Friday, May 22, 2015

Benghazi Emails Show Clinton's Correspondence With Adviser

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to child care workers during a visit to the Center For New Horizons Wednesday, May 20, 2015, in Chicago.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal had been blocked from working for Hillary Rodham Clinton at the State Department by skeptical White House officials. But that didn't cut his direct line to Clinton on one of the most sensitive matters of her tenure at the agency.
During Clinton's years at the State Department, Blumenthal offered a flood of intelligence and advice to his former boss, sending near monthly missives about the growing unrest in Libya to the personal email account she continued to use as a government employee.
The correspondence, which covered everything from warring Middle Eastern factions to political strategy, was absorbed by Clinton, who often forwarded the messages to aides with the instruction "pls print."
Clinton's earlier efforts to hire Blumenthal, who has spent nearly two decades working for the Clinton family, as a State Department employee had been rejected by Obama administration officials who said they feared his role spreading harsh attacks against Obama in the 2008 presidential primaries would cause discomfort among members of their new White House team.
But his continued role was revealed in nearly 350 pages of emails, published Thursday by The New York Times, about the 2012 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, gave the State Department 55,000 pages of emails last year that she said pertained to her work as secretary sent from the personal address she used while at the agency. The messages about the events in Libya were given for review to a special House panel investigating the attacks and are expected to be released by the State Department in the coming days after months of delay.
The panel, which was initially formed to investigate Stevens' death, has become a vehicle to broadly question Clinton's tenure at the State Department, revealing potential ammunition for Republican attacks on the 2016 campaign trail. This week, the panel subpoenaed Blumenthal to testify on Capitol Hill.
Blumenthal, through his lawyer, told The Washington Post on Thursday that he will cooperate with the congressional inquiry. There is nothing in the emails to suggest that Clinton was actively soliciting Blumenthal's advice or alleged intelligence information, although the documents contain few replies she may have sent to him. Her responses are polite, in one case thanking him for "useful" information.
The sources of Blumenthal's information are often unclear. At the time, he was working for the Clinton family foundation and advising a group of entrepreneurs trying to win business from the Libyan transitional government.
Some of Blumenthal's analysis, often forwarded by aides without revealing their author, was questioned by State Department officials. Gene Cretz, Stevens' predecessor as U.S. ambassador to Libya, described one note as "odd," and said the author appeared to have confused two individuals with similar names.
Passing on an April Blumenthal note, Clinton wrote deputy chief of staff Jake Sullivan: "This one strains credulity. What do you think?" The report claimed French and British intelligence services were activating longstanding contacts with tribal leaders in Libya, encouraging them to establish a breakaway, semi-autonomous area.
"Definitely," Sullivan responded, likening it to "a thin conspiracy theory." Much of the contents deal with the internal infighting that still plagues Libya, as weak political leaders failed to disarm powerful revolutionary militias and different armed commanders battled among themselves for the nation's spoils.
The evening after the Benghazi attack, Blumenthal forwarded to Clinton an analysis of the situation from former CIA official Tyler Drumheller which purported to contain information from "sources with direct access to the Libyan National Transitional Council as well as the highest levels of European governments as well as Western intelligence and security services."
The memo said a top Libyan official, Mohamed Yousef el-Magariaf, had told close associates that the Benghazi attack was carried out by the militant group Ansar al-Sharia and that Libyan security officials believed the group "took advantage of cover provided by" demonstrations against the internet video seen as insulting to the Prophet Mohammed to conduct it.
The memo, citing an unidentified source passing on information from unnamed Libyan security officials, said that 21 members of Ansar al-Sharia had joined with about 2,000 demonstrators outside the Benghazi facility. Citing the same source, the memo said that some Libyan officials believed the protest was organized solely as cover for the attack.
The unidentified source cited by Drumheller said some Libyan security officials had told el-Magariaf that the group had been planning the attack for about a month. Clinton forwarded Blumenthal's email to Sullivan, her deputy chief of staff, with the instruction, "We should get around this asap," to which Sullivan replied, "Will do." Clinton also forwarded the email to another person, whose identity is redacted, with the instruction "pls print."
Other emails to Clinton from Blumenthal in the aftermath of the attack offer additional material from similar unnamed sources describing Egyptian and Libyan governments' concerns about the situation and growing sectarian violence. They also contained rumor and speculation about various internal Libyan government deliberations.
In January 2012, eight months before the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. outpost, he tells Clinton how 2,000 disgruntled veterans, supported by students, attacked the Benghazi headquarters of Libya's struggling, post-Gadhafi government. They threw Molotov cocktails and beat government employees, he claimed, and destroyed equipment and files.
From time to time, Blumenthal commented on the administration's political strategy. In October 2012, a month before President Barack Obama was re-elected, he also passed along a news article predicting that the Republicans might try to use Benghazi as a campaign tool in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. Five hours later, Clinton replied to Blumenthal, saying: "Thanks. I'm pushing to the WH."
At the same time, according to the time stamp on the email, she also forwarded the article to Sullivan with the notation "Be sure Ben knows they need to be ready for this line of attack." The identity of "Ben" is not disclosed but may be a reference to Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. Sullivan replied, "Will do," according to the emails.
In an Oct. 7, conversation chain, Blumenthal invited the secretary of state to dinner at his home at an unspecified date after the November election. "Bill can come, too, if he's in town. Whatever works." Clinton's reply to the invitation, if there was one, was not included.
Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper and Matthew Daly contributed to this report

Archives Show Hillary Clinton Ok'D Tax Breaks For Non Profits

President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton talk during the White House Conference on Philanthropy in the East Room of the White House in Washington. As first lady in the final year of the Clinton administration, Hillary Rodham Clinton approved the unveiling of a White House plan to push for tax breaks for private foundations and wealthy charity donors at the same time that the William J. Clinton Foundation was soliciting donations for her husband’s presidential library, recently-released Clinton-era documents show.

LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS. (AP) — As first lady in the final year of the Clinton administration, Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed a White House plan to give tax breaks to private foundations and wealthy charity donors at the same time the William J. Clinton Foundation was soliciting donations for her husband's presidential library, recently released Clinton-era documents show.
The blurred lines between the tax reductions proposed by the Clinton administration in 2000 and the Clinton Library's fundraising were an early foreshadowing of the potential ethics concerns that have flared around the Clintons' courting of corporate and foreign donors for their family charity before she launched her campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
White House documents in the Clinton Library reviewed by The Associated Press show Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton were kept apprised about a tax reduction package that would have benefited donors, including those to his presidential library, by reducing their tax burden. An interagency task force set up by Bill Clinton's executive order proposed those breaks along with deductions to middle-class taxpayers who did not itemize their returns. Federal officials estimated the plan would cost the U.S. government $14 billion in lost tax payments over a decade.
In a January 2000 memo to Hillary Clinton from senior aides, plans for a "philanthropy tax initiative roll-out" showed her scrawled approval, "HRC" and "OK." The document, marked with the archive stamp "HRC handwriting," indicated her endorsement of the tax package, which included provisions to reduce and simplify an excise tax on private foundations' investments and allow more deductions for charitable donations of appreciated property. The Clinton White House included the tax proposal in its final budget in February 2000, but it did not survive the Republican-led Congress.
"Without your leadership, none of these proposals would have been included in the tax package," three aides wrote to Hillary Clinton in the memo, days before she led a private conference call outlining the plan to private foundation and nonprofit leaders.
Federal law does not prevent fundraising by a presidential library during a president's term. While most modern-day presidents held off until the end of their term, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush allowed supporters to solicit donations while they were still in office, and President Barack Obama is now doing the same.
But in directly pushing the legislation while the Clinton Library was aggressively seeking donations, Hillary and Bill Clinton's altruistic support for philanthropy overlapped with their interests promoting their White House years and knitting ties with philanthropic leaders. Hundreds of pages of documents contain no evidence that anyone in the Clinton administration raised warnings about potential ethics concerns or sought to minimize the White House's active role in the legislation.
"The theme here for the Clintons is a characteristic ambiguity of doing good and at the same time doing well by themselves," said Lawrence Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey School at the University of Minnesota. Jacobs said the Clinton administration could have relied on a federal commission to decide tax plans or publicly supported changes but not specific legislation.
Instead, Jacobs said, "this was a commitment by the Clinton White House to identify options and promote them with no regard to the larger picture." Spokesmen for Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Clinton Foundation declined to comment, deferring to the former president's office.
A spokesman for Bill Clinton's office said that his administration was not trying to incentivize giving to the foundation, but instead was spurred by a 1997 presidential humanities committee that urged tax breaks for charities to aid American cultural institutions. Bruce Reed, Bill Clinton's chief domestic policy adviser at the time, also responded Thursday that the former president "wanted to give a break to working people for putting a few more dollars in the plate at the church. Not for any other far-fetched reason." Gene Sperling, former economic adviser to both Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama, added that the tax reduction package was "developed at the Treasury Department, endorsed by experts and designed to encourage all forms of charitable giving."
The Clinton Foundation would not have benefited directly by the tax proposals. The foundation is a public charity and not subject to the excise tax, which applies only to private foundations and is still law. The foundation is also not known to donate appreciated property and stocks to other charities.
But the tax changes would have indirectly helped the foundation — as well as many other U.S. charities — by freeing nonprofits' investments and donations that otherwise would have gone into tax payments. A reduction of the excise tax would have boosted the assets of private foundations. Higher deductions for appreciated investments and property would have also aided the Clinton Foundation, which accepts non-cash gifts. In 2010, for example, the charity declared more than $5 million in donated securities on its federal tax returns.
By the time the Clinton administration introduced its tax package in February 2000, the foundation had already raised $6 million in donations, according to tax disclosures. Among corporate-tied nonprofits that pledged or donated at least $1 million to the library project through the early 2000s, according to tax documents and published reports, were the Wasserman Foundation, the Roy and Christine Sturgis Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Anheuser-Busch Foundation.
Though Bill Clinton did not take over the nonprofit until after his presidency, he had openly discussed his plans for the organization's future with New York executives in June 1999. And the foundation's fundraising was led at the time by a trusted childhood friend, James "Skip" Rutherford, now dean of the Clinton School of Public Service at the University of Arkansas.
Rutherford said he was not aware of the tax proposals and was focused at the time on small donors and likely contributors around Arkansas. Months before proposing the tax breaks, Clinton White House officials began courting leaders from some of the nation's most influential charities. In the summer of 1999, aides began discussing the possibility of a White House conference to celebrate American philanthropy at the turn of the millennium.
White House documents at the Clinton Library show that Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was herself a board director of the activist New World Foundation in the 1980s, helped oversee the conference. She and aides quickly shaped preparations for a formal White House event planned for that October.
Wealthy donors and major foundations were enlisted to plan and fund the event. Aides spent weeks in White House meetings with charity officials, culling their suggestions on boosting giving by Americans and eliminating government barriers. Department heads were ordered to identify the nonprofits they worked with and find ways to improve those relationships.
A September 1999 White House list proposing possible "philanthropy heroes" to highlight at the conference included wealthy donors of "large recent gifts," among them Microsoft's Bill Gates and his wife, Dell computer founder Michael Dell and investors George Soros and Eli Broad.
They all later donated to the Clinton Foundation through their companies or private foundations. There are no indications that White House officials discussed future Clinton Foundation gifts with any nonprofit. But the White House attention lavished on their concerns, Jacobs said, showed that "the president and the first lady were making tax reform for a specialized, wealthy part of American life one of their top priorities."
In another September memo, aides told Hillary Clinton she could expect "public and private sector announcements" about tax reductions and "streamlining IRS forms for nonprofits." The aides asked for her guidance on policy and guest lists. They told her that funding for the event would be absorbed by the Treasury Department and several foundations and donors, among them the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Getty Foundation, AOL and Jill Iscol, a close Hillary Clinton friend and donor who in 2000 was named finance co-chair of the first lady's New York Senate campaign.
When one aide wrote in an earlier email that Iscol had volunteered to aid the event as "fiscal agent," another aide replied in a handwritten aside: "Little worried in relation to HRC scrutiny." Iscol's IF Hummingbird Foundation later donated between $250,000 and $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation. Others also became donors to the Clinton Foundation: The Ford Foundation has donated more than $1 million and the MacArthur Foundation and the Mott Foundation have each donated more than $250,000.
In emails and memos, Clinton aides noted strong support among nonprofit interests for tax reductions. A key concern was the annual 2 percent excise tax on foundations' investments that has been law since 1969. Under the excise tax, which is still law, some foundations are able to reduce the tax to 1 percent, but only by using a complicated system that sometimes leads to larger tax burdens. The Council on Foundations, a national organization of corporate grant-makers, has urged a single lower flat excise tax because the current system is too complicated.
Another voice for tax breaks was the actor Paul Newman, who routed the after-tax profits and royalties from his Newman's Own food products to charity. An October 1999 Treasury memo to Clinton aides recounts a 1998 meeting between Newman and then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin in which the actor lobbied for "increasing the limits on charitable deductions for corporations and individuals."
After Rubin ordered aides to analyze Newman's proposal, officials warned "that it would be difficult to increase deduction limits without opening up potential abuses such a complete avoidance of income taxes" by some donors.
When Newman pressed again by letter, officials passed his name along to White House officials, who invited him to the 1999 celebration of philanthropy. Newman's foundation later donated between $500,000 and $1 million to the Clinton Foundation before his death in 2008.
Two days after the October 1999 Treasury Department memo, the Clintons hosted the White House philanthropy conference. More than 200 guests — including Newman, singer Justin Timberlake and the heads of major U.S. charities — applauded as the Clintons hailed the accomplishments of volunteers and private foundations.
"We need to think about, in government, whether we can do more things to generate more constructive philanthropy," Bill Clinton told the crowd. Added Hillary Clinton: "There has never been a better time for philanthropy than today."
That day, a presidential memo from Bill Clinton ordered the heads of all executive departments to convene an interagency task force to find "ways to reduce governmental barriers to innovative nonprofit enterprises."
In late January, the task force, which included Treasury Department and domestic policy officials, settled on three tax initiatives. They included the two tax breaks for foundations and donors and the third proposal aimed at allowing low and middle-income taxpayers who did not itemize their returns to claim deductions for charity donations over $500 each year.
Hours before Bill Clinton's State of the Union speech in 2000, Hillary Rodham Clinton led a private conference call with charity and foundation leaders to unveil the plans for tax reduction package. Aides told her the discussion would "underscore the priority you are placing on philanthropic initiatives, show the linkage between this year's budget initiatives and the White House Conference of Philanthropy, and to further associate you with philanthropy among the nonprofits and foundation community."
But Bill Clinton's speech that night mentioned only the aid to middle-class donors. He said nothing about the plan to give tax breaks for foundations and wealthy donors. The following month, all three proposals were included in the Clinton administration's 2001 fiscal year budget.
They died in committee.
Read document excerpts at

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Latest On Waco Shooting: Autopsy Finds 9 Died By Gunshot

People arrested during the motorcycle gang related shooting at the Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on Sunday, May 17, 2015. Top row from left; Jonathan Lopez, Richard Luther, Michael Lynch, Sandra Lynch, Eleazar Martinez and Tom Mendez. Middle row from left; Marshall Mitchell, Diego Obledo, Danny Oehlert, Larry Pina, Jerry Pollard and Jimmy Pond. Bottom row from left; Clayton Reed, Rolando Reyes, Sergio Reyes, Kyle Smith, Jimmy Spencer and Blake Taylor. (McLennan County Sheriff's Office via AP)

12:05 p.m. (CDT)
Preliminary autopsy reports show the nine people killed in a large fight in Central Texas involving rival motorcycle gangs all died of gunshot wounds. The reports provided by a McLennan County justice of the peace show the nine men ranged in age from 27 to 65, and some were shot in the head, neck or torso.
Police have said all the dead were members of two of the five biker gangs that gathered for a meeting Sunday at a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco. Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton says about 50 weapons have been confiscated from the scene, primarily knives and firearms.
Swanton has said officers outside the restaurant who were monitoring the gathering Sunday fired on armed bikers as the shooting moved outside. 11:30 a.m. (CDT) About 50 weapons were confiscated from the scene of the weekend shooting involving rival motorcycle gangs in Central Texas that left nine gang members dead and another 18 injured.
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said Tuesday that nearly all the weapons were firearms and knives, but also included a chain with a padlock for the purpose of beating others. He says upward of 100 weapons may be found once authorities are done investigating the crime scene at a Twin Peaks restaurant where the gangs had gathered Sunday for a meeting.
Preliminary findings indicate a parking dispute at the restaurant led to the violence. Swanton says the shooting began inside Twin Peaks and continued outside, where bodies were seen in the aftermath laying in the parking lot.
10:40 a.m. (CDT) Texas police say a weekend shootout involving rival motorcycle gangs that killed nine people and injured 18 apparently began with a parking dispute and someone running over a gang member's foot.
Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said Tuesday that an uninvited group appeared for the meeting of a loose confederation of biker gangs held at a Twin Peaks restaurant on Sunday. He says one man was injured when a vehicle struck his foot. This caused a dispute that continued inside the restaurant, where fighting and then shooting began, before spilling back outside.
Swanton also said that of the 18 injured, seven remain hospitalized. He described their conditions as stable. He says the police investigation is being hampered by some who "are not being honest with us."

Monday, May 18, 2015

10 Chinese Nationals Charged With Illegal Firearms In Ghana

Plain clothes police officers accompany Chinese nationals accused of illegal mining out of a courtroom, following a hearing in Accra, Ghana, Monday May 18, 2015. Authorities say 10 Chinese nationals accused of illegal mining in Ghana now face firearms charges in court. Justice Francis Obiri on Monday granted the subjects $12,000 bail each and adjourned the case until a hearing later this month. Each of the defendants is accused of illegal firearms possession, and they pleaded not guilty to the charges through an interpreter in court

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — Authorities say 10 Chinese citizens suspected of illegal gold mining in Ghana are facing firearms charges in court.
Justice Francis Obiri on Monday granted the defendants $12,000 bail each and adjourned the firearms case until a hearing later this month in Accra, capital of this western African nation. Each of the defendants is accused of illegal firearms possession and they pleaded not guilty to the charges through an interpreter.
Authorities say they were tipped off to reports that the Chinese were illegally mining in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Police say a search of their premises prompted the seizure at least nine firearms along with ammunition.
It was not clear what authorities were doing about the alleged gold mining.

Appeals Court Sides With Google In Anti-Muslim Film Case

Cindy Lee Garcia, one of the actresses in "Innocence of Muslims," right, and attorney M. Cris Armenta hold a news conference in Los Angeles asking a judge to issue an injunction demanding a 14-minute trailer for the film be pulled from YouTube. A federal appeals court on Monday, May 18, 2015 overturned an order for YouTube to take down the anti-Muslim film that sparked violence in the Middle East and death threats to actors.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A federal appeals court panel should not have forced YouTube to take down an anti-Muslim film that sparked violence in the Middle East and death threats to actors, a larger group of judges ruled Monday in a victory for free speech advocates.
The 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal sided with Google, which owns YouTube, saying the previous decision by a three-member panel of the same court gave "short shrift" to the First Amendment and constituted prior restraint — a prohibition on free speech before it takes place.
"The mandatory injunction censored and suppressed a politically significant film — based upon a dubious and unprecedented theory of copyright," Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in an opinion joined by nine other judges. "In so doing, the panel deprived the public of the ability to view firsthand, and judge for themselves, a film at the center of an international uproar."
In a statement, YouTube said it has long believed the previous ruling was a misapplication of copyright law. It did not say whether the movie would go back up. Actress Cindy Lee Garcia sought the injunction to have "Innocence of Muslims" removed from the website after receiving death threats. Her lawyer argued that she believed she was acting in a different production and had a copyright claim to the low-budget film.
Google countered that Garcia had no claim to the film because the filmmaker wrote the dialogue, managed the production and dubbed over her lines. Garcia was paid $500 to appear in a movie called "Desert Warrior" that she believed had nothing to do with religion. But she ended up in a five-second scene in which her voice was dubbed over and her character asked if Muhammad was a child molester.
A call to Garcia's attorney, Cris Armenta, was not immediately returned. The ruling likely ends any further consideration of the case by the 9th Circuit, though an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would be possible.
The film's writer and director, Mark Basseley Youssef, initially posted the nearly 15-minute trailer on YouTube in 2012, according to the appeals court. The film sparked rioting by those who considered it blasphemous to the Prophet Muhammad. President Barack Obama and other world leaders asked Google to take it down.
The larger 9th Circuit panel said it was sympathetic to Garcia's concerns, but copyright law is not intended to protect people from the type of harm Garcia claimed to have suffered, including death threats.
The court cited a decision by the U.S. Copyright Office that denied Garcia's copyright claim to the film. The copyright office said it does not allow such claims by individual actors involving performances in movies, according to the court.
Garcia's theory of copyright law would result in a "legal morass" in which each of the thousands of extras in films such as "Ben-Hur" and the "Lord of the Rings" would have a copyright to the film, the court said.
"We are sympathetic to her plight," McKeown wrote. "Nonetheless, the claim against Google is grounded in copyright law, not privacy, emotional distress, or tort law, and Garcia seeks to impose speech restrictions under copyright laws meant to foster rather than repress free expression."
In a strongly worded dissenting opinion, Judge Alex Kozinski said the court appeared to be badly misinterpreting copyright law. "In its haste to take Internet service providers off the hook for infringement, the court today robs performers and other creative talent of rights Congress gave them," he wrote.
Google was joined in the case by an unusual alliance of filmmakers, other Internet companies and prominent news media organizations that didn't want the court to alter copyright law or infringe on First Amendment rights. YouTube and other Internet companies were concerned they could be besieged with takedown notices, though it could be hard to contain the film that is still found online.
The court's decision was not surprising and was consistent with previous copyright rulings, said Alex Lawrence, an intellectual property lawyer in New York not connected with the case. Garcia's goal of protecting herself was laudable, Lawrence said, but the attempt to bend copyright law had the potential to create unintended consequences that made many people nervous.
"A sigh of relief was heard today in Silicon Valley and Hollywood," he said.
Melley reported from Los Angeles.

Records Offer Murky View Into Affleck's Ancestor And History

An archival document made available by the Chatham County Probate Court, Ga., showing the appraised dollar value of slaves owner by Ann S. Norton, the mother-in-law of Benjamin L. Cole. Cole is the great-great-great-grandfather of actor Ben Affleck. After Norton died in 1858, Cole was tasked with holding her slaves in trust for his three sons until they reached adulthood. Cole served as local sheriff during the Civil War and public records show he and his wife owned at least one slave of their own. Evidence that Cole owned slaves drove Affleck to ask PBS and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates to remove his relative from a TV program exploring Affleck's family tree. (AP)

SAVANNAH, GA. (AP) — A family death in 1858 left Ben Affleck's great-great-great grandfather with legal custody of his mother-in-law's most valuable property — her slaves.
There was Cuffey, whose value was estimated at $500 in handwritten estate records still on file with the Chatham County Probate Court. There were Henry and James, valued at $1,000 apiece. And Robert and Becky, worth $600 as a couple. They were among 24 slaves willed to Benjamin L. Cole with instructions to turn them over to his three sons once they reached adulthood.
Nineteenth century documents offer a window into the life of the Hollywood star's ancestor and put Benjamin Cole right at the center of the South's reckoning with slavery. He had the personal ties — his family's at least two dozen slaves. But as sheriff of Chatham County, which includes Savannah, he had deep public ties as well.
His nearly a decade as the top law enforcement official in one of the South's most important cities started before the Civil War, when slavery was a way of life, continued throughout the war, when its citizens were fighting to maintain slavery, and ended years after the Confederates surrendered, when tensions between newly freed slaves and whites desperate to maintain control coursed through the city.
"Slavery touched everything. Everybody had some kind of a connection to it in some way," said W. Todd Groce, president of the Georgia Historical Society. Evidence that Cole owned slaves drove Affleck to ask PBS and Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates to remove his relative from a TV program exploring Affleck's family tree. After Affleck's actions became public in April, the "Argo" actor and director identified the relative as Benjamin Cole on Twitter. A publicist for Affleck reached by The Associated Press offered no further comment. The AP used historical public records to independently confirm that Cole was Affleck's ancestor.
"I didn't want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves," Affleck said in a Facebook post April 21. "I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth." Nearly 144 years before he was dismissed by his great-great-great grandson as an embarrassment, Cole was praised as a "universally respected" citizen by the Savannah Morning News after he died on Nov. 16, 1871.
When Cole became sheriff in 1860, after briefly holding the job in 1856, slaves made up roughly a third of Savannah's 22,000 people. Many labored on vast rice plantations south of the city. Others worked as house servants, wagon drivers, hotel waiters and messengers.
Cole himself had a modest farm with about 100 acres of cleared land. Census records from 1850 identify Cole as the owner of 25 slaves. City and county tax digests paint a different picture. They show Cole paid taxes on his land, a dog, a horse and a carriage. But he never paid for any slaves, which were also taxed as personal property.
The 1860 census offers a possible explanation. It shows Cole held 31 slaves as an estate executor and trustee for Ann S. Norton and S.L. Speissegger, Cole's in-laws from two marriages. It was Norton who left her slaves to Cole's sons from a previous marriage. In 1857 he married Georgia A. Cole, Speissegger's daughter. She was Affleck's great-great-great grandmother.
Benjamin and Georgia Cole had at least one slave of their own. Cole's wife paid taxes on a single slave in 1863 and 1864. It's not clear if the slaves Cole held in trust worked for him. "You can pretty much count on him not letting them sit around," said Jacqueline Jones, history department chair at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the book "Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War." ''If he's going to feed and clothe them, he wants them to be productive."
But the end was near. Savannah surrendered to the Union in December 1864 and the Confederate army itself surrendered the following April, forcing the South to yield to the abolition of slavery. Sheriff Cole was left to keep the peace between fearful, resentful whites and freed blacks demanding access to the ballot and other citizenship rights.
In April 1867, in the yard of the county jail, the sheriff presided over the hanging of two black men condemned for murder. The Savannah Daily News and Herald reported Cole personally placed white caps over the men's faces before releasing the trapdoor beneath their feet.
A year later, during Cole's final months as sheriff, the newspaper reported a courthouse clash between Cole's men and military authorities as crowds of freed blacks tried to vote in an election. "Sheriff Cole's Bailiff, who was there by virtue of orders from Headquarters, was thrust out at the point of a bayonet in the hands of an irate corporal," the newspaper said. It's not clear why.
Cole still served as a deputy sheriff at the time of his 1871 death, which newspapers attributed to "consumption of the bowels." Though his birth date isn't precisely known, Cole lived about 57 years.
Ending slavery had a devastating effect on the wealth of many white Southerners. Public records suggest Cole's family fortunes may have suffered too. In 1858, Cole held in trust slaves worth an estimated $13,100. Thirteen years later, he died with $575 in the bank and $543 worth of land and household furniture. Estate records show Cole's heirs received another $1,000 from the Georgia Legislature as compensation for unpaid services during Cole's time as sheriff.
Cole's body now lies buried in an unmarked grave at Laurel Grove Cemetery, where he had purchased a family plot for $10.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pope Canonizes 2 Saints From 19th-Century Palestine

Pilgrims hold a banner as they wait for Pope Francis's arrival to celebrate a canonization ceremony of four new saints in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Sunday, May 17, 2015. Among them are Arab nuns Sts. Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas, who lived in what was Ottoman-ruled Palestine in the 19th century. They are the first from the region to receive sainthood since the early days of Christianity and are the first Arabic-speaking Catholic saints. (AP Photo)

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis canonized two nuns from what was 19th-century Palestine on Sunday in hope of encouraging Christians across the Middle East who are facing a wave of persecution from Islamic extremists.
Sisters Mariam Bawardy and Marie Alphonsine Ghattas were among four nuns who were made saints Sunday at a Mass in a sun-soaked St. Peter's Square. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and an estimated 2,000 pilgrims from the region, some waving Palestinian flags, were on hand for the canonization of the first saints from the Holy Land since the early years of Christianity.
Church officials are holding up Bawardy and Ghattas as a sign of hope and encouragement for Christians across the Mideast at a time when violent persecution and discrimination have driven many Christians from the region of Christ's birth.
They were canonized alongside two other nuns, Saints Jeanne Emilie de Villeneuve from France and Maria Cristina of the Immaculate Conception from Italy. "Inspired by their example of mercy, charity and reconciliation, may the Christians of these lands look with hope to the future, following the path of solidarity and fraternal coexistence," Francis said of the women at the end of the Mass.
Bawardy was a mystic born in 1843 in the village of Ibilin in what is now the Galilee region of northern Israel. She is said to have received the "stigmata" — bleeding wounds like those that Jesus Christ suffered on the cross — and died at the age of 33 in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where she founded a Carmelite order monastery that still exists.
Ghattas, born in Jerusalem in 1847, opened girls' schools, fought female illiteracy, and co-founded the Congregation of the Sisters of the Rosary. The order today boasts dozens of centers all over the Middle East, from Egypt to Syria, that operate kindergartens, homes for the elderly, medical clinics and guest houses.
In his homily, Francis praised Bawardy as having been "a means of encounter and fellowship with the Muslim world," while Ghattas "shows us the importance of becoming responsible for one another, of living lives of service to one another."
"Their luminous example challenges us in our lives as Christians," he said. The canonization was celebrated in the Holy Land as well as by Palestinians in Rome. Bassam Abbas, a Palestinian-born doctor who has lived in Italy for 35 years, traveled from Civitavecchia, northwest of Rome, for the event with his wife and three children. They are Muslim, but their children go to a Catholic school.
"We are proud of this event," Abbas said outside St. Peter's Square as he waved a giant Palestinian flag. "We want peace for Palestine, peace which transcends religion." In addition to the Palestinian delegation on hand for the Mass, Israel sent a delegation headed by its ambassador to the Holy See, while France, Italy and Jordan also sent official delegations.
In the birthplace of Christianity, Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories. Although they have not experienced the violent persecution that has decimated Christian communities elsewhere in the region, the population has gradually shrunk over the decades as Christians have fled conflict or sought better opportunities abroad.
Francis has raised the plight of Christians across the Middle East as a cause for concern, denouncing how the Islamic State group has violently driven thousands of religious minorities from their homes in Syria and Iraq.
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Saturday, May 16, 2015

BURUNDI: 5 Generals Arrested For Plotting Failed Coup

Demonstrators opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office rebuild a barricade after it was dismantled by soldiers in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Saturday, May 16, 2015. According to presidential spokesman, Gervais Abayeho, President Pierre Nkurunziza returned to the capital on Friday although he did not appear in public, and thanked his security forces for crushing an attempted military coup, while calling for an immediate halt to protests in Burundi.

BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI (AP) — A top Burundi official says that five generals have been arrested for plotting a failed coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza.
Presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said Saturday that three army generals and two police generals were arrested Friday. He said three lower-ranking officers and eight soldiers were also arrested. The coup attempt came as Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office has triggered turmoil in this central African nation. After weeks of street protests against Nkurunziza's efforts to stay in power, a general announced the coup on Wednesday. Nkurunziza was in Tanzania attending an emergency regional summit to discuss Burundi's crisis when the attempted coup started but soldiers loyal to the president stopped the rebellion.
Officials said Friday that Nkurunziza had returned to the capital though he hasn't been seen in public.

Tsarnaev Could Be 1st Terrorist Executed In The US Since 9/11

From left, Martin Richard, 8, Krystle Campbell, 29, and Lingzi Lu, a Boston University graduate student. Richard, Campbell and Lu were killed in the two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday, April 15, 2013. On Friday, May 15, 2015, a jury sentenced Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to death by lethal injection for the 2013 terror attack. (Family Photos via AP)

BOSTON (AP) — The death sentence jurors imposed on Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev sets the stage for what could be the nation's first execution of a terrorist in the post-9/11 era, though the case is likely to go through years of appeals.
In weighing the arguments for and against death, the jurors decided among other things that Tsarnaev showed a lack of remorse. And they emphatically rejected the defense's central argument — that he was led down the path to terrorism by his big brother.
The Friday decision — which came just over two years after the April 15, 2013, bombing that killed three people and wounded more than 260 — brought relief and grim satisfaction to many in Boston. "We can breathe again," said Karen Brassard, who suffered shrapnel wounds on her legs.
A somber-looking Tsarnaev stood with his hands folded, his head slightly bowed, as he learned his fate, sealed after 14 hours of deliberations over three days. His lawyers left court without comment. His father, Anzor Tsarnaev, reached by phone in the Russian region of Dagestan, let out a deep moan upon hearing the news and hung up.
The 12-member federal jury had to be unanimous for Tsarnaev to get the death penalty. Otherwise, the former college student would have automatically received life in prison with no chance of parole. Tsarnaev was convicted last month of all 30 charges against him, including use of a weapon of mass destruction, for joining his now-dead brother, Tamerlan, in setting off two shrapnel-packed pressure-cooker bombs near the finish line of the race. Tsarnaev was also found guilty in the killing of an MIT police officer during the getaway.
Seventeen of the charges carried the possibility of a death sentence; ultimately, the jury gave him the death penalty on six of those counts. The speed with which the jury reached a decision surprised some, given that the jurors had to fill out a detailed worksheet in which they tallied up the factors for and against the death penalty.
The jury agreed with the prosecution on 11 of the 12 aggravating factors cited, including the cruelty of the crime, the extent of the carnage, the killing of a child, and Tsarnaev's lack of remorse. "Today the jury has spoken. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will pay for his crimes with his life," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
With Friday's decision, community leaders and others talked of closure, of resilience, of the city's Boston Strong spirit. "Today, more than ever, we know that Boston is a city of hope, strength and resilience that can overcome any challenge," said Mayor Marty Walsh.
In weighing the mitigating factors, only three of the 12 jurors found Tsarnaev acted under the influence of his brother. The defense argued that sending him to the high-security Supermax prison in Colorado for the rest of his life would be a sufficiently harsh punishment and would help the victims move on without having to read about years of death row appeals.
Massachusetts is a liberal, staunchly anti-death penalty state that hasn't executed anyone since 1947, and there were fears that a death sentence for Tsarnaev would only satisfy his desire for martyrdom.
But some argued that if capital punishment is to be reserved for "the worst of the worst," Tsarnaev qualifies. Tsarnaev's chief lawyer, death penalty specialist Judy Clarke, admitted at the start of the trial that he participated in the bombings.
But Clarke argued that Dzhokhar was an impressionable 19-year-old led astray by his domineering 26-year-old brother, Tamerlan. The defense portrayed Tamerlan as the mastermind of the plot to punish the U.S. for its wars in Muslim countries.
Tamerlan died days after the bombing when he was shot by police and run over by Dzhokhar during a chaotic getaway attempt. Prosecutors depicted Dzhokhar as an equal partner in the attack, saying he was so coldhearted he planted a bomb on the pavement behind a group of children, killing an 8-year-old boy.
Jurors also heard grisly and heartbreaking testimony from numerous bombing survivors who described seeing their legs blown off or watching someone next to them die. Killed in the bombing were Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old Boston University graduate student from China; Krystle Campbell, a 29-year-old restaurant manager; and 8-year-old Martin Richard, who had gone to watch the marathon with his family. Massachusetts Institute of Technology police Officer Sean Collier was gunned down in his cruiser days later. Seventeen people lost legs in the bombings.
Tsarnaev did not take the stand at his trial and showed a trace of emotion only once, when he cried while his Russian aunt was on the stand. The only evidence of any remorse on his part came from the defense's final witness, Sister Helen Prejean, the Roman Catholic nun and death penalty opponent portrayed in the movie "Dead Man Walking." She quoted Tsarnaev as saying of the victims: "No one deserves to suffer like they did."
U.S. District Judge George O'Toole Jr. will formally impose the sentence at a later date during a hearing in which bombing victims and Tsarnaev himself will be given the opportunity to speak. Tsarnaev probably will be sent to death row at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh was put to death in 2001.

Friday, May 15, 2015

1,000 Survivors Of Violence, Hunger At Sea Land In SE Asia

Bangladeshi migrants walk toward a temporary shelter upon arrival at Kuala Langsa Port in Langsa, Aceh province, Indonesia, Friday, May 15, 2015. Hundreds of Bangladeshi and ethnic Rohingya migrants have landed on the shores of Indonesia and Thailand after being adrift at sea for weeks, authorities said Friday. They are among the few who have successfully sneaked past a wall of resistance mounted by Southeast Asian countries who have made it clear the boat people are not welcome. (AP Photo)

LANGSA, INDONESIA (AP) — More than 1,000 people fleeing persecution in Myanmar and poverty in Bangladesh came ashore Friday around Southeast Asia, describing murder, extortion and near-starvation after surviving a harrowing journey at sea.
An increasingly alarmed United Nations warned against "floating coffins" and urged regional leaders to put human lives first. The waves of weak, hungry and dehydrated migrants who arrived Friday were the latest to slip into countries that have made it clear they're not welcome. But thousands more are still believed stranded at sea in what has become a humanitarian crisis no one in the region is rushing to solve.
Most of the migrants were crammed onto three boats that Indonesian fishermen towed ashore, while a group of 106 people were found on a Thai island known for its world-class scuba diving and brought to the mainland.
"If I had known that the boat journey would be so horrendous, I would rather have just died in Myanmar," said Manu Abudul Salam, 19, a Rohingya from Myanmar's Rakhine state where three years of attacks against the long-persecuted Muslim minority have sparked the region's largest exodus of boat people since the Vietnam War.
Manu was aboard the largest boat to come ashore Friday, a wooden vessel crammed with nearly 800 people that was towed to the Indonesian village of Langsa in eastern Aceh province. The vessel was at sea when authorities around the region began cracking down on human trafficking two weeks ago. Aid groups and rights workers have warned that the crackdown prompted some captains and smugglers to abandon their ships and leave migrants to fend for themselves — a claim that was corroborated by survivors who came ashore Friday.
Manu said she watched the captain on her ship fleeing on a speed boat several days ago after apparently receiving a call on his cell phone. Before he left, he destroyed the boat's engine, she said, and the boat began to drift.
With food and water running out, tempers flared and fighting broke out, Manu said, sobbing, saying that her 20-year-old brother was among dozens killed in violent clashes between the Bangladeshis and Rohingya on board.
"They thought the captain was from our country, so they attacked us with sticks and knives," she said, sobbing. "My brother is dead." The bodies of the dead were thrown into the sea, she said. A 19-year-old Bangladeshi survivor, Saidul Islam, also said that dozens died on the ship from starvation and injuries after fighting broke out following the captain's evacuation. His voyage lasted three months, starting when a man turned up at his village and asked if anyone wanted a boat ride to Malaysia, known for better job prospects. But once at sea, the captain demanded hundreds of dollars and made the men call their families to secure payment. There were also beatings aboard the vessel, which was stifling hot and cramped.
"We could not stand up. When we asked for water, the captain hit us with wire," he said. Southeast Asia for years tried to quietly ignore the plight of Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya but is now being confronted with a dilemma that in many ways it helped create. In the last three years, more than 120,000 Rohingya have boarded ships to flee to other countries, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
No countries want them, fearing that accepting a few would result in an unstoppable flow of poor, uneducated migrants. But Southeast Asian governments at the same time respected the wishes of Myanmar at regional gatherings, avoiding discussions of state-sponsored discrimination against the Rohingya.
Myanmar, in its first official comments as the crisis escalated in the past two weeks, indicated it won't take back migrants who claim to be Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar and are effectively stateless.
"We cannot say that the migrants are from Myanmar unless we can identify them," said government spokesman Ye Htut. "Most victims of human trafficking claim they are from Myanmar is it is very easy and convenient for them."
Another official, Maj. Zaw Htay, said that Myanmar "will not attend a regional meeting hosted by Thailand if "Rohingya' is mentioned on the invitation." Even the name is taboo in Myanmar, which calls them "Bengalis" and insists they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though Rohingya have lived in the majority-Buddhist country for generations.
Thailand has convened a meeting of senior officials for May 29, but the Myanmar officials' comments show the difficulty in resolving the crisis. The deputy spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Farhan Haq, told reporters Friday that Ban Ki-moon plans to speak with regional leaders to urge them to put human lives first in the migrant crisis. "We don't want them, in other words, to be in floating coffins," Haq said.
Most of the migrants are believed to be heading to Malaysia, a Muslim country that has hosted more than 45,000 Rohingya over the years but now says it can't accept any more. Indonesia and Thailand have voiced similar stances.
Earlier this week, about 1,600 migrants were rescued by the Malaysian and Indonesian navies, but both countries then sent other boats away. It wasn't clear whether those who came ashore Friday had been turned away earlier.
The U.N.'s top human rights official said it was "incomprehensible and inhumane" to turn the boats away. "I am appalled at reports that Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia have been pushing boats full of vulnerable migrants back out to sea," said Zeid Raad al-Hussein, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. "The focus should be on saving lives, not further endangering them."
The International Organization for Migration called on regional governments to help and said it was releasing $1 million to help migrants on shore and still stranded at sea. Director General William Lacy Swing said the IOM would assist with longer-term problems like transportation and living arrangements, "but in the name of humanity, let these migrants land."
As boats arrived in scattered spots of Indonesia and Thailand on Friday, it was increasingly clear that nobody knows how many boats are adrift or where. The boat that Manu was on was crammed with about 790 people, including 61 children and 61 women, many weak from lack of food and water, said Lt. Col. Sunarya, who uses only one name. Fishermen spotted the boat on the verge of sinking.
"Some of the people told police they were abandoned at sea for days and Malaysian authorities had already turned their boat away," said Sunarya, a Langsa police chief. Authorities in Langsa provided basic shelter for the migrants in two large warehouses, and residents came to donate food, drinks and clothing. More than 50 people were treated for dehydration and injuries, according to Syamsul, an official at the Langsa General Hospital.
About 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of Langsa, fishermen rescued a smaller boat carrying 47 Rohingya, also dehydrated and hungry, said police chief Dicky Sandoni, from Aceh's Tamiang district. In neighboring North Sumatra province, fishermen rescued a third boat with 96 weak and hungry people adrift in a motorless boat, said Capt. Suroso of the Langkat district police. They were provided basic shelter and food, he said.
Separately, the Thai navy found 106 people, mostly men but including 15 women and two children, on a small island off the coast of Phang Nga province, an area known as the Surin Islands and famous for its scuba diving. They were brought to a police immigration facility on the mainland.
"It's not clear how they ended up on the island," said Prayoon Rattanasenee, the Phang Nga provincial governor. The group said they were Rohingya from Myanmar. "We are in the process of identifying if they were victims of human trafficking."
Gecker reported from Bangkok. AP writers Thanyarat Doksone in Bangkok, Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Niniek Karmini in Jakarta contributed to this report.