30 Jul

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective


After two days of rain and leaden skies, an ironic sun shines on Pope Francis’s visit to one of the darkest places on earth

Pope Francis walks through the gate at Auschwitz.

Pope Francis walks through the gate at Auschwitz. Photograph: Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

In the gloom of an underground cell at the site of one of the greatest horrors in history, Pope Francis sat alone, head bowed, in silence.

A dim lamp threw light on to his hunched shoulders, clad in papal white. The bars of the cell door cast shadows along the stone floor, and a cross was faintly scratched in the wall.

Seventy-five years ago, when Francis was a four-year-old boy called Jorge living in Buenos Aires, this cell at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp was occupied by prisoner number 16770, Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan friar.

When 10 fellow inmates were selected to die in punishment for the escape of another prisoner, Kolbe stepped forward and volunteered his life instead of that of Franciszek Gajowniczek, who had cried out in anguish for his wife and children. Kolbe’s offer was accepted. He was thrown into the starvation bunker for two weeks and finally given a lethal injection on 14 August 1941.

The pope came to Auschwitz on Friday to pray in silent memory of Kolbe and the other 1.1m people the Nazis exterminated there. Jews made up the vast majority – 960,000, including 185,000 children – but thousands of Polish Catholics, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war were also put to death.

He had signalled his intention to visit the memorial “without speeches, without crowds”. His simple plan was: “Alone, enter, pray. And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.”

In the shadows of the cell, his long silence was an eloquent tribute to the suffering of so many and a profound condemnation of evil. At the end of his prayers, he raised his head, crossed himself, stood and left………..

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Charity says the facility that it supports in a rebel-held area of Idlib province has been extensively damaged

The charity Save the Children has released a short video clip and a number of photographs said to show the aftermath of an airstrike on a maternity hospital supported by the organisation in northern Syria. There has been no indication of casualties in the strike but as the only hospital providing maternity services in the area it is likely to have been busy with newborns and expectant mothers.

An airstrike has hit a maternity hospital in northern Syria supported by Save the Children, the charity has said.

Two people were killed in the attack, and several others injured including a woman who was six months pregnant who lost her leg. Several babies were also hurt when their incubators crashed to the floor in the attack.

The hospital was the only one providing maternity services in the area and delivered about 300 babies a month.

The strike on the hospital in Kafar Takharim in a rebel-held part of north-western Idlib province came after earlier airstrikes that killed at least five people and injured more than 25, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The organisation said the airstrike, which also hit a civil defence unit, had left the hospital so badly damaged it was barely operational. The nearest working maternity unit is now about 70 miles away, according to Reuters.

Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Syria director, described the bombing as a “shameful act, whether it was done intentionally or because due care was not taken to avoid civilian areas”.

She added: “There is no excuse, and unfortunately this is only the latest in a series of strikes on health facilities in Syria. We condemn these attacks, which are illegal under international law, in the strongest possible terms. We need an immediate ceasefire across Syria and an end to the appalling bombing of medical facilities.”

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IRS has been exploring how the tech company transferred assets to Ireland and whether it deliberately tried to minimize the tax it paid in the US

Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California. Photograph: Kimihiro Hoshino/AFP/Getty Images

Facebook could be liable to pay between $3 to $5bn in extra US tax after an extensive investigation by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) into the way the tech company transferred assets to Ireland.

The tax agency has been exploring whether Facebook deliberately deployed complex financial processes designed to minimize the amount of US tax it paid.

The IRS issued the firm with a “statutory notice of deficiency” on 27 July, the company said in its quarterly financial filing, noting that it could have a “material adverse impact” on its finances. Facebook broke out the possible loss in its earnings report, as a minimum of $3bn and maximum of $5bn. It would also be liable for interest lost, though any additional penalties are not known.

On Friday, a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement: “Facebook complies with all applicable rules and regulations in the countries where we operate.”

The IRS began investigating Facebook in 2013 over assets it had transferred in 2010 to its base in Dublin. Ireland is known for its corporation-friendly tax structures; it has a corporate tax rate of 12.5%, compared to the US rate of 35% and 21% in the UK.

The case became public on 6 July when the IRS filed a lawsuit in San Francisco, suing Facebook over access to records related to the transfer. Its 2013 investigation described the valuation of the assets as “problematic”, implying it had undervalued the assets to pay less US tax……………

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Michigan attorney general filed charges Friday against state employees for alleged involvement in lead contamination of the water supply

Flint water crisis

The Flint Water Plant water tower in Flint, Michigan on 21 March 2016. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/AP

The Michigan attorney general filed charges against six more state employees on Friday for their alleged involvement in lead contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan.

Three other employees were previously charged, bringing the total to nine.

Environmental employees face allegations of tampering with or altering lead in water tests, while those in the health department faced allegations of concealing tests that showed elevated blood lead levels. The multiple felony and misdemeanor charges carry sentences of one to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

“Now, some may worry that the story of Flint will be slowly absorbed by world events,” said Bill Schuette, the Michigan attorney general, at a press conference Friday. “Nope, not on our watch. That will not happen. The families of Flint will not be forgotten; we will provide the justice they deserve.”

The charges stem from a criminal investigation launched in January by Schuette’s office, which created a team of roughly 20 full- and part-time investigators. Investigators have said the scope of potential criminal charges that could be considered include misconduct in office and involuntary manslaughter, and the inquiry continues. Schuette, who spoke last week at the Republican national convention, is viewed as a likely gubernatorial candidate in 2018.

The Flint water crisis began with an April 2014 decision by a state-appointed emergency manager to switch the city’s water source from Lake Huron water to a local corrosive river. The state’s environmental agency oversaw the switch and failed to require the use of corrosion control agents, which allowed lead to leach off water pipes and flow into households across the city. The glaring oversight wasn’t revealed until last summer.

Those charged Friday include health and human services workers Nancy Peeler, head of the childhood lead poisoning prevention program; Corrine Miller, a state epidemiologist; and Robert Scott, acting coordinator of the state’s childhood lead poisoning prevention program. They were charged with misconduct in office for “willfully and knowingly misleading [colleagues] regarding the reports of the increase in blood lead levels of children … in and around Flint”.

The three state environmental employees charged are water regulators Patrick Cook and Adam Rosenthal and former state water chief Liane Shekter Smith. Rosenthal, in particular, was charged with tampering with evidence for “knowingly and intentionally” altering or destroying lead and copper test results on three occasions between February and August 2015……………..

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water crisis


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Khizr Khan made a huge impact with his speech at the Democratic convention. But the choice of a man whose son fought as an American soldier is telling

Khizr Khan gave a stirring speech at the Democratic convention in honor of his son, Humayun, who was killed in Iraq when a suicide bomber attacked his unit. Khan said that under a Trump government, Humayun wouldn’t have even been allowed in the country. ‘Have you even read the United States constitution?’ he asked Trump, before offering up his own copy


Khizr Khan very nearly stole the show from Hillary Clinton at last night’s Democratic national convention. Khizr is the father of Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq by a car bomb in June 2004 while heroically saving his fellow soldiers from almost certain death.

When Khizr spoke about his son’s sacrifice at the convention, the audience was completely rapt with attention. And when he lashed out directly at Donald Trump for his policies, those regarding Muslims especially, the audience burst into long and thunderous applause. With his slow and deliberate delivery and his repeated invocations of Muslim American patriotism, Khan’s speech was as masterly as it was memorable. He grabbed our hearts while grabbing Trump by the throat.

But here’s the thing. While Khan’s speech was meant to tell everyone that Muslim Americans are proud and patriotic citizens, which is fine and true, there are also other ways to work for the good of the nation than fighting in its wars. Muslim Americans have the same rights as other Americans to oppose America’s foreign wars and misguided policies, and we should be able to do so without having our loyalty brought into question.

The fact that our allegiance is questioned by the Republican party is well known. The GOP under Donald Trump has adopted extreme policy positions, from proposing a ban on Muslims entering the country to electronically tagging Muslims on the federal government’s terrorism watch list so law enforcement can track their movements. (The latter suggestion was endorsed this week by Trump’s adviser former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.)

So to show the wide chasm of difference between them and the Republicans, the Democrats included Muslims in several specific ways during their convention. President Obama spoke about being American while wearing “a baseball cap or a hijab”. Bill Clinton tried (but failed miserably) to include Muslims in his speech and his version of America. We heard from Khizr Khan. And we saw plenty of Muslim women and men throughout the televised coverage of the convention.

But Muslim Americans must be recognized as full and participating citizens by the Democratic party, not merely as symbols of patriotism or photo-ops of inclusion. Earlier in the convention, the Clinton campaign tweeted a photo of Nida Allam, a Muslim woman who wears hijab, as she was wiping away tears. “We made history,” the tweet read, suggesting that Allam was overcome with emotion that Hillary Clinton had become the first woman to secure the nomination for president from a major political party. In fact, Allam, a North Carolina delegate and regional field director for the Sanders campaign, was wiping away her tears because Bernie Sanders had conceded the race. “Guess you didn’t get the memo,” she tweeted back to the Clinton people, along with the hashtags ………………..

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