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REVEALED: UK spending £1.5BILLION more on international aid than previously thought

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TAXPAYERS are spending an extra £1.5billion a year on foreign aid than previously thought, a new report reveals.

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Israel critics seize on Trump-Netanyahu bromance after travel ban

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WASHINGTON — Israel’s ban on two Muslim members of Congress has provided an opportunity for progressive pro-Palestinian groups in America to highlight the chumminess between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu — and to try to influence the stance of Democratic presidential candidates on the campaign trail.

“This is a watershed moment on how Democrats will engage with Israel’s increasing moves toward the far-right under Netanyahu,” said Waleed Shahid, a spokesman for Justice Democrats, which is closely aligned with Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who were both barred from entering Israel on Thursday.

The two lawmakers are among the most prominent to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel, which Israel considers an attack on its right to exist. Under Israeli law, its backers can be prohibited from entering the country.

The House of Representatives voted to condemn the BDS movement in a whopping 398-17 vote last month.

Pro-Palestinian activists said they saw Israel’s decision, under public pressure from President Donald Trump, to bar two members of “the squad” of freshman progressives as a chance to push the party toward the left in the midst of the 2020 campaign.

While many Democrats condemned Israel’s move on Thursday to keep the lawmakers out and Trump’s support for it, activists want them to go further.

“What we’re trying to do is make clear that what the next U.S. president needs to do in order to achieve freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians is to put direct pressure on the Israeli government to end the occupation,” Yonah Lieberman, a founder of IfNotNow, a left-wing Jewish grassroots organization, told NBC News.

The close alliance between Trump and Netanyahu, he said, is “opening up space politically” for groups like his to make the case that Democrats should feel more confident in criticizing Israel’s actions.



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Watchdog cites possible political retribution by Trump appointees at State Dept.

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WASHINGTON — The State Department’s internal watchdog has found significant evidence of leadership and management problems, including possible political retribution against career employees, in the bureau that deals with international organizations.

In a report released on Thursday, the department’s inspector general said a review of thousands of emails and dozens of interviews with current and former employees of the Bureau of International Organizations revealed a “negative and vindictive” work environment. The review found employees complained about being frequently berated in public or otherwise mistreated by two senior Trump administration political appointees at the top of the bureau.

“Nearly every employee interviewed … raised concerns” about the bureau’s leadership and “the treatment of staff,” the report said.

Among the complaints documented in the 34-page report were allegations from career employees that Assistant Secretary of State Kevin Moley and his former senior adviser Marie Stull retaliated or tried to retaliate against them because they had served in the previous administration.

“Several career employees reported that throughout her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull referred to them or to other career employees as ‘Obama holdovers,’ ‘traitors,’ or ‘disloyal,'” the report said. “Other career employees told (the inspector general) that Ms. Stull accused them of being part of the ‘Deep State’ and that the assistant secretary accused them of ‘undermining the president’s agenda.'”

In addition, the report says employees reported that Stull made positive comments about some of their colleagues because she believed they had contributed to Republican political candidates. It says there was no evidence that any formal personnel decisions were made as a result but “the mere discussion of them raises significant concerns as to whether Ms. Stull was engaging in political activity while on duty.” Such activity would be illegal under federal law.

Stull has since left the State Department and did not respond to the allegations. In a response to the report, Moley, who is still serving as the assistant secretary, denied any unprofessional behavior and disputed the inspector general’s characterizations of numerous meetings he had with superiors to discuss concerns about his leadership of the bureau. The report says Moley failed to respond to repeated suggestions on how to improve conditions and only reluctantly agreed to bring on a career assistant to help resolve the concerns.

“The behavior attributed to me regarding raising my voice, berating employees and contributing to a hostile work environment does not represent who I am or who I have ever been,” Moley said.

The State Department said in a statement that it would provide a corrective action plan, as recommended by the inspector general, within 60 days.

The report was conducted in part because of requests from congressional Democrats concerned by anecdotal reports that the Trump administration was retaliating against career officials perceived as opposing the president.

“Today’s report confirms what we feared: ‘disrespectful and hostile’ treatment of career employees at the State Department, including spurious accusations that public servants were ‘disloyal’ and improper retaliation against them,” said Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Engel called for Moley to be fired or to resign.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee who sought the IG probe with Engel, agreed.

“This report leaves no doubt that Trump Administration political appointees have mismanaged the Department and violated the public trust, and the American people deserve swift action to hold those officials accountable and to root out this systemic problem from throughout the State Department and the rest of the Administration,” he said in a statment.

And, Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the investigation showed the administration “has undermined American interests and values and placed our nation in harm’s way. For that they must be held to account — by Congress now and by the American people next year.”

The report is the inspector general’s second scathing review of the Trump administration’s management of the State Department to be released in the past week.

Last Friday, it released a report that said the administration’s 2017 hiring freeze at the State Department had devastating effects, hurting core functions such as providing services to U.S. citizens abroad and protecting embassies.

The department’s inspector general said all domestic offices and nearly all overseas missions surveyed reported that the freeze had a “negative or very negative effect on morale.” It said 96% of embassies and consulates overseas and 95% of offices in the U.S. reported negative effects on security, consular and administrative operations. Those included oversight of millions of dollars in counter-terrorism, health, human rights and humanitarian assistance programs from Afghanistan to Venezuela.

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Officials grapple with realities of election security

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SILVER SPRING, Md. — The nation’s highest agency dedicated to election administration convened a security summit on Thursday to figure out how to confront a problem: The majority of the country’s 10,000 voting jurisdictions still run outdated software.

In July, Associated Press reported that many counties still use Windows 7, initially released in 2009, or even older software in their election systems. The software is so old that Microsoft announced last year it will soon stop supporting it — shipping free updates to bugs or fixing security issues. After 2020, updates will require a fee.

But inside a 21-seat conference room in Silver Spring, the discussion of the Election Assistance Commission — which included state election directors, secretaries of state and representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, election system manufacturers and testing laboratories — the hastily organized meeting also touched on broader frustrations over challenges local election officials face in trying to secure their voting systems as well as inaction from politicians in Washington.

“We are talking about local communities having trouble funding roads and water bills, and now we want them to take part in defense against foreign and state actors,” said Kentucky State Election Director Jared Dearing.

Also on Thursday, the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan public policy institute run by New York University Law School, released a report estimating that states could spend more than $1 billion in the next five years to replace old machines and upgrade software.

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said he did not believe Washington fully grasped the challenges that states face.

“There’s a huge air gap by federal officials regarding the reality of processes and procedures, as opposed to magnitude of speculation,” he said. “Elections are not a partisan issue. What is partisan is using security to create fear among the electorate for partisan policies that have nothing to do with election security.”

U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and have repeatedly warned about attacks on the 2020 election.

The 2020 election remains more than a year away, but since U.S. elections are run in a decentralized system, a right that states fiercely guard, local officials face an uphill challenge in securing their voting systems. Before the 2018 midterms, NBC News spoke to a range of experts who said that many of the country’s voting machines are woefully unreliable and in many cases around 15 year old.

Since 2016 there has been a renewed focus on election security from the public and private sectors, including the introduction of a variety of tools for local officials to use, and a huge push to replace all-electronic devices with ones that produce some kind of paper record.

But other elements in the voting ecosystem themselves have changed little.

The issues with the Windows 7 software aren’t necessarily difficult to fix, but at present they would require officials already on a tight budget to pay Microsoft. Louisiana’s Ardoin said at the meeting that the cost could be $300 per machine.

“Can you convince Microsoft to not charge us for updates past January?” he asked the commissioners.

Ginny Badanes, Microsoft’s director of strategic projects, cybersecurity and democracy, told NBC News it was working on a solution.

“We are dedicated to do whatever it takes so this is not an issue,” she said. “We are dedicated to making sure Windows 7 is not a barrier to a secure election.”

Several state and vendor representatives stressed the importance of the Election Assistance Commission adopting a more streamlined process for certifying systems updates.

“Hustle up with those certification standards,” Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said.

Dearing concurred.

“Certification needs to be a stamp of approval telling us our technology is secured, not the obstacle to more secure systems,” he said.

Dearing also tried to impress on the commissioners the challenges facing cash-strapped and technologically less advanced rural jurisdictions in his state, Kentucky.

“At 6 o’clock, McDonald’s is often the busiest place in town,” Dearing said of some towns. “And not because people are eating there. It’s because they’re using the free Wi-Fi.”

Dearing said some state elections departments have only one or two people on staff, and often “they’re not digitally native.”

“And we’re asking them to take part in what is national security.”



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