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Hundreds rally at Capitol to protest mounting tensions with Iran – Austin American-Statesman

Naeemi Atefeh and her two young children stood at the state Capitol on Saturday holding signs with messages protesting the possibility of a new war in the Middle East.

Atefeh, who is Iranian, said its important for her and her half-Iranian, half-Syrian children to take a stand for what they believe in: world peace.

"The U.S. government must end these merciless and cruel wars on the bodies of people," Atefeh said. "People are deeply suffering for rich profiteers and bankers."

Atefeh and her family were among hundreds of protesters who gathered Saturday afternoon at the Capitol building to show their opposition at the prospect of an escalation in hostilities with Iran. The protest, in solidarity with anti-war demonstrations across the country, came after a U.S. airstrike that killed Irans top general, Qassem Soleimani, early Friday.

About 3,500 paratroopers from Fort Braggs 82nd Airborne Division were sent to the Middle East this week as tensions with Iran continue to grow.

The Austin protest was organized by several anti-war organizations, including CodePink, the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition, Veterans for Peace, United AntiWar Coalition, United for Peace and Justice and Feminist Foreign Policy.

Atefeh said being at the protest held emotional significance for her and her family.

"At home, we talk about being peaceful and standing up for our principles," she said. "While we cant do anything to help over there, at least were standing here saying were against the continuous occupation and wars of the U.S."

Protesters at the Capitol raised up signs that read "U.S. out of Iraq" and "Oppose Imperialist War" while chanting "Hands off Iran" to the beat of a snare drum.

Brianna Griffith, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition, said the anti-war organizations came together to speak out against President Donald Trumps "dangerous escalation" with Iran and "violation of sovereignty of both Iran and Iraq."

"The days of there being no anti-war movements are gone," Griffith said. "Were going to be in the streets no matter what against all these illegal wars in the Middle East and throughout the world."

Griffith said she previously felt helpless in how to speak out against war, especially after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. She said the destabilization of the Middle East in the past few years has renewed her fervor against war.

"I made a promise that I can never stay silent again," she said. "These wars dont benefit us. They only benefit the heads of corporations and their defense contractors."

Protester Kaya Epstein held a sign that read "End U.S. Imperialism" and "Lives are not a commodity."

"We cant continue to allow the U.S., the 1% and the government to use their power to oppress people in their interest to make money," Epstein said.

Epstein said the U.S. has imposed imperialism with military power on other countries and that its up to working citizens to raise their voices and call for change.

"Its our duty as citizens to stand up and protest this and show that were not complicit in a system of oppression," she said.

Atefeh said she worries about what will happen next, especially since many of her family members live in Iran.

"You see people that you love suffering and you cant do anything," she said. "Its traumatizing."

However, Atefeh said her family in Iran remains optimistic and hopeful for the future.

"While there are people who will defend their ancestral lands, they do want to live," she said. "We love to live, but with honor and dignity."

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Hundreds rally at Capitol to protest mounting tensions with Iran - Austin American-Statesman

Robert Azzi: Iran and Iraq: Is the price worth it? – Concord Monitor

Since Nov. 15, when protests against the Iranian government many violent broke out in 21 Iranian cities, perhaps 1,500 Iranians have been killed by government forces, including by the elite Quds forces commanded until Friday by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

Local reports indicate that over 700 banks and nine Islamic religious centers were attacked, and that demonstrators many of whom were pro-democracy angry over deteriorating economic circumstances and unhappy with theocratic oppression, destroyed posters and statues of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in what are thought to be the most severe anti-government protests since 1979.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Iraq, over 300 Iraqis many of whom were pro-democracy have been killed since October by government forces during protests demanding more employment, more responsive public services and an end to corruption.

At the same time, Iraqi protesters, accusing Iran of interfering in their internal affairs, torched two of Irans Iraqi consulates in November in Najaf and Karbala amid continuing anti-government demonstrations, all while chanting Iran out of Iraq.

Chanting Iran out of Iraq.

Today, many of those protests and grievances have been set aside and many Iranians and Iraqis are together united against what they perceive to be a common enemy: Us!

On Jan. 3, President Donald Trump managed in one unrestrained and dangerous moment to end the Iranian-Iraqi unrest and bond them together in solidarity against the United States of America.

In an overt act of war, recklessly executed on third-country soil, President Donald Trump assassinated Irans Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani who since 1998 led Irans elite Quds Force and who was its second most important political figure by a targeted American strike in Baghdad on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020.

Remember that date.

Remember, too, Aug. 19, 1953, when the CIA overthrew popularly elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.

Remember Jan. 16, 1991, and Operation Desert Storm.

Remember that in 1996, 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl asked Ambassador Madeleine Albright: We have heard that half a million (Iraqi) children have died (because of sanctions following Desert Storm.) I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Albright answered, I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.

When is the price not worth it?

Remember March 19, 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq and granted to Iran hegemony over the Persian Gulf region, and remember, too, Trumps 2019 abandonment of Syria.

This week, in perhaps the most overt act of war since President George W. Bushs disastrous, ill-fated and regionally destabilizing invasion of Iraq in 2003, Donald Trump has acted in a most ignominious manner, to both draw America closer to war and to distance it from allies and assets.

Trump, whose intention clearly has been regime change by waging crushing economic warfare against Iran even while risking greater regional destabilization had initially declared war on Iran on May 8, 2018, when he withdrew America from the JCPOA the multilateral nuclear accord within which Iran was in compliance and imposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

When is the price not worth it?

Outside of Iran few tears will be shed for Qassem Soleimani, an odious person and a terrorist with the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands.

Soleimani, who managed Irans regional covert military operations and intelligence gathering, was seen by some as a possible future leader of Iran.

His brilliance, effectiveness, and commitment to his country have been revered by his allies and denounced by his critics in equal measure, retired U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in 2019. Soleimani is arguably the most powerful and unconstrained actor in the Middle East today.

Assassinations of the political leaders of sovereign states, especially when executed on the territory of third-party nations, often lead to unpredictable outcomes and dont necessarily make us safer.

Many may feel safer today with Soleimani dead, but Im not convinced. For example, Iraqis may soon vote to have America withdraw all its forces from Iraq, fulfilling one of Soleimanis main objectives and throughout the region and beyond from Lebanon and Syria, from Yemen and Saudi Arabia to communities throughout the world there is heightened concern about how and when Iran will respond.

Be sure they will asymmetrically but they will.

Iran is neither a pariah country nor a modern creation like North Korea. It is a proud nation of 80 million people with a 2,500-year-old history a history marked by fierce nationalism that has never succumbed to threats, oppression or occupation, a history thats the lifeblood of its people.

In response to Soleimanis assassination, Irans supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.

The assassination of Soleimani followed American airstrikes against some Iran-backed Iraqi militias (killing 45 Iraqis) who had killed an American contractor which resulted in a retaliatory attack by the militias on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad which resulted in Soleimanis execution.

In its justification of Soleimanis execution the Pentagon said that he was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.

The game has changed and we are prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.

The game, as Esper describes it, has indeed changed, and it has become more dangerous. Even as Trump unilaterally deploys more troops to the region belying assertions that he wants to diminish Americas presence in the Middle East globally targets are being painted on the backs of Americans and their assets around the world.

Today, I fear, in this game Iran plays chess while Trump plays checkers.

How, I wonder, is this a game? How is a new war in the Middle East one without allies or partners in Americas strategic interest?

Is the price worth it?

Today, Sunday, in the Christian calendar, is celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the Magi who travel from Iran and Iraq bearing wisdom, gifts and insight gifts we all stand in need of, especially after the assassination of Qaseem Soleimani.

That price might be worth it.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)

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Robert Azzi: Iran and Iraq: Is the price worth it? - Concord Monitor

NBC anchor denigrates those who believe in Noah’s Ark, ‘fairy tales;’ what persecution teaches us – Christian Post

By Jim Denison, Christian Post Columnist | Saturday, January 04, 2020 Stained glass window of Noahs Ark in St tienne du Mont church in Paris, 2 June 2010. | (Photo: Reuters)

I need to begin with a disclaimer: this will be a positive article written to encourage Christians that we can face any circumstance we encounter this year with optimistic, joyful faith in our Fathers power and provision.

However, to get there, I need to explain why this topic is on my mind today.

Its Time We Dealt With Your Religious Intolerance

On last SundaysMeet the Press,NBC Newsanchor Chuck Todd read and endorsed a letter claiming that supporters of Donald Trump want to be lied to since they believe in fairy tales such as Noahs ark.

Leaving the politics of this claim aside, lets note that Jews believe in Noahs ark because it is described as an historical event in the Torah (Genesis 69). Jesus (Matthew 24:3739) and Peter (1 Peter 3:20;2 Peter 2:5) believed in its historicity as well. And Muslims find it in the Quran (29:1415).

A recent article inMediumgoes further in denigrating biblical faith. InDear Christians, Its Time We Dealt With Your Religious Intolerance,the writer laments that his Nigerian grandfather was chased from his village by Christian converts because he refused to convert to Christianity. He also notes that Christian missionaries imposed upon his father a new name, age, language, and clothing they deemed more appropriate to the faith.

He points toJohn Allen Chau, the Christian who broke numerous laws and was then killed while attempting to share the gospel with an unreached people group off the coast of India. The authors conclusion is that any religion that believes others need to accept its message or face damnation is egotistical, intrusive, invasive, and intolerant. He is convinced that we should oppose such religions as vehemently as he does.

Of course, sins committed in the name of a religion or ideology are not necessarily the fault of that religion or ideology. As a Christian, I strongly believe that the writers grandfather and father were treated horrifically and indefensibly. We should not blame all Muslims for 9/11 or all atheists for Lenins atrocities.

And we should note that the writers rejection of religious intolerance is itself a form of intolerance.

ISIS beheads Nigerian Christians

While American Christians should note and respond to those who demean or attack our faith (1 Peter 3:1516), we should also remember those who are facing far worse persecution than we experience.

Im thinking of theeleven Nigerian Christians who were executed by ISIS terrorists, ten of them by beheading. It is thought that they werekilled on Christmas Day. And government oppression in China thatseeks to rewrite the Bible,tears down hundreds of church buildings, andimprisons pastors.

Open Doors states in its 2019 report that245 million Christians around the worldone in nine globallyare currently suffering from persecution. On average, eleven believers are killed every day for their faith.

The countercultural way to be blessed

Jesus taught us: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Matthew 5:11). Notice that our Lord says when, not if.

Persecution is inevitable for true followers of Jesus (cf.John 16:33). Those who hate our Father will hate his children (John 15:1821). Paul was blunt: All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

Here we learn that if we are not facing opposition for our faith, we should ask whether our faith is as public and uncompromising as it should be. Im not suggesting that we need to seek to be persecuted. But I am suggesting that we should not be surprised when we are.

What persecution teaches us

Jesus continued: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is greatin heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:12, my emphasis).

Persecution forces us to decide whether we are living for reward on earth or reward in heaven. Until we face opposition for our faith, we can easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we can live for this worldandthe next. When we are forced to choose between treasures on earth and treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:1920), we discover which truly comes first for us.

This discovery is crucial whether we are facing persecution or not since where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (v. 21).

65,000 students began the new year in worship

More than 65,000 college students gatheredin the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, to begin the new year with worship, Bible teaching, and prayer.

The purpose of Passion 2020, which ends today, isyou and me saying goodbye to lesser things and saying yes to Jesus, the One whose name is above every name. Those attending are seeking to live in such a way that their journey on earth counts for what is most important in the end.

Lets join them.

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NBC anchor denigrates those who believe in Noah's Ark, 'fairy tales;' what persecution teaches us - Christian Post

Netflixs The Witcher: Real history can explain the shows central war – Polygon

Hana Kraus and Walter Beer were young middle-class Jews living in the Central European state of Czechoslovakia when Nazi Germany invaded their country in 1939. In the ensuing years, the new genocidal regime robbed them of family and community, but they survived and came to the U.S., where they married and raised a family.

Hana and Walter were my maternal grandparents. I wasnt mature enough to hear their stories when I was young, but in my senior year of high school, a newspaper assignment had me researching the Holocaust and accounts like their own. Given a greater understanding of part of my familys history my dads paternal grandparents were Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S. from Germany in 1908 I hungered for more stories from people in Central and Eastern Europe, a culturally rich region the West often overlooks. I found a deeper connection to my past through an unlikely source: The Witcher saga.

Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski published his first Witcher short story in 1986, a few years before the Communist Party fell from power in Poland. His novels, which follow the monster hunter Geralt of Rivia as he searches for his missing adopted daughter Ciri in a land torn apart by war, were published throughout the 1990s but gained great acclaim after CD Projekt Red adapted them into video games starting in the late 2000s. Now a new audience has stumbled into The Continent with the release of Netflixs The Witcher, but while faithful to the books, the series departs from the historical context from which the source material sprang up 30 years ago.

Only Sapkowski can say exactly what was going through his mind when he wrote his stories the kingdoms, characters, and political groups in Witcher lore do not correlate exactly to any real-world counterparts but within the fantasy tales, there are parallels to the complicated history of ethnic strife and resistance to oppression in Central and Eastern Europe. Fighting monsters is frightening, but Geralts survival during a brutal moment, one that mirrors real-world international conflict, speaks greater truths.

The fantasy world of The Witcher resembles medieval Central Europe. The first sentient beings to populate the Continent millennia before Geralt was born were gnomes, then dwarves, according to an account from the dwarf Yarpen Zigrin to Ciri in Blood of Elves, the first Witcher novel. (Much of the lore in the Witcher books is vague, filtered by personal biases, and debatable.) Elves later arrived on the Continent from elsewhere, and fought against its other nonhuman inhabitants. A mysterious calamity called the Conjunction of the Spheres eventually brought parallel realms into alignment with the unnamed world on which the Continent exists. In the aftermath, humans crossed over to this planet after destroying their home world, one elf tells Geralt in Sapkowskis fourth Witcher book, The Tower of the Swallow.

These newly arrived humans waged war against elves and other nonhumans, and eventually established the Northern Kingdoms. The humans built cities over elven ruins. The Nilfgaardian Empire rose to the south. By the time The Witchers story starts, many nonhumans in the Northern Kingdoms have assimilated into human society, although they live in ghettos and are treated as an underclass. Some nonhumans live in the wilds to avoid human control. Elves, dwarves, and halflings rebelling against the humans form the Scoiatael guerrilla units, which commit violent acts of terrorism.

The Witchers setting (and the complicated conflict tearing it apart) recalls the fundamental history of Central and Eastern Europe. The part of Europe stretching from Germanys eastern border to inner Russia was subject to migration and invasion from the West, the Middle East, and Asia, though the history of the area is incomplete and unclear. By the end of the 10th century, the area had hosted Slavs, Huns, the Turkic-speaking (but also multiethnic and multifaith) Khazar khaganate, Germanic Franks, Magyars, the Kievan Rus, and others.

Sapkowski grew up in a country aware of its history, and in turn, the story of The Witcher shares a deep connection with the past. The disputes between nonhumans and humans echo real-world disputes over territory and citizenship that draw dividing lines according to race, nationality, or ethnicity. This has happened in Poland often. But the fact of the matter is: Poland has a heritage of diversity stretching back to at least the Middle Ages.

The Kingdom of Poland was founded in 1025, but some historians believe its origins as a state date back to the Christianization of Poland and the baptism of Duke Mieszko I in 966. The Mongols crossed the Russian steppe from Central Asia, sacked Kyiv, and then raided Poland in the mid-13th century. In 1264, Duke Bolesaw the Pious issued the Statute of Kalisz, granting special rights to Jews in the Greater Poland region as Western Christian states were persecuting them. His successors ratified and expanded the statute so it covered all of Poland. Muslim Tatars settled in the allied Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th century and have lived in Polish lands for centuries. Romani people (sometimes called gypsies by Europeans, although many now consider that term offensive) were documented in Poland in the 15th century.

Despite Polands history of diversity, the decision to cast people of color in Netflixs Witcher series attracted backlash online, especially after some opposed the notion that Geralts adopted daughter, Ciri, could be played by someone who isnt white. (The production landed on British actress Freya Allan, who is white). The overall cast playing humans and nonhumans, however, is diverse. Showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich took a break from Twitter due to the internet controversy, but commented on her casting choices after her return.

The books are Polish and packed with Slavic spirit, she tweeted July 26. It was important to keep that same tone in our show. [...] The Witcher is REALLY interesting when it comes to depicting racism because its about species, not skin color. What makes characters other is the shape of their ears, height, etc. In the books, no one pays attention to skin color. In the series... no one does either. Period.

The Northern Kingdoms of The Witchers Continent are also complicated societies where discrimination sits alongside grudging coexistence and occasional cooperation. Elven sages helped humans learn to control magic, before their relationship soured and erupted into violence. While interspecies romances play into the lore, Sapkowski illustrates some elves as being contemptuous of humans and those who assimilate with them. Some dwarves serve as bankers to humans or agents of human kings, but are put at risk for doing so and for not joining nonhuman rebellion. Nonhumans are stereotyped and targeted in propaganda. Attacks against nonhumans are frequent and referred to as pogroms, a Russian word used to describe mob violence targeting Jews and other ethnic groups in Central and Eastern Europe. Witchers, magically and chemically engineered mutants, were massacred by pogrom before the start of the series.

The ethnic tension that marks everyday life in the Northern Kingdoms seems heavily inspired by the history of ethnic relations in Poland, which has been fluid and complicated. In medieval Poland, Christian anti-Semitism led to outbreaks of violence against Jews. Jews enjoyed considerable religious freedom while inhabiting the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth formalized in 1569, but the development of Jewish communities in Poland led to some estrangement from Christians. As the Commonwealth waned, anti-Semitism worsened. The Romani people were stereotyped, discriminated against, ostracized, and persecuted throughout Europe in the Middle Ages and afterward. Poland adopted anti-Romani legislation in the 16th century, but there is evidence that some people ignored the rules. Some Romani settled in the Commonwealth and found employment as everything from farmers to craftspeople to horse dealers.

War erupts frequently on The Continent. The Nilfgaardian conquest depicted in the Netflix series is only one of the conflicts the people of the Northern Kingdoms endure over the course of the saga (and throughout Sapkowskis documented history). The individual kingdoms often fight among themselves. Northern rulers, and those seeking to usurp them, sometimes seek political alliances with Geralt due to his skills as a fighter and monster hunter. But Geralt is aware of the political corruption, oppression, and discrimination thats rampant in the Northern Kingdoms, and refuses to let himself to participate by allying with a ruler.

Poland, likewise, is no stranger to war and oppression. Beginning in 1772 and through the rest of the 18th century, Russia, Prussia, and Austria invaded and absorbed the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth over the course of three partitions, robbing Poland of independence for 123 years. Poland regained its statehood in 1918, but its sovereignty didnt last long: Nazi Germany invaded Poland in September 1939 and occupied the western half of the country, casting the Polish government into exile. The Soviet Army crossed over into eastern Poland later the same month and occupied it. The division of Poland is believed by many to be the result of a secret clause of a nonaggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany. The Nazis established ghettos in which to confine Jews in their territory, and ran concentration camps and death camps including Auschwitz.

The Witchers nonhumans are often active and reactive victims. The elven and dwarven Scoiatael oppose human rule through armed conflict and subterfuge. Some elves plot political schemes to secure elven rights or protect their heritage. Geralt is offered opportunities to help the rebels, but balks at the risk of being used for political reasons that could end in violence.

The desperate efforts the nonhumans in The Witcher make to fight oppression recall the drastic measures that oppressed people in the real world have sometimes taken to protect themselves. The Nazis weaponized millennia of ethnic and religious tension to justify the subjugation and mass murder of Jews, Romani people, and members of the LGBTQ community. But the targeted ethnic groups also fought back however they could, despite the potential for grave consequences. Jews in partisan units in Poland and Eastern Europe waged guerrilla skirmishes against the Nazis. Imprisoned Jews fought against deportation to the Nazi-run Treblinka death camp during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. When SS guards armed with machine guns came to transport residents of the gypsy camp at Auschwitz to gas chambers in May 1944, the Romani prisoners armed themselves with whatever they could find or weaponize to defend themselves. Their resistance forced the Nazis to delay the camps liquidation until August. Poles, whom Nazis considered inferior, revolted against the Nazis in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.

The Witcher books portray the Scoiatael rebellion and the Northern Kingdoms resistance to Nilfgaard in shades of gray. Resistance and advocacy movements allow oppressed people to secure their rights and independence. But sometimes the movements can be corrupted or exploited.

In the second war, the Nilfgaardian Empire secretly supports the Scoiatael rebellion and uses it to destabilize the Northern Kingdoms and pave the way for Nilfgaards invasion. Nilfgaard promises the return of the ancient elven territory of Dol Blathanna in the Northern Kingdoms to the elves as payment for cooperation. The rulers of the Northern Kingdoms exploit fear of a nonhuman uprising to support nationalism in their domains. In Blood of Elves, one king even uses unwitting nonhuman allies to bait Scoiatael into a trap. Humans fear a non-human ruled Dol Blathanna could become a puppet state for Nilfgaard.

Ciris dwarven friend Yarpen Zigrin, who is loyal to a Northern king, questions the Scoiataels motivations and tactics in Blood of Elves. He considers them misguided and is convinced theyre backed by Nilfgaard, before its confirmed as fact. A lot of people in Central and Eastern Europe espoused this type of skepticism as Communist parties rose to power there. The Allies defeat of the Nazis freed oppressed people from a genocidal regime, but exposed them to manipulation. As it fought the Nazis, the Moscow-centralized Soviet Union liberated Jews from Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. It absorbed Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and other territories over the course of World War II, and for decades afterward, it propped up the Communist governments that kept them as USSR member states until they won independence.

Socialist and Communist parties touting governments that would treat everyone equally rose to dominance in many Soviet-influenced satellite states like Poland and Czechoslovakia. Many were skeptical, and resisted the rising Communist parties. (Yugoslavia split from the Soviet Union and formed its own socialist system before ultimately breaking into separate states in the early 1990s.) In Blood of Elves, Yarpen Zigrin tells Ciri that most nonhumans dont support the Scoiatael, and prefer coexistence with humans to rebellion. And as the series progresses, some Scoiatael question their alliance with Nilfgaard.

Cold War Communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe not only fell far short of realizing the egalitarian ideals they touted; they often resorted to repression. The ruling Communist party in Poland forced nomadic Romani to settle down into sedentary communities in 1964, but presented the effort as the extension of an assimilation campaign. During a complicated political crisis, the Communist regime in Poland purged masses of Jews from its ranks in 1968 and compelled the emigration of at least 13,000 Jews or Poles with Jewish ancestry from the state. NATO supported resistance groups and attempts to form independent democratic states around the world. The conflict between the USSR and NATO spawned the Cold War, which involved conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Nilfgaards use of the Scoiatael to fight a war mirrors how rebellions were co-opted in the real world to fight proxy battles.

NATOs victories led to the rise of new democratic governments and post-colonial states, but its campaigns also sometimes destabilized developing countries and created new political rifts within them. Ethnic relations deteriorated for some communities. In a turn where fiction once again mirrors reality, the war between Nilfgaard and the Northern Kingdoms reshapes the political landscape of The Continent, creates new political rifts, and worsens ethnic divisions in its wake.

Democratic, independent governments rose to power in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, and throughout Central and Eastern Europe, following the collapse of Communist regimes and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. But the ethnic tensions of the past remain, just as pogroms and discrimination targeting nonhumans are a persistent threat throughout The Witchers timeline.

Sapkowski suggests these issues will outlast the conflicts that spawned them. Such appears to be the case in Eastern Europe. People within the region and without are concerned about an apparent resurgence in anti-Semitism and anti-Romani and anti-Muslim sentiment. A surge in nationalism has led to immigration crackdowns by conservative governments, along with xenophobia buoyed by historical fears of invasion and an out-of-control social media landscape that can be used to mask hostile political agendas like the propaganda used in The Witcher. The Polish government has also been accused of attempting to shape how people remember the Holocaust in Poland. These types of issues are not exclusive to this region. Theyve reared their heads around the world, including here in the U.S. Fear and hatred of otherness are persistent problems that tear The Witchers world apart, just as they threaten ours.

Adapting a book series that many fans consider to be a cherished example of Polish literature into a TV series for the world at large is a challenge that might give even Geralt pause. Polygon asked Hissrich how she stayed true to The Witchers Polish roots.

Poland itself, historically, has been taken over by other countries and dominated by politics for so long, and that influenced people that live there and obviously that influenced Sapkowski, Hissrich said. The most important thing that I found is that there is a really sort of engaging and appealing aspect to a lot of the Polish people that Ive met, and its their desire to keep moving on, and thats something that I find is really great in these characters. Amidst tragedy, amidst some of the worst shit thats happened in the world, the characters on our show continue putting one foot in front of another and continue walking through things.

The so-called witchers code by which Geralt abides gives him an excuse to avoid getting involved in politics as the world crumbles around him. He refuses to formally ally with any political faction or kingdom; the witcher only hunts monsters for gold. He empathizes with the losses suffered by nonhumans at the hands of humans, but wont join the Scoiatael rebellion. He will take paid security guard jobs for rulers, but he wont sign up for an army or commit a political assassination. Hes frequently criticized for his resistance, and his apolitical choices often have very real consequences.

But hes also the type who would put himself at risk protecting nonhuman friends from a pogrom.

Freedom of speech is a powerful weapon. My grandparents later used theirs to lend testimonies to the documentation of the Holocaust in the hopes of preventing future genocide. The Witcher channels history to create action-packed drama that depicts war and its costs.

Alex Tiegen is a journalist, researcher and information specialist. When hes not doing deep dives into corporate history and mergers and acquisitions, hes hunting for the obscure and overlooked stories that shed light on times past and the diversity of our modern world. He also created his local librarys first video game catalog. You can find his work in community and regional newspapers and in the offices of corporate executives around the world. Contact him at @AlexTiegen.

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Netflixs The Witcher: Real history can explain the shows central war - Polygon

The 2020 Presidential Election Will Again Be a ‘Lesser of Two Evils’ Election – MyChesCo

The 2020 Presidential Election could very well become another election in which a large portion of voters does not like either of their choices.

This notion is not unique to MyChesCos Editorial Board. Many mainstream outlets are taking notice of the fact that the Democratic candidates, to varying degrees, do not hold policy positions that are agreeable with the general electorate.

While a candidate may end up becoming somewhat popular, even if voters arent in love with their ideas, these policy stances will likely damage any Democrats chances and eventually hurt the nominees overall electability.

An analysis of the various polls suggests what is making voters hesitant toward Democrats is they have generally bad ideas and socialist proposals, such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

While the Democratic Party was once the home of classical liberalism, advocating for civil liberties and economic freedom, it now espouses the supposed need for a strong, authoritative state that limits individual liberty in favor of the goals of government.

This is where many voters may be forced to make a lesser-of-two-evils decision in the 2020 Presidential Election. Poll after poll seems to indicate voters dont want to reelect Donald Trump. Yet, these polls also confirm that much what Democrats are trying to sell is even more unpopular.

Nevertheless, both political parties tend to adhere to authoritarian philosophies and view a strong state to legislate and enforce morality and cultural practices, just from their own points of view and belief systems.

With very few exceptions, most politicians transcend any political differences with their devotion to the State. Both major parties are enthusiastically willing to place increasing limits on individual liberty, advancing the sentiment, for either religious or secular reasons, that the States power should be used to coercively impose what they believe to be the correct moral principles.

Government, at all levels, has become a coalition of statists, believing the State should have substantial control over social and economic affairs. However, America was founded on being free from oppressive restrictions, imposed by the government, on our own personal life.

Our Nation was established by those seeking to escape oppression. They chose to create a society that relished independence and rejected tyranny, designing our Constitution to respect individual freedom while being mindful and respectful of diversity of opinion and thought.

Consequently, the biggest threat to America is statism, whether that statism takes the form of socialism, fascism, a theocracy, monarchy, oligarchy, or military regime. Today, America prepares to face a presidential election with the question, Does anyone, especially those in the Democrat Party, still support individual liberty?

Ultimately, Democrats are damaging their chances to win back the so-called Obama-Trump voters those who voted to Barack Obama in the 2008 and/or 2012 presidential elections but then voted for Donald Trump in 2016 by running on extremist policies.

It has been stated many times, Donald Trump is not a real Conservative nor a real Republican. This is an advantage, not a hindrance. While also not a Libertarian, overall, he has worked hard to drastically reduce the role of government. Trump by default becomes the lesser-of-two-evils, making him the most likely to win 2020, despite being unpopular.

The 2020 Presidential Election should have been an easy win for Democrats. Yet, they can not help turn it into a debate between big government and statism versus individual liberty and personal autonomy.

The end result is Trump could win, yet again.

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The 2020 Presidential Election Will Again Be a 'Lesser of Two Evils' Election - MyChesCo

Column: Iran and Iraq: Is the price worth it? – Seacoastonline.com

Since Nov. 15, when protests against the Iranian government many violent broke out in 21 Iranian cities perhaps 1,500 Iranians have been killed by government forces, including by the elite Quds forces commanded until Friday by Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani.

Local reports indicate that over 700 banks and nine Islamic religious centers were attacked, and that demonstrators many of whom were pro-democracy angry over deteriorating economic circumstances and unhappy with theocratic oppression, destroyed posters and statues of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in what are thought to be the most severe anti-government protests since 1979.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Iraq, over 300 Iraqis many of whom were pro-democracy have been killed since October by government forces during protests demanding more employment, more responsive public services and an end to corruption.

At the same time, Iraqi protesters, accusing Iran of interfering in their internal affairs, torched two of Iran's Iraqi consulates in November in Najaf and Karbala amid continuing anti-government demonstrations, all while chanting "Iran out of Iraq.

Chanting "Iran out of Iraq.

Today, many of those protests and grievances have been set aside and many Iranians and Iraqis are together united against what they perceive to be a common enemy: Us!

On Jan. 3, 2020, President Donald Trump managed in one unrestrained and dangerous moment to end the Iranian-Iraqi unrest and bond them together in solidarity against the United States of America.

In an overt act of war, recklessly executed on third-country soil, President Trump assassinated Irans Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who since 1998 led Irans elite Quds Force and who was its second most important political figure by a targeted American strike in Baghdad on Friday, Jan. 3, 2020.

Remember that date.

Remember, too, Aug. 19, 1953, when the CIA overthrew popularly elected Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.

Remember Jan. 16, 1991, and Operation Desert Storm.

Remember that in 1996, 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl asked Ambassador Madeline Albright, We have heard that half a million (Iraqi) children have died (because of sanctions following Desert Storm.) I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Albright answered, I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.

When is the price not worth it?

Remember March 19, 2003, when the United States invaded Iraq and granted to Iran hegemony over the Persian Gulf region, and remember, too, Trumps 2019 abandonment of Syria.

This week, in perhaps the most overt act of war since President George W. Bushs disastrous, ill-fated and regionally destabilizing invasion of Iraq in 2003, Donald Trump has acted, in a most ignominious manner, to both draw America closer to war and to distance it from allies and assets.

Trump, whose intention clearly has been regime change by waging crushing economic warfare against Iran even while risking greater regional destabilization had initially declared war on Iran on May 8, 2018, when he withdrew America from the JCPOA the multilateral nuclear accord within which Iran was in compliance and imposed crippling sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

When is the price not worth it?

Outside of Iran few tears will be shed for Qassem Suleimani, an odious person and a terrorist with the blood of hundreds of Americans on his hands.

Suleimani, who managed Irans regional covert military operations and intelligence gathering, was seen by some as a possible future leader of Iran.

His brilliance, effectiveness, and commitment to his country have been revered by his allies and denounced by his critics in equal measure, retired U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal wrote in 2019. Suleimani is arguably the most powerful and unconstrained actor in the Middle East today.

Assassinations of the political leaders of sovereign states, especially when executed on the territory of third-party nations, often lead to unpredictable outcomes and dont make necessarily us safer.

Many may feel safer today with Suleimani dead, but Im not convinced. For example, Iraqis may soon vote to have America withdraw all its forces from Iraq, fulfilling one of Suleimanis main objectives and throughout the region and beyond from Lebanon and Syria, from Yemen and Saudi Arabia to communities throughout the world there is heightened concern about how and when Iran will respond.

Be sure they will asymmetrically but they will.

Iran is neither a pariah country nor a modern creation like North Korea. It is a proud nation of 80 million people with a 2,500-year-old history a history marked by fierce nationalism that has never succumbed to threats, oppression or occupation, a history thats the lifeblood of its people.

In response to Suleimanis assassination, Irans supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said a forceful revenge awaits the criminals who have his blood and the blood of the other martyrs last night on their hands.

The assassination of Suleimani followed American airstrikes against some Iran-backed Iraqi militias (killing 45 Iraqis) who had killed an American contractor, which resulted in a retaliatory attack by the militias on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which resulted in Suleimanis execution.

In its justification of Suleimanis execution the Pentagon said he was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region.

The game has changed and we are prepared to do what is necessary to defend our personnel and our interests and our partners in the region, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said.

The game, as Esper describes it, has indeed changed, and it has become more dangerous. Even as Trump unilaterally deploys more troops to the region belying assertions that he wants to diminish Americas presence in the Middle East globally targets are being painted on the backs of Americans and their assets around the world.

Today, I fear, in this game Iran plays chess while Trump plays checkers.

How, I wonder, is this a game? How is a new war in the Middle East one without allies or partners in Americas strategic interest?

Is the price worth it?

Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. The views expressed are those of the writer. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.

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Column: Iran and Iraq: Is the price worth it? - Seacoastonline.com

To Educate Good Citizens, We Need More Than The New Civics – Forbes

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Everyone agrees civics education needs redefining, but the concept is becoming too broadand some new initiatives may lead to further polarization. Instead of rethinking civics, we need to rethink basic assumptions about teaching and learning.

The 2016 election sparked a wave of concern over civics education that is still gathering strength. The Chief Justice recently bemoaned the fact that civics education has fallen by the wayside. At the same time, theres no shortage of attempts to bring it back. Impeachment is being seen as a teachable moment, and civics lessons are even showing up in math classes. The federal government has awarded $650,000 to iCivics, along with some universities, to improve the teaching of both history and civics. And as documented in a recent 99-page report, the landscape of current civics education efforts is dizzying.

While theres a plethora of initiatives, the common refrain is that the old approach to civicsa high school class that lasts at least a semester, required in most statesjust doesnt cut it these days, if it ever did.

The developments of the last few years have been catalogued in an engaging book by education journalist Holly Korbey called Building Better Citizens: A New Civics Education for All, published this fall. The new civics includes everything from media literacy to character education to lessons in having a civil conversation. And as Korbey notes, if you want high-schoolers to grasp civics, its crucial to start building their knowledge of history in elementary school. [Disclosure: Korbey quotes me in her discussion of that issue.]

But the definition of new civics is so broad it verges on being meaningless. Korbeys book encompasses the stories of a student with autism who speaks out on behalf of others with special needs; a program that has kids visiting nursing homes; and the reinvention of a library as a community center where teenagers surf the internet in one corner while retirees chat over coffee in another.

One anecdote describes a high school teacher in New Orleans who brought her students to the Mississippi River, which borders the city, only to discover that none of them could name the body of water they were looking at. Having some experience of high-poverty high schoolswhere its not uncommon to find students who cant locate the city they live in on a map of the United Statesthe only thing that surprised me about this story was that the problem is portrayed as a failure of civics education (and the solution a form of it called place-based education). Why not see it as a failure to teach basic geography?

Towards the end of the book, in a discussion of the need to enable students to distinguish reliable from unreliable information on the internet, Korbey quotes researchers who caution that online reasoning shouldnt be limited to just civics or politics, but a given part of every classroom subject, including science and math. Thats true of many other aspects of learning now being swept under the umbrella of civics. We dont just need a new approach to civics; we need a new approach to school. Among other things, we need to jettison the mistaken idea that if kids can Google something, theres no reason to teach it.

But theres a basic truth at the heart of these sometimes frantic efforts to turn teenagers into engaged citizens: civics as traditionally conceived is boring. Unlike history, which can be presented as a series of stories involving characters and conflict, civics covers dry abstractions like the three branches of government. If you dont know basics like the difference between a city and a statethe situation in which many high school students find themselves because of deficiencies in our education systemthese concepts will be hard to grasp. Even if you do, you may find your eyes beginning to close.

The initiative thats getting the most buzz is action civics, which is covered in Korbeys bookand its close cousin youth participatory action research or YPAR, which isnt. Both of these approaches are supposed to inculcate the kind of knowledge that civics courses try and generally fail to impart, but to make the process more engaging by hitching it to action or advocacy.

Action Civics turns traditional civics upside down, one activist in the movement has explained. Instead of starting at the top with the Constitution and how a bill becomes a law, our hands-on teaching starts with a community or personal issue and works up through local government and politics and then to the federal system.

Students are encouraged to identify an issue they care deeply about and perhaps know from personal experience. One description of YPAR gives as examples issues of oppression like Islamophobia in America and Black girls experience in the school-to-prison pipeline. In Korbys book, a class with many immigrant students decides to work on making it easier for undocumented people to get drivers licenses. Research is supposed to be involved, but the key element is actionperhaps lobbying or protesting. In a sign of how widely accepted the idea is becoming, one of the largest school districts in the country is now permitting students in 7th grade and above to take one day off each year for civic engagement activities.

Its not hard to see how this approach could lead to political controversy: what if a student at a generally progressive school wants to advocate for an issue like gun rights? Beyond that, its not clear action civics will give students what they need to be responsible citizens. Its generally agreed that the goals for civics include reducing political polarization, fostering critical thinking, and teaching students to evaluate evidence. Having kids choose a topic they already have strong feelings about may not be the best way of achieving those objectives. Its well established that when people have a strongly held belief, theyre more likely to accept evidence that supports that belief and dismiss evidence that conflicts with it. One commentator has argued that civics should enable students to to defend a position on an issue that they dont themselves hold. Action civics is more likely to further entrench them in their preexisting perspectives.

Action civics is also designed to show students they have the power to effect change. But in our system of checks, balances, and generally sluggish legislative processes, many projects are likely to end in disappointment. Not every teenager can attract attention at the level of a Greta Thunberg or a David Hoggand even they dont yet have much to point to in the way of concrete change. Students whose action fails to lead anywhere could just end up cynical and disillusioned.

But there may be another way of engaging kids in civic activities that avoids these pitfallsand also helps address a different but equally serious civics-related problem: the precipitous decline of local journalism. In the last 15 years, more than 1,800 local print outlets have gone out of business, and at least 200 American counties have no newspaper at all. Even where newspapers and radio stations survive, theyve cut back on staff. The result has been termed a crisis in local news coverage that has damaged political and civic life.

In some areas, college newspapers are filling the void, covering city council and school board meetings. Why not have high school students do that too? True, there are obstaclesnot the least of which is that our deeply flawed approach to writing instruction has left many teenagers unable to express themselves well in writing. But with the right kind of support from adults, perhaps including laid-off journalists, they might acquire crucial writing skills while performing a public serviceand gain an understanding of how government works. Kids who really struggle with writing could produce a news podcast.

And instead of acting on a preconceived notion of what needs to change, students might learn to stand back from an issue and see another side. One student in a high school journalism class produced a story revealing that the school had used prison labor to refurbish its auditorium. While he started from a position of outrage, his teacher helped him learn to find journalistic balance, and he ended up modifying his views.

Having teenagers serve as amateur journalists isnt the only kind of action that can have this kind of effect. Debate also has potential, especially if students dont just take positions they already support. But the bottom line is that we cant expect civics, new or old, to address all the issues that prevent kids from becoming engaged and responsible citizens. They go much deeper than that, and call for more pervasive solutions.

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To Educate Good Citizens, We Need More Than The New Civics - Forbes

Collateral damage and the American Empire Oliver Stone heads south again – Buenos Aires Times

To a certain extent, its impossible to separate the history of Latin America from political persecution, many times influenced by foreign powers. That oppression, which was initially purely violent before prioritising the financial, evolved along with the global superpowers and their struggles, most notably the Cold War-era that pitted the Soviet Union (East) against the United States(West). And, in the words of Oliver Stone, the persecutionhas now turned political.

Its not just about goods anymore, its very political, its about the idea of the American Empire, the legendary filmmaker told the Times in an exclusive December interview at a luxury hotel in the Buenos Aires City neighbourhood of Recoleta.

While the 20th century found Washington supporting bloody military coups across the continent, cementing its economic control of the region, today its the Empires greed that has pushed it to invest heavily into what Stone calls militarisation and dollarisation. This, in turn, has led to the emergence of lawfare, the term Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner has tirelessly repeated of late, even to Stone himself.

SOMETHING WILL STICK

The three-time Academy Award winner was in Buenos Aires recently to work on a new project, a continuation of his multiple documentaries on Latin Americas progressive leaders, as he describes them.

Cubas Fidel Castro and Venezuelas Hugo Chvez were the main protagonists of Comandante (2003) and South of the Border (2009) respectively. The burly director also travelled to meet the likes of Evo Morales in Bolivia, Luiz Incio Lula da Silva in Brazil, and Nstor Kirchner and Cristina Fernndez de Kirchner in Buenos Aires.

These trips came at the height of the power of the so-called "Pink Tide," through which Latin America came to be governed by leftist governments, in open conflict with the United States. It was also an era of an unprecedented economic boom, given the commodities super cycle fuelled by China and Asian demand for raw materials, which allowed these leaders to indulge in leftist populism that helped raise millions out of poverty and fill the pockets of their parties and those who were close to them.

Stone ascribes to the concept of "lawfare,"the favoured term of Kirchnerites in Argentina, supporters of Lula and Dilma Roussef in Brazil, and across the continent, where the end of leftist populist governments saw an intensification of judicial investigations into corruption by these progressive leaders and their associates.

When you weaponise laws, sanctions, when you go after people and make accusations, you can assign corruption to anyone, he notes. If you throw enough shit at the wall, something will stick.

Pushed by the Times on how the same judges, along with major media groups across the continent, were at one point supportive of the Cristinas and Hugos they later hounded, the director reveals he has firmly taken a side.

There was corruption in Venezuela before Chvez. Corruption is human nature, but lifting people out of poverty is an act of government. You need to have that kind of help for the poor, he said, defending the late Bolivarian leader. Its what [former US president Franklin D.] Roosevelt did in the US, its what Chvez did, what [Evo] Morales did in Bolivia, here too with Cristina and Nstor.

He clarifies himself. Its not that the director condones corruption in an ends justify the means argument when it comes to the region. He just isnt convinced they are ultimately guilty. Stone notesthat Rousseffs 2016 impeachment was based on technicalities, while in the end Lula was put behind bars on accusations without proof.

One of the main culprits, in Stones worldview, are the mainstream media outlets which put on a faade of objectivity but are nothing more than subservient to interests, thus manipulating the general population.

Certain issues are never raised in the American press, they didnt talk about the coup in Bolivia, it just happened under the radar, he exemplifies. In [the US] you cant get [independent news] onto TV, the networks are just gigantic commercial enterprises owned by rich people and stockholders, the establishment, just as in Latin America.

TIMES OF CHANGE

The director of landmark films such as Platoon (1986), Wall Street (1987), and JFK (1991) agrees there is a generalised disillusionment with the press nowadays, one that has grown in parallel with a technological revolution that has led to a constant bombardment of information at all times. This, along with the stagnation of a certain brand of capitalism that has led to increased inequality as social mobility disappeared while the rich got richer, has generated social flare-ups across Latin America.

Over the past year, Chile unexpectedly erupted into flames, putting into question its supposed economic miracle. Ecuador, Colombia and Peru also saw protesters on the streets. Bolivia had its own dramatic crisis with Evo Morales controversial elections for a fourth presidential term.

Only a few days before Stones interview with the Times, Morales had just arrived in Argentina as a political refugee. The week of publication,a piece by Bloomberg titled U.S. Warns Argentina That IMF Deal Threatened By Leftist Allies, is illustrated with a picture of the Bolivian leader in Buenos Aires.

But the current social crises are not just the consequence of capitalism. Rather the main issue at stake is a certain interpretation of capitalism, one that upholds the trickle-down effect of wealth, which hasnt produced the prosperity that has many times been attributed to it. Stone says he doesnt know [Karl] Marx well enough and that he doesnt believe in abandoning capitalism, but says for him, its a combination of capitalism and state-planning that works.

He is, though, critical of those on the left who believe that capitalism is responsible for pollution and climate change, as we are living in a time of enormous prosperity. He talks of devising new ways to generate clean energy, probably within a capitalist system.

POWER

Stones filmography reveals an obsession with power and how it is interpreted by leaders, most of them men. He laughs acceptingly at a reference to German philosopher Georg Hegel, and the idea that historical forces are greater than the will of individual men. But the obsession remains. During his latest visit to Argentina, Stone interviewed President Alberto Fernndez and the new vice-president, reuniting with Fernndez de Kirchner. He attended their inauguration. While in the capital, he also met social leader Juan Grabois and visited Editorial Perfil, where he interviewed the companys co-founder Jorge Fontevecchia.

Given this inclination towards power, what about Donald Trump? Stone replies that he thinks very little of him, before going on to speculate as to the chances that the US president could lose his re-election bid.Calling the situation in the US gridlocked by polarisation much like Argentinas own grieta' he criticises the investigation into Russian electoral interference, branding it so ridiculous and childish. There are enough problems, already, he feels.

[Trump] has broken treaties, broken his word. He got us out of the Iran [nuclear] treaty, the Paris Climate Accord, he has broken a nuclear treaty which is a huge mistake hes put his foot in his mouth, Stone says of the former reality TV star turned most powerful man in the world.

People lie, but Trump is exceptionally stupid in the sense of history, which he doesnt have. Its embarrassing the way he speaks, he repeats himself four or five times. Hes been a TV host, he knows what works on TV, he caps off, becoming heated.

But there are some positives to take away. Being an anti-leader, Trump has actually created momentum for climate change [activism], he argues.

One of Stones defining characteristics is being straightforward. With the same violence that is palpable in his Vietnam films, or in the vitriolic Natural Born Killers (1994), he will accuse the United States of being behind a regional conspiracy to politically take out Latin Americas leftist populist leaders, or brand President Trump "a fool," which he does openly and often on Twitter. There is little messing about.

He understands the power of being a Hollywood heavyweight and uses it to perform his own type of activism, supporting those who, like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, challenge the might of the United States. Thats exactly what drew him to Latin America nearly 20 years ago, when the fall of the Twin Towers and a war against Saddam Husein in Iraq distracted an increasingly weak George W. Bush, allowing for a resurgence of anti-American leaders throughout Latin America.

The tide appears to be turning again.

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Collateral damage and the American Empire Oliver Stone heads south again - Buenos Aires Times

Tear gas fired at Hong Kong New Year’s protests – Yahoo Singapore News

By Mari Saito and Marius Zaharia

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A march drawing tens of thousands of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong on New Year's Day spiralled into chaotic scenes as police fired several rounds of tear gas and water cannon at crowds including families before halting the event.

The violence broke out during the largely peaceful march as masses of citizens pressed authorities for further concessions in the Chinese-ruled city.

In the Wanchai bar district, some protesters had spray-painted graffiti and smashed cash machines in an HSBC bank branch when riot police moved in, pepper-spraying crowds in a tense face-off. Tear gas was then fired into the crowds, making some children cry.

The protesters, some with gas masks and clad in black, regrouped and formed their own lines as police blocked roads to prevent large crowds from completing the march as night fell.

Organisers estimated just over one million people took part, but police said 60,000 protesters attended at the march's peak

The atmosphere grew tense in several districts on Hong Kong island, as hundreds of protesters dug in, forming road blocks, setting fires and throwing a few petrol bombs. Human chains formed down roads to help ferry supplies to people on the front lines, including umbrellas and bricks.

Protesters have directed their ire at global banking group HSBC alleging a link between the arrest of four members of a group that raised funds to support the protesters and an earlier closure of an HSBC account linked to the group. HSBC denies any connection.

A bronze lion at the bank's headquarters was daubed with red paint and scorched by a fire.

A bank spokesman said: "We strongly condemn the acts of vandalism and damage directed at our premises repeatedly in the last few days. We believe these are unjustified."

Earlier in the day, under grey clouds, citizens young and old, many dressed in black and some masked, carried signs such as "Freedom is not free" before setting off.

"It's hard to utter 'Happy New Year' because Hong Kong people are not happy," said a man named Tung, who was walking with his two-year-old son, mother and niece.

"Unless the five demands are achieved, and police are held accountable for their brutality, then we can't have a real happy new year," he added.

DEMANDS

He was referring to the push for concessions from the government including full democracy, an amnesty for the more than 6,500 people arrested so far, and a powerful, independent investigation into police actions.

Along the route, a number of newly elected pro-democracy district politicians mingled with the crowds on their first day in office, some helping collect donations to assist the movement. Youths also carried "Hong Kong Independence" flags and chanted that splitting the city from Chinese rule was the "only way out".

"The government has already started the oppression before the New Year began ... whoever is being oppressed, we will stand with them," said Jimmy Sham, one of the leaders of the Civil Human Rights Front that organised the march. The organisers also condemned the police decision to cancel the rally.

Thousands of Hong Kong revellers had earlier welcomed in 2020 on neon-lit promenades along Victoria Harbour, chanting the movement's signature slogan - "Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Time" - for the final seconds before clocks struck midnight.

China's President Xi Jinping said in a New Year's speech that Beijing will "resolutely safeguard the prosperity and stability" of Hong Kong under the so-called "one country, two systems" framework.

Many people in Hong Kong are angered by Beijing's tight grip on the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy under this framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.

A group of 40 parliamentarians and dignitaries from 18 countries had written an open letter to Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam on New Year's Eve, urging her to "seek genuine ways forward out of this crisis by addressing the grievances of Hong Kong people."

The protest movement is supported by 59% of the city's residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.

Demonstrations have grown increasingly violent in recent months, at times paralyzing the Asian financial centre.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Clare Jim, Mari Saito, Sarah Wu, Alun John, Marius Zaharia, additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Kim Coghill and Angus MacSwan)

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Tear gas fired at Hong Kong New Year's protests - Yahoo Singapore News

Pastor Bakare unveils the true enemies of Nigeria – P.M. News

Pastor Tunde Bakare: unveils the true enemies of Nigeria in an illuminating speech on Sunday

The General Overseer of the Latter Rain Assembly, Pastor Tunde Bakare on Sunday unveiled a long list of the true enemies of Nigeria and among them are not just the mighty political, religious and economic lords, but also the common man.

Bakare in an illuminating speech on the state of the nation to mark the beginning of a new decade said the true enemies are found in every level of government, from the local to the state to the federal levels, and in every arm of government in Nigeria.

Fellow Nigerians, the true enemies of our nation are found at every level of government, from the local to the state to the federal levels, and in every arm of government. They can also be found on the streets, in households and in the marketplace. The true enemies of Nigeria are those who, paraphrasing the words of George Washington, seek to build their greatness upon their countrys ruin. John Addison had earlier foreshadowed this sentiment when he asked the vital question: Is there not some chosen curse, some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven, red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man who owes his greatness to his countrys ruin?

As it is with the leadership, so it is with the citizenry. Leaders and citizens have their citizenship in common; they are drawn from among us and are a reflection of our basest instincts or our highest ideals at every level of government. In Nigeria, the vast majority of our people regularly take turns perpetuating the cycle of corruption either as beneficiaries or benefactors. These enemies in citizens clothing are those who choose to be spectators while the nation goes down the drain on their watch; those perverts on the pulpit who hide under togas of godliness to manipulate the vulnerable; those economic behemoths who window dress their underhandedness with filthlanthropy; those who are perpetually not on seat because they cant come and go and die; those who rob, rape, raze, pillage, abduct, murder, dismember in the name of hunger or misguided rage; those who sell their votes or connive with political bandits to short-change their childrens children; those who partake of loot and celebrate looters from the same ethnic group or religious organisation; those who say of the looters, We know say na thief, but this thief na our thief. These are the true enemies of Nigeria.

At the local level of government, the true enemies of our nation are those agents of oppression who place excruciating multiple tax burdens on often defenceless Nigerians the petty traders, okada riders, keke drivers, bricklayers, pepper grinders, carpenters, vulcanisers, mechanics and other artisans not because they want to amass the proceeds for the benefit of the people, but because they must make remittances to their morally bankrupt political benefactors. These are the true enemies of Nigeria.

These enemies in citizens clothing are those who choose to be spectators while the nation goes down the drain on their watch; those perverts on the pulpit who hide under togas of godliness to manipulate the vulnerable; those economic behemoths who window dress their underhandedness with filthlanthropy; those who are perpetually not on seat because they cant come and go and die; those who rob, rape, raze, pillage, abduct, murder, dismember in the name of hunger or misguided rage; those who sell their votes or connive with political bandits to short-change their childrens children; those who partake of loot and celebrate looters from the same ethnic group or religious organisation

At the state level, the true enemies of Nigeria are those state governments that feed fat on unaccounted-for security votes; those who deploy the paraphernalia of office in their selfish interests rather than in the service of the people; those who connive with zonal political oligarchs to personalise and privatise the state; those who deploy the force of state to quell dissent; those who paralyse local governance structures in such a manner that discredits genuine arguments for restructuring and devolution of powers; those who give critics an excuse to postulate that if state governments are already abusing the little power they currently wield, what will they do if we devolve yet more powers to them? These power-drunk state officials are the true enemies of Nigeria.17/25

At the zonal level, the enemies of Nigeria are those who have perverted their influence and turned the states within their zones of influence into personal estates. They are the political puppeteers who rig the system to enthrone their stooges and use them to corner resources and opportunities. They are the political bandits and pseudo- democrats who are maniacal in merchandising the will of the people, from masterminding vote-buying to engineering seemingly spontaneous outbreaks of political violence. These are the true enemies of Nigeria.

At the federal level, the true enemies of Nigeria are in every arm of government. In the judiciary, they are judges who pervert justice and auction judgements to the highest bidder.

In the legislature, they are those legislators who rob the nation under the guise of constituency projects and are quick to pass laws that undermine our national freedoms, thereby threatening our national stability. In the executive arm of government, the enemies of our nation are those who deploy the machinery of state against hapless citizens; those who serve self rather than the people; adversaries clad as advisers who could inadvertently destroy the legacy of any president through fabricated facts and contrived counsel in a bid to protect their political careers.

These are the true enemies that we must stand up against, not the angry young fellow who throws salvos at Mr President hoping to get a few retweets, not the journalist who stares the government squarely in the face, and certainly not the dissenting voice in the midst of sycophants.

Bakare urged Nigerians in this new decade to stand up against the true enemies highlighted in his statement at all levels rather than attack journalists who criticise the government or youths who use the social media as a tool of mobilisation.

Bakares speech In Full:

Todays State of the Nation Broadcast is aimed at unveiling the true enemies of Nigeria. Please lend me your ears as we separate chaff from grains, tares from wheat, villains from heroes, and perverts from patriots. Turn your Bibles with me, if you will, to Isaiah 5:20-24 (NKJV), a text of Scripture that, in my opinion, captures todays theme, Unveiling the True Enemies of Nigeria, in its entirety:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, Woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink,Who justify the wicked for a bribe, And take away justice from the righteous man!Therefore, as the fire devours the stubble, And the flame consumes the chaff, So their root will be as rottenness, And their blossom will ascend like dust;Because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, And despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.

Fellow Nigerians, I welcome you to a new decade in the 21st century. About a hundred years ago, our founding fathers began the quest to build a great nation. The 1920s ushered in the decade of Nigerian nationalism when, for the first time, Nigerians began to embrace the possibilities of nationhood. The frameworks of the Nigerian state had been laid with the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914. However, six years post-amalgamation, our forebears still regarded themselves not as Nigerians but as Edos, Ijaws, Igbos, Kanuris, Hausas, Yorubas, and so on. They still viewed themselves as diverse local tribes under the rule of colonial masters. However, a shift began in the 1920s as the policies of the colonial masters brought economic and social hardships upon the people.i Under the leadership of patriotic founding fathers, the Nigerian people began to craft a sense of national identity.

In 1923, one hundred years apart from 2023, our next election year, the first Nigerian political party, Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), was established by an illustrious son of a priest, Olayinka Herbert Macaulay. For those who may not be aware, Herbert Macaulay was the grandson of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, an Anglican bishop from Osoogun (in todays Oyo State) who translated the Bible into Yoruba. Herbert Macaulay took the first steps towards forging a nation in which Nigerians, no matter the part of the country they hailed from, and no matter their tribe or religion, would identify themselves first as Nigerians.

By so doing, Herbert Macaulay became the first of the founding fathers of the would-be Nigerian nation. Spurred by the movement pioneered by this man, a coalition of Nigerians from across the nation came together within one decade to begin the cause of wresting the soul of Nigeria from the stranglehold of colonialism on the path to forging a new nation. Following the leadership of Macaulay, one source states:

The forces unleashed against the British were now diverse, including soldiers who had served in World War II, the media, restless youth, market women, educated people, and farmers, all of whom became committed to the anticolonial movement. Political leaders resorted to the use of political parties and the media to mobilize millions of Nigerians against the continuation of British rule.ii

In the course of traversing the nation and mobilising Nigerians under the aegis of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), Herbert Macaulay fell ill in Kano and later died in Lagos but not without passing the torch to coming generations of patriots. Notably, the creation of the NCNC in 1944 was a joint effort between the then eighty-year-old Macaulay and the forty-year-old Nnamdi Azikiwe who would go on to become Nigerias first president in an independent Nigeria Macaulay did not live to see.iii

Where Herbert Macaulay stopped, the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, H.O. Davies, Ernest Okoli, Margaret Ekpo, Eyo Ita, Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, Tafawa Balewa and Funmilayo Ransome- Kuti picked up the mantle. But our founding leaders were subject to like passions just as we are, and they had their moments of doubt. From the young Tafawa Balewa who dismissed the concept of Nigerian unity as only a British intention,iv to the equally young Obafemi Awolowo who described Nigeria as a mere geographical expression,v our founding fathers were initially far from convinced about the prospects of nationhood. However, at some point in their respective trajectories, our founders encountered the possibilities of Nigerian nationhood. In those defining moments, they embraced the promptings of destiny and it came into their hearts to build a nation.

Download Bakares Speech UNVEILING THE TRUE ENEMIES OF NIGERIA: Pastor Bakares speech

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Pastor Bakare unveils the true enemies of Nigeria - P.M. News

Houthi Oppression Deprives Tens of Thousands of Yemenis of their Salaries – Asharq Al-awsat English

Yemens Finance Ministry demanded the international community, the United Nations, World Bank and International Monetary Fund to bear their responsibility to counter the tyrannical practices of the Iran-backed Houthi militias.

In their latest violation, the militias have delayed the payment of salaries to public civil servicemen and pensioners in areas under their control in northern Yemen after they refused to work with newly printed banknotes.

The militias have banned the circulation of the new Yemeni rials that were released by the central bank in Aden, the ministry said in a statement.

This has led to the paralysis of bank activity and deprived tens of thousands of employees and pensioners from receiving their salaries.

The central bank had printed the new currency some three years ago.

The Houthis latest move is part of their ongoing efforts to combat the legitimate government.

They have called for the withdrawal of the new currency, giving people a month to hand over the new banknote. In the latest farce, they said they will compensate them in old currency or so-called electronic rial.

Yemeni legal sources and activists said they had earlier received a notice from the legitimate government expressing its inability to pay the salaries of employees working in Houthi-controlled areas starting December 2019 as a result of the militias decision not to deal with the new banknote.

The sources said that those salaries, worth more than 10 billion Yemeni rials per month, include employees working in the health sectors, the judiciary, university teachers, civilian retirees and the control and accounting apparatus.

Bankers in Saana told Asharq Al-Awsat that the Houthi decision aims to prevent Yemenis from using the new notes and instead, flood the market with the old banknote.

Accordingly, the Yemeni Trade Union called for an open strike, starting next month, to protest the militias decision.

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Houthi Oppression Deprives Tens of Thousands of Yemenis of their Salaries - Asharq Al-awsat English

Overused Section 144 Reveals Frailty of India’s Democracy – NewsClick

January 25, 2011 was a critical day in the past decade. What began as a sit-in at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, quickly became a revolution where millions took to the streets to protest against Egypts president of three decades, Hosni Mubarak. Weeks of protests led to Mubaraks resignation and in 2012 avowed Islamist and first civilian Mohammad Morsi was elected as the president in a free election. But Morsis ouster was quick and by the commander of armed forces Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, a Mubarak protg, who took over power following weeks of intense public protests against Morsi.

The new military regime under el-Sisi immediately imposed a draconian law essentially banning all protests, sit-ins or gathering of more than ten people in public. According to Human Rights Watch approximately 1,300 people have been killed since el-Sisi came to power as all dissenting voices have been crushed. Mubarak has been exonerated, Morsi died mysteriously in prison, and el-Sisi has had a complete choke-hold on Egypt with no imminent free elections.

On the other end of the political and geographic spectrum was Nicaragua and its left-leaning self-proclaimed socialist democrat president, Daniel Ortega. Unlike el-Sisi, Ortega led a peasant-friendly guerrilla warfare in the 1980s against the right wing Nicaraguan government of the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle. Ortega was elected president of Nicaragua twice, once in 1984 and then again in 2007. While he always enjoyed the support of the poor, his politics soon veered towards authoritarianism with increasing lack of transparency, oppression of journalists, imprisonment of political rivals, and misuse of state funds by his family. When Nicaragua witnessed its first large scale street protests in April and May of 2018, Ortega came out swinging against the mostly student protestors killing more than 300 and imprisoning thousands. In September 2018, Ortega-controlled Congress expanded the definition of terrorism to include a broad range of crimes such as public protesting and vandalism. Several cases have been filed against protestors as terrorists, the first in this nations history. With his wife as the vice president, Ortega now rules Nicaragua with a bayonet having all but abandoned his early claims of democratic socialist governance.

We would like to think that the story of Egypt and Nicaragua is not the story of democracies. These countries have historically been either under direct dictatorship or have had poor electoral histories. Functional democracies such as Indias have always been more tolerant of protests compared to authoritarian states.

When I was young, visits to Kolkata were marked by memories of peaceful michil or marches for workers and union rights. Attending college in Delhi, I participated in protests against police inaction in dowry deaths and eve teasing. We watched as farmers and labourers were allowed to protest various ills of society, sometimes at Ramlila Maidan and times at Jantar Mantar which had become a proverbial site of such gatherings. When I arrived in the United States, first as a foreign student and then as a naturalised citizen, I protested President Ronald Reagans anti-abortion laws, President George Bushs invasion of Panama and Iraq and against the Iraq War of 2003. Many of these protests, in India and the United States, drew large number of people with significant police presence but never did I witness any violence. In all instances, the police kept a respectable distance and the protests received fair and often favourable press coverage.

The recent photos, videos, and news footage of CAA/NRC protests have been coming fast and furious as these protests have spread. The most violence has taken place in Uttar Pradesh where, until the writing of this column, some two dozen people were dead and thousands in custody including well-known activists and lawyers. Not only are these the most widespread and persistent protests in the countrys post-independent history they have also been most violently opposed by various police forces.

What has changed?

Not unlike Egypt and Nicaragua, Indias current government is increasingly willing to use laws which oppress any and all forms of public dissent.

The most frequent one being used is the arcane Section 144 which was imposed a record ten times in eight months of 2019. Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code of 1973 authorises the magistrate of a state to issue an order to prohibit the assembly of four or more people in an area. Section 144 is meant to be imposed only in extreme cases of danger where trouble or damage to human life or property is anticipated. Such imposition might be necessary if the police finds a mob, having assembled, is being encouraged by incendiary speeches to engage in violence and arson, and the state is expected to act preventatively. Section 144 was never to be interpreted to suspend the fundamental right of entire populationsas in the case of Uttar Pradesh with its 204 million citizens who find themselves under such a decree. What we have witnessed thus far is the use of section 144 to stifle peaceful assembly which makes the law no longer a shield against imminent violence but a state-sanctioned method of preventing expression of dissent.

Like in Egypt where the police have been given vast leeway to shoot at sight any persons even having the appearance to be protesting, the Uttar Pradesh government seems to have tacitly sanctioned using of live ammunition on unarmed civilians. The worst case scenarios, in the past, had been the use of lathis and tear-gasand infrequently firing in the airto disperse an unruly crowd, but the level and nature of force being used today has become dramatically deadlier. Reports suggest that the police have directly fired on civilians and all deaths and injuries have come from police gun violence against the protestors rather than vice versa or between protestors.

Whatever the multifarious reasons for these protests, Indias Constitution is clear: Article 19(1)(b) guarantees that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, assembly, associations, movement, residence and practising any trade, business, occupation or profession. The right to assembly is a fundamental democratic rightand it is being usurped in unprecedented ways. It is the right to dissentand to express it via peaceful demonstrationswhich makes a democracy functional and sets it apart from authoritarian states like Egypt and Nicaragua.

Besides any critique of CAA/NRC, Indian governments coercive effort to curtail public assembly makes India a brittle democracy.

The author teaches at the Department of Communication Studies, State University of New York, Plattsburgh. The views are personal.

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Overused Section 144 Reveals Frailty of India's Democracy - NewsClick

Attack on the IRGC Base Shows the Iranian People’s Hatred for the Regime – Iran News Update

DetailsPublished: Wednesday, 01 January 2020 23:26

As tensions are escalating in the Middle East region, valiant youths in Iran have shown that the archenemy of the Iranian regime is its own people.

For many years, Tehran claimed that it is resisting against foreign foes, but the recent nationwide protests that rapidly engulfed more near 200 cities and towns proved Iranians are the major substantial threat to the religious fascism in Iran.

The reality is, the mass killing of 1,500 protesters, mostly youths, and injuring and arresting thousands more, left no room for compromise between the people and the regime. Over the past four decades, the mullahs achievement for the society was only spreading poverty and suffocation by using their corrupt institutes and oppressive apparatus. In this regard, the regimes financial centers and military bases, like the garrisons of the revolutionary Guards (IRGC), Basij paramilitary force, etc. have become the target of the peoples rage and hatred.

It is worth noting that during a recent couple of years, these centers time and again were attacked and torched by defiant youth. On November 15-16, the people who were fed up against the entire ruling system set fire to more than 1,000 oppressive bases and institutes belonging to the regime.

On November 26, the regimes interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli revealed new scopes of the nationwide protests and the peoples wrath against the mullahs regime. These [protests] took part in at least 100 areas of the capital Tehran, as well as 27 of Irans 31 provinces, even though a state of emergency was declared in five of Irans provinces, including Tehran, Fars, Isfahan, and Khuzestan, Rahmani Fazli said, adding that protesters across Iran destroyed at least 50 police and army centers, 140 government centers, 183 police vehicles, nine seminaries, 731 state-affiliated banks, and 70 gas stations.

On the night of December 30, following the recent uprising, a group of brave youth in Tehran set fire IRGC's Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters. This attack took place despite criminal forces being on full alert in fear of a new nationwide uprising. Significantly, Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters is an active player in both the oppression and plundering apparatus of the regime. This garrison, in fact, as a subsidiary of the IRGC, began operating as a contractor for industrial and construction projects in 1989. After ending the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, Khomeinis followers, who had now lost their main occupation of waging war on their neighbor, set their sights on Irans economy in its entirety. In this context, the IRGC built a powerful military-industrial-financial complex that encroached on all of Irans national resources. Khatams policy states the optimal use of the resources, facilities and economic potential of the IRGC in line with the expansion of the Islamic Revolution is the most important goal of establishing this financial empire.

Khatam is the largest contractor of government projects in Iran and has 5,000 contracting companies and 135,000 staff members, according to Abdullah Abdullahi, Khatam's then-commander, the state-run Mashregh newspaper published in 2014.

This military-financial cartel has the full support of Khamenei in the following areas:

-Easy access to banks financial resources

-The everlasting possibility of non-formal bidding

-Obtaining government projects with a full security power

-Full tax exemptions

These factors created a mechanism by which the IRGC would monopolize industrial, civil and petroleum, gas and petrochemical projects and completely destroy the private sector.

In conclusion, today and after bloodshed made by IRGC, Basij, plainclothes, security forces, and agents of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), targeting the regimes corrupt institutes and military bases are a natural reaction to the reckless violence. In this regard, targeting the regimes icons and symbols by supporters of the Peoples Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) receives warm welcome by the masses. Regardless of authorities threats, many people express their support in cyberspace and social media as follows:

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Attack on the IRGC Base Shows the Iranian People's Hatred for the Regime - Iran News Update

NBC Anchor Endorses Letter Denigrating Those Who Believe in ‘Fairy Tales’ Such as Noah’s Ark: What Persecution Teaches Us about Our Faith -…

NBC Anchor Endorses Letter Denigrating Those Who Believe in Fairy Tales Such as Noahs Ark: What Persecution Teaches Us about Our Faith

I need to begin with a disclaimer: this will be a positive article written to encourage Christians that we can face any circumstance we encounter this year with optimistic, joyful faith in our Fathers power and provision.

However, to get there, I need to explain why this topic is on my mind today.

On last Sundays Meet the Press,NBC News anchor Chuck Todd read and endorsed a letter claiming that supporters of Donald Trump want to be lied to since they believe in fairy tales such as Noahs ark.

Leaving the politics of this claim aside, lets note that Jews believe in Noahs ark because it is described as an historical event in the Torah (Genesis 6-9). Jesus (Matthew 24:37-39) and Peter (1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5) believed in its historicity as well. And Muslims find it in the Quran (29:14-15).

A recent article in Medium goes further in denigrating biblical faith. In Dear Christians, Its Time We Dealt With Your Religious Intolerance, the writer laments that his Nigerian grandfather was chased from his village by Christian converts because he refused to convert to Christianity. He also notes that Christian missionaries imposed upon his father a new name, age, language, and clothing they deemed more appropriate to the faith.

He points to John Allen Chau, the Christian who broke numerous laws and was then killed while attempting to share the gospel with an unreached people group off the coast of India. The authors conclusion is that any religion that believes others need to accept its message or face damnation is egotistical, intrusive, invasive, and intolerant. He is convinced that we should oppose such religions as vehemently as he does.

Of course, sins committed in the name of a religion or ideology are not necessarily the fault of that religion or ideology. As a Christian, I strongly believe that the writers grandfather and father were treated horrifically and indefensibly. We should not blame all Muslims for 9/11 or all atheists for Lenins atrocities.

And we should note that the writers rejection of religious intolerance is itself a form of intolerance.

While American Christians should note and respond to those who demean or attack our faith (1 Peter 3:15-16), we should also remember those who are facing far worse persecution than we experience.

Im thinking of the eleven Nigerian Christians who were executed by ISIS terrorists, ten of them by beheading. It is thought that they were killed on Christmas Day. And government oppression in China that seeks to rewrite the Bible, tears down hundreds of church buildings, and imprisons pastors.

Open Doors states in its 2019 report that 245 million Christians around the worldone in nine globallyare currently suffering from persecution. On average, eleven believers are killed every day for their faith.

Jesus taught us: Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account (Matthew 5:11). Notice that our Lord says when, not if.

Persecution is inevitable for true followers of Jesus (cf. John 16:33). Those who hate our Father will hate his children (John 15:18-21). Paul was blunt: All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

Here we learn that if we are not facing opposition for our faith, we should ask whether our faith is as public and uncompromising as it should be. Im not suggesting that we need to seek to be persecuted. But I am suggesting that we should not be surprised when we are.

Jesus continued: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:12, my emphasis).

Persecution forces us to decide whether we are living for reward on earth or reward in heaven. Until we face opposition for our faith, we can easily deceive ourselves into thinking that we can live for this world and the next. When we are forced to choose between treasures on earth and treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20), we discover which truly comes first for us.

This discovery is crucial whether we are facing persecution or not since where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (v. 21).

More than 65,000 college students gathered in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, to begin the new year with worship, Bible teaching, and prayer.

The purpose of Passion 2020, which ends today, is you and me saying goodbye to lesser things and saying yes to Jesus, the One whose name is above every name. Those attending are seeking to live in such a way that their journey on earth counts for what is most important in the end.

Lets join them.

NOTE: Im pleased to announce that A Pastors View launches on Tuesday, Jan. 7. This new ministry of support and encouragement for pastors and church leaders will offer free resources and a monthly teleconference with Pastor Mark Turman and me. If you are a church leader, I invite you to subscribe to A Pastors View here.

Publication date: January 2, 2019

Photo courtesy: Getty Images/Jean Baptiste Lacroix/Stringer

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit http://www.denisonforum.org.

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NBC Anchor Endorses Letter Denigrating Those Who Believe in 'Fairy Tales' Such as Noah's Ark: What Persecution Teaches Us about Our Faith -...

Govt not to bulldoze NAB Ord through NA – The Nation

ISLAMABAD - The Federal Cabinet on Tuesday decided to table the recently promulgated National Accountability (Second Amendment) Ordinance, 2019 in the parliament for improvement.

The cabinet, which met with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair, after holding an in-camera briefing on the Ordinance, decided to place it before the parliament for an in-depth discussion.

For the law to be passed through the Senate, it is important for the opposition to be on board. But the government will not bulldoze this entire process to forcefully implement the law, Special Assistant to Prime Minister (SAPM) on Information and Broadcasting Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan said.

Addressing a press conference after the cabinet meeting, she criticised the oppositions hypocrisy for wanting to amend the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) laws for 11 years, and now objecting to the PTI governments introduction of the new NAB law.

Actually, the opposition parties are overjoyed, but publicly they are criticising the governments move, done in good faith, she said, and added that although it was the oppositions right to criticise the government whenever it was at fault, the attitude adopted by it towards the law was inappropriate.

They, PML-N and PPP, have alleged that the government has introduced the ordinance to stop NAB from probing mega corruption cases involving the PTI government members, the SAPM said.

Dr Firdous said Prime Minister Imran Khan, while addressing the business community in Karachi, had reiterated that he picked the thorns out of their way through the NAB ordinance.

She said the ordinance was aimed at facilitating investors because investment in the country would lead to jobs creation.

To a question about the discussion that took place at cabinets meeting on narcotics case against PML-N leader Rana Sanaullah, she said the ANF director general also briefed the cabinet about the case.

The federal cabinet has decided that Prime Minister Imran Khan will launch a comprehensive programme worth Rs6 billion to provide essential edibles to people at subsidised rates.

Firdous said edibles like flour, sugar, ghee and pulses will be provided to the people at utility stores across the country on subsidised rates.

She said the programme would be launched next week, while financial assistance cards would be launched in the last week of the next month.

The SAPM said health cards would be provided to the deserving people through newly compiled database and those who were not registered with the database would be extended assistance through langar khanas.

She said the network of langar khanas and shelter homes would be expanded to more parts of the country.

Regarding precarious human rights situation in the Indian occupied Kashmir (IoK), Firdous said the cabinet had passed a unanimous resolution, condemning state oppression and the brutalities being perpetrated by the Indian security forces on the people of Kashmir for the last five months.

The cabinet also condemned Modi governments tactics against minorities through discriminatory laws like Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens.

Fridous said the cabinet commended Prime Minister Imran Khans efforts for creating awareness about the plight of the people of occupied Kashmir at international forums.

Firdous said that the cabinet was also briefed about the overall economic indicators of the national economy by Asad Omer and expressed satisfaction over the positive trends.

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Govt not to bulldoze NAB Ord through NA - The Nation

Christmas in America – The Washington TImes

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

What if Christmas is a core value of belief in a personal God who lived among us and His freely given promise of eternal salvation that no believer should reject or apologize for? What if Christmas is the rebirth of Christ in the hearts of all believers? What if Christmas is the potential rebirth of Christ in every heart that will have Him, whether a believer or not?

What if Jesus Christ was born about 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem? What if He is true God and true man? What if this is a mystery and a miracle? What if this came about as part of Gods plan for the salvation of all people? What if Jesus was sent into the world to atone for our sins by offering Himself as a sacrifice? What if He was sinless? What if His life was the most critical turning point in human history? What if the reason we live is that He died?

What if after He died, He rose from the dead? What if He was murdered by the government because it feared a revolt if it did not murder Him? What if the government thought He was crazy when He said He was a king but His kingdom was not of this world? What if He was not crazy but divine? What if when He said that He could forgive sins, He was referring to Himself as God?

What if He is one of the three parts of a triune God? What if this is an inexplicable mystery? What if there is no power without mystery? What if the power He possessed, He exercised only for the good? What if He truly gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, musculature to the lame, hope to the disillusioned, courage to the weak and life to the dead?

What if He freely did these things but sought no acclamation for them? What if after each of these miracles, He disappeared into the temple precincts or walked well past the crowd, lest the crowd hail him as a temporal or secular leader? What if there was in that towering personality a deep thread of shyness? What if He was shy about His Godness? What if He was shy about His goodness? What if He loved saving us? What if He was joyful but did not want us to see His joy?

What if He knew all along how profoundly untimely and utterly painful the end of His life on Earth would be, but He neither feared nor avoided it? What if His greatest display of love was self-restraint on the cross?

What if most of the world that He came to save has rejected Him? What if He still loves those who have rejected Him? What if He still offers them salvation? What if His offer is real and forever?

What if many folks today have rejected the true God for government-as-god? What if the government-as-god has set itself up as providing for all secular needs in return for fidelity to it? What if this seductive offer has been accepted by millions in America?

What if the acceptance of this seductive offer of government-as-god has ruined individual initiative, destroyed personal work ethic, fostered cancerous laziness, enhanced deep poverty and impelled thoughtless obedience to government in those who have accepted it? What if the blind acceptance of government-as-god chills the exercise of personal freedoms for fear of the loss of the governments munificence? What if government charity is really munificence with money it has taken from those who work and earn it? What if its then given to those who dont? What if it is impossible to be truly charitable with someone elses money?

What if Jesus came to set us free from the yoke of government oppression and the chains of personal sin? What if freedom is our birthright, given to us by the true God, not by the government-as-god? What if the true God made us in His own image and likeness? What if the most similar likeness between us mortals and the true God is freedom? What if just as God is perfectly free, so are we perfectly free? What if we have failed to preserve freedom and have permitted governments to take it from us? What if we are not fully human without full freedom?

What if the world was full of darkness before He came into it? What if there is darkness still today but yet much light? What if we recognize that He is the light of the world? What if Christmas is the birthday of the Son of God and the Son of Mary? What if we recognize the presence of the Son of God and the Son of Mary in our hearts and among us? What if the God-as-baby whose birthday we celebrate is the Savior of the World? What if we dont mask this but live it?

What if we say with our hearts and mean with our words Merry Christmas?

Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is a regular contributor to The Washington Times. He is the author of nine books on the U.S. Constitution.

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Christmas in America - The Washington TImes

Christians are being persecuted around the globe. That’s the real war on Christmas. – USA TODAY

Scott Arbeiter, Opinion contributor Published 7:00 a.m. ET Dec. 24, 2019

The next time you get offended when someone wishes you "happy holidays," remember those who won't get to celebrate those holidays at all.

Americas War on Christmas has been raging for over a decade, inciting controversies over nativity scenes, Christmas lights, holiday cardsand even Starbucks cups. Everyone from The New York Timesto Timehas commented on the so-called war,with one side claiming that Christianity itself is at risk, and the other side dismissing the outrage as histrionics.

There may or may not be a war on Christmas in America. But there certainly is one in other parts of the world, and it is these wars that should be getting our attention. Open Doors USA calls persecution of Christians one of the biggest human rights issues of this era,citing instances of violence, imprisonment and murderin countries around the world. According to Open Doors, in 2018over 245 million Christians were living in places where they experienced high levels of persecution.

A report published this year by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) found that Christians in Burma, the Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam face the highest levels of persecution.According to a USCIRF commissioner, "Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world," and that persecution is only intensifying.

What does that persecution look like? It looks like government oppression, mob attacks and churches being burned.It looks like rape and attacks on the elderly. It looks like 11 Christians being killed every day for their faith.

Christians at a church on Dec. 12, 2014, in Erbil, Iraq.(Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

In Syria, where over 800,000 people are Christians, Christian villages have been hollowed outby ISIS, according to The New York Times. Most historic churches have been demolished or claimed by Islamic groups.Last September, six Christian children were killed in a bomb attack ona Christian village.

Today, with the recent U.S. decision to withdraw most troops fromSyria, 150,000 Christians in Northeast Syria are in danger, along with those of many otherfaiths, according to Lauren Homer, an attorney with Law and Liberty International.Hundreds have already died as their villages have been bombed.

Time to wake up: Global Christian persecution is worsening while American churches slumber

At the same time, there is little hope of resettlement as refugees, especially in the U.S. In the past several years, there has been a sharp decline in the resettlement of Christian refugees, particularly from countries where Christians face extreme persecution. From FY2016 to FY2019, the number of Christian refugees from Iran has plummeted 95.4%; 94.2% fewer Christians have been resettled from Iraq; and the same group from Pakistan has dropped 74.1%.

And now, a Christian pastorseeking asylum in the U.S. isbeing sent back across the borderunder the White Houses remain-in-Mexico policy.Last week, I met Douglas Oviedo,a Honduran youth pastor who was so effective at drawing young people to Jesus and away from gangs that the gangs threatened his life, compelling him to flee his country.After 11months of waiting in Mexico, Pastor Douglas was granted asylum by a U.S. immigration judge.But he is still not in the clear, because our government has inextricably appealed his case, such that Pastor Douglas could be deported back into the hands of Honduran gangs rather than be allowed to stay in the U.S. and bring his wife and small children.

While I appreciate that President Donald Trump has affirmed his support for Christmas greetings, a much more impactful gesture would be fulfilling his pledge to facilitate the resettlement of persecuted Christian refugees. This would also mean rolling back changes to asylum policy that threaten to deport pastors and others back to the Central American gangs seeking to harm them.

Don't forget about them: On Good Friday and beyond, remember Christians who aren't allowed to take refuge in the US

Its okay that not everyone in America shares the same faith; in fact, the religious freedom that allows each person to choose for themselves how (or if) to believe is a core American value. My own Christian faith compels me to welcome refugees and asylum seekers whether persecuted for their faith Christianity or any other or for their ethnicity, political opinion or other reasons. I challenge War on Christmas warriors to keep their focus on the real sufferers this Christmas.

As we reflect upon the nativity story, lets not forget this detail from the Bible: Just after the three wise men brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, Jesus himself was carried by Joseph and Mary across a border to Egypt, fleeing the genocidal persecution of King Herod. We can best honor a refugee Saviorthis Christmas by remembering brothers and sisters persecuted by the Herods of today and by insisting that our government resume its role as a safe haven for persecuted Christians and others fleeing persecution.

Scott Arbeiter is the president of World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization that is among nine agencies that resettles refugees in the U.S.

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Christians are being persecuted around the globe. That's the real war on Christmas. - USA TODAY

Navy bans TikTok from government-issued phones – Engadget

There's little doubt as to why TikTok might face restrictions, though. US politicians remain concerned about TikTok's Chinese ownership and the potential for the app to serve as a conduit for Chinese government plans. There's no evidence that TikTok is siphoning personal info, but that might not matter to jittery officials. As it stands, there are also worries that China may be shaping TikTok's message, even for American users. Critics are concerned that TikTok could be a recruiting tool, or else sanitize the atrocities and other forms of oppression in China.

The US Army recently told cadets not to use TikTok.

ByteDance hasn't commented on the ban. It previously said that TikTok's US operations are separate from China and has denied serving on the government's behalf. That stance won't assuage the Navy, though, and it looks like the Navy's rank and file will have to use personal phones if they're going to use TikTok at all.

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Navy bans TikTok from government-issued phones - Engadget

Donald Trump: What Has Two Thumbs And Kills More Birds Than Wind Power? THIS GUY! – Wonkette

Last week, Donald Trump unleashed yet another unhinged lie-filled rant claiming wind turbines cause American Bird Carnage. As Wonkette's Liz Dye pointed out, nah, many times more birds are killed by buildings and domestic cats, though generally not at the same time. Then, on Christmas Eve, the New York Times ran a major story on a very real threat to far larger numbers of birds: the Trump administration's decision to gut the Migratory Bird Act in 2017, by changing how the law is enforced.

The report is based on a trove of government documents and emails about the new enforcement priority -- really a policy of nearly complete non-enforcement. The administration has effectively eliminated any penalties for companies that kill birds or destroy their habitats, and is now actively discouraging industry as well as state and local governments from taking actions to protect wild birds.

Wouldn't you know it, Trump's bitter tears about all the poor birds being murdered by wind energy aren't just fake; his own policies pose a far greater environmental risk. Isn't that a surprise.

The Migratory Bird Act was originally passed in 1918 to protect birds from over-hunting and poaching -- a couple of decades late for the passenger pigeon, but it at least managed to prevent other extinctions. The Times explains how enforcement of the law evolved:

Beginning in the 1970s, federal officials used the act to prosecute and fine companies up to $15,000 per bird for accidental deaths on power lines, in oil pits, in wind turbines and by other industrial hazards.

Republicans and their oil industry owners have long complained that the law was being used to prevent Americans from getting prosperous by wiping out pesky birds that don't yield any profits for anyone, or at least not for anyone who matters. Those complaints only accelerated during the Obama administration, because War On Oil, and one industry flack sobbed bitterly that "It felt like [the law] was weaponized against one industry."

So as a gift to polluters and other job creators, the Trump administration reinterpreted the rule so we can all get rich without government oppression, hooray!

If landowners destroy a barn knowing it is filled with baby owls, they would not be liable, as long as the intent was not to kill owls, the opinion said. The illegal spraying of a banned pesticide would not be a legal liability either as long as the birds were not the "intended target."

For anyone to get prosecuted now, a company would have to actually have its employees shooting birds, and even then, Interior might insist on documentary proof that they were aiming at the birds, not at, say, black helicopters they thought were spying on them.

Again and again, government records show Interior Department officials explaining, to state and local governments and other federal agencies, that America is out of the business of protecting migratory birds.

In that last example, though, you get a hint of how some career agents with USFW feel about the new regime:

To make matters worse, the administration is also going out of its way to tell state and local governments that any efforts to mitigate harm to migratory birds are "purely voluntary," so if you want to let a new construction project wipe out nesting areas, go for it. Trump administration lawyers advised the state of Virginia that it didn't have to develop an artificial island that would make up for wiping out nesting grounds in a major bridge and tunnel project near Chesapeake Bay. So the state dropped the plan, which it had been working on in conjunction with an environmental group.

The birds, now south for the winter, will return in March and April to land that has been paved. Construction crews may have to take aggressive measures to prevent the birds from nesting wherever they can, like in cracks in the asphalt.

There's your beat-up little seagull, Mr. Newman.

How's this for a jaw-dropper? Under the new rule, the Times explains,

And all this is happening as scientists reported in September that North America has lost nearly a third of its wild birds in the past 50 years.

It's insane, and yet another example of how Team Trump is using the narrowest possible interpretation of environmental laws to fuck over the environment because regulation is bad for business. And with the big crop of judges who think it's legal to tell truck drivers they must freeze to death on the job, there's no reason to think the federal courts will help a bunch of stupid birds, who don't even hire the best lobbyists.

But at least if your toilet is clogged with dead owls, you'll be able to clear 'em out with one mighty flush.

[NYT / NYT / Audubon]

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Donald Trump: What Has Two Thumbs And Kills More Birds Than Wind Power? THIS GUY! - Wonkette

Who rules the roost? – Daily Pioneer

The year 2019 has been of Shah but he will do well to note that the nation saw a political voice emerge: Those of Indias young, who have spoken against the Governments high-handedness

As the year comes to a close, in this weeks article, lets take a look back to see how we have come by. The year 2019 marked the commencement of polling in the worlds largest democracy. The rhetoric espoused by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led to it winning the elections with a comfortable majority of its own. After the swearing-in of the Narendra Modi-led BJP Government, the nation saw the appointment of Amit Shah as the Union Home Minister. This is when things got interesting. Ever since, the year has been most obviously punctuated by events with the Home Minister at its forefront.

In the years between 2014 and 2019, Shah was primarily viewed as the orchestrator of the BJPs victories in a few States, some through strategy and others through blatant subversion of democracy. Each such victory whether through subversion or strategy was lauded by certain media organsiations. Some news anchors came up with the kind of servile praise that would make even the Korean Central News Agency look on in admiration.

After giving another five years to the Modi-led BJP Government, we saw Shah rise to a much more prominent position, in administration and in the Government. This is surely distinct from the much more clandestine and behind-the-scenes role that Home Ministers have been given while working for the party. As the BJP president, rumours and discussions were already doing the rounds about just how much power and influence Shah held even then. But now, there is hardly any debate. He is possibly the most powerful man in the Government and its agenda is being driven by the Home Minister. The change in dynamics was visible even before the new Government was sworn in, most visibly during the Press conference held by the Prime Minister. If one were to watch the briefing even now, it will be evident that the address was led by Shah. It was incredible to see a Prime Minister, the head of the Government, look at the soon-to-be Home Minister before answering questions put before him. This set the tone for 2019.

Then came one of the first significant decisions of this Government, the abrogation of Article 370 and the bifurcation of Jammu & Kashmir into two Union Territories. Whatever ones views on the change in status of Kashmir may be, there can be little debate that this change in status came with little or no discussion or debate with the real stakeholders in Kashmir, namely the people of the former State. Instead, what we saw was that in the blink of an eye, a tectonic change in Indias political and Constitutional landscapes was thrust down our throats even before we were given a chance to debate the niceties. It is good governance and frankly, a basic principle of our federal democracy that the Central Government, while exercising a decision that affects each citizen of the State, takes the concerns of its people into account. However, there was no debate or discussion on Article 370 as to what could have been the best way to take such a move forward.

Instead, what we have seen and what we continue to see is an entire State still under lockdown. This is a State, where internet services have been shut down for almost half a year now and where the local leadership has been silenced through not only the internet embargo but also through house arrests. From the reports that have emerged in the international media and from what we have seen in other States, where internet services have been shut (such as Assam and Uttar Pradesh), major repercussions and reaction of the people of Kashmir to such a move can really be gauged after the internet blockade is lifted. All we can hope is that the damage and oppression caused by such a move does not result in us losing Kashmir altogether. I believe that the entire episode could have been handled by involving all stakeholders, especially the people, who are the most affected.

The same brazen approach was followed by the Government during the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill, now the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). I have already written in detail about how the CAA goes against the spirit of the Constitution and the very idea of India that the framers of our Constitution and the builders of modern India had envisaged. I will not go into these details again but the person leading the CAA and the one who forced it down our collective throats was the Home Minister. The standard procedure for the passage of any Bill calls for it to be presented before the Standing Committee. However, in the case of CAA, the Government did not deem it fit to take the views of the Opposition or of the public.

The CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) are two sides of the same coin. It was interesting to see the juxtaposition between the Prime Ministers understanding of the NRC and that of the Home Minister. In light of the protests against the divisive CAA, the Prime Minister spoke to the nation to presumably pacify those, who have been protesting against the Act. However, he left the citizens largely confused.

The Prime Minister said that the Government does not intend to implement a pan-India NRC. However, Shah explicitly stated on more than one occasion (including in Parliament) that the NRC will take place all across the country. So whos right? Whom do we trust? Is it the Prime Minister or the Home Minister?

Recently, the Cabinet gave a go ahead to the National Population Register (NPR). There is widespread fear that the data collected as part of the NPR will be the basis of the NRC. This squarely provides the answer. While the Home Minister and the Prime Minister may deny any link between the NRC and the NPR, they have given us little reason for their decisions. It is this trust that the Prime Minister and the Home Minister will need to earn back.

So, it appears that from the date of the infamous Press conference the only one by the Prime Minister till today, the BJP and the ruling Government are increasingly being cast in the image of the Home Minister.

A word of warning though should be in order. The year 2019 has till now been the year of Shah but he would do well to note that the end of the year has seen a political voice emerge: Those of Indias young and old Constitutionalists, who have grown tired of the oppressive, divisive and high-handed acts of the Government and have decided to voice their concern in a largely peaceful and democratic manner. The BJP would do well to note that while 2019 may have been largely about Shah, 2020 could well belong to our youth.

(The writer is a former IPS officer, a former MP and currently a member of the AAP)

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Who rules the roost? - Daily Pioneer


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