Day: April 8, 2017

Was Israel The Reason For The U.S. Strike On Syrian Military Base?
By Brandon Turbeville

After the U.S. missile strikes in Syria, many may have wondered why the al-Sha’ayrat airfield was the target. In other words, what was so important about this airbase as opposed to all the others? The Trump administration, for their part, claimed that they targeted “chemical weapons” being stored at the base and that this particular base was where the chemical weapons originated.

Of course, in order to believe the Trump administration’s claims, one would have to accept that there was indeed a chemical weapons incident that was not staged by White Helmets and that the Syrian military intentionally gassed civilians. One would also have to believe that the Syrian government still has access to chemical weapons and would actually have the motivation to use them against non-combatants. One would also have to believe that the chemical weapons were stored at this base and that the United States targeted these weapons specifically.

Obviously, it would be ill-advised to believe any of these statements.

However, there may be one reason kept quiet by the U.S. administration that stands as the real motivation behind the U.S. strike; namely that the base bombed by the Trump administration is the same base from which Israeli fighter jets were shot down after launching their own illegal strikes into Syria.

As Syrian Analyst, Afraa Dagher, wrote for The Duran,

The Al-Sha’ayrat airbase was the place from which Syria fired anti-missile Sam rockets at attacking Israeli warplanes, two weeks ago. Syria downed one of the four warplanes, hit another and forced the remaining two fighter jets to quickly fly out of Syrian airspace.

This sent a strong message to Israel, a state which continues to illegally occupy Syrian territory, in addition to the decades long occupation of Palestine.Syria’s message to Israel and the wider world was that the equation had changed, the regional balance of power was being re-shaped. Syrian missile systems were now able to counter the consistent illegal aggression of Israel against Syria.

Additionally, it showed Israel and the wider world that Israel could not so easily thwart Syrian advances against terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda/Nusra Front and the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).

The Al-Sha’ayrat airbase is one of the most important military bases in Syria and has played a vital role in the war against the terrorism of Al-Qaeda and Islamic State, which rages both in Syria, Iraq and beyond.

Al-Sha’ayrat housed advanced missiles like the SAM and SU units and it also kept a number of MIG fighter jets as well. It maintained radar stations and an advanced air defense system. Interestingly enough, the base was originally developed by Iran.

While reports vary, it seems that the deaths from U.S. missiles included Syrian officers and some Syrian civilians from the Sha’ayrat countryside areas, including four children. Some reports have suggested that Russians may have been killed in the strikes, but neither the Russian response nor Russian media seems to lend any credence to this claim. At the very least, Israel must be ecstatic about the strikes and it may very well be possible that the strikes themselves were a revenge strike against the Syrian military for shooting down the Israeli planes. After all, Israel is always willing to fight and die to the last American anywhere in the Middle East; and American leaders, bought and paid for by AIPAC and other interests, are all too willing to send those Americans to their deaths in the service of Zionism and Western imperialism.

Al-Sha’ayrat stood as perhaps not only a symbol of the ability of Syria to defend itself adequately against Israeli aggression but an actual physical threat which has now been neutralized thanks to the American bombing. However, the attacks are not likely to be solely based on Israeli interests. After all, American war hawks and traitors like John McCain and Hillary Clinton as well as the ever-present partner of McCain, Lindsey Graham, have been screaming at the tops of their lungs about the need to destroy Syria’s air defenses and air force in recent days.

It appears their calls, long drawn up and pushed by the Obama administration, have been answered.

This article was originally published on Activist Post.


Jared Kushner (Kike) Hid Dozens of Meetings With Russians From His Application for Top-Secret Security Clearance

Jared Kushner, the White House’s key diplomat and business innovator, did not disclose dozens of encounters with foreign leaders when he applied for top-secret security clearance, The New York Times reported on Thursday.

In order for him to gain access to the country’s best-kept secrets, the president’s son-in-law was required to report all contacts he had with foreign government officials over the past seven years. Kushner, however, omitted dozens of meetings, including ones with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and Sergey Gorkov, the head of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank. The Senate Intelligence Committee informed the White House two weeks ago that it sought to question Kushner about these meetings.

U.S. officials can lose access to intelligence if they fail to disclose foreign contacts, although amending the disclosure forms is often allowed so as to correct any gaps.

Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, is calling the omissions an error. Gorelick said that Kushner simply submitted the forms prematurely and immediately requested the opportunity to provide additional information.

In a statement through his attorney, Kushner said he was willing to meet with the FBI to assuage any concerns.

“During the presidential campaign and transition period, I served as a point-of-contact for foreign officials trying to reach the president-elect. I had numerous contacts with foreign officials in this capacity,” he said. “I would be happy to provide additional information about these contacts.”

The FBI is currently investigating potential ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. Kislyak and Gorkov, whom Kushner met with in December, are said to be subjects of the probe.

Taylor Link is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @taylorlink_.

High-risk HPV prevalent among US adults

Roughly one in four men and one in five women in the United States have a high-risk form of genital HPV, according to CDC estimates.

The proportion of adults with any genital form of the virus exceeds 40%, researchers found.

“This report provides the latest estimates of HPV prevalence, examining both oral and genital sites, by sex and race and Hispanic group,” CDC epidemiologist Geraldine McQuillan, PhD, and colleagues wrote in a National Center for Health Statistics data brief. The data were drawn from the agency’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), in which officials gather information on the health status of Americans through interviews and physical examinations.

The report included estimates from the 2011 to 2014 NHANES of the proportion of people aged 18 to 69 years with oral HPV and from the 2013 to 2014 NHANES on genital HPV among those aged 18 to 59 years.

The estimates included any of the 37 HPV types, as well as any of the 14 types deemed high risk for cancer. The researchers compared HPV prevalence among male, female, Asian, Hispanic, white and black adults.

They found that 7.3% of adults altogether had some type of oral HPV. That included 11.5% of men and 3.3% of women. Just 2.9% of Asians had a type of oral HPV, compared with 9.7% of blacks, 7.3% of whites and 7% of Hispanics. A similar racial and ethnic pattern was seen among men, researchers said.

High-risk oral HPV was present in 4% of adults overall, including 6.8% of men and 1.2% of women. Results also showed that high-risk HPV affected 1.7% of Asians, 4.2% of whites 4.3% of blacks and 3.4% of Hispanics.

Overall, 42.5% of adults had some type of genital HPV, including 45.2% of men and 39.9% of women. Again, Asians had the lowest prevalence, with 23.8% being infected, compared with 40% of whites, 64.1% of blacks and 41.4% of Hispanics.

High-risk genital HPV was found in 22.7% of adults — 25.1% of men and 20.4% of women. Among Asians, 11.9% were infected, as were 21.6% of whites, 33.7% of blacks and 21.7% of Hispanics.

However, the true prevalence of HPV is probably higher, McQuillan and the other researchers cautioned.

“NHANES does not include populations that may be considered at higher risk for HPV, i.e., those institutionalized, incarcerated … and homeless, among others,” they wrote.

“Therefore, these data provide conservative estimates of both oral and genital HPV among U.S. adults.” – by Joe Green

Octopuses can basically edit their own genes on the fly

You’re a complex organism. You socialize with family and friends, you solve puzzles and make choices. Humans may be some of the most cerebral animals on the planet, but we know we’re not alone in having this sort of behavioral complexity. Crows use tools. Primates create incredible social structures. Whales congregate.

But all of these critters have one thing in common: they’re vertebrates. Members of our subphylum share more than just a backbone; our common ancestor gifted us with the sort of structure and central nervous system that lends itself to behavioral complexity.

And then there are cephalopods. They can solve a shocking number of complex puzzles, suggesting a cognition that rivals those found in the vertebrate world—even though they last shared a common ancestor with us at least 500 million years ago. In the world of invertebrates, octopuses, squid, and cuttlefish stand apart.

We may finally have some idea why. According to a study published in Cell, these creatures have an uncanny ability to manipulate the instructions found within their DNA. An unprecedented panache for RNA editing may explain why cephalopods are so bright and adaptable.

You probably remember RNA from your high school biology class. DNA is like a blueprint of genetic instructions laid out for us at conception. DNA is stable and sequestered (mostly) in the nucleus, keeping genetic information safe to pass it on to the next generation, while its single-stranded sibling RNA translates those directions into marching orders. When DNA says “we should produce these proteins at this time”, RNA goes out into the world of the cytoplasm and makes it happen.

But sometimes RNA rebels. Sometimes enzymes intervene, pulling out the RNA adenosine bases that code for certain proteins and replacing them with inosine bases instead. When this happens, the RNA can be ‘edited’ to produce a different protein than the one called for by the DNA.

“About 25 years ago, people identified the first example of RNA editing in mammals. There were a few cases where you’d see the DNA saying one thing and then see the actual protein was different,” says study co-author Eli Eisenberg, a biophysicist at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Eisenberg co-lead the study with Joshua Rosenthal at the Marine Biological Laboratory, though both point to Tel Aviv’s Noa Liscovitch-Brauer as the driving force behind the research.

For a couple decades, Eisenberg says, study of this phenomenon was limited to a handful of cases found by accident. But in recent years, scientists have made a more systematic approach—and found that humans occasionally use this genetic trick, too. But for us, it’s a rare occurrence. We have many sites where editing could occur, but most are located on parts of the genome with ‘junk’ DNA that doesn’t code for anything. Of the 1,000 or so coding sites where editing could take place, only a few dozen exist in places where the editing would likely have an important impact.

Squid, which have the same number of genes, have around 11,000 of these useful sites.

The new study, which tracked down the RNA editing sites in several species of cephalopod, built upon earlier research that found that octopuses use RNA editing to rapidly adapt to temperature changes, and that extensive editing occurs in squid neural tissue. In examining additional species, the researchers determined that this boon of editable RNA is almost universal among cephalopods—and the exceptions that prove the rule provide some fascinating clues.

All members of the “coleoid” subclass—squid, cuttlefish, octopuses—that the researchers examined had this boost in RNA editing. But the chambered nautilus, which is considered a primitive beast in comparison to its whip-smart cousins, had much lower levels of RNA editing. An even more distant mollusk cousin (not a cephalopod) tested for comparison had similarly low levels.

Because so much of the RNA editing occurs in brain tissue, the researchers think this correlation could indicate that the process helps give some cephalopods their smarts. Exactly how or why this process occurs is a question for future studies. But one thing is for certain: RNA editing can make a species incredibly flexible.

“For us, generally when we have a gene, the coding can be improved through mutation. That’s the general picture of evolution, where a mutation comes along to adapt the protein to the needs of the organism,” Eisenberg says. “But when you change the DNA, it’s hardwired. You change it, and that’s that.”

The process of RNA editing is much more adaptable.

“You might edit the RNA in one tissue, say, the brain, and not in another, like the muscle,” Eisenberg explains. “You can have the old protein produced under normal conditions, and a new one when you’re under stress. You can edit it or not to varying levels—you can have the edited and unedited version in the same cell, working together.”

Researchers have already seen that octopuses who have to adapt to changing temperatures use RNA editing to do so, but the possibilities are truly endless. Eisenberg and his colleagues hope to investigate other environmental changes—like ocean acidification, a growing concern in the age of climate change—to see what kind of whacky adaptations a cephalopod might implement as needed.

So if RNA editing is such a cool trick, why don’t humans do it more often?

“That’s a question we can just now start to answer, because now we have these animals who do it all the time to compare ourselves to,” Eisenberg says. “But we do have some idea of the price that they pay.”

It seems likely that cephalopods have made a serious evolutionary trade-off: In order to maintain the flexibility of extensive RNA editing, they may have given up the ability to make hardwired genetic changes by way of mutation. In other words, their evolution may be stunted. This is because the structures that allow RNA editing to occur are complex and must sit in precisely the right part of the genome. The sorts of mutations that help humans adapt and survive from generation to generation would likely hinder a cephalopod’s ability to undertake on-the-fly editing with such aplomb.

“These results fit well with what has been characterized previously in cephalopods, but are otherwise unexpected from what we know about other animals, highlighting the importance of studying many different organisms to learn about how biological systems work,” says Carrie Albertin, a researcher at the University of Chicago who was not involved in the new study. Albertin, part of the team that sequenced the octopus genome for the first time, hopes the results can help give us insight into the largest brains in the invertebrate world. “These findings are very exciting.”

So basically, cephalopods continue to be weird as hell. Hopefully future studies can help us figure out just how and when they undertook this fascinating evolutionary strategy—and whether it truly is the secret to their brilliance.

Hillary Clinton: Trump can’t ‘speak of protecting Syrian babies’ while pushing a ban of refugees

(CNN) Hillary Clinton cast President Donald Trump as hypocritical Friday, arguing that while he uses pictures of children killed in gas attacks to justify airstrikes in Syria, he at the same time shuts the door on refugees from the country.

The remarks, at a political event in Texas, come as Clinton reemerges on the political scene months after losing the 2016 presidential election to Trump, who authorized airstrikes in Syria on Thursday after blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for a chemical attack in a rebel-controlled town in the war-torn country.
“It is essential that the world does more to deter Assad from committing future murderous atrocities,” Clinton said. “But the action taken last night needs to be followed by a broader strategy to end Syria’s civil war.”
Referring to Trump’s administration, she added, “I also hope that they will recognize that we cannot in one breath speak of protecting Syrian babies and in the next close American doors to them.”
Trump and his top aides said before and after the air strikes that the President was deeply moved by photos and video of children being gassed by the Assad government.
“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines,” Trump said before the airstrikes.
At the same time, however, Trump’s administration has advocated for a ban on Syrian refugees coming to the United States, citing concerns about terrorism.
“I am establishing new vetting measures to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of the United States of America,” Trump said in January after he signed his first attempt to ban refugees from certain countries. “We don’t want them here.”
Courts blocked that ban as well as a second attempt, but Trump’s policy has been clear since he began running for president: No Syrian refugees.
Clinton has been outspoken about the ban.
“I stand with the people gathered across the country tonight defending our values & our Constitution,” she tweeted. “This is not who we are.”
Clinton herself also suggested hitting Assad’s air force just hours before the strikes took place.
“I really believe that we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them,” she said Thursday during an event in New York.
As secretary of state, Clinton a proponent of more direct action in Syria despite Obama’s apprehension about military action in the country.

Immediate impact: Gorsuch could begin playing pivotal role on Supreme Court starting next week

Newly confirmed Neil M. Gorsuch is likely to have an immediate impact at the Supreme Court, weighing in as early as next week on whether to consider expanding the breadth of the Second Amendment. He could play a decisive role this spring in determining how voting rights should be protected and in a major case on the separation of church and state.

The Senate voted 54 to 45 on Friday to confirm Gorsuch, ending more than a year of bitter partisan conflict over the ideological balance of the nation’s highest court. Gorsuch will be sworn in Monday, allowing him to join the court for the final months of its term, which ends in June.

A private ceremony at the court, overseen by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., will be followed by an event at the White House. There, Gorsuch’s former boss, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, will preside, marking the first time in the court’s history that a justice will serve alongside one of his former clerks,

President Trump’s pick of Gorsuch to be the nation’s 113th justice will restore a conservative-leaning, Republican-nominated majority to a court that has either deadlocked or drifted to the left since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016.

Gorsuch’s nomination has been a rare, unalloyed victory for Trump, winning unanimous support from Senate Republicans. But it required a brutal fight with Democrats, who are still incensed that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to even hold a hearing for President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. The political clash ended only when Republicans voted as a bloc to eliminate the ability of the Senate minority to filibuster Supreme Court nominees.

In the end, only three Democrats, from conservative states — Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) — joined 51 Republicans to support Gorsuch. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who is recovering from recent back surgeries, was absent.

Gorsuch’s arrival at the court as the replacement for another conservative jurist will not immediately alter the majority that has edged the court in a more liberal direction of late, upholding affirmative action, striking down laws restricting access to abortion and declaring same-sex marriage to be protected by the Constitution.

And it is unknowable exactly how the lifetime appointment of the 49-year-old Coloradan will affect the court in the decades to come. Gorsuch has a well-deserved reputation as a conservative on the Denver-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, even if he has not ruled on many of the high-profile issues that form the public’s image of the Supreme Court.

But reaction to the Senate’s vote — the closest margin since it approved Clarence Thomas more than 25 years ago — makes clear the expectations. Gorsuch was hailed by gun rights activists, antiabortion organizations and business groups, and denounced by environmentalists, feminists and unions.

They will not have to wait long to see where Gorsuch fits in.

Within the week, Gorsuch will join his new colleagues in considering whether to hear two lower-court defeats being appealed by gun rights organizations. A case about whether business owners may refuse to offer their wedding services to same-sex couples awaits resolution. Soon, the justices will take up North Carolina’s request that they overturn a decision tossing out as unconstitutional its tightened voting restrictions.

And heading toward the court is Trump’s revamped travel ban on refugees and certain immigrants, a case that Senate Democrats said will test Gorsuch’s independence from the man who chose him for the high court.

“One notable difference between this nomination and those past is that Trump had clear, stated litmus tests for his nominee,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center, which opposed Gorsuch’s confirmation. “Gorsuch will have the opportunity almost immediately to demonstrate just how closely he fits within two of President Trump’s stated litmus tests for his high-court nominee — guns and religion.”

It seems likely that Gorsuch holds the key to a long-delayed case that is the court’s most important of the term regarding separation of church and state. A church-affiliated school in Missouri is challenging that state’s refusal to let it participate in a grant program that provides playground safety materials.

Trinity Lutheran Church says religious institutions are unfairly excluded from such state programs. The state points to a clause in its constitution that says “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or denomination of religion.”

The court accepted the case nearly 15 months ago, when Scalia was still alive. But it delayed scheduling the case for oral argument until now. That might be an indication that the court has been divided on the issue from the beginning and needs a ninth vote to break the tie.

Gorsuch was an outspoken supporter of religious objectors in two cases involving the Affordable Care Act. In Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, Gorsuch wrote that a requirement that employers provide contraceptive coverage for their employees could make the religious complicit in what they consider a sin.

The court is also considering a petition from a Denver baker who was found to have unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to sell them a wedding cake.

Lower courts ruled that Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, violated Colorado’s public accommodations law, which prohibits refusing service to customers based on factors such as race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court has listed the case as “under consideration” for weeks, without announcing whether it is accepting the case or turning it down.

That has led to speculation that the justices have decided not to take the case and that one of the conservative justices is writing a dissent against that decision. But it could also be that three justices want to take the case and are hoping Gorsuch will provide the fourth vote required to accept a case.

“It seems likely, in light of his past votes in cases like the Little Sisters and Hobby Lobby, that Gorsuch would be a vote to grant in that case,” said John Elwood, a Washington lawyer who closely watches the court’s deliberations on accepting cases.

On the other hand, Elwood said, “it’s hard to predict how Gorsuch might vote on whether to take issues like the gun cases and voter-ID cases.”

Two gun issues await at Gorsuch’s first private conference with his new colleagues Thursday, when the court meets to decide whether to accept a long list of cases for the term that begins next fall.

The most important is a petition from gun rights activists asking the court to find for the first time that the Second Amendment right to keep a gun for self-defense extends to carrying firearms outside the home.

In cases from California, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that it did not. “Any prohibition or restriction a state may choose to impose on concealed carry — including a requirement of ‘good cause,’ however defined — is necessarily allowed by the [Second] Amendment,” it said.

A strongly worded dissent said “any fair reading” of the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision finding a constitutional right to gun ownership for self-defense “compels the conclusion that the right to keep and bear arms extends beyond one’s front door.”

A second case involves whether those convicted of certain crimes can be barred indefinitely from possessing firearms.

On a different subject, the court must soon decide what to do about North Carolina’s request that the court review a decision striking down its voting law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said the law was unconstitutional because it was drawn to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The case already has divided the Supreme Court. In August, the justices split 4 to 4 on whether the decision should be stayed so that the law would be in effect for the November elections. The lack of a fifth vote meant the restrictions did not govern voting in last fall’s election.

Gorsuch may have an impact on cases that already have come before the court. Normally when the court is deadlocked, it issues a one-paragraph statement that affirms the decision of the lower court, without setting a national precedent.

This term, however, there may be cases that the eight justices have already considered in which they reached an impasse but decided to hold back any announcement, awaiting Gorsuch’s confirmation. In that scenario, the court would order new oral arguments to allow Gorsuch to join the deliberations.

One case that seemed to divide the justices at oral argument, for instance, concerned whether the Mexican parents of a boy killed in a cross-border shooting could sue the Border Patrol agent who fired the shot.

Until there is another change on the court, Gorsuch will be likely to reestablish the basic arithmetic of the Supreme Court under Roberts — four consistent liberal justices, four fairly consistent conservatives, and Kennedy providing the deciding vote when there is a deadlock.

But Wydra said the addition of Gorsuch does more than simply replace Scalia with a like-minded justice.

“Substituting Gorsuch for Scalia extends the conservative life of that seat for another few decades,” she said.

Trump Fires Warning Shot in Battle Between Bannon and Kushner

WASHINGTON — As he grappled on Thursday with his first major decision involving military action, a fed-up and frustrated President Trump turned to his two top aides and told them he had had enough of their incessant knife-fights in the media.

“Work this out,” Mr. Trump said, according to two people briefed on the exchange. The admonition was aimed at Stephen K. Bannon, the tempestuous chief strategist, and Reince Priebus, the mild-mannered chief of staff, over a series of dust-ups with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and the top economic adviser, Gary D. Cohn.

But they may not be able to.

The president is said to be aware that a meaningful reconciliation will take work to achieve between Mr. Bannon, who sees himself as the keeper of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises, and the competing ideologies of Mr. Kushner and Mr. Cohn, a longtime Wall Street executive and a Democrat. And he is considering a shake-up of his senior staff, according to four people with direct knowledge of the process.

Whether he acts on it remains to be seen. Mr. Trump has often pondered making changes for several weeks or even months before making them, if he does at all. He has a high tolerance for chaos, and a unique gift for creating it — and, despite his famous “You’re fired!” tagline from the show “The Apprentice,” an aversion to dismissing people.

But this past week, one that some of his aides considered the best of his presidency, was marred by fits, starts and self-inflicted wounds — and the constant churn of news accounts of a White House at war with itself finally wore the president out. And notice of a possible shake-up was a warning shot to his team to make adjustments.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, insisted that such accounts were untrue.

“Once again this is completely false story driven by people who want to distract from the success taking place in this administration,” she said in an emailed statement. “The President’s pick for the Supreme Court (a decision that has generational impact) was confirmed today, we hosted multiple foreign leaders this week and the President took bold and decisive military action against Syria last night. The only thing we are shaking up is the way Washington operates as we push the President’s aggressive agenda forward.”

But two people who have spoken with Mr. Trump said he recognized that the continuing state of drama was unsustainable.

No changes are imminent, they said. But the president is considering a range of options, including a shift in role for Mr. Bannon, who has become increasingly isolated in the White House as other power centers have grown, as well as additional senior staff.

Mr. Priebus has been a source of contention for a number of Mr. Trump’s former advisers, with the president pushing back on criticism with the response that the former chairman of the Republican National Committee is a “nice guy.”

Mr. Bannon, a hard-charging, fast-talking confidant of the president’s whose roving job in the White House has given him influence over policy and hiring decisions, now finds himself in the undesirable position of being caught between the president and his family. That is a position that others have not survived, most notably Corey Lewandowski, the first of the president’s three campaign managers.

Mr. Bannon, whose portfolio is broad but vague as a chief strategist, has told people he believes Mr. Kushner’s allies have undermined him, that he has no plans to quit and is digging in for a fight. One option being discussed is moving Mr. Bannon to a different role. His allies at an outside group supporting him run by his main benefactor, the investor Rebekah Mercer, have also discussed him joining them to provide strategy.

Mr. Kushner, 36, a government neophyte who has taken on a much larger portfolio as a top West Wing aide and foreign envoy, was said to be displeased after hearing that Mr. Bannon made critical remarks about him to other aides and Trump associates while he was in Iraq recently. Mr. Bannon has told confidants that he believes Mr. Kushner’s contact with Russians, and his expected testimony before Congress on the subject, will become a major distraction for the White House.

Kushner allies have also raised the issue with the president of the increasingly unflattering coverage that Mr. Kushner is receiving from Breitbart News, the right-wing website that Mr. Bannon used to run.

But Mr. Bannon has his own core of supporters outside the White House. And he has argued that Mr. Kushner’s efforts to pull his father-in-law more to the center on issues like immigration would poison him with the conservative base — a hopeless position to be in because Mr. Bannon believes so few Democrats would ever consider supporting Mr. Trump.

In the White House blame game, no one is safe. Mr. Bannon’s team is blamed for the contested and controversial travel bans. Mr. Priebus was damaged by the failure of health care legislation. Mr. Kushner has yet to show he can master his own portfolio, and his role is so large that miscues will be magnified.

Mr. Trump does not like any staff member gaining too much attention, including those who are related to him. He had three campaign shake-ups in the 2016 cycle, and he tends to make changes based on instinct. As he learns the job of a president, his allies say, he was destined to make such changes.

There is a long history of presidents making staff changes, and one of Mr. Trump’s predecessors, Bill Clinton, made changes within the first six months of his administration.

Newt Gingrich, an informal adviser to Mr. Trump and a former House speaker, said, “I think first of all a very high amount of tension in the White House is normal.”

“I think they have particular tension right now because the health bill failed,” he added.

The stories about infighting “probably bother him some,” Mr. Gingrich said. “But do I think they’re damaging to his long-term prospects? I think they’re noise.”

North Korea’s next in Trump’s crosshairs

President Trump is reportedly weighing plans to place U.S. nukes in South Korea or assassinate North Korea’s brutal dictator Kim Jong Un in response to the rogue nation’s relentless nuclear ambitions, including a potential strike on the West Coast.

The White House National Security Council presented the options as part of an accelerated review of U.S. policy on North Korea, ahead of Trump’s ongoing meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to NBC News.

The leaked proposals could be aimed at persuading Xi into pressuring North Korea — its ally and trade partner — to face the music and come back to the table over its nuclear weapons program, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens told the Herald.

“I would imagine Xi and the Chinese would make a strong argument for why it’s necessary to try to re-engage and perhaps probably would be prepared to say they are ready to do even more to pressure North Korea,” Stephens said.

“But the trade-off would be some kind of commitment on the part of the U.S. to come back into the negotiation process” or scale back military exercises in the South China Sea.

North Korea this week fired a projectile that flew about 37 miles into the East Sea. It followed ballistic missile tests in February and March, as the isolated country defies United Nations sanctions and works on a missile that could deliver a miniaturized nuclear weapon to the continental U.S.

The plans are far from new additions to the U.S. foreign policy playbook and won’t come as a surprise to the Chinese, Stephens said. Moving more weapons to the Korean peninsula has been on the table since the U.S., under President George H.W. Bush, pulled its nukes from South Korea in 1991 to persuade North Korea to let international inspectors into its nuclear plants and re-energize diplomatic talks.

“The two options have been on the long list of possible options for a long time and they have generally been found to have far too many downsides,” Stephens said.

So far, Trump and Xi’s talks on North Korea have yet to materialize in a “package arrangement” to resolve the international concerns, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said yesterday.

“President Xi … shared the view that this has reached a very serious stage in terms of the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities,” Tillerson said.

“They discussed the challenges that introduces for both countries, but there’s a real commitment that we work together to see if this cannot be resolved in a peaceful way,” he said. “But in order for that to happen, North Korea’s posture has to change before there’s any basis for dialogue or discussions.”

The Pentagon has already deployed a $36 billion high-altitude missile defense system in South Korea — an upsetting move for China, which calls it a national security threat. Meanwhile, South Korea is pleading for the international community to address North Korea.

“Time is not on our side. We stand at the tipping point as North Korea is nearing the final stage of nuclear weaponization of its nuclear material,” South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Ahn Chong-ghee reportedly said at a conference this week.

“It is imperative that we muster the will of the international community to deter North Korea’s single-minded pursuit of weapons of mass destruction,” he said. “As we work towards North Korea’s denuclearization, we count on the strong support of the international community.”

Syria strikes: Russia sends warship to region amid feud with US

(CNN) A Russian frigate armed with cruise missiles was heading to the Mediterranean in an apparent show of force a day after the first direct military strike by the US against the Syrian regime.

Russian state media reported that the frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich, would call at a logistics base at Tartus, Syria. Russia also pledged to help strengthen Syria’s air defenses after the US strike on the Shayrat airbase in western Syria.
The White House late Friday refused to say whether strike was a one-off action or part of a new strategy designed to hobble the military capabilities of President Bashar al-Assad. Nor would it say whether the US believed Assad should step down after the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 80 people and injured dozens more on Tuesday.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was “disappointed” but “not surprised” by Russia’s condemnation of the strike as a violation of international law.

Key developments

  • Pentagon probes possible Russia involvement in chemical attack that prompted US strike.
  • Up to 20 aircraft were reportedly destroyed in Friday’s attack on the Shayrat base.
  • US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley to UN says US ‘prepared to do more’ in Syria.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin said US strike was an “act of aggression.”
The Russian frigate, the Admiral Grigorovich. The ship, which is armed with cruise missiles, was reportedly entering the Mediterranean en route to a logistics site in Syria, Russian state media said.

The state-run TASS news agency said the Russian frigate was heading for Syria after taking on supplies at the Black Sea port of Novorossi. Citing an unnamed military-diplomatic source, TASS said that its ongoing presence would depend on developments in the region but it was expected to remain in Syrian waters for more than a month.
The ship, equipped with state-of-the-art missiles, had been on exercises in the Black Sea. “This is really just a show of force, flexing muscle, Russia doing what it can to remind everyone that for the last 18 months it has had quite a deployment in Syria and the region,” CNN’s senior international correspondent Paula Newton reported.
NATO called it one of the largest deployments from Russia in decades.
The White House refused to discuss next steps. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said President Donald Trump would not “telegraph his next move.” Speaking to reporters at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Spicer said the US missile attack was “very decisive, justified and proportional.”
He declined to say whether Trump now believed Assad should relinquish power. “First and foremost the President believes that the Syrian government [and the] Assad regime should abide by the agreement they made not to use chemical weapons,” Spicer said.
Tillerson said Russia had failed to honor an agreement to to guarantee the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons. “Clearly, Russia has failed in its responsibility to deliver on that commitment from 2013, he said. “So either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of that agreement.”

Russia complicit?

US officials have said the Pentagon is looking for any evidence that the Russian government knew about or was complicit in Tuesday’s chemical attack.
A US military official told CNN the Pentagon was examining specifically whether a Russian warplane had bombed a hospital in Khan Sheikhoun five hours after the initial chemical attack,with the aim of destroying evidence.
Why Syrian President would gas his own people

Why Syrian President would gas his own people 02:16
A US defense official said intelligence indicated that a Russian drone flew over the hospital that was treating victims of the chemical attack, prior to the site being later bombed.
When CNN asked about US allegations that Russia might have been complicit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov replied via text message: “That is not true.”
Trump said he ordered the airstrike on the Shayrat base because the US believed aircraft that carried out the chemical attack were launched from there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the US strike as “act of aggression” and said it violated international law.
Aftermath of US strike on Syria airbase

Aftermath of US strike on Syria airbase 01:04
Tillerson said that he was “disappointed” but “not surprised” by Russia’s response.
Russian Senator Alexey Pushkov said that the disappointment was “mutual” and suggested that Tillerson’s comments were made to gain “leverage” in upcoming US-Russia talks. Tillerson is due to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow next week.
He said on Twitter that the “conditions for negotiations in Moscow were even worse than (former Secretary of State John) Kerry’s times.”
Critics: Trump's actions not America first

Critics: Trump’s actions not America first 00:56
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned Friday that the United States “is prepared to do more” in response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and delivered a sharp rebuke to Russia for its support of the Syrian regime.
“Every time Assad has crossed the line of human decency, Russia has stood beside him,” Haley told the council.
Russia “bears considerable responsibility” for Assad’s use of chemical weapons, she said.
Western leaders backed the US action, saying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had brought it on himself.
Lavrov accused the United States of seeking a pretext for regime change in Syria. “I am particularly disappointed by the way this damages US-Russia relations,” he said, but added that he didn’t think it would “lead to an irreversible situation.”

Assad: ‘Unjust assault’

Assad said the United States had carried out an “unjust and unabashed assault” against Syria which “shows nothing but short-sightedness, a narrowness of vision and a blindness to political and military realities.”
What is Bashar al-Assad's goal?

What is Bashar al-Assad’s goal? 01:17
He also said the attack had increased the regime’s resolve to “crush” terrorists in Syria — the term it uses for all opposition forces.
The operation “makes the United States of America a partner of ISIS, Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations who — since the first day of this unjust war on Syria — have been attacking Syrian army positions and Syrian military bases.”
Maj. Issam al-Reis, spokesman for the opposition Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front, welcomed the US action and called for “the destruction of all tools of murder that Bashar al Assad’s regime uses.”