Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
(Washington) (AP) – Spurred to action by the downing of the Malaysian airliner, the European Union approved dramatically tougher economic sanctions Tuesday against Russia, including an arms embargo and restrictions on state-owned banks. President Barack Obama swiftly followed with an expansion of U.S. penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy.
The coordinated sanctions were aimed at increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his country’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine whom the West blames for taking down the passenger jet nearly two weeks ago. Obama and U.S. allies also warned that Russia was building up troops and weaponry along its border with Ukraine.
“Today Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress,” Obama said. “It does not have to be this way. This a choice Russia and President Putin has made.”
Tuesday’s announcements followed an intense lobbying effort from Obama aimed at getting European leaders to toughen their penalties on Russia and match earlier U.S. sanctions. Europe has a far stronger economic relationship with Russian than the U.S., but EU leaders have been reluctant to impose harsh penalties in part because of concern about a negative impact on their own economies.
However, Europe’s calculus shifted sharply after a surface-to-air missile brought down the passenger jet, killing nearly 300 people including more than 200 Europeans. Obama and his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany and Italy finalized plans to announce the broader sanctions Monday in an unusual joint video conference.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, said the sanctions sent a “strong warning” that Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine cannot be tolerated.
“When the violence created spirals out of control and leads to the killing of almost 300 innocent civilians in their flight from the Netherlands to Malaysia, the situation requires urgent and determined response,” the two top EU officials said in a statement.
Despite the West’s escalation of its actions against Russia, Obama said the U.S. and Europe were not entering into Soviet-style standoff with Russia.
“It’s not a new cold war,” he said in response to a reporter’s question.
Still, U.S. officials say sanctions already rippling through Russia are having a detrimental impact on the country’s economy. Russia’s growth projections have been downgraded, and Obama said $100 billion in capital was already expected to flee Russia even before Tuesday’s joint U.S.-European announcements.
The sanctions, Obama said, “have made a weak Russian economy even weaker.”
Yet it remains uncertain whether the tougher penalties will have any impact on Russia’s actions in Ukraine – nor was it clear what other actions the U.S. and Europe were willing to take if the situations remains unchanged. U.S. officials said they believe economic pressure remains their most effective tool, and Obama reiterated his opposition to sending lethal aid to the Ukrainian military.
The new European penalties a ban on the unapproved sale to the Russians of technology that has dual military and civilian uses or is particularly sensitive, such as advanced equipment used in deep-sea and Arctic oil drilling. The EU also approved an arms embargo, though it would not restrict past agreements, allowing France to go forward with the delivery of two warships to Russia, a deal that has been sharply criticized by the U.S. and Britain.
To restrict Russia’s access to Europe’s money markets, EU citizens and banks will be barred from purchasing certain bonds or stocks issued by state-owned Russian banks, according to EU officials.
The specific targets of the EU actions will be published Thursday, when they will take effect.
U.S. officials said they expected Europe’s list of targets to include some of the same energy companies, defense entities and financial institutions the Obama administration hit with sanctions the day before the Malaysian airliner was shot out of the sky. The White House has been pressing Europe in recent days to bring its penalties in line with the U.S., both to increase the economic pressure on Moscow and present a united Western front.
As part of that effort, Obama also announced an expansion of the U.S. sanctions on Russian economic sectors. Among the targets were three major Russian banks: the Bank of Moscow, Russian Agricultural Bank and VTB Bank, Russia’s second largest bank.
Administration officials said 30 percent of the Russian banking sector’s assets were now targeted by U.S. sanctions. The main function of the sanctions is to curtail the financial institutions’ ability to access U.S. debt markets, not to block individual users from using their accounts or credit cards, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sanctions by name.
Analysts said the effort was aimed at cutting off access to resources that these banks would need to support their own lending operations, an action that could weaken economic activity in Russia.
“This limits the ability of these banks to do new business. That means the Russian economy will suffer because the banks will not be able to make as many loans,” said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at the Martin Smith School of Business at California State University Channel Islands.
He said that barring financing from U.S. institutions to these banks will likely have a ripple effect. “It is likely that other Western banks and banks in Asia will be reluctant to do business with them,” Sohn said.
The U.S. also targeted the St. Petersburg-based United Shipbuilding Corporation, a defense technologies firm, and was blocking future technology sales to Russia’s oil industry.
(Washington) (AP) – Sen. Patrick Leahy on Tuesday introduced a bill to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, a proposal that goes further than a similar House measure and has drawn support from civil liberties groups, the White House and Republicans.
The bill represents the latest step in fulfilling a January promise by President Barack Obama to end the NSA’s collection of domestic calling records. If enacted, it would represent the most significant change to come in the wake of the leaks of once-secret surveillance programs by former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden.
The measure was co-sponsored by Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
It would not affect most NSA surveillance, which operates under different authorities than the Patriot Act provision under which the agency was collecting telephone calling records.
“This is an historic opportunity, and I am grateful that the bill has the support of the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry,” said Leahy, D-Vermont, judiciary committee chairman.
Leahy’s bill drew praise from the American Civil Liberties Association and other activist groups because it tightened a provision they criticized in a similar bill that passed the House in May. The House bill included a vaguely worded definition that some believed continued to allow bulk collection of American records, something the bills are designed to curb.
Both bills allow the NSA to request the U.S. calling data from the phone companies in terrorism investigations after a secret order of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The difference is that it will be the companies, not the NSA, holding the records.
“While this bill is not perfect, it is the beginning of the real NSA reform that the public has been craving since the Patriot Act became law in 2001,” said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.
Cruz said, “Republicans and Democrats are showing America that the government can respect the privacy rights of law-abiding citizens, while at the same time, giving law enforcement the tools needed to target terrorists.”
(Gaza City) (AP) – Israel unleashed its heaviest air and artillery assault of the Gaza war on Tuesday, destroying key symbols of Hamas control, shutting down the territory’s only power plant and leaving at least 128 Palestinians dead on the bloodiest day of the 22-day conflict.
Despite devastating blows that left the packed territory’s 1.7 million people cut off from power and water and sent the overall death toll soaring past 1,200, Hamas’ shadowy military leader remained defiant as he insisted that the Islamic militants would not cease fire until its demands are met.
The comments by Mohammed Deif in an audiotape broadcast on a Hamas satellite TV channel cast new doubt on international cease-fire efforts. Aides to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Egypt was trying to bring Israeli and Palestinian delegations together in Cairo for new talks in which Hamas would be presented this time as part of the Palestinian team.
Israel’s final objective in Gaza remained unclear a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis to be prepared for a “prolonged” war.
Netanyahu is under pressure from hawkish members of his coalition to topple Hamas in an all-out offensive, but has not let on whether he plans to go beyond destroying Hamas rocket launchers, weapons depots and military tunnels used to infiltrate Israel and smuggle weapons.
Dozens of Israeli airstrikes and heavy tank shelling hit areas across Gaza, which was plunged into complete darkness Tuesday night after a strike on its sole power plant set a fuel tank ablaze.
In the sprawling Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, at least 24 people – 10 of them from the same family – were killed and dozens wounded in a barrage of tank fire, Hamas health officials said.
“Tanks were firing in all directions and shrapnel was flying,” said Moussa al-Mabhouh, a volunteer for Gaza’s Civil Defense. “Smoke was rising from houses and from nearby workshops.”
In one incident, shrapnel from a strike in Jebaliya hit near a car with U.N. markings, killing an employee of a U.N. aid agency and his brother, and wounding the man’s 12-year-old son, said agency spokesman Adnan Abu Hasna.
The Israeli military has said it is targeting Hamas command centers, along with rocket launchers and weapons arsenals, but has not provided explanations when asked about specific strikes in which many members of a single family were killed.
On Tuesday, multiple members of at least five families were pulled from the rubble after airstrikes and tank shells struck their homes, including the mayor of the Bureij refugee camp, his 70-year-old father and three relatives, according to Palestinian health officials.
In all, at least 1,229 Palestinians have been killed, including 128 on Tuesday, making it the single deadliest day since the start of fighting on July 8, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. More than 7,000 have been wounded, he said.
Israel says it has lost 53 soldiers, along with two Israeli civilians and a Thai national.
Despite the heavy Palestinian losses, Deif, the commander of the Hamas military wing, said fighting would continue. “There is not going to be a cease-fire as long as the demands of our people are not fulfilled,” he said.
Hamas has demanded that Israel and Egypt lift a border blockade they imposed on Gaza after Hamas seized the territory in 2007. Over the past year, Egypt has further tightened restrictions, shutting down hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border that had provide crucial tax income to Hamas. The closure of the tunnels drove Hamas into a severe financial crisis.
Deif’s voice was recognizable in the audio statement on Al-Aqsa TV. He has survived repeated Israeli assassination attempts and has operated from hiding for years.
Al-Aqsa also broadcast a videotape it said showed an infiltration by Hamas fighters into Israel on Monday through a border tunnel. The footage showed armed Palestinians climbing out of a hole in the ground and attacking an Israeli guard post near the border. They were then seen fleeing back down the hole.
The Israeli military said Hamas infiltrated Israeli territory near a communal farm and killed five soldiers on guard nearby. A Hamas gunman was also killed in the attack. Israeli media reported a soldier shot and killed him while he was dragging one of the bodies back to the tunnel.
The military said Palestinian militants fired at least 64 rockets Tuesday at Israeli cities.
Israel has said its troops will not leave Gaza until they have demolished the sophisticated network of Hamas attack tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border and inflicted major damage on the group’s arsenal and rocket launchers.
Meanwhile, the miserable living condition of Gaza’s 1.7 million people deteriorated even further after two Israeli tank shells struck one of three fuel tanks of Gaza’s only power plant. The hit set off a massive fire, and a column of thick putrid smoke rose from the site for hours.
“We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room,” said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza Energy Authority. “Everything was burned.”
The shutdown meant that Gaza has an 80 percent deficit of electricity, said Sari Bashi of the Israeli rights group Gisha. Widespread power outages also disrupt water supplies because electricity is needed to operate water pumps. In Gaza, about 1.2 million have no access to running water, she said.
Maher Salem of the utilities department in the Gaza City municipality said about 600,000 of the city’s 800,000 residents were facing water problems.
“But the most catastrophic issue for us, which is the ticking bomb, is that once we have run out of fuel (for back-up generators), we have to shut down the waste water treatment,” he said, adding that fuel would last up to four more days.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Obama administration urges “all parties to respect the civilian nature of these facilities.” The Israeli military has not commented on the shelling of the power plant.
Earlier Tuesday, Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of attacks, leveling the home of the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and damaging the offices of the movement’s Al-Aqsa satellite TV station, a central mosque in Gaza City and government offices.
Haniyeh’s house, in a narrow alley of the Shati refugee camp, was reduced to rubble but no one was hurt. Residents placed a large framed portrait of Haniyeh atop the wreckage and draped it with green Hamas flags and Palestinian national banners.
Israel has targeted several homes of Hamas leaders but so far none has been killed. Haniyeh said in a statement Tuesday that “destroying stones will not break our determination.”
Meanwhile, two aides to Abbas said the Palestinian leader and the top Hamas official in exile, Khaled Mashaal, are trying to put together a joint delegation that would present Palestinian demands in future cease-fire talks in Cairo.
Abbas and Hamas are former bitter rivals, but took a step toward reconciliation earlier this year when Hamas ceded some power to a technocrat government headed by Abbas.
Egypt has expressed willingness to host indirect talks, but has said the two sides must observe a humanitarian truce of unspecified duration before talks can begin, said the two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations with the media.
(Harrison) (AP) – The attorney for the Bull Shoals police chief accused of using excessive force against a domestic violence suspect last year wants his retrial moved from Fayetteville back to Harrison.
A federal jury in Harrison earlier this month found Daniel Sutterfield not guilty on charges of conspiracy and filing a false report, but deadlocked on a charge that he used excessive force.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks declared a mistrial and a retrial was set for Aug. 18 in Fayetteville. Defense attorney Bruce Eddy is asking to have the retrial back in Harrison.
Eddy argues Sutterfield lives in Bull Shoals and so does Nicholas Dore, the suspect Sutterfield is accused of kicking and using a stun gun on. He says most witnesses also live in the area covered by the court in Harrison.
(St. Louis) (AP) – Sales from Missouri Lottery tickets have raised billions of dollars for education programs since proceeds were directed to education-only programs two decades ago. But next month, voters will be asked to change those rules so money can be shared with veterans groups.
The lottery has raised more than $4.5 billion since it was created nearly 30 years ago. Since 1994, that money has exclusively been designated for education.
But on Aug. 5, Amendment 8 will ask voters to create a veterans lottery scratch-off ticket whose net proceeds would be used to improve veterans homes and cemeteries in Missouri. Lottery officials haven’t estimated how much the tickets may generate. Supporters say it’s a good way to support aging veterans, but critics argue that a better funding source should be found and fear the change could take money away from public schools.
Several states already allocate some lottery revenue to veterans, including three of Missouri’s neighbors – Kansas, Iowa and Illinois – along with Texas and West Virginia. Illinois, Iowa and Kansas have raised between $10 million and $13 million each for veterans through their tickets, according to a May legislative research report in Connecticut, where a veterans lottery ticket is being considered.
Texas Lottery Commission spokesman Kelly Cripe said that since the Veterans Cash game launched in 2009, more than $36.5 million has been transferred to the Fund for Veterans Assistance.
The Missouri Constitution currently designates lottery proceeds strictly to education. Rep. Sheila Solon, who sponsored the measure creating the proposed amendment, said the change could help fund an additional home for retired veterans, provide for improvements and better up-keep at veterans cemeteries, and fund other services. Missouri’s existing seven veterans homes have a combined 1,350 beds and a waiting list of 1,690, Solon said. It takes, on average, nine months to get in.
“That list is only going to get longer with the veterans from the Vietnam War who are aging,” said Solon, a Republican from the Kansas City suburb of Blue Springs.
The Missouri Lottery has raised more than $4.5 billion for education since 1987, according to the division’s website. Starting in 1992, all lottery proceeds were designated strictly to education.
Some opponents worry that a veterans ticket would potentially take money away from public schools at a time when some school districts are already struggling with financial and performance problems. Other critics say it is unfair to veterans to hope that purchases of lottery tickets provide money to support them.
“We are not funding our commitments to veterans the way we should be,” said Sen. Paul LeVota, an Independence Democrat. “Now we have some idea that the lottery is going to save our commitment. Instead of trying to use these schemes, we should have proper tax policy and fund things that are important.”
Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, a Democrat from Kansas City, said the lottery is an inefficient and unpredictable money source.
“The best way to fund veteran services is through the general revenue fund,” LaFaver said. “Unless we do it that way, we’re never going to get to the point where we’re funding veterans to the level they truly deserve.”
Solon said the lottery ticket won’t take away from other funding. She does not believe it will hurt education funding because it may draw new customers to the lottery.
“What the other states have told me is it kind of rejuvenates the program,” Solon said. “My husband is a veteran and he does not buy lottery tickets, but he would buy a veterans lottery ticket.”
Education groups that include the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the Missouri National Education Association and the Missouri School Boards’ Association are not taking a public position on the ballot measure, but several veterans groups support it.
(Jefferson City) (AP) – Supporters of a pair of Missouri ballot proposals have spent millions promoting the measures that would raises taxes for transportation and create a state constitutional right to farm, far outspending opponents, according to state finance reports.
Proposed Constitutional Amendment 7 would impose a three-quarters cent sales tax for 10 years to benefit state and local roads and other types of transportation.
Missourians for Safe Transportation and New Jobs reported spending about $2.5 million in support of the measure, with nearly $1.7 million remaining in its campaign account. Its funding has been fueled heavily by construction contractors, labor unions and others who could directly benefit from the work spawned by the projected $5.4 billion to $6.1 billion in new tax revenues over a decade. By contrast, the opposition group Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions reported spending a little over $22,000, with less than $3,000 remaining in its campaign account.
The financial advantage is not nearly as large for supporters of proposed Constitutional Amendment 1, which would create a state right to farming and ranching on par with existing constitutional guarantees such as the freedom of speech and religion. Missouri Farmers Care has spent nearly $800,000 in support of the ballot proposal while Missouri’s Food for America has spent more than $400,000 opposing it. Supporters have drawn significant contributions from groups such as the state soybean, pork and corn associations. Most of the opposition money has come from the Humane Society of the United States, which has supported past efforts in Missouri to impose stricter limits on dog breeders.
Other proposed constitutional amendments on Missouri’s ballot have not attracted much money. A committee created to support proposed Constitutional Amendment 9, establishing privacy protections against police searches of cellphones and electronic data, reported spending less than $1,000 on printing signs. There is no opposition group. A committee created to support proposed Constitutional Amendment 5, which would enhance the state’s right to keep and bear arms, said it had spent none of the $5,000 it received from a pair of Republican state senators. A committee opposing the measure also reported no expenditures.
No campaign committees have been formed related to proposed Constitutional Amendment 8, which would authorize a Lottery game to benefit nursing homes for military veterans.
(Willow Springs) – The South Central Education Consortium in Willow Springs is holding a registration event today.
The event will be held from 10 AM to 6 PM at the Consortium, 908 Springfield Road in Willow Springs.
The Consortium offers career training and college courses from Three Rivers Community College and Missouri State University-West Plains.
For more information visit trcc.edu or call 417-469-3000.
(Jefferson City) (AP) – U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill has given $240,000 from her campaign to the Missouri Democratic Party.
Online Ethics Commission records show the contribution to the Missouri Democratic State Committee was made last week. They money is intended to help Democrats running for the state Legislature.
Republicans won control of the Missouri House and Senate over a decade ago and now have a roughly two-thirds majority.
Democrats folded their separate House and Senate campaign committees earlier this year and transferred the money to the state party in an attempt to better coordinate their legislative efforts.
McCaskill’s contribution makes her the largest donor to the party for the time being.
Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster has given $200,000 as part of a pledge to contribute $400,000 over four years to the party.
(West Plains) – West Plains City Clerk Mallory Prewett says that residents in the Country Club Subdivision should expect some power outages this week:
Prewett says that some residents of the Woodridge subdivision and Westwood Drive could also see outages.
(West Plains) – West Plains residents are encouraged to turn out in support of “West Plains Night” at the Springfield Cardinals ballpark Saturday, August 2, for their 6:10 PM game against the Arkansas Travelers.
City Tourism and Marketing Director Todd Shanks told Ozark Radio News more about the event:
People may call the West Plains Parks Office at 417-256-7304 for more information.