U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: April 14, 2017

(Eglin Air Force Base via AP)

THE WEEK

1. U.S. drops largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan in military first
U.S. forces dropped America’s largest non-nuclear weapon on an Islamic State tunnel complex in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday. The GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon (MOAB), nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” is a 21,600-pound bomb that was developed in the early 2000s and described by critics as an “indiscriminate terror weapon.” Afghan officials said 36 militants were killed in the blast in Nangarhar province, although the U.S. military says the local ISIS affiliate had 600 to 800 fighters operating in the country, most of them in Nangarhar. President Trump called it a “very, very successful mission.” It was the first time the MOAB had ever been used in combat. Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said it was “the right munition” to use against ISIS in the remote area.

Source: The Associated Press, CNN

2. Trump signs measure letting states block federal funding of Planned Parenthood
President Trump on Thursday signed legislation letting states cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions. The legislation will undo an Obama administration rule that prevented state and local governments from withholding federal money for contraception, fertility, prenatal care, breast and cervical cancer screening, and other women’s health services, whether the group also provided abortions or not. The new measure passed the Senate thanks to Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote. Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, praised the legislation for “prioritizing funding away from Planned Parenthood to comprehensive health-care alternatives.” Abortion rights advocates said the measure would harm women’s health.

Source: The New York Times

3. China urges reduction in North Korea tensions before they become ‘irreversible’
China warned Friday that rising tensions over North Korea must be calmed before they reach an “irreversible and unmanageable stage.” Some observers fear that Pyongyang is preparing to conduct its sixth nuclear weapons test. U.S. ally South Korea said that a nuclear test or intercontinental ballistic missile launch would be a “strategic provocation” that would provoke a “powerful punitive measure.” The U.S., which has warned that its policy of diplomatic patience toward North Korea was over, has sent an aircraft carrier group toward the region. North Korea accused the U.S. of “seriously threatening peace” by sending “huge nuclear strategic assets” to the region. Vice President Mike Pence is heading to South Korea on Sunday on a long-planned trip.

Source: Reuters

4. Assad says video of child chemical-weapon victims was faked
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ramped up his denial of responsibility for the April 4 sarin gas in Idlib province, saying that videos showing children killed in the incident were faked. Assad has countered U.S. claims that Syrian government forces conducted the attack by saying that his warplanes had bombed a terrorist weapons depot that contained the chemical weapons, releasing them into the rebel-held area. More than 80 people reportedly were killed by poison gas in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, prompting President Trump to authorize firing 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian base the U.S. believes launched the chemical attack. “We don’t know whether those dead children were killed in Khan Sheikhoun,” Assad told Agence France-Presse in his first television interview since the bombing. “Were they dead at all?”

Source: The New York Times

5. Coalition airstrike kills 18 allies in friendly-fire accident
U.S.-led coalition warplanes accidentally bombed allied Syrian rebels battling the Islamic State this week, killing 18, the Pentagon said Thursday. The friendly-fire incident was the worst yet in nearly three years of fighting against the Islamist extremist terrorist group. The airstrike was requested by “partner forces” targeting Kurdish and Arab fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces, mistakenly believing the position was held by ISIS. U.S. officials said they believed the error occurred because an SDF unit close to ISIS’s front line reported its position incorrectly, creating a mix-up over their location.

Source: The Washington Post

6. Report: British intelligence alerted U.S. to Trump-Russia ties
British spy agency GCHQ gave the U.S. the first alert about possible ties between then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian operatives, The Guardian reported Thursday. GCHQ and other European intelligence agencies intercepted communications between Trump associates and known or suspected Russian agents as early as late 2015 and passed on the information to U.S. officials. GCHQ was not targeting Trump, but caught the alleged conversations by chance during routine surveillance of Russian officials, The Guardian reported. The FBI is investigating whether Russia meddled in last year’s election, and whether anyone involved in the Trump campaign may have collaborated with Moscow.

Source: The Guardian, CNN

7. Michigan doctor accused of genital cutting of 2 7-year-old girls
A Michigan doctor was charged Thursday with performing genital mutilations on two 7-year-old girls in the first such prosecution ever in the U.S. The doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, 44, was arrested Wednesdayand accused of performing the genital cutting at a clinic in Livonia, Michigan. Nagarwala was also charged with transporting minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, and lying to federal agents. FBI agent Kevin Swanson wrote in an affidavit that investigators had “identified other children who may have been victimized by Nagarwala.” The doctor’s lawyer declined to comment. Nagarwala’s employer, Henry Ford Health Systems, put the emergency room doctor on leave and noted that the illegal procedures were not alleged to have been performed at its facilities.

Source: Detroit Free Press, The New York Times

8. Trump administration ObamaCare rule shortens enrollment period
The Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday issued a final rule on ObamaCare that shortens the enrollment period and gives insurers flexibility that could raise out-of-pocket medical expenses for consumers, health-care experts say. The rule, which takes effect later this year, was issued as President Trump and Republicans jumpstart their efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act after their first try failed last month. Insurers welcomed the rule, but said it still didn’t do enough to stabilize the system, saying they want assurances from Trump that the government will continue paying “cost-sharing subsidies” for low-income ObamaCare participants. Trump this week threatened to withhold the $7 billion in annual cost-sharing payments if Democrats don’t cooperate on replacing the health-care law, a threat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called “appalling.”

Source: Reuters, The Washington Post

9. Choate acknowledges sexual abuse cases dating back decades
At least 12 then-teachers at Choate Rosemary Hall sexually molested students in a string of cases starting in the 1960s, the elite Connecticut boarding school revealed Thursday. In one case, a student reportedly was raped during a school trip to Costa Rica. Other allegations uncovered by an investigator in a report to the board of trustees included “intimate kissing” and “intimate touching.” None of the cases were reported to police, and some of the teachers were allowed to resign after being confronted about the evidence against them. Others were fired, but administrators wrote letters of recommendation to help them get new jobs.

Source: The New York Times

10. Saturn moon could support life, NASA says
Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, might be able to support life, NASA scientists said Thursday. The Cassini probe has flown through and gathered samples of water blasted into space from a subsurface on the ice-crusted moon, determining that Enceladus’ seafloor has hot fluid vents like those in Earth’s seas that are teeming with life. These hydrothermal systems on Enceladus might hold life, or they might be sterile; it will take a visit by a probe equipped with more sophisticated instruments to be sure. “We’re pretty darn sure that the internal ocean of Enceladus is habitable and we need to go back and investigate it further,” said Cassini scientist Hunter Waite. “If there is no life there, why not? And if there is, all the better.”

Source: BBC News, The New York Times

U.S. Politics

Russian ‘Open Skies’ spy plane flew over the US

Image: Vladimir Putin speaks to 60 Minutes (screen capture)

RAW STORY

Russian aircraft entered U.S. airspace Monday with the intent of surveilling the U.S. as part of a legal reconnaissance mission.

The Russian Tu-154M LK-1 passenger jet, which was equipped with special camera equipment, was headed to the U.S. and then to Canada for Russia’s ninth and 10th such observation missions of the year. The flight, which would follow a previously agreed upon route, was covered under the Treaty on Open Skies signed in 1992 by the U.S., Russia and 32 other nations, including the majority of Europe. It was enacted in 2002. Despite heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow, the post-Cold War agreement permitted the two world powers to essentially spy on another with certain limitations.

Related: U.S. Military Considers New Super-Weapon to Counter Russia’s Nuclear Warheads

“Within the framework of the Treaty on Open Skies, a group of Russian inspectors is planning to carry out an observation flight on Tu-154M LK-1 aircraft over the United States and Canada,” Sergei Ryzhkov, head of National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, told Russia’s Sputnik News Monday.

Signatories to the Treaty on Open Skies were only allowed to fly aircraft that were unarmed and fitted with certain kinds of equipment. These tools were limited to “optical panoramic and framing cameras, video cameras with real-time display, infra-red line-scanning devices and sideways-looking synthetic aperture radar,” according to the State Department. Devices capable of intercepting communications were prohibited and U.S. and Canadian officials would be on board this week’s Russian flight to assure it was up to protocol, according to Ryzhkov.

The Russian airplane was also required to enter the country through Virginia’s Dulles International airport, a little over 27 miles from the nation’s capital in Washington, where President Donald Trump stated Wednesday that U.S.-Russian relations “may be at an all-time low” over the governments’ differing views on the war in Syria.  If the plane had approached from the West coast, it would have to land at the Travis Air Force base in California. Russia’s aircraft could then travel to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska and Lincoln Municipal Airport in Nebraska as well as refuel at air bases and airports in Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, Tennesee and Wisconsin, according to Popular Mechanics.

The U.S. and France, which also had to abide by careful rules on such legal reconnaissance missions, conducted their own Open Skies flight over Russia earlier this year, according to Russia’s Sputnik News. Between February 27 and March 4, U.S. and French inspectors reportedly boarded a Boeing OC-135B, specially modified to snoop on Russia.

 

open skies treaty

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U.S. Politics

It didn’t end at the ballot box: Donald Trump’s biggest supporters now push for a divisive agenda

It didn't end at the ballot box: Donald Trump's biggest supporters now push for a divisive agenda

(Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer)

SALON

Confederacy boosters, xenophobes and alt-right firebrands are pursuing divisive agendas in their home states

Plenty of Americans wake up in the morning, remember that wealthy real estate tycoon and pathological liar Donald Trump is president of the United States, pinch themselves, and morosely confirm that yes, he really is president. I sure do. It also happens when I think about a fossil fuel industry shill and climate change denier running the EPA, or a billionaire who wants to fund religious private schools with public dollars in charge of the education department. And certainly a white nationalist, who apparently calls colleagues “cucks” and “globalists,” as chief adviser to the president.

But let’s not forget the droves of political figures, state campaign chairs and other supporters who didn’t make it into the White House but may be just as demented as racist “alt-right” figure Steve Bannon or disgraced Islamophobe Michael Flynn.

Wonder what they’re up to now that Trump is president? They’re definitely keeping busy.

Among the most extreme Trump devotees are the neo-Nazis and the neo-Confederates, groups that often overlap. Throughout a campaign launched on the racist fallacy that Mexicans are rapists and rooted in the erasure of Muslims from America, Trump earned the enthusiastic support of former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, neo-Nazis like Richard Spencer, and Breitbart News, the “platform of the alt-right” that Bannon led until he became CEO of the Trump campaign last August. (According to Breitbart Washington editor Matthew Boyle, the two still talk regularly as the outlet continues its fierce support for the president.)

Some Confederacy boosters hold state office, and they’re trying to celebrate their so-called “cultural heritage” through legislation. In March, Republican Georgia state representative Tommy Benton introduced a bill to make April “Confederate History Month” and April 26 “Confederate Memorial Day at the state capitol.”

“Georgia has long cherished her Confederate history and the people who made sacrifices on her behalf,” reads the bill, apparently discounting the roughly 3.3 million African Americans (32 percent of the state’s total population) who live in Georgia and don’t exactly look fondly upon slavery, not to mention the many people of all races who think Confederate history is not worthy of celebration. When the Confederacy fought the Union for “states’ rights,” it was fighting to keep its slaves, plain and simple.

At a press conference, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, “When asked whether the resolution … includes the need to understand the role that slavery and systemic exploitation and oppression of African and African-American people played and an acknowledgement of what the war was fought about, Benton declined to answer … ‘Next question,’” he said.

The bill was inspired by Trump’s victory. “We just elected a president that said he was tired of political correctness,” said Benton. “And so that was the reason that we were looking to introduce the resolution.”

Benton is known for his earlier disturbing comment that the KKK “made people straighten up.” His district of 54,000 people is 84 percent white, and only 20 percent have a college education. This is the demographic — rural white Americans without a college degree — that voted overwhelmingly for Trump last November.

The three other co-sponsors of the bill, all Republicans, are also big Trump fans: Rep. Steve Tarvin, who was a co-chair of Trump’s Georgia campaign and whom Trump endorsed last year; Rep. Jesse Petrea, who was seen celebrating Trump’s win with his country’s Republican group and who introduced a bill in February that would create an online list of undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes; and Rep. Alan Powell, who has praised Bannon.

The Georgia racists are in good company in the South among fellow Trumpers. In Virginia, the chair of Trump’s Virginia operation is running a gubernatorial campaign on a neo-Confederate platform. Corey Stewart, currently the chair of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, promises that as governor he’ll prevent liberals from removing Confederate monuments, bring back specialty license plates emblazoned with Confederate emblems and “absolutely not” mention slavery when addressing Confederate history.

Much like Benton, Stewart says, “I think things have changed … I think the 2016 presidential race was a watershed moment where you saw voters … just fed up with political correctness and these gotcha techniques that the left has used to shut down speech.”

Right-wing websites, think tanks and state legislators around the country who are proposing deceptively named “campus free expression bills,” even one originally nicknamed after the proud racist Milo Yiannopoulos, know what they’re doing by attacking political correctness: trying to make hate speech great again.

Since the election, another upstanding state chair for Trump has distinguished himself among the pack of extremely bigoted Trump supporters. Co-chair of the Trump New York campaign Carl Paladino responded to a December questionnaire from Art Voice with some truly disgusting answers.

On what he’d most like to happen in 2017, he replied, “Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford [sic]. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarrett, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a jihady [sic] cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.”

Paladino’s alma mater, St. Bonaventure University, called his comments “racist and demeaning.” Paladino claimed his commentary “has nothing to do with race” and was merely “a little deprecating humor.” Many called for Paladino to leave his post on the Buffalo School Board, including the board itself, but the education commissioner has not yet asked him to leave.

Here are a few more political whack jobs who just so happen to be big Trump fans.

Iowa Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King, who’s proven himself to be a consummate white nationalist along the lines of Dutch arch-Islamophobe Geert Wilders, endorsed Trump in August. He’s since tweeted such savory things as, “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end” and more recently, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” King’s extreme nationalism is right in line with that of Bannon and another of Trump’s top advisers, Stephen Miller, who ultimately want to decrease legal immigration as much as they can. It appears Jeff Sessions is on their page as well.

Former presidential candidate and Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, known for his vehemently anti-gay rhetoric (and whose last name was redefined by sex advice columnist Dan Savage), continues his reliable, frothy stream of preposterous statements as a cable news commentator. Some of his recent epiphanies include the idea that millions of sick Americans are defrauding health insurance companies and that Trump’s plan to increase coal mining in Pennsylvania and other states is “a breath of oxygen into the lungs of small-town, rural communities.”

In North Carolina, Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest, who has been the state’s biggest champion of the widely derided anti-LGBTQ “bathroom bill” that in its original form would cost the state billions of dollars in lost revenue, is pushing a new bill that would criminalize student protest. His plan, which is derived from a model bill drafted by scholars from two Koch-backed think tanks, likely imposes harsh penalties including expulsion on students who disrupt guest lectures, as his 2016 plan would have done just that. After a slew of sexual assault allegations against Trump, Forest gave a speech introducing Trump at an October rally in Charlotte.

“If you wanna protect federalism and the right that every state has to determine how they represent themselves in the United States of America … then we better elect Donald Trump president of the United States,” proclaimed Forest.

Also in North Carolina, we mustn’t forget Earl Philip, the Trump campaign’s state director who pulled a gun on at least one of his subordinates. When this came to light in August 2016, he had to leave the campaign. Philip previously stated, “You cannot be a Christian and be a member of, or support, or be a card-carrying member of the Democratic Party,” and claimed that Barack Obama was neither black nor Christian.

These are some of the honorable citizens Trump picked for his campaign operations. As he slowly fills hundreds of vacant staff positions and judgeships, what could possibly go wrong?

, ALTERNET

U.S. Politics

The White House won’t confirm if Trump authorized the ‘mother of all bombs’ in Afghanistan

CREDIT: Screenshot/CNN

THINK PROGRESS

Adrienne Mahsa Varkiani

The United States dropped its largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan, known as the “Massive Ordnance Air Blast” or the “Mother of All Bombs,” on Thursday. This is the first-ever combat use of the bomb, which weighs 21,000 pounds. But the White House won’t confirm if the president even knew of the bombing, let alone authorized it.

CNN first reported the bombing in Nangarhar, a province in the east of Afghanistan, bordering Pakistan. Pentagon spokesman Adam Stump told CNN that the giant bomb was “dropped by an MC-130 aircraft, stationed in Afghanistan and operated by Air Force Special Operations Command.”

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirmed the CNN report on Thursday afternoon, claiming in a press conference that the U.S. military “targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely.” He did not give more details about the bombing — including whether the president authorized it.

As Spicer was wrapping up the press conference, a reporter asked him whether Trump authorized the bombing, but Spicer left without answering the question.

“Very quickly, did the president not know about the MOAB strike?” a reporter asked. Spicer then turned and walked away.

“Can I take your answer to mean he didn’t authorize it?” another asked. Spicer still didn’t answer.

Watch:

U.S. Politics

WHITE HOUSE STILL SPOOKING INSURERS

Brendon Smialowski via Getty Images

THE HUFFINGTON POST

New rules are supposed to help the markets work better even as Trump threatens to blow them up.

President Donald Trump’s administration has taken its first action to change the way the health insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act operate, aiming to shore them up for next year’s sign-up period.

The regulation published by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Thursday is a response to insurers’ demands that federal authorities take steps to limit consumers’ ability to drop in and out of the insurance market. Such “gaming” of the system drives up costs for the carriers that must cover the consumers’ claims.

The overall consequence of the new rules is that health insurance will be harder to buy in 2018, especially for people whose circumstances change during the year, enabling them to buy policies outside the annual sign-up period. The length of that sign-up period is also cut in half.

Other aspects of the regulation could make coverage less comprehensive, reduce the value of the tax credit subsidies that make premiums more affordable for low- and middle-income people, and allow insurers to offer plans with fewer medical providers in their networks.

These new policies are intended to make the exchanges more attractive to insurance companies next year, after more insurers pulled out of the program this year. Consumers may be forced to endure more hassles in order to keep insurers in the fold because without the insurers, there’s no coverage to buy.

But the new rules are arguably more notable for what they don’t address: subsidies for so-called cost-sharing reductions, which are paid to insurers covering the poorest enrollees. Trump has threatened to cut off those payments and send the markets into a tailspin in an unorthodox bid to pressure Democrats into supporting his plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

That’s why even the insurance industry ― which got a lot of what it asked for from the Trump administration in this regulation ― isn’t satisfied. The cost-sharing reductions are the industry’s most pressing concern, and Trump’s comments Wednesday that he might end them have heightened anxiety about what the exchanges will look like next year.

Marilyn Tavenner, CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans, praised the aspects of the regulation designed to ease regulatory burdens on insurers and impose stricter requirements on consumers.

But she said in a press release, “There is still too much instability and uncertainty in this market. Most urgently, health plans and the consumers they serve need to know that funding for cost-sharing reduction subsidies will continue uninterrupted.”

“Without funding, millions of Americans who buy their own plan will be harmed. Many plans will likely drop out of the market. Premiums will go up sharply ― nearly 20 percent ― across the market. Costs will go up for taxpayers. And doctors and hospitals will see even greater strains on their ability to care for people. We urge Congress and the administration to act now to guarantee funding for cost-sharing reduction subsidies,” said Tavenner, who previously ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers are required to reduce deductibles, copayments and other forms of cost-sharing for the lowest-income enrollees who use the exchanges, and the federal government is supposed to reimburse them for the lost money. In 2014, however, House Republicans sued then-President Barack Obama’s administration, arguing that the federal government was making those payments without authorization from Congress. A federal judge last year agreed with the GOP lawmakers, and the Obama administration appealed. When Trump became president, his administration became the defendant in the case. The two sides soon obtained delays from the appeals court while they decided how to proceed.

For now, the Trump administration has continued making those payments. Some House Republicans have expressed support for keeping the money flowing or even authorizing the spending, which would resolve the legal dispute.

But Trump told The Wall Street Journal this week that he believes a threat to the viability of the insurance marketplaces could be leverage to force Democrats to the negotiating table. Democratic leaders have forcefully rejected this gambit and demanded that money for the cost-sharing subsidies be included in a pending federal spending bill.

Absent clarity on the subsidies, insurance companies may be reluctant to participate in the exchanges next year or, at a minimum, may request very high rate increases in order to cover their losses if the payments don’t continue. This could destabilize the troubled market just as analysts like Standard & Poor’s believe it may be righting itself.

The ways in which the regulation, which is little-changed from a proposed draft published in February, benefits insurers might not be enough.

“While [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has taken steps to correct some of the current challenges in the marketplace, these changes likely are not significant enough to sway health plan decisions for the upcoming plan year,” Cara Kelly, vice president at Avalere Health, said in a press release. “Losing health plans from the exchanges is still a risk for 2018.”

U.S. Politics

North Korea Blames Trump

NKOREA-POLITICS-KIM

TIME

North Korea’s vice foreign minister on Friday blamed President Donald Trump for building up a “vicious cycle” of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, saying that his “aggressive” tweets were “making trouble.”

U.S. Politics

Nancy Pelosi Demands Congressional Action To Stop Trigger-Happy Trump From Blowing Up The World

Nancy Pelosi Demands Congressional Action To Stop Trigger-Happy Trump From Blowing Up The World

POLITICUS USA

With Trump in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal – like a toddler playing with a loaded firearm – Congressional oversight is a necessity

After a week in which Donald Trump launched airstrikes on an empty airfield in Syria, dropped a massive bomb in Afghanistan, and is said to be planning a preemptive strike on North Korea, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi is saying enough is enough.

In a statement released Thursday, Pelosi said Congress must immediately be called back into session to receive briefings and debate Trump’s increasing use of force.

The full statement:

Every day, the President gives Congress reason to return and debate the use of force.  The President’s escalation in Syria and his saber-rattling on North Korea demand serious and immediate Congressional scrutiny.

 

Speaker Ryan must call Congress back into session for classified briefings and debate.  Congress must do its duty and honor our responsibility to the Constitution.

In normal circumstances with a normal president in the White House, Congressional oversight on matters of war and peace is critical. With Trump in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal – like a toddler playing with a loaded firearm – this becomes even more necessary.

For the safety and security of the United States and the rest of the world, House Speaker Paul Ryan should call Congress back and work to ensure that Donald Trump’s quick and reckless military escalations face some level of oversight from the legislative branch.

This president can’t be trusted to conduct himself like an adult in his Twitter posts, much less be responsible for America’s nuclear arsenal.

As Hillary Clinton said frequently during the 2016 presidential campaign, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Now he has the nuclear weapons, and he still can’t be trusted.