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US newspapers hit back at Trump, defend free press in coordinated editorials

NEW YORK, Aug 16: US newspapers big and small today hit back at President Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on the news media, launching a coordinated campaign of editorials stressing the importance of a free press.

Leading the charge was The Boston Globe, which had issued an appeal for this drive -- accompanied by the hashtag #EnemyofNone -- that has been joined by more than 200 newspapers around the country.

“Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the ‘enemy of the people,’” the Globe editorial said.

“This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out ‘magic’ dust or water on a hopeful crowd,” it added in a piece entitled “Journalists are not the Enemy”. Trump’s treatment of the press is also encouraging strongmen such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey to treat journalists like enemies, the Globe argued.

The coordinated effort comes amid Trump’s persistent claims that mainstream media outlets that publish articles critical of him are churning out “fake news”.

Free press advocates argue that Trump’s efforts threaten the role of the news media as a check against abuse of power in government and imperil the constitutional First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.

The New York Times, one of the most frequent targets of Trump’s criticism, ran a short, seven-paragraph editorial under a giant headline with all capital letters that read “A FREE PRESS NEEDS YOU” and with the statement that it is only right for people to criticize the press, say, for getting something wrong.

“But insisting that truths you don’t like are ‘fake news’ is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the ‘enemy of the people’ is dangerous, period,” the Times wrote.

Across the country, other papers joined in, defending their place in society -- from upholding the truth to simply saving people time.

“At a practical level, we journalists sit through boring government meetings and learn about public school financing formulas, so you don’t have to,” said The Arizona Daily Star. “It’s not as lofty a statement as the First Amendment, but it serves.”

Free press advocates say Trump is a real threat to the role of the press.

“I don’t think the press can just sit back and take it, they need to make their case when the most powerful man in the world tries to undercut the First Amendment,” said Ken Paulson, a former editor-in-chief of USA Today who heads the Newseum’s First Amendment Centre and is dean of communications at Middle Tennessee State University.

But Paulson questioned whether editorials would be effective.

“The people who read editorials don’t need to be convinced,” he said. “They are not the ones trying to shout you down at presidential rallies.”

In the face of a White House onslaught, Paulson said the media needs a broader marketing campaign to highlight the importance of a free press as a core value.

The campaign also faces the potential for galvanising supporters of the president around the notion that the media is out to get him.

“The media are organising an ever more deliberate and public attack on @realDonaldTrump and on the ‘deplorable’ half of the country who support him. And the media wonders why we think they are ‘fake news?’” tweeted Mike Huckabee, a former Republican governor who is a Fox News commentator.

But media rights advocates say the stakes are too high to allow the president’s claims to go unchecked.

Some say Trump’s comments have incited threats against journalists covering his events, and may have created a climate of hostility that opened the door to violent attacks like a deadly one in June against the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland.

Unhappy with Trump policies, Indian-American who quit his job as diplomat to run for US Congress

WASHINGTON, Aug 7: Finding it difficult to defend the Trump administration’s policies as a diplomat especially over race and immigration, Sri Preston Kulkarni last December decided to quit his dream job at the US state department to run for Congress.

Kulkarni, whose family traces its roots to Maharashtra and Karnataka, on his website said he spent his career trying to reduce conflict in other countries...”but right now hostility and conflict are being inflamed in our own country through the politics of anger and demagoguery”.

“I have worked under Democratic and Republican administrations before, but the current situation is different and should concern all Americans of conscience,” he said on his website.

After quitting his job, Kulkarni announced that he will run for the 22nd Congressional District of Texas, to be part of the policy making, and not implementing them.

Six months later, he won the Democratic primary and is pitching for a tough battle against five-term Republican incumbent Pete Olson.

“There is a little bit of nervousness on the other side about (my) campaign,” Kulkarni told PTI.

Kulkarni’s family immigrated to the US in 1969 to Louisiana, where he was born in 1978. Soon thereafter they moved to Houston, where Kulkarni grew.

After completing his college, he joined the US foreign service in 2003 and has worked in various capacities in both inside the US and overseas. This summer he was posted for the important position of the spokesperson of the US Embassy in New Delhi.

Being an Indian-American, representing the US was very important, he said.

“But I think the 2016 election for me actually drove home as some of these issues are still unresolved for America,” he said.

“During that election, there was so much anti-immigrant sentiment being spread that it was a real blow to me personally. When I came back to the State Department, I said (to myself) ‘I’m just going to continue to be a professional and I’m going to do this job’,” he said.

But, there were two incidents that changed his mind and made him feel that he couldn’t continue in the State Department.

“One was the Charlottesville rally one year ago where we had Nazis in the street screaming about white supremacy and my government could not make a clear distinction. That’s absolutely morally unequivocally awful. I was asked to explain this when I was overseas. Why is it that they’re very fine people who were Nazis and why is it that both sides are the same? I couldn’t do that,” Kulkarni said.

At the rally last summer, white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed in the streets before a car plowed into a crowd, killing 32-year-old counterprotester.

The second was the Roy Moore campaign, Kulkarni recollected.

“He was molesting 14-year-old girls and he said that our families are stronger when we had slavery and that Muslims shouldn’t be able to hold a public office in the United States. To me that’s just beyond what’s acceptable in the kind of democracy and the kind of society that I believe in,” he said.

Moore was the Republican nominee in the 2017 US Senate special election in Alabama to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. Moore, who had faced multiple allegations of sexual assault during his campaign was backed by president Donald Trump. Later he lost to Democratic candidate Doug Jones.

At the time of these incidents, Kulkarni was in Jamaica on a temporary assignment. His next posting was at the US Embassy in New Delhi as its spokesperson.

“I decided that I was going to resign to come back home and run for office. Because I think we need to stand up against this idea that we should be divided up by, by race, by ethnicity, and that some people are less American than other people. That’s when I started the campaign,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni resigned from the foreign service in December.

Kulkarni says that its not about just one person, Trump as an individual.

“It is more about these ideas that we should be divided against each other, Muslim versus Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Hindu versus Christian or black versus white or Asian versus white. That ideas are the more dangerous thing than a person,” he said.

He said the social fabric of America was being torn apart and Americans were blaming immigrants for everything.

“If the fight is against illegal immigrants, then why H-1B programme is being threatened. Why are we trying to reduce legal immigration and family reunification?” he asked.

“It doesn’t have to do with illegal immigration. That has to do with anti-immigrant sentiment. The anti-immigrant sentiment is something that should worry all of us because we are an immigrant country and honestly, without immigrants, most of our fortune 500 companies wouldn’t be here,” Kulkarni said.

“But whenever any group is discriminated against, it’s a threat to all minority groups. If a Muslim is being discriminated against, it still affects me as a Hindu,” Kulkarni said.

Now running an effective campaign, Kulkarni, pollsters say has considerably reduced the poll numbers against his rival Olson, who is considered to be a friend of India in the US Congress.

Kulkarni, who is a cousin of BJP member of Parliament Poonam Mahajan, hopes that the entire community would come out to vote in November.

US reimposes Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON, Aug 6: The US on Monday announced the reimposition of the first set of trade sanctions against Iran, aimed at forcing Tehran to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald Trump walked out of in May.

The curbs, that go into effect on Tuesday, will impact Iran’s automotive sector, trade in precious metals such as gold, and will prohibit it from using the US dollar — the common currency for international trade.

Announcing the sanctions, Trump said: “As we continue applying maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime, I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism. The United States welcomes the partnership of likeminded nations in these efforts.”

The next round of sanctions go into effect in November and that will hit Iran’s ports and crude oil exports. Those curbs will impact India directly, forcing it curtail and cease buying crude from its third largest supplier under the threat of secondary — though unintended — sanctions.

The Trump Doctrine Has Foreign Policy Elites Pulling Out Their Hair

By Harry J. Kasianis

WASHINGTON, Aug 6: I get really aggravated when people say things like “Donald Trump is an idiot” or “he has no idea what he is doing” or lately “can you believe what President Trump said today on Twitter? That was so unpresidential!”

Really? Have you not turned on a TV or logged onto social media for three years?

What would have been a political firestorm pre-2015 is now just another day in a presidency that will completely reshape its office forever. The only question is whether that will prove a good thing or a bad thing.

If you haven’t figured it out, Trump never has, and never will, operate by the classic Washington rules of decorum, respect for tradition—respect for anything, really—or presidential convention. If you can accept all of that—I’m not saying make peace with it, just accept it—you will go a long way towards understanding the Trump Doctrine itself.

In fact, if I had to summarize the Trump Doctrine, it would be this: America’s interests come first, everything else second. That does mean everything: history, tradition, alliances, the “normal way of doing things,” customs—all of that can and will be thrown out the window if Trump feels that his country is being hurt. He sees the world in black and white, black meaning bad for America and white meaning good for America. Period.

Don’t bother trying to apply your fancy political science training to Trump; it will only take years off your life. He likely can’t tell you the difference between the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Westphalia. He has no interest in such details nor does he have the time.

And don’t bother asking about the finer points of global politics, such as the role that morality plays, the efficacy of nation building, and the foreign policy doctrines of the past—he doesn’t have a clue or give a damn anyway. I bet if you asked him what a foreign policy realist is he would look at you cross-eyed—even though so many people claim that he is one.

From here—and this will enrage anyone who studies international politics—it gets even more interesting. Trump considers everyone—and I do mean everyone—a competitor. The European Union, a long-standing American ally, in his mind, is nothing more than a big, bad economic colossus that could take jobs away from Americans or shave points off of overall U.S. GDP growth. Japan, one of America’s strongest allies? Yep, they are an economic competitor as well. The president might love to play golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but when it comes down to business, he’ll call out Tokyo all day, every day—right to the PM’s face when they stand side by side during a joint press conference.

What about America’s traditional great-power adversaries like Russia and China? Here and again, anyone who studies international politics for a living is likely ripping their hair out, as Trump does not conform to anything that they understand. On the one hand, he loves to flatter and compliment China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin—that angers the Beltway foreign policy intelligentsia to no end, myself included. But, and of a more important note, Trump also plays hard-nosed geopolitics as good as anyone, arming Ukraine, sending ships into the South China Sea, hitting Moscow with more sanctions and working more closely with Taiwan. When you add in a growing military budget, Trump might sound weak to his critics and at the podium during superpower summits, but his policies are, in fact, right out of the standard GOP foreign policy playbook.

I had a hard time myself understanding Trump’s simple but guiding core principle. I was a member of Senator’s Ted Cruz’s foreign policy team during the 2016 campaign, so obviously I was not exactly a tried and true believer. And while I support many of the president’s core national security ideas, I won’t defend some of his wilder notions or odd behavior. However, when you make your way outside the Beltway, you get a sense of what people like about Trump. Most Americans have no idea what is supposed to be conventional foreign policy strategy and what goes beyond the pale. The president’s supporters like the idea that Trump is doing things his way, breaking rules they had no idea existed in the first place, working to further their interests—nothing more, nothing less.

Maybe the best way to explain the Trump Doctrine is through an observer with no political or international relations training who has never set a foot in Washington. “I don’t give a damn about what happened before or in the past. I want my president to stand up for America—nothing else matters,” explained a fellow traveler I met in St. Louis last year as I was making my way back to the swamp. “All I care about is that someone is watching out for my job, that no one tries to take it away like from sweatshop in China, that no one tries to attack our homeland, and that anyone who tries to make our economy weaker is called to task. Whatever it takes. The rest is just talk.”

It seems, kind sir, you have found your president. And the world is just going to have to get used to it.

@ Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest and executive editor of its publishing arm The National Interest. Previously, he led the foreign policy communications efforts of the Heritage Foundation, and served as editor-in-chief of The Diplomat and as a fellow at CSIS:PACNET.

Trump admits son met with Russian lawyer to get information on Hillary Clinton

WASHINGTON, Aug 6: US President Donald Trump admitted Sunday that his son met with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower in 2016 “to get information on an opponent” but defended it as “totally legal.”

It was Trump’s most direct acknowledgement that the motive for the June 2016 meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival for the presidency.

As he has in the past, Trump insisted in a tweet that he did not know at the time about the meeting between his son Donald Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with links to the Kremlin.

“This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”

Donald J. Trump
@realDonaldTrump
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!

The meeting has come under intense scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with a Russian effort to sway the 2016 election in the Republican’s favour.

The president’s tweet about the meeting was one in a thread in which he reiterated criticism of Mueller, calling his probe “the most one sided Witch Hunt in the history of our country” peppered with “lies and corruption.”

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Trump has been brooding in private about whether his son unintentionally put himself in legal jeopardy by meeting with Veselnitskaya.

Trump called the Post report “a complete fabrication.”

The Trump Tower meeting was arranged by British music promoter, Rob Goldstone, who told Donald Jr that he had “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Young Trump responded “I love it” when first offered the “dirt” on Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

News of the meeting, which Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and top campaign official Paul Manafort also attended, broke in July 2017.

Donald Jr initially said in a statement to The New York Times that the meeting was “primarily” about American adoptions of Russian children.

He later admitted he accepted the meeting with Veselnitskaya in hopes of obtaining damaging information on Clinton, but said nothing came of it.

The Post had reported that the statement to The Times was dictated by the president, though at the time Trump’s lawyers denied his involvement.

They later reversed course in a memo to Mueller and said Trump was indeed behind the statement that omitted the prospect of collecting dirt on Clinton.

Lawyers described the statement as “short but accurate,” according to The Post.

Asked on Sunday why he had denied the president’s involvement, one of Trump’s lawyers Jay Sekulow told ABC that “I had bad information at that point.”

“I made a mistake in my statement,” he said. “That happens when you have cases like this.”

The president’s lawyers argue that the meeting, in and of itself, violated no laws.

“The question is how will it be illegal?” Sekulow said Sunday.

“What law, statute, rule or regulation has been violated?”

Chicago’s night of gun violence: 4 killed, 40 shot in 7 hours, say cops

CHICAGO, Aug 6: Forty-four people were shot across the Midwestern US city of Chicago on?Sunday, US media reported, with five killed in a wave of violence police branded “totally unacceptable”.

Chicago Police chief of patrol Fred Waller told a press conference in the afternoon some of the shootings were “targeted” and related to gang conflicts.

“The city of Chicago experienced a violent night. Incidents of either random or targeted shooting on our streets is totally unacceptable,” he said.

CNN reported multiple shootings took place between midnight and 2:00 pm local time – with 10 taking place in just three hours from 1:30 am.

Gunmen targeted groups including one gathering of people who had attended a funeral repast, police said, adding that one of the injured victims was an 11-year-old boy.

Chicago experienced a near 20-year record number of murders in 2016, prompting President Donald Trump to regularly single out the city for criticism.

But Waller said so far this year, there has been a reduction in shootings of over 30 per cent in Chicago, while murders are down by 25 per cent.

“That’s not a victory by any means, or any stretch” he said.

“But we continue to head in the right direction.”

He also said more than 5,500 illegal guns had been confiscated from the city’s streets.

“I promise this city, we won’t be defeated,” he vowed during the press conference.

“We all live in this city. We all want this city to be safer.”

Carr Fire claims 7th death in California as firefighters battle firestorm

NEW YORK, Aug 5: A Pacific Gas & Electric company worker was killed Saturday while doing restoration work near the Carr Fire, becoming the seventh victim the wildfire has claimed since it began its path of devastation more than a week ago.

PG&E’s Melissa Subbotin confirmed to Fox News that Jay Ayeta, who was an apprentice lineman with the utility company, was killed while working in Western Shasta County. Subbotin said Ayeta “suffered a fatal accident” linked to the Carr Fire, but did not provide details on the incident.

"We have learned of the tragic death of a PG&E employee, who was working in the area of the Carr fire today. The safety of our employees and our customers is PG&E’s top priority. Our thoughts and prayers are with our fallen team member, his family and our extended team. We are working with law enforcement to investigate the circumstances of the incident,” the company said in a statement to KCRA.

The fire continued to torch homes and buildings Sunday as thousands of firefighters battled the blaze. Two firefighters were among the seven people killed since the wildfire began. The Carr Fire, the sixth most destructive fire in California, was reported 41 percent contained Sunday morning.

The White House on Saturday approved California’s request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for Shasta County.

 

US Places India in Strategic 1 category to rebuff China

NEW YORK, Aug 1: US President Donald Trump’s decision to grant India the STA-1 trading status equivalent to American allies for procurement of military weapons is a big rebuff to China for blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

In making this call, the US President has relaxed a key condition set by the Obama Administration that India would be eligible only after it had secured the membership of all four technology control regimes — the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group.

India became a member of three of these, except for NSG where China has continued to block a consensus.

After an unsuccessful attempt at securing NSG membership in the last few months of the Obama Administration, India had asked US to reconsider its conditions.

New Delhi’s case was that by blocking India’s case at NSG, Beijing had also put on hold Indo-US cooperation on co-production of defence equipment as well as bilateral transfer of high-end technology. The STA-1 will make this easier. Only two other Asian countries, Japan and South Korea, are in this category.

There are two US arms control lists. One, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) list, which comes under the State Department. The other is the Export Administration Regulation (EAR) list controlled by the Commerce Department.

In 2013, the Obama administration moved a bunch of sensitive items from the ITAR to EAR list. The EAR was then recast to make military commerce easier. In this rejig, India fell in the category of Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA)-2 while America’s closest allies were placed in STA-1. The licensing requirements are qualitatively different in these two categories, which is where the challenge lay in steering the India case forward.

India was not an ally and wasn’t going to define itself as one either.

So, a decision was made in the dying days of the Obama Administration to give India Major Defence Partner (MDP) status. But for it to have full effect, the EAR had to be amended to insert MDP category in STA 1.

The US Congress simultaneously passed a legislation ascribing the MDP description in law. This was not really needed as all this is within the US administration’s remit. Officials would like to call this a parallel process that just converged in the end.

US designates 3 Lashkar e-Taiba men as global terrorist

WASHINGTON, July 31: The United States on Tuesday named Abdul Rehman al-Dakhil, a senior commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba who carried out attacks in India, a specially designated global terrorist and sanctioned two other Pakistanis who work as financial facilitators for the banned Pakistan-based group.

The fund raisers are Hameed-ul-Hassan and Abdul Jabbar, who work with Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), a front for the LeT. All three are Pakistani nationals, according to separate announcements by the US state and treasury departments. “Today’s designations seek to deny Dakhil the resources to plan and carry out terrorist attacks,” the state department said.

“These Lashkar-e Tayyiba (sic) financial facilitators are responsible for collecting, transporting and distributing funds to support this terrorist group and provide salaries to extremists,” said Sigal Mandelker, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“Treasury’s designations not only aim to expose and shut down Lashkar-e-Tayyiba’s financial network, but also to curtail its ability to raise funds to carry out violent terrorist attacks.”

As a consequence of the designations, all properties and interests owned by the men and subject to US jurisdiction will be blocked and Americans will be prohibited from any transactions with them, or sending them funds.

The latest designations came days after the US expressed “deep reservations” over the participation of terrorist-affiliated individuals in Pakistan’s general elections on July 25. Candidates backed by the Jamaat-ud Dawah (JuD) contested the polls through the Allahu Akbar Tehreek, while the Sunni extremist group Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat also fielded candidates but neither party won a single seat.

The US suspended nearly $2 billion dollars in security aid for Pakistan at the start of 2018 and the Financial Action Task Force added the country to its grey list in June for failing to counter terror financing. LeT and its fronts such as JuD and FIF have been on the list of designated terror groups of the US and the UN.

In April, the US added Milli Muslim League (MML), a political party floated by LeT founder Hafiz Saeed to mainstream the group, and Tehreek-e- Azadi Kashmir (TAJK), as fronts of LeT.

The state department described Dakhil as a long-time LeT member and an operational leader for terror attacks by the group in India between 1997 and 2001, after which he shifted to West Asia. He was captured in Iraq in 2004 by British forces and spent 10 years in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan before being transferred to Pakistan in 2014, the state department said.

After his release from Pakistani custody, the date of which could not be ascertained, he returned to work for LeT. Dakhil became divisional commander for Jammu in 2016 and as of this year, the state department said, he was a senior commander of the group. Hassan was described to have been working for FIF since late 2016.

He collected funds for distribution in Syria. He worked with his brother and others to “transport funds to Pakistan on behalf of LeT”.Hassan has an active Twitter account, which identifies him as the leader of JuD in PoK. Jabbar raises money for LeT and distributes salaries for the group. He has worked in the group’s finance department since 2000. From 2016, he has been associated with FIF as well.

 

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