Trump launched airstrikes after this town was gassed in 2017. Now Assad’s military is moving in

By Arwa Damon, CNN
Aug 22, 2019
(CNN) – Two years ago, a chemical strike by the Syrian regime in Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens and resulted in the Trump administration carrying out airstrikes mostly targeting against Syrian airfields, a warning from the most powerful nation in the world, that was more of a slap on the wrist.
Local residents recall the attack with horror. “I saw the wounded, they were lying out there naked, they looked yellow.” Umm Ahmed told CNN by telephone. “I cant forget the images — children, a woman, and a man, a family …” her voice trails off.
The US airstrikes failed to deter President Bashar al-Assad from continuing his campaign of brutality of course. And now, for the first time in five years, the Syrian army has entered the northwestern town, strategically located on a highway connecting the capital Damascus to Aleppo, as Assad bombs with impunity in an attempt to end the brutal eight-year civil war.
“The Syrian military are inside the city of Khan Sheikhoun,” one media activist told CNN on Thursday adding that “opposition fighters tried to repel the Syrian military but came under heavy fire last night and fled the city.”
The move comes after yet another cease-fire between government forces and rebels crumbled. Russian and regime fighter jets then pulverized remaining rebel positions to force a withdrawal, sending a wave of fear through civilians trapped in the province.
“I was thinking to myself, we don’t have anywhere to go,” added Umm Ahmed, who fled Khan Sheikhoun seven months ago after an airstrike shattered the windows of her home. Her voice is steady but filled with the pain of the past eight years. “Death is death. It’s coming. There is no choice. What sort of hell are we going to see?”
‘Playing with fire’
Khan Sheikhoun is located in the southern part of Idlib province, to the north of a demilitarized zone established a year ago following negotiations between Turkey and Russia. To advance on the city, ground forces arched around, surrounding a Turkish military observation post. Last week there was a regime strike close to a Turkish resupply convoy.
“We have no intention of moving it and it will continue to serve out its purpose,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said. “The regime should stop playing with fire.”
These latest moves are perhaps an indication of dangerously shifting dynamics in Syria’s sickening war, the start of what everyone CNN has spoken to in Idlib is terrified of: the ground assault.
But when it comes to Syria and its powerful ally Russia, there are no rules of engagement, no red lines and no real ramifications. And it remains unclear what Turkey can do to prevent the ground push that would constitute a blatant disregard to the demilitarized zone.
Khan Sheikhoun is Syria’s last remaining rebel stronghold, home to some 3.5 million civilians — one-third of them children. This is the province that people fled to as Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Douma and other areas fell back into Syrian government control. Most of those here have been displaced multiples times, trying to stay ahead of the bombings; but where do you run when there is no where left to go?
Turkey’s border is now closed, the camps along it are bursting and new arrivals set up makeshift tents under olive trees, even giving birth there. Hospitals are constantly and regularly targeted, along with agricultural fields.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said it’s opening “a humanitarian corridor” for civilians to leave the region, state-run SANA news reported Thursday. SANA said the Syrian army will provide protection “in order to enable citizens willing to exit the areas controlled by terrorists in the northern countryside of Hama and southern countryside of Idlib to leave.”
But for those residents it’s an impossible choice. Stay in Idlib and risk death or leave into regime-held territory and risk death or detention.
CNN visited Idlib early last month. The roar of fighter jets was a terrifying constant, mothers sat shell-shocked by their wounded children in one of the few remaining hospitals, and people we spoke to begged just for a blanket.
Umm Ahmed is staying with relatives along with her husband and remaining children. She fears death is coming.
“I have nothing left. I live hour by hour, minute by minute, what can I say about hope?”
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Faithless elector: A court ruling just changed how we pick our president

A federal appeals court ruled late Tuesday that presidential electors who cast the actual ballots for president and vice president are free to vote as they wish and cannot be required to follow the results of the popular vote in their states.

The decision could give a single elector the power to decide the outcome of a presidential election — if the popular vote results in an apparent Electoral College tie.

“This issue could be a ticking time bomb in our divided politics. It’s not hard to imagine how a single faithless elector, voting differently than his or her state did, could swing a close presidential election,” said Mark Murray, NBC News senior political editor.

It hasn’t been much of an issue in American political history because when an elector refuses to follow the results of a state’s popular vote, the state simply throws the ballot away. But Tuesday’s ruling says states cannot do that.

The decision, from a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, is a victory for Micheal Baca, a Colorado Democratic elector in 2016. Under state law, he was required to cast his ballot for Hillary Clinton, who won the state’s popular vote. Instead, he crossed out her name and wrote in John Kasich, a Republican and then the governor of Ohio.

The secretary of state removed Baca as an elector, discarded his vote and brought in another elector who voted for Clinton. In a 2-1 decision, the appeals court said the nullification of Baca’s vote was unconstitutional.

When voters go to the polls in presidential races, they actually cast their votes for a slate of electors chosen by the political parties of the nominees. States are free to choose their electors however they want, Tuesday’s ruling said, and can even require electors to pledge their loyalty to their political parties.

Frank J. Larkin et al. standing around a table: Staffers organize states ballots during the counting of the electoral votes from the 2016 presidential election during a joint session of Congress, on Jan. 6, 2017.

© Mark Wilson Staffers organize states ballots during the counting of the electoral votes from the 2016 presidential election during a joint session of Congress, on Jan. 6, 2017. But once the electors are chosen and report in December to cast their votes as members of the Electoral College, they are fulfilling a federal function, and a state’s authority has ended. “The states’ power to appoint electors does not include the power to remove them or nullify their votes,” the court said.

Because the Constitution contains no requirement for electors to follow the wishes of a political party, “the electors, once appointed, are free to vote as they choose,” assuming that they cast their vote for a legally qualified candidate.

A total of 30 states have laws that bind electors, requiring them to cast their votes for whichever candidate won that state’s popular vote. But the laws are weak, providing only nominal penalties for what are known as “faithless electors” who fail to conform to the popular vote.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1952 that states do not violate the Constitution when they require electors to pledge that they will abide by the popular vote. But the justices have never said whether it is constitutional to enforce those pledges.

Legal scholars said Tuesday’s ruling was the first from a federal appeals court on the issue of faithless electors. It applies immediately to the six states of the 10th Circuit: Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Kanas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

“This court decision takes power from Colorado voters and sets a dangerous precedent,” said Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state. “Our nation stands on the principle of one person, one vote. We are reviewing this decision with our attorneys, and will vigorously protect Colorado voters.”

The federal court ruling conflicts with a decision from Washington state’s Supreme Court in May, which said electors must follow the results of the popular vote. “The power of electors to vote comes from the state, and the elector has no personal right to that role,” the court said.

Lawyers from the nonprofit Equal Citizens, which represented the Washington state electors and Baca in Colorado, said they will appeal the Washington ruling to the Supreme Court.

“We know Electoral College contests are going to be closer in the future than they have been in the past. And as they get closer and closer, even a small number of electors could change the results of an election,” said Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor who founded Equal Citizens and is part of its legal team. “Whether you think that’s a good system or not, we believe it is critical to resolve it before it would decide an election.”

If the Supreme Court chooses to take up the dispute, it would have time to rule on the issue before the Electoral College meets in December 2020 to cast the formal vote for president

U.S. Says China Is Blocking Trillions in Oil and Gas, Will Send Navy for Asia Drills

© China Geological Survey/Ministry of Land and Resources Chinese survey vessel Haiyang Dizhi 8 conducts research on behalf of the Guangzhou Marine Geological Survey in this photo shared July 25, 2018. The ship once again entered what Vietnam claimed to be its exclusive economic zone near Vanguard Bank of South China Sea’s disputed Spratly Islands on August 13 of this year.



The United States has accused China of preventing Southeast Asian countries from accessing trillions of dollars worth of untapped oil and gas reserves in the South China Sea as the Pentagon planned to hold its first exercise with regional powers near the strategic region.In a press statement, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Thursday that the “United States is deeply concerned that China is continuing its interference with Vietnam’s longstanding oil and gas activities in Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claim” following recent incursions there by Chinese survey ship Haiyang Dizhi 8 and an armed escort. Beijing has laid vast claims to the South China Sea and does not recognize boundaries established there by a number of Southeast Asian nations who are supported by the U.S.

The most recent incident occurred last week near Vanguard Bank, a Vietnam-administered outpost in the contested Spratly Islands, and Ortagus attributed the move to China “pressuring Vietnam over its work with a Russian energy firm and other international partners.”

“China’s actions undermine regional peace and security, impose economic costs on Southeast Asian states by blocking their access to an estimated $2.5 trillion in unexploited hydrocarbon resources, and demonstrate China’s disregard for the rights of countries to undertake economic activities in their EEZs, under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, which China ratified in 1996,” Ortagus said.
Washington has signed, but not ratified the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention, though it justified sending warships through Beijing-claimed waters in the South China Sea by citing “freedom of navigation” operations outlined in the deal. China has responded by scrambling military ships and aircraft to intercept the U.S. vessels in the resource-rich region.
While China may have backed Vietnam’s communist revolutionaries in their victory over U.S. and allied local forces decades ago, Beijing and Hanoi quickly became rivals and engaged in deadly border clashes, including near the Spratly Island, lasting up until the 1990s. In 1995, Vietnam and the U.S. normalized their relations, putting pressure on China as the region’s geopolitical dynamics shifted.
As the U.S. began to increasingly assert its own presence in the South China Sea, it has sought to push back on China there, exploiting territorial tensions between Beijing and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a 10-nation grouping of which Vietnam was a part. Washington sided with Hanoi in 2014 when China moved its Hai Yang Shi You 981 oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands and sank a Vietnamese fishing vessel amid a standoff there.
Last year, the U.S. sent a historic message to China by sending Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson to dock in Vietnam in March. In May, the U.S. disinvited China from the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise involving Vietnam and several other ASEAN states over Beijing’s increased militarization of the Spratly Islands.
The U.S. also began planning joint drills with ASEAN, but it was China that secured an exercise alongside the regional collective months later in October. That same month, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis confirmed that a U.S.-ASEAN exercise was still in the works and on both The Bangkok Post and Nikkei Asian Review reported Thursday that the maneuvers were set to begin early next month in Thailand.
Tensions in the South China Sea add to an array of issues already putting a major strain on ties between the world’s top two economies. President Donald Trump and Chinese Xi Jinping are embroiled in a multibillion-dollar trade war of tit-for-tat tariffs with Vietnam finding itself right in the middle of the feuding powerhouses.
Beijing has also repeatedly accused Washington of interfering in its internal affairs, both in the ongoing protests that U.S. officials and politicians have expressed support for in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong and in a recent $8 billion arms sale involving F-16V fighters jets to Taiwan, a self-ruling island nation also claimed by Beijing.
“The move has seriously undermined China-U.S. relations and blatantly damaged relations across the Taiwan Strait as well as the peace and stability across the strait,” Chinese State Council Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson Ma Xiaoguang said Thursday, urging Washington to cancel the sale immediately as reported by the official Xinhua News Agency and shared by Ma’s office and the Chinese military.

Committee Chairs Request Information from Consumer Bureau on Efforts to Protect Student Loan Borrowers

Chairs Also Request Documents from Education Department, Loan Servicers

Washington, DC, August 13, 2019

Today, Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) sent a letter to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Kathleen Kraninger requesting information and records concerning the CFPB’s efforts to protect consumers from unlawful student loan servicing practices.

In the letter, the Chairs raise concerns that “…the Consumer Bureau has taken actions that weaken its ability to fulfill its mission to protect student loan borrowers,” and that the agency is “…providing potentially harmful and conflicting advice to student loan borrowers.” The Chairs request records from the Consumer Bureau by no later than September 9, 2019.

Former Student Loan Ombudsman Seth Frotman asserted in his August 2018 resignation letter that CFPB leadership “has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting.” The position of Student Loan Ombudsman has been vacant since Frotman resigned in August 2018.

The Chairs also sent a letter to Betsy DeVos expressing deep concern over the Education Department’s failure to protect students and families from student loan companies. The letter addresses recent reports that the Department is shielding student loan servicing companies from state law enforcement and undermining the CFPB’s oversight of these companies. In March 2019, an independent watchdog found that the Department failed to establish policies to properly conduct oversight of student loan servicing companies.

“As Chairs of Committees with oversight responsibilities over the student loan industry, we are very concerned by reports that under your leadership, the Department of Education has failed to adequately oversee student loan servicers,” the Chairs wrote. “Reports indicate that improper practices by these servicers—including inaccurate determination of monthly payments, forbearance steering, and other practices—directly impact millions of Americans and have ripple effects on their families, communities, and the economy as a whole.”

In addition, the Chairs sent letters today to federally contracted loan servicers seeking information about their operations, including any strategies or policies that push students into more expensive repayment options.

How Many Attacks Will It Take Until the White-Supremacist Threat Is Taken Seriously?

How Many Attacks Will It Take Until the White-Supremacist Threat Is Taken Seriously?
FBI Director Christopher Wray said recently that the bureau doesn’t “investigate the ideology, no matter how repugnant. We investigate violence.”

AUG 4, 2019
A yellow-and-black police cordon is seen after a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.
A police cordon is seen after a mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on August 3, 2019.JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ / REUTERS
Updated at 2:34 p.m. ET on August 4, 2019.

There was, it seems, no time to avert the massacre.

The anti-immigrant, white-nationalist manifesto heralding an imminent attack was uploaded to the online message board 8chan only minutes before a shooter killed at least 20 people out shopping on a late-summer Saturday in El Paso, Texas.

But in another sense, if U.S. authorities confirm that the document was written by the 21-year-old white male suspected of committing the atrocity, then there was plenty of time—numerous years in which violence by far-right, white-supremacist extremists has emerged as arguably the premier domestic-terrorist threat in the United States. The government may be working to prevent these violent acts, but it’s devoted less attention and fewer resources to the toxic ideology that knits them together.

The Anti-Defamation League recently reported that right-wing extremists were linked to more murders in the United States (at least 50) in 2018 than in any other year since 1995, when Timothy McVeigh bombed an Oklahoma City federal building. The organization also found that in the past decade, roughly 73 percent of extremist-related fatalities have been associated with domestic right-wing extremists, relative to about 23 percent attributed to Islamist extremists.

Such extremists have been tied to deadly rampages over the past year at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, and possibly to a mass shooting just last week at a garlic festival in California. The statement posted shortly before the El Paso shooting cited the live-streamed assault on two mosques in New Zealand earlier this year, along with that perpetrator’s sprawling white-nationalist manifesto, as inspiration. (The motive for a killing spree in Dayton, Ohio, mere hours after the El Paso shooting isn’t yet clear.)

Read: Ideology kills. How do you police it?

President Donald Trump, who has stoked fear of immigrants, inflamed racial divisions, and excused the activities of white nationalists, has cut funding for, and in some cases wholly eliminated, initiatives begun under Barack Obama to counter violent extremism (known as “CVE”), including of the white-supremacist variety. But the Obama administration’s efforts also tend to be exaggerated. Today the U.S. government’s CVE programs “largely continue as they have for the past decade: underfunded, understaffed, and focused on individuals influenced by the Islamic State and other jihadi groups more than right-wing extremists,” the extremism experts Seamus Hughes and Haroro Ingram wrote in March.

“The overwhelming majority of our domestic counterterrorism infrastructure is geared toward the threat of international [jihadist] terrorism,” the former Department of Homeland Security official George Selim told me.

The FBI has noted that most of its domestic-terrorism cases featuring a racial motive involve white supremacists. The bureau doesn’t “investigate the ideology, no matter how repugnant. We investigate violence,” FBI Director Christopher Wray explained in July, adding that the agency operates with broad categories of “racially motivated” violence in mind.

Yet domestic terrorism by white nationalists is too often treated as “isolated, unconnected incidents,” argues the terrorism expert Clint Watts. This violence looks different than the sophisticated international jihadist attacks that Americans have come to associate with “terrorism” over the decades. It is carried out by Americans using guns, and thus bound up in the divisive political debate about gun violence. And it is largely a leaderless movement, in contrast to groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, which have identifiable leaders. (In this, it has more in common with homegrown jihadist terrorism.) These differences, however, are deceptive. Watts points out that in recent years, discernible patterns have developed in white-nationalist violence—the recurring targeting, for example, of minorities, and especially of black, Jewish, and Muslim places of worship.

Read: How white-supremacist violence echoes other forms of terrorism

Watts wants Congress to make domestic terrorism a federal crime (suspected domestic terrorists now typically face gun, conspiracy, or hate-crime charges) and to pass a law for designating domestic terrorism organizations and domestic terrorists (the State Department does this for international terrorists and terrorist groups). He’s also proposed that the FBI director launch a national domestic-terrorism case for “white-nationalist-inspired terrorism,” which would “help the FBI dedicate more resources and personnel to white-nationalist terrorism, may help them detect violent plots earlier, and increase the amount of information for sharing with state and local partners who may be better informed and positioned for thwarting extremist violence.”

Short of opening such an investigation or reacting to violent acts, Watts notes, it’s nearly impossible for federal investigators to prevent white-nationalist attacks, since would-be perpetrators’ speech is protected by the First Amendment and their access to arms assured by the Second Amendment.

All the government can currently do to combat the threat of white-supremacist domestic terrorism is “arrest, prosecute, and imprison” through investigations into possible violations of federal criminal law, explained Selim, who’s now with the Anti-Defamation League. We don’t yet have the full picture of the El Paso attack, he stressed, but considering what we know so far, the FBI had no basis for initiating an investigation or making an arrest prior to the shooting.

If the allegations and the alleged shooter’s connection to the manifesto are proved true, “then this is just another node of where the federal government, as well as state and local law enforcement, need to continue to expand the scope of their risk and threat detection into social-media channels like the ones allegedly used in this and other incidents of domestic terror,” Selim said.

“There’s an open and ongoing debate about whether the government has an appropriate role fighting ideologies at all, but if it’s going to fight one ideology, such as jihadism, it should take an even-handed approach and also confront white supremacist ideology,” J. M. Berger, an expert on extremist ideologies, told me by email. “The government was doing little programmatic work under the Obama administration in this respect, and it’s doing even less programmatic work now.”

“At this point,” he added, “it would be a win if the administration would just stop throwing red meat to white supremacists, but there seems to be little chance of that.”

Uri Friedman is a staff writer at The Atlantic, covering national security and global affairs. Copyright (c) 2019 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

The Atlantic

American Soil’ Is Increasingly Foreign Owned

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May 27, 20194:17 PM ET
Heard on All Things Considered


A loaded combine harvester during a late corn harvest in Hamilton, Ohio.
John Minchillo/AP
American soil.

Those are two words that are commonly used to stir up patriotic feelings. They are also words that can’t be taken for granted, because today nearly 30 million acres of U.S. farmland are held by foreign investors. That number has doubled in the past two decades, which is raising alarm bells in farming communities.

When the stock market tanked during the past recession, foreign investors began buying up big swaths of U.S. farmland. And because there are no federal restrictions on the amount of land that can be foreign owned, it’s been left up to individual states to decide on any limitations.

It’s likely that even more American land will end up in foreign hands, especially in states with no restrictions on ownership. With the median age of U.S. farmers at 55, many face retirement with no prospect of family members willing to take over. The National Young Farmers Coalition anticipates that two-thirds of the nation’s farmland will change hands in the next few decades.

“Texas is kind of a free-for-all, so they don’t have a limit on how much land can be owned,” say’s Ohio Farm Bureau’s Ty Higgins. “You look at Iowa and they restrict it — no land in Iowa is owned by a foreign entity.”

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Ohio, like Texas, also has no restrictions, and nearly half a million acres of prime farmland are held by foreign-owned entities. In the northwestern corner of the state, below Toledo, companies from the Netherlands alone have purchased 64,000 acres for wind farms.

There are two counties in this region with the highest concentration of foreign-owned farmland — more than 41,000 acres each. One of those is Paulding County, where three wind farms straddle the Ohio-Indiana line.

Once a foreign entity buys up however many acres they want, Americans might never be able to secure that land again. So, once we lose it, we may lose it for good.

Ty Higgins

Higgins says that this kind of consumption of farmland by foreign entities is starting to cause concern. “One of the main reasons that we’re watching this … is because once a foreign entity buys up however many acres they want, Americans might never be able to secure that land again. So, once we lose it, we may lose it for good.”

His other concern is that every acre of productive farmland that is converted over to something other than agriculture is an acre of land that no longer produces food. That loss is felt from the state level all the way down to rural communities, where one in six Ohioans has ties to agriculture.

Angela Huffman is a sixth-generation farmer in Wyandot County, which, along with Paulding County, has more than 41,000 acres of foreign-owned farmland. Her modest, two-story white farmhouse has been in her family for almost 200 years. Her grandfather was the last person to actively farm the land here. When he got out of farming due to declining markets, none of his five children wanted to take over, and the cropland is now leased.

But Huffman, a young millennial who lives here with her mother, wants to try to keep the farm going and revive her family heritage.

Walking out to the barn, a huge white Great Pyrenees dog watches over a small flock of sheep. Huffman says she’s worried about the effects of foreign land ownership on her rural community — which she describes as similar to Walmart pushing local businesses out of the market.

“Right out my back door here, Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, has recently bought out a couple grain elevators,” Huffman says, pointing across the field behind her house, “basically extracting the wealth out of the community.”

To be fair, U.S. farmers and corporations also invest in overseas agriculture, owning billions of dollars of farmland from Australia to Brazil, but the Smithfield Food buyout has really raised concerns with American farmers. As part of that 2013 sale, a Chinese company now owns 146,000 acres of prime U.S. farmland.

U.S. Prepares Tariffs On Additional $300B Of Imported Chinese Goods
U.S. Prepares Tariffs On Additional $300B Of Imported Chinese Goods
Back in the Huffman farmhouse, Joe Maxwell is typing on a laptop at the kitchen table. Maxwell is a fourth-generation farmer from Missouri. He and Huffman are part of the Organization for Competitive Markets, an advocacy group of farmers and ranchers across the nation.

Maxwell points to the Smithfield Foods elevators across the field: “The money that those elevators used to make stayed within the community. Today the money those elevators make will go into the pocket of someone thousands of thousands of miles away. This is going on across America.”

Maxwell is concerned that, as other states put restrictions on foreign purchases in place, Ohio in particular is being targeted. “So when they’re looking for investments in the U.S. and agriculture,” he says, “Ohio’s a great ag state, and you don’t have any restrictions like other states.”

Nationwide, Canadian investors own the most farmland. In Ohio, it’s Germany, with 71,000 acres.

On the southern central part of the state, John Trimmer manages 30,000 acres of corn and soybeans for German investors. He’s been working with German families that have wanted to get into U.S. agriculture since the 1980s. “They started to buy land in Iowa and Minnesota,” Trimmer explains, “but right when they started, [Iowa and Minnesota] passed state laws which restricted foreign ownership.”

“None of them have an interest in the farm.”

Instead, the Germans turned to Ohio.

But, Trimmer says, there is a misconception about foreign owners — that they aren’t good neighbors or good stewards of the land. What he sees is a growing divide between older family members who still live on the farm, and their children who have no interest in the family business and want to cash out the land.

“The last two farms we bought here, through an owner, her and her brothers and sisters inherited it from their mother, and none of them wanted to farm. None of them have an interest in the farm.” Trimmer explains that his German clients have established a reputation in the community for letting the tenants — often aging parents or grown children — continue to live in the houses on the farms they buy.

Sellers work directly with his German clients — instead of putting the property up on the market, the sale ensures that family members can live out their lives in the family homestead, while still getting cash value for the farmland.

Bribery on the Bench: A Look at Judicial Corruption

The Fraud Examiner
Jordan Underhill, J.D.
Research Specialist, ACFE

In September 2009, a federal grand jury in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, returned a 48-count indictment against two judges, Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan. The indictment included conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government, conspiracy to commit tax fraud, honest services fraud, racketeering, bribery, money laundering and extortion. The basis of these charges was an alleged kickback arrangement with private prison operators that netted the Luzerne County judges more than $2.6 million over at least seven years. Conahan colluded with private prison operators to shut down the county-run juvenile detention center in favor of privately run facilities and Ciavarella did much of the sentencing that filled the new detention centers’ beds. The private juvenile detention centers received state funding proportionate to the number of offenders that they housed; thus, they were incentivized to house as many individuals as feasible.

The judges deliberately funneled juvenile offenders (who were often advised by the judges that they did not need legal counsel) into the private juvenile detention centers, regardless of whether the charges merited the punishment. One 16-year-old was arrested for gesturing with her middle finger at a police officer responding to a custody dispute involving her parents and sister. Ciavarella sentenced her to six months in juvenile detention. A 14-year-old was sentenced to three months in juvenile detention for mocking a school principal on Myspace. At least 5,000 juveniles appeared before Ciavarella in the five years preceding the discovery of the scheme, many unrepresented and severely punished for minor infractions.

The FBI and IRS began investigating the judges after another Luzerne County judge, Anne H. Lokuta, accused Conahan of conspiring to remove her from the bench (she was, in fact, removed from the bench in November 2008). Lokuta aided federal investigators in discovering the kickback arrangement. After the full extent of the scheme was discovered, hundreds of juvenile adjudications were ordered overturned.

The so-called “kids-for-cash” scheme is an alarming reminder of the amount of damage that a dishonest judiciary can cause. The scheme not only defrauded taxpayers of millions of dollars, but also violated the constitutional rights and severely disrupted the lives of thousands of children. While the level of fraud committed by Ciavarella and Conahan is generally a rare occurrence, even a small measure of corruption in the judicial system is cause for great concern. The judiciary exercises great influence over individual lives and the notion that a judiciary is untainted by corruption is critical to society’s acceptance of a system of law as legitimate.

Types of Judicial Corruption

The two most common types of judicial corruption are political interference and bribery. Political interference is when politicians or staff from the legislative or executive branch meddle in judicial affairs or collude with judges in fraudulent schemes. Despite efforts in many countries to isolate the judiciary from politics, judges and other court personnel still face significant pressure to rule in favor of powerful political or business entities rather than in accordance with the law. A malleable judiciary can be used by those in power to provide protection for and lend legitimacy to fraudulent acts. Judges might also collude with politicians in a variety of different white-collar crimes, such as extortion, money laundering and embezzlement.

For example, a recently uncovered $1.5 billion fraud and money laundering scheme by the executive branch of the Maldives heavily involved the judiciary. Senior members of the judiciary allegedly received money and luxury apartments as part of the scheme. The judiciary was also allegedly used as a tool by the executive branch to intimidate opponents with politically motivated cases. The former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, described the judiciary as “the most corrupt institution in the country.”

The second most common form of judicial corruption is bribery. Judges or other court officials might accept bribes to exercise their influence over a case in a way that benefits the briber. For example, a judge might delay or accelerate cases, accept or deny appeals, or simply rule in a particular way in exchange for kickbacks. In June 2016, New York State Supreme Court Judge John A. Michaelek pleaded guilty to receiving bribes and offering a false instrument for filing in a court case involving a political operative named G. Steven Pigeon (who was also indicted for nine charges including bribery, extortion and grand larceny). Prosecutors alleged that Michaelek reached an understanding with Pigeon that the judge would engage in “official misconduct which advanced Pigeon’s interests.” As part of the arrangement, Pigeon helped relatives of Michaelek find employment and provided Michaelek with tickets to hockey games and a political fundraiser.

Court officials also accept bribes to exercise their influence over cases. In 2011, Munir Patel, a court clerk in the U.K., became the first person to be imprisoned under the U.K.’s Bribery Act. Patel took bribes from motorists charged with traffic violations to help them avoid prosecution by using his privileged access to the court system. He actively solicited bribes by telling individuals that if they appeared in court, magistrates would be racially prejudiced against them.

Detecting and Preventing Judicial Corruption

When evaluating the integrity of a judicial system, there are two key aspects to consider: independence and public accountability. One of the difficulties jurisdictions face in tackling judicial corruption is striking a balance between the necessary independence of the judiciary and some degree of non-political oversight and accountability. This is generally accomplished by arranging the judicial system so that it can effectively police itself and ensuring that it operates in a transparent manner.

Jon Stewart’s direct communication to congress.

Comedian and television host, Jon Stewart, delivers emotional speech to congress against lawmakers’ treatment of injured and sickened 9/11 rescue workers.

Comedian Jon Stewart has hit out at US congress for failing to ensure that a victims’ compensation fund set up after the 9/11 attacks never runs out of money.

Mr Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, angrily called out members of congress for failing to attend a hearing over a Bill that would ensure the fund can pay benefits for the next 70 years.

Pointing to rows of empty seats at a House judiciary committee hearing room, Mr Stewart said “sick and dying” first responders and their families had come to Washington for the hearing, only to face a nearly deserted dais.

He called the non-attendance “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on the institution” of US congress.

Members said they supported the Bill and were monitoring the hearing amid other congressional business.

What Is ‘Malicious Mother Syndrome’?

Divorce and custody proceedings are often high-stress, contentious events that can cause extreme behavior on the part of those involved. Some cases have resulted in situations tied to what is often called “Malicious Mother Syndrome” or “Malicious Parent Syndrome.” This syndrome was first theorized by the psychologist Ira Turkat to describe a pattern of abnormal behavior during divorce.

It is important to note that Malicious Mother or Malicious Parent Syndrome is not currently recognized as a mental disorder by the medical profession. Rather, the syndrome describes a type of behavior at issue in some court cases and has lead proponents to call for further study and research.

When this syndrome occurs, a divorced or divorcing parent seeks to punish the other parent, sometimes going far enough as to harm or deprive their children in order to make the other parent look bad. Though most commonly called Malicious Mother Syndrome, both mothers and fathers can be capable of such actions.

Characteristics of Malicious Parent Syndrome

In his initial discussion of Malicious Mother Syndrome, Dr. Turkat sought to identify and describe a condition where one parent acts purposefully and vengefully towards the other during or following divorce.

Malicious Parent Syndrome is characterized by four major criteria. Someone suffering from the syndrome:

  1. Attempts to punish the divorcing parent though alienating their children from the other parent and involving others or the courts in actions to separate parent and child;
  2. Seeks to deny children visitation and communication with the other parent and involvement in the child’s school or extra-curricular activities;
  3. Lies to their children and others repeatedly and may engage in violations of law;
  4. Doesn’t suffer any other mental disorder which would explain these actions.

Examples of Malicious Parents

The idea of identifying a syndrome or mental disorder to explain the actions of extreme malicious behavior by parents during divorce arose from examples of vindictive parents in clinical and legal cases. Some of these behaviors include burning down the house of an ex-spouse, falsely accusing the other parent of abuse, or purposely interfering with planned parenting time.

In one particular example that could be called an instance of malicious parent syndrome, a mother told her children they could not afford food because their father had wasted all their money. In another, a parent repeatedly misinformed the other parent about school activities, so that the parent could not participate in the child’s school life. In all of these actions, the intent is to harm the other parent.

Psychological Consequences of Malicious Acts

When one parent goes out of his or her way to hurt the other, great strain can be put on both the harmed parent and their relationship with the child. In some cases, a parent who is repeatedly subjected to malicious acts by their ex-spouse may withdraw from their child’s life in order to avoid further conflict. A malicious parent may also successfully manipulate a child, resulting in them disliking and wanting to spend less time with the other parent.

Legal Consequences of Malicious Acts

Many of the behaviors associated with malicious parent syndrome can have legal consequences and may constitute civil and criminal law violations.

Some actions related to Malicious Parent Syndrome can be easily understood as criminal acts, such as attacking the other parent or damaging their property. Depriving children of food or money, in order to make the other parent look bad, could constitute a form of child abuse, which can violate both family and criminal laws. Similarly, should a malicious parent lie under oath, he or she may be charged with the crime of perjury.

Other acts related to Malicious Parent Syndrome may be violations of civil law. For example, denying a parent their court-ordered visitation rights can constitute illegal parent time interference and can result in fines, court-ordered counseling, and adjustments to custody and visitation plans. Lying about the acts of the other parent in a way which harms his or her reputation and results in actual injury can constitute defamation.

Malicious behavior by a parent can also impact parenting plans and custody arrangements. If a parent has been involved in alienating, cruel or illegal behavior, this conduct can be considered a factor in any proceeding to gain or adjust custody.

If You’ve Been the Victim of a Malicious Parent

If you or your children have been the victim of an ex-spouse’s vengeful behavior which may be a result of Malicious Mother or Malicious Parent Syndrome, you’re not without recourse. You may be able to:

  • have custody and support agreements modified,
  • seek court-ordered counseling for the malicious parent or
  • obtain supervised visitation.

Obtain Professional Legal Counsel for Your Paternity Issues

Parents want nothing more than for their children to have the best possible start to their lives, so it can particularly upsetting when a malicious parent stands in the way. But there are legal processes in place to help resolve these issues, which are best navigated by an experienced family law attorney



Section 241 of Title 18 is the civil rights conspiracy statute. Section 241 makes it unlawful for two or more persons to agree together to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the Unites States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same). Unlike most conspiracy statutes, Section 241 does not require that one of the conspirators commit an overt act prior to the conspiracy becoming a crime.

The offense is punishable by a range of imprisonment up to a life term or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, and the resulting injury, if any.


If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same;…

They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results from the acts committed in violation of this section or if such acts include kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, they shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for any term of years or for life, or both, or may be sentenced to death.

Fadi Hakura is a Turkey expert and associate fellow at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an independent policy institute based in London. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

Turkey’s national currency, the lira, has tumbled by nearly 40% against the US dollar so far this year.

Relations between the two countries reached a low point on Friday, as US President Donald Trump approved the doubling of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium in response to Turkey’s refusal to release Andrew Brunson — an American pastor who is under house arrest in Turkey and facing terror charges.
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has so far resisted pressure to implement monetary and fiscal orthodoxy, choosing instead to lash out at both the financial markets and the US.
He has suggested that there is a global plot that aims to destroy Turkey’s political and economic achievements.
So far, his domestic popularity has been on the rise, as he taps into the anti-US sentiment (and willingness to believe in conspiracy theories) that exists among much of the Turkish population.
Erdogan’s stubborn response to Turkey’s economic meltdown has resembled the populist playbook of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, rather than the market-friendly posturing of Argentinian President Mauricio Macri.
Turkey, unlike Argentina, does not seem poised to turn to the International Monetary Fund in order to stave off financial collapse, nor to mend relations with Washington.
If anything, the Turkish President looks to be doubling down in challenging the US and the global financial markets — two formidable opponents.

US sanctions Turkey over detention of pastor 04:43
In all likelihood, Turkey will lose any fight it picks with New York, London, Singapore and other bastions of finance — unless a ceasefire is declared. And the lira’s collapse will translate into a financial and economic meltdown for Turkey.
As that process unfolds, it will likely undermine Erdogan’s domestic appeal, even among his most committed ideological supporters, and unleash political instability in its wake.
But the outcome will be a long, drawn-out and complex affair that could promote military interference in politics and generate ramifications beyond Turkey’s borders.
Turkey would probably no longer view the US as a reliable partner and strategic ally.
Whoever ends up leading the country, a wounded Turkey would most likely seek to shift the center of gravity away from the West and toward Russia, Iran and Eurasia.
It would make Turkey less in tune with US and European objectives in the Middle East, meaning Turkey would seek to assert a more independent security and defense policy.
In extreme circumstances, it could even contemplate withdrawing from NATO and terminate — or radically amend — its customs union with the EU.
No scenario can be overlooked should the worst happen and political and economic turmoil leaves devastation in a country as geopolitically critical as Turkey.
Given the potential calamitous outcome, it would be very sensible for the West to prepare an ambitious package to alleviate the aftereffects of the financial tsunami and to ensure that Turkey does not drift from the Western norms and institutions.
Turkey’s EU accession ambitions need to be urgently revived to encourage liberalizing reforms. Otherwise, the West will pay a heavy price for losing such an important country as an ally