Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

July 28 2014 12:21 PM

New England Supermarket Employees, Customers (!) Take Sides in Corporate Power Struggle

Employees and unusually loyal customers of New England supermarket chain Market Basket have taken sides in a corporate power struggle via work slowdowns, protests, and boycotts, leaving shelves and stores empty—and parking lots filled with rabble-rousing.

From the Boston Globe:

At the cramped Somerville store, where a typical weekend shopping trip means circling for a parking space, weaving through cart-clogged aisles, and waiting in long lines to pay, the parking lot and store were nearly empty Saturday. A group of about 25 employees and customers led chants on the sidewalk out front.
The scene was similar inside the Chelsea store, where the typical torrent of weekend shoppers had dwindled to a trickle. A few shoppers pushed carts through mostly deserted aisles, scouring half-empty shelves. Checkout lines consisted of just one or two customers.

The firing of popular Market Basket President Arthur T. Demoulas in June pushed many employees to protest by striking or refusing to carry out regular tasks; irate customers joined in by boycotting the store and joining employee rallies.

Demoulas was ousted by a group led by his cousin—also named Arthur Demoulas. The cousin is Arthur S. Demoulas, and as this Globe article recounts, their feud goes back decades; the two Arthurs' fathers used to run the company together.

Arthur T. has made an offer to buy back control of the 71-store chain, and its board of directors is currently considering the offer, which may be in the neighborhood of $3 billion.

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July 28 2014 10:23 AM

Doctors Threatened With Violence as Distrust Compounds West African Ebola Outbreak

Widespread distrust of health workers in rural areas is making an Ebola outbreak that has already killed at least 670 people in West Africa even more dangerous, the New York Times reports today:

Workers and officials, blamed by panicked populations for spreading the virus, have been threatened with knives, stones and machetes, their vehicles sometimes surrounded by hostile mobs. Log barriers across narrow dirt roads block medical teams from reaching villages where the virus is suspected. Sick and dead villagers, cut off from help, are infecting others.
“This is very unusual, that we are not trusted,” said Marc Poncin, the emergency coordinator in Guinea for Doctors Without Borders, the main group fighting the disease here. “We’re not stopping the epidemic.”

The Doctors Without Borders organization—which, it's worth remembering, specializes in working in chaotic crisis conditions—has classified 12 Guinean villages as too dangerous to access, the Times says. Meanwhile, Liberia has closed many of its border crossings in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus, which has infected two American health workers in the country in recent days.

July 27 2014 1:28 PM

American Doctor in Liberia Contracts Ebola, Recognizes Own Symptoms and Goes Into Isolation

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa continues to spin out of control since symptoms were first observed in the region four months ago. More than a thousand cases have been suspected, and many confirmed, with 660 deaths so far, according to the World Health Organization. On Saturday, an American doctor working in the region contracted the deadly virus, according the Associated Press.  

Kent Brantly, 33, has been working in Liberia for the North Carolina-based Samaritan's Purse since October 2013 and “recognized his own symptoms and confined himself to an isolation ward,” according to Reuters. The organization issued a news release confirming that Brantly had contracted the virus and was being treated at a hospital in Monrovia. Here’s more on Brantly from the AP:

The highly contagious virus is one of the most deadly diseases in the world. Photos of Brantly working in Liberia show him in white coveralls made of a synthetic material that he wore for hours a day while treating Ebola patients. Brantly was quoted in a posting on the organization's website earlier this year about efforts to maintain an isolation ward for patients. "The hospital is taking great effort to be prepared," Brantly said. "In past Ebola outbreaks, many of the casualties have been healthcare workers who contracted the disease through their work caring for infected individuals."

It is not clear how Brantly contracted the virus that historically kills 90 percent of those who catch it. Earlier this week, another medical worker, Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, one of the leaders of the anti-Ebola effort in Sierra Leone, also tested positive for the virus.

July 27 2014 11:55 AM

Boko Haram Kidnaps Cameroon Vice Prime Minister’s Wife in “Savage Attack”

The Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram continued their reign of terror, this time crossing into Cameroon to stage an attack and kidnapping the wife of Cameroon’s vice prime minister. Cameroonian officials described the group’s cross-border offensive as “a savage attack” that targeted Vice Prime Minister Amadou Ali’s home. Ali, however, “was breaking his fast for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the time of the attack, managed to escape to a neighboring town,” a Cameroonian commander in the region told Reuters. The mayor of the town, Kolofata, was also abducted.

Boko Haram "has stepped up cross-border attacks into Cameroon in recent weeks as Cameroon has deployed troops to the region, joining international efforts to combat the militants,” according to Reuters. This is the third attack carried out by the group in Cameroon in as many days. Previously, the group has abducted foreign nationals in northern Cameroon, including 10 Chinese workers in May. "The situation is very critical here now, and as I am talking to you the Boko Haram elements are still in Kolofata town in a clash with our soldiers," said Colonel Felix Nji Formekong told Reuters.

Boko Haram has intensified its campaign against the Nigerian government of late, staging repeated attacks in northeastern Nigeria, including the mass abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls earlier this year.

July 27 2014 11:08 AM

D.C. Handgun Ban Ruled Unconstitutional, Capital Must Allow Guns in Public

A federal judge ruled Washington, D.C.’s ban on carrying a handgun in public is unconstitutional. In his ruling released on Saturday, Judge Frederick Scullin wrote “[t]here is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia's total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny.” The ruling, Reuters notes, effectively orders “the city to allow residents to carry handguns outside their homes and to let non-residents carry them as well.”

Here’s more on the erosion of the District’s attempts to limit access to guns in the city via WJLA:

It's the second time in recent years that the District's strict gun laws have been reversed by the courts for violating the Second Amendment; a 2008 Supreme Court ruling tossed out D.C.'s ban on handgun ownership altogether, however a federal appeals court in 2011 did uphold gun registration requirements.
Saturday's ruling was the culmination of a five-year legal challenge by gun law opponents against the District, which the judge noted is the only jurisdiction in the nation to currently impose a total ban on carrying guns in public. The lawsuit was brought by several District residents and non-residents, all of whom said they wanted to carry handguns for self-defense but were denied gun carry permits.

July 26 2014 12:42 PM

Apocalyptic-Looking Dust Storm Engulfs Phoenix

On Friday, Phoenix commuters' trip home from work was hit with an apocalyptic-like dust storm. The massive storm, at some points 3,000 feet high, swept across the city knocking out power to thousands and grounding flights. The storm is often referred to as a haboob, deriving from the Arabic word for a strong summer sand storm. Check it out.

July 26 2014 11:21 AM

Temporary Saturday Ceasefire Allows Gaza Residents to Return Home, Survey Damage

Early on Saturday morning, the shooting in Gaza stopped as a temporary humanitarian ceasefire agreed to by Israel and Hamas went into effect. The 12-hour stoppage began at 8 a.m. local time to allow Gaza residents who have fled the shelling, to return home to recover the dead and stock up on essential supplies, including food. Israel's military agreed to stop its offensive during the ceasefire, but pledged to continue searching for tunnels used by militants on Saturday. “At least 85 bodies have been pulled from the rubble during the truce,” a Palestinian health official tells the BBC. “That raises the Palestinian death toll to 985 since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on 8 July, the spokesman said. Thirty-nine Israelis have died.”

The brokered humanitarian deal appears to be holding better than a previous 2-hour humanitarian ceasefire earlier this week, which fell apart almost as soon as it started. As the death toll of the now 19-day old Israeli offensive topped 1,000, Secretary of State John Kerry attended negotiations in Paris that are attempting to find a broader, deeper agreement to bring a sustained halt to the fighting. “Mr. Kerry has proposed a two-stage plan to halt the fighting — a weeklong truce, during which negotiations would start on the principal economic, political and security concerns about Gaza,” the New York Times reports. Kerry rebutted reports that Israel had rejected the week-long proposal. "There was no formal proposal submitted to Israel," Kerry said, according to the Guardian. "Let's make that absolutely crystal clear. Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu called me a few minutes before this to tell me that that [rejection] was an error, and he's putting out a statement to that effect ... It's fair to say that Israel had some opposition to some concepts, but that doesn't mean a proposal by any means."

“Before the truce began, Israeli strikes killed at least 19 Palestinians overnight at a family home near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip,” according to the BBC. “Images showed relatives weeping as the bodies of five children were taken to a local morgue.” Here’s more from the BBC’s correspondent on what residents of Gaza are returning to:

In the district of Shejaiya, residents started flooding back from 08:00, despite warnings not to do so. The scene here is just astonishing - the most widespread destruction: buildings completely pulverised, cars thrown 50m (160ft) into the air on top of buildings, the facades of some block of flats completely ripped off. The air is pretty thick with the stench of death as people try to recover bodies and belongings. In the background I can hear a crackle of gunfire. Although a humanitarian ceasefire is in place, clearly people are still shooting. There is an Israeli drone flying overhead, and we've heard the sound of fighter jets. I think people feel they have a brief window of opportunity to do as much as they can and then frankly get out of here.

July 26 2014 9:51 AM

U.S. Closes Embassy in Libya, Evacuates Staff Amidst Fighting in Capital

The State Department announced on Saturday the U.S. embassy in Libya has been shut down, and American diplomats evacuated by a military escort, as fighting intensifies in the capital. “Tripoli has been embroiled for weeks in inter-militia violence that has killed and wounded dozens on all sides,” the Associated Press reports. “The [State] department said embassy operations will be suspended until a determination is made that the security situation has improved.” Three years after Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster, militia violence has plagued the country and the deteriorating security situation has created worries that the fighting could spill across Libya’s borders.

“The withdrawal underscored the Obama administration’s concern about the heightened risk to American diplomats abroad, particularly in Libya where memories of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in the eastern city of Benghazi are still vivid and the political uproar over it remain fresh ahead of a new congressional investigation into the incident,” according to the AP. The embassy was already operating with a limited staff due to security concerns. A State department spokeswoman said the fighting was taking place very close to the embassy, which led to the second American embassy closure in Tripoli in three years.

July 25 2014 5:59 PM

Ukraine Government Tape Purports to Capture Russians and Rebels Talking Money, PR 

Ukraine's SBU security service has released tapes of purported conversations between Ukrainian rebels and Russian officials, and BuzzFeed's Max Seddon—on the ground in Donetsk—has translated them. Caveat: "The new tapes could not be independently verified," Seddon writes, "though the content of some other conversations previously leaked by the SBU — some of which involve the same men — has been proven genuine."

If legit, the first of the tapes makes for a fascinating, almost absurd look into the details of a war operation. At one point, the alleged Russian official dictates to the alleged rebel official what he'd like a second rebel official to tell the press about Vladimir Putin—all at the behest, apparently, of a fourth person, a high-ranking figure in the Russian Orthodox church.

The man says that Strelkov should give an interview to make clear that his “commander-in-chief” is Putin to dispel notions of a split between the rebels on the ground and their ostensible patrons in Moscow. “‘At the present time I’m understandably not carrying out his direct orders, because I’m in a different country, but I have the utmost respect for him and believe him to be the most brilliant leader of modern times, thanks to whom Russia rose from its knees, and we all look at him with hope,’” the man says, putting words in Strelkov’s mouth.

Here's that tape (warning, not in English):

Other subjects discussed on the tapes include finances, military targets, and the downing of MH17. Read Seddon's piece here.

July 25 2014 4:30 PM

GOP Congressman Addresses Dark-Skinned U.S. Officials as if They Are Indian Diplomats

Florida Rep. Curt Clawson repeatedly addressed two United States government officials as if they were representatives of the Indian government during a congressional hearing on Thursday—presumably because they both had dark skin and South Asian names. Foreign Policy has the scoop. Some video (Foreign Policy has a few more uncomfortable moments at their site):

Writes FP: "The two officials, Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar, are Americans who hold senior positions at the State Department and Commerce Department." (They are both Indian-American.)

Clawson won the election to represent Florida's 19th District ...


Wikipedia/Public domain

... after the previous officeholder, Trey Radel, was arrested for cocaine possession and resigned.

This post has been updated with video.