2018-01-01 00:00:00 ..
2018-01-17 20:14:45 UTC
2018-01-18 08:18:51 UTC
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This afternoon, Catalonia declared independence. At the same time, Spain invoked article 155, to strip Catalonia from its governing powers putting it under direct rule from the federal government. A vote for independence was raised in Catalonian parliament, with part of parliament leaving before the vote on independence started. The motion declaring independence was approved with 70 in favor, 10 against, and two abstentions of the normal 135 total.
From RT: https://www.rt.com/news/407956-catalan-parliament-votes-independence/
From Aljazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/catalan-parliament-begins-vote-independence-171027115908493.html
From BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41780116
It will be interesting to see how things unfold. In my opinion, Madrid using violence to stop a referendum gave it the legality they later claim the referendum didn't have. The lack of dialogue paved the way into the only possible outcome, Catalonia declaring independence and Madrid denying it. Whatever happens next, I hope will be peaceful. As to how the EU reacts, I'm hoping they ask for an official referendum, and whatever the outcome, pledges that both Catalonia and Spain will be able to remain in the EU if they desire. That may release tensions a bit.
The WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Wednesday that he had rebuffed a request for help last year from the head of a data firm that worked for Donald J. Trump and is now facing congressional scrutiny.
On Twitter, Mr. Assange said he had been approached before the 2016 election by Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, which worked for Mr. Trump during the final months of the campaign. Mr. Assange did not disclose what kind of help Mr. Nix sought, only that he had declined the request. "I can confirm an approach by Cambridge Analytica," Mr. Assange wrote, "and can confirm that it was rejected by WikiLeaks."
But The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday that Mr. Nix had emailed Mr. Assange looking for copies of more than 30,000 emails that were deleted from Hillary Clinton's private server and never publicly released. Mrs. Clinton has said that the emails were personal in nature.
[...] It is also unclear why Mr. Nix would have believed that Mr. Assange had copies of the missing emails. Earlier last year, WikiLeaks had posted a searchable database of more than 50,000 emails from Mrs. Clinton's private server, all of them previously released by the State Department. But Mr. Trump himself seemed eager to find the missing emails: At a campaign rally in July, Mr. Trump publicly asked Russia to obtain the deleted emails.
"There's no such thing as a dumb question." :-) 😂😂😂
Japan's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) coalition has won big in the recent elections and may eventually push for changes in Japan's constitution, although such plans are tentative:
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling bloc scored a big win in Sunday's election, bolstering his chance of becoming the nation's longest-serving premier and re-energizing his push to revise the pacifist constitution. Abe's Liberal Democratic Party-led (LDP) coalition won a combined 312 seats, keeping its two-thirds "super majority" in the 465-member lower house, local media said.
A hefty win raises the likelihood that Abe, who took office in December 2012, will secure a third three-year term as LDP leader next September and go on to become Japan's longest-serving premier. It also means his "Abenomics" growth strategy centered on the hyper-easy monetary policy will likely continue.
[...] The U.S.-drafted constitution's Article 9, if taken literally, bans the maintenance of armed forces. But Japanese governments have interpreted it to allow a military exclusively for self-defense. Backers of Abe's proposal to clarify the military's ambiguous status say it would codify the status quo. Critics fear it would allow an expanded role overseas for the military. Abe said he would not stick to a target he had floated of making the changes by 2020. "First, I want to deepen debate and have as many people as possible agree," he told a TV broadcaster. "We should put priority on that."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reportedly benefited from tensions with North Korea and is likely to serve as Prime Minister until 2021:
The elections were a result of a risky move on Abe's part. He dissolved the lower house of parliament last month and called for fresh elections a year earlier than scheduled to "face a national crisis" in North Korea. It was a gamble, considering Abe's approval ratings over the past year have ranged from iffy to dismal. One Washington Post headline from the summer read "Japanese prime minister's poll numbers are so low they make Trump's look good." "Abe is personally not that popular of a guy," Hu said. "But after North Korean missiles flew over Japan two times this year, Abe's popularity shot back up."
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The United States has formally notified the UN's world heritage body Unesco that it is withdrawing its membership of the organisation citing "continuing anti-Israel bias".
The announcement by the Trump administration was followed a few hours later by news that Israel was also planning to quit the financially struggling cultural and educational agency.
The body is best known for its world heritage listings of outstanding cultural and natural sites but has often drawn the ire of Israel and the Trump administration for a series of decisions, including the listing of Hebron, a city in the southern part of the occupied Palestinian territories, as a Palestinian world heritage site.
Disclosing the US government's decision, the state department said in a statement it would seek to "remain engaged ... as a non-member observer state in order to contribute US views, perspectives and expertise".
The statement added: "This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at Unesco, the need for fundamental reform in the organisation, and continuing anti-Israel bias at Unesco," the US state department said. The withdrawal will take effect on 31 December 2018.
The New York Times
The administration also cited mounting arrears at the organization as a reason for the decision.
"We were in arrears to the tune of $550 million or so, and so the question is, do we want to pay that money?" Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Thursday at a news briefing. She added, "With this anti-Israel bias that's long documented on the part of Unesco, that needs to come to an end."
Cultural organizations in the United States criticized the decision, saying Unesco played a key role in preserving vital cultural heritage worldwide.
"Although Unesco may be an imperfect organization, it has been an important leader and steadfast partner in this crucial work," said Daniel H. Weiss, the president and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Analysts said that withdrawing from the organization was a significant escalation by the United States in its criticism of United Nations bodies.
"This is another example of the Trump's administration's profound ambivalence and concern about the way the U.N. is structured and behaves," said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator and adviser in Republican and Democratic administrations.
In July, Unesco declared the ancient and hotly contested core of Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as a Palestinian World Heritage site in danger, a decision sharply criticized by Israel and its allies. And in 2015, Unesco adopted a resolution that criticized Israel for mishandling heritage sites in Jerusalem and condemned "Israeli aggressions and illegal measures against freedom of worship."
In a statement announcing its withdrawal, Israel called the US administration's decision "courageous and moral", and accused UNESCO of becoming a "theatre of the absurd".
"The prime minister instructed the foreign ministry to prepare Israel's withdrawal from the organisation alongside the United States," Benjamin Netayanu's office said in a statement.
Thursday's development demonstrates the US administration's "complete and total bias" towards Israel, says Mustafa Barghouti, secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party comprising mostly secular intellectuals.
"This behaviour is counterproductive and shameful," he told Al Jazeera by phone. "Sooner or later they will see Palestine in every UN agency. Will the US respond to that by withdrawing from the WHO or the World Intellectual Property Organization? They will be hurting only themselves."
Russia's foreign ministry said it regreted the decision, adding that the move would disrupt a number of important projects planned by UNESCO.
"We share the concern by many countries that the activity of UNESCO has been too politicised lately," the ministry said in a statement.
Barghouti, of the Palestinian National Initiative, said it is "as if Israel is dictating US policy not only in the Middle East but also in international organisations.
"This is going to have a very harmful effect on the idea of the US being a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis."
The last two of eight prototypes for President Donald Trump's proposed border wall took shape Thursday at a construction site in San Diego.
The prototypes, including one built by Israeli defense firm Elta, form a tightly packed row of imposing concrete and metal panels, including one with sharp metal edges on top.
[...] The models, which cost the government up to $500,000 each, were spaced 30 feet (9.1 meters) apart. Slopes, thickness and curves vary. One has two shades of blue with white trim. The others are gray, tan or brown — in sync with the desert.
Bidding guidelines call for the prototypes to stand between 18 and 30 feet (5.5 and 9.1 meters) high and be able to withstand at least an hour of punishment from a sledgehammer, pickaxe, torch, chisel or battery-operated tools.
Features also should prevent the use of climbing aids such as grappling hooks, and the segments must be "aesthetically pleasing" when viewed from the US side.
After Catalonia's leader missed a deadline to clarify the government's stance on an independence referendum, and missed another deadline (Thursday calling for an unambiguous renouncement of the independence referendum, the Spanish government plans to strip Catalonia of its autonomous status:
Spain was preparing to impose direct rule over semi-autonomous Catalonia after the region's leader Carles Puigdemont declined to categorically renounce an independence referendum, the prime minister's office announced Thursday.
Spain's government said it would hold a special Cabinet meeting and "approve the measures that will be sent to the Senate to protect the general interest of all Spaniards."
At the Cabinet meeting, the government would invoke Article 155 of Spain's constitution allowing it to strip Catalonia of its self-governance. That would take effect on Saturday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's office said in a statement.
Madrid had given Puigdemont a 10 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) deadline to clarify his government's stance on a non-binding declaration of independence passed by the regional legislature following a successful referendum on secession. But the Catalan leader insisted on keeping his options open, but that wasn't good enough for Spain's government, which had insisted on an unambiguous "no."
Bloomberg reports "Merkel and Macron Have Spain's Back as Catalan Crisis Escalates":
European Union leaders offered their support for Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy as he prepares to suspend the powers of the Catalan administration to clamp down on its push for independence. EU chiefs arriving for a summit in Brussels on Thursday said they backed Madrid and stressed that the issue of Catalonia's independence was a domestic one for Spain.
"We're looking at this very closely and support the position of the Spanish government, which is also a position that's been adopted across parties," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Of course this preoccupies us, and we hope that there can be a resolution on the basis of the Spanish constitution." Asked whether he supported the Spanish government, French President Emmanuel Macron said "always," adding that "this summit will be marked by a message of unity of its members in regards to Spain."
⚠ Warning: Contents of summary and comments may be offensive. ⚠
Shakespeare contains gore and violence that might "upset" you, Cambridge University students have been warned. The "trigger warnings" - red triangles with an exclamation mark - appeared on their English lecture timetables.
Lectures including Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus contain "discussion of sexual violence, sexual assault", the BBC's Newsnight programme has learned.
The university said the warnings were "at the lecturer's own discretion" and "not a faculty-wide policy". The lecture timetables were issued to this term's students by the university's faculty of English.
[...] Asked about the warnings, one Cambridge academic who did not wish to be named, said their "duty as educators was to prepare students for the world not protect them for three years". Prof Dennis Hayes from Derby University's education faculty said: "Once you get a few trigger warnings, lecturers will stop presenting anything that is controversial... gradually, there is no critical discussion".
Cambridge University said the English faculty "does not have a policy on trigger warnings", but added: "Some lecturers indicate that some sensitive material will be covered in a lecture... this is entirely at the lecturer's own discretion and is in no way indicative of a faculty-wide policy."
Donald Trump has threatened to shut down NBC and other American networks, saying that they peddle fake news.
"With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!" Mr Trump wrote in a tweet.
Mr Trump's tweet came in response to a story written by NBC, which said that Mr Trump had sought to increase America's nuclear arsenal tenfold after taking a look at a briefing slide that showed stead reduction of the US nuclear arsenal since the 1960s. The story cited three officials who were reportedly in the room when Mr Trump made the comments.
Donald Trump has dropped 92 places in the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans, with the magazine putting his wealth at $3.1bn, down from $3.7bn last year.
[...] Forbes ranked the first billionaire president as the 248th wealthiest person in America. The year before, he was ranked 156th.
As a candidate, Trump said his net worth was more than $10bn, but Forbes pegged that figure at $4.5bn in September 2015. By Forbes' estimates, Trump's wealth has fallen 31% in two years.
According to Forbes' story:
It was another record year for the wealthiest people in America, as the price of admission to the country's most exclusive club jumped nearly 18% to $2 billion. Even at these new heights, entrepreneurs are breaking into the ranks for the first time as they mint fortunes in everything from telecom to booze to fishing. There were 22 newcomers, 14 of whom are self-made entrepreneurs. Among the most notable: Arizona iced tea cofounder Don Vultaggio; Netflix cofounder Reed Hastings; Tito Beveridge, the creator of Tito's Handmade Vodka; Chuck Bundrant, whose Trident Seafoods sells his fish to places like McDonald's and Burger King; and Rocco Commisso, founder of cable TV and broadband firm Mediacom and owner of the New York Cosmos, a soccer club based in Brooklyn.
The most notable loser was President Donald Trump, whose fortune fell $600 million to $3.1 billion. A tough New York real estate market, particularly for retail locations; a costly lawsuit and an expensive presidential campaign all contributed to the declining fortune of the 45th president.
In November, some thought that having a successful businessman at the helm would cure USA's ills. I wonder if this will increase the incidence of buyer's remorse among voters.
A major shift from the Boy Scouts of America:
Irving, Texas – October 11, 2017 – Today, the Boy Scouts of America Board of Directors unanimously approved to welcome girls into its iconic Cub Scout program and to deliver a Scouting program for older girls that will enable them to advance and earn the highest rank of Eagle Scout. The historic decision comes after years of receiving requests from families and girls, the organization evaluated the results of numerous research efforts, gaining input from current members and leaders, as well as parents and girls who've never been involved in Scouting – to understand how to offer families an important additional choice in meeting the character development needs of all their children.
"This decision is true to the BSA's mission and core values outlined in the Scout Oath and Law. The values of Scouting – trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind, brave and reverent, for example – are important for both young men and women," said Michael Surbaugh, the BSA's Chief Scout Executive. "We believe it is critical to evolve how our programs meet the needs of families interested in positive and lifelong experiences for their children. We strive to bring what our organization does best – developing character and leadership for young people – to as many families and youth as possible as we help shape the next generation of leaders."
[...] Starting in the 2018 program year, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls. Using the same curriculum as the Boy Scouts program, the organization will also deliver a program for older girls, which will be announced in 2018 and projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today's families.
I'll admit it, I was a little surprised by the announcement. As a longtime member of the BSA and an Eagle Scout, I find this extremely interesting. I know some who are dead set against it, and others who are totally for it. My personal opinion is that it will be a good thing, both for the BSA and for the young men and women who become part of the organization.
The biggest loser in all of this will probably be the Girl Scouts. I can see their membership numbers dwindling rapidly if/when this takes off.
As a side note, Scouting has been co-ed in many countries for decades.
Both the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts have seen decreasing membership in recent years, and both have been trying to find ways to increase their membership. In this context, they now seem to be butting heads:
The Boy Scouts will soon include girls, and not everyone's happy about it.
The 107-year-old organization announced Wednesday that younger girls will be allowed to join Cub Scouts and that older girls will be eligible to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout.
[...] For months, Girl Scouts USA had a notion BSA would try to start recruiting girls. In August, Buzzfeed News obtained a strongly worded letter in which GSUSA President Kathy Hopinkah Hannan accused the BSA of courting girls to boost falling enrollment numbers.
From the letter:
We are confused as to why, rather than working to appeal to the 90 percent of boys who are not involved in BSA programs, you would choose to target girls.
What are your thoughts? Were you ever a boy scout, or a girl scout, or did they ever affect you in any way? And do you think the BSA should be praised for opening their doors to girls or should they be castigated for 'targeting' girls who would be better off staying with their own kind?