Sunday, January 15, 2017

Crisis Warnings Sound As EU Gears Up For New Migrant Wave


Migrants reach out for floatation vests waiting to board the MV Aquarius, as 193 people and two corpses are recovered Friday Jan. 13, 2017, from international waters in the Mediterranean Sea about 22 miles (35 Km) north of Sabrata, Libya. The MV Aquarius search and rescue vessel operated by MSF and SOS Mediterranee picked up 183 male and 10 female migrants, thought to have originated from African countries including Nigeria, Gambia and Senegal. The migrants are expected to disembark in Italy. (AP Photo/Sima Diab)

VALLETTA, MALTA (AP) — Tens of thousands of people seeking better lives are expected to trek across deserts and board unseaworthy boats in war-torn Libya this year in a desperate effort to reach European shores by way of Italy.

More than 181,000 people, most so-called "economic migrants" with little chance of being allowed to stay in Europe, attempted to cross the central Mediterranean last year from Libya, Africa's nearest stretch of coast to Italy. About 4,500 died or disappeared.

Hundreds already have taken to the sea this month, braving the winter weather. In the latest reminder of the journey's perils, more than 100 people were missing off Libya's coast over the weekend after a migrant boat sunk.

Some European leaders are warning of a fresh migration crisis when sea waters warm again and more people choose to put their lives in the hands of smugglers.

"Come next spring, the number of people crossing over the Mediterranean will reach record levels," Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, whose country holds the European Union's presidency, predicted. "The choice is trying to do something now, or meeting urgently in April, May...and try to do a deal then."

The 28-nation EU already has a controversial deal to stem the flow of migrants from Turkey, which has agreed to try to stop the number of migrants leaving the country and to take back thousands more. In exchange, Turkey is supposed to receive billions of euros, visa-free travel for its citizens, and fast-tracked EU membership talks.

Now, the EU wants to adapt this outsourcing pact to the African nations that migrants are leaving or are jumping off from to reach Europe, despite criticism that the agreement sends asylum-seekers back to countries that could be unsafe for them.

The bottom line is that the Turkey deal works. The number of people arriving in the Greek islands, for instance, plunged over the last year despite political wrangling over whether Turkey's government was meeting the conditions for securing the visa-free travel incentive.

And EU nations have even fewer scruples about turning away migrants who take the central Mediterranean route to Italy since they mostly are job seekers who would be ineligible for asylum.

Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Mali and Chad are all on the EU's radar, and dealing with them is proving expensive. But the bloc's arrangement with Turkey has shown that the best way of stemming migrant flows is to stop people taking to the sea. Libya and Egypt are the main migrant departure points, and pacts with them would probably have the biggest immediate impact.

Muscat wants to build on a deal Italy is trying to reach with Libya by adding EU funds and other support. He also thinks the EU's anti-smuggler naval mission, Operation Sophia, should be extended into Libyan territorial waters to stop people in unsafe boats from reaching open water.

Easier said than done. The EU has been unable to secure United Nations backing for such a move, and Libya has no central authority with the reach or stability to negotiate a long-term agreement with the Europeans.

"The reality of Libya right now is that there is no unified government controlling all parts of the country, and no end of groups willing to upend things if there is an advantage in it for them," Carlo Binda, a Libya expert with Malta-based political and development advisers Binda Consulting International.

Libya's neighbor Egypt appears a more viable option. Many people have set out for Europe from Egypt in recent months, mainly migrants from the Horn of Africa trying to avoid dangerous Libya and increasingly Egyptians themselves, according to the EU's border agency Frontex.

Despite some instability, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a former general who led the 2013 military removal of an elected Islamist president, is a man with whom the Europeans feel they can do business. Sissi also wields plenty of influence in Libya.

Egypt's economy has been battered by unrest since the 2011 uprising that toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak. If there is one thing the world's biggest trading bloc does well, it is raise funds to pay for its problems.

"Egypt is the country with which one could come to some sort of agreement," Maltese Foreign Minister George Vella said. "There is stability to a certain extent, and they are interested because even they themselves have got their own problem with migration."

Time is of the essence. The EU has for several years tried to cobble together migration polices while people died at sea.

The refugee emergency — Europe's worst since World War II — also has raised tensions among EU member countries. Some countries have erected anti-migrant fences or reintroduced border controls amid deep disagreement over how to manage the challenge.

"Things are getting complicated. I would rather face the music now," Muscat said.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

House Dems Press FBI On Russia, Possible Link To Trump Camp

JANUARY 14, 2017

FBI Director James Comey, left, leaves the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats still seething over FBI Director James Comey's handling of the election-year inquiry of Hillary Clinton confronted the law enforcement officer over his refusal to say whether the FBI is investigating possible links between President-elect Donald Trump's campaign and Russia.

The contentious, closed-door session Friday reflected the frustration of Democrats who blame Comey's statements and actions in part for Clinton's loss to Trump. In July, Comey announced the findings of the FBI investigation that found Clinton's use of a private email server was "extremely careless" but not criminal. Then, days before the Nov. 8 election, he sent two letters to Congress, one announcing a review of newly found emails and then another saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

The Justice Department inspector general announced this week that he is investigating Comey and the department. Democrats and Republicans who attended the all-member briefing on Friday with Comey and senior intelligence officials said several lawmakers pressed him in a tense session about his refusal to say whether there is an examination of alleged contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, said the meeting was contentious but said Comey handled himself well under difficult circumstances. "Yesterday morning if you asked me if I thought Comey was at the end of his career ... I probably would have said 'I think so,'" King said. "Now I think he deserves to be reassessed, just by the way he handled himself. I was impressed."

Clearly frustrated with Comey was Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who was forced to resign as head of the Democratic National Committee after hacked emails surfaced that suggested the party operation favored Clinton over her primary rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

She confronted Comey, according to a Democrat who attended the briefing. Lawmakers and other congressional officials spoke on condition of anonymity to freely discuss the private meeting. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., repeatedly asked Comey if he had applied a "double standard" in disclosing investigations. Comey has previously said his standard was based on whether there is a need to reassure the public about a possible high-profile probe.

"Do you believe that standard has been met with reference to the possible investigation of the Trump campaign's possible connections to the Russian government? And if not, why not?" Nadler pressed. The congressman told Comey that he should clarify whether the FBI is investigating, as he did with Clinton's email probe.

According to Nadler, Comey responded no, he didn't think it was the same thing and said he couldn't comment further. "That's what got many people in the room frustrated and upset," Nadler told The Associated Press on Saturday. "He was being very hypocritical."

A declassified intelligence report released last week said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hidden campaign to influence the election to favor Trump over Clinton, revelations that have roiled Washington.

Trump and his supporters have staunchly resisted the findings and Trump has leveled a series of broadsides at U.S. intelligence agencies, even though he'll have to rely on their expertise to help him make major national security decisions once he takes over at the White House next week. He will be sworn in Jan. 20.

After the closed-door session, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters: "The American people are owed the truth." "There is a great deal of evidence to say that this is a high - an issue of high interest to the American people," Pelosi said. "The strength, the integrity of our own democracy. And that for that reason, the FBI should let us know whether they're making - doing that investigation or not. They're usually inscrutable, as you saw in the public testimony in the Senate."

In testimony to the Senate on Tuesday, Comey refused to say whether the FBI was investigating any possible ties between Russia and Trump's presidential campaign, citing policy not to comment on what the FBI might or might not be doing.

"I would never comment on investigations — whether we have one or not — in an open forum like this so I can't answer one way or another," Comey told the panel. Late Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced it would investigate possible contacts between Russia and the people associated with U.S. political campaigns as part of a broader investigation into Moscow's meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

In a statement, Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the committee's chairman, and Mark Warner, D-Va., the panel's top Democrat, said the panel "will follow the intelligence where it leads." Burr and Warner said that as part of the investigation they will interview senior officials from the Obama administration and the incoming Trump administration. They said subpoenas would be issued "if necessary to compel testimony."

According to the committee's statement, the inquiry will include: — A review of the intelligence that informed the declassified report about Russia's interference in the election. — "Counterintelligence concerns" related to Russia and the election, "including any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns."

— Russian cyber activity and other "active measures" against the United States during the election and more broadly.

Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Watchdog To Probe Comey's, FBI's Actions Before Election

JANUARY 13, 2017

FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Justice Department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz says he will launch an investigation into the Justice Department and FBI's actions in the months leading up to the 2016 election, including whether department policies were followed by FBI Director James Comey.

WASHINGTON (AP) — In yet another aftershock from the chaotic presidential campaign, the Justice Department inspector general opened an investigation Thursday into department and FBI actions before the election, including whether FBI Director James Comey followed established policies in the email investigation of Hillary Clinton.

Democrats have blamed Comey's handling of the inquiry into Clinton's use of a private email server, and his late-October public letter about the case, in part for her loss to Republican Donald Trump. Workers are now putting final touches on preparations for next week's Inauguration Day festivities, and the new probe will not change the election results. But it revives questions of whether the FBI took actions that might have influenced the outcome.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz, the department's internal watchdog, will direct the investigation, which comes in response to requests from members of Congress and the public. Comey said he was pleased about the review and the FBI would cooperate fully with the inspector general.

"I hope very much he is able to share his conclusions and observations with the public because everyone will benefit from thoughtful evaluation and transparency regarding this matter," he said in a statement.

Robby Mook, who served as Clinton's campaign manager, said it had raised concerns when Comey commented on the investigation and said the release of his letters in the days before the election was "extremely destructive and ended up amounting to nothing whatsoever."

"It's a troubling pattern that the FBI seems to have chosen a horse in this election, and we welcome this investigation so this doesn't happen again," Mook said. During a Senate Intelligence Committee briefing on Russian hacking, Comey was pressed by lawmakers of his handling of the investigation. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Comey "defended it very well ... he put the facts out there, and hindsight being 20/20, he said these are the facts I had to deal with, and these are the decisions I made, I'm sorry if someone takes offense."

"He explained to us that he was faced with two decisions — one with very bad consequences and the other with disastrous consequences," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del. "He chose what he thought was the less harmful consequences to our country."

Horowitz's office is one of many independent investigative bodies designed to oversee the conduct of federal departments and agencies. They most commonly seek to ferret out misconduct and fraud in the department or among its contractors. Investigating an agency's top leadership is a rare, but not unheard of, occurrence.

One part of the review will concern Comey's news conference last July in which he said the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton for her use of a private email system during her tenure as secretary of state. Trump repeatedly criticized that practice, contending it put national security secrets at risk.

Trump also declared at raucous rallies during the campaign that he would seek a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and that she would be in jail if he were elected. But he said after the election that he did not intend to seek a new investigation of her.

Comey, during his announcement in the summer, broke protocol when he chastised Clinton and her aides as "extremely careless" in their email practices. It's highly unusual for federal law enforcement officials to discuss a criminal case that ends without charges being filed.

Comey reignited the email controversy on Oct. 28 when he informed Congress that agents would be reviewing a cache of emails between Clinton aide Huma Abedin and Clinton for any new evidence related to Clinton's handling of sensitive State Department material.

That move boiled in the campaign for nine days, before Comey announced on Nov. 6 — two days before Election Day — that the inquiry had found no new evidence of wrongdoing. Clinton and her aides have said the disclosure of the "new" emails, found on a laptop belonging to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, Abedin's estranged husband, hurt the candidate in several battleground states. Trump won the election in part with narrow victories in Democratic-leaning states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Comey's statements prompted outrage from Clinton and other Democrats who said they needlessly placed her under fresh suspicion when the FBI didn't even know whether the emails were relevant. Court documents released last month said the FBI had been trying to get a look at thousands of Clinton's emails on the disgraced former congressman's computer to see if anyone had hacked in to steal classified information. Weiner's laptop was initially seized by agents for an investigation into his online relationship with a teenage girl in North Carolina.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote Thursday on Twitter that he supports the IG's review "of what happened at the (hashtag)DOJ and (hashtag)FBI during the Clinton investigation."

Horowitz's broad investigation will also look into allegations that the FBI's deputy director should have been recused from participating in certain investigative matters and allegations that department officials improperly disclosed non-public information to the Clinton campaign.

It will also delve into decision-making related to the timing of the FBI's release of Freedom of Information Act documents in the days before the election and the use of a Twitter account to publicize them.

Asked about the new investigation, Attorney General Loretta Lynch told The Associated Press in Baltimore that "we let them conduct their review before we make any statement about that." She added that "obviously everyone's going to await the results of that."

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Baltimore and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

In Farewell Speech, Obama Warns Of Threats To Democracy

CHICAGO TRIBUNE January 10, 2017

President Barack Obama wipes away a tear during his farewell address Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 at McCormick Place. Image: Brian Casella/Chicago Tribune

Barack Obama said goodbye Tuesday night to a nation that delivered him a historic presidency and exhorted supporters to work to fulfill democracy's promise as a new era in Washington led by Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump is about to begin.

Even as Obama exits the world and national stage in little more than a week, his nationally broadcast speech to an estimated 18,000 at McCormick Place made clear to thousands of supporters in his adopted hometown of Chicago that his social and civic activism will continue — as a citizen.

Joined by First Lady Michelle Obama, daughter Malia and Vice President Joe Biden, the president credited Chicago with playing a crucial role in his path to public service.

"I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties and I was still trying to figure out who I was, still searching for a purpose in my life," Obama said in a speech that lasted about 50 minutes.

"And it was in a neighborhood not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss," said Obama, a South Side community organizer. "Now, this is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and come together to demand it."

Obama's comments about Chicago came as a woman shouted at him from the audience, holding a sign saying, "Pardon us all now." That prompted supporters to try to shout down the protester by chanting, "Four more years." Police removed the protester.

The farewell speech demonstrated that while Obama is leaving the White House, the 55-year-old president is not headed to quiet retirement amid one-party Republican control of the nation, a controversial successor in the White House and a Democratic Party that finds itself in disarray and without focused leadership.

Instead, the onetime University of Chicago law lecturer delivered a lesson on what he perceives as dangers to democracy, including rising economic inequality, growing racial tensions, fear of terrorism and a fracturing of media that allows people to exist in their own political preference "bubbles," regardless of fact or science.

And while he only mentioned the incoming president once by name — discussing the peaceful transfer of power that will come on Jan. 20 — Obama's message sought to combat some of the concepts and demographic appeals that Trump embraced to win the White House.

Citing the growth of automation in displacing middle-class jobs in the future, Obama called for a new social compact "to guarantee all our kids the education they need, to give workers the power to unionize for better wages, to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code" so corporations and wealthy individuals don't "avoid their obligations to the country."

"We can argue about how to best to achieve these goals. But we can't be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don't create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come," he said.

While Obama said his election as the nation's first black president inspired optimism toward a "post-racial America," he added that such a vision "was never realistic."

He also warned economic divisions have intensified racial divisions, particularly at a time when the growth of the nation's Hispanic population continues. To be serious about race, Obama said laws to fight discrimination in hiring, housing, education and criminal justice must be upheld — and "hearts must change."

"For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face," Obama said, including "the middle-aged white man who, from the outside, may seem like he's got all the advantages, but who's seen his world upended by economic, cultural and technological change."

For whites, Obama said, "it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn't suddenly vanish in the '60s, that when minority groups voice discontent, they're not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they're not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our founders promised."

Noting the increasing partisanship that marked his tenure as president, Obama warned another threat to democracy was the trend of people becoming "so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that's out there."

"Without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent is making a fair point and that science and reason matter, we'll keep talking past each other, making common ground and compromise impossible," he said.

In what may have been his most direct criticism of Trump, Obama spoke of the threat of terrorism, the vigilance of first responders and the military and vowed "ISIL will be destroyed."

But the president also warned that "democracy can buckle when we give in to fear."

"So just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are," Obama said.

"That's why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans," he added, drawing loud applause. "That's why we cannot withdraw from global fights — to expand democracy and human rights, women's rights, LGBT rights — no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem."

Obama also warned of complacency and urged all Americans, regardless of party, to "throw ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. The potential of democracy only works "if our politics better reflects the decency of our people" and if everyone helps to "restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now."

As expected, Obama briefly touched on a list of accomplishments during his tenure, including the Affordable Care Act, which has provided health insurance to 20 million previously uninsured and that the new GOP administration and leadership in Congress has promised to dismantle.

Obama took credit for rescuing the economy he inherited in 2009 as the Great Recession deepened, noting a gradual jobs recovery along with wages that have increased in recent years at a pace faster than at any time in the last four decades.

He also talked up a foreign policy that he characterized as sharply curtailing, but not totally ending, U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan; killing Al Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden; restoring relations with Cuba; and featuring U.S.-led multinational efforts to curb Iran's ability to develop nuclear weapons.

"That's what we did. That's what you did. You were the change," he said in summing up his accomplishments. "You answered people's hopes. And because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started."

As he began to close his speech, the president recognized first lady Michelle Obama and wiped away a tear.

"You took on a role you didn't ask for and made it your own with grace and with grit and with style and good humor," he said.

Chicago has held special meaning to Obama, where he moved after serving as the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review to become a community organizer, then to serve as a state and U.S. senator and ultimately for eight years as president.

The city served as the base of his presidential campaigns and was a source for his top White House aides. And it helped provide him with the ambition to seek out a career in politics, even as he suffered his only election loss here in a failed 2000 primary challenge to South Side U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush.

Obama has acknowledged had he defeated Rush, it might have changed his political trajectory to a point where he would not have even sought the presidency, let alone win the White House.

Long lines of supporters looking to see Obama's last major presidential speech gathered in the rain and wind hours before the event to undergo airport-style security screening.

The Windy City's wind-swept weather on Tuesday night forced the presidential entourage to travel by motorcade to McCormick Place, which included shutting down the in-bound Kennedy Expressway and portions of Lake Shore Drive during rush hour after Air Force One landed at O'Hare International Airport. Usually, the president uses the Marine One helicopter to travel from O'Hare to downtown.

Prior to arriving at McCormick Place, the presidential motorcade arrived at one of Obama's favorite restaurants, Valois, in Hyde Park. He did an interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt, who previously was an anchor and reporter in Chicago.

Among the dozens in the crowd outside was Jessica Simmons, 38, a marketing manager who works in the neighborhood. Simmons said she waited for two hours on a sidewalk along Harper Avenue to catch a brief glimpse of Obama's motorcade.

"He served the country and the people for eight years, and to show my gratitude I can stand out here, wave, send him off and wish him well," Simmons said. "It's absolutely a whole new meaning to 'Thanks, Obama.'"

President Barack Obama's Farewell Address

Full Text Of Transcript
McCormick Place, Chicago
January 10, 2017 

OBAMA: Hello Skybrook!


It’s good to be home!


Thank you, everybody!


Thank you.


Thank you.


Thank you so much, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


It’s good to be home.

Thank you.


We’re on live TV here, I’ve got to move.


You can tell that I’m a lame duck, because nobody is following instructions.


Everybody have a seat.

My fellow Americans, Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well-wishes that we’ve received over the past few weeks. But tonight it’s my turn to say thanks.

Whether we have seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people — in living rooms and in schools; at farms and on factory floors; at diners and on distant military outposts — those conversations are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going. And every day, I have learned from you. You made me a better president, and you made me a better man.

So I first came to Chicago when I was in my early twenties, and I was still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life. And it was a neighborhood not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills.

It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.


I can’t do that.

Now this is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.

After eight years as your president, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea — our bold experiment in self-government.

It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.

What a radical idea, the great gift that our Founders gave to us. The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, and toil, and imagination — and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.

For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom.

It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It’s what powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan — and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.


So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional. Not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change, and make life better for those who follow.

Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It has been contentious. Sometimes it has been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all, and not just some.


If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9-11 — if I had told you that we would win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens — if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

But that’s what we did. That’s what you did. You were the change. The answer to people’s hopes and, because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.

In 10 days the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy. No, no, no, no, no. The peaceful transfer of power from one freely-elected President to the next. I committed to President-Elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me.

Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face. We have what we need to do so. We have everything we need to meet those challenges. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on earth.

Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.

And that’s what I want to focus on tonight, the state of our democracy. Understand democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one.

There have been moments throughout our history that threatened that solidarity. And the beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality, demographic change, and the specter of terrorism. These forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids and create good jobs and protect our homeland.

In other words, it will determine our future. To begin with, our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.


And the good news is that today the economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again.


The wealthy are paying a fair share of taxes. Even as the stock market shatters records, the unemployment rate is near a 10-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower.


Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. And I’ve said, and I mean it, anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it.


Because that, after all, is why we serve. Not to score points or take credit. But to make people’s lives better.


But, for all the real progress that we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class, and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class.


That’s the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic idea. While the top 1 percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many of our families in inner cities and in rural counties have been left behind.

The laid off factory worker, the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills. Convinced that the game is fixed against them. That their government only serves the interest of the powerful. That’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.

Now there’re no quick fixes to this long-term trend. I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good middle class jobs obsolete.

And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need.


To give workers the power...


... to unionize for better wages.


To update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now.


And make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and the individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible.



We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.

There’s a second threat to our democracy. And this one is as old as our nation itself.

After my election there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent...


... and often divisive force in our society.

Now I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10 or 20 or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say.


You can see it not just in statistics. You see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum. But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do.


If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves.


If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce.


And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.

So if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination — in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system.


That is what our Constitution and highest ideals require.

But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work the way it should in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction, Atticus Finch, who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

For blacks and other minority groups, that means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face. Not only the refugee or the immigrant or the rural poor or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who from the outside may seem like he’s got all the advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic, and cultural, and technological change.

We have to pay attention and listen.


For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ’60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; when they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment that our founders promised.


For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles, who it was said were going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened.


So regardless of the station we occupy; we all have to try harder; we all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.



And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods, or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. In the rise of naked partisanship and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste, all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable.

And increasingly we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there.


And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. Look, politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter, then we’re going to keep talking past each other.


And we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible. And isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on pre-school for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations?

How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, it’s selective sorting of the facts. It’s self-defeating because, as my mom used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you.

Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil, we’ve doubled our renewable energy, we’ve led the world to an agreement that (at) the promise to save this planet.


But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects. More environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary. Now we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country, the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our founders.


It is that spirit — it is that spirit born of the enlightenment that made us an economic powerhouse. The spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral, the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket, it’s that spirit. A faith in reason and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might, that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression, that allowed us to build a post-World War II order with other democracies.

An order based not just on military power or national affiliations, but built on principles, the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion and speech and assembly and an independent press.


That order is now being challenged. First by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam. More recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who seek free markets in open democracies and civil society itself as a threat to their power.

The peril each poses to our democracy is more far reaching than a car bomb or a missile. They represent the fear of change. The fear of people who look or speak or pray differently. A contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable. An intolerance of dissent and free thought. A belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.

Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform. Because of our intelligence officers and law enforcement and diplomats who support our troops...


... no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years.



And although...


... Boston and Orlando and San Bernardino and Fort Hood remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We have taken out tens of thousands of terrorists, including Bin Laden.



The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed. And no one who threatens America will ever be safe.



And all who serve or have served — it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your commander-in-chief.


And we all owe you a deep debt of gratitude.



But, protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when it gives into fear. So just as we as citizens must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.


And that’s why for the past eight years I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties.


That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans...


... who are just as patriotic as we are.



That’s why...


That’s why we cannot withdraw...


That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights to expand democracy and human rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights.


No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that’s part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.

So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight.


Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for, and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.

Which brings me to my final point — our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.


All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions.


When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote.


When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes.


But remember, none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.

Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning — with our participation, and with the choices that we make and the alliances that we forge.

Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law, that’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.

In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken... to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.”

And so we have to preserve this truth with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one.


America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service. So course with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen, not just as misguided, but as malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others.


When we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt. And when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.


It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy. Embrace the joyous task we have been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours because, for all our outward differences, we in fact all share the same proud type, the most important office in a democracy, citizen.


Citizen. So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when you own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.


If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing.


If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clip board, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.


Show up, dive in, stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir in goodness, that can be a risk. And there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been part of this one and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America and in Americans will be confirmed. Mine sure has been.


Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in a Charleston church. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch. I’ve seen Wounded Warriors who at points were given up for dead walk again.

I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees or work for peace and, above all, to look out for each other. So that faith that I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change, that faith has been rewarded in ways I could not have possibly imagined.

And I hope your faith has too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home, you were there with us in 2004 and 2008, 2012.



Maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off.


Let me tell you, you’re not the only ones.





Michelle LaVaughn Robinson of the South Side...



... for the past 25 years you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend.



You took on a role you didn’t ask for. And you made it your own with grace and with grit and with style, and good humor.



You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody.


And a new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model.



You have made me proud, and you have made the country proud.



Malia and Sasha...


... under the strangest of circumstances you have become two amazing young women.


You are smart and you are beautiful. But more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion.





... you wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I have done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad.


To Joe Biden...



... the scrappy kid from Scranton...


... who became Delaware’s favorite son. You were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best.



Not just because you have been a great vice president, but because in the bargain I gained a brother. And we love you and Jill like family. And your friendship has been one of the great joys of our lives.


To my remarkable staff, for eight years, and for some of you a whole lot more, I have drawn from your energy. And every day I try to reflect back what you displayed. Heart and character. And idealism. I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, start incredible new journeys of your own.

Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. You guarded against cynicism. And the only thing that makes me prouder than all the good that we’ve done is the thought of all the amazing things that you are going to achieve from here.


And to all of you out there — every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town, every kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change — you are the best supporters and organizers anybody could ever hope for, and I will forever be grateful. Because you did change the world.


You did.

And that’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans; it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference; to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.

Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America; you know that constant change has been America’s hallmark, that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace, you are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber any of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands.


My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your president — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago.

I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.

I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written:

Yes, we can.


Yes, we did.


Yes, we can.


Thank you. God bless you. And may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you.



Monday, January 09, 2017

It's All Good: Any Exercise Cuts Risk Of Death, Study Finds


 A runner is silhouetted against the sunrise on his early morning workout near Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., across the Potomac River from the nation's capital. Research released on Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 suggests that people who pack their workouts into one or two days a week lower their risk of dying as much as those who exercise more often, as long as they get enough of it.

Weekend warriors, take a victory lap. People who pack their workouts into one or two sessions a week lower their risk of dying over roughly the next decade nearly as much as people who exercise more often, new research suggests.

Even people who get less exercise than recommended have less risk than folks who don't break a sweat at all. "If someone is completely inactive, the best thing they can do is even getting out and taking a walk," said Hannah Arem, a health researcher at George Washington University. For people who think they don't have enough time for small amounts of exercise to matter, the results are "encouraging or perhaps motivating," she said.

She had no role in the study, but wrote a commentary published with the results Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. Here are some things to know. HOW MUCH EXERCISE DO WE NEED? U.S. and global guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week, ideally spread out so you get some on most days.

That's based on many previous studies suggesting a host of benefits beyond the risk of premature death that this study measured. HOW THE STUDY WAS DONE Researchers at Loughborough University in England used surveys by trained interviewers on nearly 64,000 adults in England and Scotland from 1994 to 2008. By last year, 8,802 had died.

Participants were grouped according to how much exercise they said they got the preceding month: —Inactive (no leisure time exercise), 63 percent. —Regular exercisers (meet the guidelines), 11 percent.

—Weekend warriors (get the recommended weekly amount but in one or two sessions), 4 percent. —Insufficiently active (get less than the recommended weekly amount), 22 percent. RESULTS The risk of dying was about 30 percent lower in weekend warriors and insufficient exercisers versus those who were inactive. Regular exercisers lowered their risk a little more, by 35 percent.

Any amount of activity helped cut the risk of dying of heart disease by about 40 percent, compared to being a couch potato. DOES THIS MEAN THE GUIDELINES ARE BUNK? No, independent experts say. Exercise has many other benefits such as helping to prevent dementia, depression, high blood pressure, unhealthy sleep patterns and diabetes. Some of these effects are short-lived, so exercising more often gives more of them, Arem said.

"I don't know that we're ready to say, based on this study, that people shouldn't try to exercise more than that if they can," said Dr. Daniel Rader, preventive cardiology chief at the University of Pennsylvania. "People who exercise more regularly report that they feel like they have a better quality of life," among other benefits, he said.

Still, the results are "quite fascinating and a bit surprising" on the "dose" of exercise needed for benefit, Rader said. "Even if you only have time to do something once a week, this study would suggest it's still worth doing."

CAVEATS TO THE STUDY More than 90 percent of the participants were white, so results may differ in other racial or ethnic groups. Exercise was only assessed at the start of the study and could have changed over time.

The biggest limitation is that observational studies like this can only suggest exercise and health risks may be related; they cannot prove the point.

Marilynn Marchione can be followed at .

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Trump's Slim N Korea Options: Diplomacy, Sanctions, Force


WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump says he is confident North Korea won't develop a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the United States. But his options for stopping the reclusive communist country are slim: diplomacy that would reward Pyongyang, sanctions which haven't worked, and military action that no one wants.

For more than two decades, Republican and Democratic administrations have tried carrots and sticks to steer North Korea away from nuclear weapons. Each has failed. And as Trump prepares to take office Jan. 20, the stakes are rising.

Pyongyang may already be able to arm short-range and mid-range missiles with atomic warheads, threatening U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, and American forces in each country. On Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said preparations for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile "reached the final stage."

Trump tweeted the following day: "It won't happen!" Some experts believe the North is likely to have the capability to strike the U.S. mainland before Trump's four-year term is up. The president-elect has given conflicting signals about what he plans to do, while stressing that China, North Korea's traditional ally, must exert greater pressure on its unpredictable neighbor.

Some of his options:


In June, Trump called for dialogue with North Korea and suggested a talk with Kim over a hamburger.

If only talking with the secretive, hereditary rulers in Pyongyang were so simple. No sitting U.S. president has ever done so.

Diplomacy with the North is a delicate dance and agreements have proved temporary.

Three U.S. administrations, going back to President Bill Clinton, have persuaded the North to disarm in exchange for aid. Each effort eventually failed, and there is deep skepticism in Congress about trying again.

A 1994 deal would have given North Korea nuclear power reactors and normalized ties with Washington. North Korea's plutonium production paused for several years. But after it emerged the North also was seeking to use uranium for weapons, the arrangement collapsed.

Six-nation nuclear negotiations hosted by China have been on ice since North Korea withdrew in 2009.

The Obama administration attempted to restart them in 2012, early in Kim's rule, by offering food aid for a nuclear and missile freeze. Within weeks, the North tried to launch a long-range rocket. The effort was abandoned.

Since then, the U.S. has resorted to "strategic patience" — demanding North Korea recommit to denuclearization before holding talks. Pyongyang has refused, demanding the U.S. end military exercises with South Korea and negotiate a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War.

American officials fear the North only would want talks to ease its isolation, and not to resolve the nuclear question.


International sanctions have tightened since North Korea conducted its first of five nuclear tests in 2006. But the country has adeptly circumvented restrictions on sensitive technology and money flows, and used its own capabilities to develop weapons.

Additional U.S. sanctions, beefed up last year, punish foreign companies and banks dealing with North Korea. They, too, haven't been effective because the North's international isolation makes it less susceptible to such pressure than a major economy like Iran, which curbed its nuclear program in 2015 after being battered by oil, trade and financial sanctions.

China's role is critical. It dominates trade with the North and has resisted sanctions that could destabilize Pyongyang, fearing the possibility of a U.S.-allied, unified Korea emerging.

When the U.N. Security Council punished Pyongyang for another nuclear test in September, the primary goal was closing a loophole that enabled China to import North Korean coal at record levels.

The last several U.S. administrations entered office determined to break Beijing's partnership with Pyongyang. None succeeded.

Using military force against North Korea is extremely risky.

Even before it developed nuclear weapons, the North maintained the ability to strike Seoul, South Korea's capital, with a potentially devastating artillery barrage. Although doing so would invite a blistering U.S. response, it's hardly a scenario any American commander-in-chief wants to contemplate.

The military option has been considered before.

Clinton considered a strike on the North's nuclear facilities after it announced it would reprocess fuel from a nuclear reactor, providing it plutonium for bombs. Diplomacy appeared to win out that time with the 1994 agreement.

A military strike would be harder to pull off now. North Korea has expanded its nuclear and missile programs significantly, meaning more targets would have to be hit.

And regional support would be questionable.

In a recent paper, former U.S. negotiator Joel Wit said the escalation risk meant neither South Korea nor Japan would likely support a military strike. It could also draw into the conflict China, which fought on North Korea's side against U.S.-led forces six decades ago.

Police End NAACP Sit-In Against Attorney General Nominee


Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is shown while meeting with Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Several NAACP members, led by their national president, staged a sit-in Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, at the Alabama office of U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions to protest his nomination to be the nation's next attorney general.

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA (AP) — The national president of the NAACP and five others were arrested after staging a sit-in Tuesday at the Alabama office of Sen. Jeff Sessions, the nominee for U.S. attorney general, the civil rights group said.

The organization held the demonstration to protest Sessions' nomination by President-elect Donald Trump, criticizing Sessions' record and views on civil rights, immigration, criminal justice reform, and voting rights enforcement.

"We have an attorney general nominee who does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud," NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said by phone earlier in Tuesday's protest. Brooks called Sessions a poor choice to lead the U.S. Justice Department.

The sit-in at Sessions' office in Mobile, Alabama — the city the Republican senator calls home — began around 11 a.m. Tuesday. Demonstrators refused a request by the manager of the building— which includes several other tenants in addition to Sessions— to leave when the building closed for the day at 6 p.m. Police could be seen on video footage coming and handcuffing the six protesters and escorted them to a police van.

"We all are aware of the laws of trespass. We are engaging in a voluntary act of civil disobedience," Brooks told the officers who arrived at the scene. The NAACP broadcast the events live on the organization's Facebook page. WKRG of Mobile reported that the six, which included Brooks and the president of the Alabama NAACP, were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and released on bond.

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The all-day protest ended in handcuffs but without confrontation. Brooks shook the hands of the officers and the officers allowed the protesters to kneel and pray before they were led away. Brooks criticized Sessions' prosecution of African-American voting rights activists on voter fraud charges when he was a U.S. attorney in Alabama. The group also raised concerns about immigration policies under Trump, the future of the Voting Rights Act and noted allegations — raised decades ago in Sessions unsuccessful 1986 confirmation hearing for a federal judgeship — that Sessions made racially insensitive remarks when he was a U.S. attorney.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for Sessions, said in a statement that the nominee has dedicated his career to upholding the rule of law, ensuring public safety and prosecuting government corruption.

"Many African-American leaders who've known him for decades attest to this and have welcomed his nomination to be the next Attorney General. These false portrayals of Senator Sessions will fail as tired, recycled, hyperbolic charges that have been thoroughly rebuked and discredited," the statement added.

Sessions was in Washington D.C. and not in his Mobile office at the time of the protests. In testimony at the 1986 confirmation hearing, Sessions was accused by some hearing witnesses of saying the NAACP was "un-American" and saying he thought Ku Klux Klan members were "OK until I found out they smoke pot,"

Sessions said during the hearing that the Klan remark was a joke and that other remarks were mischaracterized. What he had said, Sessions said, was that civil rights groups hurt themselves when "they take positions that people think are un-American they hurt themselves." He then praised the work of the NAACP.

The demonstration marked the latest criticism of Trump's pick for attorney general. Sessions' confirmation hearings are expected to begin next week, highlighted by a vigorous push both by those favoring the nomination and those opposed to it.

Former Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who was part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team representing the black civil rights activists in the voter fraud prosecution, on Tuesday urged U.S. senators to reject Sessions' nomination.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Revealed: Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Marshall Plan For Southern Africa’


Margaret Thatcher wooed the South African government with promises of a “Marshall Plan for southern Africa” and helped “save” the independence of Namibia, according to newly released papers. The events they cover provide an insight into a March 1989 visit to Britain by the South African foreign minister, Pik Botha.

The documents, from the prime minister’s official papers, are now released as part of the regular transfer of declassified material to the National Archive. They shed new light on the British government’s approach to South Africa in the final years of the apartheid regime. Thatcher’s administration was consistently criticised through the 1980s for supporting the white minority government in Pretoria, declining to impose sanctions on it, and reportedly decrying the ANC as a “typical terrorist organisation”.

They also reveal just how serious South Africa’s financial predicament was as it attempted to negotiate an end to apartheid, and how the Thatcher government used the opportunity it presented to entice Pretoria into reforming the country and releasing Nelson Mandela. It did so by proposing a massive aid package for the whole region – a Marshall Plan-style rescue plan to keep southern Africa stable even as South Africa underwent enormous change.

This was a critical period for southern Africa. Talks with the African National Congress (ANC) had been underway for five years; negotiations over the future of Namibia – which South Africa ruled – had concluded with plans for the country’s independence. But South Africa, still the major player in the region, was rudderless.

In January 1989, South Africa’s president, PW Botha (no relation to Pik) had a stroke, and the following month, FW de Klerk took over as leader of the governing National Party – but he didn’t become president until September 1989. The region was at a crossroads, between peace and continued conflict, and yet South Africa was stuck between leaders.

It was at this moment that Pik Botha arrived in London for an hour-and-a-half meeting with Thatcher, an encounter from which all but their closest advisers were excluded. So sensitive were the issues that the material, officially classified Secret, carried this additional warning from her private secretary, Charles Powell: “Some of the material in this letter is highly sensitive. It should be given a very limited distribution.”
Namibian independence

Plans for the independence of Namibia had been negotiated with the aid of the United Nations and signed in New York, but the situation was far from stable. This was the background to the Pik Botha visit. Thatcher’s advisers briefed her on how to handle the discussion:

You will want to stress how important it is that the [Namibian peace] agreement should be implemented meticulously. The prospects of avoiding further sanctions at CHOGM [the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting] in October will depend very much on progress with implementation of the Namibia Agreement.

This was what the prime minister did, and Pik Botha did not demur. Indeed, he admitted that it was unclear who would win the independence election, since “South Africa had got the [Rhodesian] elections in 1980 so badly wrong”. Botha conceded that it looked as if the South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) “would get over 50% but doubted it would reach two-thirds of the vote” necessary to change the constitution.

The key issue was whether a trip to what Thatcher described in her autobiography as “Black Africa” in March and April 1989 should include a visit to Namibia. In the end this did indeed take place, although the press pack accompanying the PM was only told once they had taken off from Malawi for the Namibian capital, Windhoek.

She arrived in Namibia at a crucial moment. Just as peace appeared to be at hand, some 2,000 fighters from the SWAPO liberation movement crossed the border from Angola in an apparent attempt to establish a military presence in northern Namibia ahead of the independence elections. The delicate agreement looked as if it might fall apart. Thatcher described the events in her autobiography:

In flagrant disregard of previous undertakings that no armed personnel would come south of the 16th Parallel (well within Angola) hundreds of SWAPO (South-West African People’s Organisation) troops crossed the border into Nambia with military equipment. I was not in the least convinced by the reaction of the SWAPO leader – Sam Nujoma – who claimed his organisation was faithfully abiding by the cease-fire and that the so-called invaders must be South Africans in disguise.

Thatcher met Pik Botha at the airport in Windhoek and persuaded him not to allow South African troops to move out of their barracks unilaterally. In the end they were allowed to confront the SWAPO fighters, but only under the auspices of the UN. There were casualties, but SWAPO was finally escorted back into Angola and a new ceasefire prevailed.

In his book The End of Apartheid, Robin Renwick, Thatcher’s ambassador to South Africa, describes the events as even more confrontational:

The South Africans were on the verge of withdrawing from the settlement … The scene shifted to a long and extremely difficult meeting with Pik Botha at the airport. Under pressure from the military in Pretoria, he was adamant that the South Africans would have to take the law into their own hands and call in air strikes against the SWAPO columns, whether the UN authorised them or not … I argued fiercely against air strikes.

In the end sanity prevailed, and a full-scale confrontation was avoided. There were clashes, but SWAPO withdrew into Angola and the independence election went ahead as planned. As Thatcher recalled it in her memoirs:

That autumn SWAPO won the election for the Namibian Constituent Assembly and Mr Nujoma became President – in which capacity he thanked me when I was at the United Nations in September for my intervention … I had been the right person at the right place at the right time.“
A Marshall Plan

If Namibia had been an obstacle in the London talks, Thatcher had a carrot up her sleeve. Overhanging the discussions in London was – of course – the release of Nelson Mandela and the ending of apartheid.

In the talks, Thatcher made it clear that "the recent pace of reform had slackened” under PW Botha. She described as Mandela’s freedom as “the crucial step that must be faced”, saying the “down-side risk of not releasing him was enormous”. This was in line with her previous confidential talks with the South African government, in which she had refused to bow to their demands.

The Botha government, she said, asked “what South Africa would get in return for releasing Mandela. Such an approach was unrealistic.” The country was having great difficulty rolling over its foreign debt and “Governments and financial institutions would be reluctant to cooperate in the absence of internal progress, and in that event the financial pressures would become much more severe.”

Thatcher then pulled the rabbit out of her hat: a document grandly headed “A ‘Marshall Plan’ for Southern Africa”. This, she said, had been agreed with Germany’s Chancellor, Helmut Kohl. They had decided to “spell out their assessment of the response which South Africa could expect to Mandela’s release in a note, which she handed over.”

The documents reveal an extraordinary and little-known proposal to provide aid on an unprecedented scale. Western governments, they say, acknowledge “Africa’s economic decline”; European nations propose to “grant and/or mobilise funds and expertise for extending and modernising the physical infrastructure of the region”. No actual sums of money are mentioned, but calling the proposal a “Marshall Plan” suggests they were very substantial indeed.

“Pik Botha read the note and commented that he found it very reasonable,” says the minute of the meeting. “He would take it back to President Botha.” The foreign minister described what he called “hesitations” on Mandela’s release in the cabinet, but that the country was “desperate” for “outside financial help”.

Time and again Thatcher stressed to Pik Botha that a deal had to be arrived at in which black South Africans had a real stake in the country: “Improving the economic conditions of black South Africans was not on its own enough.”

Although Botha was in no position to make any final commitment on behalf of his government the message Thatcher left him with was clear: end apartheid, release Mandela or South Africa will face increasing sanctions. What is really revealing is that she dangled the prospect of such substantial aid in return.

Nothing has ever come of these promises; no plan, Marshall or otherwise, was ever produced. But perhaps the hope of it was enough to persuade de Klerk to eventually take the step that Thatcher pressed for: to free Nelson Mandela.