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Russian needle of suspicion extraordinary malignancy against Trump



Even by the standards of the malignancies that surround US President Donald Trump personally, the one reported by The New York Times on January 11 was stunning in its implication.

Even by the standards of the malignancies that surround US President Donald Trump personally, the one reported by The New York Times on January 11 was stunning in its implication.

The Times reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had opened a counterintelligence investigation to ascertain if the President was a Russian agent in the aftermath of him firing the agency’s director, James Comey, on May 9, 2017. Given the frenzy of daily newsbreaks about this president, anyone of which would have long unseated any other incumbent, damning news stories just slide by.

However, this particular one has been so extraordinary that it may yet foreshadow what a likely report by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is examining the very aspects of Trump and/or his campaign’s alleged dalliances with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, could eventually reveal.

Think of it as India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) opening an investigation into whether the country’s Prime Minister is working on behalf of Pakistan.

A lot of people may not even be able to process the devastating import of a US President suspected of being a Russian agent but that is precisely what the FBI wanted to find out. Counterintelligence officials within the FBI are particularly serious-minded and they embark on any investigation with great deliberation. To think that they would be so alarmed as to suspect no less a person than the incumbent US President is unprecedented.

Within the investigation was the apprehension that Trump is a possible threat to national security. Trump himself has described the Times report as the “most insulting” thing anyone has said about him but has not explicitly denied it. Any denial, of course, would be superfluous in the sense that even if he were “wittingly, unwittingly or half-wittingly”, as the famous journalist Carl Bernstein described it, acting as Russia’s “pawn” he was unlikely to admit to it.

The point here though is much larger. The very initiation of such an investigation underscores the depths to which America’s national concerns have fallen since the emergence of Trump on the political stage. It is conceivable that some of Trump supporters may cite the investigation as the ultimate proof of a “deep state” striking back and trying to upend the popular electoral will in electing Trump. However, the FBI’s counterintelligence is not known to embark on any action lightly at all and without very serious intimations of a national security threat.

As the Times story pointed out: “No evidence has emerged publicly that Mr. Trump was secretly in contact with or took direction from Russian government officials.” However, “emerged publicly” is the operative part of that sentence. It could well turn out that the FBI overreached in its concern about the President but that is still not conclusive since Mueller is yet to issue a report of his findings.

Counterintelligence investigations are by their very nature often open-ended and not conclusive in the traditional sense of criminal investigations. They can begin and end equally quietly without the public finding out the specifics. It is that aspect of such an investigation that opens the FBI to Trump’s oft-repeated charge of a “deep state” working against him. Of course, it is a politically expedient refrain that Trump knows helps him with his political base that has so far bought everything he has sold them.

It is hard to say what, if anything, the investigation found that might indict or exonerate the President. It may never be found in explicit terms or, for that matter, any terms. It may or may not buttress the Mueller inquiry. It is that uncertainty that makes it vulnerable to Trump’s political grandstanding as he prepares for the 2020 presidential election.

By his voluble standards, the President has so far been quiet on social media about the Times report. However, it is unlikely that privately his team of lawyers has not been startled by it. Trump phoned in to Fox News where the host Jeanine Pirro, known to be unabashedly pro-President, asked him directly, albeit in a decidedly mocking tone, “Are you now or have you ever worked for Russia?”

“It’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked,” Trump said but did not categorically deny it. It almost seemed staged that Pirro would ask and he would respond the way he did.

It is a measure of how benumbed the national mood has become because of the relentless parade of seriously upending news stories since he became President that even a question like that is unlikely to do any real political damage to him right now. It is only when Mueller issues his report and its entire content is made public will America and the world know whether the stories are malignant or benign.

(Mayank Chhaya is a Chicago-based senior journalist of Indian origin. He can be contacted at [email protected])


May’s government braces for no-trust vote after Commons defeat



Theresa May

London, Jan 16: UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party government braced for a vote of no confidence on Wednesday, a day after she suffered a historic defeat in Parliament where lawmakers roundly rejected her Brexit plan.

Her agreement setting out the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU, the result of two years of negotiations with Brussels, was rejected in the House of Commons by a majority of 230 lawmakers — the worst defeat for a sitting government in the country’s democratic era.

It was turned down by a crushing 432 votes to 202. The confidence vote was expected to be held at about 7 p.m. GMT, the BBC reported.

In response to the significant defeat, which had been widely predicted by political observers, opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would table a motion of no confidence against May’s government.

“This is a catastrophic defeat. The house has delivered its verdict on her deal. Delay and denial has reached the end of the line,” Corbyn told the Commons, the lower chamber of Parliament, as he announced the motion, something which had also been expected in case of May’s defeat.

The Prime Minister told MPs she would return to the Commons with an alternative plan next week, provided she survives the confidence vote.

“The House has spoken and this government will listen,” she said on Tuesday night, offering cross-party talks to determine a way forward.

May delayed the initial parliamentary vote on her deal in December when it became clear that it would not make it through the chamber.

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the withdrawal process was “at a standstill”.

“So, in this context, it is up to the British authorities today or tomorrow to assess the outcome of this vote and up to the British government to find how we are to take things forward on March 29 towards an orderly withdrawal,” he told the European Parliament.

Some 118 members of May’s Conservative Party, including pro-European Tory MPs and hardline Brexit supporters, rebelled against the government in Tuesday’s vote. As did the 10 parliamentary members of the DUP, a right-wing unionist party from Northern Ireland and ally of the Conservative government.

The formation of right-wing Tory backbenchers, collectively known as the European Research Group, and the DUP signalled they would back May in the motion of no confidence, making it less likely for Corbyn to be able to force a general election.

If May gets ousted, then the government would have 14 days to present a new leader. However, if that candidate also fails to secure the confidence of Parliament and no viable alternatives are presented, then the UK could head towards an early election.

May survived a no-confidence motion lodged by hardline members of her own party in December. According to Conservative Party rules, such a vote cannot be tabled for another year, meaning that if she withstands Labour’s attempt to oust her, her job would be safe.

The UK is slated to leave the EU on March 29, exactly two years after May officially notified the EU of the UK’s intention of exiting the bloc by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Also, there had been increasing calls for a second referendum. The UK electorate decided to leave the EU in a referendum in 2016.

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Man bedridden after selling kidney for iPhone, iPad



Wang Shangkun
Wang Shangkun, Image: AsiaWire

San Francisco, Jan 16: A Chinese man who sold his kidney as a teenager to buy the latest Apple iPad and iPhone in 2011 is now bedridden with organ failure, the media reported.

Wang Shangkun was 17 years old when he made the decision to undergo surgery and sell his right kidney in the black market to buy the Apple products.

Shortly after the illegal surgery, he began suffering from a decreased level of kidney function, reported late on Monday.

“Shangkun had sold his kidney to black market organ harvesters in April 2011 where he received $4,500 Australian dollars. He purchased an iPhone 4 and iPad 2 with the funds,” the report added.

The man suffered renal failure in his second kidney after having one removed. It is said that it was due to the unsanitary conditions where the surgery took place.

In 2012, a total of nine individuals connected to the organ harvesting case were jailed for their involvement. Five surgeons involved with the procedure were among those convicted, according to Newsweek.


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MeToo at UN: 1 in 3 staff reports sexual harassment



Antonio Guterres

United Nations, Jan 16: The global organisation’s own #MeToo survey has found that one in three employees responding to it have said that they have suffered sexual harassment in the last two years.

Sharing the survey results in a letter to UN employees on Monday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “The results confirm that these have a debilitating effect on staff morale and on work performance and there are continued barriers to reporting, including fear of retaliation and perception that perpetrators for the most part enjoy impunity.”

Guterres, who has made empowering women and ending sexual harassment and abuse one of his priorities, commissioned the consulting firm Deloite Touche Tomhatsu to survey the employees of the UN system world wide.

Deloite said that 10,032 UN employees had reported that they had suffered harassment. They were among the 30,364 of the UN system’s total global workforce of 105,000 who responded to the survey.

The survey made the disturbing finding that 12 per cent of the harassers were senior leaders in the UN.

The most common form of sexual harassment reported — 21.7 per cent — was subjecting the employees to sexual stories or jokes that were offensive, according the survey.

The other forms of harassment reported by the respondents included offensive remarks about their appearance, body or sexual activities (14.2 per cent), unwelcome attempts to draw them into a discussion on sexual matters (13 per cent), gestures or use of body language of a sexual nature (10.9 per cent) and touching which made them feel uncomfortable (10.1 per cent).

Attempted or actual sexual assault was reported by 1.4 per cent of the respondents.

Two out of the five respondents in the age group 25-34 reported being harassed.

The harassers were overwhelmingly men — 68.4 per cent — but 15.9 per cent were women. (Under one per cent was transgender or “gender nonconforming”, while the gender of the others was not identified.)

More than half the harassers were colleagues and a little over 12 per cent were supervisors or managers, while about eight per cent were outsiders, including diplomats and donors.

“Perhaps one of the more important findings of the survey is that exclusion and incivility are highly correlated with incidents of harassment, providing a permissive atmosphere for such behaviour,” Guterres said in his letter. He appealed to the staff to conform to higher standards of behaviour.

The UN has set up a hotline for employees to report harassment.

In 2018, Guterres achieved a major goal of having full gender parity in his 44-member UN Senior Management Group, which makes up the top leadership of the global organisation.

Separately, with a zero-tolerance policy Guterres has been fighting sexual abuse and exploitation scandals in the peace-keeping operations where the victims are people, including children, in areas of UN operations, rather than employees.

In 2018, allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation — a narrower, more serious category than harassment — were made against 48 people in UN field missions.

The peacekeepers are troops and police employed by member countries and loaned to the UN for its missions.

By Arul Louis

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)

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