Friday, March 31, 2017

Dictator Maduro Engineers Takeover of Venezuelan Congress

Dictator Nicholas Maduro tightened his grip even further on Venezuela by engineering a Supreme Court takeover of the functions of Congress.

The Maduro-controlled Supreme Court had already annulled most National Assembly decisions since the opposition won a legislative majority in late 2015 due to voter fury over an unprecedented economic crisis.  But late on Wednesday, the court issued a new ruling declaring that it was assuming complete control of the legislature’s role in the Venezuelan government.

“As long as the situation of contempt in the National Assembly continues, this constitutional chamber guarantees congressional functions will be exercised by this chamber or another chosen organ,” the court said in its decision.

The contempt charge stems from vote-buying accusations against three lawmakers from southern Amazonas state.  Although the three legislators are no longer members of congress, the supreme court continues to use their case as an excuse to usurp the powers of congress, saying that parliamentary leaders did not handle their case properly.

The Venezuelan supreme court has been stacked over the years with political allies and supporters of Maduro.  Critics of Maduro called the "contempt" charge an excuse for the president to consolidate unchecked power over the country and muzzle the opposition-- as his popularity plummets amid widespread disgust over a severe recession, hyperinflation and acute shortages of food and medicine.

The controversial Supreme Court ruling was instigated by Maduro's desire to obtain approval for oil joint ventures without the constitutionally-required vote by congress.  Maduro is now desperately attempting to raise funds for bond payments and a reeling economy, by selling stakes in its oil fields to foreign countries.  Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA recently offered Russia’s Rosneft a stake in the Petrolia oil joint venture.

Spooked by the opposition’s warning that investment deals bypassing Congress would not be valid, foreign oil companies are closely following the developments and refusing to comment on the political situation.

The opposition promised new street protests-- but that tactic has failed in the past despite marches that have drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Last year, the opposition pushed for a referendum to recall Maduro and force a new presidential election, but Maduro officials thwarted those efforts.  In addition, the Maduro government also postponed local electoral races that were supposed to have been held in 2016.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dirty President Delivers Dirty Air and Dirty Water For Dirty Coal Owners

“You’re going back to work”  

Put that lie in the Trump Hall of Fame next to “We’re going to have insurance for everybody”

Trump signed an executive order this week to dismantle the Clean Power Plan.  Along for the ride as glorified stage props were a set of coal miners provided for the occasion by some of the mining executives who were there to see Trump deliver on his promise to dismantle environment protections for his corporate overlords.  Trump said to the coal miners standing nearby: "You know what it says, right? You're going back to work."  But the problem is this:  Trump’s actions won’t help miners. They won’t help the industry.

What Trump’s executive orders will do is enable more polluting forms of surface mining-- especially, mountaintop removal (MTR).  MTR is important to mining companies because it's the cheapest way to mine in the Appalachians. And the reason it’s the cheapest is that it takes fewer people. By enabling MTR, Trump allows producers that use it to undercut producers working with methods that both employ more people and are less harmful to the environment.

The bottom reality is this: There are zero new coal power plants under construction. There are zero in the planning stages. There are zero being proposed.

The coal industry can’t make a comeback, because there’s simply nowhere else to sell any coal. In fact, even with Trump in office signing away environmental laws left and right, more coal-fired plants are closing. The shrinking market that remains will be dominated not by coal from the Ohio and West Virginia miners that flanked Trump, but from Wyoming, where thick seams, high automation, and economies of scale make coal much less costly to produce.

And thanks to Bush-Cheney deregulated franking, it was actually cheap natural gas that wiped out demand for coal in Appalachia, not Obama regulations. And it was mountaintop removal mining that wiped out the mining jobs.  Which means that these misguided folks have failed for a heaping dose of Trump bullshit.   Even the largest mine owner in Ohio says that the jobs are not coming back even if demand for coal increases.

Untold numbers of coal miners have died over the years because of blatant disregard for safety by greedy mine owners. Pensions have been stolen and health care for black lung rolled back. And now they have voted for the man who is colluding with these greedy bastards to set them back even further.  How many times do these folks have to be screwed over before they recognize who is messing with their lives and their families?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

GOP Destroys Privacy Protections In An Effort To Please Its Corporate Overlords

In the latest movement by the GOP to benefit corporations at the expense of ordinary Americans, Congress has just swept aside widely popular online privacy protections.  In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers (Verizon, AT&T and Comcast) from following consumer protections (approved just last year) that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. The rules also had required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves.

If Trump signs the legislation as expected, providers will be able to monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads.

The providers could also sell their users’ information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data — all of whom could use the data without consumers’ consent. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which initially drafted the protections, would be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future.

Search engines and streaming-video sites already collect usage data on consumers. But Internet providers know much more about a person’s activities because they can see all of the sites a customer visits.  And although consumers can easily abandon sites whose privacy practices they don’t agree with, it is far more difficult to choose a different Internet provider. Many Americans have a choice of only one or two broadband companies in their area, according to federal statistics.

Advocates for tough privacy protections online characterized the new legislation as a tremendous setback for America.  “Today’s vote means that Americans will never be safe online from having their most personal details stealthily scrutinized and sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Python Swallows Indonesian Man Whole


Shocking video from Indonesia shows the sickening moment a dead man was cut out of a 23-foot-long python's stomach after being swallowed whole.  Reticulated pythons are boa constrictors that suffocate their victims before swallowing them whole.

25-year-old Akbar Salubiro, went missing after setting off to harvest palm oil in a remote village on the island of west Sulawesi, Indonesia.  After he failed to return home, concerned friends and relatives found a giant python sprawled out in Akbar's own back garden the next evening - and feared he had been suffocated and swallowed.  Akbar's lifeless body was found inside the serpent after horrified locals sliced open its belly using a 18-inch long hunting knife.

The shocking video can be viewed by clicking here

Akbar's wife, Munu, was away at the time and only found out when pictures and video emerged in the news, local media reported.  Village secretary Salubiro Junaidi said: 'People had heard cries from the palm grove the night before Akbar was found in the snake's stomach.  When the snake was captured, the boots Akbar was wearing were clearly visible in the stomach of the snake.  Residents cut open the belly of the snake and Akbar was lifeless."

Monday, March 27, 2017

Warrantless Searches Of U.S. Citizens Under Scrutiny

Escalating concerns about customs officials demanding access to travelers’ cellphones, tablets and laptops have prompted a leading free speech watchdog to take the government to court, to disclose its rules for digital privacy at the border.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has filed a freedom of information lawsuit seeking to obtain the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) rules for “suspicionless” searches of mobile devices from US citizens and non-citizens alike.  The lawsuit seeks internal DHS directives for compelling travelers to surrender their devices; data establishing the frequency with which they occur;  procedures on what is done with the information stored on those devices, particularly when the devices belong to first amendment-protected professionals such as journalists; and any privacy or anti-discrimination assessment DHS has performed to audit its policies.

Concern about the device searches pre-date the Trump administration. DHS first began permitting warrantless searches of U.S. citizens at the border back in 2009.  The searches intensified toward the end of Obama’s tenure (fewer than 5,000 searches in 2015, growing to 25,000 in 2016).

The Trump administration’s focus on border security has intensified the trend. After the White House introduced executive orders cracking down on immigration and foreign travel, particularly among Hispanics and Muslims, DHS conducted 5,000 device searches in February alone.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Islamaphobia or Big Brother Run Amok?

The Georgia Department of Public Health has refused to issue an infant a birth certificate with the last name the couple chose for their daughter: Allah.   State officials say the child's name — ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah — does not fit the naming conventions set up by state law. They say that ZalyKha's last name should either be Handy (mother's last name), Walk (father's last name) or a combination of the two.

The ACLU of Georgia has filed suit on behalf of the baby's parents, who say they can't get a Social Security number for their daughter because they don't have a birth certificate. They also anticipate problems with access to health care, schools and travel. Already, they said, they had to cancel a trip to Mexico.  "We have to make sure that the state isn't overstepping their boundaries," Walk said. "It is just plainly unfair and a violation of our rights."

ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young said the state's decision is an example of government overreach and a violation of the First and 14th amendments. In addition, Handy and Walk have a three-year-old son who was given a birth certificate for his name, Masterful Allah, with no problem.  

Carlton F.W. Larson, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, has written extensively about parental rights to name their children.  "Naming your child is an expressive action," Larson said. "And the idea that you get to name your child, and not the state, is a fundamental right. The state would need to have a compelling reason for rejecting a name, and I don't see it. I would hope that (Handy and Walk) would win this case."

Friday, March 24, 2017


In a devastating setback for the baby president, Trump told Paul Ryan to pull his Obamacare Repeal bill, saying that he would now move onto other things and blaming everyone else in the world but himself.  In the end, wonderboy Ryan just couldn't deliver the votes.  Over 60 times previously, House Republicans passed bills to repeal Obamacare-- but when the chips were down they failed miserably.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Trump had issued an ultimatum to the House, demanding a vote on what he had identified as a top legislative priority ― and threatening to move on to other legislative items if they refused.  Trump’s demand was an audacious act of political brinkmanship, designed to rattle and win over dissident Republican lawmakers who were objecting to the bill. But the gambit failed, and it failed spectacularly.

Despite their repeated claims that Obamacare was a disaster and was spiralling out of control, both Trump and Ryan indicated they were now ready to move on from health care to other issues.  The nation's health care couldn't have been so catastrophic, I guess.  Even in defeat, the two GOP leaders were singing from different sheets of music-- Ryan saying they would focus next on immigration, and Trump saying they would next move to tax reform.  Get your act together, boys!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Male GOP Decide On Women's Health Care

Mike Pence tweeted a photo of a group of Republicans discussing whether the Trumpcare bill should mandate that health insurance plans provide essential benefits, including maternity services.  As one would expect, the reaction was immediate.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Discovery That Hate Groups Are Profiting From Google Leads To Boycott

At least four major U.S. firms have pulled millions of dollars in advertising from Google’s platform after it was revealed that their ads were appearing next to extremist content.

An investigation by the Times found major brands were appearing next to YouTube videos promoting extremist views - generating revenues for the creators. 
The initial investigation led more than 250 British brands to pull their advertising.

Despite Google’s efforts to contain the controversy, it appears to have now caught the attention of the U.S. advertising industry - creating a huge problem for Google as it seeks to reassure brands their ad spend is not funding hate groups.

The Times is reporting that AT&T and Verizon, as well as car rental company Enterprise and pharmaceutical giant GSK, have withdrawn all non-search advertising.

The company has apologized and promised better tools for advertisers.

According to The Times, Verizon’s advertisements were appearing along side videos made by Wagdi Ghoneim, an Egyptian cleric who had been banned from the U.S. over extremism, and Hanif Qureshi, whose teachings inspired the assassination of a Pakistani politician.

“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” AT&T said in a statement.  "Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”

In response to the latest boycott, Google said: “We’ve begun an extensive review of our advertising policies and have made a public commitment to put in place changes that give brands more control over where their ads appear.”

Monday, March 20, 2017

Muslim Electronics Ban

Now Trump is banning electronics from select Muslim countries (as if Muslim travelers themselves weren't enough).  Two questions:

1.  If the threat of explosive devices in laptops is so great, why aren't they being banned on all incoming flights?

2.  Aren't x-ray detectors in airports worldwide supposed to be able to detect explosives?

Or is Trump really attempting to benefit U.S. airlines (whose flights aren't affected by the ban) by driving customers away from foreign carriers?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Nigeria Water Concession Enriches the Elite; Endangers the Poor

Lagos, Nigeria  is surrounded by an abundance of water, yet millions of inhabitants in Africa’s most populous city can’t drink it.

The coastal city that’s bordered by a lagoon is in the throes of a water crisis. Only 1 in 10 people have access to water that the state utility provides. The rest — some 19 million residents — rely on informal water sources, either drilling their own boreholes to drink from or fetching water from lakes or rivers. Those that can afford it pay exorbitant amounts to local “mai ruwa,” or water vendors, who peddle their wares in often-unsanitary jerry cans, or bottles and cellophane sachets.

However, the Lagos House of Assembly passed legislation last month that could threaten even this last-resort source of drinking water — a critical lifeline for most Lagosians.

Opponents of the Lagos Environment Bill say politicians did not follow due legislative process before it was signed into law on March 1 ― and its final language has still not been made available to the public two weeks after the fact. It could criminalize the private extraction of water, including the drilling of boreholes and purchasing water from private sellers, activists warn.

“One of our rights as citizens is to live, to have good water to drink, good environment,” said Agnes Sessi, president of the African Women Water, Hygiene and Sanitation Network, this month in reaction to the new law. “If government has failed to provide water for us, they do not have the right to take away our efforts to provide for ourselves. Do they want us to die?”

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Loose Lips Sink Ships

Recent comments made by a senior White House policy advisor have contributed to a federal judge’s decision to put a nationwide hold on Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0.

Creepy Stephen Miller was one of Trump’s most vocal mouthpieces following the disastrous roll-out of the administration’s first Muslim ban that sparked massive protests around the country.  Shortly after federal judges struck down that order, Miller appeared on television to stump a watered-down version, assuring Fox News it would include only “minor technical differences.”

According to the new ruling:
    On February 21, Senior Advisor to the President, Stephen Miller, told Fox News that the new travel ban would have the same effect as the old one. He said: “Fundamentally, you’re still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you’re going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues that were brought up by the court and those will be addressed. But in terms of protecting the country, those basic policies are still going to be in effect.”
Those “plainly worded statements” led U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson to issue his temporary restraining order against the ban. There is nothing “’secret’ about the executive’s motive specific to the issuance of the executive order,” Watson said later in his ruling.  “Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude ... that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, secondary to a religious objective of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims,” Watson wrote.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Trump Credibility Is Circling The Drain

Trump blasted as “fake news” Rachel Maddow’s scoop last night in which she reported on Trump 2005 tax returns. 

The two pages show Trump wrote off more than $100 million in business losses to reduce his federal taxes in 2005.  They also show Trump paid $36.5 million in federal income taxes on reported income of $152M, which is an effective tax rate of 24%.

The problem with Trump's claim is that the White House had already confirmed the authenticity of the document to news outlets.  Ooops!

David Cay Johnston, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter, who had received the tax return and reported on it first, tweeted:
Gee, Donald, your White House confirmed my story. POTUS fake Tweet. Sad!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tillerson Tries To Hide His Real Concerns About Climate

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now being accused of using an email alias account for many years to discuss climate change matters while he was CEO of ExxonMobil-- in what appears to be a concerted effort to keep sensitive communications out of the eyes of the public, Exxon’s shareholders, and, possibly, investigators.

Tillerson sent messages from an account named "Wayne Tracker" to discuss the risks posed by climate change, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a court filing about his office’s fraud investigation of the company. Tillerson, whose middle name is Wayne, used the "Wayne Tracker" account on the Exxon system from at least 2008 through 2015, Schneiderman said.

The bottom line? According to the charge, Exxon failed to disclose Tillerson’s alias email account as part of an investigation into whether ExxonMobil misled investors about the impacts of climate change, meaning that no documents connected to that account were collected as part of that investigation.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Paul Ryan's Latest Attempt To Kill Medicare

Everyone-- regardless of political persuasion-- should be opposed to Paul Ryan's "Non-Health Care" Act.  The draconian legislation represents the Republican congressman's latest attempt to kill Medicare once and for all.

By repealing a payroll tax on high earners that provided a critical additional revenue stream for the Medicare trust fund, the GOP's proposed American Health Care Act would speed up the fund's exhaustion by as many as three to four years, according to estimates from health care policy experts.   And once the Medicare fund is in trouble, you can bet the GOP will insist on "privatizing" it or phasing it out altogether.

Ryan has made it his life's work to eliminate Medicare and privatize Social Security.  Medicare has been a critical component to almost every single American's retirement plan since 1966.  Virtually everyone's mom or dad was on Medicare and without Medicare, most Americans alive today will likely end up spending their life savings on private health care during their retirement years.

Why people keep trusting career politician Ryan with such important legislative efforts is beyond me.  As someone who cut his political teeth on the now-debunked theory of trickle-down economics,  Ryan has nursed a career-long obsession with all topics related to the federal budget and many have long suspected that the former fitness instructor's real goal is to eliminate/privatize entitlements entirely-- all in the name of achieving the holy grail of a balanced budget.  All this shouldn't come as a surprise from a self-professed fan of Ayn Rand-- he has never had the chance to learn an appreciation for the role that society and/or government can play in providing a safety net for the underprivileged or those in need.  Why shouldn't everybody be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps like Ryan?--  a white kid with two wealthy parents, who went to private schools, had all the time in the world for extracurricular activities, be an athlete, go on ski trips, had his college paid for and never had to pound the leather to get his first job.  Ryan was introduced to politics by family friends and he transitioned from a college internship directly to his first job on the Hill-- what a tough life.  Despite all the advantages he's had in life, he still felt the need to lie about his marathon times-- unbelievable.

But unfortunately, the GOP's supposed intellectual leader, doesn't really understand how insurance works to begin with.  Ryan says the reason Obamacare doesn't work if that the healthy must pay to subsidize the sick.  But that is exactly how all insurance works!  Premiums paid by safe drivers help pay the costs for drivers who get into accidents, right?  What a dumbbell . . . and a dangerous one, too.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Trump And Pence Deny They Knew About Flynn's Ties To Turkey

Amid stunning new revelations that National Security Advisor-reject Michael Flynn had undisclosed lobbying ties to a foreign government, Trump and Pence are also claiming that they had no idea of Flynn's lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.  Most observers consider that claim either a stunning lie or a de-facto admission of the incompetence of their vetting process for political appointees.

By last November, it was common knowledge within the close-knit DC political community that Flynn was lobbying on behalf of a company with ties to Turkey.  Casual observers should have suspected as much after he wrote an op-ed encouraging the new president to extradite a political opponent of Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan to Turkey.

Even though Trump was a newcomer to the political scene, it's not credible that he was not aware of Flynn's foreign lobbying.  Within a week of Flynn's op-ed, there was widespread reporting of his lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey-- and these articles should have come to Trump's attention if his staff had done any basic background checking of potential appointees for Trump's administration. In addition, Flynn's lawyers told Trump's transition team before the inauguration that Flynn might need to register with the government as a foreign agent.

Pence has no such wiggle room or excuse for denying knowledge of Flynn's activities.  Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on November 18 requesting more information about the potential conflicts of interest posed by Flynn's lobbying work.  Cummings sent the letter four days after both The Daily Caller and Politico reported that Flynn's consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., had been hired to lobby for Turkish interests.

If Trump is so interested in "extreme vetting" for immigrants, why not the same for the highest-ranking officials in our government?  If he is so obsessed with leaking and security of classified information, why isn't he paying more attention to ensuring that his closest advisors and officials have no secret ties to foreign governments (like Turkey or Russia)?  Unless of course, he's lying to us and he knew about Flynn's activities and didn't care.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Kennedy Continues to Spread Fake News On Vaccines

Last month, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. held a press conference accompanied by Nico LaHood, Bexas County, TX district attorney, Del Bigtree, the producer of an anti-vaccine movie, Tony Muhammed, a reverend from the Nation of Islam, and actor Robert DeNiro.

As reported by Paul Offit on the Daily Beast, LaHood explained that one of his children had suffered hives following a vaccine, which he characterized as an autoimmune reaction that led to autism.  Never mind the fact that hives isn’t an autoimmune reaction-- it’s a histamine-mediated reaction.

Tony Muhammed claimed that a monkey virus that had contaminated early lots of a polio vaccine had caused more than 90 million Americans to develop cancer.  Don't worry about the fact that more than 30 epidemiological studies have since shown that this contaminating virus never caused cancer in people.

RFK Jr. continued to advance the debunked hypothesis that thimerosal in vaccines caused autism.  He also conveniently ignoring the fact that during the last 15 years-- when thimerosal has been out of vaccines given to young children— the incidence of autism has actually increased.

Robert DeNiro thanked everyone for being there, said he agreed with RFK Jr., and sat down. If nothing else, this press conference proved that the best way to learn about science and medicine probably isn’t from a panel consisting of two lawyers, one filmmaker, an actor, and a reverend.

RFK Jr. also said that Trump, king of alternative facts, is considering appointing him to head a commission to oversee vaccine safety and scientific integrity—commissions that already exist.   RFK Jr. said that his commission would be made up of “Americans of the highest integrity” that might include corporate CEOs and “doctors on television.” In other words, people with no experience in the design, research, manufacture or testing of vaccines and no expertise in areas like immunology, virology, microbiology, statistics, biology, or epidemiology.

A federal vaccine safety commission of the type described by RFK Jr. is unlikely to have much of an impact-- most of the important decisions about vaccines are made at the state level. What's more likely is that such a commission would give RFK Jr. yet another platform for more fake news that could cause more parents to avoid vaccines and lead to further suffering by the nation's children.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Chao's Trainwreck At Transportation Department

While Trump makes a mess of immigration, Sessions melts down over at Justice, Tillerson takes a long lunch on foreign affairs, Scott Pruitt pollutes the EPA, and Ben Carson disturbingly characterizes African slaves as "immigrants", Elaine Chao at Transportation (who seemingly doesn't want to be left out of the mayhem) has begun her own tear-down of the country's infrastructure.

California had hopes to begin creating jobs through much needed infrastructure work and upgrades.  The nation's infrastructure, as most already know, is not only in need of basic maintenance, most everywhere wholesale modernization is required.  But newly minted Transportation Secretary Chao has put the brakes on $647 million for Caltrain to go electric — and in the process pretty much killed hopes for high-speed rail coming to San Francisco anytime soon.

Chao recently unwittingly revealed the larger plan during a bungled appearance on Sean Hannity's show, saying:
So, basically, we allow foreign inv—uh, we allow different kinds of money, private sector money to come into the United States—I’m not saying foreign—to come and fund, let’s say a bridge or a road or it can be any kind of infrastructure. 

Permit me to restate the basics.  Our tax dollars (instead of going to build bridges and roads) will now go towards corporate welfare.  The Trump administration will redirect federal resources to partner with corporations and privatize our infrastructure-- creating a new way for private corporations to profit off middle America's hard-earned dollars.   Instead of the money Americans pay on toll and users fees going to local county or state coffers, it’ll go to line the pockets of corporate executives or enrich corporate stockholders.  Only about 40% of Americans participate in the stock market, so the remaining 60% are screwed-- paying extra out of pocket in order to commute to work or do errands-- and have nothing to show for it on the other end.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Latest In Trump's War On Immigrants

Trump's war on immigrants continues . . .

Trump has now suspended fast-track processing of H-1B visas for skilled migrant technology and medical jobs.  The H-1B non-immigrant visa allows U.S. companies to employ graduate-level workers in several specialized fields, including information technology, medicine, engineering and mathematics.

The Trump administration is also considering a proposal to separate women from their children if they are caught crossing together illegally, according to three government officials. The goal of this horrible tactic is to deter mothers from migrating to the United States with their children, said officials who have been briefed on the proposal.

In Phoenix, AZ, a single father of three U.S. citizens, who entered the country 20 years ago, was detained after meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials and deported immediately back to Mexico.  ICE officials had tricked Juan Carlos Fomperosa García into coming in by claiming they wanted to interview him regarding his asylum claim.  According to Garcia's lawyer, his asylum request had already been denied “so there was no reason for them to interview him."

Fomperosa García’s deportation comes a few weeks after the deportation of Guadalupe García de Rayos, a mother of two U.S. citizens who lived in Arizona for more than two decades. She was also deported after she went in for a check-in with Ice.

Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez was dropping off his daughters at school in Los Angeles last week when he was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. His 13-year-old daughter, Fatima, sobbed as she recorded her father being handcuffed in front of her and her mother.   Avelica-Gonzalez, the father of four U.S. citizens, was detained over a DUI conviction nearly 10 years ago and a two decade-old incident involving an incorrect registration sticker. 

31-year-old father Jose Escobar, married to a U.S. citizen, has no criminal record.  But because Trump re-defined the term "criminal alien", Jose lost his legal status because of a paperwork gaffe more than a decade ago when he was still a teen in Houston.  That slip-up, the fault of his mother who thought her child would be automatically included in her own renewal application, has trailed him ever since. Last week, it led to his surprise deportation to El Salvador, a country he hasn't seen in 16 years.

The list goes on and on-- and under Trump, the injustices will continue as well.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Zuma Incites Race War In South Africa

Zuma: "It is now time for action."
A controversial proposal from South Africa's President Zuma is dramatically raising the risk of an outright race war.  The embattled president is now openly demanding that land owned by white 'occupiers' be taken without compensation.  Zuma has called on lawmakers to help seize white-owned land and establish "pre-colonial" ownership.

Amazingly, he has conceded that the measure would trigger a racial war in a country historically blighted by racial tensions.    Speaking to parliament, he called for unity between black parties in order to pass the controversial change, which would require a constitutional amendment.

Zuma also revealed that an audit of 'pre-colonial land ownership' had begun, and once completed, it would form a blueprint for handling one "land restitution without compensation."  The Institute of Race Relations, an independent research body, said that providing a racial breakdown of South Africa’s rural landowners would be “almost impossible”.  While a racial breakdown of land ownership is not available in South Africa, there is widespread belief that it largely favors the country's white population.

Zuma's words caused outrage among groups representing Afrikaans farmers.  Following Zuma's speech, Andries Breytenbach, who heads the Boer Afrikaner Volksraad, described it as "a declaration of war."  Breytenbach told reporters, "We are ready to fight back. We need urgent mediation between us and the government. If this starts, it will turn into a racial war which we want to prevent."

Friday, March 3, 2017

Trump Foreign Policy In A Sad State

Last week ended with White House adviser Stephen Bannon telling CPAC that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.

Julia Ioffe, in a shocking profile of DOS for the Atlantic, spoke to a dozen current and recently departed employees--career foreign service officers or career civil servants-- all of whom painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.  With the State Department demonstratively shut out of meetings with foreign leaders, key State posts left unfilled, and the White House not soliciting many department staffers for their policy advice, there is little left to do.

Many characterize Trump's foreign policy as being formulated within a “much smaller decision circle.”-- and many State staffers are surprised to find themselves on the outside.  “I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”

Many staffers now say they find out what’s going on at State from public media sources.  And even the news itself isn’t coming from official sources-- there hasn’t been a State Department press briefing, once a daily ritual, since the new administration took over. These briefings weren’t just for journalists. They also served as a crucial set of cues for U.S. diplomats all over the world about policy priorities, and how to talk about them. With no daily messaging, and almost no guidance from Washington, people in far-flung posts are flying blind even as the pace of their diplomacy hasn’t abated.

When Rex Tillerson finally arrived in the building, members of the department had very high hopes for him. But his remarks to the staff left many cold, and confused. “He only spoke of reform and accountability,” said the State Department staffer. “He offered no vision of America and its place in the world.” He also spoke of protecting missions abroad, which some read as a gratuitous reference to Benghazi. “It landed like a thud,” said the staffer. “There are [a lot personnel at State] whose sole focus is protecting missions abroad. What do you think we’ve been doing for all these years?”

The fact that there hasn’t been a deputy secretary of state nominated, and that many undersecretary slots sit empty, is also unnerving to a bureaucracy used to relying on a strict hierarchy to get things done.

It also worries some State employees that Tillerson was unable to name his own deputy. His choice of the neocon Elliott Abrams was vetoed by the White House because Abrams had once publicly criticized Trump, and many in Foggy Bottom saw it as yet another signal that they and their secretary were being downgraded. “It’s troubling that his first battle with the president, he lost,” said the State employee. “If he couldn’t even bring in his own staff member, it’s concerning for [the] future.”

Even Tillerson’s chief of staff is not his own, but is, according to the Washington Post, a Trump transition alum named Margaret Peterlin. “Tillerson is surrounded by a bunch of rather mysterious Trumpistas,” said the senior State official who recently left. “How the hell is he supposed to do his job when even his right hand is not his own person?” One State Department employee told me that Peterlin has instructed staff that all communications with Tillerson have to go through her, and even scolded someone in a meeting for answering a question Tillerson asked directly.

Former Newt Gingrich aide and State public affairs senior advisor R.C. Hammond clarified that Peterline was the White House liaison to State, and denied that she had issued such instructions or admonishments, or that the State Department was slow and listless. “The place is humming,” he said.

Tillerson seems cut off not just from the White House, but from the State Department. “The guidance from Tillerson has been, the less paper the better,” said  one staffer. “[Unsolicited position] papers are not exactly encouraged, so not much information is coming up to him. And nothing is flowing down from him to us. That, plus the absence of undersecretaries and assistant secretaries means there’s no guidance to the troops so we’re just marking time and responding.”

“There seems to be no effort to benefit from the knowledge and expertise of people who are here, who just want to help,” said the mid-level officer. Instead, they see the White House vilifying them as bureaucrats no one elected, and it all seems, the mid-level officer said, “symbolic of wanting to neuter the organization.”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Carlson Tucker Gets Schooled And Loses It

Egberto Willies had an excellent breakdown of Tucker Carlson's meltdown on Fox News this week-- when an interview with Bill Nye, The Science Guy, didn't go the way he wanted.

Bill Nye came very prepared to confront one of Fox News’ biggest blowhards. He kept his cool with circumspect answers that caused Carlson to flip out. After several minutes of setup and back and forth, Tucker Carlson asked Bill Nye a very specific question. Bill Nye’s answer did not conform to the answer Carlson was expecting, and that is where we pick up on the exchange:

“The Climate is always changing,” Carlson said. “You’ve conceded that.”

“I won’t concede that,” Bill Nye said. “I assert that.”

“You have said that human activity increases the speed of that change,” Carlson said. “And my point is, what would the climate look like right now without human activity. At what point would have warmed or cooled.”

Nye’s answer was excellent. Instead of going into the technical weeds which lose more than half the audience, he described it regarding today’s natural events.

“It would look like it did in 1750,” Nye replied. “Britain would not be well suited to growing grapes as it is today. French winemakers would not be buying land to the north as they are now. People who plan to run ski resorts would still be able to do in Europe. And the parasites…”

“You are using the language of politics,” a flustered Carlson interjected. “You are not a scientist as you know. You are a popularizer. And that’s fine. .. To the extent that you prevent people from having an honest conversation, you are doing a great disservice to science. Don’t you think that.”

“You asked how long it would be before, what the climate would be like if humans weren’t involved right now,” Nye asked. “Is that Right?”

“Yes,” Tucker answered. “That is exactly right. At what point would it have changed. And I am saying you don;t actually know because it is unknowable. So why aren’t you open to question.”

“This is how long it takes you to interrupt me,” Nye replied holding up a phone with a six-second timer on it. “It takes you quite a bit less than six seconds.   So the climate would be like it was in 1750. And the economics would be that you could not grow wine-worthy grapes in Britain as you can today because the climate is changing. The use of pesticides in the Mid-West would not be increasing because the parasites are showing up sooner, or the pests are showing up sooner and hanging around longer. The forest in Wyoming would not be overwhelmed by pine bark beetles as it is because of climate change. That’s how the world would be different if it weren’t for humans.”

“So much of this you don’t know,” an unhinged Carlson protested. “You pretend that you know. But you don’t know. And you bully people who ask you questions.”

“I really have to disagree with you,” Nye calmly said. I spend a lot of time with this topic.”

“I am open-minded,” Carlson said. “You are not. And we are out of time, unfortunately.”
Carlson got beaten at his own game-- you could practically see the steam coming out of his ears. Nye took the lead in personalizing climate change first. Carlson was unable to segue into the false argument that climate change regulations hurt jobs and freedom. Nye would have refuted the jobs argument noting that the green energy sector is growing faster than the dirty energy sector. Bill Nye debated from the position of strength, science, and humanity. Carlson lost the discussion before he even started.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

New Calls For Sessions To Resign Over Lies About Russian Contacts

Senators Nancy Pelosi and Elijah Cummings are now calling on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to immediately resign after reports surfaced that he lied to Congress over his contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

As attorney general, Sessions oversees the Justice Department and the FBI, which has been leading investigations into Russian meddling in the election and reported links to Trump’s associates during the campaign.  Despite being one of the officials suspected of having improper contacts with Russian officials, Sessions has so far resisted calls to recuse himself or appoint an independent special prosecutor.

Jeff Sessions was one of Trump’s top foreign policy advisers during the campaign and played a prominent role supporting Trump on the stump after formally joining the campaign in February 2016.

As part of Sessions confirmation hearings in January, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy  asked Sessions for answers to written questions. “Several of the President-elect’s nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” Leahy wrote.

Sessions responded with one word: “No.”

The Washington Post is now reporting that answer was a lie. 

Wapo has disclosed that Sessions had two undisclosed contacts-- private conversations that took place between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July and  September last year, at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.

If the report is true, it’s “a good way to go to jail,” said Richard Painter, who served as White House ethics lawyer between 2005 and 2007 and is now law professor for the University of Minnesota.

The White House and most congressional Republicans have so far resisted calls to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s role in the election. But by Wednesday evening, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham seemed to agree with GOP Representative Darrell Issa by conceding that a special prosecutor might be needed in light of the Sessions revelation.

Shocking Attack At El Salvador National Zoo

A much-loved hippopotamus in El Salvador called Gustavito has died after a shocking attack at the country's National Zoo.

Police are trying to establish who entered the animal's enclosure at night and brutally assaulted him.   Officials have described it as a cowardly and inhumane attack on one of the most iconic animals at the city's zoo.

Unknown assailants entered the National Zoo at night and subjected the hippo to a sustained beating using metal bars, knives and rocks.  The following morning, zookeepers noticed Gustavito acting strangely, refusing to eat and unwilling to come out of the pool in his enclosure.

The zoo's veterinarians then found lacerations on the hippo's neck and face, and the animal clearly in great distress.  15-year-old Gustavito died from his injuries several days later, despite valiant attempts to save him.

The country has one of the highest murder rates in the world. About 10 people a day have been murdered so far this year, with most of the violence caused by criminal gangs, known locally as maras. 

BBC is reporting that in a country where murder has long lost the capacity to shock, the extreme animal cruelty that claimed Gustavito's life has angered and upset all of El Salvador.  Many expressed dismay on social media--  A locally trending topic on Twitter being "Forgive us Gustavito".

“Here we’re used to seeing the dead every day,”  said Martin Castillo, a street vendor in the capital’s historic downtown. “They kill us like flies, but this tops it all. They killed an animal that only entertained us.”


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