MintPress News http://www.mintpressnews.com Independent, non-partisan journalism Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:37:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Independent, non-partisan journalism Mint Press News clean Mint Press News mmuhawesh@mintpressnews.com mmuhawesh@mintpressnews.com (Mint Press News) All Rights Reserved Independent, non-partisan journalism MintPress News http://www.mintpressnews.com/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/MintPressLogo_iTUNES.jpg http://www.mintpressnews.com KKK Forms Neighborhood Watch To Complement Police In Pennsylvania Town http://www.mintpressnews.com/kkk-forms-neighborhood-watch-to-complement-police-in-pennsylvania-town-2/189490/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kkk-forms-neighborhood-watch-to-complement-police-in-pennsylvania-town-2 http://www.mintpressnews.com/kkk-forms-neighborhood-watch-to-complement-police-in-pennsylvania-town-2/189490/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 14:20:19 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189490 To draw attention to the KKK’s efforts, members have passed out fliers to promote the new endeavor. For instance, one flier assures Fairview Township residents that they can sleep soundly knowing that the KKK is wide awake. Continue reading

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KLAN RALLY

Members of the World Order of the Ku Klux Klan (AP/Bradley C Bower)

After a string of local break ins, a Pennsylvania chapter of one of America’s largest hate groups is taking matters into its own hands. On Monday, the Ku Klux Klan established a neighborhood watch to monitor criminal activity in Fairview Township, Pennsylvania.

According to the imperial wizard, Frank Ancona, the task force was developed to complement existing police efforts — and people in the town have purportedly called on the KKK to do what local authorities aren’t. In the past two months, there have been more than nine alleged vehicle break ins, including a few at a local FedEx. A burglar also attempted to steal from a home in the area.

“It’s just like any neighborhood watch program. It’s not targeting any specific ethnicity. We would report anything we see to law enforcement,” Ancona told PennLive. “We don’t hate people. We are an organization who looks out for our race. We believe in racial separation. God created each species after its kind and saw that it was good.”

To draw attention to the KKK’s efforts, members have passed out fliers to promote the new endeavor. For instance, one flier assures Fairview Township residents that they can sleep soundly knowing that the KKK is wide awake.

But residents of this town could be facing much greater danger than a few break-ins. George Zimmerman said he was acting as a self-appointed neighborhood watch coordinator when he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, claiming he believed Martin to be armed and dangerous. And Pennsylvania, like Florida, even has a Stand Your Ground law that may provide criminal immunity for the same sort of violence perpetrated by Zimmerman.

Pennsylvania’s law stipulates that individuals “have no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his ground and use force, including deadly force if . . . (he) believes it is immediately necessary to do so to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping, or sexual intercourse by force or threat.”

An Urban Institute study revealed that white-on-black crimes are 354 percent more likely to be justified than white-on-white crimes, in states with similar policies.

This article was originally written for and  published by the Center for American Progress.

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Analysis: America’s Middle Class Falters As Nation’s Richest Rise http://www.mintpressnews.com/analysis-americas-middle-class-falters-nations-richest-rise/189486/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-americas-middle-class-falters-nations-richest-rise http://www.mintpressnews.com/analysis-americas-middle-class-falters-nations-richest-rise/189486/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:58:20 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189486 Report shows low and middle income earners falling behind comparable countries. Continue reading

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Wall st.

(Photo via Flickr/jpellgen/Creative Commons license)

The income inequality gap between the wealthy and those considered to be lower- and middle class is skyrocketing in the U.S. compared to other countries historically known to be less affluent, according to a new analysis published Tuesday.

The findings are based on a joint analysis conducted by the New York Times and researchers at the Luxembourg Income Study Database which looked at 35 years of data collected by the Europe-based research institute.  According to the reporting, posted on the Times new website The Upshot, U.S. financial growth is surpassing those of other wealthy nations but the financial gains of that growth is being enjoyed mostly by the top tier of wealthiest Americans while working class and less affluent people get left further and further behind.

Growth in lower- and middle-income tiers in the U.S. is quickly falling behind other economically “advanced” countries, as average residents in comparable countries have received “considerably larger raises over the last three decades.”

The Upshot reports:

The struggles of the poor in the United States are even starker than those of the middle class. A family at the 20th percentile of the income distribution in this country makes significantly less money than a similar family in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Finland or the Netherlands. Thirty-five years ago, the reverse was true. [...]

The findings are striking because the most commonly cited economic statistics — such as per capita gross domestic product — continue to show that the United States has maintained its lead as the world’s richest large country. But those numbers are averages, which do not capture the distribution of income. With a big share of recent income gains in this country flowing to a relatively small slice of high-earning households, most Americans are not keeping pace with their counterparts around the world.

Among the reasons listed for this growing disparity, the research found that the number of people who are able to get an education in the U.S. has quickly fallen behind other “industrialized” countries over the last 30 years. As a result, less and less people have found work in well-paying positions.

Further, disparities in wages have grown wider in the U.S. compared to other countries. As U.S. companies are awarding bigger pay checks for top executives, the minimum wage has remained remarkably low and labor unions have been weakened.

The final reason given is that, compared to other countries, wealthy U.S. citizens pay far less taxes, while the U.S. “does not redistribute as much income to the poor as other countries do,” the report states. “As a result, inequality in disposable income is sharply higher in the United States than elsewhere.”

Similarly, a recent report by the AFL-CIO found that the average CEO in the United States made 331 times more money than the average worker in 2013 and 774 more than minimum wage workers.

The average U.S. CEO made $11.7 million in 2013 while the average U.S. worker earned $35,293.

Likewise, as Bill Moyers and Michael Winship point out in an op-ed published Tuesday, “The evidence of income inequality just keeps mounting.”

According to recent report by Oxfam, they note, the wealthiest one percent have held 95 percent of economic growth since 2009, the years following economic crash.

Connecting this growing disparity to problems within Washington, Moyers and Winship write:

Recently, researchers at Connecticut’s Trinity College ploughed through the data and concluded that the US Senate is responsive to the policy preferences of the rich, ignoring the poor. And now there’s that big study coming out in the fall from scholars at Princeton and Northwestern universities, based on data collected between 1981 and 2002. Their conclusion: “America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threatened… The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Instead, policy tends “to tilt towards the wishes of corporations and business and professional associations.”

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Judge Orders Disclosure Of CIA Torture At “Black Sites” http://www.mintpressnews.com/judge-orders-disclosure-cia-torture-black-sites/189484/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=judge-orders-disclosure-cia-torture-black-sites http://www.mintpressnews.com/judge-orders-disclosure-cia-torture-black-sites/189484/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:53:59 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189484 Defense for Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri argues harsh interrogation measures have 'tainted' case against Guantanamo detainee. Continue reading

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A watch tower overlooks the area near the Polish intelligence school just outside of Stare Kiejkuty, Poland, on Friday, Dec. 16, 2005. The installation has become the focal point of allegations of secret CIA prisons in Poland. The United States has denied access of information concerning extraordinary rendition to UK MPs. ( AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

A watch tower overlooks the area near the Polish intelligence school just outside of Stare Kiejkuty, Poland, on Friday, Dec. 16, 2005. The installation has become the focal point of allegations of secret CIA prisons in Poland. The United States has denied access of information concerning extraordinary rendition to UK MPs. ( AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

A military judge has ordered the disclosure of never-revealed information detailing the experience at secret CIA “black sites.”

The defense team for Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri argued during pretrial motions at the Cuban prison that the Guantanamo detainee’s time spent in secret CIA prisons—during which he was waterboarded and threatened with a gun and a power drill—has “tainted” his testimony, and thus the case against him.

The Saudi Arabian has been held at the U.S. military prison since 2006 after being held in a series of secret CIA prisons. He is being accused of orchestrating the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen.

The order by Army Col. James Pohl was released on Tuesday though Carol Rosenberg at the Miami Herald reported on the order last week, ahead of its official release.

Rosenberg reported:

The judge’s order instructs prosecutors to provide nine categories of closely guarded classified CIA information to the lawyers — including the names of agents, interrogators and medical personnel who worked at the so-called black sites. The order covers “locations, personnel and communications,” interrogation notes and cables between the black sites and headquarters that sought and approved so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, the two sources said.

It does not, however, order the government to turn over Office of Legal Counsel memos that both blessed and defined the so-called Torture Program that sent CIA captives to secret interrogations across the world after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — out of reach of International Committee of the Red Cross delegates.

The Saudi Arabian has been held at the U.S. military prison since 2006 after being held in a series of secret CIA prisons. He is being accused of orchestrating the Oct. 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden in Yemen.

Little information about what happened in the CIA black sites has ever been confirmed by the government, the Associated Press notes, and the order by Pohl still “does not make any details available to the public,” as all parties have been explicitly required to follow a protective order barring release of classified information.

The rules for military commissions bars prosecutors from using any evidence or testimony obtained by coercion or torture. Al-Nashiri’s defense makes the case that “all information from al-Nashiri is tainted by the harsh treatment he endured at the hands of the CIA,” and that by disclosing the details of his detention, he may be spared from the death penalty.

The Pohl ruling “represents a chink in the armor of secrecy that the U.S. government erected around its torture program,” said Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch, following last week’s leak.

Along with the partial declassification of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture methods, Prasow adds that “it is only a matter of time before the public will learn the horrific details of officially sanctioned torture, and the pattern of lies designed not only to allow torture to continue, but to immunize torturers from prosecution.”

Al-Nashiri’s trial is scheduled for December.

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Does Climate Apathy Hinge On ‘Pervasive’ American Stupidity? http://www.mintpressnews.com/climate-apathy-hinge-pervasive-american-stupidity/189479/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-apathy-hinge-pervasive-american-stupidity http://www.mintpressnews.com/climate-apathy-hinge-pervasive-american-stupidity/189479/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:47:50 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189479 New survey highlights connection between political and religious affiliations and scientific beliefs Continue reading

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ISS

A view of Earth from the International Space Station. (Photo: NASA)

Despite near-consensus by the scientific community that processes of global warming and natural selection are real, Americans continue to be skeptical, according to a new poll released Monday.

Following its publication, Nobel Prize winning scientists said that the research highlights the “force” of those politicians and special interest groups working to thwart scientific truths.

More than half of respondents to the Associated Press-GfK poll (pdf) said they were “not at all confident” that the universe began with the Big Bang. Further, 42 percent said they were skeptical that “Life on Earth, including human beings, evolved through a process of natural selection.”

When asked to rate their confidence in the statement, “The average temperature of the world is rising, mostly because of man-made heat-trapping greenhouse gases,” 37 percent responded “Not too/ not at all,” compared with 28 percent saying “Somewhat,” and 33 percent identifying as “Extremely/ very confident.”

2013 Nobel Prize in medicine winner Randy Schekman of the University of California, Berkeley lamented to the Associated Press that the results reveal how “Science ignorance is pervasive in our society.”

The poll highlights how one’s religious beliefs and political affiliation are closely tied to their views on science. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to express confidence on such scientific facts as evolution, the Big Bang and climate change. And, according to the AP reporting on the poll, confidence in those concepts also declines “sharply” as “faith in a supreme being rises.”

Schekman added that these viewpoints are only “reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.” Robert Lefkowitz, 2012 Nobel Prize winning Duke University biochemistry professor, credited the “force of concerted campaigns to discredit scientific fact,” citing political, business and relgious interest groups for their attacks on scientific truths such as climate change and evolution.

The poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 and surveyed 1,012 adults selected to be representative of the U.S. population.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

This article first appeared on Common Dreams.

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California Bill Reignites Affirmative Action Fight http://www.mintpressnews.com/california-bill-reignites-affirmative-action-fight/189476/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=california-bill-reignites-affirmative-action-fight http://www.mintpressnews.com/california-bill-reignites-affirmative-action-fight/189476/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:43:18 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189476 SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Nearly 20 years after California became the first state to ban the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions, a proposal to reinstate affirmative action has sparked a backlash that is forging a new divide in … Continue reading

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Darrell Steinberg, Ed Hernandez

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, left, talks with Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Covina at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 21, 2014. Hernandez proposed a constitutional amendment that would ask voters to again allow public colleges to use race and ethnicity when considering college applicants. (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Nearly 20 years after California became the first state to ban the use of race and ethnicity in college admissions, a proposal to reinstate affirmative action has sparked a backlash that is forging a new divide in the state’s powerful Democratic Party and creating opportunity for conservatives.

The debate is unfolding in the nation’s most populous and most ethnically diverse state as an unrelated U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholds voters’ rights to decide whether racial considerations should factor into university selections.

The California proposal would allow voters to rescind their state’s affirmative action ban, but unexpected pushback from families of Asian descent who mobilized through Chinese-language media, staged rallies and organized letter-writing campaigns has all but killed the measure.

“I was surprised,” said Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-Covina, the author of the bill. “I didn’t expect it.”

Asian-American students are enrolled at many of California’s top schools in numbers far greater than their proportion of the state’s population. Critics of Hernandez’s plan expressed concern that qualified students would be dismissed simply because of their ethnicity.

The ensuing debate has reopened an old fissure over the role of race in college admissions, divided Democrats along racial lines and created an opportunity for the California GOP.

California voters were the first in the nation to ban the use of affirmative action in university admissions in 1996. Hernandez has tried recently to undo that action, saying it harms black and Latino students. His proposal, SCA5, was his fourth attempt.

A similar voter-approved ban in Michigan was upheld by the nation’s highest court Tuesday, but that ruling is not expected to change the discussion in California, where the prohibition is likely to remain in place independent of the court decision.

Hernandez’s proposal sailed through the state Senate in January on a Democratic Party-line vote. Legislative leaders, however, pulled the bill before it could be debated in the Assembly after the harsh reaction.

The controversy highlights the complexity of racial politics in California, where the public school system has struggled for decades to improve achievement. Critics of the affirmative action ban say it’s part of a school system that fails black and Latino students.

Blacks and Latinos are more likely to attend the state’s lowest-performing schools than their white or Asian counterparts, affecting their ability to be accepted into four-year universities, where they are underrepresented.

Rather than debate Hernandez’s full proposal, lawmakers now plan to hold hearings about affirmative action and other aspects of campus equality.

The state’s governing party has split along racial lines. Three Asian-American senators, all Democrats who were seeking higher office at the time, withdrew their support of the bill after being bombarded by public criticism.

Six black and Latino lawmakers have since withdrawn their endorsements of Sen. Ted Lieu, who is Chinese-American, in a Los Angeles-area congressional race where he faces another Democrat in the primary. And some black and Latino Assembly members this month withheld votes from unrelated legislation about the state’s carpool program by Assemblyman Al Muratsutchi, D-Torrance, who is Japanese-American.

The Senate’s Democratic leader, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, acknowledged the animosity. He said in a statement that he wanted “a serious and sober examination” of affirmative action, adding “I am deeply concerned anytime one ethnic group turns on another.”

In recent statistics, the University of California system said 36 percent of its in-state freshman admissions offers for fall 2014 are to Asian-American students, 29 percent are for Latino students, 27 percent are for white students and 4 percent of offers are to black students.

At some campuses, including UC-San Diego and UC-Irvine, Asian-American students accounted for more than 45 percent of admitted freshmen last year.

Hispanics have slightly overtaken whites as the largest ethnic group in California, although both groups represent about 39 percent of the population. Asian-Americans — a population that includes Filipinos, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Vietnamese, Laotians and others — comprise about 13 percent. Blacks are less than 6 percent.

Hernandez said nothing in his proposal would impose quotas based on ethnicity, which have been ruled unconstitutional. He said race, ethnicity and gender would be added to a list of factors college admissions officers already consider, such as extracurricular activities and family income.

“Rather than create a wedge, my idea is to have a real public debate about this,” he said. “What’s wrong with talking about race?”

The uproar has created a potential inroad for California’s minority party.

Republicans have struggled to attract younger and non-white voters since the mid-90s, when Republican Gov. Pete Wilson supported a proposal that banned immigrants in the country illegally from access to most social services, Proposition 187 in 1994, and the constitutional amendment that prohibited the use of racial considerations in education, state hiring and contracting, Proposition 209 in 1996. Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Washington subsequently adopted similar bans.

Seeking to capitalize politically, Republicans are now targeting upwardly mobile Asian-Americans angered by the proposal. Peter Kuo, a Republican candidate for state Senate, has been outspoken on the issue during his campaign for an eastern San Francisco Bay Area district that is 40 percent Asian-American.

“The Democratic Party is the party using the name of equality and diversity to lower the standard and preventing us from going into higher education, instead of using merit, which is the way we thought it was going to be,” said Kuo, who came with his family from Taiwan when he was 14.

“I can’t go and tell my kids, ‘Hey, because you’re Asian you can’t get into the school you want,’” he said. “The American dream is really built on hard work, education and equality.”

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Soldier Faces Hearing In Killings Of Iraqi Boys http://www.mintpressnews.com/soldier-faces-hearing-killings-iraqi-boys/189474/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=soldier-faces-hearing-killings-iraqi-boys http://www.mintpressnews.com/soldier-faces-hearing-killings-iraqi-boys/189474/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:39:06 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189474 JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — A U.S. soldier accused of deliberately killing two unarmed teenage boys as they herded cattle in Iraq seven years ago is due in military court. Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera has been charged with premeditated murder … Continue reading

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In this handout photo released by the U.S. military, Iraqi Army Soldiers of 4th Iraqi Army Division exit a U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter in support of Operation Swarmer in Samarra, Iraq,in this file photo from March 16, 2006. (AP Photo/ U.S. Army, Sgt. 1st Class Antony Joseph,File)

U.S. soldiers exit a U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter in support of Operation Swarmer in Samarra, Iraq (AP Photo/ U.S. Army, Sgt. 1st Class Antony Joseph)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — A U.S. soldier accused of deliberately killing two unarmed teenage boys as they herded cattle in Iraq seven years ago is due in military court.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Barbera has been charged with premeditated murder and faces a mandatory life sentence if convicted. He is set for a preliminary hearing Wednesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

The Army has released few details about the allegations against him. The March 2007 killings were documented in a 2012 investigation by Pittsburgh newspaper The Tribune-Review, which said soldiers who served with Barbera had reported the slayings and remained troubled that he hadn’t been prosecuted.

It isn’t clear if Barbera has a civilian lawyer in addition to military defense attorneys. Barbera was most recently stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.

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Analysis: Weak US Hand In Ukraine Confrontation http://www.mintpressnews.com/analysis-weak-us-hand-in-ukraine-confrontation/189471/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=analysis-weak-us-hand-in-ukraine-confrontation http://www.mintpressnews.com/analysis-weak-us-hand-in-ukraine-confrontation/189471/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:33:40 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189471 Nearly a quarter century after the Cold War ended, the crisis in Ukraine symbolizes the weak foreign policy hand the United States often finds itself playing despite its status as the only global superpower. Continue reading

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John Kerry, Sergey Lavrov

Secretary of State John Kerry, left, talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the start of a bilateral meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Ukraine in Geneva. (AP/Jim Bourg)

WASHINGTON — Nearly a quarter century after the Cold War ended, the crisis in Ukraine symbolizes the weak foreign policy hand the United States often finds itself playing despite its status as the only global superpower.

With a military confrontation with Russia off the table and European allies hesitant to join Washington in more robust economic and financial sanctions against Moscow, President Barack Obama’s administration has few tools that would modify Kremlin behavior in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian militias have made no move to vacate government buildings they seized near the Russian border. Russia, meanwhile, has rejected charges that it is fueling the unrest.

The situation only grew tenser Monday when Ukraine’s acting president ordered security forces to resume operations in the country’s east, and the Defense Ministry said gunfire hit an observation plane over the city of Slovyansk.

Vice President Joe Biden has made a quick trip to show support to the beleaguered interim government in Kiev, carrying a package of financial and non-lethal military aide. Secretary of State John Kerry last week in Geneva negotiated a deal with Russia, Ukraine and the European Union that was designed to ease tensions.

“The Russians don’t fully accept the legitimacy of this transition government,” in Kiev, said R. Nicholas Burns, a Harvard University professor and formerly undersecretary of state and U.S. ambassador to NATO. “I think one reason the U.S. and Europe are at the table (in Geneva) is that they think that by agreeing to these quadripartite negotiations that the Russians will be de facto conferring legitimacy on the Ukrainians. That’s a good goal to have, but you have to be careful that we don’t get out-played by the Russians.”

So far, pro-Russian militias have not laid down their arms or relinquished government buildings, despite the Geneva accord calling for them to do so. Moscow, meanwhile, is demanding as well that the pro-western interim government in Kiev order the dismantling of the protest infrastructure in the capital’s main Square, the Maidan. The gathering place was the scene of months of demonstrations that eventually led former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia and prompted Moscow to send forces into the strategic Crimean Peninsula, where the population quickly voted to join Russia.

Now, Obama is under bipartisan pressure to increase sanctions on Russian banks and its massive oil and gas industry. The Europeans are reluctant because they rely on Russian natural gas for 30 percent of supplies. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already warned about a shutdown of supplies that run to the West in pipelines that first serve Ukraine. Hence, European Union reluctance for stronger sanctions.

The Geneva agreement required all sides to refrain from violence, intimidation or provocative actions. It calls for the disarming of all illegally armed groups and gives amnesty to protesters who comply with the demands, except those found guilty of committing capital crimes.

But there was no real way to enforce the deal. Putin denies he’s playing the puppet master over the separatists, and the central Ukrainian government doesn’t have the wherewithal to do the job. That’s the big hole in the deal.

“The problem is the Ukrainian military is not strong enough to maintain law and order in its own country. The Russians are creating and fabricating a crisis to showcase that,” Burns said.

For now, it looks very much like Putin is holding the better hand. Obama says the Russians will soon be feeling the economic pain as Washington and Europe tighten the sanctions screws. So far, however, Putin seems willing to accept that pain as part of the price for what some observers believe is his long-term goal of reconstituting as much of the old Soviet Union as he can.

Obama was prescient when, on the day the quadripartite deal was struck last week, he expressed doubt the Russia would live up to expectations.

“My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days,” Obama said. “But I don’t think given past performance that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.”

 

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UN Heads Say Syria Aid Needs ‘Largely Unanswered’ http://www.mintpressnews.com/un-heads-say-syria-aid-needs-largely-unanswered/189468/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-heads-say-syria-aid-needs-largely-unanswered http://www.mintpressnews.com/un-heads-say-syria-aid-needs-largely-unanswered/189468/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:18:47 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189468 GENEVA — The directors of five United Nations agencies that provide humanitarian aid to Syria say their appeal for $6.5 billion in emergency funding for 2014 has been mostly ignored. With only $1.2 billion pledged, the agency heads are renewing … Continue reading

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Mideast Lebanon Syria

Lebanese and Syrian citizens gather to receive aid supplies, at the main square of Tfail village at the Lebanese-Syrian border, eastern Lebanon, Tuesday April 22, 2014. (AP/Hussein Malla)

GENEVA — The directors of five United Nations agencies that provide humanitarian aid to Syria say their appeal for $6.5 billion in emergency funding for 2014 has been mostly ignored.

With only $1.2 billion pledged, the agency heads are renewing their December appeal and emphasizing that the humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day as the 3-year-old civil war escalates in many areas.

The December appeal “has gone largely unanswered” for a crisis affecting 9.3 million people, said a joint statement Wednesday by U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, UNICEF director Anthony Lake, U.N. refugee commissioner António Guterres, World Food Program director Ertharin Cousin and World Health Organization director Dr. Margaret Chan.

They say “the worst days seem yet to come” for civilians remaining in Aleppo, Homs, and other areas with heavy fighting.

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The Next Hotbed For Medical Marijuana Research http://www.mintpressnews.com/next-hotbed-medical-marijuana-research/189463/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=next-hotbed-medical-marijuana-research http://www.mintpressnews.com/next-hotbed-medical-marijuana-research/189463/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:49:14 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189463 Researching medicinal weed in the US is a pain in the butt. Cue Uruguay. Continue reading

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Uruguay Marijuana

Marcelo Vazquez, a marijuana grower, checks the leaves of his marijuana plants for fungus, on the outskirts of Montevideo, Uruguay. (AP/Matilde Campodonico)

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay — It ain’t easy to study the positive effects of pot in the United States.

First, there’s the legality issue. While medicinal marijuana is now legal in more than 20 states, the federal government still considers pot illegal, which means scientists can’t just give it to volunteers and measure whether it makes them feel better.

There’s also the problem of supply: Right now, the only legal way to study pot is to apply for a supply of it from the one official grower of federally sanctioned cannabis, at the University of Mississippi (experts say the weed is dry, harsh and awful). Then you’ve got to get your study sanctioned by a host of federal agencies.

Put simply, studying medicinal marijuana’s positive effects in the United States is a pain in the butt.

Cue Uruguay.

Not only has this small Latin American country just become the first nation on Earth to legalize the cultivation, sale and use of marijuana, but its leaders recently declared that they’re ready to go a step further: They want Uruguay to become a hotbed for research into medicinal marijuana. And, far from making things difficult, the government is actively encouraging scientists.

“The first step in convincing others is to be convinced yourself. You have to believe in something profoundly,” Diego Canepa, the president of Uruguay’s National Drugs Council, told a conference on medicinal marijuana here earlier this month. Canepa said the government wants to see the data on medicinal pot, and urged scientists here and abroad to bring Uruguay’s leaders results.

That’s got the international community of pot scientists all giddy.

Researchers from across the globe who attended the conference were buzzing about the possibility of studying weed in a country largely free of the regulatory boundaries that exist elsewhere, where supplies of weed for research will be abundant and cheap and where their results will be welcomed.

“There’s a lot of researchers, myself included, and others from this conference, that our minds are just spinning with possibilities of the kind of research that can be done,” said Amanda Reiman, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley and a policy manager for the pro-legalization organization the Drug Policy Alliance.

“Research done in Uruguay that’s scientific and that ideally gets published in a scientific journal would have a big impact on the state level,” said Rick Doblin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.

There are significant limits to what can be accomplished in Uruguay, however.

Raquel Peyraube, a Montevideo doctor who’s been researching marijuana for decades, cautioned that scientists here largely lack the resources to conduct the sorts of trials that would carry international weight.

While there’s no shortage of enthusiasm, Peyraube said she hopes to see international research organizations and well-respected scientists in the field bring resources to Uruguay to help get big studies off the ground.

And, as far as convincing the US federal government of the medicinal benefits of pot, any studies here would likely be a non-starter, said Rick Doblin, president and founder of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, a research organization that has sponsored US-based research into weed.

Doblin said the federal government, like much of Europe, requires any “new” drug to run an arduous gauntlet of study and approval. Step one in convincing the feds is to conduct studies using cannabis that’s been certified as “medical grade” by the Food and Drug Administration, Doblin said. Besides that supplier in Mississippi, no other company or grower in the world has yet done that, and passing this first hurdle could take years and cost millions of dollars, he said.

In the coming years, Uruguay’s growers could start competing for FDA approval with companies in other weed-friendly countries like Canada and Israel.

Studies conducted in Uruguay would be more useful in influencing the debate at the state level in the US, Doblin said. While the federal government might shun drug research that hasn’t been channeled through its official pipeline, state lawmakers might well take into account studies done in this South American country when defining their policies on pot use.

In Colorado, for example, lawmakers have recently been discussing whether to add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that are legally treatable using medicinal marijuana, Doblin said. The move is being opposed by a group of psychologists who argue there’s no evidence that pot helps sufferers of PTSD.

A well-regimented study out of Uruguay could greatly influence that discussion and others like it around the country, he said.

“Research done in Uruguay that’s scientific and that ideally gets published in a scientific journal would have a big impact on the state level for states that were thinking of expanding the medical use of marijuana to conditions where they claim there’s no research,” Doblin said.

Peyraube, the Montevideo doctor and researcher, said offers are already coming in from scientists around the world.

She’s currently planning two studies on medicinal pot, Peyraube said, one with US-based researchers and one with scientists from Spain.

What’s changed in Uruguay goes further than an acceptance of these sorts of studies, Peyraube said. After decades of aversion to her research into pot, it seems the entire nation has begun to shift its attitude vis-à-vis the root cause of drug problems in society.

“The politicians here need research to support the [new marijuana] law and we who agree with the change of policy want to contribute to that,” she said. “We want to be helpful. We want this law to work.”

This article was published by Global Post.

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Chasing The Truth In Pakistan Is Risky Business http://www.mintpressnews.com/chasing-truth-pakistan-risky-business/189460/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chasing-truth-pakistan-risky-business http://www.mintpressnews.com/chasing-truth-pakistan-risky-business/189460/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 12:31:27 +0000 http://www.mintpressnews.com/?p=189460 Who is behind the violent and sometimes fatal attacks on the media in Pakistan?
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Pakistan

Pakistani journalists protest for their colleague Hamid Mir, who was shot and injured by gunmen in Karachi on Saturday, Monday, April 21, 2014 in Karachi, Pakistan. (AP/Shakil Adil)

KARACHI, Pakistan — In an example of what is increasingly becoming the new normal for people working in media in Pakistan, a popular television presenter and commentator was seriously wounded in an attack by armed gunmen on Saturday.

Based in Islamabad, Hamid Mir works for Geo TV, a private television network, and is known for being the first journalist to interview Osama bin Laden after 9/11. Mir had been traveling from the airport in Karachi to his office at the time of Saturday’s attack.

There has been a surge in attacks on journalists and media personnel in the past year. In the last nine months, Express Media Group — a media organization that includes English- and Urdu-language newspapers and a TV channel — has been targeted six times, leaving four dead.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since 1992, 54 journalists have been killed in Pakistan. The organization is “reasonably certain” these journalists were killed in line of duty.

 

The suspect

The attack on Mir hit a raw nerve because the suspect this time is none other than Pakistan’s powerful spy agency — the Inter-Service Intelligence.

“The ISI chief had worked out my assassination plot,” Amir Mir quoted his older brother, Hamid Mir, as saying on Geo TV.

“It is hard to say who could be behind this,” Zohra Yusuf, chairperson of the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told MintPress News, adding, “Apart from the reasons he himself gave… and prior similar charges made by others.”

Yusuf pointed out that Saleem Shahzad, a reporter for the Hong Kong-based Asia Times Online and Italian news agency Adnkronos International, “had also similar fears before he was killed.” Shahzad’s tortured body was found on May 31, 2011.

“It would be unfair to point fingers without evidence, especially when Hamid Mir has ruffled many feathers,” said Hasan Abdullah, an independent journalist.

Abdullah believes Pakistan is not an easy turf for a journalist, as there are real threats coming from both state and non-state actors. But he dismisses the notion that the Pakistani Taliban, a group that has routinely threatened the media, could be behind Mir’s attack.

“The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has denied involvement and I believe its claim, given the circumstances,” said Abdullah, referring to the ongoing peace talks between the government and the Pakistani Taliban.

“It would target the media once the talks collapse and it would definitely want to cash in on a high-profile media personality,” he continued.

Condemning the incident, the Inter Services Public Relations, an armed forces organization that coordinates military information with the media and civil society, issued a press release in which it was quick to show its displeasure for the ISI having been named as a suspect in Mir’s attack, calling the move “highly regrettable and misleading.”

“If ISI feels it has been attacked and its reputation has been tainted, it should put the record straight. This is not the first time they have been suspected of foul play. It should hold an inquiry instead of getting all worked up,” Umar Cheema, a special correspondent with English daily The News, told MintPress.

The News is also a sister company of the Jang Group, of which Geo TV is an affiliate.

“I met Mir a couple of days back and he jokingly asked if I had received any threats recently,” said Cheema, whose writing has landed him in trouble several times already.

In fact, every time some member of the media points fingers at the ISI, Cheema relives the day of torture he endured at the hands of the intelligence agency on Sept 4, 2010.

Cheema, who is a recipient of Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award for his courageous reporting, said, “Mir told a few of us that day that he had recorded his statement of who he will hold responsible in case an attempt on his life is made.”

 

Commission after commission

The attack on Mir has drawn condemnation from across the political spectrum. At the highest level, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has assembled a three-member judicial commission to investigate the attack. The commission will finalize its investigation in the next three weeks. The government has also announced a reward of 10 million Pakistani rupees ($101,940) for anyone who can provide information about the assailants, an official statement said.

Neither Abdullah nor Cheema has much faith in such commissions, though.

“These commissions do not carry out criminal investigations, they just give directions and recommendations as to the course the investigation should take. And with the way our police investigates a case, this one is a non-starter,” Cheema said.

“In any case, we all know well what happens to someone who tries to get to the bottom of the story — they are eliminated!”

“The culprits will never be apprehended,” he concluded.

Similar commissions were created in the past to probe allegations that intelligence agencies were involved in the murders of tribal journalist Hayatullah Khan and Saleem Shahzad. But nothing came out of these investigations.

According to Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, “The commission’s failure to get to the bottom of the Shahzad killing illustrates the ability of the ISI to remain beyond the reach of Pakistan’s criminal justice system.”

 

Journalists stand divided

Meanwhile, there are more fractures in the journalistic community than ever before. Earlier this month, Kamal Siddiqi, the editor of English daily Express Tribune, a sister outlet of Express News, had written about how poorly the community has done in forging a united front.

“There are splinters within splinters,” he lamented.

With media outlets and journalists jockeying to take a position either for or against the ISI, the real issue has conveniently been swept under the carpet. The government and media owners need to formulate a policy to protect journalists from humiliation, intimidation, torture and even death at the hands of state and non-state players who want to quash all dissenting voices. Until the press is safe, the freedom of the press will dwindle even further.

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