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TBR News September 15, 2018

Sep 15 2018

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Isaiah 40:3-8 

Washington, D.C. September 15, 2018:” The crisis over Iran’s nuclear program has worsened matters, giving hostility the feel of an obsession – one that their attention and considerable wealth must resolve, regardless of Western counsel and regional impact.

Support from the Gulf states seek to detach Syria from Iran thereby breaking the Shi’ite arc that extends from Iran through post-Saddam Hussein Iraq then into Syria and Hezbollah-ruled Lebanon. Their goal has far less to do with the regional push for democracy than to the struggle for mastery of the Persian Gulf. In the absence of an effective FSA to oust Assad, a bombing campaign may have to do.

The bombings may firm support for the Assad regime as the specter of Syrian cities resembling Fallujah and Baghdad begins to loom. But opposition to Assad is too widespread and deep to mute the opposition.

Turkey, Israel, the United States and the European Union see another specter: Assad’s sizable arsenal of chemical weapons and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles falling into the hands of Iraqi militants, Salafi militants, and various merchants of dubious scruples.”

The Table of Contents

  • Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 24
  • Manafort cooperation could energize Mueller probe: legal experts
  • Manafort and senior Israeli official meddled in Ukraine elections, Obama foreign policy
  • Trump and ‘collusion’: what we know so far about Mueller’s Russia investigation
  • Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh denies sexual misconduct allegation
  • Puerto Rico hurricane: How was the 3,000 death toll worked out?
  • This is how the world ends: will we soon see category 6 hurricanes?
  • Russia & Germany reaffirm support for Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – Lavrov
  • Secret dossier warns: The Israeli army is unprepared for war
  • Why John Bolton Really Hates the International Criminal Court
  • Anonymous Op-ed From Trump’s White House Shows the Dangers of America’s Imperial Presidency


Donald Trump has said 2291 false things as U.S. president: No. 24

August 8, 2018

by Daniel Dale, Washington Bureau Chief

The Toronto Star, Canada

The Star is keeping track of every false claim U.S. President Donald Trump has made since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017. Why? Historians say there has never been such a constant liar in the Oval Office. We think dishonesty should be challenged. We think inaccurate information should be corrected

If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? You can read our detailed explanation here. The short answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not teling the truth.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2018




  • Jul 31, 2017

“Unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 17 years.”

Source: Remarks at Cabinet meeting

in fact: This is minor, but Trump keeps adding an extra year. At the time he spoke, the unemployment rate was the lowest in 16 years. He got it right later in the week.

Trump has repeated this claim 8 times


“2.6 is a number that nobody thought they’d see for a long period of time. Remember, I was saying we will hit three at some point in the not-too-distant future, and everybody smiled and they laughed and they thought we’d be at one.”

Source: Remarks at Cabinet meeting

in fact: Economists scoffed at his campaign pledge of annual growth of 4 per cent or higher, but most experts predicted growth in the neighbourhood of the second-quarter rate of 2.6 per cent; as FactCheck.org noted, entities like the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and Moody’s had projected growth higher than 2.6 per cent at one point or another. Further, growth in the third quarter of 2016 was 2.8 per cent and growth in the fourth quarter of 2016 was 2.9 per cent, so a 2.6 per cent quarter is not even shocking in the context of the past 12 months.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times


  • Aug 1, 2017

“Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people).”

Source: Twitter

in fact: At the time, Trump had fewer than 100 million total followers across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Safely assuming that many of those followers are following him on more than one platform, he is well short of 110 million actual people

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times


“GDP for the quarter — just released — at 2.6 per cent. That’s so much higher than anticipated.”

Source: Remarks to Small Business Administration gathering

in fact: This level of growth was either right in line with, or lower than, the anticipated level of growth. As FactCheck.org pointed out, various forecasts earlier in the year — from entities like the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and Moody’s Analytics — had projected growth higher than 2.6 per cent at one point or another.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times


  • Aug 2, 2017

“The RAISE Act prevents new migrants and new immigrants from collecting welfare, and protects U.S. workers from being displaced. And that’s a very big thing. They’re not going to come in and just immediately go and collect welfare. That doesn’t happen under the RAISE Act. They can’t do that.”

Source: Speech on RAISE Act immigration bill

in fact: As the Washington Post reported, the provision in the Trump-backed RAISE Act would only apply to immigrants entering on visas granted through a new merit-points system. People entering under other categories — refugees, for instance — would still be eligible for welfare, and so the provision “would not apply to the vast majority of legal immigrants,” the Post reported. Further, Trump is misleading about current law, which already bans many categories of immigrants from obtaining welfare benefits for their first five years in the U.S.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times


  • Aug 3, 2017

“Our proposal prevents new immigrants from going on welfare for at least five years.”

Source: Campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia

in fact: As the Washington Post reported, the provision in the Trump-backed RAISE Act would only apply to immigrants entering on visas granted through a new merit points sytem. People entering under other categories — refugees, for instance — would still be eligible for welfare, and so the provision “would not apply to the vast majority of legal immigrants,” the Post reported.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times


“We are taking the fight to the drug smugglers, human traffickers and the vile criminal cartels like MS-13.”

Source: Campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia

in fact: MS-13 is a gang, not a cartel. It has developed relationships with actual cartels.

Trump has repeated this claim 2 times    


“Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign. There never were.”

Source: Campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia

in fact: Since Trump is being very literal: his campaign had a spokesperson, Boris Epshteyn, who was born and raised in Moscow.


“Or let them (prosecutors) look at the uranium she (Hillary Clinton) sold that is now in the hands of very angry Russians.”

Source: Campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia

in fact: It is inaccurate to say “she sold” uranium. Here’s what happened: The State Department, under Clinton, was one of nine government entities that endorsed the Russian purchase of a company called Uranium One, which was ultimately approved by President Barack Obama. There is no evidence even that Clinton was involved in the discussions at all, and the State Department did not make the final decision.

Trump has repeated this claim 4 times


“What the prosecutors should be looking at are Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails, and they should be looking at the paid Russian speeches and the owned Russian companies…”

Source: Campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia

in fact: Neither Clinton nor her campaign aides owned companies in Russia. Trump has regularly, and falsely, accused Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta of owning a Russian company.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times


“They (Democrats) don’t talk about reforms to the VA, or about manufacturing jobs we’re bringing back to America by the hundreds of thousands.”

Source: Campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia

in fact: Trump is not bringing back manufacturing jobs “by the hundreds of thousands.” The number of U.S. manufacturing jobs increased by just 70,000 between January 2017, the first month of Trump’s tenure, and July 2017, going from 12,355,000 to 12,425,000.


“Economic growth has surged to 2.6 per cent nationwide. You have to understand what that means. Nobody thought that number was going to happen.”

Source: Campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia

in fact: Most experts thought that number was going to happen. As FactCheck.org pointed out, various forecasts earlier in the year — from entities like the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and Moody’s Analytics — had projected growth higher than 2.6 per cent at one point or another.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times


“We have auto plants expanding and coming back. They’re coming into Michigan. They’re really coming into Michigan. And they’re coming into Ohio and Pennsylvania.”

Source: Campaign rally in Huntington, West Virginia

in fact: Auto plants are not booming in Michigan or Ohio. In fact, the week before Trump’s speech, the Detroit News ran a front-page article explaining that “the opposite” is happening: U.S. automotive jobs have declined for the first time in seven years, and “plants in Michigan and in Toledo have borne the brunt of reductions, with about 6,350 workers experiencing at least temporary layoffs.” Toyota and Mazda did announce a coming 4,000-job investment on the same day as this Trump speech, but analysts believed they might well choose to operate in the South rather than the Midwest.

Trump has repeated this claim 3 times


  • Aug 4, 2017

“And just this week, we announced a historic immigration bill to create a merit-based Green Card system that ends the abuse of our welfare system, stops chain migration, and protects our workers and our economy. As an example, you cannot get welfare for five years when you come into our country. You cannot just come in like in past weeks, years, and decades, you come in immediately and start picking up welfare. For five years, you have to say you will not be asking or using our welfare systems.”

Source: Weekly address

in fact: As the Washington Post reported, the provision in the Trump-backed RAISE Act would only apply to immigrants entering on visas granted through a new merit-points system. People entering under other categories — refugees, for instance — would still be eligible for welfare, and so the provision “would not apply to the vast majority of legal immigrants,” the Post reported. Further, Trump is misleading about current law, which already bans many categories of immigrants from obtaining welfare benefits for their first five years in the U.S.

Trump has repeated this claim 5 times


“We are very strong on homeland security and we are very strong with respect to FEMA. FEMA is something that I’ve been very much involved in already. We’ve had some things during the last six months, including the highway in Atlanta, where I have to say the governor and all concerned did a fantastic job of rebuilding that stretch of highway that ended up burning so badly. We found the reasons why, and it wasn’t for a good reason. But nevertheless, they did it in record time. I’m a builder and I understand they did it ahead of schedule and under budget, and that was very nice to see.”

Source: Speech to Federal Emergency Management Agency.

in fact: Trump was wrong in suggesting that FEMA played a significant role in rebuilding the damaged stretch of Atlanta highway. It did not do so. When the Star asked FEMA what the agency actually did in response to the problem, the agency responded that it offered assistance to Georgia’s government for any “unmet needs,” and that it later “remained in contact with the state.” In other words, it did not do much.


Manafort cooperation could energize Mueller probe: legal experts

September 14, 2018

by Jan Wolfe


A plea deal by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election suggests he could shed light on unanswered questions revolving around the campaign, legal experts said on Friday.

Manafort’s agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to cooperate “fully, truthfully, completely, and forthrightly” could put to the test U.S. President Donald Trump’s denials of campaign collusion with Russia, lawyers not involved in the case said.

Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor and a law professor at George Washington University, said the agreement, which caps at 10 years a sentence which could have been much longer, was a “pretty good deal” that suggested the Mueller team valued Manafort’s cooperation.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who is representing Trump in the Russia probe, told Reuters on Friday that Manafort “knows nothing harmful to the president and the plea is the best evidence of that.” The White House said in a statement that the agreement had “absolutely nothing to do” with the president or his 2016 campaign.

Manafort attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russian representatives and top campaign officials, including Trump’s son and son-in-law, who expected to receive derogatory information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Any light Manafort could shed on that meeting and other episodes could deepen the Mueller probe, legal experts said, increasing the pressure on Trump. The president and his allies have repeatedly called for the investigation to wind down and he describes the probe as a “witch hunt.”

Donald Trump Jr, who organized the meeting with Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others, initially said it was mainly to discuss a program on adoptions of Russian children. The president has since acknowledged the meeting was set up to find out damaging information about Clinton but that it was “totally legal and done all the time in politics.”

Moscow rejects the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that it interfered in the election by hacking Democratic Party computer networks and spreading disinformation on social media.

Some legal experts said that if Trump and his advisers knowingly solicited help from Russia, they may have violated campaign finance laws, and a statute that criminalizes conspiracies to impair the functioning of the U.S. government.

Mueller’s investigators might also be looking to Manafort to learn whether the Trump team offered anything to the Russians in exchange for campaign help, said Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor.

Manafort’s deal could also prompt other subjects of Mueller’s investigation to cooperate, causing “the proverbial snowball to roll down the hill,” Waxman said.

Other issues Manafort could be questioned about are his longstanding business and personal ties with Trump ally Roger Stone. Stone’s communications have been a subject of the Mueller investigation, sources familiar with interviews of other Stone associates have said.

Manafort oversaw the 2016 Republican National Convention in which the party’s platform on Ukraine was altered in a way that made it more in line with Russian interests. Manafort represented pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine before his stint on the Trump campaign.

The structure of Manafort’s plea deal limits the effectiveness of any Trump pardon, said Jed Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham University. Manafort admitted to conduct chargeable as state crimes, to which a presidential pardon do not apply.

Manafort refused for months to assist Mueller’s inquiry before admitting guilt to criminal charges that he concealed money from tax authorities.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; additional reporting by Warren Strobel and Karen Freifeld; editing by Anthony Lin and Grant McCool


Manafort and senior Israeli official meddled in Ukraine elections, Obama foreign policy

Plea deal shows Trump’s former campaign chairman worked with an unnamed Israeli official to accuse a supporter of his client’s opponent of anti-Semitism

September 14, 2018

by Amir Tibon and Noa Landau


WASHINGTON – A mysterious Israeli connection appeared on Friday within the pages of the plea deal signed between Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, and the office of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

According to the document, in 2012, while Manafort was working as a lobbyist for the pro-Russian government of Ukraine, he received help from a senior Israeli official in an attempt to tarnish the reputation of Ukraine’s then-opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Parliamentary elections were held in Ukraine on October 28, 2012.

Manafort and the senior Israeli official, who is not named in the document, worked to jointly accuse Tymoshenko’s supporters and allies of supporting anti-Semitism. Manafort bragged at the time that “Obama Jews” would put pressure on the American administration to disavow Tymoshenko and her supporters as a result of his ploy.

“Manafort sought to undermine United States support for Tymoshenko,” the document states. “He orchestrated a scheme to have, as he wrote in a contemporaneous communication, ‘Obama Jews’ put pressure on the [Obama] administration to disavow Tymoshenko” and support the Ukrainian government, which was his client.

The document further states that “Manafort coordinated privately with a senior Israeli government official to issue a written statement” that would highlight the alleged anti-Semitism of his client’s political rivals in Ukraine. Then, “with secret knowledge of that Israeli statement,” Manafort worked to spread the story in the American media.

“I have someone putting it in the New York Post. Bada bing bada boom,” Manafort wrote to one of his associates. He wanted to use the allegations in order to pressure the Obama administration into acting against his clients’ rivals in Ukraine. “The Jewish community will take this out on Obama on Election Day if he does nothing,” Manafort said at the time.

The document doesn’t name the senior Israeli official that Manafort communicated with. However, in October 2012, at the same time that Manafort was working on this issue, Israel’s then-foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, published a statement attacking the political rivals of Manafort’s clients in Ukraine for espousing anti-Semitism. Lieberman’s statement was featured in reports by a number of American news outlets, including The New York Times and Breitbart.

“Israel is concerned by the recently signed agreement between the Batkivshchyna party and the extremist party Svoboda, who’s anti-Semitic outbursts have caused outrage in Ukraine and Israel more than once,” the statement read. Batkivshchyna, or Fatherland, is lead by Tymoshenko, while Svoboda, or Freedom, is an ultra-nationalist party.

“For example, in the past, the leader of Svoboda has praised ‘the fight against the moscali [derogatory term for Russians] and the zhyd [derogatory term for Jews].’ The expression of such views brings to mind the dark pages of history of the last century, which have led humanity to the tragedy of World War Two. Israel condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms, and expresses hope that common sense will prevail,” the statement concluded.

Lieberman, who is currently defense minister, denied on Friday that he had ever met with, spoken to or worked with Manafort.


Trump and ‘collusion’: what we know so far about Mueller’s Russia investigation

The special counsel has secured multiple indictments, and an agreement with Paul Manafort that could pose a threat to Trump

September 15, 2018

by Tom McCarthy in New York

The Guardian

The comedian and activist Randy Credico met last week with investigators working with special counsel Robert Mueller. He came away impressed.“I think these people know everything already,” said Credico, who was there to answer questions about his old friend Roger Stone, a sometime adviser to Donald Trump. “They have all the information.”

“All the information” grew significantly on Friday, as Mueller announced that the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors requiring him to testify indefinitely about any matter of interest to investigators, potentially including the inner workings of the campaign, its contacts with Russia, Trump family business dealings in Russia or his own contacts with Russia.

One former assistant US attorney called the plea deal an “existential threat to the presidency”.

The fundamental focus and progress of the Mueller investigation is unknown, owing to the prosecutorial team’s extreme informational continence. But by all reports, and judging by indictments handed down so far, Mueller’s flashlights have penetrated deeply into the side caverns and underground tunnels of the Trump campaign and presidency.

His central mission is to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and alleged cooperation by the Trump presidential campaign. So what is the status of the Mueller investigation, with the midterm elections less than two months away?

What does Manafort’s flip mean?

Manafort, who was convicted last month on eight fraud charges, pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiring to defraud the US and conspiring to obstruct justice, and agreed to cooperate with the government.

Manafort could help Mueller in many ways. Drawing on his long relationships and network of contacts in the former Soviet bloc, he might help prosecutors understand how the Russian interference campaign played out. Investigators are bound to be interested in Manafort’s offer of private briefings to his former business partner Oleg Deripaska, the Russian industrialist.

Potentially worse for Trump and his family, Manafort is well positioned to testify about any wrongdoing inside the campaign. He attended a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian operatives arranged by Donald Trump Jr. He was present at the Republican convention when the party softened its anti-Russia stance in Ukraine. Manafort understands the nature of the campaign’s contacts with Russian operatives, and he was chairman when WikiLeaks began publishing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) by hackers linked by US intelligence to Russia. He might be able to describe Trump’s attempted business deals in Russia.

Mueller just got a star witness.

Will Roger Stone be indicted?

Mueller is investigating Stone, who was in contact during the campaign with WikiLeaks, which in July 2016 published some emails stolen from the DNC and which later was in contact with Trump Jr. A second Stone associate, Jerome Corsi, was interviewed by Mueller on the same day as Credico. Stone has said he expects to be indicted but has denied all wrongdoing.

Following the money

Federal prosecutors are investigating suspect money flows during and after the election, although it is unclear how much of that investigation is in Mueller’s purview versus how much is being run, for example, out of the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York. Prosecutors are investigating large overseas money flows following the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials and Russian operatives, and also following the November 2016 election, BuzzFeed reported on Wednesday.

Money flows originally tipped prosecutors off to the crimes of the former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty last month to fraud charges and campaign finance violations in a prosecution referred by Mueller. Other Trump Organization figures are now reportedly under investigation for alleged campaign finance violations, and the chief financial officer of the organization, Allen Weisselberg, is cooperating with prosecutors.

The earliest cases brought by the special counsel’s office continue to play out. Former campaign aide George Papadopoulos was sentenced last week to two weeks in prison for lying to FBI investigators about contacts with Kremlin-linked figures. Papadopoulos was told in April 2016 the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and “thousands of emails”, but later told reporters he did not believe he had passed that information up the campaign food chain. Meanwhile, Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who told Papadopoulos that, is mysteriously missing.

Trump and obstruction of justice

Mueller is also believed to be investigating Trump, who denies all wrongdoing, for alleged obstruction of justice. Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, his attacks on the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and the justice department, and his alleged dangling of pardons to defendants such as Manafort all might qualify as obstruction.

After Manafort’s conviction on felony fraud charges in Virginia last month, Trump tweeted: “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. ‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’ – make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!”

Will Mueller interview Trump?

The president’s legal team, led by Rudy Giuliani, appears to be in negotiations with Mueller. According to a new book by Bob Woodward, the former Trump lawyer John Dowd counselled Trump not to grant an interview to Mueller because Dowd believed Trump could not keep himself from lying.

The status of the negotiations is opaque, with only the mutterings of Giuliani to go on. He has contradicted himself, saying last week that Trump would refuse to answer any questions about obstruction of justice, and then saying “we’re not closing it off 100%”.

Mueller is thought to be working on a report to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. He has secured guilty pleas or convictions from four ex-campaign aides.

About 50% of voters support Mueller’s handling of the investigation, versus 30% who approve of Trump’s handling of it, according to a recent CNN poll. Public faith in Mueller has been growing since June, when he was measured at 41% approval.


Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh denies sexual misconduct allegation

September 14, 2018

by Jan Wolfe


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Friday denied an allegation of sexual misconduct dating back to when he was a high school student, and a senior Republican senator said there was no reason to delay his confirmation to the court.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on Thursday she received information about Kavanaugh from a person she declined to identify, and that she had referred the matter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The New Yorker magazine reported on Friday that in July, shortly after President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh, Feinstein’s office received a letter detailing a woman’s alleged encounter with Kavanaugh while they were high school students.

It said the woman had accused Kavanaugh of trying to force himself on her at a party, holding her down and covering her mouth with his hand, but that she was able to free herself. Neither Feinstein nor the magazine identified the woman.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation,” Kavanaugh, 53, said in a statement put out by the White House on Friday. “I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”

Democrats have fought Kavanaugh’s nomination and are seeking to delay his confirmation.

A spokesman for the committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Chuck Grassley, on Friday said the planned committee vote on Kavanaugh’s confirmation would proceed next Thursday as scheduled.

“Judge Kavanaugh has undergone six FBI full-field investigations from 1993 to 2018,” he said in a statement. “No such allegation resembling the anonymous claims ever surfaced in any of those 6 FBI reports.”

Feinstein’s office did not immediately respond to a request on Friday for comment.

A conservative federal appeals court judge nominated by Trump to the lifetime position on the nine-member high court, Kavanaugh made no major missteps in questioning by senators during his confirmation hearing last week.

Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate by a narrow margin. With no sign yet of any Republicans planning to vote against Kavanaugh, he seems poised to win confirmation despite Democratic opposition.

In party-line votes, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday rejected motions by Democratic senators seeking access to more documents relating to Kavanaugh’s service in the White House under Republican President George W. Bush more than a decade ago.

A final Senate confirmation vote is likely by the end of the month.

Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Howard Goller


Puerto Rico hurricane: How was the 3,000 death toll worked out?

September 15, 2018

by Reality Check team

BBC News

United States President Donald Trump has disputed official findings that nearly 3,000 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of last year’s hurricane.

He added that the death toll had been inflated by adding people who died of other causes.

“If a person died for any reason, like old age, just add them on to the list,” he tweeted.

So is he correct to say this figure is wrong?

Nearly every study and report into the hurricane estimates a significantly higher toll than the early official estimates mentioned by the president.

The number of nearly 3,000 was released last month after an independent study by the George Washington University (GWU) in July, which was commissioned by the governor of Puerto Rico.

It found that 2,975 people died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria.

Since the hurricane struck in September last year, several investigations by academics and journalists suggested the death toll was much higher than the official count, which for months stayed at 64.

For the first few weeks, the death toll was only put at 16.

The task of counting the dead immediately after or in the months following a major disaster is not an exact science.

There are also no state or federal guidelines in the US for calculating storm or hurricane-related deaths.

The GWU study concluded the initial death toll only included those killed directly by hurricanes Maria and Irma – either by drowning, flying debris or building collapse.

GWU researchers also counted those who died in the six months following as a result of poor healthcare provision and a lack of electricity and clean water.

How did they get their figure?

The key part of the research is an estimate of “excess mortality” from September 2017 to February 2018.

Put simply, this is the difference between the predicted normal death rate if the hurricane had not struck (estimated using historical data), and the actual death rate for the period afterwards.

The researchers also factored in migration away from Puerto Rico in the wake of the storms.

“Overall, we estimate that 40% of municipalities experienced significantly higher mortality in the study period than in the comparable period of the previous two years.”

Recording the deaths

One important issue the GWU study raises is the process of recording deaths after the hurricane.

“Most physicians receive no formal training in death certificate completion, in particular in a disaster,” it states.

Some of those they interviewed showed a reluctance to record deaths as hurricane-related.

The report also points to major communication and infrastructure problems which delayed the relaying of important information about health issues and procedures for recording deaths.

“Physician unawareness of appropriate death certification practices…. and the government of Puerto Rico’s lack of communication about the death certificate process…substantially limited the count of deaths related to María.”

How reliable is the study?

Head of statistics for BBC News, Robert Cuffe, describes the GWU report as “comprehensive”.

He says it is more robust than an earlier study by Harvard University that concluded there could be a death toll ranging anywhere from 793 to 8,498.

Most media reporting of that study used the midway figure of 4,645 “excess deaths” – the number of deaths over and above what would be expected for the period from 20 September to 31 December 2017.

However, the Harvard researchers pointed out they were not giving a precise figure, and that there was an element of uncertainty in their estimates.

Mr Cuffe adds: “Can we say that every extra death that happened up to six months after the hurricane was caused by it? Not definitively.

“Some extra people will have died of old age earlier than they would have if there’d been no hurricane.”

But does that mean the hurricane killed them?


This is how the world ends: will we soon see category 6 hurricanes?

There is no such thing as a category 6 hurricane or tropical storm – yet. But a combination of warmer oceans and more water in the atmosphere could make the devastation of 2017 pale in comparison

September 15, 2018

by Jeff Nesbit

The Guardian

There is no such thing as a category 6 hurricane or tropical storm – yet. The highest level – the top of the scale for the most powerful, most devastating hurricane or tropical storm capable of destroying entire cities like New Orleans or New York – is a category 5 storm.

Meteorologists and scientists never imagined that there would be a need for a category 6 storm, with winds that exceed 200 miles per hour on a sustained basis, sweeping away everything in its path. Until now, such a storm wasn’t possible, so there was no need for a new category above category 5.

Right now, however, there is anywhere from 5 to 8% more water vapor circulating throughout the atmosphere than there was a generation ago. This, combined with warmer temperatures that are driving water up from the deep ocean in places where hurricanes typically form, has created the potential for superstorms that we haven’t seen before – and aren’t really prepared for.

This combination of warmer oceans and more water in the earth’s atmosphere – whipsawed by sustained periods of drier and wetter conditions in regions of the world that create superstorms – is now starting to create storms with conditions that look precisely what a category 6 hurricane would look like.

No one in America has ever experienced the wrath and fury of a category 6 hurricane, which now genuinely seems possible and realistic. We’ve been lucky. Unofficial category 6 hurricanes have appeared in other parts of the world, and we’re seeing much stronger storms on a regular basis. It’s only a matter of time before one hits the US.

When it does, it will come as quite a shock. The devastation we saw in 2017 in Houston, several Caribbean islands, and Puerto Rico may actually pale in comparison.

Jeff Masters, one of the most respected meteorologists in America, has begun to wonder publicly about the potential for a category 6 hurricane. He launched a lively debate among his colleagues with a provocative post in July of 2016 on the Weather Underground – a thought-provoking piece that prompted the Weather Channel and others to weigh in with their thoughts and theories as well.

“A ‘black swan’ hurricane – a storm so extreme and wholly unprecedented that no one could have expected it – hit the Lesser Antilles Islands in October 1780,” Masters wrote to open the post. “Deservedly called The Great Hurricane of 1780, no Atlantic hurricane in history has matched its death toll of 22,000. So intense were the winds of the Great Hurricane that it peeled the bark off of trees – something only EF5 tornadoes with winds in excess of 200mph have been known to do.”

Masters then made the startling claim that such a “black swan” hurricane was not only possible now but almost certain to occur more than once. He said that such storms should more properly be called “grey swan” hurricanes because the emerging science clearly showed that such “bark-stripping” mega-storms are nearly certain to start appearing.

“Hurricanes even more extreme than the Great Hurricane of 1780 can occur in a warming climate, and can be anticipated by combining physical knowledge with historical data,” wrote Masters, who once flew into the strongest hurricane at the time as one of Noaa’s “Hurricane Hunters” in the 1980s. “Such storms, which have never occurred in the historical record, can be referred to as ‘grey swan’ hurricanes.”

Masters based his bold prediction on research by two of the best hurricane scientists in the world – Kerry Emanuel of MIT and Ning Lin of Princeton – who published the most detailed hurricane model in history in August 2015. Emanuel and Lin’s hurricane model was embedded within six different worldwide climate models routinely run by supercomputers.

“The term ‘black swan’ is a metaphor for a high-consequence event that comes as a surprise. Some high-consequence events that are unobserved and unanticipated may nevertheless be predictable,” they wrote in Nature Climate Change. “Such events may be referred to as ‘grey swans’ (or, sometimes, ‘perfect storms’). Unlike truly unpredicted and unavoidable black swans, which can be dealt with only by fast reaction and recovery, grey swans – although also novel and outside experience – can be better foreseen and systematically prepared for.”

Lin and Emanuel said their research showed that not only were grey swan hurricanes now likely to occur, one such devastating hurricane would almost certainly hit the Persian Gulf region – a place where tropical cyclones have never even been seen in history. They identified a “potentially large risk in the Persian Gulf, where tropical cyclones have never been recorded, and larger-than-expected threats in Cairns, Australia, and Tampa, Florida”.

Emanuel and Lin showed that the risk of such extreme grey swan hurricanes in Tampa, Cairns, and the Persian Gulf increased by up to a factor of 14 over time as Earth’s climate changed.

In the event of such a storm, city officials may have no idea what they truly face. At least one city planning document (from 2010) anticipated that a category 5 hurricane could cause 2,000 deaths and $250bn in damage. But it could be far worse.

“A storm surge of 5 meters is about 17 feet, which would put most of Tampa underwater, even before the sea level rises there,” Emanuel told reporters. “Tampa needs to have a good evacuation plan, and I don’t know if they’re really that aware of the risks they actually face.”

A city like Dubai is even more unprepared, Emanuel said. Dubai, and the rest of the Persian Gulf, has never seen a hurricane in recorded history. Any hurricane, of any magnitude, would be an unprecedented event. But his models say that one is likely to occur there at some point.

“Dubai is a city that’s undergone a really rapid expansion in recent years, and people who have been building it up have been completely unaware that that city might someday have a severe hurricane,” Emanuel said. “Now they may want to think about elevating buildings or houses, or building a seawall to somehow protect them, just in case.”

Following Masters’s provocative post, many of his meteorologist colleagues weighed in. The Weather Channel predicted that a category 6 hurricane, and a change in the scale to accommodate it, may be on its way.

“Jeff Masters got the entire weather community thinking: could there be a Category Six hurricane?” Brian Donegan wrote on the network’s site. “Last year, Hurricane Patricia reached maximum sustained winds of 215mph in the eastern Pacific Ocean. It was the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere.”

A fellow meteorologist, Paul Huttner, said Patricia makes it all but certain that we’ll see category 6 hurricanes. “Many meteorological observers [were] stunned at how rapidly Patricia blew up from tropical storm to one of the strongest category 5 hurricanes on earth in just 24 hours,” Huttner wrote for Minnesota Public Radio.

Whether we call them category 6 hurricanes – or simply category 5 hurricanes with really fast, violent winds that are up to 60mph above the upper end of the current scale that can appear literally overnight over warm oceans – we need to be ready for these superstorms capable of taking out cities like Dubai or Tampa. They are here, right now. The devastation we saw in Houston, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean in the fall of 2017 is a clear warning.

We ignore the implications at our peril.


Russia & Germany reaffirm support for Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – Lavrov

September 14, 2018


Moscow and Berlin have expressed the importance of the Russian gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2 to Germany, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Friday.

“We’ve discussed the complex of issues related to energy cooperation and confirmed the support for the Nord Stream 2 project, which is of a commercial nature and the implementation of which will strengthen the energy security of the European continent,” said Lavrov after a meeting with his German counterpart Heiko Maas in Berlin.

The topic of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was also raised during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Lithuania. Merkel said that she understood the Baltic countries’ criticism over the expansion of the Nord Stream gas pipeline, but insisted that the project made economic sense. She added that Ukraine would still be a gas transit country after the pipeline is complete.

The goal of the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline project is to double the existing pipeline’s annual capacity of 55 billion cubic meters. The first part of the joint project has been in operation since 2011. Moscow has repeatedly described Nord Stream 2 as a “purely economic project” and said Washington opposes it because it wants to force-feed its own liquefied natural gas (LNG) to Europe.

Despite political setbacks between Russia and Germany, Berlin has been a firm supporter of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and has been pushing for its implementation through the EU.


Secret dossier warns: The Israeli army is unprepared for war

Defying chief of staff, Israeli general makes unprecedented call for independent inquiry

September 14, 2018

by Amos Harel


The Israeli army’s ombudsman, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brick, has written a new report harshly criticizing the army’s readiness for war. Brick’s position completely contradicts a report issued at the beginning of September by Israeli army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, which stated that the Israel Defense Forces are at a high level of readiness for war.

Brick sent his detailed dossier last week to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman as well as to Eisenkot, to members of the IDF General Staff and members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He also called for the appointment of an external commission of inquiry headed by a retired Supreme Court justice to examine the IDF’s state of preparedness.

Brick went public with his criticism of the IDF’s preparedness for war in June, when he presented the ombudsman’s annual report at a press conference. The report did not include a direct reference to the state of readiness, but Brick hinted that his criticism related to training, to training exercises and the state of the weaponry used by the ground forces. Since then, he has issued two detailed letters to Defense Minister Lieberman, to the generals and to the Knesset committee, in which he focused mainly on the IDF’s manpower policies, describing a serious crisis that he said could have implications relating to the capabilities of the entire IDF — particularly the ground forces — to fight a war. Brick’s latest report is the third on the issue.

Brick’s report has drawn harsh responses from the top IDF brass, which rejected most of his allegations. On two separate visits to the Knesset, Chief of Staff Eisenkot has said that the IDF is ready for war. Ten days ago, he sent a detailed letter to the security cabinet and the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in which — in a rare move — he committed that the military is in a high state of readiness and preparedness for war. Eisenkot’s document includes a long list of statements on the readiness for the entire IDF, along with comments on all military branches and directorates. Each section is signed by the general in charge of the sector.

Eisenkot wrote in his letter that the military is at a high state of preparedness for war when it comes to any threat or scenario. “As the person who is responsible for the readiness to go to war, I state that the IDF is prepared and ready for every mission it is called upon [to carry out], an army with intelligence and aerial superiority, ground capabilities and rich operational experience that meets the test every day in every realm of war.”

At the same time, Eisenkot said: “The army’s preparedness will always be lacking. There are gaps and they exist along with risk management and priorities. We commanders have the obligation to adapt the processes of building the forces and preserving the IDF’s quality and superiority in the present and to take advantage of the window of opportunity to adapt the IDF to the challenges of the future.”

Brick’s newest dossier was classified as “secret” and people who are familiar with its contents have refused to discuss it with Haaretz. It is known, however, that it is more than 200 pages long and includes long quotes from conversations that Brick held with officers, including noncommissioned officers, within the ground forces, who describe serious deficiencies in the level of training and the handling of military equipment.

In developing his findings, Brick drew on the reports of the comptrollers of the defense establishment and the IDF. Last year, the comptroller of the defense establishment conducted an examination of Armored Corps units and exposed severe deficiencies in their readiness for war. The IDF claimed in response that the problems that had been uncovered had since been rectified. At the same time, members of the General Staff attacked the manner in which Brick reached his conclusions, saying he is not authorized to examine the question of readiness and that his statements are based on superficial impressions only, instead of a systematic gathering of information and formal analysis.

The call to establish an external investigative commission is unprecedented. Brick is scheduled to complete his 10-year tenure as ombudsman at the beginning of January. His demand for an inquiry reflects two main problems: deep concern over the state of the ground forces and a growing lack of trust in the IDF’s ability to investigate itself and correct what needs to be rectified. In addition, from the moment that the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was brought into the picture, it was clear that Brick’s claims would have political implications.

The members of the security cabinet, who are responsible of the IDF’s preparedness for war and its functioning during a war, have begun to hear about Brick’s new document from the members of their political parties who sit on the Knesset committee and will certainly be required to investigate the question in depth. It appears that, given these circumstances, Defense Minister Lieberman, who is the minister in charge of both Brick and the entire IDF, will soon have to weigh in on the disagreement between Brick and Eisenkot — after remaining silent on the issue up to now.

Once the matter was reported in Haaretz, Knesset member Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) asked Avi Dichter (Likud), the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, to urgently convene the panel to discuss Brick’s findings.

“It is our responsibility for the IDF’s readiness, for the defense of our very existence,” wrote Yogev in his request. “This is a harsh report that details the problems stemming from massive cuts of thousands of officers and noncommissioned officers in recent years, whose shortcomings are felt in dealing with routine [operations] — and will be felt even more so during times of emergency … It is our responsibility to examine the real situation in depth and act according to the findings to reduce the deficiencies and increase the IDF’s preparedness to handle any threat and to overcome it, for the sake of Israel’s security,” wrote Yogev.


Why John Bolton Really Hates the International Criminal Court

When Bolton expresses his desire to “strangle the ICC in its cradle,” what he really means is he wants US troops to be able to murder babies in their cradles with impunity.

September 14, 2018

by Brett Wilkins


On February 12, 2010, US Army Rangers conducted a nighttime raid on a home in the village of Khataba, outside Gardez, Afghanistan. Dozens of men, women and children, including the district prosecutor and local police chief, had gathered at the house to celebrate the naming of a newborn baby just before the raid occurred. The Rangers stormed the home with guns blazing, killing the prosecutor, police chief, two pregnant women and a teenage girl.

The US military lied about the Khataba raid, initially making the outrageous claim that the women and girl had been killed by their relatives before the assault. But Afghan investigators soon discovered that not only had the American troops killed the civilians, they also dug the bullets out of their riddled bodies and washed the wounds with alcohol in a failed attempt to conceal their crime. When confronted with the evidence, the US-led coalition admitted its forces had indeed killed the women. Despite the US admission, none of the Rangers involved in the atrocity were ever disciplined.

The Khataba raid is but one of many US war crimes and atrocities in Afghanistan. Other notable events include the 2010 serial murder of unarmed Afghan civilians in Kandahar province by members of a self-described Army “Kill Team,” which collected victims’ body parts as grisly souvenirs of their crimes, the torture and murder of detainees at secret prisons including the notorious “Salt Pit” near Kabul and air strikes like the intentional bombing of an international charity hospital in Kunduz that killed 42 patients and staff in October 2015.

To date, no senior US government, military or intelligence officials have been held accountable for these and other incidents that, if committed by America’s enemies, would inarguably be considered — and prosecuted as — war crimes. The International Criminal Court (ICC) was created two decades ago to address the general impunity enjoyed by many war criminals. And while the court, which has almost exclusively prosecuted Africans, has been widely criticized as the “Infamous Caucasian Court” and an instrument of Western neocolonialism, it has in recent years announced that it would begin investigating US war crimes in Afghanistan, as well as Israeli crimes against Palestine, which became the 123rd ICC member nation in 2015.

Countries with nothing to fear do not fear the ICC. The United States and Israel are very afraid of the ICC. The murder of unarmed civilians is a war crime. So is torture. Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of densely-populated civilian areas, its half-century occupation of Palestinian territory and its construction and expansion of Jews-only settler colonies on Palestinian land are all also illegal under international law. Neither Israel nor the United States has joined the ICC. Other leading human rights violators, including North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, and Ethiopia, have either never joined or have withdrawn from the court.

The United States, which was instrumental in forging the post-World War II human rights framework embodied by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and admirably demonstrated at the Nuremberg trials, has sadly abrogated its role and responsibility to promote and uphold human rights in recent decades. After Nicaragua successfully sued the United States in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for waging a war of terror against it while supporting the horrifically brutal Contra rebellion, President Ronald Reagan ignored the ruling and angrily withdrew the US from the court. Later, the George W. Bush administration refused to join the nascent ICC on the dubious grounds that the court might be used to “frivolously” charge US troops with war crimes in “politically-motivated” trials.

However, the Bush administration’s concern wasn’t really that the ICC would be used frivolously, but that it would be used seriously, and not to prosecute low-ranking troops but rather officials in Washington, DC, quite a few of whom would surely qualify for prosecution. This was, after all, an administration that went to great lengths to “legalize” torture, and which argued that the president had unlimited wartime powers to, among other crimes, order the massacre of an entire village of civilians.

John Bolton, currently President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, was a key proponent of torture and illegal invasion and occupation when he served in the Bush administration. Bolton has consistently criticized the ICC as a threat to “US sovereignty.” What he really means is that it is a threat to US impunity. When Bolton expresses his desire to “strangle the ICC in its cradle,” what he really means is he wants US troops to be able to murder babies in their cradles with impunity.

That’s what happened on March 11, 2012 when US Army Sgt. Robert Bales raged from house to house in three villages in Panjwai district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan and methodically executed 16 civilians, nine of them children, before setting many of his victims’ bodies on fire. Bales was sentenced to life imprisonment, but such accountability is the exception rather than the rule when it comes to US war crimes and atrocities. And that’s exactly the way that Bolton and the other US officials who fear the ICC want things to remain.

There is much hand-wringing by those who fear President Trump fancies himself above the law. But for too much of its existence and in too many of its affairs, the United States has acted as if the law only applies to itself when it stands to achieve a favorable outcome.


Anonymous Op-ed From Trump’s White House Shows the Dangers of America’s Imperial Presidency

September 8, 2018

by Jon Schwarz

The Intercept

The first reviews of “Fear,” Bob Woodward’s new book about Donald Trump’s presidency, came out Tuesday. Woodward, they reported, depicts Trump as a dangerous 5-year-old who must be constantly manipulated by his staff to stop him from setting America on fire. Then, on Wednesday, in a New York Times op-ed, an anonymous administration official said: Yes, that’s exactly right.

This, as the Washington Post describes it, must be one of the most startling stories in “Fear”:

After Syrian President Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical attack on civilians in April 2017, Trump called [Defense Secretary James] Mattis and said he wanted to assassinate the dictator. “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them,” Trump said, according to Woodward.

Mattis told the president that he would get right on it. But after hanging up the phone, he told a senior aide: “We’re not going to do any of that. We’re going to be much more measured.” The national security team developed options for the more conventional airstrike that Trump ultimately ordered.

One potential reaction to this is: Oh my god, Trump truly does want to launch Armageddon, and we’re all forever in debt to the non-lunatics in the administration that are trying to restrain him.

Another potential reaction is: It’s unbelievably bad for America when government officials for whom no one voted secretly defy the guy who actually was elected.

Both reactions are legitimate and understandable, and there’s no reason to choose between them. But we should feel an additional, even more profound fear: The official resistance, by turns inept and unwilling, to Trump’s administration demonstrates a political rot that goes way deeper than the president. It extends to all the bureaucrats and politicians who have failed so far in their bids to oppose the president’s worst instincts and policies, and to perhaps to most Americans. The imperial presidency is running amok, and nothing about our country’s politics appears able to do anything about it.

Let’s consider, for example, that Mattis’s actions on Syria should have sparked a third reaction, too: Wait, why did this matter at all? I thought Congress was in charge of declaring war.

Because, of course, what Mattis didn’t do was hand Trump a copy of the Constitution and point to the part of Article I, Section 8 that says “The Congress shall have Power … To declare War.” Instead, Mattis happily executed a smaller-scale bombing of Syria with no authorization from Congress.

How could Mattis, and the Trump administration generally, claim this was constitutional? It was easy: Some lawyers at the Justice Department wrote a memo saying it was, and then didn’t allow anyone outside of the executive branch, including members of Congress, to read it. They then used the same tactic for a second bombing of Syria last April. (The memo providing the legal justification for this year’s strike was eventually released in the face of a lawsuit.)

But of course, Trump is only the latest president to claim war powers that are unconstitutional on their face. Since World War II, the executive branch has encroached further and further on the prerogatives of the legislative branch, with only scattered, ineffective resistance from Congress.

This didn’t happen by accident. The expansion of presidential power regarding foreign policy in particular — but also with all issues — has been a long-standing project on the right. When Dick Cheney was secretary of defense during the George H.W. Bush administration, he claimed that Bush could prosecute the first Gulf War in 1991 without any congressional approval. Then, after 9/11, Cheney’s minions wrote a legal treatise arguing that the younger Bush didn’t need Congress’s approval if he wanted to invade a country like, for instance, Iraq. The GOP has decided that the president should be something close to an elected king, and Democrats have largely gone along.

As Woodward’s book and the anonymous New York Times op-ed demonstrate, we’re now reaping the fruits of this decades-long degradation of U.S. politics.

An imperial presidency that wields centralized power will inevitably turn regular people into passive observers, vulnerable to a charlatan who tells them, I alone can fix all of your problems. A system based on one person’s whims will soon attract those happy to substitute whims of their own. Legislators meant to jointly wield diffuse power will forget how or why they should want to. And essentially no one wants to live the consequences of Abraham Lincoln’s prescription: “Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.”

Any Romans who lived through the decline and fall of their empire would immediately recognize this phenomenon. Republican Rome had a concept of corruption that was broader than just exchanging money for political favors. Rather, political elites and entire societies could be corrupted by a failure of character, a refusal to engage in the basic sacrifices needed for self-government. Livy, a Roman historian born in the 1st century B.C.E., famously put it like this:

Rome was originally, when it was poor and small, a unique example of austere virtue; then it corrupted, it spoiled, it rotted itself by all the vices; so, little by little, we have been brought into the present condition in which we are able neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the remedies we need to cure them.

That was 2,000 years ago, and also exactly where we are now. The secret Trump #Resistance cannot tolerate the evils of what Trump would do unleashed. But they also do not have the civic courage to use the remedies — impeachment, the 25th Amendment, or simply resigning and telling the world what they know — needed to cure them.

All of this is extremely ominous for the future of politics in America. Simplicity, openness, clear lines of authority — these are norms in a society that is capable of changing for the better. Secrecy, conspiracy, endless, shadowy struggles for power with no rules — these are characteristics of people in an inescapable, decadent tailspin. The past week makes clear which kind of country America is.

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