Wednesday, February 24, 2016

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Video Report - Partition of Syria part of ’Plan B’ if ceasefire fails - Kerry

Yemen is becoming the new Syria – and Britain is directly to blame

Our support for the brutal Saudi Arabian intervention is creating a lawless wasteland where extremist groups like Isil can thrive.
"Tell the world!” the old lady pleaded with me. “We are being slaughtered!”
A few feet away from us, in the heart of the Yemeni capital Sana’a, stood the remains of an apartment complex. It had been hit by two successive airstrikes only minutes earlier. “They have destroyed our homes, killed our sons…what did we do to them?” the woman cried before collapsing into my arms, her embrace growing tighter as she wept. "Despite horrific human rights abuses this war has not captured the attention of the Western public at anywhere near the level Syria has"
Everywhere I went, from the Internally Displaced Persons camps to primary schools that had been turned into makeshift shelters, I was quickly surrounded as soon as people spotted my camera. Everyone offered the same plea: for someone to tell their story to the world.
This broke my heart, because I didn’t have the guts to tell them the simple, blunt truth: that beyond its borders, very few people care about Yemen. Despite horrific human rights abuses, including war crimes committed by all parties to the conflict, being documented for months, this war has not captured the attention of the Western public at anywhere near the level Syria has.
Yemen is under siege. A Saudi-led coalition has been bombing the country on a daily basis for nearly a year. For months now, a battle has been raging in Taiz, where the UN has accused Houthi fighters and their allies of blocking desperately needed humanitarian supplies to the town of 200,000. Meanwhile, Aden, the only area coalition forces have so far managed to “liberate” (in July last year), is beset by lawlessness. The conflict has spread across the entire country. Today, civilians are suffering in the fighting tearing Yemen apart, with casualties now topping 8,100, more than 60 per cent as a result of Saudi-led coalition airstrikes. Twenty of Yemen’s 22 governorates are precariously poised on the verge of devastating famine."Unlike in Syria, the UK and US are two of the primary causes of the problem in Yemen."
And yet, while the Syrian tragedy occupies front pages and news bulletins worldwide, the humanitarian catastrophe engulfing Yemen for the past year continues to meet with indifference. It's not hard to find news stories about what is happening there, but it is difficult to find a politician who puts it on their agenda or a voter who views it with any concern.This is hardly surprising. Unlike in Syria, the UK and US are two of the primary causes of the problem in Yemen. Put simply, a coalition of the wealthiest Arab states have joined forces to bomb and starve one of the poorest, with the assistance of two of the world’s richest and most powerful powers.
In my five years of covering Yemen, international headlines have morphed from optimism to despair. In the early weeks of the Arab Spring, everyone was hailing “Yemen: the peaceful revolution”. Today, as the country reckons with its gravest crisis in decades, the main story has become “Yemen: the forgotten war.” Refugees and IDPs
I’m continuously asked: if the situation is so catastrophic, why haven't we seen Yemenis fleeing in their millions, like the Syrians? The short answer is that Yemenis are trapped. When the war began on March 26th, all of the country’s exit ports were instantly closed and a blockade imposed on the movement of people as well as goods, both in and out of the country. Countries that once welcomed Yemenis without a visa, such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, have closed their doors. Anyone seeking a visa will soon discover none of these countries have functioning embassies in Yemen today. Thousands of Yemenis have managed to flee to Djibouti by boat. Many do not survive the extremely perilous journey, while those who do are met with the most tepid of welcomes. With no official refugee camps in the country and hotels charging exorbitant rates, the majority return.
Rampant militarisation
Some have ascribed the international focus on Syria to the presence of Al-Qaeda and Isil in the country. These are headline-grabbing organisations which capture the attention of the Western public. But this is precisely where the situation in Yemen is heading too. "Today, the country has become a lawless wasteland where militarised extremism is flourishing at an alarming rate." The same short-sighted mistakes that have brought Syria to the brink of collapse are now being repeated in Yemen. For instance, since the start of the conflict, the Saudi-led coalition has been arming the Popular Resistance group in Aden and in Taiz. Although the media keeps calling them "Hadi loyalists" (in reference to the Yemeni president, currently in exile in Saudi Arabia), evidence suggests many of their members are actually from groups such as Isil and AQ.
Indeed, as the war rages on, the country’s infrastructure and institutions are falling apart. Unemployment rates are at a record high, with business at a standstill jobs have disappeared, while almost half the country’s university students have dropped out, offering fertile recruitment opportunities for extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the newly-emerged Islamic State in Yemen. Today, the country has become a lawless wasteland where militarised extremism is flourishing at an alarming rate, and it won’t be long before this turns into an international headache rather than a local one. After a decade during which Yemen was a main battleground of the US’s War on Terror, regularly held up as a success story in the media, the dark irony of the country’s descent into chaos, and out of the headlines, has not been lost on local observers.
Complicity in war crimes
The media disparities between Syria and Yemen were highlighted again this month. When a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital in Northern Syria was hit by Russian bombs, the uproar in the Western media was deafening, and rightly so. “It is certainly a war crime.” declared Andrew Mitchell, formerly Secretary of State for international Development, on the Today Programme the morning after. “Everyone knew it was an MSF hospital,” he continued, ”and so undoubtedly this goes against international humanitarian law.” "Last October, Britain and the US successfully blocked plans for a UN independent investigation into potential war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen." He was right, of course, but I could not help but note that no less than three MSF Yemeni hospitals had been hit by airstrikes in the past few months, one of which the Saudis have already admitted to. There was little coverage of them in the West, let alone outright outrage and condemnation.
Alas, this is not merely about Western indifference but about complicity and collusion. Last October, Britain and the US successfully blocked plans for a UN independent investigation into potential war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This was a unique opportunity to hold all sides of the conflict accountable for their actions. Instead, Saudi Arabia has been allowed to investigate itself through its own internal commission. Of course, this is not about denigrating the suffering of Syrians, which has been immense, but to highlight the forgotten, ongoing tragedy in Yemen and how the failure of the media to inform the public of the nature and extent of their government’s role in one of the world’s greatest humanitarian catastrophes today has made it much easier for the US and Britain to pursue their disgraceful support for an indefensible war. So the next time you hear British and US diplomats express outrage at the heartless carnage in Syria – as they should – remember what they want you to ignore: that there is another nation, and another people, suffering just as much. Except that when it comes to Yemen’s tragedy, both Britain and the US are partly, but directly, to blame.

It's Time to Kick Erdogan's Turkey Out of NATO

By Stanley Weiss

It has always been a matter of historical curiosity that one of the American diplomats who was deeply involved in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was named Achilles. As the head of the State Department's Office of Western European Affairs after World War II and the eventual U.S. Vice Deputy of the North Atlantic Council, Theodore Achilles played a lead role in drafting the treaty that was designed to deter an expansionist Soviet Union from engaging in an armed attack on Western Europe. With 11 European nations joining the U.S. as founding members in 1949, the alliance quickly grew to include two other countries - Greece and Turkey - by 1952 and today encompasses 28 members.
It's a reflection of how difficult it was to imagine that any member of the organization would betray the rest of the alliance that to this day, NATO has no formal mechanism to remove a member in bad standing or to even define what would constitute "bad standing." Yet, nearly three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO members still make the same solemn vow to one another, known asArticle 5, that they made in 1949: that an attack against any member state will be considered an attack against all member states, and will draw an immediate and mutual response. For nearly seven decades, this combination of factors has been the potential Achilles heel of NATO: that one day, its members would be called to defend the actions of a rogue member who no longer shares the values of the alliance but whose behavior puts its "allies" in danger while creating a nightmare scenario for the global order.
After 67 years, that day has arrived: Turkey, which for half a century was a stalwart ally in the Middle East while proving that a Muslim-majority nation could be both secular and democratic, has moved so far away from its NATO allies that it is widely acknowledged to be defiantly supporting the Islamic State in Syria in its war against the West. Since Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power in 2003, Turkey has taken a harshly authoritarian turn, embracing Islamic terrorists of every stripe while picking fights it can't finish across the region - including an escalating war with 25 million ISIS-battling Kurds and a cold war turning hot with Russia, whose plane it rashly shot down in November. With those fights coming home to roost - as bombs explode in its cities and with enemies at its borders - Turkish leaders are now demanding unconditional NATO support, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declaring on Saturday that he expects "our U.S. ally to support Turkey with no ifs or buts."
But it's too little, too late. NATO shouldn't come to Turkey's defense - instead, it should begin proceedings immediately to determine if the lengthy and growing list of Turkish transgressions against the West, including its support for Islamic terrorists, have merit. And if they do - and they most certainly do - the Alliance's supreme decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, should formally oust Turkey from NATO for good before its belligerence and continual aggression drags the international community into World War III.
This is an action that is long overdue. As I argued five years ago, "Erdogan, who is Islamist to the core, who once famously declared that "the mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets, and the faithful our soldiers"--seems to see himself as the Islamic leader of a post-Arab-Spring Muslim world." He has spent the past 13 years dismantling every part of Turkish society that made it secular and democratic, remodeling the country, as Caroline Glick of the Center for Security Policy once wrote, "into a hybrid of Putinist autocracy and Iranian theocracy." Last fall, he even went so far as to praise the executive powers once granted to Adolph Hitler.
Under Erdogan's leadership, our NATO ally has arrested more journalists than China, jailed thousands of students for the crime of free speech, and replacedsecular schools with Islamic-focused madrassas. He has publicly flaunted his support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood while accusing long-time ally Israel of "crimes against humanity," violated an arms ban to Gaza, bought an air defense system (and nearly missiles) from the Chinese in defiance of NATO, and deniedAmerica the use of its own air base to conduct strikes during the Iraqi War and later against Islamic terrorists in Syria. As Western allies fought to help repel Islamic State fighters in the town of Kobani in Western Syria two years ago, Turkish tanks sat quietly just across the border.
In fact, there is strong evidence (compiled by Columbia University) that Turkey has been "tacitly fueling the ISIS war machine." There is evidence to show that Turkey, as Near East Outlook recently put it, allowed "jihadists from around the world to swarm into Syria by crossing through Turkey's territory;" that Turkey, as journalist Ted Galen Carpenter writes, "has allowed ISIS to ship oil from northern Syria into Turkey for sale on the global market;" that Erdogan's own son has collaborated with ISIS to sell that oil, which is "the lifeblood of the death-dealing Islamic State"; and that supply trucks have been allowed to pass freely across Turkey in route to ISIS fighters. There is also "evidence of more direct assistance," as Forbes puts it, "providing equipment, passports, training, medical care, and perhaps more to Islamic radicals;" and that Erdogan's government, according to a former U.S. Ambassador, worked directly with the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, the al-Nusrah Front.
While Ankara pretends to take military action against ISIS, with its obsessive view of the Kurds, it has engaged in a relentless series of artillery strikes against the Syrian Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) that are routing ISIS troops in northern Syria. The Kurds are the largest ethnic group on earth without a homeland - 25 million Sunni Muslims who live at the combined corners where Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey meet. Turkey has waged a bloody, three-decade civil war against its 14 million Kurds - known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK - claiming more than 40,000 lives. The most recent peace process failed when Turkey again targeted the PKK, plunging the southeast of the country back into war while increasingly worrying Erdogan that Syrian and Turkish Kurds will join forces just across Turkey's border.
The Kurds, like the Turks, are sometimes seen through the lens of who they used to be, and not who they are now. In 1997, Turkey convinced the U.S. to put the PKK on its list of terrorist organizations, and Erdogan claims Syria's Kurds are guilty by association. But in fact, the YPG has worked so closely with the U.S. against Islamic terrorists that the Washington Post recently referred to its members as "U.S. proxy forces." The Kurds - whether in Syria, Iraq, or Turkey - are, by all accounts, the fiercest and most courageous fighters on the ground in the war against the Islamic State in both Iraq and Syria. What's more, the group represents a powerful alternative to the apocalyptic vision of Islamic jihadists, embodying what has beendescribed as "a level of gender equality, a respect for secularism and minorities, and a modern, moderate, and ecumenical conception of Islam that are, to say the least, rare in the region."
The Turkish government has tried to lay blame for recent bombings in Ankara at the feet of the YPG in an attempt to sway the U.S. to oppose the Kurds. An exasperated Erdogan railed about the loyalties of the West, accused the U.S. of creating a "sea of blood" in the region by supporting the Kurds, and issued an ultimatum: he demanded that the time had come for America to choose between Turkey and the Kurds.
I couldn't agree more: the time has come for the U.S. to choose the Kurds over Erdogan's Turkey.
Critics argue that the Kurds are unwilling to take the fight to ISIS beyond their borders, but this actually presents the U.S. with an opportunity. In exchange for fighting ISIS throughout the region, an international coalition can offer the Kurds their own state. A Kurdish state would become a critical regional ally for the US and play an invaluable role in filling the power vacuum that has emerged in the Middle East. With the help of the U.S., a Kurdish state could also help to accommodate Syrian refugees that have overwhelmed immigration systems in Turkey and Europe. In the long term, it would serve as a valuable regional partner to stabilize the region, and it would set a strong example of successful democracy. In other words, Kurdistan could play the role that Turkey used to play.

It's been said that the difference between being Achilles and almost being Achilles is the difference between living and dying. NATO can do without an Achilles heel: It's time to kick Turkey out for good.

Turkish Football Legend Faces 4 Years Behind Bars for 'Insulting' Erdogan

Turkish legend Hakan Sükür is set to face 4 years in jail for insulting President Erdogan on Twitter...

One of the most prolific strikers in the history of Turkish football and former party fellow of then-Prime-Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may end up imprisoned for tweeting sentiments his ex-ally allegedly feels are a personal insult to the current state leader.

Hakan Sukur, 44, a former forward who played for the national football team, is accused of tweeting posts containing “insulting content against Mr. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his son,” the private Dogan news agency reported. If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for up to four years.
It is still not clear what the the “insulting” tweets from the football star’s personal account @HakanSukur contained. Although Sukur stated that the posts weren’t targeted at the president, prosecutors denied hisclaim, stressing that the posts were “clearly related” to Erdogan.

The court has approved a summons against Sukur and the first hearing is set for the next couple of weeks.
Sukur is considered to be the best Turkish forward in the history of his homeland team. Throughout his 20-year career in Galatasaray football club he has scored 383 goals. He also helped the national team to climb on the third place in the 2002 World Cup, a historic win for Turkish football.
After retiring from the sport in 2007, Sukur went into politics. In 2011, he was elected as an Istanbul lawmaker from the Justice and Development Party (AKP), headed by then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Later in 2013, he resigned after Erdoğan and other AKP leaders were subjected to a corruption investigation. After that, Sukur went over to the Hizmet movement, founded by Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, a long-time Erdogan opponent.

Since then he has slammed the state for shutting down Gulen's schools across the country.

The Sukur case has become another instance of Turkey waging war against its own citizens who use Twitter in the country. In 2015, almost a hundred people were charged for offending Erdogan in Twitter posts. That number included public figures, journalists, bloggers and others.

Read more:

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Video - President Obama signs the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015

ISIS would be easy to defeat if Turkey and Saudi Arabia did not support it – Assad’s adviser to RT

Video Report - CrossTalk: Truce in Syria?

Russia takes concrete steps towards Syria ceasefire, Turkey continues shelling – MoD

Moscow has started taking concrete steps towards ceasefire in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday. Meanwhile, shelling of the Syrian territory is continuing from Turkey despite the peace deal.
The intensity of Russian airstrikes in Syria has “significantly” decreased over the past two days, Defense Ministry spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov told a media briefing on Wednesday.
However the airstrike against terrorist groups like Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front are continuing.
I would like to stress that the Russian-US ceasefire agreement does not include ISIS, Al-Nusra Front militants and other militants designated as terrorists by the UN Security Council. Therefore the Russian Air Force is continuing airstrikes against these international terrorist groups’ targets as usual,” he said.
Russia has started taking practical steps towards ceasefire in Syria and expects the same actions from the US, Konashenkov said.
We have started specific and complicated practical work towards the peace settlement in the Syrian Arab Republic. We expect that our American colleagues start taking specific steps instead of talking as soon as possible.
In a telephone conversation between the Syrian and Russian presidents on Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad told Putin that his government was ready to help implement a cessation of hostilities. The two leaders also stressed the need to continue fighting Islamic State and the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front, as well as "other terrorist groups," according to the official Twitter account of the Syrian president.
On Tuesday, Moscow handed over the hotline contact to the US, as required by the joint plan to monitor the truce. As yet there has been no reply from the American side, Konashenkov added.
Despite the peace deal reached between the US and Russia, Turkey is continuing to shell Syrian territory, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. Konashenkov urged interaction human rights organizations, to access the actions of the Turkish military.
Instead of accusing us of indiscriminate airstrikes we call on the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders and other organizations to give their official position on these criminal actions by the Turkish armed forces,”Konashenkov said.
A coordination center to reconcile the warring parties in Syria started its work at the Khmeimin airbase near Latakia, on Tuesday.
Local authorities and armed groups are to contact the center to express their willingness to cease firing and join peace talks, Konashenkov said on Wednesday. He added that over two dozen messages have been received over the past two days.
On Monday, the US and Russia reached an agreement on a Syrian nationwide ceasefire plan and adopted “Terms for a Cessation of Hostilities in Syria” – a document that outlines major aspects of the future truce.
According to the plan, the ceasefire is due to begin Thursday at 22:00 GMT, and all the parties should voice their agreement by 10:00 GMT. The truce will be applied to all parties of the Syrian conflict excluding Islamic State, Al-Nusra Front and other terrorist organizations.
Meanwhile, the United Nations carried out its first airdrop of humanitarian aid to the Syrian city of Deir al-Zor on Wednesday, according to UN aid chief Stephen O'Brien, delivering 21 tons of relief civilians besieged by Islamic State militants.
"Earlier this morning a WFP (World Food Programme) plane dropped the first cargo of 21 tons of items into Deir al-Zor,"O'Brien told the UN Security Council. "We have received initial reports...that pellets have landed in the target area."

Video - Hillary Clinton: 'Supreme Court Fight Is So Important'

Sen. Reid endorses Clinton

After months of staying neutral in his party's primary, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is endorsing Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

A spokeswoman for the Nevada senator said today that Reid was making the endorsement, which comes four days after Clinton won his state's caucuses. Reid participated but voted as "uncommitted," saying he would remain neutral in the competition between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders so he could not be accused of rigging the caucuses.
The high-profile endorsement is a boost to Clinton and comes from the most senior Democrat in the Senate. Clinton also has secured the backing of Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the assistant Democratic leader in the House.
The former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state narrowly won Iowa, suffered a double-digit loss to Sanders in New Hampshire and prevailed in Nevada. She leads in public polls ahead of Saturday's South Carolina primary.
In an interview with CNN, Reid said the middle class would be better served by Clinton."I think that my work with her over the years has been something that I have looked upon with awe," he told CNN.
He noted her work on health care, and said "she's the woman" to become the first female president of the United States.

Senate Republicans Lose Their Minds on a Supreme Court Seat

Following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans apparently believe they can profit by creating a political crisis that the nation has never seen before. On Tuesday, the leadership doubled down on its refusal to take any action on any nominee from President Obama to replace Justice Scalia.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader who seems to have lost touch with reality and the Constitution, accused Mr. Obama of plunging the nation into a “bitter and avoidable struggle” should he name anyone to the court.
Forget an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Top Republicans are pledging not to hold hearings or even to meet with a nominee.
In a statement dripping with sarcasm, Mr. McConnell said that Mr. Obama “has every right to nominate someone,” and “even if doing so will inevitably plunge our nation into another bitter and avoidable struggle, that is his right. Even if he never expects that nominee to actually be confirmed but rather to wield as an electoral cudgel, that is his right.”
Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip, said, “We believe the American people need to decide who is going to make this appointment rather than a lame-duck president.”
These statements are so twisted that it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s take them one by one.
First, Mr. Obama is not a “lame-duck president.” The lame-duck period is broadly understood to run from after the November election until a new president is inaugurated in January. November is more than eight months off. Based on the average number of days it has taken the Senate to act on previous Supreme Court nominees, the seat could be filled by this spring.
Second, no matter how often Republicans repeat the phrase “let the people decide,” that’s not how the system works. The Constitution vests the power to make nominations to the court in the president, not “the people.” In any case, the people have already decided who should make this appointment: They elected Mr. Obama twice, by large margins.
Third, it is preposterous to accuse Mr. Obama of causing a “bitter struggle” by nominating someone who will not be confirmed. The only reason a nominee would not be confirmed is that the Senate has pre-emptively decided to block any nominee sight unseen. Mr. Obama is once again the only adult in the room, carrying out his constitutional obligation while Senate Republicans scramble to dig up examples of Democrats trying to block nominees. But those examples show only that Democratic senators have pushed hard for Republican presidents to pick ideologically moderate nominees. Until now, neither party has ever vowed to shut down the nomination process entirely, even before it has begun.
Only two Republican senators, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine, were brave enough to say that they would vote on President Obama’s nominee. This is what passes for moderation in today’s G.O.P.: simply stating a willingness to do the job you were elected to do.
Unfortunately, for too many Republicans moderation now equals apostasy. These Republicans have stubbornly parked themselves so far to the right for so many years that it is hard to tell whether they can hear how deranged they sound.
The truth is they are afraid — and they should be. They know Mr. Obama has a large pool of extremely smart and thoroughly mainstream candidates from which to choose a nominee. They know that if the American people were allowed to hear such a person answer questions in a Senate hearing, they would wonder what all the fuss was about.
So Mr. McConnell and his colleagues plan to shut their doors, plug their ears and hope the public doesn’t notice. The Republican spin machine is working overtime to rationalize this behavior. Don’t be fooled. It is panic masquerading as strength.

President Obama Weighs Republican Nevada Governor For Supreme Court

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, a Republican and former federal judge, is among candidates being considered by President Barack Obama for appointment to the Supreme Court, a source close to the process said on Wednesday, as Obama sought to overcome Senate Republican resistance to any nominee.
Sandoval, a 52-year-old Mexican-American, is considered a moderate Republican, particularly on social issues. He supports abortion rights and abandoned the state’s legal defense of a same-sex marriage ban before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such bans were unconstitutional.
Sandoval has supported gun rights as governor, which could prompt concerns from gun-control advocates. He was appointed as a federal judge by Republican George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor, before being elected governor in 2010.
An intense political fight has erupted since the Feb. 13 death of long-serving conservative Justice Antonin Scalia created an opening on the Supreme Court bench. Republicans are maneuvering to foil Obama’s ability to choose a replacement who could tilt the court to the left for the first time in decades.
The Republican-led Senate must confirm any high court nominee and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced on Tuesday that the chamber will not hold hearings or vote on any Supreme Court nominee until after the next president takes office in January.
Sandoval met on Monday in the U.S. Capitol for about 30 minutes with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid asked the governor whether he would be interested in being considered for the high court job, according to the source, who asked not to be identified.
“He said he was interested,” the source said of Sandoval, adding that “a number of people are being checked out” for the job.
Sandoval, who was in Washington for a National Governors’ Association meeting, also spoke to Reid by telephone last week, the source said.
Sandoval opposed Obama’s healthcare law known as Obamacare, but opted to expand his state’s Medicaid health insurance program for the poor under the law, breaking from a number of Republican governors who refused to do so.
    He also expressed support for bipartisan immigration legislation that passed the Senate in 2013 before dying in the House thanks to Republican opposition.
In 2013, Sandoval vetoed legislation to require background checks on all gun sales in Nevada. Last year, he signed a law backed by the National Rifle Association that, among other things, expanded the defenses for justifiable homicide and repealed a local ordinance in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, that required registration of handguns.
Obama vowed on Wednesday to move ahead with a nominee and said Republicans would risk public ire if they blocked a qualified candidate for political motives, as well as diminishing the credibility of the high court.
Obama said he expected the Senate Judiciary Committee to extend his nominee the courtesy of a hearing and then vote on whether he or she is qualified.
“In the meantime, the American people are going to have the ability to gauge whether the person I’ve nominated is well within the mainstream, is a good jurist, is somebody who’s worthy to sit on the Supreme Court,” Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.
“I think it will be very difficult for Mr. McConnell to explain how, if the public concludes that this person’s very well qualified, that the Senate should stand in the way simply for political reasons.”
The president said he understood the political predicament Republicans faced and said he had expressed sympathy in calls to their leaders. He said they were sheepish in their arguments that a nominee should not be confirmed until next year and predicted their posture would change.
“I think the situation may evolve over time. I don’t expect Mitch McConnell to say that is the case today,” he said.
In a post on the independent website, Obama listed his criteria for a nominee including “an independent mind, rigorous intellect, impeccable credentials and a record of excellence and integrity.”
Liberals vowed to pressure Senate Republicans into considering an Obama nomination this year, with several groups delivering to the Senate boxes of what they said contained 1.3 million signatures from citizens demanding that a confirmation process go forward after the president announces his pick.
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut said Republicans “are giving a middle finger to the American people and they are giving a middle finger to this president.”
The U.S. presidential election is set for Nov. 8 and Republicans want the next president to fill Scalia’s vacancy, hoping a Republican will be elected.
Scalia’s death left the court with four liberals and four conservatives, with Obama’s nominee positioned to change the court’s ideological balance.
Obama already has appointed two Supreme Court justices during his seven years as president. The Senate confirmed his prior two nominees, Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010. The Senate was controlled by Obama’s fellow Democrats at the time.

Video - President Obama sings Al Green's 'Let's Stay Together' at the Apollo Theater

Afghan Persian Music Video - Ahmad Zaher - Laily Jan

Afghanistan at the crossroads

She was planning her wedding. On the evening of January 20, at the end of her working day, Mehri Azizi, boarded a packed staff bus in Kabul that was to take her home. She never made it. Azizi and six of her colleagues were killed in a targeted Taliban bomb attack; 15 others were injured.
This was not just a suicide attack on the young and thriving media in Afghanistan. It was an attack on everything the Afghan people had come to value during the past 14 years.
Azizi, a bright, energetic graphic artist of 21, had joined Tolo TV five years earlier — quickly rising through the ranks of Afghanistan’s largest media organisation. As a teenager she had taken up the job and became part of our Tolo family to escape the tensions of everyday life — in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Azizi was about to be promoted.
In the dark days following, as condolences poured in from around the world and as we laid each victim to rest, I couldn’t help but fear and wonder whether we were also burying the dreams of millions of young hopeful Afghans. Azizi, Mohammad Jawad Hussaini, Zainab Mirzaee, Mariam Ibrahimi, Mohammad Hussain, Mohammad Ali Mohammadi and Hussain Amiri embodied the optimism and determination of a whole generation of youth who, since the ouster of the Taliban, had worked hard — and succeeded — in making their country a better place.
Azizi, a woman from the Hazara minority group, was a role model for many of her peers and committed her spare time to a variety of environmental and social causes. She dazzled the Tolo TV studios with her presence and colourful headscarfs. She was a shining example of the progress made by Afghan women in our largely conservative society.
The young lives lost in this devastating attack had much to be proud of, for they had benefited most from the fall of the Taliban. Since 2002, more than nine million Afghan children now attend school, compared with fewer than a million before 2001. Almost half of Afghan girls are enrolled, and women make up 20 per cent of students in higher education, a proportion increasing year on year. Advances in technology and healthcare have reduced the infant mortality rate by half.
Afghans are more connected and better-informed, with access to more than 70 TV stations and 175 radio stations compared to one radio station before 2001. Mobile data services are available in 27 of 34 provinces through five network providers and, in 2014, we held our third national democratic elections, with people casting votes across the country.
However, this latest attack is yet another reminder of the precarious situation in which Afghanistan finds itself, and there are no quick or easy solutions.
On the military front there have been major setbacks. The drawdown announced by President Barack Obama in October to reduce the US troop commitment to 5500 by year’s end is looking increasingly unrealistic. The new commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, warned in January the situation was deteriorating, and vowed to make a new assessment of counter-terrorism requirements. This is amid concern of the rise of the so-called Islamic State group in the east and a resurgence of al-Qa’ida in the south.
Beyond the troop commitment, the US can assist by authorising coalition airstrikes against the Taliban, not just al-Qa’ida and Islamic State. This was recommended recently by General David Petraeus and would provide much needed air support to stretched Afghan troops.
The political transition is the second challenge. Difficulty to agree on key appointments between President Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive Abdullah Abdullah has contributed to the frail security situation and hampered economic reform. Critical positions such as defence minister and intelligence chief remain vacant, and economic reforms promised 18 months ago have not moved beyond proposal stage.
An emboldened Taliban has attacked the symbols of democratic governance and institutions, with an attack on parliament last year while politicians were in session, and recently sabotaging powerlines in the north of the country, leading to electricity shortages in the capital. Coalition partners can support Afghanistan through the appointment of a special envoy or interlocutor to help bridge the gap between power centres in the Afghan government, similar to the role played by US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in 2001.
The third challenge is the drive by the US, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan to set out a road map for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban. It is legitimate to ask whether a movement that is intent on undermining progress and democratic governance, that brazenly kills journalists and has no regard for women’s rights or plurality of opinion, should be allowed to participate in the Afghan political process. This sentiment is shared by the large majority of Afghans.
An ATR survey conducted in 2014 found only 7 per cent of Afghans polled were in favour of Taliban rule. If anything, appeasing the Taliban will likely embolden it to provide further shelter to al-Qa’ida, Haqqani network and other terrorists, and bring with it the prospect of another protracted civil war, and a real risk of spill-over into Central and South Asia.
The Taliban and its backers need to be held accountable for the countless atrocities it has committed on Afghan and Pakistan soil, and against civilians on both sides. The US should designate the movement as a terrorist organisation — something long overdue — and its leaders and financiers should be indicted before the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Afghanistan is at a crossroads and we cannot allow for the situation to just deteriorate without taking appropriate measures to safeguard the gains of the past 14 years. We simply cannot allow for the dreams of Azizi and the other young lives lost in the terrorist attack of January 20 to be shattered.