By Steve Dorsey
Some private U.S. citizens who traveled to Cuba say they have experienced symptoms similar to those suffered by at least 22 U.S. diplomats after mysterious acoustic attacks in Havana.
“Since we issued the September 29 Travel Warning, we have received a handful of reports from U.S. citizens who report they experienced similar symptoms following stays in Cuba,” a State Department official told CBS News. “We have no way of verifying whether they were harmed by the same attacks targeting official U.S. employees.”
At this point, nearly a year since the attacks, U.S. investigators are no closer to determining either the source or the methods, according to officials close to the investigation underway by several agencies including the FBI and CIA.
Investigators have been probing whether the attacks were caused by something more than just mysterious sonic devices after U.S. government personnel complained about hearing loud, bizarre and unexplained noises in homes and hotels.
Medical records examined by CBS News show some Americans suffered mild traumatic brain injury, cognitive problems, hearing loss and other health issues. The victims include a handful of Americans connected to the U.S. intelligence community, according to sources.
The U.S. has ordered most of its personnel and all families to leave Cuba, and isof Cuban embassy officials from its embassy in Washington. But the U.S. has stopped short of blaming Cuba for the attacks, as investigators consider whether another country could be involved.
By Rachel Zoll, Eric Tucker, and Sadie Gurman.
WASHINGTON (AP) — In an order that undercuts protections for LGBT people, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a sweeping directive to agencies Friday to do as much as possible to accommodate those who say their religious freedoms are being violated.
The guidance, an attempt to deliver on President Donald Trump’s pledge to his evangelical and other religious supporters, effectively lifts a burden from religious objectors to prove that their beliefs about marriage or other topics are sincerely held.
Under the new policy, a claim of a violation of religious freedom would be enough to override concerns for the civil rights of LGBT people and anti-discrimination protections for women and others. The guidelines are so sweeping that experts on religious liberty are calling them a legal powder-keg that could prompt wide-ranging lawsuits against the government.
“This is putting the world on notice: You better take these claims seriously,” said Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “This is a signal to the rest of these agencies to rethink the protections they have put in place on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Trump announced plans for the directive last May in a Rose Garden ceremony where he was surrounded by religious leaders. Since then, religious conservatives have anxiously awaited the Justice Department guidance, hoping for greatly strengthened protections for their beliefs amid the rapid acceptance of LGBT rights. Religious liberty experts said they would have to see how the guidance would be applied by individual agencies, both in crafting regulations and deciding how to enforce them. But experts said the directive clearly tilted the balance very far in favor of people of faith who do not want to recognize same-sex marriage.
“Except in the narrowest circumstances, no one should be forced to choose between living out his or her faith and complying with the law,” Sessions wrote. “To the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law, religious observance and practice should be reasonably accommodated in all government activity.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian law firm, called it “a great day for religious freedom.” The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT-rights group, called the guidelines an “all-out assault” on civil rights and a “sweeping license to discriminate.”
The new document lays the groundwork for legal positions that the Trump administration intends to take in future religious freedom cases, envisioning sweeping protections for faith-based beliefs and practices in private workplaces, at government jobs, in awarding government grants and in running prisons.
In issuing the memo, Sessions is injecting the department into a thicket of highly charged legal questions that have repeatedly reached the U.S. Supreme Court, most notably in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case that said corporations with religious objections could opt out of a health law requirement to cover contraceptives for women.
The memo makes clear the Justice Department’s support of that opinion in noting that the primary religious freedom law — the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 — protects the rights not only of people to worship as they choose but also of corporations, companies and private firms.
In what is likely to be one of the more contested aspects of the document, the Justice Department states that religious organizations can hire workers based on religious beliefs and an employee’s willingness “to adhere to a code of conduct.” Many conservative Christian schools and faith-based agencies require employees to adhere to moral codes that ban sex outside marriage and same-sex relationships, among other behavior.
The document also says the government improperly infringes on individuals’ religious liberty by banning an aspect of their practice or by forcing them to take an action that contradicts their faith. As an example, Justice Department lawyers say government efforts to require employers to provide contraceptives to their workers “substantially burdens their religious practice.” Separately Friday, the Health and Human Services Department allowed more employers with religious objections to opt out of the birth control coverage rule in the Affordable Care Act.
Session’s directive affirms Trump’s earlier directive to the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, which bars churches and tax-exempt groups from endorsing political candidates. The policy has only rarely been enforced in the past.
The department’s civil rights division will now be involved in reviewing all agency actions to make sure they don’t conflict with federal law regarding religious liberty. Tony Perkins, head of the conservative Family Research Council, in a statement lauding Trump, said his group has set up a hotline for federal employees and others who feel they’ve faced discrimination over their religious beliefs.
By David Kravets
Rob Joyce, the White House cybersecurity czar, said on Tuesday that the government should end using the Social Security number as a national identification method.
“I believe the Social Security number has outlived its usefulness,” said Joyce, while speaking at The Washington Post‘s Cybersecurity Summit. “Every time we use the Social Security number, you put it at risk.”
One problem with the Social Security number, he said, is that a victim of identity theft cannot get it changed after it has been stolen.
Joyce’s comments come a month after the Equifax hack, in which hackers gained access to the Social Security numbers of as many as 143 million Americans.
The Social Security number, originally a code for federal retirement benefits, has grown to become a personal identifier used for everything from getting a job to buying auto insurance.
The Hill said that Joyce has “raised the issue” with the Trump administration. Bloomberg said the Trump administration has asked federal departments and agencies “to look into the vulnerabilities of employing the identifier tied to retirement benefits, as well as how to replace the existing system.”
Joyce said, “It’s really clear there needs to be a change.”
“The concept of a Social Security number in this environment being private and secure—I think it’s time as a country to think beyond that,” Smith testified. “What is a better way to identify consumers in our country in a very secure way? I think that way is something different than an SSN, a date of birth, and a name.”
And now what?
Joyce said the government is examining the use of a “modern cryptographic identifier,” like public and private keys.
“I personally know my Social Security number has been compromised at least four times in my lifetime. That’s just untenable,” Smith said.
According to Bloomberg, financial services firm Cowen said in a research note to investors that the White House’s plotting of a move to a new form of identification might stall congressional efforts to regulate the credit industry.
The “White House may be indirectly coming to Equifax’s rescue,” Cowen wrote. “This reduces the risk of business-model-busting legislation such as a requirement that consumers opt-in to a credit bureau collecting their data.”
By John Paul Brammer
A view of the front range mountains seen from Westminster, Colorado on March 8, 2016.Katie Wood / Denver Post Via Getty Images
Westminster became the first city in Colorado to officially declare its opposition to “conversion therapy” when earlier this week the mayor and town council issued a proclamation against the controversial practice.
“The City of Westminster acknowledges that conversion therapy to change one’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is a harmful abuse to those subjected to these practices,” the proclamation stated.
Brianna Titone, secretary and treasurer of the Jefferson County Democrats LGBTQ+ Caucus, applauded the move.
“After three years of state legislation banning the practice getting stymied before it could reach a vote in the state senate … action on a local level was pivotal,” Titone said in a statement. “It is important that the people of Colorado know that this dangerous practice is happening in our state … Colorado needs to stand on the right side of history, and today, Westminster did just that.”
Conversion therapy is a controversial practice which claims to “treat” homosexuality and turn gay people heterosexual. It is currently legal in Colorado and 40 other states. Nine states and Washington, D.C., have banned the practice.
“These harmful practices use rejection, shame, and psychological abuse to force young people to try to change who they are. Unfortunately, many young people are coerced and subjected to these harmful practices in our state, which puts them at a higher risk for depression, substance abuse, and suicide,” Daniel Ramos, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado said.
While the proclamation is not legally binding, advocates see it as an important first step.”We extend our gratitude to Westminster City Council for the proclamation and hope this action is another step toward getting a ban to pass in the Colorado Legislature,” Ramos said.
Ramos told NBC News the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative Christian legal group that has also supported anti-transgender “bathroom bills” across the country, is one of the main forces speaking out in favor of conversion therapy. He also noted, however, that there are other religious organizations and faith leaders in Colorado “who are speaking out on behalf of LGBTQ young people.”
A request for comment from the ADF was not immediately returned.
The American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association and a number of other health organizations have issued statements against conversion therapy (also known as “reparative therapy).
“The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great and include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient,” a position statement from the American Psychiatric Association states.
“APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as ‘reparative’ or ‘conversion’ therapy, that is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or is based on the a priori assumption that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation.”
We should all make sure that no young person is told that who they are or who they love is wrong.
We should all make sure that no young person is told that who they are or who they love is wrong.
Conversion therapy survivor Samuel Brinton, who recently helped launch 50 Bills 50 States, a grass-roots campaign that is trying to end conversion therapy across the U.S., told NBC News he welcomes Westminster’s decision.
“The flurry of cities, counties, and local districts taking matters into their own hands when it comes to protecting LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy is nothing short of exhilarating,” Brinton said. “As state after state submits and passes legislation to end the practice of licensed therapists from selling the snake oil of the dangerous and discredited notion of conversion therapy for minors, cities from Westminster, Colo., to Palm Beach County, Fla., are standing up to let LGBTQ youth know they are safe and don’t need to change.”
Ramos urged politicians on both sides of the aisle to come out against the controversial practice and ban it for good.
“This is a way for us to say that banning conversion therapy is not a partisan issue,” he said. “We should all make sure that no young person is told that who they are or who they love is wrong.”
Set in the grimy, trash-strewn New York of 1971, The Deuce is named after a notoriously seedy stretch of West 42nd Street that was populated by pimps and prostitutes, and home to live peep shows and porn shops. Written by David Simon, who created The Wire, and his frequent collaborator George Pelecanos, the series charts the rise of the pornography industry in New York City. Simon has said that the show is about “the commodification of women” and from the female bar staff poured into skimpy leotards by James Franco’s bar manager, Vinnie, to the violent control the pimps exert over the prostitutes they run, every woman in the show, and her sexuality, is being packaged and profited from. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Eileen “Candy” Merrell, a prostitute and single mother who rejects street-walking protocol and refuses to be controlled by a pimp, stating that “nobody makes money off my pussy but me”.
“Somebody asked me the other day whether I thought porn was exploitative or empowering for women,” says Gyllenhaal. “At the time, I didn’t actually know how to answer. Then a couple of days later, I thought, can the answer just be: ‘Yes?’”
It is a typically nebulous answer from an actor, who, in spite of roles in mainstream films such as The Dark Knight and Nanny McPhee Returns, has spent much of her career in the independent film sector. She is famed for playing the kind of complex, unconventional women who are now increasingly emerging from the small screen; her most famous role to date, of course, was the troubled, submissive assistant to the masochistic James Spader in 2002’s Secretary. While initially wary of the extensive shooting schedules of most series, the enormous success of The Honourable Woman – the BBC miniseries that won her a Golden Globe for her role as Baroness Nessa Stein – opened up Gyllenhaal to television. With The Deuce – set to be one of HBO’s biggest shows of the year – how did she feel about the high levels of nudity the part required?
“You know, I spent no time moralising it. I am pretty comfortable with it,” Gyllenhaal says when we meet in a slick boutique hotel on the Brooklyn waterfront. “I have never been very shy about my body, and this is something I really believe in.” She lets out a small laugh. “This is so silly, but the only place I have felt shy is imagining those people who I see when I pick up my kids from school watching it. And I have to be honest and say that I don’t think I ate any bread at all while I was making this show. When you know you are going to have to wear very short shorts all summer long, you don’t.”
The show has already been commissioned for a second season, which will jump forward to the late 1970s; while a pending third season will take place in the mid-1980s, thus charting the effects of the boom in pornography on its players over a 15-year stretch. In order to explore the intricacies of such a shrouded, changing industry, Gyllenhaal was faced with a challenge. “There is so much about sex work that is in the dark, because it’s illegal, so how do you get that information in a reliable way?” she asks.
She was directed to Annie Sprinkle, a 63 year-old writer and television presenter, and former porn actor, who had also worked as a prostitute in the early 1970s in San Francisco and New York.
“She has a support group for women who are involved in porn and prostitution,” says Gyllenhaal. “So she introduced me to this world of women in their 60s who had been, and some of whom still are, involved in sex work.” Their experiences challenged many received ideas about prostitutes as victims. “They all said: ‘Don’t write us off,’” reports Gyllenhaal. “They said: ‘Yes, there is often an element of damage [in their past].’ But there are a lot of other things too; there’s curiosity, and an actual love of sexuality. And I saw both elements.”
And, contradictory though it may sound, in a show that features both graphic sex and violence, there is also an innocence to the trade it portrays. “Annie said that sex work then really had a different feeling about it than now,” nods Gyllenhaal. “That they were just coming out of the 1960s, and there was a celebration of freedom. People had this idea that they were smoking pot and making love.” Similarly, her ideas about pornography were transformed. “I thought of all pornography the same way, and what I realised is that pornography is an art form. And that there are actresses who are very proud of what they did in pornography.” The growth of the embryonic porn industry is seen primarily through Candy’s lens, both figuratively and literally: over the course of eight episodes, she develops an ambition not merely to star in porn films, but to direct them. “It’s like a light goes on inside her, and she starts thinking of herself as an artist,” says Gyllenhaal.
A similar shift took place with Gyllenhaal’s ambitions, too. “I wanted some kind of guarantee that I would be a part of the storytelling, part of considering what it is we want to be saying,” she says. Gyllenhaal asked for a production credit, but people around her said that given a show of this size and profile she shouldn’t expect to get one. “And I thought, ‘Well, I’m still going to ask for it.’” To her surprise her request was granted. When this happened she felt a “real shift in my sense of myself as a woman and an artist. Which was like a meta version of what the piece is about.”
As a producer, she was empowered to suggest additions to the script. For example, a deeply intimate scene in which we see Candy masturbate was Gyllenhaal’s own idea. “It wasn’t that I had a burning desire to pretend to masturbate on television,” she says, wryly. “It was that I wanted to find a way to express the difference between performative, transactional sex, and sex that is about someone’s actual desire. And I thought that was an interesting way to do it. But that was the scene I felt the most vulnerable about. Because I was trying to create something that looked and felt real.”
Other challenging scenes included a porn shoot in episode two in which Gyllenhaal’s character “gets Campbell’s soup sprayed on her face with a fucking turkey baster,” she says, looking suitably horrified. “I can’t actually think of anything more degrading. And I knew it was in service of having a conversation about degrading women – which we are having – but I still had to do it, and I found that very difficult.”
So far, The Deuce has been widely applauded for its exploration of the female gaze, and Gyllenhaal claims that it is “absolutely, definitely a feminist project”. But therein also lies a challenge: how to make a show about the sex trade and pornography without it becoming pornographic itself. Gyllenhaal, however, believes that is part of the show’s power and what it has in common with The Handmaid’s Tale and The Girlfriend Experience.
“If it turns you on, but then makes you horrified to consider what’s actually turning you on, and what the consequences are for the characters that are turning you on, then it’s a better show,” she says. “If you’re patting yourself on the back and just thinking how terrible porn is, then it doesn’t make you consider your position as a person in the world right now, and how sex is commodified everywhere today.”
The Deuce continues on 3 October, 10pm, Sky Atlantic
By Mike Wall
The Trump administration is committed to sending astronauts to the moon as part of a broader push to prioritize human spaceflight and firm up U.S. dominance in the final frontier, Vice President Mike Pence said.
“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but [also] to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” Pence said today (Oct. 5) at the first meeting of the newly reinstated National Space Council (NSC).
“The moon will be a stepping stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration,” Pence added. [From Ike to Trump: Presidential Visions for Space Exploration]
Under the previous administration, that stepping stone was much smaller: President Barack Obama had directed NASA to prep for Mars trips by visiting a near-Earth asteroid. In response, the space agency devised a plan to pluck a boulder off a space rock and haul that fragment into orbit around the moon.
A new direction?
Yesterday (Oct. 4) was the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, which kicked off the Space Age and the Cold War space race. Pence referenced that seminal event during his remarks today, while lamenting a perceived lack of direction in U.S. space policy.
“Rather than lead in space, too often, we’ve chosen to drift,” he said. “And, as we learned 60 years ago, when we drift, we fall behind.”
As evidence of this drift, Pence cited the fact that NASA astronauts haven’t gone beyond low-Earth orbit since the final Apollo moon mission, in 1972. In addition, he noted, the country has had to pay Russia to ferry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station since the space shuttle retired in 2011. That service currently costs $76 million per seat. (Two U.S. companies, SpaceX and Boeing, are both developing capsules to take over this taxi service for NASA astronauts; these spacecraft could begin crewed flights next year.)
Pence pledged that the Trump administration, with the help of the NSC, will develop and implement a coherent, long-term U.S. space strategy.
That strategy will focus heavily on human spaceflight, economic development and national security, if Pence’s words today and in an op-ed published yesterday in The Wall Street Journal are any guide.
“We will renew America’s commitment to creating the space technology needed to protect national security. Our adversaries are aggressively developing jamming and hacking capabilities that could cripple critical military surveillance, navigation systems and communication networks. In the face of this threat, America must be as dominant in the heavens as it is on Earth,” Pence wrote in the op-ed. (A subscription is required to read the full piece, but some snippets are available for free at whitehouse.gov.)
“We will promote regulatory, technological and educational reforms to expand opportunities for American citizens and ensure that the U.S. is at the forefront of economic development in outer space,” he added. “In the years to come, American industry must be the first to maintain a constant commercial human presence in low-Earth orbit, to expand the sphere of the economy beyond this blue marble. ”
The first meeting
The primacy of these stated goals was reflected in the makeup of the panelists at today’s meeting, which was held at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. (The space shuttle Discovery is on display at Udvar-Hazy, providing a dramatic backdrop.)
Two of the three panels consisted of executives of the spaceflight companies SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Nevada Corp., Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Orbital ATK. The third panel focused on national security and featured retired Navy Adm. James Ellis, the former chief of U.S. Strategic Command; former NASA astronaut and former DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) Deputy Director Pamela Melroy; and former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.
“We won the race to the moon half a century ago, and now we will win the 21st century in space,” Pence said at today’s meeting, a full replay of which you can see here.
The NSC was last active in the early 1990s, during the presidency of George H.W. Bush. President Trump resurrected the council via executive order on June 30.
By Joshua Berlinger and Zahra Ullah, CNN
(CNN)North Korea could test a powerful nuclear weapon over the Pacific Ocean in response to US President Donald Trump’s threats of military action, the country’s foreign minister has warned.
Ri Yong Ho spoke to reporters in New York shortly after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an unprecedented televised statement, accusing Trump of being “mentally deranged.”
By Henry Bodkin
the planet than previously thought because scientists got their modelling wrong, a new study has found. New research by British scientists reveals the world is being polluted and warming up less quickly than 10-year-old forecasts predicted, giving countries more time to get a grip on their carbon output.
An unexpected “revolution” in affordable renewable energy has also contributed to the more positive outlook.
Experts now say there is a two-in-three chance of keeping global temperatures within 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, the ultimate goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Paris climate change deal: Moment agreement announced
They also condemned the “overreaction” to the US’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, announced by Donald Trump in June, saying it is unlikely to make a significant difference.
According to the models used to draw up the agreement, the world ought now to be 1.3 degrees above the mid-19th-Century average, whereas the most recent observations suggest it is actually between 0.9 and 1 degree above.
The discrepancy means nations could continue emitting carbon dioxide at the current rate for another 20 years before the target was breached, instead of the three to five predicted by the previous model.
“When you are talking about a budget of 1.5 degrees, then a 0.3 degree difference is a big deal”, said Professor Myles Allen, of Oxford University and one of the authors of the new study.
Published in the journal Nature Geoscience, it suggests that if polluting peaks and then declines to below current levels before 2030 and then continue to drop more sharply, there is a 66 per cent chance of global average temperatures staying below 1.5 degrees.
The goal was yesterday described as “very ambitious” but “physically possible”.
Another reason the climate outlook is less bleak than previously thought is stabilising emissions, particularly in China.
Renewable energy has also enjoyed more use than was predicted.
China has now acquired more than 100 gigawatts of solar cells, 25 per cent of which in the last six months, and in the UK, offshore wind has turned out to cost far less than expected.
Professor Michael Grubb, from University College London, had previously described the goals agreed at Paris in 2015 as “incompatible with democracy”.
Outrage at Trump’s withdrawal from Paris climate agreement
But yesterday he said: “We’re in the midst of an energy revolution and it’s happening faster than we thought, which makes it much more credible for governments to tighten the offer they put on the table at Paris.”
He added that President Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement would not be significant because “The White House’s position doesn’t have much impact on US emissions”.
“The smaller constituencies – cities, businesses, states – are just saying they’re getting on with it, partly for carbon reduction, but partly because there’s this energy revolution and they don’t want to be left behind.”
The new research was published as the Met Office announced that a “slowdown” in the rate of global temperature rises reported over roughly the first decade of this century was now over.
The organisation said the slowdown in rising air temperatures between 1999 and 2014 happened as a result of a natural cycle in the Pacific, which led to the ocean circulation speeding up, causing it to pull heat down in the deeper ocean away from the atmosphere.
However, that cycle has now ended.
Claire Perry, the climate change and industry minister, claimed Britain had already demonstrated that tackling climate change and running a strong economy could go “hand in hand”.
“How is the time to build on our strengths and cement our position as a global hub for investment in clean growth,” she said.
By Gordon G. Chang
“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we could do at the Security Council at this point,” said Nikki Haley on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, referring to North Korea. “We wanted to be responsible and go through all diplomatic means to get their attention first,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said. “If that doesn’t work, General Mattis [Defense Secretary James Mattis] will take care of it.”
The comments, no off-the-cuff remarks, mirrored her words at a White House press briefing Friday, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, standing next to Haley at that briefing, was even more explicit. “I think we ought to make clear what’s different about this approach is, is that we’re out of time,” he noted, referring to sanctions. “As Ambassador Haley said before, we’ve been kicking the can down the road, and we’re out of road.”
When senior Trump administration officials talk about the end of diplomacy they raise the prospect of war. But have all measures short of war been exhausted?
CNN’s Barbara Starr reported Saturday, “North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test has renewed discussion at the highest levels of the Trump administration about how military force could be used to stop [North Korean Leader] Kim Jong Un’s development of nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.”
The war talk is the result of exasperation by American officials who see that their actions so far have not convinced Kim, the North Korean supremo, to slow down the testing of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
Take Haley’s CNN comment. Even as President Donald Trump, a U.N. skeptic, prepares to address the United Nations General Assembly, many Americans, viewing the nine ineffective sets of sanctions on North Korea since 2006, say the Security Council itself is broken.
But the Security Council is not “broken.” It was never designed to work in an era of disagreement among the five veto-wielding permanent members.
What is not working is the United States. Unfortunately, from administration to administration, American leaders have failed to use all the elements of American power. If China and Russia use their vetoes to frustrate efforts to disarm North Korea—and they do—it is because the United States has not been willing to coerce them into acting responsibly.
With regard to Moscow, recent American policymakers have been more worried about a weak Russia than a strong one. Therefore, they have opted for mild sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s dangerous behavior. Ronald Reagan, at a time when the U.S. was far weaker than it is today and the Soviet Union was far stronger than Russia is now, used American economic might to end the Cold War. Putin today is able to bedevil the U.S. at the Security Council only because Americans are afraid of what happens if they move to take him down.
At the same time, the U.S. has not stopped the People’s Republic of China. Washington has allowed Chinese banks, large and small, to launder money for the North Koreans for decades. Americans reportedly have permitted Chinese leaders to help Pyongyang transfer missiles to the Iranians. The White House did nothing when enterprises connected to the Chinese People’s Liberation Army sold mobile launchers for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. has not asked the Chinese, at least in public, how North Korea’s most advanced missiles appear to be derived from China’s Jl-1. And Washington acted as if it did not matter when Chinese businesses allegedly sold uranium hexafluoride, components, and equipment for the Kim regime’s nuclear-weapons program.
No wonder the Chinese feel free to support their North Korean allies. U.S. policymakers, they can see, have been feckless. It is one thing for, say, Liechtenstein to fail to convince Beijing to do the right thing. It is quite another for the United States of America to fail to do so. American policymakers have simply failed to coerce Beijing, failed to leave it no choice but to join in the effort to disarm the Kims.
What can the United States do to China? It can declare its largest banks “primary money-laundering concerns” under Section 311 of the Patriot Act, thereby denying them the ability to transact business in the world’s dominant currency. That would be essentially imposing a death sentence on the Chinese banking system and possibly China’s economy, perhaps the Communist Party itself.
Trump can also remind China’s leaders that U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in the middle of last month formally initiated, pursuant to Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, an investigation into Chinese intellectual-property theft. A finding of such theft—virtually assured—can lead to the imposition of high across-the-board tariffs on Chinese goods.
And this month, the People’s Bank of China, the central bank, appears to have driven the renminbi lower, an indication central technocrats are once again “manipulating” their currency as that is defined by U.S. law. That gives Trump another point of leverage.
The Chinese economy, debt-fueled for years, is particularly vulnerable, especially in the run-up to the historic 19th Communist Party Congress, which begins Oct. 18. General Secretary Xi Jinping, who seeks to grab unprecedented power, cannot afford to see a major disruption of relations with the United States at this sensitive time.
The Trump administration, with the series of actions it took in the last week of June, signaled it would move against China for its support for North Korea. For instance, the Treasury Department sawed off Bank of Dandong, a small Chinese financial institution, from the global economy due to its persistent money-laundering. The Chinese, unfortunately, have continued their support for the Norks at the Security Council.
So what should the United States do? It could just give up efforts to disarm Pyongyang, as James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, suggested in widely reported comments to CNN last month. There is an air of defeatism in American policy circles these days.
The assumption among Clapper and others is that the U.S. can deter the North Koreans indefinitely. Perhaps Washington can do that and, at the same time, stop their sale of nuclear-weapons technology to Iran and make sure they do not begin merchandising thermonuclear devices to established weapons customers, some of them terrorist groups.
But perhaps deterrence is not possible. Kim Jong Un, who surely knows what Clapper and others are saying, is obviously defiant these days. And the core goal of the Kim regime—the basis of its legitimacy—is taking over the other Korea, the one governed from Seoul.
Kim, once confident about his nukes and the means to deliver them, will almost surely attempt to use the threat of war to break America’s 64-year-old mutual-defense treaty with South Korea and get America’s 28,500 service personnel off the peninsula. Once he accomplishes that, he surely thinks he can intimidate the South into submission.
Kim has recently been talking about “final victory,” a reference to taking over the South. An overconfident despot could miscalculate and begin a chain of events spiraling into war.
Although Americans are confident in their “overwhelming” capabilities, as Trump’s comments at Joint Base Andrews on Friday indicate, the North Koreans probably do not view it that way. They have long memories and they know they grabbed the Pueblo, an unarmed U.S. Navy reconnaissance vessel, from international waters in 1968 and held the crew for almost a year, killing one sailor and even getting an apology from the Johnson administration. They no doubt recall they killed 31 Americans when, a year later, they shot down a Navy EC-121. In 1976, they hacked to death two U.S. Army officers in the Demilitarized Zone. In no case, did North Korea pay a price. So Americans do not look especially intimidating to the Kim family.
And although many Americans call Kim “irrational,” would it be crazy for him to think, now, that Washington will not stop him?
War, through miscalculation and misconception, is beginning to look probable, if not inevitable.
By Jacob Pramuk
Tillerson added that “China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own.”
“These continued provocations only deepen North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation,” the secretary of state added.
North Korea launched an unidentified missile Thursday that landed in the sea after passing over Japan, the latest escalation as the isolated regime flaunts its nuclear weapon ambitions, according to multiple reports.
The missile was launched from the communist dictatorship’s capital of Pyongyang at about 6:57 a.m. local time Friday headed east, reports said. The projectile passed over Japan before landing in the sea at roughly 7:16 a.m., roughly 2,000 kilometers (about 1,240 miles) east of Japan’s Cape Erimo, according to reports.
South Korea conducted its own missile exercise as Pyongyang fired its missile, taking into account the distance to North Korea’s firing site, according to NBC News.
The United Nations Security Council will meet at 3 p.m. ET on Friday to discuss missile test, diplomats said, at the request of the United States and Japan.
This story is developing. Please check back for further updates.
—Reuters and CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.
By Elizabeth Ames
The mainstream media failed to see the rise of Donald Trump in 2016. Now it’s overlooking another grassroots movement that may soon be of equal significance— the growing number of liberals “taking the red pill.” People of all ages and ethnicities are posting YouTube videos describing “red pill moments”—personal awakenings that have caused them to reject leftist narratives imbibed since childhood from friends, teachers, and the news and entertainment media.
You might say that those who take the red pill have been “triggered.” But instead of seeking out “safe spaces,” they’re doing the opposite, posting monologues throwing off the shackles of political correctness.
Their videos can feature the kind of subversiveness that was once a hallmark of the left—before the movement lost its sense of humor.
Candace Owens, a charismatic young African American, posts commentaries on her YouTube channel whose titles seem expressly designed to make PC heads explode.
A sample: “I Don’t Care About Charlottesville, the KKK, or White Supremacy.” The commentary calls out liberal fearmongering over white supremacists. “I mean there are, what, 6,000 Klansmen left in our nation. You want me to actually process that as a legitimate fear every day when I wake up?”
Not insignificantly, her video got nearly 500,000 views and overwhelmingly enthusiastic comments. (“you rock, girl!” “this woman is awesome.”)
A later episode about Black Lives Matter got nearly 700,000 views and had the distinction of being briefly taken down by YouTube. Unapologetic, Owens responded with a follow-up commentary — “What YouTube and Facebook REALLY Think of Black People.”
She declared, “There was only one version of a black person that these platforms are willing to help propel towards fame and notoriety—and that is an angry black victim.” Owens calls her channel “Red Pill Black.” It invites viewers: “Sick of the alt-left. Welcome, I prescribe red pills.”
The term “taking the red pill” derives from the movie “The Matrix,” the trippy sci-fi classic. Morpheus, the resistance leader played by Laurence Fishburne offers Neo, the movie’s hero played by Keanu Reeves, a choice: He can take the blue pill and remain in the repressive artificial world known as the Matrix where “you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.” Or he can take the red pill and tumble down the “rabbit hole” where he will come to realize that everything about his life was a lie.
The left’s intensifying war on free speech has produced a surge of red pill videos. Some take Owens’ in-your-face approach. Others are meandering, hipster confessionals delivered with the wordy earnestness of characters in a Duplass brothers movie.
In his YouTube Channel, Dissent Report, a young, one-time “Bernie Sanders supporting progressive Democrat” admits from behind large sunglasses that he’s made “a pretty hard turn to the right.”
He took the red pill after seeing friends “moving …towards an authoritarian sort of Progressivism.” He explains, “They were just standing up for a divisive brand of politics that would tolerate no dissent whatsoever.”
Not surprisingly, the mainstream media has largely dismissed the red pill phenomenon. Coverage has mainly stressed the connection to men’s rights activists —the Red Pill forum on Reddit and the documentary, “The Red Pill,” are both about men’s rights. This narrow focus, however, misses the larger story.
Those who have been “red pilled” may start out questioning feminism. But that’s often just the beginning.
A red pill blogger who calls himself “Pat Riarchy” (“also known as the patriarchy”) recalls that his journey down the rabbit hole began when a Facebook friend derisively called him a “cis male.” He came to recognize that, “it’s been one narrative pretty much.” He concluded, “I have my own objective view…I didn’t want a bigger government. I realized I didn’t like the universal healthcare plan…I realized I didn’t really have an issue with guns.” Several books and discussions later, he emerged as a libertarian.
Red pill bloggers are increasingly characterizing PC culture as a first step on a slippery slope towards authoritarian socialism.
One who articulates this best is Dave Rubin, a married gay man and former left liberal whose show, The Rubin Report, has explored the red pill phenomenon.
In his commentary, “The left is no longer liberal”, he explained his own disillusionment with the “regressive left,” whose “backward ideology” of identity politics “puts the collective ahead of the individual. It loves all of its minority groups to behave as a monolith.
“So if you’re a true individual—meaning you don’t subscribe to the ideas that the groupthink has attributed to you based on those immutable characteristics—you must be cast out.” Rubin calls this mindset “the biggest threat to freedom and Western civilization that exists today.”
One of his recent guests was Cassie Jaye, producer of the The Red Pill” documentary, which chronicled her personal journey away from feminism.
Jaye had intended to make a feminist film about the men’s rights movement. But her perspective began to change upon interviewing activists, who were anything but the angry women-bashers so often portrayed by the mainstream media. Instead they were men—and also women—concerned about issues such as unfair child custody laws, pregnancy fraud, and even domestic violence. It turned out that men are also victims of domestic abuse perpetrated by women with surprising frequency.
Jaye’s film met with immediate resistance from radical feminists, who trolled her online while she was fundraising for the film. Her documentary has been largely ignored by most of the mainstream media. But it has had widespread impact on the Internet.
Laci Green, one of YouTube’s best known personalities whose left-leaning videos about sex and gender have an immense following, posted “Taking The Red Pill?”
Green’s relatively tame confession of discomfort with feminists who shut down opposing views, as well as the revelation that she was dating an anti-SJW YouTuber, enraged her fans. They waged an online campaign against her and reportedly “doxxed” her — published her personal information on the internet.
Many who proclaim themselves “red pilled” express a yearning for traditional values. “Pat Riarchy” wants to see a return to an era where comedians can “attack everyone,” not just Trump. “PC culture is going down,” he says. “A lot of people want this to stop.” Kirsten Lauryn, a 20-something hipster sitting amidst empty church pews, worries that, “A lot of our society has drawn away from religion as an important way of instilling values.” She observes, “The pendulum is swinging back to a more traditional lifestyle. I see this with my generation Generation Z.”
The media has very likely ignored red pilling for the same reason it underestimated support for Donald Trump: An entrenched establishment always resists disrupters, especially those who reject its worldview.
That said, red pill bloggers are not necessarily Trump supporters—in many cases, quite the reverse. What they do share, however, is their questioning of mainstream media tropes.
Not all their videos would pass muster with Reagan conservatives or even libertarians. But, taken together, they give hope to those worried about the future of capitalism and free speech in America.
By Todd Starnes
The president of the University of Notre Dame said he is deeply concerned after Sen. Dianne Feinstein questioned a colleague’s religious beliefs during a Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing.
Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame, was grilled by Democrats over how her Catholic beliefs might influence her decisions from the bench. Barrett was recently nominated by President Trump for a seat on the federal court.
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country,” Sen. Feinstein said.
Feinstein has been widely condemned for what many are calling anti-Catholic bigotry and bullying.
“It is chilling to hear from a United States Senator that this might now disqualify someone from service as a federal judge,” Notre Dame President John Jenkins wrote in a public letter to the California lawmaker.
He took great exception to her remark that the “dogma lives loudly” in the professor.
By Robert Barnes
In a major upcoming Supreme Court case that weighs equal rights with religious liberty, the Trump administration on Thursday sided with a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The Department of Justice on Thursday filed a brief on behalf of baker Jack Phillips, who was found to have violated the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act by refusing to created a cake to celebrate the marriage of Charlie Craig and David Mullins in 2012. Phillips said he doesn’t create wedding cakes for same-sex couples because it would violate his religious beliefs.
The government agreed with Phillips that his cakes are a form of expression, and he cannot be compelled to use his talents for something in which he does not believe.
“Forcing Phillips to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights,” Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey B. Wall wrote in the brief.
The DOJ’s decision to support Phillips is the latest in a series of steps the Trump administration has taken to rescind Obama administration positions favorable to gay rights and to advance new policies on the issue.
But Louise Melling, the deputy legal counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the couple, said she was taken aback by the filing.
“Even in an administration that has already made its hostility” toward the gay community clear, Melling said, “I find this nothing short of shocking.”
Since taking office, President Trump has moved to block transgender Americans from serving in the military and his Department of Education has done away with guidance to schools on how they should accommodate transgender students.
The DOJ also has taken the stance that gay workers are not entitled to job protections under federal anti-discrimination laws. Since 2015, the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission has taken the opposite stance, saying Title VII, the civil-rights statute that covers workers, protects against bias based on sexual orientation.
Federal courts are split on that issue, and the Supreme Court this term might take up the issue.
Indeed, lawyers for Jameka Evans, who claims she was fired by Georgia Regional Hospital because of her sexual orientation and “nonconformity with gender norms of appearance and demeanor,” on Thursday asked justices to take her case.
Citing a 1979 precedent, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit rejected her protection claims.
Taking that case, along with Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, would make the coming Supreme Court term the most important for gay rights issues since the justices voted 5 to 4 in 2015 to find a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry.
The case of Phillips, a baker in the Denver suburbs, is similar to lawsuits brought elsewhere involving florists, calligraphers and others who say providing services to same-sex weddings would violate their religious beliefs. But these objectors have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that businesses serving the public must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.
Mullins and Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.
But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.
The civil rights commission and a Colorado court rejected Phillips’ argument that forcing him to create a cake violated his First Amendment rights of freedom of expression and exercise of religion.
The court said the baker “does not convey a message supporting same-sex marriages merely by abiding by the law.”