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Monthly Archives: July 2016

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Analysis: With Obama, the Personal Is Presidential

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)  —-   We always knew he could keep his head when others were losing theirs and blaming him, knew it from the 2008 financial crisis and on to the hard, lasting words he spoke at Tuesday’s memorial for the slain police officers in Dallas.

What we didn’t know, what could not be predicted of one so young and new to the impossible task of living round-the-clock under the glare of the entire world, was how Barack Obama would hold up as a father, a husband, a man.

No matter what you think of Obama the executive branch, it’s hard to argue that Obama the human being has been anything less than a model of class and dignity. If, as was often said about black pioneers in sports, you had to be twice as good to succeed, Obama’s personal behavior has set a standard few presidents have ever reached.

You see him singing happy birthday to his daughter Malia, on the day she turned 18 this past Fourth of July, or coaching his daughter Sasha at hoops, and you see his ambition, still, to be “the father I never had.”

You see him teasing, bantering or dancing with his wife of nearly a quarter-century. And while no outsider can know what goes on inside another’s marriage, you can’t help feeling some of the joy of that union. They still finish each other’s sentences.

It’s not fair to give him his due as a person, his high grade for character, for being scandal-free in his private life, just because a potential successor has no character, no class, and breaches a new wall of civility every time he opens his mouth. If Obama had bragged about infidelities and the size of his genitals, if Obama had talked about wanting to date his own daughter and reduced women to a number on a hotness scale, it would be about race. But when Donald Trump says such things, nobody ties it to his being white, nor should they. Trump is a singular kind of vulgarian.

And those who praise Obama as a model father or husband for the black family do him a disservice. He’s a model, without asterisk for race. It’s a hard thing to go nearly eight years as the most powerful man in the world without diminishing the office or alienating your family. He’s done that, and added a dash of style and humor and a pitch-perfect sense for being consoler in chief.

As we saw again this week, when he took the deep breath for us, when he begged us not to let hearts turn to stone when the world is a quarry of hate, he is at his best when the rest of us are at our worst. We will long remember him singing “Amazing Grace” at that service for people slaughtered in a Charleston church, their deaths a hate crime. And we may well remember him trying to wring something teachable from the ambush of police officers; their deaths also a hate crime.

“All of us, we make mistakes,” he said. “And at times we are lost. And as we get older, we learn we don’t always have control of things — not even a president does. But we do have control over how we respond to the world. We do have control over how we treat one another.”

Historical comparisons will be kind to him. You respect John F. Kennedy for his flair and wit, but wince at how he hurt his wife through numerous affairs. You admire Lyndon B. Johnson for his courage in civil rights, but are appalled at how bathroom-level bawdy he was in private. You appreciate Ronald Reagan for his charm and friendships across the aisle, but can’t ignore how dysfunctional his family was. Under Richard Nixon, the White House was a crime scene. Under Bill Clinton, it was a place of monumental self-indulgence.

What’s remarkable is that Obama hasn’t turned Nixonian or hard. He was the only president to have his Americanism challenged, the only president to be heckled with “You lie!” before a joint session of Congress. And the smears keep coming. Barely a week ago, Fox News flashed pictures of a young Obama attending his African half brother’s wedding in Muslim garb — proof, Bill O’Reilly said, of the president’s “deep emotional ties to Islam.”

For Obama, holding it together as a person has only occasionally translated to political triumph. The first African-American president is leaving office at a moment when more than two-thirds of Americans think race relations are bad — a sharp increase from the dawn of his presidency. He acknowledged some of this failure in Dallas.

“Now, I’m not naïve,” he said. “I’ve seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change. I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been.”

On eleven occasions — Newtown, Tucson, Charleston, Dallas, among the venues of despair — he’s tried to summon words to heal a wound. If the words have sometimes failed him and us, the man, in his personal behavior, has not.

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Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Exclusive: Officer says prosecutors silenced him in Sandra Bland case

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)    —   DALLAS — A police officer in the small Texas town where Sandra Bland was pulled over and jailed says the county’s top prosecutors threatened to end his career if he came forward with what he says is evidence of wrongdoing, an accusation the prosecutors deny.

Among the things Prairie View officer Michael Kelley said this week that he wanted to tell a grand jury: Bland appeared to have marks on her forehead after a confrontation with state trooper Brian Encinia, who pulled her over last July for allegedly failing to signal while changing a lane; Encinia was on the phone with a supervisor after arresting her because he didn’t know what charge she should face; and the police report Encinia ultimately submitted left out key details.

Kelley said he was never contacted by special prosecutors handling the case, and the Waller County district attorney’s top assistant said there’d be repercussions if he spoke to a Bland family attorney. Prosecutors have strongly denied Kelley’s allegations.

Bland, who was black, was found dead three days after the traffic stop in a county jail cell; authorities ruled it a suicide. But her death galvanized the national Black Lives Matter movement and others protesting recent police misconduct, all of whom said she was mistreated and shouldn’t have been arrested. Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, appeared on stage at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday with other black women whose children had died in encounters with law enforcement.

Many of Bland’s supporters have long questioned whether local authorities would fairly investigate the case. No one from the jail or the sheriff’s office has been indicted, even though the county acknowledged jailers did not properly monitor Bland or screen her properly after she mentioned she had a history of mental illness. One jailer has given a deposition admitting he falsified a jail log.

Encinia was indicted on a misdemeanor charge of perjury, which is pending, and was fired by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Kelley, meanwhile, is suspended from the police department after being captured on video using a Taser on a black city councilman in Prairie View and being indicted for official oppression related to an unlawful arrest. He claims prosecutors sought that indictment as retaliation.

“I didn’t become a cop to become shady like a lot of officers,” Kelley told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “I became a cop to do justice and to try to change the community which I work in.”

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis issued a statement implying Kelley is trying to profit from Bland’s death.

“I unequivocally state that he never approached me, my first assistant, or any member of my staff with any such information,” Mathis said, adding: “I can only imagine this is an attempt to divert attention” from Kelley’s case.

Darrell Jordan, a Houston attorney who was one of five special prosecutors handling the Bland case when it went to a grand jury, also said Kelley never approached him or any other prosecutor.

“We walked the campus; we walked the main roads trying to talk to people,” Jordan said.

On the day of Bland’s traffic stop, video from Encinia’s squad car and a microphone on his uniform show the two beginning to argue. Encinia then reaches into the car and tries to drag Bland out of her seat before arresting her.

“Get out of the car!” Encinia is heard saying. “I will light you up! Get out!”

The two struggle outside of the car as Encinia handcuffs her and calls for backup. Kelley said he was one of the first to respond.

Encinia is later captured on audio going through possible charges for Bland, from resisting arrest to assault.

“I kind of lean toward assault versus resist because I mean, technically, she’s under arrest when a traffic stop is initiated, as a lawful stop,” Encinia is heard saying. He eventually wrote a report accusing Bland of assault on a public servant.

But Kelley said he saw bruises on Bland’s forehead and heard Encinia tell his supervisor, “‘I don’t know what I’m going to charge her with yet.'”

Kelley’s allegations are the latest to raise the idea that authorities haven’t thoroughly investigated Bland’s death.

Earlier this week, the Houston Chronicle reported a jailer admitted under oath to falsifying a notation in a jail log that he had checked on Bland during the hour before her death. Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert said the jailer made the admission during a deposition in the family’s federal lawsuit against the county over Bland’s death.

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FILE – This undated file handout photo provided by the Waller County Sheriff’s Office shows Sandra Bland. A police officer in the small Texas town where Bland was pulled over and jailed says the county’s top prosecutors threatened to end his career if he came forward with what he says is evidence of wrongdoing. (Waller County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

Follow Nomaan Merchant on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nomaanmerchant .

US-backed forces advance in IS Syria stronghold: monitor

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AFP)    —-    Advancing Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by US-led air strikes now control 40 percent of the Islamic State stronghold of Manbij in northern Syria, a monitor said Sunday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had pushed deeper into the town near the border with Turkey, with air cover from the US-led coalition against the jihadists.

Around 2,300 civilians have fled Manbij in the past 24 hours as the SDF fighters advanced, according to the Britain-based monitor.

It said clashes between the joint Kurdish-Arab force and IS fighters were continuing in several parts of the town.

“It’s a street battle, and the process of eating away at IS territory is ongoing,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.

He said the SDF had advanced into eastern parts of Manbij, which is located in Aleppo province on IS’s main supply route between Syria and Turkey.

The SDF began its offensive to retake Manbij from IS on May 31, but progress slowed after it entered the town because of a fierce counteroffensive by the jihadists.

Thousands of civilians have already fled but thousands more are believed to remain, and there have been concerns about their fate as heavy fighting continues.

Syria: US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters advance into the Islamic State (IS) jihadist's group bastion of Manbij, in northern Syria, on June 23, 2016

© Provided by AFP US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters advance into the Islamic State (IS) jihadist’s group bastion of Manbij, in northern Syria, on June 23, 2016

Earlier in the month, the SDF gave IS an ultimatum to leave Manbij within 48 hours, offering to allow fighters to flee with light weapons in what it described as a bid to protect civilians.

The initiative came after at least 56 civilians, including children, were reportedly killed in US-led air strikes near Manbij.

The coalition has said it is investigating the deaths, which provoked a sharp backlash, including a call from the Syrian opposition National Coalition for the US-led strikes to be suspended.

The 48-hour ultimatum was ignored by IS and fighting for the town has continued.

More than 280,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.

The conflict has evolved into a complex multi-front war that has displaced over half Syria’s population.

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© Provided by AFP US-backed Kurdish and Arab fighters advance into the Islamic State (IS) jihadist’s group bastion of Manbij, in northern Syria, on June 23, 2016

Retaking Iraq’s IS-held Mosul likely to prove tricky, costly

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BAGHDAD (AP) — It promises to be the biggest and perhaps last major battle against the Islamic State group in Iraq.

Iraq’s government is setting its sight on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city that has been under IS control since June 2014, as its next major target in the fight against IS. The assault is likely months away, but fierce fighting has already been raging as Iraqi forces try to clear the militants from villages and towns south of the city.

The goal is to protect the Qayara air base, which was recaptured from the militants on July 9 and is to be a main hub for the final move on Mosul. Some 560 American military personnel, mainly engineers and logistics, security and communications experts, are due to deploy at the base to upgrade its facilities to prepare for the Mosul attacks, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

But that can’t happen yet because Qayara base has come under frequent rocket fire from IS fighters in the area. Around two-thirds of the surrounding towns and villages are controlled by IS fighters. Iraqi forces need to clear a 20-kilometer (12-mile) radius around the base and to retake the key nearby towns of Qayara and Shirqat, several Iraqi military officials told The Associated Press.

Iraqi forces already have driven the Islamic State group out of the cities of Ramadi, Fallujah, Tikrit and Beiji west and north of the Iraqi capital, rolling back the jihadis’ dramatic blitz in the summer of 2014 that captured nearly a third of the country and linked with their territory in neighboring Syria.

Retaking Mosul would be far more significant, robbing the IS of the jewel of its self-declared caliphate. While the Syrian city of Raqqa is considered the caliphate’s de facto capital, Mosul is the largest city under its control, with a current population estimated at between 500,000 and 1 million. IS fighters in Mosul, meanwhile, vary from a few thousand to “not more than 10,000,” according to the coalition.

But the presence of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Mosul raises the prospect of a flood of people escaping — joining tens of thousands still displaced from previous fighting. The Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross said on Friday that up to 1 million Iraqis could be forced to flee their homes in the coming weeks amid worsening fighting. The group’s regional director for the Near and Middle East, Robert Mardini, said it is preparing for the worst, particularly in the Mosul area.

Already, a glimpse of the possible humanitarian crisis has emerged. Nearly 4,000 families have already fled their homes to escape ongoing fighting around the towns of Qayara and Shirqat. The government plans to house them in the town of Beiji to the south.

“The government is not prepared or equipped to deal with a humanitarian emergency,” said Hisham al-Hashimi, a prominent Iraqi analyst.

The civilians in the city also pose a challenge to Iraqi forces when they assault, said Ahmed Shawki, a retired Iraqi army colonel who is now a military analyst based in the Kurdish city of Irbil.

“Daesh will try its best to disappear among these people, in the civilian neighborhoods of Mosul, to be safe from the airstrikes and hide from the eyes of the intelligence services,” he said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

Iraqi officials have estimated that upgrading the Qayara base could take four to six weeks, once the area around it is secured. Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland, the top U.S. commander in the fight against IS, said this month that the U.S. personnel have already received warning orders to deploy and will flow in “relatively soon.”

The facility is believed to have been badly damaged by airstrikes since the IS seized it in 2014. The work will include extending the two runways to allow large military transport aircraft to land. U.S. and Iraqi fighter jets and helicopter gunships are also likely to be deployed there. Boasting more than 30 fortified hangars, the base was used by the U.S. military between 2003 and 2010, when it handed it back to the Iraqis.

When operational, Qayara will join a string of bases jointly used by the Iraqis and the Americans in the fight against the IS. They include Makhmour east of Mosul, Taqaddum and Assad west of Baghdad and Taji just north of the Iraqi capital.

The actual assault may not take place until the late fall or winter, said the military officials.

“A lot of fighting has yet to be done and a lot of places must still be liberated before we head to Mosul,” said a brigadier general with the Iraqi army’s special forces who, like other military officials, spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

An official in Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office said there was not yet a detailed plan for retaking Mosul. “For now, the plan is simply that Mosul is next,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Al-Hashimi, the analyst, estimated retaking Mosul would require 80,000 men, of whom 15,000 are expected to come from the government-sanctioned Shiite militias.

However, the Shiite militiamen, repeatedly accused of abuses against Sunni civilians, will not join the assault on the city and will instead focus on liberating Shiite areas in surrounding Ninevah province. Tel Afar, a mostly Shiite town some 70 kilometers (about 44 miles) west of Mosul, would be a likely target for the militias.

Kurdish peshmerga forces deployed to the east, west and north of the city are expected to assume a support role but not take part on the assault on Mosul as they had requested.

The United Nations has appealed for $284 million to prepare for the likely waves of civilians fleeing the city. When Iraqi forces retook the western city of Fallujah in June, tens of thousands of residents who fled were housed in sprawling desert camps with little food, water or shelter. That drew sharp criticism from international relief groups and called into question the extent of the Shiite-led government’s commitment to effectively care for minority Sunnis.

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FILE – In this Wednesday, June 1, 2016 file photo, Iraqi counterterrorism forces face off with Islamic State militants in the Nuaimiya neighborhood of Fallujah, Iraq. Iraq’s government is setting its sight on Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city that has been under IS control since June 2014, as its next major target in the fight against IS. The assault is likely months away, but fierce fighting has already been raging as Iraqi forces try to clear the militants from villages south of the city.(AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed, File)

Abdul-Zahra reported from Boston. Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Balint Szlanko in Erbil, Iraq, and Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.

Turkish leader brings military more under civilian authority

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ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a new presidential decree Sunday that introduced sweeping changes to Turkey’s military in the wake of a July 15 failed coup, bringing the armed forces further under civilian authority.

The decree, the third issued under a three-month state of emergency declared following the attempted coup, gives the president and prime minister the authority to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, air force and navy.

It also announces the discharge of 1,389 military personnel, including Erdogan’s chief military adviser, who had been arrested days after the attempted coup, the Chief of General Staff’s charge d’affaires and the defense minister’s chief secretary.

It puts the military commands directly under the defense ministry, puts all military hospitals under the authority of the health ministry instead of the military, and also expands the Supreme Military Council — the body that makes decisions on military affairs and appointments — to include Turkey’s deputy prime ministers and its justice, foreign and interior ministers.

The document, published in the official gazette Sunday, also shuts down all military schools, academies and non-commissioned officer training institutes and establishes a new national defense university to train officers.

In the wake of the attempted coup, which killed more than 200 people, Erdogan launched a sweeping crackdown on those believed linked to the movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of instigating the coup. Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, denies any knowledge of the coup.

More than 10,000 people have been arrested in the crackdown, most of whom are military personnel. Thousands more have been detained and nearly 70,000 people have been suspended or dismissed from their jobs in the education, media, health care, military and judicial sectors.

In an interview Saturday with private A Haber television, Erdogan said he also wanted to put the country’s MIT intelligence agency and the chief of general staff’s headquarters under the presidency.

“If we can pass this small constitution package with (the opposition parties), then the chief of general staff and MIT will be tied to the president,” Erdogan told A Haber.

The package would need to be brought to parliament for a vote.

The Turkish government’s sweeping crackdown has caused concern among its Western allies, who have urged restraint. Turkey has demanded the speedy extradition of Gulen from the United States, but Washington has asked for evidence that he was involved in the attempted coup and has said the US extradition process must be allowed to take its course.

Turkey’s relations with Germany are also coming under strain, with Ankara demanding its crackdown on the Gulen movement extend to Gulen-affiliated schools in Germany, and seeking the extradition of members of the judiciary believed to have ties to the movement who are currently in Germany.

Erdogan has also strongly criticized U.S. military officials for comments he said implied that the detention of Turkish military officers as part of the coup investigation could affect the country’s fight against the Islamic State group in neighboring Syria and Iraq.

Turkish media said the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, was to visit Turkey on Sunday night and was likely to visit Incirlik air base in the country’s south.

Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin criticized a decision by German authorities not to permit messages from politicians in Turkey to be shown on a video screen at a Sunday anti-coup rally in the German city of Cologne that was expected to draw up to 30,000 people.

“As the president of the nation that has penned an epic tale of heroism by defeating Fethullah Gulen’s coup attempt, we are curious what the real reason is behind why German local courts and the Constitutional Court have prevented Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s message, and hope German officials will provide a satisfactory explanation,” Kalin said in a statement.

Police in Cologne say Turkey’s sports minister is expected to attend Sunday’s rally, but authorities imposed the condition that no messages from speakers elsewhere, such as politicians in Turkey, could be shown on a video screen. Germany’s highest court rejected a complaint against that ban Saturday night.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said there’s “no place in Germany” for any side to “bring domestic political tensions from Turkey to us in Germany and intimidate people with other political convictions.”

Germany has a sizeable population of people with Turkish roots.

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Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives a speech commemorating those killed and wounded during a failed July 15 military coup, in Ankara, Turkey, late Friday, July 29, 2016. The government crackdown in the coup’s aftermath has strained Turkey’s ties with key allies including the United States. (AP Photo/Kayhan Ozer Presidential Press Service, via AP Pool)

Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed.

China’s nuclear power ambitions sailing into troubled waters

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BEIJING (AP) — China’s ambitions to become a pioneer in nuclear energy are sailing into troubled waters.

Two state-owned companies plan to develop floating nuclear reactors, a technology engineers have been considering since the 1970s for use by oil rigs or island communities. Beijing is racing Russia, which started developing its own in 2007, to get a unit into commercial operation.

In China’s case, the achievement would be tempered by concern its reactors might be sent into harm’s way to support oil exploration in the South China Sea, where Beijing faces conflicting territorial claims by neighbors including Vietnam and the Philippines. Chinese news reports say plans call for deploying 20 reactors there, though neither developer has mentioned the area.

Tensions ratcheted up after a U.N. arbitration panel ruled July 12 that Beijing’s claim to most of the sea has no legal basis. Beijing rejected the decision in a case brought by the Philippines and announced it would hold war games in the area, where its military has built artificial islands.

The floating reactor plans reflect Beijing’s determination to create profitable technologies in fields from energy to mobile phones and to curb growing reliance on imported oil and gas, which communist leaders see as a security risk.

China is the most active builder of nuclear power plants, with 32 reactors in operation, 22 under construction and more planned. It relies heavily on U.S., French and Russian technology but is developing its own.

The latest initiatives are led by China General Nuclear Power Group and China National Nuclear Corp. Both have research or consulting agreements with Westinghouse Electric Co. and France’s EDF and Areva, but say their floating plants will use homegrown technology.

“They are keen to develop that because they have a lot of oil drilling everywhere in the South China Sea and overseas as well,” said Luk Bing-lam, an engineering professor at the City University of Hong Kong who has worked with a CGN subsidiary on unrelated projects.

“The Chinese strategy is to ensure the energy supply for the country,” said Luk. “Oil drilling needs energy, and with that supply, they could speed up operations.”

Russia’s first floating commercial reactor, the Academician Lomonosov, is due to be delivered in 2018, but the project has suffered repeated delays. The Russians have yet to announce a commercial customer.

Russia has been “aiming to launch this idea for over two decades by pitching the reactor as a plug-and-play option for fairly remote communities,” said Mark Hibbs, an expert on nuclear policy for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an email.

Russia’s target market was Indonesia and its far-flung islands, Hibbs said. That prompted concern about control over nuclear materials, leading to a recommendation Russia operate the reactor and take back used fuel.

The Chinese nuclear agency signed a deal with Moscow in 2014 to build floating power stations using Russian technology. It is unclear whether that will go ahead given the plans by CNG and CNNC to develop their own vessels.

Chinese developers can count on sales to the state-owned oil industry without going abroad.

CGN has signed a contract with China National Offshore Oil Corp. to support oil and gas exploration at sea. The company says it will launch its first vessel by 2020, with plans for 20 more. It declined an interview request and did not respond to written questions.

CNNC plans a demonstration unit by 2019.

A floating nuclear plant probably would be too costly just to supply power but could be useful in oil and gas exploration by also providing heat and fresh water, Luk said. He said CGN engineers told him their design is meant for islands or other remote sites.

Tensions with Vietnam have flared over Chinese oil and gas exploration near the Vietnamese coast. In January, Vietnam complained a Chinese oil company had towed a drilling rig into disputed waters. In 2014, the same rig was parked off Vietnam’s central coast for two months, leading to violent anti-Chinese demonstrations and confrontations at sea as Chinese vessels rammed Vietnamese boats to prevent them from approaching the rig.

Reactors have been used on warships since the 1950s. But those vessels regularly visit port for maintenance and face little security risk because they are heavily armed.

“The security concerns are clear: such reactors would be tempting targets for military or terrorist attacks,” Edwin Lyman, a nuclear specialist for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, said in an email. “Maintaining the full contingent of security officers necessary to effectively deter attack would not be feasible.”

Other perils include stormy seas — the South China Sea is buffeted by powerful seasonal typhoons — and the need to exchange radioactive fuel at distant sites.

CGN says its seaborne unit will have “passive safety,” or features that function without moving parts or outside power, such as control rods that drop by gravity in an emergency. No commercial reactor operates with such features.

“There are questions about how reliable passive safety systems will be in extreme conditions,” Lyman said.

CGN wants to simplify operations by requiring refueling only once every three years instead of the industry standard of 18 months, Luk said. That would require more highly enriched fuel, with the amount of the U-235 isotope raised to as much as 10 percent from the typical 4.5 percent.

“If it were seized by terrorists or someone else, that would be a big problem,” he said.

China’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear technology has run afoul of U.S. law enforcement.

In April, a Chinese-born American engineer employed by CGN was charged with recruiting experts in the United States to help the company with reactor construction without applying for required government permission. Allen Ho, also known as Szuhsiung Ho, also was charged in federal court in Tennessee with acting illegally as an agent of a foreign government.

Under a 2007 agreement, Westinghouse transferred to another government company, the State Nuclear Power Technology Corp., technology for its latest model, the AP1000. It was to become the basis for future Chinese reactors that could be sold abroad, but CGN and CNNC pressed ahead with development of their own models.

CGN says its 60-megawatt floating reactor, the ACPR50, is a version of the land-based ACPR100 reactor. CNNC says its seaborne unit will be based on another reactor, the ACP100, but has released no other details.

Westinghouse has no role in the ACPR50’s development, according to a company spokeswoman, Courtney Boone. EDF and Areva did not respond to requests for information about their possible role.

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This Feb. 9, 2012 photo shows a China’s oil rig operated in the East China Sea. Two state-owned companies, China General Nuclear Power Group and China National Nuclear Corp., have announced plans to develop floating nuclear reactors for use by oil rigs or island communities. If they succeed, the achievement would raise concern the reactors might be sent into harm’s way to support oil exploration in the South China Sea, where Beijing faces conflicting territorial claims by neighbors including Vietnam and the Philippines. (Kyodo News via AP) JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT

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Opinion: Obama’s Powerful Message – Donald Trump Is Un-American

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(PhatzNewsRoom / The New Yorker)    —-   It was about 8:40 P.M. Wednesday night when President Obama climbed aboard Air Force One for the hop to Philadelphia, where he was scheduled to speak at about 10:30 P.M. As an accomplished speaker, he must have known that the speech that would be fed into the teleprompters at the Wells Fargo Center was one of his best. As an astute politician, he must have known that, in other respects, too, the ground was being laid for a memorable night.

For the first two days of the Democratic National Convention, the leaks of hacked Party committee e-mails and the presence of large numbers of hardcore Bernie Sanders supporters had blurred the message that the Clinton campaign wanted to get out: Hillary Clinton is fit and ready to serve as Obama’s successor; Donald Trump isn’t. But by the time the wheels lifted at Joint Base Andrews, Trump’s earlier remarks encouraging Russia to spy on Clinton had been making news for almost twelve hours, and a number of Convention speakers had done yeoman work for the Democrats’ cause.

After Bill Clinton’s effort on Tuesday to humanize his wife, and to persuade Americans that a funny, well-meaning, and loving woman resides beneath her sometimes flinty exterior, the emphasis Wednesday was on building up her credentials as a Commander-in-Chief in dangerous times. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, who criticized Clinton on various issues during his own ill-fated Presidential bid, got things going early on by declaring, “I have worked alongside her, and I have competed against her. And I’m here to tell you that Hillary Clinton is as tough as they come. She will stand up to ISIS. She will stand up to the Russians.”

In a compelling moment, Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman from Arizona, who in 2011 suffered a serious brain injury during an assassination attempt, walked slowly onto the stage and said, “In Congress, I learned a powerful lesson: strong women get things done. . . . That’s why I am voting for Clinton.” John Hutson, a retired Navy rear admiral, demolished Trump’s claim to be the law-and-order candidate by pointing out his intention to violate an assortment of laws, and brought up Trump’s derogatory comments about Senator John McCain’s military record, saying, “Donald, you’re not fit to polish John McCain’s boots.”

While the President was still en route, Leon Panetta, the Californian who served under Obama as C.I.A. director and Secretary of Defense, brought up Trump’s comments earlier in the day, saying that the G.O.P. nominee “once again took Russia’s side.” Ignoring jeers from some Sanders delegates who chanted “No more war,” Panetta reminded the television audience that he had worked for nine Presidents and said, “I can tell you this: that in this election, there is only one candidate for President who has the experience, the temperament, and the judgment to be Commander-in-Chief, and that’s Hillary Clinton. . . . She is smart. She is principled. She is tough, and she is ready.” Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Tim Kaine, who earlier in the evening was officially nominated as Clinton’s running mate, both kept up the assault on Trump and vouched for Clinton, while Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of New York, described himself as an independent but joined the Democratic chorus, saying, “The richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy.”

Obama took the stage at just before eleven. (The show was running late.) Although his remarks were to be a demolition job on Trump, and a testimonial to Clinton, they weren’t to be cast in the everyday language of campaign speeches. Obama and his speechwriters, as is their wont, had aimed higher than that. And they succeeded.

The speech didn’t immediately get to Clinton and Trump. Instead, Obama began with himself, returning to the D.N.C. in 2004, when he delivered the speech that made his career. “I was so young that first time, in Boston,” Obama recalled, with a wry smile. “Maybe a little nervous addressing such a big crowd. But I was filled with faith: faith in America, the generous, bighearted, hopeful country that made my story—indeed, all of our stories—possible.” He went on, “I stand before you again tonight, after almost two terms as your President, to tell you I am even more optimistic about the future of America.”

Since Ronald Reagan, almost all Presidents have said that they believe America’s best days lie ahead. Like Reagan, Obama has the capacity to make this sort of language sound like something more than a soundbite, and, although he hadn’t yet mentioned Trump’s name, it was immediately clear where, on this occasion, he was heading with it: to Cleveland, and Trump’s dismal, dystopian speech accepting the Republican Presidential nomination. After a fairly rote recitation of his Administration’s achievements in domestic and foreign policy, Obama said, “Fair to say, this is not your typical election. It’s not just a choice between parties or policies, the usual debates between left and right. This is a more fundamental choice—about who we are as a people, and whether we stay true to this great American experiment in self-government.”

What came out of Cleveland “wasn’t particularly Republican—and it sure wasn’t conservative,” Obama continued. Rather, it was “a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems—just the fanning of resentment, and blame, and anger, and hate. And that is not the America I know.”

That America, Obama said, was “full of courage, and optimism, and ingenuity.” It was “decent and generous”—a place where people are “working hard and starting businesses . . . engineers inventing stuff, and doctors coming up with new cures . . . a younger generation full of energy and new ideas, not constrained by what is, ready to seize what ought to be.” And, “most of all,” a place where Americans of every creed, ethnicity, and sexual orientation are “all pledging allegiance, under the same proud flag, to this big, bold country that we love.”

As yet, Obama hadn’t mentioned Trump’s name, but he was making the case that the Republican nominee, a man who wraps himself in the flag and gins up nativist sentiment at every opportunity, wasn’t merely unfit for the Oval Office, he was un-American: the very charge that Trump has lobbed at the country’s first African-American President (without, perhaps, saying it outright). “That’s the America I know,” Obama went on. “And there is only one candidate in this race who believes in that future, and has devoted her life to that future . . . the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton.”

The President now turned to the other business of the evening: building up the candidate whom he has endorsed. He recalled how “tough” an opponent she had been in 2008, saying, “For four years, I had a front-row seat to her intelligence, her judgment, and her discipline.” He praised her record in helping children and the families of fallen members of the armed services, and he recalled, not for the first time, her role arguing in favor of the mission that killed Osama bin Laden. Elaborating on something he said when he endorsed her last month, he said, “There has never been a man or a woman—not me, not Bill, nobody—more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America.”

From there, Obama embarked on an exercise in comparison. “And then there’s Donald Trump,” he said, finally invoking the name. “The Donald’s not really a plans guy. He’s not really a facts guy, either. He calls himself a business guy, which is true, but I have to say, I know plenty of businessmen and women who’ve achieved remarkable success without leaving a trail of lawsuits, and unpaid workers, and people feeling like they got cheated. Does anyone really believe that a guy who’s spent his seventy years on this earth showing no regard for working people is suddenly going to be your champion? Your voice? If so, you should vote for him.”

Almost as much as his words, Obama’s facial expression conveyed astonishment that anyone would take such a man seriously. It wasn’t a disdainful look, exactly—more one that said, “W.T.F., people?” “He suggests America is weak,” the President went on. “He must not hear the billions of men and women and children, from the Baltics to Burma, who still look to America to be the light of freedom and dignity and human rights. He cozies up to Putin, praises Saddam Hussein, and tells the NATO allies that stood by our side after 9/11 that they have to pay up if they want our protection.” He then arrived at a punch line: “America is already great. America is already strong. And I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump.”

Trump is “just offering slogans, and he’s offering fear,” Obama said. “He’s betting that if he scares enough people, he might score just enough votes to win this election. And that’s another bet that Donald Trump will lose.” Why? “He’s selling the American people short. We are not a fragile people, we’re not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled.”

It was a long speech. Perhaps a bit too long, but it enraptured the hall—disgruntled Sanders supporters, as well as loyal Clintonites. Watching the President, you got the sense he had been waiting to deliver this speech for a long time. Yes, he was carrying out a political mission, but it was also personal. Trump hasn’t just insulted Obama personally: Trump’s entire candidacy represents an affront to everything that Obama stands for and got elected on—hope, inclusiveness, reason, and faith in a democratic political system (even if that system is frustratingly deadlocked).

As midnight approached, the President spent a bit more time explaining that Clinton understood and respected these things. Citing her forty years in politics, Obama, like many Presidents before him, invoked Teddy Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” speech, saying, “Hillary Clinton is that woman in the arena. She’s been there for us, even if we haven’t always noticed.” But as generous as Obama was to his chosen successor, this wasn’t primarily a speech about Clinton. It was a warning about the threat that Trump represents to the Republic, and an assertion that this threat would be repulsed.

Invoking the values of his Kansas grandparents—“honesty and hard work, kindness, courtesy, humility, responsibility, helping each other out”—Obama said that these principles “were exactly what drew immigrants here.” His grandparents, he said, “believed that the children of those immigrants were just as American as their own, whether they wore a cowboy hat or a yarmulke, a baseball cap or a hijab.” These values, Obama continued, “live on in each of us. What makes us American, what makes us patriots is what’s in here”—he pointed to his heart. “That’s what matters.”

The President was now approaching his crescendo. These American values, he said, were why the country could “attract strivers and entrepreneurs from around the globe . . . why our military can look the way it does, every shade of humanity, forged into common service . . . why anyone who threatens our values, whether Fascists or Communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”

It took a moment for the crowd to grasp what Obama had done, lumping Trump in with Hitler, Stalin, and ISIS. As applause rang out, he pressed on, his voice rising. “That is America. That is America. Those bonds of affection, that common creed. We don’t fear the future; we shape it, we embrace it, as one people, stronger together than we are on our own. That’s what Hillary Clinton understands—this fighter, this stateswoman, this mother and grandmother, this public servant, this patriot. That’s the America she’s fighting for.”

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John Cassidy

John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He has written many articles for the magazine, on topics ranging from Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke to the Iraqi oil industry and the economics of Hollywood. He also writes a column for The New Yorker’s Web site. His latest book, “How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities,” was published in November, 2009, by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Cassidy is also a contributor to The New York Review of Books and a financial commentator for the BBC. He came to The New Yorker after working for newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic. He joined the Sunday Times, in London, in 1986, and served as the paper’s Washington bureau chief for three years, and then as its business editor, from 1991 to 1993. From 1993 to 1995, he was at the New York Post, where he edited the Business section and then served as the deputy editor.

Clinton, Trump struggle for national security upper hand

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In their struggle for the upper hand on national security, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are emphasizing strikingly different themes – he as the bold and cunningly unpredictable strongman who will eliminate terrorism; she as the calm, conventional commander in chief who will manage all manner of crises.

Terrorism is Trump’s national security touchstone, and the Islamic State group is his target. He promises to wipe it out, and quickly.

Clinton accuses him of fearmongering and of denigrating the U.S. military as gutted and worn out. She presents herself as the anti-Trump.

“America’s strength doesn’t come from lashing out,” she said in accepting the Democratic nomination Thursday. “Strength relies on smarts, judgment, cool resolve, and the precise and strategic application of power.” By implication, Trump is cast as bombastic, scattershot, impulsive and fanciful.

National security has emerged as a key focus of the campaign — not so much the candidates’ plans as their temperaments. Trump says he is best suited because he would be a dealmaker and deliberately unpredictable, thus making it more difficult for adversaries to counter his military or diplomatic moves. Clinton pitches her steadiness and depth of experience from eight years in the Senate and four years as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state.

Each has zeroed in on what many consider the most worrisome issues: terrorism and an assertive Russia. The next president, however, will face a wider range of problems, to include ending the war in Afghanistan, managing the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, coping with a rising China and ending a cycle of bloody instability in Iraq and Syria. There also are challenges in cyberwarfare, nuclear weapons and the modernization of the U.S. military.

Trump calls his approach “America first,” meaning alliances and coalitions would not pass muster with him unless they produced a net benefit to the U.S. He drew rebukes from much of the national security establishment when he suggested in a recent newspaper interview that as president he might not defend certain NATO member countries against outside attack if they were falling short of the alliance’s defense spending targets. He also has been accused of being too easy on Vladimir Putin, the Russian president whom Trump has openly admired.

Clinton sees international partnerships as essential tools for using American influence and lessening the chances of war. That is an approach rooted in a U.S. tradition of bipartisan support for institutions such as NATO, whose value and future Trump says should not be taken for granted.

Trump has tried to keep his focus on fear. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention he decried “war and destruction.” He said the long-volatile and often violent Middle East is now “worse than it has ever been before,” suggesting Americans are increasingly at risk.

He mocks Clinton’s experience as a member of Obama’s war Cabinet, labeling her legacy at the State Department as “death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”

She questions Trump’s reliability. “He loses his cool at the slightest provocation,” she said in her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. “Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”

The commander in chief’s responsibility in the nuclear arena is not traditionally a hot-button issue on the campaign trail. But it has arisen more regularly this time, mainly because the Democrats see Trump as vulnerable to voter doubts about whether he could be trusted to use nuclear restraint. He raised eyebrows during a Republican primary debate when he seemed unaware of the nuclear “triad,” the bombers, submarines and long-range missiles that have comprised the three basic pieces of the American nuclear arsenal for more than 50 years.

Through her supporters, including retired military officers, Clinton has pushed back on Trump’s claim that he alone has the right formula for keeping America secure.

“She, as no other, knows how to use all instruments of American power, not just the military, to keep us all safe and free,” John Allen, the retired Marine general and former presidential envoy to the international coalition aligned against the Islamic State, told the Democratic National Convention.

Allen presented a counterpoint to Trump’s top military supporter, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. In his address to the Republican National Convention, Flynn doubled down on Trump’s portrayal of Clinton as unqualified to be president. He blamed her for “bumbling indecisiveness, willful ignorance and total incompetence.”

UN Syria envoy tells Russia: Leave Aleppo corridors ‘to us

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GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Syria on Friday urged Russia to leave the creation of humanitarian corridors around Aleppo to the United Nations and its partners, issuing a gentle snub to Moscow, which had made the proposal a day earlier as pro-government troops tightened their encirclement of rebel-held parts of the northern Syrian city.

In comments carried later Friday by Russia’s Interfax news agency, deputy defense minister Anatoly Antonov said that Russia was willing to work with the U.N. on setting up the corridors. He said that Russia is “ready for close and constructive cooperation with all international humanitarian organizations and, of course, with the office of the U.N. special envoy on Syria.”

Rights groups and civilians trapped in opposition-held neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo have reacted critically to Russia’s plan, saying it does not guarantee safe passage or give residents a choice of where they flee to. Some residents fear the proposed corridors are intended to restore government control over parts of the city that have been in rebel hands since 2012.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said he was not consulted on the proposal, which was first announced Thursday by the Russian defense ministry.

“That’s our job,” de Mistura said of the corridors plan at a press conference in Geneva. He expressed support “in principle” for humanitarian corridors but said it must be “under the right circumstances.”

“How do you expect people to walk through a corridor — thousands of them — while there is shelling, bombing, fighting?” de Mistura said.

“The clock is ticking for the Aleppo population,” he said. The U.N. says Aleppo is now possibly the largest besieged area in Syria, with an estimated 300,000 residents trapped inside.

Robert Mardini, Middle East director for the International Committee for the Red Cross, said those who choose to stay in Aleppo must be protected and that all parties must allow humanitarian agencies to reach them.

“Humanitarian corridors need to be well and carefully planned, and have to be implemented with the consent of parties on all sides,” Mardini said. He said he had no indication that all involved groups had agreed to the plan.

With airstrikes on Aleppo continuing, the Russian proposal seems more like an effort to “depopulate Aleppo City in preparation for concerted pro-regime ground operations to force the surrender of opposition groups within the city,” the Institute for the Study of War said in a brief.

Late night airstrikes in the city killed at least six people, the activist-run Aleppo Media Center said Friday.

Osama Abo Elezz, a general surgeon from Aleppo who was stranded in Turkey because of the siege, said the humanitarian corridor proposal serves the interests of the Syrian government and their Russian allies and “forces people to go to areas they don’t want to go to.”

He said that if the U.N. allows residents to travel safely to other opposition held-areas, this could reassure people that it is safe to leave, reducing casualty numbers.

There were no reports of civilians using the corridors on Friday. Rebel fighters were forbidding people from using the Bustan al-Qasr crossing, in the north of the city, “out of fear for their safety,” according to Khaled Khatib, a volunteer for the Civil Defense search-and-rescue brigade. He said civilians who leave the city risk being shot by government snipers or being detained because of their opposition sympathies.

Also on Friday, in neighboring Idlib province, the charity Save the Children said a maternity hospital it supports in the opposition-held area had been hit with three airstrikes. One struck the entrance, killing two men, said AbdulKarim Ekzayez, health co-ordinator at Save the Children International.

He said reports from the hospital suggest six or seven people were injured, though he could not yet give precise figures. A lot of equipment, including incubators for newborns, was damaged.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes in Kafr Takhareem village in Idlib hit a hospital and a center for civil defense volunteers. It said the hospital was no longer operational.

The Observatory said an Islamist militant was believed to have been killed in the attack. Syrian state TV said government warplanes carried out an airstrike in the same area, also claiming a senior Islamist militant had been killed without naming him.

Amnesty International said the aerial attack “appears to be part of a despicable pattern of unlawful attacks deliberately targeting medical facilities,” which can amount to a war crime.

Save the Children said the maternity hospital is the only such facility in the region, with the closest one about 70 kilometers away.

In other violence, activists said a U.S.-led coalition airstrike targeting a village in northern Syria held by the Islamic State group killed 28 civilians, including seven children.

The Observatory said coalition airstrikes hit the IS-held village of Al-Ghandour late Thursday. It said another 13 people were killed in the strikes, but that it was unclear if they were IS fighters or civilians.

The international coalition had no immediate comment on the casualty figures. The bombings came a week after airstrikes, also blamed by Syrian activists on U.S. aircraft, killed at least 56 civilians in IS-held territory in northern Syria.

Al-Ghandour is 24 kilometers (15 miles) northwest of the town of Manbij, a key hub in the extremist group’s Syria network and a supply route to IS’s de facto capital of Raqqa.

The Manbij area has seen extensive battles between IS extremists and U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters, who have been advancing under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition. The town is encircled by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Activists said that IS militants recaptured the nearby village of al-Bouweir on Thursday and killed 24 civilians.

Hamoud Almousa, a founding member of activist group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently, said IS sought retribution from the village for “not defending Islam” when the SDF initially drove out IS earlier this summer.

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El Deeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press Writer Philip Issa contributed from Beirut.

Courts deal setbacks to GOP voting restrictions in 3 states

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CHICAGO (AP) — Courts dealt setbacks to Republican efforts in three states to restrict voting, blocking a North Carolina law requiring photo identification, loosening a similar measure in Wisconsin and halting strict citizenship requirements in Kansas.

The rulings Friday came as the 2016 election moves into its final phase, with Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton locked in a high-stakes presidential race and control of the U.S. Senate possibly hanging in the balance. North Carolina is one of about a dozen swing states in the presidential race, while Wisconsin has voted Democratic in recent presidential elections and Kansas has been solidly Republican.

The decisions followed a similar blow earlier this month to what critics said was one of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws in Texas. The New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said Texas’ voter ID law is discriminatory and must be weakened before the November election.

On Friday, a three-judge panel of the Virginia-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked North Carolina’s law that limited to six the number of acceptable photo IDs. The law also curtailed early voting and eliminated same-day registration.

The court said the North Carolina provisions targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision.”

Critics of photo ID requirements say they fall disproportionately on minority voters and the poor, who are less likely to have an ID such as a driver’s license and tend to vote Democratic. Supporters say they photo IDs are needed to combat voter fraud.

Election-law expert Richard Hasen of the University of California at Irvine said the Obama administration took on the North Carolina and Texas cases as a bulwark against voting restrictions.

“If North Carolina and Texas could get away with these voting restrictions, it would have been a green light for other states to do so,” he said. “I think this is a hugely important decision.”

In the Kansas ruling, a county judge said the state must count thousands of votes in local and state elections from people who did not provide proof of U.S. citizenship when they registered. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national leader in Republican voter restriction efforts, had pushed through a rule that would have set those votes aside, perhaps up to 50,000 by the November election.

The Kansas ruling just four days before the state primary election means that about 17,000 voters will have their ballots counted in races for the state Legislature and other local contests.

Kobach said the decision would allow people living in the U.S. illegally to vote, although voting rights advocates say there have been few cases of voter fraud in the past.

In Wisconsin, a federal judge threw out a host of election laws, while allowing the state’s voter ID law to remain in place with substantial limitations. U.S. District Judge James Peterson ordered the state to quickly issue credentials valid for voting to anyone trying to obtain a free photo ID but lacking underlying documents such as birth certificates.

He struck down restrictions on absentee and early voting, saying they discriminated against blacks. He also struck down an increase in residency requirements from 10 to 28 days, a prohibition on using expired but otherwise qualifying student IDs to vote and a prohibition on distributing absentee ballots by fax or email.

Marc Elias, an attorney whose law firm has challenged voting restrictions in several states including Wisconsin and North Carolina, said the recent rulings are steps toward correcting “voting restriction laws put in place by Republican legislators.” There’s been a concerted effort by Republicans nationwide since President Barack Obama was elected to peel back voting rights and laws improving access to the polls that had been in place since the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, he said.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Drew and Emery P. Dalesio in Raleigh, North Carolina, Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond in Madison, Wisconsin, and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report.

Army report: Grenade found in room of Dallas gunman in 2014

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DALLAS (AP) — The Army reservist who killed five Dallas police officers had kept an unauthorized grenade in his room on an Afghanistan base in 2014, according to a report by Army officials investigating a sexual harassment complaint against him.

The report released Friday includes new details about an incident that left Micah Johnson stripped of his weapons and removed from his base in disgrace in May 2014. His military career ended soon afterward. His parents have said he was never the same.

The 25-year-old Dallas man was killed July 8 after targeting police during a rally protesting recent police shootings. Carrying an assault rifle, Johnson took multiple positions as he attacked police and threatened to kill more before a bomb-carrying robot was deployed to kill him, authorities have said.

Johnson, a black man, told authorities during the attack that he wanted to gun down white officers, police have said.

The Mississippi-born Johnson was in ROTC in high school and would join the Army Reserve. But his military career ended soon after a female soldier reported four pairs of panties missing while the two were at Camp Shank, a base in eastern Afghanistan known as “Rocket City” because the Taliban targeted it many times.

Soldiers found the missing underwear in a dumpster where Johnson had apparently thrown them after getting caught with them in his room. Later on, a few other soldiers were packing up Johnson’s possessions and found the MK-19 grenade in his room, as well as a .50-caliber round and prescription medicine belonging to someone else, the report said.

The Army has blacked out the recommendations of the investigating officer who wrote the report.

Soldiers aren’t allowed to have grenades in their barracks, according to several military experts. Johnson’s superiors could have recommended punishment for stealing government property or mishandling ammunition, said Geoffrey Corn, a former military judge who teaches at the South Texas College of Law. But they may have chosen to pursue the sexual harassment case since it was so strong, he said.

The presence of the grenade also alarmed Patrick McLain, a Dallas defense lawyer and former military judge who was not involved in Johnson’s case.

“If indeed he really had panties that belonged to her without her permission, that kind of pales in comparison to having an explosive device or to having someone else’s medication. That’s serious,” McLain said.

Retired Sgt. Gilbert Fischbach, who was Johnson’s squad leader before he deployed and has been highly critical of the military’s handling of the case, said the grenade finding “should have been a red flag.”

Fischbach said the military dropped both the protective order sought by the woman in her sexual harassment complaint and her request that he be psychologically evaluated.

The report the Army released on Friday, redacted to black out the names of all involved but Johnson, is only a small piece of the story, said Fischbach.

“There will be more documents coming out,” said Fischbach. “I told you it was going to be a smoke screen.”

Johnson’s parents and the woman who accused him of sexual harassment did not return messages Friday.

The Army still has not said why Johnson was honorably discharged instead of a lesser discharge, as the lawyer representing Johnson in the sexual harassment case has said he previously expected.

Nor have local or federal authorities detailed what led Johnson upon his return to the U.S. to plan the deadliest attack on American law enforcement since 9/11. Officials in Dallas won’t even confirm if they are still examining Johnson’s body.

Records released Friday by the police in Mesquite, the Dallas suburb where Johnson lived with his mother, indicate he had previous disputes with a woman.

One night in January 2011, Johnson walked into the Mesquite police department and appeared upset, according to a police report. Johnson told an officer that “he was lied to by a female friend” and “did not want to get into trouble.” The report, first reported by The Dallas Morning News, doesn’t elaborate on what he meant or name the friend.

Police wrote that he had “displayed unstable mental faculties” but did not want to see a mental health professional or contact his mother. A friend eventually picked him up.

The responding officer thought the incident should be documented because of Johnson’s “erratic behavior.”

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This undated photo posted on Facebook on April 30, 2016, shows Micah Johnson, who was a suspect in the slayings of five law enforcement officers in Dallas, July 7, 2016, during a protest over recent fatal police shootings of black men. Johnson, the Army reservist who killed five Dallas police officers, had kept an unauthorized grenade in his room on an Afghanistan base in 2014, according to a report released Friday, July 29, by Army officials investigating a sexual harassment complaint against him. (Facebook via AP)

Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Houston contributed to this report.

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Follow Reese Dunklin on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/reesedunklin and Nomaan Merchant at http://www.twitter.com/nomaanmerchant .

Afghan official: Taliban capture district in Helmand

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — An important district in Afghanistan’s southern poppy-growing province of Helmand has fallen under Taliban control after heavy fighting that killed around 17 police and wounded up to 10 others, an official said on Saturday.

The director of Helmand’s provincial council, Kareem Atal, said that Taliban militants attacked a series of police checkpoints Friday night as part of a larger assault in the Kanashin district.

Earlier, his deputy, Abdul Majeed Akhonzada, told The Associated Press that Kanashin district has “fallen into Taliban hands.”

The fall of the district, which borders Pakistan and major poppy-producing districts, means “Taliban are in control of 60 percent of Helmand,” Akhonzada said.

Much of the area of Marjah, Sangin, Garmser and Dishu districts have already fallen to the Taliban, he said.

The district police chief and deputy head of the local branch of the national intelligence agency were critically wounded in clashes, he said.

Precise casualty figures can’t be confirmed as bodies litter the ground and fighting was still underway, he added.

Atal said troops had been deployed to retake the district, but it would be a difficult task “because the Taliban have destroyed all the checkpoints.”

The central authorities have been trying for many months to convince rural districts to reduce or remove police checkpoints as they are manned in small numbers by police who are vulnerable to Taliban attack.

Residents, however, prefer the checkpoints, officials have said, as they make them feel safe.

Kanashin is a major drug smuggling route. Helmand produces most of the world’s opium, the raw material of heroin, which helps fund the Taliban’s insurgency.

The fall of Kanashin follows a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction concluding that government forces have lost five percent of the territory they held at the end of January.

The report released earlier this week said that about 65.6 percent of districts across Afghanistan were under government “control or influence” at the end of May, “a decrease from the 70.5 percent” at the end of January.

It said that of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, 268 were under government control of influence, 36 or 8.8 percent were under insurgent control or influence, and 104 or 25.6 percent were considered “at risk.”

The Taliban have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government since 2001, when their regime was ousted by the U.S. invasion.

The insurgents consider Helmand, along with neighboring Kandahar province, to be their heartland.

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In this Sunday, July 24, 2016 photo, a U.S. military personal stands guard during a graduation ceremony in Lashkargah, capital of southern Helmand province, Afghanistan. An important district in Afghanistan’s southern poppy-growing province of Helmand has fallen to Taliban control after heavy fighting that killed or wounded up to 20 police officers, an official said on Saturday. (AP Photos/Abdul Khaliq)

Business: Stocks close mostly higher, helped by technology, oil

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks ended slightly higher on Friday, helped by better-than-expected quarterly results from Google’s parent Alphabet and retailer Amazon and a modest recovery in oil prices.

However, the gains were held back by disappointing results from Exxon Mobil as well as news out of the Bank of Japan, which did not announce as much stimulus as many had hoped.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 24.11 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,432.24.

The Dow was held back partly by a drop in the oil giant Exxon Mobil. The company reported its smallest quarterly profit in 17 years, well below what analysts were looking for, due to the continuing weakness in oil prices. Its major competitor, Chevron, fared slightly better. While earnings dropped sharply from a year ago, Chevron’s results still beat analysts’ expectations.

Exxon fell $1.25, or 1.4 percent, to $88.95. Chevron climbed 69 cents, or 0.7 percent, to $102.48 after being down earlier in the day.

Broader market indicators ended higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 3.54 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,173.60 and the Nasdaq composite increased 7.15 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,162.13.

Wall Street is finishing out its busiest week of corporate earnings, which was dominated by mostly strong results from technology companies including Apple, Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon and others.

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, jumped $25.50, or 3.3 percent, to $791.34. The company reported earnings of $8.42 a share, well above the $8.04 that analysts were looking for.

Amazon rose $6.20, or 1 percent, to $758.81. The online retail giant reported a profit of $1.78 per share, well above the $1.11 a share that analysts expected. Amazon reported it sold $30.4 billion in goods in the quarter, up 31 percent from a year earlier.

The strong results from Amazon and Google, as well as the results from other tech companies, helped lift the technology-heavy Nasdaq 1.2 percent this week, while the Dow lost 0.8 percent. The S&P 500 closed the week down slightly. It was the first weekly loss for the S&P 500 after four weeks of gains.

So far, corporate profits appear to be coming well ahead of what were very low expectations. Earnings in the S&P 500 so far are down 2.4 percent from a year ago, which is better than the 5.2 percent decline expected when earnings season started, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

“Expectations were exceptionally low for the second quarter. While consumers goods and technology has been better than expected, the energy sector continues to show challenges,” said Kate Moore, chief equity strategist for BlackRock.

Investors remain cautious, however. The run-up earlier this month made stocks more expensive than investors are historically comfortable with. The S&P 500 is trading at 18.5 times its expected earnings for the next year, noticeable above the 12-14 times investors typically look for.

The presidential election will continue to grow as an issue for markets in the next several months. Investors dislike uncertainty, and the unexpectedly close presidential election and mostly unknown policies of Donald Trump puts them on edge.

Next week another fifth of the S&P 500 will report their results, including Proctor & Gamble, General Motors, Kraft Heinz, 21st Century Fox and Allstate, among many others.

Moore also pointed out the July jobs report, released August 5, will give investors direction since the June and May jobs reports showed two clashing directions for the U.S. economy.

Japan’s central bank ended a policy meeting Friday by announcing it will expand purchases of exchange traded funds from financial institutions to help inject more cash into the world’s third-largest economy and pursue its 2 percent inflation target. But the measures fell short of hopes for more aggressive action. That helped the yen surge as investors priced in fewer yen in circulation. The dollar dropped to 102.03 yen from 105.45 yen.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury note falling to 1.46 percent from 1.51 percent the day before.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude reversed earlier losses and was up 46 cents to close at $41.60 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 24 cents to $42.46 a barrel in London.

Heating oil rose less than 1 cent to $1.28 a gallon, wholesale gasoline futures rose 1 cent to $1.32 a gallon and natural gas fell was little changed at $2.88 per thousand cubic feet.

In other currencies, the euro rose to $1.1179 from $1.1073 the day before and the British pound rose to $1.3239 from $1.3148.

The price of gold closed up $16.70 to $1,349 an ounce, silver rose 16 cents to $20.31 an ounce and copper rose a penny to $2.222 a pound.

Analysis: Clinton’s speech carries weight of history

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(PhatzNewsRoom / USA Today)   —-     PHILADELPHIA — In becoming the first woman to lead a major U.S. political party, Hillary Clinton’s task Thursday night was not just to claim the Democratic nomination but to serve as a vessel for American women during a monumental moment in their history.

She and a parade of speakers before her did it by keeping the emphasis on its significance for future generations. “I’m so happy this day has come,” she said. “When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone,” said Clinton.

Her address came on the heels of a rousing speech by President Obama Wednesday night, and the challenges were clear. They boiled down to how effectively she could make a closing argument to American voters after four days devoted to combating questions about her trustworthiness.

In addition to stressing the need for “steady leadership,” Clinton shared more about her personal history. “Some people just don’t know what to make of me,” she said, before explaining how she grew up, describing her grandfather who worked in a Scranton lace mill and her mother, Dorothy, who was abandoned by her parents and ended up working as a house maid at age 14.

She also stressed the importance of her Methodist faith, as well as her early work going door-to-door on behalf of children with disabilities in Massachusetts.

“No one gets through life alone. We have to look out for each other and lift each other up,” she said.

From India’s Indira Gandhi to Germany’s Angela Merkel, many other nations have elevated women to their highest office. Yet the United States has been slow to do the same, with Clinton’s nomination coming 100 years after Jeannette Rankin became the first woman elected to Congress.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who is among those who blazed the trail for Clinton as the first female House speaker, called the moment “transformational” because of the nation’s status as the world’s leading superpower. While “we are admiring” of other global female leaders, “there’s nothing to compare it with,” said Pelosi, a California congresswoman, of the moment when Clinton accepted the nomination.

The program Thursday night also aimed to paint a portrait of a devoted daughter, mother and grandmother.

Chelsea Clinton gave a highly personal account of Clinton as a mother, saying “every single memory I have of my mom is that, regardless of what was happening in her life, she was always, always there for me.”

Hillary Clinton sought to demonstrate that her passion for issues — like helping children and people with disabilities — can be traced from her earliest days of adulthood to her current bid for the presidency.

“It’s a culmination of her work over a lifetime,” said campaign manager Robby Mook.

Clinton also cast herself as a unifying figure while drawing a contrast with Donald Trump on temperament and even suggesting he’s a danger to national security. “Don’t believe anyone who says ‘I alone can fix it,’” she said.

“A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons,” said Clinton, citing former President John Kennedy’s concerns that “a war might be started – not by big men with self-control and restraint, but by little men – the ones moved by fear and pride.”

Given her historically low levels of support from white men, the former secretary of State is counting on a huge gender advantage with women, including with younger females and some moderate Republicans.

Hillary Clinton arrives on stage to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016. © Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Hillary Clinton arrives on stage to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016. And as potentially the nation’s first female president, she also hopes to do more than just eke out a narrow win in November.

“You can look at how the Republicans have treated President Obama in a very disrespectful way. That’s why it’s very important to have a strong victory, so that the first woman president will have a Congress that cooperates, not obstructs,” Pelosi said in an interview ahead of the speech.

The speech, while unmistakably historic, was also political and aimed at defining the terms on which Clinton hopes the general election is decided.

It focused on her commitment to being an effective commander in chief; her plan to defeat the Islamic State terror group; how to repair the nation’s social fabric by bringing people together; and how to get the economy going for middle and lower wage earners.

“Some of you are frustrated — even furious. And you know what, you’re right,” she said, acknowledging the economy isn’t working the way it should.

She relished in taking swipes at Trump in a campaign that has already been highly combative.

“He spoke for 70-odd minutes, and I do mean odd,” said Clinton, referring to the GOP nominee’s acceptance speech last week in Cleveland. “He had zero solutions.”

Should she become the country’s first female leader, Clinton’s success — or failure — will send a broader message to society and to women who want to follow in her footsteps, said Pelosi. That’s why it’s critical for her to pull in as many allies as possible, she said, and Thursday night’s speech was a critical part of that effort.

“Public sentiment is everything,” said Pelosi. “God bless her for having the courage to run, to take the heat.”

The night will be remembered as the unprecedented moment when Clinton shattered what she’s called the “highest, hardest glass ceiling.”

“When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit,” Clinton said Thursday night.

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Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton hugs her husband former president Bill Clinton after accepting the nomination on the fourth and final night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 28.

Promoting national unity, Clinton also seeks to build trust

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Hillary Clinton capped off a four-day convention celebration with a plea for national unity and tolerance. Now, one of the most divisive and distrusted figures in American political life must convince voters that she rather than Republican rival Donald Trump can bring a deeply divided nation together.

“I know that at a time when so much seems to be pulling us apart, it can be hard to imagine how we’ll ever pull together again,” Clinton said to a rapt Democratic convention audience. “But I’m here to tell you tonight – progress is possible.”

After a convention speech aimed squarely at undercutting Trump, the first female presidential nominee heads off on a bus tour through two Rust Belt battlegrounds, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The shoot-from-the-hip billionaire believes he can make headway in those states with blue-collar white men, a demographic that has eluded Clinton and was unlikely to be swayed by a convention that heavily celebrated racial and gender diversity.

Clinton, accompanied by running mate Tim Kaine and their spouses, will speak about economic opportunity, diversity and national security, themes hammered home this week by a stream of politicians, celebrities, gun-violence victims, law enforcement officers, and activists of all sexualities and races.

Their goal is to turn out the coalition of minority, female and young voters that twice elected President Barack Obama to the White House and, like Obama, offset expected losses among the white male voters drawn to Trump’s message.

Democrats contrasted their optimistic, policy-laden message with the dark vision and lack of specifics that marked Trump’s speech during the Republican convention a week earlier.

“He’s offering empty promises. What are we offering? A bold agenda to improve the lives of people across our country — to keep you safe, to get you good jobs, and to give your kids the opportunities they deserve,” Clinton said. “The choice is clear.”

The convention provided hours of glowing tributes, including deeply personal testimonials from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and former boss, President Barack Obama — tributes the party hopes will help her build trust among a skeptical public.

Despite her decades on the public stage, voters know Clinton as much from Republican attacks as her resume. And on Thursday, she acknowledged it.

“I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me so let me tell you,” she said.

With the general election in full swing, Clinton must find a way to fix that.

The stakes are high: A loss to Trump could not only end Clinton’s political career, it could be a devastating coda to her and her husband’s political legacy and leave the Democratic Party weaker than it has been in a generation.

The Democratic convention was meticulously designed to craft her image as a caring grandmother tough enough to battle terrorists and unite a party still unsettled by a fractious primary process. Clinton, who aides say spent weeks working on her address, saw the speech as a major opportunity to answer what her husband called the “cartoon alternative.”

Lacking Obama’s sweeping rhetoric or the “feel-your-pain” sensitivity of her husband, Clinton leaned into her wonky image, saying: “I sweat the details of policy.”

And Clinton offered an open hand to backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying: “I’ve heard you. Your cause is our cause.”

Yet resentments lingered throughout the convention, with a handful of attendees booing during her address.

Clinton aides dismissed the protests as little more than a few holdouts. “Are there people who are still emotional and wish we didn’t get 3.7 million more votes? Yeah,” said Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. “I think most of them are going to come around.”

Jackie Baumgardner, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, a Democrat who volunteered to help delegates with disabilities, said, “I think we were all lifted up tonight and we’re going to work to get her elected.”

Throughout the convention, Democrats tried to convey the stakes of the election not only to Sanders backers but Republicans concerned about Trump’s bombastic tone and foreign policy positions.

Speaker after speaker cast Trump as intolerant, inexperienced and dangerous, including the Pakistani-immigrant father of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq, who waved the Constitution and remarked that Trump “has sacrificed nothing.”

In a first for a Democratic convention, a number of Republican economic and foreign policy leaders hammered home the point.

“I knew Ronald Reagan. I worked for Ronald Reagan. Donald Trump, you are no Ronald Reagan,” said Doug Elmets, a Reagan administration aide, echoing a famous debate quip by vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen in 1988. “This year, I will vote for a Democrat for the first time.”

Asserting Clinton’s national security capabilities were a group of military leaders, including retired Gen. John Allen, the former deputy commander of the wars in the Middle East, who called Clinton the kind of “commander in chief America needs”

With Clinton, “our international relations will not be reduced to a business transaction,” Allen said. “I also know that our armed forces will not become an instrument of torture.”

Trump dismissed such attacks as “a lot of lies” during a campaign rally earlier Thursday in Davenport, Iowa, and criticized the Democrats for not talking about terrorism or laying out a plan to aid the nation’s economy.

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Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire in Davenport, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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Follow Lisa Lerer at http://twitter.com/llerer

Afghan Forces Fail to Turn Back Taliban Gains

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)   —-    KUNDUZ CITY, Afghanistan — When President Ashraf Ghani visited the northern provincial capital of Kunduz last fall, after the city had finally been reclaimed after falling to the Taliban, he promised improvements to make sure things never got out of hand again.

Among the changes was creating three new administrative districts to help improve government support in the province. But nearly eight months later, those three districts are firmly under the control of the Taliban — and, in fact, government forces were never able to clear them and install the new officials. It is the same story in much of the rest of Kunduz Province, where the Taliban control or have mined many roads and have enforced their ban on smoking and listening to music in several areas.

Even in some of the Kunduz districts nominally under government control, officials’ true reach remains limited to the bazaars and the administrative buildings, with the Taliban having free movement in the villages, according to local residents. And last week, the government all but lost control of another district in the province, Qala-i-Zal.

“The district administrative building is neither with us nor with the Taliban,” the provincial police chief, Gen. Qasim Jangalbagh, said in an interview in Kunduz on Wednesday. “We have planted mines, and they have planted mines. So, it’s back and forth like that.”

The situation in the northern province speaks to a broader struggle this year for the Afghan security forces, with months of the Taliban’s offensive still ahead. Although the Afghan forces have so far done better in defending territory this year after a disastrous 2015, they have seemed unable to turn back the insurgents’ gains.

In southern Afghanistan, several districts in Helmand and Uruzgan provinces either remain under Taliban control or are cut off by the insurgents with the government barely clinging to administrative buildings.

Even the expansion of American powers to conduct airstrikes has not eased the concerns of local officials in a year in which both civilian casualties and Afghan security force losses are on pace for record highs.

Abdul Karim Khadimzai, the head of the provincial council in Uruzgan, expressed concern that the security situation was spiraling out of control.

“Most of the districts are cut off by the Taliban and only the district centers are nominally controlled by the government,” Mr. Khadimzai said.

“There is nothing to eat and wear, our men are staying in the trenches for 14 months, and they are homesick and have not got a single day off to take rest or be out of danger,” said Anar Gul, a local police commander in Khas Uruzgan. “We are just counting days and night in this hardship, and any moment we are expecting death.”

In Helmand, officials said the government has been unable to regain the territories lost last year, although airstrikes have so far prevented further Taliban advances. The Babaji suburb of the provincial capital and many of the province’s northern districts remain controlled or contested by the Taliban.

Estimates differ about the amount of Afghanistan under insurgent control or threat this summer.

“As of May, our assessment was that approximately nine districts were under insurgent control and about 27 districts were under some level of insurgent influence,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesman for United States forces in Afghanistan.

Sediq Sediqqi, an Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman, said government forces did not have control over nine districts and faced threats in 40-45 other districts that they were working to repel.

Privately officials worry that the Taliban threat remains at least as high as it was last year.

The Taliban made another push around Kunduz City this spring. While officials said changes in the chain of command and improved discipline had helped fend off the offensive, they were quick to note that American airstrikes have been the most critical factor.

Just weeks before slowing down the withdrawal of the remaining American troops in Afghanistan, President Obama gave his commander here broader powers to use force — essentially drawing American forces deeper into a war in which the Taliban are not the government’s only enemy.

On Wednesday, the United States military announced for the first time that American troops had been wounded in combat with fighters for the Islamic State offshoot in eastern Afghanistan: Five soldiers were reported to have taken “nonlife-threatening” injuries during an offensive against the group in Nangarhar.

Mostly, though, the broader authority for American commanders has been a freer hand in using airstrikes to help the Afghan forces.

“As a commander, and working closely with my Afghan comrades every day, this is a big difference — it enables them to retain the initiative against the enemy,” Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of American and NATO forces, said in a recent briefing. “Whereas before we were preventing defeat, now we are able to help them gain and retain the initiative.”

One senior Western official in Kabul, however, said the loosening airstrike restrictions came out of a realization that losing more territory, particularly cities and district centers, could further destabilize the country as the fragile Afghan government is struggling to manage political and factional tensions.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private briefings, said that more intense airstrikes were crucial to trying to achieve some sort of stalemate with the Taliban that could eventually increase their interest in negotiating.

But in Kunduz right now, officials describe a situation in which district centers remain under government control, but the Taliban are just around the corner.

The main road from Gul Tepa, one of the areas Mr. Ghani declared a new district in November, to Kunduz City is cut off by Taliban mines, residents said. A trip to the city that once took 15 minutes, now rerouted, takes an hour. The road closures have also affected the region’s main agricultural produce: melons and watermelons.

“In Gul Tepa, it’s all Taliban — they treat us well, but they make every home serve them food every 10 days or so, and they have told people not to smoke cigarettes and hashish or listen to music,” said Zabihullah, a shopkeeper in the district who goes by one name. “Since the government said this place will be a new district, we haven’t seen the government carrying out an operation to come and help our pain.”

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© Watan Yar/European Pressphoto Agency A member of the security forces in April during an operation against Taliban insurgents in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Attempt at U.S.-Russia cooperation in Syria suffers major setbacks

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(PhatzNewsRoom / Reuters)    —-    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt to elicit Russian military cooperation in the fight against Islamic State in Syria suffered two potentially crippling blows on Thursday.

First, the Syrian army said it had cut off all supply routes into the eastern part of the city of Aleppo – Syria’s most important opposition stronghold – and President Bashar al-Assad’s government asked residents to leave the city.

That move, U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said on Thursday, appeared to be an effort to pre-empt a U.S. demand that Russia and Syria reopen a major road into the divided northern city before talks could begin on creating a joint intelligence center to coordinate air attacks against Islamic State.

Then al Qaeda’s Syrian branch announced on Thursday it was terminating its relationship with the global network created by Osama bin Laden and changing its name to remove what it called a pretext by the United States and other countries to attack Syrians.

Although one U.S. official called it “a change in name only,” the move complicates the American proposal to limit the Russians and Syrians to targeting only Nusra and IS, not other rebel groups supported by Washington and its allies in the coalition against Islamic State.

“By disavowing its ties to al Qaeda – which, incidentally, it did with al Qaeda’s blessing – Nusra has made it harder to isolate it from more moderate groups, some of whose members may join it now because it’s more powerful than some of the groups they belong to now,” said the official.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Washington has been clear about its concerns over the announcement of the humanitarian corridor and that its view of the Nusra Front had not changed despite its name change.

“But we also remain committed to the proposals reached by the United States and Russia to better enforce the cessation of hostilities in Syria and provide the space needed for a resumption of political talks. If fully implemented in good faith, they can achieve a measure of success that has eluded us thus far,” Kirby told Reuters.

“As the secretary made clear, however, we are pragmatic about these efforts, and we will look to Russia to meet its commitments as we will meet ours. That will be the primary, determining factor of success here,” he added.

FALTERING PROPOSAL

The twin U.S. goals in Syria have been ending the violence that already has claimed some 400,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates, and seeking a political process to replace Assad, whom President Barack Obama has said “must go.”

But while Washington and Moscow have both expressed hope they can find a way to cooperate against IS, Kerry’s proposal was already in trouble due to the competing objectives of the Cold War-era foes as well as resistance from U.S. military and intelligence officials.

U.S. officials questioned Russian and Syrian claims that their aim in evacuating civilians from Aleppo was to clear the way for humanitarian assistance to reach the besieged city, where 200,000-300,000 civilians remain with only two to three weeks of food on hand.

“Why would you evacuate a city that you wanted to send humanitarian aid to?” asked one official. “At first glance, that would appear to be a unilateral effort by Moscow and Assad to pre-empt Kerry’s demand for ending the siege of Aleppo before starting negotiations on the larger issues. If the proposal isn’t dead, it seems to be pretty badly wounded.”

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura wants a deal as soon as possible so he can restart peace talks within a month and aid flows can resume.

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(Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and John Walcott in Washington, additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; editing by G Crosse)

Trump comments raise new concerns about candidates’ intelligence briefings

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(PhatzNewsRoom / USA Today)   —-    WASHINGTON — Donald Trump’s entreaty to Russia hackers to find rival Hillary Clinton’s deleted e-mails has renewed the debate over a decades-long tradition of providing major presidential candidates with classified security briefings.

Trump told Fox News Thursday that his comment — which drew a firestorm of protests from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia — was simply a sarcastic reference to Clinton’s e-mail scandal. But the mere suggestion that a foreign adversary be enlisted in espionage against a political rival led Democrats in Congress to call on President Obama to cancel the briefings.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid even suggested that intelligence officials give Trump a fake briefing. “I would suggest to the intelligence agencies, if you’re forced to brief this guy, don’t tell him anything. Just fake it, because this man is dangerous,” Reid said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “Fake it. Pretend you’re doing a briefing, but you can’t give the guy any information.”

Those briefings are expected to start soon. Under a tradition started by President Harry Truman in 1952, the nominees of both major political parties receive classified briefings to prepare them for the presidency.

Trump accepted the Republican nomination a week ago, but has not yet been given a briefing, said an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the briefings. In order to be even-handed and non-partisan, the process doesn’t begin until both major parties have concluded their nominating conventions. Even then it may take days or weeks to schedule and arrange them.

Questions, too, have been raised about Clinton’s capacity to receive classified information, given an FBI investigation that found she mishandled classified e-mails that she sent to and from a home-based e-mail server off the State Department network. That investigation absolved her of criminal activity, but the State Department is conducting a review of whether she should maintain the security clearance that most former officials of her stature keep after leaving office.

But revocation of her security clearance would have no impact on her intelligence briefings, because they’re provided to her as a candidate at Obama’s direction.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday that the briefings are an important part of the presidential transition process, which is a top priority for Obama.

“The administration is confident that they can both provide relevant and sufficient briefings to the two major party presidential candidates while still protecting sensitive national security information,” he said. He underscored that the same information will be provided to both candidates.

That evenhandedness could mean that both candidates get only a basic briefing.

“You can’t brief just one candidate,” Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told Politico Thursday. “They will give largely the same briefing to both. They will not be disclosing to Donald Trump, I am confident, anything revealing sources and methods. I think he will get a very, very top-line brief. And what’s more, that’s probably the only digestible form for him anyway.”

U.S. Secures Vast New Trove of Intelligence on ISIS

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)   —-    WASHINGTON — The United States is poring over a vast trove of new intelligence about Islamic State fighters who have flowed into Syria and Iraq and some who then returned to their home countries, information that American officials say could help fight militants on the battlefield and prevent potential plotters from slipping into Europe.

American-backed Syrian Kurdish and Arab militias have seized more than 10,000 documents and 4.5 terabytes of digital data in recent weeks while fighting insurgents in Manbij in northern Syria, near the Turkish border, a major hub for Islamic State fighters entering and leaving Syria, American officials said.

An initial American review of the material offers new clues about “foreign fighters, the networks, where they’re from,” according to Brett McGurk, President Obama’s special envoy for combating the Islamic State. Other officials said the information included the fighters’ identities, countries of origin, routes into Syria and the illicit networks that recruited and ferried them to the region. Those details are being shared with allies to help stanch the flow of militants.

“We want to make sure that all that information is disseminated in a coherent way among our coalition partners,” Mr. McGurk said last week, during a meeting of foreign and defense ministers in Washington, “so that we can track the networks from the core and all the way to wherever the dots might connect, whether that is in Europe or in North Africa or Southeast Asia.”

It is the largest single trove seized in the fight against the Islamic State since Delta Force commandos raided the home of a top Islamic State financier in eastern Syria in May 2015. That operation carried off laptops, cellphones and other materials that led to airstrikes against top terrorist leaders and opened a valuable window into how the group manages its finances, brokers hostages for ransom and delegates duties within its self-proclaimed caliphate.

The latest seizure comes as a failed coup in Turkey has cast new doubts on that country’s ability and willingness to deploy military and other security forces to seal its long border with Syria. Many senior Turkish officers have been detained in a post-coup crackdown, leading American officials to worry that Turkish counterterrorism efforts will be weakened.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, among others, has repeatedly criticized Turkey for not doing to enough to stem the flow of fighters across its frontier. That complaint had only recently started to fade as the Turkish authorities responded to attacks in their country linked to the Islamic State.

American intelligence agencies estimate that nearly 43,000 fighters from more than 120 countries — including 250 Americans among 7,400 Westerners — have gone or tried to go to Syria and Iraq since 2011.

While Turkey’s border tightening and other intelligence and law enforcement measures have by some estimates cut in half the monthly flow into Syria and Iraq, American analysts say as many as 500 to 1,000 fighters a month are still pouring in, with hundreds of others heeding the Islamic State’s call to go to affiliates in Libya or Afghanistan instead, or remain at home and carry out attacks from there.

Earlier this month, a top United Nations official said that nearly 30,000 of those foreign fighters remained in Syria and Iraq — far higher than Western intelligence agencies had estimated. The official, Jean-Paul Laborde, a United Nations assistant secretary general and head of its counterterrorism committee, told reporters in Geneva that as the Islamic State loses territory in Iraq and Syria, “we are seeing them return, not only to Europe but to all of their countries of origin, like Tunisia, Morocco.”

American military and intelligence analysts are combing through the documents and electronic data recovered in Manbij, hoping to add to their growing knowledge of the rosters of Islamic State fighters and to help identify, locate and attack fighters in Syria and Iraq.

In a speech Wednesday at Fort Bragg, N.C., Mr. Carter described Manbij as “a key transit point for external plotters threatening our homelands. And there we’re already beginning to gain and exploit intelligence that’s helping us map their networks of foreign fighters.”

Another use of the documents is, as Mr. McGurk said, to alert foreign intelligence and counterterrorism services across Europe, the Mideast and North Africa, even as a spate of terrorist attacks in France and Germany — some apparently inspired by the Islamic State — has roiled Europe.

Any information from the Manbij trove would augment the activities of a sensitive intelligence-coordination center at a military base in Jordan called Operation Gallant Phoenix.

At the base, military, counterterrorism and law enforcement agencies from several countries use publicly available software to sift through open-source information. The Pentagon-led effort has caused turf war tensions with the C.I.A. in Jordan, but supporters of the program have prevailed, sending names and other leads back to foreign capitals for investigation.

The latest trove of documents was collected in various locations in the region around Manbij, where Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighters, backed by American Special Operations commandos, have battled Islamic State fighters at a crucial junction between the Turkish border and Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria.

“The operation in Manbij is about shutting down the main corridor from Raqqa and then out, in which some of the attackers that launched the Paris attacks we know traveled through that route,” Mr. McGurk said, referring to the Islamic State’s assault on Paris in November. “By shutting that down, you make it harder for them to kind of plan the larger-scale, kind of more coordinated attacks.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, has reported that more than 100 civilians have died in airstrikes in and around Manbij since late May, when the American-backed militias started their offensive against Islamic State fighters there.

The documents recovered in Manbij recall an American commando raid in the summer of 2007 on a suspected Qaeda safe house in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, near the Syrian border. That assault yielded documents containing information about Syrian smuggling networks used to move foreign fighters into Iraq to fight for Al Qaeda. The most significant discovery was a collection of biographical sketches that listed hometowns, dates of birth, aliases and other details for more than 700 fighters brought into Iraq since August 2006. American officials later used the information to pressure the fighters’ home countries to crack down on the flow.

American officials express confidence the latest cache will yield similar insights.

“We are learning more about Daesh at all levels from this,” said Col. Christopher Garver, a spokesman for the United States military in Iraq, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “We’ve learned about how they organize their governance structures to ensure they can completely control all aspects of daily life, from religious practice, to education to tax collection and management of central services.”

“We have a better understanding of how Daesh facilitates foreign fighter movements into and out of Syria and Iraq, which gives us valuable insight into stopping the flow of foreign fighters into the region,” Colonel Garver said.

Business: World markets mixed; BOJ announces modest stimulus expansion

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) — European shares were mixed in early trading on Friday after a spotty day in Asia as investors were disappointed by the Bank of Japan’s modest expansion of its lavish monetary stimulus.

KEEPING SCORE: Britain’s FTSE 100 slipped 0.2 percent to 6,720.08. Germany’s DAX gained 0.6 percent at 10,331.16. France’s CAC 40 rose 0.2 percent at 4,427.22. U.S. futures augured a lower opening on Wall Street, with the Dow futures down 0.2 percent and S&P futures also 0.2 percent lower.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 gained 0.6 percent to 16,569.27, recovering from earlier losses. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 1.3 percent to 21,891.37. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 rose 0.1 percent to 5,560.40. China’s Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.5 percent to 2,979.34 and South Korea’s Kospi slid 0.2 percent to 2,016.19. Most Southeast Asian markets were lower.

JAPAN-ECONOMY: Japan’s central bank ended a policy meeting Friday by announcing it will expand purchases of exchange traded funds from financial institutions to help inject more cash into the world’s third-largest economy and pursue its 2 percent inflation target. But the measures fell short of hopes for more aggressive action.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “After much anticipation Japan has announced more monetary and fiscal stimulus. However, the Bank of Japan has underwhelmed with just a doubling of its of ETF buying program … but no increase in its bond buying program or monetary base target, suggesting no real further easing of monetary policy,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist of AMP Capital.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 gained 0.6 percent to 16,569.27, recovering from earlier losses. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 1.3 percent to 21,891.37. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 rose 0.1 percent to 5,560.40. China’s Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.5 percent to 2,979.34 and South Korea’s Kospi slid 0.2 percent to 2,016.19. Most Southeast Asian markets were lower.

CURRENCIES: In currencies, the dollar fell to 103.73 yen after closing at 104.79 yen on Thursday. The euro rose to $1.1097 from $1.1081 from the previous day.

OIL: In the energy market, benchmark U.S. crude lost 38 cents to $40.76 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell 78 cents to close at $41.14 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 56 cents to $42.68 in London. It settled at $43.23 the previous day.

Opinion: Did Trump Commit Treason?

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(PhatNewsRoom / Roll Call)   —    Donald Trump was roundly criticized Wednesday for his comments inviting Russian spies to probe Hillary Clinton’s email.

Democratic critics and commentators at several news outlets described his remarks at a Florida news conference as treasonous. Some top Republicans scrambled to downplay them as #treasonousTrump trended on Twitter.

“Trump’s comments essentially sanction a foreign power’s cyberspying,” The New York Times tweeted.

“How exactly would we distinguish Trump’s latest comments from treason,” The Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote.

“This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue,” Clinton senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

 

The reaction came within minutes of Trump’s assertion, repeated several times in Doral, Florida, that he would like the Russian government to obtain emails allegedly missing from those Clinton handed over to the FBI, which investigated Clinton’s controversial use of a personal email server while secretary of state. She was not prosecuted.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta, who is expected to address the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia Wednesday night, updated his speech to insert a “a direct attack on Trump for his rhetoric,” CNN reported .

“This just is beyond my own understanding of the responsibilities that candidates have to be loyal to their country and to their country alone, not to reach out to somebody like Putin and Russia, and try to engage them in an effort to try to, in effect, conduct a conspiracy against another party,” Panetta told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Wednesday.

At the Philadelphia convention, Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he was unsure if Trump’s comments fit the description of treason, but he said the remarks were “devastating” for the real estate mogul and “could be lethal to his campaign.”

“You don’t encourage an enemy to conduct espionage on your fellow Americans,” Nelson said.

American intelligence agencies said this week they had “high confidence ” that Russia stole emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee, the only question was whether the Kremlin had engineered their release last week by Wikileaks in order to influence the election.

The emails revealed criticism by DNC staffers of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, bolstering his contention that the national committee, in violation of its policy of neutrality, favored Clinton in the Democratic primaries. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned over the scandal.

Newt Gingrich was among prominent conservatives who played down Trump’s comments.

“The media seems more upset by Trump’s joke about Russian hacking than by the fact that Hillary’s personal server was vulnerable to Russia,” Gingrich tweeted.

FBI Director James E. Comey said by routing classified information through her personal server, Clinton and her aides were careless. He could not rule out the possibility that a hostile power hacked the account.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who campaigned against Trump during the Republican presidential primaries, went after both candidates.

@hillaryclinton put our security at risk, but Putin is not our friend; foreign meddling in US elections cannot be tolerated.

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)   —   WASHINGTON — After all the ways that this year’s presidential election has made history, Donald J. Trump found a new line to cross on Wednesday, when he said at a news conference that Russia should hack his opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Mr. Trump said, in reference to the private email server Mrs. Clinton used while she was secretary of state. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

There is simply no precedent for this: A presidential candidate publicly appealing to a foreign adversary to intervene in the election on his behalf.

“This is unprecedented — it is one of those things that seems to be genuinely new in international relations,” said Paul Musgrave, a University of Massachusetts professor who studies American foreign policy.

After a long pause, Mr. Musgrave added, “Being shocked into speechlessness is not the sort of thing you’re really used to in the business of foreign policy analysis.”

As part of an investigation into her private server, Mrs. Clinton handed over 30,000 emails to the State Department. But she deleted a similar number of emails that she said were unrelated to her work at the department.

American presidential elections are high-stakes events. Russia would not be the first foreign power, friendly or hostile, to pursue its preferred outcome. Nor would Mr. Trump be the first politician to leverage foreign actors for electoral benefit.

But this is the first time that a presidential candidate has openly asked a foreign power to meddle in the democratic process to his benefit. More than that, Mr. Trump seemed to be suggesting that Russia should violate United States law on his behalf.

Photo

President Ronald Reagan presenting Bruce Laingen, a former hostage in Iran, with an American flag during ceremonies on the South Lawn of the White House in 1981. Credit Bettmann

Were Russia to follow Mr. Trump’s suggestion, the foreign intervention into American politics would be among the most severe of the past century.

In 1940, as the United States debated whether to enter World War II, British spies disseminated rumors to discredit prominent American isolationists and worked to promote politicians who favored intervention.

When President Jimmy Carter ran for re-election in 1980, he lost in part because he had failed to secure the freedom of 52 American hostages held in Iran. They were released on the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. Iranian negotiators later told the journalist Mark Bowden that they had stalled to deliberately hurt Mr. Carter, as punishment for his having sheltered the former Iranian shah.

Nations pursue their interests, whether other countries like it or not. Great powers in particular, including the United States, often meddle in foreign elections.

But such operations are conducted in secret because they are hostile acts, meant to subvert the will of the targeted country’s population and the sanctity of its institutions. Mr. Trump, in openly inviting such foreign interference, was undercutting one of the most fundamental national interests of a democratic state.

“Nobody ever — and I think I can be confident about this — nobody ever stood up at a podium and said, ‘Bring it on,’” said Jeremy Shapiro, a Brookings Institution scholar of foreign policy, referring to Mr. Trump’s invitation for a foreign power to meddle in his own country’s politics.

Though rare, previous American politicians have looked abroad for help with votes at home.

In 1968, as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration tried to broker peace talks in Vietnam, a Republican activist encouraged South Vietnamese officials to resist the talks, which they did. The activist, who represented herself as speaking for the Republican presidential candidate, Richard M. Nixon, said Mr. Nixon would get South Vietnam a better deal. According to documents that were later declassified, a South Vietnamese official was recorded as saying that his government had refused to participate in the talks as a way “to help Nixon.”

More recently, in 2012, the Republican presidential challenger, Mitt Romney, cultivated ties with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. While Mr. Netanyahu did not explicitly endorse Mr. Romney, he frequently voiced his acute dissatisfaction with President Obama in comments to the American news media.

American officials have “high confidence” that Russia was behind the theft of emails from the Democratic National Committee.

Three years later, as Mr. Obama tried to strike a nuclear deal with Iran, congressional Republicans invited Mr. Netanyahu to condemn the proposed accord in a speech to Congress.

While this arguably violated the norms of foreign policy by circumventing the White House on a matter of foreign relations, and by inviting an ally to intervene against the president in a domestic political dispute, Mr. Trump went a large step further in soliciting an adversary, and encouraging it to violate United States law on his behalf.

In the hours after Mr. Trump’s statement, foreign policy and legal analysts struggled to articulate the scale of his deviation from political norms.

William Inboden, a University of Texas professor who served on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, told Politico the comments were “an assault on the Constitution” and “tantamount to treason.”

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish prime minister and foreign minister, wrote on Twitter, “I never thought a serious candidate for US President could be a serious threat against the security of the West. But that’s where we are.”

It is doubtful that Russia will alter its espionage practices based on public suggestions from Mr. Trump, which some defenders argue was meant as a joke. But Mr. Musgrave worried that such language could weaken norms, even if only slightly, against foreign involvement in American politics.

“Trump is legitimating behaviors that nobody ever thought could be legitimated,” Mr. Musgrave said, calling the incident “one of those reminders about how fragile norms are.”

Mr. Shapiro, the Brookings Institution scholar, sounded physically exhausted by Mr. Trump’s comments and suggested they were driven by something more banal than collusion with a foreign power.

“To me what it demonstrates is not that he’s necessarily in cahoots with the Russians, or that he’s intending to commit treason or sway the election by this act, but that he just has no sense of what the norms are,” Mr. Shapiro said, adding:

“He has no sense of what an extraordinary statement that was.”

 

Analysis: Why Syria’s al-Qaida may be considering a split

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BEIRUT (AP) — Al-Qaida’s branch in Syria is considering splitting ties with the global terror group, members say.

A Nusra Front official told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the group’s leader plans to announce a disassociation with al-Qaida soon. Speaking via text message from northern Syria, the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said Nusra will merge with other insurgent groups.

If it does, that could throw a wrench in talks between the U.S. and Russia on a military partnership in Syria, complicating efforts to separate the militant fighters from other moderate rebel factions.

Here’s a look at the Nusra Front and what the move would mean.

A POWERFUL FORCE

The Nusra Front, led by Syrian militant Abu Mohammed al-Golani, is al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria and is the second strongest extremist group in the country after its rival, the Islamic State group. Its fighters have been among the strongest in battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his allies like Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas. Nusra is among rebels holding territory in northern, western and southern Syria.

While made up of Islamic extremists and some foreign jihadis, the Nusra Front has presented its priority as ousting Assad rather than immediately pressing al-Qaida’s global goals. That has enabled it to work alongside other Syrian factions, including moderate ones, to fight both the Syrian military and the Islamic State group. Those factions value its battlefield prowess: A Nusra-led coalition called the Army of Conquest has succeeded in rolling back Assad’s forces in northwest Idlib province.

But its closeness to other rebels has complicated efforts at a ceasefire. The last ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia did not cover Nusra or IS, so Russian warplanes and Assad’s forces continued to battle them, often hitting moderate groups that were part of the truce, including ones backed by Washington and its Arab allies. That was one factor leading to the cease-fire’s collapse.

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WHY SPLIT?

Those in Nusra who want to split hope that breaking with al-Qaida would remove the international stigma from their shoulders. The group could present itself as a local Syrian rebel group and allow it to work even closer with more opposition factions, perhaps giving it some protection from the international campaign against it.

There have been rumors in the past of a split, but it never happened. Last year, al-Golani repeated his allegiance to al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri. But talk has become louder again. This week, a senior Nusra fighter based in northern Syria told The Associated Press that many senior officials in the group support splitting. Militant websites and social media have been full of claims the move would come soon, with some supporters claiming it would change its name to the Front to Conquer the Levant.

Still, the move is not certain, given it also has downsides for Nusra.

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IMPACT FOR THE U.S.

A split would complicate things for Washington, which is likely Nusra’s intention.

The U.S. and Russia are trying to hammer out an agreement on a new military partnership in Syria. One leaked U.S. proposal would call for a sharing of intelligence and targeting for strikes against IS and Nusra on the condition Russia commits to convince its ally Assad to ground Syria’s bombers and start a political transition process.

But that would be more difficult if Nusra becomes even closer to other rebels. Washington and its allies have long pressed mainstream opposition groups to “de-couple” from front lines where Nusra is present, with little success.

“If Nusra Front was to sever its ties to al-Qaeda, opposition groups will in no way ever consider such de-coupling,” said Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. Consequently, any future intervention against Nusra will be perceived by opposition Syrians as a de facto move in support of the Assad regime, he said.

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DOWNSIDES FOR NUSRA

If it quits al-Qaida, the Nusra Front loses the brand name that drew many of its fighters to its ranks. That could drive away members.

Foreign fighters in particular could become disillusioned since many of them were drawn by the al-Qaida link and see their participation in the Syria war in more universal terms of global jihad rather than as simply a campaign to oust Assad, said Sam Heller, a Beirut-based analyst who writes about the Syria war.

A Syrian opposition figure said some hard-line Nusra leaders who oppose a move believe foreign fighters would switch over to other extremist factions like the Jund al-Aqsa militant group or the Turkistan Islamic Party. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment on the subject.

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ONCE AL-QAIDA, ALWAYS AL-QAIDA?

Even if it breaks with the al-Qaida franchise, the group’s Islamic militant ideology is not likely to change. “Whatever it might then name itself, (it) will still be much the same organization,” said Lister.

And the U.S. is not going to start looking on it any more favorably.

Washington believes that Nusra’s “fundamental nature is that it’s al-Qaida in Syria,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau when asked Tuesday about talk of a possible split.

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Associated Press writer Philip Issa contributed to this report.

Politics: Obama passes baton to Clinton, imploring nation to elect her

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Hillary Clinton has the stage.

Stepping out of the shadows of presidents past, the former first lady, senator and vanquished-candidate-turned-secretary-of-state appeared unannounced on the platform at her nominating convention, pointed a finger at President Barack Obama and gave him a hug.

Clinton had just been anointed the inheritor of Obama’s legacy with his vigorous endorsement speech, the candidate who could realize the “promise of this great nation.”

“She’s been there for us, even if we haven’t always noticed,” Obama said Wednesday, imploring the country to elect the woman he defeated eight years ago.

Summoning his most famous line from that campaign, Obama said: “If you’re serious about our democracy, you can’t afford to stay home just because she might not align with you on every issue. You’ve got to get in the arena with her, because democracy isn’t a spectator sport. America isn’t about ‘Yes he will.’ It’s about ‘Yes we can.'”

Wednesday’s was the picture of diversity that Democrats have sought to frame the whole week: A black man symbolically seeking to hand the weightiest baton in the free world to a woman. It culminated a parade of speeches over the last 72 hours — from men and women, gay and straight, white, black and Hispanic; young and old — hoping to cast the Republicans as out-of-touch social conservatives led by an unhinged and unscrupulous tycoon.

Reeling off his greatest hits as president, from the auto industry bailout and health care overhaul to landmark deals on climate change and Iran’s nuclear program, Obama said the choice was between “a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other, and turn away from the rest of the world” and “the America I know.”

“There is only one candidate in this race who believes in that future, and has devoted her life to it,” Obama said.

Republican Donald Trump did his best to steal the spotlight Wednesday.

Following reports Russia hacked Democratic Party emails, Trump said he’d like to see Moscow find the thousands of emails Clinton deleted from the account she used as secretary of state. The appearance of him encouraging Russia to meddle in the presidential campaign enraged Democrats and Republicans, even as he dismissed suggestions from Obama and other Democrats that Moscow already was intervening on his behalf.

Trump’s comments fed Democrats’ contentions that the billionaire businessman is unqualified to be commander in chief. He has no national security experience and has breezily dismissed decades of U.S. foreign policy constants, like standing by NATO allies that long suffered under Russian domination. Yet in a scattershot news conference Wednesday, Trump tried to turn the table on Clinton, saying he believed it unsafe for her to receive national security briefings in light of her well-known email missteps while in office.

In Philadelphia, the Democrats’ heaviest hitters including Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Clinton’s running mate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, contrasted Trump’s unpredictability with their candidate’s steadiness.

Following former President Bill Clinton’s address a day earlier, they touted Hillary’s remarkable journey from young attorney and Arkansas governor’s wife to half of the two-for-one presidency that oversaw a booming economy, without mentioning the scandals; from New York lawmaker to defeated presidential hopeful; from America’s top diplomat to the first woman ever put forward by a major party for president.

“There’s only one person in this race who will be there, who’s always been there for you, and that’s Hillary Clinton’s life story,” Biden said.

“Hillary Clinton is ‘lista’,” said Kaine, a former Richmond mayor and Virginia governor who speaks fluent Spanish. “She’s ready because of her faith. She’s ready because of her heart. She’s ready because of her experience. She’s ready because she knows in America we are stronger when we are together.”

After a quarter-century just behind the men in charge, Clinton gets her turn alone with the American public on Thursday evening.

Many people don’t trust her, polls consistently show, a legacy perhaps of the Clintons’ 1990s-era controversies from the land deal known as Whitewater to Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. To her detractors, Hillary’s dishonesty has only been reinforced by the revelations over her use of a private email server in government.

And some Democrats still aren’t convinced of her candidacy, either, after a difficult primary campaign against Bernie Sanders, a sentiment underscored by the protests of a small but boisterous set of Sanders’ supporters.

A consistent message has been Clinton’s perseverance. Obama noted his own bruising contest with Clinton in 2008, hailing his erstwhile rival’s toughness as a candidate and “her intelligence, her judgment and her discipline” as a team member.

For the all the praise of Clinton, Wednesday’s speakers spent significant time attacking her opponent.

“Trump says he wants to run the nation like he runs his business. God help us,” said former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a billionaire entrepreneur and an independent whom Democrats called on to broaden Clinton’s appeal.

“Our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump,” Obama said.

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Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton hugs President Barack Obama after joining him on stage during the third day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia , Wednesday, July 27, 2016. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

What political news is the world searching for on Google and talking about on Twitter? Find out via AP’s Election Buzz interactive. http://elections.ap.org/buzz

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Klapper contributed from Washington.

French ID second church attacker, warning 4 days earlier

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PARIS (AP) — The second man who attacked a Normandy church during a morning Mass this week, slitting the throat of the elderly priest, is a 19-year-old Frenchman from eastern France, the prosecutor’s office said Thursday.

An official in the prosecutor’s office said it was “very probable” that the man, identified as Abdel-Malik Nabil Petit Jean, was the same man pictured in a photo distributed to police services four days before the attack and obtained by The Associated Press. The information accompanying the photo of an unidentified man said the person pictured “could be ready to participate in an attack on national territory.”

UCLAT, an agency that coordinates the anti-terrorist fight, said it obtained the photo from a trusted source.

Petit Jean and another 19-year-old, Adel Kermiche, were killed by police as they left the church Tuesday in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray. An elderly man among the five people in the congregation was seriously wounded by knife slashes. One of three nuns present escaped and alerted police.

Petit Jean was born in eastern France, in Saint Die des Vosges, in eastern France, the prosecutor’s office said. He was identified via his DNA. Kermiche was from Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.

A man detained after the attack was still being held for questioning, the prosecutor’s office said.

The attack was claimed by the Islamic State group, which released a video Wednesday allegedly showing Kermiche and his accomplice clasping hands and pledging allegiance to the group.

In it, Kermiche identifies himself by the nom de guerre Abu Jaleel al-Hanafi, and says Petit Jean is called Ibn Omar.

The UCLAT flyer to law enforcement said the person in the photo “could already be present in France and act alone or with other individuals. The date, the target and the modus operandi of these actions are for the moment unknown.”

The church attack came less than two weeks after an attack by a man barreling his truck down a pedestrian zone in Nice, on the Riviera, that killed 84 people celebrating France’s national day.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for that attack, too, as well as two attacks that followed in Germany.

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A picture of late Father Jacques Hamel is placed on flowers at the makeshift memorial in front of the city hall closed to the church where an hostage taking left a priest dead the day before in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, Normandy, France, Wednesday, July 27, 2016. The Islamic State group crossed a new threshold Tuesday in its war against the West, as two of its followers targeted a church in Normandy, slitting the throat of an elderly priest celebrating Mass and using hostages as human shields before being shot by police. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

Elaine Ganley contributed to this report.

Democratic donors, allies offer reward for Trump tax returns

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The wealthy Democratic donors, many of them executives who run complex businesses, know firsthand how revealing tax returns can be. Perhaps that’s why they can’t stop talking about Republican nominee Donald Trump’s refusal to release his.

In their suites at the Ritz Carlton hotel, where many are staying during this week’s Democratic convention, and at its auxiliary swanky parties, the supporters of Hillary Clinton are sounding the alarm about Trump’s break with decades of presidential campaign tradition.

Clinton put out eight years of recent tax filings last summer, and they lament that voters don’t seem to understand why Trump’s refusal to do the same matters.

Democratic talk of the taxes spilled onto the convention stage Wednesday night. Vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, mocking Trump, said, “Believe me, there’s nothing suspicious in my tax returns. Believe me!” The crowd laughed.

There’s even a literally a bounty for the Trump documents.

Moishe Mana, a top fundraiser for Clinton, has offered to give $1 million to the charity of Trump’s choice if he makes them public. He joins an unnamed Republican donor working with Clinton ally David Brock who has made a similar offer of $5 million.

“Through his financial documents, we are trying to break into the image that he’s portraying to the American people,” said Mana, a real estate developer in Miami. “He says he’s a successful businessman who wants to do for the country what he did for his company. Well, go ahead, show me the money.”

Trump is unmoved. The billionaire owner of the Trump Organization, an international development company, says the Internal Revenue Service is reviewing his most recent returns and that he’ll release them once that audit is complete.

He reiterated that plan at a news conference Wednesday in Doral, Florida. Asked when he would put out the documents, he said: “I don’t know. Depends on the audit.”

There’s no telling whether that would happen before Election Day, but the IRS says there’s no legal reason Trump can’t make the tax returns public even as they are under review.

The issue has flared up in recent days, in the wake of the hack of emails at the Democratic National Committee that the Obama administration said Wednesday was almost certainly the work of Russia. The group WikiLeaks released the emails on the eve of the convention, a leak its leader Julian Assange has said was timed to inflict political damage on Clinton.

Trump said Wednesday that he has no ties to Russia whatsoever, but that hasn’t stopped Democratic donors in Philadelphia from saying that in the absence of Trump’s tax returns, voters are left to wonder whether there are undisclosed financial ties between Trump and foreign entities.

“Think of what’s gone on just this week and connect the dotted lines,” said top Clinton donor J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire venture capitalist in Chicago. “I’m not sure what’s going on, but it sure doesn’t look good. The question is who his investors are, and whether there are any in China or Russia that are affecting his personal income.”

Mana also wants that answered. If Trump’s elected president, he said, “how much in debt would we be to other countries? This is about the security of the United States. We have the right to make sure he’s not in debt to other countries.”

While information about Trump’s debts has been made public in personal financial disclosures filed with federal election regulators, the Democratic donors say access to his taxes might shed light on previously unknown business arrangements. The returns would also detail for the first time how much he pays in income tax and how much he gives to charity.

“He is obfuscating in order to avoid being discovered as a liar,” Pritzker said.

The 2012 GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, resisted putting out his 2011 tax return until the September just before the election, after being pressed for months about doing so. The documents showed he paid an effective tax rate of 14.1 percent, far lower than the average person, spawning days of bad headlines.

Other presidential candidates, including Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have been dinged for not giving much to charity.

Bill and Hillary Clinton paid an overall federal tax rate of 31.6 percent between 2007 and 2014, her returns showed. In 2014, they donated almost 11 percent of their income to charity.

In addition to blaming the IRS audit, Trump has said in interviews that it might not make political sense for him to put out his returns.

Romney’s returns were “a tiny peanut compared to mine,” Trump said on “Meet the Press” in an interview that aired last Sunday. There was little controversial in the Romney documents, he said.

Yet the media “made him look bad,” Trump said. “In fact, I think he lost his election because of that.”

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What political news is the world searching for on Google and talking about on Twitter? Find out via AP’s Election Buzz interactive. http://elections.ap.org/buzz

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report from Doral, Florida.

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Follow Julie Bykowicz on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/bykowicz

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