Whatever it is, President Trump has never ‘seen anything like it’
Trump has often framed the events unfolding around him as unprecedented. Whether speaking about natural disasters or his own modest electoral victory during the 2016 presidential election, Trump has routinely portrayed the challenges he has faced as something never before seen in the history of the nation, or perhaps the world. Take his descriptions of the hurricanes to have struck the country over the past two and a half years.
When Hurricane Harvey dumped more than 40 inches of rain on Texas, submerging much of Houston, leaving 106 Americans dead and racking up an estimated $125 million in U.S. damages, Trump rightly framed the storm in historical terms.Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump Great coordination between agencies at all levels of government. Continuing rains and flash floods are being dealt with. Thousands rescued.Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrumpMany people are now saying that this is the worst storm/hurricane they have ever seen. Good news is that we have great talent on the ground.Following in Irma’s footsteps, Hurricane Maria’s death toll in Puerto Rico of 2,795 was tabulated only after a study was commissioned by the island’s then governor. Even before that, however, the Trump administration’s response to the storm and its aftermath had been widely criticized. On the defensive, Trump deflected blame by pointing out the singular nature of Maria.“If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people that died, and you look at what happened here that’s really a storm that was just totally overpowering, nobody’s ever seen anything like this — and what is your death count as of this moment? 70? 16 people, certified. 16 people versus in the thousands. … You can be very proud of what’s taken place.”When Hurricane Florence took aim at the Carolinas a year later, though, Trump once again saw something potentially unparalleled. “They haven’t seen anything like what’s coming at us in 25, 30 years, maybe ever,” the president said from the Oval Office.President Trump arrives at El Paso International Airport. (Evan Vucci/AP)That pattern of Trump describing natural disasters that occur during his time in office as aberrant is itself anything but rare.After the Tubbs fire tore through Sonoma, Calif., becoming, for a brief time, the most destructive wildfire in state history, Trump said the 250 blazes that hit the area, leaving 44 dead in a month, were “like we’ve never seen.”A year later, however, the president headed to Northern California to survey the damage done by the Camp Fire, which killed at least 86 people.“We’ve never seen anything like this, and California has never seen anything like this,” the president said. When pressed by reporters on the role the climate change had in making the blaze so unusual, Trump seemed to acknowledge that human beings might have a role both in helping effect climate change and in lessening the impact of the wildfires it makes more prevalent.“I have a strong opinion,” Trump replied. “I want great climate and we’re going to have that. And we’re going to have forests that are very safe.”Trump depicts himself as an unrivaled force of nature and is given to describing himself as possessing exceptional abilities. When answering a reporter’s question about the House’s efforts to secure testimony from officials named in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Trump referenced the U.S. Constitution, a document that has guided all the presidents before him, as somehow tailored to him alone.“Nobody ever mentions Article II,” Trump said. “It gives me all those rights at a level that nobody has ever seen before.”Trump also likes to tout what he sees as his unmatched effects on the U.S. economy. In his 2019 State of the Union address, he touted his role in what he portrayed as an “economic miracle.”“In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before. There’s been nothing like it,” Trump claimed, despite that fact that the gross domestic product failed to reach the 3 percent in 2018 that the president had promised.While past administrations have overseen more robust economic growth than the current White House, Trump has seen fit to declare that he alone can keep this “unprecedented” momentum going.Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump The Trump Economy is setting records, and has a long way up to go….However, if anyone but me takes over in 2020 (I know the competition very well), there will be a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before! KEEP AMERICA GREAT At a reelection rally in Cincinnati, Trump again told them what they seemed to want to hear.“But there has never been a movement like this,” Trump told his crowd. “This is a movement the likes of which they’ve never seen before, maybe anywhere, but certainly in this country.”Placing oneself at the center of a drama and imbuing it with historic importance may simply be excused as an understandable human trait, a throwaway line not to be taken too seriously. Failing to acknowledge the trend lines of life and death threats, such as mass shootings and climate change, however, is another thing altogether, whatever its origins.
New US citizens are sworn in at a naturalization ceremony at the Los Angeles Convention Center on July 23, 2019 in Los Angeles, California (AFP Photo/MARIO TAMA)Washington (AFP) – The administration of US President Donald Trump announced Monday new rules that aim to deny permanent residency and citizenship to migrants who receive food stamps, public health care and other welfare.The new rules threatened to set back the citizenship hopes of millions of mostly Hispanic migrants who work for low wages and depend in part on public services to get by.Announcing a new definition of the longstanding „public charge” law, the White House said the 22 million non-citizen residents of the United States who are using public services will not be able to obtain green cards or US citizenship.In addition, hopeful migrants will not be granted resident visas if they are deemed too poor and likely to need public assistance.”To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient,” Trump said in a White House statement.The move expands the Trump administration’s broad assault on immigration.The government has already tried to crack down on illegal border crossers. It has also stepped up arrests and deportations of the estimated 10.5 million undocumented migrants who live in the country, two-thirds of whom have been present for more than 10 years.Both groups are largely ethnically Hispanic.- Vows of lawsuits -The newest move seeks to limit the path to citizenship for millions in the United States legally, tying their future hopes to not using public assistance programs.Pro-migrant activists announced they would file lawsuits to block the rules, and Democrats in Congress said they would fight what some called a „racially motivated policy.””This administration scapegoats immigrants, emboldens white supremacists, and tears families apart. This is racist policy. We will continue fighting to #ProtectFamilies,” tweeted Representative Donna Shalala.Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called the moves „a cruel new step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people” and announced plans to sue.”It will have a dire humanitarian impact, forcing some families to forego critical life-saving health care and nutrition. The damage will be felt for decades to come,” she said.In justifying the rules, the White House said that „large numbers” of migrants „have taken advantage of our generous public benefits, limited resources that could otherwise go to vulnerable Americans.”It said that half of all non-citizen households include at least one person using the government-run health program Medicaid, and that 78 percent of households led by a non-citizen with no more than a high school education use at least one welfare program.”Through the public charge rule, President Trump’s administration is reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America,” said Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services.- Planned since 2018 -The new standards would apply to non-citizen residents who use public services repeatedly after October 15, 2019.The services that count against an applicant include federal, state and local cash and income assistance, food stamps from the federal SNAP program, Medicaid, and subsidized housing.Cuccinelli stressed that the new rules did not apply to public assistance programs for children or pregnant women, or emergency room care.The changes to the „public charge” rules and the US immigration system generally have been in the works since 2018, as part of Trump’s campaign to slash both legal and illegal immigration.In May, Trump announced a broad plan for immigration „that protects American wages, promotes American values, and attracts the best and brightest from all around the world.””As a result of our broken rules, the annual green card flow is mostly low-wage and low-skilled,” he said.”We’re not able to give preference to a doctor, a researcher, a student who graduated number one in his class from the finest colleges in the world — anybody.”- Immigrants foregoing healthcare -Pro-immigration groups said the use of public services by immigrants is exaggerated and not detrimental.In a study last month, the Urban Institute said the new regulations, when first proposed publicly last year, drove immigrant families to preemptively curtail their use of public services.Some were pulling out of the SNAP program, leaving them with „insufficient resources for food and adequate nutrition.”In addition, staying away from Medicaid „put people in a position of forgoing treatment for chronic conditions and preventive medical care,” the institute wrote.
The failed missile test that ended in an explosion killing five scientists last week on Russia’s White Sea involved a small nuclear reactor, according to a top official at the institute where they worked.
The institute is working on small-scale power sources that use “radioactive materials, including fissile and radioisotope materials” for the Defense Ministry and civilian uses, Vyacheslav Soloviev, scientific director of the institute, said in a video shown by local TV.
The men, who will be buried Monday, were national heroes and the “elite of the Russian Federal Nuclear Center,” institute Director Valentin Kostyukov said in the video, which was also posted on an official website in Sarov, a high-security city devoted to nuclear research less than 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow.
The blast occurred Aug. 8 during a test of a missile that used “isotope power sources” on an offshore platform in the Arkhangelsk region, close to the Arctic Circle, Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom said over the weekend. The Defense Ministry initially reported two were killed in the accident, which it said involved testing of a liquid-fueled missile engine. The ministry didn’t mention the nuclear element.
It caused a brief spike in radiation in the nearby port city of Severodvinsk, according to a statement on the local administration’s website that was later removed. The Russian military said radiation levels were normal but disclosed few details about the incident.
News of the explosion set off in nearby cities and towns a run on iodine, which is believed to help prevent the thyroid gland from absorbing radiation. Norway said it had stepped up radiation monitoring after the incident but hadn’t detected anything abnormal.
Southerly winds and the large distance between the border and the explosion make it unlikely that Finland will detect any radiation, Pia Vesterbacka, director at Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, said by phone Monday. The authority hasn’t checked its air filters since the incident but expects to have results this week, she added.
Rosatom declined to comment on the incident Monday and a spokeswoman for the Sarov institute couldn’t immediately be reached.
Russian media have speculated that the weapon being tested was the SSC-X-9 Skyfall, known in Russia as the Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile that President Vladimir Putin introduced to the world in a brief animated segment during his state-of-the-nation address last year.
The incident comes after a series of massive explosions earlier last week at a Siberian military depot killed one and injured 13, as well as forcing the evacuation of 16,500 people from their homes. Russia’s navy has suffered numerous high-profile accidents over the years. In July, 14 sailors died in a fire aboard a nuclear-powered submarine in the Barents Sea in an incident on which officials initially refused to comment. A top naval official later said the men gave their lives preventing a “planetary catastrophe.”
Russia’s worst post-Soviet naval disaster also occurred in the Barents Sea, when 118 crew died on the Kursk nuclear submarine that sank in after an explosion in August 2000.
–With assistance from Kati Pohjanpalo and Mikael Holter.
Moscow (AFP) – Russian lawmakers will hold a special session next week to discuss alleged „meddling” by foreign powers after huge protests in Moscow, following a government warning to YouTube.
The speaker of the lower house State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, said on Monday that „facts of meddling in domestic issues in our country” would be debated on August 19.
Russia has accused foreign governments and media of backing the demonstrations, which have seen tens of thousands rally in recent weeks demanding free local elections.
On Sunday, the government’s internet watchdog Roskomnadzor accused Google of „advertising unsanctioned mass actions” on YouTube.
The watchdog pointed to „various structures with YouTube channels” disseminating information about unsanctioned protests.
It said the channels use „advertising instruments” such as „push notifications” to „disrupt elections” and warned Google that Moscow will view inaction on its part as „meddling in Russia’s sovereign elections”.
The rallies, some unsanctioned, have rocked Moscow for the past month, with the largest on Saturday drawing up to 60,000 people.
Protesters are outraged over the exclusion of opposition candidates from Moscow city hall elections next month.
Hundreds of protesters have been arrested including chief Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose team runs a YouTube channel and operated a live feed from the protests.
Roskomnadzor has a fraught relationship with global internet platforms and social networks, but its attempts to control them have not been very successful. Although the Telegram messaging service is formally banned, it is still available in the country.
Navalny’s ally Lyubov Sobol, whose petition to run in the election was rejected, called Roskomnadzor’s demands „comical”.
YouTube notifications are alerts sent to users subscribed to a particular channel about new videos.
Russian senator Andrei Klimov on Monday said senators will be also calling in envoys of countries which „attempted to meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs,” news agency Tass reported.
Last week Moscow summoned a representative of the US embassy, saying a „demonstration alert” it sent with details of the protest amounted to „an attempt to intervene” in Russian affairs.
Moscow also criticised German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle for what it said were calls to take part in the rally.
When Frode Berg was a guard on the border near Kirkenes, Norway, in the 1990s and 2000s, relations with neighbouring Russia were so good that he would do joint patrols and go fishing with his colleagues from across the line. They drank vodka toasts after holding an annual cross-border ski race.
But in recent years this town of 3,500 on Norway’s Arctic coast has found itself caught up in a geopolitical chess game between Nato and Russia. Mr Berg became the first pawn to be captured when he was arrested in Moscow and sentenced in April to 14 years in prison for espionage.
Located about 130 miles from Murmansk and the headquarters of Russia’s northern fleet, sleepy Kirkenes has become the epicentre of a spy war with Russia—and Norwegians who have worked to develop cross-border trade and cultural exchanges are paying the price. One of them is even suing Norwegian intelligence over lost Russian business.
“If Norway has one real challenge regarding foreign policy, it’s here,” said Kirkenes mayor Rune Rafaelson, a long-time friend of Mr Berg’s who attended navy day celebrations in Murmansk last month. “It’s not membership of the EU or making peace in Middle East. Here is the only real challenge, because we have an interesting and complex neighbour called Russia.”
Kirkenes traditionally prided itself on having warmer relations with this neighbour, even during the Cold War, when this was Nato’s lone point of contact with the USSR.
After the Soviet collapse, Russian ships began unloading fish, crabs and oil products in Kirkenes, and many local men married Russian women. Since the two countries offered visa-free travel to residents of border areas in 2012, tens of thousands of Russians have been coming to shop in Kirkenes each year.
But Moscow’s military modernisation campaign, increasingly assertive foreign policy and annexation of Crimea changed the bigger context. When foreign minister Sergei Lavrov visited Kirkenes for the 70th anniversary of its liberation from the Nazis by the Red Army in 2014, he scolded Norway for joining Western sanctions against Russia.
Duelling military manoeuvres and signals intelligence operations have become matters of course. This spring, Russia repeatedly tested missiles off the Norwegian coast, and Norway and Finland also accused it of jamming GPS signals during Nato bomber exercises, putting civilian aircraft at risk.
Meanwhile, a Beluga discovered in Hammerfest wearing a “Petersburg” camera harness was dubbed the “Russian spy whale” over espionage suspicions.
In July, a secret nuclear-powered Russian submersible that can reportedly eavesdrop on underwater cables caught fire during an operation somewhere near Murmansk, killing 14 sailors.
For its part, Norway hosted the major Trident Juncture Nato war games in 2018 and has welcomed Western troops, including 1,000 Royal Marines who will train there each year. The United States paid to upgrade the Vardø radar station near Kirkenes and begin joint intelligence collection.
Many believe that Washington also began pressuring Oslo to deliver more information on Russia’s northern fleet. Kirkenes, where many residents have worked across the border, has long been a fruitful recruiting ground.
“If you have been active in Russia you are approached, especially if you are a leader because then you’re in position to meet people at a higher level,” said Rune Rautio, an employee of the Kirkenes business garden who used to travel to Russia every other week and has been occasionally questioned by Norwegian intelligence for years.
One of the recruits was Mr Berg, who began bringing envelopes of cash to an informant in Russia in 2015 despite having misgivings.
In autumn 2017, intelligence officers approached him to do one last errand. Journalist Trine Hamran, a friend in whom he had confided, counselled him not to do it, but the secret services played upon his patriotism, asking him if he didn’t want to be a “good Norwegian,” she said.
“He said it was not dangerous, just one last thing,” Ms Hamran told the Telegraph. “And then he goes to Moscow and we don’t hear from him again.”
The Russian informant was actually a double agent. FSB operatives arrested Mr Berg as he stepped out of the Metropole hotel with an envelope of 3,000 euros.
“After a couple of days we where informed that he was alive,” said his wife Anita, who believed he was going to Moscow to meet friends and buy Christmas gifts. “It was such a relief. But then we where shocked to learn that he had been arrested, suspected of espionage.”
She accused Norwegian military intelligence of recklessly manipulating her husband, who was so guileless he posted a Moscow snapshot to Facebook hours before his arrest, and “sabotaging years of positive collaboration” between Kirkenes and Russia. The agency declined to comment.
Mr Berg was not the first to fall victim to the spy services’ alleged blundering. In 2015, Atle Berge, the founder of a cross-border oil services company called Ølen Betong, refused to cooperate when approached by Norwegian intelligence looking for information on Russia.
FSB agents nonetheless grabbed him on the street in Murmansk shortly thereafter and interrogated him for more than six hours, asking him what his ties to the service were and threatening to inject him with an unknown drug.
He was then expelled from the country and lost a contract with a major Russian firm, he said.
One of his employees was also interrogated and expelled, only in his case Russian agents also brandished a gun.
Now Mr Berge is suing his government for £12 million, arguing that the repeated approaches by the same Norwegian intelligence agent convinced the FSB that he and his employee were spies.
“The Norwegians had behaved very unprofessionally and stupidly,” he said. “It seems they have been under pressure from someone and urgently had to find out something,”
The case also revealed how many eyes Russia has in Kirkenes. During his interrogation, Mr Berge’s employee was shown a photograph of the Norwegian agent at his door.
Meanwhile, Norway’s counter-intelligence service has a list of Russians who are followed whenever they come to Kirkenes, Mr Rautio said.
The town is so small that most people know the agent who Mr Berg said had liaised with him. When confronted at his home by the Telegraph, the man first lied that he was a neighbour, then declined to comment.
Yet locals are surprisingly blasé about the presence of spies here and largely blame Norwegian intelligence for undermining the warm ties that people like Mr Berg worked to promote.
Thomas Nilsen, editor of the Kirkenes-based Barents Observer news site, said many residents suffer a “Stockholm syndrome” of sympathy to their larger neighbour. His site, which publishes in Russian and English, has been blocked in Russia, and he was banned from the country as an alleged security threat in 2017.
“We have been living for so many years with positive development across the border, then things turn around, and people understand this is bad, but they take the position of Moscow, not Europe,” he said.
It’s also a question of the £140 million Russia contributes to the local economy each year.
“Fifty metres from here is the Russian general consulate. There’s too many people working there, but how should we develop the economy and municipality?” Mr Rafaelson said in his office. “I do my job I’m elected for, which is too promote a good neighbour policy.”
Norway and Russia are now discussing a prisoner exchange to bring home Mr Berg, who is suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, his lawyers said.
Yet while Russian diplomats have been expelled from Oslo on espionage suspicions, Norway has no similar prisoners. Instead, they’re hoping for a “triangle deal” involving an ally, perhaps the United States.
When PM Erna Solberg spoke with Vladimir Putin at an Arctic forum in April, days before the Norwegian was convicted, the president said Russia “will take a look at what we can do with this depending on the court’s decision”.
“I think most people in this case understand Russia is doing what any other country would do,” Mr Rautio said. “Frode confessed, so people are more waiting now for the Norwegian government to get to the table and make a deal with Russia to get him out so he won’t have spend the rest of life in labour camp.”
JERUSALEM (AP) — Muslim worshippers and Israeli police clashed Sunday at a major Jerusalem holy site during prayers marking the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Palestinian medics said at least 14 people were wounded, one seriously, in the skirmishes with police at the site, which Muslims refer to as the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and Jews refer to as the Temple Mount. Police said at least four officers were wounded. Witnesses said at least two people were arrested.
Clouds of tear gas swirled and stun grenades thundered across the stone-paved esplanade as masses of worshippers skirmished with police in the worst bout of fighting at the contested holy site in months.
The clashes came amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, just days after an Israeli soldier was killed south of Jerusalem. On Saturday, Israeli troops killed four Palestinian militants who attempted to cross the Gaza border fence.
Tens of thousands of Muslims had flocked to the site in Jerusalem’s Old City early Sunday for holiday prayers, police said. Jews are also observing on Sunday the Ninth of Av, a day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of the two Biblical temples which stood at the site in antiquity.
The site is the holiest for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, and has long been a flashpoint at the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Jordan, which serves as the custodian of the holy site, said in a statement that it had sent a formal complaint to Israel and condemned what it called Israel’s „irresponsible provocations.” Sufian al-Qudah, a spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, said Amman holds Israel completely responsible for the violence.
Large numbers of Palestinians had gathered at the gates of the compound early Sunday after rumors circulated that police would allow Jewish visitors to enter the site. The protesters chanted „Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and threw stones at police, who then charged into the compound while firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
Israeli police had initially barred entry to Jewish visitors, but reversed their decision after the clashes broke out and allowed them to enter. Several dozen entered the site under close police escort and Muslim worshippers began throwing chairs and other objects at the group. The Jewish visitors left the compound shortly thereafter.
Jerusalem District police commander Doron Yedid told Israeli media that the decision to allow Jewish visitors to enter the site was made „with the backing of the top political officials.” Police spokesmen could not be reached for comment.
The reversal came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious nationalist allies called for the site to be opened to Jewish visitors. Israelis are headed to unprecedented repeat elections next month after Netanyahu failed to form a government following April’s elections.
Jews are barred from praying at the compound under a longstanding arrangement between Israel and Muslim authorities. Jewish tradition also maintains that Jews should avoid entering the holy site.
But in recent years Israeli religious nationalists have stepped up visits to the site to challenge the arrangement. Jewish extremists have called for destroying the mosque and rebuilding the Biblical temple.
The Palestinians view such visits as provocations, and have long feared that Israel intends to take over the site or partition it. The Israeli government has repeatedly said it has no intention of changing the status quo.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior leader in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Israel was „fueling religious tensions in Jerusalem,” adding that Israeli officials are „fully responsible for its grave consequences.”
The compound is in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 war along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians seek as part of a future state. Israel views all of Jerusalem as its unified capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Israeli-Palestinian tensions have spiked following President Donald Trump’s decision in 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been moribund for at least a decade, and the Palestinians have cut ties with the Trump administration over what they see as its unfair bias toward Israel.
In a separate incident on Sunday, Israeli troops killed a Palestinian gunman after he opened fire on them from across the perimeter fence around the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military said an „armed terrorist” approached the frontier early Sunday and opened fire toward troops on the other side, who responded by shooting at the attacker. The army said a tank also targeted a nearby military post operated by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza identified the deceased as 26-year-old Marwan Nasser. It was not clear if he was a member of an armed group, and no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
On Saturday, Israeli troops killed four Palestinian militants who the army said had tried to carry out a cross-border attack. Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, said the attack was an „individual act” carried out by youths frustrated at the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on Gaza and was not planned by the group.
Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed.