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President Trump’s mocking of Dr Ford sparks outrage

The apparent mocking of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by United States President Donald Trump has sparked wide spread outrage and real fear that it will be even harder for survivors of these heinous deeds to come forward.

“I had one beer. Well, do you think it was — nope, it was one beer,” Trump said, mimicking Ford’s testimony. “How did you get home? I don’t remember. How’d you get there? I don’t remember. Where is the place? I don’t remember. How many years ago was it? I don’t know.”

These comments were made during a rally in Southaven, Mississippi Tuesday night by the President and unsurprisingly have many advocates for victims of sexual assault positively livid.

Ian Henderson, Director of Legal and System Services at the  Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA)  is worried that the President’s remarks will not only discourage victims from coming forward about assault, but also that if they do they might not be believed.

“It creates a disincentive for survivors to come forward,” said Henderson. “There are already enough reasons why victims don’t come forward because of fear of not being believed. But on the flip side, we’ve seen a lot of positive movement on social media like #IBelieveSurvivors and #WhyIDidntReport.”

The White House has come to the defense of the President, saying that it was not mocking Dr. Ford; instead he was simply stating facts.

“The President simply pointed out the facts of the matter and that is what the Senate will have to use to determine whether or not they vote to support him or not,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday.

The President also reacted to the public’s outcry from the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh and expressed his concern of how this would impact other men.

“It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of,” Trump said. “This is a very, very — this is a very difficult time. What’s happening here has much more to do than even the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice!”

Actress, activist and sexual assault survivor Alyssa Milano, who continues to be very public in her support of Dr. Ford, reacted to Trump’s comments, saying that it was in fact a ‘scary time for women’.

“Men are having a hard time right now? I mean, c’mon,” Milano said. “Women, young people, have had it difficult for generations and generations and generations.”

In an interview with MSNBC, where she spoke of the backlash against victims who spoke up about their abuse, she said that right now they were in the process of finally defining their boundaries, and would no longer be silenced.

“And if that means men have a hard time right now, then I’m sorry, this is the way the pendulum has to shift for us to have the equality and security in our country.” She said.

Henderson, also took issue with Trumps’ comments, saying that they completely discount men and boys of sexual violence and lumped men into the ‘category of potential perpetrators or at least complicit in rape culture’.

 

 

Does Vladimir Putin own Donald Trump?

At the now infamous US-Russia summit in Helsinki, Vladimir Putin made what President Trump characterized as “an incredible offer”: In exchange for allowing Special Counsel Bob Mueller to question Russian intelligence officers indicted in the collusion probe, Putin wants to question Americans he claims were involved in ‘crimes’ against Russia.

Putin accused American-born British financier Bill Browder and his partners of conspiring with US intelligence officials to launder $400 million out of Russia and into the campaign coffers of Hillary Clinton.

Total funds raised by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election cycle amount to $563 million, so that would mean Browder and associates funded an astounding 71% of her campaign. Perhaps the sheer absurdity is what forced Putin to recant his statement.

Nevertheless, the Russians released a list of 11 Americans they want to question, including Michael McFaul, former US Ambassador to Russia under President Obama and a vociferous Putin critic. The list also names at least two other diplomats, as well as members of the intelligence community.

On Wednesday, New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman prodded press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to clarify President Trump’s position. Is he really willing to hand American officials over for questioning by Putin?

“There was some conversation about it,” Sanders said, “but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the president will work with his team and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that.”

Let’s be clear: no president should have to “work with his team” on this. The immediate, obvious answer is “nyet!” What could possibly be more impolitic than subjecting American diplomats to interrogation by a hostile power without a whiff of evidence? And what could possibly make Trump look even more like a Putin stooge?

The common thread connecting the 11 Americans singled out by Putin seems their work on sanctions against Russia. This is really about Bill Browder and the Magnitsky Act.

Although Putin now treats Browder as a bête noire, they were once allies. Browder’s Hermitage Capital Management was the largest foreign investor in Russia until 2005, when he was suddenly stripped of his visa and deported as a “national security threat.” The exact reason is unclear, but it’s worth noting Hermitage had made a habit of auditing corrupt Russian conglomerates with ties to the Kremlin.

In the wake of Browder’s expulsion, Sergei Magnitsky, Browder’s Russian accountant, alleged that police helped organized crime groups to take over three of Hermitage’s businesses and claim fraudulent tax refunds on their behalf amounting to $230 million.

Magnitsky was arrested in 2008. He was held for 11 months without trial, denied necessary medical attention, and then beaten to death seven days before the Russian government was legally required to release him.

The murder of this whistleblower triggered an international outcry. Browder reached out to his political contacts in the US, who responded by introducing the Magnitsky Act. Signed into law by President Obama in 2012, it barred Russians accused of human rights abuses from entering the US and froze their stateside assets. The Act was later expanded to include criminals from other countries as well.

Canada passed its own Magnitsky Act in 2017; the UK and the Baltic states have done likewise.

Putin has fought bitterly against this legislation. Repealing Magnitsky was apparently the big ask of Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-linked lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and other Trump campaign officials at Trump Tower in 2016 after offering dirt on Hillary Clinton through intermediaries.

As fate would have it, Veselnitskaya also defended Prevezon Holdings Ltd in American court, a Russian firm accused of laundering $14 million of dirty money into the New York real estate market. About $600,000 of those funds came from the $230 million tax fraud that caused Magnitsky to be killed in the first place.

Trump’s ham-fisted overtures to Putin make less than no sense from a policy perspective.

The Russian Federation is a kleptocracy to rival Ferdinand Marcos’ Philippines or Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire. It is a pirate state, run by a cabal of crooked bureaucrats, tycoons, and gangsters who have plundered their country’s natural wealth, depriving their own people.

Despite an official salary of US $302,000, Putin lives in a $1 billion palace and owns a $500 million yacht. He may, in fact, be the richest man in the world, and he didn’t get there by saving paycheques from his days as a middling KGB officer in East Germany.

Russia has invaded Crimea, shot down a passenger jet over Ukraine, and propped up the mass-murdering Assad regime in Syria. Russian intelligence operatives have hacked into American political institutions, interfered in an American election, bought influence with right-wing groups like the NRA, and waged an information war against the concept of democracy itself. They haven’t backed off, either; if anything, they’re doubling down.

Sanctions, combined with tepid world oil prices since 2014, have crippled Putin’s economy, and his popularity is in serious decline. Given his intransigence, the sensible course is to keep up the pressure until his people finally tire of him.

But Donald Trump continues to give succour to Putin, his cronies, and their corrosive conspiracy theories. That’s why the mainstream media is (finally, belatedly) asking: does Putin literally own Trump?

Trump doesn’t have the power to give Russia Bill Browder; Browder has been a citizen of the UK since 1998. He probably won’t hand over American diplomats like Ambassador McFaul either. Still, that he would even contemplate it can only be described as rock bottom, even for an administration that has hit rock bottom many times before and kept on drilling. They’re fracking for personal worsts.

If President Trump is a Russian asset, he’s certainly the most guileless in history. Yet he seems poised to get away with it by virtue of his position and his cult of personality.

Somewhere, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are clawing at the lids of their coffins.

Melania Trump’s coat under fire

First Lady, Melania Trump wore a coat that read: “I really don’t care, do u?” on her visit to New Hope Children’s Shelter in McAllen, Texas, a shelter housing dozens of children who were separated from their families.

Donald Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy was under fire in recent weeks as photos of crying, confused children separated from their parents made it to mainstream media. Leaked audio footage of children crying and begging for their parents was also released to the public, which sparked further outcry from those keeping up with Trump’s cruelty.

Trump’s insensitivity and blatant disregard for the families was made abundantly clear as he let thousands of children get torn from their parents without batting an eye. Only under recent scrutiny did he sign an executive order to halt the separation of families. Even with this move, the Trump family unsurprisingly remained tone-deaf about how to approach the situation.

On her visit to New Hope Children’s Shelter in McAllen, Texas, Melania Trump wore a tasteless jacket that sported the phrase “I really don’t care, do u?” on the back in white letters. When news of the sighting first broke out, it was difficult to make out what her coat said specifically. Though, suspicions were confirmed when President Trump addressed his wife’s attire in a tweet. On June 21 he wrote: “‘I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?’” written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!”

Naturally, news sites from around the world picked up the story and published pieces on her attire. Twitter users then received the news and started immediately commenting. Many Twitter users called her move deliberate and some mentioned how, even if she didn’t know what she was doing, the move was tone-deaf.

The president’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, took to Twitter to criticize the media for focussing their attention on Melania’s wardrobe rather than on more pressing issues. “Today’s visit w the children in Texas impacted @flotus greatly. If media would spend their time & energy on her actions & efforts to help kids – rather than speculate & focus on her wardrobe – we could get so much accomplished on behalf of children. #SheCares #ItsJustAJacket,” Grisham wrote on June 21.

It isn’t just Melania who missed the mark. Their daughter, Ivanka published a tweet after her father signed the executive order. On June 20 she wrote: “Thank you @POTUS for taking critical action ending family separation at our border. Congress must now act + find a lasting solution that is consistent with our shared values; the same values that so many come here seeking as they endeavor to create a better life for their families.”

As with Melania, Ivanka was berated on Twitter for her tweet by those on the social media platform. Users noted how Trump started the separation of families and only after extreme criticism did he do anything about it. One user asked how she feels knowing that her family’s name would be a blemish on US history. It’s a fair question.

Immigrant families remain under Trump’s heel

Yesterday, Donald Trump took the bold and decisive step of signing an executive order against himself.

Specifically, against the separation of migrant families at the southern border that was occasioned by his administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration.

“Thank you @POTUS,” first daughter and White House advisor Ivanka Trump tweeted, “for taking critical action ending family separation at our border.” Yes. Thank you, daddy, for mopping up the humanitarian crisis you yourself created for political gain. I so love when you do that.

Still, it is noteworthy, even unprecedented, that President Trump has surrendered on an issue of such vital importance to his core supporters. Nor does it seem likely that it was First Lady Melania Trump or de facto First Lady Ivanka who talked him down.

More probably, the president could smell what was on the breeze; a CNN poll published on 18 June showed 67% of Americans disapproving of family separations. Senate Republicans, in a rare display of moral courage, unanimously denounced the practice. Even Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), an immigration hardliner and famously the most hated man in Washington, slithered out of his pit to register his disgust.

Viewed from any angle, this policy is a disaster. A disaster for its underage victims, chiefly, but also for the United States, its government, its ruling Republican party, and its president.

In the first place, if anyone expected a hard line stance to deter undocumented immigrants, that hope proved futile. Leaked Homeland Security documents show that the number of people caught illegally crossing the border actually rose by 5% in May — from what was already characterized as an historic high in preceding months.

Of course, family separations were never sincerely intended to hold back the tide. As President Trump himself made abundantly clear, he was using caged children as bargaining counters against Democrats (and Republicans) in the House of Representatives who have refused to fund the building of a border wall. With the November midterms looming, Trump is desperate to unite his base by making headway on this keynote campaign promise.

The president tried to play chicken with Congress with thousands of helpless migrant children in the back seat. He swerved, and in so doing, perhaps crashed into the limits of his power. If there’s one silver lining here, it’s the demonstration that even a recalcitrant, ineducable child-Tsar like Trump can be restrained by the preponderance of public opinion.

If there are two silver linings, the other is the shambolic, humiliatingly inept management of this policy by the administration. It really is a wonder these people found their way out of their mothers’ wombs.

As The Washington Post has observed, Trump and his minions offered a rainbow of contradictory explanations and excuses for their callous insistence on separating children from their parents.

The president’s chief of staff, John Kelly, and the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, both described separations as a deterrent against undocumented immigration. When asked if that was the case on Monday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen dismissed the very idea as offensive.

White House aide Marc Short characterized the separations as government policy; Nielsen said, before Congress, “We do not have a policy to separate children from their parents.”

Presidential advisor and surrogate Kellyanne Conway said she didn’t want anybody to “use these kids as leverage.” But when Sessions first announced the ‘zero tolerance’ prosecution of immigrants that started all this, he explained the rationale: “Congress has failed to pass effective legislation that serves the national interest—that closes dangerous loopholes and fully funds a wall along our southern border.” Sounds like a classic hostage situation to me.

Finally, and to no one’s surprise, the president has contradicted himself over and over and over again. He said he felt illegal immigrants must be prosecuted. Then he said he was forced into doing it by the Democrats. He was against a ‘moderate’ immigration reform bill. Then he was for it. And, of course, he couldn’t end the separations by executive order until he spontaneously did so yesterday afternoon.

Make no mistake: the executive order does not end the crisis. It may, in fact, be illegal. Trump wants to keep up the prosecution of as many migrants as possible without estranging parents from children. How you ‘keep families together’ when mom and dad are in prison is another question.

Besides, there is no plan to reunite the 2,000 children who were already removed from their parents’ care. The executive order will halt future separations for the time being, and two pieces of remedying legislation are being debated. But there’s every possibility we’ll be back to square one in a month.

Perhaps some small comfort can be taken in the knowledge that the chaos of the president’s mind, his obdurate lack of strategy, is contagious. It has spread throughout the administration, hamstringing all attempts to explain what the hell this policy was — other than repugnant.

As Eugene McCarthy observed, “The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is its inefficiency.”

I fear that will be cold comfort indeed for children who will go to sleep tonight without their parents to tuck them in.

Twitter: @WoobieRoods

Canada remains dedicated to Paris Agreement despite U.S. decision

The Paris Agreement has been making headlines worldwide after the Trump administration removed themselves from the Paris Climate Agreement and ignited world-wide criticism. Though the United States seems to be doomed to a coal-filled future, where does Canada stand when it comes to Paris Agreement goals?

As it turns out, Canada has a lot of work to do in order to achieve the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, but remains dedicated to the accord. When the U.S. dropped out of the Paris Agreement, not one other country followed suit and Prime Minister Trudeau went as far to release a statement criticizing President Trump’s decision: “We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris agreement,” Trudeau said. “Canada is unwavering in our commitment to fight climate change and support clean economic growth. Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.”

It appears the Canadian government understands climate change is an important issue, but is this country doing enough to combat the devastating effects of carbon emissions? The Columbia Institute, a non-profit dedicated to research and building sustainable communities, released a report card assessing the federal government’s climate change achievements and outlining which areas need improvement. According to the report, entitled Top Asks for Climate Action report,  as of 2015, Canada ranked 58 out of 61 countries for climate protection performance. The government has met certain climate change goals by implementing a national price on carbon, establishing a national transportation strategy, and offering dedicated funding to public transit in its municipalities. Alternatively, things Canada needs to work include setting greenhouse gas targets that would meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel industries, and moving towards renewable energy instead of locking the economy into a high carbon path.

The next step would be for Canada to adopt science-led and legally binding greenhouse reduction targets and follow best practices of countries like Finland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Mexico. As a part of the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) mandates nationally determined commitments by 2020. Canada’s current targets do not meet the Paris Agreement standards, and these new objectives would need to be set at 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 from the current standing goal of 30 per cent.

South of the border, the Trump government announced on June 1 the United States wouldn’t remain in the Paris Climate Agreement, citing the accord as ‘unfair’. Ignoring the pleas of many U.S. stakeholders, Trump instead offered to renegotiate the terms. The European Union outright refused to engage in negotiations. Instead, the EU plans to bypass the federal government and work directly with U.S. businesses, governors, and mayors to keep up with the climate change commitments.

Though this decision is devastating from an environmental perspective, it opens up key opportunities for Canada. If the U.S. is solely dedicated to promoting fossil fuels, the clean technology sector is ripe for the taking and Canada has the option to become a leader in renewable energy. Since there are only three countries in the world that haven’t signed the Paris Agreement (Syria, Saudi Arabia, U.S.), there are a lot of stakeholders looking for ways to implement clean technology and the green economy will only grow from here.

Though the U.S. has made a critically bad decision to leave the Paris Agreement, Canada and the rest of the world remains dedicated to slowing climate change and saving planet earth. Trudeau is leading the country towards becoming one of the more sustainable places to live in the world, but a lot of work remains. If Canada does set concrete greenhouse reduction goals that match targets set in the Paris Agreement and then actually implements them, the country will be well on its way to trying to combat the inevitable pollution caused by our climate-change-denying-neighbour down south.

What is the legality of President Trump’s immigration ban?

The past eleven days in the United States has been nothing short of shocking, with several executive orders reeking of racism, xenophobia and megalomania passed by newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump that have turned many people’s lives upside down.

Trump’s executive order to ban immigration has suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees from entering the United States indefinitely, and blocked entry of people from seven countries; Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, for 90 days. The decision has rocked the globe and has resulted in complete chaos on the U.S borders since the order was signed on Jan. 27.

The legality of the decision to ban citizens from Muslim-majority countries has been widely questioned by legal officials in the United States, and it appears that the order contravenes at least two constitutional amendments and may also be violating international human rights laws. On Saturday night, federal judge Ann Donnelly from Brooklyn blocked the order from sending people back to their home countries in the airport by claiming that it infringed upon Due Process and Equal Protection under the United States Constitution.

Protection for Refugees under the constitution

Due Process is covered under the fifth and fourteenth amendment and prevents against denying people entry who have valid visas. Equal protection should protect refugees from being sent back to unsafe conditions that threaten their safety and livelihood. Similar rulings were issued in Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington. The Department of Homeland Security agreed to comply with rulings, but didn’t release detainees or comply with the ruling right away.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York is leading one of the biggest lawsuits on the issue and is claiming that the Establishment Clause in the constitution indicates that one religious denomination cannot be preferred over another. Though Trump’s order does not officially target Muslims, it does establish that it would help citizens of ‘minority religions’ in the seven listed countries, all of which have a Muslim majority. This indicates that the order attacks the Muslim majority, and thus violates the Establishment Clause.

After the executive order was granted, US Attorney General Sally Yates questioned the legality of the immigration ban and refused to direct staff in the justice department to execute the order. She was subsequently fired on Monday.

International Human Rights Laws

The ban may even contravene international human rights law as pointed out by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Geneva refugee convention requires the international community take in war refugees on humanitarian grounds. The refugee convention, which is a United Nations treaty signed by the U.S., also prohibits discrimination against refugees on the basis of religion. Though the President of the United States is able to suspend entry to ‘any class of aliens’, a 1965 revision of law also indicates that people cannot be discriminated against based on their race, sex, nationality, place of birth or residence.

The best chance of success to repeal the immigration ban is for the Supreme Court to define the executive order as unconstitutional. This stands a good chance of being granted due to several counts of unconstitutionality that have been brought up by legal agencies across the country. The decision really comes down to the power of the law as distinctly separate from politics and if judicial branch is capable of being a supposedly impartial legal system. This is arguably the only chance the United States has to protect itself from megalomaniacs like President Trump.

The fate of many lives is at stake and one can only hope that the law is, indeed, just.