Brazil, Snowden, Russia and fake news: a conversation with Glenn Greenwald

But one of its dangers is that we can just Balkanize our world and we can become atomized and only consume information that is pleasing or self-affirming, which is really dangerous in a democracy, right? As long as [Snowden’s] in Russia, it doesn’t matter what Trump wants to do to him, because he can’t get his hands on him, just like Obama couldn’t. Glenn Greenwald: The impetus principally was personal. Throughout, Greenwald and other writers at The Intercept have sharply questioned the claims and demanded the US government offer stronger evidence to the public. He explained how his new home gave him a new perspective for that work:
GG: I was motivated to become more political in large part as a result of post-9/11 developments in American political discourse and the climate there — putting people in prison with no charges, those kinds of issues. But it would seem to me that you could have solutions to address that. Of course it’s a concern, but you know the amazing thing is that Snowden did what he did not just knowing that it was a risk, but believing he would likely end up in prison for many decades. So the only option we had for living together was being here, and I wanted to anyway, because I wanted something new. Diplomatic relations have changed between countries, so that now protections against mass surveillance are taken much more seriously.  
Edward Snowden, the former defense contractor who leaked Greenwald and other journalists thousands of classified documents, is currently living in de-facto exile in Russia. But one of the things the Snowden reporting taught me was that good journalism, and high-impact journalism, actually does have a very high potential for change. Tear gas and rubber bullets have been fired. The term, “fake news,” though, has become so much broader. What you’re really here to do is to make information available to the public and to institutions, and let them decide what ought to be done about it democratically and legally. So, even though the head of the NSA wasn’t arrested and prosecuted as a result of what we revealed — in large part because the scandal wasn’t that the NSA was breaking the law, the scandal was what had been made legal unbeknownst to most people — there have been really fundamental changes in terms of how mass surveillance is conducted. In downtown Rio, a few miles from where we sit, protesters have been waging battles with military police over an unpopular austerity law. I don’t think anyone knows how that will play out. I actually liked living in a place — Brazil — where people didn’t know my work and didn’t care about my work because it was often polarizing and controversial, and it was nice to be in a place where no one cared. What you may not know is that Greenwald has lived for more than a decade in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro. GG: Well, that’s the danger, right? And he chose to do what he did anyway. The reason that there is an issue with fake news, however you want to define it, is to me twofold:
One is that it’s just the nature of internet technologies, which has so many good things. Obama wanted to put him in prison for a few decades and was thwarted by [Snowden’s] stay in Russia.  
Russia has been in the news recently for another major reason: US officials are accusing the Kremlin of historic meddling in the 2016 US election. He is refusing to go, and observers are warning that a full-blown constitutional crisis could ensue. I ended up meeting my now-husband of 11 years on the second full day that I was here. So you have the most trusted names in news, from the New York Times to the Washington Post, to NBC News, that convinced an entire country to go to war over weapons that didn’t exist. It hosted the Summer Olympics, and then impeached its president. And that instability, although it can be risky and scary sometimes, actually makes you feel like you do have more of a potential impact in doing your journalism, because it can have a much more direct effect on large numbers of people who are still figuring out what their country and their government are going to be. And I think it’s important to ask why? President-elect Donald Trump has opined in the past (on Twitter, where else?) that Snowden should be executed. If it’s this narrow, concrete term that refers to this very specific phenomenon of Macedonian teenagers purposefully manufacturing what they know are false [stories] to make people spread and click it in order to generate ad revenue, I think it remains to be seen how significant that really has been. GG: I think part of it is that you just have to accept that as a journalist you have a somewhat limited role. But what about Trump’s reported cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin?  
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Earlier this year, Greenwald also launched The Intercept Brasil, a Portuguese-language version of the news site covering Brazilian current affairs and politics. But I think the reason that has happened is because faith in media institutions has been lost. To be a journalist reporting on Brazilian politics is just endlessly compelling. You’re not a prosecutor, you’re not a judge, you’re not a police officer. I was practicing law in New York in 2005, and had begun to think that I wanted to just kind of explore different options for life. GG: For one thing, [Brazil] is just a fascinating arena, politically. So, I just kind of cleared my schedule for eight weeks, rented an apartment in Rio, where I had been visiting many times, and came here with the intention of just walking on the beach and clearing my head and figuring things out. Because it’s a young democracy, I do think it tends to be a little more unstable than, say, in the US or older democracies. You can’t arrest people. All of which are direct byproducts of the Snowden reporting. It’s a fascinating time to be a journalist in Brazil.  
But this detachment from his new home didn’t last long. Or you have a financial collapse that all of the experts that at these media outlets long venerated failed to see and contributed to, of course you’re going to have a loss in institutions. So, sometimes it is frustrating when the outcome isn’t exactly what you want. From his home in the hills, Greenwald, 49, has continued to dissect and roil US politics via The Intercept, a news organization he launched with filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Jeremy Scahill in 2014. But what I want to know, first of all, is how Greenwald ended up in Rio de Janeiro, of all places. It’s almost, at this point, something that gets applied to any type of journalism that I dislike. I think asking how faith in media institutions can be re-established is critical to battling this fake news plague. In our interview, which took place before the most recent Russian hacking reports, Greenwald had this to say about fake news. Media outlets have reported a slew of allegations ranging from the Russian government ordered hacks of damaging internal Democratic Party files to the claim that it spread “fake news” during the campaign. And earlier this month, a Supreme Court judge ordered the Senate speaker to step down over new corruption charges. And then, most of all, consumers have pressured tech companies to such a great extent that you have companies like Facebook and Google using end-to-end encryption, which is a genuine threat to the surveillance state’s ability to monitor. Behavior has changed greatly among individual internet users, who now use encryption and other forms of technology that create a barrier for surveillance. GG: Obviously, right now, he’s in Russia   and is protected with asylum, or at least a three-year residency. GG: For me, the key issue is how do you define “fake news”? I asked Greenwald if this makes him nervous for his friend and source. The Intercept Brasil is Glenn Greenwald’s latest, Portuguese-language site. You probably know Glenn Greenwald as the American lawyer-turned-journalist who worked with whistleblower Edward Snowden to reveal global systems of secret government surveillance. So, I think the fear is that if Putin and Trump are serious about re-establishing détente or better relations, one of the prizes that Putin can give to Trump is Edward Snowden. That was our working assumption when we were in Hong Kong. (You can listen to Greenwald   below.)
 
For the first few years Greenwald lived in Rio, he continued almost exclusively to write about politics and constitutional issues in the US. Greenwald described how the Snowden revelations of US spying on Brazilian officials, followed by the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, landed him wholeheartedly in the maw of Brazilian politics. At the time, the US had an explicit ban on granting immigration rights to same-sex couples, while Brazil, amazingly, given that it’s the largest Catholic country on the planet, actually offered immigration rights based on same-sex marriage. I meet Greenwald in the lobby of a hotel in Rio’s Sao Conrado neighborhood on a hot, clammy afternoon at an exhausting and chaotic time for Brazil.  
Speaking of impact, I asked Greenwald how he feels knowing that despite all of his reporting on secret spying by the National Security Agency and other governments, the main architects of those programs are still walking free and government surveillance remains as strong as ever. So, there’s always been varying risks hanging over Edward Snowden’s head and perhaps it’s gotten a little bit more intense, and sure, I do worry about it, but there’s not a lot that can be done. Or even any journalism that’s misleading or false.

A Belgian woman explains why she joined ISIS, and why she came back

It’s hard to believe someone could be blind to the brutality of ISIS and the hostile war zone Syria had become, even if this was before the declaration of ISIS’ so-called caliphate, before the execution of journalist James Foley, and before the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. She converted when she was 16. But it also attracted the attention of an ISIS recruiter. In June 2014, two months after they met, they left with her son, Nassim, who was 4. She had a son with her long-time boyfriend, and when he abandoned them, she says she spiraled into depression and retreated into an extreme form of religion. “I made a very bad mistake. “Thankfully my son was only four,” she says, “because when boys are 12, they automatically go to fight.”
During all this time, Passoni says she was able to keep in touch with her family, and she told them how much she wanted to go home. However, not all women who join ISIS want to carry out attacks. Once the family arrived in Syria, Passoni says she was confined to a communal women’s home with strict rules while her husband was sent to training. “He played on my weaknesses. Her best friend was Muslim, and Passoni used to celebrate Islamic holidays with her family. She’s monitored by police and has to check in regularly with probation officers. Passoni, 31, grew up in a Catholic family in the Belgian city of Charleroi. But Passoni insists she didn’t know any better; she never read the news. “Entering is easy. He told me that I could help the Syrian people, that I could be a nurse and be useful,” she says. Passoni created a Facebook profile under a fake name and posted photos of burqa-clad women wielding Kalashnikovs. Passoni is trying to move on with her life, but says it’s difficult to find work with a criminal record. “This young woman is not the same one who came back, or the one who left,” Lorsignol says. It made her feel strong after the breakup, she says. Today, her husband is serving a four-year sentence in a Belgian prison for associating with a terrorist organization. She lived there for nine months before escaping. “I quickly opened my eyes that it was all a lie. Lorsignol was with Passoni’s parents at the Turkish border when she crossed over last year. He was looking for ISIS wives. “I hope I can convince others not to go, to inform themselves, and above all to know that Islam is not this and that we can all live together.”
Catherine Lorsignol, a Belgian journalist and co-author of Passoni’s memoir, has followed Passoni’s story since meeting her parents while reporting on radicalization. She wasn’t exactly devout. “Today, she’s determined, brave and is taking a risk by talking.”
Still, in the eyes of many people here, Passoni is a terrorist sympathizer. One day, her son returned with a teddy bear and a plastic knife and showed her how he’d been taught to behead the toy. Laura Passoni is among   at least 550 women known to have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, according to a 2015 report from the Institute of Strategic Dialogue. Passoni’s memoir about her life with ISIS in Raqqa. Even her son, now 6, is seen as a threat. Passoni says Nassim barely remembers Syria. At least he doesn’t talk about it if he does. She says she doesn’t know if they will stay together when he gets out. I met her in a hotel lobby in Brussels, a setting far from the life she had been living in Raqqa, ISIS’ de facto capital in Syria. But Nassim had to change schools because the parents of some of his classmates demanded that he leave. “Recruiters tell us that our families don’t understand us, but they understand us. That’s when she began to realize she wouldn’t be helping Syrians like the recruiter promised her. All she can do now, she says, is tell her story instead of hiding. I was just there to procreate for the Islamic State,” Passoni says. Passoni, her son and her husband fled to the Turkish border where her parents were waiting on the other side. Leaving is not. She imagined jihadists as brave, loyal men who would take care of her and her son. She’s prohibited from leaving the country, using social media   or   communicating with anyone she knew in Syria. “It was really important for me to restart my life from zero because I was so depressed.”
She was looking for love and purpose. Men would drop by unannounced to take him to the mosque. I regret taking my son there,” she says. Passoni has written a memoir called “In   the Heart of Daesh with My Son” (Daesh is an Arabic acronym for ISIS) and she’s begun speaking to kids at Belgian schools about her experience. Passoni is Belgian, and says she was seduced by the terrorist group to move with her toddler to Syria. From that moment I did everything to try to leave so that my son wouldn’t become a terrorist.”
Passoni says she tried to shield Nassim, but he no longer belonged just to her. Passoni was given a suspended sentence after judges determined she was sincere about not knowing the true nature of ISIS when she left for Syria. So when a Tunisian man living in Belgium contacted Passoni on Facebook, she decided to marry him and take off for Syria. Escaping became even more urgent when Passoni got pregnant and needed medical attention. Credit:

Courtesy of Laura Passoni

Passoni is also forbidden from speaking to her husband while he’s in prison. More have gone since. Passoni says the more she learned about Islam, the more she wanted to be a part of it. And, unfortunately, we believe them.”
Passoni says the recruiter showed her romantic videos about life in Syria, and never the violent ones. Passoni says if she can help prevent one person from joining ISIS, then her experience will have had meaning. She failed on her first attempt to flee, but on her second try, she made it. When three women were arrested recently in Paris for an attempted car bombing in the heart of the city, attention turned to female jihadists and the apparently growing number of Western women who sympathize with ISIS.

Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was shot and killed during visit to art exhibit in Ankara

But the rhetoric has warmed considerably since a reconciliation deal was signed earlier this year and a Russian and Turkish-brokered deal has helped the evacuation of citizens from Aleppo in the last days. Credit:

Umit Bektas/Reuters

‘People fleeing’
The shooting took place at Cagdas Sanatlar Merkezi, a major art exhibition hall in the Cankaya district of Ankara where most foreign embassies are located, including Russia’s mission. They stand on opposite sides of the Syria conflict with Ankara backing rebels trying to topple Moscow-ally, President Bashar al-Assad. The state-run Anadolu news agency said the gunman had been “neutralized” in a police operation, without giving further details. Protesters in Turkey have held Moscow responsible for human rights violations in Aleppo. Turkish police secure the area near an art gallery where the Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov was shot, in Ankara, Turkey, on December 19, 2016. “When the ambassador was delivering a speech, a tall man wearing a suit, fired into the air first and then took aim at the ambassador,” said Kilic. Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was at the scene to supervise a police operation, Turkish television said. A Turkish policeman crying “Aleppo” and “revenge” shot dead Russia’s ambassador to Turkey at an art exhibition in Ankara on Monday, in what Moscow said was a “terrorist act”. “Today in Ankara as a result of an attack the Russian ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov received wounds that he died from,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in televised comments. “It happened during the opening of an exhibition,” Hurriyet correspondent Hasim Kilic, who was at the scene, told AFP. “We qualify what happened as a terrorist act.”
The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had been informed of the attack. When people were fleeing, he fired again,” he added. Turkey and Russia saw relations plunge to their worst levels since the Cold War last year when a Turkish jet shot down a Russian warplane over Syria. A Turkish official on Monday denied Ankara had forged any secret “bargain” with Moscow over the future of Syria, despite the improving cooperation that led to the deal for evacuations from Aleppo. “He said something about Aleppo and ‘revenge.’   He ordered the civilians to leave the room. Andrei Karlov died of his wounds after the shooting, which occurred on the eve of a key meeting between the Russian, Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers on the Syria conflict. Dramatic television footage showed a man in a dark suit and tie waving a gun and gesturing in the air at the Ankara exhibition hall. The incident came after days of protests in Turkey over Russia’s role in Syria, although Moscow and Ankara are now working closely together to evacuate citizens from the battered city of Aleppo. Pictures published by the Hurriyet daily showed at least two men in suits lying flat on the ground as another man brandished a gun. The attack comes a day before Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran, Assad’s other key ally, were to hold unprecedented tripartite talks on the Syria conflict in Moscow. The mayor of Ankara identified the attacker as a Turkish policeman.

House of Blues: Part two of a conversation with Andrew Solomon about depression

If you’re in crisis, don’t hold it in. On this episode of The Civilist we’re going to do something a little different. It’s easy for many to feel a little blue this time of year, but the holidays can be especially difficult for people who are struggling with depression. Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255. It inspired me to write an essay in the New York Times called, “Opening Up About Depression.” You’ll hear it mentioned. This segment goes deeper into the causes of depression, and how the way we talk about mental illness affects the way people see and deal with it. I should tell you that “Noonday Demon” made a tremendous difference in helping me understand my own life-long depression. If you haven’t heard it, I invite you to go back and check out that episode. This episode is the second part of my interview with Andrew Solomon. He’s a clinical psychology professor at Columbia, and wrote “Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression,” which details his own struggles with depression.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. Other resources can be found through the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, which is NAMI.org. And I’ve been thinking more about that interview, now that we’re now smack dab in the dark days of December. PRI.org

On our earlier show, Solomon shared his advice about how to come out about depression, and ways to be supportive when a loved one discloses their struggle. It’s called “Say This, Not That.”
But you only heard part of that conversation. You might remember a conversation I had with the incomparable Andrew Solomon a few months back. And the Trevor Project (trevor.org) is a truly amazing service for LGBTQ people in crisis.

Do you know what’s in your medical records?

“I was recently invited by an IBM security team to take a tour of the dark web, which is a place hackers can go to do not very legal things … “Patients unequivocally have a right to a copy of their medical record and other health data, and that now includes a digital copy of that information, if the doctor has the capability to produce it electronically,” she says. This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI’s Science Friday with Ira Flatow. A few smaller startups have caught on to this, and   a market is growing for apps that will read many different data formats and allow patients to download information. So, if you have an accelerometer on your iPhone or you’re collecting your blood pressure or heart rate, all that information can now be combined together on a smartphone.”
Unfortunately, a lot of patient information generated by doctors and hospitals can’t be read by a personal computer or smartphone — and that continues to be a major source of frustration. “Apple, which you wouldn’t haven’t associated with health care even a few years ago, has made a big push into trying to get medical information to patients,” Farr says. They are simply asking for what they have a right to. Hospitals have not been rated particularly highly in the past for their security practices, and I think in the next five years, we’re going to see increasing pressure for them to be as secure as other industries that manage sensitive information, like the financial sector.”
All of this   said, the records situation for patients is improving, and Mackay encourages people to learn how to access   and store   their medical information. … We shouldn’t have to pay someone else to go out and find it for us.”
Mackay agrees. PRI.org

“It continues to be quite difficult for patients to navigate the records request process, and particularly, to obtain digital copies of their health information,” says Erin Mackay, coordinator of Get My Health Data, an initiative based in Washington, DC that advocates for patient access to digital health records. Medical records are the new credit cards. Twenty years later, much has improved, but patients still have trouble   prying their personal information out of hospitals and health care systems. and I saw a lot of medical records up for sale. Doctors don’t want to be responsible for having their patients’ medical records compromised, and patients fear hackings, too. Once you understand your rights, once you make the request and successfully receive your data, you need to be thinking about a safe and secure place to store it. “Patients aren’t asking their doctor for a favor. Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. In 1996, Congress enacted HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), which was designed, in part, to give patients the right to access their own medical records. “First, it’s important to have an understanding of what your rights are,” she says. “This is a serious consideration,” Farr says. “But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be perfectly aggregated information, because [a doctor or hospital] still might claim that they’ve lost your record or they can’t find it.”
On the one hand, it’s great to see technology companies addressing this issue, Farr says, but on the other hand, “patients have the right to this information. There are a lot of apps on the market that either will go out and make the request for you or provide a place for you to store and organize your data, but there’s a lot of variation in how apps or medical devices use, share   and protect health information.”
“So, I think it’s important that we start doing a better job telling patients about these apps and about data-sharing policies and practices in a transparent and understandable way, so that consumers can make these decisions and feel confident that they have easy and secure access to their data when they need it,” Mackay says. I would also note that empowering patients with this kind of information to help them make decisions, to set and track goals, to share information they have about their health status and their symptoms, is particularly important.”
However, internet security remains a significant challenge. “Then, very importantly, what to do once you get [the] data … One of these is called PicnicHealth. “They’ve released things like HealthKit, which is one of their interfaces that aims to bring together the medical information that you might get from a provider, like your lab history and so on, and combine that with the types of information that patients are now collecting themselves. “I think there’s a lack of understanding of the rights patients have to this information and providers’ responsibilities to make it available.”
Big tech companies like Apple and Google are working to make access easier for patients, as are a number of small startups, says Christina Farr, senior   writer at Fast Company in San Francisco. Patients pay the company a fee, and it will “try to get all of your medical records from all of the different hospitals and health systems that you’ve ever been to you throughout your life,” Farr says.

Syria suspends Aleppo evacuations after deadly bus attacks

By early evening in Aleppo, more than 30 buses were packed with people awaiting evacuation, while thousands more stood in the cold for their turn to board other buses, an AFP reporter said. Freezing temperatures
Iran’s official news agency IRNA said the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran would meet Tuesday in Moscow to discuss the situation. “We cannot allow it to pass because this is a disaster.”
The Security Council will vote Monday on a new draft resolution on observers after France agreed to take Russian concerns into account, diplomats said. Before evacuations were suspended around 8,500 people, including some 3,000 fighters, left for rebel-held territory elsewhere in the north, said the Observatory. The ICRC appealed for safe passage for the civilians. But Russia said it would use its veto to block the French proposal, and instead presented a rival draft asking the UN to make “arrangements” to monitor the situation. Evacuations Sunday of fighters and civilians from the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo were postponed until further notice after gunmen attacked buses for a similar operation from two rebel-besieged villages. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Syria visited Damascus ally Iran on Sunday for talks with top officials on the Syrian conflict. Yasser al-Youssef of the Nureddin al-Zinki rebel group confirmed that “the evacuations have been momentarily suspended.”
The Observatory said buses would not leave the rebel areas of Aleppo until residents of Fuaa and Kafraya were also able to leave. A rebel representative had also said that hundreds of people would also be evacuated from Zabadani and Madaya, two regime-besieged rebel towns in Damascus province, as part of the deal. A physiotherapist, Mahmud Zaazaa, said only “three doctors, a pharmacist and three nurses” remain in the area. An AFP reporter visited a hospital in the rebel sector where patients lay on floors without food or water and almost no heating. “We believe quite simply that what they are proposing is unworkable and dangerous,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said ahead of the meeting. Aleppo has seen some of the worst violence of the nearly six-year war that has killed more than 310,000 people. The Russian draft seen by AFP made no specific mention of observers going to Aleppo. Diplomats said the Security Council vote would take place on Monday. “People have suffered a lot. Dozens of buses   had entered the last rebel-held parts of Aleppo on Sunday to resume the evacuation of thousands of increasingly desperate trapped Syrian civilians and rebels. Syria’s official   media   says   buses were attacked and burned in the Idlib province while en route to evacuate ill and injured people from the besieged Syrian villages of al-Foua and Kefraya. By AFP’s Karam al-Masri   in Aleppo, Syria, with Layal Abou Rahal in Beirut, Lebanon. State television said 100 buses would take people out. But just as a deal to go ahead with the evacuations was found and announced by both sides, gunmen attacked buses sent to take people out of Fuaa and Kafraya and torched them, a monitor said. The development came as Syria ally Russia warned it would veto a French-drafted resolution at the Security Council on sending United Nations observers to Aleppo and submitted a counter draft resolution. This photo was provided by the official news outlet   SANA on Dec. UN envoy   Staffan de Mistura estimated that as of Thursday around 40,000 civilians and perhaps as many as 5,000 opposition fighters remained in Aleppo’s rebel enclave. ‘A disaster’
Buses began entering several east Aleppo districts earlier Sunday under Red Crescent and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) supervision “to bring the remaining terrorists and their families out,” state news agency SANA said, referring to the rebels. An official said more than half of Aleppo’s buildings and infrastructure have been badly damaged or destroyed since violence erupted there in 2012. The main obstacle to a resumption had been a dispute over how many people would be evacuated in parallel from two Shiite villages, Fuaa and Kafraya,   under rebel siege in northwestern Syria. The measure would task Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with deploying UN staff to Aleppo to monitor evacuations and report on the protection of civilians who remain there. Please come to an agreement and help save thousands of lives,” said Syria delegation head Marianne Gasser. The UN Security Council met to discuss a French draft resolution saying that “tens of thousands of besieged Aleppo inhabitants” are in need of aid and evacuation. 18. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said one bus driver was killed in the attack and that the overall evacuation operation was put on hold. Families have been sheltering at night in freezing temperatures in bombed out apartment blocks in Aleppo’s Al-Amiriyah district, the departure point for evacuations. “This is an optimistic percentage of the damage,” Aleppo administrator Nadeem Rahmoun said. Credit:

SANA/Handout via Reuters

The Britain-based monitor said security guarantees were needed before they could resume. The evacuation was suspended on Friday, a day after convoys of people had begun leaving the rebel sector under a deal allowing the regime to take full control of the battleground city.

Get ready: The Electoral College picks America’s president on Monday

When American voters cast their ballots on Nov. “The truth of the matter is that if we have a strong message, if we’re speaking to what the American people care about, typically, the popular vote and the   Electoral   College vote will align,” he said in a clear allusion to his own presidential victories in 2008 and 2012. To date, only one of them, Christopher Suprum of Texas, has publicly announced his intention to stage such a revolt. “The   Electoral   College is a disaster for a democracy,” he tweeted in November 2012.  
But despite the torrent of criticism   this method has faced for decades, no reform attempt has ever succeeded. A similar scenario took place in 2000, when George W. It’s about delegitimizing the american system.”
He added: “We’re very confident that everything is going to be very smooth tomorrow.”
The final result may not be known on Monday, as states are given several days to report their numbers. David Pozen, a professor at Columbia Law School, sees at least one silver lining to the intense focus on the   Electoral   College: it will draw attention to the urgent need for change. Still, the outgoing president urged his camp to draw needed lessons from their   electoral   failure and develop a strategy for the future rather than bemoaning the 2016 loss or trying to overturn it. Instead, they picked 538 “electors” charged with translating their wishes into reality. The Congress will, in any case, announce the name of the official winner on January 6, two weeks before the next president is to be inaugurated in a solemn and pomp-filled ceremony outside the Capitol. Last month, just days after a victory that seemed to stun even him, he sounded a rather different note: “The   Electoral   College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. However, the gap is far more dramatic in 2016, with Clinton scoring nearly three million extra votes over Trump. But these efforts appear to have almost no chance of succeeding: There is no evidence that the requisite 37 Republican electors will decide to abandon Trump. In November 2000, Hillary Clinton, then the newly elected Democratic senator from New York, issued a clear call for an   electoral   reform that would result in direct, universal suffrage. A ‘disaster’ or bit of ‘genius’? Donald Trump’s fiercest critics may be dreaming of a last-minute revolt, but the   Electoral   College, a peculiarly American institution, appears near-certain on Monday to select the 70-year-old real estate mogul as the 45th US president. Hollywood stars including Martin Sheen (“President Bartlet” on the popular television series “West Wing”) recently released a video to goad electors to take that step. And Republicans hold a strong majority there. Following an extraordinarily vitriolic campaign, this step in the   electoral   process — normally little more than a formality — has been thrust into the spotlight. Bush became president even though Democrat Al Gore won more popular votes. And never have the votes of these “faithless electors” changed the outcome of a presidential election. The future White House chief of staff, Reince Preibus, told Fox News Sunday that the pressure on the   electoral   college not to elect Trump is “about Democrats that can’t accept the outcome of the election. “You have the position, the authority and the opportunity to go down in the books as an American hero who changed the course of history,” the celebrities say, addressing electors who have been thrust overnight from the shadows into the spotlight. An online petition calling on electors to reject Trump, has collected some five million supporters. “Either way, the renewed public interest in the   Electoral   College underscores the need to do away with this antiquated and fundamentally undemocratic institution,” he said in an op-ed article in the New York Times. Trump won a clear majority of those electors — 306, with 270 needed for election — despite dramatically losing the popular vote to his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. This Monday, electors will convene in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, to officially designate the next president and vice president. Asked about it at his final news conference of the year before leaving for a Hawaiian vacation, Barack Obama acknowledged that the system was “a vestige, it’s a carry-over from an earlier vision of how our federal government was going to work,” and that it could disadvantage Democrats. 8, they did not in fact directly elect the next occupant of the White House. Campaigning is much different!”
By AFP’s Jerome Cartillier in Washington, DC. Its detractors — and they are many — have denounced an   electoral system that flies in the face of the venerated “one man, one vote” principle, and which perversely encourages presidential candidates to campaign in only a few key states while ignoring whole swaths of the country. Still, some Democrats — who see a Trump presidency as presenting an existential danger to American democracy — are clinging to the slender hope that a few dozen Republican electors might decide not to vote for their party’s populist leader. ‘Faithless electors’
Historically, electors only rarely defy the expressed wishes of the majority of voters in their district. Yet, should that happen, it would be up to the House of Representatives to designate the successor to Barack Obama.  
Trump, for his part, has radically changed his stance on the matter in just four years.

Gunmen attack buses sent to evacuate Syrian pro-regime villages

But two dozen armed men attacked buses on their way to the villages under rebel siege, an AFP reporter said. A senior Iranian official on Sunday complained of bias in attitudes towards civilians in east Aleppo and those of the two Shiite villages. The attack came after five other buses had entered the villages. “While the Western-Hebrew-Arabic media have united to spread false information on the human losses in Aleppo, they remain silent on the need to evacuate the wounded and elderly from Fuaa and Kafraya,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. Dozens of buses on Sunday began entering the last rebel-held parts of east Aleppo to resume the evacuation of thousands of increasingly desperate trapped civilians and rebels. The operation was suspended on Friday, a day after convoys of evacuees had begun leaving the rebel sector under a deal allowing the regime to take full control of the battleground city. Gunmen attacked buses sent to evacuate people from two pro-regime villages in northwest Syria on Sunday but a senior military source said the incident should not disrupt parallel evacuations from Aleppo. “There’s collective will for the deal to stay in place. They made the drivers get out, opened fire on the vehicles and set fire to the fuel tanks of at least 20 buses, the reporter said. In mid-November, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launched a blistering offensive to seize all of Aleppo, where rebel areas have been besieged by regime forces since July. The identity of the attackers was not immediately clear, but the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two member groups of a coalition of Islamist rebels controlling most of Idlib had disagreed over the evacuations. Fateh al-Sham Front, which was formerly known as the al-Nusra Front before renouncing ties with al-Qaeda, disagreed with Ahrar al-Sham over the deal, the monitoring group said. There must be solutions for all obstacles,” the source said. But the military source said the attack should not affect any of the evacuation operations. Thousands of people were to leave the last rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo in exchange for residents leaving Fuaa and Kafraya, Shiite villages, in the neighboring province of Idlib.

Canada is moving ahead with an aggressive carbon reduction plan

Finally, China, the world’s largest polluter and the world’s second-largest economy, has announced that it will set up a national carbon market   by 2018. “Obviously, national governments have an important role to play in the fight against climate change, but it’s also important to stress that states and provinces — what they call in UN-speak, ‘infranational governments’ — have a major role, and can still move ahead, even if a national government isn’t moving at the same pace,” Heurtel says. PRI.org

At a meeting Dec. “We’ve actually been working with China on their cap-and-trade system,” Heurtel says. Listen to the full interview. The Québec-California   cap-and-trade system, which now includes Ottawa, is already the largest in North America. Ontario, for example, has now announced that it will join the Québec-California cap-and-trade system. “From a North American perspective, not only are you going to have over half of Canada with the same cap-and-trade system, but California, which is the world’s sixth-largest economy, and now Mexico, [which has] 123 million people, wanting to join by 2018 or 2019,” Heurtel says. (Cap and trade puts limits on emissions, and it “creates a market for carbon allowances,” according to the Environmental Defense Fund.)
“While our federal government was pulling out of Kyoto, [which] was, up until Paris,   the most significant international agreement on climate, we were still able, as provinces, to move ahead with significant moves in the fight against climate change,” Heurtel says. “[This] is a clear signal from the Canadian government that, from a national Canadian perspective, our federal government is serious about the fight against climate change,” says David Heurtel, minister of sustainable development, the environment and the fight against climate change for Québec. “They’ve sent a delegation to Québec twice last year to learn from our system and to see how we can further collaborate.”
This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood. Since the program began, it has generated over $1.4 billion that has been reinvested in Québec’s economy,   clean tech, adaptation measures and mitigation measures in a number of different fields. To keep promises made at the Paris climate summit, Canada is rolling out a master plan to deal with climate change — including a phaseout of coal by 2030 and a phase in of carbon pricing by 2019.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadThis story is based on a radio interview. Mexico has also begun to set up its own carbon-trading market, similar to the Québec-California model, and “has indicated its intention to not only collaborate with Québec, California and Ontario, but also to eventually link to the market,” Heurtel says. It has committed to reducing emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. In addition, he explains, 165 jurisdictions representing 33 countries and six continents have signed or endorsed the Under2 Coalition, which aims to act on its own to combat climate change. If a province instead decides to join the federal system, the federal government will return those revenues to that province in ways that will either help transition to a low-carbon economy or help consumers offset higher utility costs. Each province will have a certain amount of flexibility. Québec set up its cap-and-trade system with California while Canada’s national government would not even say the words “climate change,” he notes. Now, other provinces have the option to join Québec and Ottawa and be part of the California system or create a carbon tax that is part of Canada’s federal system. Once that is complete, over 50 percent of Canada’s economy and over 60 percent of its population will have the same cap-and-trade system, which will be linked to California, Heurtel says. The coalition represents “more than 1.08   billion people and $25.7 trillion in [gross domestic product], equivalent to more than a third   of the global economy,” according to the organization’s website. Québec can now offer an $8,000 per person rebate for anyone wanting to buy an electric car and is using the revenue to expand a network of charging stations. 9 in Ottawa, all of Canada’s provinces, save Saskatchewan and Manitoba, agreed to participate in a national carbon pricing program. And the Canadian federal plan recognizes the   system as a valid equivalent to a carbon tax. “That’s a change from the previous federal government.”
In the Canadian and US systems, Heurtel points out, provinces or states have the ability to set climate policy independent of the federal government. “In Québec, for example, the cap-and-trade revenues are entirely reinvested in Québec’s green fund, which invests in programs to transition out of the fossil fuel-based economy, to invest in clean tech [and] to invest in the electrification of transportation, for example,” Heurtel says.

Making the plastics found everywhere in modern life comes with a cost: more pollution

So, if Shell wants to emit 100 tons of pollution, it will have to buy credits for 115 tons, which means emissions will gradually go down. “There’s a certain pool of pollutants for the area, and gradually, over time, it shrinks,” Gorog says. There is a lot of ethane gas in the deep shale formations in western Pennsylvania, but ethane   is not very useful on its own. “I don’t see that as improving the air quality to any great extent,” he says. But Shell and Pennsylvania state officials say the cracker isn’t a threat to public health. It is also forecast to increase air pollution in a region already falling short of federal clean air standards.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. By state law, plants that close have 10 years to sell their emissions credits. “It’s like three steps forward, 2.99 steps back.”
The DEP, which approved Shell’s plan, doesn’t see a problem with the pollution credit system. This double bond is the key to   ethylene’s value. “Adding the cracker at this point in time … brings the levels of VOCs released in Beaver County by industrial sources to levels greater than what was seen in 1999,” he says. Jim Fabisiak, an environmental health scientist at the University of Pittsburgh, who tracks industrial pollutant levels in Beaver County, says the new petrochemical plant will degrade air quality in the region. The theory is that Shell will have to pay another company to clean up emissions   by buying credits from a plant that is either closing or installing pollution controls. These long chains of ethylene create polyethylene, the ubiquitous material found in nearly every modern plastic, from milk containers to medical devices to auto parts. In the ethylene molecule, the two carbon atoms form a double bond with one another. These offsets are called Emissions Reductions Credits, or ERCs. Mark Gorog, head of the air quality program for the Pittsburgh regional office of the state Department of Environmental Protection, says Shell is installing modern pollution controls and a leak detection system in the plant. ERCs work kind of like a cap-and-trade system. Gorog says new plants have to buy about 15 percent more credits than they will actually emit. The plant will include what’s called an “ethane cracker,” which will convert ethane, a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing, into polyethylene, a chemical used to make everything from plastic bags to bottles to toys. Fabisiak calculates VOC levels will begin to increase between 2016 and 2021, the year Shell’s ethane cracker is slated to come online in Beaver County. Since 1999, Fabisiak says, industrial pollution in Beaver County, specifically   “volatile organic compounds,” or VOCs, has declined 50 percent. Before reaching the cracker,   ethane gets separated out from methane, the main component of natural gas. In fact, with a projected 500-plus tons emitted per year, the plant would be the largest source of VOC pollution in western Pennsylvania, according   to Environmental Protection Agency   records, and the third-largest in the state, behind an oil refinery in Philadelphia and a Styrofoam plant in Reading. But there is a catch: Under state law, Shell is allowed to buy credits from plants that are already closed. It becomes much more useful after being sent through the cracker. Ethylene molecules can be strung together in long chains. “Over time, what the design does is shrink the pool of emissions to bring the area into attainment.”
With or without Shell’s ethane cracker, DEP officials admit it won’t be easy for Pittsburgh to meet federal air standards in the near future, as last year, the EPA enacted even stricter rules for ozone. Read more:   Climate change, meet your apocalyptic twin: oceans poisoned by plastic
Fabisiak says these emissions are a particluar concern   because Pittsburgh’s air already fails to meet federal standards for several pollutants, including ozone. In the cracker, the ethane is heated to a point that causes its molecular bonds to fly apart and rearrange themselves into something new, called ethylene. In addition, the company had to show the DEP that its plant wouldn’t make the air unhealthy in surrounding areas. Unfortunately, creating polyethylene comes with a price: pollution. A planned industrial facility near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is expected to create thousands of construction jobs and up to 600 permanent ones. PRI.org

The Appalachian division of Shell Oil is building the $6 billion petrochemical complex 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. This article is based on a   story that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood. Fabisiak says this means pollution that has already been eliminated from one source will now be coming back in the form of emissions from the cracker plant. Ethane is a simple chain of two carbon atoms surrounded by six hydrogen atoms. “Basically, they modeled to show they will not cause or contribute to an exceedance of national ambient air quality standards,” Gorog says, “and they did a risk assessment for air toxics, which showed there was not going to be an undue risk to the public.”
The company will also buy more than 1,000 tons of pollution offsets to make up for emissions that will come from its smokestacks, storage tanks and flares.

This is what a ‘musical selfie’ sounds like

Their members are Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Lawson (cello) and Corin Lee (violin). Members of ETHEL can be seen playing inside the home of Robert Mirabal in Taos Pueblo, N.M. “The River” was released in June of 2016. ETHEL is the resident ensemble at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Balcony Bar, as well as the ensemble-in-residence at Denison University. PRI.org

Not this time. A viola, cello and two violinists and it will create some amazing, amazing aspects, and put the Native flute   on top of it.”
“The River” has been described as a cross-cultural experience, and Lawson says she has always dreamed that ETHEL could really spread its wings like this on a studio album. “‘The River’ as a body of music is like a self-portrait of the quartet with Robert Mirabal. You know, it’s kind of a musical selfie.”
The album was recorded in 2015 at Mirabal’s home on the Taos Pueblo Indian Reservation in northern New Mexico. Credit:

Tim Black/Courtesy

But it’s also deeply personal, according to cellist Dorothy Lawson. Learn more about the band here. “I wanted to get the Native American flute beyond the stereotypical wind blowing through the trees and birds,” he said with a laugh. The album was recorded in the summer of 2015. Their album draws influences from indigenous musical traditions all over the United States — and from places as far-flung as Morocco, Nigeria, Tibet and the country of Georgia. Credit:

ETHEL/Courtesy

Mirabal played a variety of instruments, like the Native American flute, drums, didgeridoo, and shaker. Fretless instruments,” he added. “All you need is four. Pictured from left to right is   Ralph Farris (viola), Kip Jones (violin), Robert Mirabal, Dorothy Lawson (cello) and Corin Lee (violin). “You can hear a really wonderfully wide range of human style and experience in the album because each of us brought different colors,” Lawson said. The members of ETHEL collaborated with Native American artist Robert Mirabal from Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. They are   currently on tour with Mirabal for their new album. Usually, music from   a string quartet features the classic   sounds of violins, violas and cellos, and little else.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. And check out this video of ETHEL and Robert Mirabal recording “The River”: And the Pueblo River that flows past his home. “I had been seeing things from a very tribal and ceremonial perspective about [the]   river and how we as each individual are connected to   so many different aspects of how the river is, where it flows, how it flows into other people. Mirabal, a three-time Grammy Award winner, says he drew inspiration for the album from his own cultural traditions. “The River” is a collaboration between string quartet ETHEL and Native American Artist Robert Mirabal. So that was my inspiration to create music that is metaphorically based on humanity yet still has that essence of [the]   river going through us.”
Mirabal has been collaborating with ETHEL for the past six years, but this is the first album they’ve released. “The River,” a new album by New York-based string quartet ETHEL, features a mixture of traditional Native American music and classical string instruments. “I wanted to get it to the level of how dynamic this flute can become and the only way I could do it was through someone who could bend their notes, bend their pitches just a little.

Beleaguered Federal Election Commission enters 2017 as marginalized as ever

ambassador to India under Obama. But financial and personnel limitations are also a major factor, said Daniel Petalas, who resigned in September as the FEC’s acting general counsel to join the D.C. Come April, Weintraub will have served 10 years past her term’s expiration date, Walther eight years. “Congress has limited commissioners to one six-year term, and that was precisely because at the time many commissioners had been there for many years,” said Brad Smith, a former Republican FEC chairman who now leads the Center for Competitive Politics, which favors campaign deregulation. The authority to pay top managers more money — key in attracting qualified candidates — is also essential, they argue. I wouldn’t expect anything else, and we’ll do what we can to work together.”
Outgoing FEC Chairman Matthew Petersen last year vowed to dial down intra-commission acrimony, which at its worst prompted bizarre, public debates about men’s nipples and space aliens. Some blame falls with the commissioners, who periodically hold up the most contentious cases for one reason or another. “It was a good idea to fix the FEC when Obama was president, and it’s still a good idea to fix the FEC now that Trump is president,” he said. Petersen’s term ended nearly six years ago, Hunter’s term four years ago. But Obama last nominated FEC commissioners in mid-2013, when he floated Ravel and Goodman, and he has only nominated three commissioners overall during his nearly eight years in office. The nation is also experiencing an era when federal courts — think the Citizens United decision, among other recent and pivotal cases — are most responsible for profound changes in election law. “People who complain about the FEC would complain a lot more if it wasn’t there,” said Walther, a Democratic appointee who identifies as an independent and also served as agency chairman in 2009. White House spokeswoman Katie Hill declined to comment on whether Obama will nominate new FEC commissioners. He concurred that 2016 is proof “we can disagree without being disagreeable” and “operate in a collegial manner.”
But Walther acknowledged he’s all but powerless to break deadlocks on the agency’s thorniest issues, such as defining political “dark money” or determining what constitutes illegal political activity. This story was first published by   the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, investigative newsroom in Washington, D.C. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., avoided registering as a political group and disclosing its funders despite protests from Democrats. Good luck,” Weintraub said. The developments together are evidence that the FEC — once a reasonably robust and bipartisan judge of political misdeeds — heads into 2017 even more marginalized than ever before by the very politicians it’s supposed to advise and police. That’s the lowest amount in any presidential election year since 1992. Senate to file its campaign finance disclosures electronically, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. This year’s list was longer than others and previews priorities that, while modest in scope, constitute rare common ground among all commissioners. During fiscal year 2016, the agency doled out about $788,000 in civil penalties, according to agency records. But no. He also wants to address how the commission responds to requests under the Freedom of Information Act, saying the agency gives its staff too much power in determining what information is released — or withheld. Such a hearing, if it occurs, would almost certainly reignite debate over political advertising on the internet — a flashpoint this year between Goodman and Ravel, in particular, and one that even led to Ravel receiving death threats. Weintraub, for her part, says she can’t envision Congress or Trump championing political disclosure or strengthening election laws. And, save for Ravel, all of the FEC commissioners’ six-year terms have expired. Many of the complaints pending at the FEC will be closed without controversy because of flimsy evidence or clear lack of merit. They include super PACs with close ties to Trump, Democrat Hillary Clinton and other also-ran presidential candidates such as Republicans Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio. Goodman, in an interview, wouldn’t commit to staying at the FEC through 2017. The problem: Congress almost always ignores the FEC’s requests. Reardon called the situation “inexcusable.”
In the Nov. This last happened at the FEC in 2008, and it prevented the agency from making many important decisions. But delays also originate in the agency’s Office of General Counsel, which hasn’t had a permanent leader since July 2013, when General Counsel Anthony Herman resigned to re-enter private practice. Some FEC employees also believe the work they do — preparing cases, developing briefings, birddogging political committees — is largely for naught, lost in the swirl of commissioners’ ideological advocacy and posturing. Republican commissioners argue that the Democrats regularly attempt to enforce campaign finance rules that simply don’t exist. So no matter how much commissioners themselves concur, they’re all but powerless to determine, structurally, how campaigns are funded and waged. If Obama doesn’t make FEC nominations, the job falls to Trump, whose transition team is already struggling to fill thousands of other federal government jobs. “I will make a decision early next year about my future plans,” he said. “Sure, people here have strong views and don’t always agree. The poll also indicates that more than seven in 10 Americans want the federal government to impose moderate or strict contribution limits on super PACs — technically independent political committees that may raise and spend unlimited amounts of money to advocate for or against candidates. Goodman says he’ll continue his push to relax regulations affecting how state and local political parties operate — something on which the commission’s Democrats have shown a willingness to work. “I’m hoping not to see things get worse.”
Michael Beckel contributed to this report. Obama, meanwhile, has continued in recent weeks to nominate people to other governmental posts, including an under secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, an inspector general for the National Security Agency and a judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. 20. The FEC’s newly minted chairman, longtime commissioner Steven Walther, will attempt to orchestrate his agency’s discord into something modestly more symphonic, at least on a couple of imminent matters: overseeing the agency’s move to a new headquarters and completing an overhaul of its outmoded website. “The FEC is now the weakest it’s ever been, and it’s completely dysfunctional on key issues,” he said. The FEC can’t maintain the four commissioners needed by law to punish campaign scofflaws, issue formal guidance to political candidates and committees and conduct other high-level business. They also want more power to sanction political committees that misrepresent themselves. McGahn did not respond to requests for comment. One measure of how the FEC’s law enforcement function has diminished is the fines it levies. “I do not believe the Commission complies with the Freedom of Information Act or its own regulations when it asserts exemptions and privileges to public requests for records,” Goodman said. ‘Abiding by the law as written’
Take Election 2016 itself. In 1976, the first presidential year after the FEC’s creation, it fielded 117 advisory opinion requests. The union represents FEC employees. Weintraub, the FEC’s longest-serving commissioner, says Trump could surprise everyone and stick to his promises to “drain the swamp” in D.C., and set a higher standard for what’s legal and ethical during elections. Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub says the FEC is motivated to crack down on so-called “scam PACs” that, under the guise of supporting a candidate, generally exist to make money for the people associated with the political committee. It’s prodding Trump to support an idea that Congress hasn’t yet seriously considered: turning the six-member FEC into a five-member body with a chairman who serves a 10-year term. One commissioner — Ravel — says she’ll quit the agency by May, when her term expires. These days, most political committees are content avoiding the hassle and expense of going before the commission and taking their chances that the FEC, even if they break a law, couldn’t agree that they did. Another 21 were pending before commissioners themselves. Commissioners — especially Walther — also cited the specter of foreign money seeping into U.S. McGahn, the former FEC chairman now serving as Trump’s White House counsel, will play a pivotal role in identifying a new Supreme Court nominee, meaning the high court’s next justice is likely to favor fewer, not more, campaign regulations. history, becoming overwhelmingly cynical and angry about how money affects elections. Some room for agreement
Earlier this month, the FEC, as it does every year, sends what amounts to a Christmas wish list to Congress. The FEC this year has voted on just 22 such requests — tied with 2008 for the lowest number ever during a presidential election year. At issue: FEC Inspector General Lynne McFarland accused one of the agency’s senior managers of misleading her into releasing confidential employee morale surveys that, in some cases, were highly critical of agency commissioners and managers. It’s a staff that, on balance, considers the agency’s commissioners bickering blowhards, top managers ineffectual, career prospects bleak and work environment dreary. But Trump has so far forsaken the very government agency Congress created after Watergate to work as the nation’s campaign season Roto-Rooter. Ravel says McGahn’s role in the Trump administration is a “strong indication to me that [Trump] doesn’t consider campaign finance to be a very significant issue.”
Also expect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to involve himself in all major campaign finance matters, as he has for years. In the meantime, the FEC’s commissioners must grapple with some of the lowest staff morale among federal government agencies. 15 letter to National Treasury Employees Union President Anthony Reardon. “We had limited resources, and there’s only so much we can do at the supervisory level, even if the quality of the work product was, I feel, exceptional,” Petalas said. That year, the average FEC fine for the most severe enforcement cases was about $179,500; the average such fine in 2016 was about $19,850, FEC records show. Of particular note, the FEC wants the U.S. The rest are under active investigation. A single case — a surprising unanimous vote to fine three nonprofit groups once connected to conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch — accounted for almost one-third of the FEC’s fines this year. Herein lies the root of the FEC’s existential problem: today’s commissioners frequently can’t agree on what the rules even are — something agency leaders from years past say wasn’t usually true. A five-member body could end what many view as its current “permanent gridlock,” said Issue One senior strategic adviser Tim Roemer, a Democrat who previously represented Indiana in the U.S. “Clearly, Congress did not want commissioners being there forever.”
A worst-case scenario in 2017? Commissioner Lee Goodman, a Republican, noted that the FEC typically experiences a higher-than-normal caseload volume during election years. That’s roughly the gestation period of an elephant. 15 letter, which the Center for Public Integrity obtained this month, Petersen and Walther told Reardon to “rest assured that if we become aware of any acts or threats, however subtle, of retaliation resulting from the information disclosed in the survey comments, or any protected activity in which an employee engages, we will ensure that appropriate measures are taken.”
They further described the situation as a “serious mistake” that “has resulted in an erosion of trust between FEC management and staff.” They vowed to “rectify, to the extent possible, any ill will that has been generated.”
Reardon, in an email, said his union “is reviewing the letter to determine next steps.” Orrock and Palmer did not respond to request for comment. “People in politics don’t want to get it wrong,” Hunter said. Political neophytes could be forgiven for believing that the FEC would aggressively pursue law-breaking candidates and political committees, including the big-spending super PACs and “social welfare” nonprofits that have profoundly influenced campaigns since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. First: repairing damage
Foremost on Walther’s immediate agenda is some internal housekeeping: walking floor-by-floor through the FEC’s nine-story building to speak face-to-face with the agency’s rank-and-file, who’ve been shaken this year by what many consider a gross breach of their trust. Were Trump to take it, it would be a “unique opportunity” for his administration to “clean the deck” and name a full slate of new commissioners, said Michael Toner, a former Republican FEC chairman and a current partner at law firm Wiley Rein.   “Steve is an extremely gracious person who will make every effort to reach consensus,” said Ravel, who told the Center for Public Integrity that she will resign her seat no later than May, when her term expires. Campaign finance reform group Issue One — a bipartisan group that includes 150 former members of Congress — agrees. But they continue to serve, because no law compels them to leave, and their authority remains the same. Commissioners are therefore resigned in 2017 to give up on blasting any regulatory home runs and will try, as Petersen and Walther both put it, to “hit singles.”
Petersen, for his part, wants to conduct a public hearing on how rapidly evolving technology is changing political campaigns. She says she hasn’t decided what she’ll do next, but that it likely will involve working for a foundation or, perhaps, in the private sector. “And the FEC has done a good job of abiding by the law as written.”
On the contrary, said Craig Holman of government reform organization Public Citizen. office of law firm Garvey Schubert Barer. She’ll depart the FEC having largely seen her standing goal of revealing sources of secret money in politics stymied. House of Representative and served as U.S. The senior manager, Chief Compliance Officer Patricia Orrock, then shared the survey data with Staff Director Alec Palmer, Acting Deputy Staff Director Edward Holder and Human Resources Director Derrick Allen, as Petersen and Walther acknowledged in a Nov. Trump, meanwhile, appointed Don McGahn, a former FEC chairman and preeminent enemy of campaign finance regulations, as his top White House lawyer. Of the 274 open complaints pending at the FEC in early December, 224 were awaiting action by the Office of General Counsel, commissioners confirmed. Or another 3-3 case where a North Carolina nonprofit organization that seemingly existed only to promote Sen. elections as an area of shared interest. The 2016 fines also represent a fraction of the high-water mark the agency set a decade earlier, in 2006, when it hit dozens of political committees with a collective $5.92 million in fines. Together, super PACs, politically active nonprofits and similar groups spent more than $743 million to influence the 2016 presidential election alone, the Center for Responsive Politics calculated. Representatives for the Trump transition declined to answer questions from the Center for Public Integrity about the FEC. “Get better? “I would assume he would be very involved and influential in those discussions,” said Petersen, who has stayed in touch with McGahn since he resigned from the FEC in 2013. The four other commissioners say they have no immediate plans to leave the commission, but Hunter and Petersen, in particular, could prove attractive prospects for other postings in what’s now Republican-dominated Washington, D.C. The FEC will likely settled some and head to federal court on others in an effort to enforce provisions in the Federal Election Campaign Act or other federal election laws. This includes legislation congressional members float — Sen. That’s according to the agency’s own “Root Causes of Low Employee Morale Study” from July 2016. Take the case this year of a coal company allegedly coercing employees to attend political rallies and make contributions. “But I can’t imagine anything changing at the agency except for it to become even more dysfunctional, the stalemates on significant matters to continue.”
In short, Democratic commissioners accuse their Republican colleagues of refusing to enforce some campaign finance rules at all. Nearly nine in 10 Americans believe wealthy people will figure out new ways to influence politics, regardless of whether campaign finance laws are changed, according to a new Center for Public Integrity/IPSOS poll conducted in early December. President Obama could yet nominate FEC commissioners before his term expires on Jan. FEC decision in January 2010. Making matters bleaker:
The FEC finds itself torn by internal strife between increasingly disgruntled employees and top agency managers
Its own inspector general in October stopped just short of declaring the FEC an operational disaster
While outward hostilities are less frequent, the agency’s commissioners continue to grapple with ideological impasses so pitched that at least two commissioners — Democrat Ann Ravel and Republican Caroline Hunter — barely speak to one another anymore
Every FEC commissioner but Ravel continues to serve despite his or her term having expired long ago, and some may soon quit the agency
Such FEC decreptitude also coincides with the body politic, having endured the most expensive and bruising presidential election in recent U.S. Major changes ahead? He defended the agency’s relevance, particularly as a campaign finance data clearinghouse. Hunter, the incoming vice chairwoman, says fewer fines mean — at least in part — that political candidates and committees are doing a better job voluntarily complying with campaign laws. Donald Trump panned “pay-to-play” politics, blasted “rigged” elections and vowed to “drain the swamp” that is Washington, D.C. The most recent 15 enforcement cases the FEC resolved took, on average, 675 days to close, according to agency records. The commission deadlocked 3-3 along ideological lines, as it has on a variety of issues, and the matter died on their desks. The Federal Election Commission’s six commissioners, including the agency’s three Republicans, say neither Trump nor his transition team has contacted them. “There are all sorts of stresses on the staff … Your client is a six-headed hydra that’s always fighting with itself and often taking on the body itself.”
Such fighting also continued to chill political committees’ interest in asking the FEC for formal legal advice by requesting what’s called an “advisory opinion” from the commission. She credits an FEC staff that this year reviewed millions of pages of campaign finance documents and fielded 13,000 phone calls. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for one, wants to end limits on how much money donors may directly give political candidates — and the appointment of new FEC commissioner nominees, who the Senate must approve. Either way, justice for those who might skirt campaign laws is slow. They are not supposed to “coordinate” their spending with candidates’ campaigns.

What’s been lost from Aleppo’s ‘magical’ Old City

So, you can see a mosque and a church and a synagogue on one old street.”
“You can see the bazaars, they’re very labyrinthian, very magical,” she adds. PRI.org

Lina Sergie Attar, a writer and architect who grew up in Aleppo, remembers a city that has been nearly lost after years of conflict. And, before the revolution in 2011, the city had a thriving arts and cultural scene. People can take you back in their family history centuries. The entire downtown area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the war has changed everything.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadThis story is based on a radio interview. It had one of the largest arches in all of old Aleppo. So, being part of that is just part of your everyday life as a citizen of Aleppo.”
The Old City saw considerable renovation and restoration in the 1990s   when Attar was an architecture student. She   spent months doing a survey — house by house and room by room — to help city planners. “I’ve seen places and old buildings in the old city of Aleppo that were renovated, stone by stone,   the carvings,” Attar continues. Now, she tries to focus on the people of Aleppo and their suffering. So, you see that kind of continuation of history through the people themselves.”
Attar’s intimate knowledge of the city   and the strong sense of historical identity makes the   tragedy of Aleppo   even harder to bear. “I mean, they take you back to a different time when commerce actually began, as Aleppo was on the Silk Road. “So, to see that destroyed in seconds from airstrikes, from barrel bombs, from fires — it’s a loss that you can’t comprehend,   that we as human beings are capable of destroying something that in your mind is indestructible.”
Attar says she has hardened herself to the material loss, though. “All of the people from Aleppo are very much aware of their own family lineages,” says Attar. “It is a place where you can literally feel history while you’re walking down the old streets. “There was one specific historic home that was completely abandoned, and it was magical. “I still remember the homes I went into,”   Attar says. Aleppo, Syria, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. She   now lives in Chicago, where she helps run the   Karam Foundation, a nonprofit that provides education and aid to people in need here in the United States and through many parts of the Middle East. “We know where my great-great-grandfather lived and grew up. And it had a very long history … So, those kinds of discoveries were very, very special, and I’ll never forget that time that I spent there.”
The civil war has erased some of the long history that Attar and others had worked so hard to preserve. You can see where the caravans used to come, carrying goods, and you see the people who are actually in these shops and doing this kind of trade, have inherited that from their fathers and their grandfathers and great-grandfathers. It had a huge fountain in front of it. Listen to the full interview. “Aleppo is really a magical place,” Attar   says. You can see the layers of history and so many civilizations, and it expresses the diversity of Aleppo’s history.

Recycling sewage into drinking water is no big deal. They’ve been doing it in Namibia for 50 years.

And I lived to tell the tale. The cutting-edge water recycling plant serves a city with many poor neighborhoods, like this one right outside its gates. All those countries now have their own sewage recycling plants. But here, in the middle of a desert in a remote corner of southern Africa, they’ve been recycling wastewater for almost 50 years. But at the point where processed sewage would normally be discharged into a waterway, the Goreangab plant sends it through additional steps that purify it to drinking water standards. Negumbo helps oversee operations of the plant, and so helps keep this desert city of 300,000 running. “If you talk about the cradle of water reclamation, potable reclamation, everybody comes and see this. “But now sometimes during peak hours, we have around 41,000 cubic meters a day. This is where it all started in 1968.”
The plant’s been updated since then. We went through the last rainy season without having any inflow on the dams.”

Pierre van Rensburg, head of Windhoek’s water department, says local residents are proud to have led the world in water recycling. There’s a drinking fountain on the way out of the plant that burbles with clear, cool water. Credit:

Daniel Gross

Goreangab gets a lot of visitors from developed countries facing water shortages. But the technology pioneered here has proven safe. It’s so stinky that my guide, the man who runs Windhoek’s water department, tells me I might want to stay in the car.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. But they dried up, and without much rain, it seemed the only way to keep up with demand was by taking what at the time was the radical step of reusing the city’s wastewater. Related:
Can an Indian-American tackle India’s twin challenges of poor sanitation and lack of clean water? On the outskirts of Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, there’s a huge, churning vat of nasty brown liquid. This place doesn’t supply every drop of Windhoek’s water. So, you always have to be innovative to try and stay a step ahead.”
Van Rensburg thinks developing countries like Namibia can lead the world in innovation — if they can gain access to funding and skilled labor. It’s strange to see such poverty right next to this cutting-edge facility. But the future here may be even drier than the past, so water recycling is more important than ever. But van Rensburg says it actually makes a lot of sense. Pierre van Rensburg says necessity is the mother of invention in developing countries like Namibia, which he thinks can lead the world in innovation — if they can gain access to funding and skilled labor. “The plant was originally designed to treat 27,000 cubic meters [of sewage] a day,” says Haihambo. In its worst water emergency since the Dust Bowl, California needs solutions fast
Desert Lunch: Coaxing Climate-Friendly Food from the World’s Driest Places And van Rensburg says locals are now proud to have pioneered the idea. Not that there was much public input at the time. “It’s a fast-changing environment. “But we know before that the dams will be out. “Our next rainy season is expected in January [or] February next year,” says water department head Pierre van Rensburg. “Water is life,” says Goreangab technician Elias Negumbo. The local reservoir, or dam, is almost empty. The Goreangab waste treatment plant is where most of the wastewater from Windhoek’s 300,000 residents ends up. PRI.org

But this is what I came to see — raw sewage, on its way to being turned back into drinking water. Credit:

Daniel Gross

Of course, it’s not like this pioneering plant helped make Windhoek a modern metropolis. But van Rensburg grew up here, and he says water was always scarce. Today, after the sewage we started with has already been cleaned to the point where most cities would just pump it back into a river or the sea, it’s sent off   to be further purified with ozone and activated carbon. Way more than it was designed for.”
That’s because Windhoek is bigger now than it was back then, and it’s again on the verge of running out of water from natural sources. Back in the ’60s, Namibia was controlled by apartheid-era South Africa, and the government wasn’t much concerned with public opinion, especially with the majority-black population. Credit:

Daniel Gross

The drought that’s ravaging much of southern Africa is hitting Namibia hard, too. It tastes delicious. The bacteria help digest the human waste and pull it out of the water, essentially mimicking what happens in nature but a whole lot faster. These days, such a plan can bring howls of protest by consumers repulsed by the idea of drinking recycled sewage. It’s cutting-edge technology, but it’s based on the humblest of creatures — bacteria. “That is the product from this plant,” says van Rensburg. Speed was important when the plant was built back in the 1960s, and it’s even more important today. Just outside Goreangab’s gates, there’s a huge slum of corrugated tin huts. “Having to bathe in the same bath as others, collecting every drop of rainwater to try and use it to keep some plants alive.”
Before the mid-1900s, Windhoek got most of its water from nearby springs. It’s the first stop in the city’s pioneering water recycling system. The city still taps groundwater and harvests some of what does fall from the sky. Credit:

Daniel Gross

“Everything is done biologically, by the organisms,” explains Justina Haihambo, a process engineer at the plant. “The fact that an idea can be generated in a developing country, that can actually inspire a similar trend in a developed country, is definitely, in my opinion, something that can happen,” he says. And we also don’t know how much rain we will get. Cities around the world are wrestling with whether they should build facilities like this. Experts have come from Australia, Singapore   and the US to see where water reclamation started. And the people who work at and run this plant put their water where their mouth is. “It’s 100 percent purified sewage water.”
I take a sip, then another. But it’s not your run-of-the-mill sewage plant. “I can remember similar to what we have now, not being able to water your lawn,” he says. The recyling process begins with a conventional sewage treatment system. Today, though, no one I talked with had any complaints about drinking recycled water. “If you look at the world, the pressing need is always in developing countries,” van Rensburg says. Namibia has struggled with basic needs, and necessity is the mother of invention.

This BBC reality show has a very basic message: Not all Muslims are the same

The Telegraph review was unequivocal, saying that the second episode “told us little about Islam and Britishness and everything about shouty, tacky reality TV.” Gorilla? Nabil Abdulrashid, a Nigerian-British stand-up comedian, describes the racial abuse that he has received as a result of his wife being South Asian, while he is black. His inclusion has been criticized in the British press as   irresponsible. He tells the program producer that he would want to go to Syria if he were allowed. Abdul Haq had his passport confiscated by the British authorities because of his suspected involvement in Islamist extremism. “But I’ve had [other] people messaging me saying that my wife is n****r lover, that ‘why did one of our sisters marry a monkey? But a new BBC TV series is challenging that notion.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. It’s basically an accelerated version of “Big Brother” for British Muslims. The program also reveals racial tensions among the Muslims in the house. Among those in the house are a school teacher, a stand-up comedian, a Syrian student and a social worker. Ape?’ It doesn’t even bother me because if that’s what comes into your mind, that’s an insecurity you have.”
For series producer Azhar, the public response to the show on social media has been rewarding. In our program, over two hours, you see that unfold and happen for real. The Middle East Eye called the program a “neo-Orientalist circus show,” while Guardian writers disagreed about whether “Muslims Like Us” dismantles stereotypes or reinforces them. Their conversations (and sometimes disagreements) on a wide range of topics are recorded. One of the most controversial participants is Abdul Haq, a convert to Islam and a former boxer. In the second episode he won’t clearly condemn the murder of a friend of a Shiite member of the house, because he regards Shiite Muslims as “kufarr,” or unbelievers. Around 2.7 million people in Britain today identify as Muslim — around 1 in 25 people. “So often in the mainstream narrative we hear commentators say that   the   Muslim community ‘needs to do more’ to challenge and silence these radical voices [like Haq’s]. “Her family have been fantastic,” he says. Series producer Mobeen Azhar defends Abdul Haq’s presence, saying it’s important to illustrate the diversity of British Muslim opinion. PRI.org

“Muslims Like Us” is a social experiment in which 10 Muslims of different ages, genders and ethnicities live together in a shared house for 10 days. “Overwhelmingly they’ve been saying they’ve learned a lot — they didn’t know the Muslim community was diverse — not just in terms of its make-up, but also in terms of its opinions and politics.”
There’s been plenty of criticism, however. So this individual is argued with, he’s shouted down, he’s challenged robustly by the nine other contributors.”
Haq refuses to sit with female members of the house, and at one point passes one of the female participants a leaflet on wearing the jilbaab, a head-to-toe religious covering. In the media, they are often portrayed as a single, unified community.

In North Carolina, immigrant farmworkers wonder about their place in America

If you take us out, let’s see who else wants to work those fields. On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump said he would scrap DACA. He’s 18 now —   but undocumented. Without it, Jose says, the idea of going underground comes back, along with the possiblity of returning to the fields. And that’s what we did. It’s getting dark and I drive on a dirt road along a plantation. And I was like, well, I might end up doing something like working in the fields. Tacos —   tongue, pork, beef. And my dad would say, well grab some dirt and powder your hands. It temporarily protects people like Jose —   who came to the US as kids —   from deportation. “Working in the tobacco fields, when it’s hot … “And that really got to me. “I would be picking and it’s so quiet, and then out of nowhere you just hear ‘ZUM!’”
She says she got so afraid of insects, she’d have several panic attacks a day. Related:   A North Carolina family grapples with very different takes on the immigration debate
Afterwards, the kids go play — they’re all US citizens. I guess I actually am pretty worried.”
He just graduated from high school and wants to study computer engineering at North Carolina State. It kind of lingers from time to time. But now he’s nervous. it can be over 100 degrees,”   Elena says. Yessy Bustos remembers it like this: “Dirt. He wanted him to focus on school. And lets them work, legally. DACA lets him not worry about deportation. “Everyone thought the same thing,”   she says. There’s a noise   and an odor to the cotton fields in summer. “What are we going to do now? And I’ve never seen an American out there. But, this month Trump said he’ll “work something out” for people in the program. She works to prevent exploitation, and the hiring of underage workers,   like she once was. Now, she advocates for farmworkers in North Carolina   with an organization called NC Field, working out of a dilapidated white house by the fields. And then, the bugs.”Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. Bustos retired at the ripe old age of 21. We’re all waiting for January now.”
There’s nervous laughter and they all say, maybe nothing will happen. Sometimes you have to get out of the bush to breath. He asks to be identified by his first name only, because of his status. He got legal work, at a restaurant. Elena has been here for about 20 years. His dad discouraged him from working in the fields. His parents bought him from Mexico when he was a kid. We eat and talk about soccer. I don’t know what I want to do.”
I say goodbye to Jose —   and to Yessy Bustos — and head to the fields. Enforcement is up, but I still get an earful of stories about child pickers — people like Jose. The parents are undocumented. PRI.org

Bustos comes from a family of pickers. In a field in North Carolina, young men and boys pick yams. A lot. “It’s just a thought that I really dont want to think about. … So are the 740,000   other immigrants like him who have DACA. She started when she was 8. Jose says, “I am a little worried. And then I actually started thinking about it more. Related:   In North Carolina, an immigrant church braces for the Trump administration
Jose says it changed his life. He never went back to the fields. And that’s when I gave working in the fields a try.”
He was 14. Credit:

Jose (last name redacted)/PRI

In middle school, Jose remembers being really into biology —   and getting teased for it. At the same, they say, who will do the work they do? And I was like, alright. And then keep going. “And the plants —   they cover you completely. His classmates told him, he’d never go to college. Without change —   with no push to offer families like these legal status — also means they’ll keep working in harsh conditions for extremely low pay. There are   trailer homes, too, and when I stop by one and knock on the door,   I’m invited in for dinner. “It was either nicotine or the amount of nicotine that was on the plant. He remembers that first day, the stickiness of the tobacco plants on his hands. It’s just us Hispanics —   always Hispanics. The dirt. Every single season, someone dies. Not everyone can do this you know.” So she started wearing headphones. He was a Mexican kid in the South, he says. Since the election, she’s unsure what’s next. But that’s not necessarily a good thing. Not everyone was welcoming. She’s a US citizen, but knows   many pickers here are undocumented. Just powdered our hands with dirt.”
Things changed in 2012 when President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, often called DACA.

Leaving home: Syrians evacuate Aleppo (PHOTOS)

15, 2016. Credit:

Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

“In the midst of both the sadness and the celebration there is also profound relief — relief that the sounds of the bombardment, the shelling, the airstrikes will come to an end,” Doucet says. The withdrawal began a month to the day after Syrian government forces launched a major offensive to retake all of   Aleppo, and will hand the regime its biggest victory in more than five years of civil war. From Beirut on Thursday, she told The World what she witnessed in Syria. 15, 2016. Thousands of civilians and rebels left   Aleppo   on Thursday under an evacuation deal that will allow Syria’s regime to take full control of the city after years of fighting. 15, 2016. Credit:

Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Although it’s Assad who is claiming victory in the fall of Aleppo, Doucet says when the rebels first seized territory in July of 2012 in eastern Aleppo, “they believed that the world, that Western powers, the Arab states were behind them.”

Men react as they stand outside buses evacuating people from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria, on Dec. “It is such a sad, sad commentary on how the people have suffered so terribly in this war — suffered at the hands of all sides in this war.”

An evacuee from rebel-held east Aleppo carries bread upon her arrival with others at the town of al-Rashideen   which is held by insurgents, in Syria on   Dec. “In the driving rain, in the cold winter temperatures, old men hobbling on sticks, children coming in creaky prams, old women carrying the bundles of all the worldly goods that they still have left, leaving their homes — what’s left of their homes — behind,” Doucet said. Credit:

Ammar Abdullah/Reuters

“This is very much a moment [the rebel fighters]   don’t want the world to see,” Doucet says. In a video message to Syrians, President Bashar al-Assad described the emptying of Aleppo after weeks of brutal strikes a “liberation.”
The BBC’s Lyse Doucet was in Aleppo last week. 15, 2016. “That Aleppo can look to the future.”

A child reacts from inside a bus evacuating people from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria, on Dec. Credit:

Abdalrhman Ismail/Reuters

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report. “It is a surrender, and in some ways a very humiliating surrender.”

A man waits with others to be evacuated from a rebel-held sector of eastern Aleppo, Syria, on Dec.

Trans people are risking their lives in Istanbul

Wary and standoffish, she doesn’t do the big hair and false eyelashes ubiquitous among her co-workers. She had last been seen entering a client’s car. She says her experience of sex work has been a “disaster.” Just recently, she tried to kill herself. They are in denial,” says Tan. Beste feared further attacks from her family. Writer Lorraine Mallinder and photographer Nathalie Bertrams reported from Istanbul. The police are also her tormentors, regularly threatening violence or imprisonment unless she shells out payments. “The police are a problem. There is no shortage of demand. Arzu, 28, sees five or six clients a night, receiving 100 lira ($28) an hour “for all services.”
“I hate this work,” she says. Now the 18-year-old sits at the window of a transgender brothel in Istanbul’s run-down Tarlabasi neighborhood. Last year, the Anatolia Muslim Youth Association, one of the most extreme religious groups in the country, hung posters on the city streets, calling for LGBTI people to be killed. But, while homosexuality was decriminalized in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire, way before most European countries, there are no laws protecting LGBTI people from hate crimes. “They rounded them up, stripped them naked, cut off their hair and beat them before expelling them from the city,” she says. Not that their response surprised her. It’s a typical tale. But Beste is determined to fight for her basic human rights. Credit:

Osman Orsal/Reuters

Officials imposed the ban on security grounds. You get your feelings under control,” Tunc says. “Many are married with children. Only last year, Beste was at high school, dreaming of going to university to become a vet. She prefers the sort of punk princess look typical of many girls her age. Credit:

Nathalie Bertrams/PRI

Three clients are bunched in a little group, dancing bare-chested under disco balls in front of a mirror, seemingly oblivious to the presence of the trans women around them. “Nobody gives them a job, nobody allows them to access education, nobody’s family accepts them.” Few survive beyond the age of 60, he says. Esmeray, 43, a former sex worker turned journalist and playwright in Istanbul. Arzu feared reprisals from the criminal gangs that control the streets where she works. Her body was found burned in a forest. Any hopes of legal progress have evaporated since the 2013 Gezi Park riots, in which LGBTI activists took a front-line stand against the increasingly authoritarian regime of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Unlike the streets and the brothel, the bar staff and sex workers talk without looking over their shoulders. As the government retaliates, rounding up suspected coup participants and cementing its power, the outlook is darkening for the country’s transgender people. “Hande Kader could happen to me or another friend.”

One of Turkey’s best-loved singers, Bulent Ersoy   was banned from singing for several years after a Turkish military coup in 1980. They stole my bag and my money.”
She went to the police, who told her it was her fault. In a country where being gay is heavily stigmatized, men often gang up to attack and rape transgender sex workers, she says. Emirhan Deniz Celebi, 26, a transgender man who leads a rights group in Istanbul. In present-day Turkey, double standards prevail. Last summer, part of Turkey’s military attempted, and failed, to overthrow the president. The statistics make for grim reading. She has vivid memories of the police’s violent crackdown on transgender people on Ulker Street, close to Tarlabasi, in the early ’90s. Arya Tan, the 30-year-old manager, watches over a “family” of 11 or 12 trans sex workers, keeping tabs on their safety when they head off to a local hotel with clients. “One month ago, I was raped by five guys. “I cannot cry when one of my friends is murdered because I have gotten used to living with that. I give money to everyone,” says Arzu. The affair earned the district chief of police, Suleyman Ulusoy, the nickname Suleyman “the Hose” (Hortum   Suleyman), because he used hoses to beat victims. Credit:

Reuters

The conspicuous nature of Istanbul’s transgender sex trade seems remarkable in a predominantly Muslim country, one of the many paradoxes of a society at the meeting point between East and West. Turkey has the highest known   number   of trans killings in Europe —   43 between 2008 and April 2016, according to rights group Transgender Europe. Credit:

Nathalie Bertrams/PRI

“They don’t attack terrorists like they attack us,” says Emirhan Deniz Celebi, 26, a transgender man heading up rights group SPoD. On the one hand, Hande Kader was a turning point for people becoming interested in trans issues, he says. The atmosphere here seems more relaxed. Listen: The World in Words podcast on the secret language of Turkey’s LGBT community They know that I see everything at the bar,” she says. Before that, she tried working on the streets, but left after the police roughed her up and threw her in a cell for a night. They are not up for talking. “Dying a natural death is a wish of all trans people,” says Deniz Tunc, 33, a friend of Kader’s. But after a series of attacks from her family, who beat her, destroyed her clothes and locked her in her room, she left home. “I protect them. Gender-bending stars like Bulent Ersoy are showered with public affection, while transgender people on the ground face a daily struggle to stay alive. With her bobbed hair and glasses, she resembles a beady-eyed school teacher, noting every interaction between the workers and the men who seek out their services. Credit:

Nathalie Bertrams/PRI

On Tarlabasi Boulevard, transgender sex workers openly ply their trade. When you ask them, they say they are not gay. I will be who I am eventually.”
Beste and Arzu’s names were changed to protect their identities. “This is the problem of all transgender people,” she says. They trust me. Listen to   The World’s report here. Huzun Coskun, a transgender 30-year-old, is a bar tender at a bar called No Name. “I wish for a new life, a new school and a home,” she says. Credit:

Nathalie Bertrams/PRI

The danger right now is that Erdogan feels legitimate in the current crackdown because he won a majority in the last elections, Esmeray says. She has only been working at the brothel for a few weeks. LGBT rights activists hold a rainbow flag during a   transgender pride parade that was banned by the authorities in   Istanbul   on   June 19. This year’s gay pride march — the largest in any predominantly Muslim country, drawing tens of thousands of participants — was   banned   by Istanbul city authorities after hardline religious groups threatened violence. It’s a means of channeling self-hatred. But Esmeray, 43, a former sex worker turned journalist and playwright (known in the media world by her first name only) believes things have not really gotten worse. Under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been steering the country away from its secular traditions toward a religiously conservative mindset, homophobia is on the rise. She also pays 120 lira ($34) a night for accommodations, because she says no conventional landlord will rent out their property to a transgender woman. In the No Name bar on Tarlabasi Boulevard, transgender women chat with potential clients against a backdrop of strobe lights and banging techno beats. Arya Tan, the 30-year-old manager of the No Name bar in Istanbul. “I will never give up living the way I feel. “In Turkey, around 95 percent of transgender women end up doing sex work,” says Celik Ozdemir, 40, spokesperson for the Istanbul LGBTI Solidarity Association. It’s a battle for survival. She earns less here, 50 Turkish lira (US$14) per client, but feels safer, even though police regularly wait at the door so they can extort money from the sex workers. Such cases of systematic police harassment have been widely reported by human rights groups like Amnesty International. She doesn’t want to sell her body   any more, but feels “obliged.”
There is literally nowhere else for her to go. Unable to talk at the window, she tells her story via WhatsApp, a phone texting app. Last year’s pride march was also stopped, with police firing water cannon and rubber pellets at participants. And while it’s true that the country has undergone a   series of attacks   blamed on ISIS and armed Kurdish groups over the past two years, critics believe that the timing of the event, which coincided with Ramadan, was the more likely reason. Most go unreported, but, in August, the brutal killing of Hande Kader, a 23-year-old sex worker and activist, shocked the nation. The criminal gangs are a problem. On the other, hate crimes are becoming more frequent in the current political climate.

No, Mr. Trump, China did not build a ‘massive fortress’ in the sea

This was interpreted as a message to America. The same man who accused China of economically “raping” the United States is laying out — in interviews and tweets — a more hostile approach toward the world’s largest nation. No. A tweetstorm about why it matters for signaling and stability. It bears repeating that both are nuclear powers. Legally speaking? Yes, we are. No, China’s H-6 bomber is not nuclear-capable. Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into.. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016
In portraying China as a conniving menace, Trump has repeatedly accused the nation of creating a “massive fortress” in the South China Sea. This explains why the US is deploying these cutting-edge jets to Australia as a message to China. Overstating China’s little outposts as “massive fortresses” only ratchets up the tension. As one defense expert previously told PRI, these weapons, called HQ-9 missiles, can be seen as “agile kings on the checkerboard landscape.” They’re both powerful and mobile. A state-owned paper, beholden to China’s Communist Party, says that “we can’t be frightened by Trump’s bully-boy tactics and picture him as a rival that is so hard to defeat.”
Yet another government-issued op-ed suggests China should “dare to make surprise moves” to shake up the US-China relationship. So, let’s break down what’s really going on here. There are some fortified aircraft hangars and a few long runways that can accommodate fighter jets. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 4, 2016
their country (the U.S. And they’re certainly capable of destroying US surveillance drones, a persistent irritant to China’s military. How well are these bases armed? More than $5 trillion worth of trade churns through these waters. This is more than mere insinuation. I don’t think so! doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? (1/25)https://t.co/dH7fTdHDCT
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) December 12, 2016
Does China have the unqualified right to build these bases? That’s how US President-elect Donald Trump describes China’s newest military installations —   a string of island outposts in the hotly contested South China Sea. In July, China was already warning that “there is no guarantee that an escalating war of words will not transform into something more.”
Now that America is set to inaugurate Trump, a president-elect who has lashed out at China more than any other in history, that war of words is getting hotter. Both countries have strong claims to remote islands that China now effectively dominates. Just as China asserts its refusal to budge, the head of the US Pacific Command is warning that “we will cooperate when we can but we will be ready to confront when we must.”
The fallout from such a confrontation could be devastating. He contends that China was merely indicating it could blast targets in the sea with more conventional cruise missiles   — the sort of missiles Russia fires into Syria and which the US recently fired into Yemen. For starters, the islands occupied by China are specks. Their economies intertwined, the two countries could bring down the global order if they clash. Following Trump’s recent contact with the president of Taiwan, seen by the Communist Party as a rogue prefecture, China flew bomber jets over the South China Sea. This potential clash between powers — one ascendant, one reeling from chaotic political transition   — would be felt across the planet. As his inauguration nears, Trump appears to be deliberately scrambling US-China relations. But Trump’s warnings of a “military fortress the likes of which perhaps the world has never seen” are bluster. It’s true that China is furiously dumping sand at the perimeter of seven islands. And they’re increasingly taking on more powerful weapons. But China is undeterred. According to Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear proliferation, the jets aren’t able to fire nukes. In its most audacious move, China upped its defenses earlier this year with missiles that can blow aircraft out of the sky from 125 miles away. They’re equipped with radar emplacements that monitor traffic on and above the sea. How is China responding to Trump? Where might this rhetoric lead? China is building up tiny island bases, armed with missiles, in waters that are vital for the world’s economy. Massive. Given the stakes — a potential armed conflict between two great powers — such hyperbole can only aggravate an already volatile feud. China has also created small island specks that   the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative says   may be fitted with anti-aircraft guns. But missiles alone do not constitute a “massive fortress.” America’s most advanced fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor, could be expected to take out these missile embankments in a conflict. Even a United Nations tribunal, which rejects Beijing’s sea claims, has not scared it away from plans to gain control of the sea in the 21st century. But so far, according to the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, they’ve added roughly 5 square miles’ worth of land. What China is building in its aquatic backyard is not some saltwater Death Star. Are we sure these island fortresses are not ‘massive’? The worst-case scenario: live-fire conflict between the United States and China. This is rooted in truth. How strong was this signal? The US, which accounts for one-fifth of that traffic, is not keen on letting China dictate who can and cannot pass. These Chinese bases are certainly provocative. — Donald J. The largest one is about half the size of New York’s Central Park. Well, many outlets have claimed that these Chinese jets are capable of launching nukes — but that too appears to be dangerous hyperbole. They’re mocking him. — Donald J. Beijing claims practically all of the South China Sea as “blue national soil.” That is a bold assertion considering that the sea’s waves wash up on several other nation’s shores — namely Vietnam and the Philippines. The second-largest is tinier than Beijing’s Forbidden City. But “massive” they are not.

The US just made it harder for Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen. The people of Yemen barely noticed.

On Jan. “These aircraft are optimized to drop these same precision-guided munitions that Washington has put on hold,” Wezeman   says. “The options for Saudi Arabia in the short term are quite limited,” he says, meaning that without a resupply, the Saudis could run short   of the guided weapons they need to hit targets in Yemen. US pilots are still flying tanker planes in the Gulf   region   to keep Saudi fighter jets airborne and at the ready. “We have no idea what the stocks are,” says Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher   at the   Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “both because we don’t know how many have been supplied, and also because we don’t really know how many they have been using. But observers have been quick to temper optimism about the move. “The most important thing that could happen right now,” he says, “is for the international community, and specifically the US and the UK, to signal to Saudi Arabia and the government of Yemen   that the conflict cannot continue, and this has been a very important first step.”
Paul, like many in the humanitarian community, has been frustrated with Washington’s inability to persuade   the Saudis to stop killing Yemeni civilians. People in Yemen barely noticed. And Secretary [John] Kerry can resume some of the really noble efforts he has taken on to try to broker an agreement.”
SIPRI’s Wezeman suggests that optimism may be premature. pic.twitter.com/VhV2M5oRhm
— ابراهيم عبدالكريم (@abrahama999) December 15, 2016
Saudi Arabia is by far the largest customer for the US defense industry, and as a condition of every foreign military sale, the   US State Department monitors how the Saudis use US-made weapons. And the same day the United States announced it was halting the weapons shipment, the US Air Force delivered the Saudis four new fighter jets — aircraft designed to launch the same precision-guided munitions that the Obama administration had just withheld. The United States made it harder this week for Saudi Arabia to drop bombs on the people of Yemen. Lately, it has reminded the Riyadh government   that American military support does not amount to   “a blank check.”  
But until the president’s announcement on Tuesday, the warnings had appeared toothless. PRI.org

President Barack Obama signaled his concern about civilian casualties in the Yemen war   on Tuesday, when he   halted a major resupply of smart bombs to the Saudi Arabian air force. #Yemen https://t.co/lzvFaZxmED
— Hisham Al-Omeisy (@omeisy) December 13, 2016
It’s hard to know what kind of effect the hold on the sale will have. The Department of Defense, following the White House announcement, said that   the US has not stopped giving logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition and continues to provide   intelligence to the Saudis who plan the bombing runs. In August, 11 people were killed and 19 more injured when a   hospital operated by Médecins Sans Frontières   was bombed in northern Yemen. Experts say the move could put   Saudi Arabia   in a serious bind when it comes to acquiring the munitions it needs to carry out its controversial air campaign in Yemen. “We’ve been pushing the international community, and in particular the US and the UK, to really put all of its weight behind a peace agreement and behind the protection of civilians,” says Scott Paul of Oxfam America. The same official also noted that the administration’s decision to halt the shipment of smart bombs does not mean the US is scaling back other kinds   of support for the Saudi operation   in Yemen. That includes the strap-on guided munition kits that convert the traditional “dumb bombs,” in use for the past century, into “smart bombs” — high-tech weapons which, dropped from a passing plane, can independently zero in on a target through laser, radio and radar guidance. 20, a new president   could choose to deliver smart bombs to go with the planes. “They could,” he says, “try to get them in the UK, but the UK only supplies bombs which contain US technology, so for that they would first need US permission, which obviously then they wouldn’t get.”
“They could go to France,” Wezeman adds, “but then they would have to adapt the French models to the British and American platforms —   the aircraft which the Saudis use —   but that will take time if at all being possible.”
Wezeman says other options for the Saudi air force, such as buying smart bombs from Israel (“Out of the question”)   or from   Russia or China (“The US would never allow it”) mean that Saudi Arabia’s ability   “to buy similar bombs elsewhere, especially in the short term, are very limited.”
Oxfam’s   Paul finds Washington’s move encouraging. “And now the message hopefully will be heard. While bodies were being removed from the scene, one Yemeni police officer snapped this photo of a shard from a   US-made bomb. “And to do that, it’s really been necessary to send a signal to the principal parties to the conflict that this kind of behavior won’t be tolerated.”
A State Department official confirmed that the administration is getting serious about Saudi conduct in the war. In September, 30 civilians were killed   when a coalition plane attacked a neighborhood in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah. SMOKE of WAR: 55 Saudi airstrikes in 24 hours rock #Yemen capital & 7 regions targeting civilian populated areas & destroying family homes. “The US has been trying to say that now for over a year, but the message hasn’t been heard,” he says. And Saudi Arabia, for sure, is not going to tell anyone anything about that.”  
But by withholding smart bomb kits, says Wezeman, the US is   putting   its Saudi allies in a bind. There are 150 more Boeing F-15SA fighters in the pipeline. In Yemen, where airstrikes continued unabated this week, a hold on the sale of 16,000 Raytheon guided bomb kits seemed   almost irrelevant. He points out that on the same day the White House signaled its displeasure with the Saudis by halting the sale of smart bombs, four brand-new Boeing F-15SA fighter jets were delivered by the US Air Force to Saudi Arabia. After all, the bombing there has not stopped. Raining bombs here & kinda curious if will be out before leveling city. Airstrikes and ground fighting   have   limited Oxfam’s ability to deliver aid inside the country and have   put its staff at great risk. Read more: With US help, Saudi Arabia is obliterating Yemen
Under the Obama administration, the United States has offered the Saudis $115 billion in planes, bombs, missiles and support services. In the past few months, the Saudi-led coalition has struck a number of civilian targets in Yemen, in the course of its US-backed military operation against Houthi rebels and forces loyal to former   Yemeni President   Ali Abdullah Saleh. But it also made it easier.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. EXCLUSIVEPhoto taken by a police officer friend of mine from Al-Kobra Grand Hall airstrike aftermath! No one but the Saudis, and possibly the US Department of Defense, knows for sure how many smart bombs the Saudis still have on hand. The humanitarian relief organization Oxfam, which provides food and other basics to a million people inside Yemen, called the White House announcement a step in the right direction. “We continue to have concerns about the conflict in Yemen and how it has been waged, most especially the air campaign,” the official said in an email. #Yemen pic.twitter.com/sv8f5bgsna
— Ammar Aulaqi (@ammar82) October 10, 2016
It was not the first time a US weapon caused civilian casualties in Yemen. “Our ongoing policy review reflects our continued, strong concerns with the flaws in the Coalition’s targeting practices and overall prosecution of the air campaign in Yemen.”
“We are also exploring how to refocus training for the Saudi air force to address these kinds of issues,” the official added. And in October, at the Grand   Hall in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, Saudi jets hit a funeral gathering, killing 140 people and injuring 500 more. Human Rights Watch has documented more that 20   cases where American weapons were used in unlawful airstrikes there.  
Any idea how many were delivered before cancelation?