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The Senate committee overseeing education voted yesterday, on party lines, to confirm President Trump’s nominee to run the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. His nomination will now proceed to the full Senate for a final confirmation vote. Given the significance of the role in the protection of the rights of young people, senators should take a close look at Kenneth L. Marcus’s record before voting.

While the ACLU does not support or oppose any nomination for any government office, we strongly urge all senators to oppose moving forward on the nomination at least until they have had a meaningful opportunity to review and debate Marcus’s full record on civil rights.

Marcus’s past actions raise serious concerns about whether he will responsibly exercise his authority to protect the civil rights of students. In previous government positions, he has led political attacks on programs designed to ameliorate the historic effects of discrimination. More recently, he has played a central role in advocating for the suppression of student speech — particularly speech critical of Israel.

Marcus previously served as the staff director for the Bush-era U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Under his leadership, the commission appeared to abandon its historic mission of vigorously investigating and reporting on civil rights abuses against vulnerable communities in favor of dismantling programs designed to protect these groups. Marcus, for example, called upon the American Bar Association to remove a requirement that law schools seeking accreditation demonstrate a commitment to diversity. The commission also failed to investigate serious civil rights abuses, such as reports that Black neighborhoods in Ohio did not receive sufficient numbers of voting machines in the 2004 election. Many of the commission’s state advisory committee members — its eyes and ears on the ground — left or were pushed out during Marcus’s tenure, only to be replaced by anti-civil rights activists or individuals with little relevant experience.

As the National Women’s Law Center has observed, Marcus’s recent testimony before the Senate is similarly troubling. He said that he agrees with the Department of Education’s decision to rescind guidance about schools’ Title IX obligation to address sexual assault. He also stated that he does not believe the department’s civil rights office is responsible for ensuring that undocumented students have equal access to education, contradicting a Supreme Court decision holding that “innocent children” may not be denied access to public education based on immigration or citizenship status.

Marcus has also expressed opposition to affirmative action and has stated that disparate impact discrimination — which occurs when a policy that might seem neutral disproportionately affects particular communities — does not amount to a civil rights violation. Instead, he has said that disparate impact should only be taken into account to reveal a “hidden discriminatory intent,” despite the fact that many policies implemented with benign intentions result in massive discrimination.

Marcus also ran the Department of Education’s civil rights office during the Bush administration. In that role, he proposed changes to federal Title IX regulations. His proposals would have paved the way for schools to implement sex-segregated programs that are inconsistent with the anti-discrimination principles enshrined in Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause. The regulation ultimately issued by the Department of Education cut back significantly on Marcus’s proposal, but it has still opened the door to widespread sex segregation.

Although Marcus has been laissez-faire about enforcing civil rights laws to protect women, LGBT people, and people of color, he has been a passionate crusader against students and others who criticize the Israeli government. After leaving the Bush administration, he founded the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which seeks to combat “the resurgent problem of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism on university campuses.” As the Brandeis Center’s president, Marcus supported the filing of civil rights complaints against several universities, alleging that protests and other First Amendment-protected activities by Palestinian rights groups fostered a hostile educational environment towards Jewish students. None of these complaints were sustained, and the Department of Education dismissed several of them, noting that “the First Amendment protects speech critical of Israel and that such speech does not constitute a civil rights violation.”

Marcus has also expressed strong support for the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, a congressional bill that would require the Department of Education to adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism for purposes of enforcing federal civil rights laws on college campuses. The State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism encompasses a wide range of speech and conduct, including blaming Israel for all political tensions, applying standards not demanded of other nations, and focusing only on Israel for human rights investigations.

To be clear, Jewish students must be protected against harassment, discrimination, and attacks, as should individuals of any ethnicity or religion. But, as the ACLU has explained, the bill could be interpreted to prohibit vigorous campus speech, protest, and other forms of advocacy critical of Israel, which would plainly violate the First Amendment.

As head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, Marcus could push the government to start taking action against students who speak out against Israel, regardless of whether the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act passes. He could, for example, threaten to cut off federal funding to schools that allow students to engage in Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns and other protests against Israel. Even if such actions wouldn’t stand up in court, the mere threat could cause many school administrators to silence student speech. Marcus has a history of using these kinds of scare tactics — he once bragged that the Brandeis Center’s failed civil rights complaints serve their purpose because they “expose administrators to bad publicity.”

All students in the United States deserve access to an education free from bias and discrimination and to be secure in the exercise of their constitutional rights. In casting their vote, senators must evaluate Marcus’s ability to enforce civil rights laws and respect the First Amendment.
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Does Donald Trump Want to Be Dictator of the United States?
« Reply #10636 on: January 19, 2018, 03:55:52 PM »
His behavior over the past 12 months lines up alarmingly well with studies of authoritarianism.

It began the day he was sworn in, with his vow to end “American carnage”—a direct echo of his autocratic pronouncement when accepting the Republican nomination that “I alone can fix it.” Donald Trump has chipped away at the pillars of democracy ever since. According to a new report from Freedom House, an independent watchdog group that has monitored democracy globally for decades, “The past year brought further, faster erosion of America’s own democratic standards than at any other time in memory.” The nation’s core institutions, the report says, have been “attacked by an administration that rejects established norms of ethical conduct across many fields of activity.”

In his first year as president, Trump often appeared driven by his urges for self-aggrandizement, self-enrichment, and revenge against anyone and everyone he perceived to be his political enemies—targets to be punched 10 times harder or screwed 15 times harder than they’ve punched or screwed him. He has used the presidential platform to taunt and threaten, going after federal judges, members of Congress, law enforcement leaders, celebrities, professional athletes, private citizens, and, of course, his greatest bête noire: the “Fake News” media, which he has blasted hundreds of times since taking office.

Trump had already shown America who he was during the 2016 campaign, and at Mother Jones we took Maya Angelou’s advice and believed him. A few weeks into his presidency, as some entertained the illusion of Trump “pivoting” to being more presidential, we began tracking his authoritarian behavior with our “Trumpocracy” project. Sure enough, his demagoguery and lying continued relentlessly.

To what degree that has been by design or chaotic ineptitude is up for debate. But the ominous “firehose” effect it can have on the public is well understood by scholars of modern propaganda-driven dictatorships: a process that includes distraction, confusion, further polarization, and ultimately, complacency.

Another new report assessing Trump’s first year in the White House, “The Republic at Risk,” reaffirms the importance of documenting the daily absurdities: “The turn away from democracy need not be premeditated; an incompetent leader with authoritarian tendencies can pose as much of a threat as one with a systematic plan to dismantle checks and balances.” The bipartisan joint report from Protect Democracy and Stand Up Ideas, two groups comprised of government and legal experts, further warns that if Trump were to follow the path of other emerging authoritarians, “he would first erode the norms and ideals integral to a democratic society, then move into actual institutional changes once the public is sufficiently distracted, exhausted, and cynical.”

The report breaks down the dangers—politicizing independent institutions, spreading disinformation, amassing executive power, quashing dissent, delegitimizing communities, and corrupting elections—in a way that points with alarming accuracy to much that transpired during Trump’s first 365 days in office:
Attacks on national security institutions

Following long-running calls for his 2016 political opponents to be prosecuted and jailed, Trump made a particularly disturbing statement in December, declaring in a New York Times interview that he has an “absolute right” to do whatever he wants with the federal law enforcement system. As special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation has accelerated, Trump has openly trashed the reputations of the FBI and Justice Department. Since June, he has repeatedly joined partisan supporters in denouncing an alleged “deep state” conspiracy against him, including his belief that “very bad and evil people” in Washington are trying to sabotage his presidency.

 Donald J. Trump


Crooked Hillary Clinton’s top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents. Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others
6:48 AM - Jan 2, 2018

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Endless war on the media

Where to begin? Beyond his farcical tweets about “fake news trophies” and “fake news awards,” Trump’s campaign against the free press is quite serious. He and his aides have singled out and threatened multiple journalists personally, including author Michael Wolff (“mentally deranged”), CNN’s Don Lemon (“the dumbest man on television!”), ABC News’ Brian Ross (“fraudster”), CNN’s Jim Acosta (a target of bullying tactics), ESPN’s Jemele Hill and the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel (both fingered to be fired), and others. On more than one occasion Trump has promoted social-media imagery depicting violence against CNN, including the network’s logo amid splattered blood on the sole of his shoe. And Trump’s Stalin-esque declaration just weeks into office that the media is “the enemy of the American people” has resonated with brutal regimes worldwide, which have seized the opportunity to pile on Trump’s weaponization of “fake news.”

Corrupt use of the office

On social media and in public remarks, the president has not hesitated to promote the personal financial interests of his family and partisan supporters. Beneficiaries have included Fox News’ Sean Hannity—Trump twice endorsed a film Hannity produced—and “Fox and Friends” host Brian Kilmeade, Sheriff David Clarke, Dr. Robert Jeffress, and former Trump campaign officials Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, all of whose new books Trump specifically touted on Twitter. At an August 2017 press conference in the aftermath of neo-Nazi violence in Virginia, Trump plugged his winery in Charlottesville. And we haven’t begun to plumb the full scope of his potential ethical and financial conflicts of interest.

 Donald J. Trump


A great book by a great guy, highly recommended!
5:45 AM - Aug 27, 2017

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Targeting minorities

Long before his “shithole” comments made his racism the subject of worldwide headlines, Trump established a clear pattern of singling out African American critics. When three UCLA basketball players were detained and then released by the Chinese government over a shoplifting incident, Trump declared he should’ve left them in jail, slamming one young man’s outspoken father as an “ungrateful fool.” Other targets have included the widow of a US soldier killed in Niger, a Florida congresswoman who defended the widow, the ESPN sportscaster Hill, and various NFL and NBA players who have criticized and peacefully protested against the president.

Undermining confidence in elections

Contrary to the unanimous assessment of US intelligence agencies, Trump has called Russian interference in the 2016 elections a “witch hunt” and a “hoax” so often and in such hyperbolic terms that Americans may well have grown used to the idea (which of course is the point). His wildly false claims that three to five million people voted illegally in 2016 began on Day Four of his presidency and continued into this January, when he reiterated that “the system is rigged” and blamed “Democrat States” for the demise of his so-called voter fraud commission.

Trump has displayed other autocratic impulses that have drawn less attention. He and his administration have urged at least five private businesses to fire employees whose politics enraged Trump (apparently with success in the case of Steve Bannon). Not only has Trump praised and sought closer ties with authoritarian leaders from countries around the world, he has joined several of them in specifically mocking and undermining the free press, including the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte, Poland’s Andrzej Duda, Kuwait’s Emir Sabah bin Ahmed al-Sabah, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev, and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

The compilation of transgressions is long, surreal, and chilling. There is no indication that any of it will stop. The authors of “The Republic at Risk” suggest there is ample cause for hope: “Even under threat,” they write, “the United States has strong and durable democratic institutions.” But they also warn that a riven, inwardly focused Congress “has largely recoiled” from the danger, an assessment that clearly rests at the feet of the party controlling both chambers. Unless and until that condition changes, Trump will no doubt continue to push the boundaries of the American presidency in dark and disturbing ways.
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Will someone please give these guys a remedial history course on the Civil Rights Movement?


The Department of Health and Human Services hosted a series of speeches on Thursday praising its decision to open a new “Conscience and Religious Freedom Division” within its existing civil rights office. The event was emceed by Roger Severino, a longtime anti-LGBTQ activist who now leads the department’s Office of Civil Rights.

Over the course of the event, Severino managed to compare people who think that the law applies equally to nonbelievers and people of faith to Nazis. And he placed himself and other government officials working to undermine anti-discrimination laws on the same side as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The new division will head up the department’s efforts to ensure “that individuals and entities are free from coercion and can exercise their conscience and religious freedom rights,” for at least as long as Donald Trump is president. This will likely include some benign and even beneficial enforcement of civil rights laws, such as preventing a health provider from denying coverage to someone due to their religious beliefs. But is also likely to include a major focus on reproductive health and on enabling health providers to discriminate against LGBTQ patients.

As Politico reports, the new division is “part of a broader plan to protect health workers who don’t want to perform abortions, treat transgender patients seeking to transition or provide other services for which they have religious or moral objections.”

During the Obama administration, religious conservatives agitated for a special right to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals, so long as that discrimination is justified by religious belief. This argument has made it up to the Supreme Court, which is currently considering Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Civil Rights Commission, a case brought by an anti-gay baker who refused to comply with Colorado’s law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Which brings us back to Mr. Severino’s unusual understanding of civil rights history.

In his speech introducing the event, Severino told a story about how he developed a commitment to “the notion of conscience” after reading about Jews on Nazi Germany who were forced to tread upon Hebrew words that, presumably, those individuals viewed as sacred. “I could see the common humanity of why if somebody’s forced to violate their conscience in every step they take, how it’s an attack, really, on their human dignity,” the anti-LGBTQ activist-turned-government official said.

Then things went even further off the rails. Severino compared his efforts to use religion as a justification for discrimination to the work of Dr. King — a man who devoted his life’s work to abolishing discrimination. “I had a chance to reread Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Severino said, before comparing Dr. King’s decision to go to jail in defense of African Americans’ civil rights to modern day religious conservatives’ appeals to conscience.

Nor was Severino the only speaker at the event to make such a comparison. During her time at the podium, Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) also quoted Dr. King, quoting King’s statement that he seeks “a society that can live with its conscience.”

Such efforts to align modern day conservatism with the celebrated civil rights leader are hardly uncommon. As King transformed from a radical, egalitarian, and social democrat in life to a national saint in death, it is understandable that many political movements want to claim his mantle.

But the truth about King — and about the very nature of the human conscience — differs greatly from the message Severino and Hartzler tried to convey at Thursday’s event.

Contrary to Severino and Hartzler’s implication, the fight for civil rights was not a battle of men and women of conscience on one side and cartoonish villains on the other. Bigots and segregationists also typically viewed themselves as people of conscience. And they frequently justified their evil beliefs with professions of faith.

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents,” wrote Virginia Judge Leon Bazile in a 1959 opinion upholding his state’s ban on interracial marriage. “And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Similar views were echoed by prominent elected officials. “Purity of race is a gift of God,” wrote Mississippi U.S. Sen. Theodore Bilbo in a book entitled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization. “And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed.”

Georgia Gov. Allen Candler defended inferior schools for black students on the grounds that “God made them negroes and we cannot by education make them white folks.” Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett proclaimed that “the good Lord was the original segregationist.” Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia cited passages from Genesis, Leviticus and Matthew to justify his opposition to the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

These men all believed themselves to be men of conscience. And they believed themselves to be men of faith. And now the Trump administration will honor the claims of people who cite similar beliefs to justify anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
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Swallowed by the Sea
« Reply #10638 on: January 19, 2018, 04:07:12 PM »

You doubt climate change? Come to this island — but hurry, before it disappears.

KUTUBDIA, Bangladesh — Anyone who doubts climate change should come to this lovely low-lying island, lapped by gentle waves and home to about 100,000 people.

But come quickly, while it’s still here.

“My house was over there,” said Zainal Abedin, a farmer, pointing to the waves about 100 feet from the shore. “At low tide, we can still see signs of our house.”

Already much of Kutubdia has been swallowed by rising seas, leaving countless families with nothing. Nurul Haque, a farmer who lost all his land to the ocean, told me that he may have to pull his daughter, Munni Akter, 13, out of eighth grade and marry her off to an older man looking for a second or third wife, because he has few financial options left to support her.

“I don’t really want to marry her off, because it’s not good for girls,” he said glumly. “But I’m considering it.” He insisted that if it weren’t for the rising waters and his resulting impoverishment, he wouldn’t think of finding a husband for her.

Nurul Haque, a farmer whose land was consumed by the ocean, is considering marrying off his 13-year-old daughter, Munni Akter, because he’s running out of ways to support her.

One of the paradoxes of climate change is that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people — who contribute almost nothing to warming the planet — end up being most harmed by it.

Bangladesh is expected to be particularly badly hit by rising oceans because much of the country is only a few feet above sea level.

“Climate change is destroying children’s futures,” noted Justin Forsyth, the deputy executive director of Unicef. “In Bangladesh, tens of millions of children and families are at risk of losing their homes, their land and their livelihoods from rising sea levels, flooding and increased cyclone intensity.”

Forsyth said the average Bangladeshi produces just one-tenth of the global average in annual per-capita carbon emissions. In contrast, the United States accounts for more than one-quarter of cumulative carbon emissions since 1850, more than twice as much as any other country.

If Munni is pulled out of school and married off, she’ll have plenty of company. Unicef data suggest that 22 percent of girls in Bangladesh marry by the age of 15, one of the highest rates in the world.

“Climate changes appear to be increasing the numbers of girls who are forced to marry,” a three-year academic study in Bangladesh concluded.

On the mainland, gravel is carried to cement mixers, to be used in concrete blocks that will be placed along the coast to hold back the rising sea.

A year ago in Madagascar I met a family ready to marry off a 10-year-old girl, Fombasoa, because of a drought linked to climate change. And there are increasing reports that poverty linked to climate change is leading to child marriage in Malawi, Mozambique and other countries.

In Kutubdia, climate change is not the only issue. The seas are rising, but in addition, Kutubdia itself seems to be sinking.

The upshot is that the island’s shoreline has retreated by about a kilometer since the 1960s, farmers say. Even when land is mostly dry, occasional high tides or storm surges bring in saltwater that poisons the rice paddies. Thousands of climate refugees have already fled Kutubdia and formed their own neighborhood in the mainland Bangladeshi city of Cox’s Bazaar.

A similar injustice is apparent in many poor countries. “Climate change contributes to conflict,” noted Neal Keny-Guyer, the C.E.O. of Mercy Corps, the aid group. He observed that a drier climate is widely believed to have caused agricultural failures, tensions and migrations that played a role in the Syrian civil war, the Darfur genocide and the civil war in northeastern Nigeria.

Mokbul Ahmed, standing on a Kutubdia beach fortified by concrete blocks, points to where he had lived and farmed.

Aside from reducing carbon emissions, Keny-Guyer said, Western countries can do much more to build resilience in poor countries. That can include supporting drought-resistant or saltwater-resistant crops, and offering microinsurance to farmers and herdsmen so that a drought does not devastate them. Mercy Corps is now developing such microinsurance.

The evidence of climate change is increasingly sobering, with the last four years also the hottest four years on record since modern record-keeping began in the 1880s.

We’re also coming to understand that climate change may wreak havoc, changing ocean currents, killing coral reefs and nurturing feedback loops that accelerate the warming. It turns out that 99 percent of green sea turtles hatched in the northern Great Barrier Reef are now female because their sex is determined by temperature.

Most of the villagers I spoke to both in Madagascar and in Bangladesh had never heard of President Trump. But the outlook for their descendants may depend on the actions he takes — and his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord is an unhelpful surrender of American leadership.

Americans were recently horrified by a viral video of a starving polar bear, whose condition may or may not be linked to climate change. Let’s hope we can be just as indignant about the impact of climate change on children like Munni.

Structures were recently added along the island’s coastline in an attempt to prevent the further encroachment of the ocean.

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Humans Are Killing The Very Animals That Help Them
« Reply #10639 on: January 19, 2018, 04:12:14 PM »
Humans have strained relationships with a lot of animals and that can have many negative consequences — even when it comes to animals that seemingly only hurt humans.

A new paper in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution investigates the role predator and scavenger species play in the human world. The roles are complicated, with lots of give and take. For example, while cougars may attack livestock and cause economic losses, they also prey upon deer and thus could reduce the number of vehicle crashes that involve deer, potentially saving human lives. Scavengers like vultures offer waste disposal services when they feed on the dead bodies of other animals.

“Many native carnivores that live in and around human habitation are declining at an unprecedented rate — spelling bad news for humans who indirectly rely on them for a variety of beneficial services,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement.

The society worked with the University of Queensland on the research.

In addition to the work of cougars and vultures, there are bats — animals that many people fear. Bats stop insects from destroying certain crops, according to the review, which has benefits for farmers.

Scavengers and predators might seem like a nuisance or a threat to humans, but they also help people.

“Predators and scavengers are frequently persecuted for their negative effects on property, livestock and human life,” the study notes. “Identifying, evaluating and communicating the benefits provided by species that are often considered problem animals is an important step for establishing tolerance in these shared spaces.”

In some places where humans perceive predators or scavengers to be a threat — to themselves, livestock or crops — they might kill the animals. But if those animals were to suffer large population losses or even extinction, it might affect the ecosystem in unforeseen ways.

“There is a lot about of research highlighting the negative impacts of predators and scavengers, and we are only just now beginning to understand the potentially irreplaceable services that these animals can provide human societies,” paper co-author James Watson said in the WCS statement. “We must understand that if we lose these animals, humanity loses. The more we understand the benefits these species provide, the better we can identify those situations that lead to win-wins for both species and societies, an outcome that could enhance the protection of one Earth’s imperiled species.”
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Fracking Lobbyists Plan to Spend Big at Trump Hotel
« Reply #10640 on: January 19, 2018, 04:15:30 PM »
Fracking firms have had much to celebrate over the last year, as the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have moved swiftly to approve pipeline projects, roll back environmental regulations, and expand drilling access on public lands.

It may come as no surprise, then, that the fracking lobby is the latest industry to return the favor by spending thousands of dollars at a Trump family property.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America will hold its 2018 “Congressional Call-Up” lobbying event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. from March 5 to 7. The agenda, which is publicly available, includes a meeting with officials in Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as meetings for conference attendees that will take place at the hotel.

The IPAA Call-Up is an annual oil and gas industry lobbying event principally focused on influencing federal officials. As is typical with these types of events, the lobbyists will spend an entire day in meetings on Capitol Hill, starting with a policy breakfast with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and a congressional reception later that day.

The lobbyists’ meeting at the EPA will take place on the morning of March 7. No details have yet been provided on who from the EPA will attend the meeting. The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

The association represents Anadarko, Marathon Oil, Devon Energy, Noble Energy, Pioneer Natural Resources, and PDC Energy, among others.

As of mid-January, booking a hotel room for the days of the event through the IPAA’s website comes with a price tag of $315 per night, almost half the cost of booking a room without the IPAA’s group code. The association will also be using meeting rooms at the hotel during the three-day event. The IPAA did not respond to a request for comment.

IPAA’s convention schedule 2018.

The IPAA has long lobbied aggressively to approve the Dakota Access pipeline, the infrastructure project designed to lower the costs associated with fracking the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota. In February 2017, following months of protests by environmental activists, the Trump administration moved to greenlight the pipeline. In its first six months of operation, the pipeline experienced five spills.

The association was a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s Methane and Waste Prevention rule, a regulation to discourage methane waste, a significant greenhouse gas, at fracking sites. Here, again, the Trump administration has sided with industry to suspend the rule, though environmentalists have challenged the decision in court.

The IPAA has also cheered a series of decisions by the Trump administration to open up public lands to expanded drilling.

IPAA public disclosures reveal lobbying on more than two dozen other congressional and agency decisions that could boost the bottom line of frackers, from decisions over oil and gas royalties to an effort to expedite liquified natural gas terminals. Some of the measures, including H.J.Res.41, a congressional resolution to repeal an Obama-era rule from requiring fossil fuel firms to reveal payments to foreign governments, sailed through both chambers and were signed into law.

The Trump International Hotel, which opened in September 2016, is reportedly among the most expensive venues in Washington, D.C. Still, the Trump family property has become a frequent convening point for many industry groups in the year since Donald Trump took office.

As The Intercept previously reported, coal executives and mining lobbyists with the National Mining Association, a group that has particular influence over Trump administration officials, chose the hotel for a lavish convention last October. After our story, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke dropped from the agenda — although other cabinet secretaries still attended the event.

Watchdog groups raised concerns about conflicts of interest after Zinke spoke at an American Petroleum Institute board meeting at the Trump hotel on March 23, 2017. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a good-government group, filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department seeking information about that meeting. (The lawsuit was settled in November.)

The American Legislative Exchange Council, an industry-backed group that promotes industry-friendly “model” legislation, plans to hold its 45th anniversary fundraising gala at the Trump International Hotel on September 26, 2018. ALEC is seeking corporate sponsorships of up to $100,000 for the event.

Lobbyists for foreign governments and others seeking to shape administration policy have spent thousands of dollars to book rooms, parties, and special events at the D.C. hotel, according to a new report from Public Citizens. The group found that officials from the governments of Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Kuwait have used Trump-owned hotels since his election victory.

Critics with concerns about the president’s potential conflicts of interest are increasingly scrutinizing events at the hotel, since Trump and his family personally maintain ownership of the property.
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Disabled teen tortured in horrific 2.5 hour attack
« Reply #10641 on: January 20, 2018, 04:09:59 AM »
 Horrific footage has emerged of the moment a disabled teenage girl was tortured during a brutal attack by three girls.

Attackers lured the 17-year-old disabled girl to a picnic spot in Victoria on Monday morning before they smashed her head into a table and tortured her.

During the 2.5 hour attack, the intellectually disabled victim was forced to inhale glass from her smashed iPhone and had her hands burnt on a hot barbecue before her head was repeatedly slammed into a table.

Detective Senior Sergeant Michael told Channel 10 the "footage is pretty graphic" and that "a lot of senior police officers here say it's one of the worst assaults they've seen in some 30 or so years here".

This is the horrific moment a disabled girl has her head smashed into a table during a brutal bashing at the hands of three teenage girls.

 The victim's mother told Channel 10 her daughter was left traumatised and unrecognisable from the attack.

"It's just incomprehensible that anyone would do that, it's not even animalistic, animals don't even do that kind of stuff.

"The amount of times they pummeled her head into that picnic table is disgusting. Her face is so black and blue she is unrecognisable... she can't get her glasses on because her cheekbones are so swollen up."

The victim suffered serious facial injuries and was taken to hospital after the attack.

 According to Ten Eyewitness News, the entire attack was filmed on one of the attacker's phones before being posted and shared on Facebook.

The alleged attackers were three teenage girls, two 15-year-olds and one 12-year-old.

The girls have since been charged with assault and robbery.

The 12-year-old was released on bail, but the two 15-year-old girls were not, Ten News reported.

The victim is now recovering at home.
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Woman Accused of Using Spyware to Track Boyfriend and Have Him Killed
« Reply #10642 on: January 20, 2018, 04:12:59 AM »

The US Department of Justice has arrested and charged a 37-year-old California woman with hiring a hitman to murder her 55-year-old boyfriend.

According to a criminal complaint obtained by Bleeping Computer, the events transpired in early December 2017.
Suspect wanted to cash in boyfriend's life insurance policy

The accused is named Rasheeda Johnson Turner of Bellflower, California, who at the time was in a relationship with a man identified in court documents only as L.G. and of age 55.

Turner and her child were the primary beneficiaries of a life insurance policy of $150,000 that L.G. took out in his name.

FBI agents who led the investigation claim Turner tried to have L.G. killed on suspicion he was getting close to another woman, and fearing L.G. might take her off the life insurance policy and cut off access to his bank accounts.
Turner unknowingly contacted an FBI informant

According to court documents, Turner allegedly tried to hire a first person to kill her boyfriend, but that individual declined. She later appealed to a second person, which unbeknown to her was an FBI informant, who informed his handler of the request.

During conversations and meetings with the FBI information, Turner admitted that she initially wanted to kill her boyfriend herself.

"I was gonna off blood, myself, but it's hard because I got a kid," she allegedly said. Turner told the informant that she procured pure acid from a plumber and planned to draw the victim into a room but abandoned her plans, fearing her kid would interrupt.
Turner allegedly used spyware to keep track of boyfriend

She also revealed that she installed a tracking app on her boyfriend's phone and was using it to track his location. She told the informant that her boyfriend was often sleeping in his car in the city of Compton, California.

The criminal complaint quotes Turner as saying the tracking app "tell me everywhere he at, when he moving and everything. It gonna tell me his home, [...] his movement." Turner then proceeded to show the informant a history of the victim's movements.

"I can get him at a location," Turner is quoted in the criminal complaint. "I can tell you when he over there. I can hit you from my other number."

"I just want him dead and his phone gone because, you know, we be texting back and forth," she supposedly told the informant.
Turner promised $50,000 for the murder

In meetings with the informant, Turner promised to give him $50,000 of the life insurance she was about to collect. She allegedly showed an image of the life insurance on her phone to the informant and paid a $500 advance for his murder-for-hire service.

On December 5, Turner allegedly called the informant and told him "the kids needed to be picked up early," which the informant interpreted as code for the need to expedite L.G.'s murder.

On December 7, she called again and allegedly told the informant "that fly needs to be swatted," referring to the need to have the victim killed soon.

The informant met with Turner the second day, wearing audio and video recording equipment, evidence which the FBI plans to show in court.

During that meeting, Turner arranged the final details of the crime. She provided the informant with a photo of L.G., prepared a plan to share the victim's location with the informant, and instructed the informant to text her the code "Operation Dumbo" once the deed was done. Turner planned to remove the tracking app from her smartphone once L.G. was dead.
Turner bragged about infallible plan

She also bragged to the informant about not fearing getting caught because she learned how to evade law enforcement by watching television shows.

"You gotta beat them at they own game," she allegedly said, "I watch all that killer shows, so it tells you how to get away with shit. It tells you what to do."

Turner was arrested on December 13, when the informant called her to ask for the victim's location to commit the crime. After providing an accurate location of the victim, FBI agents notified L.G. of the attack on his life and arrested Turner. She was arraigned in court on January 4, 2018.

If found guilty, Turner faces up to ten years in prison on the murder-for-hire charges. Turner was also arrested in 2016 on battery charges against L.G..
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Bellandur Lake goes up in flames yet again
« Reply #10643 on: January 20, 2018, 04:18:20 AM »

The fire was first sighted at around 12 noon towards the MEG side of the lake in Chellaghatta near T-Nagar.

Bellandur lake, whose restoration the National Green Tribunal is sternly monitoring, erupted in flames again on Friday.

The fire raged all day, keeping firemen busy well into the night. This is the fourth major fire at the lake. The last, in 2017, had broken out near the Bellandur bridge.

The lake is notorious for its toxic froth and fire eruptions. Its conditions had prompted the National Green Tribunal to take up a suo motu case against the government in 2016.

On Friday, officials claimed someone had set fire to the dry grass around the lake.

"It all started on the Yemalur side, near the defence land. Since the wind is strong, the blaze spread quickly," a fireman said.

Police and emergency services took the help of around 5,000 personnel from the adjoining ASC Centre and College to combat the fire. Twelve fire tenders were pressed into service.

"We were unable to get into the water to fight the fire, but managed to bring things under control by 9.45 pm. We are working with defence personnel to ensure the fire does not spread to residential areas," an official said.

As we go to the press at 10 pm, firefighters were still struggling to douse the flames in areas around Iblur, Challaghatta, Ejipura and Sun City. The fire was partially under
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Twitter to tell 677,775 people they interacted with Kremlin-linked trolls
« Reply #10644 on: January 20, 2018, 04:22:30 AM »
Twitter will inform nearly 700,000 people in the U.S. that they either followed a Kremlin-linked troll account, or retweeted or liked a tweet sent by one of the accounts, the social media company said Friday.

 The company last year identified thousands of Twitter accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency, a Russian government-linked troll army in St. Petersburg that worked to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and to promote chaos and division in American society more generally.

"Consistent with our commitment to transparency, we are emailing notifications to 677,775 people in the United States who followed one of these accounts or retweeted or liked a Tweet from these accounts during the election period," Twitter said in a blog post announcing the move.

Twitter initially said it had found 200 accounts linked to the group. Then it told Congress last fall that it had identified 2,752 accounts linked to the group. On Friday, Twitter said it had since identified an additional 1,062 accounts, bringing the total to 3,814. The accounts together sent more than 175,000 tweets, the company said.

 Twitter said it will hand over the details of the additional accounts to Congress.

The company also said it had also found more than 50,000 Russian-linked automated accounts that tweeted about the presidential election. Networks of automated accounts are often run from the same computer and sometimes post the same link, talking point or hashtag en-masse in an attempt to make it trend on the platform.

Among those getting emails will likely be some current and former members of the Trump administration, as well as a member of the Trump family.

White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway retweeted one of the IRA-linked accounts, @TEN_GOP, which was designed to look like it was run by the Tennessee Republican Party, just days before the 2016 election.

Donald Trump Jr. also followed the @TEN_GOP account, CNN found.

And former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn, his son Michael Flynn Jr. and former deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka all followed a separate IRA-linked account, a CNN analysis last year found. That account, which used the pseudonym "Jenna Abrams," developed a persona of a conservative American woman, and amassed a following of more than 70,000.

 A copy of the email sent to one Twitter user after the blog post was published Friday obtained by CNN showed that Twitter informed the user they had interacted with one of the IRA-linked accounts, but did not say which account it was.

In December, Facebook launched a tool in its help section that allows users to see if they followed any Facebook or Instagram accounts run by the Internet Research Agency. Unlike Twitter, Facebook has not announced plans to inform users directly.

Both companies appeared to time these announcements for moments when they would get less attention than they might otherwise. Facebook made its announcement the Friday before Christmas; Twitter published its blog post on a Friday when the news media was focused on a possible government shutdown.

Twitter also said on Friday it was investing in technology to help "detect and mitigate the effect on users of fake, coordinated, and automated account activity."

Its efforts on that front have included some missteps. The fake "Jenna Abrams" persona that was followed by the Flynns and Gorka has twice since re-emerged on the platform using the same name. On both occasions Twitter did not take action against the new accounts until CNN reported their existence.
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Russian networks pushing conservative meme, researchers say
« Reply #10645 on: January 20, 2018, 04:24:46 AM »
WASHINGTON (AP) — Twitter accounts linked to Russian influence operations are pushing a conservative meme related to the investigation of Russian election interference, researchers say.

The purported Russian activity involves the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo, a reference to a secret congressional report about President Donald Trump’s allegations that he was wiretapped by the Obama administration. A group that tracks Russian-linked social media influence campaigns says the volume of Russian-related #ReleaseTheMemo traffic represents the most coordinated such effort since their website launched in early August.

“I’ve never seen any single hashtag that has had this amount of activity behind it,” said Bret Schafer, an analyst who helps runs the Hamilton 68 dashboard , a project with the Alliance for Securing Democracy at the German Marshall Fund. It tracks about 600 accounts that it says are tied to Russian-sponsored influence and disinformation campaigns; most of those accounts were promoting the same meme Friday.


The underlying #ReleaseTheMemo drama started Thursday after Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, revealed a brief report produced by Republican staff dealing with Trump’s wiretapping allegations. The report stems from a lengthy investigation House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes conducted into the alleged surveillance of Trump transition aides and the revealing of names — or “unmasking” — of Trump aides in classified reports.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted on party lines — over Democratic member objections — early Thursday to make the brief, 3-page report available to members of Congress. But the same Republican members have said they cannot say what exactly the report shows because it is classified — and revealing classified information is a federal crime.

Committee officials who reviewed the documents said that they revolve around a dossier on Trump produced by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, and questions over whether it was used to obtain surveillance warrants. The report also relies on classified intelligence that is only available to a select group of lawmakers known as the “Gang of Eight” — a sign that some of the information is highly sensitive.

Throughout the day Thursday and Friday, lawmakers walked in and out of a classified room in the Capitol to review the report — but never leaving with a copy because of the sensitive contents.


As with previous spikes of coordinated activity tracked by the Hamilton 68 group — such as one surrounding the national anthem protest controversy at NFL games — it’s hard to trace back to how it started, and how much the Russian-linked network might simply be mimicking a U.S. trend.

“My guess is this started organically,” Schafer said. The website WikiLeaks was an early big promoter of #ReleaseTheMemo, and it received attention Thursday night from conservative personalities including the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., and Republican U.S. Rep. Steve King. It’s possible that the Russian-affiliated accounts simple “hopped on it, promoted it, amplified it,” Schafer said.

On Friday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange blasted Hamilton 68 — where else? — on Twitter, calling its work “propaganda” and its methodology “unfalsifiable” and “appalling.”


Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat, said Friday that lawmakers had to sign a waiver produced by the House Intelligence Committee that barred them from obtaining copies of the report, taking notes about the report or discussing anything they read in the report. Krishnamoorthi said he did not know what the penalty was if anyone violated that waiver.

House Russia investigation chairman Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican, said the intelligence committee could make this report available to the public directly. If the committee votes to “override” the classification of the material in the report, it would then move to the president, who would have five days to decide whether the classified material poses a national security risk. The full House could vote to override the president if he opted to keep the material secret.

Conaway said late Friday that he would like to make this report public, but declined to say if the intelligence committee would exercise its classification override powers.


Meanwhile, Twitter said in a blog post Friday that it would email nearly 678,000 people in the U.S. to notify them they had followed accounts linked to Russian propagandists or had retweeted or liked a tweet sent out by them around the 2016 election.

It also said it had found 1,062 new accounts associated with the Russian troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency. That brings the total to 3,814; Twitter has suspended those accounts.

Twitter also identified another 13,500 automated accounts — for a total of 50,258 — that were linked to Russia and tweeting out election-related material. “Any such activity represents a challenge to democratic societies everywhere, and we’re committed to continuing to work on this important issue,” the company said.

Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Virginia who’s harshly criticized Twitter’s lackluster investigation into Russian meddling, tweeted Friday that he was “encouraged to see the company beginning to take responsibility” in dealing with the issue.,-researchers-say
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Mattis: Defence plan focus on Russia, China, not terror
« Reply #10646 on: January 20, 2018, 04:29:07 AM »

Mattis said the US is facing growing threats from 'revisionist powers' such as Russia and China

US Defence Secretary James Mattis has said that "great power competition, not terrorism" will now be the main focus of national security policy.

Mattis, unveiling America's first new defence strategy in a decade on Friday, said the US is facing growing threats from countries such as Russia and China, calling them "revisionist powers" that "seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models".

"Today, America's military reclaims an era of strategic purpose and we're alert to the realities of a changing world and attentive to the need to protect our values and the countries that stand with us," he said at the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington.

"Adapting to today's realities, this strategy expands our competitive space, prioritises preparedness for war, provides clear direction for significant change at the speed of relevance, and builds a more lethal force to compete strategically."

China was quick to respond to Mattis' comments, with a spokesperson for the country's embassy in the US saying Beijing is seeking "global partnership, not global dominance" in a statement on Saturday.

"China and the United States shoulder important responsibilities and have extensive common interests in upholding world peace and stability and promoting global development and prosperity," the statement said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, called the new defence strategy confrontational.

"It is regrettable that instead of having a normal dialogue, instead of using the basis of international law, the US is striving to prove their leadership through such confrontational strategies and concepts," he told reporters at the UN headquarters, in New York, on Friday.

Mattis, however, said that the US has lost its "competitive edge … in every domain of warfare" and now has an "overstretched and under-resourced military" created by ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, technological change and defence spending caps imposed by Congress.

"We need Congress back in the driver's seat of budget decisions, not in the spectator seat of Budget Control Acts' indiscriminate and automatic cuts. We need a budget and we need budget predictability if we're to sustain our military's primacy," he said.

US President Donald Trump has pledged to increase the US' defence spending by $54bn as part of his administration's 2018 budget.

However, the federal government shut down on Saturday after members of Congress failed to reach an agreement on the government's spending plans.

Trump said in a post on Twitter that the situation was "not looking good" for the US military as a result of the impasse.

"Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border. Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy," he said.

 Donald J. Trump


Not looking good for our great Military or Safety & Security on the very dangerous Southern Border. Dems want a Shutdown in order to help diminish the great success of the Tax Cuts, and what they are doing for our booming economy.
8:28 PM - Jan 19, 2018

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What happens when the US government shuts down?
« Reply #10647 on: January 20, 2018, 04:32:27 AM »
The United States federal government began partial shutdown at midnight Friday after Senate Democrats voted to block a bill over immigration and spending.

A measure to fund the government until the middle of February was passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday. But the Republican-led Senate was unable to sway enough Democrats to vote for the bill that would have kept agencies open.

The shutdown comes after the collapse of bipartisan talks on a US spending bill that hinged on continued protections under the DACA programme for undocumented immigrants, which Democrats support.

It would deliver a "direct and indirect impact" on the US economy, Beth Ann Bovino, a senior economist at financial ratings agency Standard and Poor's (S&P), told Al Jazeera.

The last shutdown was in 2013 and lasted 16 days.
What's the direct impact?

The direct impact, Bovino explained, would be an immediate loss of productivity from about 700,000 government employees deemed "nonessential".

These workers will be "furloughed", meaning they will be put on leave until the government resumes functioning.

While there is no guarantee government workers will be paid for this leave, historically they have been paid retroactively in the case of a shutdown.

Even if they are paid, the US government will experience "lost productivity" from almost a million people, Bovino said.

The time spent not working on ongoing initiatives will "never come back", the economist continued.
How will people be affected?

National parks, museums and monuments are expected to shut down, as will the processing of passports and visas if the shutdown continues beyond a few days.

This will impact tourism. National parks in the west and the Smithsonian Institute museums in the east will not open to the public.

Another indirect loss will be to contractors - government employees are not the only ones waiting for a paycheck from Uncle Sam.

Over $43bn has been awarded in contracts for the fiscal year 2018, according to government figures.

None of this money will be paid as long as the shutdown continues. That will remove a fair amount of money from the pockets of private citizens throughout the country.

Retail sales would drop.

"It's not quite the height of the holiday season, so that suggests the impact would be less severe. However, when we look at holiday sales, they continue into January," Bovino said.
Which government services would continue?

Those related to national security and domestic safety, including the military, law enforcement and air traffic control.

Certain entitlements, such as hospitals for veterans administered by the government and food stamps for families in need, would be unaffected.

Federal courts, where the Trump administration is currently battling an order to undo his decision to end the DACA programme, will continue but are subject to disruption.
How long will it last?

In the case of the 16-day 2013 shutdown, Republicans and Democrats were at odds over funding then-President Obama's landmark healthcare law, known as Obamacare, and the US "debt ceiling," which allows the US Treasury to continue borrowing to pay debts.

There was a 27-day shutdown from December 1995 to January 1996, resulting from a clash between Republicans and Democrats over funding a health insurance programme for the elderly. That came a month after a November shutdown that lasted four days.

Before these examples, shutdowns were rare.

The US government typically only experienced funding gaps over the weekend, not impacting the economy in any major way, according to data from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a think-tank in Washington, DC.
How much will it hurt the US economy?

The 2013 shutdown cost the US economy $24bn, according to estimates from S&P. While costly, GDP was over $16 trillion that year.

The firm estimates a shutdown would cost the US economy about $6bn per week in 2018.

Any losses this early in the year could be regained later, Bovino said.
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Civilian deaths in 2017 US-led anti-ISIL push 'triple'
« Reply #10648 on: January 20, 2018, 04:35:14 AM »

Airwars said civilian death toll from coalition air raids in 2017 was up 200 percent as compared with 2016

he number of civilian deaths caused by a US-led coalition fighting ISIL in Syria and Iraq surged by 200 percent in 2017 compared with the year before, a monitor has said.

US and allied strikes killed between 3,923 and 6,102 non-combatants in both countries last year, Airwars, a UK-based group tracking allegations of civilian casualties said on Thursday, calling the 2017 campaign the "deadliest year yet for ordinary Syrians and Iraqis".

The group said its estimates were based on publicly available data.

The sharp rise last year was because of intense fighting in densely populated urban areas, as Iraqi troops and Syrian Kurdish-dominated forces, both backed by the US-led coalition, fought respectively to remove the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group from Iraq's Mosul and Syria's Raqqa.

The administration of US President Donald Trump, in power since January 20, 2017, was also partly to blame, Airwars said.

"This unprecedented death toll coincided with the start of the Trump presidency, and suggested in part that policies aimed at protecting civilians had been scaled back under the new administration," the monitor said.

In Syria, the toll for civilians killed in coalition air raids quadrupled compared with 2016, with between 2,786 and 4,374 deaths likely killed in 2017, the group said.

In Iraq, deaths were up by 87 percent, with at least 1,128 non-combatants dying in more than 100 air attacks, it added.

While US officials call the campaign "the most precise in history", according to Airwars, "the urban battlefields laid waste by bombs, artillery and improvised explosives told another story".

Coalition forces carried out some 11,573 air and artillery attacks in 2017 and dropped a total of 39,577 bombs and missiles against ISIL.

More than 70 percent of those raids were in Syria, largely because of the campaign to capture Raqqa.

By the time the city was seized from ISIL, more than 1,450 civilians were killed, Airwars said, and 80 percent of the city was left uninhabitable.

Kinda Haddad, the head of Airwars' Syria team, said the coalition repeated Russian and Syrian government "tactics of 'siege, bomb and evacuate' in order to achieve the stated aims of defeating" ISIL.

Coalition raids, in the nine-month battle for Mosul, which began in October 2016, claimed between 1,066 and 1,579 lives, Airwars said.

That was "the biggest urban assault since World War Two", it said, and left the city reduced to rubble.

An Airwars researcher said that by the end of the campaign in June, "it sometimes seemed that the coalition were attacking everything in order to eradicate ISIS from the city".

The coalition said only 93 of its raids caused deaths and injuries, but Airwars said it had identified 673 other such incidents.

In addition to the deaths, some 2,433 civilians were wounded in the attacks.

The group said coalition-linked civilian casualties in 2017 "far" outnumbered those attributed to Russia.

However, it said it had to suspend its assessments of Russia from March last year because of the "massive rise" in coalition actions and limited resources.
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 Imagine taking a big swig from a can of Coca-Cola only to find you had swallowed a worm. That’s exactly what happened to a 12-year-old Italian girl who had to be taken to hospital after the revolting incident.

The youngster from the town of Andria in southern Italy noticed the worm in her mouth as she took a gulp from the coke can, Italian news agency Ansa reports.

She was taken to hospital where doctors monitored her condition and carried out a number of tests. Thankfully the investigations found no sign of any harm.

“According to a first macroscopic examination of the worm there are no elements that cause concern but we will send the sample to the zooprophylactic institute of Foggia for in-depth analysis by experts,” hospital spokesman Stefano Porziotta said.

“The girl isn’t suffering from vomiting or diarrhea or other alarming symptoms; she will remain in hospital for a few hours”.

Police officers and inspectors from the Food and Nutrition Hygiene service are also carrying out inspections on the can.

 RT‏Verified account @RT_com

'Squid-like' creature found inside coconut water carton

This is far from the first time someone has discovered an intruding creature in their beverage. In May last year New York woman Barbara Cline fell ill after swallowing “some kind of animal” in a carton of Vita Coca Pure Coconut Water.  Moreover, as any student of the Law of Torts will tell you, a snail in a bottle of ginger beer has the power to rewrite legal history, as happened in the case of Donoghue v Stevenson.
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