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Trump Says Iran Appears to Be ‘Standing Down’ After Airstrike

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Iran appears to be “standing down” and no Americans or Iraqis were harmed in Iran’s missile strike on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

Speaking from the White House, Trump seemed intent on de-escalating the crisis, indicating that he would not retaliate militarily for the strikes. Instead, he said the U.S. would immediately put in place new economic sanctions “until Iran changes its behavior” after that country’s most brazen direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The attack came days after Trump authorized the targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iran had pledged to retaliate, bringing the two countries closer to the brink of war.

Trump credited an early warning system “that worked very well” for the fact that no Americans or Iraqis were killed. He added that Americans should be “extremely grateful and happy” with the outcome.

He reiterated his position that “Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon” and called for new nuclear negotiations to replace the 2015 nuclear deal from which he withdrew the U.S.

Trump also announced he would ask NATO to become “much more involved in the Middle East process.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump faces one of the greatest tests of his presidency after Iran launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops and planned to address the nation on Wednesday. Iran’s attack was its most brazen direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The strikes pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to war and put the world’s attention on Trump as he weighs whether to respond with more military force. The Republican president huddled with his national security advisers on Wednesday morning but offered no immediate indication of whether he would retaliate. “All is well!” he said in a Tuesday night tweet.

The White House said Trump would speak at 11 a.m. EST.

The Iranian strikes came days after Trump authorized the targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iran had pledged to retaliate, though its actions did not appear to result in any American casualties, according to a U.S. official. Its missiles targeted two bases — one in the northern Iraqi city in Irbil and the other at Ain al-Asad in western Iraq.

The lack of U.S. casualties could signal that Iran is not interested in escalating the tension with Washington — at least not now — and could give Trump an opening to calm relations with Iran and pull the U.S. back from the brink of war. Trump, who is facing reelection in November, campaigned for president on a promise to keep the United States from engaging in “endless war.”

Sen. James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told reporters Wednesday that he spoke with Trump Tuesday evening after the Iranian strike and said the president indicated his desire to reopen negotiations with Iran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a joint statement after a closed-door meeting on Mideast security are warning that the further use of force “would lead to a new cycle of instability and would eventually damage everyone’s interests.”

In the hours before the missile strikes, U.S. officials said they expected some sort of response from Iran, and Trump warned the longtime U.S. foe against a disproportionate response. “If Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the country had “concluded proportionate measures in self-defense.”

But speaking on Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the strike was not necessarily the totality of Iran’s response.

“Last night they received a slap,” Khamenei said in a speech. “These military actions are not sufficient (for revenge). What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”

Soleimani’s death last week in an American drone strike in Baghdad prompted angry calls for vengeance and drew massive crowds of Iranians to the streets to mourn him. Khamenei himself wept at the funeral in a sign of his bond with the commander.

The Iranians fired a total of 15 missiles in Wednesday’s strike, two U.S. officials said. Ten hit the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province and one targeted a base in Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Four failed, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about a military operation.

According to a U.S. official, early warning systems detected the missile launches and alarms sounded, giving personnel at the bases time to get to shelter. Officials also said that the U.S. was closely watching the region and communicating with allies, and was aware of preparations for the attack. It’s unclear if any intelligence identified specific targets or was more general in the potential strike locations.

Two Iraqi security officials said a missile appeared to have struck a plane at Ain al-Asad, igniting a fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attacks, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had no permission to talk to journalists.

Ain al-Asad was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and it later was used by American troops in the fight against the Islamic State group. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces. Trump visited it in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice President Mike Pence visited both Ain al-Asad and Irbil in November.

Democrats called on Trump avoid military escalation with Iran.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration needs to quickly “extricate us from what could lead into a full-fledged war with terrible casualties.” Engel said he feared the situation ”spirals out of control.”

The fallout for Trump’s order to kill Soleimani has been swift.

Iran announced that it would no longer be bound by the 2015 nuclear agreement and vowed to retaliate against the U.S., its allies and American interests. Iraq’s Parliament also voted to expel U.S. troops from Iraq, which would undermine efforts to fight Islamic State militants in the region and strengthen Iran’s influence in the Mideast.

The counterattack by Iran came as Trump and his top advisers were under pressure to disclose more details about the intelligence that led to the American strike that killed Soleimani.

Top Senate Democrats, citing “deep concern” about the lack of information coming from the Trump administration about the Iran operation, called on Defense Department officials to provide “regular briefings and documents” to Congress.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the senators said in a letter Wednesday that the White House’s classified War Powers notification to Congress was “generic, vague, and entirely inconsistent in its level of detail” compared with the norm.

“While recognizing the need for operations security, we similarly believe there is a requirement to be transparent with the American people about how many troops this Administration plans to deploy in support of contingency plans,” wrote Schumer, Sen. Dick Durbin and the Armed Services Committee’s Sen. Jack Reed to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

They also registered their “grave concern” with Trump’s comments on targeting Iranian cultural sites and asked for clarification. They said they expected a response by Friday.

Trump said Tuesday that his decision saved American lives. Members of Congress were to be briefed on the strike Wednesday afternoon in closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill.

Trump and top national security officials have justified the airstrike with general statements about the threat posed by Soleimani, who commanded proxy forces outside Iran and was responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq.

But the details have been scarce.

“He’s no longer a monster. He’s dead,” Trump said. “And that’s a good thing for a lot of countries. He was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people, and we stopped him, and I don’t think anybody can complain about it.”

One lawmaker who has read the classified notification that Trump sent Congress after the U.S. air strike that killed Soleimani said the two-page document did not describe any imminent planned attacks or contain any new information. The lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the classified document, said the letter gave a historic account of attacks that have been reported publicly.

Soleimani was targeted while he was at an airport in Baghdad with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a veteran Iraqi militant, who also was killed.

___

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Lolita Baldor, Darlene Superville Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

The post Trump Says Iran Appears to Be ‘Standing Down’ After Airstrike appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Says Iran Appears to Be ‘Standing Down’ After Airstrike

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Iran appears to be “standing down” and no Americans or Iraqis were harmed in Iran’s missile strike on two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

Speaking from the White House, Trump seemed intent on de-escalating the crisis, indicating that he would not retaliate militarily for the strikes. Instead, he said the U.S. would immediately put in place new economic sanctions “until Iran changes its behavior” after that country’s most brazen direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The attack came days after Trump authorized the targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iran had pledged to retaliate, bringing the two countries closer to the brink of war.

Trump credited an early warning system “that worked very well” for the fact that no Americans or Iraqis were killed. He added that Americans should be “extremely grateful and happy” with the outcome.

He reiterated his position that “Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon” and called for new nuclear negotiations to replace the 2015 nuclear deal from which he withdrew the U.S.

Trump also announced he would ask NATO to become “much more involved in the Middle East process.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump faces one of the greatest tests of his presidency after Iran launched ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops and planned to address the nation on Wednesday. Iran’s attack was its most brazen direct assault on America since the 1979 seizing of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The strikes pushed Tehran and Washington perilously close to war and put the world’s attention on Trump as he weighs whether to respond with more military force. The Republican president huddled with his national security advisers on Wednesday morning but offered no immediate indication of whether he would retaliate. “All is well!” he said in a Tuesday night tweet.

The White House said Trump would speak at 11 a.m. EST.

The Iranian strikes came days after Trump authorized the targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force. Iran had pledged to retaliate, though its actions did not appear to result in any American casualties, according to a U.S. official. Its missiles targeted two bases — one in the northern Iraqi city in Irbil and the other at Ain al-Asad in western Iraq.

The lack of U.S. casualties could signal that Iran is not interested in escalating the tension with Washington — at least not now — and could give Trump an opening to calm relations with Iran and pull the U.S. back from the brink of war. Trump, who is facing reelection in November, campaigned for president on a promise to keep the United States from engaging in “endless war.”

Sen. James Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee told reporters Wednesday that he spoke with Trump Tuesday evening after the Iranian strike and said the president indicated his desire to reopen negotiations with Iran.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a joint statement after a closed-door meeting on Mideast security are warning that the further use of force “would lead to a new cycle of instability and would eventually damage everyone’s interests.”

In the hours before the missile strikes, U.S. officials said they expected some sort of response from Iran, and Trump warned the longtime U.S. foe against a disproportionate response. “If Iran does anything that they shouldn’t be doing, they’re going to be suffering the consequences, and very strongly.”

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the country had “concluded proportionate measures in self-defense.”

But speaking on Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the strike was not necessarily the totality of Iran’s response.

“Last night they received a slap,” Khamenei said in a speech. “These military actions are not sufficient (for revenge). What is important is that the corrupt presence of America in this region comes to an end.”

Soleimani’s death last week in an American drone strike in Baghdad prompted angry calls for vengeance and drew massive crowds of Iranians to the streets to mourn him. Khamenei himself wept at the funeral in a sign of his bond with the commander.

The Iranians fired a total of 15 missiles in Wednesday’s strike, two U.S. officials said. Ten hit the Ain al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province and one targeted a base in Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Four failed, said the officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about a military operation.

According to a U.S. official, early warning systems detected the missile launches and alarms sounded, giving personnel at the bases time to get to shelter. Officials also said that the U.S. was closely watching the region and communicating with allies, and was aware of preparations for the attack. It’s unclear if any intelligence identified specific targets or was more general in the potential strike locations.

Two Iraqi security officials said a missile appeared to have struck a plane at Ain al-Asad, igniting a fire. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attacks, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they had no permission to talk to journalists.

Ain al-Asad was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and it later was used by American troops in the fight against the Islamic State group. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces. Trump visited it in December 2018, making his first presidential visit to troops in the region. Vice President Mike Pence visited both Ain al-Asad and Irbil in November.

Democrats called on Trump avoid military escalation with Iran.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration needs to quickly “extricate us from what could lead into a full-fledged war with terrible casualties.” Engel said he feared the situation ”spirals out of control.”

The fallout for Trump’s order to kill Soleimani has been swift.

Iran announced that it would no longer be bound by the 2015 nuclear agreement and vowed to retaliate against the U.S., its allies and American interests. Iraq’s Parliament also voted to expel U.S. troops from Iraq, which would undermine efforts to fight Islamic State militants in the region and strengthen Iran’s influence in the Mideast.

The counterattack by Iran came as Trump and his top advisers were under pressure to disclose more details about the intelligence that led to the American strike that killed Soleimani.

Top Senate Democrats, citing “deep concern” about the lack of information coming from the Trump administration about the Iran operation, called on Defense Department officials to provide “regular briefings and documents” to Congress.

Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the senators said in a letter Wednesday that the White House’s classified War Powers notification to Congress was “generic, vague, and entirely inconsistent in its level of detail” compared with the norm.

“While recognizing the need for operations security, we similarly believe there is a requirement to be transparent with the American people about how many troops this Administration plans to deploy in support of contingency plans,” wrote Schumer, Sen. Dick Durbin and the Armed Services Committee’s Sen. Jack Reed to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

They also registered their “grave concern” with Trump’s comments on targeting Iranian cultural sites and asked for clarification. They said they expected a response by Friday.

Trump said Tuesday that his decision saved American lives. Members of Congress were to be briefed on the strike Wednesday afternoon in closed-door sessions on Capitol Hill.

Trump and top national security officials have justified the airstrike with general statements about the threat posed by Soleimani, who commanded proxy forces outside Iran and was responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq.

But the details have been scarce.

“He’s no longer a monster. He’s dead,” Trump said. “And that’s a good thing for a lot of countries. He was planning a very big attack and a very bad attack for us and other people, and we stopped him, and I don’t think anybody can complain about it.”

One lawmaker who has read the classified notification that Trump sent Congress after the U.S. air strike that killed Soleimani said the two-page document did not describe any imminent planned attacks or contain any new information. The lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the classified document, said the letter gave a historic account of attacks that have been reported publicly.

Soleimani was targeted while he was at an airport in Baghdad with Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a veteran Iraqi militant, who also was killed.

___

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Lolita Baldor, Darlene Superville Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

The post Trump Says Iran Appears to Be ‘Standing Down’ After Airstrike appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Ukrainian Airplane Crashes Near Iran’s Capital, Killing 176

SHAHEDSHAHR, Iran — A Ukrainian airliner carrying 176 people crashed on the outskirts of Tehran during a takeoff attempt Wednesday hours after Iran launched its missile attack on U.S. forces, scattering flaming debris and passengers’ belongings across farmland and killing everyone on board.

Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical problem brought down the 3½-year-old Boeing 737. Ukrainian officials initially agreed but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is going on.

The Ukraine International Airlines flight was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries. Ukraine Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board, along with 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British citizens.

Airline officials said most of the passengers were en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Passengers on the flight are often Iranian students returning to Ukraine after the winter holidays or Iranian-Canadians on their way to Toronto.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy cut short a visit to Oman to return to Kyiv and said a team of Ukrainian experts would fly to Tehran to help investigate the crash.

“Our priority is to find the truth and everyone responsible for the tragedy,” Zelenskiy wrote in a Facebook statement.

Major world airlines Wednesday rerouted flights crossing the Middle East to avoid danger amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration barred American airlines from certain Persian Gulf airspace, warning of the “potential for miscalculation or misidentification” of civilian aircraft.

The plane had been delayed from taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It never made it above 8,000 feet, crashing just minutes after takeoff, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.

Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared a fire erupted in one of its engines and the pilot lost control of the plane, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Hassan Razaeifar, the head of the air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight. He did not elaborate.

Ukraine International Airlines President Yevhen Dykhne, said the aircraft “was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew.” In a statement, the airline went further, saying: “Given the crew’s experience, error probability is minimal. We do not even consider such a chance.”

Authorities said they found the plane’s so-called black boxes, which record cockpit conversations and instrument data.

The crash shocked Canada, with Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne saying the country’s “hearts are with the loved ones of the victims.”

The plane, fully loaded with fuel for its 2,300-kilometer (1,430-mile) flight, slammed into the ground near the town of Shahedshahr, causing fires that lit up the darkened fields before dawn.

Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq in revenge for the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash.

“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he told The Associated Press. “At first I thought (the Americans) have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”

The crash left a wide field of field of debris scattered across farmland, the dead lying among shattered pieces of the aircraft. Their possessions, including a child’s cartoon-covered electric toothbrush, a stuffed animal, luggage and electronics, stretched everywhere.

Rescuers in masks shouted over the noise of hovering helicopters. They quickly realized there would be no survivors.

“The only thing that the pilot managed to do was steer the plane towards a soccer field near here instead of a residential area back there,” witness Aref Geravand said. “It crashed near the field and in a water canal.”

The Boeing 737-800 model that went down is an extremely common twin-engine jetliner used for short- to medium-range flights. Thousands are used by airlines around the world.

Introduced in the late 1990s, it is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months following two deadly crashes. The jet that went down on Wednesday last underwent routine maintenance on Monday, the airline said.

A number of 737-800 aircraft have been involved in deadly accidents over the years, including a FlyDubai crash in Russia in 2016 that killed 62 people and an Air India Express disaster in India in 2010 that left more than 150 dead.

The 737-800s have been the subject of inspections and repairs since last year, after airlines started reporting cracks in a part that keeps the wings attached to the fuselage.

Boeing extended condolences to the victims’ families and said it stands ready to assist. Boeing, like other airline manufacturers, typically helps in crash investigations. But that effort could be thwarted in this case by the U.S. sanctions imposed against Iran since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

___

Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran, and Gambrell from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Bangkok; Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran; Daria Litvinova in Moscow, Inna Varenytsia and Dmytro Vlasov in Kyiv, Ukraine; Carlo Piovano in London and Rob Gilles in Toronto contributed to this report.

The post Ukrainian Airplane Crashes Near Iran’s Capital, Killing 176 appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Ukrainian Airplane Crashes Near Iran’s Capital, Killing 176

SHAHEDSHAHR, Iran — A Ukrainian airliner carrying 176 people crashed on the outskirts of Tehran during a takeoff attempt Wednesday hours after Iran launched its missile attack on U.S. forces, scattering flaming debris and passengers’ belongings across farmland and killing everyone on board.

Iranian officials said they suspected a mechanical problem brought down the 3½-year-old Boeing 737. Ukrainian officials initially agreed but later backed away and declined to offer a cause while the investigation is going on.

The Ukraine International Airlines flight was carrying 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries. Ukraine Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said there were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on board, along with 10 Swedish, four Afghan, three German and three British citizens.

Airline officials said most of the passengers were en route to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Passengers on the flight are often Iranian students returning to Ukraine after the winter holidays or Iranian-Canadians on their way to Toronto.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy cut short a visit to Oman to return to Kyiv and said a team of Ukrainian experts would fly to Tehran to help investigate the crash.

“Our priority is to find the truth and everyone responsible for the tragedy,” Zelenskiy wrote in a Facebook statement.

Major world airlines Wednesday rerouted flights crossing the Middle East to avoid danger amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration barred American airlines from certain Persian Gulf airspace, warning of the “potential for miscalculation or misidentification” of civilian aircraft.

The plane had been delayed from taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport by almost an hour. It never made it above 8,000 feet, crashing just minutes after takeoff, according to data from the flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.

Qassem Biniaz, a spokesman for Iran’s Road and Transportation Ministry, said it appeared a fire erupted in one of its engines and the pilot lost control of the plane, according to the state-run IRNA news agency.

Hassan Razaeifar, the head of the air crash investigation committee, said it appeared the pilot couldn’t communicate with air-traffic controllers in Tehran in the last moments of the flight. He did not elaborate.

Ukraine International Airlines President Yevhen Dykhne, said the aircraft “was one of the best planes we had, with an amazing, reliable crew.” In a statement, the airline went further, saying: “Given the crew’s experience, error probability is minimal. We do not even consider such a chance.”

Authorities said they found the plane’s so-called black boxes, which record cockpit conversations and instrument data.

The crash shocked Canada, with Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne saying the country’s “hearts are with the loved ones of the victims.”

The plane, fully loaded with fuel for its 2,300-kilometer (1,430-mile) flight, slammed into the ground near the town of Shahedshahr, causing fires that lit up the darkened fields before dawn.

Resident Din Mohammad Qassemi said he had been watching the news about the Iranian ballistic missile attack on U.S. forces in Iraq in revenge for the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani when he heard the crash.

“I heard a massive explosion and all the houses started to shake. There was fire everywhere,” he told The Associated Press. “At first I thought (the Americans) have hit here with missiles and went in the basement as a shelter. After a while, I went out and saw a plane has crashed over there. Body parts were lying around everywhere.”

The crash left a wide field of field of debris scattered across farmland, the dead lying among shattered pieces of the aircraft. Their possessions, including a child’s cartoon-covered electric toothbrush, a stuffed animal, luggage and electronics, stretched everywhere.

Rescuers in masks shouted over the noise of hovering helicopters. They quickly realized there would be no survivors.

“The only thing that the pilot managed to do was steer the plane towards a soccer field near here instead of a residential area back there,” witness Aref Geravand said. “It crashed near the field and in a water canal.”

The Boeing 737-800 model that went down is an extremely common twin-engine jetliner used for short- to medium-range flights. Thousands are used by airlines around the world.

Introduced in the late 1990s, it is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded for nearly 10 months following two deadly crashes. The jet that went down on Wednesday last underwent routine maintenance on Monday, the airline said.

A number of 737-800 aircraft have been involved in deadly accidents over the years, including a FlyDubai crash in Russia in 2016 that killed 62 people and an Air India Express disaster in India in 2010 that left more than 150 dead.

The 737-800s have been the subject of inspections and repairs since last year, after airlines started reporting cracks in a part that keeps the wings attached to the fuselage.

Boeing extended condolences to the victims’ families and said it stands ready to assist. Boeing, like other airline manufacturers, typically helps in crash investigations. But that effort could be thwarted in this case by the U.S. sanctions imposed against Iran since President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

___

Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran, and Gambrell from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Bangkok; Mehdi Fattahi in Tehran; Daria Litvinova in Moscow, Inna Varenytsia and Dmytro Vlasov in Kyiv, Ukraine; Carlo Piovano in London and Rob Gilles in Toronto contributed to this report.

The post Ukrainian Airplane Crashes Near Iran’s Capital, Killing 176 appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iran Strikes Back at U.S. With Missile Attack on Bases in Iraq

TEHRAN, Iran—Iran struck back at the United States for the killing of a top Iranian general early Wednesday, firing a series of surface-to-surface missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops and warning the United States and its allies in the region not to retaliate.

U.S. officials confirmed the strikes, though Iran only initially acknowledged targeting one base. There was no immediate word on injuries.

Iranian state TV said the attack was in revenge for the killing of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, whose funeral procession Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman prompted angry calls to avenge his death, which drastically raised tensions in the Middle East.

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned the U.S. and its regional allies against retaliating over the missile attack against the Ain Assad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar province. The Guard issued the warning via a statement carried by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency.

“We are warning all American allies, who gave their bases to its terrorist army, that any territory that is the starting point of aggressive acts against Iran will be targeted,” The Guard said. It also threatened Israel.

Ain Assad air base is in Iraq’s western Anbar province. It was first used by American forces after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and later saw American troops stationed there amid the fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. It houses about 1,500 U.S. and coalition forces.

State TV said the operation’s name was “Martyr Soleimani.” It said the Guard’s aerospace division that controls Iran’s missile program launched the attack. Iran said it would release more information later.

The U.S. also acknowledged another missile attack on a base in Irbil in Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.

A spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces told AP in a phone interview that about 70 Norwegian troops were on the airbase, but no injuries have been reported, Brynjar Stordal, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces told AP in a phone interview.”

Wednesday’s revenge attack came a mere few hours after crowds in Iran mourned Soleimani and as the U.S. continued to reinforce its own positions in the region and warned of an unspecified threat to shipping from Iran in the region’s waterways, crucial routes for global energy supplies. U.S. embassies and consulates from Asia to Africa and Europe issued security alerts for Americans. The U.S. Air Force launched a drill with 52 fighter jets in Utah, just days after President Donald Trump threatened to hit 52 sites in Iran.

A stampede broke out Tuesday at Soleimani’s funeral for a top Iranian general slain in a U.S. airstrike, and at least 56 people were killed and more than 200 were injured as thousands thronged the procession, Iranian news reports said.

Tuesday’s deadly stampede took place in Soleimani’s hometown of Kerman as his coffin was being borne through the city in southeastern Iran, said Pirhossein Koulivand, head of Iran’s emergency medical services.

There was no information about what set off the crush in the packed streets, and online videos showed only its aftermath: people lying apparently lifeless, their faces covered by clothing, emergency crews performing CPR on the fallen, and onlookers wailing and crying out to God.

“Unfortunately as a result of the stampede, some of our compatriots have been injured and some have been killed during the funeral processions,” Koulivand said, and state TV quoted him as saying that 56 had died and 213 had been injured.

Soleimani’s burial was delayed, with no new time given, because of concerns about the huge crowd at the cemetery, the semi-official ISNA news agency said.

A procession in Tehran on Monday drew over 1 million people in the Iranian capital, crowding both main avenues and side streets in Tehran. Such mass crowds can prove dangerous. A smaller stampede at the 1989 funeral for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini killed at least eight people and injured hundreds.

Hossein Salami, Soleimani’s successor as leader of the Revolutionary Guard, addressed a crowd of supporters gathered at the coffin in a central square in Kernan. He vowed to avenge Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike Friday near Baghdad’s airport.

“We tell our enemies that we will retaliate but if they take another action we will set ablaze the places that they like and are passionate about,” Salami said.

“Death to Israel!” the crowd shouted in response, referring to one of Iran’s longtime regional foes.

Salami praised Soleimani’s work, describing him as essential to backing Palestinian groups, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria. As a martyr, Soleimani represented an even greater threat to Iran’s enemies, Salami said.

Soleimani will ultimately be laid to rest between the graves of Enayatollah Talebizadeh and Mohammad Hossein Yousef Elahi, two former Guard comrades killed in Iran’s 1980s war with Iraq. They died in Operation Dawn 8, in which Soleimani also took part. It was a 1986 amphibious assault that cut Iraq off from the Persian Gulf and led to the end of the war that killed 1 million.

The funeral processions in major cities over three days have been an unprecedented honor for Soleimani, seen by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force.

The U.S. blames him for killing U.S. troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before he was killed. Soleimani also led forces supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war, and he also served as the point man for Iranian proxies in countries like Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Assad in Syria on Tuesday amid the tensions between Washington and Tehran.

Soleimani’s slaying already has led Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge.

In Iraq, pro-Iranian factions in parliament have pushed to oust American troops from Iraqi soil following Soleimani’s killing. Germany and Canada announced plans to move some of their soldiers in Iraq to neighboring countries.

According to a report on Tuesday by the semi-official Tasnim news agency, Iran has worked up 13 sets of plans to avenge Soleimani’s death. The report quoted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, as saying that even the weakest among them would be a “historic nightmare” for the U.S. He declined to elaborate,

“If the U.S. troops do not leave our region voluntarily and upright, we will do something to carry their bodies horizontally out,” Shamkhani said.

The state-run IRNA news agency later published a statement from the Supreme National Security Council denying Shamkhani made the comment.

The U.S. Maritime Administration warned ships across the Mideast, citing the rising threats. “The Iranian response to this action, if any, is unknown, but there remains the possibility of Iranian action against U.S. maritime interests in the region,” it said.

Oil tankers were targeted in mine attacks last year that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied responsibility, although it did seize oil tankers around the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of the world’s crude oil travels.

The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it would work with shippers in the region to minimize any possible threat.

The 5th Fleet “has and will continue to provide advice to merchant shipping as appropriate regarding recommended security precautions in light of the heightened tensions and threats in the region,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Joshua Frey told The Associated Press.

Meanwhile, Iranian Gen. Alireza Tabgsiri, the chief of the Guard’s navy, issued his own warning.

“Our message to the enemies is to leave the region,” Tabgsiri said, according to ISNA. The Guard routinely has tense encounters with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.

Separately, Iran summoned the British ambassador over comments by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the British defense minister about Soleimani’s killing, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

Iran’s parliament, meanwhile, has passed an urgent bill declaring the U.S. military’s command at the Pentagon and those acting on its behalf in Soleimani’s killing as “terrorists,” subject to Iranian sanctions. The measure appears to be in response to a decision by Trump in April to declare the Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist organization.”

The U.S. Defense Department used that terror designation to support the strike that killed Soleimani. The action by Iran’s parliament was done by a special procedure to speed it into law and also saw the lawmakers approve funding for the Quds Force with an additional 200 million euros, or about $224 million.

Also Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the U.S. had declined to issue him a visa to travel to New York for meetings at the United Nations. As the host of the U.N. headquarters, the U.S. is supposed to allow foreign officials to attend such meetings.

“This is because they fear someone will go there and tell the truth to the American people,” Zarif said. “But they are mistaken. The world is not limited to New York. You can speak with American people from Tehran too and we will do that.”

Asked about Zarif, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told journalists America would comply with its obligations under U.N. rules to grant visas. He then referred to the Iranian diplomat as “a propagandist of the first order.”

A U.S. official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record said the application couldn’t be processed in time for Zarif’s travel although it wasn’t clear if his request had been formally denied. A formal rejection would trigger legal technicalities that could affect future visa applications and could violate the host country agreement the U.S. has with the U.N.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed.

The post Iran Strikes Back at U.S. With Missile Attack on Bases in Iraq appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bernie Sanders Hits Joe Biden Where It Hurts

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday evening took aim at the legislative record of 2020 Democratic primary rival former Vice President Joe Biden, calling Biden—who also served in the U.S. Senate representing Delaware for 36 years—the wrong candidate to take on President Donald Trump in the general election this November.

Sanders hit Biden on voting for the Iraq War, a pattern of supporting disastrous trade deals, and Biden’s many efforts as a lawmaker to cut social programs.

Related Articles by by Common Dreams by Common Dreams

“I just don’t think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the kind energy we need to defeat Trump,” Sanders told CNN‘s Anderson Cooper.

Watch:

Presidential candidate @BernieSanders hammers Joe Biden for his Iraq War, NAFTA votes.

“I just don’t think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the kind energy we need to defeat Trump.” pic.twitter.com/3JIIVCNE48

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) January 7, 2020

Sanders has recently focused on providing a contrast between the two men’s decades-long records of public service. Biden’s longtime, consistent support for cutting Social Security and Medicare and tax breaks for the wealthy are a stark difference from Sanders’ career goals of expanding social programs and taxing the rich.

“Joe Biden has been on the floor of the Senate talking about the need to cut Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid,” said Sanders.

Campaign speechwriter David Sirota shared video of Biden doing just that in 1995.

JOE BIDEN: “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare & Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits….And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a 3rd time & I tried it a 4th time.”https://t.co/TpoSdmjGhA pic.twitter.com/MIAx4nO9Qa

— David Sirota (@davidsirota) January 2, 2020

On CNN Monday, Sanders also hit Biden for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement and being a booster of former President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq.

“Do you think that’s going to play well in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania?” Sanders asked Cooper.

According to New York Magazine, the answer to that question from progressives and Sanders is, “not well”:

Biden’s record, the Vermont senator said, won’t inspire young people and working people. It will also allow President Trump to attack him in some of the Rust Belt states Democrats are trying to claw back from the GOP. Sanders’s conclusion? Biden won’t be able to “bring forth the energy we need to beat Trump.”

The two frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nod, Sanders and Biden are locked in tight battles in Iowa and New Hampshire, which caucus and cast votes respectively to officially kick off the primary starting next month. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg round out the top contenders in the Democratic field.

The post Bernie Sanders Hits Joe Biden Where It Hurts appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bernie Sanders Hits Joe Biden Where It Hurts

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday evening took aim at the legislative record of 2020 Democratic primary rival former Vice President Joe Biden, calling Biden—who also served in the U.S. Senate representing Delaware for 36 years—the wrong candidate to take on President Donald Trump in the general election this November.

Sanders hit Biden on voting for the Iraq War, a pattern of supporting disastrous trade deals, and Biden’s many efforts as a lawmaker to cut social programs.

Related Articles by by Common Dreams by Common Dreams

“I just don’t think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the kind energy we need to defeat Trump,” Sanders told CNN‘s Anderson Cooper.

Watch:

Presidential candidate @BernieSanders hammers Joe Biden for his Iraq War, NAFTA votes.

“I just don’t think that that kind of record is going to bring forth the kind energy we need to defeat Trump.” pic.twitter.com/3JIIVCNE48

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) January 7, 2020

Sanders has recently focused on providing a contrast between the two men’s decades-long records of public service. Biden’s longtime, consistent support for cutting Social Security and Medicare and tax breaks for the wealthy are a stark difference from Sanders’ career goals of expanding social programs and taxing the rich.

“Joe Biden has been on the floor of the Senate talking about the need to cut Social Security or Medicare or Medicaid,” said Sanders.

Campaign speechwriter David Sirota shared video of Biden doing just that in 1995.

JOE BIDEN: “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare & Medicaid. I meant veterans’ benefits….And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a 3rd time & I tried it a 4th time.”https://t.co/TpoSdmjGhA pic.twitter.com/MIAx4nO9Qa

— David Sirota (@davidsirota) January 2, 2020

On CNN Monday, Sanders also hit Biden for supporting the North American Free Trade Agreement and being a booster of former President George W. Bush’s war on Iraq.

“Do you think that’s going to play well in Michigan, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania?” Sanders asked Cooper.

According to New York Magazine, the answer to that question from progressives and Sanders is, “not well”:

Biden’s record, the Vermont senator said, won’t inspire young people and working people. It will also allow President Trump to attack him in some of the Rust Belt states Democrats are trying to claw back from the GOP. Sanders’s conclusion? Biden won’t be able to “bring forth the energy we need to beat Trump.”

The two frontrunners for the 2020 Democratic nod, Sanders and Biden are locked in tight battles in Iowa and New Hampshire, which caucus and cast votes respectively to officially kick off the primary starting next month. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg round out the top contenders in the Democratic field.

The post Bernie Sanders Hits Joe Biden Where It Hurts appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump’s Trade War Is Crushing Small Business

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Mike Elrod voted for Donald Trump in 2016, hoping for a break from tight government oversight that his business had endured for years, which he often found unreasonable.

“There was a time when every day I dreaded opening the mail,” said Elrod, who founded a small firm in South Carolina called Eccotemp that makes energy-efficient, tankless water heaters. “The Department of Energy would put in an arbitrary rule and then come back the next day and say, ‘You’re not in compliance.’ We had no input into what was changing and when the change was taking place.”

Related Articles by The Real News Network by Independent Media Institute by

Elrod also thought that big businesses had long been able to buy their way out of problems, either by spending lots of money on compliance or on lobbyists to look for loopholes and apply political pressure. Trump, of course, had promised to address that — to “drain the swamp.”

Elrod is in his mid-60s, tall with a white beard and deliberative drawl. He trusted the president even as Trump started a trade war with China, where Elrod manufactures his heaters. The administration said U.S. companies that could prove they had no other source for their imports and whose business would be gravely injured could be spared the punishing tariffs that Trump was imposing. They would simply have to file for an exemption.

“I had every reason to believe they were talking about us,” Elrod said. Eccotemp had spent 15 years developing different models of tankless heaters with manufacturers in China. Simply finding new factories in other countries seemed impossible.

So in the summer of 2018, Elrod settled in at his desk, strewn with brass valves, a pressure tester and a smiling jade Buddha from a Chinese supplier, and began typing. He and his dozen U.S. employees — designers, engineers, salespeople and customer service representatives — operate out of a squat cinder block building in a woodsy suburb of Charleston that used to be a film studio and now doubles as a distribution warehouse.

In letters to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Elrod asked that gas-powered water heaters be exempted from the administration’s 25% tariffs, writing that the cost would be “devastating” for the company’s balance sheet. “We had all the boxes checked,” Elrod said. “Or so I thought.”

The process didn’t go as he expected. It’s the stuff that libertarians like Elrod dread: Low-level staffers with limited industry knowledge issuing seemingly arbitrary decisions that can save or smash a company’s bottom line.

Every few weeks, a list comes out with a new batch of lucky winners, and losers. “Non-electrical wall candelabras, of wood, each with 3 wrought iron candle holders” received a pass, for example, but none with one or two candles.

There is no mechanism for appeals.

Overall, Trump’s tariffs have not had the effect that the self-described “Tariff Man” promised. Companies have moved manufacturing out of China — and it has mostly gone to Vietnam, Taiwan and Mexico. Tariffs are chiefly behind a months-long decline in domestic manufacturing, Federal Reserve researchers have found. The total loss of jobs across the economy may be as high as 300,000.

But constantly up-in-the-air trade agreements and the byzantine, opaque exclusion process has been a blessing for one set of players: Washington’s influence industry, including the firms of former Trump officials and allies like inauguration committee chief Brian Ballard, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Trump fundraiser Marc Lampkin.

Ballard was once Trump’s lobbyist in Florida. He’s since been dubbed “the most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” A cancer therapy firm, Varian Medical Systems, paid Ballard and a colleague $540,000 to lobby the White House, the trade office and Vice President Mike Pence on trade issues, filings show. The outreach included a meeting with Trump’s director of trade and manufacturing policy, Peter Navarro.

Since then, four of Varian’s five exclusion requests have been approved — which, the company said in an SEC filing, boosted revenues by $23 million. (Navarro said he doesn’t intervene in the exclusion process.)

Priebus’ firm, Michael Best Strategies, was hired by a Wisconsin company, Primex, to handle exemptions for its timekeeping and temperature measurement devices. “You’re not gonna do it on your own,” Primex CEO Paul Shekoski said in an interview. “It’s suicide actually.”

Shekoski said he wanted help understanding the process and making sure all the requests were filed correctly. With Michael Best’s guidance, he personally wrote letters to and met with his representatives in Washington.

The collective effort may have made it all the way to the Oval Office. Shekoski said in an email last fall that he heard from his lobbyist at Michael Best, Denise Bode, that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. cited Primex as an example of a Wisconsin company suffering from tariffs when the senator took the issue to the president. “He not only called USTR, he was able to bring our specific case up to Trump directly,” Shekoski said. Bode did not respond to a request for comment, and a Johnson spokesman did not respond to questions about the Trump contact, saying only that Johnson had advocated for many Wisconsin companies.

Days before this story was published, Shekoski denied knowing whether Johnson brought up the issue with Trump. He said he was just trying to give his elected representatives concrete stories about small businesses struggling with tariffs that they could use to advocate for tariff relief.

Lobbying records show that Primex paid Priebus’ firm, Michael Best Strategies, $85,000 in 2018 and 2019 for its services. “I’m not selling access,” Priebus once told Politico. “I’m merely providing strategic advice and helping them handle their problems.” (Neither Priebus nor the White House responded to requests for comment.)

Primex got mixed results, with about half of its 205 exclusion requests granted and half denied.

Disclosure rules don’t require companies to say how much money they’ve spent lobbying on exclusions specifically. But records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that the number of clients lobbying on tariffs and other trade issues are higher than any year on record. In 2018, the number jumped by 28% to 1,372, and 2019 will significantly exceed that once final figures are in.

There is also no comprehensive picture yet of how companies that have hired lobbyists have fared compared with those that haven’t. But there is evidence that agencies have bent the rules. In October, a government watchdog found that Commerce Department officials had secretly changed the rules for one exclusion category after “off-the-record” discussions with a favored company, creating a “perception of undue influence.”

Companies with enough resources and savvy can not only push their own cases, they can work to undermine those of competitors. Elrod began to understand that in early August. He had been on the trade office’s website, waiting to see if he would get his exclusion and watching for requests from competitors, when he noticed that an industry giant had formally objected to his application.

Rheem Manufacturing Company is a Japanese-owned conglomerate and one of the world’s largest producers of water heaters, including in the United States. It challenged Elrod and a handful of other companies that had claimed they couldn’t find alternative sources for their products outside of China, arguing that Elrod could find suppliers in Japan, Germany and South Korea — or buy from Rheem itself.

Elrod quickly fired back with another letter, laying out how difficult and expensive it would be in practice to move production to another country. Amid a rush out of China, factories in Vietnam are holding out for enormous orders and shunning the relatively small quantities that Eccotemp imports. Plus, after developing his heaters over more than a decade with a handful of suppliers, finding one that could meet his exacting standards would require months of tests and new certifications.

That did not sway the government’s trade office, the USTR, which in late September posted a one-page form letter saying that Elrod had failed to demonstrate his products weren’t available outside of China. Thinking that his original ask for exclusions might have been too broad, Elrod then filed individual requests for several of his models, hoping the government might exempt at least a few of them.

But Rheem had reinforcements. New comments in opposition arrived on the letterhead of King & Spalding, a law firm with sleek offices across the street from the White House and a complement of former government officials. Stephen Vaughn had left the firm in 2017 to serve on the administration’s “beachhead team” at USTR, served as the agency’s general counsel — where he oversaw the exclusion process — and then rejoined the firm in 2019.

Fees paid for legal services aren’t public, but records show that Rheem spent $610,000 on lobbying on all federal issues in 2018. Neither Rheem nor Vaughn responded to requests for comment.

“I don’t have anyone on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Elrod said. “That letter probably cost them more than we’ve spent on legal expenses in the last five years.”

His concern growing, Elrod met a staffer in the district office of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and asked for a letter of support. He inquired with USTR about testifying at one of the agency’s multiday hearings on its sweeping tariff action.

Nothing worked. He didn’t make the witness list for USTR’s hearings, but the head of Rheem’s air conditioning division did. South Carolina’s Department of Commerce wrote letters on behalf of large employers like the fiberglass manufacturer China Jushi, but for the first few rounds of tariffs, no letters for small companies appear in the public record. (A spokeswoman said the state had written letters for “companies of various sizes and with varying numbers of employees.”)

Graham, who had filed seven letters supporting companies with a presence in South Carolina — several of them multinational or foreign-owned — also didn’t help.

“Lindsey Graham really did kick it to the curb,” Elrod said. (A spokesman for Graham did not respond to a request for further explanation.)

Finally, in November, the trade office rejected all of Elrod’s requests for relief in the same terse fashion it had the first. “After careful consideration, your request was denied because the request failed to show that this particular product is available only from China,” the letter read.

As a result, Eccotemp would get back none of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in duties that it had already paid out, and the bleeding would continue. Its profit margins vaporized and its employee head count sank by about 30%, as the company opted not to replace departing staff.)

For a while after receiving the denials, Elrod carefully watched the steady stream of response letters posted on the federal regulations portal, in case another company received an exclusion that would also cover his products. But no relevant approvals appeared.

Elrod has appreciated how under Trump, other regulators have been more business friendly. The government pesters him much less these days about energy and environmental rules. “Then you’ve got the USTR and the whole tariff thing that’s just a crusher,” he said.

“People our size, that don’t have K Street lawyers,” said Elrod, referring to the center of Washington’s lobbying industry. “We’re the ones that bear the brunt, we’re the ones that have the least tools in the box to work with.”

It’s not often that K Street gets handed the type of business development opportunity that Trump’s volatile trade policy offers.

With new tariffs being announced and lifted on a few days notice and trade agreements constantly being renegotiated, companies have scrambled to protect themselves. Tariff exclusions are highly sought after because they offer a huge competitive advantage — especially if a rival still has to pay. The review of exclusions is happening on a compressed time schedule, with little warning before tariffs and a complex set of rules that few people understand go into effect. And there are no second chances.

“When you’re running a process that has no appellate review, there’s a lot of room for questionable behavior because there’s no one really checking the process,” said one former USTR official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s common knowledge in town that the best way to get a leg up on an exclusion request is to get a Republican House or Senate member to call the White House.”

Members of Congress frequently work the bureaucracy on their constituents’ behalf, but there’s a particularly large pile of money on the line with trade. So far, Trump’s new tariffs amount to an $88 billion annual tax increase for U.S. companies, according to the Tax Foundation.

Just understanding the complexities of the process can require a specialized trade lawyer. Often, multiple importers will request exclusions for similar products. A reviewer at USTR’s Washington office might grant one company’s request and reject another’s, but anyone may take advantage of the resulting exclusion and request a refund of all the duties it paid on that product, which means keeping a close eye on the Federal Register. (The Commerce Department runs the exclusion process for steel and aluminum tariffs, and under its rules, exclusions are company-specific.)

Companies that can’t afford their own lobbyists often go through their trade associations, which can help open doors on the Hill on behalf of an industry’s interests. Still, even the trade groups are often baffled at why decisions come down the way they do. The National Marine Manufacturers Association has seen confoundingly mixed results — a fish finder is excluded while a depth finder isn’t, for example.

“We can’t make heads or tails out of why that happens,” said John-Michael Donahue, the association’s communications director. “I don’t think there’s a lack of help from Congress being loud about this issue, it’s more getting through to the administration and figuring out what the next step is in their mind.”

Some companies don’t need members of Congress or trade associations to make their case. Apple, for example, got 10 out of the 15 exclusions it asked for on items like computer chargers and mice, with 11 yet to be decided. The company spends more than $6 million on lobbying overall each year. Its CEO, Tim Cook, has met with Trump several times and the president cited Apple’s exclusion approvals during a public event at its Texas production facility.

“It’s difficult for me to see how this is a fair and transparent process,” said Nicole Bivens Collinson, head of the international trade and government relations practice for Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg. “When you’ve got Tim Cook who’s able to go in and meet with the president and get an exclusion, and someone who’s a very small company trying to submit through the regular process, and this is going to have a huge impact on their business.”

The federal government last set up an exclusion process in 2001, when George W. Bush imposed tariffs of up to 30% on $15 billion worth of steel imports in an attempt to bolster flagging mills. About half of the goods originally covered by the measure were exempted, which was one reason why the tariffs ultimately didn’t arrest the steel industry’s decline.

Trump’s tariffs are much less discriminate. Hefty new duties now cover about $364 billion worth of imports, or 12% of the overseas products Americans buy in a year. The tariffs don’t just fall on finished goods, like toasters or water heaters. They also cover many of product components, from motherboards to heat exchangers.

Because they’re so sweeping, the Commerce Department and USTR have been flooded with clemency pleas. As of mid-December, steel and aluminum users had requested exclusions on about 152,000 specific products. With two-thirds of the requests decided, about 79% had been approved. Importers of goods from China had requested about 44,000 exclusions, of which 43% had been decided and 35% approved, with a final round of exclusions under way.

For the first two rounds of China tariffs, which are worth about $50 billion in imports, the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that USTR had excluded products worth about $12.8 billion, in what it called “a substantial off-budget concession to lucky firms.”

Many of those affected simply submitted no requests, figuring they had slim chances of success. A handful of businesses submitted thousands, especially industrial suppliers that globally source tools and parts and distribute them to U.S. manufacturers, since a separate application was needed for every possible product variation. A single company — AEP Holdings, a private equity-owned supplier of aftermarket car parts — filed more than 10,000 exclusion requests. So far, about 2,600 have been denied and only a handful approved.

Adjudicating each request is an enormous undertaking, and the federal government was ill-prepared.

The Commerce Department at first had projected that it would see only about 4,500 applications — a threshold that was passed almost instantly. According to a regulatory filing, USTR estimated that each exclusion request would take applicants two hours to prepare, at a cost of $200 each, and two and a half hours for USTR to process. For the China tariffs, adjudicating cases is expected to take 175,000 staff hours over the course of a year, at a cost of $9.7 million.

To keep up, agencies have had to borrow staff from other departments and brought on dozens of contractors, giving them a crash course in tariff codes. (“The internet is useful to research the product,” reads one set of instructions for reviewers obtained by ProPublica.) There is no hard completion deadline, and companies can only track their applications’ progress via an online portal.

Very often, at least with the steel and aluminum process run by the Commerce Department, it was hard to believe that parties were being considered equally.

Christine McDaniel, an economist and a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, has found that requests are rarely granted if objections are filed. A handful of steel producers have objected to thousands of applications, claiming that the importers should get no relief because U.S. manufacturers could make the necessary items. But McDaniel poked a hole in their argument: Added together, the producers’ claims far exceed what they’re realistically able to produce.

Tariffs are hurting U.S. companies’ bottom lines. Free Trade Zones, a 1930s rule which they can use to shield themselves from those costs, require expensive legal help. One Michigan manufacturer called it “a no-win situation.”

“It’s nearly costless for these guys to file objections, but the objection can prevent a company from getting its steel,” McDaniel said.

Capitol Hill has noticed. In early 2018, after receiving complaints from steel importers, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., sent letters to the Commerce Department detailing problems with evaluations. The process had been a “masterclass in government inefficiency and plagued by maddening inconsistency,” she wrote in April. After receiving no formal responses, on Oct. 17 she wrote in exasperation, “It is difficult not to believe that there is a finger on the scale favoring objectors.”

In one letter, Walorski cited the case of National Tool & Manufacturing Company, a 45-person firm based in East Dundee, Illinois, that found itself in a fight with a multinational metals titan.

National Tool requested an exemption on a specialty grade of steel it buys in Italy and distributes to companies that make injection molds. EDRO Specialty Steels, which is owned by the Austrian conglomerate Voestalpine AG, objected on the grounds that it could produce the steel National Tool needed in the U.S. National Tool’s request was denied, so it had to keep eating the 25% tariff.

Then, EDRO itself requested exclusions for the raw material it imports from Slovenia to produce its proposed substitute — showing that the product it said it could supply wasn’t entirely American-made after all. (EDRO said this summary was “incomplete,” but declined to comment further.)

National Tool President Eric Sandberg suspects his exclusion request never had a chance.

“It truly is one of these big vs. small battles,” Sandberg said. “Because one of those big three companies wrote a letter, done. Without investigation, it was just done. It really feels like the government is working against you.”

In late October, the Commerce Department wrote back to Rep. Walorski, tersely rejecting her complaint. But Walorski’s concern was merited. On Oct. 28, the agency’s inspector general issued an alert finding that steel producers had back channel communications with Commerce Department staff that swayed their decisions. For example, the inspector general found that criteria for evaluating exclusions had been changed at an objector’s request, before decisions were posted publicly.

That apparent bias has percolated out to some Washington insiders, who see the steel and aluminum exclusion process as so slanted toward U.S. producers that it’s not worth the trouble. “I wouldn’t take anybody’s money against the U.S. steel industry,” said one prominent D.C. lobbyist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We say no a lot.”

Throughout his career, Mike Elrod has tried to follow the incentives that American trade policy has created for U.S. businesses.

In the 1990s, he owned a factory that made industrial rainwear. After China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, which locked in low tariff rates, Elrod’s biggest client decided to relocate production there. “It killed the company,” Elrod said. “There was nowhere else to go.”

After that, Elrod decided to start importing from China himself, setting up a business that manufactured precision metal components before finding a type of water heater that he thought would sell well in the U.S.. Founded in 2006, Eccotemp grew steadily, adding people, new models and distribution centers overseas, to the point where Elrod started thinking about setting up assembly operations in the U.S. Even if labor is more expensive, not having to wait four months for new orders to ship across the world would allow him to more closely control inventory levels and turn around design changes faster.

Instead of accelerating that plan, however, Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports took it off the drawing board. If the only place to get components is China, the duties would make bringing them into the U.S. for final assembly cost-prohibitive.

As the trade war began, Elrod had been looking forward to retirement. As soon as the tariffs were announced, Elrod and his successor as CEO, Joe Bolognue, had to formulate a new business strategy based on a 25% hike in the cost of goods: More higher-margin products, more non-U.S. sales, leaner operations.

They don’t want to walk away from the brand they’ve built, or put their employees out of work. “We don’t have the luxury to say, ‘We’re going out of business,’” Bolognue said. “We just don’t make as much money as we used to.”

The tariffs have also created other problems, like Chinese manufacturers selling directly into the U.S. on Amazon or Alibaba rather than going through companies like Eccotemp. They still have to pay tariffs, but they can undercut prices by avoiding one layer of markups.

Since the tariff decisions came down, Elrod has moved to Georgia and isn’t as involved in day-to-day operations. But he’s still heavily invested in the company, financially and emotionally. That’s why it was particularly devastating when the tariffs killed a potential deal to sell Eccotemp to a private equity firm, which would have allowed it to keep growing while ensuring his retirement.

“That’s usually what people see as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Elrod said. “My net worth, you’re sitting in it. I don’t have a 401(k). Everything that I’ve ever done has flown back into this business. I don’t have enough runway to do it again.”

Elrod says that despite it all, he still plans to vote for Trump in November, citing the administration’s friendlier stance to his company on regulations. As for draining the swamp, Elrod doesn’t blame the president.

“Maybe if Trump moved the capital to Dallas and put everyone with a DC address on the Do Not Fly List, maybe,” Elrod said. “You get all the justice you can afford.”

The post Trump’s Trade War Is Crushing Small Business appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump’s Trade War Is Crushing Small Business

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Mike Elrod voted for Donald Trump in 2016, hoping for a break from tight government oversight that his business had endured for years, which he often found unreasonable.

“There was a time when every day I dreaded opening the mail,” said Elrod, who founded a small firm in South Carolina called Eccotemp that makes energy-efficient, tankless water heaters. “The Department of Energy would put in an arbitrary rule and then come back the next day and say, ‘You’re not in compliance.’ We had no input into what was changing and when the change was taking place.”

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Elrod also thought that big businesses had long been able to buy their way out of problems, either by spending lots of money on compliance or on lobbyists to look for loopholes and apply political pressure. Trump, of course, had promised to address that — to “drain the swamp.”

Elrod is in his mid-60s, tall with a white beard and deliberative drawl. He trusted the president even as Trump started a trade war with China, where Elrod manufactures his heaters. The administration said U.S. companies that could prove they had no other source for their imports and whose business would be gravely injured could be spared the punishing tariffs that Trump was imposing. They would simply have to file for an exemption.

“I had every reason to believe they were talking about us,” Elrod said. Eccotemp had spent 15 years developing different models of tankless heaters with manufacturers in China. Simply finding new factories in other countries seemed impossible.

So in the summer of 2018, Elrod settled in at his desk, strewn with brass valves, a pressure tester and a smiling jade Buddha from a Chinese supplier, and began typing. He and his dozen U.S. employees — designers, engineers, salespeople and customer service representatives — operate out of a squat cinder block building in a woodsy suburb of Charleston that used to be a film studio and now doubles as a distribution warehouse.

In letters to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Elrod asked that gas-powered water heaters be exempted from the administration’s 25% tariffs, writing that the cost would be “devastating” for the company’s balance sheet. “We had all the boxes checked,” Elrod said. “Or so I thought.”

The process didn’t go as he expected. It’s the stuff that libertarians like Elrod dread: Low-level staffers with limited industry knowledge issuing seemingly arbitrary decisions that can save or smash a company’s bottom line.

Every few weeks, a list comes out with a new batch of lucky winners, and losers. “Non-electrical wall candelabras, of wood, each with 3 wrought iron candle holders” received a pass, for example, but none with one or two candles.

There is no mechanism for appeals.

Overall, Trump’s tariffs have not had the effect that the self-described “Tariff Man” promised. Companies have moved manufacturing out of China — and it has mostly gone to Vietnam, Taiwan and Mexico. Tariffs are chiefly behind a months-long decline in domestic manufacturing, Federal Reserve researchers have found. The total loss of jobs across the economy may be as high as 300,000.

But constantly up-in-the-air trade agreements and the byzantine, opaque exclusion process has been a blessing for one set of players: Washington’s influence industry, including the firms of former Trump officials and allies like inauguration committee chief Brian Ballard, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Trump fundraiser Marc Lampkin.

Ballard was once Trump’s lobbyist in Florida. He’s since been dubbed “the most powerful lobbyist in Trump’s Washington.” A cancer therapy firm, Varian Medical Systems, paid Ballard and a colleague $540,000 to lobby the White House, the trade office and Vice President Mike Pence on trade issues, filings show. The outreach included a meeting with Trump’s director of trade and manufacturing policy, Peter Navarro.

Since then, four of Varian’s five exclusion requests have been approved — which, the company said in an SEC filing, boosted revenues by $23 million. (Navarro said he doesn’t intervene in the exclusion process.)

Priebus’ firm, Michael Best Strategies, was hired by a Wisconsin company, Primex, to handle exemptions for its timekeeping and temperature measurement devices. “You’re not gonna do it on your own,” Primex CEO Paul Shekoski said in an interview. “It’s suicide actually.”

Shekoski said he wanted help understanding the process and making sure all the requests were filed correctly. With Michael Best’s guidance, he personally wrote letters to and met with his representatives in Washington.

The collective effort may have made it all the way to the Oval Office. Shekoski said in an email last fall that he heard from his lobbyist at Michael Best, Denise Bode, that Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis. cited Primex as an example of a Wisconsin company suffering from tariffs when the senator took the issue to the president. “He not only called USTR, he was able to bring our specific case up to Trump directly,” Shekoski said. Bode did not respond to a request for comment, and a Johnson spokesman did not respond to questions about the Trump contact, saying only that Johnson had advocated for many Wisconsin companies.

Days before this story was published, Shekoski denied knowing whether Johnson brought up the issue with Trump. He said he was just trying to give his elected representatives concrete stories about small businesses struggling with tariffs that they could use to advocate for tariff relief.

Lobbying records show that Primex paid Priebus’ firm, Michael Best Strategies, $85,000 in 2018 and 2019 for its services. “I’m not selling access,” Priebus once told Politico. “I’m merely providing strategic advice and helping them handle their problems.” (Neither Priebus nor the White House responded to requests for comment.)

Primex got mixed results, with about half of its 205 exclusion requests granted and half denied.

Disclosure rules don’t require companies to say how much money they’ve spent lobbying on exclusions specifically. But records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics show that the number of clients lobbying on tariffs and other trade issues are higher than any year on record. In 2018, the number jumped by 28% to 1,372, and 2019 will significantly exceed that once final figures are in.

There is also no comprehensive picture yet of how companies that have hired lobbyists have fared compared with those that haven’t. But there is evidence that agencies have bent the rules. In October, a government watchdog found that Commerce Department officials had secretly changed the rules for one exclusion category after “off-the-record” discussions with a favored company, creating a “perception of undue influence.”

Companies with enough resources and savvy can not only push their own cases, they can work to undermine those of competitors. Elrod began to understand that in early August. He had been on the trade office’s website, waiting to see if he would get his exclusion and watching for requests from competitors, when he noticed that an industry giant had formally objected to his application.

Rheem Manufacturing Company is a Japanese-owned conglomerate and one of the world’s largest producers of water heaters, including in the United States. It challenged Elrod and a handful of other companies that had claimed they couldn’t find alternative sources for their products outside of China, arguing that Elrod could find suppliers in Japan, Germany and South Korea — or buy from Rheem itself.

Elrod quickly fired back with another letter, laying out how difficult and expensive it would be in practice to move production to another country. Amid a rush out of China, factories in Vietnam are holding out for enormous orders and shunning the relatively small quantities that Eccotemp imports. Plus, after developing his heaters over more than a decade with a handful of suppliers, finding one that could meet his exacting standards would require months of tests and new certifications.

That did not sway the government’s trade office, the USTR, which in late September posted a one-page form letter saying that Elrod had failed to demonstrate his products weren’t available outside of China. Thinking that his original ask for exclusions might have been too broad, Elrod then filed individual requests for several of his models, hoping the government might exempt at least a few of them.

But Rheem had reinforcements. New comments in opposition arrived on the letterhead of King & Spalding, a law firm with sleek offices across the street from the White House and a complement of former government officials. Stephen Vaughn had left the firm in 2017 to serve on the administration’s “beachhead team” at USTR, served as the agency’s general counsel — where he oversaw the exclusion process — and then rejoined the firm in 2019.

Fees paid for legal services aren’t public, but records show that Rheem spent $610,000 on lobbying on all federal issues in 2018. Neither Rheem nor Vaughn responded to requests for comment.

“I don’t have anyone on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Elrod said. “That letter probably cost them more than we’ve spent on legal expenses in the last five years.”

His concern growing, Elrod met a staffer in the district office of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and asked for a letter of support. He inquired with USTR about testifying at one of the agency’s multiday hearings on its sweeping tariff action.

Nothing worked. He didn’t make the witness list for USTR’s hearings, but the head of Rheem’s air conditioning division did. South Carolina’s Department of Commerce wrote letters on behalf of large employers like the fiberglass manufacturer China Jushi, but for the first few rounds of tariffs, no letters for small companies appear in the public record. (A spokeswoman said the state had written letters for “companies of various sizes and with varying numbers of employees.”)

Graham, who had filed seven letters supporting companies with a presence in South Carolina — several of them multinational or foreign-owned — also didn’t help.

“Lindsey Graham really did kick it to the curb,” Elrod said. (A spokesman for Graham did not respond to a request for further explanation.)

Finally, in November, the trade office rejected all of Elrod’s requests for relief in the same terse fashion it had the first. “After careful consideration, your request was denied because the request failed to show that this particular product is available only from China,” the letter read.

As a result, Eccotemp would get back none of the hundreds of thousands of dollars in duties that it had already paid out, and the bleeding would continue. Its profit margins vaporized and its employee head count sank by about 30%, as the company opted not to replace departing staff.)

For a while after receiving the denials, Elrod carefully watched the steady stream of response letters posted on the federal regulations portal, in case another company received an exclusion that would also cover his products. But no relevant approvals appeared.

Elrod has appreciated how under Trump, other regulators have been more business friendly. The government pesters him much less these days about energy and environmental rules. “Then you’ve got the USTR and the whole tariff thing that’s just a crusher,” he said.

“People our size, that don’t have K Street lawyers,” said Elrod, referring to the center of Washington’s lobbying industry. “We’re the ones that bear the brunt, we’re the ones that have the least tools in the box to work with.”

It’s not often that K Street gets handed the type of business development opportunity that Trump’s volatile trade policy offers.

With new tariffs being announced and lifted on a few days notice and trade agreements constantly being renegotiated, companies have scrambled to protect themselves. Tariff exclusions are highly sought after because they offer a huge competitive advantage — especially if a rival still has to pay. The review of exclusions is happening on a compressed time schedule, with little warning before tariffs and a complex set of rules that few people understand go into effect. And there are no second chances.

“When you’re running a process that has no appellate review, there’s a lot of room for questionable behavior because there’s no one really checking the process,” said one former USTR official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s common knowledge in town that the best way to get a leg up on an exclusion request is to get a Republican House or Senate member to call the White House.”

Members of Congress frequently work the bureaucracy on their constituents’ behalf, but there’s a particularly large pile of money on the line with trade. So far, Trump’s new tariffs amount to an $88 billion annual tax increase for U.S. companies, according to the Tax Foundation.

Just understanding the complexities of the process can require a specialized trade lawyer. Often, multiple importers will request exclusions for similar products. A reviewer at USTR’s Washington office might grant one company’s request and reject another’s, but anyone may take advantage of the resulting exclusion and request a refund of all the duties it paid on that product, which means keeping a close eye on the Federal Register. (The Commerce Department runs the exclusion process for steel and aluminum tariffs, and under its rules, exclusions are company-specific.)

Companies that can’t afford their own lobbyists often go through their trade associations, which can help open doors on the Hill on behalf of an industry’s interests. Still, even the trade groups are often baffled at why decisions come down the way they do. The National Marine Manufacturers Association has seen confoundingly mixed results — a fish finder is excluded while a depth finder isn’t, for example.

“We can’t make heads or tails out of why that happens,” said John-Michael Donahue, the association’s communications director. “I don’t think there’s a lack of help from Congress being loud about this issue, it’s more getting through to the administration and figuring out what the next step is in their mind.”

Some companies don’t need members of Congress or trade associations to make their case. Apple, for example, got 10 out of the 15 exclusions it asked for on items like computer chargers and mice, with 11 yet to be decided. The company spends more than $6 million on lobbying overall each year. Its CEO, Tim Cook, has met with Trump several times and the president cited Apple’s exclusion approvals during a public event at its Texas production facility.

“It’s difficult for me to see how this is a fair and transparent process,” said Nicole Bivens Collinson, head of the international trade and government relations practice for Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg. “When you’ve got Tim Cook who’s able to go in and meet with the president and get an exclusion, and someone who’s a very small company trying to submit through the regular process, and this is going to have a huge impact on their business.”

The federal government last set up an exclusion process in 2001, when George W. Bush imposed tariffs of up to 30% on $15 billion worth of steel imports in an attempt to bolster flagging mills. About half of the goods originally covered by the measure were exempted, which was one reason why the tariffs ultimately didn’t arrest the steel industry’s decline.

Trump’s tariffs are much less discriminate. Hefty new duties now cover about $364 billion worth of imports, or 12% of the overseas products Americans buy in a year. The tariffs don’t just fall on finished goods, like toasters or water heaters. They also cover many of product components, from motherboards to heat exchangers.

Because they’re so sweeping, the Commerce Department and USTR have been flooded with clemency pleas. As of mid-December, steel and aluminum users had requested exclusions on about 152,000 specific products. With two-thirds of the requests decided, about 79% had been approved. Importers of goods from China had requested about 44,000 exclusions, of which 43% had been decided and 35% approved, with a final round of exclusions under way.

For the first two rounds of China tariffs, which are worth about $50 billion in imports, the Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated that USTR had excluded products worth about $12.8 billion, in what it called “a substantial off-budget concession to lucky firms.”

Many of those affected simply submitted no requests, figuring they had slim chances of success. A handful of businesses submitted thousands, especially industrial suppliers that globally source tools and parts and distribute them to U.S. manufacturers, since a separate application was needed for every possible product variation. A single company — AEP Holdings, a private equity-owned supplier of aftermarket car parts — filed more than 10,000 exclusion requests. So far, about 2,600 have been denied and only a handful approved.

Adjudicating each request is an enormous undertaking, and the federal government was ill-prepared.

The Commerce Department at first had projected that it would see only about 4,500 applications — a threshold that was passed almost instantly. According to a regulatory filing, USTR estimated that each exclusion request would take applicants two hours to prepare, at a cost of $200 each, and two and a half hours for USTR to process. For the China tariffs, adjudicating cases is expected to take 175,000 staff hours over the course of a year, at a cost of $9.7 million.

To keep up, agencies have had to borrow staff from other departments and brought on dozens of contractors, giving them a crash course in tariff codes. (“The internet is useful to research the product,” reads one set of instructions for reviewers obtained by ProPublica.) There is no hard completion deadline, and companies can only track their applications’ progress via an online portal.

Very often, at least with the steel and aluminum process run by the Commerce Department, it was hard to believe that parties were being considered equally.

Christine McDaniel, an economist and a senior fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, has found that requests are rarely granted if objections are filed. A handful of steel producers have objected to thousands of applications, claiming that the importers should get no relief because U.S. manufacturers could make the necessary items. But McDaniel poked a hole in their argument: Added together, the producers’ claims far exceed what they’re realistically able to produce.

Tariffs are hurting U.S. companies’ bottom lines. Free Trade Zones, a 1930s rule which they can use to shield themselves from those costs, require expensive legal help. One Michigan manufacturer called it “a no-win situation.”

“It’s nearly costless for these guys to file objections, but the objection can prevent a company from getting its steel,” McDaniel said.

Capitol Hill has noticed. In early 2018, after receiving complaints from steel importers, Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., sent letters to the Commerce Department detailing problems with evaluations. The process had been a “masterclass in government inefficiency and plagued by maddening inconsistency,” she wrote in April. After receiving no formal responses, on Oct. 17 she wrote in exasperation, “It is difficult not to believe that there is a finger on the scale favoring objectors.”

In one letter, Walorski cited the case of National Tool & Manufacturing Company, a 45-person firm based in East Dundee, Illinois, that found itself in a fight with a multinational metals titan.

National Tool requested an exemption on a specialty grade of steel it buys in Italy and distributes to companies that make injection molds. EDRO Specialty Steels, which is owned by the Austrian conglomerate Voestalpine AG, objected on the grounds that it could produce the steel National Tool needed in the U.S. National Tool’s request was denied, so it had to keep eating the 25% tariff.

Then, EDRO itself requested exclusions for the raw material it imports from Slovenia to produce its proposed substitute — showing that the product it said it could supply wasn’t entirely American-made after all. (EDRO said this summary was “incomplete,” but declined to comment further.)

National Tool President Eric Sandberg suspects his exclusion request never had a chance.

“It truly is one of these big vs. small battles,” Sandberg said. “Because one of those big three companies wrote a letter, done. Without investigation, it was just done. It really feels like the government is working against you.”

In late October, the Commerce Department wrote back to Rep. Walorski, tersely rejecting her complaint. But Walorski’s concern was merited. On Oct. 28, the agency’s inspector general issued an alert finding that steel producers had back channel communications with Commerce Department staff that swayed their decisions. For example, the inspector general found that criteria for evaluating exclusions had been changed at an objector’s request, before decisions were posted publicly.

That apparent bias has percolated out to some Washington insiders, who see the steel and aluminum exclusion process as so slanted toward U.S. producers that it’s not worth the trouble. “I wouldn’t take anybody’s money against the U.S. steel industry,” said one prominent D.C. lobbyist who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We say no a lot.”

Throughout his career, Mike Elrod has tried to follow the incentives that American trade policy has created for U.S. businesses.

In the 1990s, he owned a factory that made industrial rainwear. After China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, which locked in low tariff rates, Elrod’s biggest client decided to relocate production there. “It killed the company,” Elrod said. “There was nowhere else to go.”

After that, Elrod decided to start importing from China himself, setting up a business that manufactured precision metal components before finding a type of water heater that he thought would sell well in the U.S.. Founded in 2006, Eccotemp grew steadily, adding people, new models and distribution centers overseas, to the point where Elrod started thinking about setting up assembly operations in the U.S. Even if labor is more expensive, not having to wait four months for new orders to ship across the world would allow him to more closely control inventory levels and turn around design changes faster.

Instead of accelerating that plan, however, Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports took it off the drawing board. If the only place to get components is China, the duties would make bringing them into the U.S. for final assembly cost-prohibitive.

As the trade war began, Elrod had been looking forward to retirement. As soon as the tariffs were announced, Elrod and his successor as CEO, Joe Bolognue, had to formulate a new business strategy based on a 25% hike in the cost of goods: More higher-margin products, more non-U.S. sales, leaner operations.

They don’t want to walk away from the brand they’ve built, or put their employees out of work. “We don’t have the luxury to say, ‘We’re going out of business,’” Bolognue said. “We just don’t make as much money as we used to.”

The tariffs have also created other problems, like Chinese manufacturers selling directly into the U.S. on Amazon or Alibaba rather than going through companies like Eccotemp. They still have to pay tariffs, but they can undercut prices by avoiding one layer of markups.

Since the tariff decisions came down, Elrod has moved to Georgia and isn’t as involved in day-to-day operations. But he’s still heavily invested in the company, financially and emotionally. That’s why it was particularly devastating when the tariffs killed a potential deal to sell Eccotemp to a private equity firm, which would have allowed it to keep growing while ensuring his retirement.

“That’s usually what people see as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Elrod said. “My net worth, you’re sitting in it. I don’t have a 401(k). Everything that I’ve ever done has flown back into this business. I don’t have enough runway to do it again.”

Elrod says that despite it all, he still plans to vote for Trump in November, citing the administration’s friendlier stance to his company on regulations. As for draining the swamp, Elrod doesn’t blame the president.

“Maybe if Trump moved the capital to Dallas and put everyone with a DC address on the Do Not Fly List, maybe,” Elrod said. “You get all the justice you can afford.”

The post Trump’s Trade War Is Crushing Small Business appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bolton Says He Would Testify in Impeachment Trial If Subpoenaed

WASHINGTON—Former White House national security adviser John Bolton said Monday that he is “prepared to testify” if he is subpoenaed by the Senate in its impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, a surprise statement that bolstered Democrats in their push for new witnesses.

Bolton, who left the White House in September, said that he has weighed the issues of executive privilege and that after “careful consideration and study” decided that he would comply with any Senate subpoena.

“If the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” he said in a statement.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly expressed resistance to calling new witnesses in the upcoming trial, though Democrats are pressing to hear from Bolton and others who did not appear before the House in its impeachment inquiry.

It’s unclear whether Bolton’s testimony would hurt or help the president. The two clashed while he was in the White House and offered differing versions of whether he resigned or was fired when he left office in September.

If Bolton were to appear, his testimony would give Congress and the public a highly anticipated, first-hand account from a Trump senior adviser who was present for key moments that have been described by others.

He’d almost certainly be asked, for instance, about a comment he was reported to have made to another White House adviser that he did not want to be “part of whatever drug deal” European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were “cooking up” as Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

That pressure, as Trump was withholding security aid to Ukraine, was at the heart of the inquiry in the House, which voted to impeach Trump on Dec. 18.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is stalling the transmission of House-passed articles of impeachment against Trump in a bid for witness testimony. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has proposed calling several witnesses, including Bolton and Mulvaney, but McConnell has so far rejected Schumer’s terms.

It is uncertain when Pelosi will eventually send the articles to the Senate. If she decides to do so in the coming days, a trial could start as soon as this week.

“We can’t hold a trial without the articles,” McConnell tweeted Monday. “The Senate’s own rules don’t provide for that. So, for now, we are content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder. For now.”

Bolton’s willingness to testify averts a potential legal standoff over whether close aides to the president can be forced to appear before Congress. Trump and his lawyers have claimed that those aides should not have to testify, arguing that they have special immunity, or executive privilege, not to.

The issue remains undecided in the courts now that a federal judge dismissed last week a lawsuit from Bolton’s former deputy, Charles Kupperman, who had asked the court whether he had to comply with a House subpoena or follow a White House orders that he not testify. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon dismissed the case as moot, noting that the House had withdrawn its subpoena for Kupperman and had said that it didn’t plan to reissue one.

The case had been closely watched for the repercussions it carried for Bolton’s testimony.

The Associated Press reported in November that Bolton is writing a book and has a deal with the publisher Simon & Schuster, according to three publishing officials with knowledge of the situation. Two said the deal was worth $2 million. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Trump tweeted Monday morning that the impeachment “hoax” must “end quickly.”

“It is a con game by the Dems to help with the Election!,” Trump tweeted.

___

Associated Press Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report from New York.

The post Bolton Says He Would Testify in Impeachment Trial If Subpoenaed appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bolton Willing to Testify in Trump Impeachment Trial if Subpoenaed

WASHINGTON — Former White House national security adviser John Bolton said Monday that he is “prepared to testify” if he is subpoenaed by the Senate in its impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, a surprise statement that bolstered Democrats in their push for new witnesses.

Bolton, who left the White House in September, said that he has weighed the issues of executive privilege and that after “careful consideration and study” decided that he would comply with any Senate subpoena.

“If the Senate issues a subpoena for my testimony, I am prepared to testify,” he said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly expressed resistance to calling new witnesses in the upcoming trial, though Democrats are pressing to hear from Bolton and others who did not appear before the House in its impeachment inquiry.

It’s unclear whether Bolton’s testimony would hurt or help the president. The two clashed while he was in the White House and offered differing versions of whether he resigned or was fired when he left office in September.

If Bolton were to appear, his testimony would give Congress and the public a highly anticipated, first-hand account from a Trump senior adviser who was present for key moments that have been described by others.

He’d almost certainly be asked, for instance, about a comment he was reported to have made to another White House adviser that he did not want to be “part of whatever drug deal” European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were “cooking up” as Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

That pressure, as Trump was withholding security aid to Ukraine, was at the heart of the inquiry in the House, which voted to impeach Trump on Dec. 18.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is stalling the transmission of House-passed articles of impeachment against Trump in a bid for witness testimony. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has proposed calling several witnesses, including Bolton and Mulvaney, but McConnell has so far rejected Schumer’s terms.

It is uncertain when Pelosi will eventually send the articles to the Senate. If she decides to do so in the coming days, a trial could start as soon as this week.

“We can’t hold a trial without the articles,” McConnell tweeted Monday. “The Senate’s own rules don’t provide for that. So, for now, we are content to continue the ordinary business of the Senate while House Democrats continue to flounder. For now.”

Bolton’s willingness to testify averts a potential legal standoff over whether close aides to the president can be forced to appear before Congress. Trump and his lawyers have claimed that those aides should not have to testify, arguing that they have special immunity, or executive privilege, not to.

The issue remains undecided in the courts now that a federal judge dismissed last week a lawsuit from Bolton’s former deputy, Charles Kupperman, who had asked the court whether he had to comply with a House subpoena or follow a White House orders that he not testify. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon dismissed the case as moot, noting that the House had withdrawn its subpoena for Kupperman and had said that it didn’t plan to reissue one.

The case had been closely watched for the repercussions it carried for Bolton’s testimony.

The Associated Press reported in November that Bolton is writing a book and has a deal with the publisher Simon & Schuster, according to three publishing officials with knowledge of the situation. Two said the deal was worth $2 million. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly.

Trump tweeted Monday morning that the impeachment “hoax” must “end quickly.”

“It is a con game by the Dems to help with the Election!,” Trump tweeted.

___

Associated Press Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report from New York.

The post Bolton Willing to Testify in Trump Impeachment Trial if Subpoenaed appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iran Supreme Leader Weeps for General Killed by U.S. Airstrike

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader wept Monday over the casket of a top general killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, his prayers joining the wails of mourners who flooded the streets of Tehran demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.

The funeral for Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani drew a crowd said by police to be in the millions in the Iranian capital, filling thoroughfares and side streets as far as the eye could see. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million.

Authorities later brought his remains and others to Iran’s holy city of Qom, turning out another massive crowd.

It was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war.

His death already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a comeback.

Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, directly threatened an attack on the U.S. military in the Mideast while also warning President Donald Trump, whom she called “crazy.”

“The families of the American soldiers … will spend their days waiting for the death of their children,” she said to cheers.

Her language mirrored warnings by other Iranian officials who say an attack on U.S. military interests in the Middle East looms. Iranian state television and others online shared a video that showed Trump’s American flag tweet following Soleimani’s killing turn into a coffin, the “likes” of the tweet replaced by over 143,000 “killed.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prayed over the caskets of Soleimani and others at Tehran University after a brief mourning period at the capital’s famed Musalla mosque, The mosque was where prayers were said over the body of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, after his death in 1989.

Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani and referred to him as a “living martyr,” broke down four times in tears while offering traditional Muslim prayers for the dead.

“Oh God, you took their spirits out of their bodies as they were rolling in their blood for you and were martyred in your way,” Khamenei said as the crowd wailed. Soleimani will be buried Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman.

Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Ghaani, stood near Khamenei’s side as did President Hassan Rouhani and other leaders in the Islamic Republic. While Iran recently faced nationwide protests over government-set gasoline prices that reportedly led to the killing of over 300, Soleimani’s death has brought together people from across the country’s political spectrum, temporarily silencing that anger.

Demonstrators burned Israeli and U.S. flags, carried a flag-draped U.S. coffin or displayed effigies of Trump. Some described Trump himself as a legitimate target.

Mohammad Milad Rashidi, a 26-year-old university graduate, predicted more tension ahead.

“Trump demolished the chance for any sort of possible agreement between Tehran and Washington,” Rashidi said. “There will be more conflict in the future for sure.”

Another mourner, Azita Mardani, warned that Iran “will retaliate for every drop of his blood.”

“We are even thankful to (Trump) because he made us angry and this fury will lead to shedding of their blood in the Persian Gulf and the region’s countries,” Mardani said. “Here will become their graveyard.”

Ghaani made his own threat in an interview shown Monday on Iranian state television. “God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions will be taken,” he said.

Markets reacted Monday to the tensions, sending international benchmark Brent crude above $70 a barrel for part of the day and gold to a seven-year high. The Middle East remains a crucial source of oil, and Iran in the past has threatened the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all the world’s oil traded passes.

Ghaani, a longtime Soleimani deputy, has now taken over as the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds, or Jerusalem, Force, answerable only to Khamenei. Ghaani has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2012 for his work funding its operations around the world, including its work with proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Those proxies likely will be involved in any operation targeting U.S. interests in the Middle East or elsewhere.

Already, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.” In Lebanon, the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members across the region fair game for attacks.

“We promise to continue down martyr Soleimani’s path as firmly as before with help of God, and in return for his martyrdom we aim to get rid of America from the region,” Ghaani said.

The head of the Guard’s aerospace program, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, suggested Iran’s response wouldn’t stop with a single attack.

“Firing a couple of missiles, hitting a base or even killing Trump is not valuable enough to compensate for martyr Soleimani’s blood,” Hajizadeh said on state TV. “The only thing that can compensate for his blood is the complete removal of America from the region.”

On the nuclear deal, Iran now says it won’t observe the accord’s restrictions on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities. That’s a much-harsher step than they had planned to take before the attack.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have urged Iran to “withdraw all measures” not in line with the deal.

Iran insisted it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program. And it did not back off from earlier promises that it wouldn’t seek a nuclear weapon.

However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions last year. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Iran Supreme Leader Weeps for General Killed by U.S. Airstrike

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader wept Monday over the casket of a top general killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad, his prayers joining the wails of mourners who flooded the streets of Tehran demanding retaliation against America for a slaying that’s drastically raised tensions across the Middle East.

The funeral for Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani drew a crowd said by police to be in the millions in the Iranian capital, filling thoroughfares and side streets as far as the eye could see. Although there was no independent estimate, aerial footage and Associated Press journalists suggested a turnout of at least 1 million.

Authorities later brought his remains and others to Iran’s holy city of Qom, turning out another massive crowd.

It was an unprecedented honor for a man viewed by Iranians as a national hero for his work leading the Guard’s expeditionary Quds Force. The U.S. blames him for the killing of American troops in Iraq and accused him of plotting new attacks just before his death Friday. Soleimani also led forces in Syria backing President Bashar Assad in a long war.

His death already has pushed Tehran to abandon the remaining limits of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as his successor and others vow to take revenge. In Baghdad, the parliament has called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil, something analysts fear could allow Islamic State militants to mount a comeback.

Soleimani’s daughter, Zeinab, directly threatened an attack on the U.S. military in the Mideast while also warning President Donald Trump, whom she called “crazy.”

“The families of the American soldiers … will spend their days waiting for the death of their children,” she said to cheers.

Her language mirrored warnings by other Iranian officials who say an attack on U.S. military interests in the Middle East looms. Iranian state television and others online shared a video that showed Trump’s American flag tweet following Soleimani’s killing turn into a coffin, the “likes” of the tweet replaced by over 143,000 “killed.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei prayed over the caskets of Soleimani and others at Tehran University after a brief mourning period at the capital’s famed Musalla mosque, The mosque was where prayers were said over the body of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, after his death in 1989.

Khamenei, who had a close relationship with Soleimani and referred to him as a “living martyr,” broke down four times in tears while offering traditional Muslim prayers for the dead.

“Oh God, you took their spirits out of their bodies as they were rolling in their blood for you and were martyred in your way,” Khamenei said as the crowd wailed. Soleimani will be buried Tuesday in his hometown of Kerman.

Soleimani’s successor, Esmail Ghaani, stood near Khamenei’s side as did President Hassan Rouhani and other leaders in the Islamic Republic. While Iran recently faced nationwide protests over government-set gasoline prices that reportedly led to the killing of over 300, Soleimani’s death has brought together people from across the country’s political spectrum, temporarily silencing that anger.

Demonstrators burned Israeli and U.S. flags, carried a flag-draped U.S. coffin or displayed effigies of Trump. Some described Trump himself as a legitimate target.

Mohammad Milad Rashidi, a 26-year-old university graduate, predicted more tension ahead.

“Trump demolished the chance for any sort of possible agreement between Tehran and Washington,” Rashidi said. “There will be more conflict in the future for sure.”

Another mourner, Azita Mardani, warned that Iran “will retaliate for every drop of his blood.”

“We are even thankful to (Trump) because he made us angry and this fury will lead to shedding of their blood in the Persian Gulf and the region’s countries,” Mardani said. “Here will become their graveyard.”

Ghaani made his own threat in an interview shown Monday on Iranian state television. “God the Almighty has promised to get his revenge, and God is the main avenger. Certainly actions will be taken,” he said.

Markets reacted Monday to the tensions, sending international benchmark Brent crude above $70 a barrel for part of the day and gold to a seven-year high. The Middle East remains a crucial source of oil, and Iran in the past has threatened the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all the world’s oil traded passes.

Ghaani, a longtime Soleimani deputy, has now taken over as the head of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds, or Jerusalem, Force, answerable only to Khamenei. Ghaani has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2012 for his work funding its operations around the world, including its work with proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Those proxies likely will be involved in any operation targeting U.S. interests in the Middle East or elsewhere.

Already, the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.” In Lebanon, the leader of the Iranian-backed militant group Hezbollah said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members across the region fair game for attacks.

“We promise to continue down martyr Soleimani’s path as firmly as before with help of God, and in return for his martyrdom we aim to get rid of America from the region,” Ghaani said.

The head of the Guard’s aerospace program, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, suggested Iran’s response wouldn’t stop with a single attack.

“Firing a couple of missiles, hitting a base or even killing Trump is not valuable enough to compensate for martyr Soleimani’s blood,” Hajizadeh said on state TV. “The only thing that can compensate for his blood is the complete removal of America from the region.”

On the nuclear deal, Iran now says it won’t observe the accord’s restrictions on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities. That’s a much-harsher step than they had planned to take before the attack.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have urged Iran to “withdraw all measures” not in line with the deal.

Iran insisted it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program. And it did not back off from earlier promises that it wouldn’t seek a nuclear weapon.

However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions last year. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Weinstein Charged With Sex Crimes in L.A. on Eve of N.Y. Trial

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles prosecutors charged Harvey Weinstein on Monday with sexually assaulting two women on successive nights during Oscar week in 2013, bringing the new case against the disgraced Hollywood mogul on the eve of jury selection for his New York trial.

The case, brought by a task force set up by the Los Angeles County district attorney to investigate sex-crime allegations against entertainment figures, now puts Weinstein in deep legal peril on both coasts, where he built a career as the one of the most powerful — and feared — figures in show business before a barrage of accusations from more than 75 women led to his downfall and ignited the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein, 67, was charged with raping a woman at a Los Angeles hotel on Feb. 18, 2013, after pushing his way inside her room, then sexually assaulting a woman in a Beverly Hills hotel suite the next night. He could get up to 28 years in prison on charges of forcible rape, forcible oral copulation, sexual penetration by use of force and sexual battery.

“We see you, we hear you and we believe you”’ District Attorney Jackie Lacey said in announcing the charges, addressing herself to the studio boss’ accusers.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said the charges open the “next chapter” for a man “who has gotten away with too much for too long,” while Beverly Hills Chief Sandra Spagnoli called the cases “horrendous crimes perpetrated by a sexual predator.”

Lawyers for Weinstein had no immediate comment on the new charges, though he has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Jury selection is set to begin Tuesday in the New York case, in which Weinstein is charged with raping a woman in a New York City hotel room in 2013 and forcibly performing a sex act on another woman in 2006. He has said any sexual activity was consensual. If convicted of the most serious charges, predatory sexual assault, he faces a mandatory life sentence.

“The walls of justice are closing in on Harvey Weinstein. He is now being prosecuted both in New York and Los Angeles,” celebrity attorney Gloria Allred exulted in a statement. Allred represents one of the alleged victims in the New York case as well as actress Annabella Sciorra, who is scheduled to testify against Weinstein in New York as part of an effort by prosecutors to portray him as a sexual predator with a distinct pattern of behavior.

Allred added: “Women are no longer willing to suffer in silence and are willing to testify under oath in a court of law.”

The charges announced Monday in Los Angeles took more than two years to file because the women were reluctant to provide all the information necessary, according to Lacey. The alleged attacks follow a pattern similar to the offenses described in the New York case, dozens of lawsuits and women’s accounts to media outlets.

The first woman said she had been at a film festival with Weinstein, and afterwards in her room he forced her to perform oral sex on him and raped her, then threatened her life if she disclosed the attack, according to court documents. The allegations match the details of an attack described by an Italian model and actress to The Associated Press in 2017 through her lawyer. She asked that her name not be used.

The second woman said she had agreed to meet Weinstein for a business meeting at his Beverly Hills hotel and was unwittingly led into the bathroom of his suite, where a naked Weinstein prevented her from leaving, took down her dress and masturbated as he held her in place by her breast, court papers said.

The task force is still investigating sex-crime allegations against Weinstein from three women, the district attorney said. Prosecutors said they declined to bring charges involving three other women because the cases were beyond the statute of limitations.

Lacey, along with the two police chiefs, urged other victims to come forward. “We need the voices of all victims to help us remove sexual predators from our community and protect others from these violent crimes,” she said.

Weinstein is expected to appear in court in California after his trial in New York is finished, Lacey said. She said prosecutors will recommend $5 million bail.

The district attorney said the timing of the Los Angeles charges was unrelated to the New York trial, explaining that the filing and the announcement came on the first business day on which all the necessary people could be gathered.

Neither woman has stepped forward publicly. But one is expected to testify in the New York case to help prosecutors establish what they say was Weinstein’s pattern of forcing himself on young actresses and women trying to break into Hollywood.

The alleged attacks in Los Angeles County came days before the Hollywood producer was photographed on the Oscars red carpet with his fashion designer wife, Georgina Chapman, who was pregnant at the time.

At the 2013 Academy Awards, Weinstein had several major contenders, including “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Django Unchained” and “The Master.” His movies took home an armful of Oscars, including Jennifer Lawrence’s first Academy Award and trophies for director Quentin Tarantino and actor Christoph Waltz.

At the time, the allegations against Weinstein were little more than rumors around Hollywood. When that year’s nominees were announced, emcee Seth MacFarlane joked after reading the list of contenders for best supporting actress: “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.”

The charges are the first to be brought by the task force in the two years since it was formed. It has investigated more than 20 men, many of them prominent actors and producers, but declined to file charges in nearly all, usually citing statutes of limitations.

Earlier in the day Monday, Weinstein and several of the women who have accused him converged at a New York City courthouse for final preparations for his trial.

Weinstein’s attorneys suggested they knew the additional charges might be coming — “There is a potential L.A. situation going on,” his lawyer Donna Rotunno told reporters — and asked the judge to sequester the potential jurors to shield them from the news. Judge James Burke refused and also declined to impose a gag order to prevent Weinstein’s attorneys from speaking to the media.

Across the street, actresses and other women who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein branded him a villain undeserving of anyone’s pity.

“He looked cowardly. He wouldn’t look at us. He wouldn’t make eye contact,” said Sarah Ann Masse, a performer and writer who said Weinstein once sexually harassed her in his underwear during a job interview. “This trial is a cultural reckoning regardless of its legal outcome.”

Rotunno said she was hopeful a fair jury could be found:. “In this great country, you are innocent until proven guilty.”

After a string of successes at Miramax and Weinstein Co. with movies such as “Pulp Fiction” “Shakespeare in Love” and “The King’s Speech,” the studio boss met his downfall when many of the allegations against him were brought to light by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017.

____

Hays and Sisak reported from New York. Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles and Jake Coyle in New York contributed to this story.

The post Weinstein Charged With Sex Crimes in L.A. on Eve of N.Y. Trial appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Harvey Weinstein, Accusers Converge at Court Ahead of Sex Assault Trial

NEW YORK  — Harvey Weinstein and several of the women who have accused him of sexual misconduct converged Monday at the New York City courthouse where a judge and his lawyers handled the final preparations for his high-stakes trial on charges of rape and assault.

Weinstein, 67, entered the building leaning on a walker following a recent back surgery, sporting a dark suit and disheveled hair. When asked outside the courtroom how his back felt, Weinstein responded with a thin smile and a so-so gesture with his hand.

Inside, his lawyers and prosecutors spent the morning sparring about procedural matters, including how to keep publicity surrounding the trial from influencing the jury’s thinking. The judge denied a motion to sequester jurors throughout the course of the trial.

Across the street, actresses and other women who say they were sexually harassed or assaulted by Weinstein dismissed him as a villain undeserving of anyone’s pity.

“He looked cowardly. He wouldn’t look at us. He wouldn’t make eye contact,” said Sarah Ann Masse, a performer and writer who said Weinstein once sexually harassed her in his underwear during a job interview. “This trial is a cultural reckoning regardless of its legal outcome,” she said.

The court hearing was brief and Weinstein departed in an SUV around 10:45 a.m.

Jury selection in the trial will start Tuesday, more than two years since the allegations first came to widespread public attention and catalyzed the #MeToo movement.

Weinstein’s lead lawyer, Donna Rotunno, said she was hopeful a fair jury could be found that wouldn’t pre-judge the case.

“In this great country, you are innocent until proven guilty,” she told reporters outside the courthouse.

Weinstein faces allegations that he raped one woman in a Manhattan hotel room in 2013 and performed a forcible sex act on a different woman in 2006.

He has pleaded not guilty and says any sexual activity was consensual. If he’s convicted of the most serious charges against him, two counts of predatory sexual assault, Weinstein faces a mandatory life sentence.

For that to happen, prosecutors must demonstrate Weinstein had a habit of violating women, beyond the two directly involved in the encounters in which he’s charged. To that end, they plan to call actress Annabella Sciorra, who says Weinstein forced himself inside her Manhattan apartment in 1993 or 1994 and raped her after she starred in a film for his movie studio.

They also want jurors to hear from some of the more than 75 women who have come forward publicly to accuse Weinstein of sexual misconduct ranging from harassment to assault. The first allegations were brought to light by The New York Times and The New Yorker in October 2017.

The judge hasn’t said how many other accusers will be allowed to testify.

Speaking outside the courthouse as proceedings began, a group of Weinstein’s accusers spoke with reporters, including Masse, the actresses Rosanna Arquette, Dominique Huett and Rose McGowan, model Paula Williams, Louise Godbold and the actress and journalist Lauren Sivan.

McGowan thanked the women who will testify during the trial as alleged victims for representing many more women who may never get their day in court.

“They are standing for us, and I am immensely proud of them,” she said. “We didn’t have our day. But hopefully they will. Their victory will be our victory. Their loss will be our loss.”

Rotunno has argued the case is weak and said she plans to aggressively cross-examine the accusers.

Prosecutor Joan Illuzzi immediately set a combative tone by referring to Weinstein as a “predator,” drawing an objection from the defense table.

The lawyers also clashed after prosecutors asked the judge to bar all attorneys in the trial from speaking about the evidence outside court. Illuzzi accused Rotunno of “degrading and humiliating and putting down our witnesses” in statements to the press leading up to the trial.

“I have not degraded anyone,” Rotunno responded.

The judge refused to issue a gag order, but told both sides: “Leave the witnesses alone, OK? Don’t talk about them in any way.”

The judge also barred the defense from calling detective Nicholas DiGaudio as a witness. DiGaudio was removed the investigation amid allegations he had withheld evidence that could have helped defend Weinstein.

Picking a jury for Weinstein’s trial could take a while, in part because immense media attention on the case could mean some potential jurors already have their minds made up. Weinstein’s lawyers tried to get the trial moved out of Manhattan, but a court rejected that.

The post Harvey Weinstein, Accusers Converge at Court Ahead of Sex Assault Trial appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iranian Americans Reportedly Interrogated at U.S. Border

Reports that dozens of Iranian-Americans were detained at the U.S.-Canada border on Saturday and questioned about their “political views and allegiances” were met with alarm by lawmakers and rights groups, particularly given the soaring military tensions between Iran and the U.S. brought on by the Trump administration.

On Sunday, the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it is “assisting more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans of all ages who were detained at length and questioned at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash.”

Those detained, according to CAIR, were returning from an Iranian pop concert that took place Saturday in Vancouver, Canada.

CAIR, citing an anonymous source from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), alleged that “the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a national order to CBP to ‘report’ and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the country who is deemed potentially suspicious or ‘adversarial,’ regardless of citizenship status.”

This is alarming… https://t.co/jwiUHwHgmC

— Nilo Tabrizy (@ntabrizy) January 5, 2020

An individual CAIR identified as Crystal, a 24-year-old American citizen and medical student, said she was detained and interrogated for more than 10 hours at the Washington-Canada border before her release Sunday morning.

“The vast majority of people being held last night were American citizens,” Crystal said. “We kept asking why we were being detained and asked questions that had nothing to do with our reason for traveling and was told ‘I’m sorry this is just the wrong time for you guys.'”

Masih Fouladi, executive director of CAIR-WA, said in a statement that the reports of detentions are “extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens.”

“We are working to verify reports of a broad nationwide directive to detain Iranian-Americans at ports of entry so that we can provide community members with accurate travel guidance,” said Fouladi. “We will continue to update the community and other civil rights organizations as we obtain more information.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, tweeted that she is “deeply disturbed” by the reports, which come amid soaring military tensions between the U.S. and Iran following the Trump administration’s assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

Deeply disturbed by reports that Iranian Americans, including U.S. citizens, are being detained at the Canadian border with WA State.

My office has been working on this all morning. Please contact us with information on directly affected people at WA07PJ_casework@mail.house.gov.

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 5, 2020

The National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) said it is also “hearing credible reports of detentions at U.S. borders, both of Iranian-Americans and permanent residents.”

“We are working to independently verify, coordinating with lawmakers and allies,” the group said.

URGENT: we are hearing credible reports of detentions at US borders, both of Iranian Americans and permanent residents. We are working to independently verify, coordinating with lawmakers & allies. If you have information please share it directly with us at info@niacouncil.org

— NIAC (@NIACouncil) January 5, 2020

“First they ban us. Then they starve our families via sanctions. Then they threaten our cultural heritage sites with bombs,” tweeted NIAC organizing director Donna Farvard. “Now they’re detaining us at the border.”

The post Iranian Americans Reportedly Interrogated at U.S. Border appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iranian-Americans Reportedly Interrogated at U.S. Border

Reports that dozens of Iranian-Americans were detained at the U.S.-Canada border on Saturday and questioned about their “political views and allegiances” were met with alarm by lawmakers and rights groups, particularly given the soaring military tensions between Iran and the U.S. brought on by the Trump administration.

On Sunday, the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said it is “assisting more than 60 Iranians and Iranian-Americans of all ages who were detained at length and questioned at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash.”

Those detained, according to CAIR, were returning from an Iranian pop concert that took place Saturday in Vancouver, Canada.

CAIR, citing an anonymous source from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), alleged that “the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued a national order to CBP to ‘report’ and detain anyone with Iranian heritage entering the country who is deemed potentially suspicious or ‘adversarial,’ regardless of citizenship status.”

This is alarming… https://t.co/jwiUHwHgmC

— Nilo Tabrizy (@ntabrizy) January 5, 2020

An individual CAIR identified as Crystal, a 24-year-old American citizen and medical student, said she was detained and interrogated for more than 10 hours at the Washington-Canada border before her release Sunday morning.

“The vast majority of people being held last night were American citizens,” Crystal said. “We kept asking why we were being detained and asked questions that had nothing to do with our reason for traveling and was told ‘I’m sorry this is just the wrong time for you guys.'”

Masih Fouladi, executive director of CAIR-WA, said in a statement that the reports of detentions are “extremely troubling and potentially constitute illegal detentions of United States citizens.”

“We are working to verify reports of a broad nationwide directive to detain Iranian-Americans at ports of entry so that we can provide community members with accurate travel guidance,” said Fouladi. “We will continue to update the community and other civil rights organizations as we obtain more information.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, tweeted that she is “deeply disturbed” by the reports, which come amid soaring military tensions between the U.S. and Iran following the Trump administration’s assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.

Deeply disturbed by reports that Iranian Americans, including U.S. citizens, are being detained at the Canadian border with WA State.

My office has been working on this all morning. Please contact us with information on directly affected people at WA07PJ_casework@mail.house.gov.

— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) January 5, 2020

The National Iranian-American Council (NIAC) said it is also “hearing credible reports of detentions at U.S. borders, both of Iranian-Americans and permanent residents.”

“We are working to independently verify, coordinating with lawmakers and allies,” the group said.

URGENT: we are hearing credible reports of detentions at US borders, both of Iranian Americans and permanent residents. We are working to independently verify, coordinating with lawmakers & allies. If you have information please share it directly with us at info@niacouncil.org

— NIAC (@NIACouncil) January 5, 2020

“First they ban us. Then they starve our families via sanctions. Then they threaten our cultural heritage sites with bombs,” tweeted NIAC organizing director Donna Farvard. “Now they’re detaining us at the border.”

The post Iranian-Americans Reportedly Interrogated at U.S. Border appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iran Abandons 2015 Deal’s Nuclear Limits

TEHRAN, Iran — The blowback over the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general mounted Sunday as Iran announced it is abandoning the limits contained in the 2015 nuclear deal and Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil.

The twin developments, if they come to pass, could bring Iran closer to building an atomic bomb and enable the Islamic State group to stage a comeback in Iraq, making the Middle East a far more dangerous and unstable place.

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Iranian state television cited a statement by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration saying the country would not observe limits on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations,” a state TV broadcaster said.

In Iraq, meanwhile, lawmakers voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end of the foreign military presence in the country, including the estimated 5,000 U.S. troops stationed to help battle the Islamic State group. The bill is nonbinding and subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.

The two decisions capped a day of mass mourning over Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets in the cities of Ahvaz and Mashhad to walk alongside the casket of Soleimani, who was the architect of Iran’s proxy wars across the Mideast and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in suicide bombings and other attacks.

Iran insisted that it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program. And it did not back off from earlier promises that it wouldn’t seek a nuclear weapon.

However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.

Iran did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program. Tehran has already increased its production, begun enriching uranium to 5% and restarted enrichment at an underground facility.

While it does not posses uranium enriched to weapons-grade levels of 90%, any push forward narrows the estimated one-year “breakout time” needed for it to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog observing Iran’s program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Iran said that its cooperation with the IAEA “will continue as before.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi earlier told journalists that Soleimani’s killing would prompt Iranian officials to take an even harsher step away from the nuclear deal.

“In the world of politics, all developments are interconnected,” Mousavi said.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said that after the killing of Soleimani, the government has two choices: End the presence of foreign troops in Iraq or restrict their mission to training Iraqi forces. He called for the first option.

Iraqi officials have denounced the airstrike as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.

The majority of about 180 legislators present in Parliament voted in favor of the troop-removal resolution. It was backed by most Shiite members of Parliament, who hold a majority of seats. Many Sunni and Kurdish legislators did not show up for the session, apparently because they oppose abolishing the deal.

Asked shortly before the parliamentary vote whether the U.S. would comply with an Iraqi government request for American troops to leave, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not answer directly.

But the added: “It is the United States that is prepared to help the Iraqi people get what it is they deserve and continue our mission there to take down terrorism from ISIS and others in the region.”

Amid threats of vengeance from Iran, the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq said Sunday it is putting the battle against IS militants on hold to focus on protecting its own troops and bases. A U.S. pullout could not only allow the Islamic State to make a comeback but could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq, which like Iran is a majority-Shiite country.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the leader of Iran’s major proxy, the militant group Hezbollah, said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members across the region fair targets for attacks. A former Revolutionary Guard leader suggested the Israeli city of Haifa and centers like Tel Aviv could be targeted.

Soleimani’s killing has escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of back-and-forth attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge. Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. attack, while Trump has likewise warned on Twitter that the U.S. will strike back at 52 targets “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.”

Iranian state TV estimated that a million mourners came out to the Imam Reza shrine in the city of Mashhad to pay their respects to Soleimani, although that number could not be independently verified.

The casket moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani’s portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally symbolize both the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and a call for vengeance.

The processions mark the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran’s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him.

Soleimani’s remains will go to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions. He will be buried in his hometown of Kerman.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.

The post Iran Abandons 2015 Deal’s Nuclear Limits appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iran Abandons 2015 Deal’s Nuclear Limits

TEHRAN, Iran — The blowback over the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general mounted Sunday as Iran announced it is abandoning the limits contained in the 2015 nuclear deal and Iraq’s Parliament called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil.

The twin developments, if they come to pass, could bring Iran closer to building an atomic bomb and enable the Islamic State group to stage a comeback in Iraq, making the Middle East a far more dangerous and unstable place.

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Iranian state television cited a statement by President Hassan Rouhani’s administration saying the country would not observe limits on fuel enrichment, on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on its research and development activities.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran no longer faces any limitations in operations,” a state TV broadcaster said.

In Iraq, meanwhile, lawmakers voted in favor of a resolution calling for an end of the foreign military presence in the country, including the estimated 5,000 U.S. troops stationed to help battle the Islamic State group. The bill is nonbinding and subject to approval by the Iraqi government but has the backing of the outgoing prime minister.

The two decisions capped a day of mass mourning over Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Friday. Hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets in the cities of Ahvaz and Mashhad to walk alongside the casket of Soleimani, who was the architect of Iran’s proxy wars across the Mideast and was blamed for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in suicide bombings and other attacks.

Iran insisted that it remains open to negotiations with European partners over its nuclear program. And it did not back off from earlier promises that it wouldn’t seek a nuclear weapon.

However, the announcement represents the clearest nuclear proliferation threat yet made by Iran since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in May 2018. It further raises regional tensions, as Iran’s longtime foe Israel has promised never to allow Iran to produce an atomic bomb.

Iran did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program. Tehran has already increased its production, begun enriching uranium to 5% and restarted enrichment at an underground facility.

While it does not posses uranium enriched to weapons-grade levels of 90%, any push forward narrows the estimated one-year “breakout time” needed for it to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog observing Iran’s program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, Iran said that its cooperation with the IAEA “will continue as before.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi earlier told journalists that Soleimani’s killing would prompt Iranian officials to take an even harsher step away from the nuclear deal.

“In the world of politics, all developments are interconnected,” Mousavi said.

In Iraq, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi said that after the killing of Soleimani, the government has two choices: End the presence of foreign troops in Iraq or restrict their mission to training Iraqi forces. He called for the first option.

Iraqi officials have denounced the airstrike as a violation of the country’s sovereignty.

The majority of about 180 legislators present in Parliament voted in favor of the troop-removal resolution. It was backed by most Shiite members of Parliament, who hold a majority of seats. Many Sunni and Kurdish legislators did not show up for the session, apparently because they oppose abolishing the deal.

Asked shortly before the parliamentary vote whether the U.S. would comply with an Iraqi government request for American troops to leave, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would not answer directly.

But the added: “It is the United States that is prepared to help the Iraqi people get what it is they deserve and continue our mission there to take down terrorism from ISIS and others in the region.”

Amid threats of vengeance from Iran, the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq said Sunday it is putting the battle against IS militants on hold to focus on protecting its own troops and bases. A U.S. pullout could not only allow the Islamic State to make a comeback but could also enable Iran to deepen its influence in Iraq, which like Iran is a majority-Shiite country.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, the leader of Iran’s major proxy, the militant group Hezbollah, said Soleimani’s killing made U.S. military bases, warships and service members across the region fair targets for attacks. A former Revolutionary Guard leader suggested the Israeli city of Haifa and centers like Tel Aviv could be targeted.

Soleimani’s killing has escalated the crisis between Tehran and Washington after months of back-and-forth attacks and threats that have put the wider Middle East on edge. Iran has promised “harsh revenge” for the U.S. attack, while Trump has likewise warned on Twitter that the U.S. will strike back at 52 targets “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD.”

The U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia warned Americans “of the heightened risk of missile and drone attacks.”

Iranian state TV estimated that a million mourners came out to the Imam Reza shrine in the city of Mashhad to pay their respects to Soleimani, although that number could not be independently verified.

The casket moved slowly through streets choked with mourners wearing black, beating their chests and carrying posters with Soleimani’s portrait. Demonstrators also carried red Shiite flags, which traditionally symbolize both the spilled blood of someone unjustly killed and a call for vengeance.

The processions mark the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran’s famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him.

Soleimani’s remains will go to Tehran and Qom on Monday for public mourning processions. He will be buried in his hometown of Kerman.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Karam reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Dubai, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, Sarah El Deeb in Beirut and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.

The post Iran Abandons 2015 Deal’s Nuclear Limits appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

5 Dead, Dozens Hospitalized in Pennsylvania Turnpike Crash

GREENSBURG, Pa. — A deadly crash involving a passenger bus and multiple other vehicles on the Pennsylvania Turnpike left five dead and dozens injured early Sunday, shutting down a large portion of the highway.

Officials said at least 60 people, with victims ranging from 7 to 52 years old, were hospitalized after the crash that happened at 3:40 a.m. in Westmoreland County, around 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Pittsburgh. Stephen Limani, Pennsylvania State Police spokesperson, said at a press conference that none of the injuries are considered life-threatening, though two patients remain in critical condition.

Limani said the bus, operated by a New Jersey-based company called Z & D Tours, was traveling from Rockaway, New Jersey, to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was first struck by two tractor-trailers, then another truck and a passenger car. Photos from the scene show a mangled collision of multiple vehicles including an overturned bus, two tractor-trailers, a passenger car and a smashed FedEx truck that left packages sprawled along the highway.

“It was kind of a chain-reaction crash,” Limani said.

FedEx did not provide any other details besides that they are cooperating with authorities. A message seeking comment was left Sunday with the bus company.

Limani would not identify those killed or say which vehicles they were traveling in because families have not yet been notified.

There were 25 victims transported to Excela Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant, Excela Health spokeswoman Robin Jennings said. Nine of those patients are under the age of 18.

At least one of the 25 victims initially sent to Excela was transported to a nearby trauma center.

”I haven’t personally witnessed a crash of this magnitude in 20 years,” Pennsylvania Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo told WTAE, calling it the worst accident in his decades-long tenure with the turnpike. “It’s horrible.”

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Sunday that it dispatched a team of more than a dozen to investigate.

Officials said it was too early to determine if weather was a main factor in the crash. The National Weather Service forecast for Westmoreland County early Sunday listed light unknown precipitation and an air temperature just below freezing.

Angela Maynard, a tractor-trailer driver from Kentucky, said the roads were wet from snow but not especially icy. Maynard was traveling eastbound on the turnpike when she came upon the crash site and called 911.

“It was horrible,” she told The Tribune-Review. She saw lots of smoke but no fire. She and her co-driver found one person trapped in their truck and another lying on the ground.

“I tried to keep him occupied, keep talking, until medical help arrived,” Maynard said. “He was in bad shape. He was floating in and out of consciousness.”

The highway remains closed in both directions indefinitely. Local fire and emergency medical crews are on scene, along with a hazardous material company cleaning up fuel and other materials. A towing company is getting ready to begin separating the vehicles and getting them cleared.

“It’s a very extensive crash so a lot of work has to be done to get the roadway reconditioned and ready to handle traffic again,” said Craig Shuey, the turnpike’s chief operating officer.

Associated Press reporters Sophia Rosenbaum in New York, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Claire Galofaro in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to this report.

The post 5 Dead, Dozens Hospitalized in Pennsylvania Turnpike Crash appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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