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Tue, 27 Jun 2017
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White House: 'No new bill' on Russia sanctions, Senate violated procedure

© Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
President Donald Trump will disregard the recent Senate bill imposing new sanctions on Russia because it violated the constitutional requirement that revenue legislation originate in the House of Representatives, the White House has said.

On June 15, the Senate voted 98-2 to impose new sanctions against Russia and codify the existing ones into law, in order to tie Trump's hands when it came to the sanctions policy. In doing so, however, they apparently violated the origination clause of the US Constitution, which requires that any bill raising revenue originates in the House.

"There is no new bill at this time," White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters on Monday, asking if they were referring to the bill that "the Senate parliamentarian ruled didn't follow proper procedure."

Comment: Wow, that has to be so embarrassing for the Senate to not know how the Constitution works!

Heart - Black

University of Delaware cuts ties with professor who said 'Otto Warmbier got what he deserved'

© WikiCommons
Otto Warmbier
An anthropology professor at the has been fired after saying that Otto Warmbier, the American student who died after being held captive in North Korea for 17 months, "got exactly what he deserved."

"The University of Delaware has announced that Katherine Dettwyler, who last taught in the spring as an adjunct faculty member, will not be rehired to teach at the University in the future," the university said in a statement posted on their website.Dettwyler, who has since deleted the Facebook post, said "Otto Warmbier got exactly what he deserved."

"He went to North Korea, for f---'s sake, and then acted like a spoiled, naive, arrogant, US college student who had never had to face the consequences of his actions," Dettwyler wrote, according to reports. "I see him crying at his sentencing hearing and think 'What did you expect?'"

Dettwyler also reportedly asked for "a few moments of thought" for all the other people who suffer at the hands of the North Korean regime — and are "not U.S. citizens."

Comment: Warmbier was guilty of petty theft, but as detailed in the following articles, the manner in how his detention and death were handled is murky, confusing and rife with political gamesmanship.


George Galloway: DUP is milder form of Klu Klux Klan

© Oli Scarff / AFP
Northern Ireland's hard-right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) is a "milder form" of the US-based Klu Klux Klan, which once terrorized and murdered black citizens, Respect Party leader George Galloway says.

The former MP was part of a panel discussion on the Tory-DUP confidence and supply arrangement in which the party pledged its ten MPs to the Tories in exchange for over £1 billion pounds worth of spending in Northern Ireland. The deal was finalized on Monday.

The DUP are known for their hard right positions, which include creationism, anti-abortion, and anti-LGBT views, as well as climate change denial.


Russian submarine test-fires ICBM across Asian continent

© Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation
File photo of Russian ICBM test.
A Russian submarine has successfully launched a missile from the Barents Sea near Norway to a test site in the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Far East, the Russian Defense Ministry reports.

"The strategic Borey-class nuclear submarine, Yuri Dolgoruky, has successfully fired the Bulava intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from a designated area in the Barents Sea to the Kura Missile Test Range in Kamchatka," the MoD said in a statement.

"The launch was made from an underwater position in accordance with the combat training plan."

"According to the confirmed data from mission control, the ICBM units completed the full flight program and successfully hit the targets in the range."


Some House Democrats mulling giving Pelosi the boot as leader

© Joshua Roberts / Reuters
A dozen or so House Democrats want Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to go after a dispiriting loss in a House election in Georgia. They just don't know how to make it happen.
"We can't keep losing races and keep the same leadership in place. You have a baseball team that keeps losing year after year. At some point, the coach has got to go, right?" said Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., on Friday.
The frustrated Democrats met in Rice's office a day earlier to discuss their options as they face long odds of knocking out the woman who has led the Democratic caucus for nearly 15 years from minority to majority and back, raised tens of millions of dollars and has had multiple legislative successes. Their action plan: Keep talking. Keep raising the concern that something needs to change within the ranks of the party's leadership.

It's about all they can do.

Comment: The Democratic Party continues its steady, systematic decline. Don't let the door hit you on the way out!


Electronic concentration camp - The age of no privacy

"We are rapidly entering the age of no privacy, where everyone is open to surveillance at all times; where there are no secrets from government." ― William O. Douglas, Supreme Court Justice, dissenting in Osborn v. United States, 385 U.S. 341 (1966)
© The Anti-Social Media
The government has become an expert in finding ways to sidestep what it considers "inconvenient laws" aimed at ensuring accountability and thereby bringing about government transparency and protecting citizen privacy.

Indeed, it has mastered the art of stealth maneuvers and end-runs around the Constitution.

It knows all too well how to hide its nefarious, covert, clandestine activities behind the classified language of national security and terrorism. And when that doesn't suffice, it obfuscates, complicates, stymies or just plain bamboozles the public into remaining in the dark.

Case in point: the National Security Agency (NSA) has been diverting "internet traffic, normally safeguarded by constitutional protections, overseas in order to conduct unrestrained data collection on Americans."

It's extraordinary rendition all over again, only this time it's surveillance instead of torture being outsourced.

In much the same way that the government moved its torture programs overseas in order to bypass legal prohibitions against doing so on American soil, it is doing the same thing for its surveillance programs.

By shifting its data storage, collection and surveillance activities outside of the country—a tactic referred to as "traffic shaping" —the government is able to bypass constitutional protections against unwarranted searches of Americans' emails, documents, social networking data, and other cloud-stored data.

The government, however, doesn't even need to move its programs overseas. It just has to push the data over the border in order to "[circumvent] constitutional and statutory safeguards seeking to protect the privacy of Americans."

Credit for this particular brainchild goes to the Obama administration, which issued Executive Order 12333 authorizing the collection of Americans' data from surveillance conducted on foreign soil.


Not smart: Trump officials pushing for regime change in Iran

© Getty
Many Trump officials consider Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s (center) moderation a deceptive mask for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s (pictured in background) militant fundamentalism.
As the White House formulates its official policy on Iran, senior officials and key allies of President Donald Trump are calling for the new administration to take steps to topple Tehran's militant clerical government.

Supporters of dislodging Iran's iron-fisted clerical leadership say it's the only way to halt Tehran's dangerous behavior, from its pursuit of nuclear weapons to its sponsorship of terrorism. Critics say that political meddling in Iran, where memories of a 1953 CIA-backed coup remain vivid, risks a popular backlash that would only empower hard-liners.

That's why President Barack Obama assured Iranians, in a 2013 speech at the United Nations, that "we are not seeking regime change."

But influential Iran hawks want to change that under Trump.
"The policy of the United States should be regime change in Iran," said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who speaks regularly with White House officials about foreign policy. "I don't see how anyone can say America can be safe as long as you have in power a theocratic despotism," he added.

Comment: Tom Cotton is an idiot. So is everyone who agrees with him. Iran is no threat to Americans or American democracy. Morell is a snake, too, but at least here he's right: when you oppose even the moderates, good luck finding anything but more radicals to overthrow the Iranian government. And newsflash: Iranians are perfectly justified in hating America and Israel, who have given them absolutely no reason for any other sentiment. And if the U.S. continues its belligerence, Iranians will hate America and Israel even more than they already do. Typical American logic: "we'll just continue to thrash them until they love us."

Arrow Down

UK shadow chancellor: Democracy isn't working, Grenfell residents 'murdered' by political decisions

© Stephen Chung / Global Look Press
The Labour Party's second in command, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, said Britain's lack of democracy is to blame for the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Speaking at Glastonbury Festival on Sunday, McDonnell blamed "financial speculation" trumping good housing policies for the June 14 tragedy that is so far known to have left 79 people dead or missing.

"Is democracy working? It didn't work if you were a family living on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower," the frontbencher said during a debate on housing hosted by the music festival.

"Those families, those individuals - 79 so far and there will be more - were murdered by political decisions that were taken over recent decades."

Comment: New Tory Housing Minister Alok Sharma gave a car crash of an interview in which he repeatedly evaded giving clear answers and denied a cover-up surrounding what really happened at Grenfell. Despite repeated questions on the legality of the fire cladding, he would only tell viewers, "From what we've seen it would suggest that the material used was combustible."
In a separate interview with the BBC, Sharma was forced to respond to allegations of a cover-up over the true death toll. Presenter Sarah Montague tried to get to the bottom of a "gap" in the figures between the number of people thought to have been in the building - up to 600 - and those so far confirmed dead or re-housed.

When asked to say how many people are missing, Sharma dodged the question by repeating the figure of 79, relating to those confirmed dead.

Pressed on the fact that up to 600 people may have been in the building but far fewer have been relocated or reported missing, he said: "That's exactly why we need to build up the picture and I would appeal to people who are listening to this who know people who were in that building to come forward and tell us. "It is not about a cover-up, it's about making sure we have a complete picture."

He also dodged questions over how many of the families who had lost their homes have been relocated so far. Refusing to give a number, he said: "We are in the process of talking to the families who were affected."

Pressed on the issue again, Sharma would only say: "There have been a couple of hundred households that have been affected by this, that we are talking to."

Sharma's performance has been criticized on social media, with many accusing him of refusing to give clear answers. His name was trending on Twitter on Monday morning.


Trump-Putin meeting in Hamburg: 'War tango' or establishing better relations

© AP Photo/Evan Vucci
In this Jan. 27, 2017, file photo, President Donald Trump speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017. Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month
President Donald Trump is eager to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin with full diplomatic bells and whistles when the two are in Germany for a multinational summit next month. But the idea is exposing deep divisions within the administration on the best way to approach Moscow in the midst of an ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections.

Many administration officials believe the U.S. needs to maintain its distance from Russia at such a sensitive time — and interact only with great caution.

But Trump and some others within his administration have been pressing for a full bilateral meeting. He's calling for media access and all the typical protocol associated with such sessions, even as officials within the State Department and National Security Council urge more restraint, according to a current and a former administration official.

Some advisers have recommended that the president instead do either a quick, informal "pull-aside" on the sidelines of the summit, or that the U.S. and Russian delegations hold "strategic stability talks," which typically don't involve the presidents. The officials spoke anonymously to discuss private policy discussions.

The contrasting views underscore differing views within the administration on overall Russia policy, and Trump's eagerness to develop a working relationship with Russia despite the ongoing investigations.

There are potential benefits to a meeting with Putin. A face-to-face meeting can humanize the two sides and often removes some of the intrigue involved in impersonal, telephone communication. Trump — the ultimate dealmaker — has repeatedly suggested that he can replace the Obama-era damage in the U.S.-Russia relationship with a partnership, particularly on issues like the ongoing Syria conflict.

There are big risks, though. Trump is known to veer off-script, creating the possibility for a high-stakes diplomatic blunder. In a brief Oval Office meeting with top Russian diplomats last month, Trump revealed highly classified information about an Islamic State group threat to airlines that was relayed to him by Israel, according to a senior administration official. The White House defended the disclosures as "wholly appropriate."

In addition, many observers warn that Putin is not to be trusted.
Oleg Kalugin, a former general with Russia's main security agency, known as the KGB, said Putin, a shrewd and experienced politician, has "other priorities" than discussing the accusations that Russia hacked the U.S. election with Trump, such as easing sanctions, raising oil prices, as well as next year's presidential elections in Russia.

"Putin knows how to redirect a conversation in his favor," Kalugin said.
Nina Khrushcheva, a Russian affairs professor at the New School, said Trump is in an "impossible position."
"He can't be too nice to Putin because it's going to be interpreted in a way that suggests he has a special relationship with Russia," she said. "He can't be too mean because Putin has long arms and KGB thinking. So Trump needs to have a good relationship with him but he also needs to fulfill his campaign promises of establishing better relations with Russia."
The White House said no final decision has been made about whether a meeting will take place. It did not respond to questions about the opposing views within the administration.

Bilateral meetings are common during summits like the G20, where many world leaders and their advisers are gathered in one place. The meetings are typically highly choreographed affairs, with everything from the way the two leaders shake hands to the looks that they exchange and the actual words spoken offering glimpses into the state of affairs.

The last U.S.-Russia bilateral meeting was a 2015 encounter between Putin and President Barack Obama that began with an awkward handshake and ended with progress on the brutal civil war in Syria.

That 2015 meeting, the first in two years, involved a 90-minute sit-down at U.N. headquarters. Putin and U.S. officials later said the two leaders had made progress on issues related to Syria, which had strained their already tense relationship. For the Obama administration, cautious engagement was the name of the game, with the U.S. working tirelessly to find middle ground with Moscow on Syria, Ukraine and other issues.

The disconnect between Trump and his advisers in the State Department and National Security Council over Russia runs deeper than the debate over a G20 bilateral.

A former administration official who spoke anonymously to discuss classified information said that frustration is growing among foreign policy advisers over the failure of the White House to embrace a more cautious and critical approach to Russia. All 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have agreed Russia was behind last year's hack of Democratic email systems and tried to influence the 2016 election to benefit Trump.
Trump has to directly "say to Putin, 'We're not happy about you interfering in our election,'" said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. "If you don't say that, you are going to get hammered by the press and Congress and you can guarantee Congress will pass sanctions legislation against Russia."

"They also need to keep their expectations very, very modest," added Pifer. "If they aim for a home run in Hamburg, my guess is they'll strike out."

Bad Guys

Trump foreign policy same as Obama and Bush: Civilian casualties don't matter

© AP Photo / Balint Szlanko
Abdulrahman Mohammed looks at the ruins of a house in western Mosul on May 26, 2017, destroyed in a March 17 coalition airstrike that killed more than 100 people.
Recent news reports describe a massive increase in civilian casualties at the hands of the US military or US allies. In Mosul, Iraq, hundreds of residents have been killed as US forces join Iraqi troops in the last stage of their assault on the ISIS-held city. In Yemen, the United States is increasing its direct involvement in the Saudi-led air war being waged against the poorest country in the Arab world, as the UN and other aid workers struggle against mass famine and a looming cholera epidemic on top of the thousands already killed and millions displaced. And in Raqqa, Syria, US air strikes and white-phosphorus munitions have led to what the UN calls "a staggering loss of life," as Washington provides backup to Kurdish and Arab forces now besieging the ISIS stronghold.

These attacks, and the skyrocketing civilian casualties that result from them, have two things in common: direct US involvement, a result of the recent escalation in Washington's direct role in the 16-year-old Global War on Terror; and an absolute disdain for the civilian lives being destroyed in these wars.

Comment: More of the same, emphasis on more.