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« Reply #14730 on: Jul 31, 2014, 05:54 AM »


Greek court acquits farmers who shot 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers

'Scandalous' verdict condemned by politicians and anti-racist groups after case that revealed migrant workers' plight

Helena Smith   
theguardian.com, Thursday 31 July 2014 01.35 BST   

A Greek court's decision to acquit local farmers who admitted shooting 28 Bangladeshi strawberry pickers when they dared to ask for months of back pay has sparked outrage in the country.

Politicians, unionists and anti-racist groups roundly condemned the verdict describing it as a black mark for justice in a case that had shone a light on the appalling conditions in which migrant workers are often kept in Greece.

"I feel shame as a Greek," said the victim's lawyer, Moisis Karabeyidis, after the tribunal in the western port city of Patras, delivered the shock ruling. "This decision is an outrage and a disgrace … the court showed an appalling attitude toward the victims."

Scores of migrants, many sobbing in disbelief, protested outside the court house after magistrates allowed two of the men, including the owner of the farm who had been accused of human trafficking, to walk free.

Two others, accused of aggravated assault and illegal firearms possession, were handed prison sentences of 14 years and seven months and eight years and seven months but were also freed pending appeal.

The Bangladeshis were shot at in April last year when they demanded to be remunerated for six months of unpaid work at a farm in Manolada in the southern Peloponnese. Four of the strawberry pickers were badly injured in the attack.

At a time of unrivalled crisis in Greece, where living standards have deteriorated dramatically after six straight years of recession, the case had triggered widespread indignation.

Media investigations showed the migrants to be working in subhuman conditions without access to proper hygiene or basic sanitation.

Politicians who took up the cause also weighed in on Wednesday saying the verdict sent set an unwelcome example for other employers to follow.

"It sends the message that a foreign worker can die like a dog in the orchard," said Vassiliki Katrivanou, an MP with the main opposition radical-left Syriza party. She added that in a nation where fruit-farm labourers are frequently from overseas, the attack in Manolada was far from being an isolated incident.

"It leaves room for new victims by closing eyes to the brutal, inhuman and racist character of the exploitation suffered by workers on the land," she said, pointing out that the ruling had been made on World Day against Trafficking in Persons.

The Greek farmers had instructed top criminal lawyers to defend them in a court drama that lasted for over a month. More than 40 prosecution witnesses testified in a case in which the prosecutor had asked that exemplary punishment be made.

Denouncing the judgment as scandalous, anti-racism organisations said it raised questions about the impartiality of the Greek justice system and vowed to step up protest action against the decision.

"We call upon unions and human rights movements to react against this unprecedented racist scandal," said Petros Constantinou, coordinator of the Movement Against Racism and the Fascist Threat in a statement. "The hundreds of millions of profit made in the strawberry industry cannot come about by shooting labourers in strawberry fields."


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« Reply #14731 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:00 AM »


Spanish PM and Catalonia leader hold talks over referendum plan

Artur Mas says meeting with prime minister Mariano Rajoy was 'quite positive' and two sides are willing to keep talking

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid
The Guardian, Wednesday 30 July 2014 16.55 BST   

Spain's prime minister and the secession-minded leader of Catalonia have begun talks amid a bitter dispute over the wealthy north-eastern region's plans for a referendum on independence in November.

The Catalan president, Artur Mas, said the two-and-a-half-hour closed-door session with Mariano Rajoy "wasn't the end of anything, and that in itself is quite positive". There was a willingness on both sides to keep talking, he said.

His press conference was slightly delayed by a man who yelled "Long live Spain!" in Catalan repeatedly until being forced to leave by the police.

With about three months before Catalonia's referendum, the meeting was widely seen as a last-ditch opportunity for the political adversaries to find common ground and ward off a potential crisis between Madrid and Barcelona.

Mas said the pair addressed a wide range of issues, including the region's economy and infrastructure, but failed to reach any kind of consensus on the November plebiscite. Rajoy said in a statement that he had reiterated that the referendum could not take place as it would be illegal under Spain's constitution.

In the absence of any alternative proposal from Rajoy, Mas said he would continue to push for the central government to allow the referendum to be held legally. Polls show that more than 70% of Catalonia's 7.5 million residents would like to hold a referendum.

In recent months there has been growing pressure on Mas and Rajoy to discuss alternatives such as a reform of Spain's 1978 constitution to transfer more powers to the country's 17 regions.


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« Reply #14732 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:03 AM »

EC serves notice to Poland over shale gas defiance

Warsaw accused of breaching EU law on assessing environmental impact of fracking, reports EurActiv

Arthur Neslen for EurActiv, part of the Guardian Environment Network
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 13.07 BST   

The European commission has begun legal proceedings against Poland for amending its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts, EurActiv has learned.

In June, Brussels sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive.

If Warsaw does not now satisfy the commission’s concerns by the end of August, the case could reach the European court of justice (ECJ).

Poland says that an amendment to its EIA law in June 2013 limits shale drills in ‘sensitive’ areas such as Natura 2,000 sites to 1,000m.

But “as shale gas reserves in Poland are located mostly at a depth 1,000-4,500m and the ‘sensitive’ areas cover only 23% of the Polish territory, the new thresholds de facto exclude most shale gas exploration projects in Poland from the scope of the EIA directive,” Joe Hennon, a spokesman for the environment commissioner, Janez Potočnik, told EurActiv.

This law obliges shale gas producers to analyse and report on factors including volumes of water used, numbers of wells created, and the environmental impact of heavy truck traffic to and from shale sites.

The location of projects and risk of accidents also have to be accounted for, particularly in forests and densely-populated urban areas.

European firms have little experience of hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – to extract shale gas, and “studies indicate that this technology creates high risks of groundwater and surface water contamination, as well as risks to air quality and biodiversity,” Hennon said. He added that governments planning shale drills needed first to address these “essential and relevant criteria” under EU law.

If European states choose to snub EU law, the ECJ has the power to levy substantial penalties. It rarely does so but Belgium, for instance, was recently fined €42,000 (£33,241) a day for not correctly implementing an energy efficiency directive.

“Fines take into account the GDP of the country and its ability to pay,” an EU official said

The new shale gas case will be closely watched, partly because the EIA was the only one of the EU’s 11 climate and environment laws that Poland fully transposed into its national statute on time, according to an analysis by the green legal group Client Earth.

Speeding up shale exploration

Paweł Mikusek, a spokesperson for Poland’s environment ministry said that the commission’s letter was still being analysed in Warsaw ahead of a formal response.

But the original amendment to Poland’s EIA law had been “aimed at speeding up exploration and searching for shale gas,” he said.

“When investors which had agreed concessions and [complied with] all environmental agreements, decided after their own analysis to change their location a little bit, they needed to start the whole [environmental risk assessment] procedure again, which was prolonging the exploration process,” Mikusek said.

Poland’s ambition to use shale gas as a lever to increase its energy independence from Russia has been hit by the pull-out of big industry players such as Marathon Oil, ExxonMobil and Talisman.

Earlier this year, the country’s supreme audit office reportedly accused the Polish environment ministry of being “unreliable” and moving so slowly that it would take 12 years to assess the country’s shale gas potential.

A few months before that, Poland’s prime minister Donald Tusk sacked his environment minister Marcin Korolec, in a move which he said was “about radical acceleration of shale gas operations”.

UK and Poland lobbying

Lobbying by Poland and the UK is thought to have stymied a directive regulating shale drills that the commission’s environment directorate had planned to include in its 2030 climate and energy package of EU legislation, announced in January.

At the time, EU officials insisted that strong non-binding recommendations could ultimately be more effective than a weaker directive with legal force.

But the commission has confirmed to EurActiv that only one (un-named) member state responded to a 28 July deadline under the proposal for submitting minimum environmental principles and measures for future shale gas activities.

That country sent in what the commission calls “an informal note”.

According to Shale Gas Europe, an industry group, the commission expects reports from Denmark, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK.

These states have until the end of the year to inform the commission of their plans, ahead of a review which could make the recommendations legally enforceable in 2015.

Antoine Simon, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth Europe said that the quiet from member states – and the commission – on 28 July was not surprising.

“The non-binding nature of the recommendations is creating a legal grey area that is exploited by companies in pro-fracking countries, at the expense of local communities and the environment,” he said.

New research by Friends of the Earth suggests that industrial lobbying affected the EU’s shale gas policy-making process, with business groups holding at least 10 times more meetings with EU officials about the proposed legislation, than did NGOs.


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« Reply #14733 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:06 AM »


Why Turkish women will be laughing all the way to the election

Turkey’s deputy prime minister has set off a social media storm by telling women how to behave in public. They are having none of it

Alev Scott   
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 13.10 BST          

Ten days before historic presidential elections in Turkey, the deputy prime minister has brought to the country’s attention the pressing matter of female modesty.


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« Reply #14734 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:12 AM »

Tears, and Anger, as Militants Destroy Iraq City’s Relics

By TIM ARANGO
JULY 30, 2014
IHT

BAGHDAD — When the Sunni extremists ruling Mosul destroyed the shrine of a prophet whose story features in the traditions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism — the most important of nearly two dozen marked for destruction by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in the first seven weeks of its reign — small groups of residents gathered to mourn.

“We were crying when they detonated it,” said Abdulmalik Mustafa, a 32-year-old unemployed man who lives near the site, believed to be the tomb of the biblical prophet Jonah, which was razed last week. “We couldn’t believe that the history of Mosul has disappeared. I wanted to die.”

Then rumors swirled that the next goal of the ISIS militants would be toppling the city’s ancient leaning minaret, which is older than the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy and is pictured on Iraq’s 10,000-dinar bank note. Residents gathered at the minaret and, according to witnesses, confronted the group’s fighters.

The angry public reaction to the attacks on Mosul’s cultural history — including the eviction of Christians by militants, which outraged many Muslim residents who celebrate Mosul’s reputation for tolerance — appears to be the first spark of rebellion against harsh Islamic rule. Although population figures in Iraq are notoriously unreliable, Mosul is considered the country’s second-largest city, with a population of about 1.5 million.

When militants swept into the city on June 10 and Iraqi soldiers shed their uniforms and fled, many residents seemed to cheer their arrival. Much of Mosul’s Sunni Arab population had become increasingly resentful of abuses suffered at the hands of Iraq’s Shiite-dominated central government. For a time, people welcomed the new authority.

It is too early to declare that a wide-scale rebellion is underway, or that ISIS, whose brand of ascetic Islamic law deems shrines heretical, is losing its grip of control on the city. But it suggests that the militants are wearing out their welcome to some degree.

Informal armed gangs of residents have already clashed with ISIS militants over the destruction of the tombs and shrines, residents say. Some militants have been killed in the clashes, they say, which have also led to the arrests of residents and could result in their executions.

“There are unorganized groups fighting ISIS now,” said Khalis Jumah, 32, a Mosul resident interviewed by phone. “If we had the power and the supplies, we could have kicked ISIS out of Mosul by now.”

Mr. Jumah said the rising anger in Mosul was directly related to the destruction of historical sites. “This is a huge disaster for Mosul and Iraq,” he said. “It’s a crime against the city and its history. We have been crying since the first day they started destroying our religious and historical landmarks.”

The rising public anger also resonates with a strategy being pushed by American officials and some moderate Sunnis here: working to win over some of the Sunni insurgent groups that have allied with ISIS.

Those groups — which include former Baathists who were once close to Saddam Hussein’s government and have already, in some places, fought with ISIS — are opposed to what they regard as the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government. But they are also seen as unsympathetic to the stated goal of ISIS to establish an Islamic caliphate under hard-line theocratic rule.

The strategy of trying to peel off the non-ISIS Sunni groups is a familiar one in Iraq, with a decidedly mixed legacy. It was born with the so-called Sunni Awakening program the Americans established in 2007, when Sunni tribal groups were paid to switch sides and fight against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the forerunner of ISIS.

The Awakening found success after Al Qaeda had alienated Sunni communities with its brutal rule. But its gains were unsustainable, particularly because Mr. Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government was unwilling to widely integrate Sunni militias into the country’s security forces.

Still, there is no doubt that ISIS has begun alienating some in Mosul.

Almost immediately after capturing the city, militants began imposing Islamic law. They banned smoking, forced women to wear full-face veils and carried out some summary executions of government employees they deemed disloyal to their authority.

But it has been the destruction of more than a dozen mosques, shrines, tombs and statues that has seemed to galvanize public anger within Mosul, an area that was once the capital of the Assyrian Empire and is believed to have first been settled in 6000 B.C. Over the centuries, various conquerors — Persians, Arabs, Turks and others — have come and gone, each leaving an imprint.

With so many shrines being destroyed, this week relatives of Saddam Hussein removed the former dictator’s body from its burial place in Awija, a village near Tikrit, and moved it to an undisclosed location, one of Mr. Hussein’s cousins said in a brief interview. Relatives worried that the grave, which had become something of a shrine for Mr. Hussein’s sympathizers, would become a target for government airstrikes or for the Shiite militias active in the area.

It is not just religious monuments like the prophet Jonah’s tomb that have been destroyed, but also statues of Abu Tammam, a famous Arab poet, and Mullah Othman, a beloved 19th-century musician and poet.

Militants even removed a statue of a figure representing an old Mosul profession: a man selling a drink of licorice, for which the city is famous. Even today, men walk the streets with a pouch of the drink slung over their shoulders and clang copper goblets to signal their presence.

“We realize the licorice man from the music he plays,” said Talal Safawi, a sculptor who carved the statue in 1973 and has remained in Mosul.

“This statue is part of my body as I am part of him,” he said. “He is my friend. He is everything to me. I can’t forget the face of my statue.”

More than a century ago, when Mosul was loosely governed by the Ottoman Empire, Gertrude Bell, a British traveler and writer who would later help establish modern Iraq after World War I, toured the ancient sites and reflected on the city’s traumatic history.

“Upon the unhappy province of Mosul hatred and the lust of slaughter weigh like inherited evils, transmitted (who can say?) through all the varying generations of conquerors since first the savage might of the Assyrian Empire set its stamp upon the land,” she wrote in 1909.

She was happy to report, though, that despite what she called Mosul’s “turbulent record,” the city had “lost nothing of its quality during the past few years.”

The same cannot be said now, with ISIS determined to erase a heritage that many previous conquerors left intact.

Bashar al-Kiki, the chairman of the Nineveh Provincial Council, who tracks events in Mosul from the Kurdish region in the north, said that armed civilians had recently attacked ISIS and that four militants had been killed.

“The people of Mosul are intensely angry at ISIS,” he said. “They can’t bear them anymore. This volcano of anger will explode soon.”
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« Reply #14735 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:14 AM »

Pakistan Acid Attacks on Women Cast Pall of Fear

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 07:21

A recent spate of acid attacks in a region of Pakistan previously untouched by the crime has sparked an impassioned debate about rising Islamisation that is forcing an increasing number of women to stay at home.

The horrific crime, which disfigures and often blinds its overwhelmingly female victims, has long been used to settle personal or family scores with hundreds of cases reported every year.

But two fresh attacks on consecutive days in the restive southwestern Baluchistan province last week, where until a few years ago such assaults were unheard of, suggests a new pattern is emerging.

Last Tuesday, two men on a motorcycle sprayed acid using syringes on two teenage girls who were returning from a market in Mastung town, 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the provincial capital Quetta.

The day before, four women aged between 18 and 50 had suffered the same fate in Quetta, in the market area of Sariab. They were partially burned.

"In accordance with our Baluch traditions, they were wrapped in big shawls as well as covering their faces. That... saved (them) from severe injuries," said Naz Bibi, mother of two of the victims.

Asked about the attackers, she said: "I can only request that they should not treat women in such a cruel way."

In most acid attack cases around Pakistan, the majority of victims know their attackers. When caught, relatives found guilty speak of punishing their victims for having sullied their "honour" or that of their family with "indecent" behaviour.

But, in these latest cases, the victims had no known connection to their assailants -- which has led campaigners to suggest the attacks are part of rising religious extremism in the province.

Vast and sparsely-populated but rich in resources, Baluchistan has long been racked by a separatist insurgency that has staunch leftist secular elements -- including strong participation by women -- and which reveres Communist icons like Argentine revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.

Separatists say the attacks on women are the latest battlefront in an ideological war between the rebels, who are fighting for a greater share of the region's mineral and gas wealth, and state-backed Islamist proxies who want to terrorise the population into acquiescence.

"The aim of these inhuman acts is to prevent women from participating in education, as well as social, political and economic aspects of life by creating a climate of terror," said Jahanzaib Jamaldini, vice president of the Baluch National Party, which is fighting for greater autonomy.

This week, three more women suffered injuries to their legs and feet in yet another attack -- though police and senior officials have so far said the latest incident was a case of a "family feud".

Mohammad Munzoor, a brother of one of the victims, lamented that the attackers were still at large.

"They roam the area on motorcycles and the local people have spotted them," he said.

- Militants involved? - 

In the Sariab district of Quetta, the scene of one of last week's attacks, Islamist groups like the Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal-Jammat (ASWJ), are increasingly coming to the fore.

Dressed in Arab garb, they are able to roam the area armed with automatic weapons without fear of molestation -- leading many to believe they are given tacit state backing.

"ASWJ controls the area with dozens of armed men," said one young resident, standing under the group's flag as it fluttered in the breeze, adding that their presence scared families into preventing women from being out in public.

The group said the accusations were "without any basis". "We condemn these attacks," Ramzan Mengal, the group's leader in Baluchistan said.

The acid attacks also fit a wider pattern of a steady erosion of women's rights, especially in separatist and erstwhile relatively secular strongholds.

Al-Furqhan, an obscure militant group, recently appeared in the one-time separatist rebel stronghold of Panjgur district, which borders Iran, threatening private schools over the teaching of girls, according to residents.

In an atmosphere rife with fear, no suspects have so far been arrested and no group has claimed responsibility.

The first recorded acid attack in Baluchistan came in 2010, with two more reported in 2012.

Leading English-language daily newspaper Dawn said in an editorial the identity of the attackers last week and over the past few years "were not difficult to gauge".

"In fact, after the Dalbandin attack an obscure religious group had claimed responsibility, warning women to stay away from public places if they were not accompanied by male members of the family," it said, referring to the 2010 case.

"Baluchistan has been steadily radicalised over the years, and a plethora of shadowy, extremist religious groups increasingly exercise their malign influence over society, diligently seeking to restrict women's agency, and deprive them of their rights," the paper added.

Mohammad Aslam, a women's tailor in Sariab, has seen sales drop by three-quarters since the market attack. "Women are afraid to step out of their homes or their men stop them from going," he said.

Shopkeepers in Mastung reported a similar decline in sales.

"We fear that such incidents could increase and leave no space for women in an already male-dominated society," said human rights activist Saima Jawaid.
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« Reply #14736 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:15 AM »

Afghan Election Resolution Inches forward with Audit Deal

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 13:57

Afghanistan's floundering attempts to declare a winner of its presidential election inched forward Thursday with a deal allowing an audit of all votes to restart, but the United Nations warned of the risk of further delays.

Alleged fraud during the June 14 election has plunged the country into a crisis as U.S.-led troops wind down their war against Taliban insurgents and President Hamid Karzai prepares to step down after ruling since 2001.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) said the two poll rivals, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, had finally agreed how the massive audit would separate fraudulent ballots from genuine votes.

Over eight million votes were cast on polling day, but Abdullah claimed "industrial-scale" fraud had denied him victory after preliminary results suggested that Ghani had won easily.

As the deepening stand-off threatened to spark a return to the ethnic violence of the 1992-1996 civil war, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Kabul earlier this month and persuaded the two opponents to agree to the audit.

But the process has been beset by stoppages as the campaign teams fought over each disputed ballot paper.

"What is now needed is full engagement of the parties, the international community and domestic observers," Jan Kubis, head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, told reporters.

"Any delays, any uncertainties, have a major negative impact on both the political and economic situation in Afghanistan."

The audit will restart on Saturday, though the timetable for the new president to be inaugurated on August 2 has been abandoned and no new date has been set.

A smooth election was seen as essential to justify the costly US-led military and civilian aid effort since the Taliban regime fell in 2001, and recent insurgent offensives have heightened fears of a worsening spiral of violence.

The disputed result and uncertainty over when Karzai will hand over power has tainted earlier celebrations over the high turnout and lack of major militant attacks in both the April first-round vote and the run-off seven weeks ago.

"We will resume auditing on Saturday... we ask the candidates and all their agents to respect this decision and cooperate," said IEC chief Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani.

"The election process has taken a long time and this has concerned people -- business is literally down, it has created a lot of economic problems."

On Wednesday, Kerry described the audit as "painstaking and slow", stressing that the two candidates should fulfill their commitment to accept its results and then form a national unity government.

"The time for politics is over. The time for cooperation is at hand. There is no time to waste," he wrote in an editorial for the Tolo News TV channel.


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« Reply #14737 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:21 AM »


Cambodia court begins genocide trial of Khmer Rouge leaders
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan accused of overseeing mass killings of up to 500,000 people in the 1970s

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    Agence France-Presse in Phnom Penh
    The Guardian, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.29 BST   

Khieu Samphan
Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan in the Phnom Penh courtroom. Photograph: Mark Peters/ECCC/EPA

Cambodia's UN-backed Khmer Rouge court has begun a second trial of two former regime leaders on charges including genocide of Vietnamese people and ethnic Muslims, forced marriages and rape.

The complex case of the regime's two most senior surviving leaders has been split into a series of smaller trials, initially focusing on the forced evacuation of people into rural labour camps and related crimes against humanity.

The first trial against the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea, 88, known as Brother Number Two, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, was completed late last year, with the verdict – and possible sentences – due to be delivered on 7 August.

At the opening hearing of the second trial on Wednesday, judge Nil Nonn read out the charges against both suspects as more than 300 people watched the proceedings from the court's public gallery.

Nuon Chea did not attend the hearing for health reasons, while Khieu Samphan sat in court alongside his defence team.

During the inaugural session of the second trial, which focuses on genocide and other crimes against humanity, judges will discuss issues such as reparations for victims.

"The second trial is equally important as the first, and more victims and witnesses will have the opportunity to testify about their experiences and suffering during the Khmer Rouge regime, on a broader range of criminal allegations," court spokesman Lars Olsen told AFP.

The mass killings of an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 ethnic Cham Muslims and 20,000 Vietnamese form the basis of the genocide charges against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

Before these charges were filed, the treatment of the minority Muslim group and Vietnamese community was rarely discussed.

The pair also face a string of other charges for the deaths of up to 2 million people through starvation, overwork or execution during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.

Most of these deaths do not fall under the charge of genocide, which is defined by the UN as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

It is not known how long the second trial will last, but Olsen estimated it may go on until 2016, with hearings covering crimes committed at Khmer Rouge labour camps and prisons including the notorious Tuol Sleng, a former Phnom Penh high school that became a jail and execution centre, also known as S-21.

"This trial is very important for me as a victim who lost both parents in Tuol Sleng," said Norng Chan Phal, 45, one of a handful of survivors from the prison.

"Those criminals who committed genocide and killed their own people must be punished seriously."

Led by Brother Number One Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge dismantled Cambodian society in an attempt to create an agrarian utopia.

The new trial will also provide the first forum for justice for tens of thousands of husbands and wives forced to marry, often in mass ceremonies, as part of a Khmer Rouge plan to boost the population. The rape charges refer to rape within the forced marriages.

In its historic debut trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in prison – later increased to life on appeal – for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.

But observers and victims have raised concerns that the ageing Khmer Rouge leaders may not survive to see a verdict.

Former regime foreign minister Ieng Sary died aged 87 last year while on trial for war crimes and genocide, while his wife was freed from jail in September 2012 after being ruled unfit for trial because of failing mental health.

***************


Cambodia reality TV show reunites families torn apart by the Khmer Rouge

It's Not a Dream's schmaltz may jar with the raw emotion left by genocide, but it offers the few a chance of finding lost loved ones

Irwin Loy in Phnom Penh
theguardian.com, Tuesday 16 July 2013 11.47 BST      

Khoem Sarom had all but given up hope. In the volatile years after the fall of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime, he trudged through malaria-infested jungles on his own to search for a little girl: his missing niece.

But he found only dead ends in the tiny villages and teeming refugee camps where he looked. His young niece, his sister's only daughter, was gone.

"I thought I would never again see my niece in this life," Khoem Sarom said at his home near Phnom Penh.

It has been almost 35 years since the Khmer Rouge collapsed, leaving behind a devastated country. Historians estimate that a quarter of the population perished during the regime's four-year rule.

The effects of that rule linger. Across a recovering nation, Khoem Sarom's story of loss is not unique. The Khmer Rouge split families apart in a ruthless attempt to remake society. Though decades have passed since its fall, many families are still searching for missing loved ones, unsure if they are alive or dead.

For Khoem Sarom and others like him, a reality television show offers a chance to find some sort of closure after years of uncertainty.

It's Not a Dream brings together long-lost relatives . The catch is that the reunions are staged under the lights and glare of cameras and a live studio audience.

The end result is a jarring fusion: the gawking immediacy of reality TV mixed with raw emotion left by genocide.

In the absence of a national programme to track down the missing, however, the producers believe the show can play a small but vital role.

In its three-year run, It's Not a Dream has orchestrated 27 reunions. More than 1,000 applicants have asked the show for help.

"It's not entertainment," said one of its producers, Prak Sokhayouk. "It's human life."

The show has a mostly older audience – Cambodians who lived through the Khmer Rouge and who see their own haunting experiences reflected in the tearful stories recounted on screen.

The show, Prak Sokhayouk believes, can spark inter-generational discussions needed in a country where the dark past has often been buried.

It took until 2009 for the government to make Khmer Rouge history a part of the school curriculum. A long-running war crimes tribunal set up to prosecute former leaders has so far convicted one person. Two surviving former leaders are currently facing trial.

In such an environment, some observers believe there is a role that even a reality show can play in healing old wounds.

"It's a very Cambodian way of trying to bring some closure," said Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, a prominent genocide research organisation. "You put the story on stage and there's a bit of drama and a happy ending."

Still, not everyone is eager to air their tragedies in such a public forum. Like many Cambodians, Youk Chhang lost family during the Khmer Rouge years.

"I think reconciliation is very personal. For me, I couldn't," he said. "I have no more tears to cry. So I couldn't go on stage to cry."

For others, though, It's Not a Dream is the only chance they have ever had at bringing their family together.

At a recent taping, Seak Mala sat on stage, waiting to tell her story.

"I used to go to bed crying, because I always missed my mother," she said on the morning of the show. "I never dared to go looking for them."

Seak Mala had heard about It's Not a Dream months before and decided to call the show. She asked them if they could find her family: her father, mother, grandmother and her uncle.

"I thought that if my parents and relatives heard my story, they would remember me," she said.

On stage, she stared at a large screen that showed a pre-produced video of Khoem Sarom describing his own loss. Backstage, he waited in silence as she slowly realised the man on the screen was her long-lost uncle.

The drama rose to a climax and Seak Mala, already in tears, was told she could finally meet him.

The show's saccharine reunion music blared through studio speakers as Khoem Sarom was led on stage. For the first time in decades, uncle and niece embraced – and live on a national television.

"I thought I lost you for ever," he said, sobbing in his niece's ear.

Still, even a seemingly cathartic reunion is bittersweet. As the cameras closed in, Seak Mala whispered a question to her uncle: "Where is my mother?"

Khoem Sarom wiped his eyes with a cloth. "I don't know if she's alive or if she's dead," he said.

• This article was amended on 19 July 2013. An earlier version referred to the drama rising to a crescendo, rather than a climax. This has been corrected.


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« Reply #14738 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:22 AM »


China reforms hukou system to improve migrant workers' rights

Removal of distinction between urban and rural residents should help migrant workers access services and social welfare

Tania Branigan in Beijing
theguardian.com, Thursday 31 July 2014 09.55 BST   

China is to overhaul the system that migrant workers say has made them second-class citizens, easing the settlement of 100 million people in cities over the next six years.

The plan from the state council will remove the distinction between urban and rural residents, a decision welcomed for its symbolic value at least. It should help migrant workers to access services and social welfare.

But experts warned that the changes to the hukou, or household registration system, fell short of hopes for more comprehensive reform and would have limited impact.

The reforms include exemptions for major cities, and analysts say key measures are not enforceable by the centre. Even if 100 million gain new rights, there are more than that already living in cities without official status.

The hukou system, introduced in the 1950s, ties people's access to services to their residential status. When controls on movement were relaxed, tens of millions of migrant workers left the fields to work in factories, toil on building sites, serve in restaurants or clean homes, contributing to China's spectacular economic growth.

But while they have built new cities and boosted their incomes, they have not enjoyed the same benefits in healthcare, pensions and other social welfare as city residents. Their children often struggle to access education; tens of millions have been left in the countryside to be raised by grandparents.

"Hukou is basically apartheid – apartheid against domestic servants," said Lynette Ong, associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. "One [question] is whether this makes a difference at the material level, in terms of entitlements and access to education. The second is [how it affects] some of the 'softer' discrimination against people with a rural hukou, with people in cities looking down on them."

China wants 60% of its almost 1.4 billion population to be urbanised by 2020, hoping that their increased consumption as city dwellers will boost the economy.

While the country has seen an extraordinary shift in recent decades – shifting from a predominantly rural to predominantly urban society in 2011 – authorities still fear that an uncontrollable rush to the cities could lead to slums and security problems. Existing residents fear that their privileges may be eroded.

Many of those who have gained urban hukous in recent years have been farmers resettled to small urban centres nearby, often when their land was taken over by the government. Moving across provinces or into major cities has proved – and will remain – far more difficult.

"Most people want to go to the big cities because that's where the opportunities are," said Ong.

Fei-ling Wang, a professor at Georgia Tech and author of Organisation Through Division and Exclusion: China's Hukou System, said: "The system is simply too important to get rid of: it helps the government to rule."

He said even incremental reform was good news, noting that specific details in the document – such as limits on how long governments can require social welfare contributions from migrants before granting them a hukou – should help workers.

He also noted that the document did not get to grips with the crucial question of land rights. In trials, many migrants have been reluctant to adopt an urban hukou because that would mean losing land rights, which they regard as an insurance policy. Deferring the issue might reassure workers for now but raised questions about the long term, he said. "It could even be a new way of appropriating their land."

Lu Yilong, an expert on hukou at Renmin University, said eradicating the urban/rural hukou distinction would form the basis for broader welfare and social service reforms. "Although regional differences, such as the difference between Beijing and Anhui, are likely to linger on, the reform will gradually bridge gaps within the same region," he said.

He said the government needed to follow up with matching reforms in areas such as education equality, social welfare and city planning.

Tao Ran, an expert on rural policy and urbanisation at Renmin University, said funding should be provided for public services. At present, local governments have few sources of income.

Migrants will be able to settle in small cities freely, but will face restrictions if they seek to move to cities with populations of between three to five million and a tough points system for cities with more than five million inhabitants.


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« Reply #14739 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:23 AM »

Australia Urged to Come Clean on Asylum-Seekers' Mental Health

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 10:22

Australia's human rights commissioner said Thursday the government must come clean about conditions at offshore asylum-seeker camps after an inquiry heard of an alleged cover-up of mental health problems.

The facilities have been under the spotlight in recent weeks following reports that up to a dozen mothers had attempted suicide at a detention centre on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean.

The women did so under the belief that their babies would have a better chance of being settled in Australia if they were orphans, reports said.

A leading psychiatrist alleged at a national inquiry into the mandatory detention of children seeking asylum that figures showing the extent of mental health issues had been covered up by the immigration department.

Peter Young, a former mental health services director with the International Health and Medical Service, a detention centre service provider, said he collected figures showing "significant" psychological problems among a number of child detainees.

"(The Immigration Department) reacted with alarm and have asked us to withdraw these figures from our reporting," Young said.

Immigration Department Secretary Martin Bowles told the inquiry: "If our staff did an inappropriate thing, then I will deal with that," the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs visited the Christmas Island centre this month and said many of the children being held were plagued by despair and suffering symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Thursday, she called for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to be more transparent about conditions in offshore centres, which also include Nauru in the Pacific and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

"If the information is being redacted, altered, before it gets to the minister then that is extremely concerning," she said on the sidelines of the inquiry.

"The minister has a responsibility to be much more transparent about what is happening.

"Where this is smothered in secrecy you get these kinds of processes where data is interfered with, statistics are changed or reporting is not given."

Morrison on Wednesday called Triggs' claims that children in detention were self-harming, biting themselves, banging into furniture, and swallowing poisons "quite sensational".

"She herself is not a doctor and we have medical people who are there who provide that care on a daily basis," he said, adding that the number of children being held had dropped by 35 percent since the conservative government took office.

The inquiry heard that 659 children were currently in immigration detention.

Asked Thursday about their living conditions, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters: "No one wants to see children in detention.

"But the only way to avoid this is to stop the boats and this government is utterly determined to stop the boats."

Any boatpeople who arrived in Australia after July 19, 2013 cannot be resettled in the country, regardless of whether they are eventually judged to be genuine refugees. They are instead sent to camps in the Pacific for processing or resettlement.


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« Reply #14740 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:35 AM »

'The world stands disgraced' - Israeli shelling of school kills at least 15

• UN condemns IDF attack on sleeping children as violation of international law
• Strike on crowded market in Shujai'iya during ceasefire kills 17
• Death toll now more than 1,300 after three weeks of fighting

Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem and Hazem Balousha in Jabaliya
The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014   

Link to video: Gaza: nothing more shameful than attacking sleeping children, says Ban Ki-moon

http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/jul/30/gaza-israel-shameful-attacking-sleeping-children-ban-ki-moon-video

United Nations officials described the killing of sleeping children as a disgrace to the world and accused Israel of a serious violation of international law after a school in Gaza being used to shelter Palestinian families was shelled on Wednesday.

At least 15 people, mostly children and women, died when the school in Jabaliya refugee camp was hit by five shells during a night of relentless bombardment across Gaza. More than 100 people were injured.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, said the attack was "outrageous and unjustifiable" and demanded "accountability and justice". The UN said its officials had repeatedly given details of the school and its refugee population to Israel.

Fighting in Gaza continued through the day despite a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire called by Israel from 3pm. A crowded market in Shujai'iya was hit in the late afternoon, causing at least 17 deaths, including a journalist, and injuring about 200 people, according to Gaza health officials. They said people had ventured out to shop in the belief a ceasefire was in place. Witnesses said several shells struck as people were running away. Israel said rockets and mortar shells continued to be fired from Gaza.

Israel on Thursday was showing no sign of scaling back Operation Protective Edge, with the military reportedly calling up an additional 16,000 reserves as the offensive entered its 24th day.

At the UN school the first shell came just after the early morning call to prayer, when most of those taking shelter were asleep, crammed into classrooms with what few possessions they had managed to snatch as they fled their homes.

About 3,300 people had squashed into Jabaliya Elementary A&B Girls' School since the Israeli military warned people to leave their homes and neighbourhoods or risk death under intense bombardment. Classroom number one, near the school's entrance, had become home to about 40 people, mostly women and children.

As a shell blasted through the wall, showering occupants with shrapnel and spattering blood on walls and floors, Amna Zantit, 31, scrambled to gather up her three terrified infants in a panicked bid for the relative safety of the schoolyard. "Everyone was trying to escape," she said, clutching her eight-month old baby tightly. Minutes later, a second shell slammed through the roof of the two-storey school. At least 15 people were killed and more than 100 injured. Most were women or children.

Pierre Krähenbühl, commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said the shelling of the school was a "serious violation of international law by Israeli forces".

Krähenbühl said: "Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced."

Khalil al-Halabi, the UN official in charge of the schools in the area, was quickly on the scene. Bodies were littered over the classroom, and the badly injured lay in pools of blood amid the debris and rubble caused by the blast. "I was shaking," he said. "It was very, very hard for me to see the blood and hear the children crying."

By daylight, the detritus of people's lives was visible among ruins of the classroom: a ball, a bucket, some blankets, tins of food, a pair of flip-flops. The corpses of donkeys, used to haul the meagre possessions of refugees to what they thought was safety, lay at the school's entrance as two lads wearing Palestinian boy scout scarves collected human body parts for burial. Five of the injured were in a critical condition in hospital.

Halabi was facing impossible requests for advice from those who escaped the carnage. "These people are very angry. They evacuated their homes and came here for protection, not to be killed inside a UN shelter. Now they are asking me whether to stay or leave. They are very frightened. They don't know what to do."

The attack on the school was the sixth time that UNRWA premises have been hit since the war in Gaza began more than three weeks ago, the UN said.

Palestinians fled their homes after Israel warned that failure to do so would put their lives at risk. Those at the Jabaliya school were among more than 200,000 who have sought shelter at UN premises in the belief that families would be safe.

Analysis of evidence gathered at the site by UNRWA led to an initial assessment that Israeli artillery had hit the school, causing "multiple civilian deaths and injuries including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site. These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army."

Krähenbühl added: "Our staff, the very people leading the humanitarian response, are being killed. Our shelters are overflowing. Tens of thousands may soon be stranded in the streets of Gaza, without food, water and shelter if attacks on these areas continue."

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it was investigating the incident at the UN school. Initial inquiries showed that "Hamas militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the school, and Israeli soldiers responded by firing towards the origins of the fire", a spokeswoman said.

A UN source said there was no evidence of militant activity inside the school.

The US, which has been at odds with Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, over efforts to secure a ceasefire, condemned the school shelling but did not specifically blame Israel.

The incident comes after an explosion at another UN school in Beit Hanoun last week as the playground was filled with families awaiting evacuation. Israel denied responsibility for the deaths, saying a single "errant" shell fired by its forces hit the school playground, which was empty at the time.

UNRWA has rejected the IDF's account, saying an initial shell was followed by several others within minutes. Reporters who visited the school shortly afterwards said damage and debris was consistent with mortar rounds. UNRWA has found rockets at three of its schools in Gaza in the past three weeks, which it has swiftly condemned as "flagrant violations of the neutrality of our premises".

Israel says militants from Hamas and other organisations launch rockets from the vicinity of UNRWA properties.

The Israeli military said it had targeted more than 4,100 sites in Gaza since the start of the conflict on 8 July. The death toll in Gaza rose above 1,300 on Wednesday.

Three soldiers were killed in fighting around Khan Younis, bringing the total IDF death toll to 56. Three civilians have died in rocket attacks on Israel.

In an emotional statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the "destructive cycle of violence has caused untold suffering".

He said: "You can't look at the pictures coming from Gaza and Israel without your heart breaking. We must cry to God and beat down the doors of heaven and pray for peace and justice and security. Only a costly and open-hearted seeking of peace between Israeli and Palestinian can protect innocent people, their children and grandchildren, from ever worse violence."

He called for a renewed "commitment to political dialogue in the wider search for peace and security for both Israeli and Palestinians".

Support for the military operation among the Israeli public remained solid. A poll published by Tel Aviv university this week found 95% of Israeli Jews felt the offensive was justified. Only 4% believed too much force had been used.

**************

US condemns shelling of UN school in Gaza but restocks Israeli ammunition

Paul Lewis in Washington and Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Thursday 31 July 2014 00.19 BST   

The United States issued a firm condemnation of the shelling of a United Nations school in Gaza that killed at least 16 Palestinians on Wednesday, but also confirmed it restocked Israel’s dwindling supplies of ammunition.

The White House expressed concern that thousands of civilians who had sought protection from the UN were at risk after the shelling of the girls’ elementary school. Some 3,300 civilians were taking shelter there, after being told by Israel to leave their homes.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, which runs the school, said its initial assessment was that it has been struck by Israeli artillery.

“The United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza, which reportedly killed and injured innocent Palestinians – including children – and UN humanitarian workers,” said Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council.

“We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in UN designated shelters in Gaza.”

Meehan and other US officials that condemned the attack did not specifically accuse Israel of responsibility for the shelling, saying there were conflicting reports about the circumstances of the incident that required further investigation. They did not specify the nature of those conflicting reports.

However Washington’s implied condemnation of Israel marked the strongest language used by the US since the conflict in Gaza began. The US also strongly criticised the hiding of weapons at UN facilities in Gaza, although officials acknowledged they did not know if rockets had been stored at the UNRWA school.

“All of these actions, and similar ones earlier in the conflict, are inconsistent with the UN’s neutrality,” Meehan said. “This violence underscores the need to achieve a ceasefire as soon as possible.”

At the same time however, there was little evidence of Washington using its leverage with Israel, including record levels of military aid, to apply pressure on Jerusalem to curtail its offensive.

The Pentagon confirmed a CNN report that the US had recently provided Israel with a shipment of ammunition. “The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability,” said Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral Kirby. “This defense sale is consistent with those objectives.”

The Israeli military requested the addition ammunition on 20 July . The US defense department approved the sale three days later, Kirby said.

Two of the requested munitions were sourced from a secret stockpile the US keeps in Israel for emergencies. White House approval was not required to release the weaponry War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel (WRSA-I), Kirby added. He did not say whether the White House was involved in the decision to supply the other ammunition apparently requested by the Israelis.

The provision of ammunition could prove controversial for Washington, which has expresssed growing concern about the deaths Palestinian civilians while maintaining support for its close ally.

In Congress, both Democrats and Republicans were working on a package of additional military support for Israel’s “iron dome” security system.

Israel’s decision to press ahead with its offensive in Gaza despite a chorus of international condemnation was reaffirmed on Wednesday, following a meeting of the Israeli cabinet.

UNRWA said it was the sixth time one of its schools had been struck. “Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame,” said Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general.

“We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts.”

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of using UN facilities as cover and UNRWA has discovered caches of rockets hidden at some of its schools.

A UN source said there was no evidence of militant activity inside the school attacked on Wednesday.

The state department withheld judgment on the UN’s assessment that Israel was behind the latest attack, saying there should be a more thorough investigation to establish culpability. While voicing mounting concern, US officials appeared reluctant to directly criticise its close ally after days of growing friction with Jerusalem that has occasionally surfaced in anonymous briefings in the press.

“We don’t know if there were rockets in the school,” said Marie Harf, a deputy spokeswoman at the state department, explaining Washington’s refusal to apportion explicit blame for the shelling. “We don’t know for certain who shelled the school.”

The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon directly contradicted that position, saying the attack, which he described as “outrageous” and “unjustifiable”, had been perpetrated by Israel. Ban said that “all available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause” of the pre-dawn attack, and he pointedly noted that Israeli military authorities had received the coordinates of the school from the United Nations 17 times, including on Tuesday night.

**************

Bolivia declares Israel a terrorist state over attack on Gaza

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 15:33 EDT

Bolivia on Wednesday renounced a visa exemption agreement with Israel in protest over its offensive in Gaza, and declared it a terrorist state.

President Evo Morales announced the move during a talk with a group of educators in the city of Cochabamba.

It “means, in other words, we are declaring (Israel) a terrorist state,” he said.

The treaty has allowed Israelis to travel freely to Bolivia without a visa since 1972.

Morales said the Gaza offensive shows “that Israel is not a guarantor of the principles of respect for life and the elementary precepts of rights that govern the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of our international community.”

More than two weeks of fighting in Gaza have left 1,300 dead and 6,000 wounded amid an intense Israeli air and ground campaign in response to missile attacks by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

In the latest development, 16 people were killed after two Israeli shells slammed into a United Nations school, drawing international protests.

Bolivia broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009 over a previous military operation in Gaza.

In mid-July, Morales filed a request with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prosecute Israel for “crimes against humanity.”

**************

Gaza: Israel calls up more reservists after rejecting calls for ceasefire

Official says move will allow Israel Defence Forces to expand attacks ‘against Hamas and the other terror organisations’

Ian Black, Middle East editor, Patrick Kingsley in Cairo and Paul Lewis in Washington
The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014 08.57 BST

Israel has said it is calling up another 16,000 reserves following a security cabinet meeting that decided to keep up military operations in Gaza, ignoring international pressure for an immediate ceasefire.

The move will allow the Israeli military to substantially widen its 23-day campaign against Hamas, which has already claimed more than 1,360 Palestinian lives – most of them civilians – and reduced entire Gaza neighbourhoods to rubble. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have died during the campaign.

Israel has now called up a total of 86,000 reserves during the Gaza conflict. At least 19 air strikes were carried out overnight, officials said.

Against a background of heavy fighting in Gaza and the shelling of a UN-run school, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, convened his senior colleagues in a security cabinet on Wednesday to discuss the crisis amid warnings that Hamas’s demands for lifting the siege of the Palestinian coastal enclave were a “non-starter” and stalling ceasefire efforts in Cairo.

Israel was not close to a ceasefire, the newspaper Haaretz quoted an unnamed senior official as saying after the five-hour cabinet meeting.

“When a ceasefire proposal that answers Israel’s important needs is laid on the table, it will be considered. The operation continues and the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] will expand its attacks against Hamas and the other terror organisations.” Temporary humanitarian ceasefires would continue, the official said.

The White House, which has been at odds with Netanyahu over efforts to secure a ceasefire, reacted to the shelling of the school by issuing an unusually firm condemnation of the incident and expressing serious concern that thousands of Palestinians taking shelter in supposed UN havens were now at risk.

The US condemned the attack but refused to apportion blame and, hours later, confirmed it had recently provided Israel with a shipment of ammunition, after the country’s existing supplies appeared to be running low.

The provision of ammunition could prove controversial for Washington, which has expressed growing concern about the deaths of Palestinian civilians while maintaining support for its close ally.

“The US is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defence capability,” said the Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby. “This defence sale is consistent with those objectives.”

The Israeli military requested the additional ammunition on 20 July. The US defence department approved the sale three days later, Kirby said.

Gaza conflict in numbers

In a later incident on Wednesday, Palestinian sources reported that 17 people had been killed and 200 injured in Israeli shelling in the Gaza City neighbourhood of Shujai’iya during a supposed four-hour humanitarian pause.

Israel said Gazan rocket fire also continued. It announced too that three more IDF soldiers had been killed in a booby-trapped building in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, bringing its total military fatalities to 56.

General Sami Turjeman, the head of Israel’s southern command, told Israel Radio that his forces would complete the destruction of cross-border tunnels in Gaza within a few days. “We have killed scores of Hamas’s best fighters,” he said. “With every day that passes we are getting closer to our goal of destroying the tunnels.” Israel’s media and public is focusing narrowly on military operations, casualties and achievements.

In New York, the UN security council met in special session to discuss the Gaza situation at the request of Jordan, but there was little sign of any imminent diplomatic breakthrough. Haaretz reported that Israel was considering drafting a security council resolution containing its terms for ending the war.

Hamas has insisted that the blockade be lifted and prisoners released by Israel as its condition for ending rocket fire across the border. It dismissed Israel’s latest offer of a pause as a PR move, as operations in some areas of Gaza were exempted.

Hopes for progress lie in talks that are expected to take place in Egypt on Thursday involving Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and chairman of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, at the head of a united Palestinian delegation.

“A representative from Hamas is part of the official Palestinian delegation and of course that’s a positive step,” said a Cairo-based diplomat. “This is more or less what should have been done from the beginning. If you want something sustainable, you need all sides represented.”

Abbas was reported to have spoken to Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, who is based in Qatar, but there were signs of disagreement about the composition of the delegation and the terms of the talks.
Timeline

Turkish media reported that Hamas had agreed that the Palestinian Authority would represent it and negotiate on its behalf, but Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, complained of Egyptian pressure to agree to a ceasefire before any talks took place.

Diplomats said Egypt felt under greater pressure to secure a deal during this round of negotiations in order to maintain its traditional role as broker, despite hostility between Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, and Hamas, which is close to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Having previously appeared to rule out easing Gaza’s blockade along its own borders, Egyptian officials have been displaying increased willingness to put the issue on the table – a significant concession that in turn might help convince Hamas to lay down its arms.

“The Egyptians understand that the negotiations have already gone out of Cairo once,” said one informed source. “If they leave Cairo twice, they may not come back again.”

Israel, meanwhile, appeared to be trying to smooth over an ugly spat in its relations with the US. Ron Dermer, its ambassador to Washington, blamed Israel’s “very rambunctious democracy” for attacks on the US secretary of state, John Kerry, distancing Netanyahu from highly critical remarks that were reported in Israeli media.

“This is not coming from the prime minister,” Dermer said, defending what he called a just war in Gaza. “Hamas is no different than al-Qaida … You can imagine what the American people would want their government to do.” He also said 87% of the Israeli people opposed a ceasefire.

Israeli officials expressed anger that Kerry had consulted the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey over a Gaza ceasefire on the grounds that both countries are close to Hamas, though both are also close US allies.

“Qatar, financially and politically, diplomatically and through al-Jazeera, is supporting a terrorist group,” an Israeli official told the JTA news agency. “Instead of contributing to the development of the area, they are contributing to terror in the region.”

***************

Quest for Demilitarization of Gaza Is Seen Getting Netanyahu Only So Far

By JODI RUDOREN
07/31/2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — After years in which Israel’s prevailing approach to the Gaza Strip was a simple “quiet for quiet” demand, there is growing momentum around a new formula, “reconstruction for demilitarization.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is only the latest in a string of Israeli leaders who saw Gaza mainly as an irritant to be controlled with periodic crackdowns and as a roadblock to resolving the nation’s broader conflict with the Palestinians. But as Israel’s latest military bout with the Islamist Hamas faction, which dominates Gaza, has proved tougher than previous rounds, even Mr. Netanyahu has begun talking about Gaza’s need for “social and economic relief” from decade-old Israeli restrictions on trade and travel.

Mr. Netanyahu, who spent two months denouncing his Palestinian counterpart, President Mahmoud Abbas, for reconciling with Hamas, seems to be opening to the notion that a unity government led by Mr. Abbas might be the way to unlock Hamas’s hold on Gaza and quell violence. While these steps have won him some praise, analysts said they were still more tactical management than long-term strategy, and held little promise unless Mr. Netanyahu shifted positions on the larger Palestinian question.

“I don’t see any vision,” said Shlomo Brom, director of the program on Israeli-Palestinian relations at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies. “He’s trying to react to what is happening, trying to minimize the damage of anything that is happening, and to return to the status quo, to a kind of equilibrium that existed before the crisis.”

Diplomatic fits and starts continued on Wednesday, the 23rd day of Israel’s latest bloody battle with Hamas and other Gaza-based militants, as Israel’s top ministers debated both a cease-fire and an expansion of the operation. Palestinian factions were still trying to coordinate a delegation to Cairo for talks.

Sari Bashi, co-founder of Gisha, an Israeli human rights group focused on Gaza, was one of several experts who said the involvement of Mr. Abbas in cease-fire talks, his April reconciliation with Hamas and shifting regional alliances created opportunities for real change compared with the cease-fires that ended Israel-Hamas fighting in 2012 and 2009.

This time, Ms. Bashi said, more can be accomplished than “vague promises to expand access coupled with vague promises to stop firing rockets, all of which have been broken.”

Nathan Thrall, a co-author of a recent International Crisis Group report on Gaza, said it was “somewhat dangerous” for Mr. Netanyahu to emphasize demilitarization “because I don’t think anyone is under the impression that he can get it any other way than doing it forcefully.” Still, Mr. Thrall said, “he can use demilitarization as a card in order to limit the amount of concessions that he makes in the cease-fire negotiations.”

As the Israeli-Palestinian tug over territory and historical narratives has devolved over generations, Gaza — a dense seaside pocket where most of today’s 1.7 million residents descend from families displaced by Israel’s establishment — has played a particularly fraught role. Israel took control of the strip during the 1967 war, then withdrew its soldiers and settlers in 2005 in what remains one of the most contentious issues in Israeli politics.

In the years since, and particularly after Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006 and routed opposition forces from Gaza the next year, Israel has maintained an uneasy occupation. It restricts fishing and farming zones; monitors goods going in and out, ostensibly for security; and gives rare exit permits, mainly for medical treatment. But it is also Israeli power lines that provide Gaza’s limited electricity and Israeli trucks that, even during the raging fighting of recent days, ferry in milk, rice and sugar.

“You cannot win against an effective guerrilla organization when on the one hand, you are fighting them, and on the other hand, you continue to supply them with water and food and gas and electricity,” said Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser. “Israel should have declared a war against the de facto state of Gaza, and if there is misery and starvation in Gaza, it might lead the other side to make such hard decisions.”

Mr. Eiland has long argued that Israel should engage Hamas as the government of Gaza rather than try to isolate it, and advocated a Marshall Plan to rebuild the battered territory. Until recently, his was a rather lone voice.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s right-wing foreign minister, proffered a plan that would lift all limits on Gaza but seal its borders with Israel, essentially pushing the territory toward Egypt. Others imagined that making life in Gaza miserable might lead to Hamas’s downfall. But that approach failed as poverty helped foment violence, because Israel’s occupation of the West Bank hardly made it seem like paradise, and because the Palestinian struggle is inspired by ideas about liberation and identity.

Neither idea, in any case, accounted for the fact that Palestinians see Gaza as an integral part of their future state, as promised by the Oslo Accords signed in the mid-1990s.

“The Gaza Strip is not viable on its own, it’s certainly not viable being blockaded, and it’s not viable if it’s disconnected from the West Bank,” said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who lived in Gaza for more than a year and is now based in Ramallah, in the West Bank. “Violence is not just for the sake of violence. Violence is because there are political issues that haven’t been dealt with.”

Since the July 8 onset of Israel’s assault on Gaza, there have been growing calls from Israeli politicians and the Israeli public for a more aggressive effort to topple Hamas. Mr. Netanyahu and his defense minister have set limited goals for the troops, even as they warn that the operation could expand.

“We understand that in this part of the world there aren’t perfect solutions,” said one senior Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share internal thinking. “If you can, through this operation, significantly weaken them militarily, if you can reinforce with them the thinking that it’s not in their interest to shoot rockets into Israel, and if you can have the international community on board to prevent Hamas from rearming, these are elements of an endgame.”

Dore Gold, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, said demilitarization had worked elsewhere in the Middle East, pointing to United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which required Saddam Hussein to give up weapons of mass destruction after the first gulf war in 1991, and President Bashar al-Assad’s agreement in Syria to turn in chemical weapons last summer. Mr. Gold said that in demilitarization, Mr. Netanyahu now had “a very clear strategic goal.”

But Gilead Sher, a former Israeli peace negotiator, said it was a far too limited one. Like Mr. Thrall and others, he said the key was strengthening Mr. Abbas and his reconciliation government — the opposite of Mr. Netanyahu’s tack this spring.

“We have to have a policy, not just a reactive policy and an automatic kind of response to the developments,” Mr. Sher said. “We need to get our act together vis a vis the Palestinian people in the territories altogether. The odds for that to happen right now are, interestingly, more plausible than before this last round of bloodshed.”

**************

Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK
07/31/2014
IHT

CAIRO — Battling Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbors to end the fighting.

Not this time.

After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.

“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.

“I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas,” he said. “The silence is deafening.”

Although Egypt is traditionally the key go-between in any talks with Hamas — deemed a terrorist group by the United States and Israel — the government in Cairo this time surprised Hamas by publicly proposing a cease-fire agreement that met most of Israel’s demands and none from the Palestinian group. Hamas was tarred as intransigent when it immediately rejected it, and Cairo has continued to insist that its proposal remains the starting point for any further discussions.

But as commentators sympathetic to the Palestinians slammed the proposal as a ruse to embarrass Hamas, Egypt’s Arab allies praised it. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt the next day to commend it, Mr. Sisi’s office said, in a statement that cast no blame on Israel but referred only to “the bloodshed of innocent civilians who are paying the price for a military confrontation for which they are not responsible.”

“There is clearly a convergence of interests of these various regimes with Israel,” said Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to Palestinian negotiators who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington. In the battle with Hamas, Mr. Elgindy said, the Egyptian fight against the forces of political Islam and the Israeli struggle against Palestinian militants were nearly identical. “Whose proxy war is it?” he asked.

The dynamic has inverted all expectations of the Arab Spring uprisings. As recently as 18 months ago, most analysts in Israel, Washington and the Palestinian territories expected the popular uprisings to make the Arab governments more responsive to their citizens, and therefore more sympathetic to the Palestinians and more hostile to Israel.

But instead of becoming more isolated, Israel’s government has emerged for the moment as an unexpected beneficiary of the ensuing tumult, now tacitly supported by the leaders of the resurgent conservative order as an ally in their common fight against political Islam.

Egyptian officials have directly or implicitly blamed Hamas instead of Israel for Palestinian deaths in the fighting, even when, for example, United Nations schools have been hit by Israeli shells, something that occurred again on Wednesday.

And the pro-government Egyptian news media has continued to rail against Hamas as a tool of a regional Islamist plot to destabilize Egypt and the region, just as it has since the military ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood one year ago. (Egyptian prosecutors have charged Hamas with instigating violence in Egypt, killing its soldiers and police officers, and even breaking Mr. Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders out of jail during the 2011 uprising.)

The diatribes against Hamas by at least one popular pro-government talk show host in Egypt were so extreme that the government of Israel broadcast some of them into Gaza.

“They use it to say, ‘See, your supposed friends are encouraging us to kill you!’ ” Maisam Abumorr, a Palestinian student in Gaza City, said in a telephone interview.

Some pro-government Egyptian talk shows broadcast in Gaza “are saying the Egyptian Army should help the Israeli Army get rid of Hamas,” she said.

At the same time, Egypt has infuriated Gazans by continuing its policy of shutting down tunnels used for cross-border smuggling into the Gaza Strip and keeping border crossings closed, exacerbating a scarcity of food, water and medical supplies after three weeks of fighting.

“Sisi is worse than Netanyahu, and the Egyptians are conspiring against us more than the Jews,” said Salhan al-Hirish, a storekeeper in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. “They finished the Brotherhood in Egypt, and now they are going after Hamas.”

Egypt and other Arab states, especially the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are finding themselves allied with Israel in a common opposition to Iran, a rival regional power that has a history of funding and arming Hamas.

For Washington, the shift poses new obstacles to its efforts to end the fighting. Although Egyptian intelligence agencies continue to talk with Hamas, as they did under former President Hosni Mubarak and Mr. Morsi, Cairo’s new animosity toward the group has called into question the effectiveness of that channel, especially after the response to Egypt’s first proposal.

As a result, Secretary of State John Kerry turned to the more Islamist-friendly states of Qatar and Turkey as alternative mediators — two states that grew in regional stature with the rising tide of political Islam after the Arab Spring, and that have suffered a degree of isolation as that tide has ebbed.

But that move has put Mr. Kerry in the incongruous position of appearing to some analysts as less hostile to Hamas — and thus less supportive of Israel — than Egypt or its Arab allies.

For Israeli hawks, the change in the Arab states has been relatively liberating.

“The reading here is that, aside from Hamas and Qatar, most of the Arab governments are either indifferent or willing to follow the leadership of Egypt,” said Martin Kramer, president of Shalem College in Jerusalem and an American-Israeli scholar of Islamist and Arab politics. “No one in the Arab world is going to the Americans and telling them, ‘Stop it now,’ ” as Saudi Arabia did, for example, in response to earlier Israeli crackdowns on the Palestinians, he said. “That gives the Israelis leeway.”

With the resurgence of the anti-Islamist, military-backed government in Cairo, Mr. Kramer said, the new Egyptian government and allies like Saudi Arabia appear to believe that “the Palestinian people are to bear the suffering in order to defeat Hamas, because Hamas cannot be allowed to triumph and cannot be allowed to emerge as the most powerful Palestinian player.”

Egyptian officials disputed that characterization, arguing that the new government was maintaining its support for the Palestinian people despite its deteriorating relations with Hamas, and that it had grown no closer to Israel than it was under Mr. Morsi or Mr. Mubarak.

“We have a historical responsibility toward the Palestinians, and that is not related to our stance on any specific faction,” said a senior Egyptian diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. “Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Palestine.”

Egyptian officials noted that the Egyptian military and the Red Crescent had delivered medical supplies and other aid to Gaza. Cairo continues to keep open lines of communication with Hamas, including allowing a senior Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouq, to reside in Cairo.

Other analysts, though, argued that Egypt and its Arab allies were trying to balance their own overriding dislike for Hamas against their citizens’ emotional support for the Palestinians, a balancing act that could grow more challenging as the Gaza carnage mounts.

“The pendulum of the Arab Spring has swung in Israel’s favor, just like it had earlier swung in the opposite direction,” said Mr. Elgindy, the former Palestinian adviser.

“But I am not sure the story is finished at this point.”

« Last Edit: Jul 31, 2014, 06:42 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #14741 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:37 AM »


Liberia takes steps to contain west African Ebola outbreak

The latest efforts come as senior western officials held meetings to assess the risk of ebola reaching their shores

Monica Mark, west Africa Correspondent
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 20.31 BST   
 
Liberia plans to shut down schools and many markets, place all non-essential public servants on leave and quarantine several communities in the most stringent bid yet to curb an Ebola epidemic that has raged for seven months across three west African nations. A Liberian civil servant who last week died after flying to Nigeria, the continent's most populous nation, brought the total number of countries hit by the deadly and contagious pathogen to four.

The latest efforts come as senior western officials, including from the US and UK, held meetings to assess the risk of Ebola reaching their shores, although experts say any outbreak there is likely to be far easier to contain. Sawyer, who carried dual American and Liberian nationality, had been due to travel to the US for his daughters' birthday next month, his wife told CNN.

Several rural communities – where many view Ebola with much the same terror and misunderstanding as westerners did when the Aids epidemic began – may be quarantined, with food supplies and medical support ferried in by only approved persons, authorities said. All public facilities could be chlorinated and disinfected on Friday, and public gatherings have already been banned. The strict measures echo those that allowed Uganda to rapidly shut down an outbreak in 1997.

"It's a dire situation. The spread is overwhelming health workers and facilities. We need all the help and support we can get from the international community," Lewis Brown, Liberia's information minister, told the Guardian. He said communities most hard hit by the virus would be quarantined for as long as necessary, with security forces enforcing the plan. "It's an emergency, so we hope people will understand."

Doctors today began seeing patients at one of Liberia's main Ebola isolation wards, with up to 20 patients awaiting treatment at home. Some residents in Monrovia initially protested against a new ward being set up, fearing it would endanger them.

Spread by contact with bodily fluids of infected patients, bush meat or surfaces, Ebola has killed 672 people since it originated in Guinea, the impoverished west African nation. Health officials took several weeks to pinpoint the origin of the disease to a remote village in the country's forest hinterlands, by which time it had spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Authorities in all three nations have since faced a battle to win over terrified residents, as well as curb traditions that involve contact with victims' contagious corpses.

Some campaigns have shown signs of working. Sylvia Johnson, a resident in the capital Monrovia, pulled her grandson out of summer school at the beginning of the week after seeing a government-printed poster of graphic corpses of Ebola victims, who frequently die from both internal and external haemorrhaging. "He cried, but no child will control me. It will be better for him to live and attend many more vacation schools than get sick from Ebola," she said.

Nigerian authorities also mobilised unusually swiftly, underlying their concern about an outbreak in the continent's most populous nation and major commerce hub. Police and health workers began printing information leaflets, including in widely-spoken pidgin English. The country's main carrier, Arik Air, has suspended flights between Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone, while international airports and seaports have been placed on red alert, and passengers are being monitored.

Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, has chaired an emergency Cobra meeting amid warnings that the deadly Ebola virus could be a threat to Britain, although health experts said the country was well prepared to deal with any potential cases.

Hammond said no British national so far had been affected by the outbreak and there had been no cases in the UK but he chaired the meeting to assess the situation.

The UK announced a new £2m package of assistance will be made available immediately to partners including the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) and Médecins sans Frontières that are operating in Sierra Leone and Liberia to tackle the outbreak. The European commission said it would allocate an additional €2m (£1.6m) – on top of €1.9m (£1.5m) – to help contain the spread of the epidemic.

"The level of contamination on the ground is extremely worrying and we need to scale up our action before many more lives are lost," said Kristalina Georgieva, EU commissioner for humanitarian aid.


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« Reply #14742 on: Jul 31, 2014, 06:44 AM »


Argentina heads for second default as talks with bondholders break down

Axel Kiciloff, Argentina’s economy minister, has been locked in intense negotiations with holdout creditors

Heidi Moore in New York and Angela Monaghan in London
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 23.47 BST   
   
Argentina was heading for its second debt default in 13 years on Wednesday night after negotiations with bondholders broke down in New York.

Axel Kicillof, Argentina’s economy minister, said US hedge funds rejected the country’s latest offer.

Kicillof has been locked in intense negotiations with holdout creditors demanding to be paid the full value for bonds they own on which Argentina defaulted. The talks have been overseen by a mediator appointed by a US judge who ordered Argentina to pay the creditors.

The court-appointed mediator, Daniel Pollack, confirmed that no agreement had been reached and “the Republic of Argentina will imminently be in default”.

Pollack said that default “is not a mere ‘technical’ condition, but rather a real and painful event that will hurt real people,” including Argentine citizens, exchange bondholders and the holdout investors.

The ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, had earlier declared some Argentine bonds to be in “selective default” because the country did not make a $539m interest payment due on 30 June. Kiciloff denied the country was in default and suggested that Standard & Poor’s was not an “impartial referee.”

Argentina tried to make the payment but was prevented by a New York judge as part of an effort to force the country to settle a dispute with US creditors. The judge, Thomas Griesa, ruled Argentina could not pay the restructured bonds back unless it also paid more than $1.5bn to the holdout investors. Argentina has insisted it cannot afford to do both.

The ruling provided for a 30-day grace period, which fell due on Wednesday. The payment was due to over 93% of Argentina’s bondholders who accepted the debt restructuring deals in 2005 and 2010, wiping out 70 cents on every dollar of their holdings, and which the government wanted to honour.

Kicillof, speaking at the Argentinian consulate in Manhattan, said the country had offered the holdout bondholders the same terms as previous debt swaps. He called their insistence on full payment “extortion” and insisted the country would “fight it with all our weapons” .

A fresh default is not expected to affect Argentina’s economy as it did more than a decade ago, when dozens were killed in street protests and the authorities froze savers’ accounts to halt a run on the banks.

There will still be consequences, however, as it is expected to worsen an economy already in recession, weaken the currency as more Argentines seek to hold dollars, and put pressure on foreign reserves. It could also raise soybean prices, as the country is the world’s third-largest soybean exporter.

“The full consequences of default are not predictable, but they certainly are not positive,” Pollack said.

Led by the country’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina has refused to pay investors she has branded “vulture funds”, which were holding out for full repayment. The fear in Argentina is that any deal to repay the holdouts in full would trigger lawsuits from the bondholders who accepted the earlier deals, demanding to be paid on similar terms. The government in Buenos Aires estimates that the associated liability could run to as high as $15bn.

The holdouts are US hedge funds spearheaded by the billionaire Paul Singer’s NML Capital, an affiliate of Elliott Management, and Aurelius Capital Management.

Markets had been optimistic that a deal could be hammered out at the eleventh hour, with the value of the country’s bonds and shares rising.

Hopes were boosted by the prospect of a potential intervention by Argentina’s banking association. Under the proposals, a consortium of Argentinian banks would offer to buy the country’s debt held by the holdout investors.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report


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« Reply #14743 on: Jul 31, 2014, 07:00 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

US economy bounces back with 4% GDP growth in second quarter

Economy rebounds from rough winter with better-than-expected growth as first quarter numbers revised upwards

Dominic Rushe in New York
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 19.15 BST      

The US economy bounced back strongly in the spring, shaking off the effects of an unusually harsh winter, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy, grew by 4% on an annual basis, better than the average of 3% predicted by economists. In the first three months of the year the economy shrank by 2.1%, the Commerce Department announced, softening its first estimate of a 2.9% fall.

Annual revisions also released on Wednesday show the economy grew by 4% in the second half of 2013, its fastest pace of growth in a decade.

Despite the good news the economic recovery remains the weakest since the second world war. GDP has grown by just 1% in the first six months of the year. The pick up in the economy in late 2013 was wiped out by one of the harshest winters on record and even at 4% the pace of recovery remains sluggish.

The Commerce Department said the increase in GDP in the second quarter reflected growth in consumer spending, private inventory investment, exports, nonresidential fixed investment, state and local government spending and residential fixed investment.

The figures come as the Federal Open Markets Committee concluded its latest two-day meeting. The Fed announced another $10bn cut to its monthly quantitative easing (QE) economic stimulus programme. It is now buying $35bn of Treasury and mortgage backed securities a month in an attempt to keep rates low and spur investment. The plan is to finish the programme by the end of the year.

“Labor market conditions improved, with the unemployment rate declining further. However, a range of labor market indicators suggests that there remains significant underutilization of labor resources,” the Fed said in a statement.

“The bottom line for today’s report is that it validates the ‘one off’ thesis pertaining to Q1 and as such, we hold to our current view that the economy will expand by 3.0% or so in the back half of the year, interest rates should drift higher and the Federal Reserve will feel vindicated in exiting the asset purchase program,” Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at broker BTIG wrote in a note to investors.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labour Statistics releases its latest closely watched tally of new jobs added to the economy. Last month the BLS said the US had added 288,000 jobs to the nonfarm payrolls report in June and unemployment fell to 6.1%, its lowest rate since September 2008.

ADP, the America’s largest payroll supplier, released its latest monthly jobs poll on Wednesday. The report found private sector employment increased by 218,000 jobs from June to July, the fourth straight month of job gains above 200,000 but lower than the 281,000 jobs added in the last report.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, which helps compile the ADP report, said: “The July employment gain was softer than June, but remains consistent with a steadily improving job market. At the current pace of job growth unemployment will quickly decline. Layoffs are still receding and hiring and job openings are picking up. If current trends continue, the economy will return to full employment by late 2016.”

***************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
07/30/2014 08:03 PM

Cold Paradise: US Struggles with Wave of Underage Immigrants

By Markus Feldenkirchen and Jens Glüsing in McAllen, Texas and La Ceira, Honduras

Fleeing violence back home, tens of thousands of children and youth are fleeing Central America for the United States, many unaccompanied by a parent. The influx has bent US asylum policy to the breaking point.

The trouble with paradise is its diabolic chill. Olga Arzu tries to keep warm by crossing her arms against her chest and rubbing her skin with her hands, but she is shivering nonetheless. Arzu had been excited about arriving here and the start of a new life, one that was supposed to be better than her last one. Instead she's been greeted with a high-powered air-conditioning system. And an equally cold asylum system.

Arzu's son Daylan clings to her leg. He's wearing a hoodie, but he's shivering as well. Back at home in the port city of La Ceiba in Honduras, Arzu's life may have been difficult and dangerous, but at least there wasn't any air-conditioning.

Three days ago, Arzu, 28, and Daylan, four, crossed the Rio Grande on a raft and entered the United States, the culmination of a trip that took them across Central America and Mexico and lasted somewhere between 20 and 30 days, she can't remember exactly. At some point she lost sense of lightness, darkness and time. The two were picked up by US Border Patrol officials once they crossed the river and were then locked in a small cell together with a dozen other women and children for three days, without beds, mattresses, blankets or even towels. The only thing they had were the clothes they wore on the long journey.

At one point, Olga asked a police officer if the air conditioning could be turned down a little bit. The policeman answered that the whole building would then get warmer, also affecting his colleagues. They slept on the stone floor and thought they would die -- either from the chill produced by the air-conditioner or the coldness of the border patrol. "Mom, let's get out of here," Daylan said at one point and cried for most of the three days they spent there, until they were released -- two hours ago.

Is US Still a Country of Immigration?

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free," is engraved on a bronze plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The poem, written by Emma Lazarus, describes the United States' founding myth -- the fundamental idea behind a country that wouldn't exist without its immigrants. In today's America, though, it sometimes feels like Lazarus' words have lost their meaning.

The problem isn't the illegal immigrants as such. Until just recently, the number picked up at the border was lower than it had been in years. At the same time, however, there have never been as many children and young people crossing America's borders. Since October, 60,000 have crossed the border without being accompanied by an adult. Most of them, though, like Daylan, travel with their mothers. The majority come from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala -- countries in which the state has lost control of many areas to brutal gangs.

The mass flight of children from Central America appears to be overwhelming the US. There are too few government employees to stop the onslaught on the border and a dearth of facilities that can provide for them. The biggest problem, however, is that the US seems unable to answer one critical question: Whether it is still a country of immigration or whether it has instead become one of deportation.

The dispute begins with classifications. Are the people currently making their way to America immigrants or refugees? The Republicans like to describe them as immigrants, and they want to solve the problem by making the borders to the US impenetrable. They want more police, higher fences and, for those who still succeed in entering the country, immediate deportation.

A Crisis Escalates

The Republicans also accuse President Barack Obama of having made the US more attractive to people who would like to sneak in illegally. And indeed, one law passed during his time in office does stipulate that the government must be more lenient in dealing with these children and that, when possible, they should be reunited in the country with their families. Bands of smugglers picked up on that and began spreading rumors that children from Central America were welcome in the United States.

For a long time, the president did little to address the crisis and his administration seemed caught off guard by the influx, despite sufficient hints in the past that the situation might escalate. During a trip to Texas two weeks ago, Obama attended fundraising dinners, but cautiously avoided getting too close to the border the US shares with Mexico. It was symbolic of the way he has handled the issue of child immigration. Slowly, though, it is starting to appear as if Obama is waking up to the fact that greater effort will be required for dealing with the crisis.

"I thank God that it's over," Arzu now says of her days in detention. She's standing in the gymnasium of the Sacred Heart Church in McAllen, Texas, near the border to Mexico and is holding a pair of pants she wants to try on. Volunteers set up a camp in the city for mothers and their children to recuperate after their days spent in incarceration. They have collected old clothing, erected tents in a parking lot and provided portable showers. There's a constant influx of newly arrived mothers and children, with the number exceeding 200 people on some days.

After trying things on, Olga decides on a pair of baggy cloth trousers as well as a pink blouse and a light blue corduroy jacket. She takes a seat at one of the tables next to the piles of clothing.

Rampant Poverty and Violence

Arzu explains that poverty is rampant where she comes from. There may be rich people as well -- corrupt politicians, business people and gang leaders -- but most are poor like her. If you're a poor person, she says, Honduras is a very expensive country. She also speaks of how she was unable to find a job and how AIDS killed her parents. But the worst, she says, was the violence. In the past, the gangs had only threatened the rich, but today they also go after the poor. She claims they threatened her, saying, "If you don't pay the war tax, we will kill your brother and your niece." Arzu began fearing they might one day kill her son as well.

Daylan climbs up on his mother's lap. The church volunteers hand him a coloring book featuring Elmo from Sesame Street. Daylan smiles. It's the first time he has done so in many days.

About 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) south of Texas, Olga Arzu's husband, David Palacios, sits down in his Honduran national soccer team jersey and starts to talk about how much he misses his wife and his son. His eyes are narrow and there's something melancholy and empty about his gaze. Sitting in a small Internet cafe in La Ceiba, he explains how he and Olga married six years ago. "We haven't had any contact since she has been in the US," he says.

Palacios says as much as he would have liked to join his wife, he didn't have the money. The smugglers who would have taken him to the US wanted $7,000. He works in a sawmill at the edge of the city, where he toils for 12 hours at a time for $10 a day. The trip to the US is cheaper for women and children. Olga paid $3,600 to her "coyotes," as the smugglers are called. She borrowed part of the money from her sister, who fled years ago to the US while a go-between lent her the rest of the money, which she is obliged to pay back once she has found work in the US. "If she doesn't," her husband says, "then the coyotes will come to collect the money from us here."

Palacios speaks slowly and seems a bit intimidated, as if he harbors fears of some unseen forces. The Internet cafe is managed by his sister and is located in Colonia Miramar, a neighborhood where the government has capitulated to the gangs.

Olga Arzus' sister Carla Isabel, 25, points out the window with her finger and then begins to share stories of violence about the neighborhood. There's the young man with the new Samsung phone who they shot in the face several times after he refused to hand it over. Then there's the old lady from the corner store who was murdered because she didn't want to pay any protection money. And the granddaughter of the liquor store owner who was killed because her grandfather hadn't paid his "war tax".

"We fear we will be the next," says Carla Isabel Arzu. To keep a low profile, she says she doesn't do any advertising for her Internet cafe. There's just a small sign indicating what kind of store it is. "We don't want to stand out," she says. "The Mareros could turn up here at any time."

'We Are All Americans'
Mareros is the name given to members of the Maras, the country's feared youth gangs. The gangs were formed during the 1990s in poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Chicago that were home to large Salvadoran populations. When the violence began escalating in those cities, US officials started deporting gang members to El Salvador. With a new base there, they began to spread across Central America. Today, they control the prisons, the drug trade and for a few years have also been making money through extortion that often comes in the form of what residents call the "war tax," which the gangs levy against people and businesses alike in what is no different than a mafia racket.

Carla Isabel Arzu lives with three siblings and her brother-in-law David Palacios in a house next to the Internet café. Until they fled, Olga and Daylan also lived here. The Arzus grew up in Colonia Miramar, where finding work was tough enough for everyone but even harder if, like the family, a person comes from the Afro-Honduran minority.

There was a time when Colonia Miramar wasn't a bad place to live, back when La Ceiba's economy was supported by booming exports of bananas and pineapples grown in the surrounding countryside by the American company Dole. The dilapidated palace that once housed the customs office and the splendid main square are a reminder of this golden age. But today, many houses are up for sale or they are decaying, their owners having fled to the US. Stinking wastewater lies in puddles and ditches. Windows on the houses are barred and the walls surrounding many of them are topped with barbed-wire. Even the local Catholic church is boarded up -- out of fear of the gangsters.

"Many look like normal teenagers at first glance," says Carla Isabel Arzu. Mareros used to be recognizable for their tattoos, but gangsters now have identifying symbols branded into the inside of their lower lips. In Colonia Miramar, they operate from premises that not even the police are willing to visit. "The Mareros are better armed," Arzu says.

Drug cartels have provided the Maras with modern firearms. The cocaine arrives by speedboat from Colombia and Venezuela, with drug couriers as young as 13 smuggling the stuff across the border into Honduras. The country has become the most important hub for the cocaine trade on the continent. Arzu says that the situation has dramatically worsened since the overthrow five years ago of the left-wing populist President Manuel Zelaya. The city of San Pedro Sula, three hours by car from La Ceiba, now has the highest murder rate in the world, with more people dying there every day than in some war zones. In 2013, there were 1,400 murders.

When darkness falls in Colonia Miramar, the streets empty out almost completely -- and the rush hour of violence begins. The Arzu family barricades themselves into their house at sundown; just recently they installed a new security door. Still, it doesn't silence the shots that ring through the streets and remain audible inside.

"When I get enough money together, then I'm leaving too," says Carla Isabel Arzu. Her youngest brother Henry, 22, also dreams of fleeing to the US. "We have no future here," he says.

A State of Emergency

But whether their sister Olga has a future in the US is uncertain. On the day following her release, Olga Arzu and little Daylan are standing with several other Hondurans at the McAllen bus station. She is clutching a ticket to far-away New York, where yet another sister is living. Those who, like Olga, can prove that they have relatives living in the US are allowed to stay with them initially. The authorities are unable to cope with caring for and housing all of the refugees at facilities near the border.

The Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of Texas is in a state of emergency these days. Visitors used to frequent Anzaluas Park, four miles from McAllen, to watch rare birds or to take advantage of the playgrounds and picnic tables there. But now, the only visitors are border patrol officers. Helicopters buzz overhead.

Not far from here is where Olga and Daylan crossed the border on their raft, just as another girl from their neighborhood in La Ceiba did a few days prior to them. Jacqueline Ramírez, 14, had lived in a shack on the beach, sharing a single room with five siblings. Like Olga, she didn't have parents anymore; they died years ago of diabetes. One day, she was stopped by a Marero who held a pistol to her head and demanded money. "They kill everyone who refuses," Ramírez says. She gave them what she had.

It wasn't much, but it was still too much for her and she decided to leave -- alone and without the help of a coyote. She didn't even tell her sisters about her plan. When she was packing her backpack on May 5, she was thinking about how she might make a living once she arrived. "Cleaning lady, washing, I would do anything," she says. A friend of hers had raved about life in America.

She took the bus to San Pedro Sula and traveled to Guatemala from there. She then stowed away on a ferry sailing to Mexico before climbing onto the roof of a freight train heading north. She was arrested once but then released, enabling her to continue traveling by train to the Texas border. "The train cars were covered with children and teenagers from Honduras. We helped each other," she says.

Neck-Deep Waters

When she climbed down from the train just short of paradise, she found herself staring into the barrel of a gun. Kidnappers locked her and other children up in a warehouse, beat them and demanded telephone numbers of relatives in the US from whom they could demand ransom money. But Ramírez didn't have any telephone numbers with her; she knows nobody in the US. And that was her salvation; she was set free. "Many of the girls were raped," Ramírez says.

Before wading into the neck-deep waters of the Rio Grande, she threw away her backpack. And before she knew it, she was across, just like all of the other children and youth who have crossed the border alone since last October -- a wave of migration that has made America's well-established immigration system look completely helpless. Across the country, people are protesting against the establishment of refugee housing facilities in their neighborhoods and officials are desperately searching for helpers to deal with the influx. In contrast to Daylan, who arrived with his mother, unaccompanied minors must remain under state care.

In the McAllen business district, a new camp was recently opened to house a thousand children and youth. Their new home is an abandoned warehouse around which border control officials have erected a fence. Dozens of police cars guard the entrance and the surrounding streets, making it look almost as though they were guarding a high-security prison. The first images that found their way onto the Internet were reminiscent of refugee camps in Africa. Nearby, signs have been erected reading: "We love our children, please slow down."

Jacqueline Ramírez spent two weeks in such a holding center. Now that she was north of the Rio Grande, not having relatives in the US became a disadvantage. Those who can lodge with a family member are rarely deported. Ramírez, though, was sent back across the border to a detention center in Mexico, where she remained for 20 days, crying for much of the time. Then, her hands and feet were bound and she was placed in a bus heading for Honduras.

Shortly after her arrival in San Pedro Sula, she is sitting at a snack bar telling her story. Suddenly, she becomes nauseous from the hamburger she is eating. For the previous three months, she had eaten extremely poorly, she says. Her stomach was apparently not used to anything more substantial.

Grounds for Asylum

Back at the McAllen bus station, Olga Arzu and her boy Daylan are still waiting for the bus to the Bronx. The outcome of their odyssey -- and whether she will ever again see her husband David -- remains unclear.

Within two weeks they have to appear before an immigration court and present reasons for their stay in the US. If they fail to show up, they could be deported. Even if they conform to the rules, Arzu will have to convince the judge that she and her son have a right to asylum. Thus far, though, gang violence has not been recognized as sufficient grounds. And Arzu also isn't likely to have a lawyer at her side. Most refugees must represent themselves in court -- and most fail.

In Olga Arzu's luggage is a lunch packet for the almost 24-hour trip, provided to her by Sister Norma from the Sacred Heart Church. The elderly woman has seen many refugees passing through her hometown and it used to be that they were running from state violence or economic hardship. The situation has changed, she says. This time, it is violence perpetrated by the gangs that is fueling the influx, and there are more children than ever before. Either together with their mothers or completely alone.

"The courts finally have to redefine the right to asylum," Sister Norma says. And then, she continues, her government must meet with those responsible in the countries of origin. There needs to be a grand, joint solution, she says. "We are all Americans. In all of America people should be able to live in safety. Not just in the USA," the nun says. "And if we feel safe, we can all stay home."

It sounds simple, but it is also true.

**************

Michele Bachmann accuses Obama of wanting to experiment on immigrant children

By Arturo Garcia
RawStory
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 17:20 EDT

Outgoing Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) accused President Barack Obama’s administration during a radio interview of encouraging more Central American immigrant minors to come to the U.S. for the purposes of procuring subjects for medical experiments, Right Wing Watch reported on Wednesday.

“We can’t imagine doing this,” she said. “But if you have a hospital, and they are gonna get millions of dollars in government grants so that they can conduct medical research on somebody — and a ward of the state can’t say no, a little kid can’t say no, if they’re a ward of the state — so here you could have an institution getting millions of dollars from our government to do medical experimentation, and a kid can’t even say no. It’s sick.”

According to Right Wing Watch, Bachmann’s claim is an offshoot of her introduction of “Justina’s Law,” named after Justina Pelletier, the Massachusetts teenager who was the focal point of a court battle between her parents and the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) dating back to February 2013.

Pelletier’s family and the agency’s dispute began when Boston Children’s Hospital diagnosed the girl with “a persistent and severe somatic symptom disorder,” countering an earlier diagnosis by Tufts Medical Center saying her inability to walk or eat was caused by mitochondrial disease. DCF was granted emergency custody over Pelletier until she turned 18 this past March, but the ruling was reversed three months later when juvenile court judge Joseph Johnston ruled that her parents had demonstrated they could provide adequate care for her.

Right Wing Watch reported that, according to Bachmann and other religious conservatives, the hospital diagnosed Pelletier with somatoform disorder because it wanted a federal grant to study the disease

Bachmann’s resolution, co-sponsored by Reps. Karen Bass (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), and Tom Marino (R-PA) subsequently accused Children’s Hospital and similar facilities of having “an internal policy that allows for children who are deemed ‘wards of the State,’ including foster children, to receive treatment or be involved in research that presents great risk even if there is no prospect of any benefit to the child.”

But in reality, the hospital’s policy only sanctions research involving “greater
than minimal risk with no prospect of direct benefit” if it is related to a child’s status as a ward. The policy also calls for any child included in this kind of study to have an advocate appointed to serve on their behalf in addition to any guardian or “in loco” family the child may have.

“We have 400,000 foster children in this country, and now President Barack Obama is trying to bring all of those foreign nationals, the illegal aliens, to the country and he has said that he will put them in the foster care system,” Bachmann said during her radio interview. “I will tell you from personal experience, we don’t have enough foster parents now in the country for the kids in America. We certainly don’t have enough foster parents for all of the illegal aliens that the president is trying to bring in right now.”

The remarks signify a slight change in tack from Bachmann, who earlier this month referred to the thousands of children who have emigrated from El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua as “invaders” and linked them to an unidentified rape case and a fatal 2008 auto accident.

****************

Obama to Republicans: Stop being mad all the time, stop just hatin’ all the time

By Reuters
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 14:11 EDT
By Roberta Rampton

KANSAS CITY Mo (Reuters) – President Barack Obama took his criticism of congressional Republicans for confounding his agenda to a higher pitch on Wednesday, appealing to them to “stop just hatin’ all the time.”

Republicans in the House of Representatives are expected to vote on Wednesday to sue Obama on grounds that he overstepped his authority while implementing the Affordable Care Act, his signature health care law commonly called Obamacare.

“Stop being mad all the time. Stop. Stop. Stop just hatin’ all the time,” he said of Republicans, drawing loud cheers from a raucous crowd of about 1,500 in an ornate theater in Kansas City.

“They’re not happy that I’m president, but that’s OK. Come on!” he said, gesturing as if to welcome lawmakers to a table.

“I’ve only got a couple of years left, come on, let’s get some work done. Then you can be mad at the next president,” he said, chuckling.

Obama has been delivering variations of the fiery stump speech all summer as he tours the country trying to motivate Democrats – and wealthy donors – to get involved in November’s congressional elections.

His aim is to energize Democratic voters ahead of the elections in hopes of stopping Republicans from gaining control of the Senate, which would, when joined with a Republican hold on the House, could make it extremely difficult for him to pursue his agenda in his last two years in office.

Republicans have criticized Obama for his roadtrips, saying his time would be better spent addressing a series of domestic and foreign crises.

“President Obama should be focused on important issues facing America – not more campaigning,” Missouri Republican Senator Roy Blunt said on Wednesday on Twitter.

Polls show Democrats will have a hard time holding control of the Senate in the midterm elections, while Republicans are expected to keep control of the House.

As it is, Obama has been stymied by gridlock, left to take executive actions to make changes where he has the power to do so.

Republicans argue he has overstepped his bounds, but Obama told the Kansas City audience that he was just doing his job.

“By the way, you know who’s paying for this suit they’re going to file? You!” Obama said.

“It’s estimated that by the time it gets resolved, I will have left office.”

**************

House Republicans vote to sue Obama over changes to Affordable Care Act

By Reuters
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 18:44 EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday cleared the way for the launch of a lawsuit accusing President Barack Obama of overstepping his authority in carrying out his signature healthcare law.

The 225-201 vote, along party lines, to authorize the suit will allow House lawyers to draft legal documents over a five-week summer recess starting on Friday.

The planned lawsuit is expected to generate months of bitter campaign rhetoric from both Republicans and Democrats ahead of November elections that will determine the political control of Congress next year.

The suit is expected to claim that Obama, a Democrat, exceeded his executive authority in making unilateral changes to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Republicans argue that by delaying some healthcare coverage mandates and granting various waivers, he bypassed Congress in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Republicans have complained about other unilateral actions that Obama has taken to advance his agenda, from executive orders on immigration policy to same-sex partner benefits.

But they have narrowly focused the suit on the healthcare law because “it is the option most likely to clear the legal hurdles necessary to succeed,” said Republican Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, who chairs the House Rules Committee.

“This administration has effectively rewritten the law without following the constitutional process,” Sessions added.

Democrats have slammed the lawsuit effort as a politically motivated waste of taxpayer resources while Congress has failed to act on other pressing issues including emergency funding to deal with a flood of migrant children.

“This is a veiled attempt at impeaching the president,” said Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas.

*****************

Obama Empties Both Barrels and Tears Boehner’s Lawsuit Against Him To Shreds

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Wednesday, July, 30th, 2014, 12:52 pm   

President Obama took the stage in Kansas City, MO, and while discussing the economy tore Speaker of the House John Boehner’s lawsuit against him to shreds.

The president began his speech in Kansas City by talking about the improving economy, the need to raise the minimum wage, his desire for workers to be able to retire with dignity and respect. The president said that the measure of a good economy is that it is doing well for people who are working hard and not always getting a fair shot.

Obama said that people’s struggles are more important than the phony scandals. He said, “Imagine how much further along the economy would be if Congress was doing its job too. We’d be doing great.” The president added that if Congress felt the same sense of urgency that the American people did we could help a lot more families.

Later the president said that Republicans keep blocking and voting down every idea that would have an impact on middle class families. Obama said, “They haven’t been that helpful. They haven’t been as constructive as I would have hoped.” Obama later told Congress to come on and help a little bit, “Stop being mad all the time. Stop just hating all the time.”

The president said that the main vote that House Republicans have scheduled for today is to decide whether or not to sue me for doing my job. He said, “But think about this, they have announced that they are going to sue me for taking executive actions to help people. So you know, they’re mad because I’m doing my job, and, by the way, I told them, I said I’d be happy to do it with you. So the only reason I am doing it on my own is because you don’t do anything, but if you want let’s work together. Everybody recognizes this is a political stunt, but it’s worse than that, because every vote they’re taking like that is a vote they are not taking to actually help you. When they had taken fifty votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, that was time they could have spent working constructively to help you on some things. By the way, do you know who’s paying for the suit they are going to file? You. No, no, you’re paying for it, and it’s estimated that by the time the thing is done, I would have already left office, so it’s not a productive thing to do.”

The president ripped Boehner’s lawsuit apart in a few minutes and demonstrated why this obvious political move is such a disaster for the Republican Party. Democrats have been easily able to turn the lawsuit into an indictment of Republican priorities. The president didn’t have to say that the lawsuit is a waste of time and money. He let the Republican actions speak for themselves. His comments focused on the opportunity costs behind the Republican decisions to vote dozens of times to repeal the ACA, and file lawsuits.

The key word in the president’s remarks was productive. The one political hurdle that congressional Republicans can’t overcome is how unproductive they have been. The president didn’t need to treat Boehner’s lawsuit as a threat to his presidency because it isn’t. He also doesn’t need to whip up Democratic outrage. Democrats are already livid. President Obama tore apart Speaker Boehner’s lawsuit in the best way possible. He treated it like the joke it is while pointing out why the Republicans have got to go.

America deserves better than John Boehner’s breadless circus, and President Obama is making sure that the American people understand that they are getting ripped off by the House Republican sideshow.

******************

Senate Republicans Vote Against American Jobs By Blocking Bill To End Outsourcing Tax Breaks

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Wednesday, July, 30th, 2014, 11:54 am   

Senate Republicans blocked a bill today that would potentially bring millions of jobs back to the United States by refusing to end tax breaks for companies who outsource jobs.

The roll call vote failed to get the needed 60 votes by a margin of 54-42. Millions of jobs have been outsourced over the past decade in part because companies can get a tax break on their expenses related to sending jobs overseas. The Bring Jobs Home Act would have ended these tax breaks, and give companies who bring jobs home a 20% tax credit.

Before the vote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said:

    Quite frankly, a vote against this bill is a vote against American jobs. There is absolutely no excuse, no justification for any member of this body to vote against this legislation. But as of late, Senate Republicans have repeatedly blocked legislation, much like the Bring Jobs Home Act, that is good for the American people. That brings me back to the Longfellow quote that I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks: “It takes less time to do a thing right, than it does to explain why you did it wrong.” I see the wisdom in that quote each and every time another good bill is blocked by Senate Republicans.

    Because each time after Republicans have voted against legislation good for working families, an odd scene has developed on the Senate floor. A procession of Republicans makes its way to the Senate floor, and individually Senators begin to explain why they voted against a good bill. After voting against an increase in the minimum wage; after voting against equal pay for women; after voting against cost-cutting energy efficiency; after voting against student loan refinancing; following all of these votes, the same spectacle unfolds immediately after: Republicans come to the floor and tried to make their case. So instead of voting for a good piece of legislation that would benefit folks back home, they spend a lot of time here explaining why they did the opposite.

Senate Republicans blocked the bill because they were angry that Harry Reid wouldn’t allow them to offer amendments. Senate Republicans blocked a bill that could have helped end the flow of jobs out of the country, because Mitch McConnell is still mad at Harry Reid. That’s all there is to it.

McConnell’s feud with Reid means that companies will still have an incentive to ship jobs overseas. Sen. Reid was correct. The vote today was a vote against American jobs. The Republican Party has demonstrated once again that they are not on the side of American workers. They don’t care about jobs. Senate Republicans don’t care workers. Unless you are a millionaire or a corporation, Mitch McConnell and his Senate Republicans don’t care about you.


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« Reply #14744 on: Aug 01, 2014, 05:49 AM »


Fighting near site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 leaves 14 dead

Deaths shatter brief lull across war-torn region as international experts head to wreckage of downed plane

Agence France-Presse
theguardian.com, Friday 1 August 2014 09.24 BST   

Fourteen people have been killed, including at least 10 Ukrainian soldiers, in fighting overnight close to the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a Ukrainian military spokesman has said.

"In total it is known that 14 people died but the bodies of four of them have not been identified and could be Ukrainian soldiers or terrorists," Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky said on Friday.

He added that "so far we are talking about 10 Ukrainian servicemen dead" in the clash, in the town of Shakhtarsk 15 miles from the MH17 site.

Earlier the Ukrainian military had said its troops were ambushed by insurgent fighters.

The deaths shattered a brief lull across the war-torn region as international experts headed to the wreckage of the downed plane to try to begin a stalled investigation into the attack on the passenger jet.

The Ukrainian military said it was relaunching a broader offensive against separatist fighters following a day-long ceasefire but insisted troops would not carry out operations in the immediate vicinity of the crash site.

The military said on Friday it had made fresh gains by taking the village of Novyi Svit, 15 miles south-east of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, and was waging operations to secure the volatile border with Russia.

**********

Foreign investigators reach MH17 crash site in Ukraine

Dutch and Australia experts expected to focus initially on retrieving bodies still on site and collecting victims' belongings

Mark Tran and agencies
The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014 12.35 BST

An international team of investigators in eastern Ukraine has reached the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines flight 17.

Fighting between government troops and pro-Russian separatist rebels had kept the delegation from reaching the area for several days.

Police and forensic experts from the Netherlands and Australia are expected to focus initially on retrieving bodies still on the site and collecting victims' belongings. It is unclear exactly how many bodies remain and what condition they are in after being exposed to the elements for so long.

Russian specialists also hope to visit the crash site to take part in the investigation. Sergei Izvolsky, of Rosaviatsiya, Russia's federal air transport agency, told the Associated Press that a delegation was due to arrive in Kiev.

Izvolsky said the experts would attempt to reach the crash site if it was safe to do so and would hand over all relevant materials they found to the Dutch delegation. Representatives of the Dutch and Ukrainian commissions would not comment on the arrival of Russian officials.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine had until now prevented a team of more than 50 international experts from reaching the crash site of MH17, which was shot down over rebel-held territory two weeks ago. All 298 people on board died.

Ukraine said it had suspended offensive operations in its military campaign in the region to help the experts reach the site, but separatists were continuing to attack its positions.

"On 31 July, troops involved in the active ATO [anti-terrorist operation] phase are not conducting military operations apart from protecting their own positions from attack," it said. "But mercenary fighters of the Russian terrorists are not respecting any international agreements and requests."

The rebels, for their part, have accused Kiev of blocking access to the crash site by fighting in the area.

Meanwhile, food supplies to the rebel stronghold of Luhansk have been cut during a military offensive on the city by government forces, according to local officials.

The army says it has almost completely encircled Luhansk but has opened a humanitarian corridor to allow people to leave the city. It says it is not firing on residential areas. Three people were reported killed in overnight shelling.

City authorities said in a statement: "Chains of large supermarkets, food shops and markets work intermittently. Food deliveries to the city have stopped, supplies are decreasing every day. Shops only offer products from their stocks."

Luhansk, one of two bigger cities still in the hands of the separatists following gains by government troops, had a population of more than 400,000 before the fighting started.

In the other main rebel stronghold, Donetsk, shelling continued overnight on the outskirts. No deaths were reported.


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