gunmen-killed-outside-Muhammad-cartoon-contest-in-Texas

2 gunmen killed outside Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas

GARLAND, Texas (AP) — Two gunmen were killed Sunday in Texas after opening fire on a security officer outside a provocative contest for cartoon depictions of Prophet Muhammad, and a bomb squad was called in to search their vehicle as a precaution, authorities said.

The men drove up to the Curtis Culwell Center in the Dallas suburb of Garland as the event was scheduled to end and began shooting at the security officer, the City of Garland said in a statement. Garland police officers returned fire, killing the men.

Garland police spokesman Joe Harn said it was not immediately clear whether the shooting was connected to the event inside, a contest hosted by the New York-based American Freedom Defense Initiative that would award $10,000 for the best cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.

But he said at a late Sunday news conference that authorities were searching the gunmen’s vehicle for explosives, saying, “Because of the situation of what was going on today and the history of what we’ve been told has happened at other events like this, we are considering their car (is) possibly containing a bomb.”

Drawings such at the ones featured at the Texas event are deemed insulting to many followers of Islam and have sparked violence around the world. According to mainstream Islamic tradition, any physical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad — even a respectful one — is considered blasphemous.

The Curtis Culwell Center, a school-district owned public events space where the Texas event was held, was evacuated after the shooting, as were some surrounding businesses. The evacuation was lifted several hours later and police were not aware of any ongoing threat, but a large area around the center remained blocked off late into the night.

Police helicopters circled overhead as bomb squads worked on the car. Harn said the bodies of the gunmen, who had not yet been identified, were not immediately taken from the scene because they were too close to the car. He said they would be removed once the car was cleared.

The wounded security officer, who was unarmed, worked for the Garland Independent School District, Harn said. He was treated and released from a local hospital.

Harn said the district hires security for events at its facilities, but noted additional security also was in place for Sunday’s event. The sponsoring group has said it paid $10,000 for off-duty police officers and other private security.

Harn said the city had not received any credible threats before the shooting.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said state officials are investigating, and Dallas FBI spokeswoman Katherine Chaumont said that agency is providing investigative and bomb technician assistance.

The event featured speeches by American Freedom Defense Initiative president Pamela Geller and Geert Wilders, a Dutch lawmaker known for his outspoken criticism of Islam. Wilders, who received several standing ovations from the crowd, left immediately after his speech.

After the shooting, authorities escorted about 75 contest attendees to another room in the conference center, where a woman held up an American flag, and the crowd sang “God Bless America.”

The group was then taken to a separate location, where they were held for about two hours until being briefly questioned by FBI agents before being released.

Johnny Roby of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, who was attending the contest, told the Associated Press he was outside the building when he heard around about 20 shots that appeared to be coming from the direction of a passing car.

Roby said he then heard two single shots. He said he heard officers yell that they had the car before he was sent inside the building.

Geller told the AP before Sunday’s event that she planned the contest to make a stand for free speech in response to outcries and violence over drawings of Muhammad. She said in a statement issued Sunday night that the shooting showed how “needed our event really was.”

In January, 12 people were killed by gunmen in an attack against the Paris office of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which had lampooned Islam and other religions and used depictions of Muhammad. Another deadly shooting occurred the following month at a free speech event in Copenhagen featuring an artist who had caricatured the prophet.

Tens of thousands of people rallied around the world to honor the victims and defend the freedom of expression following those shootings.

Geller’s group is known for mounting a campaign against the building of an Islamic center blocks from the World Trade Center site and for buying advertising space in cities across the U.S. criticizing Islam.

When a Chicago-based nonprofit held a January fundraiser in Garland designed to help Muslims combat negative depictions of their faith, Geller spearheaded about 1,000 picketers at the event. One chanted: “Go back to your own countries! We don’t want you here!” Others held signs with messages such as, “Insult those who behead others,” an apparent reference to recent beheadings by the militant group Islamic State.

National-Guard-plans-exit-from-Baltimore

National Guard plans exit from Baltimore

Things could be returning to normal in Baltimore: The city has lifted its curfew, the National Guard is preparing its exit and a mall that had been a flashpoint in the riots has been reopened.

The “goal,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake “has always been to not have the curfew in place a single day longer than was necessary.”

The mayor spoke following a tour of Mondawmin Mall, which reopened Sunday after recovering from rioting that police said was spawned by social media rumors of a “purge” following Freddie Gray’s death.

Because of the improving conditions in the city, she said, the National Guard will be wrapping up its operations, but don’t expect the troops to leave immediately.

“It’s not like you flip a switch,” she said. “They have to unwind their operations, and they’re going to do that over this next week.”

Asked if she thought it was premature to send the military home, she replied, “It will either be too long or too early. You’ll let me know afterward.”

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, speaking at a separate news conference Sunday, said it “will take a couple days, maybe about 72 hours” to complete the drawdown, at which point the state of emergency can be lifted.

“We’ve already started to withdraw. It will take a little while. We brought 4,000 people in,” he said.

The city can now take a breath and assess the events that rocked the city since Gray’s death.

Since April 23, police made 486 arrests at protests, rallies and other gatherings related to Gray’s death, police spokesman Capt. J. Eric Kowalczyk said Sunday.

Since last Saturday, 113 police officers have been injured. Forty-six people were arrested Saturday night, four of them juveniles, he said.

Two hundred Baltimore businesses — many of them minority-owned and many lacking insurance — were lost in the April 27 protests alone — the worst night of protests. It “will take a little while to get back to normal,” Hogan said, “but let’s get people back to normal, get people back in the city to visit devastated shops.”

The majority of stores inside Mondawmin reopened Sunday, Rawlings-Blake said, declaring it “a great day for this community.”

Six police officers have been charged in the death of Gray last month, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said Friday.

The 25-year-old died after suffering “a severe and critical neck injury” while being transported “handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained” inside a police van, she said. It is against police policy to transport a prisoner without proper restraints such as a seat belt.

The police union called for an independent prosecutor, saying Mosby has conflicts of interests. They also criticized her for not waiting until police were done with their inquiry.

“We are disappointed in the apparent rush to judgment, given the fact that the investigation into this matter has not been concluded,” said Gene Ryan, president of the police union. “Our officers, like every other American, are entitled to due process.”

Police officers arrested Gray on April 12. He slipped into a coma after suffering a series of injuries and died a week later.

Mosby said the incident began when two police officers on bike patrol “made eye contact” with Gray, who then ran.

When officers caught up to him, he surrendered and was placed on the ground, arms handcuffed behind his back. He said he couldn’t breathe and asked for an inhaler, but he did not get it, according to Mosby.

For-Manny-Pacquiao-its-about-getting-chance-to-win-not-the-money

For Manny Pacquiao, it’s about getting a chance to win, not the money

For Manny Pacquiao, it wasn’t about winning the business deal.

It was about proving he was the better fighter.

Pacquiao cut his losses in negotiations to secure a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. So on Saturday night, fittingly in Las Vegas, the gamble Pacquiao made gives him a chance to go all in and win the legacy bout, with all the high-rollers and the world watching.

“If my concern is myself alone, the fight is hard to make happen,” said Pacquiao, who accepted a 60%-40% purse split in Mayweather’s favor. “I didn’t want 60-40. I did it for the sake of the fans. We know they’ve been waiting for this fight for five years.”

When the buzz first started about this super-fight, it was Pacquiao who was No. 1 in boxing’s mythical pound-for-pound rankings. But the fighters’ swapped spots, as Mayweather (47-0, 26 knockouts) kept winning while Pacquiao (57-5-2, 38 KOs) suffered a December 2012 knockout loss to Juan Manuel Marquez.

Rated as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Manny Pacquiao was already called the best boxer in the 2000s. At the age of 35 with a record of 56 wins, five losses and two ties, Pacquiao shows no sign of slowing down.

Pacquiao’s professional boxing career started in 1995 and he boxed primarily in the Philippines until 2001. In his 2001 debut in the United States against Lehlohonolo Ledwaba of South Africa, Pacquiao won by TKO in six rounds.

Before facing Mexico’s Erik Morales in March 19, 2005, in Las Vegas, Pacquiao had not lost since September 1999. Morales won by unanimous decision to take the WBC international super featherweight title.

Ten months later, Pacquiao faced Erik Morales again. Pacquiao knocked Morales out in the 10th round. It was the first time Morales was knocked out in his boxing career.

Pacquiao trades punches with David Diaz during their WBC lightweight championship boxing match June 28, 2008, in Las Vegas. Pacquiao won by knockout in the ninth round.
That loss made the already problematic negotiations between the Mayweather and Pacquiao camps all the more difficult. Previously, they’d had major disputes over drug-testing, the purse cut and personal feuds.

After Pacquiao lost, Mayweather was quick to dismiss him as a possible opponent by saying the Filipino first had to finish his business with Marquez, who won in their fourth fight.

But Pacquiao, 36, responded with three convincing victories over younger men, including a unanimous decision over Timothy Bradley that avenged a controversial loss to Bradley in 2012 because of bad judging. Pacquiao then set a personal record by knocking down Chris Algieri six times last November in a lopsided decision in China.

As he concluded training for Algieri, Pacquiao was asked about the Mayweather side saying it would require accepting a 60-40 split to get the fight made.

“Yeah, I’ll do that,” Pacquiao said without pause. “No problem.”

Pacquiao’s promoter Bob Arum said negotiations started at an even steeper disadvantage, with Mayweather’s representative proposing a 65-35 split.

“Manny truly believes money isn’t everything, and you can’t be cheated when money isn’t everything,” Arum said. “He was willing to sacrifice points to make the fight. Simple as that. He wanted the fight.”

Arum, who’s been brokering fight deals since the 1960s, said, “Obviously, I pushed back” from the 65-35 talk, “but it went on for weeks.”

Friction between Arum and his former fighter Mayweather, along with the promoter’s strong influence on Pacquiao, were considered as major reasons the fight would never happen.

In my mind, I didn’t think I’d be a good boxer. All that was really in my mind was to earn a kilo of rice.
– Manny Pacquiao, on his humble beginnings as a fighter
“Some can paint me as a Svengali who dictates what to do to Manny, but it’s not the truth. I stayed in this business so long by taking directions, and getting approval, from athletes,” Arum said. “If Manny wants to take a ridiculously low percentage, it’s his career and his life. … We settled for this because Manny was willing to.

“Whether it was a smart decision or a stupid decision, it’s a decision he and I will live with.”

Of course, given the historic scope of this fight, both boxers will earn unheard-of sums for their bout Saturday. Together they could earn more than $300 million for what should be a record pay-per-view bout, with a possible $100 million for Pacquiao.

Pacquiao’s first memories of boxing also center on money.

He still remembers how, as a poverty-stricken child, his uncle showed him VHS tapes of boxing matches featuring Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., the Ruelas brothers and more.

At age 11, when Pacquiao used to sell doughnuts and other items on the street to help pad his family’s income, his uncle led him to a Sunday boxing contest. The young boy was surprised to learn that he’d been entered into the competition.

“I was excited, like, ‘What’s this?’ ” Pacquiao said.

He won a three-round decision and was given 100 pesos for the triumph — two dollars — and split the money with his uncle while giving the rest to his mother for groceries.

“Fifty pesos, that was big,” Pacquiao said. “Six pesos was a kilo of rice. I was thinking, ‘This is good for everybody.’ I was selling doughnuts, whatever I can sell … but boxing was one day of some work and you earn more money.

“My teacher saw me come in a little bruised up one day and told me, ‘Maybe you become Flash Elorde [the late former featherweight world champion from the Philippines].’ ”

Little did they know …

Pacquiao said when he was watching those fight videos, seeing the legendary men fighting in packed venues, his uncle imagined aloud: “What if you could get like that? In a building like that?”

“I loved boxing because it helped my mother,” Pacquiao said. “In my mind, I didn’t think I’d be a good boxer. All that was really in my mind was to earn a kilo of rice.”

Pacquiao became a pro at 16 and fought 43 fights, almost all in the Philippines, before his first bout in the U.S. in 2001. His furious fighting style, an ability to knock out bigger men and his winning titles at various weight classes made him an international star.

His success here made his returns home heart-tugging, and he’d literally allow lines to form at his home, where he’d hand out money.

He enjoys the fruits of his labor — drives a lavish sports car, is angling to buy a multi-million-dollar home in L.A. with this purse from the Mayweather fight — but his newborn religious faith and current duties as a congressman in the Philippines still leave him feeling obligated.

“I enjoy helping people — the poor, orphans — I cannot leave them hungry without helping them. I’m not materialistic,” he said. “The money’s not mine. It’s God’s grace that’s entrusted to me.

“My first concern every fight is how to entertain people, give them enjoyment and make them happy. Of course, for doing that, there’s a price, and [Mayweather] set this price.”

Pacquiao admits both men had “nowhere to go,” regarding another big fight. Mayweather, 38, wouldn’t come close to earning $200 million in a fight against Amir Khan, and Marquez no longer wants to fight Pacquiao.

Pacquiao could’ve dug in, pressing Mayweather for a better cut with so many millions possible. But Pacquiao said he has other concerns.

“I have to make sure I’m in the best condition of my life,” he said. “Being an underdog, you’re more focused on training, from the first day to the last day. I’m very confident. My training, conditioning; I can feel it. My speed, footwork, punches … are the things to beat his [defensive] style and win the fight.”

The possibility of recouping a larger chunk in a rematch is something Pacquiao said he can tend to after this fight.

First, he has to win, and so he routinely spent this training camp in L.A. running up to Griffith Observatory, with a pack of fans and countrymen tailing.

“The most important thing in this fight is cutting off the ring — with strong legs, footwork, speed,” Pacquiao said. “It’s good to get to the top of the observatory and feel like I do now.”

He’ll break camp Monday, then drive himself to Las Vegas.

“No problem,” he said, about the biggest fight of his life on Saturday. “I’m ready.”

Baltimore-tries-to-recover-after-unrest

Baltimore tries to recover after unrest leads to damage, multiple arrests

BALTIMORE — Residents here shaken by violent protests over the death of a man in police custody awoke Sunday to sweep up shattered glass and board up broken windows, while authorities upped the count of those arrested to nearly three dozen.http://wapo.st/1J1sGNU

The impact of the Saturday demonstrations was felt in both the seascape of boarded, abandoned homes in West Baltimore and in the gleaming waterfront along the Inner Harbor, where protesters had vowed to shut down the city with the slogan “no business as usual.”

Authorities said Sunday that 35 people had been arrested — 31 adults and four juveniles — on charges ranging from failure to disperse to rioting, assaulting police, burglary, theft and destruction of property. Police said two journalists were “inadvertently detained” and were freed without charges.

A spokesman for the Maryland prison system said one of the protesters arrested was from Philadelphia, another from the District and a third from a suburb north of Baltimore, but most were from Baltimore.

City leaders and the NAACP blamed the violence on “outside agitators,” and they said the arrests of so many from Baltimore did not reflect instigators who escaped apprehension. One of the last speakers at a City Hall rally Saturday told the crowd he understood they wanted to go to Camden Yards, and assured them they would soon “be released” and be on their own.

Both affected areas of the city returned to quiet Sunday, and community leaders said protests were suspended in deference to wake on Sunday afternoon and funeral on Monday for the man whose death sparked the protests. Freddie Gray, 25, died April 19, a week after he was arrested on a West Baltimore corner, pinned to the ground and dragged to the back of a police wagon. Police said he died of severe injuries to his spine and are trying to determine how the injuries occurred.

Six officers have been suspended, and police plan to turn over their cases to prosecutors on May 1. But demonstrators demanding murder indictments have turned Baltimore into the latest in a long list of cities grappling with deaths of young black men at the hands of police.

Rage boiled over late Saturday, and on Sunday the city tried to recover from hours of unrest that led to damaged police cars, the trashing of three crowded outdoor bar patios near Orioles Park at Camden Yards and fights that followed six hours of peaceful protest.

Business owners covered broken windows as fans filled the downtown ballpark Sunday afternoon to watch the Orioles play the Boston Red Sox. The night before, frightened spectators had to navigate angry demonstrators and police in riot gear before the game, and were held after the last out of the game until police “were absolutely sure it was safe for them to depart.”

People living next to the police station in West Baltimore — where Gray was pulled unconscious from the transport wagon April 12 – also spent the morning cleaning up from overnight clashes, in which police said protesters threw rocks and bricks at officers. People there too urged calm, but their emphasis was on justice and reform.

City work crews cleaned the corner of Riggs Avenue and Mount Street, in front of the barricaded police station, and a resident hung a sign on a light pole: “Please protest peacefully for your community.”

The streets were empty, but the pews of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church a block away from the station were full. Inside, the Rev. Alfreda L. Wiggins likened Gray’s death to martyrs of the civil rights movement.

“Freddie Gray died under mysterious and vicious circumstances,” she thundered to the congregation, “so that the attention of the world could focus on the injustice that African Americans are subjected to, over and over again.”

Parishioners then took to the streets “to pray outside, to pray for our community.” Wiggins noted that “Freddie was a black boy. His mother and father were black. His sisters and brother were black. We are black. He could be our son, our grandson. . . . We need to reach out, and cry.”

At Camden Yards, the epicenter of the downtown disturbances Saturday, there was little evidence Sunday that anything was amiss. It was Little League Day, and parents poured into the stadium with children in baseball uniforms in tow.

Marvin Hott, 42, came with his son Nathan, 12, a player for the Bel Air Reds, from north of Baltimore. Having monitored accounts of Saturday, Holt said, “I was a little bit nervous. I thought, if it was like it was last night, I would skip the game.”

But Hott said the situation appeared calm. “People are angry, and they want to be heard,” he said. “If it’s peaceful, then I understand.”

Carl Mummenthey, 44, brought his children Ainsley, 8, and Andrew, 11, from upstate New York to cheer on the Red Sox. They had been at Saturday’s game, too, and, taking note of the protests, had arrived early to avoid the disturbances.

But they could see lines of police pushing against protesters from inside the stadium’s patio and picnic area, next to the fence along Pratt Street. Ainsley said she was most scared of the police in riot gear. Her father said they all watched the news and he explained what was happening.

“We saw the usher rushing people inside,” Mummenthey said. “We saw police rushing people on a side street. We felt safe, and it looked to me like the police were restrained and handled it right.”

Paul Rossi, who works at a food stand selling peanuts and sausages on Camden Street, said he was injured when protesters overturned two grills and rained water bottles on patrons of outdoor bar patios. They then threw metal gates, overturned tables and broke windows, sending customers fleeing inside already jammed bars.

The scene was one of chaos, with bags and purses stolen, fistfights between protesters and baseball fans, and people scattering in panic before the crowd moved on to attack police cars on another street. One man threw a trash can through the back window of a squad car; a teen used a orange street cone to shatter the windshield of another.

Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, said the violence at the end of what had been hours of peaceful protest trampled the message of the day. “The last two hours was about breaking things up, and nothing about Freddie Gray,” she said.

Hill-Aston said that during the violence, she saw Gray’s cousin sitting on a curb, crying and saying, “We don’t want this.”

At another location, an older woman carrying an umbrella tried to stop a youth from throwing a burning trash can at police. When she failed, she stomped the flames out herself.

Gray’s brother pleaded with a protester to put down a sign that read, “F— the police,” saying, “It’s not what we want.”

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) called the violence unacceptable as she addressed reporters with lawmakers and religious leaders Sunday evening. “We cannot and will not let a minority of incendiary individuals exploit our community,” she said at a news conference with lawmakers and religious leaders at Bethel AME Church. She said she would not let outsiders “put their own agenda ahead of our community.”

She said outsiders were pushing protesters to “shut this city down,” “inciting” the crowd, and then left. The mayor praised residents who urged calm “and put their lives before the blue line” of police.

“We are seeking answers,” Rawlings-Blake said. “We can seek answers as we seek justice, and as we seek peace.”

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md) called the violence a distraction. “We are about to go to a funeral, where a family has lost a son,” he said. “I don’t want to lose sight of that.”

He added, “I didn’t come to ask people to respect the family” and keep protests peaceful, “I’m begging them.”

Cummings said he had faith in city leadership. “I have heard the mayor say it, and you know she means it. I have heard the police commissioner say it, and I know he means it. There will be change.”

Said the Rev. Frank Reid, pastor of Bethel AME, “Business as usual is not an option here.”

Pre-orders-for-the-Apple-Watch-available

Pre-orders for the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch available

The greatly anticipated Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch is available for pre-order as of April 10, 2015. Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Stores opened all over the world to take orders and schedule appointments, for a product that is only available online and is in limited supply. The deliveries will take place on April 24, 2015 but aficionados have already made arrangements in designated countries to test the gadget out for themselves.

Also among the designated countries are UK, Australia, China, Germany and France.There are three categories of the watch available: The Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch Sport at $349, the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch at $549 and the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch Edition, the price of which is $17000 and above. It’s said that there might be 38 options: 3 collections, with 6 different case types, on 18 straps, all available in 2 sizes.

A primary inspection of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Stores revealed that the reserve was severely short, and the 42mm stainless steel version and the 38 mm Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch Sport are the only versions to be shipped out on the delivery date.The Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Watch will take around 4-6 weeks for shipping. Specific boutiques in selected countries will put the products on display so that the customers can come and have a look at them.

Basically, the Watch was set to be released during the Christmas season after its announcement in September. The announcement created a lot of hype among the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)users and they have been waiting for the arrival of the Watch in the market ever since it was announced. If AppleInc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) had opened up pre-orders then, it would have taken even longer for the consumers to get their watches.The SVP of AppleInc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), Angela Ahrents stated the advantage of using online Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)stores to sell the watches.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)planned on issuing 25000 Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)shares to the public a few days after the orders had been places. Angela Ahrents, also known as the former CEO of Burberry, is also heading the launch of the Retina MacBook, which is easier to order and attain than the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Smartwatch.The Retina MacBook is said to be available in the following colors: silver, gold and space gray at the starting prices of $1299 and the shipping time is only three days, unlike the Smartwatch whose shipping will take around one to two months.

There is also a guide available on the Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)Insider to help the customers decide which watch to buy. There are three main things that will aid the choosing: size, model and bands.Each watch comes in a choice of two case sizes: 38 millimeters and 42 millimeters.

90-percent-of-Federal-Tax-Returns-Filed-Online

90 percent of Federal Income Tax Returns Filed Online: IRS

IRS has reported that more than 90 percent of the federal tax returns have been filed online this year. Online tax return filing is much easier compared to paper filing of returns. Procrastinators are facing tough time as the tax filing deadline is approaching fast. Many taxpayers are confused regarding their deductions under Affordable Care Act.

The National Society of Accountants estimated that tax preparers charged an average $261 for an itemized Form 1040 and state tax return filing in 2013. Last week data from IRS suggested that 67 percent of taxpayers had filed their income tax returns. IRS has urged taxpayers to file taxes online and to request direct deposit option for tax refund. Tax refund status can be checked on IRS website.

For individuals who still haven’t filed their tax return, VITA, TCE, and Tax-Aide provide free tax filing assistance. Tax-Aide covered more than 7,000 locations across the country. Tax-Aid has 32,000 trained volunteers who help more than two million taxpayers each year in filing their income tax return. Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offers free assistance to American aged 60 years and above.

IRS has also offered a special toll-free helpline for people to setup a meeting with IRS officials while filing paper return. IRS also offers a dedicated smartphone app for filing tax return online and for checking refund status. Tax preparation software is also helpful in filing individual or small business tax returns.

IRS report said that more than 1.2 million income tax returns have been processed this year.

Obama holds historic meeting with Cuba’s Castro, pledges to ‘turn the page’

President Obama held a historic formal meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro Saturday, the first between US and Cuban leaders in over half a century, pledging to ‘turn the page’ and develop a new relationship between the two countries.

The two leaders shook hands Friday at the start of the summit and met Saturday on the sidelines of the a Panama City convention center.
Obama holds historic meeting with Cuba’s Castro, pledges to ‘turn the page’
Obama and Castro met for about an hour, with Obama telling reporters before the meeting that, after 50 years of unchanged policy, it was time to try something new and to engage with both Cuba’s government and its people.

“What we have both concluded is that we can disagree with a spirit of respect and civility,” Obama said. “And over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship between our two countries.”

Obama thanked Castro “for the spirit of openness and courtesy that he has shown during our interactions” and pledged to do whatever he could to “make sure that the people of Cuba are able to prosper and live in freedom and security.”

Castro, for his part, said he agreed with everything Obama had said. However, he added the caveat that they had “agreed to disagree” at times. Castro said he had told the Americans that Cuba was willing to discuss issues such as human rights and freedom of the press, maintaining that “everything can be on the table.”

“We are disposed to talk about everything — with patience,” Castro said in Spanish. “Some things we will agree with, and others we won’t.”

Not since 1958 have a U.S. and Cuban leader convened a substantial meeting. Dwight Eisenhower and Fulgencio Batista met that year, and the following year, former Cuban President Fidel Castro met with Richard Nixon, who was vice president at the time.

The flurry of diplomacy was aimed at injecting fresh momentum into their months-old plan to restore normal relations between their countries.

The historic gathering played out on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas, which this year included Cuba for the first time. Although the meeting wasn’t publicly announced in advance, White House aides had suggested the two leaders were looking for an opportunity to meet while in Panama and to discuss the ongoing efforts to open embassies in Havana and Washington, among other issues.

Obama had pledged earlier on Saturday not to refight the battles of the Cold War.

“The Cold War has been over for a long time,” Obama said at the summit. “And I’m not interested in having battles frankly that started before I was born.”

Castro later rallied to Obama’s defense, absolving the president of fault for the U.S. blockade in a stunning reversal of more than 50 years of animosity between the United States and Cuba.

“In my opinion, President Obama is an honest man,” Castro said — a remarkable vote of confidence from the Cuban leader, who praised Obama’s life and his “humble background.”

In January, the Obama administration began to chip away at the U.S. embargo against Cuba, announcing new changes taking effect Friday that will allow more trade and travel between the two countries.

The changes were announced despite concerns from members of Congress that the landmark shift in U.S.-Cuba relations is a “one-sided deal” that will benefit the Castro regime.

And they have since been questioned by the only two official Republican candidates for president in 2016 – Sens. Ted Cruz, Texas, and Rand Paul, Kentucky.

At a recent summit in California sponsored by the Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners, Paul argued that a half-century of economic embargoes have failed to remove leaders Fidel and Raul Castro.

“The Castro brothers are brutal dictators,” responded Cruz, a Cuban-American.

Castro, on Saturday, in a meandering, nearly hour-long speech to the summit, ran through an exhaustive history of perceived Cuban grievances against the U.S. dating back more than a century — a vivid display of how raw passions remain over American attempts to undermine Cuba’s government.

Then, in an abrupt about face, he apologized for letting his emotions get the best of him. He said many U.S. presidents were at fault for that troubled history — but that Obama isn’t one of them.

“I have told President Obama that I get very emotional talking about the revolution,” Castro said through a translator, noting that Obama wasn’t even born when the U.S. began sanctioning the island nation. “I apologize to him because President Obama had no responsibility for this.”

Speaking just before Castro, Obama acknowledged that deep differences between their countries would persist. Yet he said he was uninterested in getting bogged down in ideology, instead casting the thaw in relations as an opening to create “more opportunities and resources for the Cuban people.”

“The United States will not be imprisoned by the past,” Obama said. “We’re looking to the future.”

Yet the optimistic tone from the president wasn’t enough to offset the skepticism of some Latin American leaders about U.S. intentions in the region, including many who have sharply criticized recent U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials.

Even President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, whose country is a close U.S. partner, told the summit that such unilateral policies of isolation are always counterproductive and ineffective. “For that reason we reject the adoption of sanctions against Venezuela,” she said.

Raising the stakes even higher for the two leaders was mounting speculation that Obama would use the occasion of the summit taking place in Panama to announce his decision to remove Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, a gesture that for Cuba holds both practical and symbolic value.

The U.S. long ago stopped accusing Cuba of conducting terrorism, and Obama has signaled that he’s ready to take Cuba off the list. Earlier in the week he suggested an announcement was imminent when he revealed that the State Department had completed its lengthy review of the designation.

Removal from the terror list is a top priority for Castro because it would not only purge a stain on Cuba’s pride, but also ease its ability to conduct simple financial transactions. Castro said Cuba should never have been on the list in the first place.

“Yes, we have conducted solidarity with other peoples that could be considered terrorism — when we were cornered, when we were strongly harassed,” he said. “We had no other choice but to give up or to fight back.”

Yet Obama’s delay in delisting Cuba comes as the U.S. seeks concessions of its own — namely, the easing of restrictions on American diplomats’ freedom of movement in Havana and better human rights protections. Obama said the U.S. would continue pressing Cuba on human rights even as he called for Congress to lift the economic embargo on the island nation 90 miles to the south of Florida.

A successful relaunch of U.S.-Cuba relations would form a cornerstone of Obama’s foreign policy legacy. But it’s an endeavor he can’t undertake alone: Only Congress can fully lift the onerous U.S. sanctions regime on Cuba, and there are deep pockets of opposition in the U.S. to taking that step.

Obama was scheduled to take questions from reporters before returning to Washington.

Russian-Jet-Nearly-Collides-with-US-Spy-Jet-Over-Europe

Russian Fighter Jet Nearly Collides with U.S. Spy Jet Over Europe

A Russia Su-27 jet fighter flew dangerously close and nearly collided with a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft this week in the latest aerial provocation by Moscow, defense officials revealed to the Washington Free Beacon.

The Su-27 conducted the close-in intercept of an RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday, said officials. The incident prompted a diplomatic protest.

“On the morning of April 7th, a U.S. RC-135U flying a routine route in international airspace was intercepted by a Russian Su-27 Flanker in an unsafe and unprofessional manner,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen M. Lainez.

“The United States is raising this incident with Russia in the appropriate diplomatic and official channels,” she said in a statement.

A defense official said the Russian fighter jet flew within 20 feet of the unarmed reconnaissance jet in what the official called a “reckless” encounter that endangered the lives of the RC-135 crew.

No details were available regarding the mission of the RC-135, which was in a position to monitor Russian military activities in western Russia and Kaliningrad.

In Moscow, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman confirmed the incident.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the spokesman, said the intercept was carried out after the aircraft was detected by Russian radar.

“Russian air defense radars spotted an unidentified air target over the Baltic Sea making steady progress toward the national border,” he said according to several state-controlled news outlets. The report said the U.S. aircraft was operating without its signal transponder turned on.

“No emergency situation was reported during the fly-by of the American reconnaissance aircraft,” Konashenkov said.

The RC-135 is a militarized and upgraded Boeing 707 jetliner that can be configured for several types of intelligence gathering, including photo, nuclear monitoring, and electronic spying.

The RC-135U variant involved in Tuesday’s near collision is code-named Combat Sent and conducts technical intelligence gathering on enemy electronic signals and radar emitters.

The monitoring comes amid new worries that Russia is deploying new short-range Iskander nuclear capable missiles in Kaliningrad and Russian-occupied Crimea in the Ukraine.

A second defense official said there have been no recent Russian aerial provocations near U.S. coasts. But Moscow is expected to ramp up its training operations flights around this time of year.

“That means we’re probably due for [aerial encounters] soon,” the official said.

The most recent similar encounter took place March 24 when two Su-27s, along with two nuclear capable Tu-22 Backfire bombers, conducted flights over the Baltic. The Russian jets were flying without signal beacon transponders that permit air traffic controllers to monitor their flight paths. They were intercepted by Swedish jets.

It could not be learned if U.S. or NATO jets were sent to escort the RC-135 over the Baltic Sea.

The threatening aerial encounter followed a series of provocative Russian military aircraft encounters, mainly involving the dispatch of nuclear-capable Tu-95 Bear bombers near U.S. and European coasts.

Flights of Russian strategic aircraft near U.S. and allied airspace have sharply increased as part of a campaign of nuclear saber rattling by Moscow.

Adm. William Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, expressed his military concerns about the increase in Russian military flights and provocations during a briefing with reporters the same day of the RC-135 incident over the Baltic.

“The Russians have developed a far more capable military than the quantitative, very large military that the Soviet Union had,” Gortney said, adding that Moscow has adopted a new strategic doctrine that is being demonstrated by the provocations.

“At the same time, they are messaging us,” he told reporters at the Pentagon. “They’re messaging us that they’re a global power—we do the same sort of thing—with their long-range aviation.”

Gortney said the numbers of incidents have gone up but he did not have the percentages.

“And so we watch very carefully what they’re doing,” he said. The Russians need to adhere to “international standards that are required by all airplanes that are out there,” he said, “and everybody is flying in a professional manner on their side and our side as we watch very closely.”

Eric Edelman, former undersecretary of defense for policy, said the latest incident appears to be part of a pattern of activities by Russia that began around 2007 when Russian President Vladimir Putin began protesting U.S. missile defenses in Europe. The provocative activities have taken place in both the skies and on the sea, Edelman said.

The Russians are engaged in what Edelman said is “station identification”—signaling that they remain a relevant nuclear weapons power.

“It’s part of a pattern now of very, very provocative activities, both in the air and on the sea,” Edelman said in an interview.

The Russians are signaling that “we’re still here, we’re still an important military power, your nuclear peer, and they are seeking to intimidate the Balts, Swedes, and Finns,” he said. The Baltic states are Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

A report by the European Leadership Network, “Dangerous Brinksmanship: Close Military Encounters Between Russia and the West in 2014,” states that last year NATO aircraft conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft, three times the number of intercepts in 2013. A total of 11 encounters were described as being of a serious and “more aggressive or unusually provocative nature, bringing a higher level risk of escalation.”

“These include harassment of reconnaissance planes, close overflights over warships, and Russian ‘mock bombing raid’ missions,” the report said, noting that the intensity and gravity of the incidents coincided with the Russian annexation of Crimea.

“These events add up to a highly disturbing picture of violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles, narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, simulated attack runs, and other dangerous actions happening on a regular basis over a very wide geographical area.”

The report said the Russians appear to be testing NATO and European defenses, as well as using the provocative actions to contribute to an information warfare campaign.

The Russian provocations “serve as a demonstration of Russia’s capability to effectively use force for intimidation and coercion, particularly against its immediate neighbors,” the report said.

Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, said in Senate testimony in February that Russian nuclear actions are a significant problem.

“Russia’s recent behavior currently poses one of our most pressing and evolving strategic challenges—challenges felt across the strategic forces mission space,” McKeon said.

“We are confronted with Russia’s occupation of Crimea, continuing Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine, Russia’s increasingly aggressive nuclear posturing and threats, including the prospect of nuclear weapons in Crimea, and its violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.”

Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, stated in testimony to the Senate in February that Russian aerial provocations were part of a number of “troubling actions” by Moscow

Until recently, military spokesmen have sought to play down the Russian aerial provocations, frequently dismissing intrusions into U.S. and Canadian air defense identification zones as not a threat.

“It’s ‘station identification’ and a former of intimidation, and it’s dangerous,” said Edelman, a former ambassador to Finland. “Some time something bad is going to happen, particularly against the backdrop of what’s going on in the Ukraine, and it could lead to inadvertent escalation and confrontation. It’s very dangerous.”

UPDATE Saturday, April 11, 11:10 A.M.: This article has been updated with comment from a spokesman for the Russian government, who confirmed the incident.

California-delta-water-missing-amid-drought

California delta’s water mysteriously missing amid drought

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — As California struggles with a devastating drought, huge amounts of water are mysteriously vanishing from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — and the prime suspects are farmers whose families have tilled fertile soil there for generations.
A state investigation was launched following complaints from two large agencies that supply water to arid farmland in the Central Valley and to millions of residents as far south as San Diego.
Delta farmers don’t deny using as much water as they need. But they say they’re not stealing it because their history of living at the water’s edge gives them that right. Still, they have been asked to report how much water they’re pumping and to prove their legal rights to it.
At issue is California’s century-old water rights system that has been based on self-reporting and little oversight, historically giving senior water rights holders the ability to use as much water as they need, even in drought. Gov. Jerry Brown has said that if drought continues this system built into California’s legal framework will probably need to be examined.
Delta farmer Rudy Mussi says he has senior water rights, putting him in line ahead of those with lower ranking, or junior, water rights.
“If there’s surplus water, hey, I don’t mind sharing it,” Mussi said. “I don’t want anybody with junior water rights leapfrogging my senior water rights just because they have more money and more political clout.”
The fight pitting farmer against farmer is playing out in the Delta, the hub of the state’s water system. With no indication of the drought easing, heightened attention is being placed on dwindling water throughout the state, which produces nearly half of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S.
A large inland estuary east of San Francisco, the Delta is fed by rivers of freshwater flowing down from the Sierra Nevada and northern mountain ranges. Located at sea level, it consists of large tracts of farmland separated by rivers that are subject to tidal ebbs and flows.
Most of the freshwater washes out to the Pacific Ocean through the San Francisco Bay. Some is pumped — or diverted — by Delta farmers to irrigate their crops, and some is sent south though canals to Central Valley farmers and to 25 million people statewide.
The drought now in its fourth year has put Delta water under close scrutiny. Twice last year state officials feared salty bay water was backing up into the Delta, threatening water quality. There was not enough fresh water to keep out saltwater.
In June, the state released water stored for farmers and communities from Lake Oroville to combat the saltwater intrusion.
Nancy Vogel, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Water Resources, said “thousands of acre-feet of water a day for a couple of weeks” were released into the Delta. An acre-foot is roughly enough water to supply a household of four for a year.
The fact that the state had to resort to using so much from storage raised questions about where the water was going. That in turn prompted a joint letter by the Department of Water Resources and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation calling for an investigation into how much water Delta farmers are taking — and whether the amount exceeds their rights to it.
“We don’t know if there were illegal diversions going on at this time,” said Vogel, leaving it up to officials at the State Water Resources Control Board to determine. “Right now, a large information gap exists.”
Some 450 farmers who hold 1,061 water rights in the Delta and the Sacramento and San Joaquin river watersheds were told to report their water diversions, and Katherine Mrowka, state water board enforcement manager, said a vast majority responded.
State officials are sorting through the information that will help them determine whether any are exceeding their water rights and who should be subject to restrictions.
“In this drought period, water accounting is more important to ensure that the water is being used for its intended purpose,” said U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Louis Moore.
Mussi, a second-generation Delta farmer whose family grows tomatoes, wheat, corn, grapes and almonds on 4,500 acres west of Stockton, said Central Valley farmers have long known that in dry years they would get little or no water from state and federal water projects and would need to rely heavily on groundwater.
“All of a sudden they’re trying to turn their water into a permanent system and ours temporary,” Mussi said. “It’s just not going to work.”
Shawn Coburn farms 1,500 acres along the San Joaquin River in Firebaugh about 100 miles south of the Delta. As a senior rights holder, he figures he will receive 45 percent or less of the water he expected from the federal water project. On another 1,500 acres where he is a junior water rights holder, he will receive no surface water for a second consecutive year.
“I don’t like to pick on other farmers, even if it wasn’t a drought year,” said Coburn. “The only difference is I don’t have a pipe in the Delta I can suck willy-nilly whenever I want.”

How-To-Reenergize-The-Hard-Hit-Oil-And-Gas-Industry

How To Reenergize The Hard-Hit Oil And Gas Industry

Here’s a piece of legislation the Republican Congress should pass pronto: end the decades old, misbegotten ban on the export of crude oil, as well as the stifling bureaucratic restrictions on the export of natural gas. Astounding advances in technology and new discoveries of oil and natural gas reserves have skyrocketed U.S. energy production. America is drilling and refining more oil than it has in decades. Gas is so abundant that electric utilities can’t build or retrofit plants fast enough to absorb it all.

These barriers were put in place to help American businesses and consumers by keeping the stuff at home rather than letting foreigners get their hands on it. Back in the 1970s people thought we were running out of both resources because nominal prices were going up. The real cause was the weak dollar. When President Ronald Reagan and Paul Volcker’s Federal Reserve ended the terrible inflation of the 1970s, commodity prices crashed. Oil fell from almost $40 a barrel to $10 before stabilizing in the $20-to-$25 range.

In the early part of the last decade the Fed, with the connivance of the Treasury Department, weakened the greenback, with the same consequences: Commodity prices zoomed up, with oil reaching a peak of more than $140. Now that the dollar has strengthened—something the Fed didn’t intend, which says something about its competence—commodities such as oil have taken a hit, just as they did in the 1980s. The price of natural gas was already low because of the surplus generated by fracking.

This is why antiquated restrictions on oil and gas exports are especially harmful now. Our oil storage capacity has peaked, which means oil fields will have to cut production because there’s no place to store the stuff. It’s one thing when lower prices or less demand affect output; it’s quite another when production is reduced because of artificial, government-caused reasons. At a time when falling oil prices have put many drillers under serious financial pressure, removing wrong-headed obstacles to increase demand would make all the sense in the world.

Repealing these prohibitions would not only lead to more demand from overseas for our oil and gas but also bring closer the day that the U.S. becomes the world’s leading energy producer. More to the point, rising output at low prices will spur the use of natural gas—an ultraclean fossil fuel—for both new purposes (think transportation) and traditional ones, such as a raw material for the chemicals industry.

Opening up the export taps would also lead to a more efficient, i.e., cheaper, oil market. Most of our refineries, particularly on the Gulf Coast, are geared toward processing what’s known as “heavy” crudes. The surge in U.S. production, however, has come in what are labelled “sweet” or “light” crudes. It would make sense–and in dollars and cents–to allow us, in effect, to swap light crudes for heavy crudes until the day comes when we can construct new refineries here.

Licensing for liquefied natural gas export facilities should be approved in a timely manner instead of falling victim to the foot-dragging that’s all too common. The House of Representatives has passed such legislation. It should be coupled with a bill to end the ridiculous ban on oil exports and passed expeditiously.

Most people don’t realize that the U.S. is already the world’s largest exporter of fuels, which include diesel, gasoline and jet fuel. We send roughly 4 million barrels of these products overseas each day. In the natural gas arena U.S. producers have used technology to impressively lower costs. Whatever happens to the dollar, we can easily be a major player in the global fuel market.

It makes no sense to ignore this colossal opportunity any longer. According to one report, between 394,000 and 859,000 U.S. jobs could be created by lifting these export bans. Americans would receive lower long-term energy prices, and increased U.S. energy output would make the world a safer place.