White House insists Trump believes Russia still a threat

White House insists Trump believes Russia still a threat

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The White House has insisted it believes Russia still poses a threat to the US amid confusion over comments made by President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump appeared to disagree with US intelligence when he responded “no” to a question about whether Russia was still targeting American elections.

Later, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Mr Trump was saying “no” to answering further questions.

It comes amid a flurry of criticism over his recent comments about Russia.

“The president and his administration are working very hard to make sure that Russia is unable to meddle in our elections as they have done in the past,” Mrs Sanders said at a news briefing on Wednesday.

What’s the latest confusion?

Hours earlier, ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked the president whether Russia would still target American elections.

After he shook his head and replied, “thank you very much, no”, she again asked: “No? You don’t believe that to be the case?”

He appeared to again respond: “no”.

But Mrs Sanders rejected that interpretation later in a news briefing, telling reporters the White House was taking action to prevent any future meddling.

“We wouldn’t actually spend as much time and effort as we are if we didn’t believe that [Russia is] still looking at us,” she said.

Later, Ms Vega tweeted that the president had been looking directly at her when he answered.

NBC News’ White House correspondent Hallie Jackson responded to Mrs Sander’s explanation on Wednesday on Twitter, saying she had “never heard the president say ‘no’ in order to get us to stop”.

The apparent response would put him at odds with US intelligence on claims of Russian interference in US elections for the second time since he met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland on Monday.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump said he misspoke during Monday’s summit when he appeared to side with Mr Putin over claims of Kremlin meddling in US elections.

US intelligence chief Dan Coats said on Monday that Russia was involved in “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”.

He told a congressional committee in February he had already seen evidence that Russia was targeting the upcoming mid-term elections in November.

What has Trump said?

During an interview with CBS News’ Jeff Glor on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Trump said that he would consider Mr Putin personally responsible for any Russian interference.

“Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country,” he said. “So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes.”

Mr Trump added that he was “very strong on the fact that we can’t have meddling” in his conversation with Russia’s leader.

On Wednesday morning Mr Trump lashed out at “haters” who condemned his meeting with Russia’s president, saying his critics were suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome”.

Despite the controversy, Republican voters seem to be sticking by Mr Trump.

White House insists Trump believes Russia still a threat

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A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found that despite a firestorm of media criticism, Mr Trump’s Finland summit had no real impact on his overall approval ratings.

In the survey, 42% of all registered voters approved of his job performance, which is consistent with averages thus far.

Some 71% of Republicans polled approved of his response to Russia, while only 14% of Democrats were in favour.

What now?

US lawmakers are calling for a court demand to be issued for the notes of the US translator who accompanied Mr Trump to his two-hour meeting with Mr Putin.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to testify before the Senate next week about the summit.

White House insists Trump believes Russia still a threat

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Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, tried on Tuesday to stage a symbolic vote to support the findings of Russian interference, but was blocked by Republicans.

Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons, an Arizona Republican and a Delaware Democrat, are reportedly working on a nonbinding resolution to endorse the intelligence committee’s findings.

But Texas Republican John Cornyn said the Senate should focus on “additional sanctions instead of just some messaging exercise”.

What did Trump say at the summit?

During a news conference after Monday’s summit, Mr Trump was asked about alleged Russian meddling in the US election.

According to a transcript posted by the White House, he said: “My people came to me… they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

The summit comments sparked a barrage of criticism from lawmakers across the political spectrum, with many calling on him to correct himself.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump said he had reviewed the transcript and realised he needed to clarify.

“The sentence should have been: ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t’ or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia’. Sort of a double negative.”

White House insists Trump believes Russia still a threat

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Mr Trump said that the interference had had no impact on the election, in which he defeated Hillary Clinton.

However, he did not respond when reporters asked him if he would condemn Mr Putin.

Amid deadly violence, Nicaraguan Americans lend support to anti-government protesters

Amid deadly violence, Nicaraguan Americans lend support to anti-government protesters

MIAMI, Fla. — In April, as a nationwide protest demanding the ouster of President Daniel Ortega took over Nicaragua and students began occupying the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), four friends in Miami formed an organization to support those protesting. The Nicaraguan American Center for Democracy (NACD), as the non-profit is called, was providing mattresses for the students to sleep on.

“The students were tired, they were sleeping on the floor,” said Ana, one of the co-founders who did not want her real name used for the safety of her family that still resides in Nicaragua.

Rights groups say at least 275 people have been killed since the protests erupted. Thursday marks two months since the uprising began and is also the 39th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.

As the situation in the Central American nation deteriorated and the death toll began climbing, the NACD quickly realized there was a need for caskets. Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the hemisphere and many relatives of those killed can’t afford the $200 each coffin goes for.

This week, the group covered the costs of 40 caskets, so families could begin burying the dead after a bloody weekend where police and paramilitary groups attacked roadblocks set up by anti-government protesters.

Ana, 43, who left her home country of Nicaragua for Miami 11 years ago, said she was never prepared for this kind of brutality.

“It’s difficult to process the level of atrocities,” she said, fighting back tears.

Tensions in Nicaragua began in April after the government announced cuts to social security. Although the government quickly reversed the changes, the protests expanded into demands for Ortega to step down.

Opponents characterize Ortega as a dictator and accuse him of nepotism. He was first elected in 2006 and his wife is Vice President. Rights groups have accused security forces and groups loyal to the government of using “lethal force” against opponents. The government says the protesters are trying to stage a coup d’etat against Ortega as they try to crack down on the protests.

The latest attack took place on Tuesday when Nicaraguan police and armed pro-government civilians stormed the neighborhood of Monimbó in the city of Masaya, which has been a center of the opposition since protests began. They tore down barricades that had been erected by the opposition during a clash that lasted hours. It is not known if any deaths resulted from the confrontations in the largely indigenous town.

Francisco Palmieri, assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs tweeted on Tuesday “we strongly urge President Ortega not to attack Masaya. Continued gov’t instigated violence and bloodshed in Nicaragua must end immediately. The world is watching.”

Coincidentally, Masaya was a stronghold of the Sandinista movement, which Ortega was part of, during the Nicaraguan Revolution that overthrew U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in the 1970s. The Sandinista National Liberation Front or FSLN is a leftist political party in Nicaragua and its members are known as Sandinistas. Ortega was previously in power from 1979 to 1990.

“The regime is willing to go very, very far to stay in power,” said Frank Mora, a former Pentagon official who heads Florida International University’s Latin America and Caribbean Center.

Mora thinks the Nicaraguan military is “an institution to watch.” The military has largely remained neutral up to this point. They have political, corporate, and economic interests that could be threatened by the political instability in the country, according to Mora.

“So how this plays out and the calculations the army makes to turn against the Nicaraguan government is curious to see,” he said.

International pressure has been mounting on Ortega to end the violence, including from the United Nations, European Union, and the Organization of American States. On Monday the State Department issued a statement condemning the “ongoing attacks by Daniel Ortega’s para-police against university students, journalists, and clergy across the country.”

The statement was issued after a bloody weekend that sparked outrage around the world. On Sunday, 10 people were shot dead and 20 wounded when police and paramilitary groups attacked roadblocks set up by demonstrators

On Friday night two university students were killed when over 200 students sought refuge in a local church after police forced them out of the UNAN, which they had occupied during the past two months of protests. The students were freed after a 16-hour ordeal. The NACD supplied caskets for the two students killed.

Roman Catholic Bishop Abelardo Mata was attacked as he was traveling in a car to a funeral. He sought refuge in a nearby home and was unharmed. But it was the second time in one week that a Catholic official was attacked. Catholic officials have been mediating stalled talks on finding a peaceful solution to the standoff and have criticized Ortega’s government over the killings.

Mora says that although international pressure is important, it’s only secondary to how far the opposition is willing to go in their confrontations.

He said that despite the “grotesque” violence, “Nicaraguan people are still out there fighting, confronting, occupying, refusing to go home. And this is an important element of this,” he said.

As Ana and her group continue raising money to provide caskets for those killed amid the violence, they are already planning for the future of the country they left behind. Their plans involve projects for future presidential elections.

“We have never had a democracy,” Ana said.

Meet the elite engineers leading a challenge to India's homosexuality ban

Meet the elite engineers leading a challenge to India's homosexuality ban

NEW DELHI – When Akhilesh Godi was depressed and contemplated suicide while questioning his sexuality, he could not bring himself to see a therapist.

Godi, raised by liberal parents in the southern Indian IT hub of Hyderabad and an engineering graduate from the elite Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), is by his own admission, privileged.

But he says that seeking help in socially conservative India – where a ban on homosexuality was reinstated in 2013 — was not an option until he had to be taken to hospital suffering from severe depression after his parents noticed he wasn’t eating properly and had become much thinner.

“The tag of a ‘criminal’ makes it worse,” said Godi. “You can’t even talk about this to a psychiatrist. You don’t know how they will react.”

Akhilesh Godi, one of the petitioners challenging India’s ban on homosexuality, checks his laptop as he poses inside his house in Bengaluru, India, July 18, 2018.Abhishek N. Chinnappa / Reuters

Godi is one of the 20 openly gay students and alumni of various IITs across India whose position as products of some of the country’s most elite schools has made them one of the most high-profile groups challenging a colonial-era law that criminalizes homosexuality.

“We got a lot of attention because of the IIT tag,” says management professional Balachandran Ramiah, another member of the group, whose petition against the 157-year-old ban on gay sex was heard by India’s Supreme Court this month.

The IITs enjoy an elite status similar to the U.S. Ivy League universities, and attract some of India’s best and brightest students, who are typically scooped up by tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Apple.

Godi’s group, which includes two women and a transgender woman, feels its presence in the courtroom lends a more mainstream voice to gay rights in India, which have largely been championed by activists and non-profit organizations.

“This time, most of the petitions, and particularly the IIT petitions, have actually shown that ‘we exist’,” says Debottam Saha, who began a PhD at IIT in New Delhi last year. “This is our story and it’s high time that you hear our story”.

The IIT-associated petitioners represent a pan-IIT group of around 350, largely comprising gay men, called “Pravritti” — which in Sanskrit roughly translates to “different thoughts”.

Image: Krishna Reddy Medikonda, one of the petitioners challenging India's ban on homosexuality, poses for picture inside a garden in MumbaiKrishna Reddy Medikonda, one of the petitioners challenging India’s ban on homosexuality, poses for a picture inside a garden in Mumbai, India, July 17, 2018.Francis Mascarenhas / Reuters

“The group was made to enable people to have a safe space to share issues,” Ramiah said.

Pravritti has enlisted lawyers including prominent Supreme Court advocate Menaka Guruswamy, and has raised funds internally to cover legal fees, the petitioners said.

Supreme Court judges, in their 2013 judgment, had said that the earlier decriminalization of homosexuality by a lower court had overlooked that only a “minuscule” section of the population were homosexual.

“The words ‘minuscule minority’ hurt us a lot,” said Godi, speaking by phone from Bengaluru. “The number of individuals that identify as LGBT within India is probably the size of a country.”

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court, after hearing challenges against the homosexuality law, said it would reserve its judgment.

Activists say the law at issue, commonly called Section 377, is used to harass and blackmail gay people.

Because homosexuality is seen as illegal, gay and transgender people say they also face severe discrimination when they seek jobs or housing.

Saha says he was blackmailed by a man he met through a dating service, who threatened to expose him as gay and even slit his throat. “I was so scared and petrified … whatever money I had in my account, I just gave it to him.”

Because of Section 377, Saha says he could not file a police complaint against the man.

“You really need legal protection,” he said. “(Otherwise) you’re not even in an position to register a complaint.”

The Hindu caste system adds another layer of discrimination, and LGBTQ people from so-called lower castes suffer greater discrimination than others as a result, activists say.

While some within Pravritti say the group isn’t diverse enough because it largely comprises upper-class gay men from the so-called higher castes, many group members say they feel their voice is important so that the less privileged may also benefit.

“I had such a great support system. I’m this privileged gay man who grew up in Delhi, who has liberal friends, and who works in an LGBT-friendly company,” says Pravritti petitioner Udai Bhardwaj, who graduated from IIT at Kharagpur last year and recently came off medication after battling depression. “If I don’t do this, then who will?”

Auto industry insiders question Elon Musk's leadership, amid bizarre rant over Thai rescue

Auto industry insiders question Elon Musk's leadership, amid bizarre rant over Thai rescue

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk is well known to be opinionated, highly motivated, and even eccentric. But his recent Twitter comments accusing a British rescuer of being a pedophile may be the beginning of his undoing, industry experts say.

Musk got into a Twitter flame war with British diver Vernon Unsworth, who had dismissed as a “PR stunt” Musk’s offer to send a “kid-sized” submarine to help rescue a soccer team trapped in a flooded Thai cave. In a series of increasingly harsh-toned tweets, Musk weighed in by calling Unsworth a “pedo guy.” He then compounded matters when criticized by a Twitter follower, responding, “Bet ya a signed dollar it’s true.”

British diver Vernon Unsworth, center, wearing a black T-shirt, with with Thai army soldiers and local rescue personnel during a rescue operation for the missing children’s football team and their coach in Tham Luang cave on June 28, 2018.Krit Phromsalka Na Sakolnakorn / AFP – Getty Images

“Your behavior is fueling an unhelpful perception of your leadership — thin-skinned and short-tempered,” Gene Munster, a managing partner at the venture capital firm Loup Ventures, wrote in an open letter to the Tesla CEO this week.

Musk has since apologized for his words — one of the rare instances in which he has taken back blunt and often aggressive comments leveled at investors and analysts, journalists, and regulators.

Musk wrote that despite Unsworth’s initial criticism, “his actions against me do not justify my actions against him, and for that I apologize to Mr. Unsworth and to the companies I represent as leader. The fault is mine and mine alone.”

While Musk’s constant use of Twitter has earned a loyal following — and helped build demand for Tesla products — critics worry that he is beginning to hurt both his own and his company’s image.

Fallout from the battle hasn’t been limited to the Twittersphere. Investors initially pulled back on Tesla stock, and shares have continued to yo-yo this week. Of course, Tesla stock has been riding a rollercoaster for much of the past year, largely as a result of problems the company has faced getting its critical Model 3 battery-sedan into high-volume production.

That has clearly weighed heavily on the South African-born Musk, who has much of his fortune tied up in the company and has spent much of the past few months sleeping at Tesla’s assembly plant in Fremont, California, hoping to get things on track — if by nothing else but sheer force of will.

Production finally hit the targeted 5,000 a week at the end of June, but Musk still has to show that’s enough to deliver the profits and positive cashflow he has promised for the second half of 2018. Even then, a study released by research site SecondMeasure.com last month indicated as much as a quarter of the roughly 400,000 advanced reservations Tesla had taken for the Model 3 have been cancelled due to production delays.

Now, Tesla could see even more buyers think twice after confirming that it had reached overall sales of 200,000 vehicles in the U.S. market. That’s more than a milestone. It’s also the threshold at which point the $7,500 in federal tax credits buyers currently receive will begin to phase out. They’ll be cut in half next January and reduced by another 50 percent in mid-2019 before vanishing entirely at the end of the year.

For buyers, losing the credits would effectively translate into as much as a 21 percent price hike, something that could further challenge Tesla’s bid to become a global manufacturer.

Indeed, Musk has been getting into battles on a number of fronts in recent months:

  • The CEO has echoed Pres. Donald Trump in repeatedly questioning the accuracy and honesty of the media, even threatening to create a website to challenge reporters
  • After a Tesla Model X owner died in a March crash in California, Musk focused on the owner’s behavior, rather than possible problems with the car’s Autopilot system which became the subject of a federal safety investigation
  • Musk went on to attack the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency handling that investigation
  • In a letter sent to Tesla employees this past month, Musk accused one former worker of committing sabotage, ordering company lawyers to sue him in federal court. But it is unclear if the one-time employee was actually a saboteur or just a whistleblower Musk wants to discredit.

While investors have recoiled from some of these incidents, they have quickly returned, the stock rebounding. But Musk can’t continue to take such risks.

Theresa May survives key Brexit votes but her government is accused of 'cheating'

Theresa May survives key Brexit votes but her government is accused of 'cheating'

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly survived several key votes on her Brexit plan Tuesday night, but her government was accused by a female lawmaker on maternity leave of “cheating” to pass the legislation.

Jo Swinson is a lawmaker with Britain’s opposition Liberal Democrats.Neil Hall / Reuters file

Jo Swinson, the deputy leader of the centrist, pro-European Liberal Democrat party, said she would have voted against the tightly-contested Trade Bill, but was at home with her three-week-old baby. She accused the government of breaking an informal agreement in order to “win at all costs.”

An arrangement known as “pairing” is used when one lawmaker is unavailable to vote. Rival parties typically agree that a lawmaker who has an opposite view to the missing individual won’t vote on the issue so their absences cancel each other out.

Because Swinson was unable to attend the House of Commons for the vote, she was “paired” with a member of the ruling Conservatives — party chairman Brandon Lewis.

Lewis, however, voted on two amendments he had apparently previously agreed not to, prompting Swinson to ask May “how low will your govt stoop?” and accused the prime minister’s party of “desperate stuff.”

Lewis abstained in most of the day’s votes on the bill, but then proceeded to vote on the two closest votes, which the government won by six and lost by four votes respectively.

While informal in nature, “pairing” is seen as one of the ways Britain’s sometimes archaic lower chamber can help female lawmakers who have children, as well as parliamentarians who might be unwell.

Lewis said sorry via Twitter Tuesday night and said his votes were the result of an “honest mistake,” adding: “I know how important the pair is to everyone, especially new parents, and I apologize.”

Image: Brandon LewisConservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis.Jack Taylor / Getty Images

Earlier, Swinson had demanded an explanation. “Don’t try any nonsense about a mistake — this is a calculated, deliberate breaking of trust,” she said. “There’s a word for it — cheating.”

Swinson said measures to have proxy voting introduced in parliament had previously been shelved by the government due to the fact lawmakers on maternity leave could rely on the pairing system in the interim.

Female lawmakers from all of Britain’s major parties joined in tweeting their support of Swinson after the votes.

Yvette Cooper, a Labour lawmaker and former government minister, said May’s party was “dishonest” and “desperate.”

Tuesday’s votes were the latest bout of drama over May’s Brexit plan, with her Conservative government deeply split between supporters of a clean break with the E.U. and those who want to keep close ties with the bloc, Britain’s biggest trading partner.

Thai cave boy reveals he thought rescuer was 'hallucination'

Thai cave boy reveals he thought rescuer was 'hallucination'

The boy said that he had been so hungry after being stranded for 10 days that he could “only think about food.”

The players and their 25-year-old coach were safely brought out of the Tham Luang mountain cave complex near the border with Myanmar last week after a perilous rescue operation that drew global media attention and hundreds of journalists to the scene.

The boys have been in hospital in the northern town of Chiang Rai since they were rescued but have been pronounced generally healthy by doctors, aside from some minor infections.

The 12 boys and their soccer coach arrive for Wednesday’s news conference.Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

“They are strong physically as well as mentally,” a spokesman told reporters. “Everybody has shown determination to face life in the future.”

The boys had planned to explore the cavern for about an hour after soccer practice on June 23. But a rainy season downpour flooded the tunnels, trapping them.

Two British divers found them on July 2 squatting on a mound in a flooded chamber several miles inside the complex. Rescuers then had to work out how to get them out through the tunnels, some of which were full of fast-flowing floodwaters.

The players said Wednesday that they did not have any food with them as they did not expect to be in the cave for long.

One boy said he was initially only concerned that he would be late home.

“I was afraid I wouldn’t get home, that I would get scolded by my mother,” he said.

A framed photo of the Thai Navy SEAL who died during the rescue operation was shown to reporters and will be presented to his grieving family. It was covered in handwritten tributes from the players.

“Thank you for the bottom of our heart,” one of the messages read. “Our deep condolences to your family.”

Their dramatic story is already set for a retelling by Hollywood, with two production companies looking to put together movies about the boys and their rescue.

Thai cave boy reveals he thought rescuer was 'hallucination'


Jon M. Chu, the director of “Crazy Rich Asians,” said he was working to develop a film about the rescue in order to prevent a Hollywood “whitewash” of the story.

Authorities said the team members took part in “confidence-building exercises” prior to their release from hospital.

“They will definitely be able to conduct their normal life,” one health official told journalists. “The doctors and nurses are under more stress than the team.”

Passakorn Bunyalak, deputy governor of the province of Chiang Rai, said the boys would be sent home after the news conference and he was requesting their parents and journalists to hold off interviews for about 30 days.