TB News February 11, 2018

Feb 11 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 11, 2018:”The pot, long simmering, is starting to boil in the Middle East. Israel, now feels  certain of US aid in the case of a war with their Arab neighbors, and is poking and threatening on every side to see how much land they can grab and how many Arabs they can kill. Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and even Turkey are threatening Israel with military actions if Israel does not stop its actions.

Israel is now demanding that Lebanon surrender her oil fields to them, something that Lebanon will not do. Israel has threatened military invasion.

Lebanon has replied they will counter-attack.

Lebanon is home to Hezbollah, a well-trained and armed entity, supplied by another Israel enemy, Iraq.

In the last Israel invasion, Hezbollah was more than a match for the IDF and when Tel Aviv begged the US to intervene, it would not but it did get a cease fire.

The fact that these Arab countries are beginning to develop a single policy does not bode well for Israel.

And hopes that the US will fight Israel’s enemies to the last American are nonsense. Trump might promise but Trump will find no support in the Pentagon where he is viewed as a dangerous cartoon character, hopefully soon gone and quickly forgotten. “


Table of Contents

  • Soros & the £400k Question: What constitutes ‘foreign interference’ in democracy?
  • Iran displays missile, Rouhani says U.S. regional policy a failure: TV
  • Friend or foe? Assad quietly aids Syrian Kurds against Turkey
  • Trump warns Israel that settlements ‘complicate’ peace hopes
  • 12 Depressing Previews of America’s Next War
  • While Everybody Slept, Congress Did Something Extraordinary for Vulnerable Children
  • G.O.P. Squirms as Trump Veers Off Script With Abuse Remarks
  • Fears grow that Trump’s threat to US foreign aid is putting lives at risk
  • Sweden tried to drop Assange extradition in 2013, CPS emails show
  • ‘No more missions for Germany’s navy,’ warns armed forces ombudsman

 Soros & the £400k Question: What constitutes ‘foreign interference’ in democracy?

February 9, 2018

by Neil Clark


You’d have to have a real sense of humor failure not to laugh. The news that US billionaire Soros donated £400k to an anti-Brexit group came on the day that YouTube said they found no evidence of Russian interference in Brexit.

Repeat After Me (with robotic arm movements): “Unproven Russian involvement in Brexit – terrible! Impose more sanctions on Moscow! A £400k check from an American billionaire for an anti-Brexit campaigning group – that’s no problem; it’s helping our democracy!”

You don’t have to own a brand new £999 state-of-the art Hypocrisy Detector from Harrods, to pick up on the double standards. Just having a few functioning brain cells and thinking for yourself will do. For months in the UK we’ve been bombarded with Establishment-approved conspiracy theories – peddled in all the ’best’ newspapers – that Russia somehow ‘fixed’ Brexit. Getting Britain to leave the EU was all part of a cunning plot by Vladimir Putin, aka Dr. Evil, to weaken Europe and the ‘free world.’

Even West End musical composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who knows quite a bit about phantoms, seemed taken in by it. “By quitting Europe, I fear that we are hastening Putin’s dream of the break-up of the EU – and with it, potentially, western civilisation,” the noble Lord declared in July.

Never mind that we don’t have a single statement from Putin or other senior Kremlin figures saying that they actually supported Brexit. These Establishment Russia-bashers know exactly what The Vlad is thinking.

And never mind that RT and Sputnik, which we are repeatedly told are “propaganda arms of the Russian government,” ran articles by pro- and anti-Brexit writers. The same people who told us Iraq had WMDs in 2003 were absolutely sure it was those dastardly Russkies who had got Britain to vote ‘leave.’ The irony is of course that there was significant foreign interference in Brexit. But it didn’t come from Moscow.

The US has always wanted Britain to stay in the EU. In April 2016, two months before the Referendum, President Obama made it clear what he wanted when he visited the UK. He warned that if Britain exited the EU it would be “at the back of the queue” for trade deals with the US.

Just imagine if Putin had said that. The Russophobes would have spontaneously combusted.

Then of course there was the backing the Remain camp had from the giants of US capital. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan donated £500,000 each to the ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ group, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley – £250,000 each.

Again, repeat after me (with robotic arm movements): “This is not foreign interference… This is not foreign interference!”

The point is not whether we are for or against Brexit. Or whether we think George Soros is a malign influence who only acts out of self-interest or an old sweetie-pie with the good of humanity at heart. The point is the double standards that are causing our Hypocrisy Detectors to explode.Let’s think back to December 2016. Then, the pro-war and fiercely anti-Russian Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told Parliament that it was “highly probable” that Russia had interfered with Brexit.

Fourteen months on, what have we got? On Thursday, the global head of You Tube’s public policy, Juniper Downs, said her company “had conducted a thorough investigation around the Brexit referendum and found no evidence of Russian interference.”

Twitter meanwhile says it detected 49 (yes, 49) accounts from what it claimed to be a “Russian troll factory,” which sent all of 942 messages about Brexit – amounting to less than 0.005% of all the tweets about the Referendum. Twitter said the accounts received “very low levels of engagement” from users. If the Kremlin had planned to use tweets to persuade us to vote ‘leave,’ they didn’t really put much effort into it, did they?

Finally, Facebook said that only three “Kremlin-linked” accounts were found which spent the grand sum of 72p (yes, 72p) on ads during the Referendum campaign. Which amounts to the greater “interference”? 72p or £400K? Erm… tough call, isn’t it?

You might have thought, given his concern with ‘foreign interference’ in British politics, that Ben Bradshaw would have been urging ‘Best for Britain’ to return George Soros’ donation. Au contraire! His only tweets about it were retweets of two critical comments about the Daily Telegraph, and the BBC’s coverage of the story. Conclusion: Those who rail about ‘Russia meddling in Brexit’ but not Soros’ intervention aren’t concerned about ‘foreign interference’ in UK politics, only ‘foreign interference’ from countries they don’t approve of.

Those who are quite happy peddling ludicrous conspiracy theories about Russians shout “conspiracy theorist” (or worse) at those who report factually on proven meddling from others. The Daily Express hit the nail on the head in their Friday editorial which said: “Just what does George Soros think he is doing pouring £400,000 into a campaign to stop Brexit. For a start he is not actually a resident of this country so it has nothing to do with him.”

That really is the rub of the matter. And Bradshaw and co. have no adequate response except to shoot the messenger.

If we look at the affair with an even wider lens, the hypocrisy is even greater. The US has been gripped by an anti-Russian frenzy not seen since the days of Senator Joe McCarthy. The unsubstantiated claim that Russia fixed the election for Donald Trump is repeated by ‘liberals’ and many neocons too, as a statement of fact. “I don’t know that the public understands the gravity of what the Russians were able to do and continue to do here in the United States. They’ve attacked us. They’re trying to undermine our democracy,” film director Rob Reiner said.

But the number one country round the world for undermining democracy and interfering in the affairs of other sovereign states is the US itself.

While Establishment journos and pundits have been foaming at the mouth over ‘Russiagate’ and getting terribly excited over ‘smoking guns’ which turn out – surprise, surprise – to be damp squibs, there’s been less attention paid to the boasts of former Vice President Joe Biden on how he got the allegedly ‘independent’ Ukrainian government to sack its prosecutor general in a few hours. “I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money…”

“I said, ‘I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars,” Biden said during a meeting of the US’ Council on Foreign Relations. “Well, son of a b***h. He got fired.”

Again, just imagine the furore if a leading Russian government figure boasted about how he used financial inducements to get another country’s Prosecutor General to be sacked. Or if a tape was leaked in which the Russian Ambassador and a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson could be heard discussing who should or shouldn’t be in the new ‘democratic’ government of another sovereign state. But we had the US Ambassador to Ukraine and the US Assistant Secretary of State doing exactly that in 2014 – and the ‘Russia is interfering in the Free World!’ brigade were as silent as a group of Trappist monks.

It’s fair to say that Orwell would have a field day with the doublespeak that’s currently on show. The cognitive dissonance is there for all to see. Repeat After Me: Unproven Russian interference – Bad. Proven interference from other external sources – Good. What’s your problem?


Iran displays missile, Rouhani says U.S. regional policy a failure: TV

February 11, 2018

by Parisa Hafezi


ANKARA (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Sunday to mark the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, denouncing the United States and Israel as oppressors.

President Hassan Rouhani, addressing flag-waving crowds on central Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square, made no specific reference to Israel’s air strikes in Syria on Saturday which it said were aimed at air defense and Iranian targets.

But he told the crowd: “They (U.S. and Israel) wanted to create tension in the region … they wanted to divide Iraq, Syria … They wanted to create long-term chaos in Lebanon but … but with our help their policies failed.”

Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the civil war, supports Shi‘ite militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who sees Iran as a rising threat to regional stability in the Middle East, has pledged to work with Israel and Iran’s key regional rival Saudi Arabia to curb what they say are Tehran’s attempts to extend its influence in the region.

Israel has warned about the increased Iranian involvement along its borders with Syria and Lebanon.

Israel’s air strikes on Saturday which it said successfully hit air defense and Iranian targets represented the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iranian-backed forces in Syria in the seven-year civil war.

The Syrian army claimed to have brought down an Israeli F-16 after Israel reportedly shot down an Iranian drone which it said had entered Israeli airspace. Iran has denied the Israeli claim, saying its presence in Syria is only advisory.


In a show of defiance of Western pressure to curb its ballistic missile program, Iran put its Ghadr ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles) on display in Tehran’s central Vali-ye Asr street.

Iran says its missile program is solely defensive in nature and is not negotiable as demanded by the United States and the Europeans.

Iranian State television said “tens of millions of people” rallied to support the revolution across the country of 81 million, which faced its worst domestic crisis in nearly a decade in late December.

For over a week, thousands of young and working class Iranians angry about official corruption, unemployment and a widening gap between rich and poor, staged anti-government rallies in 80 cities and towns. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards put down the protests.

Iranian authorities said 25 people died and over 3,000 people were arrested during the unrest. Most of those arrested have been released but around 300 remain in jail facing charges, according to Iran’s interior ministry.

“America wanted to interfere in our state matters. But they failed because of our nation’s awareness and unity,” Rouhani said, echoing Iran’s claim that the protests were instigated from abroad.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Richard Balmforth


Friend or foe? Assad quietly aids Syrian Kurds against Turkey

February 11, 2018

by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry


ALEPPO, Syria/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s U.S.-backed Kurds are getting indirect help from an unlikely source in their war against Turkey in the northwestern region of Afrin: President Bashar al-Assad.

Pro-government forces and Kurdish-led forces have fought each other elsewhere in Syria and Damascus opposes the Kurds’ demands for autonomy. But in Afrin they have a common enemy and a mutual interest in blocking Turkish advances.

Turkey, which regards the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin as a threat on its southern border, launched an assault on the region last month. Seeking to shield Afrin, the Kurds asked Damascus to send forces into action to defend the border.

The government shows no sign of doing so, but it is providing indirect help by allowing Kurdish fighters, civilians and politicians to reach Afrin through territory it holds, representatives of both sides told Reuters.

Assad stands to gain while doing little.

The arrival of reinforcements is likely to sustain Kurdish resistance, bog down the Turkish forces and prolong a conflict that is sapping the resources of military powers that rival him for control of Syrian territory.

For the United States, it is yet another complication in Syria’s seven-year-old war, and a reminder of how its Syrian Kurdish ally must at times make deals with Assad even as it builds military ties with the United States.

Lacking international protection, the Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria say they have reached agreements with Damascus to allow reinforcements to be sent to Afrin from other Kurdish-dominated areas — Kobani and the Jazeera region.

“There are different ways to get reinforcements to Afrin but the fundamental route is via regime forces. There are understandings between the two forces … for the sake of delivering reinforcements to Afrin,” Kino Gabriel, spokesman for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), said.

While the Kurds depend on Assad to reach Afrin, Kurdish sources say they also enjoy leverage over Damascus because it needs their cooperation to source grain and oil from areas of the northeast under Kurdish control.

A commander in the military alliance fighting in support of Assad said “the Kurds have no option but coordination with the regime” to defend Afrin.

“The Syrian regime is helping the Kurds with humanitarian support and some logistics, like turning a blind eye and allowing Kurdish support to reach some fronts,” said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity.


The Turkish military is making slow gains nearly three weeks into the operation it calls “Olive Branch”.

Ankara views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency in Turkey and is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

The United States has relied on the YPG as a vital ground component of its war against Islamic State, and has backed the group in other Kurdish-run regions in northern Syria along the border with Turkey.

But U.S. forces are not in Afrin, so have been unable to shield Afrin from the attack by Turkey, its NATO ally.

The Kurds meanwhile accuse Russia of giving a green light for the Turkish attack by withdrawing observers it deployed in Afrin last year.

The Afrin war marks another twist in the complicated story of relations between Assad and the Syrian Kurdish groups, spearheaded by the YPG, that have carved out autonomous regions in northern Syria since the war began in 2011.

The YPG controls nearly all of Syria’s frontier with Turkey. But Afrin is separated from the bigger Kurdish-controlled region further east by a 100 km-wide zone controlled by the Turkish military and its Syrian militia allies.

For much of the war, Damascus and the YPG have avoided confrontation, at times fighting common enemies, including the rebel groups that are now helping Turkey attack Afrin.

But tensions have mounted in recent months, with Damascus threatening to march into parts of eastern and northern Syria captured by the SDF with support from the U.S.-led coalition.

Underlining that, pro-Syrian government forces attacked the SDF in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, drawing coalition air strikes overnight that killed more than 100 of the attackers, the coalition said.

“The regime has allowed the YPG to bring people into Afrin, while attacking it east of Euphrates (River). I think that is indicative of the state of relations right,” said Noah Bonsey, International Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst on Syria.

He added: “There is still a significant gap between the YPG and regime positions on the future of northeastern Syria.”


The main Syrian Kurdish groups remain wedded to their vision of a Syria where they enjoy autonomy in a form of federalism that is at odds with Assad’s determination to recover all Syria.

Each side has allowed the other to maintain footholds in its territory. In Kurdish-held Qamishli, the government still controls the airport. In the Sheikh Maqsoud district of Aleppo, a government city, Kurdish security forces patrol the streets.

Scores of Kurds from Sheikh Maqsoud have gone to Afrin to support the fight, Kurdish officials there said. The short journey requires movement through areas held by the government or its Iran-backed Shi‘ite militia allies.

“Of course people went from Sheikh Maqsoud – in the hundreds – to bear arms and defend Afrin,” said Badran Himo, a Kurdish official from Sheikh Maqsoud.

“Around 10 of them were martyred (killed),” he told Reuters as Kurdish security forces held a rally to commemorate one of the dead.

Earlier this week, witnesses say a civilian convoy of hundreds of cars drove to Afrin from other Kurdish-held areas in a show of solidarity.

The Syrian government has ignored appeals by the Kurdish authorities to guard the Syrian border at Afrin.

“We tried to convince them, via the Russians, to at least protect the borders, to take a position, but we did not reach a result,” Aldar Khalil, a top Kurdish politician, told Reuters.

“If they don’t protect the borders, then at least they don’t have the right to block the way for Syrian patriots who are protecting these borders, regardless of other domestic issues.”

Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Timothy Heritage


Trump warns Israel that settlements ‘complicate’ peace hopes

Februay 11, 2018

BBC News

US President Donald Trump has said Israeli settlements “complicate” the peace process with Palestinians and urged “care” over the issue.

He also told an Israeli newspaper that he did not believe the Palestinians, and possibly Israel as well, were ready to make peace.

President Trump angered Palestinians in December when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

He also threatened to withhold aid unless Palestinians agreed to talks.

The US leader’s latest comments came in an interview published on Sunday with the conservative newspaper Yisrael Hayom.

Asked by editor-in-chief Boaz Bismouth when the US would present its peace plan, Mr Trump said: “We will see what happens. Right now the Palestinians are not into making peace, they are just not into it. Regarding Israel, I am not certain it, too, is interested in making peace so we will just need to wait and see what happens.”

Asked whether Israeli settlements would form part of the peace plan, he said: “We will be talking about settlements. The settlements are something that very much complicates and always have complicated making peace, so I think Israel has to be very careful with the settlements.”

More than 600,000 Jews live in about 140 settlements built since Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

In excerpts of the interview published on Friday, Mr Trump said that recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had been a highlight of his first year in office.

“I think Jerusalem was a very big point and I think it was a very important point,” he said.

“The capital, having Jerusalem be your great capital, was a very important thing to a lot of people. It was a very important pledge that I made and I fulfilled my pledge,” he said.

Israel claims the whole of the city as its capital but the Palestinians want East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has said he will no longer accept the US as a mediator following the controversial recognition of Jerusalem.

Last month the UN expressed concern at a US decision to withhold more than half of a tranche of funding for an agency that supports Palestinian refugees.

Washington said it would hand over $60m (£43m) of a planned payment to the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa), but would keep back $65m until it carries out “reforms”.


12 Depressing Previews of America’s Next War

Here’s hoping past performance isn’t an indicator of future success.

February 1, 2018

by  Micah Zenko


The excellent new book by Lawrence Freedman, The Future of War: A History, demonstrates that military futurists, like political pundits, have a terrible track record of predicting the future in their field of expertise. Freedman notably warns to avoid those who proclaim, “the ease and speed with which victory can be achieved while underestimating the resourcefulness of adversaries.”

Despite futurists’ long, poor track record, writing about the future of war is a well-resourced industry, within the military, in academia, and at think tanks. Because futurists are not evaluating or making judgments about contemporary events, they avoid critiquing those who hold power today, which prevents them from losing access to officials, being retaliated against, and generally harming their career advancement. Moreover, the penalties for making unsound or incorrect predictions are rarely incurred, and if they are at all, it is only in the distant future

As a national security analyst constantly fascinated with studying what is happening on the earth today, I try to avoid predictions. This is due, in part, to my total failure at doing so(for example, I thought there would be an Israeli attack on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons sites).

It’s also because my gut feeling is that there are always a huge number of ongoing military activities that are understudied or underappreciated.

Nevertheless, I offer here a dozen, admittedly dispiriting, predictions about America’s future wars. I hope to be proven wrong about all of them.

First, the commanders and forces responsible for their geographic areas or domains (cyber most prominently) will do a poor job at preventing conflicts against U.S. interests in those areas or domains, despite pledging that conflict prevention is their highest priority.

Second, the military will not fight the adversary that it believes it will fight. As I first noted back in 2012, Pentagon officials have a terrible record of forecasting where it will fight and the sorts of challenges it will face, a record that has only worsened since.

Third, America’s armed forces will not fight the type of conflict that concept development and experimentation professionals conceive of, strategists and planners plan for, or service members are trained and prepared to encounter.

Fourth, civilian and military leaders will offer a buffet of vague justifications (humanitarian, economic, “national interests”) to defend going to war in order to obtain the widest possible support from Congress and American citizens.

Fifth, civilian leaders will wildly underestimate the human and financial costs, duration, political consequences, and second-order effects of those wars, in order to obtain the widest possible support from Congress and American citizens.

Sixth, both civilian and military leaders will mislead Congress, prominent media members, and the general public about the overall conduct and progress of the war by emphasizing positive stories and trends that they themselves generate, while similarly dismissing outside critical viewpoints.

Seventh, Pentagon officials and military commanders will articulate the intended political and military objectives with such vagueness that they are difficult to evaluate and nearly impossible to falsify.

Eighth, major media outlets will overwhelmingly portray the war based upon narratives and information provided by the U.S. military itself. Vignettes of individual heroism and service members’ surprise homecomings will be emphasized over critical reviews of the conduct of the war or stories from civilians living in the impacted countries.

Ninth, Congress will still not perform its congressionally mandated function of authorizing wars, nor its customary role of effectively overseeing them, which ideally would include monitoring, supervising, evaluating, and reviewing.

Tenth, during rare and intermittent congressional hearings about the war, commanders will assert that “the military element of national power is insufficient without adequate diplomatic support.” The elected members will collectively nod their heads in agreement and then quickly move on.

Eleventh, military leaders will pledge to learn lessons from the war and to implement new practices that assure that any operational or tactical mistakes are not repeated. These lessons will largely be overlooked by the new commanders of the next war.

Twelfth, politicians will selectively remember or forget how the war progressed and was concluded (if ever) when justifying the inevitable forthcoming military intervention. In keeping with historical practice, most of them will predict that the next war will go better than the last one.



While Everybody Slept, Congress Did Something Extraordinary for Vulnerable Children

February 11 2018

by Aída Chávez and Ryan Grim

The Intercept

Tucked quietly into the most recent congressional measure to keep the government open was the most sweeping and ambitious piece of child welfare legislation passed in at least a decade. It’s an attempt to reshape the entrenched foster care system as a raging opioid epidemic swells the population of children in need.

The measure overcame the opposition of group homes, which pocket thousands of dollars per month for each child warehoused in their custody. The Family First Prevention Services Act upends the funding structure for the child welfare system by allowing states to use federal matching funds for programs addressing mental health, substance abuse, family counseling, and parent skills training — to keep at-risk children from entering the foster care system in the first place. It’s meant to help families stay together.

Most new programs are funded by specific amounts of money, which makes them vulnerable to cuts or expiration in the future, but the new law amends the Social Security Act to open up funding for families at risk of entering the foster care system. That means major funding will be available in states willing to take advantage of the new federal money.

The law is also designed to deter the use of group homes, which profit from the children they take in and shuffle through, by limiting federal funding for congregate care and reducing the number of kids going into the system at all. At a Senate HELP committee hearing on Thursday, William Bell, president of Casey Family Programs, noted that for every $7 spent on foster care, there is only $1 spent on intervention.

The law seeks to rebalance a particularly difficult dynamic at play in the foster care system. Imagine the situation from the perspective of a caseworker: You see a parent struggling with her housing situation, holding down several low-paying jobs, and perhaps you suspect some substance abuse issues. There are pamphlets you can hand out, organizations like food pantries or diaper banks you can recommend for some elementary services, but beyond that, what can you do?

The sole significant action available is to break the family up and put the child in foster care, stuffing them in a group home. If you don’t and something goes wrong, it’s on you. If you do put the child in a group home and something goes wrong, well, that’s the fault of the group home.

As the law was drafted in Congress, lawmakers heard testimony about how the lack of options for caseworkers is one of the great stressors associated with the job — one that has, not coincidentally, extraordinary turnover. It sets up a system where all incentives lead toward breaking up the family, even though studies show doing so produces far worse outcomes.

The new law balances that incentive by giving caseworkers some meaningful things they can actually do. Now they’ll be able to offer addiction treatment and counseling, parenting support services or moving the child in with close family. The latter option — allowing the child to live for a time with grandparents or aunts and uncles — has long been the most common sense approach, but has never been truly supported or encouraged by public policy. Now, with the Family First law, it is.

The law also takes some practical steps not to set up new disincentives. Much of government action on the ground level is driven by how it influences funding flows. In order for a state to recoup federal money for foster care services, for instance, there are income thresholds involved. (Not many rich children wind up in foster care, but it’s part of the law nonetheless.) The new law says that if a child’s relatives attempt to take the child in and for whatever reason it doesn’t work, the child is still eligible for federal support. If that weren’t made clear, caseworkers might be reluctant to let a grandparent try to take a child in, for fear that the time spent with a relative with a higher income would make them ineligible for federal help down the road. Those are the kinds of backward incentives that had long been a blight on the country’s foster care system, but are finally being addressed.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, who co-sponsored the legislation with ranking Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, said on the Senate floor on Thursday the legislation would “help keep more children safely with their families.”

In 2016, Hatch and Wyden tried to push nearly identical legislation but it failed to move through the Senate after a Baptist group home network in North Carolina pressured its Senate delegation to go against it. The Baptist Children’s Home of North Carolina, along with other providers across the country, voiced objections this time around too. Most of the resistance to foster care reform came from group home networks — the legislation would reduce the number of kids entering the system, therefore interfering with their revenue model of stowing away children. But there was also opposition from California and New York, where the child welfare community says the federal solution will undermine state-based solutions they embarked on years ago.

Despite California’s back-home ambivalence, Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was a leading advocate of the bill in the House and pushed to have it included in the spending bill. The approach, by elevating families and promoting individual development, was also attractive to conservatives. “Speaker Ryan and House Republicans have consistently pushed for improvements to our welfare system, and are pleased that the budget bill included reforms to our child welfare system,” said AshLee Strong, a spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan, in a statement to The Intercept. “We will continue working to improve our welfare system and pursue workforce development reforms that get people the skills and training they need to find employment.”

In a fortunate political twist for foster children, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr’s opposition may have created the conditions that made ultimate passage possible. Media coverage of his lonely stand on behalf of home-state group homes made the issue understandable for the first time for the popular press. Even Teen Vogue, then at the beginning of its run as the organ of the woke resistance, weighed in against Burr. That helped Democrats decide which side of the bill they wanted to be on, and unified the caucus in favor of reform — even Democrats from balking states like California and New York. Without that consensus, the bill couldn’t have made it into the spending package.

“The Family First Prevention Services Act will usher in the most significant improvements to the child welfare system in decades and provide real help to families to fight the opioid epidemic,” Wyden said in a statement. “We owe our most vulnerable children the best chance to stay with their families when it’s safe to keep them at home and the highest standards of care to protect children who are already in foster care.”

Children are taken from their families in cases of abuse but more often than not, Sandy Santana, executive director for Children’s Rights, said, kids enter the foster care system because of neglect that stems primarily from issues of poverty or substance abuse.

“With the opioid epidemic, more and more kids are coming into the system because their parents are dependent on opioids,” Santana said. “For the government now to redirect funding for substance abuse and preventative services to keep those kids that are at risk of entering foster care with their families is a big, big deal.”

In 2012, there were 397,000 children in foster care, but by 2015, the number rose to 428,000, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The 8 percent increase was largely due to the opioid epidemic, and states hit harder by the growing abuse of opioids report the crisis is straining their foster care system and getting worse, but exact data is not available yet.

The idea behind this is to help families early on before costlier interventions are needed, Santana said, adding that “if you look at the foster care system for some kids, it’s worked well, but there are many broken foster care systems in the country and kids are moved from place to place, sometimes they’re abused and neglected in the very system meant to protect them.”

The Family First law also incorporates rigorous assessments to make sure that a child actually has a continuing need to be in a group facility, and if not, the child is sent back to a family foster home so they don’t languish in group care.

In October, the Senate Finance Committee released its investigation into one of the largest for-profit providers of foster care services and found the children in its care had been dying at alarming rates over the past decade, with no one investigating the deaths. 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 committee found the MENTOR Network 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 company told the committee it 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.” But the panel noted its death rate among foster children was found to be 42 percent higher than the national average.

Now, under the new reforms, group homes will be required to more fully document the steps they take to track and prevent child maltreatment deaths, as well as explain how they are implementing a plan to deal with this problem.

Governing by stopgap funding measure has been a rough ride for children the past several months, but they have finally started to see programs aimed their direction re-authorized, along with billions for the military and disaster relief.

The government partially shut down and reopened hours later when President Donald Trump signed the massive budget deal into law early Friday morning. The budget deal includes a $160 billion military spending boost, a long-awaited $89 billion in disaster relief, and funding for lapsed health programs that until this week, were scraping by with leftover funds. The Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting program won’t have to worry about money for the next five years and the Special Diabetes Program for two. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers 9 million kids, went from unprecedented crisis to being funded for the next 10 years.


G.O.P. Squirms as Trump Veers Off Script With Abuse Remarks

February 10, 2018

by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns

New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump’s approval ratings have been nudging upward and his party’s political standing is improving, but the president’s unceasing habit of making inflammatory and insensitive remarks is galvanizing opposition against him — especially from women — that could smother Republican momentum going into the midterm campaign.

Saturday was a case in point. In a Twitter post, Mr. Trump appeared to raise doubts about the entire #MeToo movement, a day after he had offered sympathy for a former aide accused of spousal abuse.“Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” the president wrote on Twitter, adding: “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused – life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

On Friday, the president had jumped into the controversy over the former aide, Rob Porter, who is accused by two former wives of physical and emotional abuse, defending him and offering no denunciation even for the idea of assaulting women. Mr. Trump, who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct, focused instead on Mr. Porter, saying that he was enduring a “tough time.”

The president’s seeming indifference to claims of abuse infuriated Republicans, who were already confronting a surge of activism from Democratic women driven to protest, raise money and run for office because of their fervent opposition to Mr. Trump.

“This is coming, this is real,” Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, said recently about the female-fueled wave of liberal energy.

Mr. Trump’s remarks illustrated a broader problem: Republican congressional leaders and strategists have pleaded with lawmakers and candidates to stay focused on economic growth and December’s tax cuts, a message they hope will be their salvation before the elections in November. But that may be little more than fantasy in a campaign that will turn more on the president’s conduct than any policy issue.

His comments on Friday, the first he had offered since images emerged of one of Mr. Porter’s former wives bearing a black eye, were the culmination of a week’s worth of politically ill-advised steps that suggest that the president and his lieutenants cannot stop themselves from blunting positive political momentum. By the weekend, Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address, strong employment and wage figures as well as the onset of tax cuts seemed washed away by the latest White House controversy.

The frustration in the Republican political class is bursting forward.

“For members or anybody else who cares about keeping control of Congress, if you find yourself talking about anything but the middle-class tax cut, shut up and stop talking,” fumed Corry Bliss, who runs the primary House Republican “super PAC,” the Congressional Leadership Fund. “Any time spent on TV talking about anything but how we’re helping the middle class is a waste of time and does nothing to help us win in 2018.”

Republicans have grown accustomed to the president’s lack of discipline and inability to reliably carry a message. But operatives overseeing the midterm effort and some lawmakers facing difficult re-elections are growing more alarmed that Mr. Trump’s fixation on the Russia inquiry, personal slights and personality clashes inside and outside his White House are only encouraging his congressional and conservative news media allies to swerve off message.

The party has finally gotten some good signs. The president’s approval ratings have been inching up in recent polling, fewer voters are indicating a preference for a Democratic Congress and some polls show Mr. Trump starting to get more credit for the booming economy than former President Barack Obama.

But even as voters begin to see more take-home pay, companies add jobs and employees receive bonuses, their votes are not necessarily going to drift to the Republicans in November. Many Americans are still uncertain that they will benefit from the tax measure, Mr. Bliss conceded. He cited a wave of private polling and focus groups that his organization has conducted this year revealing much of the electorate to be skeptical that they would receive a tax cut from the bill, which was signed into law in December.

That is in part because of what mainstream Republicans describe as a destructive cycle of incentives: Mr. Trump reacts to Fox News segments about the Russia investigation or another controversy, encouraging more such coverage and prompting House conservatives from largely safe seats to make their own incendiary comments, which win them television invitations and attention from the president. Such notoriety might help those lawmakers in their deep red districts, but they do nothing for the party’s overall political standing.

“These guys are performing for the president when they go on TV,” said Jason Roe, a longtime Republican strategist who is consulting on a series of at-risk House districts in California.

Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, a first-term Republican who is one of Mr. Trump’s most visible champions outside the White House staff, all but said as much.

Mr. Gaetz, who used the State of the Union speech to snag a selfie with Mr. Trump in the House chamber, has said the president is “about as popular in my district as oxygen.” He acknowledged that the tax bill was far more politically urgent than arguments about Russia and conceded that his on-air denunciations of Mr. Mueller served no electoral purpose. But for good measure, he said, he has been urging colleagues to warn voters in 2018 that Democrats could impeach Mr. Trump

He also boasted that he had found a particular audience for his cable news forays: Mr. Trump, he said, “calls me frequently and shares his thoughts on my television appearances.”

Far less visible are Republican lawmakers such as Representative Mimi Walters of California, who is facing a difficult campaign in an Orange County district where lobbing rhetorical bombs at the F.B.I. will do little with her centrist constituents but drawing attention to Disney’s bonuses could bear fruit.

“We talk about this all the time — we have got to get the message out on taxes,” Ms. Walters said.

Campaign veterans and Capitol Hill aides say part of the challenge, particularly in the House, is that many Republican lawmakers had until last year been in office only with a Democratic president and therefore are well practiced at oppositional politics but know little about trumpeting a positive message.

Party officials have for weeks sought to drive home to lawmakers and Mr. Trump how crucial it is that they sell the tax law, bluntly warning that it will take an ambitious campaign to transform the measure into an unambiguous political winner. Strategists have written memos for public consumption and published op-eds emphasizing the need to go on offense. Senior lawmakers have used private meetings to implore the president and their colleagues to stay focused on taxes.

At a gathering last month at Camp David, House Republican leaders invoked the example of Mr. Obama to Mr. Trump, who is often eager to act differently than his predecessor. The lawmakers told the president that Democrats suffered such deep losses in 2010 in part because Mr. Obama did not make a sufficient case for his economic stimulus measure, Republicans in attendance said.

Last week at a congressional Republican retreat in West Virginia, Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio, the head of the House campaign arm, opened and closed his presentation to lawmakers with “three takeaways,” according to a Republican in attendance: “Be ready, sell tax reform and run a campaign.”

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, another member of the leadership, has even created a kit for lawmakers about how to stage district events to “tell the story of the tax cuts and jobs,” offering a “Gipper of the Week” award to Republicans who do top-flight communications works (the award: a jar of jelly beans, a favorite of Ronald Reagan’s).

David Winston, a veteran Republican pollster, made a presentation at the retreat arguing that many voters remained highly flexible in their views of the tax law, giving Republicans a chance — but so far, only a chance — to close the sale. But in an interview, Mr. Winston, who advises Speaker Paul D. Ryan, warned that the party could not trust public opinion on the law to continue improving on its own.

“There’s a need to make people aware of what’s in the legislation,” Mr. Winston said. “There is a large portion of the electorate that is aware of it, but there’s probably a larger portion of the electorate that’s not.”

Mr. Ryan has been uneasy about the attention devoted to the release of the House Intelligence Committee’s memo about the F.B.I. Instead, the speaker has mapped out a series of visits to businesses affected by the tax law to showcase his preferred 2018 message by example.

In a revealing sign of the party’s anxiety about Mr. Trump, the Republican National Committee has taken to trumpeting the “Trump tax cuts” and has urged campaigns and other Republican committees to credit Mr. Trump explicitly and often with enacting the new law, but has faced skepticism from Republicans wary of introducing Mr. Trump’s name into competitive elections.

Mr. Trump himself underscored the risk involved in tying him, as a personality, to the Republican economic agenda during a visit to Ohio this week. His speech was intended to showcase the health of the economy, but he veered into an extended digression about his recent address to Congress and accused Democrats of “treason” for refusing to clap at points. The economic message was lost.

The conundrum, several strategists and lawmakers conceded, is that Mr. Trump’s legal and culture wars are more politically galvanizing to the party’s conservative base than Ryanesque sermons on the free enterprise system.

“The G.O.P. base just doesn’t eat that up the way it does trending memo hash tags and firing-Mueller conspiracies,” Nick Everhart, a Republican strategist based in Ohio, said of the party’s economic message. “Thus, it’s no surprise members of Congress in super-red districts, immune to the perilous political environment we’re headed toward, put themselves and feeding the base first.”


Fears grow that Trump’s threat to US foreign aid is putting lives at risk

Former officials warn of further cuts and moves to deny assistance to any states perceived as hostile

February 10, 2018

by Peter Beaumont

The Guardian

America’s $42bn foreign assistance programme is facing “unprecedented” disruption a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, according to former top officials who have described the White House’s approach as deeply counterproductive and putting lives at risk.

Scott Morris, a former senior US Treasury official now with the Center for Global Development in Washington, told the Observer: “One of the negative things to watch for is how seriously this administration seeks to operationalise a policy of ‘aid to friends’ across the board.

“I don’t think there is any reason to rule out the seriousness of that threat, in the absence of any tempering comments in this administration.”

In his State of the Union address last month, Trump reiterated plans to tie foreign aid to support for US foreign policy. Officials’ concerns come amid mounting fears that the White House Office of Management and Budget will renew pressure – blocked by Congress last year – for “draconian” cuts to the US foreign assistance budget.

Morris said his fears had been reinforced by the fact that the Trump administration has already made good on threats to cut aid to UNRWA – the United Nations agency that deals with Palestinian refugees – and curtail security assistance to Pakistan, with fears that other cuts may be in the pipeline. “The policy agenda of this administration continues to be hostile to the uses of aid and the rationale that has defined it for decades,” added Morris.

Questions over the future of the US aid budget, and what the purpose of American aid should be, have also been injected into the wider ideological struggle over America’s global role, including the fear that an isolationist Trump is leading a wide-ranging US withdrawal from international institutions.

All of this has led some to wonder whether the postwar vision of a US aid policy – articulated by John F Kennedy to Congress in 1961 as being “a wise leader and good neighbour in the interdependent community of free nations” – can survive a Trump presidency whose imperative is to “stop sending foreign aid to countries that hate us”.

Those anxieties were stoked again by Trump’s threat to cut aid to “dozens of countries” that voted in opposition to his decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – repeated in his State of the Union speech.

Morris says he sees “rays of hope” in some areas – for example, the bipartisan Congressional resistance to last year’s calls for swingeing cuts in the aid budget, and the public positions taken by Mark Green, the head of USAid. Nonetheless he is deeply concerned over the trajectory for US foreign assistance under Trump.

Like others, he argues that, although the initial calls for cuts of 30% in aid budgets may have been avoided last year, deep reductions may still be on the agenda, amid a continuing lack of clarity over what the administration hopes to achieve.

“I think what is driving this is a president who has embraced the negative politics of foreign aid,” he said, pointing to polls that suggest a slim majority of Americans believe too much is spent on aid – even though most voters also think America spends more than it actually does.

“When you don’t have a clearly defined framework policy, and it reverts to the crudest vilification of the assistance programme, then the starting point [for officials] is simply the need to deliver deep cuts,” he said.

Many of Morris’s concerns are shared by James Dobbins, a former assistant secretary of state in both Republican and Democratic administrations and now an analyst at the Rand Corporation thinktank.

Trump’s “aid for friends” policy, Dobbins said, was “indicative of this president’s transactional view of the world. The reality is the US provides foreign aid because it has been determined by successive administrations to be in our interest. To threaten to cut it off, in a tit-for-tat approach, is to cut off your nose to spite your face.”

Although Dobbins acknowledges that political conditions were attached to the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild Europe after the second world war, in other cases, he says, that is an approach that has usually backfired.

“Pakistan is a good example. Congress passed legislation in the 1990s making aid conditional on dropping its nuclear weapons programme. Pakistan then rejected that aid, and went ahead with its weapons programme.

“Clearly, that effort did not have the desired impact.”

“The talk of conditionality over aid that we are hearing from the Trump administration is foolish and doesn’t work,” said John Norris of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress, who served on Barack Obama’s Global Development Council.

“It is lousy diplomacy that ends up isolating us. It takes us away from the idea that development is a long-term venture that takes time and is inherently the right thing to do.”

Although Norris commends the bipartisan pushback from Congress on budget cuts, he argues that the continued threat is already having an impact on US aid programmes, as organisations have been warned to plan for reductions.

“People are still being told they need to plan as if there is going to be a 30% cut and contingency-plan accordingly. If you are a big NGO, that is fine, but it is much tougher for smaller programmes. If you are employing 20, 60, 100 people, the threat of a three-month funding gap is disastrous.”

Finally, there is the question of Trump’s chaotic approach. “The unfortunate part of all this – as we have seen on the military side already – is that [Trump] will cough something out on Twitter and then send everyone scrambling to make policy fit,” adds Norris. “In international development, the people likely to suffer most are those with the least agency and power, the world’s poorest on whom these callously made decisions have enormous impact” – including, he fears, on increased infant and women’s mortality.

“There are all kinds of legitimate complaints about how aid works, but even the most embittered economists know aid saves lives. We know the baseline of misery will increase significantly. Even though our systems are resilient, there will be a lot of explaining required around the world afterwards about what happened during our ‘episode’.”


Sweden tried to drop Assange extradition in 2013, CPS emails show

UK prosecutors tried to dissuade Swedish counterparts from doing so, exchange shows

February 11, 2018

by Owen Bowcott and Ewen MacAskill

Swedish prosecutors attempted to drop extradition proceedings against Julian Assange as early as 2013, according to a confidential exchange of emails with the Crown Prosecution Service seen by the Guardian.

The sequence of messages also appears to challenge statements by the CPS that the case was not live at the time emails were deleted by prosecutors, according to supporters of the WikiLeaks founder.

Assange was first questioned over allegations of sexual assault and rape in Sweden, which he denies, in 2010. He travelled to the UK later that year and Swedish authorities began extradition proceedings against him.

He subsequently skipped bail and was granted asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 in order to avoid extradition. It was not until last year that the Stockholm publicly announced they had dropped their European arrest warrant application for him.

Assange still faces arrest for breaching his former bail conditions in the UK if he leaves the embassy in Knightsbridge. He fears there is a secret US indictment against him relating to WikiLeaks’ disclosure of leaked classified US documents.

The newly-released emails show that the Swedish authorities were eager to give up the case four years before they formally abandoned proceedings in 2017 and that the CPS dissuaded them from doing so.

Some of the material has surfaced from an information tribunal challenge brought late last year by the Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi.

The CPS lawyer handling the case, who has since retired, commented on an article which suggested that Sweden could drop the case in August 2012. He wrote: “Don’t you dare get cold feet!!!”.

As the case dragged on, the Swedish director of public prosecutions, Marianne Ny, wrote to the CPS on 18 October 2013 explaining that she had few options left. “There is a demand in Swedish law for coercive measures to be proportionate,” she informed London.

“The time passing, the costs and how severe the crime is to be taken into account together with the intrusion or detriment to the suspect. Against this background, we have found us to be obliged to lift the detention order … and to withdraw the European arrest warrant. If so this should be done in a couple of weeks. This would affect not only us but you too in a significant way.”

Not all the emails are preserved in the exchange, but three days later Ny emailed the CPS again to say: “I am sorry this came as a [bad] surprise… I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend.”

The CPS lawyer wrote back to Ny in December 2013, insisting: “I do not consider costs are a relevant factor in this matter.” This was at a time when the Metropolitan police had revealed that its security operation to prevent Assange escaping from the embassy had already cost £3.8m. “I do wonder occasionally if the police just make public comments because they think it will somehow progress a case,” he wrote.

“All we can do is wait and see [and perhaps be eternally grateful that neither of us have to share a room in the embassy with him over Christmas!].”

At the beginning of the legal battle over Assange in 2011, the CPS advised Swedish prosecutors not to interview him in Britain, but they eventually did.

The CPS lawyer also told Ny that year: “It is simply amazing how much work this case is generating. It sometimes seems like an industry. Please do not think this case is being dealt with as just another extradition.”

Assange’s supporters allege that the CPS has been inconsistent in declaring whether or not the case was live. In dismissing a personal data request by him in April 2013, the CPS wrote that they could not release anything “because of the live matters still pending”.

But when explaining the deletion of emails about the case in 2014, after the CPS official who had been corresponding with Ny retired, it was defended on the grounds that: “The case was, therefore, not live when the email account was deleted.” Little had changed over that period, Assange’s supporters maintain.

A CPS spokesperson said: “As there are legal proceedings still under way it would be inappropriate to comment.”

Westminster magistrates court is due to deliver judgment on Tuesday in response to arguments from Assange’s lawyers that continuing to enforce the arrest warrant is disproportionate after so many years.

The UK Supreme Court ruled last week in relation to a case about the Chagos Islands that diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks are admissible as evidence in the dispute over creating a marine protection zone in the British territory.


‘No more missions for Germany’s navy,’ warns armed forces ombudsman

Germany’s parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces has urged the navy to stop deploying frigates to NATO, EU and UN missions. Hans-Peter Bartels says the military simply doesn’t have enough ships.

February 11, 2018


Germany must think twice before agreeing to any new maritime missions with NATO, the European Union or the United Nations, according to the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, Hans-Peter Bartels.

In an interview published in the Sunday tabloid Bild am Sonntag, Bartels blamed bureaucracy and mismanagement for a lack of available frigates.

“The navy will soon run out of operational ships,” the Social Democrat (SPD) politician told the paper.

Lack of parts

Bertels said a shortage of spare parts for German navy vessels would likely lead to longer repair stays in shipyards.

“There are too many administrative responsibilities, a lack of staff, and sometimes [ship repair] companies like to cling as long as possible to a given order,” he warned.

Bild am Sonntag reported that one of the three largest ships in the German navy, the combat support vessel “EGV Berlin,” along with the supply ship “EGV Bonn,” was expected to be out of action for much longer than initially anticipated.

According to an internal navy report, the two vessels’ 18-month overhaul at a shipyard in Hamburg, which began last year, is being delayed due to a lack of spare parts.

New frigates delayed

Bartels said the “retirement” of old German navy frigates was going according to plan but was being hampered by delays in rolling out their replacements.

“Six out of 15 old frigates have been retired from service, but none of the new F125 frigates has been released to the navy,” he said.

Among its many missions, the German navy has been patrolling the Mediterranean crossing from northern Africa into Europe since May 2015 as part of an EU operation dubbed “Sophia.” The mission is due to run until the end of 2018.

Vessels have also been deployed for similar responsibilities with NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2 in the Aegean Sea.

With a fleet of nearly 100 vessels, the German navy plays a key role in supporting NATO and UN missions around the world.




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