5.6-Million-Year-Old Hominin-Like Footprints Discovered in Crete

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SCIENCE NEWS)

 

5.6-Million-Year-Old Hominin-Like Footprints in Crete Challenge Theories of Human Evolution

Researchers have found late Miocene footprints — which show hominin-like characteristics — near the village of Trachilos, west of Kissamos, in the Chania Prefecture of Crete, Greece. The footprints, described in a 31 August study in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, may put the established narrative of early human evolution to the test.

The Trachilos footprints were discovered by Dr. Gerard Gierlinski, a paleontologist at the Polish Geological Institute, by chance when he was on holiday on Crete in 2002. Dr. Gierlinski identified the footprints as those of a mammal. In 2010, he returned to the site together with Dr. Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki, a Polish paleontologist at Uppsala University, to study the footprints in detail. Together they came to the conclusion that the footprints were made by hominins. Image credit: Andrzej Boczarowski.

The Trachilos footprints were discovered by Dr. Gerard Gierlinski, a paleontologist at the Polish Geological Institute, by chance when he was on holiday on Crete in 2002. Dr. Gierlinski identified the footprints as those of a mammal. In 2010, he returned to the site together with Dr. Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki, a Polish paleontologist at Uppsala University, to study the footprints in detail. Together they came to the conclusion that the footprints were made by hominins. Image credit: Andrzej Boczarowski.

Ever since the discovery of Australopithecus in South and East Africa in the 1920s-90s, the origin of the human lineage has been thought to lie in Africa.

More recent discoveries in the same region, including the 3.75-million-year-old Laetoli footprints from Tanzania, have cemented the idea that hominins not only originated in Africa, but remained isolated there for several million years before dispersing to Europe and Asia.

The discovery of the Trachilos footprints, which are at least 5.6 million years old and thus approximately 2 million years older than the hominin trackways from Laetoli, suggests a more complex reality.

“Human feet have a very distinctive shape, different from all other land animals,” the study authors explained.

“The combination of a long sole, five short forward-pointing toes without claws, and a hallux (‘big toe’) that is larger than the other toes, is unique.”

“The feet of our closest relatives, the great apes, look more like a human hand with a thumb-like hallux that sticks out to the side.”

“The Laetoli footprints, thought to have been made by Australopithecus, are quite similar to those of modern humans except that the heel is narrower and the sole lacks a proper arch. By contrast, the 4.4-million-year-old Ardipithecus ramidus from Ethiopia, the oldest hominin known from reasonably complete fossils, has an ape-like foot.”

“Paleoanthropologists who described Ardipithecus argued that it is a direct ancestor of later hominins, implying that a human-like foot had not yet evolved at that time.”

Photograph of two prints possibly representing a static stance of one individual. Image credit: Gierlinski et al, doi: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.07.006.

Photograph of two prints possibly representing a static stance of one individual. Image credit: Gierlinski et al, doi: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.07.006.

The Trachilos footprints have an unmistakably human-like form. This is especially true of the toes. The big toe is similar to our own in shape, size and position; it is also associated with a distinct ‘ball’ on the sole, which is never present in apes.

The sole of the foot is proportionately shorter than in the Laetoli footprints, but it has the same general form.

In short, the shape of the Trachilos footprints indicates unambiguously that they belong to an early hominin, somewhat more primitive than the Laetoli trackmaker. They were made on sandy seashore, possibly a small river delta, whereas the Laetoli tracks were made in volcanic ash.

“What makes this controversial is the age and location of the prints,” said senior author Professor Per Erik Ahlberg, of Uppsala University.

“The Trachilos footprints are younger than the oldest known fossil hominin, Sahelanthropus from Chad, and contemporary with Orrorin from Kenya, but more than a million years older than Ardipithecus ramidus with its ape-like feet.”

“This conflicts with the hypothesis that Ardipithecus is a direct ancestor of later hominins.”

“Furthermore, until this year, all fossil hominins older than 1.8 million years (the age of early Homo fossils from Georgia) came from Africa, leading most researchers to conclude that this was where the group evolved,” the researchers said.

“However, the Trachilos footprints are securely dated using a combination of foraminifera from over- and underlying beds, plus the fact that they lie just below a very distinctive sedimentary rock formed when the Mediterranean sea briefly dried out, 5.6 million years ago.”

Earlier this year, another team reinterpreted the fragmentary 7.2 million year old primate Graecopithecus freybergi from Greece and Bulgaria as a hominin.

“During the time when the Trachilos footprints were made, the Sahara Desert did not exist; savannah-like environments extended from North Africa up around the eastern Mediterranean. Furthermore, Crete had not yet detached from the Greek mainland,” the scientists said.

“It is thus not difficult to see how early hominins could have ranged across south-east Europe and well as Africa, and left their footprints on a Mediterranean shore that would one day form part of the island of Crete.”

“This discovery challenges the established narrative of early human evolution head-on and is likely to generate a lot of debate,” Professor Ahlberg said.

“Whether the human origins research community will accept fossil footprints as conclusive evidence of the presence of hominins in the Miocene of Crete remains to be seen.”

_____

Gerard D. Gierliński et al. Possible hominin footprints from the late Miocene (c. 5.7 Ma) of Crete? Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, published online August 31, 2017; doi: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2017.07.006

Trump says ‘appeasement’ will not work after North Korea nuke test

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE PAKISTANI DAWN NEWSPAPER)

 

Japan government registers protest with N. Korean embassy in Bejing, calls test “extremely unforgivable”. — File
Japan government registers protest with N. Korean embassy in Bejing, calls test “extremely unforgivable”. — File

US President Donald Trump declared on Sunday that “appeasement with North Korea” will not work, after Pyongyang claimed it had successfully tested a missile-ready hydrogen bomb.

“North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test,” Trump said. “Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.”

His comments came hours after the US Geological Survey picked up a 6.3 magnitude “explosion” in North Korea, which Pyongyang confirmed was a nuclear test, its sixth.

Earlier, Japan confirmed that North Korea conducted a nuclear test on Sunday, registering a formal protest with Pyongyang after a major explosion at the isolated nation’s main test site.

“The government confirms that North Korea conducted a nuclear test after examining information from the weather agency and other information,” Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono told reporters.

He said the government registered a protest with the North Korean embassy in Beijing prior to the confirmation, calling any test “extremely unforgivable”.

“Today’s nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is an extremely regrettable act,” International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano said in a statement.

“This new test, which follows the two tests last year and is the sixth since 2006, is in complete disregard of the repeated demands of the international community.”

Trump last month threatened North Korea with “fire and fury” if it continued to threaten the United States, but he refrained from direct threats in his latest tweets.

“South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” he said.

Earlier, South Korea’s military had expressed suspicion that North Korea had conducted its sixth nuclear test, after it detected a “strong earthquake.”

The strong tremor was felt hours after Pyongyang claimed that its leader has inspected a hydrogen bomb meant for a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

South Korea’s weather agency and the Joint Chief of Staff said an artificial 5.6 magnitude quake occurred at 12:29 pm local time, in Kilju, northern Hamgyong Province.

The US Geological Survey called the first quake an explosion with a magnitude 6.3.

Shortly after, Yonhap news agency said a second quake was detected with a magnitude 4.6 but South Korea’s weather agency denied another quake occurred.

There was no word from the military in Seoul about the possible second quake.

North Korea conducted its fifth test last year in September. In confirmed, the latest test would mark yet another big step forward in North Korean attempts to obtain a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching deep into the US mainland.

South Korea’s presidential office said it will hold a National Security Council meeting chaired by President Moon Jae-in.

Islamabad condemns Pyongyang’s actions

Pakistan on Sunday condemned the reported nuclear test by North Korea.

A statement issued by the Foreign Office said, “Pakistan has consistently maintained that DPRK should comply with the UN Security Council resolutions and asked all sides to refrain from provocative actions.

Pakistan urges all sides to display utmost restraint and return towards the path of peaceful negotiated settlement of the issue, it added.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year and has since maintained a torrid pace in weapons tests, including flight-testing developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles and flying a powerful mid-range missile over Japan.

Photos released by the North Korean government on Sunday showed Kim talking with his lieutenants as he observed a silver, peanut-shaped device that was apparently the purported thermonuclear weapon destined for an ICBM.

What appeared to be the nose cone of a missile could also be seen near the alleged bomb in one picture, which could not be independently verified and which was taken without outside journalists present. Another photo showed a diagram on the wall behind Kim of a bomb mounted inside a cone.

Aside from the factuality of the North’s claim, the language in its statement seems a strong signal that Pyongyang will soon conduct its sixth nuclear weapon test, which is crucial if North Korean scientists are to fulfil the national goal of an arsenal of viable nuclear ICBMs that can reach the US mainland.

There’s speculation that such a test could come on or around the Sept. 9 anniversary of North Korea’s national founding, something it did last year.

As part of the North’s weapons work, Kim was said by his propaganda mavens to have made a visit to the Nuclear Weapons Institute and inspected a “homemade” H-bomb with “super explosive power” that “is adjustable from tens (of) kiloton to hundreds (of) kiloton.”

North Korea in July conducted its first ever ICBM tests, part of a stunning jump in progress for the country’s nuclear and missile program since Kim rose to power following his father’s death in late 2011.

The North followed its two tests of Hwasong-14 ICBMs, which, when perfected, could target large parts of the United States, by threatening to launch a salvo of its Hwasong-12 intermediate range missiles toward the US Pacific island territory of Guam in August.

It flew a Hwasong-12 over northern Japan last week, the first such overflight by a missile capable of carrying nukes, in a launch Kim described as a “meaningful prelude” to containing Guam, the home of major US military facilities, and more ballistic missile tests targeting the Pacific.

Vipin Narang, an MIT professor specialising in nuclear strategy, said it’s important to note that North Korea was only showing a mock-up of a two-stage thermonuclear device, or H-bomb.

“We won’t know what they have until they test it, and even then there may be a great deal of uncertainty depending on the yield and seismic signature and any isotopes we can detect after a test,” he said.

To back up its claims to nuclear mastery, such tests are vital. The first of its two atomic tests last year involved what Pyongyang claimed was a sophisticated hydrogen bomb; the second it said was its most powerful atomic detonation ever.

It is almost impossible to independently confirm North Korean statements about its highly secret weapons program. South Korean government officials said the estimated explosive yield of last year’s first test was much smaller than what even a failed hydrogen bomb detonation would produce.

There was speculation that North Korea might have detonated a boosted fission bomb, a weapon considered halfway between an atomic bomb and an H-bomb.

It is clear, however, that each new missile and nuclear test gives the North invaluable information that allows big jumps in capability.

A key question is how far North Korea has gotten in efforts to consistently shrink down nuclear warheads so they can fit on long-range missiles.

“Though we cannot verify the claim, (North Korea) wants us to believe that it can launch a thermonuclear strike now, if it is attacked. Importantly, (North Korea) will also want to test this warhead, probably at a larger yield, to demonstrate this capability,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress.

North Korea is thought to have a growing arsenal of nuclear bombs and has spent decades trying to perfect a multistage, long-range missile to eventually carry smaller versions of those bombs.

South Korea’s main spy agency has previously asserted that it does not think Pyongyang currently has the ability to develop miniaturised nuclear weapons that can be mounted on long-range ballistic missiles. Some experts, however, think the North may have mastered this technology.

The White House said that President Donald Trump spoke with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan regarding “ongoing efforts to maximize pressure on North Korea.”

The statement did not say whether the conversation came before or after the North’s latest claim.

A long line of US presidents has failed to check North Korea’s persistent pursuit of missiles and nuclear weapons. Six-nation negotiations on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for aid fell apart in early 2009.

The North said in its statement Sunday that its H-bomb “is a multi-functional thermonuclear nuke with great destructive power which can be detonated even at high altitudes for super-powerful EMP (electromagnetic pulse) attack according to strategic goals.”

Kim, according to the statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, claimed that “all components of the H-bomb were homemade … thus enabling the country to produce powerful nuclear weapons as many as it wants.”

In what could be read as a veiled warning of more nuclear tests, Kim underlined the need for scientists to “dynamically conduct the campaign for successfully concluding the final-stage research and development for perfecting the state nuclear force” and “set forth tasks to be fulfilled in the research into nukes.”

The two Koreas have shared the world’s most heavily fortified border since their war in the early 1950s ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

About 28,500 American troops are deployed in South Korea as deterrence against North Korea.

Trump Family Constant Traveling Has Financially Broke Secret Service: Can’t Pay Agents

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Washington (CNN) The Secret Service cannot pay hundreds of agents to protect President Donald Trump and his large family, according to a report published Monday morning.

Secret Service Director Randolph “Tex” Alles told USA Today more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances — which were meant to last the entire year.
“The president has a large family, and our responsibility is required in law,” Alles told USA Today. “I can’t change that. I have no flexibility.”
Later Monday morning, Alles told CNN in a statement that the problem isn’t just related to the Trump administration and has been going on for many years.
“This issue is not one that can be attributed to the current administration’s protection requirements but, rather, has been an ongoing issue for nearly a decade due to an overall increase in operational tempo,” he said in the statement.
Trump has taken trips almost every weekend of his presidency so far, to his properties in New Jersey, Virginia and Florida, as well as internationally — and his adult children also require protection during their business trips and vacations.
In Trump’s administration, 42 people have protection, which includes 18 members of his family — an increase from the 31 people who had Secret Service protection in Obama’s administration.
In June, CNN reported that the Secret Service was relaxing its drug policy for potential hires, as Alles laid out a plan to swell the agency’s ranks by more than 3,000 employees in the coming years.
“I think between that and the fact that he has a larger family, that’s just more stress on the organization. We recognize that,” Alles said at the time, and added that he had been allocating resources in accordance.
According to the report, Alles has met with congressional lawmakers to discuss planned legislation to increase the combined salary and overtime cap for agents — from $160,000 per year to $187,000. He told USA Today this would be at least for Trump’s first term.
But he added that even if this were approved, about 130 agents still wouldn’t be able to be paid for hundreds of hours already worked.
However, Alles said in a statement to CNN that the agency has the funding for the rest of the fiscal year.
“The Secret Service has the funding it needs to meet all current mission requirements for the remainder of the fiscal year and compensate employees for overtime within statutory pay caps,” he said in the statement. “The Secret Service estimates that roughly 1,100 employees will work overtime hours in excess of statutory pay caps during calendar year 2017. Our agency experienced a similar situation in calendar year 2016 that resulted in legislation that allowed Secret Service employees to exceed statutory caps on pay.”
The statement continued: “To remedy this ongoing and serious problem, the agency has worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security, the administration, and the Congress over the past several months to find a legislative solution.”
The White House said in a statement that Trump “is committed to ensuring the Secret Service and all of those protecting our country have all the resources they need. We are going to continue to work with Congress on this important issue, which requires their actions.”
In April, CNN reported that Trump’s travel to his private club in Florida has cost more than an estimated $20 million in his first 80 days in office, putting the President on pace to surpass former President Barack Obama’s eight years of spending on travel — in only his first year in office.
Before and during the campaign season, Trump regularly criticized Obama for costing the American taxpayer money every time he took a trip, and Trump the candidate repeatedly called for belt-tightening across government agencies.
In 2014, Trump tweeted: “We pay for Obama’s travel so he can fundraise millions so Democrats can run on lies. Then we pay for his golf.”

“Russia Has Never Denied Israels Rights To Jerusalem, The Temple Mount Or The Western Wall”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE JERUSALEM POST)    (THIS IS A RE-POST FROM 11-06-2016 HAS ANYTHING REALLY CHANGED)

Moscow has never denied Israel’s rights to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall, Russian Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev said in advance of his visit to the Jewish state later this week.

“These rights are clear and it would be absurd to deny them,” he told Channel 2 anchorwoman Yonit Levy.

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He spoke warmly of Russia’s ties with Israel, despite Moscow’s votes against the Jewish state at the United Nations and its delivery of the S-300 missiles to Iran.


Benjamin Netanyahu Dimitry Medvedev. (Photo credit: RIA NOVOSTI / REUTERS)

Levy quizzed him about those controversial issues as well as his support for Syrian President Basher Assad and charges that his country had intervened in the US elections.

How does Russia explain its support of the UNESCO vote “to disregard the historic connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem,” Levy asked Medvedev.

The issue had been blown out of proportion, he responded speaking in Russian, with a Hebrew translation by Channel 2.

There have been some ten votes by UNESCO Boards and Committees on such Jerusalem resolutions, Medvedev said.

“There is nothing new here,” he said, as he dismissed the significance of UNESCO texts that refer to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of Al Haram Al Sharif.

“Our country has never denied the rights of Israel or the Jewish people to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount or the Western Wall,” Medvedev said.

“Therefore there is no need to politicize this decision,” Medvedev said, adding that such resolutions, were “not directed against Israel.”

Similarly, he said, there was nothing contradictory in Russia’s sale and shipment of the advanced S-300 advanced surface to air missile defense system to Iran.

Israel had opposed such sales because they significantly upgrade Iran’s ability to defend its nuclear sites against any attacks. It is particularly concerned because it does not believe that the Iran deal, put in place in 2015, will limit Tehran’s capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

Medvedev told Channel 2 that prior to the Iran deal, Russia respected the sanctions against Tehran and refrained from delivering the S-300. Now that the deal is in place and the sanctions were lifted, there was no reason not to complete the sale, he said.

Moving over to Syria, he referred to President Bashar Assad as the country’s only legitimate leader and added that Israel’s leadership preferred his rule to the prospect of a divided country under terrorist leadership.

“I know him (Assad) personally. There are those who love him and those who don’t. At present Assad is the only legitimate authority operating in Syria. Any regime change would have to occur legitimately,” Medvedev said.

“I remember that during my meetings with Israeli leaders, they told me they were not completely for Assad, but that there has to be someone in charge of the situation, rather than an uncontrolled break up of the country into enclaves ruled by terrorists,” Medvedev said.

Middle East terrorism, he said, is threatening his country from within.

“There are thousands of Russians fighting on behalf of ISIS and other Islamic Jihadist groups,” Medvedev said. “When they return they are experienced murders and terrorists. After their time fighting in Syria we don’t want them to organize something similar [within Russia],” he said.

Levy asked how the presence of the Russian air force in Syria impacted Israel’s ability to prevent the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.

Medvedev said that it was operating from the assumption that “all sides would not take steps to aggravate the conflict.”

With regard to the United States, he charged that it had not kept its commitments in Syria and that the relationship between Washington and Moscow was at a very low point.

Medvedev chuckled when Levy asked him if Russia had interfered with the US elections.

He quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he stated that “the United States is not a banana republic.”

The US, he said, was a large and strong country and could not be influenced in that way. “It doesn’t matter who will be elected, but what policy they will execute,” he said.

“Its clear [that either candidate] will act in the best national interest of the US,” Medvedev said.

He called Republican candidate Donald Trump brilliant and said he had never met him. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he said, was professional and known to him from the times he met with her when she was US Secretary of State from 2009-2012.

Russia expects to have a “normal” and “productive” relationship with whichever of the two candidates wins the White House, Medvedev said.

With regard to the Russian initiative to hold a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority Presdient Mahmoud Abbas, Medvedev said that Moscow was not looking to replace the United States or anyone else when it comes to the peace process.

On the other hand, he said, there are very discouraging signs with regard to that conflict and there have been no advancements to speak of on the Israeli-Palestinian track over the last few years.

“It’s very sad,” he said.

China Could Have Shut Down Kim Jong Un Long Ago, It Is Obvious They Are Helping Him Instead

 

On Monday Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador to the UN, warned of the risk of escalating tensions on the peninsula

This article is obviously only my personal opinion but it is an opinion that has developed over about 40 years of observations. I know that China has been propping up the North Korean Kim family of dictators now for at least the past 65 years. It is understandable that China would prefer an Ally on the peninsula over having another democracy on the peninsula as the Communist leadership in Beijing is scared of letting the people have freedom in their own country. Beijing is not a friend to anyone anywhere, this Communist Party Leadership is now making the biggest power grab on any Nation in my lifetime and I was born in 1956. The China that we see today claims several other countries to be theirs as well as the seas and the air over them. Folks China’s leadership is no ones friend, they play the long game and that game is total domination. China could have shut down North Korea’s missile program any time they chose to do so, it is obvious that they feel that allowing Kim Jong Un to continue his efforts is in their own best interest. The more the U.S. and the other regional democracy’s are spending their time and efforts toward North Korea the more productive they can be flying under the radar as they try to pretend to be friendly. They are like a pet python that is friendly (or so you think) until it decides to eat you. Just about a week ago the U.S. government put sanctions on a Beijing Bank because it was being used to funnel billions of dollars into North Korea which is against current UN sanctions. I know that personally I would much rather see one person be eliminated in North Korea than to see many thousands die because of that one person.

 

Back in 2003 when President George W Bush decided to illegally invade Iraq for the purpose of finding and killing Saddam and his two adult sons many thousands of people have died because of his egotistical decision. I said then as I say now about this monster in North Korea that it would have been much better to have killed those three monsters instead of blowing up the Iraqi infrastructure and causing so much damage to the citizens lives. I am rather sure that President Trump and his top Generals are and have been looking at how to do preventive strikes on the Leadership of North Korea and their missile program locations. I am sure that Beijing would be furious if we do such a thing yet if this does end up happening Beijing only have themselves to blame for it. There is no doubt (at least to me) that North Korea’s little crazy boy will make his own preventive strikes as soon as he can manage to get his missiles nuclear tipped and we can not allow this animal to do this. It is just my thoughts/opinion that he is getting his technology help from China and/or Russia as their missile technology is advancing very quickly. I believe that the free world must destroy all of North Korea’s missiles and to cut off the head of this python before he starts eating us instead of us waiting until we are halfway down its gullet.

Officials struggle to convince Trump that Russia remains a threat

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(IS TRUMPS HIDING HIS TAX ISSUES BECAUSE HE HIMSELF HAS BEEN THE TRAITOR IN CHIEF WITH PUTIN?)(TRS)

Officials struggle to convince Trump that Russia remains a threat

Story highlights

  • Trump lashes out at Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia
  • Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia

Washington (CNN) As President Donald Trump lashes out at former President Barack Obama for failing to take a harder line against Russia for election meddling, Trump’s own advisers are struggling to convince him that Russia still poses a threat, according to multiple senior administration officials.

“I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did
nothing about it,” Trump told Fox News in an interview that aired Sunday. “To me — in other words — the question is, if he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it.”
But the Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. Multiple senior administration officials said there are few signs the President is devoting his time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.
“I’ve seen no evidence of it,” one senior administration official said when asked whether Trump was convening any meetings on Russian meddling in the election. The official said there is no paper trail — schedules, readouts or briefing documents — to indicate Trump has dedicated time to the issue.
Top intelligence officials have raised alarm about Russia’s cyberattacks, calling them a “major threat” to the US election system. In public hearings on Capitol Hill and classified briefings behind closed doors, intelligence officials have drawn the same conclusions: Russia launched an unprecedented attack on America’s electoral process during the 2016 presidential campaign and — barring a full-throated response from the US — the Russians are almost certain to do so again.
It’s a warning some fear the White House isn’t taking seriously.
In a recent closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill, National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers expressed frustration to lawmakers about his inability to convince the President to accept US intelligence that Russia meddled in the election, according to a congressional source familiar with the meeting.
Another congressional source said Rogers has shared concerns with lawmakers about the lack of White House focus on the continued threat from Russian cyber efforts, particularly relating to US voting systems. In addition, the US intelligence community sees such potential threats not only from Russia but also from China, North Korea and Iran.
One intelligence official said the intelligence community continues to brief Trump on Russia’s meddling in the election as new information comes to light. The source said the President appears no less engaged on issues surrounding Russian election meddling than on any other matters covered in the presidential daily brief. But the official acknowledged that Trump has vented his frustration with officials outside of the briefings about the amount of attention paid to the investigation into Russian election interference.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer insisted Trump is taking Russian cyberattacks seriously and said the administration is taking action — albeit quietly.
“The United States continues to combat on a regular basis malicious cyber activity, and will continue to do so without bragging to the media or defending itself against unfair media criticism,” Spicer said in a statement.
Spicer noted that Trump has upheld the sanctions the Obama administration put in place against Russia, signed a cybersecurity executive order to consolidate responsibility for protecting the government from hackers and created an election commission. That commission has yet to convene in person but met via conference call on Wednesday.
But some in Trump’s own party believe he hasn’t done enough to repudiate Russia’s actions and are pushing him to back a sanctions package Congress is considering.
“We haven’t done anything,” Sen. John McCain said Tuesday. “We passed a bill through the Senate, and it’s hung up in the House. Tell me what we’ve done?”
Asked what he wants the President to do, the Arizona Republican said he should tell the House “to take up the bill we passed through the Senate. Sign it, get it out there.”
The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment for this story. The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.
The President doesn’t differentiate between investigations into Russian election meddling and investigations into potential collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia, according to sources that have spoken to Trump about the issues.
The collusion probe is only one element of a larger landscape. The FBI’s counterintelligence team has been trying to piece together exactly how Russia interfered in the election, in order to learn techniques and adapt for the future. This part is less about collusion and more about Russian cyberattacks against US political organizations and attempted hacks of voters’ personal information.
Former US Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, testifying in front of the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, faulted Obama for failing to take action against Russia more quickly when he was president. But he unleashed his fury at Trump for doing so little to curtail Russian aggression.
“It is his duty, President Trump’s, to be skeptical of Russia. It’s his duty to investigate and defend our country against a cyber offensive because Russia is our most dangerous adversary in the world today,” said Burns, a career foreign service officer who has served under presidents of both parties. “And if he continues to refuse to act it’s a dereliction of the basic duty to defend the country.”
At a Senate hearing last week, Bill Priestap, the assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division and a career civil servant, also highlighted the ongoing threat from Russia, saying, “I believe the Russians will absolutely continue to try to conduct influence operations in the US, which will include cyber intrusions.”
But the President’s muted interest in election interference stands in stark contrast to the collusion investigation, which has consumed his attention. Trump takes questions about Russia personally, sources said, because he sees them as an effort to undermine the legitimacy of his presidency.
“He thinks one equates with the other,” one Republican congressional source said. “He can’t admit anything that may taint his election. He is more hung up on how it affected the election outcome than what Russia did.”
In his statement for this story, Spicer also referenced the election outcome, saying, “The ballot boxes were not hacked and the tallies were unaffected. Numerous authorities have confirmed this.”
Another source close to the President says Trump sees everything regarding Russia as being “organized as a challenge to him.”
Trump aired those frustrations this week on Twitter, writing, “There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!”
In Trump’s mind “he had nothing to do with Russia,” one source said. “He knows in his own mind there is not one single iota of anything that could implicate him.”
One administration official suggested there wasn’t necessarily a need for Trump to convene briefings on election interference — aside from his daily intelligence briefing — because little has changed since Trump was briefed on the matter in January, before his inauguration.
At that point, the 17 intelligence agencies released a declassified report concluding that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 election with the goal of disparaging Hillary Clinton while boosting Trump and undermining the public’s faith in the democratic process.
Since that briefing, there have been major developments on the cyber front. The final days of the French election featured a hack-and-leak attack targeting Emmanuel Macron, now the president of France. And US officials believe Russia hacked Qatari state-run media and planted a fake news story that which helped trigger a diplomatic crisis among critical US allies in the Gulf.

Trump’s skepticism

During the campaign and since taking office, Trump has repeatedly questioned whether Russia was responsible for the election-related cyberattacks. He has blamed the Democratic National Committee, China and “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
Trump has only once stated clearly and in public that Russia was behind the hacks — during a news conference as President-elect on January 11, just days after his briefing from top intelligence officials.
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” Trump said.
On Monday, Spicer said the President stands by his assessment from January. The intelligence community has found no evidence that other countries also meddled in the election, an intelligence official said.
A source familiar with the President’s thinking said he views Russia’s action as something that “everybody has been doing to each other for years. Everybody spies,” the source said. “He believes that intel operations hack each other.”
The result: Trump sees the Russian hacking story as “nothing new.” In fact, the source said, Trump views it as “the establishment intelligence community trying to frame a narrative that is startling to the average viewer, but he regards it as business as usual.”
Intelligence experts disagree. They describe Russia’s actions as far from the usual foreign espionage attempts.
John Hultquist, the director of intelligence analysis at FireEye, a cyber security and threat intelligence company, said Russia broke the rules in the “gentlemen’s game of espionage” by stealing information, leaking it and using it to try to influence voters and undermine the democratic process.
“In every previous incident, we believed they wouldn’t cross the next red line. They’ve shown us they’re willing to do so,” said Hultquist, who has a military background and is an expert in cyberespionage. “If we fail to respond with resolve they learn that they can get away with it.”
The administration’s inaction is raising alarm with experts like Clint Watts, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a counter-terrorism expert who recently testified in front of the Senate intelligence committee about Russia’s efforts in the 2016 election.
“It’s ridiculous that nothing’s been done,” Watts said. “There is no Russia policy. No one knows if they can work on Russia. No one knows what their assignment is with regards to Russia.”
While Trump may have little concern about Russia’s election aggression, other top officials in the administration have been vocal about the threat.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in May that Russian cyberattacks remain a “major threat” to the United States, especially after Russia showcased its aggressive posture by interfering in the 2016 election. But he acknowledged that the US still hasn’t devised a clear strategy to counter the Kremlin.
“Relative to a grand strategy, I am not aware right now of any — I think we’re still assessing the impact,” Coats told the Senate intelligence committee in early May.
Later that month he reiterated his concerns in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“I think we’re learning that we do need to take this seriously — which we do,” Coats said. “And shaping a policy and a plan to address this, I think, rises to a top priority.”
But across the government, administration officials appear to be publicly confirming the concerns NSA Director Rogers expressed privately –Russia’s attacks on American democracy aren’t a top priority for Trump.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump, testified earlier this month that during his nine private conversations with Trump, the President never asked about Russia’s meddling in the election or what was being done to protect the country against future Russian interference.
“I don’t recall a conversation like that,” Comey told the Senate intelligence committee, shortly after his testimony describing a President who seemed much more interested in making sure that the public knew he wasn’t personally under investigation as part of the Russia probe.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified that he had never received a briefing on Russia’s election meddling efforts — even before he officially recused himself from the collusion investigation.

Working around the President

Obama retaliated against Russia’s interference in the election in January with a package of sanctions that included ejecting 35 Russian diplomats from the US, closing two Russian compounds and sanctioning two Russian intelligence services.
While the Trump administration has upheld those measures, it has not taken additional steps.
But lawmakers have tried. The Senate passed a bill to slap Russia with new sanctions for its election interference and the legislation has moved to the House, which would also need to pass it before it goes to Trump’s desk. But congressional sources said the Trump administration is hoping to water down the sanctions package, which the White House is eyeing warily.
“I think our main concern overall with sanctions is how they — how will the Congress craft them and any potential erosion of the executive branch’s authority to implement them,” Spicer said Friday.
There are also bipartisan efforts underway in Congress to develop a policy to prevent Russian meddling in future US elections.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, says he is working with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, on legislation to create a 9/11-style commission to explore what happened in 2016 on the cyber front.
Graham tells CNN their idea is to create a commission made up of all experts — no politicians. “We want to look at the vulnerabilities on cyber security and get policy recommendations from experts on how to harden our infrastructure,” said Graham.
Meanwhile, top US cybersecurity leaders are taking action on their own to prevent future meddling.
“This is one of our highest priorities,” Jeanette Manfra, one of the Department of Homeland Security’s top officials handling cyber issues and a career civil servant said at a Senate hearing last week. “And I would also note that we’re not just looking ahead to 2018, as election officials remind me, routinely, that elections are conducted on a regular basis. And so — highest priority, sir.”
Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said earlier this month that he would keep in place a decision to designate election systems as “critical infrastructure.”
The designation means that the federal government will put more resources toward protecting election systems and voting machines. They’ll get the same treatment as other “critical infrastructure” that is paramount to national security, like dams and the power grid.
Kelly’s predecessor in the Obama administration, Jeh Johnson, made the change in January shortly before leaving office. Johnson testified last week that he wished he made the decision sooner — before the 2016 election — but that he backed down after resistance from the states.

Security Clampdown in Far-Western China Exacts Toll on Businesses

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES AND REUTERS)

URUMQI, China — The economy of the vast Xinjiang region in far western China is officially growing at a robust pace, faster than the country as a whole. That is largely thanks to big investments in infrastructure from Beijing as the region – with its links to much of central Asia – is critical to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new Silk Road initiative.

But traders, business owners and residents in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, are seeing little benefit from the central government’s cash injection, according to about 20 interviews with people in the city.

One major reason for that, they say, is due to tightened security as the Chinese government seeks to control one of its biggest domestic threats. Beijing accuses separatist extremists among the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of plotting attacks on the ethnic Han majority in Xinjiang and other parts of China, following a series of violent events in recent years.

As a result, there are roadblocks and stringent security checks across the region, including at restaurants, hotels and shops, making it slow and frustrating to move around.

The new Silk Road, officially known as the Belt and Road initiative, is Xi’s signature foreign and economic policy which aims to increase economic and political ties through roads, railways and other projects that link China to Central Asia and beyond. But the contrast between that ambition and the views at street level in Urumqi reflects the difficulty Beijing faces in trying to balance security against its other top priorities.

This is particularly the case as China is determined to avoid any trouble ahead of a critical Communist Party congress in the autumn at which Xi is expected to consolidate his power, and as it faces the threat from some Uighurs who have become battle-hardened Islamic State fighters in the war in Syria and Iraq and may return home.

DELIVERIES DIFFICULT

The impact of the clampdown is clear at the Frontier International Trade Centre in Urumqi,  where padlocked stores outnumber traders.

“Business became really bad last year. I’ve got nothing to do except a stock-take,” said Wei Chun, a shoe trader, surrounded by piles of high-heels.

She blames poor sales partly on the impact of sluggish economies in neighbours Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, among the eight countries with which Xinjiang has borders.  But she also says the Chinese authorities’ obsession with keeping Xinjiang secure at all costs is making it tough to do business here.

“It’s very difficult to send and receive deliveries because of the security crackdown,” she said, complaining that authorities will often shut down the delivery system for “security reasons”.

The Xinjiang government declined to make officials available for comment for this article. It also did not respond to a series of faxed questions.

Xu Bin, the head of the Xinjiang government’s statistics bureau,  told reporters in February that its growth – which was 7.6 percent last year – is mostly fuelled by fixed asset investment. But he then added: “Xinjiang faces slowing economic growth, falling industrial prices, companies are feeling the pain of falling profits and the growth rate of our tax revenue has dropped off.”

Xinjiang’s trade with other countries fell in the first quarter of this year, according to the customs bureau, and is still below the level it recorded in the first quarter of 2013, the year that Belt and Road launched.

Much of that drop was because a slump in the rouble in 2014-2015 hurt Xinjiang’s neighbours, and following the 2015 establishment of the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). That aims to develop Central Asia and lessen its reliance on Chinese goods.

EVENTS CANCELLED

People here point to many disruptions in ordinary life as one reason the economy doesn’t feel buoyant at street level.

Group gatherings, whether for charity fun runs or trade expos, are often banned or cancelled at the last minute, they say. Phone lines sometimes go dead, and there’s no 4G internet because the authorities fear high-speed internet would help militants organize.

While Belt and Road has created opportunities, small businesses complain these projects often reward large state-owned enterprises.

“The Belt and Road Initiative doesn’t help small businessmen like me,” said Zhou Bangquan who sells men’s shoes in Urumqi.

“It helps big state-owned enterprises that do energy or have big infrastructure projects.”

Among the projects financed are a highway to Pakistan and a network of high-speed railroads connecting cities in Xinjiang and the rest of China, with 1.5 trillion yuan (171.69 billion pounds) in capital investment expected in the region this year alone.

But it is unclear how much of the money is used to buy materials from factories outside the region or ends up being sent to other provinces by workers brought in temporarily from elsewhere in China.

It’s not just heightened security measures that concern businesses. People are required to attend flag ceremonies and other patriotic education, instead of working, say locals. Such events are meant to encourage Uighurs to become patriotic Chinese citizens but can also be used to monitor their behaviour.

    PATRIOTIC EDUCATION

    “I’m losing my mind, I’ve already had six staff sent back to their home towns this past month for study,” said a restaurant manager in Urumqi who, like many people Reuters spoke to in Xinjiang, declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.

His Uighur staff were required to return home to southern Xinjiang for one month’s study of Mandarin Chinese, another month learning about China’s legal system and a month of vocational training, he said.

“We all spend so much time doing things that aren’t our actual jobs. I have to take my staff to watch a flag-raising forty weeks of the year. If I don’t, I will be taken away for thirty days of study,” he said.

As well as the time spent on such matters, Uighurs – who represent just over 45 percent of the population – are being increasingly marginalized by the Han Chinese, undermining the overall economy.

Three Han Chinese entrepreneurs told Reuters local authorities had told them not to employ Uighurs. And a Han Chinese real estate agent in Urumqi said he had been told not to sell properties to Uighurs from southern Xinjiang.

There has been a change in attitude towards balancing stability and economic growth in Xinjiang since Chen Quanguo became its new Communist Party boss last August in what analysts say was an implicit endorsement of his previous hard-line management of ethnic strife in Tibet.

“Xinjiang used to have a policy of ‘with one hand we maintain stability, with the other hand we grow the economy’ but now it’s just ‘maintain stability with both hands, at all costs’,” said a local businessman and former government official.

Chen said in a speech last September that “all our work in Xinjiang revolves around maintaining a tight grip on stability.”

(Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong; Additional reporting by the Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Martin Howell)

President Trump Proves National Security Clearances Are Not A High Priority To Him

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner should “absolutely” have his security clearance suspended, Rep. Mike Quigley told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Appearing on “The Situation Room,” the Illinois Democrat said Kushner “shouldn’t have clearance at this point,” echoing a letter from House oversight committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings and citing a “whole series of activities,” including “concerns about Mr. Kushner’s activities prior to the Inauguration.”
Cummings’ letter criticized the White House for allowing fired national security adviser Michael Flynn to keep a security clearance despite concerns raised by then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates that he could be vulnerable to blackmail based on intelligence assessments that she reviewed; the letter raised “parallel concerns” about Kushner’s security clearance over previously undisclosed calls to Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak and undisclosed meetings Kushner had with Kislyak and the CEO of Vnesheconombank, a state-run Russian bank under US sanctions.
In his letter, Cummings cited an executive order requiring employees to have their security clearance preemptively suspended if they are suspected of being a national security risk.
“In general, when there are credible allegations that employees may be unfit to continue accessing classified information, security clearances are supposed to be suspended while the allegations are investigated,” Cummings wrote in the letter, sent June 21.
A spokeswoman for House oversight committee Chairman Trey Gowdy declined comment on the letter Wednesday.
The White House declined to offer comment on Wednesday about Democrats’ requests to look into Kushner’s security clearance.
“I will have to get back to you on that,” spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told reporters aboard Air Force One.
In his interview with CNN, Quigley indicated there were additional concerns about Kushner’s security clearance, referencing “a whole series of activities that I can’t get into at this point in time, but they raise concerns about his judgment and his ability to keep our nation’s secrets.” When pressed by Wolf Blitzer, Quigley said, “I can’t get into details, because some of those things were also discussed in classified settings.”
Kushner arrived in Israel earlier Wednesday, where he’s scheduled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to negotiate a peace deal, a role Quigley also questioned.
“Look, I like that we are always moving forward on peace deals. This is exactly what our country should do,” Quigley said. “First of all, he is wholly unqualified to make those efforts. Second, to what Mr. Cummings was referencing — that’s what I was referencing — he shouldn’t have clearance at this point.”

Morocco, Tunisia: No Military Solution to Libyan Crisis

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Morocco, Tunisia: No Military Solution to Libyan Crisis

Protest against the UN to draft agreement talks headed by the Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Bernardino Leon in Benghazi

Rabat – Morocco and Tunisia have announced their support to a political solution to the crisis in Libya, namely the Skhirat Agreement, which was signed in late 2015 under the auspices of the United Nations.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the 19th session of the Tunisian-Moroccan High Joint Commission in Rabat, the two countries praised efforts that are aimed at “supporting our Libyan brothers and accompanying them in the path towards a comprehensive political settlement.”

The meeting, which was co-chaired by Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine al-Othmani and his Tunisian counterpart, Youssef Chahed, stressed the two countries’ rejection of the military options.

The statement underlined the importance of reaching a political solution as the only means to overcome the current situation by preserving the country’s territorial unity.

The two sides expressed their condemnation of all forms of terrorism, highlighting the need to unify efforts to fight terrorist groups in the Maghreb region and the world.

In this regard, the two countries urged the five Maghreb states to “promote cooperation, consolidate dialogue and increase security cooperation in order to face terrorism according to an organized mechanism that aims at prioritizing common interests and rejecting all forms of introversion.

Tunisia and Morocco also called for the need to overcome all deadlocks within the Maghreb Union, as well as activating the work of institutions.

“This requires a strong political will and serious work by the five Maghreb countries in line with the noble goals which were set in the Marrakesh agreement,” the statement said.

It also called for fulfilling the aspirations of the Maghreb population with regards to growth, stability and decent living.

The two sides also condemned the violations committed by Israel and the attacks against Al-Aqsa Mosque, urging the international community to force the Jewish state to abide by the international legitimacy.

The commission discussed means to boost bilateral cooperation and signed 10 agreements in various sectors, including agriculture, investment, civil aviation, vocational training, higher education, and employment.

Republican House whip Steve Scalise shot in Virginia shooting

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Republican House whip Steve Scalise shot in Virginia shooting

Story highlights

  • The shooting appears to be a “deliberate attack,” sources tell CNN
  • Scalise is the first member of Congress to be shot since former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords

Washington (CNN) Rep. Steve Scalise was shot Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, a House colleague told CNN, in what sources are calling an apparent “deliberate attack.”

The shooting took place at a practice for the GOP congressional baseball team.
Scalise, a member of the House Republican leadership as the majority whip, appeared to have been shot in the hip and it appeared two Capitol Hill police agents were shot, according to Rep. Mo Brooks, who told CNN he was on deck when the shooting occurred.
According to both congressional and law enforcement sources, the shooting appears to be a “deliberate attack.”
Two law enforcement sources told CNN the shooter, who is in police custody, has been taken to a hospital.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who was at the practice, told CNN “it would have been a massacre” had Capitol Police not been present.
“Nobody would have survived without the Capitol Hill police,” Paul said on CNN. “It would have been a massacre without them.”
Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake added that he saw a member of Scalise’s security detail return fire on the gunman for what felt like 10 minutes, even though the police officer was wounded in the leg.
“50 (shots) would be an understatement, I’m quite sure,” Flake said when asked about the total amount of gunfire, including police returning fire.
Flake said two members of Scalise’s security detail were wounded, and another man was wounded in the chest.
Once they were able, Flake said he and Rep. Brad Wenstrup, who is a physician, went out to where Scalise was lying after dragging himself away from the shooting to apply pressure to the wound. Scalise was coherent the whole time, Flake said.
The President is monitoring the situation, the White House said in a statement.
“The Vice President and I are aware of the shooting incident in Virginia and are monitoring developments closely,” President Donald Trump said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by this tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the members of Congress, their staffs, Capitol Police, first responders, and all others affected.”
Trump subsequently tweeted, “Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy are safe on Capitol Hill and receiving updates, aides tell CNN. Neither was at the practice.
Brooks said there were a number of congressmen and congressional staffers lying on the ground, and at least one of them was wounded. The Alabama Republican said he used his belt as a tourniquet to help one of the victims.
He said the shooter appeared to be a white male but added that “I saw him for a second or two.” He said the shooter was behind the third base dugout and didn’t say anything.
“The gun was a semiautomatic,” Brooks said, adding that he was sure it was a rifle but unsure what kind. “It continued to fire at different people. You can imagine, all the people on the field scatter.”
Scalise is the first member of Congress to be shot since former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in January 2011. Giffords was shot in the head by Jared Lee Loughner at a “Congress On Your Corner” event at a Tucson grocery store. Giffords, who authorities said was the main target of the shooting, survived the attack but six others were killed and an additional 12 were injured.
Loughner pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
This story is breaking and will be updated.

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