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TBR News June 22, 2018

Jun 22 2018

The Voice of the White House 

Washington, D.C. June 22, 2018: “The CIA, has been responsible for manufacturing the nearly-perfect counterfeit 50 and 100-dollar-notes that Washington has been accusing the North Koreans for making.The charge comes after an extensive investigation in Europe and Asia by the German BfV and after interviews with counterfeit money experts and leading representatives of the high-security publishing industry.

The U.S.-dollar forgeries designated ‘Supernotes,’ which are so good that even specialists are unable to distinguish them from genuine notes, have circulated for almost two decades without a reliable identification of the culprits. Because of their extraordinary quality, experts assume that some country must be behind the enterprise.

The administration of George W. Bush had officially accused Pyongyang of the deed in the autumn of 2005, derailing Six-Party Talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program. Since then, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have increased considerably. America charged that North Korea has been financing its rocket and nuclear weapons program with the counterfeit ‘Supernotes.’

North Korea is one of the world’s poorest nations and lacks the technological capability to produce notes of such high quality. According to the BfV, North Korea is at present unable to even produce the won the North Korean currency.

The German sources state that the CIA has printed the falsified ‘Supernotes’ at a secret facility near Washington to fund covert operations without Congressional oversight. The same agency has also been falsifying Euros to fund its large-scale bribery of German government officials.”

 

The Table of Contents

  • If family separation isn’t enough, what must Trump do to cross Republicans?
  • Trump and the Russians
  • Will the Real Donald Trump Please Stand Up?
  • Imperial President or Emperor With No Clothes?
  • Trump’s cruel border policies created a needless crisis. It’s far from over
  • In age of Trump, evangelicals back self-styled top U.S. pimp
  • Virginia probes abuses of migrant children at detention centre
  • U.S. House votes to defeat conservative immigration bill
  • Secrecy News
  • Syrian army recaptures over 4,500 sq km of desert areas from IS
  • Sea-level rise threatening property market
  • Norfolk: A case study in sea-level rise
  • Police suspect Hollywood mogul was go-between for PM, newspaper chief — report

 

If family separation isn’t enough, what must Trump do to cross Republicans?

Donald Trump’s retreat from his vile policy of separating immigrant children from their parents is a small win for basic human decency. But the episode also serves to underscore a scary truth

June 21, 2018

by Michael Knigge

DW

Most times a bad policy is just that — a bad policy. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to assign broad moral categorizations of good and evil. President Donald Trump’s decision to deliberately separate immigrant children from their parents is one of those instances: It is evil, it is cruel and it is ahistorical. It is unbecoming of any nation claiming it adheres to even the most rudimentary human rights, much less the United States, a nation of immigrants that traditionally has viewed itself as a beacon of human rights

So it is of course good news that Trump walked back the family separation policy he himself proudly instituted as part of his “zero tolerance” crackdown on immigrants. As is custom, his retreat was awash in his trademark sea of lies and mischaracterizations. It was the same sea of lies and mischaracterizations that he used when instituting his policy. In his signature style he assigned blame to Democrats, Congress and previous administrations before signing — in a brazen ceremony flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen — an executive order to end an inhumane practice he himself had launched.

Serial political arsonist

While the order ostensibly ends the Trump government’s practice of ripping immigrant children from their parents, it does nothing to reunite the more than 2,000 children already taken from parents. It also does not change an existing Supreme Court ruling that stipulates immigrant children cannot be detained for more than 20 days. And since the Trump government continues its “zero tolerance policy” to prosecute all illegal border crossings, this means that children could still be separated from their parents after having been detained with their parents for 20 days.

Trump is a serial political arsonist who repeatedly sets fires he then boasts about extinguishing. That in itself is nothing new. It is simply part of the president’s established playbook that was used most recently on North Korea, where after taking office Trump ratcheted up the pressure to the brink of war only to then stage a historic summit that allowed him to calm down the crisis he had created and expect public kudos for this magnanimous act.

No adults left in the room

What is more significant about this latest episode is that when push comes to shove, no one in this administration and only a few of the Republicans who control Congress are prepared to stand up to Trump. To be sure, that was already the case throughout his tenure — with the exception of US policy towards Russia. But Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents served as a litmus test for conservatives who traditionally viewed themselves as the defenders of family unity from an alleged onslaught of liberal attacks on family values.

The fact that no one in this administration pushed back against separating children from their parents shows that Trump has now succeeded in his efforts to surround himself with feckless sycophants. Remember the adage about the “adults in the room” keeping watch over the president? If they ever were there in the first place, they have long left the building by now.

Pretty much the same moral apathy characterized the response of Republicans in Congress and Trump supporters across the country. There was no huge outcry from the party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan about the fact that a Republican government instituted a policy that mandates taking children away from their parents.

Instead, many defended the policy while others obfuscated or tried to rationalize the issue for themselves. That the president eventually walked back his despicable policy was likely due to the repeated pleas by his wife, Melania, and daughter Ivanka, not pressure from Republicans. Together, the episode was just the latest sign that the GOP is now fully the party of Trump.

That does not bode well for the future of the country. If taking away children from their parents is not enough for Republicans to break with a ruthless president who so clearly lacks any moral compass, what is? It’s a troubling prospect to consider.

 

Trump and the Russians

June 22, 2018

by Christian Jürs

During his trip to Moscow on November 9-11, 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant, Mr.Trump surrounded himself with business people and those necessary to sign a deal which would bring a Trump Tower project to Moscow. These were: Aras Agalarov, Emin Agalarov,Yulya (Yulia) Alferova,Herman Gref, Artem Klyushin, Vladimir Kozhin, Chuck LaBella, Rotem Rosen, Phil Ruffin, Alex Sapir, Keith Schiller, Roustam Tariko and Bob Van Ronkel.

At first, President Putin, who had planned on meeting Mr.Trump at the pageant, sent numerous individuals tied to the Russian construction sector to the event to discuss potential lucrative building plans and to ascertain Mr. Trump’s attitudes.

President Putin to establish a distance, stated he was unable to attend the pagent because of a last-minute visit from the King of the Netherlands.

Previous to this meeting, there had been no positive positions on the possibility that Mr. Trump, with Russian assistance and financing, might construct a luxury hotel in Moscow. Trump made several tweets thanking individuals in Moscow and bragging about his future plans.

Then on November 12th, 2013 Trump posted a link to the Moscow Times, remarking that his organization was working on building a luxury hotel in Moscow “@AgalarovAras I had a great weekend with you and your family. You have done a FANTASTIC job. TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next. EMIN was WOW!”

This hotel deal was finalized during Trump’s weekend stay in Moscow for his Miss Universe pageant.

At the Four Seasons Hotel at Ulitsa Okhotnyy Ryad, 2, a private meeting was held between Mr. Trump and President Putin. As the President is fluent in English, no other person was present. President Putin praised the business abilities of Mr. Trump and said that he would be a “refreshing person” as President of the United States.

President Putin said that his people would be pleased to support Mr. Trump and that if this support was deemed material in achieving a victory, President Putin had one request to make of Mr. Trump. President Putin said his best wish was to establish “friendly and cooperative attitudes” by both parties, firmer business contacts and an abandonment of the policy of threats to the Russian Republic.

President Putin stressed that certain very right-wing groups in America had been constantly agitating against him and against the Russian Republic and he hoped that Mr. Trump, if elected, could ignore these few people and work with, not against the Russian Republic.

Mr. Trump repeatedly assured the President that he woud be most eager to do just that and he agreed to work with various people in the United States who were friendly towards, and had connections with, the Russian Republic.

This most important conversation was recorded as a form of kompromat.

And it is certain that a direct quid pro quo took place in November of 2013 between President Putin and Mr. Trump.

On June 16, 2015, Mr. Trump announced his candidacy for President.

 

Will the Real Donald Trump Please Stand Up?

Who is he and what does he want to do?

June 19, 2018

by Philip Giraldi

The Unz Review

had coffee with a foreign friend a week ago. The subject of Donald Trump inevitably came up and my friend said that he was torn between describing Trump as a genius or as an idiot, but was inclined to lean towards genius. He explained that Trump was willy-nilly establishing a new world order that will succeed the institutionally exhausted post-World War 2 financial and political arrangements that more-or-less established U.S. hegemony over the “free world.” The Bretton Woods agreement and the founding of the United Nations institutionalized the spread of liberal democracy and free trade, creating a new, post war international order under the firm control of the United States with the American dollar as the benchmark currency. Trump is now rejecting what has become an increasingly dominant global world order in favor of returning to a nineteenth century style nationalism that has become popular as countries struggle to retain their cultural and political identifies. Trump’s vision would seem to include protection of core industries, existing demographics and cultural institutions combined with an end of “democratization,” which will result in an acceptance of foreign autocratic or non-conforming regimes as long as they do not pose military or economic threats.

Sounds good, I countered but there is a space between genius and idiocy and that would be called insanity, best illustrated by impulsive, irrational behavior coupled with acute hypersensitivity over perceived personal insults and a demonstrated inability to comprehend either generally accepted facts or basic norms of personal and group behavior.

Inevitably, I have other friends who follow foreign policy closely that have various interpretations of the Trump phenomenon. One sees the respectful meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea as a bit of brilliant statesmanship, potentially breaking a sixty-five year logjam and possibly opening the door to further discussions that might well avert a nuclear war. And the week also brought a Trump welcome suggestion that Russia should be asked to rejoin the G-7 group of major industrialized democracies, which also has to be seen as a positive step. There has also been talk of a Russia-U.S. summit similar to that with North Korea to iron out differences, an initiative that was first suggested by Trump and then agreed to by Russian President Vladimir Putin. There will inevitably be powerful resistance to such an arrangement coming primarily from the U.S. media and from Congress, but Donald Trump seems to fancy the prospect and it just might take place.

One good friend even puts a positive spin on Trump’s insulting behavior towards America’s traditional allies at the recent G-7 meeting in Canada. She observes that Trump’s basic objections were that Washington is subsidizing the defense of a wealthy Europe and thereby maintaining unnecessarily a relationship that perpetuates a state of no-war no-peace between Russia and the West. And the military costs exacerbate some genuine serious trade imbalances that damage the U.S. economy. If Trumpism prevails, G-7 will become a forum for discussions of trade and economic relations and will become less a club of nations aligned military against Russia and, eventually, China. As she put it, changing its constituency would be a triumph of “mercantilism” over “imperialism.” The now pointless NATO alliance might well find itself without much support if the members actually have to fully fund it proportionate to their GDPs and could easily fade away, which would be a blessing for everyone.

My objection to nearly all the arguments being made in favor or opposed to what occurred in Singapore last week is that the summit is being seen out of context, as is the outreach to Russia at G-7. Those who are in some cases violently opposed to the outcome of the talks with North Korea are, to be sure, sufferers from Trump Derangement Syndrome, where they hate anything he does and spin their responses to cast him in the most negative terms possible. Some others who choose to see daylight in spite of the essential emptiness of the “agreement” are perhaps being overly optimistic while likewise ignoring what else is going on.

And the neoconservatives and globalists are striking back hard to make sure that détente stays in a bottle hidden somewhere on a shelf in the White House cloak room. Always adept at the creation of new front groups, the neocons have now launched something called the Renew Democracy Initiative (RDI), with the goal of “uni[ting] the center-left and the center-right.” Its founders include the redoubtable Max Boot, The Washington Post’s Anne Appelbaum, the inevitable Bill Kristol, and Richard Hurwitz of Council on Foreign Relations. RDI’s website predictably calls for “fresh thinking” and envisions “the best minds from different countries com[ing] together for both broad and discrete projects in the service of liberty and democracy in the West and beyond.” It argues that “Liberal democracy is in crisis around the world, besieged by authoritarianism, nationalism, and other illiberal forces. Far-right parties are gaining traction in Europe, Vladimir Putin tightens his grip on Russia and undermines democracy abroad, and America struggles with poisonous threats from the right and left.”

There are also the internal contradictions in what Trump appears to be doing, suggesting that a brighter future might not be on the horizon even if giving the Europeans a possibly deserved bloody nose over their refusal to spend money defending themselves provides some satisfaction. In the last week alone in Syria the White House has quietly renewed funding for the so-called White Helmets, a terrorist front group. It has also warned that it will take action against the Syrian government for any violation of a “de-escalation zone” in the country’s southwest that has been under the control of Washington. That means that the U.S., which is in Syria illegally, is warning that country’s legitimate government that it should not attempt to re-establish control over a region that was until recently ruled by terrorists.

And then there is also Donald Trump’s recent renunciation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), eliminating a successful program that was preventing nuclear proliferation on the part of Iran and replacing it with nothing whatsoever apart from war as a possible way of dealing with the potential problem. Indeed, Trump has been prepared to use military force on impulse, even when there is no clear casus belli. In Syria there have been two pointless cruise missile attacks and a trap set up to kill Russian mercenaries. Washington’s stated intention is to destabilize and replace President Bashar al-Assad while continuing the occupation of the Syrian oil fields. And in Afghanistan there are now more troops on the ground than there were on inauguration day together with no plan to bring them home. It is reported that the Pentagon has a twenty-year plan to finish the job but no one actually believes it will work.

The United States is constructing new drone bases in Africa and Asia. It also has a new military base in Israel which will serve as a tripwire for automatic American involvement if Israel goes to war and has given the green light to the Israeli slaughter of Palestinians. In Latin America, Washington has backed off from détente with Cuba and has been periodically threatening some kind of intervention in Venezuela. In Europe, it is engaged in aggressive war games on the Russian borders, most recently in Norway and Poland. The Administration has ordered increased involvement in Somalia and has special ops units operating – and dying – worldwide. Overall, it is hardly a return to the Garden of Eden.

And then there are the petty insults that do not behoove a great power. A friend recently attended the Russian National Day celebration at the embassy in Washington. He reported that the U.S. government completely boycotted the event, together with its allies in Western Europe and the anglosphere, resulting in sparse attendance. It is the kind of slight that causes attitudes to shift when the time comes for serious negotiating. It is unnecessary and it is precisely the sort of thing that Russian President Vladimir Putin is referring to when he asks that his country be treated with “respect.” The White House could have sent a delegation to attend the national day. Trump could have arranged it with a phone call, but he didn’t.

Winston Churchill once reportedly said that to “Jaw, jaw, jaw is better than war, war, war.” As one of the twentieth century’s leading warmongers, he may not have actually meant it, but in principle he was right. So let us hope for the best coming out of Singapore and also for the G-7 or what replaces it in the future. But don’t be confused or diverted by presidential grandstanding. Watch what else is going on outside the limelight and, at least for the present, it is not pretty.

 

Imperial President or Emperor With No Clothes?

How Donald Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression

June 21, 2018

by Nomi Prins

TomDispatch

Leaders are routinely confronted with philosophical dilemmas. Here’s a classic one for our Trumptopian times: If you make enemies out of your friends and friends out of your enemies, where does that leave you?

What does winning (or losing) really look like? Is a world in which walls of every sort encircle America’s borders a goal worth seeking? And what would be left in a future fragmented international economic system marked by tit-for-tat tariffs, travel restrictions, and hyper-nationalism? Ultimately, how will such a world affect regular people?

Let’s cut through all of this for the moment and ask one crucial question about our present cult-of-personality era in American politics: Other than accumulating more wealth and influence for himself, his children, and the Trump family empire, what’s Donald J. Trump’s end game as president? If his goal is to keep this country from being, as he likes to complain, “the world’s piggy bank,” then his words, threats, and actions are concerning. However bombastic and disdainful of a history he appears to know little about, he is already making the world a less stable, less affordable, and more fear-driven place. In the end, it’s even possible that, despite the upbeat economic news of the moment, he could almost singlehandedly smash that piggy bank himself, as he has many of his own business ventures.

Still, give him credit for one thing: Donald Trump has lent remarkable new meaning to the old phrase “the imperial presidency.” The members of his administration, largely a set of aging white men, either conform to his erratic wishes or get fired. In other words, he’s running domestic politics in much the same fashion as he oversaw the boardroom on his reality TV show The Apprentice.

Now, he’s begun running the country’s foreign policy in the same personalized, take-no-prisoners, you’re-fired style. From the moment he hit the Oval Office, he’s made it clear at home and abroad that it’s his way or the highway. If only, of course, it really was that simple. What he will learn, if “learning process” and “President Trump” can even occupy the same sentence, is that “firing” Canada, the European Union (EU), or for that matter China has a cost.

What the American working and the middle classes will see (sooner than anyone imagines) is that actions of his sort have unexpected global consequences. They could cost the U.S. and the rest of the world big time. If he were indeed emperor and his subjects (that would be us) grasped where his policies might be leading, they would be preparing a revolt. In the end, they — again, that’s us — will be the ones paying the price in this global chess match.

The Art of Trump’s Deals

So far, President Trump has only taken America out of trade deals or threatened to do so if other countries don’t behave in a way that satisfies him. On his third day in the White House, he honored his campaign promise to remove the U.S. from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a decision that opened space for our allies and competitors, China in particular, to negotiate deals without us. Since that grand exit, there has, in fact, been a boom in side deals involving China and other Pacific rim countries that has weakened, not strengthened, Washington’s global bargaining position. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Trump administration has engaged in a barrage of NAFTA-baiting that is isolating us from our regional partners, Canada and Mexico.

Conversely, the art-of-the-deal aficionado has yet to sign a single new bilateral trade deal. Despite steadfast claims that he would serve up the best deals ever, we have been left with little so far but various tariffs and an onslaught against American trading partners. His one claim to bilateral-trade-deal fame was the renegotiation of a six-year-old deal with South Korea in March that doubled the number of cars each U.S. manufacturer could export to South Korea (without having to pass as many safety standards).

As White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders put it, when speaking of Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, “The President is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation…” She left out the obvious footnote, however: any type that doesn’t involve international trade.

In the past four months, Trump has imposed tariffs, exempting certain countries, only to re-impose them at his whim. If trust were a coveted commodity, when it came to the present White House, it would now be trading at zero. His supporters undoubtedly see this approach as the fulfillment of his many campaign promises and part of his classic method of keeping both friends and enemies guessing until he’s ready to go in for the kill. At the heart of this approach, however, lies a certain global madness, for he now is sparking a set of trade wars that could, in the end, cost millions of American jobs.

The Allies

On May 31st, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross confirmed that Canada, Mexico, and the EU would all be hit with 10% aluminum and 25% steel tariffs that had first made headlines in March. When it came to those two products, at least, the new tariffs bore no relation to the previous average 3% tariff on U.S.-EU traded goods.

In that way, Trump’s tariffs, initially supposed to be aimed at China (a country whose president he’s praised to the skies and whose trade policies he’s lashed out at endlessly), went global. And not surprisingly, America’s closest allies weren’t taking his maneuver lightly. As the verbal abuse level rose and what looked like a possible race to the bottom of international etiquette intensified, they threatened to strike back.

In June, President Trump ordered that a promised 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of imported goods from China also be imposed. In response, the Chinese, like the Europeans, the Canadians, and the Mexicans, immediately promised a massive response in kind. Trump countered by threatening another $200 billion in tariffs against China. In the meantime, the White House is targetting its initial moves largely against products related to that country’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, the Chinese government’s strategic plan aimed at making it a major competitor in advanced industries and manufacturing.

Meanwhile, Mexico began adopting retaliatory tariffs on American imports. Although it has a far smaller economy than the U.S., it’s still the second largest importer of U.S. products, buying a whopping $277 billion of them last year. Only Canada buys more. In a mood of defiance stoked by the president’s hostility to its people, Mexico executed its own trade gambit, imposing $3 billion in 15%-25% tariffs against U.S. exports, including pork, apples, potatoes, bourbon, and cheese.

While those Mexican revenge tariffs still remain limited, covering just 1% of all exports from north of the border, they do target particular industries hard, especially ones that seem connected to President Trump’s voting “base.” Mexico, for instance, is by far the largest buyer of U.S. pork exports, 25% of which were sold there last year. What its 20% tariff on pork means, then, is that many U.S. producers will now find themselves unable to compete in the Mexican market. Other countries may follow suit. The result: a possible loss of up to 110,000 jobs in the pork industry.

Our second North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partner (for whose prime minister, Justin Trudeau, there is “a special place in hell,” according to a key Trumpian trade negotiator) plans to invoke tariffs of up to 25% on about $13 billion in U.S. products beginning on July 1st. Items impacted range “from ballpoint pens and dishwasher detergent to toilet paper and playing cards… sailboats, washing machines, dish washers, and lawn mowers.” Across the Atlantic, the EU has similarly announced retaliatory tariffs of 25% on 200 U.S. products, including such American-made classics as Harley-Davidson motorcycles, blue jeans, and bourbon.

Trump Disses the Former G7

As the explosive Group of Seven, or G7, summit in Quebec showed, the Trump administration is increasingly isolating itself from its allies in palpable ways and, in the process, significantly impairing the country’s negotiating power. If you combine the economies of what might now be thought of as the G6 and add in the rest of the EU, its economic power is collectively larger than that of the United States. Under the circumstances, even a small diversion of trade thanks to Trump-induced tariff wars could have costly consequences.

President Trump did try one “all-in” poker move at that summit. With his game-face on, he first suggested the possibility of wiping out all tariffs and trade restrictions between the U.S. and the rest of the G7, a bluff met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Before he left for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, he even suggested that the G7 leaders “consider removing every single tariff or trade barrier on American goods.” In return, he claimed he would do the same “for products from their countries.” As it turned out, however, that wasn’t actually a venture into economic diplomacy, just the carrot before the stick, and even it was tied to lingering threats of severe penalties.

The current incipient trade war was actually launched by the Trump administration in March in the name of American “national security.” What should have been highlighted, however, was the possible “national insecurity” in which it placed the country’s (and the world’s) future. After all, a similar isolationist stance in the 1920s and the subsequent market crash of 1929 sparked the global Great Depression, opening the way for the utter devastation of World War II.

European Union countries were incredulous when Trump insisted, as he had many times before, that the “U.S. is a victim of unfair trade practices,” citing the country’s trade deficits, especially with Germany and China. At the G7 summit, European leaders did their best to explain to him that his country isn’t actually being treated unfairly. As French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “France runs trade deficits with Germany and the United Kingdom on manufactured goods, even though all three countries are part of the EU single market and have zero tariffs between them.”

Having agreed to sign on to a post-summit joint statement, the president suddenly opted out while on his flight to Singapore, leaving his allies in the lurch (and subsequently slamming the Canadian prime minister as “very dishonest” and “weak”). In that communiqué, signed by the other six summit attendees, they noted, “We strive to reduce tariff barriers, non-tariff barriers, and subsidies… We acknowledge that free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment, while creating reciprocal benefits, are key engines for growth and job creation.”

The Pushback

The fallout domestically from the coming trade wars could be horrific if Trump truly makes good on his promises and refuses to back down, while the countries he’s attacking ratchet up their own responses, whether in terms of tariffs or simply a refusal to buy American goods. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, up to 2.6 million American jobs could be threatened if, in the process, the U.S. also withdraws from NAFTA.

Even American CEOs are now running scared of the CEO-in-chief. A recent survey conducted by the Business Roundtable lobby group, chaired by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, revealed that their “economic outlook index” had declined this past quarter from a record high, the first drop in two years. According to the report, nearly two-thirds of the CEOs surveyed considered trade policy a “serious risk.” Rather than planning future corporate hiring sprees, as Trump might have us believe, their fears of future trade wars actually seem to be curtailing job-expansion plans.

European leaders at the G7 summit admitted that, despite their own role in escalating global trade tensions, the coming wars “would hurt everyone.” And therein lies the danger and the disconnect. Thanks largely to Donald Trump, the leaders of the key countries on the planet could now proceed to destroy trade relationships, knowing full well that the results will hurt their workers and damage the global economy.

A recent report by Andy Stoeckel and Warwick McKibbin for the Brookings Institution analyzed just such a future trade war scenario and found that, if global tariffs were to rise just 10%, the gross national product (GDP) of most countries would fall by between 1% and 4.5% — the U.S. GDP by 1.3%, China’s by 4.3%. A 40% rise in tariffs would ensure a deep global recession or depression. In the 1930s, it was the punitive U.S. Smoot-Hawley tariff that helped spark the devastating cocktail of nationalism and economic collapse that culminated in World War II. This time, who knows what The Donald’s tariffs will spark?

The End Game

When trade wars escalate and geopolitical tensions rise, economies can be badly damaged, leading to a vicious cycle of aggressive responses. And here’s the remarkable thing about the power of America’s imperial presidency in 2018: Donald Trump could unilaterally slow, alter, or under certain circumstances even shut down various elements of global trade — and if he manages to do so, there will be a price to pay in jobs and in this planet’s economic stability.

Catalyzed by tweets, denunciations, insults, and the tariff-first shots of his administration, our allies will undoubtedly try to trade more with each other to close gaps that his trade wars open. Ultimately, that will hurt the U.S. and its workers, especially Trump’s base. For instance, German carmaker BMW, Japanese carmaker Toyota, and other foreign car companies employ 130,000 people in the United States. If, in response to new tariffs on their products, they were to begin moving their operations to France or Mexico in retaliation, it’s American workers who would lose out.

But make no mistake: American allies, who rely on the staggeringly powerful U.S. market, will lose out, too. Weighed down by tariffs, their products will become less competitive here, which is what Trump wants. However, that won’t necessarily mean the end of trade deficits; it could just mean less trade everywhere, a situation that should bring to mind the global depression of the 1930s. And if you think Donald Trump is already a threat to world stability, imagine what might happen after years of economic duress. As was the case in the 1930s, when volatile conditions made it easier for dictators like Adolf Hitler to convince people that their economic woes stemmed from others, the path to a fire-and-fury world remains grimly open.

In Washington, Donald Trump’s unique version of the imperial presidency seems to be expanding to fill any void as alliances like the G7 that were once so crucial to the way the United States dominated much of the planet and its economy are being diminished. The question that should make anybody nervous is not yet answerable: What’s the end game?

The global economic system first put in place after World War II was no longer working particularly well even before President Trump’s trade wars began. The problem now is that its flaws are being exacerbated. Once it becomes too expensive for certain companies to continue operating as their profits go to tariffs or tariffs deflect their customers elsewhere (or nowhere), one thing is certain: it will get worse.

 

Trump’s cruel border policies created a needless crisis. It’s far from over

The US president has reversed his position on family separations. But we are not about to see a humane policy replacing an inhumane one

June 20, 2018

by Richard Wolffe

The Guardian

Was it the “tender age” inmates, the rare sight of all the Senate’s Republicans growing a spine, or the even rarer sight of intervention from every one of the nation’s first ladies?

We’ll never know the truth behind Donald Trump’s humiliating reversal of his own brutal policy of separating thousands of immigrant children from their parents at the border.

But we do know that Trump will lie about his actions, and will be utterly incompetent about fixing the crisis he created.

First, the most glaring lies. This is not a humane policy replacing an inhumane one. Instead of imprisoning children separately, the United States will now imprison them together with their parents indefinitely. That’s for the misdemeanor of crossing the border illegally, even though it is perfectly legal to claim asylum at the border or after crossing the border.

There are several reasons why previous administrations – including President Obama’s – found it hard to imprison families, even as they engaged in their own crackdowns on illegal immigration. Yes there were legal constraints on jailing children for more than 20 days, whether alone or with their parents. But there are also practical limits, as well as moral ones: where on earth is the United States going to imprison all these families?

So spare us the pretense – and the lazy reporting – about Trump’s newfound moral compass. When Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci is testifying about your compassion, you need to find better character witnesses. You also should tell him to stop blaming other White House officials for his own disastrous policies.

The policy reversal is itself a lie that gives the lie to another dozen lies. Trump did not need to sign an executive order to end the separation of young children from their mothers and fathers. He could have just picked up the phone to tell his attorney general to stand down, just as Jeff Sessions ordered up the new policy from his own officials earlier this year.

How could it be so easy to change a policy that Trump’s own secretary of homeland security, Kirstjen Nielsen, insisted was not in fact a policy? What happened to the legal principles she so bravely defended at the White House podium just two days ago?

“Here is the bottom line,” she said, before deciding to eat Mexican food at a DC restaurant the next day. “DHS is no longer ignoring the law.”

That law was so Monday, Madam Secretary.

So if this wasn’t really about the law, what was this self-instigated crisis about? Fortunately the man behind the disaster is an open book when it comes to the strangely sociopathic behavior that has become his policy.

“The dilemma is that if you’re weak, as some people would like you to be, if you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country’s going to be overrun with millions of people,” said the really, really pathetically weak soul sitting in the president’s chair on Wednesday. “And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma. Perhaps I’d rather be strong but that’s a tough dilemma.”

Sorry, Mr President. A tough dilemma is how to keep your sanity when your baby or toddler has just been ripped from you by immigration officers.

For most normal adults, this is an astonishingly simple choice: do you prove your toughness by brutalizing children or do you treat them with the essential sympathy that we like to call human nature?

Trump’s tough man pose is not a million miles away from the simple choice that George W Bush laid before a terrified nation after the 9/11 attacks: you’re either with us, or with the terrorists. That simple choice opened the door to human rights abuses that represent war crimes in any other country.

But there was at least one glaring difference between the politics of these two supposedly tough dilemmas: President Bush was widely seen as protecting Americans from a threat that killed several thousand people.

What exactly is Trump protecting Americans from by caging all those children? He can only talk darkly about the MS-13 gang, which in fact targets immigrant children. The threat of MS-13 might be very real in parts of Long Island, but it hardly justifies the abuse of thousands of children.

This is not the end of the story, of course. Just like the botched Muslim travel ban, we know that Trump’s worst instincts don’t simply disappear. They metastasize into other forms of immigrant persecution and racial politics.

The Trump administration is already taking the unprecedented steps of seeking to deport naturalized US citizens by de-naturalizing them for breaching immigration rules before they became full citizens. It’s hard to imagine how this is related to MS-13 gangs, because of course the supposed threat has nothing to do with what the Trump administration is actually doing.

However, this is also not the end of the story for the thousands of children currently separated from their parents. The sad truth is that some of them will never be reunited with their parents. This is coldly called permanent separation. But it is in fact the US government turning children into orphans. For parents already deported, or for children too young to speak, this is the kind of threat that is as terrifying as terrorism itself.

Some people have suggested this crisis of Trump’s making is his own personal Katrina: the hurricane that laid bare the incompetence of the Bush administration.

It isn’t. That’s because there was Maria: another hurricane that killed three times more Americans than Katrina, because the incompetence was that much worse than anything we saw in New Orleans.

No, there are no recent American comparisons to the child cruelty of this man-child president. There’s only the permanent shame of a president and his willing aides who punished children because their parents wanted to give them a better life.

 

In age of Trump, evangelicals back self-styled top U.S. pimp

June 22, 2018

by Tim Reid

Reuters

PAHRUMP, Nev. (Reuters) – He styles himself as America’s best-known pimp, a strip-club owner who runs multiple brothels and looks set to win a seat as a Republican in the Nevada legislature with the blessing of many conservative Christian voters.

Meet Dennis Hof, whose political rise reflects fundamental changes in electoral norms that have roiled the Republican Party and upended American politics during the era of President Donald Trump.

“This really is the Trump movement,” Hof, 71, told Reuters in an interview at Moonlite BunnyRanch, his brothel near Carson City in northern Nevada that was featured on the HBO reality television series “Cathouse.”

“People will set aside for a moment their moral beliefs, their religious beliefs, to get somebody that is honest in office,” he said. “Trump is the trailblazer, he is the Christopher Columbus of honest politics.”

When news broke that Hof had won the nominating contest for a state Assembly seat on June 12, evangelical pastor Victor Fuentes said he closed his eyes and prayed.

He did not ask God to deliver Nevada and the Republican Party from Hof, the thrice-divorced author of “The Art of the Pimp” who campaigned as the “Trump of Pahrump.” Although Christian groups have long rallied against the state’s legal brothel industry, Fuentes was willing to overlook Hof’s history as a champion of the flesh trade and gave thanks for his victory.

“People want to know how an evangelical can support a self-proclaimed pimp,” Fuentes said in an interview at his home in Pahrump, an unincorporated town of 36,000 people that is the largest community in the sprawling, rural district where Hof is favored to win in November’s general election.

He said the reason was simple. “We have politicians, they might speak good words, not sleep with prostitutes, be a good neighbor. But by their decisions, they have evil in their heart. Dennis Hof is not like that.”

The pastor said he felt Hof would protect religious rights, among other things.

In Hof’s Republican-leaning district, seven evangelicals said they voted for him because they believed that he, who like Trump is a wealthy businessman and political outsider, would also clean up politics and not be beholden to special-interest groups and their money.

“I’m kind of rich, I’m kind of famous, and I’m surrounded by hot chicks. I don’t give a damn what anybody says about me,” Hof said.

The source of Hof’s wealth – he owns a strip club and five legal brothels – did not deter his supporters.

Nor did the allegations by several women that Hof sexually abused them. Hof denied the accusations, including a former sex worker’s claim that he raped and choked her several years ago, and the voters interviewed by Reuters dismissed them as lies.

Hof was reluctant to discuss his own Christian faith.

“I don’t share my beliefs with the public,” he said. “I don’t feel the need to go to church on a regular basis.”

LOSING FAITH IN ESTABLISHMENT

For decades, evangelical voters have been a pillar of the Republican Party in the United States, using grassroots muscle to turn out votes and engage in political battles over hot-button social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

But in recent years, many conservative Christians have lost trust in establishment Republicans, whom they accuse of not fighting for values they feel are under attack in modern America.

For them, Trump symbolizes a new breed of politician who is willing to upend long-held political norms — a quality they say outweighs any real or perceived moral flaws.

“It’s more important for evangelical voters that Trump is fighting for an idealized, white Christian, conservative America,” said Dan Cox, research director at the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that researches the intersection of religion, culture and public policy. “Tribal values now supersede personal morality as an animating force.”

Convinced Trump would go to bat for them, a majority of evangelicals looked past the Republican’s two divorces and allegations of marital infidelity to provide him key votes in the 2016 presidential election.

Their support remains robust: 71 percent of white evangelical voters said they approved of Trump’s job performance, according to the nationwide Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted online from June 1-18, compared with 43 percent of U.S. registered voters overall.

TRUMP THE TORCHBEARER

Hof beat a three-term incumbent legislator even as party activists pushed to get Hof’s legal brothels shut down. Voters in Lyon County, where he operates four of his brothels, will be asked in November if they want the businesses closed.

Brothels have been permitted in parts of Nevada since the 1800s and were first licensed in the 1970s. They are not permitted in highly populated areas, including the counties containing the cities of Las Vegas and Reno.

Voter Debbie Thomas said she signed the petition to shutter brothels but also backed Hof, who campaigned on issues including repealing Nevada’s commerce tax, protecting gun rights, improving education and protecting residents’ water rights against the federal government.

Hof has gotten a mixed reception from Republican leaders. The chairman of the state party said it welcomed “fiscal conservatives” such as Hof. But Brian Sandoval, Nevada’s Republican governor, Dean Heller, the state’s vulnerable Republican U.S. senator up for re-election this autumn, and much of the party establishment have not endorsed him.

No matter, said Hof. He credits Trump as the torchbearer for a new era of Republican, eager to embrace the support of the religious right, eschew the establishment and break the mold of a traditional candidate.

Trump has not weighed in on the race. But Hof held a rally with former Trump adviser Roger Stone and said he would not be in a position to win the district without the president’s transformation of the party.

Some conservative Christian voters, however, were quick to note that their affinity for Trump did not extend to Hof.

Paul Goulet, a pastor who leads the International Church of Las Vegas, a megachurch, said he was disappointed the brothel owner had earned a spot on the general election ballot.

“For me, it goes back to faith and values,” Goulet said in a telephone interview. “Hof has a profession making money out of young women who sell their bodies for sexual favors. It’s demeaning to women. I can’t wrap my brain around supporting someone who does that.”

Others were willing to set aside the morality test of the past to back Hof.

Robert Thomas, a retired prosecutor and evangelical who along with his wife, Debbie, voted for Hof, said Hof’s brothels “bother me a lot” but that he was willing to overlook them

“Dennis Hof seems to me to be a man of his word and he does what he says,” Thomas said.

Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney

 

Virginia probes abuses of migrant children at detention centre

Children housed at a juvenile detention centre in Virginia say they were beaten and locked up in solitary confinement.

June 21, 2018

Al Jazeera

Virginia’s governor ordered state officials on Thursday to investigate abuse claims by children at an immigration detention facility.

Governor Ralph Northam announced the probe in a tweet hours after the reported allegations.

Immigrant children as young as 14 housed at a juvenile detention centre in the US state of Virginia say they were beaten while handcuffed and locked up for long periods in solitary confinement, left nude and shivering in concrete cell, according to a report by the Associated Press (AP).

The report also cited an adult who saw bruises and broken bones the children said were caused by guards.

“Whenever they used to restrain me and put me in the chair, they would handcuff me,” said a Honduran immigrant who was sent to the facility when he was 15.

“Strapped me down all the way, from your feet all the way to your chest, you couldn’t really move.They have total control over you. They also put a bag over your head. It has little holes; you can see through it. But you feel suffocated with the bag on.”

The abuse claims against the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center near Staunton, Virginia, are detailed in federal court filings that include a half-dozen sworn statements from Latino teens jailed there for months or years.

Northam said the allegations were disturbing and directed the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security and the Department of Juvenile Justice to report back to him “to ensure the safety of every child being held there.”

Many of the children were sent there after US immigration authorities accused them of belonging to violent gangs, including MS-13.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly cited gang activity as justification for his crackdown on illegal immigration.

Trump Wednesday – in a stunning about-face – moved to end the practice of splitting migrant families after they cross into the US from Mexico, signed an executive order that would keep families together after they get detained crossing the border illegally.

“We’re going to have very strong borders but we are going to keep families together,” the president said, adding that he doesn’t like seeing children separated from their families.

Shenandoah facility

The Shenandoah lockup is one of only three juvenile detention facilities in the United States with federal contracts to provide “secure placement” for children who had problems at less-restrictive housing..

The Shenandoah detention centre was built by a coalition of seven nearby towns and counties to lock up local kids charged with serious crimes. Since 2007, about half the 58 beds are occupied by both male and female immigrants between the ages of 12 and 17 facing deportation proceedings or awaiting rulings on asylum claims.

Though held in a facility similar to a prison, the children detained on administrative immigration charges have not yet been convicted of any crime.

Virginia ranks among the worst states in the nation for wait times in federal immigration courts, with an average of 806 days before a ruling. Nationally, only about half of juveniles facing deportation are represented by a lawyer, according to Justice Department data.

On average, 92 immigrant children each year cycle through Shenandoah, most of them from Mexico and Central America.

The other two facilities are Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility in California and the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Centre.

 

U.S. House votes to defeat conservative immigration bill

June 21, 2018

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday defeated a Republican bill designed to significantly reduce visas for legal immigration into the United States and to temporarily protect illegal “Dreamer” youths from deportation.

The House defeated the measure on a vote of 193-231 as a group of Republicans joined Democrats to sink the plan.

The House had been scheduled to vote on a second immigration bill on Thursday that could appeal to more Republicans, but Republican leaders postponed consideration of that measure until Friday as they sought to build more support, according to a senior House Republican aide.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Tim Ahmann

 

Secrecy News

From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2018, Issue No. 41

June 22, 2018

CRS PREVIEWS PUBLIC RELEASE OF ITS REPORTS

The Congressional Research Service said this week that it will begin publishing some of its non-confidential reports on a publicly accessible congressional website by September 18, as required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act that was signed into law last March 23.

“For the initial public release, the Library will make available in PDF format all of CRS’s R-series of ‘active’ reports that were published since the enactment date, as well as the Appropriations Status Table,” CRS said in a new memorandum for congressional staff.

The “R-series” refers to the primary CRS reports that have a report number beginning with R. It does not include CRS Insights, Legal Sidebars, or In Focus reports.

Over time, older R-series reports as well as some other product lines will be added to the public collection, CRS said.

“The Library and CRS are additionally committed to presenting the full inventory of reports appearing on CRS.gov on the public website as soon as is practicable (with a full migration targeted for completion by spring 2019). After the R-series reports are published, the Library will work to make other written products, such as In Focus products, available.”

The public website, which is not yet live, will be at www.congress.gov/crsreports.

The official public versions of the CRS reports will be lightly redacted to exclude contact information for the CRS authors.

See Public Release of CRS Reports: FAQ for Congressional Staff, June 2018.

The pending policy change applies only to non-confidential CRS reports. Research projects that are performed for individual offices or on a confidential basis will not be posted on the public website.

In recent report language, the Senate Appropriations Committee directed CRS to perform outreach “to ensure that the Congressional community is aware that… longstanding confidentiality assurances will continue unchanged.”

The new FAQ fulfills that directive with a statement that “The law does not change the mission or focus of CRS. The law does not affect the confidentiality of congressional requests or responses (such as confidential memoranda). It does not allow congressional requests or confidential responses to be made available to the public.”

Since with few exceptions most non-confidential CRS reports are already in the public domain, the new policy is somewhat anti-climactic at this point. But it is fitting and proper that CRS reports should also be available on a congressional website.

Meanwhile, new and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have not yet been officially disclosed include the following.

Recent Violent Crime Trends in the United States, June 20, 2018

Indexing Capital Gains Taxes for Inflation, June 18, 2018

Renewable Energy R&D Funding History: A Comparison with Funding for Nuclear Energy, Fossil Energy, Energy Efficiency, and Electric Systems R&D, updated June 18, 2018

Lebanon, updated June 19, 2018

Economic and Fiscal Conditions in the U.S. Virgin Islands, June 20, 2018

The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 21, 2018

Military Enjoined from Transferring American ISIS Suspect to Foreign Country–at Least for Now, CRS Legal Sidebar, June 20, 2018

 

Syrian army recaptures over 4,500 sq km of desert areas from IS

June 21, 2018

Xinhua

DAMASCUS, June 20 (Xinhua) — Syrian troops have recaptured over 4,500 sq km of desert areas from the militant group Islamic State (IS) in several parts of the country in the past days, the Syrian army said Wednesday.

Most of the battles were fought in eastern Syria, where the army regained control of 2,400 sq km of terrain east of the ancient city of Palmyra in central Syria near the Syrian-Iraqi border, the army was quoted by the state news agency SANA as saying.

In the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, the army liberated some areas of about 1,200 sq km, after eliminating a number of IS militants.

The Syrian army also recaptured some territories, estimated at around 1,300 sq km, from IS in south of the capital Damascus.

Most of the recaptured areas are in the Syrian desert, where IS still controls several pockets.

The military operation is part of the Syrian army’s efforts to eliminate the IS threat and secure more areas near the Syrian-Iraqi border.

IS lost control of key areas last year to the Syrian army and the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the northern province of al-Raqqa and Deir al-Zour.

 

Sea-level rise threatening property market

June 18, 2018

Cayman News

(CNS): More than 300,000 coastal homes in the United States, collectively worth almost $120 billion, are now under threat from sea-level rise within the next 25 years or so, scientists have said, adding to a mounting pile of research warning that coastal flooding is going to become more frequent than previously believed. Coming on the heels of research warning about the economic impact of coral reef loss, the Union of Concerned Scientists has released a study that suggests sea-level rise will hurt more than 64,000 properties in Florida alone before 2045.

Meanwhile, scientists from NASA have identified a surge in ice loss in Antarctica in a new study published last week. Ice from Antarctica disappeared three times more quickly over the last six years than scientists had previously predicted. As some climate change deniers double down on that denial, the ice sheet mass balance inter-comparison exercise (IMBIE), which involved 84 scientists from 44 international organisations combining 24 satellite surveys, has produced the updated assessment.

Between 1992 and 2017, Antarctica lost more than 3.3 trillion tons of ice, pushing up sea levels by an average of 8 millimeters. About 40% of that loss occurred between 2012 and 2017, according to the new study. If this acceleration continues, it could potentially cascade, leading to runaway ice melt and rapid sea-level rise.

In a press release about the IMBIE study, Professor Andrew Shepherd pointed to the threefold increase over the last five years and warned that ice losses now from the Antarctica is causing sea levels to rise faster than at any time in the past 25 years.

Norfolk: A case study in sea-level rise

A Virginia city that owes its livelihood to the sea is in danger of being engulfed by it.

May 1, 2018

by David Kramer

Physics Today

Norfolk, Virginia, is on the front lines of climate change. With the highest rate of sea-level rise on the US East Coast, 4.5 mm per year, it has been ranked by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development as 10th among the world’s port cities whose assets are at risk from rising seas. According to the US Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans is the only US city in more danger.

Rising sea level is a problem for the entire low-lying region situated at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. Known as Hampton Roads, the region, which boasts 2 million inhabitants, comprises 7 major municipalities and 10 smaller ones. “You can’t go five minutes without crossing water or having water on your left or right,” says Emily Steinhilber, assistant director for coastal resilience research at Old Dominion University (ODU).

Flooding of roads from exceptionally high tides causes ODU to cancel classes several times each year. Storm surges have washed the covering off an area landfill, causing the contents to spill into the Elizabeth River, which flows past ODU and Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, and eventually drain into the Chesapeake.

The number of hours each year in Norfolk when waters reached a foot or more above what’s considered the inundation level rose from just over 100 in 1992 to a peak of around 275 in 2009, according to data compiled by ODU oceanographer Tal Ezer. Both were El Niño years, when higher tides generally occur along the East Coast. Last year, a strong El Niño year, there were about 240 hours of flood conditions.

Sea level in Norfolk has risen 46 cm in the past 100 years. About 20 cm of that is attributable to the global rise in sea level. The remainder comes from land subsidence from various causes, chiefly groundwater withdrawal. “I think our water table in some places is like 60 meters below when John Smith showed up,” says Skip Stiles, executive director of Wetlands Watch, a Norfolk environmental nonprofit group; Smith was the 17th-century founder of England’s nearby Jamestown colony.

Subsidence in the area has two other principal causes. The land continues to sink as it readjusts to distortions in Earth’s crust created by the continental ice sheets 10 000 years ago. (See “The puzzle of global sea-level rise” by Bruce Douglas and Richard Peltier, Physics Today, March 2002, page 35.) And a bolide—an extremely bright meteor—that slammed into the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay about 35 million years ago produced an 85-km-diameter crater into which the surrounding land continues to slowly slide. Larry Atkinson, an oceanographer at ODU, says that one-two punch probably accounts for about one-third of the total subsidence.

In addition to the effects of subsidence, the slowing of the Gulf Stream that began in the mid 1990s has had a noticeable effect on sea level by moving the current, which flows well above mean sea level, closer to the Virginia coast, notes Stiles.

  1. Pat Rios, the US Navy’s director of facilities and environmental for the mid-Atlantic region, says that a further 61 cm rise in sea level is expected by 2050. Today, unusually high tides and a moderate storm surge will sometimes necessitate shutting off the electric and steam lines that run under the naval base’s piers. By midcentury, he says, the same combination of events will flood most piers.

Norfolk is increasingly subject to nuisance flooding that occurs after heavy rains and when tides are exceptionally high, particularly in the fall. Water doesn’t drain well from many streets because century-old stormwater outfalls are submerged even at low tides. “You have a thunderstorm and suddenly everybody in Norfolk is modifying how they get from point A to point B because they know certain streets they won’t be able to drive on,” says Ann Phillips, a retired rear admiral and Norfolk resident who consults for ODU’s office of research. “In some places, it gets up to feet deep, and things are completely impassible.”

A pilot project

Eighteen federal agencies have facilities in the area, and 40% of the regional economy is dependent on the presence of the military. With the naval base, nearby Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, the navy has the biggest footprint. But Langley Air Force Base, NASA’s adjacent Langley Research Center, and the Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility are also located nearby. The US Army operates a special forces training facility that is being expanded. “There’s not a lot of places where you can move this stuff,” Atkinson notes.

In June 2014 the cities and federal agencies formed the Hampton Roads Sea Level Rise Preparedness and Resilience Intergovernmental Planning Pilot Project. Its goal is to formalize cooperation among state, federal, and local governments and the private sector to adapt to sea-level rise in the region. Next month the pilot project is due to release recommendations for a framework for cooperation; specific actions to address the problem will come next.

The pilot project is being coordinated by ODU, which had already recruited physicists, oceanographers, economists, and others to form a multidisciplinary team. Michelle Covi, an assistant professor in the Virginia Sea Grant’s Climate Adaptation and Resilience Program at ODU, says, “We were finding that it was difficult for the federal entities, particularly the [Department of Defense] entities, to share information across lines with the local planning bodies for preparing for flooding and sea-level rise.”

The government installations can’t be made resilient to sea-level rise without taking into account the communities that surround them. Says Rios, “I could make this [naval] base an island, but it’s not particularly useful.” The base depends on the surrounding communities for its electricity, communications, and workforce.

Phillips, who chairs the pilot project’s infrastructure working group, points to flooding that occurs around yet another naval installation, the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek–Fort Story, and in adjacent watershed areas of Norfolk and Virginia Beach. “The efforts of any one of the three taken independently will negatively impact the other two if not done in a collaborative way,” she notes. “If one side dams off their piece of the Pretty Lake–Little Creek inlet, the other two will suffer.”

In January deputy secretary of defense Robert Work issued a directive on climate change resilience that delineated responsibilities within the Department of Defense for providing resources to assess and manage climate change impacts. The bureaucratically dense missive did not allocate funding or even address specific concerns. Yet Phillips calls it “a significant step forward” that indicates a willingness at the DOD’s highest levels to start to implement climate adaptation and resilience measures.

Due to the naval presence and the heavy commercial vessel traffic, Hampton Roads is not suited for the sort of giant surge barriers that have been built in the Netherlands and in London. What’s more, Norfolk is surrounded on three sides by water: the Chesapeake Bay to the north and the Elizabeth River to the west and south.

Responses to the threat of rising seas will combine dozens of small-scale projects—none available off-the-shelf—each tailored to a specific neighborhood or even to individual parcels of property. “It’s actually sort of tougher stuff to deal with because no one size fits all solutions,” Stiles says. “You have to work neighborhood by neighborhood, community to community to figure out how you’re going to approach it.”

Rios says that piers built recently at the naval station are several feet higher than piers built earlier. But he notes, “I don’t want to offer that we built them exclusively for sea-level rise. We built them to satisfy our mission, and when we can, we build them to accommodate the local phenomenon we’re seeing.” A new barracks was built with an underground retention pond and other features to help abate stormwater. “We’re working features into projects as they come up,” he says.

Sea-level rise and storm surges have eroded beaches used for training troops at the Oceana and joint expeditionary bases, Rios says, and more than $10 million has been spent to replenish sand.

A mix of hard and green

The North Atlantic Coast Comprehensive Study, released last summer by the US Army Corps of Engineers, listed a half-dozen structural measures that could be employed in Hampton Roads. They ranged from building berms and levees to elevating roads and light-rail track beds to double as levees. The elevation idea is a two-edged sword, however; erecting new barriers could block water flows on one side and create new drainage problems.

Options for countering erosion include hard structures such as seawalls along shores exposed to wind and waves and greener “living shorelines” that stabilize and restore habitat on more sheltered creek banks. Living shorelines can also be created behind hard structures, the corps study notes.

Also cited by the corps are nearly a dozen nonstructural measures that could be implemented. They include revising and standardizing building codes, elevating houses or buying out homeowners in vulnerable areas, expanding wetlands to store additional stormwater, and relocating utilities and other critical infrastructure.

In February Norfolk city officials signed an agreement for a corps study that will make specific recommendations to address flooding. The $3 million effort is scheduled for completion in 2019.

The navy, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, with the help of a grant from the DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment, are conducting a separate assessment of sea-level rise in the area. Rios says that the study, expected to be completed next year, will focus on mutual investments the three parties can make to ensure the longevity of the base and the communities.

Some adaptation is already taking place. One hospital in a particularly flood-prone downtown area has moved its heating and cooling equipment and backup power generators out of the basement. After repeated flooding events, the Langley air base relocated basement offices and modified some hangars to improve drainage.

The Hampton Roads Sanitation District and the consulting firm CH2M are planning a $1 billion sustainable water-recycling project that will pump potable treated wastewater into the depleted aquifer. The goal is to provide a sustainable source of groundwater, slow the rate of land subsidence, and inhibit saltwater intrusion. It will also significantly reduce surface-water discharges into Chesapeake Bay tributaries and will thereby reduce nitrogen pollution. This summer the project partners will pilot two process concepts and several emerging technologies for mainstream wastewater treatment and nitrogen removal.

A Dutch dialog

For the most part, regional governments are still trying to figure out what to do. Dale Morris, senior economist at the Netherlands Embassy in Washington, DC, organized a workshop in Norfolk last summer that brought together local officials with flood control experts from the Netherlands and elsewhere. “They very clearly need in Hampton Roads a regional entity that works at county level or higher to coordinate their resiliency focus,” Morris says. “Norfolk and Virginia Beach don’t collaborate enough. But they share a border that has flooding problems.”

For several low-lying Norfolk neighborhoods, the so-called Dutch dialog workshop produced potential solutions, such as creating new wetlands, swales, rain gardens, and arroyos to soak up rainwater. Morris says that recurrent flooding is happening in areas that old maps show were once marshy, and that some of that marsh could be restored to hold and absorb water. “Do it right and you can put some plants there to do some water quality improvement,” he says.

Some levees or walls will be needed to protect high-value areas, Morris says. An existing floodwall built in the 1970s to protect downtown Norfolk needs to be built up to prevent overtopping

A class project

With support from Virginia Sea Grant, the nonprofit Wetlands Watch helped organize a group of ODU and Hampton University engineering and architecture students who drafted a plan to make one low-lying neighborhood of 500 homes more resilient to flooding. They proposed that stormwater in the ironically named Chesterfield Heights area be drained into cisterns built beneath the roads and in basements—which would be sealed off from the rest of the home. The stormwater would be allowed to slowly percolate into the soil. Installation of one-way check valves on stormwater outfalls would keep backflow from creeks out of the neighborhood. A living shoreline on the creek would limit erosion from barge wakes.

In January the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Competition awarded $115 million to implement the students’ plan. Though obviously pleased with that outcome, Stiles observes, “If it’s $115 million to implement this in a neighborhood of 500 houses, what do you do in a region with 2 million people in it?”

Morris cautions that the Chesterfield Heights project could cut off adjoining neighborhoods that would also benefit from flood controls. “Can you justify the costs of only doing Chesterfield Heights on a cost–benefit basis?” he asks. “The approach developed has the idea that you don’t do this singularly in one neighborhood. We need to find a way to link up the region so that investments make more sense.”

Stiles agrees. “If you do only one neighborhood without thought to the surrounding areas, infrastructure, transportation needs, access to hospitals, et cetera, you get safe islands,” he says. But limited grant money meant larger designs had to be set aside.

“We have to have those larger plans in place and be opportunistic in funding pieces of the plan as money becomes available, and pray that there is enough time to do the job,” Stiles says.

The Hampton Roads area might learn from mistakes the Dutch made with their gigantic Delta Works project, a system of dams, sluices, locks, levees, dikes, and storm-surge barriers erected around the delta at the confluence of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers. Closing off the delta damaged the ecosystem and the fishing industry. “Now [the Dutch] are seeing they need to reopen some of the barriers to create a better-functioning ecosystem,” Morris says.

No one is venturing an estimate for what it might cost to brace Norfolk and the rest of Hampton Roads against the rising sea. Nor has a source of funding been identified. With the exception of the Army Corps of Engineers, the military can’t spend money on projects outside their bases. And the corps budget is divvied up by Congress, where a majority of members have at least one water project in their district.

In the long term, a more Dutch-like approach, in which sea-level considerations are routinely taken into account in the construction of roads and other infrastructure, might help. But, says Morris, “in the US, because of the way transport money is allocated, it isn’t easy to say that when you design a road, put this water feature in so it helps the neighborhood next door.”

 

Police suspect Hollywood mogul was go-between for PM, newspaper chief — report

Arnon Milchan, who is suspected of bribing Netanyahu, said to have boasted of connecting PM with Yedioth publisher, a suspect in a separate case

June 20, 2018

Times of Israel

Police investigators reportedly have evidence that Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan, suspected of giving bribes to Benjamin Netanyahu in one case, also acted as a middleman in a suspected illegal deal discussed by the prime minister and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes in a separate case.

The Tel Aviv district prosecution believes that Netanyahu “systematically” demanded benefits worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from Milchan in so-called Case 1000, public broadcaster Kan reported last month.

According to a report Tuesday by Hadashot TV news, police have evidence that Milchan was also involved in Case 2000, which involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The report said police have evidence that Milchan even boasted of being the go-between and was proud of his part in the alleged deal.

Police are trying to convince Milchan to come to Israel, either to be interrogated or to testify about the case, the report said.

Hadashot also said that police now have evidence of a financial deal between Netanyahu and Mozes with monetary value. According to the report, the Justice Ministry had said earlier that if police found evidence of a financial deal between the two in Case 2000, it would take on much greater legal significance.

The state prosecution is currently considering whether to indict the prime minister in cases 1000 and 2000, after police in February recommended putting him on trial in both.

Since the beginning of 2017 Netanyahu has been questioned 10 times by police regarding various suspicions against him. Last week police questioned Netanyahu for the third time in third high-profile probe, having acquired new evidence from a key state’s witness reportedly implicating him in another illicit quid-pro-quo deal.

The probe, known as Case 4000, involves suspicions that Netanyahu, who has also served as communications minister for several years over his past two terms, advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for flattering coverage of the Netanyahus from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

In April Channel 10 news reported that prosecutors are likely to recommend charging Netanyahu with breach of trust in Case 1000, but may not pursue the more serious bribery charges recommended by police.

Prosecutors have also yet to formulate an opinion on Case 2000, in which police have also recommended bribery charges.

The prime minister’s wife, Sara, and son Yair have both been questioned in the cases as well. The Netanyahus have denied any wrongdoing.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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