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Jahanshah Javid

Age: 56 |

Birth City: آبادان |

Joined on October 02, 2012

Russian Threat

Cartoon by Steve Breen

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube Withheld Russia Data, Reports Say

The New York Times: When lawmakers asked YouTube, a unit of Google, to provide information about Russian manipulation efforts, it did not disclose how many people watched the videos on its site that were created by Russian trolls.

Facebook did not release the comments that its users made when they viewed Russian-generated content. And Twitter gave only scattered details about the Russian-controlled accounts that spread propaganda there.

The tech companies’ foot-dragging was described in a pair of reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee published on Monday, in what were the most detailed accounts to date about how Russian agents have wielded social media against Americans in recent years.

In the reports, Google, Twitter and Facebook (which also owns Instagram) were described by researchers as having “evaded” and “misrepresented” themselves and the extent of Russian activity on their sites. The companies were also criticized for not turning over complete sets of data about Russian manipulation to the Senate.

The data they did provide “lacked core components that would have provided a fuller and more actionable picture,” said one of the reports, which was written by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company, along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research. The report added: “Regrettably, it appears that the platforms may have misrepresented or evaded in some of their statements to Congress.”

The studies renewed questions about whether social media companies have withheld data on Russian activity and how willing they really are to address the issue. After facing scrutiny over the past two years for distributing inflammatory Russian-made propaganda to Americans, some of the companies — such as Facebook — have pledged more transparency.

Yet Renee DiResta, director of research at New Knowledge, said that while cooperation with tech companies had improved over the last three years, there was still much more that the Silicon Valley giants could do to help researchers study Russian interference.

“Everyone wants to qualify the impact of the 2016 presidential election. They want to understand, did it swing the election?” she said. “None of the data sets we were given gives us that answer.”

The reports were especially critical of Google, whose YouTube site hosted 1,100 videos made by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency. The reports said Google had not only provided incomplete information about these videos, but one report accused Kent Walker, the company’s chief legal officer, of giving misleading testimony to Congress this year about whether those videos were targeted at a particular audience.

When compared with Facebook and Twitter, “Google’s data contribution was by far the most limited in context and least comprehensive of the three,” said one of the reports, by researchers at Oxford University and Graphika.

Of the information that the companies did hand over, some came in formats that were difficult to analyze. Researchers said that in many cases, information was provided in duplicate and triplicate, or was incomplete or corrupted. That meant it took months just to catalog and clean up before it could be studied.

In a statement, Nu Wexler, a Google spokesman, said, “We conducted an in-depth investigation across multiple product areas, and provided a detailed and thorough report to investigators.” He added that neither YouTube nor Google allowed people to target an audience by race.

Twitter said it was committed to transparency and had improved its work with researchers. “Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform,” said Katie Rosborough, a spokeswoman.

A spokesman for Facebook, Matt Steinfeld, said it “provided thousands of ads and pieces of content to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for review and shared information with the public about what we found.”

On Monday in Washington, lawmakers lashed out at the tech companies for hiding the ball.

“For many months we urged the social media companies to undertake such a crosscutting analysis without success, even as we made as much of their data as public as possible,” said Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California. He said the companies’ reluctance to look deeply at Russian interference “made our task far more difficult than it should have been.” >>>

Sticky Situation

Cartoon by Tom Toles

Six potential legal problems for Trump

BBC: Investigations into Donald Trump's election-eve hush money payments and any possible ties between his presidential campaign and Russia have been dominating headlines. But there are other legal woes too.

In New York and Washington, the list of inquiries into the Trump world are expanding - any of which could produce serious headaches for the president.

Here's a look at the latest collection of eyeballs scrutinising the president - and what it all could mean.

1. The presidential inauguration cash

On Thursday the Wall Street Journal reported that the committee in charge of Mr Trump's 2017 presidential inauguration has come under federal criminal investigation.

The committee raised in a record $107m (£85m) in donations, including $14m from donors who worked for securities and investment companies and nearly $10m from those with real-estate industry ties.

The total is nearly double the amount of the previous record for inaugural fundraising, set by Barack Obama in 2009.

The probe will look into how that inaugural money was spent and whether contributors sought to gain access to the new administration.

A ProPublica report on Friday detailed concerns by a "top inaugural planner" that the Trump International Hotel in Washington was overcharging the inaugural committee for rooms, meals and facilities, which could be a violation of tax law.

The US attorney's office in Southern Manhattan is handling the inquiry - the same team involved in the various Cohen investigations.

According to the Journal, this new investigation was prompted, in part, by evidence unearthed by federal agents when they raided Cohen's offices in April.

Presidential exposure: White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said "this doesn't have anything to do with the president or the first lady" when asked about the Wall Street Journal report. That may be the case, but some of the president's closest friends and associates - and his daughter, Ivanka - were deeply involved in the inaugural planning.

2. Foreign influence

The central focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is to uncover any ties between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign, but according to recent reports the inquiry may have expanded to include connections to other countries.

A Daily Beast article reported that "phase two" of the special counsel's investigation will begin early in the next year and include court filings - and possible indictments - outlining connections between the Trump campaign and Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

investigation, noting that federal investigators in New York are looking into whether any foreigners illegally made donations to the inaugural committee. Mr Mueller's team is also reportedly scrutinising a pro-Trump group to see if it received contributions from overseas during the 2016 campaign.

Saudi Arabia and UAE were once again mentioned, as was Qatar.

The president has called the entire Mueller investigation a "witch hunt" and is sure to vehemently object to any expansion of the probe.

Presidential exposure: Mr Trump has been more than accommodating toward Saudi Arabia as president - making the nation his first foreign visit, siding with it in a dispute with Qatar and offering a forceful defence of Prince Mohammed bin Salman after Jamal Khashoggi's murder. The special counsel's office could be doing more than just wondering why.

3. Trump hotel

Shortly after being elected president, Mr Trump announced that his businesses would donate all income derived from foreign governments to the US Treasury.

In March the Trump Organization donated $151,470 in profits from foreign governments accrued during 2017 - although it offered no further details.

This procedure was designed to avoid running afoul of the Foreign Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution, which prohibits federal officials from receiving gifts or payments from foreign rulers or representatives.

Although the president's lawyers said such donations were not required, Mr Trump pledged to do so "to eliminate any distractions by going beyond what the Constitution requires".

In June, however, attorneys general for the District of Columbia and Maryland sued Mr Trump, alleging that the president is continuing to profit from foreign government spending at his properties - particularly his eponymous hotel just blocks from the White House in Washington, DC.

A similar legal challenge was dismissed, and a third - filed by Democratic lawmakers - is also winding its way through the court system.

So much for no distractions.

Since the Maryland/DC lawsuit was filed, Mr Trump's lawyers have tried to block it from proceeding, setting up what could be the first in a series of legal decisions on the breadth of the Emoluments Clause.

Last week, however, the judge overseeing the case allowed DC and Maryland to issue 30 subpoenas for business records from the Trump organisation and affiliated groups - an evidence gathering process that will continue until August 2019.

Presidential exposure: The case could end up being a ticking political time bomb that reveals embarrassing details about the president's business empire just as his presidential re-election campaign is kicking into gear.

4. Trump Foundation

In addition to the ongoing federal probes of the president and his interests, New York state investigators are conducting a review of the president's charitable foundation.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood has alleged that the Trump Foundation effectively served as means to advance the president's political and business interests in violation of state laws governing the tax-free status of charitable organisations. The president, in response, called the investigation the work of "sleazy New York Democrats" and lauded his charity for giving out more than $19m.

Mr Trump's lawyers attempted to have the case dismissed, but in late November a New York judge ruled that the allegations "sufficiently support a claim that Mr Trump intentionally used foundation assets for his private interests knowing that it may not be in the foundation's best interests".

During the 2016 campaign, Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold detailed how Mr Trump used money from his charitable foundation - funded in large part by contributions from friends and associates - to settle business lawsuits and make donations to build support for his presidential bid.

Presidential exposure: New York is seeking nearly $3m in restitution, additional financial penalties, a 10-year ban on Mr Trump serving as the head of any New York non-profit organisations and a one-year ban for his three oldest children, Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr. >>>

What has America come to?

Cartoon by Dario Castillejos

'What has America come to?': Democrats push for inquiry after 7-year-old Guatemalan girl dies in Border Patrol custody

NBC: Democrats called for a swift investigation after federal immigration authorities confirmed on Thursday that a 7-year-old girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock hours after being taken into custody by the U.S. Border Patrol last week.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said on Twitter Thursday evening that he will be demanding "immediate answers to this tragedy" from Department of Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen, who is slated to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next week.

Nadler, who is currently the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, is expected to be its chair when the new Congress convenes in January.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday that the girl and her father were part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in at the border. They were then taken into custody around 10 p.m. on Dec. 6 in New Mexico.

Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that more than eight hours later, the child began having seizures. Emergency respondents recorded a body temperature of 105.7 degrees and, according to The Washington Post, the girl apparently had not eaten or drunk water for several days.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the story "shocks the conscience" and said he will be "demanding answers."

"This senseless tragic death shocks the conscience. Immediate investigation must shine a spotlight on people & practices responsible," Blumenthal said on Twitter Friday.

"Why did the Commissioner of Customs & Border Protection keep this little girl’s death secret until after he testified before me & Senate Judiciary Committee this week? I will be demanding answers," Blumenthal continued.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who also sits on the House Judiciary Committee, also called for an investigation, and said Congress should cut off funds to agencies where children die in custody.

Nielsen "has this on her hands," Jayapal said on Twitter, adding that if "'border security' means detaining 7 year old children and letting them die in OUR custody, SHAME ON US. No more money without accountability."

The DHS secretary told Fox News on Friday that the migrant girl's death is “a very sad example of the dangers of this journey,” and stressed that the girl's family "chose to cross illegally."

In a statement on Friday, the agency offered condolences to girl's family, but echoed Nielsen's remarks about the hazards of crossing the border.

"Unfortunately, despite our best efforts and the best efforts of the medical team treating the child, we were unable to stop this tragedy from occurring. Once again, we are begging parents to not put themselves or their children at risk attempting to enter illegally. Please present yourselves at a port of entry and seek to enter legally and safely," a spokesperson said.

Christmas attack

Cartoon by Stephane Peray

French attack suspect had crime record since 13

AP: French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner says that the suspect in the deadly attack on the Christmas market in Strasbourg has had a long criminal record, with his first conviction at the age of 13.

Castaner said that at age 10 the suspect “already had behavior that fell under penal law.”

The minister was addressing parliamentarians on Wednesday, a day after the suspect, identified as Cherif Chekatt, 29, sprayed gunfire around the Christmas market in the eastern city, killing two, leaving a third person brain dead and injuring 12 others.

Chekatt was still on the run, with hundreds of police and soldiers seeking him in a massive manhunt.

Authorities said earlier that Chekatt had more than two dozen convictions, mostly in France but also in Switzerland and Germany. They said that Chekatt had been flagged for extremism and under watch.

Guarding democracy

Cartoon by Adam Zyglis

US Senate urged to guard democracy as Mueller probe nears end

Financial Times: Several dozen former Democratic and Republican senators have urged the Senate to be a “zealous guardian” of US democracy as special counsel Robert Mueller moved towards completing the Russia investigation.

The 44 retired senators — who included Democrats such as Tom Daschle, Max Baucus and John Kerry, and Republicans such as William Cohen and Chuck Hagel — said the US was “entering a dangerous period” as the country faced challenges to the rule of law, its constitution, government institutions and national security.

While the senators did not mention Donald Trump, they urged that “partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest” in a letter that indirectly referred to criticism of the president’s attack on institutions. They said the US was “entering a dangerous period” as Mr Mueller moved towards ending his probe and the House of Representatives, which will revert to Democratic control in January, started investigations into Mr Trump.

“At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defence of our democracy. Today is once again such a time,” the senators wrote.

The letter, published in the Washington Post, came just three days after prosecutors in New York made clear they believed that Mr Trump had told Michael Cohen, his former lawyer, to make payments to two women — porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — to silence them ahead of the 2016 election. Both women said they had sexual relationships with Mr Trump many years ago when he was married.

Mr Trump on Monday repeated his mantra that the Russia investigation was a “witch-hunt” orchestrated by Democrats. He said Democrats were focusing on a “simple private transaction” and saying it was a campaign contribution because they could not find a smoking gun. “Cohen just trying to get his sentence reduced,” he tweeted. “WITCH HUNT!”

The president lashed out after Democrats suggested that he had been complicit in the felony Mr Cohen was charged with committing. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat who will chair the House judiciary committee from January, said Mr Trump had committed “impeachable offences”. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who will become chair of the House intelligence committee, said it was conceivable that Mr Trump would go to jail.

“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office the justice department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time,” Mr Schiff told CBS News.

John Thune, the South Dakota senator who will become the number two Republican in the Senate in January, on Monday said he expected that the Southern District of New York and the Mueller team would eventually come out with “a lot more”.

“What they’re implying there, obviously, is something I assume at some point the president will have an opportunity to respond to,” Mr Thune said in reference to the claims that Mr Trump ordered his former lawyer to make hush-money payments to the two women who accused him of affairs.

James Comey, the former FBI director, on Sunday said “all of us should use every breath we have to make sure the lies stop on January 20 2021”. Mr Trump’s decision to fire Mr Comey, who was overseeing the Russia probe, led to the appointment of Mr Mueller as special counsel.

The increased scrutiny of Mr Trump comes as he looks for a new chief of staff following his announcement that John Kelly, a retired general, would leave the position this year. Mr Trump’s top choice for the critical role — Nick Ayers who serves as chief of staff to vice-president Mike Pence — turned down the job.

Mr Trump is considering several candidates who include Mick Mulvaney, the top White House budget official, and Mark Meadows, a North Carolina lawmaker who belongs to the ultra-conservative House freedom caucus.

Khashoggi murder solved

Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte

The Wooing of Jared Kushner: How the Saudis Got a Friend in the White House

The New York Times: Senior American officials were worried. Since the early months of the Trump administration, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, had been having private, informal conversations with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the favorite son of Saudi Arabia’s king.

Given Mr. Kushner’s political inexperience, the private exchanges could make him susceptible to Saudi manipulation, said three former senior American officials. In an effort to tighten practices at the White House, a new chief of staff tried to reimpose longstanding procedures stipulating that National Security Council staff members should participate in all calls with foreign leaders.

But even with the restrictions in place, Mr. Kushner, 37, and Prince Mohammed, 33, kept chatting, according to three former White House officials and two others briefed by the Saudi royal court. In fact, they said, the two men were on a first-name basis, calling each other Jared and Mohammed in text messages and phone calls.

The exchanges continued even after the Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was ambushed and dismembered by Saudi agents, according to two former senior American officials and the two people briefed by the Saudis.

As the killing set off a firestorm around the world and American intelligence agencies concluded that it was ordered by Prince Mohammed, Mr. Kushner became the prince’s most important defender inside the White House, people familiar with its internal deliberations say.

Mr. Kushner’s support for Prince Mohammed in the moment of crisis is a striking demonstration of a singular bond that has helped draw President Trump into an embrace of Saudi Arabia as one of his most important international allies.

But the ties between Mr. Kushner and Prince Mohammed did not happen on their own. The prince and his advisers, eager to enlist American support for his hawkish policies in the region and for his own consolidation of power, cultivated the relationship with Mr. Kushner for more than two years, according to documents, emails and text messages reviewed by The New York Times.

A delegation of Saudis close to the prince visited the United States as early as the month Mr. Trump was elected, the documents show, and brought back a report identifying Mr. Kushner as a crucial focal point in the courtship of the new administration. He brought to the job scant knowledge about the region, a transactional mind-set and an intense focus on reaching a deal with the Palestinians that met Israel’s demands, the delegation noted.

Even then, before the inauguration, the Saudis were trying to position themselves as essential allies who could help the Trump administration fulfill its campaign pledges. In addition to offering to help resolve the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, the Saudis offered hundreds of billions of dollars in deals to buy American weapons and invest in American infrastructure. Mr. Trump later announced versions of some of these items with great fanfare when he made his first foreign trip: to an Arab-Islamic summit in Riyadh, the Saudi capital. The Saudis had extended that invitation during the delegation’s November 2016 visit.

“The inner circle is predominantly deal makers who lack familiarity with political customs and deep institutions, and they support Jared Kushner,” the Saudi delegation wrote of the incoming administration in a slide presentation obtained by the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, which provided it to The Times. Several Americans who spoke with the delegation confirmed the slide presentation’s accounts of the discussions.

The courtship of Mr. Kushner appears to have worked.

Only a few months after Mr. Trump moved into the White House, Mr. Kushner was inquiring about the Saudi royal succession process and whether the United States could influence it, raising fears among senior officials that he sought to help Prince Mohammed, who was not yet the crown prince, vault ahead in the line for the throne, two former senior White House officials said. American diplomats and intelligence officials feared that the Trump administration might be seen as playing favorites in the delicate internal politics of the Saudi royal family, the officials said.

(After publication, a senior White House official said in a statement: “Implications that Jared inquired about the possibility of influencing the Saudi royal succession process are false.”)

By March, Mr. Kushner helped usher Prince Mohammed into a formal lunch with Mr. Trump in a state dining room at the White House, capitalizing on a last minute cancellation by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany because of a snowstorm >>>

Prosecuting Huawei Executive

Cartoon by Arcadio Esquivel

Prosecuting the Chinese Huawei executive is an idiotic way to hold China in check

by Zachary Karabell

The Washington Post: The U.S.-China relationship seemed to improve last week at the G-20 summit in Argentina, where President Trump announced that he’d reached an important agreement with President Xi Jinping. Then, an ominous development: American authorities asked Canada to arrest the CFO of one of China’s largest technologies companies for alleged sanctions fraud and violations of U.S. export controls. Meng Wanzhou isn’t just a top leader at Huawei, which makes phones and other gadgets; she is also the daughter of the company’s founder and chairman, which makes her arrest somewhat like the Chinese arresting the daughter of Steve Jobs if she helped run Apple. It would be an understatement to say that Beijing did not react well: It demanded her release and accused the U.S. government of violating the rights of a Chinese citizen.

The timing could hardly be worse, and from what can be told, it reflects the overall chaos of the Trump administration. National Security Advisor John Bolton claimed that he was informed of the pending arrest by the Justice Department but did not pass that information to the president. That no one in the White House considered the implications of her arrest on the tenuous trade truce between China and the U.S. is itself rather astonishing.

The case against Huawei and its executives may be legitimate under U.S. law, but it is nonetheless a hideous political mistake. Perhaps Huawei used American-made components in equipment it sold to Iran, violating U.S. sanctions. But even in less ambiguous cases, there is always such a thing as prosecutorial discretion. Not every case that can be brought should be brought, and not every case should be prosecuted to the full letter of the law. In international cases, that is doubly true. If the U.S. wants to respond to China’s rise and manage the changing role of the United States in the international system, it could hardly have picked a dumber tactic.

Huawei is not exactly a noble avatar of social responsibility. Since at least 2016, when Obama was still president, the Commerce Department has been investigating Huawei for export violations to Iran and North Korea. In the spring of 2017, the Treasury Department opened its own inquiry.

Even before that, though, Huawei operated on the margins of legality. In 2003, Cisco sued it for copying some of the code used in its routers. (Huawei admitted as much before the trial and promised to stop.) In 2012, a House committee named the company as a potential threat to U.S. national security because of its ties to the Chinese government, its legacy of intellectual property theft and its ability to embed spyware in its phones. The U.S., Australia and New Zealand have already blocked Huawei from being part of the initial build-out of the next generation 5G telecom networks.

Even if everything alleged is correct, however, the quest against Huawei is a ridiculous overreach — predicated on an assumption that the U.S. can dictate how foreign competitors conduct business. Yes, the company has deep ties with the Chinese Communist Party, though it’s worth mulling whether those are any more pernicious than the close bonds that connect defense contractors such as Boeing and Lockheed with the Pentagon.

More important, global supply chains are now deeply interconnected and touch multiple countries and numerous companies. Samsung, for instance, is the second largest cellphone provider in Iran, behind Huawei, while the Swedish telecom company Ericsson has been selling Iran equipment even under the sanctions. Those companies may have done a better job not using American components for products sold to those countries, though with the complexity of global component sourcing, it is unlikely that no American intellectual property has been used by Iranian consumers. Yet U.S. prosecutors are not trying to curtail the work of those mega-technology giants, or aggressively investigating where every component originated.

Samsung and Ericsson, of course, are domiciled in countries that are American allies, whereas Huawei is tightly connected to what is now being seen by many as a prime American adversary. The initial reaction in China, judging by the social media flow and some interviews, is that the Americans are using their legal system to advance political interests in an ongoing contest with China.

There is a long and debated legacy on how far American laws extend. On the one hand, the Supreme Court has recognized a “presumption against extraterritoriality,” which holds that U.S. laws should not be enforced outside the United States. On the other, there are statutes such as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which punishes bribery by foreign entities. Sanctions occupy a zone of their own, whereby the U.S. government has acted against other countries by threatening foreign companies that do business with them, if they also do business in the U.S. To the degree that the United States has enjoyed dominant economic power relative to any one country that might object, it has been able to use law enforcement as one tool among many to achieve policy objectives.

That works, however, primarily where there are stark power imbalances, which is clearly not the case with China. Arresting the No. 2 executive of one of the world’s largest technology companies is an ineffective way to achieve policy aims – and a very effective way to complicate negotiations that matter rather more. It’s one thing to ban Huawei’s 5G components from the U.S. market, a defensible response to a perceived threat. That’s an unassailable invocation of American sovereignty (which would still carry a steep economic and political cost).

It’s something else entirely to arrest a very senior executive and potentially try her for evading U.S. export controls. Using law enforcement against individuals for corporate actions of this sort risks backfiring spectacularly. It is easily painted as a crude attempt by the Trump administration to put pressure on Beijing in the upcoming trade negotiations, even if that is not the actual intent. It exposes American executives to potential retaliation in China and abroad in a tit-for-tat that will chill an already frosty business climate, with direct effects on the domestic American economy and markets. And it may succeed only in pushing technology even further into national camps that compete and develop their own protocols, which appears to be happening with the evolution of artificial intelligence. We can hope to win that competition, but it will prove costlier than the mutual dependence that defined much of the past two decades.

Carbon Emissions

Cartoon by Kevin Siers

Global Carbon Dioxide Emissions Rise to Record High

Democracy Now: Global carbon dioxide emissions climbed to a record high in 2018, setting the world on a path toward the most catastrophic effects of climate change. That’s the stark warning of the Global Carbon Project in a new report that found global CO2 emissions are on track to grow by 2.7 percent this year. Under goals set out in the United Nations Paris Agreement in 2015, the world needs to rapidly cut its emissions to keep average global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius—or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The report came as the United Nations climate summit got underway in Katowice, Poland. This is renowned broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough speaking at the opening ceremony.

Decisions Decisions

Cartoon by Bruce Plante

Spare me America's tears for Jamal Khashoggi – this excuse for Trump-bashing ignores the CIA's past crimes

by Robrt Fisk

The Independent: Can I be the only one – apart from his own sycophants – to find the sight of America’s finest Republicans and Democrats condemning the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia for murdering Jamal Khashoggi a bit sickening? “Crazy”. “Dangerous”. A “wrecking ball”. A “smoking saw”. These guys are angry. CIA Director Gina Haspel, who was happy to sign off on the torture of her Muslim captives in the secret American prison of Thailand, obviously knew what she was talking about when she testified about Mohammed bin Salman and the agony of Jamal Khashoggi.

US government leaks suggest that Haspel knew all about the shrieks of pain, the suffering of Arab men who believed they were drowning, the desperate pleading for life from America’s victims in these sanctuaries of torment in and after 2002. After all, the desperate screams of a man who believes he is drowning and the desperate screams of a man who believes he is suffocating can’t be very different. Except, of course, that the CIA’s victims lived to be tortured another day – indeed several more days – while Jamal Khashoggi’s asphyxiation was intended to end his life. Which it did.

A generation ago, the CIA’s “Operation Phoenix” torture and assassination programme in Vietnam went way beyond the imaginations of the Saudi intelligence service. In spook language, Khashoggi was merely “terminated with maximum prejudice”. If the CIA could sign off on mass murder in Vietnam, why shouldn’t an Arab dictator do the same on a far smaller scale? True, I can’t imagine the Americans went in for bone saws. Testimony suggests that mass rape followed by mass torture did for their enemies in Vietnam. Why play music through the earphones of the murderers?

But still it goes on. Here’s Democrat Senator Bob Martinez this week. The US, he told us, must “send a clear and unequivocal message that such actions are not acceptable on the world’s stage.” The “action”, of course, is the murder of Khashoggi. And this from a man who constantly defended Israel after its slaughter of the innocents in Gaza.

So what on earth is going on here? Perhaps the “world’s stage” of which Martinez spoke was the White House – an appropriate phrase, when you come to think about it -- where the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has been no stranger. Yet when at least one recent US presidential incumbent of that high office is guilty of war crimes – in Iraq – and the deaths of tens of thousands of Arabs, how come American senators are huffing and puffing about just one man, Mohammed bin Salman, who (for a moment, let us set aside the Yemen war) is only being accused of ordering the murder and dismemberment of one single Arab?

After all, world leaders – and US presidents themselves -- have always had rather a soft spot for mass murderers and those who should face war crimes indictments. Trump has infamously met Kim Jong-un and invited him to the White House. We are all waiting for Rodrigo Duterte to take up his own invitation.

Obama lavished hospitality at the White House on a host of bloody autocrats – from Gambia, Burkina Faso and Cameroon – before we even recall Suharto, whose death squads killed up to half a million people, and Hosni Mubarak, whose secret police sometimes raped their prisoners and who sanctioned the hanging of hundreds of Islamists without proper trials; and his ultimate successor

Field Marshal-President al-Sissi, who has around 60,000 political prisoners locked up in Egypt and whose cops appear to have tortured a young Italian student to death. But Giulio Regeni wasn’t murdered in an Egyptian consulate. This list does not even include Ariel Sharon, who as Israeli defence minister was accused by an Israeli inquiry of personal responsibility for the massacre of 1,700 Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Chatila camps in Beirut in 1982 >>>

The Yellow Vests

Cartoon by Christo Komarnitski

The ‘yellow vest’ protests in France aren’t limited to Paris — they’re tapping into deep anxiety nationwide

The Los Angeles -- Over the weekend, international attention was drawn to the streets of Paris, where thousands of marchers clashed with police and fires burned for hours in one of the biggest challenges yet to President Emmanuel Macron.

Yet Paris remains just part of a much broader story. Some of the greatest anger against a planned diesel fuel tax increase has come from the French provinces, where Macron is seen as an urbanite who favors the rich and lacks understanding of rural France.

France’s interior minister estimated that 136,000 people had marched or taken part in protests across the country over the weekend. In the southwestern city of Toulouse, the protests left 57 injured, including 48 police officers. Further east along France’s coast, a driver was killed in the town of Arles after his van hit a barrier put in place by protesters. In Narbonne, demonstrators set fire to a toll booth.

The Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vests, movement, in which protesters wear bright yellow vests, started initially as a reaction to the planned tax on diesel fuel set to take effect in January as part of the French president's efforts to fight climate change.

The Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vests, movement, in which protesters wear bright yellow vests, started initially as a reaction to the planned tax on diesel fuel set to take effect in January as part of the French president's efforts to fight climate change. (Pascal Pavani / AFP/Getty Images)

Even in Paris, prosecutor Remy Heitz said that most of the 378 people arrested over the weekend had come from provinces outside the capital.

The Gilets Jaunes, or Yellow Vests, movement, in which protesters wear the bright vests that drivers are required to keep in their cars at all times, started initially as a reaction to the planned tax on diesel fuel set to take effect in January as part of Macron’s efforts to fight climate change.

Rural residents who are more dependent on their cars for work and daily life say the tax will fall disproportionately on their backs. But the movement also tapped into a broader anxiety bubbling across regions of the country far from Paris. And given the deep-seated, underlying issues, simply addressing the gas tax no longer seems like it will be enough to resolve the tension.

Facing the gravest crisis of his 18-month presidency, Macron returned Sunday from the Group of 20 economic summit in Argentina, toured the damage, and asked his prime minister to hold a series of emergency meetings with leaders of all the other major political parties and representatives of the Yellow Vests movement, which has no formal organization.

On Monday, there was no sense of any return to normalcy. Vinci, a private company that contracts to manage many of France’s highways in the southern part of the country, was still publishing a long list of blockages throughout its networks that included at least 70 protest sites, some of which cut off access to major roads. Meanwhile, even some high school students staged walkouts in sympathy.

The uprising has proved confounding because it was not organized by a recognized group. While the French are accustomed to strikes, typically they are called by a major union or political party, and then there is often plenty of warning. When French railway employees went on strike for three months last summer, they published a calendar of strike dates so travelers could plan accordingly.

In contrast, the Yellow Vests’ protest has felt more like an uprising, even as some unions have issued words of support and solidarity, adding to the sense of uncertainty and foreboding. Yet signs of the rupture have been there for years.

According to statistics from INSEE, the government’s statistics and research wing, about 60% of French residents now live in big cities that comprise 7% of the nation’s land. In contrast, rural France covers 70% of the territory, but only has 23% of the population, a percentage that continues to decline. The rest live in some range of extended suburbs.

For those in the countryside, the numbers of stores, post offices, doctors and jobs continue to slide, leaving people even more dependent on their vehicles, according to INSEE.

To some degree, the anger that has bubbled up in recent weeks reflects tension in a country where culture, politics and the economy are highly centralized in Paris. The rural-urban divide has become even wider over the last decade, as evidenced in the most recent presidential election. Macron won the second round of voting with 66%, but much of the 34% received by far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen came from hard-hit rural areas.

A landslide for his party in the legislative elections emboldened Macron to push through work and tax reforms at breakneck speed >>>