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9/20/17

Turkey: Investigate Ankara Abductions, Disappearances - says Human Rights Watch

Turkish authorities should urgently investigate the abduction and possible enforced disappearance of at least four men in Ankara since March 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Justice Minister Abdülhamit Gül.

One of the abducted men, a former teacher, was located in official police custody after 42 days. At least three others were abducted in similar circumstances but their whereabouts remain unknown. The similarities between the abductions and the fact that one of the men was subsequently found in police custody are credible grounds to believe that the men may be victims of enforced disappearances by Turkish security forces or law enforcement agents.

“There are credible grounds to believe that government agents forcibly disappeared the missing men,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Turkish authorities should promptly uphold their obligation to locate the missing men, who may be in grave danger, secure their release and if they are in custody give them immediate access to a lawyer, and let their families know where they are.”

An enforced disappearance occurs when a person is taken into custody, or otherwise deprived of their liberty by the state or its proxies, but authorities subsequently deny it or refuse to provide information about the person’s whereabouts, placing the victim outside the protection of the law.

The victim who was located in official custody is Önder Asan, a former teacher. A witness saw men who said they were police officers abduct Asan in Ankara in April, forcing him out of a taxi and bundling him into a Volkswagen Transporter van. After his family received a call from a police station 42 days later, they located him in police custody. He was taken before a judge on May 17 and sent to detention pending trial for alleged terrorism links.

Read more: Turkey: Investigate Ankara Abductions, Disappearances | Human Rights Watch

North Korea: Twitter Man vs. Rocket Man – by Susan B. Glasser

Back in July, President Donald Trump was already escalating his rhetoric against North Korea as it became clear the rogue state was on the brink of a major breakthrough in its nuclear program, development of a ballistic missile capable of striking the continental United States. Still, he insisted, “I don’t draw red lines,” and wouldn’t be sucked into doing so.

But that was before North Korea conducted its largest nuclear weapon test ever and sent missiles flying directly over Japan. And before Trump threatened “fire and fury” and declared a North Korean bomb capable of reaching the United States “unacceptable.” And before Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, warned on Friday that, all talk to the contrary, “there is a military option.”

All of which means that, whether he calls it one or not, Trump now has a red line – a move that a number of U.S. national security hands I’ve spoken with recently consider to be a serious and even “self-inflicted” escalation of what has become a genuine crisis with North Korea. In fact, Trump’s bluster may be more genuine than his reputation for bombast over action suggests: Two Republican veterans of previous administrations told me that McMaster has repeated those public warnings about a serious consideration of military options in private sessions at which they were present.

“The point that the Trump administration seems to be making is that if North Korea achieves an ICBM capability, that is a missile that can reliably reach the United States with a nuclear weapon, that changes everything. Well, it doesn’t. It never has,” says retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the former director of U.S. national intelligence, in a new interview for The Global Politico. “This hyping of the nuclear missile, which is merely one form of delivering a weapon, being able to reach the United States is a self-inflicted policy disadvantage which this administration has placed on itself.”of a major breakthrough in its nuclear program, development of a ballistic missile capable of striking the continental United States. Still, he insisted, “I don’t draw red lines,” and wouldn’t be sucked into doing so.

But that was before North Korea conducted its largest nuclear weapon test ever and sent missiles flying directly over Japan. And before Trump threatened “fire and fury” and declared a North Korean bomb capable of reaching the United States “unacceptable.” And before Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, warned on Friday that, all talk to the contrary, “there is a military option.”

All of which means that, whether he calls it one or not, Trump now has a red line – a move that a number of U.S. national security hands I’ve spoken with recently consider to be a serious and even “self-inflicted” escalation of what has become a genuine crisis with North Korea. In fact, Trump’s bluster may be more genuine than his reputation for bombast over action suggests: Two Republican veterans of previous administrations told me that McMaster has repeated those public warnings about a serious consideration of military options in private sessions at which they were present.

“The point that the Trump administration seems to be making is that if North Korea achieves an ICBM capability, that is a missile that can reliably reach the United States with a nuclear weapon, that changes everything. Well, it doesn’t. It never has,” says retired Adm. Dennis Blair, the former director of U.S. national intelligence, in a new interview for The Global Politico. “This hyping of the nuclear missile, which is merely one form of delivering a weapon, being able to reach the United States is a self-inflicted policy disadvantage which this administration has placed on itself.”

The North Koreans will soon cross Trump’s ICBM threshold if they haven’t already“And so what’s the United States going to do at that point?” says Blair, a longtime Asia hand who also served as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in charge of carrying out U.S. war plans against North Korea during an earlier round of tensions. “It’s something we’ve said is unacceptable. You don’t say something’s unacceptable in my experience unless you can do something about it…. If you put a red line out there, you have to be able to enforce it at acceptable cost, if your enemy miscalculates and the line is crossed.”

So now that Trump has his red line (never mind his previously stated belief that red lines, like the one President Obama famously drew with Syria over its use of chemical weapons, are “very dumb”), does that mean the war scare this time is real?

Is Trump actually prepared to do what three previous U.S. presidents—for the obvious reason that the costs could be unfathomably high—were not?
 
 Read more: Twitter Man vs. Rocket Man – POLITICO

9/19/17

The Netherlands: Princes day: a well kept Dutch political tradition

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing
King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima
Today was Prinsjes Dag (Princes day) in the Netherlands.

The day on which the reigning monarch of the Netherlands addresses a joint session of the Dutch Senate and House of Representatives to give the speech from the throne (Dutch: Troonrede); setting out the main features of government policy for the coming parliamentary session.. It is somewhat similar to Britain's ceremony Re: opening of parliament.

Basically it has become a ceremonial day of the King reading a speech written by the PM and a lot of "pomp and glamour" with the ladies showing off their hats and a large public turnout.

Today was not any different, specially the great sunny weather made it fun to watch.

Almere-Digest

USA: Donald Trump’s "America First" On Steroids, as he launches US War Doctrine at UN - by Robin Wright

On Tuesday, Donald Trump made his début on the world stage—on the same elegant green-marble dais, donated by Italy after the Second World War, that he had mocked in a 2012 tweet as ugly. “The 12 inch sq. marble tiles behind speaker at UN always bothered me,” Trump wrote. “I will replace with beautiful large marble slabs if they ask me.” Trump’s thoughts about the United Nations were bigger—and badder—this time around.

“Major portions of the world are in conflict, and some, in fact, are going to hell,” Trump declared. He vowed to “totally destroy” North Korea if it didn’t abandon its nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic missiles that deliver them. He came close to calling for regime change in “reckless” Iran, for policies that “speak openly of mass murder, vowing death to America, destruction to Israel, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this room.” Trump called the nuclear deal—brokered by all the veto-wielding nations of the world body—“an embarrassment” to the United States, implicily insulting the European allies that initiated the effort and the Security Council, which unanimously endorsed it. 

He implied a willingness to use military action in Venezuela “to help them regain their freedom, recover their country, and restore their democracy.” He blasted Cuba and took sharp digs at China and Russia.\

The President also delivered a few campaign-style zingers—like his pledge to “crush loser terrorists.” About North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump pronounced, “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

Trump reportedly insisted, over aides’ objections, that he keep the reference to the Elton John song in his speech. The line is sure to become part of U.N. lore—along with the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s quip, in 1987, “Remember, President Reagan, Rambo only exists in the movies,” and the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s insult, the day after George W. Bush’s 2006 U.N. speech, “The devil came here yesterday, and it smells of sulfur still.”

For a body more accustomed to nuanced diplomatic speak, and now yearning for leadership in an unsettled world, Trump’s bellicose speech was his America First doctrine on steroids. Indeed, he opened his remarks to leaders from almost two hundred countries with a litany of his achievements since Election Day. “Our military will soon be the strongest it has ever been,” he boasted.

Reads more: Donald Trump’s War Doctrine Débuts on the World Stage | The New Yorker

Mexico: 7.1 magnitude quake kills 55 as buildings collapse in Mexico - by M. Stevenson,C.Christopher, S. Sherman, and P.Orsi

A magnitude 7.1 earthquake rocked central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 55 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust and thousands fled into the streets in panic.

The quake came less than two weeks after another quake left 90 dead in the country's south, and it occurred as Mexicans commemorated the anniversary of a 1985 quake that killed thousands.

Mexican media broadcast images of multiple downed buildings in densely populated parts of Mexico City and nearby Cuernavaca.

A column of smoke rose from a structure in one central neighborhood in the capital. Morelos Gov. Graco Ramirez reported on Twitter that at least 42 people had died in his state south of Mexico City.
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Read more: .1 magnitude quake kills 55 as buildings collapse in Mexico

EU Privacy Shield: Guarding the EU’s privacy shield against Trump Administration- by Mehreen Khan

The controversial EU-US data sharing arrangement, which emerged from the ashes of the invalidated Safe Harbour, will undergo its first progress report from the European Commission after just over a year in existence today. More than 2,400 US companies, including Microsoft, Facebook and Google, have signed up to the pact, which allows them to legally transfer everything from pictures to payslips across the Atlantic without breaching the EU's robust laws on personal privacy.

The arrangement has been hailed as providing a bespoke framework for the flow of commercial data between Europe and third countries. Today's inaugural review will begin in Washington when EU commissioner Vera Jourova meets Wilbur Ross, Donald Trump's commerce secretary, before heading off to Silicon Valley to ask Google and Facebook about life under the new regime.

Speaking to the FT, Ms Jourova said she expects the fact-finding mission to identify holes and make “some proposals for improvement but I don’t expect we will reopen negotiations again”. One lawyer thinks Brussels will give Privacy Shield a "B grade” when the report is published next month.

But not all is well. The Commission has fired a warning shot to President Trump that it could soon run out of patience with Washington's delays in making key senior appointments — such as an independent ombudsman — to oversee the pact. “We are patient but cannot be patient forever”, said Ms Jourova.

The tough talk reflects unease in Europe about relations with the new White House administration.

After a difficult start to life (MEPs initially rejected Privacy Shield in a non-binding vote and the pact is already subject to two legal challenges), the framework faces a fresh test in the shape of a president who is unapologetic about prioritizing national security and business interest over personal privacy, the environment and concerns for the niceties of international diplomacy.

Read more: Guarding the EU’s privacy shield against Trump

North Korea: UN head tells Trump and Kim Jong-un 'We must not sleepwalk our way into nuclear war' - by Mythili Sampathkumar

The head of the UN has issued a stark warning to Donald Trump and the leader of North Korea, saying: “We must not sleepwalk our way into nuclear war.”

In the opening address to the 2017 UN General Assembly,  Secretary General Antonio Guterres said that fiery talk could lead to “fatal misunderstandings”.  “This is the time for statesmanship,” he added.

Speaking as tension between North Korea and the West continues to grow following Pyongyang’s sharp escalation of its testing of intercontinental missiles and nuclear payloads and sabre-rattling from the US, Mr Guterres said “when tensions rise so does chance of miscalculation”.

Read more: North Korea: UN head tells Trump and Kim Jong-un 'We must not sleepwalk our way into nuclear war' | The Independent

9/18/17

Ukraine: Something Is Happening Here... - by Kenneth Courtis

Ukraine’s President, 51-year old Petro Poroshenko – or Porky, as he is known to all Ukrainians – is at single digits in the polls. With elections scheduled for 2019 that cannot sit well with the oligarch-turned-president.

But in their assessment of him, Ukrainians are simply echoing the disdain that, all smooth-talking rhetoric aside, he has shown them. Remember that he promised to divest himself of certain assets – presumably acquired “legally” once he was elected.

What has happened is the opposite. His group has acquired more state assets at below rock-bottom prices. His firms are already lined up at the trough to gobble up all kinds of stuff in the coming wave of privatizations that the IMF has instructed the county to carry out.

Porky is pretty much the chocolate king of Eastern Europe and the CIS. People on the ground tell me that his three most profitable chocolate factories are in, yes, Russia…

All that sweet stuff can’t obscure the harsh realities. Real wages of workers have been chopped by more than half over the last three years. The emerging middle classes have been crushed.
 
Read more: Ukraine: Something Is Happening Here... - The Globalist

Social Media: Facebook risks 'infantilising' the human mind - by Patrick Wintour

Social network sites risk infantilising the mid-21st century mind, leaving it characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity, according to a leading neuroscientist.

The startling warning from Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln college, Oxford, and director of the Royal Institution, has led members of the government to admit their work on internet regulation has not extended to broader issues, such as the psychological impact on children.

Greenfield believes ministers have not yet looked at the broad cultural and psychological effect of on-screen friendships via Facebook, Bebo and Twitter.

She told the House of Lords that children's experiences on social networking sites "are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance. As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity".

Arguing that social network sites are putting attention span in jeopardy, she said: "If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder.

Read more: Facebook et al risk 'infantilising' the human mind | Media | The Guardian

North Korea: The US Has to Accept North Korea as a Nuclear Power - by Alon Ben-Meir

Although President Trump is not responsible for the complete failure of the U.S. to stop North Korea from becoming a nuclear power, his bellicose threats against North Korea and the acceleration of Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear program have dangerously increased regional tension.

The conflicting messages emerging from the White House, the lack of coordination with the Department of Defense and the absence of effective diplomacy point to a total lack of a coherent strategy to deal with North Korea.

It is time for the United States to accept the reality that North Korea is a nuclear power.

Read more: The US Has to Accept North Korea as a Nuclear Power - The Globalist