U.S. Attempts to Fight Ebola, Ukraine Ratifies Landmark Deal Amid Russian Sanctions and U.S. Steps Up Plans to Fight ISIS as al-Qaeda Expands

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The ravages of the Ebola virus can easily be seen in West Africa six months on, but the outbreak has become more dire in recent weeks as death tolls rise and health officials warn of a potential global disaster. In an effort to contain the virus, the United States will send thousands of military personnel to aid the region’s crippled health care system which marks a major milestone in the effort to fight the disease. Nick Robins Early reports, 14 Numbers That Show The Magnitude Of The World’s Worst Ebola Outbreak, how devastating the medical crisis has become in West Africa through a collection of revealing stats on the fight against Ebola. The numbers are as follows:

2,400 – The number of estimated Ebola deaths as of Sept. 12, 2014.

4,784 – The total number of Ebola cases reported as of Sept. 12, 2014. Due to many unreported cases, this figure is thought to be less than the actual number of people infected with the virus.

2 – The age of the Guinean boy who some researchers think may have been “patient zero” in the Ebola outbreak. Scientists believe humans originally caught the virus from a sick animal.

5 – The number of West African nations that have reported cases of Ebola. A sixth nation, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has also suffered from an Ebola outbreak, although it is a different strain from the one that originated in Guinea.

12-18 – The number of months that U.S. scientists predict the outbreak will last under current conditions.

20,000 – The number of Ebola cases that the World Health Organization estimates could occur by the time the virus is contained. It should be noted, however, that these type of long-term projections are prone to uncertainties and can vary. A recent New York Times report says that researchers at various universities predict the number could be more like 20,000 in a single month.

12,750 – The total number of health workers that the World Health Organization has called for in order to stem the outbreak and treat people infected with the virus.

3,000 – The number of U.S. military personnel that the United States is expected to send to West Africa to assist in medical training, distribution of aid and the building of health care facilities.

$1,000,000,000 – The estimated global resources needed for the next six months in the fight against Ebola, according to U.N. officials. This is a 10-fold increase from just a month ago, and is what the U.N. says is needed just to keep the outbreak contained to tens of thousands of people.

400,000 – The number of home protective kits that the United States reportedly plans to distribute to the four West African nations most affected by the outbreak.

178 – The number of days since the outbreak was first reported to the World Health Organization by Guinea’s health officials.

52 percent – The approximate fatality rate of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Given access to proper medical treatment, especially adequate fluid replacement, the fatality rate of the Ebola outbreak can be significantly lowered.

1,700 – The number of beds that the new U.S. aid effort will reportedly aim to set up in Liberia, one of the hardest hit nations.

0 – The number of beds currently available to treat Ebola patients in Liberia, according to World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan.

The Obama administration is preparing to send 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to aid in the Ebola crisis and supply logistical and medical support to local health care systems and boost the number of beds needed to isolate and treat patients, according to Jim Kuhnhenn, US to assign 3,000 from US military to fight Ebola. President Obama announced the effort Tuesday during a visit to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as the outbreak could spread and mutate into more easily transmitted disease. The announcement comes amid regional and aid organization appeals for the U.S. to increase their role in com batting the outbreak that has claimed 2,200 people. Administration officials said Monday that the new initiatives aim to:

– Train as many as 500 health care workers a week.

– Erect 17 heath care facilities in the region of 100 beds each.

– Set up a joint command headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, to coordinate between U.S. and international relief efforts.

– Provide home health care kits to hundreds of thousands of households, including 50,000 that the U.S. Agency for International Development will deliver to Liberia this week.

– Carry out a home- and community-based campaign to train local populations on how to handle exposed patients.

The officials, under the condition of anonymity, said the plan would cost $500 million in overseas contingency operations, such as the war in Afghanistan, that the Pentagon already has asked Congress to redirect to carry out humanitarian efforts in Iraq and in West Africa. In addition, they said it would take two weeks to get U.S. forces on the ground. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations African affairs subcommittee, said, “This humanitarian intervention should serve as a firewall against a global security crisis that has the potential to reach American soil.” The countries hardest hit include Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, while the virus has reached Nigeria and Senegal. The U.S. will provide medics and corpsmen for treatment and training, engineers to help erect the treatment facilities and specialists in logistics to assist in patient transportation. The visit to the CDC by Obama came a day after the U.S. demanded international aid response to step up. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, called Monday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, warning that the potential risk of the virus could “set the countries of West Africa back a generation.” The meeting Thursday with the Security Council marks a rare occasion when a public health crisis is addressed rather than threats to peace and security, according to Power. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to brief the council with World Health Organization chief Dr. Margaret Chan and Dr. David Nabarro, the recently named U.N. coordinator to tackle the disease, as well as representatives from the affected countries. The Senate also weighed in Tuesday with a hearing to examine the U.S. response and an American missionary doctor who survived the disease set to testify. Four Americans have been treated for Ebola in the U.S. after evacuation. The U.S. has already spent $100 million responding to the outbreak and offered to operate treatment centers for patients. Additionally, Obama will be briefed on cases of respiratory illness being reported in the Midwest where public health officials are monitoring a high number of reported illness associated with human enterovirus 68 in Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and elsewhere. Lauran Neergaard reports, Ebola survivor: No time to waste as Obama ups aid, on Tuesday, Dr. Kent Brantly told senators: “We can’t afford to wait months, or even weeks, to take action, to put people on the ground.” Under the plan, the government could end up spending $1 billion to contain the disease. Obama after his briefing with doctors from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and from Emory University, he said: “If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people affected, with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us.” World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan said, “This massive ramp-up of support from the United States is precisely the kind of transformational change we need to get a grip on the outbreak and begin to turn it around.” Brice de le Vingne, director of operations for Doctors without Borders, said, “The response to Ebola continues to fall dangerously behind and too many lives are being lost. We need more countries to stand up, we need greater concrete action on the ground, and we need it now.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Obama’s plan, his spokesman said in a statement, and called on the international community “to be as bold and courageous in its response as those who are on the front lines fighting this disease.” Congress still needs to vote on Obama’s request for $88 million more to help fight the disease including funding CDC work in West Africa through December and speeding development of experimental treatments and vaccines. Late Tuesday, the Obama administration submitted a request to reprogram $500 million in Pentagon money for the Ebola effort. Meanwhile in Britain, the Associated Press reports, 1st UK volunteer gets experimental Ebola vaccine, a former nurse has become the first person in the country to receive an experimental Ebola vaccine in an early trial to test its safety. Ruth Atkins, 48, received the shot Wednesday in Oxford, the first of 60 healthy volunteers in the U.K. who will receive the vaccine developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline and targets the Zaire strain of Ebola that caused the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. A trial of the same vaccine has already begun in the U.S. The vaccine is meant to spark the immune system’s production of Ebola antibodies and does not contain infectious material. In a statement, trial leader Adrian Hill of Oxford University, said, “Witnessing the events in Africa makes it clear that developing new drugs and vaccines against Ebola should now be an urgent priority.” Hill and colleagues hope the trial will finish at the end of 2014 and could be used to vaccinate health workers in West African if proven safe and effective. Faith Karimi reports, Ebola patients buying survivors’ blood from black market, WHO warns, desperate patients are buying blood from survivors of the virus on the black market, the World Health Organization warns. The WHO reports, “Studies suggest blood transfusions from survivors might prevent or treat Ebola virus infection in others, but the results of the studies are still difficult to interpret. It is not known whether antibodies in the plasma of survivors are sufficient to treat or prevent the disease. More research is needed.” Convalescent serum used to treat patients such as American aid worker Rick Sacra who received blood from Kent Brantly who survived Ebola has been effective. However, patients in affected nations are getting blood through improper channels which could lead to the spread of other infections such as HIV and other blood related ailments. Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general, said this week: “We need to work very closely with the affected countries to stem out black market trading of convalescent serum for two reasons. Because it is in the interest of individuals not to just get convalescent serum without … going through the proper standard and the proper testing because it is important that there may be other infectious vectors that we need to look at.” Meanwhile, a French volunteer with Doctors Without Borders contracted Ebola in Liberia and will be taken for treatment in France by a private American plan, according to the organization.

In Ukraine, on Tuesday, lawmakers strengthened their ties to Europe and loosened control over the country’s rebellious east region where fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels has left 3,000 people dead and returned Western and Russian relations back to the Cold War era, the Associate Press reports, Ukraine lawmakers ratify landmark deal with Europe. The deal lowers trade tariffs between Europe and Ukraine. requires Ukrainian goods to meet European regulatory standards and forces Kiev to undertake major political and economic reforms. President Petro Poroshenko called the vote a “first but very decisive step” toward bringing Ukraine fully into the European Union. In a live broadcast after the deal was made, Poroshenko said the protesters who died in clashes with riot police in Kiev and government troops who died fighting the rebels “have died not only for their motherland. They gave up their lives for us to take a dignified place among the European family.” He continued, “After World War II, not a single nation has paid such a high price for their right to be European. Can you tell me, who now after this will be brave enough to shut the doors to Europe in front of Ukraine?” Earlier Tuesday, parliament also approved laws granting temporary self rule to pro-Russian region in the east as well as amnesty for those involved in the fighting. One law calls for three years of self rule in parts of eastern Ukraine and for local elections in November. A separate bill calls for amnesty for those involved in the fighting in the east, but not those suspected or charged with crimes including murder, sabotage, rape, kidnapping and terrorism. The law could exclude those who tried to kill Ukrainian law enforcement officials and servicemen meaning many of the separatists who waged war for five months. Although Poroshenko did not mention the bills in his speech, he later said according to Interfax-Ukraine that he felt “we are obliged to take a step to ensure that the other side takes corresponding steps” toward peace. Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the rebels in the Donetsk region, told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that the separatist leadership would study the measures, an unusually conciliatory statement compared to the rebels’ previous assertions that they aim for complete independence. The U.S. state Department and Vicd President Joe Biden congratulated Ukrainian lawmakers and leaders. Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman at the State Department, said, “By forging ahead with this agreement in the face of great challenges, Ukraine’s leaders have carried out the will of the Ukrainian people, who demonstrated their overwhelming support for further integration with Europe last winter and with their votes in the May 25 presidential elections.” The passage of the measures came as Poroshenko begins his first state visit to Canada and the U.S., where he will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday and is also scheduled to speak to the U.N. General Assembly next week. Martin Schulz, the president of the EU Parliament, said, “The message this sends could not be clearer: the European Parliament supports Ukraine in its European vocation. The European Parliament will continue defending a united and sovereign Ukraine.” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday said the military will increase its forces in Crimea due to the “exacerbation of situation in Ukraine and increased foreign military presence near our borders.” Also on Tuesday, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, Russian ruble drops to historic low amid sanctions, Russian currency dropped to all time low against the dollars as investors worry bout the fallout of economic sanctions. The United States and the European Union last week imposed a new round of sanctions against Russia for its action in Ukraine such as blocking off Western financial markets to key Russian companies and limiting imports of some technologies. Economist Alexei Kudrin, who served as finance minister under President Vladimir Putin for 11 years until 2011, said Tuesday that the sanctions could send Russia’s economy into recession for one or two years. Interfax quoted him as saying, “The sanctions that have been imposed are going to have an effect (on the economy) for the next one or two years because they have limited opportunities for investment in this uncertain environment.” Vasilyeva reports: “Among the most recent sanctions, the United States on Friday tightened the maximum credit duration for a number state-owned Russian companies and banks to 30 days, effectively shutting off Russia from long-term loans. The U.S. and the EU indicated, however, they may reverse some of the sanctions if they see that Moscow is supporting peace process in Ukraine, where more than 3,000 died since mid-April.” Jitters over the impact of the US. EU sanctions were fueled by reports that the Russian government is preparing more import bans that could hurt Russian consumer spending. Russian in August imposed an import ban on dairy products, meat and vegetables from the European Union and the United States, causing prices to shoot up for selected foods.

While Ukraine tries to rebuild a fragile and devastated government, the U.S. continues to implement its plan for ISIS. U.S. officials on Monday said the United States took its first step in its plan to expand the fight against the extremist group, going to the aid of Iraqi security forces near Baghdad who were under attack, the Associated Press reports, First U.S. airstrikes in expanded Iraq fight. The U.S. Central Command said on Sunday two airstrikes were conducted in support of Iraqi forces near Sinjar and southwest Baghdad. The strikes authorized by President Barack Obama represent a new offensive against the group to protect not only U.S. interest and personnel, but directly support Iraqi forces fighting militants. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans to stop American extremist from joining terrorist groups like ISIS during a presentation Monday, but details are a little fuzzy, according to the AOL article, Holder announces plan to stop Americans from joining ISIS. HOLDER VIA U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: “Ultimately the pilot programs will enable us to develop more effective and inclusive ways to build a more just, secure and free society that all Americans deserve.” He said his plan will bring together community representatives, public safety officials, religious leaders and U.S. attorneys in hopes of building a broad network to keep the nation safe. Other nations have taken steps involving local officials such as British Prime Minister David Cameron who asked his government to pass legislation that allows law enforcement to seize the passport of anyone suspected of traveling to support ISIS, while Germany banned its citizens from any activities supporting the group. The International Centre for Radicalization estimates more than 11,000 Western Europeans have traveled to fight with Syrian rebels. Maria Golovnna reports, New al Qaeda wing in South Asia claims major attack, Al Qaeda’s South Asia wing has claimed responsibility for hijacking a Pakistani naval ship and trying to use it to fire rockets at U.S. vessels in the Arabian Sea, in the first major assault by the newly created group. The SITE monitoring service quoted its spokesman, Usama Mahmoud, said: “These mujahideen had taken control of the Pakistani ship, and they were advancing towards the American fleet when the Pakistani army stopped them. As a result, the mujahideen, the lions of Allah and benefactors of the Ummah, sacrificed their lives for Allah, and the Pakistani soldiers spoiled their hereafter by giving up their lives in defense of the enemies of the Ummah the Americans.” The naval yard on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast is a strategic facility at the cent of the U.S. Pakistani security, anti-terrorism and anti-trafficking cooperation. The Pakistani Taliban, allied with al-Qaeda, said the Sept.6 attack was carried out with the help of insiders leading to the arrest of a number of navy personnel on suspicion of collaborating with attackers. Back in the U.S., Republican controlled House voted to give U.S. military authority to train and arm Syrian rebels Wednesday, David Espo and Donna Cassata report, House grudgingly approves arms for Syrian rebels. The provision will be added to spending legislation to assure the federal government runs normally after Sept.30 end of the budget year and final approval in the Senate may come as earl as Thursday. It grants Obama authority until Dec.11 and gives Congress plenty of time to return to the issue in a post-election session set to begin mid-November. The Senate will vote only once on the legislation combining approval for arming and training rebels with the no shutdown federal spending provisions. Testifying before a Senate Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry said the forces seeking to create an Islamic state ” must be defeated. Period. End of story.” The legislation also includes $88 million to combat the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that his country was ready to take part int he airstrikes in Iraq if needed, the Associated Press reports, France ready to participate in Iraq airstrikes. He spoke in Paris before President Barack Obama was expected to outline Washington’s plans for fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. France has said it will join a U.S. led coalition in Iraq and send arms to Kurdish authorities to fight militants. The French president and foreign minister are going to Iraq Friday and hosting an international conference Monday on how to stop the group and help Iraq. Fabius said that “we will participate, if necessary, in military air action” in Iraq, according to a text provided by the French Foreign Ministry. Earlier, Fabius said people should not refer to the group as the Islamic State since they do not represent Islam or a state and started to refer to the group Wednesday as Daesh, the acronym in Arabic for its full former name, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Speaking to lawmakers, Fabius said “the determination of the Daesh butchers is strong. Ours must be even stronger.” Egypt’s top Islamic authority also said the group should not be called the Islamic State.

Progress in Gaza and Ukraine as Russian Soldiers Return Home, Escalation Between Obama and ISIS Cast a Big Shadow Over 9/11 Rememberance and an Important Global Warming Update

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In an interview with Al Quds TV on Thursday, Hamas No. 2 Musa Abu Marzouk said “Hamas is willing to talk directly to the Israelis” regarding issues including Gaza border crossings and prisoner releases, according to Ibrahim Barzak, Hamas Says It’s Ready For Direct Talks With Israel. Obtained by the Associated Press, in the taped interview, he said: “Just as you negotiate with weapons you can also negotiate by talk. Up till now our policy was no negotiation with (Israel), but others should be aware that this issue is not taboo.” Israel has consistently said it will not talk directly with Hamas until the group recognizes its right to exist and renounces violence. Abu Marzouk insist the reason for considering take such steps reflects growing tensions with Abbas, whom Hams believes is trying to reclaim control of Gaza. He said, “Hamas finds itself compelled to make this move when the natural rights of the people in Gaza come under pressure from the Palestinian Authority and the government.” Hamza Hendawi and Josef Federman report, Evidence growing that Hamas used residential areas, that evidence is mounting against Hamas militants regarding the use of residential areas as cover for launching rockets at Israel several times which Hamas now admits mistakes were made. According to the Associated Press, Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said: “Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, is one uninterrupted urban chain that Israel has turned into a war zone. The Israelis kept saying rockets were fired from schools or hospitals when in fact they were fired 200 or 300 meters (yards) away. Still, there were some mistakes made and they were quickly dealt with.” According to Palestinian figures, 2,000 Palestinians died with three quarters of them civilians and more than 500 children included, while 11,0000 were wounded and 100,000 left homeless. On the Israeli side, seventy two people died including six civilians. Ahead of the U.N. investigation, the Israeli military released reams of evidence, including satellite photos and aerial footage, to support its claims that it acted appropriately and tried to minimize casualties, while Hamas made no effort to disguise its aim of maximizing Israeli casualties. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said, “Hamas’ excuses are outrageous, misleading and contrary to the evidence supplied by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and the reality documented by international journalists on the ground in Gaza.” A visit to the area uncovered three separate military sites possibly training grounds larger than a football field near state schools concealed from the street with barriers made of corrugated iron. Hamas restricted access to these areas making it impossible for photographers to enter the site and Israel confirmed that the areas were targeted in airstrikes. Another site identified by Israeli military as a rocket launching site is in northern Gaza near the new Indonesian hospital in close proximity to residential homes. The two Hamas military facilities are across the road to the west of the two story hospital which stands intact. Hamad, the Hamas official, said the buildings shown in Israeli videos were either a safe distance from the rocket launchers or the building were vacant during fighting. Bill Van Esyeld, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch, said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt urban areas were used to launch rockets from in the Gaza Strip. What needs to be determined is how close to a populated building or a civilian area were those rocket launches.” Sami Abdel Shafi, a Palestinian American representing the Carter Center in Gaza, said: “Yes, Hamas and others may have used civilians as human shields, but was that consistent and widespread? The question is whether Israel’s response was proportionate.” The death toll and number of civilian deaths led to harsh condemnation of Israel and raised questions on the proportionality of Israeli’s response causing Israel, in order to prevent an international investigation, on Wednesday to open its own criminal investigation into two high profile cases involving Palestinian civilian casualties. Hamas also has been sharply criticized for launching rockets aimed at Israeli cities and towns. Israel says its own civilian death toll would have been much higher had it not been for its rocket defenses. The U.N. Human Rights Council has appointed a commission to look into the latest fighting. Its report is expected no sooner than March.

While long standing peace could remain elusive for Gaza and progress is slow to say the least, Ukraine is taking steps forward to ensure peace in eastern Ukraine as Russia beefs up its military strategy. Laura Mills reports, Ukraine’s President Pledges To Give The Country’s East More Autonomy, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday said he will introduce a bill next week offering greater autonomy to the pro-Russian east but rejects the idea of federalization that both Russia and the rebels want. During a televised Cabinet meeting, Poroshenko explained: “[the ceasefire deal reached] envisages the restoration and preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory of Donbas, including the part that is temporarily under control of the rebels. Ukraine has made no concessions with regards to its territorial integrity.” Ukraine and the West both accused Russia of fueling the separatists with arms, expertise and its own troops, something Russia denies. In late August, NATO estimated more than 1,000 troops were operating on Ukrainian spoil and helping the rebels to turn the tide of the war in their favor. In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Wednesday for new sanctions against Russia that would deepen earlier penalties targeting Russia’s energy and arms sectors and tighten Russia’s access to International loans. Merkel told German parliament that the ceasefire improved the situation but there was “a lack of clarity on the fulfillment” of many other points of the peace plan. Ambassadors from EU nations were meeting Wednesday to discuss the sanction against Russia in Brussels. Poroshenko says since the agreement, 70 percent of the Russian troops in Ukraine have been withdrawn and 700 Ukrainian prisoners have been freed from rebel captivity with 500 more being freed by the end of the week. Mills reports: “Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security Council, told journalists that only 20 servicemen had returned home so far. In Donetsk, a rebel spokesman said a planned exchange of 36 soldiers from each side had been put off until Thursday, blaming the government for the delay. The cease-fire has been violated numerous times and Poroshenko accused the separatists of “provoking” Ukraine’s troops. Ukraine says five servicemen have been killed and 33 injured since Friday. A volley of rocket fire was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk late Tuesday.” In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, the leader of the rebels in Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, reacted to Poroshenko’s commnets: “Neither we, nor our friends in Donetsk, are going to abandon the course to build our own state. A temporary cease-fire cannot cancel the results of the people’s vote. People voted unanimously for the independence of our republics. There’s no way back to the previous status.” Other rebels have been in favor of a broad autonomy. Plotnitsky said the next round of talks between Moscow, Kiev, the insurgents and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is likely to discuss the status of the rebel-held areas. The Ukrainian public has been largely supportive of the war against the separatists. Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine, rebels exchange prisoners in peace deal, government and revel forces on Friday exchanged dozens of prisoners captured during fighting in Ukraine as part of a ceasefire agreement earlier this month outside the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk under the watch of international observers. Yurly Tandit, a negotiator for the government, said: “There is an ongoing process of talks. We are meeting each other’s demands and fulfilling our promises.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports, Russia Tests Nuclear Missile, Russia successfully tested their new Bulava intercontinental nuclear missile on Wednesday and will perform two more test launches in October and November, according to the head of its naval forces. The 12-meter long Bulava, or mace, has undergone numerous tests, some of which have failed, causing setbacks for the project that aims to be the cornerstone of Russia’s nuclear arsenal over the next decade. Thomas Grove and Maria Tsvetkova report, Moscow stifles dissent as soldiers return in coffins, that 15 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine and hundreds more are in the hospital, according to human rights workers and military workers. A survey by pro-Kremlin pollster Fund of Social Opinions said 57 percent of Russians support the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, but only 5 percent support an invasion of Ukrainian territory. Russian authorities have worked to systematically silence rights workers’ complaints over soldiers’ deaths, intimidating those who question the Kremlin’s denials regarding Ukraine. Vladimir Isachenkov reports, Putin: Russia to focus on new offensive weapons, on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin announced Russia is developing a variety of new nuclear and conventional weapons to counter the U.S. and NATO and weighing the cost to avoid overburdening its economy. Putin said potential threats must be analyzed and an adequate response given to avoid excessive military spending. In addition, he said Russian defense industries must rid themselves of dependence on imports and become capable of producing key components at home, referring to recent Western sanctions imposed on Russian arms sales. Russian West relations are at their lowest point since the Cold War with NATO deciding last week to create a rapid reaction spearhead force to protect Eastern Europe from Russian bullying. Meanwhile, Fred Westerbeke of the Dutch National Prosecutors Office told reporters that most likely the downing of MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17 was shot down as a separate Dutch air crash investigation concluded this week that the plane was hit from the outside by numerous high energy objects, according to Mike Corder, Shooting down of MH17 ‘most likely’ scenario. Police chief Patricia Zorko said detectives are poring over 350 million webpages and thousands of photos and films that could contain evidence and are trying to authenticate intercepted phone conversations. Corder reports: “A highly placed rebel officer told the AP in an interview after the disaster that the plane was shot down by a mixed team of rebels and Russian military personnel who believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane. Intercepted phone conversations between the rebels released by the Ukrainian government support that version of events.” Detectives and forensic experts are looking at 25 metal objects recovered from bodies and wreckage to see if any clues surface. Westerbeke warns the complex investigation is complex and time consuming comparing it to the Lockerbie bombing hat took years to identify suspects.

As the rebels and Ukraine government try to reach some sort of long lasting peace and stability internally and externally with Russia, the United Stated joined by other countries in their alliance try to wage war against an entity that has spread quickly throughout the Middle East and internationally through recruitment of foreigners to brutal battles. Julie Pace reports, Obama orders airstrikes in Syria for first time, President Barack Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time Wednesday night with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of a “steady, relentless effort” to root out Islamic State extremists. In a prime time address to the nation from the White House, Obama declared: “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” Obama announced he will send 500 more U.S. troops to advise and assist Iraqi security forces as well as conduction intelligence and reconnaissance flights, bringing the total number of American forces this summer to 1,500. He urged Congress to authorize a program to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting both the Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad. He added: “But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” Officials said Obama plans to proceed with both broader airstrikes in Iraq and Syria without seeking new authorization from Congress as he is acting under a use of force authorization Congress passed in the days following 9/11 to give President George W. Bush the ability to go after those who perpetrated the terror attacks. Obama previously called for its repeal, but used it as support for strikes against terror targets in Yemen and Somalia. Pace reports: “Obama said his approach in Syria is modeled after those long-running U.S. counterterrorism campaigns. But it is different in important ways, starting with the fact that it marks the first time since 9/11 that a U.S. president has authorized the bombing of terror targets in another nation without seeking permission or at least notifying it in advance.” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised Obama for acknowledging the grave and growing threat that the Islamic State poses, but said Obama was coming to that conclusion too late. Boehner said: “He has finally begun to make the case the nation has needed him to make for quite some time: that destroying this terrorist threat requires decisive action and must be the highest priority for the United States and other nations of the free world.”The White House wants Congress to include the authorization in a temporary funding measure lawmakers will vote on before they adjourn this month. Republicans have made no commitment to support the request and the House GOP has so far not included the measure in the funding legislation, while a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat might opt to seek separate legislation. The White House announced Wednesday that it was also providing $25 million in immediate military assistance to the Iraqi government as part of efforts to combat the Islamic State. David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, wrote in a blog post that the U.S. would be working with other countries, especially Gulf states, to cut off the group’s external funding networks and its access to the global financial system. The U.S. has been pressing allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere to help with efforts to degrade the terror group. Meanwhile, rebels, desperate and disenchanted, don’t believe help will come from the West, blaming the United States and its allies for past failures when support was promised and not delivered allowing the rise of ISIS, according to Sophia Jones, Cash-Strapped Moderate Syrian Rebels Blame West For Rise Of Islamic State. The Islamic State has amassed considerable wealth from foreign donations, oil smuggling, extortion and hostage ransoms. They’ve taken control of crucial weapons warehouses and supplies, such as weaponry the U.S. gave to the Iraqi Army. In addition, the new found power has allowed them to gain support by setting up needed infrastructures and imposing order as well as strictly enforced rules such as bans on smoking, and mandates that women wear full-face veils. Jones reports: “Three and a half years into a devastating civil war that has ripped apart the country, Syrian fighters say that if something doesn’t change they’ll lose more and more moderate fighters to the Islamic State. As secular, moderate rebel groups face infighting, divisions and a lack of necessary equipment and training, some may be enticed by the rich and highly organized Islamic State. The group of fighters gathered in the Turkish border town said they usually make roughly $50 a month. But they’ve heard that Islamic State fighters can make $600 or more.” As the rebels fight both the regime and Islamic State, they fear the threat of the jihadi group will cast a shadow over their efforts to curb the regime’s grip on Syria. While the Islamic State beheads U.S. journalists and persecutes and kills religious minorities, the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately bomb civilian areas and likely is using chemical weapons against its own population.

Meanwhile, international, the U.S. tries to rally allegiance from neighboring countries int he Middle East and allies to fight the Islamic State casting a shadow on the 13 anniversary of 9/11. On Thursday, Key Arab allies promised to help in the fight against the Islamic State, but NATO member Turkey refused, Lara Jakes and Adam Schreck report, Arab allies pledge to fight Islamic state group. As the CIA doubled its assessment of how many fighters the extremist group can muster, the Arab states’ endorsed the broad strategy to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the insurgents and to join possible military action. On Thursday, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined the President in his call to combat the militants after laying out his long term campaign to include expanding airstrikes against the fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants. After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in thr Red Sea city of Jiddah, 10 Mideast allies announced their backing for a strategy to destroy the group wherever it is. Kerry’s visit, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was aimed at pinning down regional allies and so far 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry said would be a worldwide fight to defeat the group. Kerry said of the terror attacks on the U.S. 13 years ago: “The devastating consequences of extremist hate remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, and to so many of our friends and allies around the world. Those consequences are felt every day here in the Middle East.” New intelligence assessments estimate the extremists have between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, up from a figure of 10,000, the CIA said Thursday. CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said the new total reflects stronger recruitment by extremists since June, following battlefield successes and the group’s declaration of an Islamic State or caliphate on territory under its control. On Friday, Larak Jakes reports, US, Turkey mull strategy against Islamic militants, the United States pressed Turkey to harden its borders against fighters and funding going to the Islamic State and sought clarity on how far Ankara is willing to go to help a world coalition to destroy the group. While Turkey sits on the front line battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria as it assists refugees and cracked down on cross border traffic from both countries, Turkey resist endorsing the new strategy as 49 Turkish citizens have been kidnapped including diplomats. At the start of a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu cited “challenges and threats” in Iraq and Syria. Jakes reports: “It was the third meeting so far this month between Kerry and Cavusoglu, who also together participated in talks during the annual NATO summit in Wales and this week in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, about the Islamic State threat. Kerry said the two men also will chair a counterterrorism forum at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September. But the U.S. is being careful to not push Turkey too hard as it grapples with trying to free its hostages. The Turks were kidnapped from their consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when it was overrun by the Islamic State in June.” In addition, American hostages are being held as payback for the 150 airstrikes that Washington has launched in Iraq since last month. Kerry said: “But I think for the moment, they have a few sensitive issues. We respect those sensitive issues, and we’re going to work with them very carefully.” Rachelle Blinder and Jonathan Lemire report, New terror fight casts shadow over 9/11 ceremonies, due to the growing threat of the Islamic State, a heavy cloud hung over the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Thursday causing many to feel anxiety and determination in coming to ground zero to remember loved ones. The silence to mark the attack and the roll call of the nearly 3,000 lives lost came hours after President Barack Obama told the country he is authorizing expanded strikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State group. Vasile Poptean said as he left the ceremony, where he had gone to remember his brother, Joshua Poptean: “It’s an ongoing war against terrorists. Old ones die out and new ones pop up. If we don’t engage them now, there’s a possibility there will be another 9/11 down the road.” Victims’ relatives and dignitaries gathers in the plaza where the twin towers stood and now where the soon to open 1,776 foot One World Trade Center stands to commemorate the attacks, while in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where former House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave the flag that flew atop the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 to the Flight 93 National Memorial, did the same. At the Pentagon, Obama spoke at the wreath laying ceremony without mentioning the rise of Islamic State extremists specifically, but noted: “We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world. That was the case before 9/11 and that remains true today.”

As many try to heal old wounds and remember those they lost to what it seems is an endless war, the United Nations along with scientist this week had some good news about the health of the planet. Seth Borenstein reports, Scientists say the ozone layer is recovering, earth’s protective ozone layer has begun to heal largely due to the phase out since the 1980s of certain chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans, the U.N. scientific panel reported Wednesday. Scientists said the development demonstrates that when the world works together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis. For the first time in 25 years, scientists confirmed a statistically significant and sustained increase in stratospheric ozone shielding the planet from solar radiation that causes skin cancer, crop damage and other problems. Paul A. Newman, a NASA scientist and co-chaired the every four years ozone assessment by 300 scientist published by the United Nations, said from 2000 to 2013 ozone levels climbed 4 percent in key mid-northern latitudes at 30 miles up. The ozone layer has been thinning since the 1970s due to man made chlorofluorocarbons called CFCs which release chlorine and bromine destroying ozone molecules high in the air. After scientists raised the alarm, countries agreed to a treaty in 1987 that phased out CFCs allowing those chemicals to decrease between 30 and 50 miles up. The United Nations calculated in earlier reports that without the pact, by 2030 there would be an extra 2 million skin cancer cases a year around the world. Newman added that heat trapping greenhouse gases are also helping to rebuild the ozone layer as the cooler air caused by carbon dioxide and other gases increase the amount of ozone. MIT atmospheric scientist Susan Solomon said the chemicals that replaced CFCs contribute to global warming and are on the rise expecting that a dramatic increase will occur by 2050 and make a big contribution to global warming. The long lasting ozone eating chemicals still linger in the atmosphere creating a yearly fall ozone hole over the extreme southern Hemisphere and the hole hasn’t closed up. By Newman’s calculations, the ozone layer is still 6 percent thinner than in 1980. Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said there are encouraging signs that the ozone layer “is on track to recovery by the middle of this century.” He added: “More than 98 percent of the ozone-depleting substances agreed over time have actually been phased out. If not for such efforts, Steiner said, “we would be seeing a very substantial global ozone depletion today.” Earlier this week, the United Nations announced that atmospheric levels of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, surged to another record high in 2013. The increase from 2012 was the biggest jump in three decades.

The Battle for Civil Rights in Ferguson Continues 50 Years Later

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Michael Brown, 18, walked to his grandmother’s neighborhood in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug.9 when he was fatally shot by a police officer sparking outrage from people around the country and inciting clashes with the people of Ferguson and the “militarized” police with their armored vehicles, tear gas and rubber bullets. As Cate Matthews puts it, Photos From Ferguson And 1960s Protests Side By Side Make It Clear How Little Has Changed, the scene in Ferguson looks like the 1960s when such responses were far too common. Social media, however, has changed the way the world sees these action as internet users across the country have uploaded images of the police response to civil rights protests and photos from Ferguson that look eerily similar raising the question: How far have we really come? Sharon Cohen and Alan Scher Zagier, Police images fuel outrage in St. Louis and beyond, describe the images as reminiscent of a war zone with helmeted officers pointing weapons from armored trucks, flash grenades lighting the night sky and tear gas being launched into the crowds. The clashes between police and protestors in the St. Louis suburb has sparked heavy criticism and raised question about whether the tactics used were causing the same violence they aimed to prevent after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer and criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Plattsburg, said: “It’s clear what is going on in Ferguson is a complete, hyper-exaggerated, hysterical response on the part of law enforcement. It’s clear that there is no one in charge and no one to corral the officers … and restrain them from engaging in an unprecedented show of brutal force against civilians. It’s horrifying and shameful and a disgrace.” On Thursday, Gov. Jay Nixon announced the Missouri State Highway Patrol were relieving the officers of Ferguson and taking over security in the suburb commenting “that we use force only when necessary, that we step back a little bit.” It was the fourth day of street protests spurred by the shooting of the 18 year old by a white police officer resulting in 60 people being arrested since last Sunday. On Thursday, Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson said the police are trying to balance the public’s rights to protests with public safety adding that: “If firebombs are being thrown, property gets destroyed, shots get fired … we have to respond to deadly force.” St. Louis County police spokesman Brian Schellman defended the actions of the police: “In talking to these guys, it is scary. They hear gunshots going off, and they don’t know where they’re coming from.” He also said coins, bricks and rocks also have been thrown at police. Two officers have been injured. One had an ankle broken by a thrown brick, according to authorities. President Obama, who is on vacation, said while “emotions are raw now,” there needs to be a “respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests.” Attorney General Eric Holder said the use of military equipment by Ferguson police sent a “conflicting message.” Missouri officials have accepted the help of the Justice Department to control the crowds and help with public safety “without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force.” During a visit to Ferguson, Sen. Claire McCaskill said “the militarization of the response became more of a problem than the solution. It escalated the situation. … These people need to be allowed to exercise their rights, with safety and respect.” The events in Ferguson were part of a growing trend among police departments around the country, according to a American Civil Liberties Union reports in June that states police were overwhelmingly relying on SWAT raids for routine work like small amounts of drugs and serving warrants using assault rifles, battering rams and flash grenades. These raids also disproportionately affected minorities.

Late Friday, Jim Salter reports, Police, protestors clash again in Ferguson, police and 200 protestors clashed after another tense day in the suburb following a news conference in which officer Darren Wilson was names and Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson release alleged documents that state Brown stole a $48.99 box of cigars from the convenience store then strong armed a man on the way out. Just before midnight, a rowdy but mostly well behaved crowd broke into the same store and began looting it, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson. Meanwhile, peaceful protestors blocked off the front of the store eventually to help protect it yelling at the aggressors to stop. Wilson, the officer named in the shooting, has been on paid administrative leave and St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch said it could be weeks before the investigation into the shooting wraps up. On Friday, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to take over the case as he did not believe McCulloch could be objective. Koster said Missouri law does not allow unless he opts out and McCulloch spokesman Ed Magee said McCulloch will not surrender the case. Some disturbing news out of the St. Louis suburb comes in the form of increased gun sales, according to local gun shops, Hunter Stuart reports, Ferguson Unrest Is Causing Locals To Stock Up On Guns. The unrest in Ferguson is sending residents to the gun shop. Dorian Johnson, 22, who was with Brown when the shooting happened, explained to a local news outlet KSDK-TV that the officer shot Brown while he was running away and then shot him again after Brown put his hands in the air. Brown was two days away from attending college, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Since the shooting, dozens of arrest have been made and reports of gunfire around town including: “A 19-year-old was shot by police Wednesday after allegedly pointing a gun at an officer; the teen is in critical condition. A woman was shot in the head during an alleged drive-by shooting early Wednesday morning. Police have urged protesters to assemble only during daylight hours. Authorities even asked the Federal Aviation Administration to institute a no-fly zone over Ferguson after police helicopters were allegedly fired at.”

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon spoke to the media about the situation in Ferguson shortly after the Ferguson Police Department revealed the name of the officer who shot and killed unarmed black teen Michael Brown, according to Paige Lavender, Jay Nixon: ‘Nothing Should Deter Figuring Out How And Why Michael Brown Was Killed’. Nixon stated: “Nothing should deter figuring out how and why Michael Brown was killed.” Nixon said he thinks the decision to give Missouri State Highway Patrol control of the situation in Ferguson made a positive difference in the last 18 hours. Lavender reports before the media was addressed that Nixon released a statement on the Ferguson Police Departments’ release of Wilson’s name: “I’m pleased that the people of Ferguson and the region began to get some long-overdue information today, and I will continue to call for openness and transparency as the parallel investigations into this tragedy proceed to their necessary conclusions. For the sake of the family, the citizens of Ferguson, and the entire region, it is vital that the investigations into the shooting death of Michael Brown move forward in a thorough, open and transparent manner to ensure that trust is restored and justice is done.” No arrest were made on Thursday night, according to Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol who also spoke at the press conference which was a welcomed relief from previous nights of police clashes with protestors in Ferguson.

While Nixon remains optimistic about the situation, Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia called on President Barack Obama to declare martial law in Ferguson, Missouri as police clashed with protestors after the killing of an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last Saturday, Alex Lazar reports, Rep. John Lewis On Ferguson: ‘Declare Martial Law’. In a Thursday interview with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Lewis said, “It is very sad and unbelievable. It’s unreal to see what the police is doing there. First of all, Ferguson, Missouri, is part of the United States of America. People have a right to protest. They have a right to dissent. They have a right to march in an orderly, peaceful, nonviolent fashion. And the press has a right to cover it.” Lewis, who marched in 1965 over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama and suffered a fractured skull by police, told Mitchell the situation reminds him of “the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s,” pointing to the lack of black officers on the St. Louis suburb’s police force. Lewis added that President Obama “should use the authority of his office to declare martial law. Federalize the Missouri National Guard to protect people as they protest. And people should come together. Reasonable elected officials, community leaders and address what is happening there.” He ended by saying: “If we fail to act, the fires of frustration and discontent will continue to burn, not only in Ferguson, Missouri, but all across America.”

The Israeli Palestinian Conflict Intensifies

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On Monday of this week, the bodies of the three missing teenagers were recovered by the Israeli military just over two weeks after they were taken in the West bank which ended the frantic search that led to Israel’s largest ground operation in the Palestinian territory in a decade and drew Israeli threats of retaliation, according to Josef Federman and Ian Deitch (Israel Launches Airstrikes In Gaza After Rockets Reportedly Fired, Bodies Of Teens Found In West Bank). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that “Hama is responsible and Hamas will pay” referring to the Islamic militant group accused of carrying out the kidnappings. He further commented at an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet that the teenagers “were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals.” Early Tuesday, Israel carried out airstrikes in Gaza striking 34 targets across the Hamas controlled area. The military said the strikes were in response to the 18 rockets fired into Israel since last Sunday. No casualties of yet have been reported. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman comments that “the IDF will continue to act in order to restore the peaceful living to the civilians of the state of Israel. The Hamas terror organization and its extensions are solely responsible for any terror activities emanating from the Gaza Strip.” The kidnapping has put Netanyahu in a difficult position, as public outrage over the deaths has provided widespread support to strike Hamas, the two week crackdown on the group has limited the number of new targets and many leaders internationally are calling for restraint.

News of the teen’s deaths prompted a public outpouring of grief late Monday with large crowds rushing to the homes of the families in the central Israeli towns of Nof Ayalon and Elad, and the West Bank settlement of Talmon with supporters lighting candles and praying. President Shimon Peres said, “All of Israel bows its head today.” While thousands have died in wars and militant attacks in Israel over the years and Israel has dealt with the kidnappings of soldiers in the past, the ages of the victims who were unarmed civilians struck a nerve. Israel has yet to provide direct evidence that Hamas was involved in the kidnappings, even though the group has not taken responsibility for them, Hamas has praised the kidnappings as it frequently encourages its members to kidnap Israelis in order to force a release of its members from Israeli prisons.

The news of their deaths also received condemnations from around the world. The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the Pope in May visited the region to share in the families “unspeakable pain.” In Washington, President Barack Obama sent his deepest sympathies to the families saying, “As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing.” In addition, he urged all parties to refrain from taking steps that would destabilize the situation further. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a similar remark and urged both sides to “refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation.”

With few options, Israel could turn its attention to the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip where Israel has been battling heavy rocket fire. However, strong political action could be considered as Netanyahu has urged Abbas to disband a unity government recently formed with Hamas’ backing. In addition, Israeli media has suggested that Israel might consider deporting Hamas leaders in the West Bank to Gaza. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza has warned against any sort of offensive saying that the Gaza militants would unleash a heavy barrage of rockets at Israel. He stated that “Netanyahu should know that threats don’t scare Hamas, and if he wages a war on Gaza, the gates of hell will open on him.” Abbas has condemned the kidnappings and his forces coordinated with Israel during the search for the teens, however, he has refused to terminate the unity government which ended the seven year rift with Hamas. A spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, for the Palestinian president said that a meeting of the Palestinian leadership to discuss the events happened on Tuesday. An adviser to Abbas,  Abdallah Abdallah, said, “We want peace to be created in this part of the world so no mother or no family will be bereaved for the loss of their beloved ones, Palestinian or Israeli.”

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

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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.”

North Korea Using Psychological Warfare to Bargain with U.S.

We have all witness numerous attempts by North Korea to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with from threats of war against South Korea to attacks on the United States with long range nuclear missiles, however the end result of these threats have left the North Korea with little bargaining power as the United Nations has sanctioned them for repeated offenses and South Korea grows tired of the tantrums. What is the next logical step in North Korea’s psychological warfare? North Korea now hopes to use an old trick from the past that is sure to get the United States’ attention. On Saturday, the Associated Press reported that North Korea will try an American detainee for allegedly trying to overthrow the government complicating an already tense relationship between Pyongyang and Washington. The indictment comes as North Korea has run out of ammo to use against the U.S. and South Korea in order to force bargaining between the nations. North Korea remains angry over U.N. sanctions passed in February over nuclear tests and the ongoing U.S. South Korean drills though most believe the motive behind the indictment is to force its Korean War foes to negotiate on its own terms according to the Associated Press.

The man identified above, Kenneth Bae, also known by his Korean name in North Korean state media, Pae Jun Ho, is a tour operator arrested after arriving with a tour on Nov.3 in Rason which is a special economic zone bordering China and Russia. He is the sixth American detained in North Korea since 2009, however the other detainees were eventually deported or released after high profile diplomatic interventions with some involving President Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter. According to the Korean Central News Agency, “The preliminary inquiry into crimes committed by American citizen Pae Jun Ho closed. In the process of investigation he admitted that he committed crimes aimed to topple the DPRK with hostility toward it. His crimes were proved by evidence.” Under North Korea’s criminal code terrorist acts include murdering, kidnapping and injuring the country’s citizens can lead to a death sentence or life in jail AP reports.

The actual trial of Bae has not been set and the charges have yet to be announced by the KCNA as little information has been made public. North Korea and the United States do not have diplomatic relations due to the 1050-53 Korean War as the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represent the United States. Friends, colleagues and activist in South Korea said that Bae is a missionary based in a border town in China who made frequent trips to North Korea to feed orphans , but do not know whether he tried to evangelize while in North Korea AP reports. Officially, North Korea guarantee freedom of religion, however authorities have been known to crack down on Christians who are seen as threats to government because of the western influence. The distribution of Bibles and secret prayer services do carry a penalty of banishment to a labor camp or execution according to defectors from the country.

 

A Decade’s Old Reminder to Stay Vigilant

According to the Associated Press, part of a landing gear from one of the airplanes that hit the World Trade Center on September 11,2001 may have been found between two building in lower Manhattan on Friday police report. The landing gear was wedged between the rear of 51 Park Place and the rear of the building behind it at 50 Murray Street, the NYPD said in a statement. Paul Browne, New York Police Department spokesman, described the twisted metal part as having levers and cables on it, measuring 3 feet wide by 1.5 feet deep and a visible Boeing Co. identification number. Browne’s not surprised it went undiscovered for a decade given the location saying, “The odds of this being wedged between there is amazing. It had to have fallen just the right way to make it into that space.” Browne confirmed that other wreckage has been found nearby even from the same buildings in years past. Working with the National Transportation Safety Board investigators, the police will determine if the piece is from American Arline or United Arline planes that crashed into the twin towers a decade ago killing thousands of people. The piece according to AP was discovered on Wednesday by surveyors of a planned Islamic community center at the location on behalf of the owners of the building and called 911 when the piece was seen from the roof. The police stated the medical examiner’s office will complete a health and safety evaluation to determine if human remains are present in the soil around the buildings.

The location of the landing gear was found three blocks away from ground zero where a mosque and community center were first announced several years ago. Opponents of the plans see the Muslim facilities as a disrespect to those at ground zero, while supporters cite freedom of religion and point out the site was not too close to where the Islamic extremists attacked on 9/11. The president of Soho Properties who owns 51 Park Place, Sharif El-Gamal, released a statement saying that workers called the city and police after the discovery and will cooperate to make sure the piece is removed with care. Patricia Riley, who lost her sister Lorraine Riley on 9/11 said the discovery was very strange stating,”Twelve years later we are still finding remnants of the attack on our country… For years to come we’ll continue to find things that we didn’t see before. Hopefully they’ll serve as a reminder that we have to stay vigilant.”