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 on: Today at 06:56 AM 
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Senators May Extend Illegal Patriot Act Spying Because They Want To Go Home For Memorial Day

By: Jason Easley
Friday, May, 22nd, 2015, 9:25 pm      

In a sign of the Senate’s misplaced priorities, the Senate may extend a number of illegal Patriot Act spying programs because they are anxious to get home for the Memorial Day holiday.

Roll Call reported:

    The Senate appeared to be lurching toward passing a short-term extension of existing surveillance authorities under the Patriot Act, despite insistence by the House that members on that side of the Rotunda wouldn’t be coming back before a June 1 deadline.

       Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, one of the Republicans supporting the USA Freedom Act, predicted it would fall short of getting the 60 votes needed to limit debate on a motion to proceed, in no small part because of the smell of the recess jet fumes.

    “Maybe we’ll get lucky. I hope we have the votes, but that argument about staying in all week certainly seems to trump all the reasonable arguments everybody else is making,” Heller said, adding that he was undecided about objecting to moving a short-term extension of the Patriot Act provisions.

So much for doing the people’s business. Instead of staying at work until their tasks are completed, Senators are going to rush through a short-term extension of the Patriot Act’s illegal spying programs.

Sen. Rand Paul’s fake filibuster against the Patriot Act may end up resulting in the law being extended. Paul’s self-serving attempt to boost his presidential campaign could end up costing those Americans who want to see the law expire the best chance that they have ever had at real reform.

The Senators that the American people pay to represent them are about to screw them over because they are in a hurry to get home for Memorial Day. This is what our dysfunctional Republican-led Congress has come to.


Paul Krugman Is Right The Iraq War Was A Bush Crime

By: Rmuse
Friday, May, 22nd, 2015, 11:37 am      

Although it seems counterintuitive from a psychological perspective, but believe it or not there is some value in being reminded periodically, or repeatedly for that matter, of a disastrous occurrence if for no other reason than to avoid it in the future. Republicans consistently either forget or ignore their past disasters and in the preponderance of cases are intent on repeating them for reasons that defy all sense of logic and reason; it is just the Republican way of doing everything and adverse consequences be damned. Even though many Americans would like to either forget the national disgrace that was one of the Bush administration’s greatest disasters and affronts to humanity, or ignore it all together, the Iraq war is a nightmare that is a recurring reminder of the Bush administration’s crimes against humanity and the American people.

Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman spent his allotment of words in the New York Times Monday on an opinion piece titled “Errors and Lies.” In the op-ed Mr. Krugman noted that with the “maybe” candidacy for president of Jeb Bush, “We may finally have the frank discussion of the Iraq invasion we should have had a decade ago.” Although having a discussion will not change the disastrous consequences of Bush and company’s crimes, bring back the three-quarters of a million dead Iraqi civilians or thousands of American soldiers, it may inform Americans of the intent of Republicans defending the invasion and occupation.

Krugman implies that the current narrative is that “invading Iraq was a terrible mistake that everyone admits, so let’s move on.” However, and here is where Krugman gets it partially right; that narrative may be true of some in the media, but not everyone admits the war was a mistake and no Republicans are admitting that the Bush administration lied to frighten Americans into supporting a disastrous enterprise they are panting to continue unabated.

As Krugman duly noted, Jeb Bush claims his brother’s disastrous war was just an innocent and honest mistake based on obviously faulty intelligence. Many Republicans claim it was exactly what the then-stable region needed and what the American people demanded to protect the homeland from nuclear annihilation launched from Bagdad. The truth that even Republicans are well-aware of is that America invaded Iraq because the Bush-Cheney administration desperately wanted a war with Iraq from the moment they stepped foot in the White House in January 2001.

The neo-con Iraqi invasion justifications in public  were not, as Krugman kindly says “falsified pretexts;” they were well-conceived machinations founded on blatant lies. Lies the Bush warmongers employed as propaganda to frighten Americans into supporting a war they will be paying additional trillions of dollars for over a couple of generations. That it is not only acceptable, but defensible, to most Republicans still claiming invading Iraq was necessary is an abomination of epic proportions and part of their devious preparations for another Israeli-provoked war; this time with another Islamic nation, Iran.

There is no dearth of information revealing the Bush administration’s intent to invade Iraq, or more specifically, get rid of Sadam Hussein and procure Iraqi oil began early in the administration; they just needed a reason that would convince the American people a war was good for America.  The terror attack on 9/11 gave them exactly what they lusted after for nearly nine months. In fact, according to  notes taken by one of Donald Rumsfeld’s aides on the day of 9/11,  Rumsfeld said the White House should “Judge whether good enough to hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] …sweep it all up things related and not.” Rumsfeld knew Bush and Cheney could successfully use the attacks in their plot for an Iraq war. From that point forward, an Iraq invasion was inevitable and it was down to Bush administration lies and a willing media to spread fear among the population for what is always a ratings-bonanza; America at war.

For Americans with a brain, the rush to war based on  935 lies and fearmongering was apparent if for no other reason than the ever-changing reasons invading Iraq was crucial to “protect America.” Whether it was the scary W.M.D that Saddam  destroyed after the first Gulf War, the nuclear arsenal that Saddam never had, Saddam’s close relationship and support for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, or Bush lies that Iraq committed the attacks on 9/11, the only consistent reason for invasion was to prevent America’s annihilation.

In a radio address in 2002, Bush succeeded in frightening Americans into supporting an invasion and war by lying that  “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more and could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to al Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year. We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

The Bush administration wanted a substantial war with Iraq, and Jeb Bush’s assertion that the supposed mistakes “were made” by someone unnamed were borne of the neo-cons’ only desire to lie profusely no matter the intelligence contradicting their claims. Krugman wonders; “Did the intelligence agencies wrongly conclude that Iraq had chemical weapons and a nuclear program?” No, not according to Michael Morell, a career CIA official who became the agency’s deputy director and acting director and served as Bush’s intelligence briefer during the pre-invasion period. Morell told Chris Matthews on Tuesday that “the Bush-Cheney administration publicly misrepresented the intelligence related to Iraq’s supposed WMD program and Saddam’s alleged links to Al Qaeda.” That is not an honest intelligence “mistake” by Bush officials, that is deceit and in lying to take America to war, as Krugman states the obvious, it is indeed a crime.

Mr. Krugman also rhetorically asks if the Bush administration’s prewar assessments were honest understatements of the difficulty and cost of a full-scale invasion and occupation. No they did not; because Bush fired the Army’s chief of staff for publicly questioning the administrations assertions that the occupation phase would be cheap and easy. It was all part of the warmongers’ deceit to prevent the public from learning the truth that could possibly raise any doubts about the rush to invade. No matter how one assesses the Bush administration’s plot to invade Iraq, it was criminal.

Republicans just cannot, and will never, admit that Bush and company deliberately lied to frighten Americans into supporting a disastrous war of aggression in Iraq. It is not just that they are ill-inclined to admit their heroic war president’s lied and caused countless American and civilian deaths and created an economic black hole the effects the nation will feel for two generations; they are repeating the same lies in preparation for another war of aggression against the Islamic Republic of Iran at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is noteworthy, and tragic, that too many Americans are completely unaware that Netanyahu was a driving force in antagonizing Bush to invade Iraq for regime change. It was a crime in 2003 and one Republicans pant to repeat with Iran.

As Krugman says, the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s machinations to start it were not mistakes in intelligence, they were a crime. And yet the dirty, blood-guilty criminals are walking around free, advising another Bush, as well as other Republican neo-cons on foreign policy and blaming Barack Obama for Bush’s crime that destabilized the region in and around Iraq and created the dreaded ISIL. It is good that the Iraq invasion is being discussed in terms of whether it was a mistake, but as every parent tells their child, deliberately lying to achieve a goal is not a mistake and in the case of lying profusely to take a nation into a disastrous war, it is a crime that is still going unpunished.


America Is A Liberal Nation: For The First Time Social Liberals Outnumber Conservatives

By: Jason Easley
Friday, May, 22nd, 2015, 9:49 am   

For the first time since polling began in 1999, Gallup found that there are more social liberals in the United States than social conservatives.

Gallup reported that the number of respondents who called themselves social liberals has increased to 31%, while the number of self-identified social conservatives has fallen to 30%. The number of Democrats who refer to themselves as social liberals jumped from 47% in 2014 to 53% in 2015. The number of Republicans who call themselves socially conservative has declined from 60% in 2014 to 53% in 2015.

Democrats who used to call themselves social moderates are moving to the left while Republicans are experiencing a decline in social conservatives. The polling matches the overall trend in the country. America has moved left on same-sex marriage, equal pay for women, immigration, and climate change. Issues like the minimum wage and taxes have become both social and economic causes.

The United States is moving to the left. It has been inching leftward on social issues for decades, and the leftward trend is accelerating.

Republicans are nationally unpopular because they are out of step with the rest of the country. One of the main issues within the Republican Party is that candidates continue to pander to an increasing out of touch and shrinking base of social conservatives. The Democratic shift to the left on social issues is politically reflected in Hillary Clinton’s early moves to stake out liberal social positions after announcing her 2016 presidential candidacy.

The nation’s movement left is real and growing. The United States is becoming a socially liberal country, and Republican opponents of these changes are facing consistent defeat as our national leftward social evolution moves forward.

 on: Today at 06:50 AM 
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‘Never before seen’ star behavior observed by Hubble

May 22, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

An unusual star, so unique that astronomers gave it the nickname “Nasty 1”, is the target of new analysis conducted using the Hubble Space Telescope, shedding light on what could be a brief transitory stage in the evolutionary process of extremely massive stars.

“Nasty 1,” officially named NaSt1, is described by NASA as “a hefty, rapidly aging star whose behavior has never been seen before in our Milky Way galaxy.” First discovered several decades ago, NaSt1 is a Wolf-Rayet star (a rapidly evolving type of star that is far more massive than our sun), but it doesn’t look like your run-of-the-mill Wolf-Rayet star, the agency explained.

These stars typically lose their hydrogen-filled outer layers quickly, leaving their super-hot and extremely bright helium-burning cores exposed. The astronomers behind the new study thought that they would see twin lobes of gas flowing from opposite sides of NaSt1, but instead, Hubble showed them a pancake-shaped, two trillion mile wide disk of gas encircling the star.

Lead investigator Jon Mauerhan of the University of California, Berkeley and his colleague, who published their findings online in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society on May 21, believe that the disk may have formed from previously undetected companion star that dined on the outer envelope of the newly-formed Wolf-Rayet star.

Possible models of Wolf-Rayet star formation

“We were excited to see this disk-like structure because it may be evidence for a Wolf-Rayet star forming from a binary interaction,” Mauerhan said in a statement. “There are very few examples in the galaxy of this process in action because this phase is short-lived, perhaps lasting only a hundred thousand years, while the timescale over which a resulting disk is visible could be only ten thousand years or less.”

He and his co-authors believe that the massive star would have evolved very quickly, swelling up as it starts to exhaust its supply of hydrogen. The outer hydrogen envelope would start becoming vulnerable to gravitational stripping by a nearby companion star. As a result, this star would start gaining mass, and the original would lose its hydrogen envelope, exposing its helium core.

This is one way that scientists believe that Wolf-Rayet stars form. Another takes place when a massive star ejects its hydrogen envelope through a strong stellar wind streaming with charged particles, NASA explained. The binary interaction model is gaining acceptance because of the realization that at least 70 percent of all massive stars are members of double-star systems, and the direct mass model along cannot account for the number of Wolf-Rayet stars.

However, the mass exchange that takes place in the binary interaction model is not always very efficient, the US space agency added, and some of the stripped matter can spill out and form a disk around the binary. Mauerhan believes that this is the what’s happening in this case, as his team things that “there is a Wolf-Rayet star buried in the nebula” and that the nebula itself “is being created by this mass-transfer process.”

 on: Today at 06:48 AM 
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Mexican officials: 43 killed in major offensive against drug cartel

Biggest official death toll yet from a confrontation involving Mexican security forces in the country’s near decade-long drug wars

Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Saturday 23 May 2015 04.42 BST

A fierce three-hour confrontation between federal forces and drug cartel gunmen hauled up inside a ranch in western Mexico killed at least 42 “presumed criminals” and one police officer, according to the government.

This is the biggest official death toll yet from a confrontation involving Mexican security forces in the country’s near decade-long drug wars.

National security commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said it took place within a major offensive launched earlier this month in the western state of Jalisco to combat the New Generation Jalisco Cartel.

It began, he said, on Friday morning after a convoy of soldiers, federal police and state police, came under fire from a vehicle full of armed men close to the ranch located a few miles over the border in the state of Michoacán, near the town of Tanhuato.

“A pursuit began that lead to the ranch,” Rubido said, “the rest of the criminals inside the ranch started to attack the federal forces with intensity”.

Rubido said federal forces called for reinforcements that included a helicopter.

The ensuing gun battles, he said, extended throughout the large ranch of 112 hectares and lasted for about three hours. The commissioner credited “the training and equipment of the federal forces” for ensuring there was only one federal police agent killed.

    The rest of the criminals inside the ranch started to attack the federal forces with intensity
    National security commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido

He said the officer was killed while attending to a fellow officer who had been wounded. Rubido, who did not take questions from the press, said the operation also lead to the arrest of three gunmen as well as the confiscation of 36 assault rifles and a grenade launcher.

He added that six vehicles in a warehouse were set alight during the confrontation, which would account for the plumes of black smoke locals from nearby areas had earlier told reporters they had seen.

Photographs circulated on social media, and said to be taken from within the ranch before it was cordoned off by federal forces, showed the bodies of numerous young men both inside what appeared to be farm buildings and lying in fields.

In one image five lifeless youths lie beside farm machinery. One of them lies with his arms outstretched and with an assault rifle across his bare chest. Another, with no shoes, lies with a rifle on one side and an ammunition belt on the other.

Other photographs feature bodies in the grass, some of them with soldiers nearby. One image shows a colonnaded porch filled with blood-stained blankets, clothes and mattresses.

The area is close to the community of La Barca, in the state of Jalisco, where the authorities uncovered mass graves containing 78 bodies in 2013. The graves were also blamed on the New Generation Jalisco Cartel. The cartel is one of Mexico’s newer organized criminal gangs, formed in 2010 from the remnants of older groups that fell apart after their leaders were captured in earlier offensives.

The strategy pursued by successive Mexican governments of going after criminal kingpins has resulted in numerous spectacular arrests and takedowns and weakened several important cartels.

It has, however, so far failed to reduce the violence linked to organized criminal activity around the country that has killed an estimated 100,000 people since the drug wars began in 2006. Some once major groups have splintered into numerous small, and particularly vicious gangs.

The New Generation Jalisco Cartel is one of the few that has been able to take advantage of the power vacuums created by the waning of others to both become an increasing important player in trafficking drugs and expand its territorial presence.

In recent months the New Generation Jalisco Cartel has also garnered a reputation for particularly brazen challenges to state power.

Most Mexican cartels tend to reserve their fiercest firepower for their criminal rivals. In April, gunmen believed to belong to the cartel ambushed a police convoy travelling along a mountain road in Jalisco killing 15 officers and wounding five. There were no reported casualties among the gunmen.

That ambush was one of a series of attacks on security forces that triggered a major federal offensive against the cartel launched on 1 May. It was met by coordinated defiance, seen in dozens of burning blockades set up around Jalisco, as well as in some neighbouring states.

On the same day gunmen also shot down an army helicopter with a rocket propelled grenade, killing eight soldiers.

 on: Today at 06:46 AM 
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City in the sky: world's biggest hotel to open in Mecca

The holy city is fast becoming a Las Vegas for pilgrims, thanks to the new £2.3bn megahotel that has four helipads, five floors for Saudi royalty – and 10,000 bedrooms

Oliver Wainwright
Friday 22 May 2015 14.44 BST

Four helipads will cluster around one of the largest domes in the world, like sideplates awaiting the unveiling of a momentous main course, which will be jacked up 45 storeys into the sky above the deserts of Mecca. It is the crowning feature of the holy city’s crowning glory, the superlative summit of what will be the world’s largest hotel when it opens in 2017.

With 10,000 bedrooms and 70 restaurants, plus five floors for the sole use of the Saudi royal family, the £2.3bn Abraj Kudai is an entire city of five-star luxury, catering to the increasingly high expectations of well-heeled pilgrims from the Gulf.

Modelled on a “traditional desert fortress”, seemingly filtered through the eyes of a Disneyland imagineer with classical pretensions, the steroidal scheme comprises 12 towers teetering on top of a 10-storey podium, which houses a bus station, shopping mall, food courts, conference centre and a lavishly appointed ballroom.

Located in the Manafia district, just over a mile south of the Grand Mosque, the complex is funded by the Saudi Ministry of Finance and designed by the Dar Al-Handasah group, a 7,000-strong global construction conglomerate that turns its hand to everything from designing cities in Kazakhstan to airports in Dubai. For the Abraj Kudai, it has followed the wedding-cake pastiche style of the city’s recent hotel boom: cornice is piled upon cornice, with fluted pink pilasters framing blue-mirrored windows, some arched with a vaguely Ottoman air. The towers seem to be packed so closely together that guests will be able to enjoy views into each other’s rooms.

“The city is turning into Mecca-hattan,” says Irfan Al-Alawi, director of the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, which campaigns to try to save what little heritage is left in Saudi Arabia’s holy cities. “Everything has been swept away to make way for the incessant march of luxury hotels, which are destroying the sanctity of the place and pricing normal pilgrims out.”

The Grand Mosque is now loomed over by the second tallest building in the world, the Abraj al-Bait clocktower, home to thousands more luxury hotel rooms, where rates can reach £4,000 a night for suites with the best views of the Kaaba – the black cube at the centre of the mosque around which Muslims must walk. The hotel rises 600m (2,000ft) into the air, projecting a dazzling green laser-show by night, on a site where an Ottoman fortress once stood – razed for development, along with the hill on which it sat.

The list of heritage crimes goes on, driven by state-endorsed Wahhabism, the hardline interpretation of Islam that perceives historical sites as encouraging sinful idolatry – which spawned the ideology that is now driving Isis’s reign of destruction in Syria and Iraq. In Mecca and Medina, meanwhile, anything that relates to the prophet could be in the bulldozer’s sights. The house of Khadijah, his first wife, was crushed to make way for public lavatories; the house of his companion Abu Bakr is now the site of a Hilton hotel; his grandson’s house was flattened by the king’s palace. Moments from these sites now stands a Paris Hilton store and a gender-segregated Starbucks.

“These are the last days of Mecca,” says Alawi. “The pilgrimage is supposed to be a spartan, simple rite of passage, but it has turned into an experience closer to Las Vegas, which most pilgrims simply can’t afford.”

The city receives around 2 million pilgrims for the annual Hajj, but during the rest of the year more than 20 million visit the city, which has become a popular place for weddings and conferences, bringing in annual tourism revenue of around £6bn. The skyline bristles with cranes, summoning thickets of hotel towers to accommodate the influx. Along the western edge of the city the Jabal Omar development now rises, a sprawling complex that will eventually accommodate 100,000 people in 26 luxury hotels – sitting on another gargantuan plinth of 4,000 shops and 500 restaurants, along with its own six-storey prayer hall.

The Grand Mosque, meanwhile, is undergoing a £40bn expansion to double the capacity of its prayer halls – from 3 million worshippers currently to nearly 7 million by 2040. Planned like a vast triangular slice of cake, the extension goes so far back that most worshippers won’t even be able to see the Kaaba.

“It is just like an airport terminal,” says Alawi. “People have been finding they’re praying in the wrong direction because they simply don’t know which way the mosque is any more. It has made a farce of the whole place.”

 on: Today at 06:44 AM 
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Isis seizes Syrian military base near Palmyra as it consolidates grip on city

Islamic State releases videos of advances as fighters take border crossing with Iraq, begin assault on Deir Ezzor and amass near key army base in Homs province

Kareem Shaheen in Beirut
Friday 22 May 2015 18.26 BST

Islamic State has consolidated its grip on the historic city of Palmyra and other swaths of territory in eastern Syria, fresh from its decisive victory over forces loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Militants from the terror group seized a small Syrian military base and station near Palmyra, a day after routing government forces from the ancient city. A video released by Isis showed its fighters entering the facility and seizing ammunition and weapons.

“You can stop talking now,” a militant said as he tore down a portrait of Hafez al-Assad, the Syrian president’s father and predecessor.

Another video showed militants mingling with civilians in the city near the corpses of two apparently pro-Assad fighters, shouting: “The Islamic State is here to stay.”

Isis fighters are amassing near Tayfur, a key military base in Homs province that houses much of the Syrian air force’s fleet of fighter bombers.

The group also launched fresh assaults in Deir Ezzor, where embattled regime soldiers are fighting an overwhelming Isis presence and are now largely cut off owing to the fall of Palmyra.

The militants fought with government troops near the Deir Ezzor military airport, in an attempt to seize it. They also took control of the final border crossing with Iraq under regime control, giving it increasingly unfettered access to transport troops across the frontier.

Isis took Palmyra, a Silk Road hub of the ancient world and a Unesco world heritage site with magnificent ruins, on Wednesday.

The terror group is now thought to hold sway over half of Syria, having severed regime supply lines to Deir Ezzor in the east and opened the road to Assad’s strongholds of Damascus and Homs in central and western Syria.

The fall of Palmyra after a seven-day siege was the first time Isis wrested a Syrian city from government control. It took the city less than a week after ousting Iraqi security forces from Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province in Iraq, showing its resilience after nearly a year of a punishing air campaign by a US-led coalition.

The UN high commissioner for refugees said 11,000 civilians had fled Palmyra since the Isis offensive began, settling in nearby villages. The city was home to internally-displaced people from other areas of Syria, many of them now fleeing again.

“People are arriving exhausted, scared and in increasing numbers,” said Bhajat Al Arandas, an official with Al-Birr Society, which is working with UNHCR to distribute aid to the refugees. “They fled their homes in Palmyra and neighbouring villages with hardly anything and report there is no water, electricity or working mobile phone network [in the city].”

But two-thirds of residents are believed to still be in Palmyra, raising fears of retribution from Isis, which has already executed members of a rebellious tribe called the Shaitat that it accused of fighting alongside government forces.

The Assad regime had claimed that it evacuated most of the civilians in Palmyra before withdrawing from the city. But citing what she said were credible sources, UN spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said there were reports of government forces preventing civilians from leaving until they themselves fled and Isis took control of the city.

“Isil has reportedly been carrying out door-to-door searches in the city, looking for people affiliated with the government. At least 14 civilians are reported to have been executed by Isil in Palmyra this week,” she said, using another acronym for Islamic State.

Palmyra is home to some of the most magnificent ancient ruins from antiquity, and its fall has led to fears that Isis fighters will destroy much of its cultural heritage as they have done in historic sites such as Nineveh.

Isis has not released images of any assault on Palmyra ruins. The militant group is also now in control of two major gas fields near the city which supply the power stations of western Syria.

 on: Today at 06:41 AM 
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Calls for Rohingya to be resettled underestimate problem – Scott Morrison

Australia’s former immigration minister says suggestions countries in the region can resettle persecuted Rohingya miss the scale of the problem

Australian Associated Press
Saturday 23 May 2015 05.35 BST

Australia’s social services minister, Scott Morrison, says people who suggest countries in the region can resettle persecuted Rohingya misunderstand the scale of the problem.

Thousands of people are stranded on boats, in camps and at sea in south east Asia.

There were reports on Saturday that the foreign affairs minister, Julie Bishop, had been told by Indonesian officials that only about 30-40% were Rohingya refugees and the rest were illegal workers from Bangladesh seeking jobs in Malaysia.

Morrison, who was previously the immigration minister, said he wasn’t privy to the reported discussion and could not confirm the reports.

Morrison said he had visited Rohingya displacement camps and the issue was more complex than advocates made out.

“There’s a million Rohingya in Myanmar [Burma]. The suggestion that somehow resettlement is the answer to that issue, I think completely misunderstands what is happening in that part of the world,” he said in Sydney on Saturday.

Bishop met with other foreign ministers in Seoul, where Indonesian officials passed on their intelligence about the stranded migrants.

“They [Indonesia] believe there are about 7,000 people at sea [and] they think about 30-40% are Rohingya, the rest are Bangladeshi; and they are not, in Indonesia’s words, asylum seekers, they are not refugees, they are illegal labourers, they’ve been promised or are seeking jobs in Malaysia,” Bishop told the Australian.

The vice president of the Bangladesh Association of New South Wales, Dr Farouk Iqbal, said it was possible some were Rohingya with counterfeit passports.

It wass common for displaced people to move in and out of Bangladesh, he said.

“If somebody pays a bribe then they can get a national ID and passport easily,” Iqbal, who has visited displacement camps with the UN, said.

About 3,000 people have so far been pulled ashore in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Rohingya refugees are being offered temporary shelter for one year. It’s likely most Bangladeshis will be repatriated.

Countries in the region say they’ll step up efforts to help Burma stop the flow of Rohingya refugees.

The immigration minister, Peter Dutton, was forced to defend Australia’s decision not to help settle those caught up in the crisis.

“There are about 20 million people who are displaced around the world. We can help some but we can’t help everybody,” he told Channel Nine on Saturday.

Labor’s immigration spokesman, Matt Thistlethwaite, said countries had the right to remove people who were not found to be refugees under UN convention.

“That’s the reason why there’s a process that’s undertaken through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, so people are accessed in accordance with the convention Australia is a signatory to.”

Dozens of asylum seeker advocates gathered at a twilight rally in Brisbane on Friday night to call on the government to take in the stranded Rohingya.

More than 100 supporters gathered in King George Square on Friday to hear from members of the state’s Rohingya community.

The Rohingyas have been subjected to the Burmese government’s “systematic and ongoing persecution of minorities” for decades, spokesman Sujauddin Karimuddin said.

“The Rohingyas are stigmatised as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, although they have been living in the land for centuries,” he said.

“These accusations of being illegal have opened them up to harassment and physical and verbal abuses on the streets.”

The humanitarian disaster was a direct result of the persecution, he said.

He urged the crowd to put themselves in the shoes of those stranded at sea. “Every second, every moment they are living in a sea of rejection from the world.”

The group called on the Australian government to end its policy of turning back asylum seeker boats and offer resettlement to the stranded.

The prime minister, Tony Abbott, flatly ruled out the possibility on Wednesday.

 on: Today at 06:38 AM 
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Why did the Taliban go to Tehran?

In the fight against Isis, the Taliban has softened its approach toward Iran and Shia groups, says veteran Afghan journalist

Farhad Peikar for Tehran Bureau
Friday 22 May 2015 19.50 BST

Reports of an official Taliban delegation’s clandestine visit to Iran this week raised eyebrows in both Kabul and Tehran: why would Iran, a Shia powerhouse involved in proxy wars with several Sunni states and sectarian groups in the Middle East, host a radical Sunni militant group on its soil?

The two erstwhile foes once came to the brink of a full-blown war against each other. However, when it comes to regional politicking the two have found much in common, including their fear of the spread of the Islamic State influence in the region.

In 1998, Tehran deployed more than 70,000 forces along the Afghan border in a clear show of military might and threatened to invade Afghanistan and avenge the deaths of at least eight Iranian diplomats at the hands of Taliban in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif that year. Iranian generals predicted they would topple the Taliban regime within 24 hours, but the situation was defused when the United Nations interfered.

Then, when the US-led coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of attacks on 11 September 2001, Iran tacitly supported the operation.

However, more than a decade later, the two archrivals seem to be willing to coexist in the face of the growing threat posed by Isis. This dovetails with another shared goal: pushing the United States and its western allies out of Afghanistan.

While Tehran may not wish to see a return of a Taliban government on its eastern border, Iranian officials would not have a problem seeing the Taliban becoming part of the current western-backed Kabul administration through a much-awaited reconciliation.

It is for this reason that a delegation of Taliban, led by Mohammad Tayyab Agha, visited Iran on Monday and held talks with Iranian leaders. While officials in Tehran denied the visit, Iranian newspapers and Taliban confirmed that the delegation was comprised of Taliban members from their political bureau in Qatar. A Taliban statement said that the delegation discussed a number of issues with Iranian officials, including the current situation in Afghanistan, regional and Islamic world issues, and the condition of Afghan refugees in Iran.

Monday’s visit was not the first time a Taliban delegation has visited Iran. They have already been to the country twice. Two years ago, they even attended an Islamic “vigilance” conference hosted by Iran, according to state media reports.

Given the ideological differences between the two, this tepid friendship between Iran and the Taliban can be explained through regional rivalries and the emergence of Isis in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Isis leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has proclaimed himself as a Caliph of all Muslims, the same title that the one-eyed Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, claimed nearly two decades ago.

Since last fall, the Taliban and a small number of militants have pledged their allegiance to al Baghdadi and raised black Isis flags during several armed skirmishes inside Afghanistan. Although the Taliban themselves repeatedly targeted civilians in the past, its spokesmen have condemned Isis for carrying out a deadly attack in eastern Afghanistan last month that left at least 35 people dead.

Although both groups rival one another in brutal attacks, the Taliban has called on Isis to “avoid extremism” in their war in the Middle East, a plea that al Baghdadi mocked. He reportedly called Mullah Omar “a fool and illiterate warlord” undeserving of a religious title.

Similarly, Iran has been fighting Isis forces through its militia groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Tehran has reportedly sent more than 1,000 military advisers to Iraq, conducted airstrikes against Isis targets, and has spent more than $1b dollars in military aid to Iraq. The last thing Tehran wants is an Isis presence inside Afghanistan, from where the militants could attack targets inside Iran.

An Iran-Taliban alliance would not only serve as deterrence vis-à-vis Isis, it could also act as a bargaining chip in Tehran’s relations with the new government in Kabul, whose recent signals of support for Saudi Arabia’s military strikes against Shia factions in Yemen did not go unnoticed. Supporting a fundamental Sunni group could also show that Tehran is not in an all-out-war against Sunni Muslims.

Sectarian violence

During the Taliban regime in the late 1990s, they were accused of ethnic cleansing by massacring Hazaras, a Shia minority ethnic group in Afghanistan, and of burning their villages as they advanced towards northern regions of the country. However, since its ouster, the Taliban has largely avoided sectarian and ethnic undertones in their narratives.

In fact, the Taliban have recently publicly condemned sectarian violence against Shia. When five civilians were reportedly kidnapped and killed in a central region of the country on 17 April, the local officials blamed the Taliban for the killing. However, a Taliban statement rejected the claim a day later, saying the Kabul administration and “certain media” were stoking sectarian violence. It said the Taliban militants on the ground had tried to find and rescue “our Hazara countrymen,” but they were killed before they succeeded.

Additionally, when 31 Hazara passengers were kidnapped on Kabul-Kandahar highway earlier this year (19 were released in an apparent prisoner swap later) the Taliban vehemently denied being behind the abduction. A Taliban statement last month even said that their militants diverted a convoy of Hazaras to protect them from crossfire between their fighters and government forces in the southern region.

Although it is difficult to prove that the recent spate of attacks against Hazaras and Shia are the work of Isis associates or Taliban splinter groups operating without the orders of their leadership, the Taliban’s public positions on the events are noteworthy.

In past months, the Taliban appears to be softening its formerly hostile position towards both Iran and Shia minorities.

When a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began airstrikes against the Houthis, an Iran-backed Shia group in Yemen, in late March, most Sunni Islamic states, including the Afghan government, supported the operation. Hezi Islami, an insurgent group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that has separately waged war against the Kabul administration, not only supported intervention, but showed readiness to send fighters in support of the Saudi-led operation. However, despite Saudi Arabia being one of the three countries that formally recognized the Taliban regime in 1990s, the Taliban has yet to declare its official position regarding the war in Yemen.

While a public show of cooperation is new for Iran and the Taliban, the two have covertly cooperated in the past. In 2007, Afghan border police officials in the western province of Herat showed this reporter confiscated land mines with clear Iranian trademarks intended for the Taliban in Afghanistan. They blamed Iran for training Taliban near the Iranian holy city of Mashhad.

The same year, Nato officials accused Iran of supplying Taliban with armor-piercing bombs, or explosively formed projectiles, the same weapons that Iran was accused of providing to Iraqi insurgents fighting against US forces. Both sides denied the allegations.

The public rapprochements concerning Iran-Taliban relations proves one thing: when faced with a common enemy – in this case Isis – even archrivals like Iran and the Taliban, which ascribe to opposing radical ideologies, can put aside their sectarian differences for the sake of national and group interests.

 on: Today at 06:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Dutch cabinet approves partial ban on Islamic veil in public areas

Schools, hospitals and public transport would be covered by ban, but Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte insists prohibition is not religiously motivated

Agence France-Presse
Friday 22 May 2015 16.51 BST

The Dutch cabinet has approved a proposal for a partial ban on face-covering Islamic veils on public transport and in public areas such as schools and hospitals.

After the cabinet backed a bill by the interior minister, Ronald Plasterk, the government said in a statement on Friday: “Face-covering clothing will in future not be accepted in education and healthcare institutions, government buildings and on public transport.”

The ban would not apply to wearing the burqa or the niqab on the street, only for security reasons or “in specific situations where it is essential for people to be seen”, the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, told journalists after a cabinet meeting.

He said: “The bill does not have any religious background.” The proposal will be sent to a panel of legal advisers for assessment.

The government said it had “tried to find a balance between people’s freedom to wear the clothes they want and the importance of mutual and recognisable communication”. It said the cabinet “sees no reason for a general ban that would apply to all public places”.

A previous bill that proposed banning face-covering veils on the street will be withdrawn. It dated from Rutte’s previous government, which was supported by the anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders.

It was agreed that a new bill would be drawn up by the coalition partners of Rutte’s VVD party and the PvdA party when they formed a coalition in 2012.

Those flouting the ban, if it is enforced, could be fined up to €405 (£288).

NOS, the state broadcaster, said that between 100 and 500 women in the Netherlands wore the burqa, most of them only occasionally.

 on: Today at 06:31 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
'Hello, dictator': Hungarian prime minister faces barbs at EU summit

Growing unease among international leaders over constitutional changes made by Viktor Orban’s rightwing government

Shaun Walker in Riga
Friday 22 May 2015 18.32 BST

European Union officials are not necessarily known for their sharp one-liners, but European commission head Jean-Claude Juncker had a scathing welcome for Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban at a summit in Riga on Friday, greeting him with “Hello, dictator”.

The barb, made in front of the press at the Latvian summit, came amid growing unease over the policies of Orban’s rightwing government, which has carried out constitutional changes and brought more authoritarian rule, critics say. Orban’s response was not audible.

Delegations at the summit took several hours to hammer out a 10-page statement full of bland postulations of the EU’s Eastern Partnership programme, but ahead of the meeting, Juncker was clearly in a more light-hearted mood. He also ribbed Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras for not wearing a tie.

Hungary PM: bring back death penalty and build work camps for immigrants...Read more:

Orban was labelled a “neofascist dictator” by US senator John McCain late last year, and has alarmed EU leaders by suggesting that his country could reintroduce the death penalty and place harsh restrictions on immigration.

Further controversy has been caused by a questionnaire sent to all Hungarians by Orban’s government to sound out their views on immigration. The UN human rights office said on Friday the survey was “extremely biased” and “absolutely” shocking, as it linked migration and terrorism.

On Tuesday, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt gave an agitated speech at the European parliament in Strasbourg, spending several minutes lambasting Orban in a furious voice, waving the immigration questionnaire in the air. “If you attack immigration, think a little bit of the many Hungarian refugees who left their country because of the communists in 1956 and how they were received with open arms by the other people of Europe,” Verhofstadt said, to applause, while Orban looked on impassively.

“Hungarians talk straight about tough things. We don’t like to beat about the bush. We are a frank people,” the Hungarian leader responded

 on: Today at 06:27 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Ireland on course to be first country to legalise gay marriage by popular vote

Although final result in historic vote on marriage equality is not expected until Saturday afternoon, voters are thought to have strongly backed change in law

Henry McDonald Irealand correspondent and agencies
Saturday 23 May 2015 12.39 BST

Ireland is on course to become the first nation in the world to legalise gay marriage by popular vote, leaders on both sides of the historic referendum campaign said on Saturday.

Early tallies from open ballot boxes across the Irish Republic indicate a strong showing for the pro-same sex marriage proposition. The trend suggests that there will be at least a 2-1 majority for the yes side.

A huge yes vote from the republic’s electorate would mark another major milestone in Ireland’s journey from a Catholic church-dominated state to a more liberal, secular society. Gay rights campaigners say it will also bolster their struggle for equality across the world.

Ireland gay marriage referendum results: vote-counting begins - live

In some parts of Dublin the yes vote was running at more than 80% while the first box to be tallied from the rural eastern coast Wicklow/East Carlow constituency indicated a pro-gay marriage majority of 67% to 33% against.

Based on the early tallies the overall result could be at least 60% in favour of gay marriage.

Confident of securing a yes vote across the republic on Saturday, Ireland’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, declared that the result was sending a “message of pioneering leadership” from the Irish people.

Just after the taoiseach’s remarks, it emerged that out of almost three-quarters of the ballot boxes opened in his own Mayo constituency – an area of western Ireland normally regarded as conservative and religiously devout – there was a 55% vote in favour of gay marriage.,

His cabinet and Fine Gael colleague Leo Vradkar, Ireland’s first openly gay minister, said the huge support for a yes vote made him think “the Irish people had their minds made up on this some time ago”.

Varadkar said: “We’re the first country in the world to enshrine marriage equality in our constitution and do so by popular mandate. That makes us a beacon, a light to the rest of the world of liberty and equality. It’s a very proud day to be Irish.”

Aodhán Ó Ríordáine, the quality minister, earlier told Reuters: “I think it’s won. I’ve seen bellwether boxes open, middle-of-the road areas who wouldn’t necessarily be liberal and they are resoundingly voting yes.”

Opponents of gay marriage had also conceded by mid morning that the yes campaign had triumphed.

Dave Quinn, one of the most prominent lay Catholic opponents of same-sex marriage, tweeted: “Congratulations to the yes side. Well done.”

Later Quinn, the director of the religious-traditionalist Iona Institute, said: “Obviously there’s a certain amount of disappointment but also I’m quite philosophical about the outcome.”

On the sunlit cobblestones of Dublin Castle, the former seat of British power in Ireland and the location for the overall national result, 27-year-old Emily Glen held up a picture of her parents wearing “vote yes” badges.

“I wanted to show people that parents in Ireland love their children whether they are gay or straight. My dad even put a yes sticker on the back of his wheelchair when he and mum went into the polling station yesterday to demonstrate his support for our cause.”

Glen added: “I’ve been meeting up with older gay people who have told me about what life was like in the dark days of the 70s and 80s in Ireland. I want this yes vote to be for them as much for my generation. It’s their day and they deserve it.”

Senator David Norris, one of the key figures in having homosexuality decriminalised in the 1990s, said a yes victory would be a wonderful result.

“I believe that by the end of today gay people will be equal in this country. I think it’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s a little bit late for me. As I said the other day, I’ve spent so much time pushing the boat out that I forgot to jump on and now it’s out beyond the harbour on the high seas, but it’s very nice to look at.”

    I believe that by the end of today gay people will be equal in this country
    Senator David Norris

A pro-gay Irish Christian campaign group urged the leaders of the main churches in Ireland to embrace the change. Dr Richard O’Leary, an Anglican member of Changing Attitude Ireland, also appealed to the churches’ hierarchies to support gay marriage in Northern Ireland – the only part of these islands were same sex couples still cannot get married.

O’Leary said: “We hope that the Catholic bishops and Protestant church leaders in Northern Ireland will notice how so many ordinary people of faith in the Republic of Ireland have voted yes and that they too might be encouraged to support the extension of civil marriage equality to same sex couples in Northern Ireland.”

The proposition drawn up by the Fine Gael-Labour government asked Irish voters to amend their 78-year-old constitution, which originally defined marriage as purely between a man and a woman.

Voters were offered the chance to amend that constitution to: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.”

A yes result would provide fresh evidence of waning church influence in a country that, in the 1980s, voted forcefully in referendums to outlaw abortion and reject divorce.

Currently 17 countries, including the UK, Spain, France, Argentina and Denmark, along with several states in the US, allow same-sex couples to marry.

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