TEHRAN, Iran — Labor strikes Nationwide protests Bank failures



FILE- In this Jan. 5, 2018 file photo, Iranian senior cleric Ahmad Khatami delivers his sermon during Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran, Iran. In recent months, Iran has been beset by economic problems despite the promises surrounding the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers. (Ebrahim Noroozi, File/Associated Press)
 March 10 at 4:29 AM
TEHRAN, Iran — Labor strikes. Nationwide protests. Bank failures.In recent months, Iran has been beset by economic problems despite the promises surrounding the 2015 nuclear deal it struck with world powers.

Its clerically overseen government is starting to take notice. Politicians now offer the idea of possible government referendums or early elections. Even Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei acknowledged the depths of the problems ahead of the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

“Progress has been made in various sectors in the real sense of the word; however, we admit that in the area of ‘justice’ we are lagging behind,” Khamenei said in February, according to an official transcript. “We should apologize to Allah the Exalted and to our dear people.”

Whether change can come, however, is in question.

Iran today largely remains a state-run economy. It has tried to privatize some of its industries, but critics say they have been handed over to a wealthy elite that looted them and ran them into the ground.

One major strike now grips the Iran National Steel Industrial Group in Ahvaz, in the country’s southwest, where hundreds of workers say they haven’t been paid in three months. Authorities say some demonstrators have been arrested during the strike.

More than 3.2 million Iranians are jobless, government spokesman Mohammad-Bagher Nobakht has said. The unemployment rate is over 11 percent.

Banks remain hobbled by billions of dollars in bad loans, some from the era of nuclear sanctions and others tainted with fraud. The collapse last year of the Caspian Credit Institute, which promised depositors the kinds of returns rarely seen outside of Ponzi schemes, showed the economic desperation faced by many in Iran.

Meanwhile, much of the economy is in the grip of Iran’s security services.

The country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard paramilitary force, which answers only Khamenei and runs Iran’s ballistic missile program, controls 15 to 30 percent of the economy, analysts say.

Under President Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric whose government reached the atomic accord, there has been a push toward ending military control of some businesses. However, the Guard is unlikely to give up its power easily.

Some suggest hard-liners and the Guard may welcome the economic turmoil in Iran as it weakens Rouhani’s position. His popularity has slipped since winning a landslide re-election in May 2017, in part over the country’s economic woes.

Analysts believe a hard-line protest in late December likely lit the fuse for the nationwide demonstrations that swept across some 75 cities. While initially focused on the economy, they quickly turned anti-government. At least 25 people were killed in clashes surrounding the demonstrations, while nearly 5,000 reportedly were arrested.

In the time since, Rouhani has suggested holding a referendum, without specifying what exactly would be voted on.

“If factions have differences, there is no need to fight, bring it to the ballot,” Rouhani said in a speech Feb. 11. “Do whatever the people say.”

Such words don’t come lightly. There have been only two referendums since the Islamic Revolution. A 1979 referendum installed Iran’s Islamic republic. A 1989 constitutional referendum eliminated the post of prime minister, created Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and made other changes.

A letter signed by 15 prominent Iranians published a day after Rouhani’s speech called for a referendum on whether Iran should become a secular parliamentary democracy. The letter was signed by Iranians living inside the country and abroad, including Nobel Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi.

“The sum of the experiences of the last 40 years show the impossibility of reforming the Islamic Republic, since by hiding behind divine concepts … the regime has become the principal obstacle to progress and salvation of the Iranian nation,” read the letter, which was posted online.

But even among moderates in Iran’s clerical establishment, there seems to be little interest in such far-reaching changes, which would spell the end of the Islamic Republic. Hard-liners, who dominate the country’s security services, are adamantly opposed.

“I am telling the anti-Islamic government network, the anti-Iranians and those runaway counterrevolutionaries … their wish for a public referendum will never come true,” Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said Feb. 15, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Yet there are signs that authorities realize that something will have to give. Khamenei’s apology in February took many by surprise, especially as the country’s true hard-liners believe he is the representative of God on earth.

Khamenei’s apology came after a letter from Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition activist who remains under house arrest, demanding that the supreme leader take responsibility for failures.

“You were president for eight years and you have been the absolute ruler for almost 29 years,” Karroubi wrote in the letter, which was not reported on by state media. “Therefore, considering your power and influence over the highest levels of state, you must accept that today’s political, economic, cultural and social situation in the country is a direct result of your guidance and administration.”

Iran’s former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, blamed by many for the country’s economic woes, has come out for early elections. He also demanded they be “free and fair,” while continuing his own campaign against Khamenei, whom he ignored in his attempt to run in the 2017 presidential election.

However, Ahmadinejad’s action drew immediate criticism, as his own widely disputed 2009 re-election sparked unrest and violence that killed dozens.


Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Women In Iran Are Removing Their Head Scarfs



Vida Movahed takes off her headscarf and holds on a stick in Tehran in late December, protesting Iran’s hijab rules. (Abaca Press/SalamPix/Sipa USA/AP)
 March 8 at 4:01 PM 
 Iranian women have been raising a new challenge to their Islamic government, breaking one of its most fundamental rules by pulling off their headscarves in some of the busiest public squares and brandishing them in protest.

While these guerrilla protesters number only in the dozens, Iran’s government has taken notice of their audacity. On Thursday, planned demonstrations to coincide with International Women’s Day were preempted by a heavy police presence on the streets of the capital, Tehran.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, marked the day with sharply worded tweets skewering Western countries for the immodesty of their women and trumpeting the virtues of the headscarf, or hijab.

“By promoting modest dress (#hijab), #Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle,” Khamenei tweeted in English. “Iranian women today, declare their . . . independence and export it to the world while preserving their ­#hijab.”

It was precisely the opposite message that one young woman hoped to send when she climbed atop a tall, metal utility box on a Tehran sidewalk in January and took off her headscarf, hoisting it overhead on a stick for all to see.

Women wave hijabs in protest in Iran

An activist group posted videos in February of women in Iran with their hair uncovered, waving garments in protest. 

“I was really stressed,” said the woman, an artist who because of safety concerns asked not to be identified by her name. Instead, she called herself “Azadeh,” which means “one who is free” in Farsi. “At the same time, I felt powerful. People aren’t used to seeing women without veils.”

As she held her headscarf aloft, passersby snapped photos on their phones and urged her to come down before police arrived. Headscarves are mandatory, and her lone protest was against the law.

She escaped without incident, but not before her photo spread across social media, inspiring others to do the same.

In recent months, dozens of Iranian women like Azadeh have staged similar demonstrations against the compulsory veil, standing bareheaded atop raised utility cabinets and concrete benches in some of Iran’s most popular squares. They have been arrested, harassed and even charged with crimes — but also celebrated by reformists and other Iranians who have been sharing the women’s photographs on social media.

Iran is one of two countries that legally require women to wear head coverings in public, along with Saudi Arabia, though the practice is widely followed in other Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.

The hijab protests, which come amid general discontent in Iran over the economy and other social ills, have fueled the debate over the treatment of women and strict moral codes inside Iran.

Iranian activists had called for demonstrations Thursday, but activists and journalists described a large deployment of police in central Tehran, where officers conducted body searches and security vehicles blocked some streets. Social media reported some arrests, but these were not independently confirmed.

In his tweets, Khamenei praised Islam for keeping women “modest” and in defined roles as educators and child-bearers. “The features of today’s Iranian woman include modesty, chastity, eminence, protecting herself from abuse by men,” Khamenei tweeted. In the West, he said, “the most sought after characteristics of a #woman involve her ability to physically attract men.”

The stakes for both sides of the debate are high. The veil has served as one of the most potent and visible symbols of the Islamic republic, a system in which ultimate authority resides with unelected theocrats.

But for many in a post-revolution generation that is more educated and tech-savvy, such restrictions are discriminatory and oppressive.

“The compulsory veiling of women in public — be they religious or not — has been a hallmark of Iranian political and social life since 1979,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington. “As life in Iran continues to be punctuated by political and social protest, mandatory veiling has been a popular target.”

In the 1930s, Iran’s ruler, Reza Pahlavi , banned the hijab, or veil, as part of a modernization drive. But when a cleric-led uprising ousted Shah Reza’s son in 1979, Iran’s Islamic revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, announced an edict mandating the hijab. On March 8, 1979, in the midst of the revolution, tens of thousands of women marched against what was then a new law requiring modest dress.

Since then, all women have been required by law to wear a headscarf and long, loose clothing in public. They are also “subject to entrenched discrimination” in daily life, Amnesty International says, “including in access to divorce, employment, equal inheritance and political office.” Iranian women, for instance, are banned from singing in public, cannot attend public sports events and need a husband’s approval to get a passport or travel outside the country.

In recent years, however, women have pushed the boundaries of the hijab, allowing their headscarves to slip and reveal much of their hair, especially in cosmopolitan Tehran.

President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has championed change, has urged Iran’s ruling clerics to relax the social restrictions.

In December, Tehran’s police chief said his deputies would no longer arrest women for violating the Islamic dress code, and the government also recently rolled out a public relations campaign targeting the harassment of women on the street and the subway.

In February, Rouhani’s office released a 2014 report on Iranian attitudes toward the hijab. According to the study, 49.8 percent of Iranians oppose government intervention to enforce the veil, which they consider to be a private matter.

But as more and more women have staged individual protests, Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, again took a hard line, saying late last month that his forces “will not tolerate this kind of behavior.”

Since the first woman, 31-year-old Vida Movahed, was photographed publicly unveiling in late December, more than 35 women “have been violently attacked and arrested” for demonstrating against the veil, Amnesty says. Her protest coincided with the nationwide demonstrations over poor living conditions and repression.

One woman, Shaparak Shajarizadeh, is being held in solitary confinement on charges of “inciting corruption and prostitution,” a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, Amnesty reported.

“This is a deeply retrograde move by the Iranian authorities,” Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said of the charges in a recent statement. “It places many women at serious and immediate risk of unjust imprisonment, while sending a chilling message to others to keep quiet while their rights are being violated.”

Another woman, Narges Hosseini, was sentenced to more than two years in prison for her protest, according to her attorney, Nasrin Sotoudeh. A statement from Tehran’s prosecutor general did not name Hosseini but said a woman had been sentenced for “encouraging moral corruption.”

Iranian women “don’t put all their hope in a government that has never taken a single step” to improve their rights, Sotoudeh said. Sentences such as the one against Hosseini “will only increase solidarity among women in the movement,” she said.

In addition to the protests, women have also launched social media campaigns to raise awareness of daily discrimination.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, Iranian women started the #WeAreEqual hash­tag, sharing accounts of harassment, discrimination and violence.

“When I was in high school, a man tried to harass me in the street. I started shouting and two women approached me telling me to keep silent for the sake of my reputation,” Iranian journalist Nahid Molavi posted on Twitter. “It took me a long time to learn I shouldn’t keep silent,” she said. “And that objection does not equal the loss of reputation.”

For Azadeh, the artist, the protests mark a “turning point,” and she doesn’t know how far they may spread.

“I feel optimistic about this moment,” she said. “There are people like me who won’t turn back.”

Bijan Sabbagh contributed to this report.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Has Arrived In London



Mohammed bin Salman arrives at Downing Street to meet Theresa May

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in London March 7 for a three-day visit to the United Kingdom as part of his first official overseas tour. 

Mohammed bin Salman, the divisive crown prince of Saudi Arabia, arrived in London on Wednesday for a three-day state visit. The 32-year-old was greeted at the airport by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and had lunch with Queen Elizabeth II, a rare honor for a man not yet head of state.

Later, he will dine with Prince Charles and Prince William — two British royals who are, like him, next in line to the throne, although they hold a small fraction of his political power.

But the pomp and the red carpet notwithstanding, Mohammed’s visit already has turned into a bitter PR battle between those who support the moves he is making for Saudi Arabia and those who call him a “war criminal.”

In some cases, the battle veered into absurd territory, such as when pro-Saudi advertisements were placed next to online articles criticizing the crown prince.

Although Mohammed has pushed through some liberal policies at home — including his dramatic decision to allow women to drive — and he is viewed as a key economic ally for a post-Brexit Britain, his foreign policy is controversial in London.

Notably, the crown prince is the architect of a Saudi-led intervention against Iran-allied rebels in Yemen. Critics say Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate use of force in that conflict has had disastrous consequences for Yemeni civilians, exacerbating what may be the worst humanitarian disaster on earth.

Vans bearing messages of welcome for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are parked in Whitehall in central London on March 7. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/getty Images)

According to U.N. estimates from last year, more than 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015. More than 3 million people have been displaced, the United Nations estimated, and 80 percent of the population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Awkwardly for Johnson and Prime Minister Theresa May, Britain is a key military supplier of Saudi Arabia. According to one estimate, sales of British weapons to Saudi Arabiaincreased almost 500 percent, to 4.6 billion pounds ($6.4 billion), after 2015, when the Saudi intervention in Yemen began. Saudi Arabia is now the top destination for British-manufactured weapons.

A poll commissioned by the Campaign Against Arms Trade and carried out by Populus found that 6 percent of the British public supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia; 37 percent opposed Mohammed’s visit to Britain.

Amid this public mistrust, advertisements praising Mohammed’s reforms have been blanketing London — in an apparent bid to woo Britons. The advertisements have appeared on billboards, on taxis, on trucks and in newspapers.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Feels like arriving in – when entering London from the M4 & M40 one is greeted by the “beloved leader” @AEISaudi & the lobby try to turn around the kingdom’s image in a not so subtle way @alekhbariyatv

I count one full-page and three half-page “yay for Saudi Arabia” ads in today’s @FT

AEI Saudi, the firm behind the advertisements, is a consulting business that was registered in Riyadh in 2002. In a blog post, the firm’s founder highlighted the significant changes he has seen in recent years in Saudi Arabia, such as a new inclusion of Saudi women in public life.

“If there is one individual who has been the driving force behind these changes it is ‘MbS’, as he is often known,” wrote Adam Hosier, the British-born founder of the firm. “He has faced resistance of course, both internally and from powers outside the Kingdom, yet he has not faltered.”

But these were not the only advertisements greeting the crown prince. In central London, buses were emblazoned with messages accusing Mohammed of being a “war criminal,” while social media users used hashtags to let the Saudi royal know that he was “not welcome.”

Activists from Avaaz, a global activism group, parked a van outside Parliament and had two figures dressed as Mohammed and May drop off child-size body bags. A sign on the van said May should tell the crown prince: “Stop the slaughter, start peace talks!”

Activists from Avaaz stage a protest outside Parliament timed to coincide with the visit by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in London on March 7. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Save the Children, a London-based charity, also highlighted the plight of children in Yemen by placing outside Parliament a small statue of a child standing in rubble and staring at the sky.

Meanwhile, the Arab Organization for Human Rights in UK has scheduled a protest outside Downing Street, due to start at 5 p.m. local time.

Join us outside Downing Street from 5pm this evening to oppose the Crown Prince and all UK arms sales to his regime. http://aje.io/24aln 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman begins official UK visit

As ruling party welcomes Gulf royal, protesters and opposition politicians call on prime minister to challenge kingdom.


It is unclear who is winning the PR battle — other than advertising agencies, of course. The pro-Saudi messages were certainly mocked: Some noted that the advertisements looked better suited to a “sleazy gentlemen’s club” and pointed out that online ads praising Mohammed had appeared next to articles about Saudi corruption.

These adverts for the Saudi Crown Prince are everywhere! Even on articles about Saudi corruption in the Guardian. Cc @claytonswisher.

Many of the billboards welcoming the crown prince appeared along the motorways that connect Heathrow Airport to central London — suggesting that Mohammed may have been the intended audience.

Ads praising MBS all along the M4 this morning. Are they targeted at Brits, or at the Crown Prince’s motorcade?

However, the protests outside Parliament seem to have resonated inside Westminster. During the weekly Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday afternoon, opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn criticized Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights and accused May of “colluding” in suspected war crimes in Yemen.

“The link that we have with Saudi Arabia is historic, it is an important one, and it has saved the lives of potentially hundreds of people in this country,” May responded, as opposition lawmakers shouted “shame.”

Jeremy Corbyn was accused of “mansplaining” by the Prime Minister as he raised concerns of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia

May later said that she would raise the issue of human rights with the crown prince when she met him and that she had spoken with him about humanitarian concerns in Yemen during a visit to Riyadh in December.

The controversy over Saudi Arabia puts May in a tight spot politically. Britain is looking for bigger trading partners as it leaves the European Union, and broadening its economic relationship with Saudi Arabia would help it do that. The two nations are planning to create a joint Strategic Partnership Council that could lead to Saudi investment of up to 100 billion pounds ($139 billion) in the next 10 years, according to the BBC.

However, the visit is also important for the Saudi crown prince, who is seeking foreign investment as part of Vision 2030, his ambitious plan to reform his country. There are also hopes that the long-awaited public listing of the state oil firm Saudi Aramco might take place on the London Stock Exchange.

Saudi Arabia loosens rules around women driving, gender segregation

As Saudi Arabia tries to shake a conservative image, it’s increasing entertainment events and backing off on gender-based rules in 2018.

Mohammed also is planning to visit the United States, home to the New York Stock Exchange, for an investment-focused visit set to start March 19.

Trump Lavishes Praise On Rob Porter Of Domestic Violence Fame



Trump lavishes praise on Rob Porter, former top aide accused of domestic violence

 February 9 at 2:29 PM 
Trump on former White House aide: ‘He says he’s innocent’

President Trump wished former White House aide Rob Porter “a wonderful career” on Feb. 9, saying Porter “says he’s innocent.”

President Trump on Friday afternoon lavished praise on one of his former top aides, Rob Porter, who resigned earlier this week amid accusations that he physically, verbally and emotionally abused his two ex-wives.

“We wish him well; he worked very hard,” Trump said to a small group of reporters at the White House, providing his first public comments on the topic. “We found out about it recently, and I was surprised by it, but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career, and he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you have to talk to him about that, but we absolutely wish him well. He did a very good job when he was at the White House.”

In interviews with The Washington Post and other media outlets, Porter’s ex-wives have accused him of physically and emotionally abusing them during their marriages. Both said that they informed the FBI in January 2017 of their allegations while they were being interviewed by agents as part of Porter’s security clearance review.

Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, has accused him of throwing her down and punching her in the face during a trip to Florence in 2005 and provided photos showing her with a black eye. Porter’s second wife, Jennie Willoughby, received a temporary emergency protective order in Arlington, Va., in June 2010 after saying Porter refused to leave her residence, in violation of their separation agreement. She said he broke her window, causing his knuckles to bleed. Porter has denied these accusations and disputed Holderness’s account of how she received a black eye.

“These outrageous allegations are simply false,” Porter said in a statement. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”

Trump’s comments on Friday echo the strong support Porter received from the White House this week. When the allegations were first reported by the DailyMail.com on Tuesday, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly came to Porter’s defense and called the allegations “slanderous and simply false.”

“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him,” Kelly said in a statement at the time. “He is a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him.”

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Kelly urged Porter to stay in his job, even after photos became public on Wednesday showing his first wife’s blackened eye. On Wednesday night, after Porter had resigned, Kelly issued a statement condemning Porter’s alleged abuses and stated that “there is no place for domestic violence in our society.”

This is not the first time that the president has continued to embrace men close to him who have been accused of assault. In July 2016, Trump called his longtime friend Roger Ailes — who had just been ousted from Fox News amid accusations that he sexually harassed at least two-dozen women — “a very, very good person” and cast suspicion on the accusers. In April last year, Trump said that Bill O’Reilly — who, it had recently been revealed, paid millions of dollars in settlements to five women who had accused him of sexual or verbal abuse — “a good person” who should not have settled, because “I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” Late last year, Trump continued to support Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore — who was accused of sexual misconduct with teenagers — and noted that Moore “totally denies it.”

And Trump himself has been accused of abuse by 13 women who have publicly claimed that Trump touched or kissed them without their permission. Trump has denied all of these accusations and cast all of his accusers as liars. In a 2005 “Access Hollywood” interview caught on a hot microphone, Trump bragged in vulgar terms about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women, saying that “when you’re a star, they let you do it.”


White House’s Rob Porter debacle is a sign of incompetence or hubris — or both  



The Fix

The White House’s Rob Porter debacle is a sign of incompetence or hubris — or both

 February 8 at 8:59 AM 
Ex-wife of White House aide alleges emotional and physical abuse

Rob Porter’s ex-wife Jennie Willoughby told The Post in an interview that the White House aide was abusive during their marriage.

“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor, and I can’t say enough good things about him,” White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly said in an initial statement Tuesday about allegations that the top White House aide had abused an ex-wife.

By Wednesday afternoon, Porter resigned amid allegations that he had abused another ex-wife, who produced photographs of her black eye. And Kelly was suddenly “shocked.”

“I was shocked by the new allegations released today against Rob Porter. There is no place for domestic violence in our society,” Kelly said. But, he added: “I stand by my previous comments of the Rob Porter that I have come to know since becoming chief of staff, and believe every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.”

Kelly was the man brought in to restore order to a White House in chaos. The Porter controversy has displayed once again how rudderless the West Wing remains.

It would be one thing for the White House to keep its powder dry as Porter faced allegations — to say what Kelly said at the end of his Wednesday statement: That “every individual deserves the right to defend their reputation.” The RNC recently has said it would let an investigation play out before returning money raised by its now-resigned former finance chair, Steve Wynn, who faces multiple sexual assault allegations.

But the White House decided to, instead, provide Porter a ringing endorsement. It opted to provide the kind of statements you would expect if they were convinced of Porter’s innocence.

Images of Colbie Holderness after an alleged incident with her then-husband Rob Porter in the early 2000s. (Courtesy of Colbie Holderness)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was just as effusive.

“I have worked directly with Rob Porter nearly every day for the last year, and the person I know is someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character,” Sanders said. “Those of us who have the privilege of knowing him are better people because of it.”

Exactly how these statements found their way into the public domain is something we’re likely to see reporters dig into Thursday. Could it have been steered by communications director Hope Hicks, who is reportedly dating Porter? Was it merely an overreaction spurred by a siege mentality? Did Kelly, who has earned growing criticism for his comments this week about how young undocumented immigrants were “too lazy” to sign up for DACA (and then doubled down after a backlash), decide he wasn’t going to bow to media pressure?

Whatever the case, and whether this was emotion or calculation, it is remarkable just how wrong the White House got this one. Porter has reportedly not received a full security clearance, despite his high-ranking role as staff secretary — a gatekeeper serving closely alongside Kelly. Both ex-wives told The Post that they informed the FBI of Porter’s abuse during background interviews. And one of his ex-wives, Jennie Willoughby, told The Post that after she wrote a blog post about the abuse in April — without naming Porter — he repeatedly asked her to take it down and cited delays in his clearance process.

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Assuming all of that is accurate, it’s an indictment of how the White House handled Porter’s entire employment and an even bigger indictment of the staff’s initial reactions to the news Tuesday. It’s tough to believe nobody was asking questions about why Porter hadn’t received a full security clearance. But even if nobody cared to ask before, you have to believe they would ask once the Daily Mail confronted them with the allegations from the first ex-wife.

And if all of that is true, it’s impossible to understand how Kelly was truly “shocked” by any of this. It’s also really, really hard to understand why the White House didn’t check to make doubly sure that their initial statements about Porter wouldn’t come back to bite them — especially on an issue as sensitive as domestic abuse.

President Trump has repeatedly assured that he only hires the best people. This episode suggests the White House staff is either incompetent or has way too much hubris.

Very Old Tools Found In India: Question Is, Who Made Them



Very old, very sophisticated tools found in India. The question is: Who made them?

 February 1 at 9:40 AM 

Artifacts uncovered in the excavation at Attirampakkam. (Sharma Center for Heritage Education)

Humanity’s origin story has gotten increasingly tangled in recent years: New discoveries suggest that Homo sapiens interacted and interbred with other species and ventured out of Africa in more than one wave. Researchers have compared the ancient world to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth — but instead of hobbits, dwarves and elves, our planet had modern humans in Africa, Neanderthals in Europe, Homo erectus in Asia.

Now, a treasure trove of ancient stone tools suggests that humans’ circuitous path to modernity also wound through India.

In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Nature, researchers described thousands of stone implements uncovered at Attirampakkam, an archaeological site in southern India. The tools span about a million years of history, they say, and illustrate the evolution of big, blunt hand axes into finely sculpted stone points. Starting about 385,000 years ago — long before modern humans are thought to have arrived in India — it appears that an advanced toolmaking culture was developing there.

How did these techniques reach India so early? “That’s the multimillion-dollar question,” said archaeologist Shanti Pappu, founder of the Sharma Center for Heritage Education and a co-author of the report.

No remains were found alongside the Indian tools, meaning it’s impossible to determine whether the tools were produced by modern humans or one of our hominin cousins. If they were produced by members of our species, it would significantly shift the timeline of human evolution. But that’s a big “if,” Pappu acknowledged.

At the very least, she said, the discovery suggests “complex interactions” between the mystery hominins in India and their relatives around the world.

“It shows that simple linear narratives of dispersal only at certain time periods is incorrect,” Pappu said.

Modern humans evolved in Africa, and the oldest known bones that could feasibly belong to our species were found in a Moroccan cave and dated to 300,000 years ago. The recent discovery of human fossils in an Israeli cave suggests that we may have ventured into other continents as early as 194,000 years ago.

Early humans coexisted with human-like species 300,000 years ago in Africa

Scientists in South Africa unveil the first evidence that early humans co-existed with a small-brained human-like species thought to have been extinct in Africa at the time. 

Upon leaving Africa, Homo sapiens would have encountered an array of distant relatives. Paleoanthropologists believe the first hominins left Africa about 1.7 million years ago, although there’s some dispute about what species those early migrants belonged to.

With so few fossils available, reconstructing the story of human evolution and migration is a bit like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle when you have just a handful of middle pieces and no edges or corners. Often, scientists must trace the movements of our ancestors through the stone tools we created.

The first hominins to leave Africa — whoever they were — carried with them oval- and pear-shaped hand axes used to pound and scrape food — a technology called Acheulean. The oldest tools found at Attirampakkam, which are more than 1 million years old, were crafted in this tradition.

But in a second batch of implements uncovered from a rock layer that spans 385,000 to 172,000 years ago (plus or minus about 50,000 years on either end), those heavy hand axes give way to smaller, more sophisticated points. One of the points even appears to have a groove that would allow it to be affixed to some kind of projectile, like a spear.

This kind of technology has long been associated with Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and it wasn’t thought to have arrived in India until humans reached south Asia about 100,000 years ago. Known as Levallois, this technique is associated with significant advances in human cognition, because such tools can’t be crafted without the ability to think abstractly and plan ahead.

Alison Brooks, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University, said she’s not convinced that the smaller tools described by Pappu and her colleagues are true Levallois points.

“It’s still basically a single point in a giant continent,” she added — more discoveries are required to give context to this find.

That’s what Pappu hopes for, too. She noted that relatively few paleontology resources have been invested in India. The tools collected at Attirampakkam are among the first discoveries from India for which scientists even have a date.

“We hope this will be a jumping-off point for a new look at regions like India,” she said. “They also have a story to tell.”

Read more:

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These ‘Shithole Countries’ Have a Message for President Trump





Updated: January 12, 2018 11:45 AM ET

President Donald Trump reportedly singled out Haiti, El Salvador and parts of Africa as “shithole countries” during a rant about immigration Thursday. Those places aren’t happy

Trump’s comments came during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House held to reach a bipartisan immigration deal, according to the Washington Postwhich broke the news. Sources familiar with the meeting told the Post that the president was amenable to more immigrants from Norway and Asia, whom he says help the country economically, but wondered aloud “why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

According to the Post, Trump also said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

On Friday morning Trump posted a series of tweets about the immigration deal in which he appeared to deny he said “shithole countries.”

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for DACA!” he wrote.

In a second tweet, sent around two hours after the first, Trump said that he “never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country” and that he never uttered the phrase “take them out.”

Trump also claimed that the accusation was “made up” by members of the Democratic Party. “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians,” he added. “Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”

However, the White House on Thursday did not deny the Post’s report about Trump’s language.

A spokesman for the United Nations said Friday that Trump’s reported words were racist.

“There is no other word one can use but ‘racist’… This isn’t just a story about vulgar language, it’s about opening the door to humanity’s worst side, about validating and encouraging racism and xenophobia,” United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. “You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Here’s how Trump’s alleged “shithole countries” are responding to the remarks:


CBS News reports that the Haitian government promptly summoned charge d’affairs Robin Diallo, the top U.S. diplomat in the country, to respond to the comments.

Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe tweeted, “SHAME ON TRUMP! The world is witnessing a new low today with this #ShitholeNations remark! totally unacceptable! uncalled for moreover it shows a lack a respect and IGNORANCE never seen before in the recent history of the US by any President! Enough is enough!!”

The Haitian government said in a statement “these insulting and reprehensible statements in no way reflect the virtues of wisdom, restraint and discernment that must be cultivated by any high political authority,” according to the Associated Press, adding that the comment “reflects a totally erroneous and racist view of the Haitian community and its contribution to the United States.”

Other Haitians took to social media to share pictures of their nation’s beautiful beaches to make a point about the president’s alleged remarks.

El Salvador

Hugo Martinez, El Salvador’s foreign minister, tweeted calling on the U.S. government to confirm or deny Trump’s statements. In subsequent tweets, he noted that a number of individuals who helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were from El Salvador and saying that he “feels proud to be Salvadoran.”

Jean Manes, the U.S. envoy to El Salvador, tweeted that the United States “values the friendship and the relationship with the Salvadoran people.” Manes added that she has had “the privilege to travel around this beautiful country and meet thousands of Salvadorans,” and that it is “an honor” to live and work there.”

African Union

The African Union responded to the reported remarks by pointing out many Africans arrived in the U.S. as slaves.

“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice,” Ebba Kalondo, a spokesperson for the 55-nation African Union, told the Associated Press. “This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”

Leanne Manas, a news anchor for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, tweeted Friday morning, “Good morning from the greatest most beautiful “shithole country” in the world!!!”

Somali information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman told CNN, “If it’s real, it doesn’t need a response. Those comments do not deserve a response.”

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance party, described Trump’s comments as “abhorrent” on Twitter. His tweet continued: “He confirms a patronizing view of Africa and promotes a racist agenda. Africa/U.S. relations will take strain from this, with a leader who has failed to reconcile humanity. The hatred of Obama’s roots now extends to an entire continent.”


Burmese military admits soldiers killed Rohingya found in mass grave



In a first, Burmese military admits that soldiers killed Rohingya found in mass grave

 January 10 at 4:23 PM

Burmese troops and villagers were behind the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslims whose bodies were found in a mass grave in Rakhine state’s Inn Din village, the military’s commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing, said Wednesday in a statement on Facebook.

The admission marks the first time that Burma’s powerful military has acknowledged wrongdoing in the violence that gripped Rakhine last year. In just a few months, more than 650,000 members of the Rohingya minority fled across the border into Bangladesh. The crisis was labeled a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations’ top human rights official.

The military statement may also offer further hints to help address one of the most urgent questions in a crisis that is thought to have left thousands dead: Where are the bodies? Late last year, the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders estimated that at least 6,700 Rohingya had died violently during the exodus last year, mostly from gunshot wounds. The government of Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, has blocked numerous attempts by outside groups to investigate on the ground.

“It’s not as though there are human remains lying around everywhere,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “We have reason to suspect that authorities have disposed of human remains, whether maliciously to hide evidence or for other reasons.”

With access to the area limited, proof of killings has been hard to establish. U.N. human rights investigators and others have been denied access to the areas hit hardest by violence, while two Reuters journalists who were reported to be investigating evidence of a mass grave at Inn Din are on trial in Rangoon. Prosecutors are seeking charges that could impose a maximum prison sentence of 14 years, according to the reporters’ attorney.

Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of the human rights group Fortify Rights, said it was noteworthy that the grave referenced on Wednesday was the same being investigated by the Reuters journalists. “The authorities appear to have arrested them in order to halt the investigation while also sending a chilling message to other journalists and would-be truth tellers,” Smith wrote in an email.

After numerous accounts of massacres emerged from survivors, human rights groups resorted to using commercial satellite imagery to look for evidence of violence. Matt Wells, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International, said that although it was difficult to find mass graves using that technique, images seen by Amnesty had made it clear that Rohingya homes in the Inn Din area were burned down in what appeared to be a coordinated campaign.

“It is one of the most striking examples of how targeted the burning has been in the military’s campaign,” Wells said in a phone call. “The Rohingya portion of the village has been completely burned to the ground, whereas non-Rohingya buildings very nearby have been completely untouched.”

In Wednesday’s military statement, the office of the Burmese military’s commander in chief said that villagers and security forces had acknowledged that they killed “10 Bengali terrorists” — a reference to the Rohingya whose bodies were found in Inn Din last year. The statement went on to claim that the soldiers involved were responding to provocations but added that they would be dealt with.

“The army will take charge of those who are responsible for the killings and who broke the rules of engagement,” the statement continued, according to an Associated Press translation. “This incident happened because ethnic Buddhist villagers were threatened and provoked by the terrorists.”

The Rohingya have been established in Burma for generations, but the government refuses to recognize members of the minority community as citizens and refers to them as Bengalis, implying that they are immigrants from Bangladesh who live in Burma illegally.

Though limited in scope, Wednesday’s message appears to contradict previous denials of a Burmese military involvement in violence against the Rohingya. In a report released in November, the military exonerated itself of accusations involving several atrocities, including rape and killings.

The government has strongly denied suggestions of “ethnic cleansing” in Rakhine. It has estimated that 400 Rohingya died last year but said that 376 of them were terrorists involved in an armed insurgency. Last year, a group of foreign journalists was flown into the country to see a mass grave in northern Rakhine that authorities said contained the bodies of Hindu villagers who had been killed by Rohingya insurgents.

Rights groups said that Wednesday’s acknowledgment of involvement showed the need for Burma to allow outside investigators into Rakhine.

“This grisly admission is a sharp departure from the army’s policy of blanket denial of any wrongdoing,” James Gomez, Amnesty International’s regional director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement. “However, it is only the tip of the iceberg and warrants serious independent investigation into what other atrocities were committed amid the ethnic cleansing campaign.”

Human Rights Watch’s Sifton said of the Burmese military: “This is not an institution that has any credibility. That is precisely why you need international observers and investigators involved now.”

It’s so hot in Australia that bats’ brains are frying



It’s so hot in Australia that bats’ brains are frying

 January 9 at 1:32 PM
Sydney heat wave kills hundreds of flying foxes

Hundreds of flying foxes in the Greater Sydney area were found dead amid an extreme heat wave that struck Sydney on January 7.

It has been a weird few weeks of weather. In North America, Canadians and Floridians alike shivered through freezing temperatures, a bomb cyclone and a polar vortex. (It got so cold that iguanas froze and fell out of trees.)

Meanwhile, over in Australia, where it is summer now, it has been especially hot. Sweltering, really.

In Sydney, temperatures hit 117 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, the hottest it has been since 1939. That oppressive heat, a side effect of climate change, has made life hard for the country’s humans and infrastructure. Heat waves result in 10 percent more calls for ambulances and 10 percent more deaths, local experts said. Police in Victoria, on Australia’s southeastern coast, warned drivers last week that a six-mile stretch of a freeway in the central part of the state had melted. A spokeswoman for VicRoads, which manages Victoria’s road systems, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that hot weather caused the asphalt to become “soft and sticky” and the road surface to bleed.

It has also been nearly unbearable for some animals. “Anytime we have any type of heat event, we know we’re going to have a lot of animals in need,” animal specialist Kristie Harris told the BBC. It was so hot that possums burned their paws on roofs and roads. Birds needed to be specially rehydrated. Koalas around the region were being sprayed down to keep them cool.

And hundreds of flying fox bats died because they didn’t have enough cover to protect themselves from the heat. Animal rescuers in Sydney described “heartbreaking” scenes of dozens of dead baby bats piled on the ground. As the adult bats sought shade near a creek, babies were left dangling from trees with no means to survive the heat, according to a charity organization in the Sydney suburb of Campbelltown, home to colonies of flying foxes. Many were found scattered on the ground. Others died before they made it down.

“It was unbelievable. I saw a lot of dead bats on the ground and others were close to the ground and dying,” volunteer Cate Ryan told the Guardian. “I have never seen anything like it before.”

Flying foxes have adapted to Australia’s warm climate, but these fruit-eating bats are unable to regulate their body temperature when the outside temperature rises above 104 degrees Fahrenheit. The young ones are especially vulnerable, Ryan told the Camden-Narellan Advertiser.

“They have less heat tolerance,” she said. “Their brain just fries and they become incoherent.” Often, she said, they will simply get too hot and fall to the ground while the adults seek out precious shade.

A heat-stricken bat is rescued in Sydney. (Help Save the Wildlife and Bushlands in Campbelltown/AFP/Getty Images)

Wildlife volunteers and rescuers spent Sunday picking up bodies of about 200 flying foxes, most of which were babies, according to the charity Help Save the Wildlife and Bushlands in Campbelltown. The death toll was expected to rise to the thousands, as many were still dangling from trees and were unreachable to volunteers.

“Many pups were on their last breaths before getting much needed help . . . There were tears shed and hearts sunken,” the charity said Sunday in a lengthy Facebook post. “It’s devastating when a colony like our local one goes down like this due to heat, this colony needs more canopy cover and shaded areas to help with our ever rising hot summers because this episode will surely not be the last.”

Australia considers the gray-headed flying fox, one of four types, a vulnerable species — with about 400,000 left, down from more than 560,000 in 1989. The bats live in woods and swamps along Australia’s east coast and play an important role in pollination and seed transportation.

Experts link the plight of flying foxes to the globe’s steadily rising temperature. More than 30,000 flying foxes died across Australia during heat waves between 1994 and 2008, bat ecologist Micaela Jemison wrote in 2014.

Last year, more than 2,000 flying foxes were found dead in the Richmond Valley region of northern New South Wales on Australia’s east coast, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. Temperatures topped 113 degrees Fahrenheit. About 100,000 bats across the state of Queensland died during a heat wave in 2014.

“This is of great concern to scientists not only due to the increased risk of these ‘die off’ events, but also for the long term impact it will have on the recovery of several of these already threatened species,” Jemison wrote.

Australia’s heat wave — and the United States’s bomb cyclone — come on the heels of the second-warmest global year on record since the 1800s.

A new report, pointing to signs of climate change such as the thawing of Arctic ice and intensifying wildfires, says the global average surface air temperature in 2017 exceeded 14.7 degrees Celsius (58.46 Fahrenheit), making last year a bit cooler than 2016, the warmest on record. But 2016 included the tail end of a strong El Niño in the tropical Pacific, and that bumped up temperatures that year, as well as in 2015, according to the report by the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a European agency.

These findings are echoed in Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology’s climate report for 2017, the country’s third-warmest year on record.

“Despite the lack of an El Nino — which is normally associated with our hottest years — 2017 was still characterized by very warm temperatures. Both day and nighttime temperatures were warmer than average . . . Seven of Australia’s ten warmest years have occurred since 2005 and Australia has experienced just one cooler than average year — 2011 — in the past decade,” according to a news release.

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