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  • What 44 Nations List As The Greatest Dangers In The World

    Iraqi Shi'iteAmid rising conflicts engulfing the Middle East, most of the 44 nations surveyed in a new Pew Research Center study listed the top threat in the world as "religious and ethnic hatred."

    Nations were given the option of selecting between five dangers: nuclear weapons, pollution, AIDS and other diseases, inequality, and religious and ethnic hatred.

    map danger larger

    At 58%, Lebanon had the highest level of concern of any country and identified religious and ethnic hatred as the single greatest danger to the world, correlating to its diverse religious makeup of Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Lebanese Christians, Greek Orthodox, and Jews. Meanwhile, severe battles between Hezbollah and Jabhat al-Nusra have brought war to Lebanon. Egypt, Israel, Palestine, and Tunisia also shared Lebanon's concern. 

    Meanwhile in the West, "the gap between the rich and the poor is increasingly considered the world’s top problem by people living in advanced economies," the Pew Research Center saysAmericans, and generally most European nations listed "inequality" as the world's greatest danger. Spain cited this concern at a rate of 54%, the highest level of concern in this category. 

    Ukraine and Russia both named "nuclear weapons" as their highest threat, along with Japan, Pakistan, and Turkey. It is estimated that Russia — which leads the world in number of nuclear weapons — along with the US, UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea, possess approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons altogether.

    Most African countries claimed "AIDS and other infectious diseases" as their most pressing issue in the world today.

     Here is the full list of all 44 surveyed countries:

    global dangers survey pew research

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  • Al Sharpton Denounces Darren Wilson's 'Excuse' For Shooting Michael Brown

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    The Rev. Al Sharpton on Saturday condemned the reported testimony of police officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown two months ago.

    Speaking at his weekly National Action Network rally in Harlem, Sharpton panned Wilson's claim to be in fear of his life as the "same excuse" as others who fatally shot African-American teens.

    "We were involved in Trayvon Martin. We were supportive of Jordan Davis," Sharpton said, ticking off the recent controversies. "The strange thing is that all of them used the same excuse ... The only gun there was Darren Wilson's! Strange parallels with all of these cases."

    The New York Times reported Friday that Wilson, who has avoided making public statements since the Aug. 9 incident, gave his side of the story in Wilson's death to a grand jury panel investigating him. Among other things, Wilson claimed he and Brown struggled over his gun in his police car, where Brown allegedly pinned him down.

    But Sharpton, who has been closely allied with Brown's parents and eulogized their son at his funeral, said he found holes in this explanation.

    "First of all, if you stopped him — Michael Brown and his friend — walking down the street, what led to the scuffle? ... Secondly, how does he and you get in your car? You trying to do what by yourself?" Sharpton asked. "Now, if I go with you with your story all the way to that  that Michael Brown was shot, gets up off you in the car — why are you trying to tell me that a man ... ran back at you when he knew you had the gun and you already shot him?"

    Brown's death touched off weeks of racially charged protests that gripped the relatively small city of Ferguson, Missouri, and drew nationwide headlines. The controversy quickly escalated after an aggressive police crackdown on the demonstrations.

    Sharpton also announced Saturday that he was returning to Ferguson on Oct. 31 for a four-day demonstration for justice.

    SEE ALSO: We Finally Know Darren Wilson's Side Of The Story In The Shooting Death Of Michael Brown

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  • GINSBURG: Texas Voter Law Is An Intentionally Racist Poll Tax

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg

    The liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a blistering dissent Saturday after the high court ruled that Texas can use a controversial voter ID law this coming election.

    The Texas legislature passed the law requiring voter ID at the polls fully knowing it would have a disproportionate impact on black and Hispanic voters, Ginsburg wrote in her dissent. More from her dissent:

    "The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law," she wrote, "one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters."

    The Texas legislature knew the law could potentially stop 600,000 people from voting but rejected a number of amendments that would have reduced the impact on minorities — including an amendment that would have allowed additional forms of ID, Ginsburg wrote. 

    Voter ID laws have largely been backed by conservatives, who argue that they prevent fraud. Opponents of these laws point out that mass voter fraud is not a real phenomenon in the US. In fact, opponents say, voter ID laws are a thinly disguised attempt to keep lower-income blacks and Hispanics (who were less likely to have IDs) away from the polls since they'll likely vote for Democrats.

     

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  • A Fight About How To Whiten Your Teeth Went All The Way To The Supreme Court

    teeth whiten"A smile is a curve that sets everything straight," said Phyllis Diller, a comedian. But a dazzling one can set you back a lot of money, and dentists in North Carolina want to keep it that way. Just over a decade ago the North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners (NCBDE) noticed that many people were getting their teeth whitened at spas or kiosks in shopping malls.

    The procedure typically involves placing disposable strips impregnated with a whitening agent on a client's teeth. The strips are deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration and regulated as cosmetics. Salons charge as little as a tenth as much for this service as a dentist would. So in 2003 the NCBDE sent at least 47 cease-and-desist letters to teeth-whitening outfits, accusing them of practising dentistry without a licence and driving them out of business.

    The NCBDE is composed mostly of practising dentists with an interest in eliminating competitors. Free marketeers have long complained about this sort of behaviour, which goes on in several states and many industries. In 2010 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) agreed; and on October 14th the case reached the Supreme Court.

    Hashim Mooppan, arguing for the dentists, claimed that a Supreme Court decision from 1943 gave the state dental board immunity from the antitrust provisions of the Sherman Act. Some of the justices sounded sceptical. Sonia Sotomayor complained that North Carolina has given a "group of private actors a pass on antitrust litigation". Stephen Breyer mused that if the state were to let a group of wine merchants or truckers fix their own prices, "they might get out of hand."

    However, Justice Samuel Alito said he was "not attracted to the idea of federal courts looking at state agencies...to determine whether they are really serving the public interest." Opening the door to this kind of supervision is "troubling," he told Malcolm Stewart, the lawyer for the FTC. Justice Breyer asked whether a ruling against dentists policing dentistry would entail a new norm requiring bureaucrats, rather than brain surgeons, to regulate neurology. "I want a neurologist to decide it," Justice Antonin Scalia said.

    No one is suggesting that unqualified people should be allowed to offer dangerous services, however. Rather, the case hinges on whether state-sanctioned professional bodies may claim a monopoly over services that non-members could safely supply.

    A ruling that liberated non-dentists to whiten teeth would invite complaints against a host of other professional bodies. Hence the stampede of occupational therapists, masseurs, chiropractors and many others to warn of dire consequences if the court disrupts "a 150-year tradition of regulation by practising professionals", as one brief put it. Others see it differently. Legalzoom, a firm that helps people write their own cheap legal documents using an online kit, has often been stymied by state bar associations.

    Companies that act like cartels face stiff criminal penalties. Why, asks the Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit, should private parties acting under the government's aegis be allowed to get away with the same thing? A decision is expected by June.

    Click here to subscribe to The Economist

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  • Obama Dismisses Ebola 'Hysteria'

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    President Barack Obama said on Saturday that the US must not "give in to hysteria or fear" when it comes to the Ebola virus.

    "All of us — citizens, leaders, the media-have a responsibility and a role to play. This is a serious disease, but we can't give in to hysteria or fear — because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need. We have to be guided by the science. We have to remember the basic facts," Obama said during his weekly address.

    The president specifically dismissed claims that there is anything close to an "outbreak" or "pandemic" in the US. He noted five Americans who contracted Ebola in Africa have been brought back to the US and — unlike the recent cases in Dallas — no healthcare workers were infected. 

    "Now, even one infection is too many," he said. "At the same time, we have to keep this in perspective. As our public health experts point out, every year thousands of Americans die from the flu."

    Obama pointed to his own actions as proof that there's no cause for alarm.

    "I've met and hugged some of the doctors and nurses who've treated Ebola patients.  I've met with an Ebola patient who recovered, right in the Oval Office. And I'm fine," he said.

    The president also reiterated his administration's opposition to a West Africa travel ban. Agreeing with experts, the president warned the proposal could actually hinder efforts to stop the disease.

    "Finally, we can't just cut ourselves off from West Africa, where this disease is raging.  Our medical experts tell us that the best way to stop this disease is to stop it at its source — before it spreads even wider and becomes even more difficult to contain.  Trying to seal off an entire region of the world — if that were even possible — could actually make the situation worse," he said. "Experience shows that it could also cause people in the affected region to change their travel, to evade screening, and make the disease even harder to track. "

    SEE ALSO: 'IT DOESN'T WORK': Experts Slam Ebola Travel Ban

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  • We Finally Know Darren Wilson's Side Of The Story In The Shooting Death Of Michael Brown

    Officer Darren Wilson

    Officer Darren Wilson told investigators he feared for his life during a struggle with 18-year-old Michael Brown inside his police SUV, according to The New York Times, which published the first account Friday detailing Wilson's perspective of the shooting death of Brown two months ago. 

    Citing officials familiar with the federal civil rights investigation, the Times reported Wilson as having fired twice inside the vehicle, then firing four more times at Brown outside. Forensics tests found blood from Brown on the interior door panel and on Wilson's gun and uniform.

    Wilson's story confirms details from some witnesses, while contradicting others. Brown's friend Dorian Johnson, who was with him during the incident, said Wilson grabbed Brown by the throat and pulled him into the vehicle and fired at him inside. But according to the Times, Wilson places Brown — who was unarmed — as an aggressor who pinned him inside the vehicle while punching and scratching him.

    Wilson's testimony to a St. Louis County grand jury was similar to the version of events previously released by the St. Louis County Police.

    Although we know more of Wilson's side, it's still not exactly clear what occurred between Wilson's stop of Brown and Johnson for walking in the middle of the street to Brown's death just three minutes later. 

    michael brown memorial site

    After leaving the vehicle, witnesses who were working construction nearby said Wilson chased after and fired at Brown, who had his hands raised. Another, who claimed to see the incident from start to finish, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a slightly different version, in which Brown's hands were not fully raised, but he moved toward the officer as Wilson yelled for him to stop.

    The account from the Times does not explain Wilson's perspective after he emerged from the vehicle. The witness who spoke with the Post-Dispatch however, said Wilson didn't need to kill Brown. "It went from zero to 100 like that, in the blink of an eye," he told the paper. "What transpired to us, in my eyesight, was murder. Down outright murder."

    So far, the officials told the Times the evidence did not support civil rights charges against Wilson, although the investigation is still ongoing.

    ferguson

    Brown's death sparked widespread protests, riots, and at times escalated into major clashes between protestors and police. Protests are still ongoing, and organizers held a "weekend of resistance" last Saturday in support of Brown, according to The Huffington Post.

    You can read the full report at The New York Times here >

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  • The FBI Director Hates Encryption Even Though The FBI Tells People To Use It

    fbidirector james comey

    FBI Director James Comey said Thursday that the use of mobile encryption "threatens to lead all of us to a very dark place," even though the FBI's own website has advised people to use encryption on their phones to protect themselves from loss or theft.

    Comey, in a speech at the Brookings Institution, was warning of the potential pitfalls from Apple's latest iteration of iOS, which offers hardware encryption on iPhones and iPads. Here's more of what he said:

    "Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch. But it will have very serious consequences for law enforcement and national security agencies at all levels. Sophisticated criminals will come to count on these means of evading detection. It’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?"

    He says that "encryption isn't new" in his speech, but neither are his problems with it. His allusion to criminal activity lumps in people who are just interested in protecting their privacy among criminals. As I wrote about last year, the use of encryption alone is enough to gain the attention of the National Security Agency.

    Most interesting is that the FBI has endorsed the use of encryption in the past. In an email alert of "safety tips to protect your mobile device" in Oct. 2012, it wrote, "depending on the type of phone, the operating system may have encryption available. This can be used to protect the user’s personal data in the case of loss or theft."

    iPhone 6

    It looks like Apple has taken that message to heart, and the FBI director doesn't like it.

    The broader point to be made in the realm of law enforcement and national security is that using encryption or worrying about online privacy is not a crime. There are people in this world who engage in no criminal activity whatsoever, yet they send email messages using PGP encryption. There are others who hide their IP address while browsing the web. Neither of these activities should be considered suspicious, but they apparently are in the eyes of the law.

    This is the digital equivalent of arousing police suspicion because you shut your blinds at night.

    Criminals are out there, as Comey knows. In his speech, he mentions cases helped by the smartphones of sex offenders, drug traffickers, and others. But the pendulum for users has swung toward privacy — especially in a post-Snowden era — and Apple and other companies are responding to that demand.

    SEE ALSO: SNOWDEN: Here's Everything We've Learned In One Year Of Unprecedented Top-Secret Leaks

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  • How The Military Can Cope With The Mental-Health Effects Of A Decade At War

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    Foreign Policy's managing editor, Yochi Dreazen, has had an accomplished career as a conflict journalist and spent five years reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan. But his first book, "The Invisible Front: Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War," spends relatively little time on the battlefield.

    It's about the psychological traumas of war — and what the US military is and isn't doing to assist soldiers affected by post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental-health issues.

    The book tells the story of the efforts of two-star general Mark Graham and his wife, Carol, to change the Army's attitudes toward mental health after losing both of their sons in a few short months.

    Jeffrey Graham, a second lieutenant in the Army, was killed by a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. His brother, Kevin, a promising Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet, killed himself months earlier, and had gone off of his antidepressants because he feared discovery of his depression would lead to the end of his military career.

    The Grahams succeeded in pushing for antisuicide and mental-health reforms in the military. But the first half of 2014 saw an uptick in the military's already troubling active-duty suicide rate.

    And as Dreazen explained in an exclusive interview with Business Insider, there's still a lot of work to be done.

    This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can read an excerpt from "The Invisible Front" here.

    Invisible Front_finalBI: Most Americans aren't veterans and haven’t served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Do you think the American public really has an adequate understanding of what veterans have been through and what the military as a whole has been through in the past decade-plus?

    Yochi Dreazen: I don’t. I think in some ways the military doesn’t understand the civilian world and the civilian world doesn’t understand the military. I think the gap between the two is really heartbreaking and potentially kind of dangerous in the long term.

    Part of it is that only 1% of the country serves. But part of it is that that 1% doesn’t live in the major cities, for the most part. It’s clustered in the South or in the Midwest. The bulk of the country that lives in cities probably will never meet somebody who serves, or, if they meet them, they won’t have them as a close friend or family member. 

    So when we’re in the airport and we see somebody walk by in uniform and people thank them for their service or they applaud, that’s a wonderful thing compared to post-Vietnam, when that wasn’t the case. But paired with that is a complete lack of connection or understanding …

    You have the civilian bubble, and the military bubble and oftentimes people don’t go from one to the other.  

    BI: Not only does the civilian world not have an adequate idea of what the people in the military have gone through, but the military world hasn’t been able to integrate some of the attitudes of the civilian world toward certain issues like mental health. How optimistic are you that this can change?

    Yochi Dreazen: I think it’s changing, but very slowly.

    The military obviously is the definition of a hierarchy. You have people at the top who are talking about stigma and the importance of seeking help [for PTSD], and saying that seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness. There’s a ton of money and hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by the military on the issue.

    What’s tough is that to really change something you have to have someone at the top not simply say in a general sense “go seek help, it won’t harm your career” but in a very specific sense say, “I sought help and it didn’t harm my career.”

    Over the course of the book I interviewed close to a dozen generals, people I had personally known from Iraq and Afghanistan. When we were talking — off-record at first — they were telling me about how they couldn’t sleep or they had anger flashes or their family didn’t recognize them. Most of them did not use the phrase PTSD, but they were clearly talking about PTSD.

    When I said to them, general so-and-so, it would be valuable for me to use that in the book, and it would really help a lot of people to know that somebody could go as far as you’ve gone with the issues you’ve wrestled with. And, with one exception, they all said no. 

    So when we’re talking about how to change a culture, if the people at the top who are the people everyone else in that culture looks to. If they won’t talk about it, it won’t change. And right now they won’t talk about it.  

    RTR1BFGBI: The book concludes that the problems around PTSD are only going to get worse, and it notes that there are still tens of thousands of World War II veterans being treated for it. What can we do to make sure that the problem doesn’t substantially worsen in the future?

    Yochi Dreazen: I think there are three things that can be done. They’re difficult but I think they are doable ... 

    One is having people at the very top, having generals who have had this disorder talk about it so that people at the bottom can see that if they can seek help, their career will not end, they can still be promoted up, and they can still be a success in the military. I can’t overstate how important that would be.

    Number two — and in some ways this is a much more practical one, but it’s gigantic — is simply to make it harder for a person to get a gun. Ninety percent of military suicides, if not higher, are with handguns. And a lot of times these are handguns that were issued to the person, but a lot of the time they were personal weapons. 

    Israel had a case for a while where they noticed a giant spike of military suicides. And when the Israelis looked into it what they realized is that for decades when soldiers went home on leave they took their weapons with them. It was a safety thing, and part of the culture of the Israeli military.

    So they did the logical thing, which was take those weapons away and say, if you’re leaving on a Friday, you leave your gun and your pick it up on a Monday. And the suicide rate plummeted. 

    There are little things we know from the civilian world that can help. Trigger guards make it so you have to unlock a gun to be able to use it. It’s an easy thing to do. They cost about $2 to put in. Giving one to every soldier would help, but it’s not being done.

    The third thing — and this is something that we as a culture can do — is that it’s very easy for us to just say that we support the troops.

    The hard thing to do is to actually meet someone who’s served and try to actually talk to them. And they’ll be somewhat reluctant because they might say, you’re a civilian, you can’t understand, how could you possibly know?

    But it will open up, and it will change, and it will help the people who come back and feel lonely and think the rest of the world doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about them. Even just that little human connection can make an enormous difference.

    SEE ALSO: An excerpt from Yochi Dreazen's The Invisible Front

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  • China Bans The Term '50 Cents' To Stop Discussion Of An Orwellian Propaganda Program

    The Chinese government doesn't just censor its internet. It also pays people to leave fake comments that make the country and its communist regime look good. 

    As detailed in "Blocked on Weibo" by Jason Q. Ng, one of the many phrases that gets censored in China is "50 cents." This term references a huge set of people hired by the government to post internet comments spinning the news in China's favor — people who are supposedly paid 50 cents of Renminbi for every post.

    While the Chinese government has only implicitly acknowledged its existence, the brigade likely functions at various levels, with some commenters even employed by websites or internet providers themselves.

    An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 belong to the "party," researchers from Harvard University wrote in the American Political Science Review in May 2013. "The size and sophistication of the Chinese government's program to selectively censor the expressed views of the Chinese people is unprecedented in recorded world history," the authors wrote.

    trolld

    In 2011 an internal directive for 50 Cent members leaked, China Digital Times reported. The assigned tasks for 50 Cent members include making America the "target of criticism" as well as using "the bloody and tear-stained history" of China to create pro-Party sentiments. The goal is to prevent democratic encroachment from its sovereign island neighbor, Taiwan. 

    leaked 50 cent party directive

    British magazine the New Statesman actually tracked down one of these hired propagandists in 2012. The anonymous 26-year-old said he had "too many usernames" to count and that he recieved an email from the local internet publicity office every morning explaining what news he should focus on that day.

    "It's kind of psychological ... You can make a bad thing sound even worse, make an elaborate account, and make people think it's nonsense when they see it," he told the Statesman's Ai Weiwei.

    China's censorship program, the Golden Shield Project, known to the West as the "Great Firewall," has existed for nearly a decade. It blocks foreign websites that threaten the Communist message, as well as surveils and filters content on home soil. Journalists and netizens alike who don't abide by the rules face prison — or worse. 

    Aside from that, however, the government started to add its own comments to the mix in 2005, when anti-Japanese protests erupted across China, The Economist reports. Controlling the internet wasn't enough. The party needed to "use" the internet, as then-president Hu Jintao said in 2007. And Sina Weibo's birth in 2009 forced the 50-Centers to become even more active. 

    China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology took the party's abilities a step further in 2014, setting up a training center, according to Radio Free Asia. The program intends to teach aspiring members how to direct and control online discussions.

    "There was never this sort of system or professionalization in the past," independent website publisher Wang Jinxiang told RFA. "It seems that this is a new set of qualifications."

    And the new initiatives appear to have worked. China's censorship was alive and well during recent protests in Hong Kong. 

    Hong Kong protests

    SEE ALSO: 16 Surprising Terms China's Version Of Twitter Has Blocked

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  • President Obama Says His Credit Card Was Declined At A New York City Restaurant

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    President Barack Obama recently had the embarrassing experience of having his credit card declined when he went out to eat. 

    Obama mentioned his credit-card issue on Friday when he spoke while signing an executive order aimed at protecting people from credit-card fraud.

    He said his card was rejected when he was having a dinner date with his wife, Michelle Obama, in Manhattan during the UN General Assembly.

    "It turned out, I guess, I don't use it enough, to so they thought there was some fraud going on," said Obama. "Fortunately, Michelle had hers."

    Obama and the first lady dined at New York City restaurant Estela on Sept. 24 while he attended the annual UN meeting.

    The White House did not respond to a request for comment about whether this was the meal where his card was rejected.

    In July, a White House press pool report described Obama using his "JPMorgan card" at a barbecue restaurant in Austin, Texas. According to the report, before using the card, Obama asked an aide if it was good. He was assured it was and apparently used it without incident.  

    Business Insider reached out to JPMorgan to ask why Obama's card may have been shut off. A company spokesman declined to discuss the matter and said the company does not "comment on customers' accounts."

    This isn't the only recent issue with Obama's credit card. Earlier this month, a JPMorgan SEC filing revealed the company suffered a massive cyberattack where personal information from tens of million customers may have been "compromised." The company declined to comment about whether Obama was among users who may have been affected

    NOW WATCH: The Impossible Choice That Had Elon Musk On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

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  • The Fight Against ISIS Is Riddled With Inadequate Resources And Setbacks

    KurdishThe gathering on October 14th at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington, DC, of top military brass from 22 countries in the American-led coalition against Islamic State (IS) had two main aims. The first was to work out how to integrate the effort of each into something that looks like a strategy. The second, underlined by the attendance of Barack Obama, was to demonstrate the seriousness of America's commitment to defeating IS. The president implicitly acknowledged that both are a work in progress, saying that it was going to be a long-term campaign with "periods of progress and setbacks".

    Right now, setbacks seem to be more evident than progress. Intensified air strikes by the Americans and Saudis have pushed back IS fighters besieging the Syrian-Kurdish border town of Kobane (Ain al-Arab in Arabic), but America says it may yet fall. Meanwhile, even with coalition air support, Iraqi security forces have put up only pitiful resistance to the latest IS surge in Sunni-dominated Anbar province. 

    The refusal of Turkey to lift a finger to relieve the agonies of Kobane has cast a dark shadow over the whole enterprise. 

    IS, which this week seized an army base near Hit, some 115 miles (185km) west of Baghdad, is now estimated to control more than three-quarters of the province.

    Martin Dempsey, the chairman of America's joint chiefs of staff, says that, had it not been for the intervention of Apache attack helicopters last week, IS would have had a "straight shot" to Baghdad airport. General Dempsey has "no doubt" that IS will "use indirect fire [mortar, rockets and artillery] into Baghdad" in the days ahead.

    Mr Obama's hope for progress is hampered by the conflicting agendas of many of his coalition partners; and perhaps also by his own half-heartedness. The air campaign against IS "has been so small by the standard of recent conflicts that it amounts to little more than military tokenism", says Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a think-tank.

    turkey kobane

    The difficulties of coalition management are starkly illustrated by the simmering row between Ankara and Washington. The refusal of Turkey to lift a finger to relieve the agonies of Kobane has cast a dark shadow over the whole enterprise. American jets attempting to aid Kobane's desperate defenders are having to fly more than 1,200 miles from the Gulf because Turkey will not allow them to operate from Incirlik, a big NATO airbase less than 20 minutes away.

    Whether Turkey can be brought onside may depend upon Mr Obama conceding a long-standing demand of Mr Erdogan's to establish a no-fly zone and buffer zone on the Syrian side of the Turkish border. Mr Erdogan also wants a commitment to take on the regime of Bashar Assad as well as IS. That is not on the cards, but to Mr Obama's discomfort, General Dempsey and the secretary of state, John Kerry, now both favour a no-fly zone.

    Measures being urged on the president include a big step-up in the tempo of air strikes in Iraq and Syria from the average of about seven a day since the campaign began to more than 150, and the use of special forces to provide forward air control.

    General Dempsey wants a much more intense training effort to reconstitute at least some of the Iraqi army into a moderately effective fighting force, requiring many hundreds, if not thousands, of Western soldiers. Even this may not be enough unless some of those advisers are embedded in Iraqi combat units to stiffen them in battle. None of this is palatable to Mr Obama. But as Mr Cordesman warns: "The US is now embarked in leading and conducting a high-risk air campaign that will do too little and do it too slowly."

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  • Putin: 'Global Economy Would Suffer If Oil Prices Remain At $80 Per Barrel'

    Vladimir Putin

    Vladimir Putin said Friday that the global economy would collapse if the oil price was allowed to remain at around $80 a barrel for too long.

    At a press conference following talks on the Ukrainian crisis in Milan, Italy the Russian president warned that prices as low as $80 a barrel would cause US oil production to crash as well as putting pressure on the rest of the global economy.

    He said:

    $80 a barrel would not be in the interest of any major players. This level is not in anyone's interest. The global economy would suffer.

    Oil prices below current levels present a particular pressure for the Russian government, which had budgeted on the basis of $90 a barrel. The collapse in the oil price has also hit the ruble, with the Russian central bank having burned through $13 Billion of foreign exchange reserves in an attempt to prop up the currency.

    Putin attempted to dismiss concerns surrounding the currency saying:

    Russia is among the world's leading countries in terms of foreign exchange and gold reserves. We have enough to adjust the rate of the ruble if necessary.

    However, this argument has previously been dismissed by Elvira Nabiullina, the head of Russia's central bank, who said Monday that if currency markets continue to turn against the ruble the bank "won’t be able to restrain them."

    Acknowledging the problems that falling oil prices pose to his government's budget plans, Putin said that if they remained depressed Russia "may need to adjust our budget" but stressed that social spending would not be cut.

    "We will not have to sacrifice that," he said.

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  • Iraq's Third-Largest Military Base Is In Danger Of Falling To ISIS

    ISIS Anbar Photo Propaganda

    ISIS is laying siege to Iraq's third-largest military installation, where Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) warn that they are ravaged psychologically and on the brink of being overrun, Susannah George reports for McClatchy DC. 

    The Ain Asad Air Base, located within Iraq's western Anbar Province, is under attack from ISIS and will likely fall if the ISF forces defending it outside don't receive some kind of outside help.

    Soldiers report that they are running low on supplies and that morale has collapsed as the US and coalition troops are providing essentially no support to the installation. 

    "It’s not possible to get in any supplies by land," an unidentified ISF soldier told McClatchy. “Forces in the base are almost collapsed psychologically and scared. I cannot say for how long we can hold the base.”

    The soldier said that if coalition airstrikes were undertaken in the area, the soldiers besieged in the base could respond to ISIS advances and retake the surrounding villages. But without the airstrikes, the ISF remained pinned-down and surrounded.

    ISIS is currently enjoying a surge of strategic momentum in Anbar province, and Iraqi forces are struggling to respond. Earlier this month, ISIS took control of the strategic city of Hit, along with its military base.

    Although the ISF said it conducted an orderly retreat from the base and destroyed supplies so that ISIS could not take advantage of them, the jihadists appear to have seized heavy artillery from Hit. This weaponry is now being used to further the jihadists' ambitions throughout the province. ISIS is using the artillery for assaults against the provincial capital Ramadi, as well as in the battle for Ain Asad.

    ISIS Anbar Iraq

    ISIS is continuing to advance across Anbar partly because of the US-led coalition's strategic choices.

    Over the past week, the US has been focused on conducting airstrikes against ISIS in Kobane, Syria, while paying minimal attention to ISIS activities in western Iraq.

    “The core problem is that the US does not have the strategic initiative," Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst at the Institute for the Study of War told McClatchy. "We are reacting to where ISIS is advancing, rather than proactively implementing a strategy to defeat them.”

    Should ISIS manage to take the Ain Asad Air base, the group would likely seize a trove of weaponry and munitions. In August, ISIS took control of Syria's Taqba Air Base, and looted SA-16 man-portable air defense systems, Sidewinder missiles, and even MiG-21B fighter jets, which former Iraqi pilots are now reportedly training the jihadists to fly.

    SEE ALSO: ISIS keeps defeating the Iraqi army in a 'critical' province next to Baghdad

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  • Here's Another Sign Of How Astronomically Expensive The F-35 Is

    f-35 air force lockheed martin

    The US military is trying to reduce its size and spending as it winds down its mission in Afghanistan and attempts to pivot away from the Middle East. But there's one multi-billion dollar factor standing in the way, for one branch of the military at least: the troubled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

    From 2012 to 2013, the only American military branch not to see a 20 percent fall in contract spending obligations, which constitute about half of the total defense budget, was the Navy. Its $94 billion in obligations for the most recent fiscal year represents a dip of only 2 percent, compared to a 22% decline for the Army and a 21% drop for the Air Force.

    The F-35, the often-delayed and astronomically expensive fifth-generation fighter jet, is a huge part of the reason why.

    As a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies explains, the Navy is "[shifting] toward buying more products, principally the [F-35] Joint Strike Fighter."

    "Navy products contract obligations increased by 8 percent, several times the rate of growth from 2009–2012," the report states. "Notable sources of growth included the Joint Strike Fighter program ($7.4 billion), nuclear reactors ($1.1 billion), the H-1 Upgrade program ($800 million), CVN-68 ($800 million), DDG-51 ($750 million), 6 and the E-2C Advanced Hawkeye ($500 million)." 

    So the F-35 represents a majority of the Navy's major new product obligations. It's a big reason that spending in this area is still going up, while contract spending is falling across the rest of the military.

    Lockheed Martin is the top recipient of Department of Defense contracting for fiscal year 2014 as well, and its F-35 is the single most expensive project in military history.

    A slew of problems and delays make the plane a potential liability for many of the US allies contributing to its design and manufacture.

    US Military Contract Spending CSISIn contrast, the Army has seen huge cuts in its contract obligations, which at $87 billion are smaller than the Navy's for the first time in over ten years. The Army's contract spending in 2008 was nearly double what it is today, perhaps a result of the surge that sent around 30,000 additional US troops to Iraq. 

    Despite the overall decline in this form of spending, the US military's contract obligations in 2013 were still over $100 billion greater than in 2000 or 2001. The bump in contract spending that followed the post-9/11 "war on terror" appears to be a permanent shift even if it's declined more recently.

    Contractors cover a broad category of responsibilities ranging from research and development to hardware procurement and private security work.

    Contract obligations represent roughly half of "total gross defense outlays," according to the CSIS report. The share fell to 49 percent in 2013, the lowest total in the post-9/11 era. 

    SEE ALSO: This map explains why the F-35 has turned into a trillion-dollar fiasco

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  • Here's The 'Ebola Czar' We Were Supposed To Have

    vivek murthy surgeon general nominee

    If healthcare workers had responded faster and in full force in Dallas three weeks ago, they might have prevented two healthcare workers from getting Ebola, CDC director Tom Frieden said in a call with reporters for the first time on Tuesday. 

    That might have happened, had there been an "Ebola czar" to spearhead efforts to contain the virus.

    As it turns out, we should already have one of those — it's the Surgeon General. The position was created for the express purpose of maintaining public health by coordinating efforts between various national agencies and the states to enforce a uniform public health policy

    Unfortunately, the man Obama nominated for the job back in November never got confirmed. His nomination was blocked over controversy regarding his position on gun violence.

    For now, CDC Director Tom Frieden has essentially been serving as Ebola czar, though there's no designated person coordinating the public health efforts of the CDC and the research efforts — including experimental vaccines and treatments — of the NIH.

    On Friday, President Obama announced he would appoint Vice President Joe Biden's former chief of staff Ron Klain to take on the newly created Ebola Czar role. 

    Also missing in action, at least publicly, is Rear Admiral (RADM) Nicole Lurie, the Department of Health and Human Services' Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, and the Acting Surgeon General — Rear Admiral (RADM) Boris Lushniak. 

    Things might have gone much differently over the last month if our Surgeon General had been in office from the beginning. Here's what that position should be doing in the case of an infectious disease outbreak:

    Domestic Communicator

    The Surgeon General would oversee the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, which include some of the people sent in to track down and contain dangerous viruses like Ebola. He or she would also work closely with US public health agencies like the NIH and the CDC to clearly communicate to the public and to healthcare workers information about new and emerging public health issues, such as Ebola. His or her role would be complex, but critical: Prepare healthcare workers to treat people with the virus while simultaneously educating the public to quell irrational fears about its spread.

    Today, the ongoing situation in Texas underscores how important that kind of thoughtful, scientifically sound communication can be. So why isn't it happening? Without a Surgeon General, relaying information about infectious disease falls on the states. This is where the CDC comes in.

    The CDC works as a reference center for each state — it provides them with recommendations and guidelines to prepare doctors and nurses to treat patients with Ebola and contain the virus. Unfortunately, the CDC doesn't enforce those recommendations, as Northwestern University Director of the Center for Global Health Robert Murphy told the New York Times . "It’s strictly up to the states as to whether they follow those guidelines or not," said Murphy.

    This state-by-state enforcement was a clear problem in Dallas, where despite having more than enough trained staff and equipment, healthcare workers failed to properly diagnose and treat their first Ebola patient , Thomas Eric Duncan . He died from the virus on Wednesday, Oct. 8 . This weekend, the hospital announced that a healthcare worker who treated Duncan was also sick with Ebola even though she was doing her best to follow all CDC safety precautions while caring for him.

    Public misinformation about Ebola has only worsened the situation. Since Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person to be diagnosed with the virus in the US on September 30, the CDC has received more than 800 calls a day from healthcare workers who suspect a patient has Ebola. Without clear communication about what the virus looks, sounds, and feels like, it's no surprise that most of the public — not to mention some trained doctors and nurses — think every fever, cough, or bloody nose could be Ebola.

    International Liaison

    Four people in the US, including an NBC videographer and two Dallas healthcare workers, remain ill with Ebola. In Spain, a nurse in Madrid who contracted the virus has worsened.

    Yet the brunt of Ebola's damage continues to be felt in West Africa, where more than 4,000 have died and more than 8,000 are sick with the virus. While the CDC and the WHO could likely have contained the outbreak early on had they acted in full force when Ebola first emerged, both agencies are now simply struggling to keep up with the virus as the number of infected in West Africa doubles every 30 days.

    In all seven countries where Ebola cases have been reported, the health agencies are following the same protocol they've been using for every former Ebola outbreak: contract tracing. The procedure involves tracking down every person who's come into contact with an infected person so the outbreak can't continue to spread unchecked. In West Africa, however, it may be too late for the procedure to work. With so many sick — and so many being turned away from hospitals to die at home and pass the virus to family — the total number of infected people could climb to 1.4 million by the end of January.

    If the Surgeon General led communication between the CDC and the WHO, that person could not only coordinate efforts to send aid to the most affected countries in West Africa, but could also implement airport health screenings and spearhead hospital trainings.

    Many of the airport screeners who were dispatched at five US airports last week are supervised by members of the US Public Health Service, the Surgeon General's boots on the ground. In 2003, after meeting with health professionals in California who proposed implementing airport screenings to battle the SARS outbreak (a much less deadly virus than Ebola), then Surgeon General Richard Carmona decided to give an official go-ahead to the procedure. The same year, the Surgeon General identified several infectious disease quarantine sites where SARS could be contained.

    Why We Have A Surgeon General

    Our most recent Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin, says the job serves the critical function of digesting all of the information about a particular public health scenario, such as Ebola, and telling the public what they need to know to stay safe.

    The position was initially created in 1798, when President John Adams created the Marine Hospital Service. That group's lead doctor was called the Surgeon General. Years later, the MHS became the US Public Health Service, and the Surgeon General began to take on health issues related to immigration, national safety, smoking, and many other public health issues.

    Since then, the position has been significantly weakened. In the midst of what is perceived to be a massive public health crisis, however, a Surgeon General could serve a critical role. "Not having [this person] right now, you don’t have that face and that person that the American people can identify with as their doctor who’s looking out for them on a large scale," said Benjamin.

    DON'T MISS: It Is Appalling That Obama’s Surgeon General Candidate Could Be Blocked For His Totally Reasonable Gun Comments

    SEE ALSO: REPORT: Obama Is Appointing An 'Ebola Czar'

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  • REPORT: Obama Is Appointing An 'Ebola Czar'

    Ron Klain

    President Barack Obama will reportedly appoint Vice President Joe Biden's former chief of staff Ron Klain as US Ebola czar, according to CNN.

    Obama noted on Thursday that it might be helpful to have one person running the US response to Ebola.

    Klain will be responsible for making sure that efforts to detect, isolate, and treat Ebola patients is coordinated with US efforts to stop Ebola at its source, CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports.

    A White House official told Knoller that the officials currently working on the Ebola response have other demands on their time.

    The US doesn't currently have a surgeon general who would be responsible coordinating efforts between various national agencies and the states to enforce a uniform public health policy. The man Obama nominated for the job back in November never got confirmed because his nomination was blocked over controversy regarding his position on gun violence.

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden has been serving as a de facto Ebola czar, but so far there hasn't been a designated person coordinating the public health efforts of the CDC and the research efforts — including experimental vaccines and treatments — of the NIH.

    Klain is well-known for his role in the Florida election recount of 2000. He was general counsel of Al Gore's recount committee, and Kevin Spacey portrayed him in the HBO movie "Recount."

    Klain is currently President of Case Holdings and General Counsel of the investment group Revolution, according to CNN.

    Although Klain doesn't have a healthcare background, he's well-respected in Washington as a talented manager, CNN notes.

    The US has been criticized over its handling of Ebola, with hospitals seeming underprepared to deal with the virus that has killed thousands in parts of West Africa.

    Two nurses who work at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas were diagnosed with Ebola this week after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, who contracted Ebola in Liberia and flew to the US for a visit before he started showing symptoms. Duncan died last week.

    SEE ALSO: Here's The 'Ebola Czar' We Were Supposed To Have

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  • This Amazing Film Shows What Iraq Was Like In The 1950s

    Screen Shot 2014 10 15 at 12.19.30 PM

    In April, the 20th-century film house British Pathé digitized more than 80,000 of its films and put them on YouTube.

    "Ageless Iraq" is one of them, shot in the 1950s to introduce "a new country" to the world, "one that hasn't forgotten the glories of its history."

    Since this movie was made, Iraq has been the site of repeated conflict and atrocities — chemical warfare, sectarian violence, a US-led invasion, and now ISIS' blitz across the country. Many observers wonder whether Iraq will even be able to survive as a single, coherent political unit.

    The movie is a jarring reminder that nothing in history is inevitable and that there was a time when even one of the world's most problematic countries seemed like it was on a promising trajectory. 

    You can watch the entire film here and here.

    "Ageless Iraq is no longer a remote, isolated country," the narrator says. "Today she is a main junction linking the east and west" — as these European tourists are meant to prove.



    "Ageless Iraq" emphasizes the country's budding modernity, which is presented as a straightforward boon imported from a more advanced western world.



    A disciplined police force is credited with keeping Baghdad running safely ...



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  • The 10 Most Important Things In The World Right Now

    ebola suit hazmat infection control

    Good morning. Here's what you need to know for Friday. 

    1. A wave of deteriorating economic data in Europe has stoked fears of another financial meltdown.

    2. The second Dallas nurse infected with Ebola is being transferred to a unit at the National Institutes Of Health in Maryland

    3. Meanwhile, US lawmakers sharply criticized the response of federal health officials to Ebola in a congressional hearing on Thursday. 

    4. Europe also said Thursday that it would step up efforts to contain the spread of Ebola and help the worst-hit countries in West Africa. 

    5. Police cleared a main protest site in Hong Kong early Friday, although pro-democracy activists and officials remain in a standoff after three weeks of demonstrations. 

    6. Kurdish fighters claim to have pushed back Islamic State militants in the Syrian town of Kobani but have asked a US-led coalition for more airstrikes and weapons. 

    7. Hurricane Gonzalo is barreling toward Bermuda as a powerful Category 4 storm

    8. A $54 billion so-called "tax inversion" deal under which Chicago-based AbbVie would buy the Irish drug company Shire is likely to collapse

    9. The iPhone 6 is finally available in China.  

    10. Apple unveiled its newest iPads — the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3 — in an event on Thursday. The iPad Air 2 will start at $499, and the iPad Mini 3 will start at $399.

    And finally ...

    The San Francisco Giants are heading to the World Series

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  • Thousands Of Police Officers Are Cracking Down On Hong Kong's Democracy Protestors

    Hong Kong police

    Hong Kong (AFP) - Hong Kong police cleared a pro-democracy protest site in the city's densely populated Mong Kok area early Friday, meeting no resistance as they removed barricades and tents.

    The Mong Kok site -- which was nearly empty when police moved in -- has seen violent scuffles between demonstrators calling for full democracy in the southern Chinese city and opposition groups during almost three weeks of rallies.

    SEE ALSO: Hong Kong Wants To Talk Again

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  • BOBBY JINDAL: Obama Administration Has 'Told Us Things That Turned Out Not To Be True' About Ebola

    bobby jindal

    Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who has said he's considering making a run for president in 2016, criticized the government's response to the Ebola epidemic at an appearance in New York City on Thursday.

    "Time and time again, the CDC and the administration in general have told us things that turned out not to be true," Jindal said. "They first said – the president said it was unlikely the virus was going to get here. It did get here, it turns out it did get here. Then he said it was unlikely it was going to spread and it did spread." (The CDC warned back in August that Ebola's spread to the US was "inevitable.")

    Jindal made his critique of the administration of President Barack Obama in an appearance alongside New York's GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino at Grand Central Station in Manhattan. At the press conference, both Jindal and Astorino called for the US to ban flights entering the country from the three West African nations that have seen a substantial number of Ebola cases.

    There has been one confirmed Ebola diagnosis in the US and two confirmed transmissions. Both cases of transmission involved nurses who treated the first patient. 

    On Thursday, there was a congressional hearing to discuss the threat posed by Ebola. Jindal addressed reports the second nurse found to be infected asked the US Centers for Diseases Control whether she should have been allowed to travel within the country following her exposure. She flew from Texas to Ohio after her initial exposure and the CDC reportedly cleared her travel. Whether or not the CDC allowed the second nurse to fly, Jindal said it was apparent officials have not taken "common sense steps" to fight the disease.

    "It's pretty clear they refused to take common sense steps and call for the ban of these flights," said Jindal. "That's been something I've been calling on for quite some time now. This is just common sense. Why in the world wouldn't we do this?"

    The CDC has said banning flights from the affected region in Africa would actually aid the spread of the virus and prevent and emergency response. Jindal disputed this during his press conference in New York. 

    "We're not saying stop the medical workers and the first responders from going to Africa and helping out on the ground," said Jindal. "What we are saying though is why is routine – why is it a matter of routine? Why are we allowing folks to come into this country from these countries where they have a widespread exposure to Ebola?"

    Jindal described the government's response to Ebola as one of multiple situations where the Obama administration has fallen short, including on the "economic challenges facing our country." 

    "They've been a dollar short and a day late time and time again," said Jindal. "They seem to underestimate the challenges. They don't seem to be responding competently. I've called it malpractice. I think that they need to be doing do a much better job protecting us."

    Jindal added the administration "could do more to expedite the development" of experimental treatments and vaccines for Ebola.

    "There are common sense steps that this administration and CDC could be taking to do a better job of protecting us from Ebola," Jindal said. "I think they should be doing that." 

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  • Joe Biden's Son Hunter Was Kicked Out Of The Navy For Cocaine Use

    Hunter Biden wide

    Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter was kicked out of the Navy Reserve this year after he tested positive for cocaine, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

    A Yale-educated lawyer, the 44-year-old Hunter Biden was commissioned as a Navy ensign May 7, 2013 and assigned as a public affairs officer at a reserve unit in Norfolk, Va., the Journal reported. But just a month later when he checked into his new unit and was given a drug test, he popped for cocaine.

    He was discharged in February of this year.

    In a statement, Biden said it was "the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions led to my administrative discharge. I respect the Navy’s decision. With the love and support of my family, I’m moving forward.”

    It was not clear what type of discharge he received. Military personnel discharged for drug usage usually do not receive honorable discharges, although Biden's statement says he received an "administrative discharge."

    The Navy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    CNN has more:

    The U.S. official said the Navy never had contact with the vice president's office over the issue, and that standard procedure for failed drug tests is administrative discharge. The vice president's office didn't comment on the report.

    In a speech given at the commissioning of the USS Delaware in 2012, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus noted that Hunter would be joining the service. His brother Beau also served in the military, as an attorney in the Army with a deployment to Iraq.

    Biden's job in the Navy Reserve was only a part-time commitment. He has kept busy as head of the legal unit for Ukraine's largest private gas firm, according to The Washington Post. He also serves as managing partner at Rosemont Seneca Partners and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

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  • The UN Just Dealt Turkey A Hugely Embarrassing Blow

    turkey prime minister Tayyip Erdogan

    It's not exactly a golden age for Turkish foreign policy. 

    ISIS is on Turkey's southern border. Ankara's having trouble handling its always fractious relationship with the Kurds. President Reccip Tayyip Erdogan can't seem to go a week without lashing out at his ostensible allies.

    And today, Turkey failed in its bid for a two-year term on the UN Security Council, losing out to Spain and New Zealand in a vote before the UN General Assembly over two open seats.

    The result comes as a surprise, since Spain is one of Europe's perennial economic trouble spots, and New Zealand is a geographically isolated island nation of 4.5 million people.

    Turkey, on the other hand, fancies itself a rising superpower, a NATO member boasting the world's 17th-largest economy along with a sizable and advanced military. Its leaders have even tried to take a leading role in reforming the Security Council in a way that would reflect the ascendancy of emerging powers like Turkey.

    Newsweek's Benny Avni was correct in calling today's vote "a tremendous upset." Avni noted that Turkey's foreign minister had hosted a party for diplomats at Manhattan's Waldorf-Astoria the night before the vote, "where many of the guests predicted an easy victory for Turkey."

    But Turkey was apparently complacent and didn't realize how dead set its two biggest rivals in the Middle East were against letting Ankara hold one of 15 UNSC votes. Per Avni, the two countries most suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood wanted Erdogan to pay a tangible diplomatic cost for his support for the group:

    In the past few days, according to several diplomatic sources, there was an intense campaign, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, against Turkey’s membership in the council. The two countries are angered by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which both are fighting at home.

    Another possible explanation is Turkey's disastrously muddled handling of its border with Syria. Turkey has lined tanks along the border near the besieged city of Kobane, but steadfastly declined to come to the city's aid as ISIS closed in — at the same time its officials were slamming the allied bombing missions against Islamic State fighters as a "PR campaign."

    Turkey has taken a harder line against Syrian President Bashar Assad than just about any other NATO country, something that's led to the government turning a systemic blind eye toward jihadist recruiting within its own borders.

    The vote not only denies Turkey one of the most prestigious and powerful positions in the entire international system — it's also a sign of how frustrated much of the world is with Ankara's trajectory, and how ineffective Iraq and Syria's northern neighbor now is at stating its case.

    SEE ALSO: Travel back to 1950s Iraq

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  • Obama Authorizes National Guard To Help Fight Ebola

    ebola obama margaret chan handshake

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama authorized the use of American military reservists on Thursday to support humanitarian aid efforts against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

    In a letter to leaders of the US Congress, Obama said an unspecified number of reservists will be used to help activate duty personnel in support of the Ebola mission in West Africa.

    It could include personnel like engineers, logistics staff, and communications specialists. No individuals or units has been identified yet for the call-up.

    Earlier on Thursday, sources told NBC News that "eight engineers and logistical specialists from the Guard, both active-duty and reservists, would probably be included in the first deployment." They would be assisting in the construction of 17 Ebola treatment centers in Liberia.

    "The president has laid out very clearly what the mission is. The Department of Defense has told the president that it will require about 4,000 Department of Defense personnel to execute the mission the president has directed them to execute," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday, according to USA Today. "What I don't know is the composition of that force."

    Here's the full executive order, via Buzzfeed News.

    (Reuters reporting By Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and David Alexandria; Editing by Sandra Maler)

    SEE ALSO: Our Ongoing Ebola Coverage

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  • Source Says Number Two U.S. Justice Department Official Plans To Step Down

    James Cole

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The No. 2 official at the U.S. Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, is planning to step down from his post, a person familiar with his plans told Reuters on Thursday.

    Cole's departure is the latest in a series from top officials at the agency, including Attorney General Eric Holder who last month announced plans to leave the department.

    After Holder's announcement, rumors about his replacement centered on two other officials –Labor Secretary Tom Perez and US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli. However, on Tuesday, Bloomberg reported former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler had "emerged as President Barack Obama’s preferred candidate."

    A Justice Department spokeswoman declined comment to Reuters.

     

    (Reuters reporting by Aruna Viswanatha; Editing by Susan Heavey)

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  • How A Small, Family-Owned Company Taught Cops Around America To Seize Millions In Cash

    Desert Snow

    A controversial police tactic that lets cops seize large amounts of suspicious cash has been aided by a family-owned company that won millions in federal contracts, Robert O'Harrow and Michael Sallah write in The Washington Post.

    That company, Desert Snow, has trained cops around the US on the art of roadside asset forfeiture, which allows police to take cash or other assets they believe have been illegally obtained. Cops can take these assets from people even if they're never convicted of or even charged with a crime, and people must go to court to get their stuff back.

    In five years, cops trained by Desert Snow seized $427 million from motorists stopped on America's highways, the Post found.

    The company, which retired California Highway Patrol veteran Joe David started in his garage in 1989, eventually won federal contracts worth $2.5 million from the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, and other agencies, according to the Post. David's wife and kids still work there, and the contractor employs about 75 instructors and administrators (though it's unclear how many, if any of these instructors work there full-time).

    Federal government agencies like the Department of Transportation also have extensive training for cops on how to seize assets and drugs from vehicles, but Desert Snow appears to be the go-to private contractor to train cops in asset forfeiture. Here's how that process works, according to The Post:

    Desert Snow charges as little as $590 for an individual for its three- and four-day workshop of lectures and hands-on training in such subjects as “roadside conversational skills” and “when and how to seize currency.” The firm often sets up its training in hotel conference rooms. The firm’s three-day “Advanced Commercial Vehicle, Criminal & Terrorist Identification & Apprehension Workshop” cost 88 students a total of $145,000, according to a price list posted by the state of New Jersey.

    The ACLU and other civil liberties groups have attacked the practice of civil asset forfeiture, which sometimes seizes cash from innocent people who often don't have the resources or wherewithal to go to court to get that money back.

    Indeed, the Post has detailed cases of innocent motorists whose cash police seized, including an unemployed 31-year-old who had borrowed $2,500 from his dad and a construction worker whose life savings of $13,630 was seized.

    However, a representative from Desert Snow was quick to point out that the firm has also helped police seize thousands of pounds of drugs from motorists in the past decade. Moreover, much of the money seized fuels the drug war, according to the statement provided by David Frye, director of training with Desert Snow. (Frye also works as a sheriff's deputy in Seward County, Nebraska.)

    "These funds are often times used to support the lavish lifestyles of criminals throughout the world and we cannot forget that these monies are also used to support a great deal of violence in the ever competing war on drugs,” Frye said in an emailed statement. 

    The Post article contradicts the notion that most seizures by police are of drug money. Of $2.5 billion in seized assets examined by the Post, 81% came from cash and property seizures where the owner was never indicted. There's no easy way to know how many of the police officers involved in those asset seizures were trained by Desert Snow, though.

    In any event, Desert Snow's tactics have been criticized by the ACLUa local attorney where the group trained officers, and a state judge in Caddo County, OklahomaThe ACLU claims at least three of the company's employees impersonated cops in Caddo County while working with them to stop motorists in exchange for 25% of the cash seized.

    Caddo County District Attorney Jason Hicks put a stop to Desert Snow's stops in July 2013 after the judge complained about its tactics, the Oklahoman reported at the time. Hicks' drug force seized $1.3 million during traffic stops after it hired Desert Snow.

    Desert Snow's founder Joe David reportedly upset Caddo County Special Judge David Stephens when he testified that he'd pulled over a pregnant driver and questioned her — even though he wasn't a state-certified cop, according to The Oklahoman

    “For people to pull over people on I-40 without that license is shocking to me,” the judge reportedly said. The judge then said he hoped David wouldn't do that again, and that if he did, he'd be "wearing orange" soon.

    In June, an investigation by Oklahoma's attorney general revealed that Desert Snow was not guilty of criminal wrongdoing in Caddo County.

    "It was a successful program, and that may be one of the problems that we had — we were too successful too quickly," the district attorney, Hicks, reportedly said after the investigation cleared Desert Snow of wrongdoing.

    Caddo County will not be working with Desert Snow again, though.

    Here is the full statement from Desert Snow:

    The Desert Snow Training Program teaches officers how to identify and apprehend criminals during every day, routine traffic stops.  The learned techniques have helped officers seize hundreds of thousands of pounds of drugs over the past decade.  With regards to currency, officers are taught that money should only be seized when probable cause exists that it is related to drugs, illegal gambling, prostitution, the sale of weapons, or from some other type of criminal enterprise.

    Each year, police officers seize tens of millions of dollars.  Most of this money is easily determined to be proceeds from drugs.  In some cases, the transporters of the currency admit to what it is and in other cases the occupants claim to know nothing about the hundreds of thousands of dollars hidden in a secret compartment found in the vehicle they were driving.  These funds are often times used to support the lavish lifestyles of criminals throughout the world and we cannot forget that these monies are also used to support a great deal of violence in the ever competing war on drugs.


    NOW WATCH: These Facts About Texas Will Blow Your Mind

    SEE ALSO: Here Are The Ridiculous Things Cops Bought With Cash 'Seized' From Americans

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