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Congress Gives Final Approval to Aid Rebels in Fight With ISIS

SEPT. 18, 2014

WASHINGTON — The Senate gave overwhelming approval on Thursday to the training and arming of Syrian rebels, then fled the Capitol with the House for the fall campaign, sidestepping the debate over the extent of American military action until the lame-duck session of Congress later this year.

The training measure was pushed hard by President Obama, who will now sign it into law. It was tucked into a larger Senate bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30, a maneuver that leaders of both parties favored to ensure as few defections as possible. The Senate’s 78-to-22 vote, a day after the House passed the measure, masked the serious doubts that some senators had.
The broader debate over Congress’s role in blessing or expanding a new military campaign in the Middle East was one that few on Capitol Hill wanted six weeks before the midterm elections. With memories of the 2002 vote to authorize force in Iraq still haunting Congress, members of both parties — especially those with their eyes on the White House — tried to find a position they would not regret.

“I’m not sending your son, your daughter, over to the middle of that chaos,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, whose libertarian views have propelled him into contention for his party’s 2016 nomination. “The people who live there need to stand up and fight.”

After days of often-heated debate, lawmakers approved the ultimate punt for a Congress that has avoided difficult tasks for years. The new authorization to train the moderate Free Syrian Army expires Dec. 11.

In a statement from the White House after the Senate vote, Mr. Obama praised members of both parties. “We are strongest as a nation when the president and Congress work together,” he said, calling it a “hallmark of American foreign policy at its best.”

“These terrorists thought they could frighten us or intimidate us,” Mr. Obama said. “Americans, we do not give in to fear.”

Lawmakers are deeply divided about whether to simply extend the narrow training authorization or take up a broader authorization of military force against the Islamic State. Some senators are pressing to quickly add what is tantamount to a declaration of war to an annual defense policy bill still pending in the Senate. House leaders adamantly oppose that maneuver, and the leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could begin drafting their own authorization of force as soon as next week.

“This is a big war,” said Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who has already drafted an authorization of force. “Any time you have a group that can reach 35,000 people, having doubled that in a matter of a month, just project that forward. It’s a big deal.” Mr. Inhofe was apparently referring to a C.I.A. assessment that there were 20,000 to 31,500 militants fighting for the Islamic State, an increase from a previous assessment of more than 10,000 fighters.

For the senators who are eyeing the White House, the consequences of a wrong vote on war are not abstract. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vote for the invasion of Iraq when she was a senator opened a lane for the 2008 candidacy of Barack Obama. When Mr. Obama was in the Senate, his antiwar views helped him shape a distinctive public persona. John Kerry’s 2004 campaign for president was crippled by the accusation that he waffled on his vote for the Iraq invasion with his later criticism of it.

In their speeches on Thursday, senators like Mr. Paul and Marco Rubio of Florida, who voted for the measure and is another possible 2016 contender, were looking far beyond the vote. “Amid the interventionists’ disjointed and frankly incoherent rhetoric,” said Mr. Paul, “the only consistent theme is war. These barnacled enablers have never met a war they didn’t like.”

Mr. Rubio, a fiscal hawk who has always voted against short-term spending bills because he says they are the wrong way to fund the government, found himself squeezed between that principle and his position as the leader of the 2016 interventionist wing. “We are asked to decide things in this chamber that are in the best interest of our country,” he said, “even if they did not work out the way we wanted them to.” Democrats touted as possible presidential candidates who voted no included Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York.

The issue of military intervention in Syria is likely to resurface shortly after the midterms. Members of both parties are calling for a vote then on a use-of-force resolution that would have far broader implications than the one approved on Thursday.

With oil revenues, arms and organization, the jihadist group controls vast stretches of Syria and Iraq and aspires to statehood.

Many liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans agree that the administration’s justification for using force today — the congressional authorization for using force granted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — is specious. “We are living on borrowed time and we are traveling on vapors,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2-ranking Democrat, arguing on Thursday that the old authorization had long expired.

Neither Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, nor Representative Ed Royce of California, chairman of House Foreign Affairs Committee, appeared ready to rush an authorization of force through their panels. If Republicans take control of the Senate in November, wounded Democrats will be in no mood to take on such a weighty issue, and triumphant Republicans will not want to bind the coming Republican Congress with a lame-duck resolution.

House members in both parties will oppose efforts to add a use-of-force authorization to the Senate defense bill, arguing they would be given no chance to amend it or debate it as an issue separate from the broader military policy measure.

Instead, Congress is likely to tuck an extension of the Syrian rebel training authority into the defense policy bill, said Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. If that cannot be completed, Congress might simply pass another stopgap spending bill that automatically carried the training resolution forward.

Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, has already drafted an authorization of force against the Islamic State that would replace the measures passed a dozen years ago. A new resolution “needs to be done now,” Mr. Smith said. “We’re bombing in Iraq. We’ve got plans for Syria obviously. Military force is being used, and if Congress wants to assert its authority over war powers, the sooner the better.”

More immediately, the issue shadows Democratic senators fighting for their political lives ahead of the November elections. Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, one of the most endangered incumbent Democrats, explained his “no” vote from the Senate floor on Thursday. “Don’t get me wrong, this is a bad organization and should be dealt with in such a way,” he said, referring to the Islamic extremists in Syria as “terrorist thugs.” But, Mr. Begich added, “We need the countries there to assist us in a much more aggressive way.” Other endangered Democrats lined up on the opposite side. Among those who supported the measure were Senators Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Udall of Colorado.

There were moments that made it seem as if the Senate were debating something far more routine than military action. Only 15 senators spoke, and the chamber was often empty.
Correction: September 18, 2014

An earlier version of this article misstated the vote tally because of incorrect information announced in the Senate. The vote was 78 to 22, not 73 to 22.


Obama says Congress vote shows U.S. unity in fight against Islamic State

18 Sep 2014     

President Barack Obama said on Thursday that strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for the training and arming of moderate Syrian rebels showed Americans were united in the fight against Islamic State militants.

Obama spoke at the White House shortly after the Senate voted 78-22 to approve his plan to help the rebels battle the Sunni militant group that has seized areas of Iraq and Syria. The House of Representatives gave its approval on Wednesday.

“The strong bipartisan support in Congress for this new training effort shows the world that Americans are united in confronting the threat from ISIL, which has slaughtered so many innocent civilians,” Obama said, using an acronym for the militant group.

He said the program approved by Congress would help strengthen the Syrian rebels to take on Islamic State inside Syria.

That was in keeping, he said, with the administration’s strategy that U.S. forces deployed to Iraq would not have a combat mission.

“As I told our troops yesterday, we can join with allies and partners to destroy ISIL without American troops fighting another ground war in the Middle East,” he said.

Obama added that more than 40 countries, including Arab nations, had offered assistance as part of the coalition against Islamic State. He noted that France would join in air strikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq.


Who’s who in coalition to defeat Islamist extremists

Agence France-Presse
18 Sep 2014   

The United States is taking the lead in an international coalition aimed at repelling and defeating the Islamist extremists marauding across parts of Iraq and Syria.

Jihadists from the so-called “Islamic State,” still referred to by US officials by their former acronyms ISIS or ISIL, have murdered thousands and declared a Muslim caliphate in the Middle East.

More than 50 countries — mainly Western powers or Middle Eastern allies — have committed to form a bulwark against the movement, the State Department said, not all the countries have been named.

Thirty of the participating states and organizations took part in a Paris conference last week and agreed to support the Iraqi government “by any means necessary” to fight the jihadists, including “appropriate military assistance”.

Even though Iran and the United States both support Iraqi forces fighting IS, Tehran and Washington have both said they will not cooperate with the other. Syria is also a non-participant.

Military Assistance:

The United States has conducted 176 air strikes against IS targets in Iraq since August 8 and it has more than 800 military personnel to safeguard its Baghdad embassy and to assist Iraq’s army.

It is talking with Iraq’s new government about “accelerating efforts,” including additional training and equipping of Iraqi Security Forces.

President Barack Obama will host a UN Security Council session September 24 on the threat of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Major partner Britain says it will ship £1.6 million ($2.6 million) worth of heavy machine guns on Wednesday to Kurdish forces fighting IS in Iraq. It is also considering providing training to the Kurds.

French President Francois Hollande announced Thursday it would join the United States in conducting air strikes in Iraq. Paris has already already begun reconnaissance flights over Iraq and sent weapons to Kurdish forces fighting IS.

But unlike the United States, Hollande was clear that France would not intervene in Syria, where IS militants also control swathes of territory.

Canada has authorized a 30-day deployment of “several dozen members of the Canadian armed forces” to help advise and assist Kurdish forces, as well as help airlifting in military supplies.

Australia’s military transport planes have delivered weapons to Kurdish forces. Canberra insists it will not send combat troops to Iraq, but said last week it would deploy 600 troops to the United Arab Emirates, a regional Washington ally.

The Czech Republic has offered weapons to the Iraqi army, as well as ammunition and training to Kurdish forces.

Germany said it will provide military equipment and aid to Kurdish forces.

Albania, Italy and Poland have sent military equipment to Kurdish forces, and Warsaw also delivered tons of assistance to Christian and Yezidi refugees via its C-130 aircraft.

Estonia is donating one million artillery shells and Denmark’s parliament has authorized its planes to resupply Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

The Philippines is prepared to “do its part” in an alliance, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told AFP, but no further details were given.

Humanitarian aid:

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday that Tokyo would support Iraq’s “anti-terrorism fight” following inauguration of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s new government in Baghdad.

Japan has committed $7.8 million in aid through the UN humanitarian office OCHA.

Switzerland has pledged more than $10 million in aid to OCHA. Norway committed at least $6 million, Denmark pledged $3.8 million, and Australia $4.6 million.

Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, New Zealand, South Korea and Spain have also pledged assistance.

Turkey is providing 100 truck loads of aid and a refugee camp near the Iraqi border.

The US, Britain, Canada, France and Australia have also either provided relief or conducted air drops.

The Gulf States:

A crucial element to the coalition are Arab and Gulf states, and at least 10 Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have agreed to back the coalition.

Gulf oil monarchies, fearing jihadist threats at their doorsteps, had announced their opposition to IS in August.

Saudi Arabia, whose highest religious authority branded IS Islam’s “number one enemy,” has committed $500 million to the UN refugee agency, according to the State Department. Analysts said Riyadh’s role would consist primarily of political and logistical support.

The same goes for Bahrain, home to the US Fifth Fleet. Kuwait, which has contributed $10 million in humanitarian assistance, could also lend use of its military facilities.

Oman has pledged “to play its part” in the battle against IS, without giving details.

Qatar — which has furiously denies reports it has funded IS causes — passed a law regulating charities that send money abroad or receive foreign financing. It could play a vital role. Its Al-Udeid Air Base hosts Centcom, the US military command responsible for the Middle East and Central Asia.

Regional US ally Egypt has said it will support Washington’s efforts to repel the IS, but Cairo’s involvement “must be under a UN mandate,” an Egyptian foreign ministry official said.

The United Arab Emirates said it was prepared to join in a sustained effort to confront IS.


John McCain Despicably Pushes For Full-Scale Middle East War During ISIS Senate Hearing

By: Justin Baragona
Wednesday, September, 17th, 2014, 6:53 pm   

On Wednesday afternoon, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) was his normal warmongering self as he grilled Secretary of State John Kerry over the Obama Administration’s strategy to deal with ISIS. McCain used his time during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to beat his chest and demand that the United States not only get into a ground war in Iraq and Syria to combat ISIS, but that the country also needs to commit to a war against the Assad regime in Syria. While House Democrats are legitimately concerned about the White House’s plan to arm and train Syrian rebels to help fight ISIS on the ground, McCain wants the President to push forward and go whole hog with the war machine.

Below is the exchange between McCain and Kerry (emphasis mine):

    McCain: Secretary, today, September 17th, Secretary Gates said the following, former Secretary of Defense Gates. The reality is they’re not going to be able to be successful against ISIS strictly from the air or strictly depending on the Iraqi forces of the Peshmerga by the Sunni tribes acting on their own, gates said. So there will be boots on the ground if there’s to be any hope of success in the strategy. And I think that by containing — by continuing to repeat that, that the US won’t put boots on the ground, the president in effect traps himself. Now, Mr. Secretary, I’ve talked to so many people who are military experienced, who have been on both sides on this issue. They all agree with secretary gates’ assessment. And that’s just the reality. And there are some of us that place a great deal of confidence in the opinion of people like Secretary Gates, General Keane. So the architects of the surge. So many others.-the architects of the surge. So many others.-the architects of the surge. So many others. The architects of the surge. So many others. Is it your view that the Syrian opposition is viable?


    Kerry: The Syrian opposition has been viable enough to be able to survive under difficult circumstances but they still have some distance to go and we need to help them go that distance.


    McCain: The hero of this piece so far in my view is a guy who’s going to testify after you, Robert Ford, Ambassador Ford. He did a magnificent job at the risk of his own life, riding around Damascus in his support of the Free Syrian army. Here’s what he’s going to say in his testimony. The moderate armed opposition’s biggest enemy is not the Islamic State, it is the Assad regime which has killed far more Syrians than has the detestable Islamic State, and they won’t stop fighting the Assad regime even as they advance against the Islamic State. You’re saying, ISIS first. We’re going to train and equip the Free Syrian army and they’re going to be fighting against Assad who they view as their number one enemy. I agree with Ambassador Ford’s assessment. You’re saying, ISIL first. So if this — so we’re telling the young Syrian today, I want you to join the Free Syrian Army, you’ve got to fight ISIL first, and by the way those barrel bombs that are being dropped on you and these attacks from the air that of Hamas customers of so many Syrians, we’re not going to do anything about that. I think at least we owe the Free Syrian Army, negate the air attacks that they will be subjected to when they finish their training and equipping, and go into the fight. So why is it that we won’t at least news release Bashar al Assad’s air activity which has slaughtered thousands and thousands and thousands, 192,000 dead, 3 million refugees, and we’re not going to do anything about Assad’s air capabilities? And finally, ISIL first, that’s what you’re telling these young men who really view Assad as the one who has slaughtered their family members. Not ISIL. As bad as ISIL is. How do you square that circle action Mr. Secretary?

    Kerry: Well, you square it this way, Senator. And first of all, let me just say a word. I think everybody knows — I had the pleasure of working with Robert Ford in the department from the day I arrived there. We worked very closely together, I have huge respect and admiration for him. And he and I worked many long hours with the Syrian opposition. And I respect his opinion, et cetera. He is correct that they won’t stop fighting the Assad regime. I understand that we understand that.

    McCain: Not only won’t stop fighting, it’s their primary goal.

    Kerry: Well, it is, except…

    McCain: I know too many of them, John.

    Kerry: I understand. It is. I’m not denying that. But they also are fighting ISIL. They’re up in Aleppo right now fighting ISIL. They’re fighting ISIL in other places. They threw them out of a province. They are engaged in fighting ISIL. And our belief is, I think — I bet you, I hope Robert Ford believes that they believe they actually get stronger as a result of ISIL being removed from the field.

    McCain: Are you not going to protect them from air strikes?

    Kerry: I think what we need — yes, and I think what we need — that’s a legitimate concern. And it is a concern that I would need to address with you in a classified session for reasons I think you well understand. And I think Robert ford well understands that.

    McCain: I think the Free Syrian Army would like to understand, too.

    Kerry: If we have a good classified session and another good things happen here, who knows. The important thing is for us to recognize that if ISIL continues doing what it’s doing — I think you know this — without being stopped and if we hadn’t stood up when we did and work with Peshmerga and help them, they were threatening Baghdad and they were threatening more. If they did that…

    McCain: We’re talking about Syria. And the Free Syrian Army.

    Kerry: I’m about to come back…

    McCain: Thank you. I’m running out of time.

    Kerry: That pertains to their capacity then to focus on Assad and it might be not the Free Syrian Army but ISIL that you see in Damascus. And ISIL bringing other people to them because of the level of their success. Clearly, many people have told us in the region, success breeds success. And many of the people who have come to ISIL have come because it seemed as if they were weren’t being opposed. We believe that transition works to the benefit of the moderate opposition, works ultimately to all of our benefit by removing ISIL from the field.

    McCain: You cannot ask people to go and fight and die unless you promise them that they — you will defeat their enemy and defeat them right away. You can’t say, wait until we defeat ISIL. People will not volunteer for such things.

    Kerry: I don’t believe it’s going to be ultimately a wait and see. I don’t believe, number one, that the people supporting the opposition in various parts of the region are ever going to stop until the Assad problem is resolves. Number two, I don’t believe ISIL is going — I don’t believe that the moderate opposition will obviously stop in that effort. So, therefore, there will be these two prongs.

    McCain: I hope not ISIL first, if that message is not given to these brave young people.

    Kerry: If we don’t stop ISIL first, there may not be much left of the other prong.

    McCain: That means we can’t take on two adversaries at once that’s bogus and false.

There you have it. McCain didn’t even try to hide his cards here. He wants the United States to not only send American troops to Iraq to fight ISIS. He also wants this country to get involved in a massive civil war in Syria that is being fought on several fronts. McCain just doesn’t want to hear any crap about America not having the capability to fight multiple adversaries at once. No way, Jose! In McCain’s worldview, the United States needs to be involved with as many wars as possible.

He spent the majority of his allotted time on Wednesday afternoon pushing the idea that, while ISIS is bad and needs to be confronted, the real war we need to be fighting is in Syria and against the Assad regime. This sounded frighteningly similar to the Bush Administration in the run-up to the Iraq War, where the focus shifted from Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. McCain, like any good neo-con hawk, will use any legitimate but limited use of force to justify a full-scale war with an entirely different target.


The Calm Before The Storm: Republicans Set Up A New Government Shutdown Battle With Obama

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, September, 17th, 2014, 5:54 pm   

The House passed a CR 319-108 today, but the vote was calm before the storm as Republicans are setting up a government shutdown showdown with President Obama.

It would be nice to think that House Republicans have learned their lesson and will now fund the government, but the temporary funding measure that the House passed was designed to get the GOP through the midterm elections. After the midterms, Republicans plan to unleash a government shutdown frenzy if they take control of the Senate.

Sen. Mitch McConnell is already promising a massive government shutdown if Republicans win the Senate. McConnell’s strategy as he outlined to it to the Koch brothers is to use the budget process to demand policy changes from President Obama, or else he will shutdown the government.

Today’s vote was nothing more than Republicans buying themselves some time, and rolling the dice on taking back the Senate. If Republicans fail to take back the Senate, the country could be facing another government shutdown showdown just before the holidays. If Republicans do win control of the Senate, the country will be dragged into a full scale partisan gridlocked war.

Mitch McConnell is planning on using the budgetary process and government shutdowns to invalidate the entire Obama presidency. The years since Republicans took control of the House have been ugly, but they are nothing compared to what Mitch McConnell is prepared to put the country through in order to carry out his Koch fueled agenda.

Today’s passage of the continuing resolution was the calm before the storm. There is another government shutdown battle brewing, and this one will be even ugly than last year. Don’t be fooled by this one vote. Republicans are setting up a crisis that could define the last two years of the Obama presidency. The degree of crisis will be determined by whether or not voters give Republicans a Senate majority in November.


Democrats Mock Do Nothing Republicans For Managing to Keep Government Open

By: Sarah Jones
Wednesday, September, 17th, 2014, 9:07 pm   

Upon the news that House Republicans managed to pass yet another temporary funding measure on Wednesday, Republicans are very impressed with themselves. This, of course, is sort of a joke since not only should they not keep temporarily funding the government (they should sit down for reconciliation with the Senate), but they are also clearly just doing this to get through the midterm elections.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is not impressed with Republicans who are “patting themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum and avoiding yet another one of their government shutdowns….”

So disgusted are the Democrats that they made a short little video entitled “Slow clap”. It’s meant to help the Republicans understand that while they might be impressed with themselves for doing the bare minimum, the public might see things a little differently.

Let the mocking begin:

In a press release, the Democrats got right down to business, accusing House Republicans of “patting themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum and avoiding yet another one of their government shutdowns, but the American people have a very different reaction to Republicans’ self-congratulation. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is helping the Republican party understand the American people’s reaction in a new video: ‘Slow Clap.'”

Josh Schwerin of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pointed out in a statement that middle class families don’t give themselves a standing ovation for going to work every day, “Big round of applause for House Republicans on doing the absolute bare minimum: keeping the government open. Hardworking, middle class families don’t give themselves a standing ovation for waking up every morning and getting their jobs done – so why do House Republicans deserve an encore performance when they only completed the bare minimum? In any other business, House Republicans would have been fired or benched a long time ago for not doing their job – and come November they won’t be patting themselves on the back so hard.”

Lucky for House Republicans, they are protected from having to compete by their own special privileges afforded by gerrymandering.

Democrats don’t have to try hard to make the case that Republicans are do-nothings who should not be congratulating selves over doing their job. After all, Republicans are making it as easy as possible for the Democrats by refusing to raise the minimum wage or extend long term unemployment. Just days ago Republicans again rejected paycheck fairness for women, and then Republican party officials spent the day desperately trying to blame President Obama for the current economic state of affairs of American women. Seriously. As if the minimum wage and paycheck fairness have nothing to do with women’s economic status.

The slow clap might just be the only appropriate response to the children running the Republican Party. Every time they manage to do anything but throw temper tantrums, we should all applaud them. They say they believe in merit based accolades, but the modern day Republican must be graded on a steep curve with low expectations and protected by gerrymandering and deceptive Koch funded ads. If they aren’t asking for the President’s birth certificate while explaining how great slavery and legitimate rape are, they’re doing a great job. Commence the slow clap.

Democrats really ought to be kinder, as given the “knuckleheads” in the Republican Party, any achievement that even passes for a semblance of doing their job is a huge moment. We don’t mock the crazy and the stupid, because we know they can’t help themselves. We must take pity on the GOP while quietly ushering them to the nearest exit and calling for back up.


House Republicans Screw The American People By Canceling Jobs Votes and Leaving Until November

By: Jason Easley
Thursday, September, 18th, 2014, 2:17 pm   

After a nearly a year of having done nothing, House Republicans have rewarded themselves by canceling all of their remaining votes and leaving town until after November’s midterm election.

The Hill reported,

    In a departure from their original schedule, the House plans to adjourn at the end of the day Thursday until after the midterm elections, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced.

    Lawmakers will now have extra time to hit the campaign trail, leaving Washington until the lame-duck session in November.

    The House was originally set to be in session through Friday to vote on consolidated packages of so-called “jobs bills” and measures to boost domestic energy that it has already passed. Now, members will be able to head for the exits as soon as the House finishes work on the energy package.

DCCC Chairman Rep. Steve Israel responded by putting Republicans on blast, “House Republicans are now abandoning any pretense of doing actual work for the American people, skipping town one day after doing the bare minimum required to keep the government functioning but blocking any progress for the middle class. House Republicans have proved yet again that they are only interested in doing their jobs long enough to stack the deck for special interests and launch political stunts. Democrats are committed to jumpstarting our middle class, not setting the government on autopilot and then heading for vacation.”

House Republicans aren’t even trying to fool the American people anymore. It doesn’t matter that the “jobs bills” that the House was supposed to vote on were not really jobs bills. In House Republican speak, anything that provides a tax cut to the wealthy or guts a regulation is a jobs bill. The reality is that House Republicans don’t do what most people would consider to be jobs bills.

John Boehner is fond of saying that jobs are his top priority, but the Speaker couldn’t even stick around town long enough to vote for his fake jobs bills. The best part about this whole deal for House Republicans is that they will still be getting paid for assigning themselves more vacation.

The American people need a Congress that will show up for work. If you decided on your own to not show up for work, you’d be fired on the spot. Voters need to give House Republicans the same treatment.


With His Senate Seat In Jeopardy Mitch McConnell Attacks Alison Grimes’ Dead Grandfather

By: Sarah Jones
Thursday, September, 18th, 2014, 12:38 pm      

Democratic Senate candidate and Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY) went back to her roots for her latest ad, a moving tribute to her Grandfather entitled “Proud Man”. The ad takes aim at incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) votes to raise the costs of Medicare for seniors, an issue that hits home with a specific group of voters but in this ad, is also told in a way that resonates with anyone who has struggled or watched a loved one struggle financially due to a medical problem.

Team Mitch responded to the heartfelt American story by attacking Alison Lundergan Grimes as “using” her deceased Grandpa’s stroke.

The attack by McConnell reeks of desperation. Mitch McConnell followed up backing out a debate with his Democratic challenger by attacking her dead grandfather. With polls, except for the ones with a history of Republican bias, showing the Kentucky Senate election close, McConnell is starting to sweat and pull out all of the stops to drag this contest through the mud.

“Proud Man,” a statewide TV ad that features the personal story of Alison and her family after her grandfather Omar suffered a devastating stroke, began airing Thursday. Watch here:

Here’s why Team Mitch is nearing hysteria: Alison for Kentucky explained her new ad and it’s something pretty much everyone can relate to, “Alison saw the rug pulled out from under her family and the hard choices her grandmother Elsie had to make to survive. Alison has never forgotten the pain of that experience and how it shaped her perspective.

In the U.S. Senate, Alison will fight to strengthen Medicare because she knows just how vital the program is to our seniors and families. Unlike Mitch McConnell, Alison will never support raising Medicare costs for Kentucky seniors.



I’m Alison Lundergan Grimes and I approved this message.

ELSIE CASE (her grandmother):
My husband was a strong person. But the stroke just took everything away.

I remember that day. When my mom called. The world stopped.

Seeing him in the emergency room, he knew that it was bad.

My grandfather was a proud man who didn’t want to ask for help, but they needed it.

We scrimped. And saved. Cause suddenly our finances were going for medical bills.

His last ten years, he couldn’t speak or work, and they could barely afford the medicines.

Our life became something else. No more vacations. No retirement. Just existing.

This is why we have to strengthen Medicare. Senator McConnell’s voted over and over again to raise seniors’ Medicare costs. I’ll never do that.

Clearly alarmed by the fact that Grimes found a way around McConnell’s relentless attempts to falsely tie her to President Obama by going right to the heart of the matter, Team Mitch spokeswoman Allison Moore responded to Grimes’ latest ad with a callous statement accusing her of “using” her deceased grandfather’s stroke:

“It’s a touching family story about a familiar circumstance to many Kentucky families followed by a totally debunked partisan attack on Senator McConnell from an increasingly desperate Alison Grimes. Anyone who would use their grandfather’s stroke to reintroduce an attack that received the triple crown of fact check false ratings has run out of justification for their candidacy.”

Team Mitch are clearly hoping to shame Grimes out of discussing something personal that impacts most Americans at some point in their lives and thus is relevant to a policy debate.

Also, not exactly Team Mitch.

PolitiFact fact checked a specific Grimes’ campaign claim based on the Ryan budget made over the summer, and even they determined that yes, Mitch McConnell is on record supporting the Ryan budget (the one the Nuns called immoral because of the harm it would bring to vulnerable children, seniors, and more). This is the budget that even PolitiFact describes as changing Medicare fundamentally thusly: “Medicare would have undergone a drastic change for future retirees. Instead of the government paying doctors and hospitals for services they provide for seniors, beneficiaries would be given a voucher they could use to purchase private health insurance to cover their care.”

When you hear the word “voucher”, it’s time to check your back.

PolitiFact determined that the non partisan Congressional Budget Office found that “implementing the 2011 Ryan plan would lead to an increase in out-of-pocket costs for seniors. How much? Instead of paying 27 percent of all their health care costs, seniors would be paying about 61 percent.” So yeah, the figures used in the Grimes ad were correct. The only reason they rated her claim as “false” was because of the age of the specific person used in her ad. You see, “The average out-of-pocket costs a new senior would pay in 2022 if Medicare changed to a more privatized system. People who turned 65 prior to 2022, like the retiree in Grimes’ ad, would remain in the current Medicare system and would not incur those costs.”

So, not only is this rebuttal inaccurate because the new Grimes’ ad simply stated that he had voted to raise the costs of Medicare and he has, but McConnell did support the Ryan budget. He also voted to close the donut hole for Medicare Part D, and the Republican Party — 30 year incumbent McConnell is the Senate Minority Leader, not exactly a sideliner on issues — has been trying to semi-privatize Medicare for years.

McConnell can’t really argue that point except by vaguely trying to connecct it to a summer ad, so instead he attacked Grimes and her deceased grandfather. Alison for Kentucky spokeswoman Charly Norton responded, “In a new low even for him, it is repulsive that Mitch McConnell is attacking Alison’s deceased grandfather.”

Of course, Team Mitch’s attack is uglier than just attacking Grimes’ grandfather. It attacks Grimes for discussing a relevant family medical event and its relationship to policy. Why does it do this? Because Alison Lundergan Grimes has a strong point in her ad. She is correct and she is relatable. No one has accused Mitch McConnell of being relatable in a very long time.

Why won’t Mitch McConnell discuss solutions for medical crises for the average American family? Why does he keep attacking Grimes over “Obamacare” when in Kentucky, it’s Kynect and it’s very popular?

Alison’s ad was spot on and Team Mitch can’t handle the truth.


Republican Hopes Of Winning The Senate Take a Big Hit In Kansas

By: Jason Easley
Thursday, September, 18th, 2014, 8:03 pm   

Republican hopes of winning the Senate were dealt a major setback when the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that former Democrat candidate Chad Taylor’s name must be removed from the ballot.

Republican Kansas Sec. of State Kris Kobach ruled that Taylor’s name must stay on the ballot, even after he dropped out of the race. The Kansas State Supreme Court disagreed.

The court wrote in their opinion, “Our determination that the uncontroverted contents of Taylor’s September 3 letter timely satisfy the statutory requirements for withdrawal now leads us to Kobach’s clearly defined duty imposed by the law. Kobach’s attorney admitted at oral arguments that if the letter was held to comply with the statute, Kobach would have no discretion. This admission is consistent with the plain language of the last sentence of the statutory subsection: “No name withdrawn as provided in this section shall be printed on ballots for such office for the general election.” K.S.A. 25-306b(b). Accordingly, the issuance of a writ of mandamus is appropriate. See Slusher, 279 Kan. 789, Syl. ¶ 4 (“Mandamus is a proceeding designed for the purpose of compelling a public officer to perform a clearly defined duty, one imposed by law and not involving the exercise of discretion.”)”

A new Fox News poll shows why Republicans were arguing to keep the Democrat’s name on the ballot. With all three names on the ballot, Sen. Roberts led Independent Greg Orman and Taylor 40%-38%-11%. With only Roberts and Orman’s names on the ballot, the Independent led 48%-42%. A Senate seat that looked like a lock for Republicans is now in jeopardy of being lost to an Independent, who has already promised to caucus with the Senate’s other two Independents who caucus with the Democrats.

The rise of Greg Orman is a byproduct of the civil war carried out by Gov. Sam Brownback against the moderate members of his own party. Moderate Republicans have teamed up with Democrats and Independents to form a coalition that looks like it will power Orman to victory in November. Kansas isn’t going blue. It is still as red as ever, but Democrats may keep control of the Senate because of Gov. Brownback’s desire to purge the state’s Republican Party of anyone that was not far enough to the right for his tastes.

The smart move for the Democratic Party is to stay out of the way, and let this very public Republican fight play out on its own. The Republican plans of taking over the Senate have taken another hit. With days winding down until Election Day, Democrats might pull off the unexpected and maintain their Senate majority.


Actual Religious Freedom Creates an Anti-First Amendment Firestorm in Bible Belt

By: Hrafnkell Haraldsson
Thursday, September, 18th, 2014, 8:02 am      

EucharistEucharistThe clash between Satanic magic and Christian magic is heating up in Oklahoma as a Satanic group gets ready to mock the Eucharist on September 21.

Liberty Counsel, which pretends to be “dedicated to advancing religious freedom,” yet which regularly attacks the religious freedom of others, is now asserting that that groups whose religious practices “offend other faiths” should be prohibited. Bob Unruh at World Net Daily tells us that “‘God-loving Americans’ confront ‘filth peddling’ Satanists” over the Black Mass in “the heart of the Bible belt.”

Well hell, sign me up. With the Satanists that is. Not because I agree with Satanism, but because I believe Satanists should have the right to practice their beliefs too. But apparently 170,000 Right Wing Nut Job opponents of the First Amendment signed a petition at TFP Student Action to find fault with my iron-clad reasoning.

They’re offended dammit. So the show must not go on. Even though they’re not actually going to the show unless they bought a ticket.

Just the mere fact of somebody else practicing their religious beliefs is hateful to fake Christians to the extent that they insist those practices must be banned. And it isn’t just Satanism. You remember Bryan Fischer’s horrified objection to the Obamas letting actual Hindus into the White House to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

Now, that isn’t what the First Amendment says, of course. It isn’t even what Liberty Counsel once said, as Right Wing Watch reminds us:

    Ironically, Liberty Counsel itself once cited Justice William Brennan’s claim that “f there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

Liberty Counsel is more than happy to champion its own spokesperson’s religious freedom when they are attacking Islam in a public place. But God and therefore the government forbid anyone else should have access to the same rights as a Christian.

The petition by TFP Student Action says,

    With my whole heart and soul, I express full, complete and vehement rejection of the satanic ‘Black Mass’ scheduled at the Oklahoma City Civic Center on September 21, 2014. I urge you to cancel this event which offends 1 billion Catholics worldwide, 200,000 Catholics in Oklahoma and countless more God-loving Americans. Sacrilege is simply NOT free speech.

Sacrilege is free speech. Sacrilege is a religious, not a civil law, and America is a democracy, not a theocracy. If sacrilege isn’t free speech, the Religious Right better stop telling people Jesus loved the rich and hated the poor. That’s not only sacrilege, it’s the sin of lying.

Another petition at has apparently collected 96,952 signatures. That’s a quarter of a million people who oppose the First Amendment in the Bible Belt. Color me unsurprised.

According to WND Archbishop Paul Coakley said,

    “I am calling on all Catholics of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City to counteract this challenge to faith and decency through prayer and penance,” and Bishop Edward Slattery said, “As a part of satanic worship, a Black Mass attempts to invert the action and meaning of the Eucharist in order to mock Christ’s sacrifice and worship Satan through an orgiastic ritual of pain and perversion. It blasphemes everything which we hold as sacred and redemptive; and the spiritual dangers it poses ought not be dismissed. Since the Civic Center has not responded positively to the pleas of the archbishop of Oklahoma City not to host this event in a taxpayer supported public venue, I am asking the faithful Catholics in the diocese of Tulsa to fight this blasphemy through prayer and fasting.”

It is beyond befuddling that a religion which regularly attacks gays in a hateful manner and which also apparently finds no fault in the abuse of children, is so offended by a religious ritual.

Isn’t raping a child “pain and perversion” as well? And the Catholic Church is offended that the ritual is taking place in a “taxpayer supported public venue”? What is this to the Catholic Church, which pays no taxes? Don’t pretend now, only when it’s handy, that you care about taxes. You don’t even get a say where taxes are concerned.

Oklahoma Mary governor Mary Fallin, who thought nothing of banning Oklahoma cities from raising the minimum wage back in April, is offended by the Black Mass which harms no one, saying in a statement:

    This ‘Black Mass’ is a disgusting mockery of the Catholic faith, and it should be equally repellent to Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” said Fallin. “It may be protected by the First Amendment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t condemn it in the strongest terms possible for the moral outrage which it is. It is shocking and disgusting that a group of New York City ‘satanists’ would travel all the way to Oklahoma to peddle their filth here. I pray they realize how hurtful their actions are and cancel this event.

Fallin’s approval rating has been lagging. No doubt she hopes to get back some ideological street cred while leading her state to right wing ruin.

TFP Student Action says :

    Every Black Mass is a direct, deliberate and sinful act of hatred against God. Typically, a consecrated host is stolen from a Catholic Church and then used to desecrate, mock and insult the Catholic Mass. The Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ is attacked in a most vile and unspeakable manner. These insults against God are not only offensive to Christians, but also repulsive to everyone of good will.

    When government buildings open their doors and allow a satanic ‘Black Mass’ that offends God so deeply, it begs the question: Are we still one nation under God?” the statement continued, “To invite Satan into a community is NO joke. It’s a terrible sin that brings devils to the earth and provokes God to withdraw His graces and blessings.

WND quotes Michael Caspino of the Busch & Caspino law firm as saying, “It’s one thing to allow different religions to come in and celebrate their religion. It’s a whole different thing to allow a group to come in that seeks to desecrate and insult another religion.”

In that case, the Bible must be immediately banned as must all Christian religious services. The Old Testament is one long anti-Pagan diatribe, filled with hate and violence against non-Jews, while the New Testament is filled with hatred of Jews, blaming them for the death of Jesus. And Christian church services are regularly filled with sermons denouncing Paganism. I’ve sat through a few.

This line particularly had me laughing: “These insults against God are not only offensive to Christians, but also repulsive to everyone of good will.”

Au contraire. This is no less than not only fake Christians but actual real Christians do to other faiths in Church each Sunday as they revile Paganism, and the so-called Christians of the Religious Right regularly attack Islam and other religions “in a most vile and unspeakable manner,” as when Fischer called the goddess Lakshmi a demon. I don’t recall Liberty Counsel getting upset by that. What, is Christianity the only religion which cannot be mocked?

Archbishop Coakley told Fox News that, “Not all speech is protected if there is hate speech and it is intended to ridicule another religion,” he added. “I don’t believe it is a free speech matter.”

So in other words, you can ridicule gays and other religions, but other religions can’t ridicule your religion.

The issue here is religious freedom. The Religious Right pretends to champion religious freedom but it opposes it, and it is clear that many rank and file find religious freedom repulsive and a thing to be condemned. What they want is not religious freedom, but religious privilege.

The fly in the buttermilk is that the First Amendment categorically states, “Thou shallt have no religious privilege.”


Court hammers Florida sheriff’s office for SWAT-style raid to check for barber licenses

Travis Gettys
18 Sep 2014   

An appeals court harshly rebuked the Orange County, Florida, Sheriff’s Office over a SWAT-style raid to check for barber licenses, finding it was unreasonable to conduct such an investigation of a second-degree misdemeanor.

The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that deputies had violated the civil rights of barbers at Strictly Skillz during a 2010 license inspection, reported the Sun-Sentinel.

“It was a scene right out of a Hollywood movie,” the court ruled.

The lawsuit is related to a series of sweeps at minority-owned barbershops and salons pairing deputies with the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation to inspect the businesses.

State officials said they targeted shops that had not cooperated during previous inspections or where crimes had been witnessed in the past.

Deputies found illegal activity during the raids, but they arrested dozens for “barbering without an active license” – a little-used statute.

No illegal or unlicensed activities were found at Strictly Skillz, where barbers said eight to 10 masked deputies wearing bulletproof vests raided the shop and cleared out customers during a busy weekend.

The appeals court ruled inspections “must be ‘appropriately limited’” and “may not serve as a backdoor for undertaking a warrantless search unsupported by probable cause.”

Two deputies involved in the raid argued they should be immune from civil action because they were performed in the court of their law enforcement duties.

The ruling allows a suit filed by the barbershop’s owners to go forward against the sheriff’s office.

The court noted that DBPR inspectors confirmed the Strictly Skillz barbers had licenses just days before the raid, which the judges ruled “was unconstitutional from the moment that OCSO burst into Strictly Skillz in raid mode for the ostensible purpose of helping DBPR review … barbers’ licenses that it had just inspected two days earlier.”

The ruling noted two “strikingly similar” cases the appeals court cited as precedent.

“We have twice held, on facts disturbingly similar to those presented here, that a criminal raid executed under the guise of an administrative inspection is constitutionally unreasonable,” the court ruled. “We hope that the third time will be the charm.”

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:54 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
DNA study reveals third group of ancient ancestors of modern Europeans

Ian Sample, The Guardian
18 Sep 2014   

Europeans are a mixture of hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, and also a third wave of migrants from north Eurasia

Strands of DNA taken from ancient corpses have revealed an unexpected addition to the ancestral roots of modern Europeans.

The first Homo sapiens arrived in Europe around 45,000 years ago, and these hunter-gatherers were replaced by early farmers who brought agriculture to the continent more than 7,000 years ago from Anatolia and the Levant in the near east.

The arrival of the first farmers set the stage for Europeans to be the descendents of the agriculturalists and indigenous hunter-gatherers, but genetic studies found that a piece of the puzzle was missing: some European DNA came from elsewhere.

To clear up the mystery, researchers in Germany and the US sequenced the full genetic code of nine ancient humans. Among them were a 7,000-year-old farmer from Germany and 7,000- to 8,000-year-old hunter-gatherers from Luxembourg and Sweden. The scientists then compared these genomes with DNA taken from more than 2,000 modern-day people from all over the world and with other ancient genomes.

They found that nearly all modern Europeans had a mixture of western European hunter-gatherer and early European farmer DNA, but with a good measure of ancient north Eurasian ancestry thrown in.

The north Eurasian DNA was identified from the 24,000-year-old remains of a young boy buried at Mal’ta near Lake Baikal in eastern Siberia.

“It became very clear that all Europeans have hunter-gatherer as well as early farmer DNA to varying degrees, but it was also very clear that something was missing here in the makeup of modern Europeans,” said Johannes Krause, at the University of Tubingen’s Institute for Archaeological Sciences.

The findings suggest that the arrival of modern humans into Europe more than 40,000 years ago was followed by an influx of farmers some 8,000 years ago, with a third wave of migrants coming from north Eurasia perhaps 5,000 years ago. Others from the same population of north Eurasians took off towards the Americas and gave rise to Native Americans.

Modern Europeans are various mixes of the three populations. Sardinians are more than 80% early European farmer, with less than 1% of their genetic makeup coming from the ancient north Eurasians. In the Baltic states such as Estonia, some modern people are 50% hunter-gatherer and around a third early European farmer.

The modern English inherited around 50% of their genes from early European farmers, 36% from western European hunter-gatherers, and 14% from the ancient north Eurasians. According to the study, published in Nature, modern Scots can trace 40% of their DNA to the early European farmers and 43% to hunter-gatherers, though David Reich, a senior author on the study at Harvard University, said the differences were not significant.

In the absence of writings from ancient times, researchers are left with only archaeology, palaeontology and genetics to understand our distant pasts. “The genetics can tell us a bit about who these people were, how they interacted, where they came from, what their subsistence strategy was, and whether they had adaptations to their environment and diet,” said Krause.

“The neolithic revolution spread agriculture across the continent in a couple of thousand years. Suddenly you have settlements that cover square kilometres, large cemeteries, large population increases. Suddenly the whole of central Europe becomes deforested because people are clearing it to make fields and produce crops. Everything changes and we don’t have any historical information about that. We can look at the archaeology, but we can also look at the genes. They tell us how all those people are related, and you can’t tell that from staring at a skeleton.” © Guardian News and Media 2014

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:47 AM 
Started by Rose Marcus - Last post by Rad
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God

Matthew Weaver, The Guardian
18 Sep 2014     

Justin Welby tells BBC radio interviewer there are moments when he doubts – but he is certain about the existence of Jesus

The archbishop of Canterbury has admitted to having doubts about the existence of God and disclosed that on a recent morning jog with his dog he questioned why the Almighty had failed to intervene to prevent an injustice.

In a light-hearted but personal interview in front of hundreds of people in Bristol cathedral last weekend, Justin Welby said: “There are moments, sure, where you think ‘Is there a God? Where is God?’.

Welby quickly added that as the leader of the world’s 80 million-strong Anglican community this was “probably not what the Archbishop of Canterbury should say”.

Earlier, the interviewer, BBC Bristol’s Lucy Tegg, reminded him of the weight his words carried. “You have a remarkably prominent role within the faith community around the world,” Tegg said. “I’ve noticed,” Welby quipped.

Tegg then asked him: “Do you ever doubt?”

Welby replied: “Yes. I do. In lots of different ways really. It’s a very good question. That means I’ve got to think about what I’m going to say. Yes I do.” He added: “I love the Psalms, if you look at Psalm 88, that’s full of doubt.”

Welby suggested that his doubts were a regular occurrence, by recounting a recent morning run with dog.

“The other day I was praying over something as I was running and I ended up saying to God ‘Look this is all very well but isn’t it about time you did something – if you’re there’ – which is probably not what the Archbishop of Canterbury should say.”

He added: “It is not about feelings, it is about the fact that God is faithful and the extraordinary thing about being a Christian is that God is faithful when we are not.”

Later in the interview, Welby said he was certain about the existence of Jesus, even talking about his presence beside him. “We know about Jesus, we can’t explain all the questions in the world, we can’t explain about suffering, we can’t explain loads of things but we know about Jesus,” Welby said.

Asked what he does when life gets challenging, Welby said: “I keep going and call to Jesus to help me, and he picks me up.”

Click to watch the interview: © Guardian News and Media 2014

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:42 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
José Mujica: is this the world’s most radical president?

Uruguay’s José Mujica lives in a tiny house rather than the presidential palace, and gives away 90% of his salary. He’s legalised marijuana and gay marriage. But his greatest legacy is governing without giving up his revolutionary ideals

Giles Tremlett
The Guardian
Thursday 18 September 2014 06.00 BST

Emo Mannise was just 16 when he met Uruguay’s current president, José Mujica. On a spring day in 1969, Mannise was at home alone with his sister, Beatriz, when the future president burst out of the lift outside their penthouse in Montevideo with a pistol in his hand. “Turn around, shut your mouth and keep your hands above your head!” he barked. Mannise immediately recognised the pinched eyes and thick, wavy brown hair of one of the most notorious members of the daring, violent Tupamaro guerrillas. After his initial sense of panic subsided, he recalled, he felt strangely calm. “I remember telling the young gunman who was with him not to worry, that I wasn’t going to do anything,” the 62-year-old travel agent told me when we met in his favourite Montevideo bookshop, a short distance from the murky waters of the immense River Plate. His sister, who suffered from polio and used a wheelchair, was taken off to another room. “Don’t worry viejita,” Mujica told her, “you’ll be fine, this has nothing to do with you.” The colloquial, affectionate viejita – “little old lady” – was a typical Mujica touch.

Mannise’s stepfather, José Pedro Púrpura, was a notorious judge, with ties to Uruguay’s far right and a stock of pistols. After the gang had left, taking documents and weapons, Mannise told his relatives that he was only upset that the Tupamaros had stolen a typewriter he used for his schoolwork. The following day, the phone rang. “It is us, the same people from yesterday,” a voice said. He suddenly felt scared again. Somehow they knew about the typewriter. If he wanted it back, the voice told him, he could find it in the lobby of a nearby building. “Sure enough, it was there,” he said. “They had left a typed message in it for my stepfather. ‘Careful doctor,’ it read. ‘We are watching you.’” The following year, a Tupamaro unit sprayed their building with machine-gun fire in an attempt to assassinate doctor Púrpura.

    I'm an old man made of flesh and bones, with nerves and a heart. I put my foot in it a lot, but always in good faith

Five years ago, in Uruguay’s last presidential election, Mannise cast his vote for Mujica and his Broad Front party, a coalition of leftwingers that first displaced the dominant Colorado and National parties in 2005, with the election of Mujica’s moderate predecessor, Tabaré Vázquez. “I might be expected to feel bitter about him,” Manisse told me. “But he is the only one who practices what he preaches.” A former revolutionary who still professes anarchist ideals has run Uruguay’s government and its booming economy ever since. Mujica remains popular, but presidents cannot serve consecutive terms: the next election, on 26 October, will nevertheless represent a referendum on his pragmatic leftwing government.

He has gained international renown as a truculent truth-speaker: speeches lambasting rampant consumerism at the Rio+20 conference in 2012, and at the United Nations in New York the following year, have garnered 3 million YouTube views. “What would happen to this planet if Indians had the same number of cars per family as in Germany?” he asked the audience in Rio. “How much oxygen would be left?” At the UN, he told the delegates to stop going to wasteful, expensive summits that achieve nothing. Some call him Latin America’s Nelson Mandela, recalling his 13 years in jail. Others see a groundbreaking social liberal, who has introduced the world’s most innovative cannabis legislation as well as gay marriage and legal abortion. Mostly, though, he is famous for the way he lives. The man who most Uruguayans call El Pepe drives a 25-year-old Volkswagen Beetle, lives in a tiny house on a rural smallholding, and gives away 90% of his salary. His deliberately coarse but pragmatic style delights Uruguay’s poor, but also works for part of its middle classes – a trick that other populist Latin American leaders, invoking the great liberator Simón Bolívar, have conspicuously failed to turn. His critics claim that Mujica is more style than substance – a charming old man who put aside both his gun and his revolutionary ideals. In a continent that has become the world’s biggest laboratory for alternative leftwing regimes, each claiming to have found the magic formula, many still cannot decide whether he is a hero, or a sellout.


In the summer of 1969, a police officer knocked on the door of a small Montevideo investment bank, which was partially owned by a government minister. The employees let him in, only to discover he was a Tupamaro. Several other guerrillas followed. They took the equivalent of $100,000 in today’s money, but also demanded the bank’s account ledgers. One of the employees, Lucía Topolansky, had tipped off the “Tupas” that the bank was doing illegal currency deals; her twin sister, Maria Elia, was one of the guerrillas who conducted the raid. The Tupamaros dropped off the ledgers at the home of a public prosecutor – and some of those involved in the illegal trading were subsequently jailed. It was an example of their trademark “armed propaganda” style: violence was fine, but best when proven to do good.

The Topolansky sisters were from a well-off family in the upmarket Pocitos district. “Uruguay has riquillos, not ricos – people who are well-off, not rich,” Lucía told me in her office at the parliament in Montevideo, where she is now the senior senator. Silver-haired with beaming brown eyes, she has a remodelled nose given to her by a Tupamaro surgeon who tried to change her appearance after she broke out of jail. She married Mujica in 2005, after 20 years of living together – and 13 years of separation, when they were imprisoned in separate jails. When he became president, it was her task to swear him in. “The army regiment that had arrested both of us stands guard at the legislative assembly building,” she said. “Our friends were there, laughing and shouting: ‘It’s about time they honoured you!’”

Topolansky’s girlhood nickname was la Flaca (the skinny one) but the Tupamaros called her la Tronca (the log) because she was so tough. Mujica was raised by a similarly strong-willed woman, his mother, Doña Lucy. His father died in 1943, when Mujica was only eight. Soon he was delivering for a local bakery in the semi-rural Paso de la Arena neighbourhood, and selling Arum lilies cropped from the creek behind their house to help the family make ends meet. Uruguay had a dazzling start to the 20th century, sending wool and beef to hungry, war-torn Europe; by 1930 it was one of the world’s dozen wealthiest nations by per capita income. Tiny Uruguay enjoyed enlightened social legislation, with eight-hour working days and maternity leave: some called it the Switzerland of Latin America. It even won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950, though its population has never gone above 3.5 million. But as Mujica grew up, the miracle began to collapse.

As a young man, Mujica went to work for Enrique Erro, a popular leftwing politician, but had a political epiphany when he met Ché Guevara in post-revolutionary Cuba. As much of Latin America fell victim to crisis and decline, it was a Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano, who penned a new bible for the continent’s left wing, The Open Veins of Latin America. “The human murder by poverty in Latin America is secret,” Galeano wrote, in 1971. “Every year, without making a sound, three Hiroshima bombs explode over communities that have become accustomed to suffering with clenched teeth.” With Uruguay suffering rampant inflation and a stagnant economy, Mujica and his comrades decided to follow Cuba’s example, destroying the old order and trying something new – though it was never clear what that should be. Uruguay had no mountains to hide in, with the city of Montevideo dominating a fertile plain full of sheep and white-faced Hereford cattle, so they became urban guerrillas, taking their name from an 18th-century Peruvian rebel, Túpac Amaru II. The Tupamaros were a broad movement – one section was led by a priest – and unafraid of experiments, even costly ones. Trial and error, rather than dogma, would mark their history. It still does.

They soon gained a reputation for daring theatrics. A raid on the town of Pando saw them ride down the main street disguised as a funeral procession. After a heist at the Casino San Rafael in Punta del Este, a plush resort town, they sent back the employees’ pool of tips. Time magazine dubbed them “the Robin Hood guerillas”. But people with guns end up using them. Six people died in the Pando raid. In March 1970, Mujica was identified by a policeman in a bar. El Pepe drew his pistol: two police officers were wounded, and Mujica was shot six times. He was sent to Punta Carretas jail – which would later be turned into a glitzy mall looking out over the River Plate from Montevideo’s southernmost point. Mujica broke out of it twice. Impressionable teenagers like Mannise joined student demonstrations, hurling stones at the police as protest spread across what had long been regarded as the region’s most tranquil and moderate country.

Then it all went wrong. Kidnappings, bombings and cold-blooded executions left the Tupamaros’ romantic reputation in tatters. The army was called in and, in under a year, the Tupas were annihilated. Mujica was one of the last to be caught, in August 1972, while sleeping rough with an Uzi machine-gun and a grenade under his coat. In June 1973, an authoritarian cattle-rancher president, Juan María Bordaberry of the Colorado party, led a civilian-military coup, closing down democracy. Many blamed the Tupamaros.

Nine Tupamaro leaders were removed from their prison cells and sent to army camps as hostages – to be killed if the group sprung back to life. The poet, novelist, and playwright Mauricio Rosencof spent 11 years in a tiny cell next to Mujica. For many years, Rosencof told me, the hostages could only communicate by tapping morse code on their cell walls. Allowed to use the toilet just once a day, they urinated into their water bottles, allowing the sediment to settle and drinking the rest – because water was also scarce. It was even worse for Mujica, whose bullet wounds had seriously damaged his guts. Solitary confinement drove them half-mad. Pepe became convinced that a bugging device was hidden in the ceiling. Its imaginary static deafened him. “He would put stones in his mouth to stop himself from screaming,” Rosencof, now 81, told me. Mujica fought to obtain the one item he needed most – a potty. Hostages were allowed occasional family visits, so Doña Lucy brought him one, but the guards refused to give it to him. One day, when his jailers held a party, Mujica began to scream for it; the commandant, embarrassed in front of his guests, relented. Mujica clung to his sole possession, a symbol of victory over his jailers, each time they were moved to a new army camp. “He refused to scrub it clean,” Rosencof recalled. “We all have tics left from that time. When Pepe came out, he came with all that baggage.”


The main road leading out of Montevideo towards Mujica’s chacra, or smallholding, takes you through industrial suburbs, over a polluted river and past flat expanses of small, squat homes. They are poor, but not decrepit. There are relatively few signs of the aching poverty that afflicts other parts of Latin America, though a developing world debt crisis drove many to penury at the beginning of this century. Old nags are tethered to the roadside, nibbling at the wide green verges. A rough, hand-painted sign on a tin shack beside a potholed asphalt road points to the dirt track leading to the farm. An excited pack of dogs rushes out to meet visitors, then rushes back to chase a van delivering gas bottles. Cocks crow and partridges strut through nearby fields, food for stealthy farm cats. Men in white rubber boots cut chard in a field belonging to the farm.

Mujica emerged from his tiny house dressed in a fawn fleece and grey trousers with sandals over socked feet. The fleece is an improvement, which can be credited to his 2009 campaign team, who weaned him off tattered jumpers. Age has made his features both more pinched around the eyes and fleshier around the edges; his thick shock of greying hair was neatly brushed – another habit he acquired while running for president. Manuela, a three-legged mutt, hopped gamely along. The one-story house lies half-hidden by greenery, its corrugated metal roof resting on pillars around a narrow, cement walkway full of dusty crates and jars. Winter rain had highlighted the patchy plasterwork. “Mind the mud!” the president warned by way of greeting. The narrow, elongated front room contains a cheap office chair and desk, bookshelves, a small table with two uncomfortable wood-backed chairs, a roaring log stove and an ancient, immaculately restored Peugeot bicycle. “I’ve had that bicycle for 60 years,” he said proudly, recalling his days as an amateur racer. The other two rooms in the house are familiar to Uruguayans, who have seen them on YouTube: the president once showed a Korean television team his roughly made bed and the contents of an old refrigerator before inviting them to shots of Johnny Walker and Uruguayan cane spirit. Cobwebs, heavy with dead flies, hung above our heads. Mujica, sat stiff-legged on the office chair, easing his joints and ready for verbal combat.

Mujica could live in the presidential palace, a hundred-year-old mansion in the old-money Prado district, but he would rather be here. “We think of it as a way of fighting for our personal freedom,” he said. “If you complicate your life too much in the material sense, a big part of your time goes to tending that. That’s why we still live today as we did 40 years ago, in the same neighbourhood, with the same people and the same things. You don’t stop being a common man just because you are president.”

Mujica has a mouth to match his rusticity. At a speech to trade unionists in Montevideo the previous day, the audience hung on for the quickfire, crude phrases that he claims to have picked up in jail. “Es la joda!” – “What the fuck!” – provoked a squawk of delight from a woman behind me. “I know what our people are like,” Mujica told me. “Some more cultivated people have a stereotype and think el señor presidente has to be like a statue, totally inert. He cannot be like any other person. But I am an old man made of flesh and bones, with nerves and a heart. Yes, I put my foot in it a lot, but always in good faith.”

    We still live today as we did 40 years ago. You don’t stop being a common man just because you are president

“I wasn’t voted president because I had been a Tupamaro,” he said. “But I didn’t do this sneakily, hiding my past.” Even in his guerrilla days, he insists, he tried to keep violence to a minimum. He now professes a hatred for modern war, but also scorns “beatific pacifism”, and refuses to express remorse for his own violent past. “The only things I regret are those I could have done but didn’t,” he said. He doesn’t hold on to old grudges – the men who jailed and tortured him, in his view, were instruments in other people’s hands. In one of those contradictions thrown up by their participative democracy, Uruguayans voted to retain an amnesty law protecting many involved in state repression on the same day they picked Mujica for president. “I suffered, but you can’t hold on to hatred,” he said. “I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t lived through those years.”

Fourteen other people live in small homes dotted around the chacra, many of them elderly. He does not charge rent. “We are a bit like an old folks’ home,” he said. At heart, he is still an anarchist – or, as he puts it, a leftwing libertarian. “I am half, or even a lot, libertarian – as a dream, as a utopia. If ancient man could govern himself, then perhaps one day, in the future, men can govern themselves again.” After a lifetime of militancy, at the age of 79 he has found a way to balance his idealism with pragmatism, to the consternation of his critics on the left. “A leftwing vision of the world requires you to imagine a future utopia, but one doesn’t have the right to forget that the most important thing for every human being is the life they lead now,” he said. “The fight to make today better must become your central task.”


A presidential sash with the pale blue and white stripes of Uruguay sits in a glass-topped box in Julio María Sanguinetti’s book-lined, sombre study in a house on a quiet street near Punta Carretas. Cufflinks, shiny blazer buttons and a pastel green silk tie bolster an image of muted, patrician sophistication. “I am one of three Uruguayan presidents to have served two terms,” he informed me as a retainer brought us coffee. His Colorado party has lost voters to Mujica’s Broad Front coalition – which brings together ex-Tupamaros, socialists, communists and the country’s left-leaning Christian Democrats. Sanguinetti is bemused and outraged. “The dictatorship turned the perpetrators into victims,” he said. “Yet the dictatorship was triggered by the Tupamaros ... all the shots Mujica fired were against democracy.” Sanguinetti was banned from politics during the dictatorship, though he eventually helped negotiate its end in 1984. The hostages were released the following year, during his first presidency. By then Mujica had turned his potty into a tiny marigold garden. Rosencof recalls watching him step out of jail, proudly bearing his potty, and disappearing into a sea of flags waved by supporters.

In the 1980s and 90s the governments led by Sanguinetti’s Colorado party, and their traditional rivals, the National party, pursued a watered-down version of neoliberal reforms. Moderate Uruguayans did not want state companies privatised, at least not without proper guarantees, and said so at referendum; they are still in public hands. The Tupamaros, experimental as ever, saw no point in returning to violence, so they joined the Broad Front in 1989 and sniped at it from the left, warning against the evils of centrism. But many of them still believed that the rotten structure of neoliberal Latin America would collapse, and arms would be needed once more. Adolfo Garcé, a political scientist who has studied the Tupamaros’ remarkable transition into electoral politics, told me that the old revolutionaries played a double game – participating in democracy while preparing to go back underground if necessary. “It can best be described as an organisation that was always ready to submerge and become clandestine,” Garcé said.

Uruguayan elections are complex: voters don’t simply select a party, but choose a faction within that party. They elect the two chambers of parliament, a president and, often, vote on referenda at the same time. In 1994, when the Broad Front came within a few points of winning an election, the Tupamaro-led faction was still a minor player, with only two deputies in the 99-seat parliament. But one of those was Mujica. He rode to parliament on a battered Vespa, wore everyday clothes and peppered his speech with slang. (“He thinks up clever phrases,” Sanguinetti said. “But he has destroyed the language.”) People learned that he lived in a tiny house on a chacra, that he grew flowers and didn’t care about his appearance, his possessions, or whether he sounded like he was having a row at the counter of a Montevideo bar. Mujica the folk hero was born.


The day Lucía was due to swear Pepe in as president, his publicist Pancho Vernazza had arranged to meet him at 8am to go over the speech. Vernazza, a high-powered Montevideo advertising executive, was a few minutes late, and found that an impatient Mujica had already wandered off. “He’d gone for a spin on his tractor,” Vernazza told me. Mujica hired him for a presidential campaign that started with a fight to win the Broad Front nomination against a moderate social democrat, Danilo Astori – who would eventually become Mujica’s vice-president, ensuring that his would be a business-friendly government. It was, Vernazza jokes, the meeting of a leftwing and a rightwing anarchist. Business acquaintances threatened to leave the country if Mujica won. “In 40 years of professional work, I’ve never met anyone with his capacity to learn and be flexible,” he said. “He is the least authoritarian of all the politicians I’ve known.” Vernazza also found him chaotic, unstructured and gaffe-ridden. But native political intelligence and a talent for improvisation saw him rapidly mutate from a rebel in ripped jerseys to a serious presidential candidate. They tried to make doubters less afraid of a man known for his bruising vocabulary and tousle-haired television outings without his false teeth. Above all, Pepe sold himself. The Tupamaros always had a keen marketing sense, and Mujica’s flashes of roughhouse wit made perfect soundbites. “He was trapped in his own stereotype,” said Vernazza. “So he changed his personality, showing he was far more politically flexible than people had thought.” The hair was brushed, and the teeth stayed in. Mujica became president, and his faction, led by Topolansky, became the largest component of the Broad Front.

    Poor girls are not well-treated by our society. For me that is one of the most important battles for fairness

Mujica’s progressive social reforms have boosted his global fame, but he is less impressed by them than his admirers. “They fit our sense of freedom and human rights, but they don’t solve the basic problem, which is the difference of class,” he said. Campaigners say he is not a natural social progressive. “He’s a bit Cro-Magnon, really,” said one sexual health activist, who is nevertheless grateful for a law legalising abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy; Vázquez, a devout Roman Catholic, had vetoed a similar law during the previous Broad Front presidency. Sergio Miranda and Rodrigo Borda, the first gay couple to marry last year, do not give Mujica most of the credit. “A lot of people fought for this for many years,” Miranda told me at the small offices of their gay tourism business. For his part, the president still refers to gays and lesbians as “sexually ambivalent”.

“All we are doing is recognising something as old as humanity,” Mujica said. “The best thing is that people can live as they want to live.” He sees those twice punished by poverty and intolerance as the real victims. “Those who are sexually ambivalent have a real problem if they are poor. If they are rich they are tolerated. That sounds crude, but it’s the truth as I see it,” he said. “And the women most discriminated against are those in poverty. Machismo hits hardest at the lowest levels. Poor girls are not well-treated by our society. There are women who end up abandoned with lots of children. For me that is one of the most important battles for fairness.” During the presidential campaign he was caught moaning about “intellectual women who think they are downtrodden”, or who talk about their “compañera” cleaning lady, “when she is really the servant”. Almost all of the 90% of his salary that Mujica gives away goes to single mothers.

Mujica has never smoked marijuana, but he is addicted to tobacco: visitors have often found themselves sneaking a smoke with the president, who rushes to put out his cigarette at the sound of Lucía’s car. “Prohibition has proved itself a splendid failure,” he said. “If you want change, you can’t carry on doing the same things. We opted for regulating the sale of marijuana and that, naturally, has to be done by the state. We want to take users out of hiding and create a situation where we can say: ‘You are overdoing it. You have to deal with that.’ It is a question of limits,” he said. Opposition parties see an experiment that will blow up in the Broad Front’s face at election time. Most Uruguayans dislike the law, and it will be struck out if Vázquez, who is standing again as a candidate, does not win next month’s vote.

The real reason for the marijuana law can be found near Mujica’s birthplace in Paso de la Arena, where the asphalt turns to dirt and the houses are small and poor. Gangs of youths stand around in the dusk. “This is when the pasta base kids appear,” Walter Pernas, an investigative journalist and construction worker’s son, explained as we bumped down backroads. Pasta base, a toxic product of the cocaine-purification process, with effects similar to crack cocaine, is spoiling Mujica’s attempt to take people out of misery. It is arguably Uruguay’s biggest social problem, exacerbating poverty and fuelling crime. More than 1% of Montevideans are users. That number rises in these poor, fringe barrios – where the bocas, or drug markets, start trading after dark. Mujica wants to take marijuana profits away from traffickers, while freeing up police resources. In a country with such dramatic economic growth, popular concern is no longer about jobs, poverty or the economy, but about violence, insecurity and pasta base.

“It is a lost generation. They are so brain-damaged that they can’t even understand enough to keep a job,” Pernas said. Fear of violence is real and growing. People who used to carry rubbish to the street bins at night now wait until morning. Once, poverty drove people to the bins to eat, and housewives carefully placed leftover food in separate bags. Now pasta-base addicts take them. Juan Abbate, the owner of the family bakery where Mujica worked as a boy, described how he had once been prevented from making a delivery by a gang of teenage pasta-base hoodlums. “They pelted my car with stones, so I had to leave,” he said. At the next elections in October, Uruguayans will vote on a referendum to reduce the age of adult criminal responsibility from 18 to 16. When Mujica returns here, he sees a society that is both wealthier and weaker. This is partly an old man’s lament for innocent childhood days spent gathering wood, selling flowers, and chasing fish in the creek, but also part of his discourse against consumerism, egoism and what he calls “mental poverty”. “Our life has been made much easier,” he said. “But that is eliminating creativity.”

A bust of Che Guevara peers down from a bookshelf in Mujica’s farmhouse. “He was unforgettable, a mould-breaker,” the president said. “He marked our entire youth.” Yet the man who, inspired by Guevara, once blew up factories owned by foreigners now offers them tax breaks. “I need capitalism to work, because I have to levy taxes to attend to the serious problems we have. Trying to overcome it all too abruptly condemns the people you are fighting for to suffering, so that instead of more bread, you have less bread,” he said. Not all Tupamaros have accompanied Mujica on his journey to soft, pragmatic socialism. “They left their ideals in their prison cells,” the former hostage Jorge Zabalza proclaimed recently. “Some old compañeros won’t understand,” Mujica said. “They don’t see our battle against people’s everyday problems, that life is not a utopia.”

    I need capitalism to work, because I have to levy taxes to attend to the serious problems we have

As in other countries in the region, an economic boom largely fuelled by China’s growing need for food has lifted vast numbers out of poverty, down from 40 to 12% in a decade. Acute poverty has declined tenfold over the same period. The boom has coincided with the presidencies of Mujica and Vázquez, when the economy has grown by 75%, and public spending increased by almost 50%. Uruguay’s wealth gap has also closed, not least because Vázquez’s government introduced the country’s first income tax. Social spending has surged, targeting the poorest. All Uruguayan schoolchildren have free laptops, though parts of the school system remain dysfunctional. But there has been no radical change to the basic social or political structure of Uruguay, partly because a complex institutional system discourages it. A land tax proposed by Mujica, for example, was struck out by the courts. Uruguay’s democracy has so many checks and balances, the political scientist Garcé said, that presidents must govern through dialogue, inoculating the country against the populism that has wreaked havoc elsewhere on the continent.

The newly pragmatic Mujica no longer fights the globalisation which, by linking Chinese dinner tables to Uruguayan farms, funds this remarkable transformation. “It is like when I look in the mirror and see my wrinkles,” he told me. “I don’t feel sympathetic towards them, but they are inevitable. I have to fight to administer it as best I can, because if I start wailing like a baby I am not going to change it.” Globalisation’s glaring failure, Mujica said, is a lack of political oversight. “It is bad because it is only governed by the market. It has no politics or government. National governments are only worried about their next elections, but there are a series of global problems that no one deals with.” That does not mean capitalism has won outright. “I don’t think it inevitable that the world should live in capitalism,” he told me. “That is the same as not believing in man, and man is an animal with many defects but also with startling capabilities.”


Mujica still believes in class warfare. (“And yes,” he said. “This is definitely war.”) But that war, stripped of revolution and rained on by reality, is now fought on a very narrow battlefield. Salaries and union rights excite him most. Garcé told me that Mujica has been hamstrung by his faction’s minority status within the Broad Front coalition. “The extraordinary thing is that we have a group of revolutionary socialists who didn’t believe in democracy, then turned themselves into expert vote-seekers but eventually do only minimal reforms to the system,” he said. Yet, the minimum wage has jumped 50% during Mujica’s term, suggesting that radical reform may not have been needed to take big steps down the road towards his impossible utopia. Indeed, when I asked Uruguayans how much Mujica had changed their country, some replied that it was Uruguay – and its traditions of moderation and dialogue – that had changed him. “His transformation,” the economist Ernesto Talvi told me, “is basically a triumph for liberal democracy.”

The former Tupamaros I met often mentioned Don Quixote. Mujica told me that Che Guevara embodied the spirit of Cervantes’s mad, honour-obsessed knight errant. One young writer even suggested that the president had been deliberately marketed as a modern-day Quixote. The refusal to compromise personal honour – exemplified by his simple chacra lifestyle – certainly fits that narrative. With their utopian dreams and their past love of “just” but ultimately futile violence, the Tupamaros know all about tilting at windmills. But Mujica’s determination to keep experimenting has seen him square idealism with pragmatism. And where austerity is inside the president’s home, rather than outside it, accusations of selling out can only ring hollow.

After our talk, the president donned muddy boots and showed me the farm buildings. The powder-blue VW Beetle sat in a dusty garage with rusting, sheet-metal doors. “It rarely breaks down, they virtually give away spare parts, and the insurance is cheap,” he said. His post-presidency dream is to set up an agricultural school for young people in an empty barn beside the chacra. “Since I devoted myself to fixing the world when I was young, I didn’t have children,” he explained. As we left, I asked a chard-picker about the president. “He’s an ordinary man,” he said. It sounded like an accolade.

• This article was amended on 18 September 2014. An earlier version misspelled Ernesto Talvi’s surname as Calvi.

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Religion still leads the way in post-Morsi Egypt

President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is not afraid to use faith to push the state's narrative – but the climate and the rhetoric have cooled

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Thursday 18 September 2014 18.05 BST   
When protesters successfully called for the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi last year, part of their rhetoric played on fears that Egypt's first democratically elected president and his Muslim Brotherhood were seeking to turn the country into a theocracy. Yet 14 months on, religion and politics are as interwoven as ever – and Morsi's successors in government are leading the way.

The work of Neamat Saty, a civil servant at Egypt's youth ministry, shows how. She is setting up a taskforce to combat atheism among the young. Under her plans, hundreds of lecturers, religious leaders and psychologists will go to the 27 provinces next year to discourage the young from turning to what she says are the two faces of extremism: jihadism and atheism.

"Atheists say there is no resurrection, no heaven or hell – so they think they're free to do whatever they want," said Saty. "If you don't believe in life after death, you won't have limits in your life – and that causes problems in society."

Saty's views are not unusual. Though Egypt's post-Morsi constitution outlaws faith-based parties, and a Morsi-era clause about religious legislation was cut, religion has otherwise been a frequent touchstone for the various wings of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi's administration.

Weeks before Saty's scheme was announced, the police chief in Egypt's second city, Alexandria, promised to arrest a group of atheists who had publicised their beliefs on social media. In the past month, Dar el-Ifta, the wing of the justice ministry that issues religious edicts, may have condemned the extremism of Isis – but it has also condemned both belly-dancing and online communication between men and women. Elsewhere, convictions on blasphemy charges have continued, and the oppression of Egypt's gay community has intensified.

More widely, religion is being used to promote subordination to the state. Preachers have been dispatched to justify the government's actions, and thousands of others – deemed by the government to be too supportive of the Brotherhood or other Islamist groups – have been barred from work in state mosques. The head of Al-Azhar University, the seat of global Sunni learning, has helped to buttress the state narrative, ignoring state-led rights abuses, as has Pope Theodoros II, the spiritual leader of Egypt's Copts, who account for about 5% of the country's 80 million people.

Decisions over the content of Friday sermons have been centralised, while Sisi has often used religious rhetoric to rally both soldiers and the public. "We are God-fearing people," he said in a televised speech just weeks after deposing Morsi. "If anyone thinks they can defeat those who fear God, they are delusional."

All this has had the intended effect of strengthening the state's authority in the eyes of a pious population – and, perhaps, of outdoing the piety of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"These moves illustrate profoundly why the term 'secularism' just doesn't belong in an Egyptian context," said Nathan Brown, a professor at George Washington University in the US who has written widely on religion and the Egyptian state. "Nobody is talking about separating religion from politics or compartmentalising it from public life. That's just not an issue. What is an issue is: who speaks for religion?"

For Brown, the main difference between the attitudes of the current government and those of Morsi's administration is in their approach to the state-linked religious institutions. The new regime wants to shore up the control of incumbent figures at Azhar, which wields considerable influence over Sunnis in Egypt, and at the ministry of religious affairs. In contrast, Morsi ultimately wanted to replace these figures with scions of Brotherhood thought.

"The Brotherhood came from outside the state," said Brown. "When it wanted to understand what Islam is, it wouldn't go to the top of the state apparatus. It would go to second-tier people [or] people outside the country. That's different to what we see right now – which is a state that takes upon its shoulders the task of guiding Egyptians on a religious path, with the help of [incumbent] religious scholars."

Others report a reduction in religious incitement since Morsi's overthrow. Under Morsi, Islamists had a free rein in parliament and in the media to make reactionary statements. This led to an environment that was permissive of incitement against religious minorities – culminating in a siege of Cairo's Coptic cathedral by police and vigilantes, and the lynching of four Shias, who form a tiny minority in Egypt.

But while Morsi's successors have not shied away from either inciting against the Brotherhood or using religion for their own ends, the climate has largely cooled, according to Ahmed Samer, the founder of The Secularists, a tiny group that campaigns for a civil state. Samer says he and his colleagues feared their fellow Egyptians as much as the state during the Morsi presidency, and expected to be attacked by civilians egged on by reactionary discourse prevalent in the media. Now he's not so worried. "Under the Brotherhood, the aggressive speech was very loud, and it pushed people in a certain direction," says Samer. "Because of that, people who refused this kind of speech were accused of being infidels. But now that rhetoric has a quieter tune."

A project such as Neamat Saty's – which aims to tackle both jihadist and atheist thought – exemplifies the state's approach: a silencing of extremist rhetoric that nevertheless goes hand in hand with the use of religion to solidify government control. "It's not interfering in people's lives," she said. "It's correcting wrong concepts. We are just putting the youth on the right path."

This approach scarcely marks the dawn of a wholly civil state. Governments of all stripes will pursue similar projects as long as religiosity remains so prominent across Egyptian society, said Saber. "The problem is not from the government – it's from society," he said. "The government is taking its lead from society. Society needs to be secularised first."

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:34 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Sierra Leone begins three-day shutdown to contain Ebola outbreak

People confined to their homes with only essential workers exempt, while volunteers go door to door handing out soap

Agence France-Presse in Freetown, Friday 19 September 2014 09.12 BST   

Sierra Leone has commenced a three-day shutdown to contain the spread of the Ebola virus, as the UN security council declared the deadly outbreak a threat to world peace.

Most of the west African country's population of 6 million were confined to their homes from midnight, with only essential workers such as health professionals and security forces exempt.

Almost 30,000 volunteers will make house calls to educate residents and distribute soap, in an exercise that could lead to scores more patients and bodies being discovered in people's homes.

Health experts have criticised the shutdown, arguing that coercive measures to stem the epidemic could backfire and will be difficult to implement.

Médecins sans Frontières, a medical charity, said lockdowns might drive people underground and could "jeopardise the trust between people and health providers".

Sierra Leone's president said if the population heeded the volunteers' advice, the campaign would "help to reverse the increasing trend of the disease transmission and become a very big boost to our collective effort to stop the outbreak".

In a message broadcast on television and radio, Ernest Bai Koroma said: "These are extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary measures."

There is mounting global concern over the Ebola epidemic, which has killed more than 2,600 people in west Africa. In Guinea, paranoia over the virus is so rife that seven people sent to educate villagers on the disease were found dead after being attacked by locals who apparently feared the delegation meant them harm.

In New York, the UN security council unanimously adopted a resolution declaring that the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security.

It called for immediate aid, urged states to lift travel and border restrictions and asked airlines and shipping companies to maintain their links with affected countries.

Ebola fever can fell its victims within days, causing severe muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhoea and – in some cases – internal and external bleeding.

More than 550 people have died from the disease in Sierra Leone, one of the three hardest-hit countries alongside Guinea and Liberia.

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:33 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Isis video shows UK hostage delivering propaganda message

John Cantlie, who has been held by Islamic State for almost two years, says: 'I've been abandoned by my government'

Ian Cobain and Shiv Malik   
The Guardian, Thursday 18 September 2014 18.57 BST

A British press photojournalist who has been held prisoner by Islamic State (Isis) militants for almost two years has become the latest hostage to be forced to appear in an online video, this time delivering a propaganda message on behalf of the group in what he admits is a desperate gamble to save his life.

In a clip posted on the internet, John Cantlie calmly introduces himself and explains his predicament, before calling on the public to act to "change this seemingly inevitable sequence of events" by forcing the US and British governments to change their policies on hostage-taking.

The photojournalist also makes clear that he is under duress – and that he does not know whether he will succeed in his attempt to avoid being murdered.

"Now I know what you're thinking, you're thinking: 'He's only doing this because he's a prisoner. He's got a gun at his head and he's being forced to do this,' right?" he says.

"Well it's true I am a prisoner. That I cannot deny. But seeing as I've been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of Islamic State I have nothing to lose. Maybe I will live and maybe I will die, but I want to take this opportunity to convey some facts that you can verify. Facts that if you contemplate might help preserving lives."

Cantlie makes clear that the three-and-a-half minute film is just the first of a series of "programmes" that Isis will be filming, and in which he will be appearing.

"I'm going to show you the truth as the western media tries to drag the public back to the abyss of another war with the Islamic State," he says.

On Thursday afternoon the foreign secretary Phillip Hammond told reporters in Denmark that he was aware of the video but had not yet seen it. He said: "I've heard the reports of another video being released on social media. These videos can be very distressing for the families of the individuals involved.

"But I haven't seen the video myself, as you'll appreciate, I've been in meetings here all day, but obviously we'll look very closely at any material that has been released on the internet."

Like Washington, the UK government has said it will not pay ransoms for the release of citizens by Isis or any other terrorist group.

The clip marks a new departure for Isis film-makers. The previous three videos, which have depicted the ritualistic murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and Scottish aid worker David Haines, and threatened the killing of aid convoy volunteer Alan Henning, have all followed the same format: each was shot out of doors, with the masked killer delivering messages in his distinctive London accent to Barack Obama and David Cameron.

The latest clip has been filmed indoors, is carefully lit, shot from two angles, and the British jihadist is not seen. The title that the group has given to it "Lend me your ears – messages from the British detainee John Cantlie" – quotes Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, but may also be a reference to the nickname that freed former hostages say they gave to British Isis jailors: the Beatles. Arabic subtitles appear at the foot of the screen.

Cantlie, 43, is pale, unshaven and thin, and traces of possible bruising can be seen under each eye. Like the three men whose murders were filmed, he is dressed in an orange jumpsuit. He appears composed, however, as he sits behind a desk and delivers his scripted statement directly to the camera. His performance appears to be well-rehearsed.

The video spread rapidly despite attempts by website providers to crack down on distribution. Numerous Twitter accounts which appear to be sympathetic to Isis used the hashtag #indyref and #ScotlandDecides to help boost circulation of the film.

Cantlie, a freelance photojournalist from Haslemere, Surrey, explains in the film that he used to work for some of the bigger newspapers and magazines in the UK including the Sunday Times, the Sun and the Sunday Telegraph.

He asks: "After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict? I'm going to show you the truth behind these systems and motivation of the Islamic State, and how the western media, the very organisation I used to work for, can twist and manipulate that truth to the public back home. There are two sides to every story – think you're getting the whole picture?

"And I'll show you the truth behind what happened when many European citizens were imprisoned and later released by the Islamic State, and how the British and American governments thought they could do it differently to every other European country. They negotiated with the Islamic state and got their people home while the British and Americans were left behind."

He goes on: "It's very alarming to see where this is all headed and it looks like history repeating itself yet again. There is time to change this seemingly inevitable sequence of events, but only if you, the public, act now. Join me for the next few programmes and I think you may be surprised by what you learn."

It is the second time that Cantlie has found himself in the hands of militants in Syria. He was rescued from kidnappers in 2012, but four months later chose to return to the country, where he was abducted a second time and sold on to Isis. While the photographer's first ordeal lasted just seven days, this time he has been held for 22 months, probably near Raqqa, the group's stronghold in the north of the country.

During his time in captivity, Cantlie has seen several fellow hostages set free after their governments agreed to pay millions of dollars in ransom. Cantlie is thought to have been abducted as he attempted to leave the country, along with Foley. The pair are understood to have been kidnapped after leaving an internet cafe in a town near the Turkish border At some point they were passed on to the Islamic StateIsis. .

No previous mention has been made in the media about Cantlie's plight at the request of the UK Foreign Office, which also advised his family and friends to say nothing in public about the abduction.

When Haines was first shown in an Isis video in September, the Foreign Office urged the media to show restraint, and not to report that two other British citizens – Cantlie and Henning – were also being held "because we assess that coverage will increase the threat to their lives".

Ten days later, the Foreign Office again asked that no mention be made of Cantlie when Henning, 47, was shown in the video that also depicted the murder of Haines.

Last night, British foreign secretary Phillip Hammond told reporters in Denmark that he was aware of the video but had not yet seen it.

Hello my name is John Cantlie. I'm a British journalist who used to work for some of the bigger newspapers and magazines in the UK including the Sunday Times, the Sun and the Sunday Telegraph.

In November 2012 I came to Syria where I was subsequently captured by the Islamic State. Now nearly two years later many things have changed including the expansion of the Islamic State to include large areas of eastern Syria and western Iraq. A landmass bigger than Britain and many other nations.

Now I know what you're thinking, you're thinking: 'he's only doing this because he's a prisoner. He's got a gun at his head and he's being forced to do this,' right?

Well it's true I am a prisoner that I cannot deny but seeing as I've been abandoned by my government and my fate now lies in the hands of Islamic State I have nothing to lose.

Maybe I will live and maybe I will die, but I want to take this opportunity to convey some facts that you can verify. Facts that if you contemplate might help preserving lives.

Over the next few programmes, I'm going to show you the truth as the western media tries to drag the public back to the abyss of another war with the Islamic State.

After two disastrous and hugely unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, why is it that our governments appear so keen to get involved in yet another unwinnable conflict?

I'm going to show you the truth behind these systems and motivation of the Islamic State, and how the western media, the very organisation I used to work for can twist and manipulate that truth to the public back home.

There are two sides to every story – think you're getting the whole picture? And I'll show you the truth behind what happened when many European citizens were imprisoned and later released by the Islamic State and how the British and American governments thought they could do it differently to every other every other European country.

They negotiated with the Islamic state and got their people home whilse the British and Americans were left behind.

It's very alarming to see where this is all headed and it looks like history repeating itself yet again. There is time to change this seemingly inevitable sequence of events, but only if you, the public act now. Join me for the next few programmes and I think you may be surprised by what you learn.

• This article was amended on 19 September 2014. An earlier version said John Cantlie was from "Hazlemere in West Sussex,south of London".


Newest video of UK hostage John Cantlie shows ISIS ‘fears isolation and attack’

Agence France-Presse
19 Sep 2014                   

A dramatic change of tone in the latest hostage video released by the Islamic State has convinced experts that the jihadist group is isolated and fearful of a US assault.

Where three previous clips ended with a masked militant slitting the throat of a kneeling hostage, the new release Thursday — a teaser trailer for a promised series of documentaries — takes a different tack.

The hostage, British photojournalist John Cantlie, sits behind a desk and in a measured tone makes the case for Western powers to drop the threat of military intervention against his captors.

He admits he is speaking as a prisoner and that he may yet follow his former cellmates to the grave, but urges viewers to tune in to a series of films that will reveal another side of the Islamic State group, which has rampaged across large areas of Iraq and Syria.

The video shares the polished production values of its predecessors but none of the blood-soaked savagery, a telling detail for analysts.

Professor Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London, said the militants had provoked a backlash.

“They were so brutal and made it so easy for Western governments to portray their enemy as completely barbaric people that need to be destroyed,” he told AFP.

“And now they are doing the exact opposite. Now they are saying: ‘We are reasonable people, if Western governments would just talk to us, then everything could be resolved quite easily.’”

- ‘Big charade’ -

Neumann doubts the change in tactics will damage Western resolve, with US President Barack Obama vowing to crush the jihadists.

Previous hostage videos and the jihadists’ brutal behavior in the patch of Iraq and Syria they control have cemented their image.

But Neumann said the change in tone appeared to be a calculated attempt to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of those in the West and the Muslim world who opposed previous US-led interventions in the Middle East.

“There’s not as much opposition against striking ISIS as there was, for example, against the Iraq war in 2003, and that’s because we look at ISIS and think they are crazy,” he said, using an alternate acronym for the IS group.

“I see perhaps how this video perhaps appeals to some people on the anti-war left, people who are suspicious of war and military intervention,” he added.

“They will be saying: ‘Look! They are not completely crazy. We can give talking, negotiation a chance before going in bombing.’ And I think that’s exactly what they want to achieve.”

Cantlie says the upcoming films will show how the decision of European governments to negotiate with the IS group led to their nationals being released.

British and American hostages have not been released and three have been murdered. A fourth, British taxi driver Alan Henning, was threatened with death in the last execution video.

London and Washington have a policy of not paying ransoms to those they regard as terrorists, and the latest video appears to be aimed at driving a wedge between Western capitals.

Henning was a driver for an aid convoy to Syria supported by Islamist groups, and many Muslims have appealed to his captors to release him, including some that might otherwise back the group.

Neumann said the convoy included a “lot of guys who basically support Al-Qaeda” and that IS may be concerned that its reckless brutality has cost it support even in such quarters.

But if the Cantlie video is one sign of IS perhaps adopting a new tone to avoid isolation, the key will be Henning’s fate.

“All these executions have happened on a 10- to 14-day rhythm. If there’s no execution of Alan Henning in a week’s time, I think we can be almost certain it has caused them to think,” Neumann said.

“He’s kind of like the least likely imperialist that you could possibly think of. If they execute him, then I think that’s the sign that they really don’t care, and all this is a big charade,” he said.

Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group — which monitors extremist activity online — said the video showed that the IS group is terrified of US intervention.

- Terrorize with beheadings -

She said the change in tone in the latest IS video recalled a similar transition in Al-Qaeda’s portrayal of its late leader Osama bin Laden.

Before 2007, bin Laden often appeared dressed in combat fatigues and toting a gun, threatening the West with violent revenge.

Later, as US forces and allies targeted Al-Qaeda safe havens, he appeared unarmed, speaking gently in civilian garb “like a head of state.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind that ISIS is very afraid of a US-led military operation against it,” Katz said.

“First they tried to terrorize with beheadings, now they want to create the perception in the international community at large, both Western countries and Muslims, that they are not incapable of civilized behavior.”

Katz also dismisses claims from some commentators that the videos are an attempt to goad Washington to attack, and argues that they are instead a crude attempt to deter strikes.

“From the first days after they captured Mosul (in Iraq), as the calls and threats of intervention were heard in Washington, IS issued videos straight away threatening Obama,” she said.

“When that did not work, they moved on to the execution videos. Only a US-led coalition can stop them, and that is something that they want to stop in any shape or form.”


Islamic State militants seize Kurdish villages in northern Syria

Rights activists say 21 villages have fallen to Isis fighters advancing on Kobani, prompting appeal for military aid from other Kurds

Reuters in Beirut, Thursday 18 September 2014 13.21 BST   

Islamic State (Isis) fighters have captured villages and besieged a Kurdish city in northern Syria near the border with Turkey in a major assault that prompted a commander to appeal for military aid from other Kurds in the region.

With the United States planning to expand military action against Isis from Iraq to Syria, a surveillance drone was spotted for the first time over nearby Isis-controlled territory in Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks Syria's civil war, said on Thursday.

It was not immediately clear who was operating the drone.

President Barack Obama said last week that he would not hesitate to strike the radical Islamist group that has used Syria as a base to advance its plan to reshape the Middle East.

In an advance near the border with Turkey, Isis fighters using heavy weaponry including tanks seized a group of Kurdish villages near the city of Ayn al-Arab, also known as Kobani. The Observatory said 21 villages had fallen to Isis fighters advancing on the city.

"We've lost touch with many of the residents living in the villages that Isis seized," Ocalan Iso, deputy head of the Kurdish forces in Kobani, told Reuters via Skype.

He said the group was committing massacres and kidnapping women in the newly seized areas. It was not possible to immediately verify his account.

The Kurds were appealing for military aid from other Kurdish groups in the region including the Kurdistan Workers' party (PKK), he said. Support from Kurdish fighters who crossed from Turkey helped to repel an Isis attack on Kobani in July.

The Observatory said there were fears of massacres in the areas seized by Isis. "This is a very important advance for them," Rami Abdulrahman, the Observatory's founder, told Reuters, speaking by phone.

Redur Xelil, spokesman for the main armed Kurdish group in Syria, the YPG, said Isis had encircled Kobani. The group was using tanks, rockets and artillery in the attack. "We call on world powers to move to halt this barbaric assault by Isis," he told Reuters via Skype.

Isis has been trying to establish control over a belt of territory near the border with Turkey, expanding out of its strongholds further east in the provinces of Raqqa and Deir el-Zour, which borders Iraq.

The group advanced westwards into northern Aleppo province in August, seizing territory from less well-armed groups that have been fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Since Obama authorised aerial surveillance over Syria, activists have reported drones in the skies over Raqqa, which is 250 miles north-east of Damascus.

Residents had seen at least one drone over the Isis-controlled towns of al-Bab and Manbij in north-eastern Aleppo province on Thursday, said Abdulrahman.

"They hadn't seen them before," he said. Isis had evacuated buildings it was using as offices in the area, he added.

It reflects the pattern in other Isis-controlled areas of Syria. In apparent anticipation of US action, the group has evacuated bases and moved its fighters and heavy weaponry.

Al-Bab is 25 miles north-east of Aleppo, which is a crucial theatre of the war between Assad and the insurgents. Assad's forces and his opponents are battling for control of the city.

The top US military officer said on Tuesday the United States was planning "a persistent and sustainable campaign" against Isis in Syria. General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said the US was not preparing to unleash a "shock and awe" campaign of overwhelming air strikes in Syria.


U.S. Faces Tough Struggle on Ground to Oust ISIS

SEPT. 18, 2014

WASHINGTON — The American air campaign to thwart the advance of fighters from the Islamic State has been the easy part of President Obama’s strategy in Iraq and Syria. Soon begins the next and much harder phase: rolling back their gains in Mosul, Falluja and other populated areas, which will require American advisers to train and coordinate airstrikes with Iraqi forces.

Pentagon officials are more willing than their counterparts at the White House to acknowledge that this will almost certainly require American Special Operations forces on the ground to call in airstrikes and provide tactical advice to Iraqi troops. “There is no one in this building who does not know that clearing out the cities will be much harder,” a senior Defense Department official said in an interview. “That’s when the rubber is going to meet the road.”

Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this week described this phase as “extraordinarily complex.”

Urban warfare in Iraq has been challenging for the United States, which had 70 troops killed in the second battle of Falluja in 2004 and fought hard to regain control of cities like Mosul, Baquba and Baghdad. So it will be even harder for the Iraqis, who have so far proved ineffective in combating the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Military officials say they plan to use Iraqi security forces, Kurdish fighters and local Sunnis — whom they hope to turn against the militants — to roll back the Islamic State’s gains. They see the Sunnis as playing a similar role to what played out in the Sunni awakening during the surge in Iraq.

Assembling those ground forces, however, will take time. General Dempsey said that of the 50 Iraqi brigades whose readiness the United States had closely examined, 26 “were assessed to be reputable partners,” with adequate equipment and leadership, to be loyal to the government and not overly sectarian.

But many of the Iraqi units will require training and re-equipping before they are ready to begin a major counteroffensive.

The United States is trying to institutionalize the Sunni tribal awakening by establishing new national guard units that it would have a crucial role in training and equipping. The idea is to avoid the need to send a largely Shiite army to Sunni areas and to win the allegiance of local Sunnis. In their attempt to seize urban areas from the Islamic State, the Iraqis’ firepower will be limited. On Saturday, Iraq’s new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, said that the Iraqi military would not use artillery or carry out airstrikes in populated areas — an effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties and avoid alienating the Sunni population.

A senior State Department official said Sunday that the Iraqi air force’s “targeting is not nearly as precise as ours, and they’ve made some real mistakes.”

“So that’s why Prime Minister Abadi yesterday announced that even in populated areas in which ISIL has control, we are not going to do airstrikes or artillery-type stuff because it could harm the civilians,” the official said.

It falls, then, to the United States and other allied nations to conduct the airstrikes, which will need to be carefully coordinated.

In the past week, the offensive strikes that Mr. Obama promised have started slowly, targeting a few scattered Sunni militant positions — a truck here, a small boat on the Euphrates there, an artillery position somewhere else — in what is known in the military as “plinking.”

American military advisers are already working closely with Iraqi battalions in the field and have not limited themselves to staying in Iraqi brigade headquarters, American officials said. But so far none have been used to call in airstrikes.

The operation to take back the Mosul Dam, in which fewer than 200 Iraqi Counterterrorism Service commandos played the critical role, along with Kurdish fighters, posed a particular challenge.

Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the Central Command, had recommended deploying American military advisers to coordinate airstrikes in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces who had never worked together before and indeed spoke different languages.

Given Mr. Obama’s reluctance to put American advisers alongside Iraqi combat troops, a workaround was arranged, General Dempsey noted Tuesday in testimony at a Senate hearing. He said that the Kurds would pass targeting information on Islamic State positions to an operations center in Erbil manned by Iraqi and American troops, and they, in turn, would pass the information on to American aircraft. It was a bit of a Rube Goldberg command structure, but it worked.

But this arrangement, as General Dempsey signaled, is unlikely to be sufficient for the next, more challenging phase of rolling back the Islamic State’s gains in Iraqi cities.

In fact, General Austin said that air controllers would be needed. “He shares my view that there will be circumstances when we think that’ll be necessary, but we haven’t encountered one yet,” General Dempsey said of General Austin.

But the White House made clear on Wednesday that requests to use the advisers to call in airstrikes to provide tactical advice on the battlefield to Iraqi units would need to be approved by the president on a case-by-case basis.

In weighing such requests, the White House may have to choose between the increased risk to American personnel and the danger that without the use of advisers on the battlefield, the counteroffensive may stall.

The Iraq war provided a telling example of what can happen when the Iraqis operate largely on their own. In March 2008, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki decided to mount an operation to retake Basra called “Charge of the Knights.”

The Iraqi military and the Shiite militias fought to a bloody stalemate until the United States dispatched FA-18 jets, AC-130 gunships and Predator drones.

To help the Iraqis’ Basra campaign, American commanders also arranged for three rifle platoons from the 82nd Airborne to team with Iraqi battalions so they could call in airstrikes and back up the Iraqis. An Iraqi battalion sent from Anbar Province in the West deployed with its Marine advisers and also had success.

But even with American help, the counteroffensive against the Islamic State may confront an enemy that is rapidly adapting to the American airstrikes by hiding equipment and troops under trees and tarps, and eschewing many electronic communications that American intelligence services can intercept.

“They’re beginning to adapt now,” General Dempsey told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

And this is just the Iraqi part of the campaign. Attacking forces of the Islamic State in Syria will come later, but first the United States will have to train the Syrian rebels who will fight the militants on the ground.

General Dempsey said this week that Pentagon planners estimated that it would take eight to 12 months to train the first 5,400 soldiers; the goal is to train about 5,000 a year, Pentagon officials said.

But those numbers would be only the beginning of the forces the Pentagon believes will be necessary. General Dempsey said that American planners estimated that 12,000 personnel would be needed to control liberated areas in Syria and restore the border with Iraq.

The Central Intelligence Agency recently estimated that the Islamic State had 20,000 to 31,500 fighters, two-thirds of them based in Syria. The advance of the militants through Iraq led to the larger estimate.

David R. Shedd, acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said at a conference in Washington on Thursday that it was “very difficult to measure the size and capability of the truly committed.”

But some seasoned military officials have questioned whether the strategy that Mr. Obama and his advisers have developed will be sufficient to defeat the Islamic State.

“Unfortunately, the strategy in many ways will be made up on the fly,” said Gen. James N. Mattis, who retired from the Marine Corps and is a former head of Central Command. “It would be better if clearly defined political end states were objectively and persuasively conveyed at the outset.”

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:25 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

GlaxoSmithKline to pay £297m fine over China bribery network

Mark Reilly and executives face up to four years in jail over claims that sales team bribed doctors to prescribe company medicine

Nick Fletcher, Friday 19 September 2014 12.30 BST   

GlaxoSmithKline has been found guilty of bribery by a Chinese court and has agreed to pay a fine of 3bn yuan (£297m) to the government in Beijing.

At the same time, the former head of its China division, Mark Reilly, and other GSK executives are facing two- to four-year jail terms, according to the state news agency, Xinhua. Reilly was accused of running a "massive bribery network".

The bribery case involved allegations that GSK sales executives paid up to 3bn  yuan to doctors to encourage them to use its drugs. Other revelations included news that a sex tape of Reilly and his girlfriend was emailed to 13 company executives last year, including the chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty.

The company said the illegal actions of its subsidiary, GSK China Investment Co, were "a clear breach of GSK's governance and compliance procedures; and are wholly contrary to the values and standards expected from GSK employees". It has published an apology to the Chinese government and its people on its website.

According to its latest results, the scandal knocked four percentage points off GSK's sales growth in emerging markets. The company's staff have also been accused of bribing doctors in Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

GSK said it had fundamentally changed the incentive programme for its sales force, and increased the monitoring of invoicing and payments. Sir Andrew said: "Reaching a conclusion in the investigation of our Chinese business is important, but this has been a deeply disappointing matter for GSK. We have and will continue to learn from this. GSK has been in China for close to a hundred years and we remain fully committed to the country and its people."

Meanwhile, the Serious Fraud Office is conducting a criminal investigation into the drugmaker's sales practices around the world, including working with the Chinese authorities.

The US department of justice is also investigating GSK for possible breaches of the foreign corrupt practices act.

Trial of Uighur Scholar Ends in China

SEPT. 18, 2014

URUMQI, China — The trial of a prominent ethnic Uighur economics professor, Ilham Tohti, on charges of separatism ended on Thursday evening with no verdict or sentencing, which will be announced later, a lawyer for Mr. Tohti said.

On the second day of the trial, Mr. Tohti spoke in his own defense in the afternoon and insisted that he had not engaged in any separatist activities, the lawyer, Liu Xiaoyuan, said on Twitter.

Mr. Tohti also asked that the case be moved to a court in Beijing, where he has lived and worked for many years, rather than remain in a court in Urumqi, the capital of the western region of Xinjiang, which has been the scene in recent years of growing violence between Uighurs and Han, the dominant ethnicity in China.

Scholars, diplomats and human rights advocates say that the charges against Mr. Tohti are spurious, and that China is using this trial to send a message to even moderate Uighurs to quiet any dissent. Mr. Liu said that the defense lawyers had asked the court to call more than 10 witnesses for the defense, but that the court did not contact any of them.

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:20 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
A Pakistani Scholar Accused of Blasphemy Is Shot Dead

SEPT. 18, 2014

KARACHI, Pakistan — A liberal Muslim scholar who had been accused of blasphemy for a speech he gave during a visit to the United States was shot and killed in Karachi on Thursday, the city police said.

The scholar, Muhammad Shakil Auj, was the dean of Islamic studies at the state-run University of Karachi.

Unidentified gunmen on a motorbike attacked the vehicle he was riding in on his way to a reception at his honor at the Iranian Consulate.

Dr. Auj was shot in the head and neck and died immediately, officials said. A female student in the back of the car was shot in the arm and was treated at a hospital.

A week earlier, a visiting religious scholar at the same Islamic studies department, Maulana Masood Baig, was also shot dead by unknown attackers.

Dr. Auj, 54, had earlier complained to the police about death threats he began receiving after delivering a speech in the United States in 2012, his colleagues and the police said.

Nasir Lodhi, a senior police official, said that Dr. Auj told the police that four professors at the University of Karachi had accused him of blasphemy for comments he made during that speech. Mr. Lodhi said he could not say where the speech was made, or the nature of the offending comments.

Dr. Auj lodged a criminal complaint against the four professors, who were later arrested by the police. One of them, Dr. Abdul Rasheed, had previously held Dr. Auj’s position as dean of Islamic studies at the university. The four men face trial but are currently free on bail, the police said.

Around the same time, a religious seminary in Karachi issued a fatwa against Dr. Auj, accusing him of blasphemy and calling for his death.

Pir Muhammad Shah, a senior police official, said the four professors were being questioned again after Dr. Auj’s killing. “At this stage, it is premature to say anything about the killing of Auj.”

Blasphemy is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and accusations of blasphemy have inspired a rising tide of vigilante killings in recent years that are seen as a sign of growing intolerance in the country.

Human rights groups say the laws are frequently abused in pursuit of personal or professional grudges.

Dr. Auj, who was considered a progressive liberal in his field, had written 15 books about Islam and was a regular participant in television debates about religious issues, according to a profile on the University of Karachi website.

Last month, the government awarded him a presidential medal of distinction for his contribution in the fields of education and research.

The Karachi police chief, Ghulam Qadir Thebo, announced a reward of two million rupees, the equivalent of about $20,000, for information leading to the arrest of Dr. Auj’s killers.

His students mounted a protest outside Karachi University. On campus, some teachers said they would indefinitely boycott their classes.

“The government has failed to protect our teachers,” said Ahmad Ali Shah, a student at the Islamic studies department, during the protest.

 on: Sep 19, 2014, 07:19 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
India Takes Tough Stance With China on Kashmir

SEPT. 18, 2014

NEW DELHI — Smiles rarely left the faces of the top leaders of India and China here on Thursday, but India’s new prime minister sent a tough message to his Chinese guest by pressing him for a resolution to a border dispute that has escalated abruptly.

A large contingent of Indian troops, which one official said numbered in the thousands, was mobilized Thursday to face an equivalent number of Chinese troops in Ladakh, Kashmir, a largely high-altitude, barren Himalayan landscape where jingoism and military conflict have dominated for decades.

Only India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, could have ordered such a mobilization, said Mohan Guruswamy, a military analyst with the Observer Research Foundation.

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, is in the middle of a three-day Indian visit that has been billed as the beginning of a great economic and political partnership. Several deals, including for high-speed trains and economic zones, had been promised at a total price tag that officials hinted could reach as much as $100 billion — nearly three times what Japan, China’s foremost Asian rival, recently promised to India.

But Mr. Modi made clear to the Chinese that India’s patience with an uncertain border situation had worn thin and that any crop of deals must await a territorial resolution, analysts said.

“The prime minister sent a very strong signal that the Chinese have to agree to a fixed line of actual control before we start doing serious business with them,” Mr. Guruswamy said.

Instead of $100 billion in deals, the sides agreed to a target of infrastructure and industrial development valued at $20 billion to $50 billion. In a news media briefing, Mr. Modi made some of the most pointed remarks about the border uncertainty that any Indian leader has uttered in decades.

“I raised our serious concern over repeated incidents along the border,” Mr. Modi said.

“While our border-related agreements and confidence-building measures have worked well, I also suggested that clarification of the Line of Actual Control would greatly contribute to our efforts to maintain peace and tranquillity and requested President Xi to resume the stalled process of clarifying the L.A.C.,” he added, referring to the countries’ shared border.

India has been pressing China for years to delineate a boundary, hundreds of miles of which are in dispute. Both sides have built up their military presence in the region in recent years.

“We’ve always been the ones pressing for a defined and well-controlled line of control, but the Chinese have always been very evasive about it and have refused to give us a map,” said K. Shankar Bajpai, a former Indian ambassador to China. “

Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads India’s government, long complained that the previous government under Manmohan Singh was too timid with Pakistan and China on territorial disputes and incursions. Last year, when a Chinese platoon camped out for weeks in Ladakh, Mr. Singh sought mostly to defuse the crisis. Indian officials had said then that China had created the standoff.

But Indian analysts seemed happy to concede that their side was largely to blame for this escalation. “The Indians have normally been very placatory,” Mr. Guruswamy said. “But this time, it’s India’s show of force.”

Indian military and paramilitary officials declined to provide official comment. A call to the press line of the Chinese Foreign Ministry was not answered.

Mr. Bajpai, the former ambassador, said Mr. Modi was clearly sending a message to China.

“And his message is that it’s all very nice to talk about business,” Mr. Bajpai said, “but this territorial stuff is not an area where you can play ducks and drakes with us as you have in the past.”

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