Category - USA

United States of America

Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end?

As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region.

The Guardian, By Martin Chulov, May 23

One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss’s house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.

“He arrived looking eager,” said one of the commanders. “That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned.”

The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.

“And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted,” he told the Observer. “For the first time they were not holding anything from us – except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with.”

Jeb Bush having new mansion built for him on family compound in Maine: report

New York Daily News, By Adam Edelman, May 24

Jeb Bush is going for Maine over Main Street.

The all-but-certain 2016 candidate is having a huge house built for him at the Bush family compound at Walker’s Point, in Kennebunkport, Maine, the Boston Globe reported Sunday.

The former Florida governor’s new home will be built on a 1.3-acre site worth at least $1.4 million, the Globe reported, and was ordered built by Bush’s parents, former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush.

The 3,000 square-foot, 4-bedroom, 4.5-bathroom “cottage” is expected to have a gorgeous wraparound porch and feature panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean. The construction of the house, which is expected to be completed in July, is thought to be around $600,000, the Globe reported.

“I’m incredibly blessed to be George and Barbara’s son and am thankful that they have built a special place for their family to gather,” Bush, who currently owns a home in Coral Gables, Fla., with his wife worth at least $1.3 million, said in an email to the Globe. “We are so lucky.”

According to the Globe, the potential 2016 candidate didn’t take part in the design of the new mansion, yielding instead to his mother Barbara.

“Barbara dictated most things,” Kristi Kenney, the architect of the new house as well as another one built nearby for Jeb’s younger brother Marvin, told the Globe.

Cleveland protests erupt after officer found not guilty in fatal shooting of two unarmed suspects

Reuters, By Aaron Josefczyk & Kim Palmer, May 24

Cleveland, OH – A Cleveland police officer was found not guilty on Saturday in the shooting deaths of an unarmed black man and a woman after a high-speed car chase in 2012, one in a series of cases that have raised questions over police conduct and race relations in the United States.

Judge John O’Donnell said Officer Michael Brelo, 31, acted reasonably in shooting the two suspects while standing on the hood of their surrounded car and firing multiple rounds through the windshield. Brelo, who was among a group of officers who fired on the car, was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

Protesters took to Cleveland streets on Saturday night as police patrolled in riot gear. Cleveland police spokeswoman Jennifer Ciaccia said that more than 20 people had been arrested.

AP Live Blog from last night: The Latest in Cleveland: Multiple arrests after verdict

Drenching rains force scores of rescues in Oklahoma City

Reuters, May 24

More than 70 people were rescued on Saturday after severe storms soaked Oklahoma during a month of record rainfall, authorities said.

The Oklahoma City Fire Department said in a statement it had rescued more than 70 people after the drenching storms triggered flash floods in the city.

The storms also spurred several small tornadoes throughout the day, causing limited damage, officials said.

CIA shuts down program using spy satellites to track climate change

Engadget, by Jon Fingas, May 23

For most of the past two decades, a handful of climate change scientists have had the CIA’s MEDEA (Measurement of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis) program as an ace in the hole: they could draw on classified info from spy satellites and subs to study global warming in extreme detail. However, they’ll now have to make do with alternatives. The agency has shut down MEDEA, saying that its projects to study the security implications of climate change “have been completed.” While the CIA says it’ll still “engage external experts” on the subject, it won’t be providing consistent access to its extremely accurate and rare data.

Whether or not the closure is a major problem depends on who you ask. There are doubts that the CIA is really a good leader in climate research, and it’s safe to say that the organization typically has its hands full with the espionage business. However, there are also concerns that officials are cutting off access to accurate info at the very moment when things are getting complicated — researchers need more data, not less. That may not be as much of an issue in the long run as non-classified satellites provide increasingly valuable findings, but the loss is still bound to hurt for at least a while.

Secret Pentagon report reveals West saw ISIS as strategic asset

Anti-ISIS coalition knowingly sponsored violent extremists to ‘isolate’ Assad, rollback ‘Shia expansion’

Insurge Intelligence, By Nafeez Ahmed, May 22

A declassified secret US government document obtained by the conservative public interest law firm, Judicial Watch, shows that Western governments deliberately allied with al-Qaeda and other Islamist extremist groups to topple Syrian dictator Bashir al-Assad.

The document reveals that in coordination with the Gulf states and Turkey, the West intentionally sponsored violent Islamist groups to destabilize Assad, despite anticipating that doing so could lead to the emergence of an ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

According to the newly declassified US document, the Pentagon foresaw the likely rise of the ‘Islamic State’ as a direct consequence of the strategy, but described this outcome as a strategic opportunity to “isolate the Syrian regime.”

US House Republicans vote to restrict research funding

AFP, May 21

US House Republicans voted to place limits on funding for scientific research, including climate change studies, as they passed legislation that more narrowly defines their priorities.

Many in the American scientific community criticized the bill, which passed 217 votes to 205 and sets funding guidelines for the National Science Foundation for fiscal year 2016 beginning October 1.

The America Competes Reauthorization Act still has to be reconciled with a Senate version, and the White House has threatened a veto if the measure passes as is.

[…]

Democrats fumed that the bill automatically slashes social, behavioral and economic sciences by 55 percent compared to 2015, while geosciences including climate research shrinks eight percent to $1.2 billion.

Research budgets for green energy programs would be hit too.

Conversely, Republican prioritize funding for biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics and physical sciences.

BP oil spill caused biggest dolphin die-off in Gulf history – study

RT, May 21

The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused an unprecedented number of fatal diseases in roughly 1,300 dolphins over the course of five years, according to a new study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Up to now, the link between oil spill exposure and dolphin deaths has been inconclusive, but this study changes that. The results are from a forensic investigation that was part of NOAA’s long-term ecological analysis of the Deepwater incident that began in 2013. The spill itself leaked 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf over five months in 2010.

“No feasible alternatives remain that can reasonably explain the timing, location and nature of this increase in death,” co-author Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego said in a Wednesday press conference.

Permission to die: California doctors no longer oppose assisted suicide

RT, May 21

The California Medical Association abandoned its 30-year opposition to physician-assisted suicide, removing a major obstacle to a bill currently being debated in the state legislature. It is the first state medical association in America to do so.

The CMA’s decision comes as the Monning-Wolk Senate Bill 128, also known as the End of Life Option Act, is coming up for a vote. If the bill is adopted, California would join Oregon, Montana, Washington and Vermont in legalizing assisted suicide.

CMA officials said they were motivated by the desire to preserve the doctor-patient relationship and made the decision after extensive consultations with lawmakers. The association’s spokeswoman, Molly Weedn, told Reuters the key concern was that doctors not be required to participate in assisted suicide or refer patients to a colleague who does.

California oil spill: State of emergency declared, up to 105,000 gallons leaked

RT, May 20

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over Tuesday’s oil spill off the Santa Barbara County coast. It follows news that up to 105,000 gallons of oil leaked out from the ruptured pipeline.

“This emergency proclamation cuts red tape and helps the state quickly mobilize all available resources,” said Governor Brown in a statement. “We will do everything necessary to protect California’s coastline.”

Brown’s office added that six boom boats, three 65-foot collection vessels and hand crews coordinating with the state as clean-up efforts continue. California state oil spill, wildlife and emergency officials are also working to alleviate the situation.

Originally, US Coast Guard officials estimated that the approximately 21,000 gallons of oil had spilled out of a pipeline operated by Plains All American Pipeline, though this calculation is being investigated. The type of oil was later identified as crude, and officials said the spill had stretched out to approximately nine miles across Santa Barbara County’s Refugio Beach.

The company stated to AP that the 105,000 gallon estimate was a “worst-case scenario”and that it does not know exactly how much oil actually seeped into the ocean. The pipeline itself is onshore, but oil traveled down a storm drain before hitting the Pacific Ocean.

Texas Prohibits Local Fracking Bans

Newly signed law is one of several across the U.S. to curtail municipal governments’ power

Wall Street Journal, By Russell Gold, May 18

Austin, TX—Last year, a city in North Texas banned fracking. State lawmakers want to make sure that never happens again.

On Monday, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law that prohibits bans of hydraulic fracturing altogether and makes it much harder for municipal and county governments to control where oil and gas wells can be drilled. Similar efforts are cropping up in states including New Mexico, Ohio, Colorado and Oklahoma, where both chambers of the legislature have passed a bill that limits local governments to “reasonable” restrictions on oil and gas activities.

This is all part of a broader legislative and judicial effort, backed by the oil industry, to limit local governments’ ability to regulate drilling. Backers say that both the Oklahoma and Texas bills were proposed in response to a voter-approved ban on fracking in Denton, Texas, in November.

Climate change: Americans crowding into future heatwave zones, study says

Houston-Dallas-San Antonio and Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh areas most affected by ‘double whammy’ of population shift and temperature rises, scientists argue

AP, May 18

The combination of global warming and a shifting US population will by mid-century deliver a “double whammy” that greatly increases the number of Americans exposed to extremely hot days, a new study says.

People are migrating into areas where the heat is likely to increase more, said the authors of a study published on Monday by the journal Nature Climate Change. The study highlighted the Houston-Dallas-San Antonio and Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh corridors as the places where the effect looks to be greatest.

“It’s not just the climate that is changing in the future,” said study co-author Linda Mearns, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. “It is many things: how many people and where people are that affects their exposure to climate changes.”

In a unique study looking at the interplay of projected changes in climate and population, scientists tried to characterize the number of people who will feel temperatures of 95F (35C) or higher and how often they will feel it. They used a figure called person days for the extreme heat to reflect both the length of time heat waves continued and how many people felt it by multiplying people affected by how many days they felt the heat.

Between 1970 and 2000 the US averaged about 2.3bn person days of extreme heat each year. But between 2040 and 2070 that number will be 10bn-14bn person days a year, according to the study.

Officers warned about more bikers possibly heading to Texas after brawl

CNN, By Eliott C. McLaughlin and Holly Yan, May 19

Waco – A memo has gone out to law enforcement in the wake of Sunday’s shooting, warning officers that members of the Bandidos and Cossacks motorcycle gangs reportedly had been instructed to arm themselves and travel to north Texas.

“Obviously it’s something we’re concerned about. We would encourage biker groups to stand down. There’s been enough bloodshed. There’s been enough death here,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ on Monday night.

[…]

When police responded — within 30 to 45 seconds because of their proximity — the bikers turned their weapons on law enforcement, he said.

“Our officers took fire and responded appropriately, returning fire,” the sergeant said.

[…]

According to a law enforcement source, preliminary information indicates that four of the bikers killed were killed by police gunfire. The investigation continues and the ballistics will be analyzed to determine for certain who was responsible for each shooting.

[…]

While the U.S. Justice Department characterizes the Bandidos as a “growing criminal threat” with at least 2,000 members in 14 countries, the motorcycle club’s website highlights noncriminal endeavors such as its Easter party in Germany or its toy drive in France.

Wild West Warfare in Waco

America’s escalating reliance on firearms as a means of settling petty arguments ratcheted up another level this weekend, when at least five biker gangs engaged in an all-out gun battle in Waco, Texas.  The matter at issue: a parking spot.  At least nine bikers were killed, and dozens more injured.

The original antagonists were the Cossacks Motorcycle Club of Texas, and the Bandidos Motorcycle Club, though at least three other motorcycle clubs from the Dallas/Forth Worth area rushed to the scene and participated in the shooting.  The scene of the shootout was a parking lot of a shopping mall in Waco, where the Twin Peaks Restaurant (think Hooters, but with a less suggestive name) serves as a biker hangout.  Management of the restaurant hosts a Bikers Night promotion every Thursday, and local police are so familiar with disputes arising between biker gangs at this restaurant, that they were at hand before Sunday’s shootout began.  In the end, though, the Waco police were unwilling or unable to mobilize their paramilitary forces to stop the shooting, though the police do report that several officers exchanged gunfire with the bikers and may have injured or killed some of them.

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Graham says ‘I’m running’ in 2016, sets June 1 for official announcement

Fox News, May 18

Sen. Lindsey Graham all but declared he plans to run for president in 2016, saying Monday that “I’m running” because “the world is falling apart” — while setting June 1 as his official campaign announcement.

The South Carolina Republican senator, speaking on “CBS This Morning,” said he’ll formally unveil his campaign plans in his hometown of Central, S.C.

But he also repeatedly used the phrase “I’m running,” explaining that he believes he would make the best commander-in-chief.

Graham also pointed to his own record working with Democrats. He said he’s drawn a string of primary challengers over the years because of that history, but touted that record as a positive in a presidential run.

“Democrats and Republicans work together too little,” he said. “I would try to change that if I got to be president.”
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