Team Trump keeps pushing deal to send nuclear tech to Saudis

The Daily Beast reports:

The Trump administration is still actively working to make a deal to send U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, according to two U.S. officials and two professional staffers at federal agencies with direct knowledge of those conversations. American energy businesses are still hoping to cash in on Riyadh’s push for energy diversification.

“This could be a very big contract. This administration is all about contracts,” said Hussein Ibish, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “And there is a big market here that U.S. companies can get in on. The question is if the U.S. will decide, in the end, to go through with an official agreement or not.”

During the first few months of President Trump’s administration, members of his team tried to pull together a nuclear export deal that included private U.S. companies, according to three people with direct knowledge of those efforts and a congressional report issued in late February.

That pursuit raised concerns at the time among professional staff inside the Departments of Energy, State, and Commerce. Those worries grew as it became clear that members of the administration had not engaged in regulatory and legal conversations about the export of such technology. Worse, the nuclear export plan was, in essence, the work of a single company. The firm, IP3, was connected to a pack of former generals, including then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and its proposal was “not a business plan,” one senior political official told investigators from the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, but rather “a scheme for these generals to make some money.” [Continue reading…]

Climate negotiators reach an overtime deal to keep Paris climate accord alive

The New York Times reports:

Diplomats from nearly 200 countries reached a deal on Saturday to keep the Paris climate agreement alive by adopting a detailed set of rules to implement the pact.

The deal, struck after an all-night bargaining session, will ultimately require every country in the world to follow a uniform set of standards for measuring their planet-warming emissions and tracking their climate policies. And it calls on countries to step up their plans to cut emissions ahead of another round of talks in 2020.

It also calls on richer countries to be clearer about the aid they intend to offer to help poorer nations install more clean energy or build resilience against natural disasters. And it builds a process in which countries that are struggling to meet their emissions goals can get help in getting back on track.

The United States agreed to the deal despite President Trump’s vow to abandon the Paris Agreement. Diplomats and climate change activists said they hoped that fact would make it easier for the administration to change its mind and stay in the Paris Agreement, or for a future president to embrace the accord once again. The United States cannot formally withdraw from the agreement until late 2020.

Observers said United States negotiators worked constructively behind the scenes with China on transparency rules. The two countries had long been at odds because China had insisted on different reporting rules for developing countries, while the United States favored consistent emissions-accounting rules and wanted all countries to be subject to the same outside scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

Prominent Syrian opposition activist Raed Fares shot dead in Idlib

Middle East Eye reports:

A prominent Syrian opposition activist, whose campaigns were well-known around the world, has been shot dead in Idlib province, according to local activists.

Raed Fares, a civil society activist and broadcaster, was shot dead by unknown assailants in the southern Idlib town of Kafranbel on Friday, along with friend and fellow opposition activist Hamoud Jneed.

Fares had been a prominent opponent of both President Bashar al-Assad’s government and hardline militant groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is led by al-Qaeda’s former Syrian branch.

Salman, 33, a maths teacher who lives in Kafranbel and witnessed the incident, told Middle East Eye that people were gathering for Friday prayers to buy breakfast when the attack took place.

“A van came at high speed and fired shots from a machine gun, before speeding away,” said Salman.

“People then tried to take the injured to hospital but some were already dead.”

Fares was transferred to Orient Hospital, but Jneed died immediately as a result of the shooting.

Dozens of civilians attended the funeral on Friday.

The murals and banners – often in English – drawn up and presented on social media by Fares and other activists in Kafranbel the the early years of the Syrian uprising earned the town the moniker of the “conscience of the revolution“. [Continue reading…]

The lifesaving power of gratitude (or, why you should write that thank you note)

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An attitude of gratitude may relieve stress, which in turn may lead to better health.

By Richard Gunderman, Indiana University

Gratitude may be more beneficial than we commonly suppose. One recent study asked subjects to write a note of thanks to someone and then estimate how surprised and happy the recipient would feel – an impact that they consistently underestimated. Another study assessed the health benefits of writing thank you notes. The researchers found that writing as few as three weekly thank you notes over the course of three weeks improved life satisfaction, increased happy feelings and reduced symptoms of depression.

While this research into gratitude is relatively new, the principles involved are anything but. Students of mine in a political philosophy course at Indiana University are reading Daniel Defoe’s 300-year-old “Robinson Crusoe,” often regarded as the first novel published in English. Marooned alone on an unknown island with no apparent prospect of rescue or escape, Crusoe has much to lament. But instead of giving in to despair, he makes a list of things for which he is grateful, including the fact that he is the shipwreck’s sole survivor and has been able to salvage many useful items from the wreckage.

Defoe’s masterpiece, which is often ranked as one of the world’s greatest novels, provides a portrait of gratitude in action that is as timely and relevant today as it has ever been. It is also one with which contemporary psychology and medicine are just beginning to catch up. Simply put, for most of us, it is far more helpful to focus on the things in life for which we can express gratitude than those that incline us toward resentment and lamentation.

[Read more…]

Music: Avishai Cohen — ‘Variations In G Minor’


The Kremlin vs Telegram

Enrique Dans writes:

After a hearing lasting just 18 minutes, on April 4, Russia’s Federal Service for the Supervision of Telecommunications, known as Roskomnadzor, ordered the immediate blocking of instant messaging application Telegram, created by the controversial Russian entrepreneur Pavel Durov, along with its removal from Apple and Googles app stores.

Aware that growing numbers of people were evading the blockade through proxies or VPNs, the government agency has begun to stifle all ways of connecting to Telegram, wiping out more than 17 million IP addresses from Google and Amazon’s servers (you can see the number grow in real time here), in the process, while disrupting all types of services from online games to mobile apps or cryptocurrency exchange pages. Roskomnadzor’s attempts to block Telegram amount to a denial of service attack on the Russian internet: many sites and services unrelated to Telegram are now blocked as part of this Soviet-style exercise in censorship. Nevertheless, says Durov, Telegram continues to operate with relative normality and the company has not detected a significant drop in user activity in Russia. A relatively small company has left the Kremlin with egg on its face and highlighting concerns for the future of the internet in Russia.

Why is the Kremlin putting all these resources into blocking Telegram? The official version is that Telegram refused to provide a backdoor to decipher conversations on the service. Why would Telegram do that, knowing what was at stake? Aside from its commitment to user privacy, the simple fact is that no such backdoor exists. Every Telegram conversation is encrypted by means of a randomly generated code, and the company doesn’t have them. WhatsApp faced a similar situation in Brazil last year, although that was largely due to ignorance and stubbornness of a judge. In Putin’s Russia, the policy is to block any means of communication that escapes government control. [Continue reading…]

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How white American terrorists are radicalized

David M Perry writes:

When Mark Conditt was a teenager, he participated in a club called Righteous Invasion of Truth. RIOT kids were homeschooled and religious, and spent their club time playing war games, practicing weapons skills, and reading the Bible. As a community college student in 2012, he wrote blogs against homosexuality and abortion. In 2018, he planted bombs in Austin, Texas, appearing to target African-American communities, then blew himself up as police closed in. The question isn’t whether Conditt was a terrorist, but where was this terrorist radicalized? More important, who else is being radicalized in the same way, and what can we do about it?

It’s easy to connect the dots after an attack. A radicalized white man commits murders. Investigators dive into his past. The dots emerge in the clarity of hindsight. In the interests of preventing future attacks, though, we need a clear understanding of how white terrorism works in this country. While not organized by some kind of hierarchical conspiracy or secret cabal, these discrete acts of violence are part of a systematic campaign to terrorize and divide Americans. What’s worse, it’s working.

We know where Elliot Rodger, the 2014 Isla Vista shooter, was radicalized. When the Southern Poverty Law Center published its report last month on “alt-right” violence, focusing on the many incidents in 2017, the SPLC began its account with the 2014 killings by Rodger, a student at the University of California–Santa Barbara. Based on Rodger’s experiences in specific online fora, the SPLC has dubbed Rodger America’s first “alt-right” killer. In his writings and videos, Rodger used misogynistic and racist tropes common in the worlds of “gamergate,” a forum called PUAhate (Pick Up Artist Hate), and other online spaces where he could connect with like-minded men. No one ordered Rodger to kill people, but the valorization of targeted violence permeates those communities. He ultimately murdered seven people and wounded an additional 14. According to the SPLC, Rodger’s violent acts were celebrated in various online communities, including by people who went on to kill in turn. The SPLC cites other misogynist killers, but also people like Dylann Roof, who murdered nine black citizens in a Charleston church. Roof’s racism appears to have intensified as he spent more and more time on the Council of Conservative Citizens’ website. More recently, a pro-Trump white supremacist killed two people at his school in New Mexico, after spending five years glorifying school shooters on alt-right websites. [Continue reading…]

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