Saturday, May 13, 2017

What You Need To Know About The Trump-Kremlin Connection

Dutch TV Expose Goes Where U.S. Networks Won’t; FBI Is Still on the Case

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Axis of venal. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told senators that the FBI is continuing the investigation into possible Russian meddling in the election “vigorously and completely.” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is stalling the nomination of Trump’s choice for Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial crimes, Sigal Mandelker, to try to get answers about financial ties between Russia and Trump associates.
Connecting the Dots from Trump Tower to Red Square
DCReport’s Jim Henry
A Dutch broadcaster has ventured where no American network will go—deep into the associations of Donald Trump with Russian government officials, oligarchs and gangsters.
The expose, “The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump: The Russians,” features DCReport’s Jim Henry, making the connections that Trump tries to deny. Henry is our senior editor for investigative economics and wrote our expose of connections between Russian oligarchs and Wilbur Ross, Trump’s Commerce Secretary.
Trump is so determined to halt federal investigations into his Russian ties that on May 9 he fired FBI Director James Comey. Earlier, Trump fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general who warned the White House about retired General Michal Flynn’s conversations with Russians that made him vulnerable to blackmail, and Preet Bharara, the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan, who was investigating Russian connections to Trump.
“The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump: The Russians,” is part one of the investigative television show ZEMBLA examination of Trump. To watch the episode, in English, featuring Henry click here.
You can find “The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump: King of Diamonds,” part two of the program, here.
Trumped tweeted on the Russian affair just this morning (May 12)
Kansas fraud. Trump has named Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to co-chair a commission to investigate spurious claims of voter fraud. The ACLU, which has repeatedly sued over Kobach’s voter suppression policies, is asking what basis Trump has for making his voter fraud claims. “This commission is a fraud,” said former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander. “And Trump has chosen a fraud to be in charge of it.”
Paris delayed. Trump is going to hold off making a decision on the Paris agreement until June when he returns from a G7 meeting. One of Trump’s campaign pledges was to pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change. Trump also threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. He now wants to renegotiate NAFTA. Flooding, such as that recently in the Midwest, is happening more often with rising global temperatures.
Offshore drilling. Trump’s Interior Department plans to start seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean as it looks at permitting offshore drilling. Former President Barack Obama permanently banned new offshore gas and oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, but Trump signed an executive order that could expand offshore drilling. More than 120 cities and towns along the Atlantic coast oppose offshore drilling and/or seismic testing. The testing searches for oil and gas deposits below the ocean’s surface and uses loud airguns that can be heard up to 2,500 miles away and can harm whales, sea turtles and other marine life.

25 Percent of the Senate Speaks Out for Real Net Neutrality

It’s been a good couple of days for Net Neutrality.

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By Dana Floberg

Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai have been ramping up their attack on the open internet, but we’ve been ramping up our defense. Activists around the country are mobilizing, pro-Net Neutrality comments are flooding in and John Oliver skewered Pai’s proposal on his show on Sunday.
Meanwhile, our champions in Congress are standing with us: In the past two days, a full quarter of the Senate has signed on to a series of powerful letters calling out Chairman Pai on his terrible plan to scrap the Net Neutrality rules.
On May 8, Sens. Maggie Hassan (D–New Hampshire, pictured) and Maria Cantwell (D–Washington) wrote a letter with more than a dozen women senators to express their grave concerns with Pai’s proposal.
“Net neutrality is particularly important to women,” they note, especially for women-owned businesses striving to compete on a level playing field and women organizers seeking to create positive change in their communities.
Sen. Ed Markey (D–Massachusetts) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–New York) released a separate letter on May 9 along with several other colleagues that also opposes the Trump administration’s plan to gut Net Neutrality protections.
“Just a few years ago, four million voices told the FCC that both our economy and the free expression of ideas depend on the open internet,” the letter reads. “The same holds true today.”

Is China Now the Adult in the Room? Xi and Macron Consult

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By Juan Cole

Donald Trump preferred the Neofascist Marine Le Pen as president of France, who wanted to pull out of NATO and the European Union. Trump’s own Environmental Protection Agency advisers are resigned because of his attack on the science of climate change. Trump is mulling pulling out the the Paris agreement on combating climate change adopted by 200 countries and territories.
In contrast, China’s President Xi Jinping called the new French leader Emmanuel Macron this week, urging him to adhere to the Paris agreement.
He was preaching to the converted, since Macron is big on green energy and has even called on American scientists and engineers disillusioned with the GOP war on science to come to France. Macron plans to invest30 bn Euros ($32.8 bn.) in wind, solar and other green energy, and to double electricity production from renewables in five years.
For its part, China just suspended any plans for new coal plants in 29 provinces because of the severe pollution and health costs of smog and the danger to the world from emitting poisonous carbon dioxide, which is destroying the climate.
Beijing sighed a sigh of reliev when Macron beat the extreme right candidate Le Pen by 30 points. Their only worry now is whether the untested and very young Macron can actually deal effectively with crises like unemployment and tensions in Europe.
In the phone call, Xi also affirmed China’s support for European integration. Unlike Trump, who wants to pull Europe apart and push each individual country toward white nationalism and plutocracy, China prefers to deal with larger units economically and politically.
Xi also invited France to buy into China’s New Silk Road, the attempt to redo Eurasian transportation and other infrastructure so as to give a fillip to world trade.
I know which leader is a more positive force in international affairs, by far (domestic policies and press are a different issue, though I don’t trust Trump on those either).
Related video added by Juan Cole:

Trump's National Monument order could open 2.7 million acres to oil, gas, coal

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By Lawrence Carter & Joe Sandler Clarke

President Trump's recent executive order could open an area of America's most precious landscapes bigger than Yellowstone to oil drilling and coal mining, write Lawrence Carter & Joe Sandler Clarke. The 27 monuments 'under review' harbour huge volumes of oil, gas and coal: just what's needed to fuel Trump's vision of fossil fuel-led development - never mind the cost to scenery, wildlife, historic sites and indigenous cultures.

Sixteen presidents from both parties have set aside iconic landscapes that contain so much natural, cultural, historical, and scientific value for the benefit of all Americans. President Trump's misguided effort to undo these designations is wrong.
More than 2.7 million acres of iconic US landscape could be at risk from fossil fuel exploration following Donald Trump's decision to review protections on national monuments, an Energydesk investigation reveals.
Trump issued an executive order last month requiring the Department of Interior to review 27 monuments designated since 1996 - suggesting they could pose a barrier to energy independence.
According to Energydesk an area of protected land larger than Yellowstone national park could be at risk from drilling as a result - with six national monuments affected by the executive order sitting above known or potential reserves of oil, gas and coal.
The order requires Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to recommend whether monuments should be rescinded or resized within 120 days. Explicitly instructing him to consider the impact of the monument's protections on natural resource development.
Last week, Zinke argued that, following energy development, land can be returned "to equal or better quality than it was before extraction".
Oil in them thar hills ...
As part of the review, Zinke toured Utah's Bears Ears national monument on horseback yesterday and is due to visit the Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument today. Our analysis found that 90% of Bears Ears and 42% of Grand Staircase sit above potential fossil fuel reserves.
Responding to the findings, the Ranking Member of the powerful Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Maria Cantwell (Democrat, Washington), told Energydesk:
"Sixteen presidents from both parties have set aside iconic landscapes, like Hanford Reach in my state, that contain so much natural, cultural, historical, and scientific value for the benefit of all Americans. President Trump's misguided effort to undo these designations is wrong, and I will fight it every step of the way."
A spokesperson for the Department of Interior said: "The sole purpose of the monument review is to ensure stakeholders from all sides have a voice in the process and in land management decisions. There is no pre-determined outcome on any monument currently under review."
Energydesk took official US government maps of fossil fuel plays and sedimentary basins and overlaid them with national monument boundaries to identify areas potentially at risk from fossil fuel exploration.
In addition to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase, monuments now threatened include Upper Missouri River Breaks in Montana and Carrizo Plain - which is the last remnant of a vast grassland that once stretched across California.
Bears Ears, Utah - industrial site, or sacred landscape?
Bears Ears is a giant expanse of red rock, juniper forests and high plateaus that is sacred to many Native American tribes. The monument contains archaeological and cultural sites that are thousands of years old.
The site was designated by President Obama in December 2016 - sparking outrage amongst Utah's congressional delegation at the time.
Trump cited the influence of Utah senator Orrin Hatch as the main driver behind the executive order - handing him the pen the order was signed with during the ceremony.
Speaking at the Department of the Interior, Trump said"I also want to recognize Senator Orrin Hatch, who - believe me, he's tough. He would call me and call me and say, you got to do this ... He doesn't give up. And he's shocked that I'm doing it, but I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do. But I really have to point you out, you didn't stop."
According to the Energydesk analysis, 90% of Bears Ears sits above potential oil and gas plays. Months before the designation the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved drilling applications by EOG Resources - one of the largest independent oil companies in the US - on land that is now within the monument boundaries.
EOG has retained its rights to explore and drill in Bears Ears because the designation only restricts new leasing.
The Western Energy Alliance - a trade association representing oil and gas interests in the region - has confirmed that industry is interested in gaining access to the monument. Kathleen Sgamma, the group's president, told E&E News last month that: "There certainly is industry appetite for development there, or else companies wouldn't have leases in the area."
Responding to the review, the Inter-Tribal Coalition - which led the campaign for the area to be designated as a national monument - said: "For the first time in history, five sovereign Nations came together to advocate for Bears Ears National Monument in order to protect this sacred cultural landscape that carries deep meaning for our people.
"This so-called 'review' creates a process to attack the designation of Bears Ears National Monument, and all public lands that are cherished by the American people."
Grand Staircase's giant coal seam
Trump's decision to review national monuments designated since 1996 wasn't taken at random.
The first monument on his list is the Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah - which was created by President Clinton in January 1996. Energydesk found that 42% of the land covered by the national monument harbours reserves of coal.
Senator Hatch has been fighting the monument ever since and personally lobbied Trump and Zinke to scrap it. Speaking on the Senate floor last month, Hatch said"To this day, the Grand Staircase proclamation remains among the most flagrant abuses of presidential power I have ever seen. Bears Ears was Grand Staircase all over again."
And while there is no chance this would be mined any time soon, in February Hatch told Utah's state legislature that President Trump has assured him: "He would be able legally to create the access to this great treasure that may save Utah and the country someday."
The economic case for rescinding the monument has been questioned by some local businesses. The Escalante Chamber of Commerce wrote to secretary Zinke in February arguing that the monument had resulted in millions of dollars of investment in the local economy.
National monuments mapped
California: Carrizo Plain
A few hundred miles west of Grand Staircase and Bears Ears are two national monuments in California which could also be threatened by energy development.
Carrizo Plain - a remote area of California grassland famous for it's spectacular springtime wildflowers - was made a national monument by President Clinton in January 2001.
According to Energydesk's analysis, just over a quarter of the 247,000 acre monument sits above basins that the Energy Information Administration suggests could be prospective for fossil fuels.
Clinton's designation allowed for existing oil and gas activity to continue at the site but put a stop to any new licenses being issued. The Bureau of Land Management's 2010 resource management plan for the monument estimated that there were 45 oil wells within its boundary, including 15 producing wells.
The document suggests that recent technological advances "may result in more activity in the future."
There is also significant oil exploration surrounding the monument. The largest oil field in California lies just a few miles to the east. According to the BLM, Carrizo is surrounded by "six giant and upper-giant oil fields (fields with over 100 million and 1 billion barrels of reserves, respectively)".
Jeff Kuyper, executive director of the conservationist group Los Padres ForestWatch, told Energydesk:
"The Carrizo Plain National Monument is one of the crown jewels of the national monument system. The review of its monument status is a thinly-veiled attempt to open the area up to oil drilling and fracking. It would spell disaster for the area's rare wildlife and untouched landscapes."
California: San Gabriel Mountains
San Gabriel Mountains - just outside Los Angeles - was designated as a national monument by President Obama in 2014, after years of campaigning by local groups.
Energydesk's analysis shows that the vast majority of the monument sits above a sedimentary basin that is potentially prospective for fossil fuels. And although it is unlikely there would be exploration any time soon - there is evidence to suggest that there could be in future.
A 2005 resource management plan for Angeles National Forest - around half of which became the San Gabriel Mountains national monument - states"Portions of the national forest have been identified as having a high potential for oil and gas reserves; however, no requests for exploration have been received for exploration in the last ten years."
And there has been oil drilling in the area surrounding the monument in the past.
Democratic Congresswoman Judy Chu, who represents the district containing the monument, told Energydesk that President Trump's review "threatens to take lands that have been set aside for public use and hand them over to corporations for mining and drilling."
"When President Obama declared the San Gabriel Mountains a national monument, it immediately opened the door to new funding that has increased access to these beautiful mountains, streams, and forests, and improved staffing and safety on the trails", she said.
Montana: Upper Missouri River
Also under threat is Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana - secretary Zinke's home state - which was created in 2001 by President Bill Clinton. The designation permitted existing oil and gas leases to continue to operate, but prevented new leases being developed.
In 2008, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published an extensive resource management plan, which included plans for new oil and gas wells. Conservation groups challenged the BLM's plan, arguing that it risked harming the important natural and archaeological areas of the monument.
In 2013 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the BLM should redraft its plan to better preserve the historic and cultural artefacts at the monument.
Joe Offer, stewardship director at Friends of Missouri Breaks Monument urged Montana-native Zinke to resist Trump's plans. He told Energydesk:
"A change to the National Monument status for the Upper Missouri River Breaks would have the potential to cause devastating impacts to what is truly one of the last great places to experience the American Great Plains. Any changes to the monument's regulations for resource extraction activities would clearly be an attack on a monument."
Colorado: Canyons of the Ancients
Another monument that has already seen oil and gas drilling take place is Canyons of the Ancients in Colorado. Around 80% of the monument - which is on the border with Utah - is licensed for oil and gas and was designated to protect archaeological sites from further development.
According to the Bureau of Land Management: "The Monument contains the highest known archaeological site density in the United States, with rich, well-preserved evidence of native cultures."
The agency also says that protecting the monument's cultural resources while allowing oil drilling is "a challenge".
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said that he has been reassured by secretary Zinke that it is "unlikely" that any Colorado monuments will be subject to review. But this has been denied by Interior which said that no decisions have yet been made.
The investigation took official US government maps of oil and gas plays, coal fields, and sedimentary basins and overlaid them with national monument boundaries to identify areas potentially at risk from fossil fuel exploration.
We used a mixture of data to fairly represent the extent to which areas could be prospective for fossil fuels. Including:
  • Maps of coal fields from the US Geological Survey - from which we excluded those considered 'of doubtful value'.
  • Maps of oil & gas plays in the Lower 48 from the Energy Information Administration (EIA)
  • Maps of US sedimentary basins (EIA) - which are geological formations that could be prospective but need further exploration.
The EIA told us that its oil and gas 'play' maps are based on data from drilled wells and are therefore restricted to areas where exploration and production has taken place. EIA officials said that sedimentary basin data would better show the full extent of areas that could be prospective.

We supplemented this mapping data with further reporting on current or past exploration activities in and around the monuments.

Veterans Affairs to close more than 1,110 facilities

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By Kevin Martinez

Last week Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin told the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations that his department is considering closing more than 1,110 facilities in an effort to privatize veteran health care.
The VA said it found more than 430 vacant and 735 underutilized building that cost the federal government about $25 million every year. Instead of building new and improved medical centers, Shulkin told the committee he is only interested in working with private for-profit hospitals.
According to an internal agency document obtained by the Associated Press, the VA noted that about 57 percent of all its facilities were more than 50 years old. Of the 431 facilities it said were vacant, most were built 90 or more years ago.
Shulkin told legislators that the VA would work with Congress to prioritize which buildings will be closed and was considering whether to allow the Pentagon to use a process called Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) to shut down its underused military bases.
He told the House committee, “Whether BRAC is a model that we should take a look, we're beginning that discussion with members of Congress,” adding, “We want to stop supporting our use of maintenance of buildings we don’t need, and we want to reinvest that in buildings we know have capital needs.”
Shulkin is a holdover from the Obama Administration and was the only Trump cabinet member to be endorsed unanimously by both Democrats and Republicans. He is a supporter of the so-called Veterans Choice program, authored by Senators Bernie Sanders (Democrat, Vermont) and John McCain (Republican, Arizona), in which veterans who live 40 miles or more from a VA center can seek alternate care at a private facility.
President Trump extended the program last month and Shulkin told the Committee he supports its continuation and is working on a broader proposal to expand the program. According to a government report, privatizing VA health care would cost up to $100 billion a year.
The program began in 2014 after a widely publicized scandal broke out at a VA hospital in Arizona where delays in treatments led to at least 40 preventable deaths. The news followed revelations that a VA benefits center in Philadelphia manipulated old disability claims to appear new. It is not uncommon for veterans, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), to be forced to wait for months at a time before receiving medical help.
The political furor that erupted over the VA scandal did not lead to more health care or government assistance for veterans, but the opposite. It provided justification for privatizing the VA entirely. Early February saw a report by the department’s inspector general that found that the 2014 “Veterans Choice and Accountability Act”, which set aside $16 billion to hire more doctors and staff and fund private health care, did not cut wait times. The report found that the approval process for private care was so poor that the average wait time for a veteran to see a doctor was still 45 days.
During the 2016 election campaign Trump called the VA a “disaster” and “the most corrupt agency in the United States.” At a news conference last May he declared his support for expanding private care for veterans saying in his typically ignorant manner, “What it has to be is when somebody is online and they say it’s a seven-day wait, that person’s going to walk across the street to a private doctor, be taken care of, we’re going to pay the bill.”
Shulkin, undoubtedly aware of popular hostility to Trump proposals, was forced to say at his confirmation hearing, “The Department of Veterans Affairs will not be privatized under my watch.” It should be noted that before taking his current position as head of the VA, Shulkin headed several private health companies, including the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York and the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Speaking on CBS’ “This Morning,” Shulkin again declared last week, “In no way are we seeking to privatize the VA.” While the Trump administration has pledged a six percent increase in VA funding, Shulkin made it known that the agency, the government’s second largest with 370,000 employees, will have to operate more efficiently and that budget increases will not be guaranteed in the future.
The VA recently announced a hiring restriction on roughly 4,000 positions, despite the lifting of the federal hiring freeze, and also left open the possibility of “near-term” and “long-term workforce reductions.”
The government’s plans to close 1,100 “underused” facilities and eventually privatize the rest are a slap in the face to veterans. While the political and media establishment heap praise on veterans, their real attitude toward vets is demonstrated by the neglect and mistreatment they receive once their terms of service are completed. Forced to kill or be killed in neo-colonial wars of aggression in the Middle East, Central Asia and elsewhere, many working class veterans bear deep psychological scars. Once home they face a future of unemployment or low wage jobs, driving many into drug abuse or even suicide.
According to recent data from the VA, roughly 20 veterans commit suicide every day. In 2014, more than 7,400 veterans took their own lives, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in the United States despite the fact that veterans comprise only nine percent of the US population.
Trump’s budget for the VA will total $180 billion for fiscal year 2018 while the budget for the Pentagon will total $603 billion. The new budget will leave more money for expanded wars overseas leaving less money for health care for veterans and other vital services.

Hundreds of US citizens arrested in joint immigration-police roundup

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By Niles Niemuth

While the Democratic Party and mainstream media obsess over allegations of Russian hacking of the 2016 election, the Trump administration is implementing its ruthless war on immigrants with little public notice and no significant opposition from the Democrats.
Agents with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), working with a host of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, concluded a six-week operation last weekend in which they arrested 1,378 people, of whom 993 were US citizens. Major raids were carried out in Houston, New York City, Atlanta and Newark, New Jersey.
Although agents with ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations do not have the legal authority to arrest US citizens, the operation was overseen by the Homeland Security Investigations Unit, which claims much broader authority to enforce federal laws.
Gang activity in the United States, including drug and sex trafficking, has been used as a justification for the broad expansion of the powers of ICE agents over the last decade, bloating the size of the police apparatus responsible for arresting and deporting undocumented immigrants.
The arrests were part of ICE’s Operation Community Shield, raids coordinated with state and local law enforcement agencies initiated during the administration of Republican president George W. Bush in 2005 and continued under Democratic president Barack Obama. In 2016, Obama’s last year in office, ICE agents arrested more than 1,100 people, mostly US citizens, on suspicion of gang activity.
Many of those targeted in the raids have been identified as “gang members” or “gang affiliates” without any due process. ICE determines that someone they have arrested is a gang member or affiliate if they have a prior conviction for gang related activity, declare themselves to be a member of a gang, have tattoos which ICE declares to be gang related, or are fingered as a gang member by a “reliable source.”
ICE claimed that 1,095 of those arrested were confirmed as members or affiliates of a number of transnational gangs including the Bloods (137), the Sureños (118), the Crips (104) and MS-13 (104).
The Bloods and Crips are predominantly African-American gangs which have their roots in the impoverished working class neighborhoods of Los Angeles. MS-13, which also has its origins in Los Angeles, developed as a result of the wars stoked by US imperialism in El Salvador from 1979 to 1992, which devastated the small country and caused massive human flight, particularly to Southern California.
Among the 280 immigrants arrested in this latest round up, three had been granted deferred action status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program implemented in 2012. Ten of those arrested had crossed the border into the United States as unaccompanied minors.
President Donald Trump has scapegoated immigrants for the United States’ social and economic problems, painting Mexican immigrants in particular as criminals, drug traffickers and rapists. He kicked off his campaign for the presidency in 2015 by calling for a crackdown on immigrants and the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border. Trump’s administration, with retired general John Kelly as the director of the Department of Homeland Security, has initiated a raft of measures targeting immigrants.
Trump signed executive orders in January calling for the construction of the wall and expedited arrests and deportations, measures that could ultimately directly impact the lives of tens of millions of people living in the United States. The administration’s effort to implement a ban on travelers and immigrants from a number of Muslim-majority countries has so far been blocked by the courts.
ICE has carried out widespread roundups, arresting people in their homes, as they drop their children off at school, while they apply for legal status, and during once-routine check-ins with federal authorities. DACA is being targeted so that thousands of people who were brought to the US as children can be deported.
In an echo of the Nazi press, which published the pictures of Jewish criminal defendants to whip up anti-Semitism, ICE has established the Office of Victims of Crimes Committed by Removable Aliens [VOICE] in order to publicly denounce immigrants accused of crimes. The anti-gang and immigrant round-up is intended to bolster the administration’s false claims that immigrants are largely “criminals,” as the president said in 2016. In fact, immigrants have a lower crime commission rate than US citizens.
Trump’s xenophobic initiatives have emboldened the most reactionary, fascistic elements of American society.
Republican Oklahoma state representative Mike Ritze and the 21 other members of the Republican Platform Caucus recently proposed rounding up the state’s 82,000 non-English speaking students and turning them over to ICE as a “cost-cutting measure.” While states cannot legally deny an education to a child based on their immigration status, they could save money by having all those without proper papers deported.
“Identify them and then turn them over to ICE to see if they truly are citizens, and do we really have to educate non-citizens?” Ritze asked, claiming that tearing children out of school and away from their families would have the benefit of saving the state of Oklahoma $60 million.
If the Democrats have nothing critical to say about all of this, it is because they fully supported a slew of federal laws making it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status in the United States. Trump has cited these laws, passed with bipartisan support, in his reactionary executive orders.
Under Obama, just under 3 million people were officially deported, more than under any other president in US history. Most Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have voted for greater legal restrictions on immigration. Clinton, as well as Senator Charles Schumer and former Senators Obama and Biden, voted to construct more barriers and fencing along the southern border with Mexico.

Jordan Cove LNG Backers Spend Huge Money to Sway Tiny Oregon County Election

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By Simon Davis-Cohen

Two weeks ahead of an Oregon county special election, backers of the multi-billion dollar Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) project are spending an additional $236,500 to prevent that vote from halting the proposed fossil fuel project.
That’s on top of the $359,000 the LNG project’s proponents had previously spent in an attempt to defeat the ballot measure, 6-162, in Coos County, Oregon, which reportedly has roughly 41,000 registered voters. 
If passed, the “Coos County Right to Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance” would block not only the proposed LNG export facility and associated pipeline, but potentially any other fossil fuel projects after it.

Oregon Senators to Trump: “Review … without political interference” 

The vote comes after more than a decade of legal and regulatory wrangling that culminated in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) rejecting the project in 2016. Now, the Trump administration is seeking to resurrect it.
The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to permit a LNG export facility in the Northwest,” said Gary Cohn, director of Trump’s National Economic Council, in April. “It’s been turned down twice already.”
The announcement came after the project’s then-CEO Don Althoff met with Trump and, later, Cohn to garner support for the project, which was owned at the time by Canadian energy company Veresen Inc. but sold to Pembina Pipeline Corp on May 1.
Following Cohn’s comments, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley sent a public letter to the president “respectfully insist[ing] FERC carry out its review of Jordan Cove's application without political interference from you or those in your administration.”

Anticipating Legal Challenges

Now, all eyes are on the local May 16 vote in Coos County that could throw a wrench in the whole process. Natural resource economist Hans Ratke told DeSmog that the ordinance and the legal fight it may start could seriously harm the project’s financial standing, which he says is already on shaky grounds.
The local group behind the ordinance, Coos Commons Protection Council (CCPC), knows it is challenging more than just the Jordan Cove project. Private corporations frequently sue to overturn local laws that threaten their bottom line. That’s why the CCPC and a Pennsylvania-based environmental law firm added language to the ordinance that takes clear aim at private corporations’ “rights” as “persons” under the law. 
Corporate claims to regulatory takings or future lost profits shall not be considered property interests under this ordinance,” the ordinance reads.
Following DeSmog’s previous reportingOregon Public Broadcasting and The Oregonian ran stories highlighting the unusually contentious southern Oregon ballot vote and the unprecedented money going into it. Since then, Jordan Cove has decided to double-down on spending, according to Oregon records released May 10.
Just a few days before the vote, ads and propaganda have been flooding the airwaves, claiming that, among other things, the ordinance would “[take] away our private property rights” and lead to “frivolous lawsuits.”
One ad claims that “as written, the measure will allow anyone to damage buildings or vehicles in the name of the environment.” Another says that “vigilantes are not responsible for damage they intentionally cause to private or personal property.”
Mary Geddry, a lead petitioner behind Measure 6-162, told DeSmog that the ad is proof “Jordan Cove is desperate, dishonest, or both!”
They have gone from deliberately misinterpreting the ordinance language to just plain making stuff up,” she continued. “There is no such language in the Coos County Right to a Sustainable Energy Future Ordinance.”
The organization behind the ads, Save Coos Jobs Committee Political Action Committee (PAC), has not responded to a request for comment.

A Larger Battle

If the measure is passed, Jordan Cove may be in an awkward situation. Coos Commons Protection Council is a local branch of the Oregon Community Rights Network, which is preparing to push a 2018 statewide ballot initiative to amend the Oregon State Constitution. 
The amendment would carve a new place for municipalities to raise state protections and elevate local laws above corporations’ legal privileges, which currently allow them to sue and overturn local laws. These changes would collectively allow Oregon cities to, for example, raise the minimum wage, regulate rent, and improve state environmental protections.
If the ordinance passes, Jordan Cove’s backers will have to decide: let the ordinance stand, or sue Coos County to overturn it. However, if they do sue, they risk drawing attention to the 2018 ballot initiative campaign and fulfilling their own election ad claims that the measure could bankrupt the county with lawsuits. All the more reason the project’s backers appear committed to defeating Measure 6-162.
Jordan Cove’s election spending and tactics raise a larger question facing communities across the country: Does every election have a price? Jordan Cove's more than half a million in spending on a rural county ballot initiative vote may be one answer.
They are obviously scared,” said Geddry. “They know the only way they can win the election is to buy it.”


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FINDING AND STOPPING terrorists before they strike is often compared to looking for a needle in a haystack, a cliché that speaks to the difficulty of preventing a crime that, while deadly, is uncommon. Counterterrorism officials still suggest that the task would become easier if they could use profiling to target Muslim communities. In other words, if they could shrink the size of the haystack.
But a new book by Dr. Marc Sageman, a veteran counterterrorism researcher and former CIA operations officer, argues that this approach, even if carried to its fullest extension in a nightmare scenario for civil liberties, would still be ineffective, because jihadist terrorism is such a statistically rare phenomenon.
In his book “Misunderstanding Terrorism,” Sageman counts 66 Islamic jihadist terrorist plots in Western countries between 2002 and 2012, involving a total of 220 perpetrators. This figure works out to an average of 22 terrorists per year, across a population of roughly 700 million people. Even narrowed to just the Muslim population in Western countries, estimated at roughly 25 million people, that’s less than one in 1 million Muslims a year who could be considered terrorists.
Describing a hypothetical dragnet conducted by Western countries that correctly identified terrorists 99 percent of the time, but accused innocent people 1 percent of the time, Sageman asks us to imagine the following:
If all the various police departments operating in the West collaborate and carry out a gigantic sweep by applying this profile to their respective Muslim populations in order to catch terrorists hiding in their respective societies, they would arrest all 22 terrorists that emerge in a given year. However, they would make a mistake 1 percent of the time for 25 million people, which comes to 250,000 people. Therefore, in order to catch all 22 global neo-jihadi terrorists, they would put 250,000 Muslims in jail by mistake.
Because terrorism is so uncommon, he writes, any strategy for combating it that involves policing entire communities is likely to end up harming huge numbers of innocent people — thus feeding the same climate of alienation and hostility that fosters political violence in the first place.
In the 1980s, Sageman helped organize Afghan resistance fighters against the Soviet Union. Over the decades since, he has interviewed hundreds of individuals accused of involvement in jihadist terrorism, documenting the circumstances of their cases and their personal motivations.
“Misunderstanding Terrorism” analyzes every jihadist terrorist plot that occurred in the United States and Europe over a 10-year period ending in 2012. The study excludes nonviolent terror-related cases, such as those involving financial donations or other material support charges, as well as sting operations in which plots were developed by agent provocateurs — a tactic favored by U.S. law enforcement agencies but viewed with skepticism in many European countries. His research comes to two broad conclusions. The first is that violent terrorist plots in Western countries are a statistically tiny phenomenon, which makes blanket counterterrorism approaches an ill-suited response. The second takeaway is that “social identity theory” — that is, how people self-identify in a crisis — is the primary motivating factor behind terrorist attacks.
Despite efforts to protect civil liberties, Sageman writes that profiling-based approaches have led the United States to “grossly overestimate the violent terrorist threat and commit a very large number of assessment errors.” The politically driven manipulation of the threat of terrorism has led Americans to “fibrillate in fear and bankrupt [themselves] with security” in response to a threat that is much smaller than they have been led to believe.
But why does the threat of terrorism resonate so much more in the popular imagination than other dangers? Sageman argues that identity politics influence our response to violence, both for victims and for perpetrators. Most Americans perceive terrorism as something that comes from an “out-group” rather than from people with whom they identify. As a result, an attack creates a sense of solidarity, leading people to react emotively, in contrast to the oft-muted response to more common forms of violence. This identity-driven reaction to terrorist violence also causes people to overestimate how prevalent terrorism really is, making them willing to commit wildly disproportionate resources to fighting it.
Sixteen years after 9/11, the war on terror still appears to have no end in sight, driven on by a circular logic of violence and retribution. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. government tried to frame its counterterrorism programs as not specifically targeting Muslims, while still carrying out airstrikes overseas and launching controversial “countering violent extremism” programs in Muslim communities. Although in recent years some national security experts like Sageman have begun to point out the self-defeating nature of American counterterrorism policies, Donald Trump’s approach – focusing explicitly on Muslim communities, implementing discriminatory immigration policies, expanding military action abroad, and declaring an open-ended war against the amorphous concept of “radical Islam” – isn’t a course correction.

Sageman argues that identity politics are also what fundamentally drives the terrorists themselves. U.S. government policies can consciously or inadvertently fuel a sense of conflict between different groups, in this case Muslims and Westerners. (Several government studies have also pointed to politics as a driver of terrorism, finding U.S. foreign policy as the most frequently cited motivation.)
“All of us see the world through the prism of identity, so when we see an escalation of a conflict happening between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ it inevitably leads some people toward political violence,” Sageman told The Intercept in an interview. “Looking at it in terms of foreign policy, when the government attacks other countries, oftentimes people who have a link to that country or identify with the people there will start categorizing themselves alongside the victims of those attacks.”
By categorizing huge swaths of the global population as enemies or potential enemies, Trump is engaging in hostile posturing toward very large numbers of people who pose no threat to the United States. Meanwhile, the rising death toll from his military actions has the potential to be a force-multiplier for terrorist recruitment. Thanks to advances in information technology, the destructive effects of U.S. military actions are more easily recorded and disseminated than they were a few decades ago. As they escalate, these actions are likely to trigger an emotive “in-group” reaction among those people who perceive themselves as targeted, Sageman says. Likewise, terrorist attacks in Western countries will trigger an emotive “in-group” reaction among Americans, continuing the cycle.
In Sageman’s view, factors like ideological extremism and economic deprivation, sometimes cited as root causes of terrorist violence, are secondary to political identity.
He notes that the phenomenon of identity-based violence has been repeated in different cultural and religious contexts in American history – including by people most Americans would now consider part of the “in-group.” During the Mexican-American War of 1846, an entire battalion of Irish Catholics fighting in the U.S. Army defected to the Mexican side out of a sense of solidarity with the suffering of their Mexican co-religionists, and in protest of the discrimination then faced by Catholics in the United States. Although this episode is largely forgotten today in the U.S., its memory continues to linger for some in Mexico and Ireland.
Sageman believes that the only path to winding down our present conflict is to expand our own “in-group.” In the United States, Sageman said that would mean “bringing everybody into the fold and saying that we’re all Americans, equally, and not just focusing exclusively on one group and defining them as suspicious and not completely part of the fold.”
“Crafting a sense of national identity that includes people instead of driving them further apart is what a leader is supposed to do,” he added. “If we are unable to respond to real threats in a proportional and focused manner, and if we see continue to see this cumulative radicalization of discourse, we will end up with more political violence at home, not less.”

In Fukushima, a land where few return

The evacuation orders for most of the village of Iitate have been lifted. But where are the people?

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Some day when I have done what I set out to do, I’ll return home one of these days, where the mountains are green, my old country home, where the waters are clear, my old country home.
— “Furusato,” Tatsuyuki Takano
A cherry tree is blooming in the spring sunshine outside the home of Masaaki Sakai but there is nobody to see it. The house is empty and boarded up. Weeds poke through the ground. All around are telltale signs of wild boar, which descend from the mountains to root and forage in the fields. Soon, the 60-year-old farmhouse Sakai shared with his mother and grandmother will be demolished.
“I don’t feel especially sad,” Sakai says. “We have rebuilt our lives elsewhere. I can come back and look around — just not live here.”
A few hundred meters away the road is blocked and a beeping dosimeter begins nagging at the bucolic peace. The reading here is a shade over 1 microsievert per hour — a fraction of what it was when Sakai’s family fled in 2011.

The radiation goes up and down, depending on the weather, Sakai says. In gullies and cracks in the road, and up in the trees, it soars. With almost everyone gone, the monkeys who live in the forests have grown bolder, stopping to stare at the odd car that appears instead of fleeing, as they used to.
A cluster of 20 small hamlets spread over 230 square kilometers, Iitate was undone by a quirk of the weather in the days that followed the nuclear accident in March 2011. Wind carried radioactive particles from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which is located about 45 kilometers away, that fell in rain and snow on the night of March 15, 2011. After more than a month of indecision, during which the villagers lived with some of the highest radiation recorded in the disaster (the reading outside the village office on the evening of March 15 was a startling 44.7 microsieverts per hour), the government ordered them to leave.
Now, the government says it is safe to go back. With great fanfare, all but the still heavily contaminated south of Iitate, Nagadoro, was reopened on March 31.
The reopening fulfills a pledge made by Mayor Norio Kanno: Iitate was the first local authority in Fukushima Prefecture to set a date for ending evacuation in 2012, when the mayor promised to reboot the village in five years. The village has a new sports ground, convenience store and udon restaurant. A clinic sees patients twice a week. All that’s missing is people.
Waiting to meet Kanno in the government offices of Iitate, the eye falls on a book displayed in the reception: “The Most Beautiful Villages in Japan.” Listed at No. 12 is the beloved rolling patchwork of forests, hills and fields the mayor has governed for more than two decades — population 6,300, famous for its neat terraces of rice and vegetables, its industrious organic farmers, its wild mushrooms and the black wagyu cow that has taken the name of the area.
The description in the book is mocked by reality outside. The fields are mostly bald, shorn of vegetation in a Promethean attempt to decontaminate it of the radiation that fell six years ago. There is not a cow or a farmer in sight. Tractors sit idle in the fields. The local schools are empty. As for the population, the only part of the village that looks busy is the home for the elderly across the road from Kanno’s office.

“The village will never return to how it used to be before the disaster,” Kanno says, “but it may develop in a different way.”
Recovery has started, Kanno says, wondering whether returnees will be able to start building a village they like.
“Who knows? Maybe one day that may help bring back evacuees or newcomers,” Kanno says. “Life doesn’t improve if you remain pessimistic.”
Even for those who have permanently left, he adds, “it doesn’t mean that their furusato can just disappear.”
The pull of the furusato (hometown) is exceptionally strong in Japan, says Tom Gill, a British anthropologist who has written extensively about Iitate.
Yearning for it “is expressed in countless sentimental ballads,” Gill says. “One particular song, simply titled ‘Furusato,’ has been sung by children attending state schools in Japan since 1914.”
The appeal has persisted despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that the rural/urban imbalance in Japan is more skewed than in any other developed nation, Gill says; just 10 percent of the nation’s population live in the country.
This may partly explain the extraordinary efforts to bring east Fukushima back to life. By one study, more than ¥2.34 trillion has been spent decontaminating an area roughly half the size of Rhode Island.
There has been no official talk of abandoning it. Indeed, any suggestion otherwise could be controversial: When industry minister Yoshio Hachiro called the abandoned communities “towns of death” in September 2011, the subsequent outrage forced him to quit a week later.
Instead, the area was divided into three zones with awkward euphemisms to suggest just the opposite: Communities with annual radiation measuring 20 millisieverts or less (the typical worldwide limit for workers in nuclear plants) are “being prepared for lifting of evacuation order,” districts of 20-50 millisieverts per year are “no-residence zones” and the most heavily contaminated areas of 50 millisieverts or more per year, such as Nagadoro, are “difficult-to-return.”
In September 2015, Naraha, which is located 15 kilometers south of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, became the first town in the prefecture to completely lift the evacuation order imposed after the triple meltdown. Naraha has a publicly built shopping street, a new factory making lithium batteries, a kindergarten and a secondary school.
A team of decontamination workers has been sent to every house — in some cases several times. Of the pre-disaster 7,400 residents, about 1,500 mainly elderly people have returned, the local government says, although that figure is likely inflated.
In Iitate, the cost of decontamination works out at about ¥200 million per household. That, and the passage of time, has dramatically reduced radiation in many areas to below 20 millisieverts a year. However, Kanno says, the cleanup extends to only 20 meters around each house, and three-quarters of the village is forested mountains. In windy weather, radioactive elements are blown back onto the fields and homes.
“All that money, and for what?” asks Nobuyoshi Itoh, a farmer and critic of the mayor. “Would you bring children here and let them roam in the fields and forests?”

Itoh opted to stay in one of the more heavily toxic parts of the village after everyone fled, with little apparent ill effect, although he says his immune system has weakened.
One of the reasons why Iitate was such a pleasant place to live before the nuclear crisis, he recalls, was its unofficial barter system. “Most people here never bought vegetables; they grew them,” he says. “I would bring someone potatoes and they would give me eggs. That’s gone now.”
At most, he says, a few hundred people are back — but they’re invariably older or retired.
“They alone will not sustain the village,” Itoh says. “Who will drive them around or look after them when they are sick?”
As the depth of the disaster facing Iitate became clear, local people began to squabble among themselves. Some were barely scraping a living and wanted to leave, although saying so out loud — abandoning the furusato — was often difficult. Many joined lawsuits against the government.
Even before disaster struck, the village had lost a third of its population since 1970 as its young folk relocated to the cities, mirroring the hollowing-out of rural areas across the country. Some wanted to shift the entire village elsewhere, but Kanno wouldn’t hear of it.

Compensation could be a considerable incentive. In addition to ¥100,000 a month to cover the “mental anguish” of being torn from their old lives, there was extra money for people with houses or farms. A five-year lump sum was worth ¥6 million per person — twice that for Nagadoro. One researcher estimates a rough figure of ¥50 million for the average household, sufficient to leave behind the uncertainties and worries of Iitate and buy a house a few dozen miles away, close enough to return for work or to the village’s cool, tranquil summers.
Many have already done so. Though nobody knows the true figure, the local talk is that perhaps half of the villagers have permanently left. Surveys suggest fewer than 30 percent want to return, and even less in the case of Nagadoro.
Yoshitomo Shigihara, head of the Nagadoro hamlet, says many families made their decision some time ago. His grandchildren, he says, should not have to live in such a place.
“It’s our job to protect them,” Shigihara says. He lives in the city of Fukushima but returns roughly every 10 days to inspect his house and weed the land.
Even with so much money spent, Shigihara doubts whether it will bring many of his friends or relatives back. At 70 years of age, he is not sure that he even wants to return, he says.
“I sometimes get upset thinking about it, but I can’t talk with anyone in Fukushima, even my family, because we often end up quarreling,” he says. “People try to feel out whether the others are receiving benefits, what they are getting or how much they received in compensation. It’s very stressful to talk to anyone in Iitate. I’m starting to hate myself because I end up treating others badly out of frustration.”
Kanno has won six elections since 1996 and has overseen every step of Iitate’s painful rehabilitation, navigating between the anger and despair of his constituents and the official response to the disaster from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (Tepco), operator of the crippled nuclear plant.

He wants more money to complete decontamination work (the government claims it is finished), repair roads and infrastructure. Returnees need financial support, he says. However, it is time, he believes, to end the monthly compensation, which, in his view, induces dependency.
“If people keep saying that life is hard, they will not be able to recover,” he says. “What we need is support for livelihoods.”
A new system gives seed money to people who voluntarily come back to start businesses or farms.
“We don’t want to give the impression that we are influencing people’s decisions or forcing them to return,” the mayor says, using the phrase “kokoro ni fumikomu,” which literally means “to step into hearts.”
Yet, next year, thousands of Iitate evacuees will face a choice: Go back or lose the money that has helped sustain them elsewhere for six years. Evacuation from areas exposed to less than 20 millisieverts per year will be regarded as “voluntary” under the official compensation scheme.
This dilemma was expressed with unusual starkness last month by Masahiro Imamura, the now sacked minister in charge of reconstructing Tohoku. Pressed by a freelance reporter, Imamura tetchily said it was up to the evacuees themselves — their “own responsibility, their own choice” — whether or not to return.
The comment touched a nerve. The government is forcing people to go back, some argued, employing a form of economic blackmail, or worse, kimin seisaku — abandoning them to their fate.
Itoh is angry at the resettlement. For him, politics drives the haste to put the disaster behind.
“It’s inhuman to make people go back to this,” he says. Like the physical damage of radiation, he says, the psychological damage is also invisible: “A lot of people are suffering in silence.”
Itoh believes the government wants to show that the problems of nuclear power can be overcome so it can switch the nation’s idling nuclear reactors back on. Just four are in operation while the fate of 42 others remains in political and legal limbo. Public opinion remains opposed to their restart.
Many people began with high hopes in Iitate but have gradually grown distrustful of the village government, says Kenichi Hasegawa, a farmer who wrote a book titled “Genpatsu ni Furusato o Ubawarete” (“Fukushima’s Stolen Lives”) in 2012. Right from the start, he says, the mayor desperately tried to hide the shocking radiation outside his office.
“Villagers have started losing interest,” Hasegawa says.
Meetings called by the mayor are poorly attended.
“But they hold meetings anyway,” Hasegawa says, “just to say they did.”
Kanno rejects talk of defeatism. A tourist shop is expected to open in August that will attract people to the area, he says. Some villagers are paving entrances to their houses, using money from the reconstruction budget. As for radiation, everyone “has their own idea” about its effects. The lifting of the evacuation is only the start.
Itoh says he once trusted public officials but those days are long gone. By trying to save the village, he says, the mayor may in fact be killing it.