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Trump's feeble fight for a border wall has sparked feuds among White House aides as his major promise becomes a pipe dream: report

December 19, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

He fears his base will abandon him if he doesn't follow through.


President Donald Trump appears poised to given in on his fight for $5 billion of funding for a border wall, according to multiple sources. But in the White House, the fight has reportedly increased tensions as aides jockey back and forth about the best strategy in the struggle to secure funds for his signature campaign promise, according to CNN. 

Reporter Kaitlan Collins had the details on one particularly tense dispute over the wall before the midterm elections:

White House officials were in a meeting discussing border security last August when a sudden outburst from aide Stephen Miller silenced the room. The President's legislative affairs director, Shahira Knight, was in the middle of arguing that instead of pushing for the border fight so close to the midterm elections, the White House should hold off until after November when they would be in stronger position to fight over funding.

Miller, the immigration hardliner at the table, cut her off mid-sentence. According to two people in the room, he shot back with a list of reasons why the administration would almost certainly be in a weaker position after the elections because Republicans were guaranteed to lose multiple seats and possibly the entire House, making building the wall all but impossible.

Knight, a former aide to ex-White House economic adviser Gary Cohn with an in-depth policy knowledge, went quiet. An official described it as an “evisceration.”

Just last week, Trump staged an impromptu debate with Democratic leaders in the Oval Office in which he demanded funding for the wall. He took responsibility for any potential government shutdown that might result from the fight, saying that he would be “proud” to shut down the government over the wall.

Collins noted that Trump appears to fear that lack of progress on the wall — which seems increasingly unlikely to impove with Democrats prepared to take control of the House — will alienate his base. Anti-immigrant bigot Ann Coulter recently said on a radio program that she won't vote for Trump in 2020 if he fails to …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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One Man Exposed the Secrets of the Freemasons. His Disappearance Led to Their Downfall

December 19, 2018 in History

By Martin Stezano

In the early morning hours of September 12, 1826, a Batavia, New York stoneworker named William Morgan went missing from the local jail. Morgan was not a man of importance. In fact, he was known as a bit of a drunk—a drifter who, , The two men “entered into partnership to print a book which the public was to be told disclosed the secrets of masonry, in hopes to make a fortune out of the gaping curiosity of the vulgar.”

Under the false pretences of being a Mason himself, Morgan gained access to the local lodge and documented several of the organization’s cryptic ceremonies and induction rituals. Once Morgan had these veiled details down on paper, Miller began teasing their very public release. In August of 1826, Miller hinted at the incendiary nature of the upcoming exposé, saying he had discovered the “strongest evidence of rottenness” in the centuries-old institution.

Miller and Morgan’s threat to reveal the innermost secrets of the Masons spread quickly. In every neighboring county, Masonic chapters were soon gripped with panic, fear and outrage at what the two men might disclose. Imagining the worst, committees were organized to assess the potential fallout from Morgan and Miller’s proposed story. As the publish date approached, the Masons began a targeted campaign of harassment against the two would-be book publishers.

Law enforcement officers loyal to the Freemasons arrested and jailed Morgan and Miller for outstanding debts. Miller’s offices became a target as well. On September 8, a posse of drunken Masons tried to destroy his print shop, and it was damaged by a small fire two days later.

On September 11, a gang of Masons showed up at Morgan’s house with an arrest warrant for petty larceny. It seems he had borrowed a shirt and tie from the owner of the local tavern and never returned it. Soon after he arrived at the police station, the charges were dropped, but Morgan was immediately arrested for another petty debt of $2.65. Late in the evening, he was bailed out by group of Masons led by Loton Lawson—the mastermind of the kidnapping, according to Light on Masonry, a 19th century compilation of documents about freemasonry.

He was escorted hurriedly into a carriage and taken away, never to be seen again. The last word anyone heard Morgan utter was, allegedly, “Murder!”

Anti-Freemason, William Morgan (1774 – c.1826).

The rumors of Morgan’s disappearance spread …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Russia is finally getting its money's worth with Trump's latest Kremlin gift basket

December 19, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Just in time for Christmas.


Despite the overwhelming influence of a convergence of interests between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, many skeptics about a potential conspiracy or covert alliance between the two have argued that the Kremlin hasn't gotten much in exchange for its efforts to help Trump get elected.

While Trump has been rhetorically soft on Putin and has waged a public relations campaign against NATO, the some of the overt actions of his administration — launching missiles at Syria, providing arms to the Ukraine, and imposing sanctions on Russian invidiuals and organizations — have gone directly against the Kremlin's interests, these skeptics say. There has been some truth to these claims, though much of the aggressive action toward Russia has been driven by Congress and fought by the Trump administration.

But on Wednesday, the Trump administration took two major steps in line with Russia's interests that may help make all the effort Putin went to in supporting his candidacy worth it. 

First, and most substantially, Trump announced, out of the blue, that the United States will be pulling out of Syria.

“We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency,” Trump said on Twitter. Officials have confirmed that planning is underway to withdraw troops.

As analyst Nick Patton Walsh explained, this was a big win for Putin's interests in the region.

“Without the US in the ring, Russia is the main military force in the post-war Syria,” he wrote in a piece for CNN. “However you divine it, Trump seems to have few qualms about doing things that will please Putin.”

The claim that ISIS is “defeated” in Syria, however, is overly optimistic. Martin Chulov, a Middle East reporter for The Guardian, explained:

The long fight against Islamic State looks good on a map, but it is yet to be decisive on the battlefield.

The terror group has lost more than 95% of the territory it claimed in 2014 and the juggernaut that threatened to shred the region’s borders has been battered back to where it all began for the group’s earliest incarnation …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Hiroshima Bombing Didn't Just End WWII—It Kick-Started the Cold War

December 19, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

The colossal power of the atomic bomb drove the world’s two leading superpowers into a new confrontation.

Soon after arriving at the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman received word that the scientists of the Manhattan Project had successfully detonated the world’s first nuclear device in a remote corner of the New Mexico desert.

On July 24, eight days after the Trinity test, Truman approached Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, who along with Truman and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (soon to be succeeded by Clement Attlee) made up the “Big Three” Allied leaders gathered at Potsdam to determine the post-World War II future of Germany.

According to Truman, he “casually mentioned” to Stalin that the United States had “a new weapon of unusual destructive force,” but Stalin didn’t seem especially interested. “All he said was that he was glad to hear it and hoped we would make ‘good use of it against the Japanese,’” Truman later wrote in his memoir, Year of Decisions.

President Harry Truman, with a radio at hand aboard the cruiser USS Augusta, reads reports of the first atomic bomb raid on Japan, while en route home from the Potsdam conference on August 6, 1945.

Soviet Intelligence Knew About the Bomb

For Truman, news of the successful Trinity test set up a momentous choice: whether or not to deploy the world’s first weapon of mass destruction. But it also came as a relief, as it meant the United States wouldn’t have to rely on the increasingly adversarial Soviet Union to enter World War II against Japan.

READ MORE: The Inside Story of Harry Truman and Hiroshima

Truman never mentioned the words “atomic” or “nuclear” to Stalin, and the assumption on the U.S. side was that the Soviet premier didn’t know the exact nature of the new weapon. In fact, while Truman himself had first learned of the top-secret U.S. program to develop atomic weapons just three months earlier, after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, Soviet intelligence had begun receiving reports about the project as early as September 1941.

While Stalin didn’t take the atomic threat as seriously during wartime as some of his spies did—he had other problems on his hands, thanks to the German onslaught and occupation—Truman’s words at Potsdam made more of an impact than the president realized.

“We …read more

Source: HISTORY

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New mystery filing in the case against Michael Cohen is reportedly locked in a court vault

December 19, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Legal observers believe the case poses serious risks to the president.


A new filing in the case against President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen brought by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York is piquing the interest of close observers of proceedings.

First reported by CNBC, the filing remains under seal and stored in a vault in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Who filed the document and what it says remain a secret.

But the case is particularly intriguing because Cohen's guilty plea, admitting to committing criminal campaign finance violations by directing hush money payments to women who said that they had affairs with Trump, implicated the president directly in the illegal conduct. Prosecutors later revealed that American Media, Inc., the company that owns the National Enquirer, had entered a non-prosecution agreement and corroborated key details in the case that are damaging to the president.

Many legal experts have argued that, were he not the president, Trump would almost certainly already be charged or on his way to being charged in the case. Some have argued that the Trump Organization itself may be indicted in the case in lieu of the president himself.

For now, the new filing will remain a mystery. But many vexing questions in the legal battles surrounding the president have already been answered — we will almost certainly learn the answer to this one eventually.

Related Stories

…read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Arizona’s Opioid Policy Is Still Not Working

December 19, 2018 in Economics

By Jeffrey A. Singer

Jeffrey A. Singer

Despite a concerted effort by state and federal authorities to
curtail doctors from prescribing opioids to their patients in pain,
the overdose rate continues to climb year after year.The latest
numbers for 2017 were recently reported by the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, and they don’t look good.
Deaths from all drug overdoses rose another 9 percent since 2016.
And deaths from all opioids rose another 11 percent.

The breakdown of the opioid overdose numbers is
revealing. In 2017, fentanyl caused 40 percent of opioid overdose
deaths, up from 30 percent the previous year. Fentanyl or
heroin comprised 75 percent of opioid overdose deaths in 2017,
up from 68 percent in 2016. Meanwhile, overdoses from prescription
opioids like hydrocodone or oxycodone dropped 9 percent in
2017.

While more and more patients are seeing their pain go
under-treated
—or getting cut off from their pain
medication and sometimes growing desperate—overdoses continue to mount.
And Arizona has not been immune to this phenomenon.

In 2017, Arizona ranked 30th in the nation in opioid overdoses,
with a rate of 13.2 per 100,000 population,and 29 percent of those
overdoses were attributed to fentanyl alone. Yet Arizona
policymakers continue to double down on the same failing approach
to the overdose crisis.

This is because the opioid overdose crisis has never really been primarily about doctors
prescribing opioids to their patients in pain. It has always been
fundamentally about non-medical users accessing drugs in the black
market fueled by drug prohibition.

As prescription opioids diverted to the black market have gotten
harder to come by, the efficient black market has responded by
filling the void with cheaper and more dangerous heroin and
fentanyl. The opioid crisis is actually a prohibition crisis. Until
policymakers in Arizona and across the U.S. come to that
realization, the deaths will continue to mount.

The focus needs to shift from that of a “war on
drugs” to a “war on drug-related deaths.” This
means the strategy needs to change to one known as harm
reduction
. Harm reduction seeks to reduce the harms the black
market already inflicts on non-medical users and to focus strictly
on the goal of reducing the spread of disease and death from drug
use.

Harm reduction strategies have been in use since the 1980s, and
they have a proven record of success in reducing deaths, substance
abuse, and the spread of disease. They have a track record that
prohibition can never match.

Last week, the Cato Institute released my Policy Analysis
entitled,
“Harm Reduction: Shifting from a War on Drugs to a War on
Drug-Related Deaths.”
It gives an overview of …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Three GOP Kansas lawmakers defect to the Democratic Party in one week

December 19, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

Kansas Republicans' bad year keeps getting worse.


2018 was not a good year for Republicans in Kansas. They lost the governorship to Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, after running infamous pro-Trump, voter-suppressing Secretary of State Kris Kobach. And GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder lost in a landslide to Democrat Sharice Davids, an attorney and former mixed martial arts fighter who will be one of the first Native American women to serve in Congress.

But the bad news is not over for the GOP in Kansas. Over the span of a week, three Republican state lawmakers announced that they were renouncing the GOP and switching to the Democratic Party.

Last Wednesday, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Republican representing a liberal district in Mission Hills, declared her party switch, saying she “cannot be complicit in supporting” Trump’s presidency: “He is our president, but he is not representing my value system remotely.” The “final, last straw” for her, however, was the Kansas GOP's decision to write transgender discrimination into the party platform.

This week, state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a lifelong Republican who represents a district in Overland Park, followed suit, citing education. “Leaders in the Kansas House and Senate have now indicated that they will seek to scrap the bipartisan education plan achieved over the last two years, just as we are so close to solving this problem and ending the cycle of school litigation,” she wrote on Facebook. “My Republican Party, then, seems to no longer represent or serve the interests of the 19th District, Johnson County, or the State of Kansas … I believe that I can better serve my constituents, and support education as a member of the Democratic Party.”

At the exact same time, state Sen. Dinah Sykes of Lenexa announced she too was becoming a Democrat. “I am a moderate person who represents a moderate and pragmatic district that expects me to focus on issues and solutions that impact their day-to-day lives,” she wrote. “Increasingly, I see the Republican party focusing on issues and approaches that divide our country. I do not agree with that …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Internet roasts Trump for saying ‘military will build the wall’ and Mexico is paying for it

December 19, 2018 in Blogs

By David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement

Using U.S. Armed Forces to build Trump's wall would draw strong criticism from Democrats, who in the House could defund the project.


President Donald Trump followed his Tuesday morning meltdown with Wednesday morning lies and what sounded like a nod to civil war.

Despite the fact that a strong majority of Americans do not want a border wall, Trump is pushing for it – as he continues to rest his entire presidency on completing it.

“In our Country, so much money has been poured down the drain, for so many years, but when it comes to Border Security and the Military, the Democrats fight to the death,” Trump tweeted Wednesday.

Of course, Trump's claim that the Democrats “fight to the death” is hyperbole – but in his mind, is it?

“We won on the Military, which is being completely rebuilt. One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!”

(Note the “one way or another” claim – it's how he will ultimately claim victory.)

Then comes this staggering lie – and highly improbable claim.

“Mexico is paying (indirectly) for the Wall through the new USMCA, the replacement for NAFTA!”

That is a lie, and an embarrassing one that Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed Tuesday at her first press conference in weeks. Despite a reporter's valiant attempts to explain where federal funds come from, and that trade agreement benefits go into consumers' pockets, she refused to accept the facts.

“Far more money coming to the U.S.,” Trump continued.

“Because of the tremendous dangers at the Border, including large scale criminal and drug inflow, the United States Military will build the Wall!”

There is little chance of that happening.

While U.S. service members deployed to the border last month repaired sections of the wall and strung barbed wire, that was more akin to busy work to justify their presence there – which was part of Trump's November election tactics.

The Army Corps of Engineers has built dams, flood protection barriers, and constructed other public works in the U.S. and around the world, but building a border …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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A Christmas Carol Is Published

December 19, 2018 in History

By History.com Editors

On this day in 1843, Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” is published.

Dickens was born in 1812 and attended school in Portsmouth. His father, a clerk in the navy pay office, was thrown into debtors’ prison in 1824, and 12-year-old Charles was sent to work in a factory. The miserable treatment of children and the institution of the debtors’ jail became topics of several of Dickens’ novels.

In his late teens, Dickens became a reporter and started publishing humorous short stories when he was 21. In 1836, a collection of his stories, Sketches by Boz, later known as The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, was published. The same year, he married Catherine Hogarth, with whom he would have nine children. The short sketches in his collection were originally commissioned as captions for humorous drawings by caricature artist Robert Seymour, but Dickens’ whimsical stories about the kindly Samuel Pickwick and his fellow club members soon became popular in their own right. Only 400 copies were printed of the first installment, but by the 15th episode 40,000 copies were printed. When the stories were published in book form in 1837, Dickens quickly became the most popular author of the day.

The success of the Pickwick Papers was soon reproduced with Oliver Twist (1838) and Nicholas Nickleby (1839). In 1841, Dickens published two more novels, then spent five months in the United States, where he was welcomed as a literary hero. Dickens never lost momentum as a writer, churning out major novels every year or two, often in serial form. Among his most important works are David Copperfield(1850), Great Expectations (1861), and A Tale of Two Cities (1859).

Beginning in 1850, he published his own weekly circular of fiction, poetry, and essays called Household Words. In 1858, Dickens separated from his wife and began a long affair with a young actress. He gave frequent readings, which became immensely popular. He died in 1870 at the age of 58, with his last novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, still unfinished.

…read more

Source: HISTORY

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Britain agrees to return Hong Kong to China

December 19, 2018 in History

By History.com Editors

In the Hall of the People in Beijing, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang sign an agreement committing Britain to return Hong Kong to China in 1997 in return for terms guaranteeing a 50-year extension of its capitalist system. Hong Kong–a small peninsula and group of islands jutting out from China’s Kwangtung province–was leased by China to Great Britain in 1898 for 99 years.

In 1839, in the First Opium War, Britain invaded China to crush opposition to its interference in the country’s economic, social, and political affairs. One of Britain’s first acts of war was to occupy Hong Kong, a sparsely inhabited island off the coast of southeast China. In 1841, China ceded the island to the British with the signing of the Convention of Chuenpi, and in 1842 the Treaty of Nanking was signed, formally ending the First Opium War. At the end of the Second Opium War (1856-1860), China was forced to cede the Kowloon Peninsula, adjacent to Hong Kong Island, along with other area islands.

Britain’s new colony flourished as an East-West trading center and as the commercial gateway and distribution center for southern China. On July 1, 1898, Britain was granted an additional 99 years of rule over the Hong Kong colony under the Second Convention of Peking. Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese from 1941 to 1944 during World War II but remained in British hands throughout the various Chinese political upheavals of the 20th century.

On December 19, 1984, after years of negotiations, British and Chinese leaders signed a formal pact approving the 1997 turnover of the colony in exchange for the formulation of a “one country, two systems” policy by China’s communist government. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called the agreement “a landmark in the life of the territory, in the course of Anglo-Chinese relations, and in the history of international diplomacy.” Hu Yaobang, the Chinese Communist Party’s secretary-general, called the signing “a red-letter day, an occasion of great joy” for China’s one billion people.

At midnight on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was peaceably handed over to China in a ceremony attended by numerous international dignitaries, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Prince Charles, Chinese President Jiang Zemin, and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. A few thousand citizens of Hong Kong protested the turnover, which was otherwise celebratory and peaceful. The chief executive of …read more

Source: HISTORY