Liberia Ebola Crisis Worsens, Ukraine Faces New Challenges, Gaza Talks Collaspe into Chaos and Islamic State Militants Up the Pressure

On Wednesday, acting on their president’s orders, riot police and soldiers used scrap wood and barbed wire to quarantine 50,000 people inside their Liberian slum in order to contain the Ebola outbreak that has killed 1,350 people and counting across West Africa, according to Jonathon Paye-Layleh and Wade Williams, Liberia Seals Off Slum To Control Ebola, Angry Residents Clash With Troops. The World Health Organization said the death toll has risen quickly in Liberia accounting for 576 of the fatalities, while 2,473 people have been sickened across West Africa making this outbreak larger than the caseloads of all the previous two dozen combined. The U.N. health agency warned of food shortages, water shortages, and other essential supplies in West Africa’s population centers. In West Point, a densely populated slum surrounded by floating sewage, suffers from government neglect in the best of times and mistrust of authorities with open defecation being a major problem. Drinking water is carried in wheelbarrows and people need the market for their food. Mohamed Fahnbulleh, a resident, said: “Why are you ill-treating people like this? How can we take this kind of government to be peaceful? It is not fair — We are human.” Days earlier, residents ransacked a screening center where people in contact with Ebola victims were being monitored causing dozens of potential carriers to be taken somewhere else in the city. In a national address late Tuesday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf imposed a nighttime curfew and ordered the quarantine of West Point and Dolo Town adding: “There will be no movements in and out of those areas. We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government. Fellow citizens, these measures are meant to save lives … May God bless us all and save the State.” Via telephone, Deputy Police Chief Abraham Kromah said, “Please remain law-abiding; throwing stones at police officers and security officers is not the best way out.” While counties and districts have been sealed off in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guinea has imposed internal travel restrictions. The agency responded to shortages of food, fuel and basic supplies, by saying: “WHO is working with the U.N. World Food Program to ensure adequate food and supplies, but calls on companies to make business decisions based on scientific evidence.” Nigeria’s heath minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person has died of Ebola, but all reported cases have been people in direct contact with a Liberian American man who arrived already infected. On Monday, Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported, 17 who fled Liberia Ebola clinic still missing, authorities were looking for the dozen or so patients who abandoned the Ebola quarantine center in Liberia’s capital during looting last weekend, even though several were still being tested and under observation. During the raid, 37 patients left possibly to return to their own communities, according to Information Minister Lewis Brown, however, 20 have been brought back to two hospitals. Meanwhile, the experimental drug from California based pharmaceutical company, ZMapp, was given to three Liberian health workers who contracted the virus are showing signs of recovery, officials reported Tuesday, Jonathon Paye-Layleh and John Heilprin report, Liberia: 3 receiving untested Ebola drug improving. In addition, two infected American received the treatment and are improving, while a Spaniard who also received the treatment died.

Turning our attention to a different kind of war, on Thursday, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, 5 Ukrainian troops killed; fierce battles reported, five troops and two civilians were killed in the past 24 hours in rebel held areas of eastern Ukraine as government forces try to regain territory from pro-Russian separatists. So far, the conflict has claimed 2,000 lives and displaced 340,000 people from their homes. Ukraine celebrates Independence Day on Sunday, while government forces aim to achieve a breakthrough by that date. On Monday Ukraine accused rebels of killing dozens of civilians in an attack ear on a convoy fleeing a besieged rebel held city, according to Vasilyeva, Refugee Convoy In Ukraine Hit By Rocket Fire, Dozens Reportedly Killed. The rebels denied any attack, while the U.S. confirmed the shelling of the convoy but did not know who was responsible. Col. Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s National Security Council spokesman, told reports: “Many people were killed, among them women and children” between the towns of Khryashchuvate and Novosvitlivka adding: “We are not able to count the death toll at this point.” Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky, a Ukrainian government’s military operation spokesman, told the Associated Press 15 bodies had been recovered from the smoldering vehicles and servicemen were collecting the body parts of at least 10 more people. Donetsk rebel chief Alexander Zakharchenko said no attack took place and Andrei Purgin, his deputy, said he had no information either: “If someone was killed, it wasn’t us but the Ukrainian military.” The U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told report in Washington: “We strongly condemn the shelling and rocketing of a convoy that was bearing internally displaced persons in Luhansk and express our condolences to the families of the victims. All sides must take every precaution to protect innocent lives. We are unable to confirm reports of who was responsible for the shelling and rocketing.” Residents of Luhansk have had no running water, electricity or phone connections for 16 days as fighting continues around the city and food is short in supply making it harder to secure food. Tensions have increased as Russia over the past week said it plans to send a massive aid convoy to help rebel held eastern Ukraine. A Red Cross spokeswoman in the region told the Associated Press that they are still waiting for security guarantees as 200 Russian aid trucks.

In the Middle East on Tuesday, Egyptian attempts to make a deal to end the month long conflict between Israel and Hamas has collapsed into heavy fighting Tuesday as Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets and Israeli responded with airstrikes across Gaza killing two people, Ibrahim Barzak reports, Egyptian cease-fire efforts collapse. The violence erupted hours before the temporary truce ended as Israel withdrew its delegation from Cairo Tuesday afternoon and quickly resumed its airstrikes following rocket fire. The two fatalities were the first since a temporary truce last Wednesday started. An Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said, “The Cairo talks were based on an agreed premise of a total cessation of hostilities. When Hamas breaks the cease-fire, they also break the premise for the Cairo talks. Accordingly, the Israeli team has been called back as a result of today’s rocket fire.” No one knows if the team will return to Cairo or whether Israel will continue to talk as Egyptian security officials are still pressing the two sided to agree to a ceasefire. So far, more than 2,000 Palestinians mostly civilians have been killed, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, with tens of thousands displaced compared to 64 Israeli solider, two Israeli citizens and a guest workers dying.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, U.S. officials said military planners were weighing the possibility of sending a small number of additional U.S. troops into Baghdad as insurgents threaten to kill a second American captive in retribution for airstrikes that have pounded Islamic state militants, Lolita C. Baldor and Lara Jakes reports, Military Considering Sending Additional Troops To Iraq, Officials Say. The strike came hours after militants released a gruesome video Tuesday showing U.S. journalist James Foley being beheaded and underscored President Barack Obama’s promise Wednesday to continue attacks against the group. According to senior U.S. officials the number would be fewer than 300 additional troops. The militants threatened to kill Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who is being held captive, if the U.S. continues to conduct airstrikes. According to Baldor and Jakes: “Currently there are about 748 U.S. forces in Iraq, in addition to the approximately 100 troops that have routinely been assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation in Baghdad. Under the current war powers resolutions sent to Congress, Obama authorized up to 775 U.S. troops for security assistance, assessment teams, and advisers at two joint operations centers in Baghdad and Irbil.” Foley, a 40 year old journalist from Rochester, New Hampshire, went missing in northern Syria while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013 and freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine. Larak Jakes reports, Obama: US won’t stop confronting Islamic State, while the execution of journalist James Foley drew international condemnation as western nations stepped up their efforts to counter the militants, in capitals across the Middle East, Foley’s death was met with silence even in Syria and Iraq. On social media, people condemned Foley’s killing, but stressed the Islamic State has been committing atrocities against Iraqis and Syrians for years. On Wednesday, outside their home in Rochester, New Hampshire, Diane and John Foley addressed reporters: “We are just very proud of Jimmy and we are praying for the strength to love like he did and keep courageous and keep fighting for all the people he was fighting for. We pray for all the remaining Americans.” Obama, from Martha’s Vineyard, said: “Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim,” Obama said. “All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss.” Since August 8, 84 airstrikes have been carried out in Iraq on Islamic State targets including security checkpoints, vehicles and weapons caches. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalist said more than 80 journalist have been abducted in Syria and estimates 20 are still missing. On Monday, Pope Francis endorsed the use of force to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities in Iraq but said the international community not one country should decide how to intervene, Nicole Winfield reports, Pope Francis Endorses Use Of Force In Iraq To Stop Persecution Of Religious Minorities. Francis responded as follows to whether or not he approved of U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State militants: “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.” However he said, in history, such excuses to stop an unjust aggressors has been used by world powers to justify a war of conquest in which entire people have been taken over. He added, “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor. After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about: It’s there that you must discuss ‘Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?’ Just this. Nothing more.” The Associated Press reported Wednesday, US mission to rescue hostages in Syria failed, that the administration disclosed that President Barack Obama sent special operations troops to Syria this summer on a secret mission to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, held by Islamic State extremists, but they did not find them. Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, said in a statement: “The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens. Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”

Ebola Containment Issues, Israel Hamas Talks Deteriorate, U.S. Continues its Strike on Iraq and Ukrainian Rebels Open to Ceasefire

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According to Guinea news, in West Africa, the afflicted nation announced Saturday its closing its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia in order to halt the influx of infected people in and out of the country, AOL reports, International response to Ebola: Travel bans, funding. Al Jazeera quotes the country’ heat minister as saying: “We have provisionally closed the frontier between Guinea and Sierra Leone because of all the news that we have received from there recently.” The health minister most likely is referring to the World Health Organization’s call for international aid as the Ebola outbreak has become an “extraordinary event:” “The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries.” Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all declared a state of emergency following the Ebola outbreak putting limits on civil liberties and closing public institutions like schools. On Saturday, riot police had to break up an demonstration blocking Liberia’s busiest highway as angry crowds protested the government’s delays in removing the Ebola victims bodies, Jonathon Paye-Layleh reports, Liberia Protesters Demand Govt Pick Up Ebola Bodies. The growing unease in Liberia raised the specter of social unrest as almost 300 people have died from the disease in Liberia. Residents say that the government has yet to pick up the bodies of the dead by the roadside along the central town of Weala, 50 miles from Monrovia the capital, which have been sitting there for two day. The government has ordered all victims be cremated amid resistance to neighborhood burials for fear of contamination. Information Minister Lewis Brown warned Saturday on state radio: “Security people are on their way to put things under control. We don’t want people taking the law into their own hands.” So far, 961 people have died, according to figures released Friday by the U.N. Heath agency. The situation in Liberia has been describes as “catastrophic” by the Doctors Without Borders Charity. Lindis Hurum. the group’s emergency coordinator, said: “There are reports of dead bodies lying in streets and houses.” In addition, 40 health care workers in Liberia have contracted Ebola in recent weeks, while most city hospitals are closed, Hurum reports. On Saturday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met with health workers at City Hall in Monrovia. “The president wants to express the collective gratitude of the entire nation to our health care workers who have continued to make tremendous sacrifices for this country and people,” Brown said. Liberia has launched “Operation White Shield” where soldiers are deployed in different locations and at checkpoints outside the capital to discourage residents’ movements, part of Sirleaf’s emergency measures to fight the disease.

On Sunday, back in the Middle East, Palestinian negotiators threatened to quit Egypt brokered truce talks unless Israeli negotiators return to Cairo, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub report, Palestinians to quit Gaza talks if Israel no-show. Israeli officials said their negotiators will return when Gaza rocket fire stops. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday: “Israel will not negotiate under fire.” As talks have stalled, Israel responded to rocket fire from Gaza with 20 airstrikes killing three Palestinians, according to Gaza officials. Since Friday following the truce expiration, smaller Gaza militant groups hot Hamas have fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel and on Sunday fired two more. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said: “If Hamas thinks it has worn us down, it is wrong. We will return to the table only after an end to the fire. … We are not intending to compromise.” On Sunday, Palestinian negotiators vented frustrations about a lack of progress and the Israeli team’s absence. Azzam al-Ahmad, the delegation head f and confidant of Abbas, said: “If it is proven to us that the Israeli delegation is setting conditions for its return to Cairo, we will not accept any condition for the continuation of the talks.” Late Saturday, Palestinian negotiation Bassam Salhi representing a small PLO faction said the team met with Egyptian mediators who are in touch with Israeli officials and hope to make progress. However, he Salhi said: “We told the Egyptians that if the Israelis are not coming and if there is no significant development, we are leaving today.” Israel has targeted 5,00 sites so far, according to the army, while Gaza militants have fired 3,000 into Israel. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Israel launched 30 aerial attacks in Gaza killing five Palestinians and militants fired rockets at Israel as the conflict entered its second month and defied international efforts for a peaceful resolution by extending the ceasefire. Nidal al-Mughrabi and Allyn Fisher-Ilan report, Israel-Gaza Violence Resumes, Defying Ceasefire Efforts, the Israeli military said since midnight it has attacked 30 sites in Gaza without specifying targets and Gaza militants, since the 72 hour ceasefire ended Friday, have fired more than 65 rockets at Israel injuring two Israelis by mortar on Friday. Heavy civilian causalities and destruction during Israel’s offensive in packed residential areas of Gaza has garnered international attention over the past month. The White House urged both sides to do what theyt can to preserve civilians after failure to extend the ceasefire with Spokesman John Earnest saying Friday “the United States is very concerned” about the renewed violence. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the parties “not to resort to further military action that can only exacerbate the already appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza”. At a rally in South Africa, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu accused Israel of behaving like a “barbaric bully” in Gaza.

Meanwhile in Iraq, U.S. officials confirmed on Friday that the Iraqi government provided Peshmerga fighters with a plane load of ammunition, according to Missy Ryan, Iraq Arms Kurds Against ISIS. The officials said Iraqi security forces flew to Abril, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, with small arms ammunition in a move that American officials hope helps the fighters keep militants from the Islamic State at by. Under conditions of anonymity, the officials said: “Developments over the last few days have refocused the issue, and we’ve seen unprecedented cooperation between Baghdad and Arbil in terms of going after (the Islamic State), not only in terms of conversation but in terms of actual support.” As Islamic State fighters advanced earlier this week, Maliki ordered his air force for the first time to back Kurdish forces in their fight against militants marking a significant step in a country where in recent years Peshmerga and Iraqi forces under the command of Baghdad would have fought each other rather than cooperate. The Obama administration working with the Iraqi government, the official said, to ensure additional requests for the Kurdistan Regional Government are met. Vivian Salama and Bram Janssen reports, Iraq Says U.S. Airstrikes Have Been Effective Against Islamic State, President Barack Obama announce on Saturday that the U.S. military return to Iraq is to prevent genocide, protect its diplomats and provide humanitarian aid to refugees trapped by Islamic State militants on a mountain ridge near the Syrian border. In addition, Obama said it was a long term project and cannot succeed unless Iraqis form an inclusive government in Baghdad to keep the country from breaking apart. U.S.plans and drones launched four airstrikes on Islamic State forces Saturday, while they fired n Yazidi civilians taking shelter in the Sinjar mountains, U.S. Central Command reports. It was the third round of strikes against Islamic State forces by the U.S. military since being authorized by Obama Thursday allowing for aid flights to drop food and water to thousands of starving refugees in the Sinjar area. A delayed response from Baghdad left Kurdish forces unable to fight off the Islamic State militants causing many Yazidi refugees to seek shelter in the mountains. UNICEF’s spokesman in Iraq, Karim Elkorany, told the Associated Press Saturday that at least 56 children have died of dehydration in the mountains, while British officials estimate Saturday between 50,000 and 150,000 people are trapped on the mountain. Juan Mohammad, a local government spokesman in the Syrian city of Qamishli, told AP more than 20,000 starving Yazidis are fleeing across the border. Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki waited til Monday to call in aerial reinforcements for Kurdish fighter to help contain the Islamic State militants. Iraqi Foreign Minster Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, said: “Air strikes are intended to degrade the terrorists’ capabilities and achieve strategic gains — and have been very effective.” Many of America’s allies support the intervention since the Yazidis plight received so much international attention. Obama said the U.S. will focus on helping refugees, eliminating terrorists, protecting Americans and keeping “key infrastructure” intact so that the Islamic State group can’t permanently cripple Iraq before an inclusive government can form. During his Sunday address, Pope Francis expressed outrage at the violence aimed at the religious minority in Iraq who include fleeing children dying of thirst and said he is sending Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Vatican’s ambassador in Baghdad during the Iraqi war, to Iraq Monday to show solidarity with Christians, the Associated Press reports, Pope expresses outrage at violence in Iraq.

As the Middle East struggles with containing and resolving their conflicts, Ukrainians rebels are ready to agree to a ceasefire to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe”, according to the insurgents’ new leader on Saturday as conditions worsen in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, Yuras Karmanau reports, Ukraine rebel leader: We are open to a cease-fire. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the so called prime minister of the Donetsk separatists, said in a statement posed on the rebel website: “We are prepared to stop firing to bar the spread of the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbass (eastern Ukraine).” Russia, who the Kiev governments and Western countries allege is supporting the rebels. has called repeatedly for humanitarian missions into eastern Ukraine, but Kiev and thr West believe it will allow Russian forces into the region as supposedly 20,000 troops are waiting across the border. Late Saturday, in a statement from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine is prepared to accept humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine, but aid must come without military accompaniment, pass through border checkpoints controlled by the Ukrainian government and the mission must be international. Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss German participation in such a mission, while in Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama and Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable and violated international law. Donetsk city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky told the Associate Press: “The situation is getting worse with every hour.” On Saturday, shelling hit 30 apartment blocks killing one person and wounding 18 adding about 2,000 residential building without power. A 47 year old resident of Donetsk, Dmistry Andronov: “We’re afraid of the Ukrainian army, which is firing on the city, and of the rebels of the Donetsk People’s Republic, who are robbing and killing civilians.” Zakharchenko’s statement came after the rebels’ top commander said Ukrainian forces has seized a key town, Krasnyi Luch, cutting Donetsk and nearby territory off from the rest of the rebel held east. Novorossiya, or “New Russia,” is a term widely used by the rebels for the eastern area that seeks independence from the government in Kiev. Concerns about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in the rebel held second largest city of Luhansk where fighting has been heavy and prolonged. Russians news agencies quote Luhansk authorities on Saturday saying that the city has been without power and water for a week and most stores are closed. Obama ans British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke via phone Saturday about Ukraine and in a statement from Cameron’s office said: “Both expressed grave concern about reports that Russian military vehicles have crossed the border into Ukraine and that Russian armed forces are exercising for a ‘humanitarian intervention’. (Both) are absolutely clear that such a so-called humanitarian mission would be unjustified and illegal.” The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to alleviate the crisis in eastern Ukraine, but warned it “will be taken in strict adherence to our fundamental working principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden via phone about his communications with the Red Cross and efforts to distribute humanitarian aid. In a statement from the White House, Biden and Poroshenko agreed that if “Russia were serious about improving the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine,” it had to immediately stop shelling Ukrainian troops, release Ukrainian hostages being held inside Russia and cease providing weapons to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

Republican Border Bill Passes, Court Deals Blow to Unions, Ebola Comes to the U.S. and the U.S. Fails Internationally

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Late Friday, House Republicans passed a bill to address the U.S. Mexico border crisis by sending migrant youths back home without hearings meaning that more than half a million immigrants could be deported even though the Obama administration granted temporary work permits, according to Erica Werner, House OKs bill to address border crisis. President Barack Obama condemned the Republican action saying he would act unilaterally as best he could. The new bill, which tea party lawmakers enthusiastically support, provides $694 million and carries a companion measure to shut off a program created by Obama granting work permits to immigrants brought here illegally as kids. The second bill prevents the more than 700,00 people who’ve already gotten work permits under the program from renewing them making them subject to deportation. The sending bill passed Friday 223-189 with four Republicans voting no and one Democrat voting yes. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. explained, “It’s dealing with the issue that the American people care about more than any other, and that is stopping the invasion of illegal foreign nationals into our country. And we got to yes.” While Obama said no adding, “They’re not even trying to solve the problem. I’m going to have to act alone, because we do not have enough resources.” The move in the House came as the first day of lawmakers’ five week summer recess happened and Senators had already left Washington after killing their own legislation on the crisis. Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said, “It would be irresponsible and unstatesmanlike to head home for the month without passing a bill to address this serious, present crisis on the border.” According to Werner: “In the end Republicans only lost four of the most conservative members on the vote: Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Paul Broun of Georgia, Stephen Fincher of Tennessee and Walter Jones of North Carolina. The only Democrat to support the bill was moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas.”The GOP plans met with protest from immigration advocates and Democrats with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., saying, “If you tell people that you think they’re criminals, that you think they’re simply bringing diseases, that they’re bringing drugs, then you treat them as invaders, they kind of think you don’t like them. They’re going to believe you don’t like them, and they’re not going to vote for you.” The bill adds $35 million more for the National Guard as well as increase spending for overwhelmed border agencies, add more immigration judges and detention spaces, and alter a 2008 anti-trafficking law to permit Central American kids to be sent back home without deportation hearings.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court upheld the 2011 law that ended collective bargaining for most public workers, sparked massive protests and led to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election and rise to national prominence, Scott Walker reports, Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Collective Bargaining Law. Thursday’s 5-2 ruling is a victory for Walker who is considering a 2016 run for president and re-election this year and marks the end of a three year legal fight over union laws prohibiting public worker unions from collectively bargaining for anything beyond base wage increases based on inflation. A federal appeal court twice upheld the law as constitutional and the high court ruled in a lawsuit, filed by Madison teachers union and a union representing Milwaukee public workers, that the law violated workers’ constitutional rights to free assembly and equal protection. Walker introduced the proposal shortly after taking office in 2011 causing teachers, public workers and their supporters to flood the Capitol for weeks in order to block the passage. In addition, Democratic state senators fled the state for two weeks in a failed attempt to block the bill’s passage. The law bars automatic withdrawal from members’ checks, require annual elections to see if members want their unions to represent them and requires public employees to contribute to their health insurance and pension costs, which help local governments and schools save money to deal with cuts to balance the state’s shortfall, according to Walker. Walker faced a recall in 2012, but became the first governor ever in U.S. history to defeat a recall. The union law has been challenged on several fronts since it was introduced, but withstood them all. The state Supreme Court decided to take the case on Thursday after a Dane County judge sided with the unions and ruled in September 2012 that major portion were unconstitutional.

Internationally, on Thursday and Saturday, hospital officials said a U.S. humanitarian aid worker and two American doctors who contracted Ebola in West Africa will be transferred to the United States and treated in a special high security ward at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Reuters reports, US aid worker infected with Ebola to be moved to Atlanta hospital: official. The aid worker will be moved in the next several days to a special isolation unit set up in collaboration with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is one of only four in the United States. An American doctor infected with Ebola arrived in Atlanta on Saturday landing in a specially equipped plane at a military base then took to the isolation unit at Emory, Ray Henry reports, US doctor with Ebola arrives in Atlanta for treatment. it marks the first time a patient with Ebola has entered the country for treatment with a second American aid workers expected to arrive at Emory in days. U.S. based Samaritan’s Purse paid for the transport and confirmed to the Associated Press the patient was Dr. Kent Brantly. The ambulance took him to the hospital among a wide open Interstate with no traffic flanked by SUVs and police cars then the patient was taken into the building at Emory by people in white protective clothing. The hospital is down the hill from the CDC. Dr. Jay Varney, an infectious disease specialist at Emory charged with Brantley’s care, said the hospital’s isolation unit is well equipped to handle patients with the disease. He added, “Ebola is only transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. Unlike the flu, like influenza, which we deal with every winter, Ebola cannot be spread through the air.” Ebola has no cure. Dr. Philip Brachman, an Emory University public health specialist who for many years headed the CDC’s disease detectives program, said Friday: “That’s all we can do for such a patient. We can make them feel comfortable” and let the body try to beat back the virus.”

While treatment for the infected begins, the U.S. has issued a travel warning for Americans going to the three West African countries hit by the Ebola outbreak and the World Health Organization deals with the spread in West Africa. On Thursday, U.S. health officials warned Americans not to travel to the area, Mike Stobbe reports, US warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries. The advisory applies to nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the deadly disease has killed more than 700 people this year. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who announced the warning, said “The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa” adding that Ebola is “a tragic, dreadful and merciless virus.” The purpose of the warning is to limit U.S. travelers use of overburdened hospitals and clinics for injuries or other illnesses. Stobbe reports that the outbreak has a 60 percent fatality rate so far with no vaccines or specific treatment available. The CDC has 20 staffers at U.S. airports and border crossing to evaluate any traveler showing signs of dangerous infectious diseases, and isolate them when necessary. The agency is prepared to increase that staffing if needed, he said. Back in West Africa, World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan said Friday that the outbreak is out of control but can be stopped, Tom Miles reports, Ebola Out Of Control But Can Be Stopped: WHO Chief. Chan told the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast at a meeting in Guinea’s capital Conakry: “This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries. This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.” The death toll so far is at 729 including 60 healthcare workers and 1,323 cases overall. Chan added that “Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises. Moreover, public attitudes can create a security threat to response teams when fear and misunderstanding turn to anger, hostility, or violence.” The reason for the quick spread is due to cultural practices such as traditional burials and deep seated beliefs.

In Washington, while the CDC tackles a potential international debacle, President Barack Obama acknowledged on Friday that the United States conducted torture in the aftermath of 9/11 terror attacks, the AOL article reports, Obama: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’ After 9/11 And We Have To Take Responsibility For It. Obama said, “I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. We crossed the line and that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so we don’t do it in the future.” In addition, Obama told reporters at the White House that a Senate investigation into interrogation techniques used by thew CIA would be declassified in August. According to the new CIA Inspector General’s Office report, agency employees in 2009 hacked Senate computers used to compile the investigation leading many lawmakers on the Hill to call for CIA Director John Brennan’s resignations over the matter.

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton confessed he could of killed Osama bin Laden, but decided against it due to the number of civilians who also would be killed just hours before the 9/11 attacks, Mollie Reilly reports, Bill Clinton, Hours Before 9/11 Attack, Said He ‘Could Have Killed’ Bin Laden. On Wednesday, Sky News host Paul Murray released a previously unreleased audio recording of Clinton talking to Australian businessmen on September 10, 2001: “Osama bin Laden — he’s a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, and I nearly got him once,” Clinton says in the tape, answering a question about terrorism. “I nearly got him. And I could have gotten, I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children. And then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.” The 9/11 Commission Report in 2004 identifies several operations targeting bin Laden in the 90s which prompted critics to accuse Clinton of not doing enough. During a 2006 interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Clinton defended his administration’s efforts saying: “I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president, we’d have more than 20,000 troops [in Afghanistan] trying to kill him.”

The History of Gay Religious Activism in the U.S.

LGBT RELIGIOUS HISTORY

Not unlike the thousands of public parties held this past June during Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, hundreds of gay San Franciscans gathered on New Year’s Day 1965 for the much anticipated Mardi Gras Ball held at 625 Polk Street in the Tenderloin District. The most interesting aspect of the San Francisco ball was the fact it was held as a fundraiser for pro-gay clergy, according to Jaweed Kaleem’s article Unearthing The Surprising Religious History Of American Gay Rights Activism. Although today Americans for (homophiles or gay right activists) and against gay rights typically use their religious beliefs as the reasons, those who oppose same sex marriage and other rights for LGBT individuals have continued to declare that God is on their side. However, in the mid 1960s, LGBT activists often looked to men of the cloth as allies in the fight for justice and human rights, according to historians. Just months before the event, two dozen Bay Area Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal and United Church of Christ clergy and gay activists joined together to form the Council on Religion and and Homosexual in order to promote “need for a better understanding of human sexuality” and its “broad variations and manifestations.” Clergy and lawyers had negotiate with the police on behalf of the group to let the dance happen, but according to contemporary new articles, police showed up to take pictures of those attending the ball in order to intimidate them. When cops wanted to come inside, the lawyers blocked them causing six people to end up in jail for interfering with police and disorderly conduct. The clergy fought back with a press conference the next day and mobilized the city’s gay community and the pastors. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit over the arrest making it the first time the ACLU had joined in the fight for gay rights, according to the LGBT Religious Archives Network.

According to Kaleem’s article: “‘That was years before the 1969 Stonewall riots, which is popularly considered the beginning of the gay rights movement,’ said Heather White, a visiting assistant professor of religion at the New College of Florida who has spent years combing through LGBT archives for an upcoming book, tentatively titled Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights. ‘And that’s just one of the best-known stories. There were Councils on Religion and Homosexuality and similar groups in D.C., Pennsylvania, Ottawa, Hawaii.””

The LGBT Religious Network along with a growing group of scholars such as White have documented hundreds of stories like the San Francisco clergy since it was found 13 years ago at the United Church of Christ-affiliated Chicago Theological Seminary based now in Berkely, California, at the Pacific School of Religion’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry. The organization’s website offers a series of profiles of and oral history interviews with Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Pagan LGBT clergy and religious activists, living and dead, Kaleem reports.White, part of the network advisory committee, explains that the expectations about how religion would view gay rights changed after the 1960s.

White explains, “What we know of the face of religion and gay rights has been shaped by a shift that occurred in the 1970s with the rise of conservative Christianity. It’s a consolidated political force that wasn’t in place before then. There were certainly conservative people and religious people who were involved in politics, but in the 1950s and 1960s, homophile organizations saw religious leaders as likely allies. That is less of the case today, though things are changing.”

A Pew Research Center survey released last Thursday reported that 62 percent of American believe homosexuality should be accepted rather than frowned upon by society, but there is still a clear division between religious Americans as far as gay rights are concerned especially same sex marriages. Recent polls show that white evangelicals strongly oppose gay marriage, while the nation’s largest churches do not support same sex marriage e.g. the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, Catholic American individuals tend to support gay marriage with several additional denomintaions allowing clergy to perform same sex marriages or blessings e.g.  the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and both Reform and Conservative Jews. According to Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry and an associate professor of cultural and historical studies at the Pacific School of Religion, “Some of the biggest gay rights activists and organizations started their work in churches.” Additionally, Schalger believes the inaccurate and widespread perception of religion firmly opposing gay right has changed as well, Kaleem reports. He explains, “It’s come to the point that sometimes people today say it’s more difficult to come out as a person of faith than it is to come out as LGBT in religious circles.” Melissa Wilcox, who also sits on the LGBT Religious Archives Network’s advisory committee and is an associate professor of religion and gender studies at Whitman College, has this to say: “With the increasing visibility of the marriage rights movement, we have started to see LGBT-supportive groups [within religious communities] being able to get their message out more clearly. That’s a battle for them, but many have been there all along.”

After decades of church activism, the Presbyterian Church General Assembly in the Unites States last week voted to allow pastors to officiate gay marriages in states where it is legal. An additional vote will take place to determine if the definition of marriage should be changed to cover two people not just a man and woman. Wilcox sums it up best by saying,”A lot of people are still wary of anything you’d call religion. A lot of people have been burned. But there’s a rich history out there of gay religious activism for us to appreciate and uphold.”

Honoring the Past and Embracing the Future

It’s official Pope Francis was formally installed as the Bishop of Rome on Sunday with less of the pomp and pageantry than the usual ritual even taking time to honor those that came before. Francis in another display of his humility toward the post, he arrived at St. John in Latern Basilica to honor a wildly popular past pope by blessing a plaque renaming a corner of the piazza outside the church after Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005. Arriving a half hour early, he gave the blessing after the mayor of Rome unveiled the plaque marked “Giovanni Paul II Square” in one section of the piazza which holds free rock concerts, political and labor rallies. The pope fashion was simple as he wore a plain white cassock and the Italian cardinal wore his red cape. The two hour long installation in the early evening was significant for the church due to the fact a pope is a pontiff because he is elected Bishop of Rome but not visa versa.

The basilica is Rome’s most ancient, with the foundation dating back to the early 4th century, and the ceremony stems from centuries of traditional ritual that modern popes have updated to the times, but Francis is sticking true to his own tradition of simplicity and humility. While most ornately dressed pontiffs in centuries past arrive in horse drawn carriage, Francis came through the side entrance of the basilica complex in an open topped white jeep. Before entering the doors, the vehicle stopped again and again so that the security team could pass babies to him to kiss. When the wind picked up, Francis took off his skull cap exposing his head to the wind and tussling his hair according to the Associated Press. Later Francis wore the peaked bishop’s hat and wearing cream colored vestments sat in the mosaic studded basilica chair known as the “Cathera Romana” which represents the post of Rome’s bishop. He then was handed the pastoral staff, symbolizing a bishop’s care for  his flock. During his homily, Francis said, “It is with joy that I am celebrating the Eucharist for the first time in this Lateran Basilica, the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome. I greet all of you with great affection… those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence; they do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive.”

Throughout the ceremony and well after, the pontiff surprised and delighted the crowd with his humility and continued to set news standards for the church. Francis during the ceremony updated the obedience pledge recited by Cardinal Valilini, who is the pope’s prelate, when professing obedience to the pope’s teaching and leadership replacing the pontiff as being “in an elevated position to govern” with the pontiff as “presiding over the Churches in charity.” In honoring John Paul, Francis also paid tribute to a pontiff who embraced his role as bishop of Rome as the late pontiff would visit Rome parishes, hundreds of them and poor neighborhood on the city’s outskirts on Sunday mornings. When Francis mentioned that John Paul “closed his eyes to this world” eight years ago this month, the new pope drew so much applause he could not finish his sentence the Associated Press reports. Francis may be the pope that decided whether or not the Polish Born Pontiff will receive the church’s highest honor, sainthood. The church process to certify the first miracle needed for John Paul’s beatification only took six years from his death until Pope Benedict XVI beatified him in 2001 which is the shortest time in modern history and the last formal step before sainthood according to the Associated Press.  The pope in his Vatican apperance on Sunday called for the faithful to “go into the piazzas and announce Christ our savior” to the people and “Bring the Good News with sweetness and respect” referring to the Gospel of course. John Paul, Benedict and Francis have all made shoring up flagging faith a priority of their leaderships. The new pope will be leading the Catholic youth pep rallies this summer in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, during a pilgrimage to his home continent.

Women as the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Church

 

Check out the Pope’s full address here.

As the pope blazes a new trail for the modern Roman Catholic Church, Francis continues to emphasize the importance of women and their role in the church despite taking the office only weeks ago as the Bishop of Rome becoming the first Latin American pope and the first non-European pope in 1300 years after Benedict XVI resign the first in 600 years. On Wednesday, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of women in the church as they were the first witnesses of Christ and play a special role in the spreading of faith. As many witnessed on Holy Thursday last week, the pontiff included women in the traditional foot washing ritual drawing criticism from traditionalist who believe the right has always been reserved for men. Many see the custom as a re-enactment of Jesus washing the fee of his apostles who are all men. Women as Francis explains have always played a special role as the “first witnesses” of Christ’s resurrection passing the belief onto their children and grandchildren. Francis told the thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square, “In the Church, and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord.” He even went further to explain that in the bible women were not recorded witnesses as Jewish law prohibited it at the time as they are not reliable witnesses. However, Francis did comments that, “In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role … The evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria.” This is the second time the pontiff has talked about the role of women as witnesses to the resurrection of Christ which is the cornerstone of the Catholic faith.

As for the role of women, Pope Francis addressed women in his Easter Vigil on Saturday and urge the faithful to  not fear change. Marinella Perroni, a theologian and leading member of the Association of Italian Women Theologians, according to Reuters had this to say:

“This is very encouraging. Pope Francis is taking up, with a stronger emphasis, the teaching of previous popes about the role of women in the foundation of faith and the resurrection of Jesus. The fact that the Pope acknowledges that the progressive removal of female figures from the tradition of the resurrection…is due to human judgments, distant from those of God…introduces a decidedly new element compared to the previous papacy.”

Several liberal reform supporters of the church call for the institution to ordain women as priests giving them a greater voice and more recognition within the church which the Vatican has said publicly that Jesus Christ chose only men for his apostles even though many female priesthood supports have said Jesus was conforming to the customs at the time. The 76 year old pontiff has set a new standard for the papacy as he continues to live as his name sake did St. Francis with humility and simplicity by shunning the ornate items of traditional dress, using informal language in his addresses, and choosing not to live in the regal papal apartments choosing instead to live in a simple residence. Many are hopeful that this new age of the Catholic Church can reform the Curia and many believe Pope Francis may even close the Vatican bank following the scandals at the heart of the Holy See which has damaged the church’s reputation.

Pope Francis: A Vessel of Peace and Humility

Pope Francis Foot Washing

Pope Francis has made quite an impression on the international community especially the billion of so faithful during his short time as Pope with his official duties starting with Holy Week. With his most significant break from tradition occurring on Holy Thursday, Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of young women at a juvenile detention center which for most in the Curia is a departure from the strict rules that ritual involves men not women. In fact, no pope has ever washed the feet of women sparking a debate among conservative who feel it a questionable example and liberals who welcome the inclusivity. As Francis explained to the group of 14 to 21 year old at Casal del Marmo in Rome: “This is a symbol, it is a sign. Washing your feet means I am at your service. Help one another. This is what Jesus teaches us. This is what I do. And I do it with my heart. I do this with my heart because it is my duty. As a priest and bishop, I must be at your service.” A video released by the Vatican, demonstrates the 76 year old Francis kneeling on the stone floor pouring water over the feet of the youth then drying and kissing their feet. The group included black, white, male, female, and even tattooed feet.

Previous popes carried out the traditional ceremony in Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica choosing 12 priests who represent the 12 apostles whose feet Christ washed during the Last Supper, but Francis has never followed the traditions even as cardinal. Before being pope, the pope as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio celebrated in jails, hospitals, or hospices as part of his ministry to the poor and marginalized in society especially women. Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, didn’t want to enter into a canonical dispute over the matter but did express that the ritual represent only men as Christ washed the feet of his apostles were all male. As the Associated Press reported, Lombardi wrote in an email saying, “Here, the rite was for a small, unique community made up also of women. Excluding the girls would have been inopportune in light of the simple aim of communicating a message of love to all, in a group that certainly didn’t include experts on liturgical rules.” Some believe the message was about Christ’s embracing love and ministering to everyone, while other believe that restricting the rite to men is in line with the church’s restriction on ordaining women since Christ’s apostles were male and that the ritual is more than washing feet. The ultimate message Pope Francis had for his young audience whom he greeted after the mass and gave each an Esster egg was, “Don’t lose hope. Understand? With hope you can always go on.” One young man asked the pontiff why he came to visit them and Francis responded simply that it was to “help me to be humble, as a bishop should be” as the gesture came “from my heart. Things from the heart don’t have an explanation.”

Pope Francis ended Holy week with his first Easter Sunday celebration with a passionate plea for world peace to an enthusiastic crowd of more than 250,000 people who came to see him in St. Peter’s Square. In his Easter message, he spoke of the long standing conflict in the Middle East, on the Korean Peninsula and elsewhere and remembered the world’s neediest people. With physical gestures, he demonstrated his down to earth caring for all God’s children as he cradled a disabled child held out to him and delightedly accepted the gift the Associated Press reports. After the mass, the Pontiff took a ride through St. Peter’s Square in an open topped popemobile through the joyous crowd, kissing children, patting them on the head and overwhelmed with joy. The pope received a gift from one admirer in crowd who gave him a jersey of his favorite Argentine soccer team, Saints of San Lorenzo, as the crowd cheered in approval. In a moving moment to remember, Francis cradled and kissed a  disabled boy passed to him waiting patiently for the boy to give his greeting to him.

From the same spot he was introduced as pope on March 13, Francis gave his Easter speech from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica reiterating his concern for the poor and suffering as well as promoting peace and social justice. The Roman Catholic leader aimed the Easter greeting at “every house and every family, especially where the suffering is greatest, in hospitals, in prisons”  and prayed that Jesus would inspire people to “change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace,” reports the Associated Press. The first pontiff from the Jesuits, an order with concern for the poor, and the first pope to name himself after St. Francis who renounced wealth and preached to the down and out lamented that the world is still divided by greed. The square was covered in a beautiful variety of flowers as Francis thanked florists from the Netherlands for donating them and advised people to let love transform their lives saying, “let those desert places in our hearts bloom.” Francis used the language of the Holy See to give his greetings in Italian as the pope stressed his role as the Bishop of Rome. The pontiff improvised his parting words to the world including those who were present and those linked by modern technology adding that he especially remembers “the weakest and the neediest” and praying that all of humanity be guided along “the paths of justice, love and peace.” Another departure from Easter Tradition, Francis will not be taking a post holiday vacation at the summer palace in Castel Gandolfo where Benedict XVI resides and has declined moving into Benedict’s former apartment in the Apostolic Palace which overlooks St. Peter’s Square instead he still resides in the Vatican hotel where the cardinals stayed during the conclave. Francis has demonstrated so far in his short time as Bishop of Rome that he has little desire to participate in the pomp and pageantry that comes with his position as the leader of the Catholic Church.