THE BLACKBURN REPORT

News and Opinion Based on Facts

Saturday, May 20, 2017

"Obama always talked about human rights. Trump does not, therefore, we prefer him to Obama."


Sources inside the kingdom say that the Saudis like trump because, "Obama always talked about human rights. Trump does not, therefore, we prefer him to Obama."

Saudi authorities continue to repress dissidents and restrict free expression.
The country does not allow for the existence of political parties, trade unions, or independent human rights groups. One cannot worship any religion other than Islam in public. And public gatherings, even if they are peaceful, are prohibited.
“They [authorities] harassed, arrested and prosecuted critics, including writers and online commentators, political and women’s rights activists, members of the Shi’a minority, and human rights defenders, imprisoning some after courts sentenced them to prison terms on vague charges,” Amnesty International said in its report on the country.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), over a dozen prominent activists convicted on charges related to peaceful activities in 2016 are serving long prison sentences.
Furthermore, HRW reports that by mid-2016, Saudi Arabia had jailed almost every founder of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association. Two of those who have been jailed were given eight- and nine-year prison sentences for their “peaceful pro-reform advocacy,” HRW said.
Another case that gained international attention was the March imprisonment of journalist Alaa Brinji, who received five years in prison for comments he posted on Twitter that criticized religious authorities and voiced support for women’s rights and human rights activists.
While Saudi Arabia legalized civil society organizations in 2015, the law allows authorities to deny permits to or dissolve them on vague grounds. HRW reported in September that they were “unaware of any registration of an independent human rights group under the new law.”

Criminal justice system

Saudi Arabia arrests, imprisons, and executes citizens it accuses of violating the law, governed by Sharia. Hundreds have been detained for suspected participation in terrorism-related activities.
“Human rights defenders and those who expressed political dissent continued to be equated to ‘terrorists,’” Amnesty said.
Those detained are held for long periods of time, often without due process and cut off from the outside world, despite laws that say detainees should be referred to a court within six months of arrest.
“Authorities do not always inform suspects of the crime with which they are charged, or allow them access to supporting evidence, sometimes even after trial sessions have begun,” HRW said. “Authorities generally do not allow lawyers to assist suspects during interrogation and sometimes impede them from examining witnesses and presenting evidence at trial.”
Punishments frequently include public floggings and executions. Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry said the country executed 144 people between January and mid-November of last year, mostly for murder and terrorism-related offenses. However, twenty-two of those convicted were for non-violent drug offenses.
HRW reports that most of the executions happened by beheading, sometimes in public.

Women’s rights

Women in Saudi Arabia live under a male guardianship system. A man, usually the woman’s husband, father, brother, or son, must give permission for her to obtain a passport, travel, marry, exit prison, access healthcare, and work. In some instances, male permission is needed to rent an apartment or file legal claims.
Women also have inferior status to men when it comes to gaining child custody, filing for divorce, and accessing higher education. They cannot drive.
HRW reported that as of July 2016, most public schools did not offer physical education classes for girls. Although, four women represented Saudi Arabia in the Rio Olympics in August, Saudi women are banned from attending national sporting events.

PHOTO: Saudi womens rights activist Souad al-Shammary puts on a head scarf in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, May 7, 2016.
Saudi women's rights activist Souad al-Shammary
There are over 3,100 women serving as members of their local council across Saudi Arabia. However, in February, the government ordered the women to be segregated from the men – only able to participate in council meetings via video link, HRW said.
Even so, last month, the United Nations member states elected Saudi Arabia to serve on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is “dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women,” according to its website.
“Saudi Arabia’s election to the commission, which was supported by 47 states, including at least three European countries, is an affront to the mission of the commission itself and a rebuke to Saudi women,” wrote HRW’s Adam Coogle in April.
ABC News' Conor Finnegan contributed to this report.
 

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Trump Betrays Allies, Divulges Classified Information to Russians


President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

[Political chaos in Washington is a return on investment in Moscow]

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”


The revelation comes as the president faces rising legal and political pressure on multiple Russia-related fronts. Last week, he fired FBI Director James B. Comey in the midst of a bureau investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Moscow. Trump’s subsequent admission that his decision was driven by “this Russia thing” was seen by critics as attempted obstruction of justice.

One day after dismissing Comey, Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — a key figure in earlier Russia controversies — into the Oval Office. It was during that meeting, officials said, that Trump went off script and began describing details of an Islamic State terrorist threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft.


For almost anyone in government, discussing such matters with an adversary would be illegal. As president, Trump has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.

White House officials involved in the meeting said Trump discussed only shared concerns about terrorism.

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” said H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, who participated in the meeting. “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed, and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

McMaster reiterated his statement in a subsequent appearance at the White House on Monday and described the Washington Post story as “false,” but did not take any questions.

In their statements, White House officials emphasized that Trump had not discussed specific intelligence sources and methods, rather than addressing whether he had disclosed information drawn from sensitive sources.

But officials expressed concern about Trump’s handling of sensitive information as well as his grasp of the potential consequences. Exposure of an intelligence stream that has provided critical insight into the Islamic State, they said, could hinder the United States’ and its allies’ ability to detect future threats.

[On Russia, Trump and his top national security aides seem to be at odds]

“It is all kind of shocking,” said a former senior U.S. official who is close to current administration officials. “Trump seems to be very reckless and doesn’t grasp the gravity of the things he’s dealing with, especially when it comes to intelligence and national security. And it’s all clouded because of this problem he has with Russia.”

In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump seemed to be boasting about his inside knowledge of the looming threat. “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” the president said, according to an official with knowledge of the exchange.


Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.

The Post is withholding most plot details, including the name of the city, at the urging of officials who warned that revealing them would jeopardize important intelligence capabilities.

“Everyone knows this stream is very sensitive, and the idea of sharing it at this level of granularity with the Russians is troubling,” said a former senior U.S. counterterrorism official who also worked closely with members of the Trump national security team. He and others spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the subject.

The identification of the location was seen as particularly problematic, officials said, because Russia could use that detail to help identify the U.S. ally or intelligence capability involved. Officials said the capability could be useful for other purposes, possibly providing intelligence on Russia’s presence in Syria. Moscow would be keenly interested in identifying that source and perhaps disrupting it.

[Trump’s new Russia expert wrote a psychological profile of Valdimir Putin – and it should scare Trump]

Russia and the United States both regard the Islamic State as an enemy and share limited information about terrorist threats. But the two nations have competing agendas in Syria, where Moscow has deployed military assets and personnel to support President Bashar al-Assad.

“Russia could identify our sources or techniques,” the senior U.S. official said.

A former intelligence official who handled high-level intelligence on Russia said that given the clues Trump provided, “I don’t think that it would be that hard [for Russian spy services] to figure this out.”


At a more fundamental level, the information wasn’t the United States’ to provide to others. Under the rules of espionage, governments — and even individual agencies — are given significant control over whether and how the information they gather is disseminated, even after it has been shared. Violating that practice undercuts trust considered essential to sharing secrets.

The officials declined to identify the ally but said it has previously voiced frustration with Washington’s inability to safeguard sensitive information related to Iraq and Syria.

“If that partner learned we’d given this to Russia without their knowledge or asking first, that is a blow to that relationship,” the U.S. official said.

Trump also described measures the United States has taken or is contemplating to counter the threat, including military operations in Iraq and Syria, as well as other steps to tighten security, officials said.

The officials would not discuss details of those measures, but the Department of Homeland Security recently disclosed that it is considering banning laptops and other large electronic devices from carry-on bags on flights between Europe and the United States. The United States and Britain imposed a similar ban in March affecting travelers passing through airports in 10 Muslim-majority countries.

Trump cast the countermeasures in wistful terms. “Can you believe the world we live in today?” he said, according to one official. “Isn’t it crazy?”

Lavrov and Kislyak were also accompanied by aides.

A Russian photographer took photos of part of the session that were released by the Russian state-owned Tass news agency. No U.S. news organization was allowed to attend any part of the meeting.

[Presence of Russian photographer in Oval Office raises alarms]

Senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout. Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, placed calls to the directors of the CIA and the NSA, the services most directly involved in the intelligence-sharing arrangement with the partner.


One of Bossert’s subordinates also called for the problematic portion of Trump’s discussion to be stricken from internal memos and for the full transcript to be limited to a small circle of recipients, efforts to prevent sensitive details from being disseminated further or leaked.

White House officials defended Trump. “This story is false,” said Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser for strategy. “The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”

But officials could not explain why staff members nevertheless felt it necessary to alert the CIA and the NSA.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said he would rather comment on the revelations in the Post story after “I know a little bit more about it,” but added: “Obviously, they are in a downward spiral right now and have got to figure out a way to come to grips with all that’s happening. And the shame of it is, there’s a really good national security team in place.”

Corker also said, “The chaos that is being created by the lack of discipline is creating an environment that I think makes — it creates a worrisome environment.”

Trump has repeatedly gone off-script in his dealings with high-ranking foreign officials, most notably in his contentious introductory conversation with the Australian prime minister earlier this year. He has also faced criticism for seemingly lax attention to security at his Florida retreat, Mar-a-Lago, where he appeared to field preliminary reports of a North Korea missile launch in full view of casual diners.

U.S. officials said that the National Security Council continues to prepare multi-page briefings for Trump to guide him through conversations with foreign leaders, but that he has insisted that the guidance be distilled to a single page of bullet points — and often ignores those.

“He seems to get in the room or on the phone and just goes with it, and that has big downsides,” the second former official said. “Does he understand what’s classified and what’s not? That’s what worries me.”

Lavrov’s reaction to the Trump disclosures was muted, officials said, calling for the United States to work more closely with Moscow on fighting terrorism.

Kislyak has figured prominently in damaging stories about the Trump administration’s ties to Russia. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced to resign just 24 days into the job over his contacts with Kislyak and his misleading statements about them. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was forced to recuse himself from matters related to the FBI’s Russia investigation after it was revealed that he had met and spoke with Kislyak, despite denying any contact with Russian officials during his confirmation hearing.

“I’m sure Kislyak was able to fire off a good cable back to the Kremlin with all the details” he gleaned from Trump, said the former U.S. official who handled intelligence on Russia.

The White House readout of the meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak made no mention of the discussion of a terrorist threat.

“Trump emphasized the need to work together to end the conflict in Syria,” the summary said. The president also “raised Ukraine” and “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia.”

Julie Tate and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report                                                                  
By Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe May 15 at 7:45 PM




Thursday, May 11, 2017

President Dumbo Contradicts His Own Narrative and Admits Obstructing Justice


Now, trump probably doesn't even know what a "narrative" is, but he fired Comey because Comey was close to exposing him as at best, an incompetent boob, at worst, a cowardly traitor. When he pressured Comey to pledge fealty to HIM, and Comey refused, he was fired.
In reality, it's a little of both.
Then, he had the acting attorney general say that he recommended that Comey be fired and trump agreed.
Now he is saying that it was entirely his idea, and he fired Comey because Comey was a showboat, and if there is one thing this piece of human excrement hates, it's someone who gets credit for something trump he wishes he had done first.
This corpulent screwball needs to be impeached and then indicted.
mfbsr and Zamir Etzioni

Some Of The Dumbest Excuses For the Firing of Comey

Republicans who still insist on defending President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey have been making several arguments as to why this action was appropriate and legal. Here are the most commonly offered -- and easily debunked -- arguments:
1. "Trump has the power to fire the FBI director." In the abstract, this is true. What is not true is that the president has the right to concoct a scheme to stop an investigation into his administration's possible wrongdoing by firing the chief investigator, creating a fake cover story and sending officials out to lie.
ACLU National Legal Director David Cole explains that Trump has the authority to fire executive branch appointees, "But if he did so, as appears to be the case, because he is concerned that Comey's investigation of ties between his campaign and Russian officials might have implicated him in wrongdoing, it's tantamount to an obstruction of justice." If one carries the Republicans' argument to its logical conclusion, then any president could fire any investigator with the express reason of discontinuing an investigation. That cannot be right.
Republican ethics guru Richard Painter agrees. He told Rolling Stone: "We cannot tolerate this -- for the president to be firing people who are investigating him and his campaign and its collusion with the Russians. It's a lot worse than Watergate. Watergate was a third-rate burglary. It was purely domestic in nature. This situation involves Russian espionage, and we've got to find out who is collaborating." He explained, "The president has the right to do it -- legally he can do it -- but it's an abuse of power. It's what President Nixon did when he fired Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, and Nixon had to go through three [Justice Department officials] to do it."

 2. "Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein is an honest public servant, so we have to believe the rationale he gave for firing Comey." This argument made sense for a few hours. Then the president said in the Oval Office that he fired Comey because he was doing a bad job, not because of his handling of Hillary Clinton's email server investigation. Kellyanne Conway also went on TV to assert that the firing had nothing to do with the emails.
The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that Rosenstein threatened to quit because the White House falsely attempted to pin the decision to fire Comey on him. ("Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.") So no, Rosenstein doesn't exonerate Trump; he proves that this was a scheme to tamp down the Russia investigation and lie about it.
The Post's exhaustive reporting demonstrates that Trump, as many suspected, initiated the firing because he was "angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped." The reporting confirmed, "Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia's effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists." Trump's own spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged that Trump had been contemplating the firing for some time.

3. "It would be too stupid to fire Comey to stop the Russia investigation." The theory goes that Trump would know it would cause a ruckus so he'd never do it for that reason. This makes little sense for three reasons. First, we know Trump is illogical and impervious to counsel that he does not like. We already know he acts impetuously and unwisely. Second, if he was too stupid to fire Comey over Russia, it was even more stupid to fire him for the reason Rosenstein provided, since it would also have -- and has -- created a firestorm. And finally, if Trump fired him for the reasons stated in Rosenstein's memo, then there would have been no need to rush; a replacement would have been lined up and staff would have been ready to defend this action. The president blindsided his own staff because, it seems, he rushed action out of anger and frustration.
Republicans wound up with Trump as their president by marinating themselves in a stew of half-truths, conspiracy theories and self-delusion. They are doing so again as they desperately grab for excuses and explanations to account for egregiously inappropriate behavior. When the Senate majority leader and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal sound indistinguishable from Sean Hannity in their specious rationalizations, you know the right is intellectually and morally exhausted.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Will trump Avoid Prison By Pleading Insanity?



The one term you will never hear applied to trump is intelligence.
He is obviously an incredibly stupid individual.
His Presidency has been marred by one pathetic blunder after another.
From his hiring of a Russian operative for national security Advisor to yesterday's
firing of James Comey because he thought Comey was honing in on him and his co-conspirators.

The Comey Firing: Obstruction of Justice or Just Trump Being Trump?


OK, sure, this looks bad. But I'm sure there are reasonable explanations for all of it. And Sean Spicer will tell us what they are as soon as he comes out of hiding.

This whole story is just bizarre. Before yesterday, I would have guessed that Trump's Russia ties were actually fairly minimal. Maybe Flynn and Manafort were closer to the Kremlin than they should have been, and hell, maybe Trump has gotten funding in the past for his real estate projects from Russian oligarchs. But that's probably it. Nothing that would really harm Trump himself a lot.

And maybe that's still all there is. Maybe Trump just erupted because Comey's persistence was pissing him off and he wanted to show who was boss. And he figured it was no big deal because Democrats and Republicans both hate Comey and would be happy to see him go. That was, needless to say, a massive miscalculation, but not a surprising one from a functioning sociopath like Trump.

But...I don't know anymore. Maybe there really is more here. Trump's odd embrace of Russia-friendly policies during the 2016 campaign always made that plausible. This is all just weird as hell.