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Iraq Cuts Internet Services to Quell Widespread Protests

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 21:50

VOA – ENGLISH

Iraq’s National Security Council deployed security forces and cut internet services Saturday as protests that began in Basra spread to several other cities.

The council held an emergency meeting Saturday in Baghdad after protests over high unemployment, poor government services and corruption spread from Basra to Baghdad, Najaf, Amaraand Nasiriyah.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement saying “infiltrators” had used “peaceful protests to attack public and private property.” He promised that government forces “will take all the necessary measures to counter those people.”

At least two people have died in the protests in the city of Amara as protesters blocked roads, lit tires on fire and, according to a spokesman for area health authorities, fired guns “indiscriminately.” One person died earlier this week in Maysan when Iraqi forces shot at protesters reportedly trying to set fire to government buildings.

In Najaf, security forces were deployed in the streets Saturday.

Cuts to internet service reportedly took place in Baghdad, Najafand Basra.

The protests began in Basra early this week, after residents of Iraq’s most oil-rich city grew fed up with its own poverty, water and power shortages, and the summer heat, which can approach 50 degrees Celsius at the height of the season.

Police confronted protesters in Basra when they gathered near an oil field operated by Russian oil firm Lukoil.

On Friday, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani spoke out in a televised sermon to offer support for the demonstrators. He said it was not fair that residents of Iraq’s most profitable city live in such poor conditions.

In response, Abaditraveled from a summit in Brussels to Basra, where he asked the Basra Oil Company to hire more locals.

Abadi is a caretaker prime minister. Iraq is undergoing a vote recount after May’s national elections, stalling efforts to form a new government.

Cuba’s New Constitution Includes No Space For Democracy

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 20:09
link

VOA – ENGLISH

Cuba revealed new details Saturday about plans to reshape its government, courts and economy with constitutional reform set to be approved by the national assembly this month.

The reform of the 1976 constitution would create the position of prime minister alongside the president, splitting the roles of head of government and head of state.

The constitution keeps the Communist Party as the sole political force in the country and says the communist state will remain the dominant economic force.

The constitution does, however, create new recognitionof the free market and private property in Cuban society, and creates a new presumption of innocence in the justice system.

The proposed constitutional reform described in the main state paper Saturday is also expected to be approved in a later national referendum.

Officials say the 1976 charter does not reflect changes made in Cuba in recent years.

“The experiences gained in these years of revolution” and “the new paths mapped out” by the Communist Party are some of the reasons for reforming the constitution, the official Granma newspaper said Saturday.

The new constitution will maintain rights such as religious freedom but will also make explicit the principle of non-discrimination due to gender identity. The text released in Granma did not specify to what extent the state would recognize same-sex marriages.

How Egypt Uses Counterterror Laws to Prosecute Political Dissent

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 19:50

VOA – ENGLISH

A human rights watchdog says Egyptian authorities “are increasingly using counterterrorism and state-of-emergency laws and courts to unjustly prosecute journalists, activists, and critics for their peaceful criticism.”

Human Rights Watch said Sunday the abusive practices and distortion of counterterrorism measures happened while Egypt was chairing “one of the key United Nations committees to ensure compliance with counterterrorism resolutions and while the U.N.’s most senior counterterrorism official was visiting the country.”

Nadim Houry, HRW’s terrorism/counterterrorism director, said “While Egypt faces security threats, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has exploited these threats cynically as a cover to prosecute peaceful critics and to revive the infamous Mubarak-era state security courts.”

The watchdog says before the presidential election in March the Egyptian police and National Security Agency forces carried out a “wave of arrests of critics” of the president. After the election the arrests continued with the detention of prominent activists and journalists under Egypt’s 2015 counterterrorism law. HRW says the law “criminalizes a wide range of acts, including publishing or promoting news about terrorism, if it contradicts official statements.”

Some cases, according to the human rights group, have been transferred to the Emergency State Security Courts that the government claims are being used only against terrorists and drug traffickers. These courts, however, do not guarantee a fair trial and their decisions are not subject to appeal, HRW reports.

The Trump Baby Balloon is Satire Done Right

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 19:20
Click here for link to image of Trump Baby Balloon.

The Trump Baby Balloon that sailed above the sunny skies of London was beautiful in word and deed. It stated that we are not going to cower from his tantrums, trade threats or intimidation. We will fight and will not be afraid of you or any foe, foreign or domestic, even though you are a sinister child abuser, and yes, I had to bring up the refugee children.

The bloated infantile persona in diapers carting a cell phone is perfect. The man has had a pampered life and has always done what he wants regardless of the effect on others. He only cares for his needs and will continue to carry on, through his cell phone on Twitter, to try to destroy any and everybody.

The “Trump Baby Balloon”, is in summary, very poignant to the point. I believe we should continue this process of public shaming. The greedy Tim Cook of Apple who’s unwilling to pay appropriate public taxes or have his expensive iPhones made in the US is another candidate for this type of acknowledgement. The ruthless “Chicken Hawk of Death” Dick Cheney is another villain of note. Anyway, good on the British for a well deserved take down. Up the Hammer!!!

President Since 1982, Cameroon’s Paul Biya to Stand for Re-election

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 18:11
link

Paul Biya, the President of Cameroon, has declared his candidacy for the October 7 presidential polls. A tweet from his Twitter account on 13 July 2018 reads as follows:

Dear Compatriots in Cameroon & the Diaspora,
Aware of the challenges we must take up together
to ensure a more united, stable & prosperous Cameroon,
I am willing to respond positively to your overwhelming calls.
I will stand as Your Candidate in the upcoming presidential election pic.twitter.com/6oldKFYWak

— President Paul BIYA (@PR_Paul_BIYA) July 13, 2018

Election or plebiscite?

From the way the tweet is drafted, some people may wonder why elections are being held. Is everyone calling for the President to stay in power? If so, one might reasonably then question if elections have become a formality in Cameroon, perhaps a “tick the box” exercise meant to satisfy Western conditionality for more aid.

The 36-year incumbent’s tweet rather tends to suggest that a plebiscite, not an election, might actually occur in October 2018 in Cameroon. Could elections have become a periodical reminder to the rest of the world about who the holder of incumbency in Cameroon is? Are they organised to give a semblance of popular participation in decision-making in the Central African country?

Why Biya is set to “win” re-election lies in the nature of politics and of elections

Author Olanrewaju Eweniyi has noted that:

“Biya became president on November 6, 1982, after the resignation of the Central African state’s first leader, Ahmadou Ahidjo, but he had served as Prime Minister from 1975 to 1982, technically ruling the country… He has won five elections since then, and in 2008 he revised the 1996 constitution to remove term limits. He’s also maintained a close relationship with France, Cameroon’s former colonial master.”

Over the years, Biya has enforced his rule to the point of practically becoming the only institution in the country. The style of politics in the country tilts distinctly towards patrimonialism. Reading the Constitution of Cameroon, one has the impression that it only stops short of replacing the word “Executive” with the incumbent’s name.

Biya’s party, the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Party (CPDM) is the de facto single party in the country. It has the majority in both houses of parliament and Biya still appoints up to 30 of the 100 Senators in the Senate. The President has powers over the Constitutional Council and presides over the Supreme Magistracy Council as well as appoints all judges including those on the Supreme Court bench. He appoints all Governors, Divisional Officers and Government Delegates, thus circumventing local government.

Needless to say he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the Police and the National Gendarmerie and and many would say that the “honour and fidelity” sworn by new recruits is to him personally. He is equally the sole organiser of the Government and the public service. He appoints all ministers, including the Prime Minister, Directors General and Board Chairpersons of Public and Semi-public corporations and parastatals. He terminates their functions when he so wishes.

He has often ignored allegations of corruption reported about his Ministers and appears to order their arrests only when it seems politically opportune to do so. He governs by decree and also acts as referee and player in the electoral process as he is both candidate for elections and controller, so to speak, of the electoral commission known as Elections Cameroon (ELECAM).

He equally appoints top members of the State Media, the National Communication Council and of all bodies “combating” corruption, sometimes appointing individuals to more than one of these institutions of oversight. Eweniyi has then noted that despite all this, “[some people still dare to] expect democratic transition in Cameroon every now and then”.

Some even speak of widespread violence if he attempts to stand for re-election or indulge in rigging, predicting that the ultimate end for such conflict will be his demise. This has never happened and nothing shows that the situation will be different this year. It can be expected that during this election the army will be heavily mobilised for Biya’s purposes.

Biya, 85 years old, is therefore set to win the elections with an “overwhelming” majority that will echo the “overwhelming calls” for him to stand for the elections even as it can be expected that only a fraction the electorate made up of what remains as non-apathetic voters will turn up for the polls in October 2018.

Elections that may further drive a wedge in the growing discord

The backdrop of this upcoming Presidential election in Cameroon is the growing armed separatist movement in the English-speaking part of the country. While the voting will be moving on smoothly on the French-speaking side of the country, it can be expected that the unique style of protest called “Ghost Towns” will be called on Sunday 07 October 2017 in the Anglophone English-speaking regions.

It can also be expected that there will be violence as armed groups have vowed to attack any polling stations opened in the English speaking regions. Pushing on with the elections as if nothing is happening in these regions and stating in his tweet that he is “aware of the challenges we must take up together to ensure a more united, stable & prosperous Cameroon” without having ever set foot in the conflict-affected areas says much about political philosophy of the President and the type of confidence he has for a future win.

It is possible that he will visit at least one of these regions to campaign for re-election, perhaps to attempt a psychological beat-up of opponents. Needless to say that the army will be play its usual role were he to do so.

The political future of Cameroon

Presidential term limits were deemed necessary when (re)democratisation occurred in the early 1990s in Africa as a movement to push for good governance, equal opportunity to hold power, an end to patrimonial politics and authoritarian rule. Countries that have effectively democratised have ensured alternation in power either through truly free, fair and transparent electoral processes or constitutional provisions for only two terms in power. These countries have since witnessed positive outcomes in terms of stability and development. However, it appears that Cameroon has taken a different path and this may prove disastrous for its political future. If the right steps are not rapidly taken going forward to return the country to normalcy and set it on the path to stability, the troubles will continue.

America’s Fated Demise by Voter Apathy

Sun, 07/15/2018 - 17:52

Why hasn’t the government really gone after Trump? Yes, Mueller has and is doing a bang up job but the truth is that our government and business community is so corrupted by greed that avarice doesn’t make the definition any more. Trump is just like them so much that he can get away with treason. This the real reason why the power elite has not brought him down on his nonexistent moral code.

Russia backed a pro-Kremlin leader as the new presidential candidate in the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych. Paul Manafort was his campaign manager, for the people who forgot, he was Trump’s campaign manager. There’s enough evidence in public already to prove that Trump owes Putin for his business bailout and current prosperity.

I’m sure the guys at the top know this but it’s business as usual. They’re no better, everybody’s on the take so why bother pointing fingers when there’s a cash grab at hand? The filthy rich are willing to gamble on our future and our lives by not paying taxes or offering a living wage. Not to mention we have habitually underinvested in our infrastructure, undermining our current and future prosperity, because of greed on the side of rich who want the lowest taxes in the world. Wall Street’s titans as well as the power elite are to blame for the current collapse of America and they should be held accountable for it even though they hide in their gated communities.

I still believe it’s possible the United States may make a move on Russia that would be moronic on our part. Could we do what Napoleon, Hitler and Japan couldn’t do? It would be just another bank robbery on the American citizen, this time by the banks. They do this with every war, not to mention they hate Russia because they have not accepted the Rothschild banking system as their own. As a result, the American public is afflicted with poor jobs, inflated health care and runaway college debt. Please Americans, come out from under the clueless self-righteous conservative right and join the patrons of democracy, freedom and understanding.

Shocking Allegations of Torture in UAE-Run Yemen Prisons

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 18:29

VOA – ENGLISH

Amnesty International is calling for a war crimes investigation into alleged disappearances, torture and likely deaths in prisons run by the United Arab Emirates in southern Yemen.

In a report released Thursday titled God Only Knows If He’s Alive,the international human rights watchdog said it documented “egregious violations going unchecked, including systemic enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment amounting to war crimes.”

“Ultimately these violations, which are taking place in the context of Yemen’s armed conflict, should be investigated as war crimes,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director.

“The UAE’s counterterrorism partners, including the U.S.A., must also take a stand against allegations of torture, including by investigating the role of U.S. personnel in detention-related abuses in Yemen, and by refusing to use information that was likely obtained through torture or other ill-treatment.”

UAE issued a statement Thursday promptly rejecting Amnesty’s report, describing it as “politically motivated.”

The UAE is part of a regional coalition that is seeking to restore Yemen’s internationally recognized government and end a three-year-old civil war against Houthi rebels.

Amnesty said it investigated 51 cases of men allegedly detained in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Hadramawt and Shabwa provinces. It said most of the cases involved forced disappearances, and 19 of the men remain missing.

“The families of these detainees find themselves in an endless nightmare where their loved ones have been forcibly disappeared by UAE-backed forces,” Hassan said. “When they demand to know where their loved ones are held, or if they are even still alive, their requests are met with silence or intimidation.”

World’s Dictatorships Go All Out to Control Social Media Use

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 14:10

VOA – ENGLISH

Filipinos tapped out text messages on their cellphones to mobilize protests against President Joseph Estrada. The effort mushroomed within hours into a “people power” revolution that forced Estrada to step down.

That was 2001. Since then, technology has created increasingly powerful smartphones that can link to the internet, provide instant access to news and connect people through social media.

In response, authorities in some countries are waging a battle to control what their people see and hear, with the goal of limiting dissent and heading off more “people power” takeovers.

“At first, it was journalists who were being threatened, it was media being suspended,” said Arnaud Froger, head of the Africa desk at Reporters Without Borders. “But now the authorities are preventing information from being spread on the internet.”

“It’s a clear attempt to silence critical voices and critical information,” Froger told VOA’s English to Africa service.

From China to Africa to Russia to the Middle East, countries have used national security as justification for passing vague laws against “inciting against public order” or even just spreading gossip. They have persuaded sites like Facebook and Google to take down content that they consider offensive.

Many countries have created their own strong web presences, both to ensure their messages get out and to monitor for anything remotely resembling criticism.

In Pakistan, bloggers have been kidnapped, allegedly by security forces, and tortured, with the purpose of intimidating them and others against criticizing the government. Vietnam has established a 10,000-strong military cyberwarfare unit to counter “wrong” views on the internet and collect data on government critics.

Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens for spreading dissent. Activists abroad have had their Facebook accounts deactivated for reporting on alleged Saudi war crimes against Yemen.

China allows only local internet companies operating under strict rules. And in North Korea, internet access essentially doesn’t exist for the general populace.

Bypassing restrictions

The restrictions have sparked a cat-and-mouse game for those seeking to get around restrictions. VPNs(Virtual Private Networks)have provided one avenue by masking the user’s identity and location. In response, several countries have banned them.

Encrypted applications like Telegram have been banned in Iran and elsewhere. Several African countries, including Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania, have imposed taxes on internet and social media use —even remittances from overseas relatives — or ordered websites to purchase expensive operating licenses.

“We are actually very much concerned,” Froger said. “It’s as if countries in central, eastern and southern Africa were involved in a race to restrict access to the internet in general and social media in particular.

“Journalists and citizen journalists are actually very much affected by this as they very often use Facebook to post articles and use Whatsapp to communicate with their sources.”

More protests

But in a sign of how much people have become dependent on the internet and social media, anger has started to bloom into legal action and the very protests that their governments have been trying to prevent.

Ugandan officials say they’ll rethink the country’s social media tax after a massive protest this week that police dispersed by firing tear gas and warning shots.

“Sometimes things can work out,” Froger said. “Legal actions can be taken, and protests can be held in the streets. Cameroon is now the first state ever in Africa to be brought before its own constitutional court for an internet blackout. Sometimes just by denouncing, alerting, raising public awareness is sufficient to encourage the government to back down.”

Cameroon’s 36 Year Dictator Announces Bid For Another Term

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 14:07

VOA – ENGLISH

Cameroon’s long-time president, Paul Biya, has announced he will run for another term, aiming to extend his 36 year rule.

Biya, 85, said on Twitter Friday that he will stand as a candidate in the October elections. He said he is running to “ensure a more united, stable and prosperous Cameroon.”

“I am willing to respond positively to your overwhelming calls,” he tweeted.

Of Africa’s living rulers, only Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled uninterrupted for longer.

Biya has been Cameroon’s president since 1982 and if he wins a seventh term, could serve well into his 90s.

In 2008, he removed term limits from the constitution, allowing him to contest and win the 2011 election. Dozens of people were killed in riots protesting the move.

Cameroon is dealing with Boko Haram attacks in the far north and a separatist movement in its two western English-speaking regions.

An army spokesman said Friday that a convoy carrying Cameroon’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo, was attacked by separatists on Thursday in the southwest. He said the minister was not harmed, but said several delegation members were injured.

Mother of Ukrainian Filmmaker Jailed in Russia Seeks Pardon

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 14:04

VOA – ENGLISH

The mother of a jailed Ukrainian filmmaker who has been refusing food for nearly two months asked Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday to pardon him.

Oleg Sentsov, a vocal opponent of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, was sentenced in 2015 to 20 years for conspiracy to commit terror acts. He denies the charges and has been on a hunger strike since mid-May.

In a letter written on Sentsov’s 42nd birthday, Lyudmila Sentsova pleaded with Putin to show mercy and pardon her son. The letter was published by the liberal Ekho Moskvy radio station Friday.

“I will not trying to convince you of Oleg’s innocence, although I myself believe it. I will simply say that he didn’t kill anyone,” Sentsova wrote. “He has already spent four years in jail. His children are waiting for him.”

She exhorted Putin “not to ruin his life and the life of his loved ones.”

Sentsov has lost about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) and is very frail, according to his lawyer. He is receiving vitamins and other nutrients through an intravenous line.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin would consider the request. But Peskov added that he wasn’t sure whether pardoning Sentsov was even legally possible since under Russian law, the president can only pardon a convict if he or she personally asks. Sentsov has refused to do that.

Low-Key Funeral Held For Iran’s Longest-Held Political Prisoner

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 14:01

VOA – ENGLISH

Iran has held a low-key funeral for a former deputy prime minister who became one of the country’s most prominent jailed dissidents.

Abbas Amir-Entezam was buried Friday at Tehran’s biggest cemetery, Behesht-e Zahra, on the southern outskirts of the capital. His widow, family members and several political activists were among a small group of mourners in attendance.

Iranian state news agency IRNA had reported that Amir-Entezam died Thursday at age 86. It also quoted his widow, Elaheh Amir-Entezem, as saying that her husband had suffered a cardiac arrest. He had been in poor health.

Human rights groups have described Amir-Entezam as Iran’s longest-incarcerated political prisoner.

Amir-Entezam rose to prominence during Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, serving in a provisional government first as a deputy prime minister and spokesman, and later as ambassador to Sweden. But he quickly ran afoul of Iran’s new clerical leaders by opposing their moves to turn the country into an Islamic republic. Iranian officials recalled Amir-Entezam from his post in Sweden and sentenced him to prison in 1981 on charges of spying for the United States, a charge he always denied.

Second, third arrests

Amir-Entezam served 17 years in prison for spying before being arrested again in 1998 for making critical statements about the former head of Iran’s Evin prison. Iranian authorities jailed him for a third time in the early 2000s for calling for a referendum on Iran’s Islamist political system.

VOA’s sister network Radio Farda reported that Amir-Entezam apparently was not in custody at the time of his death, but that it was not clear how long he had been out of prison and allowed to return home.

Iranian state news agency ISNA reported that Amir-Entezam’s funeral did not proceed entirely smoothly, with the transfer of his body to the cemetery being delayed for unexplained reasons. It said mourners spoke in commemoration of Amir-Entezam as they waited for the body to arrive.

In Iran, it is traditional for a funeral to include a street procession from the home of a deceased person to a cemetery, but authorities often have banned such processions for funerals of opposition figures.

Iranian journalist Ali Malihi, who was at the cemetery for Friday’s funeral, later posted a video clip to Twitter showing Amir-Entezam’s widow addressing the mourners.

In the clip, Elaheh Amir-Entezam called for Iranians to set aside their differences and work together to develop the country.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Persian service.

REVEALED: Maryland Elections Vendor Owned by Russian Firm

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 13:54

VOA – ENGLISH

A vendor that provides key services for Maryland elections has been acquired by a parent company with links to a Russian oligarch, state officials said Friday after a briefing a day earlier from the FBI.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch made the announcement at a news conference in the Maryland State House, a gathering that included staff members of Gov. Larry Hogan.

“The FBI conveyed to us that there is no criminal activity that they’ve seen,” Busch said. “They believe that the system that we have has not been breached.”

In a letter Friday, Hogan, Busch and Miller asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for technical assistance to evaluate the network used by the elections board.

“It is with concern that I learned that information provided to the Maryland State Board of Elections by federal law enforcement this week indicates that a vendor contracted by the Board to provide a number of services, including voter registration infrastructure, had been acquired by a parent company with financial ties to a Russian national,” Hogan said in a statement.

Miller and Busch also said they have asked Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh to review existing contractual obligations of the state, and asked for a review of the system to ensure there have been no breaches.

Vendor statement

The vendor, ByteGrid LLC, was purchased by a Russian investor in 2015 without knowledge of Maryland state officials, officials said.

In a statement released late Friday the company said, “ByteGrid’s investors have no involvement or control in company operations.”

It also said, “We stand by our commitment to security in everything we do, and do not share information about who our customers are and what we do for them.” ByteGrid encouraged people to read the company’s Maryland elections contract, which is a public record.

State officials said ByteGrid hosts the statewide voter registration, candidacy, and election management system; the online voter registration system; online ballot delivery system; and unofficial election night results website.

Public trust

Hogan said in his statement that while the information relayed by the FBI did not indicate “any wrongdoing or criminal acts have been discovered,” he noted that even the appearance of the potential for “bad actors” to have any influence on the state’s election infrastructure could undermine public trust in the election system.

“That is why it is imperative that the State Board of Elections take immediate and comprehensive action to evaluate the security of our system and take any and all necessary steps to address any vulnerabilities,” Hogan said.

In a statement, the state elections board said the FBI told officials that ByteGrid is financed by AltPoint Capital Partners, whose fund manager is a Russian, and its largest investor is a Russian oligarch named Vladimir Potanin. The board said that in response, it has been working with various federal and state officials to ensure that voter data and the state’s election systems are secure.

Busch described the leading investor as being “very close to the Russian prime minister, Vladimir Putin.”

Miller said Maryland officials decided it was “imperative that our constituents know that a Russian oligarch has purchased our election machinery, and we need to be on top of it.”

Maryland officials made the announcement hours after the Justice Department released a grand jury indictment against 12 Russian military intelligence officers for computer hacking offenses during the 2016 U.S. election. Miller said that announcement convinced Maryland officials to disclose the FBI briefing, even if the agents who briefed them were not eager to make the information public.

“They weren’t really anxious for us to come forward, but after today we felt we had an obligation to share it with you and share it with our constituents that this has occurred and we want the public to know this as well,” Miller said.

Maryland and US indictment

In a statement, Maryland’s elections board said it was not the state election office mentioned in the federal indictment. The board also said no Maryland election official has used or is using services provided by the vendor referenced in the indictment.

Busch said there was no indication the company had anything to do with a voter registration error at the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration that created the potential for tens of thousands of voters to require provisional ballots in last month’s primary.

Maryland was one of the states with suspicious online activities before the 2016 election, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In August 2016, the state board says “unusual activity” was observed on the state’s online voter registration and ballot request system, and the board immediately responded. The board says it provided log files to the FBI, one of the state’s cybersecurity vendors and another cybersecurity firm, and all three independently reviewed the transactions related to the activity and found nothing suspicious.

Trump Blames Obama for US Response to Russian Hacking

Sat, 07/14/2018 - 13:51

VOA – ENGLISH

President Donald Trump on Saturday tried to blame the Obama administration for not responding aggressively enough to Russian hacking of Democratic targets in the 2016 U.S. election — cyberattacks underpinning the indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers.

Trump’s first response to special counsel Robert Mueller’s initial charges against Russian government officials for interfering in American politics came in tweets the president posted while at his golf resort in Scotland, two days before a high-stakes summit in Finland with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

“The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration,” Trump tweeted. “Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?

The indictment announced Friday said the Russians hacked into Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party and released tens of thousands of private communications as part of a broad conspiracy by the Kremlin to meddle in an American election that ended up putting Trump in the White House.

U.S. intelligence agencies have said Moscow was aiming to help the Trump campaign and harm Clinton’s bid.

The 29-page indictment lays out how, months before Americans voted in November 2016, Russians schemed to break into key Democratic email accounts, including those belonging to Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Stolen emails, many politically damaging for Clinton, appeared on WikiLeaks in the campaign’s final stretch.

The charges say the Russian defendants, using a persona known as Guccifer 2.0, in August 2016 contacted a person in touch with the Trump campaign to offer help. And they say that on the same day Trump, in a speech, urged Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails, Russian hackers tried for the first time to break into email accounts used by her personal office.

Mueller did not allege that Trump campaign associates were involved in the hacking effort, that Americans were knowingly in touch with Russian intelligence officers or that any vote tallies were altered by hacking.

The White House seized on those points in a statement that offered no condemnation of Russian election interference.

Trump has repeatedly expressed skepticism about Russian involvement in the hacking while being accused by Democrats of cozying up to Putin. Trump, hours before the indictment was made public, complained about the Russia investigation hours, saying the “stupidity” was making it “very hard to do something with Russia.”

The Kremlin denied anew that it tried to sway the election. “The Russian state has never interfered and has no intention of interfering in the U.S. elections,” said Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov.

The indictment identifies the defendants as officers with Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, also known as GRU. If that link is established, it would shatter the Kremlin denials of the Russian state’s involvement in the U.S. elections, given that the GRU is part of the state machine.

The Russian defendants are not in custody, and it is not clear they will ever appear in an American court.

The indictment accuses the Russian hackers, starting in March 2016, of covertly monitoring the computers of dozens of Democratic officials and volunteers, implanting malicious computer code known as malware to explore the networks and steal data, and sending phishing emails to gain access to accounts.

One attempt at interference came hours after Trump, in a July 27, 2016, speech, suggested Russians look for emails that Clinton said she had deleted from her tenure as secretary of state.

“Russia, if you’re listening,” Trump said, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

That evening, the indictment says, the Russians attempted to break into email accounts used by Clinton’s personal office, along with 76 Clinton campaign email addresses.

By June 2016, the defendants, relying on fictional personas such as DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, began planning the release of tens of thousands of stolen emails, the indictment alleges.

The Podesta emails published by WikiLeaks displayed the campaign’s private communications, including deliberations about messaging that played into attacks that Clinton was calculating and a political flip-flopper. Private speeches she gave to financial industry firms were particularly damaging within the left wing of the Democratic party and among independents frustrated with the influence of Wall Street in politics.

The indictment alleges that Guccifer 2.0 was in touch with multiple Americans in the summer of 2016 about the pilfered material, including an unidentified congressional candidate who requested and then received stolen information.

On Aug. 15, 2016, the indictment says, Guccifer 2.0 reached out to someone in contact with the Trump campaign and asked the person if they had seen anything “interesting in the docs I posted?” Guccifer 2.0 said it would be a “great pleasure” to help.

Prosecutors say weeks later, Guccifer 2.0 referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, “(p)retty standard.”

The indictment doesn’t identify the person, though longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone acknowledged Friday, through his lawyer, a “24-word exchange with someone on Twitter claiming to be Guccifer 2.0.”

“This exchange is now entirely public and provides no evidence of collaboration or collusion with Guccifer 2.0 or anyone else in the alleged hacking of the DNC emails,” said lawyer Grant Smith.

The charges come as Mueller continues to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. Before Friday, 20 people and three companies had been charged in the investigation.

Defendants include four former Trump campaign and White House aides, three of whom have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate, and 13 Russians accused in a powerful social media campaign to sway U.S. public opinion in 2016.

Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said on Twitter that it was time to end the investigation since “no Americans are involved” in Friday’s indictment. But with Mueller still investigating, it’s not known whether further indictments are taking shape or will.

You Don’t Send a Buffoon to Play Chess in Russia

Thu, 07/12/2018 - 19:16

Trump’s obnoxious remarks at the NATO Summit about Germany only prove once again that the man is out of his mind. He’s unfit to be president on so many levels and he never stops. It’s one continuous vomiting of dumbness that our country and its allies cannot bear much longer. I believe Trump is the pawn of the business community gone awry and they are trying to use him as president of a new fascist empire. But he’s actually been no more than a jester and one that’s dying soon to be corrected by the outside world if he doesn’t learn to play nice in the sandbox.

Trump is raising holy hell at NATO because Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t like all the American military bases surrounding Russia. President Reagan told the last General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, that the United States would not put American military based in former Soviet countries near Russia. I guess that we lied because today our bases are all around Russia, in just about all of the NATO countries.

President Putin’s long plan is to break up or marginalize NATO in order to make it ineffective and break its solidarity. This way Russia can forge new alliances in Europe through resource diplomacy and even the use of conflict. Putin has historically seemed smart enough to try to stay out of the crosshairs of America until he at least tries to set favorable terms of conflict and gets his allegiances in place.

It’s clear that Putin is up to something, either because he is truly concerned about American imperial domination or because he’s just trying to be relevant to his constituents back home. He’s clearly been trying hard to gain friends in Syria, Iran, and even some of our NATO allies.

I of course don’t want to go to war against Russia either and as far as I’m concerned live and let live. It’s also true that our country, is not perfect. We have a long history and interest in maintaining the idea of perpetual war. The American government has always been happy to have a patsy whether it would be in Russia, North Korea or Iran.

But even before Trump, our allies in NATO have been growing tired of our behavior, like when we trumpeted lies and propaganda to encourage them to join our war in Iraq. Now America has a President that is insulting members of NATO and the G7, pulling out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, pulling out of the UN human rights council, and most importantly abandoning the Iran deal that most of the NATO nations signed onto. America is learning the hard way: You don’t send a buffoon to play chess in Russia.

PHOTOS: The Freedom Flotilla in Cascais, Portugal

Wed, 07/11/2018 - 21:09
On June 19th, the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza arrived in Cascais, Portugal

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is sailing in a peaceful effort to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and for the ideals of freedom of movement and the right to a decent future. This is second of several articles I will post reporting on my time in Spain volunteering to help on the Freedom Flotilla Coalition to Palestine’s Gaza. Thank you again for all who supported my trip through donations!

We arrived in Cascais, Portugal from Gijon, Spain after leaving Norway in mid-May. The flotilla is expecting to arrive in Gaza July 29. Traveling with me were other participants and crew of the boat named Al-Awda. They were Mikkel Gruner, Charlie Andreasson, Daniel Ross (UK/Spain), Zohar Chamberlain Regev (Israel/Spain), Bullit Bourbon (USA), Ron Badger Rousseu (Canada), Awni Farhat, Dr. Carlos Ponte-Mtitelbrun (Spain), Angela Vallina (Spain), Lasse Vestergren Asthøy (Norway), and Muaz Rusian (Malaysia).

Captain Charlie Andreasson and Mikkel Gruner from the cabin preparing the Al-Awda for docking. Captain Tomas Morate and Zohar Chamberlain Regev on the Al-Awda as it arrives in Cascais, Portugal.

Zohar Chamberlain Regev is an impressive Israeli citizen who was born and raised in Kibbutz Kfar Hahoresh, near Nazareth. Zohar is the owner of the famous ‘Women’s Boat to Gaza’ known as the Zaytouna-Oliva that was seized in 2016 and still the object of court proceedings in Israel. Currently, she represents the Rumbo a Gaza organization on the “Right to a Just Future for Palestine” Steering Committee and is the Freedom Flotilla’s boat leader on board Al Awda (The Return).

Mikkel Gruner overseeing docking at a gasoline dock to then be moved to the Al-Awda’s parking space for the next couple of days. During that time the participants and crew engaged with local groups to hold events and marches in support of lifting Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Al-Awda docked in Cascai, Portugal on June 19. Meeting on board the Al-Awda with, from left to right, Daniel Ross, Ron Badger Rousseu, Bullitt Bourbon and Charlie Andreasson. Dr Carlos and Angela Vallina. “Chris”

“Chris”, a Frenchman living in Spain, explained to me why he supports the people in Palestine and has come to see the Flotilla and participate in events, “All over the world we’re in the same war, rich against the poor, the government against the population. Money is in power and making war against the people, the human being. So, I am poor human being.”

Chris went on to say that when people are fighting over money they don’t make time to have peace, freedom and brotherhood. I asked Chris about the spin in the US that portrays the Palestinians as the “terrorists”, he said a lot of money is spent to make the Palestinians look to be terrorists. “It works, some people believe that. Most of the population knows what’s going on.”

For more of video of my interview with Chris see the April Watters YouTube Channel.

There was not as much support in Cascais as there was in the Flotilla’s previous stops in Gijon and in Cadiz. The security at the marina told the Flotilla and activists to not have cameras in the marina area. There was supposed to be a rally and march in the marina area that was not allowed to happen. The reason was that the people who had expensive yachts in the marina did not want their privacy compromised. Supporters of Palestine were not allowed to bring or hold banners inside the marina so the small crowd of about 50-60 went just outside the marina where a lot of people would be passing by.

Outside the marina. Marny Kittredge, one of the groundcrew for the Flotilla to Gaza, holding the Palestinian flag at the rally in Cascais, Portugal. One supporter of the Palestinians shared with me in Portuguese why we came to rally today. His interview will be posted on my April Watters YouTube Channel soon.

While some people were rallying, Zohar was being interviewed by Portuguese TV SIC about the mission of the Flotilla and what is expected to happen when it gets close to the port in Gaza. Due to some confusion, the Flotilla sailboat named “The Freedom” was delayed in docking. This is a photo of it waiting to be allowed to dock. The Freedom sailboat finally docked around 11:30 am in a spot next to the Al-Awda in Cascais, Portugal. Trip to Lisbon for an event and talk. Portuguese politician Ivan Goncalves

Portuguese politician Ivan Goncalves spoke at the talk with other members of the Flotilla to Gaza. He is currently the director of the powerful Socialist Youth movement in Portugal. The Socialist Youth movement is part of the Portuguese Socialist Party whose leader, António Costa, is the current Prime Minister of Portugal.

Ron Badger Rousseu on the right and Awni Farhat next to him spoke about what is going on in Palestine and how people can help spread awareness and action to help end the blockade of Gaza by Israeli forces. Daniel Ross sharing at a press Conference on the second day in Cascais, Portugal. Born in the UK but living in Spain, Daniel spoke of being the son of a Jewish soldier who fought for the British army in World War 2 who liberated concentration camps and helped found Israel as a Zionist state. “It’s very important to point out that the people wearing uniforms in the streets of Palestine with the Israeli flag on, they are not soldiers”. Bruno Dias

Bruno Dias, the President of the Portugal-Palestine Parliamentary Friendship Group, joined the press conference too. Dias was also recently interviewed by The Real News Network’s Dimitri Lascaris:

Members and crew of the Flotilla and Bruno Dias holding the Palestinian flag.

Bruno Dias visited the marina and the boats spoke wit Jena Marklund, the captain of the Freedom sailboat. Local artists painted pictures on the side of the Al Awda using a stencil and then coloring the rest. Here the artist is seen filling in a military drone with spray paint.

Yellowstone National Park and the Virtue of Being Brown

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 21:29
link

The poor are an important part of the American economic food chain. While they are threatened, scrutinized and hated upon, they are still needed. They are the spenders and consumers helping produce and maintain the world’s largest economy. So when we diminish them by way of strangling wages, healthcare and other public aid, you diminish their lives and put the economy in danger as well.

After they killed off all the wolves in Yellowstone National Park, they started to notice a increase in deer, moose and elk populations. Increasingly, the trees that the deer, elk and moose would eat, especially the baby trees, would be consumed right to the ground. Subsequently the river banks started to fail and so did the soil. It wasn’t until wolves started to be reintroduced that the ecological balance started to improve.

All God’s creatures are important and vital to every environment. So we need everyone and everybody for our best interest. What you believe costs you, will cost you even more through removal or diminishment. This is exactly the case in the over incarceration of minorities. We are making life harder on them and their children.

So the arrogance of pride or superiority will always take from you. The corporations of the United States have a monopoly on all the money and they are distracting us by saying it’s the brown person’s fault for all our social and economic problems. It’s a complete lie. They are just redirecting the blame of their own greed and are actually making things worse. We are better than that. We can tell right from wrong and we don’t have to be mindless fools and believe the lies and deceptions of the Alt Right. United we stand divided we fall. It’s time we put better people at the helm, and maybe some brown people!

Democrats Must Be The Genuine Article

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 19:29

If the Democrats are ever to win and have any influence for good they have to be real the Genuine Article. The party of Clinton won the battle but lost the war. Corporate Democrats aren’t any better than Republicans, maybe worse. Their hypocrisy and confusion helps nobody but the oligarchs and it’s true that many Democrats are just selling out to the same ole group.

I’m not saying capitalism does not have its place but the fact is that capitalism through greed in America has actively tried to destroy our ideals. There should be some kind of working relationship between capitalism and labor but capitalism in America has said, “I’m in charge, forget you. Forget your ideals, your family and your future”.

Now these same forces have begun to be unleashed upon the rest of the world attacking whom it may: the Chinese, Iran, Canada, whomever. What will it take to demand change? Trump has already assaulted the transgender soldier, the refugee, women, our environment, labor, public education, and has started his attacks on social security and Medicare. The man is a liar. I hate to say it, but it’s true. The only way to counter him is to be the Genuine Article.

So Democrats, don’t compromise to win lobbying dollars from the likes of Goldman Sachs. “The borrower is slave to the lender”. Fight the good fight. Bernie Sanders has done this better than anyone in recent history and it can be done I believe by the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party made a major mistake being aligned to Hillary, to its undoing. The future of the party comes from nominating people like Bernie. He leads by example. Elizabeth Warren is another leader who has earned respect from Democratic voters. Together, these two have showed the way, they set the example. They are not asking for blind trust because they are not autocrats. They are the Genuine Article.

My Time With The Gaza Freedom Flotilla: In Gijon, Spain

Tue, 07/10/2018 - 10:00

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is sailing in a peaceful effort to break the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza and for the ideals of freedom of movement and the right to a decent future. The coalition sought volunteer ground crew and I decided to go to Spain to help. This is the first of several articles I will post reporting on my time in Spain volunteering to help on the Freedom Flotilla Coalition to Gaza. The photo essay and videos in this article are from the time I arrived at the Flotilla when it was ported in Gijon, Spain.

Thank you again for all who supported my trip through donations!

I arrived in Gijon, a coastal city in northern Spain, by train in this photo and walking from the train station to my hostel with Barbara Briggs-Letson, Marny Kittredge and Keith Meyer when we came across this painting. There was a lot of support for Palestine in Gijon. From left: Marny “Kit” Kittredge, Barbara Briggs-Letson and I stand with one of the pro-Palestinian paintings in Gijon.

Here is my Facebook Livestream recorded as I was arriving in Gijon and at the dock of the Flotilla:

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Gijon Spain

CAR Refugees Sing for Peace at Camp in Cameroon

Mon, 07/09/2018 - 14:19

VOA – ENGLISH

A group of Central African Republic refugees is using music to call on the world to save their country from misery and stop the conflict so they can return home. On the streets of Cameroon’s northern town of Garoua, they also asked their host country Cameroon to push for peace.

These are the voices of five refugees from the Central African Republic singing in Garoua, northern Cameroon, for peace to return to their troubled country.

They sing every weekend along the streets and in front of churches and mosques, urging people in conflict to talk and not fall into the same situation as their country.

Twenty-seven-year old Puchi Urbain is the group leader. He says they fled from their city, Alindao, when armed groups attacked, killing several people, and looting cattle, farm produce and cash.

He says they ended up in Cameroon at a United Nations-run refugee camp in the village of Mbaimbum. After sharing their stories, they thought more people should know about their experience. So, they created a singing group called Peace Crusaders.

Urbain says they decided to sing in French as well as the Sango, Fulfude and Lingala languages spoken in several parts of Africa so that all people should know that peace is priceless. He says they sing for children who have lost their parents in wars around the African continent.

The Central African Republic has been in conflict since 2013, when the Seleka, a coalition of rebels from a predominately Muslim region, forced President Francois Bozize from office. Violence between armed Christians and Muslim groups has forced more than a million people from their homes.

Urbain says he had experience singing in a Catholic church choir group.Their church was destroyed before he fled to Cameroon.

In a song titled “We Want Peace,” the group questions why weapons are used as solutions to crises when history teaches the world that after every conflict, people still sit at the negotiating table to sort out their differences.

Twenty-seven-year old Dende Claudette is the lead singer and joined the group two years ago. She lost her grandmother in the war and is still hoping that one day she will see her three sisters who were lost in the conflict.

She says her heart bleeds because she has seen many people being killed and stray bullets taking the lives of those fleeing the carnage. She says parents watched helplessly as their children were slaughtered in front of them and armed men stole their money. Some mothers were not able to bury their children because they had to flee for their lives.

The refugee singers have opened a clothing repair shop in Garoua to earn a living and receive donations from well wishers. They say they will keep singing until there is peace in the C.A.R.

Another Trump Supreme Court Nominee and Danger Ahead

Sun, 07/08/2018 - 17:29

One more right wing Supreme Court Justice will be the final nail in the American coffin. I hope Mitch McConnell is proud of the fact that his act of denying President Obama the Merrick Garland nomination for the Supreme Court seat as well as his support for Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch is going to bring total control of the Supreme Court to corporate America, thus leading to the undoing of this great nation.

This unmerciful biased court is going to undo not just the Great Society of President Johnson but probably the New Deal itself. Social Security is at risk. Medicare is at risk. Medicaid is at risk. Roe v Wade, child labor protection, environmental protection, public education, even our voting rights are at risk.

The right wing of the country, especially the 1% has taken control. The last time this happened was in the late 1800’s and was known as the era of the “Fuller Court”. That system produced not only the biggest stock market crash in history but also World War I as well as World War II.

So now of more recent history, Clarence Thomas’s wife Virginia worked on the Bush campaign of 2000 through the Heritage Foundation owned and operated by the Koch Brothers. The Heritage Foundation functions as the intellectual lobbing cult of the multi-billionaire Koch Brothers, a serious conflict of interest. Virginia Thomas assured us it was not a conflict of interest even though George H W Bush had nominated her husband to the Supreme Court. So forget who she sleeps with at night. If Supreme Court Justice Thomas can’t admit or see the corruption in that, he’s not fit to be a Supreme Court Justice.

I believe we should have impeachment proceedings on this matter and on how it has led to Citizens United through the friendly ties of some of the Justices to the Heritage Foundation. They are corrupt and have to go. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of George W Bush to take and win the Presidential election because they stopped the vote count in Florida. Al Gore had more votes and he should of been president. But he conceded.

12,000 black males were thrown off the voter roles because they were labeled felons. This was the beginning of the ongoing Republican scam to take minorities off voters roll nationwide leading to the scam of Kris Kobach’s campaign against voter fraud. The only fraud though has been has been on the side of the Republicans. I believe it was this campaign of Republican voter suppression that led directly to the economic crash of 2008 and even cost the lives of about 500,000 Iraqis due to the invasion of Iraq.

So don’t tell me fair elections aren’t important. Supreme Court Justices have been given the power of God and the consecutive ones act like devils. When our children are working in the salt mines instead of earning an education in public schools, the American public may wake up. But I doubt it. For we are sheep. We won’t believe our country would do these evil acts to us because we believe in our authorities. We are proud of our heritage. We have yet to understand that those in power are not like us and that will be our undoing: our pride in a oligarchy that no longer cares about us.

So keep your vigilance because it is the work of patriot to leave the fools of the crowd and come out from among them and have a mind of your own. So America, judge rightly. No longer believe the lies of the corrupt but help plan a future with your brethren in the progressive movement for a better tomorrow. I pray.