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  1. The Sisters of the Valley, who say they do not follow any traditional religion, hope they can make marijuana ‘a healing industry instead of a stoner industry’ Julia Carrie Wong Monday 25 January 2016 13.02 GMT The Sisters of the Valley’s “abbey” is a modest three-bedroom house on the outskirts of Merced, in a cul-de-sac next to the railroad tracks. (Sister Kate calls the frequent noise from passing trains “part of our penance”.) When visitors come to the door, Sister Kate asks them to wait outside until she can “sage” them with the smoke from a piece of wood from a Russian tree given to her by a shaman. Sister Kate lives here with her “second sister”, Sister Darcy, and her youngest son. But these aren’t your average nuns. The women grow marijuana in the garage, produce cannabidiol tinctures and salves in crockpots in the kitchen, and sell the merchandise through an Etsy store. (Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the active ingredients in marijuana that is prized for medicinal qualities and is not psychoactive.) The women perform their tasks wearing long denim skirts, white collared shirts and nun’s habits. And while their “order” is small – last week they ordained their third member, a marijuana grower in Mendocino County known as Sister Rose – they share the same dream as many California startup founders: scaling. The sisters say they are in touch with women in New Jersey and Washington state who may be interested in joining up. “They’re out buying jean skirts and white blouses,” said Sister Kate. “We want there to be women in every city selling medicine.” But their ambitions have been thwarted by legislation that was passed last year – 19 years after medical marijuana was first legalized in the state – to regulate the billion-dollar industry through the Medical Marijuana Safety and Regulation Act. An error in the final text of the law has resulted in scores of cities across the state passing local bans on the cultivation, distribution, and sale of the drug, including Merced, a small city in California’s Central Valley where the Sisters live. The legislation accidentally established a 1 March 2016 deadline for cities to impose their own bans or regulations on medical marijuana or be subject to state rules, a deadline that assembly member Jim Wood, who authored that section of the bill, said was included by complete accident. Wood has drafted fix-it legislation, which he’s optimistic will pass in the legislature by the end of next week and be signed by the governor immediately after. But next week is too late for the Sisters of the Valley. “If it was a typo, that’s great. If it wasn’t, who knows,” said John M Bramble, the city manager of Merced, the morning after Merced’s city council passed its medical marijuana ban. Either way, “it’s too late,” he said. “We’re banning it for now because if we don’t, we’ll have no local control.” That leaves the Sisters of the Valley in a precarious position. “We are completely illegal, banned through commerce and banned through growing,” said Sister Kate. “They made criminals out of us overnight.” Despite Sister Kate’s Catholic upbringing, the Sisters “are not affiliated with any traditional earthly religion”. The order’s principles are a potent blend of new age spirituality (they time their harvests and medicine making to the cycles of the moon, and pray while they cook to “infuse healing and intent to our medicine”), environmentalism (“We think the plant is divine the way Mother Earth gave it to us”), progressive politics (asked whether she’s offended if someone drops her title and calls her “Kate”, Sister Kate responds: “It’s offensive that no banksters went to jail”), feminism (“Women can change this industry and make it a healing industry instead of a stoner industry”), and savvy business practices. The pair starts every day with several hours of “Bible time”, their term for attending to all the correspondence that comes their way via email, Etsy, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. The recent media attention they’ve received has resulted in a surge of orders and messaging that left Sister Darcy three or four days behind on her email in late December. “That’s a cardinal sin in our world,” Sister Kate joked. It would be easy to dismiss the Sisters’ religious trappings as a marketing gimmick, and they certainly have not been shy when it comes to the press (according to Sister Kate, there are two film production companies interested in their story, but she only wants to participate if there’s a way the project can help Bernie Sanders win the presidential election). But the women seem sincere in their belief in the healing properties of CBD and their desire to help the ailing. Meeusen, who is 55, got into the marijuana industry after a bad divorce. After 10 years living in Amsterdam and working as a financial consultant, she returned to the US with three kids and little money in 2008, just as the financial crisis was kicking off. Her brother persuaded her to move to the Central Valley with him and start a medical marijuana business. After using marijuana to help her nephew recover from a heroin addiction, Meeusen was a believer. The family started a successful enough medical marijuana business to survive, and Sister Kate settled into the Merced activist community. Meeusen began dressing like a nun in November 2011, during the height of the Occupy movement. Outraged with news reports that the US Congress had decided to classify pizza as a vegetable, she decided, “If pizza was a vegetable, I was a nun. So I put on a nun outfit and started going out to protests, and the movement dubbed me Sister Occupy.” Sister Kate says that she never wanted to fool people into thinking she was a “real” nun, but she enjoyed the way that her habit changed how people interacted with her, seeking her out and telling her their troubles. When she had a falling out with her brother – she says she caught him selling their product on the black market, and he kicked her out of their home, leaving her semi-homeless for four months – she came up with the idea of a sisterhood of therapy plants. Sister Kate was looking for a “second sister” when a mutual friend arranged a phone call with Darcy Johnson. After just a thirty minute conversation, the 24-year-old from Washington state was ready to move to Merced and join the order. Sister Darcy had spent time in New Zealand working on an organic farm, and now, back in the States, was looking for a better way of life. “This is my better,” Sister Darcy said. The day after Merced’s ban on medical marijuana was passed, the sisters were preparing for battle. Sister Kate is planning to start a call-in campaigns across the Central Valley, urging growers and customers to flood city council members with phone calls every Friday until they come up with reasonable regulations. Whatever happens, though, the Sisters of the Valley are answering to a higher authority. “We’re not accepting their ban,” said Sister Kate. “It’s against the will of the people, and that makes it unnatural and immoral.” 1 2 ‘If pizza was a vegetable, I was a nun.’ Photograph: Lisa Vander Meulen for the Guardian 2 2 An assortment of Sisters of the Valley medicinal marijuana products. Photograph: Lisa Vander Meulen for the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/25/california-cannabis-medical-marijuana-nuns-sisters-of-the-valley
  2. Susanne Hinte, who damaged ticket in washing machine, must wait for all winning claims to be investigated Steven Morris and agencies Monday 25 January 2016 10.09 GMT A Worcestershire woman who believes she has won £33m in the National Lottery faces an agonising wait after apparently putting the winning ticket through a washing machine in the pocket of her jeans. Relatives of Susanne Hinte, from Warndon, Worcester, have said the winning numbers were “visible but faded” and she had contacted the Lotto operator, Camelot, to claim the prize. Camelot refused to comment on Hinte’s case on Monday but said players with damaged tickets had to wait until a 180-day deadline for all claims to come in before it investigated. Two tickets held the winning numbers (26, 27, 46, 47, 52, 58) for the largest ever jackpot of £66m. A Scottish couple, David and Carol Martin, from Hawick in the Scottish Borders, claimed half of the prize. Last week, with the second half of the jackpot unclaimed, Camelot gave the public a clue: the second ticket had been bought in the city of Worcester. Though the lottery operator did not say so, a shop called Ambleside News was widely identified as the shop that sold the winning ticket. At the weekend, Hinte’s daughter, Natasha Douglas, said her mother had the winning ticket. “The ticket has been through the wash, the numbers are visible but faded,” Douglas said. “She wanted to stay anonymous but obviously her name has got out through people talking on Facebook. When she found out she had the winning numbers she couldn’t breathe and she hasn’t slept since. “My mum had my children overnight before the draw and forgot to check her ticket because she was distracted. I turned round to my mum after I heard there was a winning ticket bought in Worcester and said: ‘I don’t suppose you’ve got the winning ticket?’ “So she searched the house and I got a phone call from her saying she’d got the winning numbers. We sent it off to Camelot. They give you 30 days to submit a damaged ticket from the date of the draw. “She’s already had begging letters from people asking for money. She works and has worked all her life. She has two children and four grandchildren. If she has won she wants to set her family up for life and she plans to give some money to charity. She’s never won anything before.” However, Hinte’s claim was not the only one being investigated. Camelot said that whenever it revealed where an unclaimed winning ticket had been sold it received hundreds of queries from people hoping they had won. Lotto players in Worcestershire appear to be struggling to claim their prizes at the moment. The day after revealing the £33m ticket had been bought in Worcester Camelot revealed that a £63,000 win from July on a ticket bought in nearby Redditch had not been claimed within the 180-day deadline and would go to good causes. National Lottery’s Andy Carter poses in Worcester with the jackpot numbers and a cheque for the unknown winner of £33m. Photograph: David Davies/PA http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jan/25/potential-33m-lottery-winner-faces-agonising-wait
  3. Gun businesses are seeing record sales and profits as people rush out to arm themselves – and Shot Show in Las Vegas has 12 miles of exhibitions to help Rupert Neate and Mae Ryan in Las Vegas Saturday 23 January 2016 12.00 GMT “We’re sort of firearms connoisseurs,” Whitney Condit said as she excitedly explored the latest handguns and semi-automatic assault rifles to hit the market at Shot Show, the world’s largest gun industry trade fair. As she spoke, fellow enthusiasts spread out over the 2.25m square feet Sands Expo convention centre at the Venetian casino on Las Vegas’s strip. “We like to go out on range, we like to shoot. It’s a passion of ours.” Condit and her fiance, Colin Gallagher, a former star of shooting reality TV show Top Shot, already own “around 200” guns, but are looking for the next few pieces to add to their collection. “We have rifles, shotguns, handguns. You name it, we pretty much have it,” said Condit, who runs a Firearms = LOVE Pinterest page. The couple from Witchita, Kansas, are among more than 60,000 people who descended on Sin City this week for Shot Show, which has grown to become the fifth biggest convention held in Las Vegas, according to gun trade association the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). Steve Sanetti, president of the NSSF, paraphrased Winston Churchill as he opened the show at a gala dinner complete with a standup comedian. “During some pretty dark days of his own: We may experience some setbacks when a frightened and misled public acts without thinking. We may find that our path forward has been temporarily blocked. We may even have to endure some period of darkness before the facts and the truth about lawful, responsible firearms ownership again conquer the powerful forces set against us. The road ahead will be arduous and costly. But the people are never fooled for long. They, and we, will prevail.” Inside the convention centre, uniformed military generals mingled with boy scout leaders touring more than 12 miles of exhibitions showing everything from the latest tactical assault rifles complete with laser guided sights to Lethal Lace, a garter that can double as a holster. As all marketeers know, sex sells – and guns are no different. Manufacturers have hired a string of professional models to pose with their latest guns. Guns.com, the daily guns blog, collated pictures of its favourite women at the show “who do their very best to highlight and promote new products, equipment and, of course, guns”. Attendees who want to see more are invited to “the sexiest ammo show after party” at the Sapphire strip joint down the strip. Free entry with Shot Show pass. Guns are a big business, and the industry is raking in record sales and profits as people rush out to arm themselves following a series of mass shootings and out of fear of increased gun control legislation. The gun rush has lead Wall Street analyst Brian Ruttenbur to call Barack Obama, who earlier this month announced a string of executive actions designed to tighten gun sales laws, “the best salesman for firearms”. FBI background checks, which act as a proxy for gun sales, hit a record 23.1m in 2015 – more than two-and-half times as many as those processed a decade ago. In December alone – the month of the San Bernardino mass shooting in California, which left 14 people dead and 22 seriously injured, more than 3.3m requests were processed through the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Demand is so unprecedentedly high that Stephen Morris, an FBI assistant director, has warned of a “perfect storm” and cancelled all annual leave for 400 NICS staff in advance of Black Friday, when the system was overwhelmed with a single-day record of 185,345 background check requests. While agents struggle to keep pace with demand, gun manufacturers are celebrating record sales. Smith & Wesson, America’s biggest gun company with a market value of $1.1bn, has raised its sales and profits targets and told investors that some distributors are beginning to run out of some of its most popular guns. Smith & Wesson, which makes 90% of its money selling guns to consumers, expects annual revenues to total $650m to $660m in the year to the end of April, up from the $627m it made the previous year and 57% more than it made in 2012. Smith & Wesson is run by British chief executive James Debney. Shares in the company have more than doubled in the past year, with significant spikes following each mass shooting. Jan Mladek, S&W’s general manager, declined to speak to the Guardian about gun control whilst touting the benefits of the firm’s M&P15 assault-rifle model used to deadly effect in San Bernardino. He later called the show’s organisers to have Guardian reporters escorted from the showgrounds. The US’s other big-listed gun company Sturm, Ruger & Company has seen its shares rise 44% over the past year. Over the same period, the Dow Jones industrial average index of the nation’s biggest stocks has fallen by 10%. The other big US player in guns is Remington Outdoor (formerly Freedom Group), which is owned by billionaire Stephen Feinberg’s private equity group Cerberus Capital Management. Remington, which manufactured the Bushmaster XM15-E2S semiautomatic rifle used in the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre, made $939m in guns and ammunition sales in 2014, its latest year available. Cerebus had vowed to sell Freedom after the Sandy Hook tragedy but still owns the company and with it Bushmaster and DPMS/Panther, the biggest players in military-style assault rifles. Jurgen Brauer, an economics professor who specialises in the gun industry, said: “Whenever there is even talk about firearms regulators there is almost immediately an unmistakable increase in sales. Even talk about such legislation translates into sales jumps.” “People are buying guns as part of the American dream of freedom and liberty,” said Brauer, who is based at the Hull College of Business at Augusta University. “And also, the hope and the dream of being able to use guns in self-defence.” People very rarely get to live out that dream, with FBI data showing that gun owners are 78 times more likely to kill themselves than they are to carry out a “justifiable homicide”, which the agency describes as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen”. As well as gun manufacturers, retailers are also riding a wave. The number of gun-sellers has grown at almost five times as fast as the US population over the past five years, according to an analysis of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives data. Neil Hogue, owner of the gun-accessories company Hogue Incorporated, said the industry was expecting sales to jump 25-40% this year. “Right now sales are really being driven by fear,” he said as he showed the Guardian around his Shot Show stand. “Fear of not being able to get those particular guns in the future. And fear of not being able to protect your family and protect your home.” The nation’s biggest firearms seller Walmart, which has guns for sale at about half of its 4,500 stores, refuses to provide gun sales data, but Freedom Group told investors that 9% of all its sales are “made to one customer, Walmart.” Ruttenbur reckons Walmart together with ****’s Sporting Goods and Cabela’s account for 20% of the market. Smaller retailers are happier to speak more freely about their success. Sporting a bright blue mohawk, Thomas Thompson – of Yuma Coin and Gun shop, in Arizona near the border with Mexico – said his gun sales have risen by more than 50% in the past six months. “Because of all the laws they [politicians] are looking to pass we are selling guns quicker than anything,” he said. “Some people are afraid that you’re not going to be able to buy certain guns any more and some are ‘I got to have this’ as everyone is talking about it.” Mass shootings and gun sales. Photograph: Graphics for the Guardian A convention attendee looks at rifles displayed at Shot Show. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/23/sex-guns-ammo-inside-worlds-largest-gun-industry-trade-fair-shot-show
  4. Spain’s prime minister lacks support to form coalition with Socialists next to try to piece together a government after inconclusive elections Associated Press in Madrid Friday 22 January 2016 21.00 GMT Spain’s conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, has turned down an offer by King Felipe VI to try to form a new government following last month’s inconclusive elections. The news, in a statement from Spain’s royal palace on Friday evening, followed a week of talks between the monarch and party leaders. In a statement, the palace said the king would begin fresh talks with the leaders next Wednesday in a bid to find another candidate. Rajoy’s Popular party won most seats – 123 – in the 20 December election but that was well short of an overall majority in the 350-seat lower house of parliament. The king will now most likely call on the leader of the opposition Socialist party, Pedro Sánchez, to try to form a government. The Socialists came second in the election with 90 seats and appear to have more chance of mustering support from other groups in parliament to form a coalition. The nominated candidate must win a vote of confidence in parliament. If no party leader manages to win parliament’s support within two months of the first vote, fresh elections must be called. No group had expressed any intention of voting for Rajoy, which made parliamentary approval for him highly unlikely. Earlier on Friday, Sánchez welcomed an offer by the radical leftist party Podemos to form a coalition government, but insisted that Rajoy should have first shot. Podemos’s leader, Pablo Iglesias, said he wants the Socialists, Podemos and the smaller United Left to build a “government of change”, with cabinet positions allotted in accordance with the results of the election. Iglesias suggested he could be deputy prime minister in a Sánchez-led government. The newcomer Podemos and its allies came third in the election with 69 seats. The United Left has two. Negotiations between the parties to form alliances have so far come to nothing. “We have decided to seize the initiative and take a step forward,” Iglesias told reporters after meeting the king. “There is no more time for hesitation. Either you’re for change or for stagnation and impasse.” Rajoy’s popularity has plunged over the past four years in government chiefly because of party-linked corruption scandals, unpopular laws and austerity measures brought in to help get Spain out of a severe economic crisis. December’s election produced Spain’s most fragmented parliament in decades and ended the alternating grip on power the Popular party and the Socialists have had. The emergence of new parties such as Podemos and the centre-right Ciudadanos group, which claimed 40 seats, was interpreted as a sign that Spaniards wanted change. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/22/spanish-prime-minister-rajoy-kings-petition-new-government
  5. US academic says Turkish president – who has condemned leftwing critics for ignorance – has been aiding Isis, which he blamed for bomb attack on Istanbul Matthew Weaver Thursday 14 January 2016 12.29 GMT The leftwing US academic Noam Chomsky has hit back at Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after the Turkish president accused him of ignorance and sympathising with terrorists. Hours after Tuesday’s bomb attack on a tourist area of Istanbul, Erdoğan delivered a sneering criticism of Chomsky and “so-called intellectuals” who had signed a letter calling on Turkey to end the “deliberate massacre” of Kurdish people in the south east of the country, He invited Chomsky to visit the area in a defiant televised speech to a conference of Turkish ambassadors in Ankara. Chomsky has now rejected the invitation. In an email to the Guardian he said: “If I decide to go to Turkey, it will not be on his invitation, but as frequently before at the invitation of the many courageous dissidents, including Kurds who have been under severe attack for many years.” Chomsky also claimed Erdoğan was operating double standards on terrorism. In the open letter to Erdoğan released last month, Chomsky and hundreds of others accused him of waging war against his own people. It said: “We demand the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand the state to lift the curfew, punish those who are responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage. For this purpose we demand that independent national and international observers to be given access to the region and that they be allowed to monitor and report on the incidents.” “We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state.” In his speech, Erdoğan said: “Let our ambassador from the United States invite Chomsky, who has made statements about Turkey’s operations against the terrorist organisation. Let’s host him in the region.” Referring to operations of the Kurdish separatists in the PKK, Erdoğan added: “We are ready to tell them what is happening in the south-east. They should see with their eyes whether the problem is a violation by the state or the hijacking of our citizens’ rights and freedoms by the terrorist organisation.” He went on to accuse Chomsky and the other signatories of displaying the “mentality of colonialism,” saying: “You so-called intellectuals are not enlightened persons, you are in the dark. You are nothing like intellectuals.” A live translation by al-Jazeera quoted Erdoğan saying: “I have a message for those academics. Just putting your signature on a dry piece of paper means nothing. Come to Turkey. “Chomsky can see what is taking place in Turkey with his own eyes, not through the eyes of a fifth column. Let those academics come to Turkey – I’m certain we will be able to show them the true picture.” In his email to the Guardian, Chomsky accused Erdoğan of hypocrisy. He said: “Turkey blamed Isis [for the attack on Istanbul], which Erdoğan has been aiding in many ways, while also supporting the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different. He then launched a tirade against those who condemn his crimes against Kurds – who happen to be the main ground force opposing Isis in both Syria and Iraq. Is there any need for further comment?” Noam Chomsky, who has rejected Erdoğan’s invitation to visit Kurdish areas in the south-east of Turkey. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/14/chomsky-hits-back-erdogan-double-standards-terrorism-bomb-istanbul
  6. $10bn purchase of new planes from Airbus and return of Daimler truck business among first moves as analysts hail turning point for Iranian economy Saeed Kamali Dehghan Monday 18 January 2016 11.15 GMT Western businesses are jockeying for investment opportunities in Iran as the country regains access to the global financial system following the lifting of sanctions at the weekend. Russian investment firm Renaissance Capital has described Iran as “the last remaining sizeable global economy cut off from international capital to reopen”. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said on Sunday that 150 companies from 50 countries had recently visited Iran for investment. Local media quoted Abbas Akhondi, the minister for roads and urban development, as saying that Iran had struck a deal with the French company Airbus for the purchase of 114 new planes, estimated to be worth more than $10bn (£7bn). On Monday the German automotive firm Daimler said it had signed letters of understanding with local partners to return its truck business to Iran, six years after sanctions interrupted its activity. Iran has a huge car market and French manufacturers including Peugeot and Renault are also considering a comeback. International business leaders mulling ways to sell their products in the Middle East’s second largest economy have already embarked on fact-finding missions. But the lifting of sanctions, which came into effect on Saturday after the implementation of last summer’s landmark nuclear deal, gives the business community the green light to exchange money. Iranian banks have also reconnected to the European financial system via Swift, which facilitates international transactions. Germany, France and Italy are leading the pack as Europe aims to increase trade with Iran from the current level of €7.6bn (£5.8bn...$8.27B) to the pre-sanctions figure of almost €28bn ($30.48B) In the short to medium term, China’s president, Xi Jinping, is to visit Tehran next week, and the British chancellor, George Osborne, and Germany’s economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, are planning to take trade delegations to Iran in May. Rouhani is expected in Rome and Paris soon. Ramin Rabii, chief executive of Turquoise Partners, which manages more than 90% of all existing foreign portfolio investment on the Tehran stock exchange (TSE), underlined Iran’s business potential. “The implementation of the nuclear deal has brought about a new era for the Iranian economy and its investment potential,” he told the Guardian. “Iran has a young and sophisticated population, is rich in energy and mineral resources and has a well-diversified economy with a widespread industrial base. With the re-emergence of Iran and its reintegration into the global economy, Iran can potentially be the engine for regional and perhaps even global economic growth in the next five to 10 years.” Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum business conferences series, was critical of those in the west predicting a “gold rush”. He said: “This misunderstands the real nature of the Iran opportunity, which is not so much about foreigners flocking to Iran to trade and invest, but about a new ability for Iranians to invest in their own economy … as they eye global markets. “Historically, gold rushes are fleeting and exploitative. I think Iranians are hoping implementation day leads not to a gold rush but to a golden age, and it’s their efforts that will make it so.” Rabii predicts the Iranian economy will grow at a rate of 6-8% in the coming years. “There has been a lot of media attention on the oil and gas sector but there is a lot more to the Iranian economy than the energy sector,” he said. The petroleum sector constitutes only 15% of Iranian GDP and 30% of the government’s annual income. Iran is expected to immediately add half a million barrels per day to its crude exports, which will have an impact on plummeting prices and a global oil market already under pressure due to oversupply. “It is hard to say how this deal will impact the average person’s pocket in the next month or even a year, but I can tell with confidence that this is potentially a turning point for the Iranian economy which will create value for Iran and will improve the quality of life of its citizens in the medium to long term,” Rabii said. “From an investment and business perspective, Iran is the market of the future. Iran may not be the best performing market of the next year, but I will bet my money that it will be the best performing market of the next decade.” Alstom, the French electricity generation and rail transport company, is seeking contracts to work on the expansion of the metro in Tehran and building two more lines in the city of Mashhad, as well as participating in the electrification of the 600-mile (1,000km) Tehran-Mashhad railway. The French industrial group Bouygues and Aéroports de Paris are also in talks with Iran to construct the country’s largest transport project, the second terminal at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini international airport. Tehran’s stock exchange. Photograph: TIMA/Reuters http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/18/iran-capitalises-on-sanctions-removal-with-slew-of-deals-with-western-businesses
  7. At least 27 killed in overnight assault by al-Qaida-linked terrorists on hotel popular with UN staff and foreigners Nadia Khomami and agencies in Ouagadougou Saturday 16 January 2016 16.26 GMT At least 27 people of 18 nationalities have been killed in an attack on a hotel in the capital of Burkina Faso by al-Qaida-linked militants, security officials have confirmed. Two French nationals were among the dead, the French foreign ministry said. Three jihadis, including an Arab and two black Africans, were also killed in the assault on the Splendid hotel and the nearby Cappuccino cafe in Ouagadougou, officials said. A fourth extremist was killed at the Yibi hotel, which was searched by troops as part of a later raid on nearby buildings. Burkina Faso’s president, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, said two of the attackers had been identified as women. A witness told Agence France-Presse that a fifth attacker was seen rushing into a nearby bar before escaping. Security forces had freed a total of 150 hostages, including at least 33 wounded, from the hotel. Public works minister Clement Sawadogo was one of those freed. Simon Compaore, the security minister, told AFP the death toll could rise further as security forces continued to search for casualties. “We don’t yet have a total tally of the dead. The Burkinabe forces are still combing the hotel,” he said. The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said he utterly condemned the appalling attack and offered his deepest condolences to the families of those killed and injured. “We advise British nationals in Burkina Faso to avoid the area where the attack took place, follow the instructions of local security authorities and monitor Foreign Office (FCO) travel advice,” he said. The Foreign Office said it was not aware of any Britons being caught up in the attack. Islamist extremists invaded the Splendid hotel and the Cappuccino cafe late on Friday night. The militants took control of the five-storey hotel, which is popular with UN staff and foreigners, burning cars outside and firing in the air to drive back crowds. Security forces freed at least 60 hostages when they first stormed the building, with commandos continuing to fight a floor-by-floor battle with the gunmen several hours after the initial attack. “It was horrible, people were sleeping and there was blood everywhere,” said Yannick Sawadogo, one of those who escaped. “They were firing at people at close range. We heard them speaking and they were walking around people and firing at people who were not dead. And when they came out they started a fire.” Dozens of French forces arrived overnight from neighbouring Mali to aid in the rescue. One member of the US military was embedded with the French forces at the scene, and the US was working to provide France with surveillance and reconnaissance help, according to a US senior defence official. The source told Associated Press that there were about 75 US troops in Burkina Faso: 15 assigned to the embassy and about 60 assisting the French military. An al-Qaida affiliate known as AQIM, or al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, claimed responsibility during the attack, saying it was “revenge against France and the disbelieving west”, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. The attackers were members of the Al-Murabitoun group based in Mali and run by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, SITE said. In a message posted in Arabic on the militants’ “Muslim Africa” Telegram account, it said fighters “broke into a restaurant of one of the biggest hotels in the capital of Burkina Faso, and are now entrenched and the clashes are continuing with the enemies of the religion”. Fighters who spoke by phone later “asserted the fall of many dead crusaders”, AQIM said, according to SITE. The French president, François Hollande, condemned the assault as an “odious and cowardly attack”. It follows a raid on a hotel in neighbouring Mali in November, in which 20 people died, including 14 foreigners. That attack was claimed by the same al-Qaida affiliate behind the Ouagadougou assault. One witness told Associated Press he saw four men attack the hotel and neighbouring cafe at about 7.30pm. Another witness said that when security forces arrived, they turned around rather than confronting the attackers. Vital Nounayon, a waiter at a restaurant across the street from the hotel, said: “We had just opened and there were a few customers we started to serve when we heard gunshots ... There were three men shooting in the air. “Lots of people left their cars and motorcycles and ran. The attackers set fire to the vehicles. They also fired on the Cappuccino cafe across from the hotel before setting it on fire,” he said, adding that the attackers wore turbans. Robert Sangare, the director of Ouagadougou’s university hospital centre, said: “We have received around 15 wounded people. There are people with bullet wounds and people who are injured because of falls.” He said the patients had told him they had seen about 20 bodies in the hotel. France’s ambassador to the country said a curfew had been put in place in Ouagadougou from 11pm to 6am. Gilles Thibault said on his Twitter account that the embassy had set up a crisis unit for its citizens. More than 3,500 French nationals live in the former colony, according to foreign ministry data. An Air France flight from Paris to Ouagadougou was diverted to neighbouring Niger. The hotel is sometimes used by French troops with Operation Barkhane, a force based in Chad and set up to combat Islamist militants across Africa’s vast, arid Sahel region. It is understood to be the first time militants have targeted Ouagadougou. In December, a senior member of AQIM had called for Muslims in several countries, including Burkina Faso, to wage jihad. The US embassy in Ouagadougou tweeted: “We are closely following the situation downtown.” The largely Muslim country has been in turmoil since its longtime president was ousted in a popular uprising in late 2014. Last September members of a presidential guard launched a coup that lasted about a week. The transitional government returned to power until Burkina Faso’s November election ushered in new leaders. 2 vids and pics in link http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/15/security-forces-battle-suspected-jihadists-in-burkina-faso-capital
  8. The 30-year-old Kurdish woman from Raqqa risked her life by openly criticising the regime on Facebook. Her friends, family and fellow activists remember her determination to tell the world the grim truth about life in Syria Homa Khaleeli, Aisha Gani and Mais al-Bayaa Wednesday 13 January 2016 18.48 GMT In July 2015, Ruqia Hassan posted a message on her Facebook page: “Greetings to every girl celebrating Eid in her pyjamas!” It was the kind of dig her followers loved; a sarcastic acknowledgment that small pleasures – such as wearing new clothes on Eid – had become impossible since Raqqa, a small city on the north bank of the Euphrates river, had turned into the dark heart of the Islamic State. It was also the sort of comment that made Hassan’s family fear that she was attracting the wrong kind of attention. They were right: weeks later, she was arrested and imprisoned; two months later, she was dead. Family members say that, in person, the 30-year-old was shy and quiet. Yet on social media she showed no fear, documenting with brutal honesty life under Isis, and never attempting to hide her disgust for it. She posted under the name Nissan Ibrahim, and her Facebook page became a form of resistance that allowed her to expose the miserable conditions of the city, whose inhabitants are under attack from all sides; trapped by Isis’s vicious rule on the ground, pummelled by attacks from Assad’s regime, and hit from above with airstrikes by Russian and coalition forces. Her posts could be bleak. “No one has shown us any compassion except the graveyards,” she wrote bitterly. “No one loves us like the graveyards.” Yet she also vividly captured the anxiety on the streets, as people tried to carry on with their lives in a warzone. “People in the market crash into each other like waves,” she noted, “not because of the numbers … but because their eyes are glued to the skies … their feet are moving unconsciously.” Reporting on airstrikes, she vented her anger at those unleashing violence all around her. “Drone in the sky now – and we heard an explosion. May God protect the civilians – and take the rest.” Yet it was her outspoken references to Isis that worried her friends most. “Today [isis police] launched random detentions … God, I beg you ... end this darkness and ... defeat these people.” Hassan, a philosophy graduate from the University of Aleppo, was born and brought up in Raqqa. Before the uprisings in Syria, this modestly prosperous city had a friendly, smalltown feel, with a population closely tied to agriculture. It was a city where tradition, rather than religion, exerted a strong pull. By contrast, Hassan’s family, Syrian Kurds from a village close to the nearby city of Kobani, were devout and wealthy. Hassan’s father owned four brick factories, along with other properties in Raqqa, and went to the mosque every day to pray. He had two wives, so Hassan and her sister, a doctor, had five half-brothers. According to Abu Mohammed, one of the founders of Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RIBSS), a group of activists committed to publicising the plight of the city, Hassan had joined protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, “from the earliest street demonstrations”. As the uprising spread, Raqqa became a magnet for tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing other cities, and, for a while, became known as the “hotel of the revolution”. By 2013, it was held by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Islamist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s franchise in Syria. When al-Nusra began turning on the FSA, Hassan’s family were no longer safe. “When the first attacks on Raqqa took place, the Kurds were deported,” says her cousin Yehya Ali. “So Ruqia and her family came to Kobani and stayed in my family home with us for three months.” Abdullah (not his real name), another cousin, remembers her as intelligent and passionate. “Ruqia was a special girl. She was sensitive and felt the pain of the injustice. I teach philosophy and we sat for many nights discussing human nature and freedom.” Eventually, Hassan’s mother, worried about losing their businesses, decided to return to Raqqa. “Her family was one of the very few Kurdish families who stayed,” Ali says. In 2014, Raqqa was conquered by Isis – and declared the capital of the so-called caliphate. Now foreign fighters and Isis supporters were flocking to the city – and for the hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside, it became a prison. Like Hassan, Raheb Alwany, a 27-year-old doctor who fled to the UK a year ago, grew up in Raqqa. “I did not know Ruqia, but what she was doing was very brave, and very dangerous,” she says. “In Raqqa, when we were growing up, you could wear what you liked. People there always wanted to enjoy themselves – they loved going out with friends, people would fish or swim in the river. My friends and I would go to restaurant, cafes or just to walk in the [public] gardens.” Under Isis, the atmosphere became stifling. “Everything changed. Women couldn’t go out without being covered in black abayas and niqabs – even their hands,” Alwany says. “All the shops had to close at prayer times. If you disobeyed the rules, the punishments were serious – you could be whipped, arrested or fined. I was the only woman working full time in the hospital, but they made it impossible for me.” Sadistic executions, including crucifixions, took place on the city’s main roundabout. Cigarettes, music and, for women, travelling without a male guardian were outlawed. Schools were closed, and walls painted black. “Now it is so bad no one is even allowed to leave the city without permission,” Alwany says. “There are two options for the people who stay behind: try to avoid Isis, which makes life impossible, or give them your loyalty – just to survive.” Hassan did neither. Instead, her criticisms grew fiercer. “Every day they ban ban ban ...” she wrote, mockingly. “I am waiting for the day that they finally permit something.” With journalists unable to access the city, documenting events in Raqqa was growing more important. In 2014, Hassan made contact with RIBSS, according to Abu Mohammed. While Hassan did not join their network of around 18 citizen journalists, she shared their aims. “She was interested to know about our project and what we do,” he says. By now foreign fighters had established themselves in the city. Life for civilians took on a nightmarish quality, but Isis began pumping out propaganda portraying it as a jihadi utopia. Foreign fighters, and women and girls who joined the terrorist group from the west, posted pictures of themselves drinking milkshakes, scoffing M&Ms and watching sunsets. One British jihadi, Siddhartha Dhar, now calling himself Abu Rumaysah al Britani, released a jauntily written 47-page “brief guide to the Islamic state” last year, discussing the delicious food, educational facilities and global brotherhood to be found in Raqqa. “I cannot help but in the near future think we will be eating curries and chow meins on the streets of Raqqa,” he enthused, adding: “Astonishingly in Raqqa … citizens now have the fantastic opportunity to study medicine.” That wasn’t how Hassan saw life in the city. “Today, a Tunisian fighter stopped me because of my Islamic dress code. I ignored her and walked away but I wished that I had a pistol to kill her. I wanted to stop this humiliation, these guys built their power on us. I’m sick of them and their power. I’m sick of being a second-class citizen. God, please help us.” Opposing Isis’s views carried fatal risks. In May 2014, the first RIBSS journalist was killed in one of the city’s public squares. Other executions of those suspected of working for the group followed; their deaths filmed as a warning to others. Isis had little compunction about killing women; Abu Mohammed notes that the killing of the first female activist – Iman al-Halabi – came in 2013. Despite this, Hassan would not be silenced. “The only thing the secular man remembers from the Qur’an is that God is the most merciful, and everything comes from that,” she wrote. “The only thing the extreme Islamists memorise is one verse – to be tough with infidels and merciful to believers – but to the extreme Islamists, everyone is an infidel, whether Muslim or not.” Abu Mohammed says he cannot imagine a good ending to the situation in Raqqa. “We fear that the destruction of the city is inevitable,” he says. “People from Raqqa have nowhere to flee. They are surrounded by other Isis cities, the regime, or the Kurds.” At times, Hassan herself seemed to grow weary of the complexities of the situation. “If we don’t want Daesh or the coalition to attack Isis, and we don’t want the Free Syrian Army to come and fight Isis,” she asked, “then what do we want?” As airstrikes began in the city, Isis increased its control of internet access – forcing even its own fighters to use internet cafes so they could be monitored. Raqqa’s isolation increased, with inhabitants unable to check on the welfare of their families and friends elsewhere. Hassan tried to remain sanguine: “We are crying about the internet, but in Aleppo they are crying about water,” she wrote, before joking: “Go ahead and cut off the internet, our messenger pigeons won’t complain.” “I personally tried to warn her before her arrest,” says Abu Mohammed. “I passed a message to her through friends, telling her to be more careful and post things in a different name and without any picture of her.” Yehya Ali tells a similar tale. “I didn’t like what she was posting,” he says. “I warned her many times that she will be targeted, but she became upset at me, and deleted me from her Facebook. She was stubborn and wanted to show the truth of what is happening, no matter what the cost.” Her cousin Abdullah also spoke to her. “She told me that she doesn’t care if Isis take her life,” he says. “[she said] that life is worthless without freedom and without dignity.” After Hassan’s arrest, her distraught family visited the prison every day, desperate for news. They were never allowed to see her. Rather than shutting down her Facebook page, the militia left it active to entrap her friends – at least five people are thought to have been arrested as a result, according to Abu Mohammed. Months would pass before the family learned of Hassan’s fate. “We hoped that she would be released,” says Ali. “But on New Year’s Day her brother went to see Isis again; they told him they had executed her and five other women. They wouldn’t give the family her body.” Since then, Hassan’s cousins have been unable to contact the family in Raqqa. In her last Facebook post, Hassan wrote: “I’m in Raqqa and I received death threats. When Isil arrest me and kill me it’s OK, because [while] they will cut [off] my head I will have dignity, which is better than living in humiliation.” Abdullah says he hopes his cousin will be an inspiration. “She taught many people a lesson they would never forget. She taught us not to fear the tyrant ... I’m sure we will have many other Ruqias from now.” Ali, too, could not be prouder of his cousin. “She become a hero in our village for her courage and being the voice of the truth. She was fearless ... A little Kurdish girl from Kobani faced a brutal militia and exposed them. She will never be forgotten.” Ruqia Hassan, who was murdered in September 2015, pictured on her Facebook page. Photograph: Ruqia Hassan Facebook A photograph of Ruqia Hassan posted on Twitter following news of her death. Photograph: Twitter http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/13/ruqia-hassan-killed-for-telling-truth-about-isis-facebook
  9. Six explosions reported in Indonesian capital Five attackers and two other people confirmed dead Police say they have taken control of the area Michael Safi and Matthew Weaver Thursday 14 January 2016 09.24 GMT http://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2016/jan/14/multiple-explosions-gunshots-reported-in-jakarta-rolling-report
  10. It was interesting to hear Trump and his supporters’ viewpoints for more than just the few seconds offered by most soundbites, even though I disagreed Wednesday 13 January 2016 11.45 GMT By Kaddie Abdul After Rose Hamid’s horrifying experience at Trump’s rally on Friday in South Carolina, many people might wonder how I survived a Trump rally wearing a bright-orange headscarf while holding a giant Qur’an – or why I went at all. I went because I firmly believe that Hamid was on the right path: it is important for people to stand-up peacefully for the right things, even if we are confronted with physical and verbal intimidation. It is important to give people that may not have ever met or interacted with a Muslim an opportunity to meet her and learn about Islam from someone that actually practices it. And it it important, at a time when people like me too often face discrimination and hatred living our daily lives, to be polite, and yet be visible and present when we are the subject of political speeches. And nothing bad happened to me at the rally: there were some hard stares and dirty looks, but no outright rude behavior. I spoke to several, lovely people and had the type of informative and substantive discourse that one should expect at a political event. It was good to see that the bullies and thugs who have been fixtures at several other Trump rallies had taken the day off; maybe they were just too shocked to say anything directly to me. Before this weekend, I’d never staged any sort of civil disobedience act; before this weekend, I had been perfectly content to never attend a Trump rally. But Hamid inspired me to make myself visible to the kind of people the media suggests hate me, and to make myself available for their edification. So I looked up Trump’s speaking schedule, discovered that he was speaking on Sunday in Reno, Nevada (a four-hour drive from me), downloaded a ticket and hopped into my car. I drove overnight through a blizzard and fog, but I arrived safely and I was able to get to the venue about 15 minutes after the doors opened; already, the line snaked around the building. Many people in line did double-takes, or their heads snapped around to gawk at me (almost to the point where I thought they would snap off), but I was permitted to stand in line and wait as about a half dozen vendors peddled a motley array of Trump merchandise around us. The most provocative act that I encountered occurred towards the beginning of my two-hour wait: a vendor noticed me and immediately came down to my section of the line where he loudly announced that he was selling “Bomb The Hell Out Of Isis” t-shirts (Apparently, the desire to kill people is considered trendy fashion at a Trump rally.) He looked directly at me to see how I would react; I looked back at him, shook my head, smiled, and read my Qur’an as I patiently waited for someone to engage me in civil conversation. I attended Sunday’s rally with the intention to educate myself and, hopefully, to educate others. I didn’t go to shout at Trump’s supporters, no matter how passionately I feel about some of their claims. And it was interesting to hear Trump and his supporters’ viewpoints for more than just the few seconds offered by most soundbites. His supporters are people, not caricatures. They feel marginalized economically, politically, and socially; they see a world different from the one they think should exist. Many non-Trump supporters are also concerned about the current economic and political state of our planet and its implications for a stabile future for our children. What what differentiates me from many of the Trump supporters I met this weekend is that their concerns for our future have led to an overwhelming need to see all of our problems as someone else’s fault. To Trump and his supporters, Asian countries have “dumped” their goods in America and almost bankrupted our country by causing our trade deficit; Mexico won’t keep “illegals” (who are the “source” for Americans’ drugs) on their side of the border; and, of course, Muslims have “always” been fighting us, and come from countries populated by ingrates who are unwilling to pay for the wars that we started on “their” behalf. But solving our trade deficit isn’t as simple as ending the supply of cheap Asian goods that Americans so happily consume. Mexico is not going to pay us to build us a wall. The rest of the world will not stand by and let the US seize Iraq’s oilfields (and thus control a significant supply of the world’s oil). Trump’s supporters, though, love him for his outrageous suggestions; it provides them with a sense of empowerment and control. And his lack of specificity allows each person to hear what they want to hear. The increasing popularity of these types of events reflects the fact that Trump supporters – the people who used to be Tea Partiers, who supported Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin or any one of a number of politicians who’ve used this rhetoric before Trump – aren’t going to go away. Whether Trump wins or loses, his supporters will still be out there, longing for another leader to “make America great again”. People like me cannot keep thinking and hoping that Trump supporters will all go away eventually. We cannot continue to believe that they represent a fringe group of people and that their candidates can never be elected to a major role in government. We need to see them, and listen to them, and disagree respectfully. We need to, as Americans, begin talking to and not at one another. I understood that I was a guest at their rally, and that I had a duty to them to be a good guest; in return, I felt like they were good hosts. And whether they engaged me directly or not, many of them had to acknowledge the presence of someone who disagreed with them, but who did not fit their stereotypes by being disagreeable. Yes, what I did could have been dangerous: the Trump campaign, like many movements, has been dogged by its share of mischief makers. The thugs and bullies who have hurt other dissenters are a small, but very real, part of the ultra-nationalism that vague, implausible rhetoric like Trump’s attracts. But it was worth the risk to me to show them that their insecurities about Muslims was unfounded. It was worth it to humanize Muslims for them. And it was worth it, to me, to recognize their humanity, too. The author discusses political philosophy with two people in attendance at a Trump rally. (The gentleman’s t-shirt is widely available.) Photograph: Will Whipple for the Guardian The author in line at the Trump rally Photograph: Will Whipple for the Guardian The author, still waiting in line to see Donald Trump Photograph: Will Whipple for the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/13/i-went-to-donald-trump-rally-in-my-hijab-supporters-arent-just-racist-caricatures
  11. Swift resolution contradicts speculation Revolutionary Guards might use incident to derail improving relations between Tehran and west Saeed Kamali Dehghan in London and Spencer Ackerman in New York Wednesday 13 January 2016 13.09 GMT Ten US sailors who were captured by Revolutionary Guards after entering Iranian waters have been released, soothing tensions during a week in which Iran is expected to receive the first wave of sanctions relief from the landmark nuclear accords. The US military confirmed the sailors’ release after the Guards issued a statement claiming they were freed into international waters after an apology from Washington. “We decided to release them after conducting a technical investigation and consultations with our national security officials, and also after establishing that their trespassing into the waters of the Islamic Republic was unintentional and also receiving apology from them,” read the statement published on the Fars news agency, which is affiliated to the Guards. The sailors’ two small navy craft had briefly gone missing on Tuesday while crossing the Gulf from Kuwait to Bahrain. Pentagon sources later said the vessels had entered Iranian waters because of technical difficulties. On Wednesday, the Pentagon said: “Ten US navy sailors safely returned to US custody today, after departing Iran. There are no indications that the sailors were harmed during their brief detention.” “The sailors departed Farsi Island at 8.43am [GMT], aboard the two Riverine Command boats that they had been operating when they lost contact with the US navy. They were later transferred ashore by US navy aircraft.” The sailors were receiving a medical screening on Wednesday morning aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Anzio, the Pentagon said. They were then expected to be transferred to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, from where its fixed-wing planes will fly them ashore at an unspecified point for reintegration. The Iranian claim of an apology was ambiguous. It was not clear if the US secretary of state, John Kerry, had officially apologised during phone communications with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, or whether the apology, if true, had come from the sailors themselves. Kerry thanked Iran for the swift resolution of the incident. “That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong,” he said. The US defence secretary, Ash Carter, said: “I am pleased that 10 US navy sailors have departed Iran and are now back in US hands. I want to personally thank secretary of state John Kerry for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors’ swift return. Around the world, the US navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved.” A direct conversation between the Iranian foreign minster and US counterpart would have been unthinkable just five years ago, and Carter’s statement is indicative of the improved diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran. The Revolutionary Guards’ navy chief and US officials said some type of mechanical trouble with one of the boats caused them to drift into Iranian territorial waters. The 10 US detainees – nine men and one woman – were held overnight at an Iranian base on Farsi Island. Tasnim news, affiliated to the Guards, published a series of images showing the sailors in Iranian custody. Fars said the two American boats were more than a miles inside Iranian waters when they were detained. The episode came amid heightened regional tensions, and only hours before Barack Obama was scheduled to deliver his final State of the Union address. The Revolutionary Guards patrol Iranian waters in the Gulf, especially near the strait of Hormuz, a vital passageway through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes in tankers. Iran’s navy has routine professional exchanges with its US and UK counterparts, but there have been incidents of heightened tension. In 2007, Iran captured 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines during a maritime inspection near Iraq and held them for 13 days in a disputed episode that drew the world’s attention. In December, the US accused Revolutionary Guards vessels of firing several unguided rockets near US warships, including the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman, in the strait of Hormuz. The US later released video it said showed the incident. The swift release of the Americans on Wednesday contradicted speculation that the hardline Revolutionary Guards were seeking to sabotage improving relations between Iran and the west days before the planned implementation of the nuclear deal reached in Vienna in July. It has been established that the US sailors had drifted into Iranian territorial waters and that the timing of the incident was irrelevant to the lifting of sanctions. The handling of the issue also signals a new pattern of behaviour by the Guards, which haveused similar circumstances to flex muscles both at home and abroad in the past. Adnan Tabatabai, an Iranian analyst, tweeted: Adnan Tabatabai @A_Tabatabai First #SaudiEmbassy fiasco then #USSailors entering #Iran|ian The Revolutionary Guards are controlled directly by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. President Hassan Rouhani’s government has not control over the Guards behaviour internally or externally. In an unusual move, the Guards last week condemned the attack by a group of hardliners on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, showing an approach in line with that of the Rouhani administration. Iran is believed to be only days away from implementation day, when the International Atomic Energy Agency will verify that Tehran has taken all the necessary steps under the nuclear accord for the west to lift economic sanctions. All nuclear-related sanctions, including an embargo on the imports of Iranian oil, will be lifted by the EU. The US will waive them by the order of the president. At least $100bn (£74bn) in frozen assets will also be released to Iran. Rouhani is pushing efforts to speed up implementation of the deal to bring about tangible relief from sanctions before parliamentary elections in February. Hardliners are worried about how such an event would bolster his profile just before the election period. Once Iran finishes swapping the core of a heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak with cement, they will receive an influx of cash under the July deal. But deep-seated acrimony between Washington and Tehran has hardly ebbed. The US is expected to launch a different series of sanctions on Iran following the latter’s recent ballistic missile tests, which are outside the scope of the nuclear deal but violate a UN security council prohibition. Some of the US personnel who were detained by the Revolutionary Guards. Photograph: IRGC/EPA http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/13/iran-releases-us-navy-boat-crews-who-entered-territorial-waters-state-tv
  12. Husband and wife from Scottish Borders intend to make first dent in £33m ($47.5M) fortune by flying daughter from Australia first class Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent Wednesday 13 January 2016 11.55 GMT Carol and David Martin, the couple who have won half of Saturday’s £66m ($95.1M) lottery jackpot, have described their shock at scooping a share of the biggest ever Lotto prize. The Martins, both 54, from Hawick in the Scottish Borders, said they only checked their winning ticket after a friend urged them to see if they had the right numbers on Sunday morning. Speaking at a press conference in Kirknewton, south of Edinburgh, on Wednesday, David Martin said: “The initial shock was surreal. If we’d won £50,000 ($72,067) we’d have been dancing round the living room. But the £33m is still really unbelievable. We just sat quietly and didn’t speak to each other for about five minutes.” He added: “I remember [the first thing that] Carol said to me: ‘What have we done?’” The couple said their first purchase would be a first-class flight for their 26-year-old daughter Lisa to visit them from Australia, where she has lived for five years. They last saw their daughter when they visited her for Christmas in 2014. Carol works at a local Boots, while David is a section leader for Borders Care and Repair, helping disabled and older people with specialist equipment in their own homes. Both described their embarrassment at having to hide their win from their employers and colleagues over the past few days. David explained: “It’s a big, big thing. These are people that you work with and you trust and then all of a sudden you’re giving them a white lie. Today we felt more relaxed and told them. When you speak to everybody they are so so happy for you.” While both intend to take early retirement, they said this was the biggest decision they had to make so far. The decision to go public was actually far easier, they said. “This would be impossible to keep secret,” said Carol. “We always said we’d never go public, but we’d go public just by phoning our friends.” “You can’t hide 33m quid,” David added. “And you [the media] would be there in Hawick knocking on our neighbours’ doors.” To laughter from the assembled reporters, he went on to explain the correct pronounciation of his home town – which has challenged some southern tongues– as “Hoyk” not “Haw-ick”. Asked whether they intended to stay in Hawick, David said: “People don’t realise when you live in a community like that it’s a great place to live. People in general are really, really nice. It would be a big decision to move away.” The couple, who have been married for 28 years, said they were only just beginning to consider what to do with the money, but that family, friends and local charities would be top of the list. They also suggested they could help those affected by the recent flooding: “Hawick is a tiny community, and the company I worked for was on standby during the floods,” said David. “But it’s not just Hawick, it’s been the whole of the country. When you see the damage, it’s horrible.” Both keen followers of sport, David is planning a trip to the Augusta Masters golf tournament while Carol will be at Wimbledon for the tennis this summer. David has been unable to play golf himself for the last few months because of a heart condition. David, who is awaiting a procedure to steady an irregular heartbeat, joked: “My heart’s been jumping about all year, so it’s jumping a bit more now.” He added: “Everyone slags [off] the NHS, but they’ve been really good to me.” In sharp contrast to Scotland’s other famous lottery couple, the Euromillions winners Chris and Colin Weir, who donated substantial amounts of their winnings to the SNP and the campaign for Scottish independence, David said: “We’ll let the politicians deal with the politics. We’re not interested.” Saturday’s other joint winner has yet to come forward, but has until 7 July to claim their prize. http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jan/13/lottery-winners-scottish-couple-carol-david-martin-33m
  13. Local newspaper says attackers arranged via Facebook to go on ‘manhunt’ of foreigners after assaults on women on New Year’s Eve Josie Le Blond in Berlin and agencies Monday 11 January 2016 13.09 GMT Gangs attacked groups of foreigners in four separate incidents on Sunday in Cologne, the city where dozens of New Year’s Eve assaults on women took place, German police have said, as the government warned against letting the incident lead to suspicion of all migrants. Cologne police said on Monday afternoon that the victims were two Pakistanis, two Syrians and a group of Africans. Police said they had stopped and checked 153 people on Sunday evening, 13 of whom were known members of far-right organisations and a further 80 of whom belonged to rocker gangs. They confirmed they had received information in advance about a “peaceful walkabout” by members of far-right gangs planned on social media for Sunday evening. In response, police said they would ramp up their presence in Cologne’s inner city with daily special patrols. The local newspaper Express reported that the attackers were members of gangs who arranged via Facebook to meet in downtown Cologne to start a “manhunt” of foreigners. The assaults on women in Cologne and other German cities have prompted more than 600 criminal complaints, with the police investigation focusing at least partly on asylum seekers and migrants. Police said on Sunday 516 of the complaints related to incidents in Cologne – a jump of 395 over the weekend – and that about 40% of them were of a sexual nature. The rest of the women in Cologne said they had phones or wallets stolen or were otherwise physically assaulted. The assaults have prompted a highly charged debate in Germany about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy on refugees and migrants, more than 1 million of whom entered the country last year. “As abominable as the crimes in Cologne and other cities were, one thing remains clear: there is no justification for blanket agitation against foreigners,” justice minister Heiko Maas said, adding that some people “appear just to have been waiting for the events of Cologne.” On Monday, a regional parliamentary commission in North-Rhine Westphalia, where Cologne is the largest city, will question police and others about the events on New Year’s Eve. Pegida, the anti-Islam political movement whose supporters threw bottles and firecrackers at a march in Cologne on Saturday before being dispersed by riot police, is to hold a rally in the eastern German city of Leipzig on Monday evening. The attacks on women in Cologne have also sparked a debate about tougher rules for migrants who break the law, faster deportation procedures and increased security measures such as more video surveillance in public areas and more police. German authorities said nearly all the suspects in the Cologne attacks were “almost exclusively people with an immigrant background”, according to initial findings of a criminal investigation. “Witness accounts and the report by the police as well as findings by the federal police indicate that nearly all the people who committed these crimes were almost exclusively people with an immigrant background,” said Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of North Rhine-Westphalia. Although no formal charges have been made, Jäger said the attackers emerged from a group of more than 1,000 “Arab and north African” men who gathered between the city’s main railway station and the cathedral during the festivities. Police in Hamburg said they had received 133 complaints from women who were sexually assaulted or robbed in and around the city’s red light district on the same night. Similar incidents appear to have taken place on a smaller scale in other German cities on New Year’s Eve. In Frankfurt, 15 women have told police they were assaulted, and in Stuttgart a further 12. Police presence has been beefed up at Cologne cathedral and central station after the New Year’s Eve assaults on women. Photograph: Maja Hitij/EPA http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/11/two-pakistanis-and-a-syrian-man-injured-in-attacks-by-gangs-in-cologne
  14. An industry that dates back to 1614 in the US, mail-order marriages continue to be popular for women living in bleak conditions abroad, and US blue-collar men Olga Oksman Monday 11 January 2016 17.30 GMT Vitalina Wilson had never planned to marry a foreign man whose language she did not speak. Nor did she plan to move 6,000 miles away from her family to a country she knew nothing about. She had a really good job in the accounting department of a large importer in her native Ukraine. She was also divorced, after marrying at 21 to a man whom she describes as “not suited to family life”. Her ex-husband had a hard time working and made things “difficult” for her, she says softly before moving on to happier topics. After her divorce, Wilson tried dating in Ukraine but never clicked with anyone. A few of her friends told her about attending mixers organized by an international dating agency specializing in pairing pretty young Ukrainian women with visiting American men who would come to Ukraine for 10 days and visit three cities, attending parties with hundreds of women at each stop. Wilson had never considered signing up with the service, but with none of her dates working out she figured she had nothing to lose and tagged along with her friends to a couple of parties. She left unimpressed and could not imagine dating any of the older foreign men who saw there. She gave it one more chance and saw the man who would become her husband. When she saw him, she knew right away that this was the person she wanted. She walked over, said hi and quickly had to pull a translator over so they could talk. They ended up going on a few dates after that and when they went out to dinner, since they couldn’t communicate, her now husband drew pictures for her on a napkin of the city where he lived. Soon it was time for him to go back to the US, and they exchanged emails and Skype names before he left. A couple of months later, he was back in Ukraine with a ring and proposal. Eight months later, Wilson was in America. Fresno, California, where she now lives, proved to be full of surprises. The food was too spicy. People ate too much fast food. Everyone drove but Wilson did not have a driver’s license, so at first she would ride her bike to run errands. In the evenings her husband took her to English classes. Little things that most of us would never think of amazed her, like how clean the streets were relative to her home city of Nikolaev. Here they take away the garbage every week, she tells me, while in Nikolaev, the garbage collectors came around every two months or so, so the trash would pile up on streets, flooding the sidewalks when there was any rain or snow. Despite trying to learn English as fast as she could, when she first arrived Wilson could not understand what her new husband said to her. Her marriage is better now, she says, because they can really talk. Culture and language aside, her husband is also 20 years her senior, making them members of different generations. But he really cares for her and is kind and patient, she tells me. Her husband made sure she had people to socialize with, so she was not totally dependent on him, introducing her to his friends and their wives to help her make friends. They got a dog. She feels like she can be herself around him, she tells me. Now that she has adjusted to life here and learned the language, she plans to go back to school this year and get her accounting degree in the US so she can go back to working in her profession. In the meantime, she has started a pet-sitting service, watching people’s cats and dogs over holidays. ••• Marcia Zug is an associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina who specializes in family law. She is writing a book due out in May 2016 on the international marriage industry, called Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches. The reason that mail-order brides continue to be popular, she tells me, is that conditions for women in some countries remain bleak, and as long as women have few prospects for a good match at home, they will look elsewhere for someone to start a family and life with. When it comes to the suitors, in the US, the majority are blue-collar men who feel disenfranchised from family life, says Zug. Blue-collar men are increasingly falling out of the marriage market as blue-collar women are finding better employment prospects, higher wages and opportunities to move up in the world, says Zug. Blue-collar women have started to see these men as more of a liability than an equal partner, so the men who want to get married have started to look elsewhere. But it is not just blue-collar men struggling to build and keep a family, says Jonathon Narducci, a film-maker whose documentary on the mail-order bride phenomenon, , features Wilson. Narducci also saw plenty of middle- and upper-middle-class men, as well as wealthy men, who searched for a bride abroad. The men tend to be significantly older than the women (the entire process of finding and bringing a bride over to the US is expensive, and so younger men tend to not be able to afford it). Agencies that set up American men with foreign women charge for translation services, emails, contacts and of course tours to meet the women at socials. The practice of finding mail-order brides is not a new one, and actually dates back to Jamestown in 1614, says Zug. The practice was common in the United States for a time and most people who grew up in America will remember reading in elementary school the book Sarah, Plain and Tall, about a woman who answered an ad placed by a frontier widower and his children for a wife. With the advent of the internet, the practice has become easier and more widespread, says Zug, but the premise has always remained the same for the brides, she says: a chance to find a better life. These days, mail-order brides come from eastern Europe, south-east Asia and China, says Zug. In the US, eastern Europe is the most popular area, in part because most suitors from the US are white and are often looking for a bride of the same race. Various factors in each country drive women to leave their homes and take a chance on a virtual stranger. In the case of China, which has a shortage of women and would seem to be the last place a woman would struggle to find a match, cultural bias against divorced women or women who are older leads them to seek a partner elsewhere, says Zug. In places like Ukraine, where alcoholism and unemployment rates are high among men, and abusive relationships common, a lack of suitable matches drives women to look elsewhere. For many of these women, “an unliberated American man seems like a feminist”, adds Zug, pointing out that everything is down to perspective. Finding that match can be tricky, though. The bride industry lies to both sides, says Narducci. The women are led to believe that American men don’t drink or ever cheat on their wives and never get divorced. They buy into the American dream, he says. Meanwhile, a number of the men he interviewed were looking for “a sex object”, not a partner, and did not care that the women could not talk to them because of a language barrier. The power imbalance in the relationship attracts misogynists, says Narducci, though he notes that there are men who use the service who are genuinely looking for a wife and life partner, like Wilson’s husband. Finding a wife or husband who does not speak your language or understand your culture may seem strange, and marrying someone you have known for a short time may seem like a recipe for disaster, but the divorce rates for these unions are not worse than the average US marriage. It seems love really does know no borders and there is no one right way to do it. Vitalina Wilson and her husband. Photograph: supplied http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jan/11/mail-order-marriage-brides-ukraine-america-romance
  15. Angela Merkel says German nationals ‘probably’ among victims after 10 people killed in blast in Sultanahmet district Follow the latest developments Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Istanbul, Kareem Shaheen and agencies Tuesday 12 January 2016 13.20 GMT Turkey’s president has said a suicide bomber of Syrian origin is thought to be responsible for a blast near Istanbul’s grandest tourist attractions that has killed 10 people, including foreigners. “I condemn the terror incident in Istanbul, assessed to be an attack by a suicide bomber with Syrian origin,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a televised speech. “Unfortunately we have 10 dead, including foreigners and Turkish nationals … There are also 15 wounded.” The development appeared to signal that the Islamic State terror group was the prime suspect in the attack on Tuesday morning, which occurred a short distance from the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet district. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. A government official had told Associated Press the explosion was believed to be “terror-linked”, while two senior Turkish security officials told Reuters there was a “high probability” Isis was responsible. The city’s governor said an investigation was ongoing to determine the perpetrator. Police sealed off the area and the government imposed a broadcast ban. The Sultanahmet district is often crowded with tourists visiting monuments in the area. Footage showed ambulances rushing to the scene. Ramadan, who owns a jewellery shop across the road from the site of the blast, said: “We were sitting inside the shop when we heard a big explosion, which shook the windows. By the time we had gone outside the police were already blocking the scene. “This is really bad – the situation was already bad, but this will only make things worse for tourism. I didn’t lose any friends, but all of the people of Istanbul are our friends and it is very sad to see this happening.” One woman who works at a nearby antiques store told Reuters: “The explosion was very loud. We shook a lot. We ran out and saw body parts.” Citing Turkish officials, Reuters reported that most of those killed were German citizens, while the Dogan news agency said nine Germans and two Peruvians were among the wounded. A tour company official told Reuters a group from Germany was in the area at the time but said there was no immediate information on whether any of them had been injured. Speaking in Berlin, the chancellor, Angela Merkel, said German nationals were “probably” among the victims. “We don’t have all the information yet … but we fear that German citizens could be and probably are also among the victims and injured,” she said. In a typically defiant speech, Erdoğan attacked foreign academics and writers, including Noam Chomsky, for criticism of his government. He said: “Pick a side. You are either on the side of the Turkish government, or you’re on the side of the terrorists.” A security analyst, Metin Gürcan, said the signs pointed to Isis being responsible: “The choice of the location, the targeted nationalities, the way the attack was carried out and the government’s immediate effort to stop the dissemination of any information all point to Isis as the primary suspect.” He underlined that this latest suicide attack on Turkish soil would lead to more pressure from the international community on Turkey to increase its efforts in the fight against Isis, and to prioritise it over Ankara’s current clash with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). “One of the tough questions for Turkey in the coming days is how to allocate security and intelligence capacities to fight more efficiently against Isis-inspired terrorist attacks.” Gürcan criticised Turkish intelligence networks for failing to dismantle the Isis networks thought to be behind the suicide attacks in Suruç and Ankara last year, despite the government’s knowledge of the networks’ existence. Arguing that Turkey urgently needed to launch a deradicalisation programme to better counter Salafist networks and Salafist-inspired violence in the country, he also said that it was crucial that Isis networks in the country were more clearly labelled as terrorist organisations in legal terms. “The definition needs to be very clear, and security forces need to be able to conduct more stringent operations against such cells, the tracking and hunting down of sleeper cells needs to be dramatically improved,” he said. Turkey borders Syria and is home to more than 2 million refugees from the country but was also until recently a transit hub for Isis militants travelling to take part in the fighting there. In recent weeks, Turkish authorities have detained several suspected Isis members, with officials saying they were planning attacks in Istanbul. A Kurdish splinter group – the Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan – claimed responsibility for a mortar attack on Istanbul’s second international airport on 23 December that killed a cleaner and damaged several planes. The banned leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation party-front has also staged a string of usually small-scale attacks in Istanbul over the past few months. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/12/explosion-istanbul-square-sultanahmet-turkey
  16. President tweets ‘We’ve got him’ six months after notorious drug cartel leader Joaquín Guzmán made elaborate escape from maximum-security prison David Agren in Mexico City Friday 8 January 2016 18.44 GMT Mexico’s president has announced the recapture of cartel kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, whose escape in July from a maximum-security prison – the second in less than 15 years – humiliated the country’s federal government and exposed corruption in the country’s prison system. President Enrique Peña Nieto made the announcement on Twitter, saying: “Mission accomplished: we’ve got him. I would like to inform the Mexican people that Joaquín Guzmán Loera has been captured.” Enrique Peña Nieto ✔ @EPN Misión cumplida: lo tenemos. Quiero informar a los mexicanos que Joaquín Guzmán Loera ha sido detenido. 7:19 PM - 8 Jan 2016 77,265 77,265 Retweets 52,746 The Mexican navy said in a statement that Guzmán, the head of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, was captured after an early morning shootout after marines, acting on a tip, raided a house in the city of Los Mochis, in Guzmán’s home state. Five people were killed in the shootout, though only one marine was injured, while weapons, a rocket launcher and bulletproof vehicles were captured. The capture marks the second time Guzmán has been apprehended in the last three years. Mexican marines captured him in Mazatlán in early 2013 after a series of narrow escapes. But in July last year, he made a daring escape from Altiplano prison, 56 miles outside Mexico City, squeezing through a hole in his shower floor then fleeing on a modified motorbike through a mile-long tunnel fitted with lights and a ventilation system. At the time of his escape the capo wore a tracker bracelet and was under round-the-clock surveillance, but cameras inside his cell had two blind spots in the shower and toilet. CCTV footage released in October showed that guards failed to intervene even though loud hammering was audible from Guzmán’s cell. The grainy footage showed that Guzmán turned up the volume on a television by his bed to drown out the noise as his helpers hammered a hole through the floor under the shower. The escape came less than three weeks after the United States filed a request to extradite Guzmán, and the kingpin’s lawyer told the Guardian last year that his escape was prompted by fears that he would face trial in the US. The Mexican government offered a reward of 60m pesos ($3.8m) for information leading to the drug lord’s recapture, but the escape was extremely embarrassing for Peña Nieto, who had previously said Guzmán’s escape would be “unforgivable”. The president and federal officials were criticized for not extraditing Guzmán to the United States, despite shortcomings in the Mexican prison system. It was the second time Guzmán had fled custody: in 2001 he escaped from another maximum-security prison, Puente Grande in western Jalisco state, reputedly hidden in a laundry cart. Analysts say the capture gives the president a chance to regain some credibility after taking a political hit. “If confirmed it’s obviously a great sign that in spite of concerns that Peña Nieto’s government would go easy on kingpins and organized crime, it hasn’t,” said Malcolm Beith, a journalist who wrote a biography of Guzmán. “Catching Chapo again now gives Mexico a great opportunity to either try him quickly and fairly and make sure that if found guilty he remains behind bars – or extradite him and prove that US-Mexican relations are just as strong as ever.” Analysts expect Guzmán to face extradition to the United States, especially after federal officials came under intense criticism for failing to do so the last time. In 2014, the then attorney general Jesús Murillo Karam told the Associated Press that Guzmán would be extradited – but only after serving his sentence in Mexico, “Some 300 or 400 years later.” “There’s a long ways to go,” he said at the time. In a brief statement, US attorney general Loretta Lynch hailed the arrest as a “victory for the citizens of both Mexico and the United States.” She comended the Mexican authorities, but made no mention of the subject of extradition. The US Drug Enforcement Administration also congratulated the Mexican government on Friday, saying in a tweet that the agency was “extremely pleased at the capture”. DEA News ✔ @DEANEWS DEA is extremely pleased at the capture of Chapo Guzman. We congratulate the MX Government and salute the bravery involved in his capture 8:13 PM - 8 Jan 2016 2,595 2,595 Retweets 1,479 Over recent months, Mexican forces had carried out a string of search operations in the Sierra Madre mountains of Sinaloa, and in October Guzmán was reportedly injured before narrowly escaping. Local people described aggressive raids in which villagers fled their homes to escape indiscriminate fire from helicopter gunships. “There have been intense navy operations throughout the state for the past two months,” said Javier Valdés, publisher of the independent new site Ríodoce in Sinaloa’s capital city, Culiacán. Valdés said that despite years in prison – and months on the run – Guzmán maintained a powerful influence in the region, adding that even after the arrest the Sinaloa cartel would be likely to carry on with its business as usual. “It continued operating while he was in prison the last time,” he said. Guzmán’s rags-to-riches story, and his previous success in evading capture have only added to his status in Sinaloa, a sliver of territory hugging the Pacific coastline with a lowland famed for its tomatoes, and remote mountain ranges renowned for their opium plantations and marijuana fields. He achieved a sort of demigod status in the state, where his 2015 escape was greeted with celebratory gunfire and choruses of narcocorridos (songs lionizing narcos). Guzmán was born in a remote and impoverished hamlet in the rugged Sierra Madre mountains. His father was a gomero, someone who picked opium poppies, while Guzmán sold oranges as a boy. He rose to the top of the organized crime pyramid, despite being barely educated and expanded the Sinaloa cartel into a criminal organization with a global reach. Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán is escorted by soldiers after a previous capture in February 2014. Photograph: Henry Romero/Reuters El Chapo after capture. Photograph: Office of the Mexican Attorney General http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/08/mexican-drug-lord-el-chapo-recaptured-president-says
  17. Rose Hamid, who wore a shirt that read ‘Salam, I come in peace’, was aggressively heckled as she was escorted from the campaign event in South Carolina Amanda Holpuch in New York Saturday 9 January 2016 15.19 GMT A Muslim woman was escorted from a Donald Trump rally on Friday night, after she stood silently behind the Republican frontrunner wearing a shirt that read: “Salam, I come in peace.” Rose Hamid, who was also wearing a hijab, said people near her in a crowd of more than 6,000 people in Rock Hill, South Carolina, were kind to her until she began her protest. “My purpose for going there,” Hamid said, “is I have a sincere belief that if people get to know each other one on one then they’ll stop being afraid of each other and we will be able to get rid of all of this hate in the world, literally.” She and an unidentified man stood when Trump said Syrian immigrants should not be allowed into the US. Both were wearing yellow star-shaped badges that bore the word “Muslim” and were intentionally reminiscent of the yellow badges Jewish people were forced to wear under Nazi rule. They were then escorted out of the venue. Hamid said that before her protest, people sitting nearby had spoken with her and shared popcorn. Once she stood, though, the crowd around began to chant “Trump, Trump”. Hamid said one person accused her of having a bomb. Reporters said they heard people making “ugly” comments all around the rally. Trump, whose rally in Burlington, Vermont on Thursday was repeatedly disrupted by protesters, has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the US, a policy he introduced in South Carolina in December. He promoted the policy in his first campaign ad, saying such a ban should remain in place “until we can figure out what’s going on”. Hamid, 56, said she had not been afraid to go into the crowd because she believed people would have stopped more serious threats. But she said the crowd’s reaction to her protest was indicative of the power of Trump’s rhetoric. “It was really quite telling and a vivid example of what happens when you start using this hateful rhetoric and how it can incite a crowd,” she said. “I don’t even think he believes in the rhetoric he is spewing.” Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump South Carolina rally last night was so unbelievably exciting (and fun). I am now off to Iowa for two big rallies - packed houses. Love it! 3:26 PM - 9 Jan 2016 1,064 1,064 Retweets 3,841 On Saturday John Kasich, the governor of Ohio who is also running for the Republican presidential nomination, said the crowd’s booing of Hamid and her fellow protester was “terrible”. “We’re not a country that feels good about yelling or insulting people,” he said on CNN. “Maybe it was a Friday night, who knows.” Kasich also said the video of Hamid and the man being booed and taken out of the Trump event would be shown around the world, potentially damaging America’s standing with Muslim countries, allies in the fight against Islamic State. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), meanwhile, called on Trump to apologize. “The image of a Muslim woman being abused and ejected from a political rally sends a chilling message to American Muslims,” Cair’s executive director, Nihad Awad, said in a statement. “Donald Trump should issue a public apology to the Muslim woman kicked out of his rally and make a clear statement that American Muslims are welcome as fellow citizens and as participants in the nation’s political process.” http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/09/muslim-woman-ejected-donald-trump-rally-silent-protest
  18. Statistics point to conspiracy theories, mediocre wages and a deeply held belief that this group is anything but racist Mona Chalabi Friday 8 January 2016 14.11 GMT Michael has presumably had a rough day. Nine hours working as an exterminator takes a physical toll on the 45-year-old, who didn’t go to college, makes $33,000 a year, and relies on a steady swarm of pests to pester people in his 90% rural county. But home, with a glass of wine and Fox News, he’s excited to hear from the only candidate who’s making any sense these days: Donald Trump. Michael is technically fictional, but he’s created entirely from fact. The story of Trump’s success is, in some ways, the story of the many American Michaels. Frustrated white men who reject the stories offered to them, and admire leaders who feel the same. White Americans feel more angry than black Americans, according to a November survey of 3,257 US adults by Esquire and NBC. White people were more likely than black people to say their current financial situation isn’t what they thought it would be when they were younger, and they were also more likely to put that down to difficult circumstances rather than “wrong choices”. When asked whether they ever hear or read anything on the news that makes them angry, white respondents were more likely than black ones to say they felt angry at least twice a day. There were gender differences too – men were more likely than women to say that they felt angry about the treatment of white men. Trump understands these white men – or at the very least, he understands that these white men want a politician who understands them. It was these voters that Trump was speaking to when he said last year: And if you look at black and African American youth, to a point where they’ve never done more poorly. There’s no spirit. This is more than just opportunism – Trump gets it. Of course, the history of American politicians is the history of many, many white men, but there’s something unique about Trump’s whiteness and his masculinity. He is distinctly unashamed of either trait, and is unwilling to even pay lip service to the notion that they were beneficial to his success. In a 1989 NBC interview, for example, he made his point: A well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market. I think sometimes a black may think they don’t have an advantage or this and that … I’ve said on one occasion, even about myself, if I were starting off today, I would love to be a well-educated black, because I believe they do have an actual advantage. Liberals may respond with rolled eyes or outrage, but for men like the hypothetical Michael, quotes like these are evidence that Trump is simply willing to state facts others are too cowardly to say. Michael still probably wouldn’t think of himself as racist – 10% of white Americans think white Americans are racist. But 38% of those white Americans think black people are racist. More than 20 years later, a Michael would probably still agree with the statement. When asked why black Americans have worse jobs, incomes and housing on average than whites, 45% of white Americans in 2012 said it was because “blacks don’t have the motivation or willpower to pull themselves out of poverty”. The fact that most media organizations do not repeat these beliefs – aka “facts” to some who hold them – merely entrenches the feeling that the mainstream, “lamestream” mediacannot be trusted. A 2014 study from Pew Research Center shows just how divided Americans are about the media. Liberals express trust in more media organizations than conservatives do, and receive more sources and perspectives as a consequence. Of 36 organizations listed, Fox News stands out as the crucial source to 88% of conservatives who say that they trust the information they receive from the channel. Social media is important too; the study shows that if Michael does exist, he would probably also be checking Facebook – where he would hear from close friends who are more likely to share his views. This isn’t just healthy skepticism– at times it’s an entirely different version of the world. Whether you want to call them conspiracy theories or government secrets, a 2013 survey from Public Policy Polling shows these views tend to differ by political party too (though not all – 28% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans believe aliens exist). Republicans were more likely to believe in Bigfoot, government TV mind control and diseases invented for pharmaceutical companies to profit than Democrats were. White Americans were more likely to believe those claims than black Americans, and in most cases, men were more likely than women to believe the conspiracies listed in the survey. One theory is particularly important: 37% of Americans think global warming is a hoax. That number rises to 39% when you only look at male respondents, 41% for white respondents and 58% for Republicans. With that in mind, it’s easier to understand who the audience is when Trump makes statements like these: Donald J. Trump ✔ @realDonaldTrump The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. 8:15 PM - 6 Nov 2012 20,593 20,593 Retweets 11,649 It’s not only what he says but the way he says it: Trump’s writing style echoes online forums and sites like knowthelies.com. Trump uses short sentences. No commas needed. And sometimes ALL CAPS. With all this in mind, Trump’s rising political fortunes aren’t surprising at all. Polling shows he is more popular among Americans that are white than those who aren’t, and more popular among Americans with penises than those without. Often, these white men are also working or middle class and middle-aged – just like Michael. Those men represent a significant voting block in a country which is still 62% white. When those men want to hear from someone who is willing to stand up for them, Donald Trump is only too willing to oblige. And, when what’s “right” is about unapologetically refuting facts, Trump can’t go wrong. Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Nashua, New Hampshire, last year. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/08/angry-white-men-love-donald-trump
  19. Harney County sheriff speaks of ‘alternative motives’ while Ammon Bundy’s group puts away firearms to convince media it is civil rights issue Jason Wilson the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon Monday 4 January 2016 07.13 GMT On the second day of its armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the Bundy militia shifted tactics. From a state of lockdown it moved to a charm offensive, inviting a small media contingent inside its redoubt, with warm smiles and waves. The local sheriff was not convinced. “These men came to Harney County claiming to be part of militia groups supporting local ranchers,” Sheriff David Ward said in a statement, “when in reality these men had alternative motives, to attempt to overthrow the county and federal government in hopes to spark a movement across the United States.” Members of the rightwing Bundy militia occupied the wildlife refuge in Oregon over the weekend, threatening a confrontation with federal authorities, in support of two cattle ranchers who were convicted of setting fires on federal land. The cattle ranchers, father and son Steven and Dwight Hammond, said they did so while trying to clear their own land so their cattle could feed. The authorities said otherwise. They have both served time in prison and are due to report to a jail in San Diego on Monday in order to serve some more. The Oregon senator Ron Wyden told the Associated Press the FBI was co-ordinating the official response to the occupation with the sheriff and state police. He also blamed outsiders. Ammon Bundy, the 40-year-old leader of the men occupying the federal buildings, insisted his men were peaceful. But, he said, if the federal government tried to take back the refuge, “they would be putting lives at risk”. The journalists he spoke to had driven the 30 miles (48km) from Burns through heavy snowfall. Greeting them, Bundy was accompanied by a man who would identify himself only as his bodyguard. A few others lingered. There were no guns in sight. Everything was calculated to project an image of calm and reason and the absence of any threat. Just after 11am, Bundy opened his media conference. “Your role is very important,” he said. “We do believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that the American people have a right to know what’s going on.” For Bundy, the re-sentencing and re-imprisonment of Steven and Dwight Hammond is simply a civil rights issue; his armed militia members are simply civil rights protectors. The Hammonds were persecuted by the federal government, he said, because they refused to “sell their ranch so it can be added to the Malheur wildlife refuge”. The Hammonds were the target, he said, of “vindictive behaviours”, from fines and harassment up to and including prosecution under federal anti-terrorism laws. Bundy is the son of the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, whose victory in a land rights standoff with federal agents made the family famous in 2014. He responded to questions patiently and in an even, measured voice. Such poise was clearly a product of his experience at the Bundy ranch, deployed in an effort to defuse the accusation that the group’s actions here were those of extremists or terrorists. That marked a shift from the previous day, when Bundy’s conspicuously armed men completed their occupation of this small collection of federal buildings. Nevertheless, the sunshine policy turned out to go only so far. Bundy confirmed that fire observation towers at the refuge were now occupied by marksmen, for “safety”, and said he was “absolutely” prepared to use force if he thought the situation warranted it. Once again, there was no evidence of any law enforcement presence on or near the refuge. In his statement, Sheriff Ward said he was working with local and federal authorities to keep citizens safe and to quickly and peacefully resolve the situation. He asked people to stay away from the refuge, but did not think any other parts of the county were in immediate danger. At the refuge, Bundy admitted that only “a small percentage” of the still unknown number of militia members on site were from Harney County, but said locals were offering support and supplies. In isolation, the militia controlled the narrative. To many in Harney County, a place with an ambivalent relationship with government, the image of the Hammonds as persecuted victims of authority is persuasive. The militia members also talked about the economic decline of the county, and of eastern Oregon in general. In doing so, they tapped into very real feelings about very real hardships. “Harney County at one time was the wealthiest county in the state,” Bundy said. “Because the federal government came in and blocked access to resources, it fell into economic depression. We intend to reverse that.” In discussions about the decline of areas formerly dependent on ranching and logging, the federal government makes a convenient scapegoat. On Sunday, no one was present to tell a more difficult and complex story. “This refuge from its very inception has been a tool of tyranny,” said Bundy. “Steven and Dwight Hammond would not have been abused the way they have if we had adhered to the constitution. When government steps outside the bounds the people have given it, it is the duty of the people to put it back in its place.” In order to do this, Bundy said, he and his men planned to stay where they were for a very long time. “We do have a plan,” he said, “and that plan is going to take several months to accomplish. Those who have rights on this land, those rights will be acknowledged. There will be an opportunity to claim those rights. We are going to defend you as you use those rights.” If the federal government tried to take the refuge back, he said, “they would be putting lives at risk. We are not putting anyone at risk right now. This refuge rightfully belongs to the people.” Bundy said the militia members intended to “assist the people of Harney County to claim their rights”, and to use the refuge both to make their stand and to “stay out of the cold”. He would not say what his end goal was, except to return the land to “ranching, trucks and recreational vehicles like it used to be”. Asked if law enforcement officials had communicated with his men, he said: “No, not since we made this stand.” Anyone who was not a law enforcement official would be able to access the refuge, he said, while the militia were there. “This is your land. Although it makes it complicated for us, we are not about restricting.” Bundy concluded by outlining his vision of the structure and powers of government in the US, as laid down in the constitution. “The federal government’s job is to protect the states from the outside world,” he said. “The states’ job is to protect the counties from the federal government. The counties’ job is to protect the people from the states. “And the people’s job is to be free.” 1 2 Ammon Bundy, in checked jacket, and other militia members meet the press. Photograph: Jason Wilson/the Guardian 2 2 Ryan Bundy talks on the phone at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Photograph: Rebecca Boone/AP http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/04/oregon-militia-occupying-wildlife-refuge-wants-to-overthrow-government-says-sheriff
  20. The French are responsible for their dreadful migrant camps. But our refusal to engage makes things worse Thursday 7 January 2016 06.30 GMT By Yvette Cooper On Britain’s doorstep is a shantytown. Scabies is rife, bronchitis too. Families sleep in flimsy tents in bitter cold. Children play in mud and rubbish. The police don’t go in; they just watch from nearby bridges, swinging batons. Volunteers do their best, bringing food, clothing, tarpaulins; smuggler gangs do their worst, preying on people’s desperation. How are we letting this happen? France and Britain each year patent more than 14,000 new inventions, support a joint population of more than 120 million people and help 20 million more out of poverty overseas. The talent of our two nations drove the industrial revolution, the best medical advances in history, and the creation of the world wide web. It is not beyond the wit of our two great countries to solve the problem of Calais. In the last few months, I’ve travelled to Beirut, Lesbos, and Calais – talking both to those who have fled their homes and to local authorities who are struggling to cope. This work isn’t intended to be party political – we want to build a consensus on tackling the greatest humanitarian crisis since the second world war. Of all I’ve seen, Calais is the most depressing. It is only a small corner of the European refugee crisis, but it is a bleak one. Of the 1 million people arriving in Europe last year, just 5,000 have ended up in the Jungle in Calais, 3,000 more on a wasteland at Dunkirk – the equivalent of just 0.006% of the combined French and British populations. In contrast 5,000 people arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos every day. In Lebanon a quarter of the population is made up of refugees. That is partly what makes Calais so troubling: it isn’t too big to solve. Yet no one has a proper plan to sort it out. Not the French or British governments, the UN or the big aid agencies. No one is doing assessments to identify refugees who need sanctuary or illegal travellers with safe homes they can return to. No one is delivering asylum. No one is enforcing immigration rules. And, most urgently, of all, no one is making sure that vulnerable people – especially children – get basic humanitarian aid and protection to keep them safe. In the Jungle I met children – aged just 11 or 12, younger than my own – who are there alone. One boy bears scars across his face from the bomb that struck his home. And they are vulnerable – to cold, violence, exploitation and prostitution, and to death as they take crazy risks throwing themselves on to trains heading for Britain. One lone British volunteer is doing her best to look after them. Were this on UK soil, it would be illegal for local councils to leave children in danger like this. Dunkirk in some respects is worse than Calais. Here Iraqi Kurdish families, many of them women and children, have been dumped by trafficking gangs on waste ground with no proper shelter or sanitation. Aid workers say it is worse than anything they have seen in Sierra Leone or Darfur. In Lesbos, despite the huge numbers arriving daily, at least a registration of some sort is taking place, and the families I met still had a sense of hope, having managed to reach Europe’s shores and leave the violence and persecution of Syria and Afghanistan behind them. But in the Jungle, from what I saw, there is very little hope left – only despair. The British government’s excuse is to say it is a French problem and British intervention would make things worse, encouraging more people to come. I agree that France has to lead action on its soil. But Britain’s refusal to engage is already making it worse, and makes it harder to get the comprehensive solution we need. We have a moral responsibility not to turn our back on this bit of the Europe-wide crisis closest to our shores: people suffering from cold, infectious diseases, sexual violence and exploitation, many of whom have fled war and persecution. But it’s also in no one’s interest to have a lawless camp at our border that is easy prey for criminal and trafficking gangs – and potentially extremists – to exploit. Nor is it in the prime minister’s interest, if he wants to persuade people to stay in Europe, to give the impression that European governments and cross-border cooperation are incapable of solving this problem. Left to themselves, France won’t develop a plan to prevent people coming and risking their lives trying to cross. Their latest proposal, for a new camp at nearby Grande-Synthe, is a sticking plaster, and risks replicating the problems of Sangatte 13 years ago. Last time it took a proper deal between France and Britain to sort Sangatte. It included bringing in the UN to do asylum assessments, immigration enforcement, improved joint security and a managed programme for refugees where many were supported in France but Afghan refugee families with British relatives could apply for sanctuary in Britain. The result was a massive drop in illegal immigration and years without major difficulties until the recent refugee crisis began. We should learn from that now. What we need once more is a comprehensive British-French deal. Of course the elements will change. But it should include urgent humanitarian aid, a rapid programme of UN asylum assessments, and immigration enforcement. And it needs a plan to prevent people ending up in Calais. I’ve argued before for the reintroduction of Schengen border checks to manage the flow of people across Europe, as well as safe, legal routes for refugees with close family in Britain to apply instead of travelling to Calais. And the government should sign up to the cross-party call to join Save the Children’s plan to help 3,000 abandoned refugee children in Europe – including those in Calais. Europe faces an immense task coping with the consequences of hundreds of thousands being driven from their homes – in Syria and Afghanistan especially – by conflict and persecution. Let’s at least show that we and France can together solve the Calais problem. 1 2 A young Kurdish girl at a new refugee camp in Dunkirk. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images 2 2 ‘Dunkirk in some respects is worse than Calais.’ Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/07/calais-french-migrant-camps-refugee-crisis
  21. Henriette Reker urges women to avoid being in close proximity to strangers to prevent sexual harassment Kate Connolly in Berlin Wednesday 6 January 2016 12.07 GMT Cologne’s mayor has been widely criticised for suggesting that women “keep at an arm’s length” from strangers to avoid sexual harassment, after scores of women were sexually abused and mugged in the city during new year celebrations. Asked by a journalist how women could protect themselves, Henriette Reker said: “There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length – that is to say to make sure yourself you don’t look to be too close to people who are not known to you, and to whom you don’t have a trusting relationship”. The remarks came at a press conference at which Reker made her first public comments about the incidents on New Year’s Eve. About 90 women made complaints to police, many relating to sexual assault. Many reported having been surrounded by groups of drunk and aggressive men of north African or Arabic appearance who harassed and mugged them. One woman is believed to have been raped. A police spokesman described the events as “a new dimension in crime”. About 1,000 men were gathered on the square in front of the city’s main station on Thursday night, although only a small number of them are believed to have been involved in the attacks. Reker also advised women to “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood”. Journalists at the press conference said the mayor had reacted with surprise to the initial question and her struggle for an answer demonstrated the extent to which it had caught her off guard. Reker’s comments triggered outrage on social media. Reaction was trending under #einarmlaenge (an arm’s length). Christopher Lauer, a politician, tweeted: “Man: “I had intended to mug this woman and molest her, but ****! She’s an arm’s length away from me!” Alexander Nabert, a journalist, wrote: “This thing about an arm’s length – is it a rule of thumb?” Another Twitter user, Marie von den Benken, wrote: “Frau Reker, the thing about the one arm’s length sounds more like one brain cell.” The New Year’s Eve attacks were only widely covered by national media early this week, after police had initially reported no major incidents. The German public broadcaster, ZDF, on Wednesday apologised for delays in reporting on the wave of sexual assaults and deciding to postpone a news segment until Tuesday. “The news situation was clear enough. It was a mistake of the 7pm ‘heute’ show not to at least report the incidents,” wrote deputy chief editor Elmar Thevessen on the show’s Facebook page. As the assaults have come to dominate German mainstream media, more women have come forward in Cologne and other cities about being groped and attacked on New Year’s Eve. The number of criminal complaints in Cologne topped 100 by Wednesday. Next month, Cologne will celebrate carnival season, when thousands go on to the streets. The police, who have admitted major errors in the way they managed the incidents, say they will modify the way they oversee the forthcoming celebrations, including introducing more mobile video cameras. Henriette Reker, mayor of Cologne, who also advised women to ‘stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood’. Photograph: Oliver Berg/AP http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/06/cologne-attacks-mayor-women-keep-men-arms-length-germany Cologne inquiry into 'coordinated' New Year's Eve sex attacks 1 3 Dozens of women reported being assaulted near Cologne’s main train station. Photograph: Oliver Berg/dpa/Corbis http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/05/germany-crisis-cologne-new-years-eve-sex-attacks
  22. President to set out plan on Tuesday that will prevent firearms from being sold at gun shows and on the internet without having to go through necessary checks Dan Roberts in Washington Tuesday 5 January 2016 07.19 GMT Thousands of unlicensed gun shows and online dealers will be forced to conduct customer background checks for the first time in a fresh effort by Barack Obama to tackle America’s epidemic of deadly shootings. In measures aimed at circumventing political deadlock in Congress that will inevitably set off a fierce battle in the courts, the president is due to close a loophole in the current system as well as call for greater spending on enforcement and new technology that could prevent unauthorised gun use. “The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage, but they can’t hold America hostage,” Obama said in a tweet that accompanied an official preview of the announcement due on Tuesday. “We can’t accept this carnage in our communities.” President Obama ✔ @POTUS What's often ignored in this debate is that a majority of gun owners agree with commonsense steps to save lives. Follow President Obama ✔ @POTUS The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage, but they can't hold America hostage. We can't accept this carnage in our communities. 12:46 AM - 5 Jan 2016 5,375 5,375 Retweets 10,891 The news was welcomed by gun safety campaigners, although more than a dozen separate calls for other executive actions do not appear to have made the White House draft proposal and other measures that would require congressional funding to be implemented. “President Obama’s decision to clarify and enforce the law requiring more gun sellers to conduct background checks is an important victory for public safety and a setback for criminals and gun traffickers,” said former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, a co-founder of Everytown for Gun Safety, the main lobby group advocating stricter gun laws. Earlier the group described the issue of closing background-check loopholes as the “centerpiece” of its hopes for Obama’s action on guns. “It doesn’t matter where you conduct your business – from a store, at gun shows or over the internet: if you are in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks,” said the White House statement. It also called for 200 additional agents in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to be included in the 2017 federal budget, a move that would require the Republican-controlled Congress to drop its longstanding suspicion of the agency. But a separate call for $500m in extra mental health funding may stand more chance of receiving bipartisan support as a number of Republicans have recently flagged the issue as an alternative approach to dealing with mass shootings. The White House also plans to better join the dots between different agencies, requiring, for example, that people registered as mentally ill with the Department of Social Security have their information passed to the FBI for the purposes of background checks on gun sales. “Some of the gaps in our country’s gun laws can only be fixed through legislation, which is why the President continues to call on Congress to pass the kind of commonsense gun safety reforms supported by a majority of the American people,” the White House said in its statement. Speaking after a meeting with senior officials, Obama promised that sweeping new gun control measures would save lives and spare families from mass shootings. “We have to be very clear that this is not going to solve every violent crime in this country or prevent every mass shooting and is not going to keep every gun out of the hand of a criminal,” Obama said after a meeting with attorney general Loretta Lynch to review her recommendations. “It will potentially save lives and spare families the pain and the extraordinary loss that they have suffered as a consequence of firearms getting into the hand of the wrong people,” he added. Republicans have promised to fight such measures in the courts, a process that could take up much of the remaining year that Obama has in office. “While we don’t yet know the details of the plan, the president is at minimum subverting the legislative branch, and potentially overturning its will,” said House speaker Paul Ryan in a statement. “His proposals to restrict gun rights were debated by the United States Senate, and they were rejected. No president should be able to reverse legislative failure by executive fiat, not even incrementally ... This is a dangerous level of executive overreach, and the country will not stand for it.” White House spokesman Josh Earnest confirmed on Monday that the president had made up his mind to take the actions, but insisted the measures – expected to be unveiled as soon as Tuesday – would withstand legal challenge. “I feel confident in telling you now that what the president does announce will be the kinds of actions in which we have confidence that they are within the legal ability of the United States to carry out these actions,” he told reporters. Campaigners who have helped draft a wishlist of up to 17 different executive actions also insisted that the flagship proposal of closing background check loopholes was within the remit of the president. “We have no concerns whatsoever about the legality of action in this area,” added Oransky. “We think it is squarely within the power of the administration to clarify a statutory definition that is vague. This is exactly the kind of thing that the White House and DOJ are supposed to do.” Officials hope that clarifying the so-called “engaged in the business” language in existing background check legislation will go a long way to prevent criminals and mentally ill people from buying guns through sellers who exploit a current loophole designed only for hobbyists and personal sales. “Although it is my strong belief that for us to get our complete arm around the issues, Congress needs to act, what I asked my team to do is to see what more we could do to strengthen our enforcement and prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands,” said Obama. “To make sure that criminals, people who are mentally unstable, those who could pose a danger to themselves or others are less likely to be able to get a gun.” The president said the measures, which may also involve attempts to arrest those who lie about failing a background check when trying to buy weapons, would have the support of the majority of law-abiding gun owners. “I have just received back a report from attorney Lynch [and others] about some of the ideas and initiatives that they claim will make a difference,” he said. “The good news is that these are not only recommendations that are well within my legal authority and executive branch, but they are also ones that the overwhelming majority of American people – including gun owners – support. “We have been very careful in recognising that we have strong tradition of gun ownership in this country and that even those who possess firearms for hunting, for self-protection and other legitimate reasons, want to make sure that they don’t get into the wrong hands,” added Obama. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/04/obama-to-unveil-new-gun-control-measures-after-meeting-with-lynch
  23. Republican uses a rally in Biloxi to accuse his rival of allowing the terror group to prosper, but fails to mention his appearance in a militant recruitment video Martin Farrer Sunday 3 January 2016 05.43 GMT Donald Trump has used his latest campaign rally to accuse Hillar-y Clinton and Barack Obama of being responsible for the rise of Islamic State. Speaking in Biloxi, Mississippi, the Republican presidential hopeful implied that the Obama administration should have heeded his call for the US to seize oil assets controlled by Isis but had instead allowed the terror group to prosper. “I’ve predicted a lot of things, you have to say, including, ‘Get the oil, take the oil, keep the oil.’ Right? I’ve been saying that for three years, and everybody said, ‘Oh, I can’t do that. I mean, this is a sovereign country. There is no country!” Trump said. “They’ve created Isis. Hillar-y Clinton created Isis with Obama,” Trump said. On the day when much of the Muslim world expressed fury at the execution of 47 Shia prisoners in Saudi Arabia, including the prominent cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Trump also accused Iran of wanting to take over its neighbour. “In Tehran, they’re burning down the Saudi embassy, you see that?” Trump said as he opened his remarks. “Now, what that is is Iran wants to take over Saudi Arabia. They always have. They want the oil, OK? They’ve always wanted that.” He made no comment at the rally about an al-Shabaab propaganda video, released on Friday, which featured footage of him calling for Muslims to be banned from the US. But, in an interview with CBS on Saturday, Trump was unrepentant. “I have to say what I have to say,” he said. “And you [know] what I have to say? There’s a problem. We have to find out what is a problem. And we have to solve that problem.” Trump spent much of the rally attacking the way he was treated by the media. During the rally, he lashed out at the media, saying the press was “so damn unfair ... terrible”. A Donald Trump supporter waiting to hear him speak at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum on Saturday 2 January in Biloxi. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jan/03/Hillarious-clinton-and-barack-obama-created-isis-says-donald-trump
  24. With his reputation already in tatters, the entertainer who shattered racial barriers and conquered popular culture now faces criminal charges Rory Carroll in Los Angeles Thursday 31 December 2015 12.33 GMT After so many accusations and revelations it still came as a shock when Bill Cosby hobbled into a police station to be fingerprinted amid shouts from onlookers of “You’re a monster!”, and “Shame on you!” The tableau outside Pennsylvania’s Cheltenham Township police department on Wednesday left the entertainer facing charges of sexual assault and confirmed him in a role he had fought mightily to avoid: that of America’s fallen icon. Icon: an overused word, perhaps, but how else to describe a man who shattered racial barriers, conquered popular culture and was so respected, so beloved, he was dubbed “America’s dad”? An actor who not only played the endearing sitcom character Cliff Huxtable but also seemed to embody him, that upstanding father and husband, at once wise and funny, tender and romantic, successful and generous. An idealised American and African American who helped pave the way, according to some, for Barack Obama. “I know certain religions forbid idol worship,” Jerry Seinfeld wrote in a blurb for Mark Whitaker’s glowing – and now discredited – 2014 biography. “If anyone ever told me I had to stop idolizing Bill Cosby, I would say: ‘Sorry, but I’m out of this religion.’” It turned out to be another comedian, Hannibal Buress, who precipitated Cosby’s fall by calling him a rapist during a stand-up routine, a clip of which went viral, setting in motion a series of events that culminated in Wednesday’s denouement. Grey and weary, leaning on a cane, stumbling, Cosby certainly looked the part of fallen icon. Before visiting the police station he appeared at the Montgomery County district courthouse flanked by attorneys and trailed by camera crews. In a brief hearing the 78-year-old replied yes, when Judge Elizabeth McHugh read out the three second-degree felony charges of aggravated indecent assault. He faces up to 10 years in prison for each charge. Bail was set at $1m (£670,000), with Cosby paying 10% on Wednesday. He denies any wrongdoing. In the 1980s and early 1990s, when NBC’s The Cosby Show dominated ratings, and for a long time after when Cosby chided African Americans for fecklessness and saggy pants, America would have gasped to see Cosby accused of littering, let alone something serious. Over the past year, however, his reputation has crumbled as dozens of women accused him of sexual assault, depicting a predator who abused his fame and influence to drug and abuse victims over nearly half a century. “Seeing him criminally charged and having to face a trial is the best Christmas present they have ever received,” said Gloria Allred, an attorney who represents 29 women who say they were abused by Cosby. In most of those cases the statute of limitations has expired. In the case of Andrea Constand, however, Kevin Steele, the Montgomery County district attorney-elect had until this week to file an arrest warrant, and did so. “The evidence is strong and sufficient to proceed,” he said. Constand, now 42, had met Cosby through her work at Temple University in Philadelphia, his alma mater, and had “what the victim believed to be a sincere friendship”, according to the affidavit filed on Wednesday. Constand said Cosby invited to her his home in January 2004, plied her with three pills and wine and fondled and digitally penetrated her after she became dizzy and nauseous, leaving her “frozen and paralyzed”. When she recovered enough to leave the next day the comedian gave her a muffin and said simply: “Alright?” Constand was not all right. She returned to her native Canada, suffered nightmares and filed a civil suit in 2005. In a deposition for the lawsuit Cosby admitted giving her pills – saying they were the allergy medication Benadryl – but insisted the sexual encounter was consensual. He also admitted obtaining quaaludes for other women he wanted to have sex with. Constand’s lawyer, Dolores Troiani, said her client was a “very strong lady” who wished to help prosecutors. “She’ll do whatever they request of her.” Monique Pressley, one of Cosby’s lawyers, said in a statement that the TV star’s legal team would fight the charges. “Make no mistake, we intend to mount a vigorous defense against this unjustified charge and we expect that Mr Cosby will be exonerated by a court of law.” The 2005 lawsuit did not dent Cosby’s saintly public image. Nor did other sex abuse allegations that surfaced over the following decade. The press largely ignored it, David Carr, the New York Times’s late media commentator, confessed last year. “No one wanted to disturb the Natural Order of Things, which was that Mr Cosby was beloved; that he was as generous and paternal as his public image; and that his approach to life and work represented a bracing corrective to the coarse, self-defeating urban black ethos.” Carr lambasted himself for doing a softball interview with Cosby for an in-flight magazine, as well as Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kelefa Sanneh, who also elided the evidence in profiles in the Atlantic and the New Yorker, and Whitaker, for the gushing biography. Cosby remained enshrined not only as a national treasure but as a quasi-cultural force who laid claim to reshaping America’s racial views and helping to elect Obama in 2008. Karl Rove agreed about the Cosby Show’s impact, saying: “It was America’s family.” By 2014, the actor was poised to revive his career with a standup comedy special on Netflix, for his 77th birthday, and a mooted NBC project that would restore him to prime time. It all started to change in October of that year after Buress used a stand-up act in Philadelphia, Cosby’s home town, to contrast his public persona and private behaviour. Cosby talked down to black people and exhorted them to pull their pants up, said Buress. “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches.” Philadelphia magazine, which had reported the allegations in depth, ran a clip of Buress’s show, which went viral. Cosby’s public relations team tried to smother it by asking his Twitter followers to make affectionate memes, a blunder which only fuelled the fire when people posted things like: “It’s not rape if you’re famous”, “Had a drugged up sista about a week ago” and, “My two favourite things: jello pudding & rape.” The genie had escaped the bottle. More and more women came forward with stories of abuse spanning decades. Allred, the attorney, hosted many at tearful press conferences in her Beverly Hills office. Cosby and his lawyers hit back, denying the accusations and in some cases filing countersuits, accusing the accusers of defamation. His wife, Camille, defended him: “The man I met, and fell in love with, and whom I continue to love, is the man you all knew through his work ... He is the man you thought you knew.” But the tide had turned. Universities, Disney World and other institutions withdrew honours and sought to distance themselves. Whitaker issued a mea culpa for his biography. Cosby’s stand-up tour was cancelled. His reputation destroyed, for a while this year it seemed the statute of limitations would shelter Cosby from criminal prosecution. On Wednesday, inside a white-walled, 32-seat courtroom, his luck ran out. The man once known as America’s dad must return on 14 January. The cast from the first season of The Cosby Show: (clockwise from top left) Tempestt Bledsoe as Vanessa Huxtable, Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Theodore ‘Theo’ Huxtable, Lisa Bonet as Denise Huxtable, Phylicia Rashad as Clair Hanks Huxtable, Keshia Knight Pulliam as Rudy Huxtable, and (centre) Bill Cosby as Dr Heathcliff ‘Cliff’ Huxtable. Photograph: NBC/NBC via Getty Images http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/31/bill-cosby-tide-turned-against-americas-dad Umbertino's note: I recall that in "I Spy" ( which I used to watch as a child / boy) he'd never get the woman at the end of the story ( unlike Robert Culp who always did)......
  25. Although the day when every household has its own robot is some way off, the Japanese are demonstrating a formidable acceptance of humanoids Justin McCurry in Osaka Thursday 31 December 2015 08.48 GMT Erica enjoys the theatre and animated films, would like to visit south-east Asia, and believes her ideal partner is a man with whom she can chat easily. She is less forthcoming, however, when asked her age. “That’s a slightly rude question … I’d rather not say,” comes the answer. As her embarrassed questioner shifts sideways and struggles to put the conversation on a friendlier footing, Erica turns her head, her eyes following his every move. It is all rather disconcerting, but if Japan’s new generation of intelligent robots are ever going to rival humans as conversation partners, perhaps that is as it should be. Erica, who, it turns out, is 23, is the most advanced humanoid to have come out of a collaborative effort between Osaka and Kyoto universities, and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR). At its heart is the group’s leader, Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, perhaps best known for creating Geminoid HI-1, an android in his likeness, right down to his trademark black leather jacket and a Beatles mop-top made with his own hair. Erica, however, looks and sounds far more realistic than Ishiguro’s silicone doppelganger, or his previous human-like robot, Geminoid F. Though she is unable to walk independently, she possesses improved speech and an ability to understand and respond to questions, her every utterance accompanied by uncannily humanlike changes in her facial expression. Erica, Ishiguro insists, is the “most beautiful and intelligent” android in the world. “The principle of beauty is captured in the average face, so I used images of 30 beautiful women, mixed up their features and used the average for each to design the nose, eyes, and so on,” he says, pacing up and down his office at ATR’s robotics laboratory. “That means she should appeal to everyone.” She is a more advanced version of Geminoid F, another Ishiguro creation which this year appeared in Sayonara, director Koji Fukada’s cinematic adaptation of a stage production of the same name. The movie, set in rural Japan in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, made Geminoid F the world’s first humanoid film actor, co-starring opposite Bryerly Long. While robots in films are almost as old as cinema itself, Erica did not rely on human actors – think C-3PO – or the motion-capture technology behind, for example, Sonny from I, Robot. Although the day when every household has its own Erica is some way off, the Japanese have demonstrated a formidable acceptance of robots in their everyday lives over the past year. From April, two branches of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group started employing androids to deal with customer enquiries. Pepper, a humanoid home robot, went on sale to individual consumers in June, with each shipment selling out in under a minute. This year also saw the return to Earth of Kirobo, a companion robot, from a stay on the International Space Station, during which it became the first robot to hold a conversation with a human in space. And this summer, a hotel staffed almost entirely by robots – including the receptionists, concierges and cloakroom staff – opened at the Huis Ten Bosch theme park near Nagasaki, albeit with human colleagues on hand to deal with any teething problems. But increasing daily interaction with robots has also thrown up ethical questions that have yet to be satisfactorily answered. SoftBank, the company behind Pepper, saw fit to include a clause in its user agreement stating that owners must not perform sexual acts or engage in “other indecent behaviour” with the android. Ishiguro believes warnings of a dystopian future in which robots are exploited – or themselves become the abusers – are premature. “I don’t think there’s an ethical problem,” he says. “First we have to accept that robots are a part of our society and then develop a market for them. If we don’t manage to do that, then there will be no point in having a conversation about ethics.” Nomura Research Institute offered a glimpse into the future with a recent report in which it predicted that nearly half of all jobs in Japan could be performed by robots by 2035. “I think Nomura is on to something,” says Ishiguro. “The Japanese population is expected to fall dramatically over the coming decades, yet people will still expect to enjoy the same standard of living.” That, he believes, is where robots can step in. In Erica, he senses an opportunity to challenge the common perception of robots as irrevocably alien. As a two-week experiment with at an Osaka department store suggested, people may soon come to trust them more than they do human beings. “Robots are a mirror for better understanding ourselves,” he says. “We see humanlike qualities in robots and start to think about the true nature of the human heart, about desire, consciousness and intention.” Coming face to face with Erica can be disconcerting. Her ability to express a range of emotions via dozens of pneumatic actuators embedded beneath her silicone skin – left this human momentarily lost for words when invited by Ishiguro to strike up a conversation in her native Japanese. For the time being, a flawless chat with Erica must revolve around a certain number of subjects, yet experts believe that free-flowing verbal exchanges could be only a few years away. For that to happen, developers will have to imbue robots with a more humanlike presence – what the Japanese call sonzaikan – rather than settle for the human, but not quite, qualities that can put people on edge in the presence of a moving, talking android. By Ishiguro’s reckoning, the more they resemble humans – from their physical appearance to their capacity for natural conversation – the easier it will be for us to overcome our phobias, exploited to dramatic effect by countless sci-fi movies. “They will have to be able to guess a human’s intentions and desires, then refer to an internal system in order to partly or wholly match those intentions and desires in their response,” he says. He pauses, before asking how that could alter the dynamics of the robot-human relationship. It is a rhetorical question: “It means,” he says, “that one day, humans and robots will be able to love each other.” 1 4 Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor at Osaka University’s Intelligent Robotics Laboratory, with Erica, his latest humanoid robot. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian 2 4 Geminoid HI-1 - a humanoid made in Ishiguro’s likeness - and Geminoid F, the world’s first humanoid actor. Photograph: Justin McCurry for the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/dec/31/erica-the-most-beautiful-and-intelligent-android-ever-leads-japans-robot-revolution
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