Tuesday, February 14, 2017

ICE Head Ducks Meeting With Hispanic Dems for 'Political Cover' on Raids

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The Trump administration is again being accused of "ducking accountability" after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) acting director Thomas Homan abruptly backed out of a planned meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) hours before it was set to happen on Tuesday. 
Congressional Democrats had requested the meeting amid immigration raids in several states that resulted in hundreds of arrests last week and over the weekend. "These raids have struck fear in the hearts of the immigrant community as many fear that President [Donald] Trump's promised 'deportation force' is now in full-swing," they wrote in a letter sent Friday.
Homan agreed to a meeting which was supposed to take place Tuesday afternoon. But around 2:00pm Tuesday, Homan canceled the meeting, The Hill reported, citing CHC aides.
According to The Hill:
An ICE representative speaking on background said the CHC added attendants to the meeting last minute, forcing the agency to reschedule to comply with House rules.
CHC staff said a larger, bipartisan meeting was not a reasonable replacement for the canceled sit-down because it would shield Homan from directly facing members who represent the constituency most affected by ICE raids.
"It's more of the same from the Trump administration," said an aide.
At a press conference later Tuesday, CHC chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham acknowledged that the number of people seeking to attend the meeting had indeed grown—in response to widespread lack of clarity around the raids. She additionally charged that the order to cancel Tuesday's meeting came from higher up in the Trump administration.
Furthermore, according to Politico reporter Heather Caygle on Twitter:

CHC Chair Lujan Grisham tells me ICE cancelled meeting today for "political cover." Said they weren't rdy to answer qs on deportations

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of those who originally requested the meeting, expressed similar concern, telling the Huffington Post in an email that the cancellation was another indication that "the Trump administration does not seem to believe in transparency or sharing information with members of Congress."
"The Trump people are clearly ducking accountability and oversight," he added. "This is unacceptable as rumors and fear circulate within cities and towns across America and ICE is too busy to meet with the CHC or key Democratic leaders? That just doesn't fly."
Watch the caucus' full press conference below:

Trump’s Shift to ‘Outside-In’ Strategy for Mideast Peace Is a Long Shot

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HAMAD CITY, Gaza Strip — Wail al-Gatshan is grateful for his new apartment here in a growing neighborhood in southern Gaza. For just $140 a month, there are separate bedrooms for his three girls and two boys, as well as a guest bathroom.
The complex is being built by Qatar, the oil-rich Persian Gulf state that has stepped in repeatedly in recent years to help isolated, war-racked Gazans. But there are limits to Mr. Gatshan’s thankfulness.
“As a Palestinian, I would not support Qatar if they said they wanted a two-state solution,” said Mr. Gatshan, 44. “I want my human rights. My rights are to live without any limits or restrictions and without occupiers.”

For years, the Obama administration struggled to forge a peace deal deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, only to run headlong into unsurmountable obstacles: a right-wing Israeli government, fractured Palestinian leadership, and an Arab world consumed by its own upheavals. Since then the barriers to peace have grown even more formidable, and attitudes like Mr. Gatshan’s more entrenched.
When President Trump and Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, meet in Washington on Wednesday they are likely to discuss a change of tactics, relying on Arab states like Qatar to help secure an two-state solution, under which Israel and an independent Palestinian state would live side-by-side.
A White House official said Tuesday that Mr. Trump’s objective was peace between the two sides, but it did not necessarily need to take the form of a two-state solution.
But even if Mr. Trump does not abandon the two-state solution, any route to peace contains many pitfalls.
The Trump administration plans to focus on an “outside-in” approach, meaning that Israel would first pursue agreements with Arab countries to help solve the conflict with the Palestinians.
But that is a long shot, experts say, given some of the crises gripping the region: Saudi Arabia is mired in a war in Yemen; Egypt is reeling from economic and security concerns; and Jordan is focused on securing its borders with Iraq and Syria.
Israel’s government has moved steadily to the right, expanding settlements on land that the Palestinians and much of the rest of the world say should be part of a future Palestinian state.
And the Palestinians remain sharply divided: The Palestinian Authority, backed by the United States and European powers, governs parts of the West Bank, while Hamas, a militant Islamist movement committed to Israel’s destruction, rules the coastal Gaza Strip.
Given those realities, there is little that Arab countries can do to break the deadlock, especially at a time when uprisings and wars have left them focused on domestic affairs, said Oraib al-Rantawi, the director of the Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan.
“What can Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia do?” he said. “In the end, the occupation has to end, or you will have no end to the conflict.”
Historically, sympathy for the Palestinians and their quest for statehood was one of few unifying causes across the Arab world. Arab armies came together to wage wars against the Jewish state, and many governments later provided financial and military aid to armed Palestinian factions.
Even after the Oslo peace accords of 1993 led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, most Arab countries rejected formal relations with Israel on principle, considering it a usurper of Arab land. Jordan and Egypt have peace treaties with Israel, but Israel remains unpopular with their citizens.
But the prominence of the Palestinian issue in the Arab consciousness has waned in recent years, as the Arab state system has weakened because of popular uprisings and civil conflicts.
Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Persian Gulf are bogged down in a war against Houthi rebels in Yemen and are increasingly worried about Iran’s influence — a concern they share with Israel.
Syria and Iraq, longtime enemies of Israel, have been locked in lengthy wars that have drained their governments’ resources and given them little time to focus on issues beyond their borders.
Egypt, too, has turned inward, as its economy has worsened and a jihadist insurgency has taken root on the Sinai Peninsula.
“Care is there, but attention is not,” Mahmoud Yehia, an Egyptian lawmaker, said of the Palestinian cause. “People are dealing with all these new internal issues now, and they have been struggling economically for years and years before that.”
Supporters of the outside-in approach say that the merging of interests between Israel and Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt could provide an opening.
But that approach has been tried before, without success, in large measure because of deep and nearly universal Arab opposition to Israel. Arab leaders will not dare be seen to align their interests with the Jewish state, even when there is common cause, like opposition to Iran and to terrorist groups like the Islamic State.
Last year, a survey of attitudes across the Middle East by Zogby Research Services found that 41 percent of respondents in Egypt and 39 percent in Saudi Arabia considered the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands to be “the greatest obstacle to regional peace,” surpassing any other issue. So while Saudi and Egyptian leaders may collaborate with Israel privately on issues of shared interest, doing so publicly could incite a blowback from their populations.
For many Arabs, the sheer number of crises in the region leaves little energy left for the Palestinians.
“There is also a growing realization among people that the region is now very chaotic,” said H. A. Hellyer, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a research organization in Washington. That causes “a sense of helplessness” toward the Palestinian issue.
The divisions among Palestinians also undermine support for their cause. “Even if they wanted to do something, they don’t know who they should support now,” Mr. Hellyer said.
And many Palestinians have given up on the idea of a two-state solution. A decade has passed since Palestinian infighting left the West Bank and Gaza under the control of competing administrations with opposing views of how to pursue statehood.
Multiple rounds of talks have gained only limited benefit for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which supports a two-state solution, while Hamas’s dedication to its slogan of “resistance” seems as strong as ever. On Monday, it announced that Yehya Sinwar, a hard-line member of its military wing, had been chosen as its new Gaza leader.
Others feel that too much time has passed to expect that the West Bank and Gaza can again be brought under a single authority. “It’s impossible to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza,” said Ibrahim Madhoun, a columnist for the Hamas-affiliated newspaper Al Resala. “Now, Gaza is one thing and the West Bank is something else.”
Hamad City, where Mr. Gatshan lives with his family, is home to tidy shops, playgrounds and a mosque that will soon hold 3,000 people. A second wing of roughly 1,400 spacious units has just opened. But the Qatari initiative has risen on a potent symbol of deadlock.
Much of the land once belonged to an Israeli settlement, which was evacuated in 2005. Israel called it a move toward peace. Gazans said settlers should never have been there in the first place.
But Israelis complain bitterly that this evacuation showed that pulling back from settlements does not work: Militant groups, including Hamas, fired rockets into Israel. Three wars followed.
Though Hamas has declared a truce, and largely controls other groups who try to continue fighting, some Israelis say a new war in Gaza is the only way to ultimately achieve peace.
Israel “cannot be the only country in the world where children cannot walk down the street without worrying that a missile will fall,” Naftali Bennett, a far-right lawmaker and education minister, said on a visit to the fence dividing Gaza and Israel last week. “Our enemies are investing all their resources in developing ways to kill us.”
“Only with a complete victory,” he said, “can we put an end to this cycle.”

With 'Valentine to Corruption,' Trump Officially Kills Big Oil Transparency

Cardin-Luger amendment was established to prevent multinational energy companies from striking backroom deals with corrupt governments

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In a move global rights groups are decrying as a Valentine's Day gift to Big Oil, President Donald Trump on Tuesday officially voided a rule that forced extractive industries to disclose payments made to foreign governments. 

The transparency law, known as the Cardin-Luger amendment, was an Obama-era rule established to prevent multinational energy companies from striking backroom deals with corrupt governments. As Common Dreams previously reported, the years-long lobby effort against it was led by ExxonMobil under the leadership of former CEO and newly-confirmed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

As The Hill noted, Tuesday's signing marks the onset of "an aggressive deregulatory effort that the Trump administration and the GOP Congress are undertaking to roll back Obama-era rules on fossil fuel companies, financial institutions, and other businesses that they say have suffered for the last eight years."

But global humanitarian groups have warned that repeal of the anti-corruption measure will most impact the world's poor, as funds that were once considered public revenue will now line the pockets of leaders of resource-rich nations.

"Citizens and civil society organizations are generally starved of information critical to hold to account government and mining companies on the management and utilization of the country's abundant mineral wealth," Mukasiri Sibanda with the Zimbabwean Environmental Law Association recently explained to the Guardian. Sibanda added that scrapping Cardin-Lugar is "thoughtless and regressive."

As the Guardian pointed out, abolishing the regulation means 425 companies traded on the U.S. stock exchange, including oil giants Exxon and Chevron, will no longer have any requirements to report their payments to foreign governments.

Earlier this month, when the House and Senate were preparing to pass their versions of the bill, Eric LeCompte, executive director of the faith-based anti-poverty group Jubilee USA Network, argued that lawmakers should instead "support citizens in developing countries as they work to make sure their leaders are not bribed when they are negotiating the sales of their natural resources."

"Bribes and other illicit transactions," he explained at the time, "including outright theft, by leaders of resource-rich countries perpetuate poverty, fuels conflict and threatens our national security."

As The Hill observed, Tuesday's signing is the first occasion in 16 years "that the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used to repeal a regulation, and only the second time in the two decades that act has been law." Resolutions passed to repeal existing rules under the CRA, which has been slammed as "an undemocratic and rarely used backdoor tactic," are not subject to lengthy debate and deliberation.

The Securities and Exchange Commission, which initially wrote the Cardin-Luger rule when it was attached to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, now has a legislative mandate to write a new regulation."In the short term, we lost a tool that can help track the billions of dollars lost to corruption and tax evasion in the developing world," LeCompte said Tuesday.  "Now we need to be sure that the new rule that the Securities and Exchange Commission writes will be a rule that can still stop corruption. Improving financial transparency and ending global poverty are two sides of the same coin."

Ahead of the signing ceremony, supporters of the transparency rule urged Trump not to sign using the hashtag #vetocorruption.

Time Is Already Running Out on Our Democracy, Says Expert

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By Kali Holloway

Timothy Snyder, a Yale scholar and an authority on European political history, has spent decades studying the rise of fascist movements. With the ascension of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Snyder sees echoes from history, and warns that the time to save America from autocracy is in short supply.

“I think things have tightened up very fast; we have at most a year to defend the republic, perhaps less,” Snyder stated in an interview with German outlet Süddeutsche Zeitung [3]

“What happens in the next few weeks is very important.”

Snyder, whose multiple books include On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, points out that Americans must dispense with wishful thinking about institutions helping to curb Trump’s power. In fact, that misguided notion is precisely what landed us in this situation.

“The story that Americans have told themselves from the moment he declared his candidacy for president, was that one institution or another would defeat him or at least change his behavior—he won’t get the nomination; if he gets the nomination, he will be a normal Republican; he will get defeated in the general election; if he wins, the presidency will mature him (that was what Obama said),” Snyder recounts. “I never thought any of that was true. He doesn’t seem to care about the institutions and the laws except insofar as they appear as barriers to the goal of permanent kleptocratic authoritarianism and immediate personal gratification. It is all about him all of time, it is not about the citizens and our political traditions.”

In the days after the election, Snyder penned a must-read Slate [4] article that recalled historical markers from Hitler’s rise to reveal the similar path of Trump’s advance. The historian had hoped to cajole Americans out of complacency, to urge them to “find their bearings,” to remind them none of this is normal and that democracy is in the crosshairs.

“The temptation in a new situation is to imagine that nothing has changed,” Snyder says. “That is a choice that has political consequences: self-delusion leads to half-conscious anticipatory obedience and then to regime change... Most Americans are exceptionalists; we think we live outside of history. Americans tend to think: ‘We have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.’ It is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics. We don’t realize how similar our predicaments are to those of other people.”

“I wanted to remind my fellow Americans that intelligent people, not so different from ourselves, have experienced the collapse of a republic before. It is one example among many. Republics, like other forms of government, exist in history and can rise and fall.”

Snyder points to the desperate need to shake off historical amnesia as the Trump administration looks to authoritarian regimes as models. “[O]ne reason why we cannot forget the 1930s is that the presidential administration is clearly thinking about them, but in a positive sense,” Snyder stated. “They seem to be after a kind of redo of the 1930s with Roosevelt where the Americans take a different course—where we don’t build a welfare state and don’t intervene in Europe to stop fascism. Lindbergh instead of FDR. That is their notion. Something went wrong with Roosevelt and now they want to go back and reverse it.”

“During the campaign [Trump] used the slogan ‘America First’ and then was informed that this was the name of a movement that tried to prevent the United States from fighting Nazi 

Germany and was associated with nativists and white supremacists. He claimed then not to have known that. But in the inaugural address he made ‘America First’ his central theme, and now he can’t say that he doesn’t know what it means. And of course Bannon knows what it means. America First is precisely the conjuration of this alternative America of the 1930s where Charles Lindbergh is the hero. This inaugural address reeked of the 1930s.”

Snyder urges immediate resistance to the administration’s targeting of Muslims, immigrants, blacks and LGBT people, because if it can “slice off one group, it can do the same to others.” He says protest and pushback should continue with regularity.

“The Constitution is worth saving, the rule of law is worth saving, democracy is worth saving, but these things can and will be lost if everyone waits around for someone else.”
He also notes that the speed with which the Trump team has worked to hammer home its agenda is a strategy designed to cause fatigue and depression. The key is not to be grow tired or become resigned. In particular, he cautions against succumbing to Trump’s attempts to paint all those who reject his agenda as un-American.

“The idea is to marginalize the people who actually represent the core values of the republic,” says Snyder. “The point is to bring down the republic. You can disagree with [protesters], but once you say they have no right to protest or start lying about them, you are in effect saying: ‘We want a regime where this is not possible anymore.’ When the president says that, it means that the executive branch is engaged in regime change towards an authoritarian regime without the rule of law. You are getting people used to this transition, you are inviting them into the process by asking them to have contempt for their fellow citizens who are defending the republic. You are also seducing people into a world of permanent internet lying and away from their own experiences with other people. Getting out to protest, this is something real and I would say something patriotic. Part of the new authoritarianism is to get people to prefer fiction and inaction to reality and action. People sit in their chairs, read the tweet and repeat the clichés: ‘Yes, they are thugs’ instead of ‘It is normal to get out in the streets for what you believe.’ [Trump] is trying to teach people a new behavior: 'You just sit right where you are, read what I say and nod your head.' That is the psychology of regime change.”

The only way to stop is to not obey, Snyder reiterates.   
For more of Snyder's insights on history’s lessons and how to apply them to Trump, check out his 20-point guide [5] on forms of resistance. 

Dakota Access Pipeline Construction Proceeds as Emergency Request Is Denied

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By Nika Knight

A U.S. federal judge on Monday rejected an emergency request from the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes that sought to halt construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.
Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company behind the pipeline, resumed construction last Thursday after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the final easement it needed to drill under Lake Oahe, a reservoir off of the Missouri River near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., ruled “that as long as oil isn’t flowing through the pipeline, there is no imminent harm to the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Sioux tribes,” reported the Associated Press.
The tribe had argued that “the project would prevent them from practicing religious ceremonies at a lake they contend is surrounded by sacred ground,” Reuters noted.
AP adds:
The tribes say the pipeline would endanger their cultural sites and water supply. They added a religious freedom component to their case last week by arguing that clean water is necessary to practice the Sioux religion.
“The mere presence of the oil in the pipeline renders the water spiritually impure,” said Nicole Ducheneaux, lawyer for the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe.
Boasberg said he would consider arguments more fully at another scheduled hearing on February 27, at which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe will seek an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for granting the final easement.
“Judge Boasberg ordered Energy Transfer Partners to update the court on Monday and every week thereafter on when oil is expected to flow beneath Lake Oahe,” Reuters reported.
“We’re disappointed with today’s ruling denying a temporary restraining order against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but we are not surprised,” Chase Iron Eyes, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, said in a statement, according to Reuters.
While the legal routes to defeat the pipeline are winnowing, the water protectors’ stand against its construction is ongoing. Military veterans are once again traveling to Standing Rock to protect the tribe against a brutal militarized police force as they exercise their right to peaceful protest:

Yet some veterans report a police crackdown as they travel to Standing Rock, telling The Guardian that law enforcement throughout the region appear to be targeting them.
The newspaper reports:
Officers in North Dakota and South Dakota have pulled over and searched at least four veterans on their way to the camps at Standing Rock in recent days, charging two of them for medical cannabis. Police confiscated one veteran’s car and also seized what officials called “protester gear,” which included camping supplies.
The charges against two veterans, who said they use medical cannabis to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, come days after a veterans service organization announced it would be returning to Standing Rock to provide support. Indigenous activists, known as water protectors, have been fighting the $3.7bn pipeline since last spring and have continued to live at camps near the construction site as drilling has resumed.
“I’m honestly disgusted. It makes no sense to us,” Mark Sanderson, executive director of VeteransRespond, the group coordinating the return to Standing Rock, told the Guardian. “Why are you trying to attack a group of veterans doing nothing more than a humanitarian aid mission in North Dakota?”

North Korean leader’s half-brother murdered in Malaysia

Kim Jong-Nam dies on way to hospital after two female agents injected him with poison at Kuala Lumpur airport, government sources say


The estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has been killed in Malaysia, a South Korean government source told Reuters on Tuesday.
Kim Jong-Nam, the older half brother of the North Korean leader, was known to be based mostly outside of his home country.
Police in Malaysia told Reuters on Tuesday an unidentified North Korean man had died en route to hospital from Kuala Lumpur airport on Monday. Abdul Aziz Ali, police chief for the Sepang district, said the man’s identity had not been verified.
An employee in the emergency ward of Putrajaya hospital said a deceased Korean there was born in 1970 and surnamed Kim.
South Korea’s TV Chosun, a cable television network, said that Kim was poisoned at Kuala Lumpur airport by two women believed to be North Korean operatives, who were at large, citing multiple South Korean government sources.
The South Korean government source who spoke to Reuters did not immediately provide further details.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said it could not confirm the reports, and the country’s intelligence agency could not immediately be reached for comment.
In 2001, Kim Jong-Nam was caught at an airport in Japan traveling on a fake passport, saying he had wanted visit Tokyo Disneyland.

Donald Trump knew for weeks that Michael Flynn withheld the truth on his call with Russia

Democrats have called for an independent investigation into the issue

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By Andrew Buncombe

The White House has admitted Donald Trump was told several weeks ago that national security adviser had not told the truth about a telephone call with a Russian diplomat - and chose not to fire him immediately.
Michael Flynn handed in his resignation amid mounting controversy over his interaction with Russian officials, and a false assurance he gave that he had not discussed the issue of sanctions. Senior officials in Mr Trump’s team were told a month ago by the acting US attorney general they feared the falsehoods made him vulnerable to potential blackmail from Moscow.
Vice President Mike Pence was also reportedly told about Mr Flynn's interactions with Russia, 11 days after Mr Trump found out. 
On Tuesday, White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, said Mr Flynn was not ousted from his post because of legal issues, but because the trust between him and Mr Trump had eroded.
“We had been reviewing this for weeks. It got to trust issues,” Mr Spicer told reporters. “It got to the point where Mr Flynn had to leave.”
The White House has been bombarded with questions about what Mr Trump knew about Mr Flynn’s interactions with Russia. Indeed, senior Democrats have called for an independent investigation into possible links between not just Mr Flynn and Russia, but other senior members of the Trump team.
Mr Flynn, 58, had found himself at the centre of a gathering storm after it emerged he had spoken with a Russian diplomat about the issue of US sanctions before Mr Trump took office, and indicated the relationship between the two countries would improve under a new administration.
Sanctions had been imposed by Barack Obama in response to Russia’s alleged cyber-interference in the presidential election.
Mr Flynn had originally denied discussing sanctions, and senior officials including Mike Pence. But when it emerged that US intelligence officials had been monitoring the call to the Russian Ambassador to Washington, Mr Flynn had to reverse course.
On Monday evening, the Washington Post reported that a month ago, the acting attorney general Sally Yates - an official whom Mr Trump subsequently fired - had informed the White House that she believed Mr 
Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador. She warned that as a result of that, the national security advisor was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Within hours, Mr Flynn had resigned.
Mr Spicer said the Department of Justice had spoken to Mr Trump about this on January 26. He said that Mr Trump spoken with White House legal counsel, Donald McGahn.
He said Mr Trump did not believe that Mr Flynn had breached the law. However, he said that Mr Trump had concluded he could not trust the man tasked with advising him on matters of national security.
“It was not a legal issue, it was a trust issue,” he said. “General Flynn is a dedicated public servant, he has served this country admirably. I think the president has appreciated his service to the country.”
He added: “It was not a matter of law. It was a matter of trust.”
The revelations were another destabilising blow to an administration that has already suffered a major legal defeat on immigration, botched the implementation of a signature policy and stumbled through a string of embarrassing public relations missteps. 
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a longtime Russia critic, said Congress needed to know what Mr Flynn discussed with the ambassador and why. 
“The idea that he did this on his own without any direction is a good question to ask,” Mr Graham said, according to the Associated Press.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Trump made the right decision in asking Mr Flynn to step down. 
“You cannot have the national security adviser misleading the vice president and others,” Mr Ryan said. 
Mr Trump, who has been conspicuously quiet about Mr Flynn’s standing for several days, said on twitter that the real “story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?”