TBR News January 6, 2018

Feb 06 2018

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. February 6, 2018:”The Poles are tired of having the concentration camp, Auschwitz, blamed on them.

Originally the town of Auschwitz was part of the Austrian Empire and after the First World War, it became part of Poland. After the Germans conquered Poland in 1939, Auschwitz became part of Germany.

Auschwitz has been turned into a Disneyland attraction for the Poles and they make a good deal of money out of a rebuilt camp but as far as running the camp during the Third Reich, the Poles had nothing to do with it.

Of course after the Germans evacuated it in 1944, they had the local Polish police come in and run the camp and care for about 10,000 sick and old inmates. Since most of these were Jews and since the Poles hate Jews, when the Soviet army got close, the Polish guards machine-gunned the inmates and killed all of them.

In Israel, tampering with the sacred Holocaust legend in any way is considered a gross insult to Jews and must be stopped at all costs.

The Polish government is entirely correct when they object to Auschwitz being called a ‘Polish murder camp’ and the Israelis would be better off killing more Palestinian Arabs and stealing their land.”

Table of Contents

  • Nunes Duels the Deep State
  • Special Report: In Puerto Rico, a housing crisis U.S. storm aid won’t solve
  • Why Donald Trump’s immigration deal is a hard sell
  • Citing U.S. Prison Conditions, British Appeals Court Refuses to Extradite Accused Hacker Lauri Love to the U.S.
  • Donald Trump Offers a Helping Hand to China and Russia
  • Polish president signs controversial Holocaust bill into law
  • Poland’s new ‘Holocaust law’ widely condemned in Israel



Nunes Duels the Deep State

February 6, 2018

by Patrick J. Buchanan

That memo worked up in the Intel Committee of Chairman Devin Nunes may not have sunk the Mueller investigation, but from the sound of the secondary explosions, this torpedo was no dud.

The critical charge:

To persuade a FISA court to issue a warrant to spy on Trump aide Carter Page, the FBI relied on a dossier produced by a Trump-hating British spy, who was using old Kremlin contacts, while being paid to dig up dirt on Donald Trump by Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Not only were the Clinton campaign and DNC paying the spy, Christopher Steele, for his dirt-diving, the FBI put Steele on its own payroll, until they caught him lying about leaking to the media.

In their requests for search warrants, the FBI never told the FISA court judge their primary source was a 35-page dossier delivered by Steele that their own Director James Comey described as “salacious and unverified.”

From the Nunes memo, there was, at the highest level of the FBI, a cabal determined to derail Trump and elect Clinton. Heading the cabal was Comey, who made the call to exonerate Hillary of criminal charges for imperiling national security secrets, even before his own FBI investigation was concluded.

Assisting Comey was Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose wife, running for a Virginia state senate seat, received a windfall of $467,000 in contributions from Clinton bundler Terry McAuliffe.

Last week, McCabe was discharged from the FBI. Seems that in late September 2016, he learned from his New York field office that it was sitting on a trove of emails between Anthony Weiner and his wife, Clinton aide Huma Abedin, which potentially contained security secrets.

Not until late October did Comey inform Congress of what deputy McCabe had known a month earlier.

Other FBI plotters were Peter Strzok, chief investigator in both the Clinton email server scandal and Russiagate, and his FBI girlfriend, Lisa Page. Both were ousted from the Mueller investigation when their anti-Trump bias and behavior were exposed last summer.

Filling out the starting five was Bruce Ohr, associate deputy attorney general under Loretta Lynch. In 2016, Ohr’s wife was working for Fusion GPS, the oppo research arm of the Clinton campaign, and Bruce was in direct contact with Steele.

Now virtually all of this went down before Robert Mueller was named special counsel. But the poisoned roots of the Russiagate investigation and the bristling hostility of the investigators to Trump must cast a cloud of suspicion over whatever charges Mueller will bring.

Now another head may be about to fall, that of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

If Mueller has given up trying to prove Trump collusion with the Kremlin and moved on to obstruction of justice charges, Rosenstein moves into the crosshairs.

For the heart of any obstruction scenario is Trump’s firing of James Comey and his boasting about why he did it.

But not only did Rosenstein discuss with Trump the firing of Comey, he went back to Justice to produce the document to justify what the president had decided to do.

How can Rosenstein oversee Mueller’s investigation into the firing of James Comey when he was a witness to and a participant in the firing of James Comey?

The Roman poet Juvenal’s question comes to mind. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchmen?

Consider where we are. Mueller is investigating alleged Trump collusion with Russia, and the White House is all lawyered up.

The House intel committee is investigating Clinton-FBI collusion to defeat Trump and break his presidency. FBI Inspector General Michael Horowitz is looking into whether the fix was in to give Hillary a pass in the probe of her email server.

Comey has been fired, his deputy McCabe removed, his chief investigator Strzok ousted by Mueller for bigoted anti-Trump behavior, alongside his FBI paramour, Page. Bruce Ohr has been demoted for colluding with Steele, who was caught lying to the FBI and fired, and for his wife’s role in Fusion GPS, which was being paid to dig up dirt on Trump for Clinton’s campaign.

If Americans are losing confidence in the FBI, whose fault is that? Is there not evidence that a hubristic cadre at the apex of the FBI – Comey, McCabe, Strzok foremost among them – decided the Republic must be saved from Trump and, should Hillary fail, they would step in and move to abort the Trump presidency at birth?

To the deep state, the higher interests of the American people almost always coincide with their own.


Special Report: In Puerto Rico, a housing crisis U.S. storm aid won’t solve

February 6, 2018

by Nick Brown


CANOVANAS, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Among the countless Puerto Rico neighborhoods battered by Hurricane Maria is one named after another storm: Villa Hugo. The illegal shantytown emerged on a public wetland after 1989’s Hurricane Hugo left thousands homeless

About 6,000 squatters landed here, near the El Yunque National Forest, and built makeshift homes on 40 acres that span a low-lying valley and its adjacent mountainside. Wood and concrete dwellings, their facades scrawled with invented addresses, sit on cinder blocks. After Maria, many are missing roofs; some have collapsed altogether.

Amid the rubble, 59-year-old Joe Quirindongo sat in the sun one recent day on a wooden platform – the only remaining piece of his home. Soft-spoken with weathered skin and a buzzcut, Quirindongo pondered his limited options.

“I know this isn’t a good place for a house,” said Quirindongo, who survives on U.S. government assistance. “Sometimes I would like to go to another place, but I can’t afford anything.”

Villa Hugo reflects a much larger crisis in this impoverished U.S. territory, where so-called “informal” homes are estimated to house about half the population of 3.4 million. Some residents built on land they never owned. Others illegally subdivided properties, often so family members could build on their lots.

Most have no title to their homes, which are constructed without permits and usually not up to building codes. The houses range in quality and size, from one-room shacks to sizable family homes. Many have plumbing and power, though not always through official means.

The concentration of illegal housing presents a vexing dilemma for local and federal authorities already overwhelmed by the task of rebuilding an economically depressed island after its worst natural disaster in nine decades.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has stressed the need to “build back better,” a sentiment echoed by U.S. disaster relief and housing officials. But rebuilding to modern standards or relocating squatters to new homes would take an investment far beyond reimbursing residents for lost property value. It’s an outlay Puerto Rico’s government says it can’t afford, and which U.S. officials say is beyond the scope of their funding and mission.

Yet the alternative – as Villa Hugo shows – is to encourage rebuilding of the kind of substandard housing that made the island so vulnerable to Maria in the first place.

“It’s definitely a housing crisis,” said Fernando Gil, Puerto Rico’s housing secretary. “It was already out there before, and the hurricane exacerbates it.”

In Puerto Rico, housing is by far the largest category of storm destruction, estimated by the island government at about $37 billion, with only a small portion covered by insurance. That’s more than twice the government’s estimate for catastrophic electric grid damage, which was made far worse by the shoddy state of utility infrastructure before the storm.

Puerto Rico officials did not respond to questions about how the territory estimated the damage to illegally built homes.

Maria destroyed or significantly damaged more than a third of about 1.2 million occupied homes on the island, the government estimates. Most of those victims had no hazard insurance – which is only required for mortgage-holders in Puerto Rico – and no flood insurance. Just 344,000 homes on the island have mortgages, according U.S. Census Bureau data.

Officials at the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) acknowledged the unique challenges of delivering critical housing aid to Puerto Rico. Among them: calculating the damage to illegal, often substandard homes; persuading storm victims to follow through on application processes that have frustrated many into giving up; and allocating billions in disaster aid that still won’t be nearly enough solve the island’s housing crisis.

By far the most money for Puerto Rico housing aid is expected to come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD spokeswoman Caitlin Thompson declined to comment on how the agency would spend billions of dollars in disaster relief funds to rebuild housing, or how it planned to help owners of informally built homes. Two HUD officials overseeing the agency’s Puerto Rico relief efforts, Todd Richardson and Stan Gimont, also declined to comment.

But the disaster aid package currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress would provide far less housing aid than Puerto Rico officials say they need. Governor Rosselló is seeking $46 billion in aid from HUD, an amount that dwarfs previous allocations for even the most destructive U.S. storms.

That’s nearly half the island’s total relief request of $94 billion.

The U.S. House of Representatives instead passed a package of $81 billion, with $26 billion for HUD, that still needs Senate and White House approval. The money would be divided between regions struck by several 2017 hurricanes – including Maria, Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida – as well as the recent California wildfires. Congress could also decide to approve additional aid later.


A generation ago, Maria Vega Lastra, now 61, was among the estimated 28,000 people displaced by Hurricane Hugo. Neighbors helped her build a new home in what would become Villa Hugo, in the town of Canóvanas.

Her daughter, 34-year-old Amadaliz Diaz, still recalls her older brother grinning as he sawed wood for the frame of their self-built, one-floor house, with a porch and three bedrooms.

Now, Vega Lastra’s roof has holes in it, and her waterlogged wooden floorboards buckle with each step.

Vega Lastra has been staying with her daughter, who lives in Tampa, as the family waits on applications for FEMA aid. The agency initially denied her application in December, saying it could not contact her by phone, Diaz said.

Vega Lastra is returning to her home this week, uncertain if its condition has gotten worse. Her daughter bought her an air mattress to take with her.

“My mother is scared,” Diaz said. “I hope the government helps her. I work, but I have three kids to take care of.”

The island’s housing crisis long predated the storm. According to Federal Housing Finance Agency data, Puerto Rico’s index of new home prices fell 25 percent over the last decade, amid a severe recession that culminated last May in the largest government bankruptcy filing in U.S. history.

Legal home construction, meanwhile, plummeted from nearly 16,000 new units in 2004 to less than 2,500 last year, according to consultancy Estudios Tecnicos, an economic data firm.

A 2007 study by environmental consultant Interviron Services Inc, commissioned by the Puerto Rico Builders Association, found that 55 percent of residential and commercial construction was informal. That would work out to nearly 700,000 homes.

That figure might be high, said David Carrasquillo, president of the Puerto Rico Planning Society, a trade group representing community planners. But even a “very conservative” estimate would yield at least 260,000 illegally built houses, he said.

Generations of Puerto Rican governments never made serious efforts to enforce building codes to stop new illegal housing, current and former island officials said in interviews. Past administrations had little political or economic incentive to force people out of neighborhoods like Villa Hugo.

Former Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon, in office during Hurricane Hugo, said he tried to help informal homeowners without policing them. “Our policy was not to relocate, but rather improve those places,” Hernandez Colon said in an interview.

Subsequent administrations advocated similar policies; none made meaningful headway, partly because of Puerto Rico’s constant political turnover.

Today, informal communities provide a stark contrast to San Juan’s glittering resorts and bustling business districts. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz pointed to poor barrios like those near the city’s Martín Peña Channel, hidden behind the skyscrapers of the financial hub known as the Golden Mile.

“It’s not something I’m proud of, but we hide our poverty here,” Cruz said in an interview.


The task of rebuilding Puerto Rico’s housing stock ultimately falls to the territory government, which has no ability to pay for it after racking up $120 billion in bond and pension debt in the years before the storm.

That leaves the island dependent on U.S. relief from FEMA, the SBA and HUD.

The SBA offers low-interest home repair loans of up to $200,000. FEMA provides homeowners with emergency grants, relocation assistance and other help. HUD is focused on long-term rebuilding efforts, working directly with local agencies to subsidize reconstruction through grants.

FEMA’s cap for disaster aid to individuals is $33,300, and actual awards are often much lower. Normally, FEMA eligibility for housing aid requires proving property ownership, but the agency says it will help owners of informal homes if they can prove residency.

How exactly to help gets complicated. For example, someone who builds their own home with no permits on land they own is more likely to be treated as a homeowner, said Justo Hernandez, FEMA’s deputy federal coordinating officer. Squatters who built on land they didn’t own, however, would likely only be given money to cover lost items and relocate to a rental, he said.

Several Villa Hugo residents said they received money from FEMA, but many didn’t know what it was for and complained it wasn’t enough.

Lourdes Rios Romero, 59, plans to appeal the $6,000 grant she got for repairs to her flooded home, citing a much higher contractor’s quote. Neighbor Miguel Rosario Lopez, a 62-year-old retiree, showed a statement from FEMA saying he was eligible for $916.22, “to perform essential repairs that will allow you to live in your home.”

Without money for major changes, most homeowners said they planned to combine the aid they might get from FEMA with what little money they could raise to rebuild in the same spot.

FEMA does not police illegal building. Code enforcement is left to the same local authorities who have allowed illegal construction to persist for years.

Quirindongo is planning to buy materials to rebuild his Villa Hugo home himself with about $4,000 from FEMA. It will be the third time he has done so, having lost one home to a 2011 flood, another to a fire.

“I just want to have something that I can say, ‘This is mine,’” Quirindongo said.


Many others appear to have given up on FEMA aid because the agency’s application process is entangled with a separate process for awarding SBA loans to rebuild homes.

FEMA is legally bound to assess whether applicants might qualify for SBA loans before awarding them FEMA grants. If an applicant passes FEMA’s cursory eligibility assessment, they are automatically referred to SBA for a more thorough screening.

Applicants are not required to follow through on the SBA process – but they cannot qualify for FEMA aid unless they do. FEMA only provides a grant when the SBA denies the applicant a loan.

FEMA said it has referred about 520,000 people out of 1.1 million total applicants so far to the SBA. But as of Monday, only 59,000 followed through with SBA applications. Of those, some 12,000 later withdrew, SBA data shows.

“As soon as people see SBA they say, ‘I give up, I don’t want a loan – I can’t afford a loan,’” FEMA’s Hernandez said.

SBA spokeswoman Carol Chastang said the agency is working with FEMA to educate flood victims on available benefits and the application process, including sending staffers to applicants’ homes.


Before the storm hit, Puerto Rico already had about 330,000 vacant homes, according to Census Bureau 2016 estimates, resulting from years of population decline as citizens migrated to the mainland United States and elsewhere. Puerto Ricans are American citizens and can move to the mainland at will.

Puerto Rico and federal officials have considered rehabilitating the vacant housing for short- and long-term use, along with building new homes and buying out homeowners in illegally built neighborhoods, according to Gil and federal officials.

Rosselló, the Puerto Rican governor, has said the rebuilding plan must include a fleet of properly built new homes. Gil, the housing secretary, said the administration would like to build as many as 70,000 properties.

HUD officials declined to comment on whether the agency would finance new housing. Its Community Development Block Grant program allows for local governments to design their own solutions and seek HUD approval for funding.

The cost of constructing enough new, code-compliant properties to house people displaced by Maria could far exceed the available federal aid. Making them affordable also presents a problem.

Puerto Rico’s subsidized “social interest housing,” geared toward low-income buyers, typically provides units that sell in the mid-$100,000 range, with prices capped by the government. That’s beyond the means of many displaced storm victims.

Gil offered little detail on a solution beyond saying it will include a mix of new development, buyout programs for owners of illegally built homes and other options.

The answer will come down to how much Washington is willing to pay, he said. He invoked the island’s territorial status and colonial history as a root cause of its poor infrastructure and housing stock before the storm.

“It is precisely because we have been neglected by the federal government that the island’s infrastructure is so weak,” he said.

Many Puerto Rico officials continue to advocate for bringing relief and legitimacy to squatter communities like Villa Hugo, rather than trying to relocate their residents.

Canovanas Mayor Lornna Soto has been negotiating with island officials to provide property titles to Villa Hugo’s population. The vast majority still don’t have them.

“It’s long overdue to recognize that they are not going anywhere and their communities need to be rebuilt with proper services,” Soto said.

Diaz said she supports her mother’s decision to return to Villa Hugo, regardless of what aid the government ultimately provides.

“I grew up there,” Diaz said. “Everyone knows us there.”

Reporting by Nick Brown in Canóvanas, Puerto Rico; editing by Brian Thevenot




Why Donald Trump’s immigration deal is a hard sell

In an effort to finally pass a budget and avert another government shutdown, President Trump has offered to fulfill a key Democratic demand – a path for citizenship for the so-called “Dreamers.” But the price is high.

February 6, 2018

by Michael Knigge


President Trump, whose signature campaign plank was curbing illegal immigration, has said he would sign a bill that would legalize and provide a path to citizenship for up to 1.8 million immigrants who lack residence permits. The offer would include the roughly 800,000 so-called “Dreamers,” who face deportation since last year Trump rescinded the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, which protected them. Democrats have said that they will not vote for a budget that does not include a protection for Dreamers.

But his willingness to legalize the Dreamers comes with a high price tag – a steep cut in two established legal immigration programs. Trump wants to abolish the so-called diversity lottery program, and he wants a drastic reduction in family reunification migration. An independent analysis of the cuts sought by Trump from the Cato Institute estimated that it would slash the number of legal immigrants by up to 44 percent, or 490,000 immigrants per year, making it the largest reduction in legal migration since the 1920s.

What is the diversity lottery?

The diversity lottery, or visa lottery, is a program that was instituted by Congress with bipartisan support in 1990 and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. It allocates up to 55,000 visas per year to applicants from countries which are underrepresented according to US immigration statistics that reflect the previous five years. Citizens from Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Korea, and other countries, are ineligible to apply for the current diversity lottery, since more than 50,000 people from those places emigrated to the US in the past five years.

Against that background, President Trump’s repeated attack against the diversity lottery — that countries send their “worst” people — is wrong in three ways. First, because countries can’t simply send people or apply for the program; only individuals can. Second, because many countries and their citizens are ineligible for the program to begin with because of high immigration rates to the US. And third, the program really works like a lottery; the only entry requirement is a high-school degree or two years of work experience in the past five years.

And in a way the diversity lottery, a unique US immigration program, is the quintessential fulfillment of Emma Lazarus famous words inscribed in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

With its low entry hurdles, it is the best, and often the only way, for many people around the world to emigrate to the United States, if they don’t have a company, university or relative to sponsor their visa. In recent years, the majority of diversity lottery visas went to Africans and Eastern Europeans.

What’s more, said Steve Yale-Loehr, a leading US immigration law scholar at Cornell University, citing a 2011 Congressional Research Service report,” a higher percentage of immigrants who entered the United States through the diversity-visa program had managerial and professional occupations than green card holders overall.” According to the study, diversity-visa recipients were less likely to be unemployment than green card holders.

What is family reunification immigration or “chain migration?”

“Chain migration is President Trump’s derogatory way of labeling family reunification immigration,” said Yale-Loehr. Family reunification is the key way to immigrate to the United States, with more than two-thirds of all immigrants coming to the country each year based on their family relationships.

“President Trump is wrong to claim that distant relatives can easily and quickly immigrate to the United States,” said Yale-Loehr, pointing out that US citizens can only petition for close relatives like siblings, children and parents — and not aunts, uncles or other, more distant relatives. Trump had said last week that under the current system “a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

Even under the current system, for a US citizen to try to bring a relative to the country is no small feat and takes a long time. “If I am a US citizen and petition for my brother, the wait would be almost 14 years for most countries,” said Yale-Loehr. “And if my brother is from the Philippines, the wait would be over 23 years.” Because of these long backlogs there is not as much family reunification as Trump claims, he added.

What are the chances that President Trump’s deal will pass in Congress?   

Not that good. Using undocumented immigrants as a one-time bargaining chip to drastically and permanently slash legal immigration is unlikely to be a winner with Democrats or Republicans.

“Democrats won’t agree to that; they will consider it a poison pill. And conservative Republicans in Congress won’t agree to legalizing so many people,” said Yale-Loehr, who would not be unhappy if his prediction came true.

“President Trump’s proposal is not good for Democrats or for the United States generally,” he said, citing a 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine which concluded that immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the United States.


Citing U.S. Prison Conditions, British Appeals Court Refuses to Extradite Accused Hacker Lauri Love to the U.S.

February 6, 2018

by Glenn Greenwald

The Intercept

A British appeals court on Monday rejected demands from the U.S. Government for the extradition of an accused British hacker, Lauri Love, citing the inability of U.S. prisons to humanely and adequately treat his medical and mental health ailments. Extradition to the U.S., the court ruled, would be “oppressive by reason of his physical and mental condition.”Rejecting the prosecutor’s pleas that “the British courts should trust the United States to provide what it said it would provide” in order to secure Love’s health and safety, the court instead invoked extensive medical and psychological testimony that conditions inside American prisons are woefully inadequate to treat Love’s ailments. As a result, extradition and incarceration inside the U.S. prison system would exacerbate those health issues and produce a high risk of suicide.

Love, 33, is accused by the U.S. Government of participating in the 2012 and 2013 hacking of the computer systems of various U.S. military agencies and private companies. The U.S. Justice Department, citing a confidential FBI source who claimed to have accessed chat rooms in which Love plotted with others on how to use the stolen data, indicted Love in three different states (New Jersey, New York and Virginia) on felony hacking and theft charges. Love (pictured above after Monday’s victory) was arrested in 2013 by British authorities and released on bail. Ever since, the U.S. Government has sought his extradition from the U.K. for him to stand trial, and ultimately be imprisoned, in the U.S.

Love strenuously objected to the extradition request, insisting that he could be easily tried in the U.K.. His family and his physicians detailed the debilitating physical and mental health problems he suffers – including severe depression, Asperger Syndrome, asthma and eczema – that has incapacitated him for years, caused him to drop out of various colleges despite a very high intellectual capability, and forced him to live at home with his parents. Love, his parents and his doctors all emphatically stated that he would likely commit suicide if he were extradited to the U.S., a country he has never visited and where he has no family, for trial and ultimate imprisonment.

In September, 2016, a lower court British judge ruled that Love was eligible for extradition, and two months later, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd ignored the pleas of 100 members of Parliament to keep Love in the U.K. and instead ordered him extradited to the U.S. In ruling Love eligible for extradition, the lower court judge rejected claims that extradition would severely worsen Love’s physical and mental health problems, accepting promises from U.S. prison officials that they would ensure Love did not kill himself.

Specifically, prison officials told the court that, on the trip to the U.S., Love “would be restrained and escorted by Marshals, who would observe him within close proximity during the flight, having checked him for anything he might be able to use to harm himself,” and that once in prison, he would be kept in isolation if suicide appeared to be a serious risk. As a result, the judge found, U.S. authorities could and would adequately safeguard Love’s welfare.

That was the conclusion emphatically rejected by the British appeals court. The court concluded that suicide prevention programs in U.S. prisons are so crude and harsh that they actually increase the likelihood of a prisoner’s suicide. The court placed particular emphasis on the warnings of Professor of Neuropsychiatry Michael Kopelman that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) “suicide prevention program” – which “involve[s] an inmate on suicide watch being put into a suicide prevention room, wearing a suicide smock and being monitored for 24 hours a day, without any unapproved personal items” – would likely exacerbate all of the conditions it was ostensibly designed to treat

The appeals court also relied on the testimony of Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge professor of developmental psychopathology who specializes in autism, who “took issue with the sufficiency of the protocols operated in America, to support prisoners with Asperger Syndrome, depression and at high suicidal risk.” In particular, “mentally ill inmates were often put in solitary confinement where they cannot access mental health services, with especially negative consequences for Mr. Love,” and “he would not receive treatment for clinical depression until it reached ‘crisis/suicidal’ level.”

Extensively analyzing ample medical testimony along with standard procedures in U.S. prisons for treating inmates with physical and mental illnesses, the British appeals court concluded that U.S. prison “treatment” would not effectively help his illnesses but would do exactly the opposite: they “would be very harmful for his difficult mental conditions, Asperger Syndrome and depression, linked as they are; and for his physical conditions, notable eczema, which would be exacerbated by stress. That in turn would add to his worsening mental condition, which in its turn would worsen his physical conditions.”

In sum, concluded the court, the way in which U.S. prisons “treat” inmates with mental illnesses and suicidal impulses – with segregation, isolation and a lack of ongoing medical and mental health care – almost certainly means that extradition to the U.S. would worsen Love’s health and create a very high likelihood of driving him to suicide:

Suicide watch is not a form of treatment; there is no evidence that treatment would or could be made available on suicide watch for the very conditions which suicide watch itself exacerbates. But once removed from suicide watch, the risk of suicide as found by the judge, cannot realistically be prevented, on her findings. . . . Mr Love already experiences severe depression at times. It is very difficult to envisage that his mental state after ten years in and out of segregation would not be gravely worsened, should he not commit suicide.

That the U.S. prison system is cruel and abusive when it comes to treating inmates’ mental health problems is well-documented. A decade ago, the Department of Justice itself acknowledged that “more than half of all prison and jail inmates had a mental health problem, including 705,600 inmates in State prisons, 78,800 in Federal prisons, and 479,900 in local jails.”

As the U.S. prison population has exploded – the U.S. imprisons more of its citizens than any other country, including those (such as China and India) with triple or quadruple the population sizes – the ability of prison officials to treat mental health has worsened. A comprehensive report last June by Maggie Puniewska in Vice documented that “many mentally ill inmates are often abused and denied care, even when it’s clear that they are suffering,” and “inmates on suicide watch would be left alone for days at a time—ironically, no one was watching them.” Worse, “mentally ill inmates can find themselves in solitary confinement, also called segregation, which is more often a placement that can aggravate their condition.”

Indeed, the pervasive use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S prisons – which many medical professionals now regard as a form of torture – often exacerbates the suffering of inmates with mental health problems. A clinical study published in 2013 noted that “in recent years, prison officials have increasingly turned to solitary confinement as a way to manage difficult or dangerous prisoners,” and that “many of the prisoners subjected to isolation, which can extend for years, have serious mental illness, and the conditions of solitary confinement can exacerbate their symptoms or provoke recurrence.”

In 2009, Human Rights Watch testified before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that “prisons are ill-equipped to respond appropriately to the needs of prisoners with mental illness. Prison mental health services are all too frequently woefully deficient, crippled by understaffing, insufficient facilities, and limited programs. Many seriously ill prisoners receive little or no meaningful treatment.” As a result, “mentally ill prisoners suffer painful symptoms and their conditions can deteriorate.” The ACLU has repeatedly sued various prison systems for inadequate mental health care on the ground that it constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” as barred by the U.S. Constitution.

Monday’s ruling by the British court is certain to infuriate the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2012, U.S. law enforcement denounced the decision of then-Home-Secretary Theresa May, now the British Prime Minister, to refuse the extradition to the U.S. of accused British hacker Gary McKinnon “on human rights grounds because of medical reports warning that McKinnon, 46, who has Asperger’s syndrome and suffers from depressive illness, could kill himself if sent to stand trial in the US.” As the BBC noted at the time, May’s decision was “the first time a home secretary had stepped in to block an extradition under the current treaty with the US.”

That a British high court has now blocked another extradition request by the U.S. for a hacker regarded by American authorities as a serious criminal is certain to heighten tensions further between these two close allies. Even more importantly, this decision – as comprehensive and emphatic as it is – could be critical for shining international light on the oppressive and brutal conditions inside the solitary-confinement-loving American prison system, particularly for people who struggle with ailments of mental health.

Comment: The United States has the highest incarceration rate and the largest total prison population in the entire world. The criminal justice system in the United States holds more than 4,166,000 people in 1,719 state prisons, 102,000 in federal prisons, 901,000 in juvenile correctional facilities, and 3,163,000 in local jails. Additionally, 5,203,400 adults are on probation or on parole.

The number of people on probation or parole has increased the population of the American corrections system to more than 9,369,400 in 2017. Corrections costs the American taxpayer $69 billion a year.


Donald Trump Offers a Helping Hand to China and Russia

Giving American Isolationism New Meaning in the Twenty-First Century

February 6, 2018

by Dilip Hiro


In his State of the Union address, Donald Trump warned grimly of “rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values.”  In response, he demanded that Congress give even more money to “our great military” and fund the growth and modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, making it “so strong and so powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression by any other nation or anyone else.” And yet, in a near biblical performance in his first year in office, President Trump inadvertently rolled out a love-thy-enemy set of policies that only enhanced the roles of both of those challengers, favors never imagined by the Robert Mueller Russia investigation.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that last October in Beijing in his speech to the 19th congress of the Communist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping displayed the sort of confidence that befits a true rising power on planet Earth.  With remarkable chutzpah, he anointed his country the leading global force on contemporary political, economic, and environmental issues by declaring, “It is time for us to take center stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind.” With the unintended help of Donald Trump, he could indeed make it so.

Two months later in Washington, President Trump launched his National Security Strategy (NSS), an uninspired hodgepodge lacking in either vision or clarity. It did, however, return the U.S. to the Cold War era by identifying China and Russia as the two main challengers to its power, influence, and interests, though offering no serious thoughts about what to do on the subject (except dump more money into the Pentagon budget and the American nuclear arsenal).

In reality, many of Trump’s actions, statements, and tweets in the months before the release of that document provided Beijing and Moscow with further opportunities to extend their influence and power.

On the eve of the anniversary of Trump’s first year in office, for instance, a Gallup survey of 134 countries showed a startling drop — from 48% under Barack Obama to 30% under Trump — in global approval of Washington’s role in the world.  For a president who values records, that was an achievement: the worst figure since Gallup started recording them in 2007. China, on the other hand, surged to 31% and Russia to 27%. And that was before President Trump referred to various unnamed African nations as “shithole countries.”

Here, then, is a list of favors that Donald Trump has done for America’s latest challengers and how they have reacted on what, after almost two decades of a sole superpower global order, is once again a planet with more than one world power.

Ditching the TPP

On his first day in the Oval Office, as he had promised in his election campaign, Trump abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Its goal had been to tie 12 Pacific countries — Canada to Chile, Australia to Japan — into a complex web of trade rules that would cover approximately 40% of the global economy. Among them, tariffs would be lowered and rules established for resolving trade disputes, the granting of patents, and the protection of intellectual property. One obvious Asian power, however, wasn’t included because the TPP was meant, above all, to limit China’s future economic clout in the region by permanently linking the United States to East Asia. The pact was, in other words, meant to be an economic bulwark against a rising China.

President Obama had worked on the agreement for almost eight years, with House Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressional Republicans granting him fast-track authority to negotiate it. Still, he left office without submitting it for approval to Congress.

Trump’s day-one act was, in fact, a triumph for China.  As Michael Froman, the trade representative who negotiated the pact, put it, “After all this talk about being tough on China, for [Trump’s] first action to basically hand the keys to China and say we’re withdrawing from our leadership position in this region is geo-strategically damaging.” Trump argued that he was protecting American workers against competition from low-wage countries like Vietnam and Malaysia which were included in the deal. But in so doing, he ignored the outstanding advantage of becoming part of a Pacific free-trade zone that excluded China, while offering the U.S. and Japan, which generate the globe’s first and third highest gross domestic products, the clout that goes with such a zone.

Washington’s Climate Change Leadership Abandoned

By pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate accord in June 2017, President Trump created another global leadership vacuum — soon to be filled both by French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi.  In December 2017, on the second anniversary of the Paris climate accord and in coordination with the United Nations and the World Bank, Macron chaired a One Planet summit of more than 50 heads of state and government, as well as three mega-rich individual sponsors — Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and Richard Branson — and assumed the leadership role ceded by Trump and his administration of climate-change deniers.

In opposition to Trump, eight American states, all invested in speeding up the use of electric vehicles, remained committed to the Paris Agreement. So, too, did a private-sector coalition called America’s Pledge, which promised to honor the climate goals set in 2015.  According to former New York mayor Bloomberg, that pledge group “now represents half of the U.S. economy.”  In this way, Trump ceded leadership on what may be the single most crucial long-term issue for humanity to the French president and China’s Xi.

At the meeting, Macron, the 39-year-old former investment banker, hailed the progress made so far and insisted that it was possible to create alternatives to a fossil-fuel driven global economy by expediting the steps already taken even without the United States. He then proceeded to take a jab at the American president by awarding 18 climate scientists — most of them U.S.-based — multimillion-euro grants to move to France for the rest of Trump’s term; that is, to a country that valued their work.

Four weeks later, the French president and his wife Brigitte flew to Beijing where they were effusively welcomed by Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan. The Chinese president recalled that France had been the first Western power to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and that his country now stood ready to work closely with France to enhance cooperation not just on climate change but on China’s expansive almost-trillion-dollar One Belt One Road initiative, an infrastructure and transportation project meant to link the vast Eurasian landmass in a great economic web whose heart would lie in Beijing.  (These days, the only trillion-dollar “initiatives” out of Washington involve building up its national security state, the military, and the nuclear arsenal further.)  This was the sort of global project that once would have been a natural for the U.S.  No longer. Macron reacted enthusiastically, adding that “France would like to take an active part in the Belt and Road Initiative” since “the new roads cannot only go one way.”

So from climate change to global economic integration, the U.S. was being left out in the cold. The way was now open for China — which as early as September 2013 had begun taking groundbreaking action to clean its highly polluted air, in part by cutting the country’s massive industrial use of coal — as it pursued a global leadership role being ceded to it by the Trump administration.

China’s One Belt One Road Initiative

By the time President Xi formally launched the One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR) in September 2013 along the centuries-old Silk Road that once connected Europe to China, the cargo train service that linked Yiwu (a center for more than 70,000 wholesale suppliers and manufacturers southeast of Shanghai) to European destinations was already a year old. Its first test run to Duisburg, Germany, had taken place four years earlier. Traveling through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium, France, and Spain, those freight trains took 17 days to cover about 7,700 miles, cutting in half the cost of shipping by sea (which took twice as long) and by nine-tenths the cost of airfreight (which took just three days).  As the new initiative develops, it is expected that, by 2020, more than 7.5 million containers will leave cities like Yiwu for European destinations.

In short, when it comes to the economic future, Washington is losing out to Beijing. In the future, according to Chinese plans, OBOR projects will link China, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central and Western Asia, parts of the Middle East and East Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe. It will involve the construction of oil and natural gas pipelines, highways, rail lines, deep-water ports, and power plants, among other things. Financing will significantly come from Chinese banks, joint-venture funds, and — another major Chinese initiative — the Asian International Investment Bank.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen encapsulated a widely held view when he commented that “other countries have lots of ideas but no money, but with China when it comes up with an idea, it also comes up with the money.”

Last May, addressing a gathering of nearly 70 national leaders and heads of international organizations in Beijing, President Xi pledged $113 billion in extra funding for the initiative and urged countries across the globe to join hands with him on the project. “We have no intention to form a small group detrimental to stability,” Xi said. “What we hope to create is a big family of harmonious coexistence.” Though invited to that assembly, the United States and India stayed away. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis caught the spirit of the American moment when he said, “In a globalized world there are many belts and roads, and no one nation should put itself in a position of dictating ‘One Belt, One Road.’” But these days, the U.S. is offering neither belts nor roads to anyone.

According to The Economist, 86% of OBOR projects already underway use Chinese contractors, which allows China to employ the excess capacity it built up in steel and cement during its rapid industrialization phase.  Beijing has, for instance, committed $46 billion to a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that will involve upgrades to pipelines and highways linking western China to Pakistan’s deep-water port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. Gwadar is less than 400 miles from the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial passageway for oil tankers. That means crude oil sent from Persian Gulf ports to China will soon begin arriving on Chinese soil by pipeline after a drastically curtailed sea journey, resulting in steep savings in time and expense.

Beijing’s drive to have a footprint abroad and extend the OBOR concept beyond Eurasia, particularly to Africa, has been impressive. Between 1976 and 2016, for instance, China built five major railway lines in Africa, deploying 50,000 Chinese workers to complete the 1,150-mile Tanzania-Zambia Railway. Eight more rail projects are now underway.

At the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Chinese officials even played up a potential OBOR project linked to a climate-change-influenced future — a “Polar Silk Road” that, according to the New York Times, “would link China to Europe and the Atlantic via a shipping route past the melting Arctic ice cap.” In this context, Donald Trump’s America First policies should be considered a truly “big league” bow to the rise of China.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East…

What about that other great power highlighted in the Trump National Security Strategy’s return to the Cold War? Russia, a petro-state with an economy the size of Italy’s, is no longer exactly the “evil empire” of the Soviet era.  Still, Russian President Vladimir Putin has three strong cards in his hand: a rehabilitated, enlarged military backed by a robust defense industry; the second highest oil output in the world at a time when oil prices are climbing; and the all-purpose Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation which offers the nuclear industry’s entire range of products and services, and runs all of Russia’s 360 civilian and military nuclear facilities. Those assets are capped by Putin’s 18 years in high office, which have enabled him to see the fruition of his policies in a way no American president could.

By using Russian forces to intervene in the Syrian civil war in September 2015, Putin helped turn the tide in favor of Syria’s autocratic president, Bashar al-Assad. His alliance with Assad had three dimensions: Syria’s historic links to the Soviet Union in the Cold War era; the Kremlin’s desire to have a naval facility in the Mediterranean after the loss of such a port in Libya when Muammar Gaddafi fell in 2011; and his doctrine that any group that takes up arms against an internationally recognized government is a terrorist organization.

Having acquired a key, if brutal, role in the Syrian civil war, Putin proceeded to coopt not only Iran, a traditional ally of Syria, but also Turkey, a NATO member initially opposed to the Assad regime. Later, when Putin made a congratulatory call to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for aborting a July 2016 military coup attempt against his government, Erdogan agreed to join him in working toward a peace deal in the Syrian civil war.

Today, while the Trump administration’s input in the Syrian crisis diminishes, the Kremlin’s influence has become yet more dominant. Washington, which used its air power and 2,000 troops on the ground to support a Kurdish-led force of fighters in Syria against the militants of the Islamic State, now finds itself dangerously at odds with Ankara. An ardent Turkish nationalist, Erdogan considers irredentist, ethnic Kurds “terrorists” and recently sent his planes and tanks against some of them in northern Syria.  Washington has been largely reduced to reacting to the Kremlin’s moves in the region.

A confident Putin has been busy wooing other U.S. allies in the region.  In 2016, to shore up the price of a barrel of oil, which had dropped to a dismal $30, Saudi Arabia pressed other Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) members to cut overall output. For such a strategy to succeed, however, non-OPEC oil producers needed to cooperate. Being the largest among them, Russia was the key player and Putin, as eager as the Saudis to see prices rise, agreed. A year later, when those reductions were set to expire, Riyadh argued for their extension to December 2018. Again, Putin backed the move. As a result, prices are now in the $60 range.

Unsurprisingly, King Salman became the first reigning Saudi monarch to visit Moscow last October. While there, he signed 15 cooperation agreements covering oil, military affairs (including a $3 billion arms deal involving, among other things, the purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missiles), and even space exploration. By doing so, the Saudi monarch broke the monopoly the U.S. (and other western nations) had on supplying advanced weaponry to the kingdom. Significantly, while insisting that any peace settlement in Syria should maintain that country’s territorial integrity, he did not repeat his government’s call for Assad to step down.

Before establishing a rapport with the Saudi monarch, Putin had also managed to attract the interest of Egypt, another long-standing ally of Washington and the recipient of more than a billion dollars in U.S. military aid annually since 1987. In October 2016, more than 500 Russian and Egyptian paratroopers even took part in joint counterterrorism exercises in the desert near Alexandria.

The flirtation between the two countries, which started in 2014 when General Abdel Fattah al Sisi visited the Kremlin, gained momentum during Sisi’s second trip to Moscow six months later after being elected president. During the Trump presidency, it has only grown stronger.  In 2017, Rosatom agreed to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant in El Dabaa, 80 miles northwest of Cairo, which is scheduled to cost $21 billion. Eighty-five percent of that will be provided to the cash-strapped Egyptians by Rosatom, which can afford it since its total orders last year, domestic and foreign, amounted to $300 billion.

And so it goes.  Though powerful and wealthy, the United States looks ever more alone.  Whether in its fruitless wars, in its remarkable focus on military power, in its dismantling of the State Department, in its urge to build walls of every kind and shut so many people out, in the president’s insulting tweets, comments, and phone calls, even in the “Trump slump” in tourism, American isolationism — that well-worn phrase — is acquiring new meaning. While chanting his mantra of “America First,” Donald Trump has so far followed policies that have only eased the way for the Chinese dragon to roar past Uncle Sam, with the Russian bear not far behind.


Polish president signs controversial Holocaust bill into law

Andrzej Duda has signed a bill penalizing persons referring to Poland’s role during the Holocaust. The law has been demanded in Poland but flies in the face of criticism by Israel and the United States.

November 6, 2018


Amid objections from the United States, and especially Israel, Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday signed a controversial Holocaust bill into law. The legislation allows the government to jail anyone who, “publicly and against the facts,” suggests Polish involvement in Nazi war crimes committed during World War II.

Duda claimed that the law will prevent the wrongful accusation of Poles and Poland of any such involvement.

Although he said, “We do not deny that there were cases of huge wickedness,” especially regarding the denunciation of Jews by Polish citizens,” he was emphatic in stating: “No, there was no systematic way in which Poles took part” in the Holocaust.

Duda said that the bill will be reviewed by a top Polish court to assess the possibility of adding amendments in the future. He also emphasized that he had been made cognizant of concerns that the law could potentially block artistic or historical works on the Holocaust during a trip to Israel last year

Strained relations

Polish politicians have long called for laws that prohibit expressions such as “Polish death camps” in reference to concentration camps operated in Nazi-occupied Poland. The law has sparked aggressive disputes within Poland as well as abroad.

Israel has repeatedly expressed outrage, claiming that it will stifle Holocaust discussion and allow for the whitewashing of crimes such as the denunciation and killing of Jews by Poles.

After having his upcoming trip to Warsaw cancelled by the Polish government on Monday due to his strong criticism of the law, Israel’s hard-right education minister, Naftali Bennet, said he was “honored.”

Relations between the two countries have been greatly strained by the Polish government’s decision to push forward with the legislation. Both sides have, nevertheless, said they are committed to continuing dialogue.


Poland’s new ‘Holocaust law’ widely condemned in Israel

Poland’s controversial “Holocaust law” has set off a diplomatic row with Israel. From government officials to regular citizens, many Israelis say the legislation is an upsetting and unnecessary provocation.

February 6, 2018

by Tania Krämer (Jerusalem)


The diplomatic backlash had been immediate. Polish President Andrzej Duda on Tuesday signed into a law a controversial Holocaust bill that criminalizes ascribing blame for crimes committed by Nazi Germany to the Polish nation, including use of the term “Polish death camp.” Penalties range from a fine to up to three years in jail. While Duda also asked the legislation be sent to the country’s constitutional court for further clarification, critics in Israel view the check as a step too little.

“I don’t think that the Polish are trying to clear themselves of their responsibilities, but they don’t want people to stick the blame of the camps on them, because it happened on their land,” said 90-year-old Stella Testa, a Holocaust survivor. “It’s a dilemma. There is no one who is not guilty, everyone is guilty.”

Testa was born in Macedonia and had to flee the Nazis, hiding with the partisans in Eastern Europe. Her future husband survived Auschwitz.

“Fear is responsible for many things,” she said. “Some gave information on their neighbors away. But there were also Polish people who were with the partisans and fought the Nazis. It is difficult to generalize, it’s individual guilt. My neighbor, for example — as soon as the Nazis arrived, he had a flag with a swastika in his hand.”

Strained Israeli-Polish relations

The Polish senate’s decision last week to pass the bill sparked a diplomatic dispute with Israel. Condemnations came swiftly from across the political spectrum. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the law “baseless.”

“I strongly oppose it,” he said in a statement. “One cannot change history and Holocaust cannot be denied.”

However, the Israeli government itself stopped short of taking any immediate steps, like recalling its ambassador to Warsaw, as some cabinet members had suggested.

The diplomatic backlash was followed by a heated debate on social media, raising questions about anti-Semitism and responsibility for the crimes committed during the Holocaust.

“I feel it is really insulting and politically overcharged,” said Norm Muskal, the son of a Holocaust survivor, while visiting a busy market area in Jerusalem. “It’s upsetting. It feels like a provocation,” said another passerby, former member of the Knesset Charlie Biton.

Concern among academics

Poland was home to more than 3 million Jewish people before the Second World War. In 1939, Nazi Germany attacked and occupied Poland, building multiple concentration camps there, including the Auschwitz and Treblinka death camps. The pre-war Polish government fled into exile and opposed the Nazis.

Arye Carmon, chairman of the board at the Ghetto Fighters House in northern Israel, a small museum whose founders included the last survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, told DW via telephone he felt “appalled and angry and the first thing that came to my mind is how my country should react.”

“Israel should think more about a long term mission,” he said. “It should start to prepare for days to come, how to educate and perpetuate the lessons of the Holocaust, not just in Israel, but worldwide.”

David Silberklang, senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research and editor-in-chief of Yad Vashem Studies said that most scholars and researchers support the idea not to use the term “Polish death camps.” But he warned the legislation is aimed at promoting a specific narrative of Polish history during the Holocaust — something he called “very problematic.”

“The main point of the law is the public discourse,” Silberklang explained. “It is trying to prevent education, investigative journalism, interviews, radio discussions about parts of the Polish nation, parts of the polish people who did terrible things. Certainly it was not the whole Polish nation by any means, but there were people who did terrible things and all that needs to be discussed.”


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