Tuesday, October 31, 2017

With Huge Fines, German Law Pushes Social Networks To Delete Abusive Posts

Like the United States, Germany is grappling with fake news and hate speech and what to do about it. For decades, it has banned incitement, defamation, and phrases and symbols from the Nazi era.

But the lines have been a lot murkier when the offenses in question are on the Internet.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition tried to address the discrepancy this year with a controversial "Network Enforcement Law," which the German parliament passed on June 30, and which quietly went into effect on Oct. 1.

Under the measure — touted by many as the toughest law of its kind in the Western world — social media companies that have at least 2 million users in Germany, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, can be fined as much as 50 million euros ($58.3 million) if they fail to delete comments and posts that are deemed to violate German law. In clear-cut cases, the time that the platforms have to remove the offending material can be as little as 24 hours. - Read More

With Huge Fines, German Law Pushes Social Networks To Delete Abusive Posts

Monday, October 30, 2017

Afghan Taliban say kidnapped U.S. professor is seriously ill

KABUL (Reuters) - The Afghan Taliban said on Monday that Kevin King, one of two professors from the American University of Afghanistan who were kidnapped in Kabul last year, is seriously ill and needs urgent medical attention.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said King, an American, was suffering from “dangerous” heart disease and kidney problems.

“His illness has intensified, his feet have swollen and sometimes he becomes unconscious and his condition worsens every day,” Mujahid said in a statement.

“We have tried to treat him time to time but we do not have medical facilities as we are in a war situation,” he said.

The U.S. State Department called for the immediate and unconditional release of King and other hostages.

King and his Australian colleague Timothy Weeks were kidnapped in August 2016 as they were returning to their compound in the Afghan capital. - More, Reuters

Afghan Taliban say kidnapped U.S. professor is seriously ill

White House: Charges against Manafort have 'nothing to do with' Trump - latimes

The White House downplayed indictments on Monday against President Trump's former campaign manager and two other aides, including one who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, as having "nothing to do" with the president or his election effort.

“Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity,”  White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and Rick Gates, whom the indictment called "Manafort's right-hand man," pleaded not guilty  to 12 charges of money laundering and conspiracy, the first charges filed in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to influence last year's presidential election.

The indictment alleges that for at least a decade, through 2016, Manafort and Gates failed to properly disclose more than $75 million in payments from Ukraine's government, then pro-Moscow, for lobbying and public relations to influence U.S. policy in its favor. 

"We’ve been saying from Day One there is no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion and nothing in the indictment today changes that at all,” Sanders said, echoing earlier tweets from Trump. Like him, she sought to deflect attention by saying that "the real collusion scandal" is related to the Clinton campaign efforts to collect opposition research on Trump.

Sanders' dismissiveness was challenged, however, by the indictment and guilty plea of the third former aide, foreign policy advisor GeorgePapadopoulos, who confessed to making false statements about his contact with Russians during the campaign. He is cooperating with prosecutors. - Read More

Three former Trump campaign officials charged by special counsel - washingtonpost

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Monday revealed charges against three former Trump campaign officials — including onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort — marking the first criminal allegations to come from probes into possible Russian influence in U.S. political affairs.

One of the three men charged, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, admitted making a false statement to FBI investigators who asked about his contacts with a foreigner who claimed to have high-level Russian connections. The agreement was unsealed Monday.

Court documents described extensive efforts Papadopoulos made to try to broker connections with Russian officials and arrange a meeting between them and the Trump campaign, though some emails show his offers were rebuffed.

The third person charged was Manafort’s longtime business partner, Rick Gates.

The charges collectively show how Mueller is aggressively probing the lives of those in President Trump’s orbit — digging into their personal finances while also exploring whether they might have coordinated, or tried to coordinate, with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

Papadopoulos ultimately admitted to lying to the FBI about his interactions with people he thought had connections with the Russian government. He has been cooperating with investigators for three months — having been first arrested and charged in July after landing at Dulles International Airport on a flight from Germany — and has met with the government on “numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions,” according to a court filing.

Manafort and Gates were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other charges.

At a court appearance Monday afternoon, Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty. ; 

The charges against Manafort and Gates did not reference the Trump campaign, a point President Trump noted on TwitterMonday. “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” Trump wrote.

“ . . . Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” he said in a follow-up tweet- Read More

Sunday, October 29, 2017

When Is It 'Terrorism'? How The Media Cover Attacks By Muslim Perpetrators

President Trump has often accused the news media of not covering terrorist attacks adequately. In a speech in February he said, "Radical Islamic terrorists are determined to strike our homeland as they did on 9/11, as they did from Boston to Orlando to San Bernardino [...] It's gotten to a point where it's not even being reported."

New research from Erin Kearns and colleagues at Georgia State University shows that the president is right — sort of. There is a systematic bias in the way terrorism is covered — just not in the way the president thinks.

Kearns says the "terrorism" label is often only applied to cases where the perpetrator is Muslim. And, those cases also receive significantly more news coverage.

"When the perpetrator is Muslim, you can expect that attack to receive about four and a half times more media coverage than if the perpetrator was not Muslim," Kearns says. Put another way, "a perpetrator who is not Muslim would have to kill on average about seven more people to receive the same amount of coverage as a perpetrator who's Muslim."

Perhaps these findings are not all that surprising to you. But there are disturbing implications for the way Americans perceive Muslims, and the way Muslims perceive themselves. - More, NPR

When Is It 'Terrorism'? How The Media Cover Attacks By Muslim Perpetrators

Former Presidents: They're Just Like Us! Obama Summoned For Jury Duty

There are plenty of perks to being a former U.S. president: a lifetime salary, a Secret Service entourage and office facilities provided on the taxpayers' dollar. Avoiding jury duty, however, is not one of them.

"We have a system in Cook County where one serves one time a year on the jury, and that time has arrived for President Barack Obama," county Chief Judge Tim Evans told NPR on Saturday in a phone interview. Evans wasn't willing to disclose the exact date or location of Obama's service, but he did confirm that the former president will be serving in Cook County in November.

Obama will receive the same salary as any other juror — $17.25 for each day he serves — a bit of a pay cut for someone who reportedly earned $400,000 for a single speech to a Wall Street firm.

"He's a great citizen of his city and this county," Evans said. "We're happy that he recognizes his responsibility as a citizen to serve just as anybody else would."

But, of course, Obama isn't "just anybody." Evans said that he has been in contact with Obama's staff and that the former president's security will be a high priority throughout his service.

Whether Obama will actually be chosen as a juror in the case is another question. The procedure can vary court to court, but in most cases, the judge will begin by disqualifying anyone who has prejudices that would prevent them from being a fair juror or for whom jury service would present an unusual hardship — such as a single parent of a young child. Then the lawyers for each side will have the opportunity to ask the potential jurors questions. Finally, each side will have a limited number of peremptory strikes, which allow them to remove a juror from the pool without explanation, for any reason other than race or sex. - More, NPR

Former Presidents: They're Just Like Us! Obama Summoned For Jury Duty

U.S. Warning to Pakistan: Stop Backing Terrorism

ISLAMABAD — Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson stopped in Islamabad on his way to New Delhi on Tuesday to deliver what he hoped would be a sobering message to Pakistan: Stop funding or providing shelter to terrorist groups. Now.

It is a message the United States has been giving the Pakistanis in various forms since the Sept. 11 attacks, and it is one the Pakistanis have by turns harkened to, bristled at and shrugged off — sometimes in the same meeting — for years.

In tackling the deeply dysfunctional relationship between the United States and Pakistan, the Trump administration is finding that it is not unlike some difficult marriages: all but impossible to fix, but also impossible to end.

There were few signs on Tuesday that this 16-year-old dynamic had changed.

Mr. Tillerson met with three of Pakistan’s top leaders at the elegant prime minister’s residence in Islamabad: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi; the foreign minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif; and, most important, the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa.

At a formal greeting before a portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who is considered the father of Pakistan, Mr. Tillerson began with reassurances. “Pakistan is important, as you know, regionally to the U.S. security relationships and so important regionally to our joint goals of providing peace and security to the region and providing opportunity for a greater economic relationship as well,” he said.

Mr. Abbasi, wearing a traditional white kurta next to Mr. Tillerson’s dark suit, responded cheerfully but pointedly. “The U.S. can rest assured that we are strategic partners in the war against terror and that today Pakistan is fighting the largest war in the world against terror,” he said.

The United States believes that Pakistan has for years supported terrorist groups, like the Haqqani network, that attack American troops in Afghanistan, undermining the 16-year effort to defeat the Taliban. But for just as long, the United States has relied on Pakistani air and land routes to supply both American and Afghan forces. -  More

U.S. Warning to Pakistan: Stop Backing Terrorism - The New York Times

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Catalan leaders removed, Spain asserts control over breakaway region - washingtonpost

 Spain on Saturday began to assert control over Catalonia, sacking the region’s president, ministers, diplomats, police chiefs and transferring all authority to the central government in Madrid.

But it was an open question as to who was really in charge of the breakaway “Republic of Catalonia” in the hours after a divided Catalan Parliament declared independence.

Catalonia’s secessionist president, Carles Puigdemont, who was cheered by onlookers when he walked the streets of Barcelona on Saturday, issued a prerecorded call for citizens to mount “a democratic opposition” to the takeover.

Although some saw the brief statement as an act of resistance — a defiant roar — many of the pro-independence Catalans were disappointed and struggled to understand what he meant.

Barcelona, the capital of the newly declared republic, was placid on Saturday — even a bit dull — as if the population had taken a deep breath and was wondering what comes next.

News crews looking for action, for big demonstrations or clashes, were reduced to filming pigeons flapping around in the Plaça de Catalunya.

After being granted unprecedented powers by the Spanish Senate, the central government, in the early-morning hours Saturday published lists of Catalan officials, alongside their advisers, who were being fired. 

The chief of the Catalan regional police, Josep Lluís Trapero, who is being investigated by Spanish prosecutors for defying legal orders, was among the officially dismissed.

In all, more than 140 Catalans were told they no longer hold positions of power.

The Catalan Parliament was dissolved by order of Spain, and new elections were scheduled for Dec. 21 in the well-to-do region of northeast Spain, riven by emotional divisions between pro-independence sentiment and the desire of those who want to remain in Spain. - Read More

Catalan leaders removed, Spain asserts control over breakaway region

Friday, October 27, 2017

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani on Women as Peacemakers - USIP

Afghanistan’s women historically have mediated in conflicts among families and tribes, their role often seen as a last resort to stop bloodshed. That tradition has been eroded by four decades of war and the increased influence of more restrictive cultural ideas from neighboring countries and the Middle East. But from Kabul to the mountains of Kunar province, activist Afghan women are reclaiming their place in peace processes. On October 25, join USIP to hear Afghanistan’s first lady, Rula Ghani, discuss the evolution of women’s roles in fostering peace amid one of Asia’s longest current wars. - Read More

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani on Women as Peacemakers 

Institute dedicated to forging peace is targeted for extinction- washingtonpost


The U.S. Institute of Peace has dispatched staffers from its ultramodern building near the Mall in Washington to some of the world’s most dangerous places, but now the federally funded organization is facing its own demise at the hands of the Trump administration.

The USIP, created by Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan to engage in conflict resolution around the world, is among more than a dozen independent agencies slated for elimination under the budget blueprint unveiled Thursday. Axing the USIP would save taxpayers $35.3 million.

But the deep spending cuts proposed for foreign aid prompted an immediate backlash across the spectrum in Congress and among humanitarian organizations and religious groups. Rep. Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), the senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the cuts a “catastrophic mistake,” while Rep. Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, expressed concern that cuts in diplomacy will hurt efforts to combat terrorism. Mercy Corps called the foreign aid cuts “reckless, dangerous and irresponsible.”

Like other agencies on the chopping block, the USIP has supporters in Congress and the military who can be expected to fight for it, and its death is not a sure thing. But the institute, with its mission of peace building, underscores the budget trade-offs the administration is making as it shifts resources from civilian programs to a military buildup.

“It’s removing tools that there has been a consensus, across both parties in successive administrations, are critical to our international efforts,” said Gayle Smith, the former administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. “It leaves us less to work with in a world that is growing more complex.”

The Institute of Peace is considered one of those tools, not only for USAID and the State Department, but also for the Defense Department.

A nonpartisan and independent institution, it trains U.S. diplomats and members of the armed forces heading for unstable parts of the world so they can be prepared to help avert conflicts before they mushroom. It also trains local “facilitators” to mediate local disputes.

Even the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has called for many of the cuts that the Trump administration has adopted, has said the USIP deserves to survive, calling it a “do-tank” as opposed to a think tank. - Read More

Institute dedicated to forging peace is targeted for extinction - The ...

First Lady Rula Ghani and USIP Visit Reveal Ways Women Seek to Reduce Violence - USIP

Amid a spate of recent Taliban attacks across Afghanistan, I heard a different but equally important story during a visit to Kabul last week: women from major cities to rural villages are taking action to defuse local tensions with the militants, prevent recruitment to extremist groups and, at the national level, to pave the way for peace with the Taliban. It’s a trend that Afghanistan’s first lady, Rula Ghani, highlighted during a discussion at USIP in Washington today.

“Women no longer want to wait for peace to fall in their lap,” Ghani said in her second appearance at USIP as first lady. “They are working for it.” - More

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Red Cross To Scale Back In Afghanistan

Some people traveled for days across the harsh terrain of northern Afghanistan to reach the orthopedic center only to find its gates closed. Staff and security guards had tried to spread the word that the center was suspending operations after a Spanish physical therapist was gunned down in September, but some never received the devastating news. They stood there in tears, say local staff.

The center reopened Tuesday, but the International Committee of the Red Crossis hoping to turn it over to the Afghan government or a local nongovernmental organization — part of a major scaledown in northern Afghanistan.

The international group has operated continuously in the country for 30 years. Some of its aid workers have been abducted and killed over that span of time, but the intensity of attacks has stepped up. In the past 11 months, Red Cross workers were targeted three times. Two of the incidents took place while staff members were traveling on the country's dangerous roads. Then came the attack in September that set a new precedent.

The incident did not happen on roads where the Red Cross must rely on security guarantees from armed groups. It happened in an orthopedic center, a place where the country's war victims came for 26 years to receive physical therapy, prosthetic limbs and medical treatment along with people with polio, spinal injuries and other issues. - Read More

Red Cross To Scale Back In Afghanistan

Intrigue still surrounds assassination of President John F. Kennedy

Trump releases some documents related to Kennedy's assassination, but not all, as he deems some information as a threat to national security. - Read More

Intrigue still surrounds assassination of President John F. Kennedy ...

J.F.K. Files, Though Incomplete, Are a Treasure Trove for Answer Seekers - nytimes

WASHINGTON — President Trump ordered the long-awaited release on Thursday of more than 2,800 documents related to the assassinationof President John F. Kennedy, but bowed to pressure from the C.I.A. and F.B.I. by withholding thousands of additional papers pending six more months of review.

While incomplete, the documents were a treasure trove for investigators, historians and conspiracy theorists who have spent half a century searching for clues to what really happened in Dallas on that fateful day in 1963. They included tantalizing talk of mobsters and Cubans and spies, Kremlin suspicions that Lyndon B. Johnson was behind the killing, and fear among the authorities that the public would not accept the official version of events.

Paging through the documents online on Thursday night was a little like exploring a box of random papers found in an attic. There were fuzzy images of C.I.A. surveillance photos from the early 1960s; a log from December 1963 of visitors, including a C.I.A. officer, to Johnson’s ranch in Texas; and reports that Lee Harvey Oswald obtained ammunition from a right-wing militia group.

Some of the documents convey some of the drama and chaos of the days immediately after the murder of the president. Among them is a memoapparently dictated by J. Edgar Hoover, the F.B.I. director, on Nov. 24, 1963, shortly after Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald as he was being moved from Police Headquarters to a local jail.

The National Archives on Thursday released a final batch of government documents related to the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. - Rad More

JFK Files, Though Incomplete, Are a Treasure Trove for Answer Seekers

2,800 Kennedy Assassination Files Released

U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan - U.S. Citizen Services

The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul provides assistance to U.S. citizens residing or traveling in Afghanistan.

We assist U.S. citizens with passportsreports of birth abroad, or notary servicesand other citizen services. You must have an appointment to visit the ACS Unit.

The ACS Unit is closed on U.S. and Afghan holidays.

Fees can only be paid in U.S. dollars, in cash. - More, USEmbassy

Emergency Services:  Contact Information

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

California's Bail System Is 'Unsafe And Unfair,' Study Finds

The national effort to get states to move away from a bail system based on money — something detractors call unjust and antiquated — got a big boost this week: A yearlong study backed by the California's Chief Justice recommended money bail be abolished and replaced with a system that includes robust safety-assessments and expanded pretrial services.

Calling the state's commercial bail system "unsafe and unfair," a working group created by California's Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye argues that the state's bail system bases a defendant's liberty too much on his or her finances, rather than an assessment of whether the defendant is a flight or safety risk.

"Therein lies the fundamental fairness issue of, is there a two-tier justice system that is operating here?" asks Martin Hoshino, who heads the Judicial Council of California, which is an advisory and policymaking council of the state's courts.

This week's report says those of means awaiting trial often have the ability to pay their way out, while most low-income people simply do not.

"These recommendations reflect the overwhelming belief that wealth-based justice is not justice at all," says Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who along with state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, co-authored a bill proposing big changes to cash bail.

"For too long, California has forced people who don't pose a threat to the public and who have not been convicted of a crime to sit in jail and face losing their jobs, their cars, their homes and even their children if they can't afford to buy their freedom," Rep. Bonta says.

State lawmakers have pledged to take up bail reform when the California legislature reconvenes in January, and it also has the backing of the state's governor, Democrat Jerry Brown. This new report puts significant judicial weight behind those efforts — which are likely to become the nation's biggest experiment in moving away from commercial bail. - More, NPR

California's Bail System Is 'Unsafe And Unfair,' Study Finds

Amid GMO Strife, Food Industry Vies For Public Trust In CRISPR Technology

There's a genetic technology that scientists are eager to apply to food, touting its possibilities for things like mushrooms that don't brown and pigs that are resistant to deadly diseases.

And food industry groups, still reeling from widespread protests against genetically engineered corn and soybeans (aka GMOs) that have made it difficult to get genetically engineered food to grocery store shelves, are looking to influence public opinion.

The technology is called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, or CRISPR. It's a technique that Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal genetics professor at University of California, Davis, says can de-activate a gene. Or, as she puts it: "It's editing. It's like going into a Word document and basically replacing one letter, maybe that instead of 'wind,' you want it to say 'wine,' " she says. - More

Amid GMO Strife, Food Industry Vies For Public Trust In CRISPR Technology

Too many terrorists find a ‘safe place’ in Pakistan, Rex Tillerson says

 U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that “too many terrorist organizations” find refuge in Pakistan and reiterated his call for the country to do more to address a rising problem of terrorism within its borders that, he said, threatensto destabilize Pakistan itself.

“There are too many terrorist organizations that find a safe place in Pakistan from which to conduct their operations and attacks against other countries,” Tillerson said, speaking in India’s capital on the final stop of a tour through the Middle East and Asia. The terrorist groups’ growing strength and capability “can lead to a threat to Pakistan’s own stability,” Tillerson said.

At a news conference at India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Tillerson said that during a meeting with Pakistan’s interim prime minister, its army chief and other leaders on Tuesday in Islamabad, he had outlined “certain expectations” of “mechanisms of cooperation” that Pakistan must fulfill to address the problem or face U.S. reprisals. Pakistan’s government has long denied the existence of safe havens for terrorist groups. - Read More

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tillerson pays flying visit to Afghanistan to discuss U.S. strategy

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday discussed with Afghan leaders the U.S. strategy for ending America’s longest war, in a brief, unreported visit that underscored the challenge of quelling the country’s insurgency.

Tillerson spent almost three hours in a heavily guarded building in the main U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, most of the time in talks with President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other U.S. and Afghan officials.

A small group of U.S. media accompanying the former ExxonMobil CEO on his first official visit to Afghanistan were prohibited for security reasons from filing dispatches, photographs and video until they returned to Qatar.

Speaking at a brief news conference after his meeting with Ghani and Abdullah, Tillerson said he would be flying to Pakistan on Tuesday to reinforce the Trump administration’s demand that Islamabad move against the Taliban and other extremists based inside its borders or face the consequences.

“We have made some very specific requests of Pakistan in order for them to take action to undermine the support the Taliban receives and other terrorist organizations receive,” he said.

U.S. policy toward Islamabad “will be based upon whether they take action that we feel is necessary to move the process forward for both creating opportunity for reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan but also ensuring a stable future for Pakistan,” he continued.

Tillerson said he would then travel to India to discuss a request that it expand its economic and development assistance to Afghanistan. - Read More

Tillerson pays flying visit to Afghanistan to discuss U.S. strategy

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes unannounced trip to Afghanistan

Tillerson met with Ghani to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to winning the war with Taliban.

 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday to pledge U.S. support to its government after a week of Taliban attacks that killed more than 200 people.

After arriving from Doha, Qatar, Tillerson met with President Ashraf Ghani to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to helping Afghanistan win its war with the Taliban and achieve peace, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.

“I thought it was very important to stop here in Afghanistan coming to the South Asia region as part of the recently announced policy and strategy that President Trump put forth,” Tillerson said after meeting with Ghani for about an hour. He was referring to a U.S. buildup in Afghanistan that will add about 4,000 troops, for a total of 13,500 in the country.

The visit underscores the strong tone that Tillerson is expected to adopt with Pakistan during his visit with interim Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and other officials on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, Trump threatened Pakistan with sanctions for offering “safe havens” to terrorists near the border with Afghanistan — an allegation that Pakistan officials deny.

At Bagram air base north of Kabul, Tillerson reiterated the importance of Pakistan’s role in reaching peace with the Taliban.

“It is imperative in the end that we are denying safe haven to any terrorist organizations or any extremists to any part of this world,” he said. “This is very much a regional effort . . . It was rolled out in the strategy itself, demanding that others deny safe haven to terrorists anywhere in the region. We are working closely with Pakistan, as well.”

Tillerson said he will discuss with Pakistani leaders “specific requests” by the Trump administration for actions that undermine support for the Taliban and other extremist groups. - Read More