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  • It Looks Like A Showdown Is Coming In Hong Kong

    hong kong

    HONG KONG (Reuters) - The Hong Kong government on Thursday urged protesters to end a blockade of the city center immediately, saying their actions were affecting public order and the provision of public services.

    "About 3,000 government officials will try their best tomorrow to return to work as (much) as possible. To maintain public service, the government headquarters must operate as usual," the government said in a statement.

    "We urge the Occupy Central leaders and organizers to stop the movement immediately."

    In a separate briefing, Steve Hui, senior superintendent of the Hong Kong police force, urged protesters not to block or charge at government buildings, saying police would take action in accordance with the law if they did.

    Both sides hunkered down for what could be a prolonged stand-off, although the number of protesters blocking the streets in the financial and administrative districts for the past six days tapered off on Thursday.

    The mostly young protesters have demanded Hong Kong's leader, Leung Chun-ying, step down by the end of Thursday, threatening to occupy government buildings if he fails to do so.

    They have also called on China to introduce full democracy so the city can freely choose its own leader.

    hong kong

    Leung, appointed by Beijing, has refused to stand down, leaving the two sides far apart in a dispute over how much political control China should have over Hong Kong.

    China's ambassador to Germany, Shi Mingde, told Reuters that the city's reputation as a financial hub was not under threat for now. "But if shares fall, if the unrest continues, then the social order and (Hong Kong's) role as a financial center will be in danger," he said in an interview in Berlin.

    "This is neither in Hong Kong's nor China's interest."

    The city's benchmark index, closed on Thursday for a holiday, plunged 7.3 percent in September.

    Spooked by the protests, which turned violent at the weekend when tens of thousands took to the streets, some banks and other financial firms have begun moving staff to back-up premises on the outskirts of city.

    Turmoil in Hong Kong has begun to affect the economy.

    hong kong

    Hong Kong radio RTHK quoted Joseph Tung, executive director of the city's Travel Industry Council, as saying China's tourism authorities had suspended approval of tourist groups from the mainland to Hong Kong, citing safety.

    A government source with ties to Leung said the pro-Beijing leader was prepared to play a long-game, intervening only if there was looting or violence.

    "Unless there's some chaotic situation, we won't send in riot police ... We hope this doesn't happen," the source said. "We have to deal with it peacefully, even if it lasts weeks or months." Leung could not be reached for comment.

    The "Occupy Central" movement presents one of the biggest political challenges for Beijing since it violently crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

    Riot police used tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges last weekend to quell unrest, the worst in Hong Kongsince China resumed its rule of the former British colony in 1997.

    Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying The protests have calmed considerably since then, although an air of tension remains and the demonstrations appear far from over. A crowd of about 100 protesters on Thursday blocked the main road leading to Leung's office in the Central business district, some chanting, "Leung Chun-ying, Step Down!"

    A pro-Beijing group told a news conference in Hong Kong their supporters would take to the streets to show support for Leung's administration, raising the prospect of clashes between the two sides.

    The crowded suburbs of Kowloon and the neighboring New Territories are home to a vast organized network of pro-Beijing groups, some of which boast close ties to mainland companies and officials and have grown active in street counter-protests in recent months.

    China has dismissed the pro-democracy protests as illegal, but in a worrying sign for the Communist Party leadership in Beijing, the demonstrations have spread to neighboring Macau and Taiwan.

    China now faces a dilemma.

    Cracking down too hard could shake confidence in market-driven Hong Kong, which has a separate legal system from the rest of China. Not reacting firmly enough, however, could embolden dissidents on the mainland.

    Shi Mingde, the Chinese ambassador, said most mainlanders had little sympathy for the demonstrations in Hong Kong. "Therefore I don't believe that this will have consequences for the mainland."

    A front-page editorial in the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, lauded Leung's leadership and the police response to the protests. "The central government fully trusts Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and is very satisfied with his work," it said on Thursday. 

    INTERNATIONAL CONCERN

    U.S. President Barack Obama told visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who earlier met Secretary of State John Kerry, that Washington was watching the protests closely and urged a peaceful solution.

    "The United States has consistently supported the open system that is essential to Hong Kong's stability and prosperity, universal suffrage, and the aspiration of the Hong Kong people," the White House said in a statement about the meeting, also attended by national security adviser Susan Rice.

    hong kong kerry china

    Universal suffrage is an eventual goal under the "one country, two systems" formula by which China rules Hong Kong. Under that formula, China accords Hong Kong some autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China.

    However, protesters calling for free elections reacted angrily when Beijing decreed on Aug. 31 that it would vet candidates wishing to run in Hong Kong's 2017 election.

    Wang said before an earlier meeting with Kerry that countries should not meddle in China's internal affairs.

    "The Chinese government has very formally and clearly stated its position. Hong Kong affairs are China's internal affairs. All countries should respect China's sovereignty," Wang said.

    Protesters across the city have dug in, setting up supply stations with water bottles, fruit, raincoats, towels, goggles, face masks, tents and umbrellas. Even so, some in the crowds wondered how long the status quo could last.

    The Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the protest organizers, urged people to surround more government buildings from Friday unless the authorities accepted their demands.

    But Leung has said Beijing would not back down and that Hong Kong police would be able to maintain security without help from People's Liberation Army troops from the mainland. 

    (Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu, Donny Kwok, Charlie Zhu, Yimou Lee, James Pomfret, Irene Jay Liu, Farah Master, Diana Chan, Twinnie Siu, Kinling Lo, Clare Baldwin, Diana Chan and Jason Subler in HONG KONG, Lesley Wroughton, Arshad Mohammed, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON, Jonathan Allen in NEW YORK, and Noah Barkin and Andreas Rinke in BERLIN; Writing by Paul Tait,  Jason Subler, and Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Mark Bendeich and Jeremy Laurence)

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  • Western Banks Have Basically Gone On Strike Against Russia, Cutting Off Its Credit

    putin hollande

    The amount of debt issued by Russian companies has collapsed due to fears of Western sanctions over the crisis in Ukraine.

    In the first three quarters of this year the total amount of foreign-currency debt plummeted 83% compared to the same period last year. Nomura Securities estimates that the total value of sales was $9.8 billion so far in 2014 compared with $52.2 billion sold through the whole of last year.

    The Financial Times reports that Russian companies are being frozen out of the bond market due to lingering fears after US financial institutions were handed heavy fines for breaching sanctions against Iran, Sudan, Cuba and others earlier this year:

    [It] is a simple risk, reward calculation that is denying Russia access to global debt markets. It is not just the uncertainty over whether Russian counterparties will meet liabilities. A US-led surge in heavy fines for western banks breaching rules or busting sanctions has left them on edge.

    Russia's isolation from international bond market could post a severe problem for the country's businesses if sanctions persist. Rating agency Moody's said in a July report that "refinancing for Russian issuers may present more challenges than before" with Russian companies accounting for around 10% of the total $1.17 trillion refinancing requirements due between 2015 and 2018 in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

    The country's majority state-owned oil company, Rosneft, will face a particularly challenging time if the sanctions aren't lifted. It has some $112 billion worth of debt that needs to be refinanced over the next four years.

    After a meeting on Tuesday European Union leaders decided to keep the sanctions, which target prominent individuals and businesses in the oil, banking and defense industries, in place despite "encouraging developments" in Ukraine. However, heavy shelling in the rebel-held city of Donetsk on Wednesday that left at least 10 people dead and destroyed a school playground is yet another sign of just how fragile the ceasefire deal between the rebels and government forces in the country remains.

    SEE ALSO: The Ruble Just Fell Out Of Bed

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  • The 10 Most Important Things In The World Right Now

    Ebola

    Hello! Here's what you need to know for Thursday.

    1. After using tear gas to unsuccessfully break up pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, the Chinese government has adopted a new wait-and-see tactic, with hopes that, in time, "the inconvenience caused to others in Hong Kong will swing the public opinion against Occupy or pressure the organizers to call it off," an official told The Wall Street Journal.

    2. The director of the US Secret Service, Julia Pierson, resigned on Wednesday over recent lapses in security at the White House.

    3. Turkey is deciding whether to join the U.S-led coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, a move that "could allow foreign forces to use [Turkey's] territory for cross-border incursions," Reuters said. 

    4. The first man diagnosed with Ebola in the United States was reportedly sent home at first by a Texas hospital, despite telling a nurse that he had just come back from Africa. 

    5. Japan is still searching for bodies on Mount Ontake after the volcano unexpectedly erupted on Saturday. Forty-seven people have been confirmed dead so far. 

    6. UK-based charity Save the Children revealed a shocking new statistic about the spread of the Ebola virus: Five people are being infected every hour in Sierra Leone. 

    7. PIMCO announced on Wednesday that $23.5 billion was withdrawn from its flagship Total Return Fund in September, with the "largest daily outflow occurring on the day of Bill Gross's resignation from the firm."

    8. The European Central Bank will present its latest decision on rates and monetary policy, including details of a new asset-backed buying plan, early Thursday morning. 

    9. The US has re-routed flights over an Alaska beach to avoid panicking an estimated 35,000 walruses that have clumped together on the shore due to a loss of sea ice. 

    10. Tesla's Elon Musk hinted in a tweet that the company will unveil "the D and something else" on Oct. 9. There is speculation that this could be the next generation of Teslas. 

    And finally...

    The Thai government has developed two robots to test traditional Thai dishes, like green curry, for authenticity

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  • North Korea Claims It's Making Alarming Progress Towards Building A Usable Nuclear Weapon

    north korea submarine

    North Korea has tested three nuclear devices, but alarm over the program has been tampered by the hermetic country's apparent failure to miniaturize an atomic bomb to a size at which it would be practical as a weapon. Even if Pyongyang has proven nuclear capabilities, there's little direct evidence that they've managed to build a device small enough to fit in a warhead or even a plane-delivered bomb — one they could actually use in a war, or as a deterrent.

    Experts and observers seize on even the smallest evidence of that North Korea is making progress towards the logical next-step in its nuclear development. And North Korea's latest nuclear-related boasting seemed especially notable:

    The announcement, which according to Herman came through official North Korean regime radio on September 27th, hasn't been verified, but it raises the prospect of a nuclear breakthrough for a country with aggressive posturing on the international scene. 

    Over Twitter, Jeffrey Lewis added his two cents on what North Korea had up its sleeve: "Nuclear-armed SS-21s."

    The SS-21 or Scarab is a Soviet-era short-range ballistic missile that still populates the arsenals of the USSR's ex-republics and allies, like Armenia, Syria, Ukraine, and Russia itself. A missile database curated by the George C. Marshall and Claremont Institutes puts the SS-21's range at 70 kilometers — and adds that it's capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

    To determine how seriously a given threat from North Korea should be taken, Herman told Business Insider "you've got to determine which group in particular it's being attributed to in North Korea." Pyongyang governs through a deeply opaque authoritarian system, and it isn't always clear who's making decisions, or why.

    In this case, Herman said, the latest nuclear claim came from the country's National Defense Commission. "But even within the National Defense Commission there are different levels. This one was a level or two up from the lower-rung organizations, but it was not something near the very top," he told Business Insider. "I would call it a mid-level threat."

    Notably, the passage that he tweeted from was omitted from the English-language transcript of the broadcast. "Obviously, that paragraph was intended primarily for domestic consumption," Herman explained.

    Regardless, some foreign press had already latched on to North Korea's purported advances in building a potential nuclear delivery system. The online edition of Indian daily Business Standard reported on September 23rd that North Korea was testing a variant on the SS-21 (elsewhere called the KN-02), and that US and South Korean experts agreed it's "only a matter of time" before North Korea achieves miniaturization — a prerequisite for making deliverable nuclear weapons.

    A report along with photos from North Korea's state media show the country testing what appears to be a KN-02 in mid-August, "on the occasion of the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Korea." Note below how closely the missile launched during the August test lines up with the missile's profile.
    nukes4
    Janes.com cited South Korean press reports that the KN-02 reached 220 kilometers in range, before speculating that the weapon could be planned for use aboard submarines. This would give North Korea a so-called second-strike capability — if its bases were wiped out in a first nuclear exchange, it could still fire from one of its 70 submarines instead of from land.

    North Korea counts few friends in the region and the world. The prospect of a nuclear missile with a 220-kilometer range isn't going to change that. North Korea hasn't been able to blackmail a single country into a total reversal of relations, and miniaturized nuclear weapons probably isn't going to shift the balance. It could even deepen Pyongyang's isolation more than its three past nuclear tests have.

    But South Korea's capital, Seoul, is only 60 kilometers from the demilitarized zone that separates it from the north. And the two countries are technically still at war, as the Korean War of the 1950s ended with an armistice rather than a treaty. North Korea could be building in order to increase its deterrence over the South — with the Korean Peninsula's military balance, or even the regime's survival, in mind.

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  • ISIS Is Closing In On A Turkish Enclave Inside Of Syria — And Ankara Is Facing A Huge Dilemma

    Suleyman Shah Tomb

    Ancient history has a way of barging into present-day events in the Middle East, and one such drama is currently unfolding along the Turkish-Syrian border, in the heart of the region's deadliest ongoing conflict.

    ISIS is closing in on the border town of Ayn Al Arab, in Syrian Kurdistan. A mere 30 miles further into Syria lies the burial place of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire — who's been dead since 1236. 

    Screen Shot 2014 10 01 at 11.05.36 AMAccording to the 1921 Treaty of Ankara signed between Turkey and France (which held a post-World War I mandate over former Ottoman territories in the Levant), the Tomb of Suelyman Shah is sovereign Turkish territory, an enclave inside of a part of Syria now largely under ISIS's control.

    And ISIS has had the tomb surrounded for months.

    Turkey resupplied the tomb back in May, swapping out conscripted soldiers for Special Forces as ISIS tightened its grip over the region. Even so, there's no obvious resupply route, and Turkey has scores of its troops at the potential mercy of one of the world's most vicious jihadist groups.

    Turkey might have managed to secure the freedom of dozens of Turkish ISIS hostages in late September. But ISIS has potential leverage over their powerful northern neighbor so long as Turkey continues to garrison the tomb.

    ISIS is right on the tomb's doorstep. According to video evidence, jihadists "are able to get within 350 meters of the tomb and feel comfortable enough to tag the entrance" with extremist graffiti, says Aaron Stein, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. As he explained to Business Insider, the usual overland resupply route to the Turkish garrison at the tomb is now an impassable combat zone, and ISIS's possession of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft weapons make an air resupply potentially hazardous as well.

    On October 1st, Turkey's deputy prime minister vowed to defend the tomb against ISIS's encroachment. An Ankara-based think tank also released a detailed set of English-language proposals for defending the enclave, including large-scale military operations to secure the area surrounding it.

    Screen Shot 2014 10 01 at 6.11.00 PM

    The tomb is of paradoxical significance since it's a clear strategic liability. As Turkey scholar and blogger Michael Koplow explained to Business Insider, a massacre of Turkish troops at the tomb would obligate Ankara to act, putting the country at risk of "getting dragged into a larger war through the inevitable military response that will have to follow an attack on Turkish soldiers at the Tomb."

    At the same time, the tomb is treated as a vital national interest, a matter of Turkish pride and prestige. Turkish leaders have alluded to the idea that they believe an attack on the tomb should trigger NATO intervention under Article VII of the Alliance's charter. Turkey has risked a massacre of its soldiers for months, just to keep the white crescent flying over a small and strategically negligible peninsula on the Euphrates.

    The tomb is intrinsically useless — or worse — yet fundamental to Turkey's national interests and self-image.

    After all, a rising world power can't be forced to cede sovereign territory to violent jihadists under any circumstances, regardless of where that territory is, or how impractical it might be to defend it. "Pulling out creates an optic that is nearly as bad as soldiers dying in a firefight," Koplow explained. "There are basically no good options here for Ankara, which is becoming a common theme in its foreign policy."

    turkey prime minister Tayyip ErdoganStein agrees. "Any issue that has to do with the Turkish flag being lowered is taken extremely seriously by a large segment of the population," he says.

    The tomb's important for another reason that would be just as difficult to grasp under more normal circumstances: it's a convenient proxy for other, fundamental failures in Turkish foreign policy.

    Most of Turkey's troubles with Syria have nothing to do with the Tomb, which has only been under direct threat from ISIS for the past six months.

    Turkey has been calling for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to leave office since early in the country's conflict and had one of its fighter planes shot down inside Syria in June of 2012. Turkey's called for a no-fly zone in northern Syria, while barely cracking down on anti-Assad jihadists operating on its territory. It's plotted its policy around NATO or US interventions that never transpired, gambled on Assad's eventual downfall, and perhaps even aided the rise of the some of the militants that the US-led coalition is now bombing in Syria.

    Again, none of this ties in with the Tomb of Suleyman Shah, at least not directly. Turkish policy in Syria is hamstrung by all sorts of other factors. But as Stein explained to Business Insider, many domestic critics inside Turkey believe that the Islamist government of President Reccip Tayyip Erdogan supports ISIS outright, while some in the international community are skeptical of what they see as Turkey's half-hearted approach to the fight against the group.

    "Most of what's going on is a direct rebuttal to growing, severe domestic polarization in Turkey," he says. So the tomb is a convenient justification for Turkey's equivocal policy in Syria — even if it's one small aspect of a larger and more complicated mess.

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  • The US Is Planning A $1.75 Billion Patriot Missile Sale To Saudi Arabia

    Patriot Missiles Israel

    The United States plans to sell Patriot missile batteries to Saudi Arabia worth $1.75 billion and long-range artillery to the United Arab Emirates valued at about $900 million, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

    The Defense Department informed Congress of the potential arms sales this week as fighter jets from both of the Gulf states took part in a US-led air campaign against the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.

    The Saudi government had requested the purchase of 202 Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC)-3 missiles — the most sophisticated version of the Patriot anti-missile weapons — as well as a flight test target, telemetry kits and other related equipment, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.

    “The proposed sale will help replenish Saudi’s current Patriot missiles which are becoming obsolete and difficult to sustain due to age and the limited availability of repair parts,” the agency said.

    “The program will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a partner which has been, and continues to be, an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” it added.

    Both Kuwait and Qatar already have purchased the PAC-3 weapons, which are designed to knock out incoming ballistic missiles as well as enemy aircraft and cruise missiles using ground radar.

    Gulf countries in recent years have invested heavily in missile defense weapons, radar as well as air power, mainly as a hedge against Iran which they view as a regional threat.

    The Patriot missiles, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, have an estimated range of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles) and have more advanced radar than the older systems.

    Separately, the Defense Department notified lawmakers about a planned sale of 12 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) Launchers to the United Arab Emirates for nearly one billion dollars.

    The system “will improve the UAE’s capability to meet current and future threats and provide greater security for its critical infrastructure,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said. The weapons, which deliver precise and powerful artillery fire at a long range, would also bolster the UAE military’s ability to operate with US forces, it said.

    Congress has 30 days to raise objections to the potential arms sales. Without any move to block the deals, the US government can then negotiate contracts with the two countries.

    SEE ALSO: Why Saddam Hussein was worse than anyone in the Middle East today

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  • ELIZABETH WARREN: The Secret New York Fed Tapes Confirm The Game Is Rigged

    elizabeth warren

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who has called for congressional hearings regarding conduct at the Federal Reserve following the ProPublica and This American Life report from last week, told NPR in an interview on Wednesday that the report, "tells us exactly what we already knew."

    Warren told NPR's Steve Inskeep that the report, "ultimately this report tells us exactly what we already knew — that the relationship between regulators and the financial institutions they oversee is too cozy to provide the kind of tough oversight that's really needed." 

    Last week, a report from ProPublic and This American Life released secret audio recordings from former New York Fed official Carmen Segarra that appeared to showed disagreements and dysfunction among Fed officials stationed inside Goldman Sachs. 

    Listening to the tapes, Warren said two things jumped out: the lack of truthful reporting and the emphasis by Fed officials on talk over action. 

    "You know, the regulators seemed to think that it was a victory just to raise an issue, even if they took absolutely no action to address the issue," Warren said. "And that's the kind of approach that allowed banks to take on massive risks before the financial crisis. You know, think about that: The regulators seemed to think that fussing at banks behind closed doors was their toughest sanction. Does anyone believe that Goldman Sachs is gonna give up a deal that would yield millions of dollars because someone fussed at them behind closed doors?"

    Warren also said the issue of bank regulation is "already a campaign issue." 

    Warren said:

    The way I see this, for everybody who's running right now in 2014, there's a fundamental question of whose side you stand on.

    You know, the game out there is rigged, and people across this country really get it. And the Goldman Sachs tapes just show it one more time. Little banks have to follow the rules, regular families have to follow the rules, but big financial institutions? Somehow they can manage just to push their regulators aside and go forward.

    There's a — there's a fundamental question about who this country works for. It can't just work for those who already have lots of money and lots of power. We've got to have a country that works for everybody else.

    Warren, a former consumer advocate and a rumored presidential candidate in 2016, is one of the most vocal and critical members of congress regarding financial regulation.

    Back in July, Warren issued a direct challenge to Fed chair Janet Yellen on the enforcement of the "living will" provision in the Dodd-Frank Act, which prompted the Fed to act.

    It remains to be seen what Warren does in the wake of this report and the surfacing of these tapes from inside the Fed and Goldman Sachs. 

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  • SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR RESIGNS

    Julia PiersonJulia Pierson, the director of the United States Secret Service, resigned on Wednesday amid a rush of criticism over recent White House security breaches.

    "Today Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it," said Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. "I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the Nation."

    Joseph Clancy, the former special agent in charge of the presidential protective division of the Secret Service, will take over as interim director, Johnson said. 

    Johnson also announced the formation of an independent panel to investigate the security breaches, members of which he said would be named "shortly."

    "This panel will submit to me its own assessment and recommendations concerning security of the White House compound," Johnson said.

    "I will also invite the panel to submit to me recommendations for potential new directors of the Secret Service, to include recommendations of individuals who come from outside the Secret Service. I will also request that the panel advise me about whether it believes, given the series of recent events, there should be a review of broader issues concerning the Secret Service."

    The panel will report its recommendations to Johnson by Dec. 15.

    Pierson has come under intense scrutiny in recent days, and multiple lawmakers on Wednesday called for her to resign or for President Barack Obama to dismiss her. Pierson testified before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday in response to the mid-September security breach in which Omar Gonzalez, a knife-wielding intruder, jumped over a fence outside the White House and made it deep inside the building.

    Gonzalez was eventually able to venture extensively inside the White House, with help from the fact he was able to make it through two unlocked doors. He was eventually tackled near the Green Room after running through most of the East Room, taking a path that led him past a staircase that led to the president's bedroom. Obama was not in the White House, however, at the time.

    whitehousemap2

    The details about how far Gonzalez was able to make it inside the White House were only released in recent days and painted a far more troubling picture than what the agency had originally revealed.

    In addition to the Sept. 19 incident, the Secret Service has also come under fire for other incidents in which it took the agency five days to realize bullets had hit the White House in 2011, and in which an armed man was allowed on an elevator with Obama last month.

    Here's the full statement from Johnson on Pierson's resignation:

    Today Julia Pierson, the Director of the United States Secret Service, offered her resignation, and I accepted it. I salute her 30 years of distinguished service to the Secret Service and the Nation. 

    As an interim Acting Director of the Secret Service, I am appointing Joseph Clancy, formerly Special Agent in Charge of the Presidential Protective Division of the Secret Service. Mr. Clancy retired from the Secret Service in 2011. I appreciate his willingness to leave his position in the private sector on very short notice and return to public service for a period.

    Today, I have also asked the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, aided by this Department’s General Counsel, to assume control and direction of the ongoing inquiry by the Secret Service of the fence jumping incident at the White House on September 19.  Deputy Secretary Mayorkas should complete that review and submit findings to me by November 1, 2014. 

    Finally, I have also determined that scrutiny by a distinguished panel of independent experts of the September 19 incident and related issues concerning the Secret Service is warranted. The Panelists will be named shortly. By December 15, 2014, this panel will submit to me its own assessment and recommendations concerning security of the White House compound. I will also invite the panel to submit to me recommendations for potential new directors of the Secret Service, to include recommendations of individuals who come from outside the Secret Service. I will also request that the panel advise me about whether it believes, given the series of recent events, there should be a review of broader issues concerning the Secret Service. The security of the White House compound should be the panel’s primary and immediate priority.

    It is worth repeating that the Secret Service is one of the finest official protection services in the world, consisting of men and women who are highly trained and skilled professionals prepared to put their own lives on the line in a second’s notice for the people they protect. Last week, the Secret Service was responsible for the protection of the President as well as 140 visiting heads of state or government as they convened at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Likewise, in August the Secret Service handled the protection of 60 world leaders as they convened in Washington, D.C. for the African Summit. As usual, the Secret Service executed these highly complex and demanding assignments without incident. There is no other protection service in the world that could have done this.

    This post has been updated.

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  • Chuck Schumer Wants The Secret Service Director To Resign

    Chuck Schumer

    Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is calling for the Secret Service Director Julia Pierson to resign in light of multiple recent security breaches involving President Barack Obama. The senator's office sent out a statement announcing his intention to call for Pierson's resignation on Wednesday. 

    "U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer will call for the Director of the United States Secret Service, Julia Pierson, to resign from her position, given the repeated and disturbing security breaches at the White House as well as on the President’s travels," the statement said. 

    Schumer is scheduled to discuss the issue at his office at 4 p.m. The statement said the recent issues at the Secret Service have made it clear "personnel change is needed."

    There have been several recent incidents involving the Secret Service. On Sept. 19, an armed intruder jumped over a fence and entered the White House. The Washington Post subsequently reported he made it much further inside the building than was previously known. Those revelations followed a Washington Post report published Sunday detailing how the Secret Service "bungled" its response to a 2011 incident where a gunman shot at the White House.

    Due to these issues, Congress began an investigation of issues at the Secret Service. As part of this probe, Pierson testified before  acongressional committe on Tuesday. Following her testimony, the Washington Examiner reported on an incident that occurred Sept. 16 where an armed man allegedly was allowed onto an elevator with the president

    Update (3:58 p.m.): Schumer's press conference was cancelled after Pierson offered her resignation shortly after he expressed his intention to call for her to step down. 

    Here is the email his office sent to reporters after the news broke:

    schumer email

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  • Meet 15 Protesters Who Are Fighting For Democracy In Hong Kong

    hong kong

    As protests continue to rage and grow in Hong Kong, images of massive crowds demanding free and open elections are everywhere.

    But it's easy to forget that those crowds are made up of individuals, each with their own opinions, passions, and reasons for being there.

    Reuters photographer Bobby Yip decided to find more about the people who make up these gigantic demonstrations. What he found was a cross section of modern Hong Kong, individuals who are different on paper but share in common goals.

    (All captions by Bobby Yip/REUTERS)

    Benny Tai, 50, one of the founders of the "Occupy Central" civil disobedience movement, poses during a rally in Hong Kong September 26, 2014. Tai said, "I hope more people will join and hope it will be peaceful." China rules Hong Kong under a "one country, two systems" formula that accords the territory limited democracy.



    Auyeung Tung, 36, an artist, also poses for a photograph prior to the main protests. Auyeung said, "Lives of the grassroots will be improved when there is true democracy."



    Genie Mak, 19 (L), and Kitz Yu, 21, both university students, are seen here. Mak said, "If I don't come out today I may feel regret."



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  • Republicans Are On The Verge Of 2 Major Defeats In One Of The Reddest Of Red States

    Greg Orman KansasRepublicans are trailing in two races with national implications in Kansas, according to a new USA Today/Suffolk University poll released Wednesday.

    Both US Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican senator who has been in office since 1997, and Gov. Sam Brownback, a first-term governor running for re-election, are trailing their respective challengers in the poll. Roberts is 5 points behind Independent candidate and businessman Greg Orman, while Brownback sits 4 points behind Democrat Paul Davis.

    Kansas, a state that traditionally skews Republican, has become one of the most interesting electoral battlegrounds in the country, with Orman's sudden rise and Brownback's stunning fall.

    "Orman has dabbled in both Republican and Democratic politics over the years and says he will be a moderate in the tradition of Kansan Bob Dole, so it will be interesting to see whether this fresh face will prevail in the state that was the subject of a book examining 'How Conservatives Won the Heart of America,'" said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston.

    The poll was released on the same day Orman got more good news in his quest to unseat Roberts. A Kansas court ruled Democrats would not have to replace Chad Taylor on the ballot. Taylor dropped out of the race last month, something that helped boost Orman's chances at victory

    Orman has not said which party he will caucus with if he's elected, and many speculate his decision will hinge on which party ultimately controls the body.

    Roberts' trouble comes from voters viewing him in an unfavorable light. Overall, 39% of voters view both Orman and Roberts favorably. But Roberts is viewed unfavorably by 47% of Kansans, compared with just 25% who say the same about Orman. 

    The Suffolk poll of 500 likely voters was conducted from Saturday through Tuesday, with a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4%.


    NOW WATCH: 2 Million Fast Food Workers In The US Aren't Making A Living Wage — Here's Where They Live

     

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  • Congressman Posts Bizarre Vine Of His Bruce Lee Impression

    Jim Mcdermott Bruce Lee impression

    If the partisan bickering in Congress ever devolves into actual fisticuffs, it seems like Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Washington) will be well prepared.

    The congressman displayed his impressive martial arts skills in a short Vine video posted on Tuesday where he wore a replica of the jumpsuit worn by Bruce Lee in the 1978 kung fu film "Game of Death."

    "Do you know Bruce?" McDermott asks in the clip as he unleashes a spectacular block/chop combo.

    McDermott filmed the video to promote an exhibit on Lee's life opening at Seattle's Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience on Saturday.

    Jack D'Annibale, a spokesperson for McDermott, told the Washington Post the congressman is a fan of Lee, who lived in Seattle.

    Business Insider reached out to D'Annibale to see whether McDermott believes Lee would be able to win a fight against another legendary martial artist, Jackie Chan.

    "The Congressman thinks Jackie Chan is fantastic. The Congressman also points out that Jackie Chan learned a great deal from Bruce Lee and the student - in this case - would not beat the teacher. The Congressman gives the nod to Seattleite Bruce Lee," D'Annibale said.

    Watch McDermott's incredible Vine below.

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  • 'THIS IS NOT WEST AFRICA' — Rick Perry And Texas Officials Say Ebola Will Be Contained

    ebola Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas

    Gov. Rick Perry (R) and other Texas officials provided an update Wednesday on the condition and status of the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US, while saying they were optimistic the disease wouldn't spread.

    During the news conference, Perry told reporters a handful of school-aged children had contact with the man who was eventually diagnosed with Ebola. The patient was described as being in "serious but stable" condition and Perry said the children are being monitored at their homes for any symptoms associated with the disease.

    "I know that parents are being extremely concerned about that development. But let me assure you these children have been identified, and they are being monitored," Perry said. "And the disease cannot be transmitted before having any symptoms. I have full confidence in the medical professionals."

    The Associated Press reports the man diagnosed with Ebola is Thomas Eric Duncan, who went to a Dallas emergency room on Friday and was sent home. Duncan returned to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday where he has been in isolation ever since. He had recently traveled back to the US from Liberia, something his sister said he told doctors about.

    Other Texas health officials said in the press conference that between 12 and 18 people who may have come in contact with Duncan are being monitored for any signs of the disease.

    Perry said the "system is working like it should" in response to the diagnosis. Dr. David Lakey, the Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health, said he was confident it would be contained.

    "This is not West Africa," Lakey said, referring to the continent on which the outbreak of the disease first began. "This is a very sophisticated city."

    Ebola spreads though contact with bodily fluids and cannot be spread through the air, which has given officials confidence it won't spread in the US because of its far superior medical infrastructure to that of West African nations. The disease has already killed more than 3,000 people in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

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  • There's a TV Commercial For Marijuana In Oregon Now

    Marijuana Ad Oregon

    The "Yes on 91" campaign in Oregon, which is encouraging voters to approve a measure that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state, has launched what it describes as a "$2 million plus advertising blitz" on Wednesday complete with a primetime television commercial. The group's ad hit the airwaves Wednesday and will appear on local broadcast and cable networks. It features a man named Pete Tutmark, who was described in a press release from "Yes On 91" as "a longtime Oregonian who has spent 33 years in law enforcement, including many years as patrol sergeant, sheriff's deputy and the supervisor of a K9 unit."

    "Last year in Oregon, there were 13,000 citations and arrests for marijuana," Tutmark says in the ad. "That takes time, time better spent solving murders, rape cases, finding missing children. The system's broken. Measure 91 regulates marijuana for adults so police have time to fight serious, violent and unsolved crimes."

    Measure 91 is on the ballot in Oregon on Nov. 4.

    Watch the ad, which is titled "It's About Time," below.

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  • JIMMY CARTER: 'I Could Have Wiped Iran Off The Map'

    Jimmy Carter attempts to kick Glenn Beck around.Former President Jimmy Carter marked his 90th birthday Wednesday with a lengthy interview on CNBC Meets where he discussed his one term in office and the one thing he would have handled differently — the Iran Hostage Crisis.

    Carter suggested Operation Eagle Claw, a failed 1980 attempt to rescue the hostages taken by Iranian revolutionaries at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, could have been successful if he committed one more helicopter to the mission. 

    "I think I would have been re-elected easily if I had been able to rescue our hostages from the Iranians," Carter said. "And everybody asks me what would do more, I would say I would send one more helicopter because if I had one more helicopter, we could have brought out not only the 52 hostages, but also brought out the rescue team, and when that failed, then I think that was the main factor that brought about my failure to be re-elected. So that's one thing I would change."

    Operation Eagle Claw was aborted after three of the helicopters taking part in the mission experienced mechanical problems. 

    Carter also said he believed he would have been re-elected if he took military action against Iran in response to the taking of the hostages. Though he argued he "could have wiped Iran off the map," Carter said he thought avoiding war was the "right decision."

    "I could've been re-elected if I'd taken military action against Iran, shown that I was strong and resolute and, um, manly and so forth," said Carter, adding: "I could have wiped Iran off the map with the weapons that we had, but in the process a lot of innocent people would have been killed, probably including the hostages, and so I stood up against all that, er, all that advice, and then eventually my prayers were answered and every hostage came home safe and free. And so I think I made the right decision in retrospect, but it was not easy at the time."


    NOW WATCH: 9 Animated Maps That Will Change The Way You See The World

     

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  • Here's How Much The War On ISIS Is Costing The US

    F-16 Fighting Falcons

    Ongoing operations in Iraq and Syria to confront the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State cost an estimated $7 million to $10 million per day, the Department of Defense said Tuesday. 

    "We're still at the $7 million to $10 million, and as I said when I talked about it last week, it's just an estimate and it's likely to change over time," Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters. "And as operations intensify, you know, you can expect that that number will probably go north of that over time."

    Earlier Pentagon estimates had put the cost of fighting the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, around $7.5 million per day, amid the US escalating its campaign in Iraq with airstrikes beginning in early August. Since the stepped-up involvement in early June, including surveillance flights and increased deployment of military advisers, the number was much lower.map iraq air strikes reuters

    Rear Adm. Kirby stressed that the $7 million to $10 million figure is "only the best estimate" at this point, and the number could be revised higher. The US is on its 10th day of airstrikes in Syria, and has on certain days conducted double-digit airstrikes against ISIS targets. The Obama administration has indicated the fight to "degrade and ultimately destroy" ISIS could take years. According to the Pentagon, ISIS has an operating range between 20,000 to 31,000 militants within the region.

    How far upward that figure is revised could depend on whether the scope of operations is expanded even further. According to a report released this week by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the high point for annual costs of the fight against ISIS is around $22 billion — if airstrikes expand further and a significant ground force is required.

    Here's a map from the CSBA report that breaks down the cost of various aircraft involved in the operations:

    Syria Iraq air map

    Thus far, the US has led more than 200 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, and another 60 strikes with coalition forces in Syria. 

    Several attacks were aimed at destroying 12 ISIS-held Syrian oil refinery targets in hopes to disrupt the extremist groups ambitions of selling crude oil on the black market. In that particular airstrike, Rear Adm. Kirby announced 16 fighter jets participated with the majority of bombs and jets belonging to allied forces

    The United Kingdom is the newest ally to join the coalition and has flown approximately 30 reconnaissance missions over ISIS territory. Earlier this week, the British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the Royal Air Force flew a successful mission and destroyed ISIS military equipment, the Telegraph reports.

    With the US Air Force taking the led out of the sister service branches, the Navy has currently spent roughly $100 million on campaign operations.

    “Most of the Navy and Marine Corps missions were at the beginning because we were there, but as the campaign has gone on, I think the Air Force announced yesterday they have done about 75 percent,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said.

    Since President Obama has stressed he will not deploy US ground troops into combat situations in Iraq or Syria, higher-intensity air operations in Iraq and Syria could end up costing $4.2 billion to $6.8 billion per year, according to the report.

    The Pentagon has said that financing for the ISIS fight will come from the Overseas Contingency Operation fund, an account exempt from budget caps that was created for the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq last decade. 

    Earlier this year, Obama sought to dwindle the budget for that account down to about $59 billion from $85 billion, reflecting the decline of operations in Afghanistan. But the spending bill passed by Congress last month continues to fund the OCO at the $85 billion level.

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  • Watch An F-15 Sniper Wipe Out An ISIS Compound Through The Plane's 'Advanced Targeting Pod'

    Several US and foreign attack planes, including the B-1B “Lancer” and the F-15E Strike Eagle, are equipped with the Lockhhed Martin Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod (ATP).

    The pod has a laser designator used for laser-guided bombs, and a forward-looking infra-red and CCD TV camera used for identification of airborne and ground targets, along with tracking, navigation, and guidance.

    F 15E Sniper 706x470

    Although some videos recorded through the Sniper ATP are available online, here’s one released by the Pentagon showing an attack on an ISIL Compound near Kobani, Syria.

    Blast aside, and the display in the ATP footage includes a lot of symbols that we currently know little about — a result of the so-called “sensor fusion,” the combination of sensory data derived from the plane and other assets’ data sources. 

    SEE ALSO: The rise of ISIS has caused a full-blown foreign policy crisis in Washington

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  • David Cameron's 'Gift' For Impersonation Was On Display Again In His Big Speech Today

    Prime Minister David Cameron couldn't resist including an impression of his outgoing Foreign Secretary William Hague in his Conservative Party conference speech Wednesday.

    He referenced Hague's 1977 speech to the Conservatives, when as a 16-year-old he quipped:

    It's all right for most of you. Half of you won't be here in 30 or 40 years time.

    To demonstrate his point, Hague was one of the very few present that day to hear the prime minister affecting his colleague's broad Yorkshire accent 37 years later:

    Of course, Cameron has form on the impressions front (with various levels of success). Here he is during a speech in the City of London attempting to impersonate former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard:

    And the less said about his German accent, the better:

    SEE ALSO: Here Are The Impossible Cuts The Next UK Government Will Be Forced To Make

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  • 2 Million Fast Food Workers In The US Aren't Making A Living Wage — Here's Where They Live

    Fast food is really popular in the US, but workers at places like McDonald's and Taco Bell barely make a living. Here's what the data reveals about fast-food wages in each state.

    Produced by Alex Kuzoian and Sara Silverstein.

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  • Hong Kong Protesters Threaten To Occupy Government Buildings — Meaning It Could Get Ugly

    hong kong

    Protests in Hong Kong are in their fifth day, and the crowds are larger than ever after a China National Day ceremony to mark the 65th anniversary of Communist China.

    The student-led protest is attempting to use peaceful civil disobedience to force Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign and to persuade Beijing to retract its decision to screen candidates in the city’s 2017 chief executive poll.

    Tensions are now escalating as student leaders vow to occupy several important government buildings if Leung doesn't resign by Thursday.

    "Because the government ordered police to fire 87 rounds of tear gas at protests, there is no room for dialogue. Leung Chun-ying must step down," Lester Shum, vice secretary of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said at a news conference. "If he doesn't resign by tomorrow, we will step up our actions, such as by occupying several important government buildings."

    The potential problem with this strategy is that it could lead to a brutal crackdown by Chinese authorities.

    "If students were to occupy government buildings, that would be a very dangerous situation because it would give police a reason to use force," George Chen, a 2014 Yale World Fellow and author of the book "This is Hong Kong I Know," told Business Insider on Tuesday.

    Chinese authorities have so far resisted the broad use of force, instead employing a strategy of waiting protesters out. The Wall Street Journal reports that Hong Kong authorities are now open to meet with protesters. 

    “The government can tolerate the blockade of three or four or five areas and see how the demonstrations go, so the only way the demonstrators can go is to escalate it — spread it to more places, and then they cannot sustain it — or they will become violent,” a person who is deeply involved in the Hong Kong government’s decision-making told The New York Times.

    But the authorities will not continue to wait if protests escalate.

    "The Hong Kong leadership has made clear that they’re not going to accede to the protesters' demands," geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer told Business Insider in an email. "They want to avoid a broad show of force ... but if they can’t get the demonstrations to disperse through threats and some strategic arrests, we’re likely to see violence."

    Nevertheless, the young people of Hong Kong seem largely unafraid of the specter of a potential crackdown ordered by mainland leadership.

    “For our generation, people in their 20s, we were born here and have witnessed the change since the British handover,” a 25-year-old student protester, referring to China’s resumption of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, told McClatchy. “We feel this is our stand. We have to create a space for free speech and away from the threat of [the Chinese Communist Party]."

    According to a poll by the University of Hong Kong, 86% of residents aged 18 to 29 identify themselves as “Hongkongers.” And they seem to be relying on that identification to make their stand.

    “To tell you the truth, we don’t want to be defined as Chinese people,” one 24-year-old told Stuart Leavenworth of McClatchy. Leavenworth noted that McClatchy interviewed several protesters who made similar statements.

    “Hong Kong is a special place, with a special autonomy. We just want them (Chinese leaders) to keep the promises they have made," the 24-year-old added.

    When asked if the protesters could realistically get what they want, Bremmer said, "No."

    "Allowing the protests to persist (and expand ... into Taipei, Macau, and potentially even parts of the mainland) is completely unacceptable to Beijing’s leadership," Bremmer said.

    At the same time, the protesters remain defiant.

     

    "I hope people will understand why the action keeps on escalating. It's because the government is getting more and more closed without listening to Hong Kong people," a protest leader told The Associated Press. "If the government can give us a proper response in due course I think we can end the occupation immediately."

    hone kong

    SEE ALSO: BREMMER: 'We’re Likely To See Violence' If Hong Kong Protests Continue

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  • If The Brooks Newmark Sexting Story Was Justified, Why Can't We See The Screengrabs and Transcripts?

    Alex Wickham

    Guido Fawkes has come out with a robust defence of Alex Wickham, the anonymous source behind the Sunday Mirror's sexting scandal that forced the resignation of Conservative MP Brooks Newmark.

    The blog claims that Newmark was specifically targeted in a carefully orchestrated sting designed to reveal that he was "exploiting his position for carnal gain." He writes:

    Brooks Newmark was one of the founders of Women2Win”, a campaign to get more Conservative women into politics. Newmark had a certain reputation among younger Tory women for being, for want of a better word, a bit of a creep. Think what his position gave him access to – ambitious, younger women.

    Sophie Wittams

    There is certainly a question here over how a journalist who suspects an MP of wrongdoing in this regard would go about revealing it — especially after the stringent criticism of media intrusion into people's private lives following the hacking scandal. Clearly getting someone to reveal their abuse of power willingly requires some degree of subterfuge.

    Yet if the sting was "narrowly targeted" and if Wickham acted responsibly then any criticism of his methods should be easily countered by releasing images of the correspondence between the two in full, including screengrabs and transcripts of their messages to each other. Not only would this allow Wickham to push back against his critics but it would also get him ahead of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) investigation into the matter. (And if the sting was "narrowly targeted," why were 100 MPs following the fake Sophie Whittams Twitter account — including Prime Minister David Cameron?)

    Guido says:

    If IPSO finds against the Daily Mirror it won’t prove it has teeth, it will prove as we told the Leveson Inquiry, that “media standards” are really a form of censorship that will protect the powerful from having their wrongdoings uncovered.

    However, investigations into journalistic practices are necessary when those practices leave themselves open to question. Transparency and candor by Wickham would be the best way to demonstrate that such an inquiry is superfluous in this case.

    SEE ALSO: A Member Of Parliament Has Resigned Over An Incredibly Flimsy 'Sexting' Story

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  • The 10 Most Important Things In The World Right Now

    Barack Obama

    Hello! Here's what you need to know for Wednesday.

    1.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the US. The male patient, who contracted the virus on a recent visit to Liberia, is being treated at a Dallas hospital. 

    2. Pro-democracy protests in Hong King coincide with China's National Day, which marks the founding of communist China 65 years ago today. 

    3. In a breach of Secret Service protocol, an armed guard was allowed onto an elevator with President Obama during a visit to the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sept. 16. The Washington Examiner first reported the incident

    4. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Australia will join US-led airstrikes in Iraq

    5. The death toll from Japan's Mount Ontake eruption is likely to climb to 46, making it the deadliest volcanic eruption since 1926, Reuters reports. 

    6. British aircraft bombed Islamic State targets in Iraq for the first time

    7. eBay is spinning off PayPal

    8. The next version of Microsoft's Windows, called Windows 10, will launch in mid-2015

    9. North Korean leader Kim Jon Un was reportedly hospitalized for fractured ankles resulting from weight gain

    10. Norway has been ranked the best place in the world to grow old

    And finally ...

    George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin's wedding in Venice cost nearly $13 million

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  • US 'Not Aware Of Any' Civilian Casualties From Airstrikes In Iraq And Syria

    US Airstrike Damage Syria

    Despite multiple reports civilians have been killed in American airstrikes launched against the jihadists group Islamic State and the Khorasan Group, a spokesman for US Central Command told Business Insider on Tuesday evening that the military is "not aware of any" civilian deaths during the operations.

    Furthermore, CENTCOM spokesman Maj. Curtis Kellogg said they had "no evidence" to support reports civilian casualties have occurred.

    "We have seen no evidence at this time to corroborate claims of civilian casualties. I can assure you that before any mission, every precaution is taken to ensure civilians are not harmed. Regardless, we take any reporting of civilian casualties seriously and look into claims when they arise," Kellogg said. 

    US President Barack Obama launched strikes against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) in Iraq in August. He subsequently expanded the military operations to include targets in Syria.

    Last year, President Obama imposed new standards on drone strikes designed to diminish civilian casualties. However, military officials told Yahoo! on Tuesday that those standards would not be applied to the current military operations in Syria and Iraq. 

    There have been multiple claims civilians were killed in Syrian strikes including "as many as a dozen civilians, including women and young children" on Sept. 23 and a statement from the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights of "confirmed reports" of civilians killed following a strike Monday. SOHR did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider asking for further details. Images of children purportedly injured in US strikes posted on YouTube have also reportedly fueled protests in Syria

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  • China's 'Facts On The Ground' In Hong Kong

    Hong Kong protests

    Protesters in Hong Kong are demonstrating against the mainland's encroachment on the autonomous territory's politics. Yet Beijing has leaned on a blunt form of power and even coercion over the island since the moment it took control of Hong Kong in 1997: its military presence in the territory, which the mainland has actually been trying to deepen for much of this year.

    Hundreds of thousands of supporters of Hong Kong's Occupy Central movement are continuing their protests in the city's downtown in response to Beijing's attempts to increasing its hold over the semi-autonomous territory, which enjoys special rights and powers within China's system of government.

    Given Hong Kong's few media controls compared to mainland China and the global attention that allows, Beijing would be ill-advised to unleash a Tienanmen Square-like onslaught on the burgeoning protest movement.

    But China still has a military presence on the island. The protest movement is driven by concern over the mainland rolling back Hong Kong's autonomy — but in terms of hard power, Beijing has already established some crucial facts on the ground.

    Beijing has had its military Hong Kong from the moment Great Britain handed the island over to China in 1997 — Beijing sent 21 armored personnel carriers and 4,000 soldiers carrying assault rifles into the territory the morning of the handover.

    China has been making efforts to build up its military infrastructure in Hong Kong, including Beijing's approval of a controversial naval port in Victoria Harbor this past February. But from a purely strategic perspective, Beijing's garrison of Hong Kong might serve more as a statement of Chinese sovereignty than as a real base of operations.

    3. China

    Beijing's military facilities in Hong Kong — which include an airbase, a naval base, and a barracks — often serve as showcases for new Chinese technology, notes Gordon Arthur, a journalist focusing on Asian Pacific defense. When troops first entered the territory in 1997, for instance, they carried the 5.8mm Type 95, an assault rifle that has since become standard in China's People's Liberation Army, or PLA.

    The Shek Kong Airbase, Arthur adds, is also thought to host four units of China's largest home-built helicopter, the Z-8KH. Visitors in this year's "open days" at the military installations, which ran between June 29 and July 1, also got to see corvettes (as in small warships), small arms, and trucks reconfigured to serve as field generators, kitchens, or even showers.

    Beijing also added to its usual garrison with a show of force in late August, when at least four PLA armored personnel carriers were seen traveling down a major thoroughfare. The move was a reaction to Occupy Central's already-stated plans to block Hong Kong's financial district.

    The protesters have followed through on their explicit plan. It remains to be seen if Beijing will follow through on its ominous yet more implicit one. 

    Tens of thousands of protesters are hoping to secure a fully-democratic election process for 2017 vote on the territory's top leadership. Beijing currently reserves the right to pick a short-list of candidates from which voters would choose in Hong Kong's first direct election. Demonstrators want to get that caveat reversed.

    Even if the protests don't end in a major crackdown, the PLA's presence in Hong Kong is a reminder that China is willing and able to bluntly flex its national sovereignty within territory that it's increasingly willing to exert its control over. And at least in terms of hard military power, the Hong Kong autonomy issue might have been settled over a decade ago.

    SEE ALSO: A quick refresher on the difference between Hong Kong, Macau, and Mainland China

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    Details: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/businessinsider/politics/~3/oLJwFl2nRgw/chinas-facts-on-the-ground-2014-9

  • Secret Service 'Checking Into' Report Armed Man Was Allowed On Elevator With Obama

    Obama Secret Service

    The Secret Service is looking into a Washington Examiner report published Tuesday that an armed man who was "acting unprofessionally" was allowed onto an elevator with President Barack Obama.

    "We're checking into it," Secret Service spokesman Edwin Donovan said in an email to Business Insider.

    According to the Examiner, the alleged incident occurred when Obama visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia on Sept. 16. The Examiner's report said a CDC security guard "alarmed" Secret Service agents after he boarded an elevator with Obama and began taking pictures of the president. 

    When agents attempted to question the man, the Examiner reported CDC officials told him his "behavior was highly irresponsible" and ordered him to turn over a gun he was carrying. Normally, only sworn law enforcement officers are allowed to be armed at a location where the president is visiting. The man in question was reportedly contract security personnel. 

    This report comes on the heels of two other major security lapses involving the president and his Secret service detail. On Monday, the Washington Post reported an intruder who jumped over a fence and entered the White House on Sept. 19 made it much further into the building than was previously known. On Sunday, the Washington Post published a story detailing a situation in 2011 where Secret Service agents were unaware a gunman had hit the White House with bullets until four days after the incident occurred

    Due to these reports Congress is currently holding hearings investigating the Secret Service

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    Details: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/businessinsider/politics/~3/WF1JmVgtxFg/report-armed-man-allowed-on-elevator-with-obama-2014-9

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