops breached a nearly three-year siege by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) in the contested city of Deir el-Zour, in another strategic and symbolic defeat for IS.

September 5, 2017


Syrian military forces backed by Russia broke a nearly three-year long IS siege on the government enclave of Deir el-Zour on Tuesday, according to state media.

Following a months’ long advance across IS lines, Syrian troops, advancing from the west, breached the siege after insurgent defenses collapsed, state news agency SANA reported. Troops went on to capture a military base, known as Brigade 137, which connects the northern part of Deir el-Zour via road with the rest of the city.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad congratulated government troops, saying in a statement: “Today you stood side-by-side with your comrades who came to your rescue and fought the hardest battles to break the siege on the city.”

The contested city, located near the Iraqi border, has been divided between IS and government forces since 2015. Around 100,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the government-held enclaves, with food and medicine thought to be in very limited supply. Another 10,000 people are thought to be in parts of the city held by IS.

While the breach is expected to end the nightmare siege for many thousands of civilians, IS continues to control large parts of the oil-rich Deir el-Zour province. The southern half of Deir el-Zour city, where a key government military airport is located, also still remains surrounded.

Troops backed by Russian missile strikes

Russia’s Defense Ministry said that guided missiles fired from its frigate in the Mediterranean Sea struck key IS targets in Deir el-Zour as part of the Syrian army’s advance.

Drone footage showed that Russian missiles destroyed a communications center, command centers, ammunition depots and killed an unspecified number of militants, according to the ministry.


Hezbollah co-leader: US nurtured ISIS monster against Syrian govt, now has to fight them

September 5, 2017


The US had to step back from its policy of regime change in Syria after multiple failures, as the jihadists they allegedly hoped to use as a proxy began posing a threat, Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, Sheikh Naim Qassem argued in an interview to RT.

For an exclusive interview with RT’s Eisa Ali, one of the most senior Hezbollah leaders agreed to meet –with the toughest security precautions in place – in a clandestine location in Beirut. Qassem told RT he believes US President Donald Trump has opted for a less confrontational approach in Syria of late after previous attempts to oust the Syrian government proved futile.

When they failed by using the military option, or by using the opposition option, or by using their cooperation with the regional Arabic countries that wanted change in Syria in favor of Israel, America adopted a new non-confrontation policy with President [Bashar] Assad because of their inability to do more, and because they know that [Islamic State] is against them as much as they are against the Syrian people,” Kassem claimed.

He noted, however, that a perceived change in political strategy does not mean that the White House has reversed its opinion of Assad, arguing that the US has been left with no better option than to fight the “monster” of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) which they helped to create in the first place but which has “now shifted against them.”

‘We’ll respect any choice made by the Syrian people’

Speaking of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Hezbollah’s view on his role as the country’s head of state, Qassem said that the group regards Assad as the legitimate ruler of Syria, re-elected by the people to serve as the country’s leader.

Arguing that the main interest of the US in the war was to “remove President Assad from power and change Syria’s stance from resistance to American-Israeli friendly,” he praised Assad for being an effective leader, guiding his country through difficult times of war.

However, he went on to stress that the Syrian President’s fate lies exclusively in the hands of the Syrian people.

“We are with the Syrian people’s choice and when it is election time and Syria’s choice will be made without external intervention, we will respect any choice made by the Syrian people.”

Qassem said there is an “effective” cooperation between the Syrian and Russian armed forces, Iran and Hezbollah, which has contributed greatly to Syria’s driving jihadists out of swathes of its territory.

‘Israel plays part in Syria’s destruction’

Accusing Israel of fuelling the protracted Syrian conflict, Qassem in particular pointed to the Jewish state’s reported support of armed opposition groups fighting the Syrian forces and affiliated militias in the south-western Syrian city of Daraa and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

“Israel plays the main part in Syria’s destruction, and it is an important supporter of the armed opposition, especially in the southern part of Syria,” Kassem said.

Qassem further claimed that over 3000 militants fighting the Syrian government have received treatment in Israeli hospitals, adding that there have been reports of cross-border supplies of munitions and food from Israel to Syria.

A US-Russian ceasefire agreement for south-western Syria dealt a blow to Israel’s alleged aspirations as it did not include removing Hezbollah from its positions in the border area, Qassem argued. Shortly after the deal was agreed in July, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the plan, saying it might strengthen Iranian influence in the country.

Criticism was levelled at Hezbollah in late August for allowing the evacuation of some 300 Islamic State terrorists and roughly as many family members from the Qalamoun Mountains to the eastern province of Deir al-Zor as part of the deal to return bodies of eight slain Hezbollah fighters. Qassem justified the controversial move by saying that the group did not know whether the fighters were alive or dead and that it was “an important chance that could not be [used] again.”

The deal sparked outrage, with critics slamming the group for negotiating with terrorists. After the deal was struck and the militants departed to Deir ez-Zor, the US-led international coalition shelled the road to impede relocations of militants and their family members and struck some of the vehicles and fighters it “clearly identified as ISIS.” In a statement following the attack, the coalition said it “was not a party to any agreement” negotiated between Lebanon, ISIS and Hezbollah and considered the moving of terrorists from one part of the country to another “not a lasting solution.”

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict six years ago, Hezbollah has been embroiled in fighting IS and Al-Nusra Front terrorists in Syria in cooperation with government forces. The group, which is listed as a terrorist entity in the West and in most of the Arab League countries, has been repeatedly targeted by Israeli airstrikes on Syrian soil.



The secret about human evolution found in spit

Genetic detectives discover surprising findings about our evolution by studying saliva

September 5, 2017

by Jennifer Raff

The Guardian

What does a protein in our spit called MUC7 that all of us have – but most of us have never heard of – have to do with human history? A surprising amount, as a recent paper by Xu et al. has discovered. Despite being a rather obscure protein to most of us, MUC7 is actually quite important – it helps get rid of bacteria and other junk in our oral tracts.

One of the most interesting features of the gene that encodes MUC7 is that it contains a series of repeated DNA sequences (called the “PTS repeat region” for the amino acids these sequences encode: proline, threonine, and serine). Repeated structural elements are a fairly common feature of the genome, and these regions tend to be where many interesting evolutionary events occur.

In the case of MUC7, there has been some suggestion that variation in the repeat number may be associated with variation in the composition of oral microorganisms; that is, differences in the proteins in your spit might influence the kinds of microorganisms that live in your mouth (although this has only been investigated and demonstrated so far in populations with European ancestry, there isn’t any reason to believe that it won’t be true of all humans).

Xu and colleagues wanted to investigate whether there was a relationship between PTS repeat number and ancestry in populations. This might give insights into how this gene has evolved in human history, and sets the stage for a deeper investigation of how the composition of proteins in our saliva might have co-evolved with human oral microbes.

To do this, they obtained sequences of the entire MUC7 gene from individuals in a set of populations from different regions worldwide, and classified them into haplogroups, clusters of similar genetic lineages present in individuals who share a recent common ancestor. They found that all people tested fell within one of eight different haplogroups. Next, they characterized the number of PTS repeats in each individual, finding that all individuals have either 5 or 6 repeats. They then looked for evolutionary patterns, such as a correlation between the number of repeats and haplogroup membership. They found that all but two of the haplogroups (G and E) were associated with 6 PTS repeats; G and E had just 5.

In constructing their gene trees, which reflect evolutionary relationships, the authors noticed something odd about haplogroup E, which was found only in sub-Saharan African populations: it was extremely divergent (on a long branch by itself) from the rest of the MUC7 haplogroups. In fact, by using the molecular clock (under the assumption that the rate of mutation in this gene was regular in all lineages), they were able to date the last time haplogroup E shared a common ancestor with the other haplogroups. The result was surprising to say the least: the species to which the gene belongs dates to about 1.5-2 million years ago. That is extremely old: for context, it long predates the separation of Homo sapiens and Neanderthal populations (260-765 thousand years before present).

What could account for this strange result? The authors went through a series of rather elegant simulation tests to investigate different possibilities (which I don’t have room here to describe in detail, but I encourage everyone to read about in the original paper). They found that the most likely explanation was that it entered human populations via introgression (a fancy genetics term for gene flow) from an archaic hominin population. This population would not have been Neandertal or Denisovan (who weren’t around), but instead is a never-before-genetically-characterized archaic hominin group in Africa. These uncharacterized ancestors are sometimes referred to as “ghost” species, as we can’t definitively tie them to any known hominin at this point. The ancestors of present-day Sub-Saharan Africans likely interbred with this “ghost” species sometime prior to 150,000 years ago.

This finding is important, because although we know that archaic introgression has occurred in African populations throughout their evolution, up until now the majority of research studying archaic introgression has focused on much more recent hominins (Neanderthals and Denisovans) interacting with non-African populations. This is also the oldest documented instance of archaic introgression that I’m aware of. It gives us a remarkable glimpse of the genetic diversity present in our ancestors in a way that isn’t possible by any other means. I would imagine that as we learn more about our genetic histories, we will find more and more of these odd legacies from our distant kin.

One final aspect of this research interests me: the fact that while those of us belonging to haplogroup E appear to have received the version with 5 PTS repeats from an archaic hominin, others of us (belonging to haplogroup G) independently evolved a different 5 repeat version. We know this occurred independently, because MUC7 has a different DNA sequence in these individuals, even though the number of repeats are the same. This finding of two separate haplogroups containing the same number of repeats, suggested that recurrent evolution, or the repeated evolution of a certain trait (in this case a specific number of repeated genetic elements) might have occurred in different human populations. Positive selection would likely have maintained the introgressed 5 repeat version of MUC7 in sub-Saharan African populations up until the present day, suggesting that it might convey some kind of evolutionary advantage to the people who carry it. Similarly, the 5 repeat version of MUC 7 found in haplogroup G populations (found in Eurasia) might also reflect the presence of a selective advantage, perhaps associated with variation in oral microbiome composition, as discussed at the beginning of this article and supported by an association of a single nucleotide variant with the presence of particular microorganisms in the oral cavity. I’m looking forward to the authors’ future work on this particular question.

Further reading

Archaic Hominin Introgression in Africa Contributes to Functional Salivary MUC7 Genetic Variation Mol Biol Evol. Published online July 21, 2017. doi:10.1093/molbev/msx206


Utah hospital to police: Stay away from our nurses

September 5 2017

by Fred Barbash and Derek Hawkins

The Washington Post

The University of Utah Hospital, where a nurse was manhandled and arrested by police as she protected the legal rights of a patient, has imposed new restrictions on law enforcement, including barring officers from patient-care areas and from direct contact with nurses.

Gordon Crabtree, interim chief executive of the hospital, said at a Monday news conference that he was “deeply troubled” by the arrest and manhandling of burn unit nurse Alex Wubbels on July 26. In accord with hospital policy and the law, she had refused to allow a Salt Lake City police officer to take a blood sample from an unconscious patient. Wubbels obtained a copy of the body cam video of the confrontation and, after consulting her lawyer, the hospital and police officials, released it last week.

“This will not happen again,” Crabtree said, praising Wubbels for “putting her own safety at risk” to “protect the rights of patients.”

Margaret Pearce, chief nursing officer for the University of Utah hospital system, said she was “appalled” by the officer’s actions and has already implemented changes in hospital protocol to avoid any repetition.

She said police will no longer be permitted in patient-care areas, such as the burn unit where Wubbels was the charge nurse on the day of the incident and from emergency rooms.

In addition, officers will have to deal with “house supervisors” instead of nurses when they have a request.

This will guarantee that nurses devote themselves entirely to patient care without interruptions, she said, while other officials deal with police requests.

The policy was implemented in August, before the incident became public.

The incident, which has attracted nationwide attention in part because of the dramatic video, involved Detective Jeff Payne, who persisted in demanding a blood sample from an unconscious truck driver at the hospital who had earlier been involved in an accident stemming from police pursuit of a suspect.

The hospital and the law in Utah and nationwide require police to have a warrant or permission from the patient to draw a blood sample in such circumstances. Payne had neither.

After Wubbels politely and repeatedly read hospital policy to him and had a supervisor back her up on a speakerphone connection, Payne snapped. He seized hold of the nurse, shoved her out of the building and cuffed her hands behind her back. A bewildered Wubbels screamed “help me” and “you’re assaulting me” as the detective forced her into an unmarked car and accused her of interfering with an investigation.

Wubbels recounted the altercation with Payne in interviews with NBC’s “Today” show and CNN’s “New Day” on Monday morning. She told “Today” hosts that weeks after the incident she didn’t feel like police were being held accountable.

“The conversations I had with the Salt Lake City police initially were progressive, they wanted to walk down a path of positive change. But I did not have that same response from the university police and the university security,” Wubbels said. “So it was a little bit of a trigger to say, all right, this is what you need to see. If you’re not willing to see it then I’ll show it to you.”

Wubbels told “Today” that she didn’t want to “police the police,” but said she and her attorney were considering a lawsuit if the departments involved in the incident didn’t update their policies.

On CNN’s “New Day,” Wubbels said she felt betrayed by both Salt Lake City police and university security. She described how she tried to get guards to intervene, saying that Payne seemed angry from the moment he arrived. In the video, university officers can be seen standing by as Payne violently arrests the nurse.

“I was scared to death,” Wubbels said. “I went down into the emergency department to get help, to have someone protect me because I felt unsafe from Officer Payne from the beginning.”

In Monday’s news conference, University of Utah Police Chief Dale Brophy apologized to Wubbels and hospital staff for his early response to the incident. He said he didn’t watch the body camera footage until Thursday evening and realized then that he didn’t take it seriously enough.

“I was able to see firsthand how poorly this situation was handled,” Brophy said. “This is not how law enforcement professionals should act.” He added that Wubbels “should not have been subjected to arrest for doing her job” and vowed to put his officers through de-escalation training.

The patient Wubbels sought to protect was 43-year-old William Gray, a truck driver who is also a reserve officer with the police department in Rigby, Idaho. Gray was driving down the highway near Logan, Utah, when a suspect fleeing police crossed into oncoming traffic and crashed head-on into his tractor trailer. The truck caught fire, and Gray was severely burned in the blaze. The suspect died in the crash.

The Rigby Police Department praised Wubbels’s professionalism in a statement Friday and thanked her for “standing firm.”

“Protecting the rights of others is a truly heroic act,” the statement read.

Gray was still recovering in the hospital, according to the department. He was not suspected of any wrongdoing in connection with the crash.

Wubbels, 41, has worked as a nurse at the hospital since 2009. She was previously a member of the U.S. alpine ski team and competed in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics. “I think many of you know she was an Olympian,” Crabtree said. “In this event she was truly an Olympic-size hero.”

Hospital officials said she returned to the burn unit about a week and a half after the arrest. Wubbels said Monday she needed the time to “give my emotions a rest so that I could come out and be pragmatic and effective in my communication.”

“I stood my ground. I stood for what was right, which was to protect the patient,” Wubbels told CNN. “Any nurse, I think, would have done exactly what I did.”








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