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TBR News June 18, 2018

Jun 18 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. June 18 2018: “Trump appears to take great delight in creating serious social problems that are totally unnecessary. Whether this is due to his personality or something to please the red neck and ultra right supporters is open to conjecture but world, and domestic, opinion is solidifying against him. His tariff schemes are causing retaliations that will cause significant damage to American economic interests but he seems to glory in the fury he has caused and is causing. There are personalities who hate themselves for various reasons and compensate for this by projecting hatred and malice against others. Separating small children from their parents and locking them up in cages is an act of mindless sadism manifest and in the end the cumulation of such actions will cause an explosive reaction.”



The Table of Contents

  • China’s tariffs on U.S. oil would disrupt $1 billion monthly business
  • US lawmakers, Melania Trump call for end to migrant family separations
  • Trump migrant separation policy: Children ‘in cages’ in Texas
  • Anger mounts against Trump over child separation policy
  • Donald Trump claims Germans are turning against government over migration
  • Missing in Action: The Poor in America
  • Flooding from sea level rise threatens over 300,000 US coastal homes – study
  • New Study Shows Sea Levels Could Rise Twice as Much as Originally Predicted.
  • Attacking Hodeidah Is Trump’s Deliberate Act of Cruelty
  • ‘As crimes pile up, they become invisible’: Western complicity in Saudi Arabia’s dirty war in Yemen
  • Fears mount over WhatsApp’s role in spreading fake news

China’s tariffs on U.S. oil would disrupt $1 billion monthly business

June 18, 2018

by Henning Gloystein


SINGAPORE (Reuters) – China’s threat to impose duties on U.S. oil imports will hit a business that has soared in the last two years, and which is now worth almost $1 billion per month.

In an escalating spat over the United States’ trade deficit with most of its major trading partners, including China, U.S. President Donald Trump said last week he was pushing ahead with hefty tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports, starting on July 6.

China said Friday it would retaliate by slapping duties on several American commodities, including oil.

Investors expect the spat to come at the expense of U.S. oil firms, pulling down the share prices of ExxonMobil and Chevron by 1 to 2 percent since Friday, while U.S. crude oil prices fell by around 5 percent.

“This escalation of the trade war is dangerous for oil prices,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia/Pacific at futures brokerage OANDA in Singapore.

“Let’s hope cooler heads prevail, but I’m not overly optimistic,” he added.

The dispute between the United States and China comes at a pivotal time for oil markets.

Following a year and a half of voluntary supply cuts led by the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), as well as the non-OPEC producer Russia, oil markets have tightened, pushing up prices.

The potential drop-off in American oil exports to China would benefit other producers, especially from OPEC and Russia.

The OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia and Russia indicated on Friday they would loosen their supply restraint and were starting to raise exports.

A cut in Chinese purchases of U.S. oil may also benefit Iran’s sales, which Washington is trying to curb with new sanctions it announced in May.

“The Chinese may just replace some of the American oil with Iranian crude,” said John Driscoll, director of consultancy JTD Energy Services.

“China isn’t intimidated by the threat of U.S. sanctions. They haven’t been in the past. So in this diplomatic spat they might just replace U.S. crude with Iranian oil. That would obviously infuriate Trump,” he said.


US lawmakers, Melania Trump call for end to migrant family separations

A White House policy that has split nearly 2,000 migrant children from their families has drawn outrage nationwide, including a rare public comment from Melania Trump. The UN called the practice “unconscionable.”

June 18, 2018


President Donald Trump is set to meet with House Republicans this week to discuss immigration legislation, facing pressure over his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border.

The controversial policy has drawn public and political backlash nationwide and has also been criticized by the United Nations.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein sent urged the US to stop the family separations in his opening remarks on Monday, at a meeting of the UN Human Rights council in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable,” Zeid said.

President Trump has consistently blamed Democrats for the situation, saying their support for passage of a broader immigration bill would end the separations. On Twitter, he wrote that “Democrats can fix their forced family breakup at the border by working with Republicans on new legislation, for a change!”

Speaking to broadcaster NBC on Sunday, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway said “nobody likes” breaking up families and “seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms.”

Conway also blamed the Democrats, saying if they are serious about overhauling the immigration system, “they’ll come together again and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform.”

Some 2,000 children were separated from their families between mid-April and the end of May after the Trump administration announced a new “zero-tolerance” policy and the referral of all illegal entry cases for criminal prosecution. As a result, the children — who are not charged with a crime — are separated from the adults in their families. There is no clear procedure for family reunification.

Previous administrations had referred migrants with children to immigration courts.

Images of children living in converted buildings near the border and tents being erected to house migrants have led to fierce political debate and comments from some unexpected quarters.

First lady speaks out

Melania Trump has made few public statements to date, but on Sunday her communications director, Stephanie Grisham, told broadcaster CNN: “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform.”

Grisham said Melania Trump “believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

Criticism of the president has come from a range of lawmakers, including Republicans in Congress.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, said the administration was sending a message to migrants. “If you cross the border with children, your children are going to be ripped away from you. That’s traumatizing to the children who are innocent victims, and it is contrary to our values in this country,” she said.

Californian Democrat Representative Adam Schiff said the administration was “using the grief, the tears, the pain of these kids as mortar to build our wall. And it’s an effort to extort a bill to their liking in the Congress.”

Trump is expected to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss immigration legislation, including the Trump proposal to build a wall along the border with Mexico.

Protests in New York and Texas

In a Father’s Day demonstration on Sunday, seven Democrat members of Congress from New York and New Jersey joined hundreds of protesters outside an immigration detention facility in New Jersey to protest the separations. “This must not be who we are as a nation,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler.

In Texas, Democrat Representative Beto O’Rourke led a march to where a new tent facility for children has been opened. He called the situation “inhumane” and “un-American.”

“We can do the right thing by this country and for those kids, and not do it at the price of a 2,000-mile, 30-foot-high, $30 billion wall, not doing it at the price of deporting people who are seeking asylum, deporting people in some cases back to certain death, not doing it at the cost of ending family migration, which is the story of this country,” O’Rourke said.

Deadly crash after Border Patrol chase

Also Sunday, at least five people died when an SUV vehicle carrying 14 people went out of control after it was chased by US Border Patrol agents in south Texas.

Dimmit County Sheriff Marion Boyd said most of the occupants were believed to lack legal permission to be in the US. The driver and one passenger were believed to be US citizens. “This, I think, is a perfect example, of why our borders need to be secured,” Boyd said.


Trump migrant separation policy: Children ‘in cages’ in Texas

June 18, 2018

BBC News

Reporters and Democratic lawmakers have been allowed inside a detention centre that lies at the heart of a growing storm over a new US policy separating migrant children from their parents.

Authorities did not allow photos or videos to be taken inside the centre, but US Customs and Border Protection later released several images. Former First Lady Laura Bush has compared it to the internment camps used for Japanese-Americans during World War Two. A Democratic congressman who visited the site said it was “nothing short of a prison”.

The Texas facility is known as Ursula, though immigrants are reportedly calling it La Perrara – dog kennel in Spanish – in reference to the cages used to hold children and adults who have ended up there after crossing the border from Mexico illegally.

“One cage had 20 children inside. Scattered about are bottles of water, bags of chips [crisps] and large foil sheets intended to serve as blankets,” the Associated Press reports.

Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley led the team of lawmakers to the site in the town of McAllen on Sunday.

He hit the headlines earlier this month when he was turned away from another facility housing some 1,500 boys in a disused Walmart store.

Speaking to CNN after the visit, he said: “In wire-mesh, chain linked cages that are about 30×30 [feet], a lot of young folks put into them.

“I must say though, far fewer than I was here two weeks ago. I was told that buses full (of children) were taken away before I arrived.

“That was one of my concerns, that essentially, when you have to give lengthy notice, you end up a little bit of a show rather than seeing what’s really going on in these centres.”

Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and Vermont Congressman Peter Welch expressed shock and anger over the conditions they saw

Inside Ursula, more than 1,100 illegal immigrants are waiting to be processed. They have been separated into three wings: unaccompanied children, lone adults and parents with their children. Officials said nearly 200 of those being held there were unaccompanied minors and another 500 were parents with their children.

The Los Angeles Times, which also sent a team there, described the 72,000 sq ft facility as “clean and spare, with bare concrete floors”.

A patrol agent currently in charge of the site, John Lopez, told the paper the 42 portable toilets on site are cleaned three times a day. There are three paramedics, two medical members of staff and 310 employees – but no mental health staff, or training, the paper notes. The main lights in the building remain on at all times.

Nearly 60 miles away, in the town of Brownsville, some 1,500 boys are being housed inside a building that was once a Walmart superstore. The boys, aged 10 to 17, were all caught illegally crossing the border. It is America’s largest facility for such minors, and numbers have increased in the past month by several hundred.

Senator Merkley’s Facebook Live on 4 June showing security officials denying him entry to that site – known as Casa Padre – led to questions about conditions there. Last week, news organisations were given a tour.

No cages were mentioned, but the accommodation was likened to dorm rooms inside a giant warehouse. To accommodate for the growing numbers since the new “zero-tolerance” policy went into force, cots have been added to sleeping areas in the Casa Padre.

The New York Times described it as “clean, massive and brightly lit”, with the children given classes six hours each week day and outdoor play time for two hours a day. They have 48 medical staff and three on call doctors on hand.

Long-term trauma?

“Those kids inside who have been separated from their parents are already being traumatised,” Senator Merkley warned. “It doesn’t matter whether the floor is swept and the bed-sheets tucked in tight.”

Officials say they are trying to keep siblings together and not separate children under four or younger from their parents.

But Anne Chandler, who’s running a non-profit project for migrant children found on the southern US border, told Texas Monthly she had heard stories of “kids that are very young, that are breastfeeding babies and under three in the shelters, separated from their parents”.

The head of the Tahirih Justice Centre in Houston said she had seen cases where parents had not been told ahead of time that their child was being taken away, and instead were told by immigration officers that their child required a bath, only to not be returned.

“I was talking to one mother, and she said, “Don’t take my child away,” and the child started screaming and vomiting and crying hysterically, and she asked the officers, “Can I at least have five minutes to console her?” They said no,” Ms Chandler told the magazine.

A rights worker who visited the Ursula facility at the weekend told the Associated Press she had spoken to a 16-year-old girl who was left in charge of an unaccompanied toddler for three days and tasked with changing the child’s nappies.

“She had to teach other kids in the cell to change her diaper,” Michelle Brane, from the Women’s Refugee Commission, said. The girl – who was four years old – was later reunited with her aunt, but the process took time because she did not speak Spanish but a language indigenous to Guatemala, the agency reports.

“She was so traumatised that she wasn’t talking,” Ms Brane said, describing the girl. “She was just curled up in a little ball.”

She is not alone in voicing concerns over the long-term effects of separating adults and their children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics warned last week that “highly stressful experiences, including family separation, can cause irreparable harm to lifelong development by disrupting a child’s brain architecture”.

Separately, authorities have announced plans to erect tent cities that will hold hundreds more children in the Texas desert where temperatures regularly reach 40C (105F).

Local lawmaker Jose Rodriguez described the plan as “totally inhumane” and “outrageous”, adding: “It should be condemned by anyone who has a moral sense of responsibility.”


Anger mounts against Trump over child separation policy

June 18, 2018

Al Jazeera News

Pressure is mounting on US President Donald Trump to reverse his policy of separating children from refugees and migrants who cross the US-Mexico border.

“Families belong together,” protesters chanted on Sunday, as hundreds gathered outside detention centres in the states of Texas and New Jersey, calling for an end to the practice.

In May, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” approach towards migrants and refugees who cross the US southern border without documents, promising to prosecute those who did so.

Part of that approach has been separating children from their parents who are detained.

A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told reporters last week that 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults who crossed the US border without documents between April 19 and May 31.

Sunday’s protests coincided with the celebration of Father’s Day in the US, and drew several lawmakers from the Democratic Party.

New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney shared the stories of five men detained in the New Jersey facility who were separated from their families.

“All 5 of these men brought their families to the US to escape #gangviolence in their home countries,” she said on Twitter. “They came hoping for a better, safer life for their loved ones. Instead they were separated from their children & have received no update on their children since being detained.”

Other members of Congress toured a converted Walmart supermarket that is housing about 1,500 children, dozens of whom have been separated from their parents under the “zero-tolerance” policy.

“They call it ‘zero tolerance,’ but a better name for it is zero humanity, and there’s zero logic to this policy,” said Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon said while touring the facility.

“It’s completely unacceptable under any moral code or under any religious tradition to injure children, inflict trauma on them in order to send some political message to adults somewhere overseas,” he said.

Protesters also marched to the newly-erected tent city in Tornillo, Texas, where hundreds of boys will be housed, according to Congressman Will Hurd, who toured the area over the weekend.

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced the opening of the “shelter” last week.

‘Reminiscent of Japanese-American internment camps’

Democrat Senators are attempting to drum up support in Congress to legislate against the policy, including proposing a law that would ban the practice.

Named the ‘Keep Families Together Act’, the bill, if passed, would ban the separation of a child from a parent or guardian unless there was a risk of abuse or neglect stemming from the parent’s custody of the child.

Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein said the bill had picked up support from 48 senators.

“We’re making progress, but we still need Republicans to join,” she wrote on Twitter.

While no Republicans have signed up to back the bill, others within the party establishment have spoken out.

Former First Lady Laura Bush, the wife of former Republican President George W Bush, wrote an editorial in the Washington Post newspaper, in which she said the policy of zero tolerance “breaks her heart”.

“Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso,” she wrote.

“These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in US history.”

Current First Lady Melania Trump has also weighed in on the issue but stopped short of calling for the policy to be scrapped.

The first lady said she “hates to see children separated from their families” and that she hoped Republicans and Democrats could “come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” in a statement her spokesperson made to CNN.

Violates children’s rights

Her husband’s administration has shown little sign that it will budge on the issue and has instead doubled down, even citing the Bible to justify its conduct.

Trump and his supporters have also repeatedly falsely blamed the Democrats for his administration’s policy of separating families, saying that it’s “their law”.

However, there is no statute that requires children to be separated from their parents at the border.

Others have defended the policy by citing the “safety and security” of the children.

Rights groups and others, including the UN, however, have said the practice violates the rights of the child.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote on Twitter: “There is no way to rationalize ripping families apart…”

President Trump campaigned on a platform to cut off the flow of immigrants entering the US through Mexico and repeatedly characterised those coming through as potential rapists and criminals.


Donald Trump claims Germans are turning against government over migration

The US President has waded into the ongoing stand-off between Chancellor Angela Merkel and her interior minister over migration. He said it was a “big mistake” to allow millions of refugees into Europe.

June 18. 2018

by Nik Martin


US President Donald Trump on Monday claimed that Germany’s leaders were losing the support of the public over the migration issue.

His untimely comments come amid a deepening split between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the leader of her coalition ally, Horst Seehofer, over asylum policy and border controls.

Trump told his Twitter followers: “The people of Germany are turning against their leadership as migration is rocking the already tenuous Berlin coalition.”

The US leader went on to say that “Crime in Germany is way up” before adding that there had been a “big mistake made all over Europe in allowing millions of people in who have so strongly and violently changed their culture!”

In a warning to the American electorate, Trump warned: “We don’t want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us!”

Historic alliance at stake

Merkel remains at odds over migration policy with Seehofer, her interior minister and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister-party to her conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The two parties came close to a split in their longtime alliance last week, after Seehofer announced plans for Germany to introduce stricter asylum laws, which would include turning migrants away at the border.

Merkel has convinced Seehofer to wait until a European summit takes place at the end of the month, where she aims to push through EU-wide migrant reforms.

Missing in Action: The Poor in America

by Beverly Gologorsky


Imagine this: every year during the Great Recession of 2007-2009 there were nearly four million home foreclosures. In that period, with job losses mounting, nearly 15% of American households were categorized as “food insecure.” To many of those who weren’t foreclosed upon, who didn’t lose their jobs, who weren’t “food insecure,” to the pundits writing about that disaster and the politicians dealing with it, these were undoubtedly distant events. But not to me. For me, it was all up close and personal.

No, I wasn’t foreclosed upon. But my past never leaves me and so, in those years, the questions kept piling up. What, I wondered daily, was happening to all those people? Where were they going? What would they do? Could families really stay together in the midst of so much loss?

I was haunted by such questions and others like them in the same way that I remain haunted by my own working-class childhood, my deep experience of poverty, of want, of worry. I wondered: How were working class families surviving the never-ending disasters in what was quickly becoming a new gilded age in which poverty is again on the rise?

As a writer and novelist, I found myself returning to the childhood and adolescence I had left behind in my South Bronx neighborhood in New York City. I thought about those who, like me once upon a time, had barely made it out of the difficulties of their daily lives only to find themselves once again squeezed back into a world of poverty by the Great Recession. How that felt and how they felt raised lingering questions that would become the heart and soul of my new novel, Every Body Has a Story. The book is finished, printed, and in stores and the Great Recession officially over, or so it’s said, but tell that to the increasing numbers of poor families scrabbling to hang on in a world that refuses to see or hear them.

What Does Poverty Feel Like to a Child?

President Trump, a man who never knew a moment of need in his life, and the politicians in his thrall regularly use the term “working class” to mean only those who are white, only those who, they believe, will support their acts. Let me be clear: the working class consists of people who are multi-racial and multi-ethnic, immigrant and native born. If you grew up where I did, you would know the truth of that fact.

And here’s a question that’s never asked: What does poverty actually feel like, especially to a child? I can attest to the fact that it sinks deep into your bones, into the very sinews of your life and never leaves you. Poverty is more than the numbers that prove it, not at all the way the pundits who write about it describe it. And for those Americans who are just one paycheck, one sick child, one broken-down car away from falling into its abyss, poverty lasts forever.

I was a serious child in an impoverished home, in a poor, working-class, diverse neighborhood in a society that valued women less than it did men. I was born to an immigrant father who worked in a leather factory and a mother who took care of children, her own and those of others. I was brought up in the South Bronx, the third of the four children who survived the six born to my mother. With the arrival of each new child, something of material and emotional value was subtracted from the other children’s wellbeing in order to support the new arrival.

Dreams were seen as a waste of the mental energy needed to seek out and acquire the basics: food, rent, clothing, whatever was essential to get through a day, a week, or at most a month. To plan long range would be as useless as dreaming and could only court disappointment. The result of such suppression was anger, depression, and dissatisfaction, which is just to start down an endless list.

Whenever I read about crime rates and addiction levels, including the spread of the opioid epidemic in poor urban or rural areas, I know it’s the result of anger, depression, and dissatisfaction, of unmet needs, big and small, that breed frustration and, perhaps most importantly, despair.

How could I forget our family apartment in the basement of an old six-story building? Through its windows I could daily watch the feet of people passing by on the street outside. In the summers, that apartment was too hot; in the winters, too cold. My mother scoured it regularly, but there was no way to keep out the rodents that competed for ownership in the night. To deal with this infestation, and fearing ever being alone in the apartment, she brought home an alley cat. However, that cat made my asthma worse. It was my mother’s savior and my enemy.

Because the clinic where I received my medications and injections was free, we had to accept home visits from a social worker sent to investigate the “environment” in which I lived. Ahead of her arrival, my brother would remove the cat from the apartment for the duration of the visit. My siblings and I colluded in this ploy in order to keep the “outsider” from telling us how to live our lives — and to protect me from the possibility of being removed from my home.

Passing a Life Sentence on the Poor

In that world of poverty, each event, each change resonated through our lives in ways too grim to recall. And nothing that happened in the world of adults was kept hidden from the children. Nothing could be. When, for instance, my father was laid off and could no longer support his family, each of us was affected. My siblings and I worried about our parents in ways that, in middle or upper class families, parents are supposed to worry about their kids.

My older brother, then 18 or 19, who might have gone to community college ended up in the Army instead, after which, without any special training, his work-life consisted of one dead-end job after another. My eldest sister, saddened by our brother’s lost chance, considered the possibility of college, always knowing how improbable getting there would be. For the youngest of us, my sister and I, the key thing was to get jobs as soon as we could. And we did. I wasn’t quite 13 when I lied myself into a job at a juice store under the Third Avenue El in the Bronx.

Poverty meant buying yesterday’s — or even sometimes last week’s — bread. In such a world, you shopped by the piece, not the pound. Even time is a different commodity in the world of the poor. Joblessness creates unbearable amounts of time to kill, while working three jobs just to get by leaves no time even for sleep. The free time needed to train for, prepare for, or develop a career, or even to relax and develop a life, isn’t readily available with a family to feed. Where there are few or no options for mobility — and in these years of the new Gilded Age, cross-class mobility has, in fact, been on the decline — escape fantasies are a necessity of daily life. How else to get through the drudgery of it all?

In such a world, so lacking in the possibility of either movement or escape, drugs tend to play a big role in the lives of the young and the middle-aged. Recently, doctors have received much of the blame for providing too many opioid prescriptions too easily, while poverty is hardly blamed at all. One of the cruelest results of poverty is that people often fault themselves for their predicaments instead of a system that devalues their worth.

There was a curse, which was also a kind of wish, repeated in the hallways of my neighborhood’s rundown buildings. It went something like this: May the landlord stay healthy and have to live in this building for the rest of his life! Behind such a wish is the deep knowledge that the people most responsible for one’s everyday misery have never had to scrabble for their livings and don’t have a clue what poverty feels like. On television or at the movies, crises are often depicted as drawing people closer. In the world of the poor, however, it’s often the very opposite: poverty and unemployment break up homes, tear families apart, send some into substance abuse and others to one miserable job after another.

Need in America Today

And yet… and yet… what’s most troubling is not what’s changed but what hasn’t, which includes what poverty feels like in the body, the psyche, and the soul. In the body, it mostly results in the development of chronic or untreated ailments in a world in which nutrition is poor and, even if available, unbalanced. Asthma is one example that can be found now, as then, in nearly every family living in poor rural areas and inner cities such as the one in which I grew up.

In the psyche, poverty begets fear, anxiety, tension, and worry, constant worry. In the soul, poverty, which feels like the loss of you know not what, is always there like a cold fist to remind you that tomorrow will be the same as today. Such effects are not outgrown like a child’s dress but linger for a lifetime in a country where the severest kinds of poverty are again on the rise (and was just scathingly denounced by the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights), where each tax bill, each favor to the 1%, passes a kind of life sentence on the poor. And that is the definition of hopelessness.

Americans who barely made it through the recent recession now find themselves in conditions (in supposed good times) that seem to be worsening. In poor neighborhoods and rural areas, even when people listen to the pundits of cable TV chatter on about economic inequality, the words bleed together, because without the means to make real change, the present is forever. At best, such discussions feel like a teardrop in an ocean of words. Among professionals, pundits, and academics barely hidden contempt for those defined as lower or working class often tinges such discussions.

If media talk shows were ever to invite the real experts on, those who actually live in neighborhoods of need, so they could tell us what their daily lives are actually like, perhaps impoverishment would be understood more concretely and provoke action. It’s often said that poverty’s always been with us and so is here to stay. However, there have been better safety nets in the relatively recent American past. President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society of the 1960s, though failing in many ways, still succeeded in lifting people out of impoverished lives. Union jobs paid fairly decent wages before they began to be undermined during the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Better wages and union jobs aided people in finding better places to live.

During the past few decades, however, with huge sums being poured into this country’s never-ending wars, unions weakening or collapsing, wages being pushed down, and workers losing jobs, then homes, so much of that safety net is gone. If Donald Trump and his crew of millionaires and billionaires continue with their evisceration of the rest of the safety net, then food stamps, welfare aid directed at children’s health, and women’s reproductive rights, among other things, will disappear as well. Add to that the utter disregard the Trump administration has shown for people of color and its special mean-spiritedness toward immigrants, whether Mexican or Muslim — and for growing numbers of non-millionaires and non-billionaires the future is already starting to look like the worst, not the best, of times.

It seems that those who foster ideologies that deny decent lives to millions believe that people will take it forever. History, however, suggests another possibility and in it perhaps lies some consolation. Namely, that when misery reaches its nadir, it seeks change. Enough is enough was the implicit cry that helped form unions, spur the civil rights movement, launch the migrant grape boycotts, and inspire the drive for women’s liberation.

In the meantime, the poor remain missing in action in our American world, but not in my mind. Not in me.


Flooding from sea level rise threatens over 300,000 US coastal homes – study

Climate change study predicts ‘staggering impact’ of swelling oceans on coastal communities within next 30 years

June 18, 2018

by Oliver Milman in New York

The Guardian

Sea level rise driven by climate change is set to pose an existential crisis to many US coastal communities, with new research finding that as many as 311,000 homes face being flooded every two weeks within the next 30 years.

The swelling oceans are forecast repeatedly to soak coastal residences collectively worth $120bn by 2045 if greenhouse gas emissions aren’t severely curtailed, experts warn. This will potentially inflict a huge financial and emotional toll on the half million Americans who live in the properties at risk of having their basements, backyards, garages or living rooms inundated every other week.

“The impact could well be staggering,” said Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “This level of flooding would be a tipping point where people in these communities would think it’s unsustainable.

“Even homes along the Gulf coast that are elevated would be affected, as they’d have to drive through salt water to get to work or face their kids’ school being cut off. You can imagine people walking away from mortgages, away from

The UCS used federal data from a high sea level rise scenario projected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and combined it with property data from the online real estate company Zillow to quantify the level of risk across the lower 48 states.

Under this scenario, where planet-warming emissions are barely constrained and the seas rise by around 6.5ft globally by the end of the century, 311,000 homes along the US coastline would face flooding on average 26 times a year within the next 30 years – a typical lifespan for a new mortgage.

The losses would multiply by the end of the century, with the research warning that as many as 2.4m homes, worth around a trillion dollars, could be put at risk. Low-lying states would be particularly prone, with a million homes in Florida, 250,000 homes in New Jersey and 143,000 homes in New York at risk of chronic flooding by 2100.

This persistent flooding is likely to rattle the housing market by lowering property prices and making mortgages untenable in certain areas. Flood insurance premiums could rise sharply, with people faced with the choice of increasing clean-up costs or retreating to higher ground inland.

“Unfortunately, in the years ahead many coastal communities will face declining property values as risk perceptions catch up with reality,” said Rachel Cleetus, an economist and climate policy director at UCS. “In contrast with previous housing market crashes, values of properties chronically inundated due to sea level rise are unlikely to recover and will only continue to go further underwater, literally and figuratively.”

The report does not factor in future technological advances that could ameliorate the impact of rising seas, although the US would be starting from a relatively low base compared to some countries given that it does not have a national sea level rise plan. And the current Trump administration has moved to erase the looming issue from consideration for federally-funded infrastructure.

The oceans are rising by around 3mm a year due to the thermal expansion of seawater that’s warming because of the burning of fossil fuels by humans. The melting of massive glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica is also pushing up the seas – Nasa announced last week that the amount of ice lost annually from Antarctica has tripled since 2012 to an enormous 241bn tons a year.

This slowly unfolding scenario is set to pose wrenching choices for many in the US. Previous research has suggested that around 13 million Americans may have to move due to sea level rise by the end of the century, with landlocked states such as Arizona and Wyoming set for a population surge.

“My flood insurance bill just went up by $100 this year, it went up $100 the year before,” said Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami. “People on the waterfront won’t be able to stay unless they are very wealthy. This isn’t a risk, it’s inevitable.

“Miami is a beautiful and interesting place to live – I’m looking at a lizard on my windowsill right now. But people will face a cost to live here that will creep up and up. At some point they will have to make a rational economic decision and they may relocate. Some people will make the trade-off to live here. Some won’t.”


New Study Shows Sea Levels Could Rise Twice as Much as Originally Predicted.

December 14, 2017

by Keshia Hannam


Sea levels could rise twice what was previously anticipated during the 21st century, according to a new study that factors in emerging research about the unstable Antarctic Ice Sheet.

The study, published in the open access journal Earth’s Future, addresses newly prominent worries, like the disintegration of floating ice shelves and widespread ice-cliff failure, which could lead to the sudden collapse of parts of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. If the ice sheet were to collapse and melt completely, which had previously seemed highly unlikely, it would cause sea levels worldwide to rise almost 200 feet.

The study goes on to lay out new projections for sea levels city by city around the world, which could be far more dire than originally predicted.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects a median sea level rise of two feet and five inches by 2100 under a high emissions scenario. By contrast, the new Earth’s Future study, as reported by Mashable, offers a median sea level rise projection of four feet and nine inches during the 21st century if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current high trajectory.

National Geographic explains that the ice covering East Antarctica, which is more than 12,000 feet thick in many places, has long been considered more stable and permanent than the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and was therefore less susceptible to global warming. However, in addition to the study in Earth’s Future, a team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of South Florida published a paper in the journal Nature on Thursday, which found that the East Antarctic Ice Sheet may not be as stable as it seems.

Without protective measures, the study predicts, land currently home to 153 million people would be submerged—or at least half the population of the U.S., as Mashable points out.


Attacking Hodeidah Is Trump’s Deliberate Act of Cruelty

June 16, 2018

by Patrick Cockburn

The Independent

The Trump administration is guilty of many acts of deliberate cruelty, such as taking away the children of immigrant parents at the US border. But just as the world was watching the lead up to the Trump-Kim Jong-un meeting in Singapore last Monday, the US may have done something even worse by quietly announcing a decision that threatens to kill millions by starvation or disease.

The potential death sentence came in a short press statement by the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, effectively giving a green light for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to launch an offensive in Yemen aimed at capturing Hodeidah on the Red Sea. The port city is the point of entry for 70 per cent of food and medical supplies for the eight million Yemenis whom the UN says are on the brink of starvation out of the 22 million in need of humanitarian aid.

The eagerness of US officials to avoid accusations of complicity in the Hodeidah attack is a sign that they suspect the outcome may be calamitous. Pompeo was deliberately low-key in his three sentence statement about Hodeidah: “I have spoken with Emirati leaders and made clear our desire to address their security concerns while preserving the free flow of humanitarian aid and life-saving commercial imports.”

Absent from this message for the first time was any call for Saudi Arabia and the UAE not to attack Hodeidah, a city with a population of 600,000 who are already hearing explosions in the distance. The US and UAE have been working hard on a smokescreen of misinformation about who is responsible for what is happening and why they are launching the offensive now.

The 25,000 Yemeni fighters advancing on Hodeidah are not an independent force but are paid for and under the control of the UAE. “We take our orders from the Emiratis, of course,” a Yemeni field commander in the front line told Iona Craig of The Intercept earlier this month as he called in airstrikes. This air support is provided by the Saudis and the UAE with the US providing essential services such as mid-air refuelling and target intelligence. The US is denying that it has a direct role in the assault on Hodeidh, but it would not be happening without its assent.

The UAE has made it clear privately to US officials that it would not attack Hodeidah without the permission and support of the Trump administration. The White House has decided to escalate the Saudi and UAE-led campaign against the Houthis, whom it denounces as Iranian proxies, though without providing much evidence of this. A justification by the UAE for attacking Hodeidah is that it is used by the Houthis to import Iranian-made missiles and other weapons. “Should we leave the Houthis smuggling missiles?” asked a UAE ambassador. But a UN panel of experts concluded earlier in the year that no weapons were coming through the port from Iran because ships are randomly inspected and must be authorised by the UN.

A crude attempt by the UAE to pretend that it is not acting in concert with the US is to announce publicly that its request to the US for satellite imagery, reconnaissance and mine-sweeping had been turned down. Given that countries do not normally put such rejections up in lights, this is clearly another attempt to play down the US role.

Why is the US doing this? Trump is closer to Saudi Arabia and UAE than any another US president and they have put a vast effort into cultivating him. The White House sees Yemen as one front in a broader campaign to put pressure on Iran. But the most important motive for escalation by Saudi Arabia, UAE and their foreign backers such as the US, Britain and France is that their war has not been going well for them.

When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman began the Saudi air war against the Houthis in March 2015 it was over-confidently named “Operation Decisive Storm”. It turned out to be anything but decisive and is still going on three years later. The Houthis, a Shia minority sect, control the capital Sanaa along with almost all of highly populated north Yemen and remain capable of firing the occasional missile into Saudi Arabia.

The US is encouraging the UAE and its allies to take Hodeidah to break the deadlock, by tightening encirclement of the Houthis. But this is a long way from taking Sanaa and forcing the Houthis to surrender.

What the Hodeidah operation may do is turn a humanitarian disaster, which the UN is already calling the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, into complete catastrophe. Three quarters of the 27 million Yemenis already require aid to survive and this may be cut off in the next few days as the fighting moves into Hodeidah and closes the port.

The Saudis and the UAE are trying to defuse international concerns, particularly in the US Congress, about an impending famine by saying that they are ready and waiting to send in supplies once they have taken Hodeidah. That sounds good, but last year Saudi Arabia even banned chlorine tablets being sent to Yemen though it was suffering from a cholera epidemic in which, according to the World Health Organisation, 500,000 people have been infected and 2,000 children have died. The epidemic started because the Saudi-led coalition had bombed the main electric power station and not enough fuel was getting through to keep the sewage and water purification plants working.

Even if Hodeidah falls, the Saudi and Emirati-backed Yemeni forces will be unable to fight their way into the rugged highlands of Yemen where the terrain favours the defender.

Pretensions of humanitarian concern from Yemen by the US, Britain and France reek of hypocrisy, shedding copious tears for the victims of war while supplying the arms and advisers with which that war is being waged. The largely ineffective Houthi missiles fired at Riyadh are furiously denounced, but scarcely a squeak is heard about the relentless bombing of Sanaa and every other population centre in the country. The US and Britain opposed a demand by Sweden at the UN Security Council on Thursday that Saudi Arabia and UAE declare an immediate ceasefire. Some cynics suspect that the Saudi-UAE offensive is timed to sink peace efforts by the UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths whereby the Houthis would withdraw from Hodeidah and the UN would take over the port city.

Calling for a political settlement, as Britain has done, sounds better than calling for more war, but the outcome will be much the same so long as Saudi Arabia and UAE try to gain through diplomacy what they have failed to win on the battlefield over the last three years. If the Houthis do not withdraw, then the Saudi-led coalition is likely to rely on bombing to batter their way in. The city will end up looking like Raqqa, West Mosul or East Aleppo where ground troops act as a mopping up force after airstrikes have obliterated everything in front of them. It is only when the US, Britain and France begin to exact a political price from Saudi Arabia and UAE for continuing their disastrous foreign venture in Yemen that the end of the war will be in sight.


‘As crimes pile up, they become invisible’: Western complicity in Saudi Arabia’s dirty war in Yemen

June 18, 2018

by John Wight


The complicity of Western governments in the ocean of suffering being wrought in Yemen exposes them as agents of Saudi brutality.

After three years of relentless conflict, it has been estimated that out of a population of 27.4 million, 22.2 million people in Yemen are in need of humanitarian assistance, 17 million are food insecure, 14.8 million lack basic healthcare, 4.5 million children are suffering malnourishment, while 2.9 million people are internally displaced. As for dead and injured, the toll stands at almost 10,000 and 50,000 respectively.

As a result of the conflict, the country is also facing the “largest documented cholera epidemic of modern times.” And this epidemic can only have been intensified by the Saudi bombing of a cholera treatment center in the west of the country, causing the French NGO Médecins Sans Frontières to halt their work at the facility.

Yet despite this mammoth scale in human suffering, the Saudi-led Sunni coalition’s war not only continues, it has intensified with the unleashing of a massive air, land and sea offensive against the Houthi-controlled Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, one of the last remaining points of entry of food, medicines, and other essential humanitarian aid into the beleaguered country.

According to Amnesty International, “Hodeidah’s port is crucial to a country that is 80% dependent on imports to meet basic necessities. Cutting off this crucial supply line would further exacerbate what is already the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Thus the “assault on Hodeidah could have a devastating impact for hundreds of thousands of civilians – not just in the city but throughout Yemen.”

Yemen, on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is the poorest country in the Middle East, with a per capita GDP prior to the conflict of just $1,400.

President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi heads the country’s internationally recognized government. In the accustomed manner of legitimate leaders, however, Hadi is currently living in exile.

President Hadi was elected as sole candidate for the office of president in 2011 after his predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, relinquished power in the face of growing and sustained protests during the Arab Spring. Saleh had led North Yemen since 1978 before assuming the presidency of the Republic of Yemen in 1990, upon the reunification of the country’s northern and southern halves.

The former president, whose reign was mired in allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the country’s resources, aligned himself with the very Houthi minority which played a role in ousting him during the aforementioned Arab Spring protests, when their rebellion against Hadi’s government began in 2015.

The casus belli of the Houthi rebellion was President Hadi’s refusal to countenance more autonomy for the Shiite minority upon assuming office. As for Saleh, the Houthis killed him at the end of 2017 after he broke with the rebellion and declared his willingness to enter into dialogue with the Saudis over the country’s future.

What we have in Yemen, as we can see, is a crisis that is complex even by Arab standards.

Yemen has long been buffeted by the stifling domination of the Arabian Peninsula by Saudi Arabia. This domination, in service to Riyadh’s puritanical Wahhabi sectarian ideology, is partly fueling the rebellion of the country’s Houthis, for whom President Hadi is a Saudi puppet.

This being said, that the insurgency enjoys the sympathy if not open support of the wider Yemeni population is measured in its success in taking control of the country’s capital, Sanaa, along with other urban centers such as the port city of Hodeidah.

Taking a wider view, the conflict is considered part of an ongoing regional proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. From the rebellion’s outset in 2015, Riyadh has claimed that the Houthis are an Iranian proxy, thus justifying their own involvement. However, in 2015, veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn was writing that this claim was “widely seen as propaganda or an exaggeration.”

Three years on and the Iranians are now certainly involved, supplying the Houthis with weapons and, according to some sources, also military advisers. Thus, Saudi Arabia’s intervention in 2015 on the spurious claim of Iranian involvement has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Returning to Western complicity in the carnage and suffering being meted out to the Yemeni people, never has there been a more naked example of hypocrisy masquerading as democracy. Indeed, the longstanding alliance between the US, UK and Saudi Arabia takes a scalpel to the oft-repeated boasts of Washington and London when it comes to their self-appointed role as champions and guardians of human rights and democracy.

Beginning with the Obama administration, and ramped up under Trump, US involvement in this brutal conflict has consisted of direct military airstrikes (carried out against Al-Qaeda and Islamic State targets, according to Washington), along with logistical, intelligence, and other non-combat support provided to the anti-Houthi Saudi-led coalition. This, of course, is not forgetting US arms sales to the Kingdom, consisting of over 50 percent of all US arms exports.

Meanwhile, in 2017, the Pentagon confirmed that US ground troops were also present in Yemen, again justified on the basis of being engaged in operations against Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS).

As for London’s role in supporting the Saudi war effort in Yemen, UK arms sales have also been key to the Wahhabi state’s ability to project hard power in the region, amounting to £4.6bn (US$6bn) since 2015 alone. As with the US, Saudi Arabia is the biggest market for UK arms sales and has been for a number of years.

In 2017, campaigners brought a legal case against the UK government over its sale of weapons to the Saudis, alleging that some of them have been used to kill Yemeni civilians.

In 2017, it was also revealed that Britain’s role in the conflict has amounted to more than arms sales. A story appeared in the Daily Mail outlining details of hitherto secret military operation, known as Operation Crossways, which involved up to 50 British military personnel training Saudi troops destined to be deployed to take part in the conflict.

In response to this revelation, British Tory MP and former Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell lambasted it as evidence of the UK’s “shameful complicity” in the suffering of the Yemeni people. Given the scale of this suffering, it would be safe to assume that all right thinking people share Mr. Mitchell’s sentiments.

The war in Yemen is a dirty war, being waged by a Western-supported Saudi kleptocracy in the name of clerical fascism. Bertolt Brecht was right: “As crimes pile up, they become invisible.”


Fears mount over WhatsApp’s role in spreading fake news

App blamed for circulating false information in India, Brazil, Kenya and now the UK

June 17, 2018

by Jim Waterson Media editor

The Guardian

Abijeet Nath and Nilotpal Das were driving back from a visit to a waterfall in the Indian province of Assam earlier this month when they stopped in a village to ask for directions. The two men were pulled out of their car and beaten to death by a mob who accused them of stealing children.

“The villagers got suspicious of the strangers as for the last three or four days messages were going around on WhatsApp, as well as through word of mouth, about child lifters roaming the area,” Mukesh Agrawal, a local police officer said.

Indian police have linked dozens of murders and serious assaults to rumours spread on the messaging service in recent months.

In Brazil, WhatsApp has been blamed for a yellow fever outbreak after being used to spread anti-vaccine videos and audio messages. In Kenya, WhatsApp group admins have been described as a major source of politically motivated fake news during recent elections. And there are signs that the messaging service is being used as a conduit for misinformation in the UK.

New analysis by the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute found that consumers around the world are reading less news on Facebook and are increasingly turning to WhatsApp – which has 1.5 billion active users worldwide – to share and discuss news stories.

“In some sense it’s not that dissimilar to ordinary conversations but what makes it different is the speed with which these things can spread,” said Nic Newman, who co-wrote the report. “The reasons why people are moving to these spaces is because they get more privacy. If you’re in an authoritarian regime you can use it to talk safely about politics – but it can also be used for nefarious means.”

Newman said WhatsApp’s privacy settings make it difficult to ascertain the scale of misinformation on the service: “It’s very early days but I’ve got a hunch this is going to become a much bigger story.”

WhatsApp lets users send messages, links, pictures and videos to other users. Unlike Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it has no algorithm deciding which content is shown to users, no ability for outside companies to buy adverts and discussion happens within private groups.

This should in theory make it harder to manipulate and there is little chance of a large-scale Cambridge Analytica-style scandal. But its use of end-to-end encryption means that no one – not even the creators of the app – can intercept and monitor messages between users.

This has angered government officials around the world – including in Britain – who want to have the ability to monitor potentially illegal behaviour. But it also makes it near-impossible for WhatsApp to intercept misinformation being shared.

Even measuring how a story spreads on WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook but run as an independent business, is nearly impossible.

“People don’t want to put themselves in the public domain by putting something publicly on Facebook and Twitter, but there’s still need for humans to gossip and share communication,” said Camilla Wright, who has run the Popbitch email newsletter since 2000 and tracked the evolution ofonline gossip.

“People are sending things to each other on email again and on WhatsApp,” she explained, drawing parallels with the round-robin letters and private forums that existed before Facebook and Twitter. “It’s much more in tune in with how humans have evolved to gossip because it feels like you’re telling people on a one-to-one level. The closed WhatsApp group is the modern water cooler or school gate.”

The sense that news is being provided in secret by a friend – who got it from their friend, who claims to have got it from their friend, who claims to be in the know – is part of the appeal and only adds to the credibility of rumours.

British users got a taste for this recently when a rumour spread that David and Victoria Beckham were about to announce their divorce. Much of the speculation, which was strongly denied by the Beckhams, came from a series of screengrabbed messages that spread through WhatsApp, allegedly from people in the PR industry who had the inside track.

“My sister’s friends sister works in a PR agency in London and apparently they are pulling an all nighter tonight in advance,” claimed one of the widely distributed messages, with no supporting evidence. Another featured a now-suspended junior employee at London PR firm the Communications Store who used her work email to tell her family members that the “news is being broken in the papers today/tomorrow”.

The agency has since made it clear that she was not the original source for the rumour and was only passing on gossip she had heard on Twitter. But taken together, the two images appeared to provide double-sourcing from people who could conceivably know the real story. Within hours they had been widely shared around the world, in an impossible-to-track manner.

For its part the messaging service is aware that it is dealing with a growing problem, which has already prompted the growth of fact-checking services in countries such as Mexico.

A WhatsApp spokesperson said some people used the app to spread harmful misinformation. “We’ve made it easy to block a phone number with just one tap – and are constantly evolving our tools to block automated content. We’re working to give people more control over private groups, which remain strictly limited in size. We’re also stepping up our education efforts so that people know about our safety features, as well as how to spot fake news and hoaxes.”

But veterans of the online news business see the private nature of the service as being perfect for unmediated gossip. “People feel much more comfortable sharing important things through WhatsApp,” said Wright. “It’s that feeling of being in on a secret that people love.”

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