Sunday, December 13, 2015

Music Video - Natalie La Rose - Somebody ft. Jeremih

Safe spaces - Only five US states spared from mass shooting bloodbaths in 2015

Just five US states were immune to the bloody, perpetual series of mass shootings in the United States this year, which has seen more of them than the number of days gone by.

Experts debate whether the states were spared thanks to coincidence or if circumstances there make them a safe haven.

As of December 2, 353 mass shootings have killed 462 people in 220 cities, according to the website. 

A total of 1,317 people were wounded, after adjusting for the latest toll from the last mass shooting, which saw a husband and wife couple kill 14 and wound 22 in San Bernardino, California, the deadliest such tragedy in three years.

If there is no slowdown to this frenetic pace, there will be as many such traumatic deadly events as there are days in the year. Or more.

The count includes all events that have killed or wounded at least four people.

Hawaii, New Hampshire, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming alone were spared such macabre fate.

All of them except West Virginia have not seen a single mass shooting since 2013, when the website first began its count based not on official figures but on reports obtained from media reports and other sources.

The outcome owes in part to the relatively low population density in those states, experts say.

Wyoming, home to 584,000 people, is the least populous state, according to 2014 estimates from the US Census.

North Dakota, with 739,500 people, is the fourth least populated state (ranking 47th out of 50 overall by population).

"Naturally, we would expect that states with smaller populations would have fewer mass shootings, on average," University of Alabama criminologist Adam Lankford told AFP.

The most populous state, California with 38.8 million people, had the second biggest number of shootings so far this year - 25.

Florida, which counted the most - 27 - shootings, has a population of 19.9 million, making it the third most populated state.

'Lucky this year'

The five states are also among the most rural. Most lack major cities, except for Hawaii, with Honolulu having a population of about 375,000.

So people in these states are less likely to live in cities than those in most other US states.

"This affects their risk and probability of experiencing a mass shooting," Lankford said.

"Although school and workplace shootings do occur in towns and other rural areas, there are many types of mass shootings that mostly occur in cities, such as mass shootings that arise from gang violence, organized crime, and other criminal activity."

But their immunity to these incidents is counterintuitive.

None of these five states, except for Hawaii, has adopted strict gun control legislation, and it is often easier to own one there than elsewhere in the United States.

Wyoming namely does not regulate the transfer or possession of machine guns and no state permit is required to purchase a rifle, shotgun or handgun.

That earns it an F from the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group. North Dakota and West Virginia also get that lowest possible grade.

New Hampshire fared just a hair better, with a D. 

Hawaii, in contrast, got a B+, because of its license and registration requirements, ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, child access prevention requirements and restriction on openly carrying of handguns and long guns.

An increasingly frustrated President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for stricter gun control legislation, but his calls have gone unheeded.

The easy flow of weapons, experts say, triggers more mass shootings because guns can end up in the wrong people's hands.

There have been numerous shootings in those five states, but always with fewer than four victims.

"None of them have done anything innovative or effective to prevent mass shootings, it just happens to be an unfortunate coincidence," said Adam Winkler of the UCLA School of Law.

Winkler, who wrote Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, said there was "no doubt" that gun rights advocates will point to the lack of mass shootings in those states as proof that less gun control means more safety.

Yet "it is very difficult to reduce mass shootings, mainly because most of the guns used in these shootings are purchased legally," he added. 

"I don't think it is possible to stop mass shootings at the state level, even if, of course, they can take some actions."

Lankford thinks it has more to do with coincidence than anything else.

"I think these states have been lucky this year, and in the future they are unfortunately more likely to experience some mass shootings," he said.

Mass shootings remain "very rare" events in the United States, with a population of nearly 320 million, said James Jacobs of New York University School of Law.

"It is unlikely that any policy initiative can prevent such rare events," he added, noting that California has some of the nation's strictest gun controls.

So shootings can take place at random, and "luck could continue" for those five states, according to Jacobs.

SAN BERNARDINO SHOOTING: President Obama expressed sorrow in call to mayor

President Barack Obama offered deep sympathy, praise for emergency workers and prayers for the city of San Bernardino and the victims of the Dec. 2 mass shooting in a phone conversation with Mayor Carey Davis the day after the attack.
Davis described the five-minute conversation in an interview Sunday, Dec. 13.
The White House called in advance before Obama called Davis about 7:10 a.m. on Davis’ city cellphone.
“I was very appreciative of his call,” Davis said. “He was expressing his deep sorrow and concern for the victims of the terrorist attack – although at the time of course he didn’t describe it as a terrorist attack because it had not been confirmed as a terrorist attack.
“He expressed concern for our city and that he and his family would be keeping the victims and the city in his prayers. He extended a helping hand from the White House in whatever capacity we might need,” Davis said.
No specific assistance was offered or requested, Davis added.
“He also praised the courageous efforts of our police department and the fire department and how all the first responders came together in such remarkable fashion,” the mayor said.
Davis said he expressed his appreciation to the president for calling.
“I had some communication to him about how proud I was of our police department and the fire department and all the city departments that came together and didn’t have to be asked to do anything (first). They came together with great precision,” Davis said.
There was no discussion of Obama visiting San Bernardino. Obama had visited Newtown, Connecticut, almost exactly three years earlier after the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School
Davis declined to discuss how he felt about the president passing up San Bernardino.
Obama is scheduled to leave Washington for his annual vacation in Hawaii this coming Friday.
Davis described the past 12 days as “extremely intense” for him, “with the subsequent city business that has to be continued to be conducted, but at the same time putting forth our efforts to provide for the rebuilding and recovery for the victims.”
Davis was elected mayor in February 2014 and has had to deal with the city’s emergence from bankruptcy, and now the aftermath of the shooting.
“I think that anyone going into the office of mayor or governor does need to prepare for natural disasters or man-made disasters, but certainly we don’t have that crystal ball to be able to foretell the future events that you may be placed in,” he said. “This was a team effort. I was very blessed and our city was blessed to have such an effective team serve and respond with such effectiveness. I felt the city was extremely valiant. The county also.”

Cruz, not Trump, looking like GOP favorite for 2016

By Chris Cillizza 

The Iowa caucuses are seven weeks away. Donald Trump is still the Republican front-runner. Sen. Marco Rubio is, for now, the establishment's best (only?) hope. And Sen. Ted Cruz is the guy who looks best positioned to win.
Yes, you heard that right.
Cruz (R-Tex.), as of today, has the most direct route to the Republican presidential nomination - assuming that the past history of GOP nomination fights works as a broad predictor of where the 2016 race is headed.
Let me elaborate.
1. Cruz is positioned as the most conservative candidate in the race. Although Trump gets all the attention for his over-the-top statements, Cruz has staked out a position on the far right on virtually every major hot-button issue, including immigration, Obamacare, national security and the fight against the Islamic State militant group. And, tonally, Cruz comes across as aggressively and unapologetically conservative - a less controversial and more electable version of real estate magnate Trump.
A Washington Post-ABC News November poll showed that Cruz's numbers are in the stratosphere among voters who identify themselves as "very" conservative; 69 percent had a favorable opinion of him, while just 21 percent regarded him in an unfavorable light.
In a Republican primary - particularly one in which the GOP electorate is mad at everyone (including those in their own party) for an alleged lack of commitment to conservative principles - being the guy all the way on the ideological right is a very, very good thing.
2. Cruz has raised the second-most money in the Republican race. Bet you didn't know that! Yes, former Florida governor Jeb Bush is by far the fundraising leader in the race. Not only did we know that would be the case but we also know that it has done him, roughly, zero good. Cruz's money, on the other hand, is - or at least was - unexpected.
Cruz's nearly $65 million is all the more impressive because, unlike Bush, who raised the vast majority of his money with the support of his Right to Rise super PAC, Cruz has a relatively even balance between the funds raised for his campaign committee ($26.5 million) and those collected by a universe of supportive super PACs ($38 million). Having so much money in his campaign account means that Cruz will get more bang for his buck, because candidates get the lowest unit rate on TV ad buying, while super PACs have to pay full freight for their airtime.
Cruz's money is also what separates him from other candidates who had secured the mantle of "most conservative candidate in the primary." Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, won the Iowa caucuses during past campaigns - more on Cruz and Iowa below - but they were unable to capitalize on that win or sustain their support because they had so little money.
Cruz is the best-case scenario for those who want to see a movement conservative nominated: He's of the conservative movement but has the fundraising ability of an establishment Republican.
3. Cruz is the Iowa front-runner. Recent history makes clear that you need to win one of the first three states - Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina - to have a realistic chance of being the party's nominee. (Remember how well former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani's "wait until Florida" strategy worked in 2008? Thought so.)
Cruz is emerging rapidly as the favorite in Iowa's caucuses. Three polls released in the past five days put Cruz at the front of the pack in Iowa - including the influential (and almost always right) Des Moines Register survey, which had the senator from Texas 10 points clear of Trump.
Winning Iowa would give Cruz momentum going into New Hampshire - where he sits in third place - and into South Carolina, a state, like Iowa, whose Republican primary electorate is quite socially conservative.
4. The calendar beyond the Big 3 favors Cruz. Winning one of the first three states is almost certainly the way a candidate makes it to March. But assuming Cruz can win Iowa (at least), the calendar starts to look very favorable to him beyond February. On March 1, what's being referred to as the "SEC primary" takes place; Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, among others, will vote on that Tuesday.
It's difficult to handicap how those states might play out because of how much the first three states in the past have influenced who stays in the race and what their poll numbers look like. Still, Cruz's profile as the one true constitutional conservative in the race, coupled with his Southern roots and his fundraising, should make for an attractive package for voters going to the polls that day.
The next big primary day is two weeks later, on March 15, when Florida, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio vote. There are less obvious wins in those states for Cruz, but he would almost certainly run well in North Carolina and Missouri under any circumstance and might do well in the other three states depending on who else was left in the contest.
Yes, Cruz has weaknesses - most notably that he has shown little ability to appeal beyond his conservative base and that he is far less likable than, say, Rubio, if it comes down to a one-on-one fight between the two. Rubio, of Florida, is also trying to make an issue of Cruz's immigration stance - insisting that Cruz has less of a hard line on the issue than he lets on.

The Republican Civil War

Jacob Heilbrunn

AFTER THE GOP lost the November 1954 midterm elections, Dwight D. Eisenhower’s cabinet met for a postmortem. Eisenhower asked Richard Nixon, then vice president, to explain the politics behind the defeat. “There were just too many turkeys running on the ticket,” Nixon said. Then he pulled a mechanical drummer from his pocket and released it. According to Irwin F. Gellman in his illuminating new book The President and the Apprentice, Eisenhower stared with surprise as the toy marched across the table banging its drum. The lesson of the election, Nixon said, was that “We’ve got to keep beating the drum about our achievements.”
What will the GOP bang the drum about in 2016? Just as in the early 1950s, when internal party divisions over Senator Joseph McCarthy damaged the GOP at the polls, so leading figures on the right are once again feuding with each other, as the resignation of House Speaker John Boehner recently illustrated. But no issue is roiling the party more than the Donald Trump candidacy. Charles Krauthammer, who has repeatedly pronounced Trump’s demise, said on Fox News that “This is the strongest field of Republican candidates in fifteen years. You could pick a dozen of them at random and have the strongest cabinet America’s had in our lifetime and instead all of our time is spent discussing this rodeo clown.” But if the field is really so strong, then why is Trump able to run rings around it, with the much-ballyhooed Wisconsin governor Scott Walker retiring from the race—and begging other candidates to emulate him so that, as he put it, “the voters can focus on a limited number of candidates who can offer a positive, conservative alternative to the current front-runner”—before a single primary has even been held? Rather than imploding, Trump appears to dominate.
For all Trump’s prowess at upending the party establishment, however, the sources of the current ferment likely go deeper than just him. While political parties periodically suffer from identity crises, the GOP in particular seems to fight over the same terrain with unusual fervor. One reason that it experiences these recurrent battles may be that the term “conservative,” which is traditionally synonymous with sobriety and caution, hierarchy and deference, has always occupied an equivocal, if not embattled, status in America. There exists a conservative movement in America, but no such thing as a nationally successful, formally named Conservative Party. Instead, the closest representative is the Republican Party, which has attempted to straddle the divide between moderates and conservatives, rendering it perennially subject to the charge from the right that it doesn’t stand for conservatism—or indeed much of anything. When former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, announced in February 2012 at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that he was “severely conservative,” he earned widespread derision on the right as well as the left. “[W]hen he sells himself to conservatives,” the Weekly Standard complained, “he sometimes comes across as a right-wing caricature.” In this regard, Republican contenders for the Oval Office can often seem to resemble Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, a French politician who during the 1848 revolution heard a mob late one night shouting outside his bedroom and rapidly got dressed. “There go the people,” he said. “I must follow them. I am their leader.”
The problems do not end there. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of American conservatism is that, unlike its European counterpart, it does not reverence state power as conducing to stability but, rather, hopes to tame, if not overthrow, it. So whether America can even reconcile conservative principles with its own revolutionary founding is debatable. In 1955, the historian Louis Hartz published The Liberal Tradition, which essentially read conservatism out of American history. It argued that the absence of a feudal tradition and landed aristocracy meant that America was the “first new nation.” Hartz’s contention exemplified the rise of a self-confident liberal establishment in the 1950s, one which nourished the conviction that older ideological disputes, whether on the left or right, whether about economics, politics or culture, had largely vanished to be supplanted by a “consensus society.” The Eisenhower era, a byword for political and cultural somnolence, seemed to confirm its existence.

THE SAME year that Hartz’s book appeared, however, William F. Buckley, Jr., who had published God and Man at Yale in 1951, which created a national furor in upbraiding his alma mater for what would today be called political correctness, set out to establish a new magazine called National Review. It hoped to demonstrate that the notion of an American conservative political tradition was not a contradiction in terms. The fortnightly directly reflected the preoccupations of the political theorist Willmoore Kendall, Buckley’s mentor at Yale and a champion of Joseph McCarthy. Saul Bellow, in his short story “Mosby’s Memoirs,” portrayed Kendall, a former Trotskyist, as vexed by the “weakness of conservative doctrine, the lack, in America, of conservative alternatives, of resistance to the prevailing liberalism.” Interestingly, a number of figures at the magazine, including Willi Schlamm and James Burnham, also emerged from a Trotskyist milieu, which imbued them with an apocalyptic sense of politics. The exception to this crowd was Buckley. He was never a convert to the cause, having imbibed the conservative gospel as a child from his father, William.
In its inaugural issue, NR, as Buckley biographer John B. Judis has observed, located itself on an unusual intellectual continuum: “Conservatives in this country,” Buckley wrote, “are non-licensed non-conformists.” This was Buckley in his early, radical incarnation. Buckley didn’t want to marinate in the resentments of the prewar, isolationist right; rather, he hoped to go on the offensive with carefully crafted arguments delivered with dry wit and remorseless logic. He welcomed conservatives of various stripes, but his fundamental mission was to prosecute a culture war. He insisted that more was at stake than mere policy differences. The peril that America confronted was immediate and ubiquitous: a “decadent liberalism” had turned its back on permanent moral truths, thereby emasculating its will to battle against Soviet communism. Thus, in 1959, he declared that the “secular ideology of liberalism, which sets the tone of contemporary Western thought, is no match for Communism because it is not a redemptive creed.” Nor was Dwight Eisenhower—a “miserable president,” in Buckley’s estimation—up to the task with his sunny bromides and distaste for partisanship. Buckley sought to create a populist insurgency that targeted the Republican as much the liberal establishment.
As the new film from Magnolia Pictures Best of Enemies, an engrossing exploration of the ten debates between Gore Vidal and Buckley that aired on ABC News during the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions, reminds us, Buckley had gone some ways toward achieving his goal by the late 1960s. He had already helped conservatives clean up their act by anathematizing the John Birch Society in a 1962 essay. The very fact that he would appear on national television to comment on the conventions was itself a kind of validation of the newfound importance of the right. But ABC, which figured that the confrontation between Vidal and Buckley might buck up its sagging ratings, got even more than it may have bargained for in holding the debate. Its genteel moderator, Howard K. Smith, was barely able to get in a word edgewise as the two men jousted with each other. Buckley announced that he desired the “asphyxiation” of liberalism, while Vidal decried him as shedding “crocodile tears” for the poor and the GOP as constituting a repository of “human greed.”
At their August 28 session at the tumultuous Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Vidal branded Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” for defending the local police force’s actions against protesters—a term calculated to enrage Buckley, who had attempted to purge the right of its former dubious associations (the word also clearly perturbed Smith, who had served as a reporter for CBS in Germany until December 6, 1941, and interviewed Hitler as well as a number of Nazi bigwigs). An incensed Buckley dismissed Vidal as a “queer.” How much really separated the two—each was a frustrated aspirant for political office, each spoke in a patrician accent, each was an Anglophile and each reveled in verbal combat—may be wondered. But while Vidal won the intellectual battle between the two by never dropping his lordly air of superiority, Buckley ultimately prevailed in the political one. Buckley reached out to neoconservatives such as Irving Kristol to provide the intellectual basis for a broader conservative movement, one that would work to peel away white working-class voters from the Democratic Party. This new alliance prompted Michael Lind to observe in Politico that by the 1980s Buckley “was a neoconservative in all but name.”
The cultural fissures that had opened up during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency—the riots at the Chicago convention, the rise of the antiwar movement and black power—issued in Richard Nixon’s presidency. But Buckley and his cohort never viewed Nixon as a true conservative. As Jeffrey Hart, a National Review stalwart and speechwriter for Nixon during the ’68 campaign, observed in his insightful chronicle The Making of the American Conservative Mind, the shrewdly calculating Nixon positioned himself as a centrist—to the right of Hubert Humphrey and to the left of George Wallace: “He would beat back Wallace and the segregationists, letting the Deep South go, but trying hard for everything outside that Wallaceite core… In the sense, he had a ‘border state’ rather than a ‘southern’ strategy.” Nixon never succeeded in cementing a durable coalition and indeed was attacked by the neoconservatives. But with Reagan’s triumph, a conservative revolution was consummated. Buckley, once seen as a heretic, was, as media critic Eric Alterman notes in Best of Enemies, now a “kingmaker.”
But what has happened since to the kingdom that Buckley once presided over? In 2004 Sam Tanenhaus, writing in the New Republic, noted that with the bungled 2003 Iraq War, Buckley had become increasingly skeptical of the neocons and questioned “the wisdom of having opened the gates quite so wide.” Today, fights are erupting over how best to interpret Buckley’s own legacy (and, as Geoffrey Kabaservice cogently notes in this issue, others on the right are even looking all the way back to Jack Kemp, the champion of supply-side economics and reaching out to minorities, as an inspirational model for the GOP). The tohubohu centers on Trump’s conservative bona fides.Washington Post columnist George F. Will, for example, recently invoked Buckley’s shade to depict Trump as a counterfeit Republican. According to Will,
He is an affront to anyone devoted to the project William F. Buckley began six decades ago with the founding in 1955 of National Review—making conservatism intellectually respectable and politically palatable. Buckley’s legacy is being betrayed by invertebrate conservatives now saying that although Trump “goes too far,” he has “tapped into something,” and therefore . . . 
Others on the right will have none of this high dudgeon. The talk show host Laura Ingraham, for example, recently depicted National Review as essentially consisting of conservative quislings for publishing an essay suggesting that Mitt Romney might enter the 2016 presidential race. She said, “What the establishment is doing is looking for a way to go backward. This piece about Mitt Romney today in National ReviewNational Review. I don’t know what’s happened to National Review, but this is not the publication of William F. Buckley.”
But this may not be quite right. Buckley himself evolved over the years, from scourge of the establishment to a more measured conservatism. Perhaps it should not be surprising, then, that National Review and others on the right at institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute are touting a “reformicon” agenda that focuses on the middle class. It savors strongly of a neoconservative message that seeks to reshape rather than overturn big government. As Irving Kristol put it in 2003 in a valedictory essay in theWeekly Standard, “the historical task and political purpose of neoconservatism would seem to be this: to convert the Republican party, and American conservatism in general, against their respective wills, into a new kind of conservative politics suitable to governing a modern democracy.” In an interesting development, some reformicons are beginning to view Trump with something other than hostility. The conservative intellectual Reihan Salam observes,
In an ideal world, the rise of Trump would force elite conservatives to recognize that voters, including GOP voters, care more about wage stagnation than about high-end tax cuts, and that the GOP base is not reflexively opposed to the safety net, provided it encourages those who can work to do so, and that it provides a decent minimum for those who cannot. . . . Without belaboring the point, I believe that there are more black, Hispanic, and Asian voters who are open to voting for a more populist GOP than is commonly understood. Conservative populism is the way to appeal to these voters and the voters who’ve been most energized by Trump.
Whether any of this will actually occur is of course another matter.

SO MUCH for domestic politics. What about foreign affairs? Here, there are even fewer signs of a glasnost taking place. Instead, the Republican candidates routinely indulge in chest-thumping. Carly Fiorina is a case in point. During the September presidential debate, she said, “Having met Vladimir Putin, I wouldn’t talk to him at all. We’ve talked way too much to him. What I would do immediately, I would begin rebuilding the Sixth Fleet, I would begin rebuilding the missile defense program in Poland, I would also conduct military exercises in the Baltic states, I’d probably send a few thousand more troops to Germany.” Actually, America has already conducted exercises in the Baltic states, and there’s no cogent reason to send more troops to Germany, unless Fiorina wants to help the Bundeswehr resettle Syrian refugees.
Nor is this all. The debate on Iran has been none at all, at least in the sense of any cogent, let alone potent, criticisms being voiced. As President Obama sailed ahead with the agreement, the GOP never landed a glove on him. Instead, it blustered about forging a better agreement with Iran. It’s hard to avoid the suspicion that what the detractors really want isn’t some elusive, superior agreement, but war.
Indeed, Dick and Liz Cheney resurfaced to depict Obama as uniquely indifferent to American national security. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on September 7, where Paul Wolfowitz, I. “Scooter” Libby and Michele Bachmann, among others, were in the audience, Cheney declared that the deal is “madness” and presented himself as a truth-teller who was compelled to dispute the “veracity of the president’s claims.” Cheney and his daughter Liz had already offered a manifesto on August 28, based on their new book, in the Wall Street Journal to restore, as they put it, American exceptionalism. Instead of explaining how to defang the Iran threat, however, the Cheneys repeated the hoariest of neocon clichés: “The Obama nuclear agreement with Iran is tragically reminiscent of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich agreement in 1938.” They concluded their denunciation of Iran and Obama’s agreement with an exhortation for an educational program to inculcate America’s youth with neocon dogma. “We must ensure,” they write, “that our children know the truth about who we are, what we’ve done, and why it is uniquely America’s duty to be freedom’s defender.”
 William F. Buckley knew better. For him such sentiments in the face of widespread hostility in the Arab world toward American intervention amounted to the real madness—tantamount to a declaration of intellectual suicide by the GOP. Bush’s utopian language, Buckley told the New Yorker in 2005, was to be viewed with skepticism because “It’s not, in my judgment, conservatism. Because conservatism is, to a considerable extent, the acknowledgment of realities. And this is surreal.” So far, however, surrealism appears to be more enticing to many in the GOP than sober realism.

Video Report - National Front loses in 2nd round of French regional elections – exit polls


At least 32 Shiite were killed and dozens others wounded on Sunday in a blast at a used clothes market in Kurram Agency's Parachinar area.
Hospital sources told that, 55 people were injured as a result of the blast out of which more than 15 victims are in critical condition.
Takfiri Terrorist group LeJ claims responsibility
A sectarian outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) 'international' wing, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Aalmi (LeJ World) claimed responsibility for the blasts.
The organisation's spokesman Ali Abu Sufyan, in an email, claimed that his organisation is behind the blast, warning the people of Parachinar to stop sending their children to take part in the Syrian war.
The market was bustling with people who were out shopping for clothes. As winter season arrives locals throng lunda (used clothes markets) bazaars to buy used and second-hand clothes.
A Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) official told DawnNews that, "It was a timed device bomb. Around 30 to 35 kilograms of explosives were used in the blast."

Saudi Arabia's Most Famous Blogger Is Now On a Hunger Strike in Prison

Imprisoned Saudi blogger Raif Badawi began a hunger strike this week after being transferred to an isolated detention facility, his wife has announced.
Badawi was arrested in 2012 and sentenced in 2013 to seven years in prison and 600 lashes for apostasy and allegedly "insulting Islam through electronic channels." His sentence was expanded in 2014 to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes. Badawi has also been banned from carrying out media work or traveling abroad for 10 years following his scheduled release.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have criticized his jailing and the use of corporal punishment, which they consider a violation of international law barring torture. Amnesty International says Badawi is a "prisoner of conscience."
After he was initially flogged 50 times in public this January, international outcry led to a postponement of the remaining 950 lashes. Badawi, however, remains imprisoned, and future lashes still loom.
On Thursday, Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar, who lives in Canada with the couple's three children where they were granted political asylum, said in a Facebook post that her husband had been moved to Shabbat Central Prison, some some 50 miles from Jeddah. Haider, who has led a campaign to free her husband, said he had been on a hunger strike since Tuesday.
On his website Saudi Free Liberals, Badawi pushed the envelope in the conservative Kingdom, advocating freedom of speech and human rights until it was shut down in 2012. Two years later, Badawi's own lawyer, Waleed Abdul-Khair was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Daniel Arshack, a New York-based lawyer representing Abdul-Khair in the United States, says his client has suffered severe beatings while incarcerated.
'He is in prison now simply for speaking about human rights.'
In October, Badawi was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov prize, the EU's highest human rights accolade. Despite the award, Saudi authorities have steadfastly ignored calls to release Badawi.
Since his imprisonment, Badawi's plight has come to signify the seemingly hardened stance of Saudi authorities, who for decades have played a delicate balancing act with the country's powerful clerical leadership.
This year, following the ascension of newly crowned King Salman, the country has stepped up executions. As of November, at least 151 people have been executed in the country — the most since 1995.
VICE News spoke with Haider during a trip to Washington and New York in the fall. She recalled meeting Badawi by chance, when in 2000 he misdialed — entering her number — on a friends phone. They began talking, and Badawi courted her. After a month, they were engaged.
"I'm with him 100 percent despite the high price we are paying," said Haidar. "Since day one that I met him I support his freedom of speech and he is in prison now simply for speaking about human rights."
"I know that Raif should be free, and that Raif shouldn't be punished," she said. "He was respectful of the government, and the laws, and the religion."
She said it was particularly hard on her children having their father away.
"Just simply things, like going to dinner — the kids notice that all the other kids are with both their parents," said Haidar.
On Thursday, she said that any harm that came of Badawi would be the responsibility of prison officials.
"We take this opportunity to call on his Majesty King Salman to act on his promises and pardon my husband, end his and his family's ordeal and unite him with his wife and children," she wrote on Facebook.

Saudi Arabia must stop funding Islamic extremism

Amanda Paul

The source of Islamic extremism that promotes the sort of ugly brutality that is carried out by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) lies with the fanatical Wahhabi strain of Islam, which is rooted in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the only countries in the world where Wahhabi Salafism is the state religion. However, this agenda does not stay in these states because it is actively propagated throughout the Muslim world. Over the last few decades, billions of dollars have been pumped into a huge campaign aimed at eroding the more moderate strains of Islam and replace them with the more extremist variety. If the West really wants to crack down on ISIS and make inroads into reducing the funding for the promotion of such violent extremism, then this means confronting Saudi Arabia, rather than continuing to bury heads in the sand.

Today, while the US led-coalition -- of which Saudi Arabia is a member -- is bombing in Syria and Iraq, there are clearly limitations to what military force is able to achieve. ISIS can only be defeated by political and ideological means, hence airstrikes will probably only achieve a temporary tactical success. It seems to me that very little is being done in terms of fighting the ideology of the ISIS phenomenon that is coming out of Saudi Arabia. In fact, there seems to be a reluctance to address concerns over Saudi Arabia's role in promoting Wahhabi extremism to the House of Saud, which is a key ally of the West and in particularly of the United States and a number of EU member states such as France and the UK. Until now, the West's relationship with Saudi Arabia has been one where few questions have been asked about domestic affairs, including the country's appalling human rights records and its Wahhabi agenda. It has rather focused on trade, in particular arms and oil, and the geostrategic importance of the state.

For decades Saudi Arabia has heavily financed the spread of Wahhabism abroad. While the exact sum is not known, it is estimated that at least $100 billion has been spent exporting fanatical Wahhabism to various poor Muslim nations worldwide over the past three decades. When one considers the fact that the Soviets spent about $7 billion spreading communism worldwide in the 70 years from 1921 and 1991, this is an enormous figure. Western leaders are well aware of what is going on. A Wikileaks cable clearly quotes Hillary Clinton, during her time as US secretary of state, stating "donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide … more needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban, [Lashkar-e-Taiba] LeT and other terrorist groups." And of course it not just Saudi Arabia that is throwing money into extremist jihadists. Some other Gulf states, including Qatar, also have a track record in this respect. These states have ignited time bombs by funding the global spread of radical Islam.

The financing of this extremist agenda is not directly carried out by Saudi Arabia's leadership. Money is spread around different actors in the country and abroad including various religious and charitable organizations, along with mosques and madrassas. The Wahhabi curriculum that is taught in schools is also deeply worrying. While it was modified following the 9/11 attacks, it is still extremely radical, putting forward a narrative of hatred towards “unbelievers,” which includes Shiites, Sufis, Jews, Christians, Sunni Muslims that do not follow the Wahhabi way of doing things and many other groups too. And, as we are aware, this agenda is not just taught in Saudi Arabia but overseas too. One affected area is Southeast Asia, where Wahhabi-inspired madrassas are rife. They began to take root in the 1970s when, awash with petrodollars, Saudi Wahhabis began to export Wahhabi extremism. Young children are quickly indoctrinated not least because many kids do not have any access to any other kind of schooling. Many of the Taliban's leaders were educated in such madrassas.

The policy of Saudi Arabia is in total contradiction to the interests of the West and the Muslim world. The West must make it clear that it can no longer accept this approach and if there is no change their will be serious changes in terms of policy towards Saudi Arabia.

Saudi, no legitimate negotiator on Syria peace: Analyst

Press TV has interviewed Peter Koenig, a geopolitical analyst in Lima, to discuss a meeting held by Syrian opposition groups in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.
The following is a rough transcription of the interview.

Press TV: What do you make of Riyadh actually holding this meeting? What is behind it and what do you think that they are trying to accomplish before the actual main talks on the Syrian situation?  
Koenig: Well it is very clear. I think we have to start from the beginning. Who started this civil war in the first place? The preparations started in 2007, was activated by CIA, Saudi Arabia and all the different al-Nusra, al-Qaeda, whatever they may [be] called groups, sort of mercenaries for the United States which has a vital interest to dominate also Syria for a number of reasons about which we can speak later if you like.
But it is very clear from the very beginning that there should be, as Mr. Putin said on several occasions, there should be no outsider being able to interfere in Syria’s affairs. Let’s face it. I mean Mr. Assad has been re-elected about 18 months ago by a vast majority of the people, I think about 80 percent, and even according to recent Le Figaro from France,Le Figaro conservative newspaper, about 70 percent of the population still today support Mr. Assad. So who - especially Saudi Arabia - who would be in a position to talk about the Syrian internal affairs? Nobody other than [the Syrians] and I think if the international community now is ready to make an effort to bring peace to Syria, then it should certainly not be in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is the enemy number one of Mr. Assad and they will not relent along with the United States. They are just actually playing out the role for the United States. They will not relent until they get Mr. Assad removed.
Press TV: When we look at the situation, you are saying that they will not relent until Mr. Assad steps down and on the other side we have seen that the Syrian government itself also with the support of Russia and also Iran has been adamant basically in saying whatever the Syrian people chooses, whichever choice, with Assad or without Assad, that is up to the Syrian people, so there seems to be a very wide gap between these two sides. Are you optimistic that these talks can begin to get to the point that we could probably be seeing the beginning of the end of this war?
Koenig: That is a very good question and I totally agree with Iran’s position and also with Russia’s position that the decision about the future of Syria should not be taken by people outside of Syria. It is a decision to be made by the Syrian people.

Now where should that take place? Certainly not in Saudi Arabia. Perhaps in Damascus but if you want to look for a really neutral place then you may want to go to Geneva or to Vienna and start sort of negotiations, peace negotiations and include as many groups as possible but as the last Thursday meeting in Riyadh has shown that the opposition is not united at all.
So even among the opposition members there were walkouts and disagreements. Thus from that point of view I think it is very …, well that is a negative foreboding for fruitful negotiations but I still believe that those groups who are willing and I am sure there are some opposition groups within even those that are currently operating out of Syria that would be willing to negotiate of course with Mr. Assad’s presence because he is the President after all and he should not discarded in a neutral place. This could take the form of similar negotiations or similar talks as were the case with Iran and the so-called nuclear deal. But in any case Saudi Arabia should not be, by any means, considered as a legitimate partner for these negotiations or as a legitimate place.

Video - 'Youth' dominates European Film Awards

Why Europe Should Beware Of Turkey

Adriel Kasonta

President of the European Council Donald Tusk, who happens to be a history graduate, seems not to have been paying keen attention during his studies. It clearly looks as if he missed this important lesson from the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville: “History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.”
The former Polish prime minister announced late last month on his official Twitter account that the EU-Turkey summit scheduled for November 29 was intended to “re-energize our relations and stem migration flow.” This decision has been made in the light of the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
According to last month’s agreement on the action plan to support Turkey in easing Europe’s refugee burden, European leaders offered Turkey a very generous package consisting of three billion euros in aid over two years, an easing of visa restrictions and the fast-tracking of its EU membership process. The offer has been described by many as a “dirty deal,” due to the fact of it not having a consensus among EU member states regarding its funding.
While five hundred million euros come from the EU’s budget, the remaining two-and-a-half billion euros will come from member state contributions, where the amount requested from each one is based on the same formula used to determine member state contributions to the EU budget. This means Germany will have to pay the most (534 million euros), followed by Britain (410 million euros) and France (386 million euros).
Despite the fact that Berlin is the biggest contributor, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose willingness to take nearly a million refugees this summer has put her under huge political pressure at home, broke with protocol to visit President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before the election in his country, and put pressure on the rest of the EU member states to finalize the agreement.
However, the very idea has been strongly opposed by the CEE countries like Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, which have serious concerns over putting too much emphasis on a non-EU member state’s involvement in EU affairs. As Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban mentioned during the migration summit in Malta last month: "We don't want to sit down for talks with Turkey, making them think that they are our last chance of saving us.”
Indeed, this writer has serious concerns over Turkey’s credibility in entering this alliance, when our western neighbors appear to be ready to set our European values aside in a quest to resolve the refugee crisis, following the main prayer announced by Voltaire: “When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.” It is quite astonishing how hypocritical we can be in the wake of terrorism and the urgent need to defend our way of living, in order to turn a blind eye to Turkey’s human rights failings, and bow to Ankara’s money demands, in the knowledge that “in Turkey itself the desire to join Europe was mainly for economic reasons, rather than to improve the quality of democracy and human rights in the country,” as the Chatham House analyst Fadi Hakura has said.
What's more, in the light of published reports about Turkish arms supplies to jihadis in Syria by unlawfully imprisoned journalists in this country, and the most recent aggression towards Moscow being committed to help in defeating Islamic State after the Paris attacks—where a Russian warplane was shot down—it looks like the very same scenario from the year 1855 is being repeated.
Yet, according to Donald Tusk, “we have no other options” than sealing the deal with a country whose historic and cultural roots are not rooted in Europe.

Turkey misfires in Iraq

Turkey’s military deployment in Bashiqa, near Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 3, provoked another self-imposed crisis for the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

This column reported two weeks ago that Turkey was more isolated than ever following its shooting down of a Russian fighter jet on Nov. 24. But once in a hole, it seems, Erdogan cannot stop digging. The military deployment of 400 troops and 25 tanks to a Turkish training camp for Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces in Bashiqa to battle the Islamic State (IS) was considered by Baghdad as beyond the scope of "training." Semih Idiz suggests that Turkey’s deployment was a likely attempt by Erdogan “to establish a Sunni sphere of influence in and around Mosul.” Metin Gurcan adds that in addition to seeking to “be among the key actors to decide on the future of Mosul,” Turkey is seeking to balance Iranian influence and “is particularly uneasy with the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] gains in Iraq and Syria. Turkey wants to militarily dominate the Shengal region, which has been a bridge between the PKK and the Kurdish nationalist Democratic Union Party [PYD] in Syria, to cripple that link.”

The Turkish action elicited a formal protest from the Iraqi government and provoked a wave of denunciations and demonstrations led by Iraq’s Shiite political parties and militias, including a condemnation from Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite cleric. Fehim Tastekin reports that “among Iraqi political circles, Turkey’s policies are held responsible for the fall of Mosul and empowerment of IS.”

Erdogan termed Iraq’s complaint to the United Nations “not a sincere step,” adding that Turkey does not have the “luxury” to wait for the Iraqi central government on threats to Turkish national security.

Russia immediately and formally jumped to Iraq’s defense against what it termed Turkey’s “illegal intrusion” into Iraqi territory, accelerating the free fall in Ankara-Moscow ties over their policies in Syria. Kadri Gursel explains that Russia is succeeding in isolating Turkey. “As a prerequisite for the Russian intervention to achieve its goals, Moscow seems to have decided that Ankara should be deterred by any means necessary from maintaining its current Syria policy, and shaped its game plan around this political objective. Russia thus used crisis engineering to drag Turkey into a confrontation, which, at the end of the day, would be detrimental to Turkey,” writes Gursel.

The time may be coming for Turkey to make a choice between its "surface policy" of support for the global coalition against IS, and its “hidden policy" of taking out Assad, breaking the PKK and PYD, and promoting a fundamentalist Sunni Islam that matches the orientation of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). This "hidden policy," however, is hard to hide, and is more like an open secret. The miscalculations with regard to Russia and Iraq are increasingly alarming, with potentially devastating consequences. Such moves might, for example, push Russia and Iran to encourage direct or indirect actions where these Turkish forces start taking casualties. The Iraqi protests against Turkey could foreshadow a Hezbollah-type Iraqi resistance movement, extremely well armed and trained, merged somehow with the ever-ready forces linked to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Turkey has already drawn first blood with Russia. Meanwhile, Turkey makes its way to the agenda of the UN Security Council, not only for its recent actions in Iraq, but also for its possible violations of Security Council resolutions dealing with foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria. Gursel reminds us of what is now an open secret: “Without Turkish soil being available for the indiscriminate use of jihadists since 2011, the conditions that gave rise to IS would have not taken hold in northern Syria, and IS would have not grown strong enough to become a major security threat for the whole world.”

There are reports that Turkey may be seeking to defuse the crisis by placing the training camp under the authority of the anti-IS coalition and seeking deeper cooperation with Iraq on border security and intelligence cooperation. If so, all to the good, as this column has been calling for such cooperation since January 2014. The burden, of course, is on Erdogan to finally step back from his not-so-hidden disastrous and sectarian approach to the region, and join the global coalition against IS without the caveats and feints that have characterized Turkish policy to date.

Turkey’s Kurds express "simmering anger" against state

Turkey’s intervention in Iraq comes in the context of an escalation in its war against the PKK. Irfan Aktan writes that the killing of Kurdish human rights lawyer Tahir Elci on Nov. 28, in the context of a massive government campaign targeting the PKK, “has stoked not only fear but also a simmering anger against the state in the region.”

Aktan writes, “The toll from the clashes since July is indeed dramatic, though it varies according to sources. At least 14 districts have seen around-the-clock curfews, including Diyarbakir’s Sur district where Elci was gunned down. According to daily reports by the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, at least 67 civilians and members of the PKK’s youth branches have been killed in places under curfew. The Human Rights Association, for its part, tallies 63 summary executions, 43 unsolved killings as well as 10 civilians, 105 members of the security forces and 104 PKK militants killed in armed clashes in the southeast in the first nine months of the year. According to pro-government media, 925 people, mostly PKK members, were killed between July 22 and Oct. 14. Some 3,600 people were detained in security operations, including 864 who were put behind bars to await trial. The pro-government media do not shy away from revealing that the death toll includes 169 civilians, among them seven children.”

Aktan concludes, “Given that government officials keep pledging an unrelenting security crackdown in the southeast, ‘democratic Turkey’ remains an unrealistic prospect for Turkey’s Kurds in the near future. Whether they come to see independence as a more realistic option in light of developments in Iraqi Kurdistan and Rojava (the term Kurds use to refer to western Kurdistan in Syria) will again depend on how the AKP government and the state treat them.”

Is Iraq facing a "long ethnic war"?

Mohammed Salih writes, “The escalation of the conflict between Turkish security forces and the PKK has put the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq in a tough position, adding another potential element of instability to the difficult circumstances it is already grappling with. The Iraqi Kurds are faced with the threat posed by IS along a frontier of over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) and are gripped with a serious economic crisis. The spillover of the PKK-Turkish conflict into Iraqi Kurdish territory presents another major challenge for the KRG.”

Barzani’s alignment with Turkey is unpopular with most Iraqi Kurds, who support the PKK and the Syrian PYD. It should not be surprising that there is little "grass-roots" support for Turkey in Iraqi Kurdistan. This all occurs in the midst of a political and economic crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, including declining oil prices and no trust or traction in dealings with Baghdad. Denise Natali wrote in September, “As the financial crisis deepens, corruption continues, political legitimacy is ignored and calls for decentralization go unheeded, the KRG may have an administrative breakup, even in de-facto form.”

Ethnic tensions seem to be approaching a full boil across Iraq. Mohammed A. Salih, reporting from Sinjar, Iraq, explains how “competing interests and agendas present a major challenge to the future stability of the Yazidi-dominated region.”

“Although senior Iraqi-Kurdish political and military leaders alleged the ground leg of the offensive was solely carried out by the peshmerga forces, the PKK, its allies and some smaller Yazidi groups such as the Ezidkhan Protection Force (HPE), played a significant role in forcing IS out of Sinjar,” he writes.

Salih explains, "When IS attacked Sinjar in 2014, peshmerga forces abandoned their positions leading to widespread atrocities against the religious minority by the jihadist organization. That disaster created a rift between certain segments of the Yazidi community and the KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party], led by Massoud Barzani, whose tenure as the president of the Kurdistan region is currently disputed by some Kurdish factions that say his term has expired. The KDP had tried to mend fences with the Yazidi community ever since, by assigning a more prominent role and authority to figures such as Qasim [Shesho]. There are still around a dozen Yazidi districts and villages south of Sinjar in IS hands, but conflicting visions between Kurdish and Yazidi groups as to how to administer post-IS Sinjar are well underway. During a victory press conference on Nov. 13 near the town of Sinjar, Barzani promised to exert efforts to turn Sinjar into a province inside Iraqi Kurdistan's territory.”

Adnan Abu Zeed reports on clashes between peshmerga and Arab and Turkmen forces in the multi-ethnic city of Tuz Khormato, still nominally under the control of the central government in what is known as the "disputed territories" in Iraq. The animosity in the disputed areas has spread to the Iraqi capital. Abu Zeed writes that “attacks were conducted Nov. 29 in Baghdad against the Kurds, as armed groups affiliated with Shiite factions coerced Kurdish families from their houses and asked them to travel toward the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, in the north of Iraq. The Kurds strongly condemned the action, which was followed by meetings between both sides in Baghdad mediated by Iran and parties within the Iraqi government. The result was a relative calm in Tuz Khormato.”

Abu Zeed speculates that distrust of Iraqi Kurds is rising and that “the Kurdish [KRG peshmerga] forces’ control of the disputed areas could spark a long ethnic war, most notably over Kirkuk, after IS is forced out of the Iraqi territory. Based on that, some people might be skeptical of the KRG's claim that it intends to end the fighting against IS. Some, in fact, suspect just the opposite: that the KRG is seeking to extend the fighting, to consolidate the Kurdish presence in the disputed areas, including Tuz Khormato.”

Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed a bill to directly arm the Iraqi Kurdish forces, requiring the United States to only "consult" with Baghdad. The legislation was slammed by the Iraqi Embassy in Washington as “unwise and unnecessary,” adding in a statement that the bill promotes “artificial divisions among Iraqis [that] can only distract from the struggle against our common enemy,” as reported by Julian Pecquet.

Russia rejects "terrorists" in Syrian opposition

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Dec. 12, that it “cannot agree with an attempt made by the group that gathered in Riyadh to monopolise the right to speak on behalf of the entire Syrian opposition.”

Russia rejects “terrorists of all stripes” participating in the Syrian political process. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is tasked, per the Vienna declarations, with considering which Syrian armed groups are "terrorists" and therefore excluded from the negotiations. Russia considers Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Fatah as worthy of consideration as potential terrorist entities. Moscow’s position is that UN Syria envoy Staffa de Mistura, not Saudi Arabia, should convene the Syrian parties, as stipulated in the Vienna accords.

This column has registered concerns for nearly two years about a trend toward the mainstreaming of Salafi groups, including Ahrar al-Sham.

Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the head of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, condemned the Riyadh meeting, declaring it a “plot” that must be “foiled.” A question is whether those groups that collaborate with Jabhat al-Nusra “on the ground,” such as Jaish al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, will cut their Jabhat al-Nusra ties, or succumb to Jabhat al-Nusra’s pressure to resist political negotiations, or perhaps split themselves into factions. There is also the possibility that the Saudi initiative could lead to an open war between IS and Jabhat al-Nusra on the one hand, and the other factions that participated in the Saudi meeting on the other.

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