Trump Chooses Goldman Sachs President as Chief Economic Advisor

President-elect Donald Trump announced that he is naming Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn as his chief economic advisor. Cohn will chair the national economic council and coordinate economic policy across departments. He is the third Trump senior administration member to come from Goldman Sachs, following Steve Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury and Steve Bannon as Senior Counselor to the President. Trump became interested in Cohn because of his private-public partnership plan for rebuilding US infrastructure, which would provide funding through tax breaks for investors instead of borrowed funds with low interest rates.

Two of Trump’s nominations that had been rumored were also confirmed on Monday: Former Texas governor Rick Perry for Secretary of Energy, and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. During the presidential campaign Perry had said he wanted to abolish the Department of Energy, along with the Departments of Education and Commerce. Perry currently sits on the board of Energy Transfer Partners, which is the company in charge of constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

New UN Secretary General Sworn in

Antonio Guterres, the former UN High Commissioner of Refugees, was sworn in as the 9th UN Secretary General on Monday. Guterres was elected in October with a larger consensus among his electors than previous elections of Secretary Generals. He will take office on January 1, 2017. Guterres had previously served as Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002, and as President of the Socialist International from 1999 to 2005. The Secretary General-elect has said that conflict prevention would be his top priority as UN Secretary General.

Brazil’s President Temer Charged with Soliciting Millions in Illegal Campaign Donations

In the latest development in Brazil’s on-going corruption scandals, prosecutors are accusing President Michel Temer of soliciting $2.9 million in illegal campaign donations from Brazilian companies in order to finance the 2014 presidential campaign. Temer at that time was Dilma Rousseff’s vice-presidential running mate. Rousseff was removed from office last August in an impeachment process that she and her supporters call a legislative coup and that involved Temer turning against her. She was accused of having committed administrative budgeting irregularities, but no acts of corruption. These latest accusations are the result of plea bargain testimony involving the directors of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which is implicated in several cases of corruption.

Study Shows that Methane Gas Emissions Are Surging Over the Past Decade

A new climate study shows that emissions of the heat-trapping gas methane has surged in the past ten years at a far higher level than scientists had expected. The findings carry grave implications for climate change because methane traps heat at 20 times the rate as carbon dioxide, which is the most common greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. According to the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters, the surge in methane gas emissions could produce a “tipping point” that will make it almost impossible to limit global warming to 2 degrees celsius above the pre-industrial average. Methane emissions come from a variety of sources, such as fracking, oil drilling, coal excavation, thawing of tundra in the Arctic circle due to global warming, and agriculture.

Mass Arrests of Kurdish Opposition Politicians Continue in Turkey

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP ) in a statement released today condemned the arrests of their members on Monday and the most recent raids of their headquarters by the security services. The Turkish State’s crackdown against its Kurdish population continues unabated in effect ending the peace talks originally established by imprisoned Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish government. 67 additional Kurdish politicians belonging to the HDP were arrested on Monday. The HDP has claimed that “since April 14, 2009 thousands of Kurdish politicians were arrested in political operations under the name of KCK”.

Turkish authorities have stated that the HDP politicians face prosecution for terrorism. Among the most common ‘terrorism’ related charges relate to statements made that the authorities deem to be ‘in support of terrorism’ or ‘terrorist organizations’. The Parliamentary immunity that would normally protect Parliamentarians (like the HDP members that have just been arrested) from prosecutions relating to their speech, was retroactively lifted by a constitutional amendment implemented in May this year. This amendment appears to only target members of the opposition HDP. It has been repeatedly argued that the attacks on the Kurds are also part of a wider attempt for Erdogan to centralize and consolidate his power.

Report Describes Increasing “Fear of Genocide” Against the Kurds in South-East Turkey

While the crackdown against the Kurds in Ankara is receiving some coverage, far less reported are the increasing fears of genocide against the Kurds in the South-east of Turkey. Respected human rights barrister Melanie Gingell and Julie Ward MEP visited the South-east of Turkey on a fact finding mission in late November this year. Upon their return they described a climate of intense fear and escalating attacks on the Kurds by state and non-state actors. In a report published yesterday, by campaigning group Peace in Kurdistan, it was claimed that:

“In the wider community, there is a build-up of aggressive rhetoric in social media, against Kurdish people and their representatives, which is reminiscent of the pre-genocide period in Rwanda when the Tutsi were demonised prior to being subjected to systematic attacks and mass atrocities….

“We were told that the next phase in the repression of the Kurdish movement was likely to be mass atrocities. The mayor of Ankara has openly called for AKP supporters to arm themselves. In Van on the evening of 17th November a woman was burnt alive in her house by soldiers and police who had informally identified the house as a “terrorist” house.”

Syrian Government Claims Near Total Control of Aleppo as Truce is Struck With “Rebel Alliance”. Claims Emerge of On-The-Spot Extrajudicial Executions

The battle for Aleppo appears to be essentially over according to recent reports from Reuters. The Syrian government is claiming to be in the final stages of reclaiming the city. Rebel leaders have also reportedly confirmed that a truce will come into effect Tuesday evening that will permit anti-government militants to exit the city. The Guardian has also cited an unnamed Turkish official as saying an agreement was made between the Turks and Russia to permit civilians and “moderate rebels” to flee to Idlib province. Airstrikes were also confirmed to have ended yesterday, including by the “rebel officials” quoted by Reuters.

Extrajudicial Executions?

Social media has been awash with posts from individuals, ostensibly within eastern Aleppo, claiming that they expect to be executed or tortured by government forces. The social media posts have also called for international protection from “retribution” by government forces. There have also been claims of on-the-spot extra-judicial executions, being carried out by Syrian government forces against civilians. The UN has been called upon to investigate the claims. Unicef has also issued a statement calling for the protection of children while declaring their “alarm” at reports from a “doctor in Aleppo” “of possibly more than 100 [children] unaccompanied or separated from their families, are trapped in a building, under heavy attack in east Aleppo.”

However, claims of on extrajudicial executions have yet to be independently verified. It is also not yet known how credible the social media posts are. Syria has become a battleground for propaganda. “Opposition forces”, foreign fighters, “media activists” and “media groups” that either operate from within Syria or report on the conflict have been proven to have been created, organized and funded by foreign governments. There have been repeated exposé’s and challenges of groups such as the White Helmets, The Syria Campaign, and The Revolutionary Forces of Syria Media Office (RFS) as largely being “proxies for regime change”. Journalist Max Blumenthal spoke to TRNN about his recent two part investigation into the Syria Campaign and the White Helmets. Vanessa Beeley is also among the few investigative journalists who has long reported on the propagandistic nature “opposition groups” groups within Syria as well as their foreign links. However she has often been dismissed for being “pro-Assad”.

The war(s) in Syria have resulted in sharp dividing lines among journalists and groups in “the West” as well as the Middle East. Journalists who report critically of the “opposition” have been slammed as supporting “Assad’s war crimes”. Others who have been sympathetic to the rebels conversely been accused of supporting “extremist Islamists” and “imperial interference” in Syria.  This has made verifying accounts from within Syria to be especially fraught with difficulties.

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