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  • Iraqis wanted to topple the system, but taboos fell instead

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    Mocking clerics, falling in love at rallies and mending a broken society: even if Iraq's young protesters have failed to overthrow entrenched politicians, they have scored by shattering decades-old taboos. Since October, the country of 40 million has been rocked by a historically large grassroots movement with big goals: ending corruption, unaccountable sectarian parties and overreach from neighbouring Iran. Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi resigned in December, only to be replaced by ex-minister Mohammad Allawi, slammed by protesters as too close to the ruling elite.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 19:46:16 -0500
  • U.S. reiterates call for elections in Haiti as U.N. Security Council receives grim report

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    If the U.N. Security Council hoped to hear about improvements in Haiti four months after it permanently removed its 15-year peacekeeping mission from the troubled nation, it received a grim awakening Thursday.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 19:28:06 -0500
  • Experts Call BS on Bernie’s Russian Bot Theory

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    Bernie Sanders on Wednesday raised the possibility that social media accounts harassing his critics may, in fact, be Russian bots operating in disguise. But top security officials say they've seen no such activity. The platforms themselves hinted the same. And experts in the field are now saying that the Senator's inference may cause harm by eroding trust for when such behavior does, in fact, occur.When pressed about his supporters’ attacks on members of the Nevada Culinary Workers Union and its decision not to endorse Sanders’ signature Medicare for All healthcare policy, Sanders raised the specter of Russian intelligence activity. He said it wasn’t “too paranoid” to recall Russian meddling in 2016. “I'm not saying that's happening, but it would not shock me.”The debate night comment marked the second time Sanders has alluded to the possibility of Russian disinformation stoking his online supporters’ alleged toxicity. In a CNN townhall two days prior, Sanders used a similar variation of the talking point when challenged over the Nevada issue.  “And I don't—you know, want to be overly paranoid here—is that, you know, we live in a crazy time. And there are a lot of folks out there who do bots and all this other thing. I saw some of those things. And there are people out there who want to divide the progressive movement.”In response to questions from The Daily Beast, Twitter didn’t specifically weigh in on whether or not there’s evidence to back up the suggestion of Russian involvement in the feud over the Culinary Workers Union. But the company did issue a statement that said its employees “proactively monitor Twitter to identify attempts at platform manipulation and mitigate them” and that “if we have reasonable evidence of state-backed information operations, we’ll disclose them following our thorough investigation to our public archive — the largest of its kind in the industry.”Bernie: Some of My Angriest Online Bros May Be Russian BotsThe company has notably not disclosed any state-backed operations targeting the Nevada union. The most recent example of Twitter’s identification of Russian personas dates to four accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency taken down in June of 2019—months before the issue of Nevada union support for Sanders’ healthcare plan became a contentious issue.  When asked to respond to Sanders’ comments about the possibility of Russian personas involved in the attacks, Bethany Khan, a spokesperson for the Nevada culinary union, wrote in an email that “I will not be spending any time being dismissed or gaslighted about my experiences.”Khan wrote that she’d been inundated with so many abusive comments that she hadn’t had time to collect them, but pointed to an interview she conducted with the Nevada Independent detailing some of the abuse. “There is so much more examples from ROSE Twitter than what I’ve had time to share, but I remain focused on doing the important GOTV work to ensure Culinary Union members have a chance to early vote/caucus.”The Daily Beast reached out to experts in tracking disinformation to see if there was any evidence of Russian involvement in the feud between Sanders supporters and the Nevada Culinary Workers Union. None could point to a specific example of Russia-linked personas imitating pro-Bernie personas and attacking members of the Nevada Culinary Workers Union. Ben Nimmo, director of investigations at the disinformation-tracking firm Graphika, told The Daily Beast that, after 2016, Russian trolls have tried harder to stay undetected, making finding them a tricky process. “Actually proving that a particular account is run from Russia means crossing a high evidence bar. There are far more accusations of ‘Russian trolls’ or ‘Russian bots’ going around than there are actual known Russian assets that have been taken down.” Inside the Iranian Troll Campaign to Harass ReportersOftentimes, Russian covert operations on social media act as echo chambers for the issues and priorities of overt Russian propaganda outlets like Sputnik and RT. Jessica Brandt, director of research at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian state news trends and disinformation, said Russian outlets haven’t made much of the Nevada union feud. “We’ve seen no evidence of that,” she told The Daily Beast, adding that the Alliance’s dashboard for tracking overt Russian propaganda turned up only one story on the Nevada issue.  There is evidence, however, that Sanders supporters’ penchant for attacking other Democrats, outside the recent feud over the Nevada caucuses, is driven primarily by authentic American actors and not foreign nation-state trolls. NeverWarren and MayorCheat are among the most popular hashtags used by Sanders supporters on Twitter to go after his Democratic rivals—the latter a reference to the unsupported claim that former Mayor Pete Buttigieg “stole” the Iowa Caucuses.“When I looked at those hashtags, they looked like they were launched and pushed by American users, some of them even American users with verified accounts,” Nimmo told The Daily Beast. “There wasn't any evidence there to suggest that they were started or substantially pushed by Russian trolls.” Nation-state disinformation actors have, at times, mimicked supporters. Graphika found four Instagram accounts purporting to be Bernie supporters linked to Russian disinformation actors operating in the fall of 2019 and FireEye found Iran operated a fake social media persona, “berniecratss,” posing as a Sanders supporter.None of the accounts in those campaigns appeared to have engaged in the kind of toxic intra-party feuding Sanders supporters are often accused of. The Instagram accounts, run by the Internet Research Agency troll farm, appear to have been primarily interested in posting memes about criminal justice rather than engaging with or attacking Democrats. The top ten hashtags associated with the Iranian-run berniecratss account found by FireEye were all associated with either anti-Trump or anti-Israel sentiments. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Russia, Iran, or any other interested country could decide to meddle. That’s why experts say it’s important for Sanders and other candidates to steer clear of accusations about foreign meddling in the admitted absence of any evidence to support them. “I think it's completely irresponsible to even allude that there's been some sort of attack from a foreign actor to undermine our democracy. Yes, we know this is happening. Yes, we know that the intelligence community and others are working around the clock to detect and mitigate it,” Lisa Kaplan, the former digital director Sen. Angus King (I-ME) election campaign who runs the Alethea Group, told The Daily Beast. “But if you don't have evidence, it's an irresponsible statement to make and it's not increasing trust in the system.”“In this case, Senator Sanders dismissing the online bullying and harassment by some of his purported supporters by suggesting it was ‘Russian interference’ does the opposite of solving either serious challenge,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. Sanders isn’t the first Democratic presidential candidate to raise the possibility of a Russian attack on his campaign without any supporting evidence. In the summer of 2019, former 2020 candidate Sen. Kamala Harris responded to a question about the possibility of Russian disinformation personas attacking her campaign by saying “Oh, we already know we are.” Like Sanders, Harris wasn’t able to produce any specific evidence of Russian involvement in the attacks. Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 19:05:15 -0500
  • The World’s Biggest Economies Get a Jolt of Government Spending

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    (Bloomberg) -- Governments across the world are starting to use more fiscal firepower to boost economies, though the shift may not be happening fast enough to appease central bankers who say they’re sick of carrying the burden of stimulus alone.In more than half of the world’s 20 biggest economies, analysts now expect looser budgets this year — in other words, bigger deficits or smaller surpluses — than they did six months ago, according to a Bloomberg survey of economist forecasts.Asian economies like China and South Korea are using fiscal policy to counter the menace of the coronavirus, which has shut down swaths of industry and devastated supply chains, while governments in the U.K. and Russia have ditched long-held commitments to austerity.The world remains far from an across-the-board easing. Japan recently raised sales taxes, Germany still holds its surplus sacred, and U.S. policy is gridlocked by upcoming elections. And some of the change in budget forecasts are a consequence of weaker growth expectations, rather than higher spending or lower taxes.As finance ministers from the Group of 20 major economies prepare to meet in Riyadh, here’s a roundup of budget forecasts and recent policy shifts in some key countries.U.S.2020 forecast: -4.8% of GDP (deficit) 2021 forecast: -4.8%President Donald Trump has delivered stimulus in the form of tax cuts and higher government outlays, and got a bump in growth as a result. This month, Trump submitted a budget proposal to Congress that would pare back some of the spending, though he’s also dangling a promise of more tax cuts targeted at the middle-class. But neither proposal is expected to get past House Democrats who control the purse strings, so any major fiscal initiative is likely on ice until after November’s elections.China2020 forecast: -4.8% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -4.6%With entire industries and regions in lockdown because of the virus, and the government adamant that it won’t lower growth targets, China is set for more fiscal stimulus. The government said this week it’s preparing additional measures including cuts in corporate taxes and fees. There’s already some strain on the budget as a result of trade war with the U.S., and Finance Minister Liu Kun acknowledged there’ll be “short-term challenges.” But he said China must “take a longer-term view and take resolute steps.”Japan2020 forecast: -2.9% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -2.7%Japan was already in danger of recession even before the scale of the coronavirus threat became clear – partly because it tightened fiscal policy. An increase in sales taxes in October 2019 contributed a plunge in output, just as it did the last two times the policy was tried. Lawmakers approved a supplementary budget worth about $29 billion last month, and on paper that extra stimulus should arrive by the end of March — but history suggests the government probably won’t manage to spend it all within the allotted time.Germany2020 forecast: 0.7% (surplus) 2021 forecast: 0.2%Europe’s biggest economy has long been seen as a prime candidate for fiscal easing, since it has significantly less public debt than many neighbors. The European Central Bank and the French government are among those calling for action. But while Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition has begun limited stimulus focused on green projects, there’s no appetite to open the fiscal floodgates in a country where budget discipline remains a symbol of political virility. A lingering manufacturing recession and the coronavirus outbreak probably aren’t enough to revisit that stance.U.K.2020 (fiscal year) forecast: -2.4% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -2.6%Fresh from an unexpectedly decisive election win, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signaled he’s ready to open the taps of government spending — and has already ditched a finance minister seen as less enthusiastic about that project. Johnson aims to cement support among the working-class voters who helped deliver his landslide. He’s outlined plans for infrastructure investment that skew toward poorer areas in northern England, and his new chancellor may be more amenable to relaxing the fiscal rules that would cap borrowing. It’s a departure for his Conservative party, which has prided itself on a reputation for fiscal discipline — and been slammed by critics for embracing austerity.France2020 forecast: -2.4% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -2.3%France heeded the call for fiscal stimulus before central bankers even made it. Under pressure from the prolonged and often violent disruption of the Yellow Vest protests, President Emmanuel Macron tacked away from consolidating finances at the end of 2018 by unleashing around 17 billion euros of tax cuts. That has contributed to keeping public debt near 100% of economic output, leaving France with little margin for further stimulus should it be needed.India2020 forecast: -3.7% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -3.5%India has heeded its central bank’s call for easier fiscal policy to a boost a flagging economy. In February, it announced cuts in personal taxes that will cost the government $5.6 billion in revenue, a few months after a similar $20 billion handout to companies. The tax cuts will likely lead to India missing the targets on what it calls a fiscal “glide path,” which is supposed to bring the central government’s deficit below 3% of GDP by March next year. Italy2020 forecast: -2.5% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -2.4%Italy has increased tax revenues even as the economy struggled, and has plans for a fiscal overhaul starting in the next quarter. It has also introduced a tax on digital sales. But it’s unlikely that the extra money will all be spent. Italy has repeatedly run up against EU-imposed budget limits, and keeping this year’s deficit in line with commitments will be difficult if the country falls into recession.Brazil2020 forecast: -5.5% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -5.3%Brazil’s government is committed to trimming deficits, with last year’s overhaul of state pensions as the plan’s long-term centerpiece.  The budget shortfall in 2019 was the smallest in five years, though that was partly due to one-time injections of cash, including an oil auction. And while ministers are promising more belt-tightening measures, such as lower salaries for new public servants, they may struggle to persuade lawmakers ahead of municipal elections in October.Canada2020 forecast: -0.9% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -0.9%Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has already delivered a dose of fiscal stimulus in recent years, providing enough of a boost to allow the Bank of Canada to refrain from cutting interest rates. But the federal government’s ability to continue feeding growth is expected to fade in coming years, given Trudeau’s pledge to keep the country’s public-debt-to-GDP ratio on a declining path.Russia2020 forecast: 1.1% (surplus) 2021 forecast: 0.8%Russia’s government is gearing up to spend from its $124 billion rainy day fund, after five years of some of the world’s toughest budget austerity. The shift is aimed at boosting the stagnant economy and improving living standards in President Vladimir Putin’s final term as president. Extra spending this year on infrastructure and social support could reach 1.3% of gross domestic product. Further stimulus may be capped by Russia’s budget law, which says revenue from oil above $42 a barrel (it currently trades around $60) must be saved, not spent.South Korea2020 forecast: -1.3% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -1.4%South Korea is set to post its first deficit since the global financial crisis as the government tries to support a recovery in exports and consumer spending. The Moon Jae-in administration is front-loading its budget in the first half of this year, and bolstering support for firms hurt by the coronavirus outbreak in China, South Korea’s biggest trading partner. Some lawmakers from the ruling party are calling on the government to go further and draw up a supplementary budget.Australia2020 forecast: 0.3% (surplus) 2021 forecast: 0.2%Australia’s government is seeking to return its budget to surplus for the first time since 2008. It’s been resisting calls for more spending from central bank chief Philip Lowe, who argues that historically low interest rates offer a chance to finance infrastructure. But the recent wildfires, which devastated the east coast, have forced Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to loosen the purse strings in order to fund reconstruction.Mexico2020 forecast: -2.4% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -2.3%As Mexico’s economy stagnated over the last year, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has kept fiscal policy tight. His government has been cutting spending on salaries, helping to deliver a budget surplus before interest payments of 1.1% in 2019 – and the goal is to stay in primary surplus this year. That likely leaves the central bank, which has cut interest rates at five straight meetings, carrying the burden of stimulus for now.Indonesia2020 forecast: -2.2% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -2.1%Indonesia will front-load spending in the first half of 2020 to boost an economy growing at its slowest pace in four years. Its ability to inject more fiscal stimulus is limited by a hard ceiling on the budget deficit of 3% of GDP. That may leave the heavy lifting to the central bank — which delivered another rate cut this week, even though governor Perry Warjiyo insists that the bank “cannot be the only game in town.”Saudi Arabia2020 forecast: -6.8% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -6.1%Saudi Arabia’s budget outcomes usually depend on the price of oil, the kingdom’s main source of revenue. Even before crude slumped this year, the government was expecting a bigger budget deficit in 2020. In an effort to limit the shortfall, it plans to reduce spending by about 3% in 2020 and continue cutting through 2022, part of a wider plan for the private sector to take a more prominent role in the state-dominated Saudi economy.Turkey2020 forecast: -3.6% (deficit) 2021 forecast: -3.3%Fiscal easing has propped up growth in Turkey as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s preferred engine of stimulus — credit expansion supported by low interest rates — foundered amid a corporate-debt crisis. The government posted an annual deficit of about 3% of GDP last year, when back-to-back elections drove a spending spree, and expects a similar ratio in 2020.Note: Forecasts are for central government budgets, and don’t include measures by local authorities or other state actors that in some countries, notably China, are important channels for fiscal stimulus. Data as of Feb. 20 via {ECFC } on the Bloomberg Terminal. \--With assistance from Theophilos Argitis, Andrew Atkinson, Enda Curran, Natasha Doff, Michael Heath, William Horobin, Sam Kim, Mario Sergio Lima, Eric Martin, Matthew Martin, Brendan Murray, Anirban Nag, Alessandro Speciale, Juan Pablo Spinetto and Craig Stirling.To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Kennedy at skennedy4@bloomberg.net, Ben HollandZoe SchneeweissFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 19:00:20 -0500
  • TV analyst? Spokesman? Freed ex-governor goes job hunting

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    Fresh out of prison thanks to a commutation this week from President Donald Trump, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is in the hunt for a post-prison career. "I need to start working and providing for my family," the 63-year-old told Fox News this week. Job hunts have gotten Blagojevich in trouble before.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 18:58:52 -0500
  • Life After Corbyn? The Politicians Vying to Become Labour Leader

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    (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. Labour Party’s search for a new leader to replace Jeremy Corbyn following December’s disastrous general election defeat is down to three candidates: Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy.Starting Friday, party members have six weeks to cast their ballots. The winner will be announced on April 4, and will immediately face the task of uniting a party bitterly divided over Corbyn’s socialist policies and accusations of antisemitism. With Boris Johnson’s Tories holding an 80-seat majority, it’s an uphill task to resurrect Labour’s fortunes as a legitimate government-in-waiting.Here are brief profiles of the candidates:Keir Starmer, 57: The Arch RemainerKeir Starmer, Corbyn’s Brexit spokesman, is the front-runner, according to a YouGov polling of Labour members, comfortably ahead of Rebecca Long-Bailey.Starmer hasn’t always been loyal to the current leader -- particularly when it comes to the question of the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union. He backed Corbyn’s rivals in the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests and is one of the party’s most vocal Remainers.While he has been accused of being out of touch with working class Leave voters in northern England, he’s arguably closer to them than Corbyn, who was privately educated. He told the BBC he’d never been in an office until he left university, because his father worked in a factory and his mother was a nurse. He has been careful not to criticize Corbyn too much, saying everyone in the party’s leadership shares responsibility for its defeat.Starmer has positioned himself as a middle-ground candidate who is neither Corbynite or Blairite, telling activists that “factionalism has to go,” and now isn’t the time to “trash” either the last Labour government under prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, or Corbyn’s hard-left leadership.He has also warned the party not to “oversteer” after the election defeat, arguing Labour should “build on” Corbyn’s anti-austerity message and radical agenda. At his campaign launch, he said the party has to “be bold enough to say the free market model doesn’t work” because wealth hasn’t trickled down through society. He called for a “new economic model.”Starmer has an impressive legal career behind him, and was knighted for his role as Director of Public Prosecutions between 2008 and 2013 before he became an MP in 2015.Rebecca Long-Bailey, 40: The Chosen OneIf you were going to build a new Labour leader from scratch, Rebecca Long-Bailey would probably tick most of the boxes: A young, female, strong media performer who hails from a northern constituency with a safe majority.Crucially, she’s also loyal to the current leadership, even standing in for Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions in June. With the party’s membership still firmly to the left of Labour’s MPs, this could prove key in gaining the support needed to win the contest.She has said the next leader should be a champion for “progressive patriotism” and admitted trust in Labour’s policies was an issue among voters. But in an article for Tribune magazine announcing her candidacy, she said December’s defeat “was a failure of campaign strategy, not of our socialist program” and she remains committed to Corbyn’s core message.“I’m a lifelong socialist, dedicated to our movement and determined to do my bit,” she wrote. “You’re as likely to see me on a picket line as you are at the dispatch box, and you can trust me to fight the establishment tooth and nail.”She gave Corbyn “10 out of 10” for his leadership in an interview early in the campaign, but she’s since become more critical of his tenure, saying the party hadn’t done enough on antisemitism, and “didn’t win the argument” in the general election -- contradicting the current leader.Long-Bailey is a close friend of Angela Rayner, and has said she backs Labour’s education spokeswoman to be deputy leader. Rayner has returned the favor. There have been suggestions they could be the party’s next power duo, akin to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, or indeed Corbyn and John McDonnell.Lisa Nandy, 40: Cheerleader for TownsLisa Nandy launched her bid for the top job with a letter to the local newspaper in the town of Wigan, where she’s been the MP since 2010. She’d previously told the BBC that Labour’s “shattering defeat” left towns like hers feeling like “the earth was quaking.”“We have one chance to win back the trust of people in Wigan, Workington and Wrexham: without what were once our Labour heartlands we will never win power in Westminster,” Nandy wrote to the Wigan Post. “We need a leader who is proud to be from those communities, has skin in the game, and is prepared to go out, listen and bring Labour home to you.”A former charity worker, Nandy is media-friendly and her northern roots will be seen as an advantage as Labour seeks to win back its traditional voters who abandoned the party in the election. She co-founded the Centre for Towns, a think tank that aims to revive smaller urban areas.A Corbyn opponent, Nandy quit as Labour’s energy spokeswoman in 2016 to join an attempt to overthrow him, and served as co-chair in Owen Smith’s failed leadership campaign. She campaigned against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, but has since argued the EU divorce must be delivered. She voted for Johnson’s deal in October, but then voted against it in December because she said Johnson is no longer interested in making cross-party compromises to improve the bill.\--With assistance from Greg Ritchie.To contact the reporters on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net;Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, Thomas PennyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 18:01:00 -0500
  • Wounded but defiant, Bloomberg promises to keep fighting

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    His aura suddenly shattered, a defiant Michael Bloomberg sent a pointed message Thursday to a political world grappling with his underwhelming presidential debate debut: He's not going away. The New York ultra-billionaire lashed out at leading Democratic rival Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump, addressing voters face to face in the Super Tuesday state of Utah.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 17:14:33 -0500
  • Execution for a Facebook post? Why blasphemy is a capital offense in some Muslim countries

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    Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer in Pakistan, had been imprisoned for six years when he was sentenced to death in December 2019. The charge: blasphemy, specifically insulting Prophet Muhammad on Facebook. Pakistan has the world’s second strictest blasphemy laws after Iran, according to U.S. Commision on International Religious Freedom.Hafeez, whose death sentence is under appeal, is one of about 1,500 Pakistanis charged with blasphemy, or sacrilegious speech, over the last three decades. No executions have taken place. But since 1990 70 people have been murdered by mobs and vigilantes who accused them of insulting Islam. Several people who defend the accused have been killed, too, including one of Hafeez’s lawyers and two high-level politicians who publicly opposed the death sentence of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman convicted for verbally insulting Prophet Muhammad. Though Bibi was acquitted in 2019, she fled Pakistan. Blasphemy and apostasyOf 71 countries that criminalize blasphemy, 32 are majority Muslim. Punishment and enforcement of these laws varies. Blasphemy is punishable by death in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Brunei, Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. Among non-Muslim-majority cases, the harshest blasphemy laws are in Italy, where the maximum penalty is three years in prison.Half of the world’s 49 Muslim-majority countries have additional laws banning apostasy, meaning people may be punished for leaving Islam. All countries with apostasy laws are Muslim-majority except India. Apostasy is often charged along with blasphemy. This class of religious laws is quite popular in some Muslim countries. According to a 2013 Pew survey, about 75% of respondents in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia favor making sharia, or Islamic law, the official law of the land. Among those who support sharia, around 25% in Southeast Asia, 50% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 75% in South Asia say they support “executing those who leave Islam” – that is, they support laws punishing apostasy with death. The ulema and the stateMy 2019 book “Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment” traces the root of blasphemy and apostasy laws in the Muslim world back to a historic alliance between Islamic scholars and government.Starting around the year 1050, certain Sunni scholars of law and theology, called the “ulema,” began working closely with political rulers to challenge what they considered to be the sacrilegious influence of Muslim philosophers on society. Muslim philosophers had for three centuries been making major contributions to mathematics, physics and medicine. They developed the Arabic number system used across the West today and invented a forerunner of the modern camera.The conservative ulema felt that these philosophers were inappropriately influenced by Greek philosophy and Shia Islam against Sunni beliefs. The most prominent in consolidating Sunni orthodoxy was the brilliant and respected Islamic scholar Ghazali, who died in the year 1111.In several influential books still widely read today, Ghazali declared two long-dead leading Muslim philosophers, Farabi and Ibn Sina, apostates for their unorthodox views on God’s power and the nature of resurrection. Their followers, Ghazali wrote, could be punished with death. As modern-day historians Omid Safi and Frank Griffel assert, Ghazali’s declaration provided justification to Muslim sultans from the 12th century onward who wished to persecute – even execute – thinkers seen as threats to conservative religious rule. This “ulema-state alliance,” as I call it, began in the mid-11th century in Central Asia, Iran and Iraq and a century later spread to Syria, Egypt and North Africa. In these regimes, questioning religious orthodoxy and political authority wasn’t merely dissent – it was apostasy. Wrong directionParts of Western Europe were ruled by a similar alliance between the Catholic Church and monarchs. These governments assaulted free thinking, too. During the Spanish Inquisition, between the 16th and 18th centuries, thousands of people were tortured and killed for apostasy.Blasphemy laws were also in place, if infrequently used, in various European countries until recently. Denmark, Ireland and Malta all recently repealed their laws.But they persist in many parts of the Muslim world. In Pakistan, the military dictator Zia ul Haq, who ruled the country from 1978 to 1988, is responsible for its harsh blasphemy laws. An ally of the ulema, Zia updated blasphemy laws – written by British colonizers to avoid interreligious conflict – to defend specifically Sunni Islam and increased the maximum punishment to death. From the 1920s until Zia, these laws had been applied only about a dozen times. Since then they have become a powerful tool for crushing dissent.Some dozen Muslim countries have undergone a similar process over the past four decades, including Iran and Egypt. Dissenting voices in IslamThe conservative ulema base their case for blasphemy and apostasy laws on a few reported sayings of Prophet Muhammad, known as hadith, primarily: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.” But many Islamic scholars and Muslim intellectuals reject this view as radical. They argue that Prophet Muhammad never executed anyone for apostasy, nor encouraged his followers to do so.Nor is criminalizing sacrilege based on Islam’s main sacred text, the Quran. It contains over 100 verses encouraging peace, freedom of conscience and religious tolerance. In chapter 2, verse 256, the Quran states, “There is no coercion in religion.” Chapter 4, verse 140 urges Muslims to simply leave blasphemous conversations: “When you hear the verses of God being rejected and mocked, do not sit with them.”By using their political connections and historical authority to interpret Islam, however, the conservative ulema have marginalized more moderate voices. Reaction to global IslamophobiaDebates about blasphemy and apostasy laws among Muslims are influenced by international affairs.Across the globe, Muslim minorities – including the Palestinians, Chechens of Russia, Kashmiris of India, Rohingya of Mymanmar and Uighurs of China – have experienced severe persecution. No other religion is so widely targeted in so many different countries. Alongside persecution are some Western policies that discriminate against Muslims, such as laws prohibiting headscarves in schools and the U.S. ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries.Such Islamaphobic laws and policies can create the impression that Muslims are under siege and provide an excuse that punishing sacrilege is a defense of the faith.Instead, I find, such harsh religious rules can contribute to anti-Muslim stereotypes. Some of my Turkish relatives even discourage my work on this topic, fearing it fuels Islamophobia. But my research shows that criminalizing blasphemy and apostasy is more political than it is religious. The Quran does not require punishing sacrilege: authoritarian politics do.[ Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter. ]This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts.Read more: * Conservative Islamic views are gaining ground in secular Bangladesh and curbing freedom of expression * Imran Khan hopes to transform Pakistan but he’ll have far less power than past leadersAhmet T. Kuru is a FORIS scholar at the Religious Freedom Institute.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 16:08:42 -0500
  • Infighting and online hoaxes mar Democrats' campaign

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    A group of Los Angeles artists were awaiting the results of the Democratic Party’s Iowa caucuses, hoping Bernie Sanders would win, when they fired off a hashtag on Twitter poking fun at Pete Buttigieg. Some on social media capitalized on the trending hashtag to spread misinformation or conspiracy theories about Buttigieg, including claims that he had colluded with the Democratic Party to rig the caucuses. Other accounts accused Russian trolls of promoting the hashtag to divide Democrats.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 16:03:50 -0500
  • Libya's warring parties resume talks in Geneva

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 15:22:25 -0500
  • Right-wing extremism suspected in Germany shooting that left 11 dead, including suspect

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    A mass shooting in Germany that left 11 people dead, including the suspected gunman and his mother, appears to have been motivated by racist, right-wing extremist views, authorities said. The massacre in the Frankfurt suburb of Hanau erupted around 10 p.m. Wednesday at two hookah bars in the city of fewer than 100,000 people. "Racism is poison, hatred is poison and this poison exists in society and it is to blame for far too many crimes," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday morning.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 15:08:00 -0500
  • NC soldiers return home from sudden Middle East deployment

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 15:07:00 -0500
  • Israel calls on Belgium to scrap parade over anti-Semitism

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 14:48:25 -0500
  • Battles intensify near strategic Yemeni port

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 14:20:32 -0500
  • Vigils in Germany after 'racist' gunman kills nine

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    Thousands of people took part in vigils across Germany on Thursday after a gunman with apparent far-right beliefs killed nine people at a shisha bar and a cafe in the city of Hanau. Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the "poison" of racism, as anger mixed with grief over the latest and deadliest attack linked to Germany's extreme right in recent months. The suspect, 43-year-old German Tobias R., was found dead at his home after the rampage along with his 72-year-old mother in what appeared to be a murder-suicide.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 14:13:58 -0500
  • Germany's immigrant community in Hanau reeling after attack

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    In the German town of Hanau, a longtime immigrant destination with decades of coexistence between people of different origins, residents were left with the fear Thursday that their community was targeted after a gunman shot and killed nine people of foreign background. Residents shook their heads at a level of violence that is rare in Germany, and wondered at the degree of anti-foreigner hatred expressed by the attack in a place where Turks and ethnic Kurds patronize the same hookah bars, and where members of both groups were among the victims along with people with roots in Bulgaria, Bosniaand Romania, according to media reports. Among the dead was the owner of the Midnight Shisha Bar, an immigrant from Turkey who worked and saved to buy his own business, along with the gaming kiosk next door.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 14:10:30 -0500
  • Disillusionment among women, youth seen dampening Iran election turnout

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:55:21 -0500
  • Schneider Sustainability Impact 2018-2020, the Group's extra-financial performance barometer, achieves 7.77 out of 10, on track to reach its 9 out of 10 2020 goal

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    For the fifth year, Schneider Electric, the leader in digital transformation of energy management and automation, announces its financial and non-financial results together for 2019 annual results. Each quarter, Schneider Electric publishes 21 indicators from the Schneider Sustainability Impact, measuring progress towards its ambitious sustainability commitments for 2018 to 2020, in line with its COP 21 commitments and United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Following thorough verification by an external independent auditor, Schneider Sustainability Impact reached a 7.77 out of 10 score for Q4 2019, ahead of its 7 out of 10 targets for the end of 2019.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:51:00 -0500
  • In rough US flu season for kids, vaccine working OK so far

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    It may end up being a bad flu season for kids, but early signs suggest the vaccine is working OK. The vaccine has been more than 50% effective in preventing flu illness severe enough to send a child to the doctor's office, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. The vaccines are made each year to protect against three or four different kinds of flu virus.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:37:08 -0500
  • Lawyer claims Italy can't charge captain in Libya arms case

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    A lawyer for the captain of a cargo ship jailed in Italy for allegedly transporting embargoed armaments to Libya contended on Thursday that there are no legal grounds for a case against his client in Italy. Lawyer Cesare Fumagalli told The Associated Press there is absolutely no proof the Lebanese-flagged Bana plied Italian waters with such arms aboard, and therefore Italy has no jurisdiction over the case. “The ship never went through Italian territorial waters,” Fumagalli said in a telephone interview.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:14:15 -0500
  • AP-NORC poll: More Americans worry about flu than new virus

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    A wide share of Americans are at least moderately confident in U.S. health officials’ ability to handle emerging viruses, and more express concern about catching the flu than catching the new coronavirus, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The findings are encouraging to those banking on Americans' trust in the health officials who are ordering quarantines and travel restrictions to contain the virus first detected in China. “Our ability to control the virus hangs on people’s willingness to accept the advice of health authorities,” said Jennifer Nuzzo of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:10:44 -0500
  • Pompeo meets US troops in Saudi visit focused on Iran

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    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited American troops in Saudi Arabia Thursday after talks with King Salman on the second day of a visit focused on countering Iran. The United States began building up its military presence at the Prince Sultan air base, south of Riyadh, last year following a series of attacks in the Gulf that Washington and Riyadh have blamed on their common foe Iran. "Pompeo's visit to Prince Sultan air base and a nearby US Patriot battery highlights the long-standing US-Saudi security relationship and reaffirms America's determination to stand with Saudi Arabia in the face of Iranian malign behaviour," the State Department said in a statement.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 13:07:46 -0500
  • Boat carrying 91 migrants goes missing in Mediterranean

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    A rubber dinghy packed with 91 migrants that set out from Libyan shores in hopes of reaching Europe has apparently gone missing in the Mediterranean, the U.N. migration agency said Thursday. The inflatable boat carrying mostly African migrants departed from al-Qarbouli, 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of the capital Tripoli on Feb. 8, said Osman Haroun, whose cousin was on board. “It's the first time I've heard of this happening,” Haroun told The Associated Press by phone from the western coastal district of Zawiya, where he has lived with his family since fleeing the conflict-ridden Darfur region of Sudan in 2016.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 12:47:30 -0500
  • New visa rules set off 'panic wave' in immigrant communities

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    After nearly a dozen years moving through the U.S. visa system, Sai Kyaw's brother and sister and their families were at the finish line: a final interview before they could leave Myanmar to join him in Massachusetts and work at his restaurant. Then a dramatic turn in U.S. immigration policy halted their plans.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 12:45:12 -0500
  • US sanctions Iran clerics for vetoing election candidates

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 11:56:37 -0500
  • Putin hails US for helping prevent terror attack in Russia

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    Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Thursday hailed the FBI for sharing information that helped thwart a terror attack by adherents of the Islamic State group in St. Petersburg during the New Year holidays. The FSB in December announced the detention of two Russian men who confessed to plotting the terror attacks in St. Petersburg.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 11:41:30 -0500
  • Iraq Airways suspends flights with Iran amid coronavirus fears

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 11:30:45 -0500
  • Israel confirms ultra-Orthodox draft figures were inflated

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    The Israeli military said Thursday it found “serious, systemic failures” in its own reporting that inflated figures on the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews, a hot-button issue in a country where most Jewish men are subject to mandatory conscription. The military launched an investigation after an expose by Israel’s public broadcaster Kan in early December found that the military “doubled or even tripled” figures on the number of ultra-Orthodox men drafted for the past several years. The army had previously said that ultra-Orthodox draft figures have surged.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 11:21:22 -0500
  • Sudanese activists say security forces fire tear gas at them

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 11:08:29 -0500
  • U.S. Sanctions Iranian Election Officials Who Bar Candidates

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 11:05:39 -0500
  • Egyptian court refuses to release prominent activist

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:32:35 -0500
  • Palestinian boy shot by Israeli police loses sight in eye

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    A nine-year-old Palestinian boy who was shot in the face by Israeli police in a tense east Jerusalem neighborhood last week will not regain vision in his left eye despite surgery, a local community leader who is in touch with the family said Thursday. Malik Eissa was hospitalized after being struck by what appeared to be a rubber-tipped or sponge munition on Saturday. Residents say he had just gotten off a school bus in the Issawiya neighborhood when Israeli police opened fire.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:18:44 -0500
  • On coronavirus, America and China must demonstrate global leadership and join together

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    President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping, the lives of your people hang in the balance.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 10:08:26 -0500
  • Touring US troops to Saudi Arabia, Pompeo touts 'maximum pressure' on Iran amid heightened tensions

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    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo toured with American troops deployed by President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia, as tensions with Iran remain high over crippling aggression and U.S. sanctions, less than two months after the countries stood on the brink of war.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 09:52:00 -0500
  • Google to move UK citizens’ data to US, putting it under control of Trump government

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    Google is transferring UK users' data to the US, the company has said.The decision comes in the wake of Brexit, as users in Britain are no longer covered by the data protections by provided by the EU.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 09:39:00 -0500
  • Merkel Vows to Defeat Racist ‘Poison’ After German Shootings

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    (Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed decisive action to combat racism after 11 people were killed in shootings on Wednesday night in a town near Frankfurt in what she said appeared to be a right-wing extremist attack by a lone gunman.The slayings in Hanau prompted immediate soul searching in a nation gripped by concerns about the rise of the far right, which is upending the traditional political order in Europe’s biggest economy and disrupting the final stages of Merkel’s four-term chancellorship.If the shooter’s motive is confirmed, it would be the third prominent assault by the extreme right in less than a year after a synagogue attack in eastern Germany in October and the murder of a regional lawmaker from Merkel’s party last June.“We will work against those who try to divide us in Germany with all possible strength and decisiveness,” a grim-faced Merkel said in a brief statement in Berlin. “Racism is poison, hate is poison, and this poison exists in our society, and is at fault for far too many crimes.”Nine people, who authorities said all had a “migration background,” were killed at two different bars in Hanau, before the suspected perpetrator and his mother were found dead at a nearby home. Six more people were injured, one seriously. The suspect is a 43-year-old German national from Hanau, according to Peter Beuth, interior minister in the regional Hesse government.Bild newspaper identified him as Tobias R. and published details from what it said was his manifesto. In the 24-page document, he calls for the “complete destruction” of around 20 nations, including India, Turkey and Israel, the paper said. He refers to the “racial purity” of Germans, rails against “foreigner criminality” and claims to be under surveillance by a secret intelligence service.The federal prosecutor is treating the case as a suspected terror attack, Beuth said, adding that the gunman was not previously known to authorities and ran a website which pointed to a “xenophobic motive.”“At the moment, there is much to indicate that the assailant acted based on right-wing extremist, racist motives, out of hate for people of different descent, different faiths and different appearances,” Merkel said.The initial shots were fired at the “Midnight” shisha bar at the Heumarkt in the town center at around 10 p.m. local time, local media reported. After entering the bar’s smoking area, the shooter fired wildly at guests, killing five.Many people were out watching the Champions League soccer match between German club RB Leipzig and English rivals Tottenham Hotspur, a local bar owner told Bloomberg.The next incident was around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away at the “Arena Bar & Cafe” in the Kesselstadt neighborhood. The corpses of the suspected shooter and his mother were later found in a nearby apartment after police tracked his car.The attack comes at an extremely delicate juncture in German politics, with Merkel’s grip on power weakened ahead of her retirement by September 2021 at the latest. She took an accepting stance on refugees at the height of the Syria crisis that has come at a price.For the last two weeks, the country has been in crisis after Merkel’s party aligned with the far-right Alternative for Germany in a vote for premier in an eastern German state. The fallout from that led to the resignation of Merkel’s heir apparent from her post as party leader and a chaotic process to replace her.Germany has relatively strict gun controls, but has suffered shooting attacks by lone gunmen before. In March 2009, a 17-year-old school pupil in the southern town of Winnenden shot dead 15 people before killing himself during a gunfight with police.In 2016, a teenager went on the rampage in Munich, shooting dead nine people at a shopping mall before turning the gun on himself after a siege lasting several hours.In October last year, a heavily armed man attempted to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Yom Kippur holiday and killed two people nearby in a suspected anti-Semitic attack that authorities blamed on the far right.Hanau is also close to where Walter Luebcke, a Hesse lawmaker from Merkel’s CDU who supported her refugee policy, was gunned down last year. Latest Interior Minister figures show that there were almost 13,000 violent right-wing extremists in Germany in 2018.Known as the birthplace of the Brothers Grimm, Hanau is about 20 kilometers east of Frankfurt, Germany’s financial center, and has around 100,000 inhabitants from diverse ethnic backgrounds. In the 2017 general election, the AfD scored 14%, making it the third-strongest party after Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats.The area is a melting pot of Kurds, Turks and Germans but doesn’t typically have a problem with far-right extremism, said Youssef H., a Turkish immigrant who has lived in Hanau for 50 years. He declined to give his full surname.“Everyone is shocked,” he told Bloomberg. “I can’t believe this happened here. It’s surreal.”(Updates with federal prosecutor’s comments from fifth paragraph)\--With assistance from Patrick Donahue.To contact the reporters on this story: William Wilkes in Frankfurt at wwilkes1@bloomberg.net;Iain Rogers in Berlin at irogers11@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net, Andrew BlackmanFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 09:20:04 -0500
  • Germany shooting: far-right gunman kills 10 in Hanau

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    Police say attack suspect killed nine people at two shisha bars then killed his mother and himself at home A gunman killed nine people in two apparently racially motivated shootings at shisha bars in the German town of Hanau, police said. The suspect then killed himself, according to officers, after also killing his mother at his home.Investigators believed a racist motive was behind the attack, said Peter Beuth, the interior minister for the state of Hessen. Angela Merkel said the circumstances of the attack needed to be fully investigated, and the shootings had exposed the “poison” of racism in German society. She pledged to stand up against those who sought to divide the country.Nine people died in the attacks on the two bars on Wednesday night. Five others had life-threatening injuries, police said.Some of those killed were of Turkish origin, a spokesman for the Turkish presidency said. “We expect German authorities to show maximum effort to enlighten this case. Racism is a collective cancer,” İbrahim Kalın tweeted.The killer was named by police as 43-year-old Tobias R. His surname was not given, in line with German practice. German media named him as Tobias Rathjen.He shot himself and his 72-year-old mother at home, police said. They also confirmed he possessed a hunting licence.The Bild newspaper said the gunman had expressed extreme rightwing views in a letter of confession he left behind. A video in which he explained his motives is believed to be part of the investigation. The Guardian could not confirm the details of his confession. The video was taken down from social media sites on Thursday morning, police said.After the murders, a huge hunt was launched for the perpetrator involving dozens of armed police and a helicopter hovering above the commuter town 15 miles (25km) east of Frankfurt.Police tweeted at about 5am local time that special police force officers had stormed the home of the alleged suspect and found him dead along with another body.“There are currently no indications of other perpetrators,” police said in a statement.Officers sealed off and searched the terrace house in Hanau’s Kesselstadt district, near the scene of one of the shootings, after following up witness statements on a getaway car. According to local media, eight or nine shots were fired at the Midnight shisha bar on Heumarkt in the centre of the town at about 10pm. A dark vehicle was seen leaving the scene. Soon afterwards, shots were fired at a second shisha bar – the Arena Bar and Café in Kurt-Schumacher-Platz in the western Kesselstadt district.Police denied initial reports of a third incident in the district of Lamboy.They urged any witnesses with mobile phone footage to upload it to a police website, and appealed to them not to post the evidence on social media.Michael Malkmus,a spokesman for Hessen police force, said local people helped the police track down the alleged perpetrator after seeing his car parked on the street. “We came to the building after calls from people who had seen a vehicle. We ID’d his number plate and matched it to his home. We sealed the area and then entered the home.”Neighbours reported hearing a huge bang as police used explosives to break down the door at 3am.MapFederal prosecutors said on Thursday they were taking charge of investigating the shooting amid reports that the suspect may have had a far-right motive.Merkel pledged that “everything will be done to investigate the circumstances of these terrible murders”.She added: “Racism is a poison. Hatred is a poison. This hatred exists in our society and its is responsible for far too many crimes.”Hanau’s federal MP, Katja Leikert, called the attack a “horrific scenario” in a tweet in which she offered her “heartfelt condolences” to the victims.The mayor of the town, Claus Kaminsky, said it was the “worst evening imaginable”. Hanau has a population of about 100,000.Last Friday one person was shot dead and four were injured outside a Berlin music venue. The shooting occurred near the Tempodrome, which was hosting a Turkish comedy show. The motives behind the Berlin attack have remained unclear.Witnesses to the Hanau attack described how the gunman randomly fired shots into the bars. One witness, Kenan Kocak, said he was waiting to hear whether his uncle, who had been in the bar, had survived. “I do not know whether he has pulled through,” he told the TV station NTV. “It’s very sad in particular that young people – a young lad, and a young girl about 20, 25 years old – have died. I was there with them yesterday. Someone who worked there was also taken to hospital. It looks very bad.”One man in his early 30s said he received a call from a friend who had been in one of the bars. “He left a message to tell me he had been hit,” the man, who was not identified, told NTV. “I called him back immediately. He told me he was in an ambulance. He had a bullet in his shoulder.”Another witness who knew some of the victims said: “These are people we have known for years. It’s like in a film. That it’s happened is unimaginable. That there are people out there who are so heartless, shooting others who have done nothing wrong.”Other witnesses spoke of finding empty bullet casings strewn on the ground outside one of the cafes.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 08:47:12 -0500
  • Vatican sees intense interest in opening of Pius XII archive

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    More than 150 historians and researchers have signed up to access the soon-to-open Vatican archives of Pope Pius XII, evidence of the intense scholarly interest into the World War II-era pope and his record during the Holocaust, officials said Thursday. Cardinal José Tolentino Calaça de Mendonça, the Vatican’s chief librarian, told reporters that all researchers — regardless of nationality, faith and ideology — were welcome to request permission to use the Vatican’s Apostolic Library, which will open the archive on March 2. Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, a great defender of Pius, accelerated the process to open the archives ahead of schedule so that researchers could have their say.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 08:13:45 -0500
  • Trump ally Roger Stone sentenced to over 3 years in prison

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    Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of President Donald Trump, was sentenced to more than three years in prison Thursday for obstructing a congressional investigation in a case that has sparked fears about presidential interference in the justice system. Soon after Judge Amy Berman Jackson pronounced sentence, Trump publicly decried Stone's conviction as unfair and prominent Republican legislators were giving tacit support for a pardon.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 07:56:21 -0500
  • Texas Tackles Its Gas Problem With Whataboutism

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    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- When writing about the Texas Railroad Commission, it is customary to note that, despite its name, it regulates the state’s oil and gas industry. Having read the report it just published on flaring, perhaps we can drop that disclaimer.Flaring and venting — whereby unwanted gas from oil wells is burned off or just released into the air — are old practices that are now in focus for two reasons. First, the shale boom has led to a lot more of both, as fracking of wells outpaced construction of new pipelines and processing facilities. Texas’ flared and vented gas has risen from about 100 million cubic feet per day a decade ago to an estimated 650 million a day in 2018, according to figures cited by the commission. Estimates from Rystad Energy and Bernstein Research suggest flaring and venting in the Permian basin alone topped 800 million cubic feet per day last year — far more than Texas’ entire residential consumption of the fuel(1).Second, it is now abundantly clear that carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels cause climate change. Burning 650 million cubic feet per day of gas releases about 13 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in a year, equivalent to the entire emissions of New Hampshire (venting gas is even worse on a shorter time scale)(3).The commission has taken some flack for handing out flaring permits with abandon. It issued nearly 5,500 in fiscal 2018, versus about 300 in 2010, according to the Energy Information Administration. Most notably, the commission granted one to a producer last year even though its wells were connected to existing pipelines. While one commissioner, unusually, voted against the decision, commissioner Ryan Sitton argued the pipeline contract was uneconomic, making it unreasonable to withhold a permit.Sitton authored the analysis just published. The broad thrust is that, while flaring has undoubtedly jumped in Texas, the state’s flaring intensity — flared gas per barrel — compares well with other producers. Moreover, tinkering with regulations could limit oil output in Texas, raising energy costs for Americans and letting producers with higher flaring intensity take market share.Flaring intensity is an interesting number for benchmarking purposes but less useful for mitigating-climate-change purposes. If a company (or state) cuts its intensity by roughly 10% but quadruples its production, then the amount of gas it flares still rises by more than 3.5 times. That is what happened with Texas in the decade ending 2018, using the commission’s own data(4).Yes, it’s good the state’s flaring intensity is lower than in some other places (including, the report notes, North Dakota; I see what you did there, Texas). However, “those other kids done worse” stopped being a useful get-out for me roughly around the time I could formulate the sentence.Notably, the report singles out higher flaring intensity in Iran and Iraq. “We’re doing better than that country we’ve sanctioned for four decades and that other country we invaded (and which now barely functions as a country)” seems a curious line of reasoning. While such thinking lets pretty much any regulator simply throw their hands up, why would Texas take its lead from such places? Even the commission’s argument that more-intensive countries would replace lost Texan barrels is questionable in the near term: Saudi Arabia, which ranks lower on intensity, holds the vast majority of spare production capacity.Above all, when it comes to greenhouse gases and their impact on the atmosphere and our climate, this is one of those times when absolute quantity counts. Nature ultimately isn’t interested in how efficiently you polluted.Now, of course, omelettes-and-broken-eggs theory dictates you can’t produce oil without some gas escaping into the wider world. And since we remain dependent on fossil fuels for most of our energy, some flaring goes with the territory. The shale boom has played a big part in choking off coal use in the U.S., generating a big benefit in terms of reducing carbon emissions.That doesn’t mean you can just shrug off flaring’s impact, which is the tone of this report. Early on, it dismisses those using “raw volumes” when discussing flaring without acknowledging that raw volume is what counts when it comes to climate change (a phrase not found in the document). The author laments that public discussion has centered on “philosophical/political beliefs” rather than data — which, apart from being inaccurate, is roughly equivalent to telling everyone to stop getting so emotional. The report frames the question as “if/how to attempt to reduce flaring” and then suggests even incorporating its own favored benchmark into the regulatory process would first require “careful consideration.” You’d find stronger commitment on Tinder.The commission’s own analysis shows flaring intensity began rising again after 2016, jumping at least 25% by 2018. Moreover, of the top 151 operators, fully 105 of them, representing 39% of the sample’s oil production, are flaring above the commission’s own benchmark. Quite clearly, Austin, like Houston, has a problem.The commission may think it’s shielding a critical sector, but it really isn’t. For an industry that regularly touts its ability to drill miles underground with laser-like precision, saying it also has a tough time just holding onto and selling more of the stuff it’s supposed to sell is not a good look. Yes, extra measures to address flaring require investment that may raise costs and, thereby, shut in some production. But the cost of flaring, in terms of contributing to climate change, is being borne by everyone anyway. To say addressing the issue will somehow result in “new” costs is a logical and economic fallacy that mostly serves vested interests (not to mention philosophical/political beliefs).Moreover, there is a parallel here with the financial performance of the frackers over the past decade. The sector’s all-out push for production growth has ultimately inflicted collateral damage on the investors who financed it, exposing the model’s shortcomings. That’s why Permian darlings such as Diamondback Energy Inc. are touting higher dividends as they report results this week.Like the earlier enthusiasm of the high-yield bond market, handing out flaring permits by the fistful fosters behavior that is ultimately unsustainable, both in terms of economics and the industry’s relationship with society at large. Even the biggest oil companies can feel where this is going. The regulators just aren’t keeping up.(1) Residential consumption of natural gas in Texas averaged 619 million cubic feet per day in the 12 months through November 2019 (Source: EnergyInformation Administration).(2) Methane’s global warming potential is upward of 28 times that of carbon dioxide over the first 100 years, according to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.(3) The data are a bit confusing because the Texas Railroad Commission's analysis uses several data sources. It compiles its ownhistorical data but these only run to 2017 in the study, before a big uptick in both oil production and flaring. The data for 2018 used in its benchmarking analysis are sourced from the World Bank and indicate flaring of 410 million cubic feet per day, or roughly a third lower than the figure for flaring and venting estimated for that year by the Energy Information Administration and cited elsewhere in the document.To contact the author of this story: Liam Denning at ldenning1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Gongloff at mgongloff1@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.Liam Denning is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering energy, mining and commodities. He previously was editor of the Wall Street Journal's Heard on the Street column and wrote for the Financial Times' Lex column. He was also an investment banker.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinionSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 07:00:22 -0500
  • Iran announces 3 new cases of new virus after 2 deaths

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    Iran said Thursday that three more people have been infected with the new virus that originated in central China, following an announcement the day before that two people had died of the illness caused by the virus in the Iranian city of Qom. All schools and universities, including religious Shiite seminaries, were shut down in the holy city of Qom, according to the official IRNA news agency. Other news reports said Iran had recently evacuated 60 Iranian students from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the epicenter of the epidemic.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 06:30:45 -0500
  • Iran’s Guards Urge ‘Maximum Turnout’ in Parliamentary Elections

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 06:22:07 -0500
  • Pompeo in Saudi Arabia for visit focused on Iranian threats

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    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi Arabia's King Salman and the crown prince on Thursday to discuss shared security interests in the Gulf and threats from Iran. Ahead of his arrival in the capital Riyadh, Pompeo said he'd also raise with the Saudi leadership concerns about human rights and the cases of dual Saudi-American citizens. Some of these American citizens have been imprisoned in the kingdom as part of a wider crackdown on perceived critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 06:06:38 -0500
  • China and Trump Leave Europe Feeling Lonely

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    (Bloomberg) -- In the daily onslaught of news — from the coronavirus to the U.S. presidential race — it would have been easy to miss a little fracas in the Baltics this week.On Tuesday, the Chinese embassy in Tallinn issued a blunt statement slamming the “ignorance, prejudice as well as a Cold War mindset” displayed by Estonia’s foreign intelligence service in its annual report.The document, published the previous week, was critical of China’s overseas investments, which the service said were used for political purposes and represented a security threat.China’s response was far from unprecedented. Earlier this month, its embassy in fellow Baltic state Lithuania expressed “grave dissatisfaction” at a similar security assessment. China’s ambassador to Norway, Yi Xianliang, rebutted a Norwegian Intelligence Service report that concluded China posed a growing threat. China’s envoy in Sweden has a record of run-ins with the government there.The wall of pushback is a reminder that China remains a prickly partner for Europe, even as U.S. pressure might be expected to push Beijing and Brussels closer together. The European Union, President Donald Trump said last month, treats the U.S. “worse than China.”Trump’s appointment as acting director of national intelligence of Richard Grenell, the combative U.S. ambassador to Germany, suggests Europe will remain firmly in his sights.With an emboldened Trump in the White House, Europe may have nowhere left to turn.Global HeadlinesTaking fire | Michael Bloomberg came under sustained attack in a spirited Democratic debate that saw Elizabeth Warren compare him to Trump in his treatment of women and Bernie Sanders assail him over his attitude toward minorities. The focus on Bloomberg deflected some of the heat that Sanders might have otherwise gotten from his rivals as the current front-runner in the race, though he didn’t completely escape criticism, particularly from Pete Buttigieg. The debate came at a pivotal moment, with the Nevada caucuses Saturday, followed a week later by a primary in South Carolina.(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.) Click here for more key takeaways from last night’s face-off.Economic impact | The White House has acknowledged what many economists considered obvious through much of last year: Its trade stance depressed economic growth and business investment. “Uncertainty generated by trade negotiations dampened investment,” Trump chief economist Tomas Philipson told reporters in an annual briefing. The admission contrasted with the president’s repeated assertions that his tariff tactics hadn’t hurt the economy while swelling the government’s tax coffers.Iran’s pain | When Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran in 2013, supporters hoped he’d revive the country’s fortunes and its relationship with the rest of the world. But as Golnar Motevalli explains ahead of parliamentary elections tomorrow, even amid U.S. sanctions pressure, the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet full of Iranians by their own military last month provides a tragic reminder of how the country has alienated the very people who swept Rouhani to power.Seeking redemption | Saudi Arabia is hoping to repair its tarnished international reputation when it welcomes leaders from the world’s biggest economies this weekend. Officials see the Group of 20 meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors as a chance to highlight the Kingdom’s reforms that have been overshadowed by outrage over a murdered critic, a crackdown on dissent and Riyadh’s leading role in the grinding five-year war in Yemen.Rising star | Giorgia Meloni has gone from bartending at a Roman nightclub to leading one of Italy’s main political forces — which traces its roots to fascism — and she’s now one of the most popular politicians in the nation. As John Follain explains, while the 43-year-old Meloni doesn’t define herself as a feminist, she’s aiming to become Italy’s first woman prime minister.What to WatchEU leaders travel to Brussels today to thrash out the bloc’s next long-term budget. Trump ally Roger Stone’s sentencing today has become a test of judicial independence after the president inserted himself in the court’s deliberations. Ireland’s parliament meets to try to choose a prime minister, the first step in what’s likely to be a prolonged search for a new government. U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo has criticized China’s move to revoke the press credentials of three Wall Street Journal reporters over a controversial headline, a decision that comes as Beijing continues to lash out at countries that fault its handling of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net.And finally ... Japan is emerging as one of the riskiest places for the spread of the coronavirus, prompting criticism of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government. And with cases mounting internally to 84 — tying with Singapore for the highest outside China — Tokyo received a rare rebuke from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over its management of the quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where infections surged during two weeks docked in Yokohama. \--With assistance from Ruth Pollard and Gordon Bell.To contact the author of this story: Alan Crawford in Berlin at acrawford6@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Karl Maier at kmaier2@bloomberg.net, Kathleen HunterFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 06:04:37 -0500
  • S.Sudan citizens 'deliberately starved' by warring parties: UN

    Golocal247.com news

    South Sudan's government forces and other armed groups have "deliberately starved" civilians by denying aid access and displacing communities, a United Nations rights probe said Thursday. In a report issued two days before a deadline to form a unity government, the three-member commission looked into abuses from the signing of a peace deal in September 2018 to December 2019. The panel delivered a damning indictment of "predatory and unaccountable elites" and the suffering of civilians after six years of conflict.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 05:47:00 -0500
  • Turkish soldiers killed in Syria amid threats of escalation

    Golocal247.com news

    Two Turkish soldiers were killed Thursday in an airstrike in northwestern Syria, Turkey said, after an attack by Ankara-backed opposition forces that targeted Syrian government troops. The deaths came after the Turkish president threatened to expand his nation's involvement in Syria if another one of his troops were hurt. At least 15 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria this month amid a crushing offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces aimed at recapturing remaining opposition-held areas in the region.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 05:14:07 -0500
  • INSIGHT-'Hit with a truck' - How Iran's missiles inflicted brain injury on U.S. troops

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 05:00:05 -0500
  • 19 children among dead in recent Yemen strikes: UN

    Golocal247.com news

    Nineteen children were among at least 31 civilians killed in air strikes on rebel-held northern Yemen last week, the United Nations said on Thursday. "UNICEF is sad to confirm that the recent attack in Al-Jawf, north of Yemen, on February 15, took the lives of 19 children (eight boys and 11 girls) and injured another 18 (nine boys and another nine girls)," the UN children's agency said in a statement. "It was an attack on a civilian populated area where children were in the vicinity," UNICEF regional communications chief Juliette Touma told AFP.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 04:34:24 -0500
  • UN report: South Sudan's rival sides are starving civilians

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    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 04:24:42 -0500
  • Putin says cabinet dismissal didn't come out of the blue

    Golocal247.com news

    President Vladimir Putin says the ouster of Russia's prime minister and a cabinet reshuffle that caught many in Russia off guard in January was not in fact unexpected, but he remains vague about the reasons for the move. In an interview to the state-run TASS news agency, the first episode of which was released on Thursday, Putin said there was “nothing unusual or unexpected” about the dismissal of the government. The reshuffle came just hours after Putin announced a controversial constitutional reform during his annual state of the nation address on Jan. 15.

    Thu, 20 Feb 2020 03:59:46 -0500
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