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Joe Scarborough asked MSNBC national security adviser Matthew Miller: "When the president of the United States says he had to fire Michael Flynn because he lied to the FBI, what did that immediately say to you?"

"It immediately said he's admitting to obstruction of justice," Miller said. "It's important that he was admitting when he asked Jim Comey to back off of Mike Flynn, it wasn't just because he was a good guy or because he thought Flynn hadn't broken the law. It was because he knew at the time that Flynn had committed a crime. And that's damning enough.

"It's also damning in context. Sally Yates was clear. She didn't tell the White House that Flynn lied to the FBI. She refused that answer for that question. For the president to know at that time that Flynn lied to the FBI, it wasn't because the FBI had told him or the Justice Department. He only could know because Mike Flynn told him, and that gets you into an entire conspiracy to impede and obstruct this investigation, and I think a pretty n dow, he was baffle heg said he wrote that tweet.

"On his face, that appears to be false. He also claimed the president cannot obstruct justice because he's the chief law enforcement officer under the Constitution Article 3 and has every right to express his view on any case," Scarborough said.

"Let's stop there for a second. This sounds like Steven Miller saying the president is not to be questioned. The president's lawyer is saying the president cannot obstruct justice. This sounds like maybe a statement that Erdogan's spokesperson would say, but in America? I mean, what's your reaction to that remarkable claim?

"Look, Joe, they might as well come out and say the president is above the law. That's the takeaway from that statement," Miller said. "That the president can do whatever he wants. He can shut down investigations into himself and his friends and allies. And there's no recourse. I think there is a legal argument over whether the president can be indicted. It's never happened in our history, and there's some debate over it. But there is no question that the president can obstruct justice."


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"If he can't be indicted for it, he can be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. The nature of the statement is troubling and it's an admission that if you're down to arguing the president can't obstruct justice, you're almost saying he did."

Steve Bannon appeared to throw Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner under the bus in an explosive interview — and MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle wondered how badly the president and his supporters should worry.

The Breitbart News chief and former White House chief strategist, who’s expected to be called as a witness in the probes of Trump-Russia ties, told journalist Michael Wolff that special counsel Robert Mueller would eventually expose the presidential family’s “greasy” money laundering.

“They’re going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV,” Bannon said, according to Wolff’s new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

He described the meeting arranged by Trump’s son, which was attended by son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, as potentially “treasonous.”

“Let’s say I’m a true Trumper,” Ruhle said, speculating how the president’s supporters dismiss poll numbers, statistics and other unfavorable data.

“Those same people who believe that believe in President Trump and Don Jr.,” she continued. “They also believe in Steve Bannon, (who) he is quoted saying, ‘They —
meaning Robert Mueller — are going to crack Don Jr. like an egg on national TV.’ How worrisome should a comment like this from Steve Bannon be to Team Trump?”

“Crack an egg?” Ruhle added, mimicking the cracking of an egg on her head. “Painful.”

Jeremy Bash, national correspondent for MSNBC and former chief of staff for both the Department of Defense and the CIA, said Trump has already been announcing his fear in the last month’s worth of tweets.

“The president, whenever he seems a bit cornered, seems to lash out with these taunts, these attacks, these tweets,” Bash said. “I do think you have seen since Dec. 3, that was the day that Mike Flynn pleaded guilty and announced — it was announced that he would be cooperating with the special counsel and testifying and offering evidence against the president and against the president’s inner circle. Since that day you’ve seen the president really lose it over the Mueller investigation, lash out, try to attack Mueller.”

“He’s had his allies on Capitol Hill try to undermine the Justice Department,” Bash added. “(Tuesday) he actually began with a tweet, not against North Korea, but against the men and women of the United States Department of Justice, who actually protect and defend all of us, regardless of whether you’re Democrat or Republican. So we’re in for a long road here.”

Alabama’s senior senator has rebuked Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in Tuesday’s special election who has been accused of molestation and sexual misconduct by eight women, including several who were underage at the time.

In doing so, Richard Shelby refused to fall in line with Donald Trump, who was endorsed Moore, and the Republican National Committee (RNC).

“The state of Alabama deserves better,” Shelby told CNN’s State of the Union, stating on national television a position he was already known to hold. “I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.

“I think the women are believable. I have no reason not to believe them. I didn’t vote for Roy Moore. I wouldn’t vote for Roy Moore. I think the Republican party can do better.”

Eight women have accused Moore of a range of misconduct, including an allegation that he molested a 14-year-old when he was a prosecutor in his 30s. In the days after the Washington Post first reported on the subject, Moore did not rule out that he had dated 17- or 18-year-olds, saying: “If I did, I’m not going to dispute these things, but I don’t remember anything like that.”

He has since denied all the allegations, accusing the Post of pursuing a partisan agenda.

Republicans, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, at first called on Moore to step down, and the party’s fundraising apparatus withdrew its support. But the president eventually endorsed Moore, arguing that he prefers Moore’s partisan vote to a Democrat’s opposition.

Not long afterward, the RNC renewed funding for Moore. Trump recently recorded a robocall ad for Moore and McConnell has retreated from his earlier position, saying: “I think we’re going to let the people of Alabama decide.”

Shelby is among a handful of prominent Republicans who continues to reject Moore, though he said on Sunday he did not vote for Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate. Instead, he said he wrote in “a distinguished Republican name”.

“I understand where the president is coming from and I understand we would like to retain that seat but I’ll tell you what, there’s a time we call a tipping point,” Shelby said. “When it got to the 14-year-old story, I said that was enough for me, I couldn’t vote for Roy Moore.”

Shelby hinted that should Moore win the election, a Senate investigation into his actions may follow.

“I understand that’s already being contemplated but that would be up to the leadership and others to do that,” he said, insisting that Republicans had the same standards as Democrats, who recently pressed the Minnesota senator Al Franken, accused by eight women of groping and unwanted sexual contact, to resign.

Doug Jones takes a picture with Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama, among supporters at Alabama State University in Montgomery.
Doug Jones, Roy Moore’s Democratic challenger, takes a picture with Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Representative Terri Sewell of Alabama. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

“Whatever you are that you would not put up with the conduct, bad conduct, from a Democrat or a Republican,” Shelby said. “The Senate will weigh, if Roy Moore wins, his fitness to serve.”

Senator Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, similarly refused to support Moore, telling NBC’s Meet the Press: “Our party is big enough to have disagreements from the top to where we are.”

He added: “If he wins we have to seat him and then there’ll immediately be an ethics investigation. As far as I can tell the allegations are significantly stronger than the denial.”

Moore has declined to take questions or interviews in recent weeks, and on Sunday sent one of his top aides, Dean Young, to appear on ABC’s This Week. Young dismissed the possibility of a Senate investigation.

“Judge Moore is gonna be found telling the truth,” he said, “just like he always has.”

Young echoed the president’s argument about the importance of partisanship and directly tied Moore’s fate to Trump’s.

“This is Donald Trump on trial in Alabama,” Young said. “If the people of Alabama vote for this liberal Democrat, Doug Jones, then they’re voting against the president who they put in office.”

Young called the allegations against Moore “fake news” and suggested his accusers were motivated by fame. “In this world everyone wants to be on TV, maybe that’s the reason,” he said. “I need you people in Alabama not to fall for all these false allegations.”

Moore has long been a controversial figure in Alabama, disliked by Republican leaders in Washington. He was twice removed as a state judge for refusing to obey federal court orders; has said “homosexual conduct” should be illegal; praised Vladimir Putin; and said America was “great” before the civil war “even though we had slavery”.

In the primary this fall, Trump, McConnell and the party supported Moore’s more conventional opponent, Luther Strange.

In contrast to Moore’s absence from the campaign trail – he has made only one public appearance in the last week, with former White House adviser Steve Bannon – Jones has stumped energetically across the state. Polls remain too close to call.

At a press conference in Selma on Saturday, the Democrat mocked his opponent’s failure to campaign. “He seems kind of like the groundhog,” Jones said. “He comes out every so often to see whether or not he can see his shadow.”

Regarding the allegations against Moore, Jones has focused on his pledge not to embarrass Alabama. A campaign mailer risked controversy, however, in asking voters: “Think if a black man went after high school girls anyone would make him a senator?”

Wrapped in a white shawl and sporting a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, Haile stares out at his cattle as they graze in a rocky patch of grass. “My family and I have been here since I was a child,” he says, nodding at the small, rickety houses to his right. “But we will have to leave soon.” In the distance loom hulking grey towers, casting long shadows over his pasture. This is Koye Feche, a vast construction site on the edge of Addis Ababa that may soon be sub-Saharan Africa’s largest housing project.

Koye is the latest in a handful of miniature cities that are gobbling up land all around the Ethiopian capital. Since launching the integrated housing and development plan (IHDP) in 2006, the Ethiopian government has built condominium estates like these at a pace unrivalled anywhere in Africa. To date, more more than 250,000 subsidised flats have been transferred to their new owner-occupiers in Addis Ababa and smaller towns. Situated 25km south-east of the city centre and covering over 700 hectares of land, Koye will house more than 200,000 people in row upon row of muscular concrete high-rises.

Modelled on the modernist housing estates found across the postwar west, in particular east Germany, Addis Ababa’s condominiums symbolise the vaulting ambition of the Ethiopian government in its efforts to manage the country’s relentless urban growth. But whether they will ever solve its housing problems is uncertain. The population of the capital alone is expected to double to more than 8 million over the next decade. The number of houses needed to meet supply is estimated to be as many as half a million, but nearly a million people languish on the waiting list for a condominium. Nationwide, the urbanisation rate is estimated to be somewhere from 4-6% per year.

A slum in the old Piassa neighbourhood of Addis Ababa that is slated for demolition.
  • A slum in the old Piassa neighbourhood of Addis Ababa, slated for demolition

As more and more of Ethiopia’s 100 million inhabitants – 80% of whom still live in the countryside – spill into Addis Ababa, strains on the city’s land have intensified. The consequences may be explosive. “Addis Ababa has run out space,” says Felix Heisel, an urban expert at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. Though the state theoretically owns all land, seizing it from farmers like Haile can cause problems. The “masterplan” – shelved last year – to develop farmland belonging to Oromia, the region that surrounds the capital, was the catalyst for widespread anti-government protests that led to the declaration of a nine-month state of emergency. Expanding the city is for now out of the question.

Financed entirely by public resources and without the support of foreign donors, the condominium programme has, however, won its fair share of plaudits. “It represents a commitment to social housing that is rarely seen in Africa,” says Patrick Lamson-Hall of New York University. “It shows other African nations that Africa can solve its own problems,” agrees Alazar Ejigu, an Ethiopian architect and urban planner based in Sweden.

Two girls play in the half-finished Koye estate.
Tilu Dimtu, completed two years ago and now housing 10,000 people.
  • Left, the half-finished Koye estate; right, the Tilu Dimtu complex, completed two years ago and now housing 10,000 people

All construction is carried out by local firms, which means employment for young men like Nibrat, who lays cement on the Koye estate. “I won’t be able to live here myself as I won’t be able to afford the rent,” he says. “But I like this job and prefer it to farming.” The IHDP is thought to have created semi-skilled jobs for nearly 200,000 men and women since 2006.

But it also has plenty of critics, including the World Bank, which considers it fiscally unsustainable. Those who can afford the deposit – and manage to win the lottery that allocates apartments – often struggle to pay off the mortgage. More than half, according to Simon Franklin of the London School of Economics, choose to rent the property out and move to places where it is easier to travel to work and find employment, or where social ties are stronger.

View over cheaper and older apartments in Bole Arabsa, one of the largest new estates far from the city centre. New construction of condominium buildings outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for cities
  • Older and cheaper apartments in Bole Arabsa

The government was “too modern, too radical in its approach”, says Ejigu. “The building design fails to sustain people’s ordinary, traditional way of life.” He and others fear that these European-style constructions breed loneliness and segregation. “In the informal settlements the rich and poor live side by side,” he adds. “But the condominiums are socially and economically segregated. The poorest cannot afford to live in them.”

The spectre of the many failed, empty high-rises littering the peripheries of cities elsewhere in Africa hangs over Ethiopia’s condominiums – although, as Franklin notes, there is little sign of the same happening here. New estates quickly become bustling, lively neighbourhoods even while they are still half-finished building sites. “Winning an apartment is an enormous asset,” Franklin says. “In spite of the common view that no one would want to live in them, their price keeps going up and up.” His research has found that this demand is driven disproportionately by a young, urban professional class.

Condominiums being built outside Addis Ababa.
  • Condominiums being built outside Addis Ababa

In Bole Dimtu, a few kilometres east of Koye, thousands of such residents have recently moved in. They include middle-class professionals like Tesfaye, a government employee. He and his family of six used to live in rental housing in the heart of the capital. “I won the lottery,” he beams, cradling his youngest child. “It’s so much better here. I own this house – finally I’m not renting.” But there are problems in Bole Dimtu, too. Water has not been running for months and mountains of rubbish pile up in public areas designed to be parks. Merchants sell water cartons from horse-drawn carts. “I need water, I need water,” shouts one woman as they rattle by.

A group of condominiums being built on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.
  • A group of condominiums being built on the outskirts of Addis Ababa

There is another flipside that worries even the IHDP’s staunchest supporters. Since its inception, the scheme has developed in tandem with a slum clearance programme in Addis Ababa’s inner city. In the past year the pace of demolition has quickened, with 360 hectares and more than 3,000 homes slated to be cleared over the next three years. A revived city centre and business district comprising high-rises of at least nine storeys will replace the old neighbourhoods. It is an “extraordinary high-modernist project” says Franklin.

A narrow lane in the Piassa slum.
A workshop in the Piassa slum.
  • Scenes from a slum in the Addis Ababa’s Piassa neighbourhood, where people are preparing for eviction

The centre is slowly being cleansed of its poorer residents, freeing up high-value land for the government to lease to private developers. “The slum clearance and the condominiums are closely linked,” Franklin explains. “There seems to be a concerted effort to use the condominiums to suck people out of the centre.” All evicted tenants are offered a condominium apartment, but many cannot afford it. The alternative for homeowners – financial compensation and a new plot of land – is often paltry, and usually many miles from their original neighbourhoods.

So it is for Tirualem, who has lived with her family of six in a neighbourhood called Piassa for 30 years but was recently told to move so that, she thinks, a nearby hotel can build a swimming pool. She has been promised an apartment in a new condominium estate, 20km away. “We don’t have the money for a condominium. And there’s no work there. We are moving only because we are forced to.”

Farmland and traditional housing next to near-finished modern apartments in Koye, the largest condominium site under construction.
  • Farmland and traditional housing next to near-finished modern apartments in Koye, the largest condominium site under construction

As Ethiopia’s capital creaks under the weight of its rising population, some are starting to plan for a future outside of Addis Ababa. For the first time, the government’s five-year development plan has a clear urban focus, with efforts being made to promote secondary towns like Hawassa, Bahir Dar and Mekele, in part by linking them to an ambitious network of industrial parks under construction. At the same time it has begun building 1.7m new rural homes across the country.

Other schemes are also taking shape. Tsedeke Woldu, an Ethiopian millionaire and construction developer, has drawn up a plan to build 8,000 new towns across the country in partnership with local governments, hoping to stem the tide of urban migration by bringing infrastructure and jobs to rural areas. “Without efforts like this you can see Addis Ababa eventually being suffocated,” says Zegeye Cherenet, an architect and urban planner. Woldu intends to start work on 13 pilot towns early next year.

Will this be enough? Ethiopia has shown that in the face of seemingly insurmountable urban pressures it is possible for even a very poor country to take radical steps. But it also demonstrates their limits: the government’s top-down, authoritarian approach often threatens to be its own undoing. Ethiopia’s government can steamroller grand plans through like few others. But the question is always the same: at what cost?

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President Donald Trump purportedly stepped away from his business interests for the duration of his term as president, but Vanity Fair‘s Tina Nguyen says that foreign governments are granting favors and greasing the wheels for Trump-branded projects around the world.

Anita Kumar at McClatchy reported that the Indonesian government has chosen to build a new road to shorten the drive between the island chain’s main airport and the new Trump golf resort.

In Panama, the national government directly intervened in a lagging sewer project connected to the new Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. The original contractor tasked with constructing the system went bankrupt, prompting the government to use its own money to construct sewage and water pipes connecting to the resort hotel.

“And in other countries,” Kumar wrote, “governments have donated public land, approved permits and eased environmental regulations for Trump-branded developments, creating a slew of potential conflicts as foreign leaders make investments that can be seen as gifts or attempts to gain access to the American president through his sprawling business empire.”

As Nguyen noted, all of this appears to place Trump squarely in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts or anything that might be constituted as a bribe from foreign governments.

However, she said, “Just weeks after Trump won the election, the Argentinian government suddenly granted a permit for a long-delayed Trump Tower development in Buenos Aires. In September, Trump’s Middle Eastern business partners granted a company partially owned by the Chinese government a contract to build a road to Trump World Golf Club in Dubai, seemingly going against his pledge to not engage in foreign business transactions during his presidency. And, of course, there is the ongoing constitutional crisis that is the Trump International Hotel Washington D.C., which critics claim violates the Emoluments Clause on a regular basis.”

Two lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration alleging these violations, one of which was dismissed by a judge just before Christmas.

Kumar spoke with Noah Bookbinder of the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who said, “If you have a foreign government providing a benefit to the Trump company that is going to violate emoluments clause of the Constitution.”

The president is reportedly receiving boons to his projects — which he claims he handed over to the management of his sons, Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump — from the governments of Uruguay, India and the Philippines.

Read the full McClatchy report here.

President Donald Trump’s insecurity over losing the popular vote and the salacious allegations in the Steele Dossier have prompted him to lash out at the intelligence community’s claims that Russia influenced the 2016 election. Now that war against the intelligence community is impacting American national security.

A Wednesday Washington Postreport revealed that the National Security Agency is hemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate. Some of these “highly skilled” staffers have become “disillusioned” with intelligence but the leadership and a reorganization effort under the new administration has sent many to update their resumes.

The work these experts do included monitoring a broad array of subjects including the Islamic State, Russian and North Korean hackers, and analyzing the intentions of foreign governments, and they were responsible for protecting the classified networks that carry such sensitive information. Yet, these staffers saying that they want a higher-paying job in the private sector or more flexible hours.

Since 2015, hundreds of hackers, engineers and data scientists have bailed on the NSA, former officials said. Now it’s reaching a level that national security can be impacted. Of the 17 spy agencies, the NSA is the largest and they’re responsible for collecting the information that goes into the presidential daily briefing that Trump doesn’t understand. Over the first year in office, aides have even been forced to tailor the briefing so it doesn’t include anything about Russian interference in the election so as to not anger Trump.

“Some synonym of the word ‘epidemic’ is the best way to describe it,” said former NSA senior researcher Ellison Anne Williams. She left her job at the NSA in 2016 to start her own data-security firm and took 10 NSA staff with her. “The agency is losing an amazing amount of its strongest technical talent, and to lose your best and brightest staff is a huge hit.”

The agency won’t disclose the number of vacancies over the last year, but it said there is 5.6 percent decrease in staff who specialize in science, technology and math. The NSA isn’t the only place the Trump administration has implemented the right-wing war on science. In Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency, scientists became the enemy. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was told never to say the words “climate change.” Losing the experts means new staff are filling the positions without the experience central to the NSA’s mission collecting huge swaths of data and analyzing it.

Former staff have complained that they felt their mission was marginalized by a restructuring of the agency. Others allege the reorganization was “an enormous distraction.” Some even call the pay structure and promotion program part of the problem. According to former staff, it prioritizes seniority over experience or expertise.

Another former employee alleged that the problems began with former contractor Edward Snowden and the arrest of former contractor Harold T. Martin III in 2016. Accessing data and information became more difficult for those trying to do their jobs. The witch hunt searching for leakers made things worse. An environment with collaboration has turned toward suspicion, a former staffer said.

“It comes down to death by a thousand cuts,” said a former employee, adding that people “tend to quit in packs. One person hits their breaking point, and once they leave, the dominoes start falling.”

NSA spokesman Tommy Groves didn’t discount the reports.

“If the price of security becomes that we drive away the very men and women that generate value in the first place, we now have a self-induced mission kill,” National Security Agency Director Administrator Michael Rogers said in a conference speech.

Trump’s attacks on the 17 intelligence agencies that confirmed the Russian interference couldn’t have made morale any better. After meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump swore that Russia didn’t do it.

“He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters in November. “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Trump has also waged a war with the FBI, calling it “tainted” and alleging it is part of the “deep state” shadow government.

“It is also a possible obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, and it’s obstructing justice by saying to agents, ‘you better not dig too deep, you better not find anything because I will attack you,'” former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said to MSNBC.

The only way to maintain staff is to tape into the sense of duty “for God and country,” said former threat operations center chief Daniel Ennis. He thinks the agency will recover, because it always has.

Have you ever touched someone's arm to get their attention so you can ask them something? Well, be careful if you do it in Pennsylvania, because State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (who likes to brag that he was a Tea Partier before the Tea Party existed) simply cannot handle it.

After his Democratic counterpart touched his arm during a discussion on land use, Metcalfe interrupted. "Look, I'm a heterosexual," Metcalfe said. "I have a wife, I love my wife. I don't like men, as you might. But stop touching me all the time."

Bradford is married to a woman. So is it just because he's a Democrat that Metcalfe would think such a thing? I think he had a secret tingle that caused him to cry out with an objection before he could admit he liked it.

As the people in the room tittered with surprise, Metcalfe continued, "It's like keep your hands to yourself. Like, if you want to touch somebody, you have people on your side of the aisle that might like it. I don't."

Bradford's response was very much the same as mine.

"We are officially off the rails," Bradford said. "My intent was just to beg for your permission for about 30 seconds."

"Then beg, don't touch," Metcalfe shot back.

Metcalfe apparently has some issues with gay people. Serious issues. When a gay colleague went to the floor to express his opinions on the Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA, Metcalfe had him silenced.

“I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law,” Metcalfe snarled.

Metcalfe has also led a campaign to get rid of Labor Day.

Something tells me Daryl Metcalfe protests too much.

(h/t AlterNet)


Thomas S Monson, who served in top leadership councils for the Mormon church for 50 years and became its president in 2008, has died. He was 90.

Monson was a church bishop at 22 and in 1963 the Salt Lake City native became the youngest church apostle ever, at 36. He was a counselor for three church presidents before assuming leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monson died at his home in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, according to church spokesman Eric Hawkins. The next president was not immediately named, but the job is expected to go to next longest-tenured member of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M Nelson, 93, per church protocol.

Monson’s presidency was marked by his noticeably low profile during a time of intense publicity, including the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Mormon Mitt Romney. His most public acts were appearances at church conferences and devotionals as well as dedications of church temples.

He will be remembered for continuing the religion’s push to be more transparent about its past; his emphasis on humanitarian work; and lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

He will also be remembered for leading the faith’s involvement in the passage of a gay marriage ban in California in 2008. At his urging, Mormons were vigorous campaign donors and volunteers. That prompted a backlash against the church that included vandalism of church buildings, protest marches and demonstrations outside church temples nationwide.

In subsequent years, the church began utilizing a softer tone on the issue. In 2015, the church backed an anti-discrimination law in Utah that gave unprecedented protections for gay and transgender people while also protecting religious freedoms.

But the religion came under fire again in the fall of 2015 when it banned baptisms for children living with gay parents and instituted a requirement that those children disavow homosexual relationships before being allowed to serve a mission. The changes were designed to avoid putting children in a tug-of-war between their parents and church teachings, leaders said.

Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the dedication of the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009.
Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009. Photograph: George Frey/Reuters

The revisions triggered anger, confusion and sadness for a growing faction of LGBTQ-supportive Mormons who were buoyed in recent years by church leaders’ calls for more love and understanding for LGBTQ members.

Monson also continued the church’s push to be more open about some of the most sensitive aspect of the faith’s history and doctrine. A renovated church history museum reopened in 2015 with an exhibit acknowledging the religion’s early polygamous practices, a year after the church published an essay that for the first time chronicled founder Joseph Smith’s plural wives.

Other church essays issued during Monson’s tenure addressed other sensitive topics: sacred undergarments worn by devout members; a past ban on black men in the lay clergy; and the misconception that Mormons are taught they will get their own planet in the afterlife.

The growth and globalization of the religion continued under Monson, with membership swelling to nearly 15.9 million, with more than half outside the US. There were 71,000 church missionaries serving around the world at the end of 2016.

Mormons considered Monson a warm, caring, endearing and approachable leader, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California.

He put an emphasis on the humanitarian ethic of Mormons, evidenced by his expansion of the church’s disaster relief programs around the world, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

Monson often credited his mother, Gladys Condie Monson, for fostering his compassion. He said that during his childhood in the Depression of the 1930s their house in Salt Lake City was known to hobos riding the railroads as a place to get a meal and a kind word.

“President Monson always seemed more interested in what we do with our religion rather than in what we believe,” Mauss said.

A second world war veteran, Monson served in the navy and spent a year overseas before returning to get a business degree at the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business administration from the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Before being tabbed to join the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Monson worked for the church’s secular businesses, primarily in advertising, printing and publishing including the Deseret Morning News.

He married Frances Beverly Johnson in 1948. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Frances died in 2013 at the age of 85.

Monson was an avid fisherman who also raised homing pigeons, specifically, roller pigeons who twirled as they flew. He was known for his love of show tunes, Boy Scouts and the Utah Jazz.

The man expected to take Monson’s seat, the 93-year-old Nelson, has been a church apostle since April 1970. Nelson will choose two new counselors from the Quorum of the Twelve who will join him to form a three-person “presidency” that is the top of the religion’s governing hierarchy. Monson’s two counselors were Henry Eyring and Dieter Uchtdorf. They will go back to being regular members of the Quorum unless they are chosen again.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has reportedly asked officials to examine the feasibility of forcibly deporting thousands of African migrants, in the latest escalation of an anti-migrant campaign.

According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu instructed the national security adviser, Meir Ben Shabbat, to look into forced expulsion as his cabinet met to approve a plan to offer 40,000 people the choice of being deported with a cash payment or being incarcerated indefinitely.

Despite controversy around the existing plan, Netanyahu, following concerns over cost and prison space, asked officials to go a step further and ask if the migrants could be expelled by force – a proposal that would almost certainly be challenged in the courts.

On Tuesday, details were disclosed of a much-criticised scheme starting in April to persuade people to leave through a combination of the threat of prison and the incentive of a cash payment of $3,500.

Most of the migrants in question – largely Sudanese and Eritrean people – arrived in Israel in the second half of the last decade, crossing from Egypt before new security on the border sealed the route.

Many people settled in poor neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv, prompting a campaign against them by local Israeli residents, which attracted the support of Netanyahu despite at times being heavily coloured by racism.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting that approved the scheme, Netanyahu said the “mission” was “to deport the illegal infiltrators who entered Israel prior to the construction of the new barrier with Egypt”.

He said: “Today the cabinet will approve the plan for deporting the infiltrators from Israel. We will step up enforcement and we will allocate budgets and personnel to implement the plan. I think that it is important that people understand that we are doing something here that is completely legal and completely essential.

“The infiltrators have a clear choice – cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectably, humanely and legally, or we will have to use other tools at our disposal, which are also according to law.”

The plan has been opposed by human rights groups including the Centre for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who recently signed a letter demanding the deportations be halted. “Anyone who has a heart must oppose the expulsion of the refugees,” the letter says.

Referring to a widely reported deal to pay Rwanda $5,000 per person to accept the migrants, the groups added: “Rwanda is not a safe place. All the evidence indicates that anyone expelled from Israel to Rwanda finds himself there without status and without rights, exposed to threats, kidnappings, torture and trafficking.”

A professor in Taiwan claims to have witnessed the longest ever visible rainbow, clocking in at nearly nine hours, and plans to submit it for a world record.

The rainbow lasted for eight hours and 58 minutes in the mountains around the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, according to Chou Kun-hsuan, a professor at the Chinese Culture University.

Chou, along with colleague Liu Ching-huang, scrambled to document the rainbow that appeared on 30 November, mustering students to photograph the arc from every angle. The professors were originally monitoring the rainbow to test a theory that the bands of light descend as time passes.

“It was amazing … It felt like a gift from the sky … It’s so rare,” Chou told the BBC. “When we broke the previous record after passing six hours, I was hardly able to stay seated for lunch.

“I was so excited.”

The professors observed four separate rainbows during the nine-hour period, at one time photographing all in a single frame. The previous day a rainbow near the campus appeared for six hours.

A combination of a seasonal monsoons trapping moist air, a lack of strong winds and a partially cloudy sky allowed for the rainbow to be visible for such a long time. The moisture formed clouds and caused a steady stream of rain, but there was still plenty of sunshine.

Sunlight passing through rain and moisture in the air create the phenomenon, but only when viewed from the correct angle.

Chou plans to apply to Guinness World Records for the world’s longest visible rainbow. The previous record holder was seen for six hours above Sheffield, UK, in 1994.

“With the 10,000 pictures we took in our department alone, and the many more taken by others on campus and people living nearby, I’m confident we can prove to Guinness second by second that this rainbow lasted for nine hours,” Chou said.

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Imaging What A New Diddy Kong Racing Might Look Like

Diddy Kong Racing for the N64 was never able to escape that long shadow cast by Mario Kart. While the game got a remake for the DS, it never got a true successor. And if we’re being honest, it probably never will. Fortunately there’s a fan video to help fill the void left by its eternal absence.

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Foreign governments are granting Trump projects big favors to get what they want from...

President Donald Trump purportedly stepped away from his business interests for the duration of his term as president, but Vanity Fair‘s Tina Nguyen says that foreign governments are granting favors and greasing the wheels for Trump-branded projects around the world.

Anita Kumar at McClatchy reported that the Indonesian government has chosen to build a new road to shorten the drive between the island chain’s main airport and the new Trump golf resort.

In Panama, the national government directly intervened in a lagging sewer project connected to the new Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. The original contractor tasked with constructing the system went bankrupt, prompting the government to use its own money to construct sewage and water pipes connecting to the resort hotel.

“And in other countries,” Kumar wrote, “governments have donated public land, approved permits and eased environmental regulations for Trump-branded developments, creating a slew of potential conflicts as foreign leaders make investments that can be seen as gifts or attempts to gain access to the American president through his sprawling business empire.”

As Nguyen noted, all of this appears to place Trump squarely in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts or anything that might be constituted as a bribe from foreign governments.

However, she said, “Just weeks after Trump won the election, the Argentinian government suddenly granted a permit for a long-delayed Trump Tower development in Buenos Aires. In September, Trump’s Middle Eastern business partners granted a company partially owned by the Chinese government a contract to build a road to Trump World Golf Club in Dubai, seemingly going against his pledge to not engage in foreign business transactions during his presidency. And, of course, there is the ongoing constitutional crisis that is the Trump International Hotel Washington D.C., which critics claim violates the Emoluments Clause on a regular basis.”

Two lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration alleging these violations, one of which was dismissed by a judge just before Christmas.

Kumar spoke with Noah Bookbinder of the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who said, “If you have a foreign government providing a benefit to the Trump company that is going to violate emoluments clause of the Constitution.”

The president is reportedly receiving boons to his projects — which he claims he handed over to the management of his sons, Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump — from the governments of Uruguay, India and the Philippines.

Read the full McClatchy report here.

Mormon leader Thomas Monson dies aged 90

Thomas S Monson, who served in top leadership councils for the Mormon church for 50 years and became its president in 2008, has died. He was 90.

Monson was a church bishop at 22 and in 1963 the Salt Lake City native became the youngest church apostle ever, at 36. He was a counselor for three church presidents before assuming leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monson died at his home in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, according to church spokesman Eric Hawkins. The next president was not immediately named, but the job is expected to go to next longest-tenured member of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M Nelson, 93, per church protocol.

Monson’s presidency was marked by his noticeably low profile during a time of intense publicity, including the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Mormon Mitt Romney. His most public acts were appearances at church conferences and devotionals as well as dedications of church temples.

He will be remembered for continuing the religion’s push to be more transparent about its past; his emphasis on humanitarian work; and lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

He will also be remembered for leading the faith’s involvement in the passage of a gay marriage ban in California in 2008. At his urging, Mormons were vigorous campaign donors and volunteers. That prompted a backlash against the church that included vandalism of church buildings, protest marches and demonstrations outside church temples nationwide.

In subsequent years, the church began utilizing a softer tone on the issue. In 2015, the church backed an anti-discrimination law in Utah that gave unprecedented protections for gay and transgender people while also protecting religious freedoms.

But the religion came under fire again in the fall of 2015 when it banned baptisms for children living with gay parents and instituted a requirement that those children disavow homosexual relationships before being allowed to serve a mission. The changes were designed to avoid putting children in a tug-of-war between their parents and church teachings, leaders said.

Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the dedication of the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009.
Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009. Photograph: George Frey/Reuters

The revisions triggered anger, confusion and sadness for a growing faction of LGBTQ-supportive Mormons who were buoyed in recent years by church leaders’ calls for more love and understanding for LGBTQ members.

Monson also continued the church’s push to be more open about some of the most sensitive aspect of the faith’s history and doctrine. A renovated church history museum reopened in 2015 with an exhibit acknowledging the religion’s early polygamous practices, a year after the church published an essay that for the first time chronicled founder Joseph Smith’s plural wives.

Other church essays issued during Monson’s tenure addressed other sensitive topics: sacred undergarments worn by devout members; a past ban on black men in the lay clergy; and the misconception that Mormons are taught they will get their own planet in the afterlife.

The growth and globalization of the religion continued under Monson, with membership swelling to nearly 15.9 million, with more than half outside the US. There were 71,000 church missionaries serving around the world at the end of 2016.

Mormons considered Monson a warm, caring, endearing and approachable leader, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California.

He put an emphasis on the humanitarian ethic of Mormons, evidenced by his expansion of the church’s disaster relief programs around the world, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

Monson often credited his mother, Gladys Condie Monson, for fostering his compassion. He said that during his childhood in the Depression of the 1930s their house in Salt Lake City was known to hobos riding the railroads as a place to get a meal and a kind word.

“President Monson always seemed more interested in what we do with our religion rather than in what we believe,” Mauss said.

A second world war veteran, Monson served in the navy and spent a year overseas before returning to get a business degree at the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business administration from the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Before being tabbed to join the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Monson worked for the church’s secular businesses, primarily in advertising, printing and publishing including the Deseret Morning News.

He married Frances Beverly Johnson in 1948. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Frances died in 2013 at the age of 85.

Monson was an avid fisherman who also raised homing pigeons, specifically, roller pigeons who twirled as they flew. He was known for his love of show tunes, Boy Scouts and the Utah Jazz.

The man expected to take Monson’s seat, the 93-year-old Nelson, has been a church apostle since April 1970. Nelson will choose two new counselors from the Quorum of the Twelve who will join him to form a three-person “presidency” that is the top of the religion’s governing hierarchy. Monson’s two counselors were Henry Eyring and Dieter Uchtdorf. They will go back to being regular members of the Quorum unless they are chosen again.

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How Donald Trump’s war on intelligence is destroying American national security

President Donald Trump’s insecurity over losing the popular vote and the salacious allegations in the Steele Dossier have prompted him to lash out at the intelligence community’s claims that Russia influenced the 2016 election. Now that war against the intelligence community is impacting American national security.

A Wednesday Washington Postreport revealed that the National Security Agency is hemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate. Some of these “highly skilled” staffers have become “disillusioned” with intelligence but the leadership and a reorganization effort under the new administration has sent many to update their resumes.

The work these experts do included monitoring a broad array of subjects including the Islamic State, Russian and North Korean hackers, and analyzing the intentions of foreign governments, and they were responsible for protecting the classified networks that carry such sensitive information. Yet, these staffers saying that they want a higher-paying job in the private sector or more flexible hours.

Since 2015, hundreds of hackers, engineers and data scientists have bailed on the NSA, former officials said. Now it’s reaching a level that national security can be impacted. Of the 17 spy agencies, the NSA is the largest and they’re responsible for collecting the information that goes into the presidential daily briefing that Trump doesn’t understand. Over the first year in office, aides have even been forced to tailor the briefing so it doesn’t include anything about Russian interference in the election so as to not anger Trump.

“Some synonym of the word ‘epidemic’ is the best way to describe it,” said former NSA senior researcher Ellison Anne Williams. She left her job at the NSA in 2016 to start her own data-security firm and took 10 NSA staff with her. “The agency is losing an amazing amount of its strongest technical talent, and to lose your best and brightest staff is a huge hit.”

The agency won’t disclose the number of vacancies over the last year, but it said there is 5.6 percent decrease in staff who specialize in science, technology and math. The NSA isn’t the only place the Trump administration has implemented the right-wing war on science. In Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency, scientists became the enemy. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was told never to say the words “climate change.” Losing the experts means new staff are filling the positions without the experience central to the NSA’s mission collecting huge swaths of data and analyzing it.

Former staff have complained that they felt their mission was marginalized by a restructuring of the agency. Others allege the reorganization was “an enormous distraction.” Some even call the pay structure and promotion program part of the problem. According to former staff, it prioritizes seniority over experience or expertise.

Another former employee alleged that the problems began with former contractor Edward Snowden and the arrest of former contractor Harold T. Martin III in 2016. Accessing data and information became more difficult for those trying to do their jobs. The witch hunt searching for leakers made things worse. An environment with collaboration has turned toward suspicion, a former staffer said.

“It comes down to death by a thousand cuts,” said a former employee, adding that people “tend to quit in packs. One person hits their breaking point, and once they leave, the dominoes start falling.”

NSA spokesman Tommy Groves didn’t discount the reports.

“If the price of security becomes that we drive away the very men and women that generate value in the first place, we now have a self-induced mission kill,” National Security Agency Director Administrator Michael Rogers said in a conference speech.

Trump’s attacks on the 17 intelligence agencies that confirmed the Russian interference couldn’t have made morale any better. After meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump swore that Russia didn’t do it.

“He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters in November. “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Trump has also waged a war with the FBI, calling it “tainted” and alleging it is part of the “deep state” shadow government.

“It is also a possible obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, and it’s obstructing justice by saying to agents, ‘you better not dig too deep, you better not find anything because I will attack you,'” former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said to MSNBC.

The only way to maintain staff is to tape into the sense of duty “for God and country,” said former threat operations center chief Daniel Ennis. He thinks the agency will recover, because it always has.