Young Soldier

Young Soldier

When we were young did we not all play

Pretending to be Generals and Sergeants

In our backyards or barns filled with hay

President Mom calling a truce

To fill our bellies with hot biscuits and ham

No foul, no harm, no spills I guess

When young, is not time and the world

Our personal sandbox full of new thrills

 

17 who can now say that I am not a man

Jungles and deserts I now low crawl

With M-16 with 203 in my hand

I hold my breath and tweak my sight

With one finger the trigger I quietly squeeze

One less breath, one less enemy,one less man

As the earth inhales their blood

To me one more notch, one more trophy

As his last breath leaves with the wind

Is there blood on your conscience

For the blood on your hands

Not knowing your temple

Is the target

17 your life is over

Before it began

Young Soldier

Young Soldier

When we were young did we not all play

Pretending to be generals and sergeants

In our backyards or barns filled with hay

President Mom calling a truce,

To fill our bellies with hot biscuits and ham

No foul, no harm, no spills I guess

When young, is not time and the world

Our personal sandbox full of new thrills

17 who can now say that I am not a man

Jungles and deserts I now low crawl

With M-16 with 203 in my hand

I hold my breath and tweak my sight

With one finger the trigger I quietly squeeze

One less breath, one less man

As the earth inhales their blood

To me one more notch, one more trophy

As his last breath leaves with the wind

Is there blood on your conscience

For the blood on your hands

Not knowing your temple

Is the target

17 your life is over

Before it began

Democracy Lebanon Style

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL-AWSAT NEWS AGENCY)

Opinion

Opinion: When Lebanese Democracy Talks

The controversy surrounding the election of Donald Trump as US president made many outside America have another look at how its electoral system works. However, controversy is surely not limited to America; it extends to Lebanon, a faraway small country that boasts being an ‘institutional democratic’ state built on consensus and entente.

Many pose questions about the logic behind the American political system which values the electoral votes of individual states more than the direct popular votes of the electorate. The fact is that the USA is a federal country, thus its political representation needs to reflect two fundamental principles without which no healthy democracy can survive:
-The first is simple direct democracy whereby the numerical majority has the advantage over the numerical minority; and this is embodied in the House of Representatives where each state is represented by a number of congressmen relative to its population.
-The second is respect for national unity in a diverse society, where an individual in a populous state must enjoy no advantage over another individual from a less populous state before the federal law which must treat all Americans equally. The principle of national unity is enshrined in the Senate where all states, regardless of population, are equally represented by two senators each.

This great vision has helped make the American political system as a whole, one of the fairest and most advanced in the world. It has sustained an ever growing and geographically expanding country since the 16th century, attracting wave after wave of immigration; and through the years each American state based on its topography, natural environment, and economic resources had specific attributes and qualities despite free and smooth inter-state movement.

Of course Lebanon is far too small compared to the USA. Its ‘democratic’ experience is also pretty modest to compare with that of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’ and the legislations and agreements they adopted, even though these legislations and agreements failed to prevent the American Civil war (1861-1865), some vestiges of which remain until today. In fact, Lebanon too had a civil war in 1860 that helped create its almost ‘independent’ status; and as in America’s case, the vestiges of the war remain, while its borders have changed.

Still, size and global influence aside, there is another major difference between the American and Lebanese examples, which is that the Americans have learnt from their experiences, respected their institutions, and stopped bluffing themselves, which is not the case with the Lebanese.

In the USA no less than five presidents trailed their opponents in the popular votes, but abiding by the Constitution, the process led them to the White House. Moreover, despite the huge diversity in a country of 320 million inhabitants, there remains a good deal of healthy co-existence. We don’t hear people calling every day for a new electoral law that enhances the share of his or her ethnicity or religious sect. Nor do we hear of people calling for foreign intervention in their favor in the light of changing international policies.

Lebanon’s case, however, is totally different. Here, even the Lebanese constitution does not deal with its people as citizens but rather as members of sectarian flocks. The constitution which recognizes 17 sects, has “permanently” allocated each sect what has been deemed as its fair share of governmental position although population changes are continuous as are political disagreements.

Another interesting fact is that any Lebanese may spend his/her lifetime within the confines of his/her sect without interacting with other sects, beginning with birth, death, inheritance and marriage registries, and ending with education, health and employment. Thus, religious sects in Lebanon are de facto quasi-independent ‘states’, that have their own leaders, political parties, schools, universities, hospitals, and even sport clubs!

Given this situation and bearing in mind the vestiges of the past, the Lebanese have two living obsessions: the first is the ‘unfairness’ lamented by the Muslims who believe they are the majority that is long prevented from enjoying what it deserved under the French Mandate (1920-1943); and the second is the ‘fear’ felt by the Christians towards the ‘sea of Muslims’ surrounding them. The latter, led at first to separating Mount Lebanon from its surrounding area in 1861 and giving it the status of an ‘autonomous district’, i.e. “Mutassarrifiyya”, under the joint rule of the Ottoman Government and the European Powers, in order to ensure the ‘protection’ of the Christians. Then in 1920, it led to the creation of the current Lebanon (Grand Liban) under a Christian president, and a 6 to 5 parliamentary representation in the Christians’ favour that lasted until the ‘Taif Agreement’ in 1989.

Now, after ending ‘the presidential vacuum’ and forming the new cabinet, all that remains is electing a new parliament to replace the current one. The latter ended its four year term in 2013, but due to ongoing disagreement the scheduled elections were cancelled and its term extended. Still, disagreements continue regarding under what electoral law the forthcoming elections should be conducted, noting that almost all political parties and blocs refuse to carry on under the current multiple seat constituency law, popularly known as ‘The 1960 Law’.

There are many alternatives being put forward by parties and blocs ranging from full ‘proportional representation’ as preferred by Hezbollah and followers – which is understandable given its virtual armed hegemony – to the ‘Greek Orthodox Law’ whereby each sect elects its own members of parliament, including different ‘mixed’ versions combining direct vote and PR.

One alternative, however, that seems to be intentionally and stubbornly dismissed is the one calling for a bi-cameral parliament comprising: A Senate or Upper House elected by each sect, whereby all religious sects are equally represented and enjoy a ‘veto’ on issues adversely affecting their interests; and a House of Deputies or Representative, elected with no sectarian quota, with Lebanon as a single constituency, thus encouraging proper issue-based political parties after ridding the country of the two obsessions, i.e. the Muslims with ‘unfairness’ and the Christians with ‘fear’!

Why the idea of a Senate looks like being rejected out of hand, is not really surprising, if one keeps in mind the Lebanese eternal gamble in external forces and changes of regional and international balance of power. This remains the case despite the fact that the Lebanese Constitution, as adopted in Taif, called clearly for ‘wide decentralization’ and a ‘senate’.

Indeed, it has become a habit of Lebanon’s factions to demand justice and fairness when they are the underdogs, but seek hegemony when they feel they are winning.

Given such a mentality, any authority devised to curtail the ambitions of the powerful and defended the rights of the weak, has no chance of being accepted; as every faction hopes one day to be powerful enough to monopolize the country, and obliterate the others. Even the one who may be weak today would rather hope for an opportune moment to gamble again, and settle old scores.

In short, this is ‘electoral democracy – Lebanese Style’!

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra

Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with the newspaper since 1978.

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North Korea: Pathetic Kim Jong-Un Holding American Student Otto Warmbier For Ransom!

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FOX NEWS)

American student Otto Warmbier

On the second day of 2016, Otto Warmbier was minutes away from boarding a plane back to America when armed security officers reportedly dragged him out of Pyongyang airport and into a yearlong nightmare that has left his loved ones and even the U.S. government powerless to save him.

Like most news out of North Korea, a lot about what occurred in the airport on Jan. 2, 2016 remains a mystery. One witness remembered a commotion as an armed official yelled at the 21-year-old University of Virginia undergraduate student from Ohio and had him hauled out of the terminal. Hours later, the rogue dictatorship issued a vague update: A tourist had been “caught committing a hostile act against the state.”

The legal proceedings that followed were just as vague. Prosecutors charged that Warmbier was caught stealing a political sign and committed “crimes against the state.” He was given a one-hour trial in March at which the government presented fingerprints, CCTV footage and pictures of a political banner to make its case against the American.

“I beg that you see how I am only human,” Warmbier begged at trial. “And how I have made the biggest mistake of my life.”

Despite his pleas, Warmbier was convicted, and sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor. In a post-trial video released to the world, Warmbier, under obvious duress, praised his captors for his treatment and for handling of the case “fair and square.”

Little is known about Warmbier’s fate over the last year, and critics say the Obama administration has not done enough to bring the American home.

In recent years, several U.S. citizens have been held on trumped-up charges for varying periods of time by the current regime of Kim Jong Un, as well as that of his father, Kim Jong Il. Their release has typically been won by pledges of aid or diplomatic gestures from American dignitaries. Former President Bill Clinton journeyed to the Hermit Kingdom in 2009 in a successful bid to convince the late Kim Jong Il to release of Current TV journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who had been captured after straying across the border from China and held prisoner for five months.

The younger Kim is less predictable, and the U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea. Kim Jung Un, the third generation of his family to lead the impoverished and belligerent nation, routinely issues threats against the U.S., launches missiles to provoke South Korea and Japan, executes top military officials and, occasionally, seizes Western prisoners. Although they are subjected to what passes for judicial procedures, they are for all intents and purposes, hostages.

In addition to Warmbier, it is believed that Pyongyang is holding Kim Dong-chul, 62, a naturalized U.S. citizen and a Canadian. Like Warmbier, he was charged with spying.

Gordon Chang, an expert on Asia and author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” said autocratic regimes, like the one in Pyongyang, are famous for their insecurities and treat any slight against its government as an especially serious offense. An Irish national who visited the country told The Independent that he was told “constantly that the smallest thing was considered a hostile attack.

“I bought lots of magazines and books there, and we were told not to fold them in a way that creased Kim Jong-un’s face,” he recalled.

Chang believes the North Koreans are taking reasonably good care of Warmbier, but the student likely feels forgotten.

“I assume he feels isolated,” Chang said. “He’s likely only reading propaganda and feels abandoned by the outside world.”

Warmbier’s family, including his father, Fred, did not respond to requests for comment, perhaps out of concern that publicity could anger Warmbier’s captors or upset back-channel efforts by the State Department or private parties to win his release. The U.S. will often tell these families to avoid talking to the media so it can better control the situation, Chang said.

“I agree with that,” he said.

Yet, media attention in the past seemed to work favorably in some cases. Ling and Lee faced 12 years of hard labor for committing hostile acts, yet were freed after five months when a visit from Clinton seemed to provide the rogue regime with the diplomatic legitimacy it craved, at least under the elder Kim, who died in 2011.

Kenneth Bae, a 47-year-old missionary who spent 19 months in prison for evangelizing, was released in 2014 after former NBA star and self-professed pal of Kim Jong-un Dennis Rodman took up his cause. Bae, who worked on a soybean farm and lost 30 pounds during the ordeal, told The New York Times that his interrogators would tell him that nobody in the U.S. cared about him and there were no negotiations.

Friend Trey Lonneman: We need to get Otto back. We must keep him in the public eye as much as we can –TCT @FoxNews

He said he was questioned “from 8 in the morning until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, every day for four weeks,” yet his treatment was better than that of North Korean felons.

Bae told FoxNews.com that he prays daily for American prisoners’ release from North Korea.

Former U.S. ambassador to the UN and ex-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, founder of the nonprofit Richardson Center for Global Engagement, told Fox News that the progress in getting Warmbier back has been slow but said North Koreans accepted a delegation from his foundation in September. He said the White House has been supportive of his group’s efforts.

“We’re trying to do this on a humanitarian basis,” Richardson told Fox News, “not a government-to-government basis.”

Communicating with North Korea has long been more challenging under the younger Kim.

“There’s just silence,” he said. “There’s nothing coming back.”

Julia Mason, a State Department spokeswoman, told FoxNews.com a statement that the administration is aware of the situation, and “now that Mr. Warmbier has gone through this criminal process, we urge the DPRK to pardon him and grant him special amnesty and immediate release on humanitarian grounds.”

In November, the Associated Press reported that a North Korean Foreign Ministry official met with the Swedish ambassador to talk about access to Canadian Christian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim, who was sentenced to life in prison with hard labor, according to Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The Swedish ambassador used the meeting to also talk about the Americans and was reportedly told Pyongyang treats them as war prisoners, possibly in light of U.S. sanctions on the country.

John Bolton, a Fox News contributor and the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Fox News’ Tucker Carlson that North Korea keeps a close eye on U.S. relationships around the world. It likely made note of the Obama administrations clandestine payments to Iran earlier this year which coincided with the release of four Americans held by Tehran on bogus charges.

“When Obama pays $1.7 billion in ransom for four people being held hostage in Iran, obviously the North Koreans see this as a bargaining chip as well,” he said.

Edmund DeMarche is a news editor for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @EDeMarche.

Under A Mountain Range In Virginia, An Old Nuclear Bunker Now Houses Explosive Cinematic History

 

Nov 2, 2016 George Winston

The building perched in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, designed to protect the president and $4 billion dollars in gold in case of a nuclear fallout during the Cold War, is put to new use: archiving old films with explosive properties.

A video, recently released by Great Big Story, tours the facility that houses 6.3 million items of cinematic history ranging from Adam Sandler movies to Frankenstein.

A substantial number of the films were made on nitrate film which has the same chemical footprint as gunpowder: extremely flammable and hazardous. They are kept in thick-walled vaults to not only protect the building but also other nitrate films.

Walking down a corridor takes a person past many vaults. There are 124 of them, part of the complex which is the Library of Congress’s film headquarters.

George Willeman’s job is to work with the most volatile films in the storage facility, including the nitrate-based films.

Willeman describes a nitrate fire as being similar to a controlled explosion or a rocket taking off. Willeman works with more than 140,000 films.

The center also has a room dedicated to conserving old films in various conditions from around the country discovered in basements, attics, and barns.

A large number of them have no value, but they are part of the historical record with some 100-years-old. The building also has a viewing room with 206 seats for screening films, Digital Trends reported.

The purpose of the Packard Campus is to preserve the TV, movies, and sound that help to preserve a large portion of what life was like at different time periods throughout the past, as well as how recording technology changed over the decades.

Lebanon Agrees On New Covenant To Form A New Government

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘LEBANON NEWS’)

“The Covenant” Althelatinih materialized

After a month and a half of negotiations and consultations between the political parties, the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Fouad Fleifel announced the completion of the new line-up headed by Saad Hariri from Baabda Palace. Issued on Sunday evening, December 18, 2016, three decrees relating to accepting the resignation of the government of President Tammam Salam and the designation of Hariri as Prime Minister, and the lineup of the new government. The first two decrees signed by President of the Republic, General Michel Aoun, while the third decree signed Aoun and Hariri.

The decree accepting the resignation

The broadcast decrees Fulayfel, it came in the text of the decree accepting the resignation of Tammam Salam government, which holds the number 1, as follows: “The President of the Republic, based on the Constitution, especially Section 5 of Article 53 thereof, and paragraph (d) of article 69, item one thereof, upon the resignation submitted by Prime Minister Mr. Tammam Salam, paints the following:

Article I: considered the government headed by Mr. Tammam Salam resigned.

Article Two: The decree of where needed and shall immediately upon its release. “

Baabda the president of the Republic, General Michel Aoun

Decree naming Hariri

According to the Decree No. 2 to nominate Mr. Saad Hariri as Prime Minister: “The President of the Republic, based on the Constitution, particularly Section 3 of Article 53 thereof, based on the Decree No. 1 date of December 18, 2016 included the government headed by Mr. Tammam Salam resigned considered, Decrees the following:

Article I called Mr. Saad Hariri as Prime Minister.

Article Two: The decree of where needed and shall immediately upon its release. “

Baabda, December 18, 2016

President of the Republic General Michel Aoun

Forming a government decree

The decree forming the government, which bears the number 3, the text of the following: “The President of the Republic based on the constitution, especially item 4 of Article 53 thereof, based on the Decree No. 2 of 18 December 2016 containing the designation of Mr. Saad Hariri, head of the Council of Ministers, on the proposal Prime Minister, paints the following:

Saad Hariri as Prime Minister

Ghassan Hasbani as deputy prime minister and minister of health

Marwan Hamadeh, Minister of Education

Talal Arslan, Minister for the Displaced

Ghazi Zaiter minister of agriculture

Michel Pharaon, Minister of State for Planning Affairs

Ali Qanso Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs

Ali Hassan Khalil and Minister of Finance

Mohammed Fneish and Minister of Youth and Sports

Jean Oghassabian Minister of State for Women’s Affairs

Yacoub Sarraf, Minister of National Defense

Gebran Bassil and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates

Hussein Haj Hassan, Minister of Industry

Salim Jreissati justice minister

Nihad Hanged Minister of Interior and Municipalities

Mohammed Kabbara Minister of Labour

Ayman Shakir and Minister of State for Human Rights

Jamal Jarrah and communications minister

Certain Almrobei and Minister of State for displaced

Ghattas Khoury, Minister of Culture

Pierre Raffoul and Minister of State for Aiash Republic

Nicola Tueni and Minister of State for fight against corruption

Tariq al-Khatib and Minister of the Environment

Care Izz al-Din, Minister of State for Administrative Reform

Joseph Fenianos minister Oachgal

Melhem Riachy Minister of Information

Pierre Abi Assi, Minister of Social Affairs

Ous Kadeneian Minister of Tourism

Cesar Abi Khalil and Minister of Energy and Water

Raed Khoury, Minister of Economy and Trade

According to the constitution issued a decree forming the government signed by the President and the Prime Minister, as the Constitution in its Article 64 provides that the government offer within a period of 30 days from the date of issuance of the decree forming, ministerial statement to the House of Representatives for a vote of confidence in order to direct its powers.

It is scheduled to take Minister commemorative photo with the president on Wednesday, to be followed by a session of the government headed by Aoun in Baabda Palace.

Blast at Egyptian Coptic cathedral kills at least 25

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Blast at Egyptian Coptic cathedral kills at least 25

December 11 at 4:04 PM
A bomb ripped through Cairo’s Coptic cathedral complex during Sunday Mass, killing at least 25 people and injuring 49, and delivering the bloodiest attack on Egypt’s Christian minority in recent years, according to Egyptian officials and Christian community leaders.The explosion unfolded inside St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral at the 100-year-old Botrosiya Church, also known as the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, shortly after the 200 or so worshipers had stopped reading Bible verses and the priest was getting to ready to start his sermon, witnesses said.About 9:45 a.m., “everything turned black suddenly,” Qelliny Farag said.

As of Sunday evening, there had been no claims of responsibility. But suspicion immediately fell on Islamist extremists, including Egypt’s Islamic State branch, who have staged numerous attacks across the country this year targeting soldiers, police and government officials. Sunday’s carnage came less than 48 hours after a bomb killed six police officers and injured an additional three on a road leading to Egypt’s famed Great Pyramids complex.

The bombing came on a public holiday here, commemorating the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.

Coptic Christians gather at site of blast that killed 25 in Cairo

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Voicing anger toward the police and Egyptian government, Coptic Christians demonstrate outside the Coptic cathedral complex in Cairo where an explosion killed at least 25 and injured 49 on Dec. 11. (Heba Mahfouz / The Washington Post)

Although that is a Muslim celebration, the church was filled with more than the usual number of congregants taking advantage of the day off.

When the bomb detonated, Farag, 80, was seated on the left side of the church. His wife, Samiha Tawfik, was on the right side, along with the other female congregants.

“I could not see anything,” Farag said. “We were all in shock, covered in dust, running through corpses that got thrown by the intensity of the blast.”

Unable to breathe from the dust, his head pounding, he stumbled around the pews. Soon, he began to see, and understand, what had happened.

“A minute passed by and I started to see flesh scattered everywhere around us,” he said. “Even the ceiling had collapsed.”

He couldn’t find his wife.

Pattern of violence

Egypt’s Orthodox Coptic Christian community, which makes up 10 percent of the population, has long felt discrimination at the hands of the country’s Muslims, as well as successive secular but authoritarian regimes. Attacks on Christians have intensified since the 2011 populist revolt that ousted President Hosni Mubarak. At least 26 sectarian assaults have targeted the community this year alone, according to human rights activists.

Sunday’s bombing was the gravest sectarian attack on Christians in recent years. The cathedral complex houses the headquarters of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, as well as the home of its leader, Pope Tawadros II.

Over the past six years, numerous attacks on Christians have left scores dead. On Jan. 1, 2011, the Church of Saints Mark and Peter in the northern city of Alexandria was bombed, killing 23 people as they left the New Year’s Day service. Ten months later, Egypt’s security forces killed 28 Christians protesting the demolition of a church, claiming the protesters first attacked them.

In 2013, Christians were targeted in a spate of attacks after Egypt’s elected Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted in a military coup.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former general who led the coup, condemned Sunday’s attack and declared three days of mourning.

“Vicious terrorism is being waged against the country’s Copts and Muslims,” he was quoted as saying on local television networks. “Egypt will emerge stronger and more united from this situation.”

In Washington, the State Department said that the “United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today on Christian worshipers outside St. Mark’s Cathedral.” In New York, the U.N. Security Council likewise condemned “the heinous and cowardly terrorist attack.”

Analysts focusing on Egypt’s religious divides said the government has made previous promises to apprehend the perpetrators of hate crimes. But it has shown few results.

“Sectarian tensions in Egypt is ongoing and this attack, although shocking in its scope, is not an aberration,” said Amira Mikhail, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “Despite the shift in public rhetoric by President Sisi in which he has called for religious reform and has visited the cathedral on several occasions, little has been done to actually change the institutionalized sectarianism in the government and the continued violence perpetrated by nonstate actors.”

Some reports on local television networks suggested that a bomb was concealed inside a handbag in a section of the church designated for female worshipers. A large proportion of the victims were women, according to local reports.

Senior Egyptian officials, including the prime minister and interior minister, arrived at the church shortly after the attack. They were greeted by a small group of angry protesters who railed against the continual attacks on Christians, as well as security forces’ failure to stop the attacks.

“The police are thugs,” some in the crowd chanted.

“The people demand the removal of the regime,” others shouted.

Farag and other witnesses said they noticed no police or guards at the entrance to the church, although there is typically a heavy security presence at the cathedral to provide protection for the pope.

A frantic search

At El-Demerdash Hospital, where most of the victims were taken, doctors said the bulk of the casualties were women and children, most suffering from lacerations.

Farag, too, was there. He was searching for his wife.

“I asked everywhere, there is no trace of her,” he said, his face masked with anguish. “I think she was blown away to pieces and they cannot even find her corpse.”

Eyes filling with tears, he recalled how he had told his wife that he was tired and asked her if they could skip the service.

“But she told me not to give in to my weakness, and insisted we go to the mass today,” he said Farag, as he sat with other family members.

Nearby, Muslims and Christians gathered, some to donate blood, others to comfort their loved ones and check on the injured.

In a wheelchair near the hospital entrance, 65-year-old Tahany Gobraiel was one of the fortunate ones. She had attended the Mass with her daughter and a cousin, Suad Atta.

“Only two benches separated me from my cousin Suad,” ­Gobraiel said. “She was in the front bench near the altar, and I was seated two benches behind her. She died, while my daughter and I were only injured.”

Atta, also 65, had insisted on attending the Mass to commemorate her late husband. Sunday marked one year since his death.

As darkness enveloped the city, nearly eight hours after the bombing, Farag finally found his wife. She was in the intensive care unit of the hospital, battling for her life.

Carol Morello in Washington contributed to this report.

South Korea Impeaches President Geun-hve

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME MAGAZINE NEWS)

SOUTH KOREA

South Korea’s Loathed President Park Geun-hye Has Been Impeached

A recent opinion survey showed 78% of respondents supported her impeachment

South Korean President Impeached
Following six weeks of street protests and an approval rating that plunged to just 4%, South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached Friday by the nation’s National Assembly.

Following six weeks of street protests and an approval rating that plunged to just 4%, South Korean President Park Geun-hye was impeached Friday by the nation’s National Assembly, signaling an ignominious end to a term that had become mired in a corruption scandal.

The impeachment vote required at least 28 of Park’s fellow Saenuri Party lawmakers to cross the aisle to make up the majority two-thirds of the 300-seat legislature. The final vote was 234 to 56 in favor of impeachment. Park is suspended with immediate effect although the vote needs to be ratified by the nation’s Constitutional Court within 180 days to become permanent.

The nation’s Prime Minister takes over Park’s responsibilities in the interim, though Park had already offered to resign if lawmakers voted against her. If she does, new elections must be held within 60 days. Crowds of banner-waving protesters greeted the verdict with cheers outside the chamber.

“President Park Geun-hye has not only forgotten her duty as the nation‘s leader and administrative chief but also violated the constitution and other laws concerning her public duties,” said opposition lawmaker Kim Kwan-young while presenting the impeachment bill.

Park is the 64-year-old daughter of former South Korean military dictator Park Chung-hee, who is credited with spearheading the East Asian nation’s rapid economic growth of the 1970s and ’80s. She is accused of sharing classified documents with her longtime confidante, Choi Soon-sil.

Read More: Huge Numbers Demand the Ouster of South Korea’s President in a Fifth Week of Protests

Choi, the daughter of the shaman-like cult leader who grew close to Park and her strongman father, has been charged with using her influence over Park to wrest almost $70 million from some of South Korea’s biggest companies, including LG, Hyundai and Samsung.

Crowds between 500,000 to 1.5 million have thronged central Seoul in recent weeks to demand Park’s ouster. Protesters see the corruption scandal as symptomatic of wider problems in South Korean society, including soaring income inequality, ingrained sexism and a lack of social mobility.

Park has yet to resign or formally comment on her impeachment and has not been seen in public since Tuesday, instead ensconced herself in the presidential Blue House despite the roiling demonstrations less than a mile away. “She really has been very tone-deaf to what the people want,” says Professor Sean O’Malley, a political scientist at South Korea’s Dongseo University.

As President, Park is constitutionally protected from prosecution other than for insurrection or treason, though prosecutors say she had a “considerable” role in Choi’s alleged transgressions. There are widespread calls for criminal charges against Park once she leaves office. Park has apologized for the scandal three times but insists nothing she did was for personal gain.

Read More: South Korea’s Familial Presidential Family Scandal

“My heart is crushed when I think I cannot resolve the deep disappointment and anger of the people even if I apologize 100 times,” she said in one tearful televised statement.

South Korea now faces a damaging period of political limbo. Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn is deeply unpopular among the opposition and protesters, who see him as too close to Park’s scandal-hit administration. The lack of clear leadership has consequences for regional security, with Seoul a vital ally to Washington’s efforts to curb the nuclear ambitions of rogue state North Korea.

However, O’Malley says there are signs the Choi scandal has had the positive effect of empowering the national prosecutors’ office. “I’m hopeful that they will be more aggressive in pursuing political corruption cases in the future,” he says, adding that the saga “may strengthen the legal system in the long run.”

How Will Iran’s Ali Khamenei And President Donald Trump Deal With Each Other?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST/WORLD POST)

How Will Khamenei And Trump Deal With Each Other?

12/02/2016 09:44 am ET

During his campaign for presidency and afterwards, President-Elect Donald Trump has expressed his opposition to military intervention in other countries, as well as nation building such as, for example, what happened in Afghanistan. On January 20 Trump will begin his term as the president. He believes that the main threat in the Middle East is the Daesh (also known as the ISIS or ISIL), not the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and that in order to destroy Daesh, his administration will be willing to work with Russia and other nations. The Guardian recently reported that Donald Trump, Jr., recently met in Paris with Randa Kassis, a pro-Syrian government activist who believes that the war in Syria can be ended through cooperation between the U.S., Russia and the Syrian Government. Trump also met with Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D. Hawaii) who is strongly against U.S. intervention in Syria.

But, although Iran has been fighting the Daesh fiercely, both in Syria and in Iraq, Trump has taken a hard-line toward that country, with members of the national security team that he has picked so far all being strongly anti-Iran.

On the other hand, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei missed a golden opportunity to resolve most, if not all, issues between Iran and the United States with the Obama administration, and to re-establish diplomatic relations between the two countries. Thus, he now has to wait to see what policy the incoming Trump administration will take toward Iran.

Khamenei’s strong suspicion of the United States

Iran’s recent history was reset when the CIA coup of 1953 in Iran that toppled the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, and contributed to Iran’s intellectuals’ opposition to both the United States and the regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This anti-American third-world discourse was born in that era, and a tall and strong wall of distrust and suspicion was built between the two countries with the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981, and the Iran-Iraq of 1980-1988 during which the United States supported Iraq.

President Obama wanted to pursue diplomatic negotiations with Iran to resolve the issues between the two nations but, aside from the nuclear negotiations, Khamenei’s strong suspicion about the U.S. intentions and his claim that the U.S. is interested only in deceiving Iran prevented a diplomatic breakthrough. In a speech on 20 October Khamenei said,

“When the Americans get together with our officials, they complain about my suspicion about the U.S. Well, should I be optimistic? Can one trust you [the U.S.], given the situation that you have created [in the Middle East]?” To back up his claim he recalled that Secretary of State John Kerry had said that so long as Iran supports the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, the American sanctions against Iran will not end. Khamenei also said, “In my private and public meetings with the officials I have always repeated that our problems with the U.S. will not be resolved if we retreat from our position regarding Iran’s nuclear program, because then they [the U.S.] will ask us about our long-range missiles. After that they will ask about our support for Hezbollah and Hamas. They will then pressure us to support human rights the way they do. If you back down about all of these and accept what they demand, the U.S. will ask why our religion is mixed with our government. They [may even] ask us why Iran is such a large country with a large population. The Americans will never let us alone.”


Trump “Confirms” Khamenei’s Pessimism about the U.S.

In another speech on November 3 Khamenei said,

“I want to correct two mistakes today. The Americans created two erroneous claims and then propagated them among Iranians through their organizations and those Iranians that are linked to the CIA – the same people ‘who feel the scent of the pleasures of this world; who regret their [revolutionary] past, and those who have run out of breath [and can no longer continue on the revolutionary path]’. Imam Khomeini said “scream all you can at the U.S.” The first erroneous claim by the pro-U.S. Iranians is that they say that this [what Khomeini suggested] is not rational, and is only due to fanaticism and pride. The second mistake, which is even more dangerous than the first one, is that they [the same Iranians] claim that having [diplomatic] relations with the U.S. will solve all of all problems. One can counter their argument with 10-15 reasons to show that, not only will compromise with the U.S. not solve our problems, but it will also worsen them. A good example is the nuclear agreement [with P5+1]. Through lies, bad faith, and deception U.S. has not ended its sanctions against Iran, and [in fact] it has strengthened them.”

Khamenei then said that the U.S. cannot solve its own problems and, therefore, cannot be expected to solve Iran’s problems. He then recalled the presidential debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton and said,

“Did you watch the debates? Did you see the facts they [the candidates] talked about. Did you hear them? Americans themselves made the revelations. The things that we have been saying [about the problems that the U.S. is facing], and much more, which many people did not believe, were revealed by them [Trump and Clinton]. The interesting thing is that the candidate who expressed them more bluntly [Trump] also received more attention. Because that man spoke more clearly, more bluntly, he received more attention. The other side [Clinton] said that this is populism, it is demagogic. Why is it demagogic? The [American] people listened to him [Trump] and realized that he was right; they had experienced those facts [expressed by Trump] in their own lives. Human rights and dignity have been destroyed in that country [U.S.]. There is racism. Just a few days ago the same man [Trump] said that if you are people of color, if you are black or red [American-Indian] and are walking in streets of New York, Chicago, Washington, California, or elsewhere, you cannot be sure that you will be alive even for a few more minutes. You see, this was said by someone who may go to the White House as the next President of the United States to run that country. This is American racism. He [Trump] also spoke about poverty in the United States. He said that 44 million people go hungry every day in the U.S. He declared, as have others, that less than 1 percent of the Americans owe more than 90 percent of the wealth. Human values have been destroyed there. Discrimination, deep [economic] gaps, rift among people, racism, and violation of human rights [all exist in the U.S.]….. What the two respected candidates for the Presidency of the United States, one of whom will be the next President, are saying is not baseless. They both are bad, but together they are making revelations that may destroy the United States, and they have succeeded.”

Khamenei then explained that when people shout “death to America” and “scream as much as you can at America,” they mean death to racism, discrimination and violation of human rights.

Khamenei has been warning about two issues. One is U.S. “penetrating” and gaining “influence” in the main centers of decision-making in the Islamic Republic, while the second one is what he calls the danger of senior officials becoming “infatuated” by the United States. In a speech on 17 November Khamenei claimed that some senior Iranian officials are attracted to the U.S., but he believes that the U.S. has nothing attractive to offer. “You saw that the same criticisms that I have been levelling at them [the U.S.] were brought up by Trump,” Khamenei said, adding,

“In these [American] elections several of the most prominent political figures talked about issues that we had also talked about, and said much more. The new President of the United States says that if we had spent the funds that we spent on wars here in the United Stated, we could have rebuilt the country twice over, and fixed all the roads, bridges, and cities, and we would not have had poverty in the United States. Those that are infatuated with an illusion [the U.S.], can they understand this? There is so much failure and destruction [in the U.S.] and they spend all that money on dishonorable wars. Were those wars honorable?”

Khamenei then pointed out that a defensive war against the enemy, while respecting humane laws of war, is honorable. But, he believes that “the U.S. wars of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen that have murdered tens of thousands of civilian people, particularly women and children, are dishonorable.” He then asked in the same speech, “Why does Iranian elite not have the political wisdom [to understand this] and admit them?”


Not Pre-judging Trump, but Threatening to Retaliate if He Violates the Nuclear Accord

In his speech of 17 November Khamenei said that he does not want to prejudge Trump, but “we are ready for anything.” A week later on 24 November he repeated that he does not want to prejudge Trump, because [as a Persian proverb goes] “this watermelon has not been cut yet.” But, he claimed that the Obama administration did not deliver on its promises and obligations toward the nuclear agreement, but that, “The U.S. Congress renewed the U.S. sanctions against Iran for another 10 years, which is a violation of the nuclear agreement,” adding, “If the [Congress-approved] sanctions become law, it will definitely violate the nuclear agreement, and they should know that the Islamic Republic of Iran will react to it.” He then added that the U.S. has used the nuclear agreement as a tool to pressure Iran. President Hassan Rouhani had promised that the sanctions will be lifted if a nuclear agreement is reached, but, “The nuclear compromise has been used against Iran,” Khamenei said, adding, “If the Congress-approved sanctions are also approved by the Senate and become law, it will imply that the United States has violated the nuclear agreement, and the deal with P5+1 will become one with P4+1, as the United States has effectively left the agreement behind.”

Trump and Iran

Although Trump has professed his opposition to many wars multiple times, his national security team has three characteristics:

One, some of them are close to the Tea Party and the Evangelical Christians. Mike Pompeo, who is to be Director of the CIA, said in 2014, “This threat to America” is from a minority of Muslims “who deeply believe that Islam is the way and the light and the only answer. They abhor Christians, and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”

Two, they are strongly linked with the pro-Israel right wingers. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was Secretary of States, and a strong critic of the U.S. policy toward the Middle East, said recently that if the U.S. moves its embassy to Jerusalem [as Trump has promised], a war with Iran will become more likely.

Three, they have strong connections with the military-industrial complex and many private security and intelligence firms. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, has an intelligence consulting and lobbying firm. He is strongly anti-Iranand has claimed repeatedly that Iran is more dangerous than Daesh. He has also said that Islam is like a “cancer” that “has to be excised from every Muslim.” Interestingly, since Trump electoral victory, the value of the stocks of military firms has gone up dramatically.

Given these facts, and Trump’s lack of experience, there is considerable concern about his foreign policy. But, the situation for Iran is more critical. Marine General James Mattis, who is said to be the leading candidate for running the Pentagon, has claimed that Iran uses Daesh to expand its influence. The leading candidates for Secretary of State – Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton and Mitt Romney, are all strongly anti-Iran, and have called for “regime change” in Iran. In 2015 Giuliani called for bombing of Iran.

If during his first few months in office Trump takes on an aggressive posture toward Iran, it will hurt the re-election chances of Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the elections for which will be in early June 2017. IN that case, hardliners may defeat Rouhani in the elections. Khamenei and the military hardliners have been constantly reminding Rouhani that the nuclear agreement with P5+1 has had no fruits for Iran, other than forcing it to retreat from its positions. Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, said on 26 November that, “[Although] there is no longer any sanctions against selling oil, we still have not received the proceeds from our previous sales. Senior officials had predicted that we would receive them between February and September, but that has not happened yet.” In a speech on 27 November Khamenei criticized the Rouhani administration for the nuclear negotiations “that was done in haste,” allowing the U.S. to gain some influence. He emphasized again that the renewal of the ten-year sanctions by Congress will be a violation of the nuclear accord.

What is Trump’s policy toward Iran? Will he try to resolve the issues between the U.S. and Iran through diplomacy, or will he follow those who present a demonic image of Iran? Wil he eliminate all those who favor negotiations with Iran, and empower those who want war with that nation?

To have peace and democracy, there is no way other than negotiations. U.S. wars in the Middle East have resulted in destruction of several nations, killing of hundreds of thousands of people, and the growth of terrorist groups, not to mention its financial cost that has so far been $3 – 4 billion. It is time for diplomacy in the Middle East. Without peace and security there can never be any democracy, respect for human rights, and economic developments; they will all be marginalized. Any thinking person knows that there are deep differences between an Iran that can make a transition to democracy and respect for human rights, and an Iran that can be transformed to another Syria.

This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei

Magnitude 7 offshore quake shakes Central America, no damage seen

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Magnitude 7 offshore quake shakes Central America, no damage seen

By Nelson Renteria | SAN SALVADOR

A strong earthquake off the Pacific Coast of Central America shook the region on Thursday just as a hurricane barreled into the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, but there were no immediate reports of any quake damage.

Emergency services in El Salvador said on Twitter it had received no reports of damage at a national level, but urged those living along the country’s Pacific coast to withdraw up to 1 kilometer (0.62 mile) away from the shore.

The 7.0 magnitude quake, initially reported as a magnitude 7.2, was very shallow at 10.3 kilometers (6.4 miles) below the seabed, which would have amplified its effect.

Its epicenter was located some 149 km (93 miles) south-southwest of Puerto Triunfo in El Salvador, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center warned that tsunami waves of up to 1 meter (3 feet) could hit the Pacific coasts of Nicaragua and El Salvador after the quake, but later said that available data showed the threat had passed.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega declared a state of emergency due to the quake and Hurricane Otto, which landed on the country’s southeastern coast earlier on Thursday, his spokeswoman said.

“We were serving lunch to the lawmakers and the earthquake started and we felt that it was very strong,” said Jacqueline Najarro, a 38-year-old food seller at the Congress in San Salvador. “We were scared.”

(Additional reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala, Gustavo Palencia in Honduras and Ivan Castro in Nicaragua; Writing by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by Sandra Maler and Simon Gardner)

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