News Items – 02.10.17

Here’s the latest blogpost from George Washington University’s National Security Archive blog, Unredacted.

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The Intercept: “The FBI operates on the internet with unprecedented vigor and under loose rules, according to secret internal guidelines obtained by The Intercept, with undercover agents freely chatting online with unsuspecting people who are not even under investigation. The bureau has made online counterterrorism a strategic focus, lavishing staff and attention on a clearinghouse project called Net Talon and measuring performance through such metrics as the amount of time agents spend online, how many postings they make, and the personas they create. The FBI’s virtual tentacles are so ubiquitous that the bureau sometimes finds itself investigating its own people.”

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Washington Post: “An email from the Trump transition team on the evening of Jan. 13 instructed all transition team leaders to ‘reach out tonight and inform’ the inspectors general in their agencies ‘that they are being held over on a temporary basis.’ The email from Katie Giblin, a member of the presidential transition team, confirms a story The Post reported last week that inspectors general, who by bipartisan tradition have open-ended appointments regardless of party, had been told that they would be held over only on a temporary basis and that they should seek other employment. The email shows that the effort to replace the inspectors was not limited to a handful of agencies, but that it was intended to take aim at inspectors general across government departments.”

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For updates on Trump & Company’s absurd beliefs behind their recent legislative grenades, read Georgetown University’s The Bridge Initiative.

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“Kiev is Fueling the War in Eastern Ukraine, Too,” by Foreign Policy Magazine: “Until this past week, large-scale fighting had for the most part died down in Donbass since the signing of the Minsk II cease-fire agreement in February 2015. Front-line areas still saw exchanges between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, but nothing that resembled a significant battle. That changed on Jan. 29, when fighting broke out in the town of Avdiivka. Nearly two dozen civilians and soldiers have died, and many more have been injured in what the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) describes as the heaviest shelling it has recorded since the war began in 2014. Now, one week on, Ukrainian forces have solidified their defenses and moved forward the sort of heavy weaponry, including battle tanks, that was supposed to be removed from the front lines as part of the Minsk II Agreement. Kiev has pointed the finger at Russia as the culprit for the recent outbreak of fighting, and there is some evidence to support its case. Three days before the fighting erupted, Olexander Motuzyanyk, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense, warned of a Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian border in Russia’s Rostov region; the next day, Russia alerted the OSCE’s Permanent Council about the increased risk of an escalation of the conflict in Donbass. Still, unlike in previous large-scale confrontations, there’s no evidence that regular Russian troops are involved in the current fighting.”

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“German Intelligence Finds No Evidence of Russian Meddling,” by Politico: “A year-long investigation into potential Russian interference with German politics has failed to uncover evidence of Kremlin-backed meddling, Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Monday. German intelligence authorities found no concrete proof of disinformation campaigns targeting the government and have decided against publishing the 50-page report to avoid further straining relations with Moscow, according to Suddeutsche Zeitung. … Ahead of federal elections in September, German intelligence officials are worried about covert Kremlin-led campaigns such as cyberattacks, but also overt attempts to influence public debate.”

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“Iran Sentences Professor at Belgian university to death for spying,” by Intelnews: It is believed that the professor was arrested in April of last year, while visiting his family in Iran. But his family in Europe chose not to publicize his arrest, in hopes of getting him released. They spoke to the media only after Dr. Djalali was given a death sentence last week. The reason for the scientist’s arrest has not been made clear, but it is thought to relate to his collaboration with other researchers in Belgium and Italy, some of whom are Israeli citizens. Iran considers Israel an “enemy entity” and does not allow its citizens to interact with Israeli citizens. Officials at VUB claim that Dr. Djalali is has not been involved in political campaigns or discussions, and that his contacts with foreign scientists are solely research-driven. According to his family, Dr. Djalali has protested his detention by launching hunger strikes on three separate occasions, which have severely affected his health. He also claims that he was not allowed access to lawyers and that he was not given a trial. Instead, he said he was interrogated and forced to sign a confession admitting to an offence that he does not recognize. Iranian authorities have refused comment on the matter.”

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“Turkey’s Erdoğan paves way for April vote on new sweeping powers,” by The Guardian: “The constitutional overhaul would allow Erdoğan to run for two more terms in office, potentially governing as a powerful executive until 2029. It is backed by the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and its nationalist allies in parliament. Critics of the bill say it would lead to one-man rule with few checks and balances on the president by a loyalist parliament, allowing Erdoğan to consolidate power amid a widescale purge of civil servants and a crackdown on opposition mediaand political parties. … Turkey is reeling from a series of deadly terror attacks, as well as the aftershocks of a coup attempt last July that shook the nation and transformed its politics. Tens of thousands of people have been dismissed from their posts in the government, media, academia, police, military and civil service over alleged ties to the Gülenist movement, a group led by a US-based preacher accused of masterminding the coup attempt. The reforms in the bill include abolishing the post of prime minister, giving the president greater power to shape the judiciary in addition to the cabinet, lowering the minimum age of politicians to 18 and expanding the size of the assembly. The president would be able to dissolve the parliament, but the chamber could also demand a new presidential election.”

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Here are photos of 1979 Iran, before the progressive student revolution that turned into a violently fundamentalist revolution that overthrew the US-backed dictator.

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Trump briefly criticized internationally illegal Israeli settlements (classic settler-colonialism), but, according to Israel’s  fantastic leading daily newspaper Haaretz, “Trump’s Israel Ambassador Linked to New Expansion of Radical West Bank Settlement,” “Trump Donated $10,000 to West Bank Settlement,” “Kushner Foundation Donated to West Bank Settlement Projects,” “Fund Headed by Trump’s Israel Ambassador Pumped Tens of Millions Into West Bank Settlement,” and “Trump Reportedly Confirms Kushner to Serve as Mideast Peace Broker.” But Trump said something that’s been obvious for decades about settlements, so let’s all pretend something’s different than before.

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A Cambridge student was filmed burning a £20 note in front of homeless man.

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Michael Schmitt — chairman of the U.S. Naval War College’s International Law Department — to The Washington Post: Russia’s *alleged* hacking of the DNC “is not an initiation of armed conflict. It’s not a violation of the U.N. Charter’s prohibition on the use of force. It’s not a situation that would allow the U.S. to respond in self-defense militarily.” Note that WaPo seeks comment on how the alleged hack happened, not the internationally illegal actions or admissions discovered within the emails themselves, even though the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which overseas all US intelligence agencies, admitted that “disclosures through Wikileaks did not contain any evidence forgeries.”

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Here’s an 11-part investigation by The Intercept on the FBI’s previously unknown capabilities and legal workarounds. It includes a must-read piece on the FBI’s long-standing concern about white supremacist groups infiltrating police departments across the country.

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Here’s Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept on Trump’s CIA Deputy Director pick being a key player in the Cheney Administration’s (not a typo) torture programs, as well as the subsequent cover up by destroying tapes of CIA torture previously reported by The New York Times.

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Here’s Glenn Greenwald and Betsy Reed at The Intercept on the vast powers the Bush/Obama administrations built up that have now been passed onto Trump and his oligarchical authoritarians.

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Richard Sakwa — Professor of Russian and European Politics at Kent University, UK; member of Academy of Learned Societies for the Social Sciences; Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs; and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) at the University of Birmingham — corrects Johnathan Freedland’s Cold War hysteria at The Guardian: “As so often in recent coverage of Russia, the opposite is the case. Moscow has desperately tried to keep the Donbass conflict frozen, and has restrained the various militias from responding.”

 

This is not new. Here’s Ottawa University professor of Russian/military history Paul Robinson and Princeton/NYU professor emeritus of Russian studies/history Stephen Cohen reiterating the same thing that Foreign Policy Magazine stated. Maybe some day newspaper columnists (Friedland at Guardian; Friedman at NYT; Ignatius at WaPo) will learn to echo the experts as opposed to personal conjecture based on myths. Follow more on the Permafrost War (a Cold War that never thawed) between the US and Russia at the American Committee for East-West Accord.

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German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig: “The effects of roads on carnivores have obviously been underestimated in worldwide species conservation. This is the conclusion of the first comprehensive global study on this topic, which has been published in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Biogeography by an international research team from Germany and Portugal. … Those 5% of carnivores (17 species) that are influenced most heavily worldwide by roads include the mammal families of cats, bears, martens, dogs and raccoons. Four species of bear are affected — half of all existing bear species. Surprising for the researchers was that also the stone marten (Martes foina) is among the 17 species most exposed to roads. Although the stone marten is widely distributed and not categorised as endangered by the IUCN, it is often killed by cars. Another species in Germany, the wolf (Canis lupus), is among the top 25% of carnivores (55 species) most exposed to roads globally. It belongs to those predator species that for long-term survival require a large area but whose habitat is cut by roads.”

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American Thoracic Society: “The average annual exposure to PM2.5 in the Chinese cities was 56 micrograms per cubic meter — well above the World Health Organization air quality guidelines of 10 ?g/m3. Each 10 μg/m3 increase in air pollution was associated with a 0.22 percent increase in mortality from all non-accident related causes. Each 10 μg/m3 increase in air pollution was associated with a 0.29 percent increase in all respiratory mortality and a 0.38 percent increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) mortality. Mortality was significantly higher among people age 75 and older and among people with lower levels of education. The association between PM2.5 levels and mortality was stronger in cities with higher average annual temperatures.”

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Drexel University: “Despite a slow down in the number of new natural gas wells in the Marcellus Shale region of Northeast Pennsylvania, new research led by Drexel University finds that atmospheric methane levels in the area are still increasing. Measurements of methane and other air pollutants taken three years apart in the rural areas of Pennsylvania that have been the target of natural gas development over the last decade, revealed a substantial increase from 2012 to 2015.”

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Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research: “Plastic bags, glass shards and fishing nets: despite its location, far from any urban areas, the amount of litter in the depths of the Arctic Ocean continues to rise, posing a serious threat to its fragile ecosystem. … If we consider the findings for the northern research area in the marginal ice zone, the data for 2004 indicated 346 pieces of litter per square kilometre. Ten years later, the number had risen to 8,082. The level of contamination is similar to one of the highest litter densities ever reported from the deep seafloor, in Cap de Creus Canyon off the eastern coast of the Iberian Peninsula.”

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University of Minnesota: “A team of researchers, led by the University of Minnesota, has invented a new technology to produce automobile tires from trees and grasses in a process that could shift the tire production industry toward using renewable resources found right in our backyards. Conventional car tires are viewed as environmentally unfriendly because they are predominately made from fossil fuels. The car tires produced from biomass that includes trees and grasses would be identical to existing car tires with the same chemical makeup, color, shape, and performance.”

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Democracy Now: “In Phoenix, seven protesters were arrested last night blockading an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement van in efforts to stop the deportation of 35-year-old Guadalupe García de Rayos, a mother who has been living in the United States for the last 21 years. … In protest, hundreds of people surrounded the ICE van carrying Rayos. One man locked himself to the wheels of the van, while others blockaded it with their bodies.”

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Democracy Now: “President Trump denounced a treaty limiting U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a ‘bad deal for the United States’ during a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. … Putin asked Trump whether he favored extending the New START treaty, which was approved in 2010. Trump reportedly paused the discussion to ask his aides what the treaty was, before telling Putin it was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration and that it favored Russia.”

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Democracy Now: “In South Africa, lawmakers traded punches on the floor of Parliament Thursday, as opposition politicians denounced President Jacob Zuma over charges of corruption, nepotism and mismanagement of the economy. The scene played out on national television as Zuma’s opponents sought to interrupt his annual State of the Nation address.”

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Democracy Now: “In Los Angeles, scores of protesters marched through downtown and blocked a freeway entrance Thursday evening, following reports of immigration raids across Southern California.”

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Democracy Now: “The Seattle City Council has voted unanimously to divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo over the bank’s backing of the Dakota Access pipeline. The divestment legislation was first introduced by Socialist City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant in response to the demand issued by indigenous water protectors that individuals, cities and Native American nations cut ties with Wells Fargo and other banks that are investing in the pipeline. The Muckleshoot Tribe in Seattle, the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota have all committed to divesting from Wells Fargo.”

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Democracy Now: “…another one of Trump’s Cabinet nominees, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, is facing criticism and a lawsuit by the ACLU of Oklahoma, which accuses Pruitt of violating the state’s Open Records Act by refusing to turn over documents related to his office’s communications with coal, oil and gas companies, including Koch Industries. Pruitt has been nominated to head the Environmental Protection Agency, despite having a long history of being an ally to the fossil fuel industry and having sued the EPA 14 times. His office has acknowledged having thousands of emails related to the records request—but it’s failed to turn over a single one after more than two years.”

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Democracy Now: “Trump’s pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, is facing increasing criticism over his admission that he hired an undocumented housekeeper. Puzder says he and his wife employed an undocumented housekeeper for a number of years and then fired her after learning she didn’t have U.S. work documents. He also says they provided her help in obtaining U.S. documentation. Puzder is the second of Trump’s Cabinet nominees who has acknowledged hiring an undocumented worker. The first was commerce secretary nominee, billionaire Wilbur Ross. Similar practices have led to the rejection of past Cabinet nominees, including two of President Clinton’s nominees for attorney general in 1993. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports Puzder’s chain restaurants Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have been the subject of multiple Labor Department investigations over wage theft, which have led the companies to pay nearly $150,000 in back pay to workers and more than $80,000 in penalties. The companies have also been cited with more than 30 health and safety violations.”

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Trump: “The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years, right? Did you know that?”

FBI: No. In fact, no one knew that obvious falsehood, because the U.S. murder rate is at one of its lowest points in the last 50 years.

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Adam Johnson of FAIR via The Los Angeles Times: “For a media struggling to understand Trump’s improbable rise to power, ‘Trump is like X’ has become an exceedingly popular genre. While many of these comparisons are harmless, and often useful, one iteration of this trend — comparing Trump to Latin American, Middle Eastern and Asian leaders — often does double-duty as a way to bash countries hostile to U.S. interests. Not only that, it contributes to the whitewashing of Trump’s quintessentially American origins. Over the past year and half, Trump has been compared by the media to Chinese leaders eight times, Iranian leaders nine times, and Venezuelan leaders 30 times. By contrast, Trump has only been compared to contemporary white, Western populists like Pat Buchanan and the United Kingdom’s Nigel Farage four and six times, respectively.

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The ‘Trump is like Bad Leader X’ take is popular, above all, because it offends no one while indulging American exceptionalism.

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Often, they prioritize adherence to norms and governing style over ideological goals, precisely because this approach allows them to, at the same time, praise George W. Bush while treating Trump as beyond the pale, despite the fact that the two men share many of the same political objectives, including a bloated military, economic policies that favor Wall Street and the installation of anti-choice judges on the Supreme Court. The instinct to constantly connect Trump with socialists like former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez reveals the intellectual poverty of this approach — we are told to focus on how they achieved power (style, charisma, railing against ‘elites’), not whom they serve with that power (the rich and the white versus the poor and the indigenous).

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And yet, foreign leader analogies notwithstanding, Trump’s agenda is largely the same as the broader Republican Party; his rise, moreover, was the logical manifestation of the xenophobic, ‘insurgent’ tea party movement — funded and supported not by foreign governments, but by entirely domestic billionaires. There’s a reason why Republican senators from John McCain to Marco Rubio have voted to confirm Trump’s nominees: They basically agree with him. How strange, then, that we have zero hot takes drawing parallels between Trump and McCain or Trump and Rubio, and dozens of hot takes drawing parallels between Trump and Latin American leftists. The foreign leader comparison prioritizes style over policy, personality over material effect. All of these forces are entirely American. All largely overlooked. The groundwork for Trump was laid by Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Fox News and the Drudge Report. All pushed the limits of ‘post-truth,’ all spent years stoking white grievance, demonizing immigrants, spreading ‘black on white crime’ panic. Trump is a raw, unfiltered expression of American nativism and white grievance. The effort to stop Trump would be better served attacking these threads — and their specific right-wing ideology — than continuing to draw lazy parallels to foreign enemies in bad standing with the U.S. national security establishment.”

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Turkey’s Referendum on a Presidential System provokes Fears on Both Sides,” by Ali Murat Yel — professor of anthropology at Marmara University, Turkey.

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Trump’s Larcenies to Come: The Looting of America,” by Tom Engelhardt — Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley; founder/editor of the indispensable TomDispatch; consulting editor for Metropolitan Books; fellow at The Nation Institute; and cofounder of American Empire Project.

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Somali Muslims in Minnesota Mobilize for Love and Tolerance,” by Yes Magazine.

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The Catch-22 of Trump’s Muslim Ban: First, Bomb them, then Demand Vetting,” by M. Safa Saraçoğlu — associate professor of history at Bloomsburg University.

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Syrian refugees ‘detrimental’ to Americans? The numbers tell a different story,” by Jeffrey Cohen — professor of anthropology at Ohio State University.

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Posts by Juan Cole — Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan:

Trump’s Wrong on Non-Coverage; But, [Here Are the] Top 6 Things Actually Wrong With Terrorism Reporting

The Real Victors in Judges’ Ban on Trump’s Ban: US Universities

Yemen Withdraws Blanket Approval for US Action after Trump’s Botched Raid

Spicer: Trump Can Criticize Iraq War but No One can Slam Trump’s Yemen Raid

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Yale University: Wind energy “is now the fourth largest source of energy in the U.S., behind natural gas, coal, and nuclear.”

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The Guardian: “The FBI is investigating political activists campaigning against the Dakota Access pipeline, diverting agents charged with preventing terrorist attacks to instead focus their attention on indigenous activists and environmentalists. … the fact that the officers have even tried to communicate with activists is alarming to free-speech experts who argue that anti-terrorism agents have no business scrutinizing protesters. … Two of them were contacted in North Dakota and a third at their home outside the state, according to [the director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Oregon, Lauren] Regan. She said all three contacts were made in recent weeks after Trump’s inauguration. … Trump [is] a former investor in Energy Transfer Partners, the Texas-based firm behind the pipeline… Since the summer, law enforcement officials have made roughly 700 arrests, in some cases leading to serious felony charges and possibly lengthy state prison sentences. Following recent indictments, at least six activists are now facing charges in federal court.”

 

Here’s an individual case that’s disturbingly aggressive for no other reason other than to intimidate environmental activists: “In November, a JTTF officer also showed up to the hospital room of Sophia Wilansky, a 21-year-old who was seriously injured during a standoff with law enforcement at Standing Rock, according to her father, Wayne Wilansky. The FBI took her clothes and still have not returned them, he said in an interview this week. Wayne said he suspected that the FBI brought a terrorism agent given that local police had alleged that activists set off an explosion that caused his daughter’s injuries. Witnesses have said they believe she was hit by a police concussion grenade.”

 

And here’s the context of why this is so absurd yet predictable of the US National Security State: “This is not the first time the JTTF has been tied to an investigation of civil rights protesters. Records from Minnesota suggested that the taskforce monitored a Black Lives Matter demonstration. For indigenous leaders who have vowed to continue fighting the pipeline on the ground, the FBI investigations and ongoing federal prosecutions have become increasingly worrisome. It’s particularly troubling to some given the US government’s history of aggressively targeting Native American protesters and turning them into political prisoners.”

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The Guardian: The UK’s new Foreign Minister, the contemptible former tabloid columnist Boris Johnson, also an architect/promoter of Brexit, responded to “the bombing of a funeral in Yemen last October that killed over 140 people and was condemned by UN monitors” by approving more weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. He wrote: “I judge at present the Saudis appear committed both to improving processes and to taking action to address failures/individual incidents.” Anyone following the utter carnage that is the UK/US-backed/armed/assisted/refueled Saudi slaughter in Yemen, condemned by every major human rights organization, would understand that Saudi diplomatic overtures of benevolence are Kellyanne Conartist level lies. They are lies because it is another pipeline conflict, among other slightly less despicable reasons.


Some items on how extensive the “vetting” process is for refugees, regardless of the “alternative universe” Trump & Company exist in:

Refugees are already vigorously vetted. I know because I vetted them,” by Natasha Hall at The Washington Post.

Refugees Entering the U.S. Already Face a Rigorous Vetting Process,” by The New York Times.

Here is a graphic from the White House circa 2015 on the extensive “vetting” process for refugees that have been victims of our over and/or covert militarism over the last 16 years (or, depending on where you start, 26 years [or, depending on where you start, 72 years].

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Betsy DeVos was temporarily stopped from entering a DC school by protesters.

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Here are two videos (one and two) from Al Jazeera’s UpFront, hosted by Mehdi Hasan, one of the best interviewers in English-language television, about Brexit featuring Yanis Varoufakis — former Greece Finance Minister during negotiations with the Troika; current professor of economics at King’s College London (England); cofounder of DiEM25; and former professor of economics at the Universities of Cambridge (England), Athens (Greece), Louvain (Belgium), Texas-Austin (US), Sydney (Australia), Glasgow (Scotland), Essex (England), East Anglia (England), and Turin (Italy).

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The Guardian: “A judicial review that aims to halt UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia because they could be used to illegally kill civilians in Yemen is set to begin on Tuesday. The Campaign Against the Arms Trade will claim that the indiscriminate nature of the airstrikes by Saudi Arabia in Yemen means there is a significant risk that British arms are being used in strikes that break international humanitarian law. … Saudi Arabia is the UK’s most important arms client: since the start of the Yemen campaign government ministers have granted export licences for more than £3.3bn of aircraft, munitions and other equipment.”

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Here’s Democracy Now’s daily show for today.

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