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26 Apr

Sunday Enjoyment – Trans-Pacific Speculation

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The Strip

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Trans-Pacific Speculation

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26 Apr

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Spies, artificial insemination and the pope: how Cuba came in from the cold

The restoration of US relations with the Castro regime is seen by many as a triumph for Barack Obama. The story of how it happened is extraordinary

Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shake hands Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shake hands in Panama City. Photograph: Reuters

Behind the faded doors of what once ranked among the grandest diplomatic buildings in Washington, a team of craftsmen have flown in from Havana to quietly restore the old Cuban embassy to its former glory.

Empty for two decades after the revolution and occupied since then by a “Cuban interests” section that is officially part of the Swiss embassy, the mission has been frozen in a cold war time warp as rigid and unforgiving as its government’s relationship with the US.

Ceiling fans, dark wood panels and the even darker coffee served to guests suggest hints of Havana. Yet the 110-year-old mansion on 16th Street flies no flag and its half-dozen Cuban diplomats are not even allowed US bank accounts, receiving only cash from home and rumoured surveillance from the Americans.

But Cuba is coming in from the cold. After this month’s historic meeting with President Raúl Castro in Panama, Barack Obama’s decision to remove the communist government from a US list of state sponsors of terrorism has dismantled the final barrier to normalising relations, clearing the way to finish a secret deal that was first announced to incredulous international onlookers in December.

To the shock, too, of some of those who work there, a rapid thaw in diplomatic relations could soon see the Washington embassy’s formal reopening – and by the look of the refurbished Ernest Hemingway bar, dusted-down chandeliers and polished new ballroom floor, it will be quite a party.

Yet as the dust settles from these tumultuous few months and both countries look forward to an opening up of trade and tourism that could transform both Cuba and the reputation of the US in Latin America, several mysteries remain.

Why now, after so many years of false starts? How did negotiations that appeared deadlocked over US demands for the unconditional release of Cuba’s prisoner Alan Gross get resolved? Who persuaded two countries that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war to trust each other again?………………

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Baltimore Freddie Gray protests turn violent as police and crowds clash

Protesters pelt objects at police and call out taunts as demonstrations turn violent in Baltimore. Video: Jon Swaine for the Guardian

At least a dozen protesters were arrested in Baltimore on Saturday evening after peaceful demonstrations over the death of Freddie Gray were followed by clashes with police in riot gear and scattered vandalism.

Officers detained several people during late confrontations in the streets of west Baltimore, near to where Gray was arrested on 12 April. A crowd gathered outside a police station pelted officers with rocks, glass bottles, eggs and other items.

Young men and women furious about Gray’s death from a broken neck after his arrest yelled insults at officers as they advanced. “You are assaulting American citizens,” a protester calling himself Leon the Poet told them.

“When all hell breaks loose, the difference between a good man and a bad man is how you conduct yourself,” said the 30-year-old, who said he served in the US army in Iraq between 2005 and 2007, stationed at the Camp Anaconda base near Balad.

Speaking at a late evening press conference alongside Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Gray’s twin sister Fredericka urged calm. “Freddie Gray would not want this,” she said. “Freddie’s father and mother do not want any violence. Violence does not get justice.”………………..

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Iron Lady to #GrandmotherKnowsBest: Hillary Clinton plays ‘gender card’ to win

Shedding failed advice on ‘first mama’, female-dominated campaign signals Clinton will embrace historic White House run – and even drop the f-word: ‘feminist’

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‘If you don’t believe what I say, look to the World Economic Forum, hardly a hotbed of feminist thought,’ Clinton said on Thursday at the Women in the World summit in New York. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

When Hillary Clinton took the stage on Thursday, she looked out at the audience for her first major address as a presidential candidate since her concession speech seven years ago, when she finally embraced how painfully close she had come to shattering “that highest, hardest glass ceiling”.

She promised, back in 2008, “that the path will be a little easier next time”. And now here she was, surrounded by thousands of fans – mostly women, nearly all adoring, some weeping with glee.

Clinton was in her element at Tina Brown’s Women of the World Summit in New York, melding the girls-and-women message championed by a former secretary of state with the emerging confidence of an unabashedly female – if not outright feminist – candidate. But she went further. She called out conservatives for “denying women equal pay”. She called sexual assault a “continuing scourge”. Of reproductive rights, she said “religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed”…………………

While light on specifics and heavy on sit-downs at schools and local businesses, Clinton’s message has been carefully crafted to frame women’s empowerment as not just a women’s issue but as a key to economic prosperity………………………..

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Wisconsin police billboard features officer who shot two people in 10 days

Image posted by Kenosha Professional Police Association prompts anger from community after Pablo Torres killed Aaron Siler, 26

Kenosha billboard

A billboard shows Pablo Torres. Photograph: Mike Bell

Amidst national tension over perceived police brutality, Kenosha, Wisconsin, a city of roughly 100,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago, has come into focus.

The Kenosha Professional Police Association (KPPA) posted a billboard thanking the community for its support. Some residents question the message behind the ad. It features Pablo Torres, a young officer who shot two people within a 10-day period in March. In the second shooting, Torres killed 26-year-old Aaron Siler.

Police have said the shooting occurred after a chase, when Torres was confronted with a weapon. A spokesperson for the Siler family, Kathy Willie, told the Guardian the billboard was “hurtful”.

“To me that doesn’t make the department look good,” she said. “What are they trying to say? Are they trying to say he’s not guilty and they know that for a fact? Why are they thanking him?”

The investigation is ongoing. Torres is on administrative leave……………….

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Other News & Analysis

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Environment

US government says drilling causes earthquakes – what took them so long?

US Geological Survey backpedals on previous research on wastewater fracking-induced earthquakes that have shaken eight states in last seven years

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A man works to clear up bricks that fell from his in-laws’ home in Oklahoma in 2011. Earthquake frequency rose from 20 in 2009 to 585 in 2014. Photograph: Sue Ogrocki/AP

As the US Geological Survey confirmed on Thursday, in the last seven years, geologically staid parts of the US have seen earthquakes like they haven’t seen for millions of years. And they were triggered by drilling for oil and gas.

The drilling – or rather, the process of injecting water deep underground – has been triggering earthquakes in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

The most obvious question is: what took you so long, USGS? Over those seven years, other scientists have speculated about whether this rise in earthquakes has anything to do with the injection wells used by the fracking industry to dispose of the water used in the process.

For the most part, the report does not pin the blame on fracking itself – pumping large volumes of water, sand and chemicals into rock formations in order to free oil or gas – but rather on the associated process of injecting wastewater deep underground using injection wells.

The rise of fracking after 2005’s Energy Policy Act slightly preceded and coincided with the rise in earthquakes.

Oklahoma averaged a handful of earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater from 1975 to 2008.

Then, in 2009, it had 20.

In 2011, the number of earthquakes in the state rose to over 60, and Oklahoma was hit by its largest earthquake in recorded history – magnitude 5.7. Immediately after the quake Katie Keranan, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Oklahoma, partnered with scientists from the USGS and Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory to install two dozen seismometers in Prague………………….

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26 Apr

United States Wars, News and Casualties

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White House exempts Syria airstrikes from tight standards on civilian deaths

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War  News

04/25/15 KP: Two solders martyred, 15 militants killed in Kundoz clashes

04/25/15 ToloNews: Police Action Saves 7 of 10 Passengers Kidnapped on Kabul-Jalalabad Highway

04/25/15 Reuters : Taliban launch spring offensive, attack US Bagram Air Base outside Kabul with rocket

04/25/15 AFP: Insurgent mortar attack kills 5 in Afghanistan

04/25/15 Reuters: Islamic State takes military barracks, dam in Iraq’s Anbar – sources

04/25/15 rferl: IS Militants Kill Iraqi General, Seize Part Of Key Dam In Anbar Province

04/25/15 Reuters: U.S., allies conduct 15 air strikes in Syria, Iraq

04/25/15 arabnews: Iraqi Army battles IS near Fallujah

04/25/15 AP: Car bombs driven by foreigners hit Iraq-Jordan border post

Coalition Deaths

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25 Apr

Elizabeth Warren Tells Obama To Put Up Or Shut Up On Trade

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Elizabeth Warren Tells Obama To Put Up Or Shut Up On Trade

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The O’Leary: Classic, arrogant Obama. How dare he!

 

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WASHINGTON — Progressive Democrats have been hoping to see a showdown between Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton for years. Instead, they’re getting a public feud between the senator from Massachusetts and President Barack Obama.

Obama accused Warren and congressional Democrats on Friday of being “dishonest” and spreading “misinformation” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade pact the administration is negotiating among 12 nations. The overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress oppose TPP, while Republican leaders support it.

It was an unusually aggressive attack for the president — accusing members of his own party not of having misplaced priorities, but of actively working to deceive the public. Obama is rarely so severe even with his Republican opponents. Obama said that the Democratic criticism that “gets on [his] nerves the most” is the notion that his TPP pact is “secret,” and went on to insist that the terms of TPP will help American workers.

On Saturday, Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responded with a letter essentially telling Obama to put up or shut up. If the deal is so great, Warren and Brown wrote, the administration should make the full negotiation texts public before Congress votes on a “fast track” bill that would strip the legislative branch of its authority to amend it.

“Members of Congress should be able to discuss the agreement with our constituents and to participate in a robust public debate, instead of being muzzled by classification rules,” Warren and Brown wrote in the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

Democrats and some Republican critics have been particularly frustrated by Obama’s decision to treat the TPP documents as classified information, which prevents them from responding to Obama’s claims about the pact in detail.

“Your Administration has deemed the draft text of the agreement classified and kept it hidden from public view, thereby making it a secret deal,” the letter reads. “It is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement. And while you noted that Members of Congress may ‘walk over … and read the text of the agreement’ — as we have done — you neglected to mention that we are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public.”

Warren and Brown appeared particularly miffed at being accused of lying.

“We respectfully suggest that characterizing the assessments of labor unions, journalists, Members of Congress, and others who disagree with your approach to transparency on trade issues as ‘dishonest’ is both untrue and unlikely to serve the best interests of the American people,” the letter reads.

The White House was not immediately available to comment.

Some of Obama’s claims about TPP on Friday took some creative license with the truth. He said that he wanted a trade deal that would allow American automakers to sell more cars overseas, without mentioning that Ford and autoworker unions do not support the pact. He also said that he had not included any language barring currency manipulation — a key tactic by which Japan and China undercut American production — because it might hamper the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy operations. That scenario would only be possible if the pact defined “currency manipulation” in a particularly bizarre manner.

The Warren-Brown letter also includes a subtly vicious Democrat-on-Democrat dig, suggesting that Obama’s trade transparency record is worse than that of former President George W. Bush. They note that Bush published the full negotiation texts of a major free trade deal with Latin America several months before Congress had to vote on giving the deal fast track benefits. The Obama administration has resisted calls to follow suit with TPP.

“What was true then remains true now,” the letter reads. “The American people should be allowed to weigh in on the facts of the TPP before Members of Congress are asked to voluntarily reduce our ability to amend, shape, or block any trade deal.”

The Obama administration has been negotiating the TPP deal since the early days of his presidency. Democrats and a bloc of House Republicans lead by Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.) are concerned that the pact — which has not been finalized — will exacerbate income inequality and undermine U.S. authority to write its own regulations, while Obama and Republican leaders say the deal will help all Americans by boosting economic growth. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other top corporate lobbying groups support the deal, while environmentalists, organized labor and many Tea Party organizations are opposed. Warren and Brown said that corporate support for the deal shouldn’t be surprising.

“Executives of the country’s biggest corporations and their lobbyists already have had significant opportunities not only to read [the TPP text], but to shape its terms,” the letter reads. “The Administration’s 28 trade advisory committees on different aspects of the TPP have a combined 566 members, and 480 of those members, or 85%, are senior corporate executives or industry lobbyists. Many of the advisory committees — including those on chemicals and pharmaceuticals, textiles and clothing, and services and finance — are made up entirely of industry representatives.”

By focusing his attacks on Warren, Obama has elevated a quiet political quest to win over congressional Democrats into a prominent public debate with one of the most popular figures in his party, one widely seen as its standard-bearer on economic policy. Brown is one of the top Democratic experts on trade policy. His 2006 book detailing problems with the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade pacts is celebrated by progressives.

Democrats have been wringing their hands about the potential damage the dispute on Capitol Hill could do to the party, particularly as the 2016 elections get into gear — a concern that is only compounded by the vitriol now being exchanged between two of its most prominent figures. Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has largely avoided addressing TPP in the early stages of her campaign.

Read the full letter here.

 

 

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