39 minutes ago by
Talks to renegotiate the terms of the NAFTA agreement began on a grim note. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spoke not only of the trade agreement’s benefits, but also of its shortcomings, saying that “for countless Americans, this agreement has failed,” a reference to the hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs that have left the U.S. since the initial agreement was signed more than twenty years ago. For workers, his words may have been encouraging. For U.S. agriculture, however, decisions made at the NAFTA talks have the potential to radically change an industry accounting for more than $130 billion in exports. “American agriculture is virtually always a winner when trade agreements remove barriers to U.S. crops and livestock exports,” says Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farmers organization in the nation. On Wednesday, agriculture organizations representing the U.S., Mexico, and Canada sent letters to government officials in each of the three countries urging them to modernize, rather than dismantle, the trade agreement. The joint letter expressed an “eagerness” to work to improve agricultural trade in North America by expanding on the gains already achieved under the existing NAFTA agreement. “Agriculture in each NAFTA country would suffer greatly from disruptions to the trading relationships that have developed over the last 23 years,” the letter read. “With the productivity of agriculture growing faster than domestic demand, Canadian, Mexican and U.S. farmers and ranchers rely on export markets to sustain prices and revenues.” Foreign export markets are essential for American farmers. According to the USDA, exports account for more than 20 percent of the volume of U.S. agricultural production. Agriculture is considered a reliable trade surplus sector and exports for the 2016 fiscal year totaled slightly less than $130 billion. Canada is the leading export destination for agricultural products. More than $20 billion, or 15.7 percent of American agricultural exports cross the northern border. Mexico is the third-largest trading partner, with more trade in the sector than the entire European Union. Agriculture is increasingly an interconnected industry. Leaders of trade groups in all three countries are stressing the need to renew the agreement to both align sanitary measures between the countries and to make cross-border trade easier. “NAFTA has boosted the incomes of millions of farmers and has facilitated the development of profitable export markets,” said Ron Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. NAFTA is even more important to protect since Trump announced that the U.S. was pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership earlier this year. That decision stung the agriculture industry, which now faces punishing tariffs for many export markets. However, the goal of free and fair trade is not universally shared. Certain sectors of American agriculture, including milk and sugar, are protected by tariffs. Others, such as various types of produce, have struggled to compete with foreign competition. Winter fruit and vegetable growers in Florida have cut the acres they plant in tomatoes by 25 percent since NAFTA was first signed, while growers in Mexico have increased production by 230 percent. On the other side of the country, grain producers in North Dakota argue that Canadian laws regarding weed contamination in grain make it all but impossible for them to sell to elevators in Saskatchewan. Maintaining cross border trade in both crops and animal products that is free of pathogens is a particular concern for the agriculture industry and will likely be a major topic of discussion this week. This issue effects both livestock and grain sellers. In 2003, a cow brought from Canada into the U.S. later tested positive for mad cow disease and several countries including Mexico and Japan temporarily closed their borders to American beef. As a result, the agricultural industry is not entirely united behind NAFTA. Many think that the agreement lowered prices, leading to the decline of the family farm and the rise of corporate agriculture. “NAFTA established a set of trade parameters that have benefited corporate America at the expense of rural American communities and economies,” said National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson. “For decades, farming and rural communities across the country have suffered lost jobs, lowered wages, and fleeting economic liberty as a result of our nation’s free trade agenda,” said Johnson, who urged the administration to preserve domestic authority over agriculture policy and to support policies that kept prices higher and kept smaller farmers more sustainable. Although American agriculture trade has expanded since NAFTA was first signed, the number of farms in the U.S. has steadily declined. Critics of the policy point out that 20 percent of farms are currently operating 70 percent of U.S. farmland and that between 2013 and 2016, 42,000 farms ceased operations. How much of this can be credited to NAFTA no one can really say, but increased foreign competition makes an easy scapegoat. As the talks continue, industry groups and farmers will be watching the details closely. For America’s farmers, the details of the NAFTA agreement are anything but in the weeds. source Read More: What's at stake as Nafta talks begin? Trump administration unveils goals in renegotiating NAFTA Nafta Flashpoints: Issues to Watch as the Talks Unfold

1 hour ago by
This weekend's white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia devolved into a bloody, hate-filled event that claimed the life of one counter-protester and injured several others. Politicians and activists quickly denounced white supremacy in the wake of the brutality driven by "alt-right" demonstrators. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, blamed the violence in Charlottesville on "many sides." Among those alleged "sides" is the antifa movement, made up of leftist activists fighting against authoritarian regimes. But what exactly is it? Here's everything you need to know about antifa, because conservatives are spreading false messages. When Trump first addressed the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, he failed to call out white nationalism and neo-Nazism by name. This lack of specificity drew rightful ire from lawmakers and the public alike; by blaming "many sides," the president also accused anti-fascist counter-protesters of playing a role in a deliberate act of violence committed by a white nationalist. According to the New York Times, the harsh criticism caused Trump to clarify his remarks in a terse press conference in which he doubled down on his "many sides" position. Specifically, in a heated argument with a journalist, Trump blamed the "alt-left," a made-up term to describe the antifa movement and, more broadly, anti-Trump activists. Conservatives tend to use "alt-left" to conjure up images of a radical progressive movement that's against American ideals. But that's furthest from the truth. Antifa Activists Fight Against A Fascism Regime The mission is right there in the name: Antifa stands for antifascism. Antifa activists want to dismantle or disrupt radical authoritarian regimes that seek to oppress populations and suppress resistance through violence. Although antifa has a long political history, the American faction of the movement has seen a sharp rise in recent years, particularly in the days since Trump was elected to office. Mic has put together a succinct timeline of antifa activism that has taken place within the last few months. Antifa Traces Its Roots Back To 1930s Germany People may treat antifa as a new movement, but that's erasing the movement's history. According to Jacobin, antifa was born out of Germany's socialist labor movement. It started taking shape during the early years of Hitler's rise, but began to swell after World War II. And antifa ideology wasn't isolated to Germany: In 1947, the then-U.S. War Department rereleased the antifascist short film, Don't Be A Sucker. It's a 17-minute public service announcement warning Americans to not give into racism and prejudice, lest they want the United States to turn into Nazi Germany. A clip of the film circulated over the weekend, drawing parallels to the white nationalist-driven violence in Charlottesville and, more broadly, the rise of Trump's America. Antifa Is Not Equal To White Nationalism Or Neo-Nazism Trump's "alt-left" comment attempted to equate antifa with white nationalism and, within that, American neo-Nazism. But that's a logical fallacy that political pundits theorize is influenced by White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who has been lauded by white nationalist leader David Duke. As the Atlantic reported, antifa, unlike white nationalism or neo-Nazism, doesn't believe that one race or religion is superior above all else. Nor do antifa activists believe in a totalitarian one-party government — an important facet of conservative, white nationalist ideology. There's an argument to be made about tactics, but it's important to remember that antifa is and has always been a reaction to an oppressive, violent system that propagates and celebrates genocide and slavery. So don't let conservatives' indiscriminate use of the term fool you: Antifa is the antithesis to white nationalism and Nazism, not its equivalent. Antifa Activists Are Not "More Dangerous" Than White Nationalists Direct action has been a cornerstone of antifa ideology. That means, as antifa organizer Scott Crow told CNN, activists "go where they (right-wingers) go." That means if white nationalists are organizing a rally, as they had in Charlottesville, you could expect to see antifa members show up to counter-protest. Crow continued, And so we go to cause conflict, to shut them down where they are, because we don't believe that Nazis or fascists of any stripe should have a mouthpiece. That counter-protesting sometimes includes property damage and destruction. What antifa disruption does not include is barreling your car into a crowd of people exercising their First Amendment right. But that's exactly what white nationalist James Fields Jr. of Ohio allegedly did in Charlottesville; Fields has been charged, among other counts, with second degree murder in the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who was killed in the attack. (Romper reached out to Fields' attorney, Charles Weber, but has yet to hear back.) You also have white nationalist sympathizers  Jeremy Joseph Christian, James Harris Jackson, and Sean Urbanski, all of whom have been indicted on charges of killing people in what have been considered hate-filled attacks. Then there's the matter of basic tenets: Antifa activists believe in stopping or tearing down dictatorships and oppressive, anti-democratic systems. White nationalists and neo-Nazis, on the other hand, believe in one superior race, one superior religion that rules above all. America, if you remember, literally helped fight a war against the latter. source Read More: Drawing Equivalencies Between Fascists and Anti-Fascists Is Not Just Wrong—It’s Dangerous Antifascists Have Become the Most Reasonable People in America Anti-fascism

Yesterday, 8:49 am by
People across the USA have reacted to the violence in Charlottesville, Va., this week with rallies and protests, many of them standing up against hate speech.  Whether it’s the women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, health care or views for and against President Trump, protesters and counter-protesters across the country are gearing up in the coming months to voice their stances. Here’s a list of protests happening across the country in the coming weeks. Protests against hate speech From Colorado Springs to Daytona Beach, protesters will join rank with thousands of others who have already participated in marches against racism. The demonstrations aim to take a stand against hate and show solidarity with protesters who participated in a deadly counter-protest of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Aug. 20. Solidarity with Charlottesville: Not in our town Daytona Beach, Florida: Aug. 18. United Against Hate - Say no to racism Manchester, Iowa: Aug. 17. Candlelight rally to protest violence and racism Boston, Massachusetts: Aug. 19. Stand for solidarity Burton, Michigan: Aug. 18. Rise against racism rally in solidarity with Charlottesville New York, New York: Aug. 18. Anti-racism protest Millersburg, Ohio: Aug. 27. Anti-racism and anti-nazi rally Asbury Park, New Jersey: Aug. 20. Stand against hate-- a rally for the victims of Charlottesville Boston, Massachusetts: Aug. 19. Fight Supremacy! Boston counter-protest and resistance rally Protests against Trump A Salt Lake City, Utah, protest will call for Trump to cease threatening the North Korean leadership and possibly provoking a nuclear strike on Guam. “The unstable president of the United States Donald Trump has called for using nuclear weapons against North Korea — a small, poor nation of just a few million people, but a nation that is nevertheless politically important,” the event page reads. The protest will start at the Wallace Bennett Federal Building on Aug. 19 and is hosted by the Utah Anti-War Committee. Anti-Trump protests are nothing new. Since Election Day, demonstrations against the new commander in chief are common, molding to whatever new controversy pops up. Upcoming Trump protests include outrage over Trump’s rhetoric on the nuclear threat in North Korea, Russian interference in the 2016 election and just general discomfort with the president calling their state home.   Washington D.C.: Sept. 16. Protect American Democracy from Russian interference Jersey City, New Jersey: Aug. 19. Get Outta Jersey: Trump eviction notice rally Buffalo, New York: Sept. 5. Rally against the Trump-WalMart Agenda Olympia, Washington: Aug. 28. Feet to the fire rally a.k.a the remove Trump now rally Washington D.C.: Sept. 16. Protest Russian Interference Free speech rallies Two right-wing Free Speech rallies — and counter protests — are planned in the upcoming months. In a sequel to the Boston Free Speech rally, a second event will kick off Aug. 19 in Boston Common. In San Francisco, Patriot Prayer, which is often labeled as a white supremacist group, will gather on the beach on Aug. 26.   Rallies to support Trump In what’s promising to be the “Mother of all Rallies,” a D.C. movement will gather in the National Mall on Sept. 16 to show support for Trump. The rally is calling for one million participants to gather and send a “shock-wave message” to the world. “This is about America First. This is about protecting and supporting President Donald Trump, protecting our Constitution, and protecting our flag and all that it stands for,” the event page reads. While Trump’s approval rating has been slipping, his base continues to stand behind him. Topeka, Kansas: Aug. 19. Standing with Trump Rally Collegedale, Tennessee: Sept. 9. ACT for America: America First Trump Rally March for women's rights  To mark the anniversary of the historic amendment that granted women the right to vote, the Indivisible March hopes to promote Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26. Groups across the country are expected to participate, including rallies in Georgia, California, Indiana, Nevada, Utah, Minnesota and more. Police reform, health care, and equality Here’s a list of other notable protests: Lincoln, Nebraska: Aug. 18. March for intelligent healthcare Olympia, Washington: Aug. 19. Single payer rally Los Angeles, California: Aug. 26. Nevertheless, we persist rally and activist festival Los Angeles, California: Sept. 23. Better together march and rally Washington D.C.: Oct. 1. Lawyers march on Washington Davenport, Iowa: Aug. 16. No hate — rally against the National Alliance New York, New York: Aug. 24. Rally for the right to know Albuquerque, New Mexico: Aug. 18. Millions for prisoners Springfield, Missouri: Aug. 26. Protest for women’s equality source

August 13, 2017 by
The same techniques and some of the same players blamed for Brexit and Trump are now doing their thing in Africa, where fair elections have been the exception rather than the rule. Kenya’s election has come off without major disturbances, and on Friday evening Nairobi time, the nation’s Independent Electoral Board and Boundaries Commission declared a winner in the country’s presidential race. Uhuru Kenyatta, the incumbent, secured 54.2 percent of the vote. All the same, a number of election-cycle oddities go unexplained—including the novel involvement of foreign big-data and PR consultancies who’ve played significant roles in electoral upsets in both the U.S. and U.K. Tuesday, election day, the seafront here in Lamu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was deserted. Shops and schools were closed. In the town square a long line of men–including red-cloaked Maasai–stood chatting quietly. Women waited in a separate queue, noticeably shorter than the men’s. Countrywide, more than 15 million voters, or 78 percent of Kenyans registered, cast their ballots for the presidency, governors, members of parliament, senators, members of county assemblies, and county women representatives. While all seemed calm in the campaign’s closing days, tensions had run high. Two previous elections were blighted by violence amid accusations that they had been rigged; in 2007, a disputed vote pushed Kenya into a bloodbath that left at least 1,200 people dead and 300,000 displaced. Memories of cars burning in the streets are never far from Kenyans’ minds. Analysts were also worried about the Islamist group Al Shabaab, which had threatened to disrupt the elections. The government deployed more than 150,000 security personnel, including wildlife rangers, to protect 41,000 polling stations. This year’s election was a continuation of the long-running feud between the Kenyatta and Odinga families. Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s first president following British colonial rule, was seeking to retain his position. His opponent, Raila Odinga, also the son of a leader of the independence struggle and former prime minister, had run for president three times and lost. As Odinga is 72, this year's election likely marked his final bid for Kenya’s presidency. In this race President Kenyatta ran his pro-business campaign on a record of pushing forward major infrastructure projects, such as the Standard Gauge railway, rural electrification, a massive Indian Ocean port and logistics hub—these and other global-scale development projects in East Africa largely funded by Chinese interests. Odinga casts himself as defender of the poor and oppressed, and is an abrasive critic of fraud and corruption. The day after the elections, all seemed okay. Aside from isolated incidents of shootings by police—two protestors in poor neighborhoods of the capital and of Kisumu, in Western Kenya—there were no reports of major violence. On day two following the vote Kenyatta was reported holding a comfortable lead with above 54 percent of the vote, Odinga trailing, with about 45 percent. These figures were provided by the Independent Electoral Board and Boundaries Commission. Then Odinga contested the outcome, calling it “a complete fraud” and “fake results” that resulted from hacking that commandeered the entire electoral network and manipulated the results. Shortly before today’s announcement of the results, the opposition doubled down on its objections. Odinga’s campaign announced that it “will not be party” to the outcome—and campaign officials refused to sign off on the election papers. While the election’s outcome seems to most clear-cut, more mysterious is what was going on in this campaign for the country’s presidency before the vote and behind the scenes—including psy-ops and big-data manipulations reminiscent of resent elections in the West: Weeks before the vote, a Twitter account with the handle @TheRealRaila tweeted “Liar Raila [Odinga] represents corruption, violence, and tribalism while Uhuru stands for unity, peace, and progression.” A month ago @TheRealRaila posted a video called “Raila 20/20,” a look into a post-apocalyptic Kenya three years into an Odinga presidency. The video’s images were cartoonish and grim: martial law, collapsed infrastructure, aid organizations forced to leave, no clean water, women giving birth in the streets, Al-Shabaab attacks all over the country. Next, a man armed with a machete broke into the country estate of the vice president, William Ruto, wounding a guard. The siege ended after 18 hours, although the intentions and fate of the intruder remain unclear. Then there was the curious case of the document leaked from Kenya Defense Forces. On July 28, opposition candidate Odinga revealed a set of plans, apparently leaked by sources within the KDF, and asserted that these documents revealed a plot by the military–”Operation Dumisha Utulivu”–to subvert the electoral process. The documents were verified by a KDF spokesperson as authentic, then, weirdly, Kenyatta’s staff backtracked, saying they were “quoted out of context.” The leaked papers, provided to The Daily Beast by a former KDF officer, show secret meetings between President Kenyatta and KDF regarding possible operations targeting Nairobi hotspots such as slums. The plan includes liaising with “RF”–regime-friendly–employees of Kenya’s largest power company and its largest communications provider, Safaricom, to arrange power shut-offs and severing of mobile communications. The documents also list tools and weapons used in election-related operations: 120 tear gas canisters, close signal frequency jammers, power-line termination tools, stun guns and chainsaws. A former senior U.S. Defense official long based in Kenya told The Daily Beast, “This looks like normal [crowd control] operational planning. I don’t see anything here that supports a ‘subvert’ hypothesis.” In actions to curb civil unrest, he said, chainsaws are standard equipment, at times used to clear trees felled for roadblocks, but on an inventory they can look very sinister. The same day that Odinga made his allegations, a top election official in charge of voting technology disappeared. The body of Christopher Chege Msando,was found a day later, disposed of in a forest outside the capital. It showed clear evidence of torture, including the severing of the victim’s hands. As the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission’s acting Information and Communications Advisor, Msando had key knowledge of passwords and information components to be used for recording and transmitting results of the election. The word on the street today, and one must take it for what it is worth, is that Msando’s digital “passwords” were in fact biometric—his fingerprints would gain access to the electoral data. In his statement disputing the election’s outcome as a fraud, Odinga specifically cited hackers drawing on information and data access extracted from Msando before his murder. Then, just four days before the election, an American consultant monitoring vote fraud for the opposition was deported. John Aristotle Phillips, CEO of Washington-based political technology firm Aristotle International Inc., and an advisor to the Odinga campaign, said that on Monday unidentified and armed Kenyans broke into his apartment, handcuffed him, and threw him in the back of a sedan. He said he was driven around for hours in the murky streets of Nairobi, and compelled to watch videos depicting scenes with torture. His colleague Andreas Katsouris was also abducted and put in a separate car. Both were driven to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and told that they were being deported because they lacked the correct visas. Phillips later told the Wall Street Journal that when his captors began asking him what he knew about hacking he feared a fate similar to Msando’s. While this rash of bizarre occurrences did fuel speculation, rumor, online conspiracy theories and "fake news" items that were consumed voraciously by Kenya's tech-savvy population, it’s hard to say how much influence, if any, these late-campaign events had on the vote. No doubt trying to influence the vote was the incumbent government’s strategy advisor, the “big data” firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) owned by American billionaire Robert Mercer. CA is the outfit that is supposed to have helped engineer last year’s big electoral shocks, the Brexit vote in the U.K. and the Trump victory in the United States. In his 2013 campaign Kenyatta hired Cambridge Analytica to correlate online data via 47,000 on-the-ground surveys in order to compose a profile of the Kenyan electorate. Armed with those data Kenyatta’s campaign devised a strategy for this year, based on voters’ top concerns—jobs and tribal violence. CA also is reported in the Kenyan press to have been working closely with a team from the British-based PR firm BTP Advisers to help re-elect Kenyatta. BTP’s appointment in 2013 to help the current government retain office followed closely on an indictment of Kenyatta by the International Criminal Court, for the post-election violence in 2007. The foreign companies’ participation in Kenya’s election this year has incited all manner of new speculation. Mark Pursey, CEO of BTP, told The Daily Beast that reports of his company shaping Kenyatta’s 2017 re-election campaign are “fake.” “We declined. The 2013 campaign was fraught with tension due to the President’s case with the International Criminal Court,” said Pursey, referring to the charges brought against Kenyatta. Pursey takes credit for that case being withdrawn. “It was entirely built on sand; there was little evidence to begin with.” He said he could not be credited for the “Raila 20/20” video, which he described as “stupid” and “pathetic”: “An election campaign is a marketing campaign. If you are going to deconstruct the opposition you have to make it credible.” The video’s content echoes slogans heard and seen in the anti-Clinton campaigns of 2016. In any case, the Twitter feed carrying “Raila 20/20” drew scant traffic— a little over 400 followers, and nearly nothing in the way of likes or retweets. Maybe this is a promising sign that voters in Kenya have already gotten savvy about such misleading online content and election chicanery. Kenyans, with ample historical motivation to be cynical about politics,may be more on their guard about such stuff than Americans and Brits. Mohamed Bwana, like most of his neighbors here on the Swahili coast is Muslim, and voted for Kenyatta because the president had kept his promise to put money in the county bursary for scholarships, without which Bwana could never afford to put his kids through school. At least one voter was clear-thinking, spin-immune, non-tribal, and cynicism free. source Read More: Kenya election: 24 people killed since vote Kenya opposition leader vows to 'remove' Kenyatta government Kenya deports US expert who was supporting opposition candidate days before election John Kerry says Kenya's vote system appears "strong" amid fraud claims

August 12, 2017 by
A South Korean court has for the second time in a week ordered Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to pay compensation to Korean victims of wartime forced labor. The Friday ruling compels the Japanese firm to pay four victims a total of 470 million won (about ¥45 million). Kim Jae-rim (center), one of the South Korean plaintiffs in a suit against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, holds up a sign announcing victory on Friday, after the Gwangju District Court ordered the Japanese company to pay Kim and three other victims of wartime forced labor a total of 470 million won in compensation. The Gwangju District Court ordered the firm to pay 150 million won to Oh Cheol-seok, a younger brother of late victim Oh Kil-se; 120 million won to 87-year-old victim Kim Jae-rim; and 100 million won each to victims Yang Young-soo, 86, and Shim Sun-ae, 87, according to the Yonhap news agency. “Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ forcible mobilization of the plaintiffs into producing war materials constitutes inhumane illegal activities that are an active involvement in the unlawful colonial occupation and war of aggression,” the court said, according to Yonhap. On Tuesday, the same court found Mitsubishi Heavy liable for damages in a similar ruling, directing the firm to pay 85-year-old Kim Yong-ok and a family member of the late Choi Jong-rye a total of about 123.20 million won. A string of district court rulings have found in favor of those forced to work for Japanese firms following a landmark May 2012 decision by the country’s Supreme Court. Reversing previous court decisions, the top court ruled that the right of former forced workers and their families to seek withheld wages and compensation was not invalidated by a 1965 Japan-South Korea agreement that Tokyo claims settled all postwar compensation claims, prompting plaintiffs to seek damages in South Korea. Japan maintains that all individual compensation claims were settled with that treaty, under which South Korea and Japan normalized their relations. Mitsubishi Heavy has argued in court in South Korea that the plaintiffs’ claims should be rejected on this basis. source

August 11, 2017 by
Mayor Bill de Blasio's wife demanded that a politically connected hedge fund manager resign his board chairmanship at the city's largest charter-school chain after the financier made a racially tinged remark about a black state Senate leader. As first reported in The New York Times, Third Point LLC's Daniel Loeb posted commentary on Facebook asserting Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins had done more damage to the African-American community than the Ku Klux Klan by being hostile to charter schools. At the same time, Loeb—chairman of the board at Success Academy Charter Schools—praised Bronx Sen. Jeffrey Klein, whose Independent Democratic Conference has held a power-sharing arrangement with Senate Republicans since 2012. Chirlane McCray called for Daniel Loeb to step down as Success Academy's chairman despite his apology to black Senate leader "Thank God for Jeff Klein and those who stand for educational choice and Charter [sic] funding that leads to economic mobility and opportunity for poor knack [sic] kids," Loeb wrote online, apparently meaning to type black, not knack. "Meanwhile hypocrites like Stewart-Cousins who pay fealty to powerful union thugs and bosses do more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood." Loeb, who has an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion, is a longtime donor to Klein and to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who denounced the remark. The Wall Street titan deleted the Facebook post and issued a statement early Friday that said, "I regret the language I used in expressing my passion for educational choice. I apologize to Senator Stewart-Cousins and anyone I offended." But that wasn't enough for First Lady Chirlane McCray, whose husband has often clashed with Success Academy and its polarizing CEO, former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz. "Thanks for the apology. Now resign. Immediately," she wrote Friday on Facebook and Twitter. Success Academy's spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. As leader of a conference that includes just 23 of the state Senate's 63 members, Stewart-Cousins has virtually no power to pass or block legislation that affects charter schools. The primary resistance to their expansion is in the Assembly, which Democrats control with support from teachers' unions. source Read More: Tensions Flare as Cuomo Confronts Democratic Rift Daniel Loeb, a Cuomo Donor, Makes Racial Remark About Black Leader

August 11, 2017 by
Sanctions won’t end ‘cold war’ with North Korea, but diplomacy is still on the table, one expert says The disturbing news earlier this week that North Korea has likely miniaturized a nuclear warhead that can fit on a long-range missile has been intensified by the news on Thursday that the country is supposedly drawing up plans to fire four of them toward Guam, a U.S. island territory in the western Pacific Ocean. Military threats by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime against the U.S. and its allies are nothing new, but recent intelligence reports coupled with last month’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) possibly powerful enough to reach parts of the U.S. suggest North Korea might soon have the technology to back up those threats. Analysts have been speculating for more than a year that North Korea—formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea—was quickly working toward the goal of building a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an ICBM. In March 2016 Kim Jong-un’s regime released a series of propaganda photos of the dictator standing next to a shiny silver ball—jokingly referred to as the “disco ball”—which was later determined to be a model of a mini warhead. Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have fluctuated over the past decade since Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in 2006. For the most part North Korea’s nuclear detonations and missile tests have been met with sanctions and joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea aimed at deterring Kim Jong-un’s nuclear ambitions. Escalating rhetoric between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un over the past few days has ratcheted tensions as high as they have been in years. Scientific American reached out to Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Washington, D.C., think tank Center for a New American Security’s Asia-Pacific Security Program, to better understand how we reached this point, and what to expect next. [An edited transcript follows.] How would the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency determine the country has miniaturized a nuclear warhead to fit on a missile?  DIA would use [information from a variety of sources] to make an informed estimate of the threat. Detailed analysis would differentiate between what has been verified and what has been extrapolated. For instance, the famous disco ball photo of Kim Jong-un has been analyzed as representing miniaturization minus the re-entry and guidance technology. The most recent ICBM test launch suggests progress on a re-entry vehicle. So, putting together even open-source information, it seems prudent for an intelligence analyst to estimate that North Korea has achieved these capabilities. Pyongyang has been working on these systems for a long time, and they are a priority for Kim Jong-un. Nobody outside North Korea knows the precise capabilities in Kim's possession, but the estimate appears to be an attempt to provide some outer limits to those capabilities—to make them public before Kim seeks coercive advantage by 'surprising' the outside world with future technological demonstrations or parades. How are sanctions intended to disrupt North Korea’s plans to build a nuclear arsenal? Targeted sanctions can help slow down North Korean programs and impose penalties on Kim and North Korean elites, including those associated with entities involved in [weapons of mass destruction] and missile programs. Sanctions are one means of exerting pressure, just as the possibility of removing sanctions is a means of providing an incentive to desist from certain activities. Sanctions are thus part of a larger carrot-and-stick policy to steer North Korea toward a more agreeable negotiating position. Unfortunately, the overlapping interests between North Korea and the United States are limited to broad objectives such as avoiding nuclear war. That is, Pyongyang wants to be a permanent nuclear weapon state and the United States is committed to a denuclearized Korean peninsula, and that leaves little middle ground. Thus, the administration is focused more than previous governments on secondary sanctions on those entities doing business with North Korea. That is largely focused on China, and here sanctions are meant to inconvenience, cajole and otherwise persuade China to exert greater pressure on North Korea. Washington is leaning on Beijing to lean on Pyongyang to return to the bargaining table and refrain from a sixth nuclear test or deploying an ICBM. Will that strategy work? Probably not. So that means for the time being we are stuck in a dangerous if manageable stalemate. If North Korea doesn't find at least tactical relief through diplomacy now, perhaps it will seek such a respite in the coming months. But that doesn't mean during this ongoing, evolving, intensifying standoff and cold war, we [won’t be] able to fashion some useful diplomacy. Confidence-building measures to avert inadvertent escalation or accidental uses of force might be possible. Over time, a thaw or detente could set in as well. But for now, barring more political will from Pyongyang to slow down on deploying nuclear-tipped intermediate-range ballistic missiles [IRBMs] and ICBMs, we should be prepared for greater deterrence and brinkmanship. How significant are North Korea’s threats against Guam? As the Obama, and now Trump, [administrations have] used B-52 and B-1B bombers based in Guam to demonstrate resolve and underscore deterrence, Pyongyang has spewed vitriolic and threatening statements toward the United States and especially U.S. military bases in the region. As a result, North Korea has implicitly threatened Guam in the past. Recent advances in the country’s missile range demonstrated especially since last year now give the threats a patina of credibility. The threat of firing missiles to Guam is partly an indication of what Kim thinks he might be able to do. Does North Korea have missiles that are reliable enough to follow through on its threat? Although firing four unarmed IRBMs of questionable reliability toward Guam could well produce a lethal accident that demands some response from the U.S., the risk might be worth it to Kim. He may calculate that testing would not trigger a war and could make the United States look weak, at least in the absence of a strong U.S. response. Kim is probing the limits of non-lethal force, emboldened by his newfound capabilities, but he is definitely not looking for a real war. He wants the Western media to do his bidding, to convert his still limited WMD arsenal into a sufficient capability to intimidate audiences at home and abroad. The United States has no intention of initiating a conflict and is well aware of the stakes. But the President wants to be unequivocal about U.S. capability and will to respond to any attack on the United States or our allies. How important will negotiation be, compared with building our anti-ballistic missile capabilities? It is easier to see how this cold war is prolonged than ended. More defense is something we know how to do and together with allies can further strengthen, to preserve deterrence and contain the coercive benefits Pyongyang seeks to extract from saber rattling. Sudden war will remain a remote if non-trivial possibility, of course, but the probability is a protracted standoff and cold war relationship punctuated by bouts of diplomacy, possibly risk-reduction measures, perhaps even some type of a detente. In the longer run, the most likely peaceful end for Northeast Asia would be internal change that comes from within North Korea. Ironically, the building of intervention-stopping nuclear weapons hastens the day when Kim has to deliver economic goods to more people or risk losing legitimacy thus far based on the fear caused by nuclear-tipped missiles. source Read More: Trump has taken us to the brink of nuclear war. Can he be stopped? Will the US Strike North Korea? How do you solve a problem like North Korea? Russia & China believe THEY have the answer The Latest: Dem wants legislation prohibiting nuclear strike      

August 11, 2017 by
The hedge fund manager Daniel S. Loeb, a prominent supporter of charter schools and a major financial backer of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and congressional Republicans, accused the African-American woman who leads the Democrats in the New York State Senate of having done “more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.” Mr. Loeb made the reference, apparently to the Ku Klux Klan, in a posting on Facebook in response to an article in The New York Times this week in which the Democratic leader, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, confronted Mr. Cuomo about prejudging her based upon race and gender. State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader, at a news conference in Albany in April. In a private meeting last month, The Times reported, Ms. Stewart-Cousins said to Mr. Cuomo during a debate over who best understands suburban voters: “You look at me, Mr. Governor, but you don’t see me. You see my black skin and a woman, but you don’t realize I am a suburban legislator.” Mr. Loeb weighed in on behalf of Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the leader of a group of Democrats that has split from Ms. Stewart-Cousins. Daniel S. Loeb at a conference in New York in 2013. “Thank God for Jeff Klein and those who stand for educational choice and support Charter funding that leads to economic mobility and opportunity for poor knack kids,” Mr. Loeb wrote, with “knack” apparently a typographical error for “black.” “Meanwhile hypocrites like Stewart-Cousins who pay fealty to powerful union thugs and bosses do more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.” After The Times reported on his Facebook remarks, Mr. Loeb deleted them late Thursday night. “I regret the language I used in expressing my passion for educational choice,” he said in a statement. “I apologize to Senator Stewart-Cousins and anyone I offended. I have taken down the post from Facebook.” Mr. Loeb’s posting on Facebook in response to an article in The New York Times this week. Mr. Klein leads a group of eight Democrats who in 2011 broke away from the main Democratic conference, led by Ms. Stewart-Cousins. Mr. Klein’s group, the Independent Democratic Conference, has in the past sided with the Republicans in the Senate to keep Ms. Stewart-Cousins out of the powerful post of majority leader. Loeb has been a prominent player in New York politics, as the chairman of the Success Academy charter school network and as a major political donor. In 2015, protesters objecting to Mr. Cuomo’s ties to wealthy donors marched outside a fund-raiser that Mr. Loeb hosted for Mr. Cuomo at his home in the Hamptons. Mr. Loeb and his wife have donated more than $170,000 to Mr. Cuomo in recent years, state records show. He has also supported Republicans, with contributions including $500,000 to a super PAC that supported Jeb Bush in 2015, $150,000 to the Republican National Committee that year and $700,000 to a super PAC supporting House Republicans in 2016. Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said, “We have no connection with these comments whatsoever, and in our opinion they are entirely inappropriate and have no place in the public discourse.” source

August 10, 2017 by
As he looks to heighten his national profile, criticizing the Republican health care bill and President Trump’s immigration policy, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York has been forced to confront a political schism far closer to home. For five years, a group of renegade Democrats has enabled Republicans to control the State Senate, even though they are in the minority. Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, has at times benefited from that strange reality: Having a divided Legislature allowed him to position himself as a deal-making centrist. State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins would become the first black woman to lead a legislative chamber in New York if Senate Democrats could unite. But after the election of Donald J. Trump, pressure has mounted on Mr. Cuomo to reunite his party. Reunification was the agenda of a strategy session last month in Mr. Cuomo’s Midtown Manhattan office, attended by nearly two dozen Democratic state senators. When the discussion turned to how to best win elections, Mr. Cuomo suggested to the assembled lawmakers — many of them from New York City — that the leader of eight breakaway Democrats, Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, had a better understanding of the suburbs than they had. That was all Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Senate minority leader who represents the suburbs of Westchester County, needed to hear. “You look at me, Mr. Governor, but you don’t see me. You see my black skin and a woman, but you don’t realize I am a suburban legislator,” Ms. Stewart-Cousins said, according to the accounts of five people who were in the room. “Jeff Klein doesn’t represent the suburbs,” she said. “I do. Mr. Cuomo reacted in stunned silence. The pointed exchange, which has not previously been reported, captures the raw tensions around the fractured Democratic coalition in Albany that threaten to dog Mr. Cuomo as he looks to his 2018 re-election, and possibly beyond. Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for the governor, played down the moment. “The comment you describe was not of particular note,” said Ms. Lever, who was not at the meeting. “Certainly no one took any offense because it was a friendly and positive meeting on all levels.” That is not how those in attendance reacted, describing it as profound moment in a fractious relationship. Ms. Stewart-Cousins herself said in a statement, “My comments were in the context of suburban representation — there was no racial tension whatsoever; it was a good and productive meeting.” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Ms. Stewart-Cousins had a pointed exchange in a strategy meeting with nearly two dozen Democratic state senators last month. The issue of New York’s divided government has attracted attention from national leaders, including Representative Nancy Pelosi, the leader of the House Democrats, and Representative Keith Ellison, the Democratic National Committee deputy chairman, who urged a united Democratic front against President Trump. “There’s this new awareness about what was formerly a rather insider parlor game,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat. “The winds shifted on Nov. 8. The No. 1 concern I hear from my constituents on the street isn’t Donald Trump. It’s what the Senate’s going to do, and how the Democrats can win it back.” Democrats hold 32 of the 63 seats in the Senate, yet Republicans control the chamber. The mechanics and math of bringing Senate Democrats together are complex: Ms. Stewart-Cousins leads a group of 23 Democrats, while Mr. Klein leads the breakaway group of eight. The 32nd elected Democrat, Simcha Felder of Brooklyn, caucuses with the Republicans but has left the door open to rejoining the Democrats. As Senator Kevin Parker, a Brooklyn Democrat, put it, “How can you be one of the top Democrats in the country and not have resolved this in your own backyard?” The governor has built his reputation as a master manager and bipartisan deal maker, and the Republican-led Senate has prevented him from facing the politically precarious choice of vetoing or signing more liberal legislation that would inevitably emerge from a fully Democratic Legislature. But as he looks to 2018 and a possible 2020 presidential bid, Mr. Cuomo must appeal to a restive Democratic electorate that is increasingly aware and unhappy that Republicans hold power in the State Senate during such polarized times. “The governor spent a lot of time and energy and successfully brought the two sides together in 2014, but the Democrats failed to win an overall majority,” said Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide. “He is working very hard again to end the personal agendas and infighting that is causing the divide and unify the factions, which is more important than ever when our democratic values are under attack by the Trump administration.” In recent weeks, the state Democratic Party adopted a resolution to cut off party funds from the eight members of Mr. Klein’s Independent Democratic Conference; New York’s Democratic congressional delegation asked Mr. Cuomo behind closed doors for action during his recent visit to Washington; and, on a Manhattan street in July, an activist with a camera confronted Mr. Cuomo about his plans for the breakaway Democrats. “I can perform marriages,” Mr. Cuomo said in the video, posted on YouTube, “but I can’t force them.” That has largely been Mr. Cuomo’s laissez-faire posture when it comes to the I.D.C., though many Democrats accuse him of tacitly supporting the arrangement. State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein leads a breakaway faction of eight Democratic senators, the Independent Democratic Conference. Mr. Klein lauded the legislative achievements since the I.D.C.’s inception in 2011, among them a higher minimum wage, paid family leave and legalization of gay marriage. “I think the entire political establishment has a lot to learn from the Independent Democratic Conference about getting things done,” said Mr. Klein, whose district is drawn mostly from the Bronx, where he lives, and includes a sliver of Westchester. He had only praise for Mr. Cuomo: “I consider the governor a fantastic leader.” Mr. Klein and Ms. Stewart-Cousins, however, do not enjoy a warm relationship. “I can count on a couple fingers how many times I’ve spoken to Senator Cousins,” Mr. Klein said. Many Democrats believe Mr. Cuomo could broker an agreement between the warring Democratic factions, as he did during his last run for governor — if it served him politically. “At this point, he is the solution,” said Mr. Parker, the Democratic senator. Behind the scenes, Mr. Cuomo has begun getting more involved, including arranging a dinner in Manhattan last week, a gathering that lasted more than two hours and was attended by only Mr. Cuomo, Ms. Stewart-Cousins and Mr. Klein, according to a person who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The governor is a ferocious advocate when he chooses to be,” said Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, which pushes Democrats to adopt more liberal positions. “He has $25 million in the bank and he’s the leader of the Democratic Party. There’s no question if he put his foot to the pedal here, he could have a decisive impact.” The closed-door confrontation with Ms. Stewart-Cousins highlighted another sensitive factor: race. Mr. Cuomo has had an up-and-down history with New York’s black political leadership dating to his 2002 primary challenge against H. Carl McCall, who was seeking to become the state’s first black governor. (Mr. Cuomo has since appointed Mr. McCall as board chairman for the State University of New York.) New York has never had a black woman lead a legislative chamber, and if Democrats could unite, Ms. Stewart-Cousins would be the first. (The Assembly currently has an African-American leader, Speaker Carl E. Heastie.) In the Manhattan meeting last month, Mr. Cuomo went around the room to ask Ms. Stewart-Cousins’s members if they were each willing to join with Mr. Klein’s team to form a united Democratic front. “The question was, ‘Are Democrats prepared to form a coalition with the I.D.C. to govern the Senate?’ and the answer was a resounding yes from every senator in the room,” Mr. Hoylman recalled. But Mr. Cuomo told them that Mr. Klein was still resistant. The meeting ended without resolution. source

August 9, 2017 by
A low-flying Russian airplane created a buzz in the nation’s capital Wednesday, but it turns out the surveillance flight over the Capitol, Pentagon and other sites was cleared by the U.S. government under a long-standing global treaty. The flight, which was filmed by The Associated Press, was permitted under the Open Skies Treaty. Russia and the United States are signatories to the treaty, which allows unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of all 34 member nations. The flights are intended to foster transparency about military activity, reduce mistrust or misunderstandings and help monitor arms control and other agreements. Dan Gaffney, a spokesman for the Pentagon, said he could not confirm the path of the plane until its mission was over. “A typical mission has several segments (flights) taking place over a few days,” Gaffney said. The U.S. Capitol Building is lit at sunset in Washington, Dec. 20, 2016. Capitol Police heads-up But the U.S. Capitol Police issued a heads-up, saying an “authorized low-altitude aircraft” would enter restricted airspace over the Capitol between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. “The aircraft will be large and may fly directly over the U.S. Capitol,” the statement said. “This flight will be monitored by the U.S. Capitol Police command center and other federal government agencies.” Since the treaty entered into force in 2002, there have been more than 1,200 Open Skies flights. According to the Pentagon, the overflights are conducted by unarmed observation aircraft equipped with certain types of film and sensors that are certified under the treaty. The Pentagon says that before the flights, each state is given the flight plan of the mission and an escort team flies aboard the aircraft to make sure it complies with the treaty. After each flight, the host nation gets a copy of any imagery taken by the observation aircraft. Russia and the spirit of the treaty Senior U.S. intelligence and military officials have expressed concern that Russia is taking advantage of technological advances to violate the spirit of the treaty. Steve Rademaker, former assistant secretary of state for the bureau of arms control and the bureau of international security and nonproliferation, told Congress in past hearings that Russia complies with the Open Skies Treaty, but has adopted measures that are inconsistent with the spirit of the accord. The treaty, for instance, obligates each member to make all of its territory available for aerial observation, yet Rademaker said Russia has imposed restrictions on surveillance over Moscow and Chechnya and near Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two breakaway regions of Georgia now under Russian control. source