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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan


Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

Posted: 25 May 2014 10:35 AM PDT

President Barack Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday, his first visit to Afghanistan in two years and his fourth trip as president overall.

During the visit, Obama was due to speak to troops, make a visit to a base hospital and meet with military officials to discuss troop presence in Afghanistan as the country’s longest war comes to a close. Country singer Brad Paisley flew with Obama on Air Force One to perform for the troops.

“I was in the neighborhood, thought I’d stop by,” Obama said. “I’m here on a single mission and that’s to say thank you for your extraordinary service … I’m also here representing 300 million Americans who want to say thank you as well.”

The president called it a “pivotal moment” for the war in Afghanistan, with U.S. forces preparing to end their combat role by the end of the year as Afghan forces take the lead in securing the country’s safety. “By the end of this year the transition will be complete… and our combat mission will be over,” said Obama, to some of the loudest applause of the speech. “America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.”

He ended his remarks with a promise to shake every hand in the room. “Though I may not be able to take a selfie with everybody,” he added.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the Obama administration felt the Memorial Day-weekend trip was “an opportunity for the president to thank American troops and civilians for their service.”

There are no meetings scheduled with Afghanistan’s outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, or either of the leading candidates in the country’s ongoing presidential election.

The visit comes as the Obama administration is withdrawing most U.S. troops in the region, though it hopes to keep a small troop presence in the country after the year’s end. Afghanistan’s two run-off presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, have both said they would support an agreement allowing some U.S. soldiers to stay.

WATCH: Elliot Rodger Videotaped a Chilling Hate Manifesto

Posted: 25 May 2014 10:23 AM PDT

Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old suspected of killing seven people including himself near the UCSB campus, spoke in a YouTube video about his plans shortly before a shooting spree that occurred on Friday.
According to authorities, Rodger was driven by a deep hatred for humanity, in particular for women who had rejected him. In the video that he created, Rodger described his hatred for the women of a local sorority who in his opinion had left him a virgin.
“Tomorrow is the day of retribution for the last 8 years of my life, ever since I’ve hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure and existence of loneliness, rejection, and unfulfilled desires…I don’t know why you girls are not attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it,” Roger said in his video.
YouTube has since removed the video, entitled "Elliot Rodger's Retribution."

2 Jewish Youth Attacked Near Paris-Area Synagogue

Posted: 25 May 2014 10:11 AM PDT

PARIS (AP) — Two Jewish brothers dressed in “traditional” clothes were attacked near a synagogue in the Paris area, French officials and Jewish leaders said Sunday. The assault came hours after a deadly shooting spree Saturday at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

Interior Minister Bernard Caseneuve ordered police around France to increase security at Jewish houses of worship and other Jewish establishments, according to a statement.

The young men were attacked by two others near the synagogue in Creteil, a southeast Paris suburb, on Saturday evening, according to Albert Elharrar, president of the Jewish Community of Creteil. One of them was severely injured after being struck in the eye with brass knuckles, and was expected to remain hospitalized for 10 days, Elharrar told BFM-TV.

The Interior Ministry had said earlier the young men were leaving the synagogue when they were attacked.

The attack followed a shooting spree at the Jewish Museum of Brussels that left three people dead, an Israeli couple and a French woman, and a fourth seriously injured. Belgian police were seeking the attacker, thought to have acted alone.

French President Francois Hollande offered his solidarity to neighboring Belgium, and vowed that the perpetrators of the Creteil attack would be caught.

Pope Francis Draws Shrinking Christian Flock in Holy Land

Posted: 25 May 2014 09:54 AM PDT

As much as the half-empty soccer stadium where Pope Francis gave a Mass in Jordan on Saturday, the Sunday morning scene at Bethlehem's Manger Square spoke volumes about the declining population of Christians in the very place the faith was born.

Unlike the scene in Amman, where half of the seats in a 30,000-seat stadium went unfilled, there were no empty spaces in the plaza–some 9,000 congregants turned out in front the Church of the Nativity, built above the cave where the baby Jesus was said to have been laid in a manger.

But relatively few in the crowd were themselves born in the Holy Land. Laced heavily among the hardy native Palestinian Catholics were guest workers from India and the Philippines working in Israel, asylum seekers from Sudan, American tourists, pilgrims from Ghana, and a smattering of Palestinian Christians from other denominations.

Christians account for only about 1.5 percent of the West Bank's 2.5 million population, and a similar proportion of Israel, where every fifth citizen is Palestinian. Historically, according to Hanna A. Amirah, head of the Higher Presidential Committee of Churches in the Palestinian Authority, Christians accounted for every tenth resident in the region.

"We are few," said Layla Zaid, sitting with her sister Nadia in the shade of the gift shop arcade off the square as Pope Francis entered. Greek Orthodox both, they had traveled by bus from the West Bank city of Ramallah with 150 others, including Romanian Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics. "No problem," Nadia says. "It's for Christians."

But there are fewer and fewer of them. Bethlehem itself is mostly Muslim today, the Christian population dwindling to perhaps 15 percent of the district.In the Gaza Strip, the Christian population is down to an estimated 1,250 in a population of 1.7 million. Half of them got permits from Israel to travel to the West Bank, and about 50 were clustered in Manger Square, holding a homemade sign reading: "With Great Love & Happiness GAZA Receives our Pope"

"Most of the Christians leave Gaza," says Hanady Missak, deputy director of the Rosary Sisters School, a Christian private school of 850 students, only 78 of whom are Christian. The balance are Muslim. "They sell their houses and their lands and go to the United States or Australia or Canada." The exodus accelerated after Hamas came to power in 2007, when Gaza had nearly three times as many Christians. But the man standing next to her, Suleiman Hana, had a similar story from the West Bank city of Nablus: Only 650 Christians remain, he says, including just three Catholic families.

Under such dire circumstances, the natives say they very much welcome the Filipino and Indian guest workers, many of whom share their faith. “One God for all,” says Hana. Israel admits the foreigners, if only for a few years, to do jobs that Israelis will not, mostly cleaning and caring for the elderly and disabled. Most are Catholic, and in some parts of the country they vastly outnumber their native Palestinian counterparts. The allotment of tickets for the Manger Square mass by the priests at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Jaffa tells the story: Arab members of the church got 100 tickets, Indian members 120 and Filipinos 250. Another 60 were divided between members from Sri Lanka and Sudan.

The guest workers say they are surprised to find Christians such a small minority in the Holy Land. "Sometimes this is strange," says Teresa Paglinawen, who hails from the Philippines. "Sometimes they don't understand us, how we like this place, its importance for us. We are foreigners working here so sometimes they cannot accept us, our religion and our faith."

Who are "they"?

"Everyone – Jews, Muslims," replies Ruby Tiongson, a fellow Filipina, joining the conversation.

"We are not angry, because it is their place," says Paglinawen. "We rely on visiting here and working here. But they need to understand also, because this place has a holiness. Our savior was born here."

Norwegian Artist Eats His Own Hip and Says It Was Delicious

Posted: 25 May 2014 09:44 AM PDT

Adding a whole new meaning to the word “hipster,” a Norwegian conceptual artist has eaten his own hip on “a whim” and said it tasted like “wild sheep.”

25-year-old Alexander Selvik Wengshoel was born with a deformed hip that was replaced just a few years ago after he spent much of his life on crutches or in a wheelchair, Norway’s The Local reports.

The bone, and the video footage of his hip replacement operation, are now on display in his graduate show exhibition at Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art, where he revealed the story behind his project.

“I had to boil off the meat to get to the bone, and when I started scraping off the meat, I took a little piece and thought, ‘Why not do it?’” he told The Local. “It’s not every day I will have a piece of human flesh which is mine and which it is possible to eat. So I had a little taste, and then I thought, ‘That’s really nice.’”

Wengshoel washed down his meal of hip bone and potato gratin with a glass of wine while his girlfriend was at work. Although there was little meat on the bone, it was enough to make an appetizer, he said. “It had this flavour of wild sheep, if you take a sheep that goes in the mountains and eats mushrooms. It was goaty.”

[The Local]

Pope Makes Mideast Leaders a Peace Offer They Couldn’t Refuse

Posted: 25 May 2014 09:32 AM PDT

By inviting the president of Israel and the head of the Palestinian Authority to his Vatican home for a "prayer for peace," Pope Francis picks up where Secretary of State John Kerry left off—using moral suasion to bring the two famously recalcitrant sides together in the same room. But in this case, Francis is leaving out the Israeli leader who matters most.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as head of government, is the key decision-maker in any peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Yet the Pope's invitation from a Bethlehem mass on Sunday was extended not to Netanyahu but to Shimon Peres, the famously dovish 90-year-old statesman whose seven-year term in the largely symbolic office of president expires in two months.

Peres readily accepted the Pope's invitation to travel to the Vatican for "a heartfelt prayer to God for the gift of peace," as Francis put it. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said a quick yes, too. That puts together in a room two men of peace who routinely voice the need for a two-state solution to the as-yet-intractable conflict–and who, according to contemporaneous news reports, met discreetly several times in 2011.

As Peres tells it, he and Abbas came within a whisker of fashioning an agreement that would have resolved the matter by agreeing on the terms for fashioning a state called "Palestine" beside Israel.

But Netanyahu forbad Peres from closing the deal, according to Peres, who recounted the tortured history earlier this month to an Israeli television station, shortly after the apparent collapse of the Kerry negotiations.

And while there is nothing at all wrong with prayer, least of all for peace, the Pope's invitation truly was one that neither side could refuse. The Israelis and Palestinians have been talking so long about peace – 20 years now, since the breakthrough known as the Oslo Accords that introduced then then-exciting idea of sitting down face-to-face with the enemy – that to be seen rejecting talks is to be viewed as the villain.

Both sides have strong incentives to be perceived as inclined toward an agreement, and both sides have strong incentives to avoid the particulars required to produce one. Which is why an invitation to keep things as vague as praying for peace is something of a godsend, especially coming from the most charismatic religious figure in the world. Where's the downside in that?

None that's apparent. But only a fool would rule out this Pope. After barely a year in office, the Argentine Francis has shown himself nothing if not a man of this world, shrewd, and deeply committed to challenging the status quo. It was en route through Bethlehem to the mass where he delivered his seemingly airy invitation that Francis made his unscheduled, quietly thrilling stop at the Separation Barrier. He prayed in silence, and briefly touched his head against the gritty concrete, possibly the way a ram does, in warning.

 

Why Mass Killers Are Always Male

Posted: 25 May 2014 09:12 AM PDT

There are no absolute certainties when it comes to mass killers, but a few things come close. Someone will use the term “disaffected youth” to describe the perpetrator. Somewhere there will be a diary—either Tweets, blogs, YouTube videos or scrawled musings in a lined notebook. And the murderer will—with more than a 98% certainty—be male.

That was the case again on Friday as Elliott Rodger, a 22-year-old student at Santa Barbara City College, killed six people and wounded 13 others in a stabbing and shooting spree, before taking his own life. If you say that you were surprised that his name was Elliott and not, say, Ellen, you either haven’t been paying attention or you’re playing at political correctness. But the fact remains: it’s almost always boys who go bad. The question is, Why?

There is no shortage of explanations for the overwhelming maleness of the monster population. Some of the answers reveal a lot—and yet nothing at all. Testosterone fuels aggression. Stipulated. Boys take longer to mature than girls. Stipulated. And like the forebrains of young females, those of young males are not fully myelinated until the late 20s or even early 30s. The forebrain is where executive functions—impulse control, reflection, awareness of consequences—live. In the case of males, who are already trip-wired for aggression, that provides a lot of years to behave badly.

There are, too, the social factors: violent video games, a culture of physical aggression fueled by contact sports and the general tendency of all societies to turn their men into hunters and warriors, putting those jobs off-limits to women or at least making them optional.

But there’s more, and a lot of it has to do with status. Males, for better or worse, are ferociously protective of their position in any tribe, community, or society, and any threat to that position goes to the core of their identity and self-esteem. It’s a common observation in times of recession that while loss of a job is miserable for both genders, it’s the males who are likelier to become completely undone by it. Without the role of worker and money-earner, men feel hollowed-out, and that too often calls for revenge. it’s not for nothing that the victims in workplace shootings are often managers who just the month before demoted or sacked the shooter.

As Candice Batton, director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, told NPR in the wake of the 2013 Washington Navy Yard shootings:

“Some research supports the idea that males are more likely than females to develop negative attributions of blame that are external in nature, that is: ‘The cause … of my problems is someone else or some force outside of me’. And this translates into anger and hostility toward others.”

[Women], on the other hand, “are more likely to develop negative attributions of blame that are internal in nature, that is: ‘The cause of my problems is some failing of my own: I didn’t try hard enough, I’m not good enough.”

This is also the reason that when women do kill—and they do—it’s typically in a more intimate way, such as by drowning or suffocating. Men tend to go wild, spraying a room with gunfire and the world be damned. That, of course, also increases the male killer’s body count.

Rodger, dead now, his work done now, fits so much of this ugly profile. He did leave a diary—in his case YouTube videos—and his rants bare his resentments toward the women who never found him attractive enough, as primal a kind of status loss as can possibly be imagined.

He now joins the dark gallery of men and boys who have gone before him—each of them less important than the previous ones, since their crimes become so tragically familiar. If there is any bitter satisfaction to take from that, it’s that in their very attempt to be remarkable in some way, mass killers instead achieve a sort of homicidal banality, the anonymity they dreaded in life following them into death.

Obama Slips Into Afghanistan to Visit US Troops

Posted: 25 May 2014 09:10 AM PDT

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) — President Barack Obama secretly slipped into Afghanistan under the cover of darkness Sunday for a weekend visit with U.S. troops serving in the closing months of America’s longest war.

Air Force One landed at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, after an overnight flight from Washington. Obama was scheduled to spend just a few hours on the base and had no plans to travel to Kabul, the capital, to meet with Hamid Karzai, the mercurial president who has had a tumultuous relationship with the White House.

Obama’s surprise trip comes as the U.S. and NATO withdraw most of their forces ahead of a year-end deadline. Obama is seeking to keep a small number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to train Afghan security forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. But that plan is contingent on Karzai’s successor signing a bilateral security agreement that Karzai has refused to authorize.

Obama’s visit also was taking place against the backdrop of growing outrage in the United States over the treatment of America’s war veterans. More than two dozen veterans’ hospitals across America are under investigation over allegations of treatment delays and deaths, putting greater scrutiny on the Department of Veterans Affairs. The agency already was struggling to keep up with the influx of forces returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.

At least 2,181 members of the U.S. military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war and thousands more have been wounded. There are still about 32,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, down from a high of 100,000 in mid-2010, when as Obama sent in additional soldiers to quell escalating violence.

This was Obama’s fourth visit to Afghanistan as president, but his first since winning re-election in 2012.

He was expected to be briefed by U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, speak to troops at Bagram and visit injured troops being treated at a base hospital.

As is typical of recent presidential trips to war zones, the White House did not announce Obama’s visit in advance. Media traveling with Obama for the 13-hour flight had to agree to keep the trip secret until the president arrived at the air base.

Obama has staked much of his foreign policy philosophy on ending the two wars he inherited from his predecessor, George W. Bush.

The final American troops withdrew from Iraq in the closing days of 2011 after the U.S. and Iraq failed to reach a security agreement to keep a small American residual force in the country. In the years that have followed the American withdrawal, Iraq has been battered by resurgent waves of violence.

U.S. officials say they’re trying to avoid a similar scenario in Afghanistan. While combat forces are due to depart at the end of this year, Obama administration officials have pressed to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to continue training the Afghan security forces and undertake counterterrorism missions.

Pentagon officials have pushed for as many as 10,000 troops; others in the administration favor as few as 5,000 troops. Obama has insisted he will not keep any Americans in Afghanistan without a signed security agreement that would grant those forces immunity from Afghan law.

U.S. officials had hoped plans a post-2014 force would be well underway by this point. But Karzai stunned U.S. officials this year by saying he would not sign the security agreement even though he helped negotiate the terms. The move signaled that Karzai does not want his legacy to include a commitment to allow the deployment of international troops in his country any longer.

Karzai’s decision compounded his already tense relationship with officials in Washington who have grown increasingly frustrated by his anti-American rhetoric and decision to release prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials. Obama and Karzai have spoken just once in the past year.

By skipping a meeting with Karzai while in Afghanistan, Obama is signaling that the White House already has discounted the Afghan president as a worthwhile partner.

Karzai, the only president Afghans have known since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to topple the Taliban’s Islamic rule, was constitutionally barred from running for a third term this year. An election to choose his successor was held this month, with the top two candidates advancing to a June runoff.

Both of those candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, have promised a fresh start with the West and pledged to move ahead with the security pact with the United States.

Photos: The Pope’s Historic Holy Land Visit

Posted: 25 May 2014 09:10 AM PDT

Pope Francis Visits The Holy Land

Posted: 25 May 2014 08:56 AM PDT

The Pope landed in Bethlehem Sunday after spending a day in Jordan, and was already creating headlines after only hours on the ground.

Pope Francis issued a very public invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to pray together at the Vatican — which both accepted.

And he also made an unscheduled stop to pray at the wall dividing Bethlehem from Israel, in a symbolic gesture at peace.

Francis was due to land in Jerusalem on the next stage of his trip on Sunday.

 

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