White House indicates it could find funds to train and arm 1 million teachers

President expands on idea to arm some teachers in schools and says gun-adept teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly

The White House indicated on Thursday that the federal government could come up with the money to fund as many as a million teachers being trained and armed with guns across America in a controversial attempt to keep schools safe from more mass shootings.

This followed repeated assertions from Donald Trump during earlier meetings at the White House, as well as in presidential tweets, that his response to the school massacre in Florida last week is to arm teachers and sports coaches.

It would be a great deterrent to killers, he said.

At the White House press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Raj Shah, deputy press secretary, was asked if it was practical to expect teachers to carry concealed handguns to protect their students from shooters.

When you have a horrific situation, what you think and do not think is practical can change, Shah said.

Teachers unions have expressed shock and skepticism that any such plan could be feasible or effective.

But at a meeting at the White House with state and local officials early Thursday afternoon, Trump talked of paying bonuses to some teachers, providing highly adept people, people who understand weaponry, guns … [with] a concealed permit.

He suggested paying bonuses to armed, trained teachers, suggesting that 10, 20, 40% of teachers could be qualified to do so, especially retired military personnel.

I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected, he said.

The White House was later challenged that 40% of Americas teachers being given a bonus of, for example, $1,000, would mean $1bn being distributed to a million of them.

Do you really think thats too much to pay for school safety? Shah responded. Shah said Trump would soon be talking to members of Congress about legislative and budgetary proposals.

Trump had earlier appeared to speak outagainst the kind of active shooter drills that are becoming the norm in many schools.

Active shooter drills is a very negative thing … Ill be honest with you. If Im a child, Im 10 years old and they say … Were going to have an active shooter drill, I say Whats that? Well, People may come in and shoot you … I think thats a very negative thing to be talking about, to be honest with you. I dont like it. Id much rather have a hardened school,he said.

But Shah explained that it was the frightening name the president disliked, not the drills themselves, and was in favor of calling them a safety drill.

He confirmed that Trump is considering supporting a rise in the age limit for purchasing an assault rifle to 21, but does not support banning assault weapons for US civilians outright. Students who survived the shooting at their high school in Parkland last week quickly began a fierce campaign calling for that measure.

In contrast to the combative tone coming from the administration, the Parkland mayor, Christine Hunschofsky, addressed safety and mental health in her meeting with Trump on Thursday, and then alluded to the assault rifle used by shooter Nikolas Cruz in last Wednesdays massacre, saying: In the end, how did somebody like this person get access to that kind of firearm?

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Angry father of Florida victim asks Trump: ‘How many children have to get shot?’ video

At an emotional session at the White House on Wednesday, the US president held a listening session with survivors of last weeks Florida school shooting and others affected by gun violence, telling them that armed teachers and school coaches could very well end the attack very quickly.

On Thursday, Trump tweeted: 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this.

Trump said having so-called gun-free zones around schools created a situation for school shooters like going in for the ice cream.

At Wednesdays meeting, Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son, Dylan, died at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, spoke out against arming teachers. I would rather arm them with the knowledge of how to prevent these acts from happening in the first place,she said.

Randi Weingarten, president of theAmerican Federation of Teachers union said in a statement:Anyone who wants guns in schools has no understanding of what goes on inside them or worse, doesnt care.

Barack Obama weighed in on Thursday, tweeting: Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe.

interactive

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/22/trump-proposal-teachers-guns-schools

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/11/how-build-healthy-city-copenhagen-reveals-its-secrets-happiness

Cape Town faces Day Zero: what happens when the city turns off the taps?

In 10 weeks engineers will turn off water for a million homes as this South African city reacts to a one-in-384-year drought. The rich are digging boreholes, more are panic-buying bottled water, and the army is on standby

The head of Cape Towns disaster operations centre is drawing up a plan he hopes he never has to implement as this South African city on the frontline of climate change prepares to be the first in the world to turn off the water taps.

Weve identified four risks: water shortages, sanitation failures, disease outbreaks and anarchy due to competition for scarce resources, says Greg Pillay. We had to go back to the drawing board. We were prepared for disruption of supply, but not a no-water scenario. In my 40 years in emergency services, this is the biggest crisis.

The plan being drawn up with the emergency services, the military, epidemiologists and other health experts is geared towards Day Zero, the apocalyptically named point when water in the six-dam reservoir system falls to 13.5% of capacity.

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Water crisis in Cape Town as ‘day zero’ approaches video report

At this critical level currently forecast for 16 April piped supply will be deemed to have failed and the city will dispatch teams of engineers to close the valves to about a million homes 75% of the city.

Its going to be terrifying for many people when they turn on the tap and nothing comes out, says Christine Colvin, freshwater manager for WWF and a member of the mayors advisory board.

In place of piped water, the city will establish 200 water collection points, scattered around the city to ensure the legally guaranteed minimum of 25 litres per person per day within 200 metres of every citizens home.

This will be a major burden on municipal coffers. The estimated cost of installing and running the new system for three months is 200m rand (12m). Instead of selling water, it will be given away for free, which will mean R1.4bn in lost revenue.

Cape Town reservoir satellite

The total city budget is R40bn, so this wont destroy us, but it will cause severe discomfort, says the deputy mayor, Ian Neilson, who adds that he has not had a bath at home for a year. A bigger concern is to ensure the economy doesnt collapse. We need to keep business and jobs going Clearly, there could be a severe impact. It depends on how long it continues.

Neilson stresses that Day Zero can be avoided. A lowering of pipe pressure and a public information campaign to conserve water have cut the citys daily water consumption from 1,200 million litres to 540 million litres. If this can be pushed down another 25%, the taps should stay open to the start of the rainy season in May.

But this is no guarantee. Three consecutive years of drought have made a mockery of normal seasonal patterns.

Were in a critical transition period where the past is no longer an accurate guide to the future, says Colvin.

She illustrates her point with two maps. One based on historical data shows the water risk of Cape Town is green, meaning it is among the lowest in South Africa. The other based on future climate projections is almost the complete opposite, with the city located in a middle of an alarming red heat zone.

What we didnt know was when that future would arrive, says Colvin. Businesses and investors have heard the long-term projections but they havent heard the starting gun go off. If this drought can pull the trigger then that could be a good thing. If this is seen as a pressure test for the new normal, it will help us to adapt.

The government has struggled to keep pace. Plans to make the city more resilient to climate change by diversifying the water supply with boreholes and desalination plants were not due to kick in until after 2020. But the climate has moved faster, bringing a drought so severe it would usually be expected only once every 384 years.

Dam today, gone tomorrow

Theewaterskloof
Theewaterskloof Dam, the main water source for the city of Cape Town, is at a fraction of its water capacity. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images

What was the biggest reservoir in the system Theewaterskloof Dam has mostly evaporated or been sucked dry.

One side of the lake is now a desert. Devoid of life, this is a landscape of sand dunes, cracked earth and dead trees. It takes more than 30 minutes walk under a burning sun to reach the last pool of water, which is barely wide enough to skim a stone across. In what looks like a dark failure of evolution, it is ringed by the carcasses of stranded fish.

On the other side, by the dam wall, the water is nearly 10 metres deep, but the shoreline is receding at the rate of the 1.2m a week, leaving the bed exposed to the sun. The afternoon winds once attracted sail boats; now they whip up white dust storms that envelop much of the valley.

The change is visible by the week, said Paul Furstenburg, restaurant manager at Theewater sports club. When I arrived here four years ago, it was like a sea, he says, pointing to photographs on the walls of high waves crashing up to the car park during a storm and dozens of boats sailing in regattas. Now, the shoreline is more than 100m back and one of the three small vessels left in the water is stranded on a sandbank. The club which would normally be thronged with sailors, water-skiers, swimmers, campers and fishermen is almost empty. The revenue has dried up too, leaving the 20 staff worried about their futures. This has gone from a holiday resort to nothing, says Errol Nichols, the safety officer. It has become a desolate place.

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A dead fish on the dry bed of Theewaterskloof dam. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

In Cape Town itself, the population is jittery. Were scared, says Amirah Armien as she queues to fill a couple of bottles at the spring beside Newlands Brewery. Water is life. What are we going to do without water?

After a run on bottled water last month, supermarkets introduced limits for each customer. Hardware shops have sold out of water tanks and pool covers. Borehole drillers are now so overwhelmed with requests that there is a year-long wait. Even dehumidifiers which are being marketed as water from air devices are out of stock.

People are freaking out, said David Gwynne-Evans, a botanist. You go to the shops and see people buying 20 bottles of water. Its a ridiculous increase of disposable plastic.

He believes Cape Towns vineyards bear a large share of blame because they are water-intensive yet they have continued to expand during the drought. Wine is a luxury. We shouldnt be using water for that, yet even now new vineyards are opening.

Were scared water is life

Residents
Residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring collection point last month. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

The crisis has exacerbated prejudice and division. One homophobic pastor blames the drought on gays and lesbians. There has also been sharp criticism of the government, and feuds between the national and provincial authorities over the handling of the crisis.

Yet among the broader populace efforts to avert Day Zero have been successfully ramped up.

Many hotels have removed the plugs from rooms so guests must have a shower rather than a bath. Blue droplet-shaped signs above office toilet sinks remind users Conserve H2O. Use sparingly. There are more signs in the cubicles, which are divided into No 1 and No 2 toilets to ensure maximum efficiency. Some shopping malls have turned off the taps and installed hand-sanitiser dispensers.

At an individual level, the learning curve has been steep. Civic-minded Capetonians have become accustomed to showering or just ladling hot water in a baby bath that collects the run-off so that it can be used in first the washing machine and then the toilet.

A major topic of conversation for Capetonians is how many litres they use and how long they can go without washing their hair or flushing.

Ive never talked about toilets so much, says Fiona Kinsey, a young office worker. Last year, we were discussing whether it was OK to wee in a public toilet and not flush. Now we are way beyond that.

Shame is used to maintain discipline. An online water consumption map allows neighbours to check on each others usage. Some sports clubs have installed buzzers on their showers that embarrass people who linger under the water for more than two minutes.

There is a positive aspect to this sudden shock. Many people are happy to see a greater awareness of conservation and consumption inequality. Social activists say the rich are experiencing what life has always been like in poor townships, where many residents are used to lining up at standpipes.

For
For residents of informal Cape Town settlements such as Masiphumelele, collecting drinking and washing water from a communal tap has been a daily routine for many years. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Using washing water to flush the toilet is what people in townships do all the time, says Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa. So is washing with buckets and scuttles. I had my first shower when I was in my 20s.

Dee Watson, a teacher, describes the situation as a euphoric stage in which most people are looking out for others in a positive way.

Whats amazing is to mix and talk in the queue with every strata of society. We all need water so it brings people together, says Watson. For now at least, most people are laughing and joking. But its scary that some people are being greedy and panic-buying.

There have been acts of benevolence. At the start of the drought, Newlands spring where water flows freely from underground was a site of mud, crowds and chaos as people jostled to get at the taps and informal labourers competed to carry water for tips.

People were getting hurt, remembers Riyaz Rawoot, a local resident who says he spent R25,000 from his own pocket to organise the spring with the construction of multiple access points and provision of uniforms for the water carriers.

Im not making any money. I just want to be of service. Until now it has been fun, but it is becoming more stressful as more people come, he says. Im worried about Day Zero. People are scared and they dont trust the government, so they might panic and try to get water any way they can.

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A social leveller? Cape Town residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Neighbours are already unhappy that their previously quiet street is now a hive of activity, with people carrying water containers in squeaky shopping trolleys back and forth from the spring to cars parked along the main road. Its a nightmare, says one of the residents of the Cresswell House senior citizens community. They come all through the night. Its so noisy we cant sleep.

It is also far from clear that drought is a social leveller. Wealthy homeowners have drilled boreholes and invested in water tanks so they have an independent supply. Joggers who go out at 5am say they can hear the phut phut of sprinklers being used to water lawns before most people are awake. Some residents have called environmental groups to complain their neighbours are filling swimming pools.

At the other end of the income spectrum, there are worries. The government has promised that standpipes will continue to flow in informal settlements after Day Zero, but there is scepticism in the Kanini neighbourhood of the Langa township. The one pipe that serves 20 families tailed off here last Thursday without explanation. Some locals feel they are being punished because of a public outcry about the waste at a street car-washing centre at the neighbouring settlement of Joe Slovo.

Im worried everyone is worried. It will be a crisis for us, says Nowest Nmoni, who makes a living by brewing Umqombothi beer in oil drums. If we lose water, we lose our income.

Q&A

Living in Cape Town? Share your experiences

If you live in Cape Town we’d like to find out how the water shortage is affecting your daily life.Tell us what you think about the measures put in place and what steps you’re taking to save water using our encrypted form here.

Your stories will help our journalists build a complete picture of the situation and we’ll use some of them in our reporting.

Maintaining social programmes will also be a challenge. City officials say hospitals and prisons will run as normal because they have access to aquifers, but questions remain about 819 schools, half of which do not have boreholes. There would be sanitation risks if their toilets were unable to flush, but the authorities insist they will remain open.

The objective is no school closures. We dont want kids on the street compounding issues, says deputy mayor Neilson.

When the Brazilian city of So Paulo faced drought catastrophe in 2015 the army drew up secret plans to take control of reservoirs and water supplies fearing violent unrest, but officials in Cape Town play down such security fears. Though thousands of South African Defence Force and police personnel will be deployed after Day Zero to guard water distribution centres, reservoirs and other strategic areas, they say, the number of officers at each site will be determined by risk assessments of each locations past history of protest or gang activity.

This isnt going to be martial law. It will be low profile, says JP Smith, an alderman responsible for safety and security. There might be some trouble about people cutting queues, but I dont foresee a big increase in crime. The bigger problem will be congestion.

For him, it is a moot point. He believes Day Zero will be avoided. The premier of Western Cape, Helen Zille, however, believes there is a 60% chance that it will occur.

While the debate rages about what will happen, who is to blame and whether the city will be drawn together or pulled apart, Pillay and his colleagues at the disaster risk management office are obliged to prepare for the worst something other cities may soon be obliged to do.

We dont want to create panic. We can avert Day Zero, he says. We had hoped that rainfall would replenish the dams, but it hasnt happened. What this signalled to me what that climate change is reality. If you doubted it before, you cant now.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/03/day-zero-cape-town-turns-off-taps

Tributes paid to South African musician and activist Hugh Masekela

Father of South African jazz, who had career spanning more than five decades, dies aged 78

Tributes paid to South African musician and activist Hugh Masekela

Father of South African jazz, who had career spanning more than five decades, dies aged 78

South Africans have paid tribute to Hugh Masekela, the legendary jazz musician and activist, who died on Tuesday aged 78.

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, said the nation would mourn a man who kept the torch of freedom alive. The arts and culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa, described Masekela as one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz. A baobab tree has fallen, Mthethwa wrote on Twitter.

A statement from the trumpeters family said Masekela passed peacefully in Johannesburg, where he lived and worked for much of his life, on Tuesday morning.

A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with a profound loss. Hughs global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memories of millions across six continents, the statement read.

Relatives described Masekelas ebullient and joyous life.

Masekela had been suffering from prostate cancer for almost a decade. He last performed in 2010 in Johannesburg when he gave two concerts that were seen as an epitaph to his long career.

South African social media was flooded with tributes to brother Hugh, whose career and work was closely intertwined with the troubled politics of his homeland.

The singer Johnny Clegg described Masekela as immensely bright and articulate an outstanding musical pioneer and a robust debater, always holding to his South African roots.

Masekela was born in Witbank, a mining town in eastern South Africa, and was given his first trumpet by the anti-apartheid activist archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who formed a pioneering jazz band in Soweto in the 1950s that became a launchpad for many of South Africas most famous jazz musicians.

Masekela went on to study in the UK and the US, where he had significant success.

Hugh
Hugh Masekela with ex-wife Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon in 1987. Photograph: Phil Dent/Redferns

As well as forming close friendships with jazz legends such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, Masekela performed alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s.

He returned to Africa where he played with icons such as Nigerias Fela Kuti, and in 1974 he helped organise a three-day festival before the Rumble in the Jungle boxing clash in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

In 1976, the man who became known as the father of South African jazz composed Soweto Blues in response to the uprising in the vast township. He toured with Paul Simon in the 1980s while continuing his political engagement, writing Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela) in 1987. The song became an anthem of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Timeline

Hugh Masekela timeline

Hugh Masekela is born in KwaGuqa Township, South Africa

Masekela is born near Johannesburg to a health inspector father and social worker mother. He sings and plays the piano as a child. At 14, he sees the Kirk Douglas film Young Man With A Horn and is inspired to take up the trumpet.

King Kong

At school, Masekela played in South Africas first youth orchestra,Huddleston Jazz Band. In 1959, he recorded the first album by a South African jazz band alongside Abdullah Ibrahim and Jonas Gwangwa. In the same year, he played in the orchestra of hit musical King Kong.

Masekela leaves South Africa

The ANC are banned, and after supporting the organisation for many years, Masekela leaves South Africa for London. He then moves to New York, where he meets Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.

Grazing in the Grass

By the late 60s, Masekela was living in California. In 1967, he played at Monterey festival alongside Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. In 1968, his single Grazing in the Grass reached no 1 in the US.

Zaire 74

Masekela returns to Africa in the early 70s, spending time with musicians including Fela Kuti. He organises the Zaire 74 concerts with US record producer Stewart Levine to coincide with the Muhammad Ali/George Foreman Rumble in the Jungle boxing title fight. In 1980, he moves to Botswana.

Graceland tour

Masekela joins Paul Simon for hisGracelandtour. Simons album was partly recorded in South Africa, and the tour incites protests in London due to the cultural boycott against the country.

Return to South Africa

Masekela returns to South Africa following the end of apartheid and the release from jail ofNelson Mandela. In 1996, he plays for the Queen and Mandela by then elected the countrys first black president during the latters state visit to Britain.

World Cup

Masekela performs at the opening concert of the world cup in South Africa. In 2012, he rejoins Paul Simon for a tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of Graceland.

James Hall, a writer and broadcaster who spent time with Masekela in the 1990s, said he could have prickly personality at times due to the tension and frustration of being away from his own country for so long.

Masekela was briefly married to Miriam Makeba in the 1960s and remained on good terms with the South African singer after their divorce. They had a wonderful friendship and were very, very close, said Hall, who co-wrote Makebas autobiography.

Masekela refused to take citizenship anywhere outside South Africa despite the open arms of many countries, said his son, Selema Mabena Masekela, on Tuesday.

My fathers life was the definition of activism and resistance. His belief [was] that the pure evil of a systematic racist oppression could and would be crushed. Instead he would continue to fight.

After more than 30 years in exile, Masekela returned to South Africa in the early 90s after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the end of apartheid.

In 2010 he performed at the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in Johannesburg.

Masekela had many fans overseas. Hugh Masekela was a titan of jazz and of the anti-apartheid struggle. His courage, words and music inspired me and strengthened the resolve of those fighting for justice in South Africa, said Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter.

Hugh
Hugh Masekela photographed for the Guardian in 2011. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jan/23/hugh-masekela-south-african-jazz-trumpeter-dies-aged-78

Trump mounts extraordinary defence of his ‘mental stability’

President boasts of being a very stable genius and calls Michael Wolff a fraud but author says his explosive book will finally end this presidency

In an extraordinary public defence of his own mental stability, Donald Trump issued a volley of tweets that seemed guaranteed to add fuel to a raging political fire.

Suggestions in a new tell-all book that he was mentally unfit to be president were out of the old Ronald Reagan playbook, Trump wrote on Saturday.

Actually, the president added, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.

He also said he would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!

The book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, by Michael Wolff, burst into the public consciousness on Wednesday, when the Guardian reported excerpts nearly a week ahead of publication. Trump threatened to sue but succeeded only in prompting the publisher Henry Holt to bring the book forward.

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Fire and Fury: Key explosive quotes from the new Trump book – video

Wolff presents a picture of a doomed administration lurching from crisis to crisis, steered by a childlike figure who responds to overstimulation with intense, reflexive outbursts.

The president may not be able to restrain himself from commenting but I can restrain myself from commenting on his comments, Wolff told the Guardian on Saturday.

At a lunchtime press conference at Camp David, the president was asked why he tweeted. In a characteristically freewheeling answer, he said: Only because I went to the best colleges or college. I went to I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out and made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top business people.

Went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success as you probably have heard. Ran for president one time and won.

In fact, in 1999 Trump mounted a first run for the White House when he sought the nomination of the Reform party.

The president continued, referring to Wolff: And then I hear this guy that does not know me doesnt know me at all by the way did not interview me for three he said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House it didnt exist, OK? Its in his imagination.

Trump called Wolff a fraud and his book a work of fiction and complained about US libel laws, which he has threatened to change.

The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, told a White House pool reporter the president tweeted to get around the filter of the media. Trump had not at all seemed angry on Friday night or Saturday, Kelly said, adding that the president had watched the Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman about the hoaxer and politician PT Barnum with lawmakers and others.

Before Trumps tweets, Wolff spoke to the BBC. He said: I think one of the interesting effects of the book so far is a very clear emperor has no clothes effect.

Suddenly everywhere people are going: Oh my God, its true, he has no clothes. Thats the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end this presidency.

The 25th amendment of the US constitution provides for the removal of a president if a majority of the cabinet and the vice-president agree. In Wolffs book, the then White House strategist Steve Bannon refers to Vice-President Mike Pence as our fallback guy. Pence stood to Trumps right at Camp David, his gaze rarely leaving the president.

Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine, briefed a dozen members of Congress last month on Trumps behaviour. At the end of a week that began with Trump taunting North Korea over the size of his nuclear button, Lee told the Guardian the danger has become imminent.

Fifty-seven House Democrats have signed on to a bill to establish an oversight commission to determine if a president is mentally and physically fit.

We need this legislation quite apart from the Trump administration, Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and the author of the bill, told the Guardian.

The 25th amendment was framed during the nuclear age the nuclear arsenal being a vast destructive power that is vested, as the president reminded us this week, in one person who views himself as having the power to press a button. We certainly dont want someone in that position who lacks the power of empathy.

The rising tide of questions around the presidents mental health reflects a lot of anxiety unleashed by the presidents nuclear taunts lodged at North Korea.

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A queue for Fire and Fury at Kramerbooks, in Washington. Photograph: Guardian

The White House has forcefully criticised Wolff, who has said he stands by his work, which included more than 200 interviews and extensive access to the West Wing and key administration figures.

At Camp David, Trump referred to Bannon derisively as Sloppy Steve. The former Trump campaign chief has avoided extensive comment, though in the aftermath of the Guardian story he called Trump a great man.

Trumps reference to the Ronald Reagan playbook was a curious one. Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimers, a degenerative brain disease, in 1994, five years after leaving office.

The extent to which he suffered during his time in the White House remains a matter of contention. Reagan, like Trump in his 70s when in office, long faced questions over his mental state. Opponents pointed to his habit of forgetting names and making contradictory statements.

In the Hollywood Reporter this week, Wolff wrote of Trump: Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes hed repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions he just couldnt stop saying something.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has said Trump will undergo his annual physical examination on Friday 12 January. The results are due to be made public.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/06/donald-trump-tweets-mental-stability-fire-and-fury-michael-wolff

Why the UN is investigating extreme poverty in America, the world’s richest nation

At the heart of Philip Alstons special mission will be one question: can Americans enjoy fundamental human rights if theyre unable to meet basic living standards?

The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the worlds richest nation and its president to account for the hardships endured by Americas most vulnerable citizens.

The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.

With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.

The US is no stranger to Alstons withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality.

United
United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston. Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

Now Alston has set off on his sixth, and arguably most sensitive, visit as UN monitor on extreme poverty since he took up the position in June 2014. At the heart of his fact-finding tour will be a question that is causing increasing anxiety at a troubled time: is it possible, in one of the worlds leading democracies, to enjoy fundamental human rights such as political participation or voting rights if you are unable to meet basic living standards, let alone engage, as Thomas Jefferson put it, in the pursuit of happiness?

Despite great wealth in the US, there also exists great poverty and inequality, Alston said in remarks released before the start of the visit. The rapporteur said he intended to focus on the detrimental effects of poverty on the civil and political rights of Americans, given the United States consistent emphasis on the importance it attaches to these rights in its foreign policy, and given that it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Poverty experts are watching the UN tour closely in the hope that it might draw public attention to a largely neglected but critical aspect of US society.

David Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford, said the visit had the potential to hold a mirror up to the country at a moment when globalization combined with a host of domestic policies have generated a vast gulf between rich and poor.

The US has an extraordinary ability to naturalize and accept the extreme poverty that exists even in the context of such extreme wealth, he said.

Grusky added that the US reaction to Alstons visit could go either way. It has the potential to open our eyes to what an outlier the US has become compared with the rest of the world, or it could precipitate an adverse reaction towards an outsider who has no legitimacy telling us what to do about internal US affairs.

Alstons findings will be announced in preliminary form in Washington on 15 December, and then presented as a full report to the UN human rights council in Geneva next June. An especially unpredictable element of the fallout will be how Trump himself receives the final report, given the presidents habit of lashing out at anyone perceived to criticize him or his administration.

Trump has also shown open disdain towards the world body. In the course of the 2016 presidential campaign he griped that we get nothing out of the United Nations other than good real-estate prices.

On the other hand, observers have been surprised that the White House has honored the invitation to host Alston after the initial offer was extended by Barack Obama. US diplomats on more than one occasion since Trumps inauguration have said they welcomed the UN party.

Ruby
Ruby Dee Rudolph in her home in Lowndes County. A recent study suggests that nearly one one in three people in Lowndes County have hookworm, a parasite normally found in poor, developing countries. Photograph: Bob Miller for The Guardian

Alston himself is reserving his comments until the end of the tour. But his published work suggests that he is likely to be a formidable critic of the new president. In a lecture he gave last year on the challenges posed by Trump and other modern populist leaders, he warned that their agenda was avowedly nationalistic, xenophobic, misogynistic, and explicitly antagonistic to all or much of the human rights agenda.

Alston concluded the speech by saying: These are extraordinarily dangerous times, unprecedentedly so in my lifetime. The response is really up to us.

The UN poverty tour falls at a singularly tense moment for the US. In its 2016 state of the nation review, the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality placed the US rank at the bottom of the league table of 10 well-off countries, in terms of the extent of its income and wealth inequality.

It also found that the US hit rock bottom in terms of the safety net it offers struggling families, and is one of the worst offenders in terms of the ability of low-income families to lift themselves out of poverty a stark contrast to the much-vaunted myth of the American dream.

To some extent, Trumps focus on making America great again a political jingo that in itself contains an element of criticism of the state of the nation chimes with the UNs concern about extreme poverty. His call for greater prosperity for white working Americans in declining manufacturing areas that proved so vital to his election victory will be echoed in Alstons visit to the depressed coal-producing state of West Virginia, which backed Trump in 2016 by a resounding 69%.

In many other ways, though, the Trump administration in its first year has taken a radically hostile approach towards communities in need. He has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to abolish Obamacare in a move that would deprive millions of low-income families of healthcare insurance, was widely criticized for his lackluster response to the hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico that has left thousands homeless and without power, and is currently pushing a tax reform that would benefit one group above all others: the super rich.

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A man who lost his home during Hurricane Maria in September sits on a cot at a school turned shelter in Canovanas. Photograph: Alvin Baez/Reuters

The US poses an especially challenging subject for the UN special rapporteur because unlike all other industrialized nations, it fails to recognize fundamental social and economic rights such as the right to healthcare, a roof over your head or food to keep hunger at bay. The federal government has consistently refused to sign up to the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights arguing that these matters are best left to individual states.

Such an emphasis on states rights has spawned a patchwork of provision for low-income families across the country. Republican-controlled states in the Deep South provide relatively little help to those struggling from unemployment and lack of ready cash, while more assistance is likely to be forthcoming in bigger coastal cities.

By contrast, raging house prices and gentrification is fueling a homelessness crisis in liberal cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco the first stop next week of the UN tour.

Martha Davis, a law professor specializing in US human rights at Northeastern University, said that such vast regional variations present the UN monitor with a huge opportunity. Unlike other international officials, he has the ability to move freely at both federal and state levels and be equally critical of both.

Theres a lot that Philip Alston can say about basic inequality that goes to the heart of the rights that he is reviewing, Davis said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/01/un-extreme-poverty-america-special-rapporteur

Macron awards US scientists grants to move to France in defiance of Trump

Frances president awards millions of euros to 18 American scientists to relocate in effort to counter Donald Trump on the climate change front

Eighteen climate scientists from the US and elsewhere have hit the jackpot as Frances president, Emmanuel Macron, awarded them millions of euros in grants to relocate to France for the rest of Donald Trumps presidential term.

The Make Our Planet Great Again grants a nod to Trumps Make America Great Again campaign slogan are part of Macrons efforts to counter Trump on the climate change front. Macron announced a contest for the projects in June, hours after Trump declared he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

More than 5,000 people from about 100 countries expressed interest in the grants. Most of the applicants and 13 of the 18 winners were US-based researchers.

Macrons appeal gave me such a psychological boost, to have that kind of support, to have the head of state saying I value what you do, said winner Camille Parmesan, of the University of Texas at Austin. She will be working at an experimental ecology station in the Pyrenees on how human-made climate change is affecting wildlife.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Parmesan described funding challenges for climate science in the US and a feeling that you are having to hide what you do.

Trump has expressed skepticism about global warming and said the Paris accord would hurt US business by requiring a reduction in climate-damaging emissions.

We will be there to replace US financing of climate research, Macron told the winners in Paris on Monday.

If we want to prepare for the changes of tomorrow, we need science, he said, promising to put in place a global climate change monitoring system among other climate innovations.

The research of the winning recipients focuses on pollution, hurricanes and clouds. A new round of the competition will be launched next year, alongside Germany. About 50 projects will be chosen overall, and funded with 60m ($70m) from the state and French research institutes.

Initially aimed at American researchers, the research grants were expanded to other non-French climate scientists, according to organizers. Candidates need to be known for working on climate issues, have completed a thesis and propose a project that would take between three to five years.

The time frame would cover Trumps current presidential term.

Some French researchers have complained that Macron is showering money on foreign scientists at a time when they have been pleading for more support for domestic higher education.

Macron unveiled the first winners at a startup incubator in Paris called Station F, where Microsoft and smaller tech companies announced projects to finance activities aimed at reducing emissions.

Mondays event is a prelude to a bigger climate summit Tuesday aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.

More than 50 world leaders are expected in Paris for the One Planet Summit, co-hosted by the UN and the World Bank. Trump was not invited.

Other attendees include Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took a spin on a Parisian electric bike Monday to call attention to health problems caused by pollution.

The Hollywood star and former California governor argued that Trumps rejection of the Paris climate accord doesnt matter, because companies, scientists and other governments can pick up the slack to reduce global emissions.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/dec/11/macron-awards-grants-to-us-scientists-to-move-to-france-in-defiance-of-trump

Ratko Mladi convicted of war crimes and genocide at UN tribunal

Former Bosnian Serb army commander known as the butcher of Bosnia sentenced to life imprisonment more than 20 years after Srebrenica massacre

The former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladi, nicknamed the butcher of Bosnia, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladic was found guilty at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of 10 offences involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations.

As he entered the courtroom, Mladi gave a broad smile and thumbs up to the cameras a gesture that infuriated relatives of the victims. His defiance shifted into detachment as the judgment began: Mladi played with his fingers and nodded occasionally, looking initially relaxed.

The verdict was disrupted for more than half an hour when he asked the judges for a bathroom break. After he returned, defence lawyers requested that proceedings be halted or shortened because of his high blood pressure. The judges denied the request. Mladi then stood up shouting this is all lies and Ill fuck your mother. He was forcibly removed from the courtroom. The verdicts were read in his absence.

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Mladi removed from court after angry outburst video

Mladi, 74, was chief of staff of Bosnian Serb forces from 1992 until 1996, during the ferocious civil wars and ethnic cleansing that followed the break-up of the Yugoslav state.

The one-time fugitive from international justice faced 11 charges, two of genocide, five of crimes against humanity and four of violations of the laws or customs of war. He was cleared of one count of genocide, but found guilty of all other charges. The separate counts related to ethnic cleansing operations in Bosnia, sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo, the massacre of Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica and taking UN personnel hostage in an attempt to deter Nato airstrikes.

The trial in The Hague, which took 530 days across more than four years, is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg trials, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Almost 600 people gave evidence for the prosecution and defence, including survivors of the conflict.

Delivering the verdicts, judge Alphons Orie said Mladis crimes rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination.

Orie dismissed mitigation pleas by the defence that Mladi was of good character, had diminished mental capacity and was in poor physical health.

Relatives of victims flew into the Netherlands to attend the hearing, determined to see Mladi receive justice decades after the end of the war in which more than 100,000 people were killed.

Among those present was Fikret Ali, the Bosnian who was photographed as an emaciated prisoner behind the wire of a prison camp in 1992. Justice has won and the war criminal has been convicted, he said after the verdict. Others were reduced to tears by the judges description of past atrocities.

Fikret
Fikret Ali holds a copy of Time magazine that featured his emaciated image on its cover in 1992. Photograph: Phil Nijhuis/AP

Mladi was one of the worlds most wanted fugitives before his arrest in 2011 in northern Serbia. He was transferred to the ICTY in the Netherlands, where he refused to enter a plea. A not guilty plea was eventually entered on his behalf. Through much of the trial in The Hague, he was a disruptive presence in court, heckling judges and on one occasion making a cut-throat gesture towards the mother of one of the 8,000 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Mladi was acquitted of only one charge, that of genocide in Bosnian municipalities outside Srebrenica. The chamber ruled that although he was part of a joint criminal enterprise to carry out mass killings there, which represented crimes against humanity, they did not rise to the level of genocide because the victims did not represent a substantial proportion of the Bosnian Muslim population of those municipalities.

Timeline

Ratko Mladi: the long road to justice

The breakup of the former Yugoslavia

The breakup of the former Yugoslavia formally begins when Slovenia and Croatia declare independence. The Serb-led Yugoslav army withdraws from Slovenia after a 10-day conflict, but the war in Croatia that followed would last until 1995.

War breaks out in Bosnia

Bosnian Serbs swiftly take control of more than two-thirds of Bosnia and launch the siege of Sarajevo, headed by Ratko Mladi, who becomes the Bosnian Serb army commander a month later. The siege lasts 1,460 days, during which more than 11,500 people die.

Srebrenica massacre

Mladi’s troops capture Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were killed, most by summary execution. Nato bombs Bosnian Serb positions following reports of the slaughter.

The international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia indicts Mladi and Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadi on charges including genocide.

Dayton agreement signed

The Dayton agreement is signed, ending the war and creating two mini-states in Bosnia: a Bosnian-Serb one and a Muslim-Croat one.

Mladi goes into hiding

Nato peacekeepers and western intelligence agencies operating in Bosnia step up attempts to track down war crimes suspects, but Mladi is sheltered by loyalists inSerbia. He is seen attending football games and eating at Belgrade restaurants.

Mladi arrested

Following intense pressure from the international community on Serbia, Mladi is arrested in Serbia.

He appears in court at the UN tribunal for the first time in June but refuses to enter pleas to the charges against him. At a second hearing in July, judges enter not guilty pleas on his behalf.

Trial hears closing statements

The trial in The Hague is arguably the most significant war crimes case in Europe since the Nuremberg tribunal, in part because of the scale of the atrocities involved. Over 530 days, the UN tribunal hears from 591 witnesses and examines nearly 10,000 exhibits concerning 106 separate crimes.

During closing statements, prosecutors urge judges to convict Mladi on all counts and sentence him to life in prison. Defence attorneys call for acquittal.

Mladi convicted

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, the now 74-year-old Mladi is sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Delivering the verdicts, the judge said Mladis crimes rank among the most heinous known to humankind and include genocide and extermination.

The Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadi, was also found not guilty of genocide in the municipalities. That tribunal verdict in 2016 triggered protests from Bosniaks, who wanted the court to acknowledge that genocide was committed across Bosnia, not just in Srebrenica.

In evaluating Mladis culpability for genocide, the court pointed to his command and control of the Bosnian Serb army and interior ministry forces, which carried out almost all of the executions, his presence in the area, and his frequent remarks about how the countrys Muslims could disappear.

Orie said: The chamber found that the only reasonable inference was that the accused intended to destroy the Bosnian Muslim of Srebrenica as a substantial part of the protected group of Muslims in Bosnia Herzegovina.

Accordingly, the chamber found the accused intended to carry out the Srebrenica joint criminal enterprises through the commission of the crime of genocide and was a member of the Srebrenica joint criminal enterprise.

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Ratko Mladi, the ‘butcher of Bosnia’ video profile

Once Mladic has exhausted any appeals, he could, theoretically, be sent to the UK to serve out the rest of his life behind bars. Britain is one of the countries that has signed up to the tribunals agreement on the enforcement of sentences.
The UK has hosted other Serbian convicts sent on from the ICTY. In 2010, Radislav Krsti who was convicted at the Hague in 2001 for his part in the Srebrenica massacre, had his throat slashed in his cell at Wakefield prison by three Muslim inmates intent on revenge.

The former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor is also serving out his 50 year prison term in a UK jail.
Mladic will remain in the UN detention centre at Scheveningen, near the Hague, in the meantime. Any appeal will be dealt with by the successor court, the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.

The hearing, broadcast live, was followed closely in Bosnia. The Bosnian prime minister, Denis Zvizdi, said the verdict confirmed that war criminals cannot escape justice regardless of how long they hide.

In Lazarevo, the Serbian village where Mladi was arrested in 2011, residents dismissed the guilty verdicts as biased. One, Igor Topolic, said: All this is a farce for me. He [Mladi] is a Serbian national hero.

Mladis home village of Bozinovici retains a street named after the former general, where he is praised as a symbol of defiance and national pride.

The trial is one of the last to be heard by the ICTY, which is to be dissolved at the end of the year.

People,
People, including victims, protest in front of the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) prior to the verdict Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

After the ruling, Serge Brammertz, the ICTYs chief prosecutor, said it was not a verdict against all Serb people. Mladis guilt is his and his alone, he said.

Mladis defence lawyer, Dragan Ivetic, announced that he would appeal against the convictions.

In Geneva, the UNs high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, described Mladi as the epitome of evil and said his conviction was a momentous victory for justice.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/22/ratko-mladic-convicted-of-genocide-and-war-crimes-at-un-tribunal

Russia used hundreds of fake accounts to tweet about Brexit, data shows

Researchers discover that accounts run from troll farm in St Petersburg tried to sow discord between Britons

Concern about Russian influence in British politics has intensified as it emerged that more than 400 fake Twitter accounts believed to be run from St Petersburg published posts about Brexit.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh identified 419 accounts operating from the Russian Internet Research Agency (IRA) attempting to influence UK politics out of 2,752 accounts suspended by Twitter in the US.

One of the accounts run from the Kremlin-linked operation attempted to stir anti-Islamic sentiment during the Westminster Bridge terror attack in March in a bogus post claiming a Muslim woman ignored victims a claim that was highlighted by mainstream media outlets including Mail Online and the Sun.

For days after, the tweeter was gleefully sharing press clippings. Wow Im on the Daily Mail front page! Thank you British libs! Youre making me famous, he said, referring to an article that appeared on Mail Online and which still bore the tweet at the time of writing.

@SouthLoneStar
@SouthLoneStar tweet – which appears to have been generated by a Russian. Photograph: Twitter

A day later, he tweeted: Im on The Sun! Thank you again, British libs! Now Im even more famous!

Damian Collins, the chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, which is investigating fake news, said the Russian agency appeared to be attempting to divide society and destabilise politics.

The Conservative MP wants Twitter to tell the committee how it believes Russia has been attempting to influence UK politics.

What is at stake is whether Russia has constructed an architecture which means they have thousands of accounts with which they can bombard [us] with fake news and hyper-partisan content, he said.

We need to understand how widespread it is and what the impact is on the democratic process.

Collins has demanded that Twitters chief executive, Jack Dorsey, supply examples of posts from the Internet Research Agency about British politics citing concern at possible interference by foreign actors in the democratic process of the UK.

This is information they hold and I cant see any reason they should be delaying supplying it, he said.

The developments come after the US Congress intelligence committee investigated Russian troll campaigning in the US election of November 2016.

Twitter told the House committee that it had suspended 2,752 accounts which were tweeting about the US election because it believed they were controlled from Russia. The committee said it may well be just the tip of the iceberg.

Hundreds of paid bloggers work round the clock at the IRA to flood Russian internet forums, social networks and the comments sections of western publications sowing disinformation, praising the countrys president, Vladimir Putin, and raging at the west.

The agency has been linked to a businessman who was once Putins favourite chef.

Prof Laura Cram, director of neuropolitics research at the University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian that at least 419 of those accounts tweeted about Brexit a total of 3,468 times mostly after the referendum had taken place.

Archives of the now deleted Russian accounts show they included people purporting to be a US Navy veteran, a Tennessee Republican and a Texan patriot all tweeting in favour of Brexit.

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‘We know what youre doing,’ Theresa May tells Russia video

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson urged Theresa May to bring political pressure to bear on tech giants to reveal the extent to which their platforms have been hijacked, and to take action against agents of the Russian state who use their platforms to disseminate misinformation and untruths.

He said tech companies including Twitter and Facebook havent done enough to identify and weed out the fake profiles and automated content that pose a direct threat to our democracy.

On Monday, May gave a speech in which she said Russias actions were threatening the international order on which we all depend.

She accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting fake stories in the media to weaponise information and sow discord in the west.

Concerns about Russias cyber-operations have also been raised elsewhere in Europe.

Spains prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, claimed on Monday that half of the Twitter accounts that amplified the issue of Catalan independence were registered in Russia and 30% in Venezuela.

Others have voiced concerns that Russian social media accounts also sought to influence this years French and German elections.

A spokesperson for Twitter said the company recognises that the integrity of the election process itself is integral to the health of a democracy. As such, we will continue to support formal investigations by government authorities into election interference as required.

The Russian tweets identified by Twitter as coming from the IRA included one by an account holder using the name @SouthLoneStar.

He reportedly said: I hope UK after #BrexitVote will start to clean their land from muslim invasion! and UK voted to leave future European Caliphate! #BrexitVote.

The same account posted a widely shared tweet at the time of the March terror attack on Westminster Bridge in London.

It posted a photograph of a woman in a headscarf passing the scene of the attack with the caption: Muslim woman pays no mind to the terror attack, casually walks by a dying man while checking phone #PrayForLondon #Westminster #BanIslam.

The woman said later: Not only have I been devastated by witnessing the aftermath of a shocking and numbing terror attack, Ive also had to deal with the shock of finding my picture plastered all over social media by those who could not look beyond my attire, who draw conclusions based on hate and xenophobia.

Another suspended account appeared to be a Republican from Tennessee. @TEN_GOP quoted Nigel Farage telling Fox News about Brexit and Donald Trump: What youve seen this year is just ordinary, decent people, the little people, whove said Weve had enough. We want change.

@WadeHarriot, purporting to be a former member of the US Navy, retweeted criticisms of leftists for trying to subvert #Brexit and predictions of #Brexit #Frexit #Grexit.

Cram said the content of the Brexit tweets overall was quite chaotic and it seems to be aimed at wider disruption. Theres not an absolutely clear thrust. We pick up a lot on refugees and immigration.

She stressed that more research is needed to establish the extent of the tweets influence, and urged caution about drawing conclusions from the relatively small number of troll accounts so far identified. About 78% of the tweets came after the Brexit vote on 23 June 2016, she added.

Russia has been adamant it did not interfere in any way in the EU referendum. We closely followed the voting but never interfered or sought to influence it, Putin said the day after the poll.

However, there is no doubt that many in Moscow welcomed the outcome. An EU without Britain would be less united on sanctions against Russia, many Russian officials hoped, because it would lose one of its stronger foreign policy voices and would be too consumed with its own internal problems to prioritise Russia policy.

At the time, the former US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said the vote to leave the EU was a giant victory for Putins foreign policy objectives.

The US Congressional investigation into Russian meddling through social media also gathered evidence from Facebook that between June 2015-August 2017 there were 470 accounts on the platform associated with the IRA and that 126 million Americans are likely to have seen content from an IRA page.

Additional reporting by Stacee Smith

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/14/how-400-russia-run-fake-accounts-posted-bogus-brexit-tweets

‘Only God can save us’: Yemeni children starve as aid is held at border

Iona Craig reports from Yemen where aid agencies cannot get vital shipments into the war-torn country already gripped by cholera outbreak

Abdulaziz al-Husseinya lies skeletal and appears lifeless in a hospital in Yemens western port city of Hodeidah. At the age of nine, he weighs less than one and a half stone, and is one of hundreds of thousands of children in the country suffering from acute malnutrition.

Seven million people are on on the brink of famine in war-torn Yemen, which was already in the grip of the worlds worst cholera outbreak when coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade on the country last week, stemming vital aid flows.

Al-Thawra hospital, where Abdulaziz is being treated, is reeling under the pressure of more than two years of conflict between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-allied Houthi rebels. Its corridors are packed, with patients now coming from five surrounding governorates to wait elbow-to-elbow for treatment.

Less than 45% of the countrys medical facilities are still operating most have closed due to fighting or a lack of funds, or have been bombed by coalition airstrikes. As a result, Al-Thawra is treating some 2,500 people a day, compared to 700 before the conflict escalated in March 2015.

Map of Yemen

More than 200 miles away in the southern governorate of Lahij, territory under the control of the coalition, more emaciated children lie listless, gasping for every breath.

These scenes are replicated in therapeutic feeding centres in the capital, Sanaa, and at the heart of the conflict-ravaged city of Taiz. There in the shadows of a single incandescent bulb, what appears to be a blanket bundled into a dark corner is in fact three month-old Elias Basem, who has spent 20 days of his short life being treated for severe malnutrition.

Aid agencies are now warning that Yemens already catastrophic humanitarian crisis could soon become a nightmare scenario if Saudi Arabia does not ease the blockade of the countrys land, sea and air ports a move that the kingdom insists is necessary after Houthi rebels fired a ballistic missile towards Riyadhs international airport this month.

United Nations humanitarian flights have been cancelled for the past week and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), along with Mdecins Sans Frontires (MSF), have been prevented from flying vital medical assistance into the country. More than 20 million Yemenis over 70% of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance that is being blocked.

Following international pressure, the major ports of Aden and Mukalla were reopened last week for commercial traffic and food supplies, along with land border crossings to neighbouring Oman and Saudi Arabia, but humanitarian aid and aid agency workers remained barred from entering the country on Sunday. UN aid chief Mark Lowcock has said if the restrictions remain, Yemen will face the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims.

Children
Children walk through their school, damaged by a Saudi-led air strike, in October, in Hodeidah. Photograph: Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters

The conflict in Yemen is between Houthi rebels controlling the capital Sanaa, who are allied with former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, and forces loyal to another president, the ousted Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a military intervention to counter the advance of the Iran-allied Houthis, with the ultimate aim of reinstating Hadi.

With regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia escalating, Yemen is trapped in the middle of a proxy war in addition to its own internal power struggle. The UK has also been criticised for selling arms to Saudi Arabia despite the high casualty rate of its US-backed airstrikes in Yemen.

In Aden, where Hadi and his government ostensibly rule, parents and children from surrounding governorates crowd the feeding centre in Al-Sadaqa hospital. Aisha was 21 months old but weighed just 7lbs half the healthy weight of a baby her age when she arrived at the hospital, her second admission in three months. Across the corridor, two year-old Shohud Hussein, weighing 11lbs, stares vacuously into the middle distance. Hungry children dont smile. Shes been here a whole month and hasnt smiled, said Dr Aida al-Sadeeq.

In Sanaa, Nor Rashid sold her familys cow to pay for the transport costs to get her four year-old daughter, who weighs 16lbs, to the citys feeding centre in Al-Sabaeen hospital. She has other children who are also sick but she cannot afford to pay for the medical care if she brings them in for treatment too. Its because of the lack of government wages, she said. Usually we go to the person in the village with a wage to ask for help and borrow money if someone needs to go to the hospital. But since the wages stopped we have no support.

Shohud
Shohud Hussein, two years old, in Al-Sadaqa hospital, Aden. Photograph: Iona Craig

In Al-Thawra, employees grab the sleeve of the hospitals director, Dr Khaled Suhail, begging him for money as he navigates the teeming therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children. Government salaries have gone unpaid for more than a year, and the hospital now runs on the goodwill of its doctors, nurses and administrative staff. Suhail clutches the hand of an elderly maintenance man in charge of the hospitals oxygen tanks as he pleads for cash. If I had anything to give you, you know I would. But there is nothing, he says.

Saudi officials have repeatedly claimed that there is no hunger crisis in southern Yemen, where local forces backed by the United Arab Emirates, a coalition partner, largely hold power. According the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, however, Lahij is the most food-insecure governorate in the country. It is ranked at level four, while level five denotes full-blown famine.

In the markets of both Hodeidah and Lahij, food is plentiful. Stalls bulge with fresh fruit and vegetables and traders offer sacks of flour and beans. The only shortage is the customers, who cannot afford to eat. In Hodeidah, the price of a 50kg bag of flour has risen from a pre-war 5,500 Yemeni rial to 7,600 YR. Fruit and vegetables are a luxury like meat used to be, said Arafat Zayed, who came to buy three kilos of flour, when he would have bought 50 to feed his family of five children before the war.

How did the conflict in Yemen begin

In addition to the hunger crisis, Yemen has seen the worst cholera outbreak ever recorded, with more than 900,000 suspected cases and over 2,190 deaths. Although numbers keep rising, in September the rate of infection began to ease, largely due to the response by aid agencies who set up cholera treatment centres in towns and cities around the country.

But the advances could be short-lived if restrictions on aid continue. If the closure is not stopped in the coming days, we may see that the progress is stopped, said the World Health Organisations spokeswoman in Geneva last week. A Red Cross shipment of chlorine tablets, used for the prevention of cholera, remained stuck for the fifth day on Sunday on the Saudi side of the border with Yemen.

Without the free cholera treatment and essential humanitarian aid, international agencies warn that many more Yemeni children like Abdulaziz will suffer.

We are weak, our children are weak and we have nothing left to give. We cant even feed our animals anymore said Nor Rashid as she cradled her daughter. Only God can save us now.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/12/millions-on-brink-of-famine-in-yemen-as-saudi-arabia-tightens-blockade