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TBR News April 13, 2018

Jun 13 2018

The Voice of the White House  

Washington, D.C. June 13, 2018: “In early January of 1993, Islamic leaders in Iran, Algeria, Egypt, Afghanistan and the Sudan proclaimed a holy war against selected Christian nations. Primary amongst their enemies was the United States, mainly because of its unquestioning support for the state of Israel. Targets of opportunity were to be American financial interests throughout the world, American political and military personalities, (both inside and outside of the United States), prominent objects such as the World Trade buildings in New York, the Pentagon, the White House and the capital buildings in Washington and the following projected areas of strategic, political and sociological significance:

1st Special Forces Group (Airborne)

2nd Vice Presidential DC Area Bunker

63 US-based Nuclear Power Plants

AF New Boston Sat Tracking Station

Air Force Satellite Control Network

American Type Culture Collection

American controlled oil pipelines in:

Alaska, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iraq

Anniston Chemical Depot

Argonne National Laboratory

Argonne National Laboratory-West

AU Defence Signals Directorate

Barksdale Air Force Base WSA

Beale Air Force Base

Big Hole Communications Bunker

Bremerton Submarine facilities

Brookhaven National Laboratory

Bunker on White Rock Road

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant

Camp David Presidential Retreat

Capenhurst Phone-Tap Tower

Central Intelligence Agency Headquarters at Langley, VA

Charleston Naval Weapons Station

Chesepeake Car Tunnel, Norfolk, VA

Chevron Refinery, Pascagoula, MS

Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center

CIA Office of Special Technology

CIA Special Training Center

CIA/NSA Special Collection Service

Cudjoe Key Air Force Station

Defense Nuclear Weapons School

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

DIRNSA Residence

Dixon/Stockton Naval Radio Facilities

DoD WMD Contractors

Downtown Manhattan Telephone Hubs

Drug Enforcement Administration

Edwards AFB/NASA Dryden Flight Center

Fairchild Air Force Base WSA

FBI Academy

FBI CALEA Wiretap Homes

Former NSA Rosman Station

Ft. Meade SIGINT Operations Center

GCHQ

Grand Coolie Dam system

Grand Forks Air Force Base

Hanford Nuclear Reservation

Hoover Dam and associated power grid

Horizon-Backscatter Radar

HQ of the Homeland Security Dept.

Indian Point Nuclear Generating Sta.

Janet Airlines Terminal

Jim Creek Naval Radio Station

Kennedy Space Center

Kennedy Space Center

Kirtland Nuclear Storage Complex

Lake Kickapoo Space Surveillance Sta.

Lawrence Livermore National Lab

Letterkenny Army Depot

MacDill AFB and Central Command

Marfa v. Chinati Foundation

Marshall Space Flight Center

McGregor Naval Weapons Idustrial. Reserve

Medina Regional SIGINT Center

Millstone Nuclear Power Plant

Minot Air Force Base

Mississippi River Bridges

Moyock Naval SIGINT Station

National Air Intelligence Center

National Football League Stadiums

National Reconnaissance Office

National Reconnaissance Office HQ

National Security Agency

Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek

Naval Maritime Intelligence Center

Naval Missile Range Facility

Naval Radio Station Driver

Naval Security Group at Winter Harbor

Naval Security Group San Diego

Naval Security Group Skaggs Island

Naval Station Guantanamo Bay

Naval Station Norfolk

Naval Submarine Base Bangor

Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay

Naval Submarine Base New London/NSGA Groton

Naval Surface Warfare Center

Naval War College

Naval Weapons Station Earle

Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach

Naval/Marine Intel Training Center

Nellis Nuclear Weapons Storage Area

Nevada Nuclear Test Site

New York City Water Reservoirs

Newport Chemical Depot

North Island Naval Air Station WSA

NRO at Moffett Field

NSA Bad Aibling DE Echelon Station

NSA Friendship Annex

NSA Geraldton AU Echelon Station

NSA Kent Island Research Facility

NSA Leitrim CA Echelon Station

NSA Menwith Hill UK Echelon Station

NSA Misawa JP Echelon Station

NSA Morwenstow UK Echelon Station

NSA Neighborhood

NSA Pine Gap AU Echelon Station

NSA Sugar Grove US Echelon Station

NSA Waihopai NZ Echelon Station

NSA Yakima US Echelon Station

NSGA at North Island NAS, San Diego

Nuclear Device Assembly Facilities

NYPD Ammunition Depot

Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Panama Canal locks

Pantex Nuclear Warhead Plant

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant

Presidential Homes in Texas and Maine

Pueblo Chemical Weapons Depot

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard

Radio Station Cutler

Ready Reserve Force

San Nicolas Isle Missile Test Center

Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant

Site R – Raven Rock Governmental Bunker

Statue of Liberty

Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Sugar Grove Echelon Station

Tooele and Deseret Chemical Depots

Twenty-eight US Airports

Two Rock Ranch Communications Station.

  1. Army Intelligence Center

US Army Chemical Center

US Bullion Depositories

US Nuclear Weapons Storage Areas

US Secret Service Training Facility

US Transatlantic Cable Landings

US Transpacific Cable Landings

US Vice Presidential Official Residence

Warren Air Force Base

Warrenton Training Center Site D

Whiteman Air Force Base WSA

Wilson Blvd Tech Centers, Arlington

WIPP Nuclear Waste Target

Yakima Echelon Station

Yorktown Naval Weapons Station

Yucca Mountain Project”

The Table of Contents

  • Putin and Xi top the G6+1
  • Commentary: Whatever happens next, the Trump-Kim summit is a win
  • Democrats urge Congress to take action on ‘appalling rates of poverty’
  • Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” Crackdown Won’t Stop Border Crossings but It Could Break the Courts
  • AT&T wins court approval to buy Time Warner over Trump opposition
  • Anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party surges in polls amid EU’s Eurosceptic wave
  • Volcanic eruptions may sap oxygen from oceans, lead to ‘mass extinction’ of life on Earth – study
  • Bitcoin sinks to two-month low as downtrend persists
  • US intelligence developing human DNA-like models to hoard your personal data
  • DNA testing service reveals 92mn user accounts have been breached

 

 

Putin and Xi top the G6+1

All hell broke loose at the G6+1, aka G7, while the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) aimed at global integration and a peaceful multipolar order

June 10, 2018

by Pepe Escobar

atimes

East vs. West: the contrast between the “dueling summits” this weekend was something for the history books.

All hell broke loose at the G6+1, otherwise known as G7, in La Malbaie, Canada, while all focused on divine Eurasian integration at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in China’s Qingdao in Shandong, the home province of Confucius.

US President Donald Trump was the predictable star of the show in Canada. He came late. He left early. He skipped a working breakfast. He disagreed with everybody. He issued a “free trade proclamation”, as in no barriers and tariffs whatsoever, everywhere, after imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on Europe and Canada. He proposed that Russia should be back at the G8 (Putin said he has other priorities). He signed the final communiqué and then he didn’t.

Trump’s “I don’t give a damn” attitude drove the European leaders assembled in Canada crazy. After the official photo shoot, the US president grabbed the arm of new Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and said, in ecstasy, “You’ve had a great electoral victory!”

The Euros were not pleased and forced Conte to abide by the official EU, as in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s, policy: no G8 readmission to Russia as long as Moscow does not respect the Minsk agreements. In fact it is Ukraine that is not respecting the Minsk agreements; Trump and Conte are fully aligned on Russia.

Merkel, in extremis, proposed a “shared evaluation mechanism”, lasting roughly two weeks, to try to defuse rising trade tensions. Yet the Trump administration does not seem to be interested.

“Strategic” game-changer

Meanwhile, over in Qingdao, the stunning takeaway was offered predictably by Chinese President Xi Jinping; “President Putin and I both think that the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership is mature, firm and stable.”

This is a massive game-changer because officially, so far, this was a “comprehensive partnership.” It’s the first time on record that Xi has put the stress on “strategic”. Again, in his own words: “It is the highest-level, most profound and strategically most significant relationship between major countries in the world.”

And if that was not far-reaching enough, it’s also personal. Xi, referring to Putin and perhaps channeling Trump’s bonhomie with leaders he likes, said, “He is my best, most intimate friend.”

Heavy business, as usual, was in order. The Chinese partnered with Russian nuclear energy giant Rosatom to get advanced nuclear technologies and diversify nuclear power contracts beyond its current Western suppliers. That’s the “strategic” energy alliance component of the partnership.

In a trilateral Russia-China-Mongolia meeting, they all vowed to go full steam ahead with the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor – one of the key planks of the New Silk Roads, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Mongolia once again volunteered to become a transit hub for Russian gas to China, diversifying from Gazprom’s current direct pipelines from Blagoveshchensk, Vladivostok and Altai. According to Putin, the Eastern Route pipeline remains on schedule, as does the US$27 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in Yamal being financed by Russian and Chinese companies.

On the Arctic, Putin and Xi went all the way for developing the Northern Sea Route, including crucial modernization of deep-water ports such as Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, and investment in infrastructure. The added geopolitical cachet is self-evident.

Putin had said last week that annual trade between Moscow and Beijing will soon reach US$100 billion. Currently, it stands at US$86 billion. Now Russian businesses venture the possibility of reaching US$200 billion by 2020 as feasible.

All this frenzy of activity is now openly described by Putin as the interconnectivity of BRI and the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU). Not to mention that the SCO itself interconnects with both BRI and the EAEU.

Putin told Chinese TV channel CGTN that though the SCO began as a “low-profile organization” [back in 2001] that sought merely to “solve border issues” between China, Russia and former Soviet countries, it is now evolving into a much bigger global force.

In parallel, according to Yu Jianlong, secretary general of the China Chamber of International Commerce, the SCO has now gathered extra collective strength to harness BRI expansion to increase business across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

So it’s no wonder companies from SCO nations are now being “encouraged” to use their own currencies to seal deals, bypassing the US dollar, as well as building e-commerce platforms, Alibaba-style. So far, Beijing has invested US$84 billion in other SCO members, mostly in energy, minerals, transportation (including, for instance, the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan highway), construction and manufacturing.

Putin also met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the SCO and vowed in no uncertain terms to preserve the Iranian nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA.

Iran is a current SCO observer nation. Putin once again reaffirmed he wants Tehran as a full member. The SCO charter determines that “a dialogue partner status can be granted to a country that shares the goals and principles of the SCO and wants to establish relations based on equal and mutually profitable relationship.”

Iran, as an observer, fulfills the commitment. The spanner in the works happens to be tiny Tajikistan.

Enter the trademark convoluted internal politics of the Central Asian stans, in this case revolving around Tajik president Emomali Rahmon accepting Saudi Arabia’s acquisition of a 51% stake in Tajikistan’s largest bank. Nobody else wanted it; Riyadh was just buying influence.

All SCO full members must be approved unanimously. Still, that won’t prevent larger economic integration between Iran, Russia and China. The talk in the SCO corridors was that Chinese companies expect an extra bonanza in the Iranian market after the unilateral Trump pullout of the JCPOA.

Behind closed doors, as diplomats told Asia Times, the SCO also discussed the crucial plan devised by the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group, an Asia-wide peace process with Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan trying to finally solve the decades-long tragedy without Western interference.

So what about a G3?

The “dueling summits” clearly set the scene. The G7 meeting at La Malbaie represented the dysfunctional old order, dilacerated by largely self-inflicted chaos and its apoplexy at the Rise of the East – from the integration of BRI, EAEU, SCO and BRICS, to the yuan-based gold-backed oil futures market.

In contrast to the G7’s full spectrum dominance doctrine of total military superiority, Qingdao represented the new groove. Implacably derided by the old order as autocratic and filled with “democraships” bent on “aggression”, in fact it was a graphic illustration of multi-polarity at work, the intersection of four great civilizations, an Eurasian Café debating that another, non-War Party conducted future is possible.

In parallel, diplomats in Brussels confirmed to Asia Times there are insistent rumbles about Trump possibly dreaming of a G3 composed of just US, Russia and China. Trump, after all, personally admires the leadership qualities of both Putin and Xi, while deriding the Kafkaesque EU bureaucratic maze and its weaklings, currently represented by the M3 (Merkel, Macron, May).

In Europe, no one seems to be listening to informed advice, such as provided by Belgian economist Paul de Grauwe, who’s pleading for Frankfurt and Berlin to manage a common debt, without which the EU won’t survive the sovereign crises of individual members.

Trump, for all his dizzying inconsistencies, seems to have understood that the G7 is a Walking Dead, and the heart of the action revolves around China, Russia and India, which not by accident form the hard node of BRICS.

The problem is the US national security strategy, as well as the national defense strategy, advocate no less than Cold War 2.0 against both China and Russia all across Eurasia. All bets are off, however, on who blinks first.

Security dynamics are changing rapidly in the Indo-Pacific. The region is home not only to the world’s fastest-growing economies, but also to the fastest-increasing military expenditures and naval capabilities, the fiercest competition over natural resources, and the most dangerous strategic hot spots. One might even say that it holds the key to global security.

The increasing use of the term “Indo-Pacific” – which refers to all countries bordering the Indian and Pacific oceans – rather than “Asia-Pacific,” underscores the maritime dimension of today’s tensions. Asia’s oceans have increasingly become an arena of competition for resources and influence. It now seems likely that future regional crises will be triggered and/or settled at sea.

The main driver of this shift has been China, which over the last five years has been working to push its borders far out into international waters, by building artificial islands in the South China Sea. Having militarized these outposts – presented as a fait accompli to the rest of the world – it has now shifted its focus to the Indian Ocean.

Already, China has established its first overseas military base in Djibouti, which recently expropriated its main port from a Dubai-based company, possibly to give it to China. Moreover, China is planning to open a new naval base next to Pakistan’s China-controlled Gwadar port. And it has leased several islands in the crisis-ridden Maldives, where it is set to build a marine observatory that will provide subsurface data supporting the deployment of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and nuclear-powered ballistic missile subs (SSBNs) in the Indian Ocean.

In short, China has transformed the region’s strategic landscape in just five years. If other powers do not step in to counter further challenges to the territorial and maritime status quo, the next five years could entrench China’s strategic advantages. The result could be the ascendancy of a China-led illiberal hegemonic regional order, at the expense of the liberal rules-based order that most countries in the region support. Given the region’s economic weight, this would create significant risks for global markets and international security.

To mitigate the threat, the countries of the Indo-Pacific must confront three key challenges, beginning with the widening gap between politics and economics. Despite a lack of political integration and the absence of a common security framework in the Indo-Pacific, free-trade agreements are proliferating, the latest being the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). China has emerged as the leading trade partner of most regional economies.

But booming trade alone cannot reduce political risks. That requires a framework of shared and enforceable rules and norms. In particular, all countries should agree to state or clarify their territorial or maritime claims on the basis of international law, and to settle any dispute by peaceful means – never through force or coercion.

Establishing a regional framework that reinforces the rule of law will require progress on overcoming the second challenge: the region’s “history problem.” Disputes over territory, natural resources, war memorials, air defense zones, and textbooks are all linked, in one way or another, with rival historical narratives. The result is competing and mutually reinforcing nationalisms that imperil the region’s future.

The past continues to cast a shadow over the relationship between South Korea and Japan – America’s closest allies in East Asia. China, for its part, uses history to justify its efforts to upend the territorial and maritime status quo and emulate the pre-1945 colonial depredations of its rival Japan. All of China’s border disputes with 11 of its neighbors are based on historical claims, not international law.

While the major players in the region all agree that an open, rules-based order is vastly preferable to Chinese hegemony, they have so far done far too little to promote collaboration

This brings us to the third key challenge facing the Indo-Pacific: changing maritime dynamics. Amid surging maritime trade flows, regional powers are fighting for access, influence, and relative advantage.

Here, the biggest threat lies in China’s unilateral attempts to alter the regional status quo. What China achieved in the South China Sea has significantly more far-reaching and longer-term strategic implications than, say, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, as it sends the message that defiant unilateralism does not necessarily carry international costs.

Add to that new challenges – from climate change, overfishing, and degradation of marine ecosystems to the emergence of maritime non-state actors, such as pirates, terrorists, and criminal syndicates – and the regional security environment is becoming increasingly fraught and uncertain. All of this raises the risks of war, whether accidental or intentional.

As the most recent US National Security Strategy report put it, “A geopolitical competition between free and repressive visions of world order is taking place in the Indo-Pacific region.” And yet while the major players in the region all agree that an open, rules-based order is vastly preferable to Chinese hegemony, they have so far done far too little to promote collaboration.

There is no more time to waste. Indo-Pacific powers must take stronger action to strengthen regional stability, reiterating their commitment to shared norms, not to mention international law, and creating robust institutions.

For starters, Australia, India, Japan, and the US must make progress in institutionalizing their Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, so that they can better coordinate their policies and pursue broader collaboration with other important players like Vietnam, Indonesia, and South Korea, as well as with smaller countries.

Economically and strategically, the global center of gravity is shifting to the Indo-Pacific. If the region’s players don’t act now to fortify an open, rules-based order, the security situation will continue to deteriorate – with consequences that are likely to reverberate worldwide.

 

Commentary: Whatever happens next, the Trump-Kim summit is a win

June 12, 2018

by Peter Van Buren

Reuters

In the end, diplomacy can work – as a process, not an event. There is no Big Bang theory of nuclear diplomacy. If no further progress is made toward peace on the Korean peninsula, all this – the back-and-forth, the Moon-Kim meetings, the Singapore summit itself – is at worst another good start that faded. It is more likely, however, a turning point.

It is easy to announce a morning-after defeat for Trump: to criticize the agreement as vague and lacking in specific commitments regarding denuclearization. But those critics ignore Kim’s moratorium on nuclear and ballistic missile testing, the return of American prisoners, the closing of a ballistic missile test site, and the shutting down of a major nuclear test facility without opening a new one. It is easy to forget that a few months ago North Korea was still testing nuclear devices to spark fears of a dark war. Calling the Singapore summit a failure in light of more detailed agreements and different efforts from the past ignores the reality that all of those past agreements failed.

Only a few months ago State Department North Korean expert Joseph Yun’s retirement triggered a round of dire claims of a “void at [the] head of Trump’s Korea diplomacy.” Similar predictions were made over the lack of an American ambassador in Seoul. The State Department was decimated. (“The Trump administration has lost the capacity to negotiate with other countries,” wrote one journalist.) The Council on Foreign Relations assessed the chances of war on the peninsula at 50 percent.

Success on the Korean peninsula, as in the Cold War, will be measured by the continued sense that war is increasingly unlikely. Success in Singapore is the commitment to meet again, and again after that; the more modest 2015 Iranian Accord (which didn’t even involve actual nuclear weapons) took 20 months to negotiate. Cold War treaties required years of effort, crossing administrations in their breadth. To expect more than a commitment to the next steps (did anyone think Kim would box up his nukes post-summit and mail them off?) is ahistorical. Did none of those complaining ever go on a first date?

Singapore also signals it is time to abandon now-disproven tropes. Trump and Kim are not madmen and their at times bellicose rhetoric is just that. Both men will need to balance conciliatory steps forward with rougher gestures directed at domestic hardline audiences. So there will be tweets and setbacks. But the idea this is a North Korean ruse is worn thin. “Small countries confronting big countries seldom bluff,” one history of the Cuban Missile Crisis explained. “They can’t afford to.”

The pieces for progress are in place if they can be manipulated well, including a North Korea with a young, Western-educated, multi-lingual leader perhaps envisioning himself as his nation’s Deng Xiaoping, the man who will bring the future to his isolated nation while preserving its sovereignty. “We have… decided to leave the past behind,” Kim said as he and Trump signed their joint statement. There is momentum in Pyongyang, a restless and growing consumerist middle class living in a parallel semi-market economy fueled by dollars, Chinese currency, and increasing access to foreign media. Couple that with an American president willing to break the established “rules” for (not) working with North Korea. A careful look shows the glass is more than half full.

Another important difference this time is the presence of South Korean President Moon Jae In. He was a prime mover behind the notion of any summit at all, helping convince Washington North Korea is a uniquely top-down system and needs to be dealt with as such. His April 27 meeting with Kim established the main negotiating points ahead of Singapore. After Trump’s May 24 initial cancellation of the Singapore meeting, Moon shuttled between Washington and Panmunjom to get the process moving again. In a climate of constant bleating about war, that was skilled diplomacy played out on a very big stage.

No nuclear negotiations in history have had such an interlocutor. Moon’s continuing juggling of his roles – honest broker, fellow Korean nationalist with shared cultural, linguistic, historical, and emotional ties, American ally, informal adviser to both Kim and Trump – is key to the next steps. Moon himself is the vehicle in place to resolve problems that in the past were deal-breakers.

What didn’t happen in Singapore is also important. Trump did not give away “the store.” In fact, there is no store Trump could have given away. The United States agreed to suspend military exercises which have been strategically canceled in the past, and which can be restarted anytime. The real deterrent is off-peninsula anyway: B-2s flying from Missouri, and missile-armed subs forever hidden under the Pacific.

Trump did not empower Kim. Meeting with one’s enemies is not a concession. Diplomacy is not a magic legitimacy powder the United States can choose to sprinkle on a world leader. The summit acknowledges the like-it-or-not reality of seven decades of Kim-family rule over a country armed with nuclear weapons.

Trump’s decision to begin the peace process with a summit is worthy. Imagining a summit as some sort of an award the United States can bestow on a country for “good behavior” is beyond arrogant. Successive administrations’ worth of that thinking yielded a North Korea armed with a hydrogen bomb, missiles that can reach the United States, and a permanent state of war. A top-down approach (China is the go-to historical example) is a valid way forward in that light.

The easiest thing to do now is generically dismiss the summit; the North will cheat and Trump will tweet. The harder thing will be to parse carefully what is next.

The United States must incentivize denuclearization. The 2015 Iran Accord is one example, where sanctions were eased, trade cranked up, frozen assets released, all alongside Iranian steps to reduce testing, production, and stocks of fissionable materials. Another reaches back to 1991, when Washington provided financial rewards for the inventory, destruction, and ultimately the disposal of weapons of mass destruction in Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. New jobs for the out-of-work nuclear scientists, too, to keep them from selling their skills elsewhere.

But more than anything Trump must convince Kim to trust him, particularly in light of Iraq, Libya, and especially Iran, because the core ask here is extraordinary. Only one nation in history that self-developed nuclear weapons, the white minority government in South Africa, ever fully gave them up, and that was only after the apartheid regime was about to disappear into history.

If Trump followed advice from the left he would have stayed home like past presidents. If he’d listened to the right he’d have bulled into the room and said “Lose the nukes, number one and we’re done” and the process would have truly failed. North Korea developed nuclear weapons to guarantee its survival. If the United States and South Korea want the North to give up those weapons, something has to replace them as that assurance of survival. The summit created the platform. The key to what happens next is how Trump, Moon and Kim work to resolve that issue.

 

 

Democrats urge Congress to take action on ‘appalling rates of poverty

Letter calls for plan of action following dire United Nations report into extreme poverty

June 12, 2018

by Ed Pilkington in New York

The Guardian

Bernie Sanders and a group of top Democrats are calling on the Trump administration to present a plan to Congress to combat “massive levels of deprivation and the immense suffering this deprivation causes”, following an excoriating United Nations report into extreme poverty in America.

In a congressional letter delivered on Tuesday to Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, the group said the UN report was “a call to action that we must heed”. They stand ready, the signatories say, to work with the Trump administration “to address appalling rates of child poverty, destructive economic policies that benefit the wealthy over the working poor … and lack of access to basic necessities in rural and underserved communities”.

The group specifically urges Trump to put the convention on the rights of the child before the Senate for ratification. The US is the only country in the world that has failed to ratify the treaty and the letter writers say “it is shameful that more than 13 million children live in poverty in this country and that, on any given night, more than one in five homeless individuals are children”.

The signatories include many of the most outspoken critics of inequality and poverty in America today. In addition to Sanders, an independent from Vermont who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, the senators in the group are Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Jeff Merkley.

The signatories from the House of Representatives, led by Terri Sewell, are: John Lewis, Yvette Clarke, Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson Lee, James McGovern, Raúl Grijalva, Earl Blumenauer, Danny Davis, Ro Khanna, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Frederica Wilson and Mark Pocan.

The congressional intervention comes in response to the official report of the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Philip Alston, who acts as global watchdog on the human rights implications of deprivation. Following a two-week tour of the US in December that took him to several of the most poverty-stricken parts of the country, he issued a scathing critique of the fact that 40 million Americans live in poverty and more than five million experience levels of absolute deprivation associated with the developing world.

Alston will present his findings to the UN human rights council in Geneva on 21 June.

The joint letter suggests Alston’s report is starting to gain traction in Washington. So far the White House and federal government departments have remained studiously silent over his findings, though Sanders and his fellow signatories express the hope that Haley will relay the key conclusions to Trump.

The UN report and the Democratic response to it act as a timely corrective to self-congratulatory noises coming from the White House over the state of the US economy. After this month’s jobs report showed a net increase of 223,000 jobs, Trump tweeted that under his presidency the US had achieved the “best economy & jobs EVER”.

But the UN report exposed the extent to which millions of Americans remain locked in penury exacerbated by the growing gulf between rich and poor. Sanders, Warren and their colleagues say the existence of such suffering in a rich country like the US is “an affront to any notion of the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Given the breadth of poverty outlined in the report, these rights are simply illusory for millions in this country.”

Pressure on Congress to do something to counter the stubborn endurance of ill health, homelessness, lack of food and unsanitary living conditions has been given a further boost by the Poor People’s Campaign, the movement led by the Rev William Barber and the Rev Liz Theoharis that has swept more than 30 states. Barber and Theoharis were set to join Warren for a forum on poverty at the Capitol on Tuesday.

Following Alston’s lead, the letter writers accuse Trump of taking hardships that have been decades in the making and “making things worse. We agree with the report’s conclusion that the administration’s $1.5tn in tax cuts ‘overwhelmingly benefited the wealthy and worsened inequality’.”

They lament the narrow definition of human rights adopted by the US over successive administrations. Quoting Alston, they say the US “is alone among developed countries in insisting that, while human rights are of fundamental importance, they do not include rights that guard against dying of hunger, dying from a lack of access to affordable healthcare or growing up in a context of total deprivation”.

Sanders and his peers conclude that Alston exposed “horrendous conditions” across the nation. From Alabama, where endemic diseases of poverty are making a comeback, to hurricane-racked Puerto Rico and the jobless strife of West Virginia, “Americans are suffering”.

But they end on a positive note: “The good news is, these are problems we can address. We agree with the special rapporteur that ‘with political will, extreme poverty could readily be eliminated’.”

 

Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” Crackdown Won’t Stop Border Crossings but It Could Break the Courts

June 12, 2018

by Ryan Devereaux

The Intercept

A little over two months ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order to U.S. prosecutors with the potential to break the core functions of the Department of Justice. The directive called on U.S. attorneys to criminally prosecute everybody arrested for crossing the U.S.-Mexico border between lawful ports of entry. The order made no exceptions for first-time offenders, asylum-seekers, or parents with small children. “You are the front lines of this battle,” Sessions told his attorneys, calling the new initiative a program of “zero tolerance.”

As far back as last year, the administration has signaled plans to target parents who illegally cross the border with the full force of the law and separate them from their children in the process. Through wrenching stories of what zero tolerance looks like in practice, many Americans have now seen, for the first time, dramatic representations of a phenomenon more than two decades in the making — the criminalization of unauthorized migration — colliding with the agenda of an administration inflicting as much punishment as possible on undocumented immigrants as a matter of strategy.

Hundreds of children are now being separated from their parents in courts along the border every week, with little to no system in place to reconnect those families as they pass through the criminal justice and immigration systems. With shelters for children separated from their parents rapidly hitting capacity, the Trump administration is actively exploring ways to lock up immigrant kids on U.S. military bases, including, according to a recent McClatchy report, through the use of “tent cities.” As for the adults caught in the zero tolerance push, Reuters reported last week that Immigration and Customs Enforcement was beginning the transfer of roughly 1,600 detainees to a handful of federal prisons across the country.

At the moment, the administration is operating nowhere near 100 percent zero tolerance. If it were to get there, the system would likely collapse. While referrals of migrants for prosecution are definitely on the rise — with 30,000 referrals from October to April, compared to 18,642 in all of fiscal year 2017 — “the current level is about one-fifth of all apprehended adult border-crossers,” Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America, noted in a column last month. By pushing to bring that level up to 100 percent, as Sessions has ordered, “the Trump administration is embarking on a course of action that could cause the federal government’s courts, ports of entry, and prisons to collapse,” Isacson argued. Hundreds of thousands of border crossers would be locked up annually in federal prisons under a fully enforced zero tolerance doctrine, he wrote, and the federal docket could be expected to balloon by 270 percent.

Doubling Down on Failure

Trumpian zero tolerance is a combination of policies new and old. The most critical new component is that, in its quest to prosecute 100 percent of all people who cross the border illegally, the administration is separating families in waves, pulling apart parents and kids who would have likely stayed together in years past. Virtually everything else the administration is doing on the border is the ramped-up version of a decadesold strategy that has consistently failed to achieve its stated objectives.

The administration’s evolving crackdown has critical implications for asylum-seekers in particular. On Monday, Sessions issued a decision overturning an Obama-era precedent that will now make it exceedingly difficult for migrants to seek asylum on the basis of domestic violence and gang violence. Both are particularly common claims among Central American asylum-seekers. “This just told thousands of battered women and children that the United States will not afford them protection under the law,” a senior Department of Homeland Security immigration official told The Intercept.

While Sessions and the administration take the position that most asylum-seekers are frauds undertaking perilous journeys in order to scam the government, they have said that migrants who present themselves at lawful ports of entry seeking asylum have nothing to worry about. More than a year’s worth of news stories and an ongoing class-action lawsuit suggest otherwise, with accounts from across the border describing immigration officials blocking or turning away asylum-seekers exercising their rights at U.S. ports. What’s more, as Isacson noted, if the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers who present themselves between ports of entry each year reversed course and began showing up at the nation’s 45 understaffed ports of entry, those ports would be quickly overwhelmed.

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently challenging the administration’s family separation practices as they pertain to asylum-seekers. The organization, in a class-action suit, points to the experiences of two mothers. The first, identified as Ms. L, is a citizen of the Democratic Republic of Congo who last year came to the U.S. following an exhaustive journey with her then-6-year-old daughter. According to the ACLU, Ms. L did exactly as the administration has prescribed: She presented herself at a lawful port of entry and said she was seeking asylum. Ms. L and her daughter were placed in detention, and after a few days, the two were “forcibly separated.” Ms. L’s daughter was sent to a shelter more than 1,000 miles away, where she remained for four months.

The second plaintiff in the suit, identified as Ms. C., did not present herself at a lawful port entry. Instead, she and her son crossed the border in Texas between ports, flagged down a Border Patrol agent, and then asked to apply for asylum. Ms. C. was arrested, prosecuted, and served 25 days in federal custody before being handed off to immigration authorities. Ms. C’s son was taken away following her arrest and moved to a shelter hundreds of miles away in Chicago. Ms. C completed her sentence in September of last year. She was moved into immigration custody, where she successfully began the asylum process. Still, the government kept Ms. C separated from her son. The pair were finally reunited last week.

While the lawsuit does not challenge the lawfulness of these prosecutions, Lee Gelernt, a veteran ACLU attorney arguing the case, says the government’s targeting of asylum-seekers who appear between ports of entry is a serious problem. “They should not be first prosecuting and then seeing whether you’re a bona fide asylum-seeker,” Gelernt told The Intercept recently. In the event that an asylum-seeker is prosecuted, however, the ACLU argues that they should be reunited with their child after their time is served, provided there is no evidence that they are unfit. “What we’re saying in the lawsuit is if you’re going to prosecute asylum-seekers and you’re going to take the children away, give the child back. You’ve got to give the child back.”

As Gelernt noted, the core question being considered in the ACLU’s case is somewhat narrow: the legality of the prolonged separation of parents from their children in immigration custody absent a determination that those parents are unfit. But the broader concerns raised in the case go to the heart of the zero tolerance campaign. In the case of Ms. C, the government arrested a mother seeking asylum because she did so between lawful ports of entry — in essence, she broke a law to exercise a right. According to the Washington Post, more than 20,000 migrants sought asylum by crossing the border illegally from October through December. In the past, cases like Ms. C’s were treated inconsistently. In some sectors, the Border Patrol would turn over asylum-seekers picked up between ports, particularly those with children, to immigration authorities, rather than referring them to the Department of Justice for prosecution.

Under zero tolerance, these acts of prosecutorial discretion are out. Those picked up between ports of entry, including parents and asylum-seekers, will appear in one of several courts along the border that feature mass prosecutions often facilitated through Operation Streamline, the U.S. government program designed to funnel bodies, as Border Patrol agents call them, through the criminal justice system, then out of the country, as quickly as possible. In its 13-year history, Streamline has been criticized as a ghastly example of conveyor belt justice, a mockery of due process that no decent American would ever accept for themselves, their loved ones, or their neighbors. The Trump administration sees it differently.

Theater of Cruelty

Sessions highlighted Streamline, specifically, as a model of success in his April directive. “Past prosecution initiatives in certain districts — such as Operation Streamline — led to a decrease in illegal activities in those districts,” he wrote. Streamline prosecutions in Southern Arizona have jumped 71 percent this fiscal year, with the chief district judge saying the courts can’t handle any more. Nationally, federal criminal prosecutions, Streamline or otherwise, of individuals accused of illegally crossing the border increased by 60 percent from January to April, according to government data obtained by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Administration officials say these ramped-up efforts are simply about enforcing the law, but the politics are obvious. Last year, Trump was able to brag about a historic drop in border apprehensions being a sign that he was living up to campaign promises. That’s not the case anymore. The administration line is that a “surge” in illegal crossings is to blame. That’s a misleading claim. In 2017, border apprehension levels did drop to record lows, and it’s true that apprehensions have risen in the last three months. But, as the Migration Policy Institute noted in an analysis last week, “What has been lost in the discussion is that the 2017 apprehensions are the outliers, and so measuring current activity at the border against that atypically low period ignores the fact that the current apprehensions picture largely mirrors earlier years.” MPI research assistant Jessica Bolter and Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, observed that this year’s March, April, and May apprehension numbers “are largely comparable to the same months in 2013, 2014, and 2016,” adding that the “40,344 apprehensions recorded in May 2018 are continuing the downward trend that has emerged over the past 18 years.”

To the extent that there is any notable uptick regarding people crossing the border, Bolter and Meissner went on to say, it’s in “the proportion of migrants that are either traveling as unaccompanied children or as families consisting of both adults and children.” Those numbers have been going up the past few years, and those are the people now in the crosshairs of the administration’s shock and awe campaign. This is the population that Manuel Padilla Jr., former Border Patrol chief for the Tucson sector, now running operations in the Rio Grande Valley, calls “non-impactable traffic” — individuals for whom no level of enforcement will serve as a deterrence. Sessions appears set on proving the veteran Border Patrol chief wrong, by showing that everyone is impactable. Through zero tolerance, the administration intends to deter people considering crossing the border illegally by making an example of others. It seems tearing babies and toddlers from their parents and letting that idea marinate in the minds of would-be migrants is now part of that strategy.

Deterrence, broadly, has been the guiding strategy of U.S. border enforcement since the Clinton administration. It was in 1994 that a collection of Border Patrol chiefs and Pentagon planners drew up “Prevention Through Deterrence,” the national border strategy designed to funnel border crossers away from border cities and into remote areas like the Sonoran Desert. While the strategy has shifted migration flows away from urban centers, it has also fueled an explosion in migrant deaths across the border over the last two decades. Streamline, and now Sessions’s zero tolerance initiative, are an extension of the same line of thinking: that if the right combination of enforcement efforts is arrayed to make unlawful border crossing sufficiently risky or punishing, people will stop crossing.

While the logic is straightforward, years of research strongly suggests that various enforcement strategies have little effect on migration flows. In 2015, a report published by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security found that in the case of Streamline specifically, the Border Patrol did “not fully and accurately” measure the program’s “effect on deterring aliens from entering and re-entering the country illegally.” Additionally, the OIG’s office found that the Border Patrol lacked consistent guidance on whether to refer asylum-seekers to the DOJ under the program, with different sectors operating under different guidelines. In response to the OIG’s 2015 findings, the Border Patrol said it would “develop and implement guidance in all Border Patrol sectors that use Streamline to ensure consistency in all aspects of administrative and criminal processing, particularly with regard to claims of fear of persecution or return.” On Monday, The Intercept asked Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, about whether the agency had followed up on that commitment and current guidance on referrals to the DOJ. CBP did not provide an answer by publication.

Leading migration scholars tend to agree that so-called push and pull factors, such as the 2008 economic crash or rising violence directed at Central American women and kids, have a much closer link to rising or falling migration levels. A 2015 survey published in the Journal on Migration and Human Security, based on a random sample survey of 1,100 recently deported migrants in six Mexican cities, found that so-called consequence delivery systems such as Operation Streamline “do not have a strong deterrent effect” on illegal border crossing. “Instead,” the report said, “immigration enforcement has led to a ‘caging effect’ over the past two decades which has disrupted seasonal migration flows, increased familial and social ties to the United States, and decreased the probability of returning to Mexico once in the United States.”

Half of the participants in the survey had a U.S. citizen family member, and roughly 1 in 5 had a U.S. citizen child. More than half — 55 percent — said that even after experiencing enforcement firsthand, they intended to return to the U.S. In a report published last week, the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and policy organization, took an updated look at Streamline’s relationship to deterrence. Teaming up with researchers at the University of New Haven, Vera performed a statistical analysis of Customs and Border Protection data going back to 1992 designed to isolate “the effects of an intervention” — in this case, Operation Streamline — “from other short- and long-term variations in the data.” The analysis found that “contrary to DHS’s premise, there is no evidence to support the conclusion that Operation Streamline succeeded in deterring unauthorized border crossings, nor that it had any effect whatsoever on immigrants’ decisions to come to the United States.”

Vera’s report found that despite having no demonstrable impact on migration levels, “Operation Streamline had massive effects on immigrants and the federal judicial system.” In the last decade, Streamline has contributed to a flood of cases “reaching a high in 2013 of 47 percent of all federal cases completed,” Vera noted. Those prosecutions require resources that have to be pulled away from other cases that come before federal courts. Streamline’s impact on due process has been similarly severe. “In particularly busy courts, a single attorney might meet with up to 80 Streamline clients per day for only a few minutes each,” the report said. “These limitations placed significant constraints on the ability of attorneys to effectively represent their clients. In the yearlong period ending September 30, 2016, for example, 16,577 defendants in federal district court were charged with unauthorized re-entry; 98 percent were convicted upon entering a guilty plea.”

Given Streamline’s long record of gumming up the courts, and its lack of demonstrable impact on actual migration, it’s reasonable to ask why administrations would continue to run such hard-line programs. In answering this question, Vera points to the “political theater” that followed the September 11 attacks and “measures that provided the illusion of security while doing nothing to actually increase or ensure security.”

“Similarly, Operation Streamline’s lack of any demonstrable deterrent effect arguably makes it ‘deterrence theater,’” the report said. “The mass criminal prosecution and incarceration of immigrants provides the illusion of reducing unauthorized immigration, but statistical analysis provides no evidence of any deterrent effect.”

Tearing kids from their parents, of course, turns some people off, politically. The Trump administration has experienced some of that backlash in recent weeks. But the president also has his supporters: Americans who believe that these parents having their babies and toddlers taken from them, with no word of when they will be reunited, are facing rational and reasonable consequences for their actions, even if they came to the U.S. seeking asylum, which is not against the law. In those corners, this is all long overdue.

With midterm elections approaching and a hungry anti-immigrant base to feed, there’s little sign that the Trump government will willingly pull back on this crackdown. Last month, Stephen Miller, a senior White House adviser, former Sessions aide, and anti-immigrant hawk, signaled to the right-wing website Breitbart that in the next few months, the administration will approach a reduction in unauthorized immigration levels at the border as a “vital necessity.” Six days after Miller’s interview, Sessions sent a letter to all Department of Justice immigration court staff directing them to make themselves available for three two-week postings to border courts between July and the beginning of next year. They were told to expect work involving “mass migration emergencies,” “enforcement initiatives,” and responses to staffing shortages.

While it may score political points with some, Gelernt, the ACLU attorney, believes that the administration may have overplayed its hand with this one. “It doesn’t feel like the administration was prepared for this sort of blowback,” he said. As for the asylum-seekers, he added, they will keep coming. “All you’re doing is just giving them two evils,” Gelernt said. “A mother is not going to stay behind and let a gang kill her and certainly not her kid. And so they’re going to come no matter what. And if the horror of family separation happens, they’re going to be saying, ‘Well, I didn’t really have a choice.’”

 

 

 

AT&T wins court approval to buy Time Warner over Trump opposition

June 12, 2018

by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – AT&T Inc won court approval on Tuesday to buy Time Warner Inc for $85 billion, rebuffing an attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to block the deal and likely setting off a wave of corporate mergers. The merger was approved without conditions and is seen as a turning point for a media industry that has been upended by companies like Netflix Inc and Google which produce content and sell it online directly to consumers, without requiring a pricey cable subscription. Distributors including cable, satellite and wireless carriers all see buying content companies as a way to add revenue.

The decision comes despite criticism from Trump, a frequent detractor of Time Warner’s CNN and its coverage. The deal was announced in October 2016 and quickly denounced by Trump.

The ruling could also prompt a cascade of pay TV companies buying television and movie makers, with Comcast Corp’s bid for some Twenty-First Century Fox Inc assets potentially the first out of the gate.

The merger, including debt, would be the fourth largest deal ever attempted in the global telecom, media and entertainment space, according to Thomson Reuters data. It would also be the 12th largest deal in any sector, the data showed.

“I conclude that the government has failed to meet its burden” to show that the merger was likely to substantially lessen competition, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon told the court. He called one of the government’s positions “gossamer thin” and another “poppycock.”

In a scathing opinion bit.ly/2Jxx6qE, he urged the U.S. government not to seek a stay of his ruling, saying it would be “manifestly unjust” to do so and not likely to succeed.

“That’s a legal shocker.” said J.B. Heaton, an attorney and consultant on litigation and regulatory proceedings. “I think we’ll see now that companies will be much more confident about vertical mergers,” he added, referring to acquisitions which tie together different parts of a business, such as production and distribution.

Shares of AT&T fell about 1.3 percent in after-hours trade following the decision, while Time Warner rose more than 5 percent.

Twenty-First Century Fox jumped 7 percent in extended trade after the ruling on expectations that Comcast and Walt Disney Co could start a bidding war to acquire its media assets. Comcast and Walt Disney dropped 4.3 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.

Shares of other media and telecom companies also rose, including T-Mobile US Inc, Sprint Corp, CBS Corp, Dish Network Corp, Discovery Inc and Viacom Inc.

“This will be a blockbuster summer for media mergers,” said Mary Ann Halford, senior adviser to OC&C Strategy Consultants.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit to stop the deal in November 2017, saying that AT&T’s ownership of both DirecTV and Time Warner would give AT&T unfair leverage against rival cable providers that relied on Time Warner’s content, such as CNN and HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

Leaving the courtroom, Makan Delrahim, head of the Justice department’s antitrust division, said that he would read the judge’s opinion before making a decision on an appeal.

The Justice Department is not likely to be put off by the loss, said Amy Ray of the law firm Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, noting it had prevailed in stopping other mergers between rivals.

“Put me on the side of the fence of thinking that AAG (Makan) Delrahim is interested in challenging the next problematic vertical transaction,” she said.

AT&T in a six-week trial argued that the purchase of Time Warner would allow it to gain information about viewers needed to target digital advertising, much like Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google already do.

AT&T applauded the court’s decision. “We look forward to closing the merger on or before June 20,” a day before the contractual deadline with Time Warner, said David McAtee, AT&T general counsel.

The government estimated costs to industry rivals, such as Charter Communications Inc, would increase by $580 million a year if AT&T owned Time Warner.

Before the trial started, AT&T lawyers said the Time Warner deal may have been singled out for government enforcement but Judge Leon of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected their bid to force the disclosure of White House communications that might have shed light on the matter.

The deal cost AT&T’s top lobbyist, Bob Quinn, his job in May after it became public that AT&T had paid Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen $600,000 for advice on winning approval.

The ruling could also have implications for CBS’s potential tie-up with Viacom, which is already uncertain because of a lawsuit between CBS’s controlling shareholder, Shari Redstone, and its board.

Burns McKinney, a portfolio manager at Allianz Global Investors who owns AT&T, said he would not say the telecoms company had won a huge victory.

“It’s more that they just didn’t lose. You always wonder in these cases if there’s a winner’s curse, given the risk (AT&T) can’t get the desired synergies and they’re taking on a lot of debt with the merger,” he said.

Reporting by Diane Bartz and David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson in Washington; Sheila Dang and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Kanishkay Singh and Supantha Mukherjee in Bangalore; Writing by Peter Henderson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

 

Anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats party surges in polls amid EU’s Eurosceptic wave

June 13, 2018

RT

The anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have gained ground in a recent poll, pulling almost even with the ruling Social Democrats, ahead of an election in September. Similar parties have won recent elections in Slovenia and Italy.

The poll, conducted for Sweden’s Expressen newspaper and published Monday, has put the Sweden Democrats in second place, with 21 percent of the vote, the highest score in the party’s history. The liberal Social Democrats, currently in a coalition government with the Green Party, are still in first place but polling at 23.1 percent.

The surge in popularity for Sweden Democrats is attributed to voters leaving Social Democrats for other left-wing parties, but also to the country’s open-door migration policy, which has been accompanied by a crime wave.

Gang-related gun murders –overwhelmingly carried out by men with migrant backgrounds– have surged from around four per-year in the early 1990s to 40 last year. Rapes and anti-Semitic attacks by Muslim immigrants have also surged. Grenade attacks were up 550 percent last year from three years prior.

Just last week, Rakmat Akilov, an asylum seeker from Uzbekistan, was given a life sentence for a truck attack last year. Akilov plowed a truck down a busy shopping street in Stockholm last April, killing five people and injuring almost a dozen others. Among the dead was an 11-year-old girl. He said he acted on behalf of Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).

I often use Sweden as a deterring example,” Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Swedish television in January, warning about the dangers of unchecked immigration.

In April, a poll by Demoskop revealed that immigration is the top issue for Swedish voters ahead of the election. Law and order is the third most important issue, while integration comes in fourth. On immigration and integration, voters have the most confidence in the Sweden Democrats party.

The Social Democrats party seems to be be focusing on other issues, however. On Monday, Stockholm’s city council voted to ban ‘sexist’ advertising in public spaces, including ads that “show a stereotypical image of gender roles.” The council is run by the Social Democrats and Moderate Unity Party, described as “liberal conservatives.”

The Sweden Democrats’ rise appears to be tracking the broader swing in support towards parties critical of immigration across the European Union. Italy got a Eurosceptic government at the end of May, which immediately took a tough line on immigration. Over the past weekend, the Italian navy turned back a French ship that rescued 629 migrants in the Mediterranean, criticizing the EU leadership in Brussels for leaving Italy to bear the brunt of Europe’s migrant problem “all by itself.”

Last week, Slovenia’s anti-immigrant SDS-EPP party won the general election there, with 28 percent of the vote. The SDS-EPP has promised to lock down the Slovenian border and ban the wearing of the burqa in public. They have received open support from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a long-time crusader against immigration and the Brussels establishment.

The Sweden Democrats still face an uphill battle to get into government. Sweden’s establishment parties have long refused to enter into coalition with them. Electoral math still favors a loose alliance of centrist parties, currently polling 38.5 percent, while a leftist coalition around the Social Democrats is polling at 36.2 percent.

“The important thing for us is to get as much of our policy through as possible, and then it does not matter who we get it through with,” said party leader Richard Jomshof. “Anything is possible.”

 

Volcanic eruptions may sap oxygen from oceans, lead to ‘mass extinction’ of life on Earth – study

June 13, 2018

RT

Devastating volcanic eruptions, caused by excess carbon in the atmosphere, could one day lead to the mass extinction of all marine animals, and possibly all life on Earth – so says a new study.

The dire warning comes amid dramatic seismic events in Guatemala and Hawaii, where hundreds of people have been either killed or displaced from their homes in recent weeks.

Researchers from Florida State University looked at data dating back millions of years to the Early Jurassic Period, when powerful volcanoes spewed huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere, drawing oxygen from the world’s oceans and killing marine life. The phenomenon was known as the ‘Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event.’

It’s extremely important to study these past events,” said Theodore Them, a postdoctoral researcher at FSU. “It seems that no matter what event we observe in Earth’s history, when we see carbon dioxide concentrations increasing rapidly, the result tends to be very similar: a major or mass extinction event.”

“This is another situation where we can unequivocally link widespread oceanic deoxygenation to a mass extinction,” Them said. “If you’re an oxygen-consuming organism, you don’t want to see major changes in marine oxygen levels. You either adapt or go extinct.”

The study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, outlines how a continued rise in carbon dioxide and global temperatures could spark a “cascade of hydrological, biological and chemical events that conspire to sap the oceans of oxygen.”

The study is of particular concern given the number of volcanic events taking place across the Earth just now. But according to Smithsonian’s Natural History Global Volcanism Program, any thought that volcanic activity has increased is a load of old rubbish.

More than 1,500 volcanoes on the planet have erupted at some point in the last 11,500 years. Today, some 15 volcanoes are spewing their volcanic ash and carbon-based materials into the blue sky above – a number very much consistent with any time in modern history.

 

Bitcoin sinks to two-month low as downtrend persists

June 12, 2018

by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bitcoin fell to a two-month low on Tuesday, sliding in three of the last four sessions on nagging regulatory and security concerns after the weekend hacking of South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Coinrail.

The original virtual currency is nearing its lowest level of the year of just under $6,000 BTC=BTSP on the Bitstamp platform. It fell to a low of below $6,500 and last traded down 4.7 percent at $6,551.48.

So far in 2018, bitcoin is down nearly 53 percent, after soaring more than 1,300 percent last year.

On Sunday, Coinrail, a relatively small cryptocurrency exchange in South Korea, said its system was hit by “cyber intrusion,” causing a loss of about 30 percent of the coins traded on the exchange. It did not quantify its value, but local news outlet Yonhap news estimated in an unsourced report that about 40 billion won ($37.28 million) worth of virtual coins were stolen.

The latest hacking wiped out more than $40 billion in the market value of the cryptocurrency market on Sunday. Bitcoin itself declined by nearly $1,000.

Bitcoin was able to recover after Sunday’s bloodbath on Monday, but it has since continued its downtrend.

“Bitcoin is in a liquidity vacuum at the moment. Volumes on the crypto exchanges are now below $5 billion per day, their lowest levels since November 2017, before things got out of hand,” Israel-based Mati Greenspan, senior market analyst, at eToro, said.

“As the trading activity is very low, even a small amount of pressure can move the price quite drastically. Kind of like if you hit a baseball in outer space,” he added.

Other digital currencies also declined in sympathy with bitcoin. Ethereum, the second-largest by market value, was down 5 percent over the past 24 hours to $496.07, while the third-largest, Ripple, lost 4.3 percent to $0.55, according to cryptocurrency price tracker coinmarketcap.com.

South Korea is one of the world’s major cryptocurrency trading centers, and is home to one of the most heavily trafficked virtual coin exchanges, Bithumb.

Investors and regulators were jolted earlier this year after Japan’s cryptocurrency exchange Coincheck was hacked in a high-profile theft of over half a billion dollars worth of digital currency.

Since the beginning of the year, bitcoin has been trading in a “descending triangle,” with important support at $6,500 analysts at online FX broker FxPro said.

A move below $6,500 is a strong technical signal for a sell-off, FxPro said.

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by Tom Brown

 

US intelligence developing human DNA-like models to hoard your personal data

June 13, 2018

RT

As US intelligence services struggle to store the trove of data collected during its snooping operations, a team of researchers are developing radical new storage technology based on an unusual model – human DNA.

The Molecular Information Storage program, run by the rather protractively-named Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), is recruiting scientists to help develop a system for storing huge amounts of data on “sequence-controlled polymer,” molecules with a similar makeup and structure to DNA.

The technology has huge potential as researchers believe DNA-like polymer technology can store data more than 100,000 times more efficiently than current methods. The IARPA hopes that it could one-day process entire exabytes of data while reducing the amount of physical space required to store it. To give you an idea of the scale: one exabyte, or one quintillion bytes, is four million times the storage capacity of a 256GB iPhone X.

The issue of how to store data is a live one for the world’s intelligence services. Costly data centers take up huge amounts of land, an unsustainable situation given the increasing amount of data generated by each person on a daily basis.

“Faced with exponential data growth, large data consumers may soon face a choice between investing exponentially more resources in storage or discarding an exponentially increasing fraction of data,” the IARPA said in a statement cited by Nextgov.

Some data centers are even housed in urban locations. The Lakeside Technology Center in Chicago is the largest data storage facility in the US, spanning 1.1 million square feet, an entire city block. On the site of the former printing press for the Yellow Pages, the center was transformed in 1999 and now holds more than 50 generators whirring around the clock. The Chicago facility is only matched by the NSA’s $1.5billion Bumblehive data center in Bluffdale, Utah, which is just over 1 million square feet.

Ultimately, the IARPA aims to scale down an exabyte storage facility so that it can fit in one room and run for less than $1million per year.

There are three distinct strands to the project, with the agency hoping to create systems for storing and retrieving information. The IARPA is calling on developers to help put together an easy-to-use operating system.

 

DNA testing service reveals 92mn user accounts have been breached

June 5, 2018

RT

Genealogy and DNA testing service My Heritage has revealed that the details of more than 92 million user accounts have been compromised in a cybersecurity breach.

Emails and hashed passwords of users who registered for the service, up to and including October 26, 2017 – the date of the breach, were found on a private server, the company confirmed Monday.

The incident was brought to the ancestry site’s attention by a security researcher who came across the file named ‘myheritage’ on a private server outside of MyHeritage.

Upon analysis of the file, the company confirmed it was legitimate and included the email addresses and hashed passwords of 92,283,889 users.

MyHeritage is an Israel-based ancestry platform where users can create family trees and search through familial and historical records. It has some 35 million family trees on its website, according to a report from Israeli media last year.

The company reassured customers that anyone who has access to the hashed passwords does not have the actual passwords. Password hashes are cryptographic representations of passwords, meaning companies don’t have to store the actual password themselves.

The security researcher reported that no other data related to MyHeritage was found on the private server. “There has been no evidence that the data in the file was ever used by the perpetrators,” the statement said, adding that there is no reason to believe any other systems were compromised.

According to the genealogy platform, credit card information is stored by third-party billing providers, while sensitive data, such as family trees and DNA data, is stored on segregated systems, which include added layers of security.

A response team has since been set up to investigate the incident, and plans are in place to enable two-factor authentication for all customers in the near future.

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