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« Reply #15285 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:09 AM »


Iran says US sanctions will hinder nuclear talks

Foreign ministry warning follows US imposition of sanctions on more than 25 businesses, banks and individuals

Kevin Rawlinson and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 30 August 2014 13.59 BST   

US sanctions against Iran will hinder talks over the country's nuclear programme, the Iranian foreign ministry has warned. The comments came as Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, said the country should "resist" the measures.

On Friday, the US imposed sanctions on more than 25 businesses, banks and individuals it suspected of working to expand Iran's nuclear programme, support terrorism and help Iran evade existing sanctions.

The measures bar Americans from engaging in transactions with any of the designated parties, freeze their assets and block their property under US jurisdiction.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham said the new sanctions would jeopardise a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, the official IRNA news agency reported on Saturday.

"These actions have a negative and non-constructive impact on the trend of the talks. The Islamic Republic of Iran rejects any unilateral and self-serving interpretation of last year's Geneva deal," she said. "Iran strongly believes that the sanctions are against commitments made by the United States under the Geneva deal."

Rouhani also attacked the sanctions, saying they were an "invasion of the Iranian nation". He said: "We should resist the invasion and put the invaders in their place. We should not allow the continuation and repetition of the invasion."

Iran's state television also said the move violated an interim agreement reached with world powers under which western nations agreed to ease sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear activities. However, Friday's action did not constitute an expansion of the sanctions regime, but rather the enforcement of existing sanctions.

Western nations have long suspected Iran of covertly seeking a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme, a charge denied by Tehran, which insists its programme is for entirely peaceful purposes, like power generation and the production of medical isotopes.

Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers – the US, Britain, France, China and Russia, plus Germany – hope to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement by November that would address western concerns about the nuclear programme and lift crippling international sanctions on Tehran.

Rouhani, a reputed moderate, was elected last year after promising to engage the west diplomatically in order to get the sanctions lifted. But he has faced criticism from hardliners who say he has conceded too much in the nuclear talks.


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« Reply #15286 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:11 AM »

Pakistani Opposition Clashes With the Police

By SALMAN MASOOD
AUG. 30, 2014
IHT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Clashes broke out in the Pakistani capital on Saturday night after thousands of protesters led by two opposition leaders tried to march toward the residence of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The two opposition leaders, Imran Khan, a charismatic former cricket star, and Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri, an influential cleric, said they planned to protest outside the prime minister’s home, which is on a hill overlooking the capital. Armed with sticks and batons, many wearing gas masks, the protesters tried to break through police cordons and attempted to remove shipping containers, which had blocked a road leading to the prime minister’s house, with the help of a big crane.

Thousands of protesters have been camping out in Islamabad since Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri led two separate marches on the capital from Lahore. They have been demanding Mr. Sharif’s resignation and the dissolution of the national and provincial assemblies. Mr. Khan is demanding new elections; Mr. Qadri wants an interim unity government to run the country as well as ambitious economic and political overhauls.

The government has agreed to consider changes to the country’s contentious electoral system and open an independent investigation into allegations of rigging in last year’s general elections, one of Mr. Khan’s criticisms of Mr. Sharif. But ruling party members say their opponents need to drop their demands for Mr. Sharif’s resignation.

Mr. Sharif said Saturday that he would not resign and called the demands to do so by his opponents “unacceptable” and “unconstitutional.”

The march on Saturday came after talks broke down between the government and representatives of Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri.

“Nawaz Sharif should step down as prime minister to take the country out of this deadlock,” said Shah Mehmood Qureshi, a senior leader of Mr. Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, while talking to local news media late Saturday evening. “We want to break the political impasse. The sticking point is the prime minister’s resignation.”

Before their supporters charged toward the heavily guarded government building, both Mr. Khan and Mr. Qadri said that they would remain peaceful. “I am a decent man,” Mr. Qadri said in a speech to his supporters. “I have been fighting for peace. I have lived for peace. I will die for peace. There will be no violence at all,” he said. Mr. Khan warned security forces not to stop the marchers from assembling outside the prime minister’s residence.

But violence soon erupted after some protesters tried to enter the premises of the presidency, which is nearby, and clashed with the police; according to some local news media reports, the first tear-gas canisters were used by security forces deployed inside the premier’s official residence. Police officers wielding batons charged the crowd to disperse the protesters. There were also news reports about the use of rubber bullets that could not be independently verified.

Several protesters were seen throwing stones at the police with slingshots. The barrage of tear-gas canisters sent the protesters scrambling for cover as Constitution Avenue, in front of Mr. Sharif’s house, was enveloped in clouds of smoke.

Rescue workers said at least 70 people, including 20 police officials, were wounded and moved to hospitals in the capital.

Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the Pakistani defense minister, said the government was compelled to use force after protesters tried to storm important buildings that symbolized the state.

“They violated the last line that we had drawn,” Mr. Asif said. “Negotiations cannot go on when a gun is pointed at our temples.”

Mr. Khan condemned the use of force by the police and urged his followers across the country to take to the streets on Sunday in protest.
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« Reply #15287 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:15 AM »


China rules out open elections in Hong Kong

Democracy activists prepare protests after standing committee says it will select candidates for leader of Chinese territory

Associated Press in Beijing
theguardian.com, Sunday 31 August 2014 11.16 BST

China's legislature has ruled against allowing open nominations in elections for Hong Kong's leader, a decision that promises to ignite political tensions in the Asian financial hub.

The legislature's standing committee ruled that all candidates for chief executive must receive more than half of the votes from a special nominating body before going before voters.

Hong Kong democracy activists have held protests calling for genuine democracy in the Chinese territory, over concerns that candidates would continue to be screened to assess their loyalty to Beijing. They see the nominating committee as beholden to Chinese leaders.

Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People's Congress's standing committee, told a news conference that openly nominating candidates would create a "chaotic society".

"These rights come from laws, they don't come from the sky," he said. "Many Hong Kong people have wasted a lot of time discussing things that are not appropriate and aren't discussing things that are appropriate."

In its decision, the committee said: "Since the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and the sovereignty, security and development interests of the country are at stake, there is a need to proceed in a prudent and steady manner."

It said the 1,200-member nominating committee would select two or three candidates. After one is selected through universal suffrage, the chief executive-elect "will have to be appointed by the central people's government".

Hong Kong has enjoyed substantial political autonomy since returning from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Chinese leaders agreed then that the chief executive would be chosen by "universal suffrage" in 2017 – language that pro-democracy activists say shows Beijing has not kept its promises.

The most high-profile protest group, Occupy Central, calling for a rally Sunday night in the city centre. It has previously threatened to shut down the city's financial district with a sit-in if Beijing does not allow completely open elections for chief executive.

Pro-Beijing activists held their own march two weeks ago in Hong Kong, denouncing Occupy Central as a threat to stability in the city.

Political tensions spiked in June when Chinese officials released a policy white paper declaring that Hong Kong's "high degree of autonomy … comes solely from the authorisation by the central leadership."

Many read the policy paper as asserting Beijing's dominance of Hong Kong's affairs and took to the streets in protest. Occupy Central drew Beijing's rebuke by organising an online referendum that attracted a reported 800,000 votes on how to pick the city's chief executive.

On Sunday, organisers of a similar referendum in the neighbouring Chinese-controlled city of Macau said 95% of the 8,688 participants had voted in favour of a leader being elected by universal suffrage in 2019. Macau's incumbent leader, Fernando Chui, was elected to a second five-year term by a Beijing-friendly committee on Sunday.

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

Hong Kong’s ‘Iron Lady’ takes up democracy fight with Beijing

Anson Chan remains one of the most influential political figures in Hong Kong. She talks about her assessment of the fight with China for democratic rights and her vision for the future

William Wan for the Washington Post
Guardian Weekly, Monday 18 August 2014 01.00 BST      

She is often called the “Iron Lady” of Hong Kong. Anson Chan earned respect serving as Hong Kong’s second-highest official when the British were in charge. And when the colony was handed back to China in 1997, Beijing enlisted Chan to help with that transition.

While she no longer holds any official government position, Chan, 74, remains one of the most influential political figures in Hong Kong and has re-emerged in the spotlight amid a growing fight by Hong Kongers for democratic rights.

At the heart of the fight is China’s promise during the 1997 handover that Hong Kong would be allowed a level of autonomy. Many in Hong Kong believe China has broken that commitment – especially when it comes to media freedoms and the process of choosing a chief executive, which is currently done by a committee tightly controlled by Beijing.

Amid the growing polarisation, Chan has staked out a centrist position, supporting pro-democracy activists but pushing them to take a measured, practical approach to negotiating with China.

And she has used her profile to drum up international support for the Hong Kongers’ campaign for democracy. Her recent visits to Britain and to Washington – where she saw vice-president Joe Biden, members of Congress and the state department – secured statements of support even as they drew angry retorts from Beijing.

Chan’s efforts reflect her approach to seemingly intractable problems: identify the best compromise deal possible, then push on every lever possible to achieve that goal.

In a recent interview, Chan talked about her appeals for international support, her assessment of Hong Kong’s fight for democratic rights and her vision for Hong Kong’s future. Here are condensed excerpts from that conversation:

How has Hong Kong’s future turned out differently from what you imagined in 1997?

“Of course, all of us had a bit of apprehension because we didn’t know what actually would happen after the handover. I personally put in a great deal of effort and time to sell the joint declaration, to secure international support and to tell Hong Kong people, ‘All will be well because we have all these promises.’

“I never in my wildest dream predicted 17 years after the handover that Hong Kong would be in this state. Nor did I foresee – and this is particularly disappointing – that all three parties to the joint declaration and the Basic Law [Hong Kong’s equivalent of a constitution] – Beijing, Britain, Hong Kong’s government – would all choose to walk away from their promises to the people of Hong Kong.”

Why have you focused in your proposals on a compromise that gives people in Hong Kong more say in the nominating process for the chief executive, rather than simply “one person, one vote”, as others have proposed?

“Our group, Hong Kong 2020, has listened to all the noise that has been made, particularly by the pro-Beijing forces in Hong Kong and by Beijing officials, and by the liaison office. One message is totally clear, they will not accept civil nomination [allowing voters themselves to nominate candidates for chief executive], because they claim this is a breach of the Basic Law.

“So whilst we dispute this, we say, ‘Let’s try and see whether we can’t broker a compromise solution.’ So we spent one year checking with the different aspects of the community, listening to their views, and we arrived at a set of proposals that are fully compliant with the Basic Law, with no civil nominations but a chance to broaden the representativeness of the nominating committee. Because this is what the Basic Law prescribes.

“But what does the government do? The government keeps telling us that there’s room for negotiation, let’s sit down and seriously talk. But every single compromise proposal – and it’s not just ours, there are several others – one after another, they have been shot down by the government. So where is the sincerity? Where is the commitment towards actually trying to broker a compromise?

“We all know the government is waiting for instructions from Beijing, which are expected sometime in August.”

Why should the international community care what happens in Hong Kong?

“The international community takes an interest in Hong Kong, if for nothing else than their own self-interest. Because they have investments here, they have nationals living here, they have a whole raft of bilateral agreements with Hong Kong, ranging from cooperation in law enforcement, preventing human trafficking, narcotics, protection of intellectual properties. All these have been concluded on the basis that there is a very distinct system in Hong Kong totally different from anything prevailing in mainland China.

“If the two systems go, surely Hong Kong will no longer be in [a] position to honour our treaty obligations.”

How do you see your role in Hong Kong these days? How can you best use that to the advantage of Hong Kong?

“I’ve never been interested in particularly carving out a role for myself. But the reason why I decided to adopt a higher profile starting in 2006 is because I saw things deteriorating very rapidly, both in terms of the government dragging its feet on democratic reforms, but even more importantly on the whole quality of governance.

“One of the things we prided ourselves on was the fact that Hong Kong’s civil servants were a genuine meritocracy. You didn’t have to resort to political patronage. But that’s what has happened ever since [former chief executive] CH Tung introduced the political appointment system in 2002 – which by the way is the reason why I decided to retire early, because I felt that that system was thoroughly, fundamentally flawed.

“Because the chief executive is not popularly elected, to concentrate the power to appoint the top posts within the Hong Kong government in one pair of hands, without having checks and balance, is asking for trouble.”

If the opportunity ever emerged, would you ever run for chief executive yourself?

“I’m a pragmatist above anything else. There are two reasons [I wouldn’t run]: One, I would not be acceptable to China; secondly, this job needs a younger person. I’m already 74.

“I’ll continue to do what I can to encourage people to speak up because it’s very important. I cannot guarantee that even if we speak up and express our concerns, that we will necessarily succeed. But if we remain silent and do nothing, we definitely will lose.”

This article appeared in the Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from the Washington Post


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« Reply #15288 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:16 AM »

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warns West will be jihadists’ next target

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 30, 2014 9:39 EDT

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has warned that the West will be the next target of the jihadists sweeping through Syria and Iraq, unless there is “rapid” action.

“If we ignore them, I am sure they will reach Europe in a month and America in another month,” he said in remarks quoted on Saturday by Asharq al-Awsat daily and Saudi-backed Al-Arabiya television station.

“Terrorism knows no border and its danger could affect several countries outside the Middle East,” said the king who was speaking at a welcoming ceremony on Friday for new ambassadors, including a new envoy from Saudi ally the United States.

The Islamic State (IS) jihadist group has prompted widespread concern as it advances in both Syria and Iraq, killing hundreds of people, including in gruesome beheadings and mass executions.

Lack of action would be “unacceptable” in the face of the phenomenon, King Abdullah said.

“You see how they (jihadists) carry out beheadings and make children show the severed heads in the street,” he said, condemning the “cruelty” of such acts.

“It is no secret to you, what they have done and what they have yet to do. I ask you to transmit this message to your leaders: ‘Fight terrorism with force, reason and (necessary) speed’.”

President Barack Obama has yet to decide whether the United States should launch raids against positions held by the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria to follow US air strikes on IS activities in Iraq.

US Secretary of State John Kerry called Friday for a global coalition to combat Islamic State fighters’ “genocidal agenda”.

Writing in the New York Times, Kerry said he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet European counterparts on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Wales next week, to enlist assistance.

They will then travel on to the Middle East to build support “among the countries that are most directly threatened”.

“With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries,” Kerry said in Friday’s op-ed piece.

Asharq Al-Awsat said the king urged other countries to join the UN Counter-Terrorism Centre, set up in 2011 to respond to new threats, and to which Saudi Arabia has made a grant of $100 million.


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« Reply #15289 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:21 AM »

ISIS Displaying a Deft Command of Varied Media

By SCOTT SHANE and BEN HUBBARD
AUG. 30, 2014
IHT

The extremists who have seized large parts of Syria and Iraq have riveted the world’s attention with their military prowess and unrestrained brutality. But Western intelligence services are also worried about their extraordinary command of seemingly less lethal weapons: state-of-the-art videos, ground images shot from drones and multilingual Twitter messages.

ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is using every contemporary mode of messaging to recruit fighters, intimidate enemies and promote its claim to have established a caliphate, a unified Muslim state run according to a strict interpretation of Islamic law. If its bigotry and beheadings seem to come from a distant century, its use of media is up to the moment.

A review of its prodigious output in print and online reveals a number of surprises. ISIS propaganda, for instance, has strikingly few calls for attacks on the West, even though its most notorious video, among Americans, released 12 days ago, showed the beheading of the American journalist James Foley, threatened another American hostage, and said that American attacks on ISIS “would result in the bloodshed” of Americans. This diverged from nearly all of ISIS’s varied output, which promotes its paramount goal: to secure and expand the Islamic state. Experts say that could change overnight, but for now it sharply distinguishes ISIS from Al Qaeda, which has long made attacks on the West its top priority.

And while ISIS may be built on bloodshed, it seems intent on demonstrating the bureaucratic acumen of the state that it claims to be building. Its two annual reports so far are replete with a sort of jihadist-style bookkeeping, tracking statistics on everything from “cities taken over” and “knife murders” committed by ISIS forces to “checkpoints set up” and even “apostates repented.”

ISIS media frames its campaign in epochal terms, mounting a frontal assault on the national divisions and boundaries in the Middle East drawn by Western powers after World War I. These “Crusader partitions” and their modern Arab leaders, ISIS argues in its English-language magazine, were a divide-and-conquer strategy intended to prevent Muslims from unifying “under one imam carrying the banner of truth.”

That sense of historical grievance is an old theme for Al Qaeda and more moderate Islamist groups. The difference is that by capturing expansive territory and heavy weaponry, and flush with wealth from kidnappings, oil piracy, bank robbery and extortion, ISIS claims to have taken a major first step toward righting what it sees as this ancient wrong, creating a unified Muslim state that will subsume existing nations.

ISIS carefully tailors its recruiting pitch, sending starkly different messages to Muslims in the West and to those closer to home. But the image of unstoppable, implacable power animates all of its messaging.

The pitch is effective. The militant rebellion in Syria and Iraq has drawn as many as 2,000 Westerners, including perhaps 100 Americans, and many thousands more from the Middle East and elsewhere, though some have returned home. Experts believe most of those remaining today are fighting with ISIS.

“The overriding point is that success breeds success,” said Emile Nakhleh, a former C.I.A. analyst. “The perception of quick victories and territory and weapons and bases means they don’t need to try hard to recruit.”

For two decades, Mr. Nakhleh said, Osama bin Laden talked about re-establishing the caliphate, but he never claimed to have done it. “Young people look at ISIS and say, ‘By gosh, they’re doing it!’ They see the videos with fighters riding on big tanks. They see that ISIS has money,” he said.

Before ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Mosul in June, other factions fighting in Syria were attracting European recruits, said Thomas Schmidinger, a political scientist from Vienna University. “But since the fall of Mosul, nearly everyone is going to” ISIS, he said.

In the evolution of modern jihadist propaganda, Bin Laden, addressing a single static camera with long-winded rhetoric in highly formal Arabic, represented the first generation. (His videos had to be smuggled to Al Jazeera or another television network to be aired.) The most prominent figure of the second generation was the YouTube star Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric killed in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011, who addressed Westerners in colloquial English, had a blog and Facebook page and helped produce a full-color, English-language magazine called Inspire.

ISIS is online jihad 3.0. Dozens of Twitter accounts spread its message, and it has posted some major speeches in seven languages. Its videos borrow from Madison Avenue and Hollywood, from combat video games and cable television dramas, and its sensational dispatches are echoed and amplified on social media. When its accounts are blocked, new ones appear immediately. It also uses services like JustPaste to publish battle summaries, SoundCloud to release audio reports, Instagram to share images and WhatsApp to spread graphics and videos.

“They are very adept at targeting a young audience,” said John G. Horgan, a psychologist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell who has long studied terrorism. “There’s an urgency: ‘Be part of something that’s bigger than yourself and be part of it now.’ ” Fawaz A. Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and the author of “The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global,” said ISIS had so far consistently focused on what militants call “the near enemy” — leaders of Muslim countries like Bashar al-Assad of Syria — and not “the far enemy” of the United States and Europe.

“The struggle against the Americans and the Israelis is distant, not a priority,” he said. “It has to await liberation at home.”

Al Qaeda has often stressed the advantage to the terrorist network of supporters who hold Western passports and can attack in their countries. But a common public rite of passage for new recruits to ISIS is tearing up or burning their passports, signifying a no-going-back commitment to the Islamic state.

One polished ISIS video features a Canadian recruit named Andre Poulin urging North American Muslims to follow him — and even to bring their families. “You’d be very well taken care of here,” he said in the video. “Your families would live here in safety, just like how it is back home. You know we have expanses of territory here in Syria.”

In another English-language video pitch, a British fighter identified as Brother Abu Bara al-Hindi poses the call to jihad as a test for comfortable Westerners. “Are you willing to sacrifice the fat job you’ve got, the big car, the family?” he asks. Despite such luxuries, he says, “Living in the West, I know how you feel — in the heart you feel depressed.” The Prophet Muhammad, he declares, said, “The cure for depression is jihad.”

Such appeals provoke curiosity, and British fighters have answered hundreds of questions about joining ISIS on Ask.fm, a website, including what type of shoes to bring and whether toothbrushes are available. When asked what to do upon arriving in Turkey or Syria, the fighters often casually reply, “Kik me,” referring to the instant messenger for smartphones, and continue the discussion in private.

The English-language videos do not soft-pedal the dangers of the fight; the video of Mr. Poulin, for instance, shows and celebrates his death in battle. But the message to English speakers is nonetheless far softer than the Arabic-language videos, which linger on enemy corpses and show handcuffed prisoners casually machine-gunned.

The message, said Mr. Gerges, is blunt: “Get out of the way or you will be crushed; join our caravan and make history.”

Instead of emphasizing jihad as a means of personal fulfillment, the Arabic media production portrays it as duty for all Muslims. It flaunts violence toward its foes, especially Shiites and the Iraqi and Syrian security services, while portraying the killing as just vengeance.

A recent hourlong ISIS documentary opens with video shot from a drone over Falluja in Iraq and then over a convoy of ISIS gun trucks heading off to battle. A voice-over says that the Islamic state is expanding and that Jerusalem’s Aqsa mosque is “only a stone’s throw away.”

In a later scene, a fighter holding a rifle and his passport mocks his home country, Bahrain, for threatening to withdraw citizenship from those who fight jihad abroad.

“Don’t you know that you, your citizenship, your laws, your constitutions and your threats are under our feet?” the fighter says. “Don’t you know that we are the soldiers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and that our state will expand until it removes the thrones that you sold your religion for?”

Nowhere in the hourlong production — full of threats, drive-by shootings, explosions and gunfights — does an ISIS fighter mention the United States or directly mention or threaten Israel, apart from the allusion to the Aqsa mosque.

Hassan Hassan, a Syrian analyst with the Delma Institute in Abu Dhabi, said that ISIS portrays itself as restoring idealized eras of earlier Islamic history in a way that resonates with many of the region’s Muslims.

“ISIS tries to reflect an image of being the continuation of the system of the caliphate,” he said. “In people’s minds, the caliphate is about victory and dignity of Muslims. A caliph is a defender of Muslims against the enemies from within and without.”

ISIS’ emphasis on strict implementation of Islamic law also draws support, he said, as does its portrayal of its battle in staunchly sectarian terms.

Many of the region’s Sunnis have deep sympathy for any force that can challenge the Iraqi or Syrian governments, which they feel have oppressed Sunnis.

ISIS “is the group that is capable of hitting these governments’ security forces and loyalists,” and that has “massive appeal,” Mr. Hassan said.

The State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications has stepped up its efforts to counter ISIS propaganda, publishing a steady stream of ISIS horror tales on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #ThinkAgainTurnAway.

For now, it seems an uphill climb. Last week, an ISIS fighter calling himself Abu Turaab wrote on Twitter, “For those who want to come but are facing obstacles, be patient and keep the desire for Jihad alive within you always.”

The State Department account replied, “ISIS recruits’ 2 choices: commit atrocities & die as criminals, get nabbed and waste lives in prison.” As of Friday, Abu Turaab’s comment had been named as a “favorite” 32 times. The count for the State Department’s response: Zero.

Scott Shane reported from Baltimore, and Ben Hubbard from Baghdad. Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura contributed reporting from London, and Melissa Eddy from Berlin.


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« Reply #15290 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:28 AM »

Israeli Fire on Gaza Town Raises War Crimes Claim

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
AUG. 31, 2014, 8:01 A.M. E.D.T.

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — The first of August dawned as a day of promise for the Mahmoum clan and thousands of other Palestinians stuck in United Nations shelters in Rafah — thanks to a temporary cease-fire with Israel they could go home for three days.

But the expected respite quickly turned into one of the deadliest and most controversial episodes in the recent war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. After just two hours, amid fear that Hamas had captured an Israeli soldier, the Israeli military sealed off the Rafah area and began shelling. By the end of the next day, 190 Palestinians were dead, according to a list of names compiled by two Gaza human rights groups, including 14 members of the Mahmoum family.

The Rafah operation is almost certain to be a focus of U.N. investigators and rights groups looking into possible war crimes because it highlights a key concern: The treatment of civilians.

A Palestinian rights group argues that the Israeli army violated the rules of war, which include giving adequate warning to civilians, using proportionate force and distinguishing between civilians and combatants. Unlike in many other Gaza battles, civilians were caught by surprise by the sudden fire and sealed exits.

"None of the rules of international humanitarian law was observed," said Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Al Mezan rights group.

The Israeli military confirmed that Rafah residents were barred from leaving the area on Aug. 1, but declined comment on the war crime allegations. It denied firing into a densely populated area without regard for civilians, saying precise airstrikes hit targets linked to militants and artillery — though inherently inaccurate — was only aimed at open fields.

Late on Aug. 2, the suspected capture of the soldier turned out to be a false alarm, and the Rafah episode is one of several under internal military review.

"If we accidentally or mistakenly targeted a civilian situation, it was a mistake, and we are very sorry about that," an officer from the army's Southern Command said on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to speak on the record.

The following account is from interviews with Palestinian survivors and the Israeli military, along with events witnessed by The Associated Press.
___

The cease-fire took effect at 8 a.m. Friday. Mustafa Mahmoum, a municipal bulldozer operator, was at work clearing rubble from previous Israeli strikes. But after weeks in a shelter, his wife Iqzayer, 34, and their seven children returned to the family home in Tannour in east Rafah, about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the Israeli border.

A few houses down Ouroba Street, the main thoroughfare, Azizeh, 47, the wife of one of Mustafa's cousins, and her nine children also moved back home into their two-room shack with a roof of corrugated metal.

At 9 a.m., the commander of Israel's Givati Brigade, Col. Ofer Winter, had just dozed off after a sleepless night when he received an alert from the field.

Givati soldiers searching for Hamas' network of military tunnels had been ambushed by Hamas gunmen, he was told. Over the next half hour, it became apparent that Maj. Benaya Sarel, a recon officer, and Liel Gidoni, his radio operator, had been killed, and 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin was missing.

At 9:36 a.m., Winter announced over the field radio the word nobody wanted to hear: "Hannibal."

Hannibal is the name for the military protocol to be followed if a soldier falls into enemy hands. The aim is to stop the capture, even if it means loosening open-fire regulations.

Winter ordered all forces to take territory so that the kidnappers couldn't move, he told Israel's Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

The officer in the Southern Command, which oversaw the Gaza fighting, told the AP the brigade tried to seal off an area with a radius of 2-3 kilometers (1.5 miles) around the suspected capture point, a mile from the border. Over the next eight hours, soldiers fired about 500 artillery shells, he said. The military said it also launched about 100 airstrikes against targets in Rafah on Aug. 1 and 2, but did not provide a breakdown for each day.

The priority was to rescue Goldin.

"That's why we used all this force," Winter told the newspaper. "Those who kidnap need to know they will pay a price. This was not revenge. They simply messed with the wrong brigade."

The assault began sometime before 10 a.m., sending Azizeh Mahmoum and her children fleeing from their shack to Mustafa's sturdier brick home. Within minutes relatives gathered. As the fire became more intense, they no longer felt safe. So they ran across Ouroba Street in groups, trying to reach a small, narrow alley for cover. The alley lay next to a supermarket owned by the Bilbesis, a relatively wealthy family, and led toward a hospital.

As they ran, Azizeh's son Hani, 23, was struck by a projectile.

"I saw his body flying into the air in front of me," said his brother, Sami, 20.

That was just the start. His mother and three siblings — Wafa, 25, Asma, 16, and Yehiyeh, 13 — all died.

A cousin, Anam Mahmoum Hamad, had just entered the alley when the wall of a house collapsed from a drone strike. It killed Mustafa's wife, she said, and another four children — Bissan, 10, Hiba, 7, Duaa, 3 and Obada, 2.

Others kept running, including Mustafa's 24-year-old sister, Halima, barefoot over the scorching asphalt. The shells rained all over, in front of her and behind, she said.

By noon, an AP videojournalist saw at least 20 bodies along Ouroba Street.

The Bilbesis administered first aid to the wounded who made it to the basement of their building on Ouroba Street. An ambulance eventually evacuated some of them.

In the meantime, Abu Yousef al-Najar Hospital was filling up with hundreds of people running from the fire or searching for the missing. By the day's end, 63 bodies were squeezed into the morgue, said Dr. Abdullah Shehadeh, the hospital director. At one point he heard shells falling every 10 seconds, he said.

Hamad, the Mahmoum cousin, had been at the hospital for about two hours when medics brought in the lower body of her 4-year-old son, Anas. She said she recognized his clothes.

That evening, with concerns that the Israeli soldier could be smuggled out, the military warned in automated calls to residents that any vehicle trying to leave Rafah would be shot.
___

The next day, Mustafa returned to Ouroba Street to search for the bodies of his wife and four dead children. He found them near the Bilbesi supermarket amid the debris.

"It was hard," he said, struggling to keep his composure.

The heavy Israeli fire continued Saturday, including airstrikes on homes that killed several dozen people, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

By late that day, it had become clear that Goldin, the 23-year-old soldier, had been not captured but killed in a firefight. After forensic analysis of remains found in the tunnel, he was declared dead.

It was not until Sunday that some bodies on Ouroba Street could be retrieved.

"It was a horrible scene," said Ghassan Bilbesi, son of the supermarket owner. "People had lost their hands, their arms."

Mustafa's wife and children were buried on Monday, Aug. 4, in the sandy soil of a new cemetery on the edge of Rafah, in a row of 14 still unmarked, cinder block-lined graves. Hamad has no idea where her son's remains lie.
___

In all, 121 Palestinians were killed in Rafah on Aug. 1 and 69 on Aug. 2, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Al Mezan rights group, which compiled the names. The dead included 55 children, 36 women and five men over the age of 60.

In the Tannour and adjacent Jneineh neighborhoods alone, 37 people were killed on Aug. 1, the rights groups say. The Mahmoum clan lost seven children, six women and a young man.

The losses played into a bigger debate over the uneven death toll in the war. More than 2,140 Palestinians were killed, three-fourths civilians, according to the U.N. On the Israeli side, 72 people were killed, all but six soldiers.

Israel said it warned civilians to leave targeted areas through automated calls and leaflets, and accused Hamas of putting civilians at risk by using them as human shields in crowded neighborhoods. The military said the events in Rafah, along with others, are under review by officers who were not part of the chain of command. The conclusion will be handed to the army's advocate general.

Even if the findings of U.N. investigators are months away, Mustafa Mahmoum is determined to demand justice for his family and trial for Israeli officials who ordered the Rafah attack. Trying to rescue a soldier does not justify killing civilians, he said.

"Even in war," he said, "children are protected."
___

Associated Press writer Yousur Alhlou in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


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« Reply #15291 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:30 AM »

Lesotho Military Moves on Police

By ADAM NOSSITER
AUG. 30, 2014
IHT

DAKAR, Senegal — A military coup in the tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho has chased out the prime minister and apparently put the army in control of the landlocked nation, witnesses and journalists in the capital said on Saturday.

Residents woke to the sound of gunfire before dawn on Saturday, with soldiers storming the seat of government in the capital, Maseru, apparently looking for Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, said the publisher of The Lesotho Times, Basildon Peta, in an interview from Maseru.

Speaking with Al Jazeera from South Africa, where he had sought refuge, Mr. Thabane said: “They were all over the State House looking for me. What they were hoping to do, I don’t know.”

The army is “doing what it wants to do without any recourse to lawful authority,” he said. “All these things can only manifest one thing, a government that cannot be regarded as normal. When you put it all together, that leads to a coup d’état.”

Lesotho, a mountainous country of 1.9 million, is surrounded by South Africa. Its political life, turbulent since independence from Britain in 1966, has featured at least three coups, Mr. Peta said. Just this year there was an attack on the residence of Mr. Thabane’s girlfriend, he said.

Saturday morning, army units stormed police stations — the police are thought to be loyal to the prime minister — and confiscated weapons, killing at least one police officer, according to Mr. Peta and news reports.

By late Saturday it was not clear who was in charge. The police stations were deserted, and Mr. Thabane was still in South Africa, although he told Al Jazeera that he intended to return to Lesotho. “There is a major security vacuum,” Mr. Peta said. “Basically there is anarchy.”

The soldiers had apparently returned to their barracks by Saturday evening. “In the morning there were so many soldiers patrolling around here,” said a guard at the United States Embassy in Maseru, John Nkhetse. “Now we are free to move. There are no more now here.”

An official at the embassy who said she was the duty officer declined to comment on the day’s events.

The latest political crisis was precipitated by Mr. Thabane’s dissolution of Parliament in June, according to Mr. Peta and local news reports. Deputies had warned that they would hold a vote of no confidence; the prime minister, under Lesotho’s Constitution, can shut down Parliament for nine months, Mr. Peta said.

Mr. Thabane had threatened to fire the army chief, Lt. Gen. Kennedy Tlali Kamoli. But late Saturday, the general was still in charge, Mr. Peta said.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, the deputy prime minister, Mothetjo Metsing, generally thought to be pro-army, denied that there had been a coup. “This is not a coup, let us get that straight,” Mr. Metsing said. “The prime minister would not still be the prime minister if there was a coup that had taken place.”

But it was unclear what authority, if any, Mr. Thabane retained; nor was it clear when he might return. “He’s claiming he is in charge, but you can’t be in charge when you are not on the ground,” Mr. Peta said.

An army spokesman also denied that there had been a coup, according to news reports.
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« Reply #15292 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:31 AM »

Ecuador’s women turn to boxing to fight sexual violence

By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, August 30, 2014 12:24 EDT

After surviving a harrowing rape attempt, Any Hurtado took up boxing — and found herself surrounded by other Ecuadoran women using their fists for protection in a country torn by sexual violence.

Statistics paint a disturbing picture of the threats women face in the South American country: six out of every 10 have been the victims of gender-based aggression, and one girl in 10 suffers sexual abuse before the age of 18.

Hurtado, a 17-year-old nursing student, lived through her own horror story last year.

She was walking home when a group of men surrounded her and tried to rape her.

“They started grabbing me and trying to assault me,” she told AFP.

“As I was struggling against them I thought I wasn’t going to be able to get away. But I found the strength somewhere. I hit the one closest to me and managed to run away.”

After the incident, Hurtado, who lives alone since her father emigrated to Spain four years ago, went to a gym in La Tola, a neighborhood in central Quito, and began learning to box.

There, she found a cohort of other women with stories similar to her own donning gloves and learning to use their fists to defend themselves.

One of them is Tania Lara, a 27-year-old domestic worker whose ex-husband used to beat her.

“Sometimes I wish I could go back in time. I think about what it would have been like then if I were the way I am now, a boxer. I’d have hit him hard,” she said.

Another boxer, Maria Vega, a 30-year-old who sells potatoes at a market in the capital, said she trains with even more passion ever since she first put her boxing to use on the street.

“A guy grabbed my cell phone and I took off running after him. I beat him to the ground until he gave it back,” she said with a grin.

The women put their gloves on, then got into the ring — Vega with no protective headgear.

“There it is Tania! Harder, no fear, don’t let her get you,” yelled Segundo Chango, a local boxing coach who gives free lessons to the women.

Lara and Vega traded hooks and jabs for 15 minutes, moving around the ring gracefully as other boxers looked on.

“You think a woman can’t last a week (boxing), but when you see them in there you realize they’re tough,” said Eric Bone, another of Chango’s trainees.

- Next generation -

The La Tola gym began offering training for women boxers 10 years ago. Since then, a growing number have taken advantage of the classes — about five a day currently, said Chango.

That reflects a natural response to the dangers women face in Ecuador, said Santiago Castellanos, a psychologist at the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty who specializes in gender studies.

“We live in a society where the public space is often safer for men than women. So women turn to self-defense… when society sees them as weak objects,” he said.

These boxers reject the notion held by some that boxing may make them less feminine.

Amarilis Carbos, a 26-year-old office worker, took off her heels when she entered the gym, stored her purse in a locker and removed her make-up.

“My parents never let me box because obviously it was a sport for men,” she said after changing into her workout clothes.

But now Carbos not only practices the sport, she even teaches it to her eight-year-old daughter.

“She has to learn to defend herself too,” she said.

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« Reply #15293 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:34 AM »

Ultra-Orthodox Jews expelled from Guatemalan village after conflict with locals

By International Business Times
Saturday, August 30, 2014 12:35 EDT

A group of ultra-orthodox Jews who moved from Canada to a remote part of Guatemala a few months ago to find religious freedom have now been forced to leave their homes after conflict arose with local villagers there.

The Lev Tahor settlement in the San Juan la Laguna, which is about 93 miles west of Guatemala City, saw the Jews abandon their homes and board buses for the capital after weeks of tension with the local community, Al Jazeera reported.

A leader of the Lev Tahor sect in San Juan, Rabbi Uriel Goldman, said that most Guatemalans were friendly towards the Jews but an aggressive minority of local motivated by politics chose to push the group out.

"I don't understand why they don't want us, we're doing nothing bad here," Goldman said to Reuters adding that the city’s Elder Council issued an ultimatum to the Lev Tahor threatening them with cutting of their water and electricity if they did not leave.

"They also warned us they would remove us from the village by force," he said.

Last week, the town’s Elders Council voted to force the religious group to leave the area because some members of the sect have been accused of ill-treatment of indigenous residents and tourists to the area according to the Associated Press.

The villagers turned hostile and decided to expel the group because the Jews refused to greet or have physical contact with the local community, Miguel Vasquez Cholotio, a member of the Elders Council said.

"We felt intimidated by them in the streets. We thought they wanted to change our religion and customs," he reportedly said.

The Jews who began coming to the country in March from Canada due to clashes with authorities there said that verbal abuse, threats to cut off power and eject them by force was the last straw for the group to pack their bags and leave.

Founded in the 1980s by Israeli Shlomo Helbrans, Lev Tahor which means "Pure Heart" in Hebrew practices an austere form of Judaism and believes that technological trappings such as television and computers are bad and must be avoided with members of the group’s daily life being steeped in religion.

The group with rejects the state of Israel because it views the Jews as a people who must remain in exile has won the admiration from some Jews for its devoutness but others condemn it to cult-like sect. After being evicted by the locals of San Juan, Lev Tahor now hopes to find land elsewhere in Guatemala to resettle more than 200 Jews in the community and build about 30 houses, Goldman said.

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« Reply #15294 on: Aug 31, 2014, 07:46 AM »

In the USA...United Surveillance and Swat Teams of America

Obama's Cool Head in a Crisis -- Asset or Growing Liability?

by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 August 2014, 08:42

He doesn't bluster and he doesn't strut and President Barack Obama certainly isn't panicking, though he admits it feels like the world is falling apart.

But Obama's cool-in-a-crisis style and disdain for the impulsive use of military force is fueling criticism of his leadership, as crises stagger the Middle East and Ukraine.

"If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart," the sanguine U.S. leader told supporters Friday.

"I can see why a lot of folks are troubled," he said, while counseling that the U.S. military, standing tall amid jihadist violence and geopolitical threats, had never been mightier.

"The world has always been messy -- we're just noticing it now in part because of social media."

With world crises bursting around him and political opponents apoplectic, Obama has yet to lash out in response, and refuses to act on anyone's timetable but his own.

His methodical crisis management, long Situation Room seminars and skepticism that U.S. force can remake a tumultuous world, has sustained him through nearly six tough White House years.

With Islamic State radicals dug into a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's shadow ever lengthening over Ukraine, Obama is shrugging off a whirl of hostile news cycles and political attacks on his leadership.

But even Obama allies may be forgiven for wondering, after another trying week, whether the president’s approach is becoming a political liability, as his once high foreign policy ratings ebb.

A burst of honesty on Syria put the president in a new fix —- and raised the stakes for his trip to the NATO summit and Estonia beginning Tuesday.

"We don't have a strategy yet," Obama told reporters, trying to quell a warlike mood in Washington, which expected to hear U.S. attacks on IS in Syria were imminent.

But the damaging soundbite sparked a Washington firestorm, as it appeared to validate Republican attacks that the president, disengaged and oblivious to rising threats, is not up to facing down the world's hard men like Vladimir Putin.

Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham warned in a New York Times article Saturday headlined "stop dithering" that Obama's failure to act quickly against IS in Syria was "startling" and "dangerous."

Potential 2016 Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry said Obama's remarks revealed a president always one step behind the next crisis, and accused him of "dithering and debating" over what to do about IS.

Aides protested Obama was talking only about an operational plan for military action in Syria — not the wider battle against a group U.S. jets are already bombing in Iraq.

But in political spats like this, context is lost.

While it infuriates his enemies, Obama's approach is a reflection of his own personality, his post-Iraq war era and the historical lens through which he increasingly peers as his presidency enters its twilight.

His drawn out decision-making and habit of testing of every scenario that could follow military action is familiar —- Obama agonized for months before doubling down with an Afghan troop surge in his first term.

But in probing complexity and nuance, is Obama's zeal for decisive action dimmed?

His defenders reply with three words — Osama bin Laden — recalling the long-planned and daring raid into Pakistan which killed the Al-Qaida chief and helped Obama win reelection.

Obama recently took to telling confidants the core of his foreign policy is not to do "stupid" things — and holds up the "disastrous" Iraq war as Exhibit A in his case.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest explained that Obama, wary of being sucked into Syria's civil war, refuses to simply launch an impulsive attack to appease Washington, seeking vengeance after the IS murder of U.S. journalist James Foley.

"There are some who probably would make the case that it's OK to not have a formulated, comprehensive strategy," Earnest said.

"That is not what the president believes is a smart approach."

Brian Katulis, of the Center for American Progress, which is close to the administration, said Obama may be more in tune with his war-weary nation, than his critics.

"I think a lot of the criticism comes from the chattering classes — amongst the foreign policy elite and in the media."

"I think your ordinary American is very much where the president is, in his cautious look before you leap stance."

Obama has made clear he believes history assigned him the role of getting troops home from foreign wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of transitioning his nation from the permanent war footing it adopted following the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Critics argue though, that the president sees the world not as it is — but as he wishes to see it. Some Americans appear to agree: only 36 percent in a recent Pew Research/USA Today poll thought Obama acted sufficiently tough on the world stage.

But some close observers sympathize with his plight.

"It's pretty tough being president of the United States. You are damned if you do, and damned if you don't," said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

"Either you are accused of having got too involved in some other country's affairs and making things worse -— or you stand back because you are conscious that in the past, sometimes military interventions have not been an unmitigated success."

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

Keeping Their Voters Stupid Keeps Republicans Elected

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Saturday, August, 30th, 2014, 10:08 am   

Over the past six years after every election, a relatively common question is why do so many Americans dependably vote against their own self-interests. Despite poor white people in southern red states barely surviving on slave wages, welfare, food stamps, and no adequate healthcare, they routinely vote for Republicans openly campaigning on driving their constituents deeper into poverty. It is true that opposition to Democrats as surrogates for an African American President is driven by racial animus, but even that fails to explain poor white voters electing abusive Republicans promising to eliminate programs that keep them alive and block Democratic attempts to lift them out of poverty.

Founding Father Thomas Jefferson understood how abusive Republicans could succeed, if only they kept the population unenlightened, or in street vernacular blind, dumb, and stupid. Jefferson said, “I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of power.”

That was in 1820, but even before that Jefferson wrote that “Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree. Therefore, it is imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens.”
Jefferson was not the first man to identify the death knell of democracy, or “self-government,” was an uneducated populace. Republicans understand they could hardly garner any electoral support if the population was educated and informed, so they have went to extraordinary and, often, unconstitutional lengths to keep the populace ignorant by cutting education funding. Whether it is transferring public school funding to private, religious, or underperforming charter schools, or just slashing education funding, Republicans will employ any measure to keep Americans stupid so they will vote against their own self-interests.

On Thursday, another judge ruled that Republicans in Texas used an unconstitutional scam to starve public schools and produce another generation of ignorant Texans to vote for Republicans. The Texas ruling was a repudiation of gubernatorial candidate Gregg Abbot’s defense of slashing well over $5 billion from public schools using an unconstitutional property tax scam. However, the means of slashing public education funding is unimportant, but it is a growing trend among Republican-led states whose goal is simply to maintain a base of support among uneducated voters.

Last week a judge in North Carolina ruled that a Republican privatization scheme was unconstitutional because it defunded public schools by shifting public education funds to private and charter religious schools. The judge correctly stated that the Republican scheme was to “siphon money from the public schools in favor of private schools, fund non-public schools that discriminate on account of religion, and to shift “public taxpayer money to private religious schools that have no legal obligation to teach them anything.” Besides a dirty privatization scam, N.C. Republicans want to keep the next generation of voters blind, dumb, and stupid so they will support policies that keep them in distress.

Last year in Kansas a judge ruled that Governor Sam Brownback’s Draconian cuts to public education were unconstitutional; particularly because the lack of funding was due to using taxpayer dollars to fund unsustainable tax cuts for the rich. Brownback, like all Republicans, desperately needs an ignorant and uneducated citizenry who regularly fall for the insane notion that taking money from the people to enrich corporations and the wealthy is key to an economic Utopia. It is noteworthy that the storied “trickle down” theory has existed for about a generation, and the people that were denied a decent education then ignorantly support Brownback’s economic lunacy that has the state suffering three recent credit downgrades and flirting with bankruptcy in the very near future. It is even likely that people suffering the drastic social program cuts enacted by Republicans will vote for Brownback because they are too stupid to understand they are voting against their own survival.

Another Republican state, Louisiana, is fighting federal and state court lawsuits due to Governor Bobby Jindal’s unconstitutional scheme of stealing from public schools to fund private religious institutions. Jindal, like all Republicans, depends on uneducated voters to support policies against their own self-interests such as rejecting free Medicaid expansion funding, giving free rein to dirty energy industry to foul Louisiana’s air and water, and cut social programs ignorant and uneducated citizens require to survive.

The common theme in keeping their citizens ignorant and uninformed is pandering to voters’ irrational fears. It is why Republicans’ claim Democrats are subverting their religious freedom, taking god out of schools, coming for their guns, and imposing Marxism, Socialism, or communism on the people. If any American does not believe how ignorance borne of an uneducated populace drives opposition to policies that help Americans, take heed of the number of times Republican and teabagger voters bemoan President Obama’s Marxist or socialist policies revealing they have no idea what Marxist or socialist policies entail. If one wants to end a debate, or conversation with a conservative parroting Republican talking points, ask them when the government came for their guns, what Marxism or socialism is, how their religious liberty, was subverted, or how President Obama is shredding the Constitution; a document they have never read, much less understand at even a rudimentary level.

It is beyond refute that if the citizens of this country were informed and educated, Republicans would be hard-pressed to get elected as dog-catchers, much less legislators. The assault on public education goes beyond Republican-controlled states as evidenced by congressional Republicans regularly cutting education funding. They, Republicans, know that if the public were educated, they could not demean science as the work of the devil, or claim contraception is abortion, or push the Christian bible as true science. There is a reason so many morons in the conservative movement are certain that god created America, wrote the Constitution, established America’s borders, and installed Christianity as the state religion, and it is simply due to their inability to pick up a history book or the founding document to check Republican claims for veracity.

Americans are not unintelligent, but a fair proportion of them are dirt stupid; it is the only reason a Republican ever gets elected. What Republicans are doing in the states to education is to maintain an ignorant, superstitious, and uninformed voting bloc as well as prepare the next generation to regularly vote against their own best interests. They will continue using any means to destroy public education because they know, as Founding Father Thomas Jefferson said, the only “true corrective of abuses of power is to see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens.” It is a corrective that Republicans are waging a fierce battle against because their electoral survival depends on keeping their supporters uneducated, uninformed, and frankly, stupid from religion.

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

Yet, despite this actual reality and evidence how many of you in America feel about how many 'stupid' Americans will vote for the Republican party anyway ? Of course it will be in the millions. What does that suggest United Stupid America ? USA ...USA ..USA ....

The Meaning Of The Koch Brothers Tapes: "I Don't Know Where We'd Be Without You"

By Mike Lux
CrooksandLiars
August 30, 2014 3:00 pm

Candid moments caught on tape reveal the true motives of politicians and their financiers.
The Meaning Of The Koch Brothers Tapes: "I Don't Know Where We'd Be Without You"

One of the classic strategies for politicians caught saying embarrassing things is to use the old "there's nothing to see here, keep moving" ploy. Republicans tried that at first when Romney was caught on the 47% tape, but it didn't work for them because it wasn't only what Romney said that was so offensive, it was the context: speaking to a bunch of wealthy donors about all those greedy seniors and poor people.

Sounds familiar.

The spectacle of Mitch McConnell, Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton, the head of the Republican Governors Association (and other politicians who were on the agenda or in attendance) kowtowing to Charles and David Koch and other billionaires gathered at the luxury resort. All the money spent on security ($870,000 to rent the hotel exclusively not to mention their own private security detail) to keep the meeting as secretive as possible. And Mitch McConnell, the most powerful man in the Republican party as the Senate Minority Leader, giving a speech outlining how his entire career, and the party's future policy strategy, were all in service to the Koch agenda. The combination will be as definitional to this campaign as the 47% video was to 2012.

And this won't just make an impact in the four Senate races which have gotten all the publicity so far. This is going to help define the national narrative for the 2014 campaign: these tapes make 100% clear that the modern Republican party is controlled by the Kochs and their billionaire friends. The Kochs invite the most powerful party leaders, the most important candidates, to their "seminars," and they all come running. These politicians thank the Kochs and their billionaire friends profusely, talk about how they wouldn't be where they are today without them, and then tell them how they will battle on their behalf if they win.

Mitch McConnell, speaking of the Republican party, said, "I want to start by thanking you, Charles and David, for the important work you're doing. I don't know where we'd be without you." Joni Ernst made absolutely clear, multiple times, that she would never had a chance to win her primary without the donors in the room. Tom Cotton thanked the billionaire financiers for reviving the Republican party in his state, and Cory Gardner begged them to invest heavily not only in Colorado but in the entire Rocky Mountain region, which was "ripe" for them to come in and exploit.

Notice that these candidates come from all over the country - the South, the West, the Midwest. The Koch donor network has a broad and deep reach. They control the Republican party from sea to shining sea.

The Koch brothers have made clear their agenda. They don't believe in climate change, and want no regulations on their oil companies. They want their taxes reduced to almost nothing since they, after all, are the "job creators." They oppose reform and regulation of Wall Street. They don't believe in a minimum wage, or unemployment compensation, or student loans, or Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. They think public education should be privatized and turned over to the corporate sector.

And what the 47% recording, and the Koch conference recordings, confirm with 100% certainty, is that this is the same agenda, with the same values, shared by Republican politicians.

The Kochs and their millionaire/billionaire friends in that luxury hotel in Orange County, California are now in control of the Republican party- lock, stock, and barrel. And that is the narrative, confirmed on tape, of the 2014 election. Mitch McConnell is right: the GOP would be nowhere without the Koch brothers. The Republicans know where their bread is buttered, and will dance with the ones who brung 'em.

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

Economic justice: How NC progressives are fighting back against the Tea Party

By Moyers & Company
Saturday, August 30, 2014 10:51 EDT

Editor’s note: The Moral Mondays movement began as a grassroots response to North Carolina’s rightward lurch after Republicans won complete control of the state’s government for the first time since 1870. Modeled on the civil rights movement, it has united a diverse group of citizens in opposition to the draconian legislative agenda that’s turned what was once the most moderate state in the South into a laboratory for conservative ideology. Moyers & Company documented the story in a special, “North Carolina: State of Conflict,” that aired earlier this year.

The movement has since spread to Georgia, and spawned a series of “Truthful Tuesdays” protests in South Carolina. Rev. Dr. William Barber II, head of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, is one of the movement’s key organizers and most prominent spokesperson. This Q&A was excerpted from a longer interview with Barber that first appeared at Political Research Associates earlier this week.

As William Barber prepared to spread a message of hope and democracy through a week of actions Aug. 22-28 in Raleigh and other Southern state capitals, he talked with me about North Carolina’s free-market ideology and how it has already affected the people who live there. Barber, referring to the billionaire-backed tea party, the national group that pushes free-market policies at the local and state level, says these past two legislative sessions have been a “coordinated, premeditated attempt to undermine progress and engage in regressive tea party policies.”

“This is really Robin Hood in reverse,” Barber told me. “It is government of business, bought by business, for business. And not just business — because lots of business leaders disagree with them — but this is tea party greed. This is Koch brother-type greed.”

Barber bristles, though, at the notion that conservatism or partisan politics are at the root of the problem. “I fuss against these terms ‘liberal’ versus ‘conservative’,” he says, “because I want to conserve the essence of our Constitution and then liberally make sure everybody has access to them. What we’re dealing with is extremism, and you can’t just define it as ‘conservative.’”

At the local level, says Barber, the state legislature’s extreme adherence to free-market neoliberal policy is gutting the state’s public school system. “Five thousand teachers being fired, being removed, and local school boards decrying [this] because of the impact that it was having on classroom sizes and students,” he says.

Barber adds that, because of the salary cuts, he sees teachers actively leaving North Carolina. “In fact,” he said, “one state, Texas, sent memos out and said if you’re in North Carolina, come to Texas. And you know that’s kind of sad, considering Texas’s regressiveness, when they actually can offer teachers more than North Carolina.”

Barber also described the legislature’s attempt to shift $10 million earmarked for public schools to voucher programs that could only be used to pay for private schools. In shifting these public funds into private hands, said Barber, the legislature refused to require that private schools benefiting from the vouchers maintain the same non-discrimination standards that public schools must uphold, meaning that private schools receiving voucher funds would have been allowed to restrict enrollment however they chose. A Superior Court judge declared on Aug. 21 that the state’s school voucher program is unconstitutional, citing the lack of accountability inherent in the program, and issued a permanent injunction stopping the voucher program from going forward.

[Conservative mega-donor] Art Pope and the tea party aren’t just alienating teachers and progressives, says Barber. They are also alienating Republicans across the state. Barber says that the legislature and McCrory never made clear, even to their own constituents, what they were planning to do once they achieved a supermajority in the statehouse and won the governorship. “They did not run saying,  ‘Elect me, I’m going to take your health care, cut your public education, and strip you of your unemployment even if you lost your job at no fault of your own,’” says Barber. “So, we’ve had a Republican unemployed person stand on the stage [at a Moral March] and say, ‘I’m a Republican, but I’m unemployed — I didn’t vote for this.’”

Even Republicans holding public office are objecting to the legislature’s actions. Adam O’Neal, a self-described conservative Republican mayor from Belhaven, NC, began a one-man march of 273 miles to Washington DC on July 14 to dramatize the impact of Gov. McCrory’s and  [House Speaker Thom] Tillis’ refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. O’Neal explained that the lack of Medicaid funds had forced the only hospital in his coastal community to close, creating a “medical desert” that would certainly cost lives. O’Neal also lamented the potential economic impact of the hospital closing; he told NPR, “How many people go retire somewhere where it doesn’t even have a hospital?”

I asked Barber what he believes is the neoliberals’ vision for North Carolina. “They believe that the way to a great North Carolina is to deny necessary funds and access to public education. Attack teachers. Deny unemployment. Deny earned income tax credit and other safeguards for the working poor. Deny affordable healthcare and access to healthcare, even if it allows people to die. Deny labor rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights… And then, if you really want a great America after you’ve done all these things, then suppress the right to vote and attempt to use your power to stay in office. And then, after you’ve done all of that to create all this tension, ensure that everyone has access to guns easier than they have access to the polls. Now, that sounds crude and sinister, but those are their policies.”

Having set this grim scene, Barber continued with a surprisingly upbeat message:  “Whatever we’re facing now, it’s not greater than slavery, it’s not greater than Jim Crow, it’s not greater than women being denied the right to vote. We won those battles. But we did not win those battles by merely engaging in political arguments. We had to tap into the moral and social consciousness of the nation.”

“I am hopeful,” he went on, “because I believe in the deep moral consciousness at the heart of America. Those of us who believe in justice and who believe in freedom, we are the heartbeat of this nation. Our role now is to be like a social defibrillator, to shock the heart of the nation, to cause it to revive and to remember what the real enemy is: regressive extremism. And it’s not just about winning all the elections, but changing the context in which our politicians have to operate.”

Barber said he hopes that the momentum of the Forward Together Moral Movement (as one of the core groups organizing Moral Marches is currently called) will spread. He sees it moving across the South from North Carolina to help change the political context and create the possibility for the state NAACP’s 14-Point People’s Agenda to be written into legislation both in North Carolina and beyond. The Agenda includes anti-poverty, pro-labor policies; equality and equitable distribution of resources in public education; access to healthcare for all; fairness in the criminal justice system; and protection and expansion of the right to vote and the rights of immigrants.

Barber acknowledges that the neoliberal forces in his state — and across the country — remain powerful. “We’ve got to fight in the courts, we’ve got to fight in the legislative halls, we’ve got to fight in the streets, we’ve got to push at the pulpit, and we have to work at the ballot box,” he says. “If we do all of this with what I call a moral critique, so we’re not trapped with the language of Republican versus Democrat, I believe we can continue to work towards the reconstruction of this nation.”

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

Another 'Red' State Admits They Were WRONG About Obamacare, Quietly Accepts Medicaid Expansion

CrooksAndLiars
August 29, 2014
Richard Rowe

After first rejecting the Medicaid expansion, the Republican governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, is in the process of submitting a plan to the HHS to utilize Obamacare dollars. Shocking.

Remember earlier this year, around the time news of the ACA roll-out's success were starting to trickle in, when Republicans finally started revealing their true fears about it?

Rand Paul summed it up nicely:

    "People get assumed and accustomed to receiving things, particularly things that they get for free."

Or, to paraphrase: "We're terrified people will like it, and then we'll all look like idiots."

After the roll-out, fully half the states in the U.S., all of them controlled by Tea-baiting GOP lawmakers refused federal funds to expand Medicaid in their states. A good move from a political demagogue's point of view…maybe not so much for the people of those disproportionately impoverished states, who were left asking, "Why are we still dying because you won't give us the medical care we're legally due?"

Of course, those with any degree of reason knew that that wouldn't last forever, especially considering the fact that most of the poorest states in the Union are controlled by the GOP. Arkansas and Iowa were among the first opt-out states to opt back in under pressure from the public, adopting modified "private option" plans that can utilize the Medicaid money offered by the Fed to pay for or subsidize private insurance.

Now, Tennessee is looking to join that group, among three other red states including Pennsylvania planning on doing the same.

As reported by The Tennessean, Republican governor, Bill Haslam, is in the process of submitting a plan to the HHS (formerly controlled by FEMA Death Marshall Kathleen Sebelius) to utilize Obamacare dollars in a manner similar to Arkansas and Iowa's Private Option plans.

Evidently, the pressure from 150,000-plus poverty-stricken Tennesseans who need healthcare has proven slightly more powerful than the nonsensical screams of those Tea Partiers who put this guy into office.

Undoubtedly, this swing among Tennessee and GOP states like it is indicative of a larger trend, and you can bet it'll be a feather in Obama's cap. After all, there's no better political tool than a willing defector. Fair enough. But for our part, we welcome Tennessee, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Iowa and states like them to the civilized world.*

*"Civilized world" obviously not including Florida, currently controlled by Medicaid scam artist and TeaLord Rick Scott.

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

Michael Brown Killing: Video Mashup Of Witness Statements, Audio Of Shots

By karoli August 30, 2014 5:28 pm
CrooksAndLiars

This new montage combines witness interviews with the audio of the shots to demonstrate how the accounts align.

Now that the audio recording of the shots fired has been verified as to time and date, a montage of witness statements and the recording has been put together to demonstrate how closely all the witness accounts align with the actual shots fired.

They won't tell us whether or not Mike Brown had his hands up, and they won't tell us whether or not Darren Wilson struggled with Brown in the car. But they do tell us that separate witnesses who did not know each other told essentially the same story, and that story aligns with the sound associated with shots fired from the officer's gun.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8IHIJrY2aE


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