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« Reply #15600 on: Today at 07:27 AM »

Unrest by Palestinians Surges in a Jerusalem Neighborhood

By JODI RUDOREN
SEPT. 17, 2014
IHT

JERUSALEM — Mohamad Sami, a Palestinian truck driver, was eager to offer a tour of the landmarks from this summer’s violence in his neighborhood, Issawiya.

Down the road from the Israeli-owned gas station that was looted by masked youths who broke a pump and smashed windows earlier this month were seven concrete squares that the police used to block the road. On the side of the neighborhood was a floor-tile store Mr. Sami said was destroyed by tear gas that Israeli forces used to disperse a demonstration. On a hill near where Jesus is said to have sat under a carob tree with his disciples, five boys made crude gestures toward Israeli soldiers leaning over a fence.

“The clashes are here,” Mr. Sami, 25, said as he passed Like Café, an ice cream shop. “Sometimes the clashes reach here,” he added, driving deeper into the valley, amid fresh graffiti hailing “resistance” and the Gaza-based militant movement Hamas. And deeper still, “Sometimes the clashes are here.”

The clashes were practically everywhere in Issawiya and across East Jerusalem during and even after Israel’s intense seven-week battle with Hamas in what the authorities and activists alike say was the strongest and most sustained uprising by the city’s Palestinian residents in a decade. Some 727 people have been arrested, 260 of them under 18, for throwing rocks and other actions in near-daily demonstrations that were met with increased force. More than 100 police officers have been injured and 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed by what a Palestinian doctor determined in an autopsy was a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head.

The events that led to the latest spike in tensions between Israelis and Palestinians were the abductions and murders of three Israeli teenagers, followed by the gruesome abduction and murder of a Palestinian teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat on July 2, by Jewish extremists. The violence raged on even after the Aug. 26 cease-fire that halted hostilities in Gaza, and though things have begun to calm down, 26 Palestinians were arrested just this week. “I see the third intifada started already,” said Jawad Siyam, director of the Wadi Eilweh Information Center, which tracks demonstrations and arrests, using the Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s. “We said from the very beginning: It will stop in Gaza but it will continue in East Jerusalem.”

East Jerusalem is as much a concept as it is a specific location. Palestinians claim it as their future capital. Israel captured it from Jordan, along with the West Bank, in 1967, and later annexed some 27 square miles that include about a dozen hilly Palestinian enclaves, and a similar number of Jewish areas that most of the world regards as illegal settlements.

More than 300,000 of Jerusalem’s 830,000 residents are Palestinians. They are not citizens, but get social-welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely. Most boycott municipal elections, but also feel alienated from the Palestinian political leadership; they have complained for years about shortchanged services, including a severe lack of classrooms and slow garbage pickup. The Al Aqsa compound in the Old City has long been the site of sporadic clashes between Muslim and Jewish worshipers — and the troops that try to keep them apart.

These simmering issues seem to be boiling over: The authorities counted 42 “riots” — participants call them protests — on a single night in July. There have been nearly 100 attacks on the light-rail line that snaked through Shuafat and was once seen as a unifying artery; ridership dropped 20 percent this summer. Palestinians report attempted kidnappings, aggression and racist taunts by Jews. Residents of East Jerusalem have demanded that stores replace Israeli yogurt, cheese and juices with Arab-made products, part of a boycott campaign that equates buying Israeli goods with buying Israeli bullets and bombs. Jews who used to get their cars fixed or eat hummus in Arab areas have been staying away.

Yossi Klein Halevi, a skullcap-wearing Jew who lives in the area called French Hill, which overlooks Issawiya, said he noticed a woman in a Muslim head scarf eyeing him nervously during a recent evening walk. Then he realized that he himself tensed up as a car filled with young Palestinian men passed.

“We look at each other now as each side being capable of sudden pathological outbursts,” said Mr. Halevi, who gets his gas at the looted station. “There’s a feeling that the bottom has fallen out and really anything can happen.”

Asi Aharoni, a spokesman for the Jerusalem police, said officers had seen a shift on the street. Where Palestinians used to throw stones and a few Molotov cocktails, they now throw many Molotovs and firecrackers aimed directly at troops. Offenders are getting younger, Mr. Aharoni said, showing a picture on his phone of a 9-year-old boy caught on Tuesday hurling rocks.

The police, too, have changed tactics. In July, they unleashed so-called skunk water, a nonlethal but horrific-smelling spray, in Jerusalem for the first time, and then “used it every night,” Mr. Aharoni said. There were 3,000 officers on patrol in Jerusalem, up from 1,300, and the police created a new patrol district, Kedem, to cover the east more intensively.

Israeli politicians are pushing courts to punish violent protesters more severely. “The people who took the law into their own hands are going to pay a price,” Mayor Nir Barkat said in an interview. “If a 17-year-old throws stones or creates huge damage and he’s being charged in court and released after a week, then it gives him more motivation to do it again and a third time.”

The authorities and the activists agree that the summer’s outbursts lacked organized leadership. Mr. Siyam, the father of a 10-year-old, whose center also runs activities for 500 children in the Silwan neighborhood, said: “I’m not trying to convince them not to throw stones. I’m not going to tell them not to burn the gas station.”

“I believe it is their right to decide the way they want to struggle,” he said. “My father’s generation, after the 1967 war, thought Israel is too strong, we’ll just earn our money. My generation, the first intifada generation, thought Israel is strong but we can cause it some pain. My son’s generation thinks he can win against Israel. I’m not going to stop him thinking he can win Palestine’s freedom.”

Darwish Darwish, 63, a community leader whose family dates back 800 years in Issawiya, said, “We are in the most wretched days ever,” adding that the outburst was “provoked by the settlers’ violence.” He persuaded the police to remove the roadblock two days after the gas-station attack, but another neighborhood passage remained shut.

About 15,000 people live in Issawiya, Mr. Darwish said, and there are three restaurants, four bakeries, three schools, six shops selling furniture, three blacksmiths, three taxi services, a bus company and two mechanics. During weddings this summer, Hamas war anthems replaced love songs. “I hate all Jews — I don’t want to see them anymore,” said Nili Obaid, 34, a mother of five who was briefly hospitalized after inhaling tear gas while watching a clash. “I tell even children to go and throw stones. It is normal. It is a reaction to what the army is doing.”

Ra’afat al-Bakri, 28, a chef who was active in a group called Taste of Peace and collected food for people in Gaza this summer, counts himself among the war’s victims. He said the Israeli police shot him with a rubber-coated bullet in the right eye in July when he went to see his fiancée and got caught in crossfire on Issawiya’s main street. His fiancée called off the engagement; he cannot work or even chew food.

“I used to see beautiful things in my right eye,” said Mr. Bakri, who now has a plastic eye with scars around it. “Now I see only ugly things around me.”


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« Reply #15601 on: Today at 07:29 AM »

Underfire Zuma Vows Action on Nigeria Church Tragedy

by Naharnet Newsdesk
18 September 2014, 12:41

President Jacob Zuma on Thursday vowed his government would do everything it can to help the families of 80 South Africans believed killed in last week's church collapse in Nigeria.

Facing allegations that the South African government's response to the tragedy was tardy and inadequate, Zuma said he had appointed a ministerial task force to respond.

"They will support families and do whatever is necessary to manage the impact of this tragedy," he said.

A multi-storey hotel linked to controversial preacher and televangelist TB Joshua collapsed on Friday, but it was Tuesday before Zuma announced any South African fatalities.

An advance team of 10 disaster management personnel, including doctors, only flew to Lagos on Wednesday, when hopes of finding remaining survivors had dimmed.

Almost a week after the collapse, doubts remain over the final toll.

"Rescue missions are still continuing after which we will know for sure how many citizens we have lost," Zuma said.

The South African government has played down suggestions that the delay was caused by the Nigerian authorities being slow to provide information about the tragedy.

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said Wednesday that Lagos was cooperating, describing relations between the two governments as "very cordial and good".

But rescue workers on the scene have complained that Joshua's staff at the "Synagogue Church of All Nations" impeded their work.

Dubbed "The Prophet" by fanatical followers who believe he can predict the future, Joshua is politically well connected in Nigeria and beyond, counting presidents and prime ministers among his flock.

Nkoana-Mashabane did, however, say that "working together with the Synagogue people has not been easy".


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« Reply #15602 on: Today at 07:33 AM »

Ebola crisis is ‘spiraling out of control,’ Obama warns

Agence France-Presse
17 Sep 2014                   

President Barack Obama issued a global call to action to fight West Africa’s Ebola epidemic, warning the deadly outbreak was unprecedented and “spiraling out of control,” threatening hundreds of thousands of people.

Speaking as he unveiled a major new US initiative which will see 3,000 US military personnel deployed to West Africa to combat the growing health crisis, Obama said the outbreak was spreading “exponentially.”

“Here’s the hard truth. In West Africa, Ebola is now an epidemic of the likes that we have not seen before,” Obama said.

“It’s spiraling out of control. It is getting worse. It’s spreading faster and exponentially. Today, thousands of people in West Africa are infected. That number could rapidly grow to tens of thousands.

“And if the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people infected with profound political and economic and security implications for all of us.”

As well as the military deployment, the US will also set up a command and control center in the capital of Liberia, the hardest-hit country, build new treatment centers and train health workers.

Precise timing on deployment was still unclear.

“No deployment in the coming days. The troops have to be properly trained and equipped,” a Pentagon official said privately. Among the US soldiers sent to West Africa will be doctors and also engineers to set up the field hospitals, the official said.

Meanwhile, the United States moved to fund these plans.

Specifically, the Department of Defense plans to ask Wednesday to have reprogrammed “an additional $500 million in Fiscal Year 2014 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to fight Ebola,” an administration official said.

This is separate from the funds already put toward the effort, including the $175 million already dedicated, and the $88 million requested through a continuing resolution.

- Security Council action -

The Ebola epidemic has killed more than 2,400 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone this year.

The virus can fell its victims within days, causing severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting and diarrhea — in some cases shutting down organs and causing unstoppable bleeding.

No licenced vaccine or treatment exists.

The United Nations Security Council is poised to adopt a resolution on Thursday exhorting countries to provide more field hospitals and urgent aid to the crisis-stricken region.

Likely passage of the resolution marks only the third time that the Security Council will vote on a public health crisis after resolutions on AIDS in 2000 and 2011.

“This has gone beyond health issues,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said.

“It has gone to areas affecting social and economic situations. It may even affect political stability if not properly contained and treated.”

The United Nations said nearly one billion dollars would be needed to beat back the worst-ever outbreak of the disease, which is on track to infect 20,000 people by the end of the year.

The world body has set a goal of stopping the spread of Ebola within six to nine months but aid agencies are complaining that help has been too slow.

Ban is planning a “high-level event” on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly next week to draw attention to the crisis.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters in Geneva the Ebola crisis faced a “huge funding challenge.”

- World ‘needs to do more’ -

The capacity of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia to provide even the most basic necessities is “on the brink of collapse,” she warned.

The United Nations said the response to the crisis would require $987.8 million (763 million euros), with about half needed for Liberia.

The World Bank meanwhile approved a $105 million grant, part of a $200 million pledge made in early August aimed at helping people cope with the economic impact of the crisis and strengthening public health systems.

“The world needs to do much, much more to respond to the Ebola crisis in these three countries,” World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said in a statement.

The UN said if the international community and affected countries respond swiftly and energetically, transmission should begin to slow by the end of the year and halt by mid-2015.

“The level of surge we need to do is unprecedented. It is massive,” the United Nations’ Ebola coordinator David Nabarro told reporters.

China will send a 59-person mobile laboratory team from its Centre for Disease Control to Sierra Leone, including epidemiologists, clinicians and nurses — bringing the number of Chinese medics in the country to 174, the WHO said.

The EU, Britain, France and Cuba have also pledged to send medical teams and other aid to the region.

But this is far from enough, warned Joanne Liu, head of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity.

Noting that the known Ebola toll “represents only a fraction of the real number,” she stressed that “the ground response remains totally and lethally inadequate.”

“The window of opportunity to contain this outbreak is closing,” she warned.


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« Reply #15603 on: Today at 07:35 AM »

Ex-director of Brazil’s state oil giant Petrobras refuses to testify in graft trial

Agence France-Presse
17 Sep 2014       

An ex-director of Brazil’s state oil giant Petrobras at the center of a scandal after accusing dozens of politicians of taking oil deal kickbacks, gave nothing away in a hearing Wednesday.

“I reserve the right to remain silent,” Paulo Roberto Costa, who headed Petrobras’ refining and supply unit between 2004 and 2012, told the public congressional hearing — though commission members insisted on questioning him anyway.

His allegations that more than 50 lawmakers — mainly from the ruling Workers Party (PT) — received billions in under-the-table deals have made waves as Brazil approaches an October 5 presidential election.

The purported links to the PT have left President Dilma Rousseff fighting to see off the challenge of environmentalist and former party ally Marina Silva, with the pair running neck-and-neck in latest polling.

Polls give Silva, a former environment minister, a narrow lead for an October 26 run-off vote.

Lawmakers on the commission asked Costa if he had been involved in the controversial purchase of the Pasadena, Texas, oil refinery, which Petrobras bought for $1.2 billion from Belgian-based Astra oil just a year after the latter had paid only $42.5 million for the facility.

They also wanted to know if he had made his allegations as part of a plea bargaining bid given that he faces decades in jail on money laundering charges.

He simply responded: “With all due respect I have nothing to say.”

Previously, media reports had quoted the white-haired Costa, who arrived at the Congress building in Brasilia amid tight security, as saying: “There was a politician knocking at my door every single day.”

Among the government allies Costa has accused of taking bribes are the president of the senate, Renan Calheiros, and the leader of Congress’ lower chamber, Henrique Eduardo Alves, both of the center left PMDB.

He also named former opposition presidential candidate Eduardo Campos, who was killed in an August 13 air crash, leaving his Socialist Party (PSB) to ask former running mate Silva to stand in his place.

Those Costa has named have roundly denied wrongdoing.

The PT and PMDB backed a public commission session saying they have nothing to hide.


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« Reply #15604 on: Today at 07:38 AM »

Astronomers find ‘supermassive’ black hole in tiny galaxy 50 million light years from Earth

Agence France-Presse
17 Sep 2014   

Astronomers using the Hubble orbital telescope found a “supermassive” black hole lurking at the heart of the only dwarf galaxy ever observed to host one, they reported Wednesday.

The surprise was discovered at the core of a tiny but incredibly dense galaxy, M60-UCD1, about 50 million light years from Earth, the team reported in the journal Nature.

M60-UCD1 is packed with some 140 million stars but is only 300 light years across — 1/500th of the diameter of our Milky Way.

Black holes are enigmatic phenomena whose gravitational force is so extreme that not even light can escape their clutch.

Supermassive versions of these beasts have until now only been seen at the centre of large galaxies, including our own, but never one so small.

The astronomers were especially taken aback when they calculated that the hole accounts for a whopping 15 percent of the galactic mass.

The hole has the mass of 20 million Suns, making it five times heavier than the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way.

One explanation could be that M60-UCD1 was once part of a much larger galaxy, which split and left one section with the black hole.

If this theory is wrong and further sky-gazing shows that ultra-compact dwarf galaxies do typically harbour a supermassive black hole, the time could be nigh for a rethink.

It would mean there could be twice as many black holes in our region of the Universe than previously estimated, the journal said.


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« Reply #15605 on: Today at 07:40 AM »

Boeing’s ‘space taxi’ will take tourists to International Space Station

Reuters
17 Sep 2014   

Boeing Co’s proposal to develop a so-called space taxi for NASA astronauts includes a seat for paying tourists to fly to the International Space Station, the company’s program manager said on Wednesday, a first for a U.S. space program.

The $4.2 billion, five-year contract allows Boeing to sell rides to tourists, Boeing Commercial Crew Program Manager John Mulholland told Reuters, adding that the price would be competitive with what the Russian space agency now charges to fly tourists to the orbital outpost.

“Part of our proposal into NASA would be flying a Space Adventures spaceflight participant up to the ISS,” Mulholland said, referring to a Virginia-based space tourism company that brokers travel aboard Russian Soyuz capsules.

Now that Boeing has won a share of NASA’s space taxi contract, “we hope … to start working with the ISS program to make it happen,” he said. “We think it would be important to help spur this industry.”

Space Adventures is scheduled in January to begin training British singer Sarah Brightman for a 10-day visit to the station, a trip costing $52 million, according to Tom Shelley, president of Space Adventures.

Brightman is slated to become the eighth paying passenger to travel to the station, a $100 billion research complex that flies about 260 miles (418 km) above Earth.

Boeing’s first test launch of the taxi is not expected until 2017.

BOTTOM LINE

Commercial flights may also help Boeing’s bottom line on a rare, fixed-price, government-backed development program.

Under the contract, Boeing is responsible for cost overruns and the cost of delays. The aerospace company appears to be confident it can produce the taxi without lowering the operating margin in its networks and space business, which was 7.8 percent last quarter.

But Boeing faces competition from rival Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, which also won a NASA contract and says it can develop the taxi for nearly 40 percent less than Boeing.

SpaceX already plans to offer trips to tourists, but did not immediately respond to questions about whether it would fly tourists on its NASA missions.

The NASA contracts awarded on Tuesday to Boeing and SpaceX cover design, building, testing their spaceship and up to six missions to fly astronauts to the station, a pace of roughly two per year. California-based SpaceX, owned and operated by technology entrepreneur Elon Musk, says it can create and fly the taxi for $2.6 billion, compared to Boeing’s $4.2 billion bid.

“I think it’s a vital next step in SpaceX’s progress,” Musk said in an interview on FOX Business Network.

Most of the price difference appears to be the rocket.

SpaceX’s Dragon capsule will fly on the company’s Falcon 9 boosters, which cost about $61 million for satellite-delivery missions. Boeing’s CST-100 capsules will fly aboard Atlas 5 rockets, which are manufactured and flown by United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing. The rockets, which are powered by a Russian RD-180 engine, cost about $150 million apiece.

ON TARGET

The taxi project appears to be well within Boeing’s core space capabilities, which suggests it will not have trouble meeting its cost and schedule targets, analysts said.

“They’re not pushing the envelope in terms of technology the way SpaceX is” in developing a new rocket, said Ken Herbert, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity in San Francisco. The contract revenue would hit Boeing’s income statement mostly in 2017 and 2018, he added.

Separately, Boeing and Lockheed announced on Wednesday that United Launch Alliance would invest heavily in a new rocket engine being developed by Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos and his private company space company Blue Origin. The agreement is aimed at freeing the United States from its dependency on Russian-made engines for rockets for launches and is expected to have little effect on the space taxi.

Meanwhile, SpaceX has been aggressively exploiting the price advantage of its American-made rocket to try to break ULA’s monopoly on launching the U.S. military’s satellites. A lawsuit contesting the Air Force’s last contract with ULA is pending in a U.S. court.

The company also has been successfully wooing commercial satellite launches, a business estimated to be worth $2.4 billion a year, a 2014 Satellite Industry Association study shows.

So far, the company’s Falcon 9 rockets have flown 12 times, all successfully. ULA’s Atlas 5, which is mostly used by the U.S. military, made its 49th successful flight late on Tuesday.


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« Reply #15606 on: Today at 08:02 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance America

Apple update keeps data private, even from police

Apple said that its latest software system, iOS 8, included protection so complete that it has become technically impossible for it to comply with government warrants asking for customer information such as photos, email, messages, contacts, call history and notes to be extracted from devices.

By BRIAN X. CHEN
The New York Times
09/18/2014

Apple wants to make clear that it wants nobody snooping around in your device, not even the police.

The company said late Wednesday that its latest software system, iOS 8, included deep protection of the information stored on Apple mobile devices. So deep, that Apple says it has become technically impossible for it to comply with government warrants asking for customer information such as photos, email, messages, contacts, call history and notes to be extracted from devices.

The company said all this information was under the protection of a customer’s passcode, the four-digit number used to log in to the device. In the past, Apple was able to extract certain types of information from devices, even when they were locked with a passcode, in response to a valid search warrant.

The new security in iOS 8 protects information stored on the device itself but not data stored on Apple’s cloud service. So Apple will still be able to hand over some customer information stored on iCloud in response to government requests.

Apple announced the revised privacy policy on its new privacy Web page, apple.com/privacy, which included a letter written by Timothy Cook, Apple’s chief.

“Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data,” the company said. “So it’s not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8.”

Chris Soghoian, a principal analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, said Apple’s new privacy policy reflected the revelations of the government-surveillance programs revealed in documents leaked by Edward Snowden. “The public has said they want companies to put their privacy first, and Apple has listened,” Soghoian said.

The Web page includes explanations of what types of data Apple does and does not collect, and why. It also lists Apple’s latest so-called transparency reports, which break down how, when and why it handles requests from law-enforcement or government agencies.

In addition, the Web page teaches consumers how to turn on important security features, such as two-step verification, to protect themselves from hackers.

“Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products,” Cook said. “We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers.”

Apple’s ability to protect customer information was openly questioned after a number of celebrities discovered that hackers broke into their Apple accounts, stole nude or provocative photos and posted them on the Internet.

An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the statements in Cook’s letter.

**********

Obama Promises Again Not to Send Ground Troops to Fight Militants

By MICHAEL D. SHEAR and MICHAEL R. GORDON
SEPT. 17, 2014
NYT
  
TAMPA, Fla. — President Obama promised a military audience here on Wednesday that he would not send troops into combat in the campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq, as the White House sought to dispel growing confusion over exactly what role American soldiers are going to play on the battlefield in the unfolding operation.

Mr. Obama’s reassurance came a day after his top military adviser, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate that he would recommend deploying troops to serve as ground forces providing tactical and targeting advice if the current airstrikes were not sufficient to vanquish the militant group, the Islamic State.

White House officials insisted that General Dempsey’s remarks did not conflict with the president’s policy of ruling out combat troops. They said that the general’s comments were in line with a narrow definition of combat in which American advisers already in Iraq could, if Mr. Obama decides to do so, be deployed close to the front lines — calling in American airstrikes, for example, without being considered to be in a combat role.

But in Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry came under sharp questioning at a Senate hearing about the legal basis for America’s role in a military campaign. The hearing underscored some of the hurdles that Mr. Obama’s administration will face as he tries to mobilize domestic and international support for a robust counterterrorism campaign while insisting that he has not put the United States on the road to another war in Iraq.

“I want to be clear,” Mr. Obama said to a gymnasium full of troops at MacDill Air Force Base outside Tampa, the headquarters of the military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East. “The American forces that have been deployed to Iraq do not and will not have a combat mission. They will support Iraqi forces on the ground as they fight for their own country against these terrorists.

“As your commander in chief,” Mr. Obama added, “I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq.”

Mr. Kerry, appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, echoed the president’s message and added that there had been no discussion with coalition partners about deploying ground troops from other nations in the campaign. These countries, he said, would help in other ways: cutting off funds to the Islamic State, stopping the flow of foreign fighters to Syria and providing humanitarian aid. And Mr. Kerry said that there were Arab nations that were committed to “taking military action,” an allusion to the willingness of some Arab nations to join the American-led air campaign or to host the training of Syrian rebels.

“From the last decade, we know that a sustainable strategy is not U.S. ground forces,” he told lawmakers. “It is enabling local forces to do what they must for themselves and their country.”

Mr. Kerry faced strong questioning from some lawmakers who argued that the White House should seek further authorization from the Congress for military action, particularly airstrikes in Syria. Mr. Kerry asserted that the 2001 authorization Congress provided for military operations against Al Qaeda was a sufficient basis for taking military action, but added that the administration was open to consulting with Congress on “retooling” the authorization.

Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, lashed out at Mr. Kerry, arguing that the administration’s tough statements about the need to defeat the militants were not matched by the limited military efforts the White House was prepared to make in Iraq and Syria.

“I hope you’ll lay out a plan that will convince us that you’re serious about doing the things you said you were going to do,” Senator Corker said.

But in a demonstration of the stark differences among lawmakers, those comments drew a rebuke from Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, who said it was “shocking” that the Republican lawmaker had attacked Mr. Kerry, who was trying to assemble a coalition to take on “ISIS, a savage group.”

As the White House faced rising questions about its policy from critics, including former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, officials were falling back on a narrow definition of combat. The press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters that American troops could be deployed to the front lines of a battle without engaging in fighting.

“What General Dempsey was describing was the need in the future to put American troops who are already in Iraq in an advisory capacity into forward-deployed positions with Iraqi troops,” Mr. Earnest said to reporters traveling with Mr. Obama on Air Force One.

“Not to engage in combat,” he added. “They would not have a combat role. They would not be personally engaged or directly engaging the enemy. Rather they would be providing tactical advice to Iraqi security forces. In some cases, they could be in a position to even call in airstrikes.”

Mr. Obama was at the Florida Air Force base to meet with his top military commanders and members of his national security team, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. A week ago the president told the nation that he was expanding the American military campaign against the extremists of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. Speaking after the meetings, he told service members that the United States had a unique responsibility and capability to lead the world in attacking the extremists.

“Whether in Iraq or in Syria, these terrorists will learn the same thing that the leaders of Al Qaeda already know: We mean what we say,” the president said.

Aides described Mr. Obama’s visit to the base as part of an ongoing public relations effort to persuade Americans of the need to confront the extremists in the Middle East. They said Mr. Obama was in a period of intensive focus on national security, which began with the speech announcing broader military action last Wednesday and will continue in New York next week when Mr. Obama attends the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly.

The president’s appearance at the base was also aimed at lawmakers in Washington, who have been debating his request for funding to provide training and arms to the Free Syrian Army, a group of rebels that the United States wants to build up as a counter to the Sunni extremists.

Hours after Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry spoke, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, was almost mocking about how late they came to the fight against the Islamic State, which Iran has been trying to counter in Iraq. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, he termed the Arab states Mr. Kerry has been trying to organize as a “coalition of the repenters,” suggesting that many American allies — he clearly was including Saudi Arabia — had fueled the terror group, only now to discover its true intent.

Moreover, he suggested that the American bombing campaign was treating the symptoms, but not the roots of extremism. “We do not believe the injection of foreign forces, either in the air or on the ground, solves the problem,” he said. “Foreign presence in any territory,” he said, creates “demagogues.”

On Wednesday evening, the House voted 273 to 156 to authorize the president’s proposal, with dozens of Democrats voting no. The Senate may consider a similar proposal as early as Thursday. Earlier Wednesday, senior law enforcement officials told members of the House Homeland Security Committee that the threat to the United States from the extremists in Syria had grown.

Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, said that 15,000 foreign fighters had traveled to Syria in the past three years, 3,000 more than previous estimates. Matthew G. Olsen, the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, said the United States government now estimated that the Islamic State might have more than 30,000 fighters.

But in a sign of how American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are struggling to understand the militants, other officials provide differing estimates of threat. Mr. Johnson said in written testimony that the group “engages in 30-40 attacks per month” and “has more than 20,000 fighters.”

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House of Representatives approves Obama plan to arm Syrian rebels

Vote passes 273-156 as Obama seeks to reassure lawmakers and Americans who fear the US will be drawn into a ground war

Dan Roberts in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 17 September 2014 23.46 BST   
  
Barack Obama at Central Command. Barack Obama at Central Command. Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Doubts over US strategy in Syria grew on Wednesday as a key vote in Congress allowing the arming and training of groups fighting against the Islamic State saw a larger-than-expected rebellion among both Democrats and Republicans.

The authorisation requested by the White House – which was presented as an amendment to a finance bill preventing another government shutdown and was strongly backed by leaders of both parties – passed in the House of Representatives by 273 to 156 votes. The Senate is expected to vote as soon as Thursday.

But the decision of 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans to vote no came after six hours of debate that saw concerns raised about the ability of moderate Syrian groups to pivot from fighting president Bashar al-Assad and instead help the US defeat Islamic State fighters known as Isis.

Among those who spoke out against the amendment were Iraq war veterans Duncan Hunter and Tulsi Gabbard, who said the administration had not learned lessons from earlier US interventions in the Middle East.

“We’ve heard this story before. We know how it ends. Look at Iraq. Look at Libya,” said Gabbard, a Democrat from Hawaii. “Clearly, our leaders have not learned their lesson. We must focus on taking out our enemies and investing in our own country here at home.”

The administration plan also came under pressure in the Senate, where a hearing of the foreign affairs committee pressed secretary of state John Kerry to name the un-specified allies in the region who he claims are ready to join the US in air strikes against Isis.

“Later this week we will have more to say about our partners and the coalition,” replied Kerry.

“Not every country will decide that their role is to have military engagement, but every country can do something,” he added.

Republicans on the committee attacked the White House strategy for being ill-thought-out and accused Obama of “exercising terrible judgement” by not seeking broader congressional authorisation.

“Typically you have a coalition in place before you announce it; in this case we have announced one and are attempting to put it together,” said senator Bob Corker

“Do you realise how unserious the things you are laying out sound?” he added. “We know the Free Syrian Army cannot take on Isil, you know that. You talk about a multi-year process, this is going to take decades.”

The Democratic chairman, Bob Menendez, also criticised the administration for not seeking explicit authorisation from Congress for its plans to broaden air strikes against Isis in Iraq and Syria.

Earlier both Kerry and Obama were forced to distance themselves from remarks by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff suggesting that US ground troops may fight alongside the Iraqi army against Isis.

Pressed on what would happen if the US reliance on Syrian rebels and Iraqi army units was not enough to defeat Isis, Kerry hinted at a possible plan B involving US enemies in the region.

“I am not going to get into hypotheticals but you are assuming that Iran and Syria aren’t going to take on Isis,” he said. “If we are failing miserably, who knows what decisions they might make?”

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Senate Race Polls Lean Toward Dems, So Media Starts Pro-GOP Spin

By karoli September 17, 2014 6:39 pm -
CrooksAndLiars

It's so obvious, even a kindergartner could see it.
Senate Race Polls Lean Toward Dems, So Media Starts Pro-GOP Spin

On Tuesday, there was really good news for Democrats. The latest polls showed them pulling neck and neck to keep control of the Senate, data modelers like Nate Silver were adjusting their percentages to nearly 50/50, and Republicans were getting nervous.

Let the spin machine begin. Our so-called "liberal media" couldn't wait to step on the accelerator pedal for why things suck for Democrats. Behold a sampling of today's headlines:

CNN: NRA Focuses on Three Senate Races - Be afraid, little people. The gun nuts are arming themselves.

The Atlantic: 'Security Moms' Are Back—and That's Bad News for Democrats - That one's so obvious an idiot could see the spin. Let the big mean Republicans take care of your national security, little country. Foreign terrorists have not attacked on American soil since Republicans were in charge. But that doesn't stop the narrative. Meanwhile, no attention is paid to our home-grown terrorists, which thrive courtesy of conservatives.

New York Times: GOP Gains Strength and Obama Gets Low Marks, Poll Finds - Because yesterday is so...yesterday.

CBS News: Is Obama Tough Enough In Dealing With ISIS? Gosh, I don't know. Do we really need to aim our drones and missiles at a group of angry terrorists that's smaller than the population of a small town? Sure, they're meaner and they're really great at Twitter and Facebook, but they're still only 30,000 strong. You tell me, CBS. What do you want, a nuke?

NY Daily News: Sorry, Hillary, Things Are Breaking the GOP's way - I don't even understand that headline, much less what to do with it. What's Hillary got to do with it?

The Atlantic: The Making of a Conservative Superstar, featuring Tom Cotton, who currently trails Mark Pryor in most polls. They might have wanted to hold that shiny profile until after he won, if ever.

In the category of "Dems are doomed," we have Politico's latest about how Dems are turning on Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Maybe, but really they should be aiming at Steve Israel.

Politico: Mark Begich frosty over snow machine ad - Of course he is. First they shoveled his own ad in his face, made him apologize (because Dems always apologize when they shouldn't) and then shoveled their own piece of crap back at him.

No matter what the spin is in today's headlines, there is a fact they're all overlooking. Democrats' chances are improving daily. Daily.

When you consider that fact in light of the headlines above, is it any wonder Americans' trust in the media, online, cable or broadcast is at an all-time low?

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Senate GOPers Filibuster Equal Pay For Women (Again)

By Dave Johnson September 17, 2014 9:00 am -
CrooksAndLiars

Republicans in the Senate on Monday unanimously filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act. Did you see this on the news? Of course not!

Republicans in the Senate on Monday unanimously filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act. Did you see this on the news? Did you hear about it on the radio? Did you read about it in your local paper? There is an election coming and accurate, objective information is essential for democracy to function.

The Paycheck Fairness Act "amends the portion of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) known as the Equal Pay Act to revise remedies for, enforcement of, and exceptions to prohibitions against sex discrimination in the payment of wages." It "revises the exception to the prohibition for a wage rate differential based on any other factor other than sex. Limits such factors to bona fide factors, such as education, training, or experience."

To sum up, it would put in place measures to ensure that women will be paid the same as men if they do the same work.

The vote was 52-40 in favor, but it was killed because it was filibustered by Republicans. Among the few outlets that even bothered to report that the bill was before the Senate, few reported that there was a Republican filibuster to kill the effort.

What Information Do Voters Get To Help Them Decide?

Politico at least reported that there was a vote: "Senate blocks pay equity bill." "Senate Republicans rejected a measure written by Senate Democrats aimed at bridging differences in pay between men and women.

The Paycheck Fairness Act fell short 52-40, failing to clear a 60-vote procedural vote hurdle on Monday evening, the third time the measure has failed since spring of 2012."

So women should be angry at "the Senate"? It "failed to clear" a "procedural vote hurdle."

What information do voters get from this, to help them decide who to vote for and against?

But wait, it gets better. After April's Republican filibuster of this bill Politico had the headline: "Senate GOP blocks pay equity bill." This time they took out "GOP".

Others

The Hill: "Senate GOP blocks Paycheck Fairness Act for the second time" (Actually it was the fourth time. See Feministing: "For the 4th time, Senate Republicans vote against equal pay.")

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

A New Way Insurers Are Shifting Costs To The Sick

By ProPublica September 17, 2014 11:00 am -

The Affordable Care Act hasn't stopped insurance companies from seeking new and creative ways to shift costs to consumers.

by Charles Ornstein ProPublica, Sep. 17, 2014, 11 a.m.

This story was co-published with The New York Times' The Upshot.

Health insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away patients because of their pre-existing conditions or charge them more because of those conditions. But some health policy experts say insurers may be doing so in a more subtle way: by forcing people with a variety of illnesses 2014 including Parkinson's disease, diabetes and epilepsy 2014 to pay more for their drugs.

Insurers have long tried to steer their members away from more expensive brand name drugs, labeling them as "non-preferred" and charging higher co-payments. But according to an editorial to be published Thursday in the American Journal of Managed Care, several prominent health plans have taken it a step further, applying that same concept even to generic drugs.

The Affordable Care Act bans insurance companies from discriminating against patients with health problems, but that hasn't stopped them from seeking new and creative ways to shift costs to consumers. In the process, the plans effectively may be rendering a variety of ailments "non-preferred," according to the editorial.

"It is sometimes argued that patients should have 'skin in the game' to motivate them to become more prudent consumers," the editorial says. "One must ask, however, what sort of consumer behavior is encouraged when all generic medicines for particular diseases are 'non-preferred' and subject to higher co-pays."

I recently wrote about the confusion I faced with my infant son's generic asthma and allergy medication, which switched cost tiers from one month to the next. Until then, I hadn't known that my plan charged two different prices for generic drugs. If your health insurer does not use such a structure, odds are that it will before long.

The editorial comes several months after two advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights of the United States Department of Health and Human Services claiming that several Florida health plans sold in the Affordable Care Act marketplace discriminated against H.I.V. patients by charging them more for drugs.

Specifically, the complaint contended that the plans placed all of their H.I.V. medications, including generics, in their highest of five cost tiers, meaning that patients had to pay 40 percent of the cost after paying a deductible. The complaint is pending.

"It seems that the plans are trying to find this wiggle room to design their benefits to prevent people who have high health needs from enrolling," said Wayne Turner, a staff lawyer at the National Health Law Program, which filed the complaint alongside the AIDS Institute of Tampa, Fla.

Turner said he feared a "race to the bottom," in which plans don't want to be seen as the most attractive for sick patients. "Plans do not want that reputation."

In July, more than 300 patient groups, covering a range of diseases, wrote to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the secretary of health and human services, saying they were worried that health plans were trying to skirt the spirit of the law, including how they handled co-pays for drugs.

Generics, which come to the market after a name-brand drug loses its patent protection, used to have one low price in many insurance plans, typically $5 or $10. But as their prices have increased, sometimes sharply, many insurers have split the drugs into two cost groupings, as they have long done with name-brand drugs. "Non-preferred" generic drugs have higher co-pays, though they are still cheaper than brand-name drugs.

With brand names, there's usually at least one preferred option in each disease category. Not so for generics, the authors of the editorial found.

One of the authors, Gerry Oster, a vice president at the consulting firm Policy Analysis, said he stumbled upon the issue much as I did. He went to his pharmacy to pick up a medication he had been taking for a couple of years. The prior month it cost him $5, but this time it was $20.

As he looked into it, he came to the conclusion that this phenomenon was unknown even to health policy experts. "It's completely stealth," he said.

In some cases, the difference in price between a preferred and non-preferred generic drug is a few dollars per prescription. In others, the difference in co-pay is $10, $15 or more.

Even small differences in price can make a difference, though, the authors said. Previous research has found that consumers are less likely to take drugs that cost more out of pocket. "There's very strong evidence for quite some time that even a $1 difference in out-of-pocket expenditures changes Americans' behavior" regarding their use of medical services, said the other co-author, Dr. A. Mark Fendrick, a physician and director of the University of Michigan Center for Value-Based Insurance Design.

Fendrick said the strategy also ran counter to efforts by insurance companies to tie physicians' pay to their patients' outcomes. "I am benchmarked on what my diabetic patients' blood sugar control is," he said. "I am benchmarked on whether my patients' hypertension or angina" is under control, he said. Charging more for generic drugs to treat these conditions "flies directly in the face of a national movement to move from volume to value."

If there are no cheaper drugs offered, patients might just skip taking their pills, Fendrick said.

The authors reviewed the drug lists, called formularies, of six prescription drugs plans: Harvard Pilgrim Health Care in Massachusetts; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois; Geisinger Health Plan in Pennsylvania; Aetna; and Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska. They wanted to see how each plan handled expert-recommended generic drugs for 10 conditions.

The conditions are not all high cost like H.I.V. and Parkinson's. They also include migraine headaches, community acquired pneumonia and high blood pressure.

Premera and Aetna had preferred generic drugs for each of the 10 conditions the authors examined. Harvard Pilgrim, a nonprofit often considered among the nation's best, did not have a lower-cost generic in any of the 10 categories.

Four of the six plans had no preferred generic antiretroviral medication for patients with H.I.V.

In a statement to ProPublica, Harvard Pilgrim said it charges more for some generics because they are more expensive. The cheapest generics carry a $5 co-payment for a 30-day supply. More expensive generics range from $10 to $25, or 20 percent of the cost for a 30-day supply. The health plan said its members pay less for their medications than the industry average.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois said that its preferred generics had no co-payment at all, and that non-preferred generics cost $10. "We historically only had one tier of generic drugs at a $10 co-pay," the spokeswoman Mary Ann Schultz said in an email.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan spokeswoman Helen Stojic said the editorial looked only at its drug plan for Medicare patients, which the government closely regulates. Under Medicare, patients can appeal a drug's tier and seek to pay a lower co-payment, she said.

Geisinger did not respond to questions.

Health plans that participate in Medicare's prescription drug program, known as Part D, have been moving rapidly to create two tiers of generic drugs. This year, about three-quarters of plans had them, according to an article co-written by Jack Hoadley, a health policy analyst at Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute. The practical effect of such arrangements probably varies based on the difference in cost, he said.

Dan Mendelson, chief executive of Avalere Health, a consulting firm, has studied the way in which health insurers structure their benefits. He said the increasing number of drug tiers in some plans was confusing for patients.

"Consumers often don't understand which drugs are where," he said. "They don't understand the purpose of tiering. They just get to the pharmacy counter and it gets done to them."

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Texas Gun Store Insults Our President In The Worst Possible Way

By Vegasjessie September 17, 2014 9:46 am -
CrooksAndLiars

A Katy, Texas "Ammosexual" suggests beheading an Obama family member would "change" things for the better. Second Amendment enthusiasts have crossed a sickening line.

If you need to attract the most fervent Second Amendment proponents in the red state of Texas, simply post an offensive sign denigrating President Obama and voilà! You will increase your bottom line by emulating a bottom feeder.

The sign outside a suburban Houston gun store reads,

    Does one of Obamas family members have to be beheaded for "change" to happen?

Not only is this beyond reprehensible, this is an attempt at acerbic wit by mocking the Hope and Change motto of the 2008 campaign (by leaving out the possessive form of Obama, in true Teabag fashion). The implication that the President was directly responsible for the ISIL brutality shows unprecedented contempt for the Leader of the Free World.

Since the president doesn't speak like a John Wayne movie, Tactical Firearms CEO, Jeremy Alcede feels he needs to compensate for something. Obviously not an Obama supporter, the gun store owner caters to his anti-establishment, anti-government and pro-war alarmists by using "clever and controversial" sayings on the store's marquee. Thankfully, Alcede pays such close attention to the news, his typically uninformed customer doesn't have to.

When asked why he posts such contentious statements, Alcede told a Houston TV station

    “We’ve tried to educate people, but they aren’t listening.”

Apparently, parents need to explain to their kids about these beheadings and coloring books aren't going to do the trick by themselves.

The language the president is using is simply not strong enough to soothe the macho egos of these Republican tough guys. If he doesn’t go cowboy on us, the war hawks will call him a weakling, say he is unfit and unprepared—and in Obama’s case, they will surely add that he is unwilling—to defend “the homeland.” He has to talk tough, with the right optics, like GWB landing on the aircraft carrier, proclaiming 'Mission Accomplished,' without accomplishing anything good for America.

Always the consummate patriots, these gun fanatics insult their Commander in Chief with increasingly vulgar insults, no apologies needed. In their Confederate, Civil War-addled brains, the War of Northern Aggression still needs to be won.

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California Gun Seller Markets 'Obama's Blaster' Gun Barrel

By karoli September 18, 2014 5:00 am -
CrooksAndLiars

For ammosexuals everywhere!

Let's ramp up the eliminationist talk, shall we? What we have here is a super duper gun barrel which has been dubbed "The Obama's Blaster" by Ares Armor.

Their video above is the marketing piece that goes with it. Dubbed "The Commemorative 'Yes We Can' Build a Firearm Product', it's intended to say exactly what you think it says.

TPM:

    The barrel is being sold on the website of Ares Armor, and the listing features both a video that showcases the product and a short description thanking "President Barack Obama for being the distinguished firearms industry spokesman and salesman of all time."

    The description also includes a hint of birtherism, describing Obama as an "alien."

        Much like Marvin, Barry is believed to be an alien and also was in possession of an illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator. Unfortunately for us, Barry believes that the United States is not only blocking his view of Venus, but is also blocking his social and political views with our pesky Constitution. Luckily, after 2,000 years of research and when he was finally ready to use the Illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator to destroy the Constitution and the United States, Bugs Bunny saved the day and destroyed this device!If good ol’ Barry had been in possession of a “blaster” such as this, maybe things would have been different for Bugsy. It might have actually been Rabbit season.

    The company includes a disclaimer at the end of the description that notes it is a "very clear case of Parody (sic) for the purpose of symbolic speech."

Yeah, sure it's parody. Sure it is. These are nasty, evil people who really see nothing wrong with this. And they have guns. In other countries, those guys are called terrorists.

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Darren Wilson Testifies Before Grand Jury

By karoli September 18, 2014 5:30 am -
CrooksAndLiars

It's unusual for a suspect to be invited to make his case, but Darren Wilson spent 4 hours doing just that on Wednesday.

Darren Wilson spent 4 hours making his case before the Grand Jury empaneled to decide whether or not he should be charged for the killing of Michael Brown. This isn't ordinary at all. Generally grand jury proceedings are conducted in secret and the prosecutor calls the witnesses he or she thinks will garner an indictment.

Officer Wilson is receiving extremely generous treatment by the DA's office, which shouldn't surprise anyone.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

    Shortly after being given more time to weigh evidence in black teenager Michael Brown's fatal shooting, a Missouri grand jury heard from the man at the center of it -- Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson -- a local newspaper reported.

    Wilson shot and killed the 19-year-old Brown in the middle of the day on August 9, in the middle of a street in the St. Louis suburb. Authorities could have charged Wilson themselves by filing a criminal complaint, but St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch instead opted to present the case to a grand jury that could indict the officer, or not.

    On Wednesday, Wilson testified for almost four hours in front of the seven men and five women on that grand jury, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, citing a source with knowledge of the investigation.

    The same source cited by the paper claimed that the Ferguson police officer, who was put on paid administrative leave after the shooting, has been "cooperative" in his two conversations with St. Louis County investigators and one with federal investigators. In addition to the county's case, the U.S. Justice Department has launched its own civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Six witnesses telling virtually the same story aren't enough, I guess. And now we can wait all the way until January if they decide to. What justice?


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