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« Reply #13875 on: Jun 10, 2014, 06:30 AM »

Revealed: Asian slave labour producing prawns for supermarkets in US, UK

Thai "ghost ships" that enslave, brutalise and even kill workers are linked to global prawn supply chain, Guardian investigation discovers

• Trafficked into slavery on Thai trawlers to catch food for prawns
• Thailand's seafood industry: state-sanctioned slavery?

    Kate Hodal, Chris Kelly in Songkhla and Felicity Lawrence, Tuesday 10 June 2014 12.05 BST   

Slaves forced to work for no pay for years at a time under threat of extreme violence are being used in Asia in the production of seafood sold by major US, British and other European retailers, the Guardian can reveal.

A six-month investigation has established that large numbers of men bought and sold like animals and held against their will on fishing boats off Thailand are integral to the production of prawns (commonly called shrimp in the US) sold in leading supermarkets around the world, including the top four global retailers: Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco.

The investigation found that the world's largest prawn farmer, the Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP) Foods, buys fishmeal, which it feeds to its farmed prawns, from some suppliers that own, operate or buy from fishing boats manned with slaves.

Men who have managed to escape from boats supplying CP Foods and other companies like it told the Guardian of horrific conditions, including 20-hour shifts, regular beatings, torture and execution-style killings. Some were at sea for years; some were regularly offered methamphetamines to keep them going. Some had seen fellow slaves murdered in front of them.

Fifteen migrant workers from Burma and Cambodia also told how they had been enslaved. They said they had paid brokers to help them find work in Thailand in factories or on building sites. But they had been sold instead to boat captains, sometimes for as little as £250.

"I thought I was going to die," said Vuthy, a former monk from Cambodia who was sold from captain to captain. "They kept me chained up, they didn't care about me or give me any food … They sold us like animals, but we are not animals – we are human beings."

Another trafficking victim said he had seen as many as 20 fellow slaves killed in front of him, one of whom was tied, limb by limb, to the bows of four boats and pulled apart at sea.

"We'd get beaten even if we worked hard," said another. "All the Burmese, [even] on all the other boats, were trafficked. There were so many of us [slaves] it would be impossible to count them all."

CP Foods – a company with an annual turnover of $33bn (£20bn) that brands itself as "the kitchen of the world" – sells its own-brand prawn feed to other farms, and supplies international supermarkets, as well as food manufacturers and food retailers, with frozen or cooked prawns and ready-made meals. It also sells raw prawn materials for food distributors.

In addition to Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco, the Guardian has identified Aldi, Morrisons, the Co-operative and Iceland as customers of CP Foods. They all sell frozen or cooked prawns, or ready meals such as prawn stir fry, supplied by CP Foods and its subsidiaries. CP Foods admits that slave labour is part of its supply chain.

"We're not here to defend what is going on," said Bob Miller, CP Foods' UK managing director. "We know there's issues with regard to the [raw] material that comes in [to port], but to what extent that is, we just don't have visibility."

The supply chain works in this way: Slave ships plying international waters off Thailand scoop up huge quantities of "trash fish", infant or inedible fish. The Guardian traced this fish on landing to factories where it is ground down into fishmeal for onward sale to CP Foods. The company uses this fishmeal to feed its farmed prawns, which it then ships to international customers.

The alarm over slavery in the Thai fishing industry has been sounded before by non-governmental organisations and in UN reports.

But now, for the first time, the Guardian has established how the pieces of the long, complex supply chains connect slavery to leading producers and retailers.

"If you buy prawns or shrimp from Thailand, you will be buying the produce of slave labour," said Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International.

The Guardian conducted dozens of interviews with fishermen, boat captains, boat managers, factory owners and Thai officials in and around various ports in Thailand.Thailand enjoys a prime position as the world's largest prawn exporter in a vast seafood-export industry estimated to be worth some $7.3bn. Through multinationals such as CP Foods, Thailand ships out roughly 50,000 tonnes of prawns every year – nearly 10% of which is farmed by CP Foods alone.

Although slavery is illegal in every country in the world, including Thailand, some 21 million men, women and children are enslaved globally, according to the International Labour Organisation. These people may have been sold like property, forced to work under mental or physical threat, or find themselves controlled by their "employers". Thailand is considered a major source, transit and destination country for slavery, and nearly half a million people are believed to be currently enslaved within Thailand's borders. There is no official record of how many men are enslaved on fishing boats. But the Thai government estimates that up to 300,000 people work in its fishing industry, 90% of whom are migrants vulnerable to being duped, trafficked and sold to the sea. Rights groups have long pointed to Thailand's massive labour shortage in its fishing sector, which – along with an increased demand from the US and Europe for cheap prawns – has driven the need for cheap labour.

"We'd like to solve the problem of Thailand because there's no doubt commercial interests have created much of this problem," admits CP Foods' Miller.The Guardian's findings come at a crucial moment. After being warned for four consecutive years that it was not doing enough to tackle slavery, Thailand risks being given the lowest ranking on the US state department's human trafficking index, which grades 188 nations according to how well they combat and prevent human trafficking.

Relegation to tier 3 would put Thailand, which is grappling with the aftermath of a coup, on a par with North Korea and Iran, and could result in a downgrade of Thailand's trading status with the US.

"Thailand is committed to combatting human trafficking," said the Thai ambassador to the US, Vijavat Isarabhakdi. "We know a lot more needs to be done but we also have made very significant progress to address the problem."

Although the Thai government has told the Guardian that "combating human trafficking is a national priority", our undercover investigation unearthed a lawless and unregulated industry run by criminals and the Thai mafia – facilitated by Thai officials and sustained by the brokers who supply cheap migrant labour to boat owners.

"The Thai authorities could get rid of the brokers and arrange [legal] employment," one high-ranking Thai official, who is tasked with investigating human trafficking cases, said on condition of anonymity. "But the government doesn't want to do that, it doesn't want to take action. As long as [boat] owners still depend on brokers – and not the government – to supply workers, then the problem will never go away."

Human rights activists believe that Thailand's seafood-export industry would probably collapse without slavery. They say, there is little incentive for the Thai government to act and have called for consumers and international retailers to demand action.

"Global brands and retailers can do so much good without bringing too much risk upon themselves by simply enforcing their supplier standards, which typically prohibit forced labour and child labour," said Lisa Rende Taylor of Anti-Slavery International. "And if local businesses realise that non-compliance results in loss of business, it has the potential to bring about huge positive change in the lives of migrant workers and trafficking victims."The Guardian asked the supermarkets to comment on our finding of slavery in their supply chains.

All said they condemned slavery and human trafficking for labour. They all also pointed to systems of auditing they have in place to check labour conditions. Several retailers have joined a new initiative called Project Issara (Project Freedom) to discuss how they should respond and several attended a meeting in with the major producers in Bangkok at the end of last month at which slavery was discussed.

Costco told us it would require its suppliers of Thai prawn "to take corrective action to police their feedstock sources".

A Tesco spokesperson said: "We regard slavery as completely unacceptable. We are working with CP Foods to ensure the supply chain is slavery-free, and are also working in partnership with the International Labour Organisation [ILO] and Ethical Trading Initiative to achieve broader change across the Thai fishing industry."

Morrisons said it would take the matter up with CP urgently. "We are concerned by the findings of the investigation. Our ethical trading policy forbids the use of forced labour by suppliers and their suppliers."

The Co-operative was among those saying it was already working to understand "working conditions beyond the processing level". "The serious issue of human trafficking on fishing boats is challenging to address and requires a partnership" in which it is actively engaged.

The managing director of corporate buying at Aldi UK, Tony Baines, said: "Our supplier standards, which form part of Aldi's contractual terms and conditions, stipulate that our suppliers must comply with applicable national laws, industry minimum standards and ILO and United Nations conventions of human rights, whichever standard is more stringent.

"These standards also require that suppliers do not engage in any form of forced labour and related practices. Aldi will not tolerate workplace practices and conditions which violate basic human rights."

Iceland said it only sourced one line containing prawns from a CP subsidiary but it was pleased to note that CP was "at the forefront of efforts to raise standards in the Thai fishing industry".

CP said in a statement that it believed the right thing was to use its commercial weight to try to influence the Thai government to act rather than walk away from the Thai fishing industry, although it is putting in place plans to use alternative proteins in its feed so that it can eliminate Thai fishmeal by 2021 if necessary. It said it had already tightened controls over the way its fishmeal is procured. While it recognises that workers on boats are exploited, it added that the Thai department of fisheries continues to deny that unregistered boats are a problem. "We can do nothing, and witness these social and environmental issues destroy the seas around Thailand, or we can help drive improvement plans. We are making good progress," it said.


Walmart, Tesco and Costco among retailers responding to revelations of slavery in prawn supply chains

Global retailers condemn human trafficking, with some saying they were aware of reports of slavery and are trying to tackle it

Felicity Lawrence, Tuesday 10 June 2014 12.05 BST   

The Thai food giant CP Foods says it sells prawns to many leading supermarkets in the US, UK and across Europe.

The Guardian identified several of its customers and traced CP prawns to all of the top four global retailers – Walmart, Carrefour, Costco and Tesco – and other big-name supermarkets including Morrisons, the Co-operative, Aldi and Iceland.

We asked those named in our investigation to comment on our finding of slavery in their supply chains.

All said they condemned slavery and human trafficking for labour and conducted rigorous social audits. Some appeared already aware that slavery had been reported in the Thai fishing sector and said they were setting up programmes to try to tackle it.

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, said: "We are actively engaged in this issue and playing an important role in bringing together stakeholders to help eradicate human trafficking from Thailand's seafood export sector."

Carrefour said it conducts social audits of all suppliers, including the CP factory that supplies it with some prawns. It tightened up the process after alerts in 2012. It admitted that it did not check right to the end of its complex chains.

Costco told us it required its suppliers of Thai shrimp "to take corrective action to police their feedstock sources".

Tesco said: "We regard slavery as completely unacceptable. We are working with CP Foods to ensure the supply chain is slavery-free, and are also working in partnership with the International Labour Organisation and Ethical Trading Initiative to achieve broader change across the Thai fishing industry."

Morrisons said it would take the matter up with CP Foods urgently. "We are concerned by the findings of the investigation. Our ethical trading policy forbids the use of forced labour by suppliers and their suppliers."

The Co-operative was among those claiming it was already working to understand "working conditions beyond the processing level". "The serious issue of human trafficking on fishing boats is challenging to address and requires a partnership" in which it is actively engaged, it said.

Aldi UK said its contractual terms stipulate that suppliers do not engage in any form of forced labour. "Aldi will not tolerate workplace practices and conditions which violate basic human rights."

Iceland said it only sourced one line containing prawns from a CP Foods subsidiary but was pleased to note that CP was "at the forefront of efforts to raise standards in the Thai fishing industry".

The supermarket sector has been aware of conditions on some Thai fishing vessels for a while, thanks to reports from the UN and NGOs. In a 2009 survey by the UN inter-agency project on human trafficking (UNIAP) 59% of migrants who had been trafficked on to Thai fishing boats said they had seen the murder of a fellow worker.

The Environmental Justice Foundation also reported on slavery and forced labour imposed by violence on Thai trawlers and alleged police collusion.

Retailers have focused, however, on abuses that came to light further up the Thai prawn supply chain – in processing and packing factories or in companies subcontracted to peel prawns. It seems the parlous state of fish stocks and the pressure to monitor supply chains for sustainabilityhas made the issue of slavery visible. Two retailers who did not wish to be named said that when they started to look at where fish for prawn feed was coming from, it became clear that the boats engaged in illegal fishing were also likely to be using trafficked forced labour.

Retailers have joined an initiative called Project Issara (Project Freedom)to discuss their response and several were at a meeting with producers in Bangkok at the end of last monthat which slavery was discussed.

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« Reply #13876 on: Jun 10, 2014, 06:32 AM »

Australia and New Zealand condemn Japanese plan to resume whaling

Greenpeace says idea of sustainable commercial whaling is 'rubbish', while governments say ICJ ban must be respected

Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Tuesday 10 June 2014 07.31 BST      

Australia and New Zealand have reacted angrily to a new push by Japan to resume commercial whaling, just months after an international court banned its controversial "scientific" whale hunts in the Southern Ocean.

Australia responded by saying it remained opposed to commercial and scientific whaling, while New Zealand's foreign minister, Murray McCully, described as "worrying" a vow by Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to make efforts to restart commercial whaling despite a ban by the international court of justice (ICJ).

On Monday Abe told a parliamentary committee that he supported a new campaign to collect scientific data he said would prove that whale populations could be properly managed even after a return to their commercial slaughter. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling in 1986.

"I want to aim for the resumption of commercial whaling by conducting whaling research in order to obtain scientific data indispensable for the management of whale resources," Abe said. "To that end I will step up efforts to obtain the understanding of the international community."

But Greg Hunt, the Australian environment minister, said: "We believe all parties should respect the outcome of the ICJ case."

New Zealand called on Japan to accept the March ruling by the ICJ in the Hague that found Japan's annual scientific hunts in the Antarctic were commercial ventures masquerading as research.

Greenpeace condemned Abe's comments as "senseless" and "rubbish".

Japan continues to hunt whales for research in the north-west Pacific; hunts of smaller whale species in its coastal waters are not covered by the 1986 ban.

A loophole in the IWC moratorium allowed Japan to kills whales for scientific research and sell meat from the hunts on the open market, despite a dramatic dip in consumption among Japanese consumers since the end of the war.

"While is it not clear precisely what prime minister Abe is proposing in the short term, the fact that he has told a parliamentary committee that he wants to aim towards the resumption of commercial whaling is both unfortunate and unhelpful," McCully, the New Zealand foreign minister, said in a statement.

"The decision of the ICJ laid down clear guidelines for any research whaling activities in the future. As a country that places a high value on its good international citizenship, we hope and expect that Japan will continue to respect the ICJ decision."

Abe and other pro-whaling politicians accuse the west of hypocrisy by opposing the killing of whales while remaining silent on the slaughter of other animals for food.

Japan's fisheries minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, told the same parliamentary committee that he regretted the recent decision by the online retailer Rakuten to stop selling whale meat products in light of the ICJ ruling.

Dealing in whale meat, Hayashi said, "does not violate international or domestic laws in any way".

He demonstrated his support for the beleaguered whaling industry by hosting a dinner featuring whale meat to launch a week of events aimed at persuading consumers to eat more of it.

Few Japanese regularly eat whale meat, which was a popular source of protein during the postwar years of austerity. The downturn in consumption has created a stockpile of unsold produce estimated at 5,000 tonnes. The scientific hunts in the Antarctic were heavily subsidised by the Japanese taxpayer.

Japan cancelled its 2014-15 Antarctic hunt after the ICJ ruling and said it would redesign the programme to better demonstrate its scientific value.

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« Reply #13877 on: Jun 10, 2014, 06:33 AM »

China joins in world's largest naval exercises

Country takes part in rim of the Pacific exercises for the first time, working with the US and regional rivals including Japan

Associated Press in Beijing, Tuesday 10 June 2014 11.08 BST      

Chinese ships headed for waters near Hawaii on Tuesday to participate for the first time in the world's largest naval exercises – a rare opportunity to build trust with the US and regional rivals including the Philippines and Japan.

China's participation in the rim of the Pacific exercises, beginning on 26 June, will enable Chinese naval officers to rub shoulders with US counterparts as well as those from countries with which it has maritime disputes in the South China and East China seas.

Washington and Beijing have been seeking closer military ties following an incident last December when a US navy cruiser, the USS Cowpens, nearly collided with a ship accompanying China's sole aircraft carrier in the South China Sea – the most serious sea confrontation between the two nations in years.

Twenty-three countries will take part in this year's drills, including Britain, Australia, Canada, France, India, Indonesia and South Korea.

China's defence ministry said four ships – the destroyer Haikou, missile frigate Yueyang, the oiler Yueyang, and hospital ship Peace Ark – departed on Monday. It said the squadron is carrying 1,100 officers and sailors, including a commando unit and diving team, along with two helicopters.

The statement quoted navy deputy chief of staff Hong Xumeng as saying China's participation constituted "an important mission of military diplomacy" and a further step in strengthening China-US relations.

China's move shows a new maturity in its foreign relations whereby it won't allow individual disagreements to upset overall ties, said Ni Lexiong, a military expert at Shanghai's University of Political Science and Law.

"The rule of the game now is that we can argue, we can quarrel, but at the same time, we can work together. And everybody has shown respect for that rule," Ni said.

Frictions along China's maritime periphery are seen as heightening the need for better communication and closer coordination with other countries' navies. Chinese patrol boats are currently involved in standoffs over territorial disputes with its neighbours in the South China Sea, and with Japan over disputed uninhabited islands north of Taiwan.

China has never before dispatched ships to take part in the exercises, which are held every other year, although it sent military observers to watch the drills in 1998.

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« Reply #13878 on: Jun 10, 2014, 06:34 AM »

Boko Haram kidnaps more women near Chibok, reports say

Armed Islamists alleged to have forced women into vehicles and taken them to remote, unknown location in north-east Nigeria

Agencies in Maiduguri, Monday 9 June 2014 17.16 BST   

Suspected Boko Haram gunmen have reportedly kidnapped 20 women from a nomadic settlement in north-east Nigeria near the town of Chibok, where the Islamic militants abducted nearly 300 girls in April, most of whom are still missing.

Alhaji Tar, a member of one of the vigilante groups set up to resist Boko Haram's attacks, said the men arrived in Garkin Fulani at midday on Thursday and forced the women to enter their vehicles at gunpoint.

The group also kidnapped three young men who tried to stop the abduction, and drove to an unknown location in the remote stretch of Borno state, he said.

News of the latest kidnapping came as the people of Maiduguri buried more than 100 bodies almost a week after a Boko Haram attack. Local leaders said many more victims of the attacks had yet to be found.

Lawan Abba Kaka and John Gulla, from Attagara in Borno state, said nearly 110 people had now been interred after Islamist militants stormed the village and at least three others nearby on Tuesday and Wednesday last week.

Boko Haram, which wants to set up an Islamic state in Nigeria, has increased the number of attacks in recent months, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.

Ali Ndume, who represents Borno South in Nigeria's senate, said burials had taken place in nine villages: 42 in Attagara, 24 in Aganjara and 20 in Agapalwa.

"From what those who fled told us, there are more corpses in nearby bushes and the mountainside," he told reporters after a meeting in the Borno state capital of Maiduguri. "Many people that fled the communities are also trapped on the hills, as they are without food or water."

Hundreds of people were feared dead in the attack in the Gwoza district of Borno, with some community leaders putting the death toll as high as 500, although there was no independent verification of the claim.

Peter Biye, who represents Gwoza in Nigeria's lower chamber of parliament, last week described the bloodshed as massive, but said an exact death toll was impossible to compile because the insurgents were still in the area and local people had fled.

Heavily armed gunmen were said to have killed babies being carried on their mothers' backs and shot down villagers as they tried to flee.

Asabe Vilita, a Gwoza local government leader who is also Borno commissioner for commerce and investment, said 1,290 people were displaced by the violence and many had gone to Maiduguri. Three camps have been set up and local political and religious leaders in the affected areas were working with the military to ensure that those who fled could return when it was safe.

The villages were a mix of Christian and Muslim communities and Ndume said they had lived together peacefully for a long time.

"They may have their disagreements, but the latest attacks were perpetrated by Boko Haram. It is sad because our people were mercilessly murdered and many houses razed," he said.

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« Reply #13879 on: Jun 10, 2014, 06:37 AM »

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria Declares ‘General Amnesty’ for Prisoners

JUNE 9, 2014

BEIRUT, Lebanon — President Bashar al-Assad of Syria issued a decree on Monday granting “a general amnesty” for all crimes except “acts of terrorism,” Syrian state television reported, raising tentative hopes among Syrians with relatives in detention.

The government has offered amnesties before that did not lead to the release of the tens of thousands of people who human rights advocates say have been detained or imprisoned during the unrest in the country. But the timing of the latest decree raised higher hope: It came just after Mr. Assad won a new term in office, a moment when Syrian officials have been hinting that grievances might be addressed.

Opponents and Western officials dismissed the presidential election last Tuesday as a farce, but Mr. Assad’s allies claimed it was democratic, and before the balloting, the government tried to calm conditions in the country through localized truces with opponents, a process the government called reconciliation.

Reports about the amnesty in the state news media did not say specifically whether it would affect the many Syrians who, by the rights advocates’ accounts, are being held without charge for political reasons or have been charged with offenses like delivering humanitarian aid to opposition-controlled areas or attending protests.

The state media said the amnesty would include all crimes other than terrorism. Government officials and state media reports have often used the term terrorism to refer to any act of resistance against the government. But in recent months, some have begun referring to Syrian insurgents as gunmen rather than terrorists, a softening of language that, for example, allowed government officials to make a deal in May allowing opposition fighters to leave besieged parts of Homs, a city in central Syria.

According to SANA, the state news agency, the amnesty decreed on Monday applied to “foreigners who entered Syria with the purpose of joining a terrorist group or committing a terrorist act,” provided they turn themselves in to the authorities within a month. That appeared to be a first: Previous amnesties sought to induce opposition fighters to lay down their arms, as the latest one does, but the previous offers were only for Syrians, especially defectors from the army.

The agency said the decree would eliminate sentences for kidnapping “if the abductor frees the victim safely without taking ransom or delivers the victim to the authorities within a month” of the decree. Kidnapping and other crimes have mushroomed in the three years since the conflict in Syria began, and the government is under some pressure from its supporters to obtain the release of kidnapping victims.

Syrian opposition groups say that for any true reconciliation to take place, government officials responsible for indiscriminate attacks on civilians should be held accountable, and foreigners fighting on the government’s side, including militants from Lebanon and Iraq, should leave the country.

The amnesty decree appears in most cases to reduce sentences rather than eliminate them, for example by changing death sentences to life with penal labor, life terms to 20-year terms, and so on. Convicts with terminal illnesses or who are older than 70 will be released, the agency said.

A previous amnesty in 2011 freed a number of militant Islamists from prison. Many of those militants soon joined extremist groups whose actions have undermined the opposition’s standing with Syrian civilians and with the West, and some in the opposition say that was the government’s intention in decreeing the amnesty.

The country’s justice minister, Najm al-Ahmad, told state television that the decree on Monday was issued in the context of “social forgiveness, national cohesion and calls for coexistence, as the army secures various military victories.”

International monitors have documented war crimes by both the government and the opposition, particularly extremist jihadist groups.

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« Reply #13880 on: Jun 10, 2014, 06:52 AM »

Outrage at ‘Epidemic’ of Sexual Assault in Egypt

JUNE 9, 2014

Human rights activists in Egypt were outraged Monday after video was posted online that appeared to show a brutal sexual assault in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Sunday.

    Have been warned against watching latest video of #tahrir sexual assault by friends who are ten times stronger, reduced them to tears
    — su zee (@suzeeinthecity) June 8, 2014

Footage of the attack, which many viewers described as too distressing to watch in full, prompted an outpouring of anguish on social networks at how routine the harassment and assault of women remains in Egypt, despite the efforts of activists in recent years to start a frank discussion of the severity of the problem.
Continue reading the main story

    This is the reality of sexual violence that women must deal with in #egypt and nothing will change anytime soon with state's complicity
    — su zee (@suzeeinthecity) June 8, 2014

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    I couldn't watch more than 28 seconds.. At least we r certain by the desperate yells that some1 was trying to help her including a policeman
    — Farah Saafan (@FarahSaafan) June 7, 2014

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    How many statistics and polls and researches does it take to make the point that this is a plague and it's not an exception?
    — Sarah Naguib (@Sarahngb) June 8, 2014

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    Something must be done. An adequate response is required. This shouldn't pass. #EndSH #Egypt
    — Nada Wassef (@Nadawassef) June 7, 2014

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    I don't know if there is any hope to spreading awareness on sexual attacks in Egypt. Only way to end it is harsh punishment from the state.
    — Deena Adel (@deena_adel) June 8, 2014

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    i keep crying every time i recall the images from the video this is by far the most violent attack that ever happened to a girl in Tahrir sq
    — Hala Safwat (@HalaLoCa) June 7, 2014

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    Following public outrage on Tahrir mob assaults, there will be a walk against sexual violence on June 14. #Egypt
    — Leyla D - ليلى د (@LeylaDoss) June 8, 2014

There was disgust at what many called an epidemic of sexual violence in Egypt, and anger at the police for failing to make women safe in such a celebrated public space. But there was also vitriol directed at Maha Bahnassy, a female television host for the pro-government Tahrir Channel, who was heard laughing during a correspondent’s field report on incidents of sexual harassment in the square on Sunday.

    I honestly don't know what's more disgusting. The gang rape + sexual violence itself or the society that dismisses it as normal. #Egypt
    — Mai El-Sadany (@maitelsadany) June 8, 2014

    علقت مها بهنسي على حالات التحرش الجماعى قائلة: "مبسوطين بقى.. شعب بيهيص". مفيش أسوأ من المرأة التى تقف ضد حقوق المرأة
    — Anti Harassment (@Anti_Harass) June 8, 2014

In video of the report posted on YouTube, as the correspondent, Samar Negida, struggled to describe the attacks over the noise of celebratory fireworks in the square, Ms. Bahnassy’s giggling from the studio was clearly audible, along with her comment: “Well, they are happy. The people are having fun.”
Continue reading the main story During a live report on an Egyptian television channel on Sunday, when the correspondent Samar Negida described incidents of sexual harassment, an anchor in the studio could be heard laughing. Altahrirtvchannel, via YouTube

After Ms. Bahnassy said on Monday that she had not intended to interrupt the live report but was merely “commenting to my guests” in the studio, unaware that her microphone was on, the correspondent, Ms. Negida, called that explanation unacceptable.

    I don't understand what's the point whether the anchor was talking to me or to guest?! Does it change anything?#Tahrir
    — Samar Negida (@NegidaSamar) June 8, 2014

    The apology Anc. Maha bahnasy just issued is unacceptable as she said that she thought that my info are 'Rumors'questioning my credibility
    — Samar Negida (@NegidaSamar) June 8, 2014

The British-Egyptian journalist and blogger Sarah Carr observed on Facebook that Ms. Bahnassy’s reaction “illustrates perfectly why sexual harassment/assault in Egypt is such a chronic problem.”

“Why did she say this?” Ms. Carr asked. “Perhaps because she was unprepared and has had it drilled into her that the job of the media is always to conceal the truth as part of the Egypt First effort?” Or was it, Ms. Carr suggested, “because she lives in a society where women’s bodies are sacrosanct and off limits to other males when said bodies are within eyeshot of a male relative, but otherwise it is open season?”

    Street gang rape is indicative of deep psychological disturbances in a society. This is not a crime committed by few individuals.
    — Sam Hindawi (@coach_samh) June 8, 2014

Mostafa Hussein, a psychiatrist who has worked with victims of torture, observed that political factions attempting to place the blame for the assault on supporters of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi were blind to the fact that such attacks have taken place during public gatherings in the square in recent years by opposition groups too.

    .. my point is: the possible reasons behind such incidents transcend the narrow view of politics that everyone is preoccupied with.
    — Mostafa Hussein (@moftasa) June 8, 2014

In reply to those comments, the political scientist Sumita Pahwa noted that assaults seemed most common during celebrations of one sort or another, not during protests against the authorities during the past three years. That was the case in February 2011, when an assault on the CBS News correspondent Lara Logan in Tahrir Square the night that Hosni Mubarak was forced from power drew global attention to the issue.

    @moftasa Very few of these events have been protests - many have been 'celebrations.' Happened during football victory stuff years ago too.
    — Sumita Pahwa (@SumitaPahwa) June 8, 2014

Harassment and violent assaults on women in Egypt are not restricted to public gatherings in urban areas, however, as the Cairo-based Public Service Broadcasting Initiative made clear in an in-depth video report produced last year.

A less polished but perhaps more sobering video report was posted on YouTube in March by Zeinab Sabet, a victim of harassment and a founder of the group Dignity Without Borders. Ms. Sabet confronted a group of young boys who had harassed her and recorded them explaining why, in their view, women like her were to blame for “forcing” men to harass them by wearing provocative clothing.

the results of a detailed report about sexual harassment in Egypt published by the United Nations in 2013, based on more than 3,000 interviews with women and men, concluded that the vast majority of those subjected to unwanted advances were dressed in conservative attire.

Late Monday, the independent Cairene daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Egyptian authorities called the publication of the video evidence of the assault an act of criminal “inciting debauchery.”

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« Reply #13881 on: Jun 10, 2014, 06:54 AM »

Brazil braces for uneasy start to World Cup as strikers' protests hits São Paulo

Teargas fired by police at transport workers as mood about hosting tournament remains sour among many
Brazil's anti-World Cup street art – in pictures

Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro
The Guardian, Tuesday 10 June 2014      

Less than four days before it hosts the opening game of the World Cup, São Paulo became the scene of protests, street fires and teargas on Monday as striking subway workers brought chaos to the city.

The strike – which disrupted half the metro stations and worsened traffic in South America's most populous city – was the latest headache for organisers as national teams from the United States, Spain and Argentina flew in for the start of the tournament on Thursday.

Security is also a major concern, particularly in Rio de Janeiro – the base of the England team – following a recent flare-up of unrest in the city's favelas. Players from Roy Hodgson's England squad were due to visit Roçinha, the nearest shanty town to their hotel, on Monday night as part of an outreach programme.

On Monday night the subway workers' unions announced the strike was being suspended for two days, with a vote to be held to decide whether it would resume on Thursday, when the tournament's first match is due to be played in São Paulo.

Excitement about the tournament is steadily building among the Brazilian public – evident in the growing number of flags in windows and bunting on the streets – but many Brazilians are still uneasy about the $11bn (£6.5bn) costs of hosting the tournament and associate the World Cup with corruption, inefficiency, evictions and misplaced priorities.

Opponents have launched anti-Fifa campaigns on social networks, trade unions have organised strikes and activists have mounted protests in city centres and close to the 12 World Cup stadiums – several of which are still the focus of frantic last-minute construction work.

Although the demonstrations are far smaller than last June's protests of more than a million people, they continue to rattle the government.

The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, who faces re-election in October, has declared security to be a priority, suggesting unnamed forces are conspiring against her.

"Today, there is a systematic campaign against the World Cup – or rather, it is not against the World Cup but rather a systematic campaign against us," the president said during a speech in the host city of Porto Alegre at the weekend.

Trade union leaders feel the imminent start of the tournament will strengthen their hand against a government that will not want to be embarrassed by disruptions when the eyes of the world are on the country.

Subway workers in São Paulo on Monday went into the fifth day of a strike for a 12% wage increase. Station closures forced commuters on to the road and led to 125 miles of traffic jams last week – the worst congestion of the year.

Their protest was being supported by activists from the Landless Workers' Movement, who blocked roads and occupied a station in the centre of the city until they were dispersed by riot police using percussion grenades.

The union president, Altino Melo dos Prazeres, said the tough response from the authorities could lead to a further escalation. "If the beating continues we are going to talk to all the sectors. If our people bleed we are going to ask for help from the metalworkers, from the bank workers, and have a day of general strike at the opening of the cup," he said.

The industrial action followed a march last week by about 10,000 activists on the Arena Corinthians, which will host the opening match between Brazil and Croatia. Earlier in the month indigenous protesters in the capital, Brasilia, fired arrows at police during a standoff over land rights.

The Brazilian team has also come under pressure. Last month their bus was attacked by demonstrators; last week the team was booed by sections of the crowd during a drab warm-up game against Serbia.

The government insists it will be able to maintain security during the event. Almost 100,000 police and 57,000 troops will be deployed to protect stadium perimeters, team hotels and training areas, in addition to the private security inside the grounds.

With 500,000 foreign fans now starting to arrive, another challenge will be to countering street crime Police in Rio are several years into a long-term pacification programme to reassert control over favelas that were long the domain of armed gangsters, but the policy has shown signs of unravelling in recent months following several high-profile cases of police brutality.

Last year thousands of residents from Rocinha took to the streets to protest about the disappearance of Amarildo de Souza, a bricklayer who was last seen at police headquarters being interrogated with electric shocks and asphyxiation.

Ten officers were subsequently arrested, but this case – and several others since then – have added to a sense of anger among many favela residents about the brutal actions of police in trying to "pacify" their communities in time for the World Cup.

• This article was amended on 10 June 2014 to correct the spelling of Rocinha.

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« Reply #13882 on: Jun 10, 2014, 07:02 AM »

Asteroid Dubbed “The Beast” Expected To Approach Earth This Weekend

June 10, 2014

Last year, a massive asteroid that had gone undetected exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia in a huge fireball and another, much bigger asteroid spotted in April is expected to buzz past Earth this weekend.

While the incoming HQ124 asteroid, aka “the Beast,” is not expected to make contact with the Earth’s atmosphere, professional skywatchers will be keeping close tabs on the massive space rock nonetheless.

“What’s disconcerting is that a rocky/metallic body this large, and coming so very close, should have only first been discovered this soon before its nearest approach,” Bob Berman, an astronomer with the online astronomy collective Slooh, told National Geographic. “HQ124 is at least 10 times bigger, and possibly 20 times, than the asteroid that injured a thousand people last year in Chelyabinsk.”

According to reports, the Beast is nearly 1,100 feet wide – about three-and-a-half football fields.

“If it were to impact us, the energy released would be measured not in kilotons like the atomic bombs that ended World War II, but in H-bomb type megatons,” he added.

Slooh will be providing a video feed of the flyby, which started on Thursday night. Broadcast from Australia, the feed will include time-lapse images from a Slooh robotic observatory in Chile. The video feed should show HQ124 passing about three lunar distances away from Earth at a speed of about 31,000 miles per hour.

In May, Slooh announced a partnership with NASA designed to inspire amateur astronomers to look for threatening asteroids. As a part of NASA's Asteroid Grand Challenge, Slooh will encourage amateur astronomers to check its telescope data for near-Earth asteroids.

Sky surveys are tracking around 90 percent of the possibly dangerous asteroids that are 3,200 feet and above in width. Space rocks at these sizes have the likelihood to demolish continents on impact. Just 30 percent of the 460-foot rocks have been tracked and less than 1 percent of the 98-foot Earth-orbit crossers have been spotted thus far.

While smaller rocks may not be devastating, they have the possibility to damage or level entire cities. The Chelyabinsk asteroid strike caused damage to buildings and blew out windows across the region.

According to a study published last month, the asteroid that exploded over Chelyabinsk may have had a collision with another asteroid that sent it hurtling toward Earth.

According to an analysis of a mineral called jadeite found embedded in fragments recovered after the explosion, the parent body of the meteor had collided with a larger asteroid more than 490 feet wide and at a relative speed of 3,000 mph.

“This impact might have separated the Chelyabinsk asteroid from its parent body and delivered it to the Earth,” wrote lead author Shin Ozawa, from the University of Tohoku in Japan.

Jadeite is only formed under extreme pressure and high temperatures. The jadeite found in the Chelyabinsk meteorite fragments was formed under pressures of at least 3 to 12 gigapascals during a shock that was longer than 70 milliseconds, according to the study.

Scientists are still analyzing the fragments of the Chelyabinsk meteor and calculating its path toward Earth.

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« Reply #13883 on: Jun 10, 2014, 07:15 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Instead of Scaring Hillary Clinton the GOP’s Benghazi Scandal Is Inspiring Her To Run

By: Jason Easley
Monday, June, 9th, 2014, 6:11 pm   

Republicans launched their latest effort at creating a Benghazi scandal with the intention of scaring Hillary Clinton out of running for president, but Clinton said the political attacks are motivating her to run.

In her interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, former Sec. of State Clinton said, “Actually, it’s more of a reason to run, because I do not believe our great country should be playing minor league ball. We ought to be in the majors. I view this as really apart from — even a diversion from — the hard work that the Congress should be doing about the problems facing our country and the world.”

The scheme to use the deaths of four American citizens to frighten Hillary Clinton out of running for president is something that RNC Chairman Reince Priebus admitted last month on Meet The Press. Priebus said, “What I think is going to make her rethink whether she should actually run for president. By the way, I don’t think she will if she has another month like she just had, but the issues that I talked about are the issues that are going to make her unacceptable to the American people.”

If Republicans seriously believed that they could scare Hillary Clinton out of running for president, they really don’t know the Clintons very well. The whole harebrained plan to scare Clinton out of running appears to have been cooked up by Priebus and Karl Rove. There is no way that Hillary Clinton was going to let a scandal that Republicans have failed to get traction with through seven previous investigations derail her plans.

Hillary Clinton doesn’t scare easily, and she is playing a type of political hardball that Republicans have grown increasingly inept at over the ten years. The Republican Party couldn’t handle the tough and ten steps ahead of them Obama campaign machine, so it is frightening to think what they will do if they are up against the combined forces of Clinton and Obama.

Benghazi was never going to work as an attack on Clinton, because it has failed to work as an attack on President Obama. It is a non-scandal, waste of taxpayer funds, distraction that is meant to keep Republican voters from realizing that their party has completely given up on repealing Obamacare. Republicans thought that they could scare Hillary Clinton out of the race. Instead, she is going to come after them even harder.

This is only her first major interview, and Republicans are already freaking out. Their Benghazi scandal has backfired, and if they insist on making 2016 about foreign policy, there is a very good chance that Hillary Clinton will be the next president.


Republicans Freak Out Over Hillary Clinton’s Book Interviews and Demand Equal Time

By: Jason Easley
Monday, June, 9th, 2014, 1:53 pm   

Reince Preibus’s RNC is so worried about Hillary Clinton’s round of media appearances to promote her new book that they are demanding equal time from the networks that will be interviewing her.

RNC chairman Reince Priebus put out a statement dripping with fear as he announced that they were distributing a briefing book of anti-Clinton talking points to be used by Republicans. Priebus said, “It’s clear Hillary Clinton is testing the waters for a 2016 run for the White House but questions continue to surface about her failed record at the State Department from Benghazi to the Russian Reset and Boko Haram. Hillary is trying to have it both ways, trying to distance herself from Obama’s failed policies that Americans don’t like and using those same policies to try to run for President. We are going to make sure voters have all the facts about the Clinton-Obama foreign policy.”

CNN reported that Republicans are asking networks that are going to be interviewing former Sec. Clinton about her book to give them equal time:

    The RNC has also begun a booking operation around the book, according to Kirsten Kukowski, the group’s spokesman, that plans to respond to what is likely to be an uptick in Clinton coverage over the next few weeks.

    So far, Clinton has agreed to interviews with ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News. Kukowski said that the RNC has already begun urging those networks to book Republican guests in response to the former first lady.

The RNC has also released a laughingly bad 47 page briefing book for Republicans that blames every bad that happened internationally during Obama’s first term on Hillary Clinton.

The hypocrisy of the RNC is mind blowing. Reince Priebus is demanding equal time for Republicans while he is pushing the idea that only Republicans should be allowed to host and ask questions at the Republican primary debates. The RNC, along with the rest of the Republican Party, has for decades opposed the return of the Fairness Doctrine that provided equal time for both parties during media appearances.

Democrats don’t get equal time when a Republican releases a book. None of the networks rushed to book Democrats to counter the Obama hate that Sarah Palin was allowed to spew while she was being interviewed by networks like CNN and NBC about her latest ghost written tripe.

Former Sec. of State Clinton has written a book, and the networks will be interviewing her about that book. Republicans don’t get to stomp their feet and change the rules because Hillary scares them to death. This latest RNC stunt is coming from the same man (Priebus) who believes that he can scare Hillary Clinton out of running for president in 2016.

Hillary Clinton goes on television to promote her book and Republicans freak out. Hillary Clinton admits that she might run for president and Republicans freak out. It is clear that Hillary Clinton is already in the heads of Republicans.

Clinton owns the RNC, and it clear that there desperate flailing is another sign that they don’t think that they can stop Hillary Clinton.


Bush War Crimes Defender Admits Obama Didn’t Break Law But Should be Impeached Anyway

By: Tobias J. Grant and Adalia Woodbury more from Tobias J. Grant and Adalia Woodbury
Tuesday, June, 10th, 2014, 9:00 am

Bush War Crimes defender, Michael Mukasey is the latest to weigh in on Bowe Bergandahl and the Republican/Tea Party’s endless pursuit of a reason to impeach the president.

Mukasey admits that President Obama didn’t violate the law when he secured Bergendahl’s release, but he should be impeached anyway. Unlike Congressional Republicans, Mukasey doesn’t believe that Obama violated the 30 day notice law, though under Mukasey logic it’s because that law is unconstitutional. Still, he wants Obama to be impeached because he, Mukasey, has serious questions about this president’s prisoner swap, notwithstanding the Gitmo prisoner releases that occurred on his watch.

Mukasey became unleashed from what we all ought to hope his constitutional moorings. Our Constitution is very clear: it takes “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors”  to remove the President and other government officials from office. That’s it. But Mukasey has other ideas.

To his credit, Mukasey admits the 30-day notice requirement is unconstitutional. Never mind that even if it were constitutional, failure to give notice has no criminal penalty attached to it. NDAA Sec. 1035(d).  Not to be deterred, Mukasey makes up his own rule: that there be “serious questions about whether he should continue in office.” “Serious questions,” he says. Really? So we’re to abandon a solid place in constitutional law and rush head-long into the vast, nebulous, indeterminate, even arbitrary puddle of “should?”

Not only does the “should” standard fall short of what the Founders gave us, but it goes in a bad direction: a President can be removed if Congress merely thinks he messed up. That’s a political standard or at least a policy-oriented standard, not a criminal one. The Constitution and its very principles of checks and balances and separation of powers simply do not let Congress throw out a President because they disagree with him. No, Mr. Mukasey, not even if they have “serious questions.”

A fun side-note: officers and judges at the International Criminal Court can be removed for “serious misconduct.” Rome Statute Art. 46(1)(a).

That’s a much lower standard that outright criminality. Is Mukasey going all New World Order on us?

The one possibility we see is that Mukasey was thinking about some sort of declaration that Obama is unfit for office. The problem there is that that means going a different route than impeachment. Rather, “the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide.”

Of course, the Obama haters in Congress wouldn’t have it because this mechanism would deny them the sugar rush that comes with their inquisitions and it would mean they’d have to find another excuse to avoid doing their jobs.

The fact is Republicans just want to impeach the democratically elected President because he is both black and a Democrat. They’re willing to do whatever it takes as we’ve seen with their sham trials and lies.  Mukasey took Republican desperation to a whole new level of revisionism by making up his own rules and trying to sell them as the law.

Republicans were just as obsessed with impeachment during Bill Clinton’s administration. Odds are they will be just as impeachment thirsty when likely Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, is elected in 2016.

The fact that Barack Obama is black is an additional thorn in the Tea controlled Republican Party’s side, a thorn that has caused them create their own facts about everything from the President’s place of birth, to his policy initiatives and his actions as president.

As time goes on Barack Obama has bested the Republicans in every way imaginable so, it’s easy to see why they are so desperate they are even willing to entertain using icky international law to pave the way to impeachment.

Obama got Bin Laden where the Republicans failed.  The disastrous policies of the Bush administration left Obama with serious messes to clean up.  The economy was on life support. We were bleeding jobs.  Obama turned all of that around with the added challenge of Republican obstructionism. Then of course, there are the war crimes that caused extensive damage to our ability to play the world’s moral authority and defender of human rights.

Michael Mukasey defended those war crimes.  So for him to even enter this discussion takes chutzpah. Making up laws and possible resorting to the ICC statute just shows how desperate he and Republicans are to find anything that will give them an impeachment sugar rush.


Conservative Racists Are Attacking the Bergdahl Family for Associating With Obama

By: Rmuse
Monday, June, 9th, 2014, 10:35 am   

Despite the “browning of America” and the election of the first African American man as President in 2008, this country has witnessed an increase in prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against Americans of a race other than white based on the belief that the white race is superior. There are many Americans who are deluded in thinking that racism targets just African Americans since Republicans cannot get over the people electing a Black President. However, it is clear to anyone with a brain that Republicans express their despicable racial animus towards African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, and now a white American soldier held as a prisoner of war by the Taliban as well as the soldier’s white parents.

It is true that Republicans, teabaggers, and various conservative pundits are not attacking ex-prisoner of war Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl because he is white, but it is true that every attack on Bergdahl is founded in the entire conservative movement’s racial animus aimed at President Obama; not the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s capture, or the conditions of the prisoner exchange that brought him home. The giveaway that all the animus toward Sergeant Bergdahl is based in conservative racism usually reserved for people of color, particular the person of color in the Oval Office, is the Republican hypocrisy they have demonstrated over the past five years holding President Obama to a different set of standards than his white Republican predecessors.

First, the Republicans are hypocrites for assailing President Obama for negotiating Bergdahl’s release through a prisoner exchange of 5 Guantanamo detainees. Lindsey Graham threatened to impeach the President because he allegedly did not go to Congress 30 days before the exchange, but it has been revealed that as early as 2011 the President informed Congress the United States was considering a swap for Bergdahl. In fact, there was an outcry from all manner of conservatives, including perennial loudmouth Sarah Palin who now regularly attacks Bergdahl as a deserter. For the record, at best Bergdahl was absent without leave (AWOL) when he was captured by the Taliban that negates the filthy lie conservatives are promoting to sully Sergeant Bergdahl’s reputation because the African American President negotiated his release.

Republicans, including former prisoner of war John McCain who was released from his North Vietnamese captors in a Nixon-brokered prisoner exchange, have lambasted the President for releasing Guantanamo detainees into the custody of Qatar officials. Many conservatives assert that Bergdahl’s life did not warrant saving if the cost was releasing 5 so-called Taliban fighters, but they certainly had no problems, or called for special investigations, when George W. Bush, a white guy, released over 500 Guantanamo detainees back to fight against American soldiers in exchange for nothing. Republicans also failed to attack hostages held by Iranian terrorists upon their release when conservative demigod Ronald Reagan ignored an American arms embargo and traded 1,500 missiles to Iran to secure the hostages’ release. If trading arms for hostages, or in John McCain’s case, enemy combatants for American prisoners of war, did not warrant conservative outrage and attacks on those released under white Republican presidents, then conservative attacks on Bergdahl are as a surrogate for the African American President who secured his release.

Now, the real giveaway that Republicans’ attacks on Bergdahl are based on their racial animus towards President Obama is their instantaneous one-hundred-and-eighty degree shift from “bring ‘our’ soldier home” to “Bergdahl is a deserter” when the African American President announced the prisoner of war was coming home. It is important to note that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was not, and has not been, charged with or formally accused of anything. In fact until his release by the Taliban, he was an active-duty U.S. Army sergeant being held as a prisoner of war worthy of the solemn commitment all men and women in uniform deserve; “We leave no soldier behind on the battlefield.” Unless of course an African American President orders the exchange and then Republicans transfer their racial hatred for President Obama onto Sergeant Bergdahl branding him a traitor and a deserter.

Regarding the claims by cretins such as Palin and Fox News talking heads that Bergdahl is a traitor, he escaped his captors twice, once for three days until they “found him in a hand-dug trench, nearly naked and exhausted.” It took 5 Taliban soldiers to finally subdue Sergeant Bergdahl who fought to avoid being recaptured; that does not sound like a deserter or a traitor. Also, there has been criticism against Bergdahl, and his parents, for their political views, particularly Sgt. Bergdahl’s disenchantment with the Afghan War and the mistreatment of innocent Afghani civilians that led him be be “ashamed of America.” It is safe to say there are many, many Americans ashamed of America based on the death and devastation this country wrought on both Afghanistan and Iraq for ideology, profit for Dick Cheney’s company, and enriching the military industrial complex.

Bowe Bergdahl has been condemned by the popular media, by social networks, by all manner of conservative pundits and Republican politicians not because they know any details, but because they hate the Black President that secured his release. The Republicans’ are still entrenched in their five year contention that Barack Obama is not American because he is Black, and if he is not American then the prisoner of war he brought home is not an American and must be a traitor. He was not a traitor for the five years he was held captive while conservatives pushed to “bring our soldier home at any cost.”

None of this sickening Republican outrage is about Sergeant Bergdahl, or his family, it is about an African American President Republicans claim is not American, not capable of being patriotic. And because he fulfilled America’s promise to its fighting men and women to “leave no soldier behind,” Sergeant Bergdahl is the recipient of conservatives’ racial hatred for this President that they would rather have left an American soldier to die at the hands of the enemy than bring him home; even after they condemned the President for abandoning an American soldier to his enemy captors.

Republicans are so consumed by racial animus and rage that they have finally sunk to a level of attacking a white American soldier, a prisoner of war, as surrogate for Barack Obama. The conservative movement appeared to have sunk to the depths of depravity when they shutdown the government and tried to destroy the good faith and credit of the United States that was borne of racial hatred for this President. However, all their anti-American actions over the past five years pale in comparison to attacking a young man who volunteered to fight and die for his country, was held in captivity as a prisoner of war for five years, and escaped his captors twice, only to be the recipient of Republicans’ racial hatred for the President that negotiated his return home. Racism is a vile cancer that has metastasized to such a level in the conservative movement that their racial animus is extending to a white American soldier as surrogate for the Black President who brought him home. Conservatives have indeed hit rock bottom.


Virginia GOP Bribes Democratic State Senator To Resign So They Can Stop Medicaid Expansion

By: Justin Baragona
Monday, June, 9th, 2014, 8:38 am      

The Washington Post reported on Sunday evening that State Senator Phillip Puckett, a Democrat, will resign from office Monday. Puckett is resigning so he can take on a new job as deputy director of the state’s tobacco commission, a position with significant benefits. Also, by resigning, Puckett’s daughter will apparently be in line to be confirmed for a state judgeship. With Puckett stepping away from his position, Republicans are now able to gain a 20-19 advantage in the State Senate. Previously, with Democrats and Republicans holding the same number of seats, the lieutenant governor held any tie breaking vote. Therefore, Democrats held the advantage, as the state’s Lt. Gov. is a Democrat.

Per the Post’s reporting, Republicans were able to convince Puckett to resign with these job offers for him and his daughter, essentially bribing him so the GOP can regain the Senate. Republicans want the advantage in the Senate in order to block the Medicaid expansion in the state under the Affordable Care Act. Currently, Virginia is one of 24 states that have so far refused to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the health care law. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe won election this past November partly by promising to expand Medicaid to lower-income Virginians.

However, the GOP, which holds an advantage in the state’s House, has been in a budget standoff with Democrats over expanding health coverage and there is a threat of a state government shutdown if the Senate and House can’t agree on a budget by July 1st. The state’s House Republicans won’t budge on expanding the program, because, you know, Obama. On the other hand, the Governor and the Senate have been keen on making Medicaid available to more people. Even with Puckett gone, McAuliffe has stated that he has three other moderate Republicans in the Senate that are willing to expand Medicaid, meaning he should still have the votes necessary in the upper chamber.

The problem at this time is that two Democrats will be out of the state much of this month. With Puckett resigning, Senate Republicans are going to look to get a budget passed ASAP, hoping to catch Democrats with their pants down and force through a budget. And force many poor working people in the state to go without health coverage, because that seems like a worthwhile goal. Now that the GOP has the advantage in the Senate for the time being, the lieutenant governor can’t act as a tie breaking vote. Also, Puckett’s seat is in a Republican-leaning district, so it appears that the GOP might be able to expand their advantage when a special election is held.

McAuliffe was not very happy with Puckett when he heard the news on Sunday. Below is an excerpt from a statement he released.

    “I am deeply disappointed by this news and the uncertainty it creates at a time when 400,000 Virginians are waiting for access to quality health care, especially those in Southwest Virginia. This situation is unacceptable, but the bipartisan majority in the Senate and I will continue to work hard to put Virginians first and find compromise on a budget that closes the coverage gap.”

It doesn’t appear that McAuliffe or Democrats can do anything about the position that Puckett will go to, even though it is a state job. The state tobacco commission’s chairman and vice-chairman are both Republicans, and the commission has final say on appointments. As for Puckett’s daughter, she is currently temporarily assigned to her position on the bench. She hadn’t been confirmed because of her father being an active Senator. With his resignation, she’ll now be confirmed to a six-year term. That is purely up to the state’s Senate.

This is how far Republicans will go to deny poor people decent health care. They’ll appeal to one man’s greed in order to negatively affect hundreds of thousands of people in their state. That seems to be the GOP in a nutshell.


President Obama Makes History By Accomplishing 100% of His Domestic Agenda

By: Jason Easley
Monday, June, 9th, 2014, 9:42 am   

Obama’s presidency is no longer historic just because of his race, but also because this president has accomplished 100% of his domestic agenda.

Jonathan Chait summed it up, “On January 20, 2009, when Obama delivered his inaugural address as president, he outlined his coming domestic agenda in two sentences summarizing the challenges he identified: “Homes have been lost, jobs shed, businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly, our schools fail too many, and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.” Those were the four major areas of domestic reform: economic recovery measures, health-care reform, a response to climate change, and education reform. (To the justifiable dismay of immigration advocates, Obama did not call for immigration reform at the time, and immigration reform is now the only possible remaining area for significant domestic reform.) With the announcement of the largest piece of his environmental program last Monday, Obama has now accomplished major policy responses on all these things.”

The fact that Obama has accomplished everything that he has while confronting unprecedented Republican obstruction makes what he has done all the more incredible. Republicans set out to block the entire Obama agenda, and make him a one term president. They failed on both points.

In the face of such day to day frustration over the Republican refusal to govern, it is easy to forget how much that this president has achieved. He has ended two wars, been bold on education reform, put the economy back on track, and most importantly has delivered a healthcare reform that has helped hundreds of millions of Americans beyond the newly insured.

Republicans love to label this president, and his presidency a failure, but nothing could be further removed from the truth. All presidents leave something undone in their domestic agenda. This isn’t the case with President Barack Obama. There is definitely more to do, but it would be a disservice to view the Obama administration as the post-Bush reboot of America.

President Obama has built a lasting legacy, and his leadership has transformed America for the better. The next president is going to have a tough act to follow trying fill the shoes of Obama.

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« Reply #13884 on: Jun 10, 2014, 07:22 AM »


Can You Tell Who's The Muslim Sympathizer?

By John Amato June 10, 2014 6:00 am

By looking at the above photo, can you tell who is a Muslim sympathiser from the man who is a homophobic, Christian reality show star?

Can You Tell Who's The Muslim Sympathizer?

The attacks on Sgt. Bergdahl's father's beard have been both fast and furious ever since he went to the White House. Fox News and GOP politicians are using his appearance as a way to trash him, his son and President Obama for daring to trade our lone U.S. POW for five Taliban prisoners in Gitmo. Or as Roger Ailes sees it, five Taliban prisoners for one American Taliban POW and his Allah loving father?

While defending his previous attacks of Sgt, Bergdahl's father, Bill O'Reilly said this on Fox News:

    O'Reilly: Now, the reason I said that Robert Bergdahl looked like a Muslim is that he looks like a Muslim.

Joe Scarborough had a meltdown with Chuck Todd because Chuck thought he was out of line attacking Bergdahl's father.

    Don’t criticize the parents,” Todd said. “Don’t criticize the parents that are missing a child! Their son is missing for five years. You know what? It is not logical...I’m not backseat driving how someone parents."

So have a question for the O'Reillys and Scarboroughs of the world who are hung up on Robert Bergdahl's looks. I took two men who look very similar, but are as far apart as humanly possible. One is a Robert Bergdahl, a father trying to support his son's capture by the Taliban by learning Pashto and growing a beard. The other one is Phil Robertson, star of A&E's Duck Dynasty and a man caught on camera saying gays are full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, god haters, they are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless, they invent ways of doing evil. One man is adopting a Muslim look to support his son and the other one is adopting the same look and preaching his radical Evangelical values.

Without knowing the two men I photoshopped together, here's my question:

    * Can you pick the man who is a Muslim sympathizer from the man who is a homophobic, Christian reality show star without Google?

    *How much different do their beards actually look?   

    * Who would Bill O'Reilly choose?

One man is adopting a Muslim look to support his son and the other one preaches about his Evangelical values.

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« Reply #13885 on: Jun 11, 2014, 06:36 AM »

Despite Clash in Ukraine, Cease-Fire Talks Advance

JUNE 10, 2014

DONETSK, Ukraine — The foreign ministers of Russia, Poland and Germany on Tuesday signaled progress toward a cease-fire in Ukraine, even as up to 40 separatists were reported to have been killed in a fierce battle for control of an airport in the east of the country.

Talks aimed at a diplomatic resolution to the unrest have achieved some progress in recent days, the ministers said, but no firm agreement. Past efforts to broker a truce, including one by European and American officials, failed because separatists insisted that Russia did not speak for them at the talks.

Exactly who does speak for them is unclear. On Tuesday, the militant wing of a rebel group in Slovyansk, an epicenter of the violence, said it had arrested the “people’s mayor” of the city, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, who had been the public face of the pro-Russian uprising there, a Russian television channel, LifeNews, reported.

Speaking after the negotiations, held in St. Petersburg, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov of Russia said he was confident that after the latest round of talks, any decision by the Ukrainian government to halt its military activities in the east would be met with a similar cease-fire by the rebels. Mr. Lavrov also welcomed a proposal by Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, to open a humanitarian corridor for civilians to leave conflict areas.

“The key to a de-escalation of the situation, of course, in our belief, is the cessation of this military operation against the protesters,” Mr. Lavrov said. “Namely then, the people that you call separatists, I am sure will answer reciprocally.”

The Russian government has claimed to have no formal role in the insurrection, and no control over the fighters. Yet a number of senior rebel leaders have openly identified themselves as Russian citizens, and at least 31 rebels recently killed in fighting with the Ukrainian forces were found to be Russian nationals.

Mr. Lavrov met with the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, and the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Mr. Sikorski said he reassured Russia over its concern that Ukraine, once consolidated under a pro-Western government, intended to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Mr. Sikorski said the NATO question was not on the agenda on Tuesday, though he offered no other guarantees.

Mr. Steinmeier said that the talks had achieved “momentum,” and that “after many months of conflict in Ukraine, we can see a faint light at the end of the tunnel,” the German news media reported, citing the Foreign Ministry.

Despite the peace overtures, fighting continued in eastern Ukraine. Overnight on Tuesday, a Ukrainian military spokesman said its forces had repelled a separatist attack on an airport outside Kramatorsk, to the south of Slovyansk, and killed an estimated 40 separatist fighters. The report could not be confirmed. Phone calls to a rebel spokeswoman in the area went unanswered.

In separate incidents, the Ukrainian military said that two soldiers had been wounded by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades in fighting near Slovyansk, and that rebels in eight trucks mounted with machine guns had attacked an airport near Luhansk, but failed to seize it.

It was unclear how long the Ukrainian military and other agencies would need to set up the escape corridor for civilians that Mr. Poroshenko announced on Tuesday. There were also questions about whether the separatists, whose rationale for fighting is that they are protecting residents from a “fascist” government in Kiev, would cooperate in a humanitarian effort by the government.

Mr. Poroshenko’s instructions to create a corridor for people displaced from the east came after he met on Tuesday with the leaders of the country’s security and military services.

Mr. Poroshenko, who was sworn in as president on Saturday, used his inauguration speech in part to offer safe passage to Russian fighters wishing to return home and amnesty for rebels who put down their weapons. But he has said he will not negotiate with armed insurgents.


Lavrov: Ukraine Rebels Help Russia Send Aid to East

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 June 2014, 14:55

Russia is sending humanitarian aid to Ukraine's conflict-hit east with the help of pro-Kremlin rebels, foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday, the first time Moscow has explicitly acknowledged links to the militants.

"In late May we applied to the (Ukraine) authorities with an official request to get permission to deliver such aid," Lavrov told OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier in Moscow, reported the Interfax news agency.

"We have received a rejection through an official note that is why we are providing assistance through the existing means with the support from rebels who are concerned how their wives, children, fathers and mothers are coping with these difficulties."


Ukrainians Find Jobs and a Slice of Russia in Arctic Norway

JUNE 10, 2014

BARENTSBURG, Norway — While scientists up here in the high Arctic monitor global warming by studying the movement of polar bears, ice floes and glaciers, Nikolai Mikitenko tracks the meltdown in Ukraine, the land of his birth more than 2,000 miles away, through the migration of desperate coal miners.

As the director of the Arctic Coal Trust, a state-owned Russian company that has mined in this frigid Norwegian-controlled wilderness since the 1930s, Mr. Mikitenko needs workers who are willing to move to an ice-entombed island with no trees and, for six months of the year, no sunlight.

It does not help that the place, about halfway between the Russian port of Murmansk and the North Pole, has a fearsome reputation for danger, at least for miners. A Russian plane carrying coal miners to jobs here in Barentsburg crashed into a mountain in 1996, killing all 141 people on board.

A year later, more than 20 miners died in a mine explosion. Since then, at least four Russian helicopters, used to ferry coal company staff members to areas otherwise accessible only by snowmobile, have crashed.

Ukraine’s economic ruin and political tumult, however, have ensured that Mr. Mikitenko never has a shortage of labor, creating a deep pool of miners hungry for work, no matter where.

“There is a long line of people who want to work here,” he said, waving a list of new recruits, all of them from Ukraine. “If they could find jobs at home and feed their families, do you think they would come to this place?”

Of the 400 miners, technicians and support staff members now working for the Arctic Coal Trust on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, more than 300 come from Ukraine. Nearly all are from Donetsk and Luhansk, the eastern Ukrainian regions that have been convulsed in recent months by violent unrest.

Salaries paid in Russian rubles and worth about $1,000 a month — at least three times the going rate for a miner in Ukraine — are a big draw, but, Mr. Mikitenko noted, few Russians are tempted. “They have a choice,” he said, and they can find work nearer to home in Russia.

The readiness of so many Ukrainians from the country’s Russian-speaking east to move to the Arctic, he said, is a clear sign that the root cause of Ukraine’s current troubles is economic misery, not meddling by the Kremlin or agitation by local hotheads with guns.

For Russian-speaking Ukrainians who mourn the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union, an event that thrust them into a new country few wanted or felt any attachment to, the Russian coal mining settlement here offers a comforting blast from the past. Lenin watches over the town from a pedestal piled with snow, and a big concrete sign outside the mine canteen proclaims the town’s original and, in some ways, still intact purpose: “Our Goal Is Communism.”

Mikhail Golovonov, a 33-year-old miner from Luhansk, said he was too young to remember much about the Soviet Union but regrets nonetheless that it fell apart and made him a citizen of Ukraine. He said he would prefer to be Russian.

Life in the Arctic, he said, “is very boring and cold” but still more comfortable and secure than in Luhansk, where he had trouble finding a place to live because he did not earn enough to buy an apartment. He now lives with his wife and young son in subsidized company housing and saves nearly all his salary, as there is nothing much to buy. The only store is a company-run commissary stocked with canned food from Russia.

Housing, electricity and other utilities are all heavily subsidized by Moscow, which loses money from the Arctic Coal Trust but keeps it afloat to preserve Russia’s presence on Spitsbergen, the biggest island on a strategically located archipelago known as Svalbard.

Russian subsidies have also paid for the construction of a modern sports complex with a swimming pool, the lavish renovation of Soviet-era apartment blocks and the world’s only brewery in the high Arctic, which produces a brew called Red Bear for the mine canteen. Though formally part of Norway, television channels here broadcast only Russian programming.

A capsule of Soviet life frozen in time, the Arctic Coal Trust has also preserved the ethnic hierarchies of the Soviet era. If most of the miners are Ukrainians, the management is top-heavy with Russians. Unskilled work like clearing snow and demolishing buildings is handled by laborers from Armenia and Tajikistan.

A small school for miners’ children follows the Russian curriculum and teaches the pupils, nearly all Ukrainians, about the language and culture of Russia, a country most have never visited but still feel part of. A teaching aid hanging on the classroom wall spells out with big letters words essential for life in Russia but utterly useless in the Arctic: Moscow, birch tree, cow and rooster.

Irina Kara, the teacher, who comes from Luhansk, said she enjoyed her work and was not too bothered by the absence of sunlight in winter or the summer months, when it never gets dark. But she admits to worrying constantly about her two children and other family back in eastern Ukraine. “This place is the end of the world,” she said. “But the pay is good.”

Though reluctant to give up its strategic foothold in the high Arctic, Moscow has been trying for years to cut the cost of running what has in effect become a state-funded work program for penniless Ukrainians. The loss-making Arctic Coal Trust has steadily reduced its operations since the end of the Soviet Union, when it employed more than 4,000 people, 10 times what it has now.

Under pressure to pay its own way and rely less on handouts from Moscow, the company is now pushing to develop Barentsburg as a tourist destination, a hard go as its main selling point, aside from a stunning setting on a mountain-fringed fjord, is its authentic Soviet griminess. It is also hard to get to. There are no roads connecting it to Spitsbergen’s only airport, which is reachable only by snowmobile or boat.

Undeterred, the mining company has opened a souvenir shop and a luxury hotel to replace a rundown guesthouse. The four-story hotel had no paying guests on a recent day, only a few lodgers from the coal company.

A tough veteran of Soviet mines in the Siberian region of Yakutia, Mr. Mikitenko, Arctic Coal’s director, played down the obstacles in the way of tourism in a place where, even in June, it snows. Compared with winter, when it is dark constantly and temperatures regularly sink below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, “this is T-shirt weather,” he said.

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« Reply #13886 on: Jun 11, 2014, 06:55 AM »

After Capture of Mosul, Militants Extend Control in Iraq

JUNE 11, 2014

Background on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Islamist group that appears to be in control of the second-largest city in Iraq.

BAGHDAD — In a lightning advance, Sunni militants who overran the northern Iraqi city of Mosul to deal a stunning strategic blow against the government have pressed south toward Baghdad and occupied facilities in the key oil refining town of Baiji, spreading alarm in the Iraqi capital itself, according to security officials and residents on Wednesday.

Citizens in the refining center of Baiji, 110 miles south of Mosul, awoke Wednesday to find government checkpoints abandoned after insurgents, in a column of 60 vehicles, took control of parts of the city of 200,000 without firing a shot, the security officials said. Peter Bouckaert, the emergency services director for Human Rights Watch, said in a post on Twitter that the militants had seized the Baiji power station, which supplies electricity to Baghdad, Kirkuk and Salahuddin Province.

Baghdad itself, 130 miles further south, seemed calm, but residents said they were shocked by the militant advance and feared the insurgents from the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria could push toward the capital.

Shiite militias and security forces loyal to the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki were on high alert, and residents in Baghdad began stockpiling food, fuel and small arms in fear of a rebel assault. A senior provincial official said the authorities had a plan to recapture Mosul, according to wire service reports. Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh Province, also accused government commanders in Mosul of misleading the government about the situation there.

On Wednesday, the insurgents claimed to have taken control of the entire province of Nineveh, Agence France-Presse reported, and there were reports of militants executing government soldiers in the Kirkuk region.

While the details and timing of a government counteroffensive remained unclear, Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshya Zebari, was quoted on Wednesday as saying the country’s Kurdish minority, which controls territory close to the militants, would “work together” with Baghdad’s forces to “flush out these foreign fighters.”

At a meeting of Arab and European foreign ministers in Athens, news reports said, Mr. Zebari, himself a Kurd, called the insurgents’ strike “a serious, mortal threat” and said, “The response has to be soon. There has to be a quick response to what has happened.”

Iraqi Kurds are concentrated in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, where security is maintained by a fiercely loyal army, the pesh merga, that has thus far not been involved in the latest clashes.The Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad, facing the same jihadist adversary in its civil war against a broader array of armed foes, said it expressed solidarity with the Iraqi authorities and armed forces, the official SANA news agency reported.

Word of the latest militant advance came as a United Nations agency reported that some 500,000 people had fled Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, after the militants, spilling over the border from Syria, captured military bases, police stations, banks and provincial headquarters.

On Tuesday the insurgents, reinforced with captured weaponry abandoned by the fleeing government forces, raised their black banner over streets in Mosul littered with the bodies of soldiers, police officers and civilians. The success of the militant attack was the most stunning development in a rapidly widening insurgency straddling the porous border of Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Mailiki has ordered a state of emergency for the entire country and called on friendly governments for assistance with the quickly deteriorating situation.

With the rapid advances of the past two days, the insurgents have widened the zone under their control and now threaten the region around the capital. Mr. Maliki’s weak central government is struggling to mount a defense, a problem made markedly more dangerous by the defections of hundreds of trained soldiers, and the loss of their vehicles, uniforms and weapons.

The International Organization for Migration, based in Geneva, said that the rout of government forces in Mosul after days of fighting had sent a half-million Iraqis fleeing their homes, adding to roughly the same number of displaced people in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad.

The organization said heavy fighting began in Mosul on Saturday, causing heavy casualties. On Monday night, Iraqi government forces withdrew, allowing the militants to take the international airport and “all police and military bases.”

Citizens fled on foot because they were not permitted to use vehicles, the organization for migration said.

Security officials said the militant drive toward Baiji began late on Tuesday with brief clashes a few miles north of the town before the insurgents overran a security post, captured vehicles and set buildings on fire.

“They did not kill the soldiers or policemen who handed over their weapons, uniform and their military I.D.,” a security official said in Tikrit, speaking in return for anonymity. “They just took these things and asked them to leave.”

Witnesses in Tikrit said security forces there had also fled and that insurgents were in control of another major highway in the region. The city lies just north of Tikrit, once best known as the hometown of Saddam Hussein.

The swift advances offered a new milestone in Iraq’s unraveling since the withdrawal of American forces at the end of 2011.

The rising insurgency also seemed likely to add to the foreign policy woes of the Obama administration, which has faced sharp criticism for its recent swap of five Taliban officers for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and must now answer questions about the death of five Americans by friendly fire in Afghanistan on Monday night.

Critics have long warned that America’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq, without leaving even a token force, invited an insurgent revival.


Sunni Militants Drive Iraqi Army Out of Mosul

JUNE 10, 2014

BAGHDAD — Sunni militants spilling over the border from Syria on Tuesday seized control of the northern city of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest, in the most stunning success yet in a rapidly widening insurgency that threatens to drag the region into war.

Having consolidated control over Sunni-dominated Nineveh Province, armed gunmen were heading on the main road to Baghdad, Iraqi officials said, and had already taken over parts of Salahuddin Province. Thousands of civilians fled south toward Baghdad and east toward the autonomous region of Kurdistan, where security is maintained by a fiercely loyal army, the pesh merga.

The Iraqi Army apparently crumbled in the face of the militant assault, as soldiers dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms for civilian clothes and blended in with the fleeing masses. The militants freed thousands of prisoners and took over military bases, police stations, banks and provincial headquarters, before raising the black flag of the jihadi group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria over public buildings. The bodies of soldiers, police officers and civilians lay scattered in the streets.

“They took control of everything, and they are everywhere,” said one soldier who fled the city, and gave only his first name, Haidar.

The swift capture of large areas of the city by militants aligned with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria represented a climactic moment on a long trajectory of Iraq’s unraveling since the withdrawal of American forces at the end of 2011.

The rising insurgency in Iraq seemed likely to add to the foreign policy woes of the Obama administration, which has faced sharp criticism for its swap of five Taliban officers for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl and must now answer questions about the death of five Americans by friendly fire in Afghanistan on Monday night.

Critics have long warned that America’s withdrawal of troops from Iraq, without leaving even a token force, invited an insurgent revival. The apparent role of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Tuesday’s attack helps vindicate those, among them the former ambassador to Syria, Robert S. Ford, who have called for arming more moderate groups in the Syrian conflict.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki ordered a state of emergency for the entire country and called on friendly governments for help, without mentioning the United States specifically.

In Washington, the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said in a statement that the United States was “deeply concerned about the events that have transpired in Mosul,” and that the Obama administration supported a “strong, coordinated response to push back this aggression.” The statement said the administration would provide “all appropriate assistance to the government of Iraq” and called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria “not only a threat to the stability of Iraq, but a threat to the entire region.”

Mosul was the last major urban area to be pacified by American troops, and when they left, the United States contended that Iraq was on the path to peace and democracy.

Even as insurgents consolidated control of Mosul and surrounding Nineveh Province on Tuesday, they looked to other targets. They cut off a portion of the main highway that links the city with Baghdad, the capital, and secured villages near Kirkuk, a major city that is in dispute between Arabs and Kurds, according to security officials.

For more than six months, the militants have maintained control of Falluja, in Iraq’s Sunni-Arab Anbar province, a city where hundreds of Americans died trying to crush an insurgency. While Falluja carries symbolic importance to the United States, the seizure of Mosul, a city of 1.4 million with a mix of ethnicities, sects and religions, is more ominous for the stability of Iraq.

“It’s a shock,” said James Jeffrey, a former United States ambassador to Iraq. “It’s extremely serious. It’s far more serious than Falluja.”

Mosul is a transportation hub for goods coming from Turkey and elsewhere. An important oil pipeline is nearby, carrying nearly 15 percent of the country’s oil flow to a port on the Turkish coast.

The chaos in Mosul also illustrated how the violence in Iraq has increasingly merged with the civil war in Syria, as extremists now operate on both sides of the porous border. On Tuesday, local officials claimed that many of the fighters were jihadists who had come from the lawless frontier that divides Iraq and Syria, a region where they have increasingly operated with impunity even as President Bashar al-Assad has reclaimed ground lost to the insurgents elsewhere in Syria.

Osama al-Nujaifi, the Iraqi Parliament speaker, a Sunni from Mosul, called the fighting a “foreign invasion of Iraq, carried out by terrorist groups from different countries.”

The rout in Mosul was a humiliating defeat for Iraq’s security forces, led by Prime Minister Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government, and equipped and trained by the United States at a cost of billions of dollars. As the insurgency has gained strength over the last year, Mr. Maliki has been criticized for pursuing security policies that alienated ordinary Sunnis, such as sweeps that rounded up hundreds of men, innocent and guilty alike, and the arrest of the wives of suspected militants.

Referring to the security forces in Mosul, Mr. Jeffrey, now a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said, “they had lost the support of the people because they had a sectarian policy, and I saw it with my own eyes.”

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, some of Iraq’s Shiite religious authorities in the holy city of Najaf issued statements Tuesday in support of the army, which is dominated by Shiites. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite spiritual leader in the world, emphasized his “support to the sons within the security forces.” A representative in Najaf for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, went further, urging Shiites to join the security forces.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — an organization once part of Al Qaeda — has effectively gained control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria over the past year.

As audacious as the assault on Mosul was, it was not entirely surprising. Fighting had raged for days there, and in recent years, analysts say, militants had raised millions of dollars a month there through extortion and kidnapping. “ISIS has been targeting Mosul for two years,” said Jessica D. Lewis, research director at the Institute for the Study of War, referring to the militant group.

Now, Mosul, which nearly became part of French-controlled Syria after World War I, when the allies redrew the map of the Middle East, could become an even more important base for the group as it pursues its stated goals of erasing the border with Syria and establishing an Islamic state that transcends both.

Ayham Kamel, director of the Middle East and North Africa for the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm in Washington, said in an assessment emailed to clients that the militant group would “use cash reserves from Mosul’s banks, military equipment from seized military and police bases and the release of 2,500 fighters from local jails to bolster its military and financial capability.”

For Mr. Maliki, the violence in Mosul represents a significant political challenge as he tries to secure a third term as prime minister. His coalition won the most seats in Parliament in national elections in April, but not a majority, and he has been negotiating with other factions to form a new government.

“This will raise serious questions about Maliki’s leadership,” said Mr. Jeffrey, adding, “The country has to figure out if it wants Maliki to continue as prime minister.”

The Mosul assault came in a week when Mr. Maliki’s government has been trying to beat back a surging militant offensive concentrated in central and northern Iraq. In the cities of Samarra and Ramadi, the militants have stormed police stations, government offices and even a university. On Saturday, car bombs killed scores of people across Baghdad in one of the deadliest coordinated attacks in weeks.

After militants captured Falluja at the end of last year, the United States rushed guns, ammunition and Hellfire missiles to Iraq, but those seemed to make little difference. In some cases, the weapons were captured by insurgents in Anbar, and on Tuesday, it appeared that more American equipment had fallen into the hands of the militants, including American-made Humvees.

The army responded to the rout on Tuesday by bombing at least one military base that had been captured by the militants, but there was no immediate sign of a broader offensive to reclaim the city. Early Tuesday morning, militants stormed the offices of the provincial governor and later in the day, dozens of army and police vehicles were burning in the streets, witnesses said.

Residents said militants started moving into the city the night before, taking positions that had been abandoned by the army. Around 1 a.m., one resident, who gave his name as Abu Mustafa, left his home and found militants in sport utility vehicles, some dressed in jeans, others in Afghan-style clothing. Some, he said, spoke Arabic in accents other than Iraqi.

“They greeted us, and when they saw that we were scared they said, ‘We are not here to fight you. Just stay away and do not interfere,’ ” he recalled. “ ‘We are here to fight Maliki’s army, not you.’ ”

By nightfall on Tuesday, the city was calm, residents said, but there was no electricity, water supplies were running low and there was little fuel to run generators. The bodies of militants had been taken away for burial, but the corpses of security forces still lay in the streets.


Exhausted and Bereft, Iraqi Soldiers Quit Fight

JUNE 10, 2014

BAGHDAD — The infantryman and his colleagues were already worn down after six months of fighting militants in western Iraq, men flush with weapons and zeal. Army commanders had no answer for the daily deadly ambushes and no broader strategy for prevailing in the longer war.

The final straw was the death of a friend, killed two weeks ago by a sniper’s bullet. The infantryman, Bashar al-Halbousi, deserted, making the same choice as hundreds of other soldiers in his battalion, he said.

“The state is weak,” Mr. Halbousi said. “This will be an endless battle.”

After months of grinding conflict against a resurgent militant movement, the Iraqi Army is having its power blunted by a rise in desertions, turning the tide of the war and fragmenting an institution, trained and funded by the United States, that some hoped would provide Iraqis a common sense of citizenship.

In a nation tearing apart along sectarian lines, Sunnis and Shiites have served together in the military. But the defections of Sunni soldiers threatened to deepen the growing perception among Iraq’s Sunnis that the military serves as an instrument of Shiite power, even while Shiites soldiers have also fled.

The toll of the desertions came into sharp relief on Tuesday, as soldiers and their commanders abandoned bases in Mosul, all but ceding Iraq’s second-largest city to extremist fighters belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

The fleeing troops left weapons, vehicles and even their uniforms behind, as militants took over at least five army installations and the city’s airport. In a desperate bid to stem the losses, the military was reduced to bombing its own bases to avoid surrendering more weapons to the enemy.  American officials who had asserted that the $14 billion that the United States had spent on the Iraqi security forces would prepare them to safeguard the country after American troops left were forced to ponder images from Mosul of militants parading around captured Humvees.   

The crisis has been picking up momentum as Sunni extremists have gained power and territory across the north and west of the country — and as soldiers have been leaving their posts.

In interviews over several days, soldiers and army commanders said the desertions had become widespread, with thousands of men laying down their arms, gutting front-line units across the country. Before the troops dissolved in Mosul, the army was losing as many as 300 soldiers a day, between desertions, deaths and injuries, according to a security analyst who works with the Iraqi government and requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the military.

One former soldier who would give only his first name, Mohamed, because deserting is illegal, said that he had served in Ramadi and that his colleagues started deserting months ago as the deaths started mounting. “I felt like I was fighting armies, not an army,” said Mohamed, 24.

The militants came in waves, sending suicide bombers when their ammunition grew scarce. Mohamed said that eight of his friends had died and that he almost did, too, when a mortar shell struck his Humvee. When militants singled him out as a target for assassination, forcing him to flee, it was almost a relief.

“I’m tired,” he said. “Everyone is tired.”

The government has played down the scale of the crisis, in part by registering soldiers as “missing” rather than as deserters. Officials also blamed the problem on unrelated issues — saying, for instance, that soldiers were not returning from home leave, but only because roads leading to the battlefields had become unsafe.

Lt. Gen. Rashid Fleih, the commander of operations in Anbar Province, said last week that recent successes by the army in clearing several highways would resolve that issue. “Now the soldier who is on leave can go back to his unit without any problems,” he said. After the defeat in Mosul, though, the crisis could not be so easily brushed away. For the first time on Tuesday, the government publicly invoked the law forbidding desertions, threatening harsh punishments, including the death penalty, according to a media adviser for the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

A broader Sunni insurgency that has been growing in neighboring Syria has shown increased audacity in Iraq.
The government, though, seemed to have limited leverage. In interviews, several deserters cited the ferocity of the battle as their primary reason for leaving. They spoke of nerve-racking patrols in remote areas or in contested cities, surrounded, at times, by hostile residents. They searched booby-trapped houses and traveled roads full of bombs. Most terrifying, though, they said, were the snipers.

Their stories added detail to the brutal shadowy war between the militants and the army — the latest trauma for a country still reeling from the American invasion and occupation and the sectarian civil war that followed.

Some soldiers said their families begged them to leave the service. One 25-year-old deserter said his mother was so terrified of the fighting that she burned his uniform every time he returned home on leave. Two months ago, he said she raised the stakes, threatening to kill herself if he returned to his unit.

“We lost so many troops — I lost three or four of my friends,” said the former soldier, who was sent straight to the front line in Falluja after basic training. “The fighting was so fierce.”

The desertions threaten to transform Iraq’s vicious conflict into something even more dangerous, by starving the government of fighters as it struggles to recapture lost territory: in Falluja, which was taken over by the militants six months ago, and now in Mosul. With fewer men to face the militants, the army is relying on artillery and airstrikes — including, human rights workers say, the use of indiscriminate barrel bombs — increasing the risks to civilians.

As the army falters, Shiite militias are also playing a growing role in the conflict, nudged toward the fight by the government of Mr. Maliki. As the militiamen face radical Sunni jihadists, the threat of a wider sectarian conflagration grows.

The desertions of men like Mr. Halbousi — a Sunni in an army dominated by Shiites, the majority sect in Iraq — is another dangerous development. “It reinforces the sectarian polarization,” said Hayder al-Khoei, an Iraqi researcher and associate fellow with Chatham House, a policy research group in London.

So did the government’s statements, with its “not so subtle references to a religious war”— an echo of the jihadists’ sectarian speech, Mr. Khoei said.

But above all, the soldiers — young men from southern Iraq, or the outskirts of Baghdad, who joined the service for its relatively good salary — felt “abandoned,” Mr. Khoei said.

“They are thrown into this fire,” he said. “It’s a nightmare.”

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« Reply #13887 on: Jun 11, 2014, 06:58 AM »

Egypt's Sisi calls for firm action over Tahrir sex assaults

New leader tells interior minister to 'vigorously' enforce law against sexual harassment after women assaulted while marking Sisi's election

Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
The Guardian, Tuesday 10 June 2014 19.15 BST   

Egypt's new president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has told the country's top policeman to take firm action against sexual harassment, after several women were assaulted by mobs at a celebration to mark his election, and footage emerged of one being stripped naked and surrounded by dozens of men.

"Sisi instructed [the] minister of the interior … to vigorously enforce the law and take all necessary measures to combat sexual harassment, an unacceptable form of conduct," the president's office said in a statement.

The announcement came as prosecutors released testimonies from some victims in which they detailed their ordeals. One woman said she was attacked as she left Cairo's Tahrir Square, a hub for mass gatherings since Egypt's 2011 uprising, with her two pre-teen daughters.

"I begged them to let my daughters go and take me and they did, then tore my clothes with a knife and sexually assaulted me," the woman told prosecutors in a statement obtained by Reuters.

Seven men aged between 15 and 49 have been arrested for their alleged role in the attacks, reportedly under legislation enacted last week that banned sexual harassment for the first time in Egypt. Some activists are cautiously heartened by the state's response, as it marks the first time that the police have made any attempt to combat the mob assaults that have been endemic at Tahrir Square rallies since the last day of the 2011 uprising.

But others warn that the state needs a far more strategic long-term plan to end sexual harassment and assaults in Egypt, where UN research suggests that more than 99% of women have experienced harassment, but where only a handful of men have ever been convicted of harassment-related crimes. "The state continues to be unable to stand up to these crimes," read a joint statement from 25 Egyptian rights groups released in the aftermath of the most recent assaults.

Other reactions to Sunday's attacks highlighted the ways in which large parts of society fail to take violence against women seriously.

Groups on both sides of Egypt's main political divide sought to score political points by blaming the assaults on their enemies. Dalia Ziada, the head of a pro-government research group, blamed the assaults on the Muslim Brotherhood, while the state-run National Council for Women implied in a statement that the attacks had been committed by Sisi's enemies.

For their part, the Brotherhood's political wing blamed the incidents on a social decay brought about by Sisi's ousting of the Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi as president last summer.

Opinions are divided about Sisi's own commitment to ending violence against women. In his campaign interviews, Sisi frequently praised women. But his critics note the patronising language of his compliments, and his support in 2012 for the practice of forcing female detainees to undergo virginity tests.

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« Reply #13888 on: Jun 11, 2014, 07:11 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

House majority leader Eric Cantor loses primary to Tea Party challenger

Economics professor Dave Brat wins in unexpected result in Virginia's 7th congressional district that sends shockwaves through Republican party

Dan Roberts in Washington, Wednesday 11 June 2014 08.49 BST     

The majority leader in the US House of Representatives, Eric Cantor, was defeated by a Tea Party challenger on Tuesday night in a shock primary election result that may turn out to be the biggset upset of the year in American politics.

Cantor, the second most senior Republican in the House, who had been tipped to take over from the speaker, John Boehner, lost the opportunity to stand for re-election in his Virginia seat in a surprise defeat by the Tea Party candidate David Brat.

Brat took the seat comfortably, almost certainly forcing Cantor out of his position as a top Washington powerbroker for the party.

It is possible, though unlikely, that Cantor could run as a write-in candidate for the relatively safe Republican House seat in Virginia’s 8th district, which neighbours Richmond.

But his defeat by Brat, a relatively unknown economics professor, will send shockwaves through a party leadership that thought it had survived the 2014 primary election season with relatively limited damage from the Tea Party. "Obviously we came up short," Cantor said in a brief concession speech.

"This is a miracle from God," said a triumphant Brat.

Boehner praised Cantor as "a good friend and a great leader". Other Republican leaders, including party chairman Reince Priebus, were silent.

The clash between mainstream Republican leaders in Washington and more conservative Tea Party rivals has dominated US politics in recent years, leading to the government shutdown last year.

The decision by Boehner and Cantor to ultimately face down their Tea Party wing over its shutdown demands was thought to have taken the momentum out of the upstart movement and a number of mainstream Senate incumbents had recently seen off primary challenges from the right.

In Tuesday’s primary election in South Carolina, for example, Senator Lindsey Graham comfortably beat six separate Tea Party challengers and avoided a run-off election by gaining more than 50% of the vote.

Cantor, who was already seen as among the more conservative members of the House leadership, had been widely expected to win his primary comfortably. He heavily outspent his opponent with a relatively negative campaign pointing out Brat’s lack of experience.

But Brat successfully criticised Cantor’s support for immigration reform and financial compromise efforts such as extending the debt ceiling and budget authority – factors that are likely to send a chill through attempts to bridge the already deep divide between Republicans and Democrats in Washington.

Speaking as the official results showed Brat ahead by 55% to 45%, Cantor told supporters in a Richmond hotel ballroom: “I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight. It’s disappointing, sure. But I believe in this country. I believe there’s opportunity around the next corner for all of us.”

Internal polling by Cantor’s team ahead of the election had shown him ahead by some 34 percentage points.

A spokeswoman for House Democrats claimed on Tuesday evening that the result showed Republican voters were rejecting the House Republican agenda:

    Virginia's rejection of Eric Cantor is a rejection of House Republicans' agenda. #VA07
    — Emily Bittner (@emily_bittner) June 11, 2014

Yet the result may all but guarantee that Democrat priorities such as immigration reform will not pass the Republican-controlled House in future as its leaders seek to deter future Tea Party challenges.

Brat received relatively little help from national Tea Party groups and was outspent by $5.2m to $120,000 by Cantor, according to FEC data up to 21 May. His win shows the continued strength of grassroots feeling against Washington establishment candidates, a mood that may yet dominate the rest of Obama’s second term in the White House.

In November’s election for the House seat, Brat will face Democratic nominee Jack Trammell, also a professor at Randolph-Macon College on the outskirts of Richmond.


Returning troops help KKK build paramilitary force to ‘retake’ US in coming race war

By Travis Gettys
Tuesday, June 10, 2014 10:49 EDT

The Ku Klux Klan plans to begin military-style combat training under the direction of military troops returning home from overseas deployments, according to a Barcroft Media report.

The notorious hate group has been attempting to recruit new members – children, in particular – in recent months, and the Loyal White Knights faction has begun preparations for a long-awaited race war.

“We’re going to do something a little different for probably the next couple of years to try to get our men and women ready for the upcoming battle that we’re about to take upon us, and this is something that no Klan has ever done and we’re going to start it,” said one Klan leader during a rally in Parkersburg, West Virginia. “All our boys are finally coming back home from the military, which is good, and we’re getting a lot more military members to join.”

Klan members have dropped leaflets and candy in neighborhoods across the United States, and the group has also used social media in hopes of attracting teenage recruits.

Other young people are recruited by their own parents to join the group.

“I enjoy days like today, because I like being around people, not disgusting people, not drug addicts,” said one hooded boy whose parents brought him and his brother to the Parkersburg rally – which drew about 40 people.

The boy’s mother said she believes black and Hispanic students take drugs from their parents and sell them at her son’s school.

“Their parents are so worried about doing drugs than providing for their own children, that’s what I think,” said the woman, who was wearing full Klan regalia like her husband and two sons.

Barcroft reported that Klan leaders claim existing members serving in the military will begin training other members in armed combat, hand-to-hand combat, and survival skills.

The group, which has an estimated 6,500 members, has never before trained its members in combat tactics.

“We got police officers in the Klan, we got lawyers, we got doctors – your next-door neighbor could be in the Klan, and you’d never know it,” said James Moore, grand dragon for Virginia.

Klan expert Brian Levin said the biggest threat comes from individual members trying to make a name for themselves, rather than an army affiliated with the hate group.

“This is something we’ve seen throughout recent decades, where the Klan has gone through cycles, where they’ve armed themselves, gotten in trouble, then mellowed out and then armed themselves again,” Levin said.

He said Klan members hope to signal their social relevance by arming themselves and warning of racial unrest.

“The ultimate goal for myself is to have our membership get to the point where we can affect change through the political system,” said one Klan official. “Right now, our numbers aren’t quite good enough.”

But members are confident their message will attract new followers.

“Black people, white people, we’re all getting tired of the government, and pretty soon you can see the government collapse,” Moore said. “And when the government keeps on sending their money over to Israel, and it finally collapses, you can see the Klan take it back and make this nation the way it needs to be.”


Louie Gohmert tells Congress the ‘good news’ that non-Christians are ‘going to Hell’

By David Edwards
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 8:59 EDT

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) on Tuesday grilled a pastor who supports the separation of church and state, asking him why he did not share the “good news” that non-Christians were going to Hell.

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing about religious freedom on Tuesday, Gohmert told the Rev. Barry Lynn, who serves as the executive director for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, that the Founders of the country — such as Franklin Roosevelt — had often mentioned religion in their writings.

Lynn pointed out that he had received the Medal of Freedom from the Roosevelt Institute for his work supporting the freedom to worship.

“But that wasn’t awarded by Roosevelt himself?” Gohmert interrupted, before asking if the pastor understood that the “meaning” of being a Christian was to evangelize.

“Do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to Hell, consistent with Christian beliefs?” the Texas Republican wondered.

Lynn, however, disagreed with the congressman’s “construction of what Hell is like or why one gets there.”

“So, you do not believe somebody would go to Hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?” Gohmert pressed.

The pastor argued that people would not got to Hell for believing a “set of ideas.”

“No, not a set of ideas. Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, or life or you don’t,” Gohmert shot back. “And there’s nothing wrong in our country with that — there’s no crime, there’s no shame.”

“Congressman, what I believe is not necessarily what I think ought to justify the creation of public policy for everybody,” Lynn explained. “For the 2,000 different religions that exist in this country, the 25 million non-believers. I’ve never been offended, I’ve never been ashamed to share my belief. When I spoke recently at an American Atheists conference, it was clear from the very beginning, the first sentence that I was a Christian minister.”

“So, the Christian belief as you see it is whatever you choose to think about Christ, whether or not you believe those words he said that nobody basically ‘goes to heaven except through me,’” Gohmert concluded, ignoring the point about separation of church and state.


'No place else like this': Obama concedes scant progress on gun deaths

A year ago, on the day a gun control push in the Senate went down in flames, President Barack Obama stood with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and parents of Newtown victims in the Rose Garden and declared, "This effort is not over."

Associated Press


A year ago, on the day a gun control push in the Senate went down in flames, President Barack Obama stood with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and parents of Newtown victims in the Rose Garden and declared, "This effort is not over."

On Tuesday, a mournful president conceded he was ashamed as an American and terrified as a parent that the United States can't find it in its soul to put a stop to rampant shooting sprees. Barring a fundamental shift in public opinion, Obama said, "it will not change."

"My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage," Obama said.

No developed nation on earth would put up with mass shootings that happen now once a week and disappear from the news within a day, Obama said -- no nation except America.

It was a moment of bleak reflection and weary resignation for Obama, who thought universal background checks were the least the country could do after a 20-year-old with a semi-automatic rifle shot his way into a Connecticut elementary school in 2012 and massacred 20 children.

"We should be ashamed of that," Obama said, hours after yet another deadly school shooting, this time in Oregon. "There's no place else like this."

The candid admission that gun control is all but a lost cause for his presidency marked a stark change in tone.

Despite shelving efforts to get Congress to vote on gun control, White House officials have always insisted they haven't abandoned the issue. In 2013, Obama issued 23 executive orders related to gun violence in an attempt to take whatever modest steps he could without requiring a congressional vote.

Obama said he respects gun rights and the American tradition embodied by the Second Amendment. But he blamed the National Rifle Association and well-financed gun manufacturers for making lawmakers "feel the heat" if they back tighter gun control.

"Most members of Congress -- and to some degree this is bipartisan -- are terrified of the NRA," Obama said, alluding to opposition from some Democrats that helped thwart the Senate effort.

He said the majority of Americans support gun control steps but don't feel passionately enough about it to punish lawmakers who disagree. "Until that happens, sadly, not that much is going to change."

Just over half of Americans think U.S. gun laws ought to be stricter, an Associated Press-GfK poll in December found, while just 15 percent think they should be less strict. Other polls have found support for background checks on all gun buyers exceeds 80 percent.

Obama's public meditation on gun violence came as he took questions in the State Dining Room from young Americans through the social media site Tumblr. Although the session was focused on student loan debt, a student asked Obama about gun violence and said he had known one of the victims of last month's rampage in Isla Vista, California, that killed six.

The president recalled seeing the father of one of those victims appear on television, pleading with society not to less his son's death be in vain.

"As a father myself I just -- I couldn't understand the pain he must be going through and just the primal scream that he gave out," Obama said. "Why? Why aren't we doing something about this?"

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« Last Edit: Jun 11, 2014, 09:05 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #13889 on: Jun 11, 2014, 10:16 AM »

Pig Putin Warns Ukraine against Rejecting Gas Offer as Talks Stumble

by Naharnet Newsdesk
11 June 2014, 16:56

Russian President Pig Putin warned Ukraine not to reject a reduced gas price offer but Kiev rebuffed the proposal as key EU-mediated talks to resolve the dispute ended in deadlock on Wednesday.

Moscow and Kiev exchanged barbs after nearly five hours of haggling in Brussels failed to yield a deal.

"If our offer is rejected then we will shift to a whole other level," the Pig snorted at a government meeting in Moscow.

"That is not our choice and we do not want that."

The Russian strongman said Russia was offering Kiev a $100 "discount" for a final price of $385 per 1,000 cubic meters and accused Kiev of driving the negotiations into a "dead end" by demanding further reductions.

However Ukraine Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan said after meeting with his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak that Kiev could not accept an offer that could easily be withdrawn if Moscow changed its mind.

Ukraine wanted a price set by the market laid down in a commercial contract, Prodan said, but "unfortunately Russia proposed a way of fixing the price which I would call political."

However EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger, who is brokering the negotiations, said that in his opinion the talks had established some common ground.

"We are still in negotiations," he said. "I can see movement on both sides and both sides will need to continue to move."

The talks are being closely watched to see if both sides really want to bring some sort of closure to an unprecedented stand-off that began with pro-EU protests in Kiev in November.

If successful, they would build on a peace push by Kiev's new President Petro Poroshenko, who on Tuesday ordered the creation of humanitarian corridors in the country's conflict-torn separatist east, meeting a key Russian demand.

The latest round of talks began on a positive note after Russian gas giant Gazprom said early Wednesday that it was delaying by five days a deadline for Ukraine to start paying for gas ahead of time, or risk a cut in its supply.

Hopes were also raised when the Pig snorted in a telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he had ordered the Russian delegation at the talks to take "a constructive position" in order to reach a "mutually acceptable agreement".

However Oettinger said the talks could take some ten days and the mood appeared to sour before the two sides had even reached the negotiating table when Ukraine Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk attacked Russia for playing "games" over the latest offer.

Moscow says Kiev owes it $4.5 billion (3.3 billion euros) in outstanding bills but Ukraine has refused to pay in protest at Russia's decision to nearly double the price in the wake of the February ouster of Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych.

Analysts have previously said they expect the two sides to agree a price of around $350 (260 euros) per thousand cubic meters of gas, about halfway between the old rate and the one set by Moscow after the ouster of Yanukovych.

About 15 percent of the natural gas that Europe consumes is Russian gas that transits through Ukraine.

Ukraine's newly elected leader Poroshenko on Tuesday ordered the creation of humanitarian corridors in eastern Ukraine to allow civilians to escape after two months of fighting against pro-Russian separatists.

The Pig has pushed the idea of such corridors but Poroshenko stopped short of accepting a request to allow Russian aid into the eastern rust-belt, fearing this would only support the rebels.

Russia has welcomed the corridor decision but warned at the same time that Kiev was pressing ahead with military operations and even intensifying them in some areas.

For the first time Moscow on Wednesday explicitly acknowledged links to pro-Russian militants, saying they were helping provide aid to eastern Ukraine.

"We are providing assistance through the existing means with the support from the rebels," Lavrov told OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier in Moscow.

On the ground, Poroshenko's offers have met only with suspicion from pro-Russia rebels.

"We heard about this initiative but doubt it will come into force," said a top leader in the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic."

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