Clerk’s gay marriage protest divides the Republican field – By Jesse Byrnes September 02, 2015, 04:38 pm


Republican presidential candidates are split on whether a Kentucky county clerk should be forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The case of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who has cited religious objections in refusing to issue the licenses, has pushed gay marriage toward the center of political debate at a time when the Republican Party is grappling with its stance on the issue.

The clerk’s crusade has become the first major legal flare-up over gay marriage since the Supreme Court’s decision in late June that legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Most of the Republican presidential candidates denounced the high court’s ruling, calling it judicial overreach that threatens the religious liberty of faith-based organizations and business owners.

Democrats mostly cheered the court while dismissing the warnings about religious freedom as overblown.

Rowan is scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning after defying a judge’s order to issue the licenses, a ruling that the Supreme Court itself refused to block.

With attention on the case growing, presidential contenders are beginning to stake out their positions on whether Rowan should be compelled to issue the licenses.

Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister, on Wednesday gave Rowan a full-throated endorsement after speaking to her on the phone.

Article continues:

http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/presidential-races/252578-clerks-gay-marriage-protest-divides-the-republican-field

 

Thousands in Cameroon protest against Boko Haram – February 28, 2015 3:46PM ET


Thousands of people marched in Cameroon’s capital Yaounde on Saturday to protest against Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency and support the central African nation’s army, which is fighting alongside its neighbors in the region to defeat the armed group.

Screen Shot 2015-02-28 at Feb 28, 2015 4.30

Organizers said the march was aimed at informing the public, especially in the southern part of Cameroon, about the threat posed by Boko Haram, which has carried out regular cross-border raids in the far north. Yaounde is located in the central region of the country.

“It was important to tell Cameroonians that we are at war and a part of the country is suffering,” said Gubai Gatama, a newspaper editor, who was among the march’s organizers. “About 150,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.”

In addition to its own citizens forced to flee the violence, thousands of refugees have poured into Cameroon from northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram is seeking to carve out a separate state. “Some 170 schools in Cameroon’s northern region have been closed,” Gatama said.

Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency in Nigeria has spread to neighboring countries, where the group has launched attacks over the past year, burning villages and kidnapping residents.

The other Lake Chad region nations threatened by Boko Haram — Cameroon, Niger and Chad — have launched a joint offensive to quell the rebellion and claim to have retaken territory from group in recent weeks.

Muhamadou Labara Awal, 27, was among those who marched in Yaounde, chanting and waving the flags of the regional coalition. “It was important for me to be here because I’m not a soldier to be deployed to Fotokol,” Awal said, referring to a northern town regularly targeted by Boko Haram. “The only way I could pay homage to our troops was to be here.”

Organizers estimated the march attracted about 5,000 people.

The solidarity march was also to discourage Cameroonian youths from joining Boko Haram, said journalist Ndi Eugene Ndi.

About 200 Cameroonian soldiers have been killed in the fighting, according to the demonstration’s organizers.

“Our children, our brothers, our parents giving their lives up there (in northern Cameroon), giving their lives for our sake, it is important, very, very important to come out to show our support for them,” said Buma Yvonne, who lost his younger brother in the battle against Boko Haram.

Wire services 

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/2/28/thousands-in-cameroon-protest-against-boko-haram.html

Merkel, Obama to Meet During Trying Times for U.S.-German Relations – By Tom Risen and Paul D. Shinkman Feb. 9, 2015 | 12:01 a.m. EST


Leaders of the U.S. and Germany seek common ground on issues dividing the close allies.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated to visit the White House on Monday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated to visit the White House on Monday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is slated to visit the White House on Monday.

Polarizing divisions will color President Barack Obama’s discussions with German Chancellor Angela Merkel when the supposedly staunch allies meet at the White House on Monday for talks expected to primarily address the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

The meeting comes after a year of lingering tensions in a relationship that, at least publicly, was tested by reports of CIA spying and National Security Agency surveillance of the phone calls of Merkel and other European leaders.

The chancellor was expected to arrive in Washington after a furious round of shuttle diplomacy that saw her travel to Kiev on Thursday and to Moscow on Friday in an urgent bid to craft a diplomatic solution to the escalating conflict between government troops and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine – a crisis complicated last week when the White House suddenly reversed its long-held position and said it was considering arming the Ukrainians.

The possibility of a potential new strategy upended what had been a unified approach among the U.S. and its NATO allies of pursuing economic sanctions against interests in Moscow, as Merkel took point in applying diplomatic pressure to Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom she reportedly spoke some 40 times in the last year.

With little time and a wide-ranging agenda that includes Ukraine, the ongoing battle against the Islamic State group, counterterrorism efforts and the global economy, the fissures in U.S.-German relations will likely have to be put aside.

[READ: Unified Congress Says Obama Must Send Arms to Ukraine]

“The world is definitely on fire. Violence is on the rise,” says Julianne Smith, a former deputy national security adviser for Vice President Joe Biden and a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security think tank. “President Obama and Chancellor Merkel will not have a lot of time for self-reflection on U.S.-German relations.”

Merkel’s last White House visit in May was accompanied by breathless headlines suggesting the relationship between the countries was at its lowest level since World War II. While German outrage on the official level did not diminish official cooperation, U.S. credibility eroded notably in Germany. Polling indicated a significant drop in German support for Obama and his foreign policy decisions, although a majority still supported him.

Friction increased in July when Merkel took the highly unusual step of ordering the CIA station chief in Berlin to leave the country amid reports that members of her country’s foreign intelligence service were passing information to the U.S. spy agency. Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert summed up the Germans’ awkward position.

“It remains vital for Germany, in the interest of the security of its citizens and its forces abroad, to cooperate closely and trustfully with Western partners, in particular with the USA,” he said in a statement at the time. “To do so, however, mutual trust and openness are necessary.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, attends a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and French President Francois Hollande, center, on Feb. 6, 2015 in Moscow.

From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel gathered in Moscow on Friday for ongoing crisis talks on the conflict in Ukraine.

Through much of the fall and into 2015, the crisis of trust seemed to take a back seat to unfolding situations not only in Ukraine but in Syria and Iraq, where a broad military coalition was assembled to confront the advances of the Islamic State group, and a terrorist attack in Paris in which 17 people were killed over three days. In fact, the relationship between the leaders and their security agencies remained “very close,” Smith says.

Germans are still concerned about the broad NSA spying revealed by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, but “the worst has passed” in their divisions with the U.S. as national security crises grow, says Smith, who also formerly served as principal director for European and NATO policy for former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Obama’s working relationship with Merkel may be his best with a European leader except perhaps British Prime Minister David Cameron, she says.

“[Obama and Merkel] respect each other. That’s probably what saw them through this crisis with Snowden,” Smith says.

But t​​​​​​​​​​hat rapport will be tested on Monday as the two leaders discuss whether to arm Ukraine’s military.​​ Obama has previously opposed sending weapons to Ukraine but his nominee for secretary of defense, Ashton Carter, said he favored sending weapons to Ukrainian forces during his recent confirmation hearings in Congress. A bipartisan group of 12 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee also voiced support for weapons shipments to Ukraine’s government forces.

“Defensive lethal assistance would not allow the Ukrainian military to defeat the Russian military in full-fledged war, but it will raise risks and costs Russia will incur to continue its offensive,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday.

[ALSO: Decoding Vladimir Putin’s Plan for Russia]

The German chancellor has opposed arming Ukraine out of concern that weapons would only escalate confrontation with Putin, who has steadfastly denied arming the rebels. The disagreement with the U.S. has surprised many senior leaders in Europe, as did Merkel’s Moscow trip, made with French President Francois Hollande, to discuss the peace plan they proposed in Kiev on Thursday.

“I think it shows, when these two very important politicians here in Europe go together, it’s a very serious statement. They really want to achieve something,” says Knut Fleckenstein, a German member of the European Parliament’s second biggest bloc, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. He serves on the Committee of Foreign Affairs and the parliament’s EU-Russia cooperation committee.

The policy departure could, however, be the product of some very crafty closed-door statesmanship. The threat of weapons deliveries may provide just the pressure Merkel and Hollande need to push their agenda with the Russian leader, Fleckenstein adds.

It’s a dangerous bluff.

Graphic quote by Julianne Smith: “The world is definitely on fire. Violence is on the rise.”

“These weapon deliveries will give Mr. Putin wonderful arguments for his propaganda,” he says. “To deliver weapons in this area, I think, makes it more possible from this conflict will start a real war in this area, and nobody knows where it really ends.”

Germany’s support is crucial not only because it is an economic powerhouse of the European Union, but because other European nations are less likely to expand sanctions against Russia’s businesses, banks and powerful supporters of Putin, says Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Security concerns to be addressed at the Monday meeting will also include radical Islamic terrorism in Europe and the threat posed by the Islamic State group, which uniquely affects Germany because of its large Muslim population. Germany has the largest Muslim population of all European Union nations, which in 2010 amounted to 4.8 million, or 5 percent of its country, according to the Pew Research Center. More than 58 million Muslims will reside in Europe by 2030, equal to 8 percent of its total population, the study shows.

[MORE: New Wars to Confront Obama’s New Defense Chief]

While Obama and Merkel address areas of disagreement, they will almost certainly spend some time discussing areas in which they have mutual interests. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a deal between the U.S. and Europe, may not be completed during the Obama administration, but the two leaders consider it crucial to future trade and investment. Both want to keep moving smoothly, Kirkegaard says.

“The two leaders at this point are not going to get into the details of the horse trading issues, the specific issues of the TTIP. They will stick to platitudes about how important it is,” he says.

The talks also come as the Eurozone economy leaders are pressuring the newly elected government of Greece to back down from promises of renewing welfare and benefits to its workers by rolling back internal spending cuts. Greece’s government has been in debt for years during the recession and relies on aid from European nations like Germany to pay its bills.

The European Central Bank on Thursday decided to stop funding Greece’s banks in an effort to pressure them to maintain a frugal budget. Greece is expected to agree to a compromise during a meeting with the central bank on Wednesday. If it refuses that could bankrupt its economy and force it to withdraw from the euro currency, so “the Greek issue is going to play into the discussion,” between Obama and Merkel, Funk says.

But without doubt the talks will be dominated by the next moves in Ukraine. And, at the end of the day, they are more likely to agree than to disagree, Smith says.

“They are incredibly pragmatic and up front and share the same world view on a lot of things,” she says. “They agree that diplomacy should always come before the use of military force.”