united states

US to withhold up to $290 million in aid from Egypt — report

The United States will be withholding roughly $290 million in aid to Egypt due to Cairo’s failure to rein in human rights abuses, Reuters reported Tuesday.

According to the report $95.7 million will be denied and an additional $195 million will be delayed after the government led by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was unable to show progress in promoting democratic norms, in the eyes of the US, Reuters reported citing two sources close to the issue.

The decision was partly in response to Sissi’s May approval of a contentious new law that calls for heavy regulation of Egyptian NGOs, one source told Reuters. Amnesty International called the legislation a “catastrophic blow” that could be a “death sentence” for human rights groups in Egypt.

Spokespeople for the White House and the State Department were not immediately available for comment.

That $195 million be held until Egypt’s record on democracy and civil liberties improves.

“We remain concerned about Egypt’s lack of progress in key areas, including human rights and the new NGO law,” the source told Reuters.

Authorities have led a brutal crackdown on all forms of opposition, at times targeting human rights organizations directly, since then-army chief Sissi overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

President Donald Trump welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi to the West Wing of the White House, April 3, 2017. (Mark Wilson Wilson/Getty Images via JTA)

The human-rights issue dampened relations between the White House and Cairo under former president Barack Obama, but Donald Trump’s administration appeared to take a different approach to dealing with Sissi almost immediately.

When the Egyptian leader visited Washington in February, Trump told reporters the Egyptian president would be someone “very close to me.” A post-meeting statement cited their mutual commitment to fighting terrorism and strengthening Egypt’s economy, making no mention of Sissi’s crackdown on domestic opponents that has been widely condemned by international rights monitors.

But the civil liberties issue hasn’t been completely ignored by Trump. The US president was said to have used his early sit-down with Sissi to broker the release of a US-Egyptian charity worker who had been in detention in Cairo for over three years on charges human rights groups denounced as “arbitrary.”

The US provides Egypt with some the $1.3 billion each year as part of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Israel receives more than $3 billion. This is not the first time that the US has used its aid to Cairo as a lever.

In 2013 following the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the US suspended half the aid and withheld military assistance, including 12 F-16 fighter jets, 20 missiles and up to 125 tank kits. It was only restored nearly two years later.

Israel has reportedly interceded on behalf of Cairo, asking the US not to cut aid, fearing it could destabilize Egypt and undermine the close security cooperation between the two countries.

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US trying to thwart UN blacklist of settlement-friendly firms

The Trump administration is reportedly urging the UN’s Human Rights Council not to publish its blacklist of international companies operating in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, saying the move was “counterproductive” and would not advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Last year, the UN body unanimously voted to compile a database of all business enterprises that have enabled or profited from the growth of Israeli settlements in areas Palestinians see as part of their future state.

The proposal, put forward by the Palestinian Authority and Arab states in 2016, included a condemnation of settlements and called on companies not to do business with Israeli settlements.

According to a Tuesday report in the Washington Post, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein intends to publish the list by the end of 2017, despite opposition from the US and Israel.

“The United States has been adamantly opposed to this resolution from the start,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, according to reports. “These types of resolutions are counterproductive and do nothing to advance Israeli-Palestinian issues.”

Nauert said a joint US-Israel effort to stop funding for work related to the database had been unsuccessful.

“We have made clear our opposition regarding the creation of a database of businesses operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, and we have not participated and will not participate in its creation or contribute to its content,” she said.

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley walks with Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon as they arrive for a meeting with President Reuven Rivlin at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, June 7, 2017. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hussein, a Jordanian diplomat spearheading the initiative, had already agreed to postpone publishing the list once this year, in part due to US pressure, the report said. He has reached out to member states for input before September 1.

American companies on the list include Caterpillar, TripAdvisor, Priceline.com, Airbnb and others, The Post reported, citing those familiar with the database.

On Monday, Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon slammed the Geneva-based council, claiming the creation of a blacklist amounted to anti-Semitism.

“This shameful step is an expression of modern anti-Semitism and reminds us of dark periods in history,” Danon’s office said in a statement. “Instead of focusing on the terrible humanitarian problems plaguing the globe, the Human Rights Commissioner is seeking to harm Israel, and in doing so has become the world’s most senior BDS activist.”

The statement called on the UN and the international community to reject the “dangerous” and “anti-Israel” initiative.

In June, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, condemned the blacklist as “the latest in this long line of shameful actions” taken by the UNHRC.

“Blacklisting companies without even looking at their employment practices or their contributions to local empowerment, but rather based entirely on their location in areas of conflict is contrary to the laws of international trade and to any reasonable definition of human rights,” she said in a speech in Geneva. “It is an attempt to provide an international stamp of approval to the anti-Semitic BDS movement. It must be rejected.”

Haley went on to warn at the time that the US could withdraw from the 47-member body unless it reformed, ending its built-in procedural mechanism to condemn Israel, and banning notorious human rights violators from serving on the council.

Since 2007, Israel has been the only country whose alleged human rights abuses are regularly discussed in the framework of a single permanent item on the Human Rights Council’s agenda.

U.S. asks if Iran military sites to be checked under nuclear deal

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States wants to know if the United Nations atomic watchdog plans to inspect Iranian military sites to verify Tehran’s compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said on Tuesday.

Haley will meet with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials in Vienna on Wednesday for what she described as a fact-finding mission, which is part of President Donald Trump’s review of the deal Iran made with world powers to curb its nuclear program in return for the lifting of most sanctions.

“If you look … at past Iranian behavior, what you’ve seen is there have been covert actions at military sites, at universities, things like that,” Haley, a member of Trump’s cabinet, told Reuters in an interview.

“There were already issues in those locations, so are they including that in what they look at to make sure that those issues no longer remain?” she said. “They have the authority to look at military sites now. They have the authority to look at any suspicious sites now, it’s just are they doing it?”

She said she was traveling to Vienna to ask questions, not to push the IAEA to do anything.

Iran’s top authorities have flatly rejected giving international inspectors access to their military sites, and Iranian officials have told Reuters that any such move would trigger harsh consequences.

“Why would they say that if they had nothing to hide? Why wouldn’t they let the IAEA go there?” Haley said.

Iran’s atomic chief was quoted by state media as saying on Tuesday that Iran could resume production of highly enriched uranium within five days if the nuclear deal was revoked.

In April, Trump ordered a review of whether a suspension of sanctions on Iran related to the nuclear deal – negotiated under President Barack Obama – was in the U.S. national security interest. He has called it “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned last week that Iran could abandon the nuclear agreement “within hours” if the United States imposes any more new sanctions.

Most U.N. and Western sanctions were lifted 18 months ago under the nuclear deal. Iran is still subject to a U.N. arms embargo and other restrictions, which are not technically part of the deal.

The IAEA polices restrictions the deal placed on Iran’s nuclear activities and reports quarterly.

Haley said some of the questions she had were: “Are you looking at everything? Are you looking at those places where there has been covert activity in the past? Are you able to get access to these areas? Or are you being delayed? Are you being shut out from those things?”

Under U.S. law, the State Department must notify Congress every 90 days of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. The next deadline is October, and Trump has said he thinks by then the United States will declare Iran to be noncompliant.

“We don’t know if he’s going to certify or decertify the deal,” said Haley, adding that she would report back to Trump and the national security team.

The U.S. review of its policy toward Iran is also looking at Tehran’s behavior in the Middle East, which Washington has said undermines U.S. interests in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres believes the Iran nuclear deal is “one of the most important diplomatic achievements in our search for, for peace and stability,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

“Everyone involved needs to do its utmost to protect and support that agreement,” Dujarric told reporters.

Increasing sanctions, US says talks with North Korea may be close

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States said Tuesday that talks with North Korea may be possible “in the near future” after Pyongyang reacted to tough new UN sanctions with a level of restraint.

But, in keeping with a “dual track” strategy of reaching out to the North diplomatically while increasing economic pressure, Washington also imposed new sanctions on Chinese and Russian firms suspected of doing business with Pyongyang.

Briefing reporters, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a point of acknowledging that Kim Jong-Un’s regime has not carried out any new nuclear or ballistic missile tests since the UN Security Council imposed a new round of tougher sanctions last month.

“I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we’ve not seen in the past,” Tillerson said. “We need to see more on their part, but I want to acknowledge the steps they’ve taken thus far. I think it’s important to take note of that.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a briefing at the Department of State, August 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. (AFP Pgoto/Brendan Smialowski)

US officials told AFP that Tillerson was not thanking Pyongyang, nor making any concession on Washington’s determination to halt Kim’s missile program and negotiate the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

But they said he did want to note what the US administration sees as a lowering in immediate tensions, in the hope that the isolated authoritarian regime will see an opening that could lead to dialogue.

‘Ready to restrain’?

Tensions between North Korea and the United States and its allies soared last month after Pyongyang tested two long-range missiles that appeared to bring US cities within its range.

US President Donald Trump vowed to respond with “fire and fury,” raising fears of a devastating regional conflict, and the UN Security Council scrambled to impose new punitive measures on the North.

Kim’s regime later postponed a threat to fire missiles towards the US Pacific island territory of Guam, and Washington said it would be open to dialogue if Pyongyang were to take steps to calm tensions.

This image made from video of an Aug. 14, 2017, still image broadcast in a news bulletin on August 15, 2017, by North Korea's KRT shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un receiving a briefing in Pyongyang.(KRT via AP Video)

On Tuesday, Tillerson suggested that progress can now be made.

“I think it is worth noting that we have had no missile launches or provocative acts on the part of North Korea since the unanimous adoption of the UN Security Council resolution,” he said. “And I want to take note of that. I want to acknowledge it.”

Tillerson said he hoped “that this is the beginning of this signal that we’ve been looking for — that they are ready to restrain their level of tensions, they’re ready to restrain their provocative acts and that perhaps we are seeing our pathway to sometime in the near future having some dialogue.”

Just before Tillerson alluded to the existence of a carrot to tempt North Korea, however, the US Treasury brandished its stick.

The agency slapped sanctions on 16 Chinese and Russian individuals and companies, accusing them of supporting North Korea’s nuclear program and attempting to evade US sanctions.

The sanctions are part of a broader US effort to disrupt the funding of North Korea’s weapons programs through its export of natural resources such as coal and minerals and foreign-based financial transactions undertaken for North Korean interests.

US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on Capitol Hill on July 27, 2017. (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)

“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilize the region,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

Trump has urged Beijing, North Korea’s only major ally, to bring greater pressure to bear in reining in its neighbor’s nuclear efforts, suggesting that the United States may offer concessions on trade in return.

But a spokesperson at the Chinese embassy in Washington told AFP “we strongly urge the US to immediately correct its mistake, so as not to impact bilateral cooperation on relevant issues.”

“China opposes unilateral sanctions out of the UN Security Council framework, especially the ‘long-arm jurisdiction’ over Chinese entities and individuals exercised by any country in accordance with its domestic laws,” the spokesperson said.

Targets of sanctions

The sanctions block those targeted from accessing much of the global financial system and freeze any assets they might hold in areas under US jurisdiction.

Among those hit was Russian national Ruben Kirakosyan and his Moscow-based company Gefest-M LLC, which the Treasury accuses of procuring metals for a company involved in North Korea’s nuclear weapons program known as Korean Tangun Trading Corp.

Also targeted is China’s Dandong Rich Earth Trading, which the United States says has acted on behalf of North Korea’s General Bureau of Atomic Energy — responsible for the North’s nuclear program — and has facilitated prohibited North Korean exports of vanadium ore.

A third company, Mingzheng International Trading Limited, which maintains offices in Hong Kong and mainland China, is in fact a front for Foreign Trade Bank, North Korea’s main foreign exchange bank, the Treasury said.

The Treasury also alleged that three Chinese companies — Dandong Zhicheng Metallic Materials, JinHou International Holding and Dandong Tianfu Trade — had collectively imported nearly a half billion dollars’ worth of North Korean coal between 2013 and 2016.

Is the United States on the Brink of Erupting in Mass Violence?

Some say that comparing President Donald Trump’s rhetoric to Adolf Hitler‘s is alarmist, unfair and counterproductive.

And yet, there has been no dearth of such comparisons since the 2016 presidential election. Many commentators have also drawn parallels between the conduct of Trump supporters and Holocaust-era Nazis.

The comparisons continue today, and Trump’s comments in the wake of the Charlottesville attack show why. The president’s reference to violence on “both sides” implies moral equivalence, a familiar rhetorical strategy for signaling support to violent groups. His comments give white supremacists and neo-Nazis the implied approval of the president of the United States.

Many of these groups explicitly seek to eliminate from the U.S. African Americans, Jews, immigrants and other groups, and are willing to do so through violence. As co-directors of Binghamton University’s Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, we emphasize the importance of recognizing and responding to early warning signs of genocide and atrocity crimes. Usually, government officials, scholars and nongovernmental organizations look for these warning signs in other parts of the world: Syria, Sudan or Burma.

Has the time come to watch for these warning signs in the United States?

Is it possible in the U.S.?

The term genocide invokes images of gas chambers the Nazis used to exterminate Jews during World War II, the Khmer Rouge killing fields of Cambodia and thousands of Tutsi bodies in the Kagera River in Rwanda. On that scale and in that manner, genocide is highly unlikely in the United States.

But genocidal violence can happen in the U.S. It has happened. Organized policies passed by elected U.S. lawmakers have targeted both Native Americansand African Americans. The threat of genocide is present wherever a country’s political leadership tolerates or even encourages acts with an intent to destroy a racial, ethnic, national or religious group, whether in whole or in part.

The Holocaust took the international community by surprise. In hindsight, there were many signs. In fact, scholars have learned a great deal about the danger signals for the risk of large-scale violence against vulnerable groups.

In 1996, the founder and first president of the U.S.-based advocacy group Genocide Watch, Gregory H. Stanton, introduced a model that identified eight stageslater increased to 10—that societies frequently pass through on the way to genocidal violence. Stanton’s model has its critics. Like any such model, it can’t be applied in all cases and can’t predict the future. But it has been influential in our understanding of the sources of mass violence in RwandaBurmaSyria and other nations.

The 10 stages of genocide

The early stages of Stanton’s model include “classification” and “symbolization.” These are processes in which groups of people are saddled with labels or imagined characteristics that encourage active discrimination. These stages emphasize “us versus them” thinking, and define a group as “the other.”

As Stanton makes clear, these processes are universally human. They do not necessarily result in a progression toward mass violence. But they prepare the ground for the next stages: active “discrimination,” “dehumanization,” “organization” and “polarization.” These middle stages may be warning signs of an increasing risk of large-scale violence.

Where are we now?

Trump’s political rhetoric helped propel him into office by playing on the fears and resentments of the electorate. He labeled out-groups, hinted at dark conspiracies, winked at violence and appealed to nativist and nationalist sentiments. He has demanded discriminatory policies including travel restrictions and gender-based exclusions.

Classification, symbolization, discrimination and dehumanization of Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans, the media and even the political opposition may be leading to polarization, stage six of Stanton’s model.

Stanton writes that polarization further drives wedges between social groups through extremism. Hate groups find an opening to send messages that further dehumanize and demonize targeted groups. Political moderates are edged out of the political arena, and extremist groups attempt to move from the former political fringes into mainstream politics.

Do Trump’s implied claims of a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and counterprotesters in Charlottesville move us closer to the stage of polarization?

Certainly, there are reasons for deep concern. Moral equivalence – the claim that when both “sides” in a conflict use similar tactics, then one “side” must be as morally good or bad as the other – is what logicians call an informal fallacy. Philosophers take their red pens to student essays that commit it. But when a president is called on to address his nation in times of political turmoil, the claim of moral equivalence is a lot more than an undergraduate mistake. We suggest this is a deliberate effort to polarize, and an invitation to what comes after polarization.

Responding and preventing

Polarization is a warning of the increased risk of violence, not a guarantee. Stanton’s model also argues that every stage offers opportunities for prevention. Extremist groups can have their financial assets frozen. Hate crimes and hate atrocities can be more consistently investigated and prosecuted. Moderate politicians, human rights activists, representatives of threatened groups and members of the independent media can be provided increased security.

Encouraging responses have come from the electorate, business leaders, government officials and the international community. Individuals and groups are following the recommendations for action presented in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s guide to combating hate in supporting victims, speaking up, pressuring leaders and staying engaged. Business leaders have also expressed their discontent with Trump’s polarizing statements.

Local governments are declaring themselves sanctuary cities or cities of resistance. At the national level, strong statements have been made by leaders of all of the military branches.

Several international leaders have also spoken up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the racist and far-right violence displayed in Charlottesville, and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May harshly criticized Trump’s use of moral equivalence.

In our assessment, these actions represent essential forms of resistance to the movement toward polarization, and they reduce the risks of genocide.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Max Pensky is Co-Director, Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Binghamton University, State University of New York. 

Nadia Rubaii is Co-Director, Institute for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, and Associate Professor of Public Administration, Binghamton University, State University of New York. 

US Secret Service crunched by Trump and family’s travel

WASHINGTON — The US Secret Service is facing a cash crunch because of the high cost of protecting US President Donald Trump, his many homes and large family, its director said in an interview published Monday.

Randolph “Tex” Ailes, the service’s chief, told USA Today more than 1,000 agents have already hit caps for the year on salary and overtime pay because of the crushing workload.

With 150 foreign heads of state due to converge on New York next month for the UN General Assembly, demands on the service are only intensifying.

Trump has traveled nearly every weekend to his properties in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia.

This March 11, 2016, file photo shows the Mar-A-Lago Club, owned by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in Palm Beach, Florida. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

And the Secret Service also provides protection for his adult children on their business trips and vacations.

In all, 42 people in his administration have Secret Service protection, including 18 members of his family.

“The president has a large family, and our responsibility is required by law,” Ailes said. “I can’t change that, I have no flexibility.”

Ailes, who is seeking more funding from Congress, says he is in negotiations with key members to raise caps on pay and overtime from $160,000 a year to $187,000 for at least the remainder of Trump’s term.

Moon blots sun out of sky as historic eclipse mesmerizes US

AP — Americans gazed in wonder through telescopes, cameras and disposable protective glasses Monday as the moon blotted out the midday sun in the first full-blown solar eclipse to sweep the US from coast to coast in nearly a century.

It promised to be the most observed and photographed eclipse in history, with millions staking out prime viewing spots and settling into lawn chairs to watch, especially along the path of totality — the line of shadow created when the sun is completely obscured.

The shadow — a corridor just 60 to 70 miles (96 to 113 kilometers) wide — came ashore in Oregon and then began racing diagonally across the continent to South Carolina, with darkness lasting only about two to three minutes in any one spot.

“The show has just begun, people! What a gorgeous day! Isn’t this great, people?” Jim Todd, a director at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, told a crowd of thousands at an amphitheater in Salem, Oregon, as the moon seemed to take an ever-bigger bite out of the sun and temperature soon dropped noticeably.

With 200 million people within a day’s drive from the path of totality, towns and parks braced for monumental crowds. Clear skies beckoned along most of the route, to the relief of those who feared cloud cover would spoil this once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Steve Kaltenhauser of Calgary, Canada, watches with the crowd during a total solar eclipse from the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience on August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. (Stan Honda/AFP)

“It’s like nothing else you will ever see or ever do,” said veteran eclipse-watcher Mike O’Leary of San Diego, who set up his camera along with among hundreds of other amateur astronomers gathered in Casper, Wyoming. “It can be religious. It makes you feel insignificant, like you’re just a speck in the whole scheme of things.”

Astronomers were giddy with excitement. A solar eclipse is considered one of the grandest of cosmic spectacles.

 A spectator looks skyward during a partial eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)

NASA solar physicist Alex Young said the last time earthlings had a connection like this to the heavens was during man’s first flight to the moon, on Apollo 8 in 1968. The first, famous Earthrise photo came from that mission and, like this eclipse, showed us “we are part of something bigger.”

With half an hour to go before totality, NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, enjoyed the moon’s “first bites out of the sun” from a plane flying over the Oregon coast and declared it “just an incredible view.”

“I’m about to fight this man for a window seat,” Lightfoot said, referring to a fellow NASA scientist.

The sun's corona only is visible during a total solar eclipse between the Solar Temples at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon's Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell August 21, 2017. (Robyn Beck/AFP)

The Earth, moon and sun line up perfectly every one to three years, briefly turning day into night for a sliver of the planet. But these sights normally are in no man’s land, like the vast Pacific or Earth’s poles. This is the first eclipse of the social media era to pass through such a heavily populated area.

The moon hasn’t thrown this much shade at the US since 1918, during the country’s last coast-to-coast total eclipse. In fact, the US mainland hasn’t seen a total solar eclipse since 1979 — and even then, only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness.

A woman views the solar eclipse at 'Top of the Rock' observatory at Rockefeller Center, August 21, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

“It’s really, really, really, really awesome,” said 9-year-old Cami Smith as she watched the fully eclipsed sun from a gravel lane near her grandfather’s home at Beverly Beach, Oregon.

Scientists said the total eclipse would cast a shadow that would race 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) through 14 states, entering near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 1:16 p.m. EDT, moving diagonally across the heartland over Casper, Wyoming, Carbondale, Illinois, and Nashville, Tennessee, and then exiting near Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:47 p.m. EDT.

Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois was in line to see the longest stretch of darkness: 2 minutes and 44 seconds.

The "diamond ring effect" is seen during a total solar eclipse as seen from the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience on August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. (Stan Honda/AFP)

All of North America was on track to get at least a partial eclipse, along with Central America and the top of South America.

Joe Roth, an amateur photographer, traveled south from the Chicago area to Alto Pass, Illinois, to catch his first total solar eclipse — on his 62nd birthday, no less. He said the stars aligned for him — “a Kodak moment for me to cherish and experience.”

Kim Kniseley drove overnight from Roanoke, Virginia, arriving in Madisonville, Tennessee, before dawn to get a parking spot at Kefauver Park, where by sunrise dozens of folks had claimed benches and set up tents.

He said he could have stayed home in Roanoke and seen a partial eclipse of 90 percent, but that would have been like “going to a rock concert and you’re standing in the parking lot.”

Mark and Molly Moser, from Denver, Colorado, watch the first solar eclipse to sweep across the United States in over 99 years in the Atlantic Ocean August 21, 2017 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Hoping to learn more about the sun’s composition and activity, NASA and other scientists watched and analyzed from telescopes on the ground and in orbit, the International Space Station, airplanes and scores of high-altitude balloons beaming back live video.

Citizen scientists also planned to monitor animal and plant behavior as daylight turned into twilight and the temperature dropped. Thousands of people streamed into the Nashville Zoo just to watch the animals’ reaction.

Scientists warned people not to look into the sun without protection, even when the sun is 100% covered. Otherwise, to avoid eye damage, keep the solar specs on or use pinhole projectors that can cast an image of the eclipse into a box.

The next total solar eclipse in the US will be in 2024. The next coast-to-coast one will not be until 2045.

Confederate monuments across the US removed or vandalized

Confederate monuments are being removed around the US under pressure from those who say they honor a regime that enslaved African-Americans. The pace has increased, however, in the wake of last weekend’s deadly confrontation at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A look at monuments that have been removed, covered up or vandalized in recent days:

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND
A statue of US Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and denied citizenship to African-Americans, was removed from the grounds of the Maryland State House Friday and trucked away to storage. Three of four voting members of the State House Trust voted to move the bronze statue, which was erected in 1872.

HELENA, MONTANA
The city removed a granite fountain Friday that stood in a park as a monument to Confederate soldiers since 1916. One of a few people on hand to oppose the removal was detained when she defied orders to vacate the grounds of the fountain. She was later released.

BELLINGHAM, WASHINGTON
The city near the Canadian border removed signs identifying Pickett Bridge, which was named for Confederate Capt. George E. Pickett. North of Vancouver, former highway markers honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis were splashed with red or black paint at a park on private land Friday.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS
The Dallas-area theme park Six Flags Over Texas will no longer fly the Confederate flag. The park named for the six flags that have flown over the state said Friday that will now fly six American flags.

The pedestal where a statue dedicated to Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson stood is shown August 16, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

NEW YORK
Transit officials will alter subway tiles at a Manhattan station that have a cross-like design similar to that of the Confederate flag. The design at the 40th Street entrance to the Times Square stop isn’t flag-related but transit officials said they want to avoid confusion about their meaning. Earlier this week, plaques honoring Gen. Robert E. Lee were removed from the property of a now-closed Brooklyn church. Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called on the Army to rename two streets at Fort Hamilton that honor Lee and another Confederate general.

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA
A statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee at Duke University was found defaced Thursday. The statue in the entryway to Duke Chapel had damage to its nose. Another monument of a Confederate soldier that stood in front of a government office building in town was pulled down by protesters Monday night. Four people have been arrested, and authorities say more arrests are planned. Earlier, two statues in Wilmington were defaced with spray paint.

LEESBURG, VIRGINIA
A statue outside a courthouse dedicated to Confederate soldiers was vandalized. Obscenities and other graffiti were spray-painted on the 1908 monument sometime before dawn Thursday. The damage was repaired.

MADISON, WISCONSIN
A plaque honoring confederate soldiers was removed Wednesday from a cemetery and a second monument will be taken down later. The plaque lauded “the valiant” Confederate soldiers buried there. Mayor Paul Soglin said the Civil War was “a defense of the deplorable practice of slavery.”

PHOENIX, ARIZONA
A Confederate monument outside Phoenix was found covered in tar and feathers on Thursday. Earlier, the Confederate Troops Memorial outside the Arizona Capitol was spray-painted white. It was the second time in a week that the memorial had been vandalized.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND
Four Confederacy-related monuments were hauled away on trucks under cover of darkness late Tuesday night and early Wednesday. Mayor Catherine Pugh said she was concerned that such statues might spark violence.

KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE
A 1914 monument honoring fallen Confederate soldiers was splattered with paint earlier this week. Opponents are signing a petition to have it removed from a neighborhood near the University of Tennessee campus.

Protesters gather in front of the old Durham County Courthouse where days earlier a confederate statue was toppled by demonstrators, in Durham, North Carolina, on August 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Logan Cyrus)

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA
A 52-foot-tall obelisk honoring Confederate soldiers and sailors was covered by wooden panels at the mayor’s order. The 1905 monument is in a downtown park. The cover-up Tuesday prompted a lawsuit by Alabama’s attorney general, who argues that it violates a new law prohibiting the removal of historical structures, including rebel memorials.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where many movie legends are interred, removed a 6-foot Confederate monument that was erected in 1925. The stone and attached plaque stood near the graves of more than 30 Confederate veterans and their families.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
The city removed a plaque naming Confederate President Jefferson Davis from a downtown plaza Wednesday. The 1926 plaque honored San Diego as the Western terminus of the Jefferson Davis Highway between Virginia and California.

US DIGITAL RIGHTS GROUP SLAMS TECH FIRMS FOR BARRING NEO-NAZIS

 

SAN FRANCISCO – A digital rights group based in San Francisco criticized several internet companies Thursday for removing neo-Nazi groups from servers and services, saying the actions threatened free expression online.

GoDaddy Inc, Alphabet’s Google, security firm Cloudflare and other technology companies moved this week to block hate groups after weekend violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists had gathered to protest removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park.

“We strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare did here was dangerous,” Cindy Cohn, executive director of Electronic Frontier Foundation, wrote in a blog post along with two other staffers.

The blog post reflected years-long tension in Silicon Valley, where many company executives want to distance themselves from extremists but are concerned that picking and choosing what is acceptable on their platforms could invite more regulation from governments.

“Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected,” Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote.

“We do it because the power to decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t is just too dangerous to hand to any company or any government.”

The group called on companies that manage internet domain names, including Google and GoDaddy, to “draw a hard line” and not suspend or impair domain names “based on expressive content of websites or services.”

The blog post echoed concerns expressed by Cloudflare chief executive Matthew Prince, who on Wendnesday said he decided to drop coverage of neo-Nazi website Daily Stormer but said that his decision was conflicted.

Prince told Reuters he “wholeheartedly agreed” with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s post and said he was hopeful it would help spark a more thoughtful debate about internet regulation.

Google, GoDaddy and Cloudflare did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the blog made outside normal business hours.

On Wednesday, Cloudflare Chief Executive Matthew Prince said his decision to drop coverage of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer had been conflicted. The Daily Stormer helped organize the protest in Charlottesville, at which a 32-year-old woman was killed and 19 people were injured when a vehicle drove into counter-protesters. The website cheered the woman’s death.

It was removed from GoDaddy and Google Domains after they said they would not serve the website.

Criticism mounts over Netanyahu’s response to US neo-Nazism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came under mounting pressure Thursday to speak out against US President Donald Trump’s response to the racially charged violence and anti-Semitic outpouring in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Netanyahu’s near-silence on the march staged by anti-Semitic white nationalists — and Trump’s assertion that “both sides” were responsible for the violence — appears to reflect the Israeli leader’s desire to remain in the good graces of the embattled president.

But Netanyahu’s reluctance to speak out on such an important issue has set him apart from the growing ranks of Israeli leaders who have been outspoken in their anger, and risks alienating Jewish American leaders already estranged by certain Israeli policies.

A growing chorus of opposition politicians, commentators and even coalition partners has urged Netanyahu to take a stronger stance, even at the risk of antagonizing the president.

Trump has acknowledged there were some “very bad people” at Saturday’s rally, where a woman was killed when a car slammed into a crowd of counter-protesters. But he also said there were “very fine people” on both sides. The president’s equation of extremist hate groups and left-wing demonstrators brought condemnation from across the American political spectrum.

Though Netanyahu, who views himself as a leader of world Jewry, is ordinarily quick to rail against anti-Semitism, he waited three days to react to the violence in Charlottesville with a relatively tepid statement on Twitter.

“Outraged by expressions of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism and racism. Everyone should oppose this hatred,” he tweeted, avoiding any mention of the president or Charlottesville. No such statement was issued in Hebrew, the state’s official language and the first language of most Israelis.

Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes said the prime minister’s statement was “unequivocal,” adding that he didn’t expect any further comment.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara touring Israel's North, August 15, 2017 (Koby Gideon/PMO)

“I think he made his view on the repugnancy of any neo-Nazism abundantly clear,” Keyes said.

After clashing with former US president Barack Obama for eight years, Netanyahu welcomed the election of Trump, and he has worked to cultivate a strong relationship with the White House. Trump was warmly welcomed during a brief visit to Israel in May.

Israeli newspapers devoted front-page coverage to Trump’s comments on Thursday, with top-selling paper Yedioth Ahronoth running a photo of him and the headline “Disgrace.”

Some commentators, however, pointed out that freesheet Israel Hayom, owned by Trump backer Sheldon Adelson, buried the story deep inside the paper.

Sima Kadmon of Yedioth wrote Thursday that after Netanyahu turned Trump “into the greatest friend of Israel in history — how can Netanyahu now issue a condemnation and talk about an anti-Semitic and racist president?”

Immediately after Saturday’s march, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, said the waving of Nazi flags and symbols was not only offensive to American Jews, but also disrespected the memory of American soldiers who died fighting the Nazis during World War II.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett seen at the Knesset on July 26, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“The leaders of the US must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism seen over the past few days,” Bennett said.

On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter to Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations expressing shock that “the most vicious symbol of anti-Semitism” was being paraded in American streets. “I know that the great nation of the United States of America and its leaders will know how to face this difficult challenge,” Rivlin said.

On Thursday, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan (Jewish Home) said Israel “must not stammer or hesitate in the face of anti-Semitism,” and leveled a veiled criticism of Netanyahu, saying “apparently some don’t want to enrage Trump.”

Opposition politicians have been more strident and open in their criticism of Trump.

“When it comes to racism, anti-Semitism and Nazism, there aren’t two equal sides — there’s good and there’s bad. Period,” said Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister and current senior Knesset member from the opposition Zionist Union faction. She said Thursday that it seemed Netanyahu’s silence stems from his fear of angering Trump.

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich, a former opposition leader, came out swinging against Netanyahu for not speaking out against Trump.

“And you, prime minister of the Jewish people in their land, who warns us about the Holocaust every Monday and Thursday, with overdoses of fear and arrogance and weeks of ‘Never Again,’ what about you?” Yachimovich wrote on Facebook.

Zionist Union MK Shelly Yachimovich arrives at the Tel Aviv District Court to try to stop the counting of votes during the Histadrut labor union leadership elections, claiming ballots had been tampered with, May 25, 2017. (Flash90)

Opposition party Yesh Atid’s chairman, Yair Lapid, pointedly said in reference to Trump’s comments that “there aren’t two sides.”

Former prime minister Ehud Barak said, “an Israeli leader should have said within six hours our position as Jews, as Israelis, as brothers of a large community, the American Jewish community, including in Charlottesville, who live under threat.”

Netanyahu’s Facebook and Twitter feeds bore no mention of Charlottesville amid the slew of photos of the prime minister and his wife arm-in-arm on their vacation on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Netanyahu’s son Yair, however, who has a close relationship with his father, caused a public outcry when he appeared to parrot Trump’s sentiments. He wrote a Facebook post Wednesday saying the “neo nazis scums in Virginia” are a dying breed, but left-wing anti-fascist and Black Lives Matter groups, which he said hate Israel “just as much,” are “getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.”

American Jewish leaders have expressed deep disappointment with Trump. But if Netanyahu continues to remain quiet, that disappointment could quickly spread to him as well. Leaders of liberal Jewish groups, who represent the vast majority of American Jews, are already at odds with the Israeli government over issues such as egalitarian prayer and recognition of religious conversions.

Rabbi Thomas Gutherz, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel of Charlottesville, said he has been too preoccupied with the events in his community to pay attention to the news in Israel. But Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, the largest American synagogue movement, said the prime minister “did harm to the cause of Israel and the cause of the Jewish people by having such a delayed reaction.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son Yair Netanyahu is seen at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on September 17, 2013. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

Jacobs said he was particularly surprised by Netanyahu’s slow response. “Three days went by without a full-throated condemnation. It was quite distressing,” Jacobs said.

“He does not want to alienate Trump,” said Eytan Gilboa, an expert on US-Israeli relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. But in the process, Gilboa said, Netanyahu is pushing American Jews further away.

Gideon Rahat of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank said the Israeli government should be expected to respond to such events as a state founded as a “safe haven” for Jews.

“You know we always have the Holocaust on our minds, so you take this and you see that Jews are attacked somewhere,” Rahat said.

But he said of Netanyahu that “I think that his concerns are his relationship with Trump.”

For Abraham Diskin, an emeritus political science professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, Netanyahu has no choice but to be “cautious.”

“You have to choose your fights,” he said.

“You cannot fight on every issue. You cannot clash with someone who is that important to Israel on issues like that.”

Whether Netanyahu could see a wider political backlash at home over the issue is an open question.

For Rahat, denunciation of such anti-Semitism is part of the “consensus” in Israel and opposition figures “can clearly use it against” Netanyahu.

Diskin said, however, that he believed most Israelis would not focus on the issue for long.

“Altogether, I think the vast majority of people will not remember the issue a week from now,” he said.