Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Pope Francis Memorabilia Gets Really Cheesy Wednesday August 26th, 2015 at 5:23 PM

Pope Francis Memorabilia Gets Really Cheesy

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Gearing up for Pope Francis’ six-day visit to Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia next month, entrepreneurs are selling all kinds of papal merchandise. Tributes range from blocks of mozzarella to T-shirts to toasters.

Moscow Restricts Sale of Some Western Cleaning Products

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Russia has restricted the sale of some U.S. and European-brand laundry detergents, soaps and cleaning products, citing safety concerns, opening what may be the newest front in Moscow’s response to Western sanctions.

Glut of Chinese Steel Looms Large

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The world’s biggest producers of iron ore have a problem, and it lies in the steel that has already gone into China’s cars, bridges and skyscrapers.

Venezuela's Food Shortages Trigger Looting

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Violent clashes have flared in pockets around the country in recent weeks as citizens wait for hours in long supermarket lines for basics like milk and rice, raising the specter of hunger among some.

Merkel condemns rash of Neo-nazi attacks

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BERLIN – Seeking to counter a rising tide of neo-Nazi rage in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to the eastern city of Heidenau Wednesday to make what critics called a long overdue public statement against a terrifying wave of attacks against asylum seekers.Read full article >>

Hezbollah Weighs In On Lebanon Rubbish Row

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Beirut's rubbish crisis worsens as Hezbollah voices support for protesters, increasing tensions in politically fragile Lebanon.

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Obama on cusp of winning Iran nuclear vote

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Agreement looks set to pass Congress despite opposition

Nazi gold train 'found' in Poland: live 

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'Significant find' confirmed in Poland as speculation builds it could be lost Nazi train carrying gold - follow latest updates

Egypt Turns to Russia to Combat Terrorism - ABC News

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U.S. News & World Report

Egypt Turns to Russia to Combat Terrorism
ABC News
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi on Wednesday called for a coalition to combat terrorism in the Middle East. Opening a meeting with Putin in Moscow, el-Sissi said "the Egyptian people" are hoping for broader ...
Russia plans to increase wheat supplies to Egypt - PutinReuters Africa
Visiting Egyptian president turns to Russia to combat terrorismFox News
Russia to increase wheat supplies to Egypt, says Putineuronews
all 68 news articles »

About 50 Bodies Found in Hull of Migrant Ship off Libya - ABC News

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About 50 Bodies Found in Hull of Migrant Ship off Libya
ABC News
About 50 bodies were found in the hull of a migrant boat that was rescued off Libya's northern coast Wednesday, adding to the more than 2,400 people who have perished at sea this year making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing to Europe. Italy's coast ...
50 bodies found in hull of migrant boatCBS News
Some 50 bodies found in hull of migrant ship off LibyaWashington Post
50 migrants found dead on boat off Libya, Italian coast guard saysChristian Science Monitor
The Guardian
all 105 news articles »

Ancient Lizard Found in Brazil Is Unexpected Missing Link

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The missing link in lizard evolution has been found in Brazil. Paleontologists from the University of Alberta discovered the 80-million-year-old fossil remains of a lizard more closely related to the chameleons and bearded dragons — Old World lizards found in Africa and Asia — than to the 1,700 species of iguanas found in South and Central America. The Old World lizards are acrodontal, meaning their teeth are fused to the top of their jaws. The teeth of New World iguanas — their closest...

Burger King Seeks McDonald's Truce With 'McWhopper' Proposal - Bloomberg

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Burger King Seeks McDonald's Truce With 'McWhopper' Proposal
The proposed sandwich has six ingredients from the Big Mac and six from the Whopper. Source: Alison Brod Public Relations via Bloomberg. Don't Miss Out — Follow Bloomberg On. Facebook · Twitter · Instagram · YouTube. Sign up for email and newsletter ...
CMO Today: Burger King Extends Marketing Olive Branch to McDonald'sWall Street Journal (blog)
Burger King is trying to make the McWhopper 
You want fries with that? Burger king proposes to McDonald'sIrish Times
 The Week Magazine
all 37 
news articles »
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Syrian FSA commander dies in attack in southern Turkey: Dogan news agency

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ANKARA (Reuters) - A commander from the rebel Free Syrian Army died in a bomb attack on his car in the southern Turkish province of Hatay on Wednesday, the privately owned Dogan news agency said.


Some 50 migrants found dead in boat off Libya: Italy coastguard

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ROME (Reuters) - Some 50 migrants were found dead in the hold of a boat off the coast of Libya on Wednesday during a rescue operation which saved 430 other people, the Italian coast guard said.


Gay pride not welcome in Venice, says city mayor

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ROME (Reuters) - The mayor of Venice, who this month had a public row with British rock star Elton John over family values, has said he never wants to see a Gay Pride parade take place in the lagoon city while he is in charge.

New Stalin Monument Attracts Flowers, Vandals

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A new statue of Josef Stalin has been erected in the city of Lipetsk -- the latest example of the gradual rehabilitation of the Soviet leader's legacy in Russia. Some Russians are furious that the crimes of the Stalin era are being whitewashed by current officials, but many others are eager to claim the dictator as a national hero. (RFE/RL's Current Time program)

Pakistanis Protest Power Rate Hikes

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There was outrage on the streets of Peshawar over a 20 fold hike in electricity rates.

Six Months After Nemtsov Killing, Investigation Stymied By 'Stonewall' 

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The investigation into the killing of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov has become a skirmish in a broader battle for power and influence between federal law-enforcement authorities and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

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Tehran Calls On U.S. To Release Detained Iranians

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Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said on August 26, "We call on the American government and their judicial authorities to put an end to the detention of these individuals."

Russian Conscript Kills Three, Commits Suicide

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Russian authorities say a conscript has killed an officer and two soldiers before turning the gun on himself.

Report With Tally Of 'Russian War Casualties' Causes Stir

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A Russian-language website has caused a stir with a report asserting that more than 2,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Kurds Wage Anti-IS Offensive In North Iraq

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The Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq says its Peshmerga forces have cleared nine villages in Kirkuk Province of Islamic State (IS) militants.

Ukraine Negotiators Call For Truce From September 1

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The warring sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine have agreed to strive for an end to all truce violations from September 1 -- the day the new school year is to begin.

As Vulture Populations Wane, Perils to Ecosystems Circle Overhead 

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Birds that once feasted on misfortune are collapsing — part of a broader decline in vultures that illustrates the far-reaching effects of human interventions.
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Saudi Arabia Said to Arrest Suspect in 1996 Khobar Towers Bombing 

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The suspect, Ahmed al-Mughassil, was identified in an American federal indictment as a ringleader in the bombing that killed 19 members of the American military.

Critics deliver mixed verdict on hyped Cumberbatch 'Hamlet'

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LONDON (AP) -- It's a "Hamlet" with Hollywood-level hype and an A-list star in Benedict Cumberbatch. But London's latest stage sensation is more than a Shakespearean star vehicle....

Reporter, cameraman shot to death on air in central Virginia

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MONETA, Va. (AP) -- A television reporter and cameraman were shot to death on the air during a live broadcast Wednesday morning from a shopping center in Virginia....

The Latest: Slain cameraman was TV station's 'go-to guy'

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MONETA, Va. (AP) -- The latest on the fatal on-air shooting of two TV station employees in central Virginia (all times local):...

A look at the latest developments in Europe's migrant crisis

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Record numbers of migrants fleeing violence and poverty in countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea are trying to reach Europe this year, despite the risks of perilous sea crossings and little humanitarian assistance. Here are the latest developments Wednesday:...

Merkel travels to far-right heartland to defend refugees

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HEIDENAU, Germany (AP) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel was met with jeers Wednesday as she traveled to a German town at the center of a recent wave of far-right anti-foreigner violence, delivering a message of support for refugees as many look to her for leadership in handling the European migrant crisis....
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Josh Duggar in rehab after admitting to pornography habit

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Days after he confessed to cheating on his wife and an addiction to pornography, Josh Duggar has entered rehab....

ISIL and Antiquities Trafficking 

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The FBI is asking for help in halting the trade of looted and stolen cultural artifacts.

DHS Spent $20 Million on Conferences Last Fiscal Year

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The Department of Homeland Security ran up more than $20 million in conference-related expenses in 2014, according to a recently released government audit.
The Office of Inspector General report, which looked at conferences either hosted or attended by the department or its employees from October 1, 2013, to December 31, 2014, found that the the department—which handles issues related to terrorism, border security, and cybersecurity—was involved with a total of 1,883 conferences in fiscal year 2014 that amounted to $20.3 million in expenses.
According to the General Services Administration, training, meetings, or events that include employee travel are considered conferences.
In total last year, the department hosted 490 conferences that cost $13.14 million and attended an additional 1,393 conferences at an expense of $7.16 million.
However, the department did not report all conferences required by the inspector general, giving information for only a fraction of its conference-related costs.
Records show that in FY 2014, of the 490 conferences held by the department, 428 accounted for costs of $11.6 million. Of those, 164 ran a price tag of more than $20,000 and should have been reported to the inspector general. However, the expenses of only 21 conferences that exceeded that amount—or 13 percent—were ultimately reported.
Department employees also attended 23 conferences that exceeded costs of more than $100,000. Eleven of these conferences were deemed “mission-related or for mission-critical training” and were not required to be included in its public report.
Information on conference-related costs has not been readily available on the department’s website, the audit found, despite its boasts about open government and transparency. While the department did comply with online reporting regulations, the required information was inaccessible without a direct link.
A spokesman for the non-partisan government watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste said that in light of security breaches at the department, it should not be spending millions on conferences.
“Recklessly spending taxpayer money on frivolous events like this undercuts the credibility of DHS when it asks for increases in funding,” said Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for the watchdog group. “Amid security lapses at DHS agencies like the TSA, the department should spend the money it already receives in a more cost effective way. Every dollar spent in a wasteful fashion is a dollar that isn’t used to protect the nation.”
A spokesman acknowledged the report and said that the department had already taken steps towards increasing transparency and efficiency.
“The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is committed to ensuring transparency and being responsible stewards of taxpayer funds,” the spokesman said. “DHS has made information regarding conference spending more accessible to the public on our website. DHS has also recently issued updated procedural guidance related to conference record-keeping that will help reinforce timely and accurate documentation and reporting of cost estimates.”
Read the whole story
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Report finds serious defects at Wash. nuclear waste treatment plant

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A team of nuclear waste experts has found hundreds of serious defects at an Energy Department plant designed to turn millions of gallons of highly radioactive sludge into more stable solid glass at the former weapons facility in Hanford, Wash.

Wal-Mart to stop selling military-style guns after demand drops

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will stop selling military-style weapons such as the AR-15 rifle this fall, citing declining customer demand for the controversial firearms.

Pentagon inspector general investigating claims officials skewed ISIS intelligence analyses 

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The Pentagon's inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials skewed intelligence assessments, giving a more optimistic outlook of progress in the U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State militants. 
Citing several officials familiar with the investigation, The New York Times reported Wednesday that intelligence officials may have reworked the ...
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Terror group member pleads guilty to holding 3 US hostages

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WASHINGTON (AP) - A member of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia faces a possible life sentence after admitting his role in the 2003 kidnapping of three Americans.
Diego Alfonso Navarrete Beltran pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Washington to three counts of hostage-taking, which carries a ...

Virginia TV Journalists Killed in On-Air Shooting; Suspect Shoots Self 

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(Reuters) – Two television journalists were shot and killed in Virginia on Wednesday in an attack during a live early-morning broadcast, and authorities said the suspected gunman was a former employee of the TV station.
The suspect, 41-year-old Vester Flanagan, shot and wounded himself several hours later as police pursued him on a Virginia highway, police said.
The two journalists who were killed were reporter Alison Parker, 24, and cameraman, Adam Ward, 27, who worked for CBS affiliate WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia. The woman they were interviewing was wounded in the shooting.
Police said Flanagan was in life-threatening condition.
The on-air shooting occurred at about 6:45 a.m. EDT (1045 GMT) during an interview for the morning news program at Bridgewater Plaza, a Smith Mountain Lake recreation site with restaurants, shops, boating and arcades and holiday rentals.
The area is in the south-central part of the state, about 120 miles (190 km) from the capital of Richmond.
The broadcast was abruptly interrupted by the sound of shots as Parker and the woman being interviewing screamed and ducked for cover.
Hours after the shooting, someone claiming to have filmed it posted video online that appeared to be from shooter’s vantage point.
The videos were posted to a Twitter account and on Facebook by a man identifying himself as Bryce Williams, which was Flanagan’s on-air name.
The videos were removed shortly afterward. One video clearly showed a handgun as the person filming approached the woman reporter.
WDBJ7 reported that Flanagan was a former employee who was let go two years ago.
The station reported that Flanagan shot himself as Virginia State Police were closing in on his rental car on Interstate 66 in Fauquier County. He was driving a rental car after leaving his own car at the Roanoke–Blacksburg Regional Airport this morning, the station reported.
In a statement, Virginia state police said the suspect refused to stop when spotted by a trooper and sped away.
“Minutes later, the suspect’s vehicle ran off the road and crashed. The troopers approached the vehicle and found the male driver suffering from a gunshot wound,” police said in the statement.
“He is being transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries. The male driver is believed to be the same male subject who shot three people this morning in Franklin County during a television news interview,” police said.
Asked on CNN if the station had been targeted or had been threatened, WDBJ7 President and General Manager Jeff Marks said, “Every now and then you get a crazy email or something and we’ll look into it. Nothing of this nature than any of us could recall.”
He said the interview was to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Smith Mountain Lake, and the woman being interviewed was from the local chamber of commerce. She had been talking about the anniversary and tourism.
There was no word yet from the hospital on the condition of the woman, identified as Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The station’s broadcast showed Parker interviewing Gardner about the lake and tourism development in the area. Gunshots erupted, and as Ward fell his camera hit the ground but kept running. An image caught on camera showed what appeared to be a man in dark clothing facing the camera with a weapon in his right hand.
The station described the two dead journalists as an ambitious reporter-and-cameraman team who often filmed light and breezy feature stories for the morning program.
“I cannot tell you how much they were loved,” Marks said.
Parker grew up in Martinsville and attended Patrick Henry Community College and James Madison University, while Ward graduated from Salem High School and Virginia Tech, the station said.
They were both engaged to be married to other people.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based non-profit press freedom group, condemned the on-air killings.
This year, at least 39 journalists have been killed around the world, with the deadliest countries being France, South Sudan and Syria. “We do know that being a journalist is potentially dangerous anywhere in the world,” the group’s senior Americas program coordinator, Carlos Lauria, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Emily Flitter, Laila Kearney and Barbara Goldberg in New York and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Scott Malone and Jeffrey Benkoe)
Update 2:25 P.M.: The suspect was pronounced dead, the Washington Post reported, citing state police.
Read the whole story
· · · ·

Two Hundred Retired Generals, Flag Officers Call on Congress to Reject Iran Deal 

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Nearly two hundred retired generals and admirals sent a letter to Congress asking members to oppose the Iran deal, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.
The retired officers warned in the letter that the nuclear deal was “unverifiable” and would “threaten the national security and vital interests of the United States” by providing Iran a 10-year path to a nuclear bomb and handing the regime $150 billion in sanctions relief:
In summary, this agreement will enable Iran to become far more dangerous, render the Mideast still more unstable and introduce new threats to American interests as well as our allies. In our professional opinion, far from being an alternative to war, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action makes it likely that the war the Iranian regime has waged against us since 1979 will continue, with far higher risks to our national security interests. Accordingly, we urge the Congress to reject this defective accord.
Earlier this month, a group of 36 flag officers sent a dueling letter to Congress in support of the nuclear deal. The letter was organized with help from the White House, the Washington Free Beaconreported.

Texas Governor Awards ’American Sniper’ Chris Kyle with Highest Military Decoration 

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott awarded former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle the highest military decoration the state can give, the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, on Wednesday.
Kyle, who served in Iraq, was the subject of the 2014 Academy Award-nominated film American Sniper based on his book of the same title. The award will be given to Kyle posthumously, as the former Navy SEAL was shot and killed by another veteran who was battling post-traumatic stress disorder.
Abbott also awarded the medal posthumously to Lt. Col. Ed Dyess, the former World War II pilot and prisoner of war for whom the Dyess Air Force Base located just outside of Abilene, Texas, is named.
“America is the brightest beacon of freedom the world has ever known because of all who have honorably worn the uniform of the mightiest military in the history of the world,” Abbott said Wednesday in Austin.
“For their remarkable valor and selfless service, it is my distinct honor to present the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to Lt. Col. Ed Dyess and Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle. We can never repay the debt we owe for the lives these men saved and the freedom they preserved, but today we honor their memory, their patriotism and their sacrifice,” Abbott continued.
Abbott presented the medals to Chris Kyle’s wife Taya and to the family of Ed Dyess.

Thousands of Illegal Immigrant Children Could Be Freed Into U.S. 

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Up to 2,000 illegal immigrants could be released back into the United States as a result of a federal ruling last week that requires the Department of Homeland Security to free “without unnecessary delay” illegal immigrant children and their mothers from federal detention centers.
A U.S. District Court judge in California issued the ruling, despite protests from the government and warnings that the legal order is misguided.
The judge in the case ignored the government’s arguments against release, calling them “repackaged and reheated.” The ruling finds DHS in violation of a law mandating that immigrant children not be kept in unlicensed facilities, according to Fox News. DHS has until Oct. 23 to comply with the release order.
A DHS spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon that it categorically disagrees with the ruling, but that its hands are tied in the matter.
“While we continue to disagree with the court’s ultimate conclusion, we note that the court has clarified its original order to permit the government to process families apprehended at the border at family residential facilities consistent with congressionally provided authority,” the official said.
“As family residential centers continue to operate consistent with this order, DHS will continue to screen family members’ claims as expeditiously as possible, while ensuring that their due process rights are protected,” the agency added. “We continue to review the decision and consider available options with the Department of Justice.”
At least 68,500 unaccompanied illegal minors were apprehended in fiscal year 2014 trying to cross the border, according to statistics compiled by the U.S. government. Another 22,869 were apprehended during the first eight months of fiscal year 2015.
A majority of those minors have already been released since their initial apprehension, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which says that only 1,820 illegal immigrants are still being detained.
While DHS argued that the mandated release of these illegal immigrants could encourage another surge of illegal immigration, the judge, Dolly M. Gee, dismissed this argument as “fear mongering” and “speculative at best,” according to Fox.
Just 1,269 illegal immigrants remain in detention at a South Texas facility. Another 474 remain in Texas’ Karnes facility, and 77 are being held at the Berks center in Pennsylvania, according to DHS.
A flood of illegal immigrant children attempted to cross the U.S. border in June of last year, causing DHS to go on high alert as a result of what it dubbed a “mass exodus.”
More than 250 illegal children were being apprehended on a daily basis at the time. A large number went on to petition the U.S. government for asylum.
Most of these illegals were never detained by DHS or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“The reality is that ICE was never detaining very many of these cases anyway,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Of the tens of thousands apprehended between July 2014 and May 2015, just 3,384 cases were brought against family members who had been detained with children, according to data released by immigration courts.
Another 35,700 cases were brought against individuals who had already been released.
“I think it’s fair to say that only about 10 percent have ever been detained, and many of them were detained only a short time before release,” Vaughan explained.
“These family heads have a very poor rate of compliance with the generous due process that they have been given,” she added. “Eight-four percent of those who were released did not show up for their court hearing, and 29 percent of those classified as having been in detention skipped out on their hearing.”
U.S. lawmakers at the time petitioned the Obama administration to send the National Guard to the southwest border to address the problem.
“The president needs to immediately send the National Guard to the southwest border to deal with this crisis,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a hearing last June. “Patrol stations are not set up to handle this massive and growing number of detainees. Let alone children.”
“This is a crisis. It’s a crisis that’s been in the making for years,” McCaul said. “One that we should have seen coming. But few concrete actions have been taken. The Department of Homeland Security and the United States government as a whole has been slow to act, turning a blind eye to the warning signs.”
The influx of these illegal immigrant children overwhelmed DHS patrol stations and detention centers, forcing the agency to construct temporary detention centers in Texas and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, local law enforcement agencies disclosed to the Free Beacon late last week that DHS had been hiding the release of illegal immigrants with violent criminal records back into U.S. towns.
Read the whole story
· · · · ·

BOOK REVIEW: How the Telegraph Changed the World

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Page 8

INFORMATION WARFARE: Things Hackers Do Not Like

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Alaskans wonder if their state is exhibit or target for Obama

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When President Barack Obama visits Alaska this month, he'll be greeted by politicians eager to show off their state's vast wilderness and stirring scenery — and skeptical of White House plans to protect those resources.

Inquiry Weighs Whether ISIS Analysis Was Distorted

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The inspector general is looking into a claim that military officials reworked assessments about the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq against ISIS to be more optimistic, according to several officials.

Saudi Arabia Said to Arrest Suspect in 1996 Khobar Towers Bombing 

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The suspect, Ahmed al-Mughassil, was identified in an American federal indictment as a ringleader in the bombing that killed 19 members of the American military.

What We’re Reading 

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Get recommendations from New York Times reporters and editors, highlighting interesting stories from around the web. In this installment, great reads from Steve Erlanger, Jodi Rudoren and others.

The Crisis on the Korean Peninsula and Its Surprising Resolution 

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Seoul awoke yesterday to news of the agreement reached early in the morning between North and South Korea to calm down the current tensions. The crisis began with an August 4 mine attack that left two South Korean soliders severely maimed and included the first live-fire exchange across the DMZ in a long time. In an odd role reversal, the South Korean Yonhap news agency posted the English-language version of the agreement released by the North Korean news agency KCNA:
Full Text of the Inter-Korean Agreement as released by the KCNA.
  1. The north and the south agreed to hold talks between their authorities in Pyongyang or Seoul at an early date to improve the north-south ties and have multi-faceted dialogue and negotiations in the future.
  2. The north side expressed regret over the recent mine explosion that occurred in the south side’s area of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) along the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), wounding soldiers of the south side.
  3. The south side will stop all loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts along the MDL from 12:00, August 25 unless an abnormal case occurs.
  4. The north side will lift the semi-war state at that time.
  5. The north and the south agreed to arrange reunions of separated families and relatives from the north and the south on the occasion of the Harvest Moon Day this year and continue to hold such reunions in the future, too and to have a Red Cross working contact for it early in September.
  6. The north and the south agreed to vitalize NGO exchanges in various fields.
The text comes about as close to a North Korean apology as we are likely ever to see.  John Everard—former British Ambassador to the North and also in Seoul—commented to me that Pyongyang hasn’t issued a statement like this since the 1976 Panmunjom ax murders.
The components of an apology include an acknowledgement that you committed the act in question, a sense of remorse, and a commitment not to do it again. The first element is arguably missing, and it is an important element. It is hard to interpret a statement of remorse if those offering it do not acknowledge the circumstances in the first place. But when placed in the context of the entire package, the formula of “we didn’t do it and we are not going to do it again” pretty clearly acknowledges that the August 4 mine incident was of North Korea’s doing. More importantly, the agreement acknowledges that the South’s propaganda loudspeakers will be turned off only if the North ceases and desists.
Let’s start with a timeline of the events involved in the current crisis:
July 22: ROK Army soldiers on a routine patrol last pass through the gate where the August 4 mine attack incident subsequently occurs. The location is on the southern side of the DMZ near Paju.
August 4Two South Korean soldiers, both staff sergeants, are maimed after three mines are detonated 440 meters south of the Military Demarcation.
August 9: An investigation team led by Brigadier General Ahn Young-ho takes journalists to the site of the mine attacks. He claimed the mine was placed directly in the areas near the door of a gate and claims it could not have been caused by previously-undiscovered mines becoming dislodged.
August 10: The ROK Ministry of Defense releases a video of the explosion (uploaded on You Tube by the Korea Observer here). A look at the angle of the camera, the distance, terrain and foliage suggest that the mines could have been planted without being captured on tape. Kim Min-Seok, spokesman for the Ministry for National Defense claims that this was “a clear provocation from the North Korean military” and swears “a severe retaliation.” The South announces that it will resume propaganda broadcasts from speakers placed near the border. These had not been used for over a decade.
August 13: North Korea denies the allegations at the highest level. The National Defense Commission issues a statement denying the accusations and claiming that “the puppets stored up some of our military’s mines that it had collected and used them to concoct a slander.”
August 15: President’s Geun-hye Park’s Liberation Day address is devoted largely to North-South relations. She addresses land mine as violation of the armistice, but the tone of the speech is surprisingly conciliatory. She calls for a resumption of the stalled family reunifications, the construction of a peace park within the DMZ, and expanding sports and cultural exchanges between the two Koreas.
August 16: The North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula (CPRK) rejects President Park’s call for family reunification, a peace park, and more sports and cultural exchanges. The National Defense Commission threatens military retaliation against the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian exercises.
August 17: US-ROK Ulchi-Freedom Guardian drills start and will last until August 28. President Park says “North Korea’s landmine provocation in the DMZ was a clear military provocation in which North Korean forces illegally crossed the military demarcation line and attempted to slaughter South Korean troops.” The KPA launches its own propaganda speaker campaign on the Eastern side of the country.
August 19: A ROK military source claims that the KPA is ratcheting up its combat readiness postureby opening up weapons portholes and intensifying artillery training.
Things really heated up on August 20:
  • At 3:53 p.m. ROK army detects what it believes is a 5mm anti-aircraft shell fired from North Korean territory into a mountainous area near the border within the DMZ near Yeoncheon in Gyeonggi Province. Authorities have yet to locate where it landed.
  • At 4:12 a second shell attack. This time dozens of 76.2 mm direct fire shells were fired into an area 700 meters inside the South Korean side of the MDL. Soldiers from the ROK Army 28thInfantry Division reported hearing the sound of shells being fired and saw smoke. There were no casualties or damage to property on the South Korean side.
  • At 5:00 p.m. the KPA sends a message through a cross-border telephone channel calling on the South Koreans to cease propaganda broadcasts into the North. The message offers an ultimatum to the South calling on the ROK to cease broadcasts within 48 hours starting at 5 p.m. on Thursday or else the North will commence a military operation.
  • At 5:04 p.m. in response to the shelling, ROK soldiers launch dozens of rounds of 155mm self-propelled Howitzer shells at a North-controlled area 500 meters north of the MDL. The North Korean Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed that 36 shells were launched near KPA guard towers but that there were no injuries.
  • At 5:40 p.m. the ROK military initiates an attack readiness position and issues an evacuation order to residents living in areas of Ganghwa Island and Paju—areas south west of the shelling sites. About 220 people were also evacuated into underground shelters from areas closer to the shelling on the South Korean side.  Other residents of front line villages were also evacuated as a precaution.
Yet after setting this 48-hour ultimatum for the South to stop its propaganda broadcasts, Pyongyang then reached out several times before the deadline to propose talks (Yonhap). This initiative, the first sign that it was the North that was going to back down, occurred in the wake of a statement by the South that it had no intention of stopping the broadcasts.
The forcefulness of the South Korean response appears to have come as a surprise to the North. We still do not know if the South Korean counterstrike sought to do damage and failed or was—like the North Korean shelling—largely a signal. But the counterstrike showed that the South’s effort to toughen up the deterrent in the wake of the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong-do shellings of 2010 had some teeth. To her credit, South Korean President Park also made one crucial decision that clarified the balance of forces: she completely ignored the North Korean threats and had her government state unequivocally that the broadcasts would continue past Pyongyang’s deadline.
This in turn raises interesting questions about the advantages the North purportedly holds with its forward deployment of forces. The standard argument is that the South is deterred by the proximity of Northern artillery to Seoul, permitting Pyongyang room for mischief. The Korea Times broke the story that the North is moving 76.2-millimeter artillery into the DMZ–in obvious violation of the armistice–and perhaps moving forces just beyond the DMZ as well. But in addition to the ROK artillery counterstrike, the US and ROK airforces flew a joint show-of-force mission on Saturday with eight F-15 and F-16 fighters. Which side was really more exposed?
Any North Korean general with enough information on the sequence of events will know that the agreement was a purely face-saving one. In addition to the artillery counterstrike following the initial North Korean shelling and the highly-visible show of South Korean and American airpower, there was the quite public announcement by the ROK Minister of Defense on Monday—with the talks ongoing—that South Korea was consulting with the US over the movement of strategic assets. Kim Min-Seok—the MOD spokesman making the announcement—did not enumerate the possible hardware in question, but others were happy to oblige: B-52 and B-2 bombers and F-22 Raptor advanced stealth fighters from U.S. bases in Guam and Japan and a submarine stationed at the U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka in central Japan.
These leaks put breathy reporting of North Korean force movements in a somewhat different perspective. For example, Yonhap reported intelligence that 50 North Korean submarines—an estimated 70 percent of the fleet—were out to sea. But against the broader backdrop, this is more rightly seen as a defensive, rather than offensive, move: to avoid a Pearl Harbor if escalation were to occur.
I want to stress that however we got here, the larger strategic point is to figure out what this means for the future of diplomacy on the peninsula. And it is precisely here that the overall landscape becomes much murkier and North Korea may have, ironically, come out quite well.
Consider the North’s use of the phase “Republic of Korea” last week (Hankyoreh). Usually, the South is referred to as “south Korea,” or simply as the puppets. But this statement could also be interpreted as a pre-emptive move: to blunt the Park administration’s unification talk by reminding everyone that North Korea does, in fact, exist. In effect, “you—the ROK—stay there; we—the Kim Dynasty—will stay here.”
And beyond the resolution of the current tensions, South Korea is once again back in its perennial bind: the agreement commits North Korea to surprisingly little. The only thing in the agreement with a date-certain is to hold family reunions, an utterly costless move for the North. I strongly believe in civic engagement; let South Korean NGOs and other civil society organizations do whatever they want in the North. But the agenda of wider talks remains highly uncertain. Talks on aid and larger scale projects in the North will only make sense in the long run if the main issues are on the table, even if indirectly: nuclear weapons, the bloated North Korean military, and economic reform.
Important to watch will be what the episode reveals about the internal politics of the North. Although the regime has an array of instruments for controlling the domestic political narrative, the loudspeakers, balloons, leaflets and other Southern efforts to penetrate the regime’s information wall have clearly hit a nerve. But more interesting still is how this incident is viewed among the North Korean political and military elite. Kim Jong Un is always only a step away from an “emperor with no clothes” moment. It may be the domestic, as opposed to the international, miscalculations of this episode that prove the most significant going forward.
Which brings me to the final piece of this puzzle: how China responded. In addition to China’s typical, maddening statements about “both sides remaining calm,” Chad Carroll’s NKNews picked up a remarkable development from the Chinese blogosphere: evidence of large-scale troop movements along the Chinese-North Korean border. Although quickly shut down, according to NKNews the hardware included “PTZ-89 tank destroyers (Type 89), a PGZ-95 self-propelled anti-aircraft guns (Type 95 SPAAA) and 155 mm self-propelled guns.” If China is finally getting serious about North Korea, the best possible outcome of this unfortunate series of events would be not only North-South talks—with their inherent limitations—but to actually get the multilateral Six Party Talks process going again.
This post is adapted from material published on the Witness to Transformation blog.
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