Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Winds of 110mph bring destruction in Italy as snow traps more than 1,000 drivers in France - Guardian

The death toll from fierce storms battering Italy has risen to nine as wild autumn weather swept across many parts of Europe.

Roads were blocked and thousands of people were left without power in southern and central Europe, as rain and violent winds sparked flooding and tore up trees.

Heavy snow fell in mountainous areas of France and Italy, trapping scores of drivers in their cars and tourists in hotels.

In Italy, where wind speeds reached 110mph (180km/h) in some areas, civil protection authorities announced a further four deaths, after confirming five people had perished on Monday.

A woman died when her home was engulfed by a mudslide in the northern region of Trentino, a man was killed by a falling tree in the north-eastern region of Veneto and a firefighter died during relief operations in South Tyrol.

A man was killed while kitesurfing on Monday near the town of Cattolica on the Adriatic coast. The local press sayid strong winds had blown him into rocks.

Venice was inundated by near-record flooding and tourists were barred from St Mark’s Square on Monday as local authorities said the high water peaked at 156cm. The water level has only topped 150cm five times before in recorded history.

In France, more than 1,000 drivers were trapped in their cars for the night in the mountains of the Massif Central region as snowstorms engulfed the roads. Another 400 had to spend the night in train carriages at the main station in the eastern city of Lyon after heavy snow blocked the tracks.

About 195,000 homes were without power across mainland France, most of them in eastern and central regions. Another 21,000 homes lost power on the Mediterranean island of Corsica, which was placed on red alert on Monday for powerful winds, shutting its airports and ports. - Read More

FACT CHECK: 14th Amendment On Citizenship Cannot Be Overwritten By Executive Order

President Trump says he can end birthright citizenship with an executive order. But most legal scholars — and even leaders of the president's own party — are skeptical.

In an interview with Axios, published Tuesday, the president said he wants to end the automatic right to citizenship for babies born in the U.S. to noncitizens.

"You can definitely do it with an act of Congress," Trump said in the Axios interview. "But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."

The 14th Amendment holds that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." Most legal scholars take that as an explicit protection of birthright citizenship — and think it will take much more than an executive order to change that.

"Trump may have a lawyer who is telling him the 14th Amendment means something else, but that lawyer is like a unicorn," said Rebecca Hamlin, a professor of legal studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Trump's proposal seems to rely on the work of a small but vocal group of conservative legal scholars who argue the 14th Amendment has long been misread. In particular, they argue, five key words — "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" — have been misread and that the authors of the 14th Amendment did not intend to give citizenship to the children of temporary visitors and other noncitizens.

"We've got this notion that just kind of developed over the last 40 or 50 years that is completely without any sort of legal authority," said John Eastman, a constitutional law professor at Chapman University and a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.

Most legal scholars say the Supreme Court settled this debate more than a century ago, holding that "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" refers to anyone present in the U.S., except for the children of diplomats and enemy soldiers (and, at the time, Native Americans).

"I think it's kind of a lunatic fringe argument," said Margaret Stock, an attorney at the Cascadia Cross-Border Law Group in Anchorage, Alaska, and a former law professor at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. "I've been debating folks like this for more than a decade, and they claim that the 14th Amendment's been misinterpreted," she said. "And now they've got a president in office who apparently was fixated on this as well."

Even Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, thinks the president's proposal is unlikely to succeed.

"You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order," Ryan said Tuesday in an interview with Kentucky radio station WVLK.

"You know as a conservative, I'm a believer in following the plain text of the Constitution," Ryan added. "And I think in this case the 14th Amendment is pretty clear, and that would involve a very, very lengthy constitutional process."- Read More

FACT CHECK: 14th Amendment On Citizenship Cannot Be Overwritten By Executive Order

Austria to shun global migration pact, fearing creep in human rights

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria will follow the United States and Hungary in backing out of a United Nations migration pact over concerns it will blur the line between legal and illegal migration, the right-wing government said on Wednesday.

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration was approved in July by all 193 member nations except the United States, which backed out last year.

Hungary’s right-wing government has since said it will not sign the final document at a ceremony in Morocco in December. Poland, which has also clashed with Brussels by resisting national quotas for asylum seekers, has said it is considering the same step.

“Austria will not join the U.N. migration pact,” said Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a conservative and immigration hard-liner who governs in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party.

“We view some points of the migration pact very critically, such as the mixing up of seeking protection with labor migration,” said Kurz, who argues that migrants rescued in the Mediterranean should not be brought straight to Europe.

Vienna currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, a role that usually involves playing a mediating role to bridge divisions within the bloc. Instead its move highlighted the disagreements on migration that have blighted relations among the 28 member states for years.

The Austrian government is concerned that signing up to the pact, even though it is not binding, could eventually help lead to the recognition of a “human right to migration”. The text of a cabinet decision formally approving its move on Wednesday said it would argue against such a right.

“We reject any movement in that direction,” Freedom Party leader and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache told a news conference after the weekly cabinet meeting.

Austria took in roughly 1 percent of its population in asylum seekers in 2015 during a migration crisis in which more than a million people traveled to Europe, many of them fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. - Read More

Austria to shun global migration pact, fearing creep in human rights ...

New U.S. commander in Afghanistan says we're going on offense against the Taliban - NBC News

KABUL, Afghanistan — When Gen. Scott Miller took over the war in Afghanistan on Sept. 2, Afghan soldiers were being killed and wounded at near record numbers.

He instituted a more aggressive policy of helping the Afghan military track and defeat the Taliban — what he calls "regaining the tactical initiative" — but in an exclusive interview with NBC News on Tuesday, his first since taking command of U.S. and coalition forces here, he also says he recognizes that the solution in Afghanistan will be political, not military.

"This is not going to be won militarily," Miller said. "This is going to a political solution."

"My assessment is the Taliban also realizes they cannot win militarily. So if you realize you can't win militarily at some point, fighting is just, people start asking why. So you do not necessarily wait us out, but I think now is the time to start working through the political piece of this conflict."

Speaking from the Resolute Support headquarters building in Kabul, Miller said he knew early on that he needed to turn the tables on the Taliban and go after them.

In 2018, Afghanistan's capital Kabul has had 19 high-profile suicide attacks, Miller said. He added that ISIS Khorasan, or ISIS-K, the Afghan affiliate of the terror group, has also been attacking and has "resonance" in urban areas.

"ISIS-K, they're dangerous. They have external aspirations, they have different capabilities, and they are connected outside of Afghanistan," he said.

Miller said ISIS-K fighters are more educated and are trying to set up their own state in Afghanistan. "That's part of the playbook is to build up those administrative functions." - Read More

New US commander in Afghanistan says we're going on ... - NBC News

Afghan army helicopter crash kills 25, including a top commander

KABUL (Reuters) - An army helicopter crashed in southwestern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing 25 people on board, including a top commander and the head of the provincial council key in fighting off a Taliban attack in May, officials said.

Taliban insurgents fighting the Western-backed government said they shot it down.

Two army helicopters were on their way from Farah province to neighboring Herat when one lost control in low visibility and crashed into a mountain, Naser Mehri, a spokesman for the provincial governor, told Reuters.

Among the passengers were Nematullah Khalil, deputy army corps commander for the western region, and Farid Bakhtawar, the outspoken head of Farah’s provincial council. The other victims, apart from the crew, were soldiers and council members, Mehri said. - Read More

Afghan army helicopter crash kills 25, including a top commander ...

Mattis Says Afghan Forces Suffered 1,000 Casualties in August and September

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis provided a rare look into the ground situation for Afghans fighting the Taliban, revealing late Tuesday that Afghan forces had suffered more than 1,000 casualties in August and September of this year.
“The Afghan lads are doing the fighting, just look at the casualties…over 1,000 dead and wounded in August and September, and they stayed in the field fighting,” Mattis said during a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Despite the high casualty numbers, Mattis praised the Afghan forces for preventing the Taliban from taking and holding district and provincial centers and stopping them from disrupting the recent Afghan election.
U.S. defense officials stopped providing the public with the number of Afghan security force casualties in late 2017.
General Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. general, told military reporters at a conference outside Washington on Friday that this change was because Afghan President Ashraf Ghani did not want those details publicly available.
“I’m not blaming him. That’s where it came from,” Dunford said. “They (Afghan officials) were incredibly sensitive about those numbers. We don’t own the numbers anymore.” - VOA

Mattis Says Afghan Forces Suffered 1,000 Casualties in August and ...

A Conversation with Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis

The 2018 National Defense Strategy asserts that the United States is emerging from a post-Cold War period of “strategic atrophy.” On October 30, 2018, the U.S. Institute of Peace hosted a discussion with Secretary Mattis on how the National Defense Strategy seeks to meet the shared challenges of our time through strengthening and evolving America’s strategic alliances and partnerships. 

This event will be webcast only. Join the conversation on Twitter with #MattisUSIP. - More

A Conversation with Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis | United ...

Monday, October 29, 2018

German chancellor Angela Merkel will not seek re-election in 2021 - The Guardian

After dominating European politics for well over a decade, Angela Merkel has said her fourth term as Germany’s chancellor will be her last.

Speaking after disastrous regional elections in Hesse and Bavaria for her Christian Democrats and its Bavaria-only sister party, Merkel on Monday said she saw the results as a “clear signal that things can’t go on as they are”.

She said she would not be standing as party leader at the CDU conference in December nor seek another term as chancellor at Germany’s next federal elections, due in 2021, adding that she would withdraw completely from politics after that date.

She also stated she would also not run for chancellor if snap elections were called before 2021.

Often hailed as the world’s most powerful woman and the de facto leader of Europe, Merkel long enjoyed German voters’ support as a guarantor of the country’s stability and prosperity.

But her authority has been severely weakened since her decision to keep Germany’s borders open at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015. The subsequent arrival of more than one million asylum seekers left the country deeply polarised and fuelled the rise of the far-right.

Merkel said she hoped her planned departure would end bitter fighting in her weak and fractious right-left coalition and allow it to focus on governing, declaring that “the picture the government is sending out is unacceptable”.

Voter dissatisfaction with the federal government had had a regrettable negative influence on the results in Hesse, she said.

Seeking to draw a line under a series of political crises that have rocked her fragile coalition, she added that her 13 years as chancellor had been a “daily challenge and an honour”, but that she recognised it was time to “start a new chapter”. - Read More

Germany's Angela Merkel Says She Won't Seek Re-Election, Will Leave Party Role

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she will step down from leading the Christian Democratic Union and won't seek re-election, rattling the political scene in Germany and setting the stage for her to eventually be replaced in her country's highest office.

"The time has come to open a new chapter," Merkel said.

Merkel, 64, announced the move on Monday, speaking in Berlin after meetings about her party's struggles in Germany's recent election.

"The news comes after Merkel's party lost significant ground in Sunday's regional election in the state of Hesse," Esme Nicholson reports from Berlin for NPR' Newscast unit. "Her federal coalition partner, the Social Democrats, also fared poorly. Commentators say the results reflect widespread dissatisfaction with the current federal administration."

Her current term as chancellor runs into 2021 — and Merkel said she is "prepared" to stay in the chancellor post through her current term.

Political analysts in Germany are wondering if Merkel might not serve out a full term if she's not leading her own party — a pairing that Merkel herself has previously said is crucial to being an effective chancellor.

Merkel also said she won't seek to return as her party's leader when the CDU meets in December, setting off speculation over who in her party might try to replace her.

Merkel, her party and its allies in a governing coalition have been under attack by far-right politicians, who have been able to translate tensions over Germany receiving refugees from Syria, Iraq and other countries into election wins and a growing base of support.

Merkel said the election results in Hesse were bitterly disappointing. In the past, such losses sometimes have been treated as a regional blip. But in this case, Merkel said, her political allies in Hesse had suffered because of negative fallout from Germany's national political scene.

The surprise announcement that Merkel would leave her party's leadership but remain in the chancellorship did not satisfy her critics. According to Deutsche Welle, as news of Merkel's move spread, Christian Lindner, who leads the center-right Free Democrats (FDP), said, "She's quitting the wrong office."

When Merkel took office in 2005, her U.S. counterpart was President George W. Bush. Much has changed since then, and as the gap between the U.S. and its European allies has widened during the Trump administration, Merkel's international profile has grown. Her name has been mentioned as a possible future leader of the European Union — but Merkel repeatedly dismissed that idea on Monday, saying she has no intention of running for any other political office. - NPR

Germany's Angela Merkel Says She Won't Seek Re-Election, Will Leave Party Role

'Wonderful People, Good Souls': The Victims Of The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Eleven people were killed on Saturday when a gunman entered Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue and opened fire on the congregants. The victims ranged in age from 54 to 97; eight were men, three were women. Two of them were brothers, and two were a married couple.

Chuck Diamond was a rabbi at Tree of Life until about a year ago, and he remains a member of the community, living just around the corner from the synagogue. He knew many of the victims.

"These are wonderful people, good souls, who were just coming to synagogue as they usually did," he told NPR on Sunday. "Synagogue was just getting started and mostly elderly people who come there are there at the beginning, and you could count on them every week for coming. ... It's such a crime that their lives were taken from us."

But he said the city's residents are coming together to support one another after the tragedy. "Pittsburgh," he said, "is a wonderful community. It's not only a wonderful Jewish community, it's just a wonderful community."

The names of the victims were released on Sunday morning by the Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner. Here are some of their stories, updated as we learn them. - Read More

'Wonderful People, Good Souls': The Victims Of The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

U.S. Treasury sanctions target Taliban, Iranian backers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States targeted Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgency on Tuesday with sanctions against eight individuals, including two linked to the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The individuals, who also include two Pakistanis and four Afghans, were designated global terrorists by the Treasury Department, an action that allows the U.S. government to freeze property or interest in property under American jurisdiction.

U.S. sanctions have targeted Taliban members involved in suicide attacks and other lethal activities in Afghanistan, as well as Iranians who provide material and financial support, Treasury said in a statement.

“Iran’s provision of military training, financing and weapons to the Taliban is yet another example of Tehran’s blatant regional meddling and support for terrorism,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “The United States and our partners will not tolerate the Iranian regime exploiting Afghanistan to further their destabilizing behavior.”

Mnuchin was visiting the Middle East this week to discuss ways to fight terrorist financing and upcoming Iran sanctions. The Taliban sanctions also were imposed by the seven members of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC), a U.S.-Gulf initiative to stem finance to militant groups.

The U.S. government will continue to target those that provide financial support to the Taliban until there is a negotiated peace settlement, Treasury said.

Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on Tuesday added Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Qassem Soleimani, commander of the guard’s Quds Force, to their lists of people and organizations suspected of funding terrorism, the Saudi state news agency SPA said. - Read More

U.S. Treasury sanctions target Taliban, Iranian backers | Reuters

Mnuchin announces sanctions against 9 individuals

WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced Tuesday that the United States and six other Middle East countries are taking action to expose and disrupt terrorist activities being conducted by the Taliban and Iran to undermine the government of Afghanistan.

In the announcement from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Mnuchin said the seven countries had designated nine individuals associated with the Taliban and their Iranian sponsors for sanctions. The seven nations make up the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center, which has an operations center in Saudi Arabia.

Mnuchin met with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia on Monday after announcing last week that he would not attend an investment conference in Saudi Araba following the death of a journalist in the Saudi consulate in Turkey.

The administration sees Saudi Arabia as a key ally in its sanctions campaign against Iran.

The sanctions announcement by the seven countries came on the same day that Saudi Arabia began the high-profile economic forum which was aimed at drawing more foreign investment into the country. Originally, Mnuchin was to attend the conference in addition to a meeting of the seven-nation anti-terrorism group.

Mnuchin said the sanctions announced against the nine individuals demonstrated the tremendous value of the Terrorist Financing Targeting Center to international security by “disrupting and exposing key Taliban members who are involved in suicide attacks and other lethal activities.”

“The United States and our partners will not tolerate the Iranian regime exploiting Afghanistan to further their destabilizing behavior,” Mnuchin said.

Among those sanctioned by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the other nations was Mohammad Ebrahim Owhadi, also known as Jalal Vahedi. Treasury said in its statement that he had been sanctioned for assisting in and sponsoring or providing financial, material and technical support for and other services to the Taliban.

The designation by the Saudi-based center was the third coordinated designation made since creation of the center was announced in May 2017.

Mnuchin is on a week-long trip to the Middle East with stops in six nations. Before Saudi Arabia, Mnuchin began his travels with a stop in Israel over the weekend. He is also scheduled to visit Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Jordan and Kuwait.

Mnuchin announced last Thursday that he would not attend the investment conference in Riyahd after a White House meeting with President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the on-going investigation into the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. - Read More

Watch Live: Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Holds Press Conference | NBC ...

Watch Live: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds press conference ...

Monday, October 22, 2018

Retired general: If anyone can bring Afghanistan war to an end, it's Trump

A retired Army general said in an interview Thursday that if anyone can bring the 17-year-long Afghanistan war to an end, it's President Trump.

"Based on his success in dealing with some fairly hard characters — [North Korean leader] Kim Jong [Un], China, some others — if anybody can do it, President Trump can," retired Maj. Gen. Gary Harrell told Hill.TV's Buck Sexton on "Rising."

Harrell, a former Delta Force commander in Afghanistan who retired in 2008 after nearly 35 years in service, also praised Gen. Scott Miller, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. 

"I think President Trump has the right man on the ground in Scott Miller," Harrell said.

Asked his views on how to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to an end, Harrell emphasized the need "to develop a solid line of communication down through General Miller and the envoy, but they need to be able to talk to the Afghan people."

"And try to win them over to where they are not so much focused on doing things the way their great-great-great grandfather did things, and bring them into the modern world a little bit. I don't know that that's easy, and I'm not sure it's doable," he added.

The U.S. currently has around 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of its training and advisory efforts as well as various counterterrorism operations.

The U.S.-led coalition has tried to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table through an increase in troops and airstrikes. 

The war hit the 17-year mark on Oct. 7. -  thehill

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Ghani Thanks The Nation For Successful Elections

President Ashraf Ghani said the participation of women in the elections as candidates and voters was an historic success for democracy in Afghanistan.
Immediately after the completion of the voting process in Afghanistan’s much-awaited parliamentary elections, President Ashraf Ghani sent out a message thanking security forces and members of the public for not having surrendered to insurgents.

He said that the completion of the election process had sent a clear message to the Taliban that the Afghan people would not surrender to any bullying.

“The great people of Afghanistan, thank you! By casting your votes, you sent a message to the world that you do not want violence, you demonstrated your determination through democracy. You proved to the Taliban that this nation will not surrender to anyone,” said Ghani in a speech to the Afghan people on Sunday.

He said that if the Taliban have ethical courage they must consult with the nation and prove themselves through the will of the nation.

“I want to urge the Taliban to come among the people and show whether their way has a place among the people or the way of democracy. The Afghans proved to their enemies that they do not surrender to threats and warnings,” added Sayyad.

He said that the participation of women in the elections as candidates and voters was an historic success for democracy in Afghanistan. - Read More

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Afghan voters brave bloodshed and chaos to cast their votes - The Guardian

Multiple deadly attacks and administrative chaos marred Afghanistan’s long-delayed parliamentary elections, but large numbers of voters have still braved the threats and long queues to cast their ballots.

There was bloodshed around the country, with nearly 200 attacks near polling stations or security checkpoints, at least 28 people killed and scores more injured, the interior minister, Wais Barmak, said. Perhaps the biggest blast in Kabul, late in the day, killed at least 15.

But even at polling stations spared violence, there were widespread problems, from faulty voting registers and difficulties with new equipment for biometric ID checks, to officials who failed to show up for the 7am opening of polls and attempts to coerce voters.

“People have been lining up to vote since 5am or 6am, but the employees of the election commission didn’t arrive until after 8am,” said Tawab Faizi, a volunteer monitoring the vote in the western city of Herat.
“Many people are angry here, they queued for two or three hours, but they were told that they cannot vote because their names are not on the list. There are many irregularities.”
The problems raised the prospects of the election – and the security worries that come with it – dragging on far beyond Saturday. The government said any voting stations that opened late would stay open into the evening, and those that did not open their doors until after 1pm would open again on Sunday.
The vote came at a critical time for Afghanistan, with civilian casualties at grim records, the Taliban holding or threatening more of the countrythan at any time since 2001, and the government slowing down before presidential polls next year. - Read More

Afghan voters brave bloodshed and chaos to cast their votes | World ...

Afghanistan election: Voters defy violence to cast ballots - BBC

Voters in Afghanistan have defied deadly attacks to cast ballots in large numbers in the nation's long-awaited parliamentary elections.

Several explosions targeted polling stations, with dozens of people killed or injured in scores of incidents across the country.

Voting will be extended amid delays, with some constituencies remaining open on Sunday.

A new biometric verification system has caused technical problems.

Violence had also marred election campaigning, with 10 candidates killed in the run-up to the polls. Both the Taliban and the Islamic State group had vowed to disrupt them.

More than 2,500 candidates, including many women, are vying for 250 seats in the legislative elections, which are being held more than three years late. - Read More

Afghanistan election: Voters defy violence to cast ballots - BBC News

U.S. general says he may not have been target of Kandahar attack

KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said on Friday he did not believe he was the target of an attack that killed the powerful police chief of Kandahar, and Afghan officials said the gunman may have deliberately avoided hitting him.

The gunman assassinated the police chief of Kandahar province on Thursday along with a top Afghan intelligence agency officer, but the U.S. commander of Afghanistan’s NATO-led force, General Scott Miller, who was standing nearby when the attack occurred, was not hurt.

“My assessment is that I was not the target. It was a very close confined space. But I don’t assess that I was the target,” Miller told Afghanistan’s Tolo News TV in an interview.

General Abdul Razeq, police commander of the southern province and one of Afghanistan’s most powerful security officials, was fatally wounded by a bodyguard of the provincial governor as he came from a meeting with officials on Thursday.

“It’s been a long and painstaking journey in which he finally succeeded and got space among the bodyguards of the governor,” one Taliban commander said.

“It’s been a long and painstaking journey in which he finally succeeded and got space among the bodyguards of the governor,” one Taliban commander said.

In addition, the local head of the NDS intelligence service was killed and the provincial governor severely wounded, while the attacker himself was killed. 

Miller was also at the meeting and was heading to his helicopter to return to Kabul when the gunman, whom a Taliban spokesman identified as a 21 year-old from Ghazni province called Raza Mohammad, known as Abu Dujana, opened fire.- Read More